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Viney’s Free Papers
by [?]

Viney, too, seemed inspired by a new hope, and if this little house had been pleasant to Ben, nothing now was wanting to make it a palace in his eyes. Only one sorrow he had, and that one wrung hard at his great heart–no baby came to them–but instead he made a great baby of his wife, and went on his way hiding his disappointment the best he could. The banjo was often silent now, for when he came home his fingers were too stiff to play; but sometimes, when his heart ached for the laughter of a child, he would take down his old friend and play low, soothing melodies until he found rest and comfort.

Viney had once tried to console him by saying that had she had a child it would have taken her away from her work, but he had only answered, “We could a’ stood that.”

But Ben’s patient work and frugality had their reward, and it was only a little over three years after he had set out to do it that he put in his master’s hand the price of Viney’s freedom, and there was sound of rejoicing in the land. A fat shoat, honestly come by–for it was the master’s gift–was killed and baked, great jugs of biting persimmon beer were brought forth, and the quarters held high carnival to celebrate Viney’s new-found liberty.

After the merrymakers had gone, and when the cabin was clear again, Ben held out the paper that had been on exhibition all evening to Viney.

“Hyeah, hyeah’s de docyment dat meks you yo’ own ooman. Tek it.”

During all the time that it had been out for show that night the people had looked upon it with a sort of awe, as if it was possessed of some sort of miraculous power. Even now Viney did not take hold of it, but shrunk away with a sort of gasp.

“No, Ben, you keep it. I can’t tek keer o’ no sich precious thing ez dat. Put hit in yo’ chist.”

“Tek hit and feel of hit, anyhow, so’s you’ll know dat you’s free.”

She took it gingerly between her thumb and forefinger. Ben suddenly let go.

“Dah, now,” he said; “you keep dat docyment. It’s yo’s. Keep hit undah yo’ own ‘sponsibility.”

“No, no, Ben!” she cried. “I jes’ can’t!”

“You mus’. Dat’s de way to git used to bein’ free. Whenevah you looks at yo’se’f an’ feels lak you ain’ no diff’ent f’om whut you been you tek dat papah out an’ look at hit, an’ say to yo’se’f, ‘Dat means freedom.'”

Carefully, reverently, silently Viney put the paper into her bosom.

“Now, de nex’ t’ing fu’ me to do is to set out to git one dem papahs fu’ myse’f. Hit’ll be a long try, ’cause I can’t buy mine so cheap as I got yo’s, dough de Lawd knows why a great big ol’ hunk lak me should cos’ mo’n a precious mossell lak you.”

“Hit’s because dey’s so much of you, Ben, an’ evah bit of you’s wo’th its weight in gol’.”

“Heish, chile! Don’ put my valy so high, er I’ll be twell jedgment day a-payin’ hit off.”


So Ben went forth to battle for his own freedom, undaunted by the task before him, while Viney took care of the cabin, doing what she could outside. Armed with her new dignity, she insisted upon her friends’ recognizing the change in her condition.

Thus, when Mandy so far forgot herself as to address her as Viney Raymond, the new free woman’s head went up and she said with withering emphasis:

“Mis’ Viney Allen, if you please!”

“Viney Allen!” exclaimed her visitor. “Huccum you’s Viney Allen now?”

“‘Cause I don’ belong to de Raymonds no mo’, an’ I kin tek my own name now.”

“Ben ‘longs to de Raymonds, an’ his name Ben Raymond an’ you his wife. How you git aroun’ dat, Mis’ Viney Allen?”

“Ben’s name goin’ to be Mistah Allen soon’s he gits his free papahs.”