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Viney’s Free Papers
by [?]

Finally her former master left her with the remark:

“Well, I don’t care where you go, but I’m sorry for Ben. He was a fool for working for you. You don’t half deserve such a man.”

“I won’ have him long,” she flung after him, with a laugh.

The opposition with which she had met seemed to have made her more obstinate, and in spite of all Ben could do, she began to make preparations to leave him. The money for the chickens and eggs had been growing and was to have gone toward her husband’s ransom, but she finally sold all her laying hens to increase the amount. Then she calmly announced to her husband:

“I’s got money enough an’ I’s a-goin’ Nawth next week. You kin stay down hyeah an’ be a slave ef you want to, but I’s a-goin’ Nawth.”

“Even ef I wanted to go Nawth you know I ain’ half paid out yit.”

“Well, I can’t he’p it. I can’t spen’ all de bes’ pa’t o’ my life down hyeah where dey ain’ no ‘vantages.”

“I reckon dey’s ‘vantages everywhah fu’ anybody dat wants to wu’k.”

“Yes, but what kin’ o’ wages does yo’ git? Why, de Johnsons say dey had a lettah f’om Miss Smiff an’ dey’s gettin’ ‘long fine in de Nawth.”

“De Johnsons ain’ gwine?”

“Si Johnson is–“

Then the woman stopped suddenly.

“Oh, hit’s Si Johnson? Huh!”

“He ain’ goin’ wid me. He’s jes’ goin’ to see dat I git sta’ted right aftah I git thaih.”

“Hit’s Si Johnson?” he repeated.

“‘Tain’t,” said the woman. “Hit’s freedom.”

Ben got up and went out of the cabin.

“Men’s so ‘spicious,” she said. “I ain’ goin’ Nawth ’cause Si’s a-goin’–I ain’t.”

When Mr. Raymond found out how matters were really going he went to Ben where he was at work in the field.

“Now, look here, Ben,” he said. “You’re one of the best hands on my place and I’d be sorry to lose you. I never did believe in this buying business from the first, but you were so bent on it that I gave in. But before I’ll see her cheat you out of your money I’ll give you your free papers now. You can go North with her and you can pay me back when you find work.”

“No,” replied Ben doggedly. “Ef she cain’t wait fu’ me she don’ want me, an’ I won’t roller her erroun’ an’ be in de way.”

“You’re a fool!” said his master.

“I loves huh,” said the slave. And so this plan came to naught.

Then came the night on which Viney was getting together her belongings. Ben sat in a corner of the cabin silent, his head bowed in his hands. Every once in a while the woman cast a half-frightened glance at him. He had never once tried to oppose her with force, though she saw that grief had worn lines into his face.

The door opened and Si Johnson came in. He had just dropped in to see if everything was all right. He was not to go for a week.

“Let me look at yo’ free papahs,” he said, for Si could read and liked to show off his accomplishment at every opportunity. He stumbled through the formal document to the end, reading at the last: “This is a present from Ben to his beloved wife, Viney.”

She held out her hand for the paper. When Si was gone she sat gazing at it, trying in her ignorance to pick from the, to her, senseless scrawl those last words. Ben had not raised his head.

Still she sat there, thinking, and without looking her mind began to take in the details of the cabin. That box of shelves there in the corner Ben had made in the first days they were together. Yes, and this chair on which she was sitting–she remembered how they had laughed over its funny shape before he had padded it with cotton and covered it with the piece of linsey “old Mis'” had given him. The very chest in which her things were packed he had made, and when the last nail was driven he had called it her trunk, and said she should put her finery in it when she went traveling like the white folks. She was going traveling now, and Ben–Ben? There he sat across from her in his chair, bowed and broken, his great shoulders heaving with suppressed grief.

Then, before she knew it, Viney was sobbing, and had crept close to him and put her arms around his neck. He threw out his arms with a convulsive gesture and gathered her up to his breast, and the tears gushed from his eyes.

When the first storm of weeping had passed Viney rose and went to the fireplace. She raked forward the coals.

“Ben,” she said, “hit’s been dese pleggoned free papahs. I want you to see em bu’n.”

“No, no!” he said. But the papers were already curling, and in a moment they were in a blaze.

“Thaih,” she said, “thaih, now, Viney Raymond!”

Ben gave a great gasp, then sprang forward and took her in his arms and kicked the packed chest into the corner.

And that night singing was heard from Ben’s cabin and the sound of the banjo.