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In about half a minute somebody spoke out of a window, without putting his head out, and says: “Be done, boys! Who’s there?” I says: “It’s me.” “Who’s me?” “George Jackson, sir.” “What do you want?” “I don’t want nothing, sir. I only want to go along by, but the dogs won’t let me.” “What are you prowling around here this time of night, for-hey?” “I warn’t prowling around, sir; I fell overboard off of the steamboat.” “Oh, you did, did you? Strike a light there, somebody.
What did you say your name was?” “George Jackson, sir. I’m only a boy.” “Look here; if you’re telling the truth, you needn’t be afraid-nobody’ll hurt you. But don’t try to budge; stand right where you are. Rouse out Bob and Tom, some of you, and fetch the guns. George Jackson, is there anybody with you?” “No, sir, nobody.” I heard the people stirring around in the house, now, and see a light. The man sung out: “Snatch that light away, Betsy, you old fool-ain’t you got any sense? Put it on the floor behind the front door. Bob, if you and Tom are ready, take your places.” “All ready.” “Now, George Jackson, do you know the Shepherdsons?” “No, sir-I never heard of them.” “Well, that may be so, and it mayn’t. Now, all ready. Step forward, George Jackson. And mind, don’t you hurry-come mighty slow. If there’s anybody with you, let him keep back-if he shows himself he’ll be shot. Come along, now.
Come slow; push the door open, yourself-just enough to squeeze in, d’ you hear?” I didn’t hurry, I couldn’t if I’d a wanted to. I took one slow step at a time, and there warn’t a sound, only I thought I could hear my heart. The dogs were as still as the humans, but they followed a little behind me. When I got to the three log door-steps, I heard them unlocking and unbarring and unbolting. I put my hand on the door and pushed it a little and a little more, till somebody said, “There, that’s enough-put your head in.” I done it, but I judged they would take it off.
The candle was on the floor, and there they all was, looking at me, and me at them, for about a quarter of a minute. Three big men with guns pointed at me, which made me wince, I tell you; the oldest, gray and about sixty, the other two thirty or more-all of them fine and handsome-and the sweetest old gray-headed lady, and back of her two young women which I couldn’t see right well. The old gentleman says: “There-I reckon it’s all right. Come in.” As soon as I was in, the old gentleman he locked the door and barred it and bolted it, and told the young men to come in with their guns, and they all went in a big parlor that had a new rag carpet on the floor, and got together in a corner that was out of range of the front windows-there warn’t none on the side. They held the candle, and took a good look at me, and all said, “Why he ain’t a Shepherdson-no, there ain’t any Shepherdson about him.” Then the old man said he hoped I wouldn’t mind being searched for arms, because he didn’t mean no harm by it-it was only to make sure. So he didn’t pry into my pockets, but only felt outside with his hands, and said it was all right. He told me to make myself easy and at home, and tell all about myself; but the old lady says: “Why bless you, Saul, the poor thing’s as wet as he can be; and don’t you reckon it may be he’s hungry?”
“True for you, Rachel-I forgot.” So the old lady says: “Betsy” (this was a nigger woman), “you fly around and get him something to eat, as quick as you can, poor thing; and one of you girls go and wake up Buck and tell him-Oh, here he is himself. Buck, take this little stranger and get the wet clothes off from him and dress him up in some of yours that’s dry.” Buck looked about as old as me-thirteen or fourteen or along there, though he was a little bigger than me. He hadn’t on anything but a shirt, and he was very frowsyheaded. He come in gaping and digging one fist into his eyes, and he was dragging a gun along with the other one. He says: “Ain’t they no Shepherdsons around?” They said, no, ‘twas a false alarm.
“Well,” he says, “if they’d a ben some, I reckon I’d a got one.” They all laughed, and Bob says: “Why, Buck, they might have scalped us all, you’ve been so slow in coming.” “Well, nobody come after me, and it ain’t right. I’m always kep’ down; I don’t get no show.” “Never mind, Buck, my boy,” says the old man, “you’ll have show enough, all in good time, don’t you fret about that. Go ‘long with you now, and do as your mother told you.”
When we got up stairs to his room, he got me a coarse shirt and a roundabout and pants of his, and I put them on. While I was at it he asked me what my name was, but before I could tell him, he started to telling me about a blue jay and a young rabbit he had catched in the woods day before yesterday, and he asked me where Moses was when the candle went out. I said I didn’t know; I hadn’t heard about it before, no way. “Well, guess,” he says.
“How’m I going to guess,” says I, “when I never heard tell about it before?” “But you can guess, can’t you? It’s just as easy.” “Which candle?” I says.
“Why, any candle,” he says. “I don’t know where he was,” says I; “where was he?” “Why, he was in the dark! That’s where he was!” “Well, if you knowed where he was, what did you ask me for?” “Why, blame it, it’s a riddle, don’t you see? Say, how long are you going to stay here? You got to stay always. We can just have booming times-they don’t have no school now. Do you own a dog? I’ve got a dog-and he’ll go in the river and bring out chips that you throw in. Do you like to comb up, Sundays, and all that kind of foolishness? You bet I don’t, but ma she makes me. Confound these ole britches, I reckon I’d better put’em on, but I’d ruther not, it’s so warm. Are you all ready? All right-come along, old hoss.” Cold corn-pone, cold corn-beef, butter and buttermilk-that is what they had for me down there, and there ain’t nothing better that ever I’ve come across yet.
Buck and his ma and all of them smoked cob pipes, except the nigger woman, which was gone, and the two young women. They all smoked and talked, and I eat and talked. The young women had quilts around them, and their hair down their backs. They all asked me questions, and I told them how pap and me and all the family was living on a little farm down at the bottom of Arkansaw, and my sister Mary Ann run off and got married and never was heard of no more, and Bill went to hunt them and he warn’t heard of no more, and Tom and Mort died, and then there warn’t nobody but just me and pap left, and he was just trimmed down to nothing, on account of his troubles; so when he died I took what there was left, because the farm didn’t belong to us, and started up the river, deck passage, and fell overboard; and that was how I come to be here. So they said I could have a home there as long as I wanted it. Then it was most daylight, and everybody went to bed, and I went to bed with Buck, and when I waked up in the morning, drat it all, I had forgot what my name was. So I laid there about an hour trying to think, and when Buck waked up, I says: “Can you spell, Buck?” “Yes,” he says.
“I bet you can’t spell my name,” says I. “I bet you what you dare I can,” says he. “All right,” says I, “go ahead.” “G-o-r-g-e J-a-x-o-n-there now,” he says. “Well,” says I, “you done it, but I didn’t think you could. It ain’t no slouch of a name to spell-right off without studying.” I set it down, private, because somebody might want me to spell it, next, and so I wanted to be handy with it and rattle it off like I was used to it.
It was a mighty nice family, and a mighty nice house, too. I hadn’t seen no house out in the country before that was so nice and had so much style. It didn’t have an iron latch on the front door, nor a wooden one with a buckskin string, but a brass knob to turn, and the same as houses in a town. There warn’t no bed in the parlor, not a sign of a bed; but heaps of parlors in towns has beds in them.