OZÈME often wondered why there was
not a special dispensation of providence
to do away with the necessity for work.
There seemed to him so much created for
man's enjoyment in this world, and so little
time and opportunity to profit by it. To sit
and do nothing but breathe was a
pleasure to Ozème; but to sit in the company
of a few choice companions, including a
sprinkling of ladies, was even a greater delight;
and the joy which a day's hunting or
fishing or picnicking afforded him is hardly to
be described. Yet he was by no means indolent.
He worked faithfully on the plantation
the whole year long, in a sort of methodical
way; but when the time came around for his
annual week's holiday, there was no holding
him back. It was often decidedly inconvenient
for the planter that Ozème usually chose
to take his holiday during some very busy
season of the year.
He started out one morning in the
beginning of October. He had borrowed Mr.
Laballière's buckboard and Padue's old gray
mare, and a harness from the negro Severin.
He wore a light blue suit which had been sent
all the way from St. Louis, and which had
cost him ten dollars; he had paid almost as
much again for his boots; and his hat was a
broad-rimmed gray felt which he had no cause
to be ashamed of. When Ozème went
"broading," he dressed—well, regardless of
cost. His eyes were blue and mild; his hair
was light, and he wore it rather long; he was
clean shaven, and really did not look his
Ozème had laid his plans weeks beforehand.
He was going visiting along Cane River; the
mere contemplation filled him with pleasure.
He counted upon reaching Fédeaus' about
noon, and he would stop and dine there. Perhaps
they would ask him to stay all night. He
really did not hold to staying all night, and
was not decided to accept if they did ask him.
There were only the two old people, and he
rather fancied the notion of pushing on to
Beltrans', where he would stay a night, or
even two, if urged. He was quite sure that
there would be something agreeable going on
at Beltrans', with all those young people—perhaps a fish-fry, or possibly a ball!
Of course he would have to give a day to
Tante Sophie and another to Cousine Victoire;
but none to the St. Annes unless entreated—after St. Anne reproaching him last
year with being a faineant for broading at
such a season! At Cloutierville, where he
would linger as long as possible, he meant to
turn and retrace his course, zigzagging back
and forth across Cane River so as to take in
the Duplans, the Velcours, and others that
he could not at the moment recall. A week
seemed to Ozème a very, very little while in
which to crowd so much pleasure.
There were steam-gins at work; he could
hear them whistling far and near. On both
sides of the river the fields were white with
cotton, and everybody in the world seemed
busy but Ozème. This reflection did not
distress or disturb him in the least; he pursued
his way at peace with himself and his
At Lamérie's cross-roads store, where he
stopped to buy a cigar, he learned that there
was no use heading for Fédeaus', as the two
old people had gone to town for a lengthy
visit, and the house was locked up. It was at
Fédeaus' that Ozème had intended to dine.
He sat in the buckboard, given up to a
moment or two of reflection. The result was
that he turned away from the river, and entered
the road that led between two fields back
to the woods and into the heart of the country.
He had determined upon taking a short cut
to the Beltrans' plantation, and on the way he
meant to keep an eye open for old Aunt Tildy's
cabin, which he knew lay in some remote
part of this cut-off. He remembered that
Aunt Tildy could cook an excellent meal if
she had the material at hand. He would induce
her to fry him a chicken, drip a cup of
coffee, and turn him out a pone of corn-bread,
which he thought would be sumptuous
enough fare for the occasion.
Aunt Tildy dwelt in the not unusual log
cabin, of one room, with its chimney of mud
and stone, and its shallow gallery formed by
the jutting of the roof. In close proximity to
the cabin was a small cotton-field, which from
a long distance looked like a field of snow.
The cotton was bursting and overflowing
foam-like from bolls on the drying stalk. On
the lower branches it was hanging ragged and
tattered, and much of it had already fallen to
the ground. There were a few chinaberry-trees
in the yard before the hut, and under one of
them an ancient and rusty-looking mule was
eating corn from a wood trough. Some common
little Creole chickens were scratching
about the mule's feet and snatching at the
grains of corn that occasionally fell from the
Aunt Tildy was hobbling across the yard
when Ozème drew up before the gate. One
hand was confined in a sling; in the other she
carried a tin pan, which she let fall noisily
to the ground when she recognized him. She
was broad, black, and misshapen, with her
body lent forward almost at an acute angle.
She wore a blue cottonade of large plaids, and
a bandana awkwardly twisted around her
"Good God A'mighty, man! Whar you
come from?" was her startled exclamation at
"F'om home, Aunt Tildy; w'ere else do you
expec'?" replied Ozème, dismounting
He had not seen the old woman for several
years—since she was cooking in town for the
family with which he boarded at the time.
She had washed and ironed for him, atrociously,
it is true, but her intentions were
beyond reproach if her washing was not. She
had also been clumsily attentive to him during
a spell of illness. He had paid her with
an occasional bandana, a calico dress, or a
checked apron, and they had always considered
the account between themselves square,
with no sentimental feeling of gratitude
remaining on either side.
"I like to know," remarked Ozème, as he
took the gray mare from the shafts, and led
her up to the trough where the mule was—"I like to know w'at you mean by makin' a
crop like that an' then lettin' it go to was'e?
Who you reckon's goin' to pick that cotton?
You think maybe the angels goin' to come
down an' pick it to' you, an' gin it an' press
it, an' then give you ten cents a poun' fo' it,
"Ef de Lord don' pick it, I don' know who
gwine pick it, Mista Ozème. I tell you, me
an' Sandy we wuk dat crap day in an' day
out; it's him done de mos' of it."
"Sandy? That little—"
"He ain' dat li'le Sandy no ma' w'at you
rec'lec's; he 'mos' a man, an' he wuk like a
man now. He wuk mo' 'an fittin' to' his
strenk, an' now he layin' in dab sick—God
A'mighty knows how sick. An' me wid a
risin' twell I bleeged to walk de flo' o' nights.
an' don' know ef I ain' gwine to lose de han'
"W'y, in the name o' conscience, you don'
hire somebody to pick?"
"Whar I got money to hire? An' you
knows well as me ev'y chick an' chile is pickin'
roun' on de plantations an' gittin' good
The whole outlook appeared to Ozème very
depressing, and even menacing, to his personal
comfort and peace of mind. He foresaw
no prospect of dinner unless he should
cook it himself. And there was that Sandy—he remembered well the little scamp of
eight, always at his grandmother's heels when
she was cooking or washing. Of course he
would have to go in and look at the boy, and
no doubt dive into his traveling-bag for quinine,
without which he never traveled.
Sandy was indeed very ill, consumed with
fever. He lay on a cot covered up with a
faded patchwork quilt. His eyes were half
closed, and he was muttering and rambling on
about hoeing and bedding and cleaning and
thinning out the cotton; he was hauling it to
the gin, wrangling about weight and bagging
and ties and the price offered per pound.
That bale or two of cotton had not only sent
Sandy to bed, but had pursued him there,
holding him through his fevered dreams, and
threatening to end him. Ozème would never
have known the black boy, he was so tall, so
thin, and seemingly so wasted, lying there in
"See yere, Aunt Tildy," said Ozème, after
he had, as was usual with him when in doubt,
abandoned himself to a little reflection; "between
us—you an' me—we got to manage to
kill an' cook one o' those chickens I see
scratchin' out yonda, fo' I'm jus' about
starved. I reckon you ain't got any quinine
in the house? No; I didn't suppose an instant
you had. Well, I'm goin' to give Sandy a
good dose o' quinine to-night, an' I'm goin'
stay an' see how that'll work on 'im. But
sun-up, min' you, I mus' get out o' yere."
Ozème had spent more comfortable nights
than the one passed in Aunt Tildy's bed,
which she considerately abandoned to him.
In the morning Sandy's fever was somewhat
abated, but had not taken a decided enough
turn to justify Ozème in quitting him before
noon, unless he was willing "to feel like a
dog," as he told himself. He appeared before
Aunt Tildy stripped to the undershirt,
and wearing his second-best pair of trousers.
"That's a nice pickle o' fish you got me in,
ol' woman. I guarantee, nex' time I go
abroad, 'tain't me that'll take any cut-off.
W'ere's that cotton-basket an' cotton-sack o'
"I knowed it!" chanted Aunt Tildy—"I
knowed de Lord war gwine sen' somebody to
holp me out. He war n' gwine let de crap
was'e atter he give Sandy an' me de strenk
to make hit. De Lord gwine shove you 'long
de row, Mista Ozème. De Lord gwine give
you plenty mo' fingers an' han's to pick dat
cotton nimble an' clean."
"Neva you min' w'at the Lord's goin' to
do; go get me that cotton-sack. An' you put
that poultice like I tol' you on yo' han', an'
set down there an' watch Sandy. It looks like
you are 'bout as helpless as a' ol' cow tangled
up in a potato-vine."
Ozème had not picked cotton for many
years, and he took to it a little awkwardly at
first; but by the time he had reached the end
of the first row the old dexterity of youth
had come back to his hands, which flew rapidly
back and forth with the motion of a weaver's
shuttle; and his ten fingers became really
nimble in clutching the cotton from its dry
shell. By noon he had gathered about fifty
pounds. Sandy was not then quite so well as
he had promised to be, and Ozème concluded
to stay that day and one more night. If the
boy were no better in the morning, he would
go off in search of a doctor for him, and he
himself would continue on down to Tante
Sophie's; the Beltrans' was out of the
Sandy hardly needed a doctor in the
morning. Ozème's doctoring was beginning to tell
favorably; but he would have considered it
criminal indifference and negligence to go
away and leave the boy to Aunt Tildy's awkward
ministrations just at the critical moment
when there was a turn for the better;
so he stayed that day out, and picked his
hundred and fifty pounds.
On the third day it looked like rain, and a
heavy rain just then would mean a heavy loss
to Aunt Tildy and Sandy, and Ozème again
went to the field, this time urging Aunt Tildy
with him to do what she might with her one
"Aunt Tildy," called out Ozème to the bent
old woman moving ahead of him between the
white rows of cotton, "if the Lord gets me
safe out o' this ditch, 't ain't to-morro' I'll
fall in anotha with my eyes open, I bet you."
"Keep along, Mista Ozème; don' grumble,
don' stumble; de Lord's a-watchin' you. Look
at yo' Aunt Tildy; she doin' mo' wid her one
han' 'an you doin' wid yo' two, man. Keep
right along, honey. Watch dat cotton how
it fallin' in yo' Aunt Tildy's bag."
"I am watchin' you, ol' woman; you don'
fool me. You got to work that han' o' yo's
spryer than you doin', or I'll take the rawhide.
You done fo'got w'at the rawhide tas'e
like, I reckon"—a reminder which amused
Aunt Tildy so powerfully that her big negro-laugh resounded over the whole cotton-patch,
and even caused Sandy, who heard it, to turn
in his bed.
The weather was still threatening on the
succeeding day, and a sort of dogged determination
or characteristic desire to see his
undertakings carried to a satisfactory completion
urged Ozème to continue his efforts
to drag Aunt Tildy out of the mire into which
circumstances seemed to have thrust her.
One night the rain did come, and began to
beat softly on the roof of the old cabin. Sandy
opened his eyes, which were no longer brilliant
with the fever flame. "Granny," he whispered,
"de rain! Des listen, granny; de rain
a-comin', an' I ain' pick dat cotton yit. W'at
time it is? Gi' me my pants—I got to go—"
"You lay whar you is, chile alive. Dat
cotton put aside clean and dry. Me an' de Lord
an' Mista Ozème done pick dat cotton."
Ozème drove away in the morning looking
quite as spick and span as the day he left
home in his blue suit and his light felt drawn
a little over his eyes.
"You want to take care o' that boy," he
instructed Aunt Tildy at parting, "an' get 'im
on his feet. An', let me tell you, the nex'
time I start out to broad, if you see me passin'
in this yere cut-off, put on yo' specs an' look
at me good, because it won't be me; it'll be
my ghos', ol' woman."
Indeed, Ozème, for some reason or other,
felt quite shamefaced as he drove back to the
plantation. When he emerged from the lane
which he had entered the week before, and
turned into the river road, Lamérie, standing
in the store door, shouted out:
"He, Ozème! you had good times yonda? I
bet you danced holes in the sole of them new
"Don't talk, Lamérie!" was Ozème's rather
ambiguous reply, as he flourished the remainder
of a whip over the old gray mare's
sway-back, urging her to a gentle trot.
When he reached home, Bode, one of
Padue's boys, who was assisting him to unhitch,
"How come you didn' go yonda down de
coas' like you said, Mista Ozème? Nobody
didn' see you in Cloutierville, an' Mailitt
say you neva cross' de twenty-fo'-mile ferry,
an' nobody didn' see you no place."
Ozème returned, after his customary
moment of reflection:
"You see, it's 'mos' always the same thing
on Cane riva, my boy; a man gets tired o
that a la fin. This time I went back in the
woods, 'way yonda in the Fédeau cut-off
kin' o' campin' an' roughin' like, you might
say. I tell you, it was sport, Bode."