“That’s he. It means come on. Go!” He gathered a brick and trowel and rang them together as if at work. The song answered:
“Aw ’possum pie aw roasted goose—”
The trowel rang on. Without command from her mistress the maid was crouching into the hole. In the noise Anna was trying to press an anxious query upon Hilary, but he dropped brick and tool and snatched her again into his embrace.
“Aw soppin’s o’ de gravy pan—”
called the song. The maid was through!
“But you, Hilary, my life?” gasped Anna as he forced her to the opening.
“The swamp for me!” he said, again sounding the trowel. “I take this”—the trowel—“and walk out through the hall. Go, my soul’s treasure, go!”
Anna, with that art of the day which remains a wonder yet, gathered her crinoline about her feet and twisted through and out upon the ladder. Hilary seized a vanishing hand, kissed it madly, and would have loosed it, but it clung till his limy knuckles went out and down and her lips sealed on them the distant song’s fourth line as just then it came:
“De ladies loves de ladies’ man!”
As mistress and maid passed in sight of the dark singer he hurried to them, wearing the bucket of water on his turban as lightly as a hat. “Is you got to go so soon?” he asked, and walked beside them. Swiftly, under his voice, he directed them to Victorine and then spoke out again in hearing of two or three blue troopers. “You mus’ come ag’in, whensomeveh you like.”
They drew near a guard: “Dese is ole folks o’ mine, Mr. Gyuard, ef you please, suh, dess a-lookin’ at de ole home, suh.”
“We were admitted by Colonel Greenleaf,” said Anna, with a soft brightness that meant more than the soldier guessed, and he let them out, feeling as sweet, himself, as he tried to look sour.
“Well, good-by, Miss Nannie,” said the old man, “I mus’ recapitulate back to de house; dey needs me pow’ful all de time. Good luck to you! Gawd bless you!... Dass ow ba-aby, Mr. Gyuard—Oh, Lawd, Lawd, de days I’s held dat chile out on one o’ dese ole han’s!” He had Flora’s feeling for stage effects.
Toiling or resting, the Southern slaves were singers. With the pail on his head and with every wearer of shoulder-straps busy giving or obeying some order, it was as normal as cock-crowing that he should raise yet another line of his song and that from the house the diligent bricklayer should reply.
Sang the water-carrier:
“I’s natch-i-ully gallant wid de ladies,—”
and along with the trowel’s tinkle came softly back,
“I uz bawn wid a talent fo’ de ladies.”
For a signal the indoor singer need not have gone beyond that line, but the spirit that always grew merry as the peril grew, the spirit which had made Kincaid’s Battery the fearfulest its enemies ever faced, insisted:
“You fine it on de map o’
de contrac’ plan,
I’s boun’ to be a ladies’ man!”