Beth’s First Fishing Lesson
On Monday morning, Gustus came to Beth, bringing a cat with three kittens. The cat was of only a common breed, but Beth was delighted with the present.
Gustus was no longer ragged, but he looked very comical. There had been no boy’s clothes in the house for him, and so Mrs. Davenport had fitted him out in an old suit of her husband’s until another could be had. Of course, everything was much too large for Gustus, but he was as proud as Lucifer. He strutted up and down before Beth with his hands in his pockets and Fritz as usual tagging at his heels.
“Missy, I looks like de quality now shure, don’t I?” he asked, grinning from ear to ear; and, not waiting for an answer, he added, “Yo’se been powerful good to me, missy, an’ I’m goin’ to give yo’ Fritz, too.”
Such generosity quite overcame Beth. “But, Gustus, I couldn’t think of taking him away from you.”
“Don’t yo’ worry, missy,” he answered with a chuckle. “Yo’ ain’t takin’ him ‘way from me. I’se yo’r niggah now. Yo’ owns Fritz an’ me.”
Beth hardly knew what to say. She thought it would be wrong to “own” Gustus. Slave days were a thing of the past. However, his devotion made her feel self-important.
“Well, Gustus, you must be a good boy,” was all she could think to say.
“Yes, ‘deed, missy. Come with me, an’ I’ll show yo’ a bird’s nest.”
“I can’t, Gustus. Mamma told me I must play indoors unless it clears. You know she’s gone to town with Marian to see about a school for her. I’m not to go until next winter.
“I went to school once for a little while,” she continued presently. “It happened this way: Marian attended a private school kept by a poor lady that mamma felt sorry for. Marian was not well, so mamma let me go in her place, so the lady wouldn’t lose money. They didn’t think I’d study hard, but, Gustus, I like to know things, and learning to read was a great help. So I studied very hard. Then I was taken very sick and was out of my head. I talked about books all the time. The doctor said I came near having brain fever, and it wouldn’t do for me to go for awhile. I don’t believe it would hurt me, but that’s why I’m not going to school this year. Did you ever go to school, Gustus?”
“No, missy; me an’ Fritz don’t need no larnin’.”
“But you do, Gustus, and I’m going to teach you.”
He did not look particularly pleased at the offer. Nevertheless, Beth put the cat and the kittens down, and started to run for her books.
Bent as usual on mischief, Fritz made a dive and, catching the prettiest kitten by the neck, started away with it. The mother cat was after him in an instant. Her back was ruffled, and she struck Fritz with her sharp paw. He dropped the kitten and ran howling from the room. Gustus thought it a good opportunity to escape and started after Fritz.