“I can’t say,” said Aunt Phebe, and their conversation closed, for father came in and supper-time drew near.
Father was consulted regarding the coming of Matthias Jones, and he thought it would be a good plan, for our farming people had often cause to hire help, and it had always been scarce, since it was only in the busiest time there were such needs.
Aunt Phebe and myself were delegated to go over to the house of Jacob Lattice and Plint Smith, who were the only colored people among us, and who lived about a mile to the west of our house. We thought there might be a chance for a home among them, and so it proved.
Jacob Lattice’s wife had no room; “hardly enough for themselves,” Mrs. Lattice said depreciatingly, “much less any place for strange folks”; but Mrs. Smith, known to us all as Aunt Peg, gave us a little hope. She had a peculiar way of addressing people, and sometimes her talk seemed more like the grunting of words strangely mixed. When she saw Aunt Phebe with me, her face radiated in smiles (and as her mouth was large, these smiles were broad grins) and, jerking her small wool-covered head while she hastily smoothed out her long apron, she said:
“Come in, Miss Minot.”
“This is my aunt,—you have seen her before,” I replied.
“Yes, seen her to meetin’ with ye; come in, mam,” and she dropped a low curtsey and set forward two chairs, whose sand-scoured seats were white and spotless, for Aunt Peg was a marvel of neatness.
I told our errand, and with one of her queer looks, she said:
“Is he clean?”
Aunt Phebe replied, “Why, I think the old man does the best he can, a lone man can’t do as well as a woman, you know.”
“Well, there’s that ground room of mine he kin have if Plint is willin’, and if he ain’t, for that matter; for Plint himself arn’t good for nothin’ but fiddlin’, and you see if I want bread I get it. I s’pose wimmen ought to be a leetle worth mindin’, ’specially if they get their own bread,” and a look of satisfaction crept over her face as if pleased with this thought.
“Well,” said Aunt Phebe, “I would like to see the room, and also know the price of it; of course, you must have some pay for it, and then, if Matthias should be ill, or prove troublesome to you in any way, it will not be so hard for you.”
“Oh, the pay, bless the Master, mam, I never get pay for anything hardly, not even the work I did up to Deacon Grover’s for years! I jist wish I had that money in a chist in the cellar. He kep’ it for me, he said, an’ so he did, an’ he keeps it yet, and—oh! but the room, come right along, this way, mam,” and we followed her steps.
She led us out of the little door, which in the summer was covered with those dear old cypress vines my mother used to have, and though the lattice was made by her own hands of rude strips, when it was well covered with the cypress intergrown with the other vines, there was great beauty round that little door.