Compunction had already seized upon the widow. “Susan,” she began, “I fear we are not mortifyin’ the flesh as we ought—–”
“No mortifying just yet, if you please,” cried Susie. “The most important thing of all is yet to be done. Zeb hasn’t heard the news; just think of it! You must write and tell him that I’ll help you spin the children’s clothes and work the farm; that we’ll face everything in Opinquake as long as Old Put needs men. Where is the ink-horn? I’ll sharpen a pen for you and one for me, and such news as he’ll get! Wish I could tell him, though, and see the great fellow tremble once more. Afraid of me! Ha! ha! ha! that’s the funniest thing—Why, Mother Jarvis, this is Christmas Day!”
“So it is,” said the widow, in an awed tone. “Susie, my heart misgives me that all this should have happened on a day of which Popery has made so much.”
“No, no,” cried the girl. “Thank God it is Christmas! and hereafter I shall keep Christmas as long as love is love and God is good.”
Jeff, the hero of my tale, was as truly a part of the Southern Confederacy as the greater Jeff at Richmond. Indeed, were it not for the humbler Jeff and the class he represented, the other Jeff would never have attained his eminence.
Jeff’s prospects were as dark as himself. He owned nothing, not even himself, yet his dream of riches is the motive of my tale. Regarded as a chattel, for whom a bill of sale would have been made as readily as for a bullock, he proved himself a man and brother by a prompt exhibition of traits too common to human nature when chance and some heroism on his part gave into his hands the semblance of a fortune.
Jeff was a native Virginian and belonged to an F.F.V. in a certain practical, legal sense which thus far had not greatly disturbed his equanimity. His solid physique and full shining face showed that slavery had brought no horrors into his experience. He had indulged, it is true, in vague yearnings for freedom, but these had been checked by hearing that liberty meant “working for Yankees”—appalling news to an indolent soul. He was house-servant and man-of-all-work in a family whose means had always been limited, and whose men were in the Confederate army. His “missus” evinced a sort of weary content when he had been scolded or threatened into the completion of his tasks by nightfall. He then gave her and her daughters some compensation for their trials with him by producing his fiddle and making the warm summer evening resonant with a kind of music which the negro only can evoke. Jeff was an artist, and had a complacent consciousness of the fact. He was a living instance of the truth that artists are born, not made. No knowledge of this gifted class had ever suggested kinship; he