True, she had the ring, but that was not the price of her hand. Nothing less than had been promised would answer now; and when she stole out to meet Jeff she told him so. Under the witching moonlight he began to manifest tendencies to sentiment and tenderness. Her response was prompt: “Go ’long! what dese common niggah ways got ter do wid a ’liance? Yer show me de gole in dat box—dat’s de bargain. Den de ‘liance hole me fas’, an’ I’ll help yer spen’ de money in Washin’on. We’ll hab a weddin’ scrumptious as white folks. But, law sakes! Jeff Wobbles, ‘t ain’ no kin’ ob ‘liance till I see dat gole an’ hab some ob it too!”
Jeff had to succumb like many a higher-born suitor before him, with the added chagrin of remembering that he had first suggested the purely businesslike aspect of his motive.
“Berry well; meet me here ter-morrer night when I whistle like a whip-o’-will. But yer ain’ so smart as yer tink yer are, Suky. Yer’se made it cl’ar ter me dat I’se got ter keep de han’lin’ ob dat gole or you’ll be a-carryin’ dis ’liance business too far! If I gib yer gole, I expec’ yer ter shine up an be ’greeable-like ter me ebbery way yer know how. Dat’s only fa’r, doggoned ef it ain’!” and Jeff spoke in a very aggrieved tone.
Wily Suky chucked him under the chin, saying: “Show me de color ob de gole an’ de ’liance come out all right.” Then she retired, believing that negotiations had proceeded far enough for the present.
Jeff went home feeling that he had been forewarned and forearmed. Since her heart responded to a golden key only, he would keep that key and use it judiciously.
During the early hours of the following night Jeff was very wary and soon discovered that he was watched. He coolly slipped the collar from a savage dog, and soon there was a stampede from a neighboring grove. An hour after, when all had become quiet again, he took the dog and, armed with an axe, started out, fully resolved on breaking the treasure-box which he had been hoarding.
The late moon had risen, giving to Jeff a gnome-like aspect as he dug at the root of the persimmon-tree. The mysterious box soon gleamed with a pale light in his hand, like the leaden casket that contained Portia’s radiant face. Surely, when he struck the “open sesame” blow, that beauty which captivates young and old alike would dazzle his eyes. With heart now devoid of all compunction, and exultant in anticipation, he struck the box, shaving off the end he held furthest from him. An “ancient fish-like smell” filled the air; Jeff sank on the ground and stared at sardines and rancid oil dropping instead of golden dollars from his treasure-box. They scarcely touched the ground before the dog snapped them all up.
The bewildered negro knew not what to think. Had fish been the original contents of the box, or had the soldier’s spook transformed the gold into this horrid mess? One thing, however, was clear—he had lost, not only Suky, but prestige. The yellow girl would scorn him, and tell of his preposterous promises. Mandy had been offended beyond hope, and he would become the laughing-stock and byword of all the colored boys for miles around.