by: Charles W. Chesnutt
On the northeast corner of my vineyard in central North Carolina,
and fronting on the Lumberton plank-road, there stood a small
frame house, of the simplest construction. It was built of pine
lumber, and contained but one room, to which one window gave light
and one door admission. Its weather-beaten sides revealed a
virgin innocence of paint. Against one end of the house, and
occupying half its width, there stood a huge brick chimney: the
crumbling mortar had left large cracks between the bricks; the
bricks themselves had begun to scale off in large flakes, leaving
the chimney sprinkled with unsightly blotches. These evidences of
decay were but partially concealed by a creeping vine, which
extended its slender branches hither and thither in an ambitious
but futile attempt to cover the whole chimney. The wooden
shutter, which had once protected the unglazed window, had fallen
from its hinges, and lay rotting in the rank grass and jimson-
weeds beneath. This building, I learned when I bought the place,
had been used as a school-house for several years prior to the
breaking out of the war, since which time it had remained
unoccupied, save when some stray cow or vagrant hog had sought
shelter within its walls from the chill rains and nipping winds of
One day my wife requested me to build her a new kitchen. The
house erected by us, when we first came to live upon the vineyard,
contained a very conveniently arranged kitchen; but for some
occult reason my wife wanted a kitchen in the back yard, apart
from the dwelling-house, after the usual Southern fashion. Of
course I had to build it.
To save expense, I decided to tear down the old school-house, and
use the lumber, which was in a good state of preservation, in the
construction of the new kitchen. Before demolishing the old
house, however, I made an estimate of the amount of material
contained in it, and found that I would have to buy several
hundred feet of new lumber in order to build the new kitchen
according to my wife's plan.
One morning old Julius McAdoo, our colored coachman, harnessed the
gray mare to the rockaway, and drove my wife and me over to the
saw-mill from which I meant to order the new lumber. We drove
down the long lane which led from our house to the plank-road;
following the plank-road for about a mile, we turned into a road
running through the forest and across the swamp to the sawmill
beyond. Our carriage jolted over the half-rotted corduroy road
which traversed the swamp, and then climbed the long hill leading
to the saw-mill. When we reached the mill, the foreman had gone
over to a neighboring farm-house, probably to smoke or gossip, and
we were compelled to await his return before we could transact our
business. We remained seated in the carriage, a few rods from the
mill, and watched the leisurely movements of the mill-hands. We
had not waited long before a huge pine log was placed in position,
the machinery of the mill was set in motion, and the circular saw
began to eat its way through the log, with a loud whirr which
resounded throughout the vicinity of the mill. The sound rose and
fell in a sort of rhythmic cadence, which, heard from where we
sat, was not unpleasing, and not loud enough to prevent
conversation. When the saw started on its second journey through
the log, Julius observed, in a lugubrious tone, and with a
"Ugh! but dat des do cuddle my blood!"
"What's the matter, Uncle Julius?" inquired my wife, who is of a
very sympathetic turn of mind. "Does the noise affect your
"No, Miss Annie," replied the old man, with emotion, "I ain'
narvous; but dat saw, a-cuttin' en grindin' thoo dat stick er
timber, en moanin', en groanin', en sweekin', kyars my 'memb'ance
back ter ole times, en 'min's me er po' Sandy." The pathetic
intonation with which he lengthened out the "po' Sandy" touched a
responsive chord in our own hearts."
"And who was poor Sandy?" asked my wife, who takes a deep interest
in the stories of plantation life which she hears from the lips of
the older colored people. Some of these stories are quaintly
humorous; others wildly extravagant, revealing the Oriental cast
of the negro's imagination; while others, poured freely into the
sympathetic ear of a Northern-bred woman, disclose many a tragic
incident of the darker side of slavery.
"Sandy," said Julius, in reply to my wife's question, "was a
nigger w'at useter b'long ter ole Mars Marrabo McSwayne. Mars
Marrabo's place wuz on de yuther side'n de swamp, right nex' ter
yo' place. Sandy wuz a monst'us good nigger, en could do so many
things erbout a plantation, en alluz 'ten ter his wuk so well, dat
w'en Mars Marrabo's chilluns growed up en married off, dey all un
'em wanted dey daddy fer ter gin 'em Sandy fer a weddin' present.
But Mars Marrabo knowed de res' wouldn' be satisfied ef he gin
Sandy ter a'er one un 'em; so w'en dey wuz all done married, he
fix it by 'lowin' one er his chilluns ter take Sandy fer a mont'
er so, en den ernudder for a mont' er so, en so on dat erway tel
dey had all had 'im de same lenk er time; en den dey would all
take him roun' ag'in, 'cep'n oncet in a w'ile w'en Mars Marrabo
would len' 'im ter some er his yuther kinfolks 'roun' de country,
w'en dey wuz short er han's; tel bimeby it go so Sandy didn'
hardly knowed whar he wuz gwine ter stay fum one week's een ter de
"One time w'en Sandy wuz lent out ez yushal, a spekilater come
erlong wid a lot er niggers, en Mars Marrabo swap' Sandy's wife
off fer a noo 'oman. W'en Sandy come back, Mars Marrabo gin 'im a
dollar, en 'lowed he wuz monst'us sorry fer ter break up de
fambly, but de spekilater had gin 'im big boot, en times wuz hard
en money skase, en so he wuz bleedst ter make de trade. Sandy tuk
on some 'bout losin' his wife, but he soon seed dey want no use
cryin' ober spilt merlasses; en bein' ez he lacked de looks er de
noo 'ooman, he tuk up wid her atter she b'n on de plantation a
mont' er so.
"Sandy en his noo wife got on mighty well tergedder, en de niggers
all 'mence' ter talk about how lovin' dey wuz. W'en Tenie wuz tuk
sick oncet, Sandy useter set up all night wid 'er, en den go ter
wuk in de mawnin' des lack he had his reg'lar sleep; en Tenie
would 'a done anythin' in de worl' for her Sandy.
"Sandy en Tenie hadn' b'en libbin' tergedder fer mo' d'n two
mont's befo' Mars Marrabo's old uncle, w'at libbed down in Robeson
County, sent up ter fine out ef Mars Marrabo couldn' len' 'im er
hire 'im a good han' fer a mont' er so. Sandy's marster wuz one
er dese yer easy-gwine folks w'at wanter please eve'ybody, en he
says yas, he could len' 'im Sandy. En Mars Marrabo tole Sandy fer
ter git ready ter go down ter Robeson nex' day, fer ter stay a
mont' er so.
"Hit wuz monst'us hard on Sandy fer ter take 'im 'way fum Tenie.
Hit wuz so fur down ter Robeson dat he didn' hab no chance er
comin' back ter see her tel de time wuz up; he wouldn' a' mine
comin' ten er fifteen mile at night ter see Tenie, but Mars
Marrabo's uncle's plantation wuz mo' d'n forty mile off. Sandy
wuz mighty sad en cas' down atter w'at Mars Marrabo tole 'im, en
he says ter Tenie, sezee:--
"'I'm gittin monstus ti'ed er dish yer gwine roun' so much. Here
I is lent ter Mars Jeems dis mont', en I got ter do so-en-so; en
ter Mars Archie de nex' mont', en I got ter do so-en-so; den I got
ter go ter Miss Jinnie's: en hit's Sandy dis en Sandy dat, en
Sandy yer en Sandy dere, tel it 'pears ter me I ain' got no home,
ner no marster, ner no mistiss, ner no nuffin'. I can't eben keep
a wife: my yuther ole 'oman wuz sole away widout my gittin' a
chance fer ter tell her good-by; en now I got ter go off en leab
you, Tenie, en I dunno whe'r I'm eber gwine ter see yer ag'in er
no. I wisht I wuz a tree, er a stump, er a rock, er sump'n w'at
could stay on de plantation fer a w'ile.'
"Atter Sandy got thoo talkin', Tenie didn' say naer word, but des
sot dere by de fier, studyin' en studyin'. Bimeby she up'n says:--
"'Sandy, is I eber tole you I wuz a cunjuh-'ooman?'
"Co'se Sandy hadn' nebber dremp' er nuffin lack dat, en he made a
great miration w'en he hear w'at Tenie say. Bimeby Tenie went
"'I ain' goophered nobody, ner done no cunjuh-wuk fer fifteen yer
er mo; en w'en I got religion I made up my mine I wouldn' wuk no
mo' goopher. But dey is some things I doan b'lieve it's no sin
fer ter do; en ef you doan wanter be sent roun' fum pillar ter
pos', en ef you doan wanter go down ter Robeson, I kin fix things
so yer won't haf ter. Ef you'll des say de word, I kin turn yer
ter w'ateber yer wanter be, en yer kin stay right whar yer wanter,
ez long ez yer mineter.'
"Sandy say he doan keer; he's willin' fer ter do anythin' fer ter
stay close ter Tenie. Den Tenie ax 'im ef he doan wanter be turnt
inter a rabbit.
"Sandy say, 'No, de dogs mout git atter me.'
"'Shill I turn yer ter a wolf?' sez Tenie.
"'No, eve'ybody's skeered er a wolf, en I doan want nobody ter be
skeered er me.'
"'Shill I turn yer ter a mawkin'-bird?'
"'No, a hawk mout ketch me. I wanter be turnt inter sump'n
w'at'll stay in one place.'
"'I kin turn yer ter a tree,' sez Tenie. 'You won't hab no mouf
ner years, but I kin turn yer back oncet in a w'ile, so yer kin
git sump'n ter eat, en hear w'at's gwine on.'
"Well, Sandy say dat'll do. En so Tenie tuk 'im down by de aidge
er de swamp, not fur fum de quarters, en turnt 'im inter a big
pine-tree, en sot 'im out mongs' some yuther trees. En de nex'
mawnin', ez some er de fiel' han's wuz gwine long dere, dey seed a
tree w'at dey didn' 'member er habbin' seed befo; it wuz monst'us
quare, en dey wuz bleedst ter 'low dat dey hadn' 'membered right,
er e'se one er de saplin's had be'n growin' monst'us fas'.
"W'en Mars Marrabo 'skiver' dat Sandy wuz gone, he 'lowed Sandy
had runned away. He got de dogs out, but de las' place dey could
track Sandy ter wuz de foot er dat pine-tree. En dere de dogs
stood en barked, en bayed, en pawed at de tree, en tried ter climb
up on it; en w'en dey wuz tuk roun' thoo de swamp ter look fer de
scent, dey broke loose en made fer dat tree ag'in. It wuz de
beatenis' thing de w'ite folks eber hearn of, en Mars Marrabo
'lowed dat Sandy must a' clim' up on de tree en jump' off on a
mule er sump'n, en rid fur 'nuff fer ter spile de scent. Mars
Marrabo wanted ter 'cuse some er de yuther niggers er heppin Sandy
off, but dey all 'nied it ter de las'; en eve'ybody knowed Tenie
sot too much by Sandy fer ter he'p 'im run away whar she couldn'
nebber see 'im no mo'.
"W'en Sandy had be'n gone long 'nuff fer folks ter think he done
got clean away, Tenie useter go down ter de woods at night en turn
'im back, en den dey'd slip up ter de cabin en set by de fire en
talk. But dey ha' ter be monst'us keerful, er e'se somebody would
a seed 'em, en dat would a spile de whole thing; so Tenie alluz
turnt Sandy back in de mawnin' early, befo' anybody wuz
"But Sandy didn' git erlong widout his trials en tribberlations.
One day a woodpecker come erlong en 'mence' ter peck at de tree;
en de nex' time Sandy wuz turnt back he had a little roun' hole in
his arm, des lack a sharp stick be'n stuck in it. Atter dat Tenie
sot a sparrer-hawk fer ter watch de tree; en w'en de woodpecker
come erlong nex' mawnin' fer ter finish his nes', he got gobble'
up mos' fo' he stuck his bill in de bark.
"Nudder time, Mars Marrabo sent a nigger out in de woods fer ter
chop tuppentime boxes. De man chop a box in dish yer tree, en
hack' de bark up two er th'ee feet, fer ter let de tuppentime run.
De nex' time Sandy wuz turnt back he had a big skyar on his lef'
leg, des lack it be'n skunt; en it tuk Tenie nigh 'bout all night
fer ter fix a mixtry ter kyo it up. Atter dat, Tenie sot a hawnet
fer ter watch de tree; en w'en de nigger come back ag'in fer ter
cut ernudder box on de yuther side'n de tree, de hawnet stung 'im
so hard dat de ax slip en cut his foot nigh 'bout off.
"W'en Tenie see so many things happenin' ter de tree, she 'cluded
she'd ha' ter turn Sandy ter sump'n e'se; en atter studyin' de
matter ober, en talkin' wid Sandy one ebenin', she made up her
mine fer ter fix up a goopher mixtry w'at would turn herse'f en
Sandy ter foxes, er sump'n, so dey could run away en go some'rs
whar dey could be free en lib lack w'ite folks.
"But dey ain' no tellin' w'at's gwine ter happen in dis worl'.
Tenie had got de night sot fer her en Sandy ter run away, w'en dat
ve'y day one er Mars Marrabo's sons rid up ter de big house in his
buggy, en say his wife wuz monst'us sick, en he want his mammy ter
len' 'im a 'ooman fer ter nuss his wife. Tenie's mistiss say sen
Tenie; she wuz a good nuss. Young mars wuz in a tarrible hurry
fer ter git back home. Tenie wuz washin' at de big house dat day,
en her mistiss say she should go right 'long wid her young
marster. Tenie tried ter make some 'scuse fer ter git away en
hide tel night, w'en she would have eve'ything fix' up fer her en
Sandy; she say she wanter go ter her cabin fer ter git her bonnet.
Her mistiss say it doan matter 'bout de bonnet; her head-hankcher
wuz good 'nuff. Den Tenie say she wanter git her bes' frock; her
mistiss say no, she doan need no mo' frock, en w'en dat one got
dirty she could git a clean one whar she wuz gwine. So Tenie had
ter git in de buggy en go 'long wid young Mars Dunkin ter his
plantation, w'ich wuz mo' d'n twenty mile away; en dey want no
chance er her seein' Sandy no mo' tel she come back home. De po'
gal felt monst'us bad erbout de way things wuz gwine on, en she
knowed Sandy mus' be a wond'rin' why she didn' come en turn 'im
back no mo'.
"W'iles Tenie wuz away nussin' young Mars Dunkin's wife, Mars
Marrabo tuk a notion fer ter buil' 'im a noo kitchen; en bein' ez
he had lots er timber on his place, he begun ter look 'roun' fer a
tree ter hab de lumber sawed out'n. En I dunno how it come to be
so, but he happen fer ter hit on de ve'y tree w'at Sandy wuz turnt
inter. Tenie wuz gone, en dey wa'n't nobody ner nuffin' fer ter
watch de tree.
"De two men w'at cut de tree down say dey nebber had sech a time
wid a tree befo': dey axes would glansh off, en didn' 'pear ter
make no progress thoo de wood; en of all de creakin', en shakin',
en wobblin' you eber see, dat tree done it w'en it commence' ter
fall. It wuz de beatenis' thing!
"W'en dey got de tree all trim' up, dey chain it up ter a timber
waggin, en start fer de saw-mill. But dey had a hard time gittin'
de log dere: fus' dey got stuck in de mud w'en dey wuz gwine
crosst de swamp, en it wuz two er th'ee hours befo' dey could git
out. W'en dey start' on ag'in, de chain kep' a-comin' loose, en
dey had ter keep a-stoppin' en a-stoppin' fer ter hitch de log up
ag'in. W'en dey commence' ter climb de hill ter de saw-mill, de
log broke loose, en roll down de hill en in mongs' de trees, en
hit tuk nigh 'bout half a day mo' ter git it haul' up ter de saw-
"De nex' mawnin' atter de day de tree wuz haul' ter de saw-mill,
Tenie come home. W'en she got back ter her cabin, de fus' thing
she done wuz ter run down ter de woods en see how Sandy wuz
gittin' on. W'en she seed de stump standin' dere, wid de sap
runnin' out'n it, en de limbs layin' scattered roun', she nigh
'bout went out'n her mine. She run ter her cabin, en got her
goopher mixtry, en den foller de track er de timber waggin ter de
saw-mill. She knowed Sandy couldn' lib mo' d'n a minute er so ef
she turn' him back, fer he wuz all chop' up so he'd a be'n bleedst
ter die. But she wanted ter turn 'im back long ernuff fer ter
'splain ter 'im dat she hadn' went off a-purpose, en lef' 'im ter
be chop' down en sawed up. She didn' want Sandy ter die wid no
hard feelin's to'ds her.
"De han's at de saw-mill had des got de big log on de kerridge, en
wuz startin' up de saw, w'en dey seed a 'oman runnin up de hill,
all out er bref, cryin' en gwine on des lack she wuz plumb
'stracted. It wuz Tenie; she come right inter de mill, en th'owed
herse'f on de log, right in front er de saw, a-hollerin' en cryin'
ter her Sandy ter fergib her, en not ter think hard er her, fer it
wa'n't no fault er hern. Den Tenie 'membered de tree didn' hab no
years, en she wuz gittin' ready fer ter wuk her goopher mixtry so
ez ter turn Sandy back, w'en de mill-hands kotch holt er her en
tied her arms wid a rope, en fasten' her to one er de posts in de
saw-mill; en den dey started de saw up ag'in, en cut de log up
inter bo'ds en scantlin's right befo' her eyes. But it wuz mighty
hard wuk; fer of all de sweekin', en moanin', en groanin', dat log
done it w'iles de saw wuz a-cuttin' thoo it. De saw wuz one er
dese yer ole-timey, up-en-down saws, en hit tuk longer dem days
ter saw a log 'en it do now. Dey greased de saw, but dat didn'
stop de fuss; hit kep' right on, tel finely dey got de log all
"W'en de oberseah w'at run de saw-mill come fum brekfas', de han's
up en tell him 'bout de crazy 'ooman--ez dey s'posed she wuz--
w'at had come runnin' in de saw-mill, a-hollerin' en gwine on, en
tried ter th'ow herse'f befo' de saw. En de oberseah sent two er
th'ee er de han's fer ter take Tenie back ter her marster's
"Tenie 'peared ter be out'n her mine fer a long time, en her
marster ha' ter lock her up in de smoke-'ouse tel she got ober her
spells. Mars Marrabo wuz monst'us mad, en hit would a made yo'
flesh crawl fer ter hear him cuss, caze he say de spekilater w'at
he got Tenie fum had fooled 'im by wukkin' a crazy 'oman off on
him. Wiles Tenie wuz lock up in de smoke-'ouse, Mars Marrabo
tuk'n' haul de lumber fum de saw-mill, en put up his noo kitchen.
"W'en Tenie got quiet' down, so she could be 'lowed ter go 'roun'
de plantation, she up'n tole her marster all erbout Sandy en de
pine-tree; en w'en Mars Marrabo hearn it, he 'lowed she wuz de
wuss 'stracted nigger he eber hearn of. He didn' know w'at ter do
wid Tenie: fus' he thought he'd put her in de po'-house; but
finely, seein' ez she didn' do no harm ter nobody ner nuffin', but
des went roun' moanin', en groanin', en shakin' her head, he
'cluded ter let her stay on de plantation en nuss de little nigger
chilluns w'en dey mammies wuz ter wuk in de cotton-fiel'.
"De noo kitchen Mars Marrabo buil' wuzn' much use, fer it hadn'
be'n put up long befo' de niggers 'mence' ter notice quare things
erbout it. Dey could hear sump'n moanin' en groanin' 'bout de
kitchen in de night-time, en w'en de win' would blow dey could
hear sump'n a-hollerin' en sweekin' lack hit wuz in great pain en
sufferin'. En hit got so atter a w'ile dat hit wuz all Mars
Marrabo's wife could do ter git a 'ooman ter stay in de kitchen in
de daytime long ernuff ter do de cookin'; en dey wa'n't naer
nigger on de plantation w'at wouldn' rudder take forty dan ter go
'bout dat kitchen atter dark,--dat is, 'cep'n Tenie; she didn'
pear ter mine de ha'nts. She useter slip 'roun' at night, en set
on de kitchen steps, en lean up agin de do'-jamb, en run on ter
herse'f wid some kine er foolishness w'at nobody couldn' make out;
fer Mars Marrabo had th'eaten' ter sen' her off'n de plantation ef
she say anything ter any er de yuther niggers 'bout de pine-tree.
But somehow er nudder de niggers foun' out all 'bout it, en dey
knowed de kitchen wuz ha'anted by Sandy's sperrit. En bimeby hit
got so Mars Marrabo's wife herse'f wuz skeered ter go out in de
yard atter dark.
"W'en it come ter dat, Mars Marrabo tuk 'n' to' de kitchen down,
en use' de lumber fer ter buil' dat ole school-'ouse w'at youer
talkin' 'bout pullin' down. De school-'ouse wuzn' use' 'cep'n' in
de daytime, en on dark nights folks gwine 'long de road would hear
quare soun's en see quare things. Po' ole Tenie useter go down
dere at night, en wander 'roun' de school-'ouse; en de niggers all
'lowed she went fer ter talk wid Sandy's sperrit. En one winter
mawnin', w'en one er de boys went ter school early fer ter start
de fire, w'at should he fine but po' ole Tenie, layin' on de flo',
stiff, en cole, en dead. Dere didn' 'pear ter be nuffin'
pertickler de matter wid her,--she had des grieve' herse'f ter def
fer her Sandy. Mars Marrabo didn' shed no tears. He thought
Tenie wuz crazy, en dey wa'n't no tellin' w'at she mout do nex';
en dey ain' much room in dis worl' fer crazy w'ite folks, let
'lone a crazy nigger.
"Hit wa'n't long atter dat befo' Mars Marrabo sole a piece er his
track er lan' ter Mars Dugal' McAdoo,--MY ole marster,--en dat's
how de ole school-house happen to be on yo' place. W'en de wah
broke out, de school stop', en de ole school-'ouse be'n stannin'
empty ever sence,--dat is, 'cep'n' fer de ha'nts. En folks sez
dat de ole school-'ouse, er any yuther house w'at got any er dat
lumber in it w'at wuz sawed out'n de tree w'at Sandy wuz turnt
inter, is gwine ter be ha'nted tel de las' piece er plank is
rotted en crumble' inter dus'."
Annie had listened to this gruesome narrative with strained
"What a system it was," she exclaimed, when Julius had finished,
"under which such things were possible!"
"What things?" I asked, in amazement. "Are you seriously
considering the possibility of a man's being turned into a tree?"
"Oh, no," she replied quickly, "not that;" and then she added
absently, and with a dim look in her fine eyes, "Poor Tenie!"
We ordered the lumber, and returned home. That night, after we
had gone to bed, and my wife had to all appearances been sound
asleep for half an hour, she startled me out of an incipient doze
by exclaiming suddenly,--
"John, I don't believe I want my new kitchen built out of the
lumber in that old school-house."
"You wouldn't for a moment allow yourself," I replied, with some
asperity, "to be influenced by that absurdly impossible yarn which
Julius was spinning to-day?"
"I know the story is absurd," she replied dreamily, "and I am not
so silly as to believe it. But I don't think I should ever be
able to take any pleasure in that kitchen if it were built out of
that lumber. Besides, I think the kitchen would look better and
last longer if the lumber were all new."
Of course she had her way. I bought the new lumber, though not
without grumbling. A week or two later I was called away from
home on business. On my return, after an absence of several days,
my wife remarked to me,--
"John, there has been a split in the Sandy Run Colored Baptist
Church, on the temperance question. About half the members have
come out from the main body, and set up for themselves. Uncle
Julius is one of the seceders, and he came to me yesterday and
asked if they might not hold their meetings in the old school-
house for the present."
"I hope you didn't let the old rascal have it," I returned, with
some warmth. I had just received a bill for the new lumber I had
"Well," she replied, "I could not refuse him the use of the house
for so good a purpose."
"And I'll venture to say," I continued, "that you subscribed
something toward the support of the new church?"
She did not attempt to deny it.
"What are they going to do about the ghost?" I asked, somewhat
curious to know how Julius would get around this obstacle.
"Oh," replied Annie, "Uncle Julius says that ghosts never disturb
religious worship, but that if Sandy's spirit SHOULD happen to
stray into meeting by mistake, no doubt the preaching would do it
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