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Title: Old Jabe's Marital Experiments - 1908
Author: Page, Thomas Nelson
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Thomas Nelson Page

Charles Scribner’s Sons New York, 1908

Copyright, 1891, 1904, 1906

Old Jabe belonged to the Meriwethers, a fact which he never forgot or
allowed anyone else to forget; and on this he traded as a capital,
which paid him many dividends of one kind or another, among them being a
dividend in wives. How many wives he had had no one knew; and Jabe’s own
account was incredible. It would have eclipsed Henry VIII and Bluebeard.
But making all due allowance for his arithmetic, he must have run these
worthies a close second. He had not been a specially good “hand” before
the war, and was generally on unfriendly terms with the overseers.
They used to say that he was a “slick-tongued loafer,” and “the laziest
nigger on the place.” But Jabe declared, in defiance, that he had been
on the plantation before any overseer ever put his foot there, and he
would outstay the last one of them all, which, indeed, proved to be
true. The overseers disappeared with the end of Slavery, but Jabe
remained “slick-tongued,” oily, and humorous, as before.

When, at the close of the war, the other negroes moved away, Jabez,
after a brief outing, “took up” a few acres on the far edge of the
plantation, several miles from the house, and settled down to spend
the rest of his days, on what he called his “place,” in such ease
as constant application to his old mistress for aid and a frequently
renewed supply of wives could give.

Jabe’s idea of emancipation was somewhat one-sided. He had all the
privileges of a freed-man, but lost none of a slave. He was free, but
his master’s condition remained unchanged: he still had to support him,
when Jabez chose to call on him, and Jabez chose to call often.

“Ef I don’ come to you, who is I got to go to!” he demanded.

This was admitted to be a valid argument, and Jabez lived, if not on the
fat of the land, at least on the fat of his former mistress’s kitchen,
with such aid as his current wife could furnish.

He had had several wives before the war, and was reputed to be none too
good to them, a fact which was known at home only on hearsay; for he
always took his wives from plantations at a distance from his home.

The overseers said that he did this so that he could get off to go to
his “wife’s house,” and thus shirk work; the other servants said it
was because the women did not know him so well as those at home, and he
could leave them when he chose.

Jabez assigned a different reason:

“It don’ do to have your wife live too nigh to you; she ‘ll want t’ know
too much about you, an’ you can’t never git away from her”--a bit of
philosophy the soundness of which must be left to married men.

However it was, his reputation did not interfere with his ability to
procure a new wife as often as occasion arose. With Jabez the supply was
ever equal to the demand.

Mrs. Meriwether, his old mistress, was just telling me of him one day
in reply to a question of mine as to what had become of him; for I had
known him before the war.

“Oh! he is living still, and he bids fair to outlast the whole colored
female sex. He is a perfect Bluebeard. He has had I do not know how many
wives and I heard that his last wife was sick. They sent for my son,
Douglas, the doctor, not long ago to see her. However, I hope she is
better as he has not been sent for again.”

At this moment, by a coincidence, the name of Jabez was brought in by a

“Unc’ Jabez, m’m.”

That was all; but the tone and the manner of the maid told that Jabez
was a person of note with the messenger; every movement and glance were

“That old--! He is a nuisance! What does he want now? Is his wife worse,
or is he after a new one?”

“I d’ n’ kn’, m’m,” said the maid, sheepishly, twisting her body and
looking away, to appear unconcerned. “Would n’ tell me. He ain’ after

“Well, tell him to go to the kitchen till I send for him. Or--wait:
if his wife ‘s gone, he ‘ll be courting the cook if I send him to the
kitchen. And I don’t want to lose her just now. Tell him to come to the

“Yes, ‘m.” The maid gave a half-suppressed giggle, which almost became
an explosion as she said something to herself and closed the door.
It sounded like, “Dressed up might’ly--settin’ up to de cook now, I

There was a slow, heavy step without, and a knock at the back door; and
on a call from his mistress, Jabez entered, bowing low, very pompous and
serious. He was a curious mixture of assurance and conciliation, as he
stood there, hat in hand. He was tall and black and bald, with white
side-whiskers cut very short, and a rim of white wool around his head.
He was dressed in an old black coat, and held in his hand an ancient
beaver hat around which was a piece of rusty crape.

“Well, Jabez?” said his mistress, after the salutations were over, “How
are you getting along!”

“Well, mist’is, not very well, not at all well, ma’am. Had mighty bad
luck. ‘Bout my wife,” he added, explanatorily. He pulled down his lips,
and looked the picture of solemnity.

I saw from Mrs. Meriwether’s mystified look that she did not know what
he considered “bad luck.” She could not tell from his reference whether
his wife was better or worse.

“Is she--ah? What--oh--how is Amanda?” she demanded finally, to solve
the mystery.

“Mandy! Lord! ‘m, ‘Mandy was two back. She ‘s de one runned away wid Tom
Halleck, an’ lef’ me. I don’t know how _she_ is. I never went ahter
her. I wuz re-ally glad to git shet o’ her. She was too expansive. Dat
ooman want two frocks a year. When dese women begin to dress up so much,
a man got to look out. Dee ain’t always dressin’ fer _you!_”

“Indeed!” But Mrs. Meriwether’s irony was lost on Jabez.

“Yes, ‘m; dat she did! Dis one ‘s name was Sairey.” He folded his hands
and waited, the picture of repose and contentment.

“Oh, yes. So; true. I ‘d forgotten that ‘Mandy left you. But I thought
the new one was named Susan!” observed Mrs. Meriwether.

“No, ‘m; not de _newes_’ one. Susan--I had her las’ Christmas; but she
would n’ stay wid me. She was al’ays runnin’ off to town; an’ you know a
man don’ want a ooman on wheels. Ef de Lawd had intended a ooman to have
wheels, he ‘d ‘a’ gi’n ‘em to her, would n’ he?”

“Well, I suppose he would,” assented Mrs. Meriwether. “And this one is
Sarah? Well, how is----?”

“Yes, ‘m; dis one was Sairey.” We just caught the past tense.

“You get them so quickly, you see, you can’t expect one to remember
them,” said Mrs. Meriwether, frigidly. She meant to impress Jabez; but
Jabez remained serene.

“Yes, ‘m; dat ‘s so,” said he, cheerfully. “I kin hardly remember ‘em

“No, I suppose not.” His mistress grew severe. “Well, how ‘s Sarah?”

“Well, m’m, I could n’ exactly say--Sairey she ‘s done lef me--yes, ‘m.”
 He looked so cheerful that his mistress said with asperity:

“Left you! She has run off, too! You must have treated her badly?”

“No, ‘m. I did n’. I never had a wife I treated better. I let her had
all she could eat; an’ when she was sick----”

“I heard she was sick. I heard you sent for the doctor.”

“Yes, ‘m; dat I did--dat ‘s what I was gwine to tell you. I had a doctor
to see her _twice_. I had two separate and _indifferent_ physicians:
fust Dr. Overall, an’ den Marse Douglas. I could n’ do no mo’ ‘n dat,
now, could I?”

“Well, I don’t know,” observed Mrs. Meriwether. “My son told me a week
ago that she was sick. Did she get well?”

The old man shook his head solemnly.

“No, ‘m; but she went mighty easy. Marse Douglas he eased her off. He is
the bes’ doctor I ever see to let ‘em die easy.”

Mingled with her horror at his cold-blooded recital, a smile flickered
about Mrs. Meriwether’s mouth at this shot at her son, the doctor; but
the old man looked absolutely innocent.

“Why did n ‘t you send for the doctor again?” she demanded.

“Well, m’m, I gin her two chances. I think dat was ‘nough. I wuz right
fond o’ Sairey; but I declar’ I ‘d rather lost Sairey than to _broke_.”

“You would!” Mrs. Meriwether sat up and began to bristle. “Well, at
least, you have the expense of her funeral; and I ‘m glad of it,” she
asserted with severity.

“Dat ‘s what I come over t’ see you ‘bout. I ‘m gwine to give Sairey a
fine fun’ral. I want you to let yo’ cook cook me a cake an’--one or two
more little things.”

“Very well,” said Mrs. Meriwether, relenting somewhat; “I will tell her
to do so. I will tell her to make you a good cake. When do you want it?”

“Thank you m’m. Yes, m’m; ef you ‘ll gi’ me a right good-sized
cake--an’--a loaf or two of flour-bread--an’--a ham, I ‘ll be very much
obleeged to you. I heah she ‘s a mighty good cook?”

“She is,” said Mrs. Meriwether; “the best I ‘ve had in a long time.”
 She had not caught the tone of interrogation in his voice, nor seen the
shrewd look in his face, as I had done. Jabez appeared well satisfied.

“I ‘m mighty glad to heah you give her sech a good character; I heahed
you ‘d do it. I don’ know her very well.”

Mrs. Meriwether looked up quickly enough to catch his glance this time.

“Jabez--I know nothing about her character,” she began coldly. “I know
she has a vile temper; but she is an excellent cook, and so long as she
is not impudent to me, that is all I want to know.”

Jabez bowed approvingly.

“Yes, ‘m; dat ‘s right. Dat ‘s all I want t’ know. I don’ keer nothin’
‘bout de temper; atter I git ‘em, I kin manage ‘em. I jist want t’
know ‘bout de char-àcter, dat ‘s all. I did n’ know her so well, an’
I thought I ‘d ax you. I tolt her ef you ‘d give her a good char-àcter,
she might suit me; but I ‘d wait fer de cake--_an_’ de ham.”

His mistress rose to her feet.

“Jabez, do you mean that you have spoken to that woman already!”

“Well, yes, ‘m; but not to say _speak_ to her. I jes kind o’ mentioned
it to her as I ‘d inquire as to her char-àcter.”

“And your wife has been gone--how long! Two days!”

“Well, mist’is, she ‘s gone fer good, ain’t she!” demanded Jabez. “She
can’t be no mo’ gone!”

“You are a wicked, hardened old sinner!” declared the old lady,

“Nor, I ain’t, mist’is; I clar’ I ain’t,” protested Jabez, with
unruffled front.

“You treat your wives dreadfully.”

“Nor, I don’t, mist’is. You ax ‘em ef I does. Ef I did, dee would n’
be so many of ‘em anxious t’ git me. Now, would dee? I can start in an’
beat a’ one o’ dese young bloods aroin’ heah, now.” He spoke with pride.

“I believe that is so, and I cannot understand it. And before one
of them is in her grave you are courting another. It is horrid--an
old--Methuselah like you.” She paused to take breath, and Jabez availed
himself of the pause.

“Dat ‘s de reason I got t’ do things in a kind o’ hurry--I ain’ no
Methuselum. I got no time t’ wait.”

“Jabez,” said Mrs. Meriwether, seriously, “tell me how you manage to
fool all these women.”

The old man pondered for a moment.

“Well, I declar,’ mist’is, I hardly knows how. Dee wants to be fooled.
I think it is becuz dee wants t’ see what de urrs marry me fer, an’ what
dee done lef’ me. Woman is mighty curi-some folk.”

I have often wondered since if this was really the reason.

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