A TRUE STORY
REPEATED WORD FOR WORD AS I HEARD IT
BY MARK TWAIN
It was summertime, and twilight. We were sitting on
the porch of the farmhouse, on the summit of the hill,
and "Aunt Rachel" was sitting respectfully below our
level, on the steps -- for she was our servant, and
colored. She was of mighty frame and stature; she
was sixty years old, but her eye was undimmed and
her strength unabated. She was a cheerful, hearty
soul, and it was no more trouble for her to laugh
than it is for a bird to sing. She was under fire now,
as usual when the day was done. That is to say, she
was being chaffed without mercy, and was enjoying it.
She would let off peal after peal of laughter, and then
sit with her face in her hands and shake with throes
of enjoyment which she could no longer get breath
enough to express. It such a moment as this a thought
occurred to me, and I said, "Aunt Rachel, how is it
that you've lived sixty years and never had any trouble?"
She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was moment
of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder
toward me, and said, without even a smile in her voice,
"Misto C----, is you in 'arnest?"
It surprised me a good deal; and it sobered my manner
and my speech, too. I said, "Why, I thought -- that is,
I meant -- why, you can't have had any trouble. I've
never heard you sigh, and never seen your eye when
there wasn't a laugh in it."
She faced fairly around now, and was full of earnestness.
"Has I had any trouble? Misto C----, I's gwyne to
tell you, den I leave it to you. I was bawn down
'mongst de slaves; I knows all 'bout slavery, 'ca'se
I ben one of 'em my own se'f. Well, sah, my ole man --
dat's my husban' -- he was lovin' an' kind to me, jist
as kind as you is to yo' own wife. An' we had chil'en --
seven chil'en -- an' we loved dem chil'en jist de same as
you loves yo' chil'en. Dey was black, but de Lord can't
make no chil'en so black but what they mother loves 'em
an' wouldn't give 'em up, no, not for anything dat's
in dis whole world.
"Well, sah, I was raised in ole Fo'ginny, but my mother
she was raised in Maryland; an' my souls she was
turrible when she'd git started! My lan' but she'd
make de fur fly! When she'd git into dem tantrums,
she always had one word dat she said. She'd straighten
herse'f up an' put her fists in her hips an' say,
'I want you to understan' dat I wa'n't bawn in de
mash to be fool' by trash! I's one o' de ole Blue
Hen's Chickens, I is!' 'Ca'se you see, dat's what
folks dat's bawn in Maryland calls deyselves, an'
dey's proud of it. Well, dat was her word. I don't
ever forgit it, beca'se she said it so much, an'
beca'se she said it one day when my little Henry
tore his wris' awful, an' most busted his head,
right up at de top of his forehead, an' de niggers
didn't fly aroun' fas' enough to 'tend to him. An'
when dey talk' back at her, she up an' she says,
'Look-a-heah!' she says, 'I want you niggers to
understan' dat I wa'n't bawn in de mash be fool' by
trash! I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's chickens, I is!'
an' den she clar' dat kitchen an' bandage' up de
chile herse'f. So I says dat word, too, when I's
"Well, bymeby my ole mistis say she's broke, an'
she got to sell all de niggers on de place. An'
when I heah dat dey gwyne to sell us all off at
oction in Richmon', oh, de good gracious! I know
what dat mean!"
Aunt Rachel had gradually risen, while she warmed
to her subject, and now she towered above us,
black against the stars.
"Dey put chains on us, an' put us on a stan' as
high as dis po'ch -- twenty foot high -- an' all de
people stood aroun', crowds 'an' crowds. An' dey'd
come up dah an' look at us all roun', an' squeeze
our arm, an' make us git up an' walk, an' den say,
'Dis one too ole,' or 'Dis one lame,' or 'Dis one
don't 'mount to much.' An' dey sole my ole man,
an' took him away, an' dey begin to sell my chil'en
an' take dem away, an' I begin to cry; an' de man
say, 'Shet up yo' damn blubberin',' an' hit me on
de mouf wid his han'. An' when de las' one was
gone but my little Henry, I grab' him clost up to
my breas' so, an' I ris up an' says, 'You sha'nt
take him away,' I says; 'I'll kill de man dat
tetch him!' I says. But my little Henry whisper
an' say 'I gwyne to run away, an' den I work an'
buy yo' freedom' Oh, bless de chile, he always
so good! But dey got him -- dey got him, de men did;
but I took and tear de clo'es mos' off of 'em, an'
beat 'em over de head wid my chain; an' dey give
it to me too, but I didn't mine dat.
"Well, dah was my ole man gone, an' all my chil'en,
all my seven chil'en -- an' six of 'em I hain't set
eyes on ag'in to dis day, an' dat's twenty-two
year ago las' Easter. De man dat bought me b'long'
in Newbern, an' he took me dah. Well, bymeby de
years roll on an' de waw come. My marster he was
a Confedrit colonel, an' I was his family's cook.
So when de Unions took dat town, dey all run away
an' lef' me all by myse'f wid de other niggers in
dat mons'us big house. So de big Union officers
move in dah, an' dey ask me would I cook for dem.
'Lord bless you,' says I, 'dat what I's for.'
"Dey wa'n't no small-fry officers, mine you, dey
was de biggest dey is; an' de way dey made dem
sojers mosey roun'! De Gen'l he tole me to boss
dat kitchen; an' he say, 'If anybody come meddlin'
wid you, you jist make 'em walk chalk; don't you
be afeard,' he say; 'you's 'mong frens, now.'
"Well, I thinks to myse'f, if my little Henry
ever got a chance to run away, he'd make to de
Norf, o' course. So one day I comes in dah whar
de big officers was, in de parlor, an' I drops a
kurtchy, so, an' I up an' tole 'em 'bout my Henry,
dey a-listenin' to my troubles jist de same as
if I was white folks; an' I says, 'What I come
for is beca'se if he got away and got up Norf
whar you gemmen comes from, you might 'a' seen
him, maybe, an' could tell me so as I could fine
him ag'in; he was very little, an' he had a sk-yar
on his lef' wris', an' at de top of his forehead.'
Den dey look mournful, an' de Gen'l says, 'How
long sence you los' him?' an' I say, 'Thirteen
year. Den de Gen'l say, 'He wouldn't be little
no mo', now -- he's a man!'
"I never thought o' dat befo'! He was only dat
little feller to me, yit. I never thought 'bout
him growin' up an' bein' big. But I see it den.
None o' de gemmen had run acrost him, so dey
couldn't do nothin' for me. But all dat time,
do' I didn't know it, my Henry was run off to
de Norf, years an' years, an' he was a barber,
too, an' worked for hisse'f. An' bymeby, when
de waw come, he ups an' he says: 'I's done barberin','
he says, 'I's gwyne to fine my ole mammy, less'n
she's dead.' So he sole out an' went to whar
dey was recruitin', an' hired hisse'f out to de
colonel for his servant, an' den he went all froo
de battles everywhah, huntin' for his ole mammy;
yes, indeedy, he'd hire to fust one officer an'
den another, tell he'd ransacked de whole Souf;
but you see I didn't know nuffin 'bout dis. How
was I gwyne to know it?
"Well, one night we had a big sojer ball; de
sojers dah at Newbern was always havin' balls
an' carryin' on. Dey had 'em in my kitchen, heaps
o' times, 'ca'se it was so big. Mine you, I was
down on sich doin's; beca'se my place was wid
de officers, an' it rasp' me to have dem common
sojers cavortin' roun' in my kitchen like dat.
But I alway' stood aroun' an' kep' things straight,
I did; an' sometimes dey'd git my dander up, an'
den I'd make 'em clar dat kitchen, mine I tell
"Well, one night -- it was a Friday night --
dey comes a whole platoon f'm a nigger ridgment
dat was on guard at de house -- de house was
headquarters, you know -- an' den I was jist a-bilin'!
Mad? I was jist a-boomin'! I swelled aroun', an'
swelled aroun'; I jist was a-itchin' for 'em to
do somefin for to start me. An' dey was a-waltzin'
an' a dancin'! my but dey was havin' a time! an
I jist a-swellin' an' a-swellin' up! Pooty soon,
'long comes sich a spruce young nigger a-sailin'
down de room wid a yaller wench roun' de wais';
an' roun' an' roun' an' roun' dey went, enough to
make a body drunk to look at 'em; an' when dey
got abreas' o' me, dey went to kin' o' balancin'
aroun', fust on one leg an' den on t'other, an'
smilin' at my big red turban, an' makin' fun,
an' I ups an' says 'Git along wid you! -- rubbage!'
De young man's face kin' o' changed, all of a
sudden, for 'bout a second, but den he went to
smilin' ag'in, same as he was befo'. Well,
'bout dis time, in comes some niggers dat
played music an' b'long' to de ban', an' dey
never could git along widout puttin' on airs.
An' de very fust air dey put on dat night, I
lit into em! Dey laughed, an' dat made me wuss.
De res' o' de niggers got to laughin', an' den
my soul alive but I was hot! My eye was jist
a-blazin'! I jist straightened myself up,
so -- jist as I is now, plum to de ceilin', mos'
-- an' I digs my fists into my hips, an' I says,
'Look-a-heah!' I says, 'I want you niggers to
understan' dat I wa'n't bawn in de mash to be
fool' by trash! I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's
Chickens, I is!' -- an' den I see dat young man
stan' a-starin' an' stiff, lookin' kin' o' up
at de ceilin' like he fo'got somefin, an'
couldn't 'member it no mo'. Well, I jist march'
on dem niggers -- so, lookin' like a gen'l -- an'
dey jist cave' away befo' me an' out at de do'.
An' as dis young man was a-goin' out, I heah him
say to another nigger, 'Jim,' he says, 'you go
'long an' tell de cap'n I be on han' 'bout eight
o'clock in de mawnin'; dey's somefin on my mine,'
he says; 'I don't sleep no mo' dis night. You go
'long,' he says, 'an' leave me by my own se'f.'
"Dis was 'bout one o'clock in de mawnin'. Well,
'bout seven, I was up an' on han', gittin' de
officers' breakfast. I was a-stoopin' down by de
stove -- jist so, same as if yo' foot was de stove --
an' I'd opened de stove do' wid my right han' --
so, pushin' it back, jist as I pushes yo' foot --
an' I'd jist got de pan o' hot biscuits in my han'
an' was 'bout to raise up, when I see a black
face come aroun' under mine, an' de eyes a-lookin'
up into mine, jist as I's a-lookin' up clost under
yo' face now; an' I jist stopped right dah, an'
never budged! Jist gazed, an' gazed so; an' de
pan begin to tremble, an' all of a sudden I knowed!
De pan drop' on de flo' an' I grab his lef' han'
an' shove back his sleeve -- jist so, as I's doin'
to you -- an' den I goes for his forehead an' push
de hair back, so, an' 'Boy!' I says, 'if you an't
my Henry, what is you doin' wid dis welt on yo'
wris' an' dat sk-yar on yo' forehead? De Lord God
ob heaven be praise', I got my own ag'in!'
"Oh no, Misto C----, I hain't had no trouble.
An' no joy!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~