Read Twelve Years a Slave book online by Solomon Northup

Read Twelve Years a Slave book online by Solomon Northup

On that particular Christmas I have now in my mind, a description whereof will serve as a description of the day generally, Miss Lively and Mr. Sam, the first belonging to Stewart, the latter to Roberts, started the ball. It was well known that Sam cherished an ardent passion for Lively, as also did one of Marshall’s and another of Carey’s boys; for Lively was lively indeed, and a heart-breaking coquette withal. It was a victory for Sam Roberts, when, rising from the repast, she gave him her hand for the first “figure” in preference to either of his rivals. They were somewhat crest-fallen, and, shaking their heads angrily, rather intimated they would like to pitch into Mr. Sam and hurt him badly. But not an emotion of wrath ruffled the placid bosom of Samuel as his legs flew like drum-sticks down the outside and up the middle, by the side of his bewitching partner. The whole company cheered them vociferously, and, excited with the applause, they continued “tearing down” after all the others had become exhausted and halted a moment to recover breath. But Sam’s superhuman exertions overcame him finally, leaving Lively alone, yet whirling like a top. Thereupon one of Sam’s rivals, Pete Marshall, dashed in, and, with might and main, leaped and shuffled and threw himself into every conceivable shape, as if determined to show Miss Lively and all the world that Sam Roberts was of no account.

Pete’s affection, however, was greater than his discretion. Such violent exercise took the breath out of him directly, and he dropped like an empty bag Then was the time for Harry Carey to try his hand; but Lively also soon out-winded him, amidst hurrahs and shouts, fully sustaining her well-earned reputation of being the “fastest gal” on the bayou.

One “set” off, another takes its place, he or she remaining longest on the floor receiving the most uproarious commendation, and so the dancing continues until broad daylight. It does not cease with the sound of the fiddle, but in that case they set up a music peculiar to themselves. This is called “patting,” accompanied with one of those unmeaning songs, composed rather for its adaptation to a certain tune or measure, than for the purpose of expressing any distinct idea. The patting is performed by striking the hands on the knees, then striking the hands together, then striking the right shoulder with one hand, the left with the other—all the while keeping time with the feet, and singing, perhaps, this song:

“Harper’s creek and roarin’ ribber,

Thar, my dear, we’ll live forebber;

Den we’ll go to de Ingin nation,

All I walls in dis creation,

Is pretty little wife and big plantation.


Up dat oak and down dat ribber,

Two overseers and one little nigger”

Or, if these words are not adapted to the tune called for, it may be that “Old Hog Eye” is—a rather solemn and startling specimen of versification, not, however, to be appreciated unless heard at the South. It runneth as follows:

“Who’s been here since I’ve been gone?

Pretty little gal wid a josey on.

Hog Eye!

Old Hog Eye,

And Hosey too!

Never see de like since I was born,

Here come a little gal wid a josey on.

Hog Eye!

Old Hog Eye!

And Hosey too!”

Or, may be the following, perhaps, equally nonsensical, but full of melody, nevertheless, as it flows from the negro’s mouth:

“Ebo Dick and Jurdan’s Jo,

Them two niggers stole my yo’.

Chorus. Hop Jim along,

Walk Jim along,

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