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WE went tiptoeing along a path amongst the trees back towards the end of the widow’s garden, stooping down so as the branches wouldn’t scrape our heads. When we was passing by the kitchen I fell over a root and made a noise. We scrouched down and laid still. Miss Watson’s big nigger, named Jim, was setting in the kitchen door; we could see him pretty clear, because there was a light behind him. He got up and stretched his neck out about a minute, listening. Then he says: We tiptoed along a path that ran through the trees toward the back of the widow’s garden, hunching over so the branches wouldn’t scrape our heads. Just as we passed by the kitchen, I made a noise as I fell over a tree root that was sticking up. We crouched down and laid still. Miss Watson’s big n-----, Jim, was sitting in the kitchen doorway. There was a light behind him, so we could see him pretty clearly. He got up, stretched his neck out for a minute to listen.
“Who dah?” Then he said, “Who’s that?”
He listened some more; then he come tiptoeing down and stood right between us; we could a touched him, nearly. Well, likely it was minutes and minutes that there warn’t a sound, and we all there so close together. There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn’t scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I’d die if I couldn’t scratch. Well, I’ve noticed that thing plenty times since. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain’t sleepy—if you are anywheres where it won’t do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upwards of a thousand places. Pretty soon Jim says: Jim listened some more, then he tiptoed toward us until he was standing right between us. He was so close we could have almost reached out and touched him. It seemed minutes passed without a sound. My ankle started to itch, but I couldn’t risk scratching it. Then my ear began to itch and my back too, right between my shoulder blades. I itched so much I felt like I was going to die. I’ve noticed this a lot, actually: If you’re around important people or at a funeral or trying to fall asleep when you’re not sleepy—basically, any place where you just can’t scratch—then your body is going itch in a thousand places.
“Say, who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I didn’ hear sumf’n. Well, I know what I’s gwyne to do: I’s gwyne to set down here and listen tell I hears it agin.” Pretty soon Jim said, “Say now, who’s there? Where are you? I’ll be damned if I didn’t hear something. Well, I know what I’m going to do—I’m going to sit down right here and listen until I hear that sound again.”
So he set down on the ground betwixt me and Tom. He leaned his back up against a tree, and stretched his legs out till one of them most touched one of mine. My nose begun to itch. It itched till the tears come into my eyes. But I dasn’t scratch. Then it begun to itch on the inside. Next I got to itching underneath. I didn’t know how I was going to set still. This miserableness went on as much as six or seven minutes; but it seemed a sight longer than that. I was itching in eleven different places now. I reckoned I couldn’t stand it more’n a minute longer, but I set my teeth hard and got ready to try. Just then Jim begun to breathe heavy; next he begun to snore—and then I was pretty soon comfortable again. He sat down on the ground between me and Tom. He leaned up against a tree and stretched his legs out until one of them almost touched mine. Then my nose began to itch so much that I almost cried. But I couldn’t risk scratching it. It began to itch on the inside of my nose, then underneath. It was so bad I didn’t know how I was going to stay still. This misery went on for six or seven minutes, but it felt a lot longer than that. Pretty soon I itched in eleven different places. I figured I couldn’t stand it any longer, but I gritted my teeth and told myself to be patient. Just then Jim began to breathe heavily and then snore—and then I could scratch all over and be comfortable again.
Tom he made a sign to me—kind of a little noise with his mouth—and we went creeping away on our hands and knees. When we was ten foot off Tom whispered to me, and wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun. But I said no; he might wake and make a disturbance, and then they’d find out I warn’t in. Then Tom said he hadn’t got candles enough, and he would slip in the kitchen and get some more. I didn’t want him to try. I said Jim might wake up and come. But Tom wanted to resk it; so we slid in there and got three candles, and Tom laid five cents on the table for pay. Then we got out, and I was in a sweat to get away; but nothing would do Tom but he must crawl to where Jim was, on his hands and knees, and play something on him. I waited, and it seemed a good while, everything was so still and lonesome. Tom signaled to me by making a little noise with his mouth, and we crawled away on our hands and knees. When we’d crawled ten feet, Tom whispered that he wanted to play a joke on Jim by tieing him up to the tree. I said we better not, because he might wake up and start shouting, and then everyone would know I’d snuck out. Then Tom said that he didn’t have enough candles, and that he’d sneak into the kitchen to grab a few more. I didn’t want him to do it and said that Jim might wake up and investigate. But Tom wanted to risk it, so we snuck into the kitchen and got three candles. Before we left, Tom put five cents on the table to pay for them. I really wanted to leave, but Tom wanted to play a joke on Jim. Tom crawled over to him while I waited in the still and lonesome night for what seemed like a really long time.
As soon as Tom was back we cut along the path, around the garden fence, and by and by fetched up on the steep top of the hill the other side of the house. Tom said he slipped Jim’s hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over him, and Jim stirred a little, but he didn’t wake. Afterwards Jim said the witches be witched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and, after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by and by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, “Hm! What you know ’bout witches?” and that nigger was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn’t touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches. As soon as Tom got back, we continued along the path around the garden fence, and then headed up the hill behind the house. Tom said he’d taken Jim’s hat off and hung it on a branch right above his head, and that though Jim had stirred a little, he hadn’t woken up. Later on, Jim explained the hat in the tree by claiming that witches cast a spell on him that put him in a trance. He said they made him ride his horse all over the whole state before putting him back under the tree. They had hung his hat on the branch to show him what they’d done to him. The next time he told the story, though, he said they’d made him go all the way down to New Orleans. Each time he told it, he seemed to go a little further so that pretty soon he was saying they’d made him ride all over the world, which gave him saddle sores and nearly killed him. Jim was pretty proud about all this, and he liked telling the story to the other n------, who would come from miles away to hear it. He became the most respected n------ in the county. Even n------ he didn’t know would stare at him with their mouths open as if he were a great wonder. n------ love to sit in the dark around the kitchen fire and tell stories about witches. Whenever Jim would walk into the room and hear someone else talking about such things he’d say, “Hmph! What do you know about witches?” The n----- who was all talking would have to sit down and let Jim have the floor. Jim always kept Tom’s nickel around his neck with a string, saying it was a charm that the devil himself had given to him. He said that he could cure anybody with that charm and fetch witches whenever he wanted just by saying a little chant—though he never told us what the chant actually was. n------ would come from all over and give Jim whatever they could just for a glimpse of that nickel, but they’d never touch it because they believed it had been touched by the devil. Jim became worthless as a servant because he thought he was so special for having seen the devil and been put in a trance by witches.