The Market lady: The antebellum Charleston novel, “Jack,” Continues.

Chapter 31

The Market Lady

We headed back across the river to the market downtown where there was lots of fruit and vegetables and all kinds of food bein’ sold in the market stalls. The first thing Jack did was borrow a large burlap bag that had the words “Dark Coffee Beans” on it. “Here,” Jack said, “You carry it over your back and I’ll show you just how fast I can fill’er up.” Then Jack started a’borrowin turnips and peaches and apples and carrots and beats and lemons and limes and even a small watermelon.

In five minutes the bag was already heavy. Jack was good. He’d get people talkin’ and say somethin’ nice to them about what they was wearin’ or somethin’ and the next thing you knew he snitched somethin’ quick as lightnin’ off the table and put it in ma sack. Then when they’d turn ‘round again Jack would talk to them some more and do the same thing next time they turned ‘round. “Oh look’it , there’s a rotted peach. You’d better git it outta there,” he told a large woman with a blue and white polka-dotted apron and yellow sunbonnet.

“Oh you sweet boy! Why thanks for a’pointing that out to me.”

“That’s okay. I like to help out such pretty a woman such as yourself. It just makes ma day if I can do something good like that.”

And the woman blushed and gave each of us a handful of cherries. “Oh ma’am you didn’t have to. You’re too kind,” Jack said as he snitched another larger watermelon and sacked it in a second after she done turned ‘round agin to tend to her peaches.

“You sure have beautiful peaches,” Jack said.

“Oh you are so complimentary, have a peach both of you. Here’s a good ripe one for you and here’s beautiful Georgia peach just for you too. Now you boys have a nice day.”

“Thank you so much ma’am but I hate to take something for nothing. Can I unload those watermelons for ya?” said Jack.

“Well you are a treat. Thank you, sonny. I would very much appreciate it.”

Jack and me unloaded three crates of watermelons sweating in the hot noon sun and he placed them nicely on display so that a buyer could not avoid seeing them first they were so big. There must have been forty. Then Jack asked if there was anything else he could do but there wasn’t so we started to leave.  Jack didn’t take anything else, just took what he thought would get Leroy through for a few days so we could have some time to make a plan.

“I’ll be back this afternoon ma’m and if you like I’ll help you crate up whatever didn’t sell. Be glad to do it,” said Jack who meant what he said.

“Why I’d be so happy for your assistance. What a generous heart you have. You just don’t see many boys like you around Charleston anymore. Would you like another peach boys?”

“Oh no ma’am, you’ve been too generous,” Jack said, but the woman, whose name was Molly or Polly, insisted and gave us both two more of them sweet Georgia peaches which we saved one each for Leroy and we ate the other ones. Then we went back to the boat and headed back ‘cross the river. When Leroy saw us he wasn’t at the tree house but came up behind us. Said he was a’followin’ us just in case”cuz a runaway nigger just cain’t be too careful.”

We didn’t mind. And Leroy was so glad when he saw how much food we’d brought him. Then we knew he trusted us from then on. Jack even cooked some carrots and beans for him before we left.

“Tomorrow we’ll bring you some blankets and some coffee Leroy. You just stay put now!”


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