The Project Gutenberg eBook of Devil tales

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Title: Devil tales

Author: Virginia Frazer Boyle

Illustrator: A. B. Frost

Release date: April 1, 2023 [eBook #70436]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1900

Credits: Charlene Taylor, Les Galloway and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations in hyphenation have been standardised but all other spelling and punctuation remains unchanged.

Duplication of each chapter heading on a full page before each chapter has been removed.

[p. 8]


Virginia Frazer Boyle


Publishers symbol


Copyright, 1900, by Harper & Brothers:
All rights reserved.




Old Cinder Cat 1
A Kingdom for Micajah 23
The Devil’s Little Fly 53
Asmodeus in the Quarters 77
The Taming of Jezrul 91
Dark er de Moon 105
The Other Maumer 133
Stolen Fire 157
The Black Cat 167
’Liza 193

[Pg iv]

[Pg v]


Facing p.
“‘BURN! BURN!’” 98

[Pg vii]


The sunlight drifting through an avenue of live-oaks sifts dappled gold upon the well-known gig that has splashed through miles and miles of the waxy “buckshot” mud, and now winds slowly up the driveway to stop before the broad white pillars of the “Big House.”

A dozen little negroes clamor for the lines, and with a friendly nod to them the autocrat of autocrats gives his hand to “Ole Miss,” who is standing at the open door.

“Ole Marse” sits with him in the library below, talking in subdued tones and joining now and again in a familiar julep, brought, at regular intervals, cold and dewy, by the serving man, Cæsar. And “Young Marse,” with his head upon his hand, every nerve strained to its tension, looks idly through the window upon the pulsing life without.

[Pg viii]

Then a feeble wail sets a pace to hurrying feet and smiling faces as the great bell clangs in the “Quarters” the coming of “Little Marse.”

But hardly second in importance to the arrival of the little lord of the domain is the advent of the Queen of the Nursery, who had been installed from the “Quarters” many days before; for on her capacious bosom the baby head of “Young Marse” had rested, and this, more than likely, is the third generation of her subjects.

The turbaned head is held high and her sway is supreme, for no one can do quite so well for “Baby” when his enemies attack him; her cup and spoon can usually rout the most persistent, and hives and whooping-cough fly ignominiously before her catnip and calimus tea.

The older children, turned over some time ago to the good graces of the second nurse, that “Mammy” might have time to rest, cling about her chair and pull at her skirts, looking with jealous eyes upon the tiny bundle that has usurped the warm nest of her arms, and when at last the little lord consents to sleep, and “Mammy” shoos the flies and draws the bar, the young deposed, of flaxen locks and[Pg ix] blue-checked apron, with sleepy eyes borrows the nest a while, regardless of the clamor of the others. “Mammy, tell a tale!”

And “Mammy” tells it; day after day she pours out the wealth of her inheritance, as her kindred, the “Mammies” before her, have done, and these children of children’s children listen with the same unfeigned delight.

But “Baby” is wearing trousers now—has attained to the dignity of being called by his own name, and “Mammy” is back in her cabin again, that Mecca of childish desire, between which and the “Big House” a path is worn by little pilgrims; for if “Mammy” is ailing there are flannels and loaf-sugar to be brought, and there are always ash-cakes to be baked, sweet-potatoes, goobers, chestnuts, or apples to be roasted by “Mammy’s” hearth, and, if nothing else offers, even plain buttermilk off her deal table, drunk from her cracked blue china bowl, tastes better than any other.

Then, after a season, the stone-bruises, stubbed toes, and little cut fingers are gone, and “Mammy’s” roll of old linen, with its familiar turpentine and sugar, are never now disturbed. The bewildering mass of curls that only “Mammy’s” hand could comb without a shower of[Pg x] tears, together with the dainty buttoned pinafores, have faded too, somewhere, for the college days have come and the first love affairs—those strange, all-absorbing passions—and as “Mammy’s” lap, with its smooth white apron and comfortable knees had been the receptacle of all broken dolls and toys, so “Mammy’s” ear is the haven of youthful broken hearts, and the same old stories are tenderly applied for the mending.

But time ripens, and the roof-tree is shaken of its fruit. First in joy and first in sorrow, it is “Mammy” who shrouds the form of “Ole Miss,” and now she looks longingly into the past.

A few short years that seem as days, and “Little Miss” smoothes the folds of “Mammy’s” black silk, “saved against her burying,” and pins, through blinding tears, a white rose above the still heart, and “Mammy’s” daughter, fat and gentle, with “Mammy’s” own soft, crooning voice, takes up the cradle song.

They romped together, these two, beneath the self-same oaks—“Little Miss” and “Mammy’s” daughter—but “Little Miss” now wears a cap (she is “Ole Miss,” too, to some down in[Pg xi] the “Quarters”), and the folds of the other’s turban are as full of comfortable dignity as the dusky mother’s were.

“Little Miss,” still sweet and dainty in her dimity, smiles over her netting and slips the beads upon the scarlet threads or sorts her crewels in the shady porch, for at the other end, just out of sight, the old split-bottomed hickory chair resumes its familiar “thump” to the music of a negro voice.

Again it is “the dark of the moon,” and Satan is abroad in the “Quarters,” and the good hoodoo who must beat the devil at his own game is working wonders against him as he “splits the wind.” “Ole Cinder Cat” sits by the hearth nightly, and the “devil’s little fly” buzzes audibly in wondering childish ears.

The same old stories, ever witching, ever new, to the same old chorus—“Tell another, Mammy!”

Another chorus calls to answering silence, for she is gone. The swaying form, crooning in low rich voice, like some bronze Homer blind to letters, a weird primeval lore into the ears of future orators, is shut within the feudal past of the old plantation days, for the brown breast[Pg xii] that pillowed its brain and beauty is still forever, and that South too is dead.

The worn split-bottomed chair is empty, filled with dust and years, for it is we who seek to conjure with it now—we who have heard unwitting at that shrine a classic that America may call her own.

[Pg 3]


Solon and Juno had quarrelled. Now a quarrel was not an unusual occurrence in the Quarters, but Solon and Juno had been exemplars of conjugal felicity for nearly eighteen years, and had been held up to their dusky world as patterns to be zealously copied.

This unpleasantness, however, had been brewing for a long time; but hitherto, if one had lost temper, the other had always prudently remembered that they were in the fierce light that beats upon all paragons, and wisely refrained from adding to the flame. But at last there was a culmination behind closed doors, and when Solon and Juno arose at daylight neither had yielded a single point.

The most mortifying part of the whole proceeding[Pg 4] to Solon was the fact that he had just “experienced religion,” and this disgraceful thing coming close upon the second week was certainly a most painful “falling from grace,” and he groaned in spirit lest the news should be noised abroad.

Juno, however, had no such qualms of conscience, for, though she went to “meeting” persistently, her service was of the even, regular variety, and as she was never known to shout, and had never “come under conviction,” ’Zorter Blalock, newly come into that fold, took her under especial consideration, and prayed nightly for “dem needer hot, needer cole, les’ dey be spit outen de mouf, O Lord!”

Juno raised no question as to the genuineness of Solon’s religion; but she had her own grievance against him; for in her old age Juno had grown jealous; and at last, from much dwelling upon some recent occurrences simultaneous with Solon’s profession, Juno had become suspicious.

Twice of late Solon had asked for a pass to the adjoining plantation; the last time she knew he had to swim the creek, for the water was up, there was no one at the ferry that time of night, and he couldn’t have taken a mule[Pg 5] without waking John, who was most unobliging in such matters. Then, more positive proof than anything else, Solon’s head was very wet when he came in, along towards day, and he was very surly when questioned about it.

“Gittin’ ’ligion go mighty hard wid you, Solon,” said Juno. “Hit keep you outen you’ bed when hones’ folks is all ersleep. You does lack you tryin’ ter lay er ghos’, ’steader gittin’ peace.”

Juno, typical of her race, and particularly of her sex, though possessing no occult gifts of her own, was very superstitious, and, goaded by her suspicions, resolved to make use of the simple means within her reach; so, begging some coffee-grounds of Aunt Susan, the cook at the Big House, she “turned the three cups of her fortune,” for she felt that something was going wrong.

The first and second cups were barren of information, they represented youth, and the grounds did not even “wash.” But the third—ah! she knew it—Solon was deep in mischief, for this was the way it read:

That spot represented herself. There was a cross by it; that represented trouble—no, it did not mean death. That clear space represented[Pg 6] water—the cross pointed that way, towards the north. Bowen’s plantation was north: that was where Solon went. Across the water was another cross—trouble again. Beyond the cross was an eagle—that meant luck; but between the cross and the eagle, close to the cross—in fact, an arm of the cross pointed right to it—was a (Juno rubbed her eyes and looked again, then she pulled her brass specs, which she seldom used, down upon her nose and took the cup to the window)—was a woman!

Her hand trembled a little with indecision, then, forgetful of the borrowed cup, she threw it into the grove. So the quarrel had come about without a happy solution of the difficulty, for Solon sullenly but persistently declared his innocence of offence, while Juno as persistently put the question.

Next morning saw the beginning of a series of omens and disasters, showing that some dark power was at work, for, without cause or warning, Juno’s skillet cracked right in two on the fire before the hoe-cake was done; Solon’s rooster stood in the doorway and crowed three times before he could shoo him away; and a chimney-swallow got into the cabin and[Pg 7] beat its wings bloody against the wall in its efforts to get out.

A very thoughtful, silent pair joined the hands in the field that morning, for everything seemed to be going wrong. Juno got a “miz’ry in her side” long before noon, and just as the most unsatisfactory day that they had ever spent together was closing, a “cotton-mouth” bit Solon on the heel. Juno ran to kill a chicken to apply to the wound to draw out the poison, for she had more faith in the warm chicken than in Ole Marse’s whiskey, which was plentifully supplied. She did not want to see Solon die with, as she said, “a lie in de mouf”; and, hoping to avert evil, she killed the very rooster that had crowed so inauspiciously early in the morning, thus opening upon her head the vials of Solon’s wrath when he had recovered from his fright.

“Ju! you done los’ you’ head-piece sho’, you fool! Hain’t I done gib up all I got ter git dat dominicker, an’ hain’t got but one, an’ here you go an’ split him up fur er snake-bite lack any common chick’n! I lay I larn you, ole ’oman, if I hatter frail you ever’ day ’twix’ now an’ Chris’mus!”

“An’ I lay, if you does, I’ll up an’ tell ’em[Pg 8] in de meetin’ how you done git dat rooster, Solon!”

Then, to the amazement of both, the story of the quarrel got out; the faintest whisper of the midnight was exploited, as it were, upon the house-tops; wagging heads were turned and loosened tongues clattered; and at night Juno quilted in silence, and Solon sought his religious counsellors without comfort.

So the days passed, and Juno could see that Solon was perfectly miserable; but he kept his own counsel, and, despite his vehement protestations, the visits over the creek continued.

Then Solon fell ill of fever and ague. The overseer said that the trouble was malarial, caused by the weekly trips across the bottom, and refused to grant further passes; but it was to Parson Blalock that Solon poured out the burden of his woes.

“I done come ter gib up dat ’ligion. Parson Blalock”; and Solon yawned and shivered in the sunshine, for his chill-time was coming on. “Nebber hab no trouble ner nuffin ail me twel I git hit, an’ here I gwine chillin’ ever’ udder day lack er po’ mizerbul lam’ dat done been drapped too soon. Hit done go too hard wid me, Parson Blalock, an’ I come ter gib hit up!”


[Pg 9]

The ’zorter and ’spounder scratched his head thoughtfully, then laid a bar on the anvil—for Parson Blalock was a blacksmith on weekdays.

“Ter my min’, Brer Solon, you cain’t gib hit up. Once in de fol’, you b’long ter de fol’; you cain’t git out; an’ er-doin’ lack you is now, is how ever’ fol’ done git er black sheep in hit!”

“Hit hain’t struck in deep yit, an’ I hain’t got no use fur dat ’ligion, an’ I want ter let hit go!” moaned Solon.

Parson Blalock had let the iron cool, and, drawing close to Solon, he whispered: “Hit hain’t no ’ligion dat wukin’ on you, Brer Solon; you’s right; you hain’t neber got ernough fur dat! ’Cordin’ ter de signs er de times, ter my min’, hit er hoodoo, an’ you better look out fur her, ’case de hoodoo am er ’oman!”

Solon smiled in a sickly, hopeless way, for the ague was upon him, and turned away in the direction of his cabin. But Juno was not there. Crouching low before the witch-fire of Maum Ysbel, there had been poured into her ears enough of misery to last through a whole cycle,[Pg 10] the price of barter having been a coveted china cup.

There was no light in the cabin, save from the blue and green flames that were now dying out, lighting fitfully the features of the toothless, weazened negress who knelt before it, for the only opening was barred by a roughhewn hickory log. On the red coals snake fat and lizard skin, mixed with some strange, ill-odored stuff, were merrily bubbling; and the oracle continued:

“‘Tain’t no use ter try dat cat; hain’t nuffin but Ole Cinder Cat; you’ll fin’ her bloody bones hid out somers. Hain’t nuffin but er hoodoo dat er ridin’ dat cat, des ter ’do’ you wid Solon; but if yo’ wants ter mek sho’, jes ketch her when she dozin’ in de ashes an’ put her in de tar bar’l dar by you’ do’ wid de head druv in, an’ set fire ter hit. If hit Ole Cinder, you’ll fin’ her, ’dout eben her tail scotched, er-grinnin’ in de hot ashes when de fire done die out. If dat happin, den you gotter ketch her ergin—an’ she’s gwinter gib you er putty hard run—an’ ’n’int her hin’ de years wid dis grease; den foller uv her, an’ tek dis bone wid you—whatebber you does, don’ lose dis. If she cross de creek, she gwinter cross by de dry bed, ’case she hain’t[Pg 11] gwinter wet her foots lessen she kin hope hit; an’ she gotter go mighty fur way up fur ter git ober dry, so you mought tek sumpen ter eat wid you. Don’ matter how tired you gits, keep er-foll’in’ de cat, an’ es soon es yo’ git on t’uther side, mek er cross an’ spit in hit, den rub you’ eyes wid dis bone, an’ tu’n roun’ free times. Dat ’ll mek de hoodoo gib up de Cinder Cat’s skin, an’ right dar es you tu’n you’ll see de pusson dat been mekin’ all dis here trouble ’twix’ you an’ Solon. You’ll know her when yo’ sees her, but don’ say nuffin ter her but ’Howdy?’ an’ don’ eat nuffin she gib yo’, ’case she mout ’fix’ yo’ lack she do Solon, an’ yo’ cain’t do nuffin yit. Yo’ gotter wait twel de spring, when de sap ’ll git up. Don’ yo’ quoil wid Solon ’twix’ now an’ den; Solon’s er good man; he wouldn’ be no kin ter me if he wa’n’t!—fur he’s des hoodooed an’ hain’t ’sponsible. But soon’s de sap’s riz you git yo’ er good big piece er green grape-vine an’ lay fur de ’oman, an’ hit her wid hit unbeknownst; ’case if she know yo’ arter her, she’ll go er mighty long piece outen her way ter git shet er yo’, fur de grape-vine sho’ brek de charm—hain’t no hoodoo kin mek er stan’ ’gin yo’ if you hit ’em wid er grape-vine when de sap’s up; but be[Pg 12] mighty sho’ she’s stan’in’ on her own groun’ when yo’ hits her. If yo’ does what I tells you, gal, dat Solon ’ll come back ter yo’ in er herry, des es meek an’ peaceable es er lam’.”

Be it far from the chronicler of the Scheherazade of the nursery to narrate the marital infelicities of Solon and Juno for the space of nearly a year, but Mammy solemnly declares that the Cinder Cat bore the test of the fiery tar, and sat calmly grinning in the ashes when the flame had died away; and Juno, remembering the admonition, anointed the ears of the cat with Maum Ysbel’s ointment, pleaded illness to the overseer, and, putting the wonderful bone that was to give her superhuman sight into her basket, together with a hoe-cake, she followed Old Cinder Cat.

The cat progressed by many devious ways, giving many an unusual twinge to the rheumatic limbs, for often Juno had to go on hands and knees, scratching and tearing her face as she heard most unholy conversations between the cat and the cold-blooded things that creep and thrive in darkness.


But at last the dry bed of the creek was crossed, and, doing as Maum Ysbel had bidden, Juno met face to face the comeliest of yellow girls[Pg 13] coming from milking, with her pail upon her head.

“Howdy?” said Juno.

“Howdy?” rejoined the girl, smiling, as she offered Juno a tin cup of the milk.

The temptation was sore, for the rough hoe-cake, eaten in haste without water, had parched her throat; but, remembering the warning, Juno swallowed hard.

“Much obleeged, lady, but I hain’t got time”; and, breathless and bleeding from her scratches, Juno hurried back to report to Maum Ysbel.

But the depth of winter was upon the land; it would be many a day before vegetation would wake; and Juno, with consuming patience, bore the vagaries of Solon until the leaves were born. Twice, in despair, Juno had tapped the grape-vine, and twice the sap had failed to flow, but the last straw was broken in this wise:

There was to be a break-down in the Quarters, to celebrate the breaking of some new ground on the river-side, that had been deadened some two years before, and, in accordance with Ole Marse’s custom, the laborers were permitted to invite the negroes upon the adjoining plantation. It was to be a great[Pg 14] event, and Juno was preparing for the same with great interest, for even flesh and age could not bare as neat a pair of heels as hers for certain intricate shuffles, when, all of a sudden, Solon declared his intention of not attending. Such a thing had not been known to happen in the whole course of Solon’s existence. For two days before the break-down he claimed that he was sick, and took all of Juno’s nauseous concoctions without a murmur. Then he besought Juno not to go to the dance. It was devil trickery, he said, and it was very hard on him, as he was trying to keep his religion that he had gotten so painfully, and the devil would be sure to follow her home. He proposed that Juno should remain quietly in the cabin as usual on the night of the break-down, as an example to the weaker “professors,” while he thought it might do him good to pay a dutiful visit to his old “daddy” across the river—for Old Marse owned on both sides.

But though Juno physicked her spouse faithfully, she rebelled against such imposition.

“Um! Ober de ribber you gwine? I lay you’ daddy hain’t gwine lay eyes on yo’ fur dis day two weeks. Gittin’ mighty anxious ’bout you’ daddy all uv er suddent! I’se gwine[Pg 15] ter de bre’k-down. I hain’t pestered wid you’ ’ligion. Hain’t nuffin de matter wid Juno’s head ner her heels, sho’ mun!”

But Juno’s heart was not as light as she made it appear, for she had fretted through a whole winter and a late spring, and after a restless night she again invoked the aid of Maum Ysbel.

“I hain’t got nuffin ter pay yo’ wid, Maumer, but I’se dat miserbul I hatter come,” said Juno with a sigh.

The hag ceased stirring the contents of the little pot, and setting it off on the hearth to cool, she drew her wrinkled face into many more wrinkles, and took an inventory of Juno from head to foot.

“Yas, yo’ is, honey—yas, yo’ is!” and as she grinned, her solitary tooth was visible in her glee. “De coat yo’ got on am powerful ole an’ fady, an’ dat ap’un hain’t no ’count; yo’ gotter wash hit mighty easy fur ter w’ar hit one mo’ time; but yo’ got you’ moon year-bobs!”

Juno winced, for those big brass ear-rings were the pride of her heart; twice her lobes had been pulled through with the weight of them, but there was always room for another piercing.

[Pg 16]

The old woman leered and nodded. “Yo’ got you’ moon year-bobs, an’ my Becky’s Sairey been cryin’ uv her eyes out fur ’em ebber sence she seed ’em!”

“But, Maumer—” expostulated Juno.

“Don’ yo’ ’Maumer’ me!” said the old woman, crossly. “What you come here ter me fur if hit hain’t ter fetch dem bobs ter Sairey? Hain’t I seed yo’ in de coals, ’way ’cross de fiel’, ’fore yo’ lef’ de cabin, mek up you’ min’ ter fotch dem year-bobs ter Sairey fur what I gwine tole yo’? What I tells yo’ worf er heap ter yo’, but hit nuffin ter me. Solon hain’t my ole man!”

Juno was sick at heart. She had given up the blue-edged china cup to save Solon, but the big moon ear-rings were the wealth of her whole life.

The hoodoo threw a chip at a great toad that was napping in an old shoe beside the hearth, and, shaking the ashes from her pipe, she refilled it from her pocket. “Hain’t nuffin ter ole Ysbel, gal—her day done ober; she don’ claim no man, dead ner libin’! But I done tole yo’ ’bout dat yaller gal, hain’t I? Yo’ done seed her wid you’ own eyes, hain’t yo’? An’ I done tole yo’ how ter git shet uv her. Hain’t[Pg 17] my keerin’, but if yo’ don’ wanter know no mo’ ’bout her, yo’ des tote dem moon year-bobs back home wid yo’!”

Slowly the rings were removed from Juno’s ears, and the old woman, with a leer, popped them into her capacious pocket before resuming her professional attitude.

“Um! um! wall, de sap be up by ter-night, an’ ter-morrer yo’ play sick an’ cross de ribber, ’case yo’ gotter whup her on her own groun’. Yo’ cain’t tech her on you’ own, no matter what happin, ’case she kin ’do’ yo’ den, an’ she’s de bestes’ hoodoo in dis kentry, ’ceptin’ ole Ysbel, fur all dat she’s on’y er gal. Don’ yo’ say nuffin ter-night at de bre’k-down, ner do nuffin, but yo’ gwine ter see sights, if you does what I tells yo’. Mek lack ter Solon dat yo’ hain’t gwine sho’ ’nough, dat yo’ ailin’ er sumpen, an’ let him gin out dat he gwine ter see his daddy. Yo’ lay low twel yo’ hears dem fiddles des er-talkin’ in de middle er de night, des ’fore dey sarve de supper; den yo’ tek you’ foot in you’ han’ an’ git down dar; but don’ yo’ go in, an’ don’ yo’ do nuffin den, fur hoodoo ’oman hain’t lack odder ’oman, an’ you cain’t git eben wid ’em de same way; but wait twel hit bre’k up, den cut you’ grape-vine,[Pg 18] an’ den yo’ ’ll run ’gin sumpen in de dark; hit Ole Cinder Cat. All yo’ hatter do is ter foller uv her, ’case I’se fixed her so’s she gotter sarve yo’; an’ den when yo’ sees what yo’ lookin’ fur, lay de grape-vine on, quick an’ fas’, ’case hain’t nuffin ail Solon but dat yaller hoodoo!”

It was turning twelve when Old Cinder Cat rose from the hearth, and, stretching herself, bounded through the doorway. Juno woke with a start.

“Um! Juno better be gwine too. Mighty fine business fur her ter be in, long er hoodoos an’ Ole Cinder, but she sho’ gwine wid ’em dis time, mun!”

The squeak of the old fiddle under Pompey’s fingers, mingled with the even patting, was wafted through the open door. Juno looked at the height of the moon.

“Hit’s turned midnight now, an’ I’m erg-wine.”

But she first sought the grape-vine by the spring. The bright moonlight flooded everything as with the light of day, and, carefully cutting the vine between certain joints, according to the formula of Maum Ysbel, Juno hid it beneath her skirt, and took the little path towards the sounds of midnight gayety.


[Pg 19]

The barn was radiant with tallow dips that winked and sputtered through the decorations of pine boughs like gorgeous fire-flies. A dance was in progress. The men were ranged in one line, the women in another; at a certain point they met and joined hands. But, arrayed in gorgeous apparel different from the others, a great red paper flower nodding in her hair, her white teeth shining between parted lips, the leader of the dance was the comely yellow girl whom Juno had seen before, and her delighted partner was none other than the prodigal Solon himself. Juno’s fingers instinctively sought the grape-vine for another purpose than that indicated by Maum Ysbel, but, clinching her hands, she withdrew into the outside shadows again, and the Cinder Cat suddenly rubbed against her dress and purred.

Solon danced like one possessed, regardless of time or tune, always keeping his eyes fixed upon the nodding crimson flower; and the yellow girl, with lips drawn tight over the white teeth, watched him with the eyes of possession.

Then, as he sank upon a bench, exhausted, for Solon was none of the youngest, the voice of an elder whispered in his ear: “Better[Pg 20] g’long home ter de ole ’oman! We’ll hab you up in de chu’ch fur dis!”

The watching eyes in the darkness were burning like coals of fire, but Solon pulled loose from the detaining hand. “What I keer ’bout gwine home ter de ole ’oman? What I keer ’bout bein’ fotched up? I ’ain’ bothered!”

And, despite his age, in every dance Solon led, with the smiling face and crimson flower beside him. Others changed partners, but Solon’s was always the same.

Now the candles had burned out, the few that remained were guttering and flickering, and then there was one last dance, in which a madness seemed to seize Solon, and as he whirled he drew from his pocket a long string of blue glass beads and threw them around the yellow hoodoo’s neck. The watching eyes in the darkness glowed with passion, for Solon’s gift was Juno’s sole remaining ornament, now that the moon ear-rings had been bartered.

“Lemme hol’ on ter myse’f tight, O Lord!” she groaned. “Des fur er little while!” And again the Cinder Cat brushed her skirts and purred.

[Pg 21]

“I gwine foller you in er minit, Cinder! I gwine follow you!”

The silence that was golden lay upon Juno’s lips, and it was a repentant Solon who came to her next night, for the Cinder Cat was gone forever from the hearth, the charm was forever broken, and the comely hoodoo knew it.

Shamefacedly and ill at ease, Solon lolled and smoked, but, still preserving her silence, Juno prepared a sumptuous supper for her prodigal.

After they had eaten she threw a crimson paper flower, ragged and dirty, upon his knee, and, drawing her chair close, she lighted her pipe from his, for she knew that her woes were ended.

[Pg 25]


“So you want your freedom, Micajah?”

The negro who had shambled up to the broad veranda dropped his eyes and shuffled uneasily, for there was a world of wonderment and kindliness in the master’s tone.

“And this is the meaning of all the devilment I’ve heard of lately—all this talking among the negroes?”

“I reckon so, sar.”

“At your age, Micajah, when you’ve been a self-respecting negro all your life, to go cutting up and making mischief among the other negroes because you want your freedom—that’s a fine way to get it! Haven’t you always gotten all you asked for? If you wanted freedom, why didn’t you come and ask for it?”

The master lifted his glasses to his forehead[Pg 26] and looked reproachfully into the queer black face before him.

“Didn’t ’low, Ole Marse, as how you’d gib hit ter me,” said the negro, humbly, but persistently.

Judge Naylor looked from the rose-twined piazza across the spacious lawn, under whose oaks his own father had romped, and beyond whose limits had joyously hunted with another Micajah, as small and as black as the one before him. He had never dreamed of freedom. Was this the innate craving of the human for something higher, or only a reflection of an external picture? The Judge resolved upon an experiment.

“You are mistaken,” said the Judge, gravely, as he knocked the ash from his pipe. “I will give it to you. And what sort of freedom is it that you want, Micajah?”

The old slave scratched his head and swayed uncomfortably.

“Why, des freedom, Ole Marse.”

“What kind of freedom, Micajah? What is it that you want? Speak out, for I am going to give you your freedom for a whole month, and you shall have all that you want to go with it,” added the Judge.

[Pg 27]

Uncle Cage gasped. The enormity of the idea was too much for him.

“And here were Ole Marse des er-talkin’ ’bout hit lack hit were er chaw er terbaccy—des es easy an’ quiet lack,” said Micajah, afterwards, in confidence.

“Well,” queried the Judge, “what do you want as a free nigger, Micajah?”

Micajah scraped the dust with his foot; twice he made a little mound of it with his toes and twice smoothed it out.

“I don’t wanter be no ’free nigger,’ Ole Marse. I des wants freedom.”

“Well, go on; don’t be afraid; you shall have what you want.”

Cage’s eyes sparkled, and at last his tongue was loosened.

“I don’ wanter work none, Ole Marse. I wants ter hear dat horn blow at five in de mornin’, an’ I wants ter git up, mad lack, an’ holler outen de winder, ’You derned ole raskil, what you wake me up dis time er day fur?’ Den I wants ter fling my boot-jack at him, an’ go on back ter sleep, I does. Um, um—an’ when de ole ’oman ’low, ’Cage, yo’ git up an’ make dat fire,’ I wants ter ’low back ter her, ’I hain’t er-makin’ fires fur niggers,’ an’ I wants ter[Pg 28] go back ter sleep, I does—fur, Ole Marse”—here Cage bent closer and almost whispered—“I wants my freedom fum de ole ’oman too, den, an’ I don’t want her ter git freedom, nohow.”

“All right. Anything else to go with your freedom, Micajah?”

All timidity and sullenness were forgotten, and Micajah’s face was radiant.

“I don’ wanter hope do dat cl’arin’, Ole Marse, down by de ribber, an’ when de niggers is er-sweatin’ an’ er-workin’, I wants ter be takin’ er my ease. Um, um—an’ I wants some clo’se, white folks’ clo’se; an’, Ole Marse, I wants er book lack yo’ got in de house.”

“A book? When did you learn to read, Micajah?”

“Lord! Ole Marse, ole Cage cain’t read; he des want ter tote hit roun’ lack yo’ does.”

“You shall have it,” said the master, heartily. “Now what else?”

“I wants er little nigger, er little nigger, Ole Marse.” Here Micajah scratched his head thoughtfully. “None er mine, ner none on dis side er de ribber, but er little nigger dat ain’ know me ’fore I git freedom—dat ain’ see me work. An’ I wants dat little nigger ter foller[Pg 29] me ever’whar I goes, er-totin’ er palm-leaf fan, an’ I wants him ter fan dese foots when I sets down er lays down, an’ I wants ter holler at him when he ain’ move fas’ ernough, an’ cuss him when he move too fas’, but I wants him ter keep er-foll’in’ wid de palm-leaf fan.”

Micajah, from sheer ecstasy of contemplation, paused.

“But I don’ wanter be no ’free nigger,’ Ole Marse, lack Free Joe and Yaller Pete, ’case they hain’t nuffin but des niggers, ’douten er marster, errer home, ner nuffin; dey don’ eben know whar dey git dey nex’ sumpen ter eat fum; but I des wants ter taste freedom.”

“Very well, Micajah; you shall begin to taste it at once, and I hope that it will do you good. You need not go to the field to-morrow, and you can pick out your little negro from over the river this afternoon. Cindy will give you my old broadcloth—you can roll up the legs and sleeves if they are too long—and I will not forget the book; and, mind, if anybody asks you to do a lick of work for a whole month, you send them to me.”

The plantation work went on smoothly without Micajah’s presence, much to the disgust of[Pg 30] Milly, his wife, who had been reprimanded more than once for berating Cage about his trifling ways. Micajah got his little nigger from over the river—one who had never seen him before, and who was as thoroughly abject and respectful as even Cage could wish; so the latter’s joy knew no bounds, and he was rapidly demonstrating, to his master’s great amusement, the close kinship of the tyrant and the slave.

Micajah’s freedom was a matter of wonderment to the negroes as he looked upon them at their work for a moment with a supercilious air, and made some dignified remark, with his book held carelessly under his arm, “perzackly lack Ole Marse,” Cage gleefully congratulated himself—for Cage was wonderfully changed, changed to befit his new condition; and as he turned, followed by the bearer of the palm-leaf fan, many were the envious glances cast.

Such ease, such glory, such a blended dream of shade, watermelons, and cob pipes smoked undisturbed, varied by the unspeakable delight of “cussin’” and yelling at the little negro!


But even this Arcadia had its shadow, for Cage had never had the ecstasy of flinging a[Pg 31] boot-jack at his little slave. Boots and their accompaniment had been part of the requirements which his master had provided, with the promise that the jack could be flung if the boots were worn; but Cage had been an unshod child of nature, for in that equable climate a foot-covering at any season of the year was only a matter of effect, and the exquisite agony of the pegged cowskins was more than he could bear, even with his freedom; so, by her master’s direction, boots and jack were carried triumphantly back to the plantation store by Milly, who was more than happy to thus pluck one feather from the wing of freedom.

Milly in these last few days seriously questioned within herself the wisdom of Old Marse’s experiment, for it had very much upset the domestic equilibrium; but Milly was a philosopher too, in an humble way, and under the existing circumstances she resolved to make an experiment also, the issue of which she was more certain of than Ole Marse was of his.

“Think I gwine hab Cage layin’ roun’ here in de shade er w’arin’ er broadclorf ever’ day—an’ Ole Marse ain’ do dat—an’ er-settin’ up[Pg 32] he ole foots ter be fanned lack dey was sumpen, an’ dey es big es all out-doo’s, an’ he er-pesterin’ me ’bout he fried chicken fur dinner lack he were white—an’ dey sen’ hit ter him, too. My Lord! Um—Ole Marse done los’ he head ter ’low dat; but I hain’t los’ mine, sho mun, and I gwine git eben wid Cage. Talkin’ ’bout freedom dis an’ freedom dat, an’ erlowin’ dat hit sumpen dat Milly cain’t git. Um—if hit make er body es low-down an’ es triflin’ es Cage be, I lay I don’ want hit!”

But it was glorious to be envied—a field-hand envied even by the house-negroes. So Micajah buried his bare feet in the dust when impressing a crowd, and rose in the dignity of his broadcloth. He was a king, though even for a day, and no ancestor by the far banks of the Congo ever ruled more royally.

He was abused behind his back, but the fruits of the earth were brought to his cabin. The horn blew in the morning, but Micajah turned over for another nap. Milly put the buttermilk on the table, but Cage had coffee from the big house; and at last freedom had grown so great that Micajah declared that Milly should stand while he was served—that a free[Pg 33] man could not sit at table with a slave, even though she was his wife.

Then Milly rose in wrath, and laid two crossed sticks tied with hair in the chimney lock, but held her peace. Micajah shivered; ruefully he regretted his boldness, for the dignity of the free man could not overcome the superstition of the slave, and he had known Milly’s work of old. Alas for Micajah! In the splendor of his broadcloth and the deliciousness of freedom he had forgotten to transfer his own hoodoo—it was even then reposing in the pocket of the discarded blue-check trousers—and Milly’s charm would work!

The clearing down by the river was progressing. It was a kind of extra work, and a barn dance and barbecue had been promised in the Quarters when the task should be completed. So it was even pleasure, this sweating and hard labor, with the pot of gold, as it were, at the end; and, with the “whoraw” in the Quarters attending each morning’s departure, the spirit of habit even tempted Uncle Cage to join, for it was getting lonesome with nobody but the little nigger—not even Milly in the cabin to lord it over—and the laborers were too busy to[Pg 34] listen to him if he went idle-handed to the clearing; but he was a free man, and freedom did not stoop to such without necessity.

But latterly the monarchy was not nearly so absolute as it had been; the negroes were not half so envious. Too much familiarity and boasting were breeding contempt, and though Milly was more than welcome among them, they looked at him askance whenever he sought to join in their recreations.

Growing bolder, they quizzed his little “nig” about him, to the former’s utter demoralization, poking fun at the bare feet and broadcloth; and one of the smart house-negroes disrespectfully propounded a conundrum, in effect, “If all work an’ no play make Cage er dull nigger, what do all play make him?” Milly’s brother, a field-hand, had actually shouted out, “A big fool nigger!” at which Cage and his fan-bearer walked away in dignified silence. But the fan-bearer was far from satisfactory; there was that in his manner which betokened sullenness rather than the awe with which he was at first infused; and though he habitually dodged, it was rather from the fear of the missile than of the man. There was even a symptom of rebellion, which Micajah, finding the arts[Pg 35] of civilization deficient, promptly put down by threatening to hoodoo him with a ’gater.

The imp was quelled for a few days, and during that time he spent all the spare moments when Cage was asleep in the careful examination of his legs and arms for the first indication of the ’gater, guardedly holding his breath to feel an internal or external wiggle; but, as no signs appeared, he turned a pirouette on his great toe and whispered to the watermelons in the patch that “Marse ’Cajah wa’n’t nuffin but er nigger man, arter all.”

But something had surely gone wrong with Micajah’s fortunes. Was Milly’s charm working? There it lay in the chimney lock, and Cage dared not touch it. “I knows she put hit dar fur me ’case I mek her so mad ’bout stan’in’ when I eats, an’ now she won’t set down when I axes her; an’ if hit air workin’—my Lord! den I’m done fur!” moaned Cage.

So the Big-house coffee was not half as delicious as it had been, and Cage took to praising Milly’s buttermilk, sharing her side meat, and he courteously left her a piece of fried chicken on one occasion; but Milly would not touch it.

Then, after one sleepless night in which the crown of freedom pressed more heavily upon[Pg 36] the monarch’s brow, Micajah sought his master, leaving the bearer of the fan sobbing in the cabin from a reprimand more vigorous than pleasant. The Judge was preparing to ride, and he smiled upon the forlorn figure of Micajah.

“Well, Micajah,” said he, flecking the head of a zinnia with his whip, “have you thought of something else to go with freedom?” Micajah studied his bare toes sheepishly, then covered them with dust.

“Naw, Ole Marse.”

The Judge drew nearer. “Are you sick, Micajah?”

“Naw, Ole Marse.”

“Then what do you want? Don’t stand there all day like a dolt.”

Micajah hesitated; something seemed to clog his throat, and he cleared it.

“I thought maybe, Ole Marse—I thought es how de time mought be up, an’ I come ter gib up de freedom and de book.”

“What? Are you tired already? Why, it is not half up. Go on and have a good time, Micajah.”


Micajah looked crestfallen, and ambled off as the Judge rode away. “Er whole mont’,[Pg 37] an’ hit hain’t half up! Well, dar’s dis erbout hit, dat’s one comfort—dem niggers kin ’buse me lack dey pleases, an’ dey gwine sweat an’ groan fur dey fun; but dis freedom gwine ter fotch hit ter me lack I were white, ef I des set an’ wait. Dey don’ git tired er settin’ an’ waitin’ fur hit ter come ter ’em, an’ I des bardaciously gwine steddy some more white folks’ ways ’sides totin’ de book.”

But the blissful contemplation ended as he neared his own cabin. In the doorway sat the fan-bearer, his tears having been wiped away by Cage’s good dinner, which had arrived from the Big House during the consultation with his master, and to which the imp had bountifully helped himself. Micajah’s heart was sore, but he smothered his wrath until he had made his meal, while the fan-bearer, with a fragment of belief still in Micajah’s powers, employed the time in feeling again for the incipient ’gater. Then Micajah rapped imperiously upon the table.

“You Amaziah!” The little negro dodged. “You infernal lazy black raskil, Amaziah!”

“Huh!” whimpered the boy.

“You lim’ er Satan, you lizard-eyed nigger, don’ you say ’huh’ ter me! You git me er[Pg 38] coal and light my pipe quick! Fill up dat pipe fust, you lazy purp! What you got holes in yo’ head fur, hah? Um, um. Now git dat fan an’ fan dese here foots twel I tells you ter quit. You heah me!”

The man of freedom was stretched at full length, with a wreath of smoke about his head and his eyes closed to the world; the little black piece of misery was crouched beside him; and so daylight waned and the twilight came on; then the fan dropped from the bearer’s hand; he was fast asleep, and so was Micajah.

There was great excitement on the plantation, for Susanne, the Madame’s maid, was to marry Henry, Major Stone’s man-in-waiting. Susanne had told the Judge of her desire, and, not wishing to sell Susanne, or to separate her from the husband of her choice, the Judge had promptly bought him for a good round sum. The Madame herself had looked to the details of Susanne’s wedding-gown, for the Madame set great store by Susanne, and the ceremony was to be performed in the dining-room. Then afterwards would come the feast and dance in the Quarters until daylight,[Pg 39] in which the inmates of every cabin, by invitation of the bride, might join.

Micajah’s cabin felt the unwonted influence, and even the little fan-bearer was in a flutter about the wedding. Milly had been bidden; carefully she laid her small store of finery upon the bed, and was softly singing to herself before going to the field. Milly believed in feasting, though, unlike Micajah, who loved to scrape his foot to anybody’s fiddle, she only believed in a certain kind of terpsichorean exercise, which she called “de ’ligious dance.” Hers was only executed upon solemn occasions, or commemorated special emotions, but Milly was indulgent to the general fault in others.

These fair days of freedom were losing more and more of their beauty to Uncle Cage; the song of the mocking-bird was far less sweet, and even the crimson-and-black beauty of the watermelon had almost lost its lusciousness to the idle slave of freedom. But, most of all, the impudence of the jay-birds maddened him when they came to gather from the remnant of his meals.

Many an unpicked bone and half-finished[Pg 40] biscuit was flung at them in the abundance, to be regretted in the after-time.

“I lay I gwine larn ’em,” muttered Cage, as he resumed his solitary dinner after a vigorous onslaught, which was about the only exercise the monarch would allow himself; and the fact was that Uncle Cage might be suspected of a first-class case of dyspepsia, for the life of irregularity and idleness was telling hardly upon his astonished organs and his temper. “I lay I gwine larn ’em—er-eatin’ er my vittles an’ er-callin’ me ’Cage! Cage!’ des es pat, ’dout eben er handle ter hit, an’ erlowin’ ’He got hit! he got hit!’ lack hit any business er thern ef I is got freedom. I lay I larn ’em!”

As he grew more and more irascible the negroes drew entirely away from him, even his chosen few, and freely let him know that they could get along without him. But now the crowning insult had been offered—he had not been bidden to the wedding. It was Milly’s charm—he knew that it was Milly; the fact of his freedom could not alone have worked that change in his fellows; and Milly, finding her spouse exceedingly cross upon this particular[Pg 41] morning, wisely refrained from any but necessary conversation.

Micajah was stung to the quick, and dwelt upon his sorrow. At a wedding he was in his own particular province, and everybody knew it—that was where it wounded. They had even invited Milly before his eyes, and the messenger had sarcastically “‘lowed dat es Cage were erbove workin’ wid common niggers, he reckoned he were erbove playin’ an’ eatin’ wid ’em.” And the little fan-bearer suffered that day, for Micajah’s feet were very hot.

At last the momentous hour arrived, and there was much hurrying to and fro in the Quarters. Here and there Susanne was swishing her wedding-skirts and bandying saucy words with the older negroes, but she did not even pause at Micajah’s cabin.

But Ole Marse would permit him to witness the ceremony with the house-negroes because of his freedom, an honor which was never shared by the field-hands, and Micajah was secretly glorying, though the glory would be short-lived, for there was the long night before him with its bedlam of joy let loose in the Quarters, and he was not to be of it.

So he stood in the doorway a shiftless figure,[Pg 42] an alien, as it were, for he was unused to the manner of the house-negroes and was abashed before them, and for the present he was not a field-hand, because of his freedom.

For a moment he lost himself; then the ceremony was over; Ole Mis’s said something high and grand, and Ole Marse said something funny, and the little procession filed out.

The night was close and sultry, and as he sat alone in his cabin door Micajah could hear the strains of fiddle and banjo—he was even near enough to hear the shuffling of feet. The fan-bearer was soundly snoring, after having sobbed himself to sleep, for Micajah had sternly declared “dat de slabe cain’t go whar he marster hain’t axed—you heah me, Amaziah?”

As the night wore on the fun waxed louder and louder, the spell was irresistible, and Uncle Cage was almost beside himself. He had never been left out before—and this was freedom!

At last the cake-walk was begun, and Micajah, forgetting his injured dignity, his position, and his broadcloth, slipped stealthily out to peep at the revellers through a chink; and there was Milly—his Milly—leading the walk[Pg 43] with Cross-eyed Pete. Micajah dug his toes into the dust. Oh, how peacefully Milly smiled!

“Dat cross-eyed houn’ is er-callin’ me outen my name,” he muttered.

His Milly laughed slyly—and this was freedom!

“How I ebber gwine make dat nigger know her place ergin?” he groaned. “I gwine git back an’ know mine—dat I is. I gwine gib up dis fool freedom if I libs ter see ter-morrer, sho I is; an’ I gwine meet dem niggers on ekil groun’s, an’ I gwine split dat cross-eyed nigger inter kindlin’ wood—sho I is—if I libs. An’ I gwine ter make de high an’ mighty niggers ter-night ter eat dirt ter-morrer—dat I is—yo’ heah me! I larn dat Milly ter laugh at her betters ’hine dey backs, if I peels ever’ hick’ry on de place—dat I is! O Lord, pity dis heah big fool nigger dat hain’t got no mo’ sense ’n ter lis’en ter de word er Satan, an’ up an’ ax Ole Marse fur dis heah freedom! I’s done wid hit—I spits hit out. Des lemme git shet uv hit, an’ I wouldn’ wipe dese ole foots on hit!”

There was a movement at the door, and, fearing detection, Uncle Cage slipped away to seek uneasy dreams.

[Pg 44]

Through the long hot days the work had gone on cheerfully in the new land, and now it was so nearly accomplished that the frolic was joyfully discussed.

Micajah had all along secretly resolved that he would attend the frolic, with or without a welcome, on the ground of primeval right; but the negroes, informed by Milly, or more probably by the fan-bearer, who was a most untiring carrier of tales, openly resented his intention, and now passed his cabin without a recognition, sarcastic or otherwise.

Even the fan-bearer was growing unbearably sullen; no kick or cuff could bring him out of it; his biggest flow of words failed to intimidate, and Micajah felt that his position was perilous. He more than once approached his master, with the same result—he must wait until the time was up.

It wanted but four days more to the barn dance, and here was one whole miserable week of freedom, and, alas! his freedom from freedom would come too late to save the day, so he resolved to make one more effort, and, shame-faced and miserable, Micajah once more sought his master.

[Pg 45]

The Judge knitted his brows forbiddingly.

“What is the matter, Micajah, that you want to give it up? Haven’t you got all to go with it that you wanted?”

“Yas, Ole Marse.”

“Then what the devil is the matter?”

“Ole Marse”—Micajah’s voice was very low, and his humbleness was as the dust—“I done fotch back de book, an’ I done fotch back de freedom. One hain’t no betterer dan tuther ter er nigger. Dey bofe on ’em lies ter er nigger, an’ hit hain’t nuffin but miz’ry. Dey don’ ’spec’ me no mo’; dey don’ lis’en ter me talk no mo’. Eben Milly, my ole ’oman—dat I gwine frail ’din er inch uv her life when I gits shet er freedom—done lay er spell on me: I kin feel hit in my bones. Eben de little nigger what tote de palm-leaf fan done talk sass ter me, an’ I ’low I cain’t stan’ hit!”

His master smiled, then bit his mustache gravely.

“But, Micajah, you must command respect—command it, and you will get it.”

“I done ’mand hit, Ole Marse,” said Micajah, pitifully, “but I ’mands hit lack er nigger, er big fool nigger, an’ hit hain’t done no good. Gittin’ freedom on de outside don’ make freedom[Pg 46] on de inside, Ole Marse. I’s ’bleeged ter you, Ole Marse, ’deed I is, but I wants you ter take hit back. I’s nuffin but er fool nigger, Ole Marse, an’ ’fore Gord I hain’t gwine cut up no mo’! I’se got all I want ’dout freedom, an’ I gwine be thankful fur hit!”

Micajah paused expectantly; there was a silence, which was broken by the master’s firm voice.

“I am a man of my word, Micajah. I have promised you a month of freedom, and you have accepted it; I cannot take it back until the time is out. Stop your foolishness, and go and make the best of it.” And Ole Marse rode away.

Micajah looked long and earnestly into the cloud of dust he left behind. The condition was desperate; something must be done.


Between the gate and the Quarters he collared his astonished little nigger with no uncertain gesture, and led him across the field towards the river, and when Micajah returned he was alone. Spying the palm-leaf fan, the emblem of his freedom and his misery, on the floor of the cabin, where it had dropped from the hand of the rebellious Amaziah, he silently[Pg 47] tore it into shreds and tossed them from him with a contemptuous grunt.

That night a theft was committed on the plantation—a very small one, it is true, but made memorable because it was the very night that Micajah sent the little negro home. Such a thing was almost unheard of, and the overseer, a black Hercules, was very indignant.

The next night a similar depredation was discovered, and the negroes were at fever-heat. “Reckon Ole Marse ’bout ter lose he min’, ter set still an’ see things erg-wine on diserway an’ hain’t raise his han’; but I gwine raise mine, sho mun!” declared the overseer.

So a cordon of guards was formed, with regular reliefs, and the night-watch began. The midnight wore away, the stars winked out, and the last guard slept peacefully before the rising sun, and no marauder disturbed the stillness of the smoke-house. But something had happened. The house, the Quarters, the very air, was full of it. A runaway nigger had been caught on Major Stone’s plantation, was caught stealing, and was even now being carried in handcuffs to the court-house to await his owner.

[Pg 48]

The summer season was dull enough in the little village which had the honor of being the county-seat, and the passing of the Judge’s carriage was of sufficient moment to attract a knot of idlers. So, too, the little court-room was filled with the same material, even before the Judge had leisurely alighted, after his usual custom; for, as the negroes said, “Eben de toot er Gabrul moughten pester Ole Marse; he gwine ’bout he business, an’ hain’t gwine herry fur nobody!”

The runaway was secreted in an inner chamber; nobody had even seen him, and speculation ran high; but the Judge, in the most exasperating manner possible, calmly disposed of some minor matters, leisurely joking his constituents, as was his wont, utterly oblivious of the throng of eager faces.

At last every joke had been turned and every paper signed, when the Judge relapsed into sternness.

“Bring in the prisoner!”

The mysterious door opened, and Major Stone preceded the little procession, stroking his beard in a peculiar manner, but as grave as a chief mourner.

“I’ve got a good one on him now,” he whispered[Pg 49] to Attorney Allen as he passed up the aisle.

Then followed the culprit, his crossed wrists in the little steel cuffs, his head bent low upon his breast. There was something painfully familiar in the figure. The now soiled and torn broadcloth, even upon its spare ebon rack, still held the Judge’s outline in its creases. Ludicrously pitiful the picture, and the crowd swayed and murmured.

The Judge rose to his feet. He was thinking of green fields and boyish days, of the clear brook beyond the pasture, of the pair of honest black feet that had timed their pace to his.


There was a world of pathos in the tone. It mattered not if the whole of his little world was there to hear it—attorneys, clients, negroes, and all.

“I’se comin’, Ole Marse!” The pitiful wail rang through the court-room, and the old slave, oblivious of any other presence, fell prone at his master’s feet.

“Take de cuss offen me, Ole Marse, an’ lemme die, fur dat freedom hit ride me lack er hant, an’ let loose de debil in ole Cage! Take hit[Pg 50] back, Ole Marse, fur I got er whole week er dat mizerbul freedom lef’, an’ you wouldn’ take hit back! Dat what mek me brek in yo’ smoke-house fur, an’—oh, Lord! I’s er mizerbul sinnin’ nigger, all on ercount er dis heah freedom; an’ you nebber sont de oberseer ter whup me; but I were willin’—de Lord He know how willin’ I were—if I mought git shet er dis heah freedom!”

There was a pause, broken by Micajah’s sobs.

“Tell it all, Micajah,” said the Judge.

“Dat what I taken Marse Harry Stone’s tuckeys fur. I ain’ want dem tuckeys, Ole Marse—dey done tied out dar in de fiel’ now—but I wants ter get shet er dis heah freedom! I hain’t nuffin but des er po’ fool nigger, Ole Marse. I hain’t gwine ter ax fur nuffin ebber no mo’—nuffin but sumpen ter eat, an’ mighty little er dat! Yo’ knows what’s the bestes’ fur me, Ole Marse, an’ yo’ knows I hain’t fitten ter breave de bref er life! Kill me, Ole Marse, kill me; but ’fore yo’ does hit take de cuss er freedom offen my soul!”

A sudden gust must have blown dust in the Judge’s eyes, for he winked them hard, then blew his nose vociferously.

[Pg 51]

A whispered consultation was held with Major Stone.

“That’s entirely satisfactory to me, Judge”—the Major was smiling.

“The case is dismissed!” roared the Judge.

[Pg 55]


In the long ago, when the nether world was not so densely populated as it now is, and the days were not so full of interest, never having forgotten an early experience with a most beautiful woman, and often feeling the spirit of adventure strong upon him, the lord of that domain used to walk abroad upon the earth in the cool of the evening.

Many of these excursions were full of excitement and variety, and sometimes of great daring upon the part of Satan, as there was no need of the slightest disguise, for the world was not so wise as it is now, and those simple folk, both fine and poor, white and black, dallied with Satan without question.

But the subjugation of an entire plantation, from the “Quality” to the “Quarters,” required time—more time, often, than Satan could give[Pg 56] consecutively—so there were certain emissaries to be employed during enforced absences.

Now, by way of practice, the devil had conquered the “Quarters” of a great plantation, even to every soul, with the exception of an old mammy and a certain Zacheus who was very cautious, and was preparing plans for the “Big House,” when something went wrong with the eternal fire below, and the devil was besought to depart in haste.

His old courier, the jay-bird, brought the message from the under world, whither he had gone to deposit his usual load of firewood; and he was in no fine humor, for every Friday he bitterly remembered the day he had sold himself, in an unguarded moment, to the devil, for a worm-eaten, half-filled ear of corn—“sight unseen,” complained the jay to Mrs. Jay, when he sometimes filled the air with vain regrets.

“Dey says dat dey want you mighty bad down dar; de fire hain’t half hot, an’ dar’s sumpen de matter wid de furnace,” said the jay.

“You right sho dey needs me?” asked the devil, for he had other fish to fry that Friday morning,

“Course I is,” said the jay, crossly, for he was very tired, and had carelessly gotten his[Pg 57] feathers scorched in the lower regions. “Think I gwine come all de way back ter tell you er lie? Ax my cousin, de crow; he went wid me ter de do’ an’ heared ’em gib hit out!”

“Go back,” said the devil, getting angry, “an’ tell ’em I hain’ gwine come twel dis day week, an’ ter keep dat fire hot, if dey knows what’s good fur deyse’fs! I got er job er my own ter ’ten’ ter, ’dout any partnerships!”

“Go ter hell yo’se’f! I hain’t due dar twel nex’ Friday, an’ I hain’t gwine budge twel den,” said the jay-bird as he preened his scorched wing and flew away.

Now the devil had a love-affair on hand, one of those strange, inexplicable things that require very careful handling, and it was the same old cry down below—any ordinary devil who knew his business could attend to that.

So the devil importuned the crow to take the message; but Squire Billups had just planted a large field of corn; there was work enough in that for Mister Crow to do for a whole week; he was not compelled to serve the devil but a single day out of the week, and he had already given that service; besides, Mrs. Crow was just beginning to hatch, and no self-respecting paterfamilias could fail to be within call during[Pg 58] such an important event. The owl was too blind to go, for the journey had to be made by daylight; the black-snake was too sleepy, for his season was not yet fully arrived; the terrapin was too slow; and there was nothing left except the little fly; but the little fly was always ready, though his work must always be rendered upon the earth.

So, with many impatient stampings of his foot, the devil set about to take his departure. He got down upon his knees and blew his breath into a dandelion puff, and whispered to the seed, and a wind rose, and the seed scattered, and the down floated through an open window of the Big House and tickled Marse Charles’s ear as he lay asleep.

Now Marse Charles was come to attend the house-party of Marse Beverly Baillie, and was mad with love of Miss Demetria, Marse Beverly’s youngest daughter, who looked above the highest, and had no mind to marry any man. But Marse Charles, in his cloak of green-and-gold lace, swore upon his jewelled sword that he would win. Even now, as he slept, he held between his moist fingers a withered rose that had nestled upon the bosom of the cold Demetria.

[Pg 59]

It was such as this that the devil was loath to leave, and as he blew the seeds of the dandelion ball he sowed the seeds of jealousy in Marse Charles’s heart. Marse Charles sighed in his sleep, and clutched the withered rose; then the night became as daylight to him, and his eyes were wide open.

Biding his time, so that jealousy might breed the mushroom hate, the devil lingered, leaving the doubtful hours of the night to pass away; but between midnight and day, when the young man was wellnigh crazed with evil passions, the devil threw off all disguise and stood before him.

“Who are you?” cried Marse Charles, springing from his bed and stretching his swollen eyelids in the dusky light as his hand sought his sword.

“One who can do you a service,” said the devil, talking fine, for he always chose his language according to his surroundings.

Marse Charles’s brain was full of fever, and he put up his sword and listened, while he crushed nervously the rose within his palm.

“You are young, you are noble, you have the treasures of the earth before you,” said the[Pg 60] devil, soothingly, “and yet you are the most miserable man in all creation.”

“What do you know about my misery?” cried Marse Charles, angrily.

“What do I not know?” asked the devil, sagely. “ I know that you love Demetria, that she disdains you, that you have a rival.”

“Ah!” sighed Marse Charles, “that is it—I have a rival! Whoever, whatever you are, aid me if you can, for I am mad with love. I have written a challenge to my rival, that we may settle this at daylight. I was about to send it when you called.”

“Not so fast,” said the devil, lifting a warning finger and drawing nearer. “Hot blood is the father of many regrets. Your rival is a better swordsman.”

“But ’tis honor! I do this for my honor!” said Marse Charles, loudly, puffing out his breast, frog fashion.

“Hush! not so loud! Your honor will do you much credit when you rot in the ground, run through with your rival’s sword,” sneered the devil, “leaving him in possession of Demetria’s favor. My plan is better than that.”

“What is your plan, and who the devil are[Pg 61] you?” cried Marse Charles, writhing at the possibility of losing Demetria.

“That’s just it—I am he,” said the devil, chuckling; and, stretching out his arm, he touched Marse Charles with a hand as soft as velvet. “The world is mine, and I would sit upon a throne, my rightful seat, if it were not for this!” and he kicked out his hoof foot petulantly.

“Well, what is your plan? I haven’t time to listen to your miserable troubles; I’ve enough of my own,” said Marse Charles, impatiently.

“That’s so; I was talking to no purpose then,” said the devil, fingering Marse Charles’s ruffles. “But this, briefly, is to the point. Upon a certain condition, if you will do as I bid you, Demetria shall detest the very presence of your rival, disasters shall come upon him, and, lastly, Demetria shall smile upon your suit.”

“Words are cheap,” said Marse Charles, languidly. “What proof can you give me that you can do all of these things?”

“Look upon the occurrences of every day—look out upon the world—what better proof need I give?” said the devil, archly. “Moreover, if you wish, you shall know the innermost[Pg 62] life of your lady as though you held a mirror ever before her face; her every act, her every sigh, nothing shall be hidden from you that you may have the desire to hear or know.”

Marse Charles pondered awhile, but the devil and the moonlight, together with his old-fashioned frenzy of love, had turned his head.

“Name your condition!” he cried, tearing the challenge into little bits; and there, in the beginning of the gray dawn, Marse Charles did what many a man, both before and since, has done.

It matters little to the story to give the exact specifications of the bargain, though Mammy, in the telling of it, was always very particular to describe minutely all of the virtues that go to make up the best part of a man—in other words, his soul. The awfulness of the bargain was duly impressed upon Mammy’s small listeners; how Marse Charles, for the love of a woman, had given up happiness forever and forever; how the eternal fires of hell were to be kept at white heat with fiendish delight by those who had made similar bargains; how the days of his coming were written in fiery[Pg 63] letters upon the walls, and there would be no water in all hell for Marse Charles to drink, save the tears of the lost, which flowed forever, and they were exceedingly bitter and full of regret.

“Can’t he ever, ever get out, Mammy?” asked the little maid, whose lips were quivering, and whose great eyes were full of unshed tears.

“Yas, honey,” said Mammy, hastily, “if er good hoodoo kim erlong ’fore de bref leabe Marse Charles, er ’pentance kim ’fore de wo’ms ’stroy de body—an’ er good hoodoo sho gwine kim!—so don’ you cry, honey!”

But now, said Mammy, the devil had his man hard and fast, heart and hand, and when it became his time to leave the earth for a season he took Marse Charles out into a lonely place, and put into his hand a tiny snuff-box made of gold, curiously wrought upon the top.

“I will leave you now,” said the devil, “for the rest will be fair sailing. I have jaundiced your Demetria’s eyes to your rival. She sees that he has a squint, and talks with a drawl, and that he drags one foot in dancing. Misery is entering her soul, and she is very unhappy,[Pg 64] for she believes that the squint is due to the hard counting of her father’s acres and slaves.

“In this box,” continued the devil, “I leave you my most useful possession, one that will never slumber and never sleep. You can keep watch upon Demetria when she goes abroad; but when the doors are closed between you, when you would know her every word and every act, just open the box, for nothing can be hid from the little fly. In two weeks I will come again, and in the meantime I wish you joy.”

So the devil went back to hell, chuckling as he went, for he carried Marse Charles’s conscience, fluttering like a wounded bird, in his hand, and Marse Charles put the little gold box beneath his lace ruffles and went on his way rejoicing.

Now it chanced soon after that there was a great meet, and the ladies and their gallants rode into the far woods. It was a fine company, for Marse Beverly Baillie had scattered his invitations broadcast, that the world might see the young Demetria. Marse Charles, on his great bay, rode sulkily alone, for his rival was in a high humor, having been paired to ride with the fair Demetria.

[Pg 65]

As he rode, Marse Charles was ready to question the efficacy of his bargain, when, just in the second mile, his rival’s horse went lame—so lame that he was forced to turn back, and Marse Charles, with much bantering and light laughter, gallantly rode forward with a dozen others to take his place. But the sun shone for Marse Charles and the world was fair, for Demetria gave him her sweetest smile.

Late in the day the rival came, upon a fresher horse; but Demetria had no eyes for him, all of her favors were reserved for Marse Charles; and as they rested upon a shady knoll after dinner, beside a bubbling spring, Marse Charles lost no time, and told his love in most vehement fashion.

But perplexities will creep in, even into the best-planned schemes, for as Marse Charles talked he thoughtlessly drew from his bosom the devil’s snuff-box, and as he toyed idly with the lid the sharp eyes of Demetria remarked its curious workmanship.

“A trophy!—a memento to mark the day!” she cried, throwing down a jewelled medallion, into which she had deftly slipped a ring of her own bright hair.

“A pawn of love as precious as heart’s blood!”[Pg 66] cried Marse Charles, twirling his mustache and gallantly kissing the golden curl as he threw upon the grass an Egyptian bracelet, which he always wore concealed from view, and which held a tiny needle and a poisoned drop, forgotten by Marse Charles.

“No!” pouted the spoiled Demetria. “A manlier trophy—I would have the box—the little box you toyed with just now!”

The blood of poor Marse Charles ran cold. What would he not give to please the sweet Demetria? He almost reached his hand to yield it, but the little fly buzzed hard within, and, starting with a shock, he hid it in his bosom.

“A princess wore the bracelet once,” began Marse Charles. “It has a wonderful history. Make it more wonderful and wear it for me, sweet!”

“But I would have the box!”

“But it will make thee sneeze!”

“Then I will sneeze! Your love means less than any bubble here if you shall hold so fast to such a trifling thing!”

Then Demetria shed tears, and more reproaches followed, and Marse Charles, cold even to the marrow’s centre from fear, let loose[Pg 67] the devil’s little fly and threw the box upon the grass.

“How beautiful!” said Demetria, snatching it up; “but, Charles, you played me false; it holds no snuff, and cannot make me sneeze. I only thought to try you, but now I will not give it back again, to punish you for the teasing!”

So Charles, restored, basked in the light of love, and comforted himself with the thought that Demetria soon would tire of the box.

There was fine sport and much merriment in the far wood, and such ado to make shelter when a thunder-storm came on. But the rain would not cease, and, in the cold drizzle which followed, the gay company, with limp gauderies and feathers, mounted for the return. But nothing damped the ardor of Marse Charles, and, as they rode, his hearty laughter, mingled with Demetria’s, fell upon the ears of the cavalcade.

Marse Charles had made a scoop at something with his hand, and Demetria laughed again. “On my word, Mr. Charles, such grace it has seldom been my good fortune to see!”

“A most persistent fly,” said Marse Charles, catching at it again, as he felt the cold clinging[Pg 68] feet upon his forehead. Then, suddenly remembering, he was silent, and with reddening cheek he caught the little fly out of the rain into the folds of his cloak.

The days wore on, and, as the devil had promised, disasters, one close upon the heels of another, overtook the rival of Marse Charles. Now it was an ague, now a broken limb, now a fever—so fast they came, indeed, that he dared not try to reach his home between his woes; and, courteous to all men, Demetria salted his gruel, but made sweet eyes at Marse Charles.

But all this time Marse Charles was troubled about the little fly. Demetria still treasured the box, and there was no spot in which to keep the little fly in safety. Marse Charles felt that it was a precious trust, and faith must be kept by a man of honor, though even with the devil. And sometimes, but for an opportune buzz, Marse Charles would have killed it for a common house pest, which always made him very serious.

Every day and every night the little fly brought in a full report, over which Marse Charles gloated as a miser over gold; but at[Pg 69] last even the devil’s emissary grew weary of roosting in precarious places, and considering that Marse Charles had broken faith by disposing of the box, was less and less vigilant, and finally cultivated a spirit of rebellion.

Now Demetria was blessed with an old mammy, as fine a blending of mother-wit and shrewdness as ever wore a Madras kerchief, and who was married to that Zacheus who dealt in charms and “cungers.”

Every night since Demetria’s babyhood Mammy had drawn the bed-curtains for her mistress, and sitting in the same old chair, had fanned and told her stories until she fell asleep; but of late Demetria was restless, and the stories did not soothe. In vain Mammy shook the curtains and drew them farther back, then opened the French windows wide upon the broad veranda. In vain she brushed out the long yellow locks; Demetria still sighed, and would not close her eyes.

“What ail my chile?” crooned Mammy, softly wielding her great palm-leaf, and forgetful that she was speaking to other than a child.

“I’m miserable, Mammy, miserable, ever since the day of the meet. Something seems[Pg 70] to be taking my strength. See how I have fallen away!” And the little figure in its white robes was small enough indeed.

“Um!” crooned Mammy. “I gwine mek my chile some sassafac tea—dat mek her better! Hi! dar dat mizerbul fly ergin! I sho gwine git hit out ’fore I lets down de bar dis night. Don’ be ’feared, honey!”

“It’s no use. I can’t sleep, Mammy!” said Demetria, fretfully.

“Nebber min’,” said Mammy, as soft as a cradle-song; “yo’ be all right bimeby. Hain’t yo’ tell Marse Charles yo’ lub him? Hain’t yo’ done promus ter marry wid him whedder Marse Avery die or no? An’ hain’t Marse Charles des plum crazy ’bout yo’, an’ cain’t say ’good-bye’ ’fore he say ’howdy,’ fur de lub er yo’?”

“Yes, yes,” said Demetria, wearily, “and yet I am not happy, Mammy.”

“My Lord!—wid all dem di’munts an’ things? Yo’ is er mighty sp’ilt chile, honey! But I hope do it,” added Mammy, complacently. “Nebber min’, baby, yo’ be all right arter while; yo’ des narvous.”

“Cuss dat fly!” said Mammy, under her breath, for the little thing eluded her at every[Pg 71] turn, and, giving it up, Mammy softly fanned until Demetria moaned in uneasy slumber.

“I gwine git ter de bottom er dis. Hain’t all right, sho ’nough. I been er-tryin’ nigh onter two weeks now, an’ I cain’t ketch dat fly nary time!”

Demetria’s hand was under her pillow, as it had been on all of these restless nights.

“Won’er what she got unner dar, po’ little gal!”

Mammy tenderly drew the little hand from its hiding, and in its palm the devil’s snuff-box lay. Mammy eyed it curiously.

“Mighty quare thing fur my chile ter hug up so close, fur she des hate snuff! Um! dat ole fly sho think dat box got sugar in it—Shoo!”

But curiosity was too much for Mammy, and she opened the lid, and the fly dropped down and nestled in the corner of the box. Mammy closed the lid with a snap, shutting the little fly in.

“Sumpen mighty quare ’bout dis. I gwine tek dis ter Zacheus!”

The whole plantation rang next day with the loss of the curious box, an heirloom and a[Pg 72] token from Marse Charles to Demetria; but the box was not found, and Marse Charles wandered about, pale and ill at ease, for the little fly did not return.

The narrative of the dusky story-teller does not falter at this juncture, for there were always three pairs of eager eyes that were burning into hers. “Zacheus was the hoodoo—the good hoodoo who could steal souls back from the devil!” sang the chorus.

“Um—and when de ole mammy what were his wife lay de gole-worked box in Zacheus’s han’, Zacheus gib er great big laugh, ’case es soon es hit tech his han’ hit turn ter nuffin but er debil’s snuff-box—you know, chillen—one er dem brown spongy things wid dus’ in ’em dat you fin’ in de woods; an’ den de little fly fly up mighty survigrous an’ try ter bite Zacheus on de mouf.”

“An’ dat what de little miss been sleepin’ wid unner her head?” said Zacheus. “De charm Marse Charles gib her? Um, dar’s work for Zacheus!”

Of course the gold snuff-box was never found, though the plantation was searched far and near, and to Demetria no one bemoaned its loss[Pg 73] louder than Mammy; but down in the Quarters, when she could steal away, she was watching Zacheus mix his pot of sweet ointment with which to kill the fly, for the fly would not eat.

“I kin kill de fly,” growled Zacheus, “but I don’ wanter ’do’ Marse Charles, so I gotter change de charm.”

Marse Charles, whiter and thinner by reason of sleeplessness, listened to Demetria’s songs with a ringing in his ears, and gorged every common house-fly that he could coax, on sugar, in the vain hope of finding again the devil’s little fly; but the little fly was lying with stiff wings outside of Zacheus’s pot of ointment, and James, the barber, had given Zacheus a lock of Marse Charles’s hair.

The time was up. The devil would return. What then?

Marse Charles hardly remembered how it was, but once again, after a night when sleep would not come, he found himself sitting opposite, in the hazy light, as once before.

“How dare you”—said the devil—“part with my box, to give it as a token, a lover’s toy? You have forfeited your bargain, and I am undone; but the girl is mine!”

[Pg 74]

“No!” cried Marse Charles, his eyes starting from their sockets.

“I tell you that I love her—that I am mad with love for her—and by the token that she keeps she is lost!”

“The token cannot be found,” said Marse Charles.

“What does it matter? She is mine. She is mine!” cried the devil, tremulous with passion, for the hoodoo had given him a human heart in order to torment him and to change the charm. “Do you think that I would yield her now, to such dirty scum as you?”

“I will protect her with my life, even if I cannot win her,” said Marse Charles, hotly, for the devil in his rage had let loose Marse Charles’s conscience.

“Choose your weapons,” said the other, mockingly, “for the sword of the devil is a double-pointed sword; it wounds the soul, not the flesh—the spirit, not the body.”

And back of the orchard, said Mammy, while the whole world was asleep, was fought grimly and silently the bitterest duel of the earth.

There were no witnesses save Zacheus, and though he rendered yeoman service to his mistress and to her lover’s bartered soul, he looked[Pg 75] upon the duel, and Mammy solemnly declared that the sight of it made him blind.

Through and through, the devil thrust Marse Charles, but the blade came out dry and bright; not a drop of blood was spilled; and after Marse Charles’s lunges, Zacheus swore that he could see the light through the body of the devil.

Marse Charles was almost sinking to his knees, and the devil raised his arms exulting, when on a sudden impulse Marse Charles rose with a mighty effort and made a double cut in the shape of a cross on the breast of his opponent. That was what he should have done long ago, said Mammy; even if he had only worn a little gold cross on his watch-guard it would have been a protection, for at Marse Charles’s new movement the devil gave one hoarse cry and fled into the shadows of the breaking day.

Of course the “Quality” at the Big House did not know of the plotting that had been going on, or of the fearful duel that had ended it. They were not the privileged beings of the earth, and so they only knew it was with pale brow and downcast eyes that Marse Charles came to say farewell, and that Marse Beverly[Pg 76] Baillie clapped him on the shoulder, like the good soul that he was, by way of comfort—

“To think my minx Demetria should flirt you!” cried Marse Beverly; “for she marries Avery in the fall. But cheer up, lad, cheer up! there ’re as good fish yet to catch as ever have been caught.”

[Pg 79]


Mammy did not tell this story very often; it was held in reserve as an especial reward. Whether it was of African origin, and by one of those strange coincidences bore a resemblance to the classic, or was a garbled negro version of it, is lost in conjecture; but certain it is, that almost within ear-shot of a doting but unknowing mother, many a childish ambition has been fired “ter rise wid Satan.”

And this is the way Mammy told it to the little night-gowned cherubs whom she wanted to get to sleep:

“Shadrach were de very ol’es’ nigger on de place; he ’lowed he were er hundud an’ fifty, an’ I reckon he were, ’case he back were doubled up twel he wa’n’t no tallerer ’n Charlie dar; he face were es black an’ es wrinkledy es er[Pg 80] warnut, he hair were es white es cotton, an’ de long white beard kim ’mos’ ter he knees, dat tu’n in kinder bow-legged when he walk.

“He so ole he hain’t fitten ter work none, but he hab er little couterin’ roun’ ter do ever’day, lack feedin’ de tuckies, shuckin’ corn, er makin’ nets, er sumpen, ’case he ’Ole Miss’ ’low dat Satan sho gwine fin’ some debilment fur idle han’s ter do, an’ she plum right.

“Shadrach hab plenty er clo’es, plenty ter eat, plenty er ’baccy ter chaw an’ ter smoke, an’ er good warm cabin; but he ain’ happy yit, ’case hit ’pear lack de debil gib us sumpen ter hone fur, no matter what we got. Shadrach des wanter know ever’thing dat happin; but he des es deef es er pos’, an’ dey hain’t nobody wanter tell him no secrets, ’case if yo’ gotter holler hit all ober de place, hit no secret ertall; so he go erbout putty nigh all de time wid one han’ up ter he year. I reckon hit were mighty painful ter ’im, but ever’body oughter min’ dey own business, specuil if dey cain’t hear good.

“But hit go mighty hard wid Shadrach, ’case he git deefer an’ deefer, an’ cuissomer an’ cuissomer; an’ when he do hear ’em he git ’em so cross-eyed ’mos’ all de time, ’case he[Pg 81] hear so bad, dat he git inter er heap er trouble, fur dey ’low dat Shadrach were er power ter talk.


“Hit er mighty bad thing fur ter git inter de fix dat Shadrach done in, ’case hit lack gittin’ bofe foots inter tar—while you’s er-pullin’ one foot out, de odder gwine sho sink furder in; dey hain’t nuffin but er good strong pull on de outside dat gwine git yo’ shet uv hit.

“Now yo’ knows, honey, dat dar’s some times er de year dat de debil plum loose—done free ter go anywhar er ter do anything, an’ he all de time er-layin’ fur des sech er sof’, mizerbul creetur es Shadrach were.

“Shadrach meet him ’way off unner de trees in de woods-lot, an’ were powerful glad ter see him when he kim; an’ he git outen he skin, an’ len’ he body ter de debil ter go erbout in, two er free times, ’case er lot er de niggers seed Shadrach in some mighty quare places fur er Christiun an’ er shouter. But dat wa’n’t pleasurin’ Shadrach ’bout hearin’ things, fur de debil cain’t gib er man er pa’r er new years, an’ he cain’t eben hope him, lessen he gib up he soul. Hit pester Shadrach mightily, ’case he know he cain’t sarve two marsters, an’ he mighty feared er de fire down dar; but bimeby,[Pg 82] ’fore de debil go back, he git so cuis ’bout hearin’ an’ knowin’ things dat he done furgit all he larnin’ an’ he ’ligion, an’ he bargains wid de debil fur he soul. Better folks an’ whiter folks ’n Shadrach done gone an’ done hit, an’ er-doin’ uv hit yit, ’case de debil he kim ter folks in de ways dey wants him in dey min’s, but hit hain’t gwine ter pay in de long run; hit gwine ter peter out mighty painful.

“Well, ole Shadrach he done sell he soul ter de debil fur good, an’ he mighty lively an’ peart erbout hit, an’ dance all unbeknownst—ole mizerbul Shadrach dance, an’ he er-lookin’ lack he do!—but hit de debil’s dance, an’ dar hain’t nobody know nuffin ’bout hit but er hoodoo. Er good hoodoo all de time on de lookout fur de debil, an’ hit ’pear lack de hoodoo hear de debil gib he promus ter Shadrach, if he sell him he soul, dat he take him wid him ever’ night, when he fly ober de roofs an’ look down de chimblies, an’ he gwine see ever’thing an’ hear ever’thing—an’ ole Shadrach des couldn’t keep still fur de joy er thinkin’ ’bout hit.


“Sho ’nough, de debil were es good es he word, an’ de hoodoo fin’ de body er Shadrach in he bed, layin’ lack he sleepin’; but he were des es cole es def, fur dar wa’n’t no bref in de[Pg 83] body, ’case de debil done taken de sperit out, an’ de hoodoo, while he lookin’, hear two screech-owls holler an’ laugh, den flop an’ fly erway. Dey taken de owls’ skins, ’case owls got de bigges’ eyes an’ de bigges’ years er anything dat b’long ter de debil, an’ kin see in de dark. De jackass got de longes’ years uv all uv ’em, but de debil hain’t got no holt on him sence de Lord let him talk ter de man dat try ter make him tromp on er angil, an’ I reckon dat why de Lord rid on one uv ’em inter de New Jerusalem.

“Well, de hoodoo he see how things were er-gwine when he hear dem owls, an’ he hain’t got no call but ter foller uv ’em, ’case if he let de debil go one single blessed time, he lose dat much uv he power fur good, so he riz an’ foller.

“At fust, de debil des take Shadrach ober niggerdom in de quarters, an’ oh! how dat littles’ squinchup owl holler an’ laugh when he hear Pomp an’ Dinah des er-quoilin’ an’ er-quoilin’ in de cabin, an’ dey bofe so mighty sanctified an’ shout so loud on er Sunday; an’ when he see Lush—dat he Ole Marse trus’ lack he white—des er-stealin’ sugar fum de pantry, an’ ole Cindy, ernudder sanctified sister, kerhootin’ roun’ in de smoke-house[Pg 84] widout er light, er-huntin’ fur er ham, he laugh so loud dat de odder owl hatter shake ’im.

“Hit were er lot er fun ter ole Shadrach, an’ he git so full er dem things dat he ’mos’ fittin ter bus’ wid hit, ’case he cain’t tell nobody what he see an’ hear, fur he feared er de debil. He hear all de secrets er de creepin’ things, an’ larn whar de snakes an’ things hides in de daytime, an’ es dey riz in de air, de secrets er de things dat flies in de dark.

“He seed folks er-dancin’ an’ er-mournin’, er-laughin’ an’ er-cryin’, er-cotin’ an’ er-gamblin’, er-stealin’ an’ er-lyin’, er-sleepin’ de hones’ sleep er de Christiun, an’ er-groanin’ on dey beds er suff’rin’—de people dat he see an’ know ever’ day—lack dar wa’n’t no tops ter de houses, ner walls ter ’em nuther. He hear de debil temp’ de weak, an’ dey fall, an’ de strong, an’ dey hain’t gib in, an’ de debil kim roun’ ter ’em ergin de nex’ night; an’ all day long ole Shadrach des er-laughin’ an’ er-chucklin’ an’ er-waitin’ fur night ter come.

“Hit go on dat way fur er long time, but de hoodoo don’ say nuffin; he des foller uv ’em ever’ night, an’ he putty nigh plum wore out; but he know dat de debil hain’t got much longer ter tarry, so he bide he time, fur he gwine[Pg 85] fur ter try ter git back ole Shadrach’s soul, ’case er burnin’, wand’rin’, los’ soul is er mighty hard thing ter steddy on, an’ de hoodoo were er ’zorter, too.


“At de fust, Shadrach were mighty happy an’ mighty ’umble ter de debil, ’case he hear more ’n anybody dat got two good years kin hear, an’ see ten times es much. But arter while he git manish, an’ sot in ter grumblin’, an’ talk back ter de debil some. He done tired er des seein’ niggers; he wanter see what de white folks er-doin’.

“De debil he tell him he better take keer, dat hit hain’t gwine ter be good fur hese’f fur him ter see an’ hear dat, an’ ’fuse ter rise dat high wid him; but Shadrach keep er-teasin’ an’ er-teasin’, twel one dark night de debil he borry two pa’r er buzzards’ wings so’s ter fly high (dat all he kin git, ’case de eagle hain’t gwine len’ his’n), an’ dey riz ober de top er de talles’ house.

“Hain’t no tellin’ what Shadrach see dat night, an’ arter dat, dar wa’n’t no doin’ nuffin wid him—he des er-gallopin’ ter ’struction es fas’ es he kin trabble.

“Es ole es Shadrach were, an’ es doubled up, de oberseer hatter lay de whup on him two er[Pg 86] free times, an’ hit make de Ole Marster feel mighty bad; an’ all de time de debil des er-aggin’ uv hit on, an’ er-showin’ him down de white folks’ chimblies ever’ night, ’case Shadrach done git too uppish ter wanter know nuffin ’bout niggers.

“But bimeby he retch de eend uv he rope, an’ he retch hit so powerful suddent dat hit putty nigh fling him outen he senses.

“He git manisher an’ manisher wid de debil; he done furgit all erbout de bargain, an’ who de debil were, an’ ’low he hain’t gotter borry no wings ner nuffin ter rise wid, if de debil do. Dat he gwine rise wid he own coat-tails—dat any hoodoo kin, an’ he gwine do hit. Po’ fool Shadrach!—he done furgit he hain’t no hoodoo ner nuffin—nuffin but er po’ ole sarvent er de debil, an’ hit all fru he power!


“But de debil do he pleasurin’ an’ hain’t say nuffin; so dat night when dey riz, de debil he borry de buzzard’s wings ergin fur hese’f; but Shadrach he riz wid he own coat-tails, an’ de debil he do mighty ’umble, an’ make lack Shadrach doin’ all dis here by hese’f. De debil gwine let him git mixed an’ tangled up lack er fly in er spider’s web, an’ Shadrach he sho boun’ ter do hit; fur dat night he hear things[Pg 87] dat sot him putty nigh plum crazy, ’case he done hear too much at las’; an’ de nex’ day de debil hatter leabe de quarters an’ go back inter de bad place. He taken Shadrach’s soul wid him, an’ sumpen else dat oughter b’long ter er good man, ’case Shadrach hain’t eben passable no mo’.

“Arter de debil go ’way, Shadrach’s years taken ter growin’, an’ dey grows long an’ high an’ thin, an’ hit ’pear lack Shadrach hear ever’thing at oncet, lack er big roarin’ er waters, so’s he cain’t make out nuffin.

“He cry out, when nobody ain’ hearin’ nuffin, dat he hear Cindy ’way down in de cotton-fiel’ er-talkin’ ter herself, an’ he cain’t make out what she say. Den he hear Missar Jones’s Sambo, five mile erway, er-yellin’ out sumpen, but he cain’t make hit out; an’ he sot in ter cryin’ an’ er-moanin’ wid de pain an’ de noises dat ’mos’ bustin’ he head opin.

“He Ole Marse say he plum crazy, ’case he so mighty ole; but he Ole Miss ’low he need quinine; an’ dat quinine des de stuff dat de debil want him ter hab, ’case hit kin work mo’ ’fusion in one hour ’n de debil kin in er whole day, an’ hit hope de debil mightily, es he couldn’[Pg 88] be on de groun’ fur ter make Shadrach mo’ painful hese’f.

“An’ Shadrach git ter be so painful wid de hearin’ uv ever’thing plum mixed up, dat he taken ter w’arin’ big wads er cotton in he years fur ter shet hit out er de years, dat keeps er-growin’ longer an’ longer, narrerer an’ narrerer; but de cotton cain’t shet hit out, ’case half uv hit kim fum de inside, an’ was de wakin’ up uv all dat de debil lef’ Shadrach dat b’long ter er good man.

“De hoodoo he see what were er-ailin’ Shadrach, an’ he mighty sorry fur him; but he cain’t go ter Shadrach; Shadrach gotter kim ter him ter git he soul back, an’ hit hatter be er mighty good hoodoo ter do hit den, so de hoodoo he sot an’ wait.

“Bimeby Shadrach des couldn’ stan’ hit no longer, an’ he des kim er-rinnin’ ter de hoodoo, all doubled up, wid de long white beard des er-draggin’ on de groun’, an’ he fingers in he years—dem big years dat des er-settin’ up on bofe sides he head.

“‘Pear lack Shadrach sho gwine plum crazy ’twixt de mizry an’ de noises, an’ de hoodoo git ter work quick, fur ter pull de debil outen Shadrach, so’s Shadrach mought git he soul back.


[Pg 89]

“Shadrach lay on de flo’ er de cabin, des er-rollin’ an’ er-groanin’. Dey done pour hot lard an’ er whole bottle er laud’num in he years widout doin’ any good, an’ de hoodoo try ter fling de debil out in de name er de jackass, de el’phunt, de owl—ever’thing dat he kin think uv dat got big years; but de debil hain’t come outen him yit.

“Den de hoodoo taken him inter de woods an’ call de name uv er long-yeared houn’ dat passin’ by, but hit hain’t dat.

“De hoodoo workin’ mighty hard, an’ he stop an’ steddy erwhile, an’ den he lead Shadrach, wid de thorns des er-t’arin’ uv he beard an’ he knees an’ he han’s, ober inter er thicket er blackberry-bushes, ter gib de debil er good chance ter kim out, ’case he sho arter him.

“He make de passes wid he han’s, an’ say de charm, an’ wait erwhile. De debil he see he chances done plum gone, an’ he hatter gib up de soul, ’case de hoodoo got him in er corner, an’ when he see dat, he des kim er-lopin’ outen Shadrach inter de blackberry-bushes, in de shape uv er big jack-rabbit wid great long years.

“Dey say dat ole Shadrach lib ter be er hundud an’ fifty year ol’er ’n he were, stone-blin’[Pg 90] an’ ’mos’ stone-deef; but he go ’bout powerful happy twel he die, an’ hain’t nebber git cuissome ’bout hearin’ things no mo’, ’case he done heared ernough ter las’ him.”

[Pg 93]


It was a nine days’ wonder that Jezrul had ever taken a fancy to Lemuel’s Crecy, for Jezrul was Colonel Greene’s butler, as pompous, if not so rotund, as the Colonel himself, and Lemuel’s Crecy, as every one knew, had never done anything but pick cotton in her life.

But the fancy grew, and so did the stories, when Jezrul asked that she might be brought from the field and taken on trial as a house-maid. When Madame demurred, Jezrul promised to assist in the training himself, and he begged so hard that Madame finally agreed, first stipulating, however, that Crecy should learn to wear shoes; and this was how Jezrul’s trouble began, for Crecy could not be fired with ambition even by the most ardent lover, and did not even appreciate the honor conferred.[Pg 94] Moreover, it was impossible to keep the shoes on her feet, though Jezrul tied them hard and fast every morning, with a warning; but they turned up mysteriously in every corner of the house, once even—oh! the horror of the thing!—behind the door in Madame’s drawing-room, and were discovered just in time to save Jezrul from overwhelming mortification.

In view of his contract with Ole Miss, Jezrul groaned helplessly in secret, as Crecy plodded plantigrade about the house, slipping nervously into the little black prisons and opening her mouth wide whenever she was called; but he was loving Crecy, and even these thorns, as sharp as they were, were blunted by love’s power.

The hardest trial came about through the conventionalities of high life in the Quarters, for Jezrul was a born gallant, and used to the making of pretty compliments, copied studiously from the “Big House,” but which “language of the court” was as Greek to Crecy’s ears.

Then there had been a little feeling when Madame had given a great ball and Crecy had been ignominiously set aside as too awkward and ungainly to serve upon the occasion, though[Pg 95] that pain had been soothed by the policy of Jezrul, and the culmination came at the time of the Christmas “break-down.”


Ole Marse had just been to New Orleans, and as a Christmas gift to the Madame had brought Susanne, whose “Cagion” French and cunningly arched head-handkerchief bow had proved too much for Jezrul’s peace of mind, for he was an ardent believer in feminine accomplishments. And how she could dance! Her very feet seemed to be made of a different material from those of the others. Louisiana was giving Mississippi points, and, alas! the star of Mississippi was on the wane.

In her humble blue cotton gown, at first Crecy was awed and dazzled by the unfamiliar gorgeousness of the new-comer, with her flashing eyes and sallies of wit, until she saw the all-devouring gaze of Jezrul; then the reality fell like a leaden weight, and the fires of jealousy burned briskly, fanned, too, it is to be feared, by meddlesome observers, for in all of the gayeties Jezrul had not even seemed to see her. At first she sat apart, aimless and listless, watching the pair through half-closed eyes; it was a new experience, and thought[Pg 96] travelled slowly. Then she threw herself wildly into the dance.

“I lay I l’arn him ter go kerhootin’ arter er strange gal!”

Faster and faster flew her feet; now she curtsied, now coquetted with a shuffling would-be partner, always keeping within the circle, but always dancing alone, with her eyes fixed upon the object of her jealousy.

“Go it, Crecy!” shouted the fiddler, and the music and patting grew louder and faster—“Pea-patch Ladies,” “Chicken in the Bread-Tray,” “Buzzard Lope,” and a score of others; then a medley of wild, half-savage fiddling and chanting followed, and the dancers were tiring out; but still Crecy whirled, her body swaying almost to the floor as she spread the folds of her swelling skirts. She was dancing to the pair, but Susanne and Jezrul were oblivious. Susanne was teaching him a shuffle that he had never seen before, and he was beating time for her, independent of the chanters. There was a strange light in Crecy’s eyes, and then Lemuel tried to drag his daughter from the floor, for the fiddler had stopped to rest, and the singers had quit from sheer exhaustion. But with a high, resonant note[Pg 97] she struck into a wilder chant alone, wheeling and veering like a wounded bird.

“Look!” came the awe-struck whisper.

Still swaying and singing, every movement consorting with the rhythm of the chant, she bared her shapely body to the waist, whirling now above her head and now about her knees a cluster of rude castanets swung by a leather thong.

At each revolution, accompanied by a high note in the wail, the rough edges of the shells cut sharply into the steaming flesh.

The space was clear; every dancer had given way: they had been dancing for a jubilee, but this dance was another thing. The spell was irresistible; one by one the hoodoos who had been hanging on the outskirts moved forward, first with a vibrating finger, then with a waving arm, like the great claw of a sand-fiddler signalling from his hole, and then the entire figures, rags and all, reeled with the horrid song.

Only the hoodoos joined in it; the rest were dumb; and at last even Jezrul and Susanne were conscious of the mysterious thing, and Jezrul touched the charm he wore around his neck, and Susanne laughed softly and nervously.

[Pg 98]

Out and in, the figures of the hoodoos turned, weaving a cabalistic sign with that of Crecy, from whose breast and shoulders the blood was fast trickling.

The chant and dance, if such it could be called, continued for nearly three-quarters of an hour, when suddenly the girl raised both arms, with a yell like that of a crazed animal, and fell upon her clattering castanets; and the hoodoos carried her out, for Lemuel was afraid to touch her.

A red glow lighted the cabin faintly. Goobers and sweet-potatoes were roasting on the hearth, but Crecy let them burn.

Mumbling and moaning, she was busying herself with rags and sticks and thread, for out of her rude material she was fashioning a man.

“I gwine tame him—I gwine tame Jezrul! He gwine feel de toof er de big green sarpint. He gwine be hot in de mouf an’ cole in de belly. I lay I gwine l’arn him!”

Slowly the work grew under the clumsy, eager fingers, and the sunbeams were shining through the chinks before she hid the little image of Jezrul in a crevice by the chimney.


All that day Crecy moped alone in the cabin;[Pg 99] she had been dismissed from the “Big House” for nodding over her work, and Jezrul had not even interceded; but there was some comfort in it all, for she was freed from the humiliating comment of the house negroes and the despised shoes had been left behind, though the loneliness was oppressive, for the Christmas festivities were at their height. Still keeping her fast, for she had eaten nothing since the day before, she stirred the coals upon the hearth, whipping her wrath into a frenzy; and as she heard the voice of Susanne in the quarters and Jezrul’s laugh that followed, she thrust the image through with a toasting-fork and held it over the flame.

“Burn! burn!” she hissed. “Burn wid de fires dat’s er-eatin’ out dese in’ards,—’case I gwine ter tame you, Jezrul! Burn, I say!” And putting out the blaze that started, she held the thing over the coals again. “Hit ’ll retch yo’ heart, an’ sizzle hit lack de fires er de debil, ’case you gwine ter be mine, Jezrul!”

Day after day Crecy tortured the little image, now sticking it full of pins, now scorching it again, but always taking the precaution not to utterly destroy it—“’case he cain’t die—’case he’s mine,” she muttered.

[Pg 100]

Though night after night the festivities went on, Susanne coquetted and Jezrul laughed, and Crecy was forgotten.

But New-Year’s Day had filled the quarters with sensation, and dozens of ears were tingling with the news.

Old Marse had been giving a stag dinner to the judge of the circuit and the attorney-general. They had been sitting at table for nearly three hours, and Jezrul, who adored such great personages, was in his glory; but just as he was bringing in the cigars and liqueurs with his usual flourish upon such occasions, he fell in a fit at Old Marse’s feet. Such a thing as a ripple in the course of one of Old Marse’s dinner-parties had never occurred before; the Colonel was beside himself, for he was helpless without Jezrul.

Jezrul was a long time in coming round, and in the confusion Susanne threw her apron over her head and went into hysterics, as the knowing ones whispered; while down in her cabin alone, with the little image stuck full of pins and pressed close against her breast, Crecy gave a fiendish yell, for she believed that the spell she had set, was working at last. With ghoulish delight she tortured the miserable[Pg 101] doll; and day after day, fearful and livid with superstition, but still unwilling to give up Susanne, Jezrul fell to the floor under the strange delusion; and at last, too ill even to creep up to the house, he begged so piteously for the curse to be removed, that the Colonel thought that he was wandering in a fever, and alternately bled him to remove the engorgement and stimulated to remedy the depletion, until he dragged about, dodging and starting at the casting of his own shadow.

Susanne was comforting in these dark days, and he could not give her up, for her long slender hands were as ready as her nimble feet; and the wiseacres said that Susanne would marry Jezrul if he ever got well, which now seemed very unlikely. But a pair of great wide eyes were watching the ministrations furtively and jealously, and another little image, a smaller one in petticoats, appeared in the cabin.

There was plenty of gossip in the Quarters, beside the blazing pine knots, over the sweet-potatoes and chestnuts roasting in the ashes, for though the fits were coming upon Jezrul[Pg 102] harder than ever, he had suddenly refused to let Susanne even come near him, and Maumer Belle touched her cunger knowingly, and said that she had seen Jezrul turn away from Susanne in positive loathing, for all that he had loved her so; and Susanne, in mortification, finding no sympathy among the negroes, had gone to the Madame, but Ole Miss calmly told Susanne that Jezrul was crazy—“as crazy as a loon,” said Ole Miss.

“Dat’s nuffin,” said Unc Ephraim, throwing his blazing cob into the fire and adjusting another. “Dat’s on’y what we gotter ’spec’, ’case hit’s de dark er de moon now, an’ hit’s nuffin but er hoodoo dat ail Jezrul, an’ Crecy she sho at de bottom uv hit all. Maumer Belle, yo’ knows yo’ tole Lemuel dat Crecy gwine ter be er hoodoo, ’fore she were free day ole.”


“Um, um,” grunted Maumer. “An’ las’ night my Sam he rid fru de parster, er-sarchin’ fur de muel colt dat git out somers, an’ he say dat de hoodoos was er-dancin’ ergin in de big ditch; an’ sech er dance! an’ Crecy were wid ’em. Crecy was er-swingin’ dem shells ergin, an’, Sam say, were er-scatterin’ ashes ober her[Pg 103] head, too, an’ putty nigh start naked, lack she were de odder night, an’ I sho dun’no’ what Lem mean fur ter let dat gal take on so; but yo’ min’ my words, ’case I knows what I’s er-tellin’ yo’, dat mean dat Jezrul gwine ter take Crecy back ’fore he git outen dis. Hain’t no common yarb truck ner teas gwine ter do Jezrul any good, ’case Crecy sho tamin’ uv him.”

There was a thoughtful silence and a steady gazing into the fire, when a hoarse scream brought the gossipers to their feet.

“Dat’s Jezrul,” whispered Maumer Belle, “an’ his voice soun’ sorter nat’rul.”

The night was very dark, and the sick man had fallen in front of his cabin, but by the uncertain flare of the hastily lighted torches the watchers could see Crecy down upon her knees beside him, and the willowy form of Susanne scurrying away into the shadow.

“Take hit off! take hit off!” he moaned. “I’s er dyin’ man, but I lubs on’y you, Crecy!”

The teeth of the girl glistened in the torchlight.

“Fur good?”

“Fur good.” It was only a whisper, but it was an earnest, solemn truth.

Her right arm was around his neck, but her[Pg 104] left hand was pressing into his the little images of Susanne and himself.

“Come inter de cabin an’ burn ’em wid you’ own han’, honey, ’case dat ’ll make yo’ well!” Crecy rose and led the way, and Jezrul meekly followed, for Jezrul was “tamed.”

[Pg 107]


Abijah was a hoodoo; moreover, he had the reputation, over a wide stretch of territory, of having the evil or Judas eye, as it was called among the negroes, which gave him a power over them all the year round, which was only claimed by the first exhorter during “Big Meetin’.”

No journey was ever undertaken, no new work begun, in fact, nothing of importance was ever planned by the negroes without first consulting Uncle ’Jah, who spoke as an oracle.

His fame extended even to the poor whites of the section who had never owned a slave, and many were the potions for healing and philters for unrequited love, that passed from Uncle ’Jah’s hands for a small consideration.

Uncle ’Jah also told the stars, and blended the inherited African rites most unreservedly[Pg 108] with the Indian traditions and his idea of the white man’s religious ceremonials.

Of course there were other hoodoos on the place, for what plantation had them not? but they were all lesser lights whose radiance paled before the effulgence of the leading spirit.

Uncle ’Jah added to his dignities and honors the fact of having been born free. The story ran, that his mother was a princess in her own country, having been stolen by traders at an early age, and in the home of her adoption her faithfulness and tender care won the sympathy of her invalid mistress, who was pleased to give her freedom as a reward.

She had never left the plantation, for a humble romance followed, and the free woman became the wife of a slave.

By “Ole Miss’s” will in the olden time her children were to be free from their birth, and Abijah, the seventh son of the seventh son, though living, as his father had done, on the plantation, was free to come and go, and received wages for his labor when he chose to work.

But Abijah was gathered to his fathers long ago, and many were the lamentations when he passed away. As the passing of a dusky[Pg 109] Mohammed, marvels were expected, and great were the wonders and happenings on his burial night, for, like his aforesaid predecessor, he planned his own funeral, and he decreed that the burial should occur at night.

It was said that everything had come to him in the dark of the moon; it was dark when he was born, and dark when he died; so they buried him in the midst of the tall bracken, whose swaying plumes cast weird and grotesque shadows by the light of the flickering pine torches.

The exhorters were holding their services at the meeting-ground, and would not officiate, as they deemed the burial unholy; but the mass of negroes, who knew the work of Abijah, were afraid that his ghost would walk, and attended for the laying of his spirit; and all but the torch-bearers prostrated themselves low upon the ground, while the hoodoos waved their arms, as the coffin was lowered, and forbade the spirit’s return to earthly habitations; then bitter herbs and Abijah’s drinking-cup were thrown in before the grave was filled.

As has been said, the passing of Abijah happened many years ago, and now in the third[Pg 110] and fourth generations his fame had grown even to that of a dusky god.

So there were not wanting those who, through the mists of time and forgetfulness, attributed to him supernatural powers, a fearless handling of the forces of good and evil, even a personal exorcism of the devil—that old-fashioned devil who donned such familiar forms upon occasion.

Of course such a devil is entirely out of date, but in that long ago there was a certain little maid to whom these devil stories, forbidden fruit though they were, gave the most unalloyed delight.

They were told at night when the trundle-bed was rolled out and the little toes were toasting by the fire, and sometimes even, it is to be feared, the “Now I lay me” was rather hastily said, that the story might be resumed; later, perhaps, an anxious mother wondered why the little one tossed so restlessly, but every genuine child has been duly “scared to death once upon a time,” and so had the little maid.

Through the tangles of the past a picture rises, though the Scheherazade of the nursery has passed away, the voice comes no more to[Pg 111] the childish ears, for the little maid too is gone; perhaps the stories are half forgotten, but a word, a thought, stirs the pulse of memory.

“Tell a devil tale, Ellen.”

“Naw, I hain’t gwine tell you ’n’ Charlie no mo’ devil tales.”

“Please, Ellen, we’ll go to sleep in two minutes if you will.”

“Tell about Uncle ’Jah, the devil, and the dark of the moon.”

“I hain’t gwine tell hit—Miss ’Tishy say you git skeered an’ don’ go ter sleep, an’ I hain’t gwine tell ’em ter yo’ no mo’.”

“Oh, Ellen, yes, we will; they don’t scare us. We’ll get right in bed and listen, and by the time you are through we’ll be asleep. Mamma won’t care.”

“But she do keer; she say you mustn’t heah ’em no mo’. Dey gibs her de horrors.”

“Go on, Ellen. She was just afraid that we’d be scared in the night, but we are too big for that now. Go on about the devil and Uncle ’Jah.”

“Miss ’Tishy be mighty mad!”

“But we won’t tell her. Her mammy used to tell her those tales when she was little; she said so.”

[Pg 112]

“An’ yo’ won’t tell yo’ maw?”

“No, we won’t tell her.”

“Yo’ sho’ yo’ won’t tell?”

“Cross my heart and body, we won’t, Ellen!”

“Well, one time dey hab er powerful Big Meetin’ on de place whar Unc’ ’Jah lib, an’ dar was er mighty prophesyin’ an’ ’zortin’ ’count er hit.

“Dey was er-prophesyin’ ’bout dis an’ prophesyin’ ’bout dat, but dar wa’n’t many sinners got up twel er stranger kim up an’ sot inter prophesyin’, an’ den sech er gittin’ erbout yo’ nebber did see; dar wa’n’t ’nough benches fur de mo’ners, an’ dey des laid down in de straw.

“Some uv ’em ’low de stars gwine fall ergin; an’ some uv ’em ’low de stars hain’t gwine fall, but de pest’lence er kimmin’; an’ some ’low de pest’lence ain’ kimmin’, but dey gwine hab er rain er sarpents; but de stranger he ’zort an’ prophesy louder an’ longer, an’ he ’low dat arter de Big Meetin’, de debil gwine be loose on de place an’ gwine take de form uv er sarpent, er tarrypin, er man, an’ er fly, an’ he gwine pester mightily de chillen er de promus; but de sarpent dey kin shoot, de[Pg 113] tarrypin dey kin kill, an’ de man dey kin see, but hit gwine ter be mighty hard ter ketch up wid de fly, specuil in fly-time, ’case de debil choose de innercentest house-fly he kin fin’.

“But de stranger say de debil do de mos’ tore-down things es er fly, ’case he kin go ever’whar, an’ walk on de ceiling top side down des er-seein’ things dat’s hid, an’ he kin git erroun’ faster ’n de man, an’ fas’ ergin es de sarpent, an’ er hundred times es fas’ es de tarrypin. He taken de tarrypin so’s ter git de ’scusin’ er movin’ slow. Well, Unc’ ’Jah he don’ pay no ’tention ter de prophesyin’ an’ de churchin’, ’case he do he own prophesyin’ an’ workin’, so he des lay low an’ keep still.

“‘Bout dat time Unc’ ’Jah’s boy Rube he go co’tin’ de putties’ nigger gal dat ebber were borned; but she were unner conviction at de Big Meetin’, an’ don’ ’pear ter take no notice er Rube, but she like him powerful, unbeknownst.

“Oh, but she were putty! an’ she were er house-nigger, an’ w’ar finer close dan t’others, an’ sot an’ sew right by her Ole Miss.

“Well, Rube he savin’ uv he wedges, an’ he think he ax Ole Marse mought he buy her, arter dey marries, fur hit ’pear lack dey gwine[Pg 114] ter marry arter de Big Meetin’, ’case Rube he were mighty lack he Mammy, an’ all de gals was plum sot on him. Well, Unc’ ’Jah don’ ’pear ter take no notice, ’case he were er-workin’ on he Mammy, who were mighty po’ly, des er-draggin’ one foot an’ totin’ t’other, twel sumpen ’pear ter happen ter Rube’s gal, an’ den Unc’ ’Jah he ’pear ter des wake up.

“Hit happin dis way: ’Bout de time de Big Meetin’ ober dar kim er stranger in de Quarters dat taken er powerful shine ter de gal, an’ he allus kim in de night, an’ walk an’ talk wid de gal er little erway fum t’others.

“Well, dat gal she show him her putty teef, an’ laugh an’ jeck her putty head erbout, but she thinkin’ ’bout Rube.

“Den he fotch some big gole year-rings an’ er brooch—powerful fine fur er nigger, ’case dey mos’ es fine es her Ole Miss wear ever’ day; an’ dat nigger w’ar broadclof lack er gemmen; an’ Rube he were powerful low in he min’, ’case de stranger talk mighty putty, an’ he ’low dat ’omens lub putty talkin’; but dat stranger ain’ say whar he fum, an’ he ain’t call he name ter any er de niggers, not eben ter de gal.


“An’ sing! Lord, how dat stray nigger[Pg 115] sing, an’ pick de banjo, an’ mek de fiddle fa’rly dance! Eben de ’zorters, hearin’ uv hit ’way off, couldn’ keep dey foots fum shufflin’ an’ dey han’s fum pattin’ when dey hears dat nigger play de fiddle. But es fine es he were, wid he mustache an’ de b’ar’s grease on he hair, he allus wanter set down; an’ Unc’ ’Jah, ’case Rube were so po’ly, he pull he eye, lack er lizard, down on him, an’ he see dat he got sumpen de matter wid de right foot, an’ he try ter hide hit all he kin.

“But Unc’ ’Jah don’ say nuffin; he des er-workin’. An’ de stray nigger he promus de gal fine close an’ fine house lack her Ole Miss got; an’ de gal she show him her teef ergin, but she still er-thinkin’ ’bout Rube.

“Den de stranger he chink de gole money in he pocket an’ show hit ter de gal; she ’ain’t nebber see er nigger tote gole money erfore, an’ she op’n ’er eyes wide, an’ ain’ think ’bout Rube no more.

“Dat Rube he were er cuissome nigger, an’ he git ter be mighty painful, an’ he ain’ wanter eat ’count er de gal, an’ ain’ look at t’others des er-rinnin’ arter him; an’ Unc’ ’Jah he ain’ say nuffin, but he sot er charm fur de gal dat done promus ter marry de stray nigger an’[Pg 116] shakes her big gole hoops in de face er Rube. Dat gal mout er-knowed de stray nigger ’ain’ git ’em hones’.

“Den he gib her er ring wid two hearts on hit dat ud come in two, perzackly lack white folks, an’ dat rin Rube putty nigh crazy, ’case he done gib her he gran’maw’s gole ring; an’ de gal gib out dat she gwine marry de stranger, an’ er-gwine ter er far country. Unc’ ’Jah were mighty pestered, an’ he casts erbout; den he ups an’ ax de gal fur er lock uv her hair ter ’member her by.

“Hit please de gal powerful, ’case she were mighty uppish—uppish lack white folks—an’ she gib hit ter ’im; an’ Unc’ ’Jah chuckle powerful, ’case he got all he want fur ter mek he charm work.


“An’ dat night when de gal was er-walkin’ wid de stranger in de moonlight, she see sumpen dat skeer her mos’ ter def; but she ’feared ter holler; fur de stranger he taken he hat off fur ter cool he head, des er-talkin’ sweet’s sugar all de time; an’ dat gal, sho’s you born, see two little horns des er-growin’ in de moonlight, er-sproutin’ outer he forud; an’ she skeered so she look down, an’, my Lord! she see de lame foot des nuffin but er hoof! Den dat gal she[Pg 117] know she done gib her promus ter marry wid de debil, ’case Unc’ ’Jah’s charm hit taken de scales fum her eyes; an’ she think ’bout Rube ergin, an’ she shuck an’ shuck, an’ tell de debil she cole; but he laugh, an’ show he teef, an’ ’low, ’You’s done mine now; I gwine warm yo’ bimeby.’ An’ she sweat cole, and ’low she gwine gib back de ring an’ de gole year-rings, an’ de promus; dat she ain’ lub nobody but Rube; but hit de debil, an’ he ain’ let her go, an’ he say she gotter marry him; but she say she ain’, dat she hate him.

“Unc’ ’Jah workin’ yit, an’ bimeby de stranger ain’ kim ter see de gal no mo’; but er tarrypin foller her, an’ stay by her when she work, an’ listen when she talk, an’ hit ’ten’ ter be ersleep; but when she ain’ look at hit, hit snap at her toes wid hits ugly mouf, an’ she cain’t dribe hit off. An’ bimeby she shivers, den taken hit up in her lap, ’case hit de debil an’ he mek her do hit; an’ dat tarrypin hit bite de blood outen her arm, ’case she b’long ter him an’ he got her promus; an’ she were so po’ly dat she gitten right scrawny.

“Den Rube ain’ know what ter do, ’case de gal cry, an’ he taken he axe an’ cut de tarrypin’s head off, while de gal hold hit ter keep hit[Pg 118] fum drawin’ back; but he wa’n’t no hoodoo lack he daddy—he des er common nigger—an’ he mek er miss an’ cut de gal’s thumb off wid hit.

“But de cut neck er de head an’ de cut neck er de body dey retch an’ stretch todes one nuther, an’ retch an’ stretch twel dey tech, an’ den dey des jines right erfore dey eyes, an’ dat ole tarrypin he lif’ he head an’ blink dem ole eyes at bofe uv ’em. Hit go on dat way twel de gal ’mos’ cry her eyes out ter git shet er de tarrypin, when Unc’ ’Jah he kim erlong swingin’ he axe keerless lack, an’ he hear de commotion lack he nebber hear hit erfore, an’ taken sumpen lack grease outen er box in he pocket, an’ smear hit on de sharp aige, an’ blip! down he kim on de tarrypin’s neck, an’ de head an’ de body part, don’t jine no mo’.

“Well, dat gal done git shet er de tarrypin, an’ dough she mighty po’ an’ sickly lookin’, lack she hab de swamp-fever, she say she gwine marry Rube soon; but Unc’ ’Jah he know what were kimmin’, an’ she ain’ gwine marry Rube yit.

“Dat gal git ter be so po’ an’ droopy dat her Ole Miss ’low she let her work in de fiel’, dat de fresh air gwine do her good.

[Pg 119]

“So she sot inter choppin’ out cotton, ’case hit de spring er de year, but she sorter skeered dat de tarrypin kim back.


“He ain’ gwine kim back, but one day in de row she feel sumpen ticklin’ uv her bare foot mighty sof’, an’ she look an’ see hit were er long wigglin’ sarpent, an’ hit w’ar de face er de stray nigger she done promus ter marry, an’ hit smile an’ smile at dat gal in de row, an’ hit foller her down de row an’ back ergin, an’ when she ain’ look at hit, hit bite her foots an’ strike wid hits fangs, ’case hit gwine ter be noticed. Ever’ day hit meet her in de row, an’ ever’ day hit bite her, drawin’ de blood, an’ bimeby hit say it cole, an’ she hatter take it up in her arms ter warm hit, ’case hit de debil an’ he done git de promus.

“Well, dar ain’ nobody kin kill dat snake wid er stick, an’ dar ain’ nobody dat kin shoot hit wid er gun, ’case dey done try, an’ all de time dat sarpent des er-thinnin’ dat gal’s blood lack er man-eatin’ bat, when here kim Unc’ ’Jah down in de fiel’, an’ he taken de gun fum he shoulder an’ wipe de sweat offen him, ’case hit were hot. Den he kinder keerless lack ’n’int de bullets wid de sumpen dat he ’n’int de axe wid, an’ load up. Den he say sumpen ter[Pg 120] hese’f an’ p’int de gun at dat streaked snake, an’ he were sho’ dead dat time.

“Dat gal she fall down and hug Unc’ ’Jah’s knees; but de debil he wa’n’t fru wid de gal yit; he ain’ wanter let her git erway fum him.

“Hit were summer-time good now, an’ de gnats dey pesterin’ de hosses an’ de cattle, an’ hit were fly-time ’mongst de people.

“Well, hit were de debil’s chance ergin, fur de gal say she ain’ marry de man, an’ de sarpent an’ de tarrypin bofe dead.

“Well, de debil he gwine mek dat gal see sights, fur he sot an’ think an’ think; den he finds out de innercentest house-fly dat ebber was hatched, an’ put hit in he pocket, an’ day arter day he trainin’ dat fly; den on de dark er de moon he set facin’ er de fly, an’ mek hese’f mighty small an’ git inter de fly, an’ fly up ter whar dat gal was er-settin’, an’ buzz an’ buzz.

“He light on her han’, an’ she bresh him off; he light on her year, an’ she mek dem gole year-rings ring; an’ he tickle her nose, an’ stick he cole clammy foots on her chin lack ’twere gwine ter rain; den he lit on her mouf an’ rin her putty nigh plum crazy.


“When her an’ Rube was co’tin’ ’unbeknownst,[Pg 121] he buzz an’ buzz, an’ fly ertwixt ’em an’ listen ter all dey say, an’ he hears ’em say when dey gwine marry, an’ he buzz so hard he mos’ skeer hese’f.

“Den when de gal go ter bed he draw de blood ’mos’ es bad es de sarpent, an’ pester her so she hatter kiver up her head wid er quilt, dough hit were so mighty hot. Bimeby hit ’pear lack dat gal she know hit were de debil, an’ she git ashy an’ ashy, an’ dat fly pester her so dat de folks say she gone crazy erbout er little house-fly; but dat Rube hain’t gib her up, an’ de debil hain’t nuther.

“Well, Unc’ ’Jah ain’t talkin’; he des er-watchin’, an’ hi were de dark er de moon ergin, an’ he were plum ready ter meet de debil now.

“So whilst dey was er-prayin’ an’ ’zortin’ ober de gal fur ter mek her min’ kim back, he was er-workin’ wid er ’intment ter kill dat fly, an’ er-’sortin’ ter ’spedients fur ter keep de debil’s sperit fum gittin’ back inter he body when he kim outer de fly.

“‘Mos’ ever’ hoodoo kin do dat. I’s heard ’bout hit many er time; dar whar de debil larn hit. Dar allus two uv ’em, an’ dey set facin’, an’ spits deyse’fs inter anything dey wants ter go inter.

[Pg 122]

“Course Unc’ ’Jah could do hit hese’f; dey cotch him er-doin’ uv hit; an’ course he ain’t gwine ter let de debil beat him at he best game.

“Well, Unc’ ’Jah he sot erbout fur ter mek er ’intment fur ter cotch dat fly, so he mek er ’intment dat smells powerful sweet, an’ he sot de pot down by de side er de gal, an’ bimeby de fly buzz round an’ smell hit, an’ he fin’ hit sweeter ter him ’n de gal, an’ furgit all ’bout her, an’ eat twel he fitten ter bus’; den he drap offen de aidge an’ buzz his wings twel he die.

“Den Unc’ ’Jah he know de debil’s sperit loose fum de fly, an’ he ain’ gwine ter let de debil git back inter he body dis time if he kin hope hit, so he ’gin ter work he charm hard es he kin.

“De debil mek er win’ blow de fly out de do’; but Unc’ ’Jah follers hit. Den de debil blow dus’ in Unc’ ’Jah’s eyes; but he rubs hit out, an’ follers de fly.

“Den de debil blow er strong smoke in Unc’ ’Jah’s eyes fur ter keep him fum follerin’; an’ hit burn an’ hit smart, but Unc’ ’Jah he foller whar de win’ er-totin’ dat fly.


“Den de debil gib Unc’ ’Jah er miz’ry in de[Pg 123] knee: he were ole, Unc’ ’Jah were, an’ ’twere mighty easy ter mek him painful: but Unc’ ’Jah des limp on an’ keep de dead fly in de win’ des erfore him, ’case he wanter hope set de gal free, ’count er his son Rube.

“Well, de debil play all kinds er capers wid Unc’ ’Jah ’dout techin’ him, ’case he were de bestes’ hoodoo dat ebber were, dead er libin’, an’ de debil were mighty put ter hit, ’case de power er de debil stops short somers, ’n’ he were putty nigh rin ter de eend uv he rope.

“So dey rin an’ rin an’ rin, Unc’ ’Jah allus keepin’ de fly in de win’ des erhead uv him, dough his tongue was hangin’ out.

“Den de debil he mek de win’ blow harder, an’ de fly in de win’ des fa’r flew; but Unc’ ’Jah he hol’ up he charm erfore him an’ split de win’ des ’hine de fly.

“Hit were sho’ cuissome ter see dat dead fly scootin’ on de win’, an’ Unc’ ’Jah des er-ridin’ hard, an’ er-ridin’ on nuffin; but dey say dat he sho’ done hit, an’ hit ’pear lack arter while de debil ’stonished ’case he see sech er powerful hoodoo, an’ he let dat win’ die back an’ dat fly flop down so suddent dat hit ’mos’ take Unc’ ’Jah’s bref erway.

“Den Unc’ ’Jah he see dat de debil sperit[Pg 124] done gone inter er debil hoss dat was waitin’ fur he marster close by ter whar de fly fall; an’ hit were powe’ful hard ter keep up wid de debil hoss, ’case he mek he time by jumps es well es by flyin’; but Unc’ ’Jah’s charm was es good es de debil hoss, an’ when he fly, Unc’ ’Jah fly, an’ when he jump, Unc’ ’Jah jump, an’ he keep ’im plum in sight.

“Den de debil he w’ar out he hoss, an’ goes inter er grasshopper. Unc’ ’Jah groans at dat, fur he was mighty ole ter go so high an’ drap so low ever’ time wid de grasshopper, but dey say dat he done hit, an’ sho’ beat de grasshopper er-hoppin’.

“Dar was er squinch-eyed toad er settin’ by er rock, de debilishest-lookin’ toad dat ebber you see, an’ when de grasshopper wore out, de debil flings his ole laigs erway an’ goes inter de toad.

“Unc’ ’Jah he know hit wa’n’t no use ter kill de toad, ’case de debil gwine fin’ sumpen harder ter git ter he body in, so Unc’ ’Jah he hol’ he charm fas’ an’ des hop ’longsider de toad.


“Hit were mighty low-down work fur Unc’ ’Jah, but he were workin’ ter git eben wid de debil, an’ we has ter squat low ter rise high sometimes, an’ dat gal an’ dat Rube was bofe er-pinin’ unner de cuss.

[Pg 125]

“Well, dat toad wa’n’t any good company ter Unc’ ’Jah, an’ his belly wa’n’t useter stayin’ so clost ter de groun’, so he were powerful glad when dat toad ’low he was mighty tired an’ sleepy too.

“So Unc’ ’Jah were on de watch, an’ all uv er sudden dat toad flop down an’ open he mouf fur bref, fur de debil rid him hard, an’ fum de flutterin’ an’ hollerin’, Unc’ ’Jah know de debil done fin’ he nigger, de jay; but de jay cain’t bre’k he word ter Ole Mammy Natur’, an’ cain’t fly at night, an’ he hol’ so fas’ de debil cain’t shake him outen de tree.

“Hit were de same way wid de jay’s cousin, de crow; dar wa’n’t no corn dat de debil mout coax him wid in de night.

“An’ dat whar birds an’ beastes is better’n men; if you offers er man ernough, he’ll ’low ter do anything, but t’others cain’t go ’gin Natur’; an’ hit ain’t natchel fur er jay er er crow ter go kerhootin’ in de night-time.

“Dar wa’n’t nuffin lef’ fur de debil ter tek fur ter retch his body in but er bat, an’ Unc’ ’Jah hain’t got no wings; but Unc’ ’Jah he spread he arms an’ he ragged coat, an’ riz wid de bat.

“Hit were de dark er de moon, an’ dar wa’n’t[Pg 126] many bugs er-flyin’, an’ hit ’pear lack dat bat wa’n’t so powerful anxious ter go; an’ de way he skimmed in de space an’ bumped ergin de trees fur ter spite de debil in him was er caution.

“But ever’ time de bat skim, Unc’ ’Jah skum, an’ ever’ time de bat bumped, Unc’ ’Jah bumped, twel hit ’mos’ knock de bref plum outen him, an’ his ole bald head were es full er goose aigs es er nut is er meat; but Unc’ ’Jah were des er-keepin’ up wid de debil.

“Well, dat body er de debil were er long way off, fur dey flewed an’ dey flewed, an’ rin ergin mo’ quare critters in de air dat ’pear ter be some ’quaintance er de bat, an’ he stop ter say ’howdy’ ter. Dey rin ergin all kinds er owls, an’ de bat ’pear ter be mighty thick wid ’em, an’ fum de things dey talks ter one nuther in de dark, Unc’ ’Jah think they mout be kin.

“Well, dey flewed an’ dey flewed, an’ es Unc’ ’Jah were in mighty close comp’ny wid de bat, de owls dey think Unc’ ’Jah er mighty big un, an’ dey mek dey compliments ter him. Bein’ es how Unc’ ’Jah he w’ar de charm an’ were er high-toned hoodoo, he know de language, an’ mek ’em back mighty perlight, des lack de owls, an’ de owls an’ de bat an’ Unc’ ’Jah dey ’pear ter be des lack brudders.


[Pg 127]

“Unc’ ’Jah he lack mighty well ter be back in he cabin, ’sleep, but hit wa’n’t ever’ hoodoo dat git de chances er gittin’ eben wid de debil ever’ day, so he keep er spreadin’ he coat an’ stretchin’ he arms lack de bat.

“Dey flewed so high dat dey could see down folks’ chimblies; an’ ’pear lack dar wa’n’t no tops on de houses, fur de debil were ’long an’ he onkiver ’em, lack he do ever’ night, an’ Unc’ ’Jah see de white folks, des what dey doin’, some uv ’em ’sleep, some uv ’em drinkin’, some uv ’em dancin’, an’ some uv ’em playing cards, an’ er-doin’ all kinds er devilment dey think nobody kin see—stranglin’ wid ropes, an’ killin’ in de dark, an’ sech lack; but Unc’ ’Jah he ain’t say nuffin, ’case hit wa’n’t none er his business. De debil he were mighty peart, an’ ever’ time dey kim ter rinnin’ water he try ter shoot dat bat er-crost hit, ’case he know er hoodoo cain’t cross er rinnin’ branch; but ever’ time dat bat dive, Unc’ ’Jah he spread he coat-tails wider an’ head ’im off, ’case he know what bre’k he charm, an’ de way dey kep’ er-duckin’ an’ er-divin’ when all hones’ folks was in dey beds was des fa’rly scand’lous; but Unc’ ’Jah were tryin’ ter set dat gal free fum de cuss er de debil.

[Pg 128]

“Well, Unc’ ’Jah he do so lack de bat dat he most furgit whedder he er bat er no, ’case he do dey ways an’ know dey talk ’dout steddyin’ uv hit; but bimeby de debil he git tired er dodgin’ Unc’ ’Jah, ’case he done lef’ dat body so long already dat he know hit dry up an’ crack, lack clay in de sun, an’ he know he gwine hab er power er trouble ter git back inter hit; an’ he see de dodgin’ ain’t do no good, an’ ’pear lack he lef’ dat body ’cross de branch, so he mek de kin’ er breeze blow up dat allus mek Unc’ ’Jah powerful sleepy. Unc’ ’Jah fit hit mighty hard, an’ he op’n he eyes wide an’ cl’ar he throat fur ter wake him up when he feels ’em shet, but Unc’ ’Jah des couldn’ mek er stan’ ’gin dat breeze, an’ es he fly erlong he op’n he mouf an’ ’gin ter snore. Dat were enough fur de debil, an’ de way he mek dat bat duck an’ dive an’ git ’cross dat branch whilst Unc’ ’Jah were nappin’ would er mek yo’ head fa’r swim. Well, when Unc’ ’Jah wake up an’ fin’ hese’f on de groun’, an’ de bat lyin’ dead an’ de debil ’cross de branch, he sho’ were plum mad, an’ he rub an’ rub he charm fur ter mek hit work.


“Dar sot Unc’ ’Jah on one side de branch, an’ dar sot de debil on t’other, an’ Unc’ ’Jah couldn’[Pg 130] cross hit, ’case he er hoodoo, an’ dar hain’t no hoodoo kin cross rinnin’ water ’dout bre’kin’ de spell. De debil he drag de body fum unner de trees, but hit were des es dry es clay, an’ de debil tryin’ es hard es he could ter git back inter hit, an’ Unc’ ’Jah des er tryin’ fur ter keep him fum hit.

“But de charm ain’ workin’ good, ’count er de rinnin’ water, dough de debil hab er mighty hard time.

“De debil sot de body up ’gin er tree, an’ he sot down er facin’ uv hit, an’ he try ter spit hese’f back inter de body; an’ he spit an’ spit twel he mouf plum dry, but dat body ain’ move, ’case de debil done been gone too long, an’ hit done git too dry.

“De debil hatter borry er body, ’case he cain’t mek one, an’ hit b’long ter some low-down man dat wand’rin’ roun’ outen he skin; an’ de debil he hatter gib hit back, an’ he kinder in er herry too, ’case dat man gotter go ter work in de mornin’.

“Well, de debil he spit an’ he spit, an’ ’cross de branch Unc’ ’Jah he work an’ he work—he tryin’ fur ter dry up de water so’s his charm kin work on de debil.

“Hit ’pear lack de debil gwine win, ’case he[Pg 131] done spit hese’f ’mos’ half inter de body; an’ de body lif’ he arm an’ chuckle an’ laugh—course hit were de debil chucklin’ an’ laughin’
in him; but dat branch were er dryin’ up too, mighty fas’, an’ dey bofe uv ’em herry, fur hit done ’most day.

“De body lif’ t’other arm; but de branch done plum dry now; an’ Unc’ ’Jah he riz wid he charm an’ jump ’cross an’ lay he han’s on de body; an’ de debil he pull, an’ Unc’ ’Jah he pull; but de debil cain’t work ’gin’ Unc’ ’Jah’s charm; an’ he howls lack er dog fur ter skeer Unc’ ’Jah off, but Unc’ ’Jah ain’t skeered; an’ he bark lack er wolf, but Unc’ ’Jah know him; an’ he roar lack er lion an’ holler lack er mad bull, but Unc’ ’Jah keep he han’ wid de charm in hit on de body.

“Den de debil shine he eyes at Unc’ ’Jah lack er tiger-cat, an’ r’ar an’ t’ar an’ chaw de ole coat plum offen Unc’ ’Jah, but Unc’ ’Jah got holt er de body yit. Den de debil he gin hit up, ’case he cain’t work ’gin sech er powerful hoodoo, an’ draw de res’ uv he sperit outen de body, an’ gib one las’ awful howl, ’case de day was bre’kin’ now, an’ go des er-limpin’ an’ er-yellin’ inter de wood in de shape uv er lame yaller dorg dat was er-sniffin’ close by.

[Pg 132]

“Den Unc’ ’Jah go up ter de house an’ git some salt, fur salt hit mek de debil plum miserbul, an’ he fill up dat ole body wid hit lack er sack, an’ tie hit up, an’ fling hit inter de bayou.

“De debil he go erbout er-seekin’ fresh parsturs an’ er-feedin’ on new grass, fur he ain’ nebber kim on dat place no mo’; an’ he ain’ pester de gal no mo’ arter Rube done marry her; fur dat de way Unc’ ’Jah git shet uv him, an’ dat de way ter git even wid him when he pesters yo’, if yo’ does hit lack Unc’ ’Jah do, in de dark er de moon.”

[Pg 135]


The great bell was sounding the dinner hour, for it was twelve o’clock, and the long line of negroes threw aside the gunny-sacks as they came from the field and wiped their perspiring faces, for it was yet warm, even though October had already touched the trees upon the hill.

The ringing of the bell was a welcome sound to Cely, one that she had been longing to hear for a whole hour, as her fingers fluttered restlessly over the bolls. She had not been working well; Susan and Rachel, reckoned with Cely the fastest pickers on the place, were many pounds ahead; but Cely did not care; her heart was not in her work to-day.

Silently she made her way by the side of the hill to the long cabin called the “Nursery,” where Maumer, weazen and bent, and long[Pg 136] emeritus as to field duties, tended the twenty little wooden cradles.

Maumer was sitting on the doorstep holding one of her little charges. “My Cindy’s Paul got dat thrash ergin mighty bad. Calamus, catnip, and groun’-ivy hain’t no good fur hit sometimes,” said Maumer, as Cely drew nearer. “I tole Cindy dat, but she des want ’em, ’case Ole Miss gib ’em ter Little Miss when she er baby. Cindy want Paul lack whi’ chillen, but Ole Miss don’ tek no notice uv ’im, when she see yo’ baby, Cely,” said Maumer, with a frown. “Allus sayin’ what er fine chile he am, an’ nebber gib Cindy’s chile nuffin but er blue chany mug.”

Cely was not listening; swiftly she glided by nineteen of the little cradles, and lifted, with many soft tones and caresses, a tiny brown and blue bundle from the twentieth, for Cely’s was the very newest baby in the Nursery.

“Mammy little pickaninny! Mammy putty nigger!” cooed Cely, tossing up the little bundle.


Maumer still mumbled on the doorstep. “You looks lack er Mammy!—an’ hain’t got yo’ coat ter yo’ ankles yit! Er settled man lack Henry in mighty po’ business takin’ er[Pg 137] chile lack yo’ is. Yo’s er nice Mammy!” But Cely was used to Maumer’s moods, for she had been cross ever since Henry married Cely instead of Cindy, Maumer’s stupid daughter, and had grumbled continuously from the day the little new baby was put under her charge.

“Wake up! wake up! hit yo’ Mammy, boy!” and the girl lifted the tiny lids with her long slender fingers, but the baby only pressed his lips lazily against the mother’s breast.

“What de matter wid him, Maumer? He hain’t eben hongry! He allus wake up an’ play wid me!”

“Hush, yo’ fool; yo’ wake ’em all up! Hain’t nuffin de matter wid him. He been yellin’ er hour, an’ dey hatter sleep some time.”

The other mothers were now coming in; for they had regular times to go to the Nursery, especially those with very young infants.

“Hi, Judy!” said Maumer to a comfortable, rather elderly mother, who had just taken her latest born, her fifteenth, from the cradle, “Cely think dar sumpen de matter wid her baby, and ready ter ’cuse me wid hit, ’case hit want ter go ter sleep. Think she got one er dem jumpin’ dolls lack Little Miss. Her an’[Pg 138] Henry keep hit wake all night er playin’ wid hit, an’ hit gotter sleep some. Here, gimme dat chile, gal! Yo’ dun’no’ nuffin ’bout babies!” There was a general laugh at Cely’s expense. “Nuffin de matter wid de chile!” and Maumer tossed and tickled him until he crowed.

But Cely looked at Maumer distrustfully.

Yo’ sho’ dar hain’t nuffin de matter wid my baby, Judy?” Cely asked, wistfully, as she put her forefinger into the brown, waxen fist that belonged to the tiny bundle Maumer held.

“Naw, gal, naw!” laughed Judy, putting number fifteen, who began to yell vigorously, back into its cradle. “Hain’t nuffin de matter wid him, ’cep’in’ he so mighty little; fur yo’ sho’ does look lack er gal er-totin’ er doll. Dar hain’t nuffin de matter wid him; he des sleepy.”

“Do er baby allus breave dat way?” Cely was twisting her apron nervously. “Does dey allus ’beat, beat,’ in de top er de head an’ in de chist dat er way? Tek off his clo’es an’ look, Judy.”

Maumer frowned and turned on her heel when Judy good-naturedly took the little[Pg 139] bundle from her arms and stripped the blue checked slip from Cely’s latest doll.

“Hain’t he putty ’dout any clo’es?” cried Cely, beguiled from her fear by her admiration of the brown, bow-legged Cupid squirming on Judy’s knee.

“Cely proud fitten ter bus’; she des wanter show her baby off,” said the mother of the ugliest baby in the Nursery.

“Hain’t nuffin wrong wid him, Cely, ’cep’in’ he little, an’ if he lib, he’ll grow,” said Judy, oracularly, as she relinquished the child. “All de young things—birds, an’ rabbits, an’ babies—beat dat er way in de head an’ in de chist. Dar de bell now!” and Judy folded her sun-bonnet and laid it, slats sidewise, on the top of her head.

Cely sighed as the teasing laugh of the women rang back to her; then, with a parting caress, she laid her baby in the cradle and followed.

Old Maumer, bent and sullen, stood in the doorway until the last figure had turned the hill-path.

“Think I dun’no’ nuffin ’bout babies, when I nussed dat berry Cely, wid all de airs she gibs herse’f, right here in dis cradle. Heap er use[Pg 140] she got wid er baby, an’ she hain’t hardly er ’oman yit, an’ Ole Miss an’ Little Miss myratin’ so.

“Cely got some putty whi’ clo’es wid lace on, an’ some blue beads too, dat Little Miss tek offen her big doll fur de baby; an’ Cindy got nuffin but er blue chany mug, an’ sumpen ter eat fum de Big House. Cindy sech er hog; allus ax Ole Miss fur sumpen ter eat when she down. If hit wa’n’t fur Cely, Cindy’d er got all dem beads an’ things, ’case dey’s de two littlest babies, but dey’s des lack es two peas.” Maumer had taken Cindy’s feverish child in her arms again; then moving with a sudden impulse, she laid it in the cradle beside Cely’s baby. “Es lack es peas in one pod,” she whispered. “If hit wa’n’t fur Cely’s, Ole Miss would mighty much dis’n, ’case he de putties’ in de Nursery, ’cep’in’ Cely’s, an’ he de onlies’ gran’chile dat I got.” Cindy’s baby moaned as if in pain, and Maumer took him up again.

“I dun’no’ what ail him—hain’t time fur ’is teef ter mek trouble, but his mouf pester me mightily. I’s tired er de whi’ folkses’ physic; I gwine fix my own truck. If he do git worser—if he do—” Maumer looked at the blue beads around the neck of Cely’s sleeping baby,[Pg 141] and then into the face of the little sufferer before her, with a leer of latent cunning.

In the olden time of slavery days, the mother of a new baby was the subject of especial envy.

As a consequence, there were many privileges that attached, many immunities, both before and after it came. Ole Miss always went to the Quarters personally upon such occasions; the children followed with gifts, and put in their claims to the little black baby with many excited arguments.

Upon the self-same day, the two little new faces peeped into the Quarters; the one, the child of stalwart Henry’s girl-wife, had been chosen to be fought over and cried over; the other had been accorded only ordinary honors, for Cindy was not a favorite among the children, and hence old Maumer’s jealousy was aroused.

Through the long day Maumer sat and brooded, neglecting the toddlers who had strayed onto forbidden ground; and stirring the cradles roughly with her foot,—Old Maumer, who had been trusted and revered for so long,—but she had not a grandchild then.

Ma’y Ann, the young assistant, played with[Pg 142] acorn cups and bits of china under the old oak, unmolested, for Maumer was wrestling with a problem, and all of the latent, unsuspected savagery was rising.

Then by-and-by the little wooden cradles were empty, for the work-day was done; the mothers had taken their babies to their own cabins, and Maumer laid Cindy’s child on her shoulder and closed the door.

All night the candle glimmered through the cracks in Maumer’s cabin; all night she physicked and the baby cried; while Cindy, heavy-eyed and stupid, slept soundly until day. The door was closed; Maumer knew that she was disobeying orders, for Ole Miss had peremptorily commanded that she was to be notified in case of serious illness. But Maumer was sly and cunning; Ole Miss should not be told.

Convulsion after convulsion shook the tiny frame, all of the remedies were used without effect, and towards daybreak she tried the baby’s fortune, “come life er come death”; then Maumer made up her mind.

The old oak was casting its soft shade across the lawn, where the Nursery toddlers sat sedately[Pg 143] munching the sweet corn pone that it was one of old Maumer’s duties to provide, while Ma’y Ann was just starting to the spring for a bucket of cool water.


“An’ min’, yo’ fetch me my gourd yo’ lef’ on de battlin’-bench ’side de branch, an’ min’ yo’ herries, ’fore I beat de life outen yo’!”

Ma’y Ann’s eyes widened and “bucked” at Maumer’s unwonted proposition, as she idly swung the bucket along the hill-path, singing an irrelevant, foolish little song.

The great bell would ring in a moment; Maumer knew it by the shadow of the oak, as well as by the old dial just across the lawn.

Should she do it? Up and down, both ways she looked; there was nobody even in sight, save Ma’y Ann, dawdling far down the spring-path; then the great bell clanged through the Quarters. A spasm stiffened the form of Cindy’s baby, and Maumer, with a stern face and trembling hands, stripped the long shirt and blue beads from Cely’s boy, and throwing them hastily upon her daughter’s child, she laid it in the twentieth cradle, changing Cely’s baby to the cradle just vacated.

Old Maumer, with shaking limbs, was raking up the smouldering coals upon the hearth[Pg 144] when the lively throng of mothers came filing in to nurse their little ones.

“Hi! What ail Maumer? What de matter?” asked Judy, always foremost.

“Chill,” grunted Maumer, as she knelt to woo the fickle blaze. “Go fetch in some chips, Ma’y Ann!” for Ma’y Ann had returned.

Dancing, skipping, like a child let loose for a holiday, came Cely; she had even “hop-scotched” with Ma’y Ann that very morning. Nothing was the matter with her baby—Judy said so, Maumer said so—even old Maumer, who was so jealous; he was still her doll, and how he cooed and kicked for her just before she left him!

Down the long row of cradles she leaped rather than walked, in the fulness and exuberance of life.

“Yo’ Mammy’s comin’, boy, yo’ Mammy’s comin’!” and snatching the baby from the cradle, she tossed it gleefully above her head.

Then a shriek, that startled even the laborers who had not left the field—a shriek of agony, of fear, of a wild thing wounded in the heart, for the little cold mouth turned away from the[Pg 145] warm breast so full of life and strength, and the tiny limbs convulsed, and then relaxed forever with the breathing of a sigh.

Holding the dead baby close, and rocking in her woe, the face of Cely seemed hardened and ashened in a moment, like that of an old woman, while, shrill and high, her voice carried even to the clearing.

“Maumer! yo’ pizened my boy! Yo’ kilt him, Maumer!”

But Maumer, with closed eyes, only mumbled over the coals and shivered, though the noon was warm.

Smiles came through Cely’s tears, smiles of gratification when Little Miss, with eyes and nose all red, refused to be comforted for the loss of her “little nigger,” and brought from the Big House more pretty baby things than Cely had ever seen; while Ole Miss put them on with her own hands; and smoothing down the dainty folds, laid in the brown, doll-like fingers the tiniest, whitest rose-bud that the early frost had spared. Then emotion was stirred to its depths again, and the wild blood of two continents ran riot in her veins, even to the verge of madness, when Cely came to know[Pg 146] the meaning of a grave. And Ole Miss had her brought to the Big House, by way of comfort to Henry, who was Ole Marse’s foreman at that time.

Ole Miss tried to teach her to sew and to spin, but restraint was galling, the Big House with its civilization had no attraction after the novelty had worn off, and suddenly the wheel burred, the thread snapped, and Cely would leap like a tiger-cat through the doorway and beyond the wood-lot, where later they would find her, tenderly nursing in her arms a doll made of a folded towel.

But time was kinder even than Ole Miss, and after a while the laugh and smile came back, Henry’s cabin was cheery again, and before the picking was over, Cely was rivalling Susan and Rachel in the field.

Down in a little cabin by the cane-brake, old Maumer, now “the Other Maumer,” lived alone, weaving shuck mats, mending nets for the fishermen, and “hooking” mittens for the negroes against the coming of the winter; for Maumer was deposed, another Maumer reigned over the little wooden cradles, and her foot was not permitted to cross the threshold;[Pg 147] for Maumer had been tried and convicted of murder by a jury of her peers.

Ole Marse, upon careful investigation, could find nothing culpable in Maumer save the failure to report the illness, which was made the cause of removal. The charge, made by Cely and the other negroes, of poisoning could not be substantiated; though the attack appeared to have been very sudden, it could not be proved that the child had died from other than a dreaded infantile trouble.

Throughout the trial and investigation Maumer preserved a sullen silence. She neither appealed to Ole Marse nor to any of the negroes. She did not plead her long life of usefulness, and she denied none of the charges, that grew each day with the rapidity of Jonah’s gourd.

Now and again she smiled grimly as she looked upon the thriving child in sleepy Cindy’s arms and heard that Little Miss had taken him for her own. That was glory enough; that was honor, immortality. He would grow up a house nigger—“high quality”—her grandchild, in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of even Cindy, for she could not trust Cindy with her secret, and Cindy was too stupid to know the difference.

[Pg 148]

Her eyes greedily took in the splendor of Little Miss’s gifts on each successive visit, carefully looking them over, clothes and beads and toys, like a miser counting gold, and it was enough. This sufficed for days alone in the cane-brake, for nights when the wind was high, even though she was now the Other Maumer and had been set apart.

The spring-time came around, but weeks and months were long, and the winter of loneliness was telling upon the Other Maumer.

She missed the spring-time crop of babies, the wooden cradles with their worn rockers—worn by her foot; she missed the little toddlers that had outgrown the cradles, but more than all, she missed her dignity of position. In the brief time, so long to youth and age, the old back became more bowed, and childishness grew apace.

The butterflies possessed a wonderful fascination—the white and yellow—and the reed mats would drop from her hands in forgetful admiration. But when the brown ones hovered near her, poising on gorgeous velvety wings, the Other Maumer would shiver and cover up her head—“De[Pg 149] soul er Cindy’s baby, oh, my Gord! kim back ter claim his place, er ’cusin’ me er de lie! Oh, my Gord!”


How she would fight the brown butterflies away, if they alighted on her doorstep! And carefully she gathered and crushed every wild flower that grew around her cabin, fearful lest they should prove to be an attraction. But the brown butterflies came and came; in swarms they filled and circled the Other Maumer’s cabin, by morning, noon, and evening. Then the nets hung on the racks unmended, the reeds dried unwoven, and the hands of the Other Maumer fluttered over the little heaps of red clay that she brought from beside the new well, to fashion into rude butterflies with outstretched wings. Scores and scores were drying in the sun, and yet the busy fingers worked nervously.

“Fly, fly,” she whispered, “an’ fetch de soul er Cindy’s baby!”

The cold moon shone through the cracks of the Other Maumer’s cabin; the Other Maumer did not like the moon; even in her sleep she was always hiding something from it, deep and dark, but the moon could always find it.

[Pg 150]

To-night it was the clay butterflies, and she woke with a start to search for them.

Not one could she find in the cabin, and with a cry of rage she wrung her hands; “Dey tryin’ ter steal de soul er Cindy’s baby! Dey done stole ’em fum me; dey done stole ’em!”

Then she remembered that she had carried her apron full to the river-bank, and had left them on the cotton bales to dry. “Lef’ ’em ter fetch de soul er Cindy’s baby!” she assured herself; “but I cain’t lose none uv ’em!” and with her knotted hickory stick in one hand and a bunch of river reeds in the other, the Other Maumer hobbled slowly down the road.

It wanted but little to the holiday season, though Ole Marse had held his cotton back for a great “deal.” But now that he had sent word from New Orleans to ship it on, the old storehouse was full to overflowing, and it was piled all along the levee waiting for the boat, for Ole Marse had never made a better crop.

Perched upon one of the bales that lined the levee, conjuring with the recovered butterflies in the full of the moon sat the Other Maumer, happy in the abandonment of the moment.


[Pg 151]

All her world was asleep; even the guards stationed around the storehouse had gone off duty; and where was the need of them? People did not steal cotton, and then the boat was coming in the morning.

Tenderly the Other Maumer nursed her butterflies, careful of their frail, sun-baked wings—hiding them in her apron, her bosom, and now in her faded turban.

“Gwine ter fetch de soul er Cindy’s baby; yas, Lord, gwine ter fetch hit back—hain’t yo’, honey? Gwine ter lif’ dem putty wings an’ fly away!” The moon rose high and waned, but still the Other Maumer, shivering with the cold and damp, sat on the river-bank. The big brown butterflies had been gone so long; she was waiting for them to return. She had fought them and driven them away, but now she wanted them to come back and bring the soul of Cindy’s baby.

The cry of a child or a cat somewhere in the Quarters startled her, and she raised her head; suddenly she was conscious of the smell of something burning, and a tiny spark leaped through a crack in the storehouse. Then a shower of little sparks came through, and the Other Maumer rubbed her cold hands together gleefully. “Dey’s done come back—dey’s[Pg 152] done come back; fly an’ fetch de soul er Cindy’s baby!”

But the odor of the burning cotton was stirring something else in the disordered brain.

Away back in the Other Maumer’s girlhood there had been a great conflagration. Big House, gin-house, cotton, everything was destroyed, and horror had fallen upon the plantation, for there had been loss of life as well. The Other Maumer was trying to remember. Slowly she drew her hand across her eyes, then shook her head.

“Ole Marse?” she queried; then, as the scorching smell grew stronger, she shouted, “De soul er Cindy’s baby!” and crushing her butterflies in her palm, she leaped on her knotted stick into the narrow road leading to the Quarters.

No one knew exactly how the Other Maumer roused the Quarters that night. Some said that she came on bat wings and fluttered against the chimney as she cried. Others said that she came on a great horse that struck fire with his hoofs as she beat upon each door with her hickory stick. Though to all the message was the same: “Fly, fly ter de ribber an’ fetch[Pg 153] de soul er Cindy’s baby!” But the latter part of the admonition was lost in the weirdness of the command, and the frightened negroes tumbled out of their warm beds, wide awake for once.


Under the guidance of Henry, in the dark hour before the dawn, full fifty negroes had been rolling the outside cotton to a place of safety; and now the overseer, in the absence of Ole Marse, hesitated, for the opening of the storehouse would result in a bursting out of the flames; that moment would require coolness, courage, and rapid handling; and the negro, always obedient, shrank from taking the responsibility alone.

Then a peremptory command came from somewhere, and twenty strong men leaped back as the flames licked through the open doors like tongues.

“Strip, men! Git ter wuk lack debils!” called the impelling voice. “Roll ’em out! Roll ’em out! H— is hotter’n dis! Roll ’em out!” and Henry, awe-struck and thrilled, following the leading, dropped into line with the others.

Swiftly the work went on, and higher and[Pg 154] higher rose the mysterious voice, urging to quicker action by prayer and execration, until the negroes, nerved to the limits of human endurance by superstitious fear, pushed forward until they felt their sinews crack.

“One mo’ time, heave ahead, boys!” continued the voice; then the work was discontinued, for the white flame leaped up like a living torch, lighting even the river with its weird splendor.

“Wuk, men, wuk, fur de soul er Cindy’s baby!” cried the voice, now rising in a wail. Then a horror seized upon the negroes, and the men rushed forward to the rescue, for on the roof of the burning storehouse, now revealed through the sickening glare, stood the Other Maumer, waving a bunch of river reeds.

“Look! look!” she shouted, reaching for the scurrying sparks; “de butterflies done come back—dey done come back!” Then folding her arms and smiling, as though she held a child, “De soul er Cindy’s baby!” The picture of the past had been photographed for an instant upon the disordered brain.

It was useless to try to save her; again and again the willing hands were driven back by the heat. Higher and higher crept the[Pg 155] flames around her, but, oblivious of life or death, the bent figure swayed and hugged in ecstasy the dream of the recovered soul.

Then a gust swept through the rifled storehouse, the beams quivered, and the cumbersome roof fell in, smothering the flame, and leaving the levee in utter darkness.

It was from Henry’s throat, deep and tremulous, that the death-song rose, joined in by the treble of the women. The wondering Cindy knelt in the sand and hid her face. Then, as the truth broke in upon her consciousness, Cely snatched a sleeping child from the arms of the kneeling Cindy, and a wild note of joy rose high above the dirge.

[Pg 159]


“Dey done got hit all wrong!”

Mammy looked across the room to where the children were quietly playing, then knitted her brows and tenderly caressed the bosom of the Colonel’s shirt with her iron.

“Brer Bailey hain’t got no call ter ’low dat niggers is ’v’luted fum Afiker monkeys, fur dey ’v’lutes back inter monkeys, sho’ mun!”

“What did you say, Mammy?” asked Fred, who had been playing in the fire, holding his stick aloft, and eagerly scanning the shining face for a possible story.

“Tell me and Fred a tale,” lisped Margie, outlining her toe upon the spotless kitchen floor with the end of her charred stick.

“If yo’ chillens don’ quit playin’ in de fire, I lay I gwine mek Miss Margret whup yo’[Pg 160] bofe when she come fum up-town—see if I don’t!” and Mammy rolled her eyes ferociously behind her brass specs, at which the children laughed and teased the more.

“What about monkeys, Mammy? Go on!” said Fred.

“Back into monkeys!” echoed Margie. “Go on!”

But Mammy deliberately tested an iron, as the children waited anxiously, then she lifted the expectant Margie upon one end of her board.

“Now, honey, mek yo’ han’s min’ dey own business, or dey’ll git burnt,” said Mammy; “an’ Fred, you set right still dar on dat ar cheer!”

“Well, long time ergo de debil he kim up ter de yeth, he did, an’ went courtin’ er gal.”

“What’s courtin’?” asked Fred.

“Talkin’ putty, lack yo’ Paw talk ter yo’ Maw ’fore dey was married,” said Mammy. “An’ de gal was er mighty fine gal, wid long straight hair an’ blue eyes, an’ she could sing—laws er mussy! how dat gal could sing!

“Well, de debil ain’t heared no singin’ sence he was drapped in de bad place, an’ dey guv ’im de keys, an’ he was dat hongry fur singin’, he mek dat gal sing all de time, an’ he stan’ by[Pg 161] de pianny, he did, an’ hide de foot dat got de hoof on hit. Yo’ know by dis time, he done los’ he tail, an’ w’ar er tall stovepipe, ’case he hatter keep up wid whi’ folks.”

“How did he lose his tail?” asked both of the children at once.

“Mammy cain’t tell yo’ now ’bout dat, but he done los’ hit. Anyway, he mek dat gal sing all day ter ’im, an’ de gal she was peart an’ lackly, an’ she sing twel her throat done plum dry, an’ de debil he see hit were gittin’ dark, an’ he say hit were time fur him ter go home. He was ’feared ’case hit were so late, an’ he herry, an’ herry, clop-flop, clop-flop—de man’s foot an’ de hoof foot keep him back, fur de hoof foot mek two steps ter de man’s one, an’ when he git home, he find dat his fire were done plum out.

“Hit were er mighty sorry time fur de debil, ’case dar hain’t nobody gwine give him none nor len’ him none, an’ he cain’t steal hit hisse’f, on account er de hoof foot.”

“Why didn’t he buy some matches in town?” asked Fred.

“Didn’t hab no matches den, honey, an’ folkes hatter tote coals kivered wid ashes, fur miles an’ miles, if dey let de fire go out.”

[Pg 162]

“’Count of the hoof foot,” repeated Margie, coming back to the story.

“’Count er de hoof foot,” said Mammy, “so de debil castes ’roun’ who he gwine git fur ter steal hit fur him.

“Fust he went ter de b’ar, an’ stan’ er long way off, ’case anybody kin beat de debil when his fire done out, an’ he say: ’Please, Mister B’ar, won’t yo’ fetch me er coal fur ter light my pipe?’ But de b’ar he growl, ’My hair’s too thick, an’ de fire’s too hot, an’ de road’s too long, an’ I ’feared I git het up, an’ die.’

“Kimmin’ back, he meet wid de rabbit, wid his mouf full er green, an’ de debil he say: ’Hello, Mister Rabbit! won’t yo’ fetch me er coal fur ter light my pipe?’ De rabbit he look meek an’ sad, an’ he ’low, ’I sorry, Mister Debil, but my baby chile’s done got er awful cramp, an’ I gwine fur ter mek him some catnip tea. Good-day, Mister Debil!’ an’ he lope right on, an’ de debil mek er mark whar de rabbit cross his path, an’ spit in hit.

“Den he kim an’ knock at de tarrypin’s door, but de tarrypin don’t put more’n his nose outside, an’ de debil he ’low, ’Please Mister Tarrypin, won’t yo’ fetch me er coal fur ter light my pipe?’

[Pg 163]

“De tarrypin he draw in his door er little more, an’ ’low, ’Yo’ knows I’d ’bleege yo’, Mister Debil, but I goes so slow ’count er de mis’ry in de heart, dat de spark ’ud be out ’fore I could fetch hit! Good-day, Mister Debil!’

“De debil he ’low he must git dat fire somers, ’case dey was er needin’ uv hit down dar, an’ he ’pear ter meet up wid de fox, unbeknownst, an’ he ’low ter be mighty cute, an’ he say, ’Good-evenin’, Mister Fox!’ an’ walk ’long side er him, lack dey was thick es peas in er pod, but Mister Fox he keep er poppin’ uv his tail. Bimeby, Mister Debil he ’low, ’I got two fine segars in my ves’ pocket—tek er smoke, Mister Fox?’

“But de fox he see de debil ain’ got no light, an’ he ’low, ’I sorry ter lose such good comp’ny es yo’ is, but I gwine tek tea wid Misser Dominick Rooster. Good-evenin’, Mister Debil!’

“So de debil he were hard up now, ’case dey keep er hollerin’ fur fire down dar, so he ups an’ goes ter de ole blue jay; de jay don’ eben tek he head fum unner his wing. ’Go ’way, an’ lemme ’lone,’ say de jay—’I done been totin’ wood fur yo’ all dis Friday long, an’ I’se tired an’ I’se sleepy,’ say de jay.

[Pg 164]

“‘Better kim down fum dar er I’ll roas’ yo!’ say de debil, gittin’ mad.

“‘Hain’t got no fire,’ laugh de jay, an’ he go back ter sleep ergin.

“Den de debil he go ter his nigger, de crow, an’ he ’low, ’Go git me er coal er fire dis minute, ’fore I w’ar yo des plum out!’

“De crow he git mighty sassy, ’case he know de debil cain’t do nuffin’ lessen he got er fire, an’ he say: ’I done toted corn fur yo’, Mister Debil, twel I’se got my wing des plum full er bird-shot; I cain’t fetch yo’ no fire!’

“Den de debil he ’low he ’bout ter gib hit up, twel he spy er worfless town nigger, er chawin’ an’ er spittin’ at er chip in de moon-shine, an’ de debil he know he ain’ got no call ter be keerful here, an’ he up an’ ’low, ’Say, boy! you want ter mek some money?’

“De town nigger plum keen, he don’ keer how he git de money, so he git hit, an’ de debil he say: ’Go git me er coal er fire—quick now—an’ I’ll gib yo’ er dollar!’

“Well, de town nigger he light out an’ ax two er three folks, but dey ain’ got no fire ter spar’, an’ he go ’long twel he kim ter er po’ widder ’oman, er blowin’ on one po’ little coal er fire ter mek er bed fur ter cook her[Pg 165] hoe-cake, an’ de nigger he ’low—’Lady, I’se hongry!’

“An’ she say: ’I ’ain’t cook supper yit—wait er while, an’ I’ll gib yo’ er hoe-cake.’ Den de nigger he move up closter, an’ tell de ’oman how good she is, an’ he stretch out his han’s lack ter warm ’em, den all uv er suddent he retch an’ snatch dat coal, an’ go skootin’ wid hit ter de debil.”

Mammy paused to lay the last piece in the basket, but the children were too eager to wait.

“What did the devil do with him?” asked Fred.

“Skootin’ to de devil,” repeated Margie.

“Well,” said Mammy, “de debil gib him de dollar in two halves so’s de nigger could chink ’em; an’ de nigger went ’long, chinkin’ ’em, laughin’ at how smart he were ter steal de coal fum de po’ widder ’oman, an’ it nebber cost him nuffin—when his lef’ arm itch him, an’ he feel dat hit were sproutin’ hair, an’ he fin’ dat he were sproutin’ hair all ober, an’ he git skeered an’ run, but de hair keep er sproutin’ an’ er sproutin’, an’ he keep er changin’, an’ er changin’ so bimeby he des couldn’t talk, an’, bress goodness, honey! ’fore dat nigger git half-way home, he was er walkin’ half on his[Pg 166] han’s an’ half on his feet, an’ wa’n’t nuffin but er plum Afika monkey!”

Both blue eyes and brown were wide and shining. “What did they do with him?” asked Fred. “Go on! go on!” urged Margie. “Dar kim yo’ Maw, chillen! dar she kim!” cried Mammy, clapping her hands—“Run, go see what she fotch yo’!”

[Pg 169]


Daddy Mose had been counsellor, soothsayer, and leading exhorter to the whole of the dusky population of Piney ever since the close of the war. It was said that in emergencies the white people themselves could not do without him; for the year that the worms were so bad in the bolls even Colonel Preston had sent for Daddy Mose and had a private consultation with him, and the result was that the Colonel’s was the only cotton in the Bend that was worth picking in the fall. Then, on another occasion, the old cherry-tree in the Colonel’s orchard, that had never even blossomed before, had to be propped to keep it from breaking with the fruit, the spring after Daddy Mose drove five rusty nails into its heart and buried something tied up in a rag at its roots.

[Pg 170]

But it was the rising generation, in his own country and in his own house, that troubled Daddy Mose, and he leaned on his hoe and looked with evident dissatisfaction at the little black figure pirouetting defiantly before him.

“Don’ yo’ do hit, Solly—don’ yo’ do hit!”

“But Misser Lingum say he gimme er quarter, Daddy!”

“What good dat pitiful little quarter gwine do yo’ if yo’ kills er black cat?” There was a withering contempt in the tone which made the little imp squirm and twist uneasily.

“Er black cat es wuth es much es ernuther cat, if hit’s good fur er quarter, Daddy!” grunted the imp, plucking up courage and making, a circle in the dust with his great toe.

Daddy Mose hoed two or three turns vigorously, and then looked the little imp straight in the face.

“Dat des lack dese free-born-sence-de-war niggers! Yo’ po’ little mizerbul fool, does yo’ know who er black cat am?”

Solly winced. “He’s wuth er quarter, fur Misser Lingum at de sto’ he ’low he gimme one if I kills hit an’ fotch de cat ter him. He say he done pay fur de killin’ er dat cat free times, but hit allus turns up ergin.”

[Pg 171]

“’Cou’se hit gwine kim back; er black cat allus do,” said Daddy Mose. “Hain’t no tree ebber sprouted er chunk dat’ll kill er black cat, lessen you does hit nine times, an’ I lay yo’ gwine be powerful sorry if you does hit den.”

“But I’se gwine hang him wid er rope!” retorted the imp, with a grin.

“Yo’ Sol’mun Hightower Dewberry!—Yo’ little black rapscallion!—Hain’t got de fear er debil er man! What you’ Mammy been er doin’ dat she hain’t larn yo’ better? Des er gwine out in de worl’ an’ er fetching in bad luck lack de mud on you’ foots! I lay I larn yo’ how ter hang er black cat—I larn yo’!”

There was a fruitless plunge and a wild yell, with very spicy punctuations. Solly’s mother, from the tree where she was washing, grunted her endorsement, and, his wrath being appeased and his audience increased by two or three, for it was the noon hour, Daddy Mose took his seat on the washbench and fanned himself with his hat.

“De free niggers is mighty big fools,” he mused, “des er flingin’ out de sense er dey daddies and mammies es fas’ es dey put book larnin’ in; an’ de chillen—de po’, impident free chillen!—dey hain’t lack white folks, an’[Pg 172] dey hain’t lack de niggers uster was—dey des hain’t nuffin!”

There was hardly a unanimous endorsement of the assertion, but it was accorded a respectful hearing, and the quiescent state of his listeners and his “chaw er stingy green” at last rendered Daddy Mose pleasantly reminiscent.

“Ebber telled yo’ all how ’Lish Stone fetched de ten-year bad luck on hisse’f?” he queried, thoughtfully.

“No, yo’ hain’t ebber tole we all, Daddy Mose.”

“An’ he couldn’ git shet uv hit twel dey burn up de cabin an’ de kivers?”

“Po’ creetur!—Um, um.”

“Yas, dey hatter burn up de cabin an’ de kivers,” repeated Daddy Mose, reflectively.

“Tell erbout hit, Daddy—tell erbout hit!” came in chorus.

“Well,” said Daddy Mose, “hit were ’bout dis way: ’Lish Stone wa’n’t much ’count no how, but he hab er mighty fine, peart ’oman, an’ dat how come Daddy Mose ’member hit ter dis day.

“‘Lish hadn’ been pleasin’ er Ole Marse in de way he been er gwine, an’ Ole Marse gib him one mighty straight talk ’fore he put de oberseer’s[Pg 173] whup arter him, ’case one nigger is mighty hard on ernuther nigger, bond er free—you knows dat—an’ Ole Marse’s oberseers was allus niggers.

“‘Lish he wa’n’t no survigrous nigger, an’ he feel mighty sorry now ’bout de way he berhave hisse’f, an’ Ole Marse gib him so many chances, an’ he lack mighty well ter please Ole Marse now, an’ he mek hisse’f anxious waitin’ fur de time.

“Well, Dinah an’ Marthy ’ten’ ter de dairy den, an’ bimeby dey gin out dat some un des bardaciously stealin’ de cream off en de pans in de spring-house ever’ night. Nobody know who hit were ner whar dey kim fum, but hit go on, an’ dey git so bol’ dat dar wa’n’t hardly cream ernough fur de Big House coffee, let ’lone fur churnin’ an’ things, an’ Ole Miss she say she gwine mek ’em set er watch, fur Dinah an’ Marthy ’spected some er de fiel’ han’s an’ tole tales on ’em.

“Dar was allus war ’twixt de house niggers an’ de fiel’ han’s, lack de quality white folks an’ po’ buckra. Not dat Ole Marse would er let ’em fi’t—no, my Lord—’case we hatter be peaceable an’ Christiun ’roun’ Ole Marse. But de house niggers an’ de fiel’ han’s kinder swap[Pg 174] words, quiet lack, when dey passes, an’ when Ole Miss sont fur er little fiel’ nigger ter foller arter de chillen er ter swing de pea-fowl bresh ober de table, um!—you think dat little nigger done gone up ter heaben!

“So dey sets er watch down by de spring-house door, an’ Pomp an’ Dave do de watchin’. Pomp he were er mighty young un, an’ don’ know nuffin but pickin’ down de row an’ er-shakin’ uv he foots arter he done; but Dave he were er hard ole sinner, done cotch in ole age wid conviction, an’ he tryin’ his bestest ter git ’ligion. He done sot on de mourners’ bench fur two weeks, an’ de ’stracted meetin’ mos’ ober; done been prayed fur by ever’ ’zorter in de straw, er-groanin’ all de time lack er ox er-dyin’, but hit ’pear lack he des couldn’ git hit.

“Well, ’bout dat time dey put Dave on de watch, an’ de brederin’ dey tell him dat dey gwine pray on des de same, an’ Brer Jonas, de prophesyin’ ’zorter, he promise Dave dat if he wrastle mightily wid de sperit, he gwine ter see er sign.

“So ever’ night dey watch, but ever’ night de cream done off de pans lack hit were erfore, dough we knows dat Dave hain’t taken hit, ’case if er nigger ebber gwine ter be hones’,[Pg 175] hit would be unner hard conviction lack dat Dave was er-wrastlin’ wid.

“Ole Miss she ain’ lack de way things is gwine on, an’ she ’low one day dat we all was mighty po’ niggers, dat cain’t ketch sech er low-down t’ief, an’ Dave he was so mizerbul an’ po’ly, ’case he’s feared de big meetin’ close ’dout he gittin’ ’ligion, dat Brer Jonas he say fur Dave ter leabe Pomp in de Quarters, so’s he kin wrastle erlone wid de sperit down by de spring-house.

“When Brer Jonas gib dat out, Dave he see dat Ole Marse’s two boys, Johnny an’ Jeems, es fine er pa’r er rascals es ebber toted er stone-bruise, been lis’enin’ fru hit all, an’ he see ’em fetchin’ in some green watermillions fum de garden ’dout yellin’ fur er nigger ter kim an’ tote ’em in, but he were so mizerbul he don’ tek no notice.

“Hit were er mighty dark night de fust time dat Dave watch by hese’f, an’ dough hit hain’t gwine rain, de heat light’nin’ streck er match now an’ den, an’ hit mek hit ’pear lonesomer ter Dave; but dar hain’t nuffin kin pester him, ’case he’s unner conviction, an’ he hain’t gwine be erfeared if he see de sign, ’case, ’cordin’ ter Brer Jonas, hit gwine ter be de sign er[Pg 176] de promise, an’ if he des kin see hit, he sho’ gwine know he got ’ligion at las’.

“So Dave he sot on de steps an’ wait. Hit were er mighty solumn, furgitable place whar de spring-house were, an’ bimeby de whup’-wills ’gin ter call ’way ober yander, an’ Dave he ’low ter hisse’f dey allus do dat way ter mek lonesome folks feel mo’ lonesomer; den er frog in de spring branch right ’longsider Dave opin he mouf an’ say sumpen mighty short an’ den shet up, but hit mek dat Dave jump putty nigh outen he skin.

“Dave sot an’ steddy an’ steddy ’bout he sins twel he see sumpen ’way off yander lack er star, but Dave he hain’t skeered ertall, ’case he been waitin’ all erlong fur de sign. Den he sees supen er-shinin’ lack two stars, an’ den sumpen white riz up berhin’ ’em, an’ Dave he fall ter stribin’ lack Brer Jonas tell him ’bout, an’ de two sumpens kim er nigher.

“Dave he keep on stribin’, but he stribe wid one eye opin now, an’ de two sumpens an’ de white thing kim er nigh an’ er nigher. Den he fall to stribin’ wid bofe eyes opin now, an’ opin wide, when one er de ghostes fotch er groan, an’ de white fire kim outen he nose an’ mouf.

“Now Brer Jonas he say fur Dave ter ’spute[Pg 177] wid de sign when he see hit, dat he mout know hit were de true sign, but when Dave see dat fire—de berry fire er de debil, he say after’ards, des er burnin’ on de inside—he ain’ wait fur ter ’spute, but des tek ’em es dey looks, an’ light out fum dar an’ mek tracks. Dat fool nigger he shake lack he got de agur de res’ er dat night, an’ when mornin’ kim he done got ’ligion good an’ fas’—plum skeered inter hit—an’ Brer Jonas he ’low, sorter private lack ’mongst de bredrin’, but mighty solumn, dough, dat hit hain’t de fust time dat he see ’ligion kim outen er green watermillion. Fur hit git out somers, ’case Marthy she say dat Ole Marse hab Johnny an’ Jeems sont up ter his office one day, when she were dustin’ ’roun’, an’ she ’low she hear Ole Marse say he hain’t gwine hab no sech carryin’s on on his place, er-skeerin’ de niggers inter fits, an’ she ’low hones’ dat he whup ’em bofe, an’ I reckon he did hit, ’case Ole Marse wa’n’t no han’ ter tek any foolishness.

“But dey ain’ git Dave back ter watch at de spring-house no mo’, an’ de cream goes off de pans worser ’n ebber.

“Well, dat triflin’ ’Lish he been er-lis’enin’ ’roun’, an’ he wanter pleasure Ole Miss, ’case he know she tell Ole Marse ’bout hit, an’ he ups[Pg 178] an’ ’low dat he gwine watch at de spring-house, an’ cotch de t’ief, an’ he struts ’roun’ mighty mannish ’bout hit.

“So ’Lish he taken Dave’s place on de watch, an’ lock de door er de spring-house an’ gorm up de key-hole wid beeswax, but dat cream was gone in de mornin’ des lack hit were erfore. Den ’Lish he ’low dat hit hain’t man ner beast dat taken de cream, but sumpen dat’ll go fru de door dout opinin’ uv hit; but he ’low he hain’t ’feared er nuffin.

“So he goes down ter de branch in de night-time (hit were de dark er de moon), an’ gadder some he fern seed an’ put ’em in he Sunday shoes (fiel’ han’s don’ w’ar shoes ever’ day), an’ he taken de veil what he were borned wid an’ put hit in he pocket, ’case if hit er sperit dat hone fur de cream, ’Lish know dat he kin view hit now, fur de veil hit work er charm so’s he kin see de ghostes good, an’ de sperits hain’t gwine ter fly fum de foots what got de he fern seed in de holler.

“Well, ’Lish he des sot an’ wait, an’ ever’thing plum cl’ar ter he eye, an’ bimeby he sees er shinin’, an’ sumpen black kim er-sneakin’ an’ er-sneakin’, an’ hit slips right clost ter de door, an’ ’Lish he look twel hit ’pear dat de eyes[Pg 179] des pop plum outen he head, ’case dat black cat des stan’ dar an’ wave he tail free times, den go right fru dat door dat done shet an’ locked, des lack dar wa’n’t no door dar.”

“Den ’Lish he git clost up an’ put he year right ’gin de wall an’ hear de water tricklin’ in de trough, but he hear dat cat too, des er-lappin’ de cream. He done fin’ de t’ief, but hit wa’n’t no rale cat ertall, but de debil dat been er-gittin’ dat cream.

“Bimeby de cat git ernough an’ sneak out ergin, an’ look ’Lish plum in de eyes an’ grin es he passes.

“In de mornin’ ’Lish he go up ter de Big House, an’ Ole Miss brag on him fur bein’ smart ernough to fin’ de t’ief, an’ she say dat some un gotter kill de black cat.

“Now, white folks ain’ lack niggers—I mean de ole-time niggers. Dey hain’t got de ole ’he sense’ dat de niggers is got, an’ wid dey book-larnin’ an’ dey fine clo’se an’ things, hit ’pear lack dey done furgit what folks kin do an’ what dey cain’t, ’case nobody kin do des what dey pleases; fur dar’s sumpin des er little bit higher ’n ever’body, dat got er rope on em, an’ dey gotter kim when dey feels hit pull. But, howsomebber, I’se seen wid my own eyes de white folks[Pg 180] cuttin’ uv er baby’s finger-nails wid de scissors ’stead er bitin’ uv ’em off, lack ’spectable folks, des er makin’ er t’ief fur de jail ter cotch, an’ er-laffin’ ’bout hit, too. Dey sees er rabbit cross de road an’ nebber eben think ’bout makin’ uv er cross an’ spittin’ in hit. Dey’ll look at de new moon ober de lef’ shoulder th’u’ de trees an’ nebber eben tek time ter say er pra’r back’ards; whilst dey puts on de right shoe fust, an’ wonder what’s de matter wid dey business when hit go wrong; an’ dey eben taken dese days ter cuttin’ winders in de house, right whilst dey libin’ in hit an’ dey’s ’sprised when some er dey folks dies soon, an’ dey calls hit de ’wuk er Prov’dence.’ White folks sho’ is cuis.

“Well, ’Lish he know better; ’cordin’ ter de knowledgments er ever’ sensible nigger, he know hit, an’ he know dat stealin’ de cream was des er trick er de debil an’ he sarchin’ fur er humin soul; but ’Lish so proud ’counter Ole Miss praisin’ uv him dat he done turn fool, an’ he promise Ole Miss dat he kill dat cat.

“He steddy ’bout hit powerful arter de proud cool off an’ he go ter de cabin; but he done gib he promise ter Ole Miss, an’ he cain’t back out. He know dar hain’t nuffin but er rope ’ll git yo’ shet uv er black cat, leastways he’d er knowed[Pg 181] hit if he’d er thunk; but he knowed de bad luck hit ’ud fotch, so he ’low fur ter lay fur de cat an’ hit him wid er chunk fust.

“So dat night de cat kim sho’ ’nough ergin, an’ es he crope clost by ’Lish, he nail him wid de chunk, an’ leabe him kickin’, an’ ’low ter show him ter Ole Miss in de mornin’. But when de mornin’ kim dar wa’n’t no cat dar, dead er ’live, an’ Ole Marse laff an’ say dat ’Lish been er-dreamin’, but Ole Miss she git sorter mad an’ r’ar ’counter de tale dat ’Lish tell dat he kill de cat.

“Well, ’Lish, he hain’t no skeery nigger, he gittin’ smart lack de white folks; so next night he sets er dead-fall fur de cat, made outen heaby timber, an’ he sees de trigger spring an’ de dead-fall drap, ’bang!’ plum on de cat, ’fore he leabe dar. But in de mornin’ dar wa’n’t no cat ner dead-fall nuther dar, an’ de cream done gone ergin.

“De nex’ night but one ’Lish steddy an’ steddy, an’ set er steel trap fur him. Now er steel trap’s er mighty good trap fur ever’ kin’ er cat ’ceptin’ er black cat, an’ dat nigger ’Lish mout er knowed dat he wastin’ he time, ’case er steel trap cain’t ebber hol ’er black cat; but, anyhow, he sot de steel trap fur him, an’ arter[Pg 182] hit snap an’ he hear de cat yowl, he go off inter de cabin ter sleep. Me an’ Marthy an’ Dinah heard dat cat er yowlin’, too, but when mornin’ kim dar wa’n’t no cat by de spring-house, an’ no cream nuther.

“Den Ole Miss she gib ’Lish er gun, an’ he tote de gun so proud dat de fiel’ han’s des couldn’ speak ter him. Well, night kim at las’, an’ wid hit kim de cat, an’ he look at ’Lish an’ grin des er darin’ uv him ter shoot him, ’case he see he got de gun. But de fool nigger ain’ see dat, an’ he tek aim at de shinin’ green eyes an’ fire, ’bang!’ an’ ober went de cat an’ ober go ’Lish, ’case de gun done kick him bad. Well, dar sot ’Lish, an’ dar sot de cat er-grinnin’ an’ wid his eyes er-shinin’ des er-waitin’ fur ’Lish ter shoot ergin. Den de debil tech him wid de fire uv he sperit, an’ ’Lish git blin’ mad, an’ he pull de trigger, an’ dis time he git him, fur de cat keel ober an’ ’pear ter die, an’ ’Lish taken him by de tail an’ fling him in de bayou.

“In de mornin’ dar was blood all ’bout de spring-house door, but Ole Miss she sho’ r’ar dat day, ’case not on’y de cream on top was gone but half de milk in de pans, an’ Ole Miss ’low some mighty hard things.

“Hit pester ’Lish mightily, ’case he done[Pg 183] ’memb’rin’ what he Mammy larn him mighty fas’, but Ole Miss she got her dander up now, an’ she say she hain’t gwine ter stan’ all dis foolishness des ’bout de killin’ uv er little black cat, an’ ’Lish, he were sech er big plum fool nigger, he gwine ter gib up he knowledgments des fur de pleasurin’ uv Ole Miss. But if he think bad luck gwine skip anybody dat hunt fur hit wid bofe eyes opin he reckon mighty po’ ’bout luck. So he p’intedly wrastled wid hit, twel he ’low ter hisse’f dat he allus been lucky an’ allus gwine ter be, an’ den he des gits down ter business, an’ greases a rope fur ter mek hit slick, an’ hides hit unbeknownst in de cabin ter wait fur night, ’case he know de niggers be all plum ergin him if dey know he gwine hang er black cat.

“Late in de ebenin’ he go whistlin’ down ter de spring-house, arter Dinah an’ Marthy done put erway de milk, an’ he ben’ down er limb uv er little hick’ry saplin’ an’ cut hit twel he git er swingin’ fork fur ter noose de rope in.

“I’se heared ’Lish tell erbout hit many’s de time. Well, he ’low dat es he work sumpen des ’pear ter git inter him, an’ he whistle an’ whistle, an’ den he couldn’t keep his ole feets[Pg 184] still, but des lit inter dancing in front er de spring-house lack mad, an’ all de time, unbeknownst, dat black cat des er-watchin’ uv him up er tree.

“Bimeby he des hatter set down, ’case he done danced all de bref outen him, an’ he feels mighty cuis, ’case es he set dar in de dark hit ’pear lack all he ebber done—all de little good, an’ all de whole heap er low down, sneakin’ things dat he done furgit erbout—kim er-swimmin’ erfore his eyes, des ter mek him tek notice uv ’em. Hit were er warnin’, sho’, ’case hit were de sperit er ’Lish, prophesyin’ ter de po’ weak flesh er de man ’Lish, but de man ’Lish cain’t unnerstan’ what de sperit ’Lish mean, an’ hit mek him plum mizerbul.

“But arter while de cat kim er-sneakin’ erlong, wid he eyes des er-shinin’ white an’ red an’ green, lack de fox-fire in de swamp. When he sees ’Lish, he quoil he tail keerful lack an’ sot down an’ look at him erwhile, an’ he look an’ look, so knowin’, twel hit mek de goose bumps fa’r riz up on ’Lish’s back; den he git tired er settin’, an’ whisk dat ole long tail er his’n at ’Lish an’ go on inter de spring-house, des er darin’ ’Lish ter foller.

“Den ’Lish ’pear ter git sorter flustered, ’case[Pg 185] he done furgit ter work de charm ’gin de debil, but go right inter de spring-house an’ cornder de cat an’ fling de greased rope ober he head. De cat he ’ain’ show no fight now, but des grin an’ sink he ole long white teef plum inter ’Lish’s han’, but dar hain’t no blood drawed, ’case black cat nebber draws blood, but des sink p’is’n deep down on de eends er dey teef. ’Lish think ’bout dat, an’ he feared ter put he han’ in he mouf fur ter suck de p’is’n outen hit; but he know he in fur hit now, an’ so he draw dat noose tighter an’ tighter.

“Now er black cat won’t holler when yo’ hangs him, if hit er rale black cat, ’case hit’s mostly de debil dat is er-w’arin’ uv er black cat’s skin when he wanter ’do erbout,’ ’case he know no hones’-minded pusson is gwine ter dribe erway er cat. So de debil he set by de warm hearth, in de skin er de black cat, an’ purr an’ purr, an’ hear all de secrets er de fambly, an’ things dat passes twixt man an’ man an’ man an’ wife, ’dout anybody tekin’ notice; an’ dat how things go singin’ roun’ an’ dar hain’t nobody tole ’em.

“But dar’s one thing dat yo’ kin put in yo’ pipe an’ smoke; we’s all got our match somers, dar’s sumpen gwine ter ketch up wid de fastes’,[Pg 186] an’ dat why de black cat ’ain’ show no fight ’gin er rope.

“Well, ’Lish he tightens de noose an’ fling de eend er de rope ober de swingin’ fork, an’ tie hit dar, an’ sot an’ wait. De cat he grin an’ grin at ’Lish; he kin see de teef by de light er de eyes dat des shoot sparks, an’ hit ’pear lack dem eyes des charm ’Lish lack er snake, fur his’n plum sot on de cat’s, an’ he cain’t tek ’em off.

“Den sumpen happin dat mek ’Lish’s blood fa’r rin cole an’ he hair ter stan’ right up an’ straighten out, es kinky es hit were; fur ’Lish he hear er voice ’hine de cat somers, an’ he know hit were de cat, dough de ole cat’s tongue was des er hangin’ out. Den hit ’pear lack dar were two cats, den free cats, den de air hit ’pear ter be plum full er cats, an’ dey all opin dey moufs an’ says de same thing all at de same time; ’Lish say hit were des lack thunder. He hain’t nebber, nebber tole what de cats gib out—he allus shiver an’ ’low he cain’t, so we all hain’t ebber know. But all dis time de hung cat was des er-grinnin’ at ’Lish.

“Dat cat sho’ dead dis time—dar wa’n’t no ’sputin’ ’bout dat, dough dat wa’n’t no sign dat de debil done gone back ter his own. But arter de air git cl’ar fum de odder cats, ’Lish taken de[Pg 187] hung cat down an’ hide de rope in de bayou, ’case he don’ want de niggers ter know he hang er black cat, an’ es he lock de door, he know de cream done safe now, an’ dar hain’t nuffin gwine ter pester hit no mo’.

“Ole Miss mek mighty much er ’Lish, an’ Ole Marse brags on him, but it don’ ’pear ter do ’Lish much good; fur we cain’t hide nuffin fum de truf, an’ what er nigger do wrong in de dark, gwine ter be onkivered in de daylight, an’ hit hain’t gwin ter be er cloudy day, sho’s yo’ born. Er sin is one er de bes’ keepin’ things on dis here yeth; hit hain’t er gwine ter spile in de keepin’, an’ when dey onkiver hit, hit ’ll be des es safe an’ soun’ de day arter de Jedgment es you kin fin’ hit ter-day; an’ dat nigger he know he ’mittin’ er sin ’gin de ’ligion er he Mammy when he kill dat cat.

“But de bad luck dat he hunted fur kim on him putty fas’ arter dat; fur de day lackin’ one arter he hang de cat, er muel he were ridin’ ter de fiel’—er ole, slow, jog-trottin’, sleepy muel—git de debil in her an’ frow him an’ break he leg.

“Den he taken wid de browncreeturs in he thote ’fore he git fru dat, an’ hab er powerful hard time. Ole Miss think he gwinter die, but de debil hain’t gwinter let him die, he gwinter[Pg 188] mek him mo’ painful yit. Den he taken wid de arysipulous in de lame leg, an’ some call hit scrofulow an’ some call hit des arysipulous; but, anyhow, he seed sights wid hit, dough Ole Miss doctors on him so hard dat he git shet uv hit.

“Den de new wife she leabe him, ’case when he able ter set up she pick hit outen him dat he kill de black cat des ter pleasure Ole Miss, an’ Keziah don’ want de bad luck, ’case hit de ten-year luck, an’ de Lord on’y know whar hit gwinter stop. An’ las’ly ’Lish were taken wid de miz’ry in de chist. Well, dat las’ pester Ole Miss mightily, an’ she do what she kin fur bofe de ailments. She try ter git dat gal ter go back ter ’Lish—she try ter ’suade her an’ ter buy her, an’ she mek plarsters fur ’Lish’s chist all de time ’dout doin’ any good—fur dat Keziah she lub good luck better ’n she lub ’Lish, an’ de plarsters uv er good ’oman lack Ole Miss cain’t work ’gin de debil.

“Well, twixt all de things dat ’Lish is got an’ ain’ got, he w’ar so po’ly dat he git rale ashy, an’ hit ’pear lack de skin des sticks ter de bones, an’ he set by hisse’f, ’case he hain’t stout ernough ter work none now, an’ talk ter somebody we cain’t see, all de time. He ’low hit follers uv him, an’ set down by him when he goes[Pg 189] ter sleep uv nights, an’ ain’ let him git shet uv hit er minute.

“Ole Miss she git de fambly doctor now ter come an’ physic on ’Lish, fur she hear de singin’ ’roun’ ’mongst de niggers, an’ she know what dey think, an’ she feel ’sponsible.

“But hit ’pear lack de doctor mek ’Lish worser, an’ Ole Miss she ’low she ain’ know what ter do.

“Den ’Lish he w’ar so low dat Abe, what were de carpenter, he gib out dat he gwine mek er coffin fur ’Lish, so’s ter be ready fur him when he die, an’ Ole Miss she feel mighty bad, ’case she ’member now de tales her black Mammy usen ter tole her when she were little. Fur er white chile ain’ ebber gwine ter furgit ’em if dey lis’ens ter ’em right an’ dey got er good black Mammy.

“So when Ole Miss an’ de white folks’ doctor des plum gib hit up, Unc’ Cæsar he limp up ter de Big House, wid his white head bare, an’ ax Ole Miss mout he work on ’Lish.

“Ole Miss know Unc’ Cæsar ’sponsible’ an’ she say he mout, an’ he limp off inter he cabin ’dout sayin’ er word, eben ter Ole Miss, an’ shot to de door, an’ button hit on de inside.

“Er mighty cuis smoke kim outen Unc’[Pg 190] Cæsar’s chimbly dat ebenin’, an’ all de niggers say he fixin’ sumpen; but we ain’ know what, ’case Unc’ Cæsar were er hoodoo an’ work wid charms. But he go inter ’Lish cabin, an’ shot de door to an’ button hit on de inside, an’ do sumpen ter ’Lish.

“Dat night he taken ’Lish an’ set him in er cheer outside de cabin, an’ ’Lish fetch his kivers outside, ’case he ain’ know what Unc’ Cæsar gwine do.

“Unc’ Cæsar ain’ say er word, but he taken er live chunk fum de hearth an’ sot fire ter de cabin, an’ es she blaze up high he mek passes wid his long arms an’ say sumpen low, mumblin’ lack. Den when de blaze ’gin ter die down he taken ’Lish’s kivers an’ flings’ em on, an’ es de fire clomb high ergin he snatch ever’ rag dat ’Lish got on him an’ flings ’em on, an’ swing he long arms ober he head; den, des es de flames lick de highes’, he taken de rope dat he mek ’Lish creep down ter de bayou ter fin’ an’ fling hit on, an’ dar were er power er quare-lookin’ smoke in de Quarters, an’ all de niggers kim er runnin’ an’ b’ar witness.

“Den ’Lish, des es naked as er new-borned baby, fall down an’ foam an’ foam at de mouf, but Unc’ Cæsar won’ let nobody tech him.

[Pg 191]

“Dey all stan’ an’ wait, des er hol’in’ dey brefs ter see what gwine happin, an’ bimeby de blaze hit die an’ de smoke cl’ar ’way, an’ dar wa’n’t nuffin lef’ but er little pile er ashes, an’ de niggers falls ter whisperin’, ercusin’ Unc’ Cæsar fur burnin’ up po’ sick ’Lish’s cabin an’ his kivers; when Unc’ Cæsar he p’int one long arm wid er long, shakin’ finger, an’ say: ’Look!’—an’, bless goodness! right dar in de middle er de pile er hot ashes dat des still er-smould’rin’, sot de berry same ole black cat, des er-grinnin’ fitten ter bust.

“De niggers dey was skeered, an’ dey ain’ know what ter do, but dey fotch one shout fur ’glory!’ an’ dat nigger ’Lish he fall ter prayin’ good, ’case he know dat de cuss er de debil was offen him now, an’ de soul an’ de body was free.”

[Pg 195]


“Dar wa’n’t no tickler pusson nowhar ’n ’Liza’s Maw, Bithie,” said Mammy, as she drew the basket of wool within reach and took up her cards.

“Dar wa’n’t no ’tickler pusson ’n Bithie, slave time ner free; but de way dat ’Liza git ’way wid her one time were er caution.

“‘Liza hain’t nebber been seed but oncet sence, nuther, an’ den hit were only fur er minute, an’ she didn’ speak ter nobody, ner gib out nuffin, but des look plum mizerbul an’ po’ly. Mus’ be mighty ole now, if she’s libin’, which I ’specs she am, fur Unc’ ’Jah say dat bein’ de way dat ’Liza git ter be by her own sinnin’, dey cain’t ebber die, much es dey wanter, an’ I knows dat wharebber ’Liza am, dat she shore wanter die,” added Mammy, mysteriously, as the long soft roll grew under her manipulation.[Pg 196] There was a chorus of questions from the quilters who bent over the frame, but Mammy freed the roll and laid fresh wool between her cards before she spoke again.

“A-a-h, lawsy!—dis ole worl’ hain’t no better ’n hit uster was, but I don’ spec’ de Lord gwine let hit git no wusser—he des gwine min’ his own bus’ness, an’ let hit clean hitself lack mos’ t’ings in natur’ does!”

“Tell us about ’Liza, Mammy!” came in chorus from the quilt.

“Well well—arter while,” said Mammy. “Wait twel de chillen git ter bed, fur de tale er what ’Liza do, hain’t fitten fur de years er chillen, es powerful knowin’ es dey is,” and Mammy sighed again, then worked in silence, wrapped in deepest contemplation.

So the quilters told their own tales, merry and bright at first, but as the evening wore away they were ghostly and more mysterious, until the last row of shells in the frame were being rolled—then the quilt was taken out, and cider and gingerbread was set upon the table.

Fresh wood was piled upon the smouldering back log, as the quilters drew up to the fire with laden hands, and Mammy, waking from her reverie, laid aside her cards and smoothed her[Pg 197] apron down, preparatory. There was always a great deal of ceremony about Mammy’s preparations, for her art was not hackneyed by frequent repetition, and this was the story she told to the quilters:

Bithie was the only child of Marse Dick’s ’Riah, and Bithie’s ’Liza, a seventh daughter, was born with a veil, besides coming at a time when Bithie had long ceased to look for any more children; so when they brought her to Unc’ Caspar, who was a hoodoo and was given to prophesying, Unc’ Caspar took her in his arms and looked long and earnestly into her face.

Now most babies, even from the day of their birth, would have been awed by the eye of Unc’ Caspar, for children can see the truth easier than grown people; but as young as ’Liza was, she caught his long white beard in her fists and crowed. Then Unc’ Caspar laid her down and shook his head ominously at such early disrespect. Some were bold enough to assert that he put a curse upon ’Liza, then and there; but certain it is that Bithie took a chill while he spoke, for, instead of giving the baby his blessing, Unc’ Caspar was fretting over the tweaking of his beard.

[Pg 198]

“Dis chile,” he said, pointing with his long finger at the new moon shining through the clearing, “am born fur powerful good er powerful ebil—but I seed dis fru de trees, an’ I’se feared uv her—I’se feared!”

Bithie was Ole Miss’s seamstress, and the seventh daughter was made much of at the “Big House,” but Bithie was troubled about Unc’ Caspar’s curse upon her child, and at night she lay awake thinking about it—though ’Liza throve and grew strong, in spite of Bithie’s misgivings and Unc’ Caspar’s curse, and was as likely a little pickaninny as Ole Marse ever owned, and as Ole Miss told Bithie, when she had sobbed out her tale of woe.

“But she got the beatenest temper, Ole Miss,” moaned Bithie, “an’ I cain’t git de upper han’ uv her, whup her hard’s ebber I kin, twel I’se plum wore out. Nebber seed sech er muel uv er nigger, an’, little es she am, she see t’ings dat I hain’t see, in de light an’ in de dark, an’ she hollers out an’ talk ter ’em, an’ hit mek my blood fa’r rin cole—hit do, Ole Miss!”

“Hush! that’s all stuff and nonsense, Bithie!” said Ole Miss; “but never mind the temper, it will all come right by-and-by.”

But it did not come right, according to Bithie’s[Pg 199] standard; and when ’Liza was about a year old Bithie could stand it no longer, so she consulted old Maumer, who dealt in charms and cungers, about the taking away of Unc’ Caspar’s curse, for ’Liza had had a fit and frothed at the mouth. Every one, even Ole Miss, said that it was ’Liza’s teeth; but Bithie knew better, and on her knees she swore to barter to Maumer everything of value that she possessed if Maumer would but work upon the curse.

Then Maumer brewed a mysterious, greasy compound to rub on ’Liza’s gums, and made a necklace of the small twigs of the prickly ash, and, stringing an alligator’s tooth with it, she wound it around the child’s neck three times.

’Liza had no more fits, but in spite of the charm her temper showed no signs of mending, and Maumer, though she kept all of Bithie’s treasures, gave up the case in despair.

“I cain’t wuk ’gin Unc’ Caspar,” she acknowledged, “fur he’s too strong. Unc’ Caspar er powerful hoodoo, but I is, too, an’ I wuk an’ he wuk, an’ de charm ole Maumer wuk des lock ho’ns wid his’n an’ stan’ dar grinnin’ at one nudder. I cain’t tek hit off, but es long es I wuks, Unc’ Caspar’s charm cain’t kill her;[Pg 200] but you better let dat chile ’lone, Bithie, lessen you kin git Unc’ Caspar ter call back de cuss.”

So Bithie stifled her sorrow and tried to believe Ole Miss, and all of her spare time she spent in making dainty clothes for her seventh daughter, out of the things that Ole Miss had given her. The other six might go ragged, half clothed, and dirty, as far as she was concerned, but the child under the curse must be dressed like a “lady.”

The day that Ole Miss sent for ’Liza to come to the “Big House” was an event in Bithie’s cabin, for none of Bithie’s children had been so honored before, and ’Liza was now old enough to play with Ole Miss’s little ones.

’Liza’s round, black face shone with all the polish that hot water and soft-soap could give; her blue-checked pinafore was spotlessly neat, and the tight “wraps” of woolly hair that latticed the little round head actually bore a scarlet ribbon where they joined.

“Min’, ’Liza, dat you says ’Ma’am’ an’ ’Yas, Sar’ ter dem chillen, if dey is littler ’n you, ’case dey’s you’ little marster and mistiss,” said Bithie, bridling with importance.

But Bithie’s pride was short-lived, for ’Liza proved to be a marplot among the children,[Pg 201] and, after less than half an hour of service, she was whisked away to the Quarters by Betty, the second nurse, who “’clared ter gracious, dat I’d druther tame er rattler ’n tame Bithie’s ’Liza!”

With the pickaninnies it was the same; bolder with those of her own color, there was always a wail when ’Liza was about, and at last old Maumer boxed her ears and sent her away from the nursery, so, as little as she was, there was nothing left for ’Liza but to go to the field. There she brewed mischief afresh, and the threat and whip of the overseer were as nothing to her, for toads and lizards would leap from her sack when the cotton came to be weighed, and she kept the Quarters always on the alert for some of her uglier pranks. It was even said that the lash of the overseer upon her back produced no welt, but that she laughed in his face while he sweated, for she was under a charm.

As the time passed, a comelier negro girl than ’Liza would have been hard to find, and Bithie, proud, though mourning, lavished her little all upon her; but her child was nobody’s friend, saving perhaps Unc’ Caspar’s and his son’s. To them alone she told her joys and her sorrows, and Bithie looked aghast at the duckling she had hovered.

[Pg 202]

“Hit wouldn’ erbeen so bad,” she confided to Maumer, whose charm had long ceased to even “lock horns” with Unc’ Caspar’s, “if she hadn’ er taken right ter dem what sot de cuss—an’—Unc’ Caspar des stan’ up an’ ’nies de truf, an’ say he nebber sot er cuss, an’ ax my ole man fur ’Liza fur his boy, ter probe hit,” said Bithie, with a sigh. “Do sumpen, Maumer, fur de lub er Gord—do sumpen, fur I des es lief dat ’Liza ’d mairey wid de debil!”

“Hit were des dem words dat Bithie oughter et,” said Mammy, moving closer to the fire; “she oughter bit her tongue out ’fore she let dat loose, fur she sot de cuss er-gwine, an’ flung de bid ter de debil, an’ de debil tuk hit up, an’ now hit were hoodoo ’gin debil, an’ debil ’gin hoodoo, an’ ’Liza were de bone!”

It was about the season, according to the thoughtful, that the devil was loose upon the earth for his yearly recreation, and, what with love affairs of white and black, and “misery charms” in the Quarters, he had enough on the one plantation to have kept him leisurely working for six months; but he was resolved to hasten matters, for there were other pleasures awaiting him.

All this time Unc’ Caspar was asking for ’Liza[Pg 203] for his boy; sometimes threatening, sometimes pleading; so when the devil came and Unc’ Caspar had “gotten out of his skin” more than once to oblige him, the hoodoo made mention of the affair, and told also of the curse which Bithie believed that he had set upon ’Liza.

This made the devil look about, and when he had seen ’Liza and Unc’ Caspar pressed him for a comment, he cleared his throat and said, cautiously, “We’ll see about it.”

Just about that time, came the dance of the hoodoos at the dark of the moon, and in the flare of the torches the devil and Unc’ Caspar stood disguised, in the doorway of a cabin, and looked on; and as ’Liza led the dance, with her face distorted with ecstatic passion and swaying her body almost to the ground, Unc’ Caspar again pressed the devil for a comment; but again the devil cleared his throat, and said, “We’ll see.”

That night Unc’ Caspar dreamed a dream, and in it he saw the world split in half, and his boy Amaziah stood with him on one side and the devil and ’Liza on the other. There was a bottomless pit between, and lo! in the dream, the devil’s eyes were fixed upon him,[Pg 204] and the flame burned into Unc’ Caspar’s sockets. Then Unc’ Caspar minded him of the graveyard sand that he wore in his pocket, and, catching it up, he threw it into the devil’s eyes, so that he was blinded and writhed with pain.

Then Unc’ Caspar, in his dream, fixed his gaze on ’Liza, and drew her with his eye; and, swinging her arms around her head three times, she stooped and reaching across the pit, plucked three white hairs from Unc’ Caspar’s beard; then, catching the long end of the beard with both hands, she swung across to the other side and laid her hand upon his arm. Amaziah looked, then howled three times, and loped away in the form of a yellow dog.

Well, said Mammy, after the dream, Unc’ Caspar talked no more of the wedding of ’Liza and Amaziah, but sat and rolled his white beard in his palm and looked at ’Liza.

And Amaziah pressed his own suit, and urged Bithie to let him marry ’Liza; but Bithie was afraid to promise on account of Unc’ Caspar’s curse and afraid not to promise, and grew so thin over thinking about it at night that Ole Miss gave her a tonic of vinegar and rusty nails.

[Pg 205]

The dark of the moon again was near, and this was the time for shadowy work; so Unc’ Caspar sat and plucked his beard, and, forgetful of his duty to his son, dreamed that he had married ’Liza. All through the day he dreamed, while the negroes were in the field, while they harrowed, ploughed, and sowed, for Unc’ Caspar was manumitted and his time was his own; and the devil, stirring the green water of the bayou, laughed aloud that Unc’ Caspar had changed his mind.

But the passion grew and grew, and one dark night, when the wind in the swamp-willows was still and there was scarce a ripple, even out to the middle of the river, Unc’ Caspar took ’Liza down to the bank, and, making a mist to rise, showed ’Liza, through the mist, the treasures of the earth.

Up from the bed of the river rose a great white house, with its massive pillars shadowy but true, and its white curtains swinging outward to the mist.

Then around her form Unc’ Caspar wound a cloth of silk and pearls; and on her ankles and wrists golden bands gleamed even through the dark night and the mist; in her ears were the great gold rings of an African princess, and[Pg 206] round and round her neck Unc’ Caspar wound the beads that shone like stars.

For a moment the hoodoo paused, that ’Liza might look well; then, without breaking the silence, he stood behind the girl, waving for the mystery to disappear, and the great white house slipped into the bed of the river, the cloth of pearl and gold dropped away, the beads that shone like stars faded, and there was only a broken fish-net around ’Liza’s shoulders and wisps of river reeds on her wrists. Through the dark came the voice of the hoodoo:

“Ole Caspar rich—ole Caspar free—all dis gwine be yourn if yo’ des mairey Caspar.”

But ’Liza shivered under the damp fish-net, and asked Unc’ Caspar to give her time.

In the long night she alternately laughed and wept and wrung her hands.

“Which I gwine ter do? Which I gwine ter tek—de ole un er de young un?” she cried.

“Dat,” said Mammy, “were de sperrits er good an’ ebil stribin’ in her, but she nebber eben call de name er de Lord, so she needn’ ’spec’ no he’p.”

The glitter of the gorgeous thing was still in ’Liza’s mind, but through it all would rise the ugly, wrinkled face of Unc’ Caspar; but Unc’[Pg 207] Caspar was rich—Unc’ Caspar had houses and gold. Then out of the dark would leap the form of the young Amaziah, stretching his great, strong arms towards her, even though the veil of the white beard floated between them.

But by daybreak ’Liza had made up her mind, and Bithie, pale and ashen, bound a plantain leaf to her own forehead and chanted a death song from her cabin.

All day Ole Miss waited for Bithie, but Bithie had forgotten the world. In vain old Maumer anointed her with salves to break the spell of frenzy, still the death chant wailed from the cabin, and Bithie would not be comforted.

The plantation thrilled with the news of ’Liza’s coming marriage to the hoodoo, who was old enough to be her grandfather. The gossips wagged it, and the old men smoked it in their pipes. Even the pickaninnies drew it into their play, and sang, with a newly invented shuffle:

“Lawsy mussy, what ’Liza hab done,
Maired de ole man instid uv he son.”

And Unc’ Caspar, leaning on his stick, hastened ’Liza for the wedding, and for bridal trickery[Pg 208] bored the pearly shells of the river mussel and strung them on his beard; and every night, to make ’Liza surer in her mind, he would make the mist to rise and show her the treasures that were to be hers on her wedding-day.

By-and-by, under the spell that Unc’ Caspar wrought, Bithie ceased from the death song, and, rising from her bed, she stole from Ole Miss’s armoire a bolt of sheeny satin to make into a wonderful gown for ’Liza, and Unc’ Caspar bored shells again, and Bithie sat up all night to border the hem of ’Liza’s wedding-dress with them.

These days Unc’ Caspar was busy too, for down in the swamp-willows Amaziah lay in a trance, and no one came to help him. He was to lie in the trance until after the wedding, when the hoodoo dance would waken him; and so Unc’ Caspar cut down with his charms everything that might come between him and ’Liza.

The new moon, said Mammy, was nearly born, and the devil’s time on earth was short. Again he sat by the sluggish water of the bayou and stirred it with a stick, and out of it came the moccasins, the eels, and the toads to do his bidding. He whistled low, and from the[Pg 209] trees the bat, the owl, the jay-bird, and the crow answered the call of their master; and there, in his heart, the devil envied Unc’ Caspar and wanted ’Liza.

In the form of a bat he flew down Unc’ Caspar’s chimney, and borrowing Unc’ Caspar’s skin as he slept, he hid the naked body in the hollow of a tree and went back into the hoodoo’s cabin to sleep.

When morning came he stood beside ’Liza as she worked, and hastened her for the wedding; and ’Liza, looking at the wrinkled face and white beard, believed that she was looking at Unc’ Caspar.

So they set the wedding-night, and Bithie’s old man, under the spell of the devil in Unc’ Caspar’s skin, stole four hogs and three sheep from Ole Marse, and made a great barbecue for the wedding-supper.

But ’Liza wept that the time was drawing near, for in her heart she loved Amaziah. Then the devil, in Unc’ Caspar’s skin, raised a heavier mist and showed her greater treasures than Unc’ Caspar had done, until her tears were dried, for ’Liza was part covetous and part hoodoo, said Mammy.

The devil was overstaying his limit by this[Pg 210] time, waiting for the wedding. But at last the night came, and there was a gathering from far and near to see the marriage.

Bithie rose as in a dream, and dressed ’Liza in the long satin gown, and the tears gleamed like pearls upon it as they fell from her eyes, for Bithie was sure that something was wrong.

Outside the voice of the parson was calling to ’Liza, and ’Liza passed through the doorway and stood up with the devil in Unc’ Caspar’s skin to be married.

The gathered people held their breath, and the parson raised his hand and spoke. The devil made as if he would answer, but the skin of Unc’ Caspar cried out.

“What’s dat?” asked ’Liza, opening her eyes wide.

“Nuffin’ but er little bird cryin’ in de nes’, my darlin’,” whispered the devil.

Again the parson spoke, and again the devil made as if to answer him, but the skin of Unc’ Caspar stretched and cracked, and all the people heard it.

“What’s dat?” cried ’Liza, trembling and taking hold of the devil’s arm in her fright.

“Nuffin’ but er coon trampin’ in de cane-brake,” whispered the devil.

[Pg 211]

“Who teks dis ’oman?” said the parson, impatient to go on, for he smelled the barbecue, and knew that the supper was ready, waiting.

“I do,” said the devil, growing bold, as the skin of Unc’ Caspar cried and cracked and burst—and the hoof and the horns came through, and there stood the devil grinning at ’Liza through Unc’ Caspar’s skin, until the lights were thrown down.

Then, said Mammy, all was dark; nobody raised a hand. ’Liza’s screams grew fainter and fainter, and then all was still.

A sleet fell in the Quarters and pelted the people like stones, but ’Liza and the devil were gone, and there was nothing left of the wedding-feast but a pitiful pile of ashes.

A cricket chirruped in the pause; the back log had burned through and the cider jug was empty. The idle quilters, awed to whispers, yawned at last, for the thread was broken—the story was done, and gathering up her rolls, as she put her cards in her basket, Mammy said, “Good-night.”