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The Gentlemen of Sarsar by Katherine Sherwood Bonner McDowell

 

I.

SARSAR! The very name of the place was sinister! Who does not remember De Quincey's “Sarsar wind of desolation,” and the chill shudder that quivered through the soul as the harsh adjective came blowing like a discord into the music of that incomparable writing?

Not a misgiving, however, crossed my heart when, shortly before Christmas, my father asked me if I thought myself possessed of the qualifications necessary for collecting a bad debt.

“The business of collecting, father,” said I, with what malicious friends called my “prize-poem manner,” “is odious in some of its features to a man of spirit; but it may bring into play some of the finest faculties of the human mind.”

“And body,” added my father, in a quiet sort of way.

“If courage is needed,” said I, laughing, “I am the son of my State —the State that does not know how to surrender! As for tact, civility, address, urbanity, and downright stubbornness, these desirable qualities are surely mine by right of inheritance.”

“Well, well,” said my father, meditatively, “it is a pretty rough place, Sarsar is. The debt is one thousand dollars; and if you get this sum, or any part of it, I don't mind saying it is yours for a Christmas-box.”

For many reasons these were delightful words. First, while I fully intended that my life should teem with good things, at present it was as bare and empty as a sun-dried skull. My father, with the best intentions in the world, was so indifferent to the doctrines of Malthus as to become the parent of a perfect brood of young ones, each of whom had to stand on his own legs as soon as they were strong enough. I was at the beginning of my career, and made shift to get on; but such a sugar-plum as a thousand dollars had never dropped into my mouth. As befitted my slim purse, I was madly, unutterably in love—in love with Angie Bell, the prettiest girl, I would swear, among a million picked beauties. With the thousand dollars fairly mine, I should be able to offer her those delicate attentions man delights to lavish on the woman he adores—buggy drives and bonbons, new music, books, and bouquets. Thus I should weave myself, as it were, into her life, keep her little heart in a perpetual simmer of kindly feeling, and dispose her to look tenderly on my encroaching passion, nor resist when its tide should sweep her from her moorings into my arms. Unless—reflected I—it might be better to trust to winning her solely on my merits, and, the betrothal an accomplished fact, spend all the sum in the purchase of a troth gift in some degree worthy of her inspiring beauty.

Absorbed in the pleasing perplexity of such a question, I was only aroused from my reverie by my father's tones, raised a good deal above their ordinary level.

“Yes, old Ruck is as saucy and rough a tonic as any man could swallow. You will need all your mother-wit in dealing with him. The old scamp swears it is not a just debt, and pay it he will not.”

“Sarsar—nothing more than a backwoods settlement, is it?”

“Nothing. And there are people up among those hills who actually try to vote for General Jackson to-day! A good many worthless negroes have congregated in the place, who fight, quarrel, and steal without much interference from anybody. There are a lot of rough fellows, however, calling themselves 'the Gentlemen of Sarsar,' who regulate things after their own fashion. Chief among them is your man—Andy Rucker. He has unbounded influence with his clientèle, and, they say, understands how to use the shot-gun better than any man in the county.”

“Never think to daunt me, father,” said I, briskly. “I shall go to Sarsar, and shall fetch back the money.”

A few days later I got off at a station ten miles east of Sarsar, and, hiring a horse, set out for a ride across the country. The hills were steep, the road rough, the people rougher. At the cabins where I stopped to ask the way they looked on me as a stranger from a far-off land.

“Do git down and look at your creetur,” was their invariable remark, and one that puzzled me exceedingly, until I found it was an hospitable invitation to dismount for a rest.

Reaching Sarsar, I was directed to “the Widow Joplin's” as a place of entertainment. The widow, a tired-looking woman, with her lips drawn down at the corners as if they needed kissing into shape, put me into the hands of a bright mulatto boy, whom she called Dee Jay. This worthy conducted me to my chamber, and asked if I would like some oysters for supper.

“Oysters, by all means; a couple of dozen, fancy roast.”

“Lor', marster, we ain't got so many in de house; an' ef we had, I 'clar to gracious, marster, two dozen two-poun' cans would kill you, sho'.”

Cans! Is it canned oysters you offered me?”

“Yes, sir—Cove. We had some fresh ones onct—I disremember what year it wus. But, lor'! we didn't know how ter open 'em, an' we jest pounded away at 'em wid brickbats till Mars' Andy come an' showed us how. Ain't it curus how dey kin live an' breathe de breff o' life shet up in dem tight shells?”

Declining to enter into a discussion on, oysters, I asked if “Mars' Andy” was Mr. Rucker.

“Yes, sir. Captin Rucker we mostly calls him. You acquainted wid him?”

“No; but to make his acquaintance happens to be my business here.”

“Is dat so?” cried Dee Jay, with increased respect in his tones. “An' I made sho' you wus a-drummin' for seggars. Mars' Andy ain't very fond o' dem drummin' men,” he went on, confidentially; “in fac', dey ain't popular wid none o' dem lazy, long-legged Rucker boys. Dey kin fairly devil a stranger out o' toun if dey takes a notion. Hope you ain't gwine ter tread on de captin's toes, marster. He's a awful man to have a rassel wid.”

“He must—be a terrible fellow,” said I, laughing.

“Lor', dey ain't no harm in Mars' Andy. He's de head man in dis toun. He's as full o' pranks an' capers as a unbroke colt; but he's got as much sense as a horse.”

With that compliment, in every way worthy of a returned Gulliver, my innocent Yahoo took me to the Widow Joplin's dining-room.

Before I had well finished my supper a tall man strode into the room, followed by two of the daintiest, prettiest little black- and-tan thorough-bred pups I had ever seen.

“How Angie would dote on them!” thought I.

The master of the pups was a noticeable man. Tall and broad-shouldered, with clean-cut features, and bright black eyes—so far not differing from any other. But his hair marked him among men as Samson's among the Philistines. Long and heavy, and iron-gray in color, it fell in actual ringlets to his shoulders, and gave almost a look of ferocity to his countenance.

“A character!” said I to myself, and longed to hear him speak.

The wish was not allowed to grow cold, as he came directly to me with:

“I hear, sir, there is a stranger in town who wants to see Andy Rucker. That's my name. Yours is—”

“Ned Merewether, at your service,” said I, rising, with extended hand. “You have met my father.”

“Oh yes; I am well acquainted with Jack Merewether,” he said, giving me a prolonged look. “Well, Ned, let's take a drink.”

Knowing the offence I should give by a refusal, I assented, though dreading the villanous compound I should have to swallow under the name of “old bourbon.”

One drink followed another, and my head began to buzz a little. Several men dropped in, who were introduced by Mr. Rucker as kinsmen and friends. I proposed a health to “the Gentlemen of Sarsar,” and the scene grew convivial.

“What d'ye think of our country, mister?” said an ill-looking youth, whom they addressed by the tender title of “Honey Rucker.”

“It's as fine a country as I ever saw,” responded I. “But you don't have many rich men, I suppose?”

“Rich men!” cried Mr. Rucker, in a tone of compassion; “why, youngster, we are all rich, only we don't like to show off. Good families—like the Ruckers—never make a parade. Now and then such a fellow as Yowell wants to spread himself. You remember, boys, how he went to old Nathan Weeks's funeral?”

“Rather!” said Honey Rucker, in a gloomy tone.

“It was a big funeral, and most of us walked, for carriages are unhandy on our roads. But Yowell wanted to make a show, so he and his must ride. He and his wife were in a four-wheeled gig, and every Jack and Gill of his seven children was toted by a likely negro boy, who sat astride a two- hundred-dollar mule. Now, each one of those Africans would have sold for fifteen hundred dollars—aggregate, ten thousand five hundred dollars; the mules summed up to fourteen hundred dollars— making a clean sum of eleven thousand nine hundred dollars winding along these hills as unconcerned as a snake. What do you think of that for style?”

“Quite in the style of the Arabian Nights!” said I.

“ 'Better worth seeing than the aurora borealis,' ” quoted Mr. Honey Rucker.

“Ah! there are some queer people up here among these hills,” said Captain Andy, with a shake of the head.

“What do you do in the way of sport?” asked I.

“Everything—chase foxes, run deer, spear fish. But our grand sport”—with sudden animation—“our Christmas frolic, is a nigger hunt.”

“A what?

“A negro chase perhaps you would call it. You see, our jail is such a ram-shackle affair that it is next to impossible to keep a prisoner in bonds, if he has any get-up-and-get in his make-up. The rascals break out and take to the hills. And when the humor takes us we hunt them down.”

There was a laughing devil in Mr. Rucker's eye, and I knew not what to think. Determined, however, not to seem unsophisticated, I said, coolly,

“I should think such game would give you but a short run.”

“Humph! put twenty hounds on a black rascal's track—they can scent it after it's a day old—and he will run faster than a deer, and out-manoeuvre a fox in dodging corners.”

“Poor souls!”

“They haven't any souls, I fancy,” said Mr. Rucker, easily; ” 'poor bodies' would be more to the point, as they have to clip it to a galloping tune. Come, sir; no use walking on stilts away from home. Join us in our next hunt.”

The man seemed as sober as a christened saint, but I felt I was the butt of a joke, and secretly resented it.

“Well, sir,” said I, “I did not come here to make acquaintance with the sports of the gentry.”

“And may I presume to ask why you did come?” inquired Mr. Rucker, with vast politeness.

“You should know best, sir, as I represent the firm of Avery &Merewether.”

“Aha! I remember something was said of certain moneys that your people fancied I owed them.”

“Fancy me no fancies, Mr. Rucker”—certainly the whiskey had gone into my head—“the money has to be paid.

“And you are the man that's to get it? Well, well, it would be a pity you should not have what you have come so far to gain—all, and more. I insist you should have more. I myself ought to make you a little gift.”

“Very well,” I said, good-humoredly, “I will gladly accept these little beauties”—and I caught up Mr. Rucker's pups.

“For your sweetheart?”

“For the prettiest girl in the county!” said I, laughing, and with a warm glow at my heart at the bare thought of my lovely little angel, Angie Bell.

II.

Awaking with a clear head the next morning, I hurried out to seek Mr. Rucker; but, to my annoyance, that eccentric gentleman was nowhere to be found. Every one of whom I inquired was too stupid even to guess at his whereabouts.

“De captin is jes' like de sun,” said my sympathizing valet, Dee Jay: “sometimes he will shine out on folks, an' agin, when de notion takes him, he will go under a cloud, an' you can't put your finger on de place whar he is hid.”

“And how long is it his majesty's pleasure to stay under a cloud?”

“It 'ud take a wizard man to tell dat, marster.”

“I went to his house, hoping to see some member of his family; but no one came to the door, though I rapped and pounded half an hour.”

“He ain't got no family. De Rucker blood is purty nigh run out in dis county.”

“Why, I thought every other man in it was a Rucker.”

“Well, dey is mostly cousins, or dey jes' tuk de name fur glory. Mars' Andy had a lot of brothers onct, an' a par; but dey wus killed, all along through de war—one a-bushwhackin', one a-fightin' wid Morgan, one wid de fever, an' so on. Mars' Andy hisself had a squeak fur his life onct on a time. He wus lyin' on de field bleedin' from seventeen or eighteen wounds, when along comes a calvary man a-swingin' of his saviour—”

“Dee Jay! what in the name of Heaven are you saying?”

“Along comes a calvary man on a big black horse, a-swingin' his saviour in de air till it looked as round as a cart-wheel an' flashed like de moon on fire. Mars' Andy shet his eyes an' begun ter say his prayers; when pop! bang! off went a musket from behind a tree, an' down went Mr. Rider jes' like a grasshopper when a turkey gobbler nips him off a sweet-pertater vine!

“De captin tuk on mightily about our side gittin' beat,” continued Dee Jay, encouraged by my laughter; “he ain't let his hair grow sence Vicksburg fell, an' it turned grisly gray dat same night. It was jes' struck all of a heap. Dat's why de people here think so much o' Mars' Andy. Dey has sech respec' fur his strong feelin's.”

“I wish his strong feelings would lead him to pay his debts,” muttered I.

Mr. Rucker was not so cruel as to stay under a cloud all day. In the afternoon he burst into my room, beaming like the sun to which he had been compared.

“It's all settled, my friend,” he cried.

“What! the debt?”

“Bother the debt! A question of money should not arise between gentlemen.”

“Gentlemen should pay what they owe,” said I, grimly.

“Softly, lad, softly. You are almost on the point of being uncivil, in which case I should have to leave you to yourself.”

Dreading another disappearance on Mr. Rucker's part, I said,

“Really, sir, I had no intention of being uncivil. What is it that is settled?”

“The chase—the hunt for the horny-heeled son of Ham.”

“That joke again?”

“No joke about it. There is an idle fellow here—Bud Kane by name— who was caught hog-stealing about a month back. He has been hiding among the hills, and we think it well to get him off our hands before Christmas.”

“You wouldn't kill the man?”

“Oh no; only scare him a bit. If he gives us a good run we will let him off scot-free. And he is the fleetest scamp in the country. Lucky to be able to offer you such sport.”

“My good Mr. Rucker,” said I, attempting to speak with great moderation, “unequalled as such sport must be, you must allow me to decline a share in it. You know my object in coming here—”

“My dear fellow,” interrupted Rucker, “that is all right. I have plenty of money burning for your pocket. But just now I can't think of anything but the merry hunt! Come! let us have it over, and then to business. I will promise that you shall be fully satisfied. Perhaps, however, you are not a rider?”

It was silly of me, but I was really piqued, and thought I should like to show this rough man of Sarsar whether I could ride or not. I reflected, too, that it might be well to humor his wish and join his hunting-party—it would probably turn out some portentous joke played by the Gentlemen of Sarsar. After it was “played out,” Mr. Rucker could hardly fail to meet my demands, hand over the money, and let me get back to civilization—civilization and Angie Bell.

“Well, well,” said I, carelessly, “get me a decent mount, and I'll join your party,” whereon Mr. Rucker gave a tremendous grin and hurried away.

At a ridiculously early hour the next morning I was aroused by a wild “Halloo!” under my window. Looking out, I saw the Gentlemen of Sarsar in force—some twenty or more vagabond-looking fellows, mounted on horses too nobly built for such riders, all laughing, gesticulating, and occasionally firing at the incautious chickens roosting in the trees about the house. They were rigged out like a lot of banditti. Some were armed with rifles, and all seemed to have equipped themselves with what was left over from their war equipments, including horse-pistols and bowie-knives, cavalry boots and devil-may-care hats. I must say I felt uncommonly ticklish—as much so as if I had been in Arabia with a set of Bedouins inviting me for “sport” to plunder one of the desert caravans. However, I gulped down my scruples with the morning cocktail which we all took at the bar of the Widow Joplin, and listened patiently while Mr. Rucker gasconaded about the wonderful shots he had made, the tremendous leaps his horse had taken over gullies and logs.

“Unless you can stand rip-racing through the country as if you were trying to shake hands with the lightning,” said he, “you had better not try to keep up with the hunt, but take a stand on some overlooking hill —”

“Mr. Rucker,” cried I, “spare yourself any fears for me!”

“All right, then. Let's be off; boys!”

They leaped to their saddles with Texan agility; half a dozen stag-hounds were brought to the front, and with another “Halloo!” we were off.

Never shall I forget that ride. The keen morning air was a stimulus that thrilled every sense to alertness. Mr. Rucker carolled, in a robust voice:


                        “Last night, in my late rambles,
                        All in the isle of Skye,
                        I met a lovely creature,
                        All in the mountains high.”

But the only lovely creature we met was the lady-moon queen of this wild world of wood and mountain and stream, now almost out of sight, as day was beginning to dawn. The hills, near and far, rose like waking giants to meet the pale, blinking stars; lights twinkled from the valley below; little piping birds mingled their shrill notes with the sound of the wood-chopper's axe.

We rode at a brisk trot, Mr. Rucker and I in the rear. Suddenly a cry was heard from one of the advance-guard. I pressed forward, my mind's eye filled with a fine buck who sniffed the “tainted gale” and sprung with beautiful fear from his pursuers. Instead of which I saw a figure on two legs—but


                        “Whether man or woman,
                        Whether ghoul or human,”

I could not tell at the distance—spring across the field as if Satan's fiends were after him.

From this time all is confusion in my memory. Wild, wild riding I recall, and a sense of reckless delight that vented itself in shrill cries to my horse. The sun was just darting up in slim scarlet lances. A light wind blew, and the very drops of blood in my veins seemed to dance like the pine-needles in the wind. What we pursued I no longer knew. I was beside myself with the passion of the chase. Logs, bogs, nor brooks appalled me. Fences and gullies were as shadows leaped over in a dream. The infernal baying of the hounds was music to my ear. Noble sport this, truly! Now and then there was a glimpse of a flying figure—a male Atalanta bounding over the ground with splendid speed; and finally a sudden pull-up—a something at bay—and a sound of rifles snapping and hounds yelping.

“Fire, lad, fire!” cried Mr. Rucker.

“For God's sake tell me—is it a man?”

“Fire in the air, if you have any doubt,” he said, with a great laugh, and firing his own rifle at a tree-top. Wild with excitement, I essayed to do the same. My horse plunged—my gun went off—an awful cry followed the report, and a voice shrieked: “He has killed him! He has shot Bud Kane!”

I leaped from my horse and rushed to the spot. There, truly, lay a man—a muscular, finely-shaped young negro, entirely nude but for a fox—skin thrown over his shoulders. He was panting heavily, and his blood was staining the yellow sedge-grass.

I could not believe my eyes. I was almost distracted. Had I done this horrible deed? Had I slain an inoffensive fellow-creature, whose hands were certainly clean toward me, no matter how many Sarsar hogs he had stolen? Innocent I felt myself, yet guilty with a horrible guiltiness; for there lay the poor wretch bleeding, like Marco Bozzaris, and not a man among them all spoke a word of comfort.

III.

A LITTER was made of the boughs of pine-trees and Bud Kane lifted upon it. Mr. Rucker and I rode in advance of the bearers, to prepare Bud's mother for the reception of her son.

“Man alive!” cried Andy, impatiently, “why did you not fire in the air? Did you not see we were all doing so?”

“I saw nothing. Why did you lead me into such a devil's business?”

“My dear Merewether,” he said in a cool, dry tone, “like Shakspeare' s Jew, you bettered my instruction.”

At the door of a particularly mean-looking cabin Mr. Rucker called a halt. A veritable hag sat in the door-way—old, black, lean, and wrinkled, but with a head of crisp wool as bushy as a box-plant. This person was engaged in the curious operation of “roping” her hair—that is, dividing it into small strands, each one of which was wrapped tightly to its end with a white cotton string.

“Hello, Aunt Diana!” said Mr. Rucker.

“Why, Mars' Andy! Dat you? What brings you here dis hour in de mornin'? Want a drink o' buttermilk?”

“No; I've some bad news for you. Bud has met with an accident.”

“What's dat you tell me?”

She sprung to her feet. Anything more uncanny and witch-like than her appearance cannot be imagined. On one side of her head her hair stood out like an electrified mane, evidently fresh from a vigorous carding; on the other it lay flat in little snaky cotton twists. Her eyes rolled till they seemed all white. One hand was on her hip; the other stretched toward us with clinched fist.

Mr. Rucker ran over the details of the accident without mentioning my name. But she pinned me on the spot.

“I s'pose you did it,” she said, “seein' as you are a stranger? Der ain't none o' de boys here would a-been so clumsy.”

“Yes, my horse reared, and my gun went off accidentally. I am very sorry—”

“Sorrow don't butter no corn-pone,” she interrupted, in a high key. “I mistrusted sompen wrong yesterday when Mars' Andy Rucker wus here persuadin' Bud ter take part in his onmannerly, onchristian rampage.”

“What,” cried I, in a passion in my turn, “it was a sell, then after all?”

Mr. Rucker smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

“You would a-thought so,” screamed Mother Kane, “if you had a-heerd him beggin' Bud an' bribin' him to take de job. Bud warn's noways anxious to dress hisself up in a fox-skin an' go tarin' over de country, an' let de hounds be turned loose on him. But says Mars' Andy, 'We will post horses in de thickets, so that you can ride from one point to annudder, an' save your strength to dash across de open fields an' keep ahead o' de hunt. An' it will be a big frolic, Bud,' he says; 'an' when it's done you shell have a quart o' rum an' five dollars fur de night's work.' Five dollars looked big enough to cover de sun an' moon, it did! So he gin his consent, an'

here's de end of it—Bud killed, an' me left ter scuffle along de heavenly powers knows how!”

She threw her apron over her head and began to weep.

“I knowed mischief wus comin',” she sobbed. “Twarn't on'y las' week dat ole Debby, de witch 'ooman, tole my fortune on de shoulder-blade of a sheep, an' likewise de bres' bone of a goose. 'Troubles dark an' many,' she says, 'an' a funeral in de house, an' a hard row ter hoe!' An' I jis tell you, young man”—dropping her apron and shaking her extraordinary old head at me—“I'll have de law of you. Dis ain't nuthin' short of murder, it ain't.”

“It was an accident,” I cried; “and whatever I can do to make amends you may be sure I will do.”

“Den you kin jist hen' me over some money fur de funeral expenses an' odder matters.”

“How much do you want?”

“Jes' put it to yourself, sir. Don't you think if you wus tore away from your pa, an' his ole age left widout support, he would ax a purty high figger to cover de loss?”

“I think,” said I, with much internal bitterness, “if my father could see me at this moment he would think twenty-five dollars a high value for my head.”

“Well, gimme dat, marster, an' I'll be satisfied.”

I handed her the sum, and we left the house, just as the men bearing Bud on the litter came in sight and the old mother began her distracting screams.

“Rucker,” said I, as we rode away—“Rucker”—and my voice trembled with rage—“as I am a living man you shall give me satisfaction for this.”

“Let a harmless jest go by,” he said, coldly, “and consider your own position. I am bound to tell you that you are in some danger. The negroes here are a wild lot, and, backed by certain lawless white men I could mention, would just as soon lynch you as not.”

“That I own would be quite in keeping with what I have seen of the Gentlemen of Sarsar.”

“We will discuss the matter farther when you are rested. You look fagged out,” said Mr. Rucker, with an air of paternal interest.

At the Widow Joplin's I shut myself into my room, and, throwing myself on my bed, fell into as profound a sleep as if to shoot a man before breakfast was nothing more serious than to bag a lot of birds.

Toward noon Mr. Rucker came back. His face was drawn into solemn lines, his ringlets hung damp and uncurled.

“Kane is dead,” he said.

“No!”

“The wound seemed a trifle at first; but traumatic tetanus set in, and he went off like a shot.”

“I would give my right hand to undo this morning's work.”

“Come, man, don't be cast down. My advice is that you come with me at once to a magistrate and give yourself up. I will go bail for your appearance at the April court. I need not ask if you will be sure to be on hand?”

“If I allow you to be my bondsman such a question is an insult,” said I, haughtily.

“Exactly. I will go your bail for—say two thousand dollars. And since this sum, like the rod of Aaron, swallows up the smaller amount you came to collect, we will let that matter rest over until you come on to your trial—eh?”

“I am in your hands, Mr. Rucker,” said I, fiercely, and feeling like a rat in a trap, “and have no alternative but to do as you suggest. But my father will be here as my legal adviser, and I can tell you this whole thing will be well sifted.”

“Your father may count on my aid and friendship,” said Mr. Rucker, with the air of a generous potentate, “both for his sake and yours.”

As he spoke there was a rap at the door, and a trim mulatto girl answered to my “Come in.” There was a gypsy beauty in her bold black eyes, and mischief lurked in the corners of her mouth; but she made a tolerably modest courtesy, and said,

“If you please, sir, I wus gwine ter be married.”

“That is not surprising,” said Mr. Rucker, seeing me at a loss how to reply to this unexpected confidence. “I should think all the young bucks in the country would be after you.”

“I ain't gwine ter boast o' dat, Mars' Andy, for you knows I never wus one o' dem flirtin', owdacious gals dat would jest as soon sleep in de calaboose as anywhar else. But I wus gwine ter marry decent an' respectable as any white lady, an' have a gold ring an' piller-shams. An' now he's gone an' got killed, and I ain't got nobody ter marry; and I jes' wish I was dead, too.”

Here she began to weep, and, with a pang at the heart, I realized that before me stood another victim of my fatal shot. It was Bud Kane whom she was to marry!

“My poor girl—” said I.

“Don't you poor girl me!” she cried, viciously. “I'm jest as free as anybody, and I don't want no foolin' nor soft talk from you nor no other white gentleman!”

“Well, what do you want?” said I, roughly.

“My circumstances is these,” she said, checking her tears: “that I have give up a good place I had at five dollars a month, an' have spent all my savin's an' givin's a-buyin' weddin' clothes an' a feather-bed, which I am meanin' to swap off to the Widder Joplin for the tombstone of her fust husband, an' set it up over poor Bud; the verses on it bein' ekally upproprite, as they only says:


                        'He wus too bright fur earth,
                        He wus taken from our hearth.
                        Of angels ther wus a dearth,
                        So they welcomed him with mirth.' “

“That is a fine idea of yours,” said Mr. Rucker; “but you wander from the point.”

“No, sir, I'm jest a-comin' to it. Seein' as I am all throwed out an' disadvantaged, I thought if I had ten or twelve dollars I could go to town, an' git a place an' earn my livin'; an' it looked like de gentleman dat shot Bud ought tu holp me along a little to kerry out my projecs an' git de better o' my afflictions.”

My hand was in my pocket. I pulled it out holding a bill, and bade good-bye to Bud Kane's interesting sweetheart.

“You did well,” said Mr. Rucker; “a policy of conciliation now, by all means.”

Our business at the magistrate's was soon transacted; but after leaving his office we found it a matter of difficulty to get past the crowd. A mob of negroes had collected, and muttered threats made my blood run cold. Plainly Sarsar was no longer a safe place for me.

On reaching the inn I found myself awaited at the door of my room by an imposing-looking old darkey, with white hair and a stout cane.

“Good-day, sir,” said he. “If your name is young Mr. Merewether I would like a few words wid you.”

“All right, uncle; come in.” And I threw open the door and flung myself into a chair.

“Give me de satisfacshun to intreduce myse'f,” said the old man, with dignity, “as de parster of de Fust Methodis' Church, limited.”

“Limited to what?” said I, profanely.

“To de godly an' to de seekers; an' to dis latter class our departed brudder, Bud Kane, belonged. He wus a seekin' sperrit.”

“Bud Kane again!”

“Dat pore wild lad lost his life as so many of our color loses der manly sperrit—by submittin' to de white folks as if dey wus monkeys instid o' men. But, in despite of Bud bein' in some sort a son of Belial, he wanted ter do what wus right; an' he hed agreed ter give us a small sum toward erectin' a edifice fur prayer an' praise, de present meetin'-house bein' subject to rats, an' bats, an' rain, an' de bad boys of Sarsar.”

“I really don't see how this matter concerns me!” cried I, though, alas! I did see with fatal clearness what he was after.

“I wus thinkin', marster,” he said, severely, “dat it mought be a sort o' balm o' Gilead to your conscience to supply dat sum.”

“Better give him a trifle,” whispered Mr. Rucker; “he has great influence among the blacks.”

There was no help for it. A five-dollar bill passed from my keeping into that of the “parster of the Fust Methodis' Church, limited.”

I began to pack my portmanteau.

“What are you about?” said Mr. Rucker.

“About to leave your town. I can catch the night train at L —- by making good speed.”

“So you can; but take my advice again and leave that luggage.”

“Leave my portmanteau? But why?”

“You won't be allowed to get away. The people are keeping watch. I can manage it, however. Start out with me as if for a friendly ride, and we can get on to L —- with nobody the wiser; but if you start out with that carpet-sack I won't answer for the consequences. I can send it after you in a day or so.”

Again I had to submit—anything to get out of the accursed place.

We mounted our horses, Mr. Rucker ostentatiously remarking that we were going out for a little ride.

“You won't let him get away, Mars' Andy?” cried a voice.

“Have no fear, boys—he is in Andy Rucker's charge!” exclaimed another.

Once away from them, I thought my trials at an end. But there were yet other ordeals in store. From a cabin a shade more dingy than Mother Kane's there rushed out a fat black female, with three or four children hanging to her skirts.

“Stop, stop, gentlemen!” she cried, and we reined in accordingly. She laid her hand on the bridle of my horse.

“Ain't you de gentleman dat killed Bud Kane?” she asked.

Bud Kane's name was fast becoming the red rag to the bull.

“What's that to you?” roared I.

“Jest this, sir—these is Bud's chillern.”

“I wonder if there is anything or anybody in this town that Bud Kane is not in some way connected with?” said I, violently. “I suppose you want a little money to buy a black frock?”

“I ain't pertickeler es ter the frock, but I need the money powerful bad to help raise the chillern, fur Bud always wus mighty fond of 'em" —and she too began to weep. “He always said he meant ter have Julius Caesar educated. He wus de favorite, because he wus de oldest, an' de fust chile Bud ebber had. Den he made a gret pet o' Leonidas, because he wus de youngest an' prized accordin'; an' de gal—Mary Margeret—”

“Why, look here,” said I, “I have just seen a girl who told me she was going to marry Bud.”

“Yes, sir, he tole me he wus gwine ter marry. He wanted me to have him, but lor! I wouldn't marry Bud, because he didn't belong to de church!

I looked at Mr. Rucker. A grin convulsed his features. There was nothing to be said. I gave some money to the worthy matron, and we rode on.

At last we were well out of Sarsar, and my spirits began to rise. Suddenly we heard the clatter of a horse's hoofs coming after us at a rapid gallop.

“We are pursued!” said Mr. Rucker.

“Let me give him a run for it,” I cried.

“No, no; wait here; guilt flies; you risk nothing in facing whomsoever it may be.”

The pursuer turned out to be a lean little man, who introduced himself as Dr. Mellar.

“I heard you were about leaving town, Mr. Merryfield,” he said, briskly—“Merewether?—excuse me—and I wanted to mention to you a little bill for attendance on the negro, Bud Kane—his mother being unable to pay—and hearing you had a fine feeling of honor—”

I got down from my horse, squared my elbows, doubled my fists. “Come on!” said I.

“Are you mad?” cried the little doctor; and wheeling his horse sharply round, he fled back to Sarsar.

Before I mounted again I deliberately loaded my pistol.

“This is a seven-shooter,” said I to Mr. Rucker. “One ball is for the undertaker, one for the grave-digger, the odd ones for any of the mourners who may wish to be paid for weeping at Bud Kane's funeral.”

“I think,” cried Mr. Rucker, reeling slightly in his saddle, as if convulsed by some internal emotion—“I really think we have seen the last of them. You may shake the dust from your feet, Mr. Merewether— you are out of Sarsar.”

It was shortly before Christmas that this adventure befell me. Christmas-day dawned brightly, as it seemed, to all the world but me. I had no heart to go to church, feeling in no mood for the jubilant services. I was alone in the house, and when there came a ring at the bell I answered the door. There stood a remarkably tall, lithe negro man, with my portmanteau in one hand, and in the other a little covered basket.

“Christmas-gift, marster!” he cried.

“Merry Christmas to you. You can get a glass of eggnog in the kitchen. I see you are from Sarsar. You have brought back my portmanteau.”

“Yes, sir. Looks like you ought to know me by name, young marster. You nearly shot my head off onct. Don't you remember Bud Kane?”

Bud Kane!

“Yes, sir; dat's me. Mars' Andy tole you I wus dead; but dat wus jest a joke o' his. Somebody axed him what made him act so hateful to you, an' he said onct afar wus two men standin' on de Court-house steps, an' one of 'em ups and knocks de odder off de steps; an' dey had him up fur 'salt an' battery. An' de judge says, 'What made you knock dat man offen de steps? He wus a stranger ter you, an' not a-coin' no harm.' An' de man says, 'I knows it, judge; I didn't have nothin' agin de fellow; but de truth is, he stood so fair I couldn't help it. ' “

And Bud Kane chuckled as if I would be at no loss to apply his choice anecdote.

“Here's a note Mars' Andy sont you,” he added.

I took the note, and read as follows:

“DEAR MEREWETHER,—I hope you don't bear malice. I know you will be glad that Bud Kane is not dead, and send this note by him to convince you of the fact. Of course tile bail business was a farce; and I return the money you so handsomely shelled out to the various claimants. And I must do myself the justice to say that I had nothing to do with Mother Kane's onslaught; that was unpremeditated and original.

“It is the season of forgiveness, so don't be backward about it. And, in token of amity, accept the pups you admired—we call them Prince and Pauper—and give them to your sweetheart. Come again to Sarsar on a different errand, and I promise you a better welcome from rough old

“ANDY RUCKER.”

“You take those pups back,” said I, “and tell Mr. Rucker that I will accept nothing at his hands.”

“Yes, sir,” said Bud, with a look of drollery; “but can't I have my eggnog befo' I start back? Christmas-time, you know, marster.”

“Oh yes, have all the eggnog you want; and when you are ready to go come to me for a note I shall send to Mr. Rucker.”

Bud Kane disappeared in the direction of the kitchen; and, angry, mortified, humbled in my own esteem, I set myself to the realization of how I had been duped. All the details of the fine joke—just where truth ended and imposture began—I should probably not know until I met Mr. Rucker. Then I promised myself an explanation and an ugly quarrel.

While I brooded over the matter the pups got out of the basket and began to frisk about the room. Then who should come in but Angie, rosy and beautiful, on her way home from church. Down she went on her knees before the little beauties in black-and-tan; and then she went into such raptures over them, and kissed them so many times, that I couldn't stand it, but offered her them and myself on the spot! She accepted the three of us; and the next thing I knew I had Angie, Prince, and Pauper in my arms, and was pressing a first kiss on her smiling lips. Pauper happened to be somewhere between her heart and mine, and in consequence was so cruelly squeezed as to give a piercing howl; but it was a rapturous moment. I loved all the world; I blessed Andy Rucker; and I forgave the Gentlemen of Sarsar!

 
 
 

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