The Gentlemen of Sarsar by Katherine Sherwood Bonner McDowell
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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,
“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.”
“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
“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
“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,
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
“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,”
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
“It's all settled, my friend,” he cried.
“What! the debt?”
“Bother the debt! A question of money should not arise between
“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
“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
“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
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
Never shall I forget that ride. The keen morning air was a stimulus
that thrilled every sense to alertness. Mr. Rucker carolled, in a
“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.
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
“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
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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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?”
“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
“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
“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
“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
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!