To Jules St.-Ange—elegant little heathen—there yet remained at manhood a remembrance of having been to school, and of having been taught by a stony-headed Capuchin that the world is round—for example, like a cheese. This round world is a cheese to be eaten through, and Jules had nibbled quite into his cheeseworld already at twenty-two.
He realized this as he idled about one Sunday morning where the intersection of Royal and Conti streets some seventy years ago formed a central corner of New Orleans. Yes, yes, the trouble was he had been wasteful and honest. He discussed the matter with that faithful friend and confidant, Baptiste, his yellow body-servant. They concluded that, papa’s patience and tante’s pin-money having been gnawed away quite to the rind, there were left open only these few easily enumerated resorts: to go to work—they shuddered; to join Major Innerarity’s filibustering expedition; or else—why not?—to try some games of confidence. At twenty-two one must begin to be something. Nothing else tempted; could that avail? One could but try. It is noble to try; and, besides, they were hungry. If one could “make the friendship” of some person from the country, for instance, with money, not expert at cards or dice, but, as one would say, willing to learn, one might find cause to say some “Hail Marys.”
The sun broke through a clearing sky, and Baptiste pronounced it good for luck. There had been a hurricane in the night. The weed-grown tile-roofs were still dripping, and from lofty brick and low adobe walls a rising steam responded to the summer sunlight. Upstreet, and across the Rue du Canal, one could get glimpses of the gardens in Faubourg Ste.-Marie standing in silent wretchedness, so many tearful Lucretias, tattered victims of the storm. Short remnants of the wind now and then came down the narrow street in erratic puffs heavily laden with odors of broken boughs and torn flowers, skimmed the little pools of rain-water in the deep ruts of the unpaved street, and suddenly went away to nothing, like a juggler’s butterflies or a young man’s money.
It was very picturesque, the Rue Royale. The rich and poor met together. The locksmith’s swinging key creaked next door to the bank; across the way, crouching, mendicant-like, in the shadow of a great importing-house, was the mud laboratory of the mender of broken combs. Light balconies overhung the rows of showy shops and stores open for trade this Sunday morning, and pretty Latin faces of the higher class glanced over their savagely pronged railings upon the passers below. At some windows hung lace curtains, flannel duds at some, and at others only the scraping and sighing one-hinged shutter groaning toward Paris after its neglectful master.
M. St.-Ange stood looking up and down the street for nearly an hour. But few ladies, only the inveterate mass-goers, were out. About the entrance of the frequent cafés the masculine gentility stood leaning on canes, with which now one and now another beckoned to Jules, some even adding pantomimic hints of the social cup.
M. St.-Ange remarked to his servant without turning his head that somehow he felt sure he should soon return those bons that the mulatto had lent him.
“What will you do with them?”
“Me!” said Baptiste, quickly; “I will go and see the bull-fight in the Place Congo.”
“There is to be a bull-fight? But where is M. Cayetano?”
“Ah, got all his affairs wet in the tornado. Instead of his circus, they are to have a bull-fight—not an ordinary bull-fight with sick horses, but a buffalo-and-tiger fight. I would not miss it——”
Two or three persons ran to the opposite corner, and commenced striking at something with their canes. Others followed. Can M. St.-Ange and servant, who hasten forward—can the Creoles, Cubans, Spaniards, San Domingo refugees, and other loungers—can they hope it is a fight? They hurry forward. Is a man in a fit? The crowd pours in from the side-streets. Have they killed a so-long snake? Bareheaded shopmen leave their wives, who stand upon chairs. The crowd huddles and packs. Those on the outside make little leaps into the air, trying to be tall.
“What is the matter?”
“Have they caught a real live rat?”
“Who is hurt?” asks some one in English.
“Personne,” replies a shopkeeper; “a man’s hat blow’ in the gutter; but he has it now. Jules pick’ it. See, that is the man, head and shoulders on top the res’.”
“He in the homespun?” asks a second shopkeeper. “Humph! an Américain—a West-Floridian; bah!”
“But wait; ’st! he is speaking; listen!”
“To who is he speak——?”
“Sh-sh-sh! to Jules.”
“Silence, you! To Jules St.-Ange, what howe me a bill since long time. Sh-sh-sh!”
Then the voice was heard.
Its owner was a man of giant stature, with a slight stoop in his shoulders, as if he was making a constant, good-natured attempt to accommodate himself to ordinary doors and ceilings. His bones were those of an ox. His face was marked more by weather than age, and his narrow brow was bald and smooth. He had instantaneously formed an opinion of Jules St.-Ange, and the multitude of words, most of them lingual curiosities, with which he was rasping the wide-open ears of his listeners, signified, in short, that, as sure as his name was Parson Jones, the little Creole was a “plum gentleman.”
M. St.-Ange bowed and smiled, and was about to call attention, by both gesture and speech, to a singular object on top of the still uncovered head, when the nervous motion of the Américain anticipated him, as, throwing up an immense hand, he drew down a large roll of bank-notes. The crowd laughed, the West-Floridian joining, and began to disperse.
“Why, that money belongs to Smyrny Church,” said the giant.
“You are very dengerous to make your money expose like that, Misty Posson Jone’,” said St.-Ange, counting it with his eyes.
The countryman gave a start and smile of surprise.
“How d’dyou know my name was Jones?” he asked; but, without pausing for the Creole’s answer, furnished in his reckless way some further specimens of West-Floridian English; and the conciseness with which he presented full intelligence of his home, family, calling, lodging-house, and present and future plans, might have passed for consummate art, had it not been the most run-wild nature. “And I’ve done been to Mobile, you know, on business for Bethesdy Church. It’s the on’yest time I ever been from home; now you wouldn’t of believed that, would you? But I admire to have saw you, that’s so. You’ve got to come and eat with me. Me and my boy ain’t been fed yit. “What might one call yo’ name? Jools? Come on, Jools. Come on, Colossus. That’s my niggah—his name’s Colossus of Rhodes. Is that yo’ yallah boy, Jools? Fetch him along, Colossus. It seems like a special providence.—Jools, do you believe in a special providence?”
Jules said he did.
The new-made friends moved briskly off, followed by Baptiste and a short, square, old negro, very black and grotesque, who had introduced himself to the mulatto, with many glittering and cavernous smiles, as “d’body-sarvant of d’Rev’n’ Mr. Jones.”
Both pairs enlivened their walk with conversation. Parson Jones descanted upon the doctrine he had mentioned, as illustrated in the perplexities of cotton-growing, and concluded that there would always be “a special providence again’ cotton untell folks quits a-pressin’ of it and haulin’ of it on Sundays!”
“Je dis,” said St.-Ange, in response, “I thing you is juz right. I believe, me, strong-strong in the improvidence, yes. You know my papa he hown a sugah-plantation, you know. ’Jules, me son,’ he say one time to me, ’I goin’ to make one baril sugah to fedge the moze high price in New Orleans.’ Well, he take his bez baril sugah—I nevah see a so careful man like me papa always to make a so beautiful sugah et sirop. ’Jules, go at Father Pierre an’ ged this lill pitcher fill with holy-water, an’ tell him sen’ his tin bucket, and I will make it fill with quitte.’ I ged the holy-water; my papa sprinkle it over the baril, an’ make one cross on the ’ead of the baril.”
“Why, Jools,” said Parson Jones, “that didn’t do no good.”
“Din do no good! Id broughd the so great value! You can strike me dead if thad baril sugah din fedge the more high cost than any other in the city. Parce-que, the man what buy that baril sugah he make a mistake of one hundred pound”—falling back—“Mais certainlee!”
“And you think that was growin’ out of the holy-water?” asked the parson.
“Mais, what could make it else? Id could not be the quitte, because my papa keep the bucket, an’ forget to sen’ the quitte to Father Pierre.”
Parson Jones was disappointed.
“Well, now, Jools, you know, I don’t think that was right. I reckon you must be a plum Catholic.”
M. St.-Ange shrugged. He would not deny his faith.
“I am a Catholique, mais”—brightening as he hoped to recommend himself anew—“not a good one.”
“Well, you know,” said Jones—“where’s Colossus? Oh! all right. Colossus strayed off a minute in Mobile, and I plum lost him for two days. Here’s the place; come in. Colossus and this boy can go to the kitchen.—Now, Colossus, what air you a-beckonin’ at me faw?”
He let his servant draw him aside and address him in a whisper.
“Oh, go ’way!” said the parson with a jerk. “Who’s goin’ to throw me? What? Speak louder. Why, Colossus, you shayn’t talk so, saw. ’Pon my soul, you’re the mightiest fool I ever taken up with. Jest you go down that alley-way with this yalla boy, and don’t show yo’ face untell yo’ called!”
The negro begged; the master wrathily insisted.
“Colossus, will you do ez I tell you, or shell I hev to strike you, saw?”
“O Mahs Jimmy, I—I’s gwine; but”—he ventured nearer—“don’t on no account drink nothin’, Mahs Jimmy.”
Such was the negro’s earnestness that he put one foot in the gutter, and fell heavily against his master. The parson threw him off angrily.
“Thar, now! Why, Colossus, you most of been dosted with sumthin’; yo’ plum crazy.—Humph, come on, Jools, let’s eat! Humph! to tell me that when I never taken a drop, exceptin’ for chills, in my life—which he knows so as well as me!”
The two masters began to ascend a stair.
“Mais, he is a sassy; I would sell him, me,” said the young Creole.
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” replied the parson; “though there is people in Bethesdy who says he is a rascal. He’s a powerful smart fool. Why, that boy’s got money, Jools; more money than religion, I reckon. I’m shore he fallen into mighty bad company”—they passed beyond earshot.
Baptiste and Colossus, instead of going to the tavern kitchen, passed to the next door and entered the dark rear corner of a low grocery, where, the law notwithstanding, liquor was covertly sold to slaves. There, in the quiet company of Baptiste and the grocer, the colloquial powers of Colossus, which were simply prodigious, began very soon to show themselves.
“For whilst,” said he, “Mahs Jimmy has eddication, you know—whilst he has eddication, I has ’scretion. He has eddication and I has ’scretion, an’ so we gits along.”
He drew a black bottle down the counter, and, laying half his length upon the damp board, continued:
“As a p’inciple I discredits de imbimin’ of awjus liquors. De imbimin’ of awjus liquors, de wiolution of de Sabbaf, de playin’ of de fiddle, and de usin’ of by-words, dey is de fo’ sins of de conscience; an’ if any man sin de fo’ sins of de conscience, de debble done sharp his fork fo’ dat man.—Ain’t that so, boss?”
The grocer was sure it was so.
“Neberdeless, mind you”—here the orator brimmed his glass from the bottle and swallowed the contents with a dry eye—“mind you, a roytious man, sech as ministers of de gospel and dere body-sarvants, can take a leetle for de weak stomach.”
But the fascinations of Colossus’s eloquence must not mislead us; this is the story of a true Christian; to wit, Parson Jones.
The parson and his new friend ate. But the coffee M. St.-Ange declared he could not touch; it was too wretchedly bad. At the French Market, near by, there was some noble coffee. This, however, would have to be bought, and Parson Jones had scruples.
“You see, Jools, every man has his conscience to guide him, which it does so in——”
“Oh, yes!” cried St.-Ange, “conscien’; thad is the bez, Posson Jone’. Certainlee! I am a Catholique, you is a schismatique; you thing it is wrong to dring some coffee—well, then, it is wrong; you thing it is wrong to make the sugah to ged the so large price—well, then, it is wrong; I thing it is right—well, then, it is right; it is all ’a’bit; c’est tout. What a man thing is right, is right; ’tis all ’a’bit. A man muz nod go again’ his conscien’. My faith! do you thing I would go again’ my conscien’? Mais allons, led us go and ged some coffee.”
“Jools, it ain’t the drinkin’ of coffee, but the buyin’ of it on a Sabbath. You must really excuse me, Jools, it’s again’ conscience, you know.”
“Ah!” said St.-Ange, “c’est very true. For you it would be a sin, mais for me it is only ’a’bit. Rilligion is a very strange; I know a man one time, he thing it was wrong to go to cock-fight Sunday evening. I thing it is all ’a’bit. Mais, come, Posson Jone’; I have got one friend, Miguel; led us go at his house and ged some coffee. Come; Miguel have no familie; only him and Joe—always like to see friend; allons, led us come yonder.”
“Why, Jools, my dear friend, you know,” said the shame-faced parson, “I never visit on Sundays.”
“Never w’at?” asked the astounded Creole.
“No,” said Jones, smiling awkwardly.
“Exceptin’ sometimes amongst church-members,” said Parson Jones.
“Mais,” said the seductive St.-Ange, “Miguel and Joe is church-member’—certainlee! They love to talk about rilligion. Come at Miguel and talk about some rilligion. I am nearly expire for me coffee.”
Parson Jones took his hat from beneath his chair and rose up.
“Jools,” said the weak giant, “I ought to be in church right now.”
“Mais, the church is right yonder at Miguel’, yes. Ah!” continued St.-Ange, as they descended the stairs, “I thing every man muz have the rilligion he like’ the bez—me, I like the Catholique rilligion the bez—for me it is the bez. Every man will sure go to heaven if he like his rilligion the bez.”
“Jools,” said the West-Floridian, laying his great hand tenderly upon the Creole’s shoulder, as they stepped out upon the banquette, “do you think you have any shore hopes of heaven?”
“Yass!” replied St.-Ange; “I am sure-sure. I thing everybody will go to heaven. I thing you will go, et I thing Miguel will go, et Joe—everybody, I thing—mais, hof course, not if they not have been christen’. Even I thing some niggers will go.”
“Jools,” said the parson, stopping in his walk—“Jools, I don’t want to lose my niggah.”
“You will not loose him. With Baptiste he cannot ged loose.”
But Colossus’s master was not reassured.
“Now,” said he, still tarrying, “this is jest the way; had I of gone to church——”
“Posson Jone’,” said Jules.
“I tell you. We goin’ to church!”
“Will you?” asked Jones, joyously.
“Allons, come along,” said Jules, taking his elbow.
They walked down the Rue Chartres, passed several corners, and by and by turned into a cross street. The parson stopped an instant as they were turning and looked back up the street.
“W’at you lookin’?” asked his companion.
“I thought I saw Colossus,” answered the parson, with an anxious face; “I reckon ’twa’n’t him, though.” And they went on.
The street they now entered was a very quiet one. The eye of any chance passer would have been at once drawn to a broad, heavy, white brick edifice on the lower side of the way, with a flag-pole standing out like a bowsprit from one of its great windows, and a pair of lamps hanging before a large closed entrance. It was a theatre, honey-combed with gambling-dens. At this morning hour all was still, and the only sign of life was a knot of little barefoot girls gathered within its narrow shade, and each carrying an infant relative. Into this place the parson and M. St.-Ange entered, the little nurses jumping up from the sills to let them pass in.
A half-hour may have passed. At the end of that time the whole juvenile company were laying alternate eyes and ears to the chinks, to gather what they could of an interesting quarrel going on within.
“I did not, saw! I given you no cause of offence, saw! It’s not so, saw! Mister Jools simply mistaken the house, thinkin’ it was a Sabbath-school! No such thing, saw; I ain’t bound to bet! Yes, I kin git out. Yes, without bettin’! I hev a right to my opinion; I reckon I’m a white man, saw! No, saw! I on’y said I didn’t think you could get the game on them cards. ’Sno such thing, saw! I do not know how to play! I wouldn’t hev a rascal’s money ef I should win it! Shoot, ef you dare! You can kill me, but you cayn’t scare me! No, I shayn’t bet! I’ll die first! Yes, saw; Mr. Jools can bet for me if he admires to; I ain’t his mostah.”
Here the speaker seemed to direct his words to St.-Ange.
“Saw, I don’t understand you, saw. I never said I’d loan you money to bet for me. I didn’t suspicion this from you, saw. No, I won’t take any more lemonade; it’s the most notorious stuff I ever drank, saw!”
M. St.-Ange’s replies were in falsetto and not without effect; for presently the parson’s indignation and anger began to melt. “Don’t ask me, Jools, I can’t help you. It’s no use; it’s a matter of conscience with me, Jools.”
“Mais oui! ’tis a matt’ of conscien’ wid me, the same.”
“But, Jools, the money’s none o’ mine, nohow; it belongs to Smyrny, you know.”
“If I could make jus’ one bet,” said the persuasive St.-Ange, “I would leave this place, fas’-fas’, yes. If I had thing—mais I did not soupspicion this from you, Posson Jone’——”
“Don’t, Jools, don’t!”
“No! Posson Jone’.”
“You’re bound to win?” said the parson, wavering.
“Mais certainement! But it is not to win that I want; ’tis me conscien’—me honor!”
“Well, Jools, I hope I’m not a-doin’ no wrong. I’ll loan you some of this money if you say you’ll come right out ’thout takin’ your winnin’s.”
All was still. The peeping children could see the parson as he lifted his hand to his breast-pocket. There it paused a moment in bewilderment, then plunged to the bottom. It came back empty, and fell lifelessly at his side. His head dropped upon his breast, his eyes were for a moment closed, his broad palms were lifted and pressed against his forehead, a tremor seized him, and he fell all in a lump to the floor. The children ran off with their infant-loads, leaving Jules St.-Ange swearing by all his deceased relatives, first to Miguel and Joe, and then to the lifted parson, that he did not know what had become of the money “except if” the black man had got it.
In the rear of ancient New Orleans, beyond the sites of the old rampart, a trio of Spanish forts, where the town has since sprung up and grown old, green with all the luxuriance of the wild Creole summer, lay the Congo Plains. Here stretched the canvas of the historic Cayetano, who Sunday after Sunday sowed the sawdust for his circus-ring.
But to-day the great showman had fallen short of his printed promise. The hurricane had come by night, and with one fell swash had made an irretrievable sop of everything. The circus trailed away its bedraggled magnificence, and the ring was cleared for the bull.
Then the sun seemed to come out and work for the people. “See,” said the Spaniards, looking up at the glorious sky with its great, white fleets drawn off upon the horizon—“see—heaven smiles upon the bull-fight!”
In the high upper seats of the rude amphitheatre sat the gaily-decked wives and daughters of the Gascons, from the métaries along the Ridge, and the chattering Spanish women of the Market, their shining hair unbonneted to the sun. Next below were their husbands and lovers in Sunday blouses, milkmen, butchers, bakers, black-bearded fishermen, Sicilian fruiterers, swarthy Portuguese sailors, in little woollen caps, and strangers of the graver sort; mariners of England, Germany, and Holland. The lowest seats were full of trappers, smugglers, Canadian voyageurs, drinking and singing; Américains, too—more’s the shame—from the upper rivers—who will not keep their seats—who ply the bottle, and who will get home by and by and tell how wicked Sodom is; broad-brimmed, silver-braided Mexicans, too, with their copper cheeks and bat’s eyes, and their tinkling spurred heels. Yonder, in that quieter section, are the quadroon women in their black lace shawls—and there is Baptiste; and below them are the turbaned black women, and there is—but he vanishes—Colossus.
The afternoon is advancing, yet the sport, though loudly demanded, does not begin. The Américains grow derisive and find pastime in gibes and raillery. They mock the various Latins with their national inflections, and answer their scowls with laughter. Some of the more aggressive shout pretty French greetings to the women of Gascony, and one bargeman, amid peals of applause, stands on a seat and hurls a kiss to the quad-rooms. The mariners of England, Germany, and Holland, as spectators, like the fun, while the Spaniards look black and cast defiant imprecations upon their persecutors. Some Gascons, with timely caution, pick their women out and depart, running a terrible fire of gallantries.
In hope of truce, a new call is raised for the bull: “The bull, the bull!—hush!”
In a tier near the ground a man is standing and calling—standing head and shoulders above the rest—calling in the Américaine tongue. Another man, big and red, named Joe, and a handsome little Creole in elegant dress and full of laughter, wish to stop him, but the flat-boatmen, ha-ha-ing and cheering, will not suffer it. Ah, through some shameful knavery of the men, into whose hands he has fallen, he is drunk! Even the women can see that; and now he throws his arms wildly and raises his voice until the whole great circle hears it. He is preaching!
Ah! kind Lord, for a special providence now! The men of his own nation—men from the land of the open English Bible and temperance cup and song are cheering him on to mad disgrace. And now another call for the appointed sport is drowned by the flat-boatmen singing the ancient tune of Mear. You can hear the words—
“Old Grimes is dead, that good old soul”
—from ribald lips and throats turned brazen with laughter, from singers who toss their hats aloft and roll in their seats; the chorus swells to the accompaniment of a thousand brogans—
“He used to wear an old gray coat
All buttoned down before.”
A ribboned man in the arena is trying to be heard, and the Latins raise one mighty cry for silence. The big red man gets a hand over the parson’s mouth, and the ribboned man seizes his moment.
“They have been endeavoring for hours,” he says, “to draw the terrible animals from their dens, but such is their strength and fierceness, that——”
His voice is drowned. Enough has been heard to warrant the inference that the beasts cannot be whipped out of the storm-drenched cages to which menagerie-life and long starvation have attached them, and from the roar of indignation the man of ribbons flies. The noise increases. Men are standing up by hundreds, and women are imploring to be let out of the turmoil. All at once, like the bursting of a dam, the whole mass pours down into the ring. They sweep across the arena and over the showman’s barriers. Miguel gets a frightful trampling. Who cares for gates or doors? They tear the beasts’ houses bar from bar, and, laying hold of the gaunt buffalo, drag him forth by feet, ears, and tail; and in the midst of the mêlée, still head and shoulders above all, wilder, with the cup of the wicked, than any beast, is the man of God from the Florida parishes!
In his arms he bore—and all the people shouted at once when they saw it—the tiger. He had lifted it high up with its back to his breast, his arms clasped under its shoulders; the wretched brute had curled up caterpillar-wise, with its long tail against its belly, and through its filed teeth grinned a fixed and impotent wrath. And Parson Jones was shouting:
“The tiger and the buffler shell lay down together! You dah to say they shayn’t and I’ll comb you with this varmint from head to foot! The tiger and the buffler shell lay down together. They shell! Now, you, Joe! Behold! I am here to see it done. The lion and the buffler shell lay down together!”
Mouthing these words again and again, the parson forced his way through the surge in the wake of the buffalo. This creature the Latins had secured by a lariat over his head, and were dragging across the old rampart and into a street of the city.
The northern races were trying to prevent, and there was pommelling and knocking down, cursing and knife-drawing, until Jules St.-Ange was quite carried away with the fun, laughed, clapped his hands, and swore with delight, and ever kept close to the gallant parson.
Joe, contrariwise, counted all this child’s-play an interruption. He had come to find Colossus and the money. In an unlucky moment he made bold to lay hold of the parson, but a piece of the broken barriers in the hands of a flat-boatman felled him to the sod, the terrible crowd swept over him, the lariat was cut, and the giant parson hurled the tiger upon the buffalo’s back. In another instant both brutes were dead at the hands of the mob; Jones was lifted from his feet, and prating of Scripture and the millennium, of Paul at Ephesus and Daniel in the “buffler’s” den, was borne aloft upon the shoulders of the huzzaing Américains. Half an hour later he was sleeping heavily on the floor of a cell in the calaboza.
When Parson Jones awoke, a bell was somewhere tolling for midnight. Somebody was at the door of his cell with a key. The lock grated, the door swung, the turnkey looked in and stepped back, and a ray of moonlight fell upon M. Jules St.-Ange. The prisoner sat upon the empty shackles and ring-bolt in the centre of the floor.
“Misty Posson Jone’,” said the visitor, softly.
“Mais, w’at de matter, Posson Jone’?”
“My sins, Jools, my sins!”
“Ah! Posson Jone’, is that something to cry, because a man get sometime a litt’ bit intoxicate? Mais, if a man keep all the time intoxicate, I think that is again’ the conscien’.”
“Jools, Jools, your eyes is darkened—oh! Jools, where’s my pore old niggah?”
“Posson Jone’, never min’; he is wid Baptiste.”
“I don’ know w’ere—mais he is wid Baptiste. Baptiste is a beautiful to take care of somebody.”
“Is he as good as you, Jools?” asked Parson Jones, sincerely.
Jules was slightly staggered.
“You know, Posson Jone’, you know, a nigger cannot be good as a w’ite man—mais Baptiste is a good nigger.”
The parson moaned and dropped his chin into his hands.
“I was to of left for home to-morrow, sun-up, on the Isabella schooner. Pore Smyrny!” He deeply sighed.
“Posson Jone’,” said Jules, leaning against the wall and smiling, “I swear you is the moz funny man I ever see. If I was you I would say, me, ’Ah! ’ow I am lucky! the money I los’, it was not mine, anyhow!’ My faith! shall a man make hisse’f to be the more sorry because the money he los’ is not his? Me, I would say, ’it is a specious providence.’
“Ah! Misty Posson Jone’,” he continued, “you make a so droll sermon ad the bull-ring. Ha! ha! I swear I think you can make money to preach thad sermon many time ad the theatre St. Philippe. Hah! you is the moz brave dat I never see, mais ad the same time the moz rilligious man. Where I’m goin’ to fin’ one priest to make like dat? Mais, why you can’t cheer up an’ be ’a’ppy? Me, if I should be miserabl’ like that I would kill meself.”
The countryman only shook his head.
“Bien, Posson Jone’, I have the so good news for you.”
The prisoner looked up with eager inquiry.
“Las’ evening when they lock’ you, I come right off at M. De Blanc’s house to get you let out of de calaboose; M. De Blanc he is the judge. So soon I was entering—’Ah! Jules, me boy, juz the man to make complete the game!’ Posson Jone’, it was a specious providence! I win in t’ree hours more dan six hundred dollah! Look.” He produced a mass of bank-notes, bons, and due-bills.
“And you got the pass?” asked the parson, regarding the money with a sadness incomprehensible to Jules.
“It is here; it take the effect so soon the daylight.”
“Jools, my friend, your kindness is in vain.”
The Creole’s face became a perfect blank.
“Because,” said the parson, “for two reasons: firstly, I have broken the laws, and ought to stand the penalty; and secondly—you must really excuse me, Jools, you know, but the pass has been got onfairly, I’m afeerd. You told the judge I was innocent; and in neither case it don’t become a Christian (which I hope I can still say I am one) to ’do evil that good may come.’ I muss stay.”
M. St.-Ange stood up aghast, and for a moment speechless, at this exhibition of moral heroism; but an artifice was presently hit upon. “Mais, Posson Jone’!”—in his old falsetto—“de order—you cannot read it, it is in French—compel you to go hout, sir!”
“Is that so?” cried the parson, bounding up with radiant face—“is that so, Jools?”
The young man nodded, smiling; but, though he smiled, the fountain of his tenderness was opened. He made the sign of the cross as the parson knelt in prayer, and even whispered “Hail Mary,” etc., quite through, twice over.
Morning broke in summer glory upon a cluster of villas behind the city, nestled under live-oaks and magnolias on the banks of a deep bayou, and known as Suburb St. Jean.
With the first beam came the West-Floridian and the Creole out upon the bank below the village. Upon the parson’s arm hung a pair of antique saddle-bags. Baptiste limped wearily behind; both his eyes were encircled with broad, blue rings, and one cheek-bone bore the official impress of every knuckle of Colossus’s left hand. The “beautiful to take care of somebody” had lost his charge. At mention of the negro he became wild, and, half in English, half in the “gumbo” dialect, said murderous things. Intimidated by Jules to calmness, he became able to speak confidently on one point; he could, would, and did swear that Colossus had gone home to the Florida parishes; he was almost certain; in fact, he thought so.
There was a clicking of pulleys as the three appeared upon the bayou’s margin, and Baptiste pointed out, in the deep shadow of a great oak, the Isabella, moored among the bulrushes, and just spreading her sails for departure. Moving down to where she lay, the parson and his friend paused on the bank, loath to say farewell.
“O Jools!” said the parson, “supposin’ Colossus ain’t gone home! O Jools, if you’ll look him out for me, I’ll never forget you—I’ll never forget you, nohow, Jools. No, Jools, I never will believe he taken that money. Yes, I know all niggahs will steal”—he set foot upon the gang-plank—“but Colossus wouldn’t steal from me. Good-bye.”
“Misty Posson Jone’,” said St.-Ange, putting his hand on the parson’s arm with genuine affection, “hol’ on. You see dis money—w’at I win las’ night? Well, I win’ it by a specious providence, ain’t it?”
“There’s no tellin’,” said the humbled Jones. “Providence
“‘Moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.’”
“Ah!” cried the Creole, “c’est very true. I ged this money in the mysterieuze way. Mais, if I keep dis money, you know where it goin’ be to-night?”
“I really can’t say,” replied the parson.
“Goin’ to de dev’,” said the sweetly-smiling young man.
The schooner-captain, leaning against the shrouds, and even Baptiste, laughed outright.
“O Jools, you mustn’t!”
“Well, den, w’at I shall do wid it?”
“Any thing!” answered the parson; “better donate it away to some poor man——”
“Ah! Misty Posson Jone’, dat is w’at I want. You los’ five hondred dollar’—’twas me fault.”
“No, it wa’n’t, Jools.”
“Mais, it was!”
“It was me fault! I swear it was me fault! Mais, here is five hondred dollar’; I wish you shall take it. Here! I don’t got no use for money.—Oh, my faith! Posson Jone’, you must not begin to cry some more.”
Parson Jones was choked with tears. When he found voice he said:
“O Jools, Jools, Jools! my pore, noble, dear, misguidened friend! ef you hed of hed a Christian raisin’! May the Lord show you your errors better’n I kin, and bless you for your good intentions—oh, no! I cayn’t touch that money with a ten-foot pole; it wa’n’t rightly got; you must really excuse me, my dear friend, but I cayn’t touch it.”
St.-Ange was petrified.
“Good-bye, dear Jools,” continued the parson. “I’m in the Lord’s haynds, and he’s very merciful, which I hope and trust you’ll find it out. Good-bye!”—the schooner swang slowly off before the breeze—“good-bye!”
St.-Ange roused himself.
“Posson Jone’! make me hany’ow dis promise: you never, never, never will come back to New Orleans.”
“Ah, Jools, the Lord willin’, I’ll never leave home again!”
“All right!” cried the Creole; “I thing he’s willin’. Adieu, Posson Jone’. My faith’! you are the so fighting an’ moz rilligious man as I never saw! Adieu! Adieu!”
Baptiste uttered a cry and presently ran by his master toward the schooner, his hands full of clods.
St.-Ange looked just in time to see the sable form of Colossus of Rhodes emerge from the vessel’s hold, and the pastor of Smyrna and Bethesda seize him in his embrace.
“O Colossus! you outlandish old nigger! Thank the Lord! Thank the Lord!”
The little Creole almost wept. He ran down the tow-path, laughing and swearing, and making confused allusion to the entire personnel and furniture of the lower regions.
By odd fortune, at the moment that St.-Ange further demonstrated his delight by tripping his mulatto into a bog, the schooner came brushing along the reedy bank with a graceful curve, the sails napped, and the crew fell to poling her slowly along.
Parson Jones was on the deck, kneeling once more in prayer. His hat had fallen before him; behind him knelt his slave. In thundering tones he was confessing himself “a plum fool,” from whom “the conceit had been jolted out,” and who had been made to see that even his “nigger had the longest head of the two.”
Colossus clasped his hands and groaned.
The parson prayed for a contrite heart.
“Oh, yes!” cried Colossus.
The master acknowledged countless mercies.
“Dat’s so!” cried the slave.
The master prayed that they might still be “piled on.”
“Glory!” cried the black man, clapping his hands; “pile on!”
“An’ now,” continued the parson, “bring this pore, backslidin’ jackace of a parson and this pore ole fool nigger back to thar home in peace!”
“Pray fo’ de money!” called Colossus.
But the parson prayed for Jules.
“Pray fo’ de money!” repeated the negro.
“And oh, give thy servant back that there lost money!”
Colossus rose stealthily, and tiptoed by his still shouting master. St.-Ange, the captain, the crew, gazed in silent wonder at the strategist. Pausing but an instant over the master’s hat to grin an acknowledgment of his beholders’ speechless interest, he softly placed in it the faithfully mourned and honestly prayed-for Smyrna fund; then, saluted by the gesticulative, silent applause of St.-Ange and the schooner-men, he resumed his first attitude behind his roaring master.
“Amen!” cried Colossus, meaning to bring him to a close.
“Onworthy though I be——” cried Jones.
“Amen!” reiterated the negro.
“A-a-amen!” said Parson Jones.
He rose to his feet, and, stooping to take up his hat, beheld the well-known roll. As one stunned, he gazed for a moment upon his slave, who still knelt with clasped hands and rolling eyeballs; but when he became aware of the laughter and cheers that greeted him from both deck and shore, he lifted eyes and hands to heaven, and cried like the veriest babe. And when he looked at the roll again, and hugged and kissed it, St.-Ange tried to raise a second shout, but choked, and the crew fell to their poles.
And now up runs Baptiste, covered with slime, and prepares to cast his projectiles. The first one fell wide of the mark; the schooner swung round into a long reach of water, where the breeze was in her favor; another shout of laughter drowned the maledictions of the muddy man; the sails filled; Colossus of Rhodes, smiling and bowing as hero of the moment, ducked as the main boom swept round, and the schooner, leaning slightly to the pleasant influence, rustled a moment over the bulrushes, and then sped far away down the rippling bayou.
M. Jules St.-Ange stood long, gazing at the receding vessel as it now disappeared, now reappeared beyond the tops of the high undergrowth; but, when an arm of the forest hid it finally from sight, he turned townward, followed by that fagged-out spaniel, his servant, saying, as he turned, “Baptiste.”
“You know w’at I goin’ do wid dis money?”
“Well, you can strike me dead if I don’t goin’ to pay hall my debts! Allons!”
He began a merry little song to the effect that his sweetheart was a wine-bottle, and master and man, leaving care behind, returned to the picturesque Rue Royale. The ways of Providence are indeed strange. In all Parson Jones’s after-life, amid the many painful reminiscences of his visit to the City of the Plain, the sweet knowledge was withheld from him that by the light of the Christian virtue that shone from him even in his great fall, Jules St.-Ange arose, and went to his father an honest man.