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"YOU HAVE BOUGHT ME.
cording to his wont, were gone from the mantelpiece. Near the door was a large bundle tied up in a sheet. In a state of bewilderment, he asked himself what it all meant. Then a sense of the silence in the street below possessed him. At this hour he was used to hear noises enough-from Hugh Lonney's new bath-house on one side, from Harry Sikes's barber-shop on the other.
A mysterious feeling of terror crept over and helped to sober him. How long had he lain asleep? By degrees he seemed to remember that two or three times he had awakened far enough to drink from the bottle under his pillow, only to sink again into heavier stupefaction. By degrees, too, he seemed to remember that other things had happened-a driving of vehicles this way and that, a hurrying of people along the street. He had thought it the breaking-up of M. Xaupi's ball. More than once had not some one shaken and tried to arouse him? Through the wall of Harry Sikes's barber-shop had he not heard cries of pain-sobs of distress?
WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?"
arching ribs and knotted by crossing muscles; and his shirt-sleeve, falling away to the shoulder from his bent arm, revealed its crowded muscles in the high relief of heroic bronze. For although he had been sold as a vagrant, old King Solomon had in earlier years followed the trade of a digger of cellars, and the strenuous use of mattock and spade had developed every sinew to the utmost. His whole person, now half naked and in repose, was full of the suggestions of unspent power. Only his face, swollen and red, only his eyes, bloodshot and dull, bore the impress of wasted vitality. There, all too plainly stamped, were the passions long since raging and still on fire.
The sunlight had stirred him to but a low degree of consciousness, and some minutes passed before he realized that a stifling, resinous fume impregnated the air. He sniffed it quickly; through the window seemed to come the smell of burning tar. He sat up on the edge of the bed and vainly tried to clear his thoughts.
The room was a clean but poor habitationuncarpeted, whitewashed, with a piece or two of the cheapest furniture, and a row of pegs on one wall, where usually hung those tattered coats and pantaloons, miscellaneously collected, that were his purple and fine linen. He turned his eyes in this direction now and noticed that his clothes were missing. The old shoes had disappeared from their corner; the cigar stumps, picked up here and there in the streets acVOL. XXXVIII.-33.
He staggered to the window, threw open the shutters, and, kneeling at the sill, looked out. The street was deserted. The houses opposite were closed. Cats were sleeping in the silent doorways. But as he looked up and down he caught sight of people hurrying along cross-streets. From a distant lumber-yard came the muffled sound of rapid hammerings. On the air was the faint roll of vehicles - the hush and the vague noises of a general terrifying commotion.
In the middle of the street below him a keg was burning, and, as he looked, the hoops gave way, the tar spread out like a stream of black lava, and a cloud of inky smoke and deep-red furious flame burst upward through the sagging air. Just beneath the window a common cart had been backed close up to the door of the house. In it had been thrown a few small articles of furniture, and on the bottom bedclothes had been spread out as if for a pallet. While he looked old Charlotte hurried out with a pillow.
He called down to her in a strange, unsteady voice:
"What is the matter? What are you doing, Aunt Charlotte?"
She uttered a cry, dropped the pillow, and stared up at him. Her face looked dry and wrinkled.
"My God! De chol'ra 's in town! I'm waitin' on you! Dress, en come down en fetch
tidd'y mohnin' -all day, en all las' night, en dis mohnin'! De man he done lock up de huss, en dey been buryin' 'em in cyarts. En de grave-diggah he done run away, en hit look like d' ain' nobody to dig de graves."
She bent over the bundle, tying again the four corners of the sheet. Through the window came the sound of the quick hammers driving nails. She threw up her arms into the air, and then seizing the bundle dragged it rapidly to the door.
"You heah dat? Dey nailin' up cawfins in de lumbah-yahd! Put on yo' clo'es, honey, en come on."
A resolution had suddenly taken shape in his mind.
"Go on away and save your life. Don't wait for me; I'm not going. And good-bye, Aunt Charlotte, in case I don't see you any more. You 've been very kind to me-kinder than I deserved. Where have you put my mattock and spade?"
He said this very quietly and sat up on the edge of the bed, his feet hanging down, and his hand stretched out towards her.
Honey," she explained coaxingly, from where she stood," can't you sobah up a little en put on yo' clo'es? I gwine to tek you 'way to de country. You don' wan' no tools. You can' dig no cellahs now. De chol'ra 's in town en de people 's dyin' like sheep."
de bun'le by de dooh." And she hurried back into the house.
But he continued leaning on his folded arms, his brain stunned by the shock of the intelligence. Suddenly he leaned far out and looked down at the closed shutters of the barber-shop. Old Charlotte reappeared.
"Where is Harry Sikes?" he asked. "Dead en buried."
"When did he die?" "Yestidd'y evenin'." "What day is this?" "Sadd'y."
M. Xaupi's ball had been on Thursday evening. That night the cholera had broken out. He had lain in his drunken stupor ever since. Their talk had lasted but a minute, but she looked up anxiously and urged him.
"D' ain' no time to was'e, honey! D' ain' no time to was'e. I done got dis cyart to tek you 'way in, en I be ready to start in a minute. Put yo' clo'es on en bring de bun'le wid all yo' yudder things in it."
With incredible activity she climbed into the cart and began to roll up the bedclothes. In reality she had made up her mind to put him into the cart somehow, and the pallet had been made for him to lie and finish his drunken sleep on, while she drove him away to a place of safety.
Still he did not move from the window-sill. He was thinking of Harry Sikes, who had shaved him many a time for nothing. Then he suddenly called down to her :
"Have many died of the cholera? Are there many cases in town?"
She went on with her preparations and took no notice of him. He repeated the question. She got down quickly from the cart and began to mount the staircase. He went back to bed, pulled the sheet up over him, and propped himself up among the pillows. Her soft, heavy footsteps slurred on the stairway as though her strength were failing, and as soon as she entered the room she sank into a chair, overcome with terror. He looked at her with a sudden sense of pity.
"Don't be frightened," he said kindly. "It might only make it the worse for you."
"I can' he'p it, honey," she answered, wringing her hands and rocking herself to and fro; "de ole niggah can' he'p it. If de Lohd jes spah me to git out'n dis town wid you! Honey, ain' you able to put on yo' clo'es?"
"You 've tied them all up in the sheet." "De Lohd he'p de crazy ole niggah!" She started up and tugged at the bundle, and laid out a suit of his clothes, if things so incongruous could be called a suit.
"Have many people died of the cholera?" "Dey been dyin' like sheep ev' since yes
"I expect they will need me," he answered. She perceived now that he was sober. For an instant her own fear was forgotten in an outburst of resentment and indignation.
"Dig graves fuh 'em, when dey put you up on de block en sell you same ez you wuz a niggah! Dig graves fuh 'em, when dey allers callin' you names on de street en makin' fun o' you!
"They are not to blame. I have brought it all on myself."
"But we can' stay heah en die o' de chol'
"You must n't stay. You must go away at once."
"But if I go, who gwine tek cyah o' you?” "Nobody."
She came quickly across the room to the bed, fell on her knees, clasped his feet to her breast, and looked up into his face with an expression of imploring tenderness. Then, with incoherent cries and with sobs and tears, she pleaded with him-pleaded for dear life; his and her own.
It was a strange scene. What historian of the heart will ever be able to do justice to those peculiar ties which bound the heart of the negro in years gone by to a race of not always worthy masters? This old Virginia nurse had known King Solomon when he was a boy playing with
her young master, till that young master died on the way to Kentucky.
At the death of her mistress she had become free, with a little property. By thrift and industry she had greatly enlarged this. Years passed and she became the only surviving member of the Virginian household, which had emigrated early in the century to the blue-grass region. The same wave of emigration had brought in old King Solomon from the same neighborhood. As she had risen in life, he had sunk. She sat on the sidewalks selling her
fused to go. A hurried footstep paused beneath the window and a loud voice called up. The old nurse got up and went to the window. A man was standing by the cart at her door.
"For God's sake let me have this cart to take my wife and little children away to the country! There is not a vehicle to be had in town. I will pay you" He stopped, seeing the distress on her face.
"Is he dead?" he asked, for he knew of her care of old King Solomon.
fruits and cakes; he sat on the sidewalks more "He will die!" she sobbed.
t'ings out on de pavement. I gwine t' stay
He brushed his hand quickly across his eyes as she knelt before him now, clasping his feet to her bosom. From coaxing him as an intractable child she had, in the old servile fashion, fallen to imploring him, with touching forgetfulness of their real relations :
"O my marseter! O my marseter Solomon! Go 'way en save yo' life, en tek yo' po' ole niggah wid you!"
But his resolution was formed, and he re
A LITTLE later, dressed once more in grotesque rags and carrying on his shoulder a rusty mattock and a rusty spade, old King Solomon appeared in the street below and stood looking up and down it with an air of anxious indecision. Then shuffling along rapidly to the corner of Mill street, he turned up towards Main.
Here a full sense of the terror came to him. A man, hurrying along with his head down, ran full against him and cursed him for the delay:
"Get out of my way, you old beast!" he
cried. "If the cholera would carry you off it would be a blessing to the town."
Two or three little children, suddenly orphaned and hungry, wandered past, crying and wringing their hands. A crowd of negro men with the muscles of athletes, some with naked arms, some naked to the waist, their eyes dilated, their mouths hanging open, sped along in tumultuous disorder. The plague had broken out in the hemp factory and scattered them beyond all control.
He grew suddenly faint and sick. His senses swam, his heart seemed to cease beating, his tongue burned, his throat was dry, his spine like ice. For a moment the contagion of deadly fear overcame him, and, unable to stand, he reeled to the edge of the sidewalk and sat down.
Before him along the street passed the flying people-men on horseback with their wives behind and children in front, families in carts and wagons, merchants in two-wheeled gigs and sulkies. A huge red and yellow stagecoach rolled ponderously by, filled within, on top, in front, and behind with a company of riotous students of law and of medicine. A rapid chorus of voices shouted to him as they passed:
"Good-bye, old Solomon!"
"The cholera 'll have you befoah sunset!" "Dig yoah grave, old Solomon! That'll be yoah last cellah."
Dig us a big wine cellah undah the Medical Hall while we are away."
"And leave yo' body there! We want to use yo' skeleton."
'Good-bye, old Solomon!"
A wretched carry-all passed with a household of more wretched women; their tawdry and gay attire, their haggard and painted and ghastly faces, looking horrible in the blaze of the pitiless sunlight. They, too, simpered and hailed him and spent upon him their hardened and degraded badinage. Then there rolled by a high-swung carriage, with the most luxurious of cushions, upholstered with white satin, with a coat-of-arms, a driver and a footman in livery, and drawn by sparkling, prancing horses. Lying back on the satin cushions a fine gentleman; at the window of the carriage two rosy children, who pointed their fingers at the vagrant and turned and looked into their father's face, so that he leaned forward, smiled, leaned back again, and was whirled away to a place of safety.
Thus they passed him, as he sat down on the sidewalk-even physicians from their patients, pastors from their stricken flocks. Why should not he flee? He had no ties, except the faithful affection of an old negress. Should he not at least save her life by going away, seeing that she would not leave him?
The orphaned children wandered past again, sobbing more wearily. He called them to him. "Why do you not go home? Where is your mother?" he asked.
"She is dead in the house," they answered; "and no one has come to bury her.”
Slowly down the street was coming a short funeral train. It passed-a rude cortége: a common cart in the bottom of which rested a box of plain boards containing the body of the old French dancing-master; walking behind it, with a cambric handkerchief to his eyes, the old French confectioner; at his side, wearing the robes of his office and carrying an umbrella to ward off the burning sun, the beloved Bishop Smith; and behind them, two by two and with linked arms, perhaps a dozen men, most of whom had been at the ball.
No head was lifted or eye turned to notice the vagrant seated on the sidewalk. But when the train had passed he rose, laid his mattock and spade across his shoulder, and, stepping out into the street, fell into line at the end of the procession.
They moved down Short street to the old burying-ground, where the churchyard is today. As they entered it, two grave-diggers passed out and hurried away. Those before them had fled. They had been at work but a few hours. Overcome with horror at the sight of the dead arriving more and more rapidly, they, too, deserted that post of peril. No one was left. Here and there in the churchyard could be seen bodies awaiting interment. ́Old King Solomon stepped quietly forward and, getting down into one of the half-finished graves, began to dig.
The vagrant had happened upon an avoca
ALL summer long, Clatterbuck's dancingpavilion was as silent in its grove of oaks as a temple of the Druids, and his pleasure-boat nestled in its moorings, with no hand to feather an oar in the little lake. All summer long, no athletic young Kentuckians came to bathe their white bodies in Hugh Lonney's new bathhouse for twelve and a half cents, and no one read Daukins Tegway's advertisement that he was willing to exchange his Dunstable bonnets for flax and feathers. The likely runaway boy, with a long, fresh scar across his face, was never found, nor the buffalo bull roasted for Daniel Webster, and Peter Leuba's guitars were never thrummed on any moonlighted verandas. Only Dewees & Grant were busy, dispensing, not snuff, but calomel.
Grass grew in the deserted streets. Gardens became little wildernesses of rank weeds and riotous creepers. Around shut window-lattices
cotton saturated with camphor. Oftener the only visible figure in the streets was that of a faithful priest going about among his perishing fold, or that of the bishop moving hither and thither on his ceaseless ministrations.
But over all the ravages of that terrible time there towered highest the solitary figure of that powerful grave-digger, who, nerved by the spectacle of the common misfortune, by one heroic effort rose for the time above the wrecks of his own nature. In the thick of
the plague, in the very garden spot of the pestilence, he ruled like an unterrified king. Through days unnaturally chill with gray cloud and drizzling rain, or unnaturally hot with the fierce sun and suffocating damps that appeared to steam forth from subterranean caldrons, he worked unfalteringly, sometimes with a helper, sometimes with none. There were times when, exhausted, he would lie down in the half-dug graves and there sleep until able to go on; and many a midnight found him under the spectral moon, all but hidden by the rank nightshade as he bent over to mark out the lines of one of those narrow mortal cellars.
What weaknesses he fought and conquered through all those days and nights! Out of what unforeseen depths of nature did he draw the tough fiber of such a resolution! To be alone with the pestilential dead at nightis not that a test of imperial courage? To live for weeks braving swift death itself is not that the fierce and ungovernable flaring up of the soul in heroism? For all the mockery and derision of his name, had it not some fitness? For had he not a royal heart?
roses clambered and shed their perfume into the poisoned air, or dropped their faded petals to strew the echoless thresholds. In darkened rooms ancestral portraits gazed on sad vacancy or looked helplessly down on rigid sheeted forms.
In the trees of poplar and locust along the streets the unmolested birds built and brooded, the oriole swung its hempen nest from a bough over the door of the spider-tenanted factory, and in front of the old Medical Hall the blue
ON THE STEPS OF THE COURT-HOUSE.
jay shot up his angry crest and screamed harshly down at the passing bier. In a cage hung against the wall of a house in a retired street a mocking-bird sung, beat its breast against the bars, sung more passionately, grew silent and dropped dead from its perch, never knowing that its mistress had long since become a clod to its full-throated requiem.
Famine lurked threateningly in the wake of the pestilence. Markets were closed. A few shops were kept open to furnish necessary supplies. Now and then might have been seen, driving a meat-wagon in from the country, some old negro, his nostrils stuffed with white
NATURE SOON smiles upon her own ravages and strews our graves with flowers, not as memories, but for other flowers when the spring returns.
It was one cool, brilliant morning late in that autumn. The air blew fresh and invigorating, as though on all the earth there were no corruption, no death. Far southward had flown the plague. A spectator in the open court-square might have seen many signs of life returning to the town. Students hurried along, talking eagerly. Merchants met for the first time and spoke of the winter trade. An old negress, gaily and neatly dressed, came into the market-place, and sitting down on a sidewalk displayed her yellow and red apples