« AnkstesnisTęsti »
THE MAN WHO DIED WITHOUT
BY L. FRANK TOOKER
Author of "The Shanty-Man," "St. George Dragon," etc.
IS' MAME took her pipe from her mouth and gazed curiously up at the sky. It was darkened by an almost impalpable haze, yellow and dry, that had the quality of dust rather than of cloud. Between the trunks of the trees she could see the sun still high in the west; but it seemingly gave forth neither heat nor light. It had the dead aspect of the moon. Not a leaf stirred, and save for an excited twittering of the birds the world seemed soundless. A dusk as of coming night crept along the ground, bringing the women of Love-Lady Court to their doorways as at the close of the day. They stood about in an unusual silence, and, like Sis' Mame, gazed at the sky. Even the children were hushed, and moved about listlessly. Suddenly the long-drawn whistle of the night-singing toby-bird wailed from a thicket above the gorge. Sis' Mame chuckled.
"Dat liddie imp shore thinks da night's done come down," she muttered.
She turned toward the stairs that led out of the court as she spoke, and saw the head and shoulders of Jude Tomes appear over the edge of the ridge. As he caught Sis' Mame's eye he nodded.
"Mighty funny day," he called.
"So 't is, so 't is," she agreed. "Trouble 's er-hatchin'; it 's goin' tow walk in da dahk."
"It got so dahk in da hol' o' da vessel we was wukin' aboa'd dat we knocked off," Jude said. "Ah doan' lak da looks o' da sky an' Ah doan' lak da feel o' da a'r."
Sis' Mame nodded her head. "Heah dat toby-bird holler?" she said. "An' da lizards hab obbe come outen deir holes. 'Quake 's er-comin'; dey knows." Jude looked troubled, and went restlessly back into his house.
It was still half an hour before sunset when he appeared again at his door. No one in Love-Lady Court had thought of
supper, and the square-like opening in front of the houses was filled with people looking up at the sky, now overcast by masses of ragged, purple clouds the overlapping edges of which were of a pulsating reddish tinge from the continuous play of sheet-lightning above them. No rain had fallen, and there was still no wind, but now and then the earth was jarred by the vibrant roll of far-off thunder. Once a dish fell in a house, and a woman screamed with nervous terror.
On the earth it was black night, for no lamps had been lighted, and as Jude moved slowly through the silent groups, a woman came ponderously across the square, swinging her arms above her head and crying in a choking voice: "Da las' day! day! Da las' day!" At her cry, a wailing rose on all sides.
Sis' Mame backed away, and collided with Jude.
'Scuse me, boy," she said. "Yo' sich er liddie pinch o' snuff, Ah did n't see yo'."
Jude was six feet two in his bare feet. He was in them now, though otherwise dressed in his best-pink silk shirt and stiffly starched white trousers. He was dressed for the Blue-bells' ball. Sis' Mame glanced him over and laughed.
"Ah 'm goin' faw tow git Lyde, so Ah dressed faw da ball befo'han'," he said, seeing her look. Lyde was his "beeder," his sweetheart.
"Da whirlwin' o' da Lawd's goin' dance tow-night, boy, not yo'," said Sis' Mame. "No whirlwin' 's goin' tow keep Lyde an' me erpaht," he said. "We 'll dance with it, den."
He turned and went down the stairs and took the path into the town, passing up King Street, and mounting the slope to the residential quarter. As he came to the house where Lyde worked as a waitress, he went around to the side gate and
stopped at the door in the latticed passage that connected the kitchen with the house. Presently Lyde came through with a tray. "Ah 'm er-waitin' faw yo', honey," he whispered.
She smiled, nodded, and passed on, a tall, comely girl who walked with graceful erectness, carrying her head proudly.
Jude went to a bench in the angle of the wall and sat down. Being tired, he lay down with his face to the wall and almost at once was asleep. He awoke at length with a start at the touch of a hand on his cheek.
He did not know how long he had slept, but the change he awoke to was appalling. There was still little thunder, but the play of the lightning was incessant, and looking out from the court, he saw a tall cocoa-palm that stood by the gate bowed down to the ground with the wind. All other upstanding vegetation on the lawn was swept away; the garden wall was down; the stone gate-posts were leveled. Above the roar of the gale, even as he woke, he could hear the crash of falling timbers as buildings were dismantled. The beat of the rain was like the throbbing sound of many drums.
"It come on jes lak dis," Lyde screamed in his ear, "jes lak turnin' ober yo' hand. It was still as er grabe, den all at once lak dis." He drew her close to him.
"We cyan't go yit, honey," he said, and looked up apprehensively, for the wall of the building he leaned against seemed to move on its foundation. It was throbbing like an agitated pulse. "We'll wait till it 's ober."
They heard the crash of falling timber, and the kitchen went out into the darkness like scraps of brown paper. She put her hands over her eyes.
"It'll nebber be ober," she sobbed. "It's da las' day."
He did not hear her. He felt a grating jar through his body, communicated by the wall he leaned against, and rightly surmised that the roof had broken loose and had moved a little on its supporting walls.
He felt the grating jar of the wall again, and then an outward spring as the roof was swept away and fell with a splittering crash. A deluge of water, like a turned-on hose, swept them apart. Then as she was whirled away like an eddying
leaf and he caught her and drew her back to the wall, he knew that it had become their greatest menace.
"We gotter git out," he shouted. "We 'll go down tow da low lan', whah da win' will be lighter. Thank da Lawd, honey, we 're togedder!"
"Yas, honey," she said. It was their last speech together.
He caught her hand and, bracing himself, stepped forth, and stood at once face to face with his own insignificance. Nature caught him up and made a mock of his humanity; he who had gloried in his strength was as a puppet in the grasp of irresistible forces. It cowed him, sapped his courage, sapped his intelligence. As his defeated body was whirled through the night, beaten down to the earth, crushed against walls, there remained with him only one sentient emotion: whatever might happen, he must hold fast to Lyde. In setting out, his thought had been to make his way to lower ground, where the force of the hurricane might be less and the low sugar-houses offer a possible protection.
There came a time when, after interminable hours, as it seemed, he recognized, with a sort of dumb stupor, that he had been driven down to the waterside and that the force of the gale was no less. In flashes of lightning he saw the roadstead before him, white with froth, and flattened by the gale that blew off the land. It was swept as clean as a man's palm, and he had a momentary wonder as to what had become of the ships that at sunset had dotted it with their ridinglights.
There came to him then a new thought: they would be driven into the sea. He felt no fear, but only a dull apathy that it would be the end. They had reached the beach now and directly in the path to a great rock. In the flashes of lightning it loomed before him as the one stable thing in his dissolving world, and he felt that if they might win to its leeward side, there they would find shelter and refuge. Bracing against the wind, and crouching close to the sand, he essayed to reach it.
In the intense blackness that followed a flash of lightning the rock disappeared, and dropping to the ground that he might not be borne past it in the darkness, he braced himself against the gale and the
beat of the torrential rain. He might as well have tried to stop the wheeling earth. It beat him down, it flattened him, it plowed him forward through the wet sand.
He was suddenly aware of a new note in the tumult of sound that beat upon his ears a dull and continuous mutter, like a far-off humming of bees, that rapidly grew louder. As he glanced about him, the heavens were lighted again by a greenish flame, and looking seaward, he saw a huge, black wall raised high across the roadstead beyond the jutting points of the harbor. About its foot the waves broke in white foam.
The lightning ceased, and quick darkness fell, but the humming sound came nearer; then in a returning flash he saw the wall approach the headlands and the headlands melt away. With an inarticulate cry, he tried to rise, but was beaten down by the gale and whirled along the beach with Lyde still in his arms as the black wall of the tidal wave loomed for a moment above their heads and, roaring along the beach, bore them apart in a great rush of on-leaping water.
IT was with shame rather than with grief that Jude sat desolate and heedless amid the ruins of his home. All about him his neighbors in Love-Lady Court were busily patching up their wrecked houses, but he was indifferent. The town was well-nigh destroyed, many people had perished, the shipping in the harbor driven ashore or sunk, and in the general chaos and neglect yellow fever had broken out; but Jude went his own road of sorrow. Bruised, torn, and unconscious, with broken ribs and arm, he had been found in an angle of a wall high up on King Street and carried to his dismantled home. Lyde had not been found. For days, almost without rest, he had searched the littered coast-line for her body.
"Ah broke ma wud," he said; "Ah tol' her Ah 'd nebber leabe her, an' whah is she now? An' Ah am alibe. Ah broke ma wud."
"It was er wud yo' could n't keep, boy," Sis' Mame remonstrated, "an' da Lawd done broke it, not yo'. Yo' yen't no match faw Him, big an' strong as yo' is."
"Ah yen't tow big faw tow keep ma
own wud," he retorted. "An' now Ah gotter keep it; Ah gotter go tow her." "Wait faw er sign," Sis' Mame advised. "It'll come.'
'When?" he demanded. "Wait," she said.
He waited three days, and then one night his huge form suddenly blocked Sis' Mame's doorway. It was late, and she was sitting by her brazier brewing a cup of tea, for she was very weary from caring for the sick. She looked up at him with eyes heavy with sleep.
"Whah 's dat sign, Sis' Mame?" he demanded. "Ah waited lak yo' said, but it doan' come."
"Whah vo' goin'?" she asked.
"Tow Lyde," he answered.
"How yo' goin'?" she asked again.
'She went out on da sea-water, an' Ah 'll foller," he said.
"Yo' know da road?" "Ah 'll fin' it." "Huh!" she grunted. She lifted her cup to her lips and gazed at him as she slowly drank. The fixed stare of her deep-set eyes made him uncomfortable. She liked Jude, and was determined to save him from his own resolution to die. "Come in an' shet da do'," she said sharply.
He came in hesitatingly. She rose, and from a box in the corner of the room brought forth various small articles which, carefully concealed in her hands, she dropped into the brazier, then seated herself again. As the flames rose higher, and a pungent smoke raised a cloudy veil between them, she said curtly:
"Look at da fire, boy! Look at da fire!"
He looked, and presently she began to rock on her heels, muttering to herself, "Come sign! Come sign!" with a monotonous iteration that had a curiously rhythmical quality in its sharply accented cadences.
The strange, pungent odor seemed presently to numb his brain; the words, monotonously uttered, to become, by some curious transference, merely the excited beat of his own heart given a voice. The beating stifled him. He put his hand weakly to his head and wiped away the great drops of perspiration, which felt cold to his hands; the room grew dark; and he saw the fire and the rising incense
only as a mysteriously wavering blur in the general blackness that seemed engulfing him. He moaned, and set his hands to the floor, bracing his swaying body.
It was the moment for which Sis' Mame had been covertly watching, and with a swift change from her singing chant and the slow, rocking motion of her body, she leaned over the brazier with a little exclamation of fervid satisfaction.
"Da sign! da sign!" she muttered. "Dah she is, er-settin' on er golding throne, an' er-smilin' an' er-wavin' yo' back with her han'! Yo' see, boy-da spit an' image o' Sis' Lyde herse'f! An' she 's er-wavin' yo' back. Da time yen't come faw yo' tow go."
And Jude, his imagination made receptive to visions by long fasting and suffering, and now excited by the mysterious obi rites and Sis' Mame's narcotic herbs, saw the vision, and bowed before Sis' Mame's interpretation.
"She said she 'd watch faw me an' wait faw me," he groaned.
"She will," Sis' Mame replied; "but da time yen't ripe yit. She 'll wait in da Lawd's time, not yo's. How come He sabed yo' dat night lak He done, huh? Jes faw meanness? No, seh; yo' gotter wuk tow do firs'."
"What wuk?" he asked.
"Huh! yo' ask dat when da sick an' da dyin' is er-needin' er big, strong man lak yo'?" she exclaimed.
She rose to her feet, and he followed her out of the house and up to the far end of the court. As she turned in toward a door, he put a detaining hand on her arm. It was the house where dwelt a girl of whom Lyde had been jealous, for she had openly shown her liking for Jude.
"Ah cyan't do nuthin' faw Sis' Martha, Sis' Mame," he protested. "Lyde would n't stan' faw dat nohow."
Sis' Mame looked up to him reproachfully.
"Doan' yo' know da dade sees cl'ar?" she demanded. "All dat 's done pass erway with Lyde. What she smile faw, what she wave yo' back faw, huh? Faw tow show she's sorry faw Sis' Martha, an' yo' mus' help her. Now come erlong in."
IN the crowded jumble of menacing and distorted figures that in her delirium.
seemed to Sis' Martha to advance upon her in gigantic shapes, only to contract to mere pin-points and vanish as they drew threateningly near, one figure alone preserved a normal and kindly aspect-the figure of Jude. It became a solace, to be eagerly awaited, and, when at last seen, a potential defense against the oncoming throng of terrifying shapes. It was with no surprise, therefore, that, on awakening to consciousness on the third morning of the fever, Sis' Martha looked up into the anxious and pathetic eyes of Jude as he bent over her in a kindly office. He was bathing her face with a wet cloth, and as she opened her eyes at the cooling touch, he saw that the light of intelligence had returned to them.
"Thank da Lawd!" he exclaimed. "Yo' 's better, chile. Da feber 's done broke'."
She smiled weakly.
"Yo' glad faw dat?" she whispered. "Ah sure is," he replied, with an answering smile.
"Den Ah 's glad," she whispered again. "Ah did n't 'spec' tow be glad no mo'."
"Doan' talk, chile; jes be glad," he cautioned, and began to bathe her face again. She closed her eyes, and lay there, smiling.
She was very weak, but filled with a great content. His mere presence there now, to her childlike nature, seemed an assurance that from his own ruined hopes he had come to her as to a refuge; and as she rapidly grew stronger, she began unconsciously to exercise the coquettish wiles of one who felt she was sought. Her nature was not deep, but she had always admired him, and now she felt that she had become a comfort to him. Once she said:
"Yas, er big heaht," she said. "An' Ah 'm goin' try tow match it with mine." "Yo' match it now," he replied.
"Honey boy!" she whispered happily. Startled, he saw that she misunderstood the significance of his speech, and he looked at her in dumb pathos; but in the look she read only great weariness.
"Now yo' go erway an' res'," she begged. "Ah kin sleep now. Go erway an' res'. Yo' done ernough faw me."
He went out silently, but when he had reached his own door he paused in irresolution.
"What Ah goin' do?" he muttered. "Foh da Lawd! what Ah goin' do?"
He saw Sis' Mame cross the court, going home, and with a sharp resentment against her rising in his heart, he quickly followed her. She turned as his figure darkened her doorway.
"Sis' Mame," he said, "yo' done got me in trouble, an' how yo' goin' git me out?" He explained briefly.
She glared at him with her narrowed old eyes as she said with a laconic sharpness of speech:
"Yen't Sis' Martha er good girl?" "Tow be sure, Sis' Mame," he replied. "Da bes'."
out her strength for him as a mother over her child. She never left him; she slept only in brief moments as she watched by his side; and when on the third day of the fever Sis' Martha, wild with apprehension and grief, dragged herself from her own sick bed to Jude's side, Sis' Mame brutally hushed her wailing and set her to work-she set her to work on a white shroud.
"Well?" She looked him over with well-simulated scorn. "Den what yo' want? Er queen? Yen't she good ernough faw yo', huh?"
He did not answer, and glancing at his face more keenly, she realized that he had not heard. He was slowly rocking on his feet; his face had the blue, pinched look of intense cold. As he weakly passed his hand across his eyes as though to brush away some obscuring mist, he lurched forward, caught himself, and again stood rocking on his feet.
"Ah 'm col'," he said thickly. "Whah's da do'? Ah cyan't see it. What 's da matter with me, Sis' Mame?"
Sis' Mame had sprung to his side, and, leading him toward a pallet, pushed him gently down. In utter collapse he sank back in a huddled heap. Sis' Mame ran to the door, calling for help.
In the days that followed she poured
It was finished at twilight, and as Sis' Mame took it from the girl she walked to the door and gazed down the valley to the roadstead. The long strip of beach under the fringing cocoa-palms gleamed duskily white in the darkening world. A little gleam of her old-time mischief came into her eyes, and she went back to Sis' Martha.
"He'll go out with da fallin' tide," she whispered. "Funny how it draws da breaf o' life outen er man!" She took the weeping girl by the arm, and, lifting her to her feet, gently led her to the door. "Go home, chile, an' res'," she commanded. "Yo' yen't fitten tow stay here. Bumby yo' kin come back."
Too weak to resist, Sis' Martha went away, and Sis' Mame softly closed the door behind her.
"Yen't she pretty?"
"Yas, dat 's so, Sis' Mame."
An hour later, as Sis' Martha went down through Love-Lady Court, returning to Sis' Mame's, the desolation of her
"Yen't she er kin' heaht?"
"Dat 's so, Sis' Mame, jus' lak yo' heart seemed to shadow her whole little
world. Here and there in the open square still smoldered brushwood fires that had been lighted as a preventive against the spread of the fever. Even before she reached Sis' Mame's house she was aware of what had taken place, for two men with spades over their shoulders came out of the gate and hurried away, and as she quickened her pace, a little group that stood back from the door, with eyes intently directed within, stepped silently back and gazed at her curiously. At the door she paused, and with a little moan clutched at her fast-beating heart, for Jude had passed.
He lay on the pallet in the strange majesty of death, clothed in the white shroud that she had made; and even in the first shock of her grief she was not without a certain gratified pride in the mean little pomp and peculiar distinction it gave; for in that dread period of the plague the dead were hurried to their