Two Southern Gentlemen

The iron bolt rattled in the lock, the door of a cell swung open, and when Mr. Delamere had entered was quickly closed again.

“Well, Sandy!”

“Oh, Mars John! Is you fell from hebben ter he’p me out er here? I prayed de Lawd ter sen’ you, an’ He answered my prayer, an’ here you is, Mars John⁠—here you is! Oh, Mars John, git me out er dis place!”

“Tut, tut, Sandy!” answered his master; “of course I’ll get you out. That’s what I’ve come for. How in the world did such a mistake ever happen? You would no more commit such a crime than I would!”

“No, suh, ’deed I wouldn’, an’ you know I wouldn’! I wouldn’ want ter bring no disgrace on de fam’ly dat raise’ me, ner ter make no trouble fer you, suh; but here I is, suh, lock’ up in jail, an’ folks talkin’ ’bout hangin’ me fer somethin’ dat never entered my min’, suh. I swea’ ter God I never thought er sech a thing!”

“Of course you didn’t, Sandy,” returned Mr. Delamere soothingly; “and now the next thing, and the simplest thing, is to get you out of this. I’ll speak to the officers, and at the preliminary hearing tomorrow I’ll tell them all about you, and they will let you go. You won’t mind spending one night in jail for your sins.”

“No, suh, ef I wuz sho’ I’d be ’lowed ter spen’ it here. But dey say dey ’re gwine ter lynch me ter-night⁠—I kin hear ’em talkin’ f’m de winders er de cell, suh.”

“Well, I say, Sandy, that they shall do no such thing! Lynch a man brought up by a Delamere, for a crime of which he is innocent? Preposterous! I’ll speak to the authorities and see that you are properly protected until this mystery is unraveled. If Tom had been here, he would have had you out before now, Sandy. My grandson is a genuine Delamere, is he not, Sandy?”

“Yas, suh, yas, suh,” returned Sandy, with a lack of enthusiasm which he tried to conceal from his master. “An’ I s’pose ef he hadn’ gone fishin’ so soon dis mawnin’, he’d ’a’ be’n lookin’ after me, suh.”

“It has been my love for him and your care of me, Sandy,” said the old gentleman tremulously, “that have kept me alive so long; but now explain to me everything concerning this distressing matter, and I shall then be able to state your case to better advantage.”

“Well, suh,” returned Sandy, “I mought’s well tell de whole tale an’ not hol’ nothin’ back. I wuz kind er lonesome las’ night, an’ sence I be’n tu’ned outen de chu’ch on account er dat cakewalk I didn’ go ter, so he’p me God! I didn’ feel like gwine ter prayer-meetin’, so I went roun’ ter see Solomon Williams, an’ he wa’n’t home, an’ den I walk’ down street an’ met Josh Green, an’ he ax’ me inter Sam Taylor’s place, an’ I sot roun’ dere wid Josh till ’bout ’leven o’clock, w’en I sta’ted back home. I went straight ter de house, suh, an’ went ter bed an’ ter sleep widout sayin’ a wo’d ter a single soul excep’ Mistuh Tom, who wuz settin’ up readin’ a book w’en I come in. I wish I may drap dead in my tracks, suh, ef dat ain’t de God’s truf, suh, eve’y wo’d of it!”

“I believe every word of it, Sandy; now tell me about the clothes that you are said to have been found cleaning, and the suspicious articles that were found in your room?”

“Dat’s w’at beats me, Mars John,” replied Sandy, shaking his head mournfully. “Wen I lef home las’ night after supper, my clo’s wuz all put erway in de closet in my room, folded up on de she’f ter keep de moths out. Dey wuz my good clo’s⁠—de blue coat dat you wo’ ter de weddin’ fo’ty years ago, an’ dem dere plaid pants I gun Mistuh Cohen fo’ dollars fer three years ago; an’ w’en I looked in my closet dis mawnin’, suh, befo’ I got ready ter sta’t fer Belleview, dere wuz my clo’s layin’ on de flo’, all muddy an’ crumple’ up, des lack somebody had wo’ ’em in a fight! Somebody e’se had wo’ my clo’s⁠—er e’se dere’d be’n some witchcraf, er some sort er devilment gwine on dat I can’t make out, suh, ter save my soul!”

“There was no witchcraft, Sandy, but that there was some deviltry might well be. Now, what other negro, who might have been mistaken for you, could have taken your clothes? Surely no one about the house?”

“No, suh, no, suh. It couldn’t ’a’ be’n Jeff, fer he wuz at Belleview wid you; an’ it couldn’t ’a’ be’n Billy, fer he wuz too little ter wear my clo’s; an’ it couldn’t ’a’ be’n Sally, fer she’s a ’oman. It’s a myst’ry ter me, suh!”

“Have you no enemies? Is there anyone in Wellington whom you imagine would like to do you an injury?”

“Not a livin’ soul dat I knows of, suh. I’ve be’n tu’ned out’n de chu’ch, but I don’ know who my enemy is dere, er ef it wuz all a mistake, like dis yer jailin’ is; but de Debbil is in dis somewhar, Mars John⁠—an’ I got my reasons fer sayin’ so.”

“What do you mean, Sandy?”

Sandy related his experience of the preceding evening: how he had seen the apparition preceding him to the house, and how he had questioned Tom upon the subject.

“There’s some mystery here, Sandy,” said Mr. Delamere reflectively. “Have you told me all, now, upon your honor? I am trying to save your life, Sandy, and I must be able to trust your word implicitly. You must tell me every circumstance; a very little and seemingly unimportant bit of evidence may sometimes determine the issue of a great lawsuit. There is one thing especially, Sandy: where did you get the gold which was found in your trunk?”

Sandy’s face lit up with hopefulness.

“Why, Mars John, I kin ’splain dat part easy. Dat wuz money I had lent out, an’ I got back f’m⁠—But no, suh, I promise’ not ter tell.”

“Circumstances absolve you from your promise, Sandy. Your life is of more value to you than any other thing. If you will explain where you got the gold, and the silk purse that contained it, which is said to be Mrs. Ochiltree’s, you will be back home before night.”

Old Mr. Delamere’s faculties, which had been waning somewhat in sympathy with his health, were stirred to unusual acuteness by his servant’s danger. He was watching Sandy with all the awakened instincts of the trial lawyer. He could see clearly enough that, in beginning to account for the possession of the gold, Sandy had started off with his explanation in all sincerity. At the mention of the silk purse, however, his face had blanched to an ashen gray, and the words had frozen upon his lips.

A less discerning observer might have taken these things as signs of guilt, but not so Mr. Delamere.

“Well, Sandy,” said his master encouragingly, “go on. You got the gold from”⁠—

Sandy remained silent. He had had a great shock, and had taken a great resolution.

“Mars John,” he asked dreamily, “you don’ b’lieve dat I done dis thing?”

“Certainly not, Sandy, else why should I be here?”

“An’ nothin’ wouldn’ make you b’lieve it, suh?”

“No, Sandy⁠—I could not believe it of you. I’ve known you too long and too well.”

“An’ you wouldn’ b’lieve it, not even ef I wouldn’ say one wo’d mo’ about it?”

“No, Sandy, I believe you no more capable of this crime than I would be⁠—or my grandson, Tom. I wish Tom were here, that he might help me overcome your stubbornness; but you’ll not be so foolish, so absurdly foolish, Sandy, as to keep silent and risk your life merely to shield someone else, when by speaking you might clear up this mystery and be restored at once to liberty. Just tell me where you got the gold,” added the old gentleman persuasively. “Come, now, Sandy, that’s a good fellow!”

“Mars John,” asked Sandy softly, “w’en my daddy, ’way back yander befo’ de wah, wuz about ter be sol’ away f’m his wife an’ child’en, you bought him an’ dem, an’ kep’ us all on yo’ place tergether, didn’t you, suh?”

“Yes, Sandy, and he was a faithful servant, and proved worthy of all I did for him.”

“And w’en he had wo’ked fer you ten years, suh, you sot ’im free?”

“Yes, Sandy, he had earned his freedom.”

“An’ w’en de wah broke out, an’ my folks wuz scattered, an’ I didn’ have nothin’ ter do ner nowhar ter go, you kep’ me on yo’ place, and tuck me ter wait on you, suh, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Sandy, and you have been a good servant and a good friend; but tell me now about this gold, and I’ll go and get you out of this, right away, for I need you, Sandy, and you’ll not be of any use to me shut up here!”

“Jes’ hol’ on a minute befo’ you go, Mars John; fer ef dem people outside should git holt er me befo’ you does git me out er here, I may never see you no mo’, suh, in dis worl’. W’en Mars Billy McLean shot me by mistake, w’ile we wuz out huntin’ dat day, who wuz it boun’ up my woun’s an’ kep’ me from bleedin’ ter def, an’ kyar’ed me two miles on his own shoulders ter a doctuh?”

“Yes, Sandy, and when black Sally ran away with your young mistress and Tom, when Tom was a baby, who stopped the runaway, and saved their lives at the risk of his own?”

“Dat wa’n’t nothin’, suh; anybody could ’a’ done dat, w’at wuz strong ernuff an’ swif’ ernuff. You is be’n good ter me, suh, all dese years, an’ I’ve tried ter do my duty by you, suh, an’ by Mistuh Tom, who wuz yo’ own gran’son, an’ de las’ one er de fam’ly.”

“Yes, you have, Sandy, and when I am gone, which will not be very long, Tom will take care of you, and see that you never want. But we are wasting valuable time, Sandy, in these old reminiscences. Let us get back to the present. Tell me about the gold, now, so that I may at once look after your safety. It may not even be necessary for you to remain here all night.”

“Jes’ one wo’d mo’, Mars John, befo’ you go! I know you’re gwine ter do de bes’ you kin fer me, an’ I’m sorry I can’t he’p you no mo’ wid it; but ef dere should be any accident, er ef you can’t git me out er here, don’ bother yo’ min’ ’bout it no mo’, suh, an’ don’ git yo’se’f ixcited, fer you know de doctuh says, suh, dat you can’t stan’ ixcitement; but jes’ leave me in de han’s er de Lawd, suh⁠—He’ll look after me, here er hereafter. I know I’ve fell f’m grace mo’ d’n once, but I’ve done made my peace wid Him in dis here jailhouse, suh, an’ I ain’t ’feared ter die⁠—ef I haf ter. I ain’ got no wife ner child’n ter mo’n fer me, an’ I’ll die knowin’ dat I’ve done my duty ter dem dat hi’ed me, an’ trusted me, an’ had claims on me. Fer I wuz raise’ by a Delamere, suh, an’ all de ole Delameres wuz gent’emen, an’ deir principles spread ter de niggers ’round ’em, suh; an’ ef I has ter die fer somethin’ I didn’ do⁠—I kin die, suh, like a gent’eman! But ez fer dat gol’, suh, I ain’ gwine ter say one wo’d mo’ ’bout it ter nobody in dis worl’!”

Nothing could shake Sandy’s determination. Mr. Delamere argued, expostulated, but all in vain. Sandy would not speak.

More and more confident of some mystery, which would come out in time, if properly investigated, Mr. Delamere, strangely beset by a vague sense of discomfort over and beyond that occasioned by his servant’s danger, hurried away upon his errand of mercy. He felt less confident of the outcome than when he had entered the jail, but was quite as much resolved that no effort should be spared to secure protection for Sandy until there had been full opportunity for the truth to become known.

“Take good care of your prisoner, sheriff,” he said sternly, as he was conducted to the door. “He will not be long in your custody, and I shall see that you are held strictly accountable for his safety.”

“I’ll do what I can, sir,” replied the sheriff in an even tone and seemingly not greatly impressed by this warning. “If the prisoner is taken from me, it will be because the force that comes for him is too strong for resistance.”

“There should be no force too strong for an honest man in your position to resist⁠—whether successfully or not is beyond the question. The officer who is intimidated by threats, or by his own fears, is recreant to his duty, and no better than the mob which threatens him. But you will have no such test, Mr. Wemyss! I shall see to it myself that there is no violence!”