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by Wilbur Daniel Steele[]

From The Best Stories of Wilbur Daniel Steele 1946

There are ghosts in Charleston. At certain hours on some nights on the dwindling peninsula between the Ashley and the Cooper it seems as if there were more of the dead than of the living afoot. Doubt as you can, you can't doubt some of them. You can't doubt the one that, at the hour of the rising of the moon on the first night of its final quarter, hangs by its neck from the Hanging Tree. There's too much evidence. They would never have left that solitary obstacle of a live oak to rear its gray bole in the very center of the pavement of Ashley Avenue all these years if there hadn't been something.

The conscientiousness of that "haunt," by the calendar, is its most impressive quality. There are few of us nowadays who know on what date of the month the half-moon comes up at midnight, for few of us ever really see the moon. That sort of spectral punctualitywas to be expected in the days when the Tree was still one of the twelve in the short oak avenue leading in to the stately mansion known as "Indigo Landing," and when the rise of the midnight moon, silvering open reedlands and the further river, marked a moment for weirdness, fit for spirit doings. But now that the town is grown thick along that thoroughfare, and the midnight can no longer see the moon for the glows spread out from drugstore and filling stations and the headlights of automobiles wheeling from moment to moment over the trunk of that inconvenient and even dangerous oak, the fact that the shade of the hanged man can still manage to swing in noisy air there under city-bitten leaves (and so have been glimpsed through dazzled windshields by at least three drivers, who thereupon piled up their cars against the dire tree argues a strength of spectral character beyond the common run.

Indigo Landing, the house, is not to be seen from the Avenue now. In the steep perspective even its tallest relic chimneys are hidden by the screen of early gingerbread and late stucco residences that have come in between. It is still there, however, and it can be reached through an alley at the north side of the Caroilco Service Station, on the corner of which, in fact, they have allowed Joanna to tack a modest business card, "Readings and Seances; Lost Articles Found." For to so low an estate had come in her lean age the onetime Secretary of the South Carolina Spiritist Circle, old Legare's "damnYankee" daughter-in-law, Joanna of Hartford— and to so paltry a business the still leaner shade of her famous "control," the Hindoo mystic, Bhundi Ras.

When Judge Legare was alive, forty-odd years ago, when Joanna held one of her "damn-fool table-tapping flimflams" in the house, he got out of it. Another man might have been futilely disagreeable about it. Seeing it was not only his home, but the home of the gentlemen of his blood for five generations gone, he might have been forgiven for flying into a Carolinian temper with the white-trash upstart and psychic carpetbagger that Joanna must have seemed to him. In his younger days he would have. But now, turned in upon himself, first by the marriage and then by the demise of his only son (whom, since the Judge was a stalwart atheist, he had no hope of remeeting in a Beyond, and of upbraiding, as he would have upbraided him, with a ferocious gentleness)— now Percy Legare did neither of these things. Now, on such evenings as Joanna's coterie gathered in the drawing room to scare each other with their silly slates and bells, if the aging rice planter sighed as he beat his retreat out to the twilit peace beneath his scuppernong vine in the rear, it was not in bitterness. It was a sigh compounded rather of the sardonic commiseration of the clear-eyed for the blind that lead the blind, and of relief at having to talk with, instead, two human beings as solid-on-earth, as richly sympathetic, and as comparatively aristocratic as old Sam, the coachman-gardener-butler of these lean days, and his sister, Venus, the cook.

Sole survivors of the Legare servant body of slavery times, they were pulled two ways in their minds. The fiercer, of course, was toward indignation.

"How-come Mis' Joanna do t'ink dis house she house?" Sam would protest with the license of one born into the family. "Wha'-foh you do allow that Yankee-woman dribe you out you-own gentleman family house— wid dem sperrit an' t'ing?"

The Judge would smile then his patient, clear-eyed smile. "You ignorant black swamp-nigger, how many times have I told you there are no such things as spirits?"

"You mean tell me, suh, dey no sperrit, nor-so no ha'nt, nor no plat-eye or t'ing?"

Now Venus would come in, torn between loyalty and the fearful and obvious fact.

"How-come you too nerbous stay inside de house den, Maussa, night when Mis' Joanna do call de sperrit up?" And before the master could even snort in protest, her ear cocked in terror toward the windows through which the fearful sounds came seeping, the Negress hurried on: "Hear dem ha'nt do holler now. Dat one wid de crack voice, Maussa— Do-Jedus!"

"You know who dat one, suh?" Sam would shiver. "Dat one de Indy sperrit, call um Bhundi Ras, an' he bound obliged do Mis' Joanna's biddin' ober yonduh in tudduh world."

"Hocus-pocus, Sam. There's only one world, the one you're standing in."

"Oh, Maussa! I'd t'ink you frighten sometime Gawd hear you say dat an' strike you dead. What-fashion you gwine git across de Jordan, suh, ef you say such a t'ing?"

Then Venus, feeling the strain, would make haste to turn the conversation into a safer channel.

"She" she would mutter, glooming toward the house, "she t'ink she know eberyc'ing, but she don' know eberyt'ing."

They hated Joanna, these two. Why they had never left an employ where they must take orders from such a woman may seem strange. As a matter of fact, though they had been free under the law to do so for twenty years, they had never actually realized it. Nor were they apt to, so long as "Maussa Percy" remained alive. Their own mother had been his "Mauma," and though other niggers might think they could go gallivanting around like poor swamp trash if they cared to, Sam and Venus were not of that kind.

It was unfortunate that Joanna was too Yankee-ignorant to appreciate this Negro reasoning. In the end it was worse than unfortunate; it was catastrophic.

The Judge had been away a few days, visiting his cousin James in Walterboro. The evening of his return was the evening the Spiritist Circle had chosen to hold its weekly "flimflam" at Indigo Landing, and the dusk out back was chill for old bones with the coming of November.

The moment he came into the yard, Percy Legare knew something was wrong, by the dismal note in Venus's singing. What chewing gum is to the modern young woman, their "spirituals" were to Carolina servants. These folk hymns Venus was accustomed to roll between her gums with an enthusiasm that robbed them of all their inherent mournf ulness. But tonight there was mournfulness in plenty, where the black woman rocked on the sill of the "slave house."

"By myself— by myself—

Sometime my trouble make Trie trimble—trimble—trimble, An' I earth cross Jordan by myse'f. . . ."

The Judge challenged her. "What's wrong, Venus?" A premonition made a hollow around his heart. "Where's Sam? Stop that yowling straight away, and tell me!"

Venus stopped and told him. The pent-up grief and panic of days came pouring out.

The Judge was aghast. "You mean to tell me my daughter-in-law has turned Sam off?"

"Yes-suh, gib um he discharge, wha' she say. Tell um he goodfoh-nottin', git."

"And he went? But— where?"

"Dat what I say— wheh? Dat poor old ign'unt nigguh, wheh he know to go? Mos'-like he got run obuh in de street, or-so he starve to deat', or drownded in de ribbuh. Oh! Oh!"

"Hush up, you black baboon! Do you want me to give you a caning?"

Venus, comforted, moderated her sobbing. The master was "mixed up in his mind," and that was a step in the right direction. As a matter of fact, the Judge was stunned.

"Now this," he muttered, "is too much. I've tried to be patient. But this — "

Now that he was angry he was so angry that his old knees shook beneath him. He couldn't march into the house, remonstrant, that way, with knocking legs, and decided that a dram or two would do him no harm. So he started in the opposite direction, out back.

Venus's wail was sharp with new alarm. "Wheh you gwine? You ain't gwine in dat-yah smokehouse, wid all dem ha'nt an' hag an' t'ing— in de dark— for Lawd Jedus' sake!"

"I am not a child," the Judge growled over his shoulder.

It was true that the floor of the abandoned wreck of a smokehouse out there was unsafe, and the walls so near collapse that any jar might bring one or more of the great rotten rafters crashing down. But now the fact that it was his daughter-in-law who had taken it upon herself not only to warn him, but substantially to forbid him (as if he were a child) to go near that "eyesore and deathtrap," only set him in his purpose.

He had been there before, by stealth; that was why he was going now. Joanna was not only a spiritist, but a militant teetotaler as well. The Judge might have continued to argue and quarrel, but essentially he hated haggling. So, instead, he had quietly removed his two-gallon keg of ripe corn whisky from the house cellar and concealed it, on the day he left for Walterboro, under a heap of rubbish in that last of all places where Joanna might be expected to go snooping, the smokehouse.

It was as dark as seven nights inside the rickety shell, but Percy Legare needed no light to guide him as he moved on soles as discreet as ghosts' across the precarious planking. He knew where the rubbish was, and found it with his hands. But then at the feel of it, not satisfactorily swollen, as by a keg, but all rifled and flat, an involuntary deep groan broke from his lips.

What happened then happened swiftly. A wind and screech, like a bat's fright overhead. A crack of timber. Something falling. A stunning concussion. Momentary stars. . . .

From the instant when Percy Legare picked himself up from the smokehouse floor, everything was queer. He wouldn't have known himself. A kind of comic terror; an enormity of panic. Where to go? Joanna? No! Of all human beings, not Joanna. In what seemed to him a perfectly silly way he thought of his nearest of blood kin, Cousin James. What was still sillier, no sooner had he thought of Cousin James than he was over the back wall and bound at a run for Walterboro, fifty miles away. But what was silliest of all, there he was, presently, hardly panting, in Walterboro, on Cousin James's steps.

When he had set his clothing a little straight and smoothed his small but well-trimmed imperial, he pulled at the bell rope several times. He had to go in finally, getting no response. Cousin James was napping, before the fire; but his pretty granddaughter, Vi, playing cribbage with her beau at the center table, should have heard the bell.

For all he could do, Percy Legare felt out of place and ill at ease. It showed in the way he rubbed his hands together and chuckled, when he felt so little like chuckling.

"Well, my good friends, you hardly expected to see me so

James!" he finished sharply.

The old gentleman in the easy chair twitched out of sleep and blinked around him.

"Here," the Judge directed him. "Right over here I am. Percy. Are you blind?" He appealed to Vi. "Is your grandfather blind, or— or what?"

The girl ignored not only his question but his very existence. "Fifteen-four," she counted on the board; then, to Cousin James: "Cold, Grandfather?"

"I thought I felt a draft," the old gentleman complained, his eyes as blank as a fish's, though they were fixed directly on his cousin where he stood. "I guess, though, it's just one of those— how do they say it?— someone stepping over my grave."

All this queerness was too much for Percy Legare; his mind mixed up and his heart heavy, he left the house and started back home. There was a great to-do there when he arrived; by the sound there must have been more people than were ever in the Spiritist Circle, milling around in the oak avenue out front. Too confused and too depressed to want to face them, he got in by the rear and up the back stairs; his bed was the one thing on earth he needed now. Of all the bad business, though, the worst was still in store. When he got into his bedroom, his cravat already half untied, he found it crowded with people, many of whom he did not even know. Red with confusion and resentment, he made haste to set his neck gear straight again; then he did the only thing a gentleman can do— he stood and stared at them, his brow knotted with interrogation.

Fiasco. No one paid him any attention. All they were interested in was the bed, his bed, and the figure of some stranger with a broken pate they had laid there without even asking his permission. Joanna, down on her knees, was shaking with fearful, angular sobs. Dr. Hatton of Calhoun Street, who had been bending over, unbent with an air of lugubrious finality to say: "I'm sorry, there's nothing to be done. The Judge's death must have been quite instantaneous."

Percy Legare felt a sudden hollowness under his midriff as he craned over the encircling shoulders to study the shape on the bed.

"Why— why, damn it!— it's me!"

He got out of the room. He wanted to be alone; wanted some solitude where he could sit down quietly and think this whole distracting business out at length. There was none to be had in this neighborhood; the crowd out front seemed to have increased rather than lessened, and with its numbers its turbulence. So, slipping out again by the river way, now by the light of a half -moon that had risen in the east, the poor fellow set his course in a bee line across St. Andrews Parish.

How far he went he had no way of estimating. It was probably in northern Georgia that he stumbled upon exactly the kind of an abandoned house he was looking for, set in the midst of weed-grown acres. His satisfaction was not to last long, however, for no sooner had he got himself settled down to cogitation in the great dank hall than footsteps on the stair behind him proved his mistake in imagining himself alone in the old mansion.

Confused to find himself even an innocent trespasser, he was doubly so when he perceived that the woman coming down the stair was a lady. She was good enough to accept his apologies graciously, however, and when he made to mend his mistake by leaving she bade him by a gesture not to go.

"I am lonely here," she said with a smile, half wistful, half preoccupied.

The Judge was troubled. She was far from old and very far from uncomely, and if there was a certain awkwardness about her carriage, it should not have been enough to bother him. But it did. It wouldn't let him be. And when, by edging around, he made the discovery that the slight obliquity of her bearing came from favoring an ugly-looking butcher knife whose handle obtruded from her back just under the left scapula, he was new enough in such things to be frankly uncomfortable.

The lady had marked the direction of his glance.

"I suppose you are wondering about— that."

"No— that is— no, no."

"I wonder if you would like to know the story of my "

"I'm sorry, ma'am, I— I— some other time "

The Judge was out of the front door by that, and hurrying on faster than ever, west.

He had always wanted to travel, but since the War between the States he had never got much farther than Beaufort, because of the expense. Even upset as he was in his mind now, to find himself crossing the Mississippi gave him a thrill. His first sight of the Rockies gave him another. A veteran of the Tennessee campaign, he had thought he knew mountains, but here were mountains. In a gulch in southern Colorado, beginning to tire a little, he took refuge in the timbered mouth of an abandoned prospect hole. Here again he found himself an intruder, and he would have apologized and left immediately, had the owner's way of trying to scare him off by groaning from the darker end of the tunnel not brought out an almost forgotten streak of Carolinian obstinacy.

And after all, when the fellow found that that did no good, he turned out to be an almost pathetically sociable sort. He had struck it rich in this hill, it seemed, after a lifetime of indifferent luck, but unfortunately in doing it he had starved to death, and he showed it in his cadaverous cheeks, weedy whiskers and rags, and possibly in the one bad habit he had, when interested or in the absence of mind, of eating off a thumb or one or two of his fingers. Otherwise, in the weeks the Judge spent with him at the mine, "Nebraska" Hillhouse proved an ideal companion, so far as his guest was concerned, spending most of his time at the far end of the drift, "in the vein," and so giving the Judge all the time he needed for thinking.

The trouble was that he couldn't seem to think. He could reason to a certain point, and there, by the very logic of the thing, he was balked. "There is no such thing in existence as a disembodied spirit,, so I am certainly not a disembodied spirit. What then?"

Nebraska took him up on it one evening, when they were loafing at the mine entrance.

"If you ain't a ghost, then you must be one o' these here secondsighters that can see 'em, spiriters, I guess they call 'em. Otherwise you couldn't see hide nor hair o' me."

"Spiritist! I?"

"All right, then, Judge, no two ways, ghost you be." Mistaking silence for acceptance, after a moment of rumination in which he consumed all but one of the fingers on his right hand, the prospector went on. "What I can't see, Judge, I can't see what's holding you on earth all this while. With me, with this unregistered claim on my mind, it's one thing. But the way you tell me you've lived, you should've been over the river long ago."

"What river?"

"Why, you know, Judge." Nebraska had been reared in some minor Baptist faith. "Why, across the Jordan, like, to the Promised Land. If you was murdered now, and your murderer not found, that would be a horse of another color. But you wasn't, you say, murdered."

The Judge had to laugh.

"Or if you had a cache of something valuable somewheres about your place, or if there was somebody you should have forgive and didn't, I could understand your hankering to get back there so bad."

The Judge started, the wraith of a flush on his cheek. "What on earth ever put it into your head I'd want to go back there?"

"Well, if not exactly want to, feel kind of drawed-like. Eh?" The challenge in Nebraska's eyes was touched with sadness. "I been watching you lately, Judge." And though Percy Legare protested "Fiddlesticks!" he had to turn his own eyes away.

It was true, for some time past he had been aware of a deepening restlessness to be getting East again. He had tried to put it down to simple nostalgia (even with Joanna there), but it was not nostalgia. Nor mere curiosity. Nebraska had hit it; it was more nearly "feeling drawed-like"; and as such, Legare, the rationalist, resented it bitterly.

He was so self-conscious about it that when he capitulated a few nights later he refrained from awakening Nebraska, but leaving a note of good-by thanks tacked on one of the timbers, stole softly out of the gulch and set his face toward Carolina.

Indigo Landing was all quiet when he came in by the rear way, everybody apparently fast asleep. If this was so, Venus must have had a hair-raising dream, for as the Judge passed the "slave house" there burst out through the shuttered window a shriek so powerful that the mistress in the big house waked and called down to know what the matter was.

Percy Legare had not seen his daughter-in-law for a long while. In the bloodless moonlight up there, in the nightgown with the stiff ruching tight around its throat, all the unpleasant qualities of her character were brought back strongly. He felt a chill up his spine as her scrutiny came to where he stood, and sighed when it passed on, unseeing.

"Venus," she repeated, "ivill you open those blinds and tell me what is wrong with you!"

Venus did not open the blinds, but her yowlings grew coherent: "Do-Jedus! I hear urn!"

"You hear what?"

"De Maussa, Maussa Percy, he foot out dah in de yard. Hear um go tromp, tromp."

"Imbecile!" There was in it all the cold scorn of the professional for the amateur. "You and your haunts, you wicked, superstitious old ninny. You hush now, or I warn you!" Retiring, Joanna left the Negress to muffle her wails in her gunny-bag pillow.

The Judge, who had planned to go into the house and have a look around, thought better of it. With that miserable, inexplicable pull of the old home still on him, however, he found he couldn't go away. So, compromising, he shinnied up a drainpipe, got over the eaves, and climbed the slippery slates, intending to sit and rest awhile on the ridgepole.

But there in midroof he was given a start that nearly dislodged him. He had not expected to find another before him in that peaked solitude between the sleeping chimneys.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "And what the devil are you doing here?"

The figure, jackknifed in silhouette on the ridgepole, stared, gasped, and quavered.

"Do-Lawd-in-Hebben! Who dat do speak like my ol' Maussa?"

Astonishment, relief, and happiness sang in the Judge's heart, and moisture prickled his lids.

"Sam, you black hound! So it's you!"

"Yes-suh, yes-suh, yes-suh; but how-come? Do-Jedus, Maussa, is you dead too?"

Percy Legare was too full of joy to go into that now; as he scrabbled on up, all he could say was: "You thieving old no-account! You miserable scoundrel!"

Tears of beatitude rolled down Sam's face. "Glory to Gawd! I too sorry you dead, Maussa. Only tell me dat t'ing, Maussa— how— come you dead?"

The Judge flushed. He was still touchy on the score of that fiasco of the smokehouse.

"Speak when you're spoken to! Now be good enough to tell me what under the sun it was that happened to you? Speak up!"

An enigmatical embarrassment whitened the old fellow's eyes. The Judge blew out his cheeks. "What's this? Why don't you answer? Sam, you double-faced baboon, what's that you're so anxious I sha'n't see— that thing you've got behind you?"

"Oh, Maussa . . ."

"Out with it!"

"Oh, Maussa!" The fellow's distress was pitiable as he withdrew from its concealment under his sitting portion a length of hempen rope with a noose improvised at its extremity.

"So!" The Judge pursed his lips and gathered his brows. "I've no doubt you deserved it richly. For what particular crime, may I ask, did they feel called upon to hang you?"

"I ain't know, suh. Oh, Maussa, beliebe me or not beliebe me, ever I ain't know one Gawd t'ing I do, foh git hang foh. One minute de white folks dey graff oF Sam, an' nudder minute, bamm, dey string um on a tree limb. Angel Gab'rul know dat de Gawd-truth, suh."

"A likely one." The frown deepened. "Blockhead, didn't you know enough to tell them you belonged to the Legares? . . . Mmmm. . . . Throw that blasted thing away!" And when the wretched man had done so (only taking pains to mark with one eye where the rope caught in falling, behind a chimney)— "Now," the Judge said grimly, "let's talk about something else. I've never been up here before. It's astonishing, the view of James Island."

"Yes-suh, Maussa, 'deed-suh."

"The geese are flying late this year."

"Deed-suh, dey is, berry late dis — " But there the old darky interrupted himself. At sound of cart wheels creaking along the outer road he broke off to hearken. Then he stretched out his neck, opened his mouth impulsively, and gave a long, loud groan.

It made Percy Legare jump. He glared at the offender. But when he started to upbraid him, finding that when he opened his mouth nothing would seem to come out but a stentorian groaning of its own, he shut it again in dismay and fell into a cold perspiration. Not till the racket of the frightened teamster's flight had died in distance did he speak, and then it was in a small voice.

"Why did I do that?"

"Oh, but Maussa, excusin' me, a ghost bound obliged do dat, when he hcCntin\"

The Judge never got over it. There was nothing he could have resented more. At times in the long night watches that followed upon that first one it depressed, at times it infuriated him. "Me, Percy Legare, haunting!" He tried to fight it. Squaring his shoulders sometimes, stiffening his spine: "I'm through with this puerile idiocy. Never another groan do they get out of me." But then at the very next footfall vagrant in the dark his good resolutions went to pieces and he fell.

He made a study of this wretched spectral impulse. He proved by experiment that it was quite spontaneous and uncontrollable, and that no personal animus against the passer-by need enter into it. One night it was Venus herself who had the ill fortune to venture out of doors at too late an hour. One was the brother, the other the lifelong master, guide, and friend; neither would have distressed the poor old Negress for anything in the world. In fact both of them were praying she might get back in the house before the last of their selfcontrol was gone. But it was of no use. And when she had screeched to shelter, then half dead with terror of the grizzly salvo unloosed among the chimneys overhead, when the two up there looked at each other, the one face was drawn with remorse, and down the other poured a rain of tears.

The Judge struck down an angry fist. "Why, if we're bound to make public nuisances of ourselves around here— why in the name of human decency don't we-all clear out?"

"Yes-suh, yes-suh. But wheh-to, suh? You don't mean, Maussa— not across de Ribbuh?"

"Across the river, or anywhere. What's to hinder us, Sam?"

"Y-y-yes-suh." The air of nervous depression that the Judge had observed growing on his companion of late seemed to deepen. "Yessuh— de only t'ing, Maussa, I bound oblige be back here tomorrow night by middlenight."


"Tomorrow night, suh, he de night o' de middlenight moon."

"Yes? What's that got to do with it?"

Sam had said too much already. He looked this way, he looked that. When the Judge began to question and berate him, to save himself he retreated down the further slope of the roof and scissored out to a lonely perch at the tip of the Blue Room gable, where the Judge heard him singing to himself for comfort Venus's favorite:

". . . trmible, trimble, trimble, An' I can't cross Jordan by myse'f. . . ."

Next night the Judge was prepared to give the truant a going over for that. And then he had to wait. His indignation grew with the hours, until, with the rise of the "middlenight moon," and no Sam yet, it gave place, first to anxiety, and then to a sense of his own aloneness and thoughts of despair. What could have happened to that nigger? He asked himself if it could be that Sam, hurt by last night's words, had gone away forever? By the time dawn grayed its warning in the east he was in so craven a state of despondency at the prospect of having to sit there twiddling his thumbs in solitude throughout the rest of eternity that when Sam did turn up again, all sound, the following evening, he was happy enough to let the whole thing go without comment.

The next time it happened, however (four weeks later), the Judge, being less agitated, was more put out. Between exasperation and curiosity he climbed down from the roof and poked about the grounds, and so it was, shortly after moonrise, that he came on the colored man hanging by his rope from one of the oak trees in the Avenue, his limbs dejected, his neck awry, and a look of patient suffering in his swollen eyes. The rice planter was taken sharply aback, and showed it in the acidity of his sarcasm.

"So this is where you're always running off to, Sam. It must be fun."

"No-suh." It was hard for Sam to talk, on account of the noose around his windpipe. "I don't like um, suh."

"May I inquire, then, what in the name of all asinine damnfoolishness — "


"What are you hanging there for?"

"I ain't know, suh; dey ain't remembuh to told me. I respect I bound obliged to gwine on doin' dis-a-way on de middlenight moon till my sin f orgibben."

"What sin?"

"Gawd, he know, Maussa. I sutten I don't."

"Either you're a liar or you're a numbskull, Sam; that's all I can say." Washing his hands of the whole ridiculous business, the Judge went back to his haunting on the roof.

It can be cold on winter nights, even as far south as the Carolinas. Both the Judge and Sam were well past their warm-blooded prime, and there were plenty of dark hours that January and February when their bones ached in the winds that ricocheted up the polished slates, and their teeth chattered. Sometimes it seemed to Percy Legare that spring was never to come, and when he let his mind dwell, in that mood, on eternity, he could see nothing but black. Sam was not so bad; in the way of his race he could never stay pessimistic long. "When we-all is allowed foh go 'cross de Ribbuh, suh," he prefaced so often that the Judge, who had started by squelching him, ended by simply sighing.

Spring did come eventually, of course. And with it on a warming night in March came a surprise, in the shape of an invasion. Joanna had recommenced her "flimflamming" of late and this was one of her evenings, solemn racketings filling the bottom of the house and leaking up the chimneys to add a salt of mockery to the venom of discomfiture already bitter enough in one old listener's heart. "Nobody but a damnYankee female would be so poison low — " the Judge was in the midst of assuring Sam when a scuttle in the roof not far from their feet was opened so unexpectedly, and a figure so strange came climbing out, that all they could do was sit and gape.

It was rather a frail-built man of a dark complexion, with a large white turban on, and a robe of flimsy lilac cotton that kept catching on the corners of the uneven slates. Altogether he was so queer that the Judge, to hide the fact that he was startled, took the offensive.

"Who the devil are you?"

In place of answering, the other queried: "You are the late fatherin-law, are you not?"

"I'm Judge Percy Legare, if that's what you mean. Who the devil, I repeat, are you?"

The stranger bowed slightly. "My name is Bhundi Ras, at your service, sir. I was the eldest son of a highly placed Brahmin family

of Cawnpur, and held the post " But there he broke off and waited

with an urbane patience, on account of Sam, whose teeth had gone to chattering. "Do-Jedus! Oh-my-Gawd! De Indy-man, Maussa, he him.''''

"Be quiet!" The Judge could have thrashed him. "And you," he reverted, his face crimson, "I don't care who or what you were! What I want to know is, what are you doing around here so free and easy, now?"

Bhundi Ras never lost his air of breeding. "The owner of this property, Mrs. Wallace Legare, who happens to be a— ah— client of mine, has asked if possible, sir, to be put in touch with you. Would you be good enough, I wonder, sir, to step down with me for only a very few moments, so that Mrs. Legare may have the happiness and comfort of hearing — "

"I will not." It was almost a bellow.

"Sorry." The Indian mystic shrugged his slender shoulders and studied the slates. "I'm sure, sir, if you knew how much your daughter-in-law has desired, ever since your death "

"Death? Bosh!" Now all the obstinate devil in Percy Legare was aroused. "I'm not dead by a damned sight, and you can go straight down there and tell Joanna so. I'm alive, you can tell her, and a great deal aliver than she is. And while you're at it — " The Judge had got up on his heels on the ridgepole, carried away by his own vindictive violence. "And while you're at it, sir, you can tell her, a deal of good I get, being alive around my own house. Tell her, for all the respect and sympathy and companionship I get, if it weren't for Sam here— poor, ignorant swamp nigger that he is "

But the Brahmin, with a slight start, was withdrawing. "Sam!" he echoed. He stared at the hunched-up colored man above him. "Am I mistaken, then, in — But there must be some mistake. Tell me, Judge Legare, had you perhaps another servant named Sam?"

"I had not. Why?"

Bhundi Ras got halfway down through the scuttle before resuming. Courageous in some ways, he was timid in others.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I am at a loss at finding this— this association of you two. Pardon me if I'm in error, but is this not the same Sam who —ah— in fact— murdered you? "

"Murdered! Me! SAM!"

There was something so menacing in that Gargantuan guffaw that the peace-loving Brahmin let the scuttle down over him with a bang and was gone.

For moments Percy Legare continued to heave and chuckle. "Did you hear that, Sam, you bloodthirsty ruffian? You jailbird! You gallows-meat! You— you— gallows-meat! . . ."

That last was airless. Lost in sudden thought, silence fell down upon the Judge. Little by little, as he stared out unseeing across the starlit reedlands and the further river, a horrid arithmetic began to busy his brain. The more he grew appalled, the oftener he put his swiftly clarifying twos and twos together, the heavier that silence lay. Once he hazarded a side glance at his companion, and at sight of Sam's round white eyes glued on him, fascinated, he got his own back quickly.

The most awful part of it was the embarrassment.

They sat and they sat and they sat, side by side. The stars dimmed. The east began to pale before the coming of the "middlenight moon," and for once neither of them knew it and neither cared. It was that embarrassment; that perfectly hideous mortification.

At last Percy Legare could stand it no longer. Self -consciousness made his voice sound cold.

"Sam, what's all this I hear?"

"Whu-whu-what all what you h-h-hear?"

"Sam, where were you on the evening I was— I had the accident— in the smokehouse?"

Now that it was said and done, Sam let go.

"Oh, Jo-Gawd! Oh! Oh! Maussa, was dot you in de smokehouse?"

"Stop blubbering. I was— yes— in the smokehouse."

"You wasn't a ha'nt or hag, den, gib a groan like dat?"

"How often must I tell you, Sam, that there are no such things as — " Coloring a little, the Judge recommenced: "Calm down. Go on. So you too were in the smokehouse? What, may I ask, were you doing there?"

"Do-Jedus, Maussa, Mis' Joanna done tu'n me out, an' I so lonesome I ain't know wheh-to I got foh go to. I binna walk out in de town, but I ain't easy in my mind. Nigger says: 'Who you?' Buckrah say: 'Moob-along!' So bime-by, Maussa "

"You came back and hid in the smokehouse. Very well. But did that justify you in "

"Oh, oh, oh, Maussa, foh Hebben sake— I nebbuh respect it am my A4aussa. When I do hear dat foot come creepy in de dark, I respect he a sperrit, or-so a hag or plat-eye, do come foh graff ol' Sam, an' when I hear sucha monst'ous groan do groan, I tek a wood an' I hit urn blaimn, an' I tek my foot in my hand out o' dat place, an' I still do runnin' when de white-folks graff me an' pit a rope 'pon-top me an' hang me on de oak tree."


There followed a silence.


Then Sam's sobbing and wailing broke out: "Don't nebbuh forgib me, so-suh, nebbuh-suh. Eben ef I bound oblige hang on dat tree ebbuh an' forebbuh now, I wouldn't aks you ebbuh forgib me foh sucha Gawd-hebby sin I done. No-suh, no-suh, no-suh, Maussa."

"Hmmmm . . ."

"Yes-suh, yes-suh, dah come de middlenight moon do raise up now; bettuh I tek my ol' hang-rope an' go out to de oak tree; my sin too hebby foh ebbuh forgib, suh, ebbuh, ebbuh"

Percy Legare wet his lips.

"You good-for-nothing!"

The sense of well-being in his throat grew richer.

"You monkey-faced, flea-brained blunderer!"

He took his time. Like a gourmet, he savored it.

"You crocodile!"

"Oh, Maussa! Oh— Maussa!" Sam began to rise on the ridgepole, teetering, incredulous.

"You poor, ignorant, misbegotten— I don't know what!"

Sam's face was transfigured. He had believed his ears at last.

"Maussa, you done forgib me."


"Glory-Gawd! I nebbuh aks um, an' my Maussa done-done forgib me, an' my soul set free!"

Percy Legare had no soul; nevertheless he began to feel very queer. Something like a balloon when the tether lines are being loosened. As for Sam, he was another person. He was actually prancing on the roof peak, between impatience and beatitude.

"Glory-Jedus, we-all set free, free, free, an' we-all don't oblige ha'nt dis-yuh place no more, Maussa, nebbuh more. Mek-haste, Maussa Percy, mek-haste an' do come."

The master was too mixed up in his mind to do anything but follow the man down. There was a short stay in the back yard, while Sam sneaked into the "slave house" and out again with a roll of something white under his arm.

"What's that?" the Judge demanded, a little crabbedly, but Sam had no time for it. "Glory, glory!" seemed to be all he could say as he got over the brick wall at the end of the yard and set off across the marshland toward the river, excitement heightening his steps. It was all the Judge could do to keep anywhere near up with him.

The moon had risen, and the night grew diamond-clear. When Sam got to the riverbank he halted and unrolled the thing he had under his arm, and the Judge perceived that it was a best nightshirt, long and clean. The darky put it on and smoothed it down, but then, recollecting something, rehoisted it to unwind from around his waist the dismal rope his shame had led him to wear there, concealed beneath his coat. With a whoop, a grin, and a chuckle, he threw it away on the ground.

But then his eyes, falling on his master, clouded.

"Why— why, Maussa, wheh is yoh snow-white gahment? Why you nebbuh fotch um along?"

"Do you mean my nightshirt? Why should I?"

"More-manners hab a white gahment on, when you do come foh cross de Ribbuh, suh."

"Never heard of such a crazy thing. Wear a nightshirt to cross the Ashley River?"

"Ohhh, M aus s a /" Sam's eyes were whiter than the shirt. "Ain't you know de Jordan Ribbuh when you see urn?''

"Jordan my hat! Why, Sam, you driveling idiot! "

There was an emphasis of assurance about it that gave the Negro a momentary catch of doubt. Was he, could he be, wrong? But when he had wheeled and studied the tranquil flood for a wink, he had to shake a sadly puzzled head.

"Sho', Maussa, you only do try foh plague oP Sam. . . . Ashley ain't hab no Hebben City todder-side um, same like dat-yah one obuh dah. Look-a-dah, suh, wheh de wall o' al'baster an' t'ing do h'ist umself up, an' de monst'ous pearly gate, spang before yoh-own two eye dah yonduh, an' de gold street inside-um, and Peter do shine up he key an' wave he wing. . . . Do-Gawd, Maussa Percy— you lookin' wheh I lookin'?"

Percy Legare, feeling foolish, stared in the line of Sam's pointing finger.

"Sam, you've been at my liquor again." A crease deepened between his brows. "There's the wood piece over there on the St. Andrews bank where the big bird coveys used to lay, and then the three water oaks at the end toward Old Town Creek, and the marsh where we kept the duck boat, and there's the chimney of the Plum house — "

"Ohhh, Maussa!"

The incredulity, the pity and reproach of it, were too much for Percy Legare. All he could do was blow out purpling cheeks, clench his fists, and stare about him hopelessly for some rational help. It was so that he discovered that he and Sam were no longer alone on the margin of the stream. There had been a little arrival of colored people, with one scrawny white woman of the swamp-cracker type among them, and now they were excitedly busy in putting white raiment on. To these he appealed.

The nearest darky touched his forelock decently. "Ashley Ribbuh, suh? Sutten I do know Ashley Ribbuh, spang near Charleston in de state ob Ca'lina. . . . No-suh, Maussa, dis-yuh ribbuh de Jordan Ribbuh; ain't you know dat when you see de Hebben City todduh side?"

There was the white one, the cracker woman, as a last resort. But the Judge was too late; already she was rods out from shore, wading to her knees in the brown current. Now they were all in, with a joyful splashing. All but Sam. Like a leashed old hunting dog he trembled as his gaze followed after them, great tears welling between his lids.

The Judge could have slain him.

"Get along with you; go drown yourself with the kit of them, if that's any pleasure."

"Oh, Maussa, suh— you gwine come too?"

"Thank you, no. Quit squirming and blubbering, and go. Do you hear me?"

"But M-M-Maussa, what-fashion you gwine git along widout oP Sam? If I do do cross Jordan by myse'f, what you gwine do foh somebody look out foh you, Maussa Percy?"


The old African wet one foot, then both, in the flood. Sobbing aloud then between grief and glory, he started floundering after the diminishing waders.

Percy Legare stood and watched him for a moment, a white wraith against the dark pediment of— yes, damn it!— of St. Andrews woods. For a flash he was conscious of being tempted; insidious, seductive doubt. "When ignorance is bliss . . ." If he could have been so fortunately credulous No; ignoble doubt! Putting it behind him, he turned and strode back, stiff-spined, toward Indigo Landing.

The low moon was behind the house, and its rays, thinly penciling the peaks and chimney edges, gave it a look of infestivity beyond any it had ever worn before. No matter. The Judge stuck his hands deeper in his pockets and began to do something he hadn't done since youth— he began to whistle to himself a sprightly tune.

"No-sir/" he broke off to growl, at sound of an appealing " Maussaf" trailing after him from the direction of the river. "Never!" He tramped fiercely on.

But then, when nearly to the wall of his property, he had to turn around.

"What," he gasped, trying his best to frown, "what are you doing here?"

The panting darky stood there, abashed eyes on his toes.

"Dat— uh— dat Ashley Ribbuh water, suh, he cold my foot toomuch."

"Liar! What's that you've got behind you? Out with it!"

"Do-suh, he nuttin only dis-yuh old rope I gots a debbil trouble findin' again."

A silence, that the Judge tried to make withering. Sam wormed his toes, sucked his lips, and fiddled with the hempen coil.

"You see, suh," he deprecated, "you gots a idea I don't like disyuh rope, no-more-so dat-yah tree. But sho'-suh, Maussa Percy, dis nigguh he don' mind um. De more I do ha'nt in dat live-oak tree, suh, de more it seem I don't mind um."

The Judge took out his handkerchief and blew his nose violently, twice.

"You paltry, good-for-nothing, lying black sinner, Sam!"

"Yes-suh, yes-suh! " Contentment rang in the darky's voice. " 'Scuse me, Maussa Percy," he cast back as he scrambled first over the garden wall. "But I bound oblige mek-haste dis-yuh night how. De moon stan' high." 

There are still ghosts in Charleston. Doubt as you can, you can't doubt some of them. You can't doubt the one that, incorruptibly, at the hour of the rising of the midnight moon each month, hangs by its neck from the Hanging Tree.