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BALAAM AND HIS MASTER.
What fantastic tricks are played by fate or circumstance! Here is a horrible war that shall redeem a nation, that shall restore civilization, that shall establish Christianity. Here is a university of slavery that shall lead the savage to citizenship. Here is a conflagration that shall rebuild a city. Here is the stroke of a pen that shall change the destinies of many peoples. Here is the bundle of fagots that shall light the fires of liberty. As in great things, so in small. Tragedy drags comedy across the stage, and hard upon the heels of the hero tread the heavy villain and the painted clown.

What a preface to write before the name of Billville!

Years ago, when one of the ex-Virginian pioneers who had settled in Wilkes County, in the State of Georgia, concluded to try his fortune farther west, he found himself, after a tedious journey of a dozen days, in the[8] midst of a little settlement in middle Georgia. His wagons and his negroes were at once surrounded by a crowd of curious but good-humored men and a swarm of tow-headed children.

“What is your name?” he asked one of the group.

“Bill Jones.”

“And yours?” turning to another.

“Bill Satterlee.”

The group was not a large one, but in addition to Jones and Satterlee, as the newcomer was informed, Bill Ware, Bill Cosby, Bill Pinkerton, Bill Pearson, Bill Johnson, Bill Thurman, Bill Jessup, and Bill Prior were there present, and ready to answer to their names. In short, fate or circumstance had played one of its fantastic pranks in this isolated community, and every male member of the settlement, with the exception of Laban Davis, who was small and puny-looking, bore the name of Bill.

“Well,” said the pioneer, who was not without humor, “I’ll pitch my tent in Billville. My name is Bill Cozart.”

This is how Billville got its name—a name that has clung to it through thick and thin. A justifiable but futile attempt was[9] made during the war to change the name of the town to Panola, but it is still called Billville, much to the disappointment of those citizens who have drawn both pride and prosperity in the lottery of life.

It was a fortunate day for Billville when Mr. William Cozart, almost by accident, planted his family tree in the soil of the settlement. He was a man of affairs, and at once became the leading citizen of the place. His energy and public spirit, which had room for development here, appeared to be contagious. He bought hundreds of acres of land, in the old Virginia fashion, and made for himself a home as comfortable as it was costly. His busy and unselfish life was an example for his neighbors to follow, and when he died the memory of it was a precious heritage to his children.

Meanwhile Billville, stirred into action by his influence, grew into a thrifty village, and then into a flourishing town; but through all the changes the Cozarts remained the leading family, socially, politically, and financially. But one day in the thirties Berrien Cozart was born, and the wind that blew aside the rich lace of his cradle must have been an ill one, for the[10] child grew up to be a thorn in the side of those who loved him best. His one redeeming quality was his extraordinary beauty. This has, no doubt, been exaggerated; but there are still living in Billville many men and women who knew him, and they will tell you to-day that Berrien Cozart was the handsomest man they have ever seen—and some of them have visited every court in Europe. So far as they are concerned, the old saying, “Handsome is that handsome does,” has lost its force. They will tell you that Berrien Cozart was the handsomest man in the world and—probably the worst.

He was willful and wrongheaded from the first. He never, even as a child, acknowledged any authority but his own sweet will. He could simulate obedience whenever it suited his purpose, but only one person in the world had any real influence over him—a negro named Balaam. The day Berrien Cozart was born, his proud and happy father called to a likely negro lad who was playing about in the yard—the day was Sunday—and said:—

“How old are you?”

“I dunno ’zackly, marster, but ole Aunt Emmeline she know.”

[11]

“Do you do any work?”

“Yes, suh; I totes water, an’ I drives de cows ter de pastur’, an’ I keeps off de calfs, an’ I runs de chickens out ’n de gyardin.”

The sprightly and intelligent appearance of the lad evidently made a favorable impression on the master, for he beckoned to him and said:—

“Come in here; I want to show you something.”

The negro dropped his hat on the ground and followed Mr. Cozart, who led the way to the darkened room where Berrien, the baby, was having his first experience with existence. He lay on the nurse’s lap, with blinking eyes and red and wrinkled face, trying to find his mouth with his fists. The nurse, black as she was, was officious, and when she saw the negro boy she exclaimed:—

“Balaam, w’at you doin’ in yere? Take yo’se’f right out! Dis ain’t no place fer you.”

“Marster says so,” said Balaam, sententiously.

“Balaam,” said Mr. Cozart, “this baby will be your master. I want you to look after him and take care of him.”

“Yes, suh,” said Balaam, regarding his[12] new master with both interest and curiosity. “He look like he older dan w’at he is.” With that Balaam retreated to the negro quarters, where he had a strange tale to tell the other children about the new white baby.

Berrien grew and thrived, and when he was a year old Balaam took charge of him, and the two soon became devoted to each other. The negro would take the child on his back and carry him from one end of the plantation to the other, and Berrien was never happy unless Balaam was somewhere in sight. Once, when it was found necessary to correct Balaam with a switch for some boyish offense, his young master fell on the floor in a convulsion of rage and grief. This manifestation made such an impression on the family that no further attempt was ever made to punish Balaam; and so the two grew up together—the young master with a temper of extreme violence and an obstinacy that had no bounds, and the negro with an independence and a fearlessness extremely rare among slaves.

It was observed by all, and was a cause of special wonder among the negroes, that, in spite of Berrien Cozart’s violent temper,[13] he never turned his hand against Balaam, not even when he was too young to reason about the matter. Sometimes, when he was seen throwing stones in a peculiarly vicious way at a tree, or at the chickens, or at some of the other children, the older negroes would laughingly shake their heads at one another and say that the child was mad with Balaam.

These queer relations between master and slave grew stronger as the two grew older. When Berrien was ten and Balaam twenty they were even more inseparable than they had been when the negro was trudging about the plantation with his young master on his back. At that time Balaam was not allowed to sleep in the big house; but when Berrien was ten he had a room to himself, and the negro slept on a pallet by the side of the bed.

About this time it was thought necessary to get a private tutor for Berrien. He had a great knack for books in a fitful sort of way, but somehow the tutor, who was an estimable young gentleman from Philadelphia, was not very much to Berrien’s taste. For a day or two matters went along smoothly enough, but it was not long before Balaam,[14] lying on the floor outside the door, heard a tremendous racket and clatter in the room. Looking in, he saw his young master pelting the tutor with books and using language that was far from polite. Balaam went in, closing the door carefully behind him, and almost immediately the tumult ceased. Then the negro appeared leading his young master by the arm. They went downstairs and out on the lawn. The tutor, perplexed and astonished by the fierce temper of his pupil, saw the two from the window and watched them curiously. Berrien finally stopped and leaned against a tree. The negro, with his hand on the boy’s shoulder, was saying something unpleasant, for the tutor observed one or two fierce gestures of protest. But these soon ceased, and presently Berrien walked rapidly back to the house, followed by Balaam. The tutor heard them coming up the stairway; then the door opened, and his pupil entered and apologized for his rudeness.

For some time there was such marked improvement in Berrien’s behavior that his tutor often wondered what influence the negro had brought to bear on his young master; but he never found out. In fact, he soon[15] forgot all about the matter, for the improvement was only temporary. The youngster became so disagreeable and so unmanageable that the tutor was glad to give up his position at the end of the year. After that Berrien was sent to the Academy, and there he made considerable progress, for he was spurred on in his studies by the example of the other boys. But he was a wild youth, and there was no mischief, no matter how malicious it might be, in which he was not the leader. As his character unfolded itself the fact became more and more manifest that he had an unsavory career before him. Some of the older heads predicted that he would come to the gallows, and there was certainly some ground for these gloomy suggestions, for never before had the quiet community of Billville given development to such reckless wickedness as that which marked the daily life of Berrien Cozart as he grew older. Sensual, cruel, impetuous, and implacable, he was the wonder of the mild-mannered people of the county, and a terror to the God-fearing. Nevertheless, he was attractive even to those who regarded him as the imp of the Evil One, and many a love-lorn maiden was haunted by his beautiful face in her dreams.

[16]

When Berrien was eighteen he was sent to Franklin College at Athens, which was supposed to divide the responsibility of guardianship with a student’s parents. The atmosphere the young man found there in those days suited him admirably. He became the leader of the wildest set at that venerable institution, and proceeded to make a name for himself as the promoter and organizer of the most disreputable escapades the college had ever known. He was an aggressor in innumerable broils, he fought a duel in the suburbs of Athens, and he ended his college career by insulting the chancellor in the lecture-room. He was expelled, and the students and the people of Athens breathed freer when it was known that he had gone home never to return.

There was a curious scene with his father when the wayward youth returned to Billville in disgrace. The people of that town had received some inkling of the sort of education the young man was getting at college, though Mr. Cozart was inclined to look somewhat leniently on the pranks of his son, ascribing them to the hot blood of youth. But when Berrien’s creditors began to send in their accounts, amounting to[17] several thousands of dollars, he realized for the first time that the hope and pride of his later years had been vain delusions. Upon the heels of the accounts came Berrien himself, handsomer and more attractive than ever. Dissipation was not one of his vices, and he returned with the bloom of youth on his cheek and the glowing fires of health in his sparkling eyes. He told the story of his expulsion with an air as gay as any cavalier ever assumed. The story was told at the table, and there was company present. But this fact was ignored by Berrien’s father. His hand shook as he laid down his knife and fork.

“You have damaged my credit,” he said to his son across the table; “you have disgraced your mother’s name and mine; and now you have the impudence to make a joke of it at my table, sir. Let me not see your face in this house again until you have returned to college and wiped out the blot you have placed on your name.”

“As you please, sir,” said Berrien. His eyes were still full of laughter, but some of those who were at the table said his nether lip trembled a little. He rose, bowed, and passed out.

[18]

Balaam was in his young master’s room when the latter went in. He had unpacked the trunk and the valise and was placing the things in a clothes-press, meanwhile talking with himself, as most negroes will when left to themselves. Berrien entered, humming the tune of a college glee.

“I ’lowed you was at dinner, Marse Berry,” said Balaam.

“I have finished,” said young Cozart. “Have you had yours?”

“Lord! no, suh. Hit’ll be ’way yander todes night ’fo’ I kin git dese clo’es straightened out.”

“Well,” said the young man, “you go and get your dinner as soon as you can. This valise must be repacked. Before the sun goes down we must be away from here.”

“Good Lord, Marse Berry! I ain’t said howdy wid none er de folks yit. How come we got ter go right off?”

“You can stay, if you choose,” said Berrien. “I reckon you’d be a better negro if you had stayed at home all the time. Right now you ought to be picking your five hundred pounds of cotton every day.”

“Now, you know, Marse Berry, dat of you er gwine, I’m gwine too—you know[19] dat p’intedly; but you come in on me so sudden-like dat you sorter git me flustrated.”

“Well,” said Berrien, seating himself on the side of the bed and running his fingers through his curling hair, “if you go with me this time you will be taking a big jump in the dark. There’s no telling where you’ll land. Pap has taken the studs, and I have made up my mind to leave here for good and all. You belong to me, but I’ll give you your choice; you can go with me, or you can stay. If you go, I’ll probably get into a tight place and sell you; if you stay, Pap will make a pet of you for my sake.”

Regarding this as a very good offhand joke, the young man laughed so loud that the sound of it penetrated to the dining-room, and, mellow and hearty as it was, it struck strangely on the ears of those still sitting at the table.

“I knowed in reason dat dey was gwine to be a rippit,” said Balaam; “kaze you know how you been gwine on up yander, Marse Berry. I tole an’ tole you ’bout it, an’ I dunno whar in de name er goodness you’d been ef I hadn’t been right dar fer ter look atter you.”

[20]

“Yes,” remarked Berrien, sarcastically, “you were just about drunk enough half the time to look after me like a Dutch uncle.”

Balaam held his head down and chuckled. “Yes, suh,” he said, “I tuck my dram, dey ain’t no ’sputin’ er dat; yit I never has tuck so much dat I ain’t keep my eye on you. But ’t ain’t do no good: you des went right ’long; an’ dar was ole Mistiss, which she done sick in bed, an’ Miss Sally Carter, which she’s yo’ born cousin—dar dey all was a-specktin’ you ter head de whole school gang. An’ you did head ’em, mon, but not in de books.”

“My fair Cousin Sarah!” exclaimed Berrien in a reminiscent way.

“Yes, suh,” said Balaam; “an’ dey tells me down in de kitchen dat she comin’ yere dis ve’y day.”

“Then,” said the young man, “it is time for me to be going. Get your dinner. If I am to have your company, you must be ready in an hour; if you want to stay, go to the overseer and tell him to put you to work.”

Laughing good-naturedly, Balaam slipped out. After a little while Berrien Cozart went down the stairway and into the room[21] of his mother, who was an invalid. He sat at her bedside and talked a few moments. Then he straightened and smoothed her pillows, stroked her gray hair, gazed into her gentle eyes, and kissed her twice. These things the poor lady remembered long afterwards. Straying into the spacious parlor, the young man looked around on the familiar furniture and the walls covered with portraits. Prominent among these was the beautiful face of Sally Carter. The red curtains in the windows, swaying to and fro in the wind, so swiftly changed the light and shadow that the fair face in the heavy gilt frame seemed to be charged with life. The lustrous eyes seemed to dance and the saucy lips to smile. Berrien remembered his fair cousin with pleasure. She had been his playmate when he was younger, and the impression she made on him had been a lasting one. Beautiful as she was, there was no nonsense about her. She was high-spirited and jolly, and the young man smiled as he recalled some of their escapades together. He raised his hand to salute the portrait, and at that moment a peal of merry laughter greeted his ears. Turning, he saw framed in the doorway the rosy[22] original of the portrait. Before he could recover from his astonishment the young lady had seized and kissed him. Then she held him off at arm’s length and looked at him.

“Why, how handsome you have grown;” she cried. “Just think of it! I expected to meet a regular border ruffian. My dear boy, you have no idea what a tremendous reputation your friends have given you. Ann Burney—you remember that funny little creature, don’t you? as fat as a butterball—Ann told me the other day that you were positively the terror of everybody around Athens. And now I find you here kissing your fingers at my portrait on the wall. I declare, it is too romantic for anything! After this I know you will never call me Sarah Jane.”

“You have taken me by surprise,” said Berrien, as soon as he could get in a word. “I was admiring the skill of the artist. The lace there, falling against the velvet bodice, is neatly done.”

“Ah, but you are blushing; you are confused!” exclaimed Miss Carter. “You haven’t even told me you are glad to see me.”

[23]

“There is no need to tell you that,” said Berrien. “I was just thinking, when you rushed in on me, how good and kind you always were. You are maturer than the portrait there, but you are more beautiful.”

Miss Carter bent low with a mock courtesy, but the color in her face was warmer as she exclaimed:—

“Oh, how nice you are! The portrait there is only sixteen, and I am twenty-five. Just think of that! And just think of me at that age—what a tomboy I was! But I must run and tell the rest of the folks howdy.”

Berrien Cozart walked out on the veranda, and presently he was joined by his father. “My son,” said the old gentleman, “you will need money for your traveling expenses. Here is a check on our Augusta factor; you can have it cashed in Madison. I want you to return to college, make all proper apologies, and redeem yourself.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Berrien, taking the check and stuffing it into his pocket. His father turned to go indoors, hesitated a moment, and looked at Berrien, who was drumming idly on one of the pillars. Then the old gentleman sighed and went in.

[24]

Shortly thereafter Berrien Cozart and Balaam were journeying away from Billville in the conveyance that had brought them there.

On the high hill beyond the “town branch” Balaam leaned out of the hack and looked back at Billville. The town appeared insignificant enough; but the setting sun imparted a rosy glow to the roof of the yellow court-house and to the spire of the old church. Observing the purpose of the negro, Mr. Cozart smiled cynically and flipped the hot ashes of his cigar into Balaam’s ear.

“As you are telling the town good-by,” said the young man, “I’ll help you to bow.”

“Yasser!” said Balaam, shaking the ashes from his ear; “I was des a-lookin’ back at de place. Dat sun shine red, mon, an’ de jail look like she de bigges’ house dar. She stan’ out mo’ bigger dan w’at de chu’ch do.”

It may be that this statement made no impression on Berrien, but he leaned back in his seat and for miles chewed the end of his cigar in silence.

It is not the purpose of this chronicle to follow him through all his adventures and escapades. As he rode away from Billville[25] on that memorable day he seemed to realize that his career had just begun. It was a career to which he had served a long and faithful apprenticeship, and he pursued it to the end. From Madison he went to Atlanta, where for months he was a familiar, albeit a striking figure. There were few games of chance in which he was not an adept. No conjurer was so adroit with the cards or the dice; he handled these emblems of fate and disaster as an artist handles his tools. And luck chose him as her favorite; he prospered to such a degree that he grew reckless and careless. Whereupon one fine day luck turned her back on him, and he paraded on fine afternoons in front of Lloyd’s Hotel a penniless man. He had borrowed and lost until he could borrow no longer.

Balaam, who was familiar with the situation, was not surprised to learn that his master had made up his mind to sell him.

“Well, suh,” said Balaam, brushing his master’s coat carefully,“you kin sell me, but de man dat buys Balaam will git a mighty bad bargain.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Berrien.

“You kin sell me, suh, but I ain’t gwine stay wid um.”

[26]

“You can’t help yourself,” said the master.

“I got legs, Marse Berry. You know dat yo’se’f.”

“Your legs will do you no good. You’ll be caught if you go back home.”

“I ain’t gwine dar, suh. I’m gwine wid you. I hear you say yistiddy night p’intedly dat you gwine ’way f’om dis place, an’ I’m gwine wid you. I been ’long wid you all de time, an’ ole marster done tole me w’en you was baby dat I got ter stay wid you.”

Something in this view seemed to strike Mr. Cozart. He walked up and down the floor a few minutes, and then fell to laughing.

“By George, Balaam, you are a trump,—a royal flush in spades. It will be a famous joke.”

Thereupon Berrien Cozart arranged his cards, so to speak, for a more hazardous game than any he had ever yet played. He went with Balaam to a trader who was an expert in the slave market, and who knew its ups and downs, its weak points and its strong points. At first Berrien was disposed to put Balaam on the block and have him auctioned off to the highest bidder; but[27] the trader knew the negro, and had already made a study of his strong points. To be perfectly sure, however, he thumped Balaam on the chest, listened to the beating of his heart, and felt of his muscles in quite a professional way.

“I reckon he ain’t noways vicious,” said the trader, looking at Balaam’s smiling face.

“I have never seen him angry or sullen,” said Mr. Cozart. Other questions were asked, and finally the trader jotted down this memorandum in his note-book:—

“Buck nigger, Balaam; age 32; 6 feet 1 inch; sound as a dollar; see Colonel Strother.”

Then the trader made an appointment with Berrien for the next day, and said he thought the negro could be disposed off at private sale. Such was the fact, for when Berrien went back the next day the trader met him with an offer of fifteen hundred dollars in cash for Balaam.

“Make it eighteen,” said Mr. Cozart.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said the trader, closing his eyes and pursing his mouth in a business-like way. “I’ll give you sixteen fifty—no more, no less. Come, now, that’s fair. Split the difference.”

[28]

Thereupon Mr. Cozart said it was a bargain, and the trader paid him the money down after the necessary papers were drawn up. Balaam seemed to be perfectly satisfied. All he wanted, he said, was to have a master who would treat him well. He went with Berrien to the hotel to fetch his little belongings, and if the trader had searched him when he returned he would have found strapped around his body a belt containing fifty dollars in specie.

Having thus, in a manner, replenished his empty purse, Mr. Berrien Cozart made haste to change his field of operations. To his competitors in his own special department of industry he let drop the hint that he was going to Columbus, and thence to Mobile and New Orleans, where he would hang on the outskirts of the racing season, picking up such crumbs and contributions as might naturally fall in the way of a professional gentleman who kept his eyes open and his fingers nimble enough to deal himself a winning hand.

As a matter of fact Mr. Cozart went to Nashville, and he had not been gone many days before Balaam disappeared. He had been missing two days before Colonel Strother,[29] his new master, took any decided action, but on the morning of the fourth day the following advertisement appeared among others of a like character in the columns of the Atlanta “Intelligencer”:—
A drawing of Balaam

$100 reward will be paid for the apprehension of my negro boy Balaam. Thirty-odd years old, but appeared younger; tall, pleasant-looking, quick-spoken, and polite. Was formerly the property of the Hon. William Cozart. He is supposed to be making his way to his old home. Was well dressed when last seen. Milledgeville “Recorder” and “Federal union” please copy.

Bozeman Strother,
Atlanta, Georgia.

(d. & w. 1 mo.)

This advertisement duly appeared in the Milledgeville papers, which were published not far from Billville, but no response was ever made; the reward was never claimed. Considering the strength and completeness of the patrol system of that day, Balaam’s adventure was a risky one; but, fortunately for him, a wiser head than his had planned his flight and instructed him thoroughly in the part he was to play. The shrewdness of[30] Berrien Cozart had provided against all difficulties. Balaam left Atlanta at night, but he did not go as a fugitive. He was armed with a “pass” which formally set forth to all to whom it might concern that the boy David had express permission to join his master in Nashville, and this “pass” bore the signature of Elmore Avery, a gentleman who existed only in the imagination of Mr. Berrien Cozart. Attached thereto, also, was the signature seal of the judge of ordinary. With this little document Balaam would have found no difficulty whatever in traveling. The people he met would have reasoned that the negro whose master trusted him to make so long a journey alone must be an uncommonly faithful one, but Balaam met with an adventure that helped him along much more comfortably than the pass could have helped him. It is best, perhaps, to tell the story in his own language, as he told it long afterwards.

“I won’t say I weren’t skeered,” said Balaam, “kaze I was; yit I weren’t skeered ’nough fer ter go slippin’ ’longside er de fences an’ ’mongst de pine thickets. I des kep’ right in de big road. Atter I got out er town a little piece, I tuck off my shoes[31] an’ tied de strings tergedder an’ slung ’em ’cross my shoulder, on top my satchel, an’ den I sorter mended my gait. I struck up a kind er dog-trot, an’ by de time day come a many a mile lay ’twix’ me an’ Atlanta. Little atter sun-up I hear some horses trottin’ on de road de way I come, an’ bimeby a man driv up in a double buggy. He say, ‘Hello, boy! Whar you gwine?’ I pulled off my hat, an’ say, ‘I gwine whar my marster is, suh.’ Den de white man ’low, ‘W’at he name?’ Well, suh, when de man ax me dat, hit come over me like a big streak er de chill an’ fever dat I done clean fergit de name what Marse Berry choosen ter be call by. So I des runned my han’ und’ de lindin’ er my hat an’ pulled out de pass, an’ say, ‘Boss, dis piece er paper kin talk lots better dan I kin.’

“De man look at me right hard, an’ den he tuck de pass an’ read it out loud. Well, suh, w’en he come ter de name I des grabbed holt un it wid my min’, an’ I ain’t never turned it loose tell yit. De man was drivin’ long slow, an’ I was walkin’ by de buggy. He helt de pass in his han’s some little time, den he look at me an’ scratch his head. Atter a while he ’low: ‘You got a mighty long[32] journey befo’ you. Kin you drive? Ef you kin, put on yo’ shoes an’ mount up here an’ take dese lines.’

“Well, suh, I wuz sorter glad, an’ yit I wuz sorter skittish, but I tol’ de white man thankydo, an’ le’pt up in dat buggy like I was de gladdes’ nigger in de worl’. De man he keep on lookin’ at me, an’ bimeby he say, ‘I tuck a notion when I fust see you dat you was de boy w’at Cozart had in Atlanta.’ Mon! you could er knocked me over wid a feather, I was dat weak; but I bu’st out laughin’ an’ ’low, ‘Lord, boss! ef I wa’n’t no better lookin’ dan dat ar Cozart nigger I’d quit bein’ a nigger an’ take up wid de monkey tribe.’ De man say, ‘I had de idee dat de Cozart nigger was a mighty likely boy. What was his name? Balaam?’ I was so skeered it fair make me sick at de stomach, yit I talk right out. I ’low, ‘Dey call ’im Balaam, an’ dey have ter whale ’im.’ De man he laugh, ‘He got a great big scyar on de side er his neck now whar somebody hit ’im a diff, an’ he lay roun’ dem hotels an’ drink dram all night long.’ De man look sideways at my neck. ‘Dat nigger got so bad dat his marster had ter sell ’im, an’ dey tells me, suh, dat de man[33] w’at buy ’im ain’ no mo’ dan paid de money fer ’im dan he have ter take ’im down and strop ’im.’

“Well, suh, de man look at me an laugh so funny dat it make my ve’y limbs ache. Yes, suh. My heart hit up ’g’inst my ribs des like a flutter-mill; an’ I wuz so skeered it make my tongue run slicker dan sin. He ax me mo’ questions dan I could answer now, but I made answer den des like snappin’ my fingers. W’at make me de mo’ skeered was de way dat ar white man done. He’d look at me an’ laugh, an’ de plumper I gin ’im de answer de mo’ he’d laugh. I say ter myse’f, I did: ‘Balaam, you’r’ a goner, dat w’at you is. De man know you, an’ de fust calaboose he come ter he gwine slap you in dar.’ I had a mighty good notion ter jump out er dat buggy an’ make a break fer de woods, but stidder dat I sot right whar I wuz, kaze I knowed in reason dat ef de man want me right bad an’ I wuz ter break an’ run he’d fetch me down wid a pistol.

“Well, suh, dat man joke an’ laugh de whole blessed mornin,’ an’ den bimeby we drove in a town not much bigger dan Bivvle” (which was Balaam’s pet name for Billville), “an’ dar de white man say we’d[34] stop fer dinner. He ain’t say de word too soon fer me, mon, kaze I was so hongry an’ tired it make my head swim. We driv up ter tavern, we did, an’ de folks dar dey holler, ‘Howdy, Judge,’ an’ de white man he holler ‘Howdy’ back, an’ den he tol’ me ter take de horses an’ buggy down ter de liberty stable an’ have ’em fed, an’ den come back an’ git my dinner. Dat wuz mighty good news; but whilst I wuz eatin’ my dinner I hear dat white man laughin’, an’ it come over me dat he know who I wuz an’ dat he wuz gwine ter gi’ me up; yit dat ain’t hender my appetite, an’ I des sot dar an’ stuff myse’f tell I des make de yuther niggers open der eyes. An’ den, when I git my belly full, I sot in de sun an’ went right fast ter sleep. I ’spec’ I tuck a right smart nap, kaze when some un hollered at me an’ woke me up de sun wuz gwine down de hill right smartly. I jumped up on my feet, I did, an’ I say, ‘Who dat callin’ me?’ Somebody ’low, ‘Yo’ marster want you.’ Den I bawl out, ‘Is Marse Berry come?’ De niggers all laugh, an’ one un ’em say, ‘Dat nigger man dreamin’, mon. He ain’t woke good yit.’

“By dat time I done come ter my senses,[35] an’ den I ax dem wharbouts marster is. Bimeby, when I done foun’ de white man w’at bring me in his buggy, he look at me sorter funny an’ say, ‘You know whar you lef’ my buggy: well, you go down an’ raise up de seat an’ fetch me de little box you’ll fin’ in dar. Wrop it up in de buggy rug an’ fetch it an’ put it on de table dar.’ Well, suh, I went an’ got dat box, an’ time I put my han’ on it I knowed des ’zactly w’at wuz on de inside er it. I done seed too many er ’em. It wuz under lock an’ key, but I knowed it wuz a farrar box like dem w’at Marse Berry done his gamblin’ wid. By de time I got back ter de room in de tavern de white man done had de table kivered wid a piece er cloff w’at he got out ’n his satchel. He tuck de box, onlocked it, rattled de chips in his han’, an’ shuffled de kyards. Den he look at me an’ laugh. He was de quarest white man dat ever I laid eyes on.

“Atter while I ax ’im ef I hadn’t better be gitten’ ’long todes de eend er my journey. He ’low: ‘Lord, no! I want you ter set round yere atter supper an’ gi’ me luck. You ain’t losin’ no time, kaze I’m a-gwine plumb to Chattanoogy, an’ ef you’ll be ez spry ez you kin be I’ll take you ’long wid[36] me.’ De ups an’ odds er it was dat I stayed wid de man. De folks named ’im Judge, an’ he was a judge, mon. ’Long ’bout nine dat night he come ter his room, whar I was waitin’ fer ’im, an’ soon atter dat de young gentlemens ’bout town ’gun ter drap in, an’ ’t wa’n’t long ’fo’ de game got started. Look like de man ain’t wanter play, but de yuthers dey kep’ on coaxin’, an’ presently he fotch out de box an’ opened up. Well, sah, I done seed lots er gamblin’ fust an’ last, but dat white man beat my time. Dey played poker, stidder farrar, an’ it look like ter me dat de man done got de kyards trained. He dealt ’em ’boveboard, an’ dey des come in his han’ ’zackly like he want ’em ter come. Ef he had any tricks like w’at Marse Berry played on folks, dey was too slick fer my eye, yit he des beated dem yuther mens scand’lous. It was des like one er dese yere great big river cats ketchin’ minners.

“Atter dey been playin’ some little time, de white man what brung me dar ’low: ‘Boy, you better go git some sleep. We’ll start soon in de mornin’.’ But I say, ‘No, suh; I’ll des set in de cornder here an’ nod, an’ I’ll be close by ef so be you want me.’ I[37] sot dar, I did, an’ I had a good chance ter sleep, kaze, bless yo’ heart! dem mens ain’t make much fuss. Dey des grip der kyards an’ sorter hol’ der bref. Sometimes one un ’em would break out an’ cuss a word er two, but inginer’lly dey ’d plank up der scads an’ lose ’em des like dey wuz usen ter it. De white man w’at dey call Judge he des wiped ’em up, an’ at de een’ he wuz des ez fresh ez he wuz at de start. It wuz so nigh day when de game broke up dat Marse Judge ’lowed dat it was too late fer supper an’ not quite soon ’nough fer breakfas’, an’ den he say he wuz gwine ter take a walk an’ git some a’r.

“Well, suh, it wuz dat away all de time I wuz wid dat white man—laughin’ an’ jokin’ all day, an’ gamblin’ all night long. How an’ when he got sleep I’ll never tell you, kaze he wuz wide awake eve’y time I seed ’im. It went on dis away plumb till we got ter de Tennessy River, dar whar Chattynoogy is. Atter we sorter rested, de white man tuck me ’cross de river, an’ we druv on ter whar de stage changes hosses. Dar we stopped, an’ whilst I wuz waitin’ fer de stage de white man ’low, ‘Balaam!’ He kotch me so quick, dat I jump des like I’d[38] been shot, an’ hollered out, ‘Suh!’ Den he laugh sorter funny, an’ say: ‘Don’t look skeered, Balaam; I knowed you fum de offstart. You’r’ a mighty good boy, but yo’ marster is a borned rascal. I’m gwine send you whar you say he is, an’ I want you ter tell ’im dis fum me—dat dough he tried ter rob me, yit fer de sake er his Cousin Sally, I he’ped you ter go whar he is.’

“Den de man got in his buggy an’ driv back, an’ dat de las’ time I ever laid eyes on ’im. When de stage come ’long I got up wid de driver, an’ ’t wa’n’t long ’fo’ I wuz wid Marse Berry, an’ I ain’t no sooner seed ’im dan I knowed he was gwine wrong wuss and wuss: not but w’at he was glad kaze I come, but it look like his face done got mo’ harder. Well, suh, it was des dat away. I ain’t gwine ter tell you all w’at he done an’ how he done it, kaze he was my own marster, an’ he never hit me a lick amiss, ’ceppin’ it was when he was a little boy. I ain’t gwine ter tell you whar we went an’ how we got dar, kaze dey done been too much talk now. But we drapped down inter Alabam’, an’ den inter Massasip’, an’ den inter Arkansaw, an’ back ag’in inter Massasip’; an’ one night whilst we[39] wuz on one er dem big river boats, Marse Berry he got inter a mighty big row. Dey wuz playin’ kyards fer de bigges’ kind er stakes, an’ fust news I know de lie was passed, an’ den de whole gang made fer Marse Berry. Dey whipped out der knives an’ der pistols, an’ it look like it wuz gwine ter be all night wid Marse Berry. Well, suh, I got so skeered dat I picked up a cheer an’ smashed de nighest man, and by dat time Marse Berry had shot one; an’, suh, we des cleaned ’em out. Den Marse Berry made a dash fer de low’-mos’ deck, an’ I dashed atter ’im. Den I hear sumpin’ go ker-slosh in de water, an’ I ’lowed it was Marse Berry, an’ in I splunged head-foremos’. An’ den—but, Lord, suh, you know de balance des good ez I does, kaze I hear tell dat dey wuz sumpin’ n’er ’bout it in de papers.”

This was as far as Balaam ever would go with the story of his adventure. He had made a hero of Berrien Cozart from his youth, and he refused to dwell on any episode in the young man’s career that, to his mind, was not worthy of a Cozart. When Berrien leaped to the lower deck of the steamboat his foot touched a stick of wood. This he flung into the river, and then hid[40] himself among the cotton bales that were piled on the forward part of the boat. It will never be known whether he threw the piece of wood into the water knowing that Balaam would follow, or whether his sole intention was to elude pursuit. A shot or two was fired, but the bullets fell wide of their mark, and the boat swept on, leaving the negro swimming around, searching for his master.

At the next landing-place Berrien slipped ashore unseen. But fortune no longer favored him; for the next day a gentleman who had been a passenger on the boat recognized him, and an attempt was made to arrest him. He shot the high sheriff of the county through the head, and became a fugitive indeed. He was pursued through Alabama into Georgia, and being finally captured not a mile away from Billville, was thrown into jail in the town where he was born. His arrest, owing to the standing of his family, created a tremendous sensation in the quiet village. Before he was carried to jail he asked that his father be sent for. The messenger tarried some little time, but he returned alone.

“What did my father say?” Berrien asked with some eagerness.

[41]

“He said,” replied the messenger, “that he didn’t want to see you.”

“Did he write that message?” the young man inquired.

“Oh, no!” the messenger declared. “He just waved his arm—so—and said he didn’t want to see you.”

At once the troubled expression on Berrien Cozart’s face disappeared. He looked around on the crowd and smiled.

“You see what it is,” he said with a light laugh, “to be the pride of a family! Gentlemen, I am ready. Don’t let me keep you waiting.” And so, followed by half the population of his native village, he was escorted to jail.

This building was a two-story brick structure, as solid as good material and good work could make it, and there was no fear that any prisoner could escape, especially from the dungeon where Berrien’s captors insisted on confining him. Nevertheless the jailer was warned to take unusual precautions. This official, however, who occupied with his family the first story of the jail, merely smiled. He had grown old in the business of keeping this jail, and certainly he knew a great deal more about it[42] than those Mississippi officials who were strutting around and putting on such airs.

To his other duties the jailer added those of tyler of the little lodge of freemasons that had its headquarters in a hall on the public square, and it so happened that the lodge was to meet on the very night that Berrien was put into jail. After supper the jailer, as had been his habit for years, smoked his pipe, and then went down to the village and lighted the lamps in the masonic hall. His wife and daughter, full of the subject of Berrien Cozart’s imprisonment, went to a neighbor’s not far away for the purpose of discussing the matter. As they passed out of the gate they heard the jailer blowing the tin trumpet which was the signal for the masons to assemble.

It was nearly eleven o’clock when the jailer returned, but he found his wife and daughter waiting for him. Both had a troubled air, and they lost no time in declaring that they had heard weeping and sobbing upstairs in the dungeon. The jailer himself was very sympathetic, having known Berrien for many years, and he took another turn at his pipe by way of consolation. Then, as was his custom, he took his lantern[43] and went around the jail on a tour of inspection to see that everything was safe.

He did not go far. First he stumbled over a pile of bricks, and then his shoulder struck a ladder. He uttered a little cry and looked upward, and there, dim as his lantern was, he could see a black and gaping hole in the wall of the dungeon. He ran into the house as fast as his rheumatic legs could carry him, and he screamed to his wife and daughter:—

“Raise the alarm! Cozart has escaped! We are ruined!”

Then he ran to the dungeon door, flung it open, and then fell back with a cry of terror. What did he see, and what did the others who joined him there see? On the floor lay Berrien Cozart dead, and crouching beside him was Balaam. How the negro had managed to make his way through the masonry of the dungeon without discovery is still one of the mysteries of Billville. But, prompt as he was, he was too late. His master had escaped through a wider door. He had made his way to a higher court. Death, coming to him in that dark dungeon, must have visited him in the similitude of a happy dream, for there[44] under the light of the lanterns he lay smiling sweetly as a little child that nestles on its mother’s breast; and on the floor near him, where it had dropped from his nerveless hand, was a golden locket, from which smiled the lovely face of Sally Carter.


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