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 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 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 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.”

“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 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, 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,
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
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.

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 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.

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
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.”

“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 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 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.”

“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.

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 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.”

“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 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.”

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, 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”:—

[Illustration]

$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
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 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 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 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 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, 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 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 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 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
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 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.

“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 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 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 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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