At Fault

With Loose Reins

“De Lord be praised fu’ de blessin’s dat he showers down ’pon us,” was Uncle Hiram’s graceful conclusion of his supper, after which he pushed his empty plate aside regretfully, and addressed Aunt Belindy. “ ’Pears to me, Belindy, as you reached a pint wid dem bacon an’ greens to-night, dat you never tetched befo’. De pint o’ de flavorin’ is w’at I alludes to.”

“All de same, dat ain’t gwine to fetch no mo’,” was the rather uncivil reply to this neat compliment to her culinary powers.

“Dah!” cried the youthful Betsy, who formed one of the trio gathered together in the kitchen at Place-du-Bois. “Jis listen (to) Unc’ Hiurm! Aunt B’lindy neva tetched a han’ to dem bacon an’ greens. She tole me out o’ her own mouf to put’em on de fiar; she warn’t gwine pesta wid ’em.”

“Warn’t gwine pesta wid ’em?” administering a cuff on the ear of the too communicative Betsy, that sent her sprawling across the table. “T’inks I’se gwine pesta wid you—does you? Messin’ roun’ heah in de kitchin’ an’ ain’t tu’ned down a bed or drawed a bah, or done a lick o’ yo’ night wurk yit.”

“I is done my night wurk, too,” returned Betsy whimpering but defiantly, as she retreated beyond reach of further blows from Aunt Belindy’s powerful right hand.

“Dat harshness o’ yourn, Belindy, is wat’s a sourin’ yo’ tempa, an’ a turnin’ of it intur gall an’ wormwood. Does you know wat de Scripture tells us of de wrathful woman?”

“Whar I got time to go a foolin’ wid Scripture? W’at I wants to know; whar dat Pierson boy, he don’t come. He ben gone time ’nough to walk to Natch’toches an’ back.”

“Ain’t dat him I years yonda tu de crib?” suggestod Betsy, coming to join Aunt Belindy in the open doorway.

“You heahs mos’ too much fu’ yo’ own good, you does, gal.”

But Betsy was right. For soon a tall, slim negro, young and coal black, mounted the stairs and came into the kitchen, where he deposited a meal bag filled with various necessities that he had brought from Centerville. He was one of the dancers who had displayed their skill before Melicent and Grégoire. Uncle Hiram at once accosted him.

“Well, Pierson, we jest a ben a wonderin’ consarnin’ you. W’at was de ’casion o’ dat long delay?”

“De ’casion? W’y man alive, I couldn’t git a dog gone soul in de town to wait on me.”

“Dat boy kin lie, yas,” said Aunt Belindy, “God A’mighty knows ever time I ben to Centaville dem sto’ keepas ain’t done a blessed t’ing but settin’ down.”

“Settin’ down—Lord! dey warn’t settin’ down to-day; you heah me.”

“W’at dey doin’ ef dey ain’t settin’ down, Unc’ Pierson?” asked Betsy with amiable curiosity.

“You jis drap dat ‘uncle,’ you,” turning wrathfully upon the girl, “sence w’en you start dat new trick?”

“Lef de chile ’lone, Pierson, lef ’er alone. Come heah, Betsy, an’ set by yo’ Uncle Hiurm.”

From the encouraging nearness of Uncle Hiram, she ventured to ask “w’at you ’low dey doin’ ef dey ain’t settin’ down?” this time without adding the offensive title.

“Dey flyin’ ’roun’, Lord! dey hidin’ dey sef! dey gittin’ out o’ de way, I tell you. Grégor jis ben a raisin’ ole Cain in Centaville.”

“I know’d it; could a’ tole you dat mese’f. My Lan’! but dats a piece, dat Grégor,” Aunt Belindy enunciated between paroxysms of laughter, seating herself with her fat arms resting on her knees, and her whole bearing announcing pleased anticipation.

“Dat boy neva did have no car’ fur de salvation o’ his soul,” groaned Uncle Hiram.

“W’at he ben a doin’ yonda?” demanded Aunt Belindy impatiently.

“Well,” said Pierson, assuming a declamatory air and position in the middle of the large kitchen, “he lef’ heah—w’at time he lef heah, Aunt B’lindy?”

“He done lef’ fo’ dinna, ’caze I seed ’im a lopin’ to’ads de riva, time I flung dat Sampson boy out o’ de doo’, bringin’ dem greens in heah ’dout washin’ of ’em.”

“Dat’s so; it war good dinna time w’en he come a lopin’ in town. Dat hoss look like he ben swimmin’ in Cane Riva, he done ride him so hard. He fling he se’f down front o’ Grammont’s sto’ an’ he come a stompin’ in, look like gwine hu’t somebody. Ole Grammont tell him, ‘How you come on, Grégor? Come ova tu de house an’ eat dinna wid us: de ladies be pleas tu see you.’ ”

“Humph,” muttered Aunt Belindy, “dem Grammont gals be glad to see any t’ing dat got breeches on; lef ’lone good lookin’ piece like dat Grégor.”

“Grégor, he neva sey, ‘Tank you dog,’ jis’ fling he big dolla down on de counta an’ ’low ‘don’t want no dinna: gimme some w’iskey.’ ”

“Yas, yas, Lord,” from Aunt Belindy.

“Ole Grammont, he push de bottle to’ads ’im, an’ I ’clar to Goodness ef he didn’ mos fill dat tumbla to de brim, an’ drink it down, neva blink a eye. Den he tu’n an treat ev’y las’ w’ite man stan’in’ roun’; dat ole kiarpenta man; de blacksmif; Marse Verdon. He keep on a treatin’; Grammont, he keep a handin’ out de w’iskey; Grégor he keep on a drinkin’ an a treatin’—Grammont, he keep a handin’ out; don’t make no odds tu him s’long uz dat bring de money in de draw. I ben a stan’in’ out on de gallery, me, a peekin’ in. An’ Grégor, he cuss and swar an’ he kiarry on, an ’low he want play game poka. Den dey all goes a trompin’ in de back room an’ sets down roun’ de table, an’ I comes a creepin’ in, me, whar I kin look frough de doo’, an dar dey sets an’ plays an Grégor, he drinks w’iskey an’ he wins de money. An’ arta w’ile Marse Verdon, he little eyes blinkin’, he ’low’, ‘y’ all had a shootin’ down tu Place-du-Bois, hein Grégor?’ Grégor, he neva say nuttin’: he jis’ draw he pistol slow out o’ he pocket an’ lay it down on de table; an’ he look squar in Marse Verdon eyes. Man! ef you eva seed some pussun tu’n’ w’ite!”

“Reckon dat heifa ‘Milky’ look black side li’le Verdon dat time,” chuckled Aunt Belindy.

“Jis’ uz w’ite uz Unc’ Hiurm’s shurt an’ a trimblin’, an’ neva say no mo’ ’bout shootin’. Den ole Grammont, he kine o’ hang back an’ say, ‘You git de jestice de peace, ’hine you, kiarrin’ conceal’ weepons dat a-way, Grégor.’ ”

“Dat ole Grammont, he got to git he gab in ef he gwine die fu’ it,” interrupted Aunt Belindy.

“Grégor say—‘I don’t ’lows to kiarr no conceal’ weepons,’ an he draw nudda pistol slow out o’ he udda pocket an’ lay et on de table. By dat time he gittin’ all de money, he crammin’ de money in he pocket; an’ dem fellas dey gits up one arta d’udda kine o’ shy-like, an’ sneaks out. Den Grégor, he git up an come out o’ de room, he coat ’crost he arm, an’ de pistols a stickin’ out an him lookin’ sassy tell ev’y body make way, same ef he ben Jay Goul’. Ef he look one o’ ’em in de eye dey outs wid, ‘Howdy, Grégor—how you come on, Grégor?’ jis’ uz pelite uz a peacock, an’ him neva take no trouble to yansa ’em. He jis’ holla out fu’ somebody bring dat hoss tu de steps, an’ him stan’in’ ’s big uz life, waitin’. I gits tu de hoss fus’, me, an’ leads ’im up, an’ he gits top dat hoss stidy like he ain’t tetch a drap, an’ he fling me big dolla.”

“Whar de dolla, Mista Pierson?” enquired Betsy.

“De dolla in my pocket, an’ et gwine stay dah. Didn’ ax you fu’ no ‘Mista Pierson.’ Whar yu’ all tink he went on dat hoss?”

“How you reckon we knows whar he wint; we wasn’t dah,” replied Aunt Belindy.

“He jis’ went a lopin’ twenty yards down to Chartrand’s sto’. I goes on ’hine ’im see w’at he gwine do. Dah he git down f’um de hoss an’ go a stompin’ in de sto’—eve’ybody stan’in’ back jis’ same like fu’ Jay Goul’, an’ he fling bill down on de counta an’ ’low, ‘Fill me up a bottle, Chartrand, I’se gwine travelin’.’ Den he ’lows, ‘You treats eve’y las’ man roun’ heah at my ’spence, black an’ w’ite—nuttin’ fu’ me,’ an’ he fole he arms an’ lean back on de counta, jis’ so. Chartrand, he look skeerd, he say ‘François gwine wait on you.’ But Grégor, he ’low he don’t wants no rusty skileton a waitin’ on him w’en he treat, ‘Wait on de gemmen yo’se’f—step up gemmen.’ Chartrand ’low, ‘Damn ef nigga gwine drink wid w’ite man in dat sto’,’ all same he kine git ’hine box tu say dat.”

“Lord, Lord, de ways o’ de transgressor!” groaned Uncle Hiram.

“You want to see dem niggas sneaking ’way,” resumed Pierson, “dey knows Grégor gwine fo’ce ’em drink; dey knows Chartrand gwine make it hot fu’ ’em art’ards ef dey does. Grégor he spie me jis’ I’se tryin’ glide frough de doo’ an he call out, ‘Yonda a gemmen f’um Place-du-Bois; Pierson, come heah; you’se good ’nough tu drink wid any w’ite man, ’cept me; you come heah, take drink wid Mr. Louis Chartrand.’

“I ’lows don’t wants no drink, much ’bleege, Marse Grégor’. ‘Yis, you wants drink,’ an’ ’id dat he draws he pistol. ‘Mista Chartrand want drink, too. I done owe Mista Chartrand somethin’ dis long time; I’se gwine pay ’im wid a treat,’ he say. Chartrand look like he on fiar, he so red, he so mad, he swell up same like ole bull frog.”

“Dat make no odd,” chuckled Aunt Belindy, “he gwine drink wid nigga ef Grégor say so.”

“Yes, he drink, Lord, only he cuss me slow, an’ ’low he gwine break my skull.”

“Lordy! I knows you was jis’ a trimblin’, Mista Pierson.”

“Warn’t trimblin’ no mo’ ’en I’se trimblin’ dis minute, an’ you drap dat ‘Mista.’ Den w’at you reckon? Yonda come Père Antoine; he come an’ stan’ in de doo’ an’ he hole up he han’; look like he ain’t ’feard no body an’ he ’low: ‘Grégor Sanchun, how is you dar’ come in dis heah peaceful town frowin’ of it into disorda an’ confusion? Ef you isn’t ’feard o’ man; hasn’t you got no fear o’ God A’mighty wat punishes?’ ”

“Grégor, he look at ’im an’ he say cool like, ‘Howdy, Père Antoine; how you come on?’ He got he pistol w’at he draw fu’ make Chartrand drink wid dis heah nigga,—he foolin’ wid it an’ a rubbin’ it up and down he pants, an’ he ’low ‘Dis a gemmen w’at fit to drink wid a Sanchun—w’at’ll you have?’ But Père Antoine, he go on makin’ a su’mon same like he make in chu’ch, an’ Grégor, he lean he two arm back on de counta—kine o’ smilin’ like, an’ he say, ‘Chartrand, whar dat bottle I orda you put up?’ Chartrand bring de bottle; Grégor, he put de bottle in he coat pocket wat hang on he arm—car’ful.

"Père Antoine, he go on preachin’, he say, ‘I tell you dis young man, you ’se on de big road w’at leads tu hell.’

“Den Grégor straight he se’f up an’ walk close to Père Antoine an’ he say, ‘Hell an’ damnation dar ain’t no sich a place. I reckon she know; w’at you know side o’ her. She say dar ain’t no hell, an’ ef you an’ de Archbishop an’ de Angel Gabriel come along an’ ’low dey a hell, you all liars,’ an’ he say, ‘Make way dah, I’se a gittin’ out o’ heah; dis ain’t no town fittin’ to hol’ a Sanchun. Make way ef you don’ wants to go to Kingdom come fo’ yo’ time.’

“Well, I ’lows dey did make way. Only Père Antoine, he look mighty sorry an’ down cas’.

“Grégor go out dat sto’ taking plenty room, an’ walkin’ car’ful like, an’ he swing he se’f on de hoss; den he lean down mos’ flat an’ stick he spurs in dat hoss an’ he go tar’in’ like de win’ down street, out o’ de town, a firin’ he pistol up in de a’r.”

Uncle Hiram had listened to the foregoing recital with troubled countenance, and with many a protesting groan. He now shook his old white head, and heaved a deep sigh. “All dat gwine come hard an’ heavy on de madam. She don’t desarve it—God knows, she don’t desarve it.”

“How you, ole like you is, kin look fu’ somethin’ diffunt, Unc’ Hiurm?” observed Aunt Belindy philosophically. “Don’t you know Grégor gwine be Grégor tell he die? Dat’s all dar is ’bout it.”

Betsy arose with the sudden recollection that she had let the time pass for bringing in Miss Thérèse’s hot water, and Pierson went to the stove to see what Aunt Belindy had reserved for him in the shape of supper.