Dick Vose was a Jayhawker. The Kansas troops bad accepted the appellation good-naturedly, though it had been originally given them by the Missourians as an intimation that they were only robbers of poultry - yards. It was the year 1862, and the White River, in Arkansas was the scene of constant sharp-shooting and skirmishes resulting invariably in greater loss upon the Union than on the rebel side. Disheartened by continual defeat, the Jayhawkers had almost decided to beat a retreat through Missouri into Kansas, when a rumor was brought them by runaway slaves that the Mississippi had been cleared by Union gun-boats. Dick Vose, who had a special talent for a scout's duty, was sent out to ascertain the truth of the report. He tramped sturdily through dense thickets, now and then making a detour around a swamp or a deserted farm-house, which might be the lurking-place of "Bush whackers," as the Kansans and negroes denominated the Confederate guerrilla troops. After two days solitary march, he found laimself before a rude landing on the banks of the great river. On the opposite side was another of the same character, which seemed to indicate that there had been a ferry here in time past. There was also a group of buildings on the further side that appeared to be warehouses, and, a little retired from them, a fine old plantation. On the Arkansas shore stood a forlorn negro cabin formed of "slabs," or unplaned planks.
A venerable darky with a frosty poll, who was lolling luriously on the sunny side of his domicile, rose with some difficulty and ambled briskly toward him.
"Bress de Lord ! ye done come at last, has ye? Barm-oh-Gilead said he done hearn tell de Jayhawkers was on de road, but we's been so tuk up watchin' do ribber dat we nobber kep' no look-out toward de breseh."
As the old man spoke, a crowd of small contrabands swarmed around him like cockroaches, to take a look at the stranger. Dick explained that he was very hungry and asked if he could obtain dinner.
"Sartin, sartin," said the old negro, leading the way into his poor house with great alacrity. "Heah, you, Lily-ob-de-Valley, take dis yeah skillet an' fetch some water; Rose-oh-Charon, reach down dat ar piece ob side meat; you, Barm-oh-Gilead, light out into de timber an' fotch some bresch; you, Polly Pharaoh--" But he did not finish his sentence; for Polly Pharaoh, an overgrown thin girL with short skirts, long heels, and a cavernous pink sun-bonnet, which she wore at all times, even when in the house, had anticipated all his orders, and was already stirring up the corn-dodger.
While the preparations for dinner went on, Dick entered into conversation with his best. He had been the slave of Colonel St. Etienne, who owned the great cotton plantation opposite. He said that the colonel had fled on hearing of the approach of Farragut, carrying with him all that he could in the ferry-boat, and leaving word that he should come again for the cotton with which the warehouses were stored; and then in his rude dialect he gave the following explanation of the quaint names of his numerous family.
"De colonel he de son of ole miss, and ole miss she was she enough French, and mighty curus and pernickety; done druv round de colonel so long as she done lived. Young miss, de coloncl's wife, couldn't abide her nohow and 'pears like dey done guv each odder all de trouble dey could. But madame, dat ar's ole miss she owned de plantation, an' she hab her own way mos' frequent. Fus thing she done was to name all de niggahs ober again 'cordin' to dar sarbice and some fool heathin book ob hern. I was engineer den on de colonel's ferry boat, de Mud Hen--pearrt little critter--an' , madame she come down to de landin' an' see me at my post, an' my oldest son a-stuffin' de furnace, an' what did she do but gib me Charon for a name, and call my boy Plato. I didn't say nuffin to her den, for I knowed she was mighty easily outed, but I says to de colonel next day, says I, 'Colonel, can't stand dat ar name no way whatsomebber; I's a elder in de Baptist church, I is, an' I's sot on havin' Bible names fur me an' all my chillen.' But Charon's so 'propriate,' says de colonel, an' I mean to hab you an' one or two odder boys do nuttin but run de Mud Hen. Pluto's a likely boy 'an' I mean to hab him taught pilotin' on de Genevieve.' De Genevieve war de colonel's cotton barge what he used to float de cotton on down to New Orleans. 'Well, colonel,' says I, ' if you want a name what's 'propriate to his profession, jes call my boy Pontus Pilate, an' let me keep my name; I's sure Ferry-oh's a good enough one if I's to run de ferry, an', as I said before, I's done sot on me an' my boy bein' named after some one ob de forty 'postles.' De colonel he jes laughed--nice easy man, de colonel --an' says he, 'All right, Uncle Pharaoh, but you mus' let madame call you Charon.' ' 'Pears like, colonel,' says I, ' dat ar name's more fittin' for a gal, an' if it's all de same to you, Sah, I'll jes jine it on to my darter Rose, Rose-ob-Charon, an' dat ar makes a Bible name after all.' Arter dat I named my second son Barm-ob-Gilead, an' my youngest darter, dat little shiny black one dar, Lily-ob-de-Valley; but ole miss she hab her way about ebery odder niggah on de plantation. Dar was Dianny, and Venus - dat war my ole woman; an' de baker gal , was Ceres -- nebber see why she guy her dat name nohow, for a more onserious pusson you nebber sot eyes on. Orifus he fiddled for 'em when dey had deir dancin' parties, an' 'Pollo Belvidere war de han'some yaller hey dat war de colonel's tickilir valley; Phoebus war de coachman; but lor! I don't pertend to remember all de names. Ole miss she see Polly about a year after dat, an' Polly she so awful ugly--she done had her har all burned off an' her face scorched -- dat's why she wear her sun-bonnet all de time--an' ole miss named her Polyphemus, an' I dussn't change it for any ting in dis yer platitudinary world. Well, dar war a heap ob Pollies on de plantations neighborin' roun', an' somehow de niggahs nebber could get used to dat Phemus, an' so dey called her Uncle Pharaoh's Polly, an' fin'ly jes Polly Pharaoh."
During this recital Rose-ob-Sharon, Lily-ob-de-Valley, and Barm-ob-Gilead had all clustered about their father, making occasional personal remarks in regard to the stranger. Polly Pharaoh, who had gone quietly about the work of getting dinner now from the depths of her pink calico tunnel announced it ready. While eating Dick obtained the news he wished: a part of Farragut's fleet had gone up the river and a part were stationed at Napoleon, flurther down upon the Arkansas side. Polly Pharaoh served him deftly, silently. Many times he tried to catch a glimpse of her face but it was only a swift vision of darkness, in which two piercingly bright pupils twinkled in the midst of broad moon-like settings. The eyes interested him, and he asked, "How did your daughter become so badly burned ?'
"Dat ar's a long story?" said old Pharaoh. "You see Pontius Pilate went away an' larned pilotin', den he piloted de Mud Hen for a while; an' Polly Pharaoh, she didn't bab nuffin to do, an' she used to set up in de pilot-house wid him. Well fin'ly de colonel changed him on to de Genevieve to take de cotton down to New Orleans, an' you nebber see a gal so lonesome an' onsettled as Polly Pharaoh while he war gone. Next trip what did she do but hide 'mongst do cotton bales an' go off wid him. When dey was half-way down de ribber de boat took fiah, an' Pontius Pilate, when he see l de flames a-blowin' right fur de pilot-house (he was always an ornery kind ob niggah, sort ob yallerish, like his marm), didn't wait to steer de boat up to sho' but jes jumped, plump into de ribbcr an' swam for true. Den Polly she jes grabbed de wheel an' held de nozzle ob de boat 'gin de sho' wid de fire a-flamin' an' sparkin' in her face, till ebery soul war off; den she clumb down de side ob de boat an' dropped into de water, an' some of de roustabouts done fished her out.'
"That was a very heroic deed, little Polly,' said Dick; "and Pontius Pilate ran away, I suppose ?"
"No, Sah; dat mis'able fool Niggah done come a-whinin' home, an' I took him by de eah an' toted him np to de house, an' says I to de colonel, Ef you don't make a zample Iob him, I will.' But de colonel he so mighty easy, he nebber did nuffin but hab de oberseer bran' a P into his forehead; said it meant Poltroon; an' dat ar meant coward, an' stood for his name same time. Not long arter dat Pontius Pilate done stole a lot ob whiskey (he always drunk de 'lowance de colonel guv us for de whole fam'ly), but dis time he done fill hisself chock-ful, an' he hab de 'lirium tririums awful. When he got well he says to me, 'Clar to goodness, farder, bleve de debbil did want dis chile sho enough.' 'Shouldn't be sprized,' says I; 'de Lord He knows His own, an' 'pears like de debbil ought to know his'n.' Maybe de Lord done let me off dis time to guv me one more chance fur repentance,' says he. 'Dunno about dat,' says I; 'I don't bleve de Lord's got any use for no sech mis'able, cowardly sneak as you be? But at de nex' camp-meetin' dar he was for sho, on de mourners' bench, a-shoutin' for mercy, an' befo' de meetin' let out he 'clared he'd got religion. When de time came for de baptism, me an' Farder Socrates was sot apart for do work, an' says I, ' Brudder Socrates, you take de women-folks an' I'll 'tend to de men.' When I came to Pontius Pilate, I held him down under de water till he bellered for mercy.
"' Mercy ! you pore perishin' sinner,' says I. ' You didn't hab no mercy on dose pore, perishin' sinners on board de Genevieve; it was all de same to you ef de fiames did wrap 'em round, and deir souls go down to ebberlastin' burnin', so you could light out into de ribber and swim like a craw-fish for him hole. You wanted de ribber; well, you shall hab nuff of it. No, you needn't blow an' snort; time nuff for dat when you gets what de good book says dar shall be snortin' an' smashin' ob teef. Dar won't be no ribber to light out into in dat day; dar ain't no desertin' out ob Satan's steamboat. You done thought dem flames mighty powerful, but bime-by de boat done settled down into de ribber an' put de fire out; but de furnaces on Satan's steamboat done heated sebenty-seben times hotter, an' de good book says deir fiah am not squenched. No, you needn't flounder an' kick roun' an' try to upset your old farder. I's baptized a heap ob flounderin', chokin' women in my day, an' I reckon I can hold on to you. In dat ar dreadful day you'Il wish you could cool yourself off in de b'iler ob de Genevieve, an' pray de Lord to send de angel Goliah to blow a 'freshin' breff' on to you from one ob her steam 'scape-valves. No, you Pontius Pilate, it'll take more water dan dar is in dis yeah ribber to clean dat brack niggah heart ob yourn, but I'll do de best I can to scour it up for you, sinnah. Swallow all de mud you want to; nufiin make a brass kettle shine like ribber sand. In dat dreadful day--' But jes at dat point in my ex'ortin' his shirt split clean down his back, an' I done lost my grip on him an' fIopped over in de water, with nuffin in my han's but a pair ob galluses.
"Well, 'twasn't to be spected dat dat chile should ebber come to no good. He backslided out ob Zion's ship same way he did out ob de Genevieve, an' we nebber see him no mo' on de mourners' bench. De colonel heard about it, an' 'lowed he done got punished enough, an' sot him to work on board de Mud Hen; an' he done stuck by de colonel fru thick an' thin. When mos' all de odder nigs pulled foot an' lef' him, Pontius Pilate wouldn't do no seth thing; an' when de colonel up stakes an' left de land behind, in de Mud Hen., Pontius Pilate an' my ole woman, Marm Venus, done went too. Dem' two fool niggahs nebber did hab no sense to folow.'
The supper finished, while the shadows began to fill the cabin, the negroes cowered around the fire in the med chimney, and led by the cracked voice, of their father, began a strange monotonous chant. The verses, without rhyme or rhythm, will give little idea of the effect of that chant among the gathering shadows, by other shadows seemingly as unreal and dusky as they.
"Did you ebber hear de hammers ring ?"
shrilled the old man, repeating the question three times, until Dick's expectation was wrought up to a high pitch, when he added, in a low, wailing tone,
"As dey nailed our Sabeyer down ?-- Chilleren, dey nailed our Sabeyer down"
Then all the others took up the refrain:
"He died for you an' He died for me, An' He died for us all on Calvary, He died for de whole roun' worl'- Chilleren, He died for de whole roun' worl'."
Then again the father chanted three times,
"As I was a-goin' along one day,"
completing the stanza with,
"I met King Jesus on de way."
And again the whole choir joined in:
"An' what do you reckon he said to me, But ' Your sins are forgiven an' your soul sot free?' For He died for de whole roun' worl'- Chilletch, He died for de whole roun' worl'."
Then, with a voice full of tears and longing, Father Pharaoh continued:
"My sister's gone to hebben, an' I want to go too, My sister's gone to hebben, an' I want to go too, My sister's gone to hebben, an' I want to go too, For to try on de long white robes- Chilleteh, for to try on de long white robes."
And as if reminding him of his duty as a spiritual shepherd, the children replied:
"Didn't you promise de Lord to take care ob de lambs, An' bring 'em at de welcome day to His hands, Who died for de whole roun' worl'- Brudder, who died for de whole roun' worl'?"
Then all, joining hands and rocking backward and forward in a sort of ecstasy, sang:
"Den hold out, pilot, leetle longer, Den hold out, pilot, leetle longer, Den hold out, pilot, leetle longer, Nor let go your grab oh de wheel- Brudder, nor let go your grab ob de wheel- Till you hear dem hehben bells a-ringin', An' de white-robed angels all a-singin' How He died for de whole roun' worl'- Chilleren, how He died for de whole roun' worl'."
Then they showed Dick to a rude loft, but when he fell asleep they were still singing. They seemed to be indulging in a sort of walk-around, and the cabin trembled as they roared in unison,
"I do believe, widout a doubt, De Christian hab a right to shout."
Their songs blended in a confused way with his dreams, which soon became incoherent, and he fancied lfimself on board a steamer, which puffed and splashed in time to the songs, and then he lost all consciousness. By-and-by he became dimly aware of a scratching and shuffling on the roof of the shed which sloped beneath his window; then a black claw slipped through a broken pane, took away the nail which held the sash, an raised it; then there was a flutter of calico, and a voice said:
"Massa Jayhawk, for de lub ob Hebben, you'd better be leabin' dese yeah parts pretty libely! Quick, massa follow dis chile quick!"
He seized his clothes and sprang out of the window after her, just as the crouching form rolled from the roof with the stifled cry:
"Back, massa, back! Polly Pharaoh tried to sabe you - deed she did."
The next instant he was rudely pulled from the roof, and he found himself the centre of a group of armed xnen. A small steamboat lay moored at the landing, and the group stood under the blazing light of a tar-barrel torch. It was Colonel St. Etienne, who, reenforced by a band of Bush-whackers, had come down the White River after his cotton. The men were for giving Dick short shrift; but the colonel thought they might obtain important information from him and, tightly bound, he was laid on the lower deck of the boat, which was now steered across the river, and the men commenced loading the cotton bales. Soon they formed a wall about the boat, till nothing but the pilothouse and smoke-stacks towered above them, and but one entrance was left in front to the engines and to the stairs leading above.
At this entrance Dick lay under the surveillance of the engineer -- a powerful mulatto with a deep scar in his forhead, and whom the colonel addressed as Pluto. The work of loading completed, the colonel invited the squad of white men to go with him to his house and hunt for some fine old Jamaica rum stored in the cellar. He gave the negroes orders not to go far from the boat, and to be ready, as soon as they heard the pilot bell, to spring to their work. From this Dick understood that the colonel would guide the boat himself. He was hardly out of sight when tim negroes scattered in different directions, or rolled themselves up to sleep. Pontius Pilate was the last to leave the boat, stooping down and carefully examining Dick's fastenings before doing so, and even adding a coil of rope, so that there was no chance of escape. A few moments later there was a slight noise behind him, and a lank form, surmounted by a limp bonnet, emerged from the cotton and glided up the stairs. "Polly Pharaoh" lm cried, "help me to untie these knots." But there was no answer.
A few minutes passed, and the pilot bell rang out the signal, and the negroes came scuffling on board, and yet Dick had not seen the colonel or any of his band return, and he doubted if, in the depths of the cellars, they could have heard the bell. Pontius Pilate took his stand by the engines, crammed the fiurnace eith wood, and added several pieces of side meat from a pile of bacon which had been placed beside him. Another ting, ting of the bell, and the boat shoved off, turned around, and floated down the river. Morning dawned as it reached the mouth of the White. The men evidently expected that she would turn into it, but, instead, she kept her course, with ever accelerating speed, straight in the middle of the current. "De colonel done los' his senses, or else him powerful drunk," grunted Pontius Pilate. "Heah, you 'Pollo Belvidere, jes run up sta'rs an' ax him if dar ain't some mistake about dis yeah.' Apollo obeyed, and returned to say that the cabin door was locked, and he "done couldn't make nobody heah; spects dey's playin' faro an' drinkin' deyselves drunk."
On shot the boat; and now the town of Napoleon and a fleet of gun-boats, with the Union flag streaming above them, appeared in view. "Bu'st open de cabin do'!" shouted Pontius Pilate. "Tote out de colonel. I can swim straight as a sand-hill crane can fly, an' i'll tow him ober to de odder side ob de ribber. Too late to sabe de boat. De Yanks see her now, an' dey'll be arter her like a flock ob turkey-buzzards in less 'n a minute."
Back tumbled the negroes. "Nobody up sta're nowhar. Spects de ghosts done steered us down heah or de debbil his own self. De Yanks is bound to get de colonel's cotton anyhow."
"No dey don't!' yelled Pontius Pilate, and opening the furnace doors he raked out their contents, scattering the fire on the pile of bacon and flinging the lighted pieces about the inflammable cotton. A magnificent fire-god of the under-world, he justified his name of Pluto. Without a word the other negroes sprang into the water. Pontius Pilate, cutting some of the ropes which bound Dick, and saying, as he did so, "Pull foot, Yank; de ole boat will blaze up like corn shucks, an' I don't want to send nobody down to Satan's steamboat," leaped after them.
"Polly! Polly Pharaoh!' shrieked Dick; but the flames roared up the staircase as though it were a chimney. It would have been impossible for mortal being to have come down even could his cry have been heard; and almost too late -- for the fire had caught his own clothes--he left the doomed boat.
The Union soldiers who rescued him said that as the boat rounded the point and came in sight of the town a signaI was displayed from the pilot-house -- a small reddish flag. "There it is now," they said, pointing to the sunken boat. From the slender flag-staff on its charred summit floated an oddly shaped pink calico pennon; it flapped hard with the wind, tugged at the string which bound it to the staff, broke it, and fluttered away into the river.
And where was Polly Pharaoh? The wild chant of last night came to Dick's mind. She had not let go her "grab ob de wheel."
Had she indeed heard "dem hebben bells a-ringin' ?' The great pathetic eyes would never look up at him again from the depths of the pink calico sun-bonnet; no need of it now to hide the scars of heroism. "The long white robes" she had longed to wear would match with a soul as white, purified twice through fire. Thinking thus, he strolled down the levee that afternoon to take one more look at the wreck. Two little boys, true wharf rats, were fishing from a rough landing which projected into the water. One of them, with a long stick, had just caught at a faded, scorched rag; as he lifted it from the water it showed its shape --a sun-bonnet. Dick had no money, but he drew out his silver watch, and would have offered it for this souvenir. He was anticipated; a small black hand gave the young fisherman a well-directed cuff, and seizing the trophy, with the exclamation, "You let dat ar bunnet alone, it's mine!' clapped it upon her head before any of the astonished group had time to think what had happened. Then Dick looked down into the great calm eyes looking up at him.
"I slumped off de back ob de boat soon as ebber I got her in sight ob Napoleon. 'Lowed dere'd be libely times on board: Didn't reckon I liked bein' burned well enough to stay an' cotch it again, did you?"
It was Polly Pharaoh!