“Curgy's Funeral, Or The Old Time Busha”
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Or The Old Time Busha.
My friend Tom Moody was a very fair sample of that class which is now-a-days called the old time Plantocracy. Tom had his faults as well as many a worse man, but if his failings were many, his virtues were not less numerous. Hospitable almost to extravagance was Tom and as charitable a soul as ever breathed the breath of Heaven. He was honorable too, strictly honorable in his dealings with the world; but Heaven help the poor devil who might have been discovered in an endeavour to deceive him. Tom had no mercy for such rascally delinquents, as he termed them; and if they happened to be persons over whom he had any control—his slaves for instance—he would flog them to within an inch of their lives. Not that Tom was fond of using the cat—that terrific foe to Quashie's peace of mind and corporeal comfort—on the contrary, I never knew a planter who took less advantage of his power over his human cattle than did Tom—but he administered the castigation by way of medicine as he said—and the stronger the dose the better for the patient. " 'Tis all for his good, the nagur, " he once observed to me, on his return from witnessing the punishment of one of his people. " It's all for his good, poor Pompey. If I let him alone he would rob every cane off the property and damn his soul to eternity. So you see, Joe, my boy, I'm only endeavouring to rescue his soul from the clutches of his cousin, the devil; but I dare say the scoundrel hasn't a piece of gratitude to give me in return for my kindness. "
It was about this period, during a rather lengthy sojourn at
" Moody's Hill, " that the following circumstances came under my
observation. Tom had a favorite slave, a good-looking, glossy-skinned negro—called Lycurgus; but notwithstanding Tom's partiality for the
0002 Or the Old Time Busha. 31 fellow and Curgy's apparent affection for his master, the latter had of late begun to entertain some suspicion of Curgy's fidelity. Tom's mind was rather prejudiced against him by another slave of his, whose petty tattling, like a great horse fly, kept constantly buzzing about the ears of his master, much to the injury of Curgy who was entirely ignorant of all that was going forward to his prejudice.
One morning Curgy appeared before his master, his head bound up with an old handkerchief and looking very ill and flurried.
" What's the matter Curgy, " said Tom, while his eyes sparkled with a peculiar meaning. " What's the matter to-day? You haven't seen a ghost have you? "
Curgy groaned, and shuddered till his very teeth rattled against each other.
" What the devil is the matter with the man, " continued Tom, his anger fast getting the better of his patience. " Tell me directly, sir; is it a duppy or the devil that you have seen? "
" Ah! massa, " replied Curgy, " dats the ting sar: Curgy nearly dead, massa; " and then he entered into a long rambling explanation, half of which was Greek to me, of his having seen the " perit " of his " grandy " and of his having been warned by it of his approaching death. The result of his lachrymose tale was a hearty roar of laughter from his master and myself, and an injunction from the former to go about his business, and to take care that he was after no tricks.
Curgy departed muttering and groaning, and I thought no more of the matter. Towards evening, however, while Tom and myself were discussing a jorum of excellent sangaree, one of the old woman who
usually performed the duties of nurse to the sick slaves, made her appearance, and
intimated thatCurgy was quite bad, and that she thought he would not outlive the night. Tom was rather startled, and rose immediately to satisfy himself as to the truth of the
old woman's report. We proceed together to Curgy's quarters, where, extended on a mat spread on the bare earthen floor, lay the unfortunate
victim of superstition. We were much struck by the change which a few hour's illness had made in the appearance of the poor fellow. He replied not a word to the many questions put to him by Tom, but continued groaning and rocking himself from side to side during the whole time
of our visit. Tom then quitted the hut for the purpose of compounding more medicine for the sufferer,
and I followed him to the great house where on our arrival we found Curgy's rival, the slave alluded to, his face beaming with the importance of a great secret. We were about to pass him when he attracted our attention by a low sly chuckle, and
with a request to be heard for a few minutes. Tom bade him follow us, and in a short time he was delivered of his secret, apparently
much to his own satisfaction and the annoyance of his master. I never saw Tom so much moved before. One fit of passion has scarcely subsided when he fell into another. As, however, the greatest tempest will at last settle down into a calm, Tom's
0003 32 Curgy's Funeral, rage gradually decreased by its very violence. At last he turned to me and in a stern, quiet manner observed,
" Since he will, it shall be so—the ungrateful scoundrel. "
" For Heaven's sake, Tom, " I said, alarmed by the cool determination expressed in his countenance, " for Heaven's sake no violence. "
" Don't be frightened " he replied, " I will only pay him in his own coin "; so saying he opened his medicine chest and took out a bottle containing a dark ruby-colored fluid. He pouted about half an ounce of it into a glass, and then he set down the bottle on the table, I saw that it was labelled Laudanum. My heart sunk as I read the inscription, and I started up to divert him from his dreadful purpose. " Tom, " said I, almost chocked by my feeling, " Tom, this is cold-blooded and deliberate murder, and I will not be a party to so foul and dreadful a deed. Mr. Moody, " I continued perceiving that he heeded not my remonstrances, " this place is no longer a fit abode for an honest man. I feel it my duty to inform you, that not even our long established friendship shall secure you from the consequences of the deed you are about to commit, so far as I am concerned. Be warned in time, ere it be too late. "
" Joe " he replied in the same quiet tone which had so much alarmed me. " I honor you for your feelings, but I must at the same time inform you that you are making a great fool of yourself. What,in the name of heaven, do you take me to be? Do you suppose that I could for one moment, entertain the dreadful purpose which you attribute to me? I assure you on the honor of a gentleman, that I intended no further harm to the ungrateful scoundrel, than to punish him that he shall remember, to the day of his death, which for aught I care may be a thousand years hence, his attempt to deceive a confiding master. This bottle is wrongly labelled; you may convince yourself by smelling its contents. "
" Your word is sufficient, my dear fellow, and I can only ask you to pardon my unjust suspicions; at the same time you must allow that I was somewhat justified in entertaining them. "
" Say not another word, Joe, but wait patiently and see the result. "
He had by this time completed his task, and requesting me to follow him, once more preceded to Curgy's cottage. It was now about eight o'clock. There was no moon, but the stars twinkled merrily in the heavens, while the cool night wind struck through me with a chill which made me glad enough to button up my coat to my throat.
A single tallow candle, stuck in the neck of a bottle, cast an uncertain light in the room occupied by Tom's patient. He took no notice of us when we entered, and until Tom called to him, he remained on his miserable bed as if the hand of death were already laid on him. The sound of his master's voice seemed, however to arouse him, for be turned towards us, and in low tremulous accents expressed his thanks for our attention.0004 Or The Old Time Busha. 33
" Here, Curgy " said Tom, " I have brought you some physic which will make yon well in no time. Get up, if you can, and take it. "
He could not, however, rise without assistance; but being aided by the old black nurse, he contrived to sit up and to take the medicine from his master's hand.
" Ah massa " he said, " Curgy fraid physic come too late. Jumbi tronger dan you po' boy. Nebber min', massa, me will take fo' please you " and he swallowed the bitter draught.
Tom sat down by the bed-side to watch the result of his prescription. He had not long to wait. In the course of a few minutes Curgy's body was as convulsed as if it had been under the action of a powerful galvanic machine: his eyes protruded from their sockets, and his mouth opened and shut with wonderful rapidity, while his hands grasped the scanty coverlet as if he were in the agonies of the death struggle. Not a muscle of Tom's countenance moved during all this time, but when Curgy started up—without assistance this time—and the whole of the contents of his stomach were poured forth through his mouth, the face of his master bore that expression which we might suppose the countenance of the devil to wear when he regards the torments of the damned. Curgy was writhing under the effects of a powerful emetic—the liquid which I had mistaken for laudanum having been a strong dose of ipecacuanha wine. Poor Curgy! How he tossed, and heaved his body, and rolled his great staring eyes, and put out his long red tongue until I thought it would have been torn off at the root. For more than an hour he suffered indescribable torture; and when at last, (his stomach having thrown up every drop of the terrible medicine,) and his sufferings having in consequence subsided, he threw himself back on his pillow, the extent of his previous agony might have been plainly seen on his distorted features.
Tom at length prepared to leave the cottage, but the punishment which poor Curgy had already suffered did not seem to satisfy his master. A horrible idea had entered his head.
" Curgy will die during the night, I suppose, " he said to the old woman " and as I wish the funeral to take place at an early hour, I will at once order the estate's carpenter to make his coffin. See that everything is prepared. And let me know the exact time when he dies. "
The old woman curtesied her willingness to comply with her master's orders; and we were about to leave the cottage, when Curgy mustered sufficient strength to request Tom to remain a little longer as he had something to say to him. Moody immediately returned to his bedside, and patiently awaited the expected communication.
" Massa," began Curgy, " massa, me no bin always a good boy to you, sa? "
" Ah massa, me did wish to lib to sarve massa long, long time, but me time come now, sa? " Pose massa wish fo make Curgy die happy, massa can do one little ting for him. "C 0005 34 Curgy's Funeral,
" Now it comes " muttered Tom, then aloud, " what is it Curgy? Anything that I can do to ease your last moments shall be done. "
" Ah! me no bin say massa is a good buckra? When Caesar (that was his rival in Tom's good graces) call massa one old drunken hangman, what me say to him? 'Caesar you tell one big lie 'pon de poor buckra.' Nebba bin dere such a good massa as we hab, me tell him so massa, me almost fight wid him for you sake. Ah, sa, Caesar is one great villain—him say— "
" Never mind that now, Curgy " interrupted Tom, " ingratitude will always meet with punishment. Tell me what is it you want? "
" Curgy da dead, massa; him can't sarve you any mo'; him hoe bruk and him cutlass dull—so, if massa please, Curgy would like to die a free man. 'Pose massa gib Curgy him free paper now, him will die happy. "
" Don't say another word, Curgy, you shall have it "; then turning towards me, he requested that I would go to the great house for pens, ink, and paper. In five minutes the writing materials were forthcoming, and Tom, placing the paper on the top of his hat, wrote a few words, folded the paper and put it in the hands of the emancipated negro. The eyes of the black sparkled with delight as he clutched the deed which conferred on him his freedom; he poured forth a thousand thanks for his master's kindness, in the middle of which we quitted the hut and returned to the great house. Neither Tom nor myself, however, retired to rest. The former's scheme remained yet to be completed and put in execution, and the morning's light found us busily engaged in the preparations for Curgy's funeral.
By eight o'clock all was completed—the coffin made, the shroud prepared and everything else that was necessary in readiness—even the grave was dug. All being in excellent train, we proceeded to Curgy's cottage, preceded by a dozen negroes carrying the funeral gear.
Curgy was still lying where we had left him, but the entrance of so many persons caused
him to turn round towards them. Tom however, and the negroes who accompanied him, the latter of whom were well tutored,
appeared not to take any notice of his having stirred. Curgy was supposed to be dead; and all that remained to be done was to bury him. Accordingly four stout strong fellows raised Curgy upright on the bed and commenced to strip him of his clothes. Whether it was that the dead man was frightened into insensibility by the imposing
preparations, or whether he was too weak from the effects of the emetic to make any
resistance, I am not prepared to say; but he lay like a log in the hands of the negroes,
by whom he was speedily dressed in his grave-clothes. I had donned an old gray dressing gown, and with a Johnson's dictionary in my hand, stood ready to act the part of the parson. Still Curgy moved not. The coffin was brought in—he seemed not to see it: he was placed in it, and yet was
insensible of what was being done—but when the lid was about to be put on, then, and
not till then, did Curgy afford any
0006 Or the Old Time Busha. 35 evidence of his being a living man. He yelled, he shrieked, cursed, swore, tore the grave-clothes, and struggled so manfully, that it was with the utmost difficulty he was forced down into the coffin, and that the lid, in which several small holes were bored, was slightly fastened down. The old nurse, too, seemed to have been half mad at the extraordinary proceedings. She declared that the poor boy was not dead—and that we were committing murder. Tom, however, silenced her by saying that the boy was dead, and that it was only the jumbi of his grandy which had appeared to him, that had entered his body and was playing such tricks. The old woman believed this probable explanation, and was immediately quieted.
The procession now moved towards the grave, Caesar acting as chief mourner, and to show the extent of his grief, grinning until every one of his white teeth was seen—gums and all. But how can I describe the scene which took place when the coffin was lowered into grave. Curgy, who had not ceased his exertions while he was being borne along to free himself from his unnatural position, no sooner heard the first shovel full of earth upon the coffin, than fear lent him the strength of a giant; with one powerful kick he knocked off the top of the coffin—started up before we had time to hold him—and fled away as if the devil was at his heels, the whole troop of negroes following helter skelter after him.
A week elapsed before we heard anything of the resuscitated Curgy and then he was in ——— work-house, whither he had been taken as a runaway slave. His free paper which he kept, was of no use to him; for it only bore these words :—" My black scoundrel Lycurgus, otherwise called Curgy, has it in contemplation, as I have been informed, to obtain his freedom from me by means of a trick. Should he succeed in his attempt, this is to request the friends of the undersigned to lodge the rascal in the nearest house of correction until he is sent for.
Moody's Hill, St. ———
Curgy, crestfallen and really emaciated, was brought home, and put to field work. He had hitherto been only a house servant.
Poor Tom Moody! It is now twenty years since we acted together the farce I have just set down. What changes have taken place during that period! Curgy, if he be alive, is now a free man—and thou, Tom, art numbered with the dead.
Author(s) & contributor(s): Philip Cohen Labatt
Form & transmission history: Short story, as published in a posthumous collection of the author's works.
Original publication details: In Selections From the Miscellaneous Posthumous Works of Philip Cohen Labatt in Prose and Verse, by Philip Cohen Labatt, 30-35. Edited by I. Lawton. Kingston, Jamaica: R.J. DeCordova, 1855.
Digital edition & date: One More Voice, 2020
Critical editing & encoding: Heidi Kaufman, Adrian S. Wisnicki
Cite this digital edition (MLA): Labatt, Philip Cohen. “‘Curgy's Funeral, Or The Old Time Busha’” (1855). Heidi Kaufman, Adrian S. Wisnicki, eds. One More Voice, site launch edition, 2020, https://onemorevoice.org/html/transcriptions/liv_020030_TEI.html.
Rights: Critically-edited text copyright One More Voice. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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