Hi. I’m Tonia Thompson, horror writer and creator of NIGHTLIGHT: the Black horror podcast. This week we go back more than 130 years to hear the work of Charles Chestnutt. Charles is often considered the first important Black American novelist, and his collection of short stories “The Conjure Woman” are available for free on Amazon and Project Gutenberg. Links are in the show notes. The son of a free Black man and free Black woman, he and his family fled North Carolina after the Civil War. He worked as a teacher and attorney. His story “The Goophered Grapevine” was the first work published by a Black writer in The Atlantic Monthly, and although the story refuted the benevolent plantations of popular lore of the day, most readers at the time didn’t catch the irony in his words. Charles also wrote a biography of Frederick Douglass and over time, his work began to more directly challenge social injustice.
Our story today, “Gray Wolf’s Hant”, is one of the lesser known tales in the Conjure Woman collection. The original story is full of the dialect of the time, and at some places might have been challenging for listeners today to follow, so I’ve made some small adjustments to the language in an attempt to translate it into modern language, while maintaining the dialect. Listeners should also note that this piece uses the N-word several times, spoken by a Black character, but if you find that offensive, you’ll want to skip this story. We’ll have another for you next week.
And now, the Gray Wolf’s Hant by Charles Chesnutt.
It was a rainy day at the vineyard. The morning had dawned bright and clear. But the sky had soon clouded, and by nine o’clock there was a light shower, followed by others at brief intervals. By noon the rain had settled into a dull, steady downpour. The clouds hung low, and seemed to grow denser instead of lighter as they discharged their watery burden, and there was now and then a muttering of distant thunder. Outdoor work was suspended, and I spent most of the day at the house, looking over my accounts and bringing up some arrears of correspondence.
Towards four o’clock I went out on the piazza, which was broad and dry, and less gloomy than the interior of the house, and composed myself for a quiet smoke. I had lit my cigar and opened the volume I was reading at that time, when my wife, whom I had left dozing on a lounge, came out and took a rocking-chair near me.
“I wish you would talk to me, or read to me—or something,” she exclaimed petulantly. “It’s awfully dull here today.”
“I’ll read to you with pleasure,” I replied, and began at the point where I had found my bookmark:—
“‘The difficulty of dealing with transformations so many-sided as those which all existences have undergone, or are undergoing, is such as to make a complete and deductive interpretation almost hopeless. So to grasp the total process of redistribution of matter and motion as to see simultaneously its several necessary results in their actual interdependence is scarcely possible. There is, however, a mode of rendering the process as a whole tolerably comprehensible. Though the genesis of the rearrangement of every evolving aggregate is in itself one, it presents to our intelligence'”—
“John,” interrupted my wife, “I wish you would stop reading that nonsense and see who that is coming up the lane.”
I closed my book with a sigh. I had never been able to interest my wife in the study of philosophy, even when presented in the simplest and most lucid form.
Some one was coming up the lane; at least, a huge faded cotton umbrella was making progress toward the house, and beneath it a pair of nether extremities in trousers was discernible. Any doubt in my mind as to whose they were was soon resolved when Julius reached the steps and, putting the umbrella down, got a good dash of the rain as he stepped up on the porch.
“Why in the world, Julius,” I asked, “didn’t you keep the umbrella up until you got under cover?”
“It’s bad luck, suh, ter raise a’ umbrella in de house, en w’iles I dunno whuther it’s bad luck ter kyar one inter de piazzer er no, I ‘lows it’s alluz bes’ ter be on de safe side. I did n’ s’pose you en young missis ‘u’d be gwine on yo’ dribe ter-day, but bein’ ez it’s my pa’t ter take you ef you does, I ‘lowed I ‘d repo’t fer dooty, en let you say whuther er no you wants ter go.”
“I’m glad you came, Julius,” I responded. “We don’t want to go driving, of course, in the rain, but I should like to consult you about another matter. I’m thinking of taking in a piece of new ground. What do you imagine it would cost to have that neck of woods down by the swamp cleared up?”
The old man’s countenance assumed an expression of unwonted seriousness, and he shook his head doubtfully.
“I dunno ’bout dat, suh. It mought cos’ mo’, en it mought cos’ less, ez fuh ez money is consarned. I ain’ denyin’ you could cl’ar up dat trac’ er Ian’ fer a hund’ed er a couple er hund’ed dollahs,—ef you wants ter cl’ar it up. But ef dat ‘uz my trac’ er Ian’, I would n’ ‘sturb it, no, suh, I would n’; sho ‘s you bawn, I would n’.”
“But why not?” I asked.
“It ain’ fittin’ fer grapes, fer noo groun’ nebber is.”
“I know it, but”—
“It ain’ no yeathly good fer cotton, ‘ca’se it’s top low.”
“Perhaps so; but it will raise splendid corn.”
“I dunno,” rejoined Julius deprecatorily. “It’s so nigh de swamp dat de ‘coons’ll eat up all de cawn.”
“I think I’ll risk it,” I answered.
“Well, suh,” said Julius, “I wushes you much joy er yo’ job. Ef you has bad luck er sickness er trouble er any kin’, doan blame me. You can’t say ole Julius did n’ wa’n you.”
“Warn him of what, Uncle Julius?” asked my wife.
“Er de bad luck w’at follers folks w’at ‘sturbs dat trac’ er Ian’. Dey is snakes en sco’pions in dem woods. En ef you manages ter ‘scape de p’isen animals, you is des boun’ ter hab a ha’nt ter settle wid,—ef you doan hab two.”
“Whose haunt?” my wife demanded, with growing interest.
“De gray wolf’s ha’nt, some folks calls it,—but I knows better.”
“Tell us about it, Uncle Julius,” said my wife. “A story will be a godsend to-day.”
It was not difficult to induce the old man to tell a story, if he were in a reminiscent mood. Of tales of the old slavery days he seemed indeed to possess an exhaustless store,—some weirdly grotesque, some broadly humorous; some bearing the stamp of truth, faint, perhaps, but still discernible; others palpable inventions, whether his own or not we never knew, though his fancy doubtless embellished them. But even the wildest was not without an element of pathos,—the tragedy, it might be, of the story itself; the shadow, never absent, of slavery and of ignorance; the sadness, always, of life as seen by the fading light of an old man’s memory.
“Way back yander befo’ de wah,” began Julius, “ole Mars Dugal’ McAdoo useter own a nigger name’ Dan. Dan wuz big en strong en hearty en peaceable en good-nachu’d most er de time, but dange’ous ter aggervate. He alluz done his task, en nebber had no trouble wid de w’ite folks, but woe be unter de nigger w’at ‘lowed he c’d fool wid Dan, fer he wuz mos’ sho’ ter git a good lammin’. Soon ez eve’ybody foun’ Dan out, dey did n’ many un ’em ‘temp’ ter ‘sturb ‘im. De one dat did would ‘a’ wush’ he had n’, ef he could ‘a’ libbed long ernuff ter do any wushin’.
“It all happen’ dis erway. Dey wuz a cunjuh man w’at libbed ober t’ other side er de Lumbe’ton Road. He had be’n de only cunjuh doctor in de naberhood fer lo! dese many yeahs, ‘tel ole Aun’ Peggy sot up in de bizness down by de Wim’l’ton Road. Dis cunjuh man had a son w’at libbed wid ‘im, en it wuz dis yer son w’at got mix’ up wid Dan,—en all ’bout a ‘oman.
“Dey wuz a gal on de plantation name’ Mahaly. She wuz a monst’us lackly gal,—tall en soopl’, wid big eyes, en a small foot, en a lively tongue, en w’en Dan tuk ter gwine wid ‘er eve’ybody ‘lowed dey wuz well match’, en none er de yuther nigger men on de plantation das’ ter go nigh her, fer dey wuz all feared er Dan.
“Now, it happen’ dat dis yer cunjuh man’s son wuz gwine ‘long de road one day, w’en who sh’d come pas’ but Mahaly. En de minute dis man sot eyes on Mahaly, he ‘lowed he wuz gwine ter hab her fer hisse’f. He come up side er her en ‘mence’ ter talk ter her; but she didn’ paid no ‘tention ter ‘im, fer she wuz studyin’ ’bout Dan, en she did n’ lack dis nigger’s looks nohow. So w’en she got ter whar she wuz gwine, dis yer man wa’n’t no fu’ther ‘long dan he wuz w’en he sta’ted.
“Co’se, atter he had made up his min’ fer ter git Mahaly, he ‘mence’ ter ‘quire ‘roun’, en soon foun’ out all ’bout Dan, en w’at a dange’ous nigger he wuz. But dis man ‘lowed his daddy wuz a cunjuh man, en so he ‘d come out all right in de een’; en he kep’ right on atter Mahaly. Meanw’iles Dan’s marster had said dey could git married ef dey wanter, en so Dan en Mahaly had tuk up wid one ernudder, en wuz libbin’ in a cabin by deyse’ves, en wuz des wrop’ up in one ernudder.
“But dis yer cunjuh man’s son did n’ ‘pear ter min’ Dan’s takin’ up wid Mahaly, en he kep’ on hangin’ ‘roun’ des de same, ‘tel fin’lly one day Mahaly sez ter Dan, sez she:—
“‘I wush you ‘d do sump’n ter stop dat free nigger man fum follerin’ me ‘roun’. I doan lack him nohow, en I ain’ got no time fer ter was’e wid no man but you.’
“Co’se Dan got mad w’en he heared ’bout dis man pest’rin’ Mahaly, en de nex’ night, w’en he seed dis nigger comin’ ‘long de road, he up en ax’ ‘im w’at he mean by hangin’ ‘roun’ his ‘oman. De man did n’ ‘spon’ ter suit Dan, en one wo’d led ter ernudder, ‘tel bimeby dis cunjuh man’s son pull’ out a knife en sta’ted ter stick it in Dan; but befo’ he could git it drawed good, Dan haul’ off en hit ‘im in de head so ha’d dat he nebber got up. Dan ‘lowed he ‘d come to atter a w’ile en go ‘long ’bout his bizness, so he went off en lef ‘im layin’ dere on de groun’.
“De nex’ mawnin’ de man wuz foun’ dead. Dey wuz a great ‘miration made ’bout it, but Dan did n’ say nuffin, en none er de yuther niggers had n’ seed de fight, so dey wa’n’t no way ter tell who done de killin’. En bein’ ez it wuz a free nigger, en dey wa’n’t no w’ite folks ‘speshly int’rusted, dey wa’n’t nuffin done ’bout it, en de cunjuh man come en tuk his son en kyared ‘im ‘way en buried ‘im.
“Now, Dan had n’ meant ter kill dis nigger, en w’iles he knowed de man had n” got no mo’ d’n he desarved, Dan ‘mence’ ter worry mo’ er less. Fer he knowed dis man’s daddy would wuk his roots en prob’ly fin’ out who had killt ‘is son, en make all de trouble fer ‘im he could. En Dan kep’ on studyin’ ’bout dis ‘tel he got so he did n’ ha’dly das’ ter eat er drink fer fear dis cunjuh man had p’isen’ de vittles er de water. Fin’lly he ‘lowed he ‘d go ter see Aun’ Peggy, de noo cunjuh ‘oman w’at had moved down by de Wim’l’ton Road, en ax her fer ter do sump’n ter pertec’ ‘im fum dis cunjuh man. So he tuk a peck er ‘taters en went down ter her cabin one night.
“Aun’ Peggy heared his tale, en den sez she:—
“‘Dat cunjuh man is mo’ d’n twice’t ez ole ez I is, en he kin make monst’us powe’ful goopher. W’at you needs is a life-cha’m, en I’ll make you one ter-morrer; it’s de on’y thing w’at’ll do you any good. You leabe me a couple er ha’rs fum yo’ head, en fetch me a pig ter-morrer night fer ter roas’, en w’en you come I’ll hab de cha’m all ready fer you.’
“So Dan went down ter Aun’ Peggy de nex’ night,—wid a young shote,—en Aun’ Peggy gun ‘im de cha’m. She had tuk de ha’rs Dan had lef wid ‘er, en a piece er red flannin, en some roots en yarbs, en had put ’em in a little bag made out’n ‘coon-skin.
“‘You take dis cha’m,’ sez she, ‘en put it in a bottle er a tin box, en bury it deep unner de root er a live-oak tree, en ez long ez it stays dere safe en soun’, dey ain’ no p’isen kin p’isen you, dey ain’ no rattlesnake kin bite you, dey ain’ no sco’pion kin sting you. Dis yere cunjuh man mought do one thing er ‘nudder ter you, but he can’t kill you. So you neenter be at all skeered, but go ‘long ’bout yo’ bizness en doan bother yo’ min’.’
“So Dan went down by de ribber, en ‘way up on de bank he buried de cha’m deep unner de root er a live-oak tree, en kivered it up en stomp’ de dirt down en scattered leaves ober de spot, en den went home wid his min’ easy.
“Sho’ ’nuff, dis yer cunjuh man wukked his roots, des ez Dan had ‘spected he would, en soon l’arn’ who killt his son. En co’se he made up his min’ fer ter git eben wid Dan. So he sont a rattlesnake fer ter sting ‘im, but de rattlesnake say de nigger’s heel wuz so ha’d he could n’ git his sting in. Den he sont his jay-bird fer ter put p’isen in Dan’s vittles, but de p’isen did n’ wuk. Den de cunjuh man ‘low’ he’d double Dan all up wid de rheumatiz, so he could n’ git ‘is ban’ ter his mouf ter eat, en would hafter sta’ve ter def; but Dan went ter Aun’ Peggy, en she gun ‘im a’ ‘intment ter kyo de rheumatiz. Den de cunjuh man ‘lowed he ‘d bu’n Dan up wid a fever, but Aun’ Peggy tol’ ‘im how ter make some yarb tea fer dat. Nuffin dis man tried would kill Dan, so fin’lly de cunjuh man ‘lowed Dan mus’ hab a life-cha’m.
“Now, dis yer jay-bird de cunjuh man had wuz a monst’us sma’t creeter,—fac’, de niggers ‘lowed he wuz de ole Debbil hisse’f, des settin’ roun’ waitin’ ter kyar dis ole man erway w’en he ‘d retch’ de een’ er his rope. De cunjuh man sont dis jay-bird fer ter watch Dan en fin’ out whar he kep’ his cha’m. De jay-bird hung roun’ Dan fer a week er so, en one day he seed Dan go down by de ribber en look at a live-oak tree; en den de jay-bird went back ter his marster, en tol’ ‘im he ‘spec’ de nigger kep’ his life-cha’m under dat tree.
“De cunjuh man lafft en lafft, en he put on his bigges’ pot, en fill’ it wid his stronges’ roots, en b’iled it en b’iled it, ‘tel bimeby de win’ blowed en blowed, ‘tel it blowed down de live-oak tree. Den he stirred some more roots in de pot, en it rained en rained ‘tel de water run down de ribber bank en wash’ Dan’s life-cha’m inter de ribber, en de bottle went bobbin’ down de current des ez onconsarned ez ef it wa’n’t takin’ po’ Dan’s chances all ‘long wid it. En den de cunjuh man lafft some mo’, en ‘lowed ter hisse’f dat he wuz gwine ter fix Dan now, sho’ ’nuff; he wa’n’t gwine ter kill ‘im des yet, fer he could do sump’n ter ‘im w’at would hu’t wusser ‘n killin’.
“So dis cunjuh man ‘mence’ by gwine up ter Dan’s cabin eve’y night, en takin’ Dan out in his sleep en ridin’ ‘im roun’ de roads en fiel’s ober de rough groun’. In de mawnin’ Dan would be ez ti’ed ez ef he had n’ be’n ter sleep. Dis kin’ er thing kep’ up fer a week er so, en Dan had des ’bout made up his min’ fer ter go en see Aun’ Peggy ag’in, w’en who sh’d he come across, gwine ‘long de road one day, to’ds sundown, but dis yer cunjuh man. Dan felt kinder skeered at fus’; but den he ‘membered ’bout his life-cha’m, w’ich he had n’ be’n ter see fer a week er so, en ‘lowed wuz safe en soun’ unner de live-oak tree, en so he hilt up ‘is head en walk’ ‘long, des lack he did n’ keer nuffin ’bout dis man no mo’ d’n any yuther nigger. Wen he got close ter de cunjuh man, dis cunjuh man sez, sezee:—
“‘Hoddy, Brer Dan? I hopes you er well?’
“Wen Dan seed de cunjuh man wuz in a good humor en did n’ ‘pear ter bear no malice, Dan ‘lowed mebbe de cunjuh man had n’ foun’ out who killt his son, en so he ‘termine’ fer ter let on lack he did n’ know nuffin, en so sezee:—
“‘Hoddy, Unk’ Jube?’—dis ole cunjuh man’s name wuz Jube. ‘I ‘s p’utty well, I thank you. How is you feelin’ dis mawnin’?’
“‘I’s feelin’ ez well ez a’ ole nigger could feel w’at had los’ his only son, en his main ‘pen’ence in ‘is ole age.
“‘But den my son wuz a bad boy,’ sezee, ‘en I could n’ ‘spec’ nuffin e’se. I tried ter l’arn him de arrer er his ways en make him go ter chu’ch en pra’r-meetin’; but it wa’n’t no use. I dunno who killt ‘im, en I doan wanter know, fer I ‘d be mos’ sho’ ter fin’ out dat my boy had sta’ted de fuss. Ef I ‘d ‘a’ had a son lack you, Brer Dan, I ‘d ‘a’ be’n a proud nigger; oh, yas, I would, sho’s you bawn. But you ain’ lookin’ ez well ez you oughter, Brer Dan. Dey’s sump’n de matter wid you, en w’at ‘s mo’, I ‘spec’ you dunno w’at it is.’
“Now, dis yer kin’ er talk nach’ly th’owed Dan off’n his gya’d, en fus’ thing he knowed he wuz talkin’ ter dis ole cunjuh man des lack he wuz one er his bes’ frien’s. He tol’ ‘im all ’bout not feelin’ well in de mawnin’, en ax’ ‘im ef he could tell w’at wuz de matter wid ‘im.
“‘Yas,’ sez de cunjuh man. ‘Dey is a witch be’n ridin’ you right ‘long. I kin see de marks er de bridle on yo’ mouf. En I’ll des bet yo’ back is raw whar she ‘s be’n beatin’ you.’
“‘Yas,’ ‘spon’ Dan, ‘so it is.’ He had n’ notice it befo’, but now he felt des lack de hide had be’n tuk off’n ‘im.
“‘En yo’ thighs is des raw whar de spurrers has be’n driv’ in you,’ sez de cunjuh man. ‘You can’t see de raw spots, but you kin feel ’em.’
“‘Oh, yas,’ ‘lows Dan, ‘dey does hu’t pow’ful bad.’
“‘En w’at’s mo’,’ sez de cunjuh man, comin’ up close ter Dan en whusp’in’ in his yeah, ‘I knows who it is be’n ridin’ you.’
“‘Who is it?’ ax’ Dan. ‘Tell me who it is.’
“‘It’s a’ ole nigger ‘oman down by Rockfish Crick. She had a pet rabbit, en you cotch’ ‘im one day, en she’s been squarin’ up wid you eber sence. But you better stop her, er e’se you’ll be rid ter def in a mont’ er so.’
“‘No,’ sez Dan, ‘she can’t kill me, sho’.’
“‘I dunno how dat is,’ said de cunjuh man, ‘but she kin make yo’ life mighty mis’able. Ef I wuz in yo’ place, I ‘d stop her right off.’
“‘But how is I gwine ter stop her?’ ax’ Dan. ‘I dunno nuffin ’bout stoppin’ witches.’
“‘Look a heah, Dan,’sez de yuther; ‘you is a goad young man. I lacks you monst’us well. Fac’, I feels lack some er dese days I mought buy you fum yo’ marster, ef I could eber make money ernuff at my bizness dese hard times, en ‘dop’ you fer my son. I lacks you so well dat I’m gwine ter he’p you git rid er dis yer witch fer good en all; fer des ez long ez she libs, you is sho’ ter hab trouble, en trouble, en mo’ trouble.’
“‘You is de bes’ frien’ I got, Unk’ Jube,’ sez Dan, ‘en I’ll ‘member yo’ kin’ness ter my dyin’ day. Tell me how I kin git rid er dis yer ole witch w’at ‘s be’n ridin’ me so ha’d.’
“‘In de fus’ place,’ sez de cunjuh man, ‘dis ole witch nebber comes in her own shape, but eve’y night, at ten o’clock, she tu’ns herse’f inter a black cat, en runs down ter yo’ cabin en bridles you, en mounts you, en dribes you out th’oo de chimbly, en rides you ober de roughes’ places she kin fin’. All you got ter do is ter set fer her in de bushes ‘side er yo’ cabin, en hit her in de head wid a rock er a lighterd-knot w’en she goes pas’.’
“‘But,’ sez Dan, ‘how kin I see her in de da’k? En s’posen I hits at her en misses her? Er s’posen I des woun’s her, en she gits erway,—w’at she gwine do ter me den?’
“‘I is done studied ’bout all dem things,’ sez de cunjuh man, ‘en it ‘pears ter me de bes’ plan fer you ter foller is ter lemme tu’n you ter some creetur w’at kin see in de da’k, en w’at kin run des ez fas’ ez a cat, en w’at kin bite, en bite fer ter kill; en den you won’t hafter hab no trouble atter de job is done. I dunno whuther you ‘d lack dat er no, but dat is de sho’es’ way.’
“‘I doan keer,’ ‘spon’ Dan. ‘I’d des ez lief be anything fer a’ hour er so, ef I kin kill dat ole witch. You kin do des w’at you er mineter.’
“‘All right, den,’ sez de cunjuh man, ‘you come down ter my cabin at half-past nine o’clock ter-night, en I’ll fix you up.’
“Now, dis cunjuh man, w’en he had got th’oo talkin’ wid Dan, kep’ on down de road ‘long de side er de plantation, ‘tel he met Mahaly comin’ home fum wuk des atter sundown.
“‘Hoddy do, ma’m,’ sezee; ‘is yo’ name Sis’ Mahaly, w’at b’longs ter Mars Dugal’ McAdoo?’
“‘Yas,’ ‘spon’ Mahaly, ‘dat’s my name, en I b’longs ter Mars Dugal’.’
“‘Well,’ sezee, ‘yo’ husban’ Dan wuz down by my cabin dis ebenin’, en he got bit by a spider er sump’n, en his foot is swoll’ up so he can’t walk. En he ax’ me fer ter fin’ you en fetch you down dere ter he’p ‘im home.’
“Co’se Mahaly wanter see w’at had happen’ ter Dan, en so she sta’ted down de road wid de cunjuh man. Ez soon ez he got her inter his cabin, he shet de do’, en sprinkle’ some goopher mixtry on her, en tu’nt her ter a black cat. Den he tuk ‘n put her in a bairl, en put a bo’d on de bairl, en a rock on de bo’d, en lef her dere ‘tel he got good en ready fer ter use her.
“‘Long ’bout half-pas’ nine o’clock Dan come down ter de cunjuh man’s cabin. It wuz a wa’m night, en de do’ wuz stan’in’ open. De cunjuh man ‘vited Dan ter come in, en pass’ de time er day wid ‘im. Ez soon ez Dan ‘mence’ talkin’, he heared a cat miauin’ en scratchin’ en gwine on at a tarrable rate.
“‘Wat’s all dat fuss ’bout?’ ax’ Dan.
“‘Oh, dat ain’ nuffin but my ole gray tomcat,’ sez de cunjuh man. ‘I has ter shet ‘im up sometimes fer ter keep ‘im in nights, en co’se he doan lack it.
“‘Now,’ ‘lows de cunjuh man, ‘lemme tell you des w’at you is got ter do. Wen you ketches dis witch, you mus’ take her right by de th’oat en bite her right th’oo de neck. Be sho’ yo’ teef goes th’oo at de fus’ bite, en den you won’t nebber be bothe’d no mo’ by dat witch. En w’en you git done, come back heah en I’ll tu’n you ter yo’se’f ag’in, so you kin go home en git yo’ night’s res’.’
“Den de cunjuh man gun Dan sump’n nice en sweet ter drink out’n a new go’d, en in ’bout a minute Dan foun’ hisse’f tu’nt ter a gray wolf; en soon ez he felt all fo’ er his noo feet on de groun’, he sta’ted off fas’ ez he could fer his own cabin, so he could be sho’ en be dere time ernuff ter ketch de witch, en put a’ een’ ter her kyarin’s-on.
“Ez soon ez Dan wuz gone good, de cunjuh man tuk de rock off’n de bo’d, en de bo’d off’n de bairl, en out le’p’ Mahaly en sta’ted fer ter go home, des lack a cat er a ‘oman er anybody e’se would w’at wuz in trouble; en it wa’n’t many minutes befo’ she wuz gwine up de path ter her own do’.
“Meanw’iles, w’en Dan had retch’ de cabin, he had hid hisse’f in a bunch er jimson weeds in de ya’d. He had n’ wait’ long befo’ he seed a black cat run up de path to’ds de do’. Des ez soon ez she got close ter ‘im, he le’p’ out en ketch’ her by de th’oat, en got a grip on her, des lack de cunjuh man had tol’ ‘im ter do. En lo en behol’! no sooner had de blood ‘mence’ ter flow dan de black cat tu’nt back ter Mahaly, en Dan seed dat he had killt his own wife. En w’iles her bref wuz gwine she call’ out:
“‘O Dan! O my husban’! come en he’p me! come en sabe me fum dis wolf w’at ‘s killin’ me!’
“Wen po’ Dan sta’ted to’ds her, ez any man nach’ly would, it des made her holler wuss en wuss; fer she did n’ knowed dis yer wolf wuz her Dan. En Dan des had ter hide in de weeds, en grit his teef en hoi’ hisse’f in, ‘tel she passed out’n her mis’ry, callin’ fer Dan ter de las’, en wond’rin’ w’y he did n’ come en he’p her. En Dan ‘lowed ter hisse’f he ‘d ruther ‘a’ be’n killt a dozen times ‘n ter ‘a’ done w’at he had ter Mahaly.
“Dan wuz mighty nigh ‘stracted, but w’en Mahaly wuz dead en he got his min’ straighten’ out a little, it did n’ take ‘im mo’ d’n a minute er so fer ter see th’oo all de cunjuh man’s lies, en how de cunjuh man had fooled ‘im en made ‘im kill Mahaly, fer ter git eben wid ‘im fer killin’ er his son. He kep’ gittin’ madder en madder, en Mahaly had n’ much mo’ d’n drawed her’ las bref befo’ he sta’ted back ter de cunjuh man’s cabin ha’d ez he could run.
“Wen he got dere, de do’ wuz stan’in’ open; a lighterd-knot wuz flick’rin’ on de h’a’th, en de ole cunjuh man wuz settin’ dere noddin’ in de corner. Dan le’p’ in de do’ en jump’ fer dis man’s th’oat, en got de same grip on ‘im w’at de cunjuh man had tol’ ‘im ’bout half a’ hour befo’. It wuz ha’d wuk dis time, fer de ole man’s neck wuz monst’us tough en stringy, but Dan hilt on long ernuff ter be sho’ his job wuz done right. En eben den he did n’ hol’ on long ernuff; fer w’en he tu’nt de cunjuh man loose en he fell ober on de flo’, de cunjuh man rollt his eyes at Dan, en sezee:—
“‘I’s eben wid you, Brer Dan, en you er eben wid me; you killt my son en I killt yo’ ‘oman. En ez I doan want no mo’ d’n w’at ‘s fair ’bout dis thing, ef you’ll retch up wid yo’ paw en take down dat go’d hangin’ on dat peg ober de chimbly, en take a sip er dat mixtry, it’ll tu’n you back ter a nigger ag’in, en I kin die mo’ sad’sfied ‘n ef I lef you lack you is.’
“Dan nebber ‘lowed fer a minute dat a man would lie wid his las’ bref, en co’se he seed de sense er gittin’ tu’nt back befo’ de cunjuh man died; so he dumb on a chair en retch’ fer de go’d, en tuk a sip er de mixtry. En ez soon ez he ‘d done dat de cunjuh man lafft his las’ laf, en gapsed out wid ‘is las’ gaps:—
“‘Uh huh! I reckon I’s square wid you now fer killin’ me, too; fer dat goopher on you is done fix’ en sot now fer good, en all de cunj’in’ in de worl’ won’t nebber take it off.
‘Wolf you is en wolf you stays, All de rest er yo’ bawn days.’
“Co’se Brer Dan could n’ do nuffin. He knowed it wa’n’t no use, but he dumb up on de chimbly en got down de go’ds en bottles en yuther cunjuh fixin’s, en tried ’em all on hisse’f, but dey didn’ do no good. Den he run down ter ole Aun’ Peggy, but she did n’ know de wolf langwidge, en couldn’t ‘a’ tuk off dis yuther goopher nohow, eben ef she ‘d ‘a’ unnerstood w’at Dan wuz sayin’. So po’ Dan wuz bleedgd ter be a wolf all de rest er his bawn days.
“Dey foun’ Mahaly down by her own cabin nex’ mawnin’, en eve’ybody made a great ‘miration ’bout how she ‘d be’n killt. De niggers ‘lowed a wolf had bit her. De w’ite folks say no, dey ain’ be’n no wolves ‘roun’ dere fer ten yeahs er mo’; en dey did n’ know w’at ter make out’n it. En w’en dey could n’ fin’ Dan nowhar, dey ‘lowed he’d quo’lled wid Mahaly en killt her, en run erway; en dey did n’ know w’at ter make er dat, fer Dan en Mahaly wuz de mos’ lovin’ couple on de plantation. Dey put de dawgs on Dan’s scent, en track’ ‘im down ter ole Unk’ Jube’s cabin, en foun’ de ole man dead, en dey did n’ know w’at ter make er dat; en den Dan’s scent gun out, en dey didn’ know w’at ter make er dat. Mars Dugal’ tuk on a heap ’bout losin’ two er his bes’ han’s in one day, en ole missis ‘lowed it wuz a jedgment on ‘im fer sump’n he ‘d done. But dat fall de craps wuz monst’us big, so Mars Dugal’ say de Lawd had temper’ de win’ ter de sho’n ram, en make up ter ‘im fer w’at he had los’.
“Dey buried Mahaly down in dat piece er low groun’ you er talkin’ ’bout cl’arin’ up. Ez fer po’ Dan, he did n’ hab nowhar e’se ter go, so he des stayed ‘roun’ Mahaly’s grabe, w’en he wa’n’t out in de yuther woods gittin’ sump’n ter eat. En sometimes, w’en night would come, de niggers useter heah him howlin’ en howlin’ down dere, des fittin’ ter break his hea’t. En den some mo’ un ’em said dey seed Mahaly’s ha’nt dere ‘bun’ance er times, colloguin’ wid dis gray wolf. En eben now, fifty yeahs sence, long atter ole Dan has died en dried up in de woods, his ha’nt en Mahaly’s hangs ‘roun’ dat piece er low groun’, en eve’body w’at goes ’bout dere has some bad luck er ‘nuther; fer ha’nts doan lack ter be ‘sturb’ on dey own stompin’-groun’.”
The air had darkened while the old man related this harrowing tale. The rising wind whistled around the eaves, slammed the loose window-shutters, and, still increasing, drove the rain in fiercer gusts into the piazza. As Julius finished his story and we rose to seek shelter within doors, the blast caught the angle of some chimney or gable in the rear of the house, and bore to our ears a long, wailing note, an epitome, as it were, of remorse and hopelessness.
“Dat ‘s des lack po’ ole Dan useter howl,” observed Julius, as he reached for his umbrella, “en w’at I be’n tellin’ you is de reason I doan lack ter see dat neck er woods cl’ared up. Co’se it b’longs ter you, en a man kin do ez he choose’ wid ‘is own. But ef you gits rheumatiz er fever en agur, er ef you er snake-bit er p’isen’ wid some yarb er ‘nuther, er ef a tree falls on you, er a ha’nt runs you en makes you git ‘stracted in yo’ min’, lack some folks I knows w’at went foolin’ ‘roun’ dat piece er lan’, you can’t say I neber wa’ned you, suh, en tol’ you w’at you mought look fer en be sho’ ter fin’.”
When I cleared up the land in question, which was not until the following year, I recalled the story Julius had told us, and looked in vain for a sunken grave or perhaps a few weather-bleached bones of some denizen of the forest. I cannot say, of course, that some one had not been buried there; but if so, the hand of time had long since removed any evidence of the fact. If some lone wolf, the last of his pack, had once made his den there, his bones had long since crumbled into dust and gone to fertilize the rank vegetation that formed the undergrowth of this wild spot. I did find, however, a bee-tree in the woods, with an ample cavity in its trunk, and an opening through which convenient access could be had to the stores of honey within. I have reason to believe that ever since I had bought the place, and for many years before, Julius had been getting honey from this tree. The gray wolf’s haunt had doubtless proved useful in keeping off too inquisitive people, who might have interfered with his monopoly.
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This week’s story comes from the first widely known Black novelist, Charles Chesnutt. If you’re familiar with American Southern lore, you’ve probably heard of haints, a kind of spirit feared by many. We think you’ll enjoy this story of conjure and revenge.
You can read more of Charles Chesnutt’s stories from The Conjure Woman for free on
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