There was a word or two more exchanged, and then, after a moment of silence, with a gentle “Eh, bien,” and a gesture to which they were accustomed, he stepped away backward, they resumed their hurried walk and talk, and he turned into the rue Bienville.
AN INHERITANCE OF WRONG
“I tell you,” Doctor Keene used to say, “that old woman’s a thinker.” His allusion was to Clemence, the marchande des calas. Her mental activity was evinced not more in the cunning aptness of her songs than in the droll wisdom of her sayings. Not the melody only, but the often audacious, epigrammatic philosophy of her tongue as well, sold her calas and gingercakes.
But in one direction her wisdom proved scant. She presumed too much on her insignificance. She was a “study,” the gossiping circle at Frowenfeld’s used to say; and any observant hearer of her odd aphorisms could see that she herself had made a life-study of herself and her conditions; but she little thought that others—some with wits and some with none—young hare-brained Grandissimes, Mandarins and the like—were silently, and for her most unluckily, charging their memories with her knowing speeches; and that of every one of those speeches she would ultimately have to give account.
Doctor Keene, in the old days of his health, used to enjoy an occasional skirmish with her. Once, in the course of chaffering over the price of calas, he enounced an old current conviction which is not without holders even to this day; for we may still hear it said by those who will not be decoyed down from the mountain fastnesses of the old Southern doctrines, that their slaves were “the happiest people under the sun.” Clemence had made bold to deny this with argumentative indignation, and was courteously informed in retort that she had promulgated a falsehood of magnitude.
“W’y, Mawse Chawlie,” she replied, “does you s’pose one po’ nigga kin tell a big lie? No, sah! But w’en de whole people tell w’at ain’ so—if dey know it, aw if dey don’ know it—den dat is a big lie!” And she laughed to contortion.
“What is that you say?” he demanded, with mock ferocity. “You charge white people with lying?”
“Oh, sakes, Mawse Chawlie, no! De people don’t mek up dat ah; de debble pass it on ’em. Don’ you know de debble ah de grett cyount’-feiteh? Ev’y piece o’ money he mek he tek an’ put some debblemen’ on de under side, an’ one o’ his pootiess lies on top; an’ ’e gilt dat lie, and ’e rub dat lie on ‘is elbow, an’ ‘e shine dat lie, an’ ’e put ’is bess licks on dat lie; entel ev’ybody say: ‘Oh, how pooty!’ An’ dey tek it fo’ good money, yass—and pass it! Dey b’lieb it!”
“Oh,” said some one at Doctor Keene’s side, disposed to quiz, “you niggers don’t know when you are happy.”
“Dass so, Mawse—c’est vrai, oui!” she answered quickly: “we donno no mo’n white folks!”