Well, it killed the minuet dead; he sat flat down on the low stone coping that bordered the path to which we had wandered back—and I sat flat down opposite him. The venerable custodian, passing along a neighboring path, turned his head and stared at our noise.
“Lawd, see those chillun goin’ on!” he muttered. “Mas’ John, don’t you get too scandalous, tellin’ strangers ’bout the old famblies.”
Mayrant pointed to me. “He’s responsible, Daddy Ben. I’m being just as good as gold. Honest injun!”
The custodian marched slowly on his way, shaking his head. “Mas’ John he do go on,” he repeated. His office was not alone the care and the showing off of the graveyard, but another duty, too, as native and peculiar to the soil as the very cotton and the rice: this loyal servitor cherished the honor of the “old famblies,” and chide their young descendants whenever he considered that they needed it.
Mayrant now sat revived after his collapse of mirth, and he addressed me from his gravestone. “Yes, I ought to have foreseen it.”
“Foreseen—?” I didn’t at once catch the inference.
“All my aunts and cousins have been talking to you.”
“Oh, Miss Beaufain and the Earl of Mainridge! Well, but it’s quite worth—”
“Knowing by heart!” he broke in with new merriment.
I kept on. “Why not? They tell those things everywhere—where they’re so lucky as to possess them! It’s a flawless specimen.”
“Of 1840 repartee?” He spoke with increasing pauses. “Yes. We do at least possess that. And some wine of about the same date—and even considerably older.”
“All the better for age,” I exclaimed.
But the blue eyes of Mayrant were far away and full of shadow. “Poor Kings Port,” he said very slowly and quietly. Then he looked at me with the steady look and the smile that one sometimes has when giving voice to a sorrowful conviction against which one has tried to struggle. “Poor Kings Port,” he affectionately repeated. His hand tapped lightly two or three times upon the gravestone upon which he was seated. “Be honest and say that you think so, too,” he demanded, always with his smile.
But how was I to agree aloud with what his silent hand had expressed? Those inaudible taps on the stone spoke clearly enough; they said: “Here lies Kings Port, here lives Kings Port. Outside of this is our true death, on the vacant wharves, in the empty streets. All that we have left is the immortality which these historic names have won.” How could I tell him that I thought so, too? Nor was I as sure of it then as he was. And besides, this was a young man whose spirit was almost surely, in suffering; ill fortune both material and of the heart, I seemed to suspect, had made him wounded and bitter in these immediate days; and the very suppression he was exercising hurt him the more deeply. So I replied, honestly, as he had asked: “I hope you are mistaken.”