The two soldiers, whose entrance had interrupted our talk, remained at the bar drinking, until after I had completed my toilet; and were still there listening to a story Rale was telling, when the slatternly white woman announced that supper was ready to serve. Seemingly I was the only one prepared to eat, and I sat down alone at a small table, constructed out of a box, and attempted to do the best I could with the food provided. I have never eaten a worse meal, or a poorer cooked one; nor ever felt less inclination to force myself to partake. Finally the soldiers indulged in a last drink, and disappeared through the door into the night without. Tim slept soundly, while the other men remained engrossed in their game of cards. Rale wiped off the bar, glanced about at these, as though to reassure himself that they were intent on their play; then, removing his apron, he crossed the room, and drew up a chair opposite me.
“All right, Sal,” he grunted shortly. “Bring on whut yer got.”
A NEW JOB
He remained silent, staring moodily at the fire, until after the woman had spread out the dishes on the table before him. Then his eyes fell upon the fare.
“Nice looking mess that,” he growled, surveying the repast with undisguised disgust. “No wonder we don’t do no business with thet kind ov a cook. I reckon I’d a done better to hav’ toted a nigger back with me. No, yer needn’t stay—go an’ make up them beds in the other room. I’ll watch things yere.”
He munched away almost savagely, his eyes occasionally lifting to observe me from beneath their shaggy brows, his muscular jaws fairly crunching the food. I judged the fellow had come over intending to resume our interrupted conversation, but hardly knew what he had best venture. I decided to give him a lead.
“I ain’t got no money, myself,” I began to explain, apologetically, “but Tim thar sed he’d pay my bill.”
“Sure, that’s all right; I ain’t a worryin’ none. Maybe I might put yer in an easy way o’ gittin’ hold o’ a little coin—thet is if ye ain’t too blame perticular.”
“Me!” I laughed. “Well, I reckon I don’t aim fer ter be thet. I’ve bin ten years knockin’ ‘bout between New Orleans an’ Saint Louee, steamboatin’ mostly. Thet sort o’ thing don’t make no saint out’r eny kin’d man, I reckon. What sort’r job is it?”
He eyed me cautiously, as though not altogether devoid of suspicion.
“Yer don’t somehow look just the same sort o’ chap, with them ther’ whiskers shaved off,” he acknowledged soberly. “Yer a hell sight better lookin’ then I thought yer wus, an’ a damn sight younger. Whar wus it yer cum frum?”
“Frum Saint Louee, on the boat, if thet’s what yer drivin’ at.”
“Tain’t what I’m drivin’ at. Whar else did yer cum frum afore then? Yer ain’t got no bum’s face.”