In Old Plantation Days

Dandy Jim’s Conjure Scare

Dandy Jim was very much disturbed when he came in that morning to shave his master. He was Dandy Jim, because being just his master’s size, he came in for the spruce garments which Henry Desmond cast off. The dark-skinned valet took great pride in his personal appearance, and was little less elegant than the white man himself. He was such a dapper black boy, and always so light and agile on his feet that his master looked up in genuine surprise when he came in this morning looking care-worn and dejected, and walking with a decided limp.

To the question, “Why, what on earth is the matter with you, Jim?” he answered only with a doleful shake of his head.

“Why, you look like you’d been getting religion.”

“No, I ain’t quite as bad as dat, Mas’ Henry. Religion ‘fects de soul, but hits my body dats ‘fected.”

“You’ve been getting your feet wet, I reckon, and it’s cold.”

“I wish ’twas; I wish ’twas,” said Jim sadly.

“You wish it was? Well, what is the matter with you?”

“Mas’ Henry, kin you let me have a silver dime? Pa been hurted.”


“I tell you I’s been tricked.”

“And you believe in that sort of thing after all I’ve tried to teach you?”

“Mas’ Henry, I tell you, Ps been tricked. Dey ain’t no ‘sputin’ de signs, teachin’ er no teachin’!”

“Well, I wish you’d tell me the signs so that I’d know them. It’s just possible that I may have been tricked some time and didn’t know it.”

“Don’ joke, Mas’ Henry, don’ joke. Dis is a se’ious mattah, an’ ‘f you’d ‘a’ evah been tricked an’ hit doneright,you’dV knowed,case dey ‘ain’t no ‘sputin’ de symptoms. Dey’s mighty well known. Wen a body’s tricked, dey’s tricked, an’ dat’s de gospel truf.”

“Do you claim to know them?”

“Don’ I tell you I’s a sufferin’ f om dem now?”

“Well, what are they?”

“Well, fu’ one t’ing, I’s got a mighty mis’ry in my back, an’ I got de limb trimbles, an’ I’s des’ creepy all ovah in spots, dat’s a sho’ sign, whenevah you feels spotted. I tells you, Mas’ Henry, somebody’s done laid fu’ me an’ cotch me. I wish you’d please, suh, gimme a piece o’ silvah to lay on de place.”

“What will that do?”

“W’y, I wants to be right sho’, fo’ I goes to a conju’ doctah, an’ ef I is tricked, de silvah, hit’U show it, ‘dout a doubt. Hit’ll tu’n right black.”

“Jim,” said the white man, as he handed over the silver coin, “I’ve never known you to talk this way before, and I believe you’ve got some oher reason for believing you’re conjured besides the ones you’ve given me. You rascal, you’ve been up to something.”

The valet grinned sheepishly, hung his head and shuffled his feet in a way that instantly confessed judgment.

“Come, own up now,” pressed his master, “what devilment have you been up to?”

“I don’ see how it’s any dev’ment fu’ a body to go to see de gal he like.”

“Uh-huh, you’ve been after somebody else’s girl, have you? And he’s fixed you, eh?”

“I didn’t know ‘Lize was goin’ ‘long o’ anybody else ‘twell I went in thaih de othah night to see huh, an’ even den, she nevah let on nuffin’. We talked erlong, an’ laughed, an’ was havin’ a mighty fine time. You see ‘Lize, she got a powahful drawin’ way erbout huh. I kep’ on settin’ up nighah an’ nighah to huh, an’ she kep’ laughin’, but she nevah hitched huh cheer away, so co’se I thought hit was all right, an’ dey wa’nt nobody else a-keepin’ comp’ny wid huh. Wen, lo, an’ behol’i des’ as I was erbout to put my ahm erroun’ huh wais’, who should walk in de do’ but one dem gret big, red-eyed fiel’-han’s. Co’se I drawed erway, fu’ dat man sho’ did look dang’-ous. Well, co’se, a gent’man got to show his mannahs, so I ups an’ says, “Good-evenin’, sub,’ an’ meks my ‘bejunce. Oomph, dat man nevah answered no mo’n I’d been a knot on a log, an’ him anothah. Den ‘Lize she up an say, ‘Good-evenin’, Sam, an’ bless yo’ soul, ef he didn’t treat huh de same way. He des’ went ovah in de cornder an’ sot down an’ thaih he sot, a-lookin’ at us wid dem big red eyes o’ his’n a-fai’ly blazin’! Well, I seed dat ‘Lize was a-gittin’ oneasy, an’ co’se, hit ain’t nevah perlite to be a inconwenience to a lady, so I gits up an’ takes my hat, an’ takes my departed.”

“The fact, in other words, is, you ran from the man.”

“No, suh, a pusson couldn’t ‘zactly say I run. I did come erway kind o’ fas’, but you see, I was thinkin’ ’bout ‘Lize’s feelin’s an’ hit seemed lak ef I’d git out o’ de way, it’d relieve de strain.”

“Yes, your action does great credit to your goodness of heart and your respect for your personal safety, Jim.”

Jim flashed a quick glance up into his master’s face. He did not like to be laughed at, but his eyes met nothing but the most serious of expressions, so he went on: “Dat uz two nights ago, an’ evah sence den, I been feelin’ mighty funny. I des’ mo’n ‘low dat Sam done laid fu’me, an’ cotch me in de back an’ laig. You know, Mas’ Henry, dem ah red-eyed people, dey mighty dan-g’ous, an’ it don’ do nobody no good to go ‘long a-foolin’ wid ’em. Ef I’d ‘a’ knowed dat Sam was a-goin’ ‘long o’ ‘Lize, I sholy would ‘a’ fed ’em bofe wid a long spoon. I do’ want nobody plantin’ t’ings fu’ me.”

“Jim, you’re hopeless. Here I’ve tried my best to get that conjuring notion out of your head. You’ve been brought up right here in the house with me for three or four years, and now the first thing that happens, you fall right back to those old beliefs that would be unworthy of your African grandfather.”

“Mas’ Henry, I ain’ goin’ to ‘spute none o’ yo’ teachin’s, an’ I ain’ goin’ to argy wid you, ‘case you my mastah, an’ it wouldn’ be perlite, but I des’ got one t’ing to say, dat piece o’ silvah you gi’ me, ‘II tell de tale.”

The valet now having finished his work and his complaints, went his way, leaving his master a bit disgusted, and a good deal amused. “These great overgrown children,” he mused, “still frightened by fairy tales.”

It was late in the afternoon before the master saw his servant again. Then he opened his eyes in astonishment at him.

Henry Desmond was sitting on the porch, when the black man hove in sight. He would have slipped round to the back of the house and entered that way had not his master called to him. Dandy Jim, a dandy no longer, approached and stood before his speechless owner. He was a figure for gods and men to behold. He was covered with dirt from head to foot. His clothes looked as though he might have changed raiment with an impoverished scarecrow. One sleeve was gone out of his coat, and the leg of his trousers was ripped from the knee down. A half a dozen scratches and bruises disfigured his face, and when he walked, it was with a limp more decidedly genuine than the one of the morning. But the feature that utterly surprised Henry Desmond, that took away his speech for a moment or two, was the beautiful smile that sat on Jim’s countenance.

The master finally found his voice, “Jim, what on earth is the matter? You look like a storm had struck you.”

“Oh, Mas’ Henry, I ain’ conjuahed, I ain’ conjuahed!”

“You ain’t conjured? Well, you look a good deal more like you’d been conjured than you did this morning. I should take it for granted that a whole convention of witches and hoodoos had sat on your case.”

“No suh, no suh, I ain’ conjuahed a-tall.”

“Well, what’s the matter with you, then?”

“W’y, suh, I’s seed dat red-eyed fiel-han’ Sam, an’ he pu’t nigh walloped de life out o’ me, yes, suh, he did.”

“Well, you take it blessed cheerful.”

“Dat’s becase I knows I ain’ conjuahed.”

“Didn’t the silver turn black? You know it might not have had time yet!”

“Mas’ Henry, I ain’ bothahed nuffin’ ’bout de silvah, I ain’ ‘pendin’ on dat. De reason I knows I ain’ conjuahed, Sam, he done whupped me. I was a goin’ down to de fid’ ‘long ’bout dinnah time, an’ who should I meet but Sam. ‘Hoi’ on, Jim,’ he say, a settin’ down de bucket he was ca’in’ to de fid’. ‘Hoi’ on,’ he say, an’ I stop ‘twell he come up. ‘Jim,’ he say, ‘you was down in the quahtahs a-settin’ up to Miss ‘Lize night befo’ last’, wasn’t you?’ ‘Well, I was present,’ say I, ‘on dat occasion, w’en I had de pleasure o’ meetin’ you.’ ‘Nemmine dat, nemmine dat,’ he say,’ ‘I do’ want none o’ yo’ fine wo’ds what you lu’n up to de big house, an’ uses crookid down in de quahtahs;’ but bless yo’ soul, Mas’ Henry, dat wa’nt true—’I do’ want none o’ yo’ fine wo’ds;’ den he tuk off his hat,- an’ rolled up his sleeves—he sholy has got awful ahms. Ts goin’ to whup you,  says he, an’, well, suh, he did. He whupped me mos’ scan’lous. He des’ walloped me all ovah de groun’. Oomph, I nevah shell fu’git it! W’y, dat man lak to wo’ me out. Seemed lak, w’en he fust sta’ted, he was des’ goin’ to give me a little dressin’ down, but he seemed to waken to de wo’k ez he pu’sued his co’se. W’en he got thoo, he say, ‘Now ef evah I ketches you foolin’ ‘roun’ Miss ‘Lize agin, I’ll brek you all ter pieces.’ Den I come away re-joicin’ ‘case I knowed I wa’nt tricked.”

“Well, you’re the first man I ever saw rejoice over such a thrashing as you’ve had. What do you mean? How do you know you’re not conjured?”

“W’y, Mas’ Henry, what’s de use o’ con-juahin’ a man w’en you can whup him lak dat? Hain’t dat enough satisfaction? Dey ain’t no need to go ‘roun’ wo’kin wid roots w’en you got sich fistes ez Sam got.”

“But you had so much confidence in the silver this morning. What does the silver say?”

“La, Mas’ Henry, aftah Sam whupped me dat ‘way I was so satisfied in my min’ dat I des’ tuk off de silvah an bought lin’ment wid it. You kin cuoah bruises wid lin’ment, an’ you allus knows des how to reach de case, but conjuah, dat’s diff’unt.” And Jim limped away to apply his lotion to his sore, but unconjured body.


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This work (In Old Plantation Days by Paul Laurence Dunbar) is free of known copyright restrictions.