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Authors: Barbara Hambly

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There Shall Your Heart Be Also

BOOK: There Shall Your Heart Be Also
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THERE SHALL YOUR HEART BE ALSO

 

by

Barbara Hambly

 

Published by Barbara Hambly at Smashwords

Copyright 2007 Barbara Hambly

Cover art by Eric Baldwin

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal
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Table of Contents

 

There Shall Your Heart Be
Also

About The Author

The Further Adventures

 

 

 

THERE SHALL YOUR
HEART BE ALSO

By

Barbara Hambly

 

 

“Kentucky Williams owns a
Bible
?”
Benjamin January cast a doubtful glance cattycorner across the
trampled muck of the Broadhorn Saloon’s yard to the shabby
building’s open back door. The Broadhorn was a substantial building
for this part of New Orleans, a neighborhood known quite accurately
as The Swamp. Constructed of the lumber from dismantled flatboats,
it stood a story and a half tall and boasted not only porches but a
privy, though the four whores who worked out of it did so in a line
of sheds that straggled away into the trees of the true swamp – the
ciprière
-- beyond. Under the brilliant winter sunlight the
bullet-pocked planks and unspeakably-puddled weeds looked every bit
as grimy and rough-hewn as the establishment’s proprietress, who a
few moments before had bellowed out the back door for January to
come in: she needed his services.

“Last night some suck-arse bastard tried to
steal my Bible.”

“In many ways that’s the most surprising
element of last night’s fracas,” remarked January’s friend and
fellow-musician Hannibal Sefton, fishing in the pocket of his
dilapidated frock-coat for a bottle of opium-laced sherry. “It was
her uncle’s – another surprise, since I’d always assumed that, like
the Athenian hero Erechtheus, she was birthed from the earth
itself. It’s in no way a remarkable volume: printed in Philadelphia
thirty or forty years ago by a Bible society. The frontier was
flooded with them when families started taking up lands in the
Mississippi and Alabama territories.”

He rose from the bottom step of the ladder
he’d been sitting on when January had emerged from the trees.
January had reason to approach the Broadhorn cautiously: even at
nine-thirty on a Tuesday morning there were men aggressively drunk
enough to take violent exception to a man of January’s color
appearing in the vicinity of white men’s chosen watering-holes.
January stayed away from the Swamp when he could. Only Hannibal’s
note had brought him that morning.

“I thought myself something might have been
hidden in it,” Hannibal went on, as they crossed the goo of the
yard to the saloon’s rear door. “Pages cut out to make a hollow, or
something of the kind. I can’t imagine anyone in the Broadhorn ever
opened
the book. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. For
whatever reason, the thief was prepared to do murder to get
it.”

January paused on the saloon’s sagging rear
porch, trying to see into the impenetrable gloom within. Born a
slave, one of the first things he’d learned in early childhood was
that there was “buckra territory” – in his case, the front part of
his master’s house – where a black child would be thrashed for
setting foot. Even after his mulatto mother had been freed and
they’d gone to live in New Orleans, he’d still been forbidden to
use the front entrance of the house her white protector had given
her.

In the Swamp, it was as much as a black man’s
life was worth, to go into a saloon patronized by the white crews
of the flatboats and keelboats that came down the river with their
cargoes of furs, pigs, and corn. The black prostitutes would be
tolerated in most saloons in that insalubrious district that
sprawled from the upper end of Girod Street along the back of the
town to the canal and the cemeteries. But the only black who was
truly able to come and go freely in the Broadhorn was Delly, a
sweet-tempered, simple-minded girl of seventeen whose buck teeth,
skewed jaw, and prominent facial moles had relegated her to the
role of washing cups and doing as much cleaning-up as the Broadhorn
ever got.

It was Delly who lay on the narrow bed in
Kentucky Williams’s room behind the bar. Williams yelled, “Git the
hell in here, Ben, what you doin’, wipin’ your goddam feet?” and
January followed her voice into that tiny cubicle, which appeared
to do duty as the Broadhorn’s store-room as well. Williams sat at
the foot of the bed, a big-boned white woman wearing what the black
whores called a
good-time dress
, a faded calico
mother-hubbard whose front was splashed and blotted now with
crusted brown blood. One sleeve was torn and a makeshift bandage,
also spotted from a seeping wound underneath, ringed her right
forearm. “Gimme your dope, Hannibal,” she added more quietly,
holding out her uninjured hand, and Hannibal passed over his bottle
of opium-laced sherry without a word.

The girl Delly lay quietly on the bed, her
face wrapped in several bar-rags and what looked like somebody’s
torn-up mother-hubbard bound around her chest and shoulder. “Dumb
bitch tried to pull him off me,” growled Williams to January,
gently holding the bottle to Delly’s lips. “Can you swallow a
little of this, honey? Easy – not too much -- that’s my good girl.”
She patted Delly’s hand encouragingly. “Didn’t think I could goddam
take care of myself.” She took the cigar out of her mouth to take a
gulp of the sherry herself, then passed the bottle back to
Hannibal. “How bad’s she hurt, Ben? She be all right?”

Hannibal’s note had said,
Bring your
kit
, so January had brought the battered leather case of
probes, forceps, fleams and scalpels that his mentor in New Orleans
had given him back in 1817, when he’d left to study medicine in
Paris – little realizing at that time how useless it was for a
black man to attempt to practice medicine on whites, even in that
land of
liberté, egalité
, etc. Oddly enough, in the two
years since his return to New Orleans in 1833, he’d found himself
acquiring a clientele after all: unfortunately, all of it among the
poorest class of freed (or runaway) slaves, who couldn’t afford the
largely light-complected physicians patronized by the better-off
free colored artisans.

January had long ago resigned himself to the
fact that he was going to be playing piano for his living the rest
of his life.

In addition to the tools of his one-time
trade, he’d brought vials of camphor and opium, and bundles of
herbs recommended by his voodoo-priestess sister and various “root
doctors” – freed and slave – in the countryside. One of these he
held out to Hannibal. “Can you get some boiling water from the
Turkey Buzzard, and steep about a quarter of this in it?” The
Turkey Buzzard stood about a hundred feet from the Broadhorn, and
combined the usual Swamp amenities of barroom, gambling parlor, and
bordello with about a dozen beds for hire in three or four
chambers, qualifying it as a hotel. It boasted a kitchen of sorts,
and a dining-room that served up grits, beans, and whatever mules
might have given up the ghost the previous day, occasionally varied
if an alligator happened to get too far from the canal at a time
when the patrons were sober enough to hit it.

“Did you put anything on this, Mrs.
Williams?” January asked, gingerly beginning to unwrap the bandages
on Delly’s face.

“Like what?” The proprietress pulled her
snarly light-brown hair back into a knot on her nape. “My daddy
said duck-shit an’ cobwebs was good for cuts, but I was god-damned
if I’d go huntin’ for a duck in the middle of the night. ‘Sides,
that was just for little cuts, not a big hack like he gave her.
There’s ducks down at the turning basin by the cemetery, though, if
you need—”

“My teachers swore by brandy.” January
flinched a little as the bandages stuck, then came away from the
split mess of brow and cheek. Though crusted almost shut with
blood, Delly’s brown eyes blinked up at him unharmed.

“You mean brandy-brandy?” asked Williams
doubtfully. “Or the tonsil varnish me an’ Railspike make out of
tobacco-juice an’ red pepper?”

“Brandy-brandy, if you’ve got it.”

Williams fished in a broken goods-box under
the bed. “You want Lemercier or St-Valbert?”

Stifling the urge to inquire how bottles of
France’s finest had wound up in the back room of a New Orleans
bucket-shop, January asked instead, “What happened here?” as he
took the bottle and gently began to clean the wounds with its
contents. “And how do you know the thief was trying to steal your
uncle’s Bible? What happened to the thief, by the way?”

“Absquatulated, the pusilanimous fuckard.”
Williams perched back on the bed at his side, and took a thoughtful
swig of the Lemercier. “Lit out of here like I’d stuck a burnin’
fuse up his arse. I marked him good, though. And I know he was
tryin’ to steal my Bible ‘cause he come in here tried to buy it
yesterday afternoon.”


Buy
it?”

“Yeah. I thought it was queer.” She took the
cigar from her mouth and blew a thoughtful cloud, lashless blue
eyes narrowing in their tangle of lines and crusted paint. January
would have guessed the saloonkeeper’s age at forty or so – his own
– had he not known how quickly the harsh life of the riverfront
dives aged a woman: she was probably a decade younger than she
looked, and unlikely to live a decade longer.

“This po-faced jasper comes in here yesterday
afternoon, just as I got the doors open. Asks for rum an’ stands
here
sippin’
at it -- who wants to
taste
it, fer
God’s sake?” She took another gulp of the Lemercier, and passed it
back to January to daub on the long knife-rake that slashed across
the girl Delly’s right pectoral and down the side of her breast.
Delly herself lay listening, jaw gritted hard, her eyeballs
drifting now and then from the opium. January guessed she wasn’t
used to it, from the way one swallow had dulled the pain.

On the other hand, of course, Hannibal’s
favored brand was quadruple-strength Black Drop that would knock
out a horse.

Now Delly whispered, “You said he was a
ringer, m’am.”

“That I did, honey.” Williams squeezed the
girl’s hand again. “That I did. He was dressed rough, like most of
the hard-cases that come in here – plug hat, Conestoga boots – but
he wore it like he didn’t want to touch the insides of his clothes
with his body. His hands was clean, too. You could tell he hadn’t
never done hard work with ‘em, not like haulin’ on a line or
pole-walkin’ a boat up a bayou. His hair, too, clean an’ cut short,
an’ he had one of them sissy little beards, just around his mouth.
Well, he coulda been a gambler, an’ it wasn’t none of my laundry to
wash.” She shrugged.

“But then he starts an argument with the next
man who comes in – Snag-Face Rawlin, that was – pushin’ on about
somethin’ in the Bible, like, who was the first King of Israel or
somethin’ like that. Next thing I know, he asks me, do I have a
Bible to settle the question? Snag-Face is sayin’,
Oh, hell,
what’s it matter?
But this stranger just won’t quit, an’ wants
to settle the question—”

“Herod,” whispered Delly, through teeth
clenched against the pain as January quickly cleaned out the wound
on her chest with the hot herbal wash Hannibal brought in. “Was
Herod the first king of Israel?”

“That was it. He pushed a bet onto Snag-Face
– fifty cents Herod was. And when I guess Herod wasn’t he said all
damn an’ blast, an’ would I sell him the Bible so’s he wouldn’t
make that kind of fool mistake again? I said no, it was my uncle’s
Bible. He offered me five dollars for it, and when I said no, he
offered me ten.”

January’s eyebrows shot up. Cheaply-printed
Evangelical Bibles could be purchased for twenty-five cents,
new.

Williams ground out her cigar under her heel.
“So I figured, when my door creaks open in the dead of night an’
some plug-ugly with a handkerchief tied over his face holds a gun
on me an’ says gimme the Bible, I’m guessin’ it was the same
po-faced bastard with the sissy beard.”

January finished tying off his stitches, and
took from his satchel clean rags for a bandage. “I think I’d like a
look at this Bible.”

 

*

 

“There,” said January, and flipped the pages
at random in four or five places til he found what he sought.

BOOK: There Shall Your Heart Be Also
12.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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