For so long a time had Jim been known as the hardest sinner on the plantation that no one had tried to reach the heart under his outward shell even in camp-meeting and revival times. Even good old Brother Parker, who was ever looking after the lost and straying sheep, gave him up as beyond recall.
“Dat Jim,” he said, “Oomph, de debbil done got his stamp on dat boy, an’ dey ain’ no use in tryin’ to scratch hit off.”
“But Parker,” said his master, “that’s the very sort of man you want to save. Don’t you know it’s your business as a man of the gospel to call sinners to repentance?”
“Lawd, Mas’ Mordaunt,” exclaimed the old man, “my v’ice done got hoa’se callin’ Jim, too long ergo to talk erbout. You jes’ got to let him go ‘long, maybe some o’ dese days he gwine slip up on de gospel an’ fall plum’ inter salvation.”
Even Mandy, Jim’s wife, had attempted to urge the old man to some more active efforts in her husband’s behalf. She was a pillar of the church herself, and was woefully disturbed about the condition of Jim’s soul. Indeed, it was said that half of the time it was Mandy’s prayers and exhortations that drove Jim into the woods with his dog and his axe, or an old gun that he had come into possession of from one of the younger Mordaunts.
Jim was unregenerate. He was a fighter, a hard drinker, fiddled on Sunday, and had been known to go out hunting on that sacred day. So it startled the whole place when Mandy announced one day to a few of her intimate friends that she believed “Jim was under conviction.” He had stolen out hunting one Sunday night and in passing through the swamp had gotten himself thoroughly wet and chilled, and this had brought on an attack of acute rheumatism, which Mandy had pointed out to him as a direct judgment of heaven. Jim scoffed at first, but Mandy grew more and more earnest, and finally, with the racking of the pain, he waxed serious and determined to look to the state of his soul as a means to the good of his body.
“Hit do seem,” Mandy said, “dat Jim feel de weight o’ his sins mos’ powahful.”
“I reckon hit’s de rheumatics,” said Dinah.
“Don’ mek no diffunce what de inst’ument is,” Mandy replied, “hit’s de ‘sult, hit’s de ‘sult.”
When the news reached Stuart Mordaunt’s ears he became intensely interested. Anything that would convert Jim, and make a model Christian of him would be providential on that plantation. It would save the overseers many an hour’s worry; his horses, many a secret ride; and the other servants, many a broken head. So he again went down to labor with Parker in the interest of the sinner.
“Is he mou’nin’ yit?” said Parker.
“No, not yet, but I think now is a good time to sow the seeds in his mind.”
“Oomph,” said the old man, “reckon you bettah let Jim alone twell dem sins o’ his’n git him to tossin’ an’ cryin’ an’ a mou’nin’. Den’ll be time enough to strive wid him. I’s allus willin’ to do my pa’t, Mas’ Stuart, but w’en hit comes to ol’ time sinnahs lak Jim, I believe in layin’ off, an’ lettin’ de sperit do de strivin’.”
“But Parker,” said his master, “you yourself know that the Bible says that the spirit will not always strive.”
“Well, la den, mas’, you don’ spec’ I gwine outdo de sperit.”
But Stuart Mordaunt was particularly anxious that Jim’s steps might be turned in the right direction. He knew just what a strong hold over their minds the Negroes’ own emotional religion had, and he felt that could he once get Jim inside the pale of the church, and put him on guard of his salvation, it would mean the loss of fewer of his shoats and pullets. So he approached the old preacher, and said in a confidential tone.