Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Saint Idyl’s Light
by [?]

You would never have guessed that her name was Idyl–the slender, angular little girl of thirteen years who stood in her faded gown of checkered homespun on the brow of the Mississippi River. And fancy a saint balancing a bucket of water on top of her head!

Yet, as she puts the pail down beside her, the evening sun gleaming through her fair hair seems to transform it into a halo, as some one speaks her name, “Saint Idyl.”

Her thin, little ears, sun-filled as she stands, are crimson disks; and the outlines of her upper arms, dimly seen through the flimsy sleeves, are as meagre as are the ankles above her bare, slim feet.

The appellation “Saint Idyl,” given first in playful derision, might have been long ago forgotten but for the incident which this story records.

It was three years before, when the plantation children, colored and white together, had been saying, as is a fashion with them, what they would like to be.

One had chosen a “blue-eyed lady wid flounces and a pink fan,” another a “fine white ‘oman wid long black curls an’ ear-rings,” and a third would have been “a hoop-skirted lady wid a tall hat.”

It was then that Idyl, the only white child of the group–the adopted orphan of the overseer’s family–had said:

“I’d choose to be a saint, like the one in the glass winder in the church, with light shinin’ from my head. I’d walk all night up and down the ‘road bend,’ so travellers could see the way and wagons wouldn’t get stallded.”

The children had shuddered and felt half afraid at this.

“But you’d git stallded yo’se’f in dat black mud–“

“An’ de runaways in de canebrake ‘d ketch yer–“

“An’ de paterole’d shoot yer–“

“An’ eve’body’d think you was a walkin’ sperit, an’ run away f’om yer.”

So the protests had come in, though the gleaming eyes of the little negroes had shown their delight in the fantastic idea.

“But I’d walk on a cloud, like the saint in the picture,” Idyl had insisted. “And my feet wouldn’t touch the mud, and when the runaways looked into my face, they’d try to be good and go back to their masters. Nobody would hurt me. Tired horses would be glad to see my light, and everybody would love me.”

So, first laughingly, and then as a matter of habit, she had come to be known as “Saint Idyl.”

As she stands quite still, with face uplifted, out on the levee this evening, one is reminded in looking at her of the “Maid of Domremi” listening to the voices.

Idyl was in truth listening to voices–voices new, strange, and solemn–voices of heavy, distant cannon.

It was the 23d of April, 1862. A few miles below Bijou Plantation Farragut’s fleet was storming the blockade at Fort Jackson. All along the lower Mississippi it was a time of dread and terror.

The negroes, for the most part awed and terror-stricken, muttered prayers as they went about, and all night long sang mournfully and shouted and prayed in the churches or in groups in their cabins, or even in the road.

The war had come at last. Its glare was upon the sky at night, and all day long reiterated its persistent staccato menace:

“Boom-m-m! Gloom-m-m! Tomb-b-b! Doom-m-m!”

The air had never seemed to lose the vibratory tremor, “M-m-m!” since the first gun, nearly six days ago.

It was as if the lips of the land were trembling. And the trembling lips of the black mothers, as they pressed their babes to their bosoms, echoed the wordless terror.

Death was in the air. Had they doubted it? In a field near by a shell had fallen, burying itself in the earth, and, exploding, had sent two men into the air, killing one and returning the other unhurt.

Now the survivor, saved as by a miracle, was preaching “The Wrath to Come.”

To quote from himself, he had “been up to heaven long enough to get ‘ligion.” He had “gone up a lost sinner and come down a saved soul. Bless Gord!”