There once was a feller—lived right in this here parish—name of Hercules Smith. He got that name afore he was ten years old, on account of all the wrasslin he did. You never saw such a wrassler in all your life. He’d sneak out at night to wrassle bears, and when his pappy caught him, why, he’d wrassle him too.
Now, one day, when Hercules Smith was near growed up, his pappy up and keeled over at the plow. Dead afore he hit the ground. His family was mighty sad, but he had a passel of sons who could take good care of their mama and sisters. Still, young Hercules Smith was a mite worried.
See, the preacher back then, he was a God-fearin, fire-and-brimstone man, what weren’t afraid to tell you you were a sinner and no mistake. And he reckoned that Hercules Smith’s pappy hadn’t gone to church near enough, and might be he had likkered hisself up and rolled the bones with some of the fellers a few too many times. That was enough sins, he told Hercules Smith, that the Divvil would be along by to collect his pappy when they buried him.
Well now, that didn’t sit right with Hercules Smith. His pappy had given him plenty of hidings right enough, but he reckoned he was a good man, who didn’t deserve eternal hellfire. Hercules Smith weren’t about to let the Divvil take his pappy. So he promised hisself he’d sit out and wait for the Divvil, and see what he would see.
‘Twas a dark and cold that night, the sort of night where mamas put the young uns to bed early and sing them to sleep, and pappies cock an ear to the door while they nurse their whiskey, and they keep their rifles close at hand. That was the sort of night that Hercules Smith found hisself right out in the middle of, after his pappy was buried.
He sat there alone in the graveyard in the cold and dark, waiting, to see what he would see.
Well, the night got darker, and the hours got later, and the clock began to toll the twelfth hour. And sure enough, right on the stroke of midnight, there came the Divvil hisself, slouching into the graveyard. He wore a fresh-pressed suit and a fine hat, and his eyes glowed red and his footprints smoked in the soil.
“Hercules Smith, if I don’t mistake myself,” said the Divvil.
Hercules Smith nodded politely like his mama raised him. “Yes sir, I’m him. Or he’s me,” he said.
“Well boy, just what do you aim to accomplish standing here in this graveyard on a cold, lonely night?”
“Well sir,” said Hercules Smith. “I don’t aim to let you take my pappy.”
When he heard that, the Divvil laughed and laughed, until gouts of steam puffed out his nose. “Just how do you mean to stop me, boy?”
Well Hercules Smith, he had thunk about that all the while he was sitting there in the cold and the dark. And he reckoned the Divvil could never resist a challenge. “Let’s have a wrasslin match,” says he. “If I win, you’ll leave my pappy’s soul.”
“And if you lose,” said the Divvil with a grin, “I take his soul, and yours to boot!”
Hercules Smith knowed the Divvil was a tricky feller, but he also reckoned the Divvil had never seen a wrassler like him. They spat on their palms and they shook hands, and then they took two steps back and stared at each other.
Hercules Smith, he was a champion bear wrassler, and he run right at the Divvil like he was a bear. He grabbed the Divvil by the shoulders and made to throw him, but the Divvil just stood there and made hisself too heavy to move.
Then the Divvil took Hercules Smith by the arms and flung him off, so that he rolled along the ground a ways and hard into a tree.
You or me, we would’ve given up right then and there. But not Hercules Smith. No, he got hisself right back up and run at the Divvil again, aiming to bowl him over and sit on him till he done cried uncle.
But the Divvil, he saw this coming too, and he made hisself heavy as a boulder, and Hercules Smith found hisself sitting on the ground without much recollection of how he got there.
Then the Divvil spoke up. “Hercules Smith, it ain’t too late for you to give up.”
And at that moment the shadowy graveyard up and disappeared, and Hercules Smith could see naught but a darkness full of flickering flames. He saw candles of all size and sort, some nigh as big as a man and burning bright, some tiny and guttering near to going out. Them candles stretched on and on into eternity, and still their light didn’t pierce that darkness.
“That’s your life, Hercules Smith,” said the Divvil, and he pointed at one of the candles. It was powerful big, but the flame was weak, near to snuffed out.
“If you give up now,” said the Divvil, “I’ll still take your soul. But you can live out all your natural days. I’ll let that there candle burn all the way down.”
Well, he looked at that there candle, and he thought of the fire and brimstone, and he thought of his pappy’s soul. “No sir,” said Hercules Smith, with such a fierceness that the Divvil blinked. And the flames disappeared, and the graveyard come back.
And in that moment when Hercules Smith couldn’t rightly make him out, the Divvil moved like a snake and flung him up against a headstone.
Hercules Smith knowed that he was near done for. A wrassler he was, through and through, but the Divvil was a cheat.
There weren’t nothing he hated worse than a cheat. Hercules Smith gritted his teeth, and didn’t he just push hisself up one more time.
Well, the Divvil come on, thinking Hercules Smith was near beat. But as he come near, Hercules Smith leaped clear over the top of him, and grabbed him around the throat from behind. He got both arms around him and durned if he didn’t put the Divvil in the finest and mightiest headlock you ever did see.
The Divvil knowed he was nabbed, and he clawed and grabbed at Hercules Smith but he couldn’t get a hold of him. A howling and cackling and all sorts of racket raised up outside the graveyard, so’s folks could hear for miles around.
And the Divvil run around and tried to shake Hercules Smith loose. And he yelled curses and threats. “When I get you off’n me, you’ll burn in a lake of fire. The deepest, hottest lake in all of hell! I’ll eat your soul. I’ll tear the flesh from your bones!” And he shouted promises. “Piles of money, if you let me go. Piles of it, Hercules Smith! The governorship. The prettiest girl in the parish!”
Well, Hercules Smith, he gritted his teeth and he hung right on, and paid no mind to all them threats, and denied all them empty promises. He hung on for an hour, and he hung on for two hours, and he hung on until the cock crowed and the sun come up.
With a hideous howling shriek, the Divvil vanished, and there was only a smell of brimstone and a pair of smoking footprints left behind.
Hercules Smith, he rubbed his hands together, and he saluted his old pappy’s grave, and he strolled on back to his mama and his brothers and his sisters, whistlin. And it weren’t so many years later afore Hercules Smith got all them things the Divvil had promised him, all on his own. But that’s a whole other story.
And even today, you can go over to the graveyard and see them two footprints all bare of grass, and remember the night when Hercules Smith wrassled with the Divvil and won.