"Never mind, Eliza, it is only evil that needs to be watched, the good will take care of itself."
It was not one, nor two, nor three Sundays that Brother Simon was away from his congregation, but six passed before he was there again. He was seen to be very busy tinkering around during the week, and then one Sunday he appeared suddenly in his pulpit. The church nodded and smiled a welcome to him. There was no change in him. If anything he was more fiery than ever. But, there was a change. Lize, who was news-gatherer and carrier extraordinary, bore the tidings to her owners. She burst into the big house with the cry of "Whut I tell you! Whut I tell you!"
"Well, what now," exclaimed both Mr. and Mrs. Marston.
"Didn' I tell you ol' Simon was up to some'p'n?"
"Out with it," exclaimed her master, "out with it, I knew he was up to something, too."
"George, try to remember who you are."
"Brothah Simon come in chu'ch dis mo'nin' an' he 'scended up de pulpit—"
"Well, what of that, are you not glad he is back?"
"Hol' on, lemme tell you—he 'scended up de pu'pit, an' 'menced his disco'se. Well, he hadn't no sooner got sta'ted when in walked one o' dem brazen Lousiany wenches—"
"Hol' on, Miss M'ree, she walked in lak she owned de place, an' flopped huhse'f down on de front seat."
"Well, what if she did," burst in Mrs. Marston, "she had a right. I want you to understand, you and the rest of your kind, that that meeting-house is for any of the hands that care to attend it. The woman did right. I hope she'll come again."
"I hadn' got done yit, Missy. Jes' ez soon ez de sehmont was ovah, whut mus' Brothah Simon, de 'zortah, min' you, whut mus' he do but come hoppin' down f'om de pu'pit, an' beau dat wench home! 'Scorted huh clah 'crost de plantation befo' evahbody's face. Now whut you call dat?"
"I call it politeness, that is what I call it. What are you laughing at, Mr. Marston? I have no doubt that the old man was merely trying to set an example of courtesy to some of the younger men, or to protect the woman from the insults that the other members of the congregation would heap upon her. Mr. Marston, I do wish you would keep your face serious. There is nothing to laugh at in this matter. A worthy old man tries to do a worthy work, his fellow-servants cavil at him, and his master, who should encourage him, laughs at him for his pains."
"I assure you, my dear, I'm not laughing at Uncle Simon."
"Then at me, perhaps; that is infinitely better."
"And not at you, either; I'm amused at the situation."
"Well, Manette ca'ied him off dis mo'nin'," resumed Eliza.
"Manette!" exclaimed Mrs. Marston.
"It was Manette he was a beauin'. Evahbody say he likin' huh moughty well, an' dat he look at huh all th'oo preachin'."
"Oh my! Manette's one of the nicest girls I brought from St. Pierre. I hope—oh, but then she is a young woman, she would not think of being foolish over an old man."
"I do' know, Miss M'ree. De ol' men is de wuss kin'. De young oomans knows how to tek de young mans, 'case dey de same age, an' dey been lu'nin' dey tricks right along wif dem'; but de ol' men, dey got sich a long sta't ahaid, dey been lu'nin' so long. Ef I had a darter, I wouldn' be afeard to let huh tek keer o' huhse'f wif a young man, but ef a ol' man come a cou'tin' huh, I'd keep my own two eyes open."
"Eliza, you're a philosopher," said Mr. Marston. "You're one of the few reasoners of your sex."
"It is all nonsense," said his wife. "Why Uncle Simon is old enough to be Manette's grandfather."
"Love laughs at years."
"And you laugh at everything."
"That's the difference between love and me, my dear Mrs. Marston."
"Do not pay any attention to your master, Eliza, and do not be so suspicious of every one. It is all right. Uncle Simon had Manette over, because he thought the service would do her good."
"Yes'm, I 'low she's one o' de young lambs dat he gone out in de col' to fotch in. Well, he tek'n' moughty good keer o' dat lamb."
Mrs. Marston was compelled to laugh in spite of herself. But when Eliza was gone, she turned to her husband, and said:
"George, dear, do you really think there is anything in it?"
"I thoroughly agree with you, Mrs. Marston, in the opinion that Uncle Simon needed rest, and I may add on my own behalf, recreation."
"Pshaw! I do not believe it."
All doubts, however, were soon dispelled. The afternoon sun drove Mr. Marston to the back veranda where he was sitting when Uncle Simon again approached and greeted him.
"Well, Uncle Simon, I hear that you're back in your pulpit again?"
"Yes, suh, I's done 'sumed my labohs in de Mastah's vineya'd."'
"Have you had a good rest of it?"
"Well, I ain' ezzackly been restin'," said the aged man, scratching his head. "I's been pu'su'in' othah 'ployments."
"Oh, yes, but change of work is rest. And how's the rheumatism, now, any better?"
"Bettah? Why, Mawse Gawge, I ain' got a smidgeon of hit. I's jes' limpin' a leetle bit on 'count o' habit."
"Well, it's good if one can get well, even if his days are nearly spent."
"Heish, Mas' Gawge. I ain' t'inkin' 'bout dyin'."
"Aren't you ready yet, in all these years?"
"I hope I's ready, but I hope to be spaihed a good many yeahs yit."
"To do good, I suppose?"
"Yes, suh; yes, suh. Fac' is, Mawse Gawge, I jes' hop up to ax you some'p'n."
"Well, here I am."
"I want to ax you—I want to ax you—er—er—I want—"
"Oh, speak out. I haven't time to be bothering here all day."
"Well, you know, Mawse Gawge, some o' us ain' nigh ez ol' ez dey looks."
"That's true. A person, now, would take you for ninety, and to my positive knowledge, you're not more than eighty-five."
"Oh, Lawd. Mastah, do heish."
"I'm not flattering you, that's the truth."
"Well, now, Mawse Gawge, couldn' you mek me' look lak eighty-fo', an' be a little youngah?"
"Why, what do you want to be younger for?"
"You see, hit's jes' lak dis, Mawse Gawge. I come up hyeah to ax you—I want—dat is—me an' Manette, we wants to git ma'ied."
"Get married!" thundered Marston. "What you, you old scarecrow, with one foot in the grave!"
"Heish, Mastah, 'buse me kin' o' low. Don't th'ow yo' words 'roun' so keerless."
"This is what you wanted your Sundays off for, to go sparking around—you an exhorter, too."
"But I's been missin' my po' ol' wife so much hyeah lately."
"You've been missing her, oh, yes, and so you want to get a woman young enough to be your granddaughter to fill her place."
"Well, Mas' Gawge, you know, ef I is ol' an' feeble, ez you say, I need a strong young han' to he'p me down de hill, an' ef Manette don' min' spa'in' a few mont's er yeahs—"
"That'll do, I'll see what your mistress says. Come back in an hour."
A little touched, and a good deal amused, Marston went to see his wife. He kept his face straight as he addressed her. "Mrs. Marston, Manette's hand has been proposed for."
"The Rev. Simon Marston has this moment come and solemnly laid his heart at my feet as proxy for Manette."
"He shall not have her, he shall not have her!" exclaimed the lady, rising angrily.
"But remember, Mrs. Marston, it will keep her coming to meeting."
"I do not care; he is an old hypocrite, that is what he is."
"Think, too, of what a noble work he is doing. It brings about a reconciliation between the east and west plantations, for which we have been hoping for years. You really oughtn't to lay a straw in his way."
"He's a sneaking, insidious, old scoundrel."
"Such poor encouragement from his mistress for a worthy old man, who only needs rest!"
"George!" cried Mrs. Marston, and she sank down in tears, which turned to convulsive laughter as her husband put his arm about her and whispered, "He is showing the true Christian spirit. Don't you think we'd better call Manette and see if she consents? She is one of his lambs, you know."
"Oh, George, George, do as you please. If the horrid girl consents, I wash my hands of the whole affair."
"You know these old men have been learning such a long while."
By this time Mrs. Marston was as much amused as her husband. Manette was accordingly called and questioned. The information was elicited from her that she loved "Brothah Simon" and wished to marry him.
"'Love laughs at age,'" quoted Mr. Marston again when the girl had been dismissed. Mrs. Marston was laughingly angry, but speechless for a moment. Finally she said: "Well, Manette seems willing, so there is nothing for us to do but to consent, although, mind you, I do not approve of this foolish marriage, do you hear?"
After a while the old man returned for his verdict. He took it calmly. He had expected it. The disparity in the years of him and his betrothed did not seem to strike his consciousness at all. He only grinned.
"Now look here, Uncle Simon," said his master, "I want you to tell me how you, an old, bad-looking, half-dead darky won that likely young girl."
The old man closed one eye and smiled.
"Mastah, I don' b'lieve you looks erroun' you," he said. "Now, 'mongst white folks, you knows a preachah 'mongst de ladies is mos' nigh i'sistible, but 'mongst col'ed dey ain't no pos'ble way to git erroun' de gospel man w'en he go ahuntin' fu' anything."
MR. CORNELIUS JOHNSON, OFFICE-SEEKER
It was a beautiful day in balmy May and the sun shone pleasantly on Mr. Cornelius Johnson's very spruce Prince Albert suit of grey as he alighted from the train in Washington. He cast his eyes about him, and then gave a sigh of relief and satisfaction as he took his bag from the porter and started for the gate. As he went along, he looked with splendid complacency upon the less fortunate mortals who were streaming out of the day coaches. It was a Pullman sleeper on which he had come in. Out on the pavement he hailed a cab, and giving the driver the address of a hotel, stepped in and was rolled away. Be it said that he had cautiously inquired about the hotel first and found that he could be accommodated there.
As he leaned back in the vehicle and allowed his eyes to roam over the streets, there was an air of distinct prosperity about him. It was in evidence from the tips of his ample patent-leather shoes to the crown of the soft felt hat that sat rakishly upon his head. His entrance into Washington had been long premeditated, and he had got himself up accordingly.
It was not such an imposing structure as he had fondly imagined, before which the cab stopped and set Mr. Johnson down. But then he reflected that it was about the only house where he could find accommodation at all, and he was content. In Alabama one learns to be philosophical. It is good to be philosophical in a place where the proprietor of a cafe fumbles vaguely around in the region of his hip pocket and insinuates that he doesn't want one's custom. But the visitor's ardor was not cooled for all that. He signed the register with a flourish, and bestowed a liberal fee upon the shabby boy who carried his bag to his room.
"Look here, boy," he said, "I am expecting some callers soon. If they come, just send them right up to my room. You take good care of me and look sharp when I ring and you'll not lose anything."
Mr. Cornelius Johnson always spoke in a large and important tone. He said the simplest thing with an air so impressive as to give it the character of a pronouncement. Indeed, his voice naturally was round, mellifluous and persuasive. He carried himself always as if he were passing under his own triumphal arch. Perhaps, more than anything else, it was these qualities of speech and bearing that had made him invaluable on the stump in the recent campaign in Alabama. Whatever it was that held the secret of his power, the man and principles for which he had labored triumphed, and he had come to Washington to reap his reward. He had been assured that his services would not be forgotten, and it was no intention of his that they should be.
After a while he left his room and went out, returning later with several gentlemen from the South and a Washington man. There is some freemasonry among these office-seekers in Washington that throws them inevitably together. The men with whom he returned were such characters as the press would designate as "old wheel-horses" or "pillars of the party." They all adjourned to the bar, where they had something at their host's expense. Then they repaired to his room, whence for the ensuing two hours the bell and the bell-boy were kept briskly going.
The gentleman from Alabama was in his glory. His gestures as he held forth were those of a gracious and condescending prince. It was his first visit to the city, and he said to the Washington man: "I tell you, sir, you've got a mighty fine town here. Of course, there's no opportunity for anything like local pride, because it's the outsiders, or the whole country, rather, that makes it what it is, but that's nothing. It's a fine town, and I'm right sorry that I can't stay longer."
"How long do you expect to be with us, Professor?" inquired Col. Mason, the horse who had bent his force to the party wheel in the Georgia ruts.
"Oh, about ten days, I reckon, at the furthest. I want to spend some time sight-seeing. I'll drop in on the Congressman from my district to-morrow, and call a little later on the President."
"Uh, huh!" said Col. Mason. He had been in the city for some time.
"Yes, sir, I want to get through with my little matter and get back home. I'm not asking for much, and I don't anticipate any trouble in securing what I desire. You see, it's just like this, there's no way for them to refuse us. And if any one deserves the good things at the hands of the administration, who more than we old campaigners, who have been helping the party through its fights from the time that we had our first votes?"
"Who, indeed?" said the Washington man.
"I tell you, gentlemen, the administration is no fool. It knows that we hold the colored vote down there in our vest pockets and it ain't going to turn us down."
"No, of course not, but sometimes there are delays—"
"Delays, to be sure, where a man doesn't know how to go about the matter. The thing to do, is to go right to the centre of authority at once. Don't you see?"
"Certainly, certainly," chorused the other gentlemen.
Before going, the Washington man suggested that the newcomer join them that evening and see something of society at the capital. "You know," he said, "that outside of New Orleans, Washington is the only town in the country that has any colored society to speak of, and I feel that you distinguished men from different sections of the country owe it to our people that they should be allowed to see you. It would be an inspiration to them."
So the matter was settled, and promptly at 8:30 o'clock Mr. Cornelius Johnson joined his friends at the door of his hotel. The grey Prince Albert was scrupulously buttoned about his form, and a shiny top hat replaced the felt of the afternoon. Thus clad, he went forth into society, where he need be followed only long enough to note the magnificence of his manners and the enthusiasm of his reception when he was introduced as Prof. Cornelius Johnson, of Alabama, in a tone which insinuated that he was the only really great man his state had produced.
It might also be stated as an effect of this excursion into Vanity Fair, that when he woke the next morning he was in some doubt as to whether he should visit his Congressman or send for that individual to call upon him. He had felt the subtle flattery of attention from that section of colored society which imitates—only imitates, it is true, but better than any other, copies—the kindnesses and cruelties, the niceties and deceits, of its white prototype. And for the time, like a man in a fog, he had lost his sense of proportion and perspective. But habit finally triumphed, and he called upon the Congressman, only to be met by an under-secretary who told him that his superior was too busy to see him that morning.
"Too busy," repeated the secretary.
Mr. Johnson drew himself up and said: "Tell Congressman Barker that Mr. Johnson, Mr. Cornelius Johnson, of Alabama, desires to see him. I think he will see me."
"Well, I can take your message," said the clerk, doggedly, "but I tell you now it won't do you any good. He won't see any one."
But, in a few moments an inner door opened, and the young man came out followed by the desired one. Mr. Johnson couldn't resist the temptation to let his eyes rest on the underling in a momentary glance of triumph as Congressman Barker hurried up to him, saying: "Why, why, Cornelius, how'do? how'do? Ah, you came about that little matter, didn't you? Well, well, I haven't forgotten you; I haven't forgotten you."
The colored man opened his mouth to speak, but the other checked him and went on: "I'm sorry, but I'm in a great hurry now. I'm compelled to leave town to-day, much against my will, but I shall be back in a week; come around and see me then. Always glad to see you, you know. Sorry I'm so busy now; good-morning, good-morning."
Mr. Johnson allowed himself to be guided politely, but decidedly, to the door. The triumph died out of his face as the reluctant good-morning fell from his lips. As he walked away, he tried to look upon the matter philosophically. He tried to reason with himself—to prove to his own consciousness that the Congressman was very busy and could not give the time that morning. He wanted to make himself believe that he had not been slighted or treated with scant ceremony. But, try as he would, he continued to feel an obstinate, nasty sting that would not let him rest, nor forget his reception. His pride was hurt. The thought came to him to go at once to the President, but he had experience enough to know that such a visit would be vain until he had seen the dispenser of patronage for his district. Thus, there was nothing for him to do but to wait the necessary week. A whole week! His brow knitted as he thought of it.
In the course of these cogitations, his walk brought him to his hotel, where he found his friends of the night before awaiting him. He tried to put on a cheerful face. But his disappointment and humiliation showed through his smile, as the hollows and bones through the skin of a cadaver.
"Well, what luck?" asked Col. Mason, cheerfully.
"Are we to congratulate you?" put in Mr. Perry.
"Not yet, not yet, gentlemen. I have not seen the President yet. The fact is—ahem—my Congressman is out of town."
He was not used to evasions of this kind, and he stammered slightly and his yellow face turned brick-red with shame.
"It is most annoying," he went on, "most annoying. Mr. Barker won't be back for a week, and I don't want to call on the President until I have had a talk with him."
"Certainly not," said Col. Mason, blandly. "There will be delays." This was not his first pilgrimage to Mecca.
Mr. Johnson looked at him gratefully. "Oh, yes; of course, delays," he assented; "most natural. Have something."
At the end of the appointed time, the office-seeker went again to see the Congressman. This time he was admitted without question, and got the chance to state his wants. But somehow, there seemed to be innumerable obstacles in the way. There were certain other men whose wishes had to be consulted; the leader of one of the party factions, who, for the sake of harmony, had to be appeased. Of course, Mr. Johnson's worth was fully recognized, and he would be rewarded according to his deserts. His interests would be looked after. He should drop in again in a day or two. It took time, of course, it took time.
Mr. Johnson left the office unnerved by his disappointment. He had thought it would be easy to come up to Washington, claim and get what he wanted, and, after a glance at the town, hurry back to his home and his honors. It had all seemed so easy—before election; but now—
A vague doubt began to creep into his mind that turned him sick at heart. He knew how they had treated Davis, of Louisiana. He had heard how they had once kept Brotherton, of Texas—a man who had spent all his life in the service of his party—waiting clear through a whole administration, at the end of which the opposite party had come into power. All the stories of disappointment and disaster that he had ever heard came back to him, and he began to wonder if some one of these things was going to happen to him.
Every other day for the next two weeks, he called upon Barker, but always with the same result. Nothing was clear yet, until one day the bland legislator told him that considerations of expediency had compelled them to give the place he was asking for to another man.
"But what am I to do?" asked the helpless man.
"Oh, you just bide your time. I'll look out for you. Never fear."
Until now, Johnson had ignored the gentle hints of his friend, Col. Mason, about a boarding-house being more convenient than a hotel. Now, he asked him if there was a room vacant where he was staying, and finding that there was, he had his things moved thither at once. He felt the change keenly, and although no one really paid any attention to it, he believed that all Washington must have seen it, and hailed it as the first step in his degradation.
For a while the two together made occasional excursions to a glittering palace down the street, but when the money had grown lower and lower Col. Mason had the knack of bringing "a little something" to their rooms without a loss of dignity. In fact, it was in these hours with the old man, over a pipe and a bit of something, that Johnson was most nearly cheerful. Hitch after hitch had occurred in his plans, and day after day he had come home unsuccessful and discouraged. The crowning disappointment, though, came when, after a long session that lasted even up into the hot days of summer, Congress adjourned and his one hope went away. Johnson saw him just before his departure, and listened ruefully as he said: "I tell you, Cornelius, now, you'd better go on home, get back to your business and come again next year. The clouds of battle will be somewhat dispelled by then and we can see clearer what to do. It was too early this year. We were too near the fight still, and there were party wounds to be bound up and little factional sores that had to be healed. But next year, Cornelius, next year we'll see what we can do for you."
His constituent did not tell him that even if his pride would let him go back home a disappointed applicant, he had not the means wherewith to go. He did not tell him that he was trying to keep up appearances and hide the truth from his wife, who, with their two children, waited and hoped for him at home.
When he went home that night, Col. Mason saw instantly that things had gone wrong with him. But here the tact and delicacy of the old politician came uppermost and, without trying to draw his story from him—for he already divined the situation too well—he sat for a long time telling the younger man stories of the ups and downs of men whom he had known in his long and active life.
They were stories of hardship, deprivation and discouragement. But the old man told them ever with the touch of cheeriness and the note of humor that took away the ghastly hopelessness of some of the pictures. He told them with such feeling and sympathy that Johnson was moved to frankness and told him his own pitiful tale.
Now that he had some one to whom he could open his heart, Johnson himself was no less willing to look the matter in the face, and even during the long summer days, when he had begun to live upon his wardrobe, piece by piece, he still kept up; although some of his pomposity went, along with the Prince Albert coat and the shiny hat. He now wore a shiny coat, and less showy head-gear. For a couple of weeks, too, he disappeared, and as he returned with some money, it was fair to presume that he had been at work somewhere, but he could not stay away from the city long.
It was nearing the middle of autumn when Col. Mason came home to their rooms one day to find his colleague more disheartened and depressed than he had ever seen him before. He was lying with his head upon his folded arm, and when he looked up there were traces of tears upon his face.
"Why, why, what's the matter now?" asked the old man. "No bad news, I hope."
"Nothing worse than I should have expected," was the choking answer. "It's a letter from my wife. She's sick and one of the babies is down, but"—his voice broke—"she tells me to stay and fight it out. My God, Mason, I could stand it if she whined or accused me or begged me to come home, but her patient, long-suffering bravery breaks me all up."
Col. Mason stood up and folded his arms across his big chest. "She's a brave little woman," he said, gravely. "I wish her husband was as brave a man." Johnson raised his head and arms from the table where they were sprawled, as the old man went on: "The hard conditions of life in our race have taught our women a patience and fortitude which the women of no other race have ever displayed. They have taught the men less, and I am sorry, very sorry. The thing, that as much as anything else, made the blacks such excellent soldiers in the civil war was their patient endurance of hardship. The softer education of more prosperous days seems to have weakened this quality. The man who quails or weakens in this fight of ours against adverse circumstances would have quailed before—no, he would have run from an enemy on the field."
"Why, Mason, your mood inspires me. I feel as if I could go forth to battle cheerfully." For the moment, Johnson's old pomposity had returned to him, but in the next, a wave of despondency bore it down. "But that's just it; a body feels as if he could fight if he only had something to fight. But here you strike out and hit—nothing. It's only a contest with time. It's waiting—waiting—waiting!"
"In this case, waiting is fighting."
"Well, even that granted, it matters not how grand his cause, the soldier needs his rations."
"Forage," shot forth the answer like a command.
"Ah, Mason, that's well enough in good country; but the army of office-seekers has devastated Washington. It has left a track as bare as lay behind Sherman's troopers." Johnson rose more cheerfully. "I'm going to the telegraph office," he said as he went out.
A few days after this, he was again in the best of spirits, for there was money in his pocket.
"What have you been doing?" asked Mr. Toliver.
His friend laughed like a boy. "Something very imprudent, I'm sure you will say. I've mortgaged my little place down home. It did not bring much, but I had to have money for the wife and the children, and to keep me until Congress assembles; then I believe that everything will be all right."
Col. Mason's brow clouded and he sighed.
On the reassembling of the two Houses, Congressman Barker was one of the first men in his seat. Mr. Cornelius Johnson went to see him soon.
"What, you here already, Cornelius?" asked the legislator.
"I haven't been away," was the answer.
"Well, you've got the hang-on, and that's what an officer-seeker needs. Well, I'll attend to your matter among the very first. I'll visit the President in a day or two."
The listener's heart throbbed hard. After all his waiting, triumph was his at last.
He went home walking on air, and Col. Mason rejoiced with him. In a few days came word from Barker: "Your appointment was sent in to-day. I'll rush it through on the other side. Come up to-morrow afternoon."
Cornelius and Mr. Toliver hugged each other.
"It came just in time," said the younger man; "the last of my money was about gone, and I should have had to begin paying off that mortgage with no prospect of ever doing it."
The two had suffered together, and it was fitting that they should be together to receive the news of the long-desired happiness; so arm in arm they sauntered down to the Congressman's office about five o'clock the next afternoon. In honor of the occasion, Mr. Johnson had spent his last dollar in redeeming the grey Prince Albert and the shiny hat. A smile flashed across Barker's face as he noted the change.
"Well, Cornelius," he said, "I'm glad to see you still prosperous-looking, for there were some alleged irregularities in your methods down in Alabama, and the Senate has refused to confirm you. I did all I could for you, but—"
The rest of the sentence was lost, as Col. Mason's arms received his friend's fainting form.
"Poor devil!" said the Congressman. "I should have broken it more gently."
Somehow Col. Mason got him home and to bed, where for nine weeks he lay wasting under a complete nervous give-down. The little wife and the children came up to nurse him, and the woman's ready industry helped him to such creature comforts as his sickness demanded. Never once did she murmur; never once did her faith in him waver. And when he was well enough to be moved back, it was money that she had earned, increased by what Col. Mason, in his generosity of spirit, took from his own narrow means, that paid their second-class fare back to the South.
During the fever-fits of his illness, the wasted politician first begged piteously that they would not send him home unplaced, and then he would break out in the most extravagant and pompous boasts about his position, his Congressman and his influence. When he came to himself, he was silent, morose, and bitter. Only once did he melt. It was when he held Col. Mason's hand and bade him good-bye. Then the tears came into his eyes, and what he would have said was lost among his broken words.
As he stood upon the platform of the car as it moved out, and gazed at the white dome and feathery spires of the city, growing into grey indefiniteness, he ground his teeth, and raising his spent hand, shook it at the receding view. "Damn you! damn you!" he cried. "Damn your deceit, your fair cruelties; damn you, you hard, white liar!"
AN OLD-TIME CHRISTMAS
When the holidays came round the thoughts of 'Liza Ann Lewis always turned to the good times that she used to have at home when, following the precedent of anti-bellum days, Christmas lasted all the week and good cheer held sway. She remembered with regret the gifts that were given, the songs that were sung to the tinkling of the banjo and the dances with which they beguiled the night hours. And the eating! Could she forget it? The great turkey, with the fat literally bursting from him; the yellow yam melting into deliciousness in the mouth; or in some more fortunate season, even the juicy 'possum grinning in brown and greasy death from the great platter.
In the ten years she had lived in New York, she had known no such feast-day. Food was strangely dear in the Metropolis, and then there was always the weekly rental of the poor room to be paid. But she had kept the memory of the old times green in her heart, and ever turned to it with the fondness of one for something irretrievably lost.
That is how Jimmy came to know about it. Jimmy was thirteen and small for his age, and he could not remember any such times as his mother told him about. Although he said with great pride to his partner and rival, Blinky Scott, "Chee, Blink, you ought to hear my ol' lady talk about de times dey have down w'ere we come from at Christmas; N'Yoick ain't in it wid dem, you kin jist bet." And Blinky, who was a New Yorker clear through with a New Yorker's contempt for anything outside of the city, had promptly replied with a downward spreading of his right hand, "Aw fu'git it!"
Jimmy felt a little crest-fallen for a minute, but he lifted himself in his own estimation by threatening to "do" Blinky and the cloud rolled by.
'Liza Ann knew that Jimmy couldn't ever understand what she meant by an old-time Christmas unless she could show him by some faint approach to its merrymaking, and it had been the dream of her life to do this. But every year she had failed, until now she was a little ahead.
Her plan was too good to keep, and when Jimmy went out that Christmas eve morning to sell his papers, she had disclosed it to him and bade him hurry home as soon as he was done, for they were to have a real old-time Christmas.
Jimmy exhibited as much pleasure as he deemed consistent with his dignity and promised to be back early to add his earnings to the fund for celebration.
When he was gone, 'Liza Ann counted over her savings lovingly and dreamed of what she would buy her boy, and what she would have for dinner on the next day. Then a voice, a colored man's voice, she knew, floated up to her. Some one in the alley below her window was singing "The Old Folks at Home."
"All up an' down the whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for the old plantation, An' for the old folks at home."
She leaned out of the window and listened and when the song had ceased and she drew her head in again, there were tears in her eyes—the tears of memory and longing. But she crushed them away, and laughed tremulously to herself as she said, "What a reg'lar ol' fool I'm a-gittin' to be." Then she went out into the cold, snow-covered streets, for she had work to do that day that would add a mite to her little Christmas store.
Down in the street, Jimmy was calling out the morning papers and racing with Blinky Scott for prospective customers; these were only transients, of course, for each had his regular buyers whose preferences were scrupulously respected by both in agreement with a strange silent compact.
The electric cars went clanging to and fro, the streets were full of shoppers with bundles and bunches of holly, and all the sights and sounds were pregnant with the message of the joyous time. People were full of the holiday spirit. The papers were going fast, and the little colored boy's pockets were filling with the desired coins. It would have been all right with Jimmy if the policeman hadn't come up on him just as he was about to toss the "bones," and when Blinky Scott had him "faded" to the amount of five hard-earned pennies.
Well, they were trying to suppress youthful gambling in New York, and the officer had to do his duty. The others scuttled away, but Jimmy was so absorbed in the game that he didn't see the "cop" until he was right on him, so he was "pinched." He blubbered a little and wiped his grimy face with his grimier sleeve until it was one long, brown smear. You know this was Jimmy's first time.
The big blue-coat looked a little bit ashamed as he marched him down the street, followed at a distance by a few hooting boys. Some of the holiday shoppers turned to look at them as they passed and murmured, "Poor little chap; I wonder what he's been up to now." Others said sarcastically, "It seems strange that 'copper' didn't call for help." A few of his brother officers grinned at him as he passed, and he blushed, but the dignity of the law must be upheld and the crime of gambling among the newsboys was a growing evil.
Yes, the dignity of the law must be upheld, and though Jimmy was only a small boy, it would be well to make an example of him. So his name and age were put down on the blotter, and over against them the offence with which he was charged. Then he was locked up to await trial the next morning.
"It's shameful," the bearded sergeant said, "how the kids are carryin' on these days. People are feelin' pretty generous, an' they'll toss 'em a nickel er a dime fur their paper an' tell 'em to keep the change fur Christmas, an' foist thing you know the little beggars are shootin' craps er pitchin' pennies. We've got to make an example of some of 'em."
'Liza Ann Lewis was tearing through her work that day to get home and do her Christmas shopping, and she was singing as she worked some such old song as she used to sing in the good old days back home. She reached her room late and tired, but happy. Visions of a "wakening up" time for her and Jimmy were in her mind. But Jimmy wasn't there.
"I wunner whah that little scamp is," she said, smiling; "I tol' him to hu'y home, but I reckon he's stayin' out latah wid de evenin' papahs so's to bring home mo' money."
Hour after hour passed and he did not come; then she grew alarmed. At two o'clock in the morning she could stand it no longer and she went over and awakened Blinky Scott, much to that young gentleman's disgust, who couldn't see why any woman need make such a fuss about a kid. He told her laconically that "Chimmie was pinched fur t'rowin' de bones."
She heard with a sinking heart and went home to her own room to walk the floor all night and sob.
In the morning, with all her Christmas savings tied up in a handkerchief, she hurried down to Jefferson Market court room. There was a full blotter that morning, and the Judge was rushing through with it. He wanted to get home to his Christmas dinner. But he paused long enough when he got to Jimmy's case to deliver a brief but stern lecture upon the evil of child-gambling in New York. He said that as it was Christmas Day he would like to release the prisoner with a reprimand, but he thought that this had been done too often and that it was high time to make an example of one of the offenders.
Well, it was fine or imprisonment. 'Liza Ann struggled up through the crowd of spectators and her Christmas treasure added to what Jimmy had, paid his fine and they went out of the court room together.
When they were in their room again she put the boy to bed, for there was no fire and no coal to make one. Then she wrapped herself in a shabby shawl and sat huddled up over the empty stove.
Down in the alley she heard the voice of the day before singing:
"Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home."
And she burst into tears.
A MESS OF POTTAGE
It was because the Democratic candidate for Governor was such an energetic man that he had been able to stir Little Africa, which was a Republican stronghold, from centre to circumference. He was a man who believed in carrying the war into the enemy's country. Instead of giving them a chance to attack him, he went directly into their camp, leaving discontent and disaffection among their allies. He believed in his principles. He had faith in his policy for the government of the State, and, more than all, he had a convincing way of making others see as he saw.
No other Democrat had ever thought it necessary to assail the stronghold of Little Africa. He had merely put it into his forecast as "solidly against," sent a little money to be distributed desultorily in the district, and then left it to go its way, never doubting what that way would be. The opposing candidates never felt that the place was worthy of consideration, for as the Chairman of the Central Committee said, holding up his hand with the fingers close together: "What's the use of wasting any speakers down there? We've got 'em just like that."
It was all very different with Mr. Lane.
"Gentlemen," he said to the campaign managers, "that black district must not be ignored. Those people go one way because they are never invited to go another."
"Oh, I tell you now, Lane," said his closest friend, "it'll be a waste of material to send anybody down there. They simply go like a flock of sheep, and nothing is going to turn them."
"What's the matter with the bellwether?" said Lane sententiously.
"That's just exactly what is the matter. Their bellwether is an old deacon named Isham Swift, and you couldn't turn him with a forty-horsepower crank."
"There's nothing like trying."
"There are many things very similar to failing, but none so bad."
"I'm willing to take the risk."
"Well, all right; but whom will you send? We can't waste a good man."
"I'll go myself."
"Why, you'd be the laughing-stock of the State."
"All right; put me down for that office if I never reach the gubernatorial chair."
"Say, Lane, what was the name of that Spanish fellow who went out to fight windmills, and all that sort of thing?"
"Never mind, Widner; you may be a good political hustler, but you're dead bad on your classics," said Lane laughingly.
So they put him down for a speech in Little Africa, because he himself desired it.
Widner had not lied to him about Deacon Swift, as he found when he tried to get the old man to preside at the meeting. The Deacon refused with indignation at the very idea. But others were more acquiescent, and Mount Moriah church was hired at a rental that made the Rev. Ebenezer Clay and all his Trustees rub their hands with glee and think well of the candidate. Also they looked at their shiny coats and thought of new suits.
There was much indignation expressed that Mount Moriah should have lent herself to such a cause, and there were murmurs even among the congregation where the Rev. Ebenezer Clay was usually an unquestioned autocrat. But, because Eve was the mother of all of us and the thing was so new, there was a great crowd on the night of the meeting. The Rev. Ebenezer Clay presided. Lane had said, "If I can't get the bellwether to jump the way I want, I'll transfer the bell." This he had tried to do. The effort was very like him.
The Rev. Mr. Clay, looking down into more frowning faces than he cared to see, spoke more boldly than he felt. He told his people that though they had their own opinions and ideas, it was well to hear both sides. He said, "The brothah," meaning the candidate, "had a few thoughts to pussent," and he hoped they'd listen to him quietly. Then he added subtly: "Of co'se Brothah Lane knows we colo'ed folks 're goin' to think our own way, anyhow."
The people laughed and applauded, and Lane went to his work. They were quiet and attentive. Every now and then some old brother grunted and shook his head. But in the main they merely listened.
Lane was pleasing, plausible and convincing, and the brass band which he had brought with him was especially effective. The audience left the church shaking their heads with a different meaning, and all the way home there were remarks such as, "He sholy tol' de truth," "Dat man was right," "They ain't no way to 'ny a word he said."
Just at that particular moment it looked very dark for the other candidate, especially as the brass band lingered around an hour or so and discoursed sweet music in the streets where the negroes most did congregate.
Twenty years ago such a thing could not have happened, but the ties which had bound the older generation irrevocably to one party were being loosed upon the younger men. The old men said "We know;" the young ones said "We have heard," and so there was hardly anything of the blind allegiance which had made even free thought seem treason to their fathers.
Now all of this was the reason of the great indignation that was rife in the breasts of other Little Africans and which culminated in a mass meeting called by Deacon Isham Swift and held at Bethel Chapel a few nights later. For two or three days before this congregation of the opposing elements there were ominous mutterings. On the streets little knots of negroes stood and told of the terrible thing that had taken place at Mount Moriah. Shoulders were grasped, heads were wagged and awful things prophesied as the result of this compromise with the general enemy. No one was louder in his denunciation of the treacherous course of the Rev. Ebenezer Clay than the Republican bellwether, Deacon Swift. He saw in it signs of the break-up of racial integrity and he bemoaned the tendency loud and long. His son Tom did not tell him that he had gone to the meeting himself and had been one of those to come out shaking his head in acquiescent doubt at the truths he had heard. But he went, as in duty bound, to his father's meeting.
The church was one thronging mass of colored citizens. On the platform, from which the pulpit had been removed, sat Deacon Swift and his followers. On each side of him were banners bearing glowing inscriptions. One of the banners which the schoolmistress had prepared read:
"His temples are our forts and towers which frown upon a tyrant foe."
The schoolmistress taught in a mixed school. They had mixed it by giving her a room in a white school where she had only colored pupils. Therefore she was loyal to her party, and was known as a woman of public spirit.
* * * * *
The meeting was an enthusiastic one, but no such demonstration was shown through it all as when old Deacon Swift himself arose to address the assembly. He put Moses Jackson in the chair, and then as he walked forward to the front of the platform a great, white-haired, rugged, black figure, he was heroic in his very crudeness. He wore a long, old Prince Albert coat, which swept carelessly about his thin legs. His turndown collar was disputing territory with his tie and his waistcoat. His head was down, and he glanced out of the lower part of his eyes over the congregation, while his hands fumbled at the sides of his trousers in an embarrassment which may have been pretended or otherwise.
"Mistah Cheerman," he said, "fu' myse'f, I ain't no speakah. I ain't nevah been riz up dat way. I has plowed an' I has sowed, an' latah on I has laid cyahpets, an' I has whitewashed. But, ladies an' gent'men, I is a man, an' as a man I want to speak to you ter-night. We is lak a flock o' sheep, an' in de las' week de wolf has come among ouah midst. On evah side we has hyeahd de shephe'd dogs a-ba'kin' a-wa'nin' unto us. But, my f'en's, de cotton o' p'ospe'ity has been stuck in ouah eahs. Fu' thirty yeahs er mo', ef I do not disremember, we has walked de streets an' de by-ways o' dis country an' called ouahse'ves f'eemen. Away back yander, in de days of old, lak de chillen of Is'ul in Egypt, a deliv'ah came unto us, an Ab'aham Lincoln a-lifted de yoke f'om ouah shouldahs." The audience waked up and began swaying, and there was moaning heard from both Amen corners.
"But, my f'en's, I want to ax you, who was behind Ab'aham Lincoln? Who was it helt up dat man's han's when dey sent bayonets an' buttons to enfo'ce his word—umph? I want to—to know who was behin' him? Wasn' it de 'Publican pa'ty?" There were cries of "Yes, yes! dat's so!" One old sister rose and waved her sunbonnet.
"An' now I want to know in dis hyeah day o' comin' up ef we a-gwineter 'sert de ol' flag which waved ovah Lincoln, waved ovah Gin'r'l Butler, an' led us up straight to f'eedom? Ladies an' gent'men, an' my f'en's, I know dar have been suttain meetin's held lately in dis pa't o' de town. I know dar have been suttain cannerdates which have come down hyeah an' brung us de mixed wine o' Babylon. I know dar have been dem o' ouah own people who have drunk an' become drunk—ah! But I want to know, an' I want to ax you ter-night as my f'en's an' my brothahs, is we all a-gwineter do it—huh? Is we all a-gwineter drink o' dat wine? Is we all a-gwineter reel down de perlitical street, a-staggerin' to an' fro?—hum!"
Cries of "No! No! No!" shook the whole church.
"Gent'men an' ladies," said the old man, lowering his voice, "de pa'able has been 'peated, an' some o' us—I ain't mentionin' no names, an' I ain't a-blamin' no chu'ch—but I say dar is some o' us dat has sol' dere buthrights fu' a pot o' cabbage."
What more Deacon Swift said is hardly worth the telling, for the whole church was in confusion and little more was heard. But he carried everything with him, and Lane's work seemed all undone. On a back seat of the church Tom Swift, the son of the presiding officer, sat and smiled at his father unmoved, because he had gone as far as the sixth grade in school, and thought he knew more.
As the reporters say, the meeting came to a close amid great enthusiasm.
The day of election came and Little Africa gathered as usual about the polls in the precinct. The Republicans followed their plan of not bothering about the district. They had heard of the Deacon's meeting, and chuckled to themselves in their committee-room. Little Africa was all solid, as usual, but Lane was not done yet. His emissaries were about, as thick as insurance agents, and they, as well as the Republican workers, had money to spare and to spend. Some votes, which counted only for numbers, were fifty cents apiece, but when Tom Swift came down they knew who he was and what his influence could do. They gave him five dollars, and Lane had one more vote and a deal of prestige. The young man thought he was voting for his convictions.
He had just cast his ballot, and the crowd was murmuring around him still at the wonder of it—for the Australian ballot has tongues as well as ears—when his father came up, with two or three of his old friends, each with the old ticket in his hands. He heard the rumor and laughed. Then he came up to Tom.
"Huh," he said, "dey been sayin' 'roun' hyeah you voted de Democratic ticket. Go mek 'em out a lie."
"I did vote the Democratic ticket," said Tom steadily.
The old man fell back a step and gasped, as if he had been struck.
"You did?" he cried. "You did?"
"Yes," said Tom, visibly shaken; "every man has a right—"
"Evah man has a right to what?" cried the old man.
"To vote as he thinks he ought to," was his son's reply.
Deacon Swift's eyes were bulging and reddening.
"You—you tell me dat?" His slender form towered above his son's, and his knotted, toil-hardened hands opened and closed.
"You tell me dat? You with yo' bringin' up vote de way you think you're right? You lie! Tell me what dey paid you, or, befo' de Lawd, I'll taih you to pieces right hyeah!"
Tom wavered. He was weaker than his father. He had not gone through the same things, and was not made of the same stuff.
"They—they give me five dollahs," he said; "but it wa'n't fu' votin'."
"Fi' dollahs! fi' dollahs! My son sell hisse'f fu' fi' dollahs! an' forty yeahs ago I brung fifteen hun'erd, an' dat was only my body, but you sell body an' soul fu' fi' dollahs!"
Horror and scorn and grief and anger were in the old man's tone. Tears trickled down his wrinkled face, but there was no weakness in the grip with which he took hold of his son's arms.
"Tek it back to 'em!" he said. "Tek it back to 'em."
"Tek it back to 'em, I say, or yo' blood be on yo' own haid!"
And then, shamefaced before the crowd, driven by his father's anger, he went back to the man who had paid him and yielded up the precious bank-note. Then they turned, the one head-hung, the other proud in his very indignation, and made their way homeward.
There was prayer-meeting the next Wednesday night at Bethel Chapel. It was nearly over and the minister was about to announce the Doxology, when old Deacon Swift arose.
"Des' a minute, brothahs," he said. "I want to mek a 'fession. I was too ha'd an' too brash in my talk de othah night, an' de Lawd visited my sins upon my haid. He struck me in de bosom o' my own fambly. My own son went wrong. Pray fu' me!"
THE TRUSTFULNESS OF POLLY
Polly Jackson was a model woman. She was practical and hard-working. She knew the value of a dollar, could make one and keep one, sometimes—fate permitting. Fate was usually Sam and Sam was Polly's husband. Any morning at six o'clock she might be seen, basket on arm, wending her way to the homes of her wealthy patrons for the purpose of bringing in their washing, for by this means did she gain her livelihood. She had been a person of hard common sense, which suffered its greatest lapse when she allied herself with the man whose name she bore. After that the lapses were more frequent.
How she could ever have done so no one on earth could tell. Sam was her exact opposite. He was an easy-going, happy-go-lucky individual, who worked only when occasion demanded and inclination and the weather permitted. The weather was usually more acquiescent than inclination. He was sanguine of temperament, highly imaginative and a dreamer of dreams. Indeed, he just missed being a poet. A man who dreams takes either to poetry or policy. Not being able quite to reach the former, Sam had declined upon the latter, and, instead of meter, feet and rhyme, his mind was taken up with "hosses," "gigs" and "straddles."
He was always "jes' behin' dem policy sha'ks, an' I'll be boun', Polly, but I gwine to ketch 'em dis time."
Polly heard this and saw the same result so often that even her stalwart faith began to turn into doubt. But Sam continued to reassure her and promise that some day luck would change. "An' when hit do change," he would add, impressively, "it's gwine change fu' sho', an' we'll have one wakenin' up time. Den I bet you'll git dat silk dress you been wantin' so long."
Polly did have ambitions in the direction of some such finery, and this plea always melted her. Trust was restored again, and Hope resumed her accustomed place.
It was, however, not through the successful culmination of any of Sam's policy manipulations that the opportunity at last came to Polly to realize her ambitions. A lady for whom she worked had a second-hand silk dress, which she was willing to sell cheap. Another woman had spoken for it, but if Polly could get the money in three weeks she would let her have it for seven dollars.
To say that the companion of Sam Jackson jumped at the offer hardly indicates the attitude of eagerness with which she received the proposition.
"Yas'm, I kin sholy git dat much money together in th'ee weeks de way I's a-wo'kin'."
"Well, now, Polly, be sure; for if you are not prompt I shall have to dispose of it where it was first promised," was the admonition.
"Oh, you kin 'pend on me, Mis' Mo'ton; fu' when I sets out to save money I kin save, I tell you." Polly was not usually so sanguine, but what changes will not the notion of the possession of a brown silk dress trimmed with passementrie make in the disposition of a woman?
Polly let Sam into the secret, and, be it said to his credit, he entered into the plan with an enthusiasm no less intense than her own. He had always wanted to see her in a silk dress, he told her, and then in a quizzically injured tone of voice, "but you ought to waited tell I ketched dem policy sha'ks an' I'd 'a' got you a new one." He even went so far as to go to work for a week and bring Polly his earnings, of course, after certain "little debts" which he mentioned but did not specify, had been deducted.
But in spite of all this, when washing isn't bringing an especially good price; when one must eat and food is high; when a grasping landlord comes around once every week and exacts tribute for the privilege of breathing foul air from an alley in a room up four flights; when, I say, all this is true, and it generally is true in the New York tenderloin, seven whole dollars are not easily saved. There was much raking and scraping and pinching during each day that at night Polly might add a few nickels or pennies to the store that jingled in a blue jug in one corner of her closet. She called it her bank, and Sam had laughed at the conceit, telling her that that was one bank anyhow that couldn't "bust."
As the days went on how she counted her savings and exulted in their growth! She already saw herself decked out in her new gown, the envy and admiration of every woman in the neighborhood. She even began to wish that she had a full-length glass in order that she might get the complete effect of her own magnificence. So saving, hoping, dreaming, the time went on until a few days before the limit, and there was only about a dollar to be added to make the required amount. This she could do easily in the remaining time. So Polly was jubilant.
Now everything would have been all right and matters would have ended happily if Sam had only kept on at work. But, no. He must needs stop, and give his mind the chance to be employed with other things. And that is just what happened. For about this time, having nothing else to do, like that old king of Bible renown, he dreamed a dream. But unlike the royal dreamer, he asked no seer or prophet to interpret his dream to him. He merely drove his hand down into his inside pocket, and fished up an ancient dream-book, greasy and tattered with use. Over this he pored until his eyes bulged and his hands shook with excitement.
"Got 'em at last!" he exclaimed. "Dey ain't no way fu' dem to git away f'om me. I's behind 'em. I's behind 'em I tell you," and then his face fell and he sat for a long time with his chin in his hand thinking, thinking.
"Polly," said he when his wife came in, "d'you know what I dremp 'bout las' night?"
"La! Sam Jackson, you ain't gone to dreamin' agin. I thought you done quit all dat foolishness."
"Now jes' listen at you runnin' on. You ain't never axed me what I dremp 'bout yit."
"Hit don' make much diffunce to me, less 'n you kin dream 'bout a dollah mo' into my pocket."
"Dey has been sich things did," said Sam sententiously. He got up and went out. If there is one thing above another that your professional dreamer does demand, it is appreciation. Sam had failed to get it from Polly, but he found a balm for all his hurts when he met Bob Davis.
"What!" exclaimed Bob. "Dreamed of a nakid black man. Fu' de Lawd sake, Sam, don' let de chance pass. You got 'em dis time sho'. I'll put somep'n' on it myse'f. Wha'd you think ef we'd win de 'capital'?"
That was enough. The two parted and Sam hurried home. He crept into the house. Polly was busy hanging clothes on the roof. Where now are the guardian spirits that look after the welfare of trusting women? Where now are the enchanted belongings that even in the hands of the thief cry out to their unsuspecting owners? Gone. All gone with the ages of faith that gave them birth. Without an outcry, without even so much as a warning jingle, the contents of the blue jug and the embodied hope of a woman's heart were transferred to the gaping pocket of Sam Jackson. Polly went on hanging up clothes on the roof.
Sam chuckled to himself: "She won't never have a chanst to scol' me. I'll git de drawin's early dis evenin', an' go ma'chin' home wif a new silk fu' huh, an' money besides. I do' want my wife waihin' no white folks' secon'-han' clothes nohow. My, but won't she be su'prised an' tickled. I kin jes' see huh now. Oh, mistah policy-sha'k, I got you now. I been layin' fu' you fu' a long time, but you's my meat at las'."
He marched into the policy shop like a conqueror. To the amazement of the clerk, he turned out a pocketful of small coin on the table and played it all in "gigs," "straddles and combinations."
"I'll call on you about ha' pas' fou', Mr. McFadden," he announced exultantly as he went out.
"Faith, sor," said McFadden to his colleague, "if that nagur does ketch it he'll break us, sure."
Sam could hardly wait for half-past four. A minute before the time he burst in upon McFadden and demanded the drawings. They were handed to him. He held his breath as his eye went down the column of figures. Then he gasped and staggered weakly out of the room. The policy sharks had triumphed again.
Sam walked the streets until nine o'clock that night. He was afraid to go home to Polly. He knew that she had been to the jug and found—. He groaned, but at last his very helplessness drove him in. Polly, with swollen eyes, was sitting by the table, the empty jug lying on its side before her.
"Sam," she exclaimed, "whaih's my money? Whaih's my money I been wo'kin' fu' all dis time?"
"Don' go beatin' 'roun' de bush. I want 'o know whaih my money is; you tuck it."
"Polly, I dremp—"
"I do' keer what you dremp, I want my money fu' my dress."
His face was miserable.
"I thought sho' dem numbers 'u'd come out, an'—"
The woman flung herself upon the floor and burst into a storm of tears. Sam bent over her. "Nemmine, Polly," he said. "Nemmine. I thought I'd su'prise you. Dey beat me dis time." His teeth clenched. "But when I ketch dem policy sha'ks—"
THE TRAGEDY AT THREE FORKS
It was a drizzly, disagreeable April night. The wind was howling in a particularly dismal and malignant way along the valleys and hollows of that part of Central Kentucky in which the rural settlement of Three Forks is situated. It had been "trying to rain" all day in a half-hearted sort of manner, and now the drops were flying about in a cold spray. The night was one of dense, inky blackness, occasionally relieved by flashes of lightning. It was hardly a night on which a girl should be out. And yet one was out, scudding before the storm, with clenched teeth and wild eyes, wrapped head and shoulders in a great blanket shawl, and looking, as she sped along like a restless, dark ghost. For her, the night and the storm had no terrors; passion had driven out fear. There was determination in her every movement, and purpose was apparent in the concentration of energy with which she set her foot down. She drew the shawl closer about her head with a convulsive grip, and muttered with a half sob, "'Tain't the first time, 'tain't the first time she's tried to take me down in comp'ny, but—" and the sob gave way to the dry, sharp note in her voice, "I'll fix her, if it kills me. She thinks I ain't her ekals, does she? 'Cause her pap's got money, an' has good crops on his lan', an' my pap ain't never had no luck, but I'll show 'er, I'll show 'er that good luck can't allus last. Pleg-take 'er, she's jealous, 'cause I'm better lookin' than she is, an' pearter in every way, so she tries to make me little in the eyes of people. Well, you'll find out what it is to be pore—to have nothin', Seliny Williams, if you live."
The black night hid a gleam in the girl's eyes, and her shawl hid a bundle of something light, which she clutched very tightly, and which smelled of kerosene.
The dark outline of a house and its outbuildings loomed into view through the dense gloom; and the increased caution with which the girl proceeded, together with the sudden breathless intentness of her conduct, indicated that it was with this house and its occupants she was concerned.
The house was cellarless, but it was raised at the four corners on heavy blocks, leaving a space between the ground and the floor, the sides of which were partly closed by banks of ashes and earth which were thrown up against the weather-boarding. It was but a few minutes' work to scrape away a portion of this earth, and push under the pack of shavings into which the mysterious bundle resolved itself. A match was lighted, sheltered, until it blazed, and then dropped among them. It took only a short walk and a shorter time to drop a handful of burning shavings into the hay at the barn. Then the girl turned and sped away, muttering: "I reckon I've fixed you, Seliny Williams, mebbe, next time you meet me out at a dance, you won't snub me; mebbe next time, you'll be ez pore ez I am, an'll be willin' to dance crost from even ole 'Lias Hunster's gal."
The constantly falling drizzle might have dampened the shavings and put out the fire, had not the wind fanned the sparks into too rapid a flame, which caught eagerly at shingle, board and joist until house and barn were wrapped in flames. The whinnying of the horses first woke Isaac Williams, and he sprang from bed at sight of the furious light which surrounded his house. He got his family up and out of the house, each seizing what he could of wearing apparel as he fled before the flames. Nothing else could be saved, for the fire had gained terrible headway, and its fierceness precluded all possibility of fighting it. The neighbors attracted by the lurid glare came from far and near, but the fire had done its work, and their efforts availed nothing. House, barn, stock, all, were a mass of ashes and charred cinders. Isaac Williams, who had a day before, been accounted one of the solidest farmers in the region, went out that night with his family—homeless.
Kindly neighbors took them in, and by morning the news had spread throughout all the country-side. Incendiarism was the only cause that could be assigned, and many were the speculations as to who the guilty party could be. Of course, Isaac Williams had enemies. But who among them was mean, ay, daring enough to perpetrate such a deed as this?
Conjecture was rife, but futile, until old 'Lias Hunster, who though he hated Williams, was shocked at the deed, voiced the popular sentiment by saying, "Look a here, folks, I tell you that's the work o' niggers, I kin see their hand in it."
"Niggers, o' course," exclaimed every one else. "Why didn't we think of it before? It's jest like 'em."
Public opinion ran high and fermented until Saturday afternoon when the county paper brought the whole matter to a climax by coming out in a sulphurous account of the affair, under the scarehead:
A TERRIBLE OUTRAGE!
MOST DASTARDLY DEED EVER COMMITTED IN THE HISTORY OF BARLOW COUNTY. A HIGHLY RESPECTED, UNOFFENDING AND WELL-BELOVED FAMILY BURNED OUT OF HOUSE AND HOME. NEGROES! UNDOUBTEDLY THE PERPETRATORS OF THE DEED!
The article went on to give the facts of the case, and many more supposed facts, which had originated entirely in the mind of the correspondent. Among these facts was the intelligence that some strange negroes had been seen lurking in the vicinity the day before the catastrophe and that a party of citizens and farmers were scouring the surrounding country in search of them. "They would, if caught," concluded the correspondent, "be summarily dealt with."
Notwithstanding the utter falsity of these statements, it did not take long for the latter part of the article to become a prophecy fulfilled, and soon, excited, inflamed and misguided parties of men and boys were scouring the woods and roads in search of strange "niggers." Nor was it long, before one of the parties raised the cry that they had found the culprits. They had come upon two strange negroes going through the woods, who seeing a band of mounted and armed men, had instantly taken to their heels. This one act had accused, tried and convicted them.
The different divisions of the searching party came together, and led the negroes with ropes around their necks into the centre of the village. Excited crowds on the one or two streets which the hamlet boasted, cried "Lynch 'em, lynch 'em! Hang the niggers up to the first tree!"
Jane Hunster was in one of the groups, as the shivering negroes passed, and she turned very pale even under the sunburn that browned her face.
The law-abiding citizens of Barlow County, who composed the capturing party, were deaf to the admonitions of the crowd. They filed solemnly up the street, and delivered their prisoners to the keeper of the jail, sheriff, by courtesy, and scamp by the seal of Satan; and then quietly dispersed. There was something ominous in their very orderliness.
Late that afternoon, the man who did duty as prosecuting attorney for that county, visited the prisoners at the jail, and drew from them the story that they were farm-laborers from an adjoining county. They had come over only the day before, and were passing through on the quest for work; the bad weather and the lateness of the season having thrown them out at home.
"Uh, huh," said the prosecuting attorney at the conclusion of the tale, "your story's all right, but the only trouble is that it won't do here. They won't believe you. Now, I'm a friend to niggers as much as any white man can be, if they'll only be friends to themselves, an' I want to help you two all I can. There's only one way out of this trouble. You must confess that you did this."
"But Mistah," said the bolder of the two negroes, "how kin we 'fess, when we wasn' nowhahs nigh de place?"
"Now there you go with regular nigger stubbornness; didn't I tell you that that was the only way out of this? If you persist in saying you didn't do it, they'll hang you; whereas, if you own, you'll only get a couple of years in the 'pen.' Which 'ud you rather have, a couple o' years to work out, or your necks stretched?"
"Oh, we'll 'fess, Mistah, we'll 'fess we done it; please, please don't let 'em hang us!" cried the thoroughly frightened blacks.
"Well, that's something like it," said the prosecuting attorney as he rose to go. "I'll see what can be done for you."
With marvelous and mysterious rapidity, considering the reticence which a prosecuting attorney who was friendly to the negroes should display, the report got abroad that the negroes had confessed their crime, and soon after dark, ominous looking crowds began to gather in the streets. They passed and repassed the place, where stationed on the little wooden shelf that did duty as a doorstep, Jane Hunster sat with her head buried in her hands. She did not raise up to look at any of them, until a hand was laid on her shoulder, and a voice called her, "Jane!"
"Oh, hit's you, is it, Bud," she said, raising her head slowly, "howdy?"
"Howdy yoreself," said the young man, looking down at her tenderly.
"Bresh off yore pants an' set down," said the girl making room for him on the step. The young man did so, at the same time taking hold of her hand with awkward tenderness.
"Jane," he said, "I jest can't wait fur my answer no longer! you got to tell me to-night, either one way or the other. Dock Heaters has been a-blowin' hit aroun' that he has beat my time with you. I don't believe it Jane, fur after keepin' me waitin' all these years, I don't believe you'd go back on me. You know I've allus loved you, ever sence we was little children together."
The girl was silent until he leaned over and said in pleading tones, "What do you say, Jane?"
"I hain't fitten fur you, Bud."
"Don't talk that-a-way, Jane, you know ef you jest say 'yes,' I'll be the happiest man in the state."
"Well, yes, then, Bud, for you're my choice, even ef I have fooled with you fur a long time; an' I'm glad now that I kin make somebody happy." The girl was shivering, and her hands were cold, but she made no movement to rise or enter the house.
Bud put his arms around her and kissed her shyly. And just then a shout arose from the crowd down the street.
"What's that?" she asked.
"It's the boys gittin' worked up, I reckon. They're going to lynch them niggers to-night that burned ole man Williams out."
The girl leaped to her feet, "They mustn't do it," she cried. "They ain't never been tried!"
"Set down, Janey," said her lover, "they've owned up to it."
"I don't believe it," she exclaimed, "somebody's jest a lyin' on 'em to git 'em hung because they're niggers."
"Sh—Jane, you're excited, you ain't well; I noticed that when I first come to-night. Somebody's got to suffer fur that house-burnin', an' it might ez well be them ez anybody else. You mustn't talk so. Ef people knowed you wuz a standin' up fur niggers so, it 'ud ruin you."
He had hardly finished speaking, when the gate opened, and another man joined them.
"Hello, there, Dock Heaters, that you?" said Bud Mason.
"Yes, it's me. How are you, Jane?" said the newcomer.
"Oh, jest middlin', Dock, I ain't right well."
"Well, you might be in better business than settin' out here talkin' to Bud Mason."
"Don't know how as to that," said his rival, "seein' as we're engaged."
"You're a liar!" flashed Dock Heaters.
Bud Mason half rose, then sat down again; his triumph was sufficient without a fight. To him "liar" was a hard name to swallow without resort to blows, but he only said, his flashing eyes belying his calm tone, "Mebbe I am a liar, jest ast Jane."
"Is that the truth, Jane?" asked Heaters, angrily.
"Yes, hit is, Dock Heaters, an' I don't see what you've got to say about it; I hain't never promised you nothin' shore."
Heaters turned toward the gate without a word. Bud sent after him a mocking laugh, and the bantering words, "You'd better go down, an' he'p hang them niggers, that's all you're good fur." And the rival really did bend his steps in that direction.
Another shout arose from the throng down the street, and rising hastily, Bud Mason exclaimed, "I must be goin', that yell means business."
"Don't go down there, Bud!" cried Jane. "Don't go, fur my sake, don't go." She stretched out her arms, and clasped them about his neck.
"You don't want me to miss nothin' like that," he said as he unclasped her arms; "don't you be worried, I'll be back past here." And in a moment he was gone, leaving her cry of "Bud, Bud, come back," to smite the empty silence.
When Bud Mason reached the scene of action, the mob had already broken into the jail and taken out the trembling prisoners. The ropes were round their necks and they had been led to a tree.
"See ef they'll do anymore house-burnin'!" cried one as the ends of the ropes were thrown over the limbs of the tree.
"Reckon they'll like dancin' hemp a heap better," mocked a second.
"Justice an' pertection!" yelled a third.
"The mills of the gods grind swift enough in Barlow County," said the schoolmaster.
The scene, the crowd, the flaring lights and harsh voices intoxicated Mason, and he was soon the most enthusiastic man in the mob. At the word, his was one of the willing hands that seized the rope, and jerked the negroes off their feet into eternity. He joined the others with savage glee as they emptied their revolvers into the bodies. Then came the struggle for pieces of the rope as "keepsakes." The scramble was awful. Bud Mason had just laid hold of a piece and cut it off, when some one laid hold of the other end. It was not at the rope's end, and the other man also used his knife in getting a hold. Mason looked up to see who his antagonist was, and his face grew white with anger. It was Dock Heaters.
"Let go this rope," he cried.
"Let go yoreself, I cut it first, an' I'm a goin' to have it."
They tugged and wrestled and panted, but they were evenly matched and neither gained the advantage.
"Let go, I say," screamed Heaters, wild with rage.
"I'll die first, you dirty dog!"
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a knife flashed in the light of the lanterns, and with a sharp cry, Bud Mason fell to the ground. Heaters turned to fly, but strong hands seized and disarmed him.
"He's killed him! Murder, murder!" arose the cry, as the crowd with terror-stricken faces gathered about the murderer and his victim.
"Lynch him!" suggested some one whose thirst for blood was not yet appeased.
"No," cried an imperious voice, "who knows what may have put him up to it? Give a white man a chance for his life."
The crowd parted to let in the town marshal and the sheriff who took charge of the prisoner, and led him to the little rickety jail, whence he escaped later that night; while others improvised a litter, and bore the dead man to his home.
The news had preceded them up the street, and reached Jane's ears. As they passed her home, she gazed at them with a stony, vacant stare, muttering all the while as she rocked herself to and fro, "I knowed it, I knowed it!"
The press was full of the double lynching and the murder. Conservative editors wrote leaders about it in which they deplored the rashness of the hanging but warned the negroes that the only way to stop lynching was to quit the crimes of which they so often stood accused. But only in one little obscure sheet did an editor think to say, "There was Salem and its witchcraft; there is the south and its lynching. When the blind frenzy of a people condemn a man as soon as he is accused, his enemies need not look far for a pretext!"
THE FINDING OF ZACH
The rooms of the "Banner" Club—an organization of social intent, but with political streaks—were a blaze of light that Christmas Eve night. On the lower floor some one was strumming on the piano, and upstairs, where the "ladies" sat, and where the Sunday smokers were held, a man was singing one of the latest coon songs. The "Banner" always got them first, mainly because the composers went there, and often the air of the piece itself had been picked out or patched together, with the help of the "Banner's" piano, before the song was taken out for somebody to set the "'companiment" to it.
The proprietor himself had just gone into the parlor to see that the Christmas decorations were all that he intended them to be when a door opened and an old man entered the room. In one hand he carried an ancient carpetbag, which he deposited on the floor, while he stared around at the grandeur of the place. He was a typical old uncle of the South, from the soles of his heavy brogans to the shiny top of his bald pate, with its fringe of white wool. It was plain to be seen that he was not a denizen of the town, or of that particular quarter. They do not grow old in the Tenderloin. He paused long enough to take in the appointments of the place, then, suddenly remembering his manners, he doffed his hat and bowed with old-fashioned courtesy to the splendid proprietor.
"Why, how'do, uncle!" said the genial Mr. Turner, extending his hand. "Where did you stray from?"
"Howdy, son, howdy," returned the old man gravely. "I hails f'om Miss'ippi myse'f, a mighty long ways f'om hyeah."
His voice and old-time intonation were good to listen to, and Mr. Turner's thoughts went back to an earlier day in his own life. He was from Maryland himself. He drew up a chair for the old man and took one himself. A few other men passed into the room and stopped to look with respectful amusement at the visitor. He was such a perfect bit of old plantation life and so obviously out of place in a Tenderloin club room.
"Well, uncle, are you looking for a place to stay?" pursued Turner.
"Not 'zackly, honey; not 'zackly. I come up hyeah a-lookin' fu' a son o' mine dat been away f'om home nigh on to five years. He live hyeah in Noo Yo'k, an' dey tell me whaih I 'quiahed dat I li'ble to fin' somebody hyeah dat know him. So I jes' drapped in."
"I know a good many young men from the South. What's your son's name?"
"Well, he named aftah my ol' mastah, Zachariah Priestley Shackelford."
"Zach Shackelford!" exclaimed some of the men, and there was a general movement among them, but a glance from Turner quieted the commotion.
"Why, yes, I know your son," he said. "He's in here almost every night, and he's pretty sure to drop in a little later on. He has been singing with one of the colored companies here until a couple of weeks ago."
"Heish up; you don't say so. Well! well! well! but den Zachariah allus did have a mighty sweet voice. He tu'k hit aftah his mammy. Well, I sholy is hopin' to see dat boy. He was allus my favorite, aldough I reckon a body ain' got no livin' right to have favorites among dey chilluns. But Zach was allus sich a good boy."
The men turned away. They could not remember a time since they had known Zach Shackelford when by any stretch of imagination he could possibly have been considered good. He was known as one of the wildest young bucks that frequented the club, with a deft hand at cards and dice and a smooth throat for whisky. But Turner gave them such a defiant glance that they were almost ready to subscribe to anything the old man might say.
"Dis is a mighty fine place you got hyeah. Hit mus' be a kind of a hotel or boa'din' house, ain't hit?"
"Yes, something like."
"We don' have nuffin' lak dis down ouah way. Co'se, we's jes' common folks. We wo'ks out in de fiel', and dat's about all we knows—fiel', chu'ch an' cabin. But I's mighty glad my Zach 's gittin' up in de worl'. He nevah were no great han' fu' wo'k. Hit kin' o' seemed to go agin his natur'. You know dey is folks lak dat."
"Lots of 'em, lots of 'em," said Mr. Turner.
The crowd of men had been augmented by a party from out of the card room, and they were listening intently to the old fellow's chatter. They felt now that they ought to laugh, but somehow they could not, and the twitching of their careless faces was not from suppressed merriment.
The visitor looked around at them, and then remarked: "My, what a lot of boa'dahs you got."
"They don't all stay here," answered Turner seriously; "some of them have just dropped in to see their friends."
"Den I 'low Zach'll be drappin' in presently. You mus' 'scuse me fu' talkin' 'bout him, but I's mighty anxious to clap my eyes on him. I's been gittin' on right sma't dese las' two yeahs, an' my ol' ooman she daid an' gone, an' I kin' o' lonesome, so I jes' p'omised mysef dis Crismus de gif' of a sight o' Zach. Hit do look foolish fu' a man ez ol' ez me to be a runnin' 'roun' de worl' a spen'in' money dis away, but hit do seem so ha'd to git Zach home."
"How long are you going to be with us?"
"Well, I 'specs to stay all o' Crismus week."
"Maybe—" began one of the men. But Turner interrupted him. "This gentleman is my guest. Uncle," turning to the old man, "do you ever—would you—er. I've got some pretty good liquor here, ah—"
Zach's father smiled a sly smile. "I do' know, suh," he said, crossing his leg high. "I's Baptis' mys'f, but 'long o' dese Crismus holidays I's right fond of a little toddy."
A half dozen eager men made a break for the bar, but Turner's uplifted hand held them. He was an autocrat in his way.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I think I remarked some time ago that Mr. Shackelford was my guest." And he called the waiter.
All the men had something and tapped rims with the visitor.
"'Pears to me you people is mighty clevah up hyeah; 'tain' no wondah Zachariah don' wan' to come home."
Just then they heard a loud whoop outside the door, and a voice broke in upon them singing thickly, "Oh, this spo'tin' life is surely killin' me." The men exchanged startled glances. Turner looked at them, and there was a command in his eye. Several of them hurried out, and he himself arose, saying: "I've got to go out for a little while, but you just make yourself at home, uncle. You can lie down right there on that sofa and push that button there—see, this way—if you want some more toddy. It shan't cost you anything."
"Oh, I'll res' myself, but I ain' gwine sponge on you dat away. I got some money," and the old man dug down into his long pocket. But his host laid a hand on his arm.
"Your money's no good up here."
"Wh—wh—why, I thought dis money passed any whah in de Nunited States!" exclaimed the bewildered old man.
"That's all right, but you can't spend it until we run out."
"Oh! Why, bless yo' soul, suh, you skeered me. You sho' is clevah."
Turner went out and came upon his emissaries, where they had halted the singing Zach in the hallway, and were trying to get into his muddled brain that his father was there.
"Wha'sh de ol' man doin' at de 'Banner,' gittin' gay in his ol' days? Hic."
That was enough for Turner to hear. "Look a-here," he said, "don't you get flip when you meet your father. He's come a long ways to see you, and I'm damned if he shan't see you right. Remember you're stoppin' at my house as long as the old man stays, and if you make a break while he's here I'll spoil your mug for you. Bring him along, boys."
Zach had started in for a Christmas celebration, but they took him into an empty room. They sent to the drug store and bought many things. When the young man came out an hour later he was straight, but sad.
"Why, Pap," he said when he saw the old man, "I'll be—"
"Hem!" said Turner.
"I'll be blessed!" Zach finished.
The old man looked him over. "Tsch! tsch! tsch! Dis is a Crismus gif' fu' sho'!" His voice was shaking. "I's so glad to see you, honey; but chile, you smell lak a 'pothac'ay shop."
"I ain't been right well lately," said Zach sheepishly.
To cover his confusion Turner called for eggnog.
When it came the old man said: "Well, I's Baptis' myse'f, but seein' it's Crismus—"
Now any one will agree with me that it is entirely absurd for two men to fall out about their names; but then, circumstances alter cases. It had its beginning in 1863, and it has just ended.
In the first place, Ike and Jim had been good friends on the plantation, but when the time came for them to leave and seek homes for themselves each wanted a name. The master's name was Johnson, and they both felt themselves entitled to it. When Ike went forth to men as Isaac Johnson, and Jim, not to be outdone, became James Johnsonham, the rivalry began. Each married and became the father of a boy who took his father's name.
When both families moved North and settled in Little Africa their children had been taught that there must be eternal enmity between them on account of their names, and just as lasting a friendship on every other score. But with boys it was natural that the rivalry should extend to other things. When they went to school it was a contest for leadership both in the classroom and in sports, and when Isaac Johnson left school to go to work in the brickyard, James Johnsonham, not to be outdone in industry, also entered the same field of labor.
Later, it was questioned all up and down Douglass Street, which, by the way, is the social centre of Little Africa—as to which of the two was the better dancer or the more gallant beau. It was a piece of good fortune that they did not fall in love with the same girl and bring their rivalry into their affairs of the heart, for they were only men, and nothing could have kept them friends. But they came quite as near it as they could, for Matilda Benson was as bright a girl as Martha Mason, and when Ike married her she was an even-running contestant with her friend, Martha, for the highest social honors of their own particular set.
It was a foregone conclusion that when they were married and settled they should live near each other. So the houses were distant from each other only two or three doors. It was because every one knew every one else's business in that locality that Sandy Worthington took it upon himself to taunt the two men about their bone of contention.
"Mr. Johnson," he would say, when, coming from the down-town store where he worked, he would meet the two coming from their own labors in the brickyard, "how are you an' Mistah Johnsonham mekin' it ovah yo' names?"
"Well, I don' know that Johnsonham is so much of a name," Ike would say; and Jim would reply: "I 'low it's mo' name than Johnson, anyhow."
"So is stealin' ham mo' than stealin'," was the other's rejoinder, and then his friends would double up with mirth.
Sometimes the victorious repartee was Jim's, and then the laugh was on the other side. But the two went at it all good-naturedly, until one day, one foolish day, when they had both stopped too often on the way home, Jim grew angry at some little fling of his friend's, and burst into hot abuse of him. At first Ike was only astonished, and then his eyes, red with the dust of the brick-field, grew redder, the veins of his swarthy face swelled, and with a "Take that, Mistah Johnsonham," he gave Jim a resounding thwack across the face.
It took only a little time for a crowd to gather, and, with their usual tormentor to urge them on, the men forgot themselves and went into the fight in dead earnest. It was a hard-fought battle. Both rolled in the dust, caught at each other's short hair, pummeled, bit and swore. They were still rolling and tumbling when their wives, apprised of the goings on, appeared upon the scene and marched them home.
After that, because they were men, they kept a sullen silence between them, but Matilda and Martha, because they were women, had much to say to each other, and many unpleasant epithets to hurl and hurl again across the two yards that intervened between them. Finally, neither little family spoke to the other. And then, one day, there was a great bustle about Jim's house. A wise old woman went waddling in, and later the doctor came. That night the proud husband and father was treating his friends, and telling them it was a boy, and his name was to be James Johnsonham, Junior.
For a week Jim was irregular and unsteady in his habits, when one night, full of gin and pride, he staggered up to a crowd which was surrounding his rival, and said in a loud voice, "James Johnsonham, Junior—how does that strike you?"
"Any bettah than Isaac Johnson, Junior?" asked some one, slapping the happy Ike on the shoulder as the crowd burst into a loud guffaw. Jim's head was sadly bemuddled, and for a time he gazed upon the faces about him in bewilderment. Then a light broke in upon his mind, and with a "Whoo-ee!" he said, "No!" Ike grinned a defiant grin at him, and led the way to the nearest place where he and his friends might celebrate.
Jim went home to his wife full of a sullen, heavy anger. "Ike Johnson got a boy at his house, too," he said, "an' he done put Junior to his name." Martha raised her head from the pillow and hugged her own baby to her breast closer.
"It do beat all," she made answer airily; "we can't do a blessed thing but them thaih Johnsons has to follow right in ouah steps. Anyhow, I don't believe their baby is no sich healthy lookin' chile as this one is, bress his little hea't! 'Cause I knows Matilda Benson nevah was any too strong."
She was right; Matilda Benson was not so strong. The doctor went oftener to Ike's house than he had gone to Jim's, and three or four days after an undertaker went in.
They tried to keep the news from Martha's ears, but somehow it leaked into them, and when Jim came home on that evening she looked into her husband's face with a strange, new expression.