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Title: Birthright - A Novel
Author: Stribling, T. S., 1881-1965
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Birthright - A Novel" ***

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[Illustration: "Yes, Cissie, I understand now"]



                               BIRTHRIGHT

                                A NOVEL

                           BY T.S. STRIBLING


                             Illustrated by
                              F. Luis Mora


                                  1922



                              TO MY MOTHER

                         AMELIA WAITS STRIBLING



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"Yes, Cissie, I understand now"

Peter recognized the white aprons and the swords and spears of the
Knights and Ladies of Tabor

Up and down its street flows the slow negro life of the village

In the Siner cabin old Caroline Siner berated her boy

The old gentleman turned around at last

"You-you mean you want m-me--to go with you, Cissie?" he stammered

"Naw yuh don't," he warned sharply. "You turn roun' an' march on to
Niggertown"

The bridal couple embarked for Cairo



                               BIRTHRIGHT



                               CHAPTER I


At Cairo, Illinois, the Pullman-car conductor asked Peter Siner to take
his suitcase and traveling-bag and pass forward into the Jim Crow car.
The request came as a sort of surprise to the negro. During Peter
Siner's four years in Harvard the segregation of black folk on Southern
railroads had become blurred and reminiscent in his mind; now it was
fetched back into the sharp distinction of the present instant. With a
certain sense of strangeness, Siner picked up his bags, and saw his own
form, in the car mirrors, walking down the length of the sleeper. He
moved on through the dining-car, where a few hours before he had had
dinner and talked with two white men, one an Oregon apple-grower, the
other a Wisconsin paper-manufacturer. The Wisconsin man had furnished
cigars, and the three had sat and smoked in the drawing-room, indeed,
had discussed this very point; and now it was upon him.

At the door of the dining-car stood the porter of his Pullman, a negro
like himself, and Peter mechanically gave him fifty cents. The porter
accepted it silently, without offering the amenities of his whisk-broom
and shoe-brush, and Peter passed on forward.

Beyond the dining-car and Pullmans stretched twelve day-coaches filled
with less-opulent white travelers in all degrees of sleepiness and
dishabille from having sat up all night. The thirteenth coach was the
Jim Crow car. Framed in a conspicuous place beside the entrance of the
car was a copy of the Kentucky state ordinance setting this coach apart
from the remainder of the train for the purposes therein provided.

The Jim Crow car was not exactly shabby, but it was unkept. It was half
filled with travelers of Peter's own color, and these passengers were
rather more noisy than those in the white coaches. Conversation was not
restrained to the undertones one heard in the other day-coaches or the
Pullmans. Near the entrance of the car two negroes in soldiers' uniforms
had turned a seat over to face the door, and now they sat talking loudly
and laughing the loose laugh of the half intoxicated as they watched the
inflow of negro passengers coming out of the white cars.

The windows of the Jim Crow car were shut, and already it had become
noisome. The close air was faintly barbed with the peculiar, penetrating
odor of dark, sweating skins. For four years Peter Siner had not known
that odor. Now it came to him not so much offensively as with a queer
quality of intimacy and reminiscence. The tall, carefully tailored negro
spread his wide nostrils, vacillating whether to sniff it out with
disfavor or to admit it for the sudden mental associations it evoked.

It was a faint, pungent smell that played in the back of his nose and
somehow reminded him of his mother, Caroline Siner, a thick-bodied black
woman whom he remembered as always bending over a wash-tub. This was
only one unit of a complex. The odor was also connected with negro
protracted meetings in Hooker's Bend, and the Harvard man remembered a
lanky black preacher waving long arms and wailing of hell-fire, to the
chanted groans of his dark congregation; and he, Peter Siner, had
groaned with the others. Peter had known this odor in the press-room of
Tennessee cotton-gins, over a river packet's boilers, where he and other
roustabouts were bedded, in bunk-houses in the woods. It also recalled a
certain octoroon girl named Ida May, and an intimacy with her which it
still moved and saddened Peter to think of. Indeed, it resurrected
innumerable vignettes of his life in the negro village in Hooker's Bend;
it was linked with innumerable emotions, this pungent, unforgetable odor
that filled the Jim Crow car.

Somehow the odor had a queer effect of appearing to push his
conversation with the two white Northern men in the drawing-room back to
a distance, an indefinable distance of both space and time.

The negro put his suitcase under the seat, hung his overcoat on the
hook, and placed his hand-bag in the rack overhead; then with some
difficulty he opened a window and sat down by it.

A stir of travelers in the Cairo station drifted into the car. Against a
broad murmur of hurrying feet, moving trucks, and talking there stood
out the thin, flat voice of a Southern white girl calling good-by to
some one on the train. Peter could see her waving a bright parasol and
tiptoeing. A sandwich boy hurried past, shrilling his wares. Siner
leaned out, with fifteen cents, and signaled to him. The urchin
hesitated, and was about to reach up one of his wrapped parcels, when a
peremptory voice shouted at him from a lower car. With a sort of start
the lad deserted Siner and went trotting down to his white customer. A
moment later the train bell began ringing, and the Dixie Flier puffed
deliberately out of the Cairo station and moved across the Ohio bridge
into the South.

Half an hour later the blue-grass fields of Kentucky were spinning
outside of the window in a vast green whirlpool. The distant trees and
houses moved forward with the train, while the foreground, with its
telegraph poles, its culverts, section-houses, and shrubbery, rushed
backward in a blur. Now and then into the Jim Crow window whipped a
blast of coal smoke and hot cinders, for the engine was only two cars
ahead.

Peter Siner looked out at the interminable spin of the landscape with a
certain wistfulness. He was coming back into the South, into his own
country. Here for generations his forebears had toiled endlessly and
fruitlessly, yet the fat green fields hurtling past him told with what
skill and patience their black hands had labored.

The negro shrugged away such thoughts, and with a certain effort
replaced them with the constructive idea that was bringing him South
once more. It was a very simple idea. Siner was returning to his native
village in Tennessee to teach school. He planned to begin his work with
the ordinary public school at Hooker's Bend, but, in the back of his
head, he hoped eventually to develop an institution after the plan of
Tuskeegee or the Hampton Institute in Virginia.

To do what he had in mind, he must obtain aid from white sources, and
now, as he traveled southward, he began conning in his mind the white
men and white women he knew in Hooker's Bend. He wanted first of all to
secure possession of a small tract of land which he knew adjoined the
negro school-house over on the east side of the village.

Before the negro's mind the different villagers passed in review with
that peculiar intimacy of vision that servants always have of their
masters. Indeed, no white Southerner knows his own village so minutely
as does any member of its colored population. The colored villagers see
the whites off their guard and just as they are, and that is an attitude
in which no one looks his best. The negroes might be called the black
recording angels of the South. If what they know should be shouted aloud
in any Southern town, its social life would disintegrate. Yet it is a
strange fact that gossip seldom penetrates from the one race to the
other.

So Peter Siner sat in the Jim Crow car musing over half a dozen
villagers in Hooker's Bend. He thought of them in a curious way.
Although he was now a B.A. of Harvard University, and although he knew
that not a soul in the little river village, unless it was old Captain
Renfrew, could construe a line of Greek and that scarcely two had ever
traveled farther north than Cincinnati, still, as Peter recalled their
names and foibles, he involuntarily felt that he was telling over a roll
of the mighty. The white villagers came marching through his mind as
beings austere, and the very cranks and quirks of their characters
somehow held that austerity. There were the Brownell sisters, two old
maids, Molly and Patti, who lived in a big brick house on the hill.
Peter remembered that Miss Molly Brownell always doled out to his
mother, at Monday's washday dinner, exactly one biscuit less than the
old negress wanted to eat, and she always paid her in old clothes. Peter
remembered, a dozen times in his life, his mother coming home and
wondering in an impersonal way how it was that Miss Molly Brownell could
skimp every meal she ate at the big house by exactly one biscuit. It was
Miss Brownell's thin-lipped boast that she understood negroes. She had
told Peter so several times when, as a lad, he went up to the big house
on errands. Peter Siner considered this remembrance without the faintest
feeling of humor, and mentally removed Miss Molly Brownell from his list
of possible subscribers. Yet, he recalled, the whole Brownell estate had
been reared on negro labor.

Then there was Henry Hooker, cashier of the village bank. Peter knew
that the banker subscribed liberally to foreign missions; indeed, at the
cashier's behest, the white church of Hooker's Bend kept a paid
missionary on the upper Congo. But the banker had sold some village lots
to the negroes, and in two instances, where a streak of commercial
phosphate had been discovered on the properties, the lots had reverted
to the Hooker estate. There had been in the deed something concerning a
mineral reservation that the negro purchasers knew nothing about until
the phosphate was discovered. The whole matter had been perfectly legal.

A hand shook Siner's shoulder and interrupted his review. Peter turned,
and caught an alcoholic breath over his shoulder, and the blurred voice
of a Southern negro called out above the rumble of the car and the roar
of the engine:

"'Fo' Gawd, ef dis ain't Peter Siner I's been lookin' at de las' twenty
miles, an' not knowin' him wid sich skeniptious clo'es on! Wha you fum,
nigger?"

Siner took the enthusiastic hand offered him and studied the heavily
set, powerful man bending over the seat. He was in a soldier's uniform,
and his broad nutmeg-colored face and hot black eyes brought Peter a
vague sense of familiarity; but he never would have identified his
impression had he not observed on the breast of the soldier's uniform
the Congressional military medal for bravery on the field of battle. Its
glint furnished Peter the necessary clew. He remembered his mother's
writing him something about Tump Pack going to France and getting
"crowned" before the army. He had puzzled a long time over what she
meant by "crowned" before he guessed her meaning. Now the medal aided
Peter in reconstructing out of this big umber-colored giant the rather
spindling Tump Pack he had known in Hooker's Bend.

Siner was greatly surprised, and his heart warmed at the sight of his
old playmate.

"What have you been doing to yourself, Tump?" he cried, laughing, and
shaking the big hand in sudden warmth. "You used to be the size of a
dime in a jewelry store."

"Been in 'e army, nigger, wha I's been fed," said the grinning brown
man, delightedly. "I sho is picked up, ain't I?"

"And what are you doing here in Cairo?"

"Tryin' to bridle a lil white mule." Mr. Pack winked a whisky-brightened
eye jovially and touched his coat to indicate that some of the "white
mule" was in his pocket and had not been drunk.

"How'd you get here?"

"Wucked my way down on de St. Louis packet an' got paid off at Padjo
[Paducah, Kentucky]; 'n 'en I thought I'd come on down heah an' roll
some bones. Been hittin' 'em two days now, an' I sho come putty nigh
bein' cleaned; but I put up lil Joe heah, an' won 'em all back, 'n 'en
some." He touched the medal on his coat, winked again, slapped Siner on
the leg, and burst into loud laughter.

Peter was momentarily shocked. He made a place on the seat for his
friend to sit. "You don't mean you put up your medal on a crap game,
Tump?"

"Sho do, black man." Pack became soberer. "Dat's one o' de great
benefits o' bein' dec'rated. Dey ain't a son uv a gun on de river whut
kin win lil Joe; dey all tried it."

A moment's reflection told Peter how simple and natural it was for Pack
to prize his military medal as a good-luck piece to be used as a last
resort in crap games. He watched Tump stroke the face of his medal with
his fingers.

"My mother wrote me; about your getting it, Tump. I was glad to hear
it."

The brown man nodded, and stared down at the bit of gold on his barrel-
like chest.

"Yas-suh, dat 'uz guv to me fuh bravery. You know whut a skeery lil
nigger I wuz roun' Hooker's Ben'; well, de sahgeant tuk me an' he drill
ever' bit o' dat right out 'n me. He gimme a baynit an' learned me to
stob dummies wid it over at Camp Oglethorpe, ontil he felt lak I had de
heart to stob anything; 'n' 'en he sont me acrost. I had to git a new
pair breeches ever' three weeks, I growed so fas'." Here he broke out
into his big loose laugh again, and renewed the alcoholic scent around
Peter.

"And you made good?"

"Sho did, black man, an', 'fo' Gawd, I 'serve a medal ef any man ever
did. Dey gimme dish-heah fuh stobbin fo' white men wid a baynit. 'Fo'
Gawd, nigger, I never felt so quare in all my born days as when I wuz a-
jobbin' de livers o' dem white men lak de sahgeant tol' me to." Tump
shook his head, bewildered, and after a moment added, "Yas-suh, I never
wuz mo' surprised in all my life dan when I got dis medal fuh stobbin'
fo' white men."

Peter Siner looked through the Jim Crow window at the vast rotation of
the Kentucky landscape on which his forebears had toiled; presently he
added soberly:

"You were fighting for your country, Tump. It was war then; you were
fighting for your country."

                    *       *       *       *       *

At Jackson, Tennessee, the two negroes were forced to spend the night
between trains. Tump Pack piloted Peter Siner to a negro cafe where they
could eat, and later they searched out a negro lodging-house on Gate
Street where they could sleep. It was a grimy, smelly place, with its
own odor spiked by a phosphate-reducing plant two blocks distant. The
paper on the wall of the room Peter slept in looked scrofulous. There
was no window, and Peter's four-years régime of open windows and fresh-
air sleep was broken. He arranged his clothing for the night so it would
come in contact with nothing in the room but a chair back. He felt dull
next morning, and could not bring himself either to shave or bathe in
the place, but got out and hunted up a negro barber-shop furnished with
one greasy red-plush barber-chair.

A few hours later the two negroes journeyed on down to Perryville,
Tennessee, a village on the Tennessee River where they took a gasolene
launch up to Hooker's Bend. The launch was about fifty feet long and had
two cabins, a colored cabin in front of, and a white cabin behind, the
engine-room.

This unremitting insistence on his color, this continual shunting him
into obscure and filthy ways, gradually gave Peter a loathly sensation.
It increased the unwashed feeling that followed his lack of a morning
bath. The impression grew upon him that he was being handled with tongs,
along back-alley routes; that he and his race were something to be kept
out of sight as much as possible, as careful housekeepers manoeuver
their slops.

At Perryville a number of passengers boarded the up-river boat; two or
three drummers; a yellowed old hill woman returning to her Wayne County
home; a red-headed peanut-buyer; a well-groomed white girl in a tailor
suit; a youngish man barely on the right side of middle age who seemed
to be attending her; and some negro girls with lunches. The passengers
trailed from the railroad station down the river bank through a slush of
mud, for the river had just fallen and had left a layer of liquid mud to
a height of about twenty feet all along the littoral. The passengers
picked their way down carefully, stepping into one another's tracks in
the effort not to ruin their shoes. The drummers grumbled. The youngish
man piloted the girl down, holding her hand, although both could have
managed better by themselves.

Following the passengers came the trunks and grips on a truck. A negro
deck-hand, the truck-driver, and the white master of the launch shoved
aboard the big sample trunks of the drummers with grunts, profanity, and
much stamping of mud. Presently, without the formality of bell or
whistle, the launch clacked away from the landing and stood up the wide,
muddy river.

The river itself was monotonous and depressing. It was perhaps half a
mile wide, with flat, willowed mud banks on one side and low shelves of
stratified limestone on the other.

Trading-points lay at ten- or fifteen-mile intervals along the great
waterway. The typical landing was a dilapidated shed of a store half
covered with tin tobacco signs and ancient circus posters. Usually, only
one man met the launch at each landing, the merchant, a democrat in his
shirt-sleeves and without a tie. His voice was always a flat, weary
drawl, but his eyes, wrinkled against the sun, usually held the
shrewdness of those who make their living out of two-penny trades.

At each place the red-headed peanut-buyer slogged up the muddy bank and
bargained for the merchant's peanuts, to be shipped on the down-river
trip of the first St. Louis packet. The loneliness of the scene embraced
the trading-points, the river, and the little gasolene launch struggling
against the muddy current. It permeated the passengers, and was a
finishing touch to Peter Siner's melancholy.

The launch clacked on and on interminably. Sometimes it seemed to make
no headway at all against the heavy, silty current. Tump Pack, the white
captain, and the negro engineer began a game of craps in the negro
cabin. Presently, two of the white drummers came in from the white cabin
and began betting on the throws. The game was listless. The master of
the launch pointed out places along the shores where wildcat stills were
located. The crap-shooters, negro and white, squatted in a circle on the
cabin floor, snapping their fingers and calling their points
monotonously. One of the negro girls in the negro cabin took an apple
out of her lunch sack and began eating it, holding it in her palm after
the fashion of negroes rather than in her fingers, as is the custom of
white women.

Both doors of the engine-room were open, and Peter Siner could see
through into the white cabin. The old hill woman was dozing in her
chair, her bonnet bobbing to each stroke of the engines. The youngish
man and the girl were engaged in some sort of intimate lovers' dispute.
When the engines stopped at one of the landings, Peter discovered she
was trying to pay him what he had spent on getting her baggage trucked
down at Perryville. The girl kept pressing a bill into the man's hand,
and he avoided receiving the money. They kept up the play for sake of
occasional contacts.

When the launch came in sight of Hooker's Bend toward the middle of the
afternoon, Peter Siner experienced one of the profoundest surprises of
his life. Somehow, all through his college days he had remembered
Hooker's Bend as a proud town with important stores and unapproachable
white residences. Now he saw a skum of negro cabins, high piles of
lumber, a sawmill, and an ice-factory. Behind that, on a little rise,
stood the old Brownell manor, maintaining a certain shabby dignity in a
grove of oaks. Behind and westward from the negro shacks and lumber-
piles ranged the village stores, their roofs just visible over the top
of the bank. Moored to the shore, lay the wharf-boat in weathered greens
and yellows. As a background for the whole scene rose the dark-green
height of what was called the "Big Hill," an eminence that separated the
negro village on the east from the white village on the west. The hill
itself held no houses, but appeared a solid green-black with cedars.

The ensemble was merely another lonely spot on the south bank of the
great somnolent river. It looked dead, deserted, a typical river town,
unprodded even by the hoot of a jerk-water railroad.

As the launch chortled toward the wharf, Peter Siner stood trying to
orient himself to this unexpected and amazing minifying of Hooker's
Bend. He had left a metropolis; he was coming back to a tumble-down
village. Yet nothing was changed. Even the two scraggly locust-trees
that clung perilously to the brink of the river bank still held their
toe-hold among the strata of limestone.

The negro deck-hand came out and pumped the hand-power whistle in three
long discordant blasts. Then a queer thing happened. The whistle was
answered by a faint strain of music. A little later the passengers saw a
line of negroes come marching down the river bank to the wharf-boat.
They marched in military order, and from afar Peter recognized the white
aprons and the swords and spears of the Knights and Ladies of Tabor, a
colored burial association.

Siner wondered what had brought out the Knights and Ladies of Tabor. The
singing and the drumming gradually grew upon the air. The passengers in
the white cabin, came out on the guards at this unexpected fanfare. As
soon as the white travelers saw the marching negroes, they began joking
about what caused the demonstration. The captain of the launch thought
he knew, and began an oath, but stopped it out of deference to the girl
in the tailor suit. He said it was a dead nigger the society was going
to ship up to Savannah.

The girl in the tailor suit was much amused. She said the darkies looked
like a string of caricatures marching down the river bank. Peter noticed
her Northern accent, and fancied she was coming to Hooker's Bend to
teach school.

One of the drummers turned to another.

"Did you ever hear Bob Taylor's yarn about Uncle 'Rastus's funeral?
Funniest thing Bob ever got off." He proceeded to tell it.

Every one on the launch was laughing except the captain, who was
swearing quietly; but the line of negroes marched on down to the wharf-
boat with the unshakable dignity of black folk in an important position.
They came singing an old negro spiritual. The women's sopranos thrilled
up in high, weird phrasing against an organ-like background of male
voices.

But the black men carried no coffin, and suddenly it occurred to Peter
Siner that perhaps this celebration was given in honor of his own home-
coming. The mulatto's heart beat a trifle faster as he began planning a
suitable response to this ovation.

Sure enough, the singing ranks disappeared behind the wharf-boat, and a
minute later came marching around the stern and lined up on the outer
guard of the vessel. The skinny, grizzly-headed negro commander held up
his sword, and the Knights and Ladies of Tabor fell silent.

The master of the launch tossed his head-line to the wharf-boat, and
yelled for one of the negroes to make it fast. One did. Then the
commandant with the sword began his address, but it was not directed to
Peter. He said:

[Illustration: Peter recognized the white aprons and the swords and
spears of the Knights and Ladies of Tabor]

"Brudder Tump Pack, we, de Hooker's Ben' lodge uv de Knights an' Ladies
uv Tabor, welcome you back to yo' native town. We is proud uv you, a
colored man, who brings back de highes' crown uv bravery dis Newnighted
States has in its power to bestow.

"Two yeahs ago, Brudder Tump, we seen you marchin' away fum Hooker's
Ben' wid thirteen udder boys, white an' colored, all marchin' away
togedder. Fo' uv them boys is already back home; three, we heah, is on
de way back, but six uv yo' brave comrades, Brudder Pack, is sleepin'
now in France, an' ain't never goin' to come home no mo'. When we honors
you, we honors them all, de libin' an' de daid, de white an' de black,
who fought togedder fuh one country, fuh one flag."

Gasps, sobs from the line of black folk, interrupted the speaker. Just
then a shriveled old negress gave a scream, and came running and half
stumbling out of the line, holding out her arms to the barrel-chested
soldier on the gang-plank. She seized him and began shrieking:

"Bless Gawd! my son's done come home! Praise de Lawd! Bless His holy
name!" Here her laudation broke into sobbing and choking and laughing,
and she squeezed herself to her son.

Tump patted her bony black form.

"I's heah, Mammy," he stammered uncertainly. "I's come back, Mammy."

Half a dozen other negroes caught the joyful hysteria. They began a
religious shouting, clapping their hands, flinging up their arms,
shrieking.

One of the drummers grunted:

"Good God! all this over a nigger getting back!"

At the extreme end of the dark line a tall cream-colored girl wept
silently. As Peter Siner stood blinking his eyes, he saw the octoroon's
shoulders and breasts shake from the sobs, which her white blood
repressed to silence.

A certain sympathy for her grief and its suppression kept Peter's eyes
on the young woman, and then, with the queer effect of one picture
melting into another, the strange girl's face assumed familiar curves
and softnesses, and he was looking at Ida May.

A quiver traveled deliberately over Peter from his crisp black hair to
the soles of his feet. He started toward her impulsively.

At that moment one of the drummers picked up his grip, and started down
the gang-plank, and with its leathern bulk pressed Tump Pack and his
mother out of his path. He moved on to the shore through the negroes,
who divided at his approach. The captain of the launch saw that other of
his white passengers were becoming impatient, and he shouted for the
darkies to move aside and not to block the gangway. The youngish man
drew the girl in the tailor suit close to him and started through with
her. Peter heard him say, "They won't hurt you, Miss Negley." And Miss
Negley, in the brisk nasal intonation of a Northern woman, replied: "Oh,
I'm not afraid. We waste a lot of sympathy on them back home, but when
you see them--"

At that moment Peter heard a cry in his ears and felt arms thrown about
his neck. He looked down and saw his mother, Caroline Siner, looking up
into his face and weeping with the general emotion of the negroes and
this joy of her own. Caroline had changed since Peter last saw her. Her
eyes were a little more wrinkled, her kinky hair was thinner and very
gray.

Something warm and melting moved in Peter Siner's breast. He caressed
his mother and murmured incoherently, as had Tump Pack. Presently the
master of the launch came by, and touched the old negress, not ungently,
with the end of a spike-pole.

"You'll have to move, Aunt Ca'line," he said. "We're goin' to get the
freight off now."

The black woman paused in her weeping. "Yes, Mass' Bob," she said, and
she and Peter moved off of the launch onto the wharf-boat.

The Knights and Ladies of Tabor were already up the river bank with
their hero. Peter and his mother were left alone. Now they walked around
the guards of the wharf-boat to the bank, holding each other's arms
closely. As they went, Peter kept looking down at his old black mother,
with a growing tenderness. She was so worn and heavy! He recognized the
very dress she wore, an old black silk which she had "washed out" for
Miss Patti Brownell when he was a boy. It had been then, it was now, her
best dress. During the years the old negress had registered her
increasing bulk by letting out seams and putting in panels. Some of the
panels did not agree with the original fabric either in color or in
texture and now the seams were stretching again and threatening a rip.
Peter's own immaculate clothes reproached him, and he wondered for the
hundredth, or for the thousandth time how his mother had obtained
certain remittances which she had forwarded him during his college
years.

As Peter and his mother crept up the bank of the river, stopping
occasionally to let the old negress rest, his impression of the meanness
and shabbiness of the whole village grew. From the top of the bank the
single business street ran straight back from the river. It was stony in
places, muddy in places, strewn with goods-boxes, broken planking,
excelsior, and straw that had been used for packing. Charred rubbish-
piles lay in front of every store, which the clerks had swept out and
attempted to burn. Hogs roamed the thoroughfare, picking up decaying
fruit and parings, and nosing tin cans that had been thrown out by the
merchants. The stores that Peter had once looked upon as show-places
were poor two-story brick or frame buildings, defiled by time and wear
and weather. The white merchants were coatless, listless men who sat in
chairs on the brick pavements before their stores and who moved slowly
when a customer entered their doors.

And, strange to say, it was this fall of his white townsmen that moved
Peter Siner with a sense of the greatest loss. It seemed fantastic to
him, this sudden land-slide of the mighty.

As Peter and his mother came over the brow of the river bank, they saw a
crowd collecting at the other end of the street. The main street of
Hooker's Bend is only a block long, and the two negroes could easily
hear the loud laughter of men hurrying to the focus of interest and the
blurry expostulations of negro voices. The laughter spread like a
contagion. Merchants as far up as the river corner became infected, and
moved toward the crowd, looking back over their shoulders at every tenth
or twelfth step to see that no one entered their doors.

Presently, a little short man, fairly yipping with laughter, stumbled
back up the street to his store with tears of mirth in his eyes. A
belated merchant stopped him by clapping both hands on his shoulders and
shaking some composure into him.

"What is it? What's so funny? Damn it! I miss ever'thing!"

"I-i-it's that f-fool Tum-Tump Pack. Bobbs's arrested him!"

The inquirer was astounded.

"How the hell can he arrest him when he hit town this minute?"

"Wh-why, Bobbs had an old warrant for crap-shoot--three years old--
before the war. Just as Tump was a-coming down the street at the head of
the coons, out steps Bobbs--" Here the little man was overcome.

The merchant from the corner opened his eyes.

"Arrested him on an old crap charge?"

The little man nodded. They gazed at each other. Then they exploded
simultaneously.

Peter left his obese mother and hurried to the corner, Dawson Bobbs, the
constable, had handcuffs on Tump's wrists, and stood with his prisoner
amid a crowd of arguing negroes.

Bobbs was a big, fleshy, red-faced man, with chilly blue eyes and a
little straight slit of a mouth in his wide face. He was laughing and
chewing a sliver of toothpick.

"O Tump Pack," he called loudly, "you kain't git away from me! If you
roll bones in Hooker's Bend, you'll have to divide your winnings with
the county." Dawson winked a chill eye at the crowd in general.

"But hit's out o' date, Mr. Bobbs," the old gray-headed minister, Parson
Ranson, was pleading.

"May be that, Parson, but hit's easier to come up before the J.P. and
pay off than to fight it through the circuit court."

Siner pushed his way through the crowd. "How much do you want, Mr.
Bobbs?" he asked briefly.

The constable looked with reminiscent eyes at the tall, well-tailored
negro. He was plainly going through some mental card-index, hunting for
the name of Peter Siner on some long-forgotten warrant. Apparently, he
discovered nothing, for he said shortly:

"How do I know before he's tried? Come on, Tump!"

The procession moved in a long noisy line up Pillow Street, the white
residential street lying to the west. It stopped before a large shaded
lawn, where a number of white men and women were playing a game with
cards. The cards used by the lawn party were not ordinary playing-cards,
but had figures on them instead of spots, and were called "rook" cards.
The party of white ladies and gentlemen were playing "rook." On a table
in the middle of the lawn glittered some pieces of silver plate which
formed the first, second, and third prizes for the three leading scores.

The constable halted his black company before the lawn, where they stood
in the sunshine patiently waiting for the justice of the peace to finish
his game and hear the case of the State of Tennessee, plaintiff, versus
Tump Pack, defendant.



                               CHAPTER II


On the eastern edge of Hooker's Bend, drawn in a rough semicircle around
the Big Hill, lies Niggertown. In all the half-moon there are perhaps
not two upright buildings. The grimy cabins lean at crazy angles, some
propped with poles, while others hold out against gravitation at a
hazard.

Up and down its street flows the slow negro life of the village. Here
children of all colors from black to cream fight and play; deep-chested
negresses loiter to and fro, some on errands to the white section of the
village on the other side of the hill, where they go to scrub or cook or
wash or iron. Others go down to the public well with a bucket in each
hand and one balanced on the head.

The public well itself lies at the southern end of this miserable
street, just at a point where the drainage of the Big Hill collects. The
rainfall runs down through Niggertown, under its sties, stables, and
outdoor toilets, and the well supplies the negroes with water for
cooking, washing, and drinking. Or, rather, what was once a well
supplies this water, for it is a well no longer. Its top and curbing
caved in long ago, and now there is simply a big hole in the soft,
water-soaked clay, about fifteen feet wide, with water standing at the
bottom.

Here come the unhurried colored women, who throw in their buckets, and
with a dexterity that comes of long practice draw them out full of
water. Black mothers shout at their children not to fall into this pit,
and now and then, when a pig fails to come up for its evening slops, a
black boy will go to the public well to see if perchance his porker has
met misfortune there.

The inhabitants of Niggertown suffer from divers diseases; they develop
strange ailments that no amount of physicking will overcome; young wives
grow sickly from no apparent cause. Although only three or four hundred
persons live in Niggertown, two or three negroes are always slowly dying
of tuberculosis; winter brings pneumonia; summer, malaria. About once a
year the state health officer visits Hooker's Bend and forces the white
soda-water dispensers on the other side of the hill to sterilize their
glasses in the name of the sovereign State of Tennessee.

The Siner home was a three-room shanty about midway in the semicircle.
Peter Siner stood in the sunlight just outside the entrance, watching
his old mother clean the bugs out of a tainted ham that she had bought
for a pittance from some white housekeeper in the village. It had been
too high for white people to eat. Old Caroline patiently tapped the
honeycombed meat to scare out the last of the little green householders,
and then she washed it in a solution of soda to freshen it up.

The sight of his bulky old mother working at the spoiled ham and of the
negro women in the street moving to and from the infected well filled
Peter Siner with its terrible pathos. Although he had seen these
surroundings all of his life, he had a queer impression that he was
looking upon them for the first time. During his boyhood he had accepted
all this without question as the way the world was made. During his
college days a criticism had arisen in his mind, but it came slowly, and
was tempered by that tenderness every one feels for the spot called
home. Now, as he stood looking at it, he wondered how human beings lived
there at all. He wondered if Ida May used water from the Niggertown
well.

He turned to ask old Caroline, but checked himself with a man's
instinctive avoidance of mentioning his intimacies to his mother. At
that moment, oddly enough, the old negress brought up the topic herself.

"Ida May wuz 'quirin' 'bout you las' night, Peter."

A faint tingle filtered through Peter's throat and chest, but he asked
casually enough what she had said.

"Didn' say; she wrote."

Peter looked around, frankly astonished.

"Wrote?"

"Yeah; co'se she wrote."

"What made her write?" a fantasy of Ida May dumb flickered before the
mulatto.

[Illustration: Up and down its street flows the slow negro life of the
village]

"Why, Ida May's in Nashville." Caroline looked at Peter. "She wrote to
Cissie, astin' 'bout you. She ast is you as bright in yo' books as you
is in yo' color." The old negress gave a pleased abdominal chuckle as
she admired her broad-shouldered brown son.

"But I saw Ida May standing on the wharf-boat the day I came home,"
protested Peter, still bewildered.

"No you ain't. I reckon you seen Cissie. Dey looks kind o' like when you
is fur off."

"Cissie?" repeated Peter. Then he remembered a smaller sister of Ida
May's, a little, squalling, yellow, wet-nosed nuisance that had annoyed
his adolescence. So that little spoil-sport had grown up into the girl
he had mistaken for Ida May. This fact increased his sense of
strangeness--that sense of great change that had fallen on the village
in his absence which formed the groundwork of all his renewed
associations.

Peter's prolonged silence aroused certain suspicions in the old negress.
She glanced at her son out of the tail of her eyes.

"Cissie Dildine is Tump Pack's gal," she stated defensively, with the
jealousy all mothers feel toward all sons.

A diversion in the shouts of the children up the mean street and a
sudden furious barking of dogs drew Peter from the discussion. He looked
up, and saw a negro girl of about fourteen coming down the curved
street, with long, quick steps and an occasional glance over her
shoulder.

From across the thoroughfare a small chocolate-colored woman, with her
wool done in outstanding spikes, thrust her head out at the door and
called:

"Whut's de matter, Ofeely?"

The girl lifted a high voice:

"Oh, Miss Nan, it's that constable goin' th'ugh the houses!" The girl
veered across the street to the safety of the open door and one of her
own sex.

"Good Lawd!" cried the spiked one in disgust, "ever', time a white
pusson gits somp'n misplaced--" She moved to one side to allow the girl
to enter, and continued staring up the street, with the whites of her
eyes accented against her dark face, after the way of angry negroes.

Around the crescent the dogs were furious. They were Niggertown dogs,
and the sight of a white man always drove them to a frenzy. Presently in
the hullabaloo, Peter heard Dawson Bobbs's voice shouting:

"Aunt Mahaly, if you kain't call off this dawg, I'm shore goin' to kill
him."

Then an old woman's scolding broke in and complicated the mêlée.
Presently Peter saw the bulky form of Dawson Bobbs come around the
curve, moving methodically from cabin to cabin. He held some legal-
looking papers in his hands, and Peter knew what the constable was
doing. He was serving a blanket search-warrant on the whole black
population of Hooker's Bend. At almost every cabin a dog ran out to
blaspheme at the intruder, but a wave of the man's pistol sent them
yelping under the floors again.

When the constable entered a house, Peter could hear him bumping and
rattling among the furnishings, while the black householders stood
outside the door and watched him disturb their housekeeping
arrangements.

Presently Bobbs came angling across the street toward the Siner cabin.
As he entered the rickety gate, old Caroline called out:

"Whut is you after, anyway, white man?"

Bobbs turned cold, truculent eyes on the old negress. "A turkey
roaster," he snapped. "Some o' you niggers stole Miss Lou Arkwright's
turkey roaster."

"Tukky roaster!" cried the old black woman, in great disgust. "Whut you
s'pose us niggers is got to roast in a tukky roaster?"

The constable answered shortly that his business was to find the
roaster, not what the negroes meant to put in it.

"I decla'," satirized old Caroline, savagely, "dish-heah Niggertown is a
white man's pocket. Ever' time he misplace somp'n, he feel in his pocket
to see ef it ain't thaiuh. Don'-chu turn over dat sody-water, white man!
You know dey ain't no tukky roaster under dat sody-water. I 'cla' 'fo'
Gawd, ef a white man wuz to eat a flapjack, an' it did n' give him de
belly-ache, I 'cla' 'fo' Gawd he'd git out a search-wa'nt to see ef some
nigger had n' stole dat flapjack goin' down his th'oat."

"Mr. Bobbs has to do his work, Mother," put in Peter. "I don't suppose
he enjoys it any more than we do."

"Den let 'im git out'n dis business an' git in anudder," scolded the old
woman. "Dis sho is a mighty po' business."

The ponderous Mr. Bobbs finished with a practised thoroughness his
inspection of the cabin, and then the inquisition proceeded down the
street, around the crescent, and so out of sight and eventually out of
hearing.

Old Caroline snapped her chair back beside her greasy table and sat down
abruptly to her spoiled ham again.

"Dat make me mad," she grumbled. "Ever' time a white pusson fail to lay
dey han' on somp'n, dey comes an' turns over ever'thing in my house."
She paused a moment, closed her eyes in thought, and then mused aloud:
"I wonder who is got Miss Arkwright's roaster."

The commotion of the constable's passing died in his wake, and
Niggertown resumed its careless existence. Dogs reappeared from under
the cabins and stretched in the sunshine; black children came out of
hiding and picked up their play; the frightened Ophelia came out of
Nan's cabin across the street and went her way; a lanky negro youth in
blue coat and pin-striped trousers appeared, coming down the squalid
thoroughfare whistling the "Memphis Blues" with bird-like virtuosity.
The lightness with which Niggertown accepted the moral side glance of a
blanket search-warrant depressed Siner.

Caroline called her son to dinner, as the twelve-o'clock meal is called
in Hooker's Bend, and so ended his meditation. The Harvard man went back
into the kitchen and sat down at a rickety table covered with a red-
checked oil-cloth. On it were spread the spoiled ham, a dish of poke
salad, a corn pone, and a pot of weak coffee. A quaint old bowl held
some brown sugar. The fat old negress made a slight, habitual settling
movement in her chair that marked the end of her cooking and the
beginning of her meal. Then she bent her grizzled, woolly head and
mumbled off one of those queer old-fashioned graces which consist of a
swift string of syllables without pauses between either words or
sentences.

Peter sat watching his mother with a musing gaze. The kitchen was
illuminated by a single small square window set high up from the floor.
Now the disposition of its single ray of light over the dishes and the
bowed head of the massive negress gave Peter one of those sharp, tender
apprehensions of formal harmony that lie back of the genre in art. It
stirred his emotion in an odd fashion. When old Caroline raised her
head, she found her son staring with impersonal eyes not at herself, but
at the whole room, including her. The old woman was perplexed and a
little apprehensive.

"Why, son!" she ejaculated, "didn' you bow yo' haid while yo' mammy ast
de grace?"

Peter was a little confused at his remissness. Then he leaned a little
forward to explain the sudden glamour which for a moment had
transfigured the interior of their kitchen. But even as he started to
speak, he realized that what he meant to say would only confuse his
mother; therefore he cast about mentally for some other explanation of
his behavior, but found nothing at hand.

"I hope you ain't forgot yo' 'ligion up at de 'versity, son."

"Oh, no, no, indeed, Mother, but just at that moment, just as you bowed
your head, you know, it struck me that--that there is something noble in
our race." That was the best he could put it to her.

"Noble--"

"Yes. You know," he went on a little quickly, "sometimes I--I've thought
my father must have been a noble man."

The old negress became very still. She was not looking quite at her son,
or yet precisely away from him.

"Uh--uh noble nigger,"--she gave her abdominal chuckle. "Why--yeah, I
reckon yo' father wuz putty noble as--as niggers go." She sat looking at
her son, oddly, with a faint amusement in her gross black face, when a
careful voice, a very careful voice, sounded in the outer room, gliding
up politely on the syllables:

"Ahnt Carolin'! oh, Ahnt Carolin', may I enter?"

The old woman stirred.

"Da''s Cissie, Peter. Go ast her in to de fambly-room."

When Siner opened the door, the vague resemblance of the slender, creamy
girl on the threshold to Ida May again struck him; but Cissie Dildine
was younger, and her polished black hair lay straight on her pretty
head, and was done in big, shining puffs over her ears in a way that Ida
May's unruly curls would never have permitted. Her eyes were the most
limpid brown Peter had ever seen, but her oval face was faintly
unnatural from the use of negro face powder, which colored women insist
on, and which gives their yellows and browns a barely perceptible
greenish hue. Cissie wore a fluffy yellow dress some three shades deeper
than the throat and the glimpse of bosom revealed at the neck.

The girl carried a big package in her arms, and now she manipulated this
to put out a slender hand to Peter.

"This is Cissie Dildine, Mister Siner." She smiled up at him. "I just
came over to put my name down on your list. There was such a mob at the
Benevolence Hall last night I couldn't get to you."

The girl had a certain finical precision to her English that told Peter
she had been away to some school, and had been taught to guard her
grammar very carefully as she talked.

Peter helped her inside amid the handshake and said he would go fetch
the list. As he turned, Cissie offered her bundle. "Here is something I
thought might be a little treat for you and Ahnt Carolin'." She paused,
and then explained remotely, "Sometimes it is hard to get good things at
the village market."

Peter took the package, vaguely amused at Cissie's patronage of the
Hooker's Bend market. It was an attitude instinctively assumed by every
girl, white or black, who leaves the village and returns. The bundle was
rather large and wrapped in newspapers. He carried it into the kitchen
to his mother, and then returned with the list.

The sheet was greasy from the handling of black fingers. The girl spread
it on the little center-table with a certain daintiness, seated herself,
and held out her hand for Peter's pencil. She made rather a graceful
study in cream and yellow as she leaned over the table and signed her
name in a handwriting as perfect and as devoid of character as a copy-
book. She began discussing the speech Peter had made at the Benevolence
Hall.

"I don't know whether I am in favor of your project or not, Mr. Siner,"
she said as she rose from the table.

"No?" Peter was surprised and amused at her attitude and at her precise
voice.

"No, I'm rather inclined toward Mr. DuBois's theory of a literary
culture than toward Mr. Washington's for a purely industrial training."

Peter broke out laughing.

"For the love of Mike, Cissie, you talk like the instructor in Sociology
B! And haven't we met before somewhere? This 'Mister Siner' stuff--"

The girl's face warmed under its faint, greenish powder.

"If I aren't careful with my language, Peter," she said simply, "I'll be
talking just as badly as I did before I went to the seminary. You know I
never hear a proper sentence in Hooker's Bend except my own."

A certain resignation in the girl's soft voice brought Peter a qualm for
laughing at her. He laid an impulsive hand on her young shoulder.

"Well, that's true, certainly, but it won't always be like that, Cissie.
More of us go off to school every year. I do hope my school here in
Hooker's Bend will be of some real value. If I could just show our
people how badly we fare here, how ill housed, and unsanitary--"

The girl pressed Peter's fingers with a woman's optimism for a man.

"You'll succeed, Peter, I know you will. Some day the name Siner will
mean the same thing to coloured people as Tanner and Dunbar and
Braithwaite do. Anyway, I've put my name down for ten dollars to help
out." She returned the pencil. "I'll have Tump Pack come around and pay
you my subscription, Peter."

"I'll watch out for Tump," promised Peter in a lightening mood, "--and
make him pay."

"He'll do it."

"I don't doubt it. You ought to have him under perfect control. I meant
to tell you what a pretty frock you have on."

The girl dimpled, and dropped him a little curtsy, half ironical and
wholly graceful.

Peter was charmed.

"Now keep that way, Cissie, smiling and human, not so grammatical. I
wish I had a brooch."

"A brooch?"

"I'd give it to you. Your dress needs a brooch, an old gold brooch at
the bosom, just a glint there to balance your eyes."

Cissie flushed happily, and made the feminine movement of concealing the
V-shaped opening at her throat.

"It's a pleasure to doll up for a man like you, Peter. You see a girl's
good points--if she has any," she tacked on demurely.

"Oh, just any man--"

"Don't think it! Don't think it!" waved down Cissie, humorously.

"But, Cissie, how is it possible--"

"Just blind." Cissie rippled into a boarding-school laugh. "I could wear
the whole rue del Opera here in Niggertown, and nobody would ever see it
but you."

Cissie was moving toward the door. Peter tried to detain her. He enjoyed
the implication of Tump Pack's stupidity, in their badinage, but she
would not stay. He was finally reduced to thanking her for her present,
then stood guard as she tripped out into the grimy street. In the
sunshine her glossy black hair and canary dress looked as trim and
brilliant as the plumage of a chaffinch.

Peter Siner walked back into the kitchen with the fixed smile of a man
who is thinking of a pretty girl. The black dowager in the kitchen
received him in silence, with her thick lips pouted. When Peter observed
it, he felt slightly amused at his mother's resentment.

"Well, you sho had a lot o' chatter over signin' a lil ole paper."

"She signed for ten dollars," said Peter, smiling.

"Huh! she'll never pay it."

"Said Tump Pack would pay it."

"Huh!" The old negress dropped the subject, and nodded at a huge double
pan on the table. "Dat's whut she brung you." She grunted
disapprovingly.

"And it's for you, too, Mother."

"Ya-as, I 'magine she brung somp'n fuh me."

Peter walked across to the double pans, and saw they held a complete
dinner--chicken, hot biscuits, cake, pickle, even ice-cream.

The sight of the food brought Peter a realization that he was keenly
hungry. As a matter of fact, he had not eaten a palatable meal since he
had been evicted from the white dining-car at Cairo, Illinois. Siner
served his own and his mother's plate.

The old woman sniffed again.

"Seems to me lak you is mighty onobsarvin' fuh a nigger whut's been off
to college."

"Anything else?" Peter looked into the pans again.

"Ain't you see whut it's all in?"

"What it's in?"

"Yeah; whut it's in. You heared whut I said."

"What is it in?"

"Why, it's in Miss Arkwright's tukky roaster, dat's whut it's in." The
old negress drove her point home with an acid accent.

Peter Siner was too loyal to his new friendship with Cissie Dildine to
allow his mother's jealous suspicions to affect him; nevertheless the
old woman's observations about the turkey roaster did prevent a complete
and care-free enjoyment of the meal. Certainly there were other turkey
roasters in Hooker's Bend than Mrs. Arkwright's. Cissie might very well
own a roaster. It was absurd to think that Cissie, in the midst of her
almost pathetic struggle to break away from the uncouthness of
Niggertown, would stoop to--Even in his thoughts Peter avoided
nominating the charge.

And then, somehow, his memory fished up the fact that years ago Ida May,
according to village rumor, was "light-fingered." At that time in
Peter's life "light-fingeredness" carried with it no opprobrium
whatever. It was simply a fact about Ida May, as were her sloe eyes and
curling black hair. His reflections renewed his perpetual sense of
queerness and strangeness that hall-marked every phase of Niggertown
life since his return from the North.

                    *       *       *       *       *

Cissie Dildine's contribution tailed out the one hundred dollars that
Peter needed, and after he had finished his meal, the mulatto set out
across the Big Hill for the white section of the village, to complete
his trade.

It was Peter's program to go to the Planter's Bank, pay down his
hundred, and receive a deed from one Elias Tomwit, which the bank held
in escrow. Two or three days before Peter had tried to borrow the
initial hundred from the bank, but the cashier, Henry Hooker, after
going into the transaction, had declined the loan, and therefore Siner
had been forced to await a meeting of the Sons and Daughters of
Benevolence. At this meeting the subscription had gone through promptly.
The land the negroes purposed to purchase for an industrial school was a
timbered tract tying southeast of Hooker's Bend on the head-waters of
Ross Creek. A purchase price of eight hundred dollars had been agreed
upon. The timber on the tract, sold on the stump, would bring almost
that amount. It was Siner's plan to commandeer free labor in Niggertown,
work off the timber, and have enough money to build the first unit of
his school. A number of negro men already had subscribed a certain
number of days' work in the timber. It was a modest and entirely
practical program, and Peter felt set up over it.

The brown man turned briskly out into the hot afternoon sunshine, down
the mean semicircular street, where piccaninnies were kicking up clouds
of dust. He hurried through the dusty area, and presently turned off a
by-path that led over the hill, through a glade of cedars, to the white
village.

The glade was gloomy, but warm, for the shade of cedars somehow seems to
hold heat. A carpet of needles hushed Siner's footfalls and spread a
Sabbatical silence through the grove. The upward path was not smooth,
but was broken with outcrops of the same reddish limestone that marks
the whole stretch of the Tennessee River. Here and there in the grove
were circles eight or ten feet in diameter, brushed perfectly clean of
all needles and pebbles and twigs. These places were crap-shooters'
circles, where black and white men squatted to shoot dice.

Under the big stones on the hillside, Peter knew, was cached illicit
whisky, and at night the boot-leggers carried on a brisk trade among the
gamblers. More than that, the glade on the Big Hill was used for still
more demoralizing ends. It became a squalid grove of Ashtoreth; but now,
in the autumn evening, all the petty obscenities of white and black
sloughed away amid the religious implications of the dark-green aisles.

The sight of a white boy sitting on an outcrop of limestone with a strap
of school-books dropped at his feet rather surprised Peter. The negro
looked at the hobbledehoy for several seconds before he recognized in
the lanky youth a little Arkwright boy whom he had known and played with
in his pre-college days. Now there was such an exaggerated wistfulness
in young Arkwright's attitude that Peter was amused.

"Hello, Sam," he called. "What you doing out here?"

The Arkwright boy turned with a start.

"Aw, is that you, Siner?" Before the negro could reply, he added: "Was
you on the Harvard football team, Siner? Guess the white fellers have a
pretty gay time in Harvard, don't they, Siner? Geemenettie! but I git
tired o' this dern town! D' reckon I could make the football team? Looks
like I could if a nigger like you could, Siner."

None of this juvenile outbreak of questions required answers. Peter
stood looking at the hobbledehoy without smiling.

"Aren't you going to school?" he asked.

Arkwright shrugged.

"Aw, hell!" he said self-consciously. "We got marched down to the
protracted meetin' while ago--whole school did. My seat happened to be
close to a window. When they all stood up to sing, I crawled out and
skipped. Don't mention that, Siner."

"I won't."

"When a fellow goes to college he don't git marched to preachin', does
he, Siner?"

"I never did."

"We-e-ll," mused young Sam, doubtfully, "you're a nigger."

"I never saw any white men marched in, either."

"Oh, hell! I wish I was in college."

"What are you sitting out here thinking about?" inquired Peter of the
ingenuous youngster.

"Oh--football and--women and God and--how to stack cards. You think
about ever'thing, in the woods. Damn it! I got to git out o' this little
jay town. D' reckon I could git in the navy, Siner?"

"Don't see why you couldn't, Sam. Have you seen Tump Pack anywhere?"

"Yeah; on Hobbett's corner. Say, is Cissie Dildine at home?"

"I believe she is."

"She cooks for us," explained young Arkwright, "and Mammy wants her to
come and git supper, too."

The phrase "get supper, too," referred to the custom in the white homes
of Hooker's Bend of having only two meals cooked a day, breakfast and
the twelve-o'clock dinner, with a hot supper optional with the mistress.

Peter nodded, and passed on up the path, leaving young Arkwright seated
on the ledge of rock, a prey to all the boiling, erratic impulses of
adolescence. The negro sensed some of the innumerable difficulties of
this white boy's life, and once, as he walked on over the silent
needles, he felt an impulse to turn back and talk to young Sam
Arkwright, to sit down and try to explain to the youth what he could of
this hazardous adventure called Life. But then, he reflected, very
likely the boy would be offended at a serious talk from a negro. Also,
he thought that young Arkwright, being white, was really not within the
sphere of his ministry. He, Peter Siner, was a worker in the black world
of the South. He was part of the black world which the white South was
so meticulous to hide away, to keep out of sight and out of thought.

A certain vague sense of triumph trickled through some obscure corner of
Peter's mind. It was so subtle that Peter himself would have been the
first, in all good faith, to deny it and to affirm that all his motives
were altruistic. Once he looked back through the cedars. He could still
see the boy hunched over, chin in fist, staring at the mat of needles.

As Peter turned the brow of the Big Hill, he saw at its eastern foot the
village church, a plain brick building with a decaying spire. Its side
was perforated by four tall arched windows. Each was a memorial window
of stained glass, which gave the building a black look from the outside.
As Peter walked down the hill toward the church he heard the and
somewhat nasal singing of uncultivated voices mingled with the snoring
of a reed organ.

When he reached Main Street, Peter found the whole business portion
virtually deserted. All the stores were closed, and in every show-window
stood a printed notice that no business would be transacted between the
hours of two and three o'clock in the afternoon during the two weeks of
revival then in progress. Beside this notice stood another card, giving
the minister's text for the current day. On this particular day it read:


                        GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD

                 Come hear Rev. E.B. Blackwater's great
                         Missionary Address on

                         CHRISTIANIZING AFRICA

                  ELOQUENT, PROFOUND, HEART-SEARCHING.
                        ILLUSTRATED WITH SLIDES.


Half a dozen negroes lounged in the sunshine on Hobbett's corner as
Peter came up. They were amusing themselves after the fashion of blacks,
with mock fights, feints, sudden wrestlings. They would seize one
another by the head and grind their knuckles into one another's wool.
Occasionally, one would leap up and fall into one of those grotesque
shuffles called "breakdowns." It all held a certain rawness, an
irrepressible juvenility.

As Peter came up, Tump Pack detached himself from the group and gave a
pantomime of thrusting. He was clearly reproducing the action which had
won for him his military medal. Then suddenly he fell down in the dust
and writhed. He was mimicking with a ghastly realism the death-throes of
his four victims. His audience howled with mirth at this dumb show of
the bayonet-fight and of killing four men. Tump himself got up out of
the dust with tears of laughter in his eyes. Peter caught the end of his
sentence, "Sho put it to 'em, black boy. Fo' white men--"

His audience roared again, swayed around, and pounded one another in an
excess of mirth.

Siner shouted from across the street two or three times before he caught
Tump's attention. The ex-soldier looked around, sobered abruptly.

"Whut-chu want, nigger?" His inquiry was not over-cordial.

Peter nodded him across the street.

The heavily built black in khaki hesitated a moment, then started across
the street with the dragging feet of a reluctant negro. Peter looked at
him as he came up.

"What's the matter, Tump?" he asked playfully.

"Ain't nothin' matter wid me, nigger." Peter made a guess at Tump's
surliness.

"Look here, are you puffed up because Cissie Dildine struck you for a
ten?"

Tump's expression changed.

"Is she struck me fuh a ten?"

"Yes; on that school subscription."

"Is dat whut you two niggers wuz a-talkin' 'bout over thaiuh in yo'
house?"

"Exactly." Peter showed the list, with Cissie's name on it. "She told me
to collect from you."

Tump brightened up.

"So dat wuz whut you two niggers wuz a-talkin' 'bout over at yo' house."
He ran a fist down into his khaki, and drew out three or four one-dollar
bills and about a pint of small change. It was the usual crap-shooter's
offering. The two negroes sat down on the ramshackle porch of an old
jeweler's shop, and Tump began a complicated tally of ten dollars.

By the time he had his dimes, quarters, and nickels in separate stacks,
services in the village church were finished, and the congregation came
filing up the street. First came the school-children, running and
chattering and swinging their books by the straps; then the business men
of the hamlet, rather uncomfortable in coats and collars, hurrying back
to their stores; finally came the women, surrounding the preacher.

Tump and Peter walked on up to the entrance of the Planter's Bank and
there awaited Mr. Henry Hooker, the cashier. Presently a skinny man
detached himself from the church crowd and came angling across the dirty
street toward the bank. Mr. Hooker wore somewhat shabby clothes for a
banker; in fact, he never could recover from certain personal habits
formed during a penurious boyhood. He had a thin hatchet face which just
at this moment was shining though from some inward glow. Although he was
an unhandsome little man, his expression was that of one at peace with
man and God and was pleasant to see. He had been so excited by the
minister that he was constrained to say something even to two negroes.
So as he unlocked the little one-story bank, he told Tump and Peter that
he had been listening to a man who was truly a man of God. He said
Blackwater could touch the hardest heart, and, sure enough, Mr. Hooker's
rather popped and narrow-set eyes looked as though he had been crying.

All this encomium was given in a high, cracked voice as the cashier
opened the door and turned the negroes into the bank. Tump, who stood
with his hat off, listening to all the cashier had to say, said he
thought so, too.

The shabby interior of the little bank, the shabby little banker,
renewed that sense of disillusion that pervaded Peter's home-coming. In
Boston the mulatto had done his slight banking business in a white
marble structure with tellers of machine-like briskness and neatness.

Mr. Hooker strolled around into his grill-cage; when he was thoroughly
ensconced he began business in his high voice:

"You came to see me about that land, Peter?"

Yes, sir."

"Sorry to tell you, Peter, you are not back in time to get the Tomwit
place."

Peter came out of his musing over the Boston banks with a sense of
bewilderment.

"How's that? why, I bought that land--"

"But you paid nothing for your option, Siner."

"I had a clear-cut understanding with Mr. Tomwit--"

Mr. Hooker smiled a smile that brought out sharp wrinkles around the
thin nose on his thin face.

"You should have paid him an earnest, Siner, if you wanted to bind your
trade. You colored folks are always stumbling over the law."

Peter stared through the grating, not knowing what to do.

"I'll go see Mr. Tomwit," he said, and started uncertainly for the door.

The cashier's falsetto stopped him:

"No use, Peter. Mr. Tomwit surprised me, too, but no use talking about
it. I didn't like to see such an important thing as the education of our
colored people held up, myself. I've been thinking about it."

"Especially when I had made a fair square trade," put in Peter, warmly.

"Exactly," squeaked the cashier. "And rather than let your project be
delayed, I'm going to offer you the old Dillihay place at exactly the
same price, Peter--eight hundred."

"The Dillihay place?"

"Yes; that's west of town; it's bigger by twenty acres than old man
Tomwit's place."

Peter considered the proposition.

"I'll have to carry this before the Sons and Daughters of Benevolence,
Mr. Hooker."

The cashier repeated the smile that bracketed his thin nose in wrinkles.

"That's with you, but you know what you say goes with the niggers here
in town, and, besides, I won't promise how long I'll hold the Dillihay
place. Real estate is brisk around here now. I didn't want to delay a
good work on account of not having a location." Mr. Hooker turned away
to a big ledger on a breast-high desk, and apparently was about to
settle himself to the endless routine of bank work.

Peter knew the Dillihay place well. It lacked the timber of the other
tract; still, it was fairly desirable. He hesitated before the tarnished
grill.

"What do you think about it, Tump?"

"You won't make a mistake in buying," answered the high voice of Mr.
Hooker at his ledger.

"I don' think you'll make no mistake in buyin', Peter," repeated Tump's
bass.

Peter turned back a little uncertainly, and asked how long it would take
to fix the new deed. He had a notion of making a flying canvass of the
officers of the Sons and Daughters in the interim. He was surprised to
find that Mr. Hooker already had the deed and the notes ready to sign,
in anticipation of Peter's desires. Here the banker brought out the set
of papers.

"I'll take it," decided Peter; "and if the lodge doesn't want it, I'll
keep the place myself."

"I like to deal with a man of decision," piped the cashier, a wrinkled
smile on his sharp face.

Peter pushed in his bag of collections, then Mr. Hooker signed the deed,
and Peter signed the land notes. They exchanged the instruments. Peter
received the crisp deed, bound in blue manuscript cover. It rattled
unctuously. To Peter it was his first step toward a second Tuskegee.

The two negroes walked out of the Planter's Bank filled with a sense of
well-doing. Tump Pack was openly proud of having been connected, even in
a casual way, with the purchase. As he walked down the steps, he turned
to Peter.

"Don' reckon nobody could git a deed off on you wid stoppers in it, does
you?"

"We don't know any such word as 'stop,' Tump," declared Peter, gaily.

For Peter was gay. The whole incident at the bank was beginning to
please him. The meeting of a sudden difficulty, his quick decision--it
held the quality of leadership. Napoleon had it.

The two colored men stepped briskly through the afternoon sunshine along
the mean village street. Here and there in front of their doorways sat
the merchants yawning and talking, or watching pigs root in the piles of
waste.

In Peter's heart came a wonderful thought. He would make his industrial
institution such a model of neatness that the whole village of Hooker's
Bend would catch the spirit. The white people should see that something
clean and uplifting could come out of Niggertown. The two races ought to
live for a mutual benefit. It was a fine, generous thought. For some
reason, just then, there flickered through Peter's mind a picture of the
Arkwright boy sitting hunched over in the cedar glade, staring at the
needles.

All this musing was brushed away by the sight of old Mr. Tomwit crossing
the street from the east side to the livery-stable on the west. That
human desire of wanting the person who has wronged you to know that you
know your injury moved Peter to hurry his steps and to speak to the old
gentleman.

Mr. Tomwit had been a Confederate cavalryman in the Civil War, and there
was still a faint breeze and horsiness about him. He was a hammered-down
old gentleman, with hair thin but still jet-black, a seamed, sunburned
face, and a flattened nose. His voice was always a friendly roar. Now,
when he saw Peter turning across the street to meet him, he halted and
called out at once:

"Now Peter, I know what's the matter with you. I didn't do you right."

Peter went closer, not caring to take the whole village into his
confidence.

"How came you to turn down my proposition, Mr. Tomwit," he asked, "after
we had agreed and drawn up the papers?"

"We-e-ell, I had to do it, Peter," explained the old man, loudly.

"Why, Mr. Tomwit?"

"A white neighbor wanted me to, Peter," boomed the cavalryman.

"Who, Mr. Tomwit?"

"Henry Hooker talked me into it, Peter. It was a mean trick, Peter. I
done you wrong." He stood nodding his head and rubbing his flattened
nose in an impersonal manner. "Yes, I done you wrong, Peter," he
acknowledged loudly, and looked frankly into Peter's eyes.

The negro was immensely surprised that Henry Hooker had done such a
thing. A thought came that perhaps some other Henry Hooker had moved
into town in his absence.

"You don't mean the cashier of the bank?"

Old Mr. Tomwit drew out a plug of Black Mule tobacco, set some gapped,
discolored teeth into corner, nodded at Peter silently, at the same time
utilizing the nod to tear off a large quid. He rolled tin about with his
tongue and after a few moments adjusted it so that he could speak.

"Yeah," he proceeded in a muffled tone, "they ain't but one Henry
Hooker; he is the one and only Henry. He said if I sold you my land,
you'd put up a nigger school and bring in so many blackbirds you'd run
me clean off my farm. He said it'd ruin the whole town, a nigger school
would."

Peter was astonished.

"Why, he didn't talk that way to me!"

"Natchelly, natchelly," agreed the old cavalryman, dryly.--"Henry has a
different way to talk to ever' man, Peter."

"In fact," proceeded Peter, "Mr. Hooker sold me the old Dillihay place
in lieu of the deal I missed with you."

Old Mr. Tomwit moved his quid in surprise.

"The hell he did!"

"That at least shows he doesn't think a negro school would ruin the
value of his land. He owns farms all around the Dillihay place."

Old Mr. Tomwit turned his quid over twice and spat thoughtfully.

"That your deed in your pocket?" With the air of a man certain of being
obeyed he held out his hand for the blue manuscript cover protruding
from the mulatto's pocket. Peter handed it over. The old gentleman
unfolded the deed, then moved it carefully to and from his eyes until
the typewriting was adjusted to his focus. He read it slowly, with a
movement of his lips and a drooling of tobacco-juice. Finally he
finished, remarked, "I be damned!" in a deliberate voice, returned the
deed, and proceeded across the street to the livery-stable, which was
fronted by an old mulberry-tree, with several chairs under it. In one of
these chairs he would sit for the remainder of the day, making an
occasional loud remark about the weather or the crops, and watching the
horses pass in and out of the stable.

Siner had vaguely enjoyed old Mr. Tomwit's discomfiture over the deed,
if it was discomfiture that had moved the old gentleman to his
sententious profanity. But the negro did not understand Henry Hooker's
action at all. The banker had abused his position of trust as holder of
a deed in escrow snapping up the sale himself; then he had sold Peter
the Dillihay place. It was a queer shift.

Tump Pack caught his principal's mood with that chameleon-like mental
quality all negroes possess.

"Dat Henry Hooker," criticized Tump, "allus was a lil ole dried-up snake
in de grass."

"He abused his position of trust," said Peter, gloomily; "I must say,
his motives seem very obscure to me."

"Dat sho am a fine way to put hit," said Tump, admiringly.

"Why do you suppose he bought in the Tomwit tract and sold me the
Dillihay place?"

Asked for an opinion, Tump began twiddling military medal and corrugated
the skin on his inch-high brow.

"Now you puts it to me lak dat, Peter," he answered with importance, "I
wonders ef dat gimlet-haided white man ain't put some stoppers in dat
deed he guv you. He mout of."

Such remarks as that from Tump always annoyed Peter. Tump's intellectual
method was to talk sense just long enough to gain his companion's ear,
and then produce something absurd and quash the tentative interest.

Siner turned away from him and said, "Piffle."

Tump was defensive at once.

"'T ain't piffle, either! I's talkin' sense, nigger."

Peter shrugged, and walked a little way in silence, but the soldier's
nonsense stuck in his brain and worried him. Finally he turned, rather
irritably.

"Stoppers--what do you mean by stoppers?"

Tump opened his jet eyes and their yellowish whites. "I means nigger-
stoppers," he reiterated, amazed in his turn.

"Negro-stoppers--" Peter began to laugh sardonically, and abruptly quit
the conversation.

Such rank superiority irritated the soldier to the nth power.

"Look heah, black man, I knows I _is_ right. Heah, lonme look at
dat-aiuh, deed. Maybe I can find 'em. I knows I suttinly is right."

Peter walked on, paying no attention to the request Until Tump caught
his arm and drew him up short.

"Look heah, nigger," said Tump, in a different tone, "I faded dad deed
fuh ten iron men, an' I reckon I got a once-over comin' fuh my money."

The soldier was plainly mobilized and ready to attack. To fight Tump, to
fight any negro at all, would be Peter's undoing; it would forfeit the
moral leadership he hoped to gain. Moreover, he had no valid grounds for
a disagreement with Tump. He passed over the deed, and the two negroes
moved on their way to Niggertown.

Tump trudged forward with eyes glued to paper, his face puckered in the
unaccustomed labor of reading.

His thick lips moved at the individual letters, and constructed them
bunglingly into syllables and words. He was trying to uncover the verbal
camouflage by which the astute white brushed away all rights of all
black men whatsoever.

To Peter there grew up something sadly comical in Tump's efforts. The
big negro might well typify all the colored folk of the South,
struggling in a web of law and custom they did not understand,
misplacing their suspicions, befogged and fearful. A certain penitence
for having been irritated at Tump softened Peter.

"That's all right, Tump; there's nothing to find."

At that moment the soldier began to bob his head.

"Eh! eh! eh! W-wait a minute!" he stammered. "Whut dis? B'lieve I done
foun' it! I sho is! Heah she am! Heah's dis nigger-stopper, jes lak I
tol' you!" Tump marked a sentence in the guaranty of the deed with a
rusty forefinger and looked up at Peter in mixed triumph and accusation.

Peter leaned over the deed, amused.

"Let's see your mare's nest."

"Well, she 'fo' God is thaiuh, an' you sho let loose a hundud dollars uv
our 'ciety's money, an' got nothin' fuh hit but a piece o' paper wid a
nigger-stopper on hit!"

Tump's voice was so charged with contempt that Peter looked with a
certain uneasiness at his find. He read this sentence switched into the
guaranty of the indenture:


"Be it further understood and agreed that no negro, black man, Afro-
American, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, or any person whatsoever of
colored blood or lineage, shall enter upon, seize, hold, occupy, reside
upon, till, cultivate, own or possess any part or parcel of said
property, or garner, cut, or harvest therefrom, any of the usufruct,
timber, or emblements thereof, but shall by these presents be estopped
from so doing forever."


Tump Pack drew a shaken, unhappy breath.

"Now, I reckon you see whut a nigger-stopper is."

Peter stood in the sunshine, looking at the estoppel clause, his lips
agape. Twice he read it over. It held something of the quality of those
comprehensive curses that occur in the Old Testament. He moistened his
lips and looked at Tump.

"Why that can't be legal." His voice sounded empty and shallow.

"Legal! 'Fo' Gawd, nigger, whauh you been to school all dese yeahs,
never to heah uv a nigger-stopper befo'!"

"But--but how can a stroke of the pen, a mere gesture, estop a whole
class of American citizens forever?" cried Peter, with a rising voice.
"Turn it around. Suppose they had put in a line that no white man should
own that land. It--it's empty! I tell you, it's mere words!"

Tump cut into his diatribe: "No use talkin' lak dat. Our 'ciety thought
you wuz a aidjucated nigger. We didn't think no white man could put
nothin' over on you."

"Education!" snapped Siner. "Education isn't supposed to keep you away
from shysters!"

"Keep you away fum 'em!" cried Tump, in a scandalized voice. "'Fo' Gawd,
nigger, you don' know nothin'! O' co'se a aidjucation ain't to keep you
away fum shysters; hit's to mek you one 'uv 'em!"

Peter stood breathing irregularly, looking at his deed. A determination
not to be cheated grew up and hardened in his nerves. With unsteady
hands he refolded his deed and put it into his pocket, then he turned
about and started back up the village street toward the bank.

Tump stared after him a moment and presently called out:

"Heah, nigger, whut you gwine do?" A moment later he repeated to his
friend's back: "Look heah, nigger, I 'vise you ag'inst anything you's
gwine do, less'n you's ready to pass in you' checks!" As Peter strode on
he lifted his voice still higher: "Peter! Hey, Peter, I sho' 'vise you
'g'inst anything you's 'gwine do!"

A pulse throbbed in Siner's temples. The wrath of the cozened heated his
body. His clothes felt hot. As he strode up the trash-piled street, the
white merchants lolling in their doors began smiling. Presently a laugh
broke out at one end of the street and was caught up here and there. It
was the undying minstrel jest, the comedy of a black face. Dawson Bobbs
leaned against the wide brick entrance of the livery-stable, his red
face balled into shining convexities by a quizzical smile.

"Hey, Peter," he drawled, winking at old Mr. Tomwit, "been investin' in
real estate?" and broke into Homeric laughter.

As Peter passed on, the constable dropped casually in behind the brown
man and followed him up to the bank.

To Peter Siner the walk up to the bank was an emotional confusion. He
has a dim consciousness that voices said things to him along the way and
that there was laughter. All this was drowned by desperate thoughts and
futile plans to regain his lost money, flashing through his head. The
cashier would exchange the money for the deed; he would enter suit and
carry it to the Supreme Court; he would show the money had not been his,
he had had no right to buy; he would beg the cashier. His head seemed to
spin around and around.

He climbed the steps into the Planter's Bank and opened the screen-door.
The cashier glanced up briefly, but continued busily at his ledger.

Peter walked shakenly to the barred window in the grill.

"Mr. Hooker."

"Very busy now, Peter," came the high voice.

"I want to know about this deed."

The banker was nimbly setting down long rows of figures. "No time to
explain deeds, Peter."

"But--but there is a clause in this deed, Mr. Hooter, estopping colored
persons from occupying the Dillihay place."

"Precisely. What about it?" Mr. Hooker snapped out his inquiry and
looked up suddenly, catching Peter full in the face with his narrow-set
eyes. It was the equivalent of a blow.

"According to this, I--I can't establish a school on it."

"You cannot."

"Then what can I do with it?" cried Peter.

"Sell it. You have what lawyers call a cloud on the title. Sell it. I'll
give you ten dollars for your right in it, just to clear up my title."

A queer trembling seized Peter. The little banker turned to a fantastic
caricature of a man. His hatchet face, close-set eyes, harsh, straight
hair, and squeaky voice made him seem like some prickly, dried-up gnome
a man sees in a fever.

At that moment the little wicket-door of the window opened under the
pressure of Peter's shoulder. Inside on the desk, lay neat piles of
bills of all denominations, ready to be placed in the vault. In a
nervous tremor Peter dropped in his blue-covered deed and picked up a
hundred-dollar bill.

"I--I won't trade," he jibbered. "It--it wasn't my money. Here's your
deed!" Peter was moving away. He felt a terrific impulse to run, but he
walked.

The banker straightened abruptly. "Stop there, Peter!" he screeched.

At that moment Dawson Bobbs lounged in at the door, with his perpetual
grin balling up his broad red face. He had a toothpick, in his mouth.

"'S matter?" he asked casually.

"Peter there," said the banker, with a pale, sharp face, "doesn't want
to stick to his trade. He is just walking off with one of my hundred-
dollar bills."

"Sick o' yo' deal, Peter?" inquired Bobbs, smiling and shifting the
toothpick. He bit down on it. "Well, whut-chu want done, Henry?"

"Oh," hesitated the cashier in a quandary, "nothing, I suppose. Siner
was excited; you know how niggers are. We can't afford to send every
nigger to the pen that breaks the law." He stood studying Peter out of
his close-set eyes. "Here's your deed, Peter." He shoved it back under
the grill. "And lemme give you a little friendly advice. I'd just run an
ordinary nigger school if I was you. This higher education don't seem to
make a nigger much smarter when he comes back than when he starts out."
A faint smile bracketed the thin nose.

Dawson Bobbs roared with sudden appreciation, took the bill from Peter's
fingers, and pushed it back under the grill.

The cashier picked up the money, casually. He considered a moment, then
reached for a long envelop. As he did so, the incident with Peter
evidently passed from his mind, for his hatchet face lighted up as with
some inward illumination.

"Bobbs," he said warmly, "that was a great sermon Brother Blackwater
preached. It made me want to help according as the Lord has blessed me.
Couldn't you spare five dollars, Bobbs, to go along with this?"

The constable tried to laugh and wriggle away, but the cashier's gimlet
eyes kept boring him, and eventually he fished out a five-dollar bill
and handed it in. Mr. Hooker placed the two bills in the envelop, sealed
it, and handed it to the constable.

"Jest drop that in the post-office as you go down the street, Bobbs," he
directed in his high voice. Peter caught a glimpse of the type-written
address.

It was

  Rev. Lemuel Hardiman,
    c/o United Missions,
      Katuako Post,
        Bahr el Ghazal,
          Sudan,
            East Africa.



                              CHAPTER III


The white population of Hooker's Bend was much amused and gratified at
the outcome of the Hooker-Siner land deal. Every one agreed that the
cashier's chicanery was a droll and highly original turn to give to a
negro exclusion clause drawn into a deed. Then, too, it involved several
legal points highly congenial to the Hooker's Bend intellect Could the
Sons and Daughters of Benevolence recover their hundred dollars? Could
Henry Hooker force them to pay the remaining seven hundred? Could not
Siner establish his school on the Dillihay place regardless of the
clause, since the cashier would be estopped from obtaining an injunction
by his own instrument?

As a matter of fact, the Sons and Daughters of Benevolence sent a
committee to wait on Mr. Hooker to see what action he meant to take on
the notes that paid for his spurious deed. This brought another harvest
of rumors. Street gossip reported that Henry had compromised for this,
that, and the other amount, that he would not compromise, that he had
persuaded the fool niggers into signing still other instruments. Peter
never knew the truth. He was not on the committee.

But high above the legal phase of interest lay the warming fact that
Peter Siner, a negro graduate of Harvard, on his first tilt in Hooker's
Bend affairs had ridden to a fall. This pleased even the village women,
whose minds could not follow the subtle trickeries of legal disputation.
The whole affair simply proved what the white village had known all
along: you can't educate a nigger. Hooker's Bend warmed with pleasure
that half of its population was ineducable.

White sentiment in Hooker's Bend reacted strongly on Niggertown. Peter
Siner's prestige was no more. The cause of higher education for negroes
took a mighty slump. Junius Gholston, a negro boy who had intended to go
to Nashville to attend Fisk University, reconsidered the matter, packed
away his good clothes, put on overalls, and shipped down the river as a
roustabout instead.

In the Siner cabin old Caroline Siner berated her boy for his stupidity
in ever trading with that low-down, twisting snake in the grass, Henry
Hooker. She alternated this with floods of tears. Caroline had no
sympathy for her offspring. She said she had thrown away years of self-
sacrifice, years of washing, a thousand little comforts her money would
have bought, all for nothing, for less than nothing, to ship a fool
nigger up North and to ship him back.

Of all Niggertown, Caroline was the most unforgiving because Peter had
wounded her in her pride. Every other negro in the village felt that
genial satisfaction in a great man's downfall that is balm to small
souls. But the old mother knew not this consolation. Peter was her
proxy. It was she who had fallen.

The only person in Niggertown who continued amiable to Peter Siner was
Cissie Dildine. The octoroon, perhaps, had other criteria by which to
judge a man than his success or mishaps dealing with a pettifogger.

Two or three days after the catastrophe, Cissie made an excursion to the
Siner cabin with a plate of cookies. Cissie was careful to place her
visit on exactly a normal footing. She brought her little cakes in the
role of one who saw no evil, spoke no evil, and heard no evil. But
somehow Cissie's visit increased the old woman's wrath. She remained
obstinately in the kitchen, and made remarks not only audible, but
arresting, through the thin partition that separated it from the poor
living-room.

Cissie was hardly inside when a voice stated that it hated to see a gal
running after a man, trying to bait him with a lot of fum-diddles.

Cissie gave Peter a single wide-eyed glance, and then attempted to
ignore the bodiless comment.

"Here are some cookies, Mr. Siner," began the girl, rather nervously. "I
thought you and Ahnt Carolin'--"

"Yeah, I 'magine dey's fuh me!" jeered the spectral voice.

"Might like them," concluded the girl, with a little gasp.

"I suttinly don' want no light-fingered hussy ma'yin' my son," proceeded
the voice, "an' de whole Dildine fambly 'll bear watchin'."

[Illustration: In the Siner cabin old Caroline Siner berated her boy.]

"Won't you have a seat?" asked Peter, exquisitely uncomfortable.

Cissie handed him her plate in confusion.

"Why, no, Mr. Siner," she hastened on, in her careful grammar, "I just--
ran over to--"

"To fling herse'f in a nigger's face 'cause he's been North and got
made a fool uv," boomed the hidden censor.

"I must go now," gasped Cissie.

Peter made a harried gesture.

"Wait--wait till I get my hat."

He put the plate down with a swift glance around for his hat. He found
it, and strode to the door, following the girl. The two hurried out into
the street, followed by indistinct strictures from the kitchen. Cissie
breathed fast, with open lips. They moved rapidly along the semicircular
street almost with a sense of flight. The heat of the early autumn sun
stung them through their clothes. For some distance they walked in a
nervous silence, then Cissie said:

"Your mother certainly hates me, Peter."

"No," said Peter, trying to soften the situation; "it's me; she's
terribly hurt about--" he nodded to-ward the white section--"that
business."

Cissie opened her clear brown eyes.

"Your own mother turned against you!"

"Oh, she has a right to be," began Peter, defensively. "I ought to have
read that deed. It's amazing I didn't, but I--I really wasn't expecting
a trick, Mr. Hooker seemed so--so sympathetic--" He came to a lame halt,
staring at the dust through which they picked their way.

"Of course you weren't expecting tricks!" cried Cissie, warmly. "The
whole thing shows you're a gentleman used to dealing with gentlemen. But
of course these Hooker's Bend negroes will never see that!"

Peter, surprised and grateful, looked at Cissie. Her construction of the
swindle was more flattering than any apology he had been able to frame
for himself.

"Still, Cissie, I ought to have used the greatest care--"

"I'm not talking about what you 'ought,'" stated the octoroon, crisply;
"I'm talking about what you are. When it comes to 'ought,' we colored
people must get what we can, any way we can. We fight from the bottom."
The speech held a viperish quality which for a moment caught the brown
man's attention; then he said:

"One thing is sure, I've lost my prestige, whatever it was worth."

The girl nodded slowly.

"With the others you have, I suppose."

Peter glanced at Cissie. The temptation was strong to give the
conversation a personal turn, but he continued on the general topic:

"Well, perhaps it's just as well. My prestige was a bit too flamboyant,
Cissie. All I had to do was to mention a plan. The Sons and Daughters
didn't even discuss it. They put it right through. That wasn't healthy.
Our whole system of society, all democracies are based on discussion.
Our old Witenagemot--"

"But it wasn't _our_ old Witenagemot," said the girl.

"Well--no," admitted the mulatto, "that's true."

They moved along for some distance in silence, when the girl asked:

"What are you going to do now, Peter?"

"Teach, and keep working for that training-school," stated Peter, almost
belligerently. "You didn't expect a little thing like a hundred dollars
to stop me, did you?"

"No-o-o," conceded Cissie, with some reserve of judgment in her tone.
Presently she added, "You could do a lot better up North, Peter."

"For whom?"

"Why, yourself," said the girl, a little surprised.

Siner nodded.

"I thought all that out before I came back here, Cissie. A friend of
mine named Farquhar offered me a place with him up in Chicago,--a string
of garages. You'd like Farquhar, Cissie. He's a materialist with an
absolutely inexorable brain. He mechanizes the universe. I told him I
couldn't take his offer. 'It's like this,' I argued: 'if every negro
with a little ability leaves the South, our people down there will never
progress.' It's really that way, Cissie, it takes a certain mental
atmosphere to develop a people as a whole. A few individuals here and
there may have the strength to spring up by themselves, but the run of
the people--no. I believe one of the greatest curses of the colored race
in the South is the continual draining of its best individuals North.
Farquhar argued--" just then Peter saw that Cissie was not attending his
discourse. She was walking at his side in a respectful silence. He
stopped talking, and presently she smiled and said:

"You haven't noticed my new brooch, Peter." She lifted her hand to her
bosom, and twisted the face of the trinket toward him. "You oughtn't to
have made me show it to you after you recommended it yourself." She made
a little _moue_ of disappointment.

It was a pretty bit of old gold that complimented the creamy skin. Peter
began admiring it at once, and, negro fashion, rather overstepped the
limits white beaux set to their praise, as he leaned close to her.

At the moment the two were passing one of the oddest houses in
Niggertown. It was a two-story cabin built in the shape of a steamboat.
A little cupola represented a pilot-house, and two iron chimneys served
for smoke-stacks.

This queer building had been built by a negro stevedore because of a
deep admiration for the steamboats on which he had made his living.
Instead of steps at the front door, this boat-like house had a stage-
plank. As Peter strolled down the street with Cissie, admiring her
brooch, and suffused with a sense of her nearness, he happened to glance
up, and saw Tump Pack walk down the stage-plank, come out, and wait for
them at the gate.

There was something grim in the ex-soldier's face and in the set of his
gross lips as the two came up, but the aura of the girl prevented Peter
from paying much attention to it. As the two reached Tump, Peter had
just lifted his hand to his hat when Tump made a quick step out at the
gate, in front of them, and swung a furious blow at Peter's head.

Cissie screamed. Siner staggered back with flames dancing before his
eyes. The soldier lunged after his toppling man with gorilla-like blows.
Hot pains shot through Peter's body. His head roared like a gong. The
sunlight danced about him in flashes. The air was full of black fists
smashing him, and not five feet away, the bullet head of Tump Pack
bobbed this way and that in the rapid shifts of his attack. A stab of
pain cut off Peter's breath. He stood with his diaphragm muscles tense
and paralyzed, making convulsive efforts to breathe. At that moment he
glimpsed the convexity of Tump's stomach. He drop-kicked at it with
foot-ball desperation. Came a loud explosive groan. Tump seemed to rise
a foot or two in air, turned over, and thudded down on his shoulders in
the dust. The soldier made no attempt to rise, but curled up, twisting
in agony.

Peter stood in the dust-cloud, wabbly, with roaring head. His open mouth
was full of dust. Then he became aware that negroes were running in from
every direction, shouting. Their voices whooped out what had happened,
who it was, who had licked. Tump Pack's agonized spasms brought howls of
mirth from the black fellows. Negro women were in the crowd, grinning, a
little frightened, but curious. Some were in Mother-Hubbards; one had
her hair half combed, one side in a kinky mattress, the other lying flat
and greased down to her scalp.

When Peter gradually became able to breathe and could think at all,
there was something terrible to him in Tump's silent attack and in this
extravagant black mirth over mere suffering. Cissie was gone,--had fled,
no doubt, at the beginning of the fight.

The prostrate man's tortured abdomen finally allowed him to twist around
toward Peter. His eyes were popped, and seemed all yellows and streaked
with swollen veins.

"I'll git you fuh dis," he wheezed, spitting dust "You did n' fight
fair, you--"

The black chorus rolled their heads and pounded one another in a gale of
merriment.

Peter Siner turned away toward his home filled with sick thought. He had
never realized so clearly the open sore of Niggertown life and its great
need of healing, yet this very episode would further bar him, Peter,
from any constructive work. He foresaw, too plainly, how the white town
and Niggertown would react to this fight. There would be no
discrimination in the scandal. He, Peter Siner, would be grouped with
the boot-leggers and crap-shooters and women-chasers who filled
Niggertown with their brawls. As a matter of simple fact, he had been
fighting with another negro over a woman. That he was subjected to an
attack without warning or cause would never become a factor in the
analysis. He knew that very well.

Two of Peter's teeth were loose; his left jaw was swelling; his head
throbbed. With that queer perversity of human nerves, he kept biting his
sore teeth together as he walked along.

When he reached home, his mother met him at the door. Thanks to the
swiftness with which gossip spreads among black folk, she had already
heard of the fight, and incidentally had formed her judgment of the
matter. Now she looked in exasperation at her son's swelling face.

"I 'cla' 'fo' Gawd!--ain't been home a week befo' he's fightin' over a
nigger wench lak a roustabout!"

Peter's head throbbed so he could hardly make out the details of
Caroline's face.

"But, Mother--" he began defensively, "I--"

"Me sweatin' over de wash-pot," the negress went on, "so's you could go
up North an' learn a lil sense; heah you comes back chasin' a dutty
slut!"

"But, Mother," he begged thickly, "I was simply walking home with Miss
Dildine."

"Miss Dildine! Miss Dildine!" exploded the ponderous woman, with an
erasing gesture. "Ef you means dat stuck-up fly-by-night Cissie Dildine,
say so, and don' stan' thaiuh mouthin', 'Miss Dildine, Miss Dildine'!"

"Mother," asked Peter, thickly, through his swelling mouth, "do you want
to know what did happen?"

"I knows. I tol' you to keep away fum dat hussy. She's a fool 'bout her
bright color an' straight hair. Needn't be givin' herse'f no airs!"

Peter stood in the doorway, steadying himself by the jamb. The world
still swayed from the blows he had received on the head.

"What girl would you be willing for me to go with?" he asked in faint
satire.

"Heah in Niggertown?"

Peter nodded. The movement increased his headache.

"None a-tall. No Niggertown wench a-tall. When you mus' ma'y, I's
'speckin' you to go off summuhs an' pick yo' gal, lak you went off to
pick yo' aidjucation." She swung out a thick arm, and looked at Peter
out of the corner of her eyes, her head tilted to one side, as negresses
do when they become dramatically serious.

Peter left his mother to her stare and went to his own room. This
constant implication among Niggertown inhabitants that Niggertown and
all it held was worthless, mean, unhuman depressed Peter. The mulatto
knew the real trouble with Niggertown was it had adopted the white
village's estimate of it. The sentiment of the white village was
overpowering among the imitative negroes. The black folk looked into the
eyes of the whites and saw themselves reflected as chaff and skum and
slime, and no human being ever suggested that they were aught else.

Peter's room was a rough shed papered with old newspapers. All sorts of
yellow scare-heads streaked his walls. Hanging up was a crayon
enlargement of his mother, her broad face as unwrinkled as an egg and
drawn almost white, for the picture agents have discovered the only way
to please their black patrons is to make their enlargements as nearly
white as possible.

In one corner, on a home-made book-rack, stood Peter's library,--a Greek
book or two, an old calculus, a sociology, a psychology, a philosophy,
and a score of other volumes he had accumulated in his four college
years. As Peter, his head aching, looked at these, he realized how
immeasurably removed he was from the cool abstraction of the study.

The brown man sat down in an ancient rocking-chair by the window, leaned
back, and closed his eyes. His blood still whispered in his ears from
his fight. Notwithstanding his justification, he gradually became filled
with self-loathing. To fight--to hammer and kick in Niggertown's dust--
over a girl! It was an indignity.


Peter shifted his position in his chair, and his thoughts took another
trail. Tump's attack had been sudden and silent, much like a bulldog's.
The possibility of a simple friendship between a woman and a man never
entered Tump's head; it never entered any Niggertown head. Here all
attraction was reduced to the simplest terms of sex. Niggertown held no
delicate intimacies or reserves. Two youths could not go with the same
girl. Black women had no very great powers of choice over their suitors.
The strength of a man's arm isolated his sweetheart. That did not seem
right, resting the power of successful mating entirely upon brawn.

As Peter sat thinking it over, it came to him that the progress of any
race depended, finally, upon the woman having complete power of choosing
her mate. It is woman alone who consistently places the love accent upon
other matters than mere flesh and muscle. Only woman has much sex
selectiveness, or is inclined to select individuals with qualities of
mind and spirit.

For millions of years these instinctive spiritualizers of human breeding
stock have been hampered in their choice of mates by the unrestrained
right of the fighting male. Indeed, the great constructive work of
chivalry in the middle ages was to lay, unconsciously, the corner-stone
of modern civilization by resigning to the woman the power of choosing
from a group of males.

Siner stirred in his chair, surprised at whither his reverie had lead
him. He wondered how he had stumbled upon these thoughts. Had he read
them in a book? In point of fact, a beating administered by Tump Pack
had brought the brown man the first original idea he had entertained in
his life.

By this time, Peter's jaw had reached its maximum swelling and was eased
somewhat. He looked out of his little window, wondering whether Cissie
Dildine would choose him--or Tump Pack.

Peter was surprised to find blue dusk peering through his panes. All the
scare-heads on his walls had lapsed into a common obscurity. As he rose
slowly, so as not to start his head hurting again, he heard three rapid
pistol shots in the cedar glade between Niggertown and the white
village. He knew this to be the time-honored signal of boot-leggers
announcing that illicit whisky was for sale in the blackness of the
glade.



                               CHAPTER IV


Next day the Siner-Pack fight was the focus of news interest in Hooker's
Bend. White mistresses extracted the story from their black maids, and
were amused by it or deprecated Cissie Dildine's morals as the mood
moved them.

Along Main Street in front of the village stores, the merchants and
hangers-on discussed the affair. It was diverting that a graduate of
Harvard should come back to Hooker's Bend and immediately drop into such
a fracas. Old Captain Renfrew, one-time attorney at law and
representative of his county in the state legislature, sat under the
mulberry in front of the livery-stable and plunged into a long
monologue, with old Mr. Tomwit as listener, on the uneducability of the
black race.

"Take a horse, sir," expounded the captain; "a horse can be trained to
add and put its name together out of an alphabet, but no horse could
ever write a promissory note and figure the interest on it, sir. Take a
dog. I've known dogs, sir, that could bring your mail from the post-
office, but I never saw a dog stop on the way home, sir, to read a post-
card."

Here the old ex-attorney spat and renewed the tobacco in a black brier,
then proceeded to draw the parrallel between dogs and horses and Peter
Siner newly returned from Harvard.

"God'lmighty has set his limit on dogs, horses, and niggers, Mr. Tomwit.
Thus far and no farther. Take a nigger baby at birth; a nigger baby has
no fontanelles. It has no window toward heaven. Its skull is sealed up
in darkness. The nigger brain can never expand and absorb the universe,
sir. It can never rise on the wings of genius and weigh the stars, nor
compute the swing of the Pleiades. Thus far and no farther! It's
congenital.

"Now, take this Peter Siner and his disgraceful fight over a nigger
wench. Would you expect an educated stud horse to pay no attention to a
mare, sir? You can educate a stud till--"

"But hold on!" interrupted the old cavalryman. "I've known as
gentlemanly stallions as--as anybody!"

The old attorney cleared his throat, momentarily taken aback at this
failure of his metaphor. However he rallied with legal suppleness:

"You are talking about thoroughbreds, sir."

"I am, sir."

"Good God, Tomwit! you don't imagine I'm comparing a nigger to a
thoroughbred, sir!"

On the street corners, or piled around on cotton-bales down on the wharf,
the negro men of the village discussed the fight. It was for the most
part a purely technical discussion of blows and counters and kicks, and
of the strange fact that a college education failed to enable Siner
utterly to annihilate his adversary. Jim Pink Staggs, a dapper gentleman
of ebony blackness, of pin-stripe flannels and blue serge coat--
altogether a gentleman of many parts--sat on one of the bales and
indolently watched an old black crone fishing from a ledge of rocks just
a little way below the wharf-boat. Around Jim Pink lounged and sprawled
black men and youths, stretching on the cotton-bales like cats in the
sunshine.

Jim Pink was discussing Peter's education.

"I 'fo' Gawd kain't see no use goin' off lak dat an' den comin' back an'
lettin' a white man cheat you out'n yo' hide an' taller, an' lettin' a
black man beat you up tull you has to 'kick him in the spivit. Ef a
aidjucation does you any good a-tall, you'd be boun' to beat de white man
at one en' uv de line, or de black man at de udder. Ef Peter ain't to be
foun' at eider en', wha is he?"

"Um-m-m!" "Eh-h-h!" "You sho spoke a moufful, Jim Pink!" came an
assenting chorus from the bales.

Eventually such gossip died away and took another flurry when a report
went abroad that Tump Pack was carrying a pistol and meant to shoot
Peter on sight. Then this in turn ceased to be news and of human
interest. It clung to Peter's mind longer than to any other person's in
Hooker's Bend, and it presented to the brown man a certain problem in
casuistry.

Should he accede to Tump Pack's possession of Cissie Dildine and give up
seeing the girl? Such a course cut across all his fine-spun theory about
women having free choice of their mates. However, the Harvard man could
not advocate a socialization of courtship when he himself would be the
first beneficiary. The prophet whose finger points selfward is damned.
Furthermore, all Niggertown would side with Tump Pack in such a
controversy. It was no uncommon thing for the very negro women to fight
over their beaux and husbands. As for any social theory changing this
régime, in the first place the negroes couldn't understand the theory;
in the second, it would have no effect if they could. Actions never grow
out of theories; theories grow out of actions. A theory is a looking-
glass that reflects the past and makes it look like the future, but the
glass really hides the future, and when humanity comes to a turn in its
course, there is always a smash-up, and a blind groping for the lost
path.

Now, in regard to Cissie Dildine, Peter was not precisely afraid of Tump
Pack, but he could not clear his mind of the fact that Tump had been
presented with a medal by the Congress of the United States for killing
four men. Good sense and a care for his reputation and his skin told
Peter to abandon his theory of free courtship for the time being. This
meant a renunciation of Cissie Dildine; but he told himself he renounced
very little. He had no reason to think that Cissie cared a picayune
about him.

Peter's work kept him indoors for a number of days following the
encounter. He was reviewing some primary school work in order to pass a
teacher's examination that would be held in Jonesboro, the county seat,
in about three weeks.

To the uninitiated it may seem strange to behold a Harvard graduate
stuck down day after day poring over a pile of dog-eared school-books--
third arithmetics, primary grammars, beginners' histories of Tennessee,
of the United States, of England; physiology, hygiene. It may seem
queer. But when it comes to standing a Wayne County teacher's
examination, the specific answers to the specific questions on a dozen
old examination slips are worth all the degrees Harvard ever did confer.

So, in his newspapered study, Peter Siner looked up long lists of
questions, and attempted to memorize the answers. But the series of
missteps he had made since returning to Hooker's Bend besieged his brain
and drew his thoughts from his catechism. It seemed strange that in so
short a time he should have wandered so far from the course he had set
for himself. His career in Niggertown formed a record of slight
mistakes, but they were not to be undone, and their combined force had
swung him a long way from the course he had plotted for himself. There
was no way to explain. Hooker's Bend would judge him by the sheer
surface of his works. What he had meant to do, his dreams and altruisms,
they would never surmise. That was the irony of the thing.

Then he thought of Cissie Dildine who did understand him. This thought
might have been Cissie's cue to enter the stage of Peter's mind. Her
oval, creamy face floated between Peter's eyes and the dog-eared primer.
He thought of Cissie wistfully, and of her lonely fight for good
English, good manners, and good taste. There was a pathos about Cissie.

Peter got up from his chair and looked out at his high window into the
early afternoon. He had been poring over primers for three days,
stuffing the most heterogeneous facts. His head felt thick and slightly
feverish. Through his window he saw the side of another negro cabin, but
by looking at an angle eastward he could see a field yellow with corn, a
valley, and, beyond, a hill wooded and glowing with the pageantry of
autumn. He thought of Cissie Dildine again, of walking with her among
the burning maples and the golden elms. He thought of the restfulness
such a walk with Cissie would bring.

As he mused, Peter's soul made one of those sharp liberating movements
that occasionally visit a human being. The danger of Tump Pack's
jealousy, the loss of his prestige, the necessity of learning the
specific answers to the examination questions, all dropped away from him
as trivial and inconsequent. He turned from the window, put away his
books and question-slips, picked up his hat, and moved out briskly
through his mother's room toward the door.

The old woman in the kitchen must have heard him, for she called to him
through the partition, and a moment later her bulky form filled the
kitchen entrance. She wiped her hands on her apron and looked at him
accusingly.

"Wha you gwine, son?"

"For a walk."

The old negress tilted her head aslant and looked fixedly at him.

"You's gwine to dat Cissie Dildine's, Peter."

Peter looked at his mother, surprised and rather disconcerted that she
had guessed his intentions from his mere footsteps. The young man
changed his plans for his walk, and began a diplomatic denial:

"No, I'm going to walk by myself. I'm tired; I'm played out."

"Tired?" repeated his mother, doubtfully. "You ain't done nothin' but
set an' turn th'ugh books an' write on a lil piece o' paper."

Peter was vaguely amused in his weariness, but thought that he concealed
his mirth from his mother.

"That gets tiresome after a while."

She grunted her skepticism. As Peter moved for the door she warned him:

"Peter, you knows ef Tump Pack sees you, he's gwine to shoot you sho!"

"Oh, no he won't; that's Tump's talk."

"Talk! talk! Whut's matter wid you, Peter? Dat nigger done git crowned
fuh killin' fo' men!" She stood staring at him with white eyes. Then she
urged, "Now, look heah, Peter, come along an' eat yo' supper."

"No, I really need a walk. I won't walk through Niggertown. I'll walk
out in the woods."

"I jes made some salmon coquettes fuh you whut'll spile ef you don' eat
'em now."

"I didn't know you were making croquettes," said Peter, with polite
interest.

"Well, I is. I gotta can o' salmon fum Miss Mollie Brownell she'd opened
an' couldn't quite use. I doctered 'em up wid a lil vinegar an' sody,
an' dey is 'bout as pink as dey ever wuz."

A certain uneasiness and annoyance came over Peter at this persistent
use of unwholesome foods.

"Look here, Mother, you're not using old canned goods that have been
left over?"

The old negress stood looking at him in silence, but lost her coaxing
expression.

"I've told and told you about using any tainted or impure foods that the
white people can't eat."

"Well, whut ef you is?"

"If it's too bad for them, it's too bad for you!"

Caroline made a careless gesture.

"Good Lawd, boy! I don' 'speck to eat whut's good fuh me! All I says is,
'Grub, keep me alive. Ef you do dat, you done a good day's wuck.'"

Peter was disgusted and shocked at his mother's flippancy. Modern
colleges are atheistic, but they do exalt three gods,--food,
cleanliness, and exercise. Now here was Peter's mother blaspheming one
of his trinity.

"I wish you 'd let me know when you want anything Mother. I'll get it
fresh for you." His words were filial enough, but his tone carried his
irritation.

The old negress turned back to the kitchen.

"Huh, boy! you been fotch up on lef'-overs," she said, and disappeared
through the door.

Peter walked to the gate, let himself out, and started off on his
constitutional. His tiff with his mother renewed all his nervousness and
sense of failure. His litany of mistakes renewed their dolor in his
mind.

An autumn wind was blowing, and long plumes of dust whisked up out of
the curving street and swept over the ill-kept yards, past the cabins,
and toward the sere fields and chromatic woods. The wind beat at the
brown man; the dust whispered against his clothes, made him squint his
eyes to a crack and tickled his nostrils at each breath.

When Peter had gone two or three hundred yards, he became aware that
somebody was walking immediately behind him. Tump Pack popped into his
mind. He looked over his shoulder and then turned. Through the veils of
flying dust he made out some one, and a moment later identified not Tump
Pack, but the gangling form of Jim Pink Staggs, clad in a dark-blue
sack-coat and white flannel trousers with pin stripes. It was the sort
of costume affected by interlocutors of minstrel shows; it had a
minstrel trigness about it.

As a matter of fact, Jim Pink was a sort of semi-professional minstrel.
Ordinarily, he ran a pressing-shop in the Niggertown crescent, but
occasionally he impressed all the dramatic talent of Niggertown and
really did take the road with a minstrel company. These barn-storming
expeditions reached down into Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
Sometimes they proved a great success, and the darkies rode back several
hundred dollars ahead. Sometimes they tramped back.

Jim Pink hailed Peter with a wave of his hand and a grotesque
displacement of his mouth to one side of his face, which he had found
effective in his minstrel buffoonery.

"Whut you raisin' so much dus' about?" he called out of the corner of
his mouth, while looking at Peter out of one half-closed eye.

Peter shook his head and smiled.

"Thought it mout be Mister Hooker deliverin' dat lan' you bought." Jim
Pink flung his long, flexible face into an imitation of convulsed
laughter, then next moment dropped it into an intense gravity and
declared, "'Dus' thou art, to dus' returnest.'" The quotation seemed
fruitless and silly enough, but Jim Pink tucked his head to one side as
if listening intently to himself, then repeated sepulchrally, "'Dus'
thou art, to dus' returnest.' By the way, Peter," he broke off cheerily,
"you ain't happen to see Tump Pack, is you?"

"No," said Peter, unamused.

"Is he borrowed a gun fum you?" inquired the minstrel, solemnly.

"No-o." Peter looked questioningly at the clown through half-closed
eyes.

"Huh, now dat's funny." Jim Pink frowned, and pulled down his loose
mouth and seemed to study. He drew out a pearl-handled knife, closed his
hand over it, blew on his fist, then opened the other hand, and
exhibited the knife lying in its palm, with the blade open. He seemed
surprised at the change and began cleaning his finger-nails. Jim Pink
was the magician at his shows.

Peter waited patiently for Jim Pink to impart his information, "Well,
what's the idea?" he asked at last.

"Don' know. 'Pears lak dat knife won't stay in any one han'." He looked
at it, curiously.

"I mean about Tump," said Peter, impatiently.

"O-o-oh, yeah; you mean 'bout Tump. Well, I thought Tump mus' uv
borrowed a gun fum you. He lef' Hobbett's corner wid a great big forty-
fo', inquirin' wha you is." Just then he glanced up, looked
penetratingly through the dust-cloud, and added, "Why, I b'lieve da' 's
Tump now."

With a certain tightening of the nerves, Peter followed his glance, but
made out nothing through the fogging dust. When he looked around at Jim
Pink again, the buffoon's face was a caricature of immense mirth. He
shook it sober, abruptly, minstrel fashion.

"Maybe I's mistooken," he said solemnly. "Tump did start over heah wid a
gun, but Mister Dawson Bobbs done tuk him up fuh ca'yin' concealed
squidjulums; so Tump's done los' dat freedom uv motion in de pu'suit uv
happiness gua'anteed us niggers an' white folks by the Constitution uv
de Newnighted States uv America." Here Jim Pink broke into genuine
laughter, which was quite a different thing from his stage grimaces.
Peter stared at the fool astonished.

"Has he gone to jail?"

"Not prezactly."

"Well--confound it!--exactly what did happen, Jim Pink?"

"He gone to Mr. Cicero Throgmartins'."

"What did he go there for?"

"Couldn't he'p hisse'f."

"Look here, you tell me what's happened."

"Mr. Bobbs ca'ied Tump thaiuh. Y' see, Mr. Throgmartin tried to hire
Tump to pick cotton. Tump didn't haf to, because he'd jes shot fo'
natchels in a crap game. So to-day, when Tump starts over heah wid his
gun, Mr. Bobbs 'resses Tump. Mr. Throgmartin bails him out, so now
Tump's gone to pick cotton fuh Mr. Throgmartin to pay off'n his fine."
Here Jim Pink yelped into honest laughter at Tump's undoing so that dust
got into his nose and mouth and set him sneezing and coughing.

"How long's he up for?" asked Peter, astonished and immensely relieved
at this outcome of Tump's expedition against himself.

Jim Pink controlled his coughing long enough to gasp:

"Th-thutty days, ef he don' run off," and fell to laughing again.

Peter Siner, long before, had adopted the literate man's notion of what
is humorous, and Tump's mishap was slap-stick to him. Nevertheless, he
did smile. The incident filled him with extraordinary relief and
buoyancy. At the next corner he made some excuse to Jim Pink, and turned
off up an alley.

                    *       *       *       *       *

Peter walked along with his shoulders squared and the dust peppering his
back. Not till Tump was lifted from his mind did he realize what an
incubus the soldier had been. Peter had been forced into a position
where, if he had killed Tump, he would have been ruined; if he had not,
he would probably have murdered. Now he was free--for thirty days.

He swung along briskly in the warm sunshine toward the multicolored
forest. The day had suddenly become glorious. Presently he found himself
in the back alleys near Cissie's house. He was passing chicken-houses
and stables. Hogs in open pens grunted expectantly at his footsteps.

Peter had not meant to go to Cissie's at all, but now, when he saw he
was right behind her dwelling, she seemed radiantly accessible to him.
Still, it struck him that it would not be precisely the thing to call on
Cissie immediately after Tump's arrest. It might look as if--Then the
thought came that, as a neighbor, he should stop and tell Cissie of
Tump's misfortune. He really ought to offer his services to Cissie, if
he could do anything. At Cissie's request he might even aid Tump Pack
himself. Peter got himself into a generous glow as he charged up a side
alley, around to a rickety front gate. Let Niggertown criticize as it
would, he was braced by a high altruism.

Peter did not shout from the gate, as is the fashion of the crescent,
but walked up a little graveled path lined with dusty box-shrubs and
tapped at the unpainted door.

Doors in Niggertown never open straight away to visitors. A covert
inspection first takes place from the edges of the window-blinds.

Peter stood in the whipping dust, and the caution of the inmates spurred
his impatience to see Cissie. At last the door opened, and Cissie
herself was in the entrance. She stood quite still a moment, looking at
Peter with eyes that appeared frightened.

"I--I wasn't expecting to see you," she stammered.

"No? I came by with news, Cissie."

"News?" She seemed more frightened than ever. "Peter, you--you haven't--
" She paused, regarding him with big eyes.

"Tump Pack's been arrested," explained Peter, quickly, sensing the
tragedy in her thoughts. "I came by to tell you. If there's anything I
can do for you--or him, I'll do it."

His altruistic offer sounded rather foolish in the actual saying.

He could not tell from her face whether she was glad or sorry.

"What did they arrest him for?"

"Carrying a pistol."

She paused a moment.

"Will he--get out soon?"

"He's sentenced for thirty days."

Cissie dropped her hands with a hopeless gesture.

"Oh, isn't this all sickening!--sickening!" she exclaimed. She looked
tired. Ghosts of sleepless nights circled her eyes. Suddenly she said,
"Come in. Oh, do come in, Peter." She reached out and almost pulled him
in. She was so urgent that Peter might have fancied Tump Pack at the
gate with his automatic. He did glance around, but saw nobody passing
except the Arkwright boy. The hobbledehoy walked down the other side of
the street, hands thrust in pockets, with the usual discontented
expression on his face.

Cissie slammed the door shut, and the two stood rather at a loss in the
sudden gloom of the hall. Cissie broke into a brief, mirthless laugh.

"Peter, it's hard to be nice in Niggertown. I--I just happened to think
how folks would gossip--you coming here as soon as Tump was arrested."

"Perhaps I'd better go," suggested Peter, uncomfortably.

Cissie reached up and caught his lapel.

"Oh, no, don't feel that way! I'm glad you came, really. Here, let's go
through this way to the arbor. It isn't a bad place to sit."

She led the way silently through two dark rooms. Before she opened the
back door, Peter could hear Cissie's mother and a younger sister moving
around the outside of the house to give up the arbor to Cissie and her
company.

The arbor proved a trellis of honeysuckle over the back door, with a
bench under it. A film of dust lay over the dense foliage, and a few
withered blooms pricked its grayish green. The earthen floor of the
arbor was beaten hard and bare by the naked feet of children.

Cissie sat down on the bench and indicated a place beside her.

"I've been so uneasy about you! I've been wondering what on earth you
could do about it."

"It's a snarl, all right," he said, and almost immediately began
discussing the peculiar _impasse_ in which his difficulty with Tump
had landed him. Cissie sat listening with a serious, almost tragic face,
giving a little nod now and then. Once she remarked in her precise way:

"The trouble with a gentleman fighting a rowdy, the gentleman has all to
lose and nothing to gain. If you don't live among your own class, Peter,
your life will simmer down to an endless diplomacy."

"You mean deceit, I suppose."

"No, I mean diplomacy. But that isn't a very healthy frame of mind,--
always to be suppressing and guarding yourself."

Peter didn't know about that. He was inclined to argue the matter, but
Cissie wouldn't argue. She seemed to assume that all of her statements
were axioms, truths reduced to the simplest possible mental terms, and
that proof was unnecessary, if not impossible. So the topic went into
the discard.

"Been baking my brains over a lot of silly little exam questions,"
complained Peter. "Can you trace the circulation of the blood? I think
it leaves the grand central station through the right aorta, and then,
after a schedule run of nine minutes, you can hear it coming up the
track through the left ventricle, with all the passengers eager to get
off and take some refreshment at the lungs. I have the general idea, but
the exact routing gets me."

Cissie laughed accommodatingly.

"I wonder why it's necessary for everybody to know that once. I did. I
could follow the circulation the right way or backward."

"Must have been harder backward, going against the current."

Cissie laughed again. A girl's part in a witty conversation might seem
easy at first sight. She has only to laugh at the proper intervals.
However, these intervals are not always distinctly marked. Some girls
take no chances and laugh all the time.

Cissie's appreciation was the sedative Peter needed. The relief of her
laughter and her presence ran along his nerves and unkinked them, like a
draft of Kentucky Special after a debauch. The curves of her cheek, the
tilt of her head, and the lift of her dull-blue blouse at the bosom wove
a great restfulness about Peter. The brooch of old gold glinted at her
throat. The heavy screen of the arbor gave them a sweet sense of
privacy. The conversation meandered this way and that, and became quite
secondary to the feeling of the girl's nearness and sympathy. Their talk
drifted back to Peter's mission here in Hooker's Bend, and Cissie was
saying:

"The trouble is, Peter, we are out of our _milieu_." Some portion
of Peter's brain that was not basking in the warmth and invitation of
the girl answered quite logically:

"Yes, but if I could help these people, Cissie, reconstruct our life
here culturally--"

Cissie shook her head. "Not culturally."

This opposition shunted more of Peter's thought to the topic in hand. He
paused interrogatively.

"Racially," said Cissie.

"Racially?" repeated the man, quite lost.

Cissie nodded, looking straight into his eyes. "You know very well,
Peter, that you and I are not--are not anything near full bloods. You
know that racially we don't belong in--Niggertown."

Peter never knew exactly how this extraordinary sentence had come about,
but in a kind of breath he realized that he and this almost white girl
were not of Niggertown. No doubt she had been arguing that he, Peter,
who was one sort of man, was trying to lead quite another sort of men
moved by different racial impulses, and such leading could only come to
confusion. He saw the implications at once.

It was an extraordinary idea, an explosive idea, such as Cissie seemed
to have the faculty of touching off. He sat staring at her.

It was the white blood in his own veins that had sent him struggling up
North, that had brought him back with this flame in his heart for his
own people. It was the white blood in Cissie that kept her struggling to
stand up, to speak an unbroken tongue, to gather around her the delicate
atmosphere and charm of a gentlewoman. It was the Caucasian in them
buried here in Niggertown. It was their part of the tragedy of millions
of mixed blood in the South. Their common problem, a feeling of their
joint isolation, brought Peter to a sense of keen and tingling nearness
to the girl.

She was talking again, very earnestly, almost tremulously:

"Why don't you go North, Peter? I think and think about you staying
here. You simply can't grow up and develop here. And now, especially,
when everybody doubts you. If you'd go North--"

"What about you, Cissie? You say we're together--"

"Oh, I'm a woman. We haven't the chance to do as we will."

A kind of titillation went over Peter's scalp and body.

"Then you are going to stay here and marry--Tump?" He uttered the name
in a queer voice.

Tears started in Cissie's eyes; her bosom lifted to her quick breathing.


"I--I don't know what I'm going to do," she stammered miserably.

Peter leaned over her with a drumming heart; he heard her catch her
breath.

"You don't care for Tump?" he asked with a dry mouth.

She gasped out something, and the next moment Peter felt her body sink
limply in his groping arms. They clung together closely, quiveringly.
Three nights of vigil, each thinking miserably and wistfully of the
other, had worn the nerves of both man and girl until they were ready to
melt together at a touch. Her soft body clinging to his own, the little
nervous pressures of her arms, her eased breathing at his neck, wiped
away Siner's long sense of strain. Strength and peace seemed to pour
from her being into his by a sort of spiritual osmosis. She resigned her
head to his palm in order that he might lift her lips to his when he
pleased. After all, there is no way for a man to rest without a woman.
All he can do is to stop work.

For a long time they sat transported amid the dusty honeysuckles and
withered blooms, but after a while they began talking a little at a time
of the future, their future. They felt so indissolubly joined that they
could not imagine the future finding them apart. There was no need for
any more trouble with Tump Pack. They would marry quietly, and go away
North to live. Peter thought of his friend Farquhar. He wondered if
Farquhar's attitude would be just the same toward Cissie as it was
toward him.

"North," was the burden of the octoroon's dreams. They would go North to
Chicago. There were two hundred and fifty thousand negroes in Chicago, a
city within itself three times the size of Nashville. Up North she and
Peter could go to theaters, art galleries, could enter any church, could
ride in street-cars, railroad-trains, could sleep and eat at any hotel,
live authentic lives.

It was Cissie planning her emancipation, planning to escape her lifelong
disabilities.

"Oh, I'll be so glad! so glad! so glad!" she sobbed, and drew Peter's
head passionately down to her deep bosom.



                               CHAPTER V


Peter Siner walked home from the Dildine cabin that night rather
dreading to meet his mother, for it was late. Cissie had served
sandwiches and coffee on a little table in the arbor, and then had kept
Peter hours afterward. Around him still hung the glamour of Cissie's
little supper. He could still see her rounded elbows that bent softly
backward when she extended an arm, and the glimpses of her bosom when
she leaned to hand him cream or sugar. She had accomplished the whole
supper in the white manner, with all poise and daintiness. In fact, no
one is more exquisitely polite than an octoroon woman when she desires
to be polite, when she elevates the subserviency of her race into
graciousness.

However, the pleasure and charm of Cissie were fading under the
approaching abuse that Caroline was sure to pour upon the girl. Peter
dreaded it. He walked slowly down the dark semicircle, planning how he
could best break to his mother the news of his engagement. Peter knew
she would begin a long bill of complaints,--how badly she was treated,
how she had sacrificed herself, her comfort, how she had washed and
scrubbed. She would surely charge Cissie with being a thief and a drab,
and all the announcements of engagements that Peter could make would
never induce the old woman to soften her abuse. Indeed, they would make
her worse.

So Peter walked on slowly, smelling the haze of dust that hung in the
blackness. Out on the Big Hill, in the glade, Peter caught an occasional
glimmer of light where crap-shooters and boot-leggers were beginning
their nightly carousal.

These evidences of illicit trades brought Peter a thrill of disgust. In
a sort of clear moment he saw that he could not keep Cissie in such a
sty as this. He could not rear in such a place as this any children that
might come to him and Cissie. His thoughts drifted back to his mother,
and his dread of her tongue.

The Siner cabin was dark and tightly shut when Peter let himself in at
the gate and walked to the door. He stood a moment listening, and then
gently pressed open the shutter. A faint light burned on the inside, a
night-lamp with an old-fashioned brass bowl. It sat on the floor, turned
low, at the foot of his mother's bed. The mean room was mainly in
shadow. The old-style four-poster in which Caroline slept was an
indistinct mound. The air was close and foul with the bad ventilation of
all negro sleeping-rooms. The brass lamp, turned low, added smoke and
gas to the tight quarters.

The odor caught Peter in the nose and throat, and once more stirred up
his impatience with his mother's disregard of hygiene. He tiptoed into
the room and decided to remove the lamp and open the high, small window
to admit a little air. He moved noiselessly and had stooped for the lamp
when there came a creaking and a heavy sigh from the bed, and the old
negress asked:

"Is dat you, son?"

Peter was tempted to stand perfectly still and wait till his mother
dozed again, thus putting off her inevitable tirade against Cissie; but
he answered in a low tone that it was he.

"Whut you gwine do wid dat lamp, son?"

"Go to bed by it, Mother."

"Well, bring hit back." She breathed heavily, and moved restlessly in
the old four-poster. As Peter stood up he saw that the patched quilts
were all askew over her shapeless bulk. Evidently, she had not been
resting well.

Peter's conscience smote him again for worrying his mother with his
courtship of Cissie, yet what could he do? If he had wooed any other
girl in the world, she would have been equally jealous and grieved. It
was inevitable that she should be disappointed and bitter; it was bound
up in the very part and parcel of her sacrifice. A great sadness came
over Peter. He almost wished his mother would berate him, but she
continued to lie there, breathing heavily under her disarranged covers.
As Peter passed into his room, the old negress called after him to
remind him to bring the light back when he was through with it.

This time something in her tone alarmed Peter.  He paused in the
doorway.

"Are you sick, Mother?" he asked.

The old woman gave a yawn that changed to a groan.

"I--I ain't feelin' so good."

"What's the matter, Mother?"

"My stomach, my--" But at that moment her sentence changed to an
inarticulate sound, and she doubled up in bed as if caught in a spasm of
acute agony.

Peter hurried to her, thoroughly frightened, and saw sweat streaming
down her face. He stared down at her.

"Mother, you are sick! What can I do?" he cried, with a man's
helplessness.

She opened her eyes with an effort, panting now as the edge of the agony
passed. There was a movement under the quilts, and she thrust out a
rubber hot-water bottle.

"Fill it--fum de kittle," she wheezed out, then relaxed into groans, and
wiped clumsily at the sweat on her shining black face.

Peter seized the bottle and ran into the kitchen. There he found a brisk
fire popping in the stove and a kettle of water boiling. It showed him,
to his further alarm, that his mother had been trying to minister to
herself until forced to bed.

The man scalded a finger and thumb pouring water into the flared mouth,
but after a moment twisted on the top and hurried into the sick-room.

He reached the old negress just as another knife of pain set her
writhing and sweating. She seized the hot-water bottle, pushed it under
the quilts, and pressed it to her stomach, then lay with eyes and teeth
clenched tight, and her thick lips curled in a grin of agony.

Peter set the lamp on the table, said he was going for the doctor, and
started.

The old woman hunched up in bed. With the penuriousness of her station
and sacrifices, she begged Peter not to go; then groaned out, "Go tell
Mars' Renfrew," but the next moment did not want Peter to leave her.

Peter said he would get Nan Berry to stay while he was gone. The Berry
cabin lay diagonally across the street. Peter ran over, thumped on the
door, and shouted his mother's needs. As soon as he received an answer,
he started on over the Big Hill toward the white town.

Peter was seriously frightened. His run to Dr. Jallup's, across the Big
Hill, was a series of renewed strivings for speed. Every segment of his
journey seemed to seize him and pin him down in the midst of the night
like a bug caught in a black jelly. He seemed to progress not at all.

Now he was in the cedar glade. His muffled flight drove in the sentries
of the crap-shooters, and gamesters blinked out their lights and
listened to his feet stumbling on through the darkness.

After an endless run in the glade, Peter found himself on top of the
hill, amid boulders and outcrops limestone and cedar-shrubs. His flash-
light picked out these objects, limned them sharply against the
blackness, then dropped them into obscurity again.

He tried to run faster. His impatience subdivided the distance into
yards and feet. Now he was approaching that boulder, now he was passing
it; now he was ten feet beyond, twenty, thirty. Perhaps his mother was
dying, alone save for stupid Nan Berry.

Now he was going down the hill past the white church. All that was
visible was its black spire set against a web of stars. He was making no
speed at all. He panted on. His heart hammered. His legs drummed with
Lilliputian paces. Now he was among the village stores, all utterly
black. At one point the echo of his feet chattered back at him, as if
some other futile runner strained amid vast spaces of blackness.

After a long time he found himself running up a residential street, and
presently, far ahead, he saw the glow of Dr. Jallup's porch light. Its
beam had the appearance of coming from a vast distance. When he reached
the place, he flung his breast against the top panel of the doctor's
fence and held on, exhausted. He drew in his breath, and began shouting,
"Hello, Doctor!"

Peter called persistently, and as he commanded more breath, he called
louder and louder, "Hello, Doctor! Hello, Doctor! Hello, Doctor!" in
tones edging on panic.

The doctor's house might have been dead. Somewhere a dog began barking.
High in the Southern sky a star looked down remotely on Peter's frantic
haste. The black man stood in the black night with cries: "Hello,
Doctor! Hello, Doctor! Hello, Doctor!"

At last, in despair, he tried to think of other doctors. He thought of
telephoning to Jonesboro. Just as he decided he must turn away there
came a stirring in the dead house, a flicker of light appeared on the
inside now here, now there; it steadied into a tiny beam and approached
the door. The door opened, and Dr. Jallup's head and breast appeared,
illuminated against the black interior.

"My mother's sick, Doctor," began Peter, in immense relief.

"Who is it?" inquired the half-clad man, impassively.

"Caroline Siner; she's been taken with a--"

The physician lifted his light a trifle in an effort to see Peter.

"Lemme see: she's that fat nigger woman that lives in a three-roomed
house--"

"I'll show you the way," said Peter. "She's very ill."

The half-dressed man shook his head.

"No, Ca'line Siner owes me a five-dollar doctor's bill already. Our
county medical association made a rule that no niggers should--"

With a drying mouth, Peter Siner stared at the man of medicine.

"But, my God, Doctor," gasped the son, "I'll pay you--"

"Have you got the money there in your pocket?" asked Jallup,
impassively.

A sort of chill traveled deliberately over Peter's body and shook his
voice.

"N-no, but I can get it--"

"Yes, you can all get it," stated the physician in dull irritation. "I'm
tired of you niggers running up doctors' bills nobody can collect. You
never have more than the law allows; your wages never get big enough to
garnishee." His voice grew querulous as he related his wrongs. "No, I'm
not going to see Ca'line Siner. If she wants me to visit her, let her
send ten dollars to cover that and back debts, and I'll--" The end of
his sentence was lost in the closing of his door. The light he carried
declined from a beam to a twinkling here and there, and then vanished in
blackness. Dr. Jallup's house became dead again. The little porch light
in its glass box might have been a candle burning before a tomb.

Peter Siner stood at the fence, licking his dry lips, with nerves
vibrating like a struck bell. He pushed himself slowly away from the top
plank and found his legs so weak that he could hardly walk. He moved
slowly, back down the unseen street. The dog he had disturbed gave a few
last growls and settled into silence.

Peter moved along, wetting his dry lips, and stirring feebly among his
dazed thoughts, hunting some other plan of action. There was a tiny
burning spot on the left side of his occiput. It felt like a heated
cambric needle which had been slipped into his scalp. Then he realized
that he must go home, get ten dollars, and bring them back to Dr.
Jallup. He started to run, but almost toppled over on his leaden legs.

He plodded through the darkness, retracing the endless trail to
Niggertown. As he passed a dark mass of shrubbery and trees, he recalled
his mother's advice to ask aid of Captain Renfrew. It was the old
Renfrew place that Peter was passing.

The negro hesitated, then turned in at the gate in the bare hope of
obtaining the ten dollars at once. Inside the gate Peter's feet
encountered the scattered bricks of an old walk. The negro stood and
called Captain Renfrew's name in a guarded voice. He was not at all sure
of his action.

Peter had called twice and was just about to go when a lamp appeared
around the side of the house on a long portico that extended clear
around the building. Bathed in the light of the lamp which he held over
his head, there appeared an old man wearing a worn dressing gown.

"Who is it?" he asked in a wavery voice.

Peter told his name and mission.

The old Captain continued holding up his light.

"Oh, Peter Siner; Caroline Siner's sick? All right I'll have Jallup run
over; I'll phone him."

Peter was beginning his thanks preparatory to going, when the old man
interrupted.

"No, just stay here until Jallup comes by in his or He'll pick us both
up. It'll save time. Come on inside. What's the matter with old
Caroline?"

The old dressing-gown led the way around the continuous piazza, to a
room that stood open and brightly lighted on the north face of the old
house.

A great relief came to Peter at this unexpected succor. He followed
around the piazza, trying to describe Caroline's symptoms. The room
Peter entered was a library, a rather stately old room, lined with books
all around the walls to about as high as a man could reach. Spaces for
doors and windows were let in among the book-cases. The volumes
themselves seemed composed mainly of histories and old-fashioned
scientific books, if Peter could judge from a certain severity of their
bindings. On a big library table burned a gasolene-lamp, which threw a
brilliant whiteness all over the room. The table was piled with books
and periodicals. Books and papers were heaped on every chair in the
study except a deep Morris chair in which the old Captain had been
sitting. A big meridional globe, about two and a half feet in diameter,
gleamed through a film of dust in the embrasure of a window. The whole
room had the womanless look of a bachelor's quarters, and was flavored
with tobacco and just a hint of whisky.

Old Captain Renfrew evidently had been reading when Peter called from
the gate. Now the old man went to a telephone and rang long and briskly
to awaken the boy who slept in the central office. Peter fidgeted as the
old Captain stood with receiver to ear.

"Hard to wake." The old gentleman spoke into the transmitter, but was
talking to Peter. "Don't be so uneasy, Peter. Human beings are harder to
kill than you think."

There was a kindliness, even a fellowship, in Captain Renfrew's tones
that spread like oil over Peter's raw nerves. It occurred to the negro
that this was the first time he had been addressed as an authentic human
being since his conversation with the two Northern men on the Pullman,
up in Illinois. It surprised him. It was sufficient to take his mind
momentarily from his mother. He looked a little closely at the old man
at the telephone. The Captain wore few indices of kindness. Lines of
settled sarcasm netted his eyes and drooped away from his old mouth. The
very swell of his full temples and their crinkly veins marked a sardonic
old man.

At last he roused central over the wire, and impressed upon him the
necessity of creating a stridor in Dr. Jallup's dead house, and a moment
later a continued buzzing in the receiver betokened the operator's
efforts to do so.

The old gentleman turned around at last, holding the receiver a little
distance from his ear.

"I understand you went to Harvard, Peter."

"Yes, sir." Peter took his eyes momentarily from the telephone. The old
Southerner in the dressing-gown scrutinized the brown man. He cleared
his throat.

"You know, Peter, it gives me a--a certain satisfaction to see a Harvard
man in Hooker's Bend. I'm a Harvard man myself."

Peter stood in the brilliant light, astonished, not at Captain Renfrew's
being a Harvard man,--he had known that,--but that this old gentleman
was telling the fact to him, Peter Siner, a negro graduate of Harvard.

It was extraordinary; it was tantamount to an offer of friendship, not
patronage. Such an offer in the South disturbed Peter's poise; it
touched him queerly. And it seemed to explain why Captain Renfrew had
received Peter so graciously and was now arranging for Dr. Jallup to
visit Caroline.

Peter was moved to the conventional query, asking in what class the
Captain had been graduated. But while his very voice was asking it,
Peter thought what a strange thing it was that he, Peter Siner, a negro,
and this lonely old gentleman, his benefactor, were spiritual brothers,
both sprung from the loins of Harvard, that ancient mother of souls.

[Illustration: The old gentleman turned around at last]

From the darkness outside, Dr. Jallup's horn summmoned the two men.
Captain Renfrew got out of his gown and into his coat and turned off his
gasolene light. They walked around the piazza to the front of the house.
In the street the head-lights of the roadster shot divergent rays
through the darkness. They went out. The old Captain took a seat in the
car beside the physician, while Peter stood on the running-board. A
moment later, the clutch snarled, and the machine puttered down the
street. Peter clung to the standards of the auto top, peering ahead.

The men remained almost silent. Once Dr. Jallup, watching the dust that
lay modeled in sharp lights and shadows under the head-lights, mentioned
lack of rain. Their route did not lead over the Big Hill. They turned
north at Hobbett's corner, drove around by River Street, and presently
entered the northern end of the semicircle.

The speed of the car was reduced to a crawl in the bottomless dust of
the crescent. The head-lights swept slowly around the cabins on the
concave side of the street, bringing them one by one into stark
brilliance and dropping them into obscurity. The smell of refuse, of
uncleaned stables and sties and outhouses hung in the darkness. Peter
bent down under the top of the motor and pointed out his place. A minute
later the machine came to a noisy halt and was choked into silence. At
that moment, in the sweep of the head-light, Peter saw Viny Berry, one
of Nan's younger sisters, coming up from Niggertown's public well,
carrying two buckets of water.

Viny was hurrying, plashing the water over the sides of her buckets. The
importance of her mission was written in her black face.

"She's awful thirsty," she called to Peter in guarded tones. "Nan called
me to fetch some fraish water fum de well."

Peter took the water that had been brought from the semi-cesspool at the
end of the street. Viny hurried across the street to home and to bed.
With the habitual twinge of his sanitary conscience, Peter considered
the water in the buckets.

"We'll have to boil this," he said to the doctor.

"Boil it?" repeated Jallup, blankly. Then, he added: "Oh, yes--boil.
Certainly."

                    *       *       *       *       *

A repellent odor of burned paper, breathed air, and smoky lights filled
the close room. Nan had lighted another lamp and now the place was
discernible in a dull yellow glow. In the corner lay a half-burned wisp
of paper. Nan herself stood by the mound on the bed, putting straight
the quilts that her patient had twisted awry.

"She sho am bad, Doctor," said the colored woman, with big eyes.

Seen in the light, Dr. Jallup was a little sandy-bearded man with a
round, simple face, oddly overlaid with that inscrutability carefully
cultivated by country doctors. With professional cheeriness, he
approached the mound of bedclothes.

"A little under the weather, Aunt Ca'line?" He slipped his fingers
alongside her throat to test her temperature, at the same time drawing a
thermometer from his waistcoat pocket.

The old negress stirred, and looked up out of sick eyes.

"Doctor," she gasped, "I sho got a misery heah." She indicated her
stomach.

"How do you feel?" he asked hopefully.

The woman panted, then whispered:

"Lak a knife was a-cuttin' an' a-tearin' out my innards." She rested,
then added, "Not so bad now; feels mo' lak somp'n's tearin' in de nex'
room."

"Like something tearing in the next room?" repeated Jallup, emptily.

"Yes, suh," she whispered. "I jes can feel hit--away off, lak."

The doctor attempted to take her temperature, but the thermometer in her
mouth immediately nauseated her, so he slipped the instrument under her
arm.

Old Caroline groaned at the slightest exertion, then, as she tossed her
black head, she caught a glimpse of old Captain Renfrew.

She halted abruptly in her restlessness, stared at the old gentleman,
wet her dry lips with a queer brown-furred tongue.

"Is dat you, Mars' Milt?" she gasped in feeble astonishment. A moment
later she guessed the truth. "I s'pose you had to bring de doctor. 'Fo'
Gawd, Mars' Milt--" She lay staring, with the covers rising and falling
as she gasped for breath. Her feverish eyes shifted back and forth
between the grim old gentleman and the tall, broad-shouldered brown man
at the foot of her bed. She drew a baggy black arm from under the cover.

"Da' 's Peter, Mars' Milt," she pointed. "Da' 's Peter, my son. He--he
use' to be my son 'fo' he went off to school; but sence he come home, he
been a-laughin' at me." Tears came to her eyes; she panted for a moment,
then added: "Yeah, he done marked his mammy down fuh a nigger, Mars'
Milt. Whut I thought wuz gwine be sweet lays bitter in my mouf." She
worked her thick lips as if the rank taste of her sickness were the very
flavor of her son's ingratitude.

A sudden gasp and twist of her body told Nan that the old woman was
again seized with a spasm. The neighbor woman took swift control, and
waved out Peter and old Mr. Renfrew, while she and the doctor aided the
huge negress.

The two evicted men went into Peter's room and shut the door. Peter,
unnerved, groped, and presently found and lighted a lamp. He put it down
on his little table among his primary papers and examination papers. He
indicated to Captain Renfrew the single chair in the room.

But the old gentleman stood motionless in the mean room, with its head-
line streaked walls. Sounds of the heavy lifting of Peter's mother came
through the thin door and partition with painful clearness. Peter opened
his own small window, for the air in his room was foul.

Captain Renfrew stood in silence, with a remote sarcasm in his wrinkled
eyes. What was in his heart, why he had subjected himself to the
noisomeness of failing flesh, Peter had not the faintest idea. Once, out
of studently habit, he glanced at Peter's philosophic books, but
apparently he read the titles without really observing them. Once he
looked at Peter.

"Peter," he said colorlessly, "I hope you'll be careful of Caroline's
feelings if she ever gets up again. She has been very faithful to you,
Peter."

Peter's eyes dampened. A great desire mounted in him to explain himself
to this strange old gentleman, to show him how inevitable had been the
breach. For some reason a veritable passion to reveal his heart to this
his sole benefactor surged through the youth.

"Mr. Renfrew," he stammered, "Mr. Renfrew--I--I--" His throat abruptly
ached and choked. He felt his face distort in a spasm of uncontrollable
grief. He turned quickly from this strange old man with a remote sarcasm
in his eyes and a remote affection in his tones. Peter clenched his
jaws, his nostrils spread in his effort stoically to bottle up his grief
and remorse, like a white man; in an effort to keep from howling his
agony aloud, like a negro. He stood with aching throat and blurred eyes,
trembling, swallowing, and silent.

Presently Nan Berry opened the door. She held a half-burned paper in her
hand; Dr. Jallup stood near the bed, portioning out some calomel and
quinine. The prevalent disease in Hooker's Bend is malaria; Dr. Jallup
always physicked for malaria. On this occasion he diagnosed it must be a
very severe attack of malaria indeed, so he measured out enormous doses.

He took a glass of the water that Viny had brought, held up old
Caroline's head, and washed down two big capsules into the already
poisoned stomach of the old negress. His simple face was quite
inscrutable as he did this. He left other capsules for Nan to administer
at regular intervals. Then he and Captain Renfrew motored out of
Niggertown, out of its dust and filth and stench.

At four o'clock in the morning Caroline Siner died.



                               CHAPTER VI


When Nan Berry saw that Caroline was dead, the black woman dropped a
glass of water and a capsule of calomel and stared. A queer terror
seized her. She began such a wailing that it aroused others in
Niggertown. At the sound they got out of their beds and came to the
Siner cabin, their eyes big with mystery and fear. At the sight of old
Caroline's motionless body they lifted their voices through the night.

The lamentation carried far beyond the confines of Niggertown. The last
gamblers in the cedar glade heard it, and it broke up their gaming and
drinking. White persons living near the black crescent were waked out of
their sleep and listened to the eerie sound. It rose and fell in the
darkness like a melancholy organ chord. The wailing of the women
quivered against the heavy grief of the men. The half-asleep listeners
were moved by its weirdness to vague and sinister fancies. The dolor
veered away from what the Anglo-Saxon knows as grief and was shot
through with the uncanny and the terrible. White children crawled out of
their small beds and groped their way to their parents. The women
shivered and asked of the darkness, "_What_ makes the negroes howl
so?"

Nobody knew,--least of all, the negroes. Nobody suspected that the
bedlam harked back to the jungle, to black folk in African kraals
beating tom-toms and howling, not in grief, but in an ecstasy of terror
lest the souls of their dead might come back in the form of tigers or
pythons or devils and work woe to the tribe. Through the night the
negroes wailed on, performing through custom an ancient rite of which
they knew nothing. They supposed themselves heartbroken over the death
of Caroline Siner.

Amid this din Peter Siner sat in his room, stunned by the sudden taking
off of his mother. The reproaches that she had expressed to old Captain
Renfrew clung in Peter's brain. The brown man had never before realized
the faint amusement and condescension that had flavored all his
relations with his mother since his return home. But he knew now that
she had felt his disapproval of her lifelong habits; that she saw he
never explained or attempted to explain his thoughts to her, assuming
her to be too ignorant; as she put it, "a fool."

The pathos of his mother's last days, what she had expected, what she
had received, came to Peter with the bitterness of what is finished and
irrevocable. She had been dead only a few minutes, yet she could never
know his grief and remorse; she could never forgive him. She was utterly
removed in a few minutes, in a moment in the failing of a breath. The
finality of death overpowered him.

Into his room, through the thin wall, came the catch of numberless sobs,
the long-drawn open wails, and the spasms of sobbing. Blurred voices
called, "O Gawd! Gawd hab mercy! Hab mercy!" Now words were lost in the
midst of confusion. The clamor boomed through the thin partition as if
it would shake down his newspapered walls. With wet cheeks and an aching
throat, Peter sat by his table, staring at his book-case in silence,
like a white man.

The dim light of his lamp fell over his psychologies and philosophies.
These were the books that had given him precedence over the old
washwoman who kept him in college. It was reading these books that had
made him so wise that the old negress could not even follow his
thoughts. Now in the hour of his mother's death the backs of his
metaphysics blinked at him emptily. What signified their endless pages
about dualism and monism, about phenomenon and noumenon? His mother was
dead. And she had died embittered against him because he had read and
had been bewildered by these empty, wordy volumes.

A sense of profound defeat, of being ultimately fooled and cozened by
the subtleties of white men, filled Peter Siner. He had eaten at their
table, but their meat was not his meat. The uproar continued. Standing
out of the din arose the burden of negro voices "Hab mercy! Gawd hab
mercy!"

In the morning the Ladies of Tabor came and washed and dressed Caroline
Siner's body and made it ready for burial. For twenty years the old
negress had paid ten cents a month to her society to insure her burial,
and now the lodge made ready to fulfil its pledge. After many comings
and goings, the black women called Peter to see their work, as if for
his approval.

The huge dead woman lay on the four-poster with a sheet spread over the
lower part of her body. The ministrants had clothed it in the old black-
silk dress, with its spreading seams and panels of different materials.
It reminded Peter of the new dress he had meant to get his mother, and
of the modish suit which at that moment molded his own shoulders and
waist. The pitifulness of her sacrifices trembled in Peter's throat. He
pressed his lips together, and nodded silently to the black Ladies of
Tabor.

Presently the white undertaker, a silent little man with a brisk yet
sympathetic air, came and made some measurements. He talked to Peter in
undertones about the finishing of the casket, how much the Knights of
Tabor would pay, what Peter wanted. Then he spoke of the hour of burial,
and mentioned a somewhat early hour because some of the negroes wanted
to ship as roustabouts on the up-river packet, which was due at any
moment.

These decisions, asked of Peter, kept pricking him and breaking through
the stupefaction of this sudden tragedy. He kept nodding a mechanical
agreement until the undertaker had arranged all the details. Then the
little man moved softly out of the cabin and went stepping away through
the dust of Niggertown with professional briskness. A little later two
black grave-diggers set out with picks and shovels for the negro
graveyard.

Numberless preparations for the funeral were going on all over
Niggertown. The Knights of Tabor were putting on their regalia. Negro
women were sending out hurry notices to white mistresses that they would
be unable to cook the noonday meal. Dozens of negro girls flocked to the
hair-dressing establishment of Miss Mallylou Speers. All were bent on
having their wool straightened for the obsequies, and as only a few of
them could be accommodated, the little room was packed. A smell of
burning hair pervaded it. The girls sat around waiting their turn. Most
of them already had their hair down,--or, rather loose, for it stood out
in thick mats. The hair-dresser had a small oil stove on which lay
heating half a dozen iron combs. With a hot comb she teased each strand
of wool into perfect straightness and then plastered it down with a
greasy pomade. The result was a stiff effect, something like the hair of
the Japanese. It required about three hours to straighten the hair of
one negress. The price was a dollar and a half.

By half-past nine o'clock a crowd of negro men, in lodge aprons and with
spears, and negro women, with sashes of ribbon over their shoulders and
across the breasts, assembled about the Siner cabin. In the dusty
curving street were ranged half a dozen battered vehicles,--a hearse, a
delivery wagon, some rickety buggies, and a hack. Presently the
undertaker arrived with a dilapidated black hearse which he used
especially for negroes. He jumped down, got out his straps and coffin
stands, directed some negro men to bring in the coffin, then hurried
into the cabin with his air of brisk precision.

He placed the coffin on the stands near the bed; then a number of men
slipped the huge black body into it. The undertaker settled old
Caroline's head against the cotton pillows, running his hand down beside
her cheek and tipping her face just so. Then he put on the cover, which
left a little oval opening just above her dead face. The sight of old
Caroline's face seen through the little oval pane moved some of the
women to renewed sobs. Eight black men took up the coffin and carried it
out with the slow, wide-legged steps of roustabouts. Parson Ranson, in a
rusty Prince Albert coat, took Peter's arm and led him to the first
vehicle after the hearse. It was a delivery wagon, but it was the best
vehicle in the procession.

As Peter followed the coffin out, he saw the Knights and Ladies of Tabor
lined up in marching order behind the van. The men held their spears and
swords at attention; the women carried flowers. Behind the marchers came
other old vehicles, a sorry procession.

At fifteen minutes to ten the bell in the steeple of the colored church
tolled a single stroke. The sound quivered through the sunshine over
Niggertown. At its signal the poor procession moved away through the
dust. At intervals the bell tolled after the vanishing train.

As the negroes passed through the white town the merchants, lolling in
their doors, asked passers-by what negro had died. The idlers under the
mulberry in front of the livery-stable nodded at the old negro preacher
in his long greenish-black coat, and Dawson Bobbs remarked:

"Well, old Parson Ranson's going to tell 'em about it to-day," and he
shifted his toothpick with a certain effect of humor.

Old Mr. Tomwit asked if his companions had ever heard how Newt Bodler, a
wit famous in Wayne County, once broke up a negro funeral with a
hornets' nest. The idlers nodded a smiling affirmative as they watched
the cortège go past. They had all heard it. But Mr. Tomwit would not be
denied. He sallied forth into humorous reminiscence. Another loafer
contributed an anecdote of how he had tied ropes to a dead negro so as
to make the corpse sit up in bed and frighten the mourners.

All their tales were of the vintage of the years immediately succeeding
the Civil War,--pioneer humor, such as convulsed the readers of Peck's
Bad Boy, Mr. Bowser, Sut Lovingood. The favorite dramatic properties of
such writers were the hornets' nest, the falling ladder, the banana
peel. They cultivated the humor of contusions, the wit of impact. This
style still holds the stage of Hooker's Bend.

In telling these tales the white villagers meant no special disrespect
to the negro funeral. It simply reminded them of humorous things; so
they told their jokes, like the naïve children of the soil that they
were.

At last the poor procession passed beyond the white church, around a
bend in the road, and so vanished. Presently the bell in Niggertown
ceased tolling.

                    *       *       *       *       *

Peter always remembered his mother's funeral in fragments of intolerable
pathos,--the lifting of old Parson Ranson's hands toward heaven, the
songs of the black folk, the murmur of the first shovelful of dirt as it
was lowered to the coffin, and the final raw mound of earth littered
with a few dying flowers. With that his mother--who had been so near to,
and so disappointed in, her son--was blotted from his life. The other
events of the funeral flowed by in a sort of dream: he moved about; the
negroes were speaking to him in the queer overtones one uses to the
bereaved; he was being driven back to Niggertown; he reentered the Siner
cabin. One or two of his friends stayed in the room with him for a while
and said vague things, but there was nothing to say.

Later in the afternoon Cissie Dildine and her mother brought his dinner
to him. Vannie Dildine, a thin yellow woman, uttered a few disjointed
words about Sister Ca'line being a good woman, and stopped amid
sentence. There was nothing to say. Death had cut a wound across Peter
Siner's life. Not for days, nor weeks, nor months, would his existence
knit solidly back together. The poison of his ingratitude to his
faithful old black mother would for a long, long day prevent the
healing.



                              CHAPTER VII


During a period following his mother's death Peter Siner's life drifted
emptily and without purpose. He had the feeling of one convalescing in a
hospital. His days passed unconnected by any thread of purpose; they
were like cards scattered on a table, meaning nothing.

At times he struggled against his lethargy. When he awoke in the morning
and found the sun shining on his dusty primers and examination papers,
he would think that he ought to go back to his old task; but he never
did. In his heart grew a conviction that he would never teach school at
Hooker's Bend.

He would rise and dress slowly in the still cabin, thinking he must soon
make new plans and take up some work. He never decided precisely what
work; his thoughts trailed on in vague, idle designs.

In fact, during Peter's reaction to his shock there began to assert
itself in him that capacity for profound indolence inherent in his negro
blood. To a white man time is a cumulative excitant. Continuous and
absolute idleness is impossible; he must work, hunt, fish, play, gamble,
or dissipate,--do something to burn up the accumulating sugar in his
muscles. But to a negro idleness is an increasing balm; it is a
stretching of his legs in the sunshine, a cat-like purring of his
nerves; while his thoughts spread here and there in inconsequences, like
water without a channel, making little humorous eddies, winding this way
and that into oddities and fantasies without ever feeling that
constraint of sequence which continually operates in a white brain. And
it is this quality that makes negroes the entertainers of children
_par excellence_.

Peter Siner's mental slackening made him understandable, and gave him a
certain popularity in Nigger-town. Black men fell into the habit of
dropping in at the Siner cabin, where they would sit outdoors, with
chairs propped against the wall, and philosophize on the desultory life
of the crescent. Sometimes they would relate their adventures on the
river packets and around the docks at Paducah, Cairo, St. Joe, and St.
Louis; usually a recountal of drunkenness, gaming, fighting, venery,
arrests, jail sentences, petty peculations, and escapes. Through these
Iliads of vagabondage ran an irresponsible gaiety, a non-morality, and a
kind of unbrave zest for adventure. They told of their defeats and
flights with as much relish and humor as of their charges and victories.
And while the spirit was thoroughly pagan, these accounts were full of
the clichés of religion. A roustabout whom every one called the
Persimmon confided to Peter that he meant to cut loose some logs in a
raft up the river, float them down a little way, tie them up again, and
claim the prize-money for salvaging them, God willing.

The Persimmon was so called from a scar on his long slanting head. A
steamboat mate had once found him asleep in the passageway of a lumber
pile which the boat was lading, and he waked the negro by hitting him in
the head with a persimmon bolt. In this there was nothing unusual or
worthy of a nickname. The point was, the mate had been mistaken: the
Persimmon was not working on his boat at all. In time this became one of
the stock anecdotes which pilots and captains told to passengers
traveling up and down the river.

The Persimmon was a queer-looking negro; his head was a long diagonal
from its peak down to his pendent lower lip, for he had no chin. The
salient points on this black slope were the Persimmon's sad, protruding
yellow eyeballs, over which the lids always drooped about half closed.
An habitual tipping of this melancholy head to one side gave the
Persimmon the look of one pondering and deploring the amount of sin
there was in the world. This saintly impression the Persimmon's conduct
and language never bore out.

At the time of the Persimmon's remarks about the raft two of Peter's
callers, Jim Pink Staggs and Parson Ranson, took the roustabout to task.
Jim Pink based his objection on the grounds of glutting the labor
market.

"Ef us niggers keeps turnin' too many raf's loose fuh de prize-money,"
he warned, "somebody's goin' to git 'spicious, an' you'll ruin a good
thing."

The Persimmon absorbed this with a far-away look in his half-closed
eyes.

"It's a ticklish job," argued Parson Ranson, "an' I wouldn't want to
wuck at de debbil's task aroun' de ribber, ca'se you mout fall in,
Persimmon, an' git drownded."

"I wouldn't do sich a thing a-tall," admitted the Persimmon, "but I jes'
natchelly got to git ten dollars to he'p pay on my divo'ce."

"I kain't see whut you want wid a divo'ce," said Jim Pink, yawning,
"when you been ma'ied three times widout any."

"It's fuh a Christmas present," explained the Persimmon, carelessly,
"fuh th' woman I'm libin' wid now. Mahaly's a great woman fuh style. I'm
goin' to divo'ce my other wives, one at a time lak my lawyer say."

"On what grounds?" asked Peter, curiously.

"Desuhtion."

"Desertion?"

"Uh huh; I desuhted 'em."

Jim Pink shook his head, picked up a pebble, and began idly juggling it,
making it appear double, single, treble, then single again.

"Too many divo'ces in dis country now, Persimmon," he moralized.

"Well, whut's de cause uv 'em?" asked the Persimmon, suddenly bringing
his protruding yellow eyes around on the sleight-of-hand performer.

Jim Pink was slightly taken aback; then he said:

"'Spicion; nothin' but 'spicion."

"Yeah, 'spicion," growled the Persimmon; "'spicion an' de husban'
leadin' a irreg'lar life."

Jim Pink looked at his companion, curiously.

"The husban'--leadin' a irreg'lar life?"

"Yeah,"--the Persimmon nodded grimly,--"the husban' comin' home at
onexpected hours. You know whut I means, Jim Pink."

Jim Pink let his pebble fall and lowered the fore legs of his chair
softly to the ground.

"Now, look heah, Persimmon, you don' want to be draggin' no foreign
disco'se into yo' talk heah befo' Mr. Siner an' Parson Ranson."

The Persimmon rose deliberately.

"All I want to say is, I drapped off'n de matrimonial tree three times
a'ready, Jim Pink, an' I think I feels somebody shakin' de limb ag'in."

The old negro preacher rose, too, a little behind Jim Pink.

"Now, boys! boys!" he placated. "You jes think dat, Persimmon."

"Yeah," admitted Persimmon, "I jes think it; but ef I b'lieve ever'thing
is so whut I think is so, I'd part Jim Pink's wool wid a brickbat."

Parson Ranson tried to make peace, but the Persimmon spread his hands in
a gesture that included the three men. "Now, I ain't sayin' nothin'," he
stated solemnly, "an' I ain't makin' no threats; but ef anything
happens, you-all kain't say that nobody didn' tell nobody about
nothin'."

With this the Persimmon walked to the gate, let himself out, still
looking back at Jim Pink, and then started down the dusty street.

Mr. Staggs seemed uncomfortable under the Persimmon's protruding yellow
stare, but finally, when the roustabout was gone, he shrugged, regained
his aplomb, and remarked that some niggers spent their time in studyin'
'bout things they hadn't no info'mation on whatever. Then he strolled
off up the crescent in the other direction.

All this would have made fair minstrel patter if Peter Siner had shared
the white conviction that every emotion expressed in a negro's patois is
humorous. Unfortunately, Peter was too close to the negroes to hold such
a tenet. He knew this quarrel was none the less rancorous for having
been couched in the queer circumlocution of black folk. And behind it
all shone the background of racial promiscuity out of which it sprang.
It was like looking at an open sore that touched all of Niggertown, men
and boys, young girls and women. It caused tragedies, murders, fights,
and desertions in the black village as regularly as the rotation of the
calendar; yet there was no public sentiment against it. Peter wondered
how this attitude of his whole people could possibly be.

With the query the memory of Ida May came back to him, with its sense of
dim pathos. It seemed to Peter now as if their young and uninstructed
hands had destroyed a safety-vault to filch a penny.

The reflex of a thought of Ida May always brought Peter to Cissie; it
always stirred up in him a desire to make this young girl's path gentle
and smooth. There was a fineness, a delicacy about Cissie, that, it
seemed to Peter, Ida May had never possessed. Then, too, Cissie was
moved by a passion for self-betterment. She deserved a cleaner field
than the Niggertown of Hooker's Bend.

Peter took Parson Ranson's arm, and the two moved to the gate by common
consent. It was no longer pleasant to sit here. The quarrel they had
heard somehow had flavored their surroundings.

Peter turned his steps mechanically northward up the crescent toward the
Dildine cabin. Nothing now restrained him from calling on Cissie; he
would keep no dinner waiting; he would not be warned and berated on his
return home. The nagging, jealous love of his mother had ended.

As the two men walked along, it was borne in upon Peter that his
mother's death definitely ended one period of his life. There was no
reason why he should continue his present unsettled existence. It seemed
best to marry Cissie at once and go North. Further time in this place
would not be good for the girl. Even if he could not lift all
Niggertown, he could at least help Cissie. He had had no idea, when he
first planned his work, what a tremendous task he was essaying. The
white village had looked upon the negroes so long as non-moral and non-
human that the negroes, with the flexibility of their race, had
assimilated that point of view. The whites tried to regulate the negroes
by endless laws. The negroes had come to accept this, and it seemed that
they verily believed that anything not discovered by the constable was
permissible. Mr. Dawson Bobbs was Niggertown's conscience. It was best
for Peter to take from this atmosphere what was dearest to him, and go
at once.

The brown man's thoughts came trailing back to the old negro parson
hobbling at his side. He looked at the old man, hesitated a moment, then
told him what was in his mind.

Parson Ranson's face wrinkled into a grin.

"You's gwine to git ma'ied?"

"And I thought I'd have you perform the ceremony."

This suggestion threw the old negro into excitement.

"Me, Mr. Peter?"

"Yes. Why not?"

"Why, Mr. Peter, I kain't jine you an' Miss Cissie Dildine."

Peter looked at him, astonished.

"Why can't you?"

"Whyn't you git a white preacher?"

"Well," deliberated Peter, gravely, "it's a matter of principle with me,
Parson Ranson. I think we colored people ought to be more self-reliant,
more self-serving. We ought to lead our own lives instead of being mere
echoes of white thought." He made a swift gesture, moved by this passion
of his life. "I don't mean racial equality. To my mind racial equality
is an empty term. One might as well ask whether pink and violet are
equal. But what I do insist on is autonomous development."

The old preacher nodded, staring into the dust. "Sho! 'tonomous
'velopment."

Peter saw that his language, if not his thought, was far beyond his old
companion's grasp, and he lacked the patience to simplify himself.

"Why don't you want to marry us, Parson?"

Parson Ranson lifted his brows and filled his forehead with wrinkles.

"Well, I dunno. You an' Miss Cissie acts too much lak white folks fuh a
nigger lak me to jine you, Mr. Peter."

Peter made a sincere effort to be irritated, but he was not.

"That's no way to feel. It's exactly what I was talking about,--racial
self-reliance. You've married hundreds of colored couples."

"Ya-as, suh,"--the old fellow scratched his black jaw.--"I kin yoke up a
pair uv ordina'y niggers all right. Sometimes dey sticks, sometimes dey
don't." The old man shook his white, kinky head. "I'll bust in an' try
to hitch up you-all. I--I dunno whedder de cer'mony will hol' away up
North or not."

"It'll be all right anywhere, Parson," said Peter, seriously. "Your name
on the marriage-certificate will--can you write?"

"N-no, suh."

After a brief hesitation Peter repeated determinedly:

"It'll be all right. And, by the way, of course, this will be a very
quiet wedding."

"Yas-suh." The old man bobbed importantly.

"I wouldn't mention it to any one."

"No, suh; no, suh. I don' blame you a-tall, Mr. Peter, wid dat Tump Pack
gallivantin' roun' wid a forty-fo'. Hit would keep 'mos' anybody's
weddin' ve'y quiet onless he wuz lookin' fuh a short cut to heab'n."

As the two negroes passed the Berry cabin, Nan Berry thrust out her
spiked head and called to Peter Captain Renfrew wanted to see him.

Peter paused, with quickened interest in this strange old man who had
come to his mother's death-bed with a doctor. Peter asked Nan what the
Captain wanted.

Nan did not know. Wince Washington had told Nan that the Captain wanted
to see Peter. Bluegum Frakes had told Wince; Jerry Dillihay had told
Bluegum; but any further meanderings of the message, when it started, or
what its details might be, Nan could not state.

It was a typical message from a resident of the white town to a denizen
of Niggertown. Such messages are delivered to any black man for any
other black man, not only in the village, but anywhere in the outlying
country. It may be passed on by a dozen or a score of mouths before it
reaches its objective. It may be a day or a week in transit, but
eventually it will be delivered verbatim. This queer system of
communication is a relic of slavery, when the master would send out word
for some special negro out of two or three hundred slaves to report at
the big house.

However, as Peter approached the Dildine cabin, thoughts of his
approaching marriage drove from his mind even old Captain Renfrew's
message. His heart beat fast from having made his first formal step
toward wedlock. The thought of having Cissie all to himself, swept his
nerves in a gust.

He opened the gate, and ran up between the dusty lines of dwarf box,
eager to tell her what he had done. He thumped on the cracked, unpainted
door, and impatiently waited the skirmish of observation along the edge
of the window-blinds. This was unduly drawn out. Presently he heard
women's voices whispering to each other inside. They seemed urgent,
almost angry voices. Now and then he caught a sentence:

"What difference will it make?" "I couldn't." "Why couldn't you?"
"Because--" "That's because you've been to Nashville." "Oh, well--" A
chair was moved over a bare floor. A little later footsteps came to the
entrance, the door opened, and Cissie's withered yellow mother stood
before him.

Vannie offered her hand and inquired after Peter's health with a stopped
voice that instantly recalled his mother's death. After the necessary
moment of talk, the mulatto inquired for Cissie.

The yellow woman seemed slightly ill at ease.

"Cissie ain't so well, Peter."

"She's not ill?"

"N-no; but the excitement an' ever'thing--" answered Vannie, vaguely.

In the flush of his plans, Peter was keenly disappointed.

"It's very important, Mrs. Dildine."

Vannie's dried yellow face framed the ghost of a smile.

"Ever'thing a young man's got to say to a gal is ve'y important, Peter."

It seemed to Peter a poor time for a jest; his face warmed faintly.

"It--it's about some of the details of our--our wedding."

"If you'll excuse her to-day, Peter, an' come after supper--"

Peter hesitated, and was about to go away when Cissie's voice came from
an inner room, telling her mother to admit him.

The yellow woman glanced at the door on the left side of the hall,
crossed over and opened it, stood to one side while Peter entered, and
closed it after him, leaving the two alone.

The room into which Peter stepped was dark, after the fashion of negro
houses. Only after a moment's survey did he see Cissie sitting near a
big fireplace made of rough stone. The girl started to rise as Peter
advanced toward her, but he solicitously forbade it and hurried over to
her. When he leaned over her and put his arms about her, his ardor was
slightly dampened when she gave him her cheek instead of her lips to
kiss.

"Surely, you're not too ill to be kissed?" he rallied faintly.

"You kissed me. I thought we had agreed, Peter, you were not to come in
the daytime any more."

"Oh, is that it?" Peter patted her shoulder, cheerfully. "Don't worry; I
have just removed any reason why I shouldn't come any time I want to."

Cissie looked at him, her dark eyes large in the gloom.

"What have you done?"

"Got a preacher to marry us; on my way now for a license. Dropped in to
ask if you 'll be ready by tomorrow or next day."

The girl gasped.

"But, Peter--"

Peter drew a chair beside her in a serious argumentative mood.

"Yes I think we ought to get married at once. No reason why we shouldn't
get it over with--Why, what's the matter?"

"So soon after your mother's death, Peter?"

"It's to get away from Hooker's Bend, Cissie--to get you away. I don't
like for you to stay here. It's all so--" he broke off, not caring to
open the disagreeable subject.

The girl sat staring down at some fagots smoldering on the hearth. At
that moment they broke into flame and illuminated her sad face.

"You'll go, won't you?" asked Peter at last, with a faint uncertainty.

The girl looked up.

"Oh--I--I'd be glad to, Peter,"--she gave a little shiver. "Ugh! this
Niggertown is a--a terrible place!"

Peter leaned over, took one of her hands, and patted it.

"Then we'll go," he said soothingly. "It's decided--tomorrow. And we'll
have a perfectly lovely wedding trip," he planned cheerfully, to draw
her mind from her mood. "On the car going North I'll get a whole
drawing-room. I've always wanted a drawing-room, and you'll be my
excuse. We'll sit and watch the fields and woods and cities slip past
us, and know, when we get off, we can walk on the streets as freely as
anybody. We'll be a genuine man and wife."

His recital somehow stirred him. He took her in his arms, pressed her
cheek to his, and after a moment kissed her lips with the trembling
ardor of a bridegroom.

Cissie remained passive a moment, then put up he hands, turned his face
away, and slowly released herself.

Peter was taken aback.

"What _is_ the matter, Cissie?"

"I can't go, Peter."

Peter looked at her with a feeling of strangeness.

"Can't go?"

The girl shook her head.

"You mean--you want us to live here?"

Cissie sat exceedingly still and barely shook her head.

The mulatto had a sensation as if the portals which disclosed a new and
delicious life were slowly closing against him. He stared into her oval
face.

"You don't mean, Cissie--you don't mean you don't want to marry me?"

The fagots on the hearth burned now with a cheerful flame. Cissie stared
at it, breathing rapidly from the top of her lungs. She seemed about to
faint. As Peter watched her the jealousy of the male crept over him.

"Look here, Cissie," he said in a queer voice, "you--you don't mean,
after all, that Tump Pack is--"

"Oh no! No!" Her face showed her repulsion. Then she drew a long breath
and apparently made up her mind to some sort of ordeal.

"Peter," she asked in a low tone, "did you ever think what we colored
people are trying to reach?" She stared into his uncomprehending eyes.
"I mean what is our aim, our goal, whom are we trying to be like?"

"We aren't trying to be like any one." Peter was entirely at a loss.

"Oh, yes, we are," Cissie hurried on. "Why do colored girls straighten
their hair, bleach their skins, pinch their feet? Aren't they trying to
look like white girls?"

Peter agreed, wondering at her excitement.

"And you went North to college, Peter, so you could think and act like a
white man--"

Peter resisted this at once; he was copying nobody. The whole object of
college was to develop one's personality, to bring out--

The girl stopped his objections almost piteously.

"Oh, don't argue! You know arguing throws me off. I--now I've forgotten
how I meant to say it!" Tears of frustration welled up in her eyes.

Her mood was alarming, almost hysterical. Peter began comforting her.

"There, there, dear, dear Cissie, what is the matter? Don't say it at
all." Then, inconsistently, he added: "You said I copied white men.
Well, what of it?"

Cissie breathed her relief at having been given the thread of her
discourse. She sat silent for a moment with the air of one screwing up
her courage.

"It's this," she said in an uncertain voice: "sometimes we--we--girls--
here in Niggertown copy the wrong thing first."

Peter looked blankly at her.

"The wrong thing first, Cissie?"

"Oh, yes; we--we begin on clothes and--and hair and--and that isn't the
real matter."

"Why, no-o-o, that isn't the real matter," said Peter puzzled.

Cissie looked at his face and became hopeless.

"Oh, _don't_ you understand! Lots of us--lots of us make that
mistake! I--I did; so--so, Peter, I can't go with you!" She flung out
the last phrase, and suddenly collapsed on the arm of her chair,
sobbing.

Peter was amazed. He got up, sat on the arm of his own chair next to
hers and put his arms about her, bending over her, mothering her. Her
distress was so great that he said as earnestly as his ignorance
permitted:

"Yes, Cissie, I understand now." But his tone belied his words, and the
girl shook her head. "Yes, I do, Cissie," he repeated emptily. But she
only shook her head as she leaned over him, and her tears slowly formed
and trickled down on his hand. Then all at once old Caroline's
accusation against Cissie flashed on Peter's mind. She had stolen that
dinner in the turkey roaster, after all. It so startled him that he sat
up straight. Cissie also sat up. She stopped crying, and sat looking
into the fire.

"You mean--morals?" said Peter in a low tone.

Cissie barely nodded, her wet eyes fixed on the fire.

"I see. I was stupid."

The girl sat a moment, drawing deep breaths. At last she rose slowly.

"Well--I'm glad it's over. I'm glad you know." She stood looking at him
almost composedly except for her breathing and her tear-stained face.
"You see, Peter, if you had been like Tump Pack or Wince or any of the
boys around here, it--it wouldn't have made much difference; but--but
you went off and--and learned to think and feel like a white man. You--
you changed your code, Peter." She gave a little shaken sound, something
between a sob and a laugh. "I--I don't think th-that's very fair, Peter,
to--to go away an'--an' change an' come back an' judge us with yo' n-new
code." Cissie's precise English broke down.

Just then Peter's logic caught at a point.

"If you didn't know anything about my code, how do you know what I feel
now?" he asked.

She looked at him with a queer expression.

"I found out when you kissed me under the arbor. It was too late then."

She stood erect, with dismissal very clearly written in her attitude.
Peter walked out of the room.



                              CHAPTER VIII


With a certain feeling of clumsiness Peter groped in the dark hall for
his hat, then, as quietly as he could, let himself out at the door.
Outside he was surprised to find that daylight still lingered in the
sky. He thought night had fallen. The sun lay behind the Big Hill, but
its red rays pouring down through the boles of the cedars tinted long
delicate avenues in the dusty atmosphere above his head. A sharp chill
in the air presaged frost for the night. Somewhere in the crescent a boy
yodeled for his dog at about half-minute intervals, with the persistence
of children.

Peter walked a little distance, but finally came to a stand in the dust,
looking at the negro cabins, not knowing where to go or what to do.
Cissie's confession had destroyed all his plans. It had left him as
adynamic as had his mother's death. It seemed to Peter that there was a
certain similarity between the two events; both were sudden and
desolating. And just as his mother had vanished utterly from his reach,
so now it seemed Cissie was no more. Cissie the clear-eyed, Cissie the
ambitious, Cissie the refined, had vanished away, and in her place stood
a thief.

The thing was grotesque. Peter began a sudden shuddering in the cold.
Then he began moving toward the empty cabin where he slept and kept his
things. He moved along, talking to himself in the dusty emptiness of the
crescent. He decided that he would go home, pack his clothes, and
vanish. A St. Louis boat would be down that night, and he would just
have time to pack his clothes and catch it. He would not take his books,
his philosophies. He would let them remain, in the newspapered room,
until all crumbled into uniform philosophic dust, and the teachings of
Aristotle blew about Niggertown.

Then, as he thought of traveling North, the vision of the honeymoon he
had just planned revived his numb brain into a dismal aching. He looked
back through the dusk at the Dildine roof. It stood black against an
opalescent sky. Out of the foreground, bending over it, arose a clump of
tall sunflowers, in whose silhouette hung a suggestion of yellow and
green. The whole scene quivered slightly at every throb of his heart. He
thought what a fool he was to allow a picaresque past to keep him away
from such a woman, how easy it would be to go back to the soft luxury of
Cissie, to tell her it made no difference; and somehow, just at that
moment it seemed not to.

Then the point of view which Peter had been four years acquiring swept
away the impulse, and it left him moving toward his cabin again, empty,
cold, and planless.

He was drawn out of his reverie by the soft voice of a little negro boy
asking him apprehensively whom he was talking to.

Peter stopped, drew forth a handkerchief and dabbed the moisture from
his cold face in the meticulous fashion of college men.

With the boy came a dog which was cautiously smelling Peter's shoes and
trousers. Both boy and dog were investigating the phenomenon of Peter.
Peter, in turn, looked down at them with a feeling that they had
materialized out of nothing.

"What did you say?" he asked vaguely.

The boy was suddenly overcome with the excessive shyness of negro
children, and barely managed to whisper:

"I--I ast wh-who you wuz a-talkin' to."

"Was I talking?"

The little negro nodded, undecided whether to stand his ground or flee.
Peter touched the child's crisp hair.

"I was talking to myself," he said, and moved forward again.

The child instantly gained confidence at the slight caress, took a fold
of Peter's trousers in his hand for friendliness, and the two trudged on
together.

"Wh-whut you talkin' to yo' se'f for?"

Peter glanced down at the little black head that promised to think up a
thousand questions.

"I was wondering where to go."

"Lawsy! is you los' yo' way?"

He stroked the little head with a rush of self-pity.

"Yes, I have, son; I've completely lost my way."

The child twisted his head around and peered up alongside Peter's arm.
Presently he asked:

"Ain't you Mr. Peter Siner?"

"Yes."

"Ain't you de man whut's gwine to ma'y Miss Cissie Dildine?"

Peter looked down at his small companion with a certain concern that his
marriage was already gossip known to babes.

"I'm Peter Siner," he repeated.

"Den I knows which way you wants to go," piped the youngster in sudden
helpfulness. "You wants to go over to Cap'n Renfrew's place acrost de
Big Hill. He done sont fuh you. Mr. Wince Washington tol' me, ef I seed
you, to tell you dat Cap'n Renfrew wants to see you. I dunno whut hit's
about. I ast Wince, an' he didn' know."

Peter recalled the message Nan Berry had given him some hours before.
Now the same summons had seeped around to him from another direction.

"I--I'll show you de way to Cap'n Renfrew's ef--ef you'll come back wid
me th'ugh de cedar glade," proposed the child. "I--I ain't skeered in de
cedar glade, b-b-but hit's so dark I kain't see my way back home.
I--I--"

Peter thanked him and declined his services. After all, he might as well
go to see Captain Renfrew. He owed the old gentleman some thanks--and
ten dollars.

The only thing of which Peter Siner was aware during his walk over the
Big Hill and through the village was his last scene with Cissie. He went
over it again and again, repeating their conversation, inventing new
replies, framing new action, questioning more fully into the octoroon's
vague confession and his benumbed acceptance of it. The moment his mind
completed the little drama it started again from the very beginning.

At Captain Renfrew's gate this mental mummery paused long enough for him
to vacillate between walking in or going around and shouting from the
back gate. It is a point of etiquette in Hooker's Bend that negroes
shall enter a white house from the back stoop. Peter had no desire to
transgress this custom. On the other hand, if Captain Renfrew was
receiving him as a fellow of Harvard, the back door, in its way, would
prove equally embarrassing.

After a certain indecision he compromised by entering the front gate and
calling the Captain's name from among the scattered bricks of the old
walk.

The house lay silent, half smothered in a dark tangle of shrubbery.
Peter called twice before he heard the shuffle of house slippers, and
then saw the Captain's dressing-gown at the piazza steps.

"Is that you, Peter?" came a querulous voice.

"Yes, Captain. I was told you wanted to see me."

"You've been deliberate in coming," criticized the old gentleman,
testily. "I sent you word by some black rascal three days ago."

"I just received the message to-day." Peter remained discreetly at the
gate.

"Yes; well, come in, come in. See if you can do anything with this
damnable lamp."

The old man turned with a dignified drawing-together of his dressing-
gown and moved back. Apparently, the renovation of a cranky lamp was the
whole content of the Captain's summons to Peter.

There was something so characteristic in this incident that Peter was
moved to a vague sense of mirth. It was just like the old régime to call
in a negro, a special negro, from ten miles away to move a jar of ferns
across the lawn or trim a box hedge or fix a lamp.

Peter followed the old gentleman around to the back piazza facing his
study. There, laid out on the floor, were all the parts of a gasolene
lamp, together with a pipe-wrench, a hammer, a little old-fashioned
vise, a bar of iron, and an envelop containing the mantels and the more
delicate parts of the lamp.

"It's extraordinary to me," criticized the Captain, "why they can't make
a gasolene lamp that will go, and remain in a going condition."

"Has it been out of fix for three days?" asked Peter, sorry that the old
gentleman should have lacked a light for so long.

"No," growled the Captain; "it started gasping at four o'clock last
night; so I put it out and went to bed. I've been working at it this
evening. There's a little hole in the tip,--if I could see it,--a hair-
sized hole, painfully small. Why any man wants to make gasolene lamps
with microscopic holes that ordinary intelligence must inform him will
become clogged I cannot conceive."

Peter ventured no opinion on this trait of lampmakers, but said that if
the Captain knew where he could get an oil hand-lamp for a little more
light, he thought he could unstop the hole.

The Captain looked at his helper and shook his head.

"I am surprised at you, Peter. When I was your age, I could see an
aperture like that hole under the last quarter of the moon. In this
strong light I could have--er--lunged the cleaner through it, sir. You
must have strained your eyes in college." He paused, then added: "You'll
find hand-lamps in any of the rooms fronting this porch. I don't know
whether they have oil in them or not--the shiftless niggers that come
around to take care of this building--no dependence to be put in them.
When I try it myself, I do even worse."

The old gentleman's tone showed that he was thawing out of his irritable
mood, and Peter sensed that he meant to be amusing in an austere,
unsmiling fashion. The Captain rubbed his delicate wrinkled hands
together in a pleased fashion and sat down in a big porch chair to await
Peter's assembling of the lamp. The brown man started down the long
piazza, in search of a hand-light.

He found a lamp in the first room he entered, returned to the piazza,
sat down on the edge of it, and began his tinkering. The old Captain
apparently watched him with profound satisfaction. Presently, after the
fashion of the senile, he began endless and minute instructions as to
how the lamp should be cleaned.

"Take the wire in your left hand, Peter,--that's right,--now hold the
tip a little closer to the light--no, place the mantels on the right
side--that's the way I do it. System...." the old man's monologue ran on
and on, and became a murmur in Peter's ears. It was rather soothing than
otherwise. Now and then it held tremulous vibrations that might have
been from age or that might have been from some deep satisfaction
mounting even to joy. But to Peter that seemed hardly probable. No doubt
it was senility. The Captain was a tottery old man, past the age for any
fundamental joy.

Night had fallen now, and a darkness, musky with autumn weeds, hemmed in
the sphere of yellow light on the old piazza. A black-and-white cat
materialized out of the gloom, purring, and arching against a pillar.
The whole place was filled with a sense of endless leisure. The old man,
the cat, the perfume of the weeds, soothed in Peter even the rawness of
his hurt at Cissie.

Indeed, in a way, the old manor became a sort of apology for the
octoroon girl. The height and the reach of the piazza, exaggerated by
the darkness, suggested a time when retinues of negroes passed through
its dignified colonnades. Those black folk were a part of the place.
They came and went, picked up and used what they could, and that was all
life held for them. They were without wage, without rights, even to the
possession of their own bodies; so by necessity they took what they
could. That was only fifty-odd years ago. Thus, in a way, Peter's
surroundings began a subtle explanation of and apology for Cissie, the
whole racial training of black folk in petty thievery. And that this
should have touched Cissie--the meanness, the pathos of her fate moved
Peter.

The negro was aroused from his reverie by the old Captain's getting out
of his chair and saying, "Very good," and then Peter saw that he had
finished the lamp. The two men rose and carried it into the study, where
Peter pumped and lighted it; a bit later its brilliant white light
flooded the room.

"Quite good." The old Captain stood rubbing his hands with his odd air
of continued delight. "How do you like this place, anyway, Peter?" He
wrapped his gown around him, sat down in the old Morris chair beside the
book-piled table, and indicated another seat for Peter.

The mulatto took it, aware of a certain flexing of Hooker's Bend custom,
where negroes, unless old or infirm, are not supposed to sit in the
presence of whites.

"Do you mean the study, Captain?"

"Yes, the study, the whole place."

"It's very pleasant," replied Peter; "it has the atmosphere of age."

Captain Renfrew nodded.

"These old places," pursued Peter, "always give me an impression of
statesmanship, somehow. I always think of grave old gentlemen busy with
the cares of public policy."

The old man seemed gratified.

"You are sensitive to atmosphere. If I may say it, every Southron of the
old régime was a statesman by nature and training. The complete care of
two or three hundred negroes, a regard for their bodily, moral, and
spiritual welfare, inevitably led the master into the impersonal
attitude of statecraft. It was a training, sir, in leadership, in social
thinking, in, if you please, altruism." The old gentleman thumped the
arm of his chair with a translucent palm. "Yes, sir, negro slavery was
God's great lesson to the South in altruism and loving-kindness, sir! My
boy, I do believe with all my heart that the institution of slavery was
placed here in God's country to rear up giants of political leadership,
that our nation might weather the revolutions of the world. Oh, the
Yankees are necessary! I know that!" The old Captain held up a palm at
Peter as if repressing an imminent retort. "I know the Yankees are the
Marthas of the nation. They furnish food and fuel to the ship of state,
but, my boy, the reservoir of our country's spiritual and mental
strength, the Mary of our nation, must always be the South. Virginia is
the mother of Presidents!"

The Captain's oration left him rather breathless. He paused a moment,
then asked:

"Peter, have you ever thought that we men of the leisure class owe a
debt to the world?"

Peter smiled.

"I know the theory of the leisure class, but I've had very little
practical experience with leisure."

"Well, that's a subject close to my heart. As a scholar and a thinker, I
feel that I should give the fruits of my leisure to the world. Er--in
fact, Peter, that is why I sent for you to come and see me."

"Why you sent for me?" Peter was surprised at this turn.

"Precisely. You."

Here the old gentleman got himself out of his chair, walked across to
one of a series of drawers in his bookcases, opened it, and took out a
sheaf of papers and a quart bottle. He brought the papers and the bottle
back to the table, made room for them, put the papers in a neat pile,
and set the bottle at a certain distance from the heap.

"Now, Peter, please hand me one of those wineglasses in the religious
section of my library--I always keep two or three glasses among my
religious works, in memory of the fact that our Lord and Master wrought
a miracle at the feast of Cana, especially to bless the cup. Indeed,
Peter, thinking of that miracle at the wedding-feast, I wonder, sir, how
the prohibitionists can defend their conduct even to their own
consciences, because logically, sir, logically, the miracle of our
gracious Lord completely cuts away the ground from beneath their feet!

"No wonder, when the Mikado sent a Japanese envoy to America to make a
tentative examination of Christianity as a proper creed for the state
religion of Japan--no wonder, with this miracle flouted by the
prohibitionists, the embassy carried back the report that Americans
really have no faith in the religion they profess. Shameful! Shameful!
Place the glass there on the left of the bottle. A little farther away
from the bottle, please, just a trifle more. Thank you."

The Captain poured himself a tiny glassful, and its bouquet immediately
filled the room. There was no guessing how old that whisky was.

"I will not break the laws of my country, Peter, no matter how godless
and sacrilegious those laws may be; therefore I cannot offer you a
drink, but you will observe a second glass among the religious works,
and the bottle sits in plain view on the table--er--em." He watched
Peter avail himself of his opportunity, and then added, "Now, you may
just drink to me, standing, as you are, like that."

They drank, Peter standing, the old gentleman seated.

"It is just as necessary," pursued the old connoisseur, when Peter was
reseated, "it is just as necessary for a gentleman to have a delicate
palate for the tints of the vine as it is for him to have a delicate eye
for the tints of the palette. Nature bestowed a taste both in art and
wine on man, which he should strive to improve at every opportunity. It
is a gift from God. Perhaps you would like another glass. No? Then
accommodate me."

He drained this one, with Peter standing, worked his withered lips back
and forth to experience its full taste, then swallowed, and smacked.

"Now, Peter," he said, "the reason I asked you to come to see me is that
I need a man about this house. That will be one phase of your work. The
more important part is that you shall serve as a sort of secretary. I
have here a manuscript." He patted the pile of papers. "My handwriting
is rather difficult. I want you to copy this matter out and get it ready
for the printer."

Peter became more and more astonished.

"Are you offering me a permanent place, Captain Renfrew?" he asked.

The old man nodded.

"I need a man with a certain liberality of culture. I will no doubt have
you run through books and periodicals and make note of any points
germane to my thesis."

Peter looked at the pile of script on the table.

"That is very flattering, Captain; but the fact is, I came by your place
at this hour because I am just in the act of leaving here on the
steamboat to-night."

The Captain looked at Peter with concern on his face. "Leaving Hooker's
Bend?"

"Yes, sir."

"Why?"

Peter hesitated.

"Well, my mother is dead--"

"Yes, but your--your--your work is still here, Peter." The Captain fell
into a certain confusion. "A man's work, Peter; a man's work."

"Do you mean my school-teaching?"

Then came a pause. The conversation somehow had managed to leave them
both somewhat at sea. The Captain began again, in a different tone:

"Peter, I wish you to remain here with me for another reason. I am an
old man, Peter. Anything could happen to me here in this big house, and
nobody would know it. I don't like to think of it." The old man's tone
quite painted his fears. "I am not afraid of death, Peter. I have walked
before God all my life save in one or two points, which, I believe, in
His mercy, He has forgiven me; but I cannot endure the idea of being
found here some day in some unconsidered posture, fallen out of a chair,
or a-sprawl on the floor. I wish to die with dignity, Peter, as I have
lived."

"Then you mean that you want me to stay here with you until--until the
end, Captain?"

The old man nodded.

"That is my desire, Peter, for an honorarium which you yourself shall
designate. At my death, you will receive some proper portion of my
estate; in fact, the bulk of my estate, because I leave no other heirs.
I am the last Renfrew of my race, Peter."

Peter grew more and more amazed as the old gentleman unfolded this
strange proposal. What queerer, pleasanter berth could he find than that
offered him here in the quietude of the old manor, among books, tending
the feeble flame of this old aristocrat's life? An air of scholasticism
hung about the library. In some corner of this dark oaken library his
philosophies would rest comfortably.

Then it occurred to Peter that he would have to continue his sleeping
and eating in Niggertown, and since his mother had died and his rupture
with Cissie, the squalor and smells of the crescent had become
impossible. He told the old Captain his objections as diplomatically as
possible. The old man made short work of them. He wanted Peter to sleep
in the manor within calling distance, and he might begin this very night
and stay on for a week or so as a sort of test whether he liked the
position or not. The Captain waited with some concern until Peter agreed
to a trial.

After that the old gentleman talked on interminably of the South, of the
suffrage movement, the destructive influence it would have on the home,
the Irish question, the Indian question, whether the mound-builders did
not spring from the two lost tribes of Israel--an endless outpouring of
curious facts, quaint reasoning, and extraordinary conclusions, all
delivered with the great dignity and in the flowing periods of an
orator.

It was fully two o'clock in the morning when it occurred to the Captain
that his new secretary might like to go to bed. The old man took the
hand-lamp which was still burning and led the way out to the back piazza
past a number of doors to a corner bedroom. He shuffled along in his
carpet slippers, followed by the black-and-white cat, which ran along,
making futile efforts to rub itself against his lean shanks. Peter
followed in a sort of stupor from the flood of words, ideas, and strange
fancies that had been poured into his ears.

The Captain turned off the piazza into one of those old-fashioned
Southern rooms with full-length windows, which were really glazed doors,
a ceiling so high that Peter could make out only vague concentric rings
of stucco-work among the shadows overhead, and a floor space of ball-
room proportions. In one corner was a huge canopy bed, across from it a
clothes-press of dark wood, and in another corner a large screen hiding
the bathing arrangements.

Peter's bedroom was a sleeping apartment, in the old sense of the word
before the term "apartment" had lost its dignity.

The Captain placed the lamp on the great table and indicated Peter's
possession with a wave of the hand.

"If you stay here, Peter, I will put in a call-bell, so I can awaken you
if I need you during the night. Now I wish you healthful slumbers and
pleasant dreams." With that the old gentleman withdrew ceremoniously.

When the Captain was gone, the mulatto remained standing in the vast
expanse, marveling over this queer turn of fortune. Why Captain Renfrew
had selected him as a secretary and companion Peter could not fancy.

The magnificence of his surroundings revived his late dream of a
honeymoon with Cissie. Certainly, in his fancy, he had visioned a
honeymoon in Pullman parlor cars and suburban bungalows. He had been
mistaken. This great chamber rose about him like a corrected proof of
his desire.

Into just such a room he would like to lead Cissie; into this great room
that breathed pride and dignity. What a glowing heart the girl would
have made for its somber magnificence!

He walked over to the full-length windows and opened them; then he
unbolted the jalousies outside and swung them back. The musk of autumn
weeds breathed in out of the darkness. Peter drew a long breath, with a
sort of wistful melting in his chest.



                               CHAPTER IX


A turmoil aroused Peter Siner the next morning, and when he discovered
where he was, in the big canopy bed in the great room, he listened
curiously and heard a continuous chattering and quarreling. After a
minute or two he recognized the voice of old Rose Hobbett. Rose was
cooking the Captain's breakfast, and she performed this function in a
kind of solitary rage. She banged the vessels, slammed the stove-eyes on
and off, flung the stove-wood about, and kept up a snarling
animadversion upon every topic that drifted through her kinky head. She
called the kitchen a rat-hole, stated the Captain must be as mean as the
devil to live as long as he did, complained that no one ever paid any
attention to her, that she might as well be a stray cat, and so on.

As Peter grew wider awake, the monotony of the old negress's rancor
faded into an unobserved noise. He sat up on the edge of his bed between
the parted curtains and divined there was a bath behind the screen in
the corner of his room. Sure enough, he found two frayed but clean
towels, a pan, a pitcher, and a small tub all made of tin. Peter
assembled his find and began splashing his heavily molded chest with a
feeling of well-being. As he splashed on the water, he amused himself by
listening again to old Rose. She was now complaining that some white
young'uns had called her "raving Rose." She hoped "God'lmighty would
send down two she bears and eat 'em up." Peter was amazed by the old
crone's ability to maintain an unending flow of concentrated and aimless
virulence.

The kitchen of the Renfrew manor was a separate building, and presently
Peter saw old Rose carrying great platters across the weed-grown
compound into the dining-room. She bore plate after plate piled high
with cookery,--enough for a company of men. A little later came a
clangor on a rusty triangle, as if she were summoning a house party. Old
Rose did things in a wholesale spirit.

Peter started for his door, but when he had opened the shutter, he stood
hesitating. Breakfast introduced another delicate problem. He decided
not to go to the dining-room at once, but to wait and allow Captain
Renfrew to indicate whether he, Peter, should break his fast with the
master in the dining-room or with old Rose in the kitchen.

A moment later he saw the Captain coming down the long back piazza.
Peter almost addressed his host, but the old Southerner proceeded into
the dining-room apparently without seeing Peter at all.

The guest was gathering his breath to call good morning, but took the
cue with a negro's sensitiveness, and let his eyes run along the weeds
in the compound. The drying stalks were woven with endless spider-webs,
all white with frost. Peter stood regarding their delicate geometries a
moment longer and then reentered his room, not knowing precisely what to
do. He could hear Rose walking across the piazza to and from the dining-
room, and the clink of tableware. A few minutes later a knock came at
his door, and the old woman entered with a huge salver covered with
steaming dishes.

The negress came into the room scowling, and seemed doubtful for a
moment just how to shut the door and still hold the tray with both
hands. She solved the problem by backing against the door tremendously.
Then she saw Peter. She straightened and stared at him with outraged
dignity.

"Well, 'fo' Gawd! Is I bringin' dish-here breakfus' to a nigger?"

"I suppose it's mine," agreed Peter, amused.

"But whuffo, whuffo, nigger, is it dat you ain't come to de kitchen an'
eat off'n de shelf? Is you sick?"

Peter admitted fair bodily vigor.

"Den whut de debbil is I got into!" cried Rose, angrily. "I ain't gwine
wuck at no sich place, ca'yin' breakfus' to a big beef uv a nigger,
stout as a mule. Say, nigger, wha-chu doin' in heah, anyway? Hoccum
dis?"

Peter tried to explain that he was there to do a little writing for the
Captain.

"Well, 'fo' Gawd, when niggers gits to writin' fuh white folks, ants'll
be jumpin' fuh bullfrogs--an havin' other niggers bring dey breakfusses.
You jes as much a nigger as I is, Peter Siner, de brightes' day you ever
seen!"

Peter began a conciliatory phrase.

Old Rose banged the platter on the table and then threatened:

"Dis is de las' time I fetches a moufful to you, Peter Siner, or any
other nigger. You ain't no black Jesus, even ef you is a woods calf."

Peter paused in drawing a chair to the table.

"What did you say, Rose?" he asked sharply.

"You heared whut I say."

A wave of anger went over Peter.

"Yes, I did. You ought to be ashamed to speak ill of the dead."

The crone tossed her malicious head, a little abashed, perhaps, yet very
glad she had succeeded in hurting Peter. She turned and went out the
door, mumbling something which might have been apology or renewed
invectives.

Peter watched the old virago close the door and then sat down to his
breakfast. His anger presently died away, and he sat wondering what
could have happened to Rose Hobbett that had corroded her whole
existence. Did she enjoy her vituperation, her continual malice? He
tried to imagine how she felt.

The breakfast Rose had brought him was delicious: hot biscuits of
feathery lightness, three wide slices of ham, a bowl of scrambled eggs,
a pot of coffee, some preserved raspberries, and a tiny glass of whisky.

The plate which Captain Renfrew had set before his guest was a delicate
dawn pink ringed with a wreath of holly. It was old Worcester porcelain
of about the decade of 1760. The coffee-pot was really an old Whieldon
teapot in broad cauliflower design. Age and careless heating had given
the surface a fine reticulation. His cup and saucer, on the contrary,
were thick pieces of ware such as the cabin-boys toss about on
steamboats. The whole ceramic mélange told of the fortuities of English
colonial and early American life, of the migration of families westward.
No doubt, once upon a time, that dawn-pink Worcester had married into a
Whieldon cauliflower family. A queer sort of genealogy might be traced
among Southern families through their mixtures of tableware.

As Peter mused over these implications of long ancestral lines, it
reminded him that he had none. Over his own past, over the lineage of
nearly every negro in the South, hung a curtain. Even the names of the
colored folk meant nothing, and gave no hint of their kin and clan. At
the end of the war between the States, Peter's people had selected names
for themselves, casually, as children pick up a pretty stone. They meant
nothing. It occurred to Peter for the first time, as he sat looking at
the chinaware, that he knew nothing about himself; whether his kinsmen
were valiant or recreant he did not know. Even his own father he knew
little about except that his mother had said his name was Peter, like
his own, and that he had gone down the river on a tie boat and was
drowned.

A faint sound attracted Peter's attention. He looked out at his open
window and saw old Rose making off the back way with something concealed
under her petticoat. Peter knew it was the unused ham and biscuits that
she had cooked. For once the old negress hurried along without railing
at the world. She moved with a silent, but, in a way, self-respecting,
flight. Peter could see by the tilt of her head and the set of her
shoulders that not only did her spoil gratify her enmity to mankind in
general and the Captain in particular, but she was well within her
rights in her acquisition. She disappeared around a syringa bush, and
was heard no more until she reappeared to cook the noon meal, as
vitriolic as ever.

                    *       *       *       *       *

When Peter entered the library, old Captain Renfrew greeted him with
morning wishes, thus sustaining the fiction that they had not seen each
other before, that morning.

The old gentleman seemed pleased but somewhat excited over his new
secretary. He moved some of his books aimlessly from one table to
another, placed them in exact piles as if he were just about to plunge
into heroic labor, and could not give time to such details once he had
begun.

As he arranged his books just so, he cleared his throat.

"Now, Peter, we want to get down to this," he announced dynamically; "do
this thing, shove this work out!" He started with tottery briskness
around to his manuscript drawer, but veered off to the left to aline
some magazines. "System, Peter, system. Without system one may well be
hopeless of performing any great literary labor; but with system, the
constant piling up of brick on brick, stone on stone--it's the way Rome
was built, my boy."

Peter made a murmur supposed to acknowledge the correctness of this
view.

Eventually the old Captain drew out his drawer of manuscript, stood
fumbling with it uncertainly. Now and then he glanced at Peter, a
genuine secretary who stood ready to help him in his undertaking. The
old gentleman picked up some sheets of his manuscript, seemed about to
read them aloud, but after a moment shook his head, and said, "No, we'll
do that to-night," and restored them to their places. Finally he turned
to his helper.

"Now, Peter," he explained, "in doing this work, I always write at
night. It's quieter then,--less distraction. My mornings I spend
downtown in conversation with my friends. If you should need me, Peter,
you can walk down and find me in front of the livery-stable. I sit there
for a while each morning."

The gravity with which he gave this schedule of his personal habits
amused Peter, who bowed with a serious, "Very well, Captain."

"And in the meantime," pursued the old man, looking vaguely about the
room, "you will do well to familiarize yourself with my library in order
that you may be properly qualified for your secretarial labors."

Peter agreed again.

"And now if you will get my hat and coat, I will be off and let you go
to work," concluded the Captain, with an air of continued urgency.

Peter became thoroughly amused at such an outcome of the old gentleman's
headlong attack on his work,--a stroll down to the village to hold
conversation with friends. The mulatto walked unsmilingly to a little
closet where the Captain hung his things. He took down the old
gentleman's tall hat, a gray greatcoat worn shiny about the shoulders
and tail, and a finely carved walnut cane. Some reminiscence of the
manners of butlers which Peter had seen in theaters caused him to swing
the overcoat across his left arm and polish the thin nap of the old hat
with his right sleeve. He presented it to his employer with a certain
duplication of a butler's obsequiousness. He offered the overcoat to the
old gentleman's arms with the same air. Then he held up the collar of
the greatcoat with one hand and with the other reached under its skirts,
and drew down the Captain's long day coat with little jerks, as if he
were going through a ritual.

Peter grew more and more hilarious over his barber's manners. It was his
contribution to the old gentleman's literary labors, and he was doing it
beautifully, so he thought. He was just making some minute adjustments
of the collar when, to his amazement, Captain Renfrew turned on him.

"Damn it, sir!" he flared out. "What do you think you are? I didn't
engage you for a kowtowing valet in waiting, sir! I asked you, sir, to
come under my roof as an intellectual co-worker, as one gentleman asks
another, and here you are making these niggery motions! They are
disgusting! They are defiling! They are beneath the dignity of one
gentleman to another, sir! What makes it more degrading, I perceive by
your mannerism that you assume a specious servility, sir, as if you
would flatter me by it!"

The old lawyer's face was white. His angry old eyes jerked Peter out of
his slight mummery. The negro felt oddly like a grammar-school boy
caught making faces behind his master's back. It shocked him into
sincerer manners.

"Captain," he said with a certain stiffness, "I apologize for my
mistake; but may I ask how you desire me to act?"

"Simply, naturally, sir," thundered the Captain, "as one alumnus of
Harvard to another! It is quite proper for a young man, sir, to assist
an old gentleman with his hat and coat, but without fripperies and
genuflections and absurdities!"

The old man's hauteur touched some spring of resentment in Peter. He
shook his head.

"No, Captain; our lack of sympathy goes deeper than manners. My position
here is anomalous. For instance, I can talk to you sitting, I can drink
with you standing, but I can't breakfast with you at all. I do that
_in camera_, like a disgraceful divorce proceeding. It's precisely
as I was treated coming down here South again; it's as I've been treated
ever since I've been back; it's--" He paused abruptly and swallowed down
the rancor that filled him. "No," he repeated in a different tone,
"there is no earthly excuse for me to remain here, Captain, or to let
you go on measuring out your indulgences to me. There is no way for us
to get together or to work together--not this far South. Let me thank
you for a night's entertainment and go."

Peter turned about, meaning to make an end of this queer adventure.

The old Captain watched him, and his pallor increased. He lifted an
unsteady hand.

"No, no, Peter," he objected, "not so soon. This has been no trial, no
fair trial. The little--little--er--details of our domestic life here,
they will--er--arrange themselves, Peter. Gossip--talk, you know, we
must avoid that." The old lawyer stood staring with strange eyes at his
protégé. "I--I'm interested in you, Peter. My actions may seem--odd,
but--er--a negro boy going off and doing what you have done--
extraordinary. I--I have spoken to your mother, Caroline, about you
often. In fact, Peter, I--I made some little advances in order that you
might complete your studies. Now, now, don't thank me! It was purely
impersonal. You seemed bright. I have often thought we gentle people of
the South ought to do more to encourage our black folk--not--not as
social equals--" Here the old gentleman made a wry mouth as if he had
tasted salt.

"Stay here and look over the library," he broke off abruptly. "We can
arrange some ground of--of common action, some--"

He settled the lapels of his great-coat with precision, addressed his
palm to the knob of his stick, and marched stiffly out of the library,
around the piazza, and along the dismantled walk to the front gate.

Peter stood utterly astonished at this strange information. Suddenly he
ran after the old lawyer, and rounded the turn of the piazza in time to
see him walk stiffly down the shaded street with tremulous dignity. The
old gentleman was much the same as usual, a little shakier, perhaps, his
tall hat a little more polished, his shiny gray overcoat set a little
more snugly at the collar.



                               CHAPTER X


The village of Hooker's Bend amuses itself mainly with questionable
jests that range all the way from the slightly brackish to the
hopelessly obscene. Now, in using this type of anecdote, the Hooker's-
Benders must not be thought to design an attack upon the decencies of
life; on the contrary, they are relying on the fact that their hearers
have, in the depths of their beings, a profound reverence for the object
of their sallies. And so, by taking advantage of the moral shock they
produce and linking it to the idea of an absurdity, they convert the
whole psychical reaction into an explosion of humor. Thus the ring of
raconteurs telling blackguardly stories around the stoves in Hooker's
Bend stores, are, in reality, exercising one another in the more
delicate sentiments of life, and may very well be classed as a round
table of Sir Galahads, _sans peur et sans reproche_.

However, the best men weary in well doing, and for the last few days
Hooker's Bend had switched from its intellectual staple of conversation
to consider the comedy of Tump Pack's undoing. The incident held
undeniably comic elements. For Tump to start out carrying a forty-four,
meaning to blow a rival out of his path, and to wind up hard at work,
picking cotton at nothing a day for a man whose offer of three dollars a
day he had just refused, certainly held the makings of a farce.

On the heels of this came the news that Peter Siner meant to take
advantage of Tump's arrest and marry Cissie Dildine. Old Parson Ranson
was responsible for the spread of this last rumor. He had fumbled badly
in his effort to hold Peter's secret. Not once, but many times, always
guarded by a pledge of secrecy, had he revealed the approaching wedding.
When pressed for a date, the old negro said he was "not at lib'ty to
tell."

Up to this point white criticism viewed the stage-setting of the black
comedy with the impersonal interest of a box party. Some of the round
table said they believed there would be a dead coon or so before the
scrape was over.

Dawson Bobbs, the ponderous constable, went to the trouble to telephone
Mr. Cicero Throgmartin, for whom Tump was working, cautioning
Throgmartin to make sure that Tump Pack was in the sleeping-shack every
night, as he might get wind of the wedding and take a notion to bolt and
stop it. "You know, you can't tell what a fool nigger'll do," finished
Bobbs.

Throgmartin was mildly amused, promised the necessary precautions, and
said:

"It looks like Peter has put one over on Tump, and maybe a college
education does help a nigger some, after all."

The constable thought it was just luck.

"Well, I dunno," said Throgmartin, who was a philosopher, and inclined
to view every matter from various angles. "Peter may of worked this out
somehow."

"Have you heard what Henry Hooker done to Siner in the land deal?"

Throgmartin said he had.

"No, I don't mean _that_. I mean Henry's last wrinkle in
garnisheeing old Ca'line's estate in his bank for the rest of the
purchase money on the Dilihay place."

There was a pause.

"You don't mean it!"

"Damn 'f I don't."

The constable's sentence shook with suppressed mirth, and the next
moment roars of laughter came over the telephone wire.

"Say, ain't he the bird!"

"He's the original early bird. I'd like to get a snap-shot of the worm
that gets away from him."

Both men laughed heartily again.

"But, say," objected Throgmartin, who was something of a lawyer
himself,--as, indeed, all Southern men are,--"I thought the Sons and
Daughters of Benevolence owed Hooker, not Peter Siner, nor Ca'line's
estate."

"Well, it _is_ the Sons and Daughters, but Ca'line was one of 'em,
and they ain't no limited li'bility 'sociation. Henry can jump on
anything any of 'em's got. Henry got the Persimmon to bring him a copy
of their by-laws."

"Well, I swear! Say, if Henry wasn't kind of held back by his religion,
he'd use a gun, wouldn't he?"

"I dunno. I can say this for Henry's religion: 'It's jest like Henry's
wife,--it's the dearest thing to his heart; he'd give his life for it,
but it don't do nobody a damn bit of good except jest Henry.'"

The constable's little eyes twinkled as he heard Throgmartin roaring
with laughter and sputtering appreciative oaths.

At that moment a ringing of the bell jarred the ears of both
telephonists. A voice asked for Dr. Jallup. It was an ill time to
interrupt two gentlemen. The flair of a jest is lost in a pause. The
officer stated sharply that he was the constable of Wayne County and was
talking business about the county's prisoners. His tone was so charged
with consequence that the voice that wanted a doctor apologized hastily
and ceased.

Came a pause in which neither man found anything to say. Laughter is
like that,--a gay bubble that a touch will destroy. Presently Bobbs
continued, gravely enough:

"Talking about Siner, he's stayin' up at old man Renfrew's now."

"'At so?"

"Old Rose Hobbett swears he's doin' some sort of writin' up there and
livin' in one of the old man's best rooms."

"Hell he is!"

"Yeah?" the constable's voice questioned Throgmartin's opinion about
such heresy and expressed his own.

"D' recken it's so? Old Rose is such a thief and a liar."

"Nope," declared the constable, "the old nigger never would of made up a
lie like that,--never would of thought of it. Old Cap'n Renfrew's
gettin' childish; this nigger's takin' advantage of it. Down at the
liver'-stable the boys were talkin' about Siner goin' to git married,
an' dern if old man Renfrew didn't git cut up about it!"

"Well," opined Throgmartin, charitably, "the old man livin' there all by
himself--I reckon even a nigger is some comp'ny. They're funny damn
things, niggers is; never know a care nor trouble. Lord! I wish I was as
care-free as they are!"

"Don't you, though!" agreed the constable, with the weight of the white
man's burden on his shoulders. For this is a part of the Southern
credo,--that all negroes are gay, care-free, and happy, and that if one
could only be like the negroes, gay, care-free, and happy--Ah, if one
could only be like the negroes!

None of this gossip reached Peter directly, but a sort of back-wash did
catch him keenly through young Sam Arkwright and serve as a conundrum
for several days.

One morning Peter was bringing an armful of groceries up the street to
the old manor, and he met the boy coming in the opposite direction. The
negro's mind was centered on a peculiar problem he had found in the
Renfrew library, so, according to a habit he had acquired in Boston, he
took the right-hand side of the pavement, which chanced to be the inner
side. This violated a Hooker's-Bend convention, which decrees that when
a white and a black meet on the sidewalk, the black man invariably shall
take the outer side.

For this _faux pas_ the gangling youth stopped Peter, fell to
abusing and cursing him for his impudence, his egotism, his attempt at
social equality,--all of which charges, no doubt, were echoes from the
round table. Such wrath over such an offense was unusual. Ordinarily, a
white villager would have thought several uncomplimentary things about
Peter, but would have said nothing.

Peter stopped with a shock of surprise, then listened to the whole
diatribe with a rising sense of irritation and irony. Finally, without a
word, he corrected his mistake by retracing his steps and passing Sam
again, this time on the outside.

Peter walked on up the street, outwardly calm, but his ears burned, and
the queer indignity stuck in his mind. As he went along he invented all
sorts of ironical remarks he might have made to Arkwright, which would
have been unwise; then he thought of sober reasoning he could have used,
which would perhaps have been just as ill-advised. Still later he
wondered why Arkwright had fallen into such a rage over such a trifle.
Peter felt sure there was some contributing rancor in the youth's mind.
Perhaps he had received a scolding at home or a whipping at school, or
perhaps he was in the midst of one of those queer attacks of megalomania
from which adolescents are chronic sufferers. Peter fancied this and
that, but he never came within hail of the actual reason.

When the brown man reached the old manor, the quietude of the library,
with its blackened mahogany table, its faded green Axminster, the
meridional globe with its dusty twinkle, banished the incident from his
mind. He returned to his work of card-indexing the Captain's books. He
took half a dozen at a time from the shelves, dusted them on the piazza,
then carried them to the embrasure of the window, which offered a
pleasant light for reading and for writing the cards.

He went through volume after volume,--speeches by Clay, Calhoun, Yancy,
Prentiss, Breckenridge; an old life of General Taylor, Foxe's "Book of
Martyrs"; a collection of the old middle-English dramatists, such as
Lillo, Garrick, Arthur Murphy, Charles Macklin, George Colman, Charles
Coffey, men whose plays have long since declined from the boards and
disappeared from the reading-table.

The Captain's collection of books was strongly colored by a religious
cast,--John Wesley's sermons, Charles Wesley's hymns; a treatise
presenting a biblical proof that negroes have no souls; a little book
called "Flowers Gathered," which purported to be a compilation of the
sayings of ultra-pious children, all of whom died young; an old book
called "Elements of Criticism," by Henry Home of Kames; another tome
entitled "Studies of Nature," by St. Pierre. This last was a long
argument for the miraculous creation of the world as set forth in
Genesis. The proof offered was a résumé of the vegetable, animal, and
mineral kingdoms, showing their perfect fitness for man's use, and the
immediate induction was that they were designed for man's use. Still
another work calculated the exact age of the earth by the naïve method
of counting the generations from Adam to Christ, to the total adding
eighteen hundred and eighty-five years (for the book was written in
1885), and the original six days it required the Lord to build the
earth. By referring to Genesis and finding out precisely what the
Creator did on the morning of the first day, the writer contrived to
bring his calculation of the age of the earth and everything in the
world to a precision of six hours, give or take,--a somewhat closer
schedule than that made by the Tennessee river boats coming up from St.
Louis.

These and similar volumes formed the scientific section of Captain
Renfrew's library, and it was this paucity of the natural sciences that
formed the problem which Peter tried to solve. All scientific additions
came to an abrupt stop about the decade of 1880-90. That was the date
when Charles Darwin's great fructifying theory, enunciated in 1859,
began to seep into the South.

In the Captain's library the only notice of evolution was a book called
"Darwinism Dethroned." As for the elaborations of the Darwinian
hypothesis by Spencer, Fiske, DeVries, Weismann, Haeckel, Kidd, Bergson,
and every subsequent philosophic or biologic writer, all these men might
never have written a line so far as Captain Renfrew's library was
informed.

Now, why such extraordinary occlusions? Why should Captain Renfrew deny
himself the very commonplaces of thought, theories familiarly held by
the rest of America, and, indeed, by all the rest of the civilized
world?

Musing by the window, Peter succeeded in stating his problem more
broadly: Why was Captain Renfrew an intellectual reactionist? The old
gentleman was the reverse of stupid. Why should he confine his selection
of books to a few old oddities that had lost their battle against a
theory which had captured the intellectual world fifty years before?

Nor was it Captain Renfrew alone. Now and then Peter saw editorials
appearing in leading Southern journals, seriously attacking the
evolutionary hypothesis. Ministers in respectable churches still
fulminated against it. Peter knew that the whole South still clings, in
a way, to the miraculous and special creation of the earth as described
in Genesis. It clings with an intransigentism and bitterness far
exceeding other part of America. Why? To Peter the problem appeared
insoluble.

He sat by the window lost in his reverie. Just outside the ledge half a
dozen English sparrows abused one another with chirps that came faintly
through the small diamond panes. Their quick movements held Peter's
eyes, and their endless quarreling presently recalled his episode with
young Arkwright. It occurred to him, casually, that when Arkwright grew
up he would subscribe to every reactionary doctrine set forth in the
library Peter was indexing.

With that thought came a sort of mental flare, as if he were about to
find the answer to the whole question through the concrete attack made
on him by Sam.

It is an extraordinary feeling,--the sudden, joyful dawn of a new idea.
Peter sat up sharply and leaned forward with a sense of being right on
the fringe of a new and a great perception. Young Arkwright, the old
Captain, the whole South, were unfolding themselves in a vast answer,
when a movement outside the window caught the negro's introspective
eyes.

A girl was passing; a girl in a yellow dress was passing the Renfrew
gate. Even then Peter would not have wavered in his synthesis had not
the girl paused slightly and given a swift side glance at the old manor.
Then the man in the window recognized Cissie Dildine.

A slight shock traveled through Siner's body at the sight of Cissie's
colorless face and darkened eyes. He stood up abruptly, with a feeling
that he had some urgent thing to say to the young woman. His sharp
movement toppled over the big globe.

The crash caused the girl to stop and look. For a moment they stood
thus, the girl in the chill street, the man in the pleasant window,
looking at each other. Next moment Cissie hurried on up the village
street toward the Arkwright house. No doubt she was on her way to cook
the noon meal.

Peter remained standing at the window, with a heavily beating heart. He
watched her until she vanished behind a wing of the shrubbery in the
Renfrew yard.

When she had gone, he looked at his books and cards, sat down, and tried
to resume his indexing. But his mind played away from it like a restive
horse. It had been two weeks since he last saw Cissie. Two weeks.... His
nerves vibrated like the strings of a pianoforte. He had scarcely
thought of her during the fortnight; but now, having seen her, he found
himself powerless to go on with his work. He pottered a while longer
among the books and cards, but they were meaningless. They appeared an
utter futility. Why index a lot of nonsense? Somehow this recalled his
flare, his adumbration of some great idea connected with young Arkwright
and the old Captain, and the South.

He put his trembling nerves to work, trying to recapture his line of
thought. He sat for ten minutes, following this mental train, then that,
losing one, groping for another. His thoughts were jumpy. They played
about Arkwright, the Captain, Cissie, his mother's death, Tump Pack in
prison, the quarrel between the Persimmon and Jim Pink Staggs. The whole
of Niggertown came rushing down upon him, seizing him in its passion and
dustiness and greasiness, putting to flight all his cultivated white-man
ideas.

After half an hour's searching he gave it up. Before he left the room he
stooped, and tried to set up again the globe that the passing of the
girl had caused him to throw down; but its pivot was out of plumb, and
he had to lean it against the window-seat.

The sight of Captain Renfrew coming in at the gate sent Peter to his
room. The hour was near twelve, and it had become a little point of
household etiquette for the mulatto and the white man not to be together
when old Rose jangled the triangle. By this means they forestalled the
mute discourtesy of the old Captain's walking away from his secretary to
eat. The subject of their separate meals had never been mentioned since
their first acrimonious morning. The matter had dropped into the
abeyance of custom, just as the old gentleman had predicted.

Peter had left open his jalousies, but his windows were closed, and now
as he entered he found his apartment flooded with sunshine and filled
with that equable warmth that comes of straining sunbeams through glass.


He prepared for dinner with his mind still hovering about Cissie. He
removed a book and a lamp from the lion-footed table, and drew up an old
chair with which the Captain had furnished his room. It was a delicate
old Heppelwhite of rosewood. It had lost a finial from one of its back
standards, and a round was gone from the left side. Peter never moved
the chair that vague plans sometime to repair it did not occur to him.

When he had cleared his table and placed his chair beside it, he
wandered over to his tall west window and stood looking up the street
through the brilliant sunshine, toward the Arkwright home. No one was in
sight. In Hooker's Bend every one dines precisely at twelve, and at that
hour the streets are empty. It would be some time before Cissie came
back down the street on her way to Niggertown. She first would have to
wash and put away the Arkwright dishes. It would be somewhere about one
o'clock. Nevertheless, he kept staring out through the radiance of the
autumn sunlight with an irrational feeling that she might appear at any
moment. He was afraid she would slip past and he not see her at all. The
thought disturbed him somewhat. It kept him sufficiently on the alert to
stand tapping the balls of his fingers against the glass and looking
steadily toward the Arkwright house.

Presently the watcher perceived that a myriad spider-webs filled the
sunshine with a delicate dancing glister. It was the month of voyaging
spiders. Invisible to Peter, the tiny spinners climbed to the tip-most
twigs of the dead weeds, listed their abdomens, and lassoed the wind
with gossamer lariats; then they let go and sailed away to a hazard of
new fortunes. The air was full of the tiny adventurers. As he stared up
the street, Peter caught the glint of these invisible airships whisking
away to whatever chance might hold for them. There was something epic in
it. It recalled to the mulatto's mind some of Fabre's lovely
descriptions. It reminded him of two or three books on entomology which
he had left in his mother's cabin. He felt he ought to go after them
while the spiders were migrating. He suddenly made up his mind he would
go at once, as soon as he had had dinner; somewhere about one o'clock.

He looked again at the Arkwright house. The thought of walking down the
street with Cissie, to get his books, quickened his heart.

He was still at the window when his door opened and old Rose entered
with his dinner. She growled under her breath all the way from the door
to the table on which she placed the tray. Only a single phrase detached
itself and stood out clearly amid her mutterings, "Hope it chokes you."

Peter arranged his chair and table with reference to the window, so he
could look up the street while he was eating his dinner.

The ill-wishing Rose had again furnished a gourmet's meal, but Peter's
preoccupation prevented its careful and appreciative gustation. An
irrational feeling of the octoroon's imminence spurred him to fast
eating. He had hardly begun his soup before he found himself drinking
swiftly, looking up the street over his spoon, as if he meant to rush
out and swing aboard a passing train.

Siner checked his precipitation, annoyed at himself. He began again,
deliberately, with an attempt to keep his mind on the savor of his food.
He even thought of abandoning his little design of going for the books;
or he would go at a different hour, or to-morrow, or not at all. He told
himself he would far better allow Cissie Dildine to pass and repass
unspoken to, instead of trying to arrange an accidental meeting. But the
brown man's nerves wouldn't hear to it. That automatic portion of his
brain and spinal column which, physiologists assert, performs three
fourths of a man's actions and conditions nine tenths of his volitions--
that part of Peter wouldn't consider it. It began to get jumpy and
scatter havoc in Peter's thoughts at the mere suggestion of not seeing
Cissie. Imperceptibly this radical left wing of his emotions speeded up
his meal, again. He caught himself, stopped his knife and fork in the
act of rending apart a broiled chicken.

"Confound it! I'll start when she comes in sight, no matter whether I've
finished this meal or not," he promised himself.

And suddenly he felt unhurried, in the midst of a large leisure, with a
savory broiled chicken dinner before him,--not exactly before him,
either; most of it had been stuffed away. Only the fag-end remained on
his plate. A perfectly good meal had been ruined by an ill-timed
resistance to temptation.

The glint of a yellow dress far up the street had just prompted him to
swift action when the door opened and old Rose put her head in to say
that Captain Renfrew wanted to see Peter in the library.

The brown man came to a shocked standstill.

"What! Right now?" he asked.

"Yeah, right now," carped Rose. "Ever'thing he wants, he wants right
now. He's been res'less as a cat in a bulldog's den ever sence he come
home fuh dinner. Dunno whut's come into he ole bones, runnin' th'ugh his
dinner lak a razo'-back." She withdrew in a continued mumble of censure.

Peter cast a glance up the street, timed Cissie's arrival at the front
gate, picked up his hat, and walked briskly to the library in the hope
of finishing any business the Captain might have, in time to encounter
the octoroon. He even began making some little conversational plans with
which he could meet Cissie in a simple, unstudied manner. He recalled
with a certain satisfaction that he had not said a word of condemnation
the night of Cissie's confession. He would make a point of that, and was
prepared to argue that, since he had said nothing, he meant nothing. In
fact he was prepared to throw away the truth completely and enter the
conversation as an out-and-out opportunist, alleging whatever appeared
to fit the occasion, as all men talk to all women.

The old Captain was just getting into his chair as Peter entered. He
paused in the midst of lowering himself by the chair-arms and got erect
again. He began speaking a little uncertainly:

"Ah--by the way, Peter--I sent for you--"

"Yes, sir." Peter looked out at the window.

The old gentleman scrutinized Peter a moment; then his faded eyes
wandered about the library.

"Still working at the books, cross-indexing them--"

"Yes, sir." Peter could divine by the crinkle of his nerves the very
loci of the girl as she passed down the thoroughfare.

"Very good," said the old lawyer, absently. He was obviously preoccupied
with some other topic. "Very good," he repeated with racking
deliberation; "quite good. How did that globe get bent?"

Peter, looking at it, did not remember either knocking it over or
setting it up.

"I don't know," he said rapidly. "I hadn't noticed it."

"Old Rose did it," meditated the Captain aloud, "but it's no use to
accuse her of it; she'd deny it. And yet, on the other hand, Peter,
she'll be nervous until I do accuse her of it. She'll be dropping
things, breaking up my china. I dare say I'd best accuse her at once,
storm at her some to quiet her nerves, and get it over."

This monologue spurred Peter's impatience into an agony.

"I believe you were wanting me, Captain?" he suggested, with a certain
urge for action.

The Captain's little pleasantry faded. He looked at Peter and became
uncomfortable again.

"Well, yes, Peter. Downtown I heard--well, a rumor connected with you--"

Such an extraordinary turn caught the attention of even the fidgety
Peter. He looked at his employer and wondered blankly what he had heard.

"I don't want to intrude on your private affairs, Peter, not at all--
not--not in the least--"

"No-o-o," agreed Peter, completely at a loss.

The old gentleman rubbed his thin hands together, lifted his eyebrows up
and down nervously. "Are--are you about to--to leave me, Peter?"

Peter was greatly surprised at the slightness and simplicity of this
question and at the evidence of emotion it carried.

"Why, no," he cried; "not at all! Who told you I was? It is a deep
gratification to me--"

"To be exact," proceeded the old man, with a vague fear still in his
eyes, "I heard you were going to marry."

"Marry!" This flaw took Peter's sails even more unexpectedly than the
other. "Captain, who in the world--who could have told--"

"Are you?"

"No."

"You aren't?"

"Indeed, no!"

"I heard you were going to marry a negress here in town called Cissie
Dildine." A question was audible in the silence that followed this
statement. The obscure emotion that charged all the old man's queries
affected Peter.

"I am not, Captain," he declared earnestly; "that's settled."

"Oh--you say it's settled," picked up the old lawyer, delicately.

"Yes."

"Then you had thought of it?" Immediately, however, he corrected this
breach of courtesy into which his old legal habit of cross-questioning
had led him. "Well, at any rate," he said in quite another voice, "that
eases my mind, Peter. It eases my mind. It was not only, Peter, the
thought of losing you, but this girl you were thinking of marrying--let
me warn you, Peter--she's a negress."

The mulatto stared at the strange objection.

"A negress!"

The old man paused and made that queer movement with his wrinkled lips
as if he tasted some salty flavor.

"I--I don't mean exactly a--a negress," stammered the old gentleman; "I
mean she's not a--a good girl, Peter; she's a--a thief, in fact--she's a
thief--a thief, Peter. I couldn't endure for you to marry a thief,
Peter."

It seemed to Peter Siner that some horrible compulsion kept the old
Captain repeating over and over the fact that Cissie Dildine was a
thief, a thief, a thief. The word cut the very viscera in the brown man.
At last, when it seemed the old gentleman would never cease, Peter
lifted a hand.

"Yes, yes," he gasped, with a sickly face, "I--I've heard that before."

He drew a shaken breath and moistened his lips. The two stood looking at
each other, each profoundly at a loss as to what the other meant. Old
Captain Renfrew collected himself first.

"That is all, Peter." He tried to lighten his tones. "I think I'll get
to work. Let me see, where do I keep my manuscript?"

Peter pointed mechanically at a drawer as he walked out at the library
door. Once outside, he ran to the front piazza, then to the front gate,
and with a racing heart stood looking up and down the sleepy
thoroughfare. The street was quite empty.



                               CHAPTER XI


Old Captain Renfrew was a trustful, credulous soul, as, indeed, most
gentleman who lead a bachelor's life are. Such men lack that moral
hardening and whetting which is obtained only amid the vicissitudes of a
home; they are not actively and continuously engaged in the employment
and detection of chicane; want of intimate association with a woman and
some children begets in them a soft and simple way of believing what is
said to them. And their faith, easily raised, is just as easily
shattered. Their judgment lacks training.

Peter Siner's simple assertion to the old Captain that he was not going
to marry Cissie Dildine completely allayed the old gentleman's
uneasiness. Even the further information that Peter had had such a
marriage under advisement, but had rejected it, did not put him on his
guard.

From long non-intimacy with any human creature, the old legislator had
forgotten that human life is one long succession of doing the things one
is not going to do; he had forgotten, if he ever knew, that the human
brain is primarily not a master, but a servant; its function is not to
direct, but to devise schemes and apologies to gratify impulses. It is
the ways and means committee to the great legislature of the body.

For several days after his fear that Peter Siner would marry Cissie
Dildine old Captain Renfrew was as felicitous as a lover newly
reconciled to his mistress. He ambled between the manor and the livery-
stable with an abiding sense of well-being. When he approached his home
in the radiance of high noon and saw the roof of the old mansion lying a
bluish gray in the shadows of the trees, it filled his heart with joy to
feel that it was not an old and empty house that awaited his coming, but
that in it worked a busy youth who would be glad to see him enter the
gate.

The fear of some unattended and undignified death which had beset the
old gentleman during the last eight or ten years of his life vanished
under Peter's presence. When he thought of it at all now, he always
previsioned himself being lifted in Peter's athletic arms and laid
properly on his big four-poster.

At times, when Peter sat working over the books in the library, the
Captain felt a prodigious urge to lay a hand on the young man's broad
and capable shoulder. But he never did. Again, the old lawyer would sit
for minutes at a time watching his secretary's regular features as the
brown man pursued his work with a trained intentness. The old gentleman
derived a deep pleasure from such long scrutinies. It pleased him to
imagine that, when he was young, he had possessed the same vigor, the
same masculinity, the same capacity for persistent labor. Indeed, all
old gentlemen are prone to choose the most personable and virile young
man they can find for themselves to have been like.

The two men had little to say to each other. Their thoughts beat to such
different tempos that any attempt at continued speech discovered unequal
measures. As a matter of fact, in all comfortable human conversation,
words are used as mere buoys dropped here and there to mark well-known
channels of thought and feeling. Similarity of mental topography is
necessary to mutual understanding. Between any two generations the
landscape is so changed as to be unrecognizable. Our fathers are
monarchists; our sons, bolsheviki.

Old Rose Hobbett was more of an age with the Captain, and these two
talked very comfortably as the old virago came and went with food at
meal-time. For instance, the Captain always asked his servant if she had
fed his cat, and old Rose invariably would sulk and poke out her lips
and put off answering to the last possible moment of insolence, then
would grumble out that she was jes 'bout to feed the varmint, an' 't wuz
funny nobody couldn't give a hard-wuckin' colored woman breathin'-space
to turn roun' in.

This reply was satisfactory to the Captain, because he knew what it
meant,--that Rose had half forgotten the cat, and had meant wholly to
forget it, but since she had been snapped up, so to speak, in the very
act of forgetting, she would dole it out a piece or two of the meat that
she had meant to abscond with as soon as the dishes were done.

While Rose was fulminating, the old gentleman recalled his bent globe
and decided the moment had come for a lecture on that point. It always
vaguely embarrassed the Captain to correct Rose, and this increased his
dignity. Now he cleared his throat in a certain way that brought the old
negress to attention, so well they knew each other.

"By the way, Rose, in the future I must request you to use extraordinary
precautions in cleansing and dusting articles of my household furniture,
or, in case of damage, I shall be forced to withhold an indemnification
out of your pay."

Eight or ten years ago, when the Captain first repeated this formula to
his servant, the roll and swing of his rhetoric, and the last word,
"pay," had built up lively hopes in Rose that the old gentleman was
announcing an increase in her regular wage of a dollar a week.
Experience, however, had long since corrected this faulty
interpretation.

She came to a stand in the doorway, with her kinky gray head swung
around, half puzzled, wholly rebellious.

"Whut is I bruk now?"

"My globe."

The old woman turned about with more than usual innocence.

"Why, I ain't tech yo' globe!"

"I foresaw that," agreed the Captain, with patient irony, "but in the
future don't touch it more carefully. You bent its pivot the last time
you refrained from handling it."

"But I tell you I ain't tech yo' globe!" cried the negress, with the
anger of an illiterate person who feels, but cannot understand, the
satire leveled at her.

"I agree with you," said the Captain, glad the affair was over.

This verbal ducking into the cellar out of the path of her storm stirred
up a tempest.

"But I tell you I ain't bruk it!"

"That's what I said."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she flared; "you says I ain't, but when you says I
ain't, you means I is, an' when you says I is, you means I ain't. Dat's
de sort o' flapjack I's wuckin' fur!"

The woman flirted out of the dining-room, and the old gentleman drew
another long breath, glad it was over. He really had little reason to
quarrel about the globe, bent or unbent; he never used it. It sat in his
study year in and year out, its dusty twinkle brightened at long
intervals by old Rose's spiteful rag.

The Captain ate on placidly. There had been a time when he was dubious
about such scenes with Rose. Once he felt it beneath his dignity as a
Southern gentleman to allow any negro to speak to him disrespectfully.
He used to feel that he should discharge her instantly and during the
first years of their entente had done so a number of times. But he could
get no one else who suited him so well; her biscuits, her corn-light-
bread, her lye-hominy, which only the old darkies know how to make. And,
to tell the truth, he missed the old creature herself, her understanding
of him and his ideas, her contemporaneity; and no one else would work
for a dollar a week.

Presently in the course of his eating the old gentleman required another
biscuit, and he wanted a hot one. Three mildly heated disks lay on a
plate before him, but they had been out of the oven for five minutes and
had been reduced to an unappetizing tepidity.

A little hand-bell sat beside the Captain's plate whose special use was
to summon hot biscuits. Now, the old lawyer looked at its worn handle
speculatively. He was not at all sure Rose would answer the bell. She
would say she hadn't heard it. He felt faintly disgruntled at not
foreseeing this exigency and buttering two biscuits while they were hot,
or even three.

He considered momentarily a project of going after a hot biscuit for
himself, but eventually put it by. South of the Mason-Dixon Line, self-
help is half-scandal. At last, quite dubiously, he did pick up the bell
and gave it a gentle ring, so if old Rose chose not to hear it, she
probably wouldn't: thus he could believe her and not lose his temper and
so widen an already uncomfortable breach.

To the Captain's surprise, the old creature not only brought the
biscuits, but she did it promptly. No sooner had she served them,
however, than the Captain saw she really had returned with a new line of
defense.

She mumbled it out as usual, so that her employer was forced to guess at
a number of words: "Dat nigger, Peter, mus' 'a' busted yo' gl--"

"No, he didn't."

"Mus' uv."

"No, he didn't. I asked him, and he said he didn't."

The old harridan stared, and her speech suddenly became clear-cut:

"Well, 'fo' Gawd, I says I didn't, too!"

At this point the Captain made an unintelligible sound and spread the
butter on his hot biscuit.

"He's jes a nigger, lak I is," stated the cook, warmly.

The Captain buttered a second hot biscuit.

"We's jes two niggers."

The Captain hoped she would presently sputter herself out.

"Now look heah," cried the crone, growing angrier and angrier as the
reaches of the insult spread itself before her, "is you gwine to put one
o' us niggers befo' de udder? Ca'se ef you is, I mus' say, it's Kady-
lock-a-do' wid me."

The Captain looked up satirically.

"What do you mean by Katie-lock-the-door with you?" he asked, though he
had an uneasy feeling that he knew.

"You know whut I means. I means I 's gwine to leab dis place."

"Now look here, Rose," protested the lawyer, with dignity, "Peter Siner
occupies almost a fiduciary relation to me."

The old negress stared with a slack jaw. "A relation o' yo's!"

The lawyer hesitated some seconds, looking at the hag. His high-bred old
face was quite inscrutable, but presently he said in a serious voice:

"Peter occupies a position of trust with me, Rose."

"Yeah," mumbled Rose; "I see you trus' him."

"One day he is going to do me a service, a very great service, Rose."

The hag continued looking at him with a stubborn expression.

"You know better than any one else, Rose, my dread of some--some
unmannerly death--"

The old woman made a sound that might have meant anything.

"And Peter has promised to stay with me until--until the end."

The old negress considered this solemn speech, and then grunted out:

"Which en'?"

"Which end?" The Captain was irritated.

"Yeah; yo' en' or Peter's en'?"

"By every law of probability, Peter will outlive me."

"Yeah, but Peter 'll come to a en' wid you when he ma'ies dat stuck-up
yellow fly-by-night, Cissie Dildine."

"He's not going to marry her," said the Captain, comfortably.

"Huh!"

"Peter told me he didn't intend to marry Cissie Dildine."

"Shu! Then whut fur dey go roun' peepin' at each other lak a couple o'
niggers roun' a haystack?"

The old lawyer was annoyed.

"Peeping where?"

"Why, right in front o' dis house, dat's wha; ever' day when dat hussy
passes up to de Arkwrights', wha she wucks. She pokes along an' walls
her eyes roun' at dis house lak a calf wid de splivins."

"That going on now?"

"Ever' day."

A deep uneasiness went through the old man. He moistened his lips.

"But Peter said--"

"Good Gawd! Mars' Renfrew, whut diff'ence do it make whut Peter say?
Ain't you foun' out yit when a he-nigger an' a she-nigger gits to
peepin' at each udder, whut dey says don't lib in de same neighbo'hood
wid whut dey does?"

This was delivered with such energy that it completely undermined the
Captain's faith in Peter, and the fact angered the old gentleman.

"That'll do, Rose; that'll do. That's all I need of you."

The old crone puffed up again at this unexpected flare, and went out of
the room, plopping her feet on floor and mumbling. Among these
ungracious sounds the Captain caught, "Blin' ole fool!" But there was no
need becoming offended and demanding what she meant. Her explanation
would have been vague and unsatisfactory.

The verjuice which old Rose had sprinkled over Peter and Cissie by
calling them "he-nigger" and "she-nigger" somehow minimized them,
animalized them in the old lawyer's imagination. Rose's speech was
charged with such contempt for her own color that it placed the mulatto
and the octoroon down with apes and rabbits.

The lawyer fought against his feeling, for the sake of his secretary,
who had come to occupy so wide a sector of his comfort and affection.
Yet the old virago evidently spoke from a broad background of
experience. She was at least half convincing. While the Captain repelled
her charge against his quiet, hard-working brown helper, he admitted it
against Cissie Dildine, whom he did not know. She was an animal, a
female centaur, a wanton and a strumpet, as all negresses are wantons
and strumpets. All white men in the South firmly believe that. They
believe it with a peculiar detestation; and since they used these
persons very profitably for a hundred and fifty years as breeding
animals, one might say they believe it a trifle ungratefully.



                              CHAPTER XII


The semi-daily passings of Cissie Dildine before the old Renfrew manor
on her way to and from the Arkwright home upset Peter Siner's working
schedule to an extraordinary degree.

After watching for two or three days, Peter worked out a sort of time-
table for Cissie. She passed up early in the morning, at about five
forty-five. He could barely see her then, and somehow she looked very
pathetic hurrying along in the cold, dim light of dawn. After she had
cooked the Arkwright breakfast, swept the Arkwright floors, dusted the
Arkwright furniture, she passed back toward Niggertown, somewhere near
nine. About eleven o'clock she went up to cook dinner, and returned at
one or two in the afternoon. Occasionally, she made a third trip to get
supper.

This was as exactly as Peter could predict the arrivals and departures
of Cissie, and the schedule involved a large margin of uncertainty. For
half an hour before Cissie passed she kept Peter watching the clock at
nervous intervals, wondering if, after all, she had gone by unobserved.
Invariably, he would move his work to a window where he had the whole
street under his observation. Then he would proceed with his indexing
with more and more difficulty. At first the paragraphs would lose
connection, and he would be forced to reread them. Then the sentences
would drop apart. Immediately before the girl arrived, the words
themselves grew anarchic. They stared him in the eye, each a complete
entity, self-sufficient, individual, bearing no relation to any other
words except that of mere proximity,--like a spelling lesson. Only by an
effort could Peter enforce a temporary cohesion among them, and they
dropped apart at the first slackening of the strain.

Strange to say, when the octoroon actually was walking past, Peter did
not look at her steadily. On the contrary, he would think to himself:
"How little I care for such a woman! My ideal is thus and so--" He would
look at her until she glanced across the yard and saw him sitting in the
window; then immediately he bent over his books, as if his stray glance
had lighted on her purely by chance, as if she were nothing more to him
than a passing dray or a fluttering leaf. Indeed, he told himself during
these crises that he had no earthly interest in the girl, that she was
not the sort of woman he desired,--while his heart hammered, and the
lines of print under his eyes blurred into gray streaks across the page.

One afternoon Peter saw Cissie pass his gate, hurrying, almost running,
apparently in flight from something. It sent a queer shock through him.
He stared after her, then up and down the street. He wondered why she
ran. Even when he went to bed that night the strangeness of Cissie's
flight kept him awake inventing explanations.

                    *       *       *       *       *

None of Peter's preoccupations was lost upon Captain Renfrew. None is so
suspicious as a credulous man aroused. After Rose had struck her blow at
the secretary, the old gentleman noted all of Peter's permutations and
misconstrued a dozen quite innocent actions on Peter's part into signs
of bad faith.

By a little observation he identified Cissie Dildine and what he saw did
not reëstablish his peace of mind. On the contrary, it became more than
probable that the cream-colored negress would lure Peter away. This
possibility aroused in the old lawyer a grim, voiceless rancor against
Cissie. In his thoughts he linked the girl with every manner of evil
design against Peter. She was an adventuress, a Cyprian, a seductress
attempting to snare Peter in the brazen web of her comeliness. For to
the old gentleman's eyes there was an abiding impudicity about Cissie's
very charms. The passionate repose of her face was immodest; the
possession of a torso such as a sculptor might have carved was brazen.
The girl was shamefully well appointed.

One morning as Captain Renfrew came home from town, he chanced to walk
just behind the octoroon, and quite unconsciously the girl delivered an
added fillip to the old gentleman's uneasiness.

Just before Cissie passed in front of the Renfrew manor, womanlike, she
paused to make some slight improvements in her appearance before walking
under the eyes of her lover. She adjusted some strands of hair which had
blown loose in the autumn wind, looked at herself in a purse mirror,
retouched her nose with her greenish powder; then she picked a little
sprig of sumac leaves that burned in the corner of a lawn and pinned its
flame on the unashamed loveliness of her bosom.

This negro instinct for brilliant color is the theme of many jests in
the South, but it is entirely justified esthetically, although the
constant sarcasm of the whites has checked its satisfaction, if it has
not corrupted the taste.

The bit of sumac out of which the octoroon had improvised a nosegay
lighted up her skin and eyes, and created an ensemble as closely
resembling a Henri painting as anything the streets of Hooker's Bend
were destined to see.

But old Captain Renfrew was far from appreciating any such bravura in
scarlet and gold. At first he put it down to mere niggerish taste, and
his dislike for the girl edged his stricture; then, on second thought,
the oddness of sumac for a nosegay caught his attention. Nobody used
sumac for a buttonhole. He had never heard of any woman, white or black,
using sumac for a bouquet. Why should this Cissie Dildine trig herself
out in sumac?

The Captain's suspicions came to a point like a setter. He began
sniffing about for Cissie's motives in choosing so queer an ornament. He
wondered if it had anything to do with Peter Siner.

All his life, Captain Renfrew's brain had been deliberate. He moved
mentally, as he did physically, with dignity. To tell the truth, the
Captain's thoughts had a way of absolutely stopping now and then, and
for a space he would view the world as a simple collection of colored
surfaces without depth or meaning. During these intervals, by a sort of
irony of the gods the old gentleman's face wore a look of philosophic
concentration, so that his mental hiatuses had given him a reputation
for profundity, which was county wide. It had been this, years before,
that had carried him by a powerful majority into the Tennessee
legislature. The voters agreed, almost to a man, that they preferred
depth to a shallow facility. The rival candidate had been shallow and
facile. The polls returned the Captain, and the young gentleman--for the
Captain was a young gentleman in those days--was launched on a typical
politician's career. But some Republican member from east Tennessee had
impugned the rising statesman's honor with some sort of improper
liaison. In those days there seemed to be proper and improper liaisons.
There had been a duel on the banks of the Cumberland River in which the
Captain succeeded in wounding his traducer in the arm, and was thus
vindicated by the gods. But the incident ended a career that might very
well have wound up in the governor's chair, or even in the United States
Senate, considering how very deliberate the Captain was mentally.

To-day, as the Captain walked up the street following Cissie Dildine,
one of these vacant moods fell upon him and it was not until they had
reached his own gate that it suddenly occurred to the old gentleman just
what Cissie's sumac did mean. It was a signal to Peter. The simplicity
of the solution stirred the old man. Its meaning was equally easy to
fathom. When a woman signals any man it conveys consent. Denials receive
no signals; they are inferred. In this particular case Captain Renfrew
found every reason to believe that this flaring bit of sumac was the
prelude to an elopement.

In the window of his library the Captain saw his secretary staring at
his cards and books with an intentness plainly assumed. Peter's fixed
stare had none of those small movements of the head that mark genuine
intellectual labor. So Peter was posing, pretending he did not see the
girl, to disarm his employer's suspicions,--pretending not to see a
girl rigged out like that!

Such duplicity sent a queer spasm of anguish through the old lawyer.
Peter's action held half a dozen barbs for the Captain. A fellow-alumnus
of Harvard staying in his house merely for his wage and keep! Peter bore
not the slightest affection for him; the mulatto lacked even the
chivalry to notify the Captain of his intentions, because he knew the
Captain objected. And yet all these self-centered objections were
nothing to what old Captain Renfrew felt for Peter's own sake. For Peter
to marry a nigger and a strumpet, for him to elope with a wanton and a
thief! For such an upstanding lad, the very picture of his own virility
and mental alertness when he was of that age, for such a boy to fling
himself away, to drop out of existence--oh, it was loathly!

The old man entered the library feeling sick. It was empty. Peter had
gone to his room, according to his custom. But in this particular
instance it seemed to Captain Renfrew his withdrawal was flavored with a
tang of guilt. If he were innocent, why should not such a big, strong
youth have stayed and helped an old gentleman off with his overcoat?

The old Captain blew out a windy breath as he helped himself out of his
coat in the empty library. The bent globe still leaned against the
window-seat. The room had never looked so somber or so lonely.

At dinner the old man ate so little that Rose Hobbett ceased her
monotonous grumbling to ask if he felt well. He said he had had a hard
day, a difficult day. He felt so weak and thin that he foretold the gray
days when he could no longer creep to the village and sit with his
cronies at the livery-stable, when he would be house-fast, through
endless days, creeping from room to room like a weak old rat in a huge
empty house, finally to die in some disgusting fashion. And Now Peter
was going to leave him, was going to throw himself away on a lascivious
wench. A faint moisture dampened the old man's withered eyes. He drank
an extra thimbleful of whisky to try to hearten himself. Its bouquet
filled the time-worn stateliness of the dining-room.

                    *       *       *       *       *

During the weeks of Peter's stay at the manor it had grown to be the
Captain's habit really to write for two or three hours in the afternoon,
and his pile of manuscript had thickened under his application.

The old man was writing a book called "Reminiscences of Peace and War."
His book would form another unit of that extraordinary crop of personal
reminiscences of the old South which flooded the presses of America
during the decade of 1908-18. During just that decade it seemed as if the
aged men and women of the South suddenly realized that the generation who
had lived through the picturesqueness and stateliness of the old slave
régime was almost gone, and over their hearts swept a common impulse to
commemorate, in the sunset of their own lives, its fading splendor and
its vanished deeds.

On this particular afternoon the Captain settled himself to work, but
his reminiscences did not get on. He pinched a bit of floss from the nib
of his pen and tried to swing into the period of which he was writing.
He read over a few pages of his copy as mental priming, but his thoughts
remained flat and dull. Indeed, his whole life, as he reviewed it in the
waning afternoon, appeared empty and futile. It seemed hardly worth
while to go on.

The Captain had come to that point in his memoirs where the Republican
representative from Knox County had set going the petard which had
wrecked his political career.

From the very beginnings of his labors the old lawyer had looked forward
to writing just this period of his life. He meant to clear up his name
once for all. He meant to use invective, argument, testimony and a
powerful emotional appeal, such as a country lawyer invariably attempts
with a jury.

But now that he had arrived at the actual composition of his defense, he
sat biting his penholder, with all the arguments he meant to advance
slipped from his mind. He could not recall the points of the proof. He
could not recall them with Peter Siner moving restlessly about the room,
glancing through the window, unsettled, nervous, on the verge of eloping
with a negress.

His secretary's tragedy smote the old man. The necessity of doing
something for Peter put his thoughts to rout. A wild idea occurred to
the Captain that if he should write the exact truth, perhaps his memoirs
might serve Peter as a signal against a futile, empty journey.

But the thought no sooner appeared than it was rejected. In the Anglo-
Saxon, especially the Anglo-Saxon of the Southern United States, abides
no such Gallic frankness as moved a Jean-Jacques. Southern memoirs
always sound like the conversation between two maiden ladies,--nothing
intimate, simply a few general remarks designed to show from what nice
families they came.

So the Captain wrote nothing. During all the afternoon he sat at his
desk with a leaden heart, watching Peter move about the room. The old
man maintained more or less the posture of writing, but his thoughts
were occupied in pitying himself and pitying Peter. Half a dozen times
he looked up, on the verge of making some plea, some remonstrance,
against the madness of this brown man. But the sight of Peter sitting in
the window-seat staring out into the street silenced him. He was a weak
old man, and Peter's nerves were strung with the desire of youth.

At last the two men heard old Rose clashing in the kitchen. A few
minutes later the secretary excused himself from the library, to go to
his own room. As Peter was about to pass through the door, the Captain
was suddenly galvanized into action by the thought that this perhaps was
the last time he would ever see him. He got up from his chair and called
shakenly to Peter. The negro paused. The Captain moistened his lips and
controlled his voice.

"I want to have a word with you, Peter, about a--a little matter. I--
I've mentioned it before."

"Yes, sir." The negro's tone and attitude reminded the Captain that the
supper gong would soon sound and they would best separate at once.

"It--it's about Cissie Dildine," the old lawyer hurried on.

Peter nodded slightly.

"Yes, you mentioned that before."

The old man lifted a thin hand as if to touch Peter's arm, but he did
not. A sort of desperation seized him.

"But listen, Peter, you don't want to do--what's in your mind!"

"What is in my mind, Captain?"

"I mean marry a negress. You don't want to marry a negress!"

The brown man stared, utterly blank.

"Not marry a negress!"

"No, Peter; no," quavered the old man. "For yourself it may make no
difference, but your children--think of your children, your son growing
up under a brown veil! You can't tear it off. God himself can't tear it
off! You can never reach him through it. Your children, your children's
children, a terrible procession that stretches out and out, marching
under a black shroud, unknowing, unknown! All you can see are their sad
forms beneath the shroud, marching away--marching away. God knows where!
And yet it's your own flesh and blood!"

Suddenly the old lawyer's face broke into the hard, tearless contortions
of the aged. His terrible emotion communicated itself to the sensitive
brown man.

"But, Captain, I myself am a negro. Whom should I marry?"

"No one; no one! Let your seed wither in your loins! It's better to do
that; it's better--" At that moment the clashing of the supper gong fell
on the old man's naked nerves. He straightened up by some reflex
mechanism, turned away from what he thought was his last interview with
his secretary, and proceeded down the piazza into the great empty
dining-room.



                              CHAPTER XIII


With overwrought nerves Peter Siner entered his room. At five o'clock
that afternoon he had seen Cissie Dildine go up the street to the
Arkwright home to cook one of those occasional suppers. He had been
watching for her return, and in the midst of it the Captain's
extraordinary outburst had stirred him up.

Once in his room, the negro placed the broken Hepplewhite in such a
position that he could rake the street with a glance. Then he tried to
compose himself and await the coming of his supper and the passage of
Cissie. There was something almost pathetic in Peter's endless watching,
all for a mere glimpse or two of the girl in yellow. He himself had no
idea how his nerves and thoughts had woven themselves around the young
woman. He had no idea what a passion this continual doling out of
glimpses had begotten. He did not dream how much he was, as folk naïvely
put it, in love with her.

His love was strong enough to make him forget for a while the old
lawyer's outbreak. However, as the dusk thickened in the shrubbery and
under the trees, certain of the old gentleman's phrases revisited the
mulatto's mind: "A terrible procession ... marching under a black
shroud.... Your children, your children's children, a terrible
procession,... marching away, God knows where.... And yet--it's your own
flesh and blood!" They were terrific sentences, as if the old man had
been trying to tear from his vision some sport of nature, some
deformity. As the implications spread before Peter, he became more and
more astonished at its content. Even to Captain Renfrew black men were
dehumanized,--shrouded, untouchable creatures.

It delivered to Peter a slow but a profound shock. He glanced about at
the faded magnificence of the room with a queer feeling that he had been
introduced into it under a sort of misrepresentation. He had taken up
his abode with the Captain, at least on the basis of belonging to the
human family, but this passionate outbreak, this puzzling explosion, cut
that ground from under his feet.

The more Peter thought about it, the stranger grew his sensation. Not
even to be classed as a human being by this old gentleman who in a weak,
helpless fashion had crept somewhat into Peter's affections,--not to be
considered a man! The mulatto drew a long, troubled breath, and by the
mere mechanics of his desire kept staring through the gloom for Cissie.

Peter Siner had known all along that the unread whites of Hooker's Bend
--and that included nearly every white person in the village--considered
black men as simple animals; but he had supposed that the more thoughtful
men, of whom Captain Renfrew was a type, at least admitted the Afro-
American to the common brotherhood of humanity. But they did not.

As Peter sat staring into the darkness the whole effect of the
dehumanizing of the black folk of the South began to unfold itself
before his imagination. It explained to him the tragedies of his race,
their sufferings at the hand of mob violence; the casualness, even the
levity with which black men were murdered: the chronic dishonesty with
which negroes were treated: the constant enactment of adverse
legislation against them; the cynical use of negro women. They were all
vermin, animals; they were one with the sheep and the swine; a little
nearer the human in form, perhaps, and, oddly enough, one that could be
bred to a human being, as testified a multitude of brown and yellow and
cream-colored folk, but all marching away, as the Captain had so
passionately said, marching away, their forms hidden from human
intercourse under a shroud of black, an endless procession marching
away, God knew whither! And yet they were the South's own flesh and
blood.

The horror of such a complex swelled in Peter's mind to monstrous
proportions. As night thickened at his window, the negro sat dazed and
wondering at the mightiness of his vision. His thoughts went groping,
trying to solve some obscure problem it posed. He thought of the
Arkwright boy; he thought of the white men smiling as his mother's
funeral went past the livery-stable; he thought of Captain Renfrew's
manuscript that he was transcribing. Through all the old man's memoirs
ran a certain lack of sincerity. Peter always felt amid his labors that
the old Captain was making an attorney's plea rather than a candid
exposition. At this point in his thoughts there gradually limned itself
in the brown man's mind the answer to that enigma which he almost had
unraveled on the day he first saw Cissie Dildine pass his window. With
it came the answer to the puzzle contained in the old Captain's library.
The library was not an ordinary compilation of the world's thought; it,
too, was an attorney's special pleading against the equality of man. Any
book or theory that upheld the equality of man was carefully excluded
from the shelves. Darwin's great hypothesis, and every development
springing from it, had been banned, because the moment that a theory was
propounded of the great biologic relationship of all flesh, from worms
to vertebrates, there instantly followed a corollary of the brotherhood
of man.

What Christ did for theology, Darwin did for biology,--he democratized
it. The One descended to man's brotherhood from the Trinity; the other
climbed up to it from the worms.

The old Captain's library lacked sincerity. Southern orthodoxy, which
persists in pouring its religious thought into the outworn molds of
special creation, lacks sincerity. Scarcely a department of Southern
life escapes this fundamental attitude of special pleader and
disingenuousness. It explains the Southern fondness for legal
subtleties. All attempts at Southern poetry, belles-lettres, painting,
novels, bear the stamp of the special plea, of authors whose exposition
is careful.

Peter perceived what every one must perceive, that when letters turn
into a sort of glorified prospectus of a country, all value as
literature ceases. The very breath of art and interpretation is an eager
and sincere searching of the heart. This sincerity the South lacks. Her
single talent will always be forensic, because she is a lawyer with a
cause to defend. And such is the curse that arises from lynchings and
venery and extortions and dehumanizings,--sterility; a dumbness of soul.

Peter Siner's thoughts lifted him with the tremendous buoyancy of
inspiration. He swung out of his chair and began tramping his dark room.
The skin of his scalp tickled as if a ghost had risen before him. The
nerves in his thighs and back vibrated. He felt light, and tingled with
energy.

Unaware of what he was doing, he set about lighting the gasolene-lamp.
He worked with nervous quickness, as if he were in a great hurry.
Presently a brilliant light flooded the room. It turned the gray
illumination of the windows to blackness.

Joy enveloped Peter. His own future developed under his eyes with the
same swift clairvoyance that marked his vision of the ills of his
country. He saw himself remedying those ills. He would go about showing
white men and black men the simple truth, the spiritual necessity for
justice and fairness. It was not a question of social equality; it was a
question of clearing a road for the development of Southern life. He
would show white men that to weaken, to debase, to dehumanize the negro,
inflicted a more terrible wound on the South than would any strength the
black man might develop. He would show black men that to hate the
whites, constantly to suspect, constantly to pilfer from them, only
riveted heavier shackles on their limbs.

It was all so clear and so simple! The white South must humanize the
black not for the sake of the negro, but for the sake of itself. No one
could resist logic so fundamental.

Peter's heart sang with the solemn joy of a man who had found his work.
All through his youth he had felt blind yearnings and gropings for he
knew not what. It had driven him with endless travail out of Niggertown,
through school and college, and back to Niggertown,--this untiring Hound
of Heaven. But at last he had reached his work. He, Peter Siner, a
mulatto, with the blood of both white and black in his veins, would come
as an evangel of liberty to both white and black. The brown man's eyes
grew moist from Joy. His body seemed possessed of tremendous energy.

As he paced his room there came into the glory of Peter's thoughts the
memory of the Arkwright boy as he sat in the cedar glade brooding on the
fallen needles Peter recalled the hobbledehoy's disjointed words as he
wrestled with the moral and physical problems of adolescence. Peter
recalled his impulse to sit down by young Sam Arkwright, and, as best he
might, give him some clue to the critical and feverish period through
which he was passing.

He had not done so, but Peter remembered the instance down to the very
desperation in the face of the brooding youngster. And it seemed to
Peter that this rejected impulse had been a sign that he was destined to
be an evangel to the whites as well as to the blacks.

The joy of Peter's mission bore him aloft on vast wings. His room seemed
to fall away from him, and he was moving about his country, releasing
the two races from their bonds of suspicion and cruelty.

                    *       *       *       *       *

Slowly the old manor formed about Peter again, and he perceived that a
tapping on the door had summoned him back. He walked to the door with
his heart full of kindness for old Rose. She was bringing him his
supper. He felt as if he could take the old woman in his arms, and out
of the mere hugeness of his love sweeten her bitter life. The mulatto
opened the door as eagerly as if he were admitting some long-desired
friend; but when the shutter swung back, the old crone and her salver
were not there. All he could discern in the darkness were the white
pillars marking the night into panels. There was no light in the outer
kitchen. The whole manor was silent.

As he stood listening, the knocking was repeated, this time more
faintly. He fixed the sound at the window. He closed the door, walked
across the brilliant room, and opened the shutters.

For several moments he saw nothing more than the tall quadrangle of
blackness which the window framed; then a star or two pierced it; then
something moved. He saw a woman's figure standing close to the casement,
and out of the darkness Cissie Dildine's voice asked in its careful
English:

"Peter, may I come in?"



                              CHAPTER XIV


For a full thirty seconds Peter Siner stared at the girl at the window
before, even with her prompting, he thought of the amenity of asking her
to come inside. As a further delayed courtesy, he drew the Heppelwhite
chair toward her.

Cissie's face looked bloodless in the blanched light of the gasolene-
lamp. She forced a faint, doubtful smile.

"You don't seem very glad to see me, Peter."

"I am," he assured her, mechanically, but he really felt nothing but
astonishment and dismay. They filled his voice. He was afraid some one
would see Cissie in his room. His thoughts went flitting about the
premises, calculating the positions of the various trees and shrubs in
relation to the windows, trying to determine whether, and just where, in
his brilliantly lighted chamber the girl could be seen from the street.

The octoroon made no further comment on his confusion. Her eyes wandered
from him over the stately furniture and up to the stuccoed ceiling.

"They told me you lived in a wonderful room," she remarked absently.

"Yes, it's very nice," agreed Peter in the same tone, wondering what
might be the object of her hazardous visit. A flicker of suspicion
suggested that she was trying to compromise him out of revenge for his
renouncement of her, but the next instant he rejected this.

The girl accepted the chair Peter offered and continued to look about.

"I hope you don't mind my staring, Peter," she said.

"I stared when I first came here to stay," assisted Peter, who was
getting a little more like himself, even if a little uneasier at the
consequences of this visit.

"Is that a highboy?" She nodded nervously at the piece of furniture.
"I've seen pictures of them."

"Uh huh. Revolutionary, I believe. The night wind is a little raw." He
moved across the room and closed the jalousies, and thus cut off the
night wind and also the west view from the street. He glanced at the
heavy curtains parted over his front windows, with a keen desire to
swing them together. Some fragment of his mind continued the surface
conversation with Cissie.

"Is it post-Revolutionary or pre-Revolutionary?" she asked with a
preoccupied air.

"Post, I believe. No, pre. I always meant to examine closely."

"To have such things would almost teach one history," Cissie said.

"Yeah; very nice." Peter had decided that the girl was in direct line
with the left front window and an opening between the trees to the
street.

The girl's eyes followed his.

"Are those curtains velour, Peter?"

"I--I believe so," agreed the man, unhappily.

"I--I wonder how they look spread."

Peter seized on this flimsy excuse with a wave of relief and
thankfulness to Cissie. He had to restrain himself as he strode across
the room and swung together the two halves of the somber curtains in
order to preserve an appearance of an exhibit. His fingers were so
nervous that he bungled a moment at the heavy cords, but finally the two
draperies swung together, loosing a little cloud of dust. He drew
together a small aperture where the hangings stood apart, and then
turned away in sincere relief.

Cissie's own interest in historic furniture and textiles came to an
abrupt conclusion. She gave a deep sigh and settled back into her chair.
She sat looking at Peter seriously, almost distressfully, as he came
toward her.

With the closing of the curtains and the establishment of a real privacy
Peter became aware once again of the sweetness and charm Cissie always
held for him. He still wondered what had brought her, but he was no
longer uneasy.

"Perhaps I'd better build a fire," he suggested, quite willing now to
make her visit seem not unusual.

"Oh, no,"--she spoke with polite haste,--"I'm just going to stay a
minute. I don't know what you'll think of me." She looked intently at
him.

"I think it lovely of you to come." He was disgusted with the triteness
of this remark, but he could think of nothing else.

"I don't know," demurred the octoroon, with her faint doubtful smile.
"Persons don't welcome beggars very cordially."

"If all beggars were so charming--" Apparently he couldn't escape
banalities.

But Cissie interrupted whatever speech he meant to make, with a return
of her almost painful seriousness.

"I really came to ask you to help me, Peter."

"Then your need has brought me a pleasure, at least." Some impulse kept
the secretary making those foolish complimentary speeches which keep a
conversation empty and insincere.

"Oh, Peter, I didn't come here for you to talk like that! Will you do
what I want?"

"What do you want, Cissie?" he asked, sobered by her voice and manner.

"I want you to help me, Peter."

"All right, I will." He spaced his words with his speculations about the
nature of her request. "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to help me go away."

Peter looked at her in surprise. He hardly knew what he had been
expecting, but it was not this.

Some repressed emotion crept into the girl's voice.

"Peter, I--I can't stay here in Hooker's Bend any longer. I want to go
away. I--I've got to go away."

Peter stood regarding her curiously and at the same time
sympathetically.

"Where do you want to go, Cissie?"

The girl drew a long breath; her bosom lifted and dropped abruptly.

"I don't know; that was one of the things I wanted to ask you about."

"You don't know where you want to go?" He smiled faintly. "How do you
know you want to go at all?"

"Oh, Peter, all I know is I must leave Hooker's Bend!" She gave a little
shiver. "I'm tired of it, sick of it--sick." She exhaled a breath, as if
she were indeed physically ill. Her face suggested it; her eyes were
shadowed. "Some Northern city, I suppose," she added.

"And you want me to help you?" inquired Peter, puzzled.

She nodded silently, with a woman's instinct to make a man guess the
favor she is seeking.

Then it occurred to Peter just what sort of assistance the girl did
want. It gave him a faint shock that a girl could come to a man to beg
or to borrow money. It was a white man's shock, a notion he had picked
up in Boston, because it happens frequently among village negroes, and
among them it holds as little significance as children begging one
another for bites of apples.

Peter thought over his bank balance, then started toward a chest of
drawers where he kept his checkbook.

"Cissie, if I can he of any service to you in a substantial way, I'll be
more than glad to--"

She put out a hand and stopped him; then talked on in justification of
her determination to go away.

"I just can't endure it any longer, Peter." She shuddered again. "I
can't stand Niggertown, or this side of town--any of it. They--they have
no _feeling_ for a colored girl, Peter, not--not a speck!" She rave
a gasp, and after a moment plunged on into her wrongs: "When--when one
of us even walks past on the street, they--they whistle and say a-all
kinds of things out loud, j-just as if w-we weren't there at all. Th-
they don't c-care; we're just n-nigger w-women." Cissie suddenly began
sobbing with a faint catching noise, her full bosom shaken by the
spasms; her tears slowly welling over. She drew out a handkerchief with
a part of its lace edge gone, and wiped her eyes and cheeks, holding the
bit of cambric in a ball in her palm, like a negress, instead of in her
fingers, like a white woman, as she had been taught. Then she drew a
deep breath, swallowed, and became more composed.

Peter stood looking in helpless anger at this representative of all
women of his race.

"Cissie, that's street-corner scum--the dirty sewage--"

"They make you feel naked," went on Cissie in the monotone that succeeds
a fit of weeping, "and ashamed--and afraid." She blinked her eyes to
press out the undue moisture, and looked at Peter as if asking what else
she could do about it than to go away from the village.

"Will it be any better away from here?" suggested Peter, doubtfully.

Cissie shook her head.

"I--I suppose not, if--if I go alone."

"I shouldn't think so," agreed Peter, somberly. He started to hearten
her by saying white women also underwent such trials, if that would be a
consolation; but he knew very well that a white woman's hardships were
as nothing compared to those of a colored woman who was endowed with any
grace whatever.

"And besides, Cissie," went on Peter, who somehow found himself arguing
against the notion of her going, "I hardly see how a decent colored
woman gets around at all. Colored boarding-houses are wretched places. I
ate and slept in one or two, coming home. Rotten." The possibility of
Cissie finding herself in such a place moved Peter.

The girl nodded submissively to his judgment, and said in a queer voice:
"That's why I--I didn't want to travel alone, Peter."

"No, it's a bad idea--" and then Peter perceived that a queer quality
was creeping into the tête-à-tête.

She returned his look unsteadily, but with a curious persistence.

[Illustration: "You-you mean you want m-me--to go with you, Cissie?" he
stammered]

"I--I d-don't want to travel a-alone, Peter," she gasped.

Her look, her voice suddenly brought home to the an the amazing
connotation of her words. He stared at her, felt his face grow warm with
a sharp, peculiar embarrassment. He hardly knew what to say or do before
her intent and piteous eyes.

"You--you mean you want m-me--to go with you, Cissie?" he stammered.

The girl suddenly began trembling, now that her last reserve of
indirection had been torn away.

"Listen, Peter," she began breathlessly. "I'm not the sort of woman you
think. If I hadn't accused myself, we'd be married now. I--I wanted you
more than anything in the world, Peter, but I did tell you. Surely,
surely, Peter, that shows I am a good woman--th-the real I. Dear, dear
Peter, there is a difference between a woman and her acts. Peter, you're
the first man in all my life, in a-all my life who ever came to me k-
kindly and gently; so I had to l-love you and t-tell you, Peter."

The girl's wavering voice broke down completely; her face twisted with
grief. She groped for her chair, sat down, buried her face in her arms
on the table, and broke into a chattering outbreak of sobs that sounded
like some sort of laughter.

Her shoulders shook; the light gleamed on her soft, black Caucasian
hair. There was a little rent in one of the seams in her cheap jacket,
at one of the curves where her side molded into her shoulder. The
customer made garment had found Cissie's body of richer mold than it had
been designed to shield. And yet in Peter's distress and tenderness and
embarrassment, this little rent held his attention and somehow misprized
the wearer.

It seemed symbolic in the searching white light. He could see the very
break in the thread and the widened stitches at the ends of the rip. Her
coat had given way because she was modeled more nearly like the Venus de
Milo than the run of womankind. He felt the little irony of the thing,
and yet was quite unable to resist the comparison.

And then, too, she had referred again to her sin of peculation. A woman
enjoys confessions from a man. A man's sins are mostly vague, indefinite
things to a woman, a shadowy background which brings out the man in a
beautiful attitude of repentance; but when a woman confesses, the man
sees all her past as a close-up with full lighting. He has an intimate
acquaintance with just what she's talking about, and the woman herself
grows shadowy and unreal. Men have too many blots not to demand
whiteness in women. By striking some such average, nature keeps the race
a going moral concern.

So Peter, as he stood looking down on the woman who was asking him to
marry her, was filled with as unhappy and as impersonal a tenderness as
a born brother. He recalled the thoughts which had come to him when he
saw Cissie passing his window. She was not the sort of woman he wanted
to marry; she was not his ideal. He cast about in his head for some
gentle way of putting her off, so that he would not hurt her any
further, if such an easement were possible.

As he stood thinking, he found not a pretext, but a reality. He stooped
over, and put a hand lightly on each of her arms.

"Cissie," he said in a serious, even voice, "if I should ever marry any
one, it would be you."

The girl paused in her sobbing at his even, passionless voice.

"Then you--you won't?" she whispered in her arms.

"I can't, Cissie." Now that he was saying it, he uttered the words very
evenly and smoothly. "I can't, dear Cissie, because a great work has
just come into my life." He paused, expecting her to ask some question,
but she lay silent, with her face in her arms, evidently listening.

"Cissie, I think, in fact I know, I can demonstrate to all the South,
both white and black, the need of a better and more sincere
understanding between our two races."

Peter did not feel the absurdity of such a speech in such a place. He
patted her arm, but there was something in the warmth of her flesh that
disturbed his austerity and caused him to lift his hand to the more
impersonal axis of her shoulder. He proceeded to develop his idea.

"Cissie, just a moment ago you were complaining of the insults you meet
everywhere. I believe if I can spread my ideas, Cissie, that even a
pretty colored girl like you may walk the streets without being
subjected to obscenity on every corner." His tone unconsciously
patronized Cissie's prettiness with the patronage of the male for the
less significant thing, as though her ripeness for love and passion and
children were, after all, not comparable with what he, a male, could do
in the way of significantly molding life.

Cissie lifted her head and dried her eyes.

"So you aren't going to marry me, Peter?" Woman-like, now that she was
well into the subject, she was far less embarrassed than Peter. She had
had her cry.

"Why--er--considering this work, Cissie--"

"Aren't you going to marry anybody, Peter?"

The artist in Peter, the thing the girl loved in him, caught again that
Messianic vision of himself.

"Why, no, Cissie," he said, with a return of his inspiration of an hour
ago; "I'll be going here and there all over the South preaching this
gospel of kindliness and tolerance, of forgiveness of the faults of
others." Cissie looked at him with a queer expression. "I'll show the
white people that they should treat the negro with consideration not for
the sake of the negro, but for the sake of themselves. It's so simple,
Cissie, it's so logical and clear--"

The girl shook her head sadly.

"And you don't want me to go with you, Peter?"

"Why, n-no, Cissie; a girl like you couldn't go. Perhaps I'll be
misunderstood in places, perhaps I may have to leave a town hurriedly,
or be swung over the walls, like Paul, in a basket." He attempted to
treat it lightly.

But the girl looked at him with a horror dawning in her melancholy face.

"Peter, do you really mean that?" she whispered.

"Why, truly. You don't imagine--"

The octoroon opened her dark eyes until she might have been some weird.

"Oh, Peter, please, please put such a mad idea away from you! Peter,
you've been living here alone in this old house until you don't see
things clearly. Dear Peter, don't you _know?_ You can't go out and
talk like that to white folks and--and not have some terrible thing
happen to you! Oh, Peter, if you would only marry me, it would cure you
of such wildness!" Involuntarily she got up, holding out her arms to
him, offering herself to his needs, with her frightened eyes fixed on
his.

It made him exquisitely uncomfortable again. He made a little sound
designed to comfort and reassure her. He would do very well. He was
something of a diplomat in his way. He had got along with the boys in
Harvard very well indeed. In fact, he was rather a man of the world. No
need to worry about him, though it was awfully sweet of her.

Cissie picked up her handkerchief with its torn edge, which she had laid
on the table. Evidently she was about to go.

"I surely don't know what will become of me," she said, looking at it.

In a reversal of feeling Peter did not want her to go away quite then.
He cast about for some excuse to detain her a moment longer.

"Now, Cissie," he began, "if you are really going to leave Hooker's
Bend--"

"I'm not going," she said, with a long exhalation. "I--" she swallowed--
"I just thought that up to--ask you to--to--You see," she explained, a
little breathless, "I thought you still loved me and had forgiven me by
the way you watched for me every day at the window."

This speech touched Peter more keenly than any of the little drama the
girl had invented. It hit him so shrewdly he could think of nothing more
to say.

Cissie moved toward the window and undid the latch.

"Good night, Peter." She paused a moment, with her hand on the catch.
"Peter," she said, "I'd almost rather see you marry some other girl than
try so terrible a thing."

The big, full-blooded athlete smiled faintly.

"You seem perfectly sure marriage would cure me of my mission."

Cissie's face reddened faintly.

"I think so," she said briefly. "Good night," and she disappeared in the
dark space she had opened, and closed the jalousies softly after her.



                               CHAPTER XV


Cissie Dildine's conviction that marriage would cure Peter of his
mission persisted in the mulatto's mind long after the glamour of the
girl had faded and his room had regained the bleak emptiness of a
bachelor's bedchamber.

Cissie had been so brief and positive in her statement that Peter, who
had not thought on the point at all, grew more than half convinced she
was right.

Now that he pondered over it, it seemed there was a difference between
the outlook of a bachelor and that of a married man. The former
considered humanity as a balloonist surveys a throng,--immediately and
without perspective,--but the latter always sees mankind through the
frame of his family. A single man tends naturally to philosophy and
reform; a married man to administration and statesmanship. There have
been no great unmarried statesmen; there have been no great married
philosophers or reformers.

Now that Cissie had pointed out this universal rule, Peter saw it very
clearly. And Peter suspected that beneath this rough classification, and
conditioning it, lay a plexus of obscure mental and physical reactions
set up by the relations between husband and wife. It might very well be
there was a difference between the actual cerebral and nervous structure
of a married man and that of a single man.

At any rate, after these reflections, Peter now felt sure that marriage
would cure him of his mission; but how had Cissie known it? How had she
struck out so involved a theory, one might say, in the toss of a head?
The more Peter thought it over the more extraordinary it became. It was
another one of those explosive ideas which Cissie, apparently, had the
faculty of creating out of a pure mental vacuum.

All this philosophy aside, Cissie's appearance just in the nick of his
inspiration, her surprising proposal of marriage, and his refusal, had
accomplished one thing: it had committed Peter to the program he had
outlined to the girl.

Indeed, there seemed something fatalistic in such a concatenation of
events. Siner wondered whether or not he would have obeyed his vision
without this added impulse from Cissie. He did not know; but now, since
it had all come about just as it had, he suspected he would have been
neglectful. He felt as if a dangerous but splendid channel had been
opened before his eyes, and almost at the same instant a hand had
reached down and directed his life into it. This fancy moved the
mulatto. As he got himself ready for bed, he kept thinking:

"Well, my life is settled at last. There is nothing else for me to do.
Even if this should end terribly for me, as Cissie imagines, my life
won't be wasted."

Next morning Peter Siner was awakened by old Rose Hobbett thrusting her
head in at his door, staring around, and finally, seeing Peter in bed,
grumbling:

"Why is you still heah, black man?"

The secretary opened his eyes in astonishment.

"Why shouldn't I be here?"

"Nobody wuz 'speckin' you to be heah." The crone withdrew her head and
vanished.

Peter wondered at this unaccustomed interest of Rose, then hurried out
of bed, supposing himself late for breakfast.

A dense fog had come up from the river, and the moisture floating into
his open windows had dampened his whole room. Peter stepped briskly to
the screen and began splashing himself. It was only in the midst of his
ablutions that he remembered his inspiration and resolve of the previous
evening. As he squeezed the water over his powerfully molded body, he
recalled it almost impersonally. It might have happened to some third
person. He did not even recall distinctly the threads of the logic which
had lifted him to such a Pisgah, and showed him the whole South as a new
and promised land. However, he knew that he could start his train of
thought again, and again ascend the mountain.

Floating through the fog into his open window came the noises of the
village as it set about living another day, precisely as it had lived
innumerable days in the past. The blast of the six-o'clock whistle from
the planing-mill made the loose sashes of his windows rattle. Came a
lowing of cows and a clucking of hens, a woman's calling. The voices of
men in conversation came so distinctly through the pall that it seemed a
number of persons must be moving about their morning work, talking and
shouting, right in the Renfrew yard.

But the thing that impressed Peter most was the solidity and stability
of this Southern village that he could hear moving around him, and its
certainty to go on in the future precisely as it had gone on in the
past. It was a tremendous force. The very old manor about him seemed
huge and intrenched in long traditions, while he, Peter Siner, was just
a brown man, naked behind a screen and rather cold from the fog and damp
of the morning.

He listened to old Rose clashing the kitchen utensils. As he drew on his
damp underwear, he wondered what he could say to old Rose that would
persuade her into a little kindliness and tolerance for the white
people. As he listened he felt hopeless; he could never explain to the
old creature that her own happiness depended upon the charity she
extended to others. She could never understand it. She would live and
die precisely the same bitter old beldam that she was, and nothing could
ever assuage her.

While Peter was thinking of the old creature, she came shuffling along
the back piazza with his breakfast. She let herself in by lifting one
knee to a horizontal, balancing the tray on it, then opening the door
with her freed hand.

When the shutter swung open, it displayed the crone standing on one
foot, wearing a man's grimy sock, which had fallen down over a broken,
run-down shoe.

In Peter's mood the thought of this wretched old woman putting on such
garments morning after morning was unspeakably pathetic. He thought of
his own mother, who had lived and died only a shade or two removed from
the old crone's condition.

Rose put down her foot, and entered the room with her lips poked out,
ready to make instant attack if Peter mentioned his lack of supper the
night before.

"Aunt Rose," asked the secretary, with his friendly intent in his tones,
"how came you to look in this morning and say you didn't expect to find
me in my room?"

She gave an unintelligible grunt, pushed the lamp to one side, and eased
her tray to the table.

Peter finished touching his tie before one of those old-fashioned
mirrors, not of cut-glass, yet perfectly true. He came from the mirror
and moved his chair, out of force of habit, so he could look up the
street toward the Arkwrights'.

"Aunt Rose," said the young man, wistfully, "why are you always angry?"

She bridled at this extraordinary inquiry.

"Me?"

"Yes, you."

She hesitated a moment, thinking how she could make her reply a personal
assault on Peter.

"'Cause you come heah, 'sputin' my rights, da' 's' why."

"No," demurred Peter, "you were quarreling in the kitchen the first
morning I came here, and you didn't know I was on the place."

"Well--I got my tribulations," she snapped, staring suspiciously at
these unusual questions.

There was a pause; then Peter said placatingly:

"I was just thinking, Aunt Rose, you might forget your tribulations if
you didn't ride them all the time."

"Hoccum! What you mean, ridin' my tribulations?"

"Thinking about them. The old Captain, for instance; you are no happier
always abusing the old Captain."

The old virago gave a sniff, tossed her head, but kept her eyes rolled
suspiciously on Peter.

"Very often the way we think and act makes us happy or unhappy,"
moralized Peter, broadly.

"Look heah, nigger, you ain't no preacher sont out by de Lawd to me!"

"Anyway, I am sure you would feel more friendly toward the Captain if
you acted openly with him; for instance, if you didn't take off all his
cold victuals, and handkerchiefs and socks, soap, kitchenware--"

The cook snorted.

"I'd feel dat much mo' nekked an' hongry, dat's how I'd feel."

"Perhaps, if you'd start over, he might give you a better wage."

"Huh!" she snorted in an access of irony. "I see dat skinflint gib'n' me
a better wage. Puuh!" The suddenly she realized where the conversation
had wandered, and stared at the secretary with widening eyes "Good Lawd!
Did dat fool Cap'n set up a nigger in dis bedroom winder jes to ketch
ole Rose packin' off a few ole lef'-overs?" Peter began a hurried
denial, but she rushed on: "'Fo' Gawd, I hopes his viddles chokes him! I
hope his ole smoke-house falls down on his ole haid. I hope to Jesus--"

Peter pleaded with her not to think the Captain was behind his
observations, but the hag rushed out of the bedroom, swinging her head
from side to side, uttering the most terrible maledictions. She would
show him! She wouldn't put another foot in his old kitchen. Wild horses
couldn't drag her into his smoke-house again.

Peter ran to the door and called after her down the piazza, trying to
exonerate the Captain: but she either did not or would not hear, and
vanished into the kitchen, still furious.

Old Rose made Peter so uneasy that he deserted his breakfast midway and
hurried to the library. In the solemn old room he found the Captain
alone and in rather a pleased mood. The old gentleman stood patting and
alining a pile of manuscript. As the mulatto entered he exclaimed:

"Well, here's Peter again!" as if his secretary had been off on a long
journey. Immediately afterward he added, "Peter, guess what I did last
night." His voice was full of triumph.

Peter was thinking about Aunt Rose, and stood looking at the Captain
without the slightest idea.

"I wrote all of this,"--he indicated his manuscript,--"over a hundred
pages."

Peter considered the work without much enthusiasm.

"You must have worked all night."

The old attorney rubbed his hands.

"I think I may claim a touch of inspiration last night, Peter.
Reminiscences rippled from under my pen, propitious words, prosperous
sentences. Er--the fact is, Peter, you will see, when you begin copying,
I had come to a matter--a--a matter of some moment in my life. Every
life contains such moments, Peter. I had meant to write something in the
nature of a defen--an explanation, Peter. But after you left the library
last night it suddenly occurred to me just to give each fact as it took
place, quite frankly. So I did that--not--not what I meant to write, at
all--ah. As you copy it, you may find it not entirely without some
interest to yourself, Peter."

"To me?" repeated Peter, after the fashion of the unattentative.

"Yes, to yourself." The Captain was oddly moved. He took his hands off
the script, walked a little away from the table, came back to it. "It--
ah--may explain a good many things that--er--may have puzzled you." He
cleared his throat and shifted his subject briskly. "We ought to be
thinking about a publisher. What publisher shall we have publish these
reminiscences? Make some stir in Tennessee's political circles,
Peter; tremendous sales; clear up questions everybody is interested in.
H-m--well, I'll walk down town and you"--he motioned to the script--
"begin copying--"

"By the way, Captain," said Peter as the old gentleman turned for the
door, "has Rose said anything to you yet?"

The old man detached his mind from his script with an obvious effort.

"What about?"

"About leaving your service."

"No-o, not especially; she's always leaving my service."

"But in this case it was my fault; at least I brought it about. I
remonstrated with her about taking your left-over victuals and socks and
handkerchiefs and things. She was quite offended."

"Yes, it always offends her," agreed the old man, impatiently. "I never
mention it myself unless I catch her red-handed; then I storm a little
to keep her in bounds."

Naturally, Peter knew of this extraordinary system of service in the
South; nevertheless he was shocked at its implications.

"Captain," suggested Peter, "wouldn't you find it to your own interest
to give old Rose a full cash payment for her services and allow her to
buy her own things?"

The Captain dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. "She's a
nigger, Peter; you can't hire a nigger not to steal. Born in 'em. Then
I'm not sure but what it would be compounding a felony, hiring a person
not to steal; might be so construed. Well, now, there's the script. Read
it carefully, my boy, and remember that in order to gain a certain
_status quo_ certain antecedents are--are absolutely necessary,
Peter. Without them my--my life would have been quite empty, Peter.
It's--it's very strange--amazing. You will understand as you read. I'll
be back to dinner, so good-by." In the strangest agitation the old
Captain walked out of the library. The last glimpse Peter had of him was
his meager old figure silhouetted against the cold gray fog that filled
the compound.

Neither the Captain's agitation nor his obvious desire that Peter should
at once read the new manuscript really got past the threshold of the
mulatto's consciousness. Peter's thoughts still hovered about old Rose,
and from that point spread to the whole system of colored service in the
South. For Rose's case was typical. The wage of cooks in small Southern
villages is a pittance--and what they can steal. The tragedy of the
mothers of a whole race working for their board and thievings came over
Peter with a rising grimness. And there was no public sentiment against
such practice. It was accepted everywhere as natural and inevitable. The
negresses were never prosecuted; no effort was made to regain the stolen
goods. The employers realized that what they paid would not keep soul
and body together; that it was steal or perish.

It was a fantastic truth that for any colored girl to hire into domestic
service in Hooker's Bend was more or less entering an apprenticeship in
peculation. What she could steal was the major portion of her wage, if
two such anomalous terms may be used in conjunction.

Yet, strange to say, the negro women of the village were quite honest in
other matters. They paid their small debts. They took their mistresses'
pocket-books to market and brought back the correct change. And if a
mistress grew too indignant about something they had stolen, they would
bring it back and say: "Here is a new one. I'd rather buy you a new one
than have you think I would take anything."

The whole system was the lees of slavery, and was surely the most
demoralizing, the most grotesque method of hiring service in the whole
civilized world. It was so absurd that its mere relation lapses into
humor, that bane of black folk.

Such painful thoughts filled the gloomy library and harassed Peter in
his copying. He took his work to the window and tried to concentrate
upon it, but his mind kept playing away.

Indeed, it seemed to Peter that to sit in this old room and rewrite the
wordy meanderings of the old gentleman's book was the very height of
emptiness. How utterly futile, when all around him, on every hand, girls
like Cissie Dildine were being indentured to corruption! And, as far as
Peter knew, he was the only person in the South who saw it or felt it or
cared anything at all about it.

When Cissie Dildine came to the surface of Peter's mind she remained
there, whirling around and around in his chaotic thoughts. He began
talking to her image, after a certain dramatic trick of his mind, and
she began offering her environment as an excuse for what had come
between them and estranged them. She stole, but she had been trained to
steal. She was a thief, the victim of an immense immorality. The charm
of Cissie, her queer, swift-working intuition, the candor of her
confession, her voluptuousness--all came rushing down on Peter,
harassing him with anger and love and desire. To copy any more script
became impossible. He lost his place; he hardly knew what he was
writing.

He flung aside the whole work, got to his feet with the imperative need
of an athlete for the open. He started out of the room, but as an
afterthought scribbled a nervous line, telling the Captain he might not
be back for dinner. Then he found his hat and coat and walked briskly
around the piazza to the front gate.

The trees and shrubs were dripping, but the fog had almost cleared away,
leaving only a haze in the air. A pale, level line of it cut across the
scarp of the Big Hill. The sun shone with a peculiar soft light through
the vapors.

As Peter passed out at the gate, the fancy came to him that he might
very well be starting on his mission. It came with a sort of surprise.
He wondered how other men had set about reforms. With unpremeditation?
He wondered to whom Jesus of Nazareth preached his first sermon. The
thought of that young Galilean, sensitive, compassionate, inexperienced,
speaking to his first hearer, filled Peter with a strange trembling
tenderness. He looked about the familiar street of Hooker's Bend, the
old trees over the pavement, the shabby village houses, and it all held
a strangeness when thus juxtaposed to the thought of Nazareth nineteen
hundred years before.

The mulatto started down the street with his footsteps quickened by a
sense of spiritual adventure.



                              CHAPTER XVI


On the corner, against the blank south wall of Hobbett's store, Peter
Siner saw the usual crowd of negroes warming themselves in the soft
sunshine. They were slapping one another, scuffling, making feints with
knives or stones, all to an accompaniment of bragging, profanity, and
loud laughter. Their behavior was precisely that of adolescent white
boys of fifteen or sixteen years of age.

Jim Pink Staggs was furnishing much amusement with an impromptu sleight-
of-hand exhibition. The black audience clustered around Jim Pink in his
pinstripe trousers and blue-serge coat. They exhibited not the least
curiosity as to the mechanics of the tricks, but asked for more and
still more, with the naïve delight of children in the mysterious.

Peter Siner walked down the street with his Messianic impulse strong
upon him. He was in that stage of feeling toward his people where a
man's emotions take the color of religion. Now, as he approached the
crowd of negroes, he wondered what he could say, how he could transfer
to them the ideas and the emotion that lifted up his own heart.

As he drew nearer, his concern mounted to anxiety. Indeed, what could he
say? How could he present so grave a message? He was right among them
now. One of the negroes jostled him by striking around his body at
another negro. Peter stopped. His heart beat, and he had a queer
sensation of being operated by some power outside himself. Next moment
he heard himself saying in fairly normal tones:

"Fellows, do you think we ought to be idling on the street corners like
this? We ought to be at work, don't you think?"

The horse-play stopped at this amazing sentiment.

"Whuffo, Peter?" asked a voice.

"Because the whole object of our race nowadays is to gain the respect of
other races, and more particularly our own self-respect. We haven't it
now. The only way to get it is to work, work, work."

"Ef you feel lak you'd ought to go to wuck," suggested one astonished
hearer, "you done got my p'mission, black boy, to hit yo' natchel gait
to de fust job in sight."

Peter was hardly less surprised than his hearers at what he was saying.
He paid no attention to the interruption.

"Fellows, it's the only way our colored people can get on and make the
most out of life. Persistent labor is the very breath of the soul, men;
it--it is." Here Peter caught an intimation of the whole flow of energy
through the universe, focusing in man and being transformed into mental
and moral values. And it suddenly occurred to him that the real worth of
any people was their efficiency in giving this flow of force moral and
spiritual forms. That is the end of man; that is what is prefigured when
a baby's hand reaches for the sun. But Peter considered his audience,
and his thought stammered on his tongue. The Persimmon, with his
protruding, half-asleep eyes, was saying:

"I don' know, Peter, as I 's so partic'lar 'bout makin' de mos' out'n
dis worl'. You know de Bible say--hit say,"--here the Persimmon's voice
dropped a tone lower, in unconscious imitation of negro preachers,--"la-
ay not up yo' treasure on uth, wha moss do corrup', an' thieves break
th'ugh _an'_ steal."

Came a general nodding and agreement of soft, blurry voices.

"'At sho whut it say, black man!"

"Sho do!"

"Lawd God loves a nigger on a street corner same as He do a millionaire
in a six-cylinder, Peter."

"Sho do, black man; but He's jes about de onlies' thing on uth 'at do."

"Well, I don' know," came a troubled rejoinder. "Thaiuh 's de debbil,
ketchin' mo' niggers nowadays dan he do white men, I 'fo' Gawd
b'liebes."

"Well, dat's because dey _is_ so many mo' niggers dan dey is white
folks," put in a philosopher.

"Whut you say 'bout dat, Brudder Peter?" inquired the Persimmon,
seriously. None of this discussion was either derision or burlesque.
None of the crowd had the slightest feeling that these questions were
not just as practical and important as the suggestion that they all go
to work.

When Peter realized how their ignorant and undisciplined thoughts flowed
off into absurdities, and that they were entirely unaware of it, it
brought a great depression to his heart. He held up a hand with an
earnestness that caught their vagrant attention.

"Listen!" he pleaded. "Can't you see how much there is for us black
folks to do, and what little we have done?"

"Sho is a lot to do; we admits dat," said Bluegum Frakes. "But whut's de
use doin' hit ef we kin manage to shy roun' some o' dat wuck an' keep on
libin' anyhow, specially wid wages so high?"

The question stopped Peter. Neither his own thoughts, nor any book that
he had ever read nor any lecture that he had heard ever attempted to
explain the enormous creative urge which is felt by every noble mind,
and which, indeed, is shared to some extent by every human creature. Put
to it like that, Siner concocted a sort of allegory, telling of a negro
who was shiftless in the summer and suffered want in the winter, and
applied it to the present high wage and to the low wage that was coming;
but in his heart Peter knew such utilitarianism was not the true reason
at all. Men do not weave tapestries to warm themselves, or build temples
to keep the rain away.

The brown man passed on around the corner, out of the faint warmth of
the sunshine and away from the empty and endless arguments which his
coming had provoked among the negroes.

The futile ending of his first adventure surprised Peter. He walked
uncertainly up the business street of the village, hardly knowing where
to turn next.

Cold weather had driven the merchants indoors, and the thoroughfare was
quite deserted except for a few hogs rooting among the refuse heaps
piled in front of the stores. It was not a pleasant sight, and it
repelled Peter all the more because he was accustomed to the antiseptic
look of a Northern city. He walked up to the third door from the corner,
when a buzz of voices brought him to a standstill and finally persuaded
him inside.

At the back end of a badly lighted store a circle of white men and boys
had formed around an old-fashioned, egg-shaped stove. Near by, on some
meal-bags, sat two negroes, one of whom wore a broad grin, the other, a
funny, sheepish look.

The white men were teasing the latter negro about having gone to jail
for selling a mortgaged cow. The men went about their fun-making
leisurely, knowing quite well the negro could not get angry or make any
retort or leave the store, all of these methods of self-defense being
ruled out by custom.

"You must have forgot your cow was mortgaged, Bob."

"No-o-o, suh; I--I--I didn't fuhgit," drawling his vowels to a
prodigious length.

"Didn't you know you'd get into trouble?"

"No-o-o, suh."

"Know it now, don't you?"

"Ya-a-s, suh."

"Have a good time in jail, Bob?"

"Ya-a-s, suh. Shot cra-a-aps nearly all de time tull de jailer broke hit
up."

"Wouldn't he let you shoot any more?"

"No-o-o, suh; not after he won all our money." Here Bob flung up his
head, poked out his lips like a bugle, and broke into a grotesque, "Hoo!
hoo! hoo!" It was such an absurd laugh, and Bob's tale had come to such
an absurd denouement, that the white men roared, and shuffled their feet
on the flared base of the stove. Some spat in or near a box filled with
sawdust, and betrayed other nervous signs of satisfaction. When a man so
spat, he stopped laughing abruptly, straightened his face, and stared
emptily at the rusty stove until further inquisition developed some
other preposterous escapade in Bob's jail career.

The merchant, looking up at one of these intermissions, saw Peter
standing at his counter. He came out of the circle and asked Peter what
he wanted. The mulatto bought a package of soda and went out.

The chill north wind smelled clean after the odors of the store. Peter
stood with his package of soda, breathing deeply, looking up and down
the street, wondering what to do next. Without much precision of
purpose, he walked diagonally across the street, northward toward a
large faded sign that read, "Killibrew's Grocery." A little later Peter
entered a big, rather clean store which smelled of spices, coffee, and a
faint dash of decayed potatoes. Mr. Killibrew himself, a big, rotund
man, with a round head of prematurely white hair, was visible in a
little glass office at the end of his store. Even through the glazed
partition Peter could see Mr. Killibrew smiling as he sat comfortably at
his desk. Indeed, the grocer's chief assets were a really expansive
friendliness and a pleasant, easily provoked laughter.

He was fifty-two years old, and had been in the grocery business since
he was fifteen. He had never been to school at all, but had learned
bookkeeping, business mathematics, salesmanship, and the wisdom of the
market-place from his store, from other merchants, and from the drummers
who came every week with their samples and their worldly wisdom. These
drummers were, almost to a man, very sincere friends of Mr. Killibrew,
and not infrequently they would write the grocer from the city, or send
him telegrams, advising him to buy this or to unload that, according to
the exigencies of the market. As a result of this was very well off
indeed, and all because he was a friendly, agreeable sort of man.

The grocer heard Peter enter and started to come out of his office, when
Peter stopped him and asked if he might speak with him alone.

The white-haired man with the pink, good-natured face stood looking at
Peter with rather a questioning but pleasant expression.

"Why, certainly, certainly." He turned back to the swivel-chair at his
desk, seated himself, and twisted about on Peter as he entered. Mr.
Killibrew did not offer Peter a seat,--that would have been an
infraction of Hooker's Bend custom,--but he sat leaning back, evidently
making up his mind to refuse Peter credit, which he fancied the mulatto
would ask for and yet do it pleasantly.

"I was wondering, Mr. Killibrew," began Peter feeling his way along, "I
was wondering if you would mind talking over a little matter with me.
It's considered a delicate subject, I believe, but I thought a frank
talk would help."

During the natural pauses of Peter's explanation Mr. Killibrew kept up a
genial series of nods and ejaculations.

"Certainly, Peter. I don't see why, Peter. I'm sure it will help,
Peter."

"I'd like to talk frankly about the relations of our two races in the
South, in Hooker's Bend."

The grocer stopped his running accompaniment of affirmations and looked
steadfastly at Peter. Presently he seemed to solve some question and
broke into a pleasant laugh.

"Now, Peter, if this is some political shenanigan, I must tell you I'm a
Democrat. Besides that, I don't care a straw about politics. I vote, and
that's all."

Peter put down the suspicion that he was on a political errand.

"Not that at all, Mr. Killibrew. It's a question of the white race and
the black race. The particular feature I am working on is the wages paid
to cooks."

"I didn't know you were a cook," interjected the grocer in surprise.

"I am not."

Mr. Killibrew looked at Peter, thought intensely for a few moments, and
came to an unescapable conclusion.

"You don't mean you've formed a cook's union here in Hooker's Bend,
Peter!" he cried, immensely amazed.

"Not at all. It's this," clarified Peter. "It may seem trivial, but it
illustrates the principle I'm trying to get at. Doesn't your cook carry
away cold food?"

It required perhaps four seconds for the merchant to stop his
speculations on what Peter had come for and adjust his mind to the
question.

"Why, yes, I suppose so," he agreed, very much at sea. "I--I never
caught up with her." He laughed a pleasant, puzzled laugh. "Of course
she doesn't come around and show me what she's making off with. Why?"

"Well, it's this. Wouldn't you prefer to give your cook a certain cash
payment instead of having her taking uncertain amounts of your
foodstuffs and wearing apparel?"

The merchant leaned forward in his chair.

"Did old Becky Davis send you to me with any such proposition as that,
Peter?"

"No, not at all. But, Mr. Killibrew, wouldn't you like better and more
trustworthy servants as cooks, as farm-hands, chauffeurs, stable-boys?
You see, you and your children and your children's children are going to
have to depend on negro labor, as far as we can see, to the end of
time."

"We-e-ell, yes," admitted Mr. Killibrew, who was not accustomed to
considering the end of time.

"Wouldn't it be better to have honest, self-respecting help than
dishonest help?"

"Certainly."

"Then let's think about cooks. How can one hope to rear an honest, self-
respecting citizenry as long as the mothers of the race are compelled to
resort to thievery to patch out an insufficient wage?"

"Why, I don't suppose niggers ever will be honest," admitted the grocer,
very frankly. "You naturally don't trust a nigger. If you credit one for
a dime, the next time he has any money he'll go trade somewhere else."
The grocer broke into his contagious laugh. "Do you know how I've built
up my business here, Peter? By never trusting a nigger." Mr. Killibrew
continued his pleased chuckle. "Yes, I get the whole cash trade of the
niggers in Hooker's Bend by never cheating one and never trusting one."

The grocer leaned back in his squeaking chair and looked out through the
glass partition, over the brightly colored packages that lined his
shelves from floor to ceiling. All that prosperity had come about
through a policy of honesty and distrust. It was something to be proud
of.

"Now, let me see," he proceeded, recurring pleasantly to what he
recalled of Peter's original proposition: "Aunt Becky sent you here to
tell me if I'd raise her pay, she'd stop stealin' and--and raise some
honest children." Mr. Killibrew threw back his head broke into loud,
jelly-like laughter. "Why, don't you know, Peter, she's an old liar. If
I gave her a hundred a week, she'd steal. And children! Why, the old
humbug! She's too old; she's had her crop. And, besides all that, I
don't mind what the old woman takes. It isn't much. She's a good old
darky, faithful as a dog." He arose from his swivel-chair briskly and
floated Peter out before him. "Tell her, if she wants a raise," he
concluded heartily, "and can't pinch enough out of my kitchen and the
two dollars I pay her--tell her to come to me, straight out, and I'll
give her more, and she can pinch more."

Mr. Killibrew moved down the aisle of his store between fragrant barrels
and boxes, laughing mellowly at old Aunt Becky's ruse, as he saw it. As
he turned Peter out, he invited him to come again when he needed
anything in the grocery line.

And he was so pleasant, hearty, and sincere in his friendliness toward
both Peter and old Aunt Becky that Peter, even amid the complete side-
tracking and derailing of his mission, decided that it ever he did have
occasion to purchase any groceries, he would do his trading at this
market ruled by an absolute honesty with, and a complete distrust in,
his race.

At the conclusion of the Killibrew interview Peter instinctively felt
that he had just about touched the norm of Hooker's Bend. The village
might contain men who would dive a little deeper into the race question
with Peter; assuredly, there would be hundreds who would not dive so
deep. Mr. Killibrew's attitude on the race question turned on how to
hold the negro patronage of the village to his grocery. It was not an
abstract question at all, but a concrete fact, which he had worked out
to his own satisfaction. With Mr. Killibrew, with all Hooker's Bend,
there was no negro question.



                              CHAPTER XVII


When Peter Siner started on his indefinite errand among the village
stores he believed it would require much tact and diplomacy to discuss
the race question without offense. To his surprise, no precaution was
necessary. Everybody agreed at once that the South would be benefited by
a more trustworthy labor, that if the negroes were trustworthy they
could be paid more; but nobody agreed that if negroes were paid more
they would become more trustworthy. The prevailing dictum was, A
nigger's a nigger.

As Peter came out into the shabby little street of Hooker's Bend
discouragement settled upon him. He felt as if he had come squarely
against some blank stone wall that no amount of talking could budge. The
black man would have to change his psychology or remain where he was, a
creature of poverty, hovels, and dirt; but amid such surroundings he
could not change his psychology.

The point of these unhappy conclusions somehow turned against Cissie
Dildine. The mulatto became aware that his whole crusade had been
undertaken in behalf of the octoroon. Everything the merchants said
against negroes became accusations against Cissie in a sharp personal
way. "A nigger is a nigger"; "A thief is a thief"; "She wouldn't quit
stealing if I paid her a hundred a week." Every stroke had fallen
squarely on Cissie's shoulders. A nigger, a thief; and she would never
be otherwise.

It was all so hopeless, so unchangeable, that Peter walked down the
bleak street unutterably depressed There was nothing he could do. The
situation was static. It seemed best that he should go away North and
save his own skin. It was impossible to take Cissie with him. Perhaps in
time he would come to forget her, and in so doing he would forget the
pauperism and pettinesses of all the black folk of the South. Because
through Cissie Peter saw the whole negro race. She was flexuous and
passionate, kindly and loving, childish and naïvely wise; on occasion
she could falsify and steal, and in the depth of her Peter sensed a
profound capacity for fury and violence. For all her precise English,
she was untamed, perhaps untamable.

Cissie was a far cry from the sort of woman Peter imagined he wanted for
a mate; yet he knew that if he stayed on in Hooker's Bend, seeing her,
desiring her, with her luxury mocking the loneliness of the old Renfrew
manor, presently he would marry her. Already he had had his little
irrational moments when it seemed to him that Cissie herself was quite
fine and worthy and that her speculations were something foreign and did
not pertain to her at all.

He would better go North. It would be safer up there. No doubt he could
find another colored girl in the North. The thought of fondling any
other woman filled Peter with a sudden, sharp repulsion. However, Peter
was wise. He knew he would get over that in time.

With this plan in mind, Peter set out down the street, intending to
cross the Big Hill at the church, walk over to his mother's shack, and
pack his few belongings preparatory to going away.

It was not a heroic retreat. The conversation which he had had with his
college friend Farquhar recurred to Peter. Farquhar had tried to
persuade Peter to remain North and take a position in a system of
garages out of Chicago.

"You can do nothing in the South, Siner," assured Farquhar; "your
countrymen must stand on their own feet, just as you are doing."

Peter had argued the vast majority of the negroes had no chance, but
Farquhar pressed the point that Peter himself disproved his own
statement. At the time Peter felt there was an clench in the
Illinoisan's logic, but he was not skilful enough to analyze it. Now the
mulatto began to see that Farquhar was right. The negro question was a
matter of individual initiative. Critics forgot that a race was composed
of individual men.

Peter had an uneasy sense that this was exceedingly thin logic, a mere
smoke screen behind which he meant to retreat back up North. He walked
on down the poor village street, turning it over and over in his mind,
affirming it positively to himself, after the manner of uneasy
consciences.

An unusual stir among the negroes on Hobbett's corner caught Peter's
attention and broke into his chain of thought. Half a dozen negroes
stood on the corner, staring down toward the white church. A black boy
suddenly started running across the street, and disappeared among the
stores on the other side. Peter caught glimpses of him among the
wretched alleyways and vacant lots that lie east of Main Street. The boy
was still running toward Niggertown.

By this time Peter was just opposite the watchers on the corner. He
lifted his voice and asked them the matter, but at the moment they began
an excited talking, and no one heard him.

Jim Pink Staggs jerked off his fur cap, made a gesture, contorted his
long, black face into a caricature of fright, and came loping across the
street, looking back over his shoulder, mimicking a run for life His
mummery set his audience howling.

The buffoon would have collided with Peter, but the mulatto caught Jim
Pink by the arm and shoulder, brought him to a halt, and at the same
time helped him keep his feet.

To Peter's inquiry what was the matter, the black fellow whirled and
blared out loudly, for the sake of his audience:

"'Fo' Gawd, nigger, I sho thought Mr. Bobbs had me!" and he writhed his
face into an idiotic grimace.

The audience reeled about in their mirth. Because with negroes, as with
white persons, two thirds of humor is in the reputation, and Jim Pink
was of prodigious repute.

Peter walked along with him patiently, because he knew that until they
were out of ear-shot of the crowd there was no way of getting a sensible
answer out of Jim Pink.

"Where are you going?" he asked presently.

"Thought I'd step over to Niggertown." Jim Pink's humorous air was still
upon him.

"What's doing over there? What were the boys raising such a hullabaloo
about?"

"Such me."

"Why did that boy go running across like that?"

Jim Pink rolled his eyes on Peter with a peculiar look.

"Reckon he mus' 'a' wanted to git on t'other side o' town."

Peter flattered the Punchinello by smiling a little.

"Come, Jim Pink, what do you know?" he asked. The magician poked out his
huge lips.

"Mr. Bobbs turn acrost by de church, over de Big Hill. Da' 's always a
ba-ad sign."

Peter's brief interest in the matter flickered out. Another arrest for
some niggerish peccadillo. The history of Niggertown was one long series
of petty offenses, petty raids, and petty punishments. Peter would be
glad to get well away from such a place.

"Think I'll go North, Jim Pink," remarked Peter, chiefly to keep up a
friendly conversation with his companion.

"Whut-chu goin' to do up thaiuh?"

"Take a position in a system of garages."

"A position is a job wid a white color on it," defined the minstrel.
"Whut you goin' to do wid Cissie?"

Peter looked around at the foolish face.

"With Cissie?--Cissie Dildine?"

"Uh huh."

"Why, what makes you think I'm going to do anything with Cissie?"

"M-m, visitin' roun'." The fool flung his face into a grimace, and
dropped it as one might shake out a sack.

Peter watched the contortion uneasily.

"What do you mean--visiting around?"


   "Diff'nt folks go visitin' roun';
    Some goes up an' some goes down."


Apparently Jim Pink had merely quoted a few words from a poem he knew.
He stared at the green-black depth of the glade, which set in about
half-way up the hill they were climbing.

"Ef this weather don' ever break," he observed sagely, "we sho am in fuh
a dry spell."

Peter did not pursue the topic of the weather. He climbed the hill in
silence, wondering just what the buffoon meant. He suspected he was
hinting at Cissie's visit to his room. However, he did not dare ask any
questions or press the point in any manner, lest he commit himself.

The minstrel had succeeded in making Peter's walk very uncomfortable, as
somehow he always did. Peter went on thinking about the matter. If Jim
Pink knew of Cissie's visit, all Niggertown knew it. No woman's
reputation, nobody's shame or misery or even life, would stand between
Jim Pink and what he considered a joke. The buffoon was the crudest
thing in this world--a man who thought himself a wit.

Peter could imagine all the endless tweaks to Cissie's pride Niggertown
would give the octoroon. She had asked Peter to marry her and had been
refused. She had humbled herself for naught. That was the very tar of
shame. Peter knew that in the moral categories of Niggertown Cissie
would suffer more from such a rebuff than if she had lied or committed
theft and adultery every day in the calendar. She had been refused
marriage. All the folk-ways of Niggertown were utterly topsyturvy. It
was a crazy-house filled with the most grotesque moral measures.

It seemed to Peter as he entered the cedar-glade that he had lost all
sympathy with this people from which he had sprung. He looked upon them
as strange, incomprehensible beings, just as a man will forget his own
childhood and look upon children as strange, incomprehensible little
creatures. In the midst of his thoughts he heard himself saying to Jim
Pink:

"I suppose it is as dusty as ever."

"Dustier 'an ever," assured Jim Pink.

Apparently their conversation had recurred to the weather, after all.

A chill silence encompassed the glade. The path the negroes followed
wound this way and that among reddish boulders, between screens of
intergrown cedars, and over a bronze mat of needles. Their steps were
noiseless. The odor of the cedars and the temple-like stillness brought
to Peter's mind the night of his mother's death. It seemed to him a long
time since he had come running through the glade after a doctor, and
yet, by a queer distortion of his sense of time, his mother's death and
burial bulked in his past as if it had occurred yesterday.

There was no sound in the glade to disturb Peter's thoughts except a
murmur of human voices from some of the innumerable privacies of the
place, and the occasional chirp of a waxwing busy over clusters of
cedar-balls.

It had been five weeks and a day since Caroline died. Five weeks and a
day; his mother's death drifting away into the mystery and oblivion of
the past. Likewise, twenty-five years of his own life completed and
gone.

A procession of sad, wistful thoughts trailed through Peter's brain: his
mother, and Ida May, and now Cissie. It seemed to Peter that all any
woman had ever brought him was wistfulness and sadness. His mother had
been jealous, and instead of the great happiness he had expected, his
home life with her had turned out a series of small perplexities and
pains. Before that was Ida May, and now here was her younger sister.
Peter wondered if any man ever reached the peace and happiness
foreshadowed in his dream of a woman.

                    *       *       *       *       *

A voice calling his name checked Peter's stride mechanically, and caused
him to look about with the slight bewilderment of a man aroused from a
reverie.

At the first sound, however, Jim Pink became suddenly alert. He took
three strides ahead of Peter, and as he went he whispered over his
shoulder:

"Beat it, nigger! beat it!"

The mulatto recognized one of Jim Pink's endless stupid attempts at
comedy. It would be precisely Jim Pink's idea of a jest to give Peter a
little start. As the mulatto stood looking about among the cedars for
the person who had called his name, it amazed him that Jim Pink could be
so utterly insane; that he performed some buffoonery instantly, by
reflex action as it were, upon the slightest provocation. It was almost
a mania with Jim Pink; it verged on the pathological.

The clown, however, was pressing his joke. He was pretending great fear,
and was shouting out in his loose minstrel voice:

"Hey, don' shoot down dis way, black man, tull I makes my exit!" And a
voice, rich with contempt, called back:

"You needn't be skeered, you fool rabbit of a nigger!"

Peter turned with a qualm. Quite close to him, and in another direction
from which he had been looking, stood Tump Pack. The ex-soldier looked
the worse for wear after his jail sentence. His uniform was frayed, and
over his face lay a grayish cast that marks negroes in bad condition. At
his side, attached by a belt and an elaborate shoulder holster, hung a
big army revolver, while on the greasy lapel of his coat was pinned his
military medal for exceptional bravery on the field of battle.

"Been lookin' fuh you fuh some time, Peter," he stated grimly.

Peter considered the formidable figure with a queer sensation. He tried
to take Tump's appearance casually; he tried to maintain an air of
ordinariness.

"Didn't know you were back."

"Yeah, I's back."

"Have you--been looking for me?"

"Yeah."

"Didn't you know where I was staying?"

"Co'se I did; up 'mong de white folks. You know dey don' 'low no
shootin' an' killin' 'mong de white folks." He drew his pistol from the
holster with the address of an expert marksman.

[Illustration: "Naw yuh don't," he warned sharply. "You turn roun' an'
march on to niggertown"]

Peter stood, with a quickening pulse, studying his assailant. The glade,
the air, the sunshine, seemed suddenly drawn to a tension, likely to,
break into violent commotion. His abrupt danger brought Peter to a
feeling of lightness and power. A quiver went along his spine. His
nostrils widened unconsciously as he calculated a leap and a blow at
Tump's gun.

The soldier took a step backward, at the same time bringing the barrel
to a ready.

"Naw you don't," he warned sharply. "You turn roun' an' march on to
Niggertown."

"What for?" Peter still tried to be casual, but his voice held new
overtones.

"Because, nigger, I means to drap you right on de Main Street o'
Niggertown, 'fo' all dem niggers whut's been a-raggin' me 'bout you an'
Cissie. I's gwine show dem fool niggers I don' take no fumi-diddles
off'n nobody."

"Tump," gasped Jim Pink, in a husky voice, "you oughtn't shoot Peter; he
mammy jes daid."

"'En she won' worry none. Turn roun', Peter, an' when I says, 'March,'
you march." He leveled his pistol. "'Tention! Rat about face! March!"

Peter turned and moved off down the noiseless path, walking with the
stiff gait of a man who expects a terrific blow from behind at any
instant.

The mulatto walked twenty or more paces amid a confusion of self-
protective impulses. He thought of whirling on Tump even at this late
date. He thought of darting behind a cedar, but he knew the man behind
him was an expert shot, and something fundamental in the brown man
forbade his getting himself killed while running away. It was too
undignified a death.

Presently he surprised himself by calling over his shoulder, as a sort
of complaint:

"How came you with the pistol, Tump? Thought it was against the law to
carry one."

"You kin ca'y 'em ef you don' keep 'em hid," explained the ex-soldier in
a wooden voice. "Mr. Bobbs tol' me dat when he guv my gun back."

The irony of the thing caught Peter, for the authorities to arrest Tump
not because he was trying to kill Peter, but because he went about his
first attempt in an illegal manner. For the first time in his life the
mulatto felt that contempt for a white man's technicalities that flavors
every negro's thoughts. Here for thirty days his life had been saved by
a technical law of the white man; at the end of the thirty days, by
another technical law, Tump was set at liberty and allowed to carry a
weapon, in a certain way, to murder him. It was grotesque; it was
absurd. It filled Peter with a sudden violent questioning of the whole
white régime. His thoughts danced along in peculiar excitement.

At the turn of the hill the trio came in sight of the squalid semicircle
of Niggertown. Here and there from a tumbledown chimney a feather of
pale wood smoke lifted into the chill sunshine. The sight of the houses
brought Peter a sharp realization that his life would end in the curving
street beneath him. A shock at the incomprehensible brevity of his life
rushed over him. Just to that street, just as far as the curve, and his
legs were swinging along, carrying him forward at an even gait.

All at once he began talking, arguing. He tried to speak at an ordinary
tempo, but his words kept edging on faster and faster:

"Tump, I'm not going to marry Cissie Dildine."

"I knows you ain't, Peter."

"I mean, if you let me alone, I didn't mean to."

"I ain't goin' to let you alone."

"Tump, we had already decided not to marry."

After a short pause Tump said in a slightly different tone:

"'Pears lak you don' haf to ma'y her--comin' to yo' room."

A queer sinking came over the mulatto. "Listen, Tump, I--we--in my room
--we simply talked, that's all. She came to tell me she was goin away.
I--I didn't harm her, Tump." Peter swallowed. He despaired of being
believed.

But his defense only infuriated the soldier. He suddenly broke into
violent profanity.

"Hot damn you! shut yo black mouf! Whut I keer whut-chu done! You weaned
her away fum me. She won't speak to me! She won't look at me!" A sudden
insanity of rage seized Tump. He poured on his victim every oath and
obscenity he had raked out of the whole army.

Strangely enough, the gunman's outbreak brought a kind of relief to
Peter Siner. It exonerated him. He was not suspected of wronging Cissie;
or, rather, whether he had or had not wronged her made no difference to
Tump. Peter's crime consisted in mere being, in existing where Cissie
could see him and desire him rather than Tump. Why it calmed Peter to
know that Tump held no dishonorable charge against him the mulatto
himself could not have told. Tump's violence showed Peter the certainty
of his own death, and somehow it washed away the hope and the thought of
escape.

Half-way down the hill they entered the edge of Niggertown. The smell of
sties and stables came to them. Peter's thoughts moved here and there,
like the eyes of a little child glancing about as it is forced to leave
a pleasure-ground.

Peter knew that Jim Pink, who now made a sorry figure in their rear,
would one day give a buffoon's mimicry of this his walk to death. He
thought of Tump, who would have to serve a year or two in the Nashville
Penitentiary, for the murder of negroes is seldom severely punished. He
thought of Cissie. He was being murdered because Cissie desired him.

And then Peter remembered the single bit of wisdom that his whole life
had taught him. It was this: no people can become civilized until the
woman has the power of choice among the males that sue for her hand. The
history of the white race shows the gradual increase of the woman's
power of choice. Among the yellow races, where this power is curtailed,
civilization is curtailed. It was this principle that exalted chivalry.
Upon it the white man has reared all his social fabric.

So deeply ingrained is it that almost every novel written by white men
revolves about some woman's choice of her mate being thwarted by power
or pride or wealth, but in every instance the rightness of the woman's
choice is finally justified. The burden of every song is love, true
love, enduring love, a woman's true and enduring love.

And in his moment of clairvoyance Peter saw that these songs and stories
were profoundly true. Against a woman's selectiveness no other social
force may count.

That was why his own race was weak and hopeless and helpless. The males
of his people were devoid of any such sentiment or self-repression. They
were men of the jungle, creatures of tusk and claw and loin. This very
act of violence against his person condemned his whole race.

These thoughts brought the mulatto an unspeakable sadness, not only for
his own particular death, but that this idea, this great redeeming
truth, which burned so brightly in his brain, would in another moment
flicker out, unrevealed, and be no more.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


The coughing and rattling of an old motor-car as it rounded the
Niggertown curve delayed Tump Pack's act of violence. Instinctively, the
three men waited for the machine to pass before Peter walked out into
the road. Next moment it appeared around the turn, moving slowly through
the dust and spreading a veritable fog behind it.

All three negroes recognized the first glimpse of the hood and top, for
there are only three or four cars in Hooker's Bend, and these are as
well known as the faces of their owners. This particular motor belonged
to Constable Bobbs, and the next moment the trio saw the ponderous body
of the officer at the wheel, and by his side a woman. As the machine
clacked toward them Peter felt a certain surprise to see that it was
Cissie Dildine.

The constable in the car scrutinized the black men, by the roadside in a
very peculiar way. As he came near, he leaned across Cissie and almost
eclipsed the girl. He eyed the trio with his perpetual menace of a grin
on his broad red face. His right hand, lying across Cissie's lap, held a
revolver. When closest he shouted above the clangor of his engine:

"Now, none o' that, boys! None o' that! You'll prob'ly hit the gal if
you shoot, an' I'll pick you off lak three black skunks."

He brandished his revolver at them, but the gesture was barely seen, and
instantly concealed by the cloud; of dust following the motor. Next
moment it enveloped the negroes and hid them even from one another.

It was only after Peter was lost in the dust-cloud that the mulatto
really divined what was meant by Cissie's strange appearance with the
constable, her chalky face, her frightened brown eyes. The significance
of the scene grew in his mind. He stood with eyes screwed to slits
staring into the apricot-colored dust in the direction of the vanishing
noise.

Presently Tump Pack's form outlined itself in the yellow obscurity,
groping toward Peter. He still held his pistol, but it swung at his
side. He called Peter's name in the strained voice of a man struggling
not to cough:

"Peter--is Mr. Bobbs done--'rested Cissie?"

Peter could hardly talk himself.

"Don't know. Looks like it."

The two negroes stared at each other through the dust.

"Fuh Gawd's sake! Cissie 'rested!" Tump began to cough. Then he wheezed:

"Mine an' yo' little deal's off, Peter. You gotta he'p git her out."
Here he fell into a violent fit of coughing, and started groping his way
to the edge of the dust-cloud.

In the rush of the moment the swift change in Peter's situation appeared
only natural. He followed Tump, so distressed by the dust and disturbed
over Cissie that he hardly thought of his peculiar position. The dust
pinched the upper part of his throat, stung his nose. Tears trickled
from his eyes, and he pressed his finger against his upper lip, trying
not to sneeze. He was still struggling against the sneeze when Tump
recovered his speech.

"Wh-whut you reckon she done, Peter? She don' shoot craps, nor boot-
laig, nor--" He fell to coughing.

Peter got out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.

"Let's go--to the Dildine house," he said.

The two moved hurriedly through the thinning cloud, and presently came
to breathable air, where they could see the houses around them.

"I know she done somp'n; I know she done somp'n," chanted Tump, with the
melancholy cadence of his race. He shook his dusty head. "You ain't
never been in jail, is you, black man?"

Peter said he had not.

"Lawd! it ain't no place fuh a woman," declared Tump. "You dunno nothin'
'bout it, black man. It sho ain't no place fuh a woman."

A notion of an iron cage floated before Peter's mind. The two negroes
trudged on through the crescent side by side, their steps raising a
little trail of dust in the air behind them. Their faces and clothes
were of a uniform dust color. Streaks of mud marked the runnels of their
tears down their cheeks.

The shrubbery and weeds that grew alongside the negro thoroughfare were
quite dead. Even the little avenue of dwarf box was withered that led
from the gate to the door of the Dildine home. The two colored men
walked up the little path to the door, knocked, and waited on the steps
for the little skirmish of observation from behind the blinds. None
came. The worst had befallen the house; there was nothing to guard. The
door opened as soon as an inmate could reach it, and Vannie Dildine
stood before them.

The quadroon's eyes were red, and her face had the moist, slightly
swollen appearance that comes of protracted weeping. She looked so frail
and miserable that Peter instinctively stepped inside and took her arm
to assist her in the mere physical effort of standing.

"What is the matter, Mrs. Dildine?" he asked in a shocked tone. "What's
happened to Cissie?"

Vannie began weeping again with a faint gasping and a racking of her
flat chest.

"It's--it's--O-o-oh, Peter!" She put an arm about him and began weeping
against him. He soothed her, patted her shoulder, at the same time
staring at the side of her head, wondering what could have dealt her
this blow.

Presently she steadied herself and began explaining in feeble little
phrases, sandwiched between sobs and gasps:

"She--tuk a brooch--Kep'--kep' layin' it roun' in--h-her way, th-that
young Sam Arkwright did,--a-an' finally she--she tuk hit. N-nen, when he
seen he h-had her, he said sh-sh-she 'd haf to d-do wh-whut he said, or
he'd sen' her to-to ja-a-il!" Vannie sobbed drearily for a few moments
on Peter's breast. "Sh-she did fuh a while: 'n 'en sh-she broke off wid
h-him, anyhow, an'--an' he swo' out a wa'nt an sont her to jail!" The
mother sobbed without comfort, and finally added: "Sh-she in a delicate
fix now, an' 'at jail goin' to be a gloomy place fuh Cissie."

The three negroes stood motionless in the dusty hallway, motionless save
for the racking of Vannie's sobs.

Tump Pack stirred himself.

"Well, we gotta git her out." His words trailed off. He stood wrinkling
his half-inch of brow. "I wonder would dey exchange pris'ners; wonder ef
I could go up an' serve out Cissie's term."

"Oh, Tump!" gasped the woman, "ef you only could!"

"I'll step an' see, Miss Vannie. 'At sho ain't no place fuh a nice gal
lak Cissie." Tump turned on his mission, evidently intending to walk to
Jonesboro and offer himself in the place of the prisoner.

Peter supported Vannie back into the poor living-room, and placed her in
the old rocking-chair before the empty hearth. There was where he had
sat the evening Cissie made her painful confession to him. Only now did
he realize the whole of what Cissie was trying to confess.

Peter Siner overtook Tump Pack a little way down the crescent, opposite
the Berry cabin. The thoroughfare was deserted, because the weather was
cold and the scantily clad children were indoors. However, from every
cabin came sound of laughing and romping, and now and then a youngster
darted through the cold from one hut to another.

It seemed to Peter Siner only a little while since he and Ida May were
skittering through wintry weather from one fire to another, with Cissie,
a wailing, wet-nosed little spoil-sport, trailing after them. And then,
with a wheeling of the years, they were scattered everywhere.

As the negroes passed the Berry cabin, Nan Berry came out with an old
shawl around her bristling spikes. She stopped the two men and drew them
to her gate with a gesture.

"Wha you gwine?"

"Jonesbuh."

"Whut you goin' do 'bout po-o-o' Cissie?"

"Goin' to see ef the sheriff won' take me 'stid o' Cissie."

"Tha's right," said Nan, nodding solemnly. "I hopes he will. You is mo'
used to it, Tump."

"Yeah, an' 'at jail sho ain't no place fuh a nice gal lak Cissie."

"Sho ain't," agreed Nan.

Peter interrupted to say he was sure the sheriff would not exchange.

The hopes of his listeners fell.

"Weh-ul," dragged out Nan, with a long face, "of co'se now it's lak dis:
ef Cissie goin' to stay in dat ja-ul, she's goin' to need some mo'
clo'es 'cep'n whut she's got on,--specially lak she is."

Tump stared down the swing of the crescent.

"'Fo' Gawd, dis sho don' seem lak hit's right to me," he said.

Nan let herself out at the rickety gate. "You niggers wait heah tull I
runs up to Miss Vannie's an' git some o' Cissie's clo'es fuh you to tote
her."

Tump objected.

"Jail ain't no place fuh clean clo'es. She jes better serve out her term
lak she is, an' wash up when she gits th'ugh."

"You fool nigger!" snapped Nan. "She kain't serve out her term lak she
is!"

"Da' 's so," said Tump.

The three stood silent, Nan and Tump lost in blankness, trying to think
of something to do for Cissie. Finally Nan said:

"I heah she done commit gran' larceny, an' they goin' sen' her to de
pen."

"Whut is gran' larceny?" asked Tump.

"It's takin' mo' at one time an' de white folks 'speck you to take,"
defined the woman. "Well, I'll go git her clo'es." She hurried off up
the crescent.

Peter and Tump waited in the Berry cabin for Nan's return. Outside, the
Berry cabin was the usual clapboard-roofed, weather-stained structure;
inside, it was dark, windowless, and strong with the odor of black folk.
Some children were playing around the hearth, roasting chestnuts. Their
elders sat in a circle of decrepit chairs. It was so dark that when
Peter first entered he could not make out the little group, but he soon
recognized their voices: Parson Ranson, Wince Washington, Jerry
Dillihay, and all of the Berry family.

They were talking of Cissie, of course. They hoped Cissie wouldn't
really be sent to the penitentiary, that the white folks would let her
out in time for her to have her child at home. Parson Ranson thought it
would be bad luck for a child to be born in jail.

Wince Washington, who had been in jail a number of times, suggested that
they bail Cissie out by signing their names to a paper. He had been set
free by this means once or twice.

Sally, Nan's little sister, observed tartly that if Cissie hadn't acted
so, she wouldn't have been in jail.

"Don' speak lak dat uv dem as is in trouble, Sally," reproved old Parson
Ranson, solemnly; "anybody can say 'Ef.'"

"Sho am de troof," agreed Jerry Dillihay.

"Sho am, black man." The conversation drifted into the endless
moralizing of their race, but it held no criticism or condemnation of
Cissie. From the tone of the negroes one would have thought some
impersonal disaster had overtaken her. Every one was planning how to
help Cissie, how to make her present state more endurable. They were the
black folk, the unfortunate of the earth, and the pride of righteousness
is only to the well placed and the untempted.

Presently Nan came back with a bundle of Cissie's clothes. Tump took the
bundle of dainty lingerie, the intimate garments of the woman he loved,
and set forth on his quixotic errand. He tied it to his shoulder-holster
and set out. Peter went a little of the way with him. It was almost dusk
when they started. The chill of approaching night stung the men's faces.
As they walked past the footpath that led over the Big Hill, three
pistol-shots from the glade announced that the boot-leggers had opened
business for the night.

Tump paused and shivered. He said it was a cold night. He thought he
would like to get a kick of "white mule" to put a little heart in him.
It was a long walk to Jonesboro. He hesitated a moment, then turned off
the road around the crescent for the path through the glade.

A thought to dissuade Tump from drinking the fiery "singlings" of the
moonshiners crossed Peters mind, but he put it aside. Tump was a habitué
of the glade. All the physiological arguments upon which Peter could
base an argument were far beyond the ex-soldier's comprehension. So Tump
turned off through the dark trees. Peter watched him until all he could
see was the white blur of Cissie's underwear swinging against his
holster.

After Tump's disappearance, Peter stood for several minutes thinking.
His brief crusade into Niggertown had ended in a situation far outside
of his volition. That morning he had started out with some vague idea of
taking Niggertown in his hands and molding it in accordance with his
white ideas; but Niggertown had taken Peter into its hands, had
threatened his life, had administered to him profound mental and moral
shocks, and now had dropped him, like some bit of waste, with his face
set over the Big Hill for white town.

As Peter stood there it seemed to him there was something symbolic in
his attitude. He was no longer of the black world; he was of the white.
He did not understand his people; they eluded him.

He belonged to the white world; not to the village across the hill, but
to the North. Nothing now prevented him from going North and taking the
position with Farquhar. Cissie Dildine was impossible for him now.
Niggertown was immovable, at least for him. He was no Washington to lead
his people to a loftier plane. In fact, Peter began to suspect that he
was no leader at all. He saw now that his initial success with the Sons
and Daughters of Benevolence had been effected merely by the aura of his
college training. After his first misstep he had never rehabilitated
himself. He perhaps had a dash of the artistic in him, and the power to
mold ideas often confuses itself subjectively with the power to mold
human beings. In reality he did not even understand the people he
assumed to mold. A suspicion came to him that under the given conditions
their ways were more rational than his own.

As for Cissie Dildine, his duty by the girl, his queer protective
passion for her--all that was surely past now. After her lapse from all
decency there was no reason why he should spend another thought on her.
He would go North to Chicago.

The last of the twilight was fading in swift, visible gradations of
light. The cedars, the cabins, and the hill faded in pulse-beats of
darkness. Above the Big Hill the last ember of day smoldered against a
green-blue infinity. Here and there a star pricked the dome with a
wintry brilliance.

Then, somehow, the thought of Cissie looking out on that chilly sky
through iron bars tightened Peter's throat. He caught himself up sharply
for his emotion. He began a vague defense of the white man's laws on
grounds as cold and impersonal as the winter evening. Laws, customs, and
conventions were for the strengthening of men, to seed the select, to
winnow the weak. It was white logic, applied firmly, as by a white man.
But somehow the stars multiplied and kept Cissie's image before Peter--a
cold, frightened girl, harassed with coming motherhood, peering at those
chill, distant lights out of the blackness of a jail.

The mulatto decided to spend the night in his mother's cabin. He would
do his packing, and be ready for the down-river boat in the morning. He
found his way to his own gate in the darkness. He lifted it around,
entered, and walked to his door. When he tried to open it, he found some
one had bored holes through the shutter and the jamb and had wired it
shut.

Peter struck a match to see just what had been done. The flame displayed
a small sheet tacked on the door. He spent two matches investigating it.
It was a notice of levy, posted by the constable in an action of debt
brought against the estate of Caroline Siner by Henry Hooker. The owner
of the estate and the public in general were warned against removing
anything whatsoever from the premises under penalty exacted by the law
governing such offenses. Then Peter untwisted the wire and entered.

Peter searched about and found the tiny brass night-lamp which his
mother always had used. The larger glass-bowled lamp was gone. The
interior of the cabin was clammy from cold and foul from long lack of
airing. In the corner his mother's old four-poster loomed in the
shadows, but he could see some of its covers had been taken. He passed
into the kitchen with a notion of building a fire and eating a bite, but
everything edible had been abstracted. Even one of the lids of the old
step-stove was gone. Most of the pans and kettles had disappeared, but
the pretty old Dutch sugar-bowl remained on a bare paper-covered shelf.
Negro-like, whatever person or persons who had ransacked Peter's home
considered the sugar-bowl too fine to take. Or they may have thought
that Peter would want this bowl for a keepsake, and with that queer
compassion that permeates a negro's worst moments they allowed it to
remain. And Peter knew if he raised an outcry about his losses, much of
the property would be surreptitiously restored, or perhaps his neighbors
would bring back his things and say they had found them. They would help
him as best they could, just as they of the crescent would help Cissie
as best they could, and would receive her back as one of them when she
and her baby were finally released from jail.

They were a queer people. They were a people who would never get on well
and do well. They lacked the steel-like edge that the white man
achieves. By virtue of his hardness, a white man makes his very laws and
virtues instruments to crush and mulct his fellow-man; but negroes are
so softened by untoward streaks of sympathy that they lose the very uses
of their crimes.

The depression of the whole day settled upon Peter with the deepening
night. He held his poor light above his head and picked his way to his
own room. After the magnificence of the Renfrew manor, it had contracted
to a grimy little box lined with yellowed papers. His books were still
intact, but Henry Hooker would get them as part payment on the Dillihay
place, which Henry owned. On his little table still lay the pile of old
examination papers, lists of incoherent questions which somebody
somewhere imagined formed a test of human ability to meet and answer the
mysterious searchings of life.

Peter was familiar with the books; many of the questions he had learned
by rote, but the night and the crescent, and the thought of a pregnant
girl caged in the blackness of a jail filled his soul with a great
melancholy query to which he could find no answer.



                              CHAPTER XIX


Two voices talking, interrupting each other with ejaculations, after the
fashion of negroes under excitement, aroused Peter Siner from his sleep.
He caught the words: "He did! Tump did! The jailer did! 'Fo' God! black
man, whut's Cissie doin'?"

Overtones of shock, even of horror, in the two voices brought Peter wide
awake the moment he opened his eyes. He sat up suddenly in his bed,
remained perfectly still, listening with his mouth open. The voices,
however, were passing. The words became indistinct, then relapsed into
that bubbling monotone of human voices at a distance, and presently
ceased.

These fragmentary phrases, however, feathered with consternation, filled
Peter with vague premonitions. He whirled his legs out of bed and began
drawing on his clothes. When he was up and into the crescent, however,
nobody was in sight. He stood breathing the chill, damp air, blinking
his eyes. Lack of his cold bath made him feel chilly and lethargic. He
wriggled his shoulders and considered going back, after all, and having
his splash. Just then he saw the Persimmon coming around the crescent.
Peter called to the roustabout and asked about Tump Pack.

The Persimmon looked at Peter with his half-asleep, protruding eyeballs.

"Don' you know 'bout Tump Pack already, Mister Siner?"

"No." Peter was astonished at the formality of the "Mr. Siner."

"Then is you 'spectin' somp'n 'bout him?"

"Why, no, but I was asleep in there a moment ago, and somebody came
along talking about Tump and Cissie. They--they aren't married, are
they?"

"Oh, no-o, no-o-o, no-o-o-o-o." The Persimmon waggled his bullet head
slowly from side to side. "I heared Tump got into a lil trouble wid de
jailer las' night."

"Serious?"

"I dunno." The Persimmon closed one of his protruding yellow eyes.
"Owin' to whut you call se'ius; maybe whut I call se'ius wouldn't be
se'ius to you at all; 'n 'en maybe whut you call se'ius would be ve'y
insince'ius to Tump." The roustabout's philosophy, which consisted in a
monotonous recasting of a given proposition, trickled on and on in the
cold wind. After a while it fizzled out to nothing at all, and the
Persimmon asked in a queer manner: "Did you give Tump some women's
clo'es, Peter?"

It was such an odd question that at first Peter was at loss; then he
recalled Nan Berry's despatching Cissie some underwear. He explained
this to the Persimmon, and tacked on a curious, "Why?"

"Oh, nothin'; nothin' 'tall. Ever'body say you a mighty long-haided
nigger. Jim Pink he tell us 'bout Tump Pack marchin' you 'roun' wid a
gun. I sho don' want you ever git mad at me, Mister Siner. Man wid a gun
an' you turn yo' long haid on him an' blow him away wid a wad o' women's
clo'es. I sho don' want you ever cross yo' fingers at me, Mister Siner."

Peter stared at the grotesque, bullet-headed roustabout. "Persimmon," he
said uneasily, "what in the world are you talking about?"

The Persimmon smiled a sickly, white-toothed smile. "Jim Pink say yo'
aidjucation is a flivver. I say, 'Jim Pink, no nigger don' go off an'
study fo' yeahs in college whut 'n he comes back an' kin throw some kin'
uv a hoodoo over us fool niggers whut ain't got no brains. Now, Tump wid
a gun, an' you wid jes ordina'y women's clo'es! 'Fo' Gawd, aidjucation
is a great thing; sho is a great thing." The Persimmon gave Peter an
apprehensive wink and moved on.

There was no use trying to extract information from the Persimmon unless
he was minded to give it. His talk would merely become vaguer and
vaguer. Peter watched him go, then turned and attempted to throw the
whole matter off his mind by assuming a certain brisk Northern mood. He
must pack, get ready for the down-river gasolene launch. The doings of
Tump Pack and Cissie Dildine were, after all, nothing to him.

He started inside, when the levy notice on the door again met his eyes.
He paused, read it over once more, and decided that he must go over the
hill to the Planter's Bank and get Henry Hooker's permission to remove
certain small personal belongings that he wanted to take with him.

The mere clear-cut decision to go invigorated Peter.

Some of the energy that always filled him during his college days in
Boston seemed to come to him now from the mere thought of the North.
Soon he would be in the midst of it, moving briskly, talking to wide-
awake men to whom a slightly unusual English word would not form a
stumbling-block to conversation. He set out down the crescent and across
the Big Hill at a swinging stride. He was glad to get away.

Beyond the white church on the other side of the hill he heard a motor
coming in on the Jonesboro road. Presently he saw a battered car moving
around the long swing of the pike, spewing a trail of dust down the
wind. Its clacking became prodigious.

The mulatto was just entering that indefinite stretch of thoroughfare
where a country road becomes a village street when there came a wail of
brakes behind him and he looked around.

It was Dawson Bobbs's car. The fat man now slowed up not far from the
mulatto and called to him.

"Yes, sir," said Peter.

Dawson bobbed his fat head backward and upward in a signal for Peter to
approach. It held the casualness of one certain to be obeyed.

Although Peter had done no crime, nor had even harbored a criminal
intention, a trickle of apprehension went through him at Bobbs's nod. He
recalled Jim Pink's saying that it was bad luck to see the constable. He
walked up to the shuddering motor and stood about three feet from the
running-board.

The officer bit on a sliver of toothpick that he held in his thin lips.

"Accident up Jonesboro las' night, Peter."

"What was it, Mr. Bobbs?"

"Tump Pack got killed."

Peter continued looking fixedly at Mr. Bobbs's broad red face. The dusty
road beneath him seemed to give a little dip. He repeated the
information emptily, trying to orient himself to this sudden change in
his whole mental horizon.

The officer was looking at Peter fixedly with his chill slits of eyes.

"Yeah; trying to make a jail delivery."

The two men continued looking at each other, one from the road, the
other from the motor. The flow of Peter's thoughts seemed to divide. The
greater part was occupied with Tump Pack. Peter could vision the
formidable ex-soldier lying dead in Jonesboro jail, with his little
congressional medal on his breast. Some lighter portion of his mind
nickered about here and there on trivial things. He observed a little
hole rusted in the running-board of the motor. He noticed that the
officer's eyes were just the same chill, washed blue as the winter sky
above his head. He remembered a tale that, before electrocution became a
law in Tennessee the county sheriff's nerve had failed him at a hanging,
and the constable Dawson Bobbs had sprung the drop. There was something
terrible about the fat man. He would do anything, absolutely anything,
that came to his hands in the way of legal sewage.

In the midst of these thoughts Peter heard himself saying.

"He--was trying to get Cissie out?"

"Yep."

"He--must have been drunk."

"Oh, yeah."

Mr. Bobbs sat studying the mulatto. As he studied him he said slowly:

"Some of 'em say he was disguised as a woman. Others say he had some
women's clothes along, ready to put on. Now, me and the sheriff knowed
Tump Pack purty well, Peter, and we knowed that nigger never in the
worl' would 'a' thought up sich a plan by hisself."

He sat looking at Peter so interrogatively that the mulatto began, in a
strained, earnest voice, telling the constable precisely what had
happened in regard to the clothes.

Mr. Bobbs sat listening impassively, moving his toothpick up and down
from one side to the other of his small, thin-lipped mouth. At last he
nodded.

"Well, I guess that's about the way of it. I didn't exactly understand
the women's clothes business,--damn' fool disguise,--but we figgered it
might pop into the head of a' edjucated nigger." He sucked his teeth,
reflectively. "Peter," he said at last, "seems to me, if I was you, I'd
drift on away from this town. The niggers around here ain't strong for
you now; some say you're a hoodoo; some say this an' some that. The
white folks don't exactly like you trying to get up a cook's union. It's
your right to do that if you want to, of course, but this is a mighty
small city to have unions and things. The fact is, it ain't a big enough
place for a nigger of yore ability, Peter. I b'lieve, if I was you, I'd
jes drift on some'eres else."

The officer tipped up his toothpick so that it lifted his upper lip in a
little v-shaped opening and exposed a strong, yellowish tooth. At the
moment his machine started slowly forward. It gave him the appearance of
accidentally rolling off while immersed in deep thought.

                    *       *       *       *       *

The death of Tump Pack moved Peter with a sense of strange pathos. He
always remembered Tump tramping away through the night to carry Cissie
some underclothes and, if possible, to take her place in jail. At the
foundation of Tump's being lay a faithfulness and devotion to Cissie
that reached the heights of a dog's. And yet, he might have deserted
her, he would probably have beaten her, and he most certainly would have
betrayed her many, many times. It was inexplicable.


Now that Tump was dead, the mantle of his fidelity somehow seemed to
fall on Peter. For some reason Peter felt that he should assume Tump's
place as Cissie Dildine's husband and protector. Had Tump lived, Peter
might have gone North in peace, if not in happiness. Now such a journey,
without Cissie, had become impossible. He had a feeling that it would
not be right.

As for the disgrace of marrying such a woman as Cissie Dildine, Peter
slowly gave that idea up. The "worthinesses" and "disgraces" implicit in
Harvard atmosphere, which Peter had spent four years of his life
imbibing, slowly melted away in the air of Niggertown. What was
honorable there, what was disgraceful there, somehow changed its color
here.

By virtue of this change Peter felt intuitively that Cissie Dildine was
neither disgraced by her arrest nor soiled by her physical condition.
Somehow she seemed just as "nice" a girl, just as "good" a girl, as ever
she was before. Moreover, every other darky in Niggertown held these
same instinctive beliefs. Had it not been for that, Peter would have
thought it was his passion pleading for the girl, justifying itself by a
grotesque morality, as passions often do. But this was not the correct
solution. The sentiment was enigmatic. Peter puzzled over it time and
time again as he waited in Hooker's Bend for the outcome of Cissie's
trial.

The octoroon's imprisonment came to an end on the third day after Tump's
death. Sam Arkwright's parents had not known of their son's legal
proceedings, and Mr. Arkwright immediately quashed the warrant, and
hushed up the unfortunate matter as best he could. Young Sam was
suddenly sent away from home to college, as the best step in the
circumstances. And so the wishes of the adolescent in the cedar-glade
came queerly to pass, even if Peter did withhold any grave, mature
advice on the subject which he may have possessed.

Naturally, there was much mirth among the men of Hooker's Bend and much
virulence among the women over the peculiar conditions under which young
Sam made his pilgrimage in pursuit of wisdom and morals and the right
conduct of life. And life being problematic and uncertain as it is, and
prone to wind about in the strangest way, no one may say with certitude
that young Sam did not make a promising start.

Certainly, over the affair the Knights of the Round Table launched many
a quip and jest, but that simply proved the fineness of their sentiments
toward a certain delicate human relation which forms mankind's single
awful approach to the creative and the holy.

Tump Pack became almost a mythical figure in Niggertown. Jim Pink Staggs
composed a saga relating the soldier's exploits in France, his assault
on the jail to liberate Cissie, and his death.

In his songs--and Jim Pink had composed a good many--the minstrel
instinctively avoided humor. He always improvised them to the sobbing of
a guitar, and they were as invariably sad as the poetry of adolescents.
It was called "Tump Pack's Lament." The negroes of Hooker's Bend learned
it from Jim Pink, and with them it drifted up and down the three great
American rivers, and now it is sung by the roustabouts, stevedores, and
underlings of our strange black American world.

This song commemorating Tump Pack's bravery and faithfulness to his love
may very well take the place of the Congressional medal which,
unfortunately, was lost on the night the soldier was killed. Between the
two, there is little doubt that the accolade of fame bestowed in the
buffoon's simple melody is more vital and enduring than that accorded by
special act of the Congress of the United States of America.

When Cissie Dildine returned from jail, she and her mother arranged the
Dildine-Siner wedding as nearly according to white standards in similar
circumstances as they could conceive. They agreed that it should be a
simple, quiet home wedding. However, as every soul in Niggertown, a
number of colored friends in Jonesboro, and a contingent from up-river
villages meant to attend, it became necessary to hold the service in the
church.

The officiating minister was not Parson Ranson after all, but a Reverend
Cleotus Haidus, the presiding elder of that circuit of the Afro-American
Methodist Church, whose duties happened to call him to Hooker's Bend
that day. So, notwithstanding Cissie's efforts at simplicity, the
wedding, after all, was resolved into an affair.

Once, in one of her moments of clairvoyance, Cissie said to Peter:

"Our trouble is, Peter, we are trying to mix what I have learned in
Nashville and what you have learned in Boston with what we both feel in
Hooker's Bend. I--I'm almost ashamed to say it, but I don't really feel
sad and plaintive at all, Peter. I feel glad, gloriously glad. Oh, my
dear, dear Peter!" and she flung her arms around Peter's neck and held
him with all her might against her ripening bosom.

To Cissie her theft, her jail sentence, her pregnancy, were nothing more
than if she had taken a sip of water. However, with the imitativeness of
her race and the histrionic ability of her sex, she appeared pensive and
subdued during the elaborate double-ring ceremony performed by the
Reverend Cleotus Haidus. Nobody in the packed church knew how
tremendously Cissie's heart was beating except Peter, who held her hand.

The ethical engine that Peter had patiently builded in Harvard almost
ceased to function in this weird morality of Niggertown. Whether he were
doing right or doing wrong, Peter could not determine. He lost all his
moorings. At times he felt himself walking according to the ethnological
law, which is the Harvard way of saying walking according to the will of
God; but at other times he felt party to some unpardonable obscenity. So
deeply was he disturbed that out of the dregs of his mind floated up old
bits of the Scriptures that he was unaware of possessing: "There is a
way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of
death." And Peter wondered if he were not in that way.

[Illustration: The bridal couple embarked for Cairo]

The bridal couple embarked for Cairo on the _Red Cloud_, a packet
in the Dubuque, Ohio, and Tennessee River trade. Peter and Cissie were
not allowed to walk up the main stairway into the passengers' cabin, but
were required to pick their way along the boiler-deck, through the
stench of freight, lumber, live stock and sleeping roustabouts. Then
they went through the heat and steam of the engine-room up a small
companionway that led through the toilet, on to the rear guard of the
main deck, and thence back to a little cuddy behind the main saloon
called the chambermaid's cabin.

The chambermaid's cabin was filled with the perpetual odor of hot soap-
suds, soiled laundry, and the broader smell of steam and the boat's
machinery. The little place trembled night and day, for the steamer's
engines were just beneath them, and immediately behind them thundered
the great stern-wheel of the packet. A single square window in the end
of the chambermaid's cabin looked out on the wheel, but at all times,
except when the wind was blowing from just the right quarter, this
window was deluged with a veritable Niagara of water. The continual
shake of the cabin, the creak of the rudder-beam working to and fro, the
watery thunder of the wheel, and the solemn rumble of the engines made
conversation impossible until the travelers grew accustomed to the
noises. Still, Cissie found it pleasant. She liked to sit and look out
into the main saloon, with its interminable gilded scrolls extending
away up the long cabin, a suave perspective. She liked to watch the
white passengers dine--the white napery, the bouquets, the endless
tables all filled with diners; some swathed in napkins from chin to
waistband, others less completely protected. It gave Cissie a certain
tang of triumph to smile at the swathed ones and to think that she knew
better than that.

At night a negro string-band played for the white excursionists to
dance, and Cissie would sit, with glowing eyes, clenching Peter's hand,
every fiber of her asway to the music, and it seemed as if her heart
would go mad. All these inhibitions, all this spreading before her of
forbidden joys, did not daunt her delight. She reveled in them by
propinquity.

The chambermaid was a Mrs. Antolia Higgman, a strong, full-bodied
_café-au-lait_ negress. She was a very sensible woman, and during
her work on the boat she had picked up a Northern accent and a number of
little mannerisms from the Chicago and St. Louis excursionists, who made
ten-day round trips from Dubuque to Florence, Alabama, and return. When
Mrs. Higgman was not running errands for the women passengers, she was
working at her perpetual laundering.

At first Peter was a little uneasy as to how Mrs. Higgman would treat
Cissie, but she turned out a good-hearted woman, and did everything she
could to make the young wife comfortable. It soon became clear that Mrs.
Higgman knew the whole situation, for one day she said to Cissie in her
odd dialect, burred with Yankeeish "r's" and "ing's."

"These river-r towns, Mrs. Siner-r, are jest like one big village, with
the river-r for its Main Street. I know ever-r'thang that goes on,
through the cabin-boys an' cooks, an'--an'--you cerrtainly ar-re a dear-
r, Mrs. Siner-r," and thereupon, quite unexpectedly, she kissed Cissie.

So on about the second day down the river Cissie dropped her saddened
manner and became frankly, freely, and riotously happy. After the
fashion of village negresses, she insisted on helping Mrs. Higgman with
her work, and, incidentally, she cultivated Mrs. Higgman's Northern
accent. When the chambermaid was out on her errands and Cissie found a
moment alone with Peter, she would tweak his ear or pull his cheek and
provoke him to kiss her. Indeed, it was all the hot, shuddering little
laundry-room could do to contain the gay and bubbling Cissie.

Peter thought and thought, resignedly now, but persistently, how this
strange happiness that belonged to them both could be. He was content,
yet he felt he ought not to be content. He thought there must be
something base in himself, yet he felt that there was not. He drank the
wine of his honeymoon marveling.

On the morning before the _Red Cloud_ entered the port of Cairo
Mrs. Higgman was out of the cabin, and Peter stood at the little square
window, with his arm about Cissie's waist, looking out to the rear of
the steamer. A strong east wind blew the spray away from the glass, and
Peter could see the huge wheel covered with a waterfall thundering
beneath him. Back of the wheel stretched a long row of even waves and
troughs. Every seventh or eighth wave tumbled over on itself in a swash
of foam. These flashing stern waves strung far up the river. On each
side of the great waterway stretched the flat shores of Kentucky and
Ohio. Here and there over the broad clay-colored water moved other
boats--tow-boats, a string of government auto-barges, a snag-boat,
another packet.

Peter gave up his question. The curves of Cissie's form in his arm held
a sweetness and a restfulness that her maidenhood had never promised. He
felt so deeply sure of his happiness that it seemed strange to him that
he could not aline his emotions and his mind.

As Peter stood staring up the Ohio River, it occurred to him that
perhaps, in some queer way, the morals of black folk were not the morals
of white folk; perhaps the laws that bound one race were not the laws
that bound the other. It might be that white anathemas were black
blessings. Peter thought along this line peacefully for several minutes.

And finally he concluded that, after all, morals and conventions, right
and wrong, are merely those precepts that a race have practised and
found good in its evolution. Morals are the training rules that keep a
people fit. It might very well be that one moral régime is applicable to
one race, and quite another to another.

The single object of all morals is racial welfare, the racial integrity,
the breeding of strong children to perpetuate the species. If the black
race possess a more exuberant vitality than some other race, then the
black would not be forced to practise so severe a vital economy as some
less virile folk. Racial morals are simply a question of having and
spending within safety limits.

Peter knew that for years white men had held a prejudice against
marrying widows. This is utterly without grounds except for one reason:
the first born of a woman is the lustiest. Among the still weaker Aryans
of India the widows burn themselves. Among certain South Sea Islanders
only the first-born may live and mate; all other children are slain.
Among nearly every white race marriage lines are strictly drawn, and the
tendency is to have few children to a family, to conserve the precious
vital impulse. So strong is this feeling of birth control that to-day
nearly all American white women are ashamed of large families. This
shame is the beginning of a convention; the convention may harden into a
cult, a law, or a religion.

And here is the amazing part of morals. Morals are always directed
toward one particular race, but the individual members of that race
always feel that their brand of morals does and should apply to all the
peoples of the earth; so one has the spectacle of nations sending out
missionaries and battle-ships to teach and enforce their particular
folk-ways. Another queer thing is that whereas the end of morals is
designed solely for the betterment of the race, and is entirely
regardless of the person, to the conscience of the person morals are
always translated as something that binds him personally, that will
shame him or honor him personally not only for the brief span of this
worldly life, but through an eternity to come. To him, his particular
code, surrounded by all the sanctions of custom, law, and religion,
appears earth-embracing, hell-deep, and heaven-piercing, and any human
creature who follows any other code appears fatally wicked, utterly
shameless, and ineluctably lost.

And yet there is no such thing as absolute morals. Morals are as
transitory as the sheen on a blackbird's wing; they change perpetually
with the necessities of the race. Any people with an abounding vitality
will naturally practise customs which a less vital people must shun.

Morals are nothing more than the engines controlling the stream of
energy that propel a race on its course. All engines are not alike, nor
are all races bound for the same port.

Here Peter Siner made the amazing discovery that although he had spent
four years in Harvard, he had come out, just as he went in, a negro.

A great joy came over him. He took Cissie whole-heartedly in his arms
and kissed again and again the deep crimson of her lips. His brain and
his heart were together at last. As he stood looking out at the window,
pressing Cissie to him, he wondered, when he reached Chicago, if he
could ever make Farquhar understand.





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