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Title: E. K. Means - Is This a Title? It Is Not. It Is the Name of a Writer of - Negro Stories, Who Has Made Himself So Completely the - Writer of Negro Stories That His Book Needs No Title
Author: Means, E. K. (Eldred Kurtz)
Language: English
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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.

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[Transcriber’s Note:

Text delimited by equal signs is bold.

Text delimited by underscores is italic.

Character preceeded by a caret is superscript.]


[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

“Boo-hoo,” Scootie wailed.

“Aw! shut up,” the old man snapped.

  (_See page 12._)]



E. K. MEANS


_Is this a title? It is not. It is the name of a writer of negro
stories, who has made himself so completely =the= writer of negro
stories that his book needs no title._

  ILLUSTRATED BY
  KEMBLE

  G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
  NEW YORK AND LONDON
  The Knickerbocker Press
  1918



COPYRIGHT, 1918

BY

E. K. MEANS

The Knickerbocker Press, New York



To

ROBERT H. DAVIS

WHO TAUGHT ME HOW

AND

“ITTU”

WHO KEPT ME AT IT.



Foreword.


The stories in this volume were written simply because of my interest
in the stories themselves and because of a whimsical fondness for the
people of that Race to whom God has given two supreme gifts,--Music and
Laughter.

For the benefit of the curious, I may say that many of the incidents in
these tales are true and many of the characters and places mentioned
actually exist.

The Hen-Scratch saloon derived its name from the fact that many of its
colored habitués played “craps” on the ground under the chinaberry
trees until the soil was marked by their scratching finger-nails like
a chicken-yard. The name Tickfall is fictitious, but the locality
will be easily recognized by the true names of the negro settlements,
Dirty-Six, Hell’s-Half-Acre, Shiny, Tinrow,--lying in the sand around
that rich and aristocratic little town like pigs around their dam and
drawing their sustenance therefrom.

Skeeter Butts’s real name is Perique. Perique is also the name of
Louisiana’s famous homegrown tobacco, and as Skeeter is too diminutive
to be named after a whole cigar, his white friends have always called
him Butts. Vinegar Atts is a well-known colored preacher of north
Louisiana, whose “swing-tail prancin’-albert coat” has been seen in
many pulpits, and whose “stove-pipe, preachin’ hat” has been the target
of many a stone thrown from a mischievous white boy’s hand. Hitch
Diamond is known at every landing place on the Mississippi River as
“Big Sandy.”

When these tales were first published in the _All Story Weekly_, many
readers declared that they were humorous. Nevertheless, I hold that
a story containing dialect must necessarily have many depressing
and melancholy features. But dialect does not consist of perverted
pronunciations and phonetic orthography. True dialect is a picture in
cold type of the manifold peculiarities of the mind and temperament.
In its form, I have attempted to give merely a _flavor_ of the negro
dialect; but I have made a sincere attempt to preserve the essence of
dialect by making these stories contain a true idea of the negro’s
shrewd observations, curious retorts, quaint comments, humorous
philosophy, and his unique point of view on everything that comes to
his attention.

The Folk Tales of Joel Chandler Harris are imperishable pictures of
plantation life in the South before the Civil War and of the negro
slave who echoed all his master’s prejudice of caste and pride of
family in the old times that are no more.

The negroes of this volume are the sons of the old slaves. Millions of
them live to-day in the small Southern villages, and as these stories
indicate, many changes of character, mind, and temperament have taken
place in the last half-century through the modifications of freedom and
education.

This type also is passing. In a brief time, the negro who lives in
these pages will be a memory, like Uncle Remus. “Ethiopia is stretching
out her hands” after art, science, literature, and wealth, and when the
sable sons of laughter and song grasp these treasures, all that remains
of the Southern village negro of to-day will be a few faint sketches in
Fiction’s beautiful temple of dreams.

  E. K. MEANS.



CONTENTS


                                                                  PAGE
  FOREWORD                                                         iii

  THE LATE FIGGER BUSH                                               1

  HOODOO EYES                                                       39

  THE ART OF ENTICING LABOR                                         72

  THE CRUISE OF THE MUD HEN                                         92

  TWO SORRY SONS OF SORROW                                         127

  MONARCH OF THE MANACLE                                           186

  ALL IS FAIR                                                      214

  HOODOO FACE                                                      274



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                 PAGE

  “BOO-HOO,” SCOOTIE WAILED. “AW! SHUT
  UP,” THE OLD MAN SNAPPED                              _Frontispiece_

  “I’SE DE BRAYING JACK-ASS OF GEORGIA, AN’
  NO NIGGER IN TICKFALL CAIN’T COMB
  MY MANE”                                                          58

  “COLONEL GAITSKILL TELEPHONED ME THAT
  YOUR POCKETS WERE FULL OF MONEY”                                  86

  WHEN THE BOAT STOPPED                                            110

  MUSTARD PROCEEDED TO PAINT HIM RED                               158

  SKEETER WENT DOWN THE STREET AT FULL SPEED                       208

  THE PIE-FACED SORREL WITH THE SNAKE-BITTEN LEG                   218

  THE “REVUN” VINEGAR ATTS BEGAN HIS SERMON.                       328



The Late Figger Bush.


Figger Bush did not look like a man who was about to die; if anything,
he looked like one who ought to be killed.

He was a scarecrow sort of a negro, with ragged, flapping clothes. His
coal-black face formed a background for a little, stubby, shoe-brush
mustache, and Figger thought that mustache justified his existence in
the world. He had not much use for his coconut head except to support
a battered wool hat and grow a luxuriant crop of kinky hair. He had an
insuperable aversion to all sorts of work.

None of these things indicated that Figger was about to die; in fact,
they showed that he was enjoying life.

The only thing that indicated an unusual condition in Figger was the
fact that he was now walking down the middle of the road with rapid and
ever-lengthening steps, glancing from side to side, and grumbling aloud
to himself.

“I gotta find dat Skeeter Butts an’ find him quick,” he muttered.
“Nothin’ like dis ain’t never happen to me befo’, an’ nobody cain’t
’lucidate on my troubles like Skeeter kin.”

A high, cackling laugh, accompanied by a hoarse bellow of laughter,
floated to him upon the hot August breeze, and Figger ceased his
grumbling and began to chuckle.

“I gits exputt advices now,” he mumbled. “Skeeter am talkin’ sociable
wid de Revun Vinegar Atts.”

On top of the hill in front of the Shoofly church, Figger found his two
friends resting under the shade of a chinaberry tree.

Skeeter Butts, the little, yellow barkeeper at the Hen-Scratch saloon,
had the back of his chair propped against the trunk of the tree, his
heels hung in the rungs of the chair in front, and looked like a
jockey mounted upon a bony, sway-backed horse. Vinegar Atts, the fat,
bald-headed, moon-faced pastor of the Shoofly church, sat on one chair,
rested his feet on another, and had his massive arms outspread upon the
backs of yet two other chairs. He looked like a pot-bellied buzzard
trying to fly upside down and backward.

“Come up, Figger!” Vinegar howled, as he kicked the chair, on which his
feet rested, toward him. “Take a seat, take a set-down, rest yo’ hat,
spit on de flo’--make yo’se’f at home!”

Figger picked up the chair, placed it back where Atts could rest his
feet upon it again, and sat down upon the ground, interlocking the
fingers of both hands and nursing his bent knees.

“You been cuttin’ out chu’ch recent. How come?” Vinegar bellowed.

“Religium don’t he’p a po’ nigger like me,” Figger responded gloomily.

“Dat’s a fack,” Atts agreed promptly. “Religium is got to hab somepin
to ketch holt on an’ you ain’t nothin’.”

“Whut ails you?” Skeeter inquired, looking at Figger intently. “You
ain’t look nachel to me some way.”

Figger sighed deeply, then executed a feeble grin.

“A nigger man is comin’ to see me, Skeeter,” he explained, “an’ I don’t
need him.”

“Who’s a-comin’?”

“Popsy Spout.”

“Whar’s he been at?” Vinegar asked.

“Yallerbam’,” Figger told him.

There was a moment of silence while the two waited for Figger to tell
them all about it. But if Figger ever did anything he had to be pushed
along.

“I don’t see nothin’ so powerful bad in dat,” Skeeter snapped,
impatient at the delay. “Popsy Spout is comin’ from Yalabama--well?”

“It’s dis way,” Figger explained, slapping at the ground with his
battered wool hat to give emphasis to his speech. “Popsy Spout is my
gran’pap on my mammy’s side. My mammy died soon an’ Popsy raised me up.
He always toted a big hick’ry cane an’ he raised me pretty frequent.
One day he promise me a whalin’ an’ I snooped ten dollars outen his
money-bag an’ skunt out fer Tickfall. Dat was twenty year ago.”

“You reckin’ Popsy is comin’ to colleck up?” Skeeter snickered.

“Naw, suh. I figger dat Popsy is gittin’ ole an’ lonesome an’ tuck up a
notion to come an’ pay me a little visit.”

“How long will he stay on?” Skeeter asked.

“I kinder think he thinks he’ll stay on till he dies,” Figger announced
in tragic tones, as he produced a soiled letter and held it out to
Skeeter. “Read dis, an’ see kin you find any yuther hopes in whut he do
say.”

Skeeter took the letter out of the envelope and read it aloud, giving
the peculiar African pronunciation to the words as he spoke them:

“DEAR FIGGER:

Dis letter will kotch you jes’ befo’ I gits offen de train at Tickfall.
I wus raised an’ bawn in de Little Mocassin Swamp, an’ I wants to come
home an’ live wid you till I die. I needs somebody of my kinnery aroun’
so I won’t git so lonesome. Good-by. I’m comin’ powerful soon.

  POPSY SPOUT.”

Skeeter handed the letter back with a look of deep sympathy and pity.

“Bad luck, Figger,” Vinegar Atts bellowed. “You cain’t mo’ dan half
suppote yo’se’f, an’ now you done got a ready-made gran’pap to
suppote. A nigger kin git mighty ole an’ deef, but he always hears de
dinner-horn.”

“Dat’s right,” Figger wailed. “Whut muss I do?”

“Don’t start squealin’ like a pig kotch in a gap,” Skeeter snapped, as
he passed around a box of cigarettes. “Smoke one of dese an’ ease down
yo’ mind a little.”

“Whut muss I do?” Figger wailed again.

“Vinegar, you ax ’terrogations while I medjertates,” Skeeter proposed,
as he leaned his chair back against the tree.

“When did you perceive dis here Popsy las’, Figger?” Vinegar inquired.

“More’n twenty year ago.”

“Whut do he look like?”

“He looks like a black nigger. I s’pose he’s bleached out some in de
las’ twenty year.”

“Is you ever heard any word from him befo’?”

“Naw, suh. Word ain’t been sont.”

“How do Popsy know you is still livin’?” Vinegar inquired.

“Huh!” Skeeter Butts grunted, as he suddenly sat up and slapped his
hand upon his knee. “Dat’s de very idear I needs!”

“Whut?” Vinegar asked.

“Figger Bush will be dead when Popsy comes,” Skeeter snickered. “Dead
an’ buried!”

“Not ef I kin he’p it!” Figger announced, as he rose to his feet with a
frightened air. “You got to ketch a nigger fust befo’ you kin dead an’
bury him.”

“Set down, Figger!” Skeeter exclaimed. “Yo’ gran’pap on yo’ mammy’s
side didn’t inherit you no brains! Dis here is a good plan to git you
out of trouble.”

“Tell it to me slow,” Figger begged, as he resumed his seat on the
ground. “I don’t favor no plan havin’ a dead Figger Bush in it.”

“Listen, Figger!” Skeeter urged. “I wants you to pick out a
nice-lookin’ nigger gal whut could play like she wus yo’ widder.”

“Suttinly,” Figger grinned, beginning to see the light. “Scootie Tandy
could play widder. She’s been one about two year--all de nigger mens
run after her tryin’ to pussuade her to fergit her spite an’ marry
agin. I could git her to play widder.”

“Dat’ll put an eend to yo’ mis’ry,” Skeeter cackled. “Go tell Scootie
all yo’ trouble, ax Scootie to meet de train dat Popsy comes on, an’
bust de sad news to him dat you is dead an’ buried!”

“Mebbe Popsy won’t b’lieve her,” Figger objected.

“Me an’ Vinegar will back her up in dat tale,” Skeeter assured him. “De
revun elder won’t mind stretchin’ de blanket a little fer de sake of
savin’ a friend. Ain’t dat so, Revun?”

“Dat’s so!” Vinegar declared. “My life job an’ my callin’ is savin’
niggers!”

“Whar muss I git to while I’m bein’ dead?” Figger inquired.

“Go fishin’,” Skeeter grinned. “Fishin’ is de best spote on yearth fer
de livin’ an’ de dead!”

“How long am I got to stay dead?” Figger asked.

“When de ole man Popsy hears tell dat you is gone hence an’ ain’t no
mo,’ he’ll take his foot in his hand an’ ramble back to Yalabam’,”
Vinegar rumbled. “Dat’ll be yo’ sing to come fo’th from de dead!”

Figger put on his battered hat and stood up. He asked pleadingly:

“Couldn’t you loant a dead man half a dollar, Skeeter?”

“Whut you want wid it?” Skeeter snapped.

“I figger dat a real live corp’ oughter git a hair-cut an’ a shave!”
Figger chuckled.

“Dat’s right,” Skeeter laughed, as he handed out the money. “You scoot
over an’ see Scootie right now!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Scootie Tandy was a fat, good-natured young woman, who wore red
head-rags, wrapped up her kinky hair with strings to give it a better
kink, and had no higher object in life than to be regular at her meals.

She had worn deep mourning for over a year for a worthless husband
whose death had been advantageous to her in that it gave her an excuse
for doing even less work than she had done when he was living.

“It ’pears like I ain’t been well an’ strong sence Jim died an’ lef’ me
to ’tend to eve’ything,” she whined at the kitchen doors of the white
people, to aid her plea for food and old clothes.

Figger believed he was in love with Scootie, and Scootie made eyes
at him, but Skeeter said they were not thinking about marrying. He
declared they were merely watching each other to see which could live
longest without work and without landing in jail for vagrancy.

“Scootie,” Figger began, “you don’t mind playin’ a widder, does you?”

“Naw,” Scootie told him. “Men is a heap mo’ int’rusted in deir minds
’bout widders dan dey is ’bout gals, pervidin’ ef de widders ain’t got
no nigger chillun crawlin’ on de cabin flo’.”

“Would you mind bein’ my widder?” Figger inquired hesitatingly.

“I’d like it,” Scootie laughed. “Is you aimin’ to die real soon?”

“I passes off powerful soon,” Figger grinned.

Then Figger told her of his troubles, and explained what he wanted her
to do.

“My ole gran’pap won’t hab no easy job attachin’ hisse’f onto me,”
Figger announced in conclusion. “Dis here corp’ is gwine keep movin’
his remainders somewhar else.”

“Whut train is Popsy comin’ on?” Scootie asked.

“He’ll be here on de dinner-time train, I think,” Figger replied. “You
go down an’ meet dat train, an’ ef he comes you pass him back onto de
caboose an’ tell him to keep trabbelin’.”

“When muss I tell him you died?” Scootie asked.

“Gwine on a year!” Figger suggested.

“Whut did you die of?”

“Two buckles on de lungs,” Figger told her.

“Wus you sick very long?” Scootie asked.

“Yes’m. Tell him I wus feelin’ feeble an’ not able to wuck none fer
about fo’teen year, which is how come I ain’t leave no property,”
Figger declared.

“Ain’t you got no picture of yo’se’f fer me to set on de mantelpiece
an’ cry at?” Scootie asked.

“Suttinly,” Figger said, as he slipped his hand into his coat-pocket
and brought out a cheap photograph. “Dis am de best koodak I’m ever had
took--it shows off my mustache so good! Don’t dem lip-whiskers look
nachel?”

“Dey shore do sot off yo’ face,” Scootie replied, as she studied the
photograph and considered all the information Figger had given her.
Finally Scootie asked:

“S’pose Popsy don’t b’lieve all dese tales?”

“’Tain’t no danger,” Figger answered. “I’ll make myse’f absent, an’
Skeeter an’ Vinegar will back you up.”

“All right, Figger,” Scootie grinned. “I’ll gib you a lift-out. I don’t
mind succulatin’ de repote dat you is dead; some folks will be dum glad
to hear it!”

“Bein’ dead ain’t such awful bad luck,” Figger laughed. “I done promise
de white folks to do about fawty jobs of wuck, an’ dem whites keeps me
a dodgin’ like a bumpin’-bug. Furdermo’, I owes a heap money in dis
here town whut I don’t never expeck to pay back, an’ my tongue gits dry
tellin’ how soon I hopes to wuck an’ make some cash money. Bless Gawd,
dead niggers like me cain’t wuck an’ cain’t pay--dey got to charge all
my debts to de dust an’ let de rain settle ’em!”

“My stomick tells me dat de dinner-time train is mighty nigh here,
Figger,” Scootie said. “You better git away an’ let me dress up
accawdin’ to dis here sad succumstance.”

“Dis is whar I disappears complete, Scootie,” Figger grinned, as he
stepped off the porch. “I hope you won’t slight yo’ mournin’ fer me
atter I’m gone.”

Then Scootie prepared herself to meet the train--a black dress,
black gloves, a long black veil over a purple and yellow hat with a
poll-parrot on it, a palm-leaf fan, the edge appropriately encircled
with black braid, and a white handkerchief with a broad border. She
looked at herself in the mirror and smiled with satisfaction.

“I’s gwine wear mournin’ all my life,” she announced to herself. “It
makes my complexion mo’ fair.”

When the train pulled into the station, Scootie was standing near the
negro coach, looking for a man who resembled Figger’s description of
Popsy Spout as he remembered his grandfather after twenty years. Only
one negro passenger got off, and Scootie merely glanced at him and
waited for some one else.

When the train pulled out, Scootie turned, and the negro passenger was
standing close beside her on the platform.

“Is you lookin’ fer somebody?” Scootie asked. “I knows eve’ybody in dis
town.”

Then Scootie got a surprise.

“Yes’m,” the man answered, in a weak, tired voice. “I wus expeckin’
Figger Bush.”

Scootie reeled back and glared at the speaker with popping eyeballs.

He stood before her, over six feet tall and as straight as an Indian.
His face was as black as new tar and was seamed by a thousand tiny
wrinkles, written all over with the literature of life and experience.
His long hair was as white as milk, and his two wrinkled and withered
hands rested upon a patriarchal staff nearly as tall as himself.

On his head was a stove-pipe hat, bell-shaped, the nap long since
thrown off like an outworn garment, and the top of the hat was as red
as a brick from exposure to the weather. An old, faded, threadbare and
patched Prince Albert coat swathed his emaciated form like a bath-robe.

Instantly Scootie knew that this man belonged to that vanishing race
of negroes who were the glory and the pride of the South in the
ante-bellum days. They cling like vines around the old homesteads,
cared for and protected by men who were once their white masters, and
when they die, more white people attend their funerals than members of
their own race.

Only one thing denoted that age had left a blight upon the dignified
form of Popsy Spout, and that mark was in his eyes: the vacant,
age-dimmed stare of second childhood, indicating that reason no longer
sat regnant upon the crystal throne of the intellect, looking out of
the windows of the soul.

“I’s powerful glad to meet a young gal like you, honey,” he said in the
high falsetto of old age. “Figger is missed meetin’ me some way. He
always wus a mos’ onreliable piccaninny. I’s had a long trip. My name
is Popsy Spout.”

This was Scootie’s cue to turn on the water-works. She brought out her
black-bordered handkerchief and began to weep.

“I wus lookin’ fer you, Popsy,” she sobbed. “Poor Figger Bush is dead
an’ I’s his widder!”

“How’s dat--which?” the old man quavered.

“Dead! Plum’ dead--dead an’ buried!” Scootie wailed.

“Did he die layin’ down?” the old man asked.

“Yes, suh. He died nachel.”

“Huh!” the old man snorted. “Dat suttinly is strange. I never predick
no sech come-out fer Figger--how come de white folks didn’t shoot him
or hang him? He shore deeserved it!”

“Boo-hoo!” Scootie wailed.

“Aw, shut up!” the old man snapped, in high, shrill tones. “Figger
didn’t never amount to nothin’ nohow. I know it’s all fer de best, an’
ef you had de sense Gawd gibs to a crazy geese, you’d be dum glad he’s
a deader!”

“Mebbe so, suh,” Scootie mourned, “but I shore miss him a-plenty.”

“Of co’se!” Popsy exploded. “You miss de stomick-ache, too, but
’tain’t resomble to howl because you ain’t got it. It’s proper to miss
pestications but ’tain’t good sense to mourn deir loss. How long is
Figger been dead?”

“’Bout a year,” Scootie sobbed.

“By jacks!” Popsy snorted. “Been dead a year an’ here you is all
blacked up in mournin’ like a bucket of tar. Shut up! Whut you so crazy
’bout a dead nigger fer?”

Thus importuned, Scootie saw that she was wasting her tears on Figger
as far as Popsy was concerned.

“Whar is you gwine now?” Scootie inquired in a voice which showed that
she had found comfort.

“I’s aimin’ to ooze along over to yo’ house an’ git my dinner,” Popsy
told her. “Which way does we start?”

“Figger would shore be mighty sorry to miss yo’ visit ef he wus alive
an’ knowed about it,” Scootie remarked as she led the way to her cabin.

“’Tain’t so!” Popsy snapped, as he strode along beside her, resting
one hand upon her fat shoulder and the other on his staff. “Dat nigger
ain’t never missed nothin’ but a good whalin’--I promised him a lickin’
twenty year ago an’ he runned away. He ain’t never come back.”

This speech had a sing-song swing to it, as if it was a complaint which
he had repeated for many years whenever Figger’s name was mentioned.

“He ain’t never come back to git his wallupin’,” the old man repeated.

Scootie snickered.

“Dat sounds right!” Popsy applauded, patting the fat shoulder which
supported one of his withered hands. “’Tain’t no use to shed tears
over Figger. Livin’ or dead, he don’t deeserve nothin’ but a big
bust-out laugh.”

“I’s glad you feels dat way about it, Popsy,” Scootie chuckled. “You
shore has cheered me up some an’ eased my mind a-plenty.”

“You got any fryin’-size chickin at yo’ cabin?” Popsy asked.

“Yep. I kin cook ’em so you’ll wanter die wid a chicken bone in yo’
hand, too,” Scootie told him. “An’ as fur my hot biskits--you’ll want
one of my hot biskits carved on yo’ tombstone!”

“Kin you affode to keep ice-water?”

“Yep. A driver on de ice-wagon is courtin’ me servigerous an’ he slips
me a free chunk eve’y day.”

“Dat’s good sense,” Popsy told her. “Is you got any objections to my
chawin’ all de eatin’ terbacker I wants to?”

“Naw, suh,” Scootie giggled. “Figger chawed.”

“Does you maintain a jug?” Popsy wanted to know.

“I does; an’ it’s passable full, too.”

“I bet it splashed pretty low when Figger wus livin’,” Popsy bleated.
“When I wus fotchin’ up dat piccaninny he jes’ nachelly graduated
to’des a jug like all de buzzards in de settlemint comin’ to a mule’s
fun’ral!”

“Dar’s my cabin--over yon.” Scootie pointed.

The walk had wearied the old man, and it required all of Scootie’s
strength to lift him up the steps to a rocking-chair upon the porch.
She brought him out a turkey-wing fan, a twist of chewing-tobacco, and
a pipe which had belonged to her deceased husband. Then she thought of
Figger’s photograph, and she handed that to him.

But the aged man’s mind had suddenly gone blank because of his physical
weakness, exhausted by his long walk.

“Whut you gimme dis here little card fer, Scootie?” he asked
perplexedly.

“Dat’s a picture of Figger, Popsy!” Scootie exclaimed, turning it so he
could see the face.

“Figger who?” Popsy inquired.

“Figger Bush, Popsy,” Scootie told him in a patient tone. “Yo’ little
Figger--my dead husbunt--don’t you remember Figger!”

“Is dat so?” the old man asked in uncertain tones. He held the card up
and looked at the photograph for a long time.

“Whut you think about him, Popsy?” Scootie asked.

“Dat dead nigger’s face an’ head shore growed strong on hair an’
whiskers,” Popsy quavered, as he laid the photograph in the crown of
his upturned stove-pipe hat, “like a damp marsh--don’t grow nothin’ but
rank grass!”

“Dat was de way Figger wus,” Scootie laughed. “His head wus shore
kinder soft an’ oozy.”

“When is we gwine git our dinner, Scootie?” the old man demanded.

“Right now!” Scootie told him.

“All right!” Popsy said, as he leaned back in his chair. “You call me
when she’s ready. Feed me chicken an’ hot biskits an’ ice-water--lemme
taper off wid a dram an’ a leetle nap--den I want you to lead me to de
bank whar Marse Tommy Gaitskill stays at. Lawd! Lawd! I ain’t sot my
eyes on little Tommy fer fifty year!”

       *       *       *       *       *

At two o’clock that afternoon Scootie conducted Popsy Spout through the
door of the Tickfall National Bank, down a corridor in the rear of the
big vault, and knocked upon a door which bore in dainty gold lettering
the word: “President.”

In response to a voice within she opened the door and pushed Popsy
Spout forward.

Colonel Tom Gaitskill sat beside a table in a swivel chair, a tall,
handsome man with the air of a soldier, ruddy-faced, white-haired,
genial, and smiling. Gaitskill’s fine eyes took him in with a
photographic glance.

The old negro stood before him, immaculately neat, though his garments
were ragged and time-worn. Dignity sat upon his aged form like virtue
upon a venerable Roman senator. Indeed, there flashed through the
banker’s mind the thought that men like this one who stood before him
might have sat in the Carthaginian council of war and planned the
campaign which led young Hannibal to the declivities of the Alps where
his horde of Africans hung like a storm-cloud while Imperial Rome
trembled with fear behind the protection of her walls.

Then fifty years rolled backward like a scroll.

Gaitskill saw a blood-strewn battlefield torn with shot and shell; he
saw clouds of smoke, black, acrid, strangling to the throat, rolling
over that field as fogs blow in from the sea; he saw a tall, young,
black man emerge from such a pall of smoke carrying a sixteen-year-old
boy dressed in the bloody uniform of a Confederate soldier. The young
soldier’s arms and legs dangled against the negro’s giant form as he
walked, stepping over the slippery, shot-plowed ground. He saw the
negro stagger with his burden to an old sycamore tree and lay the
inanimate form upon the ground at its roots, composing the limbs of
the boy with beautiful tenderness; then he saw the negro straighten up
and gather into his giant paws a broken branch of a tree which two men
could hardly have handled.

Waving this limb at the creeping pall of smoke, he screamed like a
jungle beast, and whooped: “You dam’ Yanks, keep away from dis little
white boy--you done him a-plenty--he’s dead!”

Gaitskill stood up and stepped forward. He held out a strong white
hand, clasping the palsied brown paw of Popsy Spout. No white man ever
received a warmer greeting, a more cordial welcome than this feeble
black man, aged, worn, tottering through the mazy dreamland of second
childhood.

Unnoticed, Scootie Tandy walked to a window and seated herself.

The two old men sat down beside the table and Scootie listened for two
hours to reminiscences which went back over half a century. Frequently
Popsy Spout’s mind wandered, and Gaitskill gave him a gentle stimulant
of liquor, as thoughtful of the darky’s waning strength as a courtier
would be of the comfort of a king.

“How old are you now, Popsy?” Gaitskill smiled, after they had talked
of old times.

“I’s sebenty year old--gwine on a hundred.”

“Do you really expect to live that long?” Gaitskill asked.

“Yes, suh, ef de white folks takes good keer of me,” Popsy answered.

He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a bulky package, tied up with
many pieces of many-colored string.

“Dat’s my money, Marse Tommy. Please unwrop it an’ count it out loud
fer me.”

Gaitskill poured the currency and coins upon the table and with a
money-handler’s expert ease, he counted it aloud, announcing the total
in about a minute:

“One thousand dollars!”

Scootie Tandy gasped like a woman who had been under water for about
five minutes and had just come up, but neither of the men noticed her.

Popsy Spout hesitated a minute, scratched his snow-white hair, and
looked at the neat piles of money with an air of perplexity.

“Isn’t that correct?” Gaitskill asked.

“Yes, suh, dat’s c’reck,” Popsy said uncertainly. “Dat’s de same number
I got when I counted it, but somepin is powerful strange ’bout dat
money.”

“What’s the trouble?” Gaitskill asked.

“You counted it so quick, Marse Tommy!”

“Well--I counted it right, didn’t I?”

“Yes, suh, but--I reckin’ it’s all right, Marse Tommy. But, you see, it
tuck me five whole days to count dat money an’ it wus de hardest wuck
I ever done--I sweated barrels of sweat! It ’peared like a whole big
pile, when I counted it. But ef I spends it as quick as you counted it,
’twon’t las’ me till I kin walk outen dis here bank!”

“I understand,” Gaitskill smiled. “But you don’t want to spend this
money. How long did it take you to accumulate it?”

“Fawty year,” Popsy told him. “Bad times comes frequent to a nigger,
an’ I wanted to save a leetle ahead.”

“The idea is to take as long spending it as you did accumulating it,”
Gaitskill said. “In that case, it will last you until you have passed
one hundred.”

“Yes, suh, dat’s de properest way to do,” Popsy agreed. “Dat’s why I
fotch dis money to you. Kin you keep it fer me?”

“Certainly. That’s what this bank is for.”

“Marse Jimmy Gaitskill over in Burningham--his bank paid me int’rust
prannum on dat money,” Popsy said.

“I’ll pay you interest per annum, too,” Gaitskill smiled, well knowing
that his brother had supported Popsy Spout for half a century. “How
much money will you need to live on each year?”

“I kin git along on ’bout ten dollars a month, Marse Tommy--wid de
clothes an’ vittles dat de white folks gimme. I kin save a little out
of dat to ’posit back in de bank fer rainy days.”

“That’s one hundred and twenty dollars a year with clothes and food,”
Gaitskill laughed. “Some of the bank’s patrons would like to get that
much interest per annum.”

“Yes, suh. Marse Jimmy Gaitskill specified dat my nigger money drawed
powerful int’rust outen his bank.”

“You can come here and draw ten dollars every month,” Gaitskill said,
and he picked up a card and wrote a few words upon it.

“Dat’ll fix me fine, Marse Tommy. I kin live scrumpshus on dat.”

“Where are you going to live?”

“I ain’t got nowhar yit,” Popsy said.

“Would you like to live in the log cabin where you lived fifty-five
years ago?” Gaitskill inquired.

“Whar I married at? Whar me an’ Ca’lline live happy till all us boys
went off to de war? Whar you an’ me an’ Marse Jimmy an’ little Hinry
useter roast goobers in de hot ash?” Popsy asked eagerly.

“The very same,” Gaitskill answered softly. “With the big pecan tree
still standing before it, and the big stone door-step where we boys
cracked the nuts.”

Popsy Spout rose to his feet and bowed like some aged patriarch
standing in the presence of a king. His high, quavering voice sobbed
like the wailing of a child:

“Marse Tommy, de Gaitskill fambly is de top of de heap fer kindness
an’ goodness to dis pore ole nigger!”

He sank back into his chair, wiping the tears from his eyes.

“I guess so,” Gaitskill said, and his voice was so soft that each word
was like a caress. “We all remember Henry.”

“Dat’s so, suh,” Popsy said, suddenly straightening his bent and
quivering shoulders. “Marse Jimmy is told me frequent ’bout you an’ him
gwine up dar an’ findin’ Hinry under dat sycamo’ tree whar I buried him
at. I’s glad you fotch him back home an’ buried him wid his own folks.”

“Yes, we’ll walk out to his grave together some day,” Gaitskill
murmured.

He rose and walked to the window. He looked out for a moment, then
turned and handed Popsy the card on which he had written a few minutes
before.

“I’ll see you often, Popsy,” he said. “Your old cabin is still at the
foot of the hill by the old spring. It’s unoccupied--move in as soon as
you please.”

“Whut is dis, Marse Tommy?” Popsy asked, as he looked curiously at the
folded paper.

“It’s an order on my store for food,” Gaitskill said. “You can draw
some groceries every Saturday night. That’s part of the interest per
annum, you know.”

“Bless Gawd!” Popsy Spout quacked. “Ten dollars a month wages an’
reg’lar rations eve’y Saddy night! You shore is a noble white man,
Marse Tommy! Come on, Scootie. Us’ll git gwine befo’ we gits happy an’
gits to shoutin’ an’ bust up all de furnisher in dis white man’s bank!”

       *       *       *       *       *

“My Lawd, Figger Bush!” Skeeter Butts exclaimed, as his friend entered
the Hen-Scratch saloon. “You look like a skint mule.”

“I done disguised myse’f!” Figger grinned as he took off his battered
wool hat.

Figger’s famous shoe-brush mustache was gone, and his head was shaved
until it was as smooth and slick as a black piano key.

“Whut you did yo’se’f so funny fer?” Skeeter demanded, as Figger smiled
and revealed a row of teeth like new tombstones.

“I decided to stay in town an’ be a corp’,” Figger explained, “so I had
myse’f fixed up so dat not even my widder would know me.”

“Is you seed Popsy yit?” Skeeter asked.

“Yep. I hid behime de cornder of de deppo when de train trundled in,
an’ Popsy dismounted off. Scootie cried an’ tuck on consid’able, an’ I
wus plum’ satisfied wid de results.”

“Did Popsy ’pear much broke up?” Skeeter inquired.

“I couldn’t tell ’bout dat,” Figger chuckled. “Scootie tuck him to her
cabin fer dinner an’ I seed ’em walkin’ aroun’ town--I s’pose dey is
huntin’ fer my grave.”

“How do bein’ a corp’ feel like--so fur?” Skeeter snickered.

“’Tain’t so bad,” Figger remarked. “It mought be better ef de town
would take a notion to gib me a fust-class fun’ral. Of co’se, de
Tickfall quawtette would hab to sing, an’ I’s de male serpranner in dat
quawtette. It would be a real nice somepin new fer a corp’ to sing at
his own fun’ral.”

“Mebbe us could git de Nights of Darkness to hold a lodge of sorrer on
you,” Skeeter cackled.

“Ef dey does, I wants to sing my new solo ’bout ‘Locked in de stable
wid de sheep,’” Figger announced.

“Whut about de death ben’fit?” Skeeter inquired. “Is you gwine apply
fer dat?”

“Naw,” Figger laughed. “Ef de cormittee ’vestigates an’ repotes me
dead, dey kin gib dat ben’fit to Popsy.”

At this point the green-baize doors of the saloon were pushed open and
Scootie Tandy blew in quivering with excitement.

“Whut’s up, Scootie?” Skeeter exclaimed, springing to his feet.

“Gawd pity you, Figger!” Scootie howled in tragic tones. “You made a
awful mistake in gwine dead so suddent!”

“Which way?” Figger asked in a frightened voice.

“I went to de bank wid Popsy Spout an’ found out dat Popsy an’ Marse
Tom Gaitskill is kinnery!” Scootie gushed forth.

“Hear dat, now!” Skeeter exclaimed in a voice of wonder.

“Popsy gib Marse Tom a wad of money dat it took Popsy five days to
count!” Scootie ranted.

“Oh, my _Lawd_!” Figger wailed.

“Marse Tom gib Popsy one hundred an’ twenty dollars int’rust prannum
on his money, an’ a awder on de sto’-house fer reg’lar rations, an’ a
cabin to live in!” Scootie squalled.

“My gawsh!” Figger bleated in dismay. “I done busted a egg on my own
doorstep an’ hoodooed my own se’f!”

“Dat’s whut you done, Figger!” Scootie howled. “I tole Popsy real
prompt dat he needed a nuss an’ housekeeper in his ole age, an’ as
Figger’s widder I wus lawfully ’lected to dat job, an’ he tuck me up
right now!”

“Oh-huh!” Figger grunted in despair.

“Me an’ Popsy is gwine move in de ole log hut behime Marse Tom’s
house to-morrer,” Scootie exulted. “Ten dollars per month an’ reg’lar
vittles, chicken an’ pie--I won’t never hab to wuck no more.”

“Lawdymussy!” Figger sighed.

“Good-by, niggers!” Scootie exclaimed in a happy voice. “I won’t never
reckernize you-alls no mo’--I draws a pension!”

She swept out of the house and left two men struck speechless by the
information she brought.

A moment later they were interrupted again. Vinegar Atts plowed through
the swinging doors, puffing like a steam-boat and sweating like an
ice-pitcher.

“Whar kin I find Brudder Popsy Spout, Skeeter?” he bellowed. “I wants
to ’vite him to jine de Shoofly chu’ch an’ set heavy in de amen
cornder. Dat’s de biggest nigger whut ever come to dis town. Word is
sont out dat he old-soldiered wid de Gaitskills--fit wid de white
folks! I needs him in my chu’ch!”

Neither Skeeter nor Figger made a reply. Their air of tragedy silenced
Vinegar Atts, and he crept forward on tiptoe to where the two men were
sitting, smoking cigarettes and sighing. When Vinegar reached a point,
where he could see the face of Figger Bush, he jumped as if he had seen
a ghost.

“My--good--_gosh_, Figger!” Vinegar wailed in his siren-whistle voice.
“You done suicided yo’se’f! Took five days to count his money--got
it in de bank fetchin’ int’rust--livin’ in his own cabin an’ drawin’
rations--an’ you is de only blood kin of Tickfall’s leadin’ nigger
sitson an’ you--is--dead!”

“Tell me whut to do, Revun?” Figger wailed.

“I ain’t got time, Figger!” Atts bawled. “I got to tote a Christyum
greetin’ an’ welcome to dat noble nigger man!”

Vinegar Atts went out of the saloon with the rolling walk of a big bear.

“Tell me whut to do, Skeeter!” Figger wailed.

“Search me!” Skeeter exclaimed. “’Tain’t no trouble fer a nigger to
die--dat comes nachel. But when a nigger tries to come to life an’ make
folks b’lieve it--Lawdy!”

“I’s gwine right down an’ see Popsy!” Figger announced with sudden
determination. “I’ll tell him dat Scootie is been lyin’ to him all de
time. I kin prove by Marse Tom an’ all de white folks dat I ain’t
never been dead a-tall!”

“I hopes you luck, Figger!” Skeeter exclaimed in a tone which indicated
that he considered such an enterprise futile.

Figger lost no time in getting to the cabin where Scootie lived.

He found Popsy sitting upon the porch, smoking a corn-cob pipe which
had been the property of Scootie’s deceased husband, and languidly
slapping at his face with a turkey-wing fan. His stove-pipe hat rested
upon the floor at his feet and contained a big red handkerchief.

“Howdy, Popsy!” Figger greeted him cordially, holding out his hand.
“Don’t you reckomember me?”

The old man removed his pipe from his mouth, rested his turkey-wing
fan upon his lap, reached for his long patriarchal staff as if he were
about to rise; then he leaned back in his chair and surveyed Figger a
long time.

“Naw, suh, I ain’t never seed yo’ favor befo’,” he quavered.

“I’s little Figger,” Figger informed him ingratiatingly.

“Little Figger is dead,” Popsy answered, looking at Bush with faded
eyes, in which the light of doubt and suspicion and a little fear was
growing. “I lives wid little Figger’s widder.”

“Dat’s a mistake, Popsy,” Figger protested. “I ain’t died yit.
Scootie’s been lyin’ to you ’bout me.”

The old man leaned over and fumbled in the crown of his stove-pipe
hat. He brought out his big red handkerchief, and slowly unwrapped the
photograph which Scootie had given him when he first entered her home,
a photograph of a negro with a woolly head and a shoe-brush mustache.
Handing this to Figger, he asked sharply:

“Does you look like dat nigger in dat photygrapht?”

“Naw, suh,” Figger replied with evident reluctance.

“Dat’s de little Figger Bush I mourns,” Popsy said. “Dat’s Scootie’s
dead husbunt. You ain’t look like him a bit--you look like a picked
geese!”

“I’s de very same man, Popsy!” Figger wailed in desperation. “Only but
I done had my hair an’ mustache cut off.”

“I don’t believe it!” Popsy declared in positive tones. “I raised dis
here Figger Bush, an’ I knows he never earnt enough money in his dum
lazy life to commit a shave an’ a hair-cut!”

“O Lawdy, whut muss I do?” Figger wailed.

“Git away from dis cabin an’ don’t never show yo’se’f here no mo’!” the
old man howled. “I wouldn’t b’lieve you wus Figger Bush ef you sweared
on de Bible an’ all de twelve opossums!”

Popsy pounded upon the floor of the porch with the end of his long
staff.

“O Scootie!” he called. “Git outen dat kitchen an’ come here a minute.”

Hope flamed up in the heart of Figger. He knew that no one could
convince Popsy that he was not dead more certainly than the woman who
pretended to be his widow.

Scootie came out upon the porch and gazed with popping eyes at Figger
Bush.

“Is dis here nigger yo’ dead husbunt?” Popsy snapped, pointing a
palsied finger at Figger.

“Naw, suh,” Scootie replied truthfully.

The old man stood up. He caught his long staff at the little end as a
man grasps a baseball bat. He balanced it a moment, poising himself on
his feet, as if he were getting ready to knock a “homer,” aiming the
stick at Figger’s round, ball-like head!

“_Git out!_” Popsy whooped.

Figger got out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early the next morning Scootie sent two wagonloads of household goods
to the log cabin in the rear of Colonel Tom Gaitskill’s home, where
Popsy had taken his young wife fifty-five years before.

Scootie deposited these goods in the two front rooms, fixing them up
so that Popsy would have a comfortable place after his arrival, and
while she was arranging the rest of the rooms. In one room she placed a
rickety sofa, a couple of chairs, and a table. She hung a few pictures
on the wall, placed a few ornaments upon the mantelpiece, and from the
spring beside the house she brought a pitcher of water, placed it on
the table, and set a drinking glass beside it.

In the other room she set up Popsy’s bed, placed beside it the only
comfortable rocking-chair she possessed, put Popsy’s old, battered
suit-case, which contained all his worldly goods, under the bed, and
placed upon the mantelpiece all the tobacco and pipes which her late
husband had left her.

Then she returned to her own cabin to superintend the removal of the
remainder of her goods.

As she came into the yard, Popsy called to her from his seat on the
porch.

“I ain’t no good settin’ here in dis rockin’-chair, Scootie. I’ll be
gittin’ along to’des my own cabin!”

“Don’t go yit, Popsy,” Scootie begged. “Wait till de nex’ wagon comes.
I’ll set de rockin’-chair up in de wagon an’ let you ride to yo’ cabin
wid de load!”

“I ain’t gwine do it!” the old man shouted irascibly. “I ain’t gwine be
kotch settin’ up in a rockin’-chair in a wagon like a ole nigger woman
ridin’ to a all-day nigger fun’ral wid dinner on de grounds. I’ll walk
an’ tote my own carcass to dat cabin, like a man!”

“Ef pore Figger wus livin’, I’d git him to hitch up de kerridge an’
drive you to de cabin,” Scootie said mischievously.

“Huh!” the old man shouted. “Figger wouldn’t hab sense enough to find
my ole cabin. When de good Lawd passed aroun’ brains, Figger had his
head in a woodpecker’s hole lookin’ fer aigs!”

Muttering to himself in sheer perversity, he pranced down the road for
a hundred yards or so, then, out of sight of Scootie, he settled down
to a sedate and dignified walk. In a little while he began to use his
long staff, leaning heavily upon it as he climbed the long hill which
led to the Gaitskill home.

At the foot of the hill he passed a negro sitting disconsolately upon
the end of a log. He was a scarecrow sort of a negro, with ragged,
flapping clothes; a close observer might have noticed that he had
recently worn a stubby, shoe-brush mustache; his head was shaved as
smooth and slick as a black piano-key.

“Good mawnin’,” Popsy Spout quavered.

“Mawnin’, Popsy,” Figger murmured in a tragic tone--a voice from the
tomb, a greeting from the dead!

The old man walked on, his step feebler now, his staff serving him more
and more, his progress slower.

The August sun shone with scorching heat, the sunlight spraying from
the leaves of the trees like water; the August breeze was like a breath
from the open furnace-doors where iron is melted and flows like water;
the sand of the highway was like embers scorching the feet. The old man
staggered on, muttering to himself.

Figger Bush arose slinkingly and walked behind Popsy at a respectful
distance, like a dog which had been whipped and told not to follow. He
kept close to the high weeds and the bushes which grew beside the road,
so that he could hide promptly if Popsy turned and looked back.

But Popsy did not look back. His age-dimmed eyes were set upon a big
white house with large colonial columns which stood upon the top of the
hill. Half a century had passed since he had seen this home last, and
eagerness overcame his physical weakness and carried him to the hilltop
where the beautiful lawn lay like a green carpet spread before the door.

Popsy leaned weakly upon the gate and gazed long and earnestly at the
stately old home. He assumed the attitude of one who was listening for
some familiar sound, and was perplexed because he could hear nothing.

Alas! Popsy was listening for footsteps that were silent and for voices
which for fifty years had not been music in the porches of the ear! For
a moment the old man had forgotten the years which had passed since
last he saw this house, and he was listening for the voices of a young
bride’s father and mother, and for the laughter and shouting of three
Gaitskill boys--Tom, Jim, Henry!

“I bound dem boys is huntin’ squorls over in de swamp, or mebbe dey’s
monkeyin’ aroun’ dat wash-hole,” the old man murmured doubtfully. “Dat
house shore do ’pear powerful still ’thout dem noisy, aggervatin’
bullies bellerin’ to each yuther.”

Popsy fumbled feebly through his pockets and brought his hands out
empty.

“Dem dum boys is mighty stingy wid deir chawin’ terbacker,” he mumbled
in an irritated tone. “Dey don’t gimme half enough to keep me runnin’!
Sence Tom hitched up wid dat pretty Mis’ Mildred, he done lef’ off
chawin’, an dat cuts down my ’lowance. Nev’ mind! I knows whar dem dum
boys keep deir chawin’, an’ I’ll ’vent some excuse to go to de house
an’ I’ll holp myse’f liberal.”

Suddenly Popsy Spout remembered certain boyish pranks which Tom and Jim
and Henry had played upon him fifty years before. He dimly recalled
finding his tables and chairs hanging from the limbs of trees, his bed
carried over in the cow-pasture and placed in the middle of the field,
his few cooking pots crowning the tops of fence-posts around his cabin!

“Hod zickety!” he exclaimed. “I bound dem rapscallions is pesticatin’
my Ca’lline plum’ to death!”

He turned away from the gate and hurried as rapidly as his feeble legs
would carry him down the road.

When at last he reached the cabin, he sat down upon the big stone step
completely exhausted.

A big pecan tree stood in front of the house, its wide-spreading
branches completely shading the front yard. Under this tree three of
Popsy’s piccaninnies had romped, and countless generations of hound
puppies had rolled in the dust, and scratched in the sand at its roots.

To Popsy’s left was the big stone spring-house, the roof entirely gone,
and leaves and branches had blown into the four walls and choked the
stream which flowed from the hillside.

“I been aimin’ to fix dat roof,” Popsy murmured. “It ’pears like I
cain’t hardly find time to do nothin’, I got to wuck fer de white folks
so hard.”

He turned and looked behind him.

Two doors opened out upon the front porch, and the two rooms visible
to him were furnished. Having seen the furniture in Scootie’s cabin,
he recognized it now, and thought it was the furniture of his old home
fifty years before.

Then one of the bizarre conceits of second childhood knocked upon the
crumbling portals of his brain and found admittance. He thought that
he was a young man again, and that the buxom negro girl whom he had
married in the presence of the white folks up yonder on the hill in the
drawing-room of the Gaitskill home, was still alive, and occupied this
cabin with him.

“Ca’lline! Ca’lline!” he called sharply.

But Caroline, sleeping in her narrow, silent chamber under a scrub-oak
tree on a hillside in Alabama, made no answer.

“Ca’lline!” he called again, in a voice which he tried to make loud,
but which failed through weakness. “Ca’lline! Cain’t you hear me
callin’ you?”

The old man stood up in perplexity. His fuddled brain could not grasp
the reason for this silence and loneliness. He climbed feebly, with
the aid of his staff, up the stone steps, and pounded loudly upon the
crumbling floor of the porch.

“Oh, Ca’lline! Whar in dumnation is you gone at?”

He entered the room where Scootie had prepared his bed with the idea
that he might want to lie down and rest after his trip to the cabin,
and he took his seat in the comfortable rocking-chair, placing his
stove-pipe hat beside him on the floor.

“Ca’lline!” he wailed. There was no answer to his call.

The fire of exasperation flamed in the ancient man’s withered frame,
and he manifested his annoyance by kicking his beloved stove-pipe hat
across the room.

“Dag-gone de dag-gone day whut fotch me de dag-gone luck of totin’ dat
dag-gone fat nigger gal to my cabin!” he wailed. “_Ca’lline!_ Whar in
dumnation is you an’ dem three nigger brats?”

He leaned back, resting his shaking, palsied head wearily against the
chair.

“Dem chillun take atter deir maw,” he commented. “Dey’s gad-arounders!”

From the top of the big pecan tree a mocking-bird broke forth in
delirious music. The loud, clear notes, imitating every bird which
roamed the woods, echoed back from the woods and the hillside, and
broke in jewels of melody around the old log cabin.

The old man listened, sighed gratefully, and smiled.

“Dat’s one of dem wuthless, no ’count piccaninnies a-comin’ now,” he
muttered. “Dem chillun got deir whistlin’ gift from deir paw. I could
whistle jes’ like dat befo’ I loss all de toofs outen my head.”

Instantly a footstep sounded in the rear of the house, and the door
opened. Figger Bush entered the room and stopped near the door, looking
at Popsy Spout with eyes as wistful as the eyes of a hound.

“Whar de debbil is you been at, Figger?” the old man howled. “I been
callin’ you all de mawnin’!”

“I been settin’ aroun’,” Figger muttered. “I’s tired!”

“By dam’!” the old man snorted. “Mebbe yo’ legs is a little feeble an’
tired, but yo’ stomick don’t never weary none. Whut you been doin’ in
dat kitchen--eatin’ or drinkin’?”

“Nothin’,” Figger mumbled.

“Ef you been drinkin’ dat dram agin, I’ll find out about it!” Popsy
ranted in the falsetto of senility. “Licker talks mighty loud when it
gits loose from de jug, an’ de fust time you whoops a yell I’ll wallop
yo’ hide wid dis stick.”

“Yes, suh,” Figger murmured, rubbing his shaved head.

“Whar is yo’ hair gone at?” Popsy howled, glaring at Figger’s bald pate.

“Ole Mis’ Mildred cut it off!” Figger prevaricated with a snicker. “She
say she wanted to sot a hin an’ needed my wool to make a nest.”

“Huh!” the old man snorted in disgust. “It’s a pity she didn’t take one
of dese here wooden teethpicks an’ beat yo’ brains out while she wus at
it!”

Figger turned and started to go out.

“Hey, Figger!” Popsy squalled.

“Whut?” Figger asked.

“You stay aroun’ dis cabin so you kin wait on me!”

“Yes, suh,” Figger grinned.

“Ef you leave dis house ’thout axin’ my say-so, I’ll skin you alive!”

“I ain’t gwine leave you, Popsy,” Figger assured him. “Nobody cain’t
git me away from dis cabin widout compellment!”

The mocking-bird in the top of the pecan tree started again its song of
delirious music.

“Go out an’ tell dat brat to stop dat whistlin’ so I kin take me a
nap!” Popsy commanded, as his weary head rested upon the back of the
chair and he closed his age-dimmed eyes.

Figger stooped and picked up Popsy’s big red handkerchief and passed
out. He sat down upon the steps of the porch and unwrapped from the
kerchief a cheap photograph of a man with a shoe-brush mustache and a
woolly, kinky head. He gazed upon the picture for a long time, then
tore it into tiny bits and tossed the fragments over in the high grass.

“Dat kind of Figger Bush is dead!” he announced to himself, while in
his eyes there glowed the light of a great resolution. “I’s related
to Popsy by bornation, an’ me an’ Popsy is kinnery of de Gaitskills
by fightin’ wid de white folks endurin’ of de war. Us is all quality
niggers, an’ we got to ack like we wus white!”

On top of the hill Figger heard the rumbling of two wagons, bringing
the last of Scootie’s household goods to her new home.

“Won’t de widder be supprised!” Figger chuckled. “Bless Gawd! I ain’t
as dead as she an’ me thought I wus!”

He sat chuckling to himself until he recalled Popsy’s last command, and
sprang to his feet.

“He tole me not to let nothin’ disturb his nap!” he muttered, as he
walked rapidly up the hill toward the wagons. “Now I’s gwine gib de
widder de wust jolt she ever got in her life!”

He hid behind a large tree until the first wagon came to where he was
standing. Scootie was driving, and she looked like one who had suddenly
come into possession of a great treasure.

“Hol’ on a minute, Scootie!” Figger exclaimed, stepping from behind the
tree. “Popsy sont me up here to tell you not to disturb him till he
tuck a leetle nap!”

“’Tain’t so!” Scootie snapped. “Popsy don’t know yo’ favor or yo’ face!”

But as she looked at Figger Bush she knew beyond a doubt that he was
installed in his grandfather’s cabin. Figger’s face glowed with a light
of happiness and peace, and there was even something in the face which
held the promise of a new manhood through the influence of the grand
old man who now lay asleep in the cabin.

Scootie began to weep.

“I reckin I’ll hab to take my furnicher an’ move out, Figger,” she
sobbed. “I kinder hoped I could live wid Popsy an’ take keer of him,
an’ make him happy in his ole age--but all dat wus too much luck fer
Scootie!”

“’Twouldn’t be mo’ dan you deserve, Scootie,” Figger said in a pleading
tone. “An’ I b’lieve you an me could fix it up so dat it wouldn’t be
onpossible!”

“How?” Scootie asked.

“Leave dem mules standin’ here in de shade, go wid me to de cotehouse
an’ git some weddin’ licenses, an’ git Vinegar Atts to marrify us!”
Figger suggested.

Scootie promptly hit the ground with both feet, landing by the side of
Figger Bush.

“Come on, honey!” she said, seizing him by the hand. “Less go quick!”

“Kin I go, too?” Little Bit, the driver of the second wagon asked in
a whining tone. No answer was given to him, so he jumped down and
followed.

From the top of the hill, they looked down to where the red brick
court-house baked in the summer sun. Side by side they started toward
the court-house, and the new life.

On the other side of the hill, sole guardian of the grand old man in
the cabin, the mocking-bird sat in the pecan tree and sang its song of
love.



Hoodoo Eyes.


The swinging doors of the Hen-Scratch saloon fell apart and Conko Mukes
walked in.

He was a large man and, to look at, very impressive.

The negroes in Tickfall had never seen clothes like his, so large in
stripe and so variegated in color. On either lapel of his coat was a
large, brassy emblem of some secret lodge.

On the middle finger of each hand was a rolled-gold band ring nearly
an inch wide. Across the vast expanse of his sky-muckle-dun-colored
waistcoat was a gangrened near-gold watch-chain like the cable chain
of a Mississippi River steamboat, and a charm suspended from it was
constructed of the talons of an eagle.

His ponderous feet shook the floor as he walked across the saloon and
seated himself at a table. Removing his stove-pipe hat, he placed
that upon one chair, kicked another chair from under the table on
which to deposit his feet, and leaned back in a third chair, with his
gorilla-like arms resting comfortably across the back of a fourth. The
barroom appeared to be empty.

“Hey, dar! Come here--eve’ybody!” he bellowed.

Skeeter Butts peeped at Conko Mukes around the corner of the bar behind
which he was sitting.

The black face which he beheld advertised unmistakably what Conko Mukes
was. It was the mug of a typical prize-fighter.

The face was clean-shaven, accentuating a jaw, heavy, brutal,
aggressive. His head was also shaven, and every bump on his villainous
cranium stood forth like a promontory on a level plain. His eyes were
heavy-lidded, lazy, sleepy-looking, like the eyes of a lion.

The nose had been broken and was crooked; his thick lips had been
battered in many fights until they were shapeless, and the mouth was
simply an ugly gash across his face. And to complete the adornment,
one ear was “tin” and the other was cauliflower, both permanently
disfigured and disfiguring.

Conko Mukes moved in his chair as if burdened by the heavy weight of
his muscles, and his heavy-lidded eyes glowed yellow in the dim light
of the saloon as he glared around him. Again his voice boomed:

“Hey! Am eve’ybody done hauled off an’ died? Come out here, Skeeter
Butts--whut’s hidin’ you?”

“I guess dis is my move-up,” Skeeter remarked as he pocketed a handful
of silver which he had been counting behind the bar and came to the
table.

Conko watched the diminutive darky until he stopped by his table.
Then the lazy, lion-like eyes glowed with a yellow fire, and with a
slapping motion of his monstrous hand he exclaimed:

“Shoo, fly, don’t bodder me!”

Skeeter Butts cackled like a nervous hen, fluttered well out of reach
of that hand, and snickered:

“Lawd, Conko, you sho’ is one powerful funny man! Dat gits you a
free-fer-nothin’ drink. You is better’n a show-actor.”

“You done kotch de lizard by de tail, son--kotch him de fust time,”
Conko informed him in deep, rumbling bellow. “I is a holy show!”

“How is you feelin’ to-day, Conko?” Skeeter asked as he set the drink
before him.

“I feels like I is sorry I wus borned to die!” Conko answered,
swallowing the raw whisky with one gulp and with a dry eye. “How is de
bettin’ gittin’ on?”

“De niggers takes up eve’y bet, Conko,” Skeeter replied. “You see, dis
here Hitch Diamond--nobody ain’t never knocked him out yit!”

“He ain’t never fit nobody yit,” Conko remarked easily. “Befo’ dis day
is over I’ll make him wish he’d been borned a little nigger gal!”

“I hopes so,” Skeeter said with a nervous flutter in his tone. “I done
bet de limit. Ef it ain’t a win wid you, I’s gwine hab de misforchine
to lose fawty dollars.”

With a pompous air Conko Mukes thrust his hand into his pocket and
brought out a large roll of bills which had been carefully wrapped
around a fat corn-cob. He tossed it across the table.

“Dar am fifteen dollars whut you kin bet fer me, Skeeter. Dat many
money says to you dat I’s gwine make Hitch Diamond dig a hole in de
groun’ to git away from de Georgia Cyclome.”

“Hitch specify dat he gwine rub his gloves wid hoodoo-juice,” Skeeter
said as he fumbled with the corn-cob. “Ain’t you got no stunts like dat
to pull on?”

Conko Mukes opened his eyes with a sudden and tremendous interest. He
sat for a moment in deep thought. Then he answered in a regretful tone:

“Naw, suh, I ain’t never studied ’bout dat befo’. I don’t depen’ on no
hoodoo-juice. I depen’s on elbow-grease! I fights straight, and hits
hard, an’ knocks ’em out on de level.”

“Yes, suh, elbow-grease is powerful good,” Skeeter said uneasily; “but
I figgers dat us oughter hab all de he’p we kin git! Of co’se, I don’t
b’lieve in no hoodoo myse’f, but----”

“Us don’t need no hoodoo,” Conko interrupted. “Let Hitch Diamond git
it. He needs it. He don’t know it yit, but he needs a dorctor, a
preacher, a undertaker, an’ a nice, deep grave in de cem’tery!”

“I wouldn’t be so powerful shore ’bout dat, Conko,” Skeeter suggested.
“You ain’t never seed dat Hitch Diamond pufform.”

“Whut sort lookin’ coon is he?” Conko asked.

“He’s mo’ tall dan you, wider dan you, heavier dan you is. He’s got
arms long enough to hug a elerphunt aroun’ de stomick.”

“I’ll break dem long arms in fo’ pieces an’ wrop ’em aroun’ Hitch’s
neck like a mournin’ rag,” Conko declared.

“Hitch kin put his hands on yo’ head an’ mash yo’ face plum’ down in
yo’ stomick--jes’ like you wus a mud-turkle!” Skeeter said.

“He won’t git no chance to mash,” Conko assured him. “I’ll make him
think he’s got bofe hands tied behime him an’ bofe behime foots kotch
in a bear-trap.”

“Hitch won’t take but two licks at you,” Skeeter continued. “One’ll be
a up-cut whut’ll punch you in de air like a balloom; den he’ll take a
side-swipe at you when you is comin’ down, an’ phish!--you’ll be over
on de yuther side of Jordan!”

“Huh!” Conko grunted. “Whut you reckin I’ll be doin’ to him when I’s
comin’ down?”

“De las’ time Hitch had a prize-fight,” Skeeter remarked, as he tried
to roll a cigarette with fingers which trembled and spilled all the
tobacco, “he specify dat he didn’t need but one glove, an’ he made em
tie it on his _elbow_. He fiddled aroun’ an’ dodged dat big stiff till
de nigger got in reach of dat elbow; den Hitch gib him a little jab in
his soul-complexion, an’ dat nigger went to heaben fer a week!”

“Huh!” Conko grunted. “Hitch’ll need gloves on his elbows to-day, too.
But he’ll want ’em to keep him from hurtin’ his crazy-bones when I
knocks him down.”

“Hitch Diamond challenged Jack Johnsing,” Skeeter declared. “An’ you
know whut dat nigger champeen of de worl’ went an’ done? He got on a
big ferry-boat an’ went to Framce an’ specify dat he wustn’t never
comin’ back to dis country no mo’!”

“Jack Johnsing got skeared too soon,” Conko replied easily. “I always
said he had a yeller streak.”

“I seed Hitch fight a bear once,” Skeeter informed him. “He kotch dat
bear by de tail, an’ dat bear gib one loud squall an’ drug Hitch plum’
to Arkansas befo’ Hitch could let loose his handholt!”

“Huh,” Conko grunted, undismayed. “I ain’t got no tail.”

Skeeter stopped. His thought could go no higher. His imagination could
reach no further.

Conko lighted a big cigar and puffed smoke like a steam-engine. He
laid two monstrous hands, palm upward, upon the table between them and
remarked:

“Dese here hands needs exoncise, Skeeter. Hitch Diamond is shore gwine
make a good punchin’ bag.”

“I hopes you gits yo’ punch in fust,” Skeeter sighed, wishing that he
had not bet so heavily.

“Whut’s de matter wid you?” Conko Mukes bawled. “Is you gittin’ cold
foots?”

“Naw. Nothin’ like dat,” Skeeter hastened to assure him, “but----”

“’Tain’t no need to git anxious,” Conko declared as he rose to go. “You
go out an’ bet my money, an’ remember dat de Georgia Cyclome is a real
twister.”

“Hitch is a stem-winder, too,” Skeeter declared.

As Conko Mukes tramped out of the saloon, Skeeter Butts wiped the
clammy sweat from his face and sighed.

“My Lawd!” he moaned. “I tried to skeer dat nigger up so he’d be
keerful, but Conko don’t take no skeer. Leastwise, he don’t talk dat
way. I got de hunch dat he ain’t nothin’ but beef an’ wind an’ a loud
noise. I bet I’s gwine lose eve’y bet whut I done bet. Dat’s de bes’
bet I could bet!”

“Huh!” Conko Mukes meditated as he walked slowly toward that portion of
Tickfall inhabited by the whites. “Dat Skeeter Butts specify dat Hitch
Diamond is some fightin’ coon. I wish I hadn’t bet dem fifteen dollars;
I cain’t affode to lose ’em. I needs he’p. Wonder whar I could git some
of dat hoodoo-juice?”

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Dodo Zodono, medium, magician, hypnotist, stood on a box in
front of the Tickfall drug-store, adjusted the joints of his flute, and
placed it to his lips. The sweet, piercing notes quickly drew a crowd
around him.

The professor was tall and thin, with long black hair, big black eyes,
a long mustache, and long, snaky fingers. His black clothes appeared
to hang upon his emaciated form like draperies, a circumstance which
helped him greatly in his sleight-of-hand tricks.

Two assistants stood on the ground beside the box. Both were tall
and very thin, with lank, damp hair and listless, humid eyes, and
tallow-colored skin always moist with nervous sweat--you have seen many
like them lying in hypnotic sleep in some show window, or have peered
down a wooden chute to see them slumbering in a coffin six feet under
the ground.

When the music ended Professor Zodono handed his flute to one of his
assistants and began his spiel:

“Fellow citizens, I have called you together to give you a little
demonstration of my powers.

“We are surrounded by mystery. There is a vast realm of the unknown
which science has not explored. I shall demonstrate to you to-night
that we have not yet even reached the edge of the great ocean of
discovery--price of admission, fifteen and twenty-five cents!

“I shall show you wonders which cannot be accounted for. You will hear
sounds which defy the laws of acoustics. You will behold appearances
which fly in the face of investigation, and effects which do not appear
to have a sufficient cause--all for the insignificant price of fifteen
and twenty-five cents!

“I shall now give you a free demonstration of hypnotism. This is no
new thing, and I do not charge you a cent to see an old and familiar
stunt. It is nothing but a nervous sleep induced by the active mind of
the operator upon the subjective consciousness of the hypnotic. This
power has been known to the world for eighteen hundred years. Under
this influence, the operator can make his subject dance, sing, speak,
or perform any stunt he pleases. In New York, Dr. Meseran hypnotized
Sandow, the modern Samson, and that giant who could lift three hundred
pounds above his head with one hand could not even lift his hand to his
head to scratch his ear----”

At this point there was a slight commotion in the closely packed crowd
in front of Zodono. A giant darky gorgeously dressed was pressing
himself to the front. It was Conko Mukes.

His manner and speech, as he pushed aside both whites and blacks, were
the very apotheosis of deference and courtesy:

“’Scuse me, boss! Beg parding, kunnel! Fer Gawd’s sake, don’t lemme
disturb you-alls! Gotter git to de drug-sto’ prompt, cap’n. Please,
suh, let a po’ mis’ble nigger git by fer de white folks’ med’cine.
Thank ’e, suh, de Lawd is shore gwine bless you fer dis nigger’s sake.”

By the time Conko Mukes was within four feet of the box on which Zodono
stood, the professor had resumed his speech and the crowd had forgotten
the interruption. Mukes stopped where he was and listened.

“Every positive character in the world has this power of hypnotism over
every negative character,” the professor proclaimed. “It is the simple
power of mind over mind by suggestion--all of which I shall prove to
you to-night at the opera-house for a few nickels admission--price,
fifteen and twenty-five cents!”

At this point one of the professor’s assistants walked toward the box,
his feet dragging and moving as if some one had him by the shoulders,
leading him forward. His thin arms dangled at his sides, and his bony
fingers twitched and writhed like the tail of a snake.

He climbed upon the box with awkward movements as if the joints of his
shoulders and hips were stiff and the hinges rusty, and they hurt him.

He walked slowly, reluctantly toward Zodono, and the professor threw up
his hand, snapped his fingers, and cried “Stop!”

The assistant flinched, dodged like a dog, and the crowd snickered.

“My Gawd!” Conko Mukes mumbled in a low tone. “Look at dat!”

For a moment the professor glared in the eyes of his assistant; then
his hands began making slow, stroking motions downward before the
subject’s face. Red spots came and went in the bleached cheeks of the
hypnotic; his breath was short and quick; his nostrils and lips were
pinched.

The crowd looked on breathlessly as the hand of the professor, fingers
outstretched, clawed the air before that weak, chalky face, with its
twitching lips and feeble, trembling chin.

“Ah!” the professor exclaimed theatrically, grinning his triumph in the
face of the crowd.

“Ah!” the crowd echoed with an expulsive sound of breath released after
a moment of breathless attention.

The man stood before them, asleep on his feet, his body waving slowly
like a feather suspended from a thread and gently wafted by a slight
breeze.

The druggist and his two clerks came out, picked up the hypnotic, who
was as stiff as a board; carried him into the drug-store, and laid him
flat on his back in the show window.

Then the druggist unfolded a sheet, covered the body, tucked the
covering close around the sleeper’s chalky face, and stepped across the
store to the soda-fountain with an eye alert and a hand ready for trade.

“Remember, gents!” Professor Zodono exclaimed. “An educational and
instructive show for men, women, and children--opera-house to-night at
eight o’clock sharp--fifteen and twenty-five cents!”

Then, followed by his other assistant, the professor walked slowly up
the street to the opera-house to dress the stage for his evening’s
performance.

They were followed at a respectful distance by Conko Mukes.

The moment the two men had passed out of sight through the stage
entrance in the alley by the Gaitskill store, Conko Mukes knocked on
the door.

“Open up, Bill!” Zodono commanded. “I guess that is the nigger
washwoman come after those curtains.”

When Conko Mukes entered, Zodono came forward.

“Have you come after the washing?” he asked.

Conko Mukes took off his hat, and his immense mouth with its mashed
and shapeless lips spread wide in an ugly grin.

“Don’t you know me, Mister Jimmy?” Conko asked.

“My Lord!” Zodono exclaimed after a moment’s inspection. “You damn’ ole
coon! What you doing in this place, Conko?”

“I had to take a good riddunce of Georgia, Mr. Jimmy,” Conko growled,
grinning like a bear. “De gram jury lawed me all de time an’ dat place
got too hot. How is all de white folks an’ de niggers in Tupelo?”

“Fine--when I saw them last,” Zodono grinned. “The grand jury lawed me,
too, and I left.”

“Is dat how come you change yo’ name?” Conko asked in polite tones.

“Oh, no; it wasn’t as bad as that,” Zodono laughed. “But I could never
make any money in my business with my real name. A spiritualistic
medium, fortune-teller, magician, and hypnotist named Jim Skaggs--that
would never do. What are you doing here?”

“I’se prize-fightin’, Mr. Jimmy. I been fightin’ up’n down de
Mississippi River, an’ I come here to git a fight dis atternoon wid a
nigger named Hitch Diamond.”

“How did you like my show out in front?” Zodono asked.

“It wus fine, Mr. Jimmy!” Conko exclaimed in enthusiastic tones. “Dat’s
how come I wants to see you. I would like to ’terrogate you ’bout dat
show.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Whut I axes you is dis,” Conko began; “you s’pose a nigger could learn
how to hypnertize like you?”

Zodono looked at Bill, his assistant, and winked. Then he answered:

“Certainly, Conko.”

“How is it did, boss?” the negro asked eagerly.

Zodono looked at the negro for a moment then grinned. He looked at Bill
and Bill grinned back. Here was a chance to have some fun.

“You’re getting ready to pull some hypnotic stunt in that prize-fight
this afternoon, ain’t you Conko?” the professor asked.

“Yes, suh,” Conko chuckled like a rumbling train. “I figger ef I could
put dat fightin’ coon to sleep like you done dat white boy in front of
de drug-sto’, dat I could knock him out widout wastin’ so much wind an’
elbow-grease.”

“Well,” Professor Zodono began, “first you walk straight up to the
subject and look into his eyes.”

“Which eye does you look at his eyes wid?” Conko asked.

“Both eyes--your own eyes!” Zodono explained.

“Yes, suh.”

“Then you make a stroking motion in front of his face with the fingers
of your hand extended like you were combing wool----”

“Yes, suh; you paws at him.”

“Then you bring your dominant will to bear upon the subject’s
subconscious mind, willing him to sleep--to stand upright and sleep----”

“Dat sounds easy,” Conko grinned.

“Do you think you could do that?” Zodono inquired.

“Suttinly. Dat is--mebbe so. I’d shore like to try it one time befo’ I
hypnertized dat fightin’ coon----”

“All right. I’ll let you try it on a white man. If you can hypnotize a
white man, you can certainly come it over on a nigger. We’ll try it on
Bill.”

Zodono turned and glanced at his assistant. That glance was like the
stroke of a whip-lash, and Bill quailed and flinched, the grin faded
from his face, and the flush changed to a deadly pallor.

“Now, Conko,” Zodono commanded. “Walk right up to Bill. Look straight
into his eyes.”

Bill stood like a rag doll, or anything else you can think of which is
spineless and helpless and non-resistant.

Conko walked up and glared into Bill’s listless, humid eyes like a
monstrous, bloodthirsty gorilla eying a wax dummy. Bill did not see the
negro, for unknown to Conko, the tall form of Zodono stood just behind
him, and the professor’s eyes held the hypnotic as a snake charms a
bird.

“Now,” Zodono commanded in sharp tones to the darky, “make a stroking
motion before his face--slow--slow--slow. Now bring your will to bear
upon his subconscious mind--that’s it. Sleep--sleep--sleep--ah!”

With a horrified expression upon his face, Conko stood staring at the
face of the man before him. The hypnotic slowly teetered forward and
backward, threatening with each swaying movement to lose his balance
and tumble over.

“Catch him!” Zodono commanded sharply.

Conko sprang forward and eased the falling man to the floor.

“My Gawd!” a strange negro voice exclaimed. “Did anybody ever see de
beat of dat?”

Professor Zodono wheeled and stared at the frightened face of a large,
full-bosomed, golden-brown girl, whose long, straight, black hair clung
around her face, by contrast making her octoroon complexion almost
white. Her bold, black eyes were big with wonder and awe, and the hands
clasped over her bosom were trembling.

“What do you want?” Zodono snapped.

“I come fer de washin’,” the girl stammered; “but I wants to git outen
here real prompt.”

“Don’t be afraid,” the professor said, as he walked over to a table
where a pile of soiled curtains were stacked. “That man is not dead;
just sleeping.”

The girl backed around behind Zodono and peeped at Conko.

“Kin dat nigger wake dat white man up?” she asked.

“Yes,” Zodono answered. Then he called to Mukes: “Wake him up, Conko!”

Conko leaned over, shook Bill by the shoulder, and bellowed:

“Git up, Mr. Bill! De bossman say fer you to git up!”

But Bill slept on. Zodono laughed.

“Bring your dominant mind to bear upon his subjective consciousness,
Conko,” he grinned.

Conko grabbed Bill on each side of his face, glared into his eyes, and
howled:

“Hey, Bill; git up! Don’t you hear me tellin’ you? Wake up!”

While this was going on, Zodono asked the girl:

“What is your name?”

“Dey calls me Goldie,” she answered, staring at Conko Mukes.

“All right, Goldie. Be sure to bring the curtains back to-morrow.”

But Goldie was not listening. She was watching Conko struggling with
the inert form of Bill.

Finally Conko stood up and strode toward the exit, his ugly black face
frightened and uneasy.

“What’s the matter, Conko?” Zodono called. “Going?”

“Yes, suh. I’s gwine, Mr. Jimmy,” Conko answered nervously. “I--I--done
got dat white man hypped, an’ I--I--cain’t unhyp him!”

Without waiting for a reply, Conko passed out of the theater, trotted
down the crooked alley, and hastened to the Hen-Scratch saloon.

“Skeeter!” he boomed. “If you got any money to bet, you bet it on me!
I’s gwine to pull a stunt on dat Hitch Diamond dis atternoon whut’ll
make all de coons in Tickfall think I done borrered de debbil’s own
knockout draps!”

A short distance from Tickfall where the Dorfoche Bayou widened into
a small lake, and where pine-trees grew thick and shady upon a sandy
plain was the negro baseball park and picnic grounds.

Hundreds of negroes had assembled here to witness the prize-fight
between Hitch Diamond, the Tickfall Tiger, and Conko Mukes, the Georgia
Cyclone. The women were as numerous as the men, and all were betting
wildly on the result.

Skeeter Butts, backing Conko Mukes, was in a blue funk.

He had bet forty dollars, and called that the limit until Conko
informed him that he possessed a hoodoo-stunt which would decide the
contest in his own favor; then Skeeter had hazarded sixty dollars more.
He found takers so readily that he had lost all courage and enthusiasm
for his pugilist. He considered his money as good as gone.

A rude, squared ring had been roped off on the edge of the little
lake by the simple process of stretching the rope from one sapling
to another as a woman fixes a clothes-line. The ground, rising from
the edge of the water presented a natural amphitheater for the
accommodation of the spectators.

Many a prize-fight had occurred at this spot, in most of which the
whites had taken a prominent part, being interested spectators and
extravagant gamblers. But to-day no white people were on the ground.

When Hitch Diamond emerged from the plum-thicket which had served for
a dressing-room, his seconds behind him, and stalked through the crowd
to the ring, a wild burst of greeting and applause went up from his
waiting fellow townsmen, all of whom, except Skeeter Butts and Figger
Bush, had backed him to the limit at any odds.

Hitch bowed right and left, waved his giant arms at the people on the
edge of the crowd, and listened with hungry ears to their pleas:

“We’re bettin’ on you, Hitch; don’t make us lose our money!”

“Knock him out, Hitchey! Den us’ll all be rich!”

Hitch ducked through the ropes and walked to his corner, where he sat
down upon a folding stool.

Vinegar Atts, the referee, came over and shook Hitch by the hand. Atts
was a broken-down pugilist whom the Lord had called to preach after his
last K. O., and he and Hitch were great friends.

“How you feelin’, Hitchey?” Vinegar wanted to know.

“Feel as sweet as a fly in a vat of merlasses,” Hitch grinned.

“Don’t let yo’ knock-out punch git sour,” Vinegar grinned. “I got all
my loose change on you.”

There was another roar of applause, and Conko Mukes emerged from his
plum-thicket and came through the crowd, his knotty, shaved head
shining in the sun like a block of ivory. His scarred and villainous
face, with its mashed lips and broken nose and iron jaw, glowed with
excitement and enthusiasm.

The mob applauded without partizanship as he climbed through the ropes
and sat down in his corner.

Each pugilist eyed the other curiously, but neither could see much, for
both were swathed in horse-blankets.

Prince Total and a scar-faced negro named Possum, Hitch Diamond’s
seconds, slipped on Hitch’s gloves and laced them tight, while Skeeter
Butts and Figger Bush performed the same office for Conko Mukes.

Then the seconds removed the heavy woolen horse-blankets, and the
two fighters stood forth in their ring costumes, visible in all
their fighting strength for the first time to the crowd--both men
deep-chested, heavy-thewed, with muscles which moved like live snakes
under their black-satin skins, their bodies acrawl with life and brutal
power.

The two men advanced and touched gloves.

Then something happened which would make old John L. Sullivan laugh
till he dislocated his iron jaw.

You who follow the fistic combats of Jess Willard and other white hopes
and hopelessnesses, know that for months before the combatants meet in
the ring their press-agents are busy informing the public what each
pugilist says he expects to do to his opponent.

In the negro prize-fights in the South, the pugilist, lacking the
press-agent, demands the right to make a speech before each round of
the fight, in which he tells his friends and backers what he expects to
do to his opponent in the next round.

Can you beat that?

So, in accordance with this custom, after the two fighters had touched
gloves, Hitch Diamond went back to his corner and sat down.

Conko Mukes stepped to the middle of the ring and bellowed:

“I’s de great unwhupped Tuskeegee Cyclome. I fights any nigger whut
misdoubts my words! I’s de brayin’ jackass of Georgia, an’ no nigger in
Tickfall cain’t comb my mane!”

He sprang up, cracked his heels together, waved his gorilla-like
arms in the air, and uttered a piercing whoop which echoed like a
steam-whistle far down the Dorfoche Bayou.

Thereupon Hitch Diamond sprang to his feet and howled:

“I fights any nigger in the worl’ fer two bits, fer a chaw terbaccer,
fer a watermillyum rind, fer de tail of a tadpole!”

He jumped three feet in the air, cracked his heels together like two
clapboards, and shrieked:

“I’s de Tickfall Tiger, an’ I kin curry dat Georgia jackass fo’ inches
under his hide!”

Then the seconds clattered out of the ring with their folding stools,
and the two men advanced and took their fighting attitudes.

Pap Curtain picked up a baseball bat and struck a large wagon-tire
suspended from a tree on the edge of the bayou. This was the gong.

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble

“I’se de braying jack-ass of Georgia, an’ no nigger in Tickfall cain’t
comb my mane.”]

“Time!” the referee shouted.

“Go fer his stomick, Conko!” Skeeter Butts squealed. “Hit an’ duck!
It’s de best thing you kin do!”

Conko hit and ducked; and Hitch Diamond was jarred to the very marrow
of his bones. A cold fury took the place of Hitch’s smile.

“Go atter him! Foller him up!” Skeeter squealed.

Conko shot a right hook at Hitch, who neatly side-stepped; then Hitch
swung a terrible lefthand blow at the giant figure before him.

“Right cross--lef’ hook, Hitch--dat’ll fix him!” Prince Total barked.

Conko ducked and saved his jaw, but the blow landed on the side of his
head. It was too high up to be vitally effective, but powerful enough
to bring a black veil of unconsciousness across Conko’s mind. All faces
vanished for a second; even Hitch Diamond disappeared; then when Hitch
reappeared, Conko pecked savagely at his stomach.

Hitch panted like a winded dog; they clinched, and Hitch, with his
gorilla reach, pounded his enemy over the kidneys.

“Hey, dar! Break ’em! No fair hittin’ in clinches!” the crowd of Conko
backers yelled.

Vinegar Atts grinned, yanked the pair out of the clinch, and a wolflike
howl rose from the crowd. Hitch Diamond had landed a mighty blow in
Conko’s stomach, and the Georgia Cyclone had fallen to his knees!

Vinegar Atts began to count:

“Fo’--five--six--seben--eight----”

“Git up, Conko!” Skeeter Butts screamed in agony. “Fer Gawd’s sake----”

“Nine----”

Conko’s leap upward at this word carried him within striking distance
of Hitch Diamond, and the crowd yelled wildly at a whirlwind rush which
sent Hitch slipping and leaping like a flying shuttle to guard himself
from the wild insurgence of that furious onslaught.

The end of the round found both combatants laughing.

Skeeter Butts, for his part, was alternately sweating cold and hot, and
as nervous as a cat amid a pack of pop-crackers.

The two men sat down in their corners, lying back with outstretched
legs, resting their arms outstretched upon the ropes, gulping in the
air fanned at them from the towels of the seconds. Their eyes were
closed, and the roar of the crowd was a mighty thunder in their ears.

The gong struck, and Conko Mukes stepped to the middle of the ring.

“I done got dis here Hitch Diamond’s number!” he bawled. “Hitch ain’t
nothin’ but a big gob of meat, an’ I’s gwine fry him in his own grease!
Ef you got any money to bet, bet it all on me. I’s de wild ole ram of
de Georgia swamp, an’ no nigger cain’t pick de cockle-burs outen my
wool!”

He bent his huge body, ducked his head in excellent imitation of a
sheep, and bleated loud enough to be heard a mile.

Hitch Diamond sprang to his feet and whooped:

“I’s de swamp wildcat whut kin claw de cockle-burs outen dat ole buck’s
wool!”

He screamed in perfect imitation of a Louisiana panther and met Conko
Mukes in the middle of the ring.

Then Hitch Diamond presented a wonderful exhibition of skill and
quickness, going in and out again, landing a blow to the eyes, to the
jaw, to the ribs, ducking a counter, dancing lightly away, dancing
lightly in, with quick, deft, dangerous blows, rushing things, and
waiting for an opening left by that slow-moving man before him.

That opening came, and Hitch’s right arm flashed into it, a right hook
with all the weight of his pouncing body behind it. Conko Mukes fell
like the rotten trunk of a tree falls in the forest. The crowd sighed
like a great furnace, and a ripple of awestricken applause began close
to the ringside and rolled like a wave to the edge of the amphitheater.

As Conko took the count, a golden-brown girl with large, bold, black
eyes and long, straight, coal-black hair which made her octoroon
complexion appear almost white, walked up close to the ring. The hands
clasped over her full bosom were trembling, and her eyes glowed like
coals of fire.

It was Goldie, Hitch Diamond’s wife.

“Look out, Hitchey!” she exclaimed. “Don’t let dat Conko Mukes git too
close to you! Knock him out in dis round! I knows somepin ’bout him dat
you don’t know!”

“He don’t look so awful dangersome now, Goldie,” Hitch replied,
grinning at his wife, as she stood by the ropes.

Conko Mukes had rolled over and knelt on one knee, listening as Vinegar
Atts stood over him counting in a loud voice. At the ninth he arose.

Springing across the ring with lightning quickness, Conko landed a blow
on Hitch’s jaw just as he turned away from his wife; with a grunt,
Hitch fell flat to the ground within reach of Goldie’s hand. But the
blow had been too hastily delivered and missed the point of the jaw by
an inch. In an instant Hitch was up and fighting like a panther.

The rest of the round was a nigger whirlwind finish. The darkies
grappled like clumsy grizzlies, punching, biting, wrestling, growling
ferociously. Around and around, they butted and pushed, bellowing and
braying, striking any sort of blows, landing them everywhere they
could, while the crowd cheered each man as he gained a slight advantage
without partizanship.

When the men retired to their corners the crowd went mad, and the
voices were yelling: “Go it, Hitch!” “Knock his block off, Conko!”
“Kill him dead, Hitch!” “You’ll git him in de nex’ round, Conko!”

As for Skeeter Butts, he could have qualified for the lunatic asylum.

“Fer Gawd’s sake, Conko,” he chattered, “ef you got any hoodoo stunts
to wuck on Hitch, you better wuck ’em. Dat nigger’s done had you down
two times----”

“Aw, shut up!” Conko rumbled as he breathed in the air from Skeeter’s
flapping towel. “I’s gwine pull dat stuff in de nex’ round. I’s savin’
it fer de third, because de third time is de charm.”

“De Lawd’ll shorely bless you fer sayin’ that, Conko,” Skeeter panted,
with tears in his eyes. “My Gawd, ef us don’t win, I’ll sho’ wish I’d
been borned a corn-field mule!”

The gong sounded for the third round.

Conko Mukes stepped in the middle of the ring and howled:

“In dis here nex’ roun’ I’s gwine win out. I’s gwine hypnertize dis
here Hitch Diamond an’ put him to sleep. I’ll take one look at his ugly
mug wid my right eye, an’ he’ll stan’ up in dis ring like a dead man on
his foots----”

“My Gawd, Hitchey!” Goldie screamed as she pressed through the crowd
and grabbed the ropes by Hitch. “Look out fer dat nigger! He’ll git
you hypped, an’ he cain’t unhyp you!” Then she turned and ran toward
Tickfall like a yellow streak.

“Dat’s right, sister!” Conko Mukes bellowed as he watched her
departure. “You don’t ’pear to be anxious to stay an’ see it done, but
dat’s yo’ Uncle Conko’s little game! Dis here Hitch Diamond is gwine to
sleep, an’ I don’t keer ef he never wakes up!”

As Conko sat down Hitch arose and smiled at the crowd.

“I never goes to sleep till I wins!” he bawled. “Conko is done made a
miscue ’bout who is gwine take a nap. I’s de real old fat mammy whut’ll
sing li’l’ baby Conko to sleep!”

Thereupon Conko Mukes performed a stunt which had never before been
witnessed in a pugilistic ring, and which Conko in his subsequent
career never attempted to duplicate.

He sprang toward Hitch Diamond, sparred for a moment, clinched, and
shrieked like a calliope:

“Sleep! Sleep! Sleep, Hitch Diamond--go to sleep!”

This wonderful performance scared Hitch Diamond nearly out of his wits.

He broke from the clinch, smashed Conko against the ropes, and then
began hooking and driving all sorts of blows against him, tearing
himself out of Conko’s frenzied clinches, punching him, shoving him
against the ropes again and again until the cypress saplings to which
the ropes were attached bowed beneath the storm and weight of human
contestants.

Through it all, like some mighty chant, the stentorian voice of Conko
rumbled the dreadful malediction:

“Sleep! Sleep! Go to sleep, Hitch Diamond--sleep!”

But Hitch never rested a moment, and Conko, looking for an opening to
get in his hypnotic eyework, let Hitch chase him all around the ring a
dozen times.

There were three minutes of this screaming farce, and when it ended,
Hitch Diamond was reeling and staggering from his wild chase around the
ring, and his legs were cramping under him and felt like lead.

Without knowing it, Hitch had spun around like a top for three minutes,
and a natural dizziness was upon him, and before his bewildered eyes
the crowd of faces sagged and swayed, disappeared and reappeared.

Again and again he had struck at Conko and missed. When the round had
ended, Hitch found himself swinging on to Mukes with all his weight to
keep from falling to the floor, while Conko’s bellowing was like the
distant thunder of the surf in his ear, sounding afar off:

“Sleep! Sleep! Sleep, Hitch Diamond, go to sleep!”

When Conko Mukes walked to his corner he was jubilant. He faced the
crowd of wondering coons, placed his gloved hands to the side of his
face, and crowed like a rooster.

“I got him goin’, niggers!” he squalled. “He’s wabbly on his foots! One
mo’ roundance, an’ dat big fat stiff will go to sleep an’ never wake up
no mo’!”

He sank down upon his camp-stool, and his heaving chest and abdomen
sucked in the air in great, hungry gulps.

Skeeter Butts worked like an engine, cackling his delight at his
hero’s wonderful pugilistic ruse.

“You got him skeart, Conko,” Skeeter squawked in a voice hoarse with
excitement. “One mo’ roun’ wid dat hypnertize-eye, an’ dat’ll be his
finish. Don’t let him bat yo’ hoodoo-eyes out!”

At the beginning of the fourth round Conko Mukes proceeded to steal
some of Professor Dodo Zodono’s thunder.

“Feller cit’zens,” he howled, “I’s gwine gib you a little demerstration
of my powers.

“In dis nex’ roun’, you’ll see wonders whut no man cain’t account
fer! You-all will hear noises whut defy all de laws of soundance!
You gwine behold appearances whut fly in de face of scrutination! Us
is gwine demerstrate effecks whut ain’t got no resomble cause--all
free-fer-nothin’!”

He sat down with a happy grin on his horrible face, and Hitch Diamond
stood up to proclaim:

“I ain’t never fit in de ring wid no lunatic befo’. I ain’t gwine waste
no time gittin’ done wid dis fight, neither. While Conko Mukes is
pullin’ all dem stunts he’s braggin’ ’bout, I’s gwine knock de stuffin’
outen his black hide!”

The two men advanced to the center of the ring, circled slowly around
while Conko began his monotonous, bellowing chant:

“Sleep! Sleep! Sleep, Hitch Diamond--sleep!”

Still keeping well out of reach of Hitch’s punch, Conko waved his right
hand slowly in front of his opponent’s face, as if he were stroking
invisible fur with his glove. Hitch followed him slowly, waiting for a
chance to land a knock-out blow.

Then upon Hitch Diamond’s slow mind there slowly dawned the meaning of
all this.

He had witnessed the hypnotic exhibition before the drug-store earlier
in the day, and recognized portions of the speech which Conko had
recited, and noticed a similarity between Conko’s gestures and the
actions of Professor Dodo Zodono.

Then Hitch’s dull eyes began to glow with strange interior fires.

With the negro’s knack for imitation, Hitch’s gloved hands dropped,
his giant arms dangled at his sides, and he began to move toward Conko
Mukes with stiff legs, as if someone had him by the shoulders leading
him forward, as if the hinge joints of his hips were rusty, and hurt
him when he walked.

The crowd gasped and uttered awe-stricken exclamations.

Slowly Hitch advanced until he was well within reach of Conko Mukes’s
protruding jaw.

Then the sleepy lion suddenly thrust out a raging paw--there was the
sharp snap of leather against human bone--an electric globe burst in
Conko Mukes’s puny brain, and darkness enveloped the great originator
of the pugilistic hoodoo-eyes!

“I knows whut I done to dat big stiff!” Hitch grinned as he turned to
walk back to his corner.

Then a loud shout arose from the crowd and Hitch whirled and looked
behind him.

In spite of that terrific blow, Conko Mukes was on his feet again!

The ropes around the rudely constructed ring had been under such a
strain during the fight that when Conko Mukes reeled back against them
they broke, and the inert body of the pugilist rolled into the ice-cold
waters of Dorfoche Lake!

At the moment, when Conko rose and stood waist-deep in the water of the
little lake, he heard a woman’s voice, screaming like a swamp panther:

“Run, niggers, run! De white folks is comin’!”

Conko looked up and beheld a hundred white men following close behind
Goldie Diamond, as the girl ran toward them like a yellow streak,
proclaiming with a Gabriel-trumpet tone:

“Run, niggers, run! De white folks is comin’!”

For one tense moment the crowd of blacks huddled together like quails
bunch before a windstorm. Then, with one voice, a squall of fear split
the sky, and the mob whirled like Dervishes and bumped into each other
like blind bugs in a tin can.

After that, with one accord, they went into the woods, leaping stumps
and logs, tearing their garments to shreds upon the snags and vines,
falling and rising again, miring themselves in the muck of the swamp,
howling like a wolf-pack, their voices echoing through the forest with
terrifying reverberations.

Conko Mukes dived back into the lake, swam across it, and hid in the
deep marsh-grass on the other side until after dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, Sheriff John Flournoy met Skeeter Butts and inquired:

“Skeeter, what made you niggers run off yesterday when we came out to
see the fight?”

“Dunno, Marse John,” Skeeter grinned. “You know how niggers is. We
figgered mebbe you white folks didn’t favor prize-fights.”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” Flournoy replied. “Goldie Diamond
came running to town and told us the niggers were having a prize-fight,
and when we went out to see it, she raised a whoop and scared all the
niggers away.”

“Yes, suh,” Skeeter grinned. “Dat’s whut she done.”

“Why did she do it?” Flournoy persisted.

“Well, suh, I s’pose Goldie thought Hitch wus gwine git knocked out.
Anyways, I’s powerful glad it happened, Marse John. Ef dat hadn’t come
to pass, Skeeter Butts would be bankbust by dis time in de mawnin’.”

Flournoy turned away by no means satisfied, but confident that there
was some nigger secret in the matter which the darkies would never
reveal.

Skeeter left him and hastened down to the Hen-Scratch saloon where he
found Hitch Diamond and Conko Mukes waiting for him.

The two pugilists and their seconds had spent nearly all night
straightening out their finances after the bets had been declared off,
and the fight had run off.

Conko Mukes had been drinking heavily and was in a bad humor.

“I got jes’ one thing ag’in’ you, Hitch,” he growled, “an’ dat is dat
las’ punch you gib me on de jaw. You acked like you wus hypnertized,
an’ I wusn’t lookin’ fer no punch. I don’t think dat wus plum’ fair.”

“Dat shore wus a jolter, Conko,” Hitch grinned. “Lawd, I’ll remember
dat after I’m done dead!”

Conko Mukes’s eyes glowed with evil intent as he listened to Hitch’s
delighted chuckles. Finally Conko said:

“But I fooled you ’bout dat hypnertize, Hitch. You thought it wus my
eyes, an’ I didn’t hyp you wid my eyes.”

“Dat’s a fack,” Hitch chuckled. “Whut did you aim to use on me?”

“I hypnertized you wid my wavin’ hand, like dis--” Conko explained as
he rose to his feet to illustrate. His right hand began a slow chopping
motion in front of Hitch’s face, and he continued: “You gotter git up
real close and wave slow--slow--slow----”

Suddenly Conko’s fist shot out with a blow like a trip-hammer.

The punch would have broken his jaw--only the jaw was not there.

Hitch ducked with lightning quickness and rose to his feet ready for
business.

Conko sprang toward the door, but tripped over Hitch’s extended foot,
and fell on his head with a jar which shook two bottles off the shelf
behind the bar.

Hitch stooped and raised Conko to his feet, backed him to the far end
of the saloon away from the door, and shoved him against the wall with
such force that a picture of Abraham “Lincum” was dislodged from its
nail and fell clattering to the floor.

“Ef you wasn’t drunk, I’d kill you!” Hitch bawled, while Conko stood
looking around him like a man in a dream. “As ’tis, I’s only gwine put
yo’ hoodoo eyes on de bum!”

The job was quickly, neatly done--two slight taps on each side of
Conko’s nose.

“Now git!” Hitch commanded, pointing toward the door.

Conko Mukes did not linger. When the swinging doors of the Hen-Scratch
saloon closed behind him, Hitch and Skeeter walked out to the street.

Far down the road a streak of flying dust marked the route Conko had
chosen as he left Tickfall forever.



The Art of Enticing Labor.


“What are you doing here, nigger?”

Colonel Tom Gaitskill’s voice cracked like a whip beside the ear of Pap
Curtain.

Pap had three baseballs in his hand for which he had paid a nickel, and
which he intended to throw at a row of nigger babies about forty feet
away. The tall baboon-faced negro, with shifty eyes, furtive manner,
and lips that sneered, started like a frightened animal. The balls
dropped from his nerveless hands and he turned away.

“Fer Gawd’s sake, Marse Tom,” he chattered, speaking under a visible
strain, his eyeballs nearly popping out of his head. “I shore didn’t
soupspicion dat you wus snoopin’ aroun’ here nowheres.”

Gaitskill’s face grew red with annoyance. The veins in his neck swelled
and his eyes snapped.

“Where are all those other coons?” he demanded. “Did they run off too?”

“Yes, suh; dey said dar wus plenty time to pick dat cotton an’ de
trouts wus bitin’ fine down in de bayou, so dey all hauled off and went
fishin’. Dey sont me to town fer some mo’ fishin’ lines, an’ I jes’
stopped here a minute to throw at dem rag dolls----”

“I’m going out there and beat some sense into those niggers with a
black-snake whip,” Gaitskill told him in a dangerously cool voice. “If
you don’t want some of it you’d better stay away, understand? And if
you ever put your foot in my cotton-field again I’ll break your dashed
neck! Hear me?”

Pap Curtain stepped back and his voice became a pleading whine. He
glanced behind him to assure himself that the road was clear for
flight, and began:

“Don’t do dat, Marse Tom. You know how niggers is. Eve’y day is restin’
time an’ Sunday fer a nigger; an’ when de trouts is bitin’ a nigger
jes’ nachelly cain’t wuck. It’s ag’in nature----”

“Aw, shut up!” Gaitskill snarled in a savage tone. “If a rain should
come it would beat every bit of my cotton off the stalks and bury it in
the mud, and you know it----”

“I tell you whut I’ll do, boss,” Pap interrupted. “You know I is always
done jes’ whut you tole me--because why? You is a powerful good white
man, an’ I ain’t nothin’ but a poor igernunt nigger. Yes, suh, dat’s
right.

“Now, ef you says de word, I’ll hike back to de Niggerheel an’ tell dem
niggers dat deir lives ain’t fitten to last no time onless dey draps
dem fish-poles an’ drags dem cotton-sacks down de row like de debbil
wus bossin’ de job. Dar’s fawty of ’em, Marse Tom--fawty, wuthless,
no-’count, good-fer-nothin’ coons done laid down deir wuck an’ gone
fishin’--dat’s whut dey done----”

Pap stopped. Keenly watching the tense lips and the white, angry face
of Gaitskill, he saw that no nigger talk would placate the owner of the
Niggerheel. He stood shuffling his feet in the dirt for a full minute
before Gaitskill spoke.

“Now, Pap, I want you to get this: I have trouble every year to get
hands to pick my cotton. The worthless niggers loaf on the banks of the
bayou until winter catches them with nothing to eat, nothing to wear,
and not a dollar. Then the white folks in Tickfall have to support
them.”

“Yes, suh, dat’s a shore, certain fack----”

“Shut up, you crazy buck!” Gaitskill snarled. “When I talk--you listen.
You are the worst idler and loafer in this town, and I tell you right
now that you had better leave this town. Hear me? Pack up your rags
right now and leave Tickfall, and don’t ever come back again. If you do
I’ll have you arrested for vagrancy. Hurry now! Get out before night!”

“Oh, Lawdy, Marse Tom, I been livin’ in dis here town fer sixty
year--I’s dug all de water-wells fer de livin’ an’ all de graves fer
de dead--you an’ me is always got along peaceable ’thout no hard
feelin’----”

“Go on off!” Gaitskill commanded in hoarse tones. “Hike!”

Gaitskill turned away, walked rapidly up the street, and stepped into
his automobile. There was an explosive sound, a cloud of white smoke
hid the rear wheels for a moment, then the big car swept into a side
street, going toward the Niggerheel plantation.

“Lawdymussy!” Pap Curtain sighed, as he walked slowly down the street
toward his cabin. “De kunnel done gimme my good-riddunce papers an’
axed me good-by!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Pap sat down on the rickety porch of his cabin and gazed for a long
time with unseeing vision straight before him. Half an hour passed,
an hour, and still he looked into the thick branches of an umbrella
china-tree without seeing it.

No white man can equal the absolute absorption in thought, the intense
concentration of attention and interest which a negro displays when he
comes face to face with a crisis in his career. And no white man can
foretell a negro’s mental conclusions in that hour of stress and need.

Pap did not want to leave Tickfall, yet he knew he had to go. Marse
Tom’s word was law just as much so as if the big, red-brick court-house
had suddenly formed a mouth and had spoken.

Pap rose from his chair, gave his shoulders a vigorous shake, lit a
vile-smelling corn-cob pipe, changed the location of his chair from the
porch to the shade of the chinaberry tree, and began to talk aloud to
himself:

“Dat white man shore knifed me right under de fifteenth rib! Treated me
jes’ like I wus a houn’-dawg--‘git outen dis town!’ Mebbe it’s all a
play-like an’ he didn’t mean nothin’----”

But the more he thought about the manner and the speech of Colonel
Gaitskill, the more the facts compelled the conviction that it was his
move. Then the thought occurred to him:

“I wonder if dese here town niggers tipped Marse Tom off ’bout me? A
whole passel of ’em hates me--I beats ’em gamblin’, an’ I beats ’em
tradin’, an’ dey all knows dey ain’t vigorous in deir mind like me----”

Pap pondered for many minutes, his thick lips pouting, his protruding
eyes half closed, great drops of sweat rolling down his face. His pipe
went out, the bowl became loosened and fell from the stem, but he took
no notice.

“Mebbe dem niggers is wucked a buzzo on me, an’ mebbe dey ain’t,” he
declared at last. “I cain’t seem to make up my remembrance ’bout dat.
But I done decided on one fack: ef ole Pap Curtain is gotter leave dis
town, he’s gwine gib dese here nigger bad-wishers of his’n a whole lot
to remember him by!”

He rose and walked down the street to the Hen-Scratch saloon.

In the rear of the building he found Figger Bush. Walking up to him
with an air of great secrecy and importance, Pap inquired:

“Figger, is you de proud persesser of a silber dollar?”

“Sho’ is!” Figger grinned. “I gwine keep on persessin’ it, too!”

“I sells tips!” Pap announced, taking a chair beside Figger. “One
dollar per tip per each!”

“It muss be wuth somepin’ ef it comes dat high!” Figger exclaimed with
popping eyeballs.

“Yes, suh; Marse Tom Gaitskill gimme de word dis mawnin’, an’ tole me I
could pass it on to a choosen few--ef dey had a dollar!”

Figger Bush puffed nervously at his cigarette and waited anxiously.
Colonel Tom Gaitskill’s name was one to conjure with, and Figger knew
that Curtain had been working on the Niggerheel plantation.

“Whut’s de tip about, Pap?” Figger asked eagerly, fumbling with the
lonesome silver dollar in his pocket.

“Dat would be tellin’,” Pap grinned, as he leaned back and watched a
tiny tree-spider floating in the breeze on the end of its web.

Figger puffed unconsciously on his cigarette until it burned down
to his lips and scorched them; he snatched it out of his mouth and
blistered his fingers; he slapped his foot upon it as it lay on the
ground, then sprang up with an exclamation and nursed a bare spot on
the side of his sockless foot where the stub had burned him through a
hole in his shoe.

“Good gosh, set down!” Pap Curtain howled as he watched Figger’s
gyrations. “You gib me de fidgets cuttin’ up dat way!”

Figger sank back in his seat, and Pap again directed his attention to
the operations of the little spider, and waited.

“Cain’t you gimme no hint about de tip, Pap?” Figger asked at last.
“I wants to git in on somepin good, but I cain’t affode to waste no
money.”

“Cross yo’ heart an’ body dat you won’t tell nobody an’ gimme de
dollar. Den, when I tells you de secret, ef it ’tain’t wuth a dollar,
I’ll hand you de loose change back.”

“Dat sounds resomble,” Figger declared, and the silver dollar changed
hands.

“Now, Figger, you listen,” Pap began in a mysterious tone. “Don’t you
tell nobody, fer Marse Tom swore me dat he didn’t want nobody to know
but a choosen few. Marse Tom is gwine gib a great, big, cotton-pickin’
festerble out at de Niggerheel. He pays de best wages, an’ he wants de
bes’ pickers in de parish. De tickets is one dollar, whut I collecks
when I gibs de tip. All de niggers is to meet Marse Tom at de bank dis
atternoon at three o’clock.”

“Huh!” Figger grunted. “Dat shore sounds good to me. Plenty grub,
plenty wages, a barrel of cider at de eend of de cotton-row, an’ all de
coons on a cotton-pickin’ picnic! Keep de dollar, Pap. Me an’ Marse Tom
is done made a trade.”

Enthusiastic over the idea, Figger sprang to his feet and started away.

“You kin succulate de repote dat somepin’s doin’, Figger,” Pap grinned.
“But don’t you gib dat tip away. Marse Tom spoke me special ’bout dat,
an’ say he gwine bust de head open of de nigger whut told de secret!”

Pap Curtain stepped into the rear of the Hen-Scratch saloon, invested a
part of Figger’s dollar in a long, strong Perique stogy, and came out
again. He sat for half an hour humming to himself, chewing the end of
the stogy, smoking slowly, leisurely, and with profound meditation.

He was giving Figger time to circulate the report. He knew that the
grape-vine telephone was already at work, and that the news of a big
profitable deal would trickle and ooze into every negro cabin in all
the negro settlements of Tickfall.

Prince Total was the first darky to make his appearance.

“Whar’s yo’ silber dollar, Prince?” Pap exclaimed with a broad grin
before Prince had time to state his business. “No busted niggers
needn’t apply--tickets is one dollar--Marse Tom’s own price.”

“Whut is dis doin’s?” Prince inquired. “Is Marse Tom gittin’ up a
nigger excussion?”

“Dat’s de very game!” Pap snickered. “One dollar per each ticket. Marse
Tom leaves me to pick de winners. Plenty brass-band music, plenty
ice-water on de way; dancin’ on de deck eve’y night--all de real good
arrangements whut niggers likes. You-all knows how Marse Tom fixes
things up. Cross yo’ heart an’ body dat you won’t tell an’ gimme one
round silber dollar fer de tip!”

Prince crossed Pap’s palm with silver and listened to his instructions:

“Go see Marse Tom at de bank at three o’clock dis atternoon!”

“Excussion!” Prince panted. “My, dat’s a shore ’nough word to ketch
a nigger by de year. Gib ’em somewhar to trabbel an’ a crowd to go
wid--Lawd, dat’s real good luck! I’s gwine out an’ succulate dem
repote!”

By high noon Pap Curtain’s pockets were weighted with silver and he had
revealed the magical tip to over one hundred negroes.

“Dis here is suttinly a good joke,” he snickered; “but ef I keeps it
up too long I’s skeart I’ll laugh myself to death. I got a hunch dat I
better mosey along todes de depot. Marse Tom done advise me to leave
dis town.”

When the slow accommodation train pulled into the depot, Pap Curtain
boarded it from the side farthest from the station, took an obscure
seat in the negro coach, and did his best to attract no attention as
the train conveyed him away from Tickfall.

Only one negro saw him go.

       *       *       *       *       *

At three o’clock one of the clerks closed the big glass doors of the
Tickfall National Bank and went back to his desk.

Ten minutes later there was a loud knock upon the glass door, and the
clerk looked up. What he saw caused him to spring from his stool,
overturning it with a loud clatter upon the marble floor, and go
running down the corridor to the president’s office.

“Come out here quick, Colonel!” the clerk exclaimed, his hair standing
on end and cold sweat dampening his forehead. “God only knows what
has got into the heads of our negro depositors! Every nigger buck in
Tickfall is lined up in front of the bank, and the leader is knocking
on the door, trying to get in!”

Gaitskill jerked open a drawer, slipped a heavy revolver in his side
coat pocket, and stepped toward the front.

Figger Bush’s shoe-brush mustache was pressed close to the glass, his
hands were cupped around his eyes, and he was peering in to catch the
first glimpse of Marse Tom as he came out of his office.

“Here he am, niggers!” he bawled as the colonel fumbled with the
fastening of the door.

“Howdy, Marse Tom!” the greeting ran down the line with every variation
of tone like a child playing a scale on the piano with one finger.

“Well?” Gaitskill demanded in a loud tone. “What in the name of mud is
the matter now?”

“Us is all come to git in on de picnic, Marse Tom,” Figger Bush
announced as spokesman. “We all paid our dollar an’ Pap tipped us off
to come to de bank at closin’ time!”

“Pap did what?” Gaitskill snapped.

“He sold us a ticket to de excussion, Marse Tom,” Figger informed him.
“Yes, suh, we is powerful glad you is gittin’ one up--peanuts an’
ice-water, an’ plenty brass-band music--all us niggers favors it fine!”

“What in the devil are you talking about?” Gaitskill bawled.

“Dunno, Marse Tom,” Prince Total spoke up. “Pap Curtain--he say you
would tell us--it’s a plum’ secret.”

“It certainly is!” Gaitskill howled, glaring at the negroes with eyes
blood-shot and apoplectic. “It’s a deep, dark, impenetrable secret!
Where is that fool, Pap Curtain?”

“He went away on de dinner-time train, Marse Tom,” a voice informed
him. “I seed him!”

Gaitskill stood in the door of the bank in absolute ignorance of the
whole business, wondering what to do. Finally he went back to Figger
Bush’s first statement:

“What did you say about a dollar?” he demanded.

“Us paid a dollar fer de tip, Marse Tom,” Figger replied.

Gaitskill’s eyes ran down the line as he counted the negroes.

“Did all you darkies give Pap Curtain a dollar?” he asked in a loud
voice.

“Yes, suh!” one hundred and eighteen voices answered in a mighty chorus.

“Good Lord!” Gaitskill snorted, as he gazed into their simple faces,
marveling at their credulity.

Every merchant in town had closed his store to see the fun. Nearly
every white male inhabitant of Tickfall was lined up across the street.
The crowd grinned its delight, and watched with breathless interest
while Gaitskill fumbled with his problem in confusion and perplexity,
and an ignorance which the negroes would not enlighten.

Nothing tickles a Southern white man more than to see another white man
all snarled up and in a jam of negro inanities. A fly in a barrel of
molasses has about as good a chance of getting out of the mess.

“What did Pap Curtain tell you bucks?” Gaitskill bellowed.

There was a mighty clash of voices:

“He specify excussion----”

“Dancin’ on de deck eve’y night----”

“Music an’ free vittles----”

“Festerbul an’ juberlo----”

“Picnic----”

Then a loud voice inquired in a wailing whine:

“Marse Tom, ef us don’t git all dem things Pap promised us, does us git
our dollars back?”

Gaitskill did not reply. Instead he took out his watch and studied it
carefully.

He was thinking: the old combination freight and passenger train had
left Tickfall at noon; it had traveled for three hours and twenty
minutes at a speed of fifteen miles an hour. The train was not yet out
of Tickfall parish. Then Gaitskill spoke:

“All you niggers listen to me: Go down to the old cotton-shed back of
my house and wait until I come. Hurry, now!”

He turned, entered the bank, locked the door behind him, and strode to
the telephone.

“Hello, Susie!” he said to the operator. “Gimme the station-agent at
Tonieville--quick!”

There was a nervous quiver in his strong voice, and as he waited he
drummed with his fingers on the table, tapped the toe of one foot
on the floor, then snatched up a paper-weight and began to grind it
savagely into the blotter on a desk.

The coons had exasperated him often enough, he thought; but Pap Curtain
had gone the limit. He would catch that nigger and wring his fool neck.

“Hey--hello!” he bawled through the speaking-tube. “Is that you, Bill?
This is Gaitskill--Say, has No. 2 passed through Tonieville yet? Coming
now? All right, listen: tell the constable to board the Jim-Crow coach
on that train and haul off a nigger--a yellow nigger with a baboon face
and shifty eyes and a mouth which sneers. Yes! his name is Pap Curtain.
He’s got a pocketful of money. Sure! Haul him off. Tell the constable
to bring him back on No. I! Good-bye!”

Gaitskill hung up the receiver, wiped the sweat from his face, and
walked out of the bank, pausing at the door long enough to inform the
clerk:

“I’m going down to the cotton-shed, Frank. Got to hold an executive
session with those coons!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Pap Curtain had the negro-coach all to himself. He leaned back and
sighed with a vast content.

“Dem coons tried to knife me, but I beat ’em to it!” he snickered, as
the train puffed slowly along. “One hundred an’ eighteen dollars is
shore good wages fer a day’s wuck.”

He planned his expenditure of the money: first a visit to New Orleans,
and a happy time in the negro resorts of that city. After that a job on
a steamboat which traveled down the river. After a long time, a return
to Tickfall and a renewal of friendships with his negro neighbors.

“Niggers don’t hold spite long,” he grinned. “An’ money don’t bother
’em hardly at all, whedder he makes it or loses it!”

The train stopped at Tonieville and Pap stuck his head far out of the
window to see who he would know at the station.

He felt a sharp tap on his shoulder, pulled his head in, and looked
behind him.

A tall white man with tobacco-stained whiskers and a deputy-sheriff’s
badge pinned to a strap of his suspenders spoke:

“Climb off peaceable, Pap Curtain! Colonel Tom Gaitskill wants you back
at Tickfall on the next train!”

“Naw, suh, white folks,” Pap protested earnestly, his intense fright
making him stammer. “Marse Tom done run me outen Tickfall dis very
mawnin’. He tole me ef I didn’t leave town he would bust my haid open.
You done cotch de wrong coon!”

“Git off!” the deputy commanded shortly, waving his stick toward the
door.

The train went on and left Pap Curtain at the station in the care of
the constable.

“You is shore made a miscue dis time, Mr. Sheriff,” Pap declared.
“Marse Tom is always b’lieved in me an’ trusted me--Gawd bless his
heart! You cain’t make Marse Tom hear nothin’ bad ’bout me--naw, suh,
you couldn’t bawl it inter his year wid one of dese here Gabriel
trumpets. I’s a good nigger--a powerful good nigger!”

The grinning constable reached out with the end of his stick and
struck it sharply against one of Pap’s bulging pockets. There was a
pleasant clink of much silver in response.

“Colonel Gaitskill telephoned that your pockets were full of money,”
the constable told him. “I’ll let you pack it until we git back to
Tickfall--then you can tell your Marse Tom where you happened to get it
all.”

Pap Curtain’s legs suddenly grew weak, and he sank down upon a depot
truck and became silent.

He set himself to light a Perique stogy--one of the two which he had
bought from Skeeter Butts for five cents--bought with Figger Bush’s
money. He broke three or four matches before he got a light, and then
repeatedly forgot to draw upon his cigar.

It went out again and again, and he always had trouble in relighting
it. His hands trembled more and more with each successive attempt.

“Lawd!” he sighed to himself. “Dey shore got me now!”

The niggers had trusted him, and he had buncoed them all. The place
where his foot had slipped was when he told them to go the bank to see
Marse Tom.

“White folks always gits nigger bizzness in a jam,” he thought
tearfully. “Dem niggers wus suckers, but lawdymussy, I wus shore one
big whopper of a fool!”

The sweat stood in chill beads on his face. He knew what the
inside of the penitentiary looked like--he had served a brief
term in prison. He had tried to make friends with the
“nigger-dogs”--bloodhounds--but it could not be done. He had tried to
escape; that, also, was a failure.

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

“Colonel Gaitskill telephoned me that your pockets were full of money.”]

“Lawd!” he mourned. “Dey got me dis time!”

The north-bound express whistled for the station. The agent ran out,
flagged it, and the deputy helped Pap climb on. Pap had suddenly become
an old and feeble man, broken, hopeless, forsaken, shamed, dreading
above everything his return trip to Tickfall.

The deputy led him to a seat in the smoking car and offered him a
cigar. Pap gazed at him as if he did not understand, then took the
cigar and looked at it as if he did not know what it was. All the
light had gone out of his eyes, and his face looked like a scarred and
wrinkled shell.

Detraining at Tickfall, the deputy waited for Pap to get ahead of him.
Pap, noticing his gesture, muttered in a far-away voice, as in a dream:

“Comin’, white folks! I’s right at yo’ hip!”

When Gaitskill, in response to a knock, opened the door of the Tickfall
National Bank to admit them, he greeted the deputy in his strong,
cordial voice, conducted the two back to his private office, and seated
the sheriff and his prisoner in two comfortable chairs.

“You brought him safe back, Sheriff,” Gaitskill smiled cordially, as he
seated himself. “Take a cigar. Take two--here! Hold your pocket open!”

He grabbed a handful of the cigars, slipped them carefully into the
deputy’s pocket, and sat down again.

Pap Curtain watched them like a trapped wolf, breathing in deep,
audible gasps like a man choking.

Gaitskill’s face was genial and humorous, his fine eyes twinkled, and
he beamed upon Pap Curtain with a smile as cordial as sunshine.

That smile sent the cold shivers up Pap’s spine, and made the hair
bristle and crinkle with terror on the back of his neck. He had had
dealings with Marse Tom before, and he knew that Marse Tom had no
patience with a crooked, tricky nigger.

“My Gawd!” Pap sighed. “Dat white man is gwine hang me shore!”

Gaitskill pulled out a heavy purse, laid two yellow-backed bills on the
table in front of the constable, and said:

“There’s your pay, Bob. Much obliged for bringing my nigger back. I
guess you want to run around town a little before you go back.”

Bob grinned his appreciation, pocketed his money, and strode out.

Gaitskill looked at Pap Curtain and broke out in a loud laugh.

Great tears rolled down Pap Curtain’s face and splashed upon the hands
folded in his lap, but Gaitskill took no notice.

“Now, Pap,” Gaitskill grinned, “that was a great stunt you pulled off
on me. What do you think I ought to do to you for it?”

“Dunno, boss,” the negro quavered, leaning over and resting his teary
face upon his hands.

“How many of those niggers did you get?”

“I didn’t git any, Marse Tom,” Pap declared, hoping to build up some
sort of defense. “It wus dat fool Figger Bush an’ Prince Total whut
succulated de repote!”

There was a wild yell up the street and a rumble of wagon wheels.

Gaitskill sprang up and walked to the front of the bank, where he could
look through the window.

Pap Curtain, trembling, horrified, followed Gaitskill because he was
afraid to remain alone.

Ten wagons passed the bank, the teams going in a fast trot, each wagon
containing ten or twelve squalling blacks, who waved their hands at the
bank as far as they could see it.

Pap Curtain ducked behind the door and kept himself invisible--for each
wagon contained a load of his victims!

“That’s your work, Pap!” Gaitskill grinned, when the wagons had passed.

“Yes, suh,” Pap answered in a weak, tearful, hopeless voice.

“If I had known about it when I telephoned the constable, I would not
have had him bring you back, Pap. I thought you had robbed all those
niggers of a dollar each.”

“Yes, suh,” Pap sighed, praying for more light.

Gaitskill took a ten-dollar bill out of his pocket, felt its texture
with a banker’s expert fingers, then said in a voice which dripped
with the sweetness of appreciation and praise:

“That trick was the real stuff, Pap! How did you ever think it up?”

Every pore of Pap’s body was spouting cold sweat. His eyes burned, his
throat choked, his brain reeled, his limbs trembled--he was racked,
tortured with fear and anxiety--and yet this white man seemed to be
talking kind words.

“Oh, Lawd,” he prayed, “let a leetle sunshine in!”

“It certainly takes a coon to catch a coon!” Gaitskill laughed. “The
idea of making a negro pay a dollar for the privilege of working on a
cotton plantation when the white folks are begging for hands--think of
it, Pap!

“One hundred and eighteen niggers gone off on a cotton-picking picnic
to the Niggerheel plantation, paying a dollar each for the privilege
of gathering a thousand bales of cotton, and swearing that they will
stick to the job because they paid to get it! Say, nigger, you are the
greatest coon in Tickfall!”

Pap Curtain straightened up; his shoulders came back with a snap; he
drew a breath so deep that it seemed to suck in all the air in the bank.

“I’m certainly much obliged to you, Pap,” Gaitskill said earnestly. “I
take back what I said this morning. You’re a good nigger. Here’s ten
dollars for your trouble.”

Gaitskill opened the door.

Pap Curtain stepped out, holding the crinkling bill in his hand. He
reeled down the street like a drunken man, staggered across the village
to Dirty-Six, and sat down on the rickety porch of his cabin.

The Gulf breeze swept across his sweat-drenched face, cooling it like a
breath from the land where angels dwell.

Slowly his shattered nerves were composed; slowly his trembling limbs
were stilled; slowly his twitching muscles quieted. He felt tired. He
breathed deeply, like a man who had emerged from the depths of great
water.

Then he filled his mouth with chewing tobacco and grinned.

“Lawd!” he chuckled. “I’s powerful glad it come out de way it done.”

His mind quickly reviewed each incident of this exciting day, and as he
watched the sun sink below the horizon, he announced his conclusion:

“When Marse Tom tole me to leave dis town, he jes’ nachelly overspoke
hisse’f!”



The Cruise of the Mud Hen.


Unthinking people assert that negroes do not think.

Nevertheless, when Skeeter Butts, by methods peculiarly his own, became
the high-proud owner of a good, cheap automobile, he permitted only
three friends to ride with him,--Vinegar Atts, Hitch Diamond, and
Figger Bush.

Figger was necessary because his superb voice added to the others,
completed the most melodious male quartette in Louisiana. Hitch Diamond
as a prize-fighter, Vinegar Atts as an ex-pugilist who had been called
to preach, each possessed the physical strength of a forty-horse-power
mule. Skeeter needed them to lift his automobile out of the mud and to
push it through the sand.

Was not that a thoughtful selection of first-aids to the helpless?

Truly, that outfit was a fearful and wonderful thing.

When those four negroes climbed into that car and began to sing to
the accompaniment of a mechanism which sounded like a saw-mill, a
cotton-gin, and a boiler factory loaded upon a log-train chasing a herd
of bleating billy-goats along the public highway, the effect produced
made the pious cross themselves, the ungodly “cuss,” and the little
children run to their mothers, whimpering with fright.

A white man might think a thousand years and never think up an
arrangement like that.

Then to show that his mental incubator was still capable of hatching
out little fuzzy, two-legged chicken-headed thoughts, Skeeter bought a
steamboat!

“Whar is Hitch Diamond at, Kunnel?” Skeeter asked of a handsome,
white-haired gentleman standing in front of the Tickfall post-office.

“He’s up at my house, unloading fireworks from a dray,” Colonel
Gaitskill answered.

“Hitch don’t go back to wuck to-day, do he?” Skeeter inquired in a
shocked tone.

“Certainly not,” Gaitskill smiled. “This is a national holiday. I
imagine Hitch has finished that little job now. Are you folks going off
to make a day of it?”

“Yes, suh, us is fixin’ to cel’brate, too!” Skeeter chuckled.

“Do you know why we celebrate the Fourth of July, Skeeter?” Gaitskill
asked with a smile.

Skeeter knew. He also knew that “Fighting Tom” Gaitskill stood before
him, and this old soldier had not fought with the heroes of ’76. He
tempered his answer to a hero of the Lost Cause.

“Shore, Marse Tom!” he chuckled. “Dis is de day dat our white marsters
kilt all de dam-yanks!”

Gaitskill laughed.

“Your answer is a credit to your tact and diplomacy, Skeeter, but it
certainly upsets the records of history. Where are you going?”

“We’s gwine down to de river.”

“I want you and Hitch Diamond to help me with the fire-works to-night,”
Gaitskill said. “You get back by dark.”

“Shore, Marse Tom!” Skeeter cackled. “We ain’t gwine miss no free show.
I’ll go git Hitch an’ de rest of de bunch now!”

The seven-mile road to the Mississippi River was smooth and level and
was a favorite with Vinegar and Hitch, who preferred riding to climbing
out to lift or push. So, one hour later, the automobile quartette stood
beside a stump on the banks of that majestic stream and sang of the
time “when de water’s so low, de bullfrog roll up his pants jes’ so,
and wade acrost from sho’ to sho’; while over in de channel de catfish
say: ‘We’s gittin’ plum’ freckle-faced down our way.’”

Six miles up the river at the bend, a little steamboat whistle squalled
at them through the still July atmosphere. The quartette promptly sat
down and watched the boat’s approach.

The boat was about thirty feet long and about eighteen feet wide, was
built with a flat keel which made it float on the top of the water like
a cigar box, and was propelled by a paddle wheel in the rear about as
big as a barrel.

Some river fishermen own such boats, living in them, and peddling their
fish to the negroes on the plantations along the river. The vessel
could ride the current down-stream and make six miles an hour; going
up-stream, it hugged the bank, navigated the slack water, and got there
as soon as it could. Three miles an hour up-stream was going some.

As the boat drew near, the quartette noticed that the machinery was
protected by a rudely-built roof, and the crew consisted of one man who
sat on a three-legged stool, smoked a pipe, shoveled coal, steered,
and pulled the whistle-cord, and still had plenty of time to watch the
scenery.

“Dat’s de life fer me,” Skeeter Butts exclaimed. “Up ’n’ down de river,
fishin’ an’ swimmin’ an’ sleepin’. Ef I owned a steamboat like dat, I’d
go right back to Tickfall an’ ax all my friends good-bye.”

“Me, too!” Vinegar Atts rumbled. “Ef I had a boat, I’d trabbel
dis river givin’ religium advices to all de niggers on de river
plantations. I’d preach eve’y night an’ I wouldn’t fergit to ax some
hones’ brudder to pass de hat.”

“Steamboats is got some good p’ints over autermobiles,” Hitch Diamond
growled. “You don’t got to lift ’em outen de mud or push ’em up-hill
through de sand.”

“Ef I had a boat,” Figger Bush cackled, pulling at his little
shoe-brush mustache, “I’d buy me a derby hat an’ a grassaphome, an’ a
long-tail prancin’-albert coat, an’--an’--I’d climb up on top of it an’
sing all de songs I knows.”

The whistle squalled again.

“She’s fixin’ to make a landin’!” Skeeter exclaimed.

The boat passed them on the current, then turned and puffed along the
bank through the still water opposite to where they were sitting. A
black, chunky, bull-necked negro, the whites of whose eyes shone across
the water like china door-knobs, hurled a rope toward them.

“Gimme a turn aroun’ dat stump!” he bellowed, as he stopped the
machinery.

While the quartet tied the boat the owner stepped into a little canoe
and paddled ashore.

“Howdy, brudders!” he bellowed, as he sat down with them. “My name is
Pipe Smash.”

“Us is got names, too,” Skeeter Butts proclaimed, as he introduced
himself and his friends. “We been watchin’ you’ boat an’ wishin’ dat we
had one.”

Smash hesitated just a second before answering. An eager look flashed
in his eyes and vanished. Then he said:

“’Tain’t such a awful rotten dawg’s life fer a nigger--livin’ on you’
own boat. I’s jes’ mournin’ in my mind because I’s got to quit it.”

“How come?” Skeeter asked.

“I’s gittin’ married real soon an’ de gal specify dat she don’t want no
home whut floats aroun’ permiscus so dat de chickens don’t know whar to
come to roost. She wants me to sell out an’ sottle down on dry land.”

“Dat’s a powerful sensible notion,” Skeeter Butts proclaimed, as his
appraising eyes searched the steamboat. “Is you foun’ a buyer yit?”

“Naw!” Pipe Smash said disgustedly. “White folks won’t buy no nigger’s
boat, an’ niggers ain’t got no money.”

“How financial do a nigger got to be to pick up a good, cheap,
han’-me-down boat?” Skeeter asked cautiously.

“Well, suh, I figger it out dis way,” Pipe Smash said, boring the
middle finger of his right hand into the palm of his left hand for
emphasis. “I bought dat whole boat jes’ as she floats from a white man
whut picked a fuss wid de cote-house an’ had to run in a direction whar
de river didn’t go. It costed me two hundred dollars ten year ago, an’
is some wore out. One hundred dollars in cash spondulix gits her now.”

Skeeter glanced at the faces of his three friends and each responded
with a slight nod. Skeeter made a careful advance.

“Ef I jes’ knowed somepin ’bout how to run a steamboat--” he began.

“Don’t none of you niggers know nothin’ ’bout steam-engines?” Pipe
asked, in a peculiar voice.

“Naw!” they said in a chorus.

A peculiar expression passed over Pipe’s face.

Skeeter’s quick eyes caught the look, and he rightly concluded that
Pipe was going to take advantage of their ignorance to cheat them.

“’Tain’t no trouble to learn how to run ’em,” Pipe remarked. “All you
got to do is to keep fire in de furnace an’ water in de b’iler, an’
hol’ to de steerin’-wheel an’ stay in de river.”

“Dat sounds easy,” Skeeter said, as he rose to his feet. “Less paddle
out an’ take a look at dat boat.”

When they were all aboard and the engine was puffing laboriously up the
river, Pipe Smash looked at the four grinning negroes with an air of
triumph.

He knew his steamboat was sold.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were traveling about as fast as a lame man could walk, but there
was an exhilarating throb to the engine, and a cheerful slap-slap to
the paddle-wheel, and the river went past them instead of taking them
with it, and by shutting their eyes for five minutes and then opening
them they could see that they were actually gaining on the scenery.

And the scenery would set an artist wild: a sky like a soap-bubble, and
high in the dome a buzzard sailing like a speck of dust, a river like a
broad, flowing ribbon of old gold, and close to the levees on each side
the woods, dense, black, moss-hung and funereal, absorbing so little of
the sun’s light that the negroes could hear the call of the night-owls
and the voice of the whip-poor-will.

Suddenly Skeeter’s high soprano voice ran out across the water, the
other voices joined, and the woods echoed back the music:

    “When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
       When sorrers like sea-billers roll--
     Whutever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
       It is well, it is well, wid my soul.”

“Whut is de name of dis boat called, Pipe?” Skeeter asked at the end of
their song.

“’Tain’t got no name,” Pipe answered.

“Dat won’t do,” Vinegar Atts bellowed, as he looked with proprietary
eye upon the vessel. “Less call her by some high-soundin’ name.”

“Less call her de _Skeeter Butts_?” the little barkeeper promptly
suggested.

“Naw!” the three other men whooped.

Skeeter giggled.

“I figger dar will be three votes agin any yuther nigger’s name in dis
bunch,” he said. “Less call her de _Hen-Scratch_.”

“Naw!” the trio bellowed. “A saloom ain’t no fitten name fer a boat.”

“Less call her de _Shoo-fly_.”

“Naw!” the bunch howled. “We don’t name no boat after a Mefdis
meetin’-house.”

Finally Skeeter said:

“I motions dat we leave it to Pipe Smash to name de boat fer us!”

“Dat’s right! Gib us a good name, Pipe!”

Pipe scratched his woolly head and thought. Then he said:

“Is you niggers made acquaintance wid a coot?”

“Suttinly.”

“Is you ever seed how a coot starts to fly? He leans fur back like he
was restin’ on his tail den he takes a runnin’ shoot----”

“Shore! We knows!” the men interrupted.

“Dis boat gits its start by shovin’ wid its tail,” Pipe resumed.
“Furthermo’, dis boat, like a coot, is a lan’ an’ water bird.
Accawdin’ to dat notion, I votes dat we call dis boat after de nigger
word fer a coot----”

“De _Mud Hen_!” the quartet whooped triumphantly. “De _Mud Hen_!”

From that moment our four friends were consumed with desire to own the
boat which had received such a high-sounding and appropriate name.

Skeeter presided at a lengthy consultation, then came forward to the
pilot-wheel and counted one hundred dollars into Pipe Smash’s greedy
palm.

“Each of us chips in twenty-five dollars, Pipe,” Skeeter explained.

“Dat’s a fine way to do,” Pipe grinned. “Is you elected who is de head
boss leader yit?”

“Naw,” Skeeter said. “We ain’t got dat fur.”

“Ef you ’vide up yo’ jobs an’ decide who is gwine be who, I’ll learn
you how to run de boat an’ esplain each man’s job to him,” Pipe
proposed. “Atter dat, I’ll step off.”

“I announces myse’f de captain of dis boat!” Skeeter Butts yelled. “Any
objections?”

“I’s de commondore,” Hitch Diamond bellowed.

“I’s de skipper,” Figger Bush quacked.

“My job is cut out for me,” Vinegar Atts grinned. “I’s de fust high
exalted chaplain.”

“Whut do de chaplain do?” Skeeter Butts wanted to know.

“He sets down an’ sings religium toons ontil somebody dies,” Vinegar
informed him. “Den he gibs de dead man religium advices, ties a lump
of coal to his foots, an’ draps him in de ribber.”

“Dat’s a easy job!” Figger cackled.

“’Tain’t so,” Vinegar growled. “Plenty accidunts happen on boats--de
b’iler busts, de boat snags out de bottom on a stump an’ sinks, de boat
ketches on fire an’ burns up, an’ niggers falls overboard an’ gets
drowndead.”

“Shut up, Revun!” Skeeter Butts barked. “Dat kind of graveyard talk
gibs me trouble in my mind.”

“Prepare to git ready to die!” Vinegar bellowed dramatically. “Dis
river is ’bout fawty miles deep!”

“Whut you figger on doin’ as commondore, Hitch?” Skeeter asked.

“I sets in de middle of dis boat to balunce de load,” the giant
prize-fighter announced. “I’ll watch you fiddle wid dat little
steer-wheel, an’ between times, mebbe I’ll shovel a leetle coal.”

“Whut you gwine do as skipper, Figger?” Butts inquired next.

“I skips all de hard jobs, an’ all de easy wuck dat I kin,” Figger
snickered. “I don’t mind standin’ up in front an’ watchin’ fer snags
an’ allergaters. I’s gwine hab a fence rail tied under each arm an’
stan’ straddle of a log. Ef dis boat sinks, Figger figgers on floatin’
to land!”

“I’s gwine lay in some fence-rails, too,” Vinegar Atts declared. “I’ll
need a whole wood-pile of ’em.”

“It’ll take a whole log-raft to float me,” Hitch Diamond decided.
“I’ll fix it togedder as soon as I git back to land.”

“Whut good will a lot of fence-rails do you niggers ef dis old engine
busts?” Pipe Smash inquired in a tone of comment. “When a steamboat
blows up dar ain’t enough of it left over fer any fool nigger to set
on.”

“Dat’s so,” Skeeter Butts replied uneasily, trying to grin with
stiffening lips. “Does dey bust up pretty frequent?”

“Naw, suh, dey never busts up but once,” Pipe Smash grinned. “Once is a
plum’ plenty fer any kind of boat.”

“I mean does pretty many boats bust up?” Skeeter explained.

“All of ’em--soon or late,” Smash chuckled.

“Mebbe I hadn’t oughter been so spry ’bout buyin’ dis boat,” Skeeter
mourned, as he looked down into the muddy water and shuddered.

“I wouldn’t say dat till I learnt how to run de boat,” Smash responded.
“Come here an’ take holt of dis wheel.”

Smash had shrewdly waited until the right time to give this invitation.
They were now riding down the middle of the river on the current.
The boat was still lacking in speed, but it moved as smoothly as a
high-powered automobile.

“Huh,” Skeeter chuckled. “Dis here is a snap. I feel like I been
runnin’ steamboats all my life. Gimme elbow room accawdin’ to my
muscle, niggers, an’ watch Cap’n Skeeter Butts make de _Mud Hen_ flit!”

Hitch Diamond, the commodore, reached for the coal shovel.

“Drap dat shovel, Hitch!” Pipe Smash grinned. “Coal costs a heap money
an’ you don’t want to waste it goin’ down-stream. De time to shovel
ain’t yit.”

“Dat’s right,” Hitch agreed. “It ’pears to me like we is all got a
snap. I shore feels comferble.”

“I got a easy job, too!” Vinegar proclaimed. “’Tain’t no real trouble
to set down an’ wait fer a corp’.”

“All you niggers, come here!” Pipe Smash exclaimed. “I wants to press
somepin’ powerful heavy on yo’ minds, an’ ef you fergits it offen yo’
minds, I tells you right now dat Revun Atts won’t wait long to git a
fust-rate corp’.”

“Whut’s dat?” Skeeter chattered.

“You see dat contraption up on dat engine whut looks like a clock?”
Pipe Smash asked.

“Yes, suh!”

“Dat is called de steam-gage. Dat shows how much steam is in de
b’ilers. Now dis engine won’t tote but sixty pounds of steam an’ be
plum’ safe--you see dat indicator p’ints to sixty now.”

“Dat’s right!” Hitch Diamond corroborated.

“Whut do us do ef we git over sixty?” Skeeter asked tremblingly.

“Ef you is puffin’ up-stream, you kin risk sixty-five,” Pipe Smash told
him. “But atter you pass dat number--good-night!”

“Dat ain’t tellin’ me whut to do!” Skeeter snapped.

Smash scratched his woolly head, loosened his soiled shirt-collar by
running his fingers around his fat neck, and sighed.

“I don’t know whut is did wid dem succumstances,” Smash declared. “I
ain’t never loss my good sense an’ got up dat high yit. But I got it
figgered out dat a real quick nigger could do two things: he kin open
de furnace, rake out de hot coals, set de boat on fire an’ burn her up;
or, he kin jump in de river an’ let de boat float ontil she busts!”

“Hear dem words!” Vinegar Atts bawled. “I knowed I had a good chance to
orate over a corp’!”

Skeeter Butts looked greatly scared for a minute, then he took a big
breath and rallied.

“Dat ain’t so awful dangersome,” he said. “I bet you niggers seben
dollars per each dat dat indicator don’t never reach sixty no
more--open dat furnace door, Hitch, an’ cool de b’iler!”

The commodore lost no time in obeying the captain.

“Dat ain’t de right way to do!” Pipe Smash told them. “Ef you open de
furnace door, de b’iler gits hotter--dat makes de fire draw better!”

“Shet dat furnace door, Hitch, you fool!” Skeeter barked. “My Lawd,
you’s gittin’ us ready to bust!”

The commodore shut the door.

Then Pipe Smash gave them another jolt:

“You all is got one mo’ little jigger to watch, niggers!” he said,
pointing to a glass tube. “Dat little, round, glass bottle is de
water-gage. You wanter put water in de b’iler till dat water-gage
stands half-full all de time. Ef dat little bottle ever goes plum’ dry,
de buzzards will be pickin’ yo’ bones outen de top of de cypress trees
along dis river!”

“Hear dat, now!” Vinegar Atts whooped. “Dis here chaplain shore has cut
out a hard-wuckin’ job fer hisse’f!”

“Shut up, Revun!” Skeeter snapped. “You ack like you wus proud dis boat
wus gwine bust.”

“’Tain’t so!” Vinegar protested. “I done invested my whole June sal’ry
from de Shoo-fly chu’ch in dis boat!”

Skeeter’s eyes lit on Figger Bush.

“Figger,” he said, “you done nominate yo’se’f de skipper--you skip
aroun’ here an’ sot yo’ eye on dis glass bottle!”

“She won’t dry up as long as I rides in dis boat!” Figger said with
conviction. “I wouldn’t take my eye offen dat bottle ef a allergater
tickled me wid his tail!”

“I got a few mo’ advices,” Pipe Smash announced. “You wants to keep
de lily-pads, snags, an’ wire-grass outen de paddle-wheel an’ de
steerin’-gear. Ef you don’t you’ll git kotch in de current an’ float
plum’ to de Gulf of Mexico.”

“Hear dem words!” Vinegar Atts whooped. “All you niggers better be on
de mourners’ bench a gittin’ religium!”

“Shut up, Vinegar!” Skeeter wailed. “You set behime dis boat an’ watch
dat paddle-wheel.”

“I shore will!” Vinegar declared. “An’ de fust time she fouls up
you’ll see Vinegar floatin’ to’des de shore straddle of his own
coat-tail! Dis chaplain don’t take no chances wid hisse’f--I don’t need
no visit to de Gulf.”

“I cain’t remember nothin’ mo’ to say,” Pipe Smash said, scratching his
woolly head. “Mebbe I oughter say dis: Keep all de bolts screwed up
real tight.”

“Dat’s my job!” Skeeter declared. “I don’t trust dese igernunt niggers
wid no monkey-wrench.”

“Dat’s right, Cap’n!” Pipe Smash applauded. “You keep dat monkey-wrench
in yo’ hand an’ ’tend to dat job wid yo’ eyes wide open, or you’ll
shore hab to paddle yo’se’f ashore wid yo’ hands!”

They passed the spot on the shore where, four hours earlier, the boat
had been tied to a stump.

Pipe Smash glanced up at the sun.

“I ’speck it’s ’bout time I wus steppin’ off an’ lettin’ you-alls
hab yo’ boat,” he said. “I’s gwine to de railroad track an’ ketch de
log-train fer Kerlerac. Dar’s a big Fo’th of July nigger dance at
Kerlerac to-night.”

Skeeter ran the boat past the stump, gave the wheel a turn, the current
swept the rear of the boat around, and Skeeter puffed up to the landing
with the skill of an expert pilot.

“Well did!” Smash applauded, as he leaped into the canoe and paddled to
shore with the line. “You ack like you been runnin’ steamboats all yo’
life!”

When the men stood once more upon the ground they shook hands all
around and were perfectly happy.

“Now, fellers,” Skeeter said, “I motions dat we goes back to Tickfall
in de auto, gits us a lot of grub an’ fixin’s, an’ come right back to
de boat fer a long ride.”

“Ef you’s plannin’ to take a long ride, fellers, mebbe I could do you a
las’ kind favor by tightenin’ up all de machinery,” Pipe Smash said. “I
got a little time yit.”

“De Lawd bless you, my brudder!” Vinegar Atts howled. “Dat would shore
be a Christyum ack.”

“Be shore an’ watch dat little bolt back behime de steam-gage, cullud
folks,” Smash grinned. “De jumpin’ of de steam loosens up dat bolt mo’
dan any.”

“You go on an’ tight her up, brudder!” Vinegar urged. “Put yo’ muscle
to it right!”

“Good-bye, niggers!” Pipe Smash howled. “You won’t see me when you come
back. I hopes you’ll like de boat an’ hab good luck!”

As Pipe climbed on the boat the automobile roared the departure of the
happy quartet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later the automobile party returned to the river.

They unloaded four baskets of food and four large watermelons. Figger
Bush had advocated bringing a jug, but Skeeter Butts had vetoed the
suggestion on the ground that it might offend the Reverend Vinegar
Atts, chaplain. Skeeter knew better than that, but he saw no reason
why he should furnish the bunch with a gallon of liquor when he did not
drink himself.

“How we gwine git dis truck to dat boat?” Hitch Diamond growled,
looking across the water in surprise.

“How did dat Pipe Smash git to land when de little canoe is tied up
agin de side of dat steamboat?” Figger Bush asked.

“He come in hand over hand on de rope,” Skeeter Butts informed him.
“Pipe knowed ef he tied dat canoe to de land some nigger would steal
it.”

“Dat’s a fack,” Hitch Diamond bellowed. “’Taint safe to leave nothin’
aroun’ whar a po’ nigger kin set down an’ trabbel in it.”

Skeeter Butts laid hold upon the line and passed over to the boat
swinging by his hands as agile as a monkey. Then he put to shore in the
canoe and ferried his friends across. Afterward, he brought in the food
supplies.

“We’ll trabbel up de river fust, niggers,” Captain Skeeter Butts
announced, as he and Hitch Diamond busied themselves with the fire in
the furnace. “Soon as I gits a little practice wid runnin’ her, we’ll
turn down stream an’ paddle plum’ to de Gulf of Mexico.”

As far as they could see, they were the only living creatures on the
river. The noon sun blazed in the heavens and made the deck of the boat
like a furnace; the heat reflected from the water was simply dreadful.
A white man would have fallen with heat prostration in an hour, but
these children of the sun laughed and sang and shouted, and stood in
the blaze of light, grinning, white-toothed, and perfectly happy.

They ate watermelon, gobbled their lunches, smoked cheap cigars, and
talked like a lot of gobbling turkeys. Finally Vinegar Atts walked
to the edge of the boat and looked down in the muddy swirl of the
Mississippi.

“Dis water looks heap deeper to me since dat Pipe Smash went away,” he
contemplated. “An’ I bet it’s powerful wet, too!”

“You git a rockin’-chair outen de bood-war an’ set down, Revun!”
Captain Butts commanded. “I don’t wanter hear you startin’ no doubts!”

“Dar ain’t nothin’ in de drawin’-room but a three-leg stool,” Vinegar
mourned. “’Taint got nothin’ to rest my back agin.”

“Let her go!” Hitch Diamond, the commodore, bellowed in a voice which
could be heard a mile.

Skeeter Butts laid one hand upon the wheel and with the other slightly
opened the throttle.

The paddle-wheel spanked the water for three revolutions, then there
was a backward jerk which loosened every negro’s teeth.

Hitch Diamond fell against the furnace door on his hands and knees.
Figger Bush went crashing against the fragile side of the vessel,
Skeeter Butts draped himself over the pilot-wheel with a loud squall,
and the stool on which Vinegar Atts sat turned over, upsetting the
dignified chaplain and landing him on his back, where he lay bellowing
like a cow and waving his hands and feet toward the blue sky.

Two watermelons and four baskets of grub rolled overboard followed by
Vinegar’s precious stove-pipe hat, which bobbed up and down on the
water like a diminutive battleship monitor.

The little boat was tugging at the end of her rope like a lassoed
mustang.

“Stop her!” Hitch Diamond, the commodore, bellowed in a voice which
could be heard two miles. “We fergot to untie de boat from dat stump!”

Skeeter had already stopped the engine, and the negroes lost no time in
releasing the line.

Then started a pow-wow lasting an hour, about whose business it was to
untie the boat. They finally made Figger Bush the goat, on the ground
that his office of skipper was to skip around and do everything the
others forgot. They abused him dreadfully for his neglect of duty, and
Skeeter turned his back to the wheel several times while he delivered a
remark which was calculated to reduce Skipper Bush’s self-esteem to a
minimum.

This was a very risky proceeding on the part of the pilot, especially
when the boat was hugging the shore and navigating the slack water.
Skeeter found it out when the bottom of the boat grated dully upon some
soft substance underneath, and the boat paddled feebly, emitted a few
discouraging puffs, and stopped.

Then the worm turned, with the venom of a moccasin snake.

“Dar now!” Figger Bush snarled. “Look whut you done went an’ did!
Run us up on a mud bank!”

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

When the boat stopped.]

Skeeter reversed the machinery, pulled the whistle-cord, puffed and
snorted, sloshed the Mississippi about some, developed a thousand
snort-power from his engine, but not enough horse-power to back off.

In his embarrassment he sweated enough water to raise the river and
float his craft off the mud bank, if the water could have been applied
at the right place.

The other three negroes took a delight in informing him in raucous
tones what a sublimated donkey they thought he was.

Figger Bush developed an unusual flow of eloquence, and finally ended a
superb climax by the proclamation:

“All dem unkind words whut you said I wus for not untyin’ de boat--you
is dem!”

Then Skeeter had an inspiration.

He handed the end of a rope to Hitch Diamond and Vinegar Atts, and
remarked in an unusually sweet tone:

“You two cullud pussons please git over on de shore an’ pull dis boat
outen de mud!”

“Naw!” the two men howled. “We ain’t gwine mess up our clothes!”

“All right!” Skeeter remarked. “I’ll let de _Mud Hen_ set on her nest
till she hatches out a rise in de river an’ floats off.”

He sat down, lighted a cigarette, fanned himself with his hat, and
inquired:

“Whar’s dem watermellyums? I feels hongry!”

“Lawdymussy!” Vinegar Atts howled. “Whar is dem dinner-baskits an’ my
stove-pipe preachin’ hat?”

Skeeter arose to his feet with a nonchalant air, shaded his eyes with
his hand and looked far down the river. A black hat bobbed merrily upon
the waves, followed by four baskets and two watermelons.

A loud wail arose from the stranded boat, the loudest wail emitted from
the throat of Vinegar at the loss of his precious hat.

“O Lawd!” he mourned. “Dat’s de best money-collectin’ hat I ever did
own. A nigger would look down in dat black, silk hat an’ drap in a
dollar jes’ to hear it blop!”

“’Twon’t be no trouble to git it back agin ef you pull us outen de
mud,” Skeeter suggested artfully. “We’ll go on up to de bend, den turn
aroun’ an’ chase our dinner-baskits an’ yo’ hat!”

“Dat’s de way to do!” the commodore and chaplain readily agreed, as
they climbed into the canoe. “We’ll shore pull her off!”

One half hour of herculean effort on the part of the two men with
the tow-line, accompanied by the steady coughing of the one-lunged
steamboat, and the wailing admonitions of Skeeter and Figger, and then
the boat floated free. Hitch and Vinegar climbed back on deck, fell
exhausted, and lay flat on their backs looking at the blazing sky above
them.

For two hours more, they paddled up the river without mishap. Skeeter
Butts began to grin.

“I’s ketchin’ on, fellers!” he exclaimed. “I feels as scrupshus as a
blue-jay wid a fresh worm!”

It would have been better for Skeeter, had he watched what was going on
in the river. Just as he reached the bend, six miles above the Tickfall
landing, there broke upon the still air, two loud, soul-thrilling
whistles, one before them up the river, the other behind them.

If our friends had been experienced boatmen, they would have landed
when they heard those two signals, tied their boat, crawled over on the
far side of the levee, and engaged in earnest prayer for the safety of
their craft.

Both boats had whistled for the bend.

One was the _Federal_, a government tug, which was forbidden to pass
the city of New Orleans at a speed exceeding twenty miles an hour on
account of the damage done to the shipping and the levees; the tug-boat
was now splitting the Mississippi River wide open at forty miles an
hour, and the swell of the rollers in its wake lashed the levees like
the breaking of sea-billows on a rock-bound coast.

The other boat was the big river steamer _Nackitosh_, whose wash was
known and cursed by river fishermen and rafters from St. Louis to the
Gulf.

The two boats passed each other in the bend, and then the _Mud Hen_
found herself in the middle of the river, which rocked like a storm at
sea.

Skeeter Butts clung desperately to the pilot-wheel, slapping around it
like a dish-rag waving in the wind; Hitch and Vinegar, who had been
lying flat on their backs on deck, began to roll and scratch and claw
at the deck to keep from falling overboard into the river; Figger Bush
fell into the coal-pile near the furnace, scrambled like a cat in an
ash-barrel, and kicked lumps of coal all over the boat.

There is nothing which can roughhouse a little boat as shamefully
as two big boats; from the government tug there came a fan-shaped
stern-wave four feet high, rode under the _Mud Hen_, hoisted her
nearly end on end, and let her down. Then the wash from the side-wheel
steamboat met the tug’s stern-wave, rode over it like a petrel, and
came aboard the _Mud Hen_ for a friendly call on the new owners.

Four hundred barrels of nice, wet Mississippi River water sat down in
the laps of the terrified Tickfall quartet and embraced them lovingly.

Then this colored quartet sang a scale of ninety or one hundred
assorted yells never before introduced in any musical composition. In
fact, they put their souls in their voices with such surprising effect
that it introduced them to sounds from their throats which they did not
know up to that time they possessed.

The _Mud Hen_ turned completely around three times, tossed on the
current like a match-box, stood on first one end and then the other,
and pretty nearly straight down.

The experience was not dangerous, merely exciting; but the quartet
did not know that, and when at last the river quieted, and they found
themselves still afloat, they regarded it as a miracle wrought by the
mercy of heaven.

It was five minutes before Skeeter Butts could recover his breath and
crawl to the wheel. Five minutes more passed before he was able to
speak a word. Then in a dry tone--the only dry thing about Skeeter--he
said:

“I wus fixin’ to turn aroun’ at de bend, anyhow. I figger it’s ’bout
time we wus gittin’ back to de automobile.”

The hour’s ride back to the Tickfall landing was free from
conversation. Not even Vinegar Atts could think up anything to say.
Each had bidden farewell to the world a few minutes before, and now in
a sense of great deliverance, they were trying to repossess it.

As they approached the landing their courage slowly revived.

“Dem two boats sot us right behime death’s door, Skeeter,” Vinegar
remarked in a weak voice.

“It squoze me up some in death’s door,” Skeeter chattered, slapping at
his wet garments. “Dat expe’unce is done ruint me--I won’t never be de
same agin.”

“I’se glad it happened,” Hitch Diamond growled. “It wus a powerful good
try-out fer dis boat. I don’t believe nothing kin sink her now!”

“Ain’t it de trufe!” Figger Bush quacked. “I ain’t never gwine be
skeart on dis _Mud Hen_ no mo’.”

“You look at dat glass water-tube an’ see is de b’iler got plenty water
in it!” Skeeter barked. “Mebbe some spilt out when we wus mighty nigh
upsot.”

Figger skipped to the water-gage and grinned triumphantly.

“She’s all right,” he yelped. “Is you keepin’ yo’ eye on dat ole
steam-gage?”

Skeeter was.

In fact, he was gazing at that steam-gage with hypnotic fascination.
He swallowed a succession of Adam’s apples like a string of smoked
sausages before he could speak.

Skeeter knew precious little about machinery. Pipe Smash’s solemn and
impressive warning about the steam-gage of the _Mud Hen_ had scared
him. His experience on the river with the two big boats had fortunately
not upset the _Mud Hen_, but it had considerably upset Skeeter’s mind
and his judgment. What Skeeter thought he saw that steam-gage doing is
a mechanical impossibility, but his announcement had a startling effect.

“Come here, fellers, an’ look at dis steam-gage!” he wailed. “Dat
indicator is done gone plum’ aroun’ de face of dat clock five times
an’--she’s--gwine--aroun’--again!”

“My Gawd!” Vinegar Atts whooped. “Dis _Mud Hen_ is gittin’ ready to
bust! Jump! Jump fer yo’ lives!”

Four negroes went over the side into the middle of the river.

The _Mud Hen_, paddling busily, kept to the current and moved serenely
down the river.

Then, while the four frightened negroes got the shore, frog-fashion,
Pipe Smash climbed out from his hiding place in front of the engine,
and laid his experienced hand upon the pilot-wheel of the _Mud Hen_.

He glanced at the steam-gage, and the indicator pointed steadily at
sixty degrees of steam. Skeeter’s terrified eyes had played a trick on
him!

“Gosh!” Pipe Smash exclaimed with a wicked grin. “I never had no idear
dat steam-gage wus gwine skeer dem coons. I had a notion dey would
leave dis boat when dey got kotch in de big wash of de steamboat gwine
up de river. I wus plannin’ on dat.”

He stooped and threw a shovelful of coal into the furnace, and chuckled
aloud:

“I fergot to tell Skeeter dat de furnace of dis engine wus so little
dat nobody cain’t git up mo’ dan sixty pounds of steam--’tain’t no
danger of dis engine bustin’ onless de b’iler runs dry. Excusin’ dat,
dis here indicator cain’t slip aroun’ five times like Skeeter said it
done--after it gits past dat biggest number on de gage, it hits a peg!
I figger dat Skeeter was skeart!”

Pipe walked to the stem of the boat and shading his eyes looked up the
river to the Tickfall landing. He waved his hat in the air and whooped,
making more noise than his steamboat whistle.

Standing upon the shore, dripping puddles from their water-soaked
garments, the Tickfall quartet heard that ironical whoop.

Broken-hearted and disconsolate, they watched their boat move serenely
around the lower bend and pass out of sight in the gold and purple haze
of the setting sun.

Returning to Tickfall in the automobile, the four negroes made much
talk over the loss of the _Mud Hen_.

“We bought dat boat good an’ hones’ wid real money,” Skeeter mourned.
“Pipe Smash stole it from us.”

“Mebbe so,” Vinegar Atts growled. “But it ’pears to me like we left dat
boat in de middle of de river, an’ dat’s jes de same as givin’ it to
any nigger dat’s willin’ to ketch holt.”

“Dat’s de way I felt when I left her,” Figger Bush cackled. “I warn’t
needin’ no steamboat jes’ den. Skeeter said dat steam-gage wus a
cuttin’ up! I tuck his word fer it ’thout lookin’.”

“Us, too!” Hitch and Vinegar agreed.

“Nothin’ didn’t ail dat steam-gage,” Skeeter snapped. “Dat boat didn’t
bust-she never would ’a’ busted. My eyes wus kinder jiggerty an’ I
couldn’t look real good.”

“You didn’t talk that way on de boat,” Vinegar Atts growled. “I done
loss my twenty-five dollars because you didn’t hab sense enough to
watch yo’ bizziness!”

“My hind-sight is always better’n my eye-sight,” Skeeter Butts replied
in piteous accents.

“I must hab got started wrong end foremost in dis worl’, for I never
sees nothin’ till I gits past it.”

“Stop blimblammin’, niggers!” Commodore Hitch Diamond ordered. “Mebbe
we’ll git back to Tickfall in time to see de fire-works.”

“Dat reminds my mind!” Skeeter Butts exclaimed. “Marse Tom Gaitskill
tole us to git back from de river in time to he’p him shoot ’em off!”

The Fourth of July in Tickfall was a Gaitskill institution.

In the month of May, 1865, Tom Gaitskill returned to Tickfall in the
tattered gray of a Confederate soldier--a colonel at nineteen years of
age.

He cast off the past with his worn-out garments, married a beautiful
girl, and started with her, hand in hand, along the paths of peace.

Two months later, on the Fourth of July, he dragged the only cannon
Tickfall possessed to the top of the hill in front of his house,
invited every white child and every negro piccaninny to his home to
witness the celebration, and with his own hands fired one shot from the
cannon for every year of independence in the United States of America.

As the years passed, the Gaitskill Fourth of July celebration grew and
developed and became a social institution, until finally, when wealth
flowed in upon Gaitskill in a golden stream, he made it a practice to
entertain the whole population of the village on that night.

The fiftieth celebration was now in progress.

On Gaitskill’s spacious lawn in front of his house, all the white
people, men, women, and children, had assembled; in a large horse-lot
by the side of the house, all the negroes had congregated; across the
street in a large pasture was an immense accumulation of fire-works.

Fifty years had performed gracious offices for Tom Gaitskill and his
wife. The beauty and nobility of honorable old age was theirs, as they
stood beside the white colonial columns of their home and welcomed
their guests, white and black. The two presented a picture which a man
sees once in a lifetime--then remembers it forever more.

Suddenly “Old Sneezer,” the venerable Tickfall cannon, boomed!

“Come on, Skeeter!” Hitch Diamond growled. “We better go over in de
pasture an’ he’p de white folks shoot off de works!”

“Hitch,” Skeeter answered pitifully, “I feels powerful sick. It ’pears
like I cain’t git dat steamboat offen my mind. You an’ Vinegar an’
Figger go over an’ he’p de white folks an’ let me set an’ ponder a
while.”

“All right!” Hitch growled. “But ef Marse Tom ketches you cuttin’ out
wuck, he’ll kick you all over dis hoss-lot!”

Old Sneezer boomed again!

Then for two hours the population of Tickfall sat entranced.

Numberless roman candles shot their balls high in the air with a
graceful curve, countless sky-rockets burst above their heads in a
shower of sparks, an artillery fire of bombs burst into stars over
them, cataracts of red, white, and blue fire flowed in a tumbling
stream, horses, bicycles, automobiles, and whole strings of railroad
cars traveled across the pasture, while through it all sounded the
boom! boom! boom! of old Sneezer, the cannon, counting the number of
years of our national independence!

In the midst of this celebration, Skeeter Butts was suddenly galvanized
into action by a great idea. He went racing across the street into the
pasture, and drew Hitch Diamond and Figger Bush to one side.

“Listen, niggers!” he panted. “Rake off some of dese here fireworks!
Marse Tom is got a heap mo’ dan he needs! Swipe out a few!”

Following his own suggestion, Skeeter seized a keg of calcium powder
and ran across the pasture, setting it in the corner of the fence. He
was followed shortly by Hitch Diamond and Figger Bush, one bringing
an unopened package of roman candles and the other a package of
sky-rockets.

“Dat’s plenty of dis kind of truck, fellers!” Skeeter cackled. “Go back
an’ rake off de bigges’ cannon pop-crackers you kin find!”

From that moment Skeeter became an active assistant in the celebration,
and when the old cannon boomed for the last time and the fire-works
ended with a final set-piece which revealed the American Flag, twenty
feet high and nearly forty feet long, the populace of Tickfall roared
their hearty approbation to the skies.

Ten minutes later a procession of negroes marched down the hill from
the Gaitskill home, their glorious, pipe-organ voices chanting the
Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    “Glory! Glory! Halleluiah!
     Our God is marching on!”

At midnight the marching column of singing negroes disbanded.

“Vinegar,” Skeeter said, “me an’ Figger an’ Hitch is decided to go to
Kerlerac in de automobile an’ git in on de nigger dance at dat place.”

“I ain’t gwine!” Vinegar answered. “’Tain’t fitten fer a nigger
preacher to dance. Excusin’ dat, I’s too fat an’ de women folks step on
my foots.”

“You got to go!” Skeeter wailed. “You got to he’p Hitch Diamond push de
auto through de sand!”

“Dat’s right,” Vinegar acceded. “You can’t trabbel nowhere widout my
muscle. I’ll tag along wid you-alls!”

When they got to the automobile Vinegar found certain mysterious
bundles piled up in the machine.

“Whut is dis?” he demanded.

“Fire-works!” Skeeter snickered. “We raked off a few so we could go to
Kerlerac an’ surprise dem niggers!”

“I’s glad I’s gwine!” Vinegar chuckled. “I bet us will hab plenty big
doin’s!”

Three hours later Skeeter stopped his machine at the foot of the
Mississippi protection levee at Kerlerac. The town was asleep. There
were no electric lights and the river fog concealed the stars, making
total darkness.

“Vinegar,” Skeeter said, “does you still mourn de loss of dat
stove-pipe preachin’ hat whut you drapped in de river to-day?”

“I suttinly do!” Vinegar growled.

“Would you wish to earn another good silk hat by a little wuck?”
Skeeter inquired next.

“Shorely.”

“I’ll make you a present of a ten-dollar silk hat, white silk linin’ on
de inside an’ slick, shiny fur on de outside wid a red silk handkercher
to slick it up wid, ef you’ll take my auto back to Tickfall to-night
an’ meet me at de Tickfall landin’ on de river to-morrow mawnin’,”
Skeeter Butts said.

“Whut--whut----”

“Don’t ax no ’terrogations!” Skeeter snapped.

“I’ll do it!” Vinegar howled.

Hitch Diamond lifted out the bundles, and Vinegar sat down at the
wheel, turned the machine, and roared his farewell to the men.

Picking up the bundles, Skeeter led his friends down the levee for a
short distance, stopping when he saw a black shape on the water.

Taking an electric flashlight from his pocket, Skeeter sent the glare
across to the bulky object looming in the darkness.

“Look at dat!” Hitch Diamond growled. “Dar’s our boat! Dat’s shore de
_Mud Hen_.”

Skeeter reflected the light upon the water beside the boat until it
rested upon a canoe.

“Pipe Smash is on dat boat now!” Figger Bush whispered. “I bet he got
drunk at de nigger dance an’ is sound asleep!”

“Now, fellers,” Skeeter began, “you listen to me----”

Skeeter talked like a grape-juice orator for five minutes, and his
audience of two listened with breathless attention.

After that Skeeter went aboard the boat, climbing the rope hand over
hand, and paddled the canoe back for his bundles and his friends.

Pipe Smash lay in a drunken slumber on the deck with his head toward
the warm furnace of the engine.

Skeeter untied the boat from a stump, paddled to the _Mud Hen_, climbed
aboard, and let the steamboat drift slowly out into the current.

When they had floated about two miles below Kerlerac, where the heavy
woods lay upon each side of the river, Skeeter crawled upon his hands
and knees, and from the keg which he had stolen from Gaitskill laid a
heavy trail of calcium powder all around the boat.

Hitch opened the furnace door and laid twenty-four large sky-rockets on
the hot ashes, and left the door open.

Figger Bush opened a package of roman-candles, scooped up a shovel of
live coals from the furnace, and laid it beside the package.

Skeeter lighted the fuses of half a dozen immense cannon-crackers and
dropped them carelessly near the sleeping form of Pipe Smash.

Then the three hid themselves where they could see without being seen.

The cannon-crackers exploded with a detonation which reverberated from
the immense woods, shook every piece of wood in the fragile boat, and
sounded like a little war.

Pipe Smash awoke from his deep dream of peace with a loud yelp. He sat
up and rubbed his eyes, wondering what had happened.

Instantly a trail of red fire, started by Skeeter Butts, changing to
blue, yellow, green, and white, spun like a flaming snake around the
deck of the boat, and Pipe Smash lay back on the deck, whirling over
and over like a worm on a hot griddle, whooping like a siren.

From out of the furnace door twenty-four skyrockets roared, shot out
over Pipe’s head, struck the deck with a hiss changing to a loud
screech, ricochetted around the boat, and burst into ten thousand stars
against the puny smoke-stack and the fragile roof.

In a split second Pipe Smash was as crazy as a bug with fright.

He spun around that boat-deck like a cat in a fit, squalled and spat
and screeched and scratched, rolled and tumbled, jumped to his feet and
kicked, fell flat on his back, rolled over, crawled on all fours, and
performed every stunt within the range of physical activity.

To his terrified vision, the _Mud Hen_ was aglow with fire, the dense
woods along the river were ablaze, the water was a glowing coal-ember,
and the river fog twisted and turned and folded back upon itself and
became great glowing blankets of flame. Earth and sky and water were
wrapped in one horrible red conflagration, while from every part of the
boat the tongues of flame leaped out, licking at his cringing flesh!

Pipe Smash shrieked and went over the side.

Keeping carefully concealed, Skeeter, Hitch, and Figger seized their
roman-candles, lighted them by thrusting them in the hot embers in
the shovel, and peppered the water around the struggling, shrieking,
diving, choking, swimming negro as far as they could see him.

Then Skeeter dropped a live coal into the keg of calcium powder, and
the boat was enveloped in a red glow of smoke and fire.

Running through the deep woods on the bank of the river, Pipe Smash
glanced behind him and saw his steamboat blazing to the heavens, and
bade it good-by forever.

Then followed darkness and great silence while the _Mud Hen_ drifted on
the current.

Early that morning, as the _Mud Hen_, in the proud possession of her
rightful owners, clucked noisily up to the Tickfall landing, the
reverent Vinegar Atts climbed out of the automobile, stood up on the
levee, belled his gorilla-like hands around his mouth, and in true
orthodox, camp-meeting tones, gave the negro’s universal shout of
happiness and victory:

“Bless Gawd!”



Two Sorry Sons of Sorrow.


I

“ALL DE WORL’ AM SAD AN’ DREARY.”

Mustard Prophet, overseer of the Nigger-Heel plantation, sat on a box
under a horse-shed in the rear of the Gaitskill store.

The gathering dusk of the October evening lent beauty to his sordid
surroundings, and Mustard sweetened the scene by music. His thick lips
caressed the silver mouthpiece of a cornet, and his bellows-like lungs
sent forth strains which made all Tickfall listen:

“All de worl’ am sad an’ dreary, eb’rywhar I roam--”

Wherever music is there the negroes are gathered together. In a moment
Pap Curtain entered the lot.

He was welcome because he carried a trombone.

“How come you toot sich sad toons, Mustard?” Pap inquired as he took
his own musical instrument out of a dirty green bag.

“Ain’t us all sons of sorrer, Pap?” Mustard demanded in an
argumentative tone. “Fo’ hundred bales of cotton raised on de
Nigger-Heel plantation by me--an’ how much does me an’ Marse Tom git
fer it? Jes’ perzackly nothin’ an’ not no more.”

“De white folks is argufyin’ ’bout a buy-a-bale move,” Pap began.

“Huh,” Mustard snorted. “Me an’ Marse Tom is argufyin’ ’bout a
sell-a-bale move. I come to town to cornverse him ’bout dat.”

Pap’s trombone was ready, and the conversation ended with the lively
strains of a duet, the refrain of which was: “De nigger hoes de cotton
an’ cawn, but de white man gits de money.”

At the far end of the town a black saddle-horse emerged from the
shadows of the swamp road and sailed up the sandy street with a motion
as steady and rhythmical as the flight of a bird.

Balanced on the pommel of his saddle, the rider held a heavy canvas
bag filled with gold and silver coins, but so easy was the gait of
that superb horse that not a coin rattled. From long habit the animal
stopped in front of the Tickfall bank.

The rider dismounted and walked to the door, feeling in his pocket for
his keys.

Failing to find his keys, he set the bag of money on the steps and
began a search of his clothes, but without success. After a moment’s
thought he remounted his horse and rode down the street to his store.

The closing hour was six o’clock, and as it was nearly an hour later
than that, he found the store also locked. But he stopped at the home
of one of his clerks and secured a key.

Entering the building, he opened a small iron safe in the office
situated in the middle of the store, placed the bag of money within,
and gave the combination-knob a few quick turns.

Then hearing the lively duet in the rear of the store, he passed out
into the lot. The duet came to a quick close.

“Howdy, Marse Tom?” the negroes exclaimed in concert. Then Mustard
Prophet added, “I been waitin’ fer you all dis Saddy atternoon.”

“I knew it was you, Mustard,” Gaitskill grinned. “I’ve been hearing the
sound of that old cornet twenty years, and I’d recognize it in China.
What’s aching now?”

“Marse Tom, ain’t dese here hard times? Ain’t money skeercer dan snow
in a hot biscuit-pan?”

“Just so,” Gaitskill said. “I’ve been out collecting to-day, and I
know.”

“I reckin you an’ me will hab to keep on trustin’ de Lawd, Marse
Tom--yes, suh, as de old Injun useter say, trus’ de good Lawd an’ keep
our cotton dry.”

“What did you want to see me about?” Gaitskill asked.

“Look at dese clothes, Marse Tom!” Mustard answered earnestly. “Look at
dese here empty pockets! Ain’t dey no way to sell our cotton? Don’t I
git no loose change fer my year’s hard wuck?”

“Trust the good Lord!” Gaitskill grinned mockingly.

“I’m is trus’ de good Lawd, Marse Tom, but dat ain’t git me nothin’.
An’ I’m jes’ ’bleeged to tell you, Marse Tom, dat while I still trus’
de Lawd I’s lookin’ to _you_ fer some good clothes an’ some money.”

“Put not your trust in princes,” Gaitskill said with solemn mockery.
“Trust the Lord!”

The negro fumbled at the keys of his cornet and sighed.

Gaitskill watched him with twinkling eyes. He was the best plow hand,
the best hoe hand, the best negro overseer in Louisiana, and for twenty
years had been in charge of Gaitskill’s famous Nigger-Heel plantation.

Simple, confiding, good-natured, trustworthy, industrious, Gaitskill
was very fond of him and would do anything in reason for him. He loved
to point him out to his friends as the negro whose hard work had made
the Nigger-Heel one of the show-places among the plantations of the
state.

“We’ll talk about it to-morrow, Mustard,” Gaitskill proposed. “What are
you going to do to-night?”

“Hopey’s lookin’ fer me up to yo’ house, Marse Tom,” Mustard declared,
all his gloom gone. “I ain’t saw dat wife of mine sence all dis here
war trouble come on me.”

“I want you to sleep in this store to-night,” Gaitskill said. “Pile up
some of the empty oat-sacks in the rear of the store and make a bed.”

“Yes, suh. I’ll take keer of eve’ything. You knows me, Marse Tom. Gimme
de key!”

Gaitskill passed over the door-key and the negro followed him through
the store to his horse.

“Marse Tom,” he said, as Gaitskill was mounting his horse, “’bout dis
here war in Yurope; I don’t see no signs of no war in Yurope. Now,
I figgers it out dis way: de Yanks up Nawf is done bought up all de
newspapers an’ dey’s skeerin’ us wid all dis war-talk so dey kin run de
price of cotton down an’ all us pore niggers----”

“Aw, shut up!” Gaitskill said.

Mustard watched the horseman until the dust and dark swallowed him up
far down the street. Then he turned back into the store with a grin:

“Dat white man ain’t onsottlin’ his mind ’bout no war. He owns a bank!”

Mustard locked the front door, shutting himself in, then passed through
the rear door into the lot where Pap Curtain was still waiting for him.

“Pap,” Mustard began, “does you know how come a nigger wucks wid his
hands, while the white man figgers and counts his money?”

“Naw.”

“Well, suh, hit happened this way: A nigger, a Injun, an’ a white man
wus playin’ seben-up under de shade of a tree. De good Lawd dropped
down a box of tools right close to whar dey wus settin’, an’ all of ’em
hopped up to git whut wus comin’ to ’em. De nigger wus hoggish an’ he
grabbed de bigges’ things, an’ he got a shovel, a hoe, an’ a spade. De
Injun, he had to hab his’n, so he grabbed de bow ’n’ arrer. Dar warn’t
nothin’ lef’ fer de white man but a pen, so de white man, he figgers!”

“Yes, suh, dat’s whut de good Book say. But I’s heerd tell it diffunt.”

“How’s dat?” Mustard asked.

“De good Lawd made a nigger, a white man, an’ a Injun outen good clean
mud. Atter de dirt had dried real good, He fotch ’em befo’ de big white
jedgment seat.

“He say to de white man: ’Whut you gwine do?’ De white man specify:
‘I’s gwine be a merchant.’ Den He say to de Injun: ‘Whut you gwine do?’
De Injun spoke Him back: ‘I’se gwine hunt and fish.’

“Den He say to de nigger: ‘What you gwine do, cullud pusson?’ De
nigger, he claw his head an’ ’spon’: ‘Dunno, boss. I reckin I’ll jes’
foller atter de boys. Mebbe dar’ll be cold vittles lef’ over fer me!’”

“Dat’s shore a true sayin’, Pap,” Mustard grinned. “An’ dat reminds my
mind. Marse Tom didn’t say nothin’ ’bout me gittin’ my supper nowhar.”

“White folks cain’t turn a dog in a meat-house or a nigger in a
sto’-house an’ especk him to starve to death,” Pap suggested.

“An’ of co’se, white folks cain’t be mad ef de dog or de nigger gives a
invite to his frien’,” Mustard grinned. “Come in, Pap, less git somepin
to eat!”

In the rear of the store they switched on an electric light, set out
an empty box to serve for a table, and began a search for food. There
was plenty of it, and they helped themselves and each other with
extravagant liberality.

For a long time utterance was impeded by food, but at last Pap Curtain
managed to articulate a query:

“Mustard, wid all dis grub in dis ration-house, how come ole Miss
Mildred Gaitskill is so skinny an’ Marse Tom ain’t no fatter dan he wus
when we fust knowed him fawty year ago?”

“Fattenin’ hogs ain’t in luck,” Mustard told him philosophically. “When
you gits all you wants to eat, look out for de butcher! Escusin’ dat,
white folks ain’t studyin’ ’bout somepin to eat. Dey studies money.”

“Huh,” Pap sighed, as he rubbed his stomach, then rose and walked
around the store to make room for more food. “I wouldn’t mind a invite
to hold dis fer a _constant_ job--plenty of steady sleep an’ reg’lar
rations.”

“I’s got to whar I kin still chaw, but I cain’t swaller much mo’,”
Mustard lamented. “Less hunt somepin kinder loose an’ little to eat, so
it’ll fill up de cracks inside us!”

The hours passed.

At last Mustard leaned back in his chair. His stomach was gorged, his
head blood-flushed until his temples throbbed like drums. He kicked
over the box which had served as a table, thus dumping the cans and
bottles and other empty receptacles into a corner of the store and rose
to his feet.

“Whar is de seegaws in dis sto’?” Pap inquired sleepily.

“I’ll git ’em,” Mustard said.

Selecting the largest cigars in stock, he wandered sleepily back to
Pap Curtain. The clock in the court-house steeple tolled the hour.
Mustard counted.

“Twelve!” he exclaimed. “Here we been eatin’ five hours an’ to-morrer
is de secont day! Git outen dis sto’, Pap Curtain!”

Pap rose, and Mustard followed him to the rear door and shut him out.

Then, tossing his cigar aside, Mustard piled an armload of sacks in
the corner, snapped off the electric light, and sprawled down upon
his pallet, sinking instantly into a slumber like the lethargy of the
gorged boa constrictor, or the inertia of the hibernating bear.

He was a sound sleeper.


II

THE LONE WOLF.

Slatey the Skull was a gentleman of leisure and perverted education; he
was also a nitroglycerin expert, making a specialty of the application
of this sovereign explosive to burglar-proof safes.

He was a child of the congested cities, loving the noise and clatter
of their streets, the whir of machinery, the hum and hustle of their
myriad life. But tuberculosis clutched at his panting, crumbling
lungs with the pitiless fingers of death, and the ravages of the
disease had changed a naturally ruddy countenance into the emaciated,
soapstone-colored face which gave him the name among his fellows.

Under sentence of death, imposed, not by the law of the land which
he defied, but by the law of life which defied him, he had wandered
from the city to the deep woods and sparsely populated villages of the
South as a wild goat leaves its fellows and crawls into some desolate
mountain cave to languish and die alone.

Despairing of his own life, indifferent to the lives of others, he was
a lone wolf, perilous, predaceous, as quick to strike and as deadly as
a viper. His admiring fellows said of him that he could “smell money.”

Slipping like a shadow from the log-train which stopped for water at
Tickfall shortly after midnight, he wandered up the crooked, silent,
deserted streets toward the business portion of the village.

Pausing before the door of the Gaitskill store, his thin, flexible
nostrils quivered like a rabbit’s nose. Flattening himself against the
door like the wraith of a man, his keen eyes searched the streets, his
acutely sensitive ears listened intently.

Then he turned, and with an ease like the magic of a sleight-of-hand
performer, he opened the door and entered the store.

“I smell a nigger,” he muttered with a curse, as the stale odor of
cigar smoke racked his frail body with noiseless coughing.

Leaving the front door unlocked, he walked noiselessly down the avenue
between the counters to open the door in the rear. There he found
Mustard Prophet sleeping on a pile of sacks, invisible to the eye, but
easily vizualized by the trained mind of the Skull as he listened to
Mustard’s stertorous breathing.

“A nigger,” he racked with his noiseless cough, “stuffed like a fat
woman’s stocking, sleeping like a stiff!”

He walked back to the little office partitioned off in the middle of
the store. His frail fingers fumbled with the combination knob of the
safe for a moment, then caressed its top and sides.

“Forty years old,” he sighed, “and made of pot-metal. If I was not so
weak, I’d turn it over and kick a hole in the bottom of it with my
sore toe. As it is, I’ll have to work with this soup and cough like an
alligator for a week with its fumes in my lungs.”

Ten minutes later the door of the safe swung crazily open, hanging upon
a half-broken hinge.

The bony arm and hand of the Skull explored the contents. His fingers
grasped the top of the coarse bag which Colonel Gaitskill had placed
there a few hours before, and he lifted it out.

“No further seek its contents to disclose or draw its dollars from
their frail abode,” the Skull parodied. “The simp put it all in one
sack for me and tied the top with a rawhide string.”

His fingers fumbled the contents of the sack through the thick cloth.

“Gosh!” he sighed. “Gold and silver and a little dirty paper
money--heavy as pig-iron--and I’m too weak to carry an empty pill-box
across the street to a homeopathic doctor.”

Nevertheless, he took the bag with him as he started to leave. At the
rear door, he paused at the pallet where Mustard lay sprawled out and a
sardonic smile distorted his skull-like face.

“Behold the guardian of this gold!” he muttered. “Strange the South has
been the fall guy for this sort of servant ever since the South began.
Well, Cæsar had his Brutus, and every colonel has his coon!”

Then he stepped out into the lot and closed the door behind him.

There was the crack of a pistol, and a bullet plugged into the
door-jamb.

“You missed, friend!” the Skull called tauntingly. “I had my sharp edge
turned toward you!”

The night prowler in the Southern village seeking spoils is exposed to
no danger by the night watchman sleeping sweetly on a soft stone step.
The yeggman dreads the fox-hunters.

They leave town at sundown accompanied by friends, followed by dogs,
comforted by the contents of sundry jugs. They are kept keyed up to
alert wakefulness by the excitement of the chase and return only when
the jugs are empty.

It was a party of fox-hunters, headed by Sheriff Flournoy, with whom
Slatey the Skull had now to deal. Passing through the town on their
return from the hunt they had heard the dull explosion in the store and
had made an investigation. They were now in ambush, waiting for the
appearance of the safe-blower.

It was Flournoy’s pistol which had roused the Skull to his danger.

But the Skull was not disturbed. Shifting his bag of money so that he
carried it on his left arm as a woman carries a bundle, he slipped his
automatic from his pocket.

Crouching low in the darkness and walking with the noiseless tread of
a cat within ten feet of Flournoy, he passed unobserved by the sheriff
out of the lot into the alley and on to the front of the store. The
bullets zipped around him as he ran out of the alley toward the middle
of the street, but the Skull’s first shot was upward at the electric
street light which went out, leaving him sheltered by almost total
darkness.

Running down the alley, Flournoy fired into that circle of darkness at
a venture.

The answer of the Skull’s gun was instantaneous. The sheriff felt a
jar which almost paralyzed his right arm. Making an investigation he
uttered a low exclamation of wonder and admiration: The Skull’s bullet
had struck and destroyed the sheriff’s weapon.

In the mean time the rest of the fox-hunters had been spreading out,
trailing along the street in front of the store. In a moment half a
dozen pistols began to shoot and the Skull was engaged in the battle of
his life.

In the Louisiana villages promiscuous shooting upon the street at night
is a fire-alarm. Roused by such shooting, men quickly slip on their
clothes, seize their own firearms, and run down the street toward the
first alarm, firing into the air as they run, thus rousing the whole
town.

All over Tickfall, men heard what they thought was a fire-signal from
the business section of the village. Fearful of losing their stores
and offices, they ran toward the fray, shouting and shooting, until
Tickfall sounded like a battle with a thousand men engaged.

“The beggars are coming to town,” Slatey the Skull quoted with a skinny
smile. “I’ll wait until the mob arrives, then slip through the crowd in
the dark.”

But alas, the Skull was not acquainted with Sheriff Flournoy.

Adopting the old Indian trick of lying flat on the ground, thus
throwing the object he was approaching against the sky so that he could
see it, the sheriff with bones like an ox and a mouth as grim and cruel
as a bear-trap was slowly crawling toward the sardonic creature of skin
and bones, as frail and delicate as a girl, who sat sedately beside the
stolen money-bag.

Suddenly Slatey screamed like a wildcat and sprang to his feet.

Wrestling with his feeble strength, shooting wildly, biting, clawing,
he struggled in the bear-like hug of the giant sheriff. Then something
snapped inside the Skull’s body and with a frightened “Ah!” he sank
limply into the hands of his captor.

At that moment the street was filled with armed men, white and black,
looking for the conflagration. Explanations flew from lip to lip. Some
one entered the Gaitskill store and turned on the lights.

Then Sheriff Flournoy entered carrying Slatey the Skull.

“Is he dead?” the crowd asked in one breath.

“I think not,” the sheriff said. “I did not shoot.”

“Gib him a leetle dram, Mister Johnnie,” Pap Curtain spoke up.

“Go over to my office and get my flask, Pap,” the sheriff commanded, as
he tossed Curtain his office keys, “You’ll find it on my desk.”

Pap Curtain started after that flask at full speed. In the middle of
the street, under the broken electric light, his foot struck a coarse
canvas bag, he stumbled, fell headlong, butted a hitching post with a
resounding whack and stayed right there.

Ten minutes later the crowd found him, unconscious, clutching the
office keys in his cold hand.

One negro, a belated arrival, saw Pap Curtain fall.

He ran to Pap’s rescue, but never arrived. His foot also struck that
bag. Stooping, he picked it up, felt of its contents, recognized the
familiar rattle of coins, and promptly departed, taking that bag with
him lest some other person fall over it and get hurt.

The sheriff had no sooner sent Pap Curtain after a flask than several
were produced and tendered. The liquor, poured down the throat of
Slatey, started a shudderlike cough and a bloody spume issued from the
wounded man’s mouth. Then he spoke splutteringly:

“You broke a rib and caved it through the only good lung I have, Mr.
Officer. I guess you win.”

“Where’s the money?” Flournoy demanded.

“I--ah--” A shuddering, racking cough stopped all speech and the
pitiful creature struggled as if he were never to breathe again. At
last he spoke:

“I’m suffering very much. Get a doctor--”

“Where’s the money?” several men asked in a chorus.

“That’s for you to find out,” the Skull answered, with a momentary
flash of his old lawless spirit. Then weakly: “Get a doctor!”

“Where’s the money?” Colonel Gaitskill asked, bending over Slatey.

“Where’s the sawbones, Santa Claus?” Slatey mocked, coughing little
flecks of blood off his lips.

“Get a doctor!” Gaitskill commanded sharply, glaring at the crowd.

Dr. Shuttle stepped forth, producing, with an important air, a pocket
medical case containing a hypodermic needle and several vials of
medicine.

Dr. Shuttle was young and very ambitious. He quickly made a hypodermic
injection into the Skull’s side. It eased the criminal’s pain. In fact
he has never suffered since. In short, he died.

“Where’s the money?” the sheriff demanded again, shaking the lifeless
form.

The Skull’s mouth drooped open in a grotesque imitation of a laugh.
Slatey had nothing more to say.

“Thunderation!” the sheriff exclaimed in a mighty voice. “Hunt around
for that money-bag. This fellow did not get away with it.”

Oil lanterns were quickly procured and the crowd searched the street,
the alley, the lot in the rear and the neighboring places. They
discovered nothing but the limp form of Pap Curtain.

While the crowd was gathering around Curtain, from inside the store a
mighty shout arose:

“Here’s the other one, Flournoy!”

The crowd plunged into the store, surged to the rear and gathered in a
tight circle around the prostrate form of Mustard Prophet.

He was still asleep!


III

THE SLEEPER WAKES.

A number of eager feet kicked Mustard Prophet into wakefulness.

As many willing hands assisted him to his feet. He stood among
them, glaring owlishly, blinded by the light, confused by the
noise, frightened by the unaccountable presence of most of the male
inhabitants of Tickfall.

“’Scuse me, white folks,” he began. “I shore is befuddled-up by all
dis here gwines-on. Marse Tom say fer me not to let nobody in dis here
sto’-house.”

“Where’s that money?” a voice demanded.

“Which?” Mustard asked.

“Where’s that money you and the white man got?”

“I ain’t got no money, white folks,” Mustard declared. “You-all ax
Marse Tom! An’ Marse Tom say me not to let nobody in dis sto’--”

“Aw, come off!” another voice exclaimed. “You ain’t been sleeping
through all this racket. Tell us where the bag of money is!”

“Befo’ Gawd, white folks!” Mustard replied. “I ain’t got no bag of
nothin’.”

Then Mustard saw Colonel Gaitskill. “Bless gracious, Marse Tom!” he
pleaded. “Come here and fotch me away from dese pesticatin’ white
gemmans. Dey examinates me ’bout money like I done sold all de
Nigger-Heel cotton ’thout turnin’ in de tickets--”

Colonel Gaitskill whispered to Flournoy.

“Put him in jail, John, and after the crowd disperses, we’ll slip
around there and talk to him.”

Flournoy promptly acted upon this suggestion, and on the way picked up
Pap Curtain, now restored to consciousness--Dr. Shuttle had had better
luck with Pap--and incarcerated them both.

The crowd followed and watched the sheriff until he locked the two
negroes behind the bars.

“Nothing more doing to-night, friends,” he announced in his drawly
voice. “We’ll all go to bed and discuss the matter to-morrow.
Good-night.”

He walked down the street toward his home. The crowd gathered in
little groups, talked for a few minutes and dissolved.

Colonel Gaitskill returned to the store, issued orders to his clerks
concerning the disposition of the Skull’s body, and went home.

Just at daybreak Sunday morning, Gaitskill and Flournoy, after another
fruitless search for the lost money, entered the jail.

They found Mustard and Pap Curtain sitting side by side, steeped in
deepest gloom. Gaitskill became the spokesman:

“Where were you all last night, Mustard?”

“I wus in de sto’-house, Marse Tom. I didn’t leave dat place a minute
till de white folks tuck me to jail.”

“What did you do after I left?”

“At de fust offstartin’, I et.”

“What did you eat?” Gaitskill asked, wondering what food could produce
slumber as profound as Mustard seemed to have experienced.

“I et two cans of sawdines, an’ a can of devilish ham, an’ a hunk of
cheese.”

“What else?”

“I et some crackers an’ some beelony sausage, an’ two awanges, an’ fo’
bananers, an’ a box of candy.”

“What else?”

“Nothin’ else, Marse Tom. Of co’se, I kinder nibbled aroun’ a little. I
foun’ some raisins an’ a diffunt kind of cheese whut smelt like somepin
dead to me, an’ some cakes wid white icin’ on de top, an’ a can of
oystyers.”

“Did you get enough to satisfy your appetite?”

“Satisfy--oh, yes, suh, I felt powerful well fed.”

The sheriff broke into a loud laugh.

“No use to cackle, Mister Johnnie. I’s tellin’ de trufe. I shore had a
plenty.”

“What did you do next?” Gaitskill inquired.

“I fotch out one of dem long Perique seegaws an’ lit up.”

Both white men had begun to laugh. Mustard knew there was no harm
coming to a negro from white men with the giggles. So he dismissed his
fears and became expansive in his remarks:

“Dem Perique seegaw stogies ain’t as good as dey looks, Marse Tom. No
man ain’t got a sucker in his mouf strong enough to make ’em draw, an’
when dey does draw, no man ain’t got no cornstitution powerful enough
to stan’ de smoke.”

“What did you do next, Mustard?”

“I laid down on dem oat-sacks an’ went to sleep.”

Gaitskill had known Mustard so long that he could read the negro’s mind
like a book. Although no question had been asked about the robbery,
he was sure that Mustard had nothing to do with it. Then he began to
explain to Mustard:

“Somebody robbed my store last night, Mustard.”

“Lawdymussy, Marse Tom! Bad luck is shore kotch you by de forelock. I’s
powerful sorry to hear dem bad news.”

“The man who blew open the safe was killed in a fight, but we can’t
find the bag of money,” Gaitskill continued.

“Dar now!” Mustard declared with unction. “Mo’ bad luck! It ’pears like
it’s jes’ sorrer piled on top of sorrer in dis here grief-strucken-down
worl’. I’s shore sorry, Marse Tom--”

“The reason I wanted you to sleep in that store was to guard that safe.”

“Hol’ on dar, Marse Tom,” Mustard said, coming quickly to his own
defense. “You didn’t say me no words ’bout dat safe. All you said wus:
‘I want you to sleep in dis sto’ to-night.’ Ain’t dat so?”

“Yes.”

“Well, suh, I done it. I done it fur a fack. I done jes’ whut you tole
me. I sleeped in de sto’.”

“That’s a fact,” Flournoy chuckled, imitating the negro’s mode of
speech: “Dat’s whut he done!”

“I’se sorry, Marse Tom,” Mustard said, “but I ain’t to blame.”

Sheriff Flournoy looked at his watch.

“Look here, Tom,” he said. “If we are going to find the money, we’d
better let this sorry son of sorrow skedaddle. He ain’t got it.”

Mustard showed that he favored the sheriff’s suggestion by rising to
his feet with alacrity.

“Mister Sheriff Johnnie--” Pap Curtain, who had been a silent listener,
began plaintively.

“Shut up, Pap,” the sheriff interrupted. “You can come, too. I can’t
keep a nigger in jail for falling down and bumping his head.”

The four walked out of the jail door together. At the door Mustard
asked:

“Marse Tom, please, suh, dem white gemmans pestered me so stout las’
night dat I couldn’t git my hat an’ my cawnet-hawn befo’ dey tuck me to
jail. Will you open de sto’ so I kin git ’em?”

Consenting to this request, Gaitskill opened the door, and said:

“Go in and get them, Mustard.”

A minute later, within the store, there was a loud whoop and a wailing
cry:

“Oo-oo-ee! Oh, my blessid gracious goodness! He’p, Marse Tom, fer
Gawd’s sake!”

The two white men ran into the store and found Prophet down upon his
knees, hiding the horror before him by shielding his eyes with his
hands, which was the still form of Slatey the Skull outstretched upon a
cooling-board in the office.

Mustard had found his hat near his pallet of oat-sacks, but his beloved
cornet was on top of a desk in the office.

“Get up, Mustard,” Gaitskill commanded, striking him with his foot.
“This is the man who blew open the safe.”

The big-hearted, giant-bodied sheriff gazed upon the criminal, then
stepped over and felt the emaciated hands and arms.

“He was as frail as a girl, Tom,” he said, with a note of pity in his
voice. “But he fought like a snake. I simply had to crush him.”

“Oh, lawdymussy, take me away from dis here terr’ble place!” Mustard
bawled, kneeling before the broken office safe as before an altar.

Handing the negro his cornet, Gaitskill made him rise, and followed him
to the door, where Pap Curtain stood pop-eyed and trembling.

“Marse Tom,” Mustard quavered, “I’s gwine leave dis land of sorrer. I
ain’t never comin’ back no mo’ escusin’ you come atter me an’ fotch me
back.”

“Me, too!” Pap Curtain piped.

The two white men watched the progress of the two negroes as they
hastened down the street.

“Mustard didn’t have a thing to do with it,” Flournoy said.

Gaitskill nodded his assent.


IV

THE CONQUEST OF KERLERAC

“Marse Tom say I warn’t to blame and Sheriff Flournoy turned me loose.
But dem white gemmans whut kicked me an’ blimblammed me in de sto’house
las’ night ain’t say _nothin’_. Mebbe dey’s gwine hang me yit. I dunno.
I ain’t gwine be aroun’ handy till dey gits deir minds sottled dat they
_ain’t_,” Mustard Prophet declared.

“Ef dey finds out dat you and me wus bofe in dat house stuffin’
ourse’ves wid vittles, dey’ll take a notion dat dey _am_,” Pap Curtain
asserted.

“I’s done heerd de call of de migrashun nigger, Pap,” Mustard said
mournfully.

“Go wid me to my cabin an’ lemme git my trombone-hawn,” Pap replied.
“Den I’ll mosey wid you.”

The two spent the day under the willows on the banks of the Dorfoche
Bayou, lamenting their luck.

“Pap,” Mustard said, “de good Book say dat troubles is seasoning.
Pussimmons ain’t good till dey’s fros’-bit. But it ’pears to me like I
done had my sheer of sorrer.”

“Me, too,” Pap agreed. “Now I argufies dat de only fitten occupation
for a sorrowful man is fishin’. Less go ketch some grasshoppers and see
kin we land a few trouts.”

“All right,” Mustard said. “But I favors fishin’ to’rds de railroad
bridge, because we’s gwine ketch de souf-boun’ freight.”

Just at dark, the whistle of the freight train screeched for the
Dorfoche crossing. Mustard and Pap tossed their poles into the middle
of the stream and ten minutes later were aboard an empty freight car,
nursing their musical instruments in their laps, bound for an unknown
destination.

The fact that the side door of the car which they had caught was open
would have published to an experienced traveler that that particular
car was not going very far.

When Mustard and Pap woke up, they thought at first that the train had
stopped.

Then peeping out cautiously, they ascertained that the engine had
sidetracked their car and gone on. Finding themselves in the middle
of an immense sugar plantation, they climbed on top of the car to
reconnoiter.

Their first familiar sight was a broad, muddy river.

“Dar now!” Pap exulted. “Dat’s ole Massasap. Home’s up de ribber.”

“I bet dis here plantation ain’t fur from some town,” Mustard reasoned.
“Less hoof it up de river an’ see kin we find some place whut ain’t so
lonesome.”

Picking up their musical instruments, they walked to the levee and
turned upstream.

“I smells Tickfall,” Mustard muttered, sniffing the air. “’Tain’t no
matter how fur it is, dis river goes past it.”

“I hopes Tickfall ain’t smellin’ us,” Pap declared. “I’s got it proned
into me dat we made a good riddunce outen dat place.”

Two miles up the levee and around a bend in the river, they came to a
little town squatting like a bullfrog under the protection levee, its
gutters running constantly with the seepage water from the dike, its
few houses clothed in river fog and standing on high foundations like
stilts, the paint upon them cracking and their eaves dripping with
moisture.

“Dis here town looks like a spindle-shanked crane,” Mustard declared in
disgust. “Dem legs under dem houses is shore fixed fer wadin’.”

Then a prominent building came into view, and Pap Curtain stopped like
a man turned to stone.

“I knows dis here town,” Pap declared. “Dey calls it Kerlerac.”

“How fur from Tickfall?” Mustard inquired.

“Thuty mile.”

“Come on, den. Less meet deir ’quaintance.”

“Naw, _suh_!” Pap protested. “You see dat high buildin’ over dar? Two
nigger womans helt me up in front of dat Red El’phunt s’loon an’ robbed
me of a dollar an’ fo’ bits. One of ’em helt a razor at my neck, an’ de
yuther tuck my loose change.”

“Dat don’t make no diffunce,” argued Mustard. “Dey ain’t dar now.”

“I reckin not!” Pap said positively. “I kotch ’em when dey wusn’t
lookin’ and helt ’em by deir hair and bumped deir heads togedder! An’
what you reckin dem womans done? Dey paid a white lawyer my own good
money to git me in a lawsuit wid de cote-house, an’ dey put me in de
chain-gang fer six mont’s.”

“Hear dat, now!” Mustard exclaimed. “Bad luck!”

“Shore wus. But I didn’t stay dar no time. I lef’ dat chain-gang in fo’
days. Dat’s how come I ain’t so glad to see dis town agin,” Pap said.
Then after a moment’s thought, he suggested: “I tells you how to do,
Mustard. You take yo’ cawnet-hawn an’ go out an’ pick de town.”

“Pick it?”

“Stop on all de cornders, play ’em a toon, den pass de hat,” Pap
explained. “I’ll set down here an’ res’ my mind till you gits a little
money, an’ in de nex’ town we goes to I’ll do de pickin’.”

So Mustard walked up the levee toward the town alone.

In the Red Elephant saloon, he said to the bartender:

“Mister, dese here white genmans need wakin’ up dis mawnin’. Lemme toot
a toon or two?”

“Crack away, nigger.”

A few experimental strains issued from the cornet, followed by a high,
piercing note; then Mustard started the music of a song everywhere dear
to the heart of the Mississippi River negro:

    Oh, honey, when you hear dat roan mule whicker;
    When you see Mr. Sun turnin’ pale an’ gittin’ sicker
    Den it’s time fer to handle dis job a little quicker
    Ef you wanter git a smell of de boss-man’s jug of licker.
    Git up an’ move aroun’! Set dem han’s to swingin’
    Befo’ de boss-man comes aroun’ a dangin’ an’ a dingin’.
    Git up an’ shout aloud! Let de white folks hear you singin’--
    Hey! O--Hi--O! Hear dem voices ringin’!

All the morning in various sections of the town Pap Curtain, hiding
under the levee, could hear the strains of Mustard’s cornet.

Just at noon, Mustard came back, walking slowly, his good-natured face
burdened with grief and disappointment, his defeat and dejection
revealed even by the dragging of his ponderous feet.

“Whut ails you, Mustard?” Pap inquired solicitously.

“I’m a son of sorrer, Pap,” Mustard wailed. “Nobody but de good Marster
kin ’preciate what bad luck I’s had.”

“Whut come to pass?” Pap inquired with interest.

“At de fust offstartin’ I blowed my hawn in de Red El’phant till de
white folks gimme a dollar, all in nickles and dimes. Den a white man
follered me out when I lef’ an’ tole me ef I would loant him dat money
he would show me how to make it disappear.

“Of co’se, I loant it to him, an’ he put it in his pocket an’ said
escuse him a minute, an’ he went away an’ I ain’t seed dat white man
sence dat time.”

Pap Curtain gazed at Mustard with an expression of mingled pity and
disgust. Mustard continued his tale of woe:

“Two white kunnels gimme fo’ bits apiece to play _Dixie_ fer ’em. I had
dat money changed over to a paper dollar so it wouldn’t roll away like
de yuther dollar done. Den anodder white man come along an’ say ef I
gib him dat paper dollar he’d show me how to double it.

“Of co’se, I needed it doubled right quick because I wus already behine
one dollar, so I loant it to him to double it. He jes’ folded it over
one time; den he shet one eye at me an’ stuck my dollar down in his
pocket.”

“Didn’t you ax him to give it back?” Curtain asked.

“Naw, suh, dat was a powerful brave-lookin’ man an’ he acted like he
mought ’a’ fought a sawmill ef he wus peeved up.”

“Mustard, you is a plum’, nachel-bawn, stark-naked fool,” Pap informed
him.

“I agrees wid dem sentiments,” Mustard said sorrowfully. “Lawdy, my
foots shore hurts me scandalous. Lemme set down.”

“Ain’t you got no money a-tall?” Pap inquired peevishly.

“Naw,” Mustard informed him.

“Is you had anything to eat?”

“Naw,” Mustard lamented. “An’ I’s so hungry I could eat a houn’-dog
biled in soap grease.”

The two sat for a moment, looking out at the river. Then Mustard
suggested:

“You go out an’ try ’em a few toons, Pap. I axed eve’ybody I met ef dey
knowed a nigger named you, an’ dey said dey didn’t.”


V

TROUBLE’S TWIN.

All the afternoon Pap Curtain played trombone solos on the streets of
Kerlerac while Mustard Prophet rested his feet.

About four o’clock Mustard and Pap slipped into a negro eating-house
and ordered food.

“Whar you cullud pussons come from?” Smart Durret, the negro
restaurant keeper, inquired as his patrons consumed large quantities of
fried catfish.

“We stays at Tickfall,” Mustard answered.

“When did you-alls arrive down?”

“We come dis mawnin’,” Pap responded.

At this point another occupant of the restaurant rose from a table
in one corner of the room, gesticulated mysteriously and forcibly to
Smart Durret and went out of a rear door into the kitchen. The mulatto
proprietor followed.

“Don’t ax so many questions, Smart,” was the prompt advice of the
little negro to the mulatto. “I wucks fer Sheriff Ulloa, an’ I heard
tell dis mawnin’ dat somebody robbed a sto’ in Tickfall an’ dey’s
offered a hunderd-dollar reward-bill fer who done it.”

Smart Durret’s mud-colored eyes opened wide.

“Dat sto’ was robbed Saddy night,” the little negro continued. “Dem two
coons come to town dis mawnin’ early. Dey been takin’ turns hidin’ on
de yuther side of de levee all day. Dem niggers is shore it.”

“Is you gwine tell de sheriff, Solly?” the mulatto asked.

“Naw,” Solly exclaimed in disgusted tones. “I figgers dat you an’
me kin kotch ’em out alone, arrest ’em ourse’ves an’ ’vide up de
reward-bill even.”

“Dat’s de music!” Smart exclaimed, admiringly. “You keep track of ’em
an’ you an’ me’ll git togedder on it to-night.”

Thus advised, Solly Saddler, amateur detective, shadowed Mustard
Prophet and Pap Curtain all the afternoon and when darkness came was
prepared to report their location to Smart Durret.

“Now, Solly,” Smart advised, “we ain’t got no permit to ’rest dese
niggers accawdin’ to de law. So I argufies dat de best way to do is to
git in a fight wid ’em, sen’ somebody fer de cornstable, an’ let him
tote us all to jail. Den we kin esplain to de sheriff whut we knows,
an’ he’ll let us out because you’re a frien’ of his’n.”

“Smart,” Solly exclaimed, “when yo’ mind goes off it kicks like a
muzzle-loader. Dat plan’ll hit de bull’s-eye. But ef you ain’t got no
objections, I’ll be de one whut goes atter de cornstable. Dem two coons
looks powerful perilous to me.”

“All right,” Smart acquiesced reluctantly. “But don’t you lose no time
gittin’ dat cornstable. I ’speck you better fetch de sheriff, too.”

They separated to meet an hour later in the Chicken-Wing saloon, a
negro resort where Mustard and Pap were loudly advertising their
presence by playing duets.

The plan of the two conspirators to start trouble was simple but
effective.

Solly Saddler entered the place with a bucket of red paint and a broad
paint-brush. Smart Durret came in with a large bottle filled with a
foamy, milk-colored liquid--soap-suds.

The two avoided each other for a time, then they got together.

“Whut’s dat you got in dat bottle, Smart?” Solly inquired in a
nigger-minstrel tone.

“Dis here is a new kind of cleaner fer clothes,” Smart answered. “It
takes all de dirt spots, grease spots, fade spots, an’ paint spots
offen clothes, suits, dresses, an’ sich like.”

“Dat stuff won’t conjure loose no paint spots,” Solly argued,
flourishing the bucket of paint at Smart.

“I bet yer fo’ bits,” Smart answered promptly.

Then followed a heated discussion of the merits of the paint remover.
The crowd slowly gathered around the disputants, and Solly gradually
worked his way around until he stood directly in front of Mustard
Prophet.

Setting the bucket of paint on the floor and stooping over it, he began
to stir it with his brush while the argument waxed hotter and hotter.
Then Solly arose, with the dripping paint-brush in his hand.

Then with a quick turn and flourish, he swiped the dripping paint-brush
up and down the front of Mustard Prophet’s clothes.

“Now, nigger Durret,” Solly bawled dramatically, “lemme see you take de
paint off dis cullud brudder’s coat!”

Mustard reeled backward to escape the paint, a guffaw of loud laughter
swept around the circle, and Solly followed Mustard, still busy plying
the brush.

Mustard was a sight.

Then Mustard got busy. Solly felt a hard hand on the back of his neck,
lost his grip on the brush, and Mustard caught it.

Irresistibly, Mustard led the struggling negro back to the red paint,
held him there as easily as a man can hold a wiggling fish suspended
from a hook, and proceeded to paint him red, frescoing both the
garments and the man within them.

Solly bawled and shrieked and struggled and bit, but Mustard did not
release him until the bucket was exhausted of paint.

Solly, too, was a sight.

Then Smart Durret entered the fracas. Seizing his bottle of magic
cleanser by the neck and manipulating it like a club, he struck it over
the dome of Prophet’s head.

But the soapy neck of the bottle was slick and slipped from Durret’s
hand, bounced from the armor-plated skull of Mustard Prophet like a
rubber ball, and was smashed to fragments halfway across the room.

Pap Curtain, in his turn, came to the aid of his friend. Picking up the
paint-bucket with a circular motion of his long arm, he brought it down
upon the head of Smart Durret. The bucket did not bounce, but Durret
did.

Deciding it was high time to go for the constable and the sheriff,
Solly departed with expedition, deeply regretting that the State
militia and the Federal army were not available in this hour of need.

But Smart and Solly had loyal friends, and in a moment Mustard and Pap
stood with their backs to the wall, each in possession of a heavy
chair, holding it like a lion-tamer to keep the crowd from rushing them.

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

Mustard proceeded to paint him red.]

“Don’t scrouge, niggers!” Mustard bawled, as he held his chair poised
for battle. “I done kilt so many coons I can’t count ’em. A feather
fell from a buzzard’s wing an’ hit me on de head when I wus little,
which am a sign dat my path is crossed wid dead men. Come right on an’
git your’n!”

Then for a minute Mustard and Pap were the center of a whirling wheel
of legs and arms and hands and heads; holding their chairs before them
they charged through the ring like two angry bears. Men doubled up
before them and went down and they took a side-swipe at the rest as
they passed.

They had reached the door in safety and were just about to pass through
when the door was blocked by the portly form of the town constable.

The combatants came to a full stop. The battle was ended.

“Dat’s dem, Mister Rogers!” Solly Saddler squealed, as he pointed out
Pap and Mustard. “Dey wus peckin’ on me an’ Smart Durret.”

“You four bucks march along in front of me,” the officer announced
briefly. “Go to jail.”

At the jail door Mustard stopped to make a plea which was ably seconded
by the others.

“Please, boss, don’t put us togedder.”

“Naw,” Solly exclaimed earnestly. “Let me an’ Smart go upstairs. Lock
us away from dem terr’ble mens!”

“Go upstairs, then,” Rogers said.

A minute later, Pap and Mustard stood together behind the bars.

“I done been in jail two times in two days,” Mustard mourned. “Sorrer’s
done kotch me again.”

“Me, too,” Pap lamented. “Bad luck’s got me by de lef’ hind leg wid a
downhill pull!”

“Same back at you, brudders!” a strange voice from the darkness in
tragic tones. “I’s Trouble’s twin!”

Having no charge against the four negroes except disorderly conduct,
the constable had merely separated the combatants, allowing each pair
the freedom of the entire floor. Mustard and Pap had believed that they
were alone upon this lower floor until the strange voice spoke.

Their hair stood up in superstitious fear, but the voice spoke again:

“Howdy, brudders!”

“Who dat talkin’ to hisse’f?” Mustard asked in frightened tones. “Whar
is you at? Name yo’ name!”

“Dey calls me Mobile,” the stranger confessed, coming forward. Then he
proposed in a whisper: “Less go in one of dese little cages an’ set an’
talk.”

“Naw,” Pap replied forcibly. “De wind might blow dat iron do’ shet. I
likes de outside.”

So, instead, the three groped their way down the corridor and sat down
on the window-sill, using the grating behind them as a rest for their
backs.

“My name is Mustard Prophet.”

“I’s Pap Curtain.”

“Huh,” was the surprised grunt from Mobile.

“Which?” Pap and Mustard asked in duet.

“Whar you-alls from?” Mobile asked.

“Tickfall.”

There was a long silence.

“Whut dey got you in fer?” Mobile asked next.

“A nigger painted my clothes in de Chicken-Wing an’ I fit him to a
finish,” Mustard chuckled. “Pap helped.”

“Oo-ee, brudders!” Mobile exclaimed mournfully. “I bet dey gives you
’bout fo’teen years fer dat. Dis is a _mean_ town to niggers! I got to
dis town on Sunday mawnin’, and got drunk, and got in a rookus in de
Chicken-Wing, an’ dey put me in jail befo’ dinner-time an’ tuck all my
money off me--an’ I had ’bout fifteen cents!”

“Dat’s too bad,” Mustard sighed, leaning back against the grating
behind him. Then he sprang forward suddenly and exclaimed: “Looky here,
Mobile! De bars on dis here winder is plum’ loose!”

“Suttinly,” Mobile whispered.

“How come?”

“I sawed on ’em all Sunday atternoon, an’ Sunday night, an’ all to-day,
an’ a leetle bit to-night,” Mobile told him.

“You ain’t figgerin’ to git out, is you?” Mustard inquired innocently.

“Naw, son!” Mobile denied in tones which throbbed with disgust. “I jes’
wants to let in a leetle mo’ fresh air.”

“Us favors mo’ fresh air, too,” Pap snickered.

“I done got ’em sawed loose--mighty nigh,” Mobile said. “Dey’s sawed
plum’ across on de sides an’ de bottom, but dey ain’t sawed on de top.
You reckon us-all is got muscle enough to ketch holt dat gratin’ an’
bend her in or shove her out?”

“Shorely!” Mustard asserted eagerly. “I kin heft a bale of cotton an’
tote it up de gang-plank of a steamboat.”

The three stood up in the window with their feet resting on the sill.

They stooped and caught hold of the grating at the lower end, and
leaning backward, they lifted up and in. Under that mighty strain, the
iron grating attached to the masonry by four bars at the top slowly
bent and left an opening underneath large enough to allow their bodies
to pass through.

The three lost no time in climbing out. They had gone around to the
front of the jail when Mustard stopped.

“Hol’ on dar, Mobile,” he muttered. “I done ferget my cawnet-hawn an’
lef’ it in de jail. I needs dat hawn.”

“Leave it be,” Mobile advised.

“I done fergot my trombone-hawn,” Pap added. “Go back an’ git ’em fer
us, Mustard.”

“Naw,” Mobile protested. “I got plenty money. I’ll pay you fer ’em.”

“Naw,” Mustard rejoined vehemently. “Marse Tom gimme dat cawnet-hawn,
an’ he’s powerful proud of it. He say he’d know de sound of dat cawnet
in Chinee.”

Their argument ended right there, for suddenly from a window in the
second story of the jail two voices screeched like a calliope:

“Murder-r! He’p! Come here, eve’ybody!”

Yells and whoops and screams and wails came from Solly and Smart who
realized that Mustard and Pap had escaped and who saw the reward for
their capture slipping away, leaving themselves in durance.

At the first screech, Rogers, the constable, who was sitting on a
near-by door-step, ran to the jail and arrived just in time to empty
his pistol at the fleeing forms of the three negroes as they passed
under the last electric street light, and ran onto the protection levee
at the river.

Then the constable hastened back to the jail and became the recipient
of some surprising misinformation from the wailing negroes in the
prison. In an eager antiphony, they recited what they knew, snatching
the sentences from each other’s lips:

“Dem two niggers whut got away robbed de sto’ at Tickfall----”

“An’ kilt dat Mister Skull whut owned it----”

“De feller whut blows de cawnet-hawn done it----”

“He brag his brags dat he done kilt mo’ coons dan he kin count----”

“De monkey-faced tromboner hid behind de levee all mawnin’----”

“An’ de cawnet-nigger axed eve’ybody did us know de tromboner befo’ de
tromboner would come out----”

“Ef you ketch ’em agin, Mister Rogers, does us niggers git de reward
bill?”

Mister Rogers, accompanied by the two negroes, left the jail in a trot
and a few minutes later the constable pounded with his night-stick on
the front door of Sheriff Ulloa’s home, demanding admittance on most
important business.


VI

IN THE MASSACRE SWAMP.

“We goes fo’ miles up dis levee to de Massacre swamp, niggers,” Mobile
panted, as he ran. “Den faller de hog-path two miles to de ole Kerlerac
plantation house. I knows dis country like I knows de insides of a
white man’s hen-coop. Trot, niggers, trot!”

When the Federal soldiers visited the State of Louisiana during the
Civil War, they carried guns and ammunition, but they did their best
fighting and won their greatest victories and wrought their most
extensive devastation with water--muddy river water.

Invading the State, they cut the levees of the Red, Atchafalaya,
and Mississippi Rivers, and then let the snows melting on the loyal
northern hills pour their floods and do their destructive work.

Because of this method of warfare, Louisiana was the last State to
begin to recover from the effects of the Civil War.

Her agricultural enterprises absolutely require the protection of the
river levees; prostrated financially, the State had no money to rebuild
when peace was declared what war had destroyed.

Mobile, followed by Pap Curtain and Mustard Prophet, was going straight
to a spot which indicated after half a century one of the effects of
this mode of warfare.

The Kerlerac plantation house was a three-story building erected of
stone conveyed, literally, from the ends of the earth, for the building
material had been brought as ballast in the sailing vessels which
landed with empty bottoms at the Kerlerac plantation to receive the
products of her soil.

Yearly, during and after the war, the June floods had swept across that
plantation, the water standing from four to forty feet deep above every
inch of its soil.

The old plantation house, surrounded by its stately lawns and shaded by
its colossal evergreen oaks, was abandoned, and now after sixty years
the stone ruins stood in the midst of an almost impenetrable swamp and
cypress trees nearly as large around as a man’s body grew in the center
of the building, their branches protruding above where the roof had
been.

The first gray streaks of dawn showed in the sky when Mobile led his
panting and exhausted followers between the walls of this old house
and allowed them a moment’s rest.

“Don’t take too long to blow, brudders!” Mobile warned them, his own
tongue hanging out like a hot dog’s, his mouth spread wide, showing
a gold front tooth. “Ef de white folks follers us, dey’ll come right
straight to dis here house an’ start deir hunt from here. I knows ’em!”

“Whut you fetch us here fer, den?” Pap Curtain inquired indignantly.

“Us niggers is got to hab some money,” Mobile informed him, “an’ I
knows whar a white man has hid some. Less git it, an’ ’vide up, an’
scoot!”

He walked through the briars and underbrush, stumbling among the fallen
stones, to a certain corner; then motioning for silence, he listened.

“Dat mought be wind,” he muttered uneasily. “Den again, it mought be a
steamboat puffin’ up de river. Den, agin, it moughtn’t.”

Raising a large stone, he kicked at the dirt underneath, then suddenly
ceased his operations and listened.

Then in the dim light his face became ashen, turning a scar upon his
cheek white, and his heart thumped like a drum. He let the rock fall
back upon the treasure, and motioned to Pap and Mustard to follow,
leading them four times around the walls and crisscross through the
center and then back to the entrance.

“Listen, niggers!” Mobile chattered. “My Gawd, listen!”

Far across the swamp they could hear distinctly a steady repetition of
three short sounds followed by a long, lowing bellow like a bull: “_Ow,
ow, ow! Oo-oo-oo-o!_”

“Whut’s dat?” Mustard asked.

“_Nigger dogs!_” Mobile cried with a voice like a sob. “_Bloodhounds!_”

An uncontrollable sobbing seized the negro and his fright was pitiable.
Mustard and Pap, having no experience with such dogs, looked at him
uncomprehendingly.

Finally, Mobile dropped to the ground and listened. Then rising, he
announced:

“A whole pack, niggers--dogs an’ men! We’ll never git outen dis swamp
alive--dem dam’ dogs’ll gnaw our bones! Come on, less see kin we make
it to de Massacre Bayou!”

They started on a straight line, running side by side.

Then within a hundred yards they faced a slough as large as a lake, no
one knew how deep with mud and water. Taking a long detour around this,
they looked back and in two miles of running, still found themselves in
plain sight of the Kerlerac plantation house.

“Dat’s de las’ big puddle, niggers,” Mobile informed them. “Now go
straight an’ wade eve’ything you come to!”

The ingenuity of the Spanish inquisition devised no tortures comparable
to the possibilities of pain arising from a forced flight through a
Louisiana jungle.

A vine trailing the ground for hundreds of yards in some mysterious
manner wraps three times around a man’s leg, trips him, and leaves
him to struggle with a bond which he cannot unwrap, cannot break, and
cannot cut with a sharp pocket-knife.

Wild rose vines with thorns like spear-points and barbed like a
fishhook snag the garments and the skin, and, like Shylock, demand
their pound of flesh. Hidden in every puddle of water, the hard, sharp
cypress knees lie ambushed in the mud like bayonets to impale anything
which falls upon them.

Overhead, thorn-armed vines and the drooping branches of the dreadful
prickly ash hang down to retard man’s progress and augument his anguish.

In every damp spot the deadly moccasin lurks; by every decayed stump
and root the venomous cottonmouth guards its den; insects thrashed up
by the agitation of the grass and weeds rise like an Egyptian plague
and blind the eyes and fill the nostrils and choke the throat.

And through it all, mud which bogs the runner to his knees; at every
twenty steps a pool of water and mire, which may be shallow enough for
a sparrow to wade without wetting his feathers, or as deep as a well;
and poison ivy, growing waist high, saturating man’s garments with its
vitriol juices, and burning the flesh as if the runner were wading in a
caldron of boiling oil!

But the pursuing dog slips unhindered through the jungle, runs
unmired through the mud, swims the pools of water, and stands howling
underneath the tree where the fugitive has climbed to escape the
canine’s tearing teeth.

In half an hour the negroes, scratched, torn, snagged, wounded,
bleeding, mud-covered, half-naked, looking more like wild beasts than
men, stood on the banks of the Massacre Bayou. Forty yards behind them
a pack of ravening dogs bayed a red-hot trail.

“Swim it!” Mobile panted. “Git across dis creek, fer Gawd’s sake!”

They leaped into the stream and dragged their exhausted bodies up the
opposite bank just as the raging dogs stopped at the water’s edge on
the bank they had just left.

Mobile ran to a hickory sapling as large around as his arm.

“He’p me break dis off, men,” he screamed. “We got to fight ’em!”

With the strength of desperation, the three men wrenched at the
sapling, snapped it off at the roots, broke it in a proper length for a
club, and as quickly as possible selected and prepared two others like
it.

“Look out, niggers!” Mobile howled. “Dey’s gittin’ ready to swim
across! Kill eve’y dog as quick as his front feet touches the land on
dis side. Whatever happens, git dem big, black, long-eared debbils
fust!”

While he was speaking two of the bloodhounds leaped from the bank and
came toward them, swerving not an inch before the threatening clubs.

Mobile stepped to the edge of the water and stood poised to strike,
his crazed eyes glaring at one of the swimming dogs, the features of
his face quivering with spasms of pain and exhaustion. Then the hickory
descended, and the immense dog sank under the water with a startled
grunt.

Mobile and Pap both ministered to the other bloodhound which followed
its mate to the bottom of the bayou.

Then the whole pack, deer-dogs, fox-hounds, hog-dogs, and mongrels,
making the swamp hideous with their howls and yelps, sprang into the
stream.

The three negroes ran up and down the bank of the stream, striking
with weary arms, kicking with feet as heavy as lead, sobbing, praying,
cursing, raving--adding their insane voices to the noise of the hounds,
making pandemonium of the silent, shadowy swamp.

At last the hound-pack, wearied by swimming and unable to effect a
landing, turned back to the opposite shore in defeat.

“Saved!” Mobile sobbed. “Now, niggers, trot down this here bayou till
we git to de public road!”

Ten minutes later, they fell in the dust of the public highway like
monstrous worms or rather like raw, skinned cattle divested of their
hides and their carcasses left as food for the carrion crows.

For a few minutes they were motionless, lying like dead men; then a
consciousness of approaching danger roused them to renew their flight.

Rising totteringly to their feet, they breathed deeply, and started.
Then all hope died.

From out of the high weeds on the side of the road, a deep-seamed,
weather-tanned Spanish face appeared, and two fearless eyes held the
gaze of the helpless negroes like a hypnotist.

“You niggers stop right there!” a quiet voice said.

It was Sheriff Ulloa, who knew the route of fugitive criminals, and had
taken the precaution to guard the only outlet from the Massacre Swamp.

“Please, suh, boss, save us,” the negroes sobbed in a chorus.

“All right,” the sheriff said grimly. “Trot right down the center of
this road and go back to the jail you got out of.”


VII

“GON’ER GIT THEM NIGGERS!”

Just at noon the three negroes stumbled through the door of the jail,
and like men walking in their sleep, obeyed the command of the sheriff
and climbed the steps to the second story. There they fell to the floor
and sank into unconsciousness.

The sheriff closed the jail door and sat down on the steps in front,
where he gave himself up to most serious thought. Almost an hour later
he arose, reëntered the jail, and returning to his three prisoners
picked out Mobile Boone and kicked him into wakefulness.

“Get up, Mobile,” he commanded. “Follow me downstairs.”

Dumbly, the negro obeyed. On the ground floor the sheriff stopped and
spoke:

“Mobile, what are you in here for?”

“I got drunk in de Chicken-Wing an’ tried to claw a nigger’s nose off.”

“Were you arrested with those other two negroes?”

“Naw, suh. Dey fetch me to de calaboose on Sunday mawnin’ an’ dem two
coons come in late Sunday night. I never seed ary one of ’em befo’.”

“If I let you out will you leave town right away?”

“Bless gracious, boss,” Mobile exclaimed with most obvious sincerity,
“ef you lets me outen dis jail, I’ll put dis town so fur behine me back
dat it’ll cost you ninety-seben dollars to send me a postich card.”

The sheriff laughed.

“I means it, boss,” Mobile assured him. “Jes gimme a shirt an’ a pair
of britches so I won’t look like I was jes’ bawned, an’ I’ll shore ax
you good-by!”

The sheriff led the negro across to the office in the court-house,
opened a closet, pawed over some old hunting clothes, and found some
suitable garments for Mobile. When the negro had put them on, the
sheriff handed him a silver dollar and said:

“Now, Mobile, I’ve let you out because the chances are those other two
negroes are going to be mobbed. You are innocent and I don’t want to
see you strung up. You’d better hit the grit!”

Mobile did. He went down the levee at a gait which bid fair to carry
him very far in a brief time--if he could keep it up.

Then the sheriff returned to the jail and sat down in the same place.

The town of Kerlerac was deserted except for the women and children.
Practically every male inhabitant had joined the most exciting of all
chases--the man-hunt.

The sheriff placed a cigar in his mouth, chewed it almost to the other
end without lighting it, then spat it out.

“When that searching party finds their dead dogs and drinks up all
their red liquor,” he reasoned to himself, “and come back to town and
find those coons in jail, they’ll form a mob. My deputies will desert
the crowd when the mob forms, but they won’t join me. It’s up to me to
protect the coons.”

The town-clock struck two.

Far down the road, Sheriff Ulloa heard the piercing yell of the
fox-hunter.

“They’re coming back,” he muttered.

Taking a large pistol from the holster under his arm, he examined it
carefully, revolving the cylinder between his thumb and finger.

A tiny chameleon was playing up and down the bark of a tree twenty feet
distant.

With a motion which appeared almost careless, Ulloa made a turn of his
wrist, there was a loud explosion from the gun, and the little creature
spattered into fragments, leaving a dark, wet spot against the tree
which looked as if a man had spat at a hole in the bark and made a
center shot.

The shot aroused the two negroes on the floor above, and the
man-hunters heard it and hastened back to town.

When the party arrived in Kerlerac they quickly heard of the sheriff’s
capture of the fugitives, but not a man came to the sheriff to ask him
about the capture. They gathered in a body in the Red Elephant saloon.

Soon one of the deputies, white-faced and panting, ran into the
sheriff’s presence with the news that a mob was forming on the
outskirts of the town.

“I expected that,” Ulloa answered quietly. “You and the other two
deputies arm yourselves with rifles and hide in the tower of the
court-house overlooking the front of the jail.”

“What must we do?” the deputy asked tremulously. “Shoot?”

“Do your duty!” Ulloa replied shortly, “whatever you conceive it to be.”

He turned and entered the jail, locking the door behind him.

“Boss,” Mustard Prophet called down to him, “me an’ Pap lef’ our
toot-hawns down-stairs. Please, suh, fotch us up de cawnet an’ de
trombone!”

With a grim smile the sheriff complied with the request.

“You niggers better play the _Dead March in Saul_,” he muttered
grimly. “It’ll be appropriate all right.”

“Us ain’t ’quainted wid dat toon,” Pap grinned, reaching for his
trombone. “But me an’ Mustard kin shore fetch ragtime and religion
songs.”

In the meantime, in the far end of the town, sixty excited men had
supplied themselves with enough rope to hang a man from a not too
distant star; had armed themselves with knives and hatchets and axes,
with guns and pistols; had appointed their leader, Barto Skaggs, a man
of swarthy complexion, a grim mouth, surmounted by a black mustache,
and intense, glowing black eyes, which pressed hard against the lids
and showed a great deal of white beneath the pupil--the eyes of the
wanton destroyer.

“Keep together, men!” Barto Skaggs advised. “When one man acts
everybody act with him. Come on!”

With the first forward step of the mob a tall, gangling, half-wit boy,
with a long neck, a step-ladder head, a long sharp nose, and a receding
chin, and a loose-lipped mouth which dribbled tobacco-juice as he
spoke, began to repeat like a chant:

“Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git them
niggers!”

His harsh, crackly, gosling voice, uttering every word with a jerk,
soon took the monotonous roll of a snaredrum. Unconsciously the men
kept step to the words and the purpose expressed in the sentence was
burned into the very fiber of their souls:

“Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git them
niggers!”

Turning into the street which led to the jail two blocks away, the
mob rounded the Confederate Circle, in the center of which was a
ridiculous, stump-legged, pewter image of a man, too short in its
stride for glory, but, nevertheless, erected by a grateful populace as
a monument of glory to commemorate the heroes of the South.

Then Sheriff Ulloa stepped out of the jail, locked the door behind him,
tossed the key as far as he could throw it into some high weeds growing
at the side of the prison, and waited.

It was not necessary for the leader and spokesman to explain to the
officer of the law the purpose of their visit.

Fully a block away the half-wit’s strident voice, having gained in
volume by the constant repetition of the phrase, conveyed the message
in tones which crackled like thorns under a pot:

“Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git----”

The mob halted.

“Turn around and go back, gentlemen,” the sheriff said courteously.
“Start your one-man band to playing another tune, and go back!”

In the center of the street there was a rut which had been made by
wagon wheels.

The mob moved slowly forward, and stopped at this rut like children
toeing a mark in a spelling-match. They seemed to feel that a contest
was on, and that this rut was the dead-line.

“We want them niggers, sheriff,” Barto Skaggs said.

“You shall not have them,” Ulloa replied quietly and forcibly.
“When you kill those blacks every man of you is a murderer. I shall
not be sheriff of a parish which contains sixty murderers--men of
prominence--running at large!”

“Aw, come off, George!” an impatient voice exclaimed. “You’ve kilt a
plenty of coons in your day!”

“Yes, gentlemen, I have,” Ulloa answered quickly. “_I have never been
slow to kill!_ And I was elected sheriff of this parish _by you_ for
the one purpose of totally abolishing this wholesale slaughter of
innocent and unoffending blacks, and for the protection of offenders
from mob violence in order that the law might take its course. I shall
do it.”

Looking into the quiet, determined face of the officer, the mob
wavered. Then the half-wit’s snare-drum voice rallied them:

“Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git them niggers! Gon’er git----”

The mob took one cautious step forward. Ulloa drew his pistol from his
pocket.

“That’s far enough, fellow citizens,” he said, and now his voice
drawled like the purr of a cat and was deadly in its menace. “When you
get those niggers I won’t be the sheriff of this parish. I’ll be dead.
I don’t know who’ll get me, but I’ll kill the first man who takes the
next step forward!”

The mob packed denser, became tense, throbbed like an automobile
when the power is turned on. Ulloa’s eyes gazed straight into the
destructive orbs of Barto Skaggs and held him like a hypnotist. Then
the half-wit began:

“Gon’er git--them niggers! Gon’er git----”

A back-handed blow from Barto Skaggs’s fist struck the half-wit fairly
in the mouth and sent him reeling backward, disarranging for a moment
the tense compact mass of men.

Then from the second-story front window of the jail, just above the
sheriff’s head and behind him, there came a sound which caused the
sheriff’s swarthy face to whiten to the eyebrows--the most unfortunate
thing which could have happened to his cause:

“Oo-oh! My Gawd, my Gawd! De mobbers is comin’! De mobbers!”

Instantly the mob crouched like panthers ready to spring.


VIII

MOB AND MUSIC.

Up to the moment when their frightened screams had stirred afresh the
mob’s lust to kill, Mustard and Pap Curtain had been totally ignorant
of what was occurring outside the jail. Wandering idly to the window to
look out, they had seen what every negro dreads, whatever the reason
for his incarceration--a mob.

With the first frightened cry Sheriff Ulloa knew that it would be
impossible to disperse the crowd before him. The scream of the quarry
only stimulates the pursuit of the wolf-pack.

For two dreadful minutes the negroes sobbed and prayed; then Mustard
Prophet turned shudderingly away from the window and, going to a window
on the side of the jail, knelt at the casement and wept like a child,
looking up now and then with fear-crazed eyes at the silent statue of
the pewter hero of the Lost Cause.

Then while the grim sheriff stood poised and ready, fronting alone the
crouching crowd of eager men, the shrill note of an automobile horn was
heard and an immense machine whirled around the Confederate Circle and
came sailing down the street toward the jail.

One block distant it stopped--abruptly.

The white-haired, white-bearded man at the steering-wheel gazed
down the street in surprise. The scene was too familiar to require
explanation. Leaping from the car, he walked slowly and cautiously down
the street.

Then, up in the second story of the jail, Mustard Prophet leaped to his
feet sobbing, praying, shrieking in a perfect frenzy of hope and fear.

“Oh, my Lawd!” he exclaimed. “_Dar’s Marse Tom!_”

Grabbing his cornet like a drowning man clutches at a straw, he placed
it to his quivering lips. Loud and clear, throbbing with the eagerness
of hope, the courage of despair, the strains of music became almost
articulate speaking the words of a song:

    All de world am sad and dreary,
      Eberywhere I roam;
    Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary,
      Far from de old folks at home!

The god Mars, who had witnessed many warlike scenes in Louisiana, never
beheld an incident so grotesquely dramatic as this.

In front of the jail, grim, white-faced, desperate, determined to end
his life right there, and perfectly sure that the end was near, stood
Sheriff Ulloa. In the middle of the street, a mob, bloodthirsty and
cruel, listening raveningly to the frightened screams of their quarry,
and eager for the kill. Up the street, a man serenely observant,
apparently indifferent to what was transpiring before his very eyes;
while within the jail two strangling, fear-choked negroes whose breath
was like the exhaust of an engine and whose hearts beat in their
breasts like war-drums, sobbed and screamed and prayed and one of them
played on a cornet _Old Folks at Home_!

Not since the poor, pitiful, dissipated author of that sweet folk-song
stumbled over the ragged carpet in his miserable room in the Bowery,
struck his head against his broken water-pitcher, bled to death upon
the floor, and was carried to his grave while his friends sang his
favorite song, had these words and their music been associated with so
dramatic an event.

“Fer Gawd’s sake, Pap!” Mustard sobbed. “Come here an’ he’p me play dis
toon! Don’t you see Marse Tom standin’ on dat cornder? Play, nigger,
play! Say yo’ prayers in dat hawn when you toot it!”

    All up and down de whole creation
      Sadly I roam,
    Still longing for de old plantation
      And for de old folks at home!

Up the street the white-haired man listened, then took off his hat and
scratched his head in a quandary.

“A mob set to music!” he smiled to himself. “This is something new to
me. I wonder what that fool Mustard Prophet is doing here?”

He walked quietly down the street and stopped in front of the jail,
taking his position by the side of Sheriff Ulloa. With a graceful
gesture he removed his hat and thus fronted the mob, serene, powerful,
his fine face glowing like an alabaster vase with a lamp in it, the
wind tossing his snow-white hair and beard--the most striking and
impressive figure one beholds in a lifetime. He stood with bowed head
listening to the music:

    Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary,
    Far from de old folks at home!

The music ended and the intense silence was broken by a voice in the
mob:

“_Aw, hell!_ I move we adjourn--_back’ards!_”

With a concerted movement like a piece of oiled machinery, the mob
turned and tramped up the street like a drove of mules, leaving four
lengthy coils of rope, a broken hatchet, a hoe-handle, and a corncob
pipe in the middle of the road.

Turning with gracious Spanish courtesy, Sheriff Ulloa bowed low before
the serene, powerful presence of Gaitskill, and murmured:

“I thank you. You saved my life!”

“Nothing of the sort!” Gaitskill snorted. “A mob can’t work to the tune
of Suwanee River! Where’s that fool who’s blowing that horn?”

“I’ll conduct you to him,” Ulloa answered.

A minute later Gaitskill and Ulloa had secured another key to the
jail, had entered, and stood in the presence of Mustard Prophet and
Pap Curtain. The two negroes were too overcome to speak. Crazed by
their horrible experiences, they sat wildly mumbling their prayers and
uttering exclamations of thanksgiving.

“These are the men I telephoned you about,” Ulloa said.

“These are not the men we want,” Gaitskill replied in a disappointed
tone. “One of these darkies is the overseer on my Nigger-Heel
plantation.”

“You asked me over the telephone if one of them was yellow?” Ulloa
said, pointing to Pap Curtain.

“Pap’s yellow, all right,” Gaitskill smiled. “But he’s not the man.
He’s the well-digger of Tickfall. The coon we want is a nigger named
Mobile Boone. He was seen early Sunday morning coming this way with my
bag of money.”

Sheriff Ulloa opened his mouth to speak; then he closed it without
saying a word.

“Marse Tom,” Mustard asked, “wus Mobile a yeller nigger wid a gold toof
in his mouf an’ a scar on his jaw?”

“Yes.”

Mustard sprang to his feet with a loud laugh and gave Pap Curtain a
mighty kick.

“Git up, Pap,” he howled. “Less go git Marse Tom’s money fer him!”

When a moment later the big automobile swung into the Massacre road
leading to the old Kerlerac plantation house, Pap Curtain leaned over
and whispered:

“Mustard, how you know dat Mobile is hid dat money under dat rock?
S’posen you go dar an’ don’t find it? Whut’ll happen den?”

Mustard turned almost white. Then he answered:

“Pap, ef I don’t git dat money dese here white men will hang up my
Chris’mus socks widout takin’ me out of ’em!”


IX

BACK TO THE OLD FOLKS.

Entering the stone ruins of the old plantation-house, Mustard walked
unerringly to the large, flat rock which Mobile had lifted a few hours
before and raised it from the ground. Pap Curtain clawed in the soft
soil with his horny hands, then sprang to his feet with a yell.

He held the heavy canvas bag tied with a rawhide string.

Two hours later, Pap Curtain and Mustard Prophet, sons of sorrow,
reach the pinnacle of happiness. Clothed in new garments, smoking
cigars, rattling money in their pockets, they sat down in a banker’s
five-thousand-dollar automobile, the owner at the steering-wheel, and
started their journey back to Tickfall and the old folks at home.

Mustard Prophet, responsive as mercury to the least chill in the
atmosphere or the slightest increase in the warmth of fortune’s
sunshine, began to expand:

“Marse Tom, I shore hopes you’ll take better keer of de rest of yo’
dollars dan you did of dis bag of money. ’Twus a powerful hard day’s
wuck fer me when I got it back for you!”

No answer from Colonel Gaitskill. The miles sped by.

Then Mustard asked, with as much curiosity as if he had been gone
thirty years instead of less than three days:

“Marse Tom, is Hopey livin’ yit?”

“Yes.”

“I bet dat nigger wife of mine makes ’miration over dese here fine
clothes I’m got on.”

Silence again, then a shout from both negroes:

“Bless Gawd! Dar’s Tickfall.”

When the car stopped in front of the bank, Gaitskill got out, carrying
his money-bag, Pap and Mustard carrying their precious musical
instruments.

“Marse Tom,” Mustard inquired, “does I git my same job at de
Nigger-Heel back agin?”

“Certainly.”

“I’s shore glad of dat, Marse Tom. Sheriff Ulloa offered me a job, but
I ain’t gwine take it.”

“What did the sheriff want you to do?” Gaitskill smiled.

“He axed me to he’p him lay a pipe-line to de Milky Way so he could
start a dairy.”



Monarch of the Manacle.


“Skeeter, whose pup wus dat you wus totin’ aroun’ on yo’ arm yistiddy?”
Figger Bush asked as he sat down beside a table in the Hen-Scratch
saloon. “I’d druther be dead dan be perceived packin’ a pup.”

“Dat warn’t no common growl-an’-bark dawg,” Skeeter grinned, blushing
until his saddle-colored face turned to a deep brownish crimson. “Dat
wus one of dese here Spitz dawgs. It b’longs to Tella Tandy, dat new
gal whut jes’ come to Tickfall. I’s keepin’ it fer her.”

“How come she don’t keep it fer herse’f?” Figger inquired.

“She’s stayin’ down at Mustard Prophet’s cabin, an’ she’s skeart
Mustard’s fox-houn’s will eat her dawg up--dar he comes now!”

The little Pomeranian racked across the sandy floor of the saloon,
small sharp ears erect, his fine intelligent eyes sparkling, his thick
hair as fine and glossy as silk. He leaped into Skeeter’s lap, and
licked a tiny red tongue at Skeeter’s face.

“Look out, Skeeter!” Figger exclaimed, pushing his chair out of the
danger zone. “Ain’t you skeart dat Spit dawg will spit in yo’ face?”

“Naw!” Skeeter replied disgustedly. “Dey jes’ calls him a Spitz dawg
fer a name. Dat’s a manner of speakin’, as it were. Ef you buys a plug
of Bull-dawg chawin’ terbaccer, you don’t especk to git bit, does yer?”

“You shorely muss be stuck on dat new gal ef you totes her dawg on de
street an’ feeds him puffeckly good vittles in de Hen-Scratch saloom,”
Figger replied, ignoring Skeeter’s question.

“I _is_ in love wid dat gal,” Skeeter replied positively. “She’s shore
easy to look at, Figger. An’ she specifies she is _wuth_ one thousan’
dollars.”

“My Lawd!” Figger exclaimed fervently. “I’d be willin’ to tote a whole
litter of Spit dawgs fer her!”

“I wants you to he’p me ketch her, Figger,” Skeeter said earnestly.
“I needs about a thousan’ dollars to make some improvements in dis
barroom, an’ escusin’ dat, de gal is plum’ wuth havin’.”

“Am she really got dat many money, or do she jes’ value her carcass at
dat many dollars?” Figger asked suspiciously.

“I dunno,” Skeeter replied doubtfully. “All she said wus dat she wus
_wuth_ one thousan’ dollars.”

“Huh,” Figger grunted skeptically. “She mought be pricin’ herse’f too
high.”

Suddenly the green-baize doors of the saloon were thrust aside, and a
clear voice called:

“Oh, Skeeter! Come out here!”

Skeeter jumped like someone had popped a dynamite cap under his chair,
and hastened out to the front. Figger followed slowly for the purpose
of getting a good look at Skeeter’s new girl.

She was well worth seeing. She was as slim and straight and graceful as
a stalk of sugar-cane; her color was a little darker than Skeeter’s; an
Ethiopian type, with perfect features, a sinewy, cat-like movement of
muscles under satiny skin, easy-smiling lips, which played constantly
over perfectly beautiful teeth, and a speaking voice which any orator
in the world would covet.

“Lawd,” Figger sighed enviously. “She’s wuth de thousan’ dollars, all
right.”

“I wants my dawg, Skeeter,” Tella Tandy said. “I’s gwine down to de
deppo to watch de train come in. Want to come wid me an’ tote de dawg?”

“No’m,” Skeeter answered regretfully, as he snapped his fingers and the
little Spitz leaped under the saloon doors and sprang into his owner’s
arms. “I got to make a livin’ keepin’ bar. I’ll go wid you some yuther
time.”

The woman walked down the street and Skeeter returned to the table
where he had been sitting. He sighed like a furnace and wiped the sweat
from his face.

“Figger,” he said pantingly, “dat gal nearly gibs me de jim-jams eve’y
time I sees her. I loses all de good sense I’m got. I feels like a fool
an’ I acks like a fool, an’ ’pears to me like dat gal is laughin’ at me
all de time.”

“I ’spect so,” Figger said commiseratingly, as he arose to go. “Dem
females is mos’ in gineral laughin’ at us. But dem simpletoms you
announce is shore a bad sign. Mattermony’ll ketch you ef you don’t
watch out. Ef you needs any good advices, I ’speck you better send fer
me.”

Figger sauntered down to the depot, watched the passenger train arrive
and depart, and then hurried back to the Hen-Scratch saloon.

“Bad luck, Skeeter!” he howled, as soon as he entered the room. “Dat
Tella Tandy went down to de deppo to meet a man an’ dat man looks like
one of dese here watermillyumaires!”

“Lawdymussy!” Skeeter squeaked, springing to his feet. “I knowed my
luck wus too good to last. Whar is dat new nigger man at?”

“Dey is bofe comin’ up dis way,” Figger informed him. “Dat new man is
packin’ de Spit dawg. I figger de load will break him down about time
he gits to de Hen-Scratch.”

For ten minutes the two sat in gloomy silence. Skeeter lighted
cigarette after cigarette, twiddled his thumbs, jiggered his feet, and
acted generally like a man with the St. Vitus dance. Figger was more
composed. He was thankful that he was merely an innocent bystander. At
last Skeeter sighed:

“Ef I lose dat gal, it’ll bust my heart, Figger. I been courtin’ her
servigerous fer a week. My head is so full of tears now it would take a
week to bail me out!”

Voices were heard at the door and Skeeter arose tremblingly and walked
out. Tella and the strange man were waiting for him.

“Dis is my frein’, Mr. Deo Diddle, Skeeter,” Tella said easily. “I jes’
been tellin’ him how kind you wus to keep my dawg.”

“Glad to meet yo’ ’quaintance,” Skeeter mumbled, holding out his hand.

“Same back at you,” Deo replied. Then turning to Tella Tandy, he said:
“Me an’ dis dawg is got a little bizzness wid Mr. Muskeeter Butts,
Tella. You foller yo’ little nose down de street an’ see ef he don’t
lead you somewhar else.”

Skeeter and Deo Diddle entered the saloon and sat down at the table
with Figger Bush. The dog sniffed around the room for a minute and then
passed out toward the rear.

Deo Diddle was about the size of Skeeter Butts, but it required no
expert eyes to see that he was a perfect athlete. The poise of his
head and body, the accuracy and decision of even the slightest move,
the steady, assured gaze of his eyes indicated a man whose muscles
and brain were trained in some field of endeavor which required both
strength and wit.

“At de fust offstartin’, Mr. Butts,” Deo Diddle began easily, “I
announces my bizzness an’ de puppus of my visit to Tickfall: I’s a
Monarch of de Manacle.”

“You’s a--a--_which_?” Skeeter asked, his eyes sticking out like a
bug’s.

“I gibs a show,” Deo Diddle explained. “I lets people handcuff me an’ I
slips ’em off as easy as you kin take off a glove. I lets people nail
me up in a box an’ I gits out as easy as you kin git outen dat chair.
I lets people tie me in bed wid ropes an’ I gits loose as easy as a
pickaninny kin fall outen a hammock. An’ on de side, I tells forchines,
reads minds, finds lost treasures, an’ gives a few sleight-of-han’
tricks.”

“Huh!” Skeeter and Figger grunted in a duet.

“Yes, suh,” Deo Diddle went on. “I done hired dat hall down in de
settlemint called Dirty-Six, an’ I’s gibin’ a show eve’y night fer
three nights. Would you wish to come?”

“I shore would!” Skeeter exclaimed eagerly.

“I’s glad to hear you say dat, suh,” Deo replied. “I’s gwine gib a free
pass to you an’ Mr. Bush, an’ I hopes you will speak up my show fer me.
Admission ten cents fer chillun an’ two-bits fer growed-ups!”

He handed Skeeter and Figger a slip of paper apiece, and rose and
walked out of the saloon, leaving the two men to gaze after him in
speechless astonishment. After a long time, Figger remarked:

“You done got yo’ wuck cut out fer you, Skeeter. You know how batty
female womans is about show folks!”

       *       *       *       *       *

A show given by negroes will attract other negroes as a barrel of
molasses attracts flies. The little hall in Dirty-Six was filled to its
capacity a long time before the hour of the exhibition.

Skeeter Butts and Figger Bush occupied the front seat directly facing
the center of the stage.

“Whar is Tella Tandy, Figger?” Skeeter asked uneasily, scanning the
faces in the crowd. “I went to her house atter her an’ dey tole me
she’d done went. But I don’t see her.”

“She’ll git here on time,” Figger assured him. “She ain’t hatin’ dis
Deo Diddle none, an’ she’ll watch him pufform.”

Then the ragged curtain parted in the middle, one half being pulled to
each side of the stage.

“Ladies an’ gen’lemans,” Deo Diddle began, “I’s gwine gib a refined
exhibition of sleight-of-hands fust of all, an’ I defy anybody to kotch
me at my tricks.”

The stunts which followed were too simple and commonplace to mention,
but they were wonderful because new to the Tickfall negroes. In a
little while the whole house was vocal with the comments of the
spectators, who made remarks in a loud voice, and sometimes got into an
argument with some friend across the room.

“My Lawd,” Hitch Diamond bellowed, when he saw the performer break an
egg in a pan, scramble it, light an alcohol lamp and cook it, then lift
out of the pan a live goose. “My Lawd, dat pufformance is agin nature!”

“’Tain’t so!” the Reverend Vinegar Atts bawled from the other side of
the house. “De Good Book says us shall see wonders in de heaven above
an’ de yearth beneath----”

“Aw, go up dar wid de buzzards!” Hitch Diamond retorted in a disgusted
tone. “Not even de good Lawd could make a nigger hatch a goose outen a
scrambled hen’s egg!”

In the meantime, Deo Diddle had turned his attention to a stove-pipe
hat belonging to Vinegar Atts, and was winding yard after yard of
colored paper out of the crown, catching it upon a wand.

“Us knowed you never did carry no brains in dat hat, Revun, even when
you had it on yo’ head!” Pap Curtain guffawed.

The spectators were getting their money’s worth when Deo Diddle
suddenly changed the performance.

“Friends,” he announced, “I’s gwine interjuice you to de mos’ wonderful
woman in de worl’. She kin set right here in dis chair an’ tell
you-alls all about yo’se’ves! She don’t know nobody in dis town, but
she is gwine mention names an’ tell secrets out loud whut nobody ain’t
told her but de departed sperits of de yuther land!”

At that moment Tella Tandy walked out upon the stage and sat down.

Skeeter Butts sprang to his feet with a startled exclamation, then sank
back again with a cold sick sensation at the pit of his stomach.

“Dat means I done lost my little she-goddess, Figger,” he sighed
pitifully. “’Tain’t no use to hope no more.”

“Aw, pert up, Skeeter!” his friend urged. “You ain’t drapped de
pertater yit!”

Tella Tandy appeared to be in a trance. She looked with unseeing eyes
over the faces of the crowd, then began in a weak, uncertain voice:

“I ketch de name of Vinegar Atts--I sees a fly--shoo fly!--church.
Revun Atts is ’postlizin’ in de pulpit--de elder is gwine hab trouble
in de cong’gation--he better watch his eye----”

“I ketch de name of Prince Total--Marse Tom am lookin’ fer dat lost
demijahm whut Prince borrered--I ’speck Prince better fotch dat jug
back befo’ he keeps it buried too long by dat pine stump----”

“I ketch de name of Pap Curtain--Pap is a slick-head nigger--a word
from de sperit lan’ tells Pap dat he better ketch de trabbel itch an’
hike--de gram-jury meets nex’ week----”

For twenty minutes this revelation held the audience in tense, dreadful
silence--twenty minutes of frightful retrospection and introspection,
and when a negro’s name was mentioned that darky suffered a nervous
shock from which he did not recover for a week. Even if his name was
not mentioned, the darky was afraid it would be, and was appalled at
what the revelation might be.

At last Tella Tandy rose from the chair, felt her way toward the side
of the stage as if she were blind, rubbed her hands over her dazed
eyes, and exclaimed in a dramatic voice:

“De book of de recordin’ angel is closed, an’ de sperit land reveals no
more!”

“Bless Gawd!” Hitch Diamond bellowed fervently.

Deo Diddle then brought out a cot and set it in the middle of the
stage. He threw down upon the floor a coil of rope many feet in length
and addressed the audience:

“I wants about ten men to come up on dis flatform and tie me to dis
cot. I offers to bet ten dollars I kin git loose in two minutes!”

“I takes dat bet, bully!” Skeeter Butts squealed as he sprang to his
feet and climbed upon the platform.

“Me, too!” came a chorus of voices, and Vinegar Atts, Prince Total, Pap
Curtain, Hitch Diamond, and a number of others who had been accused of
various crimes and misdemeanors by Tella Tandy followed Skeeter to the
stage.

They carefully examined the cot and rope. Then Deo Diddle stretched
himself out upon it, lying flat upon the mattress with his feet
together and his hands down at his sides. Vinegar Atts and Hitch
Diamond passed the rope around and around him, crossing and
crisscrossing it over his feet and body and neck until he was swathed
like a mummy and apparently as helpless.

Then the committee climbed off the platform and left Deo to free
himself in full view of the crowd.

Deo entertained the crowd for a minute by a mighty struggling and
tugging and jerking and grunting, but all the while Deo’s right hand
was resting upon a lateral bar under the cot which held the mattress
taut. At the proper time Deo simply slipped this bar out of its
fastening on one side of the cot; the mattress sagged down in the
middle like a hammock, with the many coils of rope across Deo, but
hardly touching his body.

Then Deo climbed from under the rope as easily as a pig slips through
a gap in the fence and was free!

The shout of applause which greeted this performance almost lifted the
roof, and amid the noise Deo and Tella quickly removed the cot so that
the committee could not examine it again.

“Us will hab a entirely diffunt show tomorrer night, my frien’s,” Deo
announced when the noise and excitement subsided. “I is knowed all
over de worl’ an’ in Yurope as de Monarch of de Manacle. I’s de only
real nigger Handcuff King in dis country. Tomorrer night I’s gwine
hab eve’y kind of handcuff whut is used by de sheriffs an’ policemens
of dis country an’ furin parts, and I’ll let you handcuff me up any
way you please, an’ ef I don’t git loose in five minutes I’ll gib you
twenty-five dollars reward. Fetch all de handcuffs you is got aroun’ de
house an’ watch de Handcuff King pufform!”

“I’ll git dat reward-bill!” Skeeter Butts squealed.

“All right, pardner!” Deo laughed. “Do yo’ durndest! Good-night!”

While the people were leaving Skeeter Butts climbed back upon the stage
and confronted Tella Tandy.

“Is you married to dis Deo Diddle, Tella?” he asked earnestly.

“Suttinly,” Tella laughed. “Ain’t Deo a wonder?”

“Whut you mean by makin’ a fool outen me?” Skeeter demanded.

“Don’t pick no fuss wid me, Skeeter!” Tella said. “Dis is a free
country an’ you made love at me wid yo’ own mind. I couldn’t he’p it ef
you handed me yo’ heart tied up in a paper-sack.”

Skeeter glared at her a moment, then turned and started away.

“I don’t bear you no grudge fer dem lovin’ words, Skeeter,” Tella
snickered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Skeeter Butts spent a large part of the night in deep meditation.

The next morning all his friends crowded into the Hen-Scratch to
discuss the show. Tella Tandy’s revelations interested them most.

“How come dat purty little coon knowed all about me so good?” Vinegar
Atts wanted to know.

“How did she know dat a gram-jury meetin’ is de real sign fer me to
leave dis town?” Pap Curtain inquired.

“How did she guess dat I swiped Marse Tom Gaitskill’s licker-jug an’
had it hid out ferninst a pine stump?” Prince Total wanted to know.

“I kin answer all dem ’terrogations, niggers,” Skeeter Butts grinned.
“When dat gal fust come to town I didn’t know she wus connected up wid
no show, an’ I didn’t had no idear she wus married, an’ I armed her
aroun’ an’ tried to git her to love me. She axed me about a millyum
questions about you-alls, an’ las’ night when she pulled up dat stunt
she was jes’ repeatin’ over whut I done tole her!”

“My Lawd!” Prince Total exclaimed. “Dat warn’t no fair. I wus mighty
nigh skeart to death.”

“I reckin so,” Vinegar Atts bellowed. “Yo’ mem’ry ain’t loaded wid
nothin’ but blank ca’tridges ontil people begins to talk about yo’
meanness--den yo’ shore is got plenty ammunition of remembrunce.”

“I hope she ain’t gwine pull no more of dat stuff,” Pap Curtain said
uneasily. “How much did you tell her ’bout me, Skeeter?”

“She’s done turned loose all she knows,” Skeeter replied.

“I hope so,” Pap said menacingly. “Ef she revelates any mo’ about me I
knows a yeller-faced bar-keep’ who is gwine hab his mug pounded into
anodder color.”

“No danger--I ain’t skeart,” Skeeter said with a dry grin. “I realizes
dat wus a mistake.”

There was silence for a few minutes, a drink for the crowd at Skeeter’s
expense, and then Skeeter mentioned a plan he had matured in the night:

“Cain’t us niggers fix up some kind of buzzo on dat gal an’ git even
wid her?” he asked.

“Whut mought dat buzzo be?” Vinegar Atts inquired.

“Well, suh, I figgers it out dis way: Dat Deo Diddle is offered a
reward fer any handcuffs he can’t git out of. Now ef Sheriff Marse John
Flournoy would only loan us some handcuffs----”

“Listen to dat nigger’s brains a-poppin’!” Prince Total exclaimed in
extreme admiration. “Fer mussy sake, Skeeter, go see Marse John right
now. I’ll keep dis saloom.”

The crowd sat down to wait while Skeeter hastened to the courthouse,
entered the sheriff’s office, and stood, hat in hand, grinning at Mr.
John Flournoy.

“Come in, Skeeter,” Flournoy said. “I won’t lend any money, won’t hear
any nigger love scrapes, won’t give any advice, won’t listen to any of
your troubles. Excusing all those things, what else do you want?”

Skeeter grinned. As he would have expressed it, Marse John was his
“kinnery.” He had grown up in a cabin in the sheriff’s yard, and this
big-bodied, kind-hearted sheriff held few terrors for Skeeter.

“Dar, now, Marse John, you’ll shore hab room fer a good appetite atter
you is got all dem words offen yo’ stomick. I come to git a view from
you about how to colleck a twenty-five dollars reward-bill.”

“That’s interesting,” Flournoy grinned. “Let’s have the details.”

“Well, suh, a nigger is habin’ a show in dis town an’ he calls hisse’f
a Handcuff King. He specify dat he’s a Monarch of de Manacle. He argufy
dat dar ain’t no kind of handcuff made dat he can’t git hisse’f loose
from in less’n five minutes. Does you reckin dat is so, Marse John?”

“Certainly,” the sheriff answered promptly.

“How come?” Skeeter asked.

This was one theme upon which the sheriff was competent to speak. He
leaned back in his chair, lighted a cigar, and began:

“There are one hundred and forty-two varieties of handcuffs and
leg-irons manufactured in the civilized world, Skeeter, but there
are only thirty-two separate brands which are registered for use by
officers of the law in the United States. Four master keys will unlock
all thirty-two of these leg-irons and handcuffs.”

“Listen to dat!” Skeeter exclaimed.

“I venture to say that that negro showman has all the regulation
handcuffs in use in this country, as well as some of European
manufacture. Of course, he also has the keys to unlock them.”

“Whar do he tote de keys?” Skeeter asked eagerly.

“Oh--everywhere!” Flournoy smiled. “In the lining of his clothes, in
his shoes and socks, in his sleeves and cuffs, down his collar, even in
his mouth--everywhere!”

“Huh!” Skeeter grunted. “Dat’s too bad.”

There was a long silence while Flournoy smilingly watched Skeeter
think. The negro’s face was a pantomime of conflicting emotions, and
the general effect made for gloom and depression. Finally Flournoy
spoke:

“My information seems to discourage you, Skeeter. What’s the problem?”

“It’s dis way, Marse John,” Skeeter said earnestly. “Dat uppity,
biggity nigger is done offered twenty-five dollars reward fer any
handcuff he cain’t git off in five minutes, an’ I figgered dat I had a
show to make de money.”

Flournoy thought a moment, then broke into a loud chuckle.

“I think you have a splendid chance to copper the coin, Skeeter. Wait
here a minute!”

Flournoy opened a steel door, walked to the rear of the vault, and
pawed over a lot of trash in one corner. Then he came out and tossed a
handful of police hardware on the floor at Skeeter’s feet.

“I think they will hold him,” Flournoy laughed.

Skeeter gasped as he eyed the cruelest collection of manacles and
shackles he had ever seen.

There was a pair of home-made wrought-iron handcuffs with a stiff iron
bar a foot long to connect the bracelets instead of a chain. There was
a pair of cumbersome leg-irons which were used a half century ago in
Southern convict camps, but whose use is now prohibited. And there was
something else which gave Skeeter a sinking sensation at the pit of his
stomach merely to look at. It was a pair of trigger cuffs. Any attempt
to loosen them by the wearer has the effect of tightening the bracelets
while at the same time a needle trigger presses deeper and deeper into
the flesh of the wrist until the captive is helpless with pain.

“When I was first elected sheriff, forty years ago, this stuff was in
use, Skeeter. I won’t give you the keys to these manacles. If you get
them on that coon he’ll certainly need me! You can telephone me at the
house to-night after Deo the Diddle forks over that twenty-five plunks
to you!”

Skeeter wrapped the hardware in a newspaper and trod on air as he
walked back to the Hen-Scratch saloon. When he told the waiting crowd
of his success and showed them the manacles the darkies had a jubilee
and then waited with the impatience of children for the night to come.

The front row of seats was occupied that night by Skeeter Butts, Figger
Bush, Vinegar Atts, Pap Curtain, Prince Total, Hitch Diamond, and a few
others of that type who were smarting under the public revelations of
the recording angel the night before.

The house was crowded to suffocation and the performance consisted of
fortune-telling, feats of magic, singing, and dancing.

At last the time came for the Monarch of the Manacle to make good his
boast that he could get out of any handcuff or leg-iron which the
community could provide for his bonds.

Up to this time Deo had found it perfectly safe everywhere to offer to
release himself from any handcuffs which the negroes could provide,
for a handcuff was something which no negro possessed, and with all
their barbaric love of jewelry it was an ornament which no darky cared
to wear. When no manacles were supplied by the audience, Deo would
then invite a committee to come upon the stage and examine his. He
would present forty different kinds for their inspection and let them
choose any sort to place upon his legs and wrists. As they were all
familiar to Deo, well oiled and in good condition, he had no trouble in
releasing himself.

But this time Deo Diddle was up against it!

Skeeter Butts was Sheriff John Flournoy’s “nigger.” And for that reason
he was probably the only colored person in the South who could go to a
sheriff and get the assortment of manacles which he now had wrapped in
a newspaper and hidden under his seat.

When Deo invited a local committee to come upon the stage, asking for
anyone who would volunteer, every occupant of the first row of seats
sprang to his feet and started for the platform.

This prompt and concerted action told Deo Diddle that he was in danger,
that the men were out for his blood. He was frightened, and although he
tried to carry himself with an easy manner it was apparent to all the
committee that he was anxious and distrait.

Deo promptly decided not to ask for any handcuffs to be provided by the
people in the assembly. To cover his retreat he began his announcement
of the next evening’s performance:

“Dis is de las’ stunt on our plogram to-night, but tomorrer we is gwine
hab de biggest show of all. I’ll ax a cormittee to nail me up in a box
atter dey has handcuffed me, an’ I’ll let ’em tie de box up wid a rope,
an’ I’ll promise to git out in five minutes!”

Then for twenty minutes Deo entertained the audience by escaping from
his own leg-irons and handcuffs. The negroes devised every sort of
method to manacle his legs and wrists, but when the curtain of the
little booth which was rigged upon the stage had been pulled together
in half a minute or a minute Deo walked out a free man!

Then Skeeter Butts unwrapped his newspaper and tossed his assortment of
police hardware at the feet of Deo Diddle!

Deo looked down at that appalling mass of wrought iron and steel and
shuddered. He had never seen anything like them before. His heart stood
still and his breath stopped. Then he laughed, a nervous, cackling,
uneasy laugh, merely to gain time to think.

He picked up the three dreadful instruments and held them before the
audience--the wrought-iron bracelets with the lateral bar--old, rusty,
out of date, the keyhole filled with rust and dirt; the horrible
leg-irons which a man could not escape from in half a day with the
use of a sharp file, and the cruel trigger cuffs with their torturing
needle. He described each fetter minutely, explained how it was made,
told how quickly and easily he expected to escape from its bonds, all
the time praying desperately for some way of escape from his awful
predicament.

During this speech Tella Tandy came and sat down beside Skeeter Butts.
Skeeter grinned triumphantly into her face, then gave his entire
attention to the spiel of Deo Diddle. Several times Tella spoke to
Skeeter, but he answered in gruff tones and finally told her to shut up.

Then Deo did something which made Skeeter’s jaw drop with despair--he
closed each of the gaping manacles with a loud snap!

And Skeeter did not have a key to open them again!

Then Tella Tandy did a most astounding thing--she sprang to her feet
with a loud, shrill scream!

Everybody turned and looked at her with astonishment--Skeeter Butts
most astonished of all.

“Whut you mean by sayin’ dat to me, Skeeter Butts?” she whooped. “You
is a low-down nigger to insult a lady like dat! Oh, my Gawd!”

Tella put her hands over her face and staggered from the stage, crying
aloud like a baby.

Skeeter Butt’s jaw dropped down and he gaped like an idiot--he had not
said a word or done a thing!

He was so startled by the woman’s accusation and her dramatic exit that
when he tried to speak and deny his guilt he stammered and spluttered
and looked guiltier than ever.

“Whut you mean by insultin’ my wife, you low-down animated outrage?”
Deo Diddle howled, approaching Skeeter with blood in his eye.

“I--I--didn’t--say--nothin’!” Skeeter stammered.

“Kill him! Put him out! Bust him one in de jaw!” the men in the
audience roared, as they listened to the heart-rending wails of the
caterwauling Tella Tandy somewhere in the wings.

Deo Diddle’s fist lunged out with all his strength behind it. Skeeter
ducked, dodged under the showman’s arms, grabbed up Sheriff Flournoy’s
criminal hardware, and fled for his life.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Skeeter was kept busy explaining to his many patrons
that he had been guilty of no offense and that Tella Tandy had played a
trick on him to keep him from winning the twenty-five dollars.

To Skeeter’s surprise, nobody believed him.

“Naw, suh,” the reverend Vinegar Atts proclaimed, “you muss hab said
somepin shameful to dat little gal. She wusn’t show-actin’ when she
bust out cryin’ like dat.”

“Dat’s de way I figger,” Hitch Diamond growled. “Ef you wus a’
innercent man, how come you didn’t stan’ yo’ ground’ an’ fight when dat
Deo wus fixin’ to pound yo’ face in?”

“I ain’t no fightin’ man,” Skeeter protested. “I’s a bizzness man. But
I didn’t say nothin’ an’ I didn’t do nothin’--I wus discriminated agin
by dem show folks!”

“Aw, hush!” Pap Curtain exclaimed disgustedly. “I heerd whut you said
to dat little gal an’ it wus plum’ insultin’.”

“You better fetch dem same handcuffs back tonight, Skeeter,” Prince
Total grinned. “Yo’ bes’ chance to insult dat lady is atter we nail Deo
up in dat box.”

“Aw, shut up!” Skeeter snapped.

The men gradually talked themselves out and went away. Skeeter turned
to his one friend and sympathizer, Figger Bush.

“Figger,” he said, “I’s gwine git even wid dat pair of crooks or die.
Is you willin’ to he’p me?”

“Suttinly,” Figger agreed eagerly. “I think dem show folks done you
powerful bad.”

“We begins right now,” Skeeter announced, as he got up and went back to
a rear room and came out with Tella’s Spitz dog.

“Come out in front wid me, Figger,” Skeeter said, as he led the dog out
of the door and stopped in the middle of the cinder sidewalk. “I want
you to hold dis dawg for me.”

“Whut you gwine do?” Figger inquired.

“I’s gwine git back about fawty feet, take a little run, an’ kick dis
dang dawg so fur dat de nex’ time he spits it’ll be in Arkansas!”
Skeeter announced viciously.

“I’s wid you!” Figger chuckled, as he spraddled his legs and grasped
the Pomeranian by his bushy, silky tail. “Kick de goal!”

Skeeter made a little run and almost kicked a hole in the sky. His
right foot went up like he had hitched it to a star. For the little dog
squatted and Skeeter missed him!

Then the dog got busy.

He snapped at Figger and Figger let go his tail. He sunk his sharp
little teeth in the seat of Skeeter’s pantaloons and Skeeter went down
the street at full speed, exhausting the treasuries of his throat
to vocalize his fright. The dog held on until the seat of Skeeter’s
trousers parted company with the rest of the garment and came away.
Then the dog, well satisfied, trotted happily down the street, growling
ferociously and stopping at intervals to shake the everlasting stuffing
out of the piece of cloth which he had captured.

Figger Bush lay flat down upon the ground and whooped with laughter
until the town reverberated with the echo of his hilarity like a pack
of hounds chasing a fox. When he saw Skeeter returning, he decided it
would be safer to go down town and see what time it was. So he went.

But in less than an hour Figger returned in great excitement, bringing
with him a little, timid negro woman with a tiny baby upon her arm.

He led her through the saloon to a rear room, motioning mysteriously to
Skeeter as he passed. When they were all seated at a table Figger said:

“Now, Mrs. Diddle, you tell dat tale whut you jes’ told me--dis man who
wants to listen is Skeeter Butts.”

The woman hesitated a moment, looked down fondly at the tiny bundle on
her breast, and began to speak in a trembling, uneasy voice:

“I come up here huntin’ fer a nigger named Deo Diddle. He’s my
cote-house husbund. Dis is his little pickaninny chile I’s nursin’.
Deo, he gibs shows, but he’s got kinder keerless an’ done fergot all
about me, I reckin. So I come to rattle up his remembrunce.”

“Yes’m,” Skeeter exclaimed with unction. “Dat wus de most properest
thing you could do. I’s shore glad you foun’ me so prompt, fer I’s jes’
de man to lead you straight on to Deo Diddle.”

“Dat’s fine,” the woman exclaimed, rising eagerly to her feet. “I hopes
you’ll take me dar right now.”

“No’m,” Skeeter declared. “It cain’t be did suddent like dat. I don’t
know whar dat nigger is now, but he’s gwine gib a show in dis town
to-night, an’ I’ll take good keer of you an’ dat baby an’ den lead you
to de show. Dat is, ef you’ll do jes’ whut I tells you.”

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

Skeeter went down the street at full speed.]

“I shore will,” the woman said fervently.

“Figger,” Skeeter commanded, “you take sister Diddle over to de
Halfacre an’ tell ole sister Ginny Chew to keep her till I come atter
her to-night. Den you come right back to dis saloom, an’ you an’ me
will fix up our plans fer de evenin’ pufformance.”

The day passed slowly for Skeeter Butts, and when the night came he
occupied a seat in the front row in the hall directly in the center of
the stage, with Figger Bush sitting beside him.

None of the performance interested Skeeter until Deo Diddle announced
that he was now ready to accomplish the “box escape.” He challenged the
negroes to provide a pine box in which he would be securely nailed and
roped up, first being handcuffed and shackled in any way the negroes
chose. Then he proposed to escape, leaving the box and the ropes intact.

When the committee climbed upon the stage, Skeeter did not join them.
He handed a tiny vial of liquid to Figger Bush and said:

“Now, Figger, you go up dar an’ do exackly whut I told you!”

Deo Diddle was carefully handcuffed, manacled, chained, and bound by
the grinning, laughing negroes; then he was lifted up and lowered
carefully into the box.

Figger Bush reached for a hammer, and Tella Tandy stood by with a cigar
box full of long wire nails, handing them to Figger as he nailed Deo in
the box. Then Tella produced a long rope, and the husky negroes bound
that box as a trunk is wrapped for a journey. When all were satisfied
they stepped back, but Figger returned for a moment and made another
careful examination of the box and the ropes.

Finally the curtains were drawn around the little booth and the crowd
waited breathlessly.

Skeeter Butts arose and hastily departed from the hall.

Two things had happened to Deo Diddle which were sure to cause him
trouble, and Deo found it out instantly.

First, Figger Bush had nailed Deo’s coat-tail to the top of the box.
And second, when Figger went back to examine the box a second time he
had emptied a small bottle of formaldehyde into one of the air-holes!

If there is one chemical fluid with which the inhabitants of Louisiana,
white and black, are familiar, it is that colorless, volatile liquid,
chemically intermediate between methyl alcohol and formic acid,
called formaldehyde. It has an odor which suggests all the dead and
decaying things of earth, animal and vegetable, all the putrefaction
and corruption imaginable. When a man gets a whiff of it for the first
time, he kneels down right there and prays to die--he doesn’t want
to live another second with that stench in his nostrils. It is the
supreme germicide and disinfectant of every yellow-fever epidemic,
which accounts for Louisiana’s close and intimate acquaintance with it.
Any self-respecting yellow-fever germ will instantly tuck his tail and
scoot when he gets a good smell of that gosh-awful disinfectant.

But formaldehyde was a preparation with which Deo Diddle was not
acquainted.

Figger Bush, listening intently, heard sounds which resembled those
made by a dog having a fit in a cigar box and knocking his feet
against the box on all sides. Then Figger heard a loud panting like a
worn-out engine pulling a grade with a log-train. After that, a moan,
which deepened into a hoarse cry; then Deo Diddle lost hold of himself
completely and began a hideous sort of sharp yelping like a dog.

“Hel-lup! Hel-lup! Fer Gawd’s sake----” he screamed.

But long before this Tella Tandy had torn the curtains aside and was
fighting the box with her hands, trying to let in the air.

Skeeter Butts, standing by the door at the side entrance with Mrs.
Deo Diddle and the baby, heard the excitement and the screaming, and
grinned with delight.

“Come on, sister Diddle,” Skeeter exclaimed exultantly. “I’ll show you
yo’ kind, good husbunt now. Us is got him in a box!”

He led her through the side entrance to the stage just as Vinegar Atts
struck the pine box a heavy blow with the ax, cut the ropes, knocked
off the top, and lifted the half-unconscious, and wholly terrified
Handcuff King out of the box, his coat-tail nailed securely, his hands
and ankles still manacled, and the bottom of the box containing dozens
of keys which Deo had dropped in his eagerness and haste to escape!

In the meantime, the entire audience had taken its departure. Even
Vinegar Atts left after he released the formaldehyde with the magician.
There was no attraction on the stage which could enable them to endure
that dreadful odor. Figger Bush lingered around the front door,
sticking his head out at intervals to get a breath of pure air.

“Dat’s him!” Skeeter exclaimed dramatically, as he pointed to the
drooping form of Deo Diddle, who was rapidly reviving, although he
still hung to the shattered box by his coat-tail. “Dat’s de villyum
whut is done run off from his wife an’ chile an’ tuck up wid anodder
woman!”

“Who--_him!_” Mrs. Diddle exclaimed, pointing to the performer.
“Huh--dat ain’t my husbant--his name is Jim Tom Wyatt!”

Then she turned and faced the frightened Tella Tandy.

“Hello, Tella!” she exclaimed. “Whar is Deo?”

“He got drunk in Kerlerac an’ fit a white man to a shirt-tail finish
an’ de jedge put him in jail fer fawty days,” Tella explained. “Me an’
Jim Tom is tryin’ to carry on de show till Deo gits out, an’, of co’se,
Jim Tom is usin’ Deo’s name.”

“Dar now, Skeeter Butts!” Mrs. Diddle exclaimed. “Whut you lie to me
fer?”

“Did dat little yeller debbil hab anything to do wid dis?” Tella asked,
pointing at Skeeter’s face.

“Of co’se he did!” Mrs. Diddle exclaimed. “He done it all!”

Tella Tandy promptly wrenched off a piece of the shattered box about
two feet long and three inches wide, and gave Skeeter a resounding slap
across the jaw.

Skeeter reeled backward, stumbled down the steps, and fled out into the
street.

Figger watched the people on the stage for a minute, then hastened down
the street after Skeeter. He found his friend sitting on a curb-stone
nursing a bloody face.

“Dey done me up, Figger,” Skeeter mourned. “I never seed de beat of
show-folks fer fust-rate brains. Even dat Spit dawg is smarter dan me!”

“Whut is us gwine do nex’, Skeeter?” Bush asked sympathetically.

“I’s gwine to de cote-house an’ hab dat Tella Tandy arrested fer
assault an’ battery!” Skeeter exclaimed revengefully.

Figger sighed pitifully.

“’Twon’t do you no good, Skeeter,” Figger informed him. “You can’t git
her fer nothin’ but assault.”

“How come?” Skeeter asked.

“Atter she hit you dat whale across de face,” Figger explained, “I saw
her take de ax an’ chop dat battery all to little pieces!”



All is Fair.


I

THE HORSE RACE.

Shin Bone needed money badly. He sat on the edge of the sidewalk by the
old cotton shed, his feet in the gutter and his head resting upon his
hands, and did the heaviest thinking of his whole thoughtless life.

“I’d rob Marse Tom’s bank ef I jes’ knowed how,” he said, speaking
aloud to himself.

Then he wondered if he had spoken too loud, for Colonel Tom Gaitskill
stopped directly behind him in his walk to the bank, and surveyed with
amusement a number of gaudy lithographs which had been pasted upon the
side of the cotton shed.

Shin Bone sat perfectly quiet until he had assured himself that
Gaitskill had not overheard him, then a shrewd look came into his eyes,
and he rose to his feet. Taking a corn-cob pipe from his pocket, he
filled it with tobacco, and edged up closer to the white man.

“When is de succus gwine be, Marse Tom?” he asked, as he struck a
match and applied the flame to the bowl of his pipe.

“This is no circus, Shin,” Gaitskill said shortly. “Where have you been
all the time? Haven’t you heard anything about the nigger uplift?”

Every negro knows the advantage which accrues to himself from letting
the white man tell him. Carefully concealing the fact that these same
gaudy lithographs had caused his grief over his poverty, Shin said:

“Naw, suh--yes, suh. De white folks is always doin’ somepin to us
niggers. But I cain’t figger out dese shiny new bills on dis wall.”

“Those lithographs announce a negro fair at the old race track,”
Colonel Gaitskill told him. “There will be prizes for all kinds of
garden truck and field crops, prizes for chickens, pigs, and cattle,
prizes for draft horses, carriage horses, and all kinds of horses.
Admission is free for all the negroes, all the exhibits will be by the
negroes, and the white folks are financing the fair for the benefit of
the negroes.”

“Dat shore will be a lift-up,” Shin Bone grinned, as he gazed with
admiration at the pictures of the running horses. “Does us be allowed
to had races, too?”

“Yes, there’ll be speed exhibits,” Gaitskill smiled. “But every negro
who enters a horse for a race must own the horse.”

“Dat’s right,” Shin Bone agreed heartily. “Ef dat’s de rule, de niggers
cain’t borry no real race hosses an’ git all our money away from us.”

“Betting will not be permitted,” Gaitskill remarked, watching Shin Bone
closely. “That is against the law.”

“Huh,” Shin Bone grunted, and the tone of his voice and the expression
on his face were those of a baby just tuning up to cry. But Gaitskill
checked the deluge of tears by his next remark:

“Of course, the chief characteristic of the sport of kings must not be
allowed to die out entirely, and if a few bets are made on the quiet,
it is nobody’s business. I am sure every darky will put down a dollar
or two just to try his luck.”

“Huh,” Shin Bone grunted, and this time the tone of his voice and the
expression on his face set Gaitskill to laughing merrily.

“Dat’s de only spote whut will fetch de niggers to even a free fair,
Marse Tom. Dey ain’t comin’ here jes’ to show deir spindle-laig
chickens an’ deir little runt pigs. Dey wants to action aroun’ wid de
ponies.”

“I think you’re right, Shin,” Gaitskill grinned. “I’ve been going to
fairs ever since I was old enough to stand on the seat and yell, but I
never could get up any interest or enthusiasm for anything except the
slim horses which galloped swiftly around the circular track.”

“Ain’t you spoke de jaw-breakin’ truth!” Shin Bone applauded. “Eve’y
nigger whut comes to dis fair will hab his cotton-fiel’ pet bang-tailed
an’ trained fer de races! Marse Tom, ain’t you got no cheap,
spry-legged hoss you wants to sell me?”

“No!” Gaitskill walked on.

“Whut ’bout dat pie-faced sorrel, Kunnel?” Shin persisted, following a
few steps behind.

“How many races do you think you could win with a horse which had been
bitten on the leg by a swamp rattlesnake?” Gaitskill asked disgustedly.

“Not such a many,” Shin remarked, in a disappointed tone. “Of co’se,
dat leg mought git well----”

“The horse is ruined, Shin,” Gaitskill told him. “That leg will always
be stiff.”

Shin Bone stopped, watched the colonel until he turned the corner, then
he returned to the gaudy lithographs and resumed his former position on
the curb, dropping down in an attitude of dejection and deep meditation.

“Marse Tom oughter had sold me dat hoss,” he sighed. “My credick wid
him oughter be good. He knows I had plenty money in his bank las’ mont’
an’ drawed it all out to buy dat eatin’-house. Of co’se, I couldn’t
win nothin’ wid dat cripple hoss, but I might could swap him off fer
somepin dat I _could_ win wid.”

Shin Bone refilled his pipe, dug his heels deeper in the soft loam of
the gutter, rubbed his chin reflectively, and gazed across the street
with troubled, brooding eyes.

“Dat little gal got me in dis jam,” he announced finally.

Of course there was a girl in it.

After meeting her, Shin Bone bought a new suit of clothes, a cake of
sweet-scented soap, three white shirts, and a bankrupt restaurant,
fondly hoping that personal cleanliness, personal adornment, and the
ownership of property would help him persuade the girl to make up her
mind to live with him. But alas, the four hundred dollars which he had
in the bank were spent before he got started, and now the fair was on
with a chance to make big winnings, and Shin Bone was broke!

“Jes’ when I wus gittin’ ready to ax her, I went bust,” Shin groaned.
“Jes’ when she done got her mind encouraged up to take me, my little
dab of money gib out.”

Yes, Shin needed money.

He began to search his clothes for money, feeling in every pocket. He
brought forth one silver dollar and one copper cent.

“I didn’t make no new discovery,” he lamented, as he surveyed his
earthly fortune. “I knowed I had dis money already.”

He placed the dollar on the curb beside him and laid the copper cent on
top of the silver coin, surveying them disconsolately. Glancing down at
his feet, he observed a tiny red earthworm crawling in the loam of the
gutter. He picked this up and laid it on top of the copper coin, thus
making a pyramid of his fortune.

“Huh,” he grunted, “I’d rather be a fishin’ worm dan a nigger wid one
dollar an’ one cent.”

Suddenly he looked at the fishing worm with a new interest. It was
twisting and turning upon the copper coin evidently wishing to get off,
but every time it touched the silver dollar it retreated to the copper
coin again.

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

The pie-faced sorrel with the snake-bitten leg.]

“Dis worm ’pears like it’s skeart of dis dollar,” Shin muttered.

He flicked the worm into the grass with his finger nail, slipped his
two coins in the upper breast pocket of his coat, then arose and walked
slowly up the street.

At the nearest corner he met Whiffle Boone, dressed like a sun-burst,
and on her way to the fair.

“You ain’t lookin’ so powerful peart, Shinny,” she said.

“Ef I looks like I feels, you better git de sheriff to put me in a
cage,” was Shin’s reply.

“Whut ails you?” the girl inquired solicitously.

“Ef I wus to tell you whut ails me, you’d snicker right in my face,”
Shin Bone declared irritably. “An’ ef you did, I’d shore spile all de
nice clothes you is got on.”

The girl sniffed and passed on.

“Dar now,” Shin lamented. “I didn’t aim to start nothin’ wid Whiffle.
Dis is shore my onforchnit day.”

But a moment later Shin forgot all his troubles.

Pap Curtain met him and shook hands with great cordiality. Pap’s yellow
face was a glowing golden color from excitement, his shifty eyes were
more uncertain than ever, and his sneering mouth had a still uglier
twist.

“Whut you bettin’ on to-day, Shin?” he whispered hoarsely.

“I’s collectin’ tips, Pap,” Shin replied.

“I got a shore thing, Shin,” Pap whispered. “Three hosses starts in de
fourth race. Put yo’ bet on Skipper.”

“I shore thank you fer dem few kind words, Pap,” Shin declared with
delight. “How come yo’ heart busted open so free?”

“Ain’t you figgerin’ on gittin’ married to my sister’s child?” Pap
asked.

“Suttinly.”

“Well, suh, dat’s de reason. But fer Gawd’s sake, keep de secret in de
fambly!”


II

SKIPPER’S FORM.

“Dat shore he’ps me a lot,” Shin exulted, as he started rapidly down
the street. “All I’m got to do is to bet on dat hoss fer a winner.”

Then his rapid gait suddenly ceased, his knees wabbled weakly, and he
leaned against a convenient picket fence.

“O Lawd,” he groaned. “Dat jes’ makes my sorrer cut mo’ deeper. I ain’t
got no mo’ money to bet wid now dan I had befo’ I got dat tip!”

Sadly he turned his back to the fair and walked in the opposite
direction, mumbling to himself.

“Dat’s always my luck,” he mourned. “Ef it rains soup my plate is
turned upside down, an’ ef gold dollars draps down from de sky, I’m
shore to be locked up in jail.”

He passed along the ever-lengthening stream of negroes going to the
races.

“Look at Shinny goin’ back to dig up some mo’ of his buried money,” was
the common greeting of every group of friends he met. “Somebody is been
talkin’ to Shin about some hoss, an’ tellin’ ain’t no fair!”

Shin scanned every face as a panhandler watches the crowd on the street
looking for some easy mark from whom he can extract a “temporary”
loan, but there was no face which indicated that the owner was willing
to part with even a little of his money in behalf of an impecunious
friend. Each one would have promised him all he wanted--after the races.

At last Shin met the Rev. Vinegar Atts.

“Elder,” he began, “I think I done got a tail-holt on somepin’ mighty
good an’ I been lookin’ fer you.”

“Yes, suh, dat’s right, son,” Vinegar boomed. “Of co’se, I ain’t no
gamblin’ man myse’f, an’ don’t b’lieve in it, but I likes to hear tips
so I kin know whut hoss to watch.”

“Is you got any change on you, elder?” Shin asked eagerly.

“A few, a measly few!” Vinegar rumbled. “Whut hoss did you say?”

“I ain’t say,” Shin replied.

“Why don’t you bawl out?” Vinegar bellowed. “I cain’t stand here on my
foots all day! Git yo’ mouf gwine!”

“You an’ me oughter make a trade, elder,” Shin said. “I got de idear
an’ you is got de chink. You gimme all de money you is got, an’ I’ll
’tend to dat part of it while you watches de hosses gallop.”

“I’s skeart you’ll lose my dollars,” Vinegar said uneasily, fumbling
the change in his voluminous pockets. “Mebbe you better tell me fust
whut kind of tip you is got.”

“Pap Curtain tole me to bet on Skipper in de fourth race,” Shin said
earnestly. “Don’t you think dat is a good tip?”

Vinegar turned and walked away a few steps, then turned and walked
back. His hands were thrust deep into his trouser pockets and his chin
was sunk down upon his breast.

“Naw, dat ain’t no good tip a-tall!” he exploded. “Pap Curtain is a
slick-head nigger, as full of tricks as a monkey wid a tin tail. I
don’t hab no trust in him no-time, no-whar, no-how! You better gib dat
Skipper de go-by.”

“Pap ain’t tryin’ to fool me, Vinegar,” Shin Bone protested. “I’s gwine
marry his sister’s onlies’ chile, an’ so me an’ him is in de same
fambly. Excusin’ dat, dis Skipper hoss b’longs to my gal’s maw. Dat
proves he ain’t tryin’ to rob me.”

“You ain’t on to Pap Curtain’s curves yit, Shin,” Vinegar told him.
“Pap would steal de gold outen his granmaw’s jaw toofs, ef de ole woman
had any toofs in her gums. Excusin’ dat, Pap don’t expeck you to lose
no money. He knows you ain’t got none.”

“Dat’s a fack,” Shin admitted.

“He knowed you would git active an’ succulate de tip, “Vinegar told
him. “He knowed you’d git aroun’ an’ try to borrer some money, an’ tell
all de niggers you touched fer a few change whut hoss to bet on, an’ he
knowed dat eve’y nigger in Tickfall would fall fer de losin’ hoss. I
bet Pap’s got all his money on de yuther hoss right dis minute!”

“I don’t b’lieve Pap would treat me dat way, Vinegar,” Shin insisted.
“He tole me not to tell nobody, because he wanted to keep de secret in
de fambly.”

“Did he know you wus broke?” Vinegar asked.

“Yep. I tried to borrer some money from him dis mawnin’.”

“Ef he loves you so awful much, how come he didn’t loant you some money
an’ let you win an’ gib you a start fer de yuther days of racin’?”

“Dat do look like he ain’t actin’ plum’ honest,” Shin admitted
reluctantly. “But, you see, it’s dis way, Vinegar: niggers wants to
manage deir own money endurin’ of de fair.”

“Dat’s whut I’s gwine do,” Vinegar told him in a pompous voice. “Dat
bait you dangles down in front my nose am pretty temptin’ to a sucker,
but you done showed me too much of de hook. Excusin’ dat, I jes’
remembers dat I’s been app’inted de officious starter at de races, an’
shouldn’t oughter bet on _no_ hoss!”

Vinegar resumed his walk toward the fairgrounds, leaving Shin Bone to
ponder what he had heard.

“I b’lieves dat Pap Curtain is totin’ fair wid me,” he concluded at
last. “My onlies’ hope is to pussuade some yuther nigger to b’lieve de
same way an’ put up de dough. I reckin I better git busy.”

Shin met Hitch Diamond and presented his proposition to him. Hitch
laughed at him.

“Three hosses starts in dat race, Shin,” Hitch chuckled. “Doodlebug
b’longs to Pap Curtain, Skipper b’longs to Pap’s sister, an’ de yuther
hoss is de plug whut Prince Total drives to his trash cart when he
cleans up dis town. Now, kin you tell me which one of Pap’s two hosses
is de winner?”

Shin did not answer.

“I ain’t bettin’ on nothin’ in de fourth race,” Hitch rumbled, as he
walked away. “I ain’t got spry enough brains to foller Pap’s tricks.”

Time was passing and Shin realized that he must get some sort of action
promptly. He turned toward the portion of the town occupied by the
whites, and with renewed hope began to solicit loans from his white
friends. After an hour of activity, running from place to place as busy
as a bird dog, he was in possession of fifty cents, and had told about
fifty different lies to get that much.

“Dar ain’t but one mo’ hope,” he said, as he eyed with disgust the
handful of nickels he had accumulated. “Dat hope is Skeeter Butts. Ef
he don’t see de light, den de night is done sottled down on me shore
enough.”

With eager steps he hastened to the Hen-Scratch saloon.


III

DEEP LAID PLANS.

Shin found Skeeter Butts sitting behind the bar in the Hen-Scratch
saloon counting a roll of soiled and poisonous-looking money. The sight
gladdened the eyes of the poverty-stricken negro.

“Skeeter,” he exulted, “dat little wad of money shows dat you an’ me is
gwine to git rich.”

“How come?” Skeeter asked. “You ain’t got no claimance on dis wad.”

“I’se got one real good tip.”

“Explode it in my y-ear,” Skeeter exclaimed eagerly.

“Pap Curtain say bet on Skipper.”

Skeeter grinned, snickered, chuckled, laughed. He stood up, turned
around, sat down again, and laughed louder.

“Ain’t dat no good tip?” Shin asked.

“Yes, suh, dat’s a dandy,” Skeeter proclaimed. “All dat tip signifies
to me is, don’t lose no money on Skipper.”

“You don’t onderstan’ ’bout dis, Skeeter,” Shin said earnestly. “You
see, I is about to marrify into Pap Curtain’s fambly, an’ he jes’
passed me de news fer my own good.”

“Who is you gwine take on?” Skeeter asked.

“Dat little charcoal blonde named Whiffle Boone,” Shin told him. “An’
dis Skipper hoss belongs to her maw.”

“Huh,” Skeeter grunted. “Mebbe dat’s diffunt an’ mebbe not. How much
change is you got to bet?”

“I ain’t got none,” Shin replied sadly. “I wants to borrer a leetle.
I’ll gib you a owe-bill agin’ my eatin’-house ef you’ll loant me some.”

Skeeter weighed this for a minute, then said:

“Us’ll fix it dis way, Shin: I’ll loant you fifty dollars on yo’
eatin’-house, pervided you’ll let me handle de money an’ manage de
bets. I jes’ nachelly hates to pass out money to anodder coon.”

“Dat’s all right, Skeeter,” Shin declared, a burden lifted from his
heart. “All I wants is a chance to win.”

“I’s gittin’ ready to close up right now, “Skeeter said, as he reached
for his hat. “Us’ll mosey out to de track togedder.”

       *       *       *       *       *

They entered the gate to find the grounds thronged with happy, eager,
black faces, shiny with sweat. The band was playing, the peanut
roasters were shrieking, and dozens of apron-clad, thunder-voiced
negroes waved long-handled forks and howled like a wolf-pack.
“Hot--hot--hot-dog!”

“Lawdy,” Shin sighed. “My empty stomick is wrapped aroun’ my backbone
like a wet dishrag aroun’ a dryin’-pole. I feel like I ain’t et fer
fawty days!”

He promptly separated himself from Skeeter Butts and lost no time in
finding Whiffle Boone.

“Is you had somepin to eat sence you got out here, Whiffle?” he asked
eagerly.

“I ain’t got nothin’ but a smell of dem hot dogs,” she smiled.

“Dis is whar we chews a few,” Shin declared, as he led her away from
the grandstand.

“Whut wus you so snippy about when I met you uptown?” Whiffle inquired
as they consumed the sausage which Shin purchased with the money he had
begged from the white folks of Tickfall.

“I wus figgerin’ on how to git a bet down on a winnin’ hoss, honey,”
Shin laughed. “It ’peared like I couldn’t make de riffle, an’ when I
seed you I had on one of dese here grouches.”

“Ain’t it about time you wus bustin’ de news?” Whiffle asked. “Cain’t
you tell me de name of de hoss?”

“No’m,” Shin grinned. “I done promise I wouldn’t say no words. But
ef you wait fer me atter de races is over I’ll take you to a real
eatin’-house an’ us’ll celebrate our winnin’s. We ain’t fur from
gittin’ married now an’ I’s savin’ somepin fer a surprise.”

The gong sounded at the starter’s shed, and Whiffle and Shin walked
toward the grandstand, eating hot sausage as they went.

“Whut race is dis, Whiffle?” Shin inquired.

“Dis is de fourth,” Whiffle told him. “My uncle Pap Curtain is got a
couple hosses in dis race.”

Shin Bone promptly lost his appetite.

“Lawd,” he exclaimed. “I asked Skeeter Butts to put a few money on dis
race fer me. I hope he is got time.”

“Plenty time,” Whiffle declared. “De ponies ain’t come out on de track
yit.”

At that moment Shin saw Skeeter Butts sliding eel-like through a
dense crowd without touching an elbow. A few minutes later he saw
Skeeter again, talking earnestly to certain dressy, furtive persons,
bearing every evidence of being visitors from New Orleans, and these
men displayed tiny celluloid slates on which were penciled various
fractions after the name of each horse.

Three horses galloped up the track and Shin looked them over carefully,
concluding that the horse which carried his money was the only
race-horse of the three. Trailer was a clumsy plow-horse; Doodlebug was
a Tuckapoo mustang with an ugly temper; Skipper alone had the long,
grayhound lines of the real racer.

“Whut hoss is you got yo’ money on, Shin?” Whiffle asked.

“I bets on Skipper.”

“My gosh!” the girl exclaimed, staring at him with big eyes. “Is you
done loss all yo’ good sense?”

“Pap Curtain tole me to bet on Skipper,” Shin said defensively.

“Pap is like a mule, Shin,” Whiffle said sadly. “He wucks bofe ways.
You gotter look out fer surprises when you monkeys wid Pap.”

The band stopped playing, the intense silence of the people was broken
by the sound of pounding hoofs, and the horses swept under the wire.

“Go!” Vinegar Atts bellowed.

The blood pounded in the temples of Shin Bone, and he suddenly felt
dizzy, almost delirious. Then he sat down, gasping like a landed fish.
Doodlebug was three lengths ahead, running with the ease and regularity
of a watch.

Skipper was dropping behind without even a symptom of a rally. At the
half-mile post, Skipper was slowing up some more, showing weariness.
Slower and slower he got in spite of the frantic efforts of his jockey
to extract some speed from his mount’s system.

Fairly stunned, Shin sat down and waited for the end. After what seemed
to him an age or two, Doodlebug came under the wire, and a yellow,
freckled-faced negro boy with an inadequate knowledge of spelling
climbed a short ladder and inscribed upon a blackboard the names of the
three horses in the order of their places in the race:

  DUDDLEBUG
  TRAYLOR
  SKIPER

There was a little scattering applause, but the crowd could get up no
enthusiasm for such an exhibition, and few had bet upon a race in which
the tricky Pap Curtain had entered two horses.

Whiffle Boone turned and glared at Shin, who sat dazed and crumpled on
the bench.

“Wus dat de news you wus gwine bust to me as a surprise, Shin?” she
demanded sarcastically.

“Good-bye, honey,” Shin said gloomily, as he rose to his feet and
staggered toward the exit. “I ain’t in no mind to argufy about
surprises now. I done got one myse’f.”

“Whut ’bout dat supper we wus gwine hab?” Whiffle asked.

“Honey, I couldn’t buy a sandsquich wid a bad dime,” Shin told her
tearfully. “I ain’t got nothin’ dat even looks like money.”


IV

THE LAME SORREL.

Shin hunted all over the fair grounds for Skeeter Butts without being
able to find him.

“I knows whut ails dat nigger,” he said to himself, at last. “He’s done
gone back to de Hen-Scratch an’ he’s waitin’ fer me to come. I ain’t
gwine! Dar ain’t nothin’ mo’ fer me to win but a argumint. I done made
dat nigger lose all his money an’ if he gits me shet up in dat saloon,
he’ll kill me.”

He walked out of the gate and went straight to the bank, knocking upon
the door of the president’s office.

A voice within answered, and Shin turned the knob and entered.

“Marse Tom,” he began, “ain’t you got no job fer a strong, willin’
nigger?”

“Sure,” Colonel Gaitskill said. “But I don’t believe any nigger is
willing to work while a free fair is going on out at the race-track.”

“I done got enough fair, Marse Tom,” Shin said solemnly. “I loves
hosses, but I ain’t wise to nothin’ about ’em excusin’ how to feed ’em,
water ’em, an’ rub ’em down.”

“You wanted me to sell you a race-horse this morning,” Gaitskill
reminded him smilingly.

“Yes, suh. But you knowed I didn’t had no money to pay fer no hoss,”
Shin grinned. “I wus jes’ talkin’ wid my mouf. But I shore would like
to hab a job wuckin’ wid hosses.”

“All right,” Gaitskill agreed. “Go out and potter around my stable.
Three dollars a week and feed.”

“Thank ’e, suh. Dat shore suits fine.”

“And listen, Shin. Go out to the bayou pasture and bring in that
pie-faced sorrel you wanted to buy. That’s a good saddler. See if you
can doctor him up some way and limber up that snake-bitten leg.”

Shin had to pass along the road which led to the Hen-Scratch saloon on
his way to the bayou pasture, but he took a wide detour when he came to
that place of danger, walking through the fields until he came back to
the road at a bend a half mile further on.

Slipping a bridle on the crippled horse, he leaped lightly upon his
back, and rode toward the gate. The weeds grew rank and high in that
rich bottom land, and multitudes of insects arose from the vegetation
and whirled around the heads of the horse and his rider.

Suddenly a large grasshopper whirred up from the weeds and flew past
the sorrel’s ear with a sharp, rattling, whining sound--“Zee-e-e-e.”

With a snort of fright the horse sprang forward and ran like a rabbit
all around the field, while Shin yelled and wrenched at the bridle, and
begged the sorrel to “Whoa!”

In a few minutes the sorrel spilled Shin off and ran far back into the
woods.

It was nearly dark when Shin captured him again and rode back to
Tickfall. The long run had made the horse lame.

Passing the Hen-Scratch saloon, Shin tried to get a little more speed
out of his steed, but the crippled brute merely groaned and limped on.
Then right in front of the saloon an accident happened.

There was a new picket fence built around the yard of a home across the
street from the saloon. A little negro boy ran down the street with
a stick in his hand, and as he passed this fence, he laid his stick
against the pickets, scraping it along as he ran. A horrible, rattling
noise was the result.

At the first sound, Shin’s pie-faced sorrel leaped into the air, threw
Shin heavily to the ground, and ran snorting with fright toward the
Gaitskill home with the speed of a deer.

A crowd quickly gathered around the prostrate Shin Bone, and he was
picked up and carried into the Hen-Scratch saloon. A few minutes later,
after sufficient liquor had been spilled down his throat and over his
dusty clothes, Shin opened his eyes and gazed into the yellow, grinning
face of Skeeter Butts.

“I figgered it wus about time you wus comin’ here so us could divide
up, Shin,” Skeeter laughed. “But I’s plum’ sorry you got throwed off.”

“I cain’t divide up nothin’,” Shin said sadly. “Of co’se I’ll sottle my
owe-bill wid you jes’ as soon as I kin. I done got me a job wid Marse
Tom. But I ain’t got nary cent of money now.”

“I ’speck you is got mo’ dan you figger on,” Skeeter laughed. “How much
does you s’pose you winned on dat race?”

“I ain’t winned nothin’,” Shin declared. “Skipper lose.”

“Shorely,” Skeeter agreed. “I knowed he wus gwine do dat all along. So
I bet yo’ money an’ my money on Doodlebug!”

“Bless gracious!” Shin howled, sitting up in the middle of the floor
and gazing into the faces of the grinning negroes who stood in a ring
about him. “How much did you rake down?”

“Yo’ win is one hundred dollars,” Skeeter declared exultantly. “But you
owes me fifty an’ I takes dat out of yo’ win.”

“Dat’s right,” Shin laughed. “Hand me over dem dollars.”

He sat down at the table and counted the money laboriously, his manner
becoming more and more elated as the dollars piled up under his hand.
Then he slipped the wad into his pocket, and beamed upon the circle of
admiring friends.

“Good luck done kotch me agin, niggers!” he laughed. Then he slipped
behind the bar beside Skeeter, and said:

“Skeeter, you hab done me a large amount of great good.”

“I don’t deeserve no credick,” Skeeter laughed. “I jes’ happened to
know Pap Curtain, an’ besides dat, I done expe’unce dat little Tuckapoo
mustang named Doodlebug befo’. I monkeyed wid dat pony one time, an’
Skeeter wus a well skint sucker.”

“Pap hadn’t oughter did me dat way,” Shin lamented.

“Pap cain’t ack no diffunt,” Skeeter told him. “Some niggers is like
snakes. Dey gotter wiggle an’ twist an’ go crooked to git along.”

“I shore wish I could gib Pap a twist dat he ain’t lookin’ fer,” Shin
declared.

Skeeter eyed him a moment with intense interest. Then he asked:

“Whut you gwine do wid dat money?”

“I’ll ack like eve’y nigger--spend it!” Shin laughed.

“I figger on buyin’ a race-hoss wid my win,” Skeeter suggested. “How
would dat plan suit you wid yo’ money?”

“You reckin I could git a hoss whut’ll beat Pap’s Doodlebug?” Shin
asked eagerly.

“Suttinly,” Skeeter assured him. “Doodlebug ain’t such a much hoss.
Of co’se, he kin beat dese here old plow-hosses whut runs agin him. I
knows de hoss whut kin beat him right now.”

Shin pulled his roll of money out of his pocket and passed it back.

“Buy me dat hoss, Skeeter,” he said earnestly. “I don’t want nothin’
as bad as I want to git Pap Curtain’s goat!”


V

NIGGER BLACKIE.

Shin Bone tended bar for Skeeter Butts until eleven o’clock that night,
then Skeeter returned to the Hen-Scratch saloon, covered with swamp mud
and leading a slim black horse.

“Dis is yo’ winner, Shin,” he said in weary tones, as he placed the
lead-rope into the hands of the pop-eyed owner. “I got him for fifty
dollars cash down, an’ he’s shore a dandy.”

“He looks pretty peart,” Shin grinned. “Kin he run?”

“Yep,” Skeeter said in a disgusted tone. “He kin run like a log
raff floatin’ _up_ de Massassap’ River. But us ain’t winnin’ on his
speed--us is bettin’ on his looks.”

“I don’t ketch on ’bout dis,” Shin said stupidly. “Dis sounds to me
like you done waste my money.”

“Don’t go by sound, Shin,” Skeeter snickered. “Go by looks. Now listen
to dis few advices: you waste all de rest of dis night scourin’ down
dis hoss wid a currycomb, a brush, an’ a rag. As soon as it is good
day, you git out on de race-track an’ lope dis hoss aroun’ fer a while.
Ef Pap Curtain is out on de track, you show him how good dis hoss kin
pufform.”

Shin walked away, mumbling to himself in his perplexity. But he took
the horse to Gaitskill’s stable and followed Skeeter’s advice. After
five or six hours of the most arduous labor, Shin lifted his lantern
and surveyed the animal. He shone like a new silver dollar, every hair
was in place, and the horse was beautiful.

“He shore is a looker,” Shin proclaimed. “I hopes he’s got some speed
inside his black hide.”

A little later, Shin rode him slowly out to the fairgrounds and entered
the gate. It was just after daybreak, but early as it was, as Shin rode
onto the track, he encountered Pap Curtain mounted on Doodlebug.

Without a word they started around in the same direction, each man
watching the other’s horse with great interest.

Shin broke from a canter into a swinging gallop, and Pap followed with
Doodlebug. By the time they had gone half a mile and had pulled up, Pap
knew all about the black horse.

“Did you buy dat hoss wid de money you winned on de fourth race
yistiddy, Shin?” Pap asked with a sneering grin.

“Naw,” Shin said shortly. “You tole me to bet on Skipper.”

“Skipper skipped aroun’ consid’able fast fer him,” Pap chuckled.
“Somebody must hab felt sorry fer you an’ gib you dat hoss to win yo’
losin’s back wid.”

“Dat’s perzackly whut dey done,” Shin replied. “I’ll take some of dat
money back now ef you is willin’ to try a private race.”

“I ain’t been made acquaintance wid dat hoss,” Pap objected.

“Is you ’quainted wid ten dollars?” Shin asked in an ugly tone, as he
pulled a bill from his pocket.

“Sho’ly, sho’ly,” Pap proclaimed in unctuous tones. “Us’ll ride back
to’des de gran’stan’ an’ you kin han’ dat money to de fust coon you
meet. I’ll put a ten on top of it.”

Deep joy filled Pap’s heart as he watched the black horse walking
beside his own Tuckapoo mustang, the little racer which had never been
beaten when Pap wanted him to win. Ten dollars was a great deal of
money in Pap’s mind, and easily won.

“You double criss-crossed me on dat race yistiddy, Pap,” Shin said
angrily. “You made out like I wus a member of de fambly an’ you wus
he’pin’ me along. Whut you wus plannin’ wus to rob me of all my loose
change.”

“How much did you drap, Shin?” Pap snickered.

“I drapped eve’y cent I bet on Skipper,” Shin said non-committally.

“Ain’t dat too bad!” Pap sighed mockingly. “You is gwine drap a few mo’
change, too.”

A moon-faced negro sat on the fence near the starter’s stand, waiting
for something to happen.

“Hold dis money, pardner!” Pap said, as he extended his hand with ten
dollars. “Dis little Shin Bone wants to lose a bet!”

Shin dropped his bill into the eager stake-holder’s hand, and turned
his horse to ride a few feet up the track for a start. The moon-faced
negro took his place under the starter’s wire and the two horses loped
down the track.

“Go!” the stakeholder whooped.

It was a pretty race for a quarter and the black was putting forth his
best effort every foot of the way. Then Shin’s horse seemed to lose
all interest in the race and all other affairs of life and the utmost
efforts of the rider availed only to bring the horse under the wire
about fifty yards behind Doodlebug.

“Good-bye, po’ little, las’ little ten dollar bill!” Shin chanted
tearfully as he loped tearfully on toward the stable leaving Pap
Curtain to collect the stakes.

But Pap was not disposed to let Shin off so easily. He galloped after
him and began:

“Whut race is you gwine start dat cow in, Shin?”

“He runs in eve’y race whut Doodlebug has, Pap,” Shin said easily
enough, but his heart was filled with chagrin. “I bought him to beat
yo’ Doodlebug!”

“Doodlebug is in de secont race to-day,” Pap chuckled. “You shore owns
a good-looker, but as a race-hoss dat shiny black is a puffeckly awful
arrangement.”

This was Shin Bone’s idea exactly, and he rode out of the fairgrounds
and hitched his horse in front of the Hen-Scratch saloon to hold an
executive session with Skeeter Butts.

He strode into the saloon like a personified calamity, and dropped down
in a chair beside the table where Skeeter sat.

“Skeeter,” he howled, “you shore made a awful miscue about dat Nigger
Blackie hoss you bought fer me. He’s so nigh nothin’ dat nobody cain’t
tell de diffunce betwix’ him _an’_ nothin’!”

“’Tain’t so,” Skeeter replied, continuing to count some money he had
spread out on the table. “Dat’s a dandy lookin’ hoss.”

“Suttinly,” Shin retorted bitterly. “He’s a looker, but he runs like a
lan’ tarrapin travelin’ in a plowed field.”

“Ain’t it awful!” Skeeter snickered. “I’d druther try to win a race
ridin’ straddle of a mud scow whut I borrered outen de ribber dan to
put up dat hoss fer a winner.”

Shin grunted and relapsed into an outraged silence, looking at the
unperturbed Skeeter now and then with glaring eyes. Finally Skeeter
asked:

“Did you gib Nigger Blackie a tryout?”

“Yep. An’ I loss de onlies’ ten dollars I’m got in de worl’ tryin’ to
beat Pap’s Doodlebug.”

“Dat’s whut I loant you dat ten fer,” Skeeter said, handing Shin ten
dollars more from the pile on the table. “Ef you hadn’t lost it, I’d
’a’ fit you!”

“Huh,” Shin grunted. “You ain’t tellin’ me as much as I oughter know.”

“Naw, suh, not quite as much. You see, you’s gwine marry into Pap’s
fambly, an’ you’s got one of dese here open-work minds an’ cain’t keep
nothin’ secret.”

“Dat ain’t no reason why I don’t want to rob Pap of all his dollars,”
Shin declared belligerently. “But I don’t expeck to git much of Pap’s
money wis Nigger Blackie to run fer it.”

“Mebbe you didn’t know how to ride him, Shin,” Skeeter suggested.

“’Taint dat, Skeeter,” Bone said earnestly. “Dat hoss jes’ nachelly
ain’t got no speed in him.”

“I’s heerd tell dat he had racin’ blood in him,” Skeeter replied.

“Mebbe so, he did had--one time,” Shin responded gloomily. “But a
stable flea bit him an’ got it all.”

Skeeter stood up and reached for his hat.

“I’s glad to git dat repote from you, Shin,” he said. “Now I wants you
to tend dis bar fer me till I gits back. I’s gwine ride Nigger Blackie
aroun’ a little an’ see kin I limber up his racin’ speed.”


VI

BY THREE LENGTHS.

On the morning of the second day of the Tickfall Negro Fair, Colonel
Tom Gaitskill, the chief promoter of the negro uplift movement,
received a shock.

A delegation of wailing women waited upon him and tearfully told their
tale of woe. All the canned fruits and vegetables, all the preserves
and jams, all the cakes and pies which they had brought to the Fair and
entered in the competition for prizes had disappeared from the hall!

Investigation revealed the fact that the hungry negroes had helped
themselves, sampling everything until nothing of the sample remained.

Half an hour later a delegation of negro farmers waited upon the
Colonel and informed him that all their potatoes, cabbages, fruit, and
home-raised peanuts, along with their sugar cane, corn, and hay had
mysteriously disappeared from the display hall!

Investigation revealed the fact that those who had animals on
exhibition on the grounds had looted and foraged, and found the supply
insufficient for their needs.

A committee of howling negro girls waited upon Colonel Gaitskill and
announced that all their plain and fancy sewing, their scarfs and
handkerchiefs, their dresses and towels had disappeared!

Fowl raisers came to complain that their chickens, ducks, geese, and
turkeys had vanished, some or all of them, and what could they do about
it?

“By George!” Gaitskill exclaimed in exasperation. “These niggers
don’t have to be taught any uplift. They’ve lifted everything on the
fairgrounds and made away with it.”

Nothing was left on the grounds but the race-horses, and the Uplift
Committee of white citizens of Tickfall decided to charge admission to
the grounds for the last two days of the racing, and by the money thus
received reimburse the farmers and their wives and daughters for their
losses. Thus peace and happiness were restored.

The afternoon was bright and fair and Pap Curtain was on the track
early with a careful eye upon Doodlebug and upon all the other horses
in Doodlebug’s race, the second. He made a special inspection of Nigger
Blackie as the jockey, Little Bit, rode him up the track for a warming.
The black was as clumsy as a cow, and the diminutive darky rode him
awkwardly and fearfully.

None of the ordinary rules and regulations were in force upon this
race-track. A jockey could ride with any sort of saddle, or without
one. The negroes had no uniforms, carried any sort of whips or spurs
which they thought would get speed from their mounts. Only one rule
was positively enforced, and that was made for this event: the man who
entered a horse for a race must own the horse.

Pap was at the stable when Little Bit rode back, and he greeted the
little jockey in a tone which already thrilled with anticipated victory.

“Don’t bet no chink on dat sook-cow, Little Bit,” he snickered. “Ef you
got any loose change, buy yo’se’f a bernaner--don’t waste it!”

Skeeter Butts overheard this remark and hastened forward.

“No jockey kin ride my hoss wid a bettin’-ticket in his hat, Pap,” he
said positively. “Ef you wants to lose yo’ money, lemme take it away
from you.”

“I thought dis hoss b’longed to Shin Bone,” Pap remarked.

“He do,” Skeeter assured him. “Me an’ Shin went cahoots, an’ Shin
exoncised dis hoss dis mawnin’.”

“I remember ’bout dat,” Pap chuckled, as he produced a roll of money
from his pocket. “Less go down to de gramstan’ an’ git a stakeholder
fer dese funds.”

Skeeter took all the money which Pap would bet, then he walked to
the betting shed where a howling mass of half-intoxicated negroes
demonstrated an intense love for the improvement of stock.

Ten big, hoarse-voiced, fat-necked negro gamblers from New Orleans
pushed and bellowed among the darkies with their little celluloid
slates, taking bets for any amount on the favorite, Doodlebug.

Hitch Diamond, Prince Total, and Figger Bush closed in upon Skeeter
Butts.

“I hear tell you is got a hoss in de nex’ race, Skeeter,” Hitch Diamond
rumbled.

“Yes, suh, I’s gibin’ him a leetle tryout,” Skeeter replied modestly.
“Dis here race-hoss game is kinder new on me, an’ I’s jes’ tryin’ to
break in easy-like. I buyed a race hoss yistiddy in Shongaloon from Tax
Sambola.”

“My Lawd!” Hitch exclaimed. “You ain’t bettin’ money on him, is yer?”

“Jes’ a leetle to keep up my mind int’rusted,” Skeeter grinned.

“I hopes it ain’t no mo’ dan you kin affode to lose, Skeeter,” Hitch
Diamond said earnestly. “Dat Nigger Blackie hoss is de best looker in
de worl’, an’ he ack like he’s gittin’ ready to go over de land like a
air-ship. But he don’t run no faster dan a sewin’-machine.”

“Ain’t it de truth!” Skeeter laughed mockingly. “I figger I better bet
on his looks instid of his gait!”

Skeeter walked away and Hitch Diamond turned to his friends with eyes
which glowed like a lion’s.

“Sell yo’ socks offen yo’ foots an’ bet yo’ money on Doodlebug,
niggers,” he howled. “Skeeter Butts is done commit hisse’f enough to
disavow dis Nigger Blackie hoss complete!”

When the bell rang for the second race, Skeeter Butts found Shin Bone
in the grandstand, leaning against the rail.

“I got all our spondulix down, Shin,” he grinned. “Bofe of us bets
fifty dollars per each.”

“How wus de odds?” Shin asked in a tone trembling with excitement.

“Some of it wus five to one,” Skeeter replied. “All I bet Pap wus at
dem odds.”

“Dat’ll bust him in about six minutes,” Shin laughed. “By dark, he’ll
be cryin’ in dat lace handkerchief he swiped outen de show-hall an’
beggin’ me to marrify his niece so he won’t hab to suppote her no mo’.”

Shin turned and gazed at the crowd, trying to locate his girl. Failing
to find her, he left Skeeter without ceremony.

Nigger Blackie came in front of the grandstand, loping along as
sedately as a man might walk across a drawing-room. Little Bit, sitting
on his back without a saddle was as nervous as a cat in the midst of a
pack of popping fire-crackers.

“I bet ten to one dat Little Bit falls offen dat pony befo’ he gits to
de quarter pole,” Pap proclaimed with a loud laugh.

“Ef Nigger Blackie runs in form, he ain’t gwine git to no quarter pole
onless Little Bit hauls him dar in a wheel-barrer,” Hitch Diamond
grinned.

“Dar’s Doodlebug!” Pap proclaimed, in the tone of a parent speaking of
a noble son.

Doodlebug was a Tuckapoo mustang. To those acquainted with the breed,
enough said. It means that Doodlebug was a mean, tricky, biting,
kicking, balky Indian pony. He came up the track sideways, backwards,
on his hind feet, on his fore feet. Twice he lay down and rolled over,
and once he balked, spending two minutes in a vain effort to bite off
his jockey’s leg.

“Dat hoss ain’t got but one good p’int, Hitchie,” Pap declared. “He kin
run like a bullet shot outen a gun!”

A few minutes later five horses swept down the track in an even line.

“Go!” yelled Vinegar Atts, up in the judges’ stand.

In the momentary silence following the get-away, there was a scream
so loud and ear-splitting that it thrilled every person on the
fair-grounds. Then everybody on the grandstand stood up and an
astonished exclamation leaped from every lip:

“Look at Nigger Blackie!” “My Lawd, how dat hoss do run!”

Little Bit had a fence picket for a whip. But instead of using it in
the ordinary way, he was violating all the customs of race-riding. He
sat perfectly straight, his bridle-reins were untouched, lying upon the
horse’s neck and flapping loosely around his face, while he waved his
fence picket around his head like a club. Nigger Blackie was running
like a streak.

As Little Bit passed the half-mile post, once more that thrilling,
ear-splitting shriek swept across the intervening space to the people
who stood breathless in the grandstand.

“Whut kind of noise is dat Little Bit is makin’ wid his mouf?” Pap
Curtain inquired uneasily as he watched Doodlebug a full length behind
Nigger Blackie, running his best and unable to gain an inch.

“Dat’s a Indian war-whoop, Pap,” Hitch Diamond said in a voice which
choked in his throat. “When I wus jes’ a little shaver, I used to hear
de Caddo Indians yelp dat way when dey wus hoss-racin’.”

“My Gawd!” Pap exclaimed, as the horses turned into the home-stretch.
“Whut’s done happened to Doodlebug?”

Doodlebug was doing his best, but he was two lengths behind, while
Little Bit was riding Nigger Blackie like an Indian, whooping like a
calliope, and Nigger Blackie, with the loose bridle-reins flapping
around his face, was coming in like a rocket.

Somebody pulled at Pap’s shoulder, and a soft voice spoke pleadingly in
his ear. He struck behind him savagely with his clenched fist, and then
leaned far over the fence.

Suddenly the grandstand broke out into a prayer, a wailing cry which
urged, pleaded, implored!

“_Come_ on, Doodlebug! _Come on, Doodlebug!_ Come _on_, Doodlebug!”

“COME on, _Doodlebug_!” Pap shrieked, with tears in his eyes, and agony
in his voice, and tragedy in his heart. “Oh, fer _Gawd_lemighty’s sake,
come on!”

Again some one pulled at Pap’s arm, and a pleading voice spoke to him.
Again Pap savagely shook himself loose, struck out blindly and insanely
at the person behind him.

Then a mighty moaning sound broke from the grandstand, the lamentation
of a crushed, disappointed, bankrupted multitude.

Nigger Blackie was under the wire, a winner by three lengths!

Pap Curtain turned away from the track, dazed, nauseated, his yellow
cheeks streaked with white, his sneering lips hanging loosely and
quivering, his mouth as dry as sawdust, his tongue feeling like it was
as big and rough as a door-mat.

Once more some one pulled at Pap’s shoulder, and a pleading voice spoke
tearfully:

“Oh, Pap! I been lookin’ fer you eve’ywhar! I was tryin’ to kotch you
an’ tip you off!”

“Whut’s dat?” Pap asked, turning his dazed, unseeing eyes upon the
girl.

Whiffle Boone began to cry.

“I couldn’t find you till atter de race begun, Pap,” she sobbed. “I
wanted to tell you dat Skeeter Butts an’ Shin Bone swapped hosses on
you.”

“How’s dat?” Pap asked, stupidly.

“Skeeter bought two black hosses yistiddy, Pap,” Whiffle Boone said
impatiently, mopping the tears from her face. “He got one from Tax
Sambola at Shongaloon, but de hoss whut winned de race wus dat black
hoss whut Indian Turtle owned--dat ole Indian whut lives on de Coolie
bayo. Dat’s how come Little Bit rid him jes’ like a Indian!”

Pap leaned weakly against the fence and a deep moan issued from his
stiff, parched lips.

“It’s too late now, Whiffle,” he sighed. “I done loss eve’y dollar I
owns. I bet dat fifty dollars whut you gib me to keep fer you, an’ I
done lost dat. I done bet Doodlebug, an’ lost him! I would hab loss
Skipper, too, only but he b’longed to yo’ maw instid of me!”

Whiffle suddenly broke out into a happy laugh.

“When do Skipper run again, Pap?” she inquired.

“He starts in de fifth race,” Pap sighed.

“All right, Pap, don’t cry!” Whiffle giggled. “Skipper will win in de
fifth race--you leave dat to me!”

“’Twon’t do no good, Whiffle,” Pap moaned despairingly. “Us ain’t got
no money to bet.”

“You leave dat to me, too,” Whiffle replied confidently. “You set down
somewheres an’ rest yo’ mind an’ pick up a brave heart. I’ll git some
money fer you to bet, an’ I’ll fry Skeeter Butts an’ Shin Bone in deir
own grease!”


VII

DOPE.

In the rear of the grandstand Skeeter Butts and Shin Bone were holding
a jubilee. They were in possession of more money than they had ever
imagined was in the world. Silver and currency caused every pocket to
bulge, and for the first time in their lives they felt the need of
police protection.

“I’s skeart dese niggers will stick me up an’ rob me of dis money,
Skeeter,” Shin said uneasily. “Wut is us gwine do wid it?”

“Bet it agin!” Skeeter exclaimed exultantly. “Pap Curtain is gwine run
Skipper in de las’ race. Dat means dat you an’ me will go home wid all
de money on de fairground.”

“We ain’t gwine git many bets,” Shin grinned. “Dese here niggers ain’t
got much mo’ money. Us is copped it all.”

“Only three hosses starts in de fifth race, Shin,” Skeeter remarked.
“One is Prince Total’s plow-hoss; one is Pap’s Skipper, an’ de yuther
is a good runner called Peedee. Us bets on Peedee.”

“All right,” Shin agreed. “Less git busy. Nothin’ don’t bother me but
my money.”

“Less go somewhar an’ ’vide up our money even!” Skeeter suggested.
“Over by de pond would be a good hidin’ place!”

As they started around the grandstand they met Pap and Whiffle Boone.
Pap was walking with bent shoulders, and seemed to have aged forty
years in a few minutes. Whiffle was leading him by the hand, and the
dazed and broken negro was mumbling incoherently to himself. Whiffle
looked straight at Shin Bone without a sign of recognition, and her
eyes were like icicles.

“Dar now, Shin!” Skeeter exclaimed tragically. “You done busted Pap an’
yo’ love scrape, bofe at de same time.”

“I ain’t cryin’,” Shin grinned easily. “Whiffle knows whar de money is
at, an’ she’ll come back to little Shinny.”

They watched Pap and the girl until they were swallowed up by the
crowd, then Skeeter and Shin crossed the track and walked over to a
pond in the rear of the judges’ stand. They sat down on the edge of the
water, divided their fortune, and happily planned their final raid on
the money of their friends.

In the meantime Pap and Whiffle were standing at a stall looking into
the face of a sleepy-eyed horse named Skipper.

“How much would you bet on Skipper, ef you had some money, Pap?”
Whiffle wanted to know.

“Nothin’,” Pap replied disgustedly.

Whiffle turned and caught Pap by the lapel of his coat. She looked
straight into his eyes and said:

“Pap, you listen to me: I win one hundred dollars in dat las’ race by
bettin’ on Nigger Blackie. Dat shows dat I knows more about hoss-racin’
dan you does. Now, you take dis money an’ bet eve’y cent of it on
Skipper, an’ leave de rest to me--will you do dat?”

Pap’s sagging backbone stiffened. His chin came up in the air. His
air of disappointment and dejection vanished like magic, and his face
assumed a broad smile.

“Gimme dat money, honey,” he exulted. “I ain’t mournin’ de loss of my
change. I hates to let Skeeter an’ Shin bust me. Ef I kin jes’ show ’em
dat dey didn’t git it all, I’ll shore die happy.”

“All right,” Whiffle smiled. “Go ahead an’ die. You hunt up Skeeter
Butts an’ Shin Bone an’ bet ’em dis money--make ’em gib you ten to one
on Skipper!”

When Pap departed, Whiffle made a circuit of the stables, eyeing each
negro loafer with intense interest.

Finally she stopped and concentrated her attention on one darky who sat
on top of the fence beside the track, a negro, the features of whose
face seemed to have disintegrated and merged in a shapeless mass, as if
the clay of which the face was molded had “run” before it was dry.

The negro saw Whiffle without appearing to look. Whiffle put up her
hand and rubbed her nose. Instantly the man ran two fingers into his
ragged waistcoat pocket, brought them out, and waved them under his
nose with a loud sniff.

Whiffle promptly stepped to the fence beside him, laid a fifty-cent
piece upon the top rail, and whispered one word. The man acted as if he
did not hear. Whiffle turned her back and looked off across the green
surrounded by the race-track, and saw Skeeter Butts and Shin Bone leave
the pond in the middle of the green and walk toward the betting-shed.

The negro climbed down from the fence and disappeared in the crowd.
Whiffle kept her eyes on Skeeter and Shin until he had entirely
disappeared. Then she turned, and where the money had been lying upon
the fence there now rested a folded paper. Whiffle palmed this paper
and walked slowly back to Skipper’s stall.

Entering the stall, she closed the door, opened the paper and poked at
the glistening crystals with the tip of her forefinger.

Skipper drew near and sniffed at her hands, begging for sweetmeats.

“Dis ain’t no sugar, Skipper,” she murmured, catching him by the nose.
“Whoa! You’ll make me spill dis med’cine, an’ it costed me fifty cents!
Whoa!”

She licked a few remaining crystals off of her trembling fingers,
twisted the paper into a tiny wad and walked out of the stall.

“Huh!” she sighed as she wiped the bitter taste from her lips. “Ef Pap
seed me lickin’ dat he’d kill me!”


VIII

DISASTER.

Skeeter Butts and Shin Bone stood in the crowd at one of the entrances
of the grandstand and frowned and sneered at the importunate negroes
who crowded around them.

“Lend us jes’ a dollar or two, Skeeter,” they pleaded. “Ef we could git
a leetle start, mebbe we could win some of our money back.”

“I ain’t loantin’ no money,” Skeeter proclaimed. “I’s jes’ bettin’
money, an’ I done bet all I’m got an’ couldn’t loant none ef I wanted
to.”

At that moment Pap Curtain joined the group, waving five twenty-dollar
bills. He had wasted much time trying to locate Skeeter and Shin.

“Put up or shet up, Skeeter!” he howled gleefully. “Here am one hunderd
dollars whut say dat Skipper wins dis race.”

“Bless gracious, Pap,” Skeeter grinned. “I figgered dat I had you bust.
Ef I’d ’a’ knowed you had a single dollar lef’ I’d shore been to see
you. Now I done bet all I’m got.”

“Put up de Hen-Scratch saloon!” Pap taunted. “I’ll bet you on anything
you is got.”

“I got a race-hoss,” Skeeter grinned. “I’ll bet Nigger Blackie agin
fifty dollars dat Skipper don’t win.”

“I takes it,” Pap said promptly.

“I’m got a Nigger Blackie race-hoss, too, Pap,” Shin Bone suggested
with a loud laugh. “You seed me on him dis mawnin’.”

“I bets you ten dollars agin _yo’_ race-hoss,” Pap said promptly.

“I takes it,” Shin snickered.

Pap turned away with forty dollars, and found no trouble in placing it
on Skipper, with odds against his horse of ten to one.

It was the last race of the day, and business was brisk. The losers
were squealing and begging money, hoping for a chance to repair their
fortunes. The winners were whooping and resorting to every means in
their power to push their luck to the limit and add to their loot.

“Hurry up, niggers!” one of the bloated, dressy coons from the city
whooped. “Git yo’ money on de race! Dey’s saddlin’ up! Ef you wants
to git in on dis spec’lation now is de las’ an’ loudest call fer yo’
money! Git busy!”

“Put yo’ las’ dollar on de las’ race an’ don’t cry ef you bets it on de
hoss dat comes in las’, niggers!” another darky bawled as he waved a
handful of money. “You’ll be shore to git yo’ money’s wuth of dis race,
fer dese three hayburners cain’t lope aroun’ dat track befo’ sundown!”

“Listen, Shin!” Skeeter said as he plucked at his friend’s sleeve. “I
’speck we better hunt up dat Whiffle Boone an’ make frien’s wid her
over agin. ’Tain’t no use to bear her no grudge--us is winners!”

“Lawd, I done fergot dat sweet little gal offen my mind!” Shin
exclaimed as he hastened with Skeeter into the crowded grandstand and
pushed through the sweating multitude in his search for his girl.

“Dar she am!” Skeeter said, pointing. “You go up an’ set on one side of
her, an’ I’ll set on de yuther side, an’ us’ll jolly her up!”

To their surprise, they found Whiffle as jolly already as she could
possibly be. She made room for them, sat down between them and began to
talk like the whirr of a flutter-mill.

The bell rang for the fifth race, and the three horses galloped up the
track in front of the grandstand. Skeeter noticed that Skipper’s jockey
was having the time of his life trying to keep his mount on the track.
The animal acted like he had an insane desire to walk the fence, climb
into the grandstand, or slide on his ear.

“Somebody is done hit dat Skipper over de head wid somepin an’ sot him
crazy,” Skeeter commented.

“Don’t you slanderize Skipper now!” Whiffle warned him. “Dat hoss
b’longs to my maw.”

“He’s a good hoss all right,” Skeeter said propitiatingly. “But of
co’se he ain’t whut you mought call a race-hoss.”

“Oh, _ain’t_ he?” Whiffle sniffed. “He wus a race-hoss when we bought
him, an’ I bet I knows mo’ about race-hossin’ dan you do!”

There was a loud whoop from the crowd and Skeeter Butts raised himself
on tiptoe and looked with popping eyeballs.

“Bless _gracious_, whut a git-off!” Whiffle exclaimed.

It was indeed a very bad start. In a few moments the three horses were
strung over a distance of a hundred yards, but well to the front and
all alone a big gray named Skipper was skimming the rail and running
like a wild fox, while Skeeter’s favorite bet, Peedee, was the last in
the line.

“O Lawdy!” Skeeter sighed, his heart bumping against the base of his
tongue. “Dis is awful, puffeckly awful!”

He sat down heavily and closed his eyes.

Shin Bone took one look and vanished.

Whiffle Boone stood without a tremor of excitement watching her horse.

“Run, you gray houn’ dawg, run!” she whooped in a clear, bugle call.

At the head of the stretch Skipper was far ahead, running like a
high-powered automobile.

He passed under the wire and started around the track again. In spite
of the frantic efforts of his jockey to stop him Skipper made the
second mile in record time.

As he passed the grandstand the negro who operated the big bass drum
brought down the drumstick on the stretched pigskin with a loud “Boom!”

Skipper promptly jumped the fence, ran far over in the field, bucked
his jockey off, ran splashing through the little artificial pond in the
middle of the green, and finally lay down in the water and rolled over
and over like a muskrat, kicking and squealing and splashing the water
and making waves like Pharaoh’s army drowning in the sea!

“Lawdymussy!” Whiffle whined, watching the antics of the crazed horse
and wringing her hands in nervous distress. “I knowed Skipper was a
hop-hoss, but I didn’t ax nobody how much tea to gib him. I figger dat
I doped Skipper too high!”

The crowd was on its way home a long time before they rescued Skipper
from the pond and persuaded the mud-begrimed winner to return to his
stall and be cleaned off.

At the head of the homeward-bound procession walked Skeeter Butts and
Shin Bone. Words cannot describe their distress.

“Dis is a sad an’ sorrerful day fer me, Shin,” Skeeter wept. “At de
eend of de secont race I owned all de money in de worl’. But now----”

“Hush, Skeeter!” Shin said impatiently. “Yo’ mouf is jes’ like a
gramophome--you sets it runnin’ an’ goes off an’ leaves it.”

“All right,” Skeeter snarled. “I’ll shet up. But fust I tells you dis,
solemn an’ specific: I ain’t never gwine bet on nothin’ no more! Dis
here expe’unce is done broke me from suckin’ eggs!”

“Hush, Skeeter!” Shin pleaded. “Lemme medjertate!”


IX

ONE DOLLAR, ONE CENT, ONE WORM.

Next morning, as Shin busied himself about the stable of Colonel Tom
Gaitskill, he was in the depths of despair. The day before had been
one of wild betting, of wonderful winnings, and of most disastrous
and heartbreaking losses. And this was the last day of the fair, and
Shin found himself in a condition where there was no possibility of
recovering even a part of his lost fortune.

One by one he brought out Gaitskill’s handsome horses and cleaned them
until a man might rub a silk handkerchief over their shiny coats and
not pick up a speck of dust.

Finally Shin brought out the beautiful sorrel with the blazed face
and the stiff, snake-bitten leg. The animal was painfully lame, and
Shin spent an hour with various remedies striving to get some of the
rigidity out of the wounded leg.

Colonel Tom Gaitskill sauntered out from his house to the stables,
carrying his morning newspaper in his hand.

“Mawnin,’ Kunnel!” Shin exclaimed. “Dis old rattlesnake hoss is shore
disencouragin’. It ’pears like his leg ain’t limberin’ up a-tall!”

“Is that so?” Gaitskill asked, slapping at the gnats which flew
annoyingly close to his face with the newspaper and making a shrill,
rattling sound.

Instantly the horse gave a loud snort, leaped high into the air, broke
the halter rope with which he was tied to the post, sprang awkwardly
across the lot, and stood in the corner of the fence, looking fearfully
around him and blowing the air with a whistling sound through his
nostrils.

“What in the name of mud is the matter with that fool?” Gaitskill
demanded.

“Dat hoss is done expe’unce a rattlesnake, Marse Tom, an’ dat rattlin’
newspaper skeart him” Shin Bone grinned. “When dat hoss hears somepin
rattle he don’t take no time to study--he hikes!”

Shin walked over and led the trembling animal back to the post.
Gaitskill said with deep regret:

“My fine horse is ruined, Shin. If he should recover from that stiff
leg he would always be unreliable.”

“Dat’s a fack, Marse Tom,” Shin agreed. “Nothin’ cain’t never make no
rattlin’ sound aroun’ him. I done expe’unce dat myse’f--he throwed me
off two times an’ nigh fractioned my neck.”

“I don’t know what to do with him now,” Gaitskill said sadly.

“Sell him to me, Marse Tom!” Shin pleaded. “Me an’ Whiffle Boone is
gwine git married an’ start a eatin’-house, an’ ef I could own dis hoss
an’ a little wagon I could make plenty money wid light haulin’.”

Gaitskill pondered this a moment. Then he said:

“I’ll let you have him for forty dollars, Shin.”

“Suttinly, Marse Tom. I’ll take him!”

“But remember this: you must promise to turn that horse into my pasture
every night, so he can get enough to eat. I won’t have you starve him.”

“A nigger don’t starve his own hoss, Kunnel,” Shin Bone laughed. “A
nigger will steal feed fer his own hoss, but he won’t steal fer a white
man’s hoss.”

Gaitskill smiled and turned away. Shin gazed upon Rattlesnake with
the proud eyes of an owner. He put his arms around the animal’s slim,
graceful neck, drew the shapely head down upon his bosom, and said:

“Cripple hoss, ef I jes’ had a live rattlesnake to tie to yo’ tail, I
figger I could go out on de race-track dis day an’ win all de races
whut is!”

Suddenly he straightened up, released the horse’s head and turned away
with an air of deep dejection.

“Shucks!” he growled. “Marse Tom specify I got to pay him fawty dollars
fer dis hoss! Whar kin I git dat money?”

Shin led the horse back to the stall and sat down on a broken chair
in the runway. Twenty minutes of deep cogitation threw no light upon
his financial problem, so he rose with a sigh and idly ran his hands
through his empty pockets.

Suddenly he thought of the breast pocket of his coat.

Hastily he thrust his hand into that pocket and brought out one silver
dollar and one copper cent. Up to that moment he had forgotten this
money since he placed it there three days before.

“Dis two money fotch me luck one time,” he sighed. “Mebbe I could git a
little lift from ’em agin ef Skeeter Butts hadn’t took cold foots an’
announce his specify dat he warn’t gwine race no mo’.”

He walked out of the stable, stopped beside a big pine stump in the
stable yard, laid his dollar on top of the stump and placed the copper
penny on top of the dollar in as nearly the exact center as he could
calculate.

Then he lifted up some planks which lay deeply buried in the dirt in
the corner of the yard and captured two red earthworms. He took one of
these worms and laid it in the exact center of the copper coin.

“Now, Mr. Worm,” Shin commanded, “you crawl often dat cent and specify
to me whut direction to go to git some money! Gimme a sign!”

The worm started to crawl off. In his progress his head touched the
silver dollar. The worm stopped and promptly crawled back upon the
copper. He started again in another direction, but the moment its body
touched the silver dollar the worm drew back.

“Huh!” Shin grunted. “Dis worm is igernunt--he don’t know which way to
go!”

Shin watched him with intense curiosity. He picked up a straw and gave
him little pushes to assist his progress, then he suddenly took a
breath which threatened to suck in all the air in the stable-yard.

“Bless Gawd!” he exclaimed with heartfelt gratitude. “It’s a shore,
certain fack!”

He tossed the worm aside, pocketed the money and made a beeline to the
Hen-Scratch saloon.

That popular resort was crowded with the colored inhabitants of
Tickfall. They raved and bellowed and drank and laughed and rattled the
money in their pockets and discussed the races of the day.

Shin entered quietly, and after a few minutes he picked up a table and
set it in the middle of the room, placing a chair beside it. Seating
himself with great ceremony, he put his silver dollar in the center of
the table and placed his copper cent on top of the dollar.

The noise of talking and laughing ceased and the negroes crowded around
Shin Bone.

Like all negroes, Shin had a dramatic gift, and he played it to the
limit. His actions were attended by no explanations and had an air of
deep mystery. Then he spoke:

“Whut nigger in dis house is got a fishin’ worm?”

There was a long, astonished silence. Finally Pap Curtain spoke:

“Whut you want wid a fishin’ worm, Shinny? Want to eat yo’ breakfust?”

“Naw, suh,” Shin proclaimed. “I’s gwine make a bet.”

“Whut does you bet?” Hitch Diamond bellowed.

Shin Bone rose to his feet. Pointing dramatically at the money, he
shouted:

“I bets any money dat I kin put a fishin’ worm on top of dat copper
cent, an’ dat worm will starve an’ squinch up an’ die, befo’ he will
crawl across dat silver dollar an’ git away!”

This announcement was followed by intense silence. Finally Pap Curtain
remarked:

“Dat’s some kind of trick dollar.”

“’Tain’t so!” Shin howled.

“How much will you bet?” Hitch Diamond wanted to know.

“Any money!”

“Will you lemme furnish my own dollar?” Pap Curtain inquired.

“Suttinly!”

“Will you lemme furnish de copper cent?” Hitch Diamond bellowed.

“Shorely!”

“Will you lemme furnish de fishin’ worm?” Prince Total squealed.

“Yep!”

“Lawd, niggers!” Hitch Diamond roared. “Shin Bone is done gone cripple
under de hat! Less bust him!”

Shin Bone pocketed his dollar and his copper and sat down at the table.
There was a wild flurry as Prince Total pushed through the crowd to go
out and dig an earth-worm. Hitch Diamond sat down in the middle of the
sand-covered barroom floor, laid a copper cent down, placed an immense
middle finger upon it and began to scour it up and down until the penny
shone like new. Pap Curtain dropped a silver dollar upon the floor,
placed his boot upon it and scraped it up and down in the sand. When he
placed it upon the table it looked like a new-minted dollar.

A moment later Prince Total appeared with a fat red earth-worm.

“Put yo’ money on de table, niggers,” Shin Bone announced as he rose
to his feet. “I takes eve’y bet up to fo’ hunderd dollars. I bought a
eatin’-house from Marse Tom Gaitskill fer fo’ hunderd dollars, an’ dat
house covers all my bets!”

“I keeps de books!” Skeeter Butts squealed, flourishing a pencil and a
sheet of paper. “Bellow yo’ bets in a loud voice!”

“Pap Curtain, twenty dollars!” Pap proclaimed.

“Hitch Diamond, twenty!”

“Prince Total, twenty!”

“Figger Bush, twenty!”

All of this was perfectly familiar to the negroes for this reason: in
the negro churches when a collection is taken up a table is placed,
a secretary is appointed, and each donor marches to the front of the
congregation, places his gift upon the table, announces the amount in a
loud voice and retires.

In ten minutes the table contained a goodly amount of currency and
silver, and Shin Bone swept the contribution from the top of the table
into his hat.

“Two hundred an’ fo’ dollars is bet, niggers!” Shin announced. “Now,
Prince Total, advance an’ produce de worm!”

Pap Curtain laid his shiny silver dollar in the center of the table.
Hitch Diamond placed his shiny copper cent in the center of the dollar.
Prince Total placed his fat, shiny, squirmy earth-worm in the center of
the cent.

Shin Bone walked over close to the exit, climbed upon the end of the
bar so he could see by looking over the heads of the negroes, and began
to pocket the money contained in his hat.

There was the most intense and overwhelming silence as the crowd
watched the worm. It started off the cent, but it never stayed off. The
penny was small and the worm was large, and sometimes it overflowed
and touched the silver. When that happened the worm displayed the most
intense discomfort, and the most eager desire to readjust its folds and
scramble back upon the copper.

A loud groan arose from the watching negroes.

Shin Bone stood up on the end of the bar and squealed:

“Good-bye, niggers! Ef dat worm ever gits offen dat copper cent I’ll
pay de money back an’ eat de worm raw!”

He turned and walked out of the saloon a happy and wealthy man!

Ten minutes later Pap Curtain, Hitch Diamond, and Prince Total appeared
at the home of Colonel Tom Gaitskill.

“Kunnel,” Hitch said earnestly, “us niggers wants to show you somepin
an’ ax you how come!”

“What is it?” Gaitskill smiled.

Pap laid a silver dollar on the floor of the porch, Hitch Diamond
placed a copper cent on top of it, and Prince Total laid a worm on top
of the cent.

“Now, Kunnel, fer Gawd’s sake, tell us how come dat worm cain’t crawl
offen dat cent?”

Gaitskill laughed.

“That is a simple demonstration in experimental electricity, men,” he
said. “When the worm’s damp body which is in contact with the copper
touches the silver it starts a current of electricity that gives it a
shock. Of course the current thus produced is very slight, but it is
quite enough for the worm, and the worm finds it more comfortable to
stay on the copper coin.”

“Dat shore is a strange an’ expensive fack, Marse Tom,” Hitch Diamond
remarked gloomily.

“De nigger whut bets his dollars on dat exper’ment ain’t gwine git no
slight shock,” Pap Curtain declared.

“An’ he ain’t gwine hab even a copper cent to stan’ on!” Prince Total
concluded.


X

RATTLESNAKE.

All of Shin Bone’s victims were sitting in the grandstand when Shin
rode on the track that afternoon to exhibit his newly purchased horse.

“Hello, Shinny!” Hitch Diamond yelled. “Whar you git dat plug?”

“Marse Tom sold him to me fer fawty dollars,” Shin grinned. “You all
he’ped me to pay fer him when you bit like suckers at dat fishin’ worm!”

“Is you gwine race him?” Pap whooped.

“Suttinly. He goes in de las’ race.”

“Is you gwine bet on him?” Prince Total squealed.

“I bets eve’y cent I’m got,” Shin grinned. “Dis hoss’s name is
Rattlesnake, an’ he’s pure p’ison.”

Shin trotted his horse down the track, and the negroes watched the
stiff hind leg of the animal and noticed that the horse never raised
it far enough above the ground to prevent it making a long mark upon
the turf. Shin galloped back in front of his friends, and the crippled
horse awkwardly dragged his stiff leg, making a longer and deeper mark
upon the track.

“I wonder ef dat nigger really means whut he say?” Pap remarked as he
sat back in his seat.

“Whut race is you in, Pap?” Hitch Diamond asked.

“I starts Nigger Blackie in de las’ race,” Pap told him. “I bet
Doodlebug yistiddy an’ lost him, but I speck he’s gwine in dat race,
too. Of co’se Nigger Blackie kin beat Doodlebug--he done it yistiddy.”

“I thought Nigger Blackie b’longed to Skeeter Butts,” Hitch said.

“Naw, suh. I winned Nigger offen Skeeter yistiddy.”

“How many hosses in dat las’ race?” Prince Total asked.

“Gawd knows,” Pap sighed. “It’s de las’ race of de fair. It’s a
free-fer-all scramble, an’ eve’y nigger in dis parish kin git in wid a
race-hoss ef he wants to.”

“I tells you whut, niggers,” Hitch Diamond suggested. “Shin Bone is
done robbed us of a heap of money; now less go down an’ bet agin him
an’ his hoss an’ rob him of all de chink he’s got. Dat stiff-leg
Rattlesnake cain’t run--any hoss kin beat him as fur as you kin shoot a
gun.”

“I favors dat!” Pap exclaimed. “Dis is de las’ race of de las’ day of
de fair. I favors makin’ it de las’ of Shin Bone. I’s done got plum’
nauseated wid dat nigger anyhow.”

They waited on Shin in a body and proposed to take all his money away
from him.

“I bets dollar fer dollar, niggers,” Shin replied smilingly. “I is got
one hunderd an’ sixty dollars, an’ I lets it go easy.”

“Who holds de stakes?” Pap Curtain asked.

“I dunno,” Shin answered. “I ain’t figgered on dat.”

“How will Whiffle Boone suit?” Pap inquired:

“She suits,” Shin said indifferently. “Less hunt her up.”

They found Whiffle in the grandstand and explained what they wanted her
to do. She gladly consented and accepted their money, keeping a record
of the amount of their bets.

When the men left her Whiffle sat for a long time in deep meditation,
then she started on a search for Shin Bone.

Shin was busy at the stable plaiting Rattlesnake’s mane and tail into
long, hard braids, a half dozen on the mane and as many on the tail.
He was working eagerly, confidently, with the manner of a man who knew
what he was doing.

“Shinny,” Whiffle asked, “who is gwine ride yo’ hoss?”

“I’m is.”

“Is you shore you is gwine win, Shin?”

“Suttinly.”

“I don’t see how dat cripple hoss kin run,” Whiffle remarked in
troubled tones.

“It do ’pear like dat stiff leg hinders him some,” Shin grinned. “But I
done found out somepin ’bout dis hoss: he ain’t skeart of nothin’ but a
rattlesnake.”

“Dat discover don’t make him run no faster,” Whiffle replied.

“No’m. But ef I was to tie a rattlesnake to his tail I ’speck he would
run some.”

“Huh!” Whiffle snorted disgustedly. “You ain’t gwine tie no snake to
dat hoss’s tail.”

“Dat’s a fack,” Shin snickered. “I’s skeart of snakes. But I tells
you dis honest, Whiffle: ef you got any money to bet, you bet it on
Rattlesnake. I wouldn’t tell you dis ef I didn’t love you more’n
anybody!”

“I owns one hunderd dollars, Shin. Me an’ Pap winned in de race whut
busted you up yistiddy. I’s gwine bet on Rattlesnake fer yo’ sake,
because I loves you.”

It seemed a long time to Shin Bone before the last race. A good hour
before that contest of speed Shin had Rattlesnake saddled and waiting.

When at last the bell rang for the final racing event of the fair Shin
mounted his stiff-legged steed and rode slowly out upon the track. He
counted and found that fifteen other horses were entered, the only
formidable rivals to Rattlesnake being Doodlebug and Nigger Blackie.

There are various methods in use among horsemen to extract speed from
their race-horses.

Sometimes a jockey carries an electric battery in one of his riding
boots, and the battery is connected with copper wire to his spurs;
sometimes the battery is hidden in the saddle and the saddle is
stitched and lined with copper wire; sometimes the battery is concealed
in the butt end of the riding whip. These methods often lead to the
detection of dishonesty. A better way is to carry a hand buzzer and
apply the juice until the race is won; then the jockey can toss the
hand buzzer over the fence and defy the inspection of the judges.
Sometimes a groom or rubber pours a bottle of liquid called “High Life”
over the horse’s back, or administers a dose of dope; in that case the
jockey has the struggle of his life to prevent his horse from climbing
into the judges’ stand before he can get a start.

But Shin Bone pulled the most unique stunt ever attempted on a
race-track.

The best speed extractor in the world for white flesh, colored flesh,
or horse flesh is Fright. Fear will make a lame man walk, a crippled
horse run, and a paralyzed negro sprout wings and fly.

Shin rode Rattlesnake without spurs, or whip, or dope, or high life,
or electricity. All in the world that he had to induce his horse to
run was a handful of toy baby rattles which he had swiped from the
nursery of Colonel Tom Gaitskill’s grandchild. Woven in Rattlesnake’s
plaited mane were half a dozen celluloid balls, containing two or three
buckshot each and marks outside of a baby’s tiny teeth.

As Rattlesnake stumped about on his stiff leg they made no disturbing
sound; but Shin had learned by experiment that a little burst of speed
started the rattling, and the big horse did the rest!

The fifteen horses trotted down toward the starter’s stand in a pretty
fair alignment. Vinegar Atts, the starter, was tired of his week’s work
and easy to please.

“Go!” he whooped.

Rattlesnake broke into an awkward gallop. Then Shin Bone reached back
and pulled a string in the rear of his saddle.

Four noisy celluloid baby rattles, each suspended from a strong string,
dropped down around the legs of Rattlesnake.

The horse heard that deadly, venomous rattle, and felt something touch
his flanks and drop further and tap him on the legs; right behind his
ears he heard a dreadful whirring sound, as if a snake were entwined in
his mane!

He uttered a scream so shrill, so horrible, that every negro in the
grandstand shuddered.

Then he leaped forward, and the pop-eyed negroes had never seen such
running in their lives!

Rattlesnake’s body lay out in a level line, nose, shoulder, back,
and his flying legs were a yellow blur beneath his straining body.
But not all the thunder of his going could deaden the sound of that
fearful rattle, which whirred like the wind in his ears, stirring the
remembrance of suffering and sickness and the agony of the cauterizing
iron!

Faster, faster, faster Rattlesnake ran, his feet spurning the brown
carpet of turf beneath him, his crippled hind leg limbering up for the
last time in his life and shooting his body forward like the piston rod
of an engine.

The race was won in an incredible time.

As the terrified horse shot under the wire Shin reached behind his
saddle and tore loose the cords which held the rattles flapping around
the animal’s flanks; then he ran his hands through the plaited mane and
pulled off the rattles which whirred behind Rattlesnake’s ears, and the
horse slowly slackened his speed and stopped, his sides heaving, his
breath coming and going like a giant bellows.

When the other horses came in Shin rode slowly back and held up his
hand.

“Judges?” he called.

Vinegar Atts nodded his head and waved his hand toward the stable.

When Shin Bone dismounted at the stall Whiffle Boone ran forward with
the tears running down her laughing face.

She jerked Shin’s hat from his head, turned it upside down on the
ground and filled it with money. Then she threw her arms around the
graceful, throbbing, sweating neck of the big sorrel horse.

“We win!” she sobbed. “Bless Gawd! We win!”

       *       *       *       *       *

All this happened three years ago, and there has never been another
race at any Tickfall Negro Fair.

For three years Shin Bone’s wife has been in charge of the restaurant
which she bought with her winnings in the last great race. For three
years Shin Bone has met every train with a light wagon drawn by a
pie-faced, stiff-legged sorrel horse. His owner “wrastles trunks an’
gripsacks fer de white folks.” His horse is as fat as butter, but he
runs away every time he hears a rattling sound.

Last fall Shin and Whiffle drove Rattlesnake out to the fairground and
entered a two-year-old negro boy in the Better Babies’ contest. Colonel
Tom Gaitskill had offered handsome prizes in this contest and was in
charge.

“This is your son, Shin?” Gaitskill smiled as he entered the
piccaninny’s name and age in a large book.

“Yes, suh.”

“I presume it is a eugenic, hygienic baby?” Gaitskill laughed.

“Yes, suh,” Shin replied, wondering at the same time what Gaitskill
meant. “Yes, suh. He gits de you-jeans from his maw an’ de high-jeans
from his paw. He’s a shore winner!”



Hoodoo Face.


I

THE STRANGER.

Dinner Gaze bore the air of a man who was perfectly satisfied with his
personal appearance and sure of making a good impression upon all who
beheld him.

He leaned back in his seat in the negro coach of the New Orleans
accommodation, using the seat in front of him as a footstool. His legs
were crossed with a display of glorious silk hosiery, his thumbs were
anchored in the armholes of his gold and purple vest, his bright green
cravat contained a bright yellow diamond, and his cigarette-stained
fingers beat a happy tattoo upon the bosom of his shirt.

The face of Dinner Gaze was black, and as expressionless as the ugly
mug of a dough man. There was a long mark upon his cheek where a bullet
had missed the center of his face about two inches. There was a long
knife-scar on the back and side of his neck. A bit of the upper part of
his left ear was missing, sliced off smoothly with a sharp knife or
razor. The end of one of his front teeth was broken off. His eyes were
as steady and unwinking and shiny as two glass beads, his voice was
low and soft and confidential in tone, and his heavy lips carried an
habitual sneer.

Hitch Diamond, who sat beside him, was similarly satisfied.

Hitch’s appearance cried aloud his profession of pugilist. His face
was a scarred ruin, battered and bruised in many a fistic battle
until it resembled the face of the Sphinx since it has been pecked at
and damaged by the souvenir hunters and sandstorms of the centuries.
His ponderous hands looked like the gnarled and twisted roots of
a scrub-oak tree, while his legs were like the Corinthian columns
supporting the portico of a temple.

Hitch had made a trip to New Orleans for pugilistic purposes. At the
end of the second round, Hitch had looked down at his opponent, then
waved his gloved fist at the whooping crowd and remarked: “I know whut
I done to dat coon! He’s gwine sleep a long time!” After which Hitch
had collected a hatful of money and remained in New Orleans long enough
to get it all nicely spent except a puny wad in one pocket of his shiny
new pantaloons.

Every rag of clothes on Hitch’s giant body was entirely new. He was
swathed in a Prince Albert coat, choked and tortured by a high collar
and a stiff-bosomed shirt; a glorious silk hat, all white silk lining
on the inside, and smooth, shiny, imitation beaver on the outside,
rode on his head; while on his feet were a pair of patent-leather shoes
which had caused him a world of trouble in the city.

He had walked for miles, in and out of the stores, seeking a pair of
shiny shoes which would fit his immense feet. Shoe clerks had taken
one look at those pedal extremities and had thrown up their hands in
despair. But Hitch had persisted in his search, and now it was plainly
apparent to all that Solomon in all his glory was not shod like such as
he.

Dinner Gaze was listening with great interest to Hitch’s talk.

“I ain’t went to N’Awleens befo’ fer mighty nigh five year,” said Hitch
as he extracted a long Perique stogie from the side-pocket of his
gorgeous yellow waistcoat.

Dinner Gaze reached out, took the stogie from Hitch’s giant hand, and
tossed it out of the window. He handed the pugilist a big, fat cigar
with a broad gold band, and grinned in a friendly way. Then he said in
his low, gentle voice:

“Ef you wants me to set by you, don’t smoke no roll of rags an’
garbage. Take a real seegar!”

“Thank ’e, suh,” Hitch murmured gratefully, removing the gold band and
fitting it carefully upon his little finger where he admired it as a
maiden admires her engagement ring. “I’s powerful sorry dar ain’t no
lady folks in dis car to see me smoke dis. I ain’t never feel like I
had enough money to ack liberal an’ buy real smokes.”

“Ain’t you spek dat you got a wad to tote home from de city wid you?”
Gaze inquired carelessly, as he tore a page from a newspaper and began
idly to roll it tightly.

“Shore!” Hitch chuckled. “I totes it in my behime hip-pocket next to
my heart, whar unpious niggers totes dey gun. But most of dat is jes’
show money--’tain’t much, an’ I got it wropped up in a roll to make it
look like a plenty. Fawty dollars is all whut is lef’ of my trip to de
city--excusin’ de mem’ry of a dam’ good time, an’ dese clothes!”

“Whar you gwine now?” Dinner asked as he fumbled with his paper.

“I’s gittin’ off at Sawtown,” Hitch replied. “I been livin’ aroun’
in dis part of de worl’ all my life, an’ I ain’t never seed dat big
saw-mill town yit. ’Tain’t been but ’bout fo’ year ago dat Sawtown
started off--when dey sot dat big mill dar in de woods.”

“I’s proud I met up wid you, Revun,” Dinner Gaze said. “I lives in
Sawtown, an’ I’ll show you all de good p’ints in de place.”

Hitch opened his mouth to deny that he was a preacher, but the negro’s
natural love of the game of make-believe prevented him. His slow mind
evolved the humor of the situation, and he bestowed a pious smile upon
the man beside him.

“Thank ’e, suh. I ain’t gwine let nothin’ git past me. I’s gwine to all
de shows, an’ drink all de ice-water I kin git, an’ chaw peanuts, an’
git right in de middle of de cullud high life.”

“Dat picayune way of seein’ Sawtown won’t git you nothin’,” Dinner
Gaze grunted disgustedly. “Bust her wide open, Revun!”

“How is dat did?” Hitch wanted to know.

“I’ll show you!” Gaze told him.

“Whut job does you wuck at in Sawtown?” Hitch asked.

“I’m gittin’ ready to sot up a little nigger gamblin’-house in Sawtown
now,” Dinner replied cautiously, after a moment’s hesitation. “Befo’
dat, I managed a string of nigger prize-fighters in N’Awleens.”

Hitch raised his battered head like an old, scarred war-horse when he
hears the bugle-call for charge. Then he remembered that Gaze thought
he was talking to a clergyman.

“Dat shore sounds familious to me,” Hitch laughed. “I used to be a
prize-fighter my own se’f!”

“Hear dat, now!” Dinner Gaze exclaimed. “I knowed you an’ me wus
kinnery when I fust cotch you wid my eye. How come you left de great
perfesh?”

“A nigger put a chunk of lead in his glove an’ battered me clean acrost
a wharf-boat,” Hitch narrated, drawing upon his imagination, and
recalling an incident in the career of his friend, the Reverend Vinegar
Atts. “Atter dat I felt a call to preach.”

“Mebbe you could come back,” Gaze suggested.

“Naw, suh,” Hitch grinned, quoting a remark he had heard Vinegar
make. “Preachin’ is a plum’ sight safer. I kin git up befo’ a lot of
Christyums an’ knock noses an’ pull hair an’ skin shins all I’m got a
mind to, an’ all dey kin do is to turn aroun’ de yuther cheek. Ef dey
hits back, dey ain’t pious!”

The odor of wet, sawed, sun-scorched lumber entered the car window. The
suction of the moving train threw sawdust upon the seat where the feet
of the two men rested. They were drawing near to the station at Sawtown.

“Revun,” Dinner asked, as he rose, “is you ever read up on dat Bible
text whut says ‘I wus a stranger an’ I got took in’?”

“Suttinly,” Hitch prevaricated.

“My last advices to you is to keep a eye on de people in dis here
Sawtown. Dey takes a stranger in good an’ plenty!”

Dinner dusted off his patent-leather shoes, adjusted his immaculate
cuffs, felt of his green tie and his yellow diamond, lifted his Panama
hat out of the rack, and brushed the cigar ashes off his gold and
purple vest.

“Drap in de Hot-dog Club an’ gimme a look-on, Revun!” Gaze invited as
he stepped into the aisle. “I handles a pretty peart gamblin’ game ef I
do say it myse’f!”

The train stopped.

Dinner Gaze waited in the aisle, courteously permitting Hitch Diamond
to precede him.

As Hitch passed out, Dinner Gaze cautiously elevated the tail of the
pugilist’s Prince Albert coat, carefully thrust two scissors-like
fingers into Hitch’s hip-pocket and drew out a small roll of money. In
its place he thrust a wad of newspaper of about the same size. When the
train had gone on, Hitch looked for his friend and could not find him.

“Dar now!” he exclaimed. “Dat wus a fine nigger man an’ I done loss him
complete, an’ I even fergot to ax him whut wus his name!”


II

“TOOK IN.”

“De fust thing I needs is a sack of peanuts an’ a awange to cut de dust
outen my throat,” Hitch said to himself, as he walked slowly down the
village street.

He entered a small grocery, made his purchases, and thrust his fingers
into his hip-pocket to bring forth his money.

Instead he extracted a wad of newspapers.

Hitch stupidly unfolded the paper, gazed at it with hypnotic
fascination, searched all his pockets for his lost money, then searched
them again, hunting for loose change.

The disgusted clerk tossed the bag of peanuts back into the roaster,
laid the orange back on the shelf, walked over to a chair and sat down,
his mind spluttering like wet fireworks with his unspoken comments on
the colored race in general and Hitch in particular.

Hitch stumbled stupidly out of the store, broke and broken-hearted.

He looked around him uncertainly, then dragged his ponderous feet back
toward the depot, hoping to find his lost money. After half an hour’s
search he gave it up and started aimlessly toward the river.

Half-way down the block he met a tall negro whose face was slightly
disfigured by a broken nose. The man wore a checkerboard suit of
clothes, a cowboy hat, and a sport shirt. Hitch’s eyes fell first upon
the emblem of a negro lodge which the man wore on the lapel of his coat.

Hitch eagerly laid hold upon his lodge brother, “I’s in powerful bad
trouble, brudder,” he moaned. “I ain’t know nobody in dis town an’ I
done loss all my money on my way to dis place. Whut kin be did?”

“De next best thing is to go down to de big mill an’ set on de
buzz-saw,” the brother advised.

“Whut good will dat do me?” Hitch inquired.

“It’ll fix you so trouble won’t trouble you no more,” Checkerboard
grinned, patting Hitch on his powerful back. “Atter you takes yo’ seat
you won’t need no money--de Nights of Darkness lodge will bury yo’
remainders free fer nothin’ an’ sot you up a real nice tombstone.”

“I got plenty white folks in my own home town,” Hitch continued, paying
no attention to his companion’s foolishness. “I mought could git some
he’p mebbe ef I had somewhar to wait at ontil dey sont me de money.”

The checkerboard negro looked Hitch over; then his eyes narrowed and he
smiled.

“As a lodge brudder in good standin’, I could lead you to my own house
an’ keep you a little while,” Checkerboard remarked. “Whar is yo’ lodge
pin?”

Hitch glanced down at the lapel of his coat.

“My gosh!” he mourned. “I done loss my money an’ my lodge breastpin
too. Dat breastpin wus jes’ perzackly like de one you is got on an’ wus
gib me by Skeeter Butts.”

“Suttinly,” Checkerboard laughed. “Dey is all made alike an’ look jes’
de same. Mebbe de feller whut touched yo’ wad frisked yo’ pin, too.”

“Dat’s whut happened,” Hitch sighed. “But it don’t he’p me none to know
dat news.”

“You’se too blame young to be trabbelin’ alone,” Checkerboard
snickered. “You needs a fust-rate gardeen. Foller atter me!”

He conducted Hitch to the rear of the big sawmill, led him through a
maze of immense lumber piles, and brought him around the big mill-pond
to a cluster of houses built by the owners of the mill for the
occupancy of their negro employees.

There was one two-story house which looked like a barracks, and was
intended for use by men who had no families. Into this Checkerboard led
his companion.

“Set down, Revun,” he smiled. “Dis here is my boardin’-house. I keeps
it fer de ’commodation of de nigger workers in de mill whut ain’t got
no wifes an’ no home. Dey eats in dat eatin’-house down dar by de
mill-pond an’ sleeps here.”

“It’s powerful hot in dis place,” Hitch complained as he seated himself.

“We keeps de winders down in de daytime because eve’ybody whut stays
here is busy in de mill,” Checkerboard explained, as he pulled off his
coat and hung it across his arm. “Pull off dat coat of yourn, an’ I’ll
take yo’ stove-pipe hat an’ coat an’ hang ’em up wid mine.”

Hitch gratefully removed his hat and coat and sat down. He took a
stogie from his vest-pocket and felt for a match.

“Don’t you wanter take off dat vest, too?” Checkerboard inquired. “You
might git seegar ash all over it.”

“Dat’s right,” Hitch said, as he handed his friend the vest.

“Make yo’se’f at home, Revun,” Checkerboard said graciously. “Smoke all
you please to--spit on de flo’--ack like you wus at yo’ own house! I
got to hump aroun’ a leetle on bizzness befo’ de mill blows de whistle
fer closin’ time. But I tells you in eggsvance, dat as fur’s I’m
concerned, you kin stay in dis house fer a mont’.”

“You is a true lodge brudder,” Hitch rumbled in real gratitude. “I
won’t never fergit you!”

Checkerboard left the room, walked through the hallway, passed out
of the rear door, clambered down into a gulley, and carried Hitch’s
clothes through a labyrinth of lumber piles to a place far, far away!

Hitch waited for nearly an hour for Checkerboard to return. Feeling the
lack of companionship, he walked down to the mill-pond and accosted
the slouchy negro woman in the kitchen of the eating-house.

To his surprise he learned that she had never seen nor heard of the man
in the checkerboard suit.

“It ’pears to me like dese here folks ain’t plum’ honest,” Hitch
mourned as he walked disconsolately around the mill-pond trying to find
his way back to the village.

He spent a long time looking for the man who had his clothes, mumbling
complainingly to himself the while. At last he wandered to the wharf on
the Mississippi River and sat down with his back resting against a post.

His feet were unaccustomed to the wear of patent-leather shoes, and
they felt swollen and tired. He took off his shoes, set them side by
side in front of him, waved his feet in the cool river breeze, and
gazed upon his footwear lovingly.

“I kin git me anodder hat an’ coat,” he muttered. “But dem shoes would
be a powerful loss. Dar ain’t no more shoes in N’Awleens dat’ll fit my
foots!”

Half a block away two little white boys were cutting monkey-shines
on the sidewalk. In the dusty gutter one boy picked up a long, black
stocking.

The two considered this find for a moment, then they gathered small
sticks and thrust them into the stocking. One youth produced a ball of
kite twine and tied an end of the twine around the open end of the
stocking. After that, they dropped the stocking upon the pavement and
pulled it along by the string, observing the effect.

“It wiggles all right,” they chuckled.

They looked around for a victim and spotted Hitch Diamond.

One of the boys held the stocking and concealed himself behind a pile
of lumber on the wharf. The other boy, playing out the ball of twine,
walked along the wharf, his bare feet making no sound. He passed close
behind Hitch Diamond and stopped and concealed himself on the other
side of some shipping about one hundred feet beyond the point where
Hitch Diamond sat.

Then the boy with the ball began to wind the twine in. The long black
stocking crawled up closer and closer to the inert form of Hitch
Diamond.

Finally, when the stocking had wriggled grotesquely to within ten feet
of Hitch Diamond, there was a loud whoop--a white boy ran from behind
some lumber and shrieked:

“Look at that sna-a-a-ke, nigger! Jump!”

Hitch jumped.

He sprinted down the wharf a hundred yards, pattering along in his sock
feet, leaving his precious shoes behind him.

The little white boy shrieked with laughter, picked up the wriggling
stocking, and jumped next for Hitch’s shoes.

For a moment he paused, filled with awe when he beheld their monstrous
and incredible size; then, doubtless reflecting upon their resemblance
to a big mudscow, he put each shoe where a mudscow properly belongs--in
the river!

“Hey, you nigger!” a wharf watchman called sharply, as Hitch, looking
behind him, ran full tilt into the watchman’s portly form.

“’Scuse me, boss!” Hitch grunted.

The watchman hung three strong fingers in the collar of Hitch’s white
shirt. Hitch didn’t like that. He pulled away. The watchman pulled too.
The inevitable happened.

Hitch’s shirt tore half in two and hung limply in the watchman’s
hands as Hitch raced down the wharf clad in socks, pants, and a red
undershirt!

The watchman disgustedly tossed his spoils on top of a lumber pile and
gave himself up to the placid contemplation of the flight of some gulls
on the river.

“Lawd,” Hitch sighed, when he had dodged around the distant end of the
wharf and had time to look down at his deficient apparel. “Dis here
town shore is hard on clothes!”


III

FOURTEEN SWALLOWS.

Keeping the river levee between himself and the town so that no one
could see him in his half-dressed condition, Hitch departed from the
vicinity of Sawtown with expedition. When he reached the edge of the
woods about a mile from the mill, he sat down to think a way out of
his difficulties.

“My head is jes’ like a mule’s head,” he announced to himself. “I
cain’t hold but only one notion at a time. I been thinkin’ so heavy all
de time about my lost money dat I done loss all my good clothes, too.
I oughter knowed better. Now I’s gwine git active an’ sot myse’f up in
bizzness agin.”

He sat for a long time in deep, silent meditation, trying to extract an
idea from his slow brain. Then he concluded:

“I drunk too much dram in N’Awleens. My head ain’t right. Ef I could
git me a good dram now, mebbe I could think up a notion whut to do.”

In his impoverished condition he saw no way of buying a drink. He cast
about to see what he possessed which he might exchange for one, and
pulled out of his hip-pocket his silk socks, the joy and pride of his
life in their glorious coloring--purple, striped with yellow!

“Dey costed me two dollars,” Hitch sighed as he gazed upon them fondly.
“I could swap ’em off in Sawtown, but I ain’t gwine back dar no more.
Ef I does, some nigger will steal my pants an’ my socks, too. Plenty of
country niggers is got dram.”

He walked barefooted through the woods and came out at a level
plantation some distance back from the river. In the middle of a
cow-pasture, a tall, brown, bright-eyed negro watched Hitch approach
with impassive curiosity.

“Howdy, my brudder!” Hitch boomed. “How am yo’ soul an’ spirit dis day?”

“De spirit is pretty low, elder,” the farmer replied. “De ole woman am
got de dram all locked up tight.”

“How come you choose de lily-pad route an’ live on water?” Hitch asked
in a disappointed tone.

“I got married,” the young negro responded with a grin.

Suddenly a big Jersey bull broke through the underbrush and came toward
the two men, snorting, bellowing, pawing the ground, tossing the dirt
upon his shoulders, and shaking his powerful head.

“Dat’s mine, stranger,” the young man remarked proudly, removing the
top from a bucket on his arm and tossing a handful of salt at the
animal’s feet. “He don’t like dat red undershirt of your’n. Ain’t him a
dandy?”

“Shore is,” Hitch said meditatively. After a moment, he added: “Ef dat
ole bull wus to hook one of us, I ’speck yo’ bride would affode us a
little dram to stimulate us up.”

“I resigns in yo’ favor, elder,” the owner grinned. “Ef dis here beast
wus to butt me, he’d jolt all my kinnery plum’ back to Afriky.”

There was a period of silent and fruitless meditation. Then,
sorrowfully, Hitch Diamond reached to his hip-pocket and brought forth
his purple socks with the yellow stripes--all, except his trousers,
that remained of his former glory.

“Whut’s yo’ name?” Hitch asked.

“Dey calls me Dude Blackum because I got a gold tooth,” the other
informed him.

“Whut is yo’ wife called?” Hitch asked next.

“Dainty.”

“I wants to make a little trade, Dude,” Hitch remarked, after he had
told his own name. “Dese here socks costed me two dollars. My head
ain’t thinkin’ right to-day. You is a heavy thinker. Ef you kin think
up a sketch of how I kin git a dram right now, I’ll bestow dese here
socks on you.”

“De trade is did!” Dude grinned, showing his gold tooth. “Lemme think!”

“Bawl out, nigger!” Hitch grumbled after a little wait. “Don’t keep me
waitin’ here in expense no longer.”

“I wus studyin’ ’bout dis,” Dude said. “I’s got a little touch of
lumbago in my legs. An’ mebbe, ef dat bull would jes’ butt me real easy
like, an’ I’d kinder drap off in dat bayou an’ git wet, an’ den walk
back home in drippy clothes wid dis mis’ry gnawin’ at my legs----”

Hitch’s face was so expressive of contempt that Dude stopped speaking.

“Is dat whut you call heavy thinkin’?” Hitch inquired in sarcastic
tones. “Dat high-brow plan might steal you a nubbin of corn from a
blind pig’s slop-trough. But Dainty ain’t no blind pig--dese here
brides gits awful wise on deir husbunts atter dey marries ’em.”

“Wait till I finish, Hitch,” Dude begged. “Now, my view is dis: you
go up to de house an’ cornverse Dainty till I comes in all wet an’
mournin’ ’bout how hurt I is. Atter I come in, you say to Dainty dat
she better gimme a dram because I’s so crippled up. Of co’se, she will
hab to be manners an’ gib you some, too.”

“Dar, now!” Hitch boomed. “You shore is a smart boy, Dude. Dat plan is
accawdin’ to de Bible, wise as suppents an’ harmless as ducks. But”----

Here Hitch broke off and looked down at his clothes.

“It ’pears to me it ain’t proper to call on a lady when I is barefooted
an’ ain’t got nothin’ on but a pair of pants an’ a red undershirt,” he
mourned.

“Dat won’t make no diffunce,” Dude assured him. “All de niggers wucks
in de big mill dresses jes’ like you is now. Dainty will figger dat you
is a sawmill hand. Talk right up to her, Revun”----

“I ain’t no preacher!” Hitch interrupted, growling like an angry bear.
“I’s a prize-fighter.”

“Dat won’t do,” Dude chuckled, as he looked at the giant’s mighty arms
and shoulders. “Dainty is powerful sot on preachers. I ’speck you
better be one as long as you is hangin’ aroun’ her.”

“All right,” Hitch said reluctantly, as he started away. “I ain’t none
too good or too proud to piddle wid dat job--ef I got to.”

“Hol’ on, Hitch!” Dude exclaimed. “You ain’t gimme dem silk socks yit!”

Hitch’s experience in Sawtown had made him cautious. After a man has
parted with a certain amount of his wearing apparel, he becomes
reluctant to separate himself from the rest in a civilized community
unless he contemplates becoming a he-mermaid and living in the river.

Hitch held out one sock.

“I’ll gib you one sock now, Dude,” he said cunningly. “Dat’ll keep yo’
mind int’rusted. Atter I git de dram, I’ll leave de yuther sock on de
flo’ or de mantlepiece, kinder keerless like.”

Dude accepted the partial payment and stuck the gaudy sock into his
derby hat and placed the hat on his head.

On his way to the cabin, which lay across the pasture, Hitch Diamond
also did some heavy thinking.

“I wonder how much dram dat nigger woman is got,” he muttered to
himself. “I bet dar ain’t enough for two. Ef she ain’t nothin’ but one
of dese here soft, giggly, gal-wifes, mebbe I kin bamboozle her outen a
dram befo’ Dude comes in.”

Dainty met Hitch at the door.

“My name am Hitch Diamond, Dainty,” he rumbled. “I met Dude out in
de cow pasture an’ he tole me he done cormitted mattermony. I felt
powerful bad because he didn’t send fer his ole preacher frien’ to come
’n’ marrify him. He sont me up here to take a look at you.”

“Come in, elder,” Dainty giggled. “How is you feelin’ to-day?”

“Lawd, honey, I feels a whole passel better since I sot my eyes on you.
You’s prettier’n a little pig. But I been feelin’ powerful sick.”

“Whut ails you?” the girl asked with instant sympathy.

“I’s got a wo-begone spasm in my stomick an’ a empty feelin’ in my
head.”

“Dat’s too bad,” Dainty said. “Would a little drap----”

“Yes’m,” Hitch responded promptly. “Dat’s jes’ de med’cine I needs. De
dorctor obscribes brandy fer all my ailments.”

Dainty extracted a key from the pocket of her dress and opened the door
of a little storeroom which contained a little trunk. Drawing forth
another key, she opened the trunk and brought out a jug.

“I’s glad Dude didn’t come to de house wid you,” Dainty remarked. “I
don’t let him hab no more booze. He come home ’bout two weeks ago an’
couldn’t git past dat oak tree out dar in dat yard. He seed two trees
whar dar wusn’t but jes’ only one, an’ he mighty nigh butted his fool
head off tryin’ to walk between dem trees.”

She set the jug and the drinking glass beside Hitch Diamond and took
her seat in a rickety hide-bottomed chair.

Hitch looked at the glass, picked it up and fumbled it, and set it down
apologetically.

“Sister Dainty,” he murmured, “ef you ain’t got no objections, I’ll
drink outen dis jug de way I wus raised.”

Catching the handle with his left hand, he gave the jug a quick turn,
rested it upon the crook of his uplifted elbow, and applied his lips to
the spout. Dainty watched him with fascinated eyes.

When at last he set the jug upon the table and seated himself beside
it, she said with a chuckle:

“Elder, when I wus a little gal I wus always countin’--I used to count
de cobs in de feed-trough, an’ de beans in a hull, an’ de number of
swallers a cow tuck when she drunk water.”

“Jes’ so,” Hitch responded, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his red
undershirt.

“Seben swallers is a big drink fer a cow, elder,” Dainty continued.

“Dat’s right,” Hitch agreed.

“Elder,” Dainty chuckled, “when you wus drinkin’ outen my jug, you
swallered fo’teen times!”

“Yes’m,” Hitch replied solemnly. “I tole you I wus feelin’ powerful
sick!”

Suddenly he remembered that he was playing the part of a preacher. He
decided he ought to say something religious. So he began:

“Sister Dainty, dis am de Bible law about de imbibin’ of awjus liquors:
de amount of booze a man oughter drink depen’s on how much he kin hold
inside hisse’f an’ at de same time resist de effecks; but, neverdeless
an’ howsumever, eve’y man oughter take a little dram fer his stomick’s
ache in case of powerful sickness.”

“Yes, suh,” Dainty agreed.

“Now you notify de case of yo’ husbunt tryin’ to make a goat of hisse’f
an’ butt down all de timber in de yard. I feels like I oughter tell you
dat dat nigger is plum’ full of guile. Right dis minute, he’s figgerin’
to fall in de bayou an’ come to de house all wet, an’ say de bull done
butted him, an’ ax fer a leetle drap.”

“Am--_dat_--so?” Dainty inquired with popping eyes.

“Yes’m,” Hitch assured her. “Of co’se, a man in my perfesh don’t
harmonize wis no sech plans like dat. Hit’s a sin ag’in’ de conscience.”

Dainty stood up and laid her hand upon the handle of the jug.

“I’s gwine put dis jug back in de storeroom. Dude don’t git none. He is
a fraudful nigger!” She set the jug on the top of the trunk, locked the
storeroom, and went to the kitchen.

Hitch heard her chopping kindling wood and rattling the stove-lids. He
heard the roar of the fire as the flame from the rich pine-knots soared
up the chimney.

Ten minutes later Dainty entered and sat down with Hitch again, her
eyes gleaming with wifely resolution.

“Dar he comes now!” Hitch snickered, pointing through the window. “Look
at him--wet as a b’iled owl an’ walkin’ lame in bofe behime legs like a
stringhalt mule. Lawd, Lawd!”


IV

A PIPE OF ’BACKY.

The gate opened and Dude Blackum stumbled in, walking to the door with
every manifestation of suffering his imagination could devise.

Hitch, standing behind Dainty so she could not see, encouraged Dude’s
painful progress by waving the other silk purple-and-yellow sock at him.

“My Lawd, Dainty,” Dude wailed, “whut you reckin dat ole bull went an’
done to me?”

“Butted you in de bayou!” Dainty answered promptly.

“Yes’m, dat’s it! I’s cripple in bofe behime legs fer life!” Dude told
her as he clasped his back with both hands and groaned. “I couldn’t
swim a lick because I couldn’t kick. Ef I hadn’t paddled out wid my
hands I’d ’a’ been drownded.”

He looked appealingly toward Hitch Diamond, waiting for the bogus elder
to suggest the booze. But Hitch merely wiped his hand across his mouth
and grinned.

“Dainty, honey,” Dude said pleadingly, “I’s powerful hurted, an’ I feel
like I’s gwine hab a rigger. Ain’t you got a leetle----”

“I shore has,” Dainty replied eagerly, without waiting for the
question. “Git in de yuther room an’ take off dem wet clothes, an’ by
dat time I’ll hab you a good dram ready.”

With a beatific grin at Hitch Diamond, to which Hitch responded, Dude
retired to change his clothes. A moment later he came out and said to
Hitch:

“Gimme dat yuther silk sock!”

“A trade am a trade,” Hitch grinned as he handed it over. “Ain’t one
sock wet?”

“Naw!” Dude whispered. “I laid it on de groun’ till I jumped in de
bayou, an’ I fotch it home under my hat.”

When Dude reappeared he was clothed in his best suit and wore the
gaudiest socks he had ever owned.

“Set down by dis table, Dude,” Dainty said.

She went to the kitchen, and returned carrying a bowl, the rank odor of
its contents permeating the room.

“My gawsh, Dainty!” Dude howled as she set the bowl of steaming liquid
before him. “Whut is dis mess--a b’iled rat?”

“Naw,” Dainty said in her sweetest tones. “It’s a bowl of hot sass’fras
tea!”

Dude howled his disgust.

“It’s mighty good fer a nigger whut’s had a accidunt, Dude,” Dainty
told him with suspicious gentleness.

Dude glanced at Hitch Diamond. That gentleman’s face was set in a
monstrous, mouth-stretching grin, and his eyes danced with unholy glee.

“Huh!” Dude grunted. He sheepishly bent his head over the bowl of
sassafras tea and sipped its last drop without saying a word.

“Dat fake preacher prize-fighter is done scratched me out,” he
reasoned. “I’ll git even, or die!”

Finishing his tea, Dude rose to his feet. “I’s gwine out to feed de
pigs fer de night, Dainty,” he said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Dude sat down in the door of the corncrib and meditated deeply upon a
proper method of retaliation.

“Dat Hitch Diamond thinks he’s purty blame peart in his head,” he
announced to himself. “He thinks dat he’s got so much sense dat his
eyes looks red.”

He ran his hands deep into his pockets and meditated some more. Then he
shook his head hopelessly.

“I ain’t got nothin’ in my head but squash-seed. When I tries to
ponder, it gibs me blind-staggers in my brains. I hope, some day, dat
nigger will hab to swaller a whole sassafras-tree!”

He stood up and started slowly back toward the house. He looked tired
and worn. He had most certainly never heard of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
but he would have agreed with that philosopher in the statement that
“thinking is the hardest work in the world.”

“I reckin I’ll hab to take dese new socks fer my pay an’ call it even,”
he sighed. “Dar ain’t no revengeunce comin’ to me. Dainty an’ Hitch is
too much team to pull ag’in.”

He walked into the room where the two sat, nursing a grouch and by no
means disposed to be courteous to his guest. He took a corn-cob pipe
from his pocket, scratched in the bottom of another pocket for some
crumbs of smoking tobacco, and lighted up.

“Dude is got anodder pipe, elder. Would you wish to smoke?” Dainty
inquired.

“Yes’m,” Hitch responded. “It’ll kinder sottle my stomick fer my supper
vittles.”

Dude arose grumpily, walked to the mantle shelf, and picked up a
pipe. Out of one pocket he brought a few crumbs of smoking tobacco,
then scraped the bottom of another pocket for a few more crumbs. He
emptied some papers and matches and pieces of string out of a mug on
the mantle, and poured out a few more crumbs. Then, behind a picture,
his eyes caught the gleam of metal, and he brought out something which
looked like a flask. He poured a few crumbs out of this into his hand,
finished filling the pipe as he turned his back, and reached for a
match. Passing them to Hitch, Dude took his chair on the far side of
the room near the open door.

Hitch struck the match and sucked the flame into the bowl of his pipe.

_Pow!_

The pipe burst into fragments, the room filled with smoke, Dainty
screamed, and Hitch Diamond performed a number of interesting circus
stunts and tumbled over in a squalling, bellowing heap upon the floor.

“Git de booze, Dainty!” Dude screamed. “Fotch out de jug! De elder is
done cormitted death!”

Dainty sprang to the storeroom door, opened it, and handed Dude the jug.

“Oo-oo-ee!” Hitch whooped. “I’s dyin’ dead!”

“Go in de kitchen an’ fotch a drinkin’ cup!” Dude howled to his wife.

Dainty bounced into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. Dude
quickly latched the door so that Dainty could not enter the room again
without going entirely around the house.

“Oo-oo-ee!” Hitch Diamond howled. “He’p!”

“Shut up, you ole fool!” Dude commanded as he walked over and bestowed
upon the giant prize-fighter a most earnest and soul-satisfying kick.
“Me an’ dis jug ain’t gwine ’socheate wid you no more. You ain’t fitten
comp’ny!”

“Don’t leave me, Dude!” Hitch begged. “I’s all collapsed down!”

Dude picked up his derby hat, stopped at the door, and looked back:

“Sass’fras tea is mighty good fer a nigger whut’s had a accidunt,
Hitch. Dainty makes it fine! Atter she fixes you a bowl I advises you
to fill anodder pipe wid gunpowder outen dat flask behime dat picture
an’ take anodder smoke. Good-bye!”

Dainty came running around the house and entered the door. She was mad.

“Whut made you lock me out, elder?” she demanded.

“Dude done it,” Hitch mourned, sitting upon the floor and feeling much
better after learning what had caused his pipe to explode. “Dude is
went!”

“Oh, Lawdy!” Dainty exclaimed. “Go an’ fotch him back, elder! He’ll be
so drunk in no time dat he won’t know whut end of hisse’f is straight
up! Go!”

Hitch went. His intentions were good. He really desired to find Dude,
because Dude had the jug. He purposed to hunt for him. But a man who
has had fourteen swallows out of a jug of free whisky twenty minutes
before cannot be expected to maintain a given purpose very long.

By the time Hitch had crossed the pasture, he needed all the woods
along the river for walking room. The entire width of the levee was not
too much to accommodate his devious journey back toward Sawtown.

On the edge of the town, near the commissary store of the big sawmill,
he found a most interesting ditch. It was about ten feet wide and
fifteen feet deep, and was hard and dry at the bottom.

He leaned over to examine that ditch with great care. He seemed to want
to remember it, to impress it on his mind. It may fairly be presumed
that he did impress it on his mind. He fell into it on his head.

At midnight he was sleeping in it undisturbed. A little after midnight
something happened. A man walking down the deep gulley stepped on Hitch
Diamond and woke him up.


V

AMONG THIEVES.

Hitch did not know how long he lay in the ditch after he had been
awakened. He tried to remember where he was and how he got there, but
he was half asleep and wholly confused, and the task was too great for
him.

What woke him up completely was a long, shrill whistle, followed by
four pistol-shots in rapid succession.

Hitch sprang to his feet and started running down the gulley, but he
stumbled in the dark and fell headlong.

Three more pistol-shots cracked in the still night air, a man screamed,
and Hitch sprang up and started again. He stumbled and fell a second
time.

Over in the far end of the big lumber yard a second whistle shrilled,
the call of a night watchman, followed by the _crack! crack! crack!_
of an automatic pistol. Then the big mill whistle roared its warning
through the town and reverberated down the river and echoed from the
woods, and deafened and terrified Hitch Diamond by its sinister call to
the people of Sawtown to rouse themselves.

From the great number of little houses where the employees of the mill
lived men issued forth, brandishing firearms and calling to each other
as they ran. The electric lights in the mill flashed up, and in a brief
time an immense crowd had congregated.

Hitch could hear their excited questions and answers.

“What’s the matter?”

“Commissary store has been robbed and night watchman killed!”

“Who did it?”

“A nigger!”

“No! Two niggers!”

There was a moment of silence while the crowd considered this. Then a
roar:

“Find them niggers and mob ’em! Come on!”

“Spread out, men! Cover the yard! Look everywhere!”

Hitch Diamond turned his back on that crowd and started in the opposite
direction at full speed, running in the dark, with no notion where he
was going. He got an idea when he plunged into the mill-pond up to his
neck.

“Dis here is sloppy wuck!” he grunted as he climbed out of there.

He began to skirt the edge of the pond, and found to his alarm that
he was following the curve which led him back to the lighted mill. He
heard the sound of running feet; a flash-light shot its rays across the
mill-pond, and Hitch departed from the water’s edge with all possible
speed.

He found one of the long alleys between the lumber piles in the yard
and sprinted down the sawdust trail at a lively gait.

Glancing back over his shoulder, he found the entrance of the alley
filled with men who were coming toward him with incredible swiftness.
The employees of the mill were familiar with all the main thoroughfares
and by-paths of the yard, while Hitch had to feel his way to some
extent, and his progress was necessarily slow.

A revolver spat fire and lead at him, a fusillade followed, a big
lumber-stack rose like a mountain before the frightened negro, and he
fell against it with both hands outspread.

He found something that he had never noticed in a lumber yard
before--that strips of wood were thrust between the layers of lumber to
give a circulation of air and prevent the lumber from rotting.

These little gaps made it possible for him to climb, and he scrambled
up the pile like a big baboon and lay on the top, panting like the
exhaust of an engine.

His pursuers passed the pile on the path below, and Hitch began to
breathe easier.

In a moment a light flashed from a big lumber-pile fifty feet away and
several feet higher than the pile he was on. A watchman was whipping
about him with a dark lantern, searching the top of the lumber.

Hitch Diamond dropped over the side and hit the sawdust trail again.
He ran down a little by-path, skinning his elbows upon the projecting
planks and stubbing his bare toes against all kinds of obstacles, until
he fell over something and tumbled onto something with a clatter like
the roll of a snare-drum.

A man loomed up before him not twenty feet away and said “Ho!” in a
frightened voice.

Hitch got up and went away from that place with astonishing speed.

Then the watchman on the lumber-pile threw the rays of his dark lantern
down into the runway just as Hitch passed, and the terrified negro ran
full into the glare.

Three pistol-shots splintered the wood around him as he ran on; the
watchman’s sharp voice called to the man-hunters, and in a second,
hundreds of men had turned and were converging toward the spot where
Hitch Diamond was running around a lumber-pile like a trapped rabbit.

“Guard the runways, men!” the watchman’s voice ordered sharply. “I’ll
flash the light into the alleys for you!”

The watchman began to leap from pile to pile, throwing the rays of his
dark lantern down into each corridor, and coming constantly closer to
where Hitch Diamond was hiding.

“My Gawd!” Hitch chattered as he looked up at the fantastic,
mountainous pile beside which he was crouched.

Salvation came with the thought that the pile he stood beside was
higher than the one on which the watchman stood. He began to climb,
hand over hand, praying that the light would not reach him before he
could attain the summit.

By the mercy of Heaven he rolled onto the top of the lumber just as the
watchman, on a pile twenty feet below him, flashed the glare into the
corridor where Hitch had stood a moment before.

Hitch was blowing like a bellows, streams of perspiration poured down
his body, and his giant frame shook like the body of a man with an ague.

Days of dissipation in New Orleans, a drunken spree just a few hours
before, nothing to eat since breakfast, half an hour of violent
exercise running and climbing lumber, and a fright which clutched at
his heart, weakening and almost suffocating him--all of these things
were handicaps for Hitch Diamond in the effort he was making to escape.

He knew that capture meant certain death. Capture was not even
necessary--a flash of light, a well-directed pistol-shot, and his
career was ended.

Suddenly his soul was filled with terror.

Twenty men had mounted the lumber-piles and were moving across the
tops, lashing the lumber with their lights, driving everything before
them as a woman shoos a lot of chickens. Below him, on the ground, men
were standing at the end of each main thoroughfare, and were lashing
them with light, while one man was walking down each by-path!

The searching party had organized, and was moving with perfect
precision to cover the entire yard.

“Good-by, fair worl’!” Hitch Diamond mourned as he crawled to the edge
of the lumber and looked down. “’Tain’t no hope fer pore old Hitchie
onless I kin hop offen dis lumber atter dat man is done passed down in
de alley.”

But the men on the ground had foreseen that possibility, and were
measuring their progress down the by-paths by the progress of the men
on the lumber-piles.

Seeing this, Hitch Diamond’s heart turned to lead, his blood to water,
and his giant frame seemed to crumble like chalk. Already he felt
himself mortally stricken and dying.

He caught himself trying to speak, to utter words of encouragement
to himself, but his teeth clicked together like castanets, and his
whispered words fell upon terror-deafened ears.

He sprang to his feet and stood glaring at the approaching lights like
some great beast trapped in a jungle. Unconsciously he shut his fingers
tight, his hands forming two immense iron fists.

That unconscious action made a man of him again! Those iron fists
were the fists of a prize-fighter--Hitch Diamond, the Tickfall Tiger!
Courage flowed through his veins like some magic liquor.

“Hitch never th’ows up de sponge!” he growled. “I fights to de eend!”


VI

THE TICKFALL TIGER STRIKES.

Hitch sat down upon the lumber-pile and slipped quietly over the edge,
preparing to descend.

He hung the seat of his trousers upon a splinter and lunged forward in
a sudden panic, tearing the garment almost off his body.

As he climbed quietly down the side of the pile, he hung the leg of his
trousers upon a projecting stick and ripped the leg almost up to the
waistband. Dropping down upon the sawdust path, he took a step or two
and found that his torn pantaloons hindered his progress, and might
afford his pursuers a hand-hold for his capture.

Sorrowfully he took the garment off and stood in his giant strength,
panoplied in his red underclothes!

“There he goes!” a voice called in the dark.

Clenching his iron fists, Hitch started at full speed. Ten men blocked
the entrance before him. He went through them like an express-train,
rolling some of them heels over head.

A man ran out of a by-path, and his head collided with Hitch’s fist
like a punching-bag. As the negro ran another, another, and another
came out of the little pathways, and each one went down like a bag of
salt. Thus Hitch arrived at the main passageway.

Then he found every by-path pouring forth its quota of men, every
thoroughfare contributed its number, and every man upon the
lumber-piles ran toward one spot to illumine the passage with their
dark lanterns.

“Lawdymussy!” Hitch sighed. “Ef I don’t mix wid ’em, dey’ll shoot me!”

To the end of their lives, those powerful, husky sawmill men told with
awe-stricken voices of the fight of that giant black in the lumber
yard. Hitch mixed with them. No man dared to use his pistol for fear of
killing a friend. It was a hand-to-hand battle, one negro against forty
mill-hands.

With a wild, insane bellow Hitch hurled himself upon that mob of
cursing, shrieking, clambering, clutching men, and they set upon him
like ravening wolves.

The confusion was terrible, the noise was deafening, the shout and the
tumult of the battle echoing back from the mountains of lumber. Hitch
alone seemed to have a clear idea of his battle--he knew that every man
was against him. The others hindered each other, but Hitch knew that he
was free to knock any nose and pound any head and butt any stomach.

The proximity of the lumber on each side of the thoroughfare was an aid
to Hitch. When he hurled his mighty body into a crowd of his opponents,
and they reeled back from the impact and struck the backs of their
heads against the wood, it took them a few minutes to recover from the
shock, while Hitch gave his attention to others.

His giant fists pounded heads as though they were egg-shells; his
ponderous bare feet landed with mighty kicks in the stomachs and the
backs of men; his long, iron arms whirled like the wings of a windmill,
mowing them down, every man who was touched falling unconscious or
helpless.

Four men clung to him like cockleburs to a sheep’s wool, trying to drag
him down by their weight. Hitch scooped them up in his mighty arms and
fell with their combined weight against a pile of lumber, crushing them
and breaking their holds.

An excited watchman on a lumber-pile above him sought to contribute a
share to the battle by dropping upon Hitch’s head a girder or joist
such as is used in constructing the framework of houses. The piece of
timber fell ten feet from Hitch’s struggling body, and he set his hand
upon it with a bellow of joy.

In that moment Hitch became another Goliath, the staff of whose spear
was like a weaver’s beam, and whose spear’s head weighed six hundred
shekels of iron.

When Hitch began to lay about him with that joist the battle was won.
The foolish watchman who had contributed such a mighty weapon to the
enemy was so astonished that he fell, clattering, off the lumber-pile
and broke his arm.

The men charged him once more, but Hitch waved his big piece of timber
from side to side, mowing them down. A pistol-shot from the top of the
lumber warned Hitch that it was time to leave.

A loud, disappointed wail sounded from the top of the lumber, where the
men were operating the dark lanterns, and instantly began the crack,
crack, crack of the pistols, shooting at Hitch as he ran down the
corridor.

Men still arriving, coming in from other by-paths and avenues between
the lumber, scrambled out of Hitch’s way, fearful of being shot from
above.

Hitch found a clear path and took it. In a little while he was out of
range of the bullets and out of the glare of the lights. He scrambled
over a low fence, and found himself in a side street outside of the
lumber yard.

“Hey, men!” a triumphant voice shrieked. “Here he is! We’ve got him!
Come on! We’ve caught him!”

Shriek after shriek arose from the middle of the lumber yard,
accompanied by the triumphant voices repeating:

“We’ve got him!”

“Dey ain’t got me!” Hitch grinned as he looked over his shoulder at the
flashing lights which were converging at another point on top of the
lumber. “I’s gwine drap down an’ rest a minute; den I’s gwine take dis
red suit of underclothes to Tickfall, an’ git some pants an’ a coat to
put on over it.”

He dropped down in a thicket of plum-trees, completely exhausted. While
he rested he listened.

“Kill him!”

“Befo’ Gawd, white folks, I ain’t done nothin’, nothin’!”

“Knock him over the head with that jug and make him shut up!”

A loud scream and silence!

“I wonder whut road goes back to Tickfall?” Hitch whispered with
fear-stiffened lips. “One dead nigger is more’n a plenty!”

Skirting the edge of the town to be out of the electric lights, Hitch
Diamond sought the way to the river. With him every place was either up
or down that great stream, and he remembered that Tickfall was up the
river.

When he found the levee and stood looking out upon the dark water so
great was his confusion that he was unable to tell which way the stream
was flowing.

He heard behind him the shouts of the approaching mob, punctuated now
and then by the terrible screams of a man being led out of the woods to
suffer death. He shuddered and wondered that any man could make as much
noise with his throat as did this terrified negro in the hands of the
mob.

A moment later there was no question in Hitch’s mind which way the
Mississippi River was flowing, for Hitch was swimming noiselessly
across the current toward the opposite shore. But the Father of Waters
is no quiet mill-pond. The pressure of its mighty current is the push
of every drop of water falling between the Rockies and the Alleghanies
and the inflow of the rivers between. That current carried Hitch down
the stream, in spite of his most powerful efforts to resist it.

Several men ran out on the levee and threw their lantern rays across
the water.

Hitch promptly turned on his back and floated, riding the current as
motionless as a log. When the light left the water, Hitch struggled on,
fighting the dark, muddy stream.

Suddenly the water swept him against one of the immense cypress braces
of the revetment levee. He seized it, almost dead with weariness. He
realized that he was not twenty feet from the shore he had left, and
but a short distance from the mob. But this revetment offered a hiding
place, and he grasped it eagerly.

The voices of the mob came to him distinctly across the water.

“Befo’ Gawd, white folks, you-alls ain’t got me right!” the hopeless
captive wailed. “I ain’t done nothin’ a-tall! All you white mens
knows Dude Blackum--dat’s me! I lives in de cabin jest up ferninst de
mill-pond, an’ wucks on a farm fer my livin’!”

“Shut up!”

The crowd which had fought and been defeated by Hitch Diamond was in no
mood to listen to the explanations of another negro. A long, wailing
cry was Dude Blackum’s answer, and the mob moved on.

Suddenly there was a whoop, a clatter of pistol shots, a howling mob
swarming over the levee, a splash of water, and a number of voices:

“Catch him! Head him off there! Kill him!”

A number of flash-lights whipped the water, and one big lantern shot
a broad, blinding, dangerous streak. That flare of light caught the
round, black head, swimming, struggling in the current, and held it.

“Now, men!” a voice called. “There’s your mark--shoot straight!”

There was a fusillade--Hitch Diamond noted with elation that the black,
woolly head bobbed on.

“Fer Gawd’s sake!” Hitch murmured. “Why don’t dat coon dive an’ float?”

Suddenly an authoritative voice cried:

“Stop shooting, men! Get in your skiffs and row out there and catch
that negro! It’ll take him half an hour to swim the river!”

“My Lawd!” Hitch Diamond moaned. “Little Hitchie is shore up ag’in it
now!”

“Hurry, men!” the same authoritative voice called.

There was the sound of running feet along the levee, then a moment of
breathless silence while the flash-lights lashed the water.

Then far out into the stream there was a loud scream, a loud splash,
and silence!

“Dar now!” Hitch mourned. “De water cramps got him! He’s dead!”

The lights of the lanterns searched everywhere. No black object
floated, nothing at all was seen.

The same clear, authoritative voice spoke again, and a tone of sadness
softened it:

“I guess that’s all, men! We may as well go home now!”

“I’s gwine home, too!” Hitch Diamond whimpered piteously.


VII

GOING HOME.

He climbed down the levee, after battling his way across the river,
found a public highway on the other side, and stepped into the middle
of the road. Looking about him cautiously, he inflated his lungs with
air. After that he dropped his hands to his sides and began a steady
and persistent trot, his feet striking the sand with the monotonous
regularity of a ticking clock, each stride carrying him away from the
scene of his adventure.

Hour after hour, as persistent as a desert camel, Hitch moved ahead,
his breath like a husky bellows, his body pain-shot from his many
wounds.

By early dawn he was miles away, tortured by hunger and compelled to
face the fact that he could not go to a house and beg for food, nor
could he forage in the daylight for lack of clothes.

“Lawd,” Hitch mourned. “Ef I ever git back to Tickfall, I’s gwine git
on de water-wagon, an’ cut out de booze. I’ll cut out prize-fightin’,
cussin’, an’ trabelin’ aroun’. I’ll git me a good, easy job ’thout much
work to do, an’ rest my bones till I die!”

As the first faint streaks which marked the rising of the sun shot
across the sky, Hitch left the road and walked toward the river.

He entered some deep woods and crawled into a thicket of small trees
which were heavily draped with muscadine vines. Dragging these vines
down and packing them around him so that they made a complete covering,
he lay flat on the ground and slept like a dead man until darkness came
again.

When Hitch awoke he could see the dim outlines of the river levee, and
he started toward it, every muscle stiff and aching and crying for more
rest.

“I’s gwine git over on my own side of dis river befo’ I fergits whut
side I b’longs on,” he soliloquized. “Bad luck is hittin’ me too fast
fer me to take any chances!”

Weak from hunger and weariness, with his strength bound by his stiff
and aching muscles, the current carried Hitch almost a mile down the
stream before he could battle his way across.

When he landed he lay for an hour upon the shore, hardly able to move.
At last he started, going away from the river until he found the
public road, then turned to the right and started forward on a steady
trot.

Daylight found him twenty-seven miles nearer Tickfall, and the third
day had begun for him without food. Hunger gnawed at his stomach with
the teeth of death.

As he approached the woods where he expected to hide for the day, he
noticed a thin column of smoke rising above the branches of the trees.

“Ef I kin find dat fire in de woods, an’ some nigger is watchin’ it, I
won’t hab no trouble,” Hitch muttered. “Dey’ll onderstan’ dat I’s done
had troubles an’ dey’ll git me some pants an’ somepin to eat.”

He crept into the timber and began to walk slowly and cautiously toward
the place where he thought he had located the smoke.

It was much farther than he had estimated, and he crawled and crept for
a long time before he reached it.

Some one had cooked food there, for an old tin can was still redolent
of boiled coffee; there were the feathers of a chicken, and the scales
of a fish, and the crumbs of bread.

Moaning to himself like a wounded animal, Hitch dropped upon all fours
and picked up every crumb of bread, and sucked the remaining sustenance
from every chicken and fish bone which had been cast aside, and drained
every drop of coffee from the empty can.

Then he heard a noise behind him and turned to gaze into the scarred,
black, masklike face of Dinner Gaze.

Hitch was not at all surprised to see some negro from Sawtown hiding
in the woods. In fact, he knew if the negro who built the fire was a
traveler he had very likely come from that mill town.

The proverb that the wicked flee when no man pursueth does not apply
to the negro in the South. However innocent he may be of crime, he
desires to depart from a place where there has been trouble between the
negroes and the whites. If he is a transient like Hitch Diamond, or his
occupation is rather questionable, like the gambling-house of Dinner
Gaze, he is sure to leave at the earliest opportunity and go where he
has friends or where the white people who know him will defend him from
harm.

“Hello, Dinner!” Hitch exclaimed.

Dinner’s black, beadlike eyes glowed unwinkingly.

“I thought they kilt you in de river, Revun,” he muttered in his soft,
easy voice.

“Naw, suh, dey wusn’t atter me,” Hitch said with difficulty, feeling a
great weakness and nausea come over him. “Dey kotch Dude Blackum an’
Dude escaped away. He sunk while he was swimmin’ in de river.”

“Did de mob tear all yo’ clothes off?” Dinner Gaze asked.

“Naw, suh; I had bad luck an’ loss all my clothes befo’ dat happened.
Dat’s how come I got to trabbel at night.”

“Is you hongry?” Gaze asked.

“Ain’t had nothin’ fer two days, an’ dis is de beginnin’ of de nex’
day,” Hitch told him.

Dinner Gaze picked up a small handsatchel which he had set down at his
feet and prepared to leave.

“I’s sorry you didn’t git here in time fer breakfast, Revun,” he said.
“Ef you’ll stay right here I’ll go git you some ole clothes an’ a
little vittles. I kin beg ’em from some white folks’s house.”

“I’s mighty nigh dead wid bein’ so hongry, Dinner,” Hitch pleaded. “Ef
you’ll he’p me outen dis scrape I’ll shore love you ferever.”

“Don’t be oneasy,” Dinner grinned. “I’ll he’p you as much as I kin.”

Dinner may have intended to aid Hitch, but that portion of Tickfall
Parish was scantily inhabited. He walked several miles before he came
to a human habitation, and there he was refused both food and clothes.

Furthermore, Hitch had said enough to cause any man to suspect that he
was implicated in the Sawtown murder, and negroes are afraid to render
aid and comfort to criminals, even of their own race.

Hitch waited for several hours, and finally fell asleep, dreaming of
all the things he had ever seen or heard of that were good to eat. He
awoke at nightfall, famished. Dinner Gaze had not returned.

“Dat nigger lied to me!” Hitch exclaimed desperately. “Ef I had him
here I’d kill him wid my bare hands. Ef I ever git de chance to even
up, I’ll do it ef I die!”

Cursing his misfortunes, he arose and stumbled weakly forward.

Two days later Hitch Diamond stumbled up the steps of the little
cabin at the Gaitskill hog-camp, seven miles from Tickfall. He fell
unconscious at the feet of old Isaiah Gaitskill, the negro overseer.

“My Lawd!” Isaiah exclaimed, clawing at his white wool. “Wharever
Hitch has been at, he comed away so fast dat he runned out of all his
clothes!”


VIII

THE HOODOO GIRL.

It was Sunday morning in Tickfall. A crowd of men were standing in
front of the Shoofly Church, idly waiting and chewing tobacco. A row of
men sat like buzzards upon the top of the rickety fence, also chewing
tobacco. Half a dozen saddle-horses stood hitched to the trees and
two-score dilapidated buggies stood in a row with their horses hitched
to the fence.

Now and then some young negro girl wandered aimlessly toward one
of these buggies, then hastened her footsteps as if she had just
remembered leaving something under the seat.

Some young negro man quickly ceased his low-toned conversation and
watched her out of the corner of his eye. Presently the girl climbed
into the buggy and sat down. Promptly the young man left his companions
and went and sat beside her. That was the end of their interest in the
services to be conducted in the church that morning.

The young man had found the saint of his deepest devotion.

The Rev. Vinegar Atts came stalking across the churchyard like a turkey
walking through mud and dressed in all his Sunday finery. None of
the men seemed to be aware of his presence. Vinegar reflected on the
strangeness of this, and began to ponder uneasily on his chance of
retaining his job as the preacher at the Shoofly Church.

He bowed and spoke to all the men, and hardly one of them gave him a
nod of recognition in return.

Vinegar determined to find out the cause of this indifference, and he
chose for his informant a man named Pap Curtain--a tall, slim negro
with a yellow monkey face and an habitual sneer upon his lips.

“Whut ails you niggers to-day?” Vinegar demanded in a trembling voice.
“How come dis here awful silence aroun’ dis church?”

“Hoodoo gal!” Pap Curtain answered laconically, pointing across the
churchyard.

“Huh!” Vinegar grunted with popping eyes.

On the other side of the yard old Ginny Babe Chew, a woman of immense
size, was walking beside a slim young negress dressed in white and very
handsome.

“Huh,” Vinegar grunted again, unable to comprehend.

“How much will you gib me fer a piece of real news, Revun?” Pap
inquired.

“Ef you got any tales to tell, bawl out!” Vinegar snapped, for the
men’s actions were getting on his nerves.

“You remember hearin’ ’bout dat Dude Blackum whut got into trouble wid
de white folks at Sawtown las’ Monday night?” Pap asked. “Well, suh,
dat little gal wid Ginny Babe Chew is Dainty Blackum, Dude’s cote-house
wife!”

“My Lawd!” Vinegar growled as he sat down upon the ground under a tree
like a man suddenly overcome by weakness. He pulled out his corn-cob
pipe and gave himself up to troubled meditation as he filled and
lighted it. After a few moments he said:

“Pap, de niggers never will git over deir skeer ’bout dat little
entertainment wid Dude Blackum. I don’t b’lieve he done whut de white
folks said he done.”

“Hush!” Pap cautioned. Then he asked: “Whut diffunce do dat make now?
He’s done dead!”

There was a long silence while the two men watched the handsome,
graceful girl walking beside the elephantine form of Ginny Babe Chew.
Finally Pap Curtain said aloud as if to himself:

“She’s tall an’ wavy like a stalk of sugar-cane, an’ sweet plum down to
de groun’.”

“She ain’t mournin’ so powerful deep fer dat Dude Blackum,” Vinegar
remarked. “She’s dolled up in a white dress!”

“Dat Dude Blackum shore did lose somepin beside his life when he parted
wid dat female woman,” Pap said. “Ef I could hab a gal like dat keepin’
house fer me, I’d shore cut out all meanness ferever.”

Vinegar Atts shuddered and rose to his feet.

“I ain’t waste no time talkin’ ’bout dead niggers,” he said uneasily.
“I done seed de ghost of dat Dude Blackum ’bout fo’teen times.”

“You ain’t by yo’se’f in dat, Revun,” Pap sighed. “Eve’y time I thinks
of dat nigger I gits de jiggety-jams.”

“I knowed Dude Blackum a little bit--I seed him on de train once,”
Vinegar said. “But ’pears like his ha’nt ain’t gwine let me alone
a-tall!”

Dainty and Ginny Babe walked up the steps and entered the Shoofly
Church, followed by the curious eyes of all the men in the yard.

“Dar now!” Vinegar mourned. “’Tain’t no use to try to hab preachin’
dis mawnin’--dat hoodoo gal is done got dis meetin’-house in a mess. I
feels like somebody is done criss-crossed my head wid a rabbit-foot.”

He knocked the tobacco from his pipe and thrust it into his pocket, his
eyes set upon the door through which the girl had passed.

“When did Dainty Blackum come to Tickfall?” Vinegar asked.

“Yistiddy. Ginny Babe Chew met her at de deppo. Some yuther
niggers come up from Sawtown, too. You know how niggers is--dar’s a
scatteration when somepin like dat happens.”

“Yes, suh. De guilty niggers scatterates as fur as dey kin git an’ as
quick as dey kin go,” Vinegar agreed. “De not guilty niggers hikes out
of de place to de near-by towns an’ waits till de clouds rolls by.”

“I’s jes’ whisperin’ to you ’bout dat Dainty Blackum, Vinegar,” Pap
said suddenly. “I ain’t gwine ’round braggin’ no brags ’bout knowin’
dis Blackum gal. White folks gits awful rambunctious when a nigger
kills a white man like Dude done.”

“I ain’t sayin’ nothin’,” Vinegar murmured. “I done j’ined de lodge of
silunce.”

The two men separated, Vinegar enterin’ the large, cool, dilapidated
church. The band of men standing in the yard followed, as a drove of
mules follow a gray mare upon the dusty highroad. The buzzard-like men
climbed from their perches on the fence, dusted the seats of their
trousers by quick, sliding motions of each hand, and entered the
building. In the intense silence their heavily shod feet made ugly
noises upon the uncarpeted floor.

Vinegar sensed tragedy everywhere. He looked around him uneasily,
spotting certain unfamiliar faces in the congregation.

Ginny Babe Chew sat on the front seat with Dainty Blackum, the two
occupying the middle row of pews. On Vinegar’s right, on the front
seat, sat a man who had a knife-scar in his neck, a bullet-scar on his
cheek, and the top of his left ear was missing. On Vinegar’s left was a
tall, ladder-headed negro, dressed like a preacher, sitting on a front
bench.

There was no organ or other musical instrument in the church. Vinegar
Atts, who had a voice like a pipe-organ, always raised his own tunes
and depended upon Skeeter Butts, Figger Bush, and Hitch Diamond to
carry the music in the congregation.

Vinegar looked in vain for his three friends to-day. Hitch Diamond had
been gone for three Sundays; Skeeter Butts was organizing a baseball
nine, and Figger Bush had gone away with a fishing-party of white
people.

Suddenly the voice of Dinner Gaze, sitting on Vinegar’s right, rose
loud and clear in the silence:

    “On de yuther side of Jordon,
     In de sweet fields of Eden,
     Whar de Tree of Life is bloomin’,
       Dar is rest fer you!”

No one in the congregation knew the song, and the solo-voice floated
out like the song of a bird. The people sat with bowed heads and
listened. When the song ended Vinegar walked out of the pulpit and
extended his hand cordially to Dinner Gaze.

“Glad to meet yo’ ’quaintance, my brudder!” he rumbled. “Will you h’ist
de toons fer us?”


IX

DINNER GAZE SINGS.

Dinner Gaze rose from his seat and, stooping as if he were trying to
catch a rat, walked to the front of the congregation. Pausing a moment,
his body began to weave to and fro as if in conformity to the words
of Scripture: “All my bones shall praise thee.” Then to the surprise
of the congregation, after all this orthodox preparation for starting
a tune, Dinner Gaze suddenly walked back to his former place and sat
down! In the meantime Vinegar Atts was getting acquainted with the
other stranger on the opposite side of the house.

“Yes, suh, my name is Tucky Sugg,” the stranger told him. “I ain’t no
reg’lar preacher, but I exhausts a little befo’ de people sometimes.”

“I hopes you’ll take up yo’ stayin’-place wid us,” Vinegar said
cordially. “Us needs good mens.”

He turned to motion to Dinner Gaze to start the song, and found that
Dinner had gone back to his seat.

“Whut ails you, brudder?” he asked.

“I’s skeart I don’t know enough toons to lead de singin’,” Gaze said
with a grin. “I retires.”

Vinegar’s eyes fell upon Ginny Babe Chew.

“H’ist a toon, sister!” he commanded. In a hoarse bellow Ginny Babe
began:

    “Blow--ye--de--trumpet--blow----”

One line was enough.

The words were not inspiring, the tune and tone and manner of the fat
leader was a call to penitence, anguish, and tears.

Vinegar sprang to his feet.

“Dat’s won’t do, sister!” he interrupted. “Less sing _dis_ toon!”

He began a song in a bellow which shook the rafters of the house
and rattled the windows and threatened to crumble the foundations
of the building. The song was a jay-bird affair, waltz-music to the
stanza and jig-time to the chorus. The song might as well have been
totally unfamiliar to the congregation. It was really one of their
favorites--but, in spite of that, they let Vinegar sing it through as a
solo.

Verily, the hoodoo was working.

Vinegar was appalled at the unresponsiveness of his congregation, and
when the crowd had listened without objection or commendation to a solo
prayer and to a reading from the old, worn Bible upon the desk, the
preacher was almost in hysterics. He had never seen anything like that
before.

Vinegar turned to Ginny Babe Chew a second time and said desperately:

“Now, sister Ginny, less hab anodder song--a lively toon whut eve’ybody
knows!”

Ginny Babe Chew rose to her feet, her hand started the gestures of an
old-fashioned singing-master, her body “weaved,” her voice arose in a
high, drawling falsetto, utterly unlike her natural tone:

    “Blow--ye--de--trumpet--blow--”

If the human eye had power to slay, Ginny Babe would now be dead.
Vinegar Atts glared at her with such a murderous look that the
congregation forgot to sing and watched him. Ginny Babe turned and
gazed at the preacher with the air of a hurt child, and quietly took
her seat.

There was continued silence in the congregation.

Vinegar raised another tune:

    “I muss tell de good Lawd all of my trials,
     I cannot bear dese here burdens alone!”

There was continued silence on the part of every one except the
preacher. The congregation knew the song and loved it, but they
acted like they had never heard either the song or the tune. They
were certainly lacking in that Christian coöperation which the song
recommended, and Vinegar had to tell his troubles and trials without
their assistance.

Then in utter desperation, Vinegar turned again to Dinner Gaze and said
pleadingly.

“Fer Gawd’s sake, brudder, come out here an’ sing us a sweet toon--it
don’t make difference even ef we don’t know it.”

Long after Dinner Gaze had ended his brief sojourn in Tickfall, the
congregation of the Shoofly Church remembered him as he stood before
them with his scarred face and sang the song of the shining shore:

    “My days are gliding swiftly by,
       An’ I, a pilgrim stranger,
     Would not detain ’em as dey fly
       Dem hours of toil an’ danger;
     Fer, Oh! We stand on Jordon’s strand
       Our frien’s are passin’ over;
     An’ jest befo’, de shinin’ sho’
       We may almost discover.”

After this Vinegar arose, announced his text, and began his sermon.

Thereupon Aunt Biddy Chivill, an old negress, deaf as an adder, arose
from one of the pews and seated herself in a chair inside the altar
railing. Unrolling a trumpet hose she had inherited at the death of a
wealthy white woman in Tickfall, she screwed the parts together with
great pride and ostentation, and settled herself to listen.

Vinegar spoke about four sentences to which Biddy Chivill listened
attentively. Then with an air of final decision, Biddy removed the
trumpet from her ear, unscrewed each part with great care and stowed
the instrument away in a bag which she carried in her lap, taking great
pains to lock the bag. Folding her hands across her lap she fell into
peaceful slumber while Vinegar Atts bellowed on.

Sister Ginny Babe Chew, having attempted two abortive toots upon her
trumpet, also fell asleep.

But while Aunt Biddy Chivill slept, her little four-year-old
granddaughter became immediately active and very much awake. She crept
out into the aisle and began to walk around aimlessly, her bare feet
making no noise upon the uncarpeted floor.

For a while she amused herself by staring into the faces of the men
and peeping under the sun-bonnets of the women. The hands which were
stretched out to arrest her were carefully avoided, and she rewarded
each person making the attempt with a childish scowl.

Then she sat down upon the floor and crawled under the benches. She lay
on the floor and rolled under the benches, bobbing up at unexpected
places with an angelic smile.

After this she found a large box in the rear of the church.

In spite of the town stock laws, the hogs ran wild in that portion of
Tickfall known as Dirty-Six, where the Shoofly Church was located. Many
of these animals had their sleeping place under the church, and the
building was infested with fleas.

It was a custom when a church meeting was to be held, to sprinkle the
floor with lime and sweep it out, thus ridding the house temporarily of
the insects. For that purpose a large box of lime was kept in the rear
of the church.

It was this box that the little black baby girl discovered. She stood
on tiptoe, stretched herself up, and looked in. It was white, very
white, inside. She reached over the edge and touched the whiteness.
She brought the hand out and looked at it. It also was white.

[Illustration:

  Drawn by E. W. Kemble.

The “Revun” Vinegar Atts began his sermon.]

Then the child reached into the box with both hands, filled them with
lime, and rubbed them on her face. By the mercy of heaven, she did not
get any of the stuff into her mouth and eyes. Then she sat down and
rubbed her feet with lime. The effect was gratifying and she smiled.

By this time the sermon was ended. Vinegar had not done much, but he
had done the best he could.

“Brudder Tucky Sugg will pray for us!” Vinegar bawled.

The congregation reverently bowed.

Then a little black girl with lime-whitened face and hands and legs,
trotted silently up the aisle and stood beside brother Tucky Sugg,
listening earnestly to his bawling voice.

She stretched out a tiny, lime-whitened hand and touched Tucky Sugg
timidly on the top of his step-ladder head.

“Who you tryin’ to talk to, Revun?” she asked in a bird-like voice.

Tucky Sugg opened his eyes and saw something he had never seen before.

With a loud bellow like a frightened cow, he rolled backward on the
floor, and got up with an intense desire to run.

“My Gawd!”

The voice was like an explosion of dynamite, and expressed the
consternation of the congregation as they rose to their feet prepared
for flight.

Ginny Babe Chew awoke from her slumber. She stared at the little child
a moment, then reached out a fat, motherly hand.

“Come here, honey!” she bawled. “Yo’ mammy oughter had washed yo’ face
an’ hands befo’ she sont you to de meetin’-house.”

She wiped the lime off the child with the end of her apron, and took
the child in her lap.

Then, while the congregation was still standing, Dinner Gaze from his
place at one side of the house began to sing, while all stood and
listened:

    “At de feast of Bill Shasser an’ a thousan’ of his lords,
     While dey drunk from golden vessels as de Book of Truth records,
     In de night as dey reveled in de royal palace hall,
     Dey wus seized wid cornsternation--’twas de Hand upon de wall!
     So our deeds is recorded--dar’s a Hand dat’s writin’ now.
     Sinner, gib yo’ sins de go-by an’ to de Marster bow!
     Fer de day am approachin’--it must come to one an’ all
     When de sinner’s corndamnation will git written on de wall!”

On the instant that the song ended, a long, wailing cry, that was at
once full of anguish and heart-break, ran through the building!

Old Isaiah Gaitskill, superintendent of the Gaitskill hog-camp, ran
down the aisle, clawing at the white wool which fitted his head like a
rubber cap. His face was ashy with the dust of the high-way, and tears
had streaked it where they had ran downward through the dust.

“My Gawd, cullud folks!” he wailed. “De white folks is done kotched
Hitch Diamond--dey are fotchin’ him to jail right now! Here dey come
down de big road. Oh, my Gawd!”

The old negro turned and fell with his hands clasping the altar,
sobbing like a child.


X

HOME AGAIN.

The entire congregation ran out of the building into the churchyard and
looked up the street. To the end of their lives they never forgot what
they saw.

Hitch Diamond, bareheaded, barefooted, dressed in a red undershirt and
a pair of blue overalls, was walking down the middle of the street, his
hands manacled behind him, his head hanging in shame.

Dust covered him from head to feet, and perspiration streamed down his
face. He had tried to wipe the perspiration away by rubbing his head
upon his broad shoulders, and this had smeared his face with mud until
he was a horrible creature to behold.

Hitch looked old, he looked sick. All of the pride and jauntiness which
had characterized him when he left Tickfall for the prize-fight had
dropped away, and he was merely the shell of the man who had gone away
from home to certain pugilistic victory.

On either side of Hitch Diamond rode a strange white man--New Orleans
detectives employed by the mill owners of Sawtown to track the fugitive
down. Behind the three rode the sheriff of Tickfall Parish, Mr. John
Flournoy.

Dainty Blackum ran back into the church and brought from the pulpit
a glass pitcher with a broken spout. She met Hitch and the officers
right in front of the church, and the officers called a halt as she
held the pitcher up to Hitch Diamond’s thirsty lips. Then, dipping
a handkerchief into the water, she wiped the mud and sweat from the
tortured man’s face.

Wail after wail arose from the crowd of negroes in front of the Shoofly
Church, and Hitch turned and looked at them as if he did not realize
where he was.

Vinegar Atts ran out and placed his trembling hand upon Sheriff
Flournoy’s dusty stirrup.

“Whut dey got Hitch fer, Marse John?” he sobbed.

“Murder!” Flournoy growled through jaws which were shut together like a
bear-trap. “He killed the night watchman at the Sawtown mill!”

The party started again, and Vinegar stood in his tracks as if turned
to stone.

It seemed to take a few minutes for the Shoofly congregation to
comprehend what Flournoy had said, or else the shock was so great that
even their emotions could find no expression, voluble as they are as
a race. Then a moan of sorrow swept like a deep-toned note from some
mighty musical instrument; it was rich, melodious, heart-breaking--an
expression of the deepest and most acute grief of their humble lives.

For Hitch was the hero of the colored population of Tickfall. They had
shared his glory as victor in many a hard-fought fistic battle. They
had won many dollars on his prowess as a boxer. They had helped to
train him and perfect his wonderful physical organization for every
contest he had ever participated in, and they loved him!

And Hitch deserved their affection. According to his lights he was a
good man, a clean liver, one who took the best care he knew how of his
superb body. There was nothing vicious or ugly about his disposition.
He was merely a great, strong, bone-headed pugilist, who had made the
most of himself by developing and using the best talent he possessed,
namely, his giant strength.

Still moaning like the sea as the tide flows out, the Shoofly
congregation flowed out into the road and fell in behind, forming a
long procession of sorrowing friends.

Suddenly, above the low moan, in a tone which ripped and roared and
snarled like the angry water breaking through a levee, came the mighty
voice of Ginny Babe Chew:

“Murder! Murder! Murder! Whut do Gawd Awmighty think about dat?”

She pranced down the street, thrusting the people aside with her
ponderous body as a steamboat cuts through the mushy ice upon a river.
Her voice howled like a wolf’s call, with a taunting, bark-like,
malicious, nerve-searing gratification:

“Murder!”

She managed to reach the head of the procession and walked just behind
Sheriff Flournoy’s horse.

She whirled round and round like a Dervish, stooped and threw dust in
the air, tore her clothes, and waving her fists at the sky shrieked
like a maniac:

“Murder! Murder! Murder!”

John Flournoy stopped his horse, and turned and looked at her with a
queer expression upon his face. Once he opened his mouth to speak, then
shut his jaws tight, turned his eyes forward and rode on.

“Murder!” Ginny Babe Chew screamed.

Vinegar Atts could endure the horror no longer. He ran forward, and
caught Ginny Babe by her fat shoulder and whirled her around. Vinegar
had had years of experience as a pugilist and was Hitch’s boxing
partner to this day. He knew exactly where to place his blow.

His open palm with all his strength behind it flattened upon Ginny
Babe’s squalling lips. She uttered a low grunt, and fell in the street.

John Flournoy looked back and nodded his approval.

The crowd coming behind split in two halves, and walked around Ginny’s
prostrate body, noting without pity that a stream of blood was flowing
from her thick lips. The crowd behind had been augmented by hundreds
before they reached the Hen-Scratch saloon.

Skeeter Butts had just come to town in his automobile, and was standing
in front of his place of business. His face turned the color of ashes,
and his lips stiffened with horror as he realized what was coming down
the street to meet him.

“Oh, Hitch!” he wailed. “Shorely dey ain’t got you right, is dey,
Hitch? Tell me dat dey done missed it!”

But Hitch was too tortured to reply. He cast one lingering look upon
his friend, and turned away with blood-shot, agonized eyes. Skeeter
Butts reeled back from the middle of the street and covered his eyes
with his trembling hands.

For a while after that the procession moved forward in silence. Then
a succession of piercing screams shattered the atmosphere. A handsome
girl, whose hands and face were the color of old gold, came running
down the street, and threw her arms around Hitch Diamond’s neck.

“Oh, Hitchie! Hitchie! Hitchie!” she screamed.

It was Goldie Curtain, Hitch’s wife.

For a moment Hitch’s giant body wavered, his knees bent under him, and
he staggered as if about to fall. He stopped and leaned heavily upon
the sobbing girl whose arms clasped his neck.

“Move on!” a sharp-voiced officer spoke.

Goldie Curtain fell in the dust of the street like one dead. Sheriff
Flournoy, whose face was turned to look behind him, did not see her
lying there. His nervous horse leaped over her prostrate body.

Vinegar Atts, sobbing aloud, picked the girl up in his powerful arms,
carried her into her own house and placed her upon a bed. Then he came
out and joined again with the crowd which followed Hitch until the
doors of the jail closed behind him.

When Hitch had passed out of sight behind those doors, Ginny Babe
Chew came staggering down the street, wiping the blood from her lips
and the front of her dress. She stood in the middle of the street in
front of the jail, shrieking like a maniac. She stooped and gathered
handfuls of sand and tossed them into the air above her head, while her
calliope-like voice shrieked again and again:

“Good-by, Hitch! Good-by, Hitch! Good-by, Hitch!”


XI

UP AGAINST IT.

A whole week passed during which Skeeter Butts sat in the Hen-Scratch
saloon, nervously smoking cigarettes and listening to the whispered
tales which came to him from his negro friends.

Skeeter had made no attempt to see Hitch Diamond, and had not talked
about him to any of the white people. He knew it was not wise to show
too much interest in the case of a negro criminal. He did not care
to get himself under suspicion. All of Hitch’s friends felt the same
way, and since their first dramatic display of emotion as Hitch was
led captive before the Shoofly Church, they had assumed an attitude of
indifference toward Hitch and his pitiable plight.

It was the Sunday following Hitch’s return to Tickfall when Skeeter
determined to interview Sheriff John Flournoy. Skeeter timed his call
with the sheriff’s custom of sitting on a little side porch of his home
and smoking an after-dinner cigar.

Skeeter fumbled for a few minutes with his hat, considering how to
begin what he had to say. Then he asked:

“Marse John, whut is de white folks gwine do wid Hitch Diamond?”

“Hang him!” Flournoy said bluntly, merely for the purpose of seeing
what Skeeter would say next.

The colored man said nothing for five minutes. He sank down weakly upon
the bottom step of the porch, his shoulders pathetically hunched, and
his head resting upon his hands. At last he mumbled:

“Marse John, I don’t b’lieve Hitch kilt anybody. He never done it.”

“Have you any proof of his innocence, Skeeter?” Flournoy asked.

“Naw, suh.”

“It’s hard for me to believe, Skeeter,” Flournoy continued quietly.
“Hitch Diamond was born on my plantation, and ever since I have
known him he has been a big, good-natured, bone-headed, peaceable,
law-abiding negro. Robbery and murder are not in his line.”

“Dat’s right, Marse John--Hitch never done it.”

There was a little silence, after which Flournoy said:

“I think they’ve got Hitch, Skeeter. Some of the white people in this
town have always been very fond of Hitch. They ought to come to his aid
at once--he’s their nigger. But all the white folks have kept away.”

“Dat’s a bad sign, Marse John,” Skeeter agreed mournfully.

“Yes. It means that Hitch is up against it.”

“Whut proofs is dey got, Marse John?” Skeeter asked.

Replying, Flournoy spoke slowly and painfully, as if the narration was
repugnant to him:

“Hitch Diamond got off the train at Sawtown about three o’clock on
Monday afternoon. A grocer saw him dressed in a stove-pipe hat, a
Prince Albert coat, and a yellow waistcoat. A little later he was seen
by two small white boys without his hat, coat, or vest, sitting on the
wharf-boat. A watchman on the wharf-boat says that Hitch attempted to
run when he came near, and in the effort to arrest Hitch his shirt
was torn off his back. Dainty Blackum says that Hitch came to her
home, barefooted, bareheaded, with no outer shirt, but wearing a red
undershirt.

“Hitch Diamond and Dude Blackum had a drink together, and then both men
left Blackum’s cabin about dark and went toward the sawmill. Five hours
later the commissary store was robbed and the watchman was killed.

“The mill employees organized a search-party and had a hand to hand
battle with Hitch Diamond inside the lumber yard, and Hitch escaped.
The flash-lights were playing on Hitch, and everybody saw him and
recognized him.

“After Hitch escaped, Dude Blackum was caught inside the lumber yard,
and in attempting to escape by swimming the Mississippi River, Dude was
drowned.”

“My Lawd!” Skeeter shuddered.

“Now, here is the worst part of it,” Flournoy continued. “A stove-pipe
hat, a Prince Albert coat, and a yellow waistcoat were found under
the steps of the commissary store, and these garments fit Hitch
Diamond perfectly, and Hitch admits that they are his. A pair of black
trousers, torn at the seat and with one leg split up the front from the
bottom almost to the waistband, was found near the scene of the fight
in the lumber yard, and this pair of trousers fits Hitch and he admits
that the garment is his.”

“Oh, Lawdy!” Skeeter shuddered.

“Hitch can give no reason for his visit to Sawtown except that he had
never been there and wanted to see the place. He explains the loss
of his hat and coat and vest by saying that he surrendered them to a
negro whom he had never seen before and whose name he did not know to
be hung up in the Sawtown barracks where the homeless workmen sleep.
He confesses that he abandoned his trousers in the lumber yard for the
purpose of fighting his way through the mob of searchers and escaping.

“Hitch declares that he did not know a human being in Sawtown. Dainty
Blackum says that Hitch told her that he had known Dude Blackum for
many years. Hitch says he went to Dude Blackum’s cabin to get a drink
of liquor. Dainty says he pretended to be a negro preacher, and claimed
to be much hurt because Dude had not secured him to marry them.

“Hitch admits that he traveled from Sawtown to the Gaitskill hog-camp
wearing no garments except his underclothes, and going by night. Old
Isaiah Gaitskill says that Hitch came to his cabin in that undressed
condition, sick with hunger and exhaustion, and would not permit him to
send for a doctor, to inform his wife, or let any of his friends know
where he was!”

“My lawdymussy!” Skeeter chattered. The little barkeeper felt as though
cold snakes were crawling up and down his spine, and he sat for ten
minutes without saying a word. At last Flournoy asked:

“What do you make of it, Skeeter?”

“Marse John,” Skeeter protested in a wailing tone, “Hitch Diamond is
done cornfessed too much!”

Flournoy understood exactly what he meant.

“Certainly,” he said. “Hitch has talked too freely to be guilty--his
statements have been too frank. A guilty negro never does that; if he
commits a crime, he denies everything to the very last, and offers no
explanation for anything.”

“Dat’s right,” Skeeter sighed. “Dat’s how he do.”

“But you’d have a happy time convincing a jury of Hitch’s innocence on
the ground that he had talked too much!”

After a long silence, Skeeter asked:

“Whut does you think about dis case, Marse John?”

“I think Hitch was drunk,” Flournoy answered. “I doubt if Hitch himself
knows whether he committed that crime or not. He talks a lot of stuff
about meeting a man on the train, about losing some money, about giving
his clothes away, about being stepped on by some man while he was lying
asleep in a gulley--all of it a perfect mess. I hate to admit it, but I
really believe that Hitch committed the crime while in an intoxicated
condition. Dainty Blackum says that he took fourteen swallows of
bust-head, pine-top, nigger whisky in her cabin, and that he and Dude
took the jug with them when they left.”

“My gosh!” Skeeter sighed. “When did de white folks ’terrogate Dainty
Blackum?”

“They questioned her in Sawtown the day after Dude was killed by the
mob,” Flournoy replied. “Dainty is here now--in Ginny Babe Chew’s
house. I’m keeping watch on her, because she’s a material witness.”

“When am Hitch’s trial gwine be, Marse John?” Skeeter asked.

“It begins a month from next Tuesday,” the sheriff said.

“Pore old Hitchy!” Skeeter mourned.

Two big tears rolled down his cheeks and dropped upon his brown hands.
His lips began to tremble, and he hid his face with his hat and sat
with his shoulders shaking with grief. Finally he said in a mournful
voice:

“Hitch is always been de bes’ nigger frien’ I’m had, Marse John--him
an’ Vinegar Atts. I wus always a little runt nigger an’ I didn’t had no
kinnery, an’ Hitch an’ Vinegar, dey always deefended me when de yuther
nigger-boys pecked on me----”

Skeeter began to sob and sat mourning for his friend as though he were
already dead.

Flournoy endured the racket as long as he cared to, then tossed his
cigar-stub into a rose-bush, walked down the steps, and climbed into
his automobile.

Without a word to Skeeter, he shot down the runway into the street and
turned toward the courthouse. In a moment he was swallowed up in a
cloud of dust.


XII

HITCH’S MOTHER.

Skeeter sat for two hours turning over the appalling array of facts
which the sheriff had set before him for the condemnation of his
friend. Nothing seemed to be lacking except Hitch’s confession that he
had robbed the store and killed the watchman.

“Dis here is awful!” he sighed. “I’s gwine over an’ git some religium
advices from de Revun Vinegar Atts.”

He found Vinegar occupying his customary seat under a chinaberry tree
in front of the Shoofly Church. Vinegar moved his chair only when the
shadow of the tree shifted and the sun shone upon his head. He called
this diversion “settin’ de sun aroun’ de tree.”

“Revun,” Skeeter began, “I been cornversin’ Marse John Flournoy about
our chu’ch an’ lodge brudder, Hitch Diamond.”

“No hope!” Vinegar grumbled. “Hitch is done flirted wid a hearse one
time too many. He’s as good as dead.”

“Cain’t we do nothin’ fer him?” Skeeter asked.

“We kin save up money in de chu’ch an’ de lodge fer a real nice
funeral,” Vinegar said. “Atter de white folks is done deir wuck,
Hitch’ll furnish de corp’.”

“Is you interrogated any of de white folks?” Skeeter inquired.

“Yes, suh. Marse Tom Gaitskill tole me all I knows. Hitch wucked fer
de kunnel, an’ kunnel say he’s got to git him anodder nigger--de
cote-house is gwine spile Hitch!”

“Ain’t de kunnel tryin’ to he’p Hitch none?” Skeeter asked.

“Naw. What kin be did fer a nigger whut is kotch his tail in a
cuttin’-box like Hitch done?”

“I feels sorry fer Hitch, Revun,” Skeeter mumbled piteously. “Gawd,
I’d do anything fer him dat I could!”

“Not me!” Vinegar bellowed. “When de white folks backs off, dat’s de
sign fer Revun Atts to git away befo’ de bust-up comes. Naw, suh, Hitch
ain’t got no hope!”

Vinegar’s voice was a bellow which could be heard a block away. He
stood up, took off his stove-pipe preaching hat, and mopped the sweat
from the top of his bald head with a big, red handkerchief.

“Naw, suh!” he howled. “You oughter had been to chu’ch dis mawnin’
an’ heered me orate ’bout Hitch Diamond. I shore preached his funeral
good! I tole dem niggers how Hitch went to N’Awleens an’ fit in a
sinful prize-fight an’ got on a big, bust-head drunk an’ vamoosed up to
Sawtown an’ robbed an’ kilt, an’ is fotch back here now to dis town to
show whut happens to de members of de Shoo-fly Chu’ch when dey rambles
away from de highways of holiness--whoosh!”

Vinegar broke off with a snort and a flourish, seizing the chair in
which he had sat and thrust it up so close to Skeeter’s chair that he
pinched Skeeter’s fingers.

Then he sat down with his thick lips not two inches from Skeeter’s ear.

“Listen, Skeeter,” he whispered. “Marse Tom Gaitskill an’ Sheriff John
Flournoy don’t think dat Hitch is guilty--dey’s bellerin’ it aroun’
town that Hitch is shore a deader so dey kin hunt fer de real guilty
man on de sly!”

“Bless Gawd!” Skeeter grinned.

“I been buttlin’ fer Marse Tom ever since Hitch went to N’Awleens,
an’ I been snoopin’ aroun’ an’ listenin’ to deir talk. Marse Tom an’
Marse John sot up mighty nigh all night las’ Friday talkin’ an’ smokin’
an’ cussin’ in Marse Tom’s dinin’-room. I sot up out on de porch an’
listened to ’em. Dey done agree dat de bes’ thing fer Hitch is fer
eve’ybody not to hab no hope. I agrees wid de white folks.”

“Bless Gawd!” Skeeter Butts cackled.

“Git yo’ nose on de trail an’ sot yo’ mouth to howlin’ like a
houn’-dog, Skeeter,” Vinegar grinned. Then, in a bellow which echoed
back from the woods in the rear of the church, he howled: “No hope!”

“Dem is de best religium advices you ever orated, Revun,” Skeeter
cackled as he rose to his feet. “I’s gwine turn detecative right dis
minute an’ snoop aroun’ seein’ how much I kin find out!”

He walked straight to the courthouse and entered the sheriff’s office.

“Could I be allowed to see Hitch, Marse John?” he asked.

“Certainly. Any of his colored friends may see him if they come at a
reasonable time. I’ll admit you to the jail.”

When Skeeter was admitted and locked behind the bars of the jail, and
saw Hitch Diamond pacing up and down the corridor in the second story,
the only occupant of the prison, he found to his annoyance that he
could not begin a word of conversation with his lifelong friend. When
talking to others, he could speak about Hitch and his misfortune with
great volubility, but face to face with Hitch, what was there to say?

The two sat down, Skeeter laid a package of cigarettes upon the seat
of a chair beside them, and after that for twenty minutes there was
perfect silence. Not a word had been spoken except their first brief
and embarrassed greetings. Each sat, smoking furiously, and lighting a
fresh cigarette upon the stub of the old one.

At last Skeeter managed to speak, and made the one request which opened
the floodgates of Hitch Diamond’s talk:

“Tell me all about it, Hitchy. Don’t leave out no little thing.”

Hitch dropped his cigarette at his feet and began.

For two hours his low voice rumbled on, the narrative beginning from
the moment he left Tickfall to go to New Orleans to the prize-fight and
progressing with minute particularity to the moment when he sat in the
jail beside Skeeter Butts.

Skeeter listened with a heart as heavy as lead. It seemed to him that
Hitch had confessed everything except the actual commission of the
crime of murder and robbery. The array of proof which Flournoy had was
sustained and established in every particular by Hitch’s story. Vinegar
had fired his hopes for a moment by betraying the secret that the
white folks were unconvinced of Hitch’s guilt and were hunting for the
perpetrator of the deed. But Skeeter knew when Hitch had finished his
story that Hitch would pay the penalty for his crime.

Not a word did Skeeter utter until the narrative was ended. Then he
arose and held out his hand.

“Good-by, Hitch,” he said, with a catch in his voice. He walked down
the steps, and the jailer opened the door and let him out.

Passing across the courthouse yard he met Sheriff Flournoy.

“Marse John,” he said, “you tole me dat Hitch wus borned on yo’
plantation. Does you know who his maw is?”

“Certainly.”

“Is his maw livin’ yit?”

“Yes.”

“I ain’t never heerd Hitch say nothin’ ’bout his maw,” Skeeter remarked.

“Hitch don’t know who his mother is,” Flournoy smiled. “I doubt if she
knows that Hitch is her son.”

“How come?” Skeeter asked.

“Hitch’s mother committed a little crime the year before I was elected
sheriff. Hitch was then one year old. His mother abandoned him--ran off
and stayed away for thirty years. Hitch was taken care of by the other
negroes on the plantation, and all who once knew who Hitch’s mother is
are now either dead or have gone away from here.”

“Fer Gawd’s sake, Marse John!” Skeeter wailed. “Why don’t you tell
Hitch who his maw am? Who is she?”

Flournoy considered this question while he took the time to light a
fresh cigar. Then he asked:

“If I tell you who Hitch’s mother is, will you promise never to reveal
it?”

“I promises!” Skeeter exclaimed.

“His mother is Ginny Babe Chew!” the sheriff told him.

Skeeter reeled back from the shock, and an exclamation shot from his
throat like a bullet.

He turned round and round like a man who was dazed, uttering a series
of highly profane expletives like the crackling of thorns under a pot.

“You asked me why I didn’t tell Hitch who his mother was,” the sheriff
continued, as he started away. “I think you know the answer!”

Ginny Babe Chew!

Like a panorama the events of the Sunday before passed before his dazed
and horrified vision--Ginny Babe Chew, shrieking, cursing, whooping,
thrusting the people aside and pressing up behind the sheriff’s horse,
howling after her son the charge of “Murder! Murder! Murder!” Again
he saw her struck down by the massive fist of Vinegar Atts, the blood
streaming from her lips, the mob splitting into halves as they walked
past her, while she groaned and cursed, groveling in the dust. Again he
saw her staggering down the street, the blood reddening the front of
her dress and making a red froth upon her lips, as she stood in front
of the jail tossing dust into the air, gyrating, shrieking, cursing,
and wailing, “Good-by, Hitch! Good-by, Hitch!”

What a mother for any man to have!

Skeeter staggered across the courthouse yard, wiping the clammy sweat
from his temples.

“Marse John made me promise not to tell nobody who Hitch’s maw is. Ef
I wus to tell dat fack, de white folks would hang Hitch Diamond befo’
night. Dat’s de awfullest fack agin him yit!”

In front of the post-office he met Vinegar Atts.

“Revun Atts,” Skeeter said earnestly, “ef you know any good religium
advices to gib to a nigger whut is about to die, fer de Lawd sake go
preach ’em to Hitch Diamond. De white folks is got him--got him good!”


XIII

THE HOODOO FACE.

The sunshine lay hot upon the sand in the negro settlement called
Dirty-Six when Dainty Blackum arose from her bed, dressed, and walked
out into the yard. In the rear of Ginny Babe Chew’s house was a large
number of fig and pecan-trees, and under the shade of one of these
trees, patiently waiting and smoking a cigarette, was Skeeter Butts.

For a moment Dainty was surprised; then she reflected that she had
expected some man to be there that morning, as some man had been there
every morning, and she would have been disappointed if she had not
found one.

But Skeeter Butts had never been there before. She had heard that he
was very susceptible to the charms of women, but up to this time she
had received the devoted attention of only two men--Dinner Gaze and
Tucky Sugg.

She came over and sat down beside Skeeter.

“Yistiddy wus a busy day fer me, Skeeter,” she began. “Two men tole me
dey loved me an’ axed me to marry ’em. Dat’s a pretty good starter.”

Skeeter had entertained no idea of making love to Dainty when he called
to see her, having had an entirely different purpose. But as he did not
know exactly how to approach the subject which he wished to discuss, he
decided to follow her line of conversation, hoping to direct it at a
later time.

“Yes’m, dat’s so,” Skeeter remarked without enthusiasm. “De fack is, I
wus so busy dat I looked over de chance to ax you to marry me yistiddy,
so I comed early dis mawnin’ to git in a word ’bout dat----”

“I tole de two yuther men dey wus losin’ time, an’ I tells you dat same
word in eggsvance.”

“Of co’se, I don’t expeck you to fall right in wid dat suggestion,”
Skeeter hastened to say. “But I wants you to know whut way I is
leanin’.”

“You done took a notion to lean mighty sudden,” Dainty snapped. “You
better lean de yuther way. You ain’t able to suppote no wife.”

“Whut’s de use of gittin’ able to suppote somepin you ain’t got?”
Skeeter asked absently. “Us owns a hoss befo’ us buys any hoss-feed.”

The girl made no reply.

After a while Skeeter added another remark in an absent-minded way:

“Sometimes niggers buys a hoss an’ depen’s on stealin’ de hoss-feed.
Dey always gits in trouble wid de white folks, too, when dey does dat.”

Instantly the girl’s manner changed completely. She bit her lips and
her hands began to tremble. She looked as if dizziness and weakness
were about to overcome her.

“When a nigger gits in trouble wid de white folks, it’s all off wid
him,” Skeeter blundered on, his mind upon Hitch Diamond, and all
unconscious of the impression he was making upon the girl beside him.
“Sometimes luck is wid him an’ he kin run off, but most often he----”

Suddenly Skeeter broke off and looked at Dainty with popping eyes. For
the moment he had forgotten the tragedy in the girl’s life, and now he
was struck speechless, and merely sat there and stared and gasped. At
last he murmured:

“I done slopped de wrong pig!”

“Dat’s right, Skeeter,” the girl said in a bitter tone. “De best thing
you kin do is to ramble outen dis yard an’ don’t come back no more.”

“I didn’t mean nothin’, Dainty,” Skeeter said humbly. “I’s done had a
heap of trouble, an’ it ’pears like I ain’t got my real good sense.”

“Dat’s a fack,” Dainty said.

“I won’t never do it no mo’,” Skeeter pleaded.

“Dat’s a fack,” Dainty announced. She arose and walked into the house.

Skeeter remained seated upon the bench, trying to think up some way
to square himself with the girl, but his mind would not work with its
usual facility.

Then in the yard on the other side of the house there was a loud, angry
squall, followed by the wild, frightened squawking of a hen, and Ginny
Babe Chew waddled around to where Skeeter was sitting.

At the corner of the house there was a barrel of rain-water setting
under a gutter-spout, and into this water Ginny Babe ducked the hen
viciously a number of times.

She tossed the hen on the ground, where it lay gasping for air and half
drowned.

Skeeter sat and cackled like another hen.

“Shut up, you little devil!” Ginny Babe squalled. “I’ll ketch you an’
do you de same way!”

“Whut ails de hen, Ginny?” Skeeter laughed.

“She wants to sot, an’ I ain’t got no eggs to put under her,” Ginny
whooped. “I locked her up in de wood-house an’ she foun’ a ole china
door-knob an’ sot on dat. I put her in de corn-crib an’ she sot down
on a lot of corn-cobs an’ tried to hatch ’em out. I’s ducked her in
dat barrel of water ’bout fo’teen times, an’ it ain’t done no good
whatsumever. I never _did_ see such a fool!”

“Why don’t you try on somepin else?” Skeeter giggled.

“Whut’s dat?” Ginny whooped.

“Pour a leetle coal-ile on her tail an’ sot it on fire,” Skeeter
snickered. “I figger she won’t sot no more atter dat.”

“By gosh, I’ll do it!” Ginny Babe howled.

She walked over and pushed the hen with her foot.

“You don’t git no coal-ile on yo’ tail yit!” she bellowed. “But as soon
as dem feathers gits dry, I got a good mind to try it!”

Skeeter looked at Ginny Babe Chew, and a cold chill ran down his spine.
She was the one woman in Tickfall of whom every negro was afraid. She
was a wicked, vicious, horrible old woman, whose little, green pig eyes
glowed poisonously through the rolls of facial flesh. She possessed an
ugly and venomous laugh, and generally ended her profane and vicious
remarks with an irritating chuckle.

Ginny knew the history of all the people in Tickfall parish, both white
and black, and most of her conversation on ordinary occasions was a
discussion of their characters. She especially loved to drive nails in
the coffins of moribund reputations.

Now she sat down heavily and began a conversation upon her favorite
theme.

“I done wucked in de house of eve’y white man in dis parish whut is
able to hire he’p,” she bawled. “I knows all de fambly secrets, an’ I
done got my little, bullet eye on all de fambly skelingtons. I’s made
acquaintance wid all de niggers in dis parish, too, an’ I tells you
dis--some niggers is bad, an’ yuther niggers is wusser; but dar ain’t
no good niggers, livin’ or dead! I knows ’em! So I spends my happy old
age findin’ out all de bad I kin about ’em!”

“Yes’m,” Skeeter gasped, looking at her with frightened eyes.

“All you niggers in Tickfall--whoof!” the old woman exploded.

“I hopes we is as good as most niggers,” Skeeter said timidly.

“Whoof!” the old woman exploded again. “Does you want me to tell you
whut I knows about _you_, Skeeter Butts?”

“Fer Gawd’s sake, no’m!” Skeeter quavered. “My memory is powerful good.”

The woman’s fat body shook with silent laughter and her little pig eyes
glowed like emeralds. She laid a heavy, fat hand on Skeeter’s knee.

“I’s got a hoodoo face, Skeeter!” she bawled. “When a nigger looks at
my fat mug, all de meanness in him comes right out on his face so I
kin read it like de white folks reads a book. Yes, suh, I got a hoodoo
face!”

While Skeeter Butts sat beside her and trembled, wondering what to say,
and very much wishing himself somewhere else, Dinner Gaze and Tucky
Sugg came around to the side of the house where they were sitting.

“You want me to cornfess yo’ sins fer you, Dinner Gaze?” Ginny Babe
howled, turning her green eyes upon him.

“You don’t know nothin’.” Dinner asserted, gazing at her with his
beady eyes without a trace of fear, his black, dough-like face as
expressionless as when Hitch Diamond had first seen it.

“Whoof!” the old woman exploded the third time. Shifting her
mountainous fat to her feet and standing up, she glared at Dinner Gaze
in a perfect fury; then, to Skeeter’s surprise, her voice changed
completely from its bellowing tone to an intonation as soft as Dinner’s
own. She muttered aloud, looking at Dinner with intent gaze as if she
were seeing him for the first time:

“Naw, suh, I don’t know nothin’ agin you!”

“I gambles fer a livin’,” Dinner grinned. “Dat ain’t no highbrow job. I
follers de races an’ hangs aroun’ prize-fighters, an’ drinks a little
booze an’ plays a little craps an’ coon-can, but I ain’t got nothin’ to
hide from nobody.”

“Dar now!” Ginny whooped in a triumphant voice. “Didn’t I jes’ tole you
dat I had a hoodoo face? Nobody kin look at me an’ hide deir sins!”

“I ain’t allowin’ nobody to low-rate me, neither,” Tucky Sugg
proclaimed. “You wanter cornfess my sins, Sister Ginny?”

Ginny broke out into a loud, whooping laugh. “You ain’t got no sins,
Tucky,” she guffawed. “You ain’t nothin’ but a idjut--an’ no limb
didn’t fall on you, neither. You was nachel-bawned dat way. Idjuts
ain’t responsible!”

Chuckling to herself, she picked up her fast-reviving hen, carried it
back to a large hen-house on the other side of her home, and threw it
inside the door. Closing the door she waddled back, and waved a fat
hand at the three men. “Don’t fergit dat Ginny’s got a hoodoo face,
niggers!” she bawled.

“Huh!” Dinner Gaze grunted. “Listen to dat ole fat fool!”

“Come on, niggers,” Tucky Sugg said in a disgusted tone. “Less git away
from dis place.”

As the three men walked down the street, Skeeter said: “Dinner, is you
ever had any expe’unce ’tendin’ bar?”

“Yes, suh.”

“Would you wish to he’p Pap Curtain take keer of my saloom fer de nex’
ten days?” he asked next.

“It’ll suit me fine,” Dinner told him.

They discussed the business for a little while, then Skeeter left them
at the next corner.

“I leaves it wid you an’ Pap, Dinner,” Skeeter said. “I needs a leetle
rest an’ I’s gwine to trabbel some.”


XIV

SKEETER STARTS A BLAZE.

For the next four days Pap Curtain and Dinner Gaze tended bar in the
Hen-Scratch saloon for Skeeter Butts.

Vinegar Atts and Tucky Sugg started a protracted meeting in the old
Shoofly Church which was attended by throngs who listened with bated
breath to Vinegar’s bawling exhortations to righteousness based
upon the horrible example of Hitch Diamond, who found himself in a
predicament where there was “no hope.”

Meanwhile Skeeter went to New Orleans, and to Sawtown. He tracked Hitch
Diamond from the moment he left Tickfall to go to the prize-fight
until he returned to Tickfall, bareheaded, barefooted, with his hands
manacled behind him, and under the escort of the officers of the law.

In both places he dodged Sheriff John Flournoy, who was also conducting
an investigation. Both were on the same mission, and Skeeter saw
Flournoy a dozen times at different places.

Skeeter and Flournoy returned to Tickfall, crushed and hopeless,
appalled at the array of evidence which Hitch Diamond had to confront
at his coming trial. It was not a pretense, but a fact, that Hitch
Diamond had no hope.

It was almost dark when Skeeter climbed wearily off the train at
Tickfall and started up the street toward Dirty-Six. He overtook
Sheriff John Flournoy walking slowly up the street.

“Whut is Hitch’s chances now, Marse John?” he asked.

“He has none,” Flournoy replied. “There is no longer a shadow of doubt
in my mind that Hitch Diamond committed the crime with which he is
charged.”

“Yes, suh, dat’s de way it looks,” Skeeter agreed sadly. He dropped
behind, stopped, and let the sheriff go on alone. He stood leaning
against a fence for a while, wondering what to do next. Finally he said
to himself:

“I’s gwine to Ginny Babe Chew’s cabin an’ narrate her all I is found
out. Mebbe dat ole hoodoo face kin see mo’ hope dan I kin.”

He passed the Hen-Scratch saloon and peeped into the window, where he
saw Pap and Dinner Gaze playing cards at a small table. He passed the
Shoofly Church, where he heard the voice of Vinegar Atts bellowing like
a lost cow. On the edge of the settlement he entered the yard of Ginny
Babe Chew’s home, and found Dainty sitting alone upon the porch.

Ginny Babe was in the hen-house rendering profane ministrations to the
same old hen which was still of a mind to brood, whether there was
anything to hatch or not.

That hen had entertained Ginny Babe for a week. She had exhausted every
known method to break up the fowl’s desire to “set,” dousing it in
water, ducking it in ashes, tying a long red trailer of wool to its
feet, and other things of that general nature. Now she stood growling
profanity, wondering what else she could do to the obstinate old biddy.

Suddenly she thought of the suggestion made by Skeeter Butts: “Pour
coal-ile on her tail an’ sot her on fire!”

She picked up an old rag lying in the yard, wrapped it around the
squawking hen’s tail, carried the fowl to the back porch, where she
found an oil-can, and saturated the rag well with the petroleum.

Then she struck a match and set the rag afire.

The startled hen fluttered out of her arms, ran straight into the
hen-house, shed the oil-soaked, blazing rag with most of her tail
feathers, and ran out of the hen-house into the high weeds.

But the burning rag left in the hen-house got busy with the loose straw
and the other dry trash, and in a moment the whole house was in a blaze!

Ginny was famous for the noise she could make with her throat. Her very
name was a perversion of the word for that noisy hen the guinea, and
from her earliest childhood this word had been indicative of her chief
faculty. But on this occasion she broke all previous records for racket.

“Fire! Fire! Fire!” she began.

What she said after that and the noises she made cannot enter into this
narrative because they cannot be reproduced in print.

The dry grass, the straw, the inflammable trash, the dusty
accumulations of years, due to Ginny’s idea that the way to clean up
her yard was to sweep everything inside the hen-house--all was afire
and blazing merrily.

Skeeter and Dainty heard her wails and ran around the house. Then
Skeeter grabbed a tree with both hands, spread his alligator mouth to
its utmost limit, and laughed himself into hysterics.

The portion of Tickfall occupied by the whites had water-works, and
adequate fire protection. The negro settlement known as Dirty-Six had
no water, but was protected from fire by a chemical engine. There was
a fire-engine house, a pole beside it with a bell on top, and a rope
suspended from the bell within reach of the hand.

When the engine-house was first erected four years before, the negroes
had waited rather impatiently for some one’s house to catch on fire.
They wanted to see their new engine in operation. Nothing caught fire,
not even a chicken-coop. For four years the bell at the engine-house
had not been rung.

Then, on some occasion which called for a celebration on the part of
the negroes, they had asked and had been given permission to take the
chemical wagon out, attach the hose, and sprinkle the street, merely to
show that the hose would actually squirt water and the engine pump it.

After the celebration the apparatus was dragged back and placed in the
engine-house, and the inhabitants of Dirty-Six resumed their watchful
waiting.

Now the cry of “Fire!” echoed through the settlement.

It was caught up on every corner. Negroes seized their shotguns
and pistols and ran down the street, firing them into the air--the
fire-signal in all Southern villages.

Vinegar Atts, standing in the pulpit of the Shoofly Church, paused
in the midst of a fiery exhortation, listened to the cry of “Fire!”
ringing through the settlement.

“Fire!” Vinegar bellowed, and started in a lope for the street, leading
all the congregation in the race. They, with the other inhabitants of
Dirty-Six, gladly assembled, not at the scene of the fire, but at the
engine-house!

“Ring de bell!” a hundred voices bawled.

The bell-rope was gone. Some little piccaninny had needed a rope to tie
his dog and had helped himself.

Two or three boys tried to climb the post and ring the bell, but they
could not reach it.

“Open de door an’ fotch out de engyne!” the crowd whooped.

Forty men ran their hands into their pockets and brought them out
empty. They did not have the key to the door. They had never had the
key. The action was mechanical and unconscious.

Who had the key? No one knew. It had been two years since any one had
entered the building. The door was locked and the key was lost.

“Bust de door down!” was the next call from the crowd.

Strong shoulders were pressed against the fragile door, and the crash
of its timbers was answered by the shouts of the people and the onrush
of the crowd. They laid hold upon the rope and pulled the machine to
the scene of the fire.

Down the alley by the side of the house they ran, broke down the fence
and pulled the machine into the yard. With many shouts they unwound the
hose, attached it to the engine, turned the faucets and began to pump.

From the hose came a long whistling sound of air:

“Whee-ee-ee-e!”

Not a drop of chemical water. The celebration two years before had
exhausted the chemical, and the engine had never been recharged. The
hen-house burned without interruption.

Ginny Babe Chew turned toward that crowd of heroic negro firemen, and
the pumps of her profanity worked without a hitch as she poured out a
stream of sulphurous and vitriolic language upon their luckless heads.
Skeeter Butts still hung to the tree with both hands, laughing with
whoops like a yelling Comanche.

The firemen laid hold upon their chemical machine and dragged it out of
the yard.

Suddenly Skeeter’s laughter ended with a gurgle of choked surprise.
With his mouth still open wide, he gazed upward at a little dormer
window which looked out of the attic of Ginny Babe Chew’s home. Slowly
his hair rose up on his head, and cold chills ran down his spine.

The light reflected from the burning hen-house clearly revealed a male
human face at the dormer window!

The man was looking down into the yard, watching the crowd, watching
the fire, and at times grinning at something he saw. Skeeter watched
that face for two or three minutes; its clear outlines were stamped
indelibly upon his mind. He had never seen the negro before!

Then he sprang to the side of Vinegar Atts and squalled:

“Come on up-stairs wid me, Vinegar--quick!”

The two ran into the house. Skeeter took his automatic pistol from his
pocket, and leading the way, ran up the little, narrow stairs which led
to the attic. They pushed open the door of the room and entered.

The room was empty!

Skeeter ran to the window and looked out, just as he had seen the
strange negro do. Instantly the fat face of Ginny Babe Chew was raised
to the window, her green pig eyes glowed malevolently, and her fat
fists were clenched and raised in malediction.

“Come out of dat attic, you little yellow-faced debbil!” she whooped.
“I’ll bust yo’ neck!”


XV

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENSE.

On the first Tuesday in September the open spaces in front and on
the sides of the Tickfall courthouse filled up early with a crowd of
negroes. It was the occasion of the opening of the criminal term of the
district court, and all witnesses and talesmen were called to court
for the trial of Hitch Diamond, charged with murder, against the peace
and dignity of the commonwealth of Louisiana and the statutes made and
provided.

The witnesses and talesmen already sat in the court-room, along with as
many other people, mostly colored, as could squeeze in there. Even now,
at nine o’clock in the morning, the heat of that ill-ventilated room
was stifling, the odor was overpowering. Men sat on the bench seats,
on the back of the benches, on the ledges of the windows; they stood in
the aisles, in the corridors, on the stairways, and were ranged in rows
along the soiled and dusty walls.

Inside the low railing which divided the room, and nearest to the
chairs which the jurors were to occupy, Hitch Diamond sat at a long
table with Goldie Curtain by his side. In that crowd of people, either
white or black, Goldie was the one splotch of vivid coloring--her face
and hands and neck a beautiful orange in color, and her half-caste
beauty most striking and attractive. Hitch sat beside the table as
stolid and indifferent as a wooden man, but Goldie trembled, her
nervous fingers plaited in and out of each other like squirming snakes;
she was scared and shrinking, pitiable and lonely.

Just outside the low railing sat Ginny Babe Chew and Dinner Gaze,
directly behind the broad back of Hitch Diamond. Ginny slowly slapped
at her fat face with a turkey-wing fan. Her big mouth was clamped
shut like a steel trap, and her little green, greedy, pig eyes glared
through the rolls of facial fat with baleful, condemning gaze upon
everything and everybody around her.

A little farther away from Hitch, but on the same front seat with Ginny
Chew and Dinner Gaze, sat the Reverend Vinegar Atts and Tucky Sugg.

There was a window behind the jury-box, so that the light falling
over the heads of the jurors would fall full upon the faces of the
witnesses as they sat in the chair, and would illumine every line in
the faces of the lawyers as they presented their sides to the jury.

On the opposite side of the room there was another window, and within
this window, sitting precariously on the ledge, was Pap Curtain. He had
asked and obtained permission from Sheriff Flournoy to sit within the
bar on the ground that it was his son-in-law who was being tried for
his life.

Across from Hitch Diamond the district attorney sat at another long
table to represent the cause of the State. Tall, urbane, white-haired,
with the reputation of being a pitiless prosecutor of criminals, Dan
Davazec was confident and jaunty. He fussed about busily, arranging and
rearranging the table in front of him, shoving aside the water-pitcher,
the ink-bottle, a pile of law-books with freckled-leather covers, as a
battleship strips her decks for action.

“It’s a cinch, Sam,” he chuckled to the editor of the Tickfall _Whoop_.
“Dead open-and-shut!”

Davazec had tried in vain to find a wife, or mother, or sisters of
the night-watchman for whose murder Hitch Diamond was to be tried. He
wanted somebody to lend force and eloquence to his plea by sitting
before the jury dressed in black and wearing a long, thick mourning
veil. But the murdered man apparently had no kinsmen, so Davazec lacked
these eloquent figures of desolation and sorrow.

But the two owners of the Sawtown mill sat at the table beside Davazec,
and the room in the rear of the judge’s bench was crowded with
witnesses. Davazec felt the importance of his place and the certain
triumph of his cause, and he swelled and expanded in his clothes at the
thought of how helpful this day’s proceedings would be to him when he
announced himself for reëlection.

From his office in the rear the judge entered the court-room, followed
by a clerk bearing a few law-books and some sheets of paper and a large
palm-leaf fan. Judge Haddan was a pale, sickly looking man with a weak
voice, trembling hands, and stooped shoulders. But his head was massive
and Websterian, and his eyes glowed like the eyes of some jungle beast.
No man within the borders of the State commanded more respect as a
lawyer and a jurist.

Hitch Diamond raised his massive head and eyed the judge with the
stolid gaze of a stupid horse. Goldie gasped, and laced and interlaced
her nervous fingers in her lap.

The opening ceremonies of the court were soon over. No one paid any
attention to the few formalities, for they were all hastening to get at
the thing of big interest.

The clerk called the case of the Commonwealth _versus_ Hitch Diamond.

“We are ready, your honor,” Dan Davazec said in his clear voice.

“Where is your counsel, Hitch Diamond?” Judge Haddan asked.

“I ain’t got none, boss,” Hitch answered.

“Do you wish me to assign you counsel?” Haddan inquired.

Hitch stood up and scratched his woolly head.

“Boss,” he said, in a sad tone, “one time when yo’ leetle gal got sick
an’ you lived out on yo’ plantation in de country, I done you a leetle
favor. Does you remember, boss?”

Haddan looked straight at Hitch Diamond while his nervous fingers
drummed upon the arms of his chair. He seemed not to have heard what
Hitch had said.

“Do you wish me to assign you counsel?” he asked again.

“Boss,” Hitch continued, “when yo’ little gal got sick, de water had
done riz up an’ de Dorfoche Bayou wus seben miles wide--an’ you axed me
to go atter de dorctor. I waded an’ swum dat bayou--I got acrost dat
seben mile of water--I fotch de dorctor--an’ yo’ little gal got well.
Boss, you tole me den, dat ef I ever needed any he’p, you would he’p me
at any cost--an’ boss, befo’ Gawd, now is yo time!”

Hitch Diamond sat down at the table.

Involuntarily Judge Haddan looked at the State’s attorney; their eyes
met, and Davazec murmured, “Don’t that nigger beat hell!”

“Do you wish me to assign counsel for you, Hitch?” Judge Haddan asked
for the third time.

“Naw, suh, boss!” Hitch said. “I think you an’ me had better law dis
case togedder!”

“Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” Haddan asked.

Hitch grinned.

“Ain’t dat jes’ whut we is come to try, boss?” he asked.

“The defendant pleads not guilty!” Judge Haddan announced with an
amused grimace at the State’s attorney.

Then the clerk called the name of a talesman.

In an hour the jury was complete. Hitch Diamond left that work entirely
in the hands of Dan Davazec and Judge Haddan. Whenever the judge
excused a talesman from service, Hitch smiled, and felt that the judge
was certainly winning the case for him!

Then for two hours the crowded court-room of people sat in breathless
silence, while District Attorney Davazec drove nail after nail into the
gallows which should hang Hitch Diamond. It was a savage and pitiless
prosecution, not because of the efforts of Davazec, but because of the
force of the testimony, developing a chain of evidence without a weak
or missing link. The jurors, grim, silent, attentive, fixed their eyes
upon each witness, and when the witness-chair was empty, they looked
down at the floor.

Not one of them glanced at Hitch Diamond. Jurymen don’t like to watch a
man whom they are making up their minds to condemn to death.

Hitch listened to the evidence without a word or question to a single
witness. If Judge Haddan asked a question, Hitch grinned. He seemed
never to comprehend the effect of the statements that were being made.

Dan Davazec arose and announced with dramatic emphasis:

“Your honor, the State closes!”

The crowd in the court-room drew a long breath; a humming murmur like a
breeze in the tree-tops swept over the heads of the people.

Hitch Diamond arose.

“Boss,” he announced to the judge, “Mister Danny Davazec is shore done
hisse’f proud, an’ all dem white men is tole de truth--as fur as dey
knows it. I closes up de State’s case, too!”

A snicker sounded from the rear benches, where an assortment of white
toughs and loafers had congregated for gratuitous entertainment.

The jury stared at the floor.


XVI

WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE.

“Have you any witnesses, Hitch?” Judge Haddan inquired, nervously
mopping at his temples with a handkerchief.

“Yes, suh. I wants to ’terrogate Skeeter Butts, please, suh.”

There was a slight movement in the crowd in the rear of the court-room,
and Skeeter came forward and pushed open the little gate in the low
railing, which, like a river levee, held back an overflow of black
people.

He had moved slowly through the crowd, proud of being called as a
witness, ostentatiously speaking to every colored person he knew, and
bowing with fine courtesy to every white face.

Respectably dressed, and extremely respectful in his manner, Skeeter
came to the witness stand with the air of a man who knew exactly how to
act in the company of white folks.

The jurors straightened up in their seats, looking at Skeeter with
interest, wondering what light he could bring to brighten the black
cloud which hung over the defendant. Skeeter noted the movement and
bowed.

“Mawnin’, gen’lemens!” he murmured.

At the admonition of the judge, Skeeter held up his right hand, a clerk
rattled off a string of words which Skeeter could not understand, and
Skeeter dropped his hand.

“Thank ’e, suh!” he said.

Then, for the first time during the trial, Hitch Diamond came to life.

He rose to his feet, picked up the heavy table against which he had
been leaning, and set it entirely out of his way by placing it so close
to the witness stand that Skeeter Butts could have reached out his foot
from the chair and stepped on it.

A heavy iron cuspidor stood in the middle of the space which Hitch was
clearing for himself, so he set it out of his way. After that he moved
two heavy chairs.

Suddenly Sheriff John Flournoy woke up!

It looked to him like Hitch Diamond had cleared a space for himself
clear across the court-room in front of the judge to the open window
where Pap Curtain, Hitch’s father-in-law, was sitting. He noticed that
Pap Curtain had slipped off the window ledge and was standing with his
back to the window, one hand stretched out on either side.

Hitch was getting ready to run!

As quietly as possible, Sheriff Flournoy slipped across the platform
behind the judge’s seat and stationed himself near the window where Pap
Curtain stood.

Pap smiled and nodded knowingly.

“Dat’s right, Marse John,” he grinned, as he waved his hand toward
Hitch Diamond. “Git a good ready! Dat Tickfall Tiger is gwine scratch
somebody’s back!”

Having completed his preparations, Hitch Diamond turned to his star
witness.

“Whut am yo’ name, Skeeter Butts?” he bellowed.

Skeeter got mad and began to swell up.

“You done called me by my name!” he snapped.

“Tell de white folks whut is yo’ name, Skeeter!” Hitch growled. “Mebbe
dey is seed yo’ favor but disremember de name of yo’ face!”

“Skeeter Butts!” the witness replied grumpily.

“Does you know who kilt dat night-watchman down at Sawtown?” Hitch
asked.

“Suttinly.”

“Was you dar when it happened?” Hitch inquired.

“Naw, suh.”

“Was it me whut done it?” Hitch bellowed.

“Naw, suh,” Skeeter answered positively.

“Who done it?” Hitch Diamond howled.

Skeeter hitched himself forward until he sat upon the extreme edge of
the witness chair. He hung his brown derby hat upon the first finger of
his left hand and turned it round and round with the finger and thumb
of his right hand. He stared at the table which Hitch had lifted and
placed before him.

The members of the jury suddenly sat up and took notice.

They had known negroes all their lives; they had had negro playmates
when they were boys; and now they “read sign” on Skeeter. They knew
Skeeter was going to explode something. Their backbones stiffened in
their chairs as if the marrow had suddenly turned to rigid steel.

“Who--done--it?” Hitch Diamond bellowed.

Skeeter pushed himself back in his chair. His little brown derby hat
fell from his finger, rattled and bounced in a ridiculous fashion
across the table before him, fell to the floor and rocked to and fro on
the curved crown.

Skeeter stretched out his hand with two middle fingers and the thumb
flexed, and the first finger and the little finger extended in such
a way that he pointed at the same time with one gesture to two men
sitting in different parts of the court-room. Then he answered:

“Dinner Gaze and Tucky Sugg!”

Judge Haddan slumped forward in his chair, his delicate, fragile hands
gripping the edge of the desk before him. The district attorney, a man
who generally possessed perfect poise and self-possession, was jerked
to his feet by this announcement and stood in absolute silence waving
his hands to and fro like an embarrassed schoolboy who had suddenly
forgotten how to “speak his piece.” The jury sank back in their chairs
with a low sigh of gratification. They had tuned their ears for the
sound of an explosion, and the effect had produced a pleasant shock.

Silence in the court-room, a silence appalling.

Hitch Diamond, who had been standing like a statue carved from ebony,
slowly turned and faced the crowd of black men sitting behind him.

Then a voice cracked the silence like a starter’s pistol shot over the
backs of two men straining for a race; it was the voice of Ginny Babe
Chew:

“Dar--now!”

In the twenty seconds which had elapsed since Skeeter made his
astounding statement, Dinner Gaze and Tucky Sugg had both considered
the chances and the avenues of escape, as well as the possibility of
remaining in their places and protesting innocence of the charge. Ginny
Babe Chew’s triumphant exclamation decided the issue.

The low railing around the bar was directly before them. They sprang
forward to clear it, and lo! Vinegar Atts was swinging to Tucky Sugg’s
coat-tail, and Ginny Babe Chew was hanging to the coat-tail of Dinner
Gaze!

In an instant each man had slipped his arms out of his coat and was
free. They leaped the railing, standing in the open space which Hitch
Diamond had so ostentatiously cleared.

Under their coats, the two men carried pistol holsters, and now they
stood with their backs against the wall beside the judge’s bench, at
bay, each with a pistol in his hand.

There was confusion for about ten seconds while the court-room cleared
of its occupants. It took just that long for all to get out who wanted
to go. That was sufficient time for some eager ones to pass the
post-office two blocks away!

Suddenly Dinner Gaze’s dangerous, desperate voice rang out clearly,
with an intonation which pierced like a sword:

“Don’t come dis way, white folks! Ef you do, you better come a-shootin’
an’ pick out yo’ grave befo’ you starts!”


XVII

SMOKE OF BATTLE.

By terrible and evil ways, the reckless feet of Dinner Gaze and Tucky
Sugg had come to that cleared space in the Tickfall court-room. In the
next few minutes, they were going to make Tickfall history.

No man knew this better than the sheriff, the district attorney, the
judge of the district court, and the jurors, as each man stood in his
place and planned his part in the coming battle. The negro is the
deadliest fighter on earth--when he makes up his mind to fight.

Sheriff Flournoy raised his gun--and the fight was on. With a motion as
easy and as mechanical as the gesture of a man flecking a speck of dust
from his cuff, Dinner Gaze turned his hand and shot back. The two guns
spoke simultaneously.

With an oath, Sheriff Flournoy dropped his useless gun at his feet--the
bullet from Dinner Gaze’s pistol had struck it and put it permanently
out of business.

Hitch Diamond snarled like an angry beast. By a thrust of his foot,
he turned over the table before which Skeeter Butts sat, making a
barrier for himself. At the same instant of time, he hurled a heavy
chair straight at Dinner Gaze, who stood grinning, leering at Sheriff
Flournoy, who was now weaponless.

Hitch dropped down behind the table as a bullet splashed through the
wood two inches above him, and also splashed every juryman out of the
box like a big flat rock falling in a puddle of mud!

Skeeter Butts jerked a pistol from his coat pocket and tossed it to
Hitch Diamond. Lifting with his powerful left arm, Hitch held up that
heavy table as a shield between him and his enemies, and crashed
forward toward Gaze and Sugg, shooting as he went. Falling, he shot
again; sprawling upon the floor, he raised himself above the table and
shot still again.

Once more Hitch Diamond charged forward, drawing closer to the
fighting pair, staggering with his heavy table as a shield, economical
with his gun-fire, waiting for a chance to kill, blazing, terrible,
alone, moving toward the flash and smoke and rattle of the two guns
barking from the hands of the two men who stood with their backs
against the wall with leering grins upon their faces.

The unarmed men in the court-room dodged behind the furniture and
crawled under the seats, shuddering at the fury of battle, as the
bullets tore the plastering from the ceiling and the walls, splintered
the furniture, ricocheted around the room, smashing windows and the
glass globes of the electric lights.

In less time than it takes to tell it, Hitch’s last bullet was fired
and he snapped his empty gun into the faces of his enemies. At nearly
the same moment Dinner Gaze and Tucky Sugg threw aside their own empty
and useless weapons.

With a loud bellow, Hitch Diamond tossed the table from him, breaking
off the two legs on one side. He sprang around, and in and out,
striking blows which had made him famous in the pugilistic ring all
over the State. He struck and parried and struck again, pounding,
pounding at the faces of the two shrieking men who fought at him with
weapons mightier than their fists, for they were fighting with the legs
of the table which Hitch had broken off when he tossed his improvised
shield aside!

There was a rush of help coming to the aid of Hitch Diamond--Sheriff
Flournoy, the district attorney, the two mill owners, a court-clerk,
twelve jurors, Skeeter Butts, and Vinegar Atts.

Then began a noise of shouting and tumult, oaths, curses; shrieking,
horrible, blood-stained faces, snarling lips and gnashing teeth, and
Hitch Diamond fought on, leading the hosts who stood for law and
justice. Pain tore at his bruised and bleeding face, blood streamed
from his hands and arms, his mighty, heaving chest left stains of red
upon his white shirt bosom.

Men fell, and Hitch stepped on them. Hitch fell, and men stepped on
him. All men slipped and slid in blood, crushed each other, dragged
each other down, struck each other--and all heaved and cursed and
shouted and hammered and tore at the shuddering tangle of human flesh
and bone.

Standing on a chair close to the struggling men was a woman--a woman
of wicked, half-caste beauty, her long Indian hair streaming down her
back, her golden-colored hands weaving to and fro with clenched fists,
her golden face blazing with hate and fury--fit mate for Hitch Diamond,
whose wife she was.

Her voice rang like a trumpet:

“Kill ’em, Hitchie! Kill ’em! Kill ’em! Kill ’em!”

Such a brutal, demoniacal struggle could not endure long. Vinegar Atts
was senseless. Skeeter Butts lay flat on his back against the wall
with the blood streaming from an ugly cut upon his head. Three of the
jurors nursed broken arms, and several more had retired from the fray
disabled by their injuries.

Sheriff Flournoy lay on the floor with the blood flowing from a wound
on his neck. He crawled over and picked up the pistol which Skeeter
Butts had given to Hitch Diamond and which Hitch had discarded. He
extracted the cartridges from his own useless pistol and slipped them
into Skeeter’s gun, for he had given that weapon to Skeeter and they
were of the same calibre.

Just at that moment Tucky Sugg fought his way through the tangle of
human arms and legs and sprang into the open window. Then he went
screaming downward to his death as a bullet from the sheriff’s pistol
went with him, pocketed in the murderer’s heart!

Then, as if the crack of the sheriff’s pistol was her cue to enter,
another woman came up-stage and stood in the blazing light of battle.
She weighed four hundred and ten pounds, and resembled a balloon
divided in the middle by an apron string. She was conducted by Dainty
Blackum and a strange young negro man, and her name was Ginny Babe Chew.

Inside the railing, she picked up a heavy iron cuspidor, and walked
over to the table where, earlier in the morning, the district attorney
had sat.

“He’p me up on dis here table, honey!” she grunted, hugging the heavy
cuspidor in her arms.

The district attorney lay unconscious under the table on which Ginny
stood.

Ginny announced her position by a loud bellow. She raised the large
iron cuspidor above her head with her fat arms, and every pound of her
monstrous weight was quivering with unspeakable hate.

“Git outen my way, Hitchie!” she whooped. “Gimme room accawdin’ to my
fat, sonny! Let yo’ mammy put somepin acrost!”

For more than a minute Sheriff Flournoy had been fingering his pistol,
waiting for a chance to shoot without killing Hitch Diamond. Ginny Babe
Chew’s remarkable stunt gave him pause and caused him to lower his gun
with astonishment.

Hitch reeled and stumbled backward. His eyes were glazing, his right
arm hung broken and useless at his side, he was one bloody mass of
wounds.

Dinner Gaze, his clothes torn from him until he was bare to the waist,
his whole body screaming with pain from countless injuries, slowly
followed Hitch in his retreat, chopping at him with weakening arms,
still fighting with the broken table-leg.

“Look up, Dinner Gaze!” Ginny Babe Chew bawled. “Dis is yo’ la-ast time
to see de hoodoo face!”

Unconsciously responding to the command, Dinner Gaze raised his
pain-shot eyes upward, and looked into the fat face, through whose
rolls of flesh two green pig eyes gleamed upon him with a serpent’s
venom and deadly malignity.

The heavy iron cuspidor came down with a crash. It crushed the
criminal’s head like an egg-shell. It bounced, fell on its rounded
edge, and rolled slowly across the floor.

Dinner Gaze fell face downward, kicked the floor three times with the
toes of his shoes, and died.

“Dar--_now_!” Ginny Babe Chew whooped.

Then she held out a fat hand to the slim young girl standing beside the
table and said:

“Gimme yo’ hand an’ he’p me down offen dis table, honey! Dis here duck
is too dang fat to be roostin’ so high!”


XVIII

THE HOODOO FACE SMILES.

The panic and outflow of negroes from the trial chamber in the Tickfall
courthouse started a riot-call in the town.

A clerk in the Gaitskill store across the street ran over and tolled
the courthouse bell ten times. In response, every white man in Tickfall
dropped his task, armed himself, and came with all possible haste to
the court square.

When Tucky Sugg fell screaming from the open window, Colonel Tom
Gaitskill started at the head of a band of armed men up the steps
leading to the court-room. The band arrived too late to do more than
constitute themselves into an ambulance corps, and render first aid to
the injured.

Four physicians came panting up the steps, bumping their instrument
cases against the wall as they ran, and their arrival converted the
room into a hospital where the doctor became a wise and efficient
judge.

Colonel Gaitskill appointed ten men as assistants and runners for the
doctors, assigned to the rest of his band the task of standing on the
square in heroic attitudes and guarding the courthouse, and then he
cleared the room of all the curious and useless persons and closed the
door.

An hour later all the wounded sat up and took notice, and some of them
smiled.

Skeeter Butts arose from his place, sobbing with pain. He staggered
across the blood-splashed floor toward a pitcher of water which sat on
the floor by the judge’s bench. Weakness overcame him, and he sank down
in the witness-chair, almost fainting.

Judge Henry Haddan, whose Websterian head was considerably larger
now on account of certain bruised and swollen places, and a big wad
of cotton applied to them, thrust a glass of water into Skeeter’s
trembling hands.

“Skeeter,” he asked, “how did you know that Dinner Gaze and Tucky Sugg
committed that crime in Sawtown?”

“I didn’t know, Marse Henry,” Skeeter answered in a weak voice. “I sot
down in dis chair an’ I said jes’ whut Ginny Babe Chew tole me to say!”

Everybody in the court-room heard Skeeter’s answer. There was a general
gasp of astonishment.

Judge Haddan walked wearily up to his bench and sat down. It appeared
later that he was seriously hurt, and he spent many weeks in bed. But
now he was sustained by the excitement of the moment.

The district attorney dragged himself across the floor and sat down at
his table near to where Dinner Gaze lay face downward, his hand still
grasping the table-leg.

Ginny Babe Chew walked to the middle of the room, rested a fat hand on
each fat hip, and looked up into the face of Judge Haddan.

“Yes, suh, boss,” she said. “Ginny Babe Chew is to blame fer dis here
noble fracas!” Then she smiled.

“How did you know, Ginny?” Judge Haddan asked, twisting his pain-shot
face into an answering smile, and feeling of an extremely sore place on
top of his head.

“Dude Blackum tole me!” she answered.

“Dude Blackum is dead--drowned in attempting to escape!” Judge Haddan
snapped.

“Naw, suh. He warn’t drowned. He’s a settin’ right dar by Dainty
Blackum now!”

As she pointed a young, respectful, nicely dressed negro stood up,
bowed to the judge, and smiled, flashing a gold front tooth.

“Naw, suh, jedge,” he murmured in a deprecatory tone. “I ain’t dead!”

Then they listened while Dude told his story.

After leaving his cabin with the jug, he had taken several drinks and
had crawled under the porch of the commissary store to sleep because
he was afraid to go back home to listen to what Dainty was sure to say
about his conduct. He had been awakened by having something thrown
over his face--and this afterward proved to be the coat and vest which
Tucky Sugg had taken from Hitch Diamond. Dude heard two men talking,
heard them call each other by name, heard them enter the store for
robbery; then Dude had seized his jug and had run to the night-watchman
and made a report.

The night-watchman, running to the store, had been killed.

Dude, dodging among the lumber piles, had been captured; the only man
who could clear him of suspicion had just been killed; his captors
would not listen to explanations, so Dude took a desperate chance by
jumping into the river, and had escaped.

What the mob thought was Dude’s woolly head bobbing upon the surface
of the water was really Dude’s derby hat. Expecting them to shoot at
his hat, Dude waited until the right time, and artfully contributed a
splash and a scream, and the mob thought he had got cramps and sunk.

Chucklingly, Dude told his auditors that he was beating his hat down
the river about thirty yards, swimming like Jonah inside the whale.

He returned to his cabin that night, explained everything to Dainty,
mounted a mustang, and rode to Ginny Babe Chew’s cabin, where she
concealed him until the time of the trial. Skeeter had seen his face at
the dormer window when the chicken-house burned down.

“I knowed dat Dinner Gaze an’ Tucky Sugg done it, Marse Henry,” Skeeter
cackled. “I knowed it all de time--I had a hunch!”

“I knowed it, too,” Ginny Babe Chew rumbled. “I’s got a hoodoo face.”

“I knowed it,” Hitch Diamond growled. “Goldie told me.”

“I think we had better go home,” Judge Henry Haddan said, with a funny
twisted smile. “My head hurts!”

“I beg your pardon, your honor,” the district attorney said, rising
painfully to his feet and leaning weakly against the table. “Excuse
me--but haven’t you forgotten something?”

Judge Haddan’s aching head was not working clearly, and he did not
catch Davazec’s meaning at all. He thought he understood, and so he
announced:

“Hitch Diamond, you are a brave negro. Your heroic fight in this
court-room will be long remembered.” Haddan broke off, tried to smile,
and continued: “Your masterly presentation of your defense disproves,
in this instance, the aphorism that a lawyer who pleads his own case
has a fool for a client.”

“Dat’s right, boss!” Ginny Babe Chew whooped. “Little Hitchie shore is
brave an’ smart, ef I do say it myse’f, whut hadn’t oughter. Nobody in
dis country don’t know it but me and Hitch--but I is Hitch’s mammy!
He is kin to me by bornation on de Flournoy plantation fawty years
ago----”

“Aw, hush!” Judge Haddan exclaimed. “I am feeling very badly, and I am
going home----”

“I beg your pardon, your honor!” the district attorney repeated in a
courteous but insistent tone. “Have you not forgotten something?”

Judge Haddan rested both hands upon his aching head and thought. Then
he forgot his aching head and laughed. He straightened up and spoke:

“The indictments against defendant are dismissed, and defendant
discharged--the jury is excused, and court adjourned! Hitch Diamond,
you are free!”

“Dar now, boss,” Hitch bellowed, grinning into his honor’s face. “I wus
plum’ shore you an’ me could win dis case ef we jes’ sot our minds to
do it. Bless Gawd!”


THE END



GREATHEART

By Ethel M. Dell

Author of “The Way of an Eagle,” “The Rocks of Valpré,” “The Keeper of
the Door,” “Bars of Iron,” “The Hundredth Chance,” etc.

_12^o. Color Frontispiece. $1.50 net. By mail, $1.65_


Surely Miss Dell has never written anything more deserving of the title
“best seller” than this absorbing story, which takes an elemental grip
on the reader to an amazing degree.

The flirtation of a young girl, released for a brief time from the
harsh restraint of an unlovely home, develops until it assumes
overmastering proportions, and she is barely saved from herself by
the steadfast loyalty, unspoken love, and great moral courage of the
physically weak brother of her handsome, impulsive, and philandering
lover. The scene is largely laid in Switzerland, and the ravishing
beauty of that lovely land is painted with admirable skill.


  G. P. Putnam’s Sons
  New York      London



The Smiting of the Rock

A Tale of Oregon

By Palmer Bend

  _12^o. Frontis. by Belmore Browne
  $1.50 net. By mail, $1.65_


Clear, clean, well-written is this story of the adventures brought to
David Kent by “a plain-faced Bishop, a superlatively pretty girl, and a
quixotic resolution”--a book to _refresh_ and _appeal_.

It is sunny with the spirit of the western country, the magnificent
mountains, and the whole-hearted pioneers of to-day. It is a tale of
failure and success, of love and youth and dramatic contrast, lit with
humor and warm with the breath of life and actuality.


  G. P. Putnam’s Sons
  New York      London


[Transcriber’s Note:

Obvious printer errors corrected silently.

Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation are as in the original.]





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