Lenix Gets His Reward
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
LENIX BALLISTER had spent a fevered, restless night. Sleep had, to express it in chat fagged-out negro’s own words, owl-eyed him sore plenty; sweet rest, instead of wrapping him in peaceful slumber, had perched on a branch of his conscience and grimaced at his sick soul. It’s a bad thing to be unable to sleep, and it was the first time in Lenix’s life that such a thing had happened. Why, it seemed only yesterday when he was on such good terms with sleep that he simply had to fight her away from hipe. She had a way of swooping down at unexpected moments when she had, in fact, been almost his undoing on two occasions, at least once when he had fallen off the end of the pier into the channel, and lost, thereby, a good fishing rod and a hard hat belonging to Homer Hudson, and once when shcotuig a crap-game with Ben Smith and others of his kind, when alert wakefulness was the price of safety—to his week’s wages.
A ND ROW as Ler.ix wiped his face and 'hands on the roller-towel and surveyed his wretched face in the cracked glass above the kitchen sink, he actually shuddered. “Lordy,” he murmured, “I sure look as dough I’d been playin’ brake on a runaway motor cycle, I does. Look at Jem eyes, all bludshet an’ heavy as me’cury in a Manitoba winter. An’ my han’s done shake sumfin hopeless, too. Oh my, fer why I strew myself wif all dis trouble?”
Trouble indeed was Len’s portion, and all because he had trusted his fellow-man too greatly. Now he knew that to be promised $1,000 reward for helping to arrest two noted burglars and crooks was one thing, to get it—another. That reward was long, long overdue, as was also the first payment on the five-acre garden plot which he had purchased on the strength of the promise; also sundry five and ten dollar loans advanced him by trusting colored brethren on the strength of his -coming good fortune. The loaners were becoming insistent that their money be returned. Some of them even went so far as to hint darkly at being fleeced. Len expected, momentarily, to be arrested on the charge of obtaining money under false pretences. For more than a week now he had suffered the apprehensions of a driven, hunted tiling. Abe White had refused him credit at the pool-room. Even Homer Hudson, whose human shortcomings were as numerous as the sands of the sea-shore, crossed the street when he saw Len approaching. “An’ I done haul dat no-count nigger outer more scrapes than he’s got wrinkles in his fat neck, too,” Len thought bitterly.
Well, when a man’s down and out, he’s dead and buried as far as his fellow beings are concerned. Nothing cares for a man in trouble, not even his dog. Even Orinoco, the hound pup, snooped away from Len now. Jane Ann had not spoken to him for days, except at night, to admonish him on pain of sudden and painful extermination to lie still and not keep a tired body awake all night by tossing about like a
crow in a gale. It was pretty hard, just when he needed help and sympathy most, to be denied it; it was so.
LEN prepared his breakfast, pausing now and again to note if Jane Ann’s snores still proclaimed her asleep—and safe. But he couldn’t eat. That’s another awful thing which had happened to him. He had lost his appetite. “Right on de aidge ob misery, peerin’ ober de brink,” he soliloquized sorrowfully, as he pushed the plate of bacon and eggs from him. “I’se slated ter snuff out, I guess. Come time when a man cayn’t eat nor sleep, it means a shroud and coffin. I won’er what Jane Ann’ll do den? I won’er what Horner an’ Abe White an' others I’se keep outer jail, ’ll t’ink when dey gazes down on me cold an’ silent?”
Tears of self-pity welled up and drowned further distressing thought. Len sighed and with a glance of reproach at Orinoco, cringing behind the stove, rose and tip-toed to the window. He gazed carefully out in search of uniformed officer or bailiff and sighed with relief. He glanced at the old clock on the wall. Five minutes to seven. He must get down to the mill. A man must work even although death stalks close behind waiting to grip him and carry him off. Gently he opened the door, softly he made his exit. Imagination had gripped him so forcibly that it was ns though his struggling spirit was already loosed from its body and moving down the path between green-growing smelly things. Len even fanned the air with his hands, as an angel might fan it with its wings. It would have
been no surprise to him had he been able to float over the gate, straight over Chatville East, on past Drayder’s cooperage and beyond to everlasting banks of peace. But he oidn’t. Instead he came hack to the substance with a jolt that made his tired eyes ache and half turned as though to “beat it” back to the house.
A slim man, undoubtedly an vPffiger of some kind, judging from his uniform, had come up to the gate and was leaning on it, waiting for Len. He held a long envelope in his hand. Len shuddered and groaned inwardly. “It’s a summons, er a writ! Now I’se sure in fer ter be bedevilled right. Cayit’t get away. Götter cake my med’einei”
“Howdey,” he accosted, as he came up..
“Your name Ballister?” spoke the man in uniform, ignoring the other’s
“Yes sah, dat’s me,” Len bent and tied his shoe-lace, taking advantage of being on his knees to offer up a silent petition that things might not be as bad as they looked.
“Well here, sign, this!” said the man.
“Why fer?” Len took the envelope thrust upon him, his soul grovelling and turning somersaults all the way from his parched throat to his heels.
“Bury and Weston, Barristers, etc.,” he read the name on the corner of the envelope. “Lor’ mighty,” he sighed, “dis means my execution.”
“Come on, sign here,” the special messenger gave Len a pencil and pointed to the line on the little yellow slip.
Len hesitated. “Why, I see dis here is fer Lenix Ballister, my brudder,” he said. “He aint here just now.”
“Then you are not he?”
“No sah, he aint here jes’ now.”
The messenger frowned. “Well, he’ll be here later, I suppose? You sign for him anyway, and when he
comes give him this.”
“Yes sah, I’ll be glad to oblige yo’ all. Der yo’ is.
I sign here an’ gijo my brudder Len dis letter. * Yes,
The other man pocketed his slip and moved swiftly off towards town. Len stood turning the long envelope over and over. Then he took a stubby pencil from his pocket and wrote the word: "Dead” across the en-,
velope. He surveyed the word with frowning eyes. Then he stroked it out, and wrote: “Removed to Chicago, Mich.”
“Now den, I’ll just drop dis here dunner in a letter box, an’ it’ll sure go straight back to dem shyster lawyers,” he mused, ns he opened the gate, and stepped out on the road. “Why fer dey keep pesterin’ me dis here way? Dat’s ’bout twenty bills dey send me in a week, an* dey all say de same t’ing: ‘Pay up er go ter jail.’ Dat’s whar dey say. Now deni lawyers’ll sing a new song, dey shore will. Dey’ll all get dis letter back an’ dey’ll sure be ’sprised. ‘Why fer lan’ sakes.’ Mister Bury’ll say ter Mister Weston: “Dat Len’s done moved ter Chicago, Mich. Ain’t no use tryin’ ter collect no debts'from dat nigger now. An’ Mister Weston’ll say back:-*None ’tall. Cross his name offin de books.*”
Ben shuffled along the path towards the red letter box on the corner. “I do declare,” he muttered, “I’se pert night fed up on policemen and detectives an’ such. I’se got that scarey ob de sight of a uniform dat my heart turn a han’-spring eben when I meet a Salvation Army soldier. Whyfer, dye ’spose, dem devilin’ officers wanter makg my life miserable anyway?”
As he dropped the letter in the box the seven o’clock mill whistle blew. “An’ dat means a call-down from Boss Holdaway,” groaned Len, as he started down the hill at a dog trot.
T T OLD A WAY was waiting for him just outside the •'-l mill door. The negro’s black face was stern and forbidding.
“Well,” he accosted the breathless Lenix, “I don’t s’pose you know dat fifteen men an’ four boys am waitin’ on your movements. What’s de matter? Your wife fall offin ladder ag’in an’ break her leg in free places, like she did las’ time?”
The way Lenix had, on a previous occasion, fooled him and worked upon his sympathy by telling him that Jane Ann had met with an accident and that it was mighty necessary that he have money at once, still rankled. It had cost Boss real cash and had proven again that Lenix was the astuter mind of the pair. He would liked to have fired Len, but vidiere could he find another stave-cutter near his equal?
This morning he made his voice even more insulting than usual and he eyed his cutter as though he was the smallest, most no-count thing in the world.
Len took the drubbing humbly. “Dat darn clock o’ ourn,” he said as he removed his coat and put on his apron, “it won’t behave itself ’tall, Boss; it sure won’t. Ebery night I sot it on an hour, an’ afor morin’ it goes right back ter old time. It aint a daylight savin’ supporter, nohow.”
Holdaway twisted about and squared himself in front of Lenix. “Don’t yo’ get fresh with me, nigger, er I bounce yo’ all l'ight quick!” he growled.
“Yo’ll do which?”
Len paused in the act of pulling the lever to start the cutter to ask the question, gently, his melancholy eyes on Boss.
The other workmen had gathered close and were listening. Holdaway brought his fist down in the palm of his hand. “Yo’ all heard what I said. Now get ter work while yo’ all got a chance.” There was just a hint of uncertainty in Boss’ bluster. He sensed that he had gone a trifle too far, but he had to bluff itout. The men were watching. Lenix backed away from the cutter and began to untie his apron.
“What yo’ all goin’ ter do?” asked Boss.
“I’se quittin’, dat’s all.” Len threw the apron on a pile of bolts and reached for his coat. “I’se fru wif dis hayr outfit, fru fer good!”
Holdaway’s face went yellow with rage and depair. “Yo’all’s gettin’ mighty thin-skinned, Len, when yo’ can’t take no joke,” he said, with a poor attempt at a laugh.
“Well, s’posin’ I ain’t feelin’ in no humor fer jokes
_specially the kind ob lil’ jokes yo’ all frow my way,
“Yo’ knows right well I was only foolin’, Len.”
“I knows right well dat when my fo’man says I’se liable ter get fired it’s time fer me ter save myself dat humility by resigning’* so I’se fru.”
HOLDAWAY stood helpless and speechless by and saw Len’s tall form making cowards the office. “Dere he goes,” he wailed. “He’ll tell de cashier he’s quit and he’ll draw' five n days’ pay. I ’spose I’ll hab ter trail ’long \ an’ back his play. Tomorrow he’ll turn up here again 'J jes’ as dough |.\ nuffin’ hap\ , pened, an’ I’ll hab ter eat crow like I allars do cause d e r e aint no cut-
ter kin tech him. Here yo’, Bill,” he ordered, addressing a tall, grinning mulatto, “take de cutter fer ter day an’ don’t let it thump da ginger all outer yo’. Us’ll be a thousan’ staves short ob our daily output jes’ fer dat Len’s stubberness.”
Boss sighed, and slouched off in the trail of Len. He met him coming from the office, the cashier at his heels. Len was solemnly counting some bills in his hand, right, Boss, I suppose,” said the cashier, as Holdaway’s close-cropped head showed up around the corner. “Len says he’s off the works for life. I paid him up till last night.”
“It’s all right,” growled Boss. “I guess we kin get ’long wifout him.”
All born diplomats know when they are master of a situation. Invariably Len knew' when he was master of one, and he passed slowly on his wray without so much as a quiver of an eyelash at Boss’ scathing remark.
In his heart Boss knew better than that. They could get along—sure; but not so well without him as with him. But he knew, also, that he could, in a pinch, get along without Drayder Cooperage. In fact it was his ambition to get along, some day, without it, some day soon, please God, when that thousand dollars reward came—if come it ever did. Well, anyhow, he was a free nigger in more than one sense. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had fifteen dollars and thirty cents burning his pocket, he would like to have set on the fence and watch the cutter pommel the starch out of that conceited young mulatto, Jim Hall, and gloat on Boss Holdaway’s discomfiture at losing the champion stave-cutter of Kent County. But Len was obsessed by a desire compared with which petty vindictiveness was a petty thing. He had fifteen dollars and thirty cents to spend— and spend quick. Thank goodness the day was young, for there was much to do.
At the brow of the hill he paused to reconnoitre. He k"pw what he wished to do, but there were certain insur-
mountable barriers to his desire. He wanted to get across over to Bridgetown without any loss of time and he wanted to go in a manner befitting one who possessed the power to flaunt Boss Holdaway and all the Drayder works to-day, and be begged to come back and keep the mill running to-morrow. A devilishly reckless and stubborn individual when crossed; that’s what he was, and that’s what he always would be just so long as he remained champion stave-cutter of Kent County.
“Treat me white an’ I eat outin yore han’. Prod me an’ I buck, dat’s me.” Len gazed across to his cottage and stroked his chin reflectively. A fresh volume of smoke pouring from the chimney proclaimed the fact that Jane Ann was up and astir. How in the name of goodness was he going to sneak out his Sunday clothes under the vigilant eyes of that most watchful and suspicious of women? More serious still how was he going to hitch the sorrel driving mare to the buckboard and drive off to beckoning fields without giving that woman a good and watertight reason for so doing?
The idea occurred to him to tell Jane Ann that Boss Holdaway had been caught in the saw and killed, and that the mill had shut down for the day. But on reflection he remembered that he had used that excuse before. The fact was Len had quit his job so many times, each time creating a good and reasonable excuse for Jane Ann, that he had reached the end of his tether so far as excuses were concerned.
It looked as though he wrould have to begin his sojourn dressed just as he was—and afoot. Why couldn’t he ever remember to quit his job the night before so as to have a little time in which to formulate his plans for the day after?
A LL his worry, fear of w'rits and summons, had
* evaporated—all his weariness through having spent a sleepless night was gone—swallowed up in the momentous affair of the present. A free nigger with money to spend—and the golden moments passing. He nodded his decision and turned abruptly to the path on the left, the white-tree hedged path leading to the river and the broad highway reaching towards Bridgetown. Above the morning songs of wild birds and sigh of the breeze in the tree tops twanged sharply the sibilant gnash of the saw of the Cooperage. Len paused in his shuffling step to listen, and his teeth flashed in a smile. “Dat ole saw,” he said aloud, “she talk to me now jes like she do when I’se crammin’ her an’ makin’ her do her limit. Her’s sayin’: “Len-he’sgone-but-he’ll-be-back-tomorrie, Len-he’s-gone-but-he’llbe-back-tomorrie.”
It did not occur to Len that there might come a day when he might quit his job once too often and that, when he turned up next day at the mill just as though /nothing had happened, he might /chance to find a new cutter in his jplace. He did know, however, that Holdaway would have no compunctions ‘about hiring another cutter in his place ‘if he could get one who could turn out ¡the number of staves in a day that Len could. But such a cutter was not to jbe found. There was only one other jand he was not in Kent County. Marjtin Ash was that other’s name, and what jhe could do towards reducing a pile of jbasswood bolts to staves, in a given jtime—was history. Len had never met the gentleman, but towards him he possessed a wholesome and fearful respect. “If Boss Holdaway could get hold ob I dat man Ash,” he told himself, “dere ! wouldn’t be no chance fer dis nigger, no-how.” And he was quite right. The fact is, Holdaway had tried to get hold of that man Ash, on more than one occasion, and failed. Ash, being an A 1 cutter had an A 1 job, and being a wise negro, stayed satisfied.
Continued on page 66
Continued from page 26
Lenix hummed a song as he shuffled down the path to the highway.
"Oh take me on de steamboat,
Down on de ole Miss-iss-ippi.
Oh I’se a goin’ ter leab yo’.
But, honey, don’ yo’ cry.”
As he neared the road the song dwindled to a murmur and the murmur to a whisper. Len wanted to make sure that the road was clear of embarrassing obstacles. Homer Hudson was one of these, and Homer’s house had to be passed. No use to meet a prizefighter with a warped disposition, if such a thing was to be avoided, particularly when one owed him money and had failed in a promise to pay up.
Len’s eyes strayed to the white cabin in the grove of butternuts. There was no smoke rising from the chimney, no sign of life at all. The front room /blinds were drawn down. Homer was I most likely sleeping—and would sleep till noon, as was his custom. Ordinarily, Len would have put no dependence in such signs. He would have climbed the eight-rail fence and circumvented that cabin as a collie pup circumvents the yard of a scarred and vicious bull-dog whose teeth he has felt and remembers. He would have played safe. But this morning he was in a hurry; fifteen dollars and thirty cents to get rid of and four miles still stretching before him—to be walked. For once, he would trust to luck. He slid softly and swiftly forward, keeping well in the shadow of the fence. All was well. He passed the gate with the spring latch and spring hinges and ducked around the short curve of the road like a hunted buck seeking shelter. Once around the bend and he was safe from Homer’s eyes, he thought. He gave a sigh of relief as he topped the rise of the hill. Now a straight, unobstructed road lay before him. He removed his coat and threw it over his arm. His form straightened and he swung out in a long stride which carried him easily and swiftly along. He resumed his singing, allowing his basso to rumble as deeply as it so minded. ’Twas a song suited to his stride, “Ma’ch time, an’ mashall music”—he called it.
"I am leabin’ yo’, sweet Southern Ual ob mine.
Gal ob mine.
When his country calls yore soljer mus’ obey, An’ clear de way.
But aldough de seas divide—an’ de clouds ob battle hide—
Yo’ eher in dis heart ob mine I'll stay.
An’ cling alway.
Oh, tis bitter hard ter leab yo’ ; Gal ob mine— Gal ob mine—
When in yore starry eyes de tear-drops shine— Hush, don’ repine—
Let me kiss dose tears away—shor’ I’ll return some day—
Abruptly the song ceased and Len’s face grew troubled. Around the curve of the road had issued the squat, square figure of that sporting individual, Homer Hudson. “Loramighty,” murmured Len. “Aint dat life ter a T, dough. Side-step trouble, an’ run plum inter its mudder. Dat’s me ebery time.”
HOMER advanced slowly, painfully, as one whose feet have grown tender through much contact with gravel roads. So do all great forces advance •—armies, tanks, avalanches. -There was something deadly and sinister in that movement, that slow', certain, notto-be-swept-aside-or-obstructed advance of the negro pugilist and chicken-fighter. Len felt his soul groveling low and his brow running rivulets. “Dat nigger ’ll bend me an’ break me an’ leab me shattered,” he groaned, inwardly. Outwardly he smiled a cheerful smile and accosted the glowering Homer with :
“Well I do declar, Homer; is dat yo’ all, yourself?”
Homer disdained to reply. He came forward in a mincing, dead-sure-ofhimself manner and paused in front of Lenix.
“Nigger,” he said, his eyes rolling. “Is yo’ prepared ter die a sudden an’ violent deff?”
“Is I which, Homer?”
“Is y'o’ prepared to go out sudden an’ painful? Kase yo’ am goin’ now.” Lenix swallowed the lump in his throat and shuffled his feet uneasily. “Dat nigger’s been drinkin’ right heavy an’ he’s sore. He’s been fightin’ roosters wif Sam Hall ober ter Bridgetown. He’s los’ money; he’s sure worked up ter a pitch ob gore an’ murderation. It’s quiet him er bid good-bye ter all I hoi’ dear.” #
■ Beneath one arm Homer carried a gunny-sack from tw'o holes in which protruded the bloody and battered heads of a pair of red game-cocks. His checked suit was crumpled and creased. His collar lay limp on his fat neck. The white derby hat was dinted and awry. Homer had, evidently, been having a wild night of it.
Len came out of his abstraction with a start. Homer had placed the sack on the road and was fumbling in his stocking. Len knew what that meant —a razor! He recoiled a step and his teeth froze together. “Annuder minute '11 see me sliced, carved an’ quartered, less I stop dat nigger,” he thought.
“Homer,” he managed to articulate, “Homer, hoi’ on a minute.”
“Nigger, I’se beyond all holdin’,” said Homer with deadly finality, and produced a huge razor. “I’se cornin’ inter yore home now, Len Ballister, liar and cheat—an’ I’se not goin’ ter knock on de do’ needer.”
“Homer,” Len’s voice was pleading, “Homer, dere aint no kinder use ter spile our good time dat dere way— none ’tall.”
“Meanin’ dis. Dat t’ousan’ dollar reward, it done come along dis mornin'. It’s at de lawyers, Bury an’ Weston. Dey done write me so. I come on lookin’ fer yo’, kase I want yo’ all ter go down to dat office an’ get dat money fer me.”
“Yo’ mean ter say dat reward money come?” Some of the sinister chill had vanished from Homer’s voice. “ Yo’ mean ter tell me dat t’ousan’ dollars hab arribe, Len?”
“Jes’ dat. It’s here, Homer, an’ I’se on my way ter Bridgetown now—what yo’ s’pose ter do? Yo’ can’t guess, I’ll bet.”
TLJOMER closed the razor and slipped it back in his sock. “Well, y'o’ all might continue on yore way—an’ agin, yo’ mightent. It all de-pends. If yo’re tellin’ me true,—all right; if not dere’s goin’ ter be a red splash on dis here white road—an’ soon! Now den, why am yo’ goin’ ter Bridgetown? An’ remember—no more lyin’.”
“Cross my heart, Homer, I speak gospel truff. I’se goin’ ober dere ter get a tie pin I’se habin’ engraved fer yo’ all, dat’s what I’se goin’ fer.”
“An how ’bout dat twelve dollars an’ nine cents yo’ borrow from me?”
“Aint I tellin’ yo’ I want yo’ ter go down ter de lawyers an’ get dat money? Aint dat ennuf? Yo' kin deduction it from the t’ousan', see?”
“An’ how ’bout dat garden hose yo’ borrowed?”
“I’ll bring dat ober ter night when I
fetch ober de beer an’ roast chickuns.” “When yo’ which?”
“When I bring ober de eats an’ drinks fer de lil’ celebration us’ll hab, Homer.” “Yo’ mean us am goin’ ter celebrate dat dar way, Len?” Homer’s gold tooth glittered in a smile.
“Why sure us am goin’ ter celebrate, Homer; sure!”
Homer crammed his hands in his pockets and looked reflectively away. By and by his blood-shot eyes strayed back to Len’s watching ones.
“Dere’s jes’ one lil’ point dat I feels like habin’ cleared up,” he said suspiciously. “How,come yo’ ain’t goin’ af’er dat money' yore own self, Len?”
“How come? Well I’ll tole yo’ how come I aint.” Len drew closer and put his hand timidly on Homer’s shoulder. “It’s not good business fer me ter go down, dere myself, dat’s all. Yo’re my frien’, Homer, an’ I’se goin’ ter confide a lil’ pussonal matter wif yo’ all. Dem lawyers, Bury an’ Weston, dey am actin’ fer two er free parties dat I owe small bills ter. Dey t’reaten ter sue an’ jail me if I don’ pay up. Now, I don’ owe dat money, nohow, udderwise I’d a paid long since. Yo’ know dat, Homer! Well y o’ see, come I go down dar, dem lawyers dey’ll say ter me : ‘Now, Mr. Ballister, we got yore money here an’ we’ll pay yo’ all except what y'o’ owe our clients.’ An’ dey’ll deduction de money fer dem bills an’ scoff in my face, see?”
“But dey’ll do dat anyways, Len.” “No so. I gib yo’ written order fer dat t’ousan’. Yo’ present it an’ dey’ll hab ter pay yo’ de whole t’ousan’. I know de law. Dat’s it. Yo’ all aint de one owes de debts, yo’se simply actin’ power of attorney fer him, see? Yo’ dasn’t pay his bills kase yore jurisdiction don’ run dat far. Dey’ll hab ter pay yo’ all of dat t’ousan’. So, Homer, I’se mighty glad I met up wiff yo’ all. When I look in de chickun pen an’ fin’ yore game roosters gone, I knowed yo’d be in Bridgetown, so I kept on walkin’. Besides I wanted ter get dat beautiful pin wif enitials an’ eres’.”
Homer removed his battered Christy and smoothed the wrinkles of his closely cropped head.
“When’ll I go, Len?”
T EN took a note book and pencil from his pocket and proceeded to write an order on Bury and Weston. “Yo’ll go right off immediate, Homer. Dere’s no time ter lose. Dem lawyers am liable ter ab-scondicate wif dat money if us don’t act quick. Here yo’ is. Yo’ take dis order ter dem shysters. Lisn’. It reads:
Bury and Weeton.
Please pay to bearer, Homer Hudson, the One T’ousan’ Dollars Reward which has been placed to my credit, with you’.
(Signed) LENIX BAXiJSTEfR.”
Homer took the slip of paper gingerly, folded it, and put it in his vest pocket.
“What time’ll yo’ all be back, Len, an’ whar’ll I meet yo'?” he wanted to know.
“I may be gone sometime, Homer,” Len answered. “Bes’ say meet me dis af’ernoon ’bout five, at yore place. How’s dat suit?”
“Dat’s all right, only I don' wanter be luggin’ all dat money aroun’ all day.” “Won’t need ter,” Len promised. “Well, so long, frien' Homer, an’ here’s ter a good ole night ob it ter night.” Homer smiled and shook the hand Len offered to him,
IT was not until Lenix had put two more miles between him and the danger which had threatened that he felt like resuming the interrupted söng. He had no more than got nicely started on it again when he espied coming towards him a tall negro dressed in a new suit of jaunty tweeds and wearing a shiny new Christy hat. The negro was about the size and build of Len. He walked with a sprightly step and swung his arms as though he owned them and believed in keeping them occupied. As the two neared each other, Len had the other’s number accurately catalogued.
“Dat feller am a stave-cutter. Sure am. His arms an’ han’s show dat, an’ de pucker ’tween his eyes. Won’er who he am?”
See page 66
“Mornin’, sah,” Len greeted the stranger. “Nice mild mornin’.”
“It am so, it am so,” answered the other pleasantly. He returned Len’s scrutiny easily, and taking a cigar from his vest pocket proceeded to give its wrapper greater adherence by lolling it about between his lips. Len stood by, watching. He was admiring the tailormade tweed suit, and the glittering Christy with the tiny red and dappled feather in its band. He had always wanted a suit and a hat like those.
“I’se jes’ on my way ober ter Chatville East,” the other negro informed him. “I’se lookin’ fer a job as stavecutter. Do yo’ all chance tei* know a man named Holdaway; he’s boss at de Drayder Cooperage, I believe?”
Len’s heart turned a somersault. “Yes,” he answered, “I know dat man all hunky.”
•“Well, he done offer me de job two er free times, but I had a good place in St. Thomas mill an’ I didn’t wanter leab. My name’s Ash,” he informed. “Martin Ash.”
“Loramighty,” breathed Len. “Dis means I’se froo at Drayder’s less I play my kyards, an’ play ’em both sides an” de middle.”
“An’ yo’ all’s on yore way down ter see ’bout de job ob cutter at Drayder’s mill?” he asked.
“Dat’s so. I is.”
Len sighed and looked sympathetically at the stranger.
“Well it’s too bad, it is so,” hp muttered, as though to himself.
“What’s dat?” asked the other quickly, catching the words.
“I was jes’ t’inkin’ dat it’s too bad
yo’ all hab had yore trip for nuffin, but of course yo’ didn’t hear what happened down dere at de mill? How could yo’, seein’ it jes happen las’ r.ight?”
“Why, what happen divvn dar?” the ether asked excitedly.
“Why, it’s smallpox. Nir.e cases done break out in de mill at san e time. I had a nephew workin’ dere He took sick las’ night too, an’ he died this mornin’. De place am quaranteened, dat’s why I’se on my way ober ter Bridgetown ter look fer job.”
The strange negro’s cigar slipped from his twitching fingers.
“Hebens ob love!” he shivered. “Smallpox! Ugh!”
He shuddered and wiped his face on a red handkerchief.
“Ob course if yo’ not scared ter run
de risk-” commenced Len, but Ash
threw up his hands.
“I wouldn’ go down in dat town fer all de money in it,” he declared. “No siree, I’ll get just as far away from it as my shanksmares ’ll carry me, I will. Am’ yo’ sure yo’ aint been near any ob dem cases?” he asked fearfully, edging away.”
“No, I aint been,” Len assured him. “I’se mighty scared ob it too, dat’s fer why I’se on my way ter Bridgetown ter look fer a job now.”
THE two sat down under a tree and lapsed into silence. After a time Ash took two more cigars from his pocket, handed one to Lenix and lit the other.
“It puts me in a mighty bad fix,” admitted the stranger. “De mill at St. Thomas burn down free days ago an’ I done lose all my workin’ clothes. I aint got no money ter get me outer dis
place, eben if I knowed where I could get a job. No mill foreman is goin’ ter hire me in dese togs.”
“No,” agreed Len. “He aint. He’d fink yo’ was a imposter. Yo’ best get a suit sumfin like I’se wearin’ now.” “Yes, I’ll hab ter do dat, but how? An’ den how in Sam Hill am 1 goin’ ter get to where dey’s needin’ a stave-cutter? Tell me dat.”
“Yo’ kin allars get a job stave-cuttin’ in Windsor,” said Len thoughtfully, “Dey’s needin’ good cutters dere, I un'erstan’. But Mister Ash, fifty miles am a powerful long hike ter make; it am so.”
“I couldn’ walk fifty miles if my life depended on it,” groaned Ash. “I’se got flat feet an’ corns. It’s been powerful painful comin’ as far as I hab.”
LEN essayed to wipe the corner of his one eye while he took a new survey of Ash with the other. “I feel I’d like ter help yo’ if I could,” he said at length, “but yo’ see I’m a pore man outin’ a job myself.”
“Thanks jus’ same,” said the other heartily. “If I could only get ter Windsor, I’d be all hunky. I’m not spry enuff on my feet to b.um a freight, so I’m down an’ out.”
“A ticket ter Windsor ud cos’ yo’ ’bout one fifty,” said Len, “but yo’d need ter get some workin’ clothes too.”
“Yes, sure would. A five spot ud look like glory be ter dis here nigger; ’twould so.”
Len fingered the three greasy five spots in his trousers pocket, his mind working, planning.
“Dat suit yose wearin’, yo’ might swap it for workin’ clothes,” he suggested—“and,” he added, noting the
look on the other’s face, “get ’nuff bootmcney ter carry yo’ ter Windsor.”
“I’d awful hate ter sacrifice dis here suit ob clothes,” said Ash. “It done cost me twenty free bucks jes’ a week ago. Tailor in St. Thomas made it fer me.”
“Well,” Len sighed and stood up. “Course dat was jes’ a suggestion an’ no harm done. Come ter fink on it, yo’ might hab some trouble doin’ it too. People are mighty ’spicious, an’ dey’d fink yo’ had some ulterior motive in tryin’ ter swap. No, I reckon dat plan aint at all feasible—unless,” he added, “you’s all lucky ’nuff ter bump up against a chap like me dat aint giben ter astin’ fool questions.”
The other rose too, grimacing with pain as he put his sore feet down on the hard gravel.
“Here,” he said, after considering quickly. “Have yo’ got five dollars on yo’?”
“I’se got dat much an’ no mo’,” Len answered, “but dere’s de rent an’ de grocery bill ter pay.”
“Dem kin wait,” said the other. “Now den, ’sposin’ I’se willin’ ter swap clothes wif yo’ all, do I get de five dollars bootmoney?”
Len looked thoughtfully down at his feet, managing to take in the other’s tan boots at the same time. “It all depends,” he said slowly, “yes it all depends. If yo’ all was a brudder Excelsior, in distress, now-”
“Why, it’s a secret brudderhood society similar ter der Free Mason society. ‘Help yer Brudder Celsior, dat’s it motter. Now, if yo’ was a
“Oh, I’se a Celsior, all right,” admitted Ash. “I’se hab all de degrees. Now den, let’s swap.”
“By rights, I should try yo’ all out de signs,” said Len. “But I aint got time fer dat now. Ober yon’er, behind dem alders, is a good spot fer us ter change clothes. Come ’long.”
IN exactly fifteen minutes the change had been effected and Ash issued from the alders a humble working man. Len came forth dressed in all the glory of a tweed suit, shiny Christy and tan boots. “Look yo’, brudder,” he said pointing across the field to a dim smoke line rising above the hills, “yo’ make right ’cross dere an’ yo’ll fin’ a lil’ station wif a flag hangin’ up inside. All yo’ hab ter do is flag de train when she come along. Dey’ll be a wes’boun’ local in ’bout half an hour. An’ now, brudder Ash, good-bye an’ good luck.” “Good-bye.” Ash made across the road and climbed the fence. As he put his hands in the pockets of the newly acquired trousers his fingers encountered a ten-cent piece. He had made a better bargain than he thought.
Len stood watching him limp across the green meadow to the next fence. “Gollies!” he chuckled, “dat nigger, he fin’ dat ten cents an’ fink I done ferget ter take it out ob dat pocket, but he’s sure wrrong dere. It’s bad luck ter swap clothes ’less yo’ leabes a coin in pocket ob de ones you’se tradin’. ’ He felt deep in the pockets of his tweed trousers and gave a grunt of disgust. “It’ll serve dat nigger right if he don’t get on job,” he muttered, “he’s shorley insulted luck by not leabin’ a coin in dese pants pockets.”
TAHE shadows of twilight were .
stretching across the white road ¡ when Lenix shook hands with several new' cronies he had made that day and | stepped jauntily out for Chatville East. He had had a most glorious holiday. In ! his hand he carried a yellow walking j stick with a brass swan for a handle. | On his hands w’ere new tan gloves and ! on his feet new fawn-colored spats. The j orange necktie about his high collar ¡ seemed to leap out to mock the less gorj geous sunset colors fading in the west.
How he was going to side-step trouble from Homer Hudson he did not know. Undoubtedly he would be able to look that fighting darkey down and make him cower—as he usually did. His powers had been reinforced by his new clothes. He felt equal to Homer, almost equal to Jane Ann.
At thought of that large, wrathful lady, Len’s knees experienced weakness. He paused in the road as though to turn back. But he didn’t. Trouble had to be faced sometime, might as well be tonight, as any time. However, he deemed it expedient to take the longer way home, thus avoiding collision with Homer Hudson, so he took a side road until he reached a thoroughfare running parallel with the river road.
It was dark when he rounded the last bend in the road and saw the electric lights of Chatville East blinking up as though to welcome him home. It portended well; but how about Jane Ann?
His steps grew slower and his heart grew heavy. Somehow home, to him, spelt trouble. Duns, sheriffs, bailiffs, policemen, wakeful nights. Man can’t always dress in new tweeds and smell like a newly crushed geranium, or gather about him admiring fellows to listen to him talk while they smoke his stogies. No, a man must have a home, a wife and worry.
LENIX was a long time covering the -4 last mile of his journey. Everything seemed so peaceful, so calm along the road. It seemed foolish to hurry straight into trouble, so he took his time.
As he opened his garden gate and crept up the path to the window his very heart quaked with apprehension. Joyfully he noted that the lamp had not been lit. This meant that Jane Ann v/as out. Thank goodness for small j mercies. He opened the door and stepped in. Orinoco bounded from behind the stove to meet him, then catching a sniff of the new scented clothes, bolted to his hiding place with a howl.
Len lit the lamp and almost collapsed with pleasurable surprise. The supper table was set. There was a clean cloth, and a bunch of yellow-rod beside his plate. There was all manner of good things on the table too; roast chicken, pickles, newly-made bread. The teapot was simmering on the stove. Len hung his Christy on a peg and squared away to that supper. As he ate he kept listening for the gate-latch to click. But he was through eating and v/as preparing to light his last remaining stogie, before he heard it. He braced himself to meet whatever was coming, his eyes turned to the door. Voices—high-pitched, excited, sounded outside—a number of feet were scraping the gravel walk.
“Policeman, likely,” thought Len. Then the door opened and Jane Ann burst into the room, behind her Homer Hudson, Boss Holdaway and several others. Len rubbed his eyes. All the faces were smiling on him, hands were outstretched to him. What did it all mean? Homer came forward, his gold tooth aglitter in a smile.
“I done get it, Len, I sure did!” he exulted, taking a long envelope from his pocket. “Look yo’, here ’tis: a check fer t’ousand dollars.”
Len dropped back into his chair, his mouth open. He was speechless. Jane Ann ran forward and gave him a hug. “An’ yo’ all knowed dat money was dere and didn’t tell me. Oh yo’ bad Len! An’ lan’ sakes, look at de clothes dat nigger am wearin’, too. Well dey’s all cornin’ to him, dat’s all.”
Len roused himself. “I jest don’ un’erstan’,” he said feebly. Jane Ann patted his hand. “Dat’s all right, honey, Len. Yous’ mighty secret, yo’ is.
“Boss Holdaway, here, he done say. he knowed sumfin’ was on yore min’, an’ when yo’ lef’ dis mornin’ ter look af’er yore reward he got de impression dat yo’ all was sore.”
“I guess I was wrong dere, Len,” put in Holdaway, heartily.
“Sure was, Boss”, said Len. He motioned Jane Ann to resume.
“Well den, yo’ met up wif Homer an’ got him to call fer de money, didn’t yo’?”
Len nodded, “Dat’s right.”
“Well, when Homer go af’er it, dem lawyers won’t gib it ter him. Dey says eider yo’ er me mus’ go along wif him, so Homer he don’ come an’ get me.”
“And yo’ bofe went an’ got it?”
“Sure did.” Jane Ann placed her hands on her hips and smiled about her, “Funny part oh it is, how did yo’ all come ter sen’ dat check back to dem lawyers when yo’ got it from special messenger dis mornin?”
Len sat straight up. “Yo’ all mean dat check was in dat envelope dat man gib me an’ made me sign fer, Jane Ann?” “Sure was. Whyfer yo’ sen’ it hack? . Dey say, yo’ mark ‘dead’ an’ ‘moved ter Chicago, Mich.’ on it. Whyfer yo’ do all dat?”
Len glanced about him. All eyes were upon him. He stood up and smiled.
“Frien’s,” he said, “I reckon it’s up ter me ’splain dis here fing. I did get de check dis mornin’, leastwise I knowed de check fer de reward was in dat letter. But I wanted ter gib Jane! Ann a s’prise, so I send de letter back to de lawyers, knowin’ dat it would be all right. Den I went down ter der mill ter ask off fer day. Nex’ I go lookin’ fer Homer, käse I want him ter get a s’prise too. I knowed if I send Homer fer de money dem lawyers would want Jane Ann ’long. So, finks I, I’ll jest mosey ’long ober ter Bridgetown an’ gib fings a chance ter work out as I plan ’em. Now I come home an’ fin’ fings hab done jest dat. It’s mighty satisfactory, an’ I want ter t’ank yo’ one an’ all fer yore good wishes.”
Everybody pressed about. Len shook hands with each in turn. When it came Holdaway’s turn he looked anxiously into Len’s face.
“Course yo’ll be back tomorrow, Len?” he asked.
“Course, Boss, course. Money don’ make no difference ter me.”
Homer edged in close enough to whisper a question in Len’s ear. Len shook his head. “It won’t be finished till nex’ week, Homer,” he answered. “Aint dat provokin’, af’er me walkin’ all de way ter Bridgetown, too? But,” he added, “it’s sure some peach of a tiepin, Homer.”
“I’ll bet it am,” smiled Homer. “Well, it better be, nigger.” He gave Len a good-natured slap on the back and picked up his hat.
“Here yo’, Homer, where yo’ all goin’ at?” Jane Ann, who was donning a huge apron, flashed the question.
“Home, I guess, Jane Ann,” answered Homer.
“No sah, yo’ isn’t neider. Yo’ folks all am goin’ ter sot right down, an’ us am goin’ ter hab a feed what is a real feed. Now den make youselfs comfortable. Aint dat right, Len?”
Len smiled about him. “Seems ter me dat a good feed am cornin’ ter my frien’s dis night,” he said. “I’d awful hate ter fink af’er all my udder plans workin’ out so well dat de lil’ supper I had counted on gibbin’ ’em was lef’ unet.”
Hats came off and chairs rattled.
Homer edged forwrard again and managed to whisper in Len’s ear.
“How ’bout our blow-out, Len?”.
“Homer,” Len answered, “de night am still young. Us’ll start in here but there’s plenty of time.”
“Dat’s so,” agreed Homer.