Convertin’ Elder Hawkins

The first of a new series of Lennix Ballister stories. Each story is complete in itself.

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE January 15 1922

Convertin’ Elder Hawkins

The first of a new series of Lennix Ballister stories. Each story is complete in itself.

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE January 15 1922

Convertin’ Elder Hawkins

The first of a new series of Lennix Ballister stories. Each story is complete in itself.

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE

OUT IN the wood-shed, Lennix Ballister, the while he blacked his boots, hummed the verse of an old, camp-meetin’ song.

“Shepherd down in de valley,

Heard a wee lam’ bleat,

An’ He knowed de rocky hill-side Was rough on de lil’ feet;

An’ He whisper: ‘Dat lam’s weary,

All tired out wif play So I’ll go up on de hill-side Ter bring in de stray-away.’ ”

“Yo Len, free times, a’ready I done ast yo’ if yo’s ready fer church. Now den, four times an’ las’, I asts it ag’in?” Lennix, his lips still vibrating to the word “a-way,” turned slowly round and smiled up into Jane-Ann’s wrathful face.

“Jes’ a dab more black on heel, den I’s all ready, JaneAnn. Cleanin’ dese boots am powerful big job.”

“De Lor’ shorely gib yo’ big feet if He did give yo’ small min’,” snorted his wife. “Come ’long now else we be late. Elder Hawkins don’ like any ob his flock stealin’ in late, an ’ yo’ knows it.”

“Don’ aim ter be late, nohow.”

Len spat on the brush and resumed his task, his eyes glued to a clump of dwarfed cedars in the back yard.

Jane-Ann turned into the house to secure her hymnbook and glasses, and Len took this opportunity to beckon forward Homer Hudson from his place of hiding.

Chatville-East’s champion boxer might have been the most despised “has-been” of his kind, considering the meaching manner in which he advanced to the wood-shed.

Stark fear looked from the pop-eyes glued to the door through which the ponderous woman had passed, as he advanced cautiously, like a Clydesdale horse forced to cross a river on thin ice. Any moment the wife of his friend was liable to reappear and ask him questions, and Jane-Ann possessed a tongue and vocabulary which was equal to cataloguing Homer’s short-comings briefly and well. Homer feared but three things in the world; the Law, the supernatural—and Jane-Ann Ballister.

“Nigger,” he addressed Lennix in a husky whisper, “come quick, an’ come a-runnin’.”

“Where at?”

Len, holding the blacking-brush suspended, framed the words dumbly.

“Wilier Valley, ’long de ribber.”

Homer turned and beat a hasty retreat gateward. JaneAnn appearing in the doorway caught sight of him and frowned after him darkly.

“So,” she addressed the partner of her joys and sorrows,

“de debil done sent his tempter ter yo, all, as per usually.” “No, dat was jes’ only Homer, Jane-Anh.” Len sighed and laid aside the brush.

“He bringed me imperative message frim de ’Celsior brudderhood secret lodge. I got a dooty ter per-

“Yo’r dooty is ter go ter church wif yo’r wife like a Christian man,” Jane-Ann snorted. “Now den, le’s get movin’.” “Listen, Jane-Ann.”

LENNIX sat down on an up-ended soap-box and looked as wretched as he was able to look. “One of my brudder ’Celsior’s am dyin’, an’ a-callin’ wif his las’ breff for me. I gotter heed dat call.” “Dyin’?”

Jane-Ann’s mouth fell open. “Gracious! yo’ don’ mean ter say so. Who am he, Len?”

“Him’s jes’ a frien’less stranger in our midst, Jane-Ann. Yo’ wouldn’ nowise know him if so I tol’ yo’ his name. I ’spec’ he wants ter leab me his chest ob carpenter-tools, his gold-filled watch an’ a few udder lil’ tings he can’t take ’long wif him ’cross de dark ribber. Pore Sam.” “Carpenter tools?”

Jane-Ann came down off the step and swung over to where Len sat despondently looking away into distance.

“Nigger,” she cried, giving him a shove that sent him out into the rose-scented sunlight. “Go tend dat dyin’ brudder, an’ bring home dem tools. Has I gotter stan’ here and urge yo’ on ter dooty? Fie on yo’, Len! How kin yo’ set quiet when dat pore soul’s a-callin’ fer ÿo’ so? Git goin’ speedy, hear me?”

“I aimed on havin’ nice, quiet mawnin’ in church wif yo’ Jane-Ann.” Len seemed reluctant to give up his Sabbath day plans.

“It don’ seem jes’ fair dat udder men kin go ter meetin’ wif dere wibes, an’ me, jes’ kaze I’s Master ’Celsior of secret brudderhood, Junior Dekun an’ High Tyler an’ secretar’ treasurery am called on ter ad-min’ster sad rites an’ obsequies ter dis dyin’ man. Howebber, I ’spose when dooty pints de way, it’s my part ter foiler her finger.”

He arose and, going into the house, pinned on his Excelsior Lodge badge above his constable shield.

"Now den, whar am my Ritual at, I won’er?”

“I go git it, Len. I put dat book un’er de short leg ob kitchen table.”

Jane-Ann laid her hymn-book and spectacles on a chair and waddled into the other room. Len took advantage of her absence to lift a chalk-line and hooks from its nook beneath the rafters and transfer it to his pocket.

“Reckon, af’er all, I don’ need dat Lodge Ritual,” he said as his wife returned with the book. “Dis is’n a ’nit iation I’s goin’ ter put on, yo’ see, but a’ Obituary ceremonial, an’ I got dat work all so well memorated in my min’ I kin bury yo’, er anybuddy, wifout no book at all.” “Yo’ll need more’n mere memoratin’ when yo’ bury me, man,” Jane-Ann retorted. “Yo’ve managed ter keep me late fer church an’ Elder Hawkin’s is goin’ ter scold me fer not bein’ in time ter sing in de firs’ hymn. Now I mus’ run ’long. I’s sorry,” she added in softer tones, “dat yo’s got sech sad work afore yo’, Len.”

Lennix watched her down the path. Then, as the gate clicked, he winked gravely at Orinoco, the hound pup, who, ears cocked, was watching him speculatively.

“Wummin, Orinoco,” he said, “am de light ob de worl’; de sof’ pollen on de petals ob life’s faires’ flowers; de silbery sheen dat look above man’s darkes’ cloud. But, purp,

her am also de hardes’ proposition ter fool dat ebber was. Gotter be mighty sleek ter fool a wumman, particularly if so her’s yo’r wife. An’,” he added, “if so I manages to fool Jane-Ann dis day, I’s one lucky nigger. Don’ know what dat Homer’s been doin’ now, dat he needs my advice an’ council so speedy—but I guess maybe I’s goin’ ter fin’d out. Dat big nigger sure keeps me thin an greywooled gettin’ him outin’ scrapes.”

Half an hour later Lennix, rounding a curve in the green river valley like a playful yard-engine, came full upon Homer Hudson seated on a sunny knoll overlooking the stream.

Homer’s white derby lay at his feet. His closely shaven scalp was wrinkled in perplexed thought and his heavy face was anything but pleasant to look at. Lennix noted that the checked suit he wore was stained with clay and badly in need of a pressing.

“What’s wrong, Homer?” he asked, as he drew near. “Been cotched fightin’ chickuns ag’in?”

Homer shook his head.

“Hain’t been cotched doin’ nuffin,” he returned sullenly. “I’s jes’ peevish an’ sore, dat’s all.”

“Sore?” Len chuckled. “Who all’s been trampin’ onter yo’ corns, Homer? An’ fer why should yo’ want me? I ain’t no corn doctaw.”

HOMER rolled his eyes. “Yo’ll be lucky ter be dat, er anyfing else, if so I takes a notion ter paw yo’ ober,” he retorted. “Don't yo’ brush me wrong way ob de fur, Len. Don’t yo’ do it. I tells yo’, I’s a fightin’-mad nigger right now.”

“What happen ter stir yo’r fightin’ ire in dis way?” Lennix sat down on a knoll opposite his friend and proceeded to unwind his cat-fish line.

Homer shifted his position and lighted a cheroot. “Len, does yo’ know whose goin’ ter git dat job ob plasterin’ an' grainin’ inside ob der new Babtist church?”

Lennix looked up.

“Why, Homer, yo’ should git dat job. Yo’ am de bes’ plasterer an’ grainer in dis hayr town. Why fer yo’ ast dat?” Homer shook his head.

“Well den, I don’ get it. Elder Hawkin’s done gib de job ter Frank Jones, dat Bridgetown nigger. Elder, he won’t hab anyfing ter do wif me at all. He says I pollute any church jes’ by steppin’ inside it. Dat ol’ Elder he say I’s de wickedes’ nigger since de flood. Eben so, why fer he should gib dat job ter outside man? Ans’er up dat.” Len fished in his pocket for a hook.

“01’ Elder Hawkins am a queer sort, Homer,” he returned pacifyingly. “He ain’t accountable fer what he does an’ says. He ain’t got nuffin’ ’gainst yo’ personal, atall.”

“Well, free times he hab me pinched, an’ fined,” grunted Homer. “Mebee der no personification ’bout dat, but it cost me good money an’ two nights in de cooler.” Homer’s big hands clenched.

“If dere’s one man on dis gawd’s erf dat I’d like ter hammer ter a pulp, ol’ Elder Hawkins am him,” he asserted. “Allers gettin’ in my way, he am, allers castin’ his nasty ’sinuations in my face, an’ smilin’ his superannuated smile. Dat ol’ preacher 'ud go miles outin’ his paff ter insult me any day, er night. What yo’ ’spose he said ter me when I made applification fer dis job ob plasterin’ an’ grainin’ new church? He said, ‘Hudson, de Lor’ hab hard enuff time keepin’ de debil outside his house wifout lettin’ him hab a han’ in its buildin’. ’Dat’s what he tell me, ter my face. Nice way for a preacher ter talk ain’t it? What right he gotter call me a debil?”

“Why Homer,” Len offered by way of conciliation, “dat ol’ Elder’s half blin’ an’ caynt see as well’s yo’ an’ me kin. Dere’s lots an’ lots ob niggers look as much and more like debil den yo’ does, sho. Yo’ orter tol’ him right off dat yo’ wasn’ no debil no how, but jes’ only a plasterer an’ grainer.”

Homer stood up.

“I’sjn no humor fer dat sorter talk,” he said ominously, “an’ yo’ bes’ obserbe it. I got yo’ ober here dis mawnin’ ter holp me form a plan ter rail-ride dat ol’ Elder Hawkins clean outin’ dis town, unless he draw in his horns an’ gib me dat job on new church.”

LEN spat on his baited hook, swung the heavy sinker about his head, and sent it hurtling half way across the river. The long chalk-line uncoiled and drew taut as

the sinker splashed in mid centre of the stream. Then he stretched himself full length on the velvety grass and pulled his hat over his eyes.

“Homer,” he spoke from this position, “us’ll fin’ a way, but it’s goin’ ter take a powerful lot of finkin’. It’s goin’ ter take me nigh well all day ter formulate a plan, but when it’s formulationed, it’s goin’ ter be a hum-dinger.” Homer’s frown vanished.

“I shore knowed yo’ would ponder out a way ter fix dat ol’ Elder Hawkins,” he said admiringly, his gold tooth gleaming in a smile.

“I’ll fink out a way, all hunky,” Len promised, “but, as I says, it’s goin’ ter take till nigh sundown ter do it. Dat means, Homer, us’ll be needin’ some lunch an’ a can ob tea. Can’t nowise fink my bes’ on empty stomach.” Homer glared, but Len, his voice muffled beneath his hat, was all unconscious of the look.

“When yo’ go home ter put up dat lunch, Homer, yo’ might jes’ bile half dozen eggs. I can plan my exceedines’ on hard biled eggs; an’ Homer, bring green tea; it’s better ter plan on den black.”

With a ¡puttered growl, Homer stooped for his hat. “Yo’ ain’t jes’ mentioned what yo’d like fer de-sert?” he said sarcastically, as he turned to go.

“Don’t want no de-sert, nohow,” Len returned. “Jes’ yo’ bring ’long dat brain-food I mention, dat’s all.”

II

ELDER Hawkins closed and locked the “meetin’ house” door and groaning, seated himself on the top step in order to count the congregation’s Sunday night offering. In its fringe of white, his bald head shone like a black cat on a snowy cushion. The last fifteen minutes of the Elder’s sermon was always more or less of a sweat-producing exhortation on his flock to loosen up and give freely. This night had proven an even more strenuous effort than usual on account of “dem troof-seekin’ niggers holdin’ out on him,” so’s to have the price of admittance to the street fair, billed to open amid a crash of brass bands on the morrow.

It took the old man exactly five minutes to convince himself that the evening donation amounted to exactly eighteen cents. It was disheartening.

“Trubble am,” the Elder soliloquised, as he eyed the one lone nickel glowing up among the brown coppers, “de devil hab all de good spenders, while the church hab de tight-wads. Reckon if religion wasn’t nowise free fer all, I wouldn’ hab seeh big congregations.”

By the aid of his cane he got stiffly up and rubbing his rheumatic joints, gazed disconsolately toward the west where a jagged gash of crimson still tarried.' Then he hobbled down the steps and through the church gate.

Perhaps because the twilight skies called him and he needed a quiet walk in the open to soothe his hurt feelings, the aged Elder took the bramble-hedged path to the river. As he reached the bend by the willows, he espied a lanky negro shuffling toward him. This negro’s face was lifted skyward and the look on his face was one of tranquil peace.

“Dere’s a man wif de lofty look ob a Christian an’ de heart ob a sinner muttered the reverend Hawkins. “Look at dat fishline danglin’ frum his pocket.”

“Mistah Ballister,” he called, “hoi’ up one instanious moment, if yo’ please.”

So suddenly did Lennix obey the command that his feet ploughed furrows in the sward.

If there was any man he desired not to meet just at this present moment, that man was before him now, eyeing him steadily and accusingly.

“Why, Elder Hawkins, howde,” he smiled, removing his battered derby.

“Misto Ballister,” said Elder Hawkins, pointing his cane at him, “I’s somfin’ ob a newcomer in yo’r midst hay’r but it’s a parson’s place ter learn much concernin’ ebbrybudy. Consequently, I’ve learned considerable about yo.’ ”

“Yessah. Jes’ so.”

Len’s heart beat apprehensively, but he managed to smile urbanely, also remove a blue Kingfisher’s feather and a wilted wood-violet from his hat-band, blissfully unconscious that even more incriminating evidence of his Sabbathbreaking dangled from his coat pocket in the shape of a tell-tale fish-line. He had been carefu1 enough to sell his day’s catch to Homer Hudson and felt that he had already been able to furnish a fair alibi to Jane-Ann. That he would by any unlucky cha.ice meet up with Elder

Hawkins, in whose church Jane-Ann was a “willin’ worker” had never occurred to him.

THE Elder had just told him that he had learned certain things concerning him. That was all right, only he didn’t like the way the old man had said it. Still, if he had heard anything, it must have been how he, Lennix, had trapped the Manhattan bank-robbers and received a big reward for so doing; or that he had been made Chatville-East constable. Surely Elder Hawkins had learned of these distinguished honors—even if he had learned other things.

“It’s shorely been a gran’ an’ beautiful Sabbif, Elder,” he said piously, making a pretense of feeling in his upper vest pocket to display his constable’s badge. “The Lord is shorely kind an’ munificent ter His childerns.”

“He is,” the Elder agreed sternly, “even to the wayward whose feet stray down forbidden paffs, is His mercy showed.”

“Yes, indeed,” Len adjusted his hat to his head and shuffled uneasily.

“Mus’ be suttinly great ter be able ter ’tend church an’ lis’en ter a’ inspired sermon an’ de o’gan,” he sighed, “but dearie me, Elder, an ossifer ob de law hain’t got no soul ter call his own, nohow. Here, ter day, I aims ter go to church twice, and early dis mawnin’ comes orders from Heidquarters fer me ter go out on de paff ob dooty.” “Meanin’ which?”

“Meanin’ dat I hab ter go dawn ter ribber an’ arres’ a nigger fer fishin’ on de Lord’s day.”

Elder Hawkins’ eyes rolled so the whites stood out beyond the rims of his brass-bound spectacles.

Lennix stood, wishing he were a bird, so that he might straightway fly far from there. The Elder and Jane-Ann were staunch friends, a combination which took ingenuity to combat successfully, and now Hawkins would have something to say to Jane-Ann about her husband’s ungodliness and lack of respect for the Sabbath day. Len was sure of it. Something had to be done and done quickly. So Len had promptly obeyed the prompting of his nimble

“I gotter swat Bad Luck afore her gets her fangs inter me, dat’s what. And her’s sure swoopin’ down on me now,” he murmured, as he watched the effect of his words on the old Elder.

“If, as yo’ says, yo’ arrest a Sabbif-breaker,” Elder Hawkins questioned sternly, “whar at am yo’r pris’ner now? Ans’er up dat.”

“Whar at?”

Len felt helplessly in one pocket after the other, as though hoping to discover the Sabbath-breaker in question.

The only object his groping fingers encountered was a wet fish-line which had playfully crept forth, and which Elder Hawkins had observed. Len attempted to draw it back into its proper receptacle, but the hook had caught in his trouser-leg and now the chalk line fairly shouted his incriminating guilt.

t ^g’in I asts, whar’ at is yo’r pris’ner, Constable Ball-

The Elder s tones were harsh. The eyes through their thick lenses gleamed tiger-like upon Len.

“Oh luck,” prayed Lennox, inwardly, “stan’ by yo’r

{ “Elder,” he said, gently, “I done let dat prisoner off

“I let dat Homer Hudson nigger off.”

“Den,” said Hawkins sternly, “yo’s failed in yo’r dootv an’ I’ll repo’t yo’ ter Chief ob Police, an’ yo’ lose yo’re badge ob office.” J

“Don’ need ter do dat,” Len told him. “I aims ter go ter Chief my own se’f, confess my fault an’ turn in my shield an’ revolver. I got too tender heart fer a ossifer ob de law any ways. Why Elder Hawkins, when dat Homer break down an’ cry, and say he got message from Higher Power ter go ter ribber an’ cotch some nice cat-fish fer one who am doin’ his utmos’ ter serbe his feller man by preachin* de gospil, I didn’t habe de heart nowhow ter take him ter jail. So I confiscate his fish-line, which you see here in my pocket, an’ bin’ him ter a promise ter henceforth obserbe de Sabbif proper.”

“Does yo’ mean ter tell me dat Homer Hudson went fishin’ fer ter cotch me some cat-fish?” asked the bewildered and softening Elder. “Yo’ means ter say he broke Sabbif day fer dat?”

“Well sah, dat’s what Homer claims,” answered Len solemnly. “ ’Long af’er dark, he aims to clean dem big fish an’ tote ’em ober ter yo’r place, an’ leab ’em on doorstep. So much he tell me.”

“Why, Misto Ballister,” cried the Elder, “spite ob his unsavory reputation, dat Homer Hudson mus’ hab a tender heart in his bos’um. ”

“Dat man ain’t more den a mere chil’ at heart,” Len returned, “so sweet an’ gentle an’ kind. Why Elder dat Homer wouldn’ hurt a fly. He finked it was his dooty ter go out dis day an’ cotch yo’ a mess ob fish. Says he ter me, ‘Len, I hate fishin’ worsn’ a dawg hates fleas, but las’ night a dream^ come ter me an’ a angel float down an perch on my bres’ an’ tell me I was ter go out ter ribber an’ cotch Elder Hawkins some cat-fish. I didn’ wanter come, but when an angel bid, one mus’ jes’ obey.’ ”

“Constable Ballister,” said the Elder gravely, “I ’pologize fer my unwonted suspicionings gainst yo’. Fur be from His messenger ter cross swords wif de will ob de Lord. If so He sent His angel down ter whisper message to Homer Hudson an’ Homer done obey, dat’s His business. Las’ night I wish hard dat somebudy, brudder er sister, would ’member my taste fer channel-cat an’ sen’ me a mess. I didn’t pray, un’erstan’, but I shore wished fervent. An’ here comes an’ an’ser. Misto Ballister, yo’r han’.”

T EN shook the Elder’s hand affably, -l—' but something deep within whispered foreboding. His clairvoyant sense for reading trouble-signs was wide awake.

“Dat ol’ nigger preacher’s grip lack wa’mpth,” was his thought, “dere’s still a heap ob doubt in his min’. I bet a dollar Jane-Ann done tol’ him dat I was visitin’ sick brudder ’Celsior, like I fooled dat wummin in’er finkin’. I gotter offset dat danger right now.”

“I was give ter un’erstan’,” said the Elder leaning on his stick and holding Len with his orbs, “dat yo’ was actin’ as ministerin’ angel brudder ter de sick an’ helpless, dis day. I reckon I was quite misonformed on dat pint?”

Len fidgeted.

“Yo’ was, an’ ag’in, yo’ wasn’, ” he answered. “I aimed ter tarry all day by bedside ob a dyin’ brudder lodge-member, but stern dooty interpose his se’f, an’ I was pledged ter go.”

“An’ it tuck yo’ all day ter make arres’ ob one Sabbif-breakin’ nigger, yo’ mean ter say?” queried the Elder suspiciously.

Len nodded. “I reckon I was lucky in not habin’ ter swim dat ribber more times den I did,” he said. “Had ter tire dat law-breaker plumb ut. Homer’s nigh as good swimmer as I be my own se‘f. Jf I hadn’ drawed my revolver an’ tol’ him I’d shoot, likely I’d been chasin’ dat coon yit.”

Continued on page 42

Continued from page 23

“Umph!”

Elder Hawkins shifted his position, grimacing as a rheumatic joint protested creakingly.

“Sum day yo’s goin’ ter wish yo’d stayed outin’ col’ water,” he groaned, “Dat’s how I get all dis misery ob mine. Who yo’ say dat sick brudder ’Celsior was?” he questioned.

“Sam Ashby,” answered Len unhesitatingly, “Royal Arch Deacon Tyler send me word dat he was bery low wif sleepin’ sickness, Elder.”

“He is so,” nodded the old man, grimly, “nobuddy kin deny dat. fac.’ Seein’s dat Sam Ashby was at my ebenin’ service an’ slept all fro same, I orter know dat.”

Len’s eyes bulged.

“Oh Luck,” he prayed, “fergibe my error. Paste me later, Luck, if so yo’ will, but tarry by me now.”

Elder Hawkins was watching him gloatingly, smiling queerly and nodding his head sagely up and down. Len knew he was saying to himself, “I got yo’ now, lyin’, law-breakin’ nigger.”

He thought, “I’s blin’-folded an’ stan’in’ wif my back ag’in a wall waitin’ fer de rifles ter crack. Oh Luck,” he prayed ple’se reach out an’ jerk me outin’ range.’.

THE Elder was taking full enjoyment out of the situation apparently. He was c-hucklingly voicelessly, shaking like a withered leaf in a gale. If only he would contrive to shake his big head loose from his skinny neck, Len thought, what enjoyment would be his!

“Yo’r brudder lodgeman, Sam, must a made mighty quick recobery,” sneered the old man.

“Sam Ashby, Junior, ain’t nebber goin’ ter recobber ag’in,” said Len sadly. “Dat pore young man done pass sweetly inter realms ob ebberlastin’ peace late dis afernoon, sah.”

“What! What?” stuttered the shocked Elder. “Why, Misto Ballister, I’s rup-

tionated an’ ashamed—I—didn’ know dere was anudder Sam Ashby in dis town. So de pore young man hab done? Dere me, dere me, I mus’ sojoumey ter de house ob mournin’ an’ comfort de bere’ved ones.” “Hain’t no house ob mournin’ or no bereaved,” said Len, sorrowfully. “Young Sam was a frien’less orphan wifout no home. He lived in a tent near ribber. We burn de tent fer fear ob contageousness, an’ ship de body away ter debelan’, Ohio, U.S. whar his sister libs at.”

“When all?” cried the bewildered Elder. “Not more’n a hour agone, sah. It was all don’ bery quiet, yo’ see, kase we fear ter alarm anybuddy. Sleepin’ sickness am bery cotchin’, Elder.”

“Pore lad, pore lad,” murmured the old man, drying his spectacles on his handkerchief. “Dyin’ wifout dere ones by his side, an’ not so much as a flower on his quiet

“Oh, me’n Homer did our bes’ fer him in dat small way, sah,” said Len. “Us got him ‘Res’ In Peace” wreaf from de hothouse, an’ anchor ob carnations.”

“De ’Celsior lodge, yo’ means?”

“No jes’ me’n Homer. We got him dem flowers our ownselbes. ‘Twant much, but all us could afford.”

The old Elder was weeping copiously now. His hand went into his pocket and brought out the eighteen cents which the collection plate had that evening yielded. But Len waved it away.

“No, Elder,” he said, “let dis lil’ goodbye tribute be mine and Homer’s alone. We lubed dat boy, an’ ’sides, wif his las’ bref he requestionated me’n Homer not ter ’low anybuddy else but our own selbes ter do anyfing fer him. Says he, in a whisper so low we could scasely cotch it:

“ ‘Len and Homer, my dere frien’s, ob all dese people which I stray in ’mong, frien’less an’ alone, yo’ two hab been good an’ kin’ ter me. I make no complaint. I fergibes dese people what call demselbes Christians an’ turn dere faces from me.

But let no han’s ’cept yo’r'n an’ Homer’s tender ones compose my features at de end. But,’ he say, ‘I hab a message which I would hab you gib ter de Elder ob Babtist church. Yo’ tell him, fer me,’ says Sam, ‘dat kin’ness, fergibness an’ sympafy towards de errin’ ones he shepherds’ll gibe him de peace dat will make him ferget his rheumatic pains an' bad libber. Tell him ter stan’ up fer his feller man, intercede wif dere enemies an’ wives an’ make dere lives more easy, an’ beseech him ter gib Homer de job ob plasterin’ and grainin’ de new church.’ ”

“Oh, oh—” wailed the weeping Elder. “Dat sacred message shall be heeded, Misto Ballister. I see whar I lfab erred greatly. Henceforth I shall do better, I promise dat.”

T EN nodded. “Pore Sam spoke ob my ' own case, Elder, an’ how yo’ an’ JaneAnn seemed ter be longin’ to fin’ proof ob my unworthiness. He seemed ter fink dat yo’ all sorter fostered Jane-Ann’s suspicions, an’ sot her on ter keep close watch oh my actions. Cou’se, Elder, I knowed Sam was all wrong, but I couldn’ weil contradict de dyin,’ could I?”

“Misto Ballister,” choked the old Elder, “de sight ob de pearly gates an’ golden gibs de pilgrim drawing close ter home a clear an’ understandin’ min'. Yo’r frien’ Sam spoke troo ennuf. I confess I felt it my dooty ter warn yo’r wife ag’in yo’r seemin’ wrong-doin’s. I beliebed yo’ gamboled wif cayrds an' pool; I was tol’ yo’ an’ Homer Hudson was deep in chickun-fightin’, an’ dat yo’ all would cheat yo’r own mammies on a hoss-deal. An’, Misto Ballister, yo’r wife— Jane-Ann, am a dear clean-minded wummin an’ a member ob my church. I may hab erred in my zeal ter assist her; I did err, but I was actin’ 'cordin’ ter my lights. An’ now, I hab been gibbed a bigger, clearer light. Frum now on I will intercede fer yo’ as de pore young man who has passed ober suggests. I will make it my pleasant dooty ter sof’en yo’r paff an’ de paff ob udder men wif wives, an’ I’ll see dat Homer gets dat job on new church, too.”

“Dear Sam’ll rest sweeter, knowin’ dat,” sighed Len.

“Dere’s jes’ one fing more, Elder. Sam he ast us ter keep his dyin’ ter ourselbes. 'Nobuddy know I been here; nobody need know I’s gone,’ he say. ‘Len, yo’ ast de Elder ter heed my dyin’ re-quest’.”

The deeply moved Elder nodded.

“Us mus’ obey his dyin’ wish,” he said, “Us mus’ say no word ob Sam Ashby, Junior’s, untimely demise.”

“Quite so,” Len willingly acquiesced. ‘‘An’ now, Elder Hawkins, I mus’ ramble ’long hum an’ make out my report ter Headquarters.”

He shook the old preacher’s hand again and turned up the path. Not until he was a safe distance from the shepherd of the stray lambs of Chatville-East did he pause and wipe his perspiring brow.

“Gollies,” he sighed, “mighty close call, dat. Jes’ ter fink ob meetin’ dat ol’ trouble-breedin’ Elder so close in ter ribber. An’, oh my lan’l what all hab dis nigger let hisse’f in fer now? Elder’ll be ’spectin’ dem cat-fish fer shore, an’ Homer he ’spects ter eat dem fish his own se’f. Now, what ter do ’bout dat, anyhow? I’s can’t figger it out at all. How I’m goin’ ter move dat prize-fighter nigger ter fotch H&wkins dem fish is more’n I knows. Howsomebber, dere may be a way. I sure gotter make good my word ter Elder Hawkins. Yes, sah, I got ter deliber dem cat-fish ter him dis night, er I gotter spread my wings an’ fly clean outin’ dis

III

LJ OMER, by the dim light of a lantern, I was skinning the cat-fish when Len’s step on the gravelled walk made him look up.

“Now what, Nigger?” he asked, glaring up at the intruder.

“Oh Homer,” gasped Len, “fank de L°r’ yo' ain’t et dem fish yit. Gollies, but I’s rebebed. I run all way frum hum jes’ as soon as I learned Bolton’s dye-mills had pisined de ribber. I was dat scared you'd already partook ob dem pisined catfish.” “Pisined?”

Homer dropped his skinning knife and backed away from the dangling fish. “How come?”

“Why, Homer, it seem dat a new han’ at Bolton’s opened de shoot an’ let big lot ob London Purple dye inter de ribber. Jim Grant an’ Bob Slower cotched some

fish dis af’ernoon'an’ nigh died from eatin’ ’em. De doctor says de fish won’t really kilk phut’ll make de eater ob ’em mighty

Homer picked up the knife and thumbed its edge.

“Len,” he said darkly, “yo’ all knowed [ dat afore yo’ sold me dem fish. Dat’s | why yo’ sold ’em ter me, an’ yo’ cayn’t deny it.”

“No, Homer,” declared Len. “I jes’ ten minutes ago learned dat ter eat dem fish would be risky. Dat’s troo. Dat’s | fer why I’s here now.”

“Den yo’ll gib me back dem fo’ bits I paid yo’ fer dese fish?”

“Sure fing.”

Len felt in one pocket after the other. “Gollies, Homer, I mus’ hab los’ dat money. I felled down twice gettin’ here I so speedy an’ I reckon dem fo’ bits jes’ naturally rolled out an’ away frum me.” “Well, nigger man, yo’s jes’ naturally goin’ ter roll out an’ away from dis worl’,” said Homer with ominous calm. “I’s goin’ ter teach yo’ onst an’ fer all dat I’s bad machinery ter monkey wif.”

“Homer,” cried Len, “hoi’ up one instant. Yo’ gotter be reasonable. I ain’t don’ yo’ no ha’mf I’se don’ yo ’ a favor.” “Don’t know nuffin’ ’bout a favor—all I knows is yo’s dcme me,” growled Homer, “an’ I aims ter make yo’ look like a bunch of winter-sage, yo’ long, black, blood-suckin’ leach, yo.’ ”

“Homer, don’ fergit fer one moment yo’r threatenin’ a ossifer ob de law,” warned Len, assuming a dignity he was far from feeling. “An’ don’ fergit needer, dat j I’s got a huge man-gettin’ gun pinted straight at yo’ now from my pocket.”

T_T OMER had halted in his slow ad-*• vanee at mention of the revolver. True, too, he had a great respect for Len’s badge of office.

“What’s good ob talkin’, ” he snarled. “I’s said my say. Yo’ all sold me some pisined cat-fish an’ got my good money. Now all I get’s-nuffin’.”

“It ain’t nigh as bad as it might a been,” said Len. “If yo’ hadn’ buyed dem fish, Jane-Ann would sure hab send ’em ober ter ol’ Elder Hawkins, an’ dat pore ol man would have et ’em an’ had awful I time. As’tis, I got here in time so’s no harm’s done.”

Homer, at mention of Elder Hawkins’ name, pricked up his ears. Suddenly he smiled so that his gold tooth gleamed like a ray of sunshine on a cloud of gloom.

Len, watching him intently, said, “Reckon’-yo’ bes’ bury dem pisined fish, Homer. Le’s go get a spade.”

“Bury nuffin.”

Homer sat down on the block and resumed the skinning of the big fish.

“You ain’t aimin’ ter eat ’em, Homer?” “No, I ain’t aimin’ ter eat ’em,” said Homer shortly.

Len rose and lit his pipe. “If so yo’ won’t let me holp yo’ bury dem fish, I guess I lope off hum.”

“Dere’s no string on yo’ is dere?” asked Homer.

“But I’d feel better if so dem fish was outer way ob doin’ harm, Homer.”

Homer rolled his eyes.

“Man Nigger,” he grated, “dese fish am my property, an’ I’ll do what I wish wif j ’em all. Now, Len, yo’ bes’ go while de goin’s good. An’ I’m advisin’ dat yo’ have a good hunt fer dat fo’ bits käse I aims ter hab dat money back in my pockI et right soon.”

“Hain’t no harm no how in aimin’ anyfin’,” said Len pleasantly, as he turned j

Twenty minutes later, hidden from sight behind a bunch of friendly trees along the [ road, he watched a big skulking negro j with a parcel beneath his arm, pass down j toward Elder Hawkins’ place.

Len waited a few minutes, then like a shadow trailed along. He saw Homer slip j through the pines in front of the Elder’s home and place the parcel on the door step, j He waited for no more. Things had turned out just as he had hoped they might. He had made good his word to the old Elder, also to Homer.

As he made his way homeward, his feet. [ shuffled time to the song:

“I’s goin’ don’ know where.” Suddenly he paused, and throwing back his head laughed until the tears stood in his

“Lor, Lor,” he gasped—“I can’t help picturin’ Homer’s face when Elder Hawkins t’anks him fer dem catfish in de mawnin’ and offers him dat church job ob plastj erin’ an’ grainin’.”