ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
It cost luckless Lennox Ballister the entire proceeds of an evening’s skill to discover that the great drawback to radio oratory lies in the fact that it isn’t possible to hand-pick your audience.
MRS. LENNOX BALLISTER, as she washed the supper dishes, sang in a deep contralto voice: ‘Moonlight and roses bring many happy mem’ries of yo.’
In the next room, his feet perched high on the mantel, fanning himself in time to the melody, her husband, Lennox, strummed on his banjo another popular radio number:
‘A Sandwich, a Cup of Coffee—and You.’
In the security of the wood-box, Orinocco, the hound, cocked neutral ears toward dining-room and kitchen. It could not be said that the dog favored either tune; in fact, Orinocco deplored music of any kind. It awoke within him a deep sadness, inherited from a long line of sensitive-souled ancestors, and made him long to throw up his nose and howl. Stern and merciless discipline alone forced him to stem the tide of his pent-up emotion to-night. From the time the three-tube Dambada radio had been installed in the Ballister home, Orinocco’s life had been one living nightmare. The music opened the floodgates of sadness in his dog’s heart, and the catlike yowl of the static stirred a blood-lust within him and made him long to lope through the moon-painted night on the spoor of his natural enemy.
“Dat dawg,” Len had observed on one occasion, after Jane Ann had effectively stifled his wails with a rollingpin, “am as near human as a animal kin be. Dis flivver ob a set stutters worse den ol’ man Stammer when him’s got a skinful ob moonshine. It start dat houn’s worst nature and makes him desirous ter destroy. An’ so it does mine likewise. If it wasn’ dat I aim ter trade dat husky whisper of a radio to Sam Jones, an’ cut dat nigger’s teeth well, I’d take a’ axe an’ chop it inter a million pieces. I would so!” To which Jane Ann had retorted scornfully, “Humph, cotch yo’ cuttin’ anyfing wif a’ axe dat yo’ kin well enough leab alore! Best use dat same axe on dat wood-pile outside.”
On this particular evening, Jane Ann, having completed her tasks of the day, proceeded to roll down her sleeves and remove her apron.
“What de paper say is on de air ter night, Len?” she called smilingly through the doorway.
“Paper didn’ come ter night,” Len responded, continuing his Btrumming.
"Dat’s funny. Dat paper don’ of’en miss. An’ I did
want ter see de radio programme. Dis am de night de Esquimos hail fo’th from de frozen Lapland wif happy jingle ob bells.”
Len ceased playing. He removed his feet from the mantel and turned toward his wife.
“I jist heered dis ebenin’, Jane Ann, dat dem Esquimos wouldn’ be sleighin’ ober ter broadeastin’ station ter night,” he said. “Seems dey run inter a herd ob polar bears an’ had ter turn back.” “Humph!” Jane Ann snorted. “Dat cayn’t be so, case dem Esquimos don’ trabel on lan’. Dey trabeis by airship. De announcer man done say so.”
“Well, anyways, dey won’ be on de air dis night,” Len said with finality. “Yo’ kin take my word er leab it, jist so yo’ likes ’bout dat.”
“I’ve long since ceased takin’ yo’r word fer anyfing,” Jane Ann flung back. “An’ I ain’t beliebin’ what yo’ say about dem Esquimos eder. Now, yo’, hump yo’rse’f off dat chair an’ let me tune in on de supper concert at de Grafton.”
“Gollies, yo’ must like tarts!” Len murmured, as he got up and moved away from the set. “Dat Gol boys’ orchestrie soun’ like hail on a tin roof.” “Two fings which yo’ shorly hasn’t got,” Jane Ann observed caustically, as she seated herself before the set. “One am a ear fer music—de udder am a love ob any kind ob work.”
Inwardly she agreed with her husband’s opinion of the Goldboys. Their music certainly was rank.
She set the dials and settled back prepared to listen. But, strange to say, the instrument remained silent.
Jane Ann’s eyes rolled, swung back on their orbits and focused murderously on the inscrutable face of her husband.
“Spawn ob de debil,” she addressed him, “trifler wif de hearts of wimmin an’ machines—what have yo’ done to dis radio?”
“Me?” Len turned innocent eyes on his accuser. “I ain’t done nuffin’ to dat set, Jane Ann. My! I do hope dere’s nuffin’ gone wrong wif our radio!”
“Well, if bein’ dead as yo’r ambition means wrong—it’s not what I’d call right,” Jane Ann retorted. “I can’t eben get a screech frum dat Harper’s cat-whisker nex’door.” “Ben Harper done trade his crystal set fer a bigger one,” Len said. “He won’bover us no mo’. Here, jes’let me see if I kin fin’ out what’s de trubble.”
Jane Ann arose and stood looming sinisterly above Len as he manipulated the dials.
“Cayn’t seem ter bring in anyfing,” he admitted at length. “Cayn’t understand’ dat nohow. Reckon mebbe de batteries am played out.”
From behind the stove came a long, contented si& .. “Yo’ don’ suppose—■” Jane Ann jerked a thumb toward the wood-box.
“Apple sauceage!” Len scoffed. “How could dat dawg harm dis here instrument. Don’ be foolish!”
“He could chaw de wires in two,” Jane Ann maintained. “Dere’s lots dat lim’ could do if he was so minded. I’ve a good notion to lambaste him anyways.”
She picked up the poker and made a step toward the woodbox, but Len caught her arm.
“Wait, Jane Ann. I done foun’ out what’s de matter wif dis radio. It ain’t nuffin dat Orinocco do, er enybudy else eder. De soun’emeter is sagged, dat’s what’s de matter.” “What yo’ mean soun’emeter?” Jane Ann demanded. “I mean de metal shoot dat lets de soun’ slide down from de wire ter de loudspeaker,” Len explained. “Die am jes’ only a three-tube machine an’ us have allowed too much ter come in on it. Us habe strained it, y see. Dat soun’emeter is nigh wore hollow from sharp notes slidin’
along it. I’ll go down ter Hopewell’s radio shop an’ see if so I kin get a new one.”
Jane Ann stood pondering while Len sought his hat. “How long yo’ll be?” she asked suspiciously as he opened the door.
“Why, I expects ter be, mebbe, twice as long as if it took me half as long to do dis errand,” Len said earnestly as he opened the door.
“Well, see yo’ ain’t no longer,” Jane Ann admonished. “I craves music, and when I craves a thing, I craves it hearty—so yo’ let dem big feet ob yo’rn carry yo’ swift to and fro.”
“Sure will, Jane Ann.”
The door banged and Jane Ann dropped into a rocker and reached for her sewing basket.
AN HOUR passed. The clock on the kitchen cupboard wheezed the hour of eight, and Len had not returned. Jane Ann placed her sewing on the table and sat rocking to and fro. There was something wrong. Could it be that Len had planned some dark plot in his agile mind to get away from home for the evening? Perhaps there was a crap-game on. Why was the Dambada set silent, and why had the evening paper not arrived? She could make no coherent connection between these disappointments and the hurried departure of her husband, but she felt that in some way the events dovetailed; her intuition told her as much.
Her rolling eyes sought the wood-box. Len might fool her, but he could not fool Orinocco. That dog knew her husband better than she could ever hope to know that designing negro. If Len meant to make a night of it, the hound would be bedded down for the night with Len’s old coat rolled into a pillow. If Len was to return, Orinocco would be napping with one eye and ear open.
Jane Ann arose cautiously and eased her portly form across to the stove. Orinocco lay asleep, his brown head resting on a roll of brown cloth. His face looked very wistful: he seemed like a tired child lying there in the repose of slumber. One long ear dropped across his eye and one white paw curved across his nose. Jane Ann noted that the claws were brittle and worn.
“Lil’ feets dat foller no matter where us leads,” she whispered huskily. “Eyes shet in sleep af’er gazin’ his love at me all day long. Pore lil’ dawg dat only asts one fing ob us—affection an’ understandin’. An’ me so rightdown intoleratin’ wif him too.”
She wiped her eyes and fetching her apron, she laid it across the box. “Dere, lil’ dawggie, de light won’ bover him’s eyes no mo’.”
She went back to her chair. It looked as though Len was gone for the night. No doubt of it. But where had he
By and by she arose and went to the ’phone. She would call up the Hopewell’s radio shop and find out if Len had been there. But she could not find the name listed in the ’phone-book. She would have to ask central for the desired number. But central informed her that there was no subscriber of the name of Hopewell. Jane Ann hung up the receiver.
She backed away from the telephone and into the ’•ocker. So there wasn’t any radio firm by the name of Hopewell! Len had lied to her!
“Right here’s where I scents black treachery and deff of a certain nigger at de end ob it,” she muttered. "Len is up to some black debbilment an’ I has a hunch I’s de goat as per usual. Well, us’ll see what us’ll see! I’m goin’ ter get young Jim Simpson ter come an’ hab a look at dis radio set.”
She went back to the telephone and called up the Simpson domicile. “Dat yo’se’f, Missis Simpson?” she queried, her voice milk and honey. essmam, us am bofe well, t’anks. Jes’ wondered if so yo’d let yo’r Jimmy come ’long ober an’ ’xamine our Dambada set. Len tells me Jimmy is a wizard at locatin’ trubble on radio, and our’n sure seems voiceless dis ebenin’. T'anks so much. An’, Missis Jackson, mebbe yo’d len’ me yo'r ebenin’ Echo. Our'n seems ter got los' afore it arrived, an’ I do want ter see de radio programme. T’anks so much.”
A few minutes later a knock sounded on the door,
Jane Ann, pausing only long enough to kick the growling Orinocco back to cover, opened it. A tall mulatto boy stood on the steps.
“Ebenin’ Miss’ Ballister,” he spoke. “Ma done say dat yo’H habin’ trubble wif yo’r set, an’ she sent yo’ dis paper.” “Come in, Jimmy, come in,” Jane Ann invited. “Yes, dis set ob ourn ain’t nowise active dis ebenin’. Will yo’ ple’se see if yo’ kin locationize de trubble. Much ’bliged fer de paper, Jimmy. I’ll jes’ consult de ebenin’s programme while yo’s ’xaminin’ de set.”
The boy placed his hat on the table and bent above the instrument. Jane Ann resumed her seat and unfolded the paper.
Suddenly she sat erect. “Lor’ gawd!” she whispered hoarsely. “What’s dis I see?”
Wha s wrong, Mis’ Ballister?” Jimmy asked wonderingly. “What all yo’ see in de paper?”
“I see,” Jane Ann said, wetting her dry lips, “lots more den is here printed. I see how come dat radio am silent dis night and how come dat our paper was missin’. I see de hand ob two black debils in dis—01’ Nick hisse’f an’ his twin brudder Len Ballister.”
Jimmy grinned. “Dere ain’t nuffin’ wrong wid dis radio, Mis’ Ballister,” he said. “Jes’ only de battery been disconnected, dat’s all.”
“Ugh, huh!” Jane Ann nodded, “an’ I know who’s de disconnector. Jes’ yo’ listen ter dis.”
She pointed to an item in the radio news. It read: “Station G. P. W. From eight-thirty to nine, Mr. Lennox Ballister will talk on Woman’s Sphere.”
“It am eight-thirty now,” Jimmy said, glancing at the clock. “De machine am all hunky agin. Suppose us tunes in on dat speech, Mis’ Ballister?”
“No, Jimmy,” Jane Ann rose slowly. “I’ll do de lis’nin’ alone, if yo’ don’ mind. Durin’ de nex’ half hour dis ain’t goin’ ter be no fit place fer a young boy. Here’s half a dollar an’ yo’ run ’long hum.”
Alone, Jane Ann drew her chair up to the radio and proceeded to tune in. She was just in time to hear the announcer’s words-—
“Ladies and gentlemen. This is Station G.F.W. Mr. Lennox Ballister, champion stave cutter and county constable, will now address you.”
A moment of silence followed, in which Jane Ann caught her breath hard; and then, clear and distinct, as though he were seated across the table from her, came her husband’s voice:
“Eber since dis world was formed by de Creator, wimmin have been glorified an’ emphasized until ter-day us am fo’ced ter ast ourselbes de question: Jes’ fer why was
wummin bo’n anyways? What am her proper spear.? Is her gibin’ man a square deal? To dese questions dere is but a few ans’ers. The poet says: ‘As unto de bow de string is, so unto de man is woman.—Though she bends him, she obeys him; though he leads her, still she follers.’ An’ how troo it am, frien’s. Did yo’ eber see anyfing dat could beat her at follerin’? No. And what’s more, yo nebber will. Her’s a bo’n follerer—but not a leader. Her leader an’ her superior is Man.
“Eber since creation, scholars and historanians have chronicled dese troo fac’s. Animals of inferior intellect, chillun an’ imbeciles will take advantage of kindness, which proves dat kindness wifout decipline am false. Jes’ so, woman. Bein’ of inferior intellect ter man, her mus’ be deciplined. Her mus’ be showed. Those of us who have lived wif one woman fro’ long years—an’ deciplined our wives ter ack an’ do as proper wives should—knows dat domestic happiness eminates from woman habin foun’ her proper spear, which am in de hum.
“Durin’ my years of detective work an’ udderwise meetin’ humanity ob all classes—”
Jane Ann could listen no longer. She silenced the instrument and sat staring with bulging eyes. Her mouth opened and shut voicelessly. Within her was a volcano which simply had to find eruption.
“Muver ob de world!” she managed to ejaculate at last. “Ter fink ob him, him utterin’ such words of rank treason as dem! What’ll all de people who listens ter dat rot t’ink ob me, me who’s kept dat nigger’s head ’bove water fer more’n thirty years? So I’s a deciplined wummin-wife, is I? My spear is in my hum, is it? Well dat long ink-blot now bro’dcastin’ his message ter down-trod humanity am goin’ ter find out jes’ what a woman’s spear feels like. I’s goin’ ter take date pike-spear in de shed an’ wait fer dat Len, an’ when I get fro proddin’ him, de ash man’s goin’ ter take him fer a old cullindar. Loramitty, but I’s mad!”
It was unfortunate for Orinocco that just at this critical moment he sat up in the wood-box and whined.
Jane Ann’s eyes fastened upon him murderously. “So, dere lil’ dawg,” she addressed him, “yo’ senses truble fer yo’r glorified master, does yo’? Yo’r marv’lous intuition tells yo’all dat dis famous constable-liar dat is now broadcast^’ to de work how ter tame wil’ wimmin an’ show ’em dere proper spear, am goin’ ter fin’ out jes’ how one ob dem wil’ wimmin kin use dat same spear. So yo’—”
By a sliding, gliding motion she had approached the unhappy Orinocco’s sanctuary, and now she reached down and gripped with mighty hand the tan-hued, loose skin at the nape of his neck.
One terrified howl the hound sent forth through the ominous stillness, then the door opened and shut with a bang. Orinocco rolled half way to the gate, struggled to his feet, and lifting his head sent a melancholy wail to the misty stars.
THOSE stars werê dimming to the first heralds of dawn, when Constable Ballister approached his domicile with jaunty stride and reached for the gate latch.
All was well with the world. He had, in a poker game with White, Hudson and a young mulatto named Kidney, annexed some fifty dollars of ‘easy’ money. Now it remained only to cache his ill-gotten gains in his stableloft, slip off his number nines and, with an adroitness born of long practice, slip past the slumbering wife of his bosom and seek his downy cot.
But as Len’s hand touched the gate-latch, cold and clammy apprehension nosed at his soul. Orinocco arose from his place beside the gravelled walk and looked at him.
“Trubble!” Len muttered; “woe a-plenty, I bet. I mus’ fin’ out how dat dawg’s carryin’ him’s tail.”
Orinocco whined pitifully as gently his master felt down his lank body.
“Purp,” Len whispered, “why fo’ yo’ carryin’ yo’r tail low down dataway instead up an’ waggin’. What’s Jane Ann got on her min’ now?”
For Orinocco to ‘hold his tail low’ always meant breakers ahead. To be ejected and forced to sleep outside meant deep waters beyond the breakers.
Len stood like a black crane contemplating flight. “De house am dark,” he murmured, shivering; “but I knows dat wummin am settin’ by dat winder an’ bofe ob her eyes am glued on me.”
One wistful look Len cast at the stable. Gone were his high hopes. The fifty dollars easy money would never be hidden away now. Not if he valued life and limb.
Len stroked the hound’s quivering side. “Come on, Orinocco, le’s get it ober wif,” he said. “I reckon I got one lone trick up my shirt-sleebe.”
Len whistled jauntily as he advanced up the walk, Orinocco trailing dismally in his wake.
He opened the door and entered the kitchen fearlessly. As he lit the lamp, a bulking shadow arose from beside the window. Len managed to look surprised.
“Why, Jane Ann,” he cried, “yo’ still up? An’ what yo’all goin’ ter do wif de fish-spear?”
“What I’s goin’ ter do, yo’s mighty soon goin’ ter fin’ out!” Jane Ann responded darkly. “I’ll te’ch yo’ ter libel
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yo’r wife ober de radio. Right here, man, is where yo’r goin’ ter be give a chance ter try out dat deciplinin’ yo’ was ravin’ about las’ night. Yo’all said dat woman’s spear was in de hum. Well, in about two shakes ob a dead lam’s tail, it’s goin’ ter be stickin’ in yo’r lyin’ pusson!”
She made a flourish as though to hurl the pronged instrument, but Len sidestepped nimbly and held up his hand.
“Jes’ a momen’, Jane Ann,” he spoke quickly. “I had ter say sumfin’ ober dat radio dat ud make eberybudy sit up an’ rub der eyes. Dem G.F.W. people done paid me fifty dollars, an’ dey insisted I gib de public a earful. I wouldn’ hab talked a-tall if so you hadn’t wanted dat silk coat wif de satin linin’. I—”
“Yo’ means ter say yo’ earned fifty dollars jes’ lyin’ yo’r soul black?” Jane Ann asked incredulously. “Den where am de fifty?”
“Goin’ ter get it to-day,” Len smiled. “Collec’ fust fing af’er breakfas’, sure—”
“Where,” Jane Ann repeated, gripping the spear, “am dat money?”
“Why, Jane Ann, cou’se it’s right here in my pocket,” Len laughed and went down in his jeans.
“Gib it ober ter me.”
Jane Ann extended a hand. Len sighed and dropped the fifty into it.
As she caressed the bills the sullen look melted from her face. “Now I do declar’,” she murmured, “dis money’ll come in mighty handy.”
Suddenly she shot a question. “Whar yo’ been since yo’ got fro’ broadcastin’, Len?”
“Me? Whar I been? Why, Jane Ann, I been settin’ up wif a sick brudder ’Celsior.”
“What’s dat brudder ’Celsior’s name, den?”
“Why him’s name’s Jack Pot, Jane Ann.”
“Oh.” Then, as Len winked at Orinocco, who was gazing round-eyed from his wood-box, Jane Ann added: “Dat settin’ up mus’ be hungry work, Len. Reckon I best get yo’ an’ dat dere lil’ dawggie a bite ter eat.”