A SHADY DEAL
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
Author of "Willow, the Wisp," "Link Gaff urn," etc.
"Oh, we'll tramp, tramp, tramp Ter de margi.n ob de ribber, An' we'll flap our wings An' soar away ter hebenSoar way ober Jordan, Ter de golden stran'."
JANE ANN, kneading fragrant bread-dough on the kitchen table, slapped the spongy mass before her with big hands, punched it with her fists, banged it with all the ardor her glad heart backed by two hundred and ten pounds of vigor could muster. For Jane Ann believed in carrying the spirit of her religion into her work. "Oh, we'll tramp, tramp, tramp"Buff, buff, buff-her fists kept time on the dough. "An' we'll flap our wings An' soar-" She slapped her hands together, sending a cloud of fine flour ceilingward. "Ter de golden stran'." Here, very gently, the flat tened dough was lifted and rolled into a ball, only to be beaten flat again in time to the inspiring camp-meeting song. Suddenly the song died, midway between "tramp" and "soar," and Jane Ann stood, mouth agape, gazing fascinatedly from the window, across the sun-kissed lawn, and down the winding track leading to the Brady Stave Mills. Something animate had detached itself from the stationary scenery and was moving towards her, something which grew, as she gazed, into the tall slouching figure of a very black negro, whose shuffling feet seemed to mark the measure.
“I’se goin’—don’ know where.
I’se goin,—ah don’ care—”
“So, he done quit his job again, has he?” Jane Ann’s ample bosom swelled at her big intake of breath, and her eyes rolled from the golden, dew-drenched cut-of-doors, to rest upon the rolling-pin beside the bread-board.
Orinoco, the hound pup, who had been vainly striving to stretch himself thin enough to secure the benefit of a narrow splash of sunlight, rose furtively and noiselessly, and pussy-footed it for his secure nook behind the wood-box, where he crouched, sad eyes filled with suspicion and apprehension.
Providence, luck, or whatever power it be that takes care of hound pups, had been kind to Orinoco. The ponderous colored-woman had a way of starting in on a big undertaking, such as she now had in mind, by warming up for action on the first object which met her eyes. On this occasion that object chanced to be a box of June-Bug cigars, reposing in gilded elegance on the cupboard shelf.
YI/ITH a grinding swish the heavy rolling-pin ’ ’ descended, reducing that box of treasured smokes to flaky particles of gilt and tobacco which, mingling with the haze of flour hanging in the air, lent to the angry Jane Ann such a demoniac and fiendish appearance that the pup, his craven soul slumped to the very root of his long tail, gave one heartrending howl and bolted for the screen door.
The door was closed and latched, but Orinoco went through the blue mosquito-netting like a bullet through paper, and on down the path to the gate with a succession of mad leaps and soul-gripping howls bespeaking terror of the most violent type.
Jane Ann gave one startled glance after that hurtling brown body, then, dropping the rolling-pin to the table, she sank into a chair and laughed till the tears rolled down her black face.
“Oh, Lor’, wasn’t dat pup scared tho'! Oh my, oh my! Didn’t dat Orinoco bolt true fer freedom! Lor’— dat pup will shorely be de deflf ob me yit. I reckon from de air, dat Orinoco didn’t know whever he done strike a snow-sto’m er been caught in a chimney-fire. Pore li’F doggie.”
She arose, rubbing her laughter-tired muscles, and waddled to the door. Then her eyes grew sombre again, as she saw the tall, lanky negro, her husband, coming up the path, the whimpering Orinoco in his arms.
Jane Ann stood, arms akimbo, frowning down at the partner of her joys and sorrows.
“Jane Ann, dis hayr pup done hab a streak ob sunstroke,” Len greeted her. “I fin’ him grovelin’ low down by de gate. His nose am right hot an’ his eyes am blood-shet. How come he get dat away, Jane Ann?” “Don’ yo’ be wastin’ no sympathy on dat pup, Len. Yo’se goin’ ter need it all fer yo’ own self, afo’ I’se froo wif yer, an’ dat’s gospel truff. Fust off, ans’er me, and ans’er me wifout perification. How come yo’se trailin’ back home dis hayr time ob day? I s’pose yo’ done quit yore job, as usual?”
T EN’S off eyelid fluttered and the corner of his mouth twitched. He lifted the pup’s long ear and examined it closely. “Dat spot look a little like mange, Jane Ann, it do so-”
“Len, I’se waitin’, in patience, fer a explanation. How come yo’re home?”
“Mill shet down tight. No bolts.”
“Den fer why dat mill whistle blow same as usual, dis mornin’?”
Len squirmed uneasily. “Fer why? Is dat what Vo’ all wanter ter know, Jane Ann? Why dat whistle blow dis mornin’? Why, I kin tell yo’ dat; sure kin!” “Den tell me, nigger, an’ tell me right.quick.”
“Sho, yo’ don’ mean ter say yo’ really wanter know what dat whistle blow—”
“Look yo’ here, Len Ballister, yo’se hedgin’, yo’se takin’ time ter t’ink up a lie ter tole me. Oh, don’ I know yo’-all? Now den, fer de las’ time I ast yo’ why dat whistle blow dis mornin’, if mill aint runnin’?”
Len placed the pup on the ground and watched it creep, belly low to earth, into the house, and behind the wood-box.
“Jane Ann, if yo’ll promise not ter tell, I’ll explain fer why dat whistle done blow dis mornin’. You see—” as the woman squared her shoulders, “if dat udder stave-mill, ’cross de ribber, done get ter know dat our mill was shet down, dey would go af’er our customers. Us hab heaps ob orders ter fill, an’ if dem cooper-shops what gin ’em fin’ out we’se short ob basswood bolts, why dey would cancel and gib dem orders to de Snooter Mill, see.”
“Well, what’s dat gotter do wif de whistle?”
“It’s got jes’ dis ter do wif de whistle. Mr. Brady, he done say ter de engineer, las’ night: ‘Yo’ blow dat whistle at seben o’clock, noon, one o’clock, and six o’clock, as usual. Den dat Snooker mill it t’ink us am workin’ right along.’ If yo’ don’ believe me, Jane Ann, yo’se welcome ter listen, come noon, an’ yo’ll hear dat whistle agin.”
Jane Ann stood, frowning, but convinced. “And how long afo’ dey’ll be goin’ full blast agin, Len?”
“To-morrie. Dere’s tew carloads of bolts on way here now. Dey all’ll be here ter night, but mill won’t start runnin’ till to-morrie af’ernoon.”
“An’ yo’se dead sure dem curs ’ll ’rive prompt ter night. Len?”
“Yes, I’se sure. But mill it won’t start runnin’ tilt af’ernoon.”
“Käse de cuttin’-knife done bust, an’ it’ll take more’n a day ter fix her up. I reckon us’ll hab ter lug dat knife ober ter Bridgetown knife-fac’ry ter get her fix proper.”
“Us, what yer mean us?"
“Me an’ Boss Holdaway. Isn’t dat jes’ like hismeanness, ter make me trail ’long ober dar, when I don’ wanter go, nohow?”
“An’ aint it jest like yore contrariness ter wanter buck yer own bread an’ butter, you low-down nigger slibber, yo?”
“But, Jane Ann-”
“Shet up. Fer two cents I’d twis’ yore neck so hard yo’d hab ter walk back’ards ter see whar yo’ was goin’; I do declar’ yo’se jest that naturally lazy and no-count it ud wear de life plum outer any woman tryin’ ter keep yo’ at yore work.”
JANE ANN took a backward step into the house, and Len made bold to circumspectly follow.
“Yo’ see, Jane Ann-” he began, then paused, his
startled eyes taking in the wreckage on the floor, particles of gold paper, splinters and tobacco-chaff. Not a single June-Bug had escaped w’hole.
Jane Ann, picking particles of tobacco leaves from the bread-dough, vouchsafed no explanation. Lenix eyed the wreckage sadly. Then he chuckled.
The woman wheeled upon him. “What yo’-all laffin’ at. Len?”
“Why, Jane Ann, I was jest t’inkin’ how s’prised Joe Hall ud be when he kim ’arter his se-gars; dat’s all.”
“His se-gars. How come dem’s his se-gars. Didn’t dat detective feller gib em ter yo’-all?”
“Yes, but I done trade em ter Joe fer dat pair ob bantum chickuns yo’se allars wanted ter own. Joe. he was bringin’ de chickuns ober ter night, but I reckon now I’ll hab ter drap in an’ tell him dc trade’s off.”
For one moment Jane Ann stood, slowly digesting this distressing intelligence, then slowly sho slumped into a chair. Gone from her eyes was all the fire and ire of battle, and in its stead now rested a dumb npreal. “Len,” she said pleadingly, “I does lub dem liT banty chickuns, oh, Len, I shore does lub dem liT chickuns.”
Lenix, absently filling his pipe from the cigarwreckage on the floor, paid no attention.
“Len, d’ye ’spose Joe ud sell us dem banties?”
Len shook his head. “Yo’ see. Jane Ann, .Toe he’s some queer dat-a-way. It was dem se-gars he wanted, nuflin’ else.”
"But yo’ kin run down ter de pool-room an’ buy him anudder box. Kaynt yer, Len?”
“Not se-gars wif gold bands like June-Bugs, Jane Ann. Aint no se-gars like dem in Chatville. I’se mighty sorry, käse I naturally wanted dem chickuns fer yer, knowin’ how yore heart was sot on ’em.
“Len, tole me, where am de June-Bug se-gars sold at, den?”
“Dat box done come from Bridgetown. Likely der’s more ob dem dar. But dey’s mighty expensive. Dey’s free dollars a box.”
“And kin yo’-all fotch back a box ob June-Bugs wif yo’ ter night?”
“Yes, but dey’s mighty expensive, dey’s free dollars a box.”
Len turned slowly towards the door.
“Hoi’ on a minute, Len.”
[ANE ANN was plunging a hand down in her stock** ing. It came forth grasping three crisp one dollar bills.
“Her’ yo’ is, Len. Jes’ yo’ fotch along a box on dem June-Bugs ter night. An’ min’ yo’, nigger, don’ yo' break ’em.”
Jane Ann’s white teeth flashed in a smile as she noted with what an air of dejection Lenix took the money and shoved it deep in his pocket.
“I do declare,” she mused, as she watched him slouch away down the path, “dat man sure despises money ’cept fer use ob his own mean selfish pleasures. If he was off ter buy fish-lines er rifle ca’tridges wif dat free dollars, now, he’d be burnin’ der air gettin’ down ter store, he would so.”
She turned and waddled back to the table, her black face abeam with happiness and joyful anticipation, She had always wanted a pair of bantam chickens and now she was going to get them. And, too, she was more than a little pleased to think that Len had done his best to give her a pleasant surprise.
And what had she done? She had allowed hot anger to master her and had smashed the box of June-Bug cigars which Len had so generously sacrificed that she might have what she desired. Her lip trembled as she gazed about the littered room. Big tears leaped from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Remorse was tugging at her heart-strings, kindling within her ample bosom a volcano of self-pity which threatened to burst her waist-buttons.
What right had she, she told herself bitterly, to sit in judgment on one so tender, so solicitous of her slightest wish ? Did she ever express a desire for anything which Lenix did not fulfill? Never. And what expressions of gratitude had she ever shown him for it? None whatever. Jane Ann heaved à sigh that sent the gold cigar bands on the floor eddying off in tiny whirlwind. Who else but Len could have outwitted those two clever bank-robbers, and led them right into the hands of the police? And hadn’t he promised her a sorrel driving-mare just as soon as the reward came? And only this morning she had risen in her wrath and smote that box of June-Bugs which had been given Len by the great detective himself, as a tribute to Len’s courage and skill. “Oh, lordy, lordy,” groaned the woman, rocking to and fro. “I feels like I’d snatched de Victory-Cross from some brave so-ger’s breas’ an’ throwed it in de ribber. Oh my, oh my.”
DY and by the storm subsided. Jane Ann arose, purged by the struggle, clear visioned as to her future course. Henceforth she would shew Len that she was not oblivious to his greatness, his loving thoughtfulness. She had called him a shiftless goodfor-nothing for the last time.
And in order to start right in without loss of time, she would bake for him a batch of the pies he liked so much, grill for him a pot of dough-nuts, and have a tender boiled shank ready for him that evening, when he returned from Bridgetown with the box of JuneBug cigars.
Having mapped her course,
Jane Ann pushed the tobaccosprinkled bread-dough from the board, and proceeded to mix another batch.
A little bird just outside the window resumed its interrupted song. And, sifting flour from the can,
Jane Ann too commenced to sing.
“When de moon ride high in de purple sky.
My lubber come ridin’ from de wes’,
He clasp me close in his love-stron’ arms An’ grip me ter his breas’.
An’ us stray along ter de night-bird’s song From de Now ter de Anywhere.
Souls atune ter de stars ob June In de skies ob I-Doan-Care.”
Jane Ann, humming her love song, proceeded with her work, a smile on her face and a deep gladness in her heart. 1 he little bird outside the window was fairly splitting its throat with a song of happiness.
f 3 ’S a queer old world, a world of surprises. Lenix had had one surprise that morning already, and, having resumed his old-time shuttle, once outside the zone of Jane Ann’s watchful eyes, his long feet w?ere leading him straight towards another and even bigger surprise. Well, the fact that a skater has successfully circumvented one air-hole promises no assurance that he may not drop into another one further on, and Len’s life held plenty of air-holes. His long black face had become furrowed, his eyes squinted, in watching out for them. And if he were known as the Chatville Diplomat, there was reason-for it. Any fool could drop into troubles, but it took one with brains to extricate himself. Lenix must have* had the brains, for manifold as were the difficulties he managed to become entangled in, he always succeeded in coming up smiling, with a plausible explanation.
Then again, paradoxical as it may seem, sometimes it takes brains to plan brainless and foolish undertakings. Lenix had just succeeded in giving Jane Ann a very reasonable excuse as to why he was not at work. He had even managed to set her suspicions at rest concerning the mill-whistle. It’s those little things which count for success or failure. Of course, if Jane Ann’s suspicions swelled to such extent that she might deem it expedient to saunter down to the brow' of the hill, and see for herself if that mill was or was not running, well-
But this was one of Jane Ann’s busy days; little likelihood of her doing that. What she might just do, though, was run down to Boss Holdaway’s house, at noon, and interview him. But Len had told her that Holdaway was accompanying him to Bridgetown, to get the cutting-knife fixed. He had, as was his custom, been careful to gather in all the loose ends. He had taken care of the little things.
And now he was on his way to an auction sale, to be held on the farm of Jim Johnson, three miles out of the city. Lenix bore on his person money to the extent of eleven dollars and ten cents. Eight dollars and ten cents of this amount he had won at shooting craps at noon-times. The other three dollars was the money given him by Jane Ann. This he considered rightly his, Jane Ann having maliciously' destroyed certain property belonging to him valued at three dollars. It had taken some headwork to devise a scheme to secure the value of his demolished smokes without awaking suspicion
True, Lenix didn’t know why he was going to the auction, or what he intended buying after he got there But that was a minor matter. The big thing was he was on his way. His heart was light and glad. lie hummed as he shuffled along through the scented sum mer air, and cr.nkled the hüls in his pocket to the tune of *
“Oh take me on tie steamboat.
Dow n de old M iss-iss-ippi ;
Oh, I’se a ju'in’ r lt.ab yo'
Hut, hbney, don’ yo’ cry’—"
V TOT HING to whisper warning of the air-hole ahead A world brimful of golden sunlight, joy, tranquil >ty, and at least one lank negro’s heart atune with it. Who would ever anticipate disaster? Certainly not Lenix. There wasn’t the faintest sign of trouble. He had no reason to feel a premonition of trouble. Had he not lived right up to the letter of the Law of his superstitions? Had he not walked around a ladder, when by walking under it he could have kept in the shade? Had he not been careful to stick the pin he had that morning picked up on the sidewalk in an unpainted board above his head—although he had been obliged to walk a block and a half out of his way to find such board? And he had broken no looking-glass since the day, two years ago, when he had let his shaving mirror fall, on Sunday, and had the dentist extract two teeth the following Tuesday. He had spilled salt only once in several days, and had thrown some over his left shoulder to appease ill-luck. No, Lenix saw nothing but a smooth field and easy skating ahead. He was on his way to an auction sale and he expected to buy something; the very uncertainty of what that something might be was his greatest happi ness.
Destiny sometimes has a shabby trick which she plays on her victims before sacrificing them, and this is likely why Lenix found, shortly after striking into the country road, a horse-shoe. It was lying corks towards him, too. No negro but would have staked his life that such a find meant the best kind of luck, particularly if he took the precaution to walk around it three times before picking it up, as Lenix did on this occasion. The thing to do was fasten it to his person, corks up, so that Good Luck couldn’t possibly spill out, and this Len proceeded to do by fastening it ingeniously in his leather braces. It made him uncom fortable, but that didn’t matter. It made him gladder, a great deal gladder, and surer that he was bound to be lucky in some way, and that mattered a great deal With eleven dollars and ten cents in money and a newfound horse-shoe, anything marvellous was liable to happen. Maybe he’d find a well-filled pocket-book. There was no telling just what he might find.
IUST what he was going to find, he was soon to know.
Half a mile further down the road, two scheming negroes sat beneath a shady elm tree, their crinkly heads close together, planning not so much what Len was going to find, as the best way they could help him to find it. They had already secured the find, which was nothing more or less than a disreputable looking horse, apparently old in years and wisdom, which with rather haughty mien beguiled the waiting moments by biting huge chunks out of the decayed fence rail to which it was tied.
The heavy-set negro with the bullet-shaped head and gold tooth was smiling broadly at what the slim, hatchet-faced negro was telling him. His huge body shook with mirth clean from the collar of his yellow sweater to the band of his checke d. well-pressed trousers.
“Lor, lor!” he chuckled, “but won’t ole Len fume an’ paw up de dirt when we saddle dat old skate off onter him? If it jes’ don’ make dat conceited nigger sot up an’ consider dat dere’s udders jes’ as deber as himself, I’ll gib yo’ my skull ter make balls fer yore billiard table, Abe, I shore will.”
The slim negro wunked. “Get dat hoss off on Len? Why, man alibe, dat fish’ll swaller de fing clean from hook ter pole.
He’s been wantin’ ter buy a hoss fer long time ; dat’s why I come long ter yo’, Homer, an’ put yo’-all wise up.”
“I aint begrudgin’ the free dollars we paid fer dat ole win’-broke bag ob iniquity,
Abe White, I aint begrudgin’ it none. All I asks is we get Len ter buy him. Dat nigger hab allars got me ter play de sucker end ob all his anglin’ games, an’ I’se wantin’ turn about, dat’s all.”
The other consulted a glittering watch. “W e 1 1, he’ll be ’long here now soon, Homer, an’ when he come don’ yo’-all hab too much ter say.
We’ll tell Len dat we jgst buyed dat hoss, an dat we’se goin’ ter train him fer fall races. Yo’ let me do de speelin, an’ yo’ jes’ stan’ by an’ back up what I says.” Homer Hudson’s gold tooth flashed again. “I reckon I’se jest naturally goin’ ter laugh so hard af’er it’s all ober, I won’t be able ter box fer a week." “Won’t need ter. Us’ll split fifty-fifty.”
“But yo’se sure Len'll be ’long?”
“Certain sure. He tole Bill White, las’ night, he was goin’ ter de auction. Why, Homer, dere he comes now. Look yo’, now, get yore features froze an’ let me do de castin’ fer dat sucker, Len.”
T EN approached the plotters, head low, eyes searching the dusty road for further luck. He did not see them until opposite them, then his eyes grew big as he rolled them from Homer and Abe to the horse tied to the rail fence.
“Well, if it aint Len Ballister.” Evidently White and Hudson were surprised to see him.
Len came forward slowly, slowly leaned against the fence, slowly took minute stock of the horse. His scrutiny was long and minute.
“Where yo’ boys cotch up wif datcrow-bait?” he queried at length.
“Jes’ bought him,” answered Abe, promptly. “Homer an’ me we jes’ thought we’d pick up somefirT^fas’ an’ train him fer de fall races.”
“Well, yo' keep on goin' an’ maybe yo’-all’ll fin’ him, Abe. Don’ look, dough, as if yo’-all had made a very strong start. How old yo’ call dat hoss?”
“Cornin’ free nex’ spring. He’s got two ob his milk teeth yet, he has, Len.”
“Pshaw, he don’ look much more’n a sucker. How much de feller yo’ get him from gib yer ter take him away?”
Homer who was chewing tobacco and holding his feeling in by marvellous strength of will alone, interposed here, to beg Len to be a little more moderate in his slams. “Yo’ aint got no call ter pick flaws in dat hoss, nohow, Len. It was our money paid fer him, an’ he’s ourn. He’s a mighty good hoss, an’ us knows it. Dat’s all yo’ need worry ’bout.”
T EN eyed Homer with all the disdain which one who wears a lucky horse-shoe behind his trouser-band may assume towards a less lucky fellow-mortal, and ignoring him entirely, turned to Abe again.
“Want ter sell him, Abe?”
"Nope, us all hab quite a jant tryin’ ter get dat feller. Why fer should we wanter sell him?”
“T’ou’t as if yore price wan’t too high, an’ seein’ he’s a sorrel, I mought. buy him.”
Abe considered a little. “What yer say, Homer?” he inquired. “He’s half yourn.”
“Oh, I’ll sell my half, if Len wants him, seein’s me an’ Len am frien’s.” Homer smiled in dawning good humor. “I ’spose us kin get anudder hoss, Abe.”
“Yes,” White hesitatedly agreed. “But I reckon us’ll hab ter hunt some time afore us’ll get anudder like Yallow Streak, dar.”
“How much?” Len brought the question out so quickly that Homer nearly swallowed his tobacco.
“T’irty dollars,” Abe answered. “An’ he’s dirt cheap, Len.”
“Good bye, frien’s, I’se on my way.” Len turned back towards the road.
“Hoi’ on, Len, dat’s de price us am actin’, ’aint really de sellin’ price.” Abe laid a detaining hand on Len’s arm.
“How much yo’ offerin’, Len?”
“Eight dollars and ten cents, I’se offerin’. Take it or leab it.”
“Us’ll take it,” cried Homer, so eagerly, that were it not for the horse-shoe he carried Len would have made tracks there and then.
Instead, he deliberated. “An’ yo’ bofe all guarantee dat hoss ter be soun’ in body an’ lim’?”
“Us do,” exclaimed the plotters together.
“Quiet, hones’, wifout any tricks sech as balkin’ er breechin’?”
“Well, den, here yore eight ten.” Len went down in his pocket and produced the money.
ABE reached eagerly for it, but Len waved him back.
“Jes’ a minute, Abe, while I writes a ?*cceipt. Yo’ see,” he explained, “dat's Jane Ann's money, an’ us might as well avoid complifications.”
“Oh sure,” said Homer, scathingly.
Len grinned. “Maybe eiver ob yo’ gents ud prefer ter write this receipt?” he suggested. “If so, I’d be glad ter let yer do it.”
Homer and Abe exchanged glances. It was mighty mean of Len to remind them that they could neither read nor write sufficiently well to perform the task. “Oh, go ahead an’ us’ll sign,” said Abe casually.
It took some little time for Len to prepare the receipt on the fly leaf of his note book, but the task was finally completed.
“Now, Abe an’ Homer, here’s yore money. Yo’ bofe sign dis here receipt.”
Abe took the pencil, and with many sighs and grimaces, finally succeeded in making what might have been taken for his signature. Homer haughtily refused to sign. “Yo’ go ahead, Len. Sign up fer me, and’ I’ll jot my mark. Dere yo’ is, a cross af'er my name.”
He executed the cross, and passed the book back to Lenix.
“Reckon we’s best be goin’ now, Abe,” said Homer. Relief shone in his expressive expanse of countenance, more than relief in fact, for there was a glint of fiendish joy in the blood-shot eyes, contempt and exultation lurking behind the sarcastic curve of his big, thick lips.
For just a second a hunted, scared look dwelt in Len’s eyes, but he carefully re-read the receipt just signed by the sellers, and it passed. It was his old, unreadable poker face he turned to the other darkies, as he placed the book gently back in the inside pocket of his vest.
“It was mighty good ob yo’ boys ter let me hab dat
hoss,” hje said gratefully. “I’se not the feller as will ferget it. Homer, dere, has allars proved a mighty good frien’ in need ter me, an’ it seems almos’ too much ter be spilin’ his chance ob winnin’ de fall race wif dat f a s’ sorrel, dar. So. gents, maybe yo’ bes’ call de deal off.”
“Off, nuffin’," Homer’s gilt smile shrank away before an ominous frown. “A deal’s a deal, aint it, Len?” “Yep,” put in Abe. “A deal sure is a deal. No crawfishin’, Len.” “I aint wantin’ ter take no undue ’vantage ob ignorance,” said Lenix blandly. “An’ it suttingly do seem like I was adoin’ it. I’se offerin’, here an’ now, ter call de deal off. Do as yo’-all like about it.”
“I’se quite satisfied to leab t’ings as they am,” grinned Abe.
As if sensing a danger in remaining longer to argue the point with the buyer, the plotters turned away. Len sat down at the foot of the tree. He knew they were chuckling and squirming with sinful glee, but he wras gravely lighting his pipe, and their demonstrations of joy, over landing a fish, went unheeded.
’T'HEY were mere specks, far down the road, before Len slowly arose and gingerly approached his new purchase. The horse turned upon him a wicked eye and turned back its lip in sinister greeting. A couple of long slivers, bitten from the rail, stood out on either side of its jaws, giving it a sort of devilish look. All it needed was fire belching from its distended nostrils to make it a veritable fourteenth-century dragon.
Len surveyed it from a safe distance, surveyed it thoughtfully and critically, the while it returned his look with one full of misgiving and animosity, from eyes which showed altogether too much white.
“Well, I reckon I buyed somefin,” he said at last, aloud, and grinned at the snort of disdain which met his words, “Yo’ sure am a spirited liT pony,” he addressed the horse. “In spite ob de fac’ dat yo’se a cribber, has two win-galls, a tech ob heaves, an’ a spavin on yo’ lef’ fore leg, yo’-all am ready ter kick de Joo outin Jooruslem.”
Len removed his felt hat and stroked his curls. “Dat hoss am so old he’s seen all de sin ob de world,” he mused. “An’ if I don’ trade him off right soon, he’s liable ter hab a demoralizin’ influence on me.”
It was nearly mid-afternoon when Lenix, very dusty, very sweaty and very weary, limped to the fence surrounding the barn-yard in which the auction sale was under full swing, and tied a weary, dusty, sorrel horse to the middle rail.
As he finished giving the tie-rein a sailor’s knot, and glanced over his shoulder as though to make sure that the coast was clear for a quick get-away, an aged negro, wearing horn spectacles and a linen duster, and driving a fat, well-groomed sorrel in a buck-board, came from the yard and drew up opposite Len.
"Why, it’s Mister Ballister,” he greeted. “How’s yer self and de wife at hum?”
“Tolerable well and able ter feed, deacon. How’s yo’ro own care?” Len adroitly side-stepped the hunched shanks of his recent purchase and came over to where the deacon was leaning far over the dash-board, taking stock of the horse tied to the fence as well as his short-sighted eyes would allow.
“Whar yo’ all get hold ob dat hoss?” asked the deacon, as they shook hands.
“Jes’ bought him dis mornin’. deacon. He’s a Wilbrino, sired by Old Tramp Wilbrino, wif a record of two-sixty nine, flat.”
Continued on page 77
Continued from page 31
“Shoo, yo’ don’ tell me. Is he all sound ebery way, an gentle?”
“Well, ’snear as I know, he is all dat. Anyhow, I got guarantee from de sellers ;iat he is. Here ’tis, right here, look yo’.”
Len puckered up his brows and read slowly from the fly leaf of his notebook: “Us, de undersigned, guarantees dat the horse, Yellow Streak, purchased by Lenix Ballister from us, is three years old and sound in min’ an’ lim’, has no bad habits, an’ in event of this bein’ not as stated, we guarantee fux'ther to refund purchase money together with all costs that may accrue through any misrepresentation on the part of the px-esent owner.
Signed. Abe White. Homer Hudson, X (his mark).”
Len closed the book and placed it back in his inside pocket, “How’s dat deacon? Good enuff?”
“Dat’s what I’ll call a brass-boun’ and steel-riveted guarantee, Mister Ballister. Dat’s good enuff fer yo’ er any udder man. Homer Hudson he’s got money, an’ I reckon he’d shell it out afor’ he’d go ter law?”
“Yes, he’ll do dat, an’ so’ll Abe. Course, deacon, dey’s bofe frien’s ob mine, but, as my ole daddy uster tell me, ‘Don’ trus’ any man’s honesty till yo’ve tried him on a hoss-deal !’ ”
The deacon nodded. “Yore daddy was right, I’se t’inkin’.” Then his manner changed to one of sunny affability. He turned to Lenix.
“I’se wantin ter get hold ob a young hoss fer drivin’ purposes. Dem Wilbrios, I understan’, am fast goers?” “Fases’ ob de fas’. Yes sir.” Len drew himself up and gazed proudly at the steed hitched to the fence. “Mos’ too fas’ fer a pore man like me ter own,” he said regretfully. “So, I aim .ter deal that feller for sumfin older, slower an’ more comfortable like. Sumfin Jane Ann kin dribe.”
“Jus’ so, jus’ so.” The deacon nodded, and peered through his glasses at Len’s horse. Then he turned towards Lenix, and said.
“This here ole Fanny, what I’m dribin, is a mighty sweet ole mare. Her’s not young, but her’s hones’ an’ gentle wif women. My darters an’ my wife dribe her eberywhar’. I aint goin’ ter paint Fanny up in gilded colors. Mister Ballister. She’s sumfin ob a hasbeen, an’ I aint denyin’ it. She’s nine year-old come fall, but she’s worf sixtyfive dollars ob anybody’s money. Jim Holdaway, he offered me fifty-five, but I wouldn’t look at it.”
“I see,” nodded Len. He felt in his pocket for his pipe, but remembering that he was talking to a deacon of the Baptist church, he brought out instead a neatly folded tract which had been handed him by a member of the tract society one noon down at the mill. He had kept it intending to make pipelighters from it. Now it was a friend in need. It bore the bold caption across its fly-leaf:
Be Kind and Gentle
“In dis here paper,” said Len, handing the tract to the deacon, “it shows us dat us all mus’ be keerful not to harm de dumb brutes. It’s mighty fine readin’. deacon. I wanter allars keep dat paper by me. Me an’ Jane Ann, us read it
ebery night nearly jes’ afore family worship. What I was goin’ ter say, is dis. Nobody who eher read dat paper would sell Holdaway any dumb brute, let alone dis hayr sweet ole mare what’s so kind an’ gentle an’ trustin’. Yo’-all will excuse me fer sayin’ this, but I’se so fond ob animals I gets sorter carried offin my feet when I fink ob enx bein’ abused.”
“Dat’s a fine trait ob character, Mister Ballister,” commended the deacon warmly; “I don’ know ob any body I’d radder see own ole Fanny den yo’rself. Maybe us kin make a deal?”
LEN pursed up his lips, in thought.
“Well. I’se willin’ ter deal,” he finally admitted, “but I jes’ don’ take ter dealin’ a hoss I knows so little ’bout as dat colt yonder ter a man I respec’ as much as I does yo’-all, deacon. Howsomever, ob course, dere’s de guarantee.”
“Yes, dere’s de guarantee,” said the deacon. “All I hab ter do, if I fin’ out dat hoss aint what them sellers claim, is to lead him afore ’em an’ make ’em take him back an’ pay me what ole fanny’s worf in money. It’s all Sunni'1 Mister Ballister, when yo’ consider it.” “Yes, it is so. Homer an’ Abe, to avoid law an’ complifications, pays yo’all sixty dollars an’ no hard feelins.” “Dat’s it, precisely. Now den, how yo’ want ter deal?”
Len considered. “Well, if t’ings was in little different shape, deacon, I’d say about ten dollars boot • from yo’-all would turn de trick, but as dere’s no provision against boot-money in de guarantee, I reckon us’ll hab ter talk straight deal. If I could conscientiously pib yo’-all an eben swap, I’d jump at it right sma’t. But, yer see, dere’s moren ten dollars difference ’tween dem hosses.”
The deacon took off his spectacles and polished them on the tail of his linen duster. “I neber swapped hosses afore in my life, Mister Ballister,” he said, “an’ I aint wantin’ ter take no undue advantage ob yore position. Supposin’ I frow in de harness?”
Len scratched his head. Plainly, he desired to assist the deacon, but was finding it hard. He squirmed uneasily, took a few paces up and down the road, then paused as though an inspiration had struck him.
“Jes’ frow in de buck-board,^an’ de whip, an’ de deal’s on, deacon.”
“I’ll do it!” cried the'deacon. “Now, Mister Ballister, I’ll jes’ dim’ out an’ yo’-all kin dim’ in.”
“Jes a minute,” Len produced his notebook and pencil. “Yo’-all agrees not ter hold me ter any account, if dat hoss, Yaller Streak, I’se tradin’ yo’ isn’t what he’s guaranteed ter be. Is dat right, Deacon Stubble?”
“Dat’s precisely correct, Mister Ballister. If dat hoss don’t px-ove up, it aint yore fault, nohow. Dem udder fellers ’ll settle wif me.”
“Dat’s all right den, deacon. Jes yo’ sign dis little agreement to dat effect, den I’ll dribe off.”
The deacon signed, then got stiffly out of the buck-board. Lenix promptly climbed in. “Well, good-bye, deacon. I’ll be right good ter ole Fanny,” he said, as he picked up the lines.
“Good-bye, Mister Ballister, and thanks,” returned the deacon, as he limped over for a closer inspection of his new horse.
THE shades of night, were weaving a dusky arch above sweet smelling country-fields, when a lank negro reclining at ease in a dusty buck-board drawn by a fat, comfortable sorrel horse, rounded the last curve of the1 road leading to Chatville East.
Lenix had spent a glorious, and a happy afternoon, driving along spicy, tree-arched, unfrequented highways. He was jogging homeward now, his heai't filled with the peace that comes to one who has been lucky in the world’s great warfare of man with men. Only at rare intervals, when the horse-shoe became unfastened from its moorings to paint a cold chill down his leg, did he remember that, after all. Luck had been with him, and that her smile was really what counted rather than astuteness and brains.
But it had been a great and wonderful and successful day, and he was satisfied clean from his crinkly head reposing on the back of the seat to his big feet resting at an angle of fortyfive degrees on the dash-board of the vehicle.
It was just ar-ound the last curve of the road that he met Deacon Stubble coming from the opposite direction. The deacon was afoot and dusty, but the light of victory shone through his glasses, as Len “whoa’ed” the old sorrel mare up to speak with him.
The deacon, so it seemed, had learned that both he and Lenix had been wickedly duped by Homer Hudson and Abe White. It had not taken him long to learn it, either. He had straightway sought out Homer and Abe and by threatening to take the law on them, had obliged them to make restitution. They had even gone so far as to attempt to deny having given the guarantee. But a third party having been brought into the argument, and having read it aloud to them and shown them their signatures at its bottom, they had paid, under violent protest, it is true, but paid, nevertheless, sixty dollars over to the deacon. And the deacon was satisfied.
“Dear me,” sighed Len, at the conclusion of the deacon’s account of the affair. “Oh, my, my! What crooked, mean people dere be in de worl’, deacon! Gracious salces alibe! an’ who would fink dat a man’s bery bes’ frien’s would treat him dat. away! Jest yo’ dim’ in, Deacon, an’ I’ll dribe vo’ as far as de las’ hill?”
ÇUMMER moonlight rested, like a O silver haze, low above the whitewashed homes of Chatville East. Peace rested like a soft, sheltering garment, peace and silence, and spicy scents from the tree-hedged river and field beyond it.
But in one of those whitewashed homes there rested an atmosphere of anything but peace and contentment, and that was the home of one Lenix Ballister, in which a big woman sat, darkly brooding, and a hound pup ensconced behind a wood-box watched her with sad, troubled eyes.
Jane Ann had inadvertently learned that the mill had not shut down, and that Len had lied to her. And the cruel part of it was that she had made the pies and doughnuts, and boiled the shank and cabbage with which to give him a right welcome home, before she had learned that he had deceived her again. Now she sat with the mop-handle across her knees waiting for his return.
Came a clatter of wheels, and a cheerful voice, at the gate, crying, “Whoa, Fannie.”
Jane Ann arose and crept to the screen door. The pup poked his heao from behind the wood-box and blinked hopefully.
Then, “Jane Ann, oh, Jane Ann. Come out here.”
It was his voice, no doubt of it. Like as not he was crippled, and was crawling home. If so, Jane Ann promised her hot heart that she’d finish the job herself. She was going to show that no-count Len something, she was so.
No, it wasn’t Len, after all. It was somebody driving a horse and rig. A constable, likely, in quest of Len. But Len was there. That was his voice calling to her. and there was no fear in it either.
Jane Ann, followed'by Orinoco, pas sed outside and made her way to the gate.
SURE enough, there sat Len, his face a-grin, in a real rig attached to which was a real sorrel horse. The mop-pole fell from Jane Ann’s hands as she gazed spellbound.
“Len, whose hoss am dat?” she man aged to articulate at last.
“Yo’rn, Jane Ann. Dat’s Fannj yore sorrel dribin-mare. I git her al' fer yo’, ter-day.”
“Len,” Jane Ann opened the gate anti approached the gentle Fanny. “Len, 1 knows yo’se lyin, an’ dat I’ll wake up an’ fin’ yo’ in jail. How come yo’ be dribin dis sorrel mare, anyhow? I’ll wait ter I hear yore ans’er, nigger, den I’se goin’ ter jerk yo’ from yore perch an’ dribe yore head so fur inter de road yore neck ’ll crack off short. I am so. Now den, liar an’ lazy-bones, whose mare am dis?”
“Yo’rn, Jane Ann. I’se speakin’ true I got her fer yo’ ter day. Yes, I admit 1 had ter lie a little ter get away, but. Jane Ann, 1 wanted ter gib yo’ a surprise. Las’ night Sam Jones he tole me ’bout dis mare, an’ dat I could but her fer sixty dollars, rig an’ all. I’d saved up ail but free dollars ob dai money. Well, I had to get ober to whar she was afore Homer Hudson did. He wanted her right bad and was goin’ ober dere dis af’ernoon. So I jes naturall} beat him ober dar, an’ now she’s yo’rn.” “Len?” Jane Ann’s arms were around the drooping neck of the old horse. “Len. yo’ mean what yo’ say? Is she sure an’ true mine?”
“Yes, sure is yo’rn, Jane Ann. Aim yo’ right pleased?”
“Oh, Lordy,” Jane Ann hugged and kissed the horse’s big nose. “Len. when I learn dis af’ernoon dat yo’ lie ter me ’bout dem bantum chickuns. when I fin’ out dat Smiff done sell dem chickuns two months ago, I made up my min’ ter lambaste yo’ most unholy I was dat mad I cried good an’ hard
But now--Oh gollies, what’s a pair ob
HT chickuns ter a big sorrel mare what yo’ kin dribe?”
“Indeed what, Jane Ann? Now den. I guess 1 better dribe her ober to Smiff’s barn an’ gib her a good feed ob oats Wanter come along?”
Jane Ann sighed and shook her head “No, I gotter run long an’ dish up de pies an’ cakes an’ shank an’ cabbage I cook fer yore supper. Yo’ put my mare up right, niggerman, an’ gib her a whole peck ob oats, kass I aims ter dribe her tomorrie. Here,” as Len picked up the lines, “yo’ take HT Orinoco wif y o’. I do declare dat pup hab missed yo’ sore all day, bless his HT heart.”
She picked up the pup and placed him on the seat beside Len. Len
chirked to the horse. “Pup,” he
whispered as the cold nose fumbled his face. “It. takes a sma’t man ter understan’ a woman, but it takes a right sma’t one ter fool her.”