Lenix Fools the Jinx
“YES sah,sumfin’ am sure goin’ ter happen dis day.”
For the twentieth time Lenix Ballister muttered this prophecy as he transferred the bacon from the frying-pan to his plate, and with nervous haste tossed a pinch of salt, spilled from the upset cellar, over his left shoulder.
“An’ de signs aint none too good, so fur, eider; no gettin’ ’round dat fac’."
Lenix pushed the hound pup from his chair and seated himself at the table. Then he got up again and closed the bedroom door.
“Dat Jane Ann goin’ ter sure miss hearin’ Gabriel’s trump on de las’ mawnin’, if her sleep de long sleep anyfin’ like her sleep de short un,” he soliloquised. “Her ought ter be harbour-keeper at de gap; wouldn’ need no fog-horn wif dem snores ob hern, nohow.”
Ordinarily Lenix would have paid scant attention to everyday trifles such as those audible proofs of his wife’s repose, the failure to light the breakfast-fire with the first match, the spilling of the salt and the cringing pity in the pup’s eyes. But this morning they were all signs that bore a new significance, signs that urged him to be on his guard.
For this morning, two hours before dawn, a premonition had visited Lenix and probed him into alert, perspiring wakefulness. The wheezy old clock out on the mantel was proclaiming the witching-hour of four, the hour when wandering spirits drift back to their graves, when Lenix received the spirit warning to be on the watch for trouble. He could almost taste the damp, musty smell of crumbling earth beneath the weight of that terrible, crushing silence. It was not the first time he had received such premonition.
Three times before it had happened; on the morning he ran a rusty nail into his foot, and developed blood-poisoning—he had been “brushed,” as he described it; also on the morning when he had lost twenty dollars on a sweatboard; and on the morning when he had received a beatingup by Bud Hawkins, the Bridgetown pugilist.
AND now, because three times brushed was a-plenty, TX and he had received a fourth, Lenix was determined to be on his guard. It was just possible that by artifice and charm he might avoid personal disaster. He had been careful, in slipping from bed, to put his right foot first on the floor, careful to put on his right sock before his left and lace his right boot before the left one. Before attempting to light the fire he had taken the precaution to fasten his lucky horse-shoe over his brace, beneath his trouser band. The fact that the heavy charm broke from its mooring, its curved nails scratching three red lines down his black leg, was, he reasoned, accountable for his failure to light the fire with the first match. This did not augur well, nor did the spilling of the salt; but with the horse-shoe once more safely fastened, and his left hind-foot of a grave-yard rabbit in his trouser’s pocket, Lenix felt easier, and finished off his breakfast with almost optimistic zest.
As he placed a generous plateful of bread and gravy beneath Orinoco’s hungry nose, he paused, in a listening attitude, a half smile wiping the worried lines from his black face. Outside, from the top of the tall elm, an early spring robin was piping his joy-call to lighting skies.
Len shuffled to the door and opened it. A flood of spring air, warm, moist and freighted with woody, grassy
smells, smote him gratefully. He stood, gazing beyond the tree-hedged river to the dissolving shadows in the east. “Well I do de-clare,” he murmured, wonderingly, reverently. “Spring hab come; de pike will be runnin’ up de creeks— an’ I aint been.”
Gone, in an instant, was the haunting shadow of the premonition; forgotten the woes that flesh is heir to; forgotten the stave-mill where, as cutter, he earned three ten a day. For there swam up before his eyes the picture of a creek twisting through a valley where spicy alders and red willows clumped and waved slender arms towards misty, warm skies.
“An’ I aint been,” he repeated, softly. He glanced down at Orinoco, who, long ears cocked expectantly, watched him from brown wistful eyes. “But I’se on my way, pup—I’se on my way.”
HE DREW on his old felt hat, glancing furtively at the bed-room door as he prepared to leave. “Jane Ann still snorin’ two long—one short,” he meditated. “Her’s safe till come two short—one long, but dis nigger bes’ be burnin’ distance.”
He moved softly outside, Orinoco at his heels, and made for the stable, habit holding him to the shadow of young cedars along the path. It was not yet daylight, but supposing Jane Ann happened to wake, and scented doings. She had a most uncanny way of locating moving objects, particularly an object whose feet shuffled as they scraped the ground;
“I’se goin’—I don’ care,
I’se goin’, don’ know where.”
This insistence on the part of his number elevens to herald his whereabouts by keeping time to the joy in his negro heart was always more or less of a vexation to Lenix. “No matter how tight sliet I keep my mouf, dem feet done make me trouble all de time. When Jane Ann done ast me pertinent question, her don’ watch my face ter see if I’se lyin’ nowhow, her watches dem feet, an’ dey’s so fur away from my brain, I cayn’t control ’em nowhow; dey gibs me away ebery time.”
Reaching the stable without mishap Lenix dropped to his knees, rolled back a stone, inserted an arm and drew out a long handled pike-spear. “Dere yo’ is, Pup,” he exulted, “bes’ spear in Chatville East, dat. Ef I had dollar fer
ebery pike I done cotched wif dat ole spear, me an’ yo’ would buy railway ticket fer Buffalo an’ lib on pop-corn an’ nickel shows, sure would.”
Orinoco whined, and holding his tail stiffly in air, trotted forward.
“Hayr, yo’ pup! yo’ cayn’t go ’long,” Len told him. “Yo’
go back hum, like nice lil’ dawg. Come Jane Ann fin’ yogone, her’ll know I aint gone ter work at mill.”
Orinoco went on his way, unheeding.
“Look yo’, young dawg,” Len addressed him, “fer a pup wif so many difieren’ breeds I nebber seen one so contrary. Now yo’ go back hum, an’ go quick an’ quiet, er I’se goin’ ter lam yo’ sech a kick it’ll take yo’ all day ter come back frum whar yo’ light. Hear me?”
TN ANSWER, Orinoco sat down on his haunches and, raising his long muzzle to the sky, broke into a mournful howl.
“Lor’ mitty!” gasped Lenix. “Ef dat don’t break Jane Ann’s re-pose like a rock break a egg, her’s sleepin’ deeper den I fink; an’ if dat big healfy, strong wummin comes glidin’ forth ter ’vestigate my wharabouts, I might as well say ‘good-bye creek’; dere won’ be no pikin’ fer dis coon ter day. I’ll mos’ like be layin’ bandaged an’ spliced in horspital. I reckon I’ll hab ter tell dat job-lot ob a pup dat he kin go ’long ies ter quiet him. If he lets nudder howl like dat out on dis mawnin’ air, Jane Ann’s goin ter sot up in bed an’ rub her eyes, yes, sah!”
“Orinoco,” he called, softly. “It’s all right, I was jes foolin’. Cou’se yo’ kin go ’long. An’,” he added, beneath his breath, “when I gets yo’ well out in de kentry, ef I don’ make yo’ rue de day yo’ was bawn ter make fleas happy an’ humans miserable—I’se got nudder fink cornin’, dat’s all.”
Orinoco needed no further assurance. He bounded ahead along the lighting path, chased a neighbor’s hen into hysterics, threw a young calf, tethered to a post, into bawling convulsions, treed a scared tom-cat up a telephone pole, and in every way deported himself so much like a mongrel, outlaw pup that Lenix felt a cold and murderous desire to run the five-tined spear through him.
“When dis nigger return,” he muttered, “it will be alone, an’ de crows’ll be feedin’ offin yore yaller body, yo’ flopeared passel ob noise an’ debelment, yo’!”
Orinoco, having spent his first wild exuberance of spirits, had lapsed once more into his old state of solemn pensiveness. He cast a glance back at his master and, with long muzzle and long tail low, trotted demurely down the path leading from the village to the river.
“Dat pup’s uncanny,” shuddered Lenix. “How come he know what I’se headin’ fer? Nudder sign dat I bes’ be up an’ watchin’, sure is. Sumfin’ goin’ ter happen dis day, an’ if dis here coon aint watchful—it goin’ ter happen ter him, yes sah.”
A big, black cat leaped from a clump of greening alder to flash like a sable streak across his path.
“Lor’ mitty!” whispered Lenix. “Anudder sign! an’ a mighty bad one. ‘Black cat cross yo’r track — Better p^use, an’ turn back!’ Dat’s what I orter do, turn back. Now all I need is ter meet up wif a hunch-back, an’ I might as well lay right down hayr in road an’ gib up. No use ter struggle, wif Fate stackin’ up kayrds ag’in yo’, none ’tall. Don’ know as I eber feeled sech presentiment ob impendin’ ebil as I’se feelin’ right now,” he shivered. “Fer two cents I’d turn in my tracks, go down to Mr. Manhattan’s bank an’ draw my t’ousan’ dollars, an—”
HE PAUSED, rooted in his tracks, gazing fearfully at an apparition that had suddenly appeared before him on the path ; a grotesque, mis-shapen negro with a bulge between his shoulders, and a face so ugly and malignant that Lenix felt his heart grow cold with fear. “Dat aint no human man,” he found himself saying, “dat’s de king ob de dwarf-circle ob hell, an’ he done come pokin’ outer erf ter leer me warnin’.”
Lenix back-stepped, side-stepped and loped. The manoeuvre carried him around and beyond the hunchback, but not one step further.
“Stop!” commanded the apparition, and Lenix obedient-
ly stopped. At the same time he removed his battered hat and smoothed his bald spot with shaking hand.
“What am yo’ jumpin’ ’bout?” thundered the hunchback, in deep bellowing tones. “Am yo’ scared?”
“Scared? Me?” Lenix slapped his leg and laughed as though the idea amused him. “Well now, I reckon I wouldn’t be de constable ob Chatville East an’ ’lowed by de law ter carry a concealed weapon, loaded ter kill, ef I scared dat easy,” he returned, with particular emphasis on the loaded to kill. “Fact is,” he explained, “I’se got er slight tech ob St. Anthony’s Dance, an’ dere am times when I fin’ it difficult ter control my movements.”
“Yo’ all jumped like yo’ thought de debil hisse’f was af’er yo’,” said the other, complainingly. “I don’ like dat;
I say I don’ like dat,’’ he roared, as Lenix remained silent.
“Don’ favor it none too much myse’f,” replied Lenix. “Tumble affliction, dis ob mine, an’ powerful embarrassin’, too. Had ter quit my job ob stavecutter at mill on ’count ob dis St. Anthony. Got ter jumpin’ ’tween de knife an’ de block; had ter quit cuttin’ altogedder.”
“Ho, den yo’r name am Ballister?”
Lenix cast a suspicious, rolling eye on the questioner.
“Dats me, all hunky. Eberybudy knows Len Ballister an’ his re-cord ob cutter, an’ chief constable ob Chatville East. Yessah, my name, Ballister, sure ’nuff.”
“Well, Ballister, I was on my way ter see yo’.”
Lenix inserted a hand beneath his trouser’s band and grasped his charmed horse-shoe. “Right here’s whar I get carried down an’ in,” he thought, his crinkley hair stiffening, and his knees growing weak.
“I got proposition I wanter lay befo’ yo’,” resumed the other negro.
“I un’erstan’ yo’s finkin’ ob buyin’ a piece of land fer gardenin’, dat so?”
LENIX breathed easier. “It am, an’ it amn’t,” he answered, after some deliberation.
“What yo’ mean by dat ambiguous statement?” growled the hunchback.
“Yo’ am an’ yo’ amn’t. Aint no sense ter dat, nohow.”
“What I means,” shuffled Lenix, straining his thinker till it ached, “am dis. I mought buy, an’ den ag’in I moughtn’t.”
“Humph, dat makes it a lot clearer—
I guess not. Say, dat St. Anthony dancin’ what yo’ suffer wif mus’ affect moren’ yo’r limbs, I guess. Looks ter me yo’r min’s not jest right. How come yo’ ter be amblin’ out dis early in mawnin’, anyhow?” he asked suspiciously. “When I cotched sight ob yo’, yo’ was sneakin’ close ter de alders. An’ what’s dat long handled fing yo’s carryin’, a weepon?”
“No, fish-spear.” For the second time Lenix allowed his twitching eyes to rest on the face of the hunchback, and he shivered. “Aint nuthin’ human ’bout dat face, nohow,” he groaned inwardly, “his clothes am streaked wif grave-clay, an’ he smell damp an’ dank. Aint nuffin left fer dis nigger but bluff it out; so hayr goes.
“Mought I be bold ’nuff ter in-quire, sah, what yo’ name am?” he asked amiably.
“My name’s Hooper Jackson,” roared the hunch-back, clenching his big hands, which Len noted swung far below his knees.
“Why, yo’se not de Misto Jackson I done wrote ter, astin him if he’d sell his steam yott, is yo?”
“Not at all. Aint got no steam-boat fer sale.”
“Humph. Jes so, jes so. Now den, I sure ennuf knows yo’,” Lenix half extended a hand, then catching the look on the stranger’s face, put it quickly in his pocket. “Yo’s Misto Jackson, de automobeel agent, frum Slabtown?” “No.”
“Tho’t mebee yo’ was. Promised him, when he wrote ter me dat I’d buy my kayr frum him.”
“I aint got no kayr ter sell er no steam-boat needer. All I got is a fine strip ob garden lan’, an’ hearin’ yo’ll all wanted sech I come ’long ober ter see yo.” The misshapen negro fastened his burning eyes on Lenix, and wagged his heavy head. “Ef I’d a knowed yo’ had de St. Anthony’s dance I’d hab saved myse’f de trip. Gardenin’ wouldn’ do fer yo’ at all. Yo’d be jumpin de fence at end on row, an’ on de tater-hills all way ’long. I sure wishes now dat I’d took Homer Hudson’s ad-vise an’ stayed right away frum yo’.”
Lenix pricked up his ears. All fear of the supernatural was dissolving before this assurance that a hard-boiled
business proposition was unfolding itself before him, a proposition in which Homer Hudson figured in greater or lesser degree. It was evident that Homer did not wish himself and this man, Jackson, to get together. He lit his pipe slowly and thought quickly.
“Homer’s done finkin’ ’bout buyin’ yo’r garden-plot his own self’, I understan’,” he hazarded, at length.
“I aint sed so,” returned the hunch-back surlily. “Er I aint sed he aint, needer,” as Lenix made no comment. “Ef he was, dere’s only one reason I’d be cornin’ ter see yo’ dough.”
“I understan’,” Lenix nodded. “Homer’s made standin’ offer. Yo’ wants mo’—ef yo’ kin get it.”
“Yes, I want’s mo.”
“Certainly, ef yo’ kin get it.”
“All right, den, ef I kin get it,” sneered Jackson. “My
price am eight hundred—an dat price don’ fluctuate any wat yo’d notice.”
“Jeç so, jes so. An’ whar am dis property, Misto Jackson?”
LENIX packed the tobacco down in his pipe and gazed longingly towards the hazy willows, sun-crowned now, and fairly beckoning him to the warm shallows within them, shallows where basking pike played, waiting to be speared.
“De property am part ob lot ten, fo’th concession. Nine acres ob de prettiest black loam yo’ ebber clapt an eye onter.
Half ob dat strip takes in de ole Scanelot cemetery—an’ de groun’ dere am so rich it fairly cracks open. Nice grove ob pines dere too fer buildin’, if so yo’ wanter make a hum.”
Lenix scratched his head. “Dat’s so,” he said, thoughtfully, “dat pine grove whar all dem ole graves am ud suttingly make a gran’ spot fer ter build nice lil’ home.”
“I knowed yo’d see it,” returned the hunch-back, a trifle more amiably. “Yo’se de very man what orter hab dat lan’, Ballister. I un’erstan’,” he added, shooting another glance at Len’s inscrutable face, “yo’ got a thousan er so yo’ wanter invest?”
“Quite so,” Lenix answered. “Jane Ann, her’s pinin’ fer HI’ farm, an’ I’se gettin’ tired ob day-work at mill.
Co’se, dough,” he added, “I couldn’ fink ob buyin’ yo’r property now, Misto Jackson, much as I begins ter fancy it; not ef my frien’ Homer Hudson’s sot his heart on it.
Why, Misto Jackson,” he cried, his voice quivering with
feeling, “Hornet Hudson am de bes’ loyalist frieft’' í ahitér had. I lub him like a brudder. Dat’s how come hiffl advise yo’ not ter see me. He knowed right well I wouldn't come ’tween him an’ his heart’s desire.” Lenix blew his nose, and watched the hunch-back out of the corner of his eye.
Hooper Jackson’s stare of surprise gave place to a sardonic grin. “So dat Homer’s yo’r frien,’ eh?” he sneered, “yo’r almos’ brudder, is he? Well, le’ me tell yo’ sumfin’. Dat yaller nigger aint holdin’ de same good opinion ob yo’r all dat yo’s holdin’ ob him. Lis’en, yo’. Know what dat Homer done tell me? Dis am what he tell me. ‘Look yo' Jackson,’ he say, ‘don’ yo’ try ter sell dat Len Ballister anyfin’, kase ef yo’ does, he’ll steal it frum yo’, an’ make yo’ pay him fer takin’ it.’ So, dats what yo’r frien’, Homer, say ’bout yo’, Misto Ballister.”
Lenix’s face lost its sunny smile. He shook his head sadly, and blew his nose again. “Misto Jackson,” he said, “ef dat’s what Homer say ’bout me, I reckon I needn’ hab no scruples in biddin’ 'gin him. Tell yo’ what I’se willin’ ter do. I'se willin’ dat yo’ go back ter Homer an’ tell him dat I’se lookin’ de plot ober ter day, an’ dat, pervidin’ it suits me, I’ll gib yo’ yoT price. How’s dat?”
“Dat’s all right, only, ’sposin’ he raises his bid, an’ buys?”
LENIX smiled. “Well, dat should J suit yo,’ shouldn’ it? What yo’ carin’, longs yo’ get yo’r price?”
“Den yo’ aint wantin’ de property fer yo’r own self?”
“I aint sayin’ so,” returned Lenix, “all I’se sayin’ is by way ob ad-vise ter yo’. Take it er leab it.”
“Oh, I’ll take it, an’ much ’bliged,” said the hunch-back cheerfully. “But I warn yo’ now, dat Homer won’t let de property slip froo his fingers.”
“Yo’ fink he’ll buy, den?” Lenix tones were intentionally anxious.
“Sure will,” nodded the other negro. “Well, look yo’ den,” Lenix said. “Yo’ kin be a hull lot surer, ef yo’ remember not ter tell him dat part ob dat lan’ runs inter de ole grave-yard.” “Meanin’?”
“Jes dat. Don’ tell him befo’ de deal’s closed.”
“But af’er, what den?”
“Ef so yo’s well-armed, hab plenty life insurance, an’ kin beat a scared rabbit gettin’ away frum trubble—yo’ moight tell him af’er—ef it’s goin’ ter weigh on yo’r conscience. My advice ter yo’ is not ter tell him ’tall. Let him fin’ out fer his self.”
“But he’s seen de property a’ready. Cou’se it was gettin’ long come dark, an’ he didn’ look bery close,” said the hunch-back.
“Well, don’dat let yo'all out? Now don’ say a word ’bout de grave-yard. Yo’ go back ter Homer, tell him dat I’se finkin’ ob buyin’ de place, an’ ef he says, ‘He don” get it,’ take his word fer it. Dat’s all I gotter say.”
“All right den.” And without another word, the hunch-back turned, and limped across the common.
THE premonition which had wakened Lenix in the dark hours preceding dawn had not even so much as brushed with its sable wings the placid face of that gentleman’s sleeping partner. While Lenix clutched the bed-clothes wildly and allowed his fevered imagination wild flight, long after he had dressed, and gone, Jane Ann slept sweetly the sleep of the healthy and innocent. No need for her to touch the floor right foot first, when stirred at length awake by a warm spring sunbeam; no need to turn three times round before changing night-robe for calico house-dress. In fact, Jane Ann frowned upon Lenix’s superstitions, although it must be admitted, in her ample black bosom she harbored more than mere awe of the supernatural, though not to a degree to disturb her tranquil and unimaginative nature.
“Ob co’rse anybuddy knows dat it’s bad luck ter walk under a ladder, er sing befo’ breakfast,” she was wont to scoff at Lenix, “but yo’, Len, yo’ carries yo’r suspicions too fur, altogedder. Ef yo’ all was as keerful ob yo’r reputations as yo’ am ob dat rusty ole boss-shoe, yo’s nllars cha’min’ bad luck wif, yo’ wudden’ hab de rickets ebery time yo’ meet up wif a policeman; an’ ef yo’ hung outer yo’r dollars tight as yo’ does ter dat fool rabbit-fut charm, we’d hab ’nuff money, right now, ter buy dat garden-plot I pants fer wifout habin’ ter use any ob dat thousan’ re-ward.”
It was with some consternation that Jane Ann found
herself singing, this morning, as she buttoned the calico dress up the back. Perhaps that tarrying spring sunbeam had warmed her soul to music, just as it had warmed the soul of the robin outside the window.
“Brudder Jim, he say ter me:
“Go ’long niggers, keep a-shovin’—
“I got a gal in Tennisee—
“Ho yo’ niggers keep a-shovin'—
“Eyes am stars an’ face sunshine,
“Coons all stuck on dis gal ob mine “But she lubs jes me, an’—”
JANE ANN brought the song to a stop with a jerk and a start. “Dar now, I’se up an’ did it shore,” she gasped. ‘“Sing af’er sleep—Sorrer yo’ll reap.’ Dat’s me. Las’ time I sing befo’ breakfas’ I fi i’ Len up an’ gone wif my grocery money. Now jes’ what be I goin’ ter fin’, I won’er? Gawd alone knows; I’ll jes’ creep out an’ see if dat Manhattan check-book am reposin’ in its accustomed nook behin’ dat brick in de wall. Wouldn’ ’sprise me none 'tall ter fin’ dat book an’ dat nigger bofe missin'. But I’ll say dis hayr ter myself, slow an’ solemn, it will ’sprise me great an’ mighty ef dat Len don’ die swif’ an’ painful, ef my ’spicions am corree’, an’ I fin’ he’s drawed dat thousan’ dollars re-ward money.”
Not until she had convinced herself that the hidden check-book was still safe, did Jane Ann breathe easy. It always angered and humiliated her, however, to find that her suspicions of her husband had been misplaced, and this particular time was no exception. She pushed the loose brick carefully back into place and, with arms akimbo, rolled her eyes about the room. It was no surprise to her that Orinoco was not in evidence anywhere. That wise and sagacious pup, whose keenness of intuition made up for any deficiency in his regular senses, had early learned to seek cover when certain moods in his ponderous mistress became apparent. Undoubtedly, he was hiding behind the wood-box now, reproaching her with all his hound’s soul in his brown eyes. With coldly murderous intent, Jane Ann laid hold of the long iron poker. “Male dawg owned by male nigger, come acringin’ outin dar,” she commanded, “come aslobberin’ an’ abellyin’, as is yo’r way, ’case it am de las’ crawl yo’r eber goin’ ter crawl, le’ me
But Orinoco, for once, forgot to obey.
“Is yo’ comin,’ dere 10’ houn’d mongrel?” Jane Ann’s voice was honey and dew, and the muscles of her big arms swelled as she gripped the poker for the telling stroke.
Still Orinoco failed to show himself.
“Well, ’ef de mounting won’t come ter Mahomet, Mahornet’ll go ter de mountin’ so get yo’ ready fer sudden deff an’ sufferin’, yo’ passel ob decayed fleabait, yo’. I’se goin’ ter tear down dat stove an’ dat wood-box an’ charge all damage on yo’r innards wif dis brandin’-iron, I is so, male dawg er male nigger. Yo’r bofe de same. I’ll teach y’ ter side wif Len an’ laugh up yo’r sleeve at me, yo’ ungrateful job lot ob ebery sheep-killin’ shank-stealin’, hair-sheddin’ mongrel on erf! Dat’s what I gets fer feedin’ yo’ on a bottle an’ combin’ yo’r coat like yo’s Christian dawg. Bite de han’ what feed yo’, would yo’? Oh lordy, jes yo’ wait till I haul yo’ frum cubber. Ef dere aint anudder long-tailed, lop-eared angel pup in dawg-hebben right speedy it’s goin’ ter surprise me hugely. Now den.”
Jane Ann gripped the wood-box, heaved mightily and swung the poker back over her shoulder. There she stood, gazing blankly down, her lips moving dumbly, her eyes rolling.
“Why, he aint dar?” she murmure'* at length. “He aint dar at all.” She got down on her hands and knees and peered underneath the stove.
“Now den, whar am dat pup at?” Jane Ann sat weakly down on a stool, and addressed each piece of furniture in the room. “Whar at is dat Orinoco?”
She got no answer. Finally, she stood up and moved to the door. She opened it and called. “Orinoco, dere lil’ pup, whar is yo’?”
No answer. For once Orinoco failed to come galloping up the gravelled walk in answer to those coaxing tones.
“He’s gone; dat lil’ Orinoco pup’s gone.” Jane Ann’s lips trembled. A big tear rolled down her cheek. She sat down in a chair and rocked herself to and fro, miserably.
“Serves me well right, it do so,” she wailed. “Pore lil’ dawg, no won’er he lef’ hum; no won’er, with me a scolin’ him all de time. Len say ter me, ‘Sum day yo’ scold dat pup onct too often.’ An’ now I’se did it, oh, oh!”
For a time she wept copiously. When at last, with a long sigh, she lowered the calico skirt from her face, its gorgeous pattern of wild roses looked as though a spring rain had descended upon them.
“Sum day, too, I’ll lose Len, jes dat way,” she sobbed. “Scoldin’ him all time, an’ suspectin’ him fer nuffin’, like I do. No human man goin’ ter stan’ prosecution meekly fer ebber, any more’n a pup am, dat’s so.”
She arose from the rocker, with a groan, and stood surveying Len’s plate, with its knife and fork placed neatly
across it in the form of a cross, and her bosom heaved, her eyes filled again. “Gits his own breakfas’ so’s I kin sleep on,” she murmured heart-brokenly, “den goes on ter his work so’s ter pervide fer me. Oh, oh!”
With a heavy heart she prepared her own breakfast, ate it with a heavy heart, with a heavy heart did her housework; then she went to the cellar and brought forth her last jar of cherries. She would make one of Len’s favorite pies, and a meat and potato pasty. “Hereaf’er dat man’s goin’ ter fed ’cordin’ ter his rights,” she told herself, “an’ when he come ’long hum, at noon, I’se goin’ ter hurl myse’f in his arms, an’ beg fergiveness.”
A timid knock fell on the door. Jane Ann straightened up, and blinked at the sound. “Now what?”
She opened the door; a small, crinkley-haired boy grinned up at her.
“Jimmy Jones,” exclaimed Jane Ann. “Aint yo’ all stave taddin’ dis day? Whyfer yo’r hayr, den?”
“Boss Holdaway done sen’ me ober ter fin’ out whar Len am at,” said the boy.
“Why, Jimmy, aint dat nigger at mill?”
“No, ma’am. Len aint been ter mill ter day. Boss, he wanter know ef he’ll be dar dis af’ernoon.”
Jane Ann folded her big arms across her breast.
“Yo’ run ’long back an’ tell Boss Holdaway dat he won’t be abler ter come ter work fer some time likely,” she said ominously.
“Am he sick, Mis’ Ballister?” asked the boy, anxiously. “Not yit, he aint. But he’s goin’ ter be. Yo’ tell Boss not ter count too much on him bein’on job dis af’ernoon.” Jimmy nodded, turned away, then hesitated.
“Sam Jinkens say he saw Len an’ Orinoco cuttin’ cross de Common long befo’ daylight dis mawnin’,” he said. "Wasn’ light ’nuff fer him ter be right sure, dough. Sam say dat Len was acarryin’ fish-spear.”
“Oh, I see,” Jane Ann nodded, and drew in her breath hard. “Well, Jimmy, dat man wif spear was Len all right ’nuff. Deres no holdin’ him, nowhow, when de pike run’s on. Yo’ tell Boss Hol’away, fer me, ef he wants Len ter work he better be on look-out an’ grab dat nigger befo’ he gets hum hayr, ’case I aint promisin’ what condition he’s goin’ ter be in af’er I’se froo wif him.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll tole Boss dat.” Jimmy took his fascinated gaze from Jane Ann’s frowning face and shot down the path like an arrow.
Jane Ann turned heavily back to the table. “So,” she spoke softly, “So.” She stood, gazing frowningly down at the jar of preserved cherries. Then she picked up
FOOL LAND POLICY
'JpHIS is the emphatic title of a striking article which will appear in April 1 MACLEAN’S. The author is Fred V. Seibert, B.Sc., D.L.S., president of the Association of Dominion Land Surveyors, 192021. In this article Mr. Seibert drastically scores the land settlement policy which has prevailed—and still prevails—in Canada. Lack of coordination of all Governmental departments which have to do ivith the locating of the settler on the land is the chief charge. But there are other indictments — carelessness, political favoritism, crass ignorance, interdepartmental friction, etc. Mr. Seibert shoivs up the glaring inadequacies of the present system, and makes very practical suggestions (endorsed by his association) for remedial legislation.
the jar and carried it back to the cellar and locked the door upon it. “Nebber was no he-thing bawn what could be trested fur as yo’ could frow ’em,” she muttered. “Now den, I’se goin’ back an’ collec’ up a heap ob missies fer ter hold argument wif dat nigger an’ dawg. Ef dey bofe don’ look like crazy quilts when I gets froo, it’s goin’ ter be kase I make a fluke some way.”
It was an hour or so later that Jane Ann, chancing to look up from her work, glimpsed through the window a tall, spare negro passing up and down before her gate. “Dat am Abe White,” she murmured. “Won’er what dat poolshark an’ gamblin’ nigger want? I jes’ go ’long out an’
White lifted his head as Jane Ann’s footsteps sounded on the gravel and, hat in hand, waited for her to come up HLs thin face wore a smile, his manner was suavity itself
“Mawnin, Mis’ Ballister,” he accosted. “I was jes” awaitin’ fer Len to come from mill; mus’ be nigh noon, ain’ it?”
Jane Ann did not reply. She simply stood and transfixed the man before her with blazing eyes.
“Mis’ Ballister,” White’s tones were friendly, brotherly “Mis’ Ballister, it’s too bad Len let Homer Hudson get ahead ob him on dat garden-plot, it am so.”
Jane Ann pricked up her ears. “What’s dat? What yo’ mean? Homer get bes’ ob Len on garden plot?”
“Why, haben’t yo’ all heered? Homer he buyed dat garden lan’ frum Hunchy Jackson only dis mawnin’. 1 witnessed de transaction. Len he knowed dat plot was fer sale—an’ he let it slip right froo his fingers, I un’er stan’. Homer he buyed it fer eight hun’red cash money It’s worf nigh twice dat, I’se tole.”
Jane Ann stared. “An’ yo’ all means ter tell me dat Len knowed he could buy dat lan’ fer dat price—an’ let Homer grab it up? Am dat what yo’r a’tryin’ ter tell me, Misto White?”
“Dat’s ’xactly what Len did, ’xaetly. I was jes’ curious ter know why, kase Len is usually pretty bright—an’ I kayn’t un’erstan’ it at all. Homer, he’s been a ’swellin’ ’roun’ all mawnin’ braggin’ how he out-generaled Len in de deal. Homer, he claims dat he kin gib Len acres an’ spades in any deal an’ beat him on anyfin’ from dice ter real estate. Folks aint only half beliebin’, yit, but it’s goin’ ter make a heap of difference ter Len’s prestige when dey fin’ out fer shore.”
“Well, I wouldn’ worry none on dat, yit, ef I was yo’,” Jane Ann replied. “An’ ef yo’s awaitin’ hayr ter gloat on Len, I’d advise yo’ ter be right sure ob yo’se’f befo’ yo’ gloats yo’r fust gloat, kase I’m awarnin’ yo’, Abe White dat Len is a shifty nigger. Dis much I know. Ef Len sot his min’ on dat garden plot, Homer aint got it nohow; he only finks he has.”
“But I saw de deed transferred, Mis’ Ballister, an’ de money paid ober,” cried White. “De deal’s gone froo, all hunky.”
“Mebbe so, mebbe so.” Jane Ann turned back towards the house. “I spose Homer aims ter make Len pay froo de nose, now, ef he wants ter own dat plot, eh?”
"Jes so. Homer says Len’ll be glad ter buy dat plot fer t’ousan’ dollars, yes, ma’am.”
“Well, he’s goin’ ter wait a long while befo’ he gets dat much cash money frum me an’ Len. Yo’ all kin tell him so.” And Jane Ann went up the walk to the cottage. “An’ yo’ needn’t tarry no longer,” she called from the door. “Len he’s gone pikein’ an’ dere’s no tellin’ what time he’ll be ’long hum.” And she went into the house and slammed the door behind her.
“ AN’ I’SE a’tellin’ yo’, Abe, like I’ve tole all de udders in Chatville East, dat Len am goin’ ter buy dat plot frum me befo mawnin’, an’ what’s mo’ he’s goin’ ter pay me my price.”
Homer Hudson shoved his white derby farther back on his shaven head, and pulling up his fawn-colored, tight-fitting trouser-legs, so’s they wouldn’t crease, seated himself in one of the pool-room chairs.
“But, Homer, Mis’ Ballister she say not.”
Abe White bit off a cheroot and lit it meditatively. “She’s got some say-so in dat re-ward money, don’ yo’ ferget datfac’.”
Homer showed his gold tooth in a smile. “Yo' jes leabe dat all ter me,” he nodded. “I’se a goin’ ter get dat t’ousan’ dollars, all hunky, jes’ yo’ keep dat in
White swung a long leg over the corner of a table. “Look yo’ hayr, Homer, what I kayn’t jes’ un’erstan’ is why Len sent Hunchy Jackson back ter yo’, dis mawnin, ef so he wanted dat piece ob lan’ fer hisself so much. Dat point’s worryin’ me a lot.”
“Look yo’ hayr, Abe White,” growled Hudson. “Yo’ begged me ter let yo’ in on dis hayr deal, didn’ yo?”
“Why sure, but—”
“Well den, what yo’ kickin’ ’bout? Yo’ know dat I could a swung de deal wifout yo’r measly fo’ hun’red, don’ yo’?”
“Course I does. It was mighty white ob yo’ ter let me go fifty-fifty wif yo’ all, but—”
“Dere yo’ goes, but—but. Now yo’ shet up. Yo’ knows as well as I do dat nigger, Len, wouldn’ turn aside ter pick up a pot ob gold when he was goin’ fishin’. He’s made up his min’ ter go spearin’ down ’long de red wilier flats, an’ so he gets rid ob ole Hunch quickes’ way he know how. Cou’se, he wants dat lan’, an’ he’ll be willin’ ter pay my price.”
Continued on page 46
Lenix Fools the Jinx
Continued from page 30
“Yo’ means our price,” Abe corrected.
“Our price, ef so yo’ likes dat any better. Dat means us’ll make hun’red dollars each, an’ dat aint so bad, considerin’ who we is makin’ it out of.”
Abe chuckled. “Well now—” he commenced, then checked himself suddenly, as the door opened, and Lenix, followed by Orinoco, entered the pool-room. On a forked willow branch Lenix carried half a dozen big, mottled pike. His legs were wet to the hips and the joy that a glorious morning had given his soul still gleamed in his face and eyes.
“Brought yo’ a mess ob fish, Abe,” he addressed the long negro, “yo’ too, Homer. Gosh, but I hab had one gran’ day’s spo’t.” He sank into a chair and smiled reminiscently. “Nebber seen de redwinged blackbirds so plentiful as dis year. An’, oh, boys, wasn’ de pike a’playin’ splendid. Wished yo’ bofe had been ’long.”
“Len,” said Homer. “I done buyed dat garden plot frum Hunchy Jackson dis mawnin’.” Homer glanced at Abe as he spoke, and both watched Len narrowly.
But if they expected him to start, they were disappointed. He simply nodded “Had an awful tussel wif dat big fish on de end,” he said. “Dat pike je* pulled me in a muskrat run, an nigl drownded me.”
HE SLIPPED a couple of the fish fro« the string, and produced his con cob which he lit thoughtfully.
“Len,” spoke White, “I t’ought, yo all wanted ter buy a nice garden plot?’ Len nodded. “Yes, I aim ter do je* dat, Ábe, but when I does it aint goin’t* be no ole grave yard. I aint nowise supe; stitious, but I aint hankerin’ any tei offend de spirits ob de de-parted. Wouldn eber feel easy turnin’ ober soil dat hac covered sleepin’ dead fer years. An’ a* fer buildin’ in dat pine grove—oh no, nol
Homer had risen slowly from his seat, and now stood, face pasty, eyes bulging. Abe White had slid from the table and was grasping the cushion in shaking hands. “Len,” Homer’s voice was thin and far-
sounding. “Fer Gawd-sake, yo’ don’ mean ter tell me—”
“Dat Hunchy’s land take in de ole Scanelot Cemetery? Well, it sure does. Dat plot yo’ buy frum him takes in good part ob it. Why, didn’ yo’ know dat?” he asked wonderingly.
Homer shook his head, miserably. White cleared his throat and shifted uneasily. He made as though to say something, then, as though thinking better of it, remained silent.
“Course,” said Len, as he gathered his fish from the floor, and rose to go. “Dat lan’ am worf all he ast me fer it, ebery cent—in one way. Co’se it’s hanted, no use tryin’ ter get ’roun’ dat, but it’s black loam, an’ good garden lan’, an’ fo’ hun’red i s very reasonable price—”
“Is dat what Hunchy asked yo’ fer dat lan’?” asked Homer, fearfully.
“Well, he as much as in-ferred dat he’d be glad ter take dat,” Len replied. “But I jes’ tole him, ’nuffin’ doin’. I aint pinin’ ter go probin’ among ole, empty graves. I was kinder sorry, dough, I hadn’t bought de place fer fo’ hun’red af’er I thinked it ober; but I’se glad yo’ got it, Homer, an’ I hopes yo’ do well wif it all.”
He turned towards the door, “Gollies, but I had one gran’ outin’,” he smiled. “Nebber saw de crick prettier nor de grass greener.” Then he was gone and Homer and Abe stood gazing blankly at each other.
“Homer,” spoke White, quickly, “us am done, done good.”
“What’ll us do?” wailed Homer.
“Only one fing lef’ ter do,” decided Abe. “Yo’ run af’er Len an’ offer ter sell him dat ghost-jungle what yo’ saddled us wif—fer his price, fo’ hun’red. Go speedy, an’ get it done right quick.”
Homer was out of the door like a flash.
’ I 'HE mill whistle was just blowing for six o’clock, when Jane Ann, seated beside the window, saw Lenix and Orinoco urn in at the gate. “Now den,” she mut-
tered reaching for the stick of green beech that topped the pile of missiles on the floor beside her. h,' * -«s
“Jane Ann, oh, Jane Ann, come see what I all buyed fer yo’.”
Jane Ann laid the stick back on the pile and stood up.
“Jane Ann, look yo’,” Len called, as she came to the door, “See.what I’se got here. Deed fer nice lil’ garden farm, it am.”
Jane Ann’s eyes opened wide. “Len, yo’ mean dat? Did yo’ buy us a garden
“Sure did. Hayr am de deed. Homer Hudson he buyed it fust, but he got finkin’ he didn’t want it, so I got it frum him right cheap.” ^ w J¡
Jane Ann backed into the house and Len followed. “My,” she gasped, “What lubly fish. Nigger man, gib me hold ob dat deed till I see ef yo’r speakin’ true.”
She read the deed, nodded, and gradually a happy smile spread across her black face. Orinoco put his dirty paws on her clean calico dress and mised his long nose to her cheek. She hugged him to her. “Pore lil hungry pup,” she murmured. “Now run ’long, while I get yo’ an’ yo’r master de bes’ supper yo’ ebber eat.”
“Len,” she asked, as she poureu the boiling water on the tea, “am dis garden plot de one Abe White tell me Homer Hudson beat yo’abuyin’?” ' jf]
Len smiled and nodded. “Same plot, Jane Ann. Only,” he added, as he seated himself at table, “Homer he got a feelin’ like he didn’t want to keep it, so, I buyed it.”
“Len, I was awful mad when Abe White tell me dat Hunchy Jackson offered ter sell yo’ dat plot fer eight hun’red, dis mawnin’, an’ yo’ didn’ buy.”
Len’s right eye-lid twitched. “But yo’ see, Jane Ann,” he said, as he helped himself to ham and eggs, “I knowed I could buy it cheaper den dat, ef so I jes’ waited a bit. Besides,” he added, “a feller don’ care ter be bothered ’bout sech fings when he’s goin’ fishin’l”