BLACKMAIL AND BLACK FEMALE
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
LENNOX BALUSTER sat beside the supper-table, his elbows on his knees, his chin cupped in his hands. Twice had his wife, Jane-Ann, been obliged to “step high” in moving about the table, so as not to stumble over Len’s number nines.
Superstition forbidding the repetition of anything the third time in succession, Jane-Ann proceeded to remove the offending obstacles by bringing her own foot forcibly down on Len’s bunion. She glowered at Lennox as that negro’s offending pedal extremities shot beneath the rounds of his chair.
“If I had feet like dem ob yo’rs,” she flared, “IM rent ’em out for sand-scows. Why fer yo’r allars stickin’ ’em in udder people's way?’’
Lennox smiled up at her urbanely, in spite of the pain of his bunion.
“Now yo’ keep dem feet un’er dat chair, or I bite ’em offin yo’.”
“Ain’t room ennui," protested Lennox feebly, “ 'sides l got de chilblain in big toes, an’ dem feet’s oneasy like.” Jane-Ann snorted her disdain.
"Reckon, if trufe was knowed, yo’s all ob yo’ oneasy,” she retorted. "Eber since word come dat Homer Hudson was alayin’ fer yo’, yo’ been ’s meachin’ as a wood-grub wif sore nippers. Yo’ scared ter venture outside dat gate af’er dark, an’ well yo’ knows it.”
Lennox squirmed. His wife’s bald statement was true enough. Following his besting of Homer and Abe White, in the matter of a land deal, Homer had been “layin’ fer him” with a club and razor. The manner in which Lennox had put it all over the champion pugilist and the poolroom proprietor was now a matter of Chatville-East history. Hudson had sworn that, provided he was lucky enough to catch Lennox out by himself, in a lonely spot, he would proceed to change that nigger’s facial-map so extensively that he would never be recognized by anybody again. Lennox did not want this to happen, so he had been lying close in. It jarred on his sensibilities to be taunted about it, however, and his eyes met Jane-Ann’s resentfully, as he said:
“A constable ossifer, wif bull-dog revolver, don’ need be scared ob no man, I reckon.”
“Well den, what yo’ purpose ter do?”
Jane-Ann, her arms full of dishes, paused at the pantry door for the answer.
“Dere’s two fings I kin do,” Len answered. "I kin hide up, er go out an’ dare. I aims to go out an’ dare.”
“Den, Nigger, yo’ bes’ empty out dem pockets ob yourn,” Jane-Ann demanded.
“If yo’s figgerin’ on flirtin’ wif deff, I’s goin’ to pay up what’s owin’ back on yo’r insurance.”
Len’s pensiveness and preoccupation during supper had not escaped the watchful orbs of his portly wife. “Dat nigger’s so scarified he’s shiverin’ his teef loose,” she had told herself.
“An' how yo’ aimin’ ter meet dat Homer Hudson’s murderous attack on yo’re personality, Len?” she asked now.
“Ain’t aimin’,” answered Lennox shortly.
“Well, den, yo’ bes’ be aimin’ ” snorted his wife, “an' wif a gun, too, if so you wanter lib ter enji’ dat garden-plot you buyed us. My advice to yo’ am, see yo’ keep to win ward ob dat sluggin’ nigger.”
“Dat Homer can’t nowise intermididate me,” muttered Len, but his eyes rolled apprehensively.
Why, Jane-Ann, I’d jes’ as soon meet up wif dat yaller nigger as I would wif......”
He hesitated, lost for a fitting word.
. “As yo’ would wif a rattle-snake,” his wife finished for him. “Yo’s scared ob dat Homer, an’ dere’s no use denyin’ it. Yo’ kin fool all de res ob de niggers—an’ maybe de Lor’ what made yo’, but yo’ can t fool de wummin what married yo’, an’ well yo’ knows it.”
«An^nt tr-y’n' ter f°o1 nobudc,y>” Protested Lennox. All I asts is ter be 'lowed to min’ my own business and let udders do likewise der same. Dat’s me.”
“Oh, dat’s yo’, is it?”
Dat’s me clean fro. Min’ my own affairs and let udders do likewise ter deres.”
Lennox got up and shuffled toward the door.
Yo’ all bes’ let Orinoco go long,” Jane-Ann called after him. “Dat dawg’s sure ’nough needin’ fresh air.”
I^en, his hand on the latch and within s fety bound, answered over his shoulder.
“Dat dawg’s got two more legs den I’s got. Let him journey out an’ git his air by his own se’f. I ain’t got no time ter be fussin’ wif no dawg. I got ter get my chores did.” Len lost no time in getting outsife.
On his way to the stable, he met a tall, smartly dressed Negro, who carried a light cane and a flower in his button hole, and in whom he recognized one Artemus Gibson, the physical instructor from Detroit, who had come to Chatville-East for the purpose of forming an athletic society.
“Howde?” accosted the natty Negro, pleasantly. “You are Mr. Ballister, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sah, dat’s me,” Len touched his hat respectfully and thumbed the arm-hole of his vest so as to display his constable’s shield. "Was yo’ all lookin’ fer me?”
“Why, yes, I was,” returned the City man, “but,” he added, as Len felt in the hip pocket that contained his trusty “bull-dog” revolver, “not in your official capacity. I believe you can do the Chatville-East Athletic Association a valuable service, if you will, and I was asked to see you and endeavour to win you over to our cause.”
“I see,” nodded Len. “Yo’ wants me ter do sumfin’ ter assist dis Athletic Society?
I’ll be mos’ glad ter do dat same if so I kin. Come inter stable an’ us’ll light de lantern an talk fings ober,
TN THE stable seated side by side on the oatbox, beneath the halo of a smoky lantern,
Mr. Gibson explained to Lennox just what the Society was
anxious he should do.
“This champion boxer, Homer Hudson,” said the Detroit negro, “owns a piece of land down along the river that's admirably suited as an athletic-ground.
“We’ve tried to buy it from him, offered him more than twice what it’s worth, in fact, but he won’t sell. The last time we approached him, he threatened to beat us up and pile us in a heap. Of course, Mr. Ballister, we must avoid any rough stuff.
“We don’t know what Mr. Hudson’s prejudices against us as a society are; for that matter, we’re not caring greatly, but we do want that piece of land, and being advised that you and Hudson were close
friends, 1 came to you hoping you might be willing to intercede with him in our behalf,and makehim see reason.” Lennox chewed thoughtfully on a spear of hay.
“Me’n Homer uster be quite frien’s,” he said finally, “but us ain’t no longer so. Him an’ Abe White, what runs de pool-room, are out, I un’erstan’, fer my hide. I kinder beat dem two sharks on a HT lan’ deal some two free weeks ago, an’ (ley’s bofe ob ’em sore as bile wifout a head at me. Ain’t no manner ob use nohow in me approachin’ Homer fer yo’ all, much as I’d like ter help yo’r society erlong; so I reckon’s dat settles dat.”
“But, Constable Ballister,” cried Gibson, “we’ve simply got to get hold of that piece of land. At least, promise me you’ll go and see this man Hudson.”
Len scratched his head.
“I’s willin’ ’nuff ter go an’ step on a lion’s sore paw,” he said, “ ’er try a bitin’ contes’ wif a black snake, but, Misto man! when it comes ter approachin’ Homer in de frame ob min’ he’s carryin’ right now, I owns ter yo’ my courage fails me a heap. Dat big fightin’ nigger would hit me so hard I’d pass clean inter United States an’ maybee heaben. I tells yo’ he’s dat mad at me I’s scared ter go out nights, spite ob fac’ dat I’s constable an’armed proper.” Gibson laughed.
“I guess he’s a bad actor, all right,” he agreed, “and I think I just about know where his grudge lies, too. He don’t like me. Last Spring when he was boxing in Detroit, he broke training and went on —well, quite a spree. I helped Foster, his trainer, gather him up, and he hasn’t forgiven me. I guess maybe he’s afraid I’ll spill what I know about his little affair with that girl Susie Jones.”
Len’s eyes opened wide.
“Yo’ means ter say, Homer done let hisself be vampired by a female wumman?” he said incredulously.
“Oh no, it wasn’t so bad as that,” returned Gibson. “Nevertheless, the yellow girl, Susie, was a bad one, and might have led him no end of a pace if he had been a little more susceptible. Foster scared him. He told him that this girl was after his money. That settled it. Hudson agreed to be good, but Foster says he’s mighty scared he might have asked her to marry him, or something, when he tvas—not just himself.”
slid off the box and opened the stabledoor. He peered out cautiously into the twilight, and, as though satisfied that there were no eavesdroppers about, tip-toed back to Gibson.
“Maybee af’er all I kin help yo' an yo’re society, Misto Gibson,” he said. “Trubble am, I’s so powerful busy wif my work at de mill, my
ossifer dooties an’ all.......”
“Oh, we’ll make it well worth your while,” the other informed him. “Get Hudson to agree to sell us that plot of ground and we’ll pay you fifteen dollars cash.”
“Sho, don’t care nuffin’ ’bout de money,” Len returned, “but I’ll do my bes’. Sure will.”
“Thanks. Then I’ll see you again; when and where?”
Len picked up the lantern and led Gibson outside.
‘A o’ know where de stave mill am at?” he asked. “A ell den, to-morrie, ’long ’bout two in af’ernoon, yo’ approach dat Homer an’ make him offer ag’in,” he said. "If he accept, yo’ meet me on paff ’tween hayr an’ de mill about seven o’clock.”
"I’ll do it,” cried Gibson eagerly, “and I’ll make that commission twenty dollars instead of fifteen.”
"Jes’ yo’ like,” chuckled Len. “But lan’ sakes, I ain't carin’ so much 'bout de money.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jane-Ann, returning from an errand at the grocery store, found Lennox diligently writing.
He folded his report, licked the envelope, sealed it, and then went out.
"I hopes Homer Hudson am layin’ in wate fer dat nigger wif a shot-gun,” she addressed the pensive-eyed hound.
Orinoco ducked for the woodbox. He had learned to accurately read the signs of storm and when to make himself an invisible and silent quantity.
AS THOUGH a current of telepathy had made him - cognizant of his wife’s good wishes, Lennox paused at the garden gate to light a cheeroot he had that afternoon found protruding from the pocket of Boss Brent’s office cost, and peer guardedly through the night-shadows.
Homer Hudson had threatened to “git” him, and Homer was a bad, hard-hittin’ nigger to cross. Len had crossed him, no doubt about that.
There was but one mere speck of blue showing through the clouds of grim uncertainty.
Homer would never dare to carry out his murderous assault in the presence of witnesses. It would have to be when he found his victim alone—and Len had no intention of allowing Homer to find him alone.
He closed the gate and struck down the dark road, his feet shuffling time to a mournful dirge that would keep recurring to his mind.
“Dangers stan’ thick on ebery groun’
To crush us to de tomb—
An’ swif’ destruction lurks aroun’
To hurry mortals home.”
Lennox felt better when the electric lights began to blink their friendly eyes at him from the street. At the brow of the hill he came to point, like a bird-dog who is unsure whether a distant copse holds a bevey or a skunk. The copse in this particular instance was Abe White’s poolroom, and Len was pondering the advisability of giving - that place a wide berth, or openly entering it casually and fearlessly.
Homer Hudson, he reasoned, would be pretty sure to be there, but Homer couldn’t very well act rough before witnesses.
Lennox approached the poolroom and peered through a window. Sure enough Homer Hudson, coat off and collar unbuttoned, was plying a cue at the billiard table.
Len swallowed hard, opened the door and walked inside. Nobody paid any attention to him. Homer did not even see him.
Len slid down along the wall and paused beside the row of pegs whereon hung coats of various hue and pattern. Apparently quite by accident, he managed to knock one of these from its peg to the floor. It was Homer Hudson’s coat. No other negro in Chatville-East dared to wear such pronounced checks as glared up from that garment.
Lennox picked up the coat, brushed it carefully, and hung it back on its peg. Then he advanced boldly to the cigar counter, purchased a cheroot and, nodding here and there to acquaintances, passed outside.
/^NCE again in the cool air, Len wiped his brow, and ^ sighed. He was glad to be away from that poolroom. He remembered that he had an errand over to Boss Brent’s and turned his footsteps that way.
Arriving at the home of the mill-foreman, he found a poker game in progress and promptly accepted an invitation to “set in.”
It was late—almost eleven o’clock—when he arose from the table, one dollar and ten cents richer than when he arrived and, bidding his friends goodbye, proceeded homeward.
A big moon was lifting from behind the river-trees, a soft, white, ghostly thing.
Len shook his head dubiously.
“Don’t nowise like de looks ob dat moon,” he muttered. “Dat’s a deff moon.”
“White moon rise.
Bad man dies,”
“Dat’s funeral moon, fer shore. Gib me yaller moon, er red; don’ care fer white when it comes ter moons, nohow.”
The night had grown very still. Len’s footsteps sounded hollowly on the sw^rd as he shuffled along, and the old funeral hymn came back to haunt him.
“Dangers stan’ thick on ebery groun’
To crush us to de tomb—
An’ swift destruction lurks aroun’
To hurry mortals home.”
It was a lonely road he was travelling, even if it was a city street. The negro cabins lay wrapped in shadow.
As Lennox approached a lilac bush that loomed high, casting its shadow across the street, he thought of Homer Hudson and that negro’s threat to get him alone.
His footsteps lagged, then quickened to almost a run. Just as he reached the edge of the shadow, he stopped suddenly, his fingers gripping the rabbit-foot charm in his trousers’ pocket.
“Len, hoi’ up!”
From behind the tall lilac bush a burly shape grew up through the shadows, and assumed the form of a gigantic negro with round, closely cropped head and vice-like jaw. “Godamity!” shivered Len, “it's Homer. Goodbye life!”
“I been awaitin’ long an’ patient fer yo’ all, Len.” Homer had approached and now stood smiling sardonically down at Uennox.
“I been a’wantin’ yo’ bad.”
Slowly, menacingly, Homer’s hand crept into a pocket of his checked suit, and like one who faces a firing squad Len closed his eyes and waited. He was powerless to move. Fear, abject and stark, froze him in his tracks. For one brief second he had a pro-death vision of Jane-Ann, wearing a long black veil, driving the sorrel mare at the head of a procession.
“Co’se tain’t any ob yo'r funeral, Len......”
LENNOX opened his eyes once more. He pinched himself. Yes, he was still alive, and Homer was standing before him with a letter in his hand.
“I says agin’ dis here letter ain’t none ob yo’r funeral,” Homer was saying, “an’ nobuddy else’s ’ceptin’ my own. But I’s gotter hab holp from yo’, Len. I needs it bad.” Lennox, breathing freely once more, shook his head. “Yo’ can’t ’speet no holp from a man yo' been threatenin’ same’s yo’ been a-threatenin’ me,' shorely,” he said.
“Shoo, Len, I didn’t mean nuffin’ by dat,” grovelled Homer. “I was jes’ a-foolin’. Yo’ and me has allars been good frien’s, ain’t us, Len?”
“Passin’ tollerable, Homer, but no man’s my frien’ what talks behind my back.”
“I’s willin’ ter ’pologise, Len. I’ll shore eat crow if so yo’ll only help me get rid oh dis trouble dat’s hoverin’ low ober me now.”
“What all?” asked Len.
Homer took his arm and drew him into the shadow of the lilac bush.
“Len, I don’ fink I ebber tell yo’ ’bout a gal named Susie Jones which I met in Detroit las’ summer when I was boxin’ dere?”
“No, I don’t ’members yo’ tellin’ me ’bout no girl.” “Well, den, I’ll tell yo’ now,” wailed Homer. “I did meet dis Susie and now dat girl’s writ me a letter an’ threatens me wif suit for breeches of promise ter marry her.”
“She sure do, Len. An’ I’s in a pretty pickle. She knows I got property.”
“Which yo’ wTas a big fool to tell her so,” said Len. “Look yo’ here, Homer, why fer did yo’ ast dat Susie ter marry yo’ fer?”
“Didn’ ast her,” asserted Homer. “I’s tellin’ yo’ straight trufe. Why, Len, I was nebber wif dat gal alone but onst in my life an’ den dere was two udder people dere.”
“Why fer she persist in dis charge, den?” Len wanted to know'.
Homer groaned. “Can’t nowise say,” he said hopelessly. “All I know' is dis hayr Susie Jones is a lean houn’on trail, an’ I’se a pantin’ rabbit.” “Den take ter hole,” suggested Len.
“Ain’t no use ter take ter hole,” stuttered Homer. “Her’s a human ferrit an’ her’ll hamstring me if so I tries it. Look yo’ what she says in dis letter she writ me.”
LEN took the letter from Homer’s shaking hand, and read it.
“Looks so dis Susie’s goin’ ter breach a keg ob trubble fer yo’, Homer: sure do,” he comforted. “Howsome-ebber, I’s willin’ ter stan’ by yo’, sam’s I’s allars did, spite ob de threats yo’ all have made again’ me.”
“I’s willin’ ter pay yo’ well,” cried Homer eagerly.
“Don’ want no pay,” returned Len loftily. “It’ll be fer frien’ship, er’ nuffin’,.”
“Yo’ allars been mighty good frien’ ter me, Len,” said Homer, abjectly.
“Pshaw, all I do was get you off on chicken-stealin’ charge an’ save yo’ from bein’ fined heaby fer cock-fightin’, Homer. Dem udder triflin’ fings like keepin’ yo’ outin’ jail fer gamblin’, an’ winnin’ yo’ free ob charge of manhandlin’ Wellington Barker ain’t wuth mentionin’ ’tall. An’ I aims ter get yo’ outin’ dis scrape, too, if so yo’r willin’ ter gib me free han’.” “What yo’ mean, free
han’?” asked Homer, his native suspicion aroused.
“I means if so I’m ter act fer yo’ all, yo’ gotter do as I say.”
“Meanin’ dis. Here yo’ is confronted wif a plain undislusioned blackmail. Dat Susie Jones don’ nowise hanker fer yo’, but her do hanker fer yo’ money. Ain’t dat right an’ corree’?”
“Quite so,” Homer admitted, miserably.
“All right den. How we goin’ ter bes’ circumvention dat black-mailin’ female?”
“I’ll tell yo’ how bes’. Yo’s goin’ ter get rid ob yo’r property right speedy. If yo’ ain’t got nuffin,’ she can’t get nuffin. Is dat clear ter yo’?”
“No!” Homer’s voice was like threatening thunder. “ ’Tain’t no-wise clear to me dat I’s goin’ ter git rid ob any my property.”
“All right den, I’m froo.”
Len re-lit his cheroot and turned away.
“Hol’ on, Len, for lub ob heaben, hoi’ on,” wailed Homer. “I’s willin’ ter do anyfing yo’ suggests.”
“Den no more objections,” warned Lennox sternly. “If yo’s a pantin’ rabbit, as yo’ says, yo’ orter welkum mos’ any way ob gibin’ dat Susie Jones de go-by. I is yo’r one ferrit-proof hole, Homer. Duck down inter me.... er’ pass mé by. Jes’ please yo’se’f.”
"I’s thankful 'nuff ter duck, Len,” agreed Homer. “Now, how is I ter act? I’ll do jes’ what yo’ say.”
From an inner pocket Len drew a leather wallet. From the wallet he plucked some bank notes, three five dollar bills and a one.
“Firs’ off an’ final,” he asked, his eyes on Homer’s, “do yo’ trus’ me implicikly, Homer?”
“I don’, but I guess I’ll hab ter,” answered Homer, sullenly.
“Same fing,” nodded Len. “Now den, fer dis fifteen dollars, I’s buyin’ yo’r house, an’ lot, an’ furniture.”
Homer’s eyes rolled. He opened his mouth, then closed it slowly.
“Yo’se buyin’ eberyfin’ I owns fer dat fifteen dollars?” he murmured dazedly.
“No, not eberyfin’,” Len corrected, “but yo’ bes’ sell dat pastur lot ’long de ribber ter dat Athletic Society: den yo’ see, yo’ won’t possess no property ’tall. Gollies yo’ll be glad ob dat, eh?”
Tickled ter deff,” groaned Homer.
“Sure. What kin Susie Jones do if so yo’ ain’t got nuffin’ ter seize on. Her can’t do a fing.”
“But, Len, s’posin’ dat Sqsie get ter know I sell out! Won’t her fink I got money)"
“One ting at a time, Homer. I’s cornin’ ter dat. Now here’s de purchase price ob de house an’ furniture. Yo’ jes’ sign dese here receipes I’ve writ out in dis book.
“Now den,” as Homer obeyed, “dat’s closed. Yo’ got yo’r money an’ de purchaser’s got de property. Nex’ step is fer yo’ ter lose dat money.”
“Yo’ mus’ be able to swear, if obliged ter, dat yo’ lose dat money. Jes’ yo’ walk few paces from me, Homer, an' drap dem bills on groun’.”
“Lordamity!” Homer swayed in his tracks, and wiped the perspiration from his brow. “I’s a pauper fer shore, Len.”
“Temporationally, only,” soothed Lennox. “A day or two at outsede.” His long arm shot earthward; his fingers caught up the bills which Homer dropped on the ground and crammed them in his pocket.
“What’ll I do now, Len?” asked Homer helplessly.
“Go home, stay dar, sell dat ribber lan’ ter de Athletic Society and leab it ter me ter frow de fear ob de Lor’ inter dat Susie Jones.”
Later, by the light of the kitchen lamp, with Jane-Ann’s snores proclaiming, for the present at least, his domestic world a safe abiding place, Len again perused the letter which Homer had handed him beside the lilac bush. His face twitched to a smile as he read the crumpled, printed page in his hand, which, despite the fact that it lacked name or address, was potent, and to the point.
“Unless you marry me as you promised I am going to soo you for one thousand dollars breach of promsary damages and may god have mercy on your sole.
“Susie Jones (the girl you woed and one in Detroit).
“P. S. I am here in your town and watching you so don’t try to side step me.”
Len lit his corn-cob and, lifting his feet to the kitchen table, gave himself up to retrospection.
It was past midnight when he at last sought his bed. He slept restfully and at six next morning arose, dressed and prepared his breakfast.
In order to carry out the programme he had mapped for the day, it was necessary for him to disappear early and stay disappeared.
He fed the dog and cocked his ear toward the bedroom. Jane-Ann was still sleeping. All augured well. Len pulled on his hat and, opening the door softly, passed outside.
JANE-ANN awoke. A nightmare had galloped across the meadow of her beauty sleep in the form of a giantess mulatto woman, who held a huge tablefork in her hands, on the tines of which was impaled a wriggling human being. JaneAnn shrieked as she recognized in the distorted features of the victim those of her husband, Lennox.
Twenty minutes later, attired in a flowered kimona and gripping in one clenched hand the letter signed Susie Jones— which Lennox had in his abstraction carelessly left behind on the table—Jane-Ann was sorry the dream had not been a reality. “Heavingly Lor’,” she groaned, rocking backward and foward in her chair, “jes’ ter fink ob dat nigger’s perfidition. I done knowed dat dream was premonitionary, an’ now dis hayr letter from dat wumman prove it up. So Len make lub to anudder female, do he? He promise her marriage do he? An’ she all demands one thousan’ dollars wreckage damages? Ump, I reckon dem fork-tines hain’t even a hint ob what dat villain’s goin’ ter feel when I cotches sight ob him a’gin. An’ Susie—” She sat back and glowered down at the name, on the letter, “if so I has luck enuff ter run across yo’ all, I’ll use Jew language on yo’; I shorely will. When I gets froo tallan’' wif my han’s, dere’s not goin’ ter be ’nuff ob yo’ left ter make burial worf while.”
BY THE time she had the breakfast dishes washed and put away in the pantry, Jane-Ann had her campaign of
procedure pretty well planned in her mind'
Her first act was to tie on her sunbonnet, go down to Chatville-West, and return a brier pipe in a red case and get back her money. She had purchased the pipe as a birthday present for Lennox, and to the store-keeper’s look of surprise, she vouchsafed the information Len was going to stop smoking and she needed the money to buy mourning.
Returning home an hour before noon she found a boy from the mill in which Len worked as stave cutter, waiting for her.
“Wha’s matter, Bennie?” she asked. “Len missin’ ag’in?”
“Yessam,” answered the boy. “Boss Bent’s ask me ter come ober an’ see what de matter wif him.”
“Well, you run ’long back an’ tell Boss dere’s heaps de matter wif him,” said JaneAnn darkly, “but í nuffin ter what’s goin’ ter be.” '
“Yessam. He won’t be cornin’ ter work dis day, den?”
“ ‘Tain’t a’ all likely, Bennie. Now yo’ run ’long.”
Jane-Ann entered her house and proceeded to get her implements of warfare in readiness.
“When dat nigger comes trailin’ ’long hum af’er a glorious day ob huntin’ wil’ females,” she told the round-eyed Orinoco, who gazed out at her from behind the wood box, “I’s goin’ ter show him dis letter from de woman he did ope thousan’ dollars damage ter, an’ den he’s goin’ ter slip his hayr mortal coil like a freed clockspring. He’ll be so fas’ gettin’ from hayr ter whar he’s goin’, his wool’ll be singed. An’ I’m guessin’ it’ll be singed a sight worse when he gets dar.”
AS UNMINDFUL'of impending domestic disaster as a basking butterfly on a black-snake’s head, Lennox strolled through the scented dusk of twilight, a song on his lips, gladness in his heart.
Gone was the lagging step which the “Hurry mortals Home” dirge of last night had inspired; in its place was the happy rhythm:
“I’s goin’, I don’ care—
“I’s goin’, I don’ care—
I’s goin’, don’ know where.”
Only in this case Lennox had a pretty good idea as to where he was going, as his number nines shuffled forward to the time of the song". He was going first of all to Homer’s place and collect from him ten dollars expense money. True, there was a bare possibility that Homer might ask for an itemized statement of his expenses in connection with the Jones v. Hudson damage suit, but that was but a possible contingency.
“Face trubble when he show his teef, smile when luck brush yo’r face wif her wing. Dat Homer’ll be so tickled ter fin’ hisself free, he won’t fink none ’bout payin’ dat small sum, no sah.”
Lennox found the Hudson cottage cloaked in darkness. The blinds were down and the whole place possessed a deathlike calm. However, Len approached the door and scratched softly on the panel.
“Homer,” he called guardedly, “Oh, Homer. It’s me, Len.”
There was a shuffle from within, and the door opened. The next instant a big hand shot out and jerked Len inside.
“Len, did yo’ fin’ her?” was Homer’s first question.
Lennox sat down on a horse-hair chair, and wiped his face on his handkerchief.
“I find her all hunky,” he said, “but it mighty nigh worked me offin’ my feet doin’ it. I spen’ all ob ten dollars one way an’ ’nudder afore I lo-cationed dat Susie Jones vamp wummin, shore did.”
“An’ when yo’ fin’ her, her said what, Len?”
Lennox waved his hand. “What matter what her said? It’s what I say ter her, dat counts fer yo’ all. I said plenty to make her change her min’, an’ wifdraw her bigamy charge ’gainst yo’, Homer.” Homer’s gold tooth flashed in a smile. “Yo’ am shore one mighty good frien’, Len,” he said warmly. “I won’t ebber ferget it.”
Len paid no attention to that promise. He had heard Homer voice it before.
“Did you sell de ribber lot, as I tol’ yo’ ter?” he asked.
“Well den,” as Homer nodded, eagerly, “vn’ll please ter pay me de ten I spen’ gettin’ yo’ free, Homer, an’ 111 be getting back hum. Got a birfday ter night an .lane-Ann’s aimin’ on chicken supper. Better come 'long an’ dine up wif us.
Homer from a fat wad peeled off a ten «pot and handed it over. “Jane-Ann might not jes’ take ter yo’ bringin’ me, he demurred.
“Jane-Ann done ast me ter fotch yo’ sure,” lied Len, “Come’long.”
Still Homer hung back. “Yo’ bes’ go firs’, an’ I’ll trail ’long down behind, he suggested.
Len nodded and left the house. On the mill path he found Gibson waiting for him with twenty dollars. It was a pretty good old world. Before him was a fine chicken supper, a pleasant room with Homer as companion and a game of poker, ten cents a corner. He had had a good day.
ire had made thirty dollars and if luck held, he might still make more. And yet as he went up the garden path to his cot-
Something was going to happen; what, he didn’t know, but it was going to happen. Orinoco, the pup, hadn’t come out to meet him. He felt for his rabbitfoot charm and mumbled a few potent words under his breath as he pushed open the door and entered.
Jane-Ann rose ponderously and faced
“Man,” she said in a sibilant whisper, “yo’r time has come. I’s goin’ ter teach yo’ one fing an’ yo’ ain’t nebber goin’ ter get no opportunity ter fergit it, kase dere ain’t goin’ ter be no time^ Now den, clamp yo’r snake’s eyes on dis letter frum yo’r discarded sweetheart an’ lie yo’r las’ lie ter me, yo’r disgraced wife.”
Len’s eyes rolled and his jaw dropped. So he had forgotten and left that letter on the table. What could he say? What could he do? Jane-Ann would never believe him. He shivered and the sweat camé out on his forehead. He had never seen'Jane-Ann in such a calm, deadly temper as this before.
“Dat wummin’ means what her’s sayin’,” he groaned inwardly. “In a minute er so dis nigger’s goin’ ter be playin’ a harp.”
He heard himself speaking, dry-voiced, husky. “Dat’s Homer Hudson’s letter, Jane-Ann.”
“An’ how come yo’ by Homer Hudson's lub-an’-damage letter, liar? Answer up dat?”
“Why yo’ see—” Len stammered and stumbled, “yo’ see—”
“Nuff sed,” stormed Jane-Ann. “Dis am one time when de king ob all liars is stuck. Now den, I’s goin’ ter perceed—” She broke off abruptly as a heavy step sounded on the gravel-walk. A moment later the door opened afid Homer Hudson entered the room.
His eyes took in the scene before him, resting last on the letter in Jane-Ann’s hand.
“ ‘Scuse me, Mis’ Ballister,” he spoke, “but dat’s my letter yo’ got dar. If you’ll please ter gib it here, I’ll de-stroy it.” “Yo’r lettergasped Jane-Ann. “How come it in Len’s possession den?”
Homer explained, “Len, he sorter holped me outin’ dis scrape fer sake ob frien’ship,” he said. “Dat Susie Jones was a black femaler, Mis’ Ballister, an’ tried settin’ trap for me.”
Light began to flicker in on Jane-Ann. “Jes’ one moment,” she addressed Homer, “If so dis am yo’r letter, tole me what it says.”
Homer, in whose frightened soul every word of that letter had burned itself, obeyed without the slightest difficulty. Jane-Ann slumped down on a seat.
“I reckon I jes’ gotter have a good squall,” she managed to say, “but I’s jes’ too releabed in my min’ ter do it. What I bes’ do is git supper ready fer de bes’ man a woman ebber had.”
“An’ his frien,” substantiated Len. Jane-Ann stood beaming through her tears.
“Len, yo’ cayn’t jes’ guess what I buyed yo’ fer yore birfday.”
Len, whose eyes had caught sight of the black crepe ribbon on the table, answered up promptly.
“I shore is hopin’ it’s a black neck-tie, Jane-Ann, ’cause I allars wanted a black crepe tie.”
He followed Jane-Ann out into the cook house.
“Here,” he said, handing her a ten dollar note, “I made dat ter day. Buy yo’self some gumdraps.”
Jane-Ann took the money and tucked it away in her bosom.
“La, Len, yo’ sure make de mostes’ money.”
She paused suddenly and a look of apprehension crossed her ample face.
“Len, was de one dat write dat letter ter
Homer a great tall wumman wif yaller skin an’ a fork in her han’?” she asked, fearfully.
Len shook his head.
“I reckon not, Jane-Ann. Dat pusson what wrote dat letter looked a great deal like yo’r ol’ man.”