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lifted his voice still higher. "Petuh! Hey, Petuh, I sho 'vise you 'g'inst anything you 's gwine tuh do!"
A pulse throbbed in Siner's temples. The wrath of the cozened heated his body. His clothes felt hot. As he strode up the trash-piled street, the white merchants lolling in their doors began smiling. Presently a laugh broke out at one end of the street and was caught up here and there. It was the undying minstrel jest, the comedy of a black face. Dawson Bobbs leaned against the wide brick entrance of the livery-stable, his red face balled into shining convexities by a quizzical smile.
"Hey, Peter," he drawled, winking at old Mr. Tomwit, "been investing in real estate?" and broke into Homeric laughter.
As Peter passed on, the constable dropped casually in behind the brown man and followed him up to the bank.
To Peter Siner the walk up to the bank was an emotional confusion. He had a dim consciousness that voices said things to him along the way and that there was laughter. All this was drowned by desperate thoughts and futile plans to regain his lost money flashing through his head. The cashier would exchange the money for the deed; he would enter suit and carry it to the Supreme Court; he would show the money had not been his, he had had no right to buy; he would beg the cashier. His head seemed to spin around and around.
He climbed the steps into the Planter's Bank and entered the screendoor. The cashier glanced up briefly, but continued busily at his ledger.
Peter walked shakenly to the barred window in the grill.
"Very busy now, Peter," came the high voice.
"I want to know about this deed." The banker was nimbly setting down long rows of figures.
"No time to explain deeds, Peter.” "But-but there is a clause in this deed, Mr. Hooker, estopping colored persons from occupying the Dillihay place."
"Precisely. What about it?" Mr. Hooker snapped out his inquiry and looked up suddenly, catching Peter full in the face with his narrow-set eyes. It was the equivalent of a blow.
"According to this, I-I can't establish a school on it.”
"Then what can I do with it!" cried Peter.
"Sell it. You have what lawyers call a cloud on the title. Sell it. I'll give you ten dollars for your right in it, just to clear up my title.”
A queer trembling seized Peter. The little banker turned into a queer, fantastic caricature of a man. His hatchet face, close-set eyes, harsh, straight hair, with his squeaky voice, looked like some prickly, dried-up gnome a man sees in a fever.
At that moment the little wicketdoor of the window opened under the pressure of Peter's shoulder. Inside, on the desk lay neat piles of bills in all denominations, ready to be placed in the vault. In a nervous tremor Peter dropped in his blue-covered deed and picked up a hundred-dollar bill.
"I-I won't trade," he gibbered. "It-it was n't my money. Here 's your deed!" Peter was moving away.
He felt a terrific impulse to run, but preached. It made me want to help he walked.
The banker straightened abruptly. "Stop there, Peter!" he screeched. At that moment Dawson Bobbs lounged into the door with his perpetual grin balling up his broad, red face. He had a toothpick in his mouth.
"S'matter?" he asked casually. "Peter there," said the banker, with a pale, sharp face, "does n't want to stick to his trade. He is just walking off with one of my hundred-dollar bills."
"Sick o' yo' deal, Peter?" inquired Bobbs, smiling and shifting the toothpick. He bit down on it. "Well, wha' che want done, Henry?"
"Oh," hesitated the cashier in a quandary, "nothing, I suppose. Siner was excited; you know how niggers are. We can't afford to send every nigger to the pen that breaks the law." He stood studying Peter out of his closeset eyes. "Here 's your deed, Peter," -he shoved it back under the grill,"and lem me give you a little friendly advice. I'd just run an ordinary nigger school if I was you. This higher education don't seem to make a nigger much smarter when he comes back than when he starts out." A faint smile bracketed the thin nose.
Dawson Bobbs roared with sudden appreciation, took the bill from Peter's fingers, and pushed it back under the grill.
The cashier picked up the money, casually. He considered a moment, then reached for a long envelop. As he did so, the incident with Peter evidently passed from his mind, for his hatchet face lighted up as with some inward illumination.
"Bobbs," he said warmly, "that was a great sermon Brother Blackwater
according as the Lord has blessed me. Could n't you spare five dollars, Bobbs, to go along with this?"
The constable tried to laugh and wriggle away, but the cashier's eyes kept boring him, and eventually he fished out a five-dollar bill and handed it in. Mr. Hooker placed the two bills in the envelop, sealed and handed it to the constable.
"Jest drop that in the post-office as you go down the street, Bobbs," he directed in his high voice.
Peter caught a glimpse of the typewritten address. It was:
Rev. Lemuel Hardiman, C/a United Missions, Katuako Post, Bahr el Ghazal, Sudan,
The white population of Hooker's Bend was much amused and gratified at the outcome of the Hooker-Siner land deal. Every one agreed that the cashier's chicanery was a droll and highly original turn to give to a negro exclusion clause drawn into a deed. Then, too, it involved several legal points highly congenial to the Hooker's Bend intellect. Could the Sons and Daughters of Benevolence recover their hundred dollars? Could Henry Hooker force them to pay the remaining seven hundred? Could not Siner establish his school on the Dillihay place regardless of the clause, since the cashier would be estopped from obtaining an injunction by his own instrument?
As a matter of fact, the Sons and Daughters of Benevolence sent a com
mittee to wait on Mr. Hooker to see what action he meant to take on the notes that paid for his spurious deed. This brought another harvest of rumors. Street gossip reported that Henry had compromised for this, that, and the other amount, that he would not compromise, that he had persuaded the fool niggers into signing still other instruments. Peter never knew the truth. He was not on the committee.
But high above the legal phase of interest lay the warming fact that Peter Siner, a negro graduate of Harvard, on his first tilt in Hooker's Bend affairs had ridden to a fall. This pleased even the village women, whose minds could not follow the subtle trickeries of legal disputation. The whole affair simply proved what the white village had known all along: you can't educate a nigger. Hooker's Bend warmed with pleasure that half of its population was ineducable.
White sentiment in Hooker's Bend reacted strongly on Nigger Town. Peter Siner's prestige was no more. The cause of higher education for negroes took a mighty slump. Junius Gholston, a negro boy who had intended to go to Nashville to attend Fisk University, reconsidered the matter, packed away his good clothes, put on overalls, and shipped down the river as a roustabout instead.
In the Siner cabin old Caroline Siner berated her boy for his stupidity in ever trading with that low-down, twisting snake in the grass, Henry Hooker. She alternated this with floods of tears. Caroline had no sympathy for her offspring. She said she had thrown away years of self-sacrifice, years of washing, a thousand little comforts her money would have bought, all for nothing, for less than
nothing to ship a fool up North and to ship him back again.
Of all Nigger Town, Caroline was the most unforgiving because Peter had wounded her in her pride. Every other negro in the village felt that genial satisfaction in a great man's downfall that is balm to small souls. But the old mother knew not this consolation. Peter was her proxy. It was she who had fallen.
The only person in Nigger Town who continued amiable to Peter Siner was Cissie Dildine. The octoroon, perhaps, had other criteria by which to judge a man than his success or mishap in dealing with a pettifogger.
Two or three days after the catastrophe Cissie made an excursion to the Siner shack with a plate of cookies. Cissie was careful to place her visit on exactly a normal footing. She brought her little cakes in the rôle of one who saw no evil, spoke no evil, and had heard no evil. But somehow Cissie's visit increased the old woman's wrath. She remained obstinately in the kitchen, and made loud remarks not only audible, but arresting, through the thin partition that separated it from the poor living-room.
Cissie was hardly inside when a voice stated that it hated to see a gal running after a man, trying to bait him with a lot of fum-diddles.
Cissie gave Peter a single wide-eyed glance, and then attempted to ignore the bodiless comment.
"Here are some cookies, Mr. Siner," began the girl, a little nervously. "I thought you and Aunt Carolin'-"
"Yeh, I 'magine dey 's fuh me!" jeered the spectral voice. "Might like them," concluded the girl, with a little gasp.
"I sutt'inly don't want no light
whole thing shows you 're a gentleman used to dealing with gentlemen. But of course these Hooker's Bend negroes will never see that!"
Peter, surprised and grateful, looked at Cissie. Her construction of the swindle was more flattering than any apology he had been able to frame for himself.
"Still, Cissie, I ought to have used the greatest care'
"I'm not talking about what you 'ought,'" stated the octoroon, crisply; "I'm talking about what you are. When it comes to 'ought,' we colored people must get what we can, any way we can. We fight from the bottom." "One thing is sure, I 've lost my prestige, whatever it was worth." The girl nodded slowly.
"With the others you have, I suppose."
He put the plate down with a swift glance around for his hat. He found it, and strode to the door, following the girl. The two hurried out into the street, followed by indistinct strictures from the kitchen. Cissie breathed rapidly, with open lips. They moved rapidly along the semicircular street almost with a sense of flight. For some distance they walked in a nervous silence, then Cissie said: "Your mother certainly hates me, My prestige was a bit too flamboyant, Peter."
"No," said Peter, trying to soften the situation, "it 's me; she 's terribly hurt about " he nodded toward white town-"that business."
Cissie opened her clear, brown eyes. "Your own mother turned against you!"
"Oh, she has a right to be," began Peter, defensively. "I ought to have read that deed. It's amazing I did n't, but I-I really was n't expecting a trick. Mr. Hooker seemed so-so sympathetic-" He came to a lame halt, staring at the dust through which they picked their way.
"Of course you were n't expecting tricks!" cried Cissie, warmly. "The
Peter glanced at Cissie. It was a strong temptation to give the conversation a personal turn, but he continued on the general topic:
"Well, perhaps it 's just as well.
Cissie. All I had to do was to mention a plan. The Sons and Daughters did n't even discuss it. They put it right through. That was n't healthy."
They moved along for some distance in silence, when the girl asked:
"What are you going to do now, Peter?"
"Teach, and keep working for that training school," stated Peter, almost belligerently. "You did n't expect a little thing like a hundred dollars to stop me, did you?"
"No-o-o," conceded Cissie, with some reserve of judgment in her tone. Presently she added, "You could do a lot better up North, Peter." "For whom?"