Puslapio vaizdai

Presently Tump Pack's form outlined itself in the yellow obscurity, groping toward Peter. He still held his pistol, but it swung at his side. He called Peter's name in the strained voice of a man struggling not to cough:

she done somp'm," chanted Tump, with the melancholy cadence of his race. He shook his dusty head. "You ain't nevuh been in jail, is you, black man?"

Peter said. he had not.

"Lawd! it ain't no place fuh a

"Petuh-is Mistah Bobbs done woman," declared Tump. "You

'rested Cissie?"

Peter could hardly talk himself. "Don't know. Looks like it." The two negroes stared at each other through the dust.

"Fo' Gawd's sake! Cissie 'rested!" Tump began to cough. Then he wheezed:

"Mine an' yo' little deal 's off, Petuh. You got to he'p git huh out." Here he fell into a violent fit of coughing, and started groping his way to the edge of the dust-cloud.

In the rush of the moment the swift change in Peter's situation appeared only natural. He followed Tump, so distressed by the dust and disturbed by Cissie that he hardly thought of his peculiar position. The dust pinched the upper part of his throat, stung his nose. Tears trickled from his eyes, and he pressed his finger against his upper lip, trying not to sneeze. He was still struggling against the sneeze when Tump recovered his speech.

"Wh-whut you guess she done, Petuh? She don' shoot craps nuh bootlaig nuh-" He fell to coughing.

Peter got out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.

dunno nothin' 'bout it, black man. It sho ain't no place fuh a woman."

A notion of an iron cage floated before Peter's mind. The two negroes trudged on through the crescent side by side, their steps raising a little trail of dust in the air behind them. Their faces and clothes were of a uniform dust color. Streaks of mud marked the runnels of their tears down their cheeks.

The two colored men walked up the little path of the Dildine place, knocked, and waited on the steps for the little skirmish of observation from behinds the blinds. None came. The worst had befallen the house; there was nothing to guard. The door opened as soon as an inmate could reach it, and Vannie Dildine, Cissie's mother, stood before them.

The quadroon's eyes were red, and her face had the moist, slightly swollen appearance that comes of protracted weeping. She looked so frail and miserable that Peter instinctively stepped inside and took her arm to assist her in the mere physical effort of standing.

"What is the matter, Mrs. Dildine?" he asked in a shocked tone.

"Let 's go-to the Dildine house," "What 's happened to Cissie?" he said.

The two moved hurriedly through the thinning cloud, and presently came to breathable air, where they could see the houses around them.

"I know she done somp'm; I know

Vannie began weeping again with a faint gasping and a racking of her flat chest.

"It's-it 's-O-o-oh, Petuh!" She put an arm about him and began weeping against him. He soothed

her, patted her shoulder, at the same time staring at the side of her head, wondering what could have dealt her this blow.

Presently she steadied herself and began explaining in feeble little phrases, sandwiched between sobs and gasps: "She-tuk a brooch. Kep'-kep' layin' it roun' in-h-huh way, th-that young Sam Arkwright did,-a-an' fin❜ly she-she tuk hit. N-nen, when he seen he h-had huh, he said sh-shshe'd haf to d-do wh-what he said, aw he 'd sen' huh tuh-tuh ja-a-il!" Vannie sobbed drearily for a few moments on Peter's breast. "Sh-she did fuh uh while; nen sh-she broke off wid h-him, anyhow, an'-an' he swo' out a wa'nt an' sont huh tuh jail!" The mother sobbed without comfort, and finally added, "Sh-she done in a delicate fix now, an' 'at jail gon' be a gloomy place fuh Cissie."


The three negroes stood motionless in the dusty hallway, motionless save for the racking of Vannie's sobs. Tump Pack stirred himself. "Well, we got ta git huh out." words trailed off. He stood wrinkling his half inch of brow. "Ah wondah would dey exchange prisonahs; wondah ef I could go up an' su've out Cissie's tu'm."

"O Tump," gasped the woman, "ef you only could!"

“Ah 'll step an' see, Miss Vannie. At sho ain't no place fuh uh nice gal lak Cissie." Tump turned on his mission, evidently intending to walk to Jonesboro and offer himself in the place of the prisoner.

Peter supported Vannie back into the poor living-room, and placed her in the old rocking-chair before the empty hearth. There was where he had sat the evening Cissie had made

her painful confession to him. Only now did he realize the whole of what Cissie was trying to confess.

§ 5

Peter Siner overtook Tump Pack a little way down the crescent opposite the Berry shack. The thoroughfare was deserted, because the weather was cold and the scantily clad children were indoors. However, from every shack came sound of laughing and romping, and now and then a youngster darted through the cold from one hut to another.

It seemed to Peter Siner only a little while since he and Ida May were skittering through wintry weather from one fire to another, with Cissie, a wailing, wet-nosed little spoil-sport, trailing after them. And then, with a wheeling of the years, they were scattered everywhere.

As the negroes passed the Berry shack, Nan Berry came out with an old shawl around her bristling spikes. She stopped the two men and drew them to her gate with a gesture. "Whauh you gwine?" "Jonesbuh."

"What you gon' do 'bout po-o-o' Cissie?"

"Gon' see ef the sheriff won' take me 'stid o' Cissie."

"Tha' 's right," said Nan, nodding solemnly. "I hopes he will. You is mo' used to it, Tump."

"Yeh, an' 'at jail sho ain't no place fuh a nice gal lak Cissie."

"Sho ain't," agreed Nan. Peter interrupted to say he was sure the sheriff would not exchange. The hopes of his listeners fell. "Weh-ul," dragged out Nan, with a long face, "of co'se now it's lak disef Cissie' gon' tuh stay in dat ja-ul,

she 's gon' need some mo' clo's cep'n what she 's got on-specially lak she is."

out the little group, but he soon recognized their voices: Parson Ranson, Wince Washington, Jerry Dilli

Tump stared down the swing of the hay, and all of the Berry family. crescent.

"'Fo' Gawd, dis sho don' seem lak hits right tuh me," he said.

Nan let herself out of the rickety gate. "You niggahs wait heah tull I runs up to Miss Vannie's an' git some of Cissie's clo's fuh you to tote to huh."

Tump objected.

"Jail ain't no place fuh clean clo'es. She jes bettah su've out huh tu'm lak she is, an' wash up when she gits thu."

"You fool niggah," snapped Nan, "she kain't su've out huh tu'm lak she is!"

"Da' 's so," said Tump.

The three stood silent, Nan and Tump lost in blankness, trying to think of something to do for Cissie. Finally Nan said:

"I heah she done commit gran' la'ceny, an' they gon' sen' huh to de pen."

They were talking of Cissie, of course. They hoped Cissie would n't really be sent to the penitentiary, that the white folks would let her out in time for her to have her child at home. Parson Ranson thought it would be bad luck for a child to be born in jail.

Wince Washington, who had been in jail a number of times, suggested that they bail Cissie out by signing their names to a paper. He had been set free by this means once or twice.

Sally, Nan's little sister, observed tartly that if Cissie had n't acted so, she would n't have been in jail.

"Don' speak lak dat of dem as in trouble, Sally," reproved old Parson Ranson, solemnly; "anybody can say 'if.""

"Sho am de troof," agreed Jerry Dillihay.

"Sho am, black man." The conversation drifted into the endless

"What is gran' la'ceny?" asked moralizing of their race, but it held no Tump.

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criticism or condemnation of Cissie. From the tone of the negroes one would have thought some impersonal disaster had overtaken her. Every one was planning how to help Cissie, how to make her present state more endurable. They were the black folk, the unfortunate of the earth, and the pride of righteousness is only to the well placed and the untempted.

Presently Nan came back with a bundle of Cissie's clothes. Tump took the bundle of dainty lingerie, the intimate garments of the woman he loved, and set forth on his quixotic errand. He tied it to his shoulderholster and set out. Peter went a

little of the way with him. It was almost dusk when they started. The chill of approaching night stung the men's faces. As they walked past the footpath that led over the Big Hill, three pistol-shots from the glade announced that the boot-leggers had opened business for the night.

Tump paused and shivered. He said it was a cold night. He thought he would like to get a kick of "white mule" to put a little heart in him. It was a long walk to Jonesboro. He hesitated a moment, then turned off the road around the crescent for the path through the glade.

A thought to dissuade Tump from drinking the fiery "singlings" of the moonshiners crossed Peter's mind, but he put it aside. Tump was a habitué of the glade. All the physiological arguments upon which Peter could base an argument were far beyond the ex-soldier's comprehension. So Tump turned off through the dark trees. Peter watched him until all he could see was the white blur of Cissie's underwear swinging against his holster.


After Tump's disappearance, Peter stood for several minutes thinking. His brief crusade into Nigger Town had ended in a situation far outside of his volition. That morning he had started out with some vague idea of taking Nigger Town in his hands and molding it in accordance with his white ideas; but Nigger Town had taken Peter into its hands, had threatened his life, had administered to him profound mental and moral shocks, and now had dropped him, like some bit of waste, with his face set over the Big Hill for white town.

As Peter stood there it seemed to him there was something symbolic in his attitude. He was no longer of the black world; he was of the white. He did not understand his people; they eluded him.

He belonged to the white world; not to the village across the hill, but to the North. Nothing now prevented him from going North and taking the position with Farquhar. Cissie Dildine was impossible for him now. Nigger Town was immovable, at least for him. He was no Washington to lead his people to a loftier plane. In fact, Peter began to suspect that he was no leader at all. He saw now that his initial success with the Sons and Daughters of Benevolence had been effected merely by the aura of his college training. After his first misstep he had never rehabilitated himself. He perhaps had a dash of the artistic in him, and the power to mold ideas often confuses itself subjectively with the power to mold human beings. In reality he did not even understand the people he assumed to mold. A suspicion came to him that under the given conditions their ways were more rational than his own.

As for Cissie Dildine, his duty by the girl, his queer protective passion for her all that was surely past now. After her lapse from all decency there was no reason why he should spend another thought on her. He would go north to Chicago.

The last of the twilight was fading in swift, visible gradations of light. The cedars, the shacks, and the hill faded in pulse-beats of darkness. Above the Big Hill the last umber of day smoldered against a green-blue infinity. Here and there a star pricked the dome with a wintry brilliance.

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applied firmly, like a white man. But somehow the stars multiplied and kept Cissie's image before Peter-a cold, frightened girl, harassed with coming motherhood, peering at those chill, distant lights out of the blackness of a jail.

The mulatto decided to spend the night at his mother's shack. He would do his packing, and be ready for the down-river boat in the morning. He found his way to his own gate in the darkness. He lifted it around, entered, and walked to his door. When he tried to open it, he found some one had bored holes through the shutter and the jamb and had wired it shut.

Peter struck a match to see just what had been done. The flame displayed a small sheet tacked on the door. He spent two matches investigating it. It was a notice of levy, posted by the constable in an action of debt brought against the estate of Caroline Siner by Henry Hooker. The owner of the estate and the public in general were warned against removing anything whatsoever from the premises under penalty exacted by the law governing such offenses. Then Peter untwisted the wire and entered.

Peter searched about on the inside. and found the tiny brass night lamp which his mother always had used.

The larger glass-bowled lamp was gone. The interior of the hut was clammy from cold and foul from long lack of airing. In the corner his mother's old four-poster loomed in the shadows, but he could see some of its covers had been taken. He passed into the kitchen with a notion of building a fire, but one of the lids of the old step-stove was gone. The greater part of the pans and kettles had disappeared, but the pretty old Dutch sugar-bowl remained on a bare, papercovered shelf. Negro-like, whatever person or persons had ransacked Peter's home considered the sugar-bowl too fine to take. Or they may have thought that Peter would want this. bowl for a keepsake, and with that queer compassion that permeates a negro's worst moments they allowed it to remain. And Peter knew if he raised an outcry about his losses, much of it would be surreptitiously restored, or perhaps his neighbors would bring back his things and say they had found them. They would help him as best they could, just as any one in the crescent would help Cissie as best they could, and would receive her back as one of them when she and her baby were finally released from jail.

They were a queer, queer people. They were a people who would never get on well and do well. They lacked the steel-like edge that the white man achieves. By virtue of his hardness, a white man makes his very laws and virtues instruments to crush and mulct his fellow-man; but negroes are so softened by untoward streaks of sympathy that they lose the very uses of their crimes.

The depression of the whole day settled upon Peter with the deepening night. He held his poor light above

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