Puslapio vaizdai

missionary on the upper Congo. But the banker had sold some village lots to the negroes, and in two instances, where a streak of commercial phosphate had been discovered on the properties, the lots had reverted to the Hooker estate. There had been something about a mineral reservation in the deed that the negro purchasers knew nothing about until the phosphate was discovered. The whole matter had been perfectly legal.

A hand shook Siner's shoulder and interrupted his review. Peter turned and caught an alcoholic breath over his shoulder, and the blurred voice of a Southern negro called out above the rumble of the car and the roar of the engine:

"Fo' God, if dis ain't Petuh Sinuh I 's been lookin' at de las' twenty miles, an' not knowin' him wid sich skeniptious clo'es on! Wha' yuh fum, niggah?"

Siner took the enthusiastic hand offered him and studied the heavily set, powerful man bending over his seat. He was in a soldier's uniform, and his broad nutmeg-colored face and hot black eyes brought Peter a vague sense of familiarity; but he never would have identified his impression had he not observed on the breast of the soldier's uniform the congressional military medal for bravery on the field of battle. Its glint furnished Peter the necessary clew. He remembered his mother writing him something about Tump Pack going to France and getting "crowned" before the army. He had puzzled a long time over what she meant by "crowned" before he guessed her meaning. Now the medal aided Peter in reconstructing out of this big umber-colored giant the

rather spindling Tump Pack he had known in Hooker's Bend.

Siner was greatly surprised, and his heart warmed at the sight of his old playmate.

"What have you been doing to yourself, Tump?" cried Peter, laughing, and shaking the big hand in sudden warmth. "You used to be the size of a dime in a jewelry store."

"Been in 'e ahmy, niggah, wha' I 's been fed," said the grinning brown man, delightedly. "I sho is picked up, ain't Ah?"

"And what are you doing here in Cairo?”

"Tryin' to bridle a li'l' white mule." Mr. Pack winked a whiskybrightened eye jovially and touched his coat to indicate that some of the "white mule" was in his pocket and had not been drunk.

"How'd you get here?"

"Wucked muh way down on de St. Louis packet an' got paid off at Padjo [Paducah, Kentucky]; 'n' 'en I thought I'd come on down heah an' roll some bones. Been hittin' 'em two days now, 'n' I sho come putty neah bein' cleaned; but I put up li'l' Joe heah, an' wan 'em all back, 'n' 'en some." He touched the medal on his coat, winked again, slapped Siner on the leg, and burst into loud laughter.

Peter was momentarily shocked. He made a place on the seat for his friend to sit.

"You don't mean you put up your medal on a crap game, Tump?"

"Sho do, black man." Pack became soberer. "Dat 's one of de great benefits of bein' decorated. Dey ain't a son of uh gun on de rivah what can win li'l' Joe; dey all tried it."

A moment's reflection told Peter how simple and natural it was for Pack to prize his military medal as a good-luck piece to be used as a last resort in crap games. He watched Tump stroke the face of his medal with his fingers.

"My mother wrote me about your getting it, Tump. I was glad to hear it."

The brown man nodded, and stared down at the bit of gold on his barrellike chest.

"Yes, suh, dat uz guv to me fuh bravery. You know what a skeery little niggah I wuz roun' Hookah's Ben'; well, de sergeant tuk me an' he drill ebuh bit o' dat right out 'n me. He gim me a baynit an' teach me to stob dummies wid it ovah at Camp Oglethawp, ontil he felt lak I had de hea't to stob anything; 'n' 'en he sont me acrost. I had tuh git a new paiuh breeches evuh thwee weeks, I growed so fas'." Here he broke out into his big loose laugh again, and renewed the alcoholic scent around Peter.

"And you made good?"

"Sho did, black man, an', 'fo' God, I 'zerve a medal ef any man evuh did. Dey gim me dish heah fuh stobbin' fo' white men wid a baynit. 'Fo' God, niggah, I nevuh felt so quare in all muh bo'n days as when I was a-jobbin' de livuhs uh dem white men lak de sergeant tol' me to." Tump shook his head, bewildered, and after a moment added, "Yes, suh, I nevuh wuz mo' supprised in all muh life dan when I got dis medal fuh stobbin' fo' white men."

Peter Siner looked out of the Jim Crow window at the vast rotation of the Kentucky landscape on which his forbears had toiled for years; presently he added soberly:

"You were fighting for your country, Tump. It was war then; you were fighting for your country."


At Jackson, Tennessee, the two negroes were forced to spend the night between trains. Tump Pack piloted Peter Siner to a negro café where they could eat, and later they searched out a negro lodging-house on Gate Street where they could sleep. It was a grimy, smelly place, with its own odor spiked by a phosphatereducing plant two blocks distant. The paper on the wall of the room Peter slept in looked scrofulous. It had no window, and Peter's four years régime of open windows and fresh-air sleep was broken. He arranged his clothing for the night so it would come in contact with nothing in the room but a chair-back. He felt dull next morning, and could not bring himself either to shave or bathe in the place, but got out and hunted up a negro barber-shop furnished with one greasy red-plush barber-chair.

A few hours later the two negroes journeyed on down to Perryville, Tennessee, a village on the Tennessee River, where they took a gasolene launch up to Hooker's Bend. The launch was about fifty feet long and had two cabins, a colored cabin in front of, and a white cabin behind, the engine-room.

This unremitting insistence on his color, this continual shunting him into obscure and filthy ways, gradually gave Peter a loathly feeling. It increased the unwashed feeling that followed his lack of a morning bath. The impression grew upon him that he was being handled with tongs, along back-alley routes; that he and

[graphic][ocr errors]

"Peter recognized the white aprons and the swords and spears of the Knights and

Ladies of Tabor"

his race were something to be kept out of sight as much as possible, as careful housekeepers manoeuver their slops.

At Perryville a number of passengers boarded the up-river boat: two or three drummers; a yellowed old hill woman returning to her Wayne County home; a red-headed peanutbuyer; a well-groomed white girl in a tailored suit; a youngish man barely on the right side of middle age who seemed to be attending her; and some negro girls with lunches. The passengers trailed from the depot down the river-bank through a slush of mud, for the river had just fallen and had left a liquid mud to a height of about twenty feet all along the littoral. The passengers picked their way down carefully, stepping into one another's tracks in trying not to ruin their shoes. The drummers grumbled. The youngish man piloted the girl down, holding her hand, although both could have managed better by themselves.

Following the passengers, came the trunks and grips on a truck. A negro deck-hand, the truck-driver, and the white master of the launch shoved aboard the big sample trunks of the drummers with grunts, profanity, and much stamping of mud. Presently, without the formality of bell or whistle, the launch clacked away from the landing and stood up the wide, muddy river.

The river itself was monotonous and depressing. It was perhaps half a mile wide, with flat, willowed mud banks on one side and low shelves of stratified limestone on the other.

Trading-points lay at ten or fifteen mile intervals along the great waterway. The typical landing was a

dilapidated shed of a store half covered with tin tobacco signs and ancient circus posters. Usually, only one man met the launch at each landing, the merchant, a democrat in his shirtsleeves and without a tie. His voice was always a flat, weary drawl, but his eyes, wrinkled against the sun, usually held the shrewdness of those who make their living out of twopenny trades.

At each place the red-headed peanut-buyer slogged up the muddy bank and bargained for the merchant's peanuts, to be shipped on the downriver trip of the first St. Louis packet. The loneliness of the scene embraced the trading-points, the river, and the little gasolene launch struggling against the muddy current. It permeated the passengers, and was a sort of finishing touch to Peter Siner's melancholy.

The launch clacked on and on interminably. Sometimes it seemed to make no headway at all against the heavy, silty current. Tump Pack, the white captain, and the negro engineer began a game of craps in the negro cabin. Presently, two of the white drummers came in from the white cabin and began betting on the throws. The game was listless. The master of the launch pointed out places along the shores where wildcat stills were located. The crap-shooters, negro and white, squatted in a circle on the cabin floor, snapping their fingers and calling their points monotonously. One of the negro girls in the negro cabin took an apple out of her lunch-sack and began eating it, holding it in her palm, after the fashion of negroes, rather than in her fingers, as is the custom of white


Both doors of the engine-room were open, and Peter Siner could see through into the white cabin. The old hill woman was dozing in her chair, her bonnet bobbing to each stroke of the engines. The youngish man and the girl were engaged in some sort of intimate lovers' dispute. When the engines stopped at one of the landings, Peter discovered she was trying to pay him what he had spent on getting her baggage trucked down at Perryville. The girl kept pressing a bill into the man's hand, and he avoided receiving the money. They kept up the play for the sake of occasional contacts.

When the launch came in sight of Hooker's Bend toward the middle of the afternoon, Peter Siner experienced one of the profoundest surprises of his life. Somehow, all through his college days he had remembered Hooker's Bend as a proud town with important stores and unapproachable white residences. Now he saw a scum of negro cabins, high piles of lumber, a sawmill, and an ice-factory. Behind that, on a little rise, stood the old Brownell manor, maintaining a certain shabby dignity in a grove of oaks. Behind and westward from the negro shacks and lumber-piles ranged the village stores, their roofs just visible over the top of the bank. Moored to the shore, lay the wharf-boat in weathered greens and yellows. As a background for the whole scene rose the dark-green height of what was called the "Big Hill," an eminence that separated the negro village on the east from the white village on the west. The hill itself held no houses, but appeared a solid green-black with cedars.

another lonely spot on the south bank of the great somnolent river. It looked dead, deserted, a typical river town, unprodded even by the hoot of a jerk-water railroad.

As the launch chortled toward the wharf, Peter Siner stood trying to orient himself to this unexpected and amazing minifying of Hooker's Bend. He had left a metropolis; he was coming back to a tumble-down village. Yet nothing was changed. Even the two scraggly locust-trees that clung perilously to the brink of the riverbank still held their toe-hold among the strata of limestone.

The negro deck-hand came out and pumped the hand-power whistle in three long discordant blasts. Then a queer thing happened. The whistle was answered by a faint strain of music. A little later the passengers saw a line of negroes come marching down the river-bank to the wharfboat. They marched in military order, and from afar Peter recognized the white aprons and the swords and spears of the Knights and Ladies of Tabor, a colored burial association.

Siner wondered what had brought out the Knights and Ladies of Tabor. The singing and the drumming gradually grew upon the air. The passengers in the white cabin came out on the guards at this unexpected fanfare. As soon as the white travelers saw the marching negroes, they began joking about what caused the demonstration. The captain of the launch thought he knew and began an oath, but stopped it out of deference to the girl in the tailored suit. He said it was a dead nigger the society was going to ship up to Savannah.

The girl in the tailored suit was

The whole ensemble was merely much amused. She said the darkies

« AnkstesnisTęsti »