BOOKS BY HUGH WILEY
JADE, and Other Stories LADY LUCK THE WILDCAT
By HUGH WILEY
NEW YORK ALFRED . A . KNOPF 1921
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
"When you 's travellin' heavy on de misery road An' yo' back is breakin' wid de misery load, Jes' figger dat yo' trouble 's boun' to end, Cause Lady Luck is waitin' fo' you, 'roun de bend."
Ah wuz a fiel' han' fo' Ah sailed de sea, Wisht Ah wuz a fiel' han' now. Dis konk'rin' hero business don' make no hit wid me— Wisht Ah wuz a fiel' han' now.
"Gimme back a nickel! How come coffee ten cents? Gimme back 'at nickel befo' bofe ob us is on de same side ob de lunch counter."
"You an' a policeman, you means. Ca'm yo'se'f. If dis wah keeps up, coffee g'wine cost fifteen cents nex' week."
"How come wah? Wah finished a yeah back. Me an' Cap'n Jack wuz de fust men in de wah. Wah's done. Ah knows. Gimme back 'at nickel."
"Mebbe de wah is done, but de Democrats ain't. Git out ob heah wid dat goat, fo' you ruins mah trade."
The Wildcat picked up Captain Jack's bed-roll from the floor beside the lunch counter in the Memphis station. He accumulated Lily from where the travelworn mascot goat was tethered to an adjoining stool. Together they walked from the lunch room in which he had sought refreshment after an arduous ride from San Francisco to Memphis.
"Come on heah, Lily. Ol' Cap'n Jack an' de lady done went home in a takes-a-grab. Boy takes a grab at yo' money, an' if deys any lef', you gives it to a policeman fo' arrestin' him. Us rides a 'spress wagon."
On the street fronting the station the Wildcat chartered a rickety express wagon hauled by a languid black mule. "Whuf!" the driver grunted. "Sho' is de ponderestest bed-roll Ah eveh lifted."
"'At bed-roll's full of iron helmets f'm dead Germans, fo' Cap'n Jack to 'membeh de wah by. De officehs craves to 'membeh de wah. Us 'listed boys craves to fo'git it."
The driver of the express wagon looked sideways at the Wildcat. "When did de goat die?"
"Sit him on de side ob me whah de win' ain't blowin'. Wuz he de Dove ob Peace de wah'd go on fo'eveh. Whut's dem culled ribbons doin' on dat goat?"
"De blue ribbon is mah mascot's quality. De red an' white ones is patriotism."
"Thought mebbe dey wuz fus' an' secon' prizes fo' smellin'."
The Wildcat handed the driver of the express wagon a cigar.
"Smoke dis offsetteh," he said. Drifting along on a haze of conflicting aromas, the outfit arrived finally at the residence of Captain Jack. "Heah's de fifty cents," the Wildcat said to the express driver.
"Cost me dat to git de goat smell renovated off me. Wuth six bits."
"On yo' way. I'll six bits you! Quit whiffin' wid dat nose, befo' I busts yo' loose f'm it. On yo' way! C'm on, Lily."
The Wildcat spent the rest of the afternoon shuffling furniture around inside of Captain Jack's house. At four o'clock Captain Jack's wife arrived, convoying a perspiring three-hundred-pound trophy which she had been fortunate enough to capture.
"Yo' is de cook, is yo'?" the Wildcat said to the newly enthroned ruler of the kitchen.
The ebony Amazon looked at him. "Who is you?"
"I's champion ration battler ob de world. Wait till I gits back." The Wildcat returned presently with an armful of wood. "You claims you's a cook—well, woman, I lights de fiah. Den you sees kin yo'."
"Kin I what?"
"Fust yo' barbecues 'at ham hangin' theh. When Ah gits th'oo, half of it will be lef'. Whilst de ham's sizzlin' you th'ows enough cawn bread togetheh to fill de big pan. When Ah gits th'oo dey'll be half of it lef'. When de ham juice begins to git sunburned you makes some ham gravy. Ah spec' ham gravy's de fondest thing Ah is of. I says 'Howdy, ham gravy!' an' afteh me an' de vittles gits acquainted, mah appetite won't need grub no mo'n a fish needs shoes."
"Cut de ham." The Wildcat carved off five or six thick slices.
The cook looked at him. "Is you fo'gittin' me?"
"You hungry? De way you looks, yo's et all de grub whut is."
"Nach'ral to be fat. Look at de elephant. How come you so skinny?"
"Wah mis'ry. All I et fo' two yeahs in France wuz Guv'ment rashuns. Dey wuzn't fillin'. I et myse'f down to boy-size pants de fust yeah. Secon' yeah dey lets me run wild 'cause dey couldn't find no unifawm small enough."
"Wuz yo' in de big drive?"
"I'll say I wuz. Us boys drove more railroad spikes at St. Sulpice dan a colonel has cooties. Woman, how come you knows all about de names ob de wah?"
"I had a husban' uplifteh in de wah whut wrote me letters. Mebbe yo' met up wid him, name bein' Huntington Boone."
The Wildcat's jaw sagged open as far as the roots of his lolling tongue. "Honey Tone! De uplifteh? He's yo' man?"
"You knows him?'
"Ah knows him some—goin' on a thousan' francs he lifted off me wid de gallopin' ivory."
"Ain't de same one. Huntington saw de light an' swerve f'm de sin road to de straight an' narrow in de Fall Revival five yeahs back—de time Sis Ellers got drowned at de baptisin' an' stayed undeh till she blowed up at Vicksbu'g. Mah man went oveh as a uplifteh."
"'At's de boy. He swerved back at de sinful life. De on'y upliftin' he done wuz wid us boys' money an' coonyak."
The Wildcat was thoughtful for a moment.
"Whah at is he now?" he suddenly asked.
"I ain't seed him since he went away. Wore out mah black alpaca mournin' dress an' spilt icecream all oveh de otheh at a social. 'At's how come Ah's in calico."
"I ain't seed him neveh since—"
"Since he sailed fo' N' O'leans on de iron boat."
"He done come back! Praise de Lawd!"
"Call de police, you means. Did he git back he's in de jail whah at he belongs—all I seed wuz him leavin'."
In the face of the Wildcat's argument the Amazon's mood changed. "When I gets th'oo wid' dat man de jail folks sho' have to pen him up in a barrel to hol' de leavin's. He's 'bout as pop'lar wid me as smallpox. All he eveh done wuz bear down hahd on de money when I come home wid mah wages."
At the moment the Wildcat did not feel constrained to explain that Honey Tone's departure from Bordeaux had been one of the Wildcat's contrivings—one in which Honey Tone had been battened down in the hold of the cargo ship, together with a hundred French Colonial negro troops. "I rec'lects he lef' Bo'deaux on a boat dey calls de Princess Clam, headed fo' N' O'leans. Chances is he's in de N' O'leans jail right now."
The Wildcat decided that it might be well to encourage Honey Tone's mate to souse the black mood of her mourning in the whitewash of jealousy. "'Spect he might be married up again—mebbe. 'At boy gits 'gaged wheheveh 'at he goes."
"Is he rampagin' roun' I makes two widows stid of one does I ketch him. Cleah outen heah!"
Honey Tone's vindictive mate craved solitude in which to enjoy the misery of her ambition for revenge.
The Wildcat cleared out, taking with him a substantial segment of corn bread and two hot slices of ham. "Does Honey Tone live th'oo whut de female 'ception committee g'wine to git ready fo' him I gives him mah Craw de Gare an' all de woun' stripes whut is."
In the woodshed back of Captain Jack's house the mascot Lily patiently awaited her proprietor.
"Blaa!" she said in greeting when the Wildcat appeared.
"Whut yo' mean? How come you always craves nutriment?" the Wildcat demanded. "Heah." He gave the goat a fragment of corn bread. "Whuf! de ol' cawn pone sho' is fillin'. I sleeps me now fo' a little while. Den I goes downtown an' says Howdy to de boys. Lily, lay off dat hat! Eat de ham grease offen it does yo' crave to, but ca'm yo' se'f when yo' gits to de hat part."
The Wildcat reclined on a pile of hickory stove-wood and went to sleep. Sleeping was his long suit. At ten o'clock that night he woke up.
"Sho' is late. Front do' de barber shop be locked, but de back do' ain't." The Wildcat threaded the dark streets which led to Willie Webster's barber shop. The shave-and-haircut part of the Webster establishment served but to camouflage the darker industries which had their being in a room contiguous to the one where shaves were a nickel and haircuts fifteen cents, including musk.
At the back door of the barber shop the Wildcat hesitated for a moment in an effort to recall the secret knock which gained admittance in the days before the war. This element of the ritual finally came to him, and on the rough panels of the door sounded three quick raps followed by two at more deliberate intervals.
"I gits it 'fused up wid de time I wuz outeh guard to de Lodge ob Colored Damons. 'At knock wuz fo' an' th'ee. Fish club knock wuz two an' two. 'Membehs dat. Dat's how de animals come off de Ark, time ob de flood."
The door opened an inch, and the slot of light from within was interrupted by a rolling eyeball which surmounted a pair of questioning liver-coloured lips. "Who dat?"
"Wildcat—Vitus Marsden." The door opened quickly, and the Wildcat edged into the company of his former associates.
"Dogged if it ain't ol' Marsden! Boy, how is yo'? Is yo' back f'm de wah?"
"Heah us is, ain't I?"
Willie Webster, the proprietor of the establishment, came forward. "Don' see no arms an' no laigs missin'. Yo' neveh used yo' haid nohow, 'ceptin' to eat wid. Boy, how is yo'? Hail de Konk'rin' Hero!"
"Tol'able, Willie." The Konk'rin' Hero looked about him. At a table against the wall, under the rays of a smoking coal oil lamp, a crap game was in progress.
The Wildcat's fingers began to itch. He walked over toward the table. In the outline of one of the figures standing beside the table the Wildcat identified an acquaintance of his former days. "Seems like I knows de shape 'at boy's got." The Wildcat edged up to the table.
The owner of the familiar silhouette faced the Wildcat. "Wilecat, how is you? Hot dam, boy—is you back?"
Honey Tone Boone, the exile uplifter, was quick to conceal the inconvenient recognition in the extended palm of cordial insincerity.
The Wildcat's mouth opened and closed in cadence with the wild leaping of his Adam's apple. With difficulty he pacified his organs of speech, and presently the honey of hypocrisy filtered from the tip of his tongue. "Honey Tone! Honey Tone de uplifteh! Las' time I seed yo', yo' wuz in Bo'deaux."
"Las' time you seed me I wuz in trouble."
"How come?" A mask of surprise covered the Wildcat's face.
Honey Tone explained the method of his departure from Bordeaux.
"You kidnapped in de gizzard ob de ol' iron boat! Ain't it s'prisin'! Us boys sho' missed you."
Honey Tone relapsed into the vernacular. "I'll say 'at's all you missed. After you made de las' pass wid de gallopin' ivory you sho' lef me clean. All I had on me wuz cooties. How come you heah, Wilecat?"
"Cap'n Jack brung me. I's still workin' fo' Cap'n Jack. Afteh us landed offen de boat f'm France us rode de train clear across de country. Jes' broke loose f'm de army in time to keep f'm gittin' sent to Russia—place whah dey bury you. What you doin' heah?"
Honey Tone evaded a direct answer. "How's all de rest ob de boys?"
"Ain't seed 'em. Me an' Cap'n Jack came back casual."
"Whah at's he now?"
"Livin' heah. Memphis is de Cap'n's home town. Us jus' got in heah yes'day. F'm now on I works fo' Cap'n Jack. Ain't much to do, an' Cap'n's lady sho' foun' a good cook. I aims to eat heavy f'm now on to ketch up wid whut I missed in de army. Whut is you doin', 'sides lookin' fo' easy money?"
Honey Tone, the ex-uplifter, was silent for a minute, and then his organizing instinct welled strong.
"Me? I's organizin' a Returned Heroes' Parade. Us Konk'rin' Heroes what wore de army unifawm jines in de gran' ruckus."
"Sho! Honey Tone, whut yo' mean army unifawm? You was 'fested with letheh straps an' uppity talk when I knowed you fust. Now you talks plain niggah."
"Sounds more homelike." Honey Tone did not feel constrained to explain the finesse which prompted him to abandon the vocabulary which he had derived from a year's schooling and considerable subsequent speech-making.
"Aftah de parade mebbe us organizes de Colored Militarriers of America. I's been ponderin' considerable how come some ob you ain't started dat lodge yet? Dues a dollah a month. Parades fo' baptisn's, marryin's, and funerals. Special buryin' department wheh you gits crematized or secluded in de ground as you prefers, dependin' whether you pays fo' bits a week extra or not."
"Sounds half gran'—mebbe folks takes up wid it. Ol' parade sho' sounds noble." In common with other overseas veterans, the Wildcat listened strong to the appeal made by the jingling hardware of heroism. He had visions of himself prancin' along where white folks could look at him—visions which included an O.D. uniform plentifully festooned with wound stripes, coloured ribbons, service chevrons, and a few decorative military crosses.
The group about the crap table thinned out. The Wildcat picked up the dice. "Does you crave high life, Honey Tone, read a chapteh f'm de clickers."
"I might ride a couple of r'ars," the uplifter conceded.
The Wildcat produced a bulky roll. Several pairs of gleaming eyeballs about him testified to the exceptional dimensions of his capital.
To the Wildcat's surprise Honey Tone hauled out a wallet in which lay a thick package of twenty-dollar bills. Hope burned strong in the Wildcat's chest, and with the flame of hope the Wildcat warmed the dice within his hand.
"Shoots ten dollahs. Fade me, Honey Tone, does you crave action."
"Wham! Ah lets it lay. Shoots twenty dollahs."
"Roll 'em." Honey Tone dropped a twenty-dollar bill, which landed as gently as a snowflake on the green surface of the table. "Bam! Five an' a deuce."
Under the heat of the Wildcat's luck the uplifter's green snowflake melted into his opponent's roll.
"Ah lets it lay. Shoots fo'ty. Fo'ty ways. Shower down, Honey Tone. Mah luck builds homes fo' de ignorant poor. I's got de musk smell. Bam! Land, little Dove ob Peace. Land wid yo' bill full ob greens. An' I reads fo' tray!"
The Wildcat gathered in his winnings. He laid a twenty-dollar bill on the green table. "Fade me is you frantic."
Honey Tone covered the bet.
"Gallopers, pay de rent. Wham! Morning, rainbow. Wah just begun. Dove ob Peace got one hot end, like a hornet. Gallopers, see kin yo' uplift de Honey Tone Jack."
The dice raced on their victorious way.
Twenty minutes later Honey Tone Boone picked up the cubes. The capital in his leather pocket book had dwindled to a pair of weak-looking dollar bills. He reached into his pocket, and his hand came forth clutching a rubber-banded cylinder of currency whose external unit was a yellow obligation wherein the United States Government promised to pay the bearer fifty dollars in gold coin, providing the Democrats overlooked that much.
Honey Tone voiced his challenge.
"Shoots a hund'ed dollahs. De big coin keeps de pikers out."
The Wildcat batted his eyes, but rallied nobly and covered Honey Tone's bet with five twenties. "Roll 'em," he said huskily.
Honey Tone, rolling 'em, neglected to advertise the fact that when he reached for his new stake he had switched the dice.
"Seven. Shoots two hund'ed."
"Talk to 'em, Honey Tone." One of the uplifter's admirers offered verbal encouragement.
"Dey does de talkin'. Shower down, Wildcat. Shoots two hund'ed."
The Wildcat hesitated.
"Shower down," Honey Tone repeated. "You craves action. Git in de collar. Don't stan' theh poisoned on one foot, like de iron lady in de park."
The Wildcat glanced about him. He saw several pairs of heavy lips curling in the bow of derision. He counted out a handful of greenbacks. "'At's two hund'ed," he said heavily. "Roll 'em." His neck itched. He sensed the impact of the axe. "How come I crazy?"
The rolling dice halted. The class in addition announced that four and three made seven.
"I mows de lettuce." Honey Tone picked up his winnings. "Shoots a hund'ed."
The Wildcat audited his capital. "Sixty's all I got."
The Wildcat took a deep breath and held on to it until he read on the clicking cubes the final message of disaster.
"Whuf! 'At's me." Honey Tone looked at his victim, and in the glance of triumph glowed the dull fire of accomplished revenge.
"Dem bones says who is de Konk'rin' Hero. Dey knows."
The Wildcat picked up the dice and looked them over carefully. "Dice, wuz clothes a nickel I'se nekked—an' you done it."
Honey Tone reached for the dice. "How come?" he objected.
"Dese dice knows so much Ah thought mebbe dey's educated."
The uplifter was glad enough to ignore the remark in his effort to get the dice under cover. He switched the subject quickly to one which would not include an examination of his paraphernalia of chance. "I counts on you, Wilecat, to be colonel ob de parade."
"Me?" The Wildcat sobered under the responsibility.
"You be de walkin' colonel leadin' de Konk'rin' Heroes."
"Whah at does you come in?"
"I's de ridin' gin'ral whut leads."
"Honey Tone, does you ride, I does. You an' me is 'quivalent, only I's mo' in dis Konk'rin' Hero business. All de konk'rin' you eveh done wuz leadin' de sleep squad o' else joyin' roun' in Bo'deaux. No suh! Does you ride, I does."
"De ridin' part's de hardest. I rides so you boys kin see me give signs whah at to march. Does you ride, de nex' boy done crave to. He say, 'Whah at's mah mule?' Fust thing yo' knows, all de Konk'rin' Heroes would be on mules. Dey wouldn't be no more mules lef' in de world. Figgeh out what 'ud happen to de Horn Band when de mules heard de toots an' started tromplin' 'em down. Figgeh out could a band ride mules and play, bofe. Figgeh out some mo' wid yo' haid, 'stid of usin' it to eat wid so much, an' yo' might figgeh out I's right."
The logic in Honey Tone's objections appealed to the Wildcat. His imagination painted a contest between the Horn Department of the brunet brass band and three or four hundred stampeding mules. "I guess yo' says sense," he admitted. "Us boys walks."
For a little while he and Honey Tone discussed the details of the impending parade. "When us passes de' gran'stan'," the uplifter specified, "I gives de salute. You be leadin' de platoon. When you gits opposite de gran'stan' yo' says 'Eyes right.' 'At's all you does, 'ceptin' to keep marchin'."
"Who's gwine to be in de gran'stan'?"
"In de gran'stan'? Fust dere'll be de 'ception committee, den all religious organizations, den all de lodges an' grave clubs, den all de women an' chillen whut ain't 'filiated wid nothin' but husban's an' kitchen stoves."
Throughout the discussion the Wildcat's unmounted disappointment ached until it was suddenly quieted by a detail of the forthcoming ceremonies which he did not impart to his associate. In the Wildcat's brain was born a scheme which promised to balance the books between him and Honey Tone.
"Yo' wife be sittin' in de gran'stan', I s'pose?"
Honey Tone laid himself open to the serious fall which is the common sequel of deceit. "I ain't got no wife."
"Thought yo' tol' me you wuz a married man when Ah knowed you fust." The Wildcat was indulging in a little exploration.
"Did I say I wuz married I must've been crazy o' lyin'."
"You is both," the Wildcat inwardly reflected. "'At's at," he said to Honey Tone. "On'y, wid so much 'flooence, it 'pears like you'd furnish yo' own mule."
"Ain't I made yo' Supreem Gran' Arrangeh? You p'vides de mule. I takes care o' rentin' de' gran'stan' at de ball park an' spreadin' de publicity. Afterwards us has a gran' rally. Mebbe I makes a speech."
With the details of the program accomplished, the defeated Wildcat left the Konk'rin' Hero in the barber shop and made his way toward Captain Jack's home and the woodshed wherein was tethered the mascot goat.
Halfway up the alley which led to the woodshed the Wildcat spoke aloud in the darkness. "Konk'rin' Hero! Him ridin' de mule an' us boys ridin' ouah feet. Huh! I's de Supreem Gran' Walkin' Arrangeh, is I? Well, tomorrow I starts arrangin'." His monologue was suddenly interrupted by an explosive braying which burst from the woodshed adjoining the one in which rested Lily. The Wildcat surrendered to his racing legs and galloped a panic jazz to the exit of the alley before his common-sense reacted. "Sho! Me a Konk'rin' Hero!" He chuckled softly to himself. "Ol' mule whut b'longs to Cap'n Jack's neighbour sho' unkonkered me."
He retraced his steps until he came to the door of Captain Jack's woodshed. He opened the door and entered. From the darkness his mascot goat greeted him.
"Blaa!" said Lily.
"Ain't yo' asleep yit? Mebbe dat damn ol' mule woke you up. Git to sleep!" The Wildcat removed his shoes and lay down on a rickety bed in a corner of the woodshed. "I'll do the arrangin', Honey Tone," he mumbled. His lower jaw sagged, and into his open mouth whined a lone mosquito. At the portals of sleep his night was again interrupted by the mule in the adjoining shed.
"Dat's de night-brayin'est jug-head Ah eveh seed. Wuss'n a midnight roosteh drunk wid moonlight." He was about to launch a few burning curses from a vocabulary which the mule could saggitate, when a new thought was born to him. He lay silent, staring above him into the darkness.
"I's de Supreem Gran' Arrangeh!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I's de double Grandes' Arrangeh whut is!" A faint bleat sounded from the darkness. "Shut up, Lily! Fo' I gits th'oo arrangin', yo' an' me bofe rides de mule does us crave to."
The following morning the Wildcat gorged himself on a ponderous breakfast. "Sho' is noble ham. Yo' sho' is de grandes' cook whut is. Wondeh how come ol' Honey Tone neveh 'spressed himse'f about yo'?"
"'At niggah neveh wuz home enough to git 'quainted."
The Wildcat looked sidewise at the cook. "Last night I meets up wid a boy in de barber shop whut knows Honey Tone pussonal. He says 'at triflin' uplifteh claims to bein' single—claims he neveh had no wife."
The culinary Amazon picked up a frying pan and brought it down on the top of the range with a resounding bang. "He claims, does he? Wunst Ah gits mah hooks in 'at nigger's head, all he claims is funeral benefits!"
The Wildcat suggested that Honey Tone was probably far, far away and established as the centre of another family circle. The cook reacted nobly.
He waited until the avoirdupois cyclone had cooled off. Something in the cook's energetic rage suggested the activities of the Wildcat's former landlady, Cuspidora Lee, from whom he had occasionally borrowed tobacco money. He determined to visit his former boarding house and renew his financial relations.
"You has my sympathy bofe ways," he said to the cook. "Yo' is married up wid a no-account triflin' yellow uplifteh. Is he wid you, you is mis'able, an' is he A.W.O.L. yo' is twice 'at much. Wuz I you, when you meets up wid him I'd bleed him by han'. But don' you grieve. Neveh min'. Some day yo' meets up wid him.... Den yo' pays him back."
The Wildcat left the kitchen. He carried a bouquet of cabbage leaves to Lily, who was tethered at the woodshed door. "Eat heavy, Lily," he commanded. "Yo' neveh got no reliable greens like dis when yo' wuz in France." He hazed Lily into the woodshed and departed on his way to visit Miss Cuspidora Lee. He found the Lee personage perspiring darkly in the clouds of heat that billowed from a red-hot cookstove.
"Cuspido', I bids yo' mawin'," he said briefly.
Cuspidora Lee turned upon him. "Fo' de Lawd sake, you scared me! If it ain't Vitus Marsden. Prodigal, come heah! Whah at is you been?" The Wildcat was engulfed in an embrace which reminded him of the time he had been buried under seven tons of fermented hay.
He came to the surface. "Cuspido', sho' is glad to see you. Whah at's dem pussonal preserves you 'scribed 'bout in yo' letteh?"
"Sit down till I feeds yo'. Is you as hungry as you always wuz I reckon you massacrees all de vittles in de house."
After the Wildcat had eaten within an inch of his life he sat back from the table and took a deep breath. "Whuf! Stomach's gittin' so big mah arms won' reach pas' it. Does it keep on mebbe Ah's 'bliged to turn roun' an' eat backwa'ds. Sho' is noble rashuns. Noblest rashuns I eveh et wuz heah."
He consumed an hour recounting his adventures in France for the benefit of Cuspidora Lee. At the conclusion of the recital the Wildcat was invited to make his abode in the Lee residence.
"Craves to, Cuspido', but Ah kain't. Ol' Cap'n Jack needs me. Wunst I leaves ol' Cap'n, dat boy run wild an' Ah finds him out in San F'mcisco. Ah'll be draggin' 'long now. Sees yo' in de gran'stan' at de ball park during de Konk'rin' Heroes' Parade nex' Thursday."
"You sees me befo' dat. I's givin' a weegee pa'ty We'n'sday night, an' I bids yo' welcome."
"How come weegee?"
"Ain't you know weegee—little boa'd whut points out is you or ain't you an' how come in de pas', present, an' future?"
"Sho! How de boa'd know?"
"Spirits. Man whut sells de boa'ds runs de spirits."
"Is you tryin' to plague me?"
"You come heah Wensday night an' see is I."
The Wildcat returned to Captain Jack's residence. "Sho' is gran' to git home," he reflected. "Parades, weegee pa'ties—fust thing I knows Ah'll be claimed by de church sociables. Sho' beats France. Stays heah an' works fo' ol' Cap'n Jack, eats me heavy, raises Lily, 'filiates at de barber shop wid de boys. Sho' beats de A.E.F. wah bizness."
His daydreaming was interrupted by Captain Jack's commanding voice.
"Wildcat, come here."
"I'm going away for three months," Captain Jack abruptly announced. Then he added: "Keep your eye on things."
"Cap'n, yessuh. Goin' 'way!... When does us staht?"
"Us don't start. For once in my life I hope to go some place and come back without being hounded by my Wildcat nigger."
"Cap'n, yessuh. Whut beats me is how yo' aims to git along widout me takin' keer o' you. You neveh wuz no single thriveh."
"I'll get along without you. Go in and lock up the trunks."
"Mis' Cap'n Jack gwine wid you?"
"I'll say she is. Whither I goeth there shall she also go. Git those trunks fixed up."
With the departure of the master of the house a cloud of melancholy settled about the Wildcat which was not dispelled until suppertime.
On Wednesday night the Wildcat soused himself with bay rum and musk. About his neck, in lieu of a collar, he wrapped the spliced sleeves of a discarded silk shirt whose cerise dyes had barred it from Captain Jack's wardrobe. On his feet he wore a pair of patent leather violins whose tight interiors had been plentifully massaged with axle grease.
He started out with his mascot. "C'm on heah, Lily—you stahts gittin' social wid quality folks. How come dese shoes pinches all de time sho' beats me. By rights I weahs twelves. Man whut sold dese shoes said dey wuz fifteens—feels like sho' take bofe to make 'at much. But when dey sees dis heah neckerchief dey won't notice de shoes."
Halfway to the weegee party he removed the shoes and carried them in his hand to the portals of the Lee establishment. He sat down outside the door of the ouija castle and put on his shoes. He tethered Lily at the step and knocked at the door. A moment later he was being greeted by twenty friends and half as many strangers.
"Befo' I turns down de lights," the hostess announced, "I wants you to meet up wid Colonel Boone, one ob de culled heroes whut made de wah safe fo' white folks. Colonel Boone, say howdy at Misteh Marsden."
The Wildcat and the uplifter again stood face to face. "Honey Tone, how come Cuspido' calls you 'Colonel'?"
"By rights 'at's mah rank."
"By rights you is rank." The Wildcat turned to his brunette hostess. "Ah knows dis Boone man. Met up wid him in France. How come he projectin' roun' heah?"
Cuspidora was quick to sense a rift of jealousy in the social lute. "He's aimin' to claim me fo' a weddin' mate."
She made haste to switch the deal.
"Blow out dat light, Sis' Mosby." She reached for a second coal oil lamp and turned it down until the room was hardly light enough to distinguish the black letters on the ouija board which lay on the table. The uplifter deflected the impending embarrassment which might develop from continued conversation with the Wildcat by functioning as master of ceremonies.
"Rally roun'. Spirits is willin' if de flesh ain't weak. Wilecat, fondle de weegee board an' take a ra'r at seein' whut de future holds."
"Dis corner says, 'Yes.' Dat corner says, 'No.' De little board slides Yes or No, dependin' how de spirits answers whut yo' asks."
The cross-examination of Mr. Ouija and his talented aggregation of spirits endured for an hour, during which time a number of interesting facts concerning various members of the assemblage became public property.
The Wildcat, returning from an enjoyed battle at the refreshment corner of Cuspidora Lee's parlor, wedged his way into the group about the ouija board and laid a heavy hand thereon. The memory of Cuspidora's statement concerning her love affair with Honey Tone rankled within him.
"Spirits," he said, "I axes yo' is I married?"
Ouija answered, "No."
"Is Honey Tone Boone married?"
The board became a battlefield. Presently the tight tendons of the uplifter's hand showed grey against his skin, but without avail, because the Wildcat's little finger lay tight against the perimeter of the moving planchette. Impelled by the Wildcat's little finger the implacable spirits hazed Weegee to the "Yes" corner of the board.
Honey Tone's defeated fingers relaxed. "Dat's de lyin'est board I eveh see. How come yo' gits a lyin' weegee board, Mis' Lee?"
"Spirits neveh lies." The hostess defended her unseen assistants.
"Ain't no lyin' lef' to do afteh dese upliftehs gits th'oo," the Wildcat commented.
A little later, apart from the other guests, the Wildcat asked Cuspidora Lee a direct question. "O! Honey Tone been representin' he's single?"
The Wildcat's brunette hostess hesitated. "Tol' me he neveh seed nobody befo'," she admitted—"tol' me his love-eye neveh seed nobody 'ceptin' me."
"All 'at boy's love-eye seed is de p'visions in yo' kitchen. Ah knows him. Acts like de yelleh niggah whut he is—prancin' round uppity in France—comes back heah callin' himself 'Colonel,' 'count he wore oilcloth leggin's an' drunk coonyak whilst us boys wuz fightin' de battle of Bo'deaux."
Cuspidora Lee listened with eager ears. "I runs him out now, the flea-bit houn'," she finally announced.
"Ca'm yo'se'f. Don' git to brindlin'. Come out to de ball park tomorr' at de parade an' you sees him leadin' us Culled Heroes."
Honey Tone Boone meanwhile had charmed a dozen of his male and female auditors with Mister Ouija's spiritual assistance.
At eleven o'clock the coal oil lamps were again lighted and the guests employed themselves in the pleasurable business of consuming such refreshments as the Wildcat had overlooked. The evening ended with a general announcement from the uplifter, in which he invited the assemblage to be present on the following day at the parade of the Konk'rin' Culled Heroes.
"As de Supreem Gran' Organizeh Ah bids yo' welcome," he concluded.
From the darkness outside came a sardonic echo. "Blaa!" Lily the mascot had seen fit to accept the uplifter's invitation.
When the party broke up, the uplifter showed an inclination to linger after the Wildcat made his departure, but presently he realized the failure of his ambition.
"Come on heah, Honey Tone," the Wildcat invited. "I walks a ways wid yo'."
Once along the dark street Honey Tone sought to review the ouija performance. "What fo' wuz you shovin' weegee an' makin' de spirits say 'yes' when they craved to say 'no'?"
"How come shovin'? Spirits does de shovin'. Ol' weegee tells de truf'. Yo' sho' is married, ain't yo'?"
"I tells you once I ain't. I tells you now I ain't, Don' say no mo'."
"When you talks 'at way you sho' sounds lak a Cunnel, Honey Tone."
The Wildcat switched the conversation to the details of the parade.
"Is all de 'rangements done?"
"'Rangements done, 'ceptin' de mule I rides."
"Ah'll git de mule. Whah at does I meet you?"
"Parade stahts at noon f'm Willie Webster's barbeh shop. Us marches th'oo town an' hol's de gran' review at de ball park."
A little farther down the street the two halted. "Whah at does you live, Honey Tone?" the Wildcat inquired.
Honey Tone did not see fit to reveal the location of his present domicile. "Down de street a ways," he said.
The pair parted. "Don' fo'git mah parade-leadin' mule fo' tomorrow," Honey Tone admonished, "an' 'blige me by not referrin' no mo' to no wife whut I ain't got."
"Ah'll 'blige him," the Wildcat mentally conceded. "Afteh tomorrow Ah don't need to do no wife-referrin' 'bout Honey Tone."
The Wildcat went to sleep that night enjoying the details of a plan wherein Honey Tone's radiant future was considerably overcast by the clouds of retribution.
At breakfast on the following morning he repeated his invitation to Captain Jack's cook. "Ol' Cap'n an' de Lady bofe gone away. No need you stayin' roun' here all de time. Git to de gran'stan' early an' git a front seat. Mebbe you'll meet up wid one ob mah pussonal lady fren's—Cuspidora Lee, whut I boa'ded wid befo' de wah claimed me. Cuspido' said she g'wine to weah a big pink hat wid yaller feathers. 'At's how you knows her. You sees me an' mah mascot when us swings pas' de gran' stan'. Ah'll be follerin' de Supreem Leader. He be ridin' a mule."
The Wildcat spent the next half hour festooning his mascot goat with raiment appropriate for the grand march. Lily's O.D. service coat was brightened with a red tissue paper sash. The Wildcat sewed a turkey wing fan to the mascot's overseas cap and wired the gaudy combination securely in place between Lily's horns.
"Hot dam! I says you parades." For himself he borrowed a few things which lay here and there in the trunk room of Captain Jack's house. He stowed his own paraphernalia in a gunnysack. Leading Lily, he made his way to the neighbour's woodshed wherein was stabled the overgrown night-braying mule.
"Gimme dis heah mule, boy—an' a saddle," he said to the brunet guardian of the neighbour's mule. "I needs him temporary."
"I craves him fo' de Culled Heroes' Parade. Some day I gives you two bits does you lend him half a day. All he does in heah is eat you po' an' wake folks up."
"Whah at's de two bits?" The exchange was effected, and presently, leading the mule and the festooned mascot, the Wildcat arrived at the rendezvous in front of Willie Webster's establishment. He tethered the mule to a hitching post and led Lily into the barber shop.
"How come de goat?" one of the assemblage questioned.
"See dem stripes? Lily went th'oo more battles dan you has sense. F'm now on, whah at I is, Lily is. Bible says, 'Whah at de goat, dere is Ah also goat.' Stan' up heah, Lily."
The mascot was vainly endeavouring to eat the feathers from the top of her own head.
"Ca'm yo'se'f. Whah at's de Supreem Parade Leadeh?"
Honey Tone Boone stepped out of the adjoining room. "'At you, Wildcat? Whah at's mah steed?"
"Hitched outdoors. Sho' is rarin' to go. Parade-leadinest mule Ah eveh see."
Honey Tone took a look through the window at his conspicuous mount. "Sure looms up. How come de goat?"
"'At goat's mah pussonal luck."
Honey Tone looked sideways at the Wildcat. "Does yo' feel like backin' yo' luck wid a jingle, mebbe I 'bliges yo' sudden. Dey's a racetrack in de back room does you crave to gallop yo' luck a couple of heats."
The Wildcat accepted the challenge. The pair walked quickly into the back room.
"Shoots a dollah!" He explored himself for silver and revised his challenge. "Shoots fifty cents. Ain't got but sixty, an' I needs a dime fo' goobers does I lose."
"Boy, roll 'em." Honey Tone proffered a pair of anxious dice, but the Wildcat paid no attention to the offer.
"I got mah pussonal weapons," he said. He fished a pair of dice from his left shoe. "Dey speaks de language. Gallopehs, git right. Wham! Ah tol' you! Ah lets it lay. Shoots a dollah."
Honey Tone faded the bet. "Roll 'em." The Wildcat touched the tips of his fingers to Lily's head. "Goat, stan' by me." His swinging hand released a pair of dice whose innocent upturned faces presently revealed a four and a trey. "Seven! Ah lets it lay. Whole hog o' de squeal."
"Bam. Six an' five. Ah done climbed de luck tree. Honey Tone, shake me out. Shoots fo' dollahs. Lily, stan' by me!"
"Blaa!" remarked Lily.
"Boy, roll 'em." Honey Tone began to itch for possession of the dice.
"Asleep in de snowdrift. When Lily says 'blaa' Ah lets 'em ride."
"An' seven! Ah lets it lay."
"Shoot, you fool, nobody neveh made five passes."
"Nobody but me." The Wildcat opened his dusky palm and a natural seven leaped to the gaze of a waiting world. Honey Tone's eyes bulged with surprise.
The Wildcat accumulated his winnings. From the crumpled handful of bills he selected a dollar bill, which he twisted into a tempting little salad bouquet. "Lily, eat this fo' luck. Ah reaps de greens to nutrify mah mascot! Shoots ten dollahs!"
Lily munched delicately on the dollar bill while the Wildcat continued with the harvest. The deeper Honey Tone sank into the bogs of chance, the more he resented the introduction of the Wildcat's trained dice. Once, in the run of hard luck, he showed signs of weakening, but the Wildcat was quick to rally him with the adroit tongue of flattery.
"One thing I'll say fo' Honey Tone—win or lose, dat boy rides along. Sho' is a vet'ran sport."
In the Wildcat's compliment Honey Tone's effort to unload from the wreckbound train of chance found defeat. He rode along, hope springing eternal, until his financial condition approximated zero.
"Shoots twenty dollars." The Wildcat's announcement leaped from a pair of belligerent lungs.
"Ain't got but 'leven fifty." Honey Tone's voice was husky.
"Shoots 'leven fifty." The game was delayed a moment while the Wildcat hunted for appropriate minor currency. "Heah's de fifty cents I stahted wid. Lily, at ease!" The Southern Hemisphere of the mascot subsided.
"Honey Tone, you sin-'fested uplifteh, feel de axe. Bam! Dey reads four trey. Lily, at res'."
The victorious Wildcat added the last of his winnings to the bulky roll inside his pocket. "'At winds yo' up, big boy. De Supreem leadin' mule rides easier now. Yo' weighs six hund'ed dollahs less."
A unit on the outer fringe of the pop-eyed audience pressed forward to where the Wildcat stood. "Same ol' cyclone," he said in greeting. "Wilecat, you 'membehs me? I ain't seed sich a fust-class cleanin' since us fit de battle of Bo'deaux an' yo' win all de payday us boys got."
The Wildcat suddenly recognized the speaker. "Backslid! How come yo' heah? Hot dog! I sho' is glad to see yo'."
"Ah come home casual, count of stummik mis'ry th'ee weeks afteh yo' lef Bo'deaux," the Backslid Baptist explained. "Sho' is glad to see yo'."
"You 'membehs Honey Tone?" The Wildcat introduced the uplifter. "Honey Tone leads de parade. Us starts in five minutes. Jine in, Backslid, an' yo' marches 'longside ob me an' Lily."
"Sho' 'steem to, Wilecat, but I takes mah run dis aftehnoon."
"How come run?"
"I's back on de ol' job runnin' Pullman out of Chicago. I's due out on de Fliah fo' Chicago at two-fo'ty. Any time yo' craves a ramble on de cushions, roun' me up. Ah stakes yo' to a white coat an' yo' is aced in as mah helpeh. Pullman service is crammed wid dead-head helpehs now de Guv'ment's runnin' de lines. An' Boy—once us 'rives at Chicago de gran' ruckus begins!"
"Backslid, 'at sho' sounds noble. Some day me an' Lily sho' make a trip wid you."
The Wildcat and his former associate were interrupted by Honey Tone Boone. "Wilecat, you's de Supreem Arrangeh, ain't you? Roun' up de humans. Fawm de parade. Us starts."
The Wildcat threw back his head and addressed the gathering in the barber shop. "Company, 'tenshun! All de niggahs in de room whut's gwine to jine de gran' parade, fall out de do' an' fall in!" He led the rush for the exit. Outdoors he repeated the announcement. "Gran' parade led by Honey Tone Boone. Followin' me an' Lily comes de brass ban'. Den comes de Sons ob Damon. Sons ob Damon wearin' de yellah belly ban's walks ahead. Followin' de Sons ob Damon, de Knights wid de Red Pants falls in. Parade marches fo' an' fo', ladies outside. Keep off de car tracks. Followin' de Knights wid de Red Pants comes de 'Filiated Toilers.
"Cornet Club comes nex', 'ceptin' de big bass drum. Fetch dat bass drum oveh heah. Yo' marches by me."
He turned to a group of human beings whose sole common characteristic was their colour and the colour of the sashes which were tied about them. "Whut outfit is you boys?"
"Us is de Committee ob Culled Democrats."
"How come they let you out ob jail? Fall in behin' de lunch wagon. 'At's whah you gin'lly is."
The drum-bamming giant took his place opposite the Wildcat. The Wildcat turned to the Supreme Organizer of the Culled Militarriers of America. "Git abo'ad 'at steed, Honey Tone," he said.
Honey Tone clambered on to the mule with the assistance of a pair of agile bystanders. The Wildcat closed his eyes and lifted his head high in the air. "Company, 'tenshun!" He turned to the drum-bammer opposite him. "Le-e-t's go!"
"Bam!" The crash inside the bass drum found a deafening echo in a blare of exploding horns and cornets. Lily shied close beside her master. Honey Tone's mule drooped a languid ear over a bulging eyeball as if to shut out a vision of impending disaster, and then, at the second note from the bass drum, the mule leaped into a wild gallop. Before the marchers had covered a hundred feet Honey Tone and his jug-head mount had passed the fire hall three blocks down the street.
The parade marched steadily toward the ball park. Ten minutes later Honey Tone and the mule clattered past the parade. "Ol' mule sho' steers noble, but he kain't stop," the Wildcat announced to the drum-bammer opposite him.
On Honey Tone's third visit the Wildcat called loudly to him. "Head 'at mule roun' nex' time an' back him in de ball park." The Supreme Organizer's reply was lost in a clatter of hoofs.
At the ball park the parade waited for the intermittent uplifter. As Honey Tone galloped past the head of the column he did a Brodie and landed breathless against the big bass drum. "Boom!"
"Whuf!" he said. "Ketch dat mule!" The hero blood pulsed strong in the veins of the Knights with the Red Pants. They rallied to the rescue. The organization deployed, and presently the big night-braying mule was again delivered into Honey Tone's reluctant hands.
"Wait till Ah 'ranges 'at steed." The Wildcat loosened the saddle girth. Unseen by Honey Tone, he removed a small horseshoe from between the saddle blanket and the mule's epidermis. "Sho' brings de luck. Some boy got de luck hunch figgered wrong. Git aboa'd, Honey Tone.—Blanket got wrinkled. He done ca'm down now. Ah knows him. Git aboa'd an' lead de parade into de ball park an' pas' de gran'stan'."
In the face of the assemblage Honey Tone could not back down. He mounted the mule. To his surprise the animal walked slowly and with all the peculiar dignity that a mule can summon. The uplifter looked down at the Wildcat. "Line 'em up fo' de gran' entry," he said.
The Wildcat turned and called loudly to the marching column. "Company, 'tenshun! Heads up fo' de gran' entry." He turned to his companion. "Keep de drum goin'. Ah waits to see de parade git by an' is eve'ything arranged right." The Wildcat faded out. When the end of the marching column passed him he walked quickly to a policeman who was standing near the portals of the entrance to the ball park.
"Cap'n, suh," he said to the policeman, "'at mule leadin' de parade b'longs to Misteh Joe Carroll, whut's de neighbour ob Cap'n Jack Stuart, whah at I wucks. Ah ain't sayin' 'at ridin' niggah stole 'at mule, but Ah knows Misteh Carroll neveh lent him. 'At niggah's no good. Ah knows him."
"What outfit is this parade?" the officer asked.
"Ain't no outfit. 'At triflin' niggah on de mule claims he's organizin' a new lodge—gits folks wild to jine, and den lif's de 'nitiation money. Nex' day mebbe turns up in Vicksburg o' some place else whah some mo' fool niggahs craves to jine on wid him. He sho' don' b'long here. Ah knows him!"
A record is a record. An arrestis an arrest, and the capture of a mule thief is a star of magnitude in any one's official crown. The policeman walked into the ball park and headed across to where a companion officer was standing in front of the grandstand. At the moment, in the grandstand Cuspidora Lee and Captain Jack's cook, seated together, were just beginning to get acquainted. "Seems like I knows dat boy," the cook remarked. "'At boy on de big mule."
"I knows him too." The tenor of pride rang in Cuspidora's pronouncement. "Ah knows him well. He's de Supreem Parade Organizeh. 'At man's rich—on'y las' night at de weegee 'semblage in mah house he showed me nearly six hunn'ed dollahs. When de social visitin' part starts afteh de parade I gives yo' a howdy-do, does yo' crave to meet up wid him; but don' git triflin' wid him, woman. 'At's all. He's mah man."
Cuspidora brindled engagingly.
"Us aims to git married soon as de local organizin' is finished."
"Ain't it gran'? Whut yo' say his name is?"
Honey Tone and his trailing parade were plodding along toward Cuspidora Lee and Captain Jack's cook. When Honey Tone came closer Cuspidora waved archly at the Supreme Organizer.
"Whut yo' say his name is?" The ponderous cook at Cuspidora's side repeated her question.
The Lee lips answered absently. "Boone—Huntington Boone."
The cook swept the back of her hand across her eyes. "Boone! 'At's him!" She turned to Cuspidora. "You aims to marry him, does you? Well, marry him sudden. Ah aims to kill him. 'At niggah an' me married each other two yeahs befo' he went to wah!"
The cook bellowed hoarsely once in the Supreme Organizer's direction. "Honey Tone!" A shrill echo came from Cuspidora's lips. The Supreme Organizer wilted from the deck of his mule. Without looking around, he started for the entrance of the ball park, but before he had covered half the distance he was overtaken by a furious tigress. Cuspidora Lee had outdistanced Honey Tone's wife in her pursuit of the Organizer, and to her went first blood. At Cuspidora Lee's hands Honey Tone took the count just in time to get his chattering teeth full of his enraged wife's crunching heels. "Stan' back, Cuspido'! Ah aims to tromple 'at snake in de dust!"
Thereafter, for a space of minutes the massacre proceeded with systematic fury. It ended only when the policeman unlimbered a wicked sap and forcibly dragged the battling brunettes from their crumpled victim.
"Git to hell away from that nigger," the officer yelled at the two women. With the assistance of a hearty boost from the policeman, the Supreme Organizer struggled to his feet.
"Lemme go—lemme go!" he gasped.
Wham! The two-foot swagger stick in the hand of the police officer found its target. "Shut up, you mule-stealin' baboon. Come on here! You git fifty years in jail if we don't lynch you!"
Honey Tone Boone, the uplifter, trailed along with the policeman.
The Wildcat, with his mascot goat close beside him in the shadows of the entrance to the ball park, witnessed the consummation of his plans. "Ah'll say I's de Supreem Gran' Arrangeh!" he exulted. "Grandes' 'rangeh whut is! Eve'ything sho' is 'ranged noble."
He tied a leading-string around the mascot's neck. "Come on heah, Lily. Us fades befo' Honey Tone busts loose f'm de jail. Us rides de Fliah to Chicago wid ol'Backslid. He's mah fren'. Le's go!"
"Memphis, let me miss you! Feet, see kin you trod de good-bye jazz! Lily, le's go! Git in step! C'm on heah befo' Ah jerks yo' head loose f'm yo' horns."
Lily lagged. No guilty conscience impelled the mascot goat. In addition to this, lacking mental momentum, her progress was considerably impeded by a parade uniform consisting of an O.D. army shirt which dangled loosely about her forelegs.
Half a block down the street Lily's parade raiment slipped. Her hobbles tripped her. The galloping Wildcat felt an added drag on the leading string. He glanced backward in his flight.
"Goat, how come you lose the cadence? Doggone you, see kin you skid till you gits in step."
Lily bought the next fifty yards with an expenditure of some epidermis and two ounces of goat hair.
She regained her feet, staggering under a ponderous ambition for revenge. Forty feet from the Calhoun Street curb she took careful aim at the Wildcat and stepped on the accelerator. The Wildcat coasted into Calhoun Street with his parade-leading Prince Albert flapping straight out behind him. He skidded over the curb in a pose which cost his army pants half of their seating capacity.
Inertia claimed him. He rolled his head slowly over his shoulder and gazed in bewilderment upon his prancing Nemesis.
"Lily, at ease!" The goat ambled up beside him. "At res'!"
The Wildcat grabbed for the mascot's leading string. "You an' me declares peace. Ah done wrong when Ah drug you, but now see kin you ramble. Ah craves to reach de Chicago Fliah whah at de ol' Backslid Baptis' is porter, so us kin leave town without leadin' no mob."
"Blaa!" Lily answered in forgiveness.
About the mascot's chest the Wildcat adjusted the O.D. shirt with its three service stripes. He tilted the little overseas cap which Lily wore to a rakish angle between the mascot's horns.
With Lily clicking along at the Wildcat's heels, the pair entered the portals of the Grand Central Station.
The Wildcat accosted a Red Cap of his own colour. "Whah at kin I find de Backslid Baptist whut takes care o' de white gen'men on de Chicago Fliah 'at leaves at 2:40?"
"I knows 'at boy dey calls Backslid, but dey ain't no Fliah leavin' at 2:40. 'At boy runs Pullman on de Panama Limited, leavin' heah at 10:10 tonight. Ol' Backslid neveh shows up till half-past nine to take his cah out."
Confronted by seven intervening hours of life in Memphis, which might include the release of Honey Tone Boone, whose temporary confinement in the jail had just been accomplished, the Wildcat's ambition flopped. His sole desire for the moment was for a high-grade segment of camouflage or the sanctuary of a close-fitting black cave.
"Whah at kin me an' Lily hide out till mah fren' Backslid shows up?"
The Red Cap looked at him. "What you done—outrun a bullet f'm some white man's gun, o' mebbe busted jail?"
The Wildcat's skin shrank a size or two at the mention of jail. "I ain't done nuthin'. Fo'git dem jail words. All I got is business in Chicago, an' I aims to ride wid de Baptist."
The Red Cap came to realize that the Wildcat sought to avoid publicity. "I knows a place whah you kin crawl undah a five-dollah bill an' hide."
"Whah at's de place?"
"Whah at's de five-dollah bill?"
The Wildcat produced the greenback. The Red Cap took it.
"C'm on heah wid me." He led the Wildcat and Lily to the rooms where Red Caps shifted from their civilian raiment to the uniform of their calling.
"Nobody but us boys neveh comes heah. Ah'll pass de word to de Backslid Baptis' to hunt you up when he 'rives f'm uptown tonight."
Until nine o'clock that night the Wildcat and Lily lay under cover. Shortly after nine o'clock the Backslid Baptist arrived at the station to board his Pullman, which would be cut into the Panama Limited.
He encountered the Wildcat in the latter's retreat.
"How come? When Ah seed you dis aftehnoon you an' Lily wuz in de parade-leadin' business, followin' Honey Tone Boone on de mule."
"Us changed since den, Backslid. Ol' Honey Tone done unconsecrate hisself f'm de parade-leadin' mule."
"Whah at is he now?"
"Safe in jail, whah at Cuspido' Lee an' de otheh wild woman kain't claim de remains. Whut time does us leave?"
"How come de 'us'?"
"I craves to furlough mahself loose f'm Memphis fo' a while. Does ol' Honey Tone git free mebbe he uprises agin' me."
"C'm on.... Us is due out at 10:10."
Before the Backslid Baptist was into his uniform a boy brought an order slip to him. He read it and handed it to the Wildcat.
The Wildcat looked at the paper.
"You knows Ah kain't read, Backslid. What 'at paper say?"
"Ah switches to a N'O'leans cah—de Mazeppa. Otheh boy's sick."
"How come he sick?"
"Some boys gits sick so as to miss Ol' Man Trouble. Might have made a cleanin' wid de bones. Might crave to meet up wid some fren's in Memphis. Kain't say how come. Us finishes de boy's run. Come on!"
The Backslid Baptist led the way to the platform in the long train shed. "Don't know kin I deadhead 'at goat."
"Sho' kin, Baptist. 'At mascot don't take up no room. 'At goat traveled f'm N'Yawk to San F'mcisco in de vegetable bin on a dinin' cah. Lily ain't no rampager."
When the Panama Limited roared into the train shed Lily cringed against the Wildcat's legs. "Stan' up theh! How come you scared at de ol' train?"
Followed by the Wildcat and Lily, the Backslid Baptist sought his car. "Whah at's de Mazeppa?" he asked the first porter whom he encountered.
"Hello, Backslid. Is you runnin' Mazeppa?"
"Dogdest cahload ob folks Ah evah see. Wait till mawnin' an' you sees yo' passengers. 'At's de ol' battleship, five cahs back."
The Wildcat and Lily, in the wake of the Backslid Baptist, presently boarded the Mazeppa.
Once inside the car, the porter sniffed heavily. "Gin trip. Thank de Lawd ain't no kids. Don't smell no bananas. Lis'sen. Heah dat boy snore?"
"Snores lak he's chokin' to death."
"Ain't chokin'. 'At's a fat boy wid de alcohol snorts."
The Backslid Baptist sniffed again. "Sho' is."
"Chorus girl lady, o' mebbe one ob dem movin' picture ladies."
"Ah'll say you does."
"Sees an' heahs wid yo' nose. Did anybody bust you in de beak dey'd knock you deaf an' blind."
"Wilecat, Ah run Pullman ten yeahs—boy sho' gits deprived ob a lot ob ignorance in dat time. Sho' gits so he knows de folks on his cah quick. Gits to be a reg'lah mind readeh."
The Wildcat looked at the Backslid Baptist. "Whut dat fat boy wid de alcohol snorts thinkin' about?"
The mind-reading porter looked at the Wildcat. A slow smile cut a red gash in his face.
"Same as you—de half bottle whut's left."
"Ah'll say you's a mind reader. Read an' see does de half bottle need a guardeen."
"Fo'get dat guardeen business. Tomorrow mawin' he gives it to you does you crave it. 'At boy wouldn't look cross-eyed at you in town, but when you weahs de unifawm mos' likely does you crave a dram o' his liquor he be proud to give it to you. When him an' de headache wakes up tomorrow—"
Zing! From above the Wildcat's head an electric bell rang with the suddenness of a striking rattlesnake.
"Ca'm yo'sef. Some passengeh ringin' fo' de porteh. Store dat goat in heah befo' de ol' train conductor comes th'oo."
The Backslid Baptist opened the door of the linen closet. Lily the mascot was ushered into the dark cave beneath the shelves.
"Lily, at res'! See kin you sleep whilst Ah learns de porter business." The Wildcat began to absorb the free ice-water.
Zing! The annunciator rang again with an impatient note.
"Put dis white coat on you whilst I sees who wants whut." The Backslid Baptist handed the Wildcat a white linen coat. The Wildcat removed his long parade-leading Prince Albert with the red plush sash and the yellow epaulets and donned the white jacket.
The Backslid Baptist returned from the far end of the car. "Fat boy in Loweh 7 wid de alcohol snorts craves ice-wateh. Fill a papeh cup an' carry it back to him."
The Wildcat filled a paper cup with ice-water and started down the aisle of the car. He returned presently.
"Kain't find whah at is 'at boy."
"You looks till you sees '7' on de curtains. 'At's whah he is."
The Wildcat essayed a second attempt with his life-saving ice-water. He had proceeded half the length of the car when, above the muffled rattles and creaks of its fabric, there lifted a wild shrieking laughter.
The paper cup in the Wildcat's clutching hand was crushed flat. From the cup there gushed a geyser of ice-water straight for the parted curtains of Lower 7.
The wild laughter from somewhere across the aisle continued, but now it was punctuated by three voices.
"F'r Gawd's sake, dearie, be quiet!"
"Spluff! What th' hell—"
"Lady Luck, whah at is you?"
The Wildcat galloped back along the swaying aisle to the protection of the Backslid Baptist.
The high-pitched laughter pursued him.
"Pull de stoppin' string, Baptis'! Ah craves to git off dis train."
"Ca'm yo'se'f. Whut ails you?"
"Heah dat laffin'? Heah dat crazy—"
Zing! Zing! ZING!
"Doggone 'at Loweh 7. Did you wateh dat boy?"
The Wildcat looked at the crushed cup in his hand. "Ah'll say so. Missed 'at boy's neck, but de ol' ice-wateh sho' baptized him."
"See whut he wants again."
"You betteh see, Baptis'. I's just learnin'."
"Dearie, be quiet before I wring your neck!" A strident feminine voice addressed the author of the laughter. "Shut up! There, there, dearie.... Oh, you feen, leggo! My gawd, he bit me!"
"Purty purty burd. Purty purty burd."
Down the length of the car, from between the berth curtains there began to appear an assortment of human heads.
Above the scene there sounded the flutter of beating wings.
The Backslid Baptist dived into the centre of the Pullman.
"What is it, porter?"
"Jes' gittin' into Carbondale." The porter's calm voice dispelled the terrors of the night.
"Leggo! Leggo! Doggone you. Backslid! Come heah!"
A furore of acrobatic groaning marked a scene wherein the Wildcat was doing the best he could to pry himself loose from something that clung to various parts of his anatomy with a beak and eight sharp claws.
"Come heah! Light de light. Some varmint's got me."
The Backslid Baptist retraced his steps. "Ain't no varmint. One ob dem parrot birds."
The Backslid Baptist made a grab for the parrot, and from the bird's throat into the night again there lifted the wild laughter.
The porter opened the door of the linen closet wherein Lily the mascot goat was quietly eating her third pillow case. He cast the parrot from him into the darkness of the linen closet. "Wilecat, tell de lady in Lo' 10 Ah'll take keer de parrot till mawin'."
The parrot landed on Lily's neck. From behind the slammed door came a muffled "Blaa!" followed by the subdued noises of a large number-nine-sized ruckus.
Zing! Zing! ZING!
"I's coming. I's coming." The Backslid Baptist filled two cups of ice-water and started toward Lower 7 with them.
"Heah you is.... Yessuh. No suh. Yessuh, Ah'll git you some mo'."
"Here's a half bottle of that blasted stuff. Take it away where I can't smell it. That ice-water sure is good. Were you ever zippo on gin?"
"No suh. Ah'll git you some mo' ice-water."
The Backslid Baptist, conveying half a bottle of gin, neglected to state that he had never been able to accumulate enough gin at one time to get himself zippo.
He encountered the Wildcat in the smoking room. He handed the Wildcat the half bottle of gin. "Ah'll say I's a mind reader."
"See whut de good Lawd done sent!"
"Afteh de storm comes de quiet waters."
"Comes de gin, you means. Ol' fat boy drink de watehs. Us drinks de gin. Gin, how is you?"
The Wildcat soothed himself with three strenuous gulps. "Whuf! Liquor, how de do!"
The Backslid Baptist departed with the third cargo of ice-water for the gentleman in Lower 7. He returned after a little while. Dangling from his fingers and carried in his arms were a dozen pairs of shoes.
He threw the shoes down on the end seat in the smoking room. "Start to work on de shoes, Wilecat. Don' do nothin' to de new shoes—much—an' hit de ol' ones light. De middle-grade shoes gits a good shinin'. Folks whut weahs middle-grade shoes is ol'-time travellers an' gin'ally comes up strong wid de income tax fo' us boys."
The bell in the passageway sounded its summons.
"Doggone! See who dat is."
The apprenticed Wildcat read the indicator. "Ain't no numbeh. De little hand turned on de letters."
"Whut de letters say?"
"Backslid, you knows I kain't read."
The Backslid Baptist set the nearly empty bottle of gin on the washstand and walked into the passageway.
"'Partment B," he announced upon his return. "Dey's two 'partments, A and B, and a drawin' room. You knows 'B' when you sees it. Knock at de do' an' ask whut is it."
The Wildcat departed on his mission. At the door of Compartment B he encountered a bald-headed gentleman clad in violent pink pajamas. The gentleman's face was festooned with a long, blond mustache. He thrust a coat, a vest, and a pair of trousers through the door at the Wildcat.
"Have these pressed," he ordered. "Here's a brace of shillings for you. Fee the tailor chap."
The Wildcat returned to the smoking room. "Boy in de 'partment room whut gobbles lak a turkey says, 'Press de clo'es, boy, an' heah's a dollah.' Dollah, how is you? Sho' is easy money."
"English boy. Dey's de clo'es-pressin'est folks in de world, 'ceptin' actors."
"Whah at does I git dese fixed up?"
"No place. Hang de coat up. Sprinkle de pants wid wateh an' lay 'em undeh a pile ob sheets in de linen closet. By mornin' dey's pressed. You charges anotheh dollah."
"Sho' is easy money." The Wildcat hung the Britisher's coat and vest in the smoking room. He walked into the passageway and opened the door of the linen closet. A four-legged cyclone burst from the dark depths of the linen closet. Riding the cyclone was a bedraggled parrot. The parrot showed the wear and tear of travel.
The Wildcat called loudly at the cyclone.
"Lily, halt! 'Tenshun! Whah at's de mil'tary bearin' you got in France? Come heah!"
The mascot walked to the Wildcat's side. From Lily's cringing back the Wildcat lifted the battle-scarred parrot.
The Wildcat boosted Lily back into the solitude of the linen closet. "Lily, 'tenshun. At ease! At res'!"
The goat executed the commands with the military precision which had come from long months of training in the A.E.F.
"'Tenshun! At ease. One mo' false move an' I th'ows you oveh-boa'd off de train."
The Wildcat retrieved a piece of string and turned his attention to the parrot. "You green debbil. Lay off 'at goat. Ah ties you on de top shelf. One mo' move an' us has fricasseed green chicken afteh de dinin' cah man gits you."
"'Tenshun!" mocked the parrot. "At ease!" Lily, prone in the depths of the linen closet, obeyed the commands.
The Wildcat tied the string around the parrot's leg. "Dere, dat holds you, an quit mockin' me befo' I knocks yo' beak down yo' throat."
"At rest!" the parrot gurgled.
The Wildcat closed the door of the linen closet. The parrot lost no time in biting the string loose from about her leg, after which she rejoined her four-legged companion.
"'Tenshun!" she squawked. "At res'! Tenshun! At res'!"
Thereafter until dawn, obeying the perfect counterfeit of her master's voice, Lily the mascot goat came to attention and subsided at rest with the persistent rhythm of a man on a hand-car.
The Wildcat returned to his shoe-shining. "When does us boys sleep, Backslid?" "When de chance comes," the Backslid Baptist returned. "You sleeps between stations an' 'twixt jobs of work. Gin'ally when de bell rings at night you pay no 'tenshun to it. Folks is finicky. Dey gits along just de same does you answer de bell or don't you. Hurry up wid de shoes. When you gits 'em done come on up th'ee cahs ahead. Dey's some res'less ivory on dat cah, an' mebbe us collects some money whut's lonesome to change managers."
The Backslid Baptist departed for the third car ahead, where in the smoking room the galloping ivory was clicking strong on the linoleum.
The Wildcat finished his work on the shoes of the passengers on the Mazeppa. He carried the shoes forward with him until he came upon the crap game.
"Heah's de shoes, Backslid," he said. "Men, howdy."
"Whut fo' you bring dem shoes all de way up heah?"
"Ah kain't read yo' numbehs whah at to distribute 'em."
"Lay 'em down. Ah'll take 'em back afteh while. Gimme dem bones. Shoots five dollahs." The Backslid Baptist launched himself into an energetic arm-swinging struggle, wherein presently he lost after his third pass.
"Take a ra'r, Wilecat. See is you still 'fested wid luck like you wuz in de A.E.F."
The Wildcat was a stranger to everybody present except the Backslid Baptist.
"Who dat boy?" one of the group of porters asked.
"Learnin' boy f'm Memphis. Ah knows him." With this endorsement the Wildcat was plunged into the game.
"Gimme dem bones. Hind laigs at res'." The Wildcat subsided to the floor. "Fingehs, lemme see kin you play de pickpocket jazz. Shoots five dollahs. Wham! Ah reads a feeble five. Five stay alive. Five Ah craves. Lady Luck, boon me. P'odigal five, come home whah de fat calf waits. Bam! Th'ee an' a deuce. Ah lets it lay. Shoots ten dollahs. Shower down ten dollahs an' see de train robbeh perform. Shower down, brothers. Bam! Seven! 'At's twins, but mah luck comes triple. Shoots de twenty. Shoots twenty dollahs. Heah de bloodhoun' bay. An' Ah reads ten miles. Chicago bound! Pay day, whah at is you? Lady Luck, don' git feeble. Angil leanin' on a cloud. De cloud busts! Angil, heah you is—readin' de five an' five. Five twins, how is you? Shoots fo'ty dollahs."
One of the group spoke to the Backslid. "Mebbe 'at boy's learnin' de porter business, but he sho' got old in de bone school a long time back."
The Backslid Baptist grunted his reply.
The Wildcat raked down all of his winnings except a five-dollar bill. "Shoots five dollahs. Shower down. Windy talk don't shake no possums loose. Come an' git me on de top limb. Shoots five dollahs. Dynamite dice, bust de ol' safe do'. Ah craves action. Shoots ten dollahs. Fifty dollahs."
"How much you got?" A cinnamon-coloured Croesus in the group spoke softly into the clamour.
The Wildcat turned to him. "Shoots a hund'ed does you crave speed. Shoots five hund'ed dollahs."
The cinnamon-faced porter produced a roll of bills and stripped a handful of greenbacks therefrom.
"'At's five hund'ed dollahs. Roll 'em."
"Gallopers, git right."
The Wildcat gave the dice a Turkish bath, a manicure, and a careful massaging between the perspiring palms of his hands.
He cast a handful of prepared ivory from him. The dice were festooned with equal parts of luck and technical skill, but their precise trajectory was interrupted by a string of high joints and low centres in the track over which rambled the Panama Limited.
"An' I reads—ace and deuce."
The cinnamon-coloured boy picked up the money on the floor.
"'At'll learn you."
The Wildcat was silent. The Backslid Baptist, sharing the shadow of his associate's sudden cloud of black luck, spoke slowly to him.
"C'm on heah, Wilecat. Us is nex' do' to bein' busted."
In the wake of the Backslid Baptist the Wildcat ambled back through the swaying cars to the Mazeppa. He carried on his bowed shoulders a load of misery big enough to bust a bottle of dynamite gin.
The Backslid Baptist stretched himself full length on the long leather seat of the smoking room.
"Baptist, how come it I don' know. De baby gallopehs wuz spinnin' fo' seven."
"Rough track an' de rocky road swerved 'em. Git to sleep. Us is due at Champaign at 8:10. Money come, money go. Whuteveh sleep you gits is that much to de good."
The Wildcat flopped down on the floor of the smoking room, but sleep would not come to him.
At half past seven the Backslid Baptist on the leather seat began mumbling to himself. A little later he awakened.
"Wilecat, whut dat noise?"
"Ain't heard no noise." All the Wildcat had heard was the accents of his bank-roll bidding him a last farewell.
"'At thumpin' noise." The Backslid Baptist's ears, keenly attuned to the turmoil of travel, distinguished in the sounds about him some unfamiliar puncture of the normal din.
"Sounded lak beatin' a board wid a stick."
"Kain't heah nothin'."
The Backslid Baptist yawned. "Some ob dem early risers f'm de tall sticks sure to be up by now. When Ah starts makin' up de berths you kin sweep out de cah an' 'cumulate de sheets an' pillow cases. Stick 'em in de canvas bag in de linen closet an' take back de boy's clo'es he gin you to press."
The Wildcat traversed the length of the aisle back of a swinging broom. On the return trip he encountered the Backslid Baptist busily engaged in making up Lower 1.
"Backslid, who dem two boys half way down de cah wid de red hats?"
"You means de boys wid de red fezants? Dem's a couple ob Potent Nobles ob de Mysterious Mecca. All de Mysterious Mecca boys in de world is havin' a gran' ruckus next month on de Pacific Coast."
"How come dey start so early?"
"Dey falls by de wayside heah an' dere, an' dey starts early so as to git picked up by some worthy Brother wid steady laigs. 'At fat boy wid de red fezant is de one whut had de gin hiccoughs."
"Kain't see did he."
"Gin'ally dey carries it noble. Dere's de little lady whut owns de parrot bird."
The owner of the parrot bird was a left-over soubrette who had bust in Havana with a road production of The Sillies of 1492. The little lady had completed her spring drinking and was now en route to a big-time meal-ticket scheduled to start from Chicago.
She saw the Wildcat.
"Porter, where is little Polly?"
"Yessum. I secluded 'at green chicken in de linen closet. Does you crave him now?"
"Yes. I want to have her with me for breakfast—the poor lonesome darling."
"Accordin' to de words 'at varmint used last night, he's too tough to make much of a brekfus'."
The Wildcat went to the end of the car and opened the linen closet wherein he had cached the parrot.
With the opening of the door the mystery of the thumping noise which he and the Backslid Baptist had heard was explained. In a low falsetto the parrot was repeating the two military commands which she had learned.
"'Tenshun! At res'! 'Tenshun! At res'!"
Lily, the mascot goat, was contributing the last fragment of muscular energy to the business of obeying orders. In response to the parrot's commands the goat languidly flopped at rest on the floor of the linen closet and came to her feet at attention.
"Lawd Gawd, Lily! At res' an' stay 'at way!"
Gratitude rang in the answering "Blaa" of Lily the goat.
The Wildcat reached for the parrot. "You green debbil! Whut you mean, exercisin' mah mascot all night?"
"Quawk!" The parrot made a vicious swing at the Wildcat's reaching hand.
"Leggo, you debbil!"
The green parrot, fuming in a rage compared to which nitric acid was a cream puff, was restored to its Spring-drinking owner.
"Lady, heah's de green demon."
"Pretty Polly. What made her little feathers all mussed up?"
The Wildcat returned to his exhausted mascot.
"'At green chicken's lucky does he git by widout gittin' his health an' stren'th mussed up befo' dis trip ends. At res', Lily, till I brings you some nutriment. Doggone ol' bird must have near wore you out. 'At's de way wid dem mil'tary commands. Res' yo'se'f, Lily, till Ah brings yo' brekfust."
"Blaa!" answered Lily, weakly.
The Wildcat detected a tone of hypocrisy,—something of false gratitude—in the mascot's reply. He returned from the dining car carrying two heads of lettuce for the mascot. He placed the lettuce under the nose of the recumbent goat, but Lily refused to eat.
"Fust time Ah eveh seed you slow up when de mess call blowed. How come?"
An instant later his roving eye discovered the "how come" of Lily's loss of appetite. In a dark corner of the linen closet he saw a dozen fragments of white cloth. He hauled them out, and the light revealed the hems of a covey of sheets and a half dozen pillow cases. Then the web of a home-spun disaster met his eye. From the lower shelf of the linen closet dangled the shredded legs of the trousers which the occupant of Compartment B had given him to be pressed.
"Goat, doggone you, come to 'tenshun! No wondeh you kain't eat lettuce, wid yo' insides crammed wid a ton ob linen an' half a pair ob pants fo' dessert. Me sympathizin' wid you, an' you an' de green chicken banquetin' all night on 'spensive raiment! 'Ceptin' foh havin' to scrub de flo', I'd barbecue de blood outen yo' veins heah an' now."
The sudden necessity of hiding the evidence confronted the Wildcat.
"By rights I ought to ram de rest ob de pants down yo' neck." The Wildcat picked up the ragged and frazzled trousers. A moment later he opened the door of the car platform and cast the remnants of Lily's banquet into the fleeting right-of-way.
"'Spect some boy find dese an' say, 'Whah at's de man whut de train cut de laigs off of?' 'At's his trouble. Me—Ah's Chicago bound wid a cahload ob trouble ob mah own. Main thing to do is to git off de train widout lettin' 'at boy in 'partment B know we's landed."
He discussed the disaster of the trousers with the Backslid Baptist.
"'At's de on'y way," the porter conceded. "When us gits in we fo'gits 'bout de boy widout de pants. Dey wuz his pants, Wilecat. Havin' no pants is his grief. He kin borrow some overalls f'm de cah cleaners, o' else he kin play he's a Injun an' roam nekked till de police gits him. Does us meet up wid de ol' Pullman 'spector Ah says 'No suh, Ah dunno how come.' 'At's 'at."
"Sho' don't crave words wid no 'spector," the Wildcat returned. "Dis porter business de best job in de world. Ridin' all de time, seem' de country—eatin' heavy, free ice wateh, gran' raiment, talkin' to folks—No suh! Main thing Ah craves is to git hired by de Pullman boss. 'Spect Ah makes it all right, Baptis'?"
"You makes it easy. You's done learned de business dis mawnin', ain't you? Well, I gits you five recommendin' letters f'm a boy whut writes 'em on Prairie Avenue, an' you gits hired.
"Fust letter says, 'Ah knowed Wilecat goin' on ten yeahs, an' he don't drink.' Nex' letter say, 'Wilecat jined de church when he wuz four yeahs old an' bin a soldier ob de Lawd eveh since.' Nex' letter say, 'Boy got to take keer ob his wife, mother an' father, an' six small chillen.' Nex' letter say, 'Wilecat sho' beats de worl' fo' readin', writin', an' 'rithmetic.'"
"Backslid, you knows Ah kain't read."
"'At don't make no difference. Letter says so, don't it? Last letter says you's honest, industrious, an reli'ble."
"How come you so friendly wid dat Democrat letter-writin' boy?"
"How come 'Democrat'?"
"F'm whut you says he's champion liar ob de world. Sounds Democrat to me. Don' make no difference, though—just so's I gits de job."
The owner of the red fez and the night-blooming hiccoughs craved another pillow and a table. The Wildcat delivered the table and fixed it into place. He returned to the linen closet to retrieve a pillow case therefrom. When the door opened, Lily the mascot goat, tired of the dark confines of her retreat, burst forth and galloped down the aisle of the car.
The Wildcat abandoned his pillow case industry and spent the next two minutes in rounding up his protege.
"You ramblin' wreck, come back heah befo' Ah makes a rug out ob yo' skin."
He returned Lily to her jail and proceeded to deliver the second pillow to the owner of the alcohol snorts. In common with the rest of the occupants of the car, that individual voiced his curiosity concerning the animated mascot.
"Son, who owns the goat?"
"Cap'n, suh, Ah owns him now, but some slaughter house man gwine to git him 'less he ca'ms down."
"What'll you take for him?"
The Wildcat suddenly remembered his financial status. Hard money at the moment made a strong appeal.
"Cap'n, suh, you means you craves to buy 'at goat?"
In the mind of the Potent Noble of the Mysterious Mecca had bloomed a Great Idea, wherein the galloping Lily would provide entertainment in carload lots for the Convention-bound brethren of the Conclave.
"Some days Ah'd sell 'at goat fo' a thin dime. Otheh days Ah'd give a boy a hund'ed dollahs for killin' him."
"What'll you take for him cash down, f.o.b. Lower 7, car Mazeppa?"
The Wildcat studied for a moment, and then long months of association clinched the tie which Lady Luck had woven between him and the prodigal Lily.
"Cap'n, suh, Ah spec' Ah wouldn't sell 'at goat fo' mo'n a million dollahs. Me an' Lily fit so many battles togetheh in France and on boa'd de ol' iron boat comin' home 'at Ah kain't see no money big enough to 'suage mah grief is we divo'ced. Bible says, 'Whither the goat goes, me too.' 'Spec Ah kain't sell him."
The companion Noble across the table from the hiccoughing gentleman offered a suggestion. "Round 'em both up for the trip. The Pullman gang'll fix it for us."
"Good scheme, Jim. The old bean isn't any too clear this morning or I'd thought of that myself." The owner of the red fezant turned to the Wildcat.
"What's your name, son?"
"Dey named me Marsden, suh—Vitus Marsden—but folks calls me Wilecat."
"If I can't buy the goat, I guess we'll have to negotiate the custody of your feline corpus from the Pullman organization for the duration of the Big Show."
"Yessuh." The Wildcat did not understand the big words, but whenever he did not understand it was his principle to smile and agree to anything that white gentlemen said.
"Yessuh. Ain't it de truf'?" He returned to the smoking compartment, where the Backslid Baptist was auditing his tips.
The Backslid Baptist was busy at the moment excavating a busted cork out of the neck of a queer looking square bottle.
"Baptis', whut you got?"
"Smells lak equalizer. Wait till Ah gits dis cork out, an' us sees."
"Whut dat sign say on de bottle?"
The Backslid Baptist inspected the label affixed to the flat side of the bottle. "Ol' sign reads 'Acrobatic Spirits of Pneumonia.' Bam! Un-konkered de ol' cork. Smell dat. 'At learns you not to believe in signs. When yo' eyes sees one thing an' yo' nose sees another you betteh believe yo' nose." He took a long drag at the bottle and passed it over to the Wildcat.
"Whuf! Ol' lady in Lower 6 felt poo'ly dis mawnin', but she 'sorbed th'ee drams f'm dis heah bottle, an' so far she's et twelve dollahs' wuth ob grub up ahaid in de dinin' cah."
The Wildcat swung on to the "Acrobatic Spirits of Pneumonia," lingering at the spout for several disappointing seconds after the contents of the bottle had gurgled down his neck.
"Whuf! Ah missed de pneumonia, Backslid, but Ah sho' feels acrobatic. How come de lady lose de bottle?"
"She done got careless when de spirits come. You better th'o 'at glassware away now an' git ready fo' tellin' de boss how you craves a porter's job."
Half an hour later, leading his mascot goat and closely convoyed by the Backslid Baptist, the Wildcat walked down the platform in the dark trainshed of the station in Chicago. Throughout the long ride down Prairie Avenue to the habitation of the forger from whom the recommending letters were to be obtained the Wildcat's woolly bean spun with the momentum which he had drained from the bottle abandoned by the careless lady in Lower 6.
An hour later, armed with five ironclad letters, he returned along the route, arriving finally at the portals of the office building on West Adams Street wherein Pullman porters are created from select brunet humanity.
Presently, across a wide desk he confronted Authority. A kindly gentleman questioned him, and to the questions he replied with an assortment of impromptu lies whose range and ingenuity busted every previous record for careless language.
Ten minutes later he was a hired man.
"C'm on heah. 'At's all." The Backslid Baptist at his elbow sensed the successful conclusion of the interview.
"You mean Ah's a porter?" the bewildered Wildcat asked when the pair had gained the street level.
"Ah'll say you is."
"An' all de tips I gits is mine to keep?"
"Dey is previdin' you gits outen yo' trance an' takes yo' cah on de 4:10."
"Hot dam, Lily! C'm on heah. Us weahs a blue coat all de time an' don't do nuthin' but spend de money whut de white folks showers down."
"You betteh make arrangements at some livery stable to p'vide board an' room fo' Lily whilst you is A.W.O.L."
"How come? Whah at I goes de goat goes."
"Not on de Pullman run. Ah dead-heads you once, an' de goat lak to ruined eve'ybody in de cah. No suh! Kain't run no trains an' no mascot at de same time. De rule book leaves out goats, but does you lug Lily wid you, yo' fust run sho' is yo' last."
The Wildcat faced the moment of a great decision. "Den dey won't be no fust trip. Cm on heah, Lily. Much 'bliged, Baptis'. Me an' Lily looks fo' a job whah at dey ain't no rules again' mascots."
The Wildcat headed south along Michigan Avenue, and in a little while he and Lily were adrift in a sea of humanity.
The Backslid Baptist grunted his disgust and went about his own affairs.
At midnight the Wildcat and Lily pitched their lonely camp behind a billboard in South Chicago.
"Sho' craves mah rations. You done noble wid de grass, Lily, but Ah kain't eat grass. Seems lak you kin nutrify yo'se'f wid whuteveh vittles is laying 'round."
In the dawn the Wildcat realized that his appetite had sprung up like a mushroom over night.
"Wisht us wuz back wid ol' Cap'n Jack in Memphis, whah at de ham-tree blooms th'ee times a day."
At noon his stomach was the residence of a hunger panic. With his mascot trailing behind him, he headed toward the heart of the city.
"Doggone 'at crap-shootin' hound. How come he clean me to mah last nickel, Ah don' know. Lady Luck, whah at is you?"
An instant later, wearing a policeman's uniform and speaking a wild Irish language, Lady Luck descended upon the Wildcat. The Michigan Avenue traffic cop abandoned his post long enough to pounce upon his prey.
"What th' hell do yez mean prowlin' round th' Loop in broad daylight wid ivery man on th' force goin' crazy lookin' f'r yez? Come along wid me."
Ten minutes later, with the echoes of the patrol gong still ringing in his ears, the Wildcat and Lily were hazed through the black portals of an unfriendly looking police station. They faced the desk sergeant.
"Boy, is your name Vitus Marsden?"
"Cap'n, yessuh. Folks gin'ally calls me Wilecat."
The desk sergeant busied himself with the telephone at his elbow. Two minutes later he turned to the Wildcat.
"Sit on that bench over there," he said.
The Wildcat sat down, and a black cloud of surmise floated across his immediate horizon.
"Lily, Ah 'spect us is 'rested mebbe on 'count ob dem pants you et offen de man in old 'partment B. Mebbe I'se took fo' 'sorbin' dem Acrobatic Spirits whut Backslid consecrated to me. Mebbe de lady wid de green chicken whut you et de feathers off ob done craved revenge. Mebbe de ol' Pullman car man aims to make you work out de price of 'at laundry you et in de linen closet."
The Wildcat had no difficulty finding a dozen good reasons for his present embarrassment. He addressed a police officer near by.
"Cap'n suh, whut fo' is me an' Lily sequestered heah in de jail?"
Before the policeman could answer, the march of events made reply. Through the swinging doors of the station filed a dozen strange looking men. These men wore baggy red trousers, and on each man's head was the red fez which marked him as being a Potent Noble of the Mysterious Mecca.
They descended upon the Wildcat. "Come on here, boy. Bring that goat. You and the mascot are due out on our special train twenty minutes from now. Here's your orders from the Pullman Company. You're on the payroll, and so is the mascot goat."
"Cap'n, suh, you means me an' Lily is headed west wid de red fezant gen'men?"
"Hot dam! Lily, 'tenshun! Lady Luck, how come I doubt you?"
The Wildcat expanded in the sunlight of Lady Luck's smile.
"Lady Luck, how come I doubt you? Police folks, good-bye. Lily, 'tenshun! Come on heah. Us is a Pullman poteh. Ah craves mah rest. Le's go."
Surrounded by an escort of Potent Nobles of the Mysterious Mecca, the Wildcat marched from the portals of the Chicago police station, headed for a west-bound train wherein he aimed to do the best he could in the role of porter for his carload of nobles.
At the train gates the party was delayed five minutes to permit the entrance of a motley crew of manacled aliens.
"How come them boys festooned with so much jinglin' hardware?"
One of the Potent Nobles made reply.
"Cap'n, suh, who's dat black boy wid de straight hair and his head tied up in de white rag?"
"Some boy sho' must ob busted his head open, to need tyin' up so bad."
Following the line of undesirables headed away from the land of the free, Lily, the Wildcat, and the Potent Nobles filtered through the gates into the train shed. They made their way down a long string of coaches, arriving finally at the Mazeppa.
"Here's the car."
"Car, howdy. Lily, git aboa'd."
"Slip out and get me a box of cigars before we leave."
A Potent Noble shoved a banknote at the Wildcat.
"Cap'n, yessuh. Would you mind tyin' Lily on de front vegetable ob de car till I gits back?"
Twelve minutes later, carrying in his hand a box of cigars, the Wildcat's second entrance was blocked by a ticket chopper who had a square jaw and a sense of duty.
"Where's your ticket?"
"Ain't got no ticket. I's de poteh wid de Mysterious Mecca gen'men. Le' me by."
"Don't try to pull none o' that stuff around me."
"Man, leave me by!"
Armed with the conviction of authority and clad in a parade-leading Prince Albert whose brass buttons reassured him, the Wildcat violated one of the first principles of his life, which was never to oppose a white man. He slid past the ticket chopper, ducked into the gate, and boarded the train wherein rolled the Mazeppa. He caught a tourist Pullman three cars apart from the rolling residence of the Mysterious Mecca delegation and landed breathless in the open vestibule.
"Fust thing old Backslid, what learned me de po'teh bizness, said to do was to close up de vegetable."
This he proceeded to do. He turned and entered the car. For a second time he slid past blue-coated authority, in the form of a United States Deputy Marshal who was temporarily chaperoning the departing aliens.
"Hold on, there: where you headed for?"
"I's de poteh what takes care ob de Noble Fezant boys in de blue pants."
The deputy marshal temporarily on guard had a fixed official rule of conduct: never take a chance. The Wildcat's words sounded crazy enough to entitle him to a membership card in the Traveling Nut Club.
"Git in that car and sit down before I blow your head off! Where's your handcuffs?"
"Cap'n, how come? Handcuffs seems so confidential."
Here, for some reason unknown to the Wildcat, was the hand of the law. Inside of his parade-leading Prince Albert the Wildcat shivered and shrunk three sizes. His brow wrinkled in perplexity beneath the velvet hat, and the bright yellow plumes thereon dropped in sudden melancholy.
"Lady Luck, whah at is you?"
"Mumblin' to himself and wearing the craziest rig in the car—good thing I rounded up that bird."
The deputy marshal added another star to his crown. "Plumb bughouse."
He cast his eye over the occupants of the car. "Back to Russia. Try some of your ideas on them Bullshevik birds."
He again addressed the Wildcat.
"Cut out that mumblin'. All you got to do is keep still."
"Cap'n, yessuh." The Wildcat removed his velvet hat and subsided in a seat beside the Hindoo agitator.
"How come you got your head all tied up, boy?" he asked the Hindoo.
The Anarchist didn't see fit to reply.
At Omaha the guards from the western division relieved their homesick eastern brothers.
"Twenty-three of them," announced the man who had captured the Wildcat. "Watch that rag-head Hindoo and that nigger in the fourth seat. He's gittin' bad, all the time mumblin' to himself about Lady Luck and Lily; he believes he's a porter."
Over the miles official carelessness rode in the carload of bad actors. Only when the train stopped were the guards vigilant.
Sagged down in his seat beside the Hindoo, the Wildcat reviewed a tolerably measly past.
There was no accounting for what white men would do to a boy, but somewhere in the jumble the Wildcat sensed that he had been the victim of a mistake.
"Mebbe I's headed fo' jail 'count o' runnin' past de man at de gates."
After a thirty-minute delay at Granger the Wildcat saw a train leave the yards. On the platform of the observation car, surrounded by half a dozen Blue Fezant Nobles of the Mysterious Mecca, he saw Lily speeding away into an isolated future.
"Lily, you hoodoo, good-bye. Lady Luck, here I is."
In the early days of detachable cuffs and ten-cent whisky there had been a difference of opinion manifest in the railroad surveying party at Granger.
Part of the gang headed northward to the salmon country; the rest of them blazed a trail to the southwest, where the sand fleas live on artichokes.
Lily and her escort were headed southwest towards San Francisco. Presently the Wildcat's car was cut into a train whose trail led northward through Idaho and Oregon.
Lady Luck meanwhile had a hard time keeping up. Exhausted finally with her efforts, she set the stage a few hundred miles ahead and lay down and went to sleep. While she was sleeping a pair of hard boiled actors in the drama rummaged around in the woodshed back of a log house near the banks of the Columbia river.
Pete, a skinny character with ears like a loving cup, raked three wheat sacks out of a pile of lumber.
Into two of these sacks he cut a pair of holes two inches in diameter and about four inches apart. The third sack he left intact. He handed one of the sacks to his partner.
"Here she is; see if it fits you."
A fat bad actor by the name of Bill slipped the sack over his head. "Little narrow between the eyes."
Three hours later these two agents of Lady Luck engaged in a little hard work in their search for easy money. The product of their energy took shape in the form of a pyramid of old ties piled between the rails of the line over which the Wildcat was approaching in his twelve-wheeled cage.
Ten minutes before the train was due and while her crossing whistles could be heard in the dusk five miles up-stream, the two bad actors scrambled up the south bank of the Columbia. The skinny one poured a quart bottle of coal oil on the pile of ties and lighted it. The fat man lighted a cigarette.
Both of them drew the wheat sacks over their heads. The fat man carried the third wheat sack slung at his waist on a string which went around his shoulder.
The stillness of evening was broken by the roar of a locomotive whistle, and an instant later the wheels of the train smoked and screeched against the chattering brake shoes. In the cab ahead the handle of the air valve was slammed into the big notch.
The flagman swung down from the rear end of the train and ambled back along the track for half the regulation distance. He set his lantern in the middle of the track and rolled a cigarette. Three lanterns flashed along the train, where the train countered a locked door. Inside the car, on a seat to see what was going on.
Presently they found out and took their places beside the fireman and engineer, hands raised.
With his wheat sack dangling more heavily on his hip as he progressed through the train, the fat bad actor skimmed the Pullman cream on his way forward to the plated jewelry in the day coach.
On the vestibule of the Wildcat's car he encountered a locked door. Inside the car, on a seat beside the rag-head Hindoo, the Wildcat curled himself up as a preface to twelve long chapters of easy sleep.
"Sho's noble when de train stops; boy can sleep peaceful 'thout gittin' his insides scrambled."
The fat bad actor shot the lock off the door of the Wildcat's car.
"Boy sure can sleep noble. Good mawnin—"
The rest of the sentence was action and not words. On the echo of the shot from the fat bad actor's gun the Wildcat leaped automatically. He ran fast enough to sidestep two more shots that crashed into the night after him. The Hindoo passed him in the darkness.
Down along the track the Wildcat's feet tore up great gobs of right-of-way. He passed the flagman, going like a brunet typhoon ten days overdue. After the first mile he began putting his feet down a little slower before he stepped on them. At the second mile his hind legs were dragging, and then suddenly, instead of the hard ground beneath his feet, there was nothing but a black void.
He rolled a few times like a 'possum falling off a limb. He landed on the hard sand of the river bank. Night had fallen.
"Lady Luck, here us is. Whah at is we?"
The Wildcat curled up and went to sleep.
He woke up five minutes later. "Sho' is peaceful. How come I's so thirsty?"
Beside him the river offered him a solution to his thirst problems. On all fours he crawled to the river edge. He shoved his bow under the water and nearly sank himself absorbing as much of the Columbia river as could flow into his wide mouth.