Dialect and inconsistent spelling have been preserved.
In The Scapegoat, Part II, text appears to be missing between "hard" and "brought" in the sentence "The school-teacher is giving you a pretty hard brought the school-children in for chorus singing, secured an able orator, and the best essayist in town."
THE HEART OF HAPPY HOLLOW
A Collection of Stories
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
Reprint, 1904 Dodd, Mead and Co., New York.
One: THE SCAPEGOAT 5
Two: ONE CHRISTMAS AT SHILOH 21
Three: THE MISSION OF MR. SCATTERS 29
Four: A MATTER OF DOCTRINE 45
Five: OLD ABE'S CONVERSION 53
Six: THE RACE QUESTION 63
Seven: A DEFENDER OF THE FAITH 67
Eight: CAHOOTS 73
Nine: THE PROMOTER 81
Ten: THE WISDOM OF SILENCE 95
Eleven: THE TRIUMPH OF OL' MIS' PEASE 103
Twelve: THE LYNCHING OF JUBE BENSON 111
Thirteen: SCHWALLIGER'S PHILANTHROPY 121
Fourteen: THE INTERFERENCE OF PATSY ANN 129
Fifteen: THE HOME-COMING OF 'RASTUS SMITH 137
Sixteen: THE BOY AND THE BAYONET 145
To My Friend Ezra M. Kuhns
Happy Hollow; are you wondering where it is? Wherever Negroes colonise in the cities or villages, north or south, wherever the hod carrier, the porter, and the waiter are the society men of the town; wherever the picnic and the excursion are the chief summer diversion, and the revival the winter time of repentance, wherever the cheese cloth veil obtains at a wedding, and the little white hearse goes by with black mourners in the one carriage behind, there—there—is Happy Hollow. Wherever laughter and tears rub elbows day by day, and the spirit of labour and laziness shake hands, there—there—is Happy Hollow, and of some of it may the following pages show the heart.
The law is usually supposed to be a stern mistress, not to be lightly wooed, and yielding only to the most ardent pursuit. But even law, like love, sits more easily on some natures than on others.
This was the case with Mr. Robinson Asbury. Mr. Asbury had started life as a bootblack in the growing town of Cadgers. From this he had risen one step and become porter and messenger in a barber-shop. This rise fired his ambition, and he was not content until he had learned to use the shears and the razor and had a chair of his own. From this, in a man of Robinson's temperament, it was only a step to a shop of his own, and he placed it where it would do the most good.
Fully one-half of the population of Cadgers was composed of Negroes, and with their usual tendency to colonise, a tendency encouraged, and in fact compelled, by circumstances, they had gathered into one part of the town. Here in alleys, and streets as dirty and hardly wider, they thronged like ants.
It was in this place that Mr. Asbury set up his shop, and he won the hearts of his prospective customers by putting up the significant sign, "Equal Rights Barber-Shop." This legend was quite unnecessary, because there was only one race about, to patronise the place. But it was a delicate sop to the people's vanity, and it served its purpose.
Asbury came to be known as a clever fellow, and his business grew. The shop really became a sort of club, and, on Saturday nights especially, was the gathering-place of the men of the whole Negro quarter. He kept the illustrated and race journals there, and those who cared neither to talk nor listen to someone else might see pictured the doings of high society in very short skirts or read in the Negro papers how Miss Boston had entertained Miss Blueford to tea on such and such an afternoon. Also, he kept the policy returns, which was wise, if not moral.
It was his wisdom rather more than his morality that made the party managers after a while cast their glances toward him as a man who might be useful to their interests. It would be well to have a man—a shrewd, powerful man—down in that part of the town who could carry his people's vote in his vest pocket, and who at any time its delivery might be needed, could hand it over without hesitation. Asbury seemed that man, and they settled upon him. They gave him money, and they gave him power and patronage. He took it all silently and he carried out his bargain faithfully. His hands and his lips alike closed tightly when there was anything within them. It was not long before he found himself the big Negro of the district and, of necessity, of the town. The time came when, at a critical moment, the managers saw that they had not reckoned without their host in choosing this barber of the black district as the leader of his people.
Now, so much success must have satisfied any other man. But in many ways Mr. Asbury was unique. For a long time he himself had done very little shaving—except of notes, to keep his hand in. His time had been otherwise employed. In the evening hours he had been wooing the coquettish Dame Law, and, wonderful to say, she had yielded easily to his advances.
It was against the advice of his friends that he asked for admission to the bar. They felt that he could do more good in the place where he was.
"You see, Robinson," said old Judge Davis, "it's just like this: If you're not admitted, it'll hurt you with the people; if you are admitted, you'll move uptown to an office and get out of touch with them."
Asbury smiled an inscrutable smile. Then he whispered something into the judge's ear that made the old man wrinkle from his neck up with appreciative smiles.
"Asbury," he said, "you are—you are—well, you ought to be white, that's all. When we find a black man like you we send him to State's prison. If you were white, you'd go to the Senate."
The Negro laughed confidently.
He was admitted to the bar soon after, whether by merit or by connivance is not to be told.
"Now he will move uptown," said the black community. "Well, that's the way with a coloured man when he gets a start."
But they did not know Asbury Robinson yet. He was a man of surprises, and they were destined to disappointment. He did not move uptown. He built an office in a small open space next his shop, and there hung out his shingle.
"I will never desert the people who have done so much to elevate me," said Mr. Asbury.
"I will live among them and I will die among them."
This was a strong card for the barber-lawyer. The people seized upon the statement as expressing a nobility of an altogether unique brand.
They held a mass meeting and indorsed him. They made resolutions that extolled him, and the Negro band came around and serenaded him, playing various things in varied time.
All this was very sweet to Mr. Asbury, and the party managers chuckled with satisfaction and said, "That Asbury, that Asbury!"
Now there is a fable extant of a man who tried to please everybody, and his failure is a matter of record. Robinson Asbury was not more successful. But be it said that his ill success was due to no fault or shortcoming of his.
For a long time his growing power had been looked upon with disfavour by the coloured law firm of Bingo & Latchett. Both Mr. Bingo and Mr. Latchett themselves aspired to be Negro leaders in Cadgers, and they were delivering Emancipation Day orations and riding at the head of processions when Mr. Asbury was blacking boots. Is it any wonder, then, that they viewed with alarm his sudden rise? They kept their counsel, however, and treated with him, for it was best. They allowed him his scope without open revolt until the day upon which he hung out his shingle. This was the last straw. They could stand no more. Asbury had stolen their other chances from them, and now he was poaching upon the last of their preserves. So Mr. Bingo and Mr. Latchett put their heads together to plan the downfall of their common enemy.
The plot was deep and embraced the formation of an opposing faction made up of the best Negroes of the town. It would have looked too much like what it was for the gentlemen to show themselves in the matter, and so they took into their confidence Mr. Isaac Morton, the principal of the coloured school, and it was under his ostensible leadership that the new faction finally came into being.
Mr. Morton was really an innocent young man, and he had ideals which should never have been exposed to the air. When the wily confederates came to him with their plan he believed that his worth had been recognised, and at last he was to be what Nature destined him for—a leader.
The better class of Negroes—by that is meant those who were particularly envious of Asbury's success—flocked to the new man's standard. But whether the race be white or black, political virtue is always in a minority, so Asbury could afford to smile at the force arrayed against him.
The new faction met together and resolved. They resolved, among other things, that Mr. Asbury was an enemy to his race and a menace to civilisation. They decided that he should be abolished; but, as they couldn't get out an injunction against him, and as he had the whole undignified but still voting black belt behind him, he went serenely on his way.
"They're after you hot and heavy, Asbury," said one of his friends to him.
"Oh, yes," was the reply, "they're after me, but after a while I'll get so far away that they'll be running in front."
"It's all the best people, they say."
"Yes. Well, it's good to be one of the best people, but your vote only counts one just the same."
The time came, however, when Mr. Asbury's theory was put to the test. The Cadgerites celebrated the first of January as Emancipation Day. On this day there was a large procession, with speechmaking in the afternoon and fireworks at night. It was the custom to concede the leadership of the coloured people of the town to the man who managed to lead the procession. For two years past this honour had fallen, of course, to Robinson Asbury, and there had been no disposition on the part of anybody to try conclusions with him.
Mr. Morton's faction changed all this. When Asbury went to work to solicit contributions for the celebration, he suddenly became aware that he had a fight upon his hands. All the better-class Negroes were staying out of it. The next thing he knew was that plans were on foot for a rival demonstration.
"Oh," he said to himself, "that's it, is it? Well, if they want a fight they can have it."
He had a talk with the party managers, and he had another with Judge Davis.
"All I want is a little lift, judge," he said, "and I'll make 'em think the sky has turned loose and is vomiting niggers."
The judge believed that he could do it. So did the party managers. Asbury got his lift. Emancipation Day came.
There were two parades. At least, there was one parade and the shadow of another. Asbury's, however, was not the shadow. There was a great deal of substance about it—substance made up of many people, many banners, and numerous bands. He did not have the best people. Indeed, among his cohorts there were a good many of the pronounced rag-tag and bobtail. But he had noise and numbers. In such cases, nothing more is needed. The success of Asbury's side of the affair did everything to confirm his friends in their good opinion of him.
When he found himself defeated, Mr. Silas Bingo saw that it would be policy to placate his rival's just anger against him. He called upon him at his office the day after the celebration.
"Well, Asbury," he said, "you beat us, didn't you?"
"It wasn't a question of beating," said the other calmly. "It was only an inquiry as to who were the people—the few or the many."
"Well, it was well done, and you've shown that you are a manager. I confess that I haven't always thought that you were doing the wisest thing in living down here and catering to this class of people when you might, with your ability, to be much more to the better class."
"What do they base their claims of being better on?"
"Oh, there ain't any use discussing that. We can't get along without you, we see that. So I, for one, have decided to work with you for harmony."
"Harmony. Yes, that's what we want."
"If I can do anything to help you at any time, why you have only to command me."
"I am glad to find such a friend in you. Be sure, if I ever need you, Bingo, I'll call on you."
"And I'll be ready to serve you."
Asbury smiled when his visitor was gone. He smiled, and knitted his brow. "I wonder what Bingo's got up his sleeve," he said. "He'll bear watching."
It may have been pride at his triumph, it may have been gratitude at his helpers, but Asbury went into the ensuing campaign with reckless enthusiasm. He did the most daring things for the party's sake. Bingo, true to his promise, was ever at his side ready to serve him. Finally, association and immunity made danger less fearsome; the rival no longer appeared a menace.
With the generosity born of obstacles overcome, Asbury determined to forgive Bingo and give him a chance. He let him in on a deal, and from that time they worked amicably together until the election came and passed.
It was a close election and many things had had to be done, but there were men there ready and waiting to do them. They were successful, and then the first cry of the defeated party was, as usual, "Fraud! Fraud!" The cry was taken up by the jealous, the disgruntled, and the virtuous.
Someone remembered how two years ago the registration books had been stolen. It was known upon good authority that money had been freely used. Men held up their hands in horror at the suggestion that the Negro vote had been juggled with, as if that were a new thing. From their pulpits ministers denounced the machine and bade their hearers rise and throw off the yoke of a corrupt municipal government. One of those sudden fevers of reform had taken possession of the town and threatened to destroy the successful party.
They began to look around them. They must purify themselves. They must give the people some tangible evidence of their own yearnings after purity. They looked around them for a sacrifice to lay upon the altar of municipal reform. Their eyes fell upon Mr. Bingo. No, he was not big enough. His blood was too scant to wash away the political stains. Then they looked into each other's eyes and turned their gaze away to let it fall upon Mr. Asbury. They really hated to do it. But there must be a scapegoat. The god from the Machine commanded them to slay him.
Robinson Asbury was charged with many crimes—with all that he had committed and some that he had not. When Mr. Bingo saw what was afoot he threw himself heart and soul into the work of his old rival's enemies. He was of incalculable use to them.
Judge Davis refused to have anything to do with the matter. But in spite of his disapproval it went on. Asbury was indicted and tried. The evidence was all against him, and no one gave more damaging testimony than his friend, Mr. Bingo. The judge's charge was favourable to the defendant, but the current of popular opinion could not be entirely stemmed. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty.
"Before I am sentenced, judge, I have a statement to make to the court. It will take less than ten minutes."
"Go on, Robinson," said the judge kindly.
Asbury started, in a monotonous tone, a recital that brought the prosecuting attorney to his feet in a minute. The judge waved him down, and sat transfixed by a sort of fascinated horror as the convicted man went on. The before-mentioned attorney drew a knife and started for the prisoner's dock. With difficulty he was restrained. A dozen faces in the court-room were red and pale by turns.
"He ought to be killed," whispered Mr. Bingo audibly.
Robinson Asbury looked at him and smiled, and then he told a few things of him. He gave the ins and outs of some of the misdemeanours of which he stood accused. He showed who were the men behind the throne. And still, pale and transfixed, Judge Davis waited for his own sentence.
Never were ten minutes so well taken up. It was a tale of rottenness and corruption in high places told simply and with the stamp of truth upon it.
He did not mention the judge's name. But he had torn the mask from the face of every other man who had been concerned in his downfall. They had shorn him of his strength, but they had forgotten that he was yet able to bring the roof and pillars tumbling about their heads.
The judge's voice shook as he pronounced sentence upon his old ally—a year in State's prison.
Some people said it was too light, but the judge knew what it was to wait for the sentence of doom, and he was grateful and sympathetic.
When the sheriff led Asbury away the judge hastened to have a short talk with him.
"I'm sorry, Robinson," he said, "and I want to tell you that you were no more guilty than the rest of us. But why did you spare me?"
"Because I knew you were my friend," answered the convict.
"I tried to be, but you were the first man that I've ever known since I've been in politics who ever gave me any decent return for friendship."
"I reckon you're about right, judge."
In politics, party reform usually lies in making a scapegoat of someone who is only as criminal as the rest, but a little weaker. Asbury's friends and enemies had succeeded in making him bear the burden of all the party's crimes, but their reform was hardly a success, and their protestations of a change of heart were received with doubt. Already there were those who began to pity the victim and to say that he had been hardly dealt with.
Mr. Bingo was not of these; but he found, strange to say, that his opposition to the idea went but a little way, and that even with Asbury out of his path he was a smaller man than he was before. Fate was strong against him. His poor, prosperous humanity could not enter the lists against a martyr. Robinson Asbury was now a martyr.
A year is not a long time. It was short enough to prevent people from forgetting Robinson, and yet long enough for their pity to grow strong as they remembered. Indeed, he was not gone a year. Good behaviour cut two months off the time of his sentence, and by the time people had come around to the notion that he was really the greatest and smartest man in Cadgers he was at home again.
He came back with no flourish of trumpets, but quietly, humbly. He went back again into the heart of the black district. His business had deteriorated during his absence, but he put new blood and new life into it. He did not go to work in the shop himself, but, taking down the shingle that had swung idly before his office door during his imprisonment, he opened the little room as a news- and cigar-stand.
Here anxious, pitying custom came to him and he prospered again. He was very quiet. Uptown hardly knew that he was again in Cadgers, and it knew nothing whatever of his doings.
"I wonder why Asbury is so quiet," they said to one another. "It isn't like him to be quiet." And they felt vaguely uneasy about him.
So many people had begun to say, "Well, he was a mighty good fellow after all."
Mr. Bingo expressed the opinion that Asbury was quiet because he was crushed, but others expressed doubt as to this. There are calms and calms, some after and some before the storm. Which was this?
They waited a while, and, as no storm came, concluded that this must be the after-quiet. Bingo, reassured, volunteered to go and seek confirmation of this conclusion.
He went, and Asbury received him with an indifferent, not to say, impolite, demeanour.
"Well, we're glad to see you back, Asbury," said Bingo patronisingly. He had variously demonstrated his inability to lead during his rival's absence and was proud of it. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to work."
"That's right. I reckon you'll stay out of politics."
"What could I do even if I went in?"
"Nothing now, of course; but I didn't know——"
He did not see the gleam in Asbury's half shut eyes. He only marked his humility, and he went back swelling with the news.
"Completely crushed—all the run taken out of him," was his report.
The black district believed this, too, and a sullen, smouldering anger took possession of them. Here was a good man ruined. Some of the people whom he had helped in his former days—some of the rude, coarse people of the low quarter who were still sufficiently unenlightened to be grateful—talked among themselves and offered to get up a demonstration for him. But he denied them. No, he wanted nothing of the kind. It would only bring him into unfavourable notice. All he wanted was that they would always be his friends and would stick by him.
They would to the death.
There were again two factions in Cadgers. The school-master could not forget how once on a time he had been made a tool of by Mr. Bingo. So he revolted against his rule and set himself up as the leader of an opposing clique. The fight had been long and strong, but had ended with odds slightly in Bingo's favour.
But Mr. Morton did not despair. As the first of January and Emancipation Day approached, he arrayed his hosts, and the fight for supremacy became fiercer than ever. The school-teacher is giving you a pretty hard brought the school-children in for chorus singing, secured an able orator, and the best essayist in town. With all this, he was formidable.
Mr. Bingo knew that he had the fight of his life on his hands, and he entered with fear as well as zest. He, too, found an orator, but he was not sure that he was as good as Morton's. There was no doubt but that his essayist was not. He secured a band, but still he felt unsatisfied. He had hardly done enough, and for the school-master to beat him now meant his political destruction.
It was in this state of mind that he was surprised to receive a visit from Mr. Asbury.
"I reckon you're surprised to see me here," said Asbury, smiling.
"I am pleased, I know." Bingo was astute.
"Well, I just dropped in on business."
"To be sure, to be sure, Asbury. What can I do for you?"
"It's more what I can do for you that I came to talk about," was the reply.
"I don't believe I understand you."
"Well, it's plain enough. They say that the school-teacher is giving you a pretty hard fight."
"Oh, not so hard."
"No man can be too sure of winning, though. Mr. Morton once did me a mean turn when he started the faction against me."
Bingo's heart gave a great leap, and then stopped for the fraction of a second.
"You were in it, of course," pursued Asbury, "but I can look over your part in it in order to get even with the man who started it."
It was true, then, thought Bingo gladly. He did not know. He wanted revenge for his wrongs and upon the wrong man. How well the schemer had covered his tracks! Asbury should have his revenge and Morton would be the sufferer.
"Of course, Asbury, you know what I did I did innocently."
"Oh, yes, in politics we are all lambs and the wolves are only to be found in the other party. We'll pass that, though. What I want to say is that I can help you to make your celebration an overwhelming success. I still have some influence down in my district."
"Certainly, and very justly, too. Why, I should be delighted with your aid. I could give you a prominent place in the procession."
"I don't want it; I don't want to appear in this at all. All I want is revenge. You can have all the credit, but let me down my enemy."
Bingo was perfectly willing, and, with their heads close together, they had a long and close consultation. When Asbury was gone, Mr. Bingo lay back in his chair and laughed. "I'm a slick duck," he said.
From that hour Mr. Bingo's cause began to take on the appearance of something very like a boom. More bands were hired. The interior of the State was called upon and a more eloquent orator secured. The crowd hastened to array itself on the growing side.
With surprised eyes, the school-master beheld the wonder of it, but he kept to his own purpose with dogged insistence, even when he saw that he could not turn aside the overwhelming defeat that threatened him. But in spite of his obstinacy, his hours were dark and bitter. Asbury worked like a mole, all underground, but he was indefatigable. Two days before the celebration time everything was perfected for the biggest demonstration that Cadgers had ever known. All the next day and night he was busy among his allies.
On the morning of the great day, Mr. Bingo, wonderfully caparisoned, rode down to the hall where the parade was to form. He was early. No one had yet come. In an hour a score of men all told had collected. Another hour passed, and no more had come. Then there smote upon his ear the sound of music. They were coming at last. Bringing his sword to his shoulder, he rode forward to the middle of the street. Ah, there they were. But—but—could he believe his eyes? They were going in another direction, and at their head rode—Morton! He gnashed his teeth in fury. He had been led into a trap and betrayed. The procession passing had been his—all his. He heard them cheering, and then, oh! climax of infidelity, he saw his own orator go past in a carriage, bowing and smiling to the crowd.
There was no doubting who had done this thing. The hand of Asbury was apparent in it. He must have known the truth all along, thought Bingo. His allies left him one by one for the other hall, and he rode home in a humiliation deeper than he had ever known before.
Asbury did not appear at the celebration. He was at his little news-stand all day.
In a day or two the defeated aspirant had further cause to curse his false friend. He found that not only had the people defected from him, but that the thing had been so adroitly managed that he appeared to be in fault, and three-fourths of those who knew him were angry at some supposed grievance. His cup of bitterness was full when his partner, a quietly ambitious man, suggested that they dissolve their relations.
His ruin was complete.
The lawyer was not alone in seeing Asbury's hand in his downfall. The party managers saw it too, and they met together to discuss the dangerous factor which, while it appeared to slumber, was so terribly awake. They decided that he must be appeased, and they visited him.
He was still busy at his news-stand. They talked to him adroitly, while he sorted papers and kept an impassive face. When they were all done, he looked up for a moment and replied, "You know, gentlemen, as an ex-convict I am not in politics."
Some of them had the grace to flush.
"But you can use your influence," they said.
"I am not in politics," was his only reply.
And the spring elections were coming on. Well, they worked hard, and he showed no sign. He treated with neither one party nor the other. "Perhaps," thought the managers, "he is out of politics," and they grew more confident.
It was nearing eleven o'clock on the morning of election when a cloud no bigger than a man's hand appeared upon the horizon. It came from the direction of the black district. It grew, and the managers of the party in power looked at it, fascinated by an ominous dread. Finally it began to rain Negro voters, and as one man they voted against their former candidates. Their organisation was perfect. They simply came, voted, and left, but they overwhelmed everything. Not one of the party that had damned Robinson Asbury was left in power save old Judge Davis. His majority was overwhelming.
The generalship that had engineered the thing was perfect. There were loud threats against the newsdealer. But no one bothered him except a reporter. The reporter called to see just how it was done. He found Asbury very busy sorting papers. To the newspaper man's questions he had only this reply, "I am not in politics, sir."
But Cadgers had learned its lesson.
ONE CHRISTMAS AT SHILOH
Martha Maria Mixon was a "widder lady." So she described herself whenever anyone asked her as to her status in life. To her more intimate friends she confided that she was not a "weed widder," but one of the "grass" variety. The story of how her husband, Madison, had never been "No 'count, even befo' de wah," and of his rapid degeneration thereafter, was vividly told.
"De fact of de mattah is," Mrs. Mixon was wont to say, "my man, Madison, was nevah no han' to wo'k. He was de settin'-downest man you evah seed. Hit wouldn't 'a' been so bad, but Madison was a lakly man, an' his tongue wah smoothah dan ile; so hit t'wan't no shakes fu' him to fool ol' Mas' 'bout his wo'k an' git erlong des erbout ez he pleased. Mas' Madison Mixon, hisse'f, was a mighty 'dulgent so't o' man, an' he liked a laugh bettah dan anyone in de worl'. Well, my man could mek him laugh, an' dat was enough fu' him. I used to lectuah dat man much 'bout his onshifless ways, but he des went erlong, twell bimeby hyeah come de wah an' evahthing was broke up. Den w'en hit come time dat Madison had to scramble fu' hisself, dey wa'nt no scramble in him. He des' wouldn't wo'k an' I had to do evahthing. He allus had what he called some gret scheme, but deh nevah seemed to come to nuffin, an' once when he got de folks to put some money in somep'n' dat broke up, dey come put' nigh tahin' an' featherin' him. Finally, I des got morchully tiahed o' dat man's ca'in' on, an' I say to him one day, 'Madison,' I say, 'I'm tiahed of all dis foo'ishness, an' I'm gwine up Norf whaih I kin live an' be somebody. Ef evah you mek a man out o' yo'se'f, an' want me, de Bible say 'Seek an' you shell receive.' Cause even den I was a mighty han' to c'ote de Scripters. Well, I lef' him, an' Norf I come, 'dough it jes' nigh broke my hea't, fu' I sho did love dat black man. De las' thing I hyeahed o' him, he had des learned to read an' write an' wah runnin' fu' de Legislater 'twell de Klu Klux got aftah him; den I think he 'signed de nomernation."
This was Martha's story, and the reason that there was no Mr. Mixon with her when she came North, drifted from place to place and finally became one of New York's large black contingent from the South. To her the lessons of slavery had not been idle ones. Industrious, careful, and hard-working, she soon became prosperous, and when, hunting a spiritual home she settled upon Shiloh Chapel, she was welcomed there as a distinct addition to the large and active membership.
Shiloh was not one of the fashionable churches of the city, but it was primarily a church home for any Southern negro, for in it were representatives of every one of the old slaveholding States. Its pastor was one of those who had not yet got beyond the belief that any temporal preparation for the preaching of the Gospel was unnecessary. It was still his firm trust, and often his boast, that if one opened his mouth the Lord would fill it, and it grew to be a settled idea that the Lord filled his acceptably, for his converts were many and his congregation increased.
The Rev. Silas Todbury's education may have been deficient in other matters, but one thing he knew, and knew thoroughly—the disposition of his people. He knew just what weaknesses, longings, and desires their recent bondage had left with them, and with admirable shrewdness contrived to meet them. He knew that in preaching they wanted noise, emotion, and fire; that in the preacher they wanted free-heartedness and cordiality. He knew that when Christmas came they wanted a great rally, somewhat approaching, at least, the rousing times both spiritual and temporal that they had had back on the old plantation, when Christmas meant a week of pleasurable excitement. Knowing the last so well, it was with commendable foresight that he began early his preparations for a big time on a certain Christmas not long ago.
"I tell you people," he said to his congregation, "we's goin' to have a reg'lar 'Benjamin's mess'!"
The coloured folk, being not quite sure of the quotation, laughed heartily, exclaiming in admiration of their pastor, "Dat Todbu'y is sholy one mess hisse'f."
"Now any of de sistahs dat's willin' to he'p mek dis comin' Chris'mus a real sho 'nough one, 'll 'blige me by meetin' me in de basement of de chu'ch aftah services. De brothahs kin go 'long home 'twell dey called fu'."
There was another outburst of merriment at this sally, and it was a good-natured score or more of sisters who a little later met the pastor as agreed. Among them was Martha Maria Mixon, for she was very close to her pastor, and for many a day had joyed his clerical heart with special dinners.
"Ah," said the preacher, rubbing his hands, "Sistah Marthy, I see you's on han' ez usual to he'p me out, an' you, too, Sis Jinny, an' Sis Dicey," he added, quick to note the signs of any incipient jealousy, and equally ready to check it. "We's all hyeah, de faithful few, an' we's all ready fu' wo'k."
The sisters beamed and nodded.
"Well, we goin' to have some'p'n evah night, beginnin' wid Chris'mus night, straight on endurin' of de week, an' I want to separate you all into companies fu' to take chawge of each night. Now, I's a-goin' to have a powahful preachah f'om de Souf wid us, an' I want you all to show him what we kin do. On Chris'mus day we goin' to have a sermont at de chu'ch an' a festabal in de evenin' wid a Chris'mus tree. Sis' Marthy, I want you to boa'd de minister."
"La, Brothah Todbu'y, I don't scarcely feel lak I's 'portant 'nough fu' dat," said Mrs. Mixon modestly, "but I'll do de bes' I kin. I hatter be lak de widder's mice in de scuse o' meal."
"We ain't got no doubt 'bout what you able to do, Sis Marthy," and the pastor passed to the appointment of his other committees. After evening services the brothers were similarly called in consultation and appointed to their respective duties.
To the black people to whom these responsibilities were thus turned over, joy came, and with it the vision of other days—the vision of the dear old days, the hard old days back there in the South, when they had looked forward to their Christmas from year to year. Then it had been a time of sadness as well as of joy, for they knew that though the week was full of pleasure, after it was over must come separation and sadness. For this was the time when those who were to be hired out, loaned, or given away, were to change their homes. So even while they danced they sighed, and while they shouted they moaned. Now there was no such repressing fact to daunt them. Christmas would come. They would enjoy themselves, and after it was over would go back to the same homes to live through the round of months in the midst of familiar faces and among their own old loved ones. The thought gave sweetness to their labour, and the responsibilities devolving upon them imbued the sacred holiday with a meaning and charm that it had never had before for them. They bubbled over with importance and with the glory of it. A sister and a brother could not meet without a friendly banter.
"Hi, Sis' Dicey," Brother Williams would call out across the fence to his neighbour, "I don' believe you doin' anything to'ds dat Chris'mus celebration. Evah time I sees you, you's in de washtub tryin' to mek braid an' meat fo' dat no 'count man o' yo'n."
Sister Dicey's laugh rang out loud and musical before she replied, "Nevah you min', Brothah Williams. I don' see yo' back bowed so much by de yoke."
"Oh, honey, I's labo'in' even ef you do'n know it, but you'll see it on de day."
"I 'low you labo'in' de mos' to git dat wife o' yo'n a new dress," and her tormentor's guffaw seemed to admit some such benevolent intention.
In the corners of every house where the younger and more worldly-minded people congregated there was much whispering and giggling, for they had their own plans for Christmas outside of the church affair.
"You goin' to give me de pleasure of yo' comp'ny to de dance aftah de festabal?" some ardent and early swain would murmur to his lady love, and the whisper would fly back in well-feigned affright, "Heish, man, you want to have Brothah Todbu'y chu'chin' me?" But if the swain persisted, there was little chance of his being ultimately refused. So the world, the flesh, and the devil kept pace with the things of the spirit in the great preparation.
Meanwhile Martha Maria Mixon went her own way, working hard, fixing and observing. She had determined to excel herself this time, and not only should her part at the church be above reproach, but the entertainment which she would give that strange preacher would be a thing long to be remembered. And so, almost startled at all that Shiloh was preparing for his reception, hoary Christmas approached.
All New York was a dazzling bazar through which the people thronged ceaselessly, tumultuously. Everyone was a child again; holly wreaths with the red berries gleaming amid the green were everywhere, and the white streets were gay with laughter and bustle and life.
On the night before the great day Martha sat before her fire and hummed softly to herself. There was a smile upon her face, for she had worked and worked well, and now all was ready and to her entire satisfaction. Something which shall be nameless simmered in a tin cup on the back of the stove before her, and every now and then she broke her reverie to sip of it. It smelled sweet and pungent and suspicious, but, then—this was Christmas Eve. She was half drowsing when a brisk knock startled her into wakefulness. Thinking it was one of the neighbours in for a call she bade the visitor enter, without moving. There was a stamping of feet, and the door opened and a black man covered with snow stood before her. He said nothing. Martha rubbed her eyes and stared at him, and then she looked at the cup accusingly, and from it back to the man. Then she rubbed her eyes again.
"Wha—wha——" she stammered, rising slowly.
"Don' you know me, Marthy, don' you know me; an' don' you want to see yo' husban'?"
"Madison Mixon, is dat you in de flesh?"
"It's me, Marthy; you tol' me ef evah I made a man o' myse'f, to seek you. It's been a long road, but I's tried faithful."
All the memories of other days came rushing over Martha in an overwhelming flood. In one moment everything was forgotten save that here stood her long delinquent husband. She threw out her arms and took a step toward him, but he anticipated her further advance and rushing to her clasped her ample form in a close embrace.
"You will tek me back!" he cried, "you will fu'give me!"
"Yes, yes, of co'se, I will, Madison, ef you has made a man of yo'se'f."
"I hopes to prove dat to you."
It was a very pleasant evening that they spent together, and like old times to Martha. Never once did it occur to her that this sudden finding of a husband might be awkward on the morrow when the visitor came to dinner. Nor did she once suspect that Madison might be up to one of his old tricks. She accepted him for just what he said he was and intended to be.
Her first doubt came the next morning when she began to hurry her preparations for church. Madison had been fumbling in his carpet bag and was already respectably dressed. His wife looked at him approvingly, but the glance turned to one of consternation when he stammered forth that he had to go out, as he had some business to attend to.
"What, on de ve'y fust day you hyeah, ain't you goin' to chu'ch wid me?"
"De bus'ness is mighty pressin', but I hopes to see you at chu'ch by de time de services begin. Waih does you set?" His hand was on the door.
Martha sank into a chair and the tears came to her eyes, but she choked them back. She would not let him see how much she was hurt. She told him in a faltering voice where she sat, and he passed out. Then her tears came and flooded away the last hope. She had been so proud to think that she would walk to church with her husband that morning for the first time in so long a while, and now it was all over. For a little while she thought that she would not go, and then the memory of all the preparations she had made and of the new minister came to her, and she went on with her dressing.
The church was crowded that morning when Martha arrived. She looked around in vain for some sight of Madison, but she could see nothing of him, and so she sank into her seat with a sigh. She could just see the new minister drooping in his seat behind the reading desk. He was evidently deep in meditation, for he did not get up during the hymn.
Then Martha heard the Rev. Silas Todbury speaking. His words did not affect her until she found that the whole of his closing sentence was flashing through her brain like a flame. "We will now be exho'ted by de Reverent Madison Mixon."
She couldn't believe her ears, but stared wildly at the pulpit where the new preacher stood. It was Madison. Her first impulse was to rise in her seat and stop him. It was another of his tricks, and he should not profane the church. But his look and voice silenced her and she sank back in amazement.
He preached a powerful sermon, and at its close told something of his life and who he was, and Martha found herself all at once the centre of attention; and her face glowed and her heart burned within her as the people about her nodded and smiled at her through their tears, and hurled "Amen" upon "Amen."
Madison hurried to her side after the services. "I des wanted to s'prise you a little, Marthy," he said.
She was too happy to answer and, pressing his arm very tightly, she walked out among her congratulating friends, and between her husband and the Rev. Silas Todbury went proudly home to her Christmas dinner.
THE MISSION OF MR. SCATTERS
It took something just short of a revolution to wake up the sleepy little town of Miltonville. Through the slow, hot days it drowsed along like a lazy dog, only half rousing now and then to snap at some flying rumour, and relapsing at once into its pristine somnolence.
It was not a dreamless sleep, however, that held the town in chains. It had its dreams—dreams of greatness, of wealth, of consequence and of growth. Granted that there was no effort to realise these visions, they were yet there, and, combined with the memory of a past that was not without credit, went far to give tone to its dormant spirit.
It was a real spirit, too; the gallant Bourbon spirit of the old South; of Kentucky when she is most the daughter of Virginia, as was evidenced in the awed respect which all Miltonvillians, white and black alike, showed to Major Richardson in his house on the hill. He was part of the traditions of the place. It was shown in the conservatism of the old white families, and a certain stalwart if reflected self-respect in the older coloured inhabitants.
In all the days since the school had been founded and Mr. Dunkin's marriage to the teacher had raised a brief ripple of excitement, these coloured people had slumbered. They were still slumbering that hot August day, unmindful of the sensation that lay at their very doors, heedless of the portents that said as plain as preaching, "Miltonville, the time is at hand, awake!"
So it was that that afternoon there were only a few loungers, and these not very alert, about the station when the little train wheezed and puffed its way into it. It had been so long since anyone save those whom they knew had alighted at Miltonville that the loungers had lost faith, and with it curiosity, and now they scarcely changed their positions as the little engine stopped with a snort of disgust. But in an instant indifference had fled as the mist before the sun, and every eye on the platform was staring and white. It is the unexpected that always happens, and yet humanity never gets accustomed to it. The loafers, white and black, had assumed a sitting posture, and then they had stood up. For from the cars there had alighted the wonder of a stranger—a Negro stranger, gorgeous of person and attire. He was dressed in a suit of black cloth. A long coat was buttoned close around his tall and robust form. He was dead black, from his shiny top hat to his not less shiny boots, and about him there was the indefinable air of distinction. He stood looking about the platform for a moment, and then stepped briskly and decisively toward the group that was staring at him with wide eyes. There was no hesitation in that step. He walked as a man walks who is not in the habit of being stopped, who has not known what it is to be told, "Thus far shalt thou go and no further."
"Can you tell me where I can find the residence of Mr. Isaac Jackson?" he asked sonorously as he reached the stupefied loungers. His voice was deep and clear.
Someone woke from his astonishment and offered to lead him thither, and together the two started for their destination, the stranger keeping up a running fire of comment on the way. Had his companion been a close observer and known anything about the matter, he would have found the newcomer's English painfully, unforgivably correct. A language should be like an easy shoe on a flexible foot, but to one unused to it, it proves rather a splint on a broken limb. The stranger stalked about in conversational splints until they arrived at Isaac Jackson's door. Then giving his guide a dime, he dismissed him with a courtly bow, and knocked.
It was a good thing that Martha Ann Jackson had the innate politeness of her race well to the fore when she opened the door upon the radiant creature, or she would have given voice to the words that were in her heart: "Good Lawd, what is dis?"
"Is this the residence of Mr. Isaac Jackson?" in the stranger's suavest voice.
"Yes, suh, he live hyeah."
"May I see him? I desire to see him upon some business." He handed her his card, which she carefully turned upside down, glanced at without understanding, and put in her apron pocket as she replied:
"He ain't in jes' now, but ef you'll step in an' wait, I'll sen' one o' de chillen aftah him."
"I thank you, madam, I thank you. I will come in and rest from the fatigue of my journey. I have travelled a long way, and rest in such a pleasant and commodious abode as your own appears to be will prove very grateful to me."
She had been half afraid to invite this resplendent figure into her humble house, but she felt distinctly flattered at his allusion to the home which she had helped Isaac to buy, and by the alacrity with which the stranger accepted her invitation.
She ushered him into the front room, mentally thanking her stars that she had forced the reluctant Isaac to buy a bright new carpet a couple of months before.
A child was despatched to find and bring home the father, while Martha Ann, hastily slipping out of her work-dress and into a starched calico, came in to keep her visitor company.
His name proved to be Scatters, and he was a most entertaining and ingratiating man. It was evident that he had some important business with Isaac Jackson, but that it was mysterious was shown by the guarded way in which he occasionally hinted at it as he tapped the valise he carried and nodded knowingly.
Time had never been when Martha Ann Jackson was so flustered. She was charmed and frightened and flattered. She could only leave Mr. Scatters long enough to give orders to her daughter, Lucy, to prepare such a supper as that household had never seen before; then she returned to sit again at his feet and listen to his words of wisdom.
The supper progressed apace, and the savour of it was already in the stranger's nostrils. Upon this he grew eloquent and was about to divulge his secret to the hungry-eyed woman when the trampling of Isaac's boots upon the walk told him that he had only a little while longer to contain himself, and at the same time to wait for the fragrant supper.
Now, it is seldom that a man is so well impressed with a smooth-tongued stranger as is his wife. Usually his hard-headedness puts him on the defensive against the blandishments of the man who has won his better half's favour, and, however honest the semi-fortunate individual may be, he despises him for his attainments. But it was not so in this case. Isaac had hardly entered the house and received his visitor's warm handclasp before he had become captive to his charm. Business, business—no, his guest had been travelling and he must be both tired and hungry. Isaac would hear of no business until they had eaten. Then, over a pipe, if the gentleman smoked, they might talk at their ease.
Mr. Scatters demurred, but in fact nothing could have pleased him better, and the open smile with which he dropped into his place at the table was very genuine and heartfelt. Genuine, too, were his praises of Lucy's cooking; of her flaky buscuits and mealy potatoes. He was pleased all through and he did not hesitate to say so.
It was a beaming group that finally rose heavily laden from the supper table.
Over a social pipe a little later, Isaac Jackson heard the story that made his eyes bulge with interest and his heart throb with eagerness.
Mr. Scatters began, tapping his host's breast and looking at him fixedly, "You had a brother some years ago named John." It was more like an accusation than a question.
"Yes, suh, I had a brothah John."
"Uh, huh, and that brother migrated to the West Indies."
"Yes, suh, he went out to some o' dem outlandish places."
"Hold on, sir, hold on, I am a West Indian myself."
"I do' mean no erfence, 'ceptin' dat John allus was of a rovin' dispersition."
"Very well, you know no more about your brother after his departure for the West Indies?"
"Well, it is my mission to tell you the rest of the story. Your brother John landed at Cuba, and after working about some years and living frugally, he went into the coffee business, in which he became rich."
"Why, bless my soul, who'd 'a evah thought that of John? Why, suh, I'm sho'ly proud to hyeah it. Why don't he come home an' visit a body?"
"Ah, why?" said Mr. Scatters dramatically. "Now comes the most painful part of my mission. 'In the midst of life we are in death.'" Mr. Scatters sighed, Isaac sighed and wiped his eyes. "Two years ago your brother departed this life."
"Was he saved?" Isaac asked in a choked voice. Scatters gave him one startled glance, and then answered hastily, "I am happy to say that he was."
"Poor John! He gone an' me lef'."
"Even in the midst of our sorrows, however, there is always a ray of light. Your brother remembered you in his will."
"Remembered you, and as one of the executors of his estate,"—Mr. Scatters rose and went softly over to his valise, from which he took a large square package. He came back with it, holding it as if it were something sacred,—"as one of the executors of his estate, which is now settled, I was commissioned to bring you this." He tapped the package. "This package, sealed as you see with the seal of Cuba, contains five thousand dollars in notes and bonds."
Isaac gasped and reached for the bundle, but it was withdrawn. "I am, however, not to deliver it to you yet. There are certain formalities which my country demands to be gone through with, after which I deliver my message and return to the fairest of lands, to the Gem of the Antilles. Let me congratulate you, Mr. Jackson, upon your good fortune."
Isaac yielded up his hand mechanically. He was dazed by the vision of this sudden wealth.
"Fi' thousan' dollahs," he repeated.
"Yes, sir, five thousand dollars. It is a goodly sum, and in the meantime, until court convenes, I wish you to recommend some safe place in which to put this money, as I do not feel secure with it about my person, nor would it be secure if it were known to be in your house."
"I reckon Albert Matthews' grocery would be the safes' place fu' it. He's got one o' dem i'on saftes."
"The very place. Let us go there at once, and after that I will not encroach upon your hospitality longer, but attempt to find a hotel."
"Hotel nothin'," said Isaac emphatically. "Ef my house ain't too common, you'll stay right thaih ontwell co't sets."
"This is very kind of you, Mr. Jackson, but really I couldn't think of being such a charge upon you and your good wife."
"'Tain't no charge on us; we'll be glad to have you. Folks hyeah in Miltonville has little enough comp'ny, de Lawd knows."
Isaac spoke the truth, and it was as much the knowledge that he would be the envy of all the town as his gratitude to Scatters that prompted him to prevail upon his visitor to stay.
Scatters was finally persuaded, and the men only paused long enough in the house to tell the curiosity-eaten Martha Ann the news, and then started for Albert Matthews' store. Scatters carried the precious package, and Isaac was armed with an old shotgun lest anyone should suspect their treasure and attack them. Five thousand dollars was not to be carelessly handled!
As soon as the men were gone, Martha Ann started out upon her rounds, and her proud tongue did for the women portion of Miltonville what the visit to Matthews' store did for the men. Did Mrs. So-and-So remember brother John? Indeed she did. And when the story was told, it was a "Well, well, well! he used to be an ol' beau o' mine." Martha Ann found no less than twenty women of her acquaintance for whom her brother John seemed to have entertained tender feelings.
The corner grocery store kept by Albert Matthews was the general gathering-place for the coloured male population of the town. It was a small, one-roomed building, almost filled with barrels, boxes, and casks.
Pride as well as necessity had prompted Isaac to go to the grocery just at this time, when it would be quite the fullest of men. He had not calculated wrongly when he reckoned upon the sensation that would be made by his entrance with the distinguished-looking stranger. The excitement was all the most hungry could have wished for. The men stared at Jackson and his companion with wide-open eyes. They left off chewing tobacco and telling tales. A half-dozen of them forgot to avail themselves of the joy of spitting, and Albert Matthews, the proprietor, a weazened little brown-skinned man, forgot to lay his hand upon the scale in weighing out a pound of sugar.
With a humility that was false on the very face of it, Isaac introduced his guest to the grocer and the three went off together mysteriously into a corner. The matter was duly explained and the object of the visit told. Matthews burned with envy of his neighbour's good fortune.
"I do' reckon, Mistah Scatters, dat we bettah not let de othah folks in de sto' know anything 'bout dis hyeah bus'ness of ouahs. I got to be 'sponsible fu dat money, an' I doesn't want to tek no chances."
"You are perfectly right, sir, perfectly right. You are responsible, not only for the money itself, but for the integrity of this seal which means the dignity of government."
Matthews looked sufficiently impressed, and together they all went their way among the barrels and boxes to the corner where the little safe stood. With many turnings and twistings the door was opened, the package inclosed and the safe shut again. Then they all rose solemnly and went behind the counter to sample something that Matthews had. This was necessary as a climax, for they had performed, not a mere deed, but a ceremonial.
"Of course, you'll say nothing about this matter at all, Mr. Matthews," said Scatters, thereby insuring publicity to his affair.
There were a few introductions as the men passed out, but hardly had their backs turned when a perfect storm of comment and inquiry broke about the grocer's head. So it came to pass, that with many mysterious nods and headshakings, Matthews first hinted at and then told the story.
For the first few minutes the men could scarcely believe what they had heard. It was so utterly unprecedented. Then it dawned upon them that it might be so, and discussion and argument ran rife for the next hour.
The story flew like wildfire, there being three things in this world which interest all sorts and conditions of men alike: great wealth, great beauty, and great love. Whenever Mr. Scatters appeared he was greeted with deference and admiration. Any man who had come clear from Cuba on such an errand to their fellow-townsman deserved all honour and respect. His charming manners confirmed, too, all that preconceived notions had said of him. He became a social favourite. It began with Mr. and Mrs. Dunkin's calling upon him. Then followed Alonzo Taft, and when the former two gave a reception for the visitor, his position was assured. Miltonville had not yet arisen to the dignity of having a literary society. He now founded one and opened it himself with an address so beautiful, so eloquent and moving that Mr. Dunkin bobbed his head dizzy in acquiescence, and Aunt Hannah Payne thought she was in church and shouted for joy.
The little town had awakened from its long post-bellum slumber and accepted with eagerness the upward impulse given it. It stood aside and looked on with something like adoration when Mr. Scatters and Mrs. Dunkin met and talked of ineffable things—things far above the ken of the average mortal.
When Mr. Scatters found that his mission was known, he gave up further attempts at concealing it and talked freely about the matter. He expatiated at length upon the responsibility that devolved upon him and his desire to discharge it, and he spoke glowingly of the great government whose power was represented by the seal which held the package of bonds. Not for one day would he stay away from his beloved Cuba, if it were not that that seal had to be broken in the presence of the proper authorities. So, however reluctant he might be to stay, it was not for him to shirk his task: he must wait for the sitting of court.
Meanwhile the Jacksons lived in an atmosphere of glory. The womenfolk purchased new dresses, and Isaac got a new wagon on the strength of their good fortune. It was nothing to what they dreamed of doing when they had the money positively in hand. Mr. Scatters still remained their guest, and they were proud of it.
What pleased them most was that their distinguished visitor seemed not to look down upon, but rather to be pleased with, their homely fare. Isaac had further cause for pleasure when his guest came to him later with a great show of frank confidence to request the loan of fifty dollars.
"I should not think of asking even this small favour of you but that I have only Cuban money with me and I knew you would feel distressed if you knew that I went to the trouble of sending this money away for exchange on account of so small a sum."
This was undoubtedly a mark of special confidence. It suddenly made Isaac feel as if the grand creature had accepted and labelled him as a brother and an equal. He hastened to Matthews' safe, where he kept his own earnings; for the grocer was banker as well.
With reverent hands they put aside the package of bonds and together counted out the required half a hundred dollars. In a little while Mr. Scatters' long, graceful fingers had closed over it.
Mr. Jackson's cup of joy was now full. It had but one bitter drop to mar its sweetness. That was the friendship that had sprung up between the Cuban and Mr. Dunkin. They frequently exchanged visits, and sat long together engaged in conversation from which Isaac was excluded. This galled him. He felt that he had a sort of proprietary interest in his guest. And any infringement of this property right he looked upon with distinct disfavour. So that it was with no pleasant countenance that he greeted Mr. Dunkin when he called on a certain night.
"Mr. Scatters is gone out," he said, as the old man entered and deposited his hat on the floor.
"Dat's all right, Isaac," said Mr. Dunkin slowly, "I didn't come to see de gent'man. I come to see you."
The cloud somewhat lifted from Isaac's brow. Mr. Dunkin was a man of importance and it made a deal of difference whom he was visiting.
He seemed a little bit embarrassed, however, as to how to open conversation. He hummed and hawed and was visibly uneasy. He tried to descant upon the weather, but the subject failed him. Finally, with an effort, he hitched his chair nearer to his host's and said in a low voice, "Ike, I reckon you has de confidence of Mistah Scatters?"
"I has," was the proud reply, "I has."
"Hum! uh! huh! Well—well—has you evah loant him any money?"
Isaac was aghast. Such impertinence!
"Mistah Dunkin," he began, "I considah——"
"Hol' on, Ike!" broke in Dunkin, laying a soothing hand on the other's knee, "don' git on yo' high hoss. Dis hyeah's a impo'tant mattah."
"I ain't got nothin' to say."
"He ain't never tol' you 'bout havin' nothin' but Cubian money on him?"
"I see he have. He tol' me de same thing."
The two men sat staring suspiciously into each other's faces.
"He got a hun'ed an' fifty dollahs f'om me," said Dunkin.
"I let him have fifty," added Jackson weakly.
"He got a hun'ed an' fifty dollahs f'om thews. Dat's how I come to git 'spicious. He tol' him de same sto'y."
Again that pregnant look flashed between them, and they both rose and went out of the house.
They hurried down to Matthews' grocery. The owner was waiting for them there. There was solemnity, but no hesitation, in the manner with which they now went to the safe. They took out the package hastily and with ruthless hands. This was no ceremonial now. The seal had no longer any fears for them. They tore it off. They tore the wrappers. Then paper. Neatly folded paper. More wrapping paper. Newspapers. Nothing more. Of bills or bonds—nothing. With the debris of the mysterious parcel scattered about their feet, they stood up and looked at each other.
"I nevah did believe in furriners nohow," said Mr. Dunkin sadly.
"But he knowed all about my brothah John."
"An' he sho'ly did make mighty fine speeches. Maybe we's missed de money." This from the grocer.
Together they went over the papers again, with the same result.
"Do you know where he went to-night, Ike?"
"Den I reckon we's seed de las' o' him."
"But he lef' his valise."
"Yes, an' he lef' dis," said Dunkin sternly, pointing to the paper on the floor. "He sho'ly is mighty keerless of his valybles."
"Let's go git de constable," said the practical Matthews.
They did, though they felt that it would be unavailing.
The constable came and waited at Jackson's house. They had been there about half an hour, talking the matter over, when what was their surprise to hear Mr. Scatters' step coming jauntily up the walk. A sudden panic of terror and shame seized them. It was as if they had wronged him. Suppose, after all, everything should come right and he should be able to explain? They sat and trembled until he entered. Then the constable told him his mission.
Mr. Scatters was surprised. He was hurt. Indeed, he was distinctly grieved that his friends had had so little confidence in him. Had he been to them anything but a gentleman, a friend, and an honest man? Had he not come a long distance from his home to do one of them a favour? They hung their heads. Martha Ann, who was listening at the door, was sobbing audibly. What had he done thus to be humiliated? He saw the effect of his words and pursued it. Had he not left in the care of one of their own number security for his integrity in the shape of the bonds?
The effect of his words was magical. Every head went up and three pairs of flashing eyes were bent upon him. He saw and knew that they knew. He had not thought that they would dare to violate the seal around which he had woven such a halo. He saw that all was over, and, throwing up his hands with a despairing gesture, he bowed graciously and left the room with the constable.
All Miltonville had the story next day, and waited no less eagerly than before for the "settin' of co't."
To the anger and chagrin of Miltonvillians, Fox Run had the honour and distinction of being the county seat, and thither they must go to the sessions; but never did they so forget their animosities as on the day set for the trial of Scatters. They overlooked the pride of the Fox Runners, their cupidity and their vaunting arrogance. They ignored the indignity of showing interest in anything that took place in that village, and went in force, eager, anxious, and curious. Ahorse, afoot, by oxcart, by mule-wagon, white, black, high, low, old, and young of both sexes invaded Fox Run and swelled the crowd of onlookers until, with pity for the very anxiety of the people, the humane judge decided to discard the now inadequate court-room and hold the sessions on the village green. Here an impromptu bar was set up, and over against it were ranged the benches, chairs, and camp-stools of the spectators.
Every man of prominence in the county was present. Major Richardson, though now retired, occupied a distinguished position within the bar. Old Captain Howard shook hands familiarly with the judge and nodded to the assembly as though he himself had invited them all to be present. Former Judge Durbin sat with his successor on the bench.
Court opened and the first case was called. It gained but passing attention. There was bigger game to be stalked. A hog-stealing case fared a little better on account of the intimateness of the crime involved. But nothing was received with such awed silence as the case of the State against Joseph Scatters. The charge was obtaining money under false pretences, and the plea "Not Guilty."
The witnesses were called and their testimony taken. Mr. Scatters was called to testify in his own defence, but refused to do so. The prosecution stated its case and proceeded to sum up the depositions of the witnesses. As there was no attorney for the defence, the State's attorney delivered a short speech, in which the guilt of the defendant was plainly set forth. It was as clear as day. Things looked very dark for Mr. Scatters of Cuba.
As the lawyer sat down, and ere the case could be given to the jury, he rose and asked permission of the Court to say a few words.
This was granted him.
He stood up among them, a magnificent, strong, black figure. His eyes swept the assembly, judge, jury, and spectators with a look half amusement, half defiance.
"I have pleaded not guilty," he began in a low, distinct voice that could be heard in every part of the inclosure, "and I am not guilty of the spirit which is charged against me, however near the letter may touch me. I did use certain knowledge that I possessed, and the seal which I happened to have from an old government position, to defraud—that is the word, if you will—to defraud these men out of the price of their vanity and their cupidity. But it was not a long-premeditated thing. I was within a few miles of your town before the idea occurred to me. I was in straits. I stepped from the brink of great poverty into the midst of what you are pleased to deem a greater crime."
The Court held its breath. No such audacity had ever been witnessed in the life of Fox Run.
Scatters went on, warming to his subject as he progressed. He was eloquent and he was pleasing. A smile flickered over the face of Major Richardson and was reflected in the features of many others as the speaker burst forth:
"Gentlemen, I maintain that instead of imprisoning you should thank me for what I have done. Have I not taught your community a lesson? Have I not put a check upon their credulity and made them wary of unheralded strangers?"
He had. There was no disputing that. The judge himself was smiling, and the jurymen were nodding at each other.
Scatters had not yet played his trump card. He saw that the time was ripe. Straightening his form and raising his great voice, he cried: "Gentlemen, I am guilty according to the letter of the law, but from that I appeal to the men who make and have made the law. From the hard detail of this new day, I appeal to the chivalry of the old South which has been told in story and sung in song. From men of vindictiveness I appeal to men of mercy. From plebeians to aristocrats. By the memory of the sacred names of the Richardsons"—the Major sat bolt upright and dropped his snuffbox—"the Durbins"—the ex-judge couldn't for his life get his pince-nez on—"the Howards"—the captain openly rubbed his hands—"to the memory that those names call up I appeal, and to the living and honourable bearers of them present. And to you, gentlemen of the jury, the lives of whose fathers went to purchase this dark and bloody ground, I appeal from the accusation of these men, who are not my victims, not my dupes, but their own."
There was a hush when he was done. The judge read the charge to the jury, and it was favourable—very. And—well, Scatters had taught the darkies a lesson; he had spoken of their families and their traditions, he knew their names, and—oh, well, he was a good fellow after all—what was the use?
The jury did not leave their seats, and the verdict was acquittal.
Scatters thanked the Court and started away; but he met three ominous-looking pairs of eyes, and a crowd composed of angry Negroes was flocking toward the edge of the green.
He came back.
"I think I had better wait until the excitement subsides," he said to Major Richardson.
"No need of that, suh, no need of that. Here, Jim," he called to his coachman, "take Mr. Scatters wherever he wants to go, and remember, I shall hold you responsible for his safety."
"Yes, suh," said Jim.
"A thousand thanks, Major," said the man with the mission.
"Not at all, suh. By the way, that was a very fine effort of yours this afternoon. I was greatly moved by it. If you'll give me your address I'll send you a history of our family, suh, from the time they left Vuhginia and before."
Mr. Scatters gave him the address, and smiled at the three enemies, who still waited on the edge of the green.
"To the station," he said to the driver.
A MATTER OF DOCTRINE
There was great excitement in Miltonville over the advent of a most eloquent and convincing minister from the North. The beauty about the Rev. Thaddeus Warwick was that he was purely and simply a man of the doctrine. He had no emotions, his sermons were never matters of feeling; but he insisted so strongly upon the constant presentation of the tenets of his creed that his presence in a town was always marked by the enthusiasm and joy of religious disputation.
The Rev. Jasper Hayward, coloured, was a man quite of another stripe. With him it was not so much what a man held as what he felt. The difference in their characteristics, however, did not prevent him from attending Dr. Warwick's series of sermons, where, from the vantage point of the gallery, he drank in, without assimilating, that divine's words of wisdom.
Especially was he edified on the night that his white brother held forth upon the doctrine of predestination. It was not that he understood it at all, but that it sounded well and the words had a rich ring as he champed over them again and again.
Mr. Hayward was a man for the time and knew that his congregation desired something new, and if he could supply it he was willing to take lessons even from a white co-worker who had neither "de spi'it ner de fiah." Because, as he was prone to admit to himself, "dey was sump'in' in de unnerstannin'."
He had no idea what plagiarism is, and without a single thought of wrong, he intended to reproduce for his people the religious wisdom which he acquired at the white church. He was an innocent beggar going to the doors of the well-provided for cold spiritual victuals to warm over for his own family. And it would not be plagiarism either, for this very warming-over process would save it from that and make his own whatever he brought. He would season with the pepper of his homely wit, sprinkle it with the salt of his home-made philosophy, then, hot with the fire of his crude eloquence, serve to his people a dish his very own. But to the true purveyor of original dishes it is never pleasant to know that someone else holds the secret of the groundwork of his invention.
It was then something of a shock to the Reverend Mr. Hayward to be accosted by Isaac Middleton, one of his members, just as he was leaving the gallery on the night of this most edifying of sermons.
Isaac laid a hand upon his shoulder and smiled at him benevolently.
"How do, Brothah Hayward," he said, "you been sittin' unner de drippin's of de gospel, too?"
"Yes, I has been listenin' to de wo'ds of my fellow-laborah in de vineya'd of de Lawd," replied the preacher with some dignity, for he saw vanishing the vision of his own glory in a revivified sermon on predestination.
Isaac linked his arm familiarly in his pastor's as they went out upon the street.
"Well, what you t'ink erbout pre-o'dination an' fo'-destination any how?"
"It sutny has been pussented to us in a powahful light dis eve'nin'."
"Well, suh, hit opened up my eyes. I do' know when I's hyeahed a sehmon dat done my soul mo' good."
"It was a upliftin' episode."
"Seem lak 'co'din' to de way de brothah 'lucidated de matter to-night dat evaht'ing done sot out an' cut an' dried fu' us. Well dat's gwine to he'p me lots."
"De gospel is allus a he'p."
"But not allus in dis way. You see I ain't a eddicated man lak you, Brothah Hayward."
"We can't all have de same 'vantages," the preacher condescended. "But what I feels, I feels, an' what I unnerstan's, I unnerstan's. The Scripture tell us to get unnerstannin'."
"Well, dat's what I's been a-doin' to-night. I's been a-doubtin' an' a-doubtin', a-foolin' erroun' an' wonderin', but now I unnerstan'."
"'Splain yo'se'f, Brothah Middleton," said the preacher.
"Well, suh, I will to you. You knows Miss Sally Briggs? Huh, what say?"
The Reverend Hayward had given a half discernible start and an exclamation had fallen from his lips.
"What say?" repeated his companion.
"I knows de sistah ve'y well, she bein' a membah of my flock."
"Well, I been gwine in comp'ny wit dat ooman fu' de longes'. You ain't nevah tasted none o' huh cookin', has you?"
"I has 'sperienced de sistah's puffo'mances in dat line."
"She is the cookin'est ooman I evah seed in all my life, but howsomedever, I been gwine all dis time an' I ain' nevah said de wo'd. I nevah could git clean erway f'om huh widout somep'n' drawin' me back, an' I didn't know what hit was."
The preacher was restless.
"Hit was des dis away, Brothah Hayward, I was allus lingerin' on de brink, feahful to la'nch away, but now I's a-gwine to la'nch, case dat all dis time tain't been nuffin but fo'-destination dat been a-holdin' me on."
"Ahem," said the minister; "we mus' not be in too big a hu'y to put ouah human weaknesses upon some divine cause."
"I ain't a-doin' dat, dough I ain't a-sputin' dat de lady is a mos' oncommon fine lookin' pusson."
"I has only seed huh wid de eye of de spi'it," was the virtuous answer, "an' to dat eye all t'ings dat are good are beautiful."
"Yes, suh, an' lookin' wid de cookin' eye, hit seem lak' I des fo'destinated fu' to ma'y dat ooman."
"You say you ain't axe huh yit?"
"Not yit, but I's gwine to ez soon ez evah I gets de chanst now."
"Uh, huh," said the preacher, and he began to hasten his steps homeward.
"Seems lak you in a pow'ful hu'y to-night," said his companion, with some difficulty accommodating his own step to the preacher's masterly strides. He was a short man and his pastor was tall and gaunt.
"I has somp'n' on my min,' Brothah Middleton, dat I wants to thrash out to-night in de sollertude of my own chambah," was the solemn reply.
"Well, I ain' gwine keep erlong wid you an' pestah you wid my chattah, Brothah Hayward," and at the next corner Isaac Middleton turned off and went his way, with a cheery "so long, may de Lawd set wid you in yo' meddertations."
"So long," said his pastor hastily. Then he did what would be strange in any man, but seemed stranger in so virtuous a minister. He checked his hasty pace, and, after furtively watching Middleton out of sight, turned and retraced his steps in a direction exactly opposite to the one in which he had been going, and toward the cottage of the very Sister Griggs concerning whose charms the minister's parishioner had held forth.
It was late, but the pastor knew that the woman whom he sought was industrious and often worked late, and with ever increasing eagerness he hurried on. He was fully rewarded for his perseverance when the light from the window of his intended hostess gleamed upon him, and when she stood in the full glow of it as the door opened in answer to his knock.
"La, Brothah Hayward, ef it ain't you; howdy; come in."
"Howdy, howdy, Sistah Griggs, how you come on?"
"Oh, I's des tol'able," industriously dusting a chair. "How's yo'se'f?"
"I's right smaht, thankee ma'am."
"W'y, Brothah Hayward, ain't you los' down in dis paht of de town?"
"No, indeed, Sistah Griggs, de shep'erd ain't nevah los' no whaih dey's any of de flock." Then looking around the room at the piles of ironed clothes, he added: "You sutny is a indust'ious ooman."
"I was des 'bout finishin' up some i'onin' I had fu' de white folks," smiled Sister Griggs, taking down her ironing-board and resting it in the corner. "Allus when I gits thoo my wo'k at nights I's putty well tiahed out an' has to eat a snack; set by, Brothah Hayward, while I fixes us a bite."
"La, sistah, hit don't skacely seem right fu' me to be a-comin' in hyeah lettin' you fix fu' me at dis time o' night, an' you mighty nigh tuckahed out, too."
"Tsch, Brothah Hayward, taint no ha'dah lookin' out fu' two dan it is lookin' out fu' one."
Hayward flashed a quick upward glance at his hostess' face and then repeated slowly, "Yes'm, dat sutny is de trufe. I ain't nevah t'ought o' that befo'. Hit ain't no ha'dah lookin' out fu' two dan hit is fu' one," and though he was usually an incessant talker, he lapsed into a brown study.
Be it known that the Rev. Mr. Hayward was a man of a very level head, and that his bachelorhood was a matter of economy. He had long considered matrimony in the light of a most desirable estate, but one which he feared to embrace until the rewards for his labours began looking up a little better. But now the matter was being presented to him in an entirely different light. "Hit ain't no ha'dah lookin' out fu' two dan fu' one." Might that not be the truth after all. One had to have food. It would take very little more to do for two. One had to have a home to live in. The same house would shelter two. One had to wear clothes. Well, now, there came the rub. But he thought of donation parties, and smiled. Instead of being an extravagance, might not this union of two beings be an economy? Somebody to cook the food, somebody to keep the house, and somebody to mend the clothes.
His reverie was broken in upon by Sally Griggs' voice. "Hit do seem lak you mighty deep in t'ought dis evenin', Brothah Hayward. I done spoke to you twicet."
"Scuse me, Sistah Griggs, my min' has been mighty deeply 'sorbed in a little mattah o' doctrine. What you say to me?"
"I say set up to the table an' have a bite to eat; tain't much, but 'sich ez I have'—you know what de 'postle said."
The preacher's eyes glistened as they took in the well-filled board. There was fervour in the blessing which he asked that made amends for its brevity. Then he fell to.
Isaac Middleton was right. This woman was a genius among cooks. Isaac Middleton was also wrong. He, a layman, had no right to raise his eyes to her. She was the prize of the elect, not the quarry of any chance pursuer. As he ate and talked, his admiration for Sally grew as did his indignation at Middleton's presumption.
Meanwhile the fair one plied him with delicacies, and paid deferential attention whenever he opened his mouth to give vent to an opinion. An admirable wife she would make, indeed.
At last supper was over and his chair pushed back from the table. With a long sigh of content, he stretched his long legs, tilted back and said: "Well, you done settled de case ez fur ez I is concerned."
"What dat, Brothah Hayward?" she asked.
"Well, I do' know's I's quite prepahed to tell you yit."
"Hyeah now, don' you remembah ol' Mis' Eve? Taint nevah right to git a lady's cur'osity riz."
"Oh, nemmine, nemmine, I ain't gwine keep yo' cur'osity up long. You see, Sistah Griggs, you done 'lucidated one p'int to me dis night dat meks it plumb needful fu' me to speak."
She was looking at him with wide open eyes of expectation.
"You made de 'emark to-night, dat it ain't no ha'dah lookin' out aftah two dan one."
"Oh, Brothah Hayward!"
"Sistah Sally, I reckernizes dat, an' I want to know ef you won't let me look out aftah we two? Will you ma'y me?"
She picked nervously at her apron, and her eyes sought the floor modestly as she answered, "Why, Brothah Hayward, I ain't fittin' fu' no sich eddicated man ez you. S'posin' you'd git to be pu'sidin' elder, er bishop, er somp'n' er othah, whaih'd I be?"
He waved his hand magnanimously. "Sistah Griggs, Sally, whatevah high place I may be fo'destined to I shall tek my wife up wid me."
This was enough, and with her hearty yes, the Rev. Mr. Hayward had Sister Sally close in his clerical arms. They were not through their mutual felicitations, which were indeed so enthusiastic as to drown the sound of a knocking at the door and the ominous scraping of feet, when the door opened to admit Isaac Middleton, just as the preacher was imprinting a very decided kiss upon his fiancee's cheek.
"Wha'—wha'" exclaimed Middleton.
The preacher turned. "Dat you, Isaac?" he said complacently. "You must 'scuse ouah 'pearance, we des got ingaged."
The fair Sally blushed unseen.
"What!" cried Isaac. "Ingaged, aftah what I tol' you to-night." His face was a thundercloud.
"An' is dat de way you stan' up fu' fo'destination?"
This time it was the preacher's turn to darken angrily as he replied, "Look a-hyeah, Ike Middleton, all I got to say to you is dat whenevah a lady cook to please me lak dis lady do, an' whenevah I love one lak I love huh, an' she seems to love me back, I's a-gwine to pop de question to huh, fo'destination er no fo'destination, so dah!"
The moment was pregnant with tragic possibilities. The lady still stood with bowed head, but her hand had stolen into her minister's. Isaac paused, and the situation overwhelmed him. Crushed with anger and defeat he turned toward the door.
On the threshold he paused again to say, "Well, all I got to say to you, Hayward, don' you nevah talk to me no mor' nuffin' 'bout doctrine!"
OLD ABE'S CONVERSION
The Negro population of the little Southern town of Danvers was in a state of excitement such as it seldom reached except at revivals, baptisms, or on Emancipation Day. The cause of the commotion was the anticipated return of the Rev. Abram Dixon's only son, Robert, who, having taken up his father's life-work and graduated at one of the schools, had been called to a city church.
When Robert's ambition to take a college course first became the subject of the village gossip, some said that it was an attempt to force Providence. If Robert were called to preach, they said, he would be endowed with the power from on high, and no intervention of the schools was necessary. Abram Dixon himself had at first rather leaned to this side of the case. He had expressed his firm belief in the theory that if you opened your mouth, the Lord would fill it. As for him, he had no thought of what he should say to his people when he rose to speak. He trusted to the inspiration of the moment, and dashed blindly into speech, coherent or otherwise.
Himself a plantation exhorter of the ancient type, he had known no school except the fields where he had ploughed and sowed, the woods and the overhanging sky. He had sat under no teacher except the birds and the trees and the winds of heaven. If he did not fail utterly, if his labour was not without fruit, it was because he lived close to nature, and so, near to nature's God. With him religion was a matter of emotion, and he relied for his results more upon a command of feeling than upon an appeal to reason. So it was not strange that he should look upon his son's determination to learn to be a preacher as unjustified by the real demands of the ministry.
But as the boy had a will of his own and his father a boundless pride in him, the day came when, despite wagging heads, Robert Dixon went away to be enrolled among the students of a growing college. Since then six years had passed. Robert had spent his school vacations in teaching; and now, for the first time, he was coming home, a full-fledged minister of the gospel.
It was rather a shock to the old man's sensibilities that his son's congregation should give him a vacation, and that the young minister should accept; but he consented to regard it as of the new order of things, and was glad that he was to have his boy with him again, although he murmured to himself, as he read his son's letter through his bone-bowed spectacles: "Vacation, vacation, an' I wonder ef he reckons de devil's goin' to take one at de same time?"
It was a joyous meeting between father and son. The old man held his boy off and looked at him with proud eyes.
"Why, Robbie," he said, "you—you's a man!"
"That's what I'm trying to be, father." The young man's voice was deep, and comported well with his fine chest and broad shoulders.
"You's a bigger man den yo' father ever was!" said his mother admiringly.
"Oh, well, father never had the advantage of playing football."
The father turned on him aghast. "Playin' football!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean to tell me dat dey 'lowed men learnin' to be preachers to play sich games?"
"Oh, yes, they believe in a sound mind in a sound body, and one seems to be as necessary as the other in fighting evil."
Abram Dixon shook his head solemnly. The world was turning upside down for him.
"Football!" he muttered, as they sat down to supper.
Robert was sorry that he had spoken of the game, because he saw that it grieved his father. He had come intending to avoid rather than to combat his parent's prejudices. There was no condescension in his thought of them and their ways. They were different; that was all. He had learned new ways. They had retained the old. Even to himself he did not say, "But my way is the better one."
His father was very full of eager curiosity as to his son's conduct of his church, and the son was equally glad to talk of his work, for his whole soul was in it.
"We do a good deal in the way of charity work among the churchless and almost homeless city children; and, father, it would do your heart good if you could only see the little ones gathered together learning the first principles of decent living."
"Mebbe so," replied the father doubtfully, "but what you doin' in de way of teachin' dem to die decent?"
The son hesitated for a moment, and then he answered gently, "We think that one is the companion of the other, and that the best way to prepare them for the future is to keep them clean and good in the present."
"Do you give 'em good strong doctern, er do you give 'em milk and water?"
"I try to tell them the truth as I see it and believe it. I try to hold up before them the right and the good and the clean and beautiful."
"Humph!" exclaimed the old man, and a look of suspicion flashed across his dusky face. "I want you to preach fer me Sunday."
It was as if he had said, "I have no faith in your style of preaching the gospel. I am going to put you to the test."
Robert faltered. He knew his preaching would not please his father or his people, and he shrank from the ordeal. It seemed like setting them all at defiance and attempting to enforce his ideas over their own. Then a perception of his cowardice struck him, and he threw off the feeling that was possessing him. He looked up to find his father watching him keenly, and he remembered that he had not yet answered.
"I had not thought of preaching here," he said, "but I will relieve you if you wish it."
"De folks will want to hyeah you an' see what you kin do," pursued his father tactlessly. "You know dey was a lot of 'em dat said I oughn't ha' let you go away to school. I hope you'll silence 'em."
Robert thought of the opposition his father's friends had shown to his ambitions, and his face grew hot at the memory. He felt his entire inability to please them now.
"I don't know, father, that I can silence those who opposed my going away or even please those who didn't, but I shall try to please One."
It was now Thursday evening, and he had until Saturday night to prepare his sermon. He knew Danvers, and remembered what a chill fell on its congregations, white or black, when a preacher appeared before them with a manuscript or notes. So, out of concession to their prejudices, he decided not to write his sermon, but to go through it carefully and get it well in hand. His work was often interfered with by the frequent summons to see old friends who stayed long, not talking much, but looking at him with some awe and a good deal of contempt. His trial was a little sorer than he had expected, but he bore it all with the good-natured philosophy which his school life and work in a city had taught him.
The Sunday dawned, a beautiful, Southern summer morning; the lazy hum of the bees and the scent of wild honeysuckle were in the air; the Sabbath was full of the quiet and peace of God; and yet the congregation which filled the little chapel at Danvers came with restless and turbulent hearts, and their faces said plainly: "Rob Dixon, we have not come here to listen to God's word. We have come here to put you on trial. Do you hear? On trial."
And the thought, "On trial," was ringing in the young minister's mind as he rose to speak to them. His sermon was a very quiet, practical one; a sermon that sought to bring religion before them as a matter of every-day life. It was altogether different from the torrent of speech that usually flowed from that pulpit. The people grew restless under this spiritual reserve. They wanted something to sanction, something to shout for, and here was this man talking to them as simply and quietly as if he were not in church.
As Uncle Isham Jones said, "De man never fetched an amen"; and the people resented his ineffectiveness. Even Robert's father sat with his head bowed in his hands, broken and ashamed of his son; and when, without a flourish, the preacher sat down, after talking twenty-two minutes by the clock, a shiver of surprise ran over the whole church. His father had never pounded the desk for less than an hour.
Disappointment, even disgust, was written on every face. The singing was spiritless, and as the people filed out of church and gathered in knots about the door, the old-time head-shaking was resumed, and the comments were many and unfavourable.
"Dat's what his schoolin' done fo' him," said one.
"It wasn't nothin' mo'n a lecter," was another's criticism.
"Put him 'side o' his father," said one of the Rev. Abram Dixon's loyal members, "and bless my soul, de ol' man would preach all roun' him, and he ain't been to no college, neither!"
Robert and his father walked home in silence together. When they were in the house, the old man turned to his son and said:
"Is dat de way dey teach you to preach at college?"
"I followed my instructions as nearly as possible, father."
"Well, Lawd he'p dey preachin', den! Why, befo' I'd ha' been in dat pulpit five minutes, I'd ha' had dem people moanin' an' hollerin' all over de church."
"And would they have lived any more cleanly the next day?"
The old man looked at his son sadly, and shook his head as at one of the unenlightened.
Robert did not preach in his father's church again before his visit came to a close; but before going he said, "I want you to promise me you'll come up and visit me, father. I want you to see the work I am trying to do. I don't say that my way is best or that my work is a higher work, but I do want you to see that I am in earnest."
"I ain't doubtin' you mean well, Robbie," said his father, "but I guess I'd be a good deal out o' place up thaih."
"No, you wouldn't, father. You come up and see me. Promise me."
And the old man promised.
It was not, however, until nearly a year later that the Rev. Abram Dixon went up to visit his son's church. Robert met him at the station, and took him to the little parsonage which the young clergyman's people had provided for him. It was a very simple place, and an aged woman served the young man as cook and caretaker; but Abram Dixon was astonished at what seemed to him both vainglory and extravagance.
"Ain't you livin' kin' o' high fo' yo' raisin', Robbie?" he asked.
The young man laughed. "If you'd see how some of the people live here, father, you'd hardly say so."
Abram looked at the chintz-covered sofa and shook his head at its luxury, but Robert, on coming back after a brief absence, found his father sound asleep upon the comfortable lounge.
On the next day they went out together to see something of the city. By the habit of years, Abram Dixon was an early riser, and his son was like him; so they were abroad somewhat before business was astir in the town. They walked through the commercial portion and down along the wharves and levees. On every side the same sight assailed their eyes: black boys of all ages and sizes, the waifs and strays of the city, lay stretched here and there on the wharves or curled on doorsills, stealing what sleep they could before the relentless day should drive them forth to beg a pittance for subsistence.
"Such as these we try to get into our flock and do something for," said Robert.
His father looked on sympathetically, and yet hardly with full understanding. There was poverty in his own little village, yes, even squalour, but he had never seen anything just like this. At home almost everyone found some open door, and rare was the wanderer who slept out-of-doors except from choice.