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"The Servant In The House"
The lady looked at me severely; I glanced away. I had addressed the little audience at some length on the disfranchisement of my people in society, politics, and industry and had studiously avoided the while her cold, green eye. I finished and shook weary hands, while she lay in wait. I knew what was coming and braced my soul.
"Do you know where I can get a good colored cook?" she asked. I disclaimed all guilty concupiscence. She came nearer and spitefully shook a finger in my face.
"Why—won't—Negroes—work!" she panted. "I have given money for years to Hampton and Tuskegee and yet I can't get decent servants. They won't try. They're lazy! They're unreliable! They're impudent and they leave without notice. They all want to be lawyers and doctors and" (she spat the word in venom) "ladies!"
"God forbid!" I answered solemnly, and then being of gentle birth, and unminded to strike a defenseless female of uncertain years, I ran; I ran home and wrote a chapter in my book and this is it.
I speak and speak bitterly as a servant and a servant's son, for my mother spent five or more years of her life as a menial; my father's family escaped, although grandfather as a boat steward had to fight hard to be a man and not a lackey. He fought and won. My mother's folk, however, during my childhood, sat poised on that thin edge between the farmer and the menial. The surrounding Irish had two chances, the factory and the kitchen, and most of them took the factory, with all its dirt and noise and low wage. The factory was closed to us. Our little lands were too small to feed most of us. A few clung almost sullenly to the old homes, low and red things crouching on a wide level; but the children stirred restlessly and walked often to town and saw its wonders. Slowly they dribbled off,—a waiter here, a cook there, help for a few weeks in Mrs. Blank's kitchen when she had summer boarders.
Instinctively I hated such work from my birth. I loathed it and shrank from it. Why? I could not have said. Had I been born in Carolina instead of Massachusetts I should hardly have escaped the taint of "service." Its temptations in wage and comfort would soon have answered my scruples; and yet I am sure I would have fought long even in Carolina, for I knew in my heart that thither lay Hell.
I mowed lawns on contract, did "chores" that left me my own man, sold papers, and peddled tea—anything to escape the shadow of the awful thing that lurked to grip my soul. Once, and once only, I felt the sting of its talons. I was twenty and had graduated from Fisk with a scholarship for Harvard; I needed, however, travel money and clothes and a bit to live on until the scholarship was due. Fortson was a fellow-student in winter and a waiter in summer. He proposed that the Glee Club Quartet of Fisk spend the summer at the hotel in Minnesota where he worked and that I go along as "Business Manager" to arrange for engagements on the journey back. We were all eager, but we knew nothing of table-waiting. "Never mind," said Fortson, "you can stand around the dining-room during meals and carry out the big wooden trays of dirty dishes. Thus you can pick up knowledge of waiting and earn good tips and get free board." I listened askance, but I went.
I entered that broad and blatant hotel at Lake Minnetonka with distinct forebodings. The flamboyant architecture, the great verandas, rich furniture, and richer dresses awed us mightily. The long loft reserved for us, with its clean little cots, was reassuring; the work was not difficult,—but the meals! There were no meals. At first, before the guests ate, a dirty table in the kitchen was hastily strewn with uneatable scraps. We novices were the only ones who came to eat, while the guests' dining-room, with its savors and sights, set our appetites on edge! After a while even the pretense of meals for us was dropped. We were sure we were going to starve when Dug, one of us, made a startling discovery: the waiters stole their food and they stole the best. We gulped and hesitated. Then we stole, too, (or, at least, they stole and I shared) and we all fattened, for the dainties were marvelous. You slipped a bit here and hid it there; you cut off extra portions and gave false orders; you dashed off into darkness and hid in corners and ate and ate! It was nasty business. I hated it. I was too cowardly to steal much myself, and not coward enough to refuse what others stole.
Our work was easy, but insipid. We stood about and watched overdressed people gorge. For the most part we were treated like furniture and were supposed to act the wooden part. I watched the waiters even more than the guests. I saw that it paid to amuse and to cringe. One particular black man set me crazy. He was intelligent and deft, but one day I caught sight of his face as he served a crowd of men; he was playing the clown,—crouching, grinning, assuming a broad dialect when he usually spoke good English—ah! it was a heartbreaking sight, and he made more money than any waiter in the dining-room.
I did not mind the actual work or the kind of work, but it was the dishonesty and deception, the flattery and cajolery, the unnatural assumption that worker and diner had no common humanity. It was uncanny. It was inherently and fundamentally wrong. I stood staring and thinking, while the other boys hustled about. Then I noticed one fat hog, feeding at a heavily gilded trough, who could not find his waiter. He beckoned me. It was not his voice, for his mouth was too full. It was his way, his air, his assumption. Thus Caesar ordered his legionaries or Cleopatra her slaves. Dogs recognized the gesture. I did not. He may be beckoning yet for all I know, for something froze within me. I did not look his way again. Then and there I disowned menial service for me and my people.
I would work my hands off for an honest wage, but for "tips" and "hand-me-outs," never! Fortson was a pious, honest fellow, who regarded "tips" as in the nature of things, being to the manner born; but the hotel that summer in other respects rather astonished even him. He came to us much flurried one night and got us to help him with a memorial to the absentee proprietor, telling of the wild and gay doings of midnights in the rooms and corridors among "tired" business men and their prostitutes. We listened wide-eyed and eager and wrote the filth out manfully. The proprietor did not thank Fortson. He did not even answer the letter.
When I finally walked out of that hotel and out of menial service forever, I felt as though, in a field of flowers, my nose had been held unpleasantly long to the worms and manure at their roots.
"Cursed be Canaan!" cried the Hebrew priests. "A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." With what characteristic complacency did the slaveholders assume that Canaanites were Negroes and their "brethren" white? Are not Negroes servants? Ergo! Upon such spiritual myths was the anachronism of American slavery built, and this was the degradation that once made menial servants the aristocrats among colored folk. House servants secured some decencies of food and clothing and shelter; they could more easily reach their master's ear; their personal abilities of character became known and bonds grew between slave and master which strengthened from friendship to love, from mutual service to mutual blood.
Naturally out of this the West Indian servant climbed out of slavery into citizenship, for few West Indian masters—fewer Spanish or Dutch—were callous enough to sell their own children into slavery. Not so with English and Americans. With a harshness and indecency seldom paralleled in the civilized world white masters on the mainland sold their mulatto children, half-brothers and half-sisters, and their own wives in all but name, into life-slavery by the hundreds and thousands. They originated a special branch of slave-trading for this trade and the white aristocrats of Virginia and the Carolinas made more money by this business during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than in any other way.
The clang of the door of opportunity thus knelled in the ears of the colored house servant whirled the whole face of Negro advancement as on some great pivot. The movement was slow, but vast. When emancipation came, before and after 1863, the house servant still held advantages. He had whatever education the race possessed and his white father, no longer able to sell him, often helped him with land and protection. Notwithstanding this the lure of house service for the Negro was gone. The path of salvation for the emancipated host of black folk lay no longer through the kitchen door, with its wide hall and pillared veranda and flowered yard beyond. It lay, as every Negro soon knew and knows, in escape from menial serfdom.
In 1860, 98 per cent of the Negroes were servants and serfs. In 1880, 30 per cent were servants and 65 per cent were serfs. The percentage of servants then rose slightly and fell again until 21 per cent were in service in 1910 and, doubtless, much less than 20 per cent today. This is the measure of our rise, but the Negro will not approach freedom until this hateful badge of slavery and mediaevalism has been reduced to less than 10 per cent.
Not only are less than a fifth of our workers servants today, but the character of their service has been changed. The million menial workers among us include 300,000 upper servants,—skilled men and women of character, like hotel waiters, Pullman porters, janitors, and cooks, who, had they been white, could have called on the great labor movement to lift their work out of slavery, to standardize their hours, to define their duties, and to substitute a living, regular wage for personal largess in the shape of tips, old clothes, and cold leavings of food. But the labor movement turned their backs on those black men when the white world dinned in their ears. Negroes are servants; servants are Negroes. They shut the door of escape to factory and trade in their fellows' faces and battened down the hatches, lest the 300,000 should be workers equal in pay and consideration with white men.
But, if the upper servants could not escape to modern, industrial conditions, how much the more did they press down on the bodies and souls of 700,000 washerwomen and household drudges,—ignorant, unskilled offal of a millionaire industrial system. Their pay was the lowest and their hours the longest of all workers. The personal degradation of their work is so great that any white man of decency would rather cut his daughter's throat than let her grow up to such a destiny. There is throughout the world and in all races no greater source of prostitution than this grade of menial service, and the Negro race in America has largely escaped this destiny simply because its innate decency leads black women to choose irregular and temporary sexual relations with men they like rather than to sell themselves to strangers. To such sexual morals is added (in the nature of self-defense) that revolt against unjust labor conditions which expresses itself in "soldiering," sullenness, petty pilfering, unreliability, and fast and fruitless changes of masters.
Indeed, here among American Negroes we have exemplified the last and worst refuge of industrial caste. Menial service is an anachronism,—the refuse of mediaeval barbarism. Whey, then, does it linger? Why are we silent about it? Why in the minds of so many decent and up-seeing folks does the whole Negro problem resolve itself into the matter of their getting a cook or a maid?
No one knows better than I the capabilities of a system of domestic service at its best. I have seen children who were spiritual sons and daughters of their masters, girls who were friends of their mistresses, and old servants honored and revered. But in every such case the Servant had transcended the Menial, the Service had been exalted above the Wage. Now to accomplish this permanently and universally, calls for the same revolution in household help as in factory help and public service. While organized industry has been slowly making its help into self-respecting, well-paid men, and while public service is beginning to call for the highest types of educated and efficient thinkers, domestic service lags behind and insists upon seeking to evolve the best types of men from the worst conditions.
The cause of this perversity, to my mind, is twofold. First, the ancient high estate of Service, now pitifully fallen, yet gasping for breath; secondly, the present low estate of the outcasts of the world, peering with blood-shot eyes at the gates of the industrial heaven.
The Master spoke no greater word than that which said: "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant!" What is greater than Personal Service! Surely no social service, no wholesale helping of masses of men can exist which does not find its effectiveness and beauty in the personal aid of man to man. It is the purest and holiest of duties. Some mighty glimmer of this truth survived in those who made the First Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, the Keepers of the Robes, and the Knights of the Bath, the highest nobility that hedged an anointed king. Nor does it differ today in what the mother does for the child or the daughter for the mother, in all the personal attentions in the old-fashioned home; this is Service! Think of what Friend has meant, not simply in spiritual sympathies, but in physical helpfulness. In the world today what calls for more of love, sympathy, learning, sacrifice, and long-suffering than the care of children, the preparation of food, the cleansing and ordering of the home, personal attendance and companionship, the care of bodies and their raiment—what greater, more intimate, more holy Services are there than these?
And yet we are degrading these services and loathing them and scoffing at them and spitting upon them, first, by turning them over to the lowest and least competent and worst trained classes in the world, and then by yelling like spoiled children if our babies are neglected, our biscuits sodden, our homes dirty, and our baths unpoured. Let one suggest that the only cure for such deeds is in the uplift of the doer and our rage is even worse and less explicable. We will call them by their first names, thus blaspheming a holy intimacy; we will confine them to back doors; we will insist that their meals be no gracious ceremony nor even a restful sprawl, but usually a hasty, heckled gulp amid garbage; we exact, not a natural, but a purchased deference, and we leave them naked to insult by our children and by our husbands.
I remember a girl,—how pretty she was, with the crimson flooding the old ivory of her cheeks and her gracious plumpness! She had come to the valley during the summer to "do housework." I met and walked home with her, in the thrilling shadows, to an old village home I knew well; then as I turned to leave I learned that she was there alone in that house for a week-end with only one young white man to represent the family. Oh, he was doubtless a "gentleman" and all that, but for the first time in my life I saw what a snare the fowler was spreading at the feet of the daughters of my people, baited by church and state.
Not alone is the hurt thus offered to the lowly,—Society and Science suffer. The unit which we seek to make the center of society,—the Home—is deprived of the help of scientific invention and suggestion. It is only slowly and by the utmost effort that some small foothold has been gained for the vacuum cleaner, the washing-machine, the power tool, and the chemical reagent. In our frantic effort to preserve the last vestiges of slavery and mediaevalism we not only set out faces against such improvements, but we seek to use education and the power of the state to train the servants who do not naturally appear.
Meantime the wild rush from house service, on the part of all who can scramble or run, continues. The rules of the labor union are designed, not simply to raise wages, but to guard against any likeness between artisan and servant. There is no essential difference in ability and training between a subway guard and a Pullman porter, but between their union cards lies a whole world.
Yet we are silent. Menial service is not a "social problem." It is not really discussed. There is no scientific program for its "reform." There is but one panacea: Escape! Get yourselves and your sons and daughters out of the shadow of this awful thing! Hire servants, but never be one. Indeed, subtly but surely the ability to hire at least "a maid" is still civilization's patent to respectability, while "a man" is the first word of aristocracy.
All this is because we still consciously and unconsciously hold to the "manure" theory of social organization. We believe that at the bottom of organized human life there are necessary duties and services which no real human being ought to be compelled to do. We push below this mudsill the derelicts and half-men, whom we hate and despise, and seek to build above it—Democracy! On such foundations is reared a Theory of Exclusiveness, a feeling that the world progresses by a process of excluding from the benefits of culture the majority of men, so that a gifted minority may blossom. Through this door the modern democrat arrives to the place where he is willing to allot two able-bodied men and two fine horses to the task of helping one wizened beldam to take the morning air.
Here the absurdity ends. Here all honest minds turn back and ask: Is menial service permanent or necessary? Can we not transfer cooking from the home to the scientific laboratory, along with the laundry? Cannot machinery, in the hands of self-respecting and well-paid artisans, do our cleaning, sewing, moving, and decorating? Cannot the training of children become an even greater profession than the attending of the sick? And cannot personal service and companionship be coupled with friendship and love where it belongs and whence it can never be divorced without degradation and pain?
In fine, can we not, black and white, rich and poor, look forward to a world of Service without Servants?
A miracle! you say? True. And only to be performed by the Immortal Child.
Jesus Christ in Texas
It was in Waco, Texas.
The convict guard laughed. "I don't know," he said, "I hadn't thought of that." He hesitated and looked at the stranger curiously. In the solemn twilight he got an impression of unusual height and soft, dark eyes. "Curious sort of acquaintance for the colonel," he thought; then he continued aloud: "But that nigger there is bad, a born thief, and ought to be sent up for life; got ten years last time—"
Here the voice of the promoter, talking within, broke in; he was bending over his figures, sitting by the colonel. He was slight, with a sharp nose.
"The convicts," he said, "would cost us $96 a year and board. Well, we can squeeze this so that it won't be over $125 apiece. Now if these fellows are driven, they can build this line within twelve months. It will be running by next April. Freights will fall fifty per cent. Why, man, you'll be a millionaire in less than ten years."
The colonel started. He was a thick, short man, with a clean-shaven face and a certain air of breeding about the lines of his countenance; the word millionaire sounded well to his ears. He thought—he thought a great deal; he almost heard the puff of the fearfully costly automobile that was coming up the road, and he said:
"I suppose we might as well hire them."
"Of course," answered the promoter.
The voice of the tall stranger in the corner broke in here:
"It will be a good thing for them?" he said, half in question.
The colonel moved. "The guard makes strange friends," he thought to himself. "What's this man doing here, anyway?" He looked at him, or rather looked at his eyes, and then somehow he felt a warming toward him. He said:
"Well, at least, it can't harm them; they're beyond that."
"It will do them good, then," said the stranger again.
The promoter shrugged his shoulders. "It will do us good," he said.
But the colonel shook his head impatiently. He felt a desire to justify himself before those eyes, and he answered: "Yes, it will do them good; or at any rate it won't make them any worse than they are." Then he started to say something else, but here sure enough the sound of the automobile breathing at the gate stopped him and they all arose.
"It is settled, then," said the promoter.
"Yes," said the colonel, turning toward the stranger again. "Are you going into town?" he asked with the Southern courtesy of white men to white men in a country town. The stranger said he was. "Then come along in my machine. I want to talk with you about this."
They went out to the car. The stranger as he went turned again to look back at the convict. He was a tall, powerfully built black fellow. His face was sullen, with a low forehead, thick, hanging lips, and bitter eyes. There was revolt written about his mouth despite the hang-dog expression. He stood bending over his pile of stones, pounding listlessly. Beside him stood a boy of twelve,—yellow, with a hunted, crafty look. The convict raised his eyes and they met the eyes of the stranger. The hammer fell from his hands.
The stranger turned slowly toward the automobile and the colonel introduced him. He had not exactly caught his name, but he mumbled something as he presented him to his wife and little girl, who were waiting.
As they whirled away the colonel started to talk, but the stranger had taken the little girl into his lap and together they conversed in low tones all the way home.
In some way, they did not exactly know how, they got the impression that the man was a teacher and, of course, he must be a foreigner. The long, cloak-like coat told this. They rode in the twilight through the lighted town and at last drew up before the colonel's mansion, with its ghost-like pillars.
The lady in the back seat was thinking of the guests she had invited to dinner and was wondering if she ought not to ask this man to stay. He seemed cultured and she supposed he was some acquaintance of the colonel's. It would be rather interesting to have him there, with the judge's wife and daughter and the rector. She spoke almost before she thought:
"You will enter and rest awhile?"
The colonel and the little girl insisted. For a moment the stranger seemed about to refuse. He said he had some business for his father, about town. Then for the child's sake he consented.
Up the steps they went and into the dark parlor where they sat and talked a long time. It was a curious conversation. Afterwards they did not remember exactly what was said and yet they all remembered a certain strange satisfaction in that long, low talk.
Finally the nurse came for the reluctant child and the hostess bethought herself:
"We will have a cup of tea; you will be dry and tired."
She rang and switched on a blaze of light. With one accord they all looked at the stranger, for they had hardly seen him well in the glooming twilight. The woman started in amazement and the colonel half rose in anger. Why, the man was a mulatto, surely; even if he did not own the Negro blood, their practised eyes knew it. He was tall and straight and the coat looked like a Jewish gabardine. His hair hung in close curls far down the sides of his face and his face was olive, even yellow.
A peremptory order rose to the colonel's lips and froze there as he caught the stranger's eyes. Those eyes,—where had he seen those eyes before? He remembered them long years ago. The soft, tear-filled eyes of a brown girl. He remembered many things, and his face grew drawn and white. Those eyes kept burning into him, even when they were turned half away toward the staircase, where the white figure of the child hovered with her nurse and waved good-night. The lady sank into her chair and thought: "What will the judge's wife say? How did the colonel come to invite this man here? How shall we be rid of him?" She looked at the colonel in reproachful consternation.
Just then the door opened and the old butler came in. He was an ancient black man, with tufted white hair, and he held before him a large, silver tray filled with a china tea service. The stranger rose slowly and stretched forth his hands as if to bless the viands. The old man paused in bewilderment, tottered, and then with sudden gladness in his eyes dropped to his knees, and the tray crashed to the floor.
"My Lord and my God!" he whispered; but the woman screamed: "Mother's china!"
The doorbell rang.
"Heavens! here is the dinner party!" exclaimed the lady. She turned toward the door, but there in the hall, clad in her night clothes, was the little girl. She had stolen down the stairs to see the stranger again, and the nurse above was calling in vain. The woman felt hysterical and scolded at the nurse, but the stranger had stretched out his arms and with a glad cry the child nestled in them. They caught some words about the "Kingdom of Heaven" as he slowly mounted the stairs with his little, white burden.
The mother was glad of anything to get rid of the interloper, even for a moment. The bell rang again and she hastened toward the door, which the loitering black maid was just opening. She did not notice the shadow of the stranger as he came slowly down the stairs and paused by the newel post, dark and silent.
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The judge's wife came in. She was an old woman, frilled and powdered into a semblance of youth, and gorgeously gowned. She came forward, smiling with extended hands, but when she was opposite the stranger, somewhere a chill seemed to strike her and she shuddered and cried:
"What a draft!" as she drew a silken shawl about her and shook hands cordially; she forgot to ask who the stranger was. The judge strode in unseeing, thinking of a puzzling case of theft.
"Eh? What? Oh—er—yes,—good evening," he said, "good evening." Behind them came a young woman in the glory of youth, and daintily silked, beautiful in face and form, with diamonds around her fair neck. She came in lightly, but stopped with a little gasp; then she laughed gaily and said:
"Why, I beg your pardon. Was it not curious? I thought I saw there behind your man"—she hesitated, but he must be a servant, she argued—"the shadow of great, white wings. It was but the light on the drapery. What a turn it gave me." And she smiled again. With her came a tall, handsome, young naval officer. Hearing his lady refer to the servant, he hardly looked at him, but held his gilded cap carelessly toward him, and the stranger placed it carefully on the rack.
Last came the rector, a man of forty, and well-clothed. He started to pass the stranger, stopped, and looked at him inquiringly.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I beg your pardon,—I think I have met you?"
The stranger made no answer, and the hostess nervously hurried the guests on. But the rector lingered and looked perplexed.
"Surely, I know you. I have met you somewhere," he said, putting his hand vaguely to his head. "You—you remember me, do you not?"
The stranger quietly swept his cloak aside, and to the hostess' unspeakable relief passed out of the door.
"I never knew you," he said in low tones as he went.
The lady murmured some vain excuse about intruders, but the rector stood with annoyance written on his face.
"I beg a thousand pardons," he said to the hostess absently. "It is a great pleasure to be here,—somehow I thought I knew that man. I am sure I knew him once."
The stranger had passed down the steps, and as he passed, the nurse, lingering at the top of the staircase, flew down after him, caught his cloak, trembled, hesitated, and then kneeled in the dust.
He touched her lightly with his hand and said: "Go, and sin no more!"
With a glad cry the maid left the house, with its open door, and turned north, running. The stranger turned eastward into the night. As they parted a long, low howl rose tremulously and reverberated through the night. The colonel's wife within shuddered.
"The bloodhounds!" she said.
The rector answered carelessly:
"Another one of those convicts escaped, I suppose. Really, they need severer measures." Then he stopped. He was trying to remember that stranger's name.
The judge's wife looked about for the draft and arranged her shawl. The girl glanced at the white drapery in the hall, but the young officer was bending over her and the fires of life burned in her veins.
Howl after howl rose in the night, swelled, and died away. The stranger strode rapidly along the highway and out into the deep forest. There he paused and stood waiting, tall and still.
A mile up the road behind a man was running, tall and powerful and black, with crime-stained face and convicts' stripes upon him, and shackles on his legs. He ran and jumped, in little, short steps, and his chains rang. He fell and rose again, while the howl of the hounds rang louder behind him.
Into the forest he leapt and crept and jumped and ran, streaming with sweat; seeing the tall form rise before him, he stopped suddenly, dropped his hands in sullen impotence, and sank panting to the earth. A greyhound shot out of the woods behind him, howled, whined, and fawned before the stranger's feet. Hound after hound bayed, leapt, and lay there; then silently, one by one, and with bowed heads, they crept backward toward the town.
The stranger made a cup of his hands and gave the man water to drink, bathed his hot head, and gently took the chains and irons from his feet. By and by the convict stood up. Day was dawning above the treetops. He looked into the stranger's face, and for a moment a gladness swept over the stains of his face.
"Why, you are a nigger, too," he said.
Then the convict seemed anxious to justify himself.
"I never had no chance," he said furtively.
"Thou shalt not steal," said the stranger.
The man bridled.
"But how about them? Can they steal? Didn't they steal a whole year's work, and then when I stole to keep from starving—" He glanced at the stranger.
"No, I didn't steal just to keep from starving. I stole to be stealing. I can't seem to keep from stealing. Seems like when I see things, I just must—but, yes, I'll try!"
The convict looked down at his striped clothes, but the stranger had taken off his long coat; he had put it around him and the stripes disappeared.
In the opening morning the black man started toward the low, log farmhouse in the distance, while the stranger stood watching him. There was a new glory in the day. The black man's face cleared up, and the farmer was glad to get him. All day the black man worked as he had never worked before. The farmer gave him some cold food.
"You can sleep in the barn," he said, and turned away.
"How much do I git a day?" asked the black man.
The farmer scowled.
"Now see here," said he. "If you'll sign a contract for the season, I'll give you ten dollars a month."
"I won't sign no contract," said the black man doggedly.
"Yes, you will," said the farmer, threateningly, "or I'll call the convict guard." And he grinned.
The convict shrank and slouched to the barn. As night fell he looked out and saw the farmer leave the place. Slowly he crept out and sneaked toward the house. He looked through the kitchen door. No one was there, but the supper was spread as if the mistress had laid it and gone out. He ate ravenously. Then he looked into the front room and listened. He could hear low voices on the porch. On the table lay a gold watch. He gazed at it, and in a moment he was beside it,—his hands were on it! Quickly he slipped out of the house and slouched toward the field. He saw his employer coming along the highway. He fled back in tenor and around to the front of the house, when suddenly he stopped. He felt the great, dark eyes of the stranger and saw the same dark, cloak-like coat where the stranger sat on the doorstep talking with the mistress of the house. Slowly, guiltily, he turned back, entered the kitchen, and laid the watch stealthily where he had found it; then he rushed wildly back toward the stranger, with arms outstretched.
The woman had laid supper for her husband, and going down from the house had walked out toward a neighbor's. She was gone but a little while, and when she came back she started to see a dark figure on the doorsteps under the tall, red oak. She thought it was the new Negro until he said in a soft voice:
"Will you give me bread?"
Reassured at the voice of a white man, she answered quickly in her soft, Southern tones:
She was a little woman, and once had been pretty; but now her face was drawn with work and care. She was nervous and always thinking, wishing, wanting for something. She went in and got him some cornbread and a glass of cool, rich buttermilk; then she came out and sat down beside him. She began, quite unconsciously, to tell him about herself,—the things she had done and had not done and the things she had wished for. She told him of her husband and this new farm they were trying to buy. She said it was hard to get niggers to work. She said they ought all to be in the chain-gang and made to work. Even then some ran away. Only yesterday one had escaped, and another the day before.
At last she gossiped of her neighbors, how good they were and how bad.
"And do you like them all?" asked the stranger.
"Most of them," she said; and then, looking up into his face and putting her hand into his, as though he were her father, she said:
"There are none I hate; no, none at all."
He looked away, holding her hand in his, and said dreamily:
"You love your neighbor as yourself?"
"I try—" she began, and then looked the way he was looking; down under the hill where lay a little, half-ruined cabin.
"They are niggers," she said briefly.
He looked at her. Suddenly a confusion came over her and she insisted, she knew not why.
"But they are niggers!"
With a sudden impulse she arose and hurriedly lighted the lamp that stood just within the door, and held it above her head. She saw his dark face and curly hair. She shrieked in angry terror and rushed down the path, and just as she rushed down, the black convict came running up with hands outstretched. They met in mid-path, and before he could stop he had run against her and she fell heavily to earth and lay white and still. Her husband came rushing around the house with a cry and an oath.
"I knew it," he said. "It's that runaway nigger." He held the black man struggling to the earth and raised his voice to a yell. Down the highway came the convict guard, with hound and mob and gun. They paused across the fields. The farmer motioned to them.
"He—attacked—my wife," he gasped.
The mob snarled and worked silently. Right to the limb of the red oak they hoisted the struggling, writhing black man, while others lifted the dazed woman. Right and left, as she tottered to the house, she searched for the stranger with a yearning, but the stranger was gone. And she told none of her guests.
"No—no, I want nothing," she insisted, until they left her, as they thought, asleep. For a time she lay still, listening to the departure of the mob. Then she rose. She shuddered as she heard the creaking of the limb where the body hung. But resolutely she crawled to the window and peered out into the moonlight; she saw the dead man writhe. He stretched his arms out like a cross, looking upward. She gasped and clung to the window sill. Behind the swaying body, and down where the little, half-ruined cabin lay, a single flame flashed up amid the far-off shout and cry of the mob. A fierce joy sobbed up through the terror in her soul and then sank abashed as she watched the flame rise. Suddenly whirling into one great crimson column it shot to the top of the sky and threw great arms athwart the gloom until above the world and behind the roped and swaying form below hung quivering and burning a great crimson cross.
She hid her dizzy, aching head in an agony of tears, and dared not look, for she knew. Her dry lips moved:
"Despised and rejected of men."
She knew, and the very horror of it lifted her dull and shrinking eyelids. There, heaven-tall, earth-wide, hung the stranger on the crimson cross, riven and blood-stained, with thorn-crowned head and pierced hands. She stretched her arms and shrieked.
He did not hear. He did not see. His calm dark eyes, all sorrowful, were fastened on the writhing, twisting body of the thief, and a voice came out of the winds of the night, saying:
"This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise!"
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