Birthright/Chapter I

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AT Cairo, Illinois, the Pullman-car conductor asked Peter Siner to take his suitcase and traveling-bag and pass forward into the Jim Crow car. The request came as a sort of surprise to the negro. During Peter Siner's four years in Harvard the segregation of black folk on Southern railroads had become blurred and reminiscent in his mind; now it was fetched back into the sharp distinction of the present instant. With a certain sense of strangeness, Siner picked up his bags, and saw his own form, in the car mirrors, walking down the length of the sleeper. He moved on through the dining-car, where a few hours before he had had dinner and talked with two white men, one an Oregon apple-grower, the other a Wisconsin paper-manufacturer. The Wisconsin man had furnished cigars, and the three had sat and smoked in the drawing-room, indeed, had discussed this very point; and now it was upon him.

At the door of the dining-car stood the porter of his Pullman, a negro like himself, and Peter mechanically gave him fifty cents. The porter accepted it silently, without offering the amenities of his whisk-broom and shoe-brush, and Peter passed on forward.

Beyond the dining-car and Pullmans stretched twelve day-coaches filled with less-opulent white travelers in all degrees of sleepiness and dishabille from having sat up all night. The thirteenth coach was the Jim Crow car. Framed in a conspicuous place beside the entrance of the car was a copy of the Kentucky state ordinance setting this coach apart from the remainder of the train for the purposes therein provided.

The Jim Crow car was not exactly shabby, but it was unkept. It was half filled with travelers of Peter's own color, and these passengers were rather more noisy than those in the white coaches. Conversation was not restrained to the undertones one heard in the other day-coaches or the Pullmans. Near the entrance of the car two negroes in soldiers' uniforms had turned a seat over to face the door, and now they sat talking loudly and laughing the loose laugh of the half intoxicated as they watched the inflow of negro passengers coming out of the white cars.

The windows of the Jim Crow car were shut, and already it had become noisome. The close air was faintly barbed with the peculiar, penetrating odor of dark, sweating skins. For four years Peter Siner had not known that odor. Now it came to him not so much offensively as with a queer quality of intimacy and reminiscence. The tall, carefully tailored negro spread his wide nostrils, vacillating whether to sniff it out with disfavor or to admit it for the sudden mental associations it evoked.

It was a faint, pungent smell that played in the back of his nose and somehow reminded him of his mother, Caroline Siner, a thick-bodied black woman whom he remembered as always bending over a wash-tub. This was only one unit of a complex. The odor was also connected with negro protracted meetings in Hooker's Bend, and the Harvard man remembered a lanky black preacher waving long arms and wailing of hell-fire, to the chanted groans of his dark congregation; and he, Peter Siner, had groaned with the others. Peter had known this odor in the press-room of Tennessee cotton-gins, over a river packet's boilers, where he and other roustabouts were bedded, in bunk-houses in the woods. It also recalled a certain octoroon girl named Ida May, and an intimacy with her which it still moved and saddened Peter to think of. Indeed, it resurrected innumerable vignettes of his life in the negro village in Hooker's Bend; it was linked with innumerable emotions, this pungent, unforgetable odor that filled the Jim Crow car.

Somehow the odor had a queer effect of appearing to push his conversation with the two white Northern men in the drawing-room back to a distance, an indefinable distance of both space and time.

The negro put his suitcase under the seat, hung his overcoat on the hook, and placed his hand-bag in the rack overhead; then with some difficulty he opened a window and sat down by it.

A stir of travelers in the Cairo station drifted into the car. Against a broad murmur of hurrying feet, moving trucks, and talking there stood out the thin, flat voice of a Southern white girl calling good-by to some one on the train. Peter could see her waving a bright parasol and tiptoeing. A sandwich boy hurried past, shrilling his wares. Siner leaned out, with fifteen cents, and signaled to him. The urchin hesitated, and was about to reach up one of his wrapped parcels, when a peremptory voice shouted at him from a lower car. With a sort of start the lad deserted Siner and went trotting down to his white customer. A moment later the train bell began ringing, and the Dixie Flier puffed deliberately out of the Cairo station and moved across the Ohio bridge into the South.

Half an hour later the blue-grass fields of Kentucky were spinning outside of the window in a vast green whirlpool. The distant trees and houses moved forward with the train, while the foreground, with its telegraph poles, its culverts, section-houses, and shrubbery, rushed backward in a blur. Now and then into the Jim Crow window whipped a blast of coal smoke and hot cinders, for the engine was only two cars ahead.

Peter Siner looked out at the interminable spin of the landscape with a certain wistfulness. He was coming back into the South, into his own country. Here for generations his forebears had toiled endlessly and fruitlessly, yet the fat green fields hurtling past him told with what skill and patience their black hands had labored.

The negro shrugged away such thoughts, and with a certain effort replaced them with the constructive idea that was bringing him South once more. It was a very simple idea. Siner was returning to his native village in Tennessee to teach school. He planned to begin his work with the ordinary public school at Hooker's Bend, but, in the back of his head, he hoped eventually to develop an institution after the plan of Tuskeegee or the Hampton Institute in Virginia.

To do what he had in mind, he must obtain aid from white sources, and now, as he traveled southward, he began conning in his mind the white men and white women he knew in Hooker's Bend. He wanted first of all to secure possession of a small tract of land which he knew adjoined the negro school-house over on the east side of the village.

Before the negro's mind the different villagers passed in review with that peculiar intimacy of vision that servants always have of their masters. Indeed, no white Southerner knows his own village so minutely as does any member of its colored population. The colored villagers see the whites off their guard and just as they are, and that is an attitude in which no one looks his best. The negroes might be called the black recording angels of the South. If what they know should be shouted aloud in any Southern town, its social life would disintegrate. Yet it is a strange fact that gossip seldom penetrates from the one race to the other.

So Peter Siner sat in the Jim Crow car musing over half a dozen villagers in Hooker's Bend. He thought of them in a curious way. Although he was now a B.A. of Harvard University, and although he knew that not a soul in the little river village, unless it was old Captain Renfrew, could construe a line of Greek and that scarcely two had ever traveled farther north than Cincinnati, still, as Peter recalled their names and foibles, he involuntarily felt that he was telling over a roll of the mighty. The white villagers came marching through his mind as beings austere, and the very cranks and quirks of their characters somehow held that austerity. There were the Brownell sisters, two old maids, Molly and Patti, who lived in a big brick house on the hill. Peter remembered that Miss Molly Brownell always doled out to his mother, at Monday's washday dinner, exactly one biscuit less than the old negress wanted to eat, and she always paid her in old clothes. Peter remembered, a dozen times in his life, his mother coming home and wondering in an impersonal way how it was that Miss Molly Brownell could skimp every meal she ate at the big house by exactly one biscuit. It was Miss Brownell's thin-lipped boast that she understood negroes. She had told Peter so several times when, as a lad, he went up to the big house on errands. Peter Siner considered this remembrance without the faintest feeling of humor, and mentally removed Miss Molly Brownell from his list of possible subscribers. Yet, he recalled, the whole Brownell estate had been reared on negro labor.

Then there was Henry Hooker, cashier of the village bank. Peter knew that the banker subscribed liberally to foreign missions; indeed, at the cashier's behest, the white church of Hooker's Bend kept a paid missionary on the upper Congo. But the banker had sold some village lots to the negroes, and in two instances, where a streak of commercial phosphate had been discovered on the properties, the lots had reverted to the Hooker estate. There had been in the deed something concerning a mineral reservation that the negro purchasers knew nothing about until the phosphate was discovered. The whole matter had been perfectly legal.

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

“‘Fo’ Gawd, ef dis ain't Peter Siner I's been lookin' at de las' twenty miles, an' not knowin' him wid sich skeniptious clo'es on! Wha you fum, nigger?”

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

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

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

“Been in 'e army, nigger, wha I's been fed,” said the grinning brown man, delightedly. “I sho is picked up, ain't I?”

“And what are you doing here in Cairo?”

“Tryin' to bridle a lil white mule.” Mr. Pack winked a whisky-brightened eye jovially and touched his coat to indicate that some of the “white mule” was in his pocket and had not been drunk.

“How'd you get here?”

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

Peter was momentarily shocked. He made a place on the seat for his friend to sit. “You don't mean you put up your medal on a crap game, Tump?”

“Sho do, black man.” Pack became soberer. “Dat's one o' de great benefits o' bein' dec'rated. Dey ain't a son uv a gun on de river whut kin win lil Joe; dey all tried it.”

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

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

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

“Yas-suh, dat 'uz guv to me fuh bravery. You know whut a skeery lil nigger I wuz roun' Hooker's Ben'; well, de sahgeant tuk me an' he drill ever' bit o' dat right out 'n me. He gimme a baynit an' learned me to stob dummies wid it over at Camp Oglethorpe, ontil he felt lak I had de heart to stob anything; 'n' 'en he sont me acrost. I had to git a new pair breeches ever' three weeks, I growed so fas'.” Here he broke out into his big loose laugh again, and renewed the alcoholic scent around Peter.

“And you made good?”

“Sho did, black man, an', 'fo' Gawd, I 'serve a medal ef any man ever did. Dey gimme dish-heah fuh stobbin fo' white men wid a baynit. 'Fo' Gawd, nigger, I never felt so quare in all my born days as when I wuz a-jobbin' de livers o' dem white men lak de sahgeant tol' me to.” Tump shook his head, bewildered, and after a moment added, “Yas-suh, I never wuz mo' surprised in all my life dan when I got dis medal fuh stobbin' fo' white men.”

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

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

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

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

This unremitting insistence on his color, this continual shunting him into obscure and filthy ways, gradually gave Peter a loathly sensation. It increased the unwashed feeling that followed his lack of a morning bath. The impression grew upon him that he was being handled with tongs, along back-alley routes; that he and his race were something to be kept out of sight as much as possible, as careful housekeepers manœuver their slops.

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

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

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

Trading-points lay at ten- or fifteen-mile intervals along the great waterway. The typical landing was a dilapidated shed of a store half covered with tin tobacco signs and ancient circus posters. Usually, only one man met the launch at each landing, the merchant, a democrat in his shirt-sleeves and without a tie. His voice was always a flat, weary drawl, but his eyes, wrinkled against the sun, usually held the shrewdness of those who make their living out of two-penny trades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girl in the tailor suit was much amused. She said the darkies looked like a string of caricatures marching down the river bank. Peter noticed her Northern accent, and fancied she was coming to Hooker's Bend to teach school.

One of the drummers turned to another.

“Did you ever hear Bob Taylor's yarn about Uncle 'Rastus's funeral? Funniest thing Bob ever got off.” He proceeded to tell it.

Every one on the launch was laughing except the captain, who was swearing quietly; but the line of negroes marched on down to the wharf-boat with the unshakable dignity of black folk in an important position. They came singing an old negro spiritual. The women's sopranos thrilled up in high, weird phrasing against an organ-like background of male voices.

But the black men carried no coffin, and suddenly it occurred to Peter Siner that perhaps this celebration was given in honor of his own home-coming. The mulatto's heart beat a trifle faster as he began planning a suitable response to this ovation.

Sure enough, the singing ranks disappeared behind the wharf-boat, and a minute later came marching around the stern and lined up on the outer guard of the vessel. The skinny, grizzly-headed negro commander held up his sword, and the Knights and Ladies of Tabor fell silent.

The master of the launch tossed his head-line to the wharf-boat, and yelled for one of the negroes to make it fast. One did. Then the commandant with the sword began his address, but it was not directed to Peter. He said:

Peter Recognized the White Aprons.png

Peter recognized the white aprons and the swords and spears of the Knights and Ladies of Tabor

“Brudder Tump Pack, we, de Hooker's Ben' lodge uv de Knights an' Ladies uv Tabor, welcome you back to yo' native town. We is proud uv you, a colored man, who brings back de highes' crown uv bravery dis Newnighted States has in its power to bestow.

“Two yeahs ago, Brudder Tump, we seen you marchin' away fum Hooker's Ben' wid thirteen udder boys, white an' colored, all marchin' away togedder. Fo' uv them boys is already back home; three, we heah, is on de way back, but six uv yo' brave comrades, Brudder Pack, is sleepin' now in France, an' ain't never goin' to come home no mo'. When we honors you, we honors them all, de libin' an' de daid, de white an' de black, who fought togedder fuh one country, fuh one flag.”

Gasps, sobs from the line of black folk, interrupted the speaker. Just then a shriveled old negress gave a scream, and came running and half stumbling out of the line, holding out her arms to the barrel-chested soldier on the gang-plank. She seized him and began shrieking:

“Bless Gawd! my son's done come home! Praise de Lawd! Bless His holy name!” Here her laudation broke into sobbing and choking and laughing, and she squeezed herself to her son.

Tump patted her bony black form.

“I's heah, Mammy,” he stammered uncertainly. “I's come back, Mammy.”

Half a dozen other negroes caught the joyful hysteria. They began a religious shouting, clapping their hands, flinging up their arms, shrieking.

One of the drummers grunted:

“Good God! all this over a nigger getting back!”

At the extreme end of the dark line a tall cream-colored girl wept silently. As Peter Siner stood blinking his eyes, he saw the octoroon's shoulders and breasts shake from the sobs, which her white blood repressed to silence.

A certain sympathy for her grief and its suppression kept Peter's eyes on the young woman, and then, with the queer effect of one picture melting into another, the strange girl's face assumed familiar curves and softnesses, and he was looking at Ida May.

A quiver traveled deliberately over Peter from his crisp black hair to the soles of his feet. He started toward her impulsively.

At that moment one of the drummers picked up his grip, and started down the gang-plank, and with its leathern bulk pressed Tump Pack and his mother out of his path. He moved on to the shore through the negroes, who divided at his approach. The captain of the launch saw that other of his white passengers were becoming impatient, and he shouted for the darkies to move aside and not to block the gangway. The youngish man drew the girl in the tailor suit close to him and started through with her. Peter heard him say, “They won't hurt you, Miss Negley.” And Miss Negley, in the brisk nasal intonation of a Northern woman, replied: “Oh, I'm not afraid. We waste a lot of sympathy on them back home, but when you see them—”

At that moment Peter heard a cry in his ears and felt arms thrown about his neck. He looked down and saw his mother, Caroline Siner, looking up into his face and weeping with the general emotion of the negroes and this joy of her own. Caroline had changed since Peter last saw her. Her eyes were a little more wrinkled, her kinky hair was thinner and very gray.

Something warm and melting moved in Peter Siner's breast. He caressed his mother and murmured incoherently, as had Tump Pack. Presently the master of the launch came by, and touched the old negress, not ungently, with the end of a spike-pole.

“You'll have to move, Aunt Ca'line,” he said. “We're goin' to get the freight off now.”

The black woman paused in her weeping. “Yes, Mass' Bob,” she said, and she and Peter moved off of the launch onto the wharf-boat.

The Knights and Ladies of Tabor were already up the river bank with their hero. Peter and his mother were left alone. Now they walked around the guards of the wharf-boat to the bank, holding each other's arms closely. As they went, Peter kept looking down at his old black mother, with a growing tenderness. She was so worn and heavy! He recognized the very dress she wore, an old black silk which she had “washed out” for Miss Patti Brownell when he was a boy. It had been then, it was now, her best dress. During the years the old negress had registered her increasing bulk by letting out seams and putting in panels. Some of the panels did not agree with the original fabric either in color or in texture and now the seams were stretching again and threatening a rip. Peter's own immaculate clothes reproached him, and he wondered for the hundredth, or for the thousandth time how his mother had obtained certain remittances which she had forwarded him during his college years.

As Peter and his mother crept up the bank of the river, stopping occasionally to let the old negress rest, his impression of the meanness and shabbiness of the whole village grew. From the top of the bank the single business street ran straight back from the river. It was stony in places, muddy in places, strewn with goods-boxes, broken planking, excelsior, and straw that had been used for packing. Charred rubbish-piles lay in front of every store, which the clerks had swept out and attempted to burn. Hogs roamed the thoroughfare, picking up decaying fruit and parings, and nosing tin cans that had been thrown out by the merchants. The stores that Peter had once looked upon as show-places were poor two-story brick or frame buildings, defiled by time and wear and weather. The white merchants were coatless, listless men who sat in chairs on the brick pavements before their stores and who moved slowly when a customer entered their doors.

And, strange to say, it was this fall of his white townsmen that moved Peter Siner with a sense of the greatest loss. It seemed fantastic to him, this sudden land-slide of the mighty.

As Peter and his mother came over the brow of the river bank, they saw a crowd collecting at the other end of the street. The main street of Hooker's Bend is only a block long, and the two negroes could easily hear the loud laughter of men hurrying to the focus of interest and the blurry expostulations of negro voices. The laughter spread like a contagion. Merchants as far up as the river corner became infected, and moved toward the crowd, looking back over their shoulders at every tenth or twelfth step to see that no one entered their doors.

Presently, a little short man, fairly yipping with laughter, stumbled back up the street to his store with tears of mirth in his eyes. A belated merchant stopped him by clapping both hands on his shoulders and shaking some composure into him.

“What is it? What's so funny? Damn it! I miss ever'thing!”

“I-i-it's that f-fool Tum-Tump Pack. Bobbs's arrested him!”

The inquirer was astounded.

“How the hell can he arrest him when he hit town this minute?”

“Wh-why, Bobbs had an old warrant for crap-shooting—three years old—before the war. Just as Tump was a-coming down the street at the head of the coons, out steps Bobbs—” Here the little man was overcome.

The merchant from the corner opened his eyes.

“Arrested him on an old crap charge?”

The little man nodded. They gazed at each other. Then they exploded simultaneously.

Peter left his obese mother and hurried to the corner, Dawson Bobbs, the constable, had handcuffs on Tump's wrists, and stood with his prisoner amid a crowd of arguing negroes.

Bobbs was a big, fleshy, red-faced man, with chilly blue eyes and a little straight slit of a mouth in his wide face. He was laughing and chewing a sliver of toothpick.

“O Tump Pack,” he called loudly, “you kain't git away from me! If you roll bones in Hooker's Bend, you'll have to divide your winnings with the county.” Dawson winked a chill eye at the crowd in general.

“But hit's out o' date, Mr. Bobbs,” the old gray-headed minister, Parson Ranson, was pleading.

“May be that, Parson, but hit's easier to come up before the J.P. and pay off than to fight it through the circuit court.”

Siner pushed his way through the crowd. “How much do you want, Mr. Bobbs?” he asked briefly.

The constable looked with reminiscent eyes at the tall, well-tailored negro. He was plainly going through some mental card-index, hunting for the name of Peter Siner on some long-forgotten warrant. Apparently, he discovered nothing, for he said shortly:

“How do I know before he's tried? Come on, Tump!”

The procession moved in a long noisy line up Pillow Street, the white residential street lying to the west. It stopped before a large shaded lawn, where a number of white men and women were playing a game with cards. The cards used by the lawn party were not ordinary playing-cards, but had figures on them instead of spots, and were called “rook” cards. The party of white ladies and gentlemen were playing “rook.” On a table in the middle of the lawn glittered some pieces of silver plate which formed the first, second, and third prizes for the three leading scores.

The constable halted his black company before the lawn, where they stood in the sunshine patiently waiting for the justice of the peace to finish his game and hear the case of the State of Tennessee, plaintiff, versus Tump Pack, defendant.