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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 20720

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


I made purty good time, and in a couple of days I was in Atlanta. I knowed the doctor must of gone back into some branch of the medicine game-the bottles told me that. I knowed it must be something that he needed some special kind of bottles fur, too, or he wouldn't of had them shipped all that distance, but would of bought them nearer. I seen I was a dern fool fur rushing off and not inquiring what kind of bottles, so I could trace what he was into easier.

It's hard work looking fur a man in a good-sized town. I hung around hotel lobbies and places till I was tired of it, thinking he might come in. And I looked through all the office buildings and read all the advertisements in the papers. Then the second day I was there the state fair started up and I went out to it.

I run acrost a couple I knowed out there the first thing-it was Watty and the snake-charmer woman. Only she wasn't charming them now. Her and Watty had a Parisian Models' show. I ast Watty where Dolly was. He says he don't know, that Dolly has quit him. By which I guess he means he has quit her. I ast where Reginald is, and the Human Ostrich. But from the way they answered my questions I seen I wasn't welcome none around there. I suppose that Mrs. Ostrich and Watty had met up agin somewheres, and had jest natcherally run off with each other and left their famblies. Like as not she had left poor old Reginald with that idiotic ostrich feller to sell to strangers that didn't know his disposition. Or mebby by now Reginald was turned loose in the open country to shift fur himself, among wild snakes that never had no human education nor experience; and what chancet would a friendly snake like Reginald have in a gang like that? Some women has jest simply got no conscience at all about their husbands and famblies, and that there Mrs. Ostrich was one of 'em.

Well, a feller can be a derned fool sometimes. Fur all my looking around I wasted a lot of time before I thought of going to the one natcheral place-the freight depot of the road them bottles had been shipped by. I had lost a week coming down. But freight often loses more time than that. And it was at the freight depot that I found him.

Tickled? Well, yes! Both of us.

"Well, by George," says he, "you're good for sore eyes."

Before he told me how he happened not to of drownded or blowed away or anything he says we better fix up a bit. Which he meant I better. So he buys me duds from head to heel, and we goes to a Turkish bath place and I puts 'em on. And then we goes and eats. Hearty.

"Now," he says, "Fido Cut-up, how did you find me?"*

I told him about the bottles.

"A dead loss, those bottles," he says. "I wanted some non-refillable ones for a little scheme I had in mind, and I had to get them at a certain place-and now the scheme's up in the air and I can't use 'em."

The doctor had changed some in looks in the year or more that had passed since I saw him floating away in that balloon. And not fur the better. He told me how he had blowed clean acrost Lake Erie in that there balloon. And then when he got over land agin and went to pull the cord that lets the parachute loose it wouldn't work at first. He jest natcherally drifted on into the midst of nowhere, he said-miles and miles into Canada. When he lit the balloon had lost so much gas and was flying so low that the parachute didn't open out quick enough to do much floating. So he lit hard, and come near being knocked out fur good. But-

*AUTHOR'S NOTE-Can it be that Danny struggles vaguely

to report some reference to FIDUS ACHATES?

that wasn't the worst of it, fur the exposure had crawled into his lungs by the time he found a house, and he got newmonia into them also, and like to of died. Whilst I was laying sick he had been sick also, only his'n lasted much longer.

But he tells me he has jest struck an idea fur a big scheme. No little schemes go fur him any more, he says. He wants money. Real money.

"How you going to get it?" I asts him.

"Come along and I'll tell you," he says. "We'll take a walk, and I'll show you how I got my idea."

We left the restaurant and went along the brag street of that town, which it is awful proud of, past where the stores stops and the houses begins. We come to a fine-looking house on a corner-a swell place it was, with lots of palms and ferns and plants setting on the verandah and showing through the windows. And stables back of it; and back of the stables a big yard with noises coming from it like they was circus animals there. Which I found out later they really was, kept fur pets. You could tell the people that lived there had money.

"This," says Doctor Kirby, as we walked by, "is the house that Jackson built. Dr. Julius Jackson-OLD Doctor Jackson, the man with an idea! The idea made all the money you smell around here."

"What idea?"

"The idea-the glorious humanitarian and philanthropic idea-of taking the kinks and curls out of the hair of the Afro-American brother," says Doctor Kirby, "at so much per kink."

This Doctor Jackson, he says, sells what he calls Anti-Curl to the niggers. It is to straighten out their hair so it will look like white people's hair. They is millions and millions of niggers, and every nigger has millions and millions of kinks, and so Doctor Jackson has got rich at it. So rich he can afford to keep that there personal circus menagerie in his back yard, for his little boy to play with, and many other interesting things. He must be worth two, three million dollars, Doctor Kirby says, and still a-making it, with more niggers growing up all the time fur to have their hair unkinked. Especially mulattoes and yaller niggers. Doctor Kirby says thinking what a great idea that Anti-Curl was give him his own great idea. They is a gold mine there, he says, and Dr. Julius Jackson has only scratched a little off the top of it, but HE is going to dig deeper.

"Why is it that the Afro-American brother buys Anti-Curl?" he asts.

"Why?" I asts.

"Because," he says, "he wants to be as much like a white man as he possibly can. He strives to burst his birth's invidious bar, Danny. They talk about progress and education for the Afro-American brother, and uplift and advancement and industrial education and manual training and all that sort of thing. Especially we Northerners. But what the Afro-American brother thinks about and dreams about and longs for and prays to be-when he thinks at all-is to be white. Education, to his mind, is learning to talk like a white man. Progress means aping the white man. Religion is dying and going to heaven and being a WHITE angel-listen to his prayers and sermons and you'll find that out. He'll do anything he can, or give anything he can get his Ethiopian grubhooks on, for something that he thinks is going to make him more like a white man. Poor devil! Therefore the millions of Doctor Jackson Anti-Curl.

"All this Doctor Jackson Anti-Curl has discovered and thought out and acted upon. If he had gone just one step farther the Afro-American brother would have hailed him as a greater man than Abraham Lincoln, or either of the Washingtons, George or Booker. It remains for me, Danny-for US-to carry the torch ahead-to take up the work where the imagination of Doctor Jackson Anti-Curl has laid it down."

"How?" asts I.

"WE'LL PUT UP AND SELL A PREPARATION TO TURN THE NEGROES WHITE!"

THAT was his great idea. He was more excited over it than I ever seen him before about anything.

It sounded like so easy a way to get rich it made me wonder why no one had ever done it before, if it could really be worked. I didn't believe much it could be worked.

But Doctor Kirby, he says he has begun his experiments already, with arsenic. Arsenic, he says, will bleach anything. Only he is kind of afraid of arsenic, too. If he could only get hold of something that didn't cost much, and that would whiten them up fur a little while, he says, it wouldn't make no difference if they did get black agin. This here Anti-Curl stuff works like that-it takes the kinks out fur a little while, and they come back agin. But that don't seem to hurt the sale none. It only calls fur MORE of Doctor Jackson's medicine.

The doctor takes me around to the place he boards at, and shows me a nigger waiter he has been experimenting on. He had paid the nigger's fine in a police court fur slashing another nigger some with a knife, and kept him from going into the chain-gang. So the nigger agreed he could use his hide to try different kinds of medicines on. He was a velvety-looking, chocolate-coloured kind of nigger to start with, and the best Doctor Kirby had been able to do so fur was to make a few little liver-coloured spots come onto him. But it was making the nigger sick, and the doctor was afraid to go too fur with it, fur Sam might die and we would be at the expense of another nigger. Peroxide of hidergin hadn't even phased him. Nor a lot of other things we tried onto him.

You never seen a nigger with his colour running into him so deep as Sam's did. Sam, he was always apologizing about it, too. You could see it made him feel real bad to think his colour was so stubborn. He felt like it wasn't being polite to the doctor and me, Sam did, fur his skin to act that-a-way. He was a willing nigger, Sam was. The doctor, he says he will find out the right stuff if he has to start at the letter A and work Sam through every drug in the hull blame alphabet down to Z.

Which he finally struck it. I don't exactly know what she had in her, but she was a mixture of some kind. The only trouble with her was she didn't work equal and even-left Sam's face looking peeled and spotty in places. But still, in them spots, Sam was six shades lighter. The doctor says that is jest what he wants, that there passing on-to-the-next-cage-we-have-the-spotted-girocutus-look, as he calls it. The chocolate brown and the lighter spots side by side, he says, made a regular Before and After out of Sam's face, and was the best advertisement you could have.

Then we goes and has a talk with Doctor Jackson himself. Doctor Kirby has the idea mebby he will put some money into it. Doctor Jackson was setting on his front veranda with his chair tilted back, and his feet, with red carpet slippers on 'em, was on the railing, and he was

smoking one of these long black cigars that comes each one in a little glass tube all by itself. He looks Sam over very thoughtful, and he says:

"Yes, it will do the work well enough. I can see that. But will it sell?"

Doctor Kirby makes him quite a speech. I never hearn him make a better one. Doctor Jackson he listens very calm, with his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, and moving his eyebrows up and down like he enjoyed it. But he don't get excited none. Finally Doctor Kirby says he will undertake to show that it will sell-me and him will take a trip down into the black country ourselves and show what can be done with it, and take Sam along fur an object lesson.

Well, they was a lot of rag-chewing. Doctor Jackson don't warm up none, and he asts a million questions. Like how much it costs a bottle to make it, and what was our idea how much it orter sell fur. He says finally if we can sell a certain number of bottles in so long a time he will put some money into it. Only, he says, they will be a stock company, and he will have to have fifty-one per cent. of the stock, or he won't put no money into it. He says if things go well he will let Doctor Kirby be manager of that company, and let him have some stock in it too, and he will be president and treasurer of it himself.

Doctor Kirby, he didn't like that, and said so. Said HE was going to organize that stock company, and control it himself. But Doctor Jackson said he never put money into nothing he couldn't run. So it was settled we would give the stuff a try-out and report to him. Before we went away from there it looked to me like Doctor Kirby and me was going to work fur this here Doctor Jackson, instead of making all them there millions fur ourselves. Which I didn't take much to that Anti-Curl man myself; he was so cold-blooded like.

I didn't like the scheme itself any too well, neither. Not any way you could look at it. In the first place it seemed like a mean trick on the niggers. Then I didn't much believe we could get away with it.

The more I looked him over the more I seen Doctor Kirby had changed considerable. When I first knowed him he liked to hear himself talking and he liked to live free and easy and he liked to be running around the country and all them things, more'n he liked to be making money. Of course, he wanted it; but that wasn't the ONLY thing he was into the Sagraw game fur. If he had money, he was free with it and would help most any one out of a hole. But he wasn't thinking it and talking it all the time then.

But now he was thinking money and dreaming money and talking of nothing but how to get it. And planning to make it out of skinning them niggers. He didn't care a dern how he worked on their feelings to get it. He didn't even seem to care whether he killed Sam trying them drugs onto him. He wanted MONEY, and he wanted it so bad he was ready and willing to take up with most any wild scheme to make it.

They was something about him now that didn't fit in much with the Doctor Kirby I had knowed. It seemed like he had spells when he saw himself how he had changed. He wasn't gay and joking all the time like he had been before, neither. I guess the doctor was getting along toward fifty years old. I suppose he thought if he was ever going to get anything out of his gift of the gab he better settle down to something, and quit fooling around, and do it right away. But it looked to me like he might never turn the trick. Fur he was drinking right smart all the time. Drinking made him think a lot, and thinking was making him look old. He was more'n one year older than he had been a year ago.

He kept a quart bottle in his room now. The night after we had took Sam to see Doctor Jackson we was setting in his room, and he was hitting it purty hard.

"Danny," he says to me, after a while, like he was talking out loud to himself too, "what did you think of Doctor Jackson?"

"I don't like him much," I says.

"Nor I," he says, frowning, and takes a drink. Then he says, after quite a few minutes of frowning and thinking, under his breath like: "He's a blame sight more decent than I am, for all of that."

"Why?" I asts him.

"Because Doctor Jackson," he says, "hasn't the least idea that he ISN'T decent, and getting his money in a decent way. While at one time I was-"

He breaks off and don't say what he was. I asts him. "I was going to say a gentleman," he says, "but on reflection, I doubt if I was ever anything but a cheap imitation. I never heard a man say that he was a gentleman at one time, that I didn't doubt him. Also," he goes on, working himself into a better humour again with the sound of his own voice, "if I HAD ever been a gentleman at any time, enough of it would surely have stuck to me to keep me out of partnership with a man who cheats niggers."

He takes another drink and says even twenty years of running around the country couldn't of took all the gentleman out of him like this, if he had ever been one, fur you can break, you can scatter the vase if you will, but the smell of the roses will stick round it still.

I seen now the kind of conversations he is always having with himself when he gets jest so drunk and is thinking hard. Only this time it happens to be out loud.

"What is a gentleman?" I asts him, thinking if he wasn't one it might take his mind off himself a little to tell me. "What MAKES one?"

"Authorities differ," says Doctor Kirby, slouching down in his chair, and grinning like he knowed a joke he wasn't going to tell no one. "I heard Doctor Jackson describe himself that way the other day."

Well, speaking personal, I never had smelled none of roses. I wasn't nothing but trash myself, so being a gentleman didn't bother me one way or the other. The only reason I didn't want to see them niggers bunked so very bad was only jest because it was such a low-down, ornery kind of trick.

"It ain't too late," I says, "to pull out of this nigger scheme yet and get into something more honest."

"I don't know," he says thoughtful. "I think perhaps it IS too late." And he sets there looking like a man that is going over a good many years of life in his mind. Purty soon he says:

"As far as honesty goes-it isn't that so much, O Daniel-come-to-judgment! It's about as honest as most medicine games. It's-" He stopped and frowned agin.

"What is it?"

"It's their being NIGGERS," he says.

That made the difference fur me, too. I dunno how, nor why.

"I've tried nearly everything but blackmail," he says, "and I'll probably be trying that by this time next year, if this scheme fails. But there's something about their being niggers that makes me sick of this thing already-just as the time has come to make the start. And I don't know WHY it should, either." He slipped another big slug of whiskey into him, and purty soon he asts me:

"Do you know what's the matter with me?"

I asts him what.

"I'm too decent to be a crook," he says, "and too crooked to be decent. You've got to be one thing or the other steady to make it pay."

Then he says:

"Did you ever hear of the descent to Avernus, Danny?"

"I might," I tells him, "and then agin I mightn't, but if I ever did, I don't remember what she is. What is she?"

"It's the chute to the infernal regions," he says. "They say it's greased. But it isn't. It's really no easier sliding down than it is climbing back."

Well, I seen this nigger scheme of our'n wasn't the only thing that was troubling Doctor Kirby that night. It was thinking of all the schemes like it in the years past he had went into, and how he had went into 'em light-hearted and more'n half fur fun when he was a young man, and now he wasn't fitten fur nothing else but them kind of schemes, and he knowed it. He was seeing himself how he had been changing, like another person could of seen it. That's the main trouble with drinking to fergit yourself. You fergit the wrong part of yourself.

I left him purty soon, and went along to bed. My room was next to his'n, and they was a door between, so the two could be rented together if wanted, I suppose. I went to sleep and woke up agin with a start out of a dream that had in it millions and millions and millions of niggers, every way you looked, and their mouths was all open red and their eyes walled white, fit to scare you out of your shoes.

I hearn Doctor Kirby moving around in his room. But purty soon he sets down and begins to talk to himself. Everything else was quiet. I was kind of worried about him, he had taken so much, and hoped he wouldn't get a notion to go downtown that time o' night. So I thinks I will see how he is acting, and steps over to the door between the rooms.

The key happened to be on my side, and I unlocked it. But she only opens a little ways, fur his wash stand was near to the hinge end of the door.

I looked through. He is setting by the table, looking at a woman's picture that is propped up on it, and talking to himself. He has never hearn me open the door, he is so interested. But somehow, he don't look drunk. He looks like he had fought his way up out of it, somehow-his forehead was sweaty, and they was one intoxicated lock of hair sticking to it; but that was the only un-sober-looking thing about him. I guess his legs would of been unsteady if he had of tried to walk, but his intellects was uncomfortable and sober.

He is still keeping up that same old argument with himself, or with the picture.

"It isn't any use," I hearn him say, looking at the picture.

Then he listened like he hearn it answering him. "Yes, you always say just that-just that," he says. "And I don't know why I keep on listening to you."

The way he talked, and harkened fur an answer, when they was nothing there to answer, give me the creeps.

"You don't help me," he goes on, "you don't help me at all. You only make it harder. Yes, this thing is worse than the others. I know that. But I want money-and fool things like this HAVE sometimes made it. No, I won't give it up. No, there's no use making any more promises now. I know myself now. And you ought to know me by this time, too. Why can't you let me alone altogether? I should think, when you see what I am, you'd let me be.

"God help you! if you'd only stay away it wouldn't be so hard to go to hell!"

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