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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 17553

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


There's a lot of counties in Georgia where the blacks are equal in number to the whites, and two or three counties where the blacks number over the whites by two to one. It was fur a little town in one of the latter that we pinted ourselves, Doctor Kirby and me and Sam-right into the blackest part of the black belt.

That country is full of big-sized plantations, where they raise cotton, cotton, cotton, and then MORE cotton. Some of 'em raises fruit, too, and other things, of course; but cotton is the main stand-by, and it looks like it always will be.

Some places there shows that things can't be so awful much changed since slavery days, and most of the niggers are sure enough country niggers yet. Some rents their land right out from the owners, and some of 'em crops it on the shares, and very many of 'em jest works as hands. A lot of 'em don't do nigh so well now as they did when their bosses was their masters, they tell me; and then agin, some has done right well on their own hook. They intrusted me, because I never had been use to looking at so many niggers. Every way you turn there they is niggers and then more niggers.

Them that thinks they is awful easy to handle out of a natcheral respect fur white folks has got another guess coming. They ain't so bad to get along with if you keep it most pintedly shoved into their heads they IS niggers. You got to do that especial in the black belt, jest because they IS so many of 'em. They is children all their lives, mebby, till some one minute of craziness may strike one of them, and then he is a devil temporary. Mebby, when the crazy fit has passed, some white woman is worse off than if she was dead, or mebby she IS dead, or mebby a loonatic fur life, and that nigger is a candidate fur a lynching bee and ginerally elected by an anonymous majority.

Not that ALL niggers is that-a-way, nor HALF of 'em, nor very MANY of 'em, even-but you can never tell WHICH nigger is going to be. So in the black belt the white folks is mighty pertic'ler who comes along fooling with their niggers. Fur you can never tell what turn a nigger's thoughts will take, once anything at all stirs 'em up.

We didn't know them things then, Doctor Kirby and me didn't. We didn't know we was moving light-hearted right into the middle of the biggest question that has ever been ast. Which I disremember exactly how that nigger question is worded, but they is always asting it in the South, and answering of it different ways. We hadn't no idea how suspicious the white people in them awful black spots on the map can get over any one that comes along talking to their niggers. We didn't know anything about niggers much, being both from the North, except what Doctor Kirby had counted on when he made his medicine, and THAT he knowed second-handed from other people. We didn't take 'em very serious, nor all the talk we hearn about 'em down South.

But even at that we mightn't of got into any trouble if it hadn't of been fur old Bishop Warren. But that is getting ahead of the story.

We got into that little town-I might jest as well call it Cottonville-jest about supper time. Cottonville is a little place of not more'n six hundred people. I guess four hundred of 'em must be niggers.

After supper we got acquainted with purty nigh all the prominent citizens in town. They was friendly with us, and we was friendly with them. Georgia had jest went fur prohibition a few months before that, and they hadn't opened up these here near-beer bar-rooms in the little towns yet, like they had in Atlanta and the big towns. Georgia had went prohibition so the niggers couldn't get whiskey, some said; but others said they didn't know WHAT its excuse was. Them prominent citizens was loafing around the hotel and every now and then inviting each other very mysterious into a back room that use to be a pool parlour. They had been several jugs come to town by express that day. We went back several times ourselves, and soon began to get along purty well with them prominent citizens.

Talking about this and that they finally edges around to the one thing everybody is sure to get to talking about sooner or later in the South-niggers. And then they gets to telling us about this here Bishop Warren I has mentioned.

He was a nigger bishop, Bishop Warren was, and had a good deal of white blood into him, they say. An ashy-coloured nigger, with bumps on his face, fat as a possum, and as cunning as a fox. He had plenty of brains into his head, too; but his brains had turned sour in his head the last few years, and the bishop had crazy streaks running through his sense now, like fat and lean mixed in a slab of bacon. He used to be friends with a lot of big white folks, and the whites depended on him at one time to preach orderliness and obedience and agriculture and being in their place to the niggers. Fur years they thought he preached that-a-way. He always DID preach that-a-way when any whites was around, and he set on platforms sometimes with white preachers, and he got good donations fur schemes of different kinds. But gradual the suspicion got around that when he was alone with a lot of niggers his nigger blood would get the best of him, and what he preached wasn't white supremacy at all, but hopefulness of being equal.

So the whites had fell away from him, and then his graft was gone, and then his brains turned sour in his head and got to working and fermenting in it like cider getting hard, and he made a few bad breaks by not being careful what he said before white people. But the niggers liked him all the better fur that.

They always had been more or less hell in the bishop's heart. He had brains and he knowed it, and the white folks had let him see THEY knowed it, too. And he was part white, and his white forefathers had been big men in their day, and yet, in spite of all of that, he had to herd with niggers and to pertend he liked it. He was both white and black in his feelings about things, so some of his feelings counterdicted others, and one of these here race riots went on all the time in his own insides. But gradual he got to the place where they was spells he hated both whites and niggers, but he hated the whites the worst. And now, in the last two or three years, since his crazy streaks had growed as big as his sensible streaks, or bigger, they was no telling what he would preach to them niggers. But whatever he preached most of them would believe. It might be something crazy and harmless, or it might be crazy and harmful.

He had been holding some revival meetings in nigger churches right there in that very county, and was at it not fur away from there right then. The idea had got around he was preaching some most unusual foolishness to the blacks. Fur the niggers was all acting like they knowed something too good to mention to the white folks, all about there. But some white men had gone to one of the meetings, and the bishop had preached one of his old-time sermons whilst they was there, telling the niggers to be orderly and agriculturous-he was considerable of a fox yet. But he and the rest of the niggers was so DERNED anxious to be thought agriculturous and servitudinous that the whites smelt a rat, and wished he would go, fur they didn't want to chase him without they had to.

Jest when we was getting along fine one of them prominent citizens asts the doctor was we there figgering on buying some land?

"No," says the doctor, "we wasn't."

They was silence fur quite a little spell. Each prominent citizen had mebby had his hopes of unloading some. They all looks a little sad, and then another prominent citizen asts us into the back room agin.

When we returns to the front room another prominent citizen makes a little speech that was quite beautiful to hear, and says mebby we represents some new concern that ain't never been in them parts and is figgering on buying cotton.

"No," the doctor says, "we ain't cotton buyers."

Another prominent citizen has the idea mebby we is figgering on one of these here inter-Reuben trolley lines, so the Rubes in one village can ride over and visit the Rubes in the next. And another one thinks mebby we is figgering on a telephone line. And each one makes a very eloquent little speech about them things, and rings in something about our fair Southland. And when both of them misses their guess it is time fur another visit to the back room.

Was we selling something?

We was.

Was we selling fruit trees?

We wasn't.

Finally, after every one has a chew of natcheral leaf tobaccer all around, one prominent citizen makes so bold as to ast us very courteous if he might enquire what it was we was selling.

The doctor says medicine.

Then they was

a slow grin went around that there crowd of prominent citizens. And once agin we has to make a trip to that back room. Fur they are all sure we must be taking orders fur something to beat that there prohibition game. When they misses that guess they all gets kind of thoughtful and sad. A couple of 'em don't take no more interest in us, but goes along home sighing-like, as if it wasn't no difference WHAT we sold as long as it wasn't what they was looking fur.

But purty soon one of them asts:

"What KIND of medicine?"

The doctor, he tells about it.

When he finishes you never seen such a change as had come onto the faces of that bunch. I never seen such disgusted prominent citizens in my hull life. They looked at each other embarrassed, like they had been ketched at something ornery. And they went out one at a time, saying good night to the hotel-keeper and in the most pinted way taking no notice of us at all. It certainly was a chill. We sees something is wrong, and we begins to have a notion of what it is.

The hotel-keeper, he spits out his chew, and goes behind his little counter and takes a five-cent cigar out of his little show case and bites the end off careful. Then he leans his elbows onto his counter and reads our names to himself out of the register book, and looks at us, and from us to the names, and from the names to us, like he is trying to figger out how he come to let us write 'em there. Then he wants to know where we come from before we come to Atlanta, where we had registered from. We tells him we is from the North. He lights his cigar like he didn't think much of that cigar and sticks it in his mouth and looks at us so long in an absent-minded kind of way it goes out.

Then he says we orter go back North.

"Why?" asts the doctor.

He chewed his cigar purty nigh up to the middle of it before he answered, and when he spoke it was a soft kind of a drawl-not mad or loud-but like they was sorrowful thoughts working in him.

"Yo' all done struck the wo'st paht o' the South to peddle yo' niggah medicine in, sah. I reckon yo' must love 'em a heap to be that concerned over the colour of their skins."

And he turned his back on us and went into the back room all by himself.

We seen we was in wrong in that town. The doctor says it will be no use trying to interduce our stuff there, and we might as well leave there in the morning and go over to Bairdstown, which was a little place about ten miles off the railroad, and make our start there.

So we got a rig the next morning and drove acrost the country. No one bid us good-bye, neither, and Doctor Kirby says it's a wonder they rented us the rig.

But before we started that morning we noticed a funny thing. We hadn't so much as spoke to any nigger, except our own nigger Sam, and he couldn't of told ALL the niggers in that town about the stuff to turn niggers white, even if he had set up all night to do it. But every last nigger we saw looked like he knowed something about us. Even after we left town our nigger driver hailed two or three niggers in the road that acted that-away. It seemed like they was all awful polite to us. And yet they was different in their politeness than they was to them Georgia folks, which is their natcheral-born bosses-acted more familiar, somehow, as if they knowed we must be thinking about the same thing they was thinking about.

About half-way to Bairdstown we stopped at a place to get a drink of water. Seemingly the white folks was away fur the day, and an old nigger come up and talked to our driver while Sam and us was at the well.

I seen them cutting their eyes at us, whilst they was unchecking the hosses to let them drink too, and then I hearn the one that belonged there say:

"Is yo' SUAH dat hit air dem?"

"SUAH!" says the driver.

"How-come yo' so all-powerful SUAH about hit?"

The driver pertended the harness needed some fixing, and they went around to the other side of the team and tinkered with one of the traces, a-talking to each other. I hearn the old nigger say, kind of wonderized:

"Is dey a-gwine dar NOW?"

Sam, he was pulling a bucket of water up out of the well fur us with a windlass. The doctor says to him:

"Sam, what does all this mean?"

Sam, he pertends he don't know what the doctor is talking about. But Doctor Kirby he finally pins him down. Sam hemmed and hawed considerable, making up his mind whether he better lie to us or not. Then, all of a sudden, he busted out into an awful fit of laughing, and like to of fell in the well. Seemingly he decided fur to tell us the truth.

From what Sam says that there bishop has been holding revival meetings in Big Bethel, which is a nigger church right on the edge of Bairdstown, and niggers fur miles around has been coming night after night, and some of them whooping her up daytimes too. And the bishop has worked himself up the last three or four nights to where he has been perdicting and prophesying, fur the spirit has hit the meeting hard.

What he has been prophesying, Sam says, is the coming of a Messiah fur the nigger race-a new Elishyah, he says, as will lead them from out'n their inequality and bring 'em up to white standards right on the spot. The whites has had their Messiah, the bishop says, but the niggers ain't never had none of their SPECIAL OWN yet. And they needs one bad, and one is sure a-coming.

It seems the whites don't know yet jest what the bishop's been a-preaching. But every nigger fur miles on every side of Big Bethel is a-listening and a-looking fur signs and omens, and has been fur two, three days now. This here half-crazy bishop has got 'em worked up to where they is ready to believe anything, or do anything.

So the night before when the word got out in Cottonville that we had some scheme to make the niggers white, the niggers there took up with the idea that the doctor was mebby the feller the bishop had been prophesying about, and for a sign and a omen and a miracle of his grace and powers was going out to Big Bethel to turn 'em white. Poor devils, they didn't see but what being turned white orter be a part of what they was to get from the coming of that there Messiah.

News spreads among niggers quicker than among whites. No one knows how they do it. But I've hearn tales about how when war times was there, they would frequent have the news of a big fight before the white folks' papers would. Soldiers has told me that in them there Philippine Islands we conquered from Spain, where they is so much nigger blood mixed up with other kinds in the islanders, this mysterious spreading around of news is jest the same. And jest since nine o'clock the night before, the news had spread fur miles around that Bishop Warren's Messiah was on his way, and was going fur to turn the bishop white to show his power and grace, and he had with him one he had turned part white, and that was Sam, and one he had turned clear white, and that was me. And they was to be signs and wonders to behold at Big Bethel, with pillars of cloud and sounds of trumpets and fire squirting down from heaven, like it always use to be in them old Bible days, and them there niggers to be led singing and shouting and rejoicing into a land of milk and honey, forevermore, AMEN!

That's what Sam says they are looking fur, dozens and scores and hundreds of them niggers round about. Sam, he had lived in town five or six years, and he looked down on all these here ignoramus country niggers. So he busts out laughing at first, and he pertends like he don't take no stock in any of it. Besides, he knowed well enough he wasn't spotted up by no Messiah, but it was the dope in the bottles done it. But as he told about them goings-on Sam got more and more interested and warmed up to it, and his voice went into a kind of a sing-song like he was prophesying himself. And the other two niggers quit pertending to fool around the team and edged a little closeter, and a little closeter yet, with their mouths open and their heads a-nodding and the whites of their eyes a-rolling.

Fur my part, I never hearn such a lot of dern foolishness in all my life. But the doctor, he says nothing at all. He listens to Sam ranting and rolling out big words and raving, and only frowns. He climbs back into the buggy agin silent, and all the rest of the way to Bairdstown he set there with that scowl on his face. I guesses he was thinking now, the way things had shaped up, he wouldn't sell none of his stuff at all without he fell right in with the reception chance had planned fur him. But if he did fall in with it, and pertend like he was a Messiah to them niggers, he could get all they had. He was mebby thinking how much ornerier that would make the hull scheme.

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