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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 22607

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


We got to Bairdstown early enough, but we didn't go to work there. We wasted all that day. They was something working in the doctor's head he wasn't talking about. I supposed he was getting cold feet on the hull proposition. Anyhow, he jest set around the little tavern in that place and done nothing all afternoon.

The weather was fine, and we set out in front. We hadn't set there more'n an hour till I could tell we was being noticed by the blacks, not out open and above board. But every now and then one or two or three would pass along down the street, and lazy about and take a look at us. They pertended they wasn't noticing, but they was. The word had got around, and they was a feeling in the air I didn't like at all. Too much caged-up excitement among the niggers. The doctor felt it too, I could see that. But neither one of us said anything about it to the other.

Along toward dusk we takes a walk. They was a good-sized crick at the edge of that little place, and on it an old-fashioned worter mill. Above the mill a little piece was a bridge. We crossed it and walked along a road that follered the crick bank closte fur quite a spell.

It wasn't much of a town-something betwixt a village and a settlement-although they was going to run a branch of the railroad over to it before very long. It had had a chancet to get a railroad once, years before that. But it had said then it didn't want no railroad. So until lately every branch built through that part of the country grinned very sarcastic and give it the go-by.

They was considerable woods standing along the crick, and around a turn in the road we come onto Sam, all of a sudden, talking with another nigger. Sam was jest a-laying it off to that nigger, but he kind of hushed as we come nearer. Down the road quite a little piece was a good-sized wooden building that never had been painted and looked like it was a big barn. Without knowing it the doctor and me had been pinting ourselves right toward Big Bethel.

The nigger with Sam he yells out, when he sees us:

"Glory be! HYAH dey comes! Hyah dey comes NOW!"

And he throwed up his arms, and started on a lope up the road toward the church, singing out every ten or fifteen yards. A little knot of niggers come out in front of the church when they hearn him coming.

Sam, he stood his ground, and waited fur us to come up to him, kind of apologetic and sneaking-looking about something or other.

"What kind of lies have you been telling these niggers, Sam?" says the doctor, very sharp and short and mad-like.

Sam, he digs a stone out'n the road with the toe of his shoe, and kind of grins to himself, still looking sheepish. But he says he opinionates he been telling them nothing at all.

"I dunno how-come dey get all dem nigger notions in dey fool haid," Sam says, "but dey all waitin' dar inside de chu'ch do'-some of de mos' faiful an' de mos' pra'rful ones o' de Big Bethel cong'gation been dar fo' de las' houah a-waitin' an' a-watchin', spite o' de fac' dat reg'lah meetin' ain't gwine ter be called twell arter supper. De bishop, he dar too. Dey got some dese hyah coal-ile lamps dar des inside de chu'ch do' an' dey been keepin' on 'em lighted, daytimes an' night times, fo' two days now, kaze dey say dey ain't gwine fo' ter be cotched napping when de bridegroom COMeth. Yass, SAH!-dey's ten o' dese hyah vergims dar, five of 'em sleepin' an' five of 'em watchin', an' a-takin' tuhns at hit, an' mebby dat how-come free or fouah dey bes' young colo'hed mens been projickin' aroun' dar all arternoon, a-helpin' dem dat's a-waitin' twell de bridegroom COM eth!"

We seen a little knot of them, down the road there in front of the church, gathering around the nigger that had been with Sam. They all starts toward us. But one man steps out in front of them all, and turns toward them and holds his hands up, and waves them back. They all stops in their tracks.

Then he turns his face toward us, and comes slow and sollum down the road in our direction, walking with a cane, and moving very dignified. He was a couple of hundred yards away.

But as he come closeter we gradually seen him plainer and plainer. He was a big man, and stout, and dressed very neat in the same kind of rig as white bishops wear, with one of these white collars that buttons in the back. I suppose he was coming on to meet us alone, because no one was fitten fur to give us the first welcome but himself.

Well, it was all dern foolishness, and it was hard to believe it could all happen, and they ain't so many places in this here country it COULD happen. But fur all of it being foolishness, when he come down the road toward us so dignified and sollum and slow I ketched myself fur a minute feeling like we really had been elected to something and was going to take office soon. And Sam, as the bishop come closeter and closeter, got to jerking and twitching with the excitement that he had been keeping in-and yet all the time Sam knowed it was dope and works and not faith that had made him spotted that-a-way.

He stops, the bishop does, about ten yards from us and looks us over.

"Ah yo' de gennleman known ter dis hyah sinful genehation by de style an' de entitlemint o' Docto' Hahtley Kirby?" he asts the doctor very ceremonious and grand.

The doctor give him a look that wasn't very encouraging, but he nodded to him.

"Will yo' dismiss yo' sehvant in ordeh dat we kin hol' convehse an' communion in de midst er privacy?"

The doctor, he nods to Sam, and Sam moseys along toward the church.

"Now, then," says the doctor, sudden and sharp, "take off your hat and tell me what you want."

The bishop's hand goes up to his head with a jerk before he thought. Then it stops there, while him and the doctor looks at each other. The bishop's mouth opens like he was wondering, but he slowly pulls his hat off and stands there bare-headed in the road. But he wasn't really humble, that bishop.

"Now," says the doctor, "tell me in as straight talk as you've got what all this damned foolishness among you niggers means."

A queer kind of look passed over the bishop's face. He hadn't expected to be met jest that way, mebby. Whether he himself had really believed in the coming of that there new Messiah he had been perdicting, I never could settle in my mind. Mebby he had been getting ready to pass HIMSELF off fur one before we come along and the niggers all got the fool idea Doctor Kirby was it. Before the bishop spoke agin you could see his craziness and his cunningness both working in his face. But when he did speak he didn't quit being ceremonious nor dignified.

"De wohd has gone fo'th among de faiful an' de puah in heaht," he says, "dat er man has come accredited wi' signs an' wi' mahvels an' de poweh o' de sperrit fo' to lay his han' on de sons o' Ham an' ter make 'em des de same in colluh as de yuther sons of ea'th."

"Then that word is a lie," says the doctor. "I DID come here to try out some stuff to change the colour of negro skins. That's all. And I find your idiotic followers are all stirred up and waiting for some kind of a miracle monger. What you have been preaching to them, you know best. Is that all you want to know?"

The bishop hems and haws and fiddles with his stick, and then he says:

"Suh, will dish yeah prepa'shun SHO'LY do de wohk?" Doctor Kirby tells him it will do the work all right.

And then the bishop, after beating around the bush some more, comes out with his idea. Whether he expected there would be any Messiah come or not, of course he knowed the doctor wasn't him. But he is willing to boost the doctor's game as long as it boosts HIS game. He wants to be in on the deal. He wants part of the graft. He wants to get together with the doctor on a plan before the doctor sees the niggers. And if the doctor don't want to keep on with the miracle end of it, the bishop shows him how he could do him good with no miracle attachment. Fur he has an awful holt on them niggers, and his say-so will sell thousands and thousands of bottles. What he is looking fur jest now is his little take-out.

That was his craftiness and his cunningness working in him. But all of a sudden one of his crazy streaks come bulging to the surface. It come with a wild, eager look in his eyes.

"Suh," he cries out, all of a sudden, "ef yo' kin make me white, fo' Gawd sakes, do hit! Do hit! Ef yo' does, I gwine ter bless yo' all yo' days!

"Yo' don' know-no one kin guess or comperhen'-what des bein' white would mean ter me! Lawd! Lawd!" he says, his voice soft-spoken, but more eager than ever as he went on, and pleading something pitiful to hear, "des think of all de Caucasian blood in me! Gawd knows de nights er my youth I'se laid awake twell de dawn come red in de Eas' a-cryin' out ter Him only fo' ter be white! DES TER BE WHITE! Don' min' dem black, black niggers dar-don' think er DEM-dey ain't wuth nothin' nor fitten fo' no fate but what dey got- But me! What's done kep' me from gwine ter de top but dat one thing: I WASN'T WHITE! Hit air too late now-too late fo' dem ambitions I done trifle with an' shove behin' me-hit's too late fo' dat! But ef I was des ter git one li'l year o' hit-ONE LI'L YEAR O' BEIN' WHITE!-befo' I died-"

And he went on like that, shaking and stuttering there in the road, like a fit had struck him, crazy as a loon. But he got hold of himself enough to quit talking, in a minute, and his cunning come back to him before he was through trembling. Then the doctor says slow and even, but not severe:

"You go back to your people now, bishop, and tell them they've made a mistake about me. And if you can, undo the harm you've done with this Messiah business. As far as this stuff of mine is concerned, there's none of it for you nor for any other negro. You tell them that. There's none of it been sold yet-and there never will be."

Then we turned away and left him standing there in the road, still with his hat off and his face working.

Walking back toward the little tavern the doctor says:

"Danny, this is the end of this game. These people down here and that half-cracked, half-crooked old bishop have made me see a few things about the Afro-American brother. It wasn't a good scheme in the first place. And this wasn't the place to start it going, anyhow-I should have tried the niggers in the big towns. But I'm out of it now, and I'm glad of it. What we want to do is to get away from here to-morrow-go back to Atlanta and fix up a scheme to rob some widows and orphans, or something half-way respectable like that."

Well, I drew a long breath. I was with Doctor Kirby in everything he done, fur he was my friend, and I didn't intend to quit him. But I was glad we was out of this, and hadn't sold none of that dope. We both felt better because we hadn't. All them millions we was going to make-shucks! We didn't neither one of us give a dern about them getting away from us. All we wanted was jest to get away from there and not get mixed up with no nigger problems any more. We eat supper, and we set around a while, and we went to bed purty middling early, so as to get a good start in the morning.

We got up early, but early as it was the devil had been up earlier in that neighbourhood. About four o'c

lock that morning a white woman about a half a mile from the village had been attacked by a nigger. They was doubt as to whether she would live, but if she lived they wasn't no doubts she would always be more or less crazy. Fur besides everything else, he had beat her insensible. And he had choked her nearly to death. The country-side was up, with guns and pistols looking fur that nigger. It wasn't no trouble guessing what would happen to him when they ketched him, neither.

"And," says Doctor Kirby, when we hearn of it, "I hope to high heaven they DO catch him!"

They wasn't much doubt they would, either. They was already beating up the woods and bushes and gangs was riding up and down the roads, and every nigger's house fur miles around was being searched and watched.

We soon seen we would have trouble getting hosses and a rig in the village to take us to the railroad. Many of the hosses was being ridden in the man-hunt. And most of the men who might have done the driving was busy at that too. The hotel-keeper himself had left his place standing wide open and went out. We didn't get any breakfast neither.

"Danny," says the doctor, "we'll just put enough money to pay the bill in an envelope on the register here, and strike out on shank's ponies. It's only nine or ten miles to the railroad-we'll walk."

"But how about our stuff?" I asts him. We had two big cases full of sample bottles of that dope, besides our suit cases.

"Hang the dope!" says the doctor, "I don't ever want to see it or hear of it again! We'll leave it here. Put the things out of your suit case into mine, and leave that here too. Sam can carry mine. I want to be on the move."

So we left, with Sam carrying the one suit case. It wasn't nine in the morning yet, and we was starting out purty empty fur a long walk.

"Sam," says the doctor, as we was passing that there Big Bethel church-and it showed up there silent and shabby in the morning, like a old coloured man that knows a heap more'n he's going to tell-"Sam, were you at the meeting here last night?"

"Yass, suh!"

"I suppose it was a pretty tame affair after they found out their Elisha wasn't coming after all?"

Sam, he walled his eyes, and then he kind of chuckled.

"Well, suh," he says, "I 'spicions de mos' on 'em don' know dat YIT!"

The doctor asts him what he means.

It seems the bishop must of done some thinking after we left him in the road or on his way back to that church. They had all begun to believe that there Elishyah was on the way to 'em, and the bishop's credit was more or less wrapped up with our being it. It was true he hadn't started that belief; but it was believed, and he didn't dare to stop it now. Fur, if he stopped it, they would all think he had fell down on his prophetics, even although he hadn't prophesied jest exactly us. He was in a tight place, that bishop, but I bet you could always depend on him to get out of it with his flock. So what he told them niggers at the meeting last night was that he brung 'em a message from Elishyah, Sam says, the Elishyah that was to come. And the message was that the time was not ripe fur him to reveal himself as Elishyah unto the eyes of all men, fur they had been too much sinfulness and wickedness and walking into the ways of evil, right amongst that very congregation, and disobedience of the bishop, which was their guide. And he had sent 'em word, Elishyah had, that the bishop was his trusted servant, and into the keeping of the bishop was give the power to deal with his people and prepare them fur the great day to come. And the bishop would give the word of his coming. He was a box, that bishop was, in spite of his crazy streaks; and he had found a way to make himself stronger than ever with his bunch out of the very kind of thing that would have spoiled most people's graft. They had had a big meeting till nearly morning, and the power had hit 'em strong. Sam told us all about it.

But the thing that seemed to interest the doctor, and made him frown, was the idea that all them niggers round about there still had the idea he was the feller that had been prophesied to come. All except Sam, mebby. Sam had spells when he was real sensible, and other spells when he was as bad as the believingest of them all.

It was a fine day, and really joyous to be a-walking. It would of been a good deal joyouser if we had had some breakfast, but we figgered we would stop somewheres at noon and lay in a good, square, country meal.

That wasn't such a very thick settled country. But everybody seemed to know about the manhunt that was going on, here, there, and everywhere. People would come down to the road side as we passed, and gaze after us. Or mebby ast us if we knowed whether he had been ketched yet. Women and kids mostly, or old men, but now and then a younger man too. We noticed they wasn't no niggers to speak of that wasn't busier'n all get out, working at something or other, that day.

They is considerable woods in that country yet, though lots has been cut off. But they was sometimes right long stretches where they would be woods on both sides of the road, more or less thick, with underbrush between the trees. We tramped along, each busy thinking his own thoughts, and having a purty good time jest doing that without there being no use of talking. I was thinking that I liked the doctor better fur turning his back on all this game, jest when he might of made some sort of a deal with the bishop and really made some money out of it in the end. He never was so good a business man as he thought he was, Doctor Kirby wasn't. He always could make himself think he was. But when it come right down to brass tacks he wasn't. You give him a scheme that would TALK well, the kind of a josh talk he liked to get off fur his own enjoyment, and he would take up with it every time instead of one that had more promise of money to it if it was worked harder. He was thinking of the TALK more'n he was of the money, mostly; and he was always saying something about art fur art's sake, which was plumb foolishness, fur he never painted no pictures. Well, he never got over being more or less of a puzzle to me. But fur some reason or other this morning he seemed to be in a better humour with himself, after we had walked a while, than I had seen him in fur a long time.

We come to the top of one long hill, which it had made us sweat to climb, and without saying nothing to each other we both stopped and took off our hats and wiped our foreheads, and drawed long breaths, content to stand there fur jest a minute or two and look around us. The road run straight ahead, and dipped down, and then clumb up another hill about an eighth of a mile in front of us. It made a little valley. Jest about the middle, between the two hills, a crick meandered through the bottom land. Woods growed along the crick, and along both sides of the road we was travelling. Right nigh the crick they was another road come out of the woods to the left-hand side, and switched into the road we was travelling, and used the same bridge to cross the crick by. They was three or four houses here and there, with chimbleys built up on the outside of them, and blue smoke coming out. We stood and looked at the sight before us and forgot all the troubles we had left behind, fur a couple of minutes-it all looked so peaceful and quiet and homeyfied and nice.

"Well," says the doctor, after we had stood there a piece, "I guess we better be moving on again, Danny."

But jest as Sam, who was follering along behind with that suit case, picks it up and puts it on his head agin, they come a sound, from away off in the distance somewheres, that made him set it down quick. And we all stops in our tracks and looks at each other.

It was the voice of a hound dog-not so awful loud, but clear and mellow and tuneful, and carried to us on the wind. And then in a minute it come agin, sharper and quicker. They yells like that when they have struck a scent.

As we stood and looked at each other they come a crackle in the underbrush, jest to the left of us. We turned our heads that-a-way, jest as a nigger man give a leap to the top of a rail fence that separated the road from the woods. He was going so fast that instead of climbing that fence and balancing on the top and jumping off he jest simply seemed to hit the top rail and bounce on over, like he had been throwed out of the heart of the woods, and he fell sprawling over and over in the road, right before our feet.

He was onto his feet in a second, and fur a minute he stood up straight and looked at us-an ashes-coloured nigger, ragged and bleeding from the underbrush, red-eyed, and with slavers trickling from his red lips, and sobbing and gasping and panting fur breath. Under his brown skin, where his shirt was torn open acrost his chest, you could see that nigger's heart a-beating.

But as he looked at us they come a sudden change acrost his face-he must of seen the doctor before, and with a sob he throwed himself on his knees in the road and clasped his hands and held 'em out toward Doctor Kirby.

"ELISHyah! ELISHyah!" he sings out, rocking of his body in a kind of tune, "reveal yo'se'f, reveal yo'se'f an' he'p me NOW! Lawd Gawd ELISHyah, beckon fo' a CHA'iot, yo' cha'iot of FIAH! Lif' me, lif' me-lif' me away f'um hyah in er cha'iot o' FIAH!"

The doctor, he turned his head away, and I knowed the thought working in him was the thought of that white woman that would always be an idiot for life, if she lived. But his lips was dumb, and his one hand stretched itself out toward that nigger in the road and made a wiping motion, like he was trying fur to wipe the picture of him, and the thought of him, off'n a slate forevermore.

Jest then, nearer and louder and sharper, and with an eager sound, like they knowed they almost had him now, them hounds' voices come ringing through the woods, and with them come the mixedup shouts of men.

"RUN!" yells Sam, waving of that suit case round his head, fur one nigger will always try to help another no matter what he's done. "Run fo' de branch-git yo' foots in de worter an' fling 'em off de scent!"

He bounded down the hill, that red-eyed nigger, and left us standing there. But before he reached the crick the whole man-hunt come busting through the woods, the dogs a-straining at their straps. The men was all on foot, with guns and pistols in their hands. They seen the nigger, and they all let out a yell, and was after him. They ketched him at the crick, and took him off along that road that turned off to the left. I hearn later he was a member of Bishop Warren's congregation, so they hung him right in front of Big Bethel church.

We stood there on top of the hill and saw the chase and capture. Doctor Kirby's face was sweating worse than when we first clumb the hill. He was thinking about that nigger that had pleaded with him. He was thinking also of the woman. He was glad it hadn't been up to him personal right then and there to butt in and stop a lynching. He was glad, fur with them two pictures in front of him he didn't know what he would of done.

"Thank heaven!" I hearn him say to himself. "Thank heaven that it wasn't REALLY in my power to choose!"

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