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I 













MISTER FISH KELLY 






Mr. Kelly's Mood Soared. 


[page 2] 








/ 


MISTER FISH KELLY 

A NOVEL 

BY 

ROBERT McBLAIR 



D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 
NEW YORK * * MCMXXIV 

•z. 




COPYRIGHT, 1924, BY 

ROBERT McBLAIR 


\ 



Copyright, 1918, 19x9, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, by Robert McBlair 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 


ft 

■APR 23 1924 ' 

©ClA792075O^> V 


TO 

THE MEMORY OF 

NINA 


AND HER LAUGHTER 



CONTENTS 


CHAPTER p AGE 

I. Financial Love . i 

II. Lawyer Little in the Role of Lion . 15 

III. The Lion Changes Places .... 27 

IV. A Substitute Bridegroom .... 46 

V. A Neck Grows Up and Hairs Out . . 58 

VI. The Hypnotizer. 69 

VII. Cravings Come True. 81 

VIII. Enter Love. 97 

IX. Flirting with Death. 111 

X. Slow Music. 131 

XI. Lawyer Little Emerges for Air . . 142 

XII. Ring Out, Wild Bells!.164 

XIII. Ted Harpy Again. 179 

XIV. A Preacher at His Own Game . . . 199 

XV. The Horse with the Silver Lining . 211 

XVI. Jonah Himself.222 

vii 












CONTENTS 


CHAPTER PAGE 

XVII. An Heir to the House oe Kelly . . 233 

XVIII. Apology Accepted. 246 

XIX. A Strange Whisky Bottle .... 259 

XX. Shots at Night .273 

XXI. Love Powders and Dragon’s Blood . 290 

XXII. The Darkest Hour.300 

XXIII. The Mystery of the House of Clinton 313 
XXIV. Settin’ Pretty.333 


viii 








MISTER FISH KELLY 





MISTER FISH KELLY 


CHAPTER I 
FINANCIAL LOVE 

O NE sunny summer evening, about din¬ 
ner time, Mr. Fish Kelly trundled a 
grocer’s two-wheeled delivery cart up 
the middle of one of the white folks’ most pre¬ 
tentious residential streets. His prominent 
white teeth alternately shone and disappeared 
against the blackness of his thin countenance 
as he smiled—and then pouted, thinking that 
he might be observed. He was experiencing 
the delights of anticipation. Miss Ella—a 
good provider—worked near by, and she was 
seriously considering accepting his hand in 
matrimony. 

A bend in the street brought a handsome 
gray stone dwelling into view. Reaching a 
spot exactly opposite the lane beside the dwell¬ 
ing, Mr. Kelly wheeled his cart to the left with 
military precision, let it tilt forward until its 
end rested upon the curb, and dropped a brick 
in it to hold it down. Then, jerking his droop- 

i 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


ing black felt hat to a rakish angle, he shuffled 
across the sidewalk and up the brick-paved 
lane. 

The large toe upon Mr. Kelly's generous 
right foot protruded darkly through a hole in 
one of his down-at-heel black oxfords, and a 
worn, funereal black suit, several sizes too 
large, flapped about his lanky frame. But Mr. 
Kelly's mood soared above holes in shoes and 
was the opposite of funereal. He was about 
to lift a quavery tenor in song when he heard 
a masculine guffaw, followed by Ella's shriller 
cackle, float through the kitchen door. 

Fish Kelly paused, with his long black hand 
inside the hole of the weather-beaten wooden 
gate. He recognized that masculine guffaw: 
it belonged to a colored gentleman known 
interchangeably as Reverend or Lawyer Little, 
and it did not have a pleasing sound in Fish's 
ears. Behind Fish Kelly's desire to marry Ella 
was a wish to be financially at ease and thus 
free forever from the moral and physical domi¬ 
nation of this very Mr. Little. And if Lawyer 
Little was calling upon Ella it was a dangerous 
sign that Lawyer was in search of a good pro¬ 
vider, too. The kitchen door was just up the 
lane. Fish listened to the words that followed. 

“Yes, ma'am/ Ten years dem niggers got." 

2 



FINANCIAL LOVE 


“Ten years ?” 

“Yassum. Ten long years, a-bustin' rocks 
on de Janies River. Winter and summer.” 

“M-m-mi— uh!” This being a mild high 
note hummed by Ella with mouth closed, sig¬ 
nifying polite astonishment. Came next the 
slamming of the oven door, the sliding of a 
pot over the stove, and a brief rattling down 
of the fire. 

“How come dey gin’ 'em so much ef dey 
never done it?” 

Lawyer guffawed briefly. “Ain't I done tole 
you? Dey was de niggers what crossed me. 
Ain't no nigger never crossed me yit an' got 
away with it. Naw, suh!” 

“An' de jedge he gin' 'em ten years 'cause 
you tole him to?” 

Lawyer did not fall into this trap. “I ain't 
sayin' how I done it. Git a man into cote, an' 
dey's more'n one way of skinnin' a cat!” 

The scraping of a chair over the floor fell 
next, and Fish, who had been listening with 
his prominent eyes more than usually pro¬ 
truding, hastened to unhook and open the gate 
with some noise. He was familiar with the 
case referred to. The two negroes convicted 
of burglary had been reputed to be enemies of 
Lawyer's, and this using of the mysterious ma- 
3 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


chinery of the law for motives of personal 
revenge filled Fish with awe. It signified a 
terrible power in one man’s hands. Fish was 
aware that a colored man, once haled to court, 
had scant chance of returning from there in 
less than thirty days. But that he also became 
the plaything of the dark forces of intrigue— 
a mere cockleshell in the cross currents of in¬ 
justice—had never before occurred to him. His 
mother’s favorite admonition rose in his mind. 
“Never erritate a lion,” his mother had always 
said. “Ef a lion got yo’ haid in his mouf, tek 
it out real e-e — easy . Don’t never erritate a 
lion!” Fish’s rising hostility toward Lawyer 
began to take on the pale cast of thought. He 
shuffled morosely up the four wooden steps 
and pushed open the kitchen door. 

“Evenin’, Miss Ella. Evenin’, Mr. Little.” 

Ella showed the whites of her eyes and 
mumbled something. She saw complications 
enter with him. 

Lawyer Little sat near the stove in a back¬ 
less wooden chair: billowed out on all sides of 
it in a long-tailed coat that had once been black 
but had faded to a sickly green. His fat hands 
were clasped before him as if in support of his 
stomach, and his short legs seemed trying to 
burst through his tight greenish trousers. 

4 




FINANCIAL LOVE 


Bottom up on the brown linoleum at his feet 
sat a battered and greasy opera hat. A pair 
of gold-rimmed spectacles rested on the end of 
his brown shiny nose. Perspiration trickled 
from his three chins down the front of a tie¬ 
less celluloid collar, and his glistening brow 
was beaded by the kitchen’s heat. He took 
out a red bandanna handkerchief, mopped his 
bullet-shaped head and round bacon-colored 
countenance, and smiled fatly, achieving an 
expression of mingled wiliness and affability. 

‘'Evenin’, Mr. Kelly. Evenin’! Come in, 
suh, an’ find yo’se’f a seat. Miss Ella an’ me 
been projeckin’ here all by our lonesome. She 
been tellin’ me dat it’s yo’ brother-in-law, de 
Reverind Winkles, what tends de Mountain 
Park Cimetery.” 

Fish was conscious of the note of rivalry in 
Lawyer Little’s velvet tones and it overcame 
his caution. He had spent too long a time at 
this courtship, it meant too much to his hopes, 
for him to resign the field now. He drew a 
soap box from beneath the sink and seated 
himself. “How my gal?” he inquired of Ella. 

Ella’s round face became the storm center 
of dark emotions. Her expansive, shapeless 
figure was clothed in black—a token of be¬ 
reavement for two departed husbands—and 
5 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


her skin was blacker than her clothes. She 
pouted her large lips and banged a pot of pota¬ 
toes down on the stove with unnecessary 
violence. 

Lawyer Little seemed surprised at this mani- 
Yo’ gal! She ain’t nobody’s gal. Reckon I 
been tryin’ to git her to be my gal long enough 
time. Naw, suh! She ain’t nobody’s gal!” 

“How come she ain’t nobody’s gal?” This 
overt attack on Lawyer’s part, in the very pres¬ 
ence of the desired, was too much for Fish’s 
poise. Crouched on the soap box, his elbows 
on his skinny knees, he batted the whites of 
his eyes at Lawyer. “How come it?” he re¬ 
peated. “Dat’s what I wants to know. How 
come it?” 

Lawyer Little laughed. “Yo'g al! He, he! 
festation of belligerency on the part of the 
gentle Fish Kelly, and for a moment was at a 
loss for words. Emboldened by Lawyer’s 
silence, Fish got up, took the pasteboard top 
of an egg box from the table, went over to the 
stove, and raked forth some fine white ashes. 
Returning to his seat, he salvaged a piece of 
raw potato from the garbage pail. Having 
prepared his stage, he produced a folded razor 
from a hip pocket, opened it with ostentation, 
6 





FINANCIAL LOVE 


and began cleaning it with the potato piece 
dipped in ashes. 

Lawyer Little’s verbosity received a further 
check at this maneuver. Perhaps the connec¬ 
tion between himself and the razor was too 
obvious for doubt. The kitchen was silent 
for several moments. Then— 

“Um -huh!” Lawyer Little ejaculated. “Car- 
ryin’ concealed weepins, ain’t you?” 

Fish’s arm, as if paralyzed, stopped in mid¬ 
effort. 

“Sixty days for ’at. Sixty days, an’ mebbe 
a fine. Yas, suh!” 

“Never erritate a lion!” thought Fish. 

“Dis here ain’t my razor,” he protested in a 
high voice. 

“Whose razor ’tis ?” demanded Lawyer 
sharply. 

“Man ast me to keep it for him.” 

“What sort of man, dat?” 

“Tall, black nigger, he was. Ast me to keep 
it for him.” 

Lawyer laughed scornfully. “You’s a tall 
black nigger, ain’t you? Yeah! Reckon a 
tall, black nigger did give it to you. Huh!” 
He rose in fine scorn and dignity, removed the 
spectacles which he had put on as a visiting 
ceremonial, took up and put on his stained 
7 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


opera hat. “Good evening Miss Ella,” he an¬ 
nounced. “I will see you to-morrow, ma'am.” 
Brushing some pie crumbs from his rumpled 
greenish vest, he stalked grandly from the 
room. 

“What dat nigger doin’ here?” demanded 
Fish, as soon as he had heard the gate close 
behind Lawyer. 

“How I know what he doin’ here? He just 
here, dat’s all.” 

“How long he been cornin’ here like dis?” 

“How I know how long he been cornin’ here? 
Been cornin’ here long time.” 

“How come you ain’t never said nothin’ 
’bout him cornin’ here?” 

“What for I got to say sump’n’ ’bout him 
cornin’ here? He got a right to come here 
when he want to, ain’t he?” 

“You hear me tellin’ you,” stated Fish, swell¬ 
ing threateningly now that Lawyer was gone. 
“You hear me tellin’ you! Dat nigger got to 
keep ’way from here. Reverind Winkles 
gwine have a new nigger in dat cimetery, don’t 
somebody look out.” 

Ella, lips pouted, and face like a midnight 
cloud, shoved the pots noisily about on the 
stove. 

“Whyn’t you come on an marry me, ’oom- 
8 




FINANCIAL LOVE 


an? Whyn’t you quit all dis projeckin’? 
Somebody gwine git killed round here fust 
thing you know.” 

“I ain’t studyin’ ’bout no marryin’,” retorted 
Ella sullenly. “I has enough trouble wid de 
niggers what drifts by. Don’t need no steady 
one. I done told you—I ain’t askin’ nobody 
to marry me.” 

“You hear me tellin’ you!” declared Fish, 
waxing warmer as the results of Lawyer’s in¬ 
tervention began to become apparent. “Dat 
Lawyer—he gwine git his th’oat cut, he don’t 
look out.” 

“Whyn’t you go on an’ behave yo’se’f ?” 

“I wanta know when you gwine marry me, 
’ooman?” Fish repeated stubbornly. “I been 
hangin’ round here nigh on two years now, 
waitin’ for you to make up yo’ mind. Now, 
jes’ ’cause dis nigger wid a high hat come 
along, you gittin’ uppity.” 

“I got set de table for dinner,” announced 
Ella sullenly. “I ain’t got no time to be 
messin’ round here wid no fightin’ nigger.” 

“I done tole you, ’ooman. Dat’s all!” said 
Fish to her broad retreating back. He got up 
and shuffled moodily out into the gathering 
dusk. He was by nature melancholy and dis¬ 
trustful of Providence. This gloomy outcome 
9 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


of his afternoon's hopes served merely to re¬ 
new his subjective feeling that the cards of life 
are stacked. He righted his pushcart, turned 
it slowly around and trundled disconsolately 
down the street. 

Pretty soon he was crossing the arched iron 
bridge that led to the older section of this 
southern seaport town. Round yellowish 
street lamps, in clusters of three, were begin¬ 
ning to compete palely with the fading light 
of day. Electric advertising signs had sprung 
out against the far-away wharves and ware¬ 
houses, down where the creek joined the har¬ 
bor, and threw jagged elongated reflections 
upon the dark writhing water. Fish leaned 
back, on the downward slant of the bridge, 
and let the weight of the cart pull his gangling 
frame along. Then he pushed on steadily for 
another block, finally to whirl his cart across 
the sidewalk and park it in the rear of the 
Sanitary Grocery Company's red brick build¬ 
ing. This accomplished, he shuffled to York 
Street where he turned his feet homeward. 

Down York Street was flowing the evening 
tide of home-coming colored workers, men and 
women of all shades of yellow, black and 
brown, dressed in the rags and tatters of their 
work clothes. The women were returning 
io 



FINANCIAL LOVE 


from a long day of picking the meat from 
freshly boiled crabs, to be packed in tins and 
shipped to the metropolitan markets. Some 
of the men still wore on their horny hands the 
mud-crusted strip of leather that protected 
them when they chipped the end off an oyster 
and then ripped the shell open and the succu¬ 
lent mollusk out with one motion of an expert 
knife. Others had been finding in the oysters 
the tiny oyster crabs, no larger than a currant, 
and so soft and tender that their little reddish 
insides could be seen through their translucent 
shells. These small creatures, exact duplicates 
of their large hard-shelled cousins, were 
shipped away to the exclusive city and seaside 
hotels, to tickle the palates of epicures. Some 
of the men had shreds of cotton sticking to 
their clothes, from the cotton warehouses 
across the river, and others were grimy with 
coal dust from their labors in the coal yards 
near by. 

The blue sputtering of arc lamps lighted the 
procession at the corners, but, between the in¬ 
tersections, the dark shuffling forms were gob¬ 
bled up by the shadows of the leafy elm and 
horse-chestnut trees that lined the curbs. Oc¬ 
casionally a lighted orange street car would 
grind and rumble by, conveying belated white 
ii 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


folks to their dinners across the river. But 
between whiles the street was silent, except for 
the scuffling of flat, run-down shoes, the soft 
throaty baritones of the men and the shriller 
voices of the women raised in conversation, 
and the frequent crescendo chorus of carefree 
mellow laughter. York Street was the morn¬ 
ing and evening thoroughfare for these labor¬ 
ers, but it still preserved—particularly at its 
upper end—the character of an aristocratic 
residential section. Major Braxton's square, 
four-story red brick residence raised its 
haughty head above the high red board fence 
that shut off its half-acre lawn from the gaze 
of the passer-by. Across the asphalted street 
a row of red brick dwellings stood with faded 
green blinds folded before their large white- 
shaded windows. Ten wide sandstone steps 
led up to the fluted wooden columns of their 
porches and the mute repulsion of their closed 
storm doors. They were like old maids with 
folded hands, and lips closed in prim disappro¬ 
bation of the approach of a new and unfamiliar 
order. 

For the unfamiliar order was on its way. As 
Fish shuffled morosely along the brick side¬ 
walk he noticed that one of the handsomest 
of the houses had a sign that said “Boarders 
12 




FINANCIAL LOVE 


Wanted.” And at the corner before Boush 
Street barrels of apples and potatoes, and trays 
of beets, cabbages and onions were conspicu¬ 
ous in the lighted windows of a newly opened 
grocery store. 

At Boush Street the procession turned for 
half a block to the left, and then to the right 
into Queen Street—where the outlook abrupt¬ 
ly changed. This was the negro quarter of the 
town. The middle of the street was no longer 
asphalt, nor even of leveled Belgian blocks. 
It was paved with cobbles. Grass sprang 
greenly in the gutters and afforded a welcome 
pasture for bearded and odoriferous goats. In 
several places the bricks were missing from the 
sidewalks, having been taken up by the resi¬ 
dents for building purposes, or used impul¬ 
sively as ammunition in some extemporaneous 
affray. The houses were two-story clapboard 
affairs with mildewed shingle roofs. The 
paint had long since peeled from their bat¬ 
tered fagades, and they seemed to lean against 
one another in various attitudes of disconsola- 
tion or repose—an effect that was heightened 
by the way shutters had of hanging askew by 
one hinge, whence they would teeter out wildly 
in any gale of wind. Fish observed that on 
the northern side of the street, where he was 
i3 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


walking, the bricks near the houses, and even 
the bottom boards of the houses themselves, 
were filmed with a greenish mould, which ac¬ 
cumulated in this moist climate in crannies 
shielded from the sun. 

“Hi, Fish! Good evenin', Mr. Kelly!” Such 
were the salutations that Fish Kelly received 
as he drifted past the lighted store windows 
and happy talkative inhabitants of this popu¬ 
lous street, and he returned the greetings in 
kind. But he was not the person to take his 
troubles lightly. The fact that he craved the 
financial security of Ella's bosom, and that the 
dominating Lawyer Little was thwarting him, 
pressed like nettles into his mind. It warmed 
him to be in the homely neighborhood of his 
people, but he was in no mood to welcome the 
social advances of his fellow man. So he pur¬ 
chased a box of chocolate marshmallow cakes 
and a can of peaches and mounted two flights 
of rickety creaking stairs to his room, whose 
darkness was relieved only by the grisly beams 
of an opposite street lamp, and the rolling 
whites of his own protruding eyes. After he 
had consumed his supper, he lay down, fully 
clothed, upon a sagging canvas cot, and passed 
almost at once into an unbroken slumber. 




CHAPTER II 

LAWYER LITTLE IN THE ROLE OF LION 

E ARLY the next morning- a rattling milk 
wagon on the outside cobbles shattered 
the silence of Fish Kelly’s room and 
aroused him to the duties and tribulations of 
existence. He arose, and after executing a 
sketchy toilet at the pump in the small back 
yard downstairs, emerged into the sunshine 
of Queen Street and shuffled across the cob¬ 
bles to the Liberty Lunch Room, where he 
chose a seat at an oilcloth-covered table by the 
window. 

A menu lay before him. Fish Kelly had 
never been inducted into the mysteries of 
reading and writing, but he had no thought 
of telling the world about that. He picked up 
the blue menu card and carefully perused its 
grease spots, flyspecks and thumb prints. 
Then, when the burly proprietor approached 
him with an inquiring look, he issued his usual 
order for ham and eggs and coffee and gave 
himself over to an idle inspection of the strings 
15 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


of red and green peppers that hung in dusty 
loops among the cobwebs of the whitewashed 
rafters above his head. 

The eggs and ham were soon cooked, and 
sooner eaten, and Fish Kelly found himself 
shortly shuffling along the sidewalk, in the 
direction of the Sanitary Grocery, with nothing 
to do but work. The thought of work was 
depressing. It brought along with it, some¬ 
how, an intangible menace of the law, in the 
form of Lawyer Little, and a gnawing sense 
of uncertainty as to the trend of Ella's affec¬ 
tions. 

At the store Fish ran into an atmosphere of 
mild and unpleasant excitement. The engi¬ 
neer, it seemed, was ill; the temperature in the 
meat room was getting too high, and the new 
store manager was angry and excited in his 
efforts to start the refrigerating engine him¬ 
self. 

The electrically driven refrigerating ma¬ 
chine was housed in a long narrow cellar, 
lighted by occasional dirty electric bulbs de¬ 
pending from the rafters of the ceiling. The 
new boss, a small man with a suit of blue over¬ 
alls drawn over his business clothes, peered 
into the mysterious white entwining pipes of 
the refrigerating machine, a worried look upon 
16 




LAWYER LITTLE IN THE ROLE OF LION 


his sallow pointed face. Four or five of the 
colored help were passing to and fro, bring¬ 
ing cases of canned goods from the freight 
room and opening them up for the day’s retail 
trade. As Fish appeared at the foot of the 
narrow steps, the new boss hailed him. 

“Hey, you black boy! Come here! What’s 
your name? Didn’t I see you helping the en¬ 
gineer here the other day? All right, get 
around the other side and put some grease in 
them grease cups. Hurry up! I’m going to 
get this thing started.” 

Fish crawled under the belting with a can of 
grease and filled the grease cups as directed. 
Crawling back, he saw that the boss was reach¬ 
ing for the switch. 

“Wait a minute, boss!” yelled Fish. 

The boss paused. 

“You ain’t turned ’em cocks yit,” explained 
Fish, scrambling to his feet. “Dem two cocks 
on de ’monia pipes. Dey got to p’int t’other 
way.” 

The little man, his sallow skin mottled and 
glistening from his adventurings with the un¬ 
familiar machine, glared at Fish. 

“Who the devil’s running this machine?” he 
demanded. 


1 7 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“You’s runnin’ it, boss. I jes’ gwine say dat 
de engineer he always—” 

“You can’t tell me nothing about this ma¬ 
chine. Go over there and oil those bearings 
and keep your head shut.” 

Fish pouted his lips and blinked his eyes, 
because he knew that he was right. But there 
was nothing to do except go to the other side 
of the machine and oil the bearings. He had 
barely got there when the boss threw in the 
switch and the big engine began turning over, 
endeavoring to pump the ammonia through the 
refrigerating plant and force the resulting cold 
current along the frosted pipes that lined the 
ceiling of the meat room upstairs. But the 
engine had hard going. The bearings seemed 
to grind, and after a moment there came a hiss¬ 
ing sound from near one of the cocks that the 
boss had not turned. The boss cut off the 
switch and began peering into the machinery. 

The pungent, threatening odor of ammonia 
began to permeate the dim cellar, and under 
the dirty electric bulbs the men could be seen 
rubbing their eyes and coughing. Two years 
before, an ammonia pipe had burst, suffocating 
three colored assistants, and in the unpleasant 
memory of this Fish decided to make one more 
effort. He shuffled over to where the white 
18 




LAWYER LITTLE IN THE ROLE OF LION 


man still peered into the bowels of the ma¬ 
chinery. 

“Boss!” 

The white man started. “Well, what is it?” 
he snapped. 

“Dem two cocks, boss. De engineer he 
always p’inted ’em t’other way. Dey opens de 
’monia pipes. Can’t no engine pump de ’monia 
wid ’em closed.” 

The boss’s pointed face had grown crimson. 

“Didn’t you hear me tell you to keep that 
black mug of yours out of this? I spent all 
Sunday morning with the engineer, going over 
this machine, and, by gad, if I don’t know how 
to run it, nobody does. Get over there and 
oil them bearings and stop shooting off your 
face.” 

Dubious and unwilling, Fish obeyed. After 
a moment of peering, the boss again threw in 
the switch. Once more the big engine began 
turning over, but very grudgingly. The bear¬ 
ings groaned, the bolts knocked, the belt began 
slipping on its wheels with little squeaks, and 
the hissing sound near the cock started again 
and got louder. Instead of throwing off the 
switch this time, however, the boss turned the 
control lever on the motor and made the pump 
go faster and faster. 


19 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


The noise was hideous. Fish, his knees shak¬ 
ing, was debating with himself whether to pray 
or run when, with a tremendous detonation, a 
cylinder head blew out and the place was 
deadly with fumes. 

For a moment Fish was stunned. Then, out 
of instinct, he dashed for the stairs, but he fell 
over the boss, who was crawling toward the 
rear of the cellar. Fish scrambled to his feet, 
and managed to reach the street floor, cough¬ 
ing and choking. 

“ ’Monia pipe done bust,” he spluttered, in 
answer to the assistant manager’s pleadings. 

“Are there any men down there?” 

“De boss an’ fo’ or five men. De in-jine it’s 
a-pumpin’ right along, too.” 

The assistant, a round, pink-cheeked young 
fellow, rose to the occasion like a man. 

“ ’Phone to the hospitals and get ambu¬ 
lances,” he cried to a clerk. “’Phone to our 
other store to send the ammonia helmet at 
once. Fish, you race around to the American 
Ice Company and borrow their ammonia hel¬ 
met. Hurry, for Heaven’s sake, Fish! Men 
are dying in that cellar.” 

Fish flew the two blocks to the American Ice 
Company as though he had wings. They 
wouldn’t trust him with the helmet, but sent it 


20 




LAWYER LITTLE IN THE ROLE OF LION 


by a young clerk; and Fish spent the returning 
two blocks dragging this young man, who 
wanted to preserve a deliberate dignity, by one 
arm. 

A large crowd cluttered the store entrance 
when they arrived. Backed up to the curb were 
several ambulances, and policemen already 
were stretching ropes at the corner. The man¬ 
ager and the clerks had been forced out to the 
doorway by the spreading fumes, and here they 
were struggling desperately with the com¬ 
pany’s ammonia helmet. They threw this 
down at sight of Fish and his companion, 
snatched the helmet, and the manager put it 
on over his own head. After feeling it for a 
moment, he snatched it off. 

“Good Lord!” he almost wept, “the tubing is 
rotten! It won’t work, either!” Going pale, 
he began trembling all over. “They’re dying!” 
he cried. 

They heard the cellar door burst open. A 
small colored man staggered toward them, 
tears streaming from his tightly closed eyes, 
his body convulsed by coughing. He became 
violently sick and fell heavily in the doorway, 
where he lay writhing. Two white-clad in¬ 
ternes immediately sprang upon him, rolled 
21 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


him on to a stretcher, and slid him into an 
ambulance, which dashed clanging away. 

At this point a fire engine and hook and 
ladder rolled up to the opposite curb, and the 
crowded doorway became further congested by 
the helmeted firemen. 

“This smoke helmet’s no good for ammo¬ 
nia,” said the sergeant. “Where’s your am¬ 
monia helmet?” 

“They are both broken,” answered the panic- 
stricken assistant, his teeth chattering. “What 
are we going to do?” 

A young fireman, without waiting for orders, 
took a deep breath and ran into the store as far 
as the cellar door. Here he threw his hand to 
his eyes as if stricken, turned, and came stag¬ 
gering blindly back. 

“ ’Monia done got him,” said Fish to himself. 
“He open’ his eyes.” 

“There’s a man on the stairs there,” cried the 
young fireman hoarsely. “I saw him! Oh, my 
Lord, I’m going blind!” 

He was led to the curb, and another ambu¬ 
lance dashed noisily away. Two firemen, clasp¬ 
ing hands, with eyes tightly closed, felt their 
way to the cellar stairs and returned with a 
limp colored man, the veins nearly bursting on 
22 




LAWYER LITTLE IN THE ROLE OF LION 


their crimson foreheads from so long holding 
their breath. 

“That makes all the men/’ cried the assistant 
manager. “Only the boss is down there now.” 

Fish remembered the direction in which the 
boss had been crawling, and went out before 
one of the store windows where little circles of 
semitransparent, thick glass, each about the 
size of a dollar, had been let into the iron-and- 
concrete pavement to help illuminate the cellar. 
He heard something striking at his feet, 
kneeled down and peered through one of the 
glasses. 

“Here he!” yelled Fish. “Here he! Hoppin* 
up and down like a frog in a bucket!” 

The firemen brought their picks and broke 
three of the little glass discs. But the iron-and- 
concrete base was built into the granolithic 
pavement and could not be budged. Through 
the holes they could see the little sharp-faced 
manager leaping up again and again in a sense¬ 
less endeavor to catch at the perforated paving. 
Once he caught in one of the holes and hung 
on by a finger for several minutes. And all 
the while he was screaming: “Save me! Save 
me!” 

“Run up the steps! Go through the cellar 
and up the steps!” they shouted at him. But 

23 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


the man continued to leap at the paving and 
scream. 

“He ain’t gwine do no runnin’,” said Fish. 
“Dat man crazy scared. ’Tain’t gwine be long 
’foh dat ’monia fin’ out whar he at, neither.” 

Seeing his boss down there leaping and 
screaming had a peculiar effect upon Fish. The 
boss is the uncrowned king among his colored 
help. In his mouth is truth; with one hand 
he dispenses justice, and with the other assist¬ 
ance for the ill or the injured. He solves every 
problem; he jokes with the meritorious and 
blasphemes the careless. He is the leader; in 
the old Afric tribe from which Fish drew his 
blood this man would be the chief. 

Before anybody fully realized what was go¬ 
ing on, before Fish realized it himself, he had 
wrapped a piece of sacking about his head and 
dashed down into the cellar. He knew his way 
without having to open his eyes, and he was 
guided by the boss’s screams. The ammonia 
permeated the sacking and stung his closed 
eyelids and his nose. The still air in his lungs 
seemed to expand till it would tear itself out 
through his chest. He could hear his heart 
beating in his ears. 

Where the boss was screaming, the ammonia 
must have been kept temporarily away by some 
24 




LAWYER LITTLE IN THE ROLE OF LION 


trick of the air's circulation. But Fish had 
noticed the boss's inflamed eyes and he did not 
dare remove the sacking and take another 
breath. It seemed physically impossible for 
him to restrain his chest muscles any longer, 
but, stumbling upon the boss, he slipped a wiry 
arm about him from behind. 

The trip back was a stumbling horror of 
clanking machinery, stinging fumes, and dizzi¬ 
ness for Fish, with his stifled breath like a wild 
beast in his breast. The boss sagged limply 
over his arm, and not till strong hands snatched 
his burden from him did he dare throw off his 
sacking and gulp a deep breath of the outside 
air. Packed about and submerged by the 
crowd, he stood dizzily on the pavement for 
several moments, supporting himself against 
the store window, while the last ambulance 
clanged away and the fire engines prepared to 
depart. Then to Fish's ears came a sinister and 
familiar voice. 

“Who was workin' on de in-jine wid dat 
white man?" inquired Lawyer Little of some 
one at his elbow. 

Fish slid down even further out of sight. 

“Ef dat white man die," went on the authori¬ 
tative voice of Lawyer Little, “dat nigger he 
gwine have a bad time. Yas, suh! You hear 

25 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


me talkin’? Police gwine want to know how 
dat axdent happen.” 

Fish did not wait till Lawyer should have 
ferreted out the culprit and have discovered 
him to be his rival. He would not wait until 
Lawyer should have him haled to court, and 
in that palace of mysterious injustice have 
arranged for his ten-year period of rock-break¬ 
ing on the James River. With as little osten¬ 
tation as might be, Fish worked his way along 
the side of the building till he was free of the 
crowd; slipped round the corner, and crossed 
the street to a lane, up which he struck at a 
dogtrot. 

“Don’t never erritate a lion,” thought Fish. 



CHAPTER III 
THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


T HE enterprising Virginian Dispatch had 
a special extra on the streets within 
the hour. In fact, had the new boss 
been able and so inclined, he might almost have 
beckoned from his ambulance and read the de¬ 
tails of his condition and the chances of his 
recovery before even reaching the hospital. 
Little boys with big voices streamed from the 
alleyway where the huge presses were rolling, 
and percolated like a plague of singing locusts 
to every quarter of the city. It was on Queen 
Street that a reed-legged infant, with freckles 
and molasses taffy inextricably commingled 
upon his countenance, obtained a penny from 
the itinerant Lawyer Little in exchange for a 
three-inch headline and four columns of fact 
and fancy. 

Resuming his seat in the decrepit, carpet- 
bottomed chair before the barber shop, Lawyer 
proceeded to read the news to his friend, Benny 
27 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


Hooton, the proprietor, who had never been 
blessed by a reading and writing education. 

“Fo’ de Lawd sake! Dis here paper say all 
dem men fatally affected’ by dat ’monia. De 
hospital doctor say de manager he ain’t gwine 
git well. It say fo’ niggers daid or dyin’.” 

“Who dey?” demanded Benny. 

“Willie Harpy, George Nichols, Harry 
Cooper, and—Lawd he’p me to git right!— 
Fish Kelly!” 

“Fish Kelly? I know dat man. Him a 
skinny black nigger.” 

But Mr. Hooton found himself addressing 
a disappearing audience. Lawyer Little, hav¬ 
ing wriggled hastily to his feet, had started in 
the general direction of the white folks’ section 
without even a word of explanation. He took 
the short cut, across Duke Street bridge, even 
though it brought him within hailing distance 
of the grocery of Mr. Hapgood—who had 
threatened to have him arrested for stealing an 
egg—and so great was his preoccupation that 
he passed, without noticing, two white gentle¬ 
men lawyers, whom ordinarily he would have 
favored with a deep and ingratiating bow. His 
bacon-colored face was glistening and his 
breath was short when he opened finally the 
door to Ella’s kitchen. 

28 



THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


“Sister Ella,” announced Lawyer Little, who 
now had assumed the offices of reverend, “Sis¬ 
ter Ella, Fs got bad news fo’ we-all.” 

“What's matter?” demanded Ella sharply, 
looking up from where, resembling a ton of 
coal, she had been sitting and supping some tea 
out of a saucer. 

“Sister Ella,” announced the Reverend Lit¬ 
tle, in a deep, sepulchral voice, “our brother 
Fish Kelly have been taken from us.” 

Ella stared at him, the whites of her eyes the 
only relieving spots in her general blackness. 

The Reverend Little entered the kitchen, 
seated himself upon the backless wooden chair, 
and donned his gold-rimmed spectacles as a 
ceremony fitting to the occasion. He then 
gravely read aloud the lurid account, even to 
the effect of ammonia upon the aquatic glands 
of the lungs—which the rewrite editor prob¬ 
ably had culled from a convenient encyclopedia. 

“Praise de Lawd!” cried Ella piously, when 
he had finished. “Praise de Lawd! Who ever 
heerd tell?” She sat there shaking her head. 

“Sister Ella,” went on the Reverend Little, 
“de Lawd have sent me to comfort you. He 
came to me in a vision, Sister Ella. Dere was 
a ladder of fire and gates ajar an' He come 
a-walkin’ down de streets of time. An' He 
29 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


says to me: ‘Go to Sister Ella an’ comfort her 
and take her unto wife.’ " 

“Praise de Lawd!” sang Sister Ella. She 
was evidently stunned by the news about Fish, 
and was on the verge of “getting religion/' 

“So," continued the reverend hastily, en¬ 
deavoring to intrude more mundane matters 
upon her frenzy, “we'll go round to Preacher 
Jackson's to-night an' he'll marry us." 

“Ef I gits married," chanted Sister Ella, ap¬ 
parently on the border line between heaven and 
earth, “ef I gits married, I gwine git married 
by de Reverind Winkles. I gwine git married 
up at de Mountain Park Cimetery." 

“We don't want git married at no cimetery," 
remonstrated the Reverend Little, displaying 
a strong distaste for the idea. 

“Ef I gits married," sang Ella, becoming 
more emphatic and less religious, “I gwine to 
git married up at de Mountain Park Cimetery 
by de Reverind William Winkles. Him was de 
reverind what was gwine marry me an' Fish 
if ever I made up my min'. Praise de Lawd!" 

“All right, Sister Ella; all right." The rev¬ 
erend put about and sailed with the favoring 
wind. “Jes' as you say, sister. I gwine come 
by for you to-night." 

Mr. Little was not insensible to the advan- 
30 




THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


tages in finance and comfort that would accrue 
to a husband of Sister Ella. But he was aware 
of the difficulty that even better men than him¬ 
self had experienced in endeavoring to per¬ 
suade her to enter into the joys of marriage. 
She viewed the bonds of matrimony with a 
coyness born of experience; besides, she was 
both fickle-minded and contrary. So it was 
with considerable uncertainty as to his recep¬ 
tion that he called for her that night. 

He was relieved to find her prepared and 
waiting, although she was garbed still in black 
and a thought of abstraction and of melancholy 
sat upon her brow. Her general effect of 
mourning, however, was relieved by a wide 
crimson belt of shiny patent leather and by a 
tall hat of the same striking color which seem¬ 
ingly maintained a precarious uprightness 
upon her fuzzy black hair by a marvelous effect 
of balance. Several rings, with stones of the 
color of rubies and emeralds, adorned the hand 
which held a green parasol with a white bone 
handle. She thrust out a generous foot in a 
run-down black shoe, as Lawyer entered, and 
regarded it mournfully. 

“I kain’t git on my good shoes,” she declared. 
“Dem corns is sump’n’ terrible.” 

3i 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Dat’s all right,” Lawyer cheered her. “We 
ain’t gwine have to walk.” 

By some legerdemain he had secured a small 
buckboard; and, drawn by an angular white 
horse, their way faintly lighted by beclouded 
stars, they proceeded toward the cemetery. 

“Here ’tis,” announced Ella, after they had 
driven for half an hour in silence. The iron 
gates were open between the brick gateposts, 
and before them a faintly discernible driveway 
wound off between ghostly tombstones and 
monuments into the darkness. 

“Whoa!” cried Lawyer. “What you mean? 
We got to drive th’ough dis cimetery?” 

“Dat’s de onliest way I knows of,” assented 
Ella gloomily. 

“Dis here look mo’ like a funeral dan a wed- 
din’ to me,” complained Lawyer. He peered 
ahead into the silent but populated darkness, 
and it seemed to him that some of the pale 
tombstones were moving. 

“What dat?” ejaculated Ella. 

“What what?” demanded Lawyer, jumping. 

“Thought I heerd sump’n’.” 

“I ain’t heerd nothin’,” replied Lawyer bit¬ 
terly. “I don’t see what you want holler so 
sudden for!” 


32 




THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


They sat there for a few moments, looking 
into the darkness. 

“Let’s go back an’ git married by Preacher 
Jackson.” 

“When I gits married,” replied Ella, “I’se 
gwine git married by Reverind Winkles. Him 
always marries me. An’ ef I don’t git married 
to-night,” she concluded, “I ain’t gwine git 
married ’tall.” 

“Git up!” cried Lawyer, whacking the old 
white horse. They passed through the gates 
and along the driveway that wound up the hill. 
On either side glimmered faintly discernible 
foot and headstones, punctuated now and then 
by a stark and specterlike monument that 
stretched out goblin arms. The crunching of 
the wheels reverberated uncannily in the dark, 
and the still, dewy air seemed to have clammy 
fingers. Lawyer moved closer to Ella and 
urged the old horse to speed. After several 
minutes of driving, they had reached and tra¬ 
versed the crest of the hill without coming in 
sight of human habitation. A cold wind crept 
along the roots of Lawyer’s hair as he was 
struck by a terrible thought. 

“Maybe we’s in de wrong cimetery!” he sug¬ 
gested, in a hoarse whisper. 

Ella sat in gloomy silence. The buckboard 
33 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


rolled along. Suddenly she emitted a shrill 
“Whoo-e-e-e!” 

“Fo* de love of Gawd!” cried the startled 
Lawyer. 

“I jes' callin',” retorted Ella. 

Sure enough, a turn in the road disclosed 
the lights of the parsonage and the spire of the 
little wooden church, only a few hundred feet 
away. 

The Reverend William Winkles came out to 
meet them with a lantern and assisted in carry¬ 
ing the three bottles of beer and the two long 
watermelons that Lawyer, as caterer for the 
wedding supper, had tucked away under the 
back seat. They filed into the little cottage 
and deposited their burdens on the dining-room 
table, while the Reverend Winkles, who was 
unfeignedly glad to see them, extinguished the 
lantern and procured them chairs. 

“Yas, suh\” he emphasized, rubbing his 
partly bald, white head with the palm of his 
hand. “I sho' am glad to see you folks! I been 
livin' in dis here place, off and on, for nigh on 
forty years, an' to-night's de fust time I ever 
been skeert.” 

“What you skeered of?” demanded Lawyer, 
with immediate interest. 

The shriveled old darky wagged his white 
34 



THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


head, took off and cleaned and tremulously re¬ 
placed his silver-rimmed spectacles. 

“I ain’t likin’ to talk ’bout sich things,” he 
replied. 

Lawyer looked about him uneasily. Though 
the evening was cool, beads of moisture stood 
out upon his plump face, and his skin was 
slightly paler than its usual bacon color. Only 
unfamiliarity with the locality and the thought 
of having to pass again through the cemetery 
kept him still a member of the party. 

“Did you know Fish daid?” inquired Ella. 

“What! What dat?” exclaimed the old man. 
“Fish daid? When he die?” 

“Dis mornin’. Got into some ’monia or 
sump’n’.” 

“Fo’ de La-a-awd sake!” He raised his dim 
eyes. “Lawd in heaben, dis sho’ am a sign 
from You!” 

“What kind of sign?” inquired Lawyer 
huskily. 

Reverend Winkles raised a horny finger. 
“Chillun,” he admonished, “listen to me while 
I tell you. I was a-settin’ here dis night 
a-studyin’ ’bout my sermon, jes’ ’fo’ you-all 
come. An’ seemed to me like sump’n’ a-snap- 
pin’, an’ I looks up an’ right th’ough dem 
shutters I seen two big white eyes a-blinkin’ at 
35 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


me like a sperrit. Seem to me like dey was 
Fish’s eyes. Den I heerd sumpV go ‘Woo-e-e V 
like a fiery soul.” 

“Praise de Lawd!” whispered Lawyer. He 
tried to speak louder, but couldn’t. 

Ella, a visitor at the parsonage all her life, 
had so far evinced no change in her phlegmatic 
attitude toward existence. But suddenly she 
turned her face to the door that, in the dark¬ 
ness of an alcove, led to the pantry and kitchen. 

“What dat?” she inquired sharply. 

After making his escape around the corner 
and up the lane, Fish had worked his way by 
devious and inconspicuous routes to the out¬ 
skirts of the city, and here, in the shelter of a 
copse of young magnolias, he reclined com¬ 
fortably with his head upon a bit of turf. It 
would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that 
he gave himself over to meditation. Nine 
o’clock in the morning had passed by the time 
he had arranged himself comfortably. At noon 
he moved his head a little so as to get his eyes 
out of the sun. About three o’clock he slipped 
off his right shoe, and about four his left. 
Probably about five o’clock, the scratching and 
rustling of a thrush in a near-by drift of leaves 
and the chattering of a red squirrel overhead 
3d 



THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


made him think of “hopping a freight” and 
going down to see his folks at Newbern. While 
he was considering this, he fell off to sleep 
again. 

The coolness of evening finally awakened 
him. He rose and stretched and rubbed his 
knees and put on his flapping felt hat and 
drifted toward the city. Turning at length into 
Queen Street, before Hammer John’s saloon, 
he ran suddenly into big Ted Harpy, who drove 
the delivery wagon for Mr. Greenberg. Ted 
was a popular young man, equally adept with 
dice, razor or fists. From a small waist his 
powerful shoulders swelled out gracefully be¬ 
neath a mustard-colored suit and his feet were 
encased in pointed yellow oxfords. 

“Hi, Ted!” 

Ted looked up. A startled expression spread 
over his brown, circular, good-natured face. 
He took a step backward. 

“What’s matter wid you?” demanded Fish. 
“I ain’t no bear to be ’fraid of.” 

“Paper say you was daid,” explained Ted, 
stepping still further away. 

“If I ain’t never no mo’ daid dan dis,” 
chuckled Fish, “den I reckon I’ll be alive from 
now on.” 

Ted Harpy accepted his return to life, and 
37 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


showed a shining gold tooth in a grin. They 
stood on the corner and watched the crippled 
colored man in the soap box, drawn by the 
white goat, drive home after his day of selling 
papers. 

“I been down the hospital see my cousin 
Willie/’ announced Ted presently. “Got sick 
wid some ’monia dis mornin’.” 

“How he?” inquired Fish at once. 

“He all right. All dem fellows all right.” 

“How de white-man boss?” 

“He gwine be all right. Dey lookin’ fo’ de 
colored gemman what was workin’ wid dat 
white man when de thing busted.” 

“How you know?” 

“Willie say so. White man tole him.” 

Fish glanced quickly over his shoulder—and 
who should he see approaching leisurely, 
swinging a stick but Police Officer Johnson. 

“Got to see a man,” he explained to Ted, and, 
losing no time, he proceeded down Queen 
Street and darted up the first lane on a run. 

After Fish had put danger behind him and 
dusk had begun to gather, he became painfully 
conscious of the fact that he had not eaten 
since morning. Examining his pockets, he 
found a tan shoe string, a razor, three pawn 
tickets, a clasp knife with one half of one blade, 
38 



THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


a pair of red celluloid dice, and a wooden collar 
button. The dice might be good for a bite 
somewhere, but he did not like the idea of 
returning to the lighted shops. He bethought 
him, therefore, of a place where he had often 
before found sanctuary, and struck out for the 
parsonage of the Reverend William Winkles, 
who had married Fish's oldest sister, now 
deceased. 

The night was overcast. Fish circled the 
cemetery, and darkness had gathered thickly 
on the fields before he neared the little church. 
He knew his way, however, and followed the 
footpath that led along the side of the church 
to the parsonage. The parsonage windows 
were illuminated; there was silence within and 
without, except for the shrillness of crickets 
and the flutter of a dipping bat. It occurred 
to Fish that it was well inside the realm of 
Lawyer Little’s cunning to be awaiting him 
there with minions of the law. Therefore, step¬ 
ping noiselessly, he approached the house and, 
choosing a shuttered window, peered through. 

The Reverend Winkles, a large Bible across 
his skinny knees, was reading by the light of 
an oil lamp, occasionally pausing to pass his 
hand over his partly bald head as if in medita¬ 
tion. The old man’s eyes came up and seemed 
39 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


to meet Fish’s; and at the same time a shrill 
“Whoo-e-e!” echoed from the cemetery gate. 

Without pausing to think, Fish fled precipi¬ 
tately in the direction from which he had come. 
At a safe distance, however, he stopped and 
began to consider. It came in upon him that 
the voice was Ella’s. It was unlikely that she 
was accompanied by Lawyer Little. She might 
even have come with some ham or chicken for 
the parson. She often carried such things 
home from where she worked. Fish’s mouth 
began to water. The black magic of Ella’s 
nearness worked upon him, and he found him¬ 
self creeping again in the direction of the 
house. He removed his shoes and entered 
the kitchen, then the pantry, where the odor 
of food made him ravenous. 

The first lift of his elbow, however, had 
calamitous consequences. A disturbed bag of 
meal lurched downward and leaned its open 
mouth against his ear. Fish turned and em¬ 
braced it before it fell, and restored it to the 
shelf. But the Fates were at work. The voice 
of Ella demanded: “What dat?” In a trice 
the door was whipped open by the Reverend 
Winkles; and there, awaiting Fish, as by a pre¬ 
arranged stratagem, sat the suave and sinister 
Lawyer Little. 


40 




THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


In the whitewashed wall, halfway between 
himself and Lawyer, was an open window. It 
was for this that Fish, after a moment of 
petrifaction, made three wild leaps. 

But again Lawyer Little intervened between 
him and liberty. Lawyer’s teeth had been 
chattering audibly as he listened to the Rever¬ 
end Winkles’ story of the sperrit’s white eye¬ 
balls looking through the blinds. It had 
occurred to him that he and Fish, after alb 
were old compatriots, and that he had doubt¬ 
less been a bit hasty in taking advantage of 
his comrade’s decease. If the dead Fish Kelly 
should feel the same way about it—if he should 
decide to return and haunt his over-zealous 
rival—what better time, or place, than the 
pitch darkness of the surrounding cemetery! 
Lawyer felt that those sperrit’s eyes at that 
moment were peering down the back of his 
neck. And then, when the door whipped open. 
Lawyer had seen a grisly phantom in the deep 
gloom of the pantry. It was nothing less than 
a disjointed embodiment of the dead Fish 
Kelly—the features his, yet veiled by a ghostly 
film; the skeleton narrow and gangling like 
his, but now a grisly white. 

So at the window Lawyer and Fish Kelly 
met. 


4i 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


There was a brief but interesting struggle. 
Lawyer, astride the window sill, his face a 
mottled gray, his eyes distended, kicked and 
struck, his paralyzed vocal organs trying to 
scream, “Go 'way!” but emitting only weak 
and wordless cries. By some miracle the 
stained opera hat remained upon his head, 
the only reminder of past dignity. Fish, with 
one foot out of the window, but further egress 
blocked by Lawyer’s rotundity, had lowered 
his head for protection from Lawyer’s blows, 
and was struggling feverishly to get at some¬ 
thing in his right hip pocket. 

Before vision might fully have taken in the 
scene, there came a superhuman effort on the 
part of Lawyer Little; the next second the win¬ 
dow held only Fish. There sounded a crash 
of breaking glass as Lawyer landed in a lettuce 
bed, and a moment later his rotund form could 
faintly be seen against the horizon as he de¬ 
scended the crest of the hill, clearing grave and 
tombstone and mausoleum with equal facility, 
his progress punctuated by flashes from his 
revolver, fired with entire abandon as to direc¬ 
tion. 

After Lawyer had disappeared into the night 
and the last far echoes of his retreat had 
melted into silence, Fish drew his leg inside 
the room and slowly folded his razor. 

42 




THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


“What’s matter wid ’at nigger?” he de¬ 
manded. 

He found a strange audience. 

“Go 9 way from here!” Ella screamed. She 
had lifted her skirts and mounted upon a chair. 

Back in the opposite corner, watermelon 
knife in hand, the Reverend Winkles stood pre¬ 
pared to sell his life dearly. 

“You-all crazy?” asked Fish. 

“Is you daid, or is you ain’t?” Ella wanted 
to know. 

“What I doin’ daid? Who been tellin’ you 
I daid?” 

“Lawyer Little say you daid wid ’monia?” 

Fish snorted: “Dat nigger he say any¬ 
thing.” 

Ella, always the least temperamental of the 
party, climbed down from her chair. She stood 
for a moment regarding Fish; and then, all 
the clouds having blown away, her ebon face 
broke into the sunshine of white teeth and 
laughing eyes. She cackled loudly. 

“Dat Mr. Little, he sho’ was runnin’!” 

“He runnin’,” Fish chuckled, “he runnin’ 
like he been erritatin’ a lion!” 

The laughter at this sally died down, and 
Fish cleared his throat. 

“What you-all gwine do wid dat watermil- 
lion?” he inquired. 


43 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Us gwine eat it,” said Ella, taking the knife 
from the Reverend Winkles. “Set yo’se’f up 
a cheer.” 

For perhaps twenty minutes there was 
silence in the room, except for the succulent 
gushing of teeth through melon, the burbling 
of beer from the bottle, and the occasional 
dropping of a watermelon seed to the white 
oilcloth of the table. At length, however, Fish 
sighed, wiped his thin black face on his sleeve, 
and leaned back in his chair. 

“Miss Ella,” he ventured, “ ’Pears like to me 
dis here is a fine time fo’ we-all to git married.” 

Ella’s expression of cheerful relish darkened 
at once into a pout. She looked at her suitor 
out of the corner of her eyes. 

“Nigger,” she said with finality, “you an’ 
Lawyer Little done cured me. Dat’s what I 
mean. Ef I has all de trouble, of a-shootin’ 
an’ a-runnin’, an’ folks dyin’ an’ den cornin’ 
back, widout bein’ married, what you think 
gwine happen ef I is? Naw, suh. You’ an’ dat 
fat nigger done cured me, sho’.” 

“Fish,” suggested the Reverend Winkles, 
seeing a long-desired opportunity, “why don’t 
you stay clear of dat Lawyer Little? You 
know he ain’t never done nothin’ but git you 
in trouble.” 


44 




THE LION CHANGES PLACES 


“I knows why he don’t,” Ella interjected. 
“He scared of dat man. Dat why he don’t.” 

Fish pouted his long lips and slowly covered 
and uncovered the whites of his prominent 
eyes. He went to the door and looked out, but 
there was no sign of Lawyer. 

“I ain’t skeered of Lawyer Little,” he an¬ 
nounced. It was bad enough to be dominated 
by Lawyer, without having everybody know 
it. He stood in a listening attitude, as if ex¬ 
pecting the echo of his bold words to come 
back into the room and strike him. But noth¬ 
ing happened. “I ain’t skeered of Lawyer 
Little,” he repeated. 

How grand it would be if they should be¬ 
lieve him! Gentle and retiring, he always 
craved to appear before admiring eyes in a 
heroic attitude. But he sensed that his decla¬ 
rations had been received with reserve. A wild 
resolve, a daydream, floated before him—that 
the world should see that he was his own mas¬ 
ter, and not Lawyer Little’s slave. 

First peering outside to be sure that Lawyer 
had not returned, Fish mumbled a farewell and 
stole forth into the darkness. 

“I’se gwine git ’mancipated!” he told him 
self as he followed the path to the road. 




CHAPTER IV 

A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


E next day Fish was afraid to go back 



to the Sanitary Grocery, lest he should 


be haled to court and charged with 
causing the refrigerating machine catastrophe. 
He also did not care to meet Lawyer Little. So 
he spent most of his time under a trestle that 
crossed the sluggish salt-water inlet. He had 
found a nugget of meat and a piece of string, 
and he gave himself over to the occupation of 
crabbing. But as his only net was his flapping 
black hat, and as the crabs seemed unusually 
alert and active, he did not find this a profit¬ 
able way of passing his time. So that after¬ 
noon he drifted homeward and managed, by 
tactful inquiry of mutual friends, to learn that 
Mr. Little harbored no thoughts of mayhem 
against him. 

The next morning Fish borrowed a crab net 
from Benny Hooton, the barber-shop pro¬ 
prietor, and set off more hopefully for the 
river. But, in the middle of the forenoon, 


A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


having happened upon a matter of pressing 
moment, he returned to Queen Street in search 
of his portly associate. 

He found Lawyer in a state of profound 
lassitude, on a chair before Benny Hooton’s 
barber shop. His greasy opera hat was rest¬ 
ing bottom up on the pavement at his side, his 
knees were parted to commode the undulations 
of his figure, his gold-rimmed spectacles had 
slipped toward the end of his broad, shiny nose, 
which in turn was almost resting upon his 
bosom, and a sibilant sound, which resembled 
the call of a locust to its mate, rose and fell 
upon the sunny, caressing air of early summer. 
Most of the dwellers in this section of the city 
were at work, and the dilapidated, unpainted, 
wooden houses on either side of the cobbled 
street looked down upon deserted red brick 
sidewalks. 

Fish, first with the back of his hand mop¬ 
ping his tar-colored, almost indiscernible brow 
—for he had come in haste—seized a use- 
polished wooden chair, and drew it nearer 
Lawyer, with an intentional rattling and 
scraping. 

Lawyer raised both eyebrows, then drew 
himself to a more erect posture, and with some 
effort opened his eyes. 

47 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Yassuh," he murmured, as if continuing a 
conversation, “fine weather. Fine weather/' 

“Takin' a liT nap?" inquired Mr. Kelly in¬ 
gratiatingly, showing a row of white teeth. 

“Naw!” denied Lawyer indignantly, “I 
heered every word you say." 

Mr. Kelly sat nervously on the edge of 
his chair, and revolved his black felt hat in his 
blacker hands. 

“Mister Little," he began, “I got some busi¬ 
ness to 'scuss wid you." 

Lawyer, whose means of livelihood rose 
entirely from just such chance matters of 
business, became immediately alert. He picked 
up his opera hat, and wiped it with the green- 
black sleeve of his frock coat, put it on his 
head, and adjusted his spectacles. 

“You know," went on Mr. Kelly, rolling his 
prominent eyes to see that he was not over¬ 
heard, “I'se sekertary for de African Living an' 
Dead Society." 

Lawyer nodded, his dignity and reserve in¬ 
creasing with Fish Kelly's nervousness. 

“All I'se askin' of you," Fish blurted sud¬ 
denly, “is dat you do me right! Is it half-an'- 
half?" Half-and-half would mean financial 
independence, to which spiritual freedom is so 
closely allied. 


48 




A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


"A friend of mine/’ replied Lawyer preg¬ 
nantly, "is a friend of mine.” 

Fish, his forehead wrinkled into a knot of 
black skin, drew his chair closer. 

"Dey’s a nigger washed up outen de river 
jes’ now,” he half whispered. “I know who 
dat nigger is, an' I kin prove it.” 

"Who he?” 

"He married Anna White.” 

"You mean John Henry?” 

"Y-a-as, Lawd!” cried Fish Kelly, and he 
slapped his skinny knee. 

Silence fell upon them. 

"How much he got cornin’ to ’im?” inquired 
Lawyer after a moment. 

"Dat nigger was a saver” declared Fish 
admiringly. "He got a death insurance of six 
hundred dollars.” 

"Um!” grunted Lawyer. 

"An’ dat ain’t all,” gloated Fish. "De policy 
say dat for a permanent disability he git three 
hundred dollars, an’ if—” 

Lawyer held up a protesting hand. 

"He daid, ain’t he?” 

"Sho’, he daid!” returned Fish belligerently. 
"Ain’t I seen him? I was ’bout to tetch him, 
when a p’liceman—” 

"Well,” interrupted Lawyer, "if he daid, he 
49 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


daid. Ain’t no use talkin’ ’bout no permanent 
disability. Six hundred dollars he got cornin’. 
’At’s all.” 

“Ain’t I seen him like he is?” demanded Fish, 
puffing out his lips, and snapping his promi¬ 
nent eyes. “Ain’t I seen de policy, too?” 

“Did you come here jes’ to be a-argufying 
wid me?” returned Lawyer. “’Cause if you 
did, you kin go back whar you come from.” 

Fish, his lips still pouted, remained silent, 
but plotted rebellion. 

“What make you think it’s John Henry?” 
asked Lawyer, after a pause. 

“ ’Member ’at bad nigger, named Willie, 
what come th’u’ here las’ week?” 

Lawyer nodded. 

“Well, him got projeckin’ roun’ John 
Henry’s wife, Anna. De night John Henry 
got married, it was. ’At bad nigger Willie he 
kotched her round de neck an’ kissed her, no 
more’n she’d jes’ got married. John Henry 
speaks up, and dis bad nigger pulls a gun, an’ 
chases him from hell on through.” 

“An’ den what?” 

“Ain’t neither nigger been seen since. But 
I know what happen. ’At bad nigger Willie 
he kotch John Henry down in de freight yards 
5 ° 



A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


somewhar, an’ cut his heart out, an’ flung him 
in de river.” 

“How you know John Henry ain’t done no 
cuttin’?” 

" ’At’s John Henry what washed up,” re¬ 
turned Fish Kelly firmly. 

"I’se gwine down an’ look at dat nigger my 
own self,” announced Lawyer, laboring to his 
feet. 

''Better not tech him,” warned Fish. ''Bet¬ 
ter leave him lay where Jesus flung him!” 

Lawyer grunted. 

''Wait a minute,” added Fish, speaking 
slowly, as he evolved the idea. ''If can’t no¬ 
body tell he is John Henry, den can’t nobody 
say he ain’t John Henry, can dey?” 

Lawyer looked at Fish, a grin spreading 
over his countenance. Then both of them 
broke into peals of laughter. 

"You’se a smart nigger!” choked Lawyer. 

"Yas, suh !” agreed Fish, slapping his skinny 
knee. 

''You got me laughin’ now,” said Lawyer, 
after they had quieted down, "so I can’t do no 
more thinkin’ till I git sump’n’ to eat. You 
got any change?” 

"Sho, I got money,” replied Fish, still 
chuckling. 


5i 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


They drifted across the street to where a 
thin cloud of grease smoke, and a delectable 
aroma of frying fat, floated through the rusted 
screen door of the Liberty Lunch Room. 

After a period devoted to the wordless 
manipulation of two flexible steel knives with 
yellow bone handles, the gentleman adven¬ 
turers leaned back in their chairs, and Lawyer 
picked at a white tooth with a splinter from 
the pine-board table. 

“Who dis policy money gwine be paid to?” 
he inquired. 

“To Mrs. John Henry.” 

“Dat's what I thought. Ain't but one way 
to git dis money. You got to marry dis 
'ooman.” 

Fish's prominent eyes seemed nearly to drop 
out in surprise. 

‘<Who,” he exclaimed, “me?” 

“You don't see nobody else roun' here gwine 
marry her, does you?” inquired Lawyer. 

“ 'At 'ooman, she too big an' strong for me.” 

“You ain't got to live wid her if you don't 
want to.” 

Lawyer's logic was always too much for 
Fish, but this is not saying that he was per- 
52 




A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


suaded. He scratched the sparse black wool 
of his hilly cranium. 

“S’pose John Henry was to come back? 
He’s a bad nigger. He’s almos’ bad as ’at 
nigger Willie.” 

“Ain’t you done seen him washed up?” 

But the idea of John Henry’s return had 
settled Fish. 

“I don’t want no money,” he answered. “I 
got some money. Don’t need no money in 
summertime, nohow.” 

“Come on out of here,” continued Lawyer, 
rising in anger and disgust. “You an’ me is 
gwine up street on some business.” 

And up the sun-dappled street, toward the 
white-folks’ house where Anna Henry, nee 
Anna White, was cook, the two proceeded, 
passing Hammer John’s saloon without even 
looking in, and, later, greeting the crippled 
colored man in the soap box, opposite the 
white-folks’ Methodist church. 

Arriving in sight of their destination, Law¬ 
yer, whose domination over the gangling Fish 
was that of a father over a son, turned upon 
him. 

“Go on over dar an’ ax dat ’ooman to marry 
you.” 

Fish swallowed his Adam’s apple. 

53 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Mister Little,” he began, weakly. 

“Don’t gimme no back talk!” interrupted 
Lawyer. “You done heerd what I said, ain’t 
you?” 

Giving Lawyer a reproachful glance, Fish 
drifted across the street. With feet dragging, 
his head with the black hat sunken forward, 
shoulders drooping, and the wind flapping his 
baggy black suit upon his ebon frame, Fish, 
as he disappeared into the lane leading to 
Anna’s kitchen, looked as though he might 
be a mortal embodiment of Milton’s “Melan¬ 
choly.” 

“Evenin’, Miss Anna.” 

Anna, a tall, rawboned, bacon-colored 
woman, turned from the ironing board with 
something of a start, not failing to retain a 
grip upon the iron. She was still suffering 
from the shock of a recent occasion when, 
almost upon the instant of having been joined 
to her in the holy bonds of matrimony, her 
husband had dashed violently from the scene, 
followed closely by a bad nigger shooting a 
.45-caliber gun. 

“Evenin’,” she replied without cordiality, 
turning her back upon Fish, and resuming her 
attacks upon the frills of a white shirtwaist. 

A word of greeting from her fellow man 
54 



A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


awakened only the unhappiest of stirrings in 
Anna’s bosom; all of the week past she had 
been drawing in upon herself in the mortifica¬ 
tion of being a husbandless bride. Coming, as 
it had, upon the heights of her not too tact¬ 
fully concealed triumph in being the selected 
of big John Henry, it brought too shining a 
mark against which previously despised rivals 
might drive their shafts of ridicule, and the 
situation was becoming intolerable. Already, 
she carried an artfully sharpened peeling knife 
within easy reach inside her shirtwaist. She 
expected eventualities from her temperament. 

Fish Kelly, from his seat on the backless 
chair, regarded the movements of her power¬ 
ful shoulders with grim forebodings. In fact, 
so grim became his forebodings that he rose 
and noiselessly slipped out of the door. 

Anna turned an instant later and, seeing 
only a vacant chair where Fish should have 
been, dropped her iron. 

“Jesus he’p me to git right!” she exclaimed. 

She hurried over to the door, and was 
relieved to see Fish’s tangible earthly form 
moving toward the street. But no sooner had 
he emerged from the lane than, as though en¬ 
countering some spiritual impact, he stopped 
55 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


short, hesitated, then reversed and mournfully 
returned. 

“What's matter you?" she demanded 
sharply, as he arrived. 

“Ain't nothing matter wid me," he re¬ 
sponded sullenly, resuming his seat and 
revolving his black felt hat in his hands. 

“Well, you ain’t acking like it." 

Fish swallowed desperately, and tried to 
keep his eyes off her powerful arms. 

“Miss Anna." 

“What you want?" 

“I done come—I done walk all way round 
here from Queen Street to ax you sump’n'." 

“What 'tis?" 

Fish rose and got nearer the door. 

“I want ax you—ax you if you’ll marry me." 

Anna stood transfixed, her mouth and eyes 
open. 

“How come you want marry me?" 

Fish made imaginary crosses on the floor 
with the toe of his shoe. 

“I jes’ thought I would." 

Anna pursed her lips and looked askance, 
and it must be recorded that her thoughts were 
not much of Fish. They were of two light- 
complexioned ladies for whom she had sharp¬ 
ened the peeling knife. Of a sudden she saw 
56 




A SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM 


herself socially reconstituted before their 
angry and disappointed eyes. The idea grew 
and smiled at her. 

“How long ’fo’ you ready git married ?” she 
asked. Those yaller girls should see that 
she was not one to remain neglected long. 

“To-night.” 

“All right,” Anna decided, “set down here 
an’ I’ll give you some victuals.” 

“Nemmind,” responded Fish, wiping his 
brow, “I’se gwine see if I cain’t fin’ de Rever- 
ind Little.” 




CHAPTER V 

A NECK GROWS UP AND HAIRS OUT 


HE parlor of Anna’s boarding house 



had been swiftly cleared and gar- 


JL nished, her earlier ceremony happily 
providing the paper lilies that still depended 
from the curtain strings and the sputtering 
gas jets. Reverend Little, fresh from Hammer 
John’s saloon, stood large and jovial on the 
square of canvas by the windows, and lifted 
up his voice in time with the metallic and un¬ 
certain wedding march quavering in from the 
little phonograph in the hall. As many of 
the neighbors as the room would accommodate 
formed an unbroken wainscoting, alive with 
flashing teeth and eyes, undulant with nudg¬ 
ing elbows and convulsive giggles. 

Silence descended, except upon the reverend 
and the phonograph, as the dining-room doors 
fell open and the bride and groom came 
through. On Anna’s face was an expression 
of resurrection, glorified by a crimson evening 
dress which revealed the massive sinews of 


A NECK GROWS UP AND HAIRS OUT 


her bacon-colored arms. At her side was 
Fish. The trousers of his black suit showed 
creases of a razor sharpness, and his entire 
aspect, from crown to toe, radiated a high 
polish. A kitchen stove, fresh from the hand 
of the cleaner, affords a parallel. And, be it 
said to his credit, he was stepping high. Let 
the morrow hold what it might, for the mo¬ 
ment he was the cynosure of eyes; a wide grin 
disclosed his dazzling teeth, his arms and 
shoulders and legs functioned in that happy 
conjunction which one associates with the 
drum major. 

Arrived before the improvised altar, the 
couple waited till the reverend and the phono¬ 
graph ran down. They then stood hand in 
hand while the reverend, in high good humor, 
said over them a very free version of the mar¬ 
riage ceremony. 

“ 'At's right,” he cried to Anna, “don't say 
‘High hill/ say T will'!” 

“Speak out,” this to Fish, “make folks see 
you'se glad you'se lucky. Dis ain't no 
funeral.” 

Anna answered loud, well pleased, and 
looked about to see if any contemptuous light- 
complexioned ladies had come to furnish occu¬ 
pation for the still handy peeling knife. Fish 
59 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


grinned and shuffled. And the reverend, in 
addition to concluding the ceremony with a 
flourish, furnished the invention and initiative 
needed for the remainder of the program. 

“All over/’ he shouted, waving his arms. 
“Hit’s all over. An’ I got some business to 
’scuss wid dese here two married folks.” 

He pushed Fish and Anna before him into 
the privacy of the dining room, and closed the 
doors. “Miss Anna,” he announced, “when I 
was a-coming ’long to-night, boun’ for dis here 
weddin’, Mister Harry Waller done tole me 
dat ’ere’s a sight o’ money cornin’ to you from 
de African Livin’ an’ Dead Society.” 

“How come?” 

“From ’at husband of yourn, John Henry. 
He done been washed up by de river, an’ you 
got six hundred dollars a-comin’ to you.” 

Anna sat down suddenly in the nearest chair. 

“Who say my John Henry daid?” 

“ ’Tain’t no use argufyin’ ’bout it,” put in 
the reverend, hurriedly trying to forestall the 
visibly pending emotional outburst. “Come 
on quick an’ git dat money. Six hundred 
dollars am a powerful lot.” 

He almost lifted her from the chair, and 
in a dazed fashion she let him lead her out 
through the back way, and along an incon- 
60 




A NECK GROWS UP AND HAIRS OUT 


spicuous lane, to the one-storied corner build¬ 
ing which housed the African Living and 
Dead Society. 

Fish Kelly kept what might be called a safe 
distance behind, experiencing a sinking feeling 
as the matter took on anew its explosive as¬ 
pect; but he closed up as the three of them 
entered the rather dim room, on the opposite 
side of which, behind a red desk, Mr. -Waller 
sat and ostensibly read a large book by the 
light of an oil lamp. 

"Brother Waller,” announced the Reverend 
Little, "like I done tole you, dis lady done come 
to git ’at six hundred dollars what’s cornin’ to 
her.” 

Brother Waller closed the big book with a 
bang and took off his spectacles with a move¬ 
ment that suggested he might be preparing for 
a fracas. 

"Can’t ’at lady talk?” he demanded. "How 
come you got to do all de talkin’?” 

"I’se dis lady’s reppersentative,” retorted 
Lawyer with dignity. 

"Dis here Livin’ an’ Dead Society, it’s got 
up for to take care of its members, livin’ or 
daid. Yessuh! It ain’t got up to be makin’ a 
livin’ for every fat nigger what’s got a silk 
hat.” 

61 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“I ain’t de only fat nigger round here,” 
countered Lawyer, belligerently. “I reckon 
dis lady got a right to a reppersentative if she 
want to.” 

But Mr. Waller had turned his profile to the 
gathering, and was registering what may be 
called a nervous indifference. 

“ ’Tain’t no use talkin’ to me,” he insisted. 
“I don’t talk to nobody but members. I’se 
paid to talk to members and I talks to mem¬ 
bers. I don’t talk to nobody else.” 

“All right,” agreed the wily Lawyer, “all 
right! Miss Anna, step right up here an’ git 
you’ six hundred dollars.” 

Anna shuffled through the railing gate. 
Fish followed, but moved round behind 
Lawyer. 

Confronted by Anna’s angular frame, Mr. 
Waller, though still aggrieved, became more 
respectful. 

“What you want, lady?” he asked. 

“Dis gemman say I got some money.” 

“I don’t know nothing ’bout dis gemman,” 
interrupted Mr. Waller. “I want to know 
what you want.” 

“She want her money, dat what she want,” 
interposed Lawyer, with some feeling. 

“How come you got some money here?” 

62 



A NECK GROWS UP AND HAIRS OUT 


continued Mr. Waller, not noticing the repre¬ 
sentative. 

“Dis gemman say my man John Henry 
daid.” 

“Dis gemman! Dis gemman! Don’t you 
know ef he daid or no?” 

“How I gwine know ef he daid?” 

“What yo’ husband’s name?” demanded the 
treasurer. 

“Big John Henry.” 

Mr. Waller reopened the cumbrous book. 

“Here ’tis,” he said after a moment of 
searching. “De records say if Big John Henry 
die, pay six hundred dollars to Miss Big John 
Henry. Is dat you?” 

“Sho’ dat’s me.” 

“How you know John Henry daid?” 

“I seen him daid,” put in Fish. 

“When dat?” 

“I seen him daid dis mornin’. Got washed 
up outen de river.” 

“Wot you got do wid dis here case?” de¬ 
manded the guardian of the treasury, growing 
immediately angry. 

“Reckon dis lady’s my wife, ain’t she?” 
answered Fish, pouting his black mouth and 
.snapping his eyes. 

“Yo’ wife! How long she been yo’ wife?” 
63 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“We done jes’ been married.” 

“What kind o’ goin’s on is all dis?” cried the 
treasurer. “You find dis lady’s husband daid 
dis mornin’, an’ marries her to-night! You 
ain’t after her money, is you?” 

“Naw, suh! Naw, suh!” exclaimed Fish, 
keeping Lawyer between himself and Anna. 

“You ain’t got nothin’ to do wid dat,” put 
in the lady’s representative. “All you got to 
do is pay dat money to Miss Big John Henry, 
like de book say.” 

“An’ dat money for de permanent dis¬ 
ability,” added Fish. 

“I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no Miss Big 
John Henry,” returned Mr. Waller, who was 
not inexperienced in the profitable manage¬ 
ment of financial affairs. “Dis lady, she Miss 
Fish Kelly. Look like to me day ain’t no 
Miss John Llenry.” 

“A—a—a—yee—oo!” screamed the bride, 
emitting a sound reminiscent of the cannibal¬ 
istic depths of an African forest, a sound that 
struck a chill of horror into the marrow of her 
hearers. 

“A—a—a—yee—oo!” She was having dif¬ 
ficulties with the bosom of the unaccustomed 
red dress, but finally got the shining peeling 
64 




A NECK GROWS UP AND HAIRS OUT 


knife free. "You done cheated me outa my 
money. A—a—a—yee—oo!” 

"Leggo me, nigger! Leggo me !” yelled 
Lawyer Little. Fish Kelly, from behind, had 
seized him by both arms, and was using him 
as a shield in the manner originated by Cap¬ 
tain John Smith. 

"Leggo me!” yelled Lawyer, struggling des¬ 
perately to be free, as the huge Anna advanced 
with the manner of one who has come into her 
own, and the unit made by Fish and himself 
as rapidly retreated. "Quit your holding me, 
nigger!” 

But Fish held him with a grip born of the 
law of self-preservation. Anna made a sud¬ 
den sweep, and only by leaping backward upon 
Fish did Lawyer save himself from being 
decapitated. 

"Whar my six hundred dollars ?” cried 
Anna. “Whar my John Henry? Lemme git 
at dat little black nigger.” 

Two casualties would without doubt have 
occurred immediately had not at this juncture 
the front door crashed open and the voice of 
Big John Henry filled the room with thunder. 

"Show me dem niggers been projeckin’ wid 
my woman!” cried John Henry, advancing like 
a Goliath from the doorway. 

65 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Fish released Lawyer. All four of the actors 
stared at John Henry in the paralysis of aston¬ 
ishment. 

He was dusty up to the knees of his green 
wedding suit, and burs and shreds of dead 
leaves clung to him as if he had been sleeping 
in the fields. A partly healed cut ran across 
his left temple. His left arm was stiff at his 
side—but only for a moment. For, seeing Fish 
and Lawyer in the corner by the window, he 
reached inside his coat and drew from his left 
sleeve a gun that to Fish and Lawyer looked 
as big as a cannon. 

“Show me dem niggers,” he repeated, “I 
done jes’ started on my killin’.” 

“Mr. Waller suddenly disappeared beneath 
the red desk. Anna abruptly yielded the field 
and dived in after him. But neither of them 
was as quick as Lawyer Little. He developed 
that amazing grace and swiftness that we 
sometimes find in large animals. Without any 
preparatory motions he leaped clean over Fish 
and through the window, carrying the sash 
with him. He hit the ground running. A 
shot, two shots, rang out. A four-foot hedge 
appeared before Lawyer. He cleared it like a 
gazelle. 

He was prepared to clear anything else that 
66 



A NECK GROWS UP AND HAIRS OUT 


might appear before him, because behind him 
came the sound of pursuing footsteps. Lawyer 
increased his speed. He had the uninterrupted 
use of a good dirt road, but it availed him 
nothing. The faster he ran the faster the 
footsteps followed. 

Nature can stand but so much. Our hidden 
wellsprings of energy are only so deep. Law¬ 
yer slowed, staggered, threw himself down by 
the roadside. 

''Don’t kill me!” he gasped. "Don’t kill 
me!” 

Fish Kelly, of the pursuing footsteps, also 
came to a stand. He sank down on a boulder 
beside Lawyer, wiped his dripping forehead, 
and panted deeply. Only after a few moments 
was he able to voice the dissatisfaction within 
his bosom. 

"I knowed I didn’t have no business marryin’ 
’at woman,” he said. "Wouldn’t no such idea 
ever came into my haid.” 

But Lawyer also was bitter. Who had been 
the one to see John Henry dead on the river 
bank? 

"Haid!” snarled Lawyer. "You ain’t got 
no haid! Yo’ neck jes’ growed up an’ haired 
out.” 

While the moon rose slowly over the quiet 
67 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


roadside, Fish sat and gloomily wondered 
whether Lawyer’s accusation could, by any 
mischance, be true. 

He pondered the question further that night 
on his cot in his Queen Street room, and came 
to the conclusion that the insult was un¬ 
deserved. 

“My haid jes’ as much a haid as anybody’s!” 
he muttered, as he fell asleep. 




CHAPTER VI 
THE HYPNOTIZER 


HOUGHTLESS cruelties in govern¬ 



ment ferment in the breasts of peoples 


and result in revolt and the overthrow 
of kings. This unkind remark of Lawyer’s 
fermented in the skull pan of Mr. Kelly and 
caused the rise of further thoughts. Again he 
asked himself—Why should he stand for being 
eternally maltreated by this brutal tyrant, who 
rewarded him only with blows? And he began 
wondering in what manner he could establish 
his moral freedom. 

It was by chance that the very next day he 
met what seemed the answer. 

Fish had been standing on the corner of 
Queen and Charlotte streets in an after-lunch 
coma of digestion, when he was accosted by a 
distinguished-looking colored man who had 
just arrived in town—so he said—accompanied 
by his “assistant,” and had a plan out of which, 
with local cooperation, could be made a for¬ 
tune. Fish grasped at the idea. Financial 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


independence once assured, spiritual freedom 
would follow. But over the roseate glow of 
his thought fell the dark realization that Law¬ 
yer’s wit was needed to make these dreams 
come true. 

After a few moments of indecision, Fish, his 
gangling frame clothed in black but a shade 
darker than himself, drifted mournfully along 
Queen Street, followed closely by the pro¬ 
fessor and his yellow assistant. 

Lawyer Little, chin on chest, his balloon¬ 
like figure relaxed, his greasy opera hat rest¬ 
ing bottom up on the brick sidewalk, was 
asleep in a chair in front of Benny Hooton’s 
barber shop. Here the cavalcade came to a 
halt. Fish swallowed his exposed Adam’s 
apple several times, then sank on to the edge 
of an adjacent chair. With uncanny swift¬ 
ness the professor collapsed his great length 
into the remaining chair and fixed Lawyer 
Little with his dull eye. The other eye, very 
piercing and intelligent, was walled at an angle 
of twenty-five degrees, and launched a relent¬ 
less stare upon Fish. The professor had that 
strange thing in a colored man, a meager Van¬ 
dyke beard; and he had a gift for silence. 
Small cold things began scuttling up and down 
Fish’s spine. 


70 





THE HYPNOTIZER 


Fish’s attention was attracted by the antics 
of Lawyer Little’s somnolent face. Lawyer’s 
eyebrows twitched and his flat, bacon-colored 
nose quivered. Suddenly his eyes opened, to 
find a dark man with long, bony features 
regarding him intently with one eye. 

Lawyer sat bolt upright. 

“What you want?” he demanded. 

For answer the dark man silently took a 
blue silk handkerchief from the breast pocket 
of his gray swallowtail, then deliberately 
plucked his intelligent right eyeball from its 
socket, and began polishing it. 

Lawyer leaped to his feet. 

“For Gawd’s sake!” he exclaimed. 

Fish Kelly interposed a word of explanation. 

“Him a hypnotizer.” 

“Him a what?” 

“A hypnotizer. He want to give a show.” 

Lawyer recovered his dignity. He picked 
up his opera hat and smoothed it with a shiny 
green-black sleeve before putting it on. He 
sat down again and donned his ceremonial 
gold-rimmed spectacles. 

“We gwine give a show,” went on Fish 
nervously. 

“We!” snapped Lawyer. “Who is ‘we’?” 

7i 





MISTER FISH KELLY 


Fish had hoped that Lawyer wouldn't adopt 
that attitude. 

“Me,” he faltered, “an' de professor, an'— 
an' you." 

“If dere's a you in it, ain’t going to be no 
me in it," retorted Lawyer testily. “Ev'y time 
I done anything wid you it done ended in 
trouble. You's a Jonah." 

Fish swallowed nervously, his thin frame 
balanced on the edge of his chair like a black 
measuring worm. 

“I seen him first," he protested weakly. 

“What?" yelled Lawyer, in his most threat¬ 
ening tone. 

Fish was startled into a rising position. He 
moved to where there was free egress into 
space in several directions before he repeated: 

“I seen him first. We done had it all fixed 
'bout who gwine give de show. You kin 
ask—" 

But as Fish indicated the professor for con¬ 
firmation his voice failed him. That silent 
gentleman was refitting his right eyeball into 
its socket. The operation completed, the hor¬ 
rid orb fastened itself upon Fish with a chilling 
glare. Fish's jaw dropped. Without another 
word he turned and drifted down Queen Street, 
72 




THE HYPNOTIZER 


his black clothes flapping on his blacker frame, 
a moving picture of dejection. 

He passed gloomily by the aromas of the 
Liberty Lunch Room, and, a little farther on, 
the even more seductive aromas of Hammer 
John’s saloon left him cold. His finances, con¬ 
sisting of a nicked razor and a pack of greasy 
cards, allowed of neither food nor drink. He 
followed his nose into Huntersville, where 
little black-and-tan children, with big eyes and 
dragging trousers, swarmed like beetles over 
the cobbles and hung, thumb in mouth, on the 
precarious railings of unpainted wooden dwell¬ 
ings. 

Fish finally came to a halt opposite the red 
gas house. A huge canvas tent had mush¬ 
roomed up on the lot that usually was reserved 
for old tin cans, goats, and baseball games. 
Around the tent other tents had grouped them¬ 
selves, and everything was bustle and hurry. 
That night would witness the opening of the 
Greatest Show on Earth. 

Fish, his retreating chin hanging in wonder, 
shuffled nearer, and he was much startled when 
a tousled head projected itself from a tent flap 
and shouted: 

“Hey, boy! Want a job?” 

73 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“What kinda job?” inquired Fish, immedi¬ 
ately on the defensive. 

“Easy work. Just toting water to the lions.” 

“To de what?” ejaculated Fish. 

The white man grinned. “They can't get 
out. Just want you to clean a few cages and 
tote some water. Here.” 

The fellow emerged clumsily from the tent 
and extended a tin cup. “Take a swig of that 
and come on.” 

Fish sniffed, then grinned widely and emp¬ 
tied the cup. 

“I'd be lion my own self ef I took much of 
dat!” he chuckled. 

The man led the way into the big tent. 
Gangs of men were driving stakes, tightening 
guy ropes, erecting the grand stand with a 
great clatter of boards, raking sawdust and 
shaking down trapezes. His guide proceeded 
to an addition to the great tent and indicated 
the empty cages that were to be cleaned and 
furnished with straw and fresh water. 

For two hours they worked, but Fish did 
not find the labor arduous. Whenever he felt 
weary, which was about every fifteen minutes, 
he would say: 

“Dis work mighty heavy for a small man.” 

His companion, who was already several 
74 



THE HYPNOTIZER 


laps ahead, would immediately stop and pro¬ 
duce one of the two flasks he carried and give 
Fish a drink, taking another drink himself 
“Just to be friendly.” 

Presently, as dusk was gathering and the 
gas torches had not been lit, they began stum¬ 
bling over ropes and bumping into each other, 
every mishap being greeted with uproarious 
laughter. The white man grew so weak with 
merriment and refreshment that he sank down 
with his back against a wagon wheel and ex¬ 
tended Fish his keys. 

“Go up that end cage and clean her out,” he 
instructed. “Then we’ll be finished.” 

Fish stumbled along the row of cages and, 
coming to a big one that was locked, unlocked 
the door and climbed in. It was rather dark 
except near the bars, but he started in with his 
rake. It seemed to him as he worked that he 
heard strange noises near by, but he did not 
locate their source till he lunged into a corner 
after straw. His rake hit something soft, he 
was deafened by a horrible roar: a huge form 
leaped out of the darkness and he saw a tre¬ 
mendous shaggy yellow head, lashing tail, and 
eyes of green fire. 

“Great Gawd!” yelled Fish. He dashed to 
the door, but it was only ajar and his impact 
75 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


slammed it. He heard a movement behind him 
and, screaming aloud, he snatched open the 
door and leaped. Striking the ground, he 
dived under the tent. Outside a fat man tried 
to grab him as he passed, but was not quick 
enough. 

Fish fled through the exterior bustle like a 
bullet and, crossing a small ravine in the dusk, 
gained an inconspicuous road to town. Here 
presently he slowed and drew breath, although 
he kept strictly to the middle of the road and 
avoided all dark objects and shadows. 

Liberty Hall was on the immediate outskirts 
of Huntersville. The hedge-bordered lane 
leading straight up to it at a turn in the road 
was so inviting, Fish was tempted to go in and 
take a nap. But his recent experience was 
not conducive to a night in a dark and lonely 
building; the inner man also interposed an 
argument; and Fish continued into Hunters¬ 
ville and turned down Queen Street, to find a 
crowd of colored folk gathered in front of 
Hammer John’s saloon. 

Fish pressed close, to see in the display 
window, instead of the usual fly-specked and 
cobwebbed bottles, a strange spectacle. 

The professor’s yellow assistant, a red 
gingham wrapper over his brown suit, was 
76 




THE HYPNOTIZER 


stretched out on his back inside the window, 
his eyes closed, his expression even more 
vacuous than usual, his hands folded upon his 
chest, each clasping a bunch of goldenrod. 

It was an awe-inspiring scene. From the 
assistant’s yellow shoes, with the toes rounded 
as if each concealed a doorknob, to his still and 
expressionless face, there radiated suggestions 
of occult mystery, considerably heightened by 
the goldenrod and the red gingham wrapper. 
The final touch was lent by a large, hand¬ 
printed cardboard placard: 

THIS MAN HIPNOTIZED BY PRO¬ 
FESSOR BROWN. TO-NIGHT AT 
NINE O’CLOCK THE PROFESSOR 
GOING TO WAKE HIM UP AND 
HIPNOTIZE HIM SOME MORE. HE 
WILL HIPNOTIZE ANYBODY IN THE 
AUDIENSE FREE OF CHARGE. 

COME ONE COME ALL 
TO LIBERTY HALL 
ADMISSION 15c. LADIES 10c. 

SINGLE LADIES 5c. 

Lawyer Little, carrying a small wooden box 
under his fat arm, pushed his way through the 
crowd and struck Fish on the back. 

“Come on over an’ git su’p’n’ t’ eat off’n 
me!” he cried. 


77 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“I seen him first/' replied Fish bitterly, as 
he recovered from the blow. 

“Come on, nigger. Me an' you is friends!" 

Fish by nature was melancholy rather than 
vindictive; Lawyer could always handle him; 
and just now he was quite willing to relinquish 
his righteous asperity in favor of a square 
meal. He drifted in Lawyer's wake, and they 
sat down at a table covered with white oil¬ 
cloth in the Liberty Lunch Room. 

With the enthusiasm of the born promoter, 
Lawyer dilated on the success of the new idea, 
upon the number of tickets sold, and upon the 
personality of the professor. 

“Dat sho' is a real sho' 'nufif hoodoo hypno¬ 
tizes dat man. Ev'y time I looks at him I sees 
a ghost." 

“You right," laughed Fish, enlivened by the 
sight of corned beef and cabbage. “Dat man, 
he got a bad eye." 

There fell a silence, broken only by the clink 
of knife on plate and by certain succulent 
inhalations. 

The repast concluded, Lawyer pushed back 
his chair. 

“Come on wid me," he directed. “I'm gwine 
give you a free ticket for nothin'. A frien’ o' 
mine is a frien' o' mine." 

78 



THE HYPNOTIZER 


The tall, thin, melancholy black man and 
the rotund, jovial, bacon-colored man made 
their way through the evening press of Hun¬ 
tersville, past the popular corner stores and 
the more populous saloons, along the lamp- 
lighted street, with its infrequent trolley car; 
surrounded by the kindly, laughing, gun- 
toting, gay-hearted men and women and 
children of every shade of black and brown, 
dressed in every character of raiment. 

At Liberty Hall, already a few stags and 
couples were on the porch demanding en¬ 
trance, so Lawyer took their money and ush¬ 
ered them inside, lighting the gas and opening 
the windows on the sides of the square room 
with great show of hospitality. He then placed 
a small table at the door and officiated as the 
erowd grew larger. 

“You must got a hundred dollars in dat 
box/’ Fish ventured. 

“Ain’t got nowhar near dat,” returned 
Lawyer, remembering Fish’s claims and not 
relishing the subject. 

“You got a thousan’, den,” Fish compro¬ 
mised. 

“A thousan’ mo’ dan a hundred, nigger.” 

“How long it been?” demanded Fish, bat¬ 
ting his eyes. 


79 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“You de most argufyin’ nigger in de world. 
Go on up dere an’ take yo’ seat on de plat¬ 
form/’ 

“I ain’t goin’ on no platform all by myself.” 

“Dere’s de professor now. Come on, we’ll 
go in de stage entrance. Look at dat light¬ 
ning! Glad everybody here ’fore de storm 
bust.” 

Seemingly all who were coming had arrived, 
so Lawyer left his post, and he and Fish joined 
the professor and his yellow assistant and two 
burly helpers at the stage entrance. One of 
the helpers carried a large ironing board. 

Lawyer unlocked the door and they filed 
into the small space behind the stage, hidden 
from the audience by the paper walls of the 
stage room. 




CHAPTER VII 
CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


F ROM the auditorium came the constant 
murmur of conversation rippled by 
laughter, and the imminence of so many 
staring eyes tautened all the actors in the grip 
of nervousness. Their faces wore strained 
grins, all except Fish, who sank deep into 
melancholy and stood in a corner like a stick 
of tar with two large white eyes. 

Lawyer, perspiring freely, went out on the 
stage and lighted the three gas jets for foot¬ 
lights, retiring hastily at the mingled applause, 
catcalls, hoots and whistles that followed his 
success in kneeling down and getting up again 
despite his avoirdupois. 

"Take dese two chairs out dere, ,, he in¬ 
structed Fish. 

Fish pouted his lips and glowered. 

"I ain’t studyin’ ’bout no chairs,” he replied. 
The two helpers also refused point-blank, so 
Lawyer had to do this, too. Amid renewed 
applause, he placed the chairs facing each 
81 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


other in the center of the stage, about six feet 
apart. Next he brought out two more chairs 
and put one at each side of the platform near 
the footlights. 

“You ready?” he asked the professor when 
he returned. 

The professor nodded gravely, whereupon 
the two helpers, who had been coached in the 
back room of Hammer John’s saloon, held, one 
at either end, the ironing board, while the 
yellow assistant stretched himself in precari¬ 
ous balance upon it, folded his hands, and 
assumed an attitude and expression of somno¬ 
lence. 

“Aw right. What you waitin’ for?” whis¬ 
pered Lawyer, testily. 

The two helpers, one backing, shuffled out 
on the stage with their burden and placed it 
upon the two chairs. The audience, which had 
begun buzzing as the two men came out, fell 
into awe-struck silence as it inspected the mys¬ 
terious sleeper, now visible to them in full 
profile. The tension was decidedly height¬ 
ened by a vivid flash of lightning, followed by 
a clap of thunder that reverberated across the 
heavens. From the auditorium came murmurs 
and grunts and moans, indicating deep 
interest. 


82 





CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


Lawyer used force to get Fish from behind 
the scenes. Once in front of the footlights 
there remained nothing for Fish to do but 
collapse hastily into the nearer chair, where he 
entwined his huge feet and gazed upon them 
in an anguish of dark embarrassment. 

Next before the audience came Lawyer, who 
waddled out, nervously mopping his brow. 
He bowed and grinned at the flutter of ap¬ 
plause and began his introduction. 

“Ladies an’ gemmen, fellow citizens, and 
brutherin an’ sisterin in the church of Heaben,” 
was his opening, and he at once captured his 
hearers. 

“Professor Brown is one of de greatest an’ 
foremost hypnotizers in de big world to-day. 
I trimbles, ladies and gemmen, when it comes 
to me sometimes what dat man could do wid 
his wonderful gift of magic if he warn’t a 
good man.” 

The audience hearkened raptly, as Lawyer 
paused. 

“Don’t he talk beautiful?” inquired one stout 
dark lady, too loudly. She subsided with gig¬ 
glings at being overheard. 

“Yessuh,” Lawyer continued, “I trimbles in 
my bed of a nights. Why, dis man could 
hypnotize de president of dis here United 

83 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


States an’ make him go to sleep an’ de country 
would come to a stock-still. He could hypno¬ 
tize de engineer on a locomotive an’ de train 
would jump de track. 

“Why, dat man kin hypnotize ever’body in 
dis audience. He could hypnotize ever’body 
in dis city. He could hypnotize ever’body in 
de United States if he jes’ set his mind to it.” 

Lawyer was interrupted by groans and 
grunts of interest and wonder. 

“Ladies and gemmen,” cried Lawyer, with 
a dramatic gesture, “I asks you to look on 
Professor Brown, de greatest hypnotizer of de 
ages!” 

Precisely at this moment the tall Professor 
Brown stalked into view, caressing the fringe 
of his Vandyke beard. Taking the center of 
the stage as Lawyer sat down, he reached 
within the breast pocket of his gray swallow¬ 
tail and drew forth a blue silk handkerchief. 
Suddenly shaking his arms wide apart, as if to 
indicate that there was nothing in that sleeve 
and nothing in this sleeve, he slowly raised his 
right hand and plucked forth his piercing right 
eye from its socket. At almost the same time 
another flash of lightning rocked the heavens 
with its thunder. 

The audience sat spellbound, then tossed 
84 




CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


like a sea. Ladies giggled nervously and cast 
glances at the door or at nearer windows. 
Some of the gentlemen frowned and looked 
threateningly about as if to say, “'Who got me 
in dis place, anyway!” 

The professor polished his eye, then replaced 
it with remarkable ease. He then turned 
swiftly, threw his long hands above his re¬ 
cumbent subject, and snapped his fingers. 

The yellow assistant promptly sat up, 
dropped his feet to the floor, and gazed around 
the hall with wide unseeing eyes. 

In hollow tones the professor spoke. 

“You is a cannibal! You is sittin’ on de side 
of a grave eatin’ de bones of yo’ gram’ma!” 

Promptly the assistant reached down, made 
as if he broke off an arm or a leg, then began 
munching on it with relish. 

Soon he paused, and with unexpected real¬ 
ism began picking his teeth. 

The audience became seized with the animal 
magnetism of a moved crowd. Possibly vague 
ancestral memories of forest enemies, of 
painted voodoo men, of brown bodies gleaming 
in the firelit dance, stole into their transplanted 
brains. Some of them swayed slightly—others 
groaned. A rumble of thunder crossed the 
85 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


sky. From the direction of the road came two 
quick reports, like revolver shots. 

The tenseness of feeling transmitted itself 
to the stage. Lawyer called hoarsely: 

“Anybody in de audience! Anybody in de 
audience! Jes’ step dis way ef you wants de 
perfessor to conjure you. He gwine have 
ever’body hypnotized in a minute!” 

The professor snapped his fingers in his 
assistant’s face. 

“You sees a lion!” cried the professor. “A 
wild roarin’ lion. Dar he, cornin’ in de door!” 

The assistant leaped to his feet, crouching 
low, his palms extended in horror, his eyes 
sticking out. 

The audience watched him breathlessly. 
Some even glanced over their shoulders, so 
realistic was his acting. Fish Kelly and 
Lawyer Little, from their chairs at opposite 
edges of the footlights, watched him, too. 
When the yellow assistant had lain down vol¬ 
untarily upon the ironing board off stage and 
had been carried out before the audience, Fish 
and Lawyer had concluded that the perform¬ 
ance was a fake. Now they were not so sure. 
Lawyer peered with intent raised eyebrows 
over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles, his 
fat, bacon-colored hands gripped tightly to- 
86 




CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


gether across his pendulous greenish vest. 
Fish Kelly’s eyes protruded so far that his 
eyeballs made two conspicuous spots against 
the blackness of his face. His long hands 
clutched the sides of his chair. His skinny 
shins and long feet were wrapped spirally 
around each other, as if for comfort. This 
unconscious absorption on the part of the two 
minor participants had a convincing effect 
upon the customers in the orchestra. Low 
moans arose from various parts of the hall. 

But suddenly the audience grew quite still. 
A startling change had come over the occu¬ 
pants of the stage. 

Lawyer Little had risen slowly from his 
chair, supporting himself with one hand 
against the wall. His palms lifted slowly out 
before him. His bacon-colored countenance 
became mottled, and showed amazement and 
terror. 

Fish Kelly’s mouth fell open. His black face 
faded to a leaden gray, while his popped eyes 
stared out over the audience. He seemed 
unable to move. 

The assistant’s knees sagged beneath him. 
He seemed to turn from yellow to cream 
white. With jaw dropped and eyes sticking 
out, he gazed at the door. 

87 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


The professor—who had been facing the 
assistant—cocked his good eye curiously 
toward the rear of the hall. A peculiar change 
came at once over his face. He brushed his 
hand across his eyes. He blinked and repeated 
the gesture. Then he put his palms to his 
temples. 

A blood-curdling roar reverberated from the 
rear of the hall, and the stage became abruptly 
animated. The assistant, the professor, and 
Lawyer Little dashed toward the exit. Fish 
Kelly sat perfectly still, as if petrified with fear. 

The audience looked over its shoulder. 
Crouched within the doorway, like a mammoth 
yellow cat, was a real or imaginary lion. Its 
ears were laid back against its huge shaggy 
head. Its eyes glinted with an evil green fire 
above its bared white fangs. And its tufted 
tail lashed into the light of the room and back 
into the outer darkness. 

Whether the lion was real or imaginary, the 
effect was the same. The audience became as 
leaves in an autumn wind. The distinction 
was lost between ladies and single ladies, be¬ 
tween gentlemen who had escorted ladies and 
gentlemen who had arrived alone. The ques¬ 
tion of arrival had changed into one of de¬ 
parture. 


88 



CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


As soon as Fish had recovered from his mo¬ 
mentary paralysis, he leapt for the exit from 
the stage. But ahead of him were the other 
performers. Fish clawed at them desperately, 
and tried to climb over their struggling forms, 
which had become jammed in the narrow door. 
Of a sudden the whole group fell forward into 
the little off-stage room, an active mass of mov¬ 
ing arms and legs. Fish scrambled over them 
and jerked at the door that led to the street. 
The doorknob came off in his hands. He 
caught at the crack with his fingers, but suc¬ 
ceeded only in breaking his nails. 

At that moment another tremendous roar 
swelled in the outer auditorium. It seemed to 
make the windows rattle and the very beams 
groan; to Fish, it sounded nearer than before. 
Lawyer Little had grasped him from behind, 
had thrown him feverishly aside, and was claw¬ 
ing frantically at the hermetically sealed door¬ 
way. The building trembled with a third hor¬ 
rific outburst, followed by a sort of moaning 
snarl. There was no doubt that the lion was 
approaching. 

Fish remembered an open window on the 
other side of the auditorium. He did not crave 
to dash forth into the presence of the approach¬ 
ing beast, but his instinct liked still less the 
89 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


thought of being hemmed into this tiny room 
when the animal should enter. He chose the 
lesser fear. Blind with terror, he shot from 
the little off-stage room like a black arrow 
from a bow, hearing even as he departed the 
crash of Lawyer’s shoulder against the splin¬ 
tering door. He crossed the stage with a single 
step. A glimpse of the lion, now halfway up 
the room, lent wings to his flitting feet. He 
leaped from the stage, over the heads of the 
struggling audience and toward the opposite 
window, like an athlete from a spring-board. 

He landed in the midst of a complicated 
mass of ladies and gentlemen. The general 
effect was of gentlemen who were trying to 
leave the place in their own way and unaccom¬ 
panied, and of ladies who were endeavoring to 
accompany them by the expedient of clinging 
to the backs of their necks. Even in the heat 
of the moment Fish recognized a fat black lady 
who for years had been the victim of rheuma¬ 
tism. Many was the day he had seen her 
dragging her all but useless limbs, able to move 
at all only by the aid of a crutch. Under the 
spur of the occasion, however, she had under¬ 
gone an amazing metamorphosis. She had 
utilized the crushing force of weight to press 
down the aspirations of several persons in 
90 




CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


front of her, and at the moment she was dis¬ 
playing an astounding ability to mount roof- 
ward on the bodies of her victims. Fish’s sur¬ 
prise at the change in her was quenched by 
the impact of a generous foot against his face. 
He went down, with several ladies and gentle¬ 
men on top, and a procession started across 
him. 

Trying to protect his face with one arm, and 
his stomach with the other, Fish Kelly 
screamed a protest at this unnecessary cruelty. 
But his cries were lost in the multitude of 
similar exclamations that filled the air. Echoes 
filtered down to him in such breathless expres¬ 
sions as “Quit yo’ holdin’!” or, “Leggo me, 
nigger, ’fo’ I kill you!” And now and again, 
like an accompaniment to this discordant 
melee, the building would tremble with a heart- 
sickening roar. 

Just when Fish thought he could stand the 
passing footprints no longer, they unexpect¬ 
edly ceased. He scrambled brokenly to his 
feet. Ahead was an unscalable mass of strug¬ 
gling colored folk, endeavoring, by tearing 
each other’s clothing and gouging each other’s 
eyes, to squeeze fifty people through a window 
that was barely big enough for one. Fish 
glanced wildly behind him. To his astonish- 
9i 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


ment, that side of the hall was deserted. It 
held neither customers nor lion. The door at 
which the lion had entered was open and 
empty. No doubt, thought Fish, it had left 
the way it had come. There was no sign of 
Lawyer Little or the professor—they must 
have succeeded in crashing the stage exit door. 

There was no telling, of course, at what mo¬ 
ment the lion might leap into the room again; 
and there was no chance, for some time, of 
escaping through the near-by congested win¬ 
dow. Fish bethought him of the open stage 
door. He moved rapidly toward it, avoiding 
overturned benches, stepping on ladies' hats 
and gentlemen's coats—even kicking an occa¬ 
sional necktie and collar. His own appear¬ 
ance was nothing to brag about. His coat 
sleeve was ripped from shoulder to cuff, foot¬ 
prints covered his body, and a trickle of red 
ran down his mottled gray cheek from a heel 
mark over his temple. 

Just before he climbed up to the stage, Fish 
Kelly observed in the cockpit a box resembling 
the box in which Lawyer had carried his 
money. But at the same moment he heard, 
from somewhere, a peculiar animal-like sneeze. 
He did not care just then to take on additional 
weight. He scrambled over the footlights and 
92 




CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


crossed the stage. But before he reached the 
off-stage room, he paused. It would be foolish 
to pass up this opportunity. The lion had 
probably gone for good. And even if it should 
return while he was in the cockpit after the 
money, he would still have time to scramble 
back upon the stage and escape through the 
broken stage door. 

It occurred to him, however, that it would 
be best to make sure first that the stage exit 
door had really been broken open. He stepped 
to the off-stage room and peered in. The room 
was quite dark, and at first his eyes could see 
nothing. Then he made out that the door to 
the street was open. Lawyer and the others, 
then, had obviously escaped. But if the lion 
had departed, Lawyer would not be long in 
returning for his money. Just then Fish 
noticed a round bro^wnish bulk moving be¬ 
tween himself and the doorway. 

“Is dat you, Lawyer?” he inquired. 

In answer, from the darkness of the room 
before him, came a deafening roar. It was 
followed by the hurtling of a tremendous 
shaggy body. Fish leapt backward, but as 
he was turning to flee he felt against his side 
the impact of the beast. He was shot for¬ 
ward over the footlights—plunged for a sec- 
93 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


ond through space, and struck with the side 
of his head a hard object that jingled. There 
was a flash of colored sparks before his eyes, 
a sound of roaring in his ears—and after that, 
darkness and silence. 

It could not have been very long before he 
came to, because he could hear the retreating 
rumble of a cart or a cage, carrying with it 
the dwindling roars of a no longer free animal. 
He climbed dizzily to his feet, and his foot 
struck something that clinked. He picked it 
up. It was the small wooden box that Lawyer 
had carried as treasurer. The weight indi¬ 
cated that it still contained the thousand or 
the hundred dollars taken in for tickets. 

Over the shocked grayish expression of Fish 
Kelly’s thin face began to come a darker color 
and the glimmer of a smile. He tucked the 
box under one arm and hastened to the door. 
Here toward the right could be seen the lights 
of Huntersville, and against them a man’s mov¬ 
ing figure; possibly a returning treasurer in 
search of his treasure. 

Fish trotted down the hedge-bound lane to 
the road, where he turned to the left and, keep¬ 
ing close to the concealing border of trees, 
made swiftly away. A wide detour brought 
him—a full hour later—to his small room on 
94 



CRAVINGS COME TRUE 


Queen Street, and there he stowed away his 
fortune in a hole that he dug in the mattress. 
He climbed into bed, and lay there with his 
hands clasped behind his head, his eyes on 
the ceiling, and his prominent white teeth 
gleaming in an expansive grin. 

Luck at last had chosen him for her own. 
Many had been the tribulations he had suf¬ 
fered, but now all that was ended. He had 
money enough to keep himself independent 
until such time as he might choose to work. 
He could buy himself a suit, and some fancy 
socks, and travel down to see his folks at New- 
bern. Lawyer Little had tried to cheat him, 
but luck had set things right. Now he was 
no longer that gentleman’s cat’s-paw. No 
longer, just to keep body and soul together, 
was it necessary to risk his life and limbs in 
pursuit of that gentleman’s schemes. Mister 
Lincoln had set the niggers free, but had left 
Fish Kelly in slavery. To-night was the night 
of a new emancipation. Fish Kelly, at last, 
was his own nigger, beholden to nobody but 
himself. 

Fish Kelly began to dream dreams. Surely 
it was not intended that he should live for¬ 
ever by the skin of his teeth. Surely some day 
he would have, perhaps, a little business of his 
95 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


own, and somebody waiting for him when he 
came home of an evening. He tried to think 
of what she would look like, but could sum¬ 
mon up only a pair of big brown eyes. Those 
brown eyes gazed upon him tenderly as he 
drifted off to sleep. 




CHAPTER VIII 
ENTER LOVE 

F ISH went to sleep with a calm joy flood¬ 
ing his breast, and he awoke the next 
morning in the same frame of mind. The 
sun lay in a bright triangle of gold on the 
plank floor of his room. On a twig of the 
maple tree outside the window a little cedar 
bird—canary yellow with greenish wings— 
flicked its tail and watched him with bright 
brown eyes, as if it had flown in from the 
swamps to make merry with him on this glori¬ 
ous morning. A mouse poked its sharp gray 
head from a hole in the corner, then ran out 
with quick tiny steps, stopped, sat up on its 
haunches, and regarded him with black 
friendly eyes, turning its head from side to 
side and wiggling its infinitesimal nose and 
whiskers. 

Fish grinned companionably at the mouse, 
and got up, feeling in his bosom that something 
wonderful was about to happen. He dressed, 
stuffed his fortune of greenbacks and silver 
97 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


into his pocket, and went down the stairs to 
the pleasant sunshine of the street. The first 
concern of the morning-, of course, must be 
food, but the dark commonplace cavern of the 
Liberty Lunch Room, across the way, did not 
lure his stomach. He wanted plenty and va¬ 
riety, and it occurred to him that it would be 
a noble procedure to load himself with deli¬ 
cacies at Mr. Greenberg’s delicatessen, and 
take them across for a prompt and flavorous 
cooking. So, with his hand protectively over 
his fortune in his pocket, he strolled to his 
right till he reached the portals of Mr. Green¬ 
berg’s store. He went in the doorway and 
looked about him, but his mind became practi¬ 
cally useless in the midst of so unlimited a pre¬ 
sentment of delights. 

Mr. Greenberg labeled his establishment a 
delicatessen, but with almost equal warrant it 
could have been called a department store. As 
Ted Harpy once had aptly remarked: “Dat 
man sell you eve’thing but a street car.” On 
either side of the doorway hung a bunch of 
bananas, one red and one yellow. At the far 
rear of the shop, beneath an inverted white 
lighted globe, Mr. Greenberg, in a red-smeared 
apron, presided in front of a meat refrigerator 
of glass and porcelain, in which—visible to the 
98 




ENTER LOVE 


eye—were sides of bacon, legs of beef and 
mutton, tubs of sausage meat and tubs of 
yellow butter. Between Mr. Greenberg, in the 
rear, and the bananas in the front, was almost 
anything that the heart could desire. 

Fish licked his lips and stared about him, 
not knowing where to begin. He passed by 
the show case of chewing tobacco, corncob 
pipes, cigars and cigarettes, and the adjoining 
array of clocks and watches and rings. He 
looked up to the shelves, laden with canned 
milk, pickles, preserves and olives; canned 
peaches, potted ham, veal loaf, and ginger ale. 
But canned goods were his daily food—to-day 
was a day of feasting. His attention was 
drawn by an insinuating gobble, and he gazed 
fondly upon the red head and scrawny neck of 
a turkey that had thrust itself half through the 
wires of its crate on the sawdust of the floor. 
But a turkey was too large for breakfast—his 
eyes wandered to the three buckets of eggs that 
stood upon the counter. Fish could not read, 
but he knew from hearsay how the legends on 
the three buckets ran. The first was labeled 
“Warranted Fine Fresh Eggs.” The second, 
“Best Storage Eggs.” And the third, “Eggs.” 
He had had experience before with the “Eggs.” 

99 





MISTER FISH KELLY 


This time he would buy the Warranted 
Fresh. 

But somehow, on this particular morning, 
there seemed a lack of the romantic and ad¬ 
venturous about the purchase of eggs. Fish 
leaned against a barrel of spinach, crossed his 
feet and thought. In the rear of the store the 
stout Mr. Greenberg, a meat cleaver in each 
hand, was turning out a mess of hamburger 
steak, making a remarkably rapid and rhyth¬ 
mical rat-a-tat-tat upon the round meat block. 
Over Mr. Greenberg's head was a sign that 
many unsought translations had ingrained 
into Fish Kelly's memory 

IN GOD WE TRUST 
ALL OTHERS PAY CASH 

So the sign read, and it had a companion 
piece upon the opposite wall. 

OUR CREDIT MAN IS OUT 
COLLECTING 

But these invidious insinuations made no 
impress upon Fish to-day. He floated above 
them, up into that happy realm of the epi¬ 
cure, who has only to consult his palate. He 
ioo 




ENTER LOVE 


glanced, without inspiration, at the barrels of 
sugar, flour and meal behind the counter. And 
then he slowly uncrossed his feet and opened 
his eyes. 

Mr. Greenberg had somebody new to help 
him. 

She came from the open court in back of 
the store and faced Mr. Kelly with a profes¬ 
sionally inquiring look from behind the coun¬ 
ter. Her skin, beneath her high-coiled glossy 
hair, was what Mr. Fish would have called 
“high yaller,” it was a creamy olive brown. 
Her nose was delicately formed, her oval face 
rounded and soft, and her dark eyes were large 
and tender. A clean blue-and-white-checked 
apron covered her blue silk skirt, and the 
sleeves of her filmy orange blouse were rolled 
up, disclosing her slim but shapely arms. Fish 
saw at once that she was not of common clay. 
His heart thumped loudly. A fine perspira¬ 
tion broke out upon his brow. He wanted sud¬ 
denly to buy a great deal of something, to 
impress her, but no word would come to his 
mind. 

“Somethin’ for you?” the vision inquired, 
and her voice, so kind and soft, was accom¬ 
panied by a dazzling smile. Fish Kelly real¬ 
ized, all at once, that the something wonderful 

IOI 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


he had been expecting - had at last occurred. 
That smile thrilled him. It made him feel 
as if an angel had unexpectedly poured mo¬ 
lasses down his back. His protruding eyes 
finally tore themselves from this thing of 
beauty and looked for something to buy. 

“Salmon,” he said—not because he wanted 
salmon, but because a can of salmon had floated 
before him. 

“How many?” the vision asked, with a lilt¬ 
ing note of inquiry. 

Fish desired to impress her. 

“A dozen,” he said, and observed that he 
had succeeded. “You better make it two 
dozen,” he added, pushing his luck. 

She reached gracefully up to the shelves, 
drew down two by two the cans of salmon, 
and slid them forward on the counter. Fish 
produced his roll of bills with a swaying osten¬ 
tatious flourish that involved his whole body, 
and laid a ten-dollar greenback upon the 
counter. 

“Take it out of dat, lady, please.” 

Mr. Greenberg, who had been watching the 
clearance of his shelf with some misgivings, 
came forward and stood looking on with a 
meat cleaver in each hand. But seeing that 
legal tender was coming in before his goods 
102 




ENTER LOVE 


went out, he retired to his hamburger steak 
with a puzzled expression upon his aquiline 
florid face. What could anybody want with 
two dozen cans of salmon? Fish, meanwhile, 
had eyes for nothing except the charmer, and 
he watched her silently while she made the 
change. Then— 

“I reckon you better make it another dozen 
cans of salmon,” he said nonchalantly, and 
waited for her expression of surprise. But she 
merely leaned, with her hands on the counter, 
and smiled at him. 

“You already got a powerful lot of salmon. 
Dat stuff go a long way. Course it depend 
on how many folks gwine eat it.” 

“Only one, lady. Dey ain’t but one. Dat’s 
all, lady. Jes’ me.” 

“You got ’nuff salmon dere,” opined the 
vision, “to las’ you till de day of judgmint.” 

Fish Kelly cackled nervously. 

“I is got a powerful lot, ain’t I?” he asked, 
as if he had just observed it. “I eats a lot of 
salmon, though,” he went on recklessly. The 
fact was, he had never liked salmon. “I 
reckon I eats mo’ salmon dan any other man.” 

She did not seem to be much impressed at 
that. “Do you want some other things to go 
with it?” she inquired. 

103 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Yes, lady,” answered Fish in something 
of a daze. He had always been susceptible to 
feminine charms, but his susceptibility in the 
past had been tempered by a fear of feminine 
wrath. No such kind and gentle creature had 
ever entered his life before. He felt that she 
was there to stay. ‘Til take anything you 
say, lady,” he added with feeling. 

The lady brought him a plaited basket into 
which he put his salmon while she, after learn¬ 
ing that he wanted subsistence for several 
days, assembled an appropriate quantity of 
eggs and potatoes, spinach and ham. Fish 
was delighted at thus prolonging this happy 
contact of a mortal with a goddess. The 
dreams that he had dreamed the night before 
seemed almost upon the verge of coming true. 
What if he could manage, himself, to start a 
store, or a restaurant, and employ this won¬ 
derful vision to assist him in its care. That 
was not an impossible thought. And, after 
they had worked together for a while, it was 
not impossible to think that they might become 
more than friends. He paid for his pur¬ 
chases and watched her in fascination while 
she expertly counted the change. He was 
fairly wallowing in happiness—and he was pro- 
104 




ENTER LOVE 


portionately pained when a familiar voice 
broke in upon his attention. 

“Fish Kelly, I wants to talk wid you!” 

It was Lawyer Little, a stern expression 
upon his bacon-colored face. 

‘Til come back for dese vittles,” Fish in¬ 
formed the goddess, and with his heart in his 
throat he followed Mr. Little from the store. 

Lawyer waddled silently down the street. 
Fish, following at the flapping tails of that 
shiny-greenish coat, planned to dismiss this 
burly person with a few harsh words. But 
Lawyer did not speak until they had passed 
through the fragrant barroom and were seated 
at a table in the gloom of the deserted back 
room of Hammer John’s saloon. By then the 
uncertainty of this sustained silence had worn 
Fish’s resolution to tatters. Perhaps his con¬ 
science was not too easy about the way he 
had acquired his present wealth. At any rate, 
when you have been dominated by a quick¬ 
witted, quick-fisted gentleman for several 
years, it is not easy of a sudden to adopt with 
him an attitude of moral confidence and equal¬ 
ity. So instead of speaking out haughtily, 
Fish slid low in his chair, pouted his long lips 
in sullen foreboding, and slowly opened and 
closed his prominent eyes. His heart sank 
105 





MISTER FISH KELLY 


lower as Lawyer drew from his pocket a pack 
of grimy and greasy cards. 

“How ’bout a few cold han’s?” Mr. Little 
inquired casually. 

Fish’s Adam’s apple moved up and down 
as he swallowed with a dry throat. It was 
typical of Lawyer that—whatever may have 
been his opinion as to the manner in which Fish 
had acquired his plethora of dollar bills—he 
did not rouse open opposition by issuing a 
challenge. Fish could fight in the open—but 
this left-handed approach found his guilty con¬ 
science at a loss. He didn’t want to play 
cards for money with Lawyer. He had done 
it before. But the very presence of the money 
in his pocket made him afraid to object. 

“Ten dollars a han’,” said Lawyer, and 
while Fish hesitated, Lawyer dealt the cards. 
His manner of dealing was, to say the least, 
peculiar. He kept the pack of cards out of 
sight beneath the table. He dealt slowly. 
Sometimes he would look down and his arms 
would move as though he were turning over 
cards and examining them. Fish was some¬ 
what relieved, therefore, to observe that, so far 
as the dealing had progressed, he had the 
better hand. 

Neither hand had a pair, but while Lawyer’s 
106 




ENTER LOVE 


highest card was only a jack, Fish had a king 
and a queen. Fish leaned forward, his teeth 
gleaming momentarily against the sullen 
blackness of his face. Lawyer looked down 
at the cards in his lap. His arms moved. 

“Whyn’t you put dem cyards up whar folks 
kin see ’em?” 

Lawyer’s lip moved as he concentrated upon 
turning over the cards in his lap. Then he 
dealt himself a fifth card. It was the ace of 
spades. 

“Ace higher dan a king,” announced the 
stout gentleman. “Dat’s ten dollars I wins. 
Better pay it now.” 

“Ain’t gwine pay you nothin’,” said Fish. 
“Dat ain’t no way to deal cyards. I didn’t 
ast nobody to play cyards, nohow.” 

Lawyer Little dropped the cards on the 
table, took out and put on pair of gold-rimmed 
spectacles. He let the spectacles slide down 
to the end of his flat shiny nose, tilted his 
head and looked over them at Fish with raised 
eyebrows. 

“You sho’ is a funny nigger,” the fat, bacon- 
colored gentleman remarked. “Here I is try- 
in’ my best to keep you out o’ jail an’. . . .” 

“Jail!” Fish interrupted. “What sort of 
jail?” 


107 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Lawyer Little drew in the corners of his 
mouth, shook his head, and sighed. 

“Fish,” he said with a fine imitation of sad 
disapproval, “how many folks you think seen 
you take dat money? Now, I ? se yo’ frien’. I 
ain’t takin’ you’ off to jail. Not yit. I ain’t 
said nothin’ to Police Officer Johnsing. Not 
yit, I ain’t. I’s jes’ givin’ you a chanct to 
have a liT fun, spoht an’ amusement. An’ 
look at de way you ack!” The pain and re¬ 
proach in Lawyer’s voice was almost touching. 

Fish was unmoved by the pain and reproach. 
He knew them both to be spurious. But a part 
of Lawyer’s discourse had made a deep mark 
on his mind. What if Lawyer should have 
him arrested? Yesterday the idea would have 
left him cold. To-day was different. His 
heart could not bear the prospect of passing 
by Mr. Greenberg’s delicatessen in the clutch 
of Police Officer Johnson. Better poverty— 
better even death, than that. He pulled out a 
ten-dollar bill and shoved it across the moist 
wooden table. 

“Here yo’ money,” he said, and found that 
he could hardly speak. His throat ached him 
as his dreams of affluence faded darkly away. 

“Dat de way to ack,” said Lawyer cheer¬ 
fully. “De nex’ han’ is for twenty dollars.” 

108 




ENTER LOVE 


In a state of utter dejection, Fish watched 
the game march forward to its foregone con¬ 
clusion. The only bright spot on the horizon 
was the fact that he had purchased enough 
food to last him perhaps a week—and enough 
salmon to last him forever. 

At the end of this little social game, Lawyer 
stretched himself, yawned, and rapped on the 
table. 

“Now IT1 buy you a drink,” he offered gen¬ 
erously. 

Fish, like a black shadow with white eyes, 
pouted his long lips and blinked; tried to plot 
some grandiloquent conquest of this domi¬ 
neering buccaneer. But Lawyer, reading his 
thoughts, interrupted. 

“Seen you projeckin’ roun’ dat liT yaller 
fever down at de sto’,” he sneered. “What 
you think you is, anyway? Don’t you know 
dat gal is de daughter of Lawyer Clinton?” 

Fish’s heart sank deeper in his breast. Mr. 
Clinton was the Napoleon of the colored sec¬ 
tion of the city. Not only was he a genuine 
lawyer, with an office and his name on the door, 
but he lived in a house almost as big as white 
folks’, in the best colored section of Hunters¬ 
ville, and he drove to and from his business 
in a little closed car. 

109 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“If she his daughter, how come she waitin’ in 
a sto’?” demanded Fish, hoping to be able to 
confute this hateful rumor. 

“Dey is two reasons,” answered Lawyer, 
who somehow seemed always informed of 
other people’s affairs. “First place her daddy 
don’t let none of dese black skins come to see 
her, an’ she tired settin’ roun’ all day wid 
nothin’ to do. Second place, Mr. Clinton he 
loaned Mr. Greenberg some money, an’ he' 
’lowed it wouldn’t do no harm to have his 
daughter in dere as cashier to see do he git 
his share of de profits.” 

There seemed no flaw in this argument. 
Fish drank his drink and moodily rested his 
chin upon his prominent Adam’s apple. 

“You want to make some money?” asked 
Lawyer suddenly, feeling that the occasion 
was opportune. 

Fish opened and shut his prominent eyes. 

“Meet me to-morrow evenin’ at two o’clock 
at Undertaker Williams’s shop.” 

“What you want to meet at a place like dat 
for?” objected Fish. 

“You waits till you git dere,” instructed 
Lawyer, chuckling. 




CHAPTER IX 

FLIRTING WITH DEATH 

F ISH pushed back his chair and went 
moodily out into the sunlight of the 
street. Life had taken on a different 
hue since the morning. He shuffled mourn¬ 
fully up the street to Mr. Greenberg’s. The 
beautiful Miss Clinton was in the rear of the 
store, so Mr. Kelly took up his basket of food, 
hooked it on his arm, and leaning to one side 
made his way again to the street and up the 
two flights of stairs to his room. Here he 
sat morosely, like a black shadow with blink¬ 
ing white eyes, until the pangs of hunger 
called him across the street to the Liberty 
Lunch Room. He ate with an appetite sharp¬ 
ened by sorrow and love, and then once more 
sought the seclusion of his room. 

The next morning for breakfast he sallied 
forth again, but returned at once to enjoy the 
melancholy of his thoughts. He couldn’t bear 
to see Miss Clinton in this mood. He felt that 
even to approach her, he had to appear success- 
iii 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


ful. So, around two o’clock, he went down the 
street to Mr. Williams’s undertaking parlors. 
Perhaps, for once, Lawyer Little’s scheme 
would turn out to be profitable for his asso¬ 
ciates. 

He found Lawyer and Mr. Williams already 
assembled and discussing their plans. After 
a little while Mr. Little waddled out into the 
street and took a glance at the afternoon sky. 
He returned to the black-and-purple parlor, 
salvaged his greasy opera hat from where it 
lay bottom up on the floor, and grinned 
broadly. 

“Well,” he suggested jovially to Fish Kelly 
and Undertaker Williams, who were sitting 
about in dejected attitudes, “reckon it’s about 
time we-all went for de remains.” 

Fish moved his skinny black frame un¬ 
easily. 

“I don’t like dis here funny business. De 
good Lawd ain’t never meant for nobody to 
be projeckin’ wid dead folks.” 

‘Who projeckin’ wid dead folks?” demanded 
Lawyer in a high voice of pained surprise. 

“Well, you projeckin’ wid coffins.” 

“Coffins ain’t dead folks, is dey?” 

“If dey ain’t dead folks,” Fish persisted 
112 




FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


stubbornly, “it's jest because dey ain't got 
nobody in ’em” 

Lawyer snorted in speechless irritation. 

Undertaker Williams, a yellow, square¬ 
shouldered man with a sparse beard and 
startled, jaundiced eyes, rose, buttoning his 
long frock coat, and went to the back door. 

“Bohemia!" he yelled. “You Bohemia! 
Hitch up dat No. 2 hearse an' drive her out." 

Bohemia, a short barefooted lad of perhaps 
fourteen years ceased playing the harmonica 
softly into his cupped palms, and ambled 
toward the stable. His complexion was com¬ 
posed of brown specks on yellow—like cinna¬ 
mon toast—and the top of his long head was 
entirely flat. He wore a pair of some very 
large man's trousers that had been cut off 
just below the seat and attached to his dirty 
brown shirt by a safety pin in the rear and a 
nail in front. They hung halfway down his 
sharp bare shins—which curved out in front of 
him like sabers—and gave the effect of a sort 
of pantie-petticoat that swung interestingly 
here and there with the movements of his body. 

“Thought you say No. 1 ride easier," ob¬ 
jected Lawyer. 

“No. 1 it got Cop Johnson's cousin in it." 

“Stella Johnson?" 

113 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Yeah. I got drive her out to his house 
soon’s we come back. Gwine be a big lodge 
funeral up dar to-night.” 

Lawyer Little laughed and slapped his 
thigh. 

“Looks like dat’s a good thing for us, ain’t 
it, boy? He won’t be a huntin’ trouble to¬ 
night much.” 

“ ’Pears like it’s a bad sign, to me,” mumbled 
Fish, rolling his white eyeballs in his black 
face. “He a bad nigger. He a white-man’s 
nigger.” 

“Dat uniform don’t scare me none,” re¬ 
torted Lawyer. “Ever’body run from him jes’ 
’cause he killed a bootlegger wid his night¬ 
stick. I ain’t skeered o’ no nigger, wid or 
widout a uniform. What you kickin’ me for?” 
he demanded fiercely of Undertaker. 

Undertaker’s expression was sufficiently ex¬ 
planatory, and Lawyer turned hastily to find 
the big blue-uniformed bulk of Officer John¬ 
son in the doorway. 

With his suavest bow and most ingratiating 
smile Lawyer brushed off a chair for Mr. John¬ 
son with the tail of his green-black coat. 

“Come in, Ossifer. Come in an’ set down 
here an’ take de weight off yo’ feet. We was 
114 




FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


jes’ sayin’ as how sorry we is Tout yo’ be¬ 
reavement. 

“FEere to-day an’ gone to-morrow/’ re¬ 
marked Undertaker, with the sympathetic wis¬ 
dom of one who has seen many passings. 

“Praise de Lawd!” echoed Lawyer piously. 

Their welcomings broke weakly upon Officer 
Johnson’s cold and unbending demeanor. Big 
of chest, with graying hair beneath his helmet, 
and a square, crisp moustache, he resembled a 
chocolate bust of General Pershing. 

“I wants dem remains to be up to de house 
at eight o’clock sharp,” he boomed sternly at 
Undertaker. “I ain’t got no room for ’em befo’ 
den, and I don’t want ’em to come no later.” 

“Dey shall be dar, suh. Dey shall be dar.” 

The representative of law and order was 
turning to depart, when Fish Kelly spoke up 
weakly. 

“Ossifer Johnsing,” he inquired, nervously 
swallowing his prominent Adam’s apple, “how 
come dat dark stain on yo’ club?” 

With tolerant dignity the officer raised his 
club and glanced at the dark stain, while Fish 
Kelly’s eyes followed it as if hypnotized. The 
suspicion of a significant smile appeared on 
his stern lips as the big man next looked stead¬ 
ily in turn at Lawyer and Undertaker Wil- 
ii5 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


liams and, finally, at Fish. The three seemed 
to shrivel beneath that soul-reading gaze. 
Then, without a word, the officer departed. 

It was Fish who broke the uncomfortable 
silence. 

“I know whar he got dat stain.” 

“Whar at?” demanded Lawyer with deep 
interest. 

“Kilim’ ’em bootleggers. Dey tells me he 
killed two of ’em wid one lick.” 

Another uncomfortable silence descended. 
It was shattered in a startling and disturbing 
manner by Bohemia, the half-witted colored 
boy, who thrust his head in at the back door 
before they had seen him, and shouted: 

“De hearse is ready!” 

The omen wrapped up in this announcement 
was not lost upon Fish. He elongated his 
ebon frame and put on his black felt hat. 

“I’se through!” he announced feelingly. 
“You kin send dat hearse for some other 
nigger.” 

Lawyer himself was somewhat shaken, but 
he could not see this defection from the ranks. 
“What’s matter wit’ chu?” he demanded. 

“I’se through. Dat’s all. I’se gwine ’way 
from here.” 


116 



FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


"Whar you gwine? You knows you can't 
make no livin' widout me to show you." 

“If I got to git killed to make a livin'," re¬ 
turned Fish, “I don't want to make no livin'." 

The unanswerable arguments that Fish 
sometimes put forward invariably infuriated 
Lawyer. 

"You git out dar an' climb on dat hearse," 
he commanded as he advanced threateningly. 
"Don't, I'se gwine pick up sump'n' an' bus' 
you open!" 

Fish yielded weakly to the threat of force 
and climbed onto the hearse that waited in the 
driveway. Mr. Williams already held the reins, 
and as soon as Lawyer clambered puffily up 
beside them the somber equipage rolled out 
into the street. 

Drawn by a thin yellow horse which rak¬ 
ishly sported a black plume over one ear, they 
passed Officer Johnson at the intersection of 
Church and Nicholson Streets. Impressed by 
their melancholy trappings, he vouchsafed 
them a dignified salute. Several blocks far¬ 
ther on they turned into the swamp road, and 
Undertaker encouraged the horse to a spank¬ 
ing gait. 

"Do he expect us?" inquired Lawyer, as they 
n 7 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


crossed the whitewashed bridge that marked 
the County line. 

“Yeah. I seen him yestiddy,” assured 
Undertaker. 

“Wish I warn’t in dis business,” muttered 
Fish Kelly gloomily. 

“You shet up ’fo’ I cut you open,” threat¬ 
ened Lawyer to this raven perched upon the 
shoulder of Adventure. “You ain’t never 
satisfied.” 

“Dar he now,” Undertaker said. 

A colored gentleman in pink shirt sleeves 
was standing on the stoop of an unpainted 
dwelling. Above his head swung a newly 
painted sign. 

HAMMER JOHN’S HOTEL 

Just across the County line 
Open for business all the time 

“Hello dar, Hammer,” cried Lawyer jov¬ 
ially. 

The gentleman addressed made a silencing 
gesture and looked cautiously up and down the 
untenanted country road. 

“Drive her roun’ to de back,” he directed. 

Undertaker swung into the indicated drive- 
118 



FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


way and at the rear of the house maneuvered 
into a loading position at the doorway with 
professional skill. 

The three adventurers dismounted. Under¬ 
taker opened the door of the hearse, and he 
and Lawyer slid the oblong black box on to the 
loading platform and then carried it into the 
barroom. Fish, his thin black frame clad in 
flapping raiment of the same hue as himself, 
trailed along behind as if overcome by the 
prescience of doom. The actual carrying out 
of the risky schemes by which he and Lawyer 
Little eked out a precarious livelihood always 
threw him into the depths of despondency. 

“Hurry up an’ load dis here thing/’ 
grumbled Hammer Jdhn, with obvious dis¬ 
taste. “I don’t like no playin’ wid de dead.” 

“Dat’s what I tells ’em,” agreed Fish. 

“Dat’s what you tells us?” cried Lawyer, as 
he began standing quart bottles in the box, 
while Hammer filled in between them with 
sawdust. “Why, you is de very nigger what 
thought whar to hide dis stuff.” 

“Whar you gwine hide it?” inquired Ham¬ 
mer. “Believe me, boy, dat Cop Johnson can 
smell bootleg likker on you across the road. 
He can tell from de way a fly flies out of de 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


parlor window whether dere’s likker in de 
cellar” 

Lawyer cackled. 

“He have do better dan dat to find dis 
likker.” 

Undertaker laughed loudly, and even Fish 
Kelly showed a gleam of white teeth. 

“Whar you gwine hide it?” 

“Uh-umm! Ne’ mind!” chuckled Lawyer. 
“Cop Johnson be dead nigger ’fo’ he ever find 
dis likker.” 

At this both Undertaker and Fish laughed 
heartily, striking each other on the back. 

When the box was filled to capacity and 
sawdust had been packed in between the up¬ 
standing bottles, Undertaker screwed the top 
on, then they carefully dusted off the sawdust, 
and the four men carried the camouflaged 
cargo outside and slid it into the hearse. 

“Dis mighty thirsty work,” suggested Law¬ 
yer. 

“It sho’ is,” agreed Undertaker and Fish in 
unison. 

“ ’Pears to me like we might as well open 
up one of dem other quarts right now.” 

“Dat’s de way I thinks it,” chuckled Under¬ 
taker, leading the way to the bar. 

“Since dem November ’lections,” grinned 
120 




FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


Lawyer as he tossed off a glass raw, “my right 
foot he jes’ been feelin’ all over de city for a 
railin’ to rest on.” 

“Ain’t gwine need no railin’ when we git dese 
remains in town,” returned Undertaker. “We 
gwine make a powerful lot of money out of 
dat coffin full of heaben.” 

“Nigger, you said it!” 

Fish rolled his white eyes over the rim of his 
glass. “If we don’t git ’way from here,” he 
observed gloomily, “gwine have Cop Johnson 
meet us lookin’ for his cousin.” 

“Man, dat’s de first smart thing I ever hear 
dat nigger say,” agreed Lawyer, who was in 
high good humor from his libations. 

“He always bustin’ up a party,” growled Un¬ 
dertaker, throwing a jaundiced glance at 
Fish. 

“Likker always make you want to fight,” re¬ 
proved Lawyer, leading Undertaker out to the 
hearse. “I don’t see what make you drink it.” 

The three climbed again into the driver’s 
seat and Undertaker drove them silently back 
to the city. 

“Jes’ occurred to me,” mentioned Fish, as 
they drew near to where Officer Johnson was 
stationed, “S’pose one of dem bottles is 
121 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


leakin?” How you ever gwine git de smell 
off'n de coffins” 

“You hit him,” suggested Undertaker. “I'se 
drivin'.” 

“I'se tryin' to help you, nigger,” retorted 
Fish belligerently from his safe position be¬ 
hind Lawyer's bulk. “I done got a idea.” 

“What 'tis?” 

“You git 'bout a dime's worth of Limburger 
cheese,” explained Fish with the inventor's en¬ 
thusiasm, “an' jes' smear it all over whar de 
likker been drippin’. Can't nobody tell den.” 

“He's tryin' to ruin my business!” cried Un¬ 
dertaker. He dropped the reins and made a 
vicious swing at the innocent inventor. 

“Sit down! Sit down!” cried Lawyer. 
“Dar Ossifer Johnson now!” 

Undertaker resumed the reins, muttering 
angrily to himself; and Fish from his corner 
murmured unintelligble arguments in return, 
his lips stuck out and his eyes snapping. 

They drew themselves erect and tried to 
look bereaved as they approached the corner 
where Officer Johnson ruled majestically with 
his scepter of darkly stained wood. Each en¬ 
deavored to express upon his brown or black 
and naturally expressionless countenance the 
proper solemnity due to the present errand, 
122 



FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


and the exact shade of respectful appreciation 
of Cop Johnson's position as chief mourner 
that night at a lodge funeral. The three ex¬ 
pressions rapidly changed as the officer sig¬ 
naled them to stop for an interview. 

“Great Gawd!" breathed Fish, “dat nigger 
done smelled us!" 

“I want to tell you," said Officer Johnson as 
he reached the side of the vehicle, “don't fail me 
at eight o'clock." 

“Naw, suh\” answered Undertaker, wiping 
the perspiration from his forehead. 

‘Who you got in dar?" inquired the officer, 
pointing to the carved wooden curtains. 

Lawyer and Undertaker and Fish were 
almost petrified with fear. 

“Colored man from down the county," stam¬ 
mered Undertaker. 

“What he die from?" 

“He die from—" 

“From rheumatism," put in Fish Kelly, as 
Undertaker hesitated. 

“Praise de Lawd!" murmured Cop Johnson 
piously, as he returned to his station. 

Undertaker urged the yellow horse to a trot 
and they soon reached the black frame build¬ 
ing with purple curtains at the windows. Bo¬ 
hemia was seated on the curbstone of the 
123 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


driveway, playing a heart-breaking melody on 
a mouth organ. 

“It too light for us to be a-takin’ dis likker 
out dar now,” said Undertaker. “Bohemia! 
Unhitch dis horse an’ wash off de hearse. An’ 
give him sump’n’ t y eat.” 

“Dat’s what I wants,” remarked Lawyer. 

“Me an’ you both,” agreed Fish. “You got 
any money?” 

“Yeah. I got some money.” 

“I’ll go wid you,” offered Undertaker, who 
had heard Lawyer’s unguarded remark. 

As they were starting off for the Liberty 
Lunch Room Undertaker turned to Bohemia, 
who was about to lead the equipage into the 
driveway. 

“If you opens dat hearse door,” warned Un¬ 
dertaker, “dat sperrit gwine come out an’ ha’nt 
you.” 

This paralyzing idea deprived Bohemia of 
all repartee. He stood with the harmonica 
arrested halfway to his open mouth. The 
three adventurers looked back as they turned 
into the lunch room, and he was still standing 
in the same attitude. 

Seated at the table covered with red oil¬ 
cloth, and faced by a cold mess of boiled greens 
with bacon, the three colored gentlemen re- 
124 




FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


signed conversation and devoted themselves to 
the efficient use of steel knives with yellow 
bone handles. But after they had proceeded 
to the point where it was necessary to pursue 
isolated slivers of green leaf with the flexible 
blade, their attention descended to less serious 
affairs. 

“You got dat key?” inquired Lawyer sud¬ 
denly. 

Fish picked his soft black hat from the floor 
and felt inside the sweat band. 

“Yeah.” 

“Good thing to have a friend what's Secker- 
tary of de African Livin' and Dead Society,” 
Lawyer chuckled. 

“Good thing to have a friend what’s a under¬ 
taker,” added Fish, to be conciliatory. 

“How we gwine do dis thing?” inquired 
Lawyer of Mr. Williams. 

Undertaker took out three cigars, selected 
one of them, and returned the other two to 
his pocket. 

“You leave it to me,” he directed, lighting 
up. “I'll fix it.” 

As he was the owner of the yellow horse 
and the hearse, the other two sat back in their 
chairs and left it to him. He smoked on with 

125 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


jaundiced solemnity, occasionally scratching 
his sparse black beard. 

“Reckon we better start,” he said finally, 
after Lawyer had paid for the repast. “Gittin’ 
kinder dark outside.” 

They strolled back to the black-and-purple 
undertaking establishment, and Mr. Williams 
yelled from the rear door: 

“You Bohemia! Hitch up dat No. 2 hearse 
an’ bring her out here. An’ don’t make no 
mistake -an’ hitch up No. i.—Las’ week,” he 
added to his two compatriots, “dat nigger 
hitched me up a empty hearse for a funeral. 
I had to run dat yaller horse ragged gittin’ 
back here for de body.” 

Bohemia was not a rapid hitcher. Dusk was 
turning to darkness before he led the yellow 
horse through the shadow of the arched drive¬ 
way. A keen eye would have been needed to 
tell whether the hearse was No. i or No. 2. 

“We ain’t gwine drive out dar an’ den git 
back in time for de Johnson’s funeral, is we?” 
inquired Lawyer. 

“Git in,” was Mr. William’s rejoinder. 

The three mounted the seat again, and 
Undertaker drove them along the evening 
streets. On the corners, arc lamps were be¬ 
ginning to sputter into pale blue globes of 
126 




FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


light. They turned to the left at Church 
Street and proceeded at a solemn pace through 
the teeming colored section of Huntersville. 
Colored ladies were beginning to arrive home 
from a day of cooking for the white folks— 
capacious bundles of provisions clutched be¬ 
neath concealing shawls. Colored gentlemen 
sat thoughtfully upon doorsteps, staying their 
stomachs until dinner time by chewing on Red 
Mule plug. Other colored gentlemen were 
drifting by ones and twos through mysterious 
swinging doors, perhaps in search of a hearten¬ 
ing nip of gin. Lights popped on within the 
rickety wooden houses. Cats slunk with 
gleaming eyes across the road, or sat in 
secluded darkness and conducted a mourn¬ 
fully combative courtship. All about the ad¬ 
venturers was the homely sound, sight and 
aroma of their fellow man. Too soon they 
left it behind and emerged into the quiet un¬ 
lighted road that led to the Gate of Heaven 
Cemetery. 

Fish Kelly stirred uneasily in his outside 
seat next to Lawyer Little. 

“Mr. Williams,” he said, “you take dis here 
key. I jes’ remember I got to meet a man.” 

‘What’s matter wit’ chu?” inquired Under¬ 
taker angrily. 


127 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


In the gloom, all of Fish was lost against 
the black background of the hearse except his 
large white eyeballs. 

“I don’t like no cimetery,” answered Fish 
with feeling. “I don’t like it no time, but after 
dark I ain’t never lost nothin’ in it.” 

“Whose idea was dis ?” demanded Mr. Wil¬ 
liams, 

“Look here, nigger,” interposed Lawyer, on 
whose nerves and superstition their destina¬ 
tion had also begun to tell, “you’s always 
talkin’ voodoo talk at de wrong time. We 
ain’t got but one place to hide dis likker, an’ 
dar’s whar we gwine hide it. I don’t like a 
cimetery neither, but ’tain’t no use makin’ 
things worse dan dey is.” 

“Can’t nothin’ be no worse dan a cimetery.” 

“Nigger,” said Lawyer Little with intense 
seriousness—his teeth were chattering a little 
—“If you say one more word ’bout cimeteries 
I gwine kill you right whar you set.” 

“Dat’s way talk to him,” Mr. Williams 
encouraged. 

The tall iron gates of the cemetery, wide 
open, rose suddenly before them, and the 
wheels began to gird against the cinders of 
the cemetery road. Undertaker touched up the 
yellow horse, who drew them steadily over 
128 




FLIRTING WITH DEATH 


the crest of the small hill toward the new 
mausoleum, recently erected by the African 
Living and Dead Society. Gaunt trees, shed 
of their summer clothing, stretched stark 
limbs in agonized attitudes toward the sullen 
bowl of sky. Insidious vapors, like trailing 
robes, inwreathed and changed along the 
tomb-dotted undulations. The night was 
utterly quiet except for the raucous, irreverent 
crunching of their wheels and the squeaking 
of the rear axle. Ghostlike monuments ap¬ 
peared and were lost suddenly in the deceptive 
vision of night. A cold breath, as if from the 
caverns of the dead, came to meet them, and 
chills of primal foreboding crawled along the 
spines of Lawyer Little and Fish Kelly. They 
found a huge comfort in the presence of 
Undertaker. He, at any rate, they figured, 
was experienced in the ways of the dead. And 
he was not frightened. 

“What dat?” inquired Fish suddenly. 

Lawyer trembled violently. 

“What what?” he asked hoarsely. 

“Thought I seen somethin’,” whispered 
Fish. 

“What it was?” 

“Somethin’ white!” 

With inexplicable cheerfulness, Undertaker 
129 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


interrupted the conversation that was so rap¬ 
idly approaching a climax. 

“You ain’t gwine see nothin’ white in a 
nigger cimetery,” he chuckled. 

Lawyer and Fish were not convinced. They 
sat close to each other and sweated coldly. 

“Here ’tis,” announced Mr. Williams. He 
swung the vehicle around and backed up be¬ 
fore the arched brick dome of the new Society 
mausoleum, dimly discernible as a dark 
mound. “Let’s git dis job done quick,” he 
finished. 

The three men descended stiffly. Mr. Wil¬ 
liams opened the hearse door, and they slid 
forth the black box and deposited it before the 
tomb. 

Mr. Williams closed the hearse and climbed 
back up on the driver’s seat. 

“When you-all git through,” he leaned out 
and announced, “I’ll meet you at de office.” 

“Whar you think you gwine?” demanded 
Lawyer quickly. 

“I got to git back an’ take dem remains to 
Cop Johnson’s house,” explained Undertaker. 
“It’s ’most eight o’clock now.” He cut the 
yellow horse across the flank. 

“Wait!” cried Fish Kelly. 




CHAPTER X 
SLOW MUSIC 


B UT Mr. Williams gave the homeward- 
bound horse another lash and quickly 
drew out of reach. 

“Feared of jes' a box full of likker,” he 
chuckled. 

It had been intended that several bottles 
should be brought into town that night for 
surreptitious sale, and Mr. Williams was very 
glad to be escaping this risky detail. 

He rattled cheerfully along the road to town 
and did not assume a more decorous gait until 
well within the precincts of Huntersville. 
Then, after several blocks of slow travel, he 
reached the black-and-purple house of Wil¬ 
liams. In the office, Bohemia sat cross-legged 
on an easy-chair and by the light of a smoking 
oil lamp rendered upon the ever-faithful mouth 
organ his own interpretation of Chopin's 
funeral march. Bohemia's music was much 
more funereal than Chopin's, and Mr. Wil¬ 
liams interrupted him without ruth. 

131 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Git out dar,” he shouted, “an’ change dis 
horse over to the other hearse. I got to be at 
Cop Johnson’s house in fifteen minutes!” 

As Bohemia scuttled forth, Undertaker re¬ 
moved a large Bible from the curtained book¬ 
shelf on the wall and, making sure that he 
could not be observed from the street, drew 
down a pint bottle from the niche. He took 
three generous swallows. He restored the 
bottle and the Bible, unfastened one button of 
his long frock coat and secured a clove from 
his vest pocket. He rebuttoned his coat and 
brushed it off carefully with his hands. Then 
he went forth and helped Bohemia with the 
hitching, to the effect that within a very short 
while he was backing the other hearse, con¬ 
taining the remains of Stella Johnson, up to 
the curb in front of Officer Johnson’s house on 
Nicholson Street. 

It had been the unique plan of Policeman 
Johnson to entertain a few of the higher 
officers of the lodge at a mourning supper, and 
at its close to usher in the central figure and 
the commoner participants. So, as Mr. Wil¬ 
liams arrived, the feasted officers came forth, 
in various habiliments of somber grandeur, 
and made short shrift of the labor of conveying 
the central figure from the vehicle to the par- 
132 




SLOW MUSIC 


lor, where it was deposited for the viewing and 
for the religious service upon two draped car¬ 
penter’s horses in the middle of the floor. 

Close packed against the walls, like a 
hundred-headed dragon, the ogling crowd of 
mourners entwined itself about the silent black 
box while Mr. Williams, with professional 
celerity, proceeded to unscrew the four ends. 

As Undertaker worked, not unaware of the 
dramatic possibilities of his part in the serv¬ 
ice, Officer Johnson and a bespectacled old 
preacher pushed in from the hall and attained 
a position at the head of the black box, where 
they stood in solemn anticipation. But the 
proximity of the officer of the law no longer 
caused Mr. Williams to tremble. He realized 
that he, himself, more even than the preacher 
at that moment, was the dominant figure in 
the assembly. Besides, he had three fingers 
of firewater lying comfortably against his ribs. 
So, having removed the final screw, he lifted 
the top of the black box, and as he did so 
watched with an almost superior curiosity to 
see whether Officer Johnson evinced any un¬ 
easiness at this nearness of the dead. 

Indeed, Officer Johnson’s expression was 
well worth observing. His mouth opened, his 
eyes seemed to start forth from their sockets. 
i33 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


He grasped, as if for support, at the preacher's 
arm. Undertaker glanced about the room. 
Officer Johnson's expression was duplicated 
on every face. Then Mr. Williams looked in 
the box, and understood. 

The brown mouths of innumerable bottles, 
freshly corked, protruded slightly through 
their level bedding of clean sawdust. They 
and their bedding filled the box from end to 
end. 

The silence in the room was terrific. In that 
gathering, reason and superstition raced with 
each other to touch the goal of explanation. 
Even Undertaker, who should have held the 
key, thought for a moment that his mind was 
gone. Then he suddenly realized that Bohemia 
had hitched up the wrong vehicles. 

He looked up and saw Police Officer John¬ 
son creeping toward him as a cat creeps 
toward a bird. 

Perhaps in the sensations of that moment 
Undertaker expiated for having deserted 
Lawyer Little and Fish Kelly at the ghoulish 
mausoleum. 

But the minds of Fish and Lawyer were 
occupied with more pressing problems than 
134 



SLOW MUSIC 


retribution, unless it should be retribution 
upon themselves. 

“He gone,” said Fish with unutterable de¬ 
spair, as the yellow horse flitted away in the 
darkness. 

They stood quite still and listened for sev¬ 
eral moments until the fleeing hearse could no 
longer be heard. Then the myriad small voices 
of the night rose from the populated field and 
seemed to draw nearer and close in upon them. 
Lawyer tried to speak firmly, but could emit 
only a whisper. 

“Is you got de key?” 

“You think I gwine to open dat place?” Fish 
whispered fiercely. 

“Give it to me den.” 

Fish found the key in his hat and handed it 
over. Lawyer gave the coffin a wide berth 
and approached the door of the crypt. Fish 
kept closer than a brother. Lawyer’s hand 
trembled, but the key finally scratched its way 
into place, and with one turn the padlock 
unfastened. 

“Ketch hold here an’ pull her open,” whis¬ 
pered Lawyer. 

Fish gingerly added his hand to the handle, 
but as the door swung outward and divulged 
a yawning pit of blackness he leaped away. 

135 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


His calves struck the coffin and he fell over 
backward upon it, rolling- to the ground with 
a weak yawp of terror. 

Lawyer hastened to him, principally because 
he did not care to remain alone on the other 
side of the black box. 

“Git up!” he demanded. 

Fish lay still and moaned. 

“Git up!” repeated Lawyer, kicking him in 
the ribs. 

Fish gradually attained a standing position. 
The chattering of his teeth was plainly audible. 

“Now light dat candle,” whispered Lawyer 
intensely. Necessity had compelled an im¬ 
provement in his morale. 

Fish fumbled in his pocket and brought 
forth half a candle, but Lawyer snatched it 
away from him and lighted it. With a drop 
of hot wax he attached it to the coffin lid, 
where it burned without a flicker, and threw 
a faint circle of light that made the surround¬ 
ing darkness seem even blacker and more 
alive. 

“Ketch hold dat end,” commanded Lawyer, 
indicating the end nearer the tomb. 

“You take dat end.” 

“What you skeered of?” Lawyer wanted to 
136 




SLOW MUSIC 


know. “You ain’t skeered of a box o’ likker, 
is you?” 

“How you know dat a box of likker?” 

“What you think it is?” 

“How you know it ain’t turned into some¬ 
thin’ else?” 

“Man, you is jes’ a plain fool,” retorted Mr. 
Little, not without some uneasiness. 

“Ain’t you ever hear dat a horsehair in alco¬ 
hol will turn to a snake?” 

“Sho’ I is.” 

“Well, den,” concluded Fish. 

This argument had some of the enraging 
finality that characterized many of Fish’s 
gloomy utterances. 

“You pick up dis end,” said Lawyer. “Don’t, 
I gwine cut yo’ th’oat.” 

He assumed the end nearer the tomb, Fish 
lifted the other, and they tottered into the 
vault with the heavy black box carried length¬ 
wise between them. When they lowered it, 
Lawyer’s end slipped and fell about a foot to 
the ground. 

Fish Kelly’s coal-black face turned a pale 
gray. 

“I ain’t heered nothin’ rattle,” he said 
hoarsely. 

Lawyer felt cold prickles of terror run over 
137 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


his body. Neither had he. But business is 
business. 

“Shet yo’ mouf, nigger!” he snarled. He 
took a screwdriver from his hip pocket and 
proceeded to unscrew one of the ends of the 
lid. 

“Wait,” begged Fish. “Lemme git out o' 
here first!” 

But Lawyer grabbed Mr. Kelly as he passed 
and threw him into the far corner of the Afri¬ 
can Living and Dead Society’s new crypt. 

“You stay dar now,” he grated, “till I’se 
ready for you to he’p me tote dis likker back 
to town. I done had enough o’ yo’ groanin’s 
an’ a-moanin’s.” 

Fish was drawn near by an irresistible fas¬ 
cination as Lawyer pulled out the fourth and 
final screw. Mr. Little, with an air of nervous 
bravado, puffed to his feet and dusted off the 
dirt from the knees of his trousers. The candle 
on the silent black box had burned till only an 
inch of it remained above its widening base 
of tallow. Fish Kelly’s eyes and Lawyer’s 
greasy yellow face gleamed in its pale rays; 
their shadows, huge and grotesque, made sud¬ 
den crazy leaps upon the curved ceiling just 
above their shoulders. The tomb was cold and 
damp. Small movements caused abnormally 
138 




SLOW MUSIC 


loud sounds, as if Echo cried out against the 
presence of motion in this sanctuary for 
the forever motionless. 

Lawyer picked up the candle. 

“Take off dat lid,” he commanded. 

Fish swallowed, moistened his lips and 
looked about as if for assistance. 

“You take it off,” he suggested. 

“You want me kick you in de stummick?” 

Fish leaned over and slid the coffin top on 
to the ground. 

Then he stood up and looked into the box: 
gazed upon a still woman in black, with tar- 
colored skin and closed eyes and frizzy hair in 
a high pompadour. 

“Gawd!” he breathed. 

Lawyer leaned over it as if hypnotized. His 
face had gone pale as amber. His hand hold¬ 
ing the candle was trembling so that in the 
wavering light the recumbent woman's fea¬ 
tures seemed to change and grimace weirdly. 

Lawyer dropped the candle, and in the same 
instant Fish made a wild dash for the door. 
But he tripped on the coffin lid and fell prone. 
Lawyer, in flight, stepped upon him, and Fish 
grasped the bigger man's leg as a drowning 
man clutches a straw. In the pitch darkness 
Lawyer felt two horrid claws fasten upon his 
i39 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


limbs and begin dragging him down in the 
uttermost abyss of hell. He endeavored to 
shriek, but emitted only a wordless moan. 
Kicking fiercely to be free, his other foot found 
purchase upon Mr. Kelly's face. One forceful 
push here and he was disengaged. In another 
instant he was on the outside, running straight 
into the arms of five men. 

“Here one of 'em!" cried Officer Johnson as 
he clinched with Mr. Little. 

“Here's the other one!" cried a white police¬ 
man. “Hey, there! Stop!" 

The long thin figure of Fish Kelly flitted by 
like a bird, and gathered speed with each shot 
from the revolvers of his pursuers. The line 
of shadows grew fainter and fainter as the 
chase led up the slope of the hill. In the van 
was a narrow shadow that darted like a deer 
over tombstone and hillock; behind, at a 
constantly widening interval, trailed other 
shadows, testifying to the hopelessness of their 
endeavors by occasional volleys fired at ran¬ 
dom into the air. 

“Ne' mind," said Cop Johnson to Mr. Little, 
whom he held tightly by the scruff of the neck. 
“I got you, anyway!" 

Later that night two colored gentlemen sat 
opposite each other in a small oblong cell, at 
140 




SLOW MUSIC 


one end of which was a heavy iron door with 
a grating. They had sat for a long time in 
silence. 

“What you smiling at?” inquired Lawyer 
Little suddenly. “I ain’t seen nothin’ to be 
smilin’ at.” 

“I jes’ thinkin’,” explained Undertaker Wil¬ 
liams. “I jes’ thinkin’ ’bout how when I gits 
out of here I gwine ketch dat nigger Bohemia. 
I gwine ketch him all by hisself, an’ I sho’ 
gwine bus’ him open.” 

Lawyer Little thought over this for a while, 
and then he, too, smiled, as if in pleasant 
anticipation. 




CHAPTER XI 

LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


E a cork that has been held under water 



and suddenly released, Fish Kelly— 


—* during the period of Lawyer Little's 
incarceration—bobbed happily up to the sur¬ 
face of life. At first he subsisted upon the 
store of food that he had purchased during 
the brief period when he had been in funds. 
And he lingered day after day in Mr. Green¬ 
berg’s delicatessen—having thus the opportu¬ 
nity, metaphorically, to touch the hem of the 
winsome Miss Macedonia Clinton’s skirt. He 
was her willing slave, ran errands for her, 
lifted the heavy packages to the shelves, swept 
out the store when it was her day to do this 
task, kept the show windows clean and shin¬ 
ing, and by reason of his simple loyalty and 
obvious affection won himself, gradually, a 
place in the lady’s regard which he would not 
have dared to believe. 

In order to keep Mr. Greenberg from throw¬ 
ing him incontinently into the street, Fish also 


LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


did favors for that somewhat irritable and un¬ 
appreciative gentleman; and by the time his 
supply of provisions had run out he had be¬ 
come a useful appendage of the store. But he 
could not work indefinitely without food, and 
he had for so long a time been subsisting upon 
the fruits of adventures concocted by Lawyer 
Little that he now hardly knew which way to 
turn. 

Macedonia came upon him where he was 
almost indistinguishable in a dark corner, 
brooding over the hunger gnawing at his 
vitals. 

“Listen, Fish,” she said, reading the story 
told by his distressful countenance, “if I gits 
you a job wid Mr. Greenberg, will you promise 
me sump’n’?” 

“Lady,” replied Fish, “you don’t have to do 
nothin’ for me to make me promise. I’ll 
promise you anything you wants, lady.” 

Macedonia had difficulty keeping the throb 
of sudden feeling out of her voice. 

“I done already got you de job,” she in¬ 
formed him softly. “I wants you to promise 
me dat when dat man Lawyer Little git out of 
jail, you won’t have nothin’ mo’ to do wid him. 
I wants you to keep a job steady, an’ not git in 
no mo’ trouble. Will you do dat for me?” 
i43 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Fish swallowed desperately, but even so, the 
lump in his throat would not permit him to 
speak. This unexpected and unusual solici¬ 
tude overwhelmed him. “Lady,” he said pres¬ 
ently, “you done heard what I told you.” And 
he got up suddenly and went out into the street 
where she could not see his eyes. 

It was thus that Fish Kelly came into his 
duty of trundling a delivery wagon about the 
colored section, delivering groceries for Mr. 
Greenberg. It was thus, with a great lighten¬ 
ing of the heart, that he became respectable, 
no longer turning with a start when some one 
touched him on the shoulder. By nature he 
was never adventurous; peace stole into his 
heart like a song 

It was early in the afternoon—about two 
months after he had assumed his job—that 
Fish pushed a cart containing a peck of pota¬ 
toes along a road in the outskirts of Hunters¬ 
ville. If it is hardly probable that Fish Kelly 
recognized the directing hand of Fate, it is 
also hardly probable that Fate recognized Fish 
Kelly. Instead of the tattered garb that for 
years had flapped about him like an Arab's 
tent, he wore a form-fitting black suit, known 
at the People's Dollar-Down Emporium as a 
“young man's society model.'' His usually 
144 



LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


unrestrained Adam’s apple was hidden by a 
tall celluloid collar of baby blue, from which 
descended a four-in-hand of a shrill and joyous 
red. No longer did his generous feet protrude 
through mutilated cast-offs to be the play¬ 
things of splinters and cold weather. They 
were encased in buttoned yellow shoes on the 
tops of which the natural hair of a deceased 
bullock proclaimed mutely the last word in 
footwear. 

But something like a chill of premonition 
crept along Mr. Kelly’s spine as he passed half 
a dozen dark-skinned gentlemen who, as 
guests of the city, were wielding pick and 
shovel under the superintendence of a white 
man with a rifle. 

They paused in their work on the road and 
examined him and made slighting remarks 
born of envy. But Fish was not the kind to 
answer back. His tar-black features fell into 
an expression of sullen indifference and he kept 
his prominent eyes glued to the cart. Thus he 
got safely by. He trundled along for several 
yards and began to breathe more freely. Then 
his heart came into his mouth at the sound of 
a familiar and dreaded voice. 

“Hey, you! You, Fish! You, Fish Kelly!” 

It was Lawyer Little. And yet it wasn’t 
145 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Lawyer Little. His bacon-colored face was 
thinner. Ninety days of honest manual labor 
had reduced that one-time spherical form to an 
almost-human shape. The long, ceremonial 
coat that once had been black, and later a 
greenish-black, now chimed in with the pale- 
green tints of spring, and hung upon him 
loosely. It might safely have been surmised 
that he wore it to hide the fact that he wore 
nothing underneath it. His greasy opera hat, 
looking dusty and discouraged, sat bottom up 
in the shelter of a rock, a single reminder of 
departed splendor. 

The expression on Lawyer’s face as he 
leaned on a pick and confronted his former 
satellite was not such as to reassure that pal¬ 
pitant gentleman. They both remembered 
that Lawyer had been jailed while Fish, 
though equally guilty, had escaped. 

“Look mighty reckless,” commented Law¬ 
yer acidly. 

Fish squirmed and did not raise his mourn¬ 
ful eyes above Lawyer’s chest. 

“Makin’ lot of money, I reckon.” 

“Mum-mum-mum.” 

“What’s dat?” 

Fish pouted his thick lips and blinked his 
eyes and didn’t answer. 

146 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


Lawyer’s bitterness began to crop out. He 
stepped closer. 

“You done forget all about yo’ old friends, 
ain’t you? You buys red ties an’ yaller shoes 
an’ let yo’ friends hump, don’t you? What gal 
you hangin’ round?” he asked suddenly. 

Fish involuntarily grinned, then pouted, 
then grinned. 

“I ain’t hangin’ round nothin’,” he mumbled. 

“Don’t lie to me, nigger!” 

“Whyn’t you go ’way an’ leave me ’lone?” 

“ ’Cause you done gone back on a friend. 
I go to jail and you out struttin’ round like a 
gobbler.” 

“Wouldn’t make you git out no sooner for 
me to go to jail.” 

Fish’s logic made Lawyer furious. 

“Lissen,” he hissed. “I gwine git out of here 
to-day, an’ I got have some money.” 

“I ain’t got no money.” 

“Naw. But you better figger some way to 
git some.” 

“I done cut out dis monkey business. I don’t 
want go to jail.” 

“Well, if you don’t want go to jail,” said 
Lawyer with significant emphasis, “you better 
do like I tell you. Where you work?” 

“Mister Greenberg’s grocery.” 

147 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Meet me at de Palm Palace at eight 
o’clock.” 

Without answering, Fish leaned against the 
handle of the pushcart and proceeded mourn¬ 
fully on his way. The worst had happened. 
The fact that he always expected the worst 
did not seem to help him, perhaps because this 
was beyond the aid of philosophy. The edict 
given forth by Macedonia was final and un¬ 
equivocal. The lips that touched bread and 
water as guest of the turnkey should never 
touch hers. And now Fish feared he must join 
Lawyer in some nefarious enterprise, or Law¬ 
yer would maneuver to have him jailed for the 
old offense. 

Lawyer’s enterprises were almost never suc¬ 
cessful. It seemed to Fish, as he plodded along 
the oyster-shell road, that he had the alterna¬ 
tive of going to jail with Lawyer in order to 
keep out of going to jail by himself; or 
of going to jail by himself in order to keep 
out of going to jail with Lawyer. In either 
choice the jail figured largely. The lips of 
Macedonia began to take on a smile of fare¬ 
well. 

He delivered the peck of potatoes and 
trundled back to the store. He rested the 
front end of his cart on the curb, put a brick 
148 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


in to hold it down, and went into the grocery 
and sat down in a dark corner on a box of 
canned tomatoes. 

The vivacious, yellow-skinned Miss Clinton 
espied him suddenly as she came in, and 
almost dropped the large clay bowl of potato 
salad she was bearing. 

"What’s matter wit’ chu?” she inquired in 
a high voice. 

Fish pouted darkly. 

"You sick?” 

His black lids gloomily covered and un¬ 
covered the large whites of his eyes. 

Miss Clinton placed the bowl of salad inside 
the glass showcase, wiped her damp hands on 
her blue-checked apron, and returned to the 
difficult attack. 

"What’s matter you can’t talk?” 

Fish blinked his eyes for some moments and 
then said: 

"I done seen Lawyer Little.” 

"What you told him?” 

"I ain’t told him nothin’.” 

"You better told him somethin’. You know 
what I told you, ain’t you?” 

Fish did not reply. Miss Clinton gave a 
pat to her high-colored glossy coiffure and 
149 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


stepped firmly away, whereupon Fish sank 
into a round heap of gloom. 

Presently he got up and shuffled to the front 
of the store where Mr. Moses Greenberg, who 
believed in novel and striking methods of 
advertising, was assisted by Miss Clinton in 
putting some baby mice, kittens and puppies 
in the shop window. 

After casting a shadow of gloom over the 
whole performance, and getting Mr. Green¬ 
berg correspondingly irritated, Fish’s eye 
lightened as it fell upon two heart-shaped, 
small, near-gold clocks in the notion showcase. 
They had gold hands with heart-shaped ruby 
tips. Each of the numerals was printed in gold 
on a red heart, and a larger red heart decorated 
the center of the face. They were clocks that 
spoke eloquently of love. 

“How much one dese clocks, Mr. Mose?” 
Fish inquired, brightening as he pictured how 
Miss Macedonia would smile to receive one. 

Macedonia giggled. “What you want wid 
one of dem clocks?” 

“Gimme dat one, Mr. Mose.” 

“Where’s your money, Fish?” 

“You kin take it out my pay.” 

“Nothing doing,” replied Mr. Moses Green- 

150 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


berg decidedly. “Not till you clean up that 
eight dollars coming to me” 

“When you ain’t got no money you needn’t 
come around!” sang a rich baritone, and Ted 
Harpy pushed his burly frame in front of the 
showcase, elbowing Fish out of place. His 
gold tooth fairly scintillated in his round 
brown grinning face. His sharply pressed 
mustard-colored suit, his striped silk shirt, and 
his apple-green cravat fastened with a diamond 
as large as a pigeon’s egg, were aptly calcu¬ 
lated to catch the feminine eye. 

“’At nigger ain’t gwine never buy you 
nothin’. He jes’ talkin’,” said he to Miss Clin¬ 
ton, whose white teeth were showing self¬ 
consciously at the appearance of competition. 

“Who ain’t gwine buy her sumpin’? I got 
money.” 

“Yeah. You got money like a fish got hair,” 
retorted the driver of Mr. Greenberg’s delivery 
wagon. “You don’t know how to take care 
of no little brown. Whyn’t you go ’way an’ 
leave a man’s job to a man?” 

Fish took in awfully the big thews of Ted 
Harpy’s shoulders, but he would have faced 
death itself, at any rate conversationally, if 
Miss Clinton were looking on. 

“She gwine git dat clock,” he retorted, evad- 

151 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


ing the personal issue. “You see if she don’t.” 

“Yeah. If I gives it to her,” retorted Ted 
Harpy. 

Fish drifted in a dark mood of jealousy out 
to the street and rolled his cart up the side 
lane, where he parked it for the night. 

Evening was beginning to gather. The 
dusty windows of the grocery suddenly 
spouted oblongs of yellow light into the nar¬ 
row street, crowded with dark-skinned, slowly 
moving men and women returning from their 
day’s work, talking and laughing happily with 
not a care for the morrow. 

Fish stood moodily on the corner without 
moving and without thinking for perhaps an 
hour. Then he drifted across to the Liberty 
Lunch Room and ordered a huge mess of pork 
and cabbage. Feeling refreshed, he began to 
consider whether or not to meet Lawyer at the 
Palm Palace at eight o’clock. If he did, it 
would likely mean trouble; but if he didn’t, 
Lawyer might arrange to have him thrown 
into jail for the part he had played in their 
venture at bootlegging. Lawyer was very 
vindictive when he was crossed. 

Fish got up and shuffled moodily out into 
the street, which was alive with a happy, dark- 
skinned throng. Soprano and baritone laugh- 
152 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


ter broke now and then loudly forth. In Benny 
Hooton's barber shop a jet-black gentleman 
reclined in a chair, a beard of startlingly white 
lather upon his chin. At the door, three stylish 
yellow gentlemen, of the younger generation, 
with straightened greasy hair, pointed their 
faces skyward and “held” the last note of the 
“Memphis Blues.” Fish crossed the cobbles 
and dragged his large feet disconsolately 
toward the Palm Palace. As he reached the 
fragrant portals of Hammer John's saloon, an 
emaciated black cat—the hair standing up on 
its back and on its vertical stiff tail—dashed 
from beneath the swinging doors and across 
the sidewalk in front of him. 

Fish Kelly abruptly stopped. “If dis here 
cat gwine cross my trail, den I know dere's 
trouble cornin'!” He sallied cautiously out 
into the street, endeavoring to circle the un¬ 
lucky animal so that its trail would not cross 
his. The cat paused, a few feet from the curb, 
and crouching forward ready for flight, stared 
at Fish with slitted yellow eyes. One of the 
creature's ears was torn, and its near shoulder 
stuck out gauntly through its moth-eaten black 
fur. A chill crept along Mr. Kelly’s spine. He 
made a sudden dash to pass the sinister crea¬ 
ture; but the cat—apparently identifying him 
153 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


with the original cause of its flight—spat 
hastily and sprang across the street, where— 
with feet spraddled angrily and tail stiffly up¬ 
right—it disappeared in the darkness of a 
lane. 

Despondency sat upon Mr. Kelly like a 
mantle as he pursued his melancholy way. 
Eyes on the ground, lips pouted, and his inky 
face almost lost against the blackness of his 
clothes, he shuffled through the swinging 
doors of the Palm Palace. He had been settin’ 
pretty entirely too long, and had known it all 
the while. Luck was laying for him with a 
club. 

Near the far end of the soda counter, and at 
the entrance to the pool and billiard room be¬ 
yond, stood an aged rubber-plant with remov¬ 
able leaves. It was from this that the Palm 
Palace derived its name. Fish sat down be¬ 
yond it, where he could view both rooms at 
once and be invisible to any one coming in the 
front street door. The three pool tables were 
all in use, the balls clicking about busily on the 
level green felt. Spectators sat upon benches 
in the darker region against the walls, and 
issued wreaths of tobacco smoke that writhed 
in graceful layers toward the conical beams 
of the green-shaded table lights. 

154 



LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


In the front room two young bucks and a 
raucous, boisterous black girl were seated on 
high stools before the moist marble counter, 
waited upon by a tall, thin, yellow youth in a 
coat that had once been white. Upon the 
mirror behind the “soda jerker’s” back were 
written, with many curlicues of soft soap, the 
names of the delicacies of the hour, prominent 
among which were “The Jelly Bean’s De¬ 
light,^ “The Razzle Dazzle,” and the “Bear 
Mountain Cocktail.” The boisterous black 
girl already was essaying a glass containing a 
complicated mixture of chocolate ice cream, 
banana, sarsaparilla and maraschino cherries. 
Fish—stirred to momentary interest—began 
to plan the drink that he should order, when 
the towering form of Ted Harpy appeared 
at the front door. 

Ted’s round brown face shone as if slicked 
up for society, and Fish Kelly looked upon him 
with a growing sense of gloom. After all, Ted 
Harpy was his chief rival for the affections of 
Miss Macedonia Clinton, and there was much 
about him to attract the feminine mind. Built 
like a wrestler or a boxer, he carried off his 
mustard-colored suit and apple-green cravat 
with a hearty masculine gusto. His gold tooth 
vied with the diamond scarf pin to speak the 
155 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


last word in elegance. Fish did not like to 
contemplate what romance might occur at Mr. 
Greenberg's grocery if he himself should be 
torn away by the hand of the law. 

Fish was surprised to observe that Ted, also, 
seemed to have something on his mind. But 
he had hardly noticed this when Lawyer 
Little—wearing this time a shirt and collar, 
and his gold-rimmed ceremonial spectacles— 
came through the swinging doors. Lawyer 
became at once the center of a reception. The 
two young bucks, the black young lady, 
crowded round and tactfully asked him where 
he had been, as if they did not know. Lawyer 
doffed his battered and greasy opera hat, 
creased his greenish long-tailed coat in a man¬ 
nered bow, and explained that he had been 
down in the country visiting his folks. 

Ted Harpy offered him a drink, which he 
accepted with alacrity. They leaned upon the 
counter, over their stone mugs of root beer, 
and fell into a conversation that grew more 
and more subdued and earnest. Presently they 
withdrew to one of the circular, cherry-colored 
tables, with wire legs, by the street window— 
apparently so as to be able to talk without 
being overheard. 

Fish would have been pleased to see Law- 
156 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


yer’s attention thus diverted from himself if 
his instinct had not told him that all was not 
well. Perhaps it was the presence in combina¬ 
tion of these two hostile forces. His suspicions 
grew as he heard Lawyer laugh out suddenly 
and refer to “dat skinny black nigger. ,, They 
became unbearable as he saw Ted Harpy strip 
a silver ring from his finger and push it across 
the table to Lawyer. If Ted Harpy was pay¬ 
ing Lawyer Little to do anything, the chances 
were that it was not for the benefit of Fish 
Kelly. 

Fish rose from his seat behind the rubber 
plant and shuffled over to the other table. 

“Evenin’, Mr. Little.” 

When Lawyer and Ted saw who it was they 
simultaneously broke out laughing. 

“Set down, Mr. Kelly. Set down,” insisted 
Lawyer, choking back his mirth. 

“We was jes’ talkin’ ’bout you, Mr. Kelly,” 
added Ted, bending over with laughter. 

Fish sat down sullenly. At the sight of his 
pouting lips and resentfully blinking eyes, 
Lawyer and Ted were besieged by gigglings 
which they could not control. Lawyer sobered 
himself and inquired politely: 

“Has you ever been arrested, Mr. Kelly?” 

This was too much for Ted Harpy. He left 
i57 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


the table and bolted through the swinging 
doors. They could hear his roars of laughter 
coming in from the street. 

“Dat man crazy, ain’t he?” snapped Fish. 

Lawyer drew his features into a serious 
expression. 

“Dat business I was gwine have wid you,” 
he said as he pushed back his chair, “we’ll talk 
’bout dat at the sto’ to-morrow mornin’. I got 
git you to ’scuse me.” 

He put his hand over his mouth and hurried 
after Ted Harpy. 

A very unpleasant sensation began to fasten 
itself upon Fish. He had a feeling that some¬ 
thing was about to happen. It seemed danger¬ 
ous to leave the Palace, yet it was perhaps just 
as dangerous to remain where he was. He sat 
in an agony of indecision for some while, and 
then, overcome by a deep depression, he rose 
and shuffled out in search of that unfailing 
fountain of cheer, Miss Macedonia Clinton. 

He had failed to make his usual evening 
appointment with her before leaving the store, 
but hoped nevertheless to find her in. His 
mood was not lightened to hear from her 
mother that she had “done gone to the movin’ 
pitchers wid Mister Harpy.” 

There are some people, like Lawyer Little, 
158 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


who ride precariously but triumphantly down 
the current of life like a Canuck balanced on 
a log. There are others who cling by their 
finger nails and expect momentarily to go over 
a waterfall. Fish Kelly was of the latter 
variety. For years he had been an unwilling 
passenger with Lawyer, dashing through the 
rapids of adventure. Of late, while Lawyer 
was in jail, he had floated into a mirrorlike 
shoal, calm and beautiful. Here he had 
plucked and eaten of the lotus of love. He 
had dreamed dreams. He had imagined Mace¬ 
donia and himself strolling hand in hand for¬ 
ever through a peaceful meadow where leafy 
vines bore sliced watermelons, and where 
flocks of fried chickens would run up and eat 
the seeds out of your hand. Then Lawyer had 
returned and drawn him rudely back into the 
stream. 

He shuffled mournfully to his lodgings, 
turned in and slept dreamlessly till six o’clock 
the next morning. He rose and partook of a 
light breakfast at the Liberty Lunch Room 
and then repaired to the grocery. 

Ted Harpy soon drove up with the horse 
and wagon, whistling cheerily as though he 
had spent a pleasant time the evening before. 
Under the direction of Mr. Greenberg, Fish 
159 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


loaded his cart with orders for the early 
delivery, and presently trundled off on his 
rounds. 

As he returned with the empty wagon about 
an hour later, he was not exactly cheered to 
see Lawyer Little standing in front of the 
grocery as if waiting for him. He dropped 
the front of the cart on the curb and put the 
brick in it to hold it down. Then he walked 
hastily into the store entrance as if he had not 
seen Lawyer. 

“Hey dere! You, Fish 1” 

Fish paused. He did not care to converse 
with Lawyer, but there seemed no escape. Far 
in the rear of the store Mr. Greenberg and the 
plump and rounded Miss Clinton were waiting 
on a group of customers. Ted Harpy lounged 
by the notions showcase. 

“What you want?” asked Fish soberly, as 
Lawyer approached. 

“I got some money for you.” 

“How come?” 

“I ain’t got it. But dere’s a tall yaller man 
down on de next corner say he bringin’ you 
some money from yo’ folks. I been waitin’ 
here to tell you.” 

“How come he ain’t come up here where 
I is?” 

160 




LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


“Don’t talk back to me, nigger!” threatened 
Lawyer. “You go down dere like I tells you.” 

Fish was easily dominated. He shuffled 
down to the corner, hoping with the darky’s 
credulity that a fortune was awaiting him. 

There was no tall yellow man on the next 
corner. Fish looked all around and into one 
or two stores. He next looked separately for 
a tall man and then for a yellow man. He saw 
neither. Lawyer had fooled him. He shuffled 
gloomily back to the store. 

As he approached he was astonished to see 
Mr. Greenberg, waving his hands, rush ex¬ 
citedly into the street, followed by Ted Harpy 
and Lawyer and Macedonia and several cus¬ 
tomers. When they saw Fish they pointed 
and rushed in his direction. 

Fish stopped and looked over his shoulder. 
For a moment it occurred to him that they had 
espied the tall yellow man behind him. But 
he was disillusioned when Mr. Greenberg, 
trembling with excitement, grabbed him 
fiercely by the arm. 

“Here he is! Here’s the scoundrel! Call a 
policeman! Call a policeman!” 

But a passing policeman had observed the 
rumpus. He crossed the street and shouldered 
his way into the center of the crowd. 

161 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“What’s the trouble here?” he inquired, 
taking a grip on Fish’s collar. 

“He’s a thief! A thief! He steals my two 
clocks, wort’ thirty-six dollar. Oy yoi! Hold 
him. Hold him!” 

“Where’s them clocks?” demanded the offi¬ 
cer, giving Fish a shake. 

“I ain’t seen no clocks.” 

“Yes, you have. These men saw you.” Mr. 
Greenberg indicated Lawyer and Ted. 

“All right,” said the officer. “You’d better 
come down to the station with me and prefer 
charges. It’s early and we can get him on 
to-day’s docket. You two men come, too.” 

“Ain’t no need for me to go down dere,” 
objected Lawyer, at the same time involun¬ 
tarily putting his hand to the pocket in the tail 
of his greenish coat. “I done tol’ all I know.” 

“Me neither,” agreed Ted, who had also 
become decidedly nervous at the apparently 
unexpected idea of having to go to court. “All 
I done is seen him take de clocks an’ run.” 

“Shut up and come on!” snapped the police¬ 
man. 

Lawyer and Ted shut. They also followed 
along. Mr. Greenberg rushed back and locked 
the grocery and then joined them. Miss Clin¬ 
ton was there. So were the customers. Small 
162 



LAWYER LITTLE EMERGES FOR AIR 


boys sprang up in myriads, as if out of the 
pavement, and formed an awe-struck convoy. 
The procession grew larger and larger, and by 
the time they had traversed the eight blocks 
to the station house it resembled a small 
parade. 




CHAPTER XII 
RING OUT, WILD BELLS! 

HINGS had happened so fast, Fish 



wasn’t quite sure whether he had 


stolen anything or not. He remem¬ 
bered the clocks very well. One of them he 
had tried to purchase the day before—and no 
doubt this would count against him. From 
Mr. Greenberg’s excitement, and the size of 
the crowd, he felt that his crime had been ter¬ 
rible. It remained but for the court to do the 
rest. 

Fish’s skin was almost a battleship gray, 
and his eyes stuck out like a crab’s. In the 
police station he stood in a daze during 
the formalities of entering the charge against 
him. The next thing he knew, an officer had 
led him along the street into another building 
and he was being urged down unpleasant cor¬ 
ridors, through strange apartments, and up a 
flight of steps. He expected to land in a grated 
cell and was correspondingly astonished when 
he came suddenly out into a crowded room and 


164 


RING OUT , WILD BELLS! 


saw Macedonia sitting on a bench facing him, 
not thirty feet away. 

It was the court room, and he was in the 
prisoner’s pen. He sat down on the long bench 
that held perhaps a dozen white and colored 
nondescripts. A solid wooden partition, about 
three feet high, separated him from the side 
of the judge’s desk, which faced the room from 
an elevated platform. In front of this plat¬ 
form was a space and three rows of empty 
chairs. Then came another railing, and, be¬ 
hind that, well-filled benches for spectators 
and witnesses took up the balance of the long 
room. 

On one of these front benches sat Mr. 
Greenberg, Lawyer, Ted Harpy and Mace¬ 
donia. None of them was very much at ease. 
Macedonia sat rigid with her chin elevated and 
her lips compressed. She kept her eyes fast¬ 
ened on the golden eagle perched above the red 
curtains draped on the wall behind the judge’s 
chair. 

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” 

The sharp voice of the clerk rang out 
through the room, although the remainder of 
his announcement was lost in the noise of the 
crowd scuffling its feet. 

The judge, a youngish, patient-looking man 

165 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


with thin black hair, had come in and was 
standing by his seat till the announcement 
should be over. 

“The honorable court is now in session. Be 
seated,” finished the clerk. 

Every one sat down, including the judge. 

Then the clerk at breakneck speed called off 
a list of names, saying each name three times. 
After that the occupants of the prisoners' pen 
were ushered before the judge, one at a time. 
A policeman would testify, and sometimes a 
witness. Most were charged with being “then 
and there drunk and intoxicated,” and were 
swiftly fined ten dollars. One man was given 
ninety days for stealing, and Fish shuddered. 

At last Fish heard his own name and 
stumbled through the partition gate and shuf¬ 
fled uneasily before the judge. The clerk 
read the charge that Fish Kelly was accused 
of stealing two clocks from the showcase of 
Mr. Greenberg. 

When the clerk administered the oath, Fish, 
instead of holding up his right hand, held both 
hands above his head in a “Kamerad” attitude. 
The court room tittered. 

Ted Harpy and Lawyer Little then were 
summoned also into the space between the rail¬ 
ing and the judge. Miss Clinton followed 
166 



RING OUT , WILD BELLS! 


them. They were sworn and then Ted Harpy 
was pushed into the witness box at the corner 
of the judge's desk. 

“What do you know about this man's taking 
any clocks?" demanded the judge. 

“I jes' seen him, jedge," answered Ted nerv¬ 
ously. His circular brown face shone with 
sweat. “I jes' seen him take 'em an' run." 

“Do you work in the store?" 

“Yas, suh." 

“Why didn't you try to stop him?" 

“He too quick for me, jedge. I try to stop 
him, but he too quick for me. He run down de 
corner an' hide 'em somewhere. Den he comes 
back an' I tells de boss man on him." 

“You say he ran down the street with the 
two clocks?" 

“Yas, suh." 

“Didn't anybody else see him? Didn't some 
one on the street try to stop him?" 

“Yas, suh. Dey seen him. Naw, suh, didn't 
nobody see him. I don't know who seen him. 
Mister Little, he seen him." 

Ted wiped his glistening forehead with the 
back of his hand. 

The judge didn't seem to be favorably im¬ 
pressed by Ted's manner of testimony. 

“Step up here," he said to Lawyer. 

167 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


Mr. Little, who carried his silk hat in his 
hand and had donned his gold-rimmed spec¬ 
tacles, stepped into the box and smiled suavely 
at the judge and bowed ingratiatingly. 

“Yo' honor,” he announced sonorously, “it 
pains me werry much to have to testify to dis 
effeck, yo’ honor. Dis po' misguided youth 
what has fell into de clutches of de law am a 
frien’ of mine. An’ a frien’ of mine, yo’ honor, 
is a frien' of mine. But, yo' honor, as you 
knows an' I knows, de law is de law.” 

“It seems to me that I've seen you before,” 
interrupted his honor. 

“Yas, suh,” agreed Lawyer. “I has had de 
pleasure an' de distinction, suh.” He waved 
his hand as if to dismiss the subject. “Now 
dis young man, Fish Kelly.” 

“I remember now,” persisted the court. 
“You got jailed for bootlegging. Brought the 
liquor in in a coffin.” 

“Dat was how dey accused me, yo' honor.” 

“You were not guilty?” 

“Naw, suh.” 

“You were a perfectly innocent man and 
were sentenced to jail for ninety days?” 

“Yas, suh.” 

“Very well,” commented the court dryly, 
“proceed.” 


168 




RING OUT, WILD BELLS! 


A good deal of the wind had been taken out 
of Lawyer’s sails. 

“I seen dis skinny black nigger swipe dem 
clocks,” he finished lamely. “Den he run, an’ 
I told de boss man.” 

“Why did you tell the boss man on a friend 
of yours?” inquired the court, who was expert 
in treading the devious paths to truth locked 
in the African mind. 

“Well, yo’ honor.” Lawyer was somewhat 
nonplussed. “ ’Cause he done stole it dis¬ 
honestly.” 

“Naw, you didn’t!” It was Macedonia’s 
sharp voice, speaking out a woman’s instinct 
of protection and ignoring formal court pro¬ 
cedure. “I knows how come you told on him.” 

The judge motioned for Macedonia to take 
Lawyer’s place in the box. 

“What’s all this?” he inquired. 

“Dat Lawyer Little,” explained Macedonia 
with excited determination, “he told Mr. 
Kelly ’at if he didn’t fix a way for him to git 
some money he gwine git him put in jail. Fish 
he told him he ain’t gwine do nothin’ like that. 
Dat’s how come dat Lawyer Little tol’ on 
him.” 

The judge stroked his chin. 

169 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


"You claim that Little told on Kelly out of 
spite?” 

"Yas, suh. Dat's what he done, too. I 
knows dat big nigger.” 

"Then you believe also that Kelly took the 
clocks?” 

"Naw, suh. I don't believe he took no 
clocks.” 

"But if Lawyer Little informed on Fish 
Kelly out of spite it follows, doesn't it, that 
Kelly took the clocks? The clocks are gone, 
aren't they?” 

"I don't know nothin' 'bout dat. Fish Kelly 
ain't stole no clocks. I seen dem clocks after 
he went out in the mornin'.” 

"You noticed that the clocks were in the 
store after he had left it?” 

"Yas, suh. After he lef' in de mornin'. 
An' he didn't come back in no mo'. Next 
thing I heered was Mr. Greenberg runnin' out 
after him.” 

The judge rubbed his chin. "How is it that 
you would happen to notice that these clocks 
were there? You were pretty busy with other 
things, weren't you?” 

"Yas, suh. But Mr. Greenberg he took dem 
clocks out of de show case an' set 'em so they 
170 




RING OUT , WILD BELLS! 


alarms would go off at ten o'clock, an' I was 
watchin' for de alarms to go off." 

“Oh, I see," said the judge. “But what 
reason would this other man, Ted Harpy, have 
for saying that Kelly took the clocks if he 
didn't?" 

Macedonia hung her head. What woman 
can speak out and condemn a man for loving 
her? But there was only a short pause. 

“ 'Cause dat nigger love my gal!" 

Fish Kelly had spoken loudly and unexpect¬ 
edly. He himself was surprised and alarmed 
at the loudness of his own voice. But the spec¬ 
tacle of Macedonia talking in his defense had 
stirred him to the depths. 

“Do you mean that Ted Harpy is a rival of 
yours for this lady's hand?" inquired the 
judge. 

“Yas, suh. Dat's what he is." 

“Yo’ honor," announced Lawyer Little, 
swinging his silk hat in an oratorical gesture, 
“I rises to a question of personal privilege!" 

The court, suppressing a smile, allowed him 
to proceed. Lawyer was quick to see his 
honor's amusement and to take advantage of it. 

“Yo' honor." Lawyer stepped away from 
Ted Harpy so as to have space for dramatic 
effect. On his fat, bacon-colored face was an 
171 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


expression of surprise and pain. “Dis lady 
have casted dispersions on my integrity.’' 
Lawyer indicated Macedonia with a flourish 
of his battered high hat, at the same time that 
he reached out to the judge a yellow palm, as 
if in supplication for the simplest justice. 

“She have calumnified me,” he went on in 
a voice vibrant with emotion. With his silk 
hat raised to a commanding angle, his gold- 
rimmed spectacles gleaming, and his rotund 
form clothed in the ancient, greenish, long¬ 
tailed coat, Lawyer was an arresting figure. 
“She have calumnified me,” he repeated, with 
a hurt tremolo in his voice, “without no justi¬ 
fication circumstances.” 

Lawyer looked deliberately about the court 
room, the corners of his mouth drawn down, 
as if expecting every one present to rise up 
and shout with indignation at the way he was 
being treated. Fish, in the prisoner’s pen, 
trembled. “Now I done erritated a lion!” he 
muttered to himself. The court room, he re¬ 
membered, was where Lawyer claimed to be 
always triumphant. 

Lawyer swung his arms. “A man’s char¬ 
acter, yo’ honor, is his onliest possession.” He 
was now off upon one of his characteristic 
speeches, full of long words. Such harangues 
172 




RING OUT , WILD BELLS! 


would sometimes amuse the white folks and 
so carry him through difficult situations. “I 
comes to yo’ cote to shake de han’ of de law 
in friendship. I comes to de cote a honest 
man, to bring a bad man to justice. An’ den 
what happens ?” 

Lawyer paused with his arm raised and his 
mouth open. In his immediate neighborhood 
a slightly muffled silver bell shrilled forth with 
startling insistence. The ringing suddenly 
ceased. The court room held its breath. 

"Yo’ honor,” stammered Lawyer. The hand 
holding the opera hat was trembling. "I— 
feels sick. If you will ’scuse me, I thinks Til 
go outside an\ . . .” 

The court looked puzzled but interested. 
"What was that ringing I heard just now?” 
he demanded of the eloquent Mr. Little. 

"Ringing?” inquired Lawyer, raising his 
eyebrows. "I ain’t heerd no ringin, yo’ 
honor.” As he protested, Mr. Little was sur¬ 
reptitiously working a hand toward the tail of 
his coat. 

"Oh, you haven’t?” said the judge. 

"Naw, suh. Not me. I ain’t. . . .” 

The bell suddenly shrilled forth again, and 
Lawyer was so startled that the hat dropped 
from his trembling hand. He clutched at the 
173 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


tail of his coat. His grasp served to muffle 
the sound, but the bell continued to ring for 
a few moments longer. Then it stopped as 
before. 

Lawyer’s mouth was open as if for breath, 
and perspiration glistened on his distorted, 
bacon-colored face. A titter ran through the 
court room. It rose to a roar as the eyes of 
every one turned to Ted Harpy. He was fac¬ 
ing the judge, and with his right hand behind 
him—plainly visible to the room full of spec¬ 
tators—was wiggling in a convulsive effort to 
remove something from his hip pocket. It 
came into view as a small goldish clock, and 
just then its unmuffled bell rang forth with a 
piercing shrillness. Ted Harpy jumped as 
though stung by a wasp. 

The court room rocked with a tumult of 
laughter. 

The judge, his face red with suppressed hi¬ 
larity, pounded on the desk for order. 

“Arrest those two men!” he shouted. His 
voice could hardly be heard above the gale of 
laughter. 

“You!” he cried, pointing at Fish, “you are 
dismissed.” 

White teeth shining in his black face, Fish 
shuffled down the aisle past the rows of laugh- 
174 




RING OUT , WILD BELLS! 


ing spectators. To his slow-moving mind the 
situation gradually cleared. This was the plot 
that Ted and Lawyer had prepared the night 
before. Their own net had caught'them. 

Out in the corridor his heart was warmed as 
Macedonia hurried up and slipped her hand in 
his arm. Together they went along the hall 
and down the stairs and out into the yellow 
sunlight of the street. Here they paused for 
a moment, grinning with nervous relief, to 
look at each other. Macedonia, in brown skirt 
and white shirtwaist, seemed to Fish like a 
lovely flower. Her soft eyes met his frankly. 

Their attention was attracted to four men 
who walked abreast down the stone courthouse 
steps. The two outer men wore blue uniforms 
with metal buttons and shiny badges. Their 
fingers skillfully were entwined into the coat- 
sleeve cuffs of the two men in the middle. Of 
these the stout, bacon-colored one wore a pale- 
green frock coat and a greasy and dented opera 
hat. The tall, muscular one was garbed in a 
stylish, mustard-colored suit, set off by an 
apple-green tie in which was thrust a gleam¬ 
ing diamond pin. The expression upon his 
brown, circular face was decidedly hangdog 
and sheepish. 

And then—as the policemen and the two 
i75 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


prisoners approached Fish and Macedonia—an 
unprecedented thing occurred. Miss Mace¬ 
donia Clinton raised her plump arms and 
joined her hands behind Mr. Kelly’s high blue 
celluloid collar. She drew his head down. Be¬ 
fore the stout gentleman and the muscular 
gentleman, before the two men in blue uni¬ 
forms, in fact before the whole world, Miss 
Clinton planted a kiss of love upon Mr. Fish 
Kelly’s face. 

It may be doubted whether the soul of man 
has ever attained a higher elevation of pure 
joy than Fish experienced at that moment. His 
ebony face, turned upon Lawyer and Ted, dis¬ 
played a double row of brilliant white teeth. 
But the effect upon the prisoners was quite 
otherwise. Lawyer Little’s bacon-colored coun¬ 
tenance was a study of bafflement and rage. It 
foretold no good, should the opportunity ever 
arise when he should be able to revenge him¬ 
self on Fish Kelly. But Fish, for once in his 
life, was indifferent to the spectacle of Law¬ 
yer’s wrath. He stood up straight and swelled 
his skinny chest. His protruding eyes sought 
Ted Harpy’s, so as to convey to his rival the 
full meaning of this scene of triumph. But 
Ted Harpy bowed his round brown face, and 
kept his eyes on the ground; nor did he lift 
176 




RING OUT , WILD BELLS! 


his head while traversing the street and en¬ 
tering the portals of the red brick jail. 

When the two conspirators and their guard¬ 
ians had disappeared, Fish and Macedonia 
looked once more at each other. Then, hand 
in hand, they turned their faces homeward. 
They avoided the unsavory district that seems 
—by some mysterious affinity—always to clus¬ 
ter near police stations, and wandered to the 
left toward Monticello Avenue. Up this tho¬ 
roughfare they proceeded, oblivious of the 
smiles and understanding glances vouchsafed 
them by passersby. Large green electric cars, 
bound for Virginia Beach, rolled dustily past, 
and the passengers looked from the windows 
at the tall, thin, colored man, his countenance 
blacker than his clothes, and the trim, light- 
brown, colored woman, with high-coiled glossy 
hair, wandering hand in hand, their dark eyes 
shining in a sort of beatific ecstasy, up the busy 
street. 

“Uh -hmm!! Got de fever!” was the first 
remark that reached them, and they dropped 
hands self-consciously to see old Preacher 
Jackson, in brown trousers and a red flannel 
undershirt, grinning toothlessly at them from 
an open doorway. “Reckon you chilluns 
gwine be cornin' see me soon!” the old darkey 
177 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


opined, and both Fish and Macedonia beamed 
back at him with agreeing grins. 

“Honey,” said Fish, stirred to the heights of 
daring by this event, “when is us gwine git 
married?” 

“We'll talk it over with poppa,” she an¬ 
swered, accepting Fish in principle. But the 
thought of talking over such an intimate, and 
possibly controversial subject with the burly 
Mr. Clinton struck Fish like an icy wind. 

“What he got to do wid it?” he inquired as 
they turned into Queen Street. “I ain't mar- 
ryin' him.” 

“He my poppa, Fish. I wants him to think 
I wouldn't marry nobody without he was will¬ 
in'.” 

“S'pose he say no?” 

“You come up to de house to-night to sup¬ 
per,” Macedonia replied, evasively, as they en¬ 
tered Mr. Greenberg's delicatessen. 




CHAPTER XIII 
TED HARPY AGAIN 


F ISH worked the remainder of that day 
with only half a heart, for every minute 
brought nearer the time when he must 
confront Macedonia’s family. He was familiar 
with the gray hair and severe spectacles of his 
loved one’s mother, and her father’s social and 
business altitude were known to the entire 
town. The thought of entrusting himself to 
the critical eyes of both of them for an entire 
evening caused a queer feeling at the pit of 
his stomach. 

But love is stronger than fear. Fish paused 
at the pump in the back yard of his dwelling 
that evening and scrubbed his countenance till 
it shone like burnished ebony. Then he 
ascended to the second floor and brushed his 
“society model” black suit until his room was 
full of lint. He next breathed heavily upon 
the dullness of his baby-blue celluloid collar, 
and polished it on his shirt sleeve until it was 
a fitting companion for the shrill crimson four- 
179 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


in-hand tie. He anointed his shoes with bacon- 
fat filched from Mr. Greenberg, and started 
out for the Clinton’s residence with a heart 
full of misgivings. 

Up Queen Street, through the throng of col¬ 
ored men and women returning from work. 
Fish pursued his melancholy way. Then out 
Church Street, with its motley of pawnshops, 
and boarding houses run by “po’ white trash”; 
past the little clothing stores conducted by 
Jewish gentlemen: windows crammed with 
shirts and socks and ties of gaudy hue, and 
over each doorway a flaming red placard an¬ 
nouncing a “closing out sale.” On by the cor¬ 
ner saloons, frequented sometimes by foreign 
“po’ white trash” and negroes alike; and at 
last emerging into the more agreeable atmos¬ 
phere of the Huntersville negro section. 

Here the paved streets changed into unpaved 
roads with sidewalks of cinders and sagging 
boards. Little black and tan children with 
big eyes and dirty too-large clothing waddled 
in bow-legged contentment from one doorstep 
to another. The houses were weather-beaten 
and long since forgetful of paint; window 
glasses, once broken, were replaced with news¬ 
paper, or not replaced at all. Porches, with 
hand-made rickety railings, leaned at various 
180 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


angles to meet their two or three worm-eaten 
wooden steps. Mangy sore-eyed dogs, in the 
same state of apparent disrepair as their dwell¬ 
ings, scratched itching ears on the sidewalk. 
An occasional goat, grayish with dirt, browsed 
upon the wayside grass. But the atmosphere, 
though dilapidated, was to Fish full of charm. 
Here was the warm-hearted contentment, the 
easy-going laughter, the love of kin and kind, 
that distinguished his dark-skinned race. He 
pushed on with more cheerfulness toward the 
goal of the evening. 

Too soon it came into view. Just beyond 
the more populous squares of Huntersville, 
several of the financially successful colored 
people had erected their own homes. Here 
ground was cheap, and each dwelling was sur¬ 
rounded by a generous plot of lawn. White¬ 
washed picket fences protected front flower 
gardens and decorative crepe myrtle trees. 
Brick walks, bordered by whitewashed stones 
and sea shells, led from front gates to ample 
wistaria-covered porches. Shades were re¬ 
spectably drawn before the long windows, but 
not too low to shut off the view of an occa¬ 
sional piano or phonograph. Fish’s heart be¬ 
gan to sink at the unpleasant contrast between 
his own poverty and all of this wealth. His 
181 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


resolution almost failed him as he turned a 
corner and the lighted windows of Mr. Clin¬ 
ton's white clapboard dwelling loomed upon 
his view. 

In front of Mr. Clinton's house ran a grano¬ 
lithic sidewalk, which had been paid for by 
Mr. Clinton himself, and across this sidewalk 
slanted a concrete driveway, leading up to 
the small white garage in the rear. The side 
of the residence itself had long French win¬ 
dows facing upon the brick floor of a porch 
that ran the depth of the house, its roof sup¬ 
ported by three strong white columns. In 
front of the house was a clipped green lawn, 
divided by a brick path that led up to the two 
stone steps of the small front porch, and the 
shining brass knocker on the white front door. 
Fish stood on the sidewalk in front of the 
house, gazed at its freshly painted green shut¬ 
ters and expensive slate roof, and felt his 
tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth, and a 
fine perspiration break out under his hat. Love 
was one thing, Mr. Clinton was another. 
“Feet, us sho’ don't crave to amble up dat 
slick brick path. Feet, better take us home!" 

Feet were just about to do as directed when 
the white front door flew open and Macedonia 
appeared. 

182 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


“You Fish! I been watchin' for you.” 

Fish was somewhat heartened by her pres¬ 
ence, but he shuffled up the wide brick walk 
with a heart full of misgivings. And when he 
reached the door, he found that his misgivings 
were justified. Macedonia was red-eyed and 
nervous. She evaded his inquiring look and 
led him to the dining room where, at either 
end of an oblong linen-covered table, sat Mr. 
and Mrs. Clinton. It did not encourage Fish 
to observe that he was late. 

Mrs. Clinton, upon his entrance, went forth 
to procure for him a plate of ham and eggs, 
but Mr. Clinton kept his eye upon the pursuit 
of a piece of egg with a flexible steel knife 
and gave no sign of having knowledge of Fish's 
presence, save when Macedonia introduced 
him, to emit a sort of grunt. 

Such a greeting might have spoiled the ap¬ 
petite of even a more resolute man than Fish. 
But Fish had an appetite that was practically 
above being spoiled, and he ate with a gusto 
that lifted him immensely in Macedonia's eyes, 
although Mr. Clinton's expression seemed to 
grow more and more ominous. 

Finally, when Fish acquiesced in the sugges¬ 
tion of a third helping, Mr. Clinton raised his 
head and banged upon the table with his palm. 

183 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Young* man,” he cried, and his voice was 
more powerful even than Lawyer Little’s, “do 
I understand that you have the desire to marry 
my daughter?” 

Fish gave a startled glance at the square 
belligerent face of light yellow, the cropped 
mustache, and the terrifying glare that sped 
through a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. Mr. 
Clinton’s burly frame seemed as if about to rise 
suddenly and overwhelm his guest. Fish re¬ 
tired into the safety of silence. He kept his 
gaze glued to the table, slowly opened and 
closed his prominent eyes, and pouted his lips 
far enough to indicate resentment, but not so 
far as to signal defiance. 

“Is you deaf?” thundered the man he craved 
for a father-in-law. 

“Naw, I ain’t deef,” Fish retorted, looking 
out of the side of his eyes. 

“Den why don’t you answer my question?” 

Fish pouted his lips and blinked defiantly, 
relapsing into the silence that infuriated the 
talkative Mr. Clinton. 

“Poppa!” cried Macedonia, seeing the dan¬ 
ger signs. 

“What did dis nigger ever do?” roared the 
lawyer in reply, relinquishing restraint. “Push 
a wagon! I gives you de bes’ education money 
184 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


can buy, I raises you like white folks, an’ den 
you wants to marry a snipe out of de gutter! 
Ain’t you go no respect for your raisin’s?” 

“Jes’ as good as you is,” Fish muttered. 

“Poppa!” interjected Macedonia—but to no 
avail. 

“You git out of my house!” yelled the angry 
parent. 

Fish deemed it wisest to obey. He shambled 
out to the hall, where he put on his flapping 
black hat in intentional defiance of the con¬ 
ventions of this conventional home. He 
paused then, with the thought of speaking 
again to Macedonia. But at that moment 
Macedonia came backward through the din¬ 
ing room door, her hands pushed placatingly 
against the distinguished chest of the burly 
Mr. Clinton. Fish momentarily met the glare 
of paternal passion that shone through Mr. 
Clinton’s spectacles. Then he thought it best 
to take to the open air. 

“Had I stayed, I’d a-kilt him!” he mur¬ 
mured encouragingly to himself. But Clinton 
was a tower of strength in the colored com¬ 
munity; few men would dare to cross him. 
He appeared an insuperable obstacle in the 
way of Fish Kelly’s happiness, and it was with 

185 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


troubled dreams that Fish, at last in his room, 
drifted off to sleep. 

But the next morning Mr. Kelly’s spirits 
rose like the lark. 

“Fish,” said Macedonia when Mr. Greenberg 
was in another part of the store, “dey is a nice 
room at No. n Queen Street. You go an’ 
rents it. We gwine git married; an’ after 
poppa know we gwine do it anyhow, he’ll 
swing roun’ our way an’ kill anbody dat says 
anything ag’inst us. I done seen my poppa 
act before.” 

Fish’s teeth and eyes gleamed in his tar- 
black face. “When us gwine git married?” 

“Soon as things cools down a little. Soon 
as I git me some clothes.” 

Thoughts of delay aroused misgivings in 
Fish’s breast. “Promise me we gits married 
befo’ dat Lawyer Little an’ dat Ted Harpy gits 
out of jail!” 

Macedonia smiled and walked away. If her 
lover feared the handsome Ted as a rival, it 
was not for the woman to remove that fear. 
But she realized as well as he the advisability 
of having the nuptials ere Lawyer Little— 
who frowned upon matrimony for his vassal— 
should emerge from durance vile. She realized 
this, but she was anxious, too, not to alienate 
186 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


her father; so she continued to work upon the 
recalcitrant Mr. Clinton, and four weeks had 
slipped by before at last she named the day. 

Fish had not neglected to prepared himself 
for this expected occasion. That morning he 
strolled out of No. n and into the sunshine 
of Queen Street. In all his glory, Fish easily 
outshone Solomon in all of his. He shuffled 
alertly downtown-ward. His black “young 
man’s society model” waist-seam suit was still 
warm from the presser’s iron. His yellow 
shoes with tops of brown-and-white hair 
seemed to throw off sparks. The high baby- 
blue celluloid collar joined with the crimson 
necktie in an almost audible harmony. But 
outshining them all was the self-conscious 
grin that wrinkled his ebony face into a frame 
for his prominent white teeth. 

“Look at dat nigger,” remarked Benny 
Hooton admiringly, from his vantage point at 
the door of his barber shop across the street. 
“He jes’ pickin’ ’em up an’ layin’ ’em down!” 

Fish turned out of Queen Street into Monti- 
cello Avenue and came upon Preacher Jack- 
son, who in the ease of a red undershirt and 
gray trousers upheld by galluses, was smok¬ 
ing a bronchially afflicted cob pipe on his door¬ 
step, while watching his idolized Only Boy 
187 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


play in the grass that sprang through the 
cobbles of the gutter. 

Preacher Jackson chuckled through his 
toothless gums. 

“Anybody look at you,” he said to Fish, 
“think you own a farm an’ ’leben horses.” 

Fish stopped and lifted his black felt hat 
from his blacker head and scratched the un¬ 
dulations of his narrow cranium. 

“I gwine down git dat license,” he grinned. 

“I don’t want hear ’bout whar you gwine,” 
said Preacher. “I want hear ’bout whar you 
ain’t gwine.” 

“What you mean—whar I ain’t gwine?” 

“You know Lawyer Little and Ted Harpy is 
out?” 

Fish stood suddenly upright. The radiance 
of his countenance suffered an eclipse. 

“When dey git out?” 

“Yestiddy.” 

Preacher sucked a death rattle out of his 
pipe. 

“An’ I want tell you dis, Fish Kelly. You 
been a good nigger since you kep’ clear of dat 
yaller rascal, Lawyer Little. You been 
workin’ steady an’ keepin’ out of jail. An’ you 
got you a good gal.” 

Fish swallowed his prominent Adam’s apple 
188 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


and weakly cleared his throat. The mere 
thought of Lawyer Little had the effect upon 
him of a cat upon a bird. 

“I hopes,” he began, and then was suffo¬ 
cated by the awful idea, “I hopes dey don’t git 
to thinkin’ ’bout my weddin’.” 

“H/uh! Who care what dey think? Jes’ 
you min’ yo’ business an’ leave ’em be. You 
go on down an’ git dat license, an’ be standin’ 
in the church when yo’ pretty liT yaller fever 
come marchin’ up de aisle. I gwine marry 
you-all so tight in dat church can’t nothin’ 
down lower dan de Golden Streets bus’ you 
loose.” 

Fish was heartened, for Preacher Jackson 
was a doughty supporter. In his youth he 
had been a “bad nigger,” until he killed a 
man over a game of craps. Legend had it 
that the man had won from Preacher on throw 
after throw of a pair of red dice, and had irri¬ 
tated Preacher beyond restraint by the con¬ 
stant repetition of “Read ’em and weep.” 
Every time the man rolled those red dice they 
came up either seven or eleven, and there was 
nothing Preacher could do except read them 
and weep. So finally he produced a .45 
order to vindicate his insulted manhood, the 
189 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


red dice roller produced a .38, and Preacher 
fired first. 

By some chance, that the prison officials 
have never been able to understand, Preacher 
“got religion” in the penitentiary, and since 
his release his influence and example had 
weaned many a young man from the lure of 
craps and gin. 

“How you git dat license? Jes’ ast him 
for it?” 

“Jes’ gib him two dollars an’ write what he 
tell you.” 

“I can’t write to-day,” objected Fish, who 
never could write, or read, either. “I done 
hurt my han\” 

“He do de writin’ for you. You got de 
ring?” 

“What ring?” 

“Weddin’ ring, nigger! Weddin’ ring!” 

“Do dat come wid de license?” 

“You’s de know-nothingest nigger I ever did 
see. Ain’t you never been married befo’?” 
Preacher had lost four wives to death and three 
to other men and couldn’t understand such pro¬ 
found ignorance. 

Fish grinned and pouted and shuffled his 
generous feet. 

“I seen some rings in Mr. Greenberg’s 
190 



TED HARPY AGAIN 


store,” he suggested presently. “Cost a dol¬ 
lar an’ a half.” 

“Git one of dem, den. An’ be at dat church 
at seben. ’Cause if you ain’t dere I gwine 
marry her my own self.” 

Fish chuckled convulsively at this humorous 
idea. 

“You Only!” cried Preacher to the single 
offspring of his many marriages. “You come 
back here!” The idolized infant was crawl¬ 
ing toward the smoother pavement of York 
Street. Preacher got up, hobbled to the cor¬ 
ner, and rescued the little black beetle just as 
a large army truck with muffler cut-out thun¬ 
dered past. 

“Now you set whar you dern is,” he com¬ 
manded as he deposited Only again in the 
cobbled gutter. “Don’t, I’se gwine pick up 
somethin’ an’ bus’ you open.” He turned back 
to Fish. “Now, you keep clear of dat Lawyer 
Little an’ dat Ted Harpy. I don’t trus’ 
Lawyer Little, ’cause I know him, an’ I don’t 
trus’ Ted Harpy, ’cause I don’t know him.” 

Some of the bloom gone from his assurance, 
Fish shuffled in the direction of the court¬ 
house. So many possible disasters, flowing 
from the release of Ted and Lawyer, swarmed 
to his mind as he walked, that he resembled a 
191 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


charcoal sketch of Despondency when he 
finally sidled dubiously up to the desk of the 
license clerk. 

“Boss, I want git a license." 

“You look like you want a license to get 
hung. What's the matter, is she bigger than 
you are?" 

“Naw, suh." 

“What are you so gloomy about?" inquired 
the clerk. 

“Lawyer Little an' Ted Harpy out of jail. 
Dey gwine make trouble." 

“The trouble with you, Fish," said the clerk 
as he began making out the license, “is that 
you let Lawyer influence you too much. 
What's the name of your lady, now?" 

“Miss Macedonia Clinton." 

“Macedonia Clinton and Fish Kelly," re¬ 
peated the clerk. “Here you are Fish. Two 
dollars. Now you take my advice. When 
you see Lawyer Little, you tell him to mind 
his own business. You are just as good a 
man as he is." 

Thus heartened, when he left the court¬ 
house Fish once more was picking 'em up 
and laying 'em down. It was in the mood of 
a conqueror that he entered Mr. Greenberg's 
store of notions and delicatessen. 

192 



TED HARPY AGAIN 


“What you want?” smiled the trim Miss 
Macedonia. 

“You ain’t forgot dat begagement you got 
wid me dis evenin’, is you?” 

“Go on, man!” giggled Macedonia. “Whar 
you gwine be at seben o’clock dis evenin’?” 

“Can’t tell,” responded Fish, showing 
thirty-two white teeth, “most anything mout 
happen ’fo’ den.” 

“Huh!” retorted Macedonia in scorn. “You 
better be dar. Folks tell me Ted Harpy in 
town lookin’ for me.” 

Fish’s brow clouded at this pleasantry. 

“I wanna buy me a ring,” he said sullenly. 

“What kind o’ ring?” inquired Macedonia, 
opening the case. 

“Weddin’ ring, woman! Weddin’ ring! 
What you ’spect?” 

“I jes’ loves dis one,” said Macedonia, pro¬ 
ducing a narrow near-gold band on which 
perched a heart-shaped ruby the size of a 
thumb-nail. 

“Gimme dat, den.” 

Fish poured a dollar and fifty cents into the 
coffers of Mr. Greenberg, received the ring in 
return, and sallied forth again. He wandered 
languidly up Granby Street to York and down 
i93 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


York until he was opposite the ramshackle 
corner where Preacher Jackson resided. 

“Fire!” Fish heard some one say near him. 

From far down the street came the clamor 
of a bell. All faces turned, like dark sun¬ 
flowers, toward the four galloping horses and 
the gleaming engine that were steadily com¬ 
ing nearer. 

Two beautiful grays were the leaders. Al¬ 
most white in the sunlight, delicate nostrils 
distended, eyes wide, mouths drawn back by 
the taut reins, they surged onward in a mag¬ 
nificently rhythmical gallop. They were 
scarce half a block away in the narrow as¬ 
phalted street when Fish suddenly became 
frozen with horror. 

Along the cobbled gutter of the intersecting 
street on all fours scrambled a small, black 
creature like a mammoth beetle. Within 
forty seconds its course would carry it be¬ 
neath the feet of the imminent horses. 

“You Only!” Fish tried to shout. But Only 
Boy continued in his hasty scrambling, urged 
on by the ambition to reach the smooth asphalt 
before his father once more retrieved him. He 
came out beyond the curb, attained the asphalt, 
and crawled directly toward the clattering iron 
hoofs not a hundred feet away. It was impos- 
194 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


sible to swerve the horses in the narrow street 
or to stop the hurtling of the heavy engine. 
The driver threw on his brake with an oath and 
a prayer. 

Then a miracle. A long, black shape ap¬ 
peared against the white breast of the near 
horse, and swooped the beetle from the pave¬ 
ment; it was struck by the shoulder of the 
near horse, whirled completely around three 
times, but kept its feet and landed safely 
against a lamp-post. Then everybody saw it 
was Fish Kelly and that Only was unharmed 
in his arms. 

Preacher Jackson pressed through the crowd 
that had gathered on the instant, and fiercely 
seized the black infant. 

“You Only! Is you hurt? Praise de good 
Lawd! Oh, Lordy! Praise de good Gawd. 
My chile he ain't hurt de littlest mite. My liT 
baby he jes’ scared plum' to def' !” 

A strange white man came up to Fish and 
shook his hand. A portly colored lady, who 
when last they had met had attempted to ex¬ 
tinguish Fish with a pan of scalding water, 
now put her arms about him and kissed him 
on his tilted felt hat. He heard some one say: 

“Dat smoke sho' is a hero." 

Feeling confused and embarrassed, his head 
195 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


still spinning, Fish wormed his way free of the 
crowd and shambled off down the street alone. 
But he had not gone many blocks before he 
began to appreciate to its full the splendor of 
his act. He started once more picking ’em up 
and laying ’em down. And as he walked he 
would occasionally put out a black hand in a 
gesture of disdain and say: 

“Brush by, Lawyer Little! Brush by. 
You’s talkin’ to a hero now!” 

So completely was he enveloped in a rose¬ 
ate haze that it was with an astounding jolt 
that he heard a familiar voice: 

“Hey dar! You Fish! You Fish Kelly!” 

It was Lawyer Little. A shade paler, per¬ 
haps; a trifle careworn as the consequence of 
ninety days in durance; but the same sphericity 
of bacon-colored face and dumpy body, the 
same long-tailed coat, once black, now a misty 
green; and on the rear of his shaven head sat, 
at a carefree angle, the same dusty and greasy 
opera hat. He advanced and slapped Fish on 
the back. 

“Hello, dar, you skinny black rascal. We 
been jes’ lookin’ for you.” He pushed Fish in 
the direction of a group of darkies gathered 
in a circle in the rear of the vacant corner lot. 
“We got a liT game on.” 

196 




TED HARPY AGAIN 


Fish nervously swallowed his prominent 
Adam's apple while the blackest forebodings 
arose within him. When in the hands of Law¬ 
yer Little he was as helpless as in the hands 
of Fate. 

“I —I ain't got no time to fool,” Fish hedged. 
“I gotta git married.” 

“When you gwine git married?” 

“Seben o'clock.” 

“You got lots o' time, nigger; you got lots 
of time,” said Lawyer, hustling Fish along. 
“Who you gwine marry?” 

“You know who I gwine marry,” replied 
Fish, batting his eyes belligerently. 

“Here another man wants git his hands 
burned!” cried Lawyer victoriously. To get 
Fish into a crap game just prior to his wedding 
was an idea sweet to Lawyer's mind, for he 
regarded Fish's yearnings toward marriage 
and respectability as a personal betrayal. 

The circle of colored youths and men made 
way, and it then became evident why Lawyer 
had been on the lookout for new recruits. 
One knee on the ground, Ted Harpy, his huge 
yellow shoulders gleaming through a tattered 
blue shirt, shook a pair of ivory dice in his big 
hand and pleaded with some one to “fade” him. 

197 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


A pile of bills and silver before him showed in 
what good luck he had been playing. 

“Dis man’ll fade you!” Lawyer returned. 
“Dis skinny man can make dem bones say: 
Toppa, I’se yo’ chile!’ ” 

Ted Harpy elaborately counted out four one- 
dollar bills. 

“Who gwine fade me?” he asked, and rolled 
the dice. 

“Crap!” cried the crowd, and laughed, be¬ 
cause the dice showed two and one, and Ted 
would have lost. 

This was too much for Fish. He took four 
dollars from the thin sheaf in his pocket and 
laid them on top of Ted’s. 

“Roll dem bones!” he commanded, and 
dropped on one knee. 




CHAPTER XIV 


A PREACHER AT HIS OWN GAME 


T ED raised his eyes to heaven, blew 
through his cupped palms, cried 
“Baby!” in a loud voice, and rolled the 
white dice out on the hard, yellow clay. 

“Three!” exclaimed the crowd with one 
breath. Fish had won. 

“I leave ’em lay,” said Fish, picking up the 
dice. “Fade me for eight dollars!” Ted 
counted eight dollars and laid them on the 
eight Fish had left as his bet. 

“Who’s your poppa now?” cried Fish to the 
dice, and rolled. They came a four and a two. 

“Six my number,” said Fish. “Sweet baby 
wid six teef, smile at yo’ daddy now!” He 
rolled the dice. They came five and two. 
Fish had lost. 

“What’s yours is mine,” grinned Ted as he 
scooped up the dice. “I leave dem sixteen 
dollar lay. Who gwine fade me?” 

Fish reached in his pocket and put his re- 
199 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


maining sixteen dollars on to the pile. “Roll 
dem bones/' he said, and made a rapid prayer. 

Ted rolled three and two. “Fever from the 
South," he cried. 

“Fives wore off dem bones," sang Fish. 
“Dog wid seben teef, bite dat yaller han'!" 

Ted rolled and the dice showed four and 
two. 

“Bite him!" Fish pleaded. “Seben dog, if 
you love me, bite!" He felt a sudden glow of 
luck, as if he couldn't lose. 

Ted shook the dice and rolled them with a 
long sweep of his yellow palm. They came 
four and one. 

“Five!" Ted chuckled. “Five my number. 
Who gwine fade me now?" 

Fish sat down on the ground with a dazed 
look in his prominent eyes. His twenty dol¬ 
lars had gone. No twenty dollars, no honey¬ 
moon. While Ted rolled the bones experi¬ 
mentally with gloating flourishes, Fish un¬ 
laced his yellow shoes, took them off, and 
placed the glory of their natural hair tops in 
the betting ring. 

“Ten dollars," said Fish. 

“Ten dollars," agreed Ted. He blew into 
his cupped hands, cried “Baby!" in a loud voice, 
and rolled a seven. 


200 




A PREACHER AT HIS OWN GAME 


“What’s yours is mine!” Ted chuckled as he 
drew in the shoes. “What else you got?” 

Fish feverishly put down his hat, tore off 
his baby-blue celluloid collar and shrill red 
tie, whipped off his coat and threw that on the 
pile. “Luck gotta change some time,” he 
breathed, wiping the fine beads from his dis¬ 
appearing brow. “Ten dollars.” 

“Ten dollars it is,” agreed Ted. He raised 
his eyes to heaven, blew into his cupped hands, 
cried “Baby” loudly, and rolled a seven. 

“Natural!” The crowd murmured. 

“What’s yours is mine,” repeated Ted, with 
hypnotizing certainty. “You got anything 
else?” 

Fish stared with hanging chin at the smooth 
yellow clay with the little cracks baked by the 
sun. Surely that was not the same earth of 
twenty minutes before. Surely this was not 
the same rose-colored world he had been 
walking through all morning. He shook his 
head. 

“I ain’t got nothin’.” 

“Turn out yo’ pockets,” commanded Ted, 
who loved the game more than the money. 
“Ain’t you got a knife or a razor or a pair of 
knucks—or nothin’?” 

Fish, with a wild surmise of hope, turned 
201 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


out his side trouser pockets, but ejected only 
some crumbs of tobacco and a wooden collar 
button. Then he delved into his hip pocket, 
but could produce only the marriage license 
and the ruby wedding ring. 

“What dat ring?” 

“Dat my weddin’ ring.” 

“Put her out dere. Weddin’ rings is lucky. 
Five dollars ’gainst a weddin’ ring.” 

Fish, praying for a turn in the tide of luck, 
placed the ring beside Ted’s five dollars. Ted 
went through his habitual incantations and 
rolled an eleven the first shot—thus again 
achieving a “natural.” 

“Dat am de naturalest nigger I ever did see!” 
exclaimed Lawyer Little in admiration. “Fish,” 
he added, “what’s dat paper?” 

“Marriage license,” mumbled Fish. 

“How much you fade him for dis license?” 
Lawyer inquired of Ted. 

“Ten dollars,” chuckled Ted. “Den all what 
I needs ’ll be a gal an’ a minister.” 

Lawyer snatched it out of Fish’s hand and 
threw it on the ground. 

“Roll him for it, Fish. Git all yo’ things 
back. License ain’t gwine do you no good 
’thout a coat and shoes.” 


202 



A PREACHER AT HIS OWN GAME 


Fish, too dispirited to protest, watched in 
fascination as Ted blew into his cupped palms, 
rolled his eyes to heaven, and cried: “Baby!” 
The white dice shot out of his yellow palm 
and curveted to a stand. 

“Dat nigger done roll three naturals in con¬ 
cussion,” remarked Lawyer in awe. “Fish, 
dem bones done convince me dat you ain’t 
meant fo’ a gambler.” 

“Dey convince me, too,” agreed Fish in a 
weak voice. 

Shrunken in stature, chin on chest, Fish 
slunk away close to the buildings, on his way 
to his room where he might find, anyhow, an 
old pair of shoes and a hat. But as he shuffled 
mournfully along he couldn’t evade the 
thought of what Macedonia would say when 
he told her they wouldn’t be married that 
night. It was out of very dark brooding that 
he was aroused by a clap on the shoulder. 

Preacher Jackson, his dim old eyes shining, 
shook Fish’s hand endlessly. “Whar you been, 
boy? I been lookin’ for you dis past hour. 
Sister Jones, she done brung me a fowl to fry. 
It look powerful like dat pullet Mister Green¬ 
berg los’ las’ week,” the old man chuckled, “but 
when de Lord send chicken dat ain’t no time 
203 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


to question de workings of Providence.” Then 
the dim eyes began to notice Fish’s costume 
and demeanor. The preacher looked at him in 
silence for a moment. Then: “Nigger, is you 
seen Lawyer Little and Ted Harpy?” 

Fish looked at the ground. 

“Is dey done took de very clothes oil yo’ 
feet?” 

“Dey got my weddin’ ring.” Fish began to 
sniffle. “Dey got my marriage ’tificate!” A 
tear coursed halfway down his ebony cheek. 

Preacher lifted his hands and eyes to heaven. 

“Ain’t I done tole you!” he wailed. “Whar 
you leave dem two niggers?” 

“At de san’ lot.” 

“You go in de house an’ set down. I gwine 
take my foot in my han’ and I’ll be back 
directly.” 

In the dusk of the preacher’s parlor the still 
duskier Fish sank into a corner and became 
merely a pair of white eyes and a sniffle. Per¬ 
haps half an hour of blinking and sniffling 
passed before Preacher returned. 

To the sniffle in the corner the preacher said: 

“Dat Ted Harpy want me to marry him to 
Macedonia to-night at seben o’clock, ’stead of 
you. I tole him to meet me dar. I want you 
to be dar, too.” 


204 



A PREACHER AT HIS OWN GAME 


A muffled sound came from the dark corner. 

“Don’t ask me no questions. You do like I 
tell you. Come on in de kitchen, now. We’ll 
draw dat chicken.” 

But Fish, overwhelmed by the discovery of 
Ted Harpy’s intention, rose and shambled out 
into the street. For the first time in his life 
chicken had become a mere word, instead of 
an intoxicating- experience of the spirit. Thus 
he proved to the watching gods the sincerity 
of his love. He shrank into an alley, followed 
its devious winding, scaled a board fence, and 
attained his sunny room unremarked by 
friends. There he reclined upon the rickety 
cot, crossed his right foot over his left knee, 
and mournfully regarded the high visibility of 
three toes, till slumber soothed his woe. 

Fish awoke to find the sun vanished. The 
clock in the window of the grocery store across 
the street said ten minutes of seven. He has¬ 
tened to the alley, without waiting to find 
shoes or hat, and within five minutes, breath¬ 
ing heavily, slipped along the lane leading to 
the rear of the church and knocked timorously 
on the peeling green paint of the wooden door. 
The door was snatched open by Preacher 
Jackson, and Fish stumbled into the parson’s 
205 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


dim dressing room. A glass coal-oil lamp with 
a pink porcelain shade cast a circle of light 
on an old desk, and Fish discerned the globular 
bulk of Lawyer Little and the more shapely 
dimensions of Ted Harpy. 

“I been asleep,” Fish muttered. 

“Dat nigger, he could sleep in a patrol 
wagon!” Lawyer snorted in disgust. 

“Man gotta sleep, ain’t he?” retorted Fish, 
snapping his eyes. “Man ain’t like a gudgeon, 
keeps his eye open all time.” 

“We ain’t got no time to be argufying,” 
Preacher Jackson interrupted. He cleared a 
space on the old desk. “You Ted Harpy, you 
want me fix marriage for you wid Miss Clin¬ 
ton, ain’t you?” 

“You done said jes’ what I wants.” 

“You done read de Bible, an’ you knows 
what de good book say: 'A eye for a eye and 
a toof for a toof; what shall be won by de 
sword shall be lost by de sword.’ I gwine fix 
dat for you on one condition.” 

“Name them one.” 

“I gwine put up de fixings as a stake. You 
win an’ I fixes. You gwine put up a stake de 
money an’ clothes you won from Fish Kelly. 
I win an’ them is mine.” 

206 




A PREACHER AT HIS OWN GAME 


“What sort of church business is dis?” de¬ 
manded Lawyer Little in a high voice of pro¬ 
test. 

“Leave him be,” interrupted Ted Harpy, 
his eyes shining at the prospect of a game. 
“What's his is mine. Here is de shoes and de 
hat. Roll 'em an' call 'em.” 

Suddenly the organ in the church began to 
roll forth Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” 
and through the door that separated the 
Preacher's room from the chancel came the 
shuffling of many feet. Lawyer Little tiptoed 
to the door and opened it. “De bride at de 
door,” he announced in a loud whisper. 
“Everybody standin' up.” 

Preacher Jackson had resurrected from a 
pocket in his shiny black suit a pair of red 
celluloid dice, and he shook these in one 
withered bony hand. 

“Read ’em an' weep,” he cackled as he rolled 
them on the desk. They came a seven. 

“Natural seben,” said Ted Harpy. “Them 
is yours now, but mine soon. I puts up de 
coat an' de collar an' tie. Roll dem bones.” 

Preacher worked his toothless gums against 
each other in excitement and blew into his 
claw-like palm. From the shadows of the 
207 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


doorway Lawyer's whisper pierced the tri¬ 
umphant strains of the organ. “De bride done 
started up de aisle; her pa 'longside. Every¬ 
body looking for de groom!" 

The dice clattered on the desk and became 
still. 

“'Nother natural!" breathed Ted. “Never 
try to beat a preacher at his own game." 

“Read 'em an' weep," whispered Preacher 
Jackson. “Put up dat license and de ring." 

“De bride done reached de pulpit steps," an¬ 
nounced Lawyer from the doorway. “Some¬ 
body come quick an' marry dis 'ooman!" 

Ted placed the marriage license and the 
heart-shaped ruby ring on the edge of the desk. 
On these he laid his roll of bills. “Fade me 
everything on dis throw," he whispered. “Here 
where I wins me a family or a job of work." 

Lawyer's voice was insistent. “Dat yaller 
girl hingin' her head high. She ain't gwine 
wait at de church for no nigger. Somebody 
better hurry." 

Fish clung weakly to the edge of the desk. 
His eyes protruded even father than was usual, 
and he touched a dry tongue to his prominent 
white teeth. Preacher blew into his palm, 
shook the dice, and rolled them on the desk. 

208 




A PREACHER AT HIS OWN GAME 


Ted Harpy sat down suddenly in a chair. The 
dice again had come seven. 

“Put on dese clothes,” Preacher snapped as 
he jabbed Fish’s arm into the sleeve of the 
coat. “Put ’em on an’ follow me. Pm gwine 
out dar an’ hold ’em where dey is.” 

Fish, stunned by the sudden change of 
events, struggled into the yellow shoes, put on 
the high celluloid collar and shrill tie, and felt 
his spirits rising and the world brightening 
with each added feather of raiment. He ran 
a finger and thumb up and down the crease in 
the trousers, pulled down his coat and his shirt 
cuffs, took up the license and the roll of bills, 
put the ring in his vest pocket, and tucked the 
new felt hat under his arm. 

A breath of appreciation rose from the con¬ 
gregation as Fish strode into the church chan¬ 
cel and, elbows, shoulders, knees and feet mov¬ 
ing in perfect syncopation, reached the side of 
the bride, where he snapped his heels together, 
gave Preacher Jackson a military salute, and 
stood at attention. 

“Dat nigger sho’ can pick ’em up an’ lay ’em 
down,” Benny Hooton remarked for the second 
time that day. 

After he had joined them in matrimony, 
209 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Preacher Jackson raised his hand in benedic¬ 
tion and spake a parable that only he and Fish 
understood. 

“Once dey was a man what went wrong 
from a red cause. An’ den in later life he had 
a chanct for to do good wid dem same red 
cause—to do good to a man what saved his 
Only. An’ he done good. An’ de Lawd bless 
you an’ keep you. Amen.” 




CHAPTER XV 

THE HORSE WITH THE SILVER LINING 


TER Fish had strutted down the aisle 



with the lady on his arm, he found him¬ 


self bundled into a small closed car, 
with Mr. Clinton at the wheel. Macedonia 
was proved a prophet. The destination was 
the Clintons’ house, which soon was alive with 
a chattering, giggling crowd of guests, and the 
food that Mr. Clinton provided, not to mention 
the blackberry wine, proved that gentleman a 
good loser. 

While the festivities were at their height, 
Fish and Macedonia slipped unnoticed out of 
a side door, and Mr. Clinton himself drove 
them to the Virginia Beach train. 

Eleven Queen Street, thereafter, became to 
Fish like a little corner of heaven. It was 
warming to the heart to have a wife, a home, 
of his own. Lawyer Little—perhaps through 
fear of Mr. Clinton—after a few unsuccessful 
overtures had left him alone, and Fish had 
been living a peaceful and uneventful life, a 


211 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


life he liked. The days, the weeks, drifted by 
unregarded, and it was in the most contented 
state of mind one morning that he flapped his 
generous feet up Queen Street in the direction 
of Mr. Greenberg’s store. 

Yellow sunlight bathed the ancient dwell¬ 
ings, sagging of step and crooked of shutter, 
that bounded the worn brick sidewalk; spar¬ 
rows hopped and chittered over the grassy 
mid-street cobbles. The world was at peace. 
And then a hiss, like the hiss of a rattlesnake, 
seemed to fall from the clear blue sky. 

Fish jumped, looked rapidly about, and de¬ 
scried above him, in the second story window 
of a rickety frame dwelling, a small animated 
black face. He recognized Jockey Johnson, 
and grinned. The little rider put a scrawny 
finger to his bulging lips and motioned Fish to 
come upstairs and join him. Then he imme¬ 
diately withdrew his head. 

This air of mystery did not appeal to Fish. 
His nature was melancholy, rather than ad¬ 
venturous, and he entered the narrow hall and 
mounted the creaking stairs with misgivings. 
His tar-colored features were set in opposition 
to any and all innovation as he entered Jockey 
Johnson’s room. 

Jockey, a diminutive figure clad in a green 
suit, with a diamond horseshoe pin in his red 
212 



THE HORSE WITH THE SILVER LINING 


necktie, greeted Fish cordially and confirmed 
the fact that they had not met since the races 
at the county fair, a year ago. But his next 
words quenched the answering cordiality that 
had risen in Fish’s bosom. 

“Is you seen Lawyer Little?” 

Fish answered “No,” by which he meant he 
had kept Lawyer Little from seeing him. 

“I been lookin’ for him,” Jockey went on 
eagerly, “’cause here’s a chance to make a 
pile of money, and I wants him to help us.” 

“What kind of money?” asked Fish with 
quickened interest. Money seemed of particu¬ 
lar value to Fish at that time. The truth is in 
escaping the dominance of Lawyer Little he 
had come into a subservience even more hate¬ 
ful. As the months had passed, Mr. Clinton 
gradually had taken on again his air of irri¬ 
tation and contempt. Of late he had spoken 
without reserve. His daughter had married a 
man “who never would do nothin’ but push 
a cart.” The apparent truth of this assertion 
had kept Fish mute. But he had dreamed 
dreams; and Jockey’s mention of a “pile of 
money” caused his eyes to glisten. 

“Lissen,” Jockey replied. “You know dat 
big race what’s coming off dis afternoon at de 
fair grounds? Well, who’s de favorite?” 

213 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Lady Nicotine goin’ win in a walk. Dat’s 
what dey say.” 

“Yeah. But dat ain’t what I say. Boy, 
I gwine ride a horse what can run dat Lady 
Nicotine ragged. And don’t nobody know it 
but me an’ my white man boss.” 

“How come dey don’t?” 

Jockey rose and tiptoed to the door to see 
that no one was within earshot. 

“Boy!” Jockey pulled his chair closer. “My 
horse run de legs off Lady Nicotine down in 
Louisville. But den he was a white horse!” 

“Ain’t he a white horse now?” 

Jockey laughed loud and long. 

“I’ll say he ain’t! Naw, suh! My boss 
man’s wife, she changed her hair from gray to 
brown. My boss man say: ‘How you do dat?’ 
She tell him. Den he take dis horse, dis white 
horse, an’ he change him from white to 
brown. Yas, suh. All but his ears and his 
forehead. Den he call me, an’ he say: ‘Jockey, 
here a new horse. Try him out. His name 
Silver Linin’.’ But, Law, chile, dey got to do 
mo’ dan change dat horse’s color to keep me 
from knowin’ him when I got a leg up.” 

“I’ll say,” agreed Fish, admiring the other’s 
technical knowledge. “But I don’t see what 
dat got to do wid money.” 

214 




THE HORSE WITH THE SILVER LINING 


“Naw, you don’t,” Jockey acknowledged 
contemptuously, “but Lawyer Little would. 
Why, boy, dey bettin’ ten to one against Silver 
Linin’!” 

Fish swallowed his prominent Adam’s 
apple. The thought of putting up one dollar 
and getting back ten made his mouth water. 
It sounded like dreams coming true. 

‘‘■What you want me to do?” 

“I want you to tell Lawyer Little to get a 
lot of money and come to de track at three 
o’clock and see me. I can’t go lookin’ for him. 
White man boss tole me to stay in dis room 
an’ not speak to nobody till race time. If he 
see me on de streets he sho’ would bus’ me 
open.” 

“What you say is de name of dis horse of 
yourn?” 

“His name Silver Linin’. But he ain’t gwine 
win dis race ’less Lawyer see me ’fo’ he bet. 
I got to make some money, too.” 

“And where does I come in?” 

“You an’ Lawyer fixes dat.” 

“I’ll tell him,” said Fish. He rose and went 
down the creaking stairs, his easily aroused 
imagination already handling large sums of 
gold. But as he flapped in search of Lawyer, 
and drew nearer his goal, he grew less san- 

215 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


guine. He could not remember, among the 
numerous projects in which he and Lawyer 
had joined, any occasion when Lawyer had 
disclosed even a chemical trace of generosity. 
Fish's hopefulness entirely departed when he 
finally sighted the rotund Mr. Little in a chair 
in front of Benny Hooton’s barber shop. 

Lawyer's dusty and greasy opera hat rested 
bottom up on the brick pavement. The mel¬ 
low sunlight made shiny headlights on his 
close-cropped conical skull and gave a sheen 
of green to the old frock coat which once had 
been black. Lawyer's original chin was rest¬ 
ing on his lower chins in an attitude of sleep, 
but as Fish came into his line of vision his 
eyes opened suddenly and his brow corrugated 
in a frown which to Fish seemed to spell 
unmitigated ferocity. 

“Mornin', Mr. Little," offered Fish weakly. 

Lawyer glared at Fish for a moment in 
silence. Then: 

“I jes' been thinkin’ about you," he said 
unpleasantly. Lawyer bitterly resented the 
ostracism that Fish had been practicing 
against him and—not unlike the rest of man¬ 
kind in similar circumstances—he had been 
trying to prove to himself that he had been 
ostracizing Fish. 


216 




THE HORSE WITH THE SILVER LINING 


“Me?” This was not good news. Fish, to 
relieve his melting knees, sank on to the edge 
of a chair a safe distance away. 

“Yes, you! You heard me!” Lawyer snarled. 
“You Doctor of Jonahrosity!” 

“Me—what?” asked Fish, startled. 

“You heard me. You’s a regular perfes- 
sional Jonah. You’s a Doctor of Jonahrosity.” 

Fish’s already prominent eyes seemed about 
to come entirely from their sockets. 

“You—you mean me?” 

“Yes, you! You bug-eyed shadow of noth¬ 
in’! I jes’ been thinkin’. Ever’ time I had 
anything to do wid you, I got in trouble. 
Ever’ time!” Lawyer glared fiercely. “When 
you interduced me to dat hypnotizer, a tiger 
had to get loose an’ come in de theater. Next 
you got me into dat mess of trying to get Big 
John Henry’s life insurance. Said you seen 
him daid on de river bank. And Big John 
Henry come back to life and nearly kilt me 
wid a pistol. Den was dat time we brought in 
liquor in a coffin, and ’cause you was wid us, 
de liquor got sent to a funeral and I got sent 
to jail. Den was de time me an’ Ted Harpy 
took dem alarm clocks, and de things began 
ringing in our pockets right dar befo’ de judge. 
Once mo’ I goes to jail.” 

217 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


There was a disagreeable silence. 

“Mr. Little—” began Fish weakly. 

“Lissen,” Lawyer interrupted. “I want you 
to keep ’way from me. Every time I talks to 
you I git in trouble. If I was to let you touch 
my rabbit’s foot it would turn into a rattler’s 
tooth. Don’t never cross my path no more, 
’cause if you do”—an expression of pleasure 
came over Lawyer’s face—“I gwine kill you 
whar you sit.” 

“Mr. Little,” said Fish desperately, “I 
knows a chance to make a lot of money. All 
you got to do is raise ’bout a hundred or a 
thousand dollars, an—” 

With a gurgle of rage, Lawyer leaped to his 
feet and swung his chair over his head. But 
with great rapidity Fish had zigzagged across 
the street and disappeared up a lane. 

“Dis earth is twice too small for me an’ dat 
nigger both,” Lawyer muttered as he dropped 
the chair to the sidewalk. With a grunt, he 
picked up his opera hat, put it on, and wad¬ 
dled down the street toward the Liberty Lunch 
Room in search of food. Just as he opened 
the rusty screen door of that fragrant hostelry 
he encountered Jockey Johnson coming out. 
Jockey looked quickly up and down the street 
for any sign of his white boss. 

218 



THE HORSE WITH THE SILVER LINING 


“Lawyer,” he said, “I ain’t got no time to 
hesitate. Meet me at de race track at three 
o’clock an’ I’ll tell you a sure ten-to-one shot. 
Bring your money wid you.” 

Lawyer watched Jockey’s green suit and 
white felt hat till they turned the corner. 
Then he entered the lunch room and gave him¬ 
self over to appetite and meditation. 

He knew Jockey Johnson of old. They had 
pulled many a trick together, and Jockey’s 
judgment of good things was almost infallible. 
But Jockey’s error this time lay in supposing 
that Lawyer had any money. And the fact 
that riches were within his grasp, but that he 
was unable to grasp them, threw Lawyer’s 
mind into a state of irritable activity. His 
irritation was not lessened by the sight of Fish 
and Macedonia as they entered their ground- 
floor rooms across the street. And, to make 
his irritation almost unbearable, presently 
floated across the street a cheerful song in 
Fish’s quavery tenor, accompanied by synco¬ 
pated chords from Macedonia at the piano. 

“Him singing!” muttered Lawyer with bit¬ 
terness and disgust, and he presently saw Fish 
and Macedonia leave the house. “Him wid a 
piano!” 

But the mention of the piano seemed to 
219 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


bring beauty and light into Mister Little’s 
thoughts. He slapped his knee, chuckled, paid 
his bill, put on his opera hat, and waddled rap¬ 
idly out of the restaurant and several blocks 
down the street to a wooden stable that housed 
Charley’s day-and-night express. 

Followed a brief colloquy with the amiable 
Charley. A few moments later the day-and- 
night express, with Lawyer seated beside 
Charley on the driver’s seat, rattled along 
Queen Street and drew up with a flourish 
before Fish Kelly’s residence. 

Lawyer and Charley dismounted, entered 
the house, and shortly staggered forth, carry¬ 
ing a brightly varnished upright piano. This 
was loaded into the uncovered express wagon, 
the dejected clay-colored horse was urged into 
a convulsive trot, and with Lawyer standing 
and keeping the instrument in balance, they 
started on their journey to Mr. Meier’s music 
store. 

Lawyer was in high spirits until, having 
turned into Monticello Avenue, he espied the 
uniformed bulk of Police Officer Johnson at 
the next corner. Officer Johnson, he knew, 
would be unduly inclined to consider his con¬ 
nection with any article of property as a sus¬ 
picious fact, requiring investigation. So he 
220 




THE HORSE WITH THE SILVER LINING 


called to Charley to slow up, clambered down 
to the street, and waddled along the sidewalk. 

When he and the parallel express wagon 
were passing Officer Johnson, and as he was 
bestowing upon that cold worthy his deepest 
and most ingratiating bow he was struck 
chill by hearing a stentorian summons from 
Charley. 

“Hey, Lawyer!” Lawyer pretended not to 
hear, and quickened his step. 

“Hey, Lawyer! Come ketch your piano 
quick!” 

Charley had stopped at the crossing and was 
blocking traffic. The piano had slipped to the 
rear of the wagon and was threatening to 
topple over. 

Lawyer had no choice. Perspiring profusely 
from nervousness, conscious of Officer John¬ 
son’s thoughtfully suspicious eye, he pushed 
the piano back into the wagon and climbed 
in after it. From that point till they reached 
Meier’s music store he maintained, with more 
vigor than dignity, the unequal contest with 
a heavy piano determined to slide down the 
wagon’s inclined plane. He mopped his slant¬ 
ing brown forehead, told Charley to wait out¬ 
side, and entered the store for a conference 
with Mr. Meier. 




CHAPTER XVI 
JONAH HIMSELF 



,HAT aquiline-featured gentleman ad¬ 


mitted that Fish Kelly was buying a 


piano from him on the installment 
plan, and, upon referring to his books, found 
that so far the payments, several of which had 
been made by friends as wedding presents, 
amounted to four hundred dollars. How much 
would he allow if the piano was returned? 

“Veil, if in perfect condition, two hundred 
dollar maybe. But who iss you?” 

“I’se Mister Kelly’s lawyer. He is in a little 
trouble, and he got to have de money quick.” 

The piano was unloaded and proved to be 
as good as new. Mr. Meier was used to the 
irregular ways in which the colored people did 
business. He imagined that Fish was locked 
up and needed bail money. So Lawyer got 
two hundred dollars, signed a receipt, paid 
Charley two dollars, and caught the first 
trolley for the race track. 

“If dat skinny nigger find out I took his 


222 


JONAH HIMSELF 


pianny,” he chuckled, “I tells him I borrowed 
it. I cleans up two thousand dollars, at ten 
to one, and pays him right back his two 
hundred.” 

The car soon arrived at the high board fence 
surrounding the race track. Lawyer dis¬ 
mounted, brushing by the yelling hawkers of 
programs and dope sheets, bought a general 
admission ticket and went through the turn¬ 
stile gate. His nostrils fairly quivered as he 
inhaled the exciting race-track atmosphere of 
contest and chance. 

Above him the white folks’ boxes and grand 
stand, opposite the starting line, were packed 
with a colorful, noisy gathering of fine ladies 
and gentlemen. Crinkly money was in evi¬ 
dence, and passed from hand to hand. Field 
glasses of all dimensions were leveled at the 
bandaged racers warming up on the track, or 
hung in leather cases from tweed shoulders. 
An irregular procession wormed its way to 
and from the bookmakers who, like spiders, 
had attached their booths to pillars in the 
promenade beneath the stands. 

Lawyer concluded that several races had 
been run, and had started hastily toward 
the stables when he felt a hand on his arm. 
It was Jockey Johnson. His diminutive frame 
223 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


was arrayed in a blouse of bright orange and 
trousers of apple-green laced tight over the 
calves, and on his small black head was a 
peaked jockey’s cap of orange and green 
stripes. 

“Where’s dat money?” asked Jockey. 

“What’s de name of dat horse?” demanded 
Lawyer. 

“How much does I get?” Jockey first wanted 
to know. 

“I couldn’t raise but a hundred. I’ll split it 
wid you. Is it a sho’ thing?” 

“As sho’ as a horse race ever is,” grinned 
Jockey, grabbing the five ten-dollar bills. “Bet 
all you got on Silver Lining. Dat’s what I am 
gwine do.” 

He darted off in the direction of the book¬ 
makers. 

A closing in of the crowd prevented Lawyer 
from following so quickly, but he pushed 
slowly along with the scores of others who 
were anxious to get their bets placed for the 
next race on Lady Nicotine, the favorite. As 
the press converged at one of the booths he 
became subconsciously aware of a familiar 
presence. He looked round and had a sudden 
sinking feeling at finding Fish Kelly at his 
elbow. 


224 



JONAH HIMSELF 


Fish seemed equally uncomfortable at being 
so near Mr. Little. But a sudden surge of the 
crowd thrust him forward till his black face 
was within six inches of Lawyer’s. 

“Go ’way,” said Lawyer. 

“I can’t go ’way,” retorted Fish. “Some¬ 
body pushin’.” 

“Don’t talk to me! What you tryin’ do, ruin 
my luck?” 

“Mr. Little, I jes’ want do you a favor.” 

“I don’t want no favors. I jes’ want you go 
’way,” retorted Lawyer excitedly. The gam¬ 
bler in him was on top. “Every time I do what 
you say I lose. Go ’way!” 

But Fish could not relinquish this opportu¬ 
nity to reinstate himself in the eyes of his old 
compatriot. To be believed to be a Jonah 
would be as bad, or worse, on Queen Street, 
as having leprosy. The crowd had pushed 
them past the booth and Fish saw a chance to 
speak and, if necessary, run. 

“Mr. Little, I kin tell you what horse gwine 
win dis race.” 

Lawyer glared at him. 

“Go ’way! I don’t want to hear nothing.” 

“Mr. Little, dat horse called Silver Lining 
gwine win dis race. Dat’s what I was tryin’ 
tell you dis mornin’.” 


225 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Lawyer’s jaw dropped. 

“You mean tell me you bettin’ on Silver 
Lining?” 

“Yas, suh.” 

Lawyer groaned aloud. He remembered 
suddenly Jockey’s words: “As sho’ as any 
horse race ever is.” He knew of no reason why 
Silver Lining should win, except Jockey John¬ 
son’s tip. And now he knew that Silver Lining 
was Jonahed. 

Through the crowd he caught a glimpse of 
Jockey’s orange and green cap, and rushed 
over to him. 

“Jockey, war dat money? Silver Lining 
Jonahed!” 

Jockey’s eyes and mouth opened wide; his 
blackness grayed. 

“How come he Jonahed?” 

“I seen a perfessional Jonah after him. Bet 
dat money on another horse.” 

“I done already bet.” 

“Den sell de ticket.” 

From the region of the stable came the 
clanging of a bell. 

“Here,” cried Jockey, thrusting a pink slip 
into Lawyer’s hand. “You sell it.” And he 
darted away. 

Only a few minutes remained for the placing 

226 




JONAH HIMSELF 


of bets. The horses already were entering the 
track. Lawyer found a booth. 

“How much you give me for dis pink 
ticket?” 

“Forty dollars.” 

Lawyer pushed his hundred and fifty dollars 
across the counter with it. 

“Put de whole hundred an ninety on Lady 
Nicotine, to win,” he instructed. And, having 
got his ticket, he hurried out to the track 

He found a place on the rail around the 
track, and calculated his financial situation. 
The odds on Lady Nicotine were three to two, 
so aside from what he would have to give 
Jockey, the bookmaker would return to him 
only two hundred and thirty-five dollars. 
Assuming that the worst happened, and he 
must return two hundred dollars to Mr. Meier, 
to save trouble, this would leave him a profit 
of only thirty-five dollars. Thirty-five dollars 
as compared with the two thousand in pros¬ 
pect before that Jonah appeared! 

•While the horses, with their bandaged 
ankles, made ready for the start, a fat colored 
gentleman in an opera hat sat on the race-track 
rail and plotted murder. 

Lady Nicotine was a beautiful bay mare 
with ears and feet Arabian in their smallness. 

227 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


The two next favorites were handsome horses, 
one a sorrel, the other brown and white. There 
were two additional entries. And then came 
riding from the paddock Jockey Johnson, on 
a rangy horse of a strange russet, almost a 
henna color, but with white ears and fore¬ 
head. 

There were two false starts, and then from 
a thousand throats came a stirring roar: 
“They're off!” 

Lady Nicotine, next to the rail, was ahead. 
Lawyer could see the number four placarded 
on the jockey’s back. The next two favorites 
were next; and fourth, squatting like a monkey 
over his horse’s shoulders, came Jockey John¬ 
son on Silver Lining. Pressed so close to¬ 
gether that it seemed inevitable they must trip 
and fall, they clattered round the first turn in 
a cloud of dust. Lawyer let out a terrific yell: 

“Go it, Lady!” 

And like a distorted echo he heard from near 
by a quavery tenor: 

“Go it, Silver Lining! Bring me back my 
five dollars, and fifty mo’!” 

Lawyer was making a mental note of the 
point from which the tenor voice had come 
when he was surprised to feel a heavy clasp on 
his shoulder. He was still more surprised 
228 




JONAH HIMSELF 


when he looked up and saw the gray mustache 
and blue helmet of Officer Johnson. 

Lawyer tried to smile a smile of welcome. 

“Push right up, Ossifer, an’ see de race.” 

“You is under arrest.” 

“Me?” inquired Lawyer in a high voice of 
astonishment. “How come?” 

“For stealin’ Miss Fish Kelly’s pyanner, 
which I done had taken back to her.” 

“Oh,” smiled Lawyer wanly, “dat was jes’ 
a joke.” He dismissed the subject with a wave 
of the hand. 

“You can tell dat joke to de judge,” returned 
Officer Johnson, “de same time you tell him 
de joke about gittin’ two hundred dollars from 
Mr. Meier on false pretenses.” 

Lawyer had paled perceptibly. 

“Lissen, Mr. Johnsing. I got a bet on dis 
race, and I kin pay back all dat money. Jes’ 
wait till dis race is over.” 

“What horse you bettin’ on?” inquired the 
officer, taking a precautionary grip on Law¬ 
yer’s sleeve. 

“Number fo’, dat one what’s leadin’.” 

The horses were two thirds round the track, 
which had to be circled twice. Lady Nicotine 
was leading by half her length. Next, neck 
and neck, came the second favorite and Silver 
229 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


Lining. The remainder of the field straggled 
out hopelessly behind. 

“Oh, you Silver Lining!” came a quavery 
tenor yell as the horses flashed past the post 
on the first lap. But there seemed to be no 
change in position. Like toy horses fastened 
to a base, they neither gained nor lost, till 
three quarters round the second lap. 

Then something began to happen. Silver 
Lining drew ahead of the second favorite by 
an inch, then by six inches, then a foot. Next 
his wide nostrils were even with Lady Nico¬ 
tine’s shoulder. The second favorite was for¬ 
gotten. The boxes, the grand stands, rose to 
their feet with a shriek and a roar. 

“Go it, Lady! Come on, Silver!” 

The race was almost over. There was barely 
a hundred yards to go. Silver Lining gained 
another half an inch, an inch. His russet 
muzzle was now level with Lady Nicotine’s 
bit. The crowd groaned. He gained an eighth 
of an inch—a quarter—a half— 

They flashed by the post while the crowd 
went wild. 

“Who won? Who won?” 

The judges conferred. Then the marker 
slipped a number opposite first place. The 
230 




JONAH HIMSELF 


number was six. Number four got second 
place. 

Jockey Johnson on Silver Lining had won. 

“Dat judge crazy,” said Lawyer faintly. 
“Dat horse—” 

“You lose,” interrupted Officer Johnson 
without sympathy. “Let’s git out of here ’fo’ 
de crowd.” 

Too dispirited even to converse, Lawyer 
allowed Officer Johnson to lead him in the 
general direction of ninety days in jail. The 
hundred and ninety dollars had gone up in 
dust. And he would have been two thousand 
dollars ahead if it hadn’t been for that Fish 
Kelly—that Jonah! 

Mr. Kelly—the Jonah in question—was 
collecting his winnings at the bookmaker’s 
window, his black face creased into a dazzle 
of white teeth and shining eyes. Fish put the 
unexpected fifty dollars in his pocket and 
turned away with a widening grin. He would 
find Lawyer Little, and prove that he was no 
Jonah. But the grin faded. Round a pillar 
beneath the stand came Mr. Clinton, a scowl 
on his square yellow face. He hadn’t seen Fish 
yet—but if he did, he would want to know: 
“Why ain’t you at work?” 

Fish ducked into the crowd, murmuring: 

231 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Some day, I ain’t gwine have to run from 
nobody!” 

He made his way as fast as possible to the 
gate. Just outside, he was lucky enough to 
spy Lawyer Little, walking along with Police 
Officer Johnson. Fish pushed near them and 
touched Lawyer timidly on the arm. 

“What I tell you, Mr. Little?” he exulted. 
“Didn’t I tole you dat horse would win? You 
see now I ain’t no Jonah, don’t you?” 

The annihilating right swing that Lawyer 
aimed at Fish’s delighted countenance threw 
the unsuspecting Officer Johnson three feet 
out of plumb. But its only other effect was 
to add wings to Fish’s feet. In less than three 
seconds he was at a perfectly safe distance. 
But it was longer than that before he could 
persuade his limbs to slow down to a walk. 

Then, between puffs, he muttered: 

“Dat Mr. Little, he sho’ am a curious man. 
He ain’t never satisfied with nothin’l” 




CHAPTER XVII 

AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 



HE fiction heroine whispers it into 


her husband’s ear, and blushes. Mrs. 


Macedonia Clinton Kelly did not 
blush. Her complexion, several shades darker 
than olive, would have made blushing difficult. 
But, nevertheless, it became known to the 
ebon Mr. Fish Kelly that he might shortly 
expect a descendant. 

This was all right, had it stopped there. 
But unfortunately, as Fish saw it, the news 
spread. It came to the ears of Macedonia’s 
oppressively respectable parents. And Mr. 
and Mrs. Clinton, who openly evidenced their 
opinion that Macedonia had married beneath 
her, now descended from their Olympian 
heights and began taking a personal and 
authoritative interest in their anticipated 
grandchild. 

“Momma wants we should go to her house 
to live,” remarked Macedonia one evening 
after the supper dishes had been washed. 


233 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Dis place good ’nuf for me.” 

“Poppa he wants us, too.” 

Fish, his retreating chin offering no obstacle, 
rested his lower lip on the tips of his blue cellu¬ 
loid collar, sank farther into his chair, and 
blinked his protruding eyes in gloomy sub¬ 
jection. 

To Fish, Mr. Clinton had become the em¬ 
bodiment of everything fearsome. In the first 
place, he was some sort of assistant to the 
commonwealth’s attorney. Then he had an 
extremely dignified abdomen, across which 
was swung a gold chain of a size Fish associ¬ 
ated with handcuffs. His vocabulary had the 
effect of paralyzing thought, especially when 
accompanied by a terrifying stare through a 
pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. And, worst 
of all, he was “light complected.” He looked 
down upon Fish from an unscalable precipice 
of color. Fish sometimes wondered if his 
whole life was to be spent in fear of one person 
or another. 

“I don’t care if he do,” Fish began with weak 
belligerency. But Macedonia interrupted. 

“Pull yo’ vest down an’ go open de door. 
Dere’s poppa now.” 

Fish’s white teeth gleamed and his black 
face crinkled into an ingratiating smile as the 
234 




AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 


bulk of Mr. Clinton appeared in the doorway, 
but his father-in-law ignored him. 

^Well, you ready ?” he demanded of Mace¬ 
donia. 

Macedonia folded away the little white 
sweater she had been knitting, and gave a pat 
to her high-coiled glossy hair. 

"Yes, poppa,” the astonished Fish heard her 
say. "The trunks has gone over, and there 
ain’t anything now but this suit case. Fish, 
get your overcoat, and put the suit case in 
poppa’s car.” 

Fish, taken back by the rush of events, and 
not daring to pout, did as directed, and waited 
outside by the little coupe until Macedonia and 
Mr. Clinton came out. Mr. Clinton locked the 
door to their rooms and put the key in his 
pocket. He compressed his large figure into 
the driver’s seat and Macedonia sat beside 
him. Fish, knowing what was expected 
of him, cranked the engine, which, after a few 
turns, buzzed busily; then he climbed into the 
rear. They started with a sudden jump and 
proceeded to bump along the cobbles of 
Queen Street, followed by many respectful 
and envious glances, duly appreciated by the 
passengers. 

At Monticello Avenue they turned and Mr. 

235 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Clinton stalled the engine on the car track, 
causing a motorman to shoot on his air brake 
and make personal remarks. 

“Gentleman self-starter, dat’s me,” Fish 
muttered as he demounted and cranked. 

They got going with another and longer 
jump, coursed suddenly ahead with hair- 
raising speed, and skidded round the next 
corner. 

“I sho’ is fond of walking” confided Fish to 
himself. “Le’me out. I ain’t in no hurry.” 

Mr. Clinton, although visibly perspiring, 
began to whistle, as though to indicate a debo¬ 
nair self-confidence. At the next crossing, 
having failed to slow up, he was forced to dash 
between two taxicabs that were approaching 
each other. Whistling louder, he stepped on 
the accelerator and left the astounded and 
stalled taxi drivers to hold their indigation 
meeting. 

“Take me back home, Lightnin’!” Fish 
whispered at Mr. Clinton’s fat neck. “I was 
built for travel by foot.” 

To Fish’s relief, after a few more blocks of 
interesting travel, Mr. Clinton drove across 
the sidewalk by a white clapboard house in 
Huntersville, and into a miniature garage. 

With Fish lugging the suit case, they 
236 




AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 


crossed the lawn and entered the house 
through the French windows that opened on 
the side porch. Out of the semi-darkness 
of the interior came from the buxom Mrs. 
Clinton a glitter of gold-bridged eyeglasses 
and the command of a sharp voice: 

“Fish Kelly, you wipe your feet. Don’t 
come tracking mud on my carpets.” 

And Fish knew that he was in the camp of 
the enemy. 

The Clintons were a kindly couple, but be¬ 
tween them and Fish, aside from the fact that 
he had married the apple of their eye, there 
was an irreconcilable conflict of temperament. 
Since the dawn of history, the easy-going, 
shiftless, happy-go-lucky individual has been 
anathema to the lovers of convention. 

To Fish, mashed potatoes and gravy had a 
special relish if conveyed to the thirsting lips 
on the wide blade of a steel knife; but as 
Mrs. Clinton watched him thus engaged she 
thought uncomfortably of sword-swallowing, 
and wondered if there was any safe and secret 
way of putting poison in a guest’s coffee. 
Fish entered the seventh heaven of Moham¬ 
med when he spent the afternoon in a state of 
coma on a soap box in the sunshine. But when 
Mr. Clinton passed Greenberg’s delicatessen 
237 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


and saw Fish with his egg-shaped head lolled 
on one shoulder and his mouth open in an 
ecstasy of slumber, he felt an almost irresist¬ 
ible inclination to use the toe of his boot. 

Fish’s appetite did not prosper under this 
battery of critical eyes. He looked forward 
to when he and his increased family should 
return to the freedom of his own roof. So, 
after a week of sullenness that verged on re¬ 
bellion, he viewed with interest a day of sud¬ 
den activity. 

The telephone was kept busy. As a result, 
first appeared a comely nurse, bearing a suit 
case. Next came Doctor Hebbs with a black 
bag. And just when things were getting in¬ 
teresting, Mr. Clinton interviewed Fish and 
advised — nay, instructed — that imminent 
father — who considered himself an integral 
factor in the situation — to betake himself 
downtown and not return until dinner time. 

Fish, therefore, went out into the wind and 
sunshine and shambled downtown, his black 
suit flapping on his gangling black frame, his 
lips pouted, and his mind revolving the 
speeches of defiance with which he should 
have annihilated Mr. Clinton had he only 
thought of them in time. 

At dinner time he returned, and Mr. Clinton 
238 



AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 


personally conducted him upstairs to Mace¬ 
donia’s bedroom. There on the pillows, her 
bronze arms gleaming against a salmon-pink 
negligee, lay Macedonia, a little paler than 
usual; and in the crook of her arm nestled a 
minute replica of Fish himself. 

Fish’s depression evaporated in a tremen¬ 
dous grin. 

“Dat’s my chile, all right. He’s black! 
Ain’t he cute? Li’l’ Fish Kelly Junior, Number 
Two. Dat’s us. Fish Kelly—an’ Fish Kelly. 
One an’ one is two. Sho’ do look natural.” 

Mr. Clinton, who had taken the color of the 
new arrival as a personal affront, interrupted 
sternly. 

“The child’s name, Fish, is William Ran¬ 
dolph Clinton, after its grandfather.” 

“Who say its name is dat?” demanded Fish 
in a high voice of anger. “Whose chile is dis? 
Is dis yo’ chile?” 

“Macedonia is in no condition to be dis¬ 
turbed by such an insane argument,” returned 
Mr. Clinton. “I think we had better leave her 
now, so she can sleep.” 

Fish, opening and shutting his eyes as a 
symbol of deathless defiance, kissed Macedo¬ 
nia, said “Good-by, little Fish,” and followed 
Mr. Clinton downstairs. 

239 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


For the balance of that week the contest 
raged. Macedonia, recuperating slowly from 
her ordeal, took no sides. Mr. Clinton, recog¬ 
nizing in Fish the iron obstinacy of a gentle 
nature once aroused, proposed toward the end 
of the week a compromise. 

“Very well,” he said, as they sat around the 
table after supper. “We’ll call him William 
Randolph Clinton Fish Kelly.” 

“Dat chile he named Fish Kelly,” returned 
Fish stubbornly. 

“Well,” Mr. Clinton offered, “we’ll call him 
Fish William Randolph Clin—” 

“ ’Tain’t no use changin’ ’em round. Dat 
chile he named Fish Kelly, an’ dat’s all.” 

“ 'Little Fish’—that’s what they’ll call him,” 
snorted Mr. Clinton in disgust. “What’s a 
little fish? A gudgeon. Gudgeon Kelly. 
That’s a fine name, now, ain’t it?” 

“Gudgeon grow up to be a fish, don’t he?” 
inquired Fish. 

Mr. Clinton threw up his hands. 

Days passed and Macedonia was still abed. 
Fish was finding the daily evening meal a ter¬ 
rible ordeal. Mrs. Clinton still had an ambi¬ 
tion to correct Fish’s table manners, and Mr. 
Clinton presided at the feast in a grim silence 
that shrank the appetite. 

240 





AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 


Wednesday evening Fish shuffled mourn¬ 
fully up Queen Street and with a yearning eye 
looked at the locked door of his own home. 
He was turning to wend his way to the Clin¬ 
tons' when from across the street came a jovial 
halloo. It was Lawyer Little, his rotund 
figure clad in the green, long-tailed coat, his 
round, bacon-colored countenance wreathed 
in a Bacchanalian smile; and on his head, at a 
perilous angle, sat his greasy opera hat. 

Fish was in a mood to greet even Lawyer 
Little with acclaim; he crossed the cobbles 
and shook hands. 

“How you, Mr. Little?" 

“You mean how is you?" answered Lawyer 
heartily. “Dey tell me you got a chile what 
is named for its gran'pappy." 

“My chile named Fish Kelly," returned Fish, 
losing his smile. 

“Don't snap dem turtle eyes at me," chuckled 
Lawyer, delighted at the success of his thrust. 
“You feel like a little drink?" 

Fish hesitated. Since his marriage he had 
foresworn liquor and craps. But Macedonia 
was now a neutral, and himself a prisoner, in 
the hands of the parental enemy. The choice 
was between a happy evening with Lawyer, 
241 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


or an evening under the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. 
Clinton. 

“You ever know a Fish what wouldn't 
drink?" he answered. 

Lawyer laughed loudly. 

“You's a good nigger if you is skinny," he 
chuckled. “Come wid me. Fse driving a truck 
for a white gemman. He in de revenoo officer 
business. Never did see a white gemman what 
had so much liquor to sell. He pay me my 
wages in liquor. Never did have a job whar 
I got better wages. President Bryan sho' did 
do good when he brung in prohibition. Set- 
tin' pretty! In here." 

Lawyer led the way up a dark staircase and 
unlocked a door on the next landing. It opened 
into Lawyer's chambers—a small room with a 
single window, two straight-backed chairs 
and, in the corner, an iron cot. 

Lawyer locked the door from the inside, and 
then produced a pint flask of whisky from each 
hip pocket. 

“Drink hearty, when dis goes dere is mo' 
whar it come from." 

Fish released his prehensile lips from the 
mouth of the bottle with a gasp and a cough. 

“Sho' is good liquor." 

242 



AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 


“Sho' do drink like you think so. Pass me 
what little is lef'.” 

The first bottle shortly stood empty. Fish 
went out and purchased some cheese and 
crackers at Mr. Greenberg's. On his return 
he found Ted Harpy, the yellow-skinned giant, 
assisting Lawyer in finishing the second. Con¬ 
versation grew in volume and loud laughter 
welcomed every sally. 

The convivial Lawyer kneeled before the 
fireplace and, reaching up into the chimney, 
drew from some invisible source a third pint 
bottle. More laughter. Ted Harpy produced 
from the breast pocket of his tattered flannel 
shirt a pair of dice and rolled them experi¬ 
mentally upon the floor. Fish threw down a 
quarter; Ted covered a dime of it and Lawyer 
fifteen cents. 

Outside, corner lamps began to sputter 
palely in the twilight; inside, the game 
was on. 

Fortune visited first one of the trio, then 
another, and it was two o'clock in the morn¬ 
ing before all of the cash in the room had 
found its way into Ted Harpy's breast pocket. 
And it was then, for the first time, that Fish 
began to consider seriously the matter of his 
responsibilities as a son-in-law and father. 

243 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Saying farewell to Ted and Lawyer, he 
stumbled down the narrow stairs, into the 
deserted street, and began shambling, some¬ 
what unsteadily, homeward. The brick side¬ 
walks, never in good repair, were poorly 
lighted between the corner lamps, and Fish's 
progress was like that of a ship in a stormy 
sea, and was accompanied by loud complaints 
addressed to the dark-blue, starlit heavens. 
The cool air cleared his faculties, however, 
and he arrived at the front door of the white 
clapboard house with a depressing sense of 
having merited criticism, and with a sudden 
sickening realization that he had no latchkey. 

He backed off and surveyed the windows 
with the flash of a wild hope that perhaps 
Macedonia was waiting up to throw a key to 
him. The windows showed no hint of Mace¬ 
donia. Fish pictured a dinner scene, Mr. and 
Mrs. Clinton saying what they thought about 
a son-in-law who stayed out all night while his 
wife was still abed with a week-old baby. If 
he should ring the bell, it would be just as 
bad. Obviously, his only hope was to get into 
the house without being detected. Then, in the 
morning, opinions might differ as to when he 
had returned. 

He backed off still farther, and walked 

244 



AN HEIR TO THE HOUSE OF KELLY 


round to the side of the house. Fortune was 
with him. A sturdy latticework ran up the 
corner pillar of the side porch, and a second- 
floor window—the window of the spare bed¬ 
room—was wide open. 

Fish swarmed up the white latticework, with 
great care to be noiseless, got his elbows on 
the porch’s tin roof and wriggled himself 
aboard it. He crossed the roof on his toes, 
but at each step the tin crackled loudly. He 
reached the black square of the window with¬ 
out mishap and had just clambered through 
it when he received the greatest fright of his 
life. 

A woman’s piercing scream, in accents of 
the wildest terror, came from the opposite 
corner of the pitch-dark room he had entered. 




CHAPTER XVIII 
APOLOGY ACCEPTED 

F OR the fraction of a second Fish stood 
still in the cold paralysis of fear and 
shock. Then, noticing by a faint gray 
indication of light that the door of the room 
was ajar, and his mind urging him instinc¬ 
tively to the safety of his bed, he dashed 
through the room and into the hallway of the 
second floor, slamming the bedroom door on 
the shrieks behind him. He fled, without 
pausing, into his own room to the right, 
pulled off his overcoat, jumped into bed and 
drew the covering up to his chin. 

While the shrieks, which were getting 
louder and more terrified, continued to re¬ 
sound through the silent house, Fish shut his 
eyes tightly and tried to persuade himself that 
he was asleep. By now his first fear was over 
and he remembered that the spare bedroom, 
which he had entered so unconventionally, had 
been given over to the use of the comely 
trained nurse. In a few minutes came cautious 
246 


APOLOGY ACCEPTED 


footsteps in the hall, and Mr. Clinton's voice 
could be heard inquiring rather weakly: 

“Who’s there?" 

The light in the hall flashed on, and in an¬ 
other moment Fish, with his eyes tightly 
closed, felt a hand roughly shaking his 
shoulder. 

“Get up, Fish! They's somethin' the mat¬ 
ter." 

Fish, clutching the bedclothes tightly to his 
chin, opened his eyes to see Mr. Clinton, in a 
red-and-white bath robe, holding a flash light 
in one hand and a pistol in the other. 

“What is it?" 

“The nurse is screamin'. Somebody must 
be after her. Man, don't you hear her?" 

“Sho' I hear her," agreed Fish. “Why don't 
you go in dar an’ see what's matter?" 

“Come on, git up. We'll go now." 

“You go," suggested Fish, who felt that it 
would be a mistake to climb out of bed fully 
clothed, “while I gits dressed." 

“She's nurse for yo' chile," retorted Mr. 
Clinton in an indignant whisper. “Come on, 
git up!" 

“You hired her," Fish argued. 

“There's Macedonia openin' her door when 
247 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


she ought not to git up. I goin’ put her to bed, 
and you better be up ’fore I gits back.” 

The screams of the nurse continued un¬ 
diminished while Mr. Clinton crossed the hall 
to reassure Macedonia; but Fish had a moment 
in which to rush to the closet and slip on his 
long, gray bath robe over his street clothes. 
Holding his bath robe tightly closed, Fish then 
joined Mr. Clinton in the hall, and, keeping 
close together, they approached and opened 
the nurse’s door. 

“What’s matter, lady?” Fish inquired. 

The nurse by now was hysterical. But after 
the light in her room had been lit she man¬ 
aged, between tears, shrieks and convulsive 
giggles, to explain. She had been awakened 
by some noise. A tall man was standing be¬ 
tween her and the window. He had dashed 
into the house. He must be in the house now. 
More shrieks. Mr. Clinton must not leave her. 

“We got to search the house,” Mr. Clinton 
concluded. “Fish, you take the light and I’ll 
follow you with the gun. If anybody hit at 
you, I’ll shoot him.” 

“You got the pistol, you go first.” 

“Den you take the pistol,” replied the 
lawyer. 

Fish, with unwonted courage, took the pis- 
248 




APOLOGY ACCEPTED 


tol and led the way downstairs. They turned 
on the lights, but the first floor showed no 
signs of having been disturbed in the slightest 
by an intruder. They went down into the 
cellar, which was likewise unoccupied. Fish, 
by an error of judgment which he did not at 
once realize, led the way up the steep stairs 
from the cellar, and Mr. Clinton saw that he 
was wearing, not only his street shoes, but his 
trousers as well. 

Mr. Clinton, in the light of these facts, grew 
suddenly thoughtful. 

“Gimme that pistol,” he demanded. “What 
time did you git home last night?” 

“ ’Bout ten o’clock.” 

“I didn’t go to bed till ten-fifteen my own 
self. I didn’t see nothin’ of you.” 

“Must ’a’ been ’bout ten-twenty when I got 
here,” Fish corrected nervously. “I seen de 
lights go off when I come up de street.” 

“How you git in? You ain’t got no key.” 

“De do’ warn’t locked.” 

“Humph!” grunted Mr. Clinton disagree¬ 
ably. “If it warn’t locked, that’s the first time 
in twenty years it warn’t. How much liquor 
you had?” 

“I ain’t had none.” 


249 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“You must have fell into a river of it den. 
You smell like Mr. Rye hisself." 

“I don't neither," Fish retorted. 

“You'd argue you warn’t dead if you was," 
said the disgusted father-in-law. “I'm goin' 
to make sure whether I locked that door or 
not." 

Fish, who by now had almost convinced 
himself that a burglar had entered the house, 
went rebelliously upstairs while Mr. Clinton 
opened and shut the front door and examined 
the lock. Fish had hardly reached the second 
floor when, with renewed screams, the nurse 
came rushing out of his room. 

“He's in there, Mr. Kelly. They's a man's 
coat on your bed." 

Fish dashed into his room and saw his own 
overcoat, lying where he had thrown it over 
the foot of his bed. There was no time for 
indecision. He took up the coat; and seeing 
that the nurse had flown into Macedonia's 
room, he threw it out of his window into the 
night. 

Mr. Clinton meanwhile had breathlessly 
reached the head of the stairs, and he ran into 
Macedonia's room to discover the cause of the 
renewed excitement. Fish Kelly joined them. 

“They ain't no coat in my room," said Fish. 

250 



APOLOGY ACCEPTED 


“Dey must be,” cried the nurse, whose black 
color during the vicissitudes of the last twenty 
minutes had turned a leaden gray. “I jes’ seen 
it, I tells you.” 

Convoyed by Fish and Mr. Clinton, the 
nurse cautiously thrust her head into Fishes 
room. The bed was there, plain in the bright 
electric light, but no coat was on it. This was 
a little too much. The nurse took a deep 
breath and quietly collapsed into the arms of 
the portly Mr. Clinton. 

“What sort of goings on is this?” cried Mr. 
Clinton, endeavoring to maintain his balance. 
“First they’s a burglar, then they ain’t. Next 
they’s a coat; then they ain’t. Fish, take hold 
this woman’s feet. Somebody crazy round 
this place.” 

“Well, it ain’t me,” said Fish belligerently. 

They deposited the inert nurse upon her bed, 
and Mr. Clinton, leaving Fish with her, went 
into Macedonia’s room to assure Macedonia 
and Mrs. Clinton that there was not any bur¬ 
glar and that there was not any coat. In a 
few minutes Mr. Clinton returned and an¬ 
nounced, with as much dignity as a red bath 
robe and bare feet would permit: 

“Fish Kelly, yo’ wife want to see you.” 

Fish immediately broke out with a cold 

251 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


perspiration. The gentle Macedonia was slow 
to wrath, but once aroused she was a long time 
cooling off. The prospect of his one ally turn¬ 
ing against him in the house of his enemies 
changed his knees to water as he followed the 
large red bath robe and bare feet into the coun¬ 
cil chamber. Macedonia, sitting up in bed, 
and flanked by the hostile figure of Mrs. Clin¬ 
ton, came with wifely directness to the point 
at issue: 

“Fish, did you climb in the nurse’s win¬ 
dow?” 

Fish clutched his bath robe tighter. 

“Who? Me?” 

“You heard me,” Macedonia repeated. 

“What would I be doin’ climbin’ in her 
window?” Fish was working up his indigna¬ 
tion. “How I gwine climb in her window? 
I ain’t no wild cat.” 

“Fish, I don’t want no back talk. Did you 
or didn’t you?” 

Fish angrily blinked his prominent eyes. 

“You know I ain’t climbed in no window.” 

“Will you give me yo’ word?” 

“Sho’ I will.” 

“Fish,” said Macedonia, unconvinced, “will 
you hold up your hand and hope the Lord will 
252 




APOLOGY ACCEPTED 


strike me and our little baby daid if you 
climbed in dat window ?” 

Fish was cornered. Faced by father-in-law, 
mother-in-law, and wife, all of whom he had 
severely frightened, and each of whom would 
never have forgiven him, how many men 
would have had the moral courage to confess? 
How many men, of whatever race, would have 
crossed their fingers and taken the oath? 

“Sho’,” Fish reiterated. 

“Say it after me,” Macedonia instructed. 
“I hope to de Lord—” 

“I hopes to de Lawd—” Fish repeated. 

“Dat my little baby an’ my wife is struck 
daid—” 

“Dat my liT baby an’ my wife is struck 
daid—” said Fish. 

“If I climbed in de nurse’s window. Amen.” 

“Amen,” echoed Fish, after he had repeated 
the oath. And Macedonia sank back satisfied. 

“We better get ourselfs some sleep,” she 
said. 

Mrs. Clinton went in to see that the nurse 
had recovered. The lights soon were extin¬ 
guished, and Fish, under the coverlets of his 
bed, heard the house once more sink into 
silence. 

But sleep did not woo him. Macedonia, he 
253 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


knew, had accepted his oath, but he was 
equally sure that Mr. Clinton had not. And 
he did not know how long her conviction 
would last in face of the persuasive array of 
facts that Mr. Clinton would be able to adduce. 
Then he was suddenly shot through by a thrill 
of horror. 

His overcoat, supposed to be the burglar's 
overcoat, was out on the lawn. 

With the forced cunning of a wild, hunted 
creature Fish lay perfectly still until he felt 
that the exhausted inhabitants of the house 
had sunk into a heavy slumber. Then he 
stealthily rose, took his shoes with him in his 
hand, because pavement and lawn would be 
clammy with dew, crept as softly as he could 
down the creaking stairs, and let himself out 
into the foggy night. 

He put on his shoes and slunk round the 
house to where his overcoat, a blacker spot 
in the general blackness, lay on the lawn be¬ 
neath his window. He gathered it up and was 
starting back when he was struck by a 
thought. 

If the burglar's coat had come out of the 
window, the burglar must have come the same 
way. From the second-story window to the 
soft lawn was not a far jump for an active man, 
254 




APOLOGY ACCEPTED 


and Fish’s acting before his family had almost 
convinced him a real burglar existed. To 
assist in the illusion, Fish jumped up and down 
until he had made two deep footprints where 
the presumptive burglar landed; then he made 
heavy footprints running from that spot across 
the lawn to the cement driveway leading 
from the garage. 

Convinced that he had done his poor best 
for a hopeless situation, Fish returned to the 
front door, removed his shoes, and crept back 
upstairs and into bed, where he sank presently 
into a troubled slumber. 

The next morning any faint hope he might 
have had as to the attitude of his parents-in- 
law was quickly dissipated. Mrs. Clinton 
slapped the fried eggs down before him as if 
she wished the table had been his head. Mr. 
Clinton’s countenance, somewhat haggard 
from lack of sleep, seemed a plump mass of 
concentrated bitterness. 

Fish shuffled disconsolately downtown and 
tried to lose his depression by a vigorous 
handling of the meats and vegetables he de¬ 
livered that morning to various households. 
But the depression would not lift. At lunch 
time he sank weakly upon a box of canned 
255 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


tomatoes in the rear of the store and gave him¬ 
self over completely to gloom. 

By nature Fish was inclined to look upon 
the darker side of events, and his present in¬ 
volvement was of a kind to confirm the worst 
of his fears. He had a vision of himself, a 
brow-beaten unbefriended creature, creeping 
like a criminal in and out of his own home, 
until, with a final gesture of disgust, Mace¬ 
donia and her parents would cast him forth 
to shift for himself, a vile thing unfit for human 
communion. It was with a sickening thump 
of the heart, therefore, that he heard Mr. 
Greenberg calling him. 

“Fish, your vife’s fadder out here looking 
for you.” 

Fish, with dragging feet, went forward like 
a victim to the gallows. In the sunlit street, 
where his stylishly dressed father-in-law 
awaited him, the dignity of Mr. Clinton’s 
abdomen had never seemed so overpowering. 

“Fish,” said that worthy without hesitation, 
“I have come to see you about something 
which I am afraid will surprise you.” 

Fish, in imagination, packed his trunk. 

“I have come, Fish,” continued Mr. Clinton 
in his round, mellow voice, “to ask you to for¬ 
give me.” 


256 




APOLOGY ACCEPTED 


Fish’s eyes seemed to emerge slowly from 
their sockets. 

“Who? Me?” he asked. 

“Yes, Fish. Last night, I must confess, I 
believed you had climbed in the nurse’s win¬ 
dow. But this mornin’ my wife and I was 
round to the back of the house and we saw 
where a man had jumped from your window, 
on the second story, to the ground. We could 
see where he landed. And from there his foot¬ 
prints was plain across the lawn to the con¬ 
crete driveway.” 

Mr. Clinton paused, removed his derby hat, 
and mopped his light-brown brow with a blue- 
and-white handkerchief. 

“I am a just man, Fish. I have done you 
an injury. Now, to make things even, I want 
to withdraw my objections to calling my 
grandchild, Fish Kelly. But, first, I want to 
ask you to accept my apology.” 

“Sho’,” agreed Fish. 

He accepted Mr. Clinton’s apology and Mr. 
Clinton’s proffered hand as one in a daze. 
And, still in a daze, he watched Mr. Clinton’s 
broad back until it disappeared round the next 
corner. 

Slowly, however, a grin dawned over his 
257 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


inky countenance, a grin that developed into 
loud laughter, accompanied by a slapping of 
the knee. The story was too good to keep. 
Endeavoring to control his insane giggles, he 
drifted down Queen Street in search of the 
appreciative Lawyer Little. 




CHAPTER XIX 
A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


T HREE months had dragged past and 
Fish and Macedonia were still living 
in Huntersville with the Clintons. At 
the moment, Fish was looking at the dis¬ 
tinguished abdomen of his “light-complected” 
father-in-law, adorned by a gray vest across 
which was swung the heavy chain which 
looked like gold. Fish knew that if he raised 
his popped eyes he would see a square, bel¬ 
ligerent face of light yellow, a cropped mus¬ 
tache, and a terrifying glare through a pair 
of horned spectacles. So he let his eyes stay 
where they were. Mr. Clinton was a lawyer, 
but to Fish he always had the unpleasant 
aspect of a justice of the peace. Not that Fish 
ever associated him with either peace or 
justice. 

“You done los’ yo’ job at Mister Greenberg’s 
delicatessen account of laziness,” Mr. Clinton 
snapped. “Don’t interrupt me! You spends 
three hours a day eating me out of ham and 
259 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


chicken. An’ you won’t do nothin’ when I 
asks you. Ain’t you never had no raisin’s? 
Or did yo’ mammy drag you up by de scruff 
of de neck?” 

Fish blinked his prominent eyes as an argu¬ 
ment in rebuttal and pouted his long lips. 

“I ain’t no nurse,” he muttered. 

“You ain’t no nothin’, dat’s what’s de matter 
wid you,” retorted the lawyer. 

They were standing in the yellow sunshine 
before Mr. Clinton’s neat, white clapboard 
house in Huntersville. Between them, in a 
white reed baby carriage covered with mos¬ 
quito netting, Fish Kelly, Junior, aged three 
months, and the cause of all the fuss, lay 
calmly on his pillow, like an egg-shaped drop 
of ink, and sucked industriously on an empty 
rubber nipple. 

“You know Macedonia got to help her ma 
in de kitchen,” went on the father-in-law; “and 
you know dis baby ought to git some fresh air. 
An’ you don’t want to roll him, ’cause you say 
it ain’t a man’s job. Well, den, I’ll give you a 
man’s job. If you don’t want to roll dis baby, 
den you brings me thirty dollars for dis 
month’s board.” Mr. Clinton’s voice rose to a 
bellow. “I ain’t gonna have no long, skinny, 
260 



r A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


gloomy nigger settin’ roun’ my house eatin’ all 
day, I don’t care who he married.” 

For a wild moment Fish contemplated turn¬ 
ing on his run-down heel and walking defiantly 
away. But his mind recalled the plump chicken 
that had been killed for dinner, and the fit of 
madness passed. He grasped the handle of the 
baby carriage and began pushing his offspring 
up the granolithic sidewalk, away from the 
more thickly settled colored residential dis¬ 
trict. 

“Don’t go dat way. It’s too rough,” com¬ 
manded the grandfather. 

Plotting murder, Fish wheeled the carriage 
and proceeded slowly in the direction of public 
ridicule and humiliation. The grandparents 
looked with such adoration on their minute 
grandchild that Fish was afraid it would be a 
long time before he and his increased family 
might return to the peace and freedom of their 
room on Queen Street. But, for once, he was 
glad he was not on Queen Street. Out here 
he would stand less chance of being seen by 
any of his cronies. 

But there were other things as bad. The 
day was Sunday, and the windows of the scat¬ 
tered unpainted dwellings seemed to be full of 
comely colored ladies. Fish had a weakness 
261 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


for desiring to shine before the opposite sex, 
and if his color had been any lighter than coal 
tar, he would have blushed rosily as he shuffled 
behind the conspicuous carriage. To his ears 
the air was full of imaginary titters. He pulled 
his black slouch hat farther down over the 
potatolike undulations of his cranium, pouted 
his lips, blinked his eyes, and tried to forget 
his appearance by conjuring up complicated 
curses on his father-in-law. 

He had just finished wishing that Mr. Clin¬ 
ton would break a mirror, lose his rabbit’s foot, 
and have his path crossed by a black cat, when 
his attention was diverted by rude shouts of 
laughter. At the street corner Lawyer Little 
and Ted Harpy were clinging to each other in 
convulsions of mirth. Lawyer Little’s greasy 
opera hat had slipped to the back of his conical 
head and his round, bacon-colored face was 
creased with mirth and pain. He pressed his 
hands to his sides. 

“Take him away,” Lawyer gasped, his 
spherical body in the old, greenish, long-tailed 
coat shaking like jelly. “He’s killin’ me!” 

“Miss Fish Kelly out fo’ a walk wid her 
baby,” chuckled the giant Ted, his shoulders 
gleaming through the tattered sleeves of his 
blue shirt. 


262 




A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


Fish blinked, then grinned sheepishly. 
“What's matter wid you all?" he demanded. 
“You crazy?" 

Lawyer took out a red-and-white handker¬ 
chief, wiped his eyes, and erased some of the 
shine from his countenance. 

“Boy," he cried jovially, “what you doin' 
now? Done stop pushin’ vegetables an' took 
to pushin' babies? Is dat it? Well, why not? 
He yo' baby, ain't he? He got to have some 
air, ain't he?" Lawyer was too kindly to keep 
up a jest too long. “How come you ain't down 
at Mr. Greenberg's?" 

Fish grinned. “He fired me when he heard 
'bout de new sto'." 

“Heard 'bout what new sto'?" 

“My new sto'," returned Fish, grinning 
more broadly. 

“What's dis? What's dis?" 

“Mr. Clinton he gwine set me an' Macedonia 
up in business. We gwine have a delicatessen 
lunch room all for our own seifs. How's dat?" 

“Dat takes money," remarked Lawyer, 
much impressed. 

“Sho' it do! Mr. Clinton gwine put a 
thousan' dollars into it. Say he want a busi¬ 
ness for Little Fish, Junior, when he grow up." 

“Sho' mus' think a heap of dat chile." 

263 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“He think more of dis chile dan he do of his 
right eye,” Fish expanded proudly. “Dat’s de 
reason I pushin’ him now. De place whar we 
gwine have de lunch room ain’t vacant till de 
first. Mr. Clinton say I got to push dis chile, 
else I got to pay board.” 

“You want to make some money?” asked 
Lawyer suddenly. 

Fish sobered. He was well aware that Law¬ 
yer, while splendid at invention, was poor at 
execution. His schemes usually had an ex¬ 
plosive quality that caused their participants 
to end up just one jump ahead of Police Officer 
Johnson. To say truth, Lawyer had spent a 
total of no inconsiderable period as a guest of 
the city, and his good health might justly have 
been attributed to an occasional month de¬ 
voted to repairing the county roads. But 
every man, they say, has his price; and there 
were few things Fish would not have done at 
that moment to earn thirty dollars. 

“Sho’ I wants to make some money,” Fish 
replied. “But I don’t want to git in no 
trouble.” 

“No trouble; no trouble at all,” Lawyer 
hastened to assure him. “Just a little idea o’ 
mine, an’ you are ’zactly de man we need. 
Come on, let’s go up to ‘Hammer John’s’ new 
place an’ talk it over.” 

264 




A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


They pushed Fish, Junior, up the side street 
to a yellow shanty on the corner of a cluttered- 
up lot. A bearded white goat, tethered to a 
stake, chewed on a sheet of tin, and watched 
them gravely. Fish parked the baby carriage 
in the rear, where it could not be seen by a 
passing father-in-law, and entered the cool, 
moist interior of Hammer John’s new place. 
They sat down at one of the three wooden 
tables. Lawyer called, “Three shots, Ham¬ 
mer,” and from a fragrant den at the rear 
Hammer John brought them tea cups half filled 
with a cloudy, greenish fluid. 

“Down wid liquor!” suggested Lawyer, and 
Fish swallowed his portion, which seared his 
throat like a hot iron. 

“Double distilled,” said Lawyer, smacking 
his lips. “A man’s drink. Lissen here, Fish 
Kelly.” 

Lawyer’s scheme, which he proceeded to un¬ 
fold, had all the earmarks of an idea that had 
hatched in that crafty gentleman’s mind: a 
scheme by which things were equally divided 
—his partners took the risks and he took the 
profits. 

“Dey ain’t no trouble sellin’ dis stuff by de 
bottle,” explained Lawyer. “Dat’s easy. De 
trouble comes in gittin’ it delivered. Dey’s 
taken to stoppin’ trucks an’ pushcarts an’ 
265 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


everything. A cullud gemman ain’t got no 
privacy, not even in his hip pocket.” 

He knocked on the table for another round 
of drinks. 

“But I done hit on a fine scheme. I done 
bought me a pretty white baby carriage. Yas, 
suh. Look jes’ like dat one o’ yourn. Got 
white coverings and a ’skeeter nettin’. Ain’t 
no cop gwine lif’ a baby’s ’skeeter nettin’ look¬ 
in’ for liquor. Naw, suh!” Lawyer cackled 
loudly. ’Fraid he make dat baby cry, an’ its 
ma come out an’ bus’ a milk bottle on him. All 
you got to do,” he said to Fish, “is push de 
baby carriage full o’ liquor to de address I 
gives you. Officer Johnson ain’t gwine ask 
you what you got.” 

Fish thought heavily. “S’pose he do?” he 
inquired. 

“If he do, which he ain’t, all you got to say 
is a tall, thin, cullud gemman give you a quarter 
to push de carriage to a place.” 

“S’pose he take me to jail?” 

“Dat’s easy.” Lawyer dismissed this with a 
wave of the hand. “Jes’ tell it to de judge.” 

“S’pose de jedge don’t b’lieve me?” 

“What’s matter wid you?” snapped Lawyer, 
angered, as was usual, by Fish’s logic. “You’d 
find trouble in Heaven! Does you want to 
make money or don’t you?” 

266 





A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


“How much does I git?” 

“You gits a fourth of all de profits.” 

Fish pondered. “A fourth,” he remonstrated. 
“An" I runs all de risk. How much is twice 
fo'?” 

“Twice fo’ is eight,” answered Lawyer, 
frowning. 

“A fourth ain't enough,” Fish stated em¬ 
phatically. “I ought to git twice dat.” 

“You git twice dat, an' I puts up all de 
money for de liquor!” cried Lawyer. “An' I 
furnishes de customers, too!” 

“All right,” said Fish. “I ain't anxious 
git in no trouble, nohow. You git somebody 
else. I ain't gwine push no liquor in a baby 
carriage 'less I gits a eighth of de profits, an' 
dat's dat.” 

“'Less you gits how much?” asked the 
astounded Lawyer. 

“Dat's what I said. A eighth I gits, or I 
don't push nothin'.” 

Lawyer hid a grin behind his tilted teacup. 
He had not expected a windfall from Fish's 
weakness in mathematics. “All right,” he as¬ 
sented magnanimously. “You gits a eighth, 
den. I wants my frien's to make money when 
I do. A frien' of mine is a frien' o' mine.” 

The liquor, and this unanticipated financial 
267 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


success, fired Lawyer's imagination. He was 
used to dominating Fish, and he thought of 
putting him to further profitable uses. Half- 
formed ideas began scuttling around in his 
mind like rats in a garret. Of a sudden one of 
them became fully formed and leaped out into 
the conversation. 

“You say Mr. Clinton think a heap of dat 
baby?" 

“He think mo' of dat baby dan he do of his 
health," said the proud father. 

“Have another drink," urged Lawyer, push¬ 
ing his own half-filled cup across the table. 
“I’ll be back in a minute." He waddled out to 
the rear of the building, where Ted Harpy had 
gone a few minutes before. 

Fish drank Lawyer's health and began to 
feel strong. The cobwebby room suddenly 
seemed beautiful. He rose to his tall, thin 
length, thrust a hand into his black vest, and 
began to sing in a high, quavery tenor: 

I got wings, you got wings, 

All God’s chillun got wings. 

When we git to heaven gwine to ’just our wings 
An’ fly all over God’s heaven—” 

He was interrupted by a large, callous palm 
that clapped itself over his mouth. Hammer 

268 




A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


John was using language in his ear. “I jes’ 
opened dis place ’cause dey run me out of down¬ 
town. You tryin’ git me run out o’ here, too?” 

Fish, displeased at having his singing inter¬ 
rupted, impacted his fist against Hammer’s 
flat nose. Hammer had grasped him by the 
neck and was on the point of annihilating him 
when Lawyer Little rushed up and, with some 
difficulty, interposed his bulk between them. 
He hastily led the still belligerent Fish out to 
to the rear of the shanty and fastened Fish’s 
hands to the handle of the baby carriage. 

“Go home, ’fo’ Hammer kill you.” 

“Hammer an’ what army?” demanded the 
temporary lion, resisting. 

“Time you took dat baby home, anyhow,” 
added Lawyer, the tactician. 

Fish, realizing that perhaps this was so, 
pushed the baby carriage, which seemed to him 
somehow strange, down the incline to the side¬ 
walk. At the corner he turned to shake a 
farewell fist, and was surprised to see Lawyer 
Little’s globular form waddling hurriedly in 
the opposite direction. Half a block in advance 
of Lawyer and just turning a corner he descried 
a white baby carriage. It had disappeared 
before he identified the man who pushed it. 

“Maybe dat was me pushin’ it,” Fish mur- 
269 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


mured; then chuckled at the way his thoughts 
were twisted. He cocked a glassy eye at the 
sun. ‘'Time dis baby was gittin’ another bot¬ 
tle. Wisht I had some cloves.” 

He still more regretted the absence of the 
cloves when he saw Mr. Clinton awaiting him 
in front of the clapboard house, and he tried 
the expedient of holding his breath. 

“How come you a half hour late?” snapped 
the thickset father-in-law, who was enjoying 
his Sunday by supervising the details of his 
household. 

Fish let out his breath all at once and almost 
bowled Mr. Clinton over. “I was talkin’ busi¬ 
ness wid a gemman.” 

“Yeah,” snarled Mr. Clinton. “Your breath 
smells like business. It’s a wonder my po’ 
little gran’child ever got dis old wid such a 
father. Go in de house an’ git dis baby’s 
bottle.” 

Fish retrieved a nippled bottle of milk from 
its pan of warm water and delivered it to the 
grandparent. Mr. Clinton pushed back the 
wicker awning from the baby carriage and 
raised the mosquito netting. 

“What’s dis?” he demanded. “You got dis 
baby’s head covered up?” He lifted the 
270 



A STRANGE WHISKY BOTTLE 


blanket—and then cried: “Whar’s my baby? 
Whar’s my Little Fish?” 

Fish leaned forward and looked into the 
carriage with mouth and eyes agape. In it lay 
merely a white blanket and an unfamiliar pil¬ 
low. Mr. Clinton stripped it of the blanket 
and disclosed a brown, dispirited whisky bottle, 
uncorked and empty. 

“Dis ain’t my baby carriage!” shouted the 
infuriated grandparent. “You go git my baby 
’fo’ I kills you.” 

But Fish, already on the way back to Ham¬ 
mer John’s at a high rate of speed, turned the 
corner so fast that he skidded, and he appeared 
so suddenly over the edge of the incline that 
the white goat stood on its hind legs and 
bleated a bleat to the effect that it would sell 
its life dearly. But Fish was brought to an 
abrupt pause at Hammer John’s doorway, 
which was filled with Hammer John. 

“Whar my baby!” panted the excited parent. 

“Does I look like him?” asked Hammer un¬ 
feelingly. “Las’ time I seen him you was 
pushin’ him down de street. If he beat you 
back here, he’s de fastes’ movin’ baby I ever 
seen.” 

“Don’t projec’ wid me, Mr. Hammer,” Fish 
271 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


pleaded. “Mr. Clinton waitin’ wid de bottle in 
his han’ and I ain’t got no baby to fit to it.” 

“Is you really los’ dat baby?” Hammer be¬ 
gan to display some interest. “How come?” 

“I jes’ ain’t got him—dat’s all!” 

“‘When de last time you looked in de car¬ 
riage an’ seen him?” 

Fish pondered. “I ain’t seen him to-day at 
all,” he confessed. “But Mr. Clinton say he 
was in de carriage when he give de carriage 
to me.” 

“Den you don’t know whar you los’ him,” 
announced the experienced Hammer. “He 
mought ’a’ dumb over de back of de carriage 
an’ crawled off into de weeds. Jes’ de same as 
wid me an’ my goat. I los’ him an’ I didn’t 
know when or whar. But I foun’ him easy 
enough.” 

“How did you find him?” inquired Fish 
eagerly. 

“Jes’ put a advertisement in de paper. Dat’ll 
fin’ anything quick as a wink.” 

“Sho’ ’nuff?” Fisher grasped wildly at this 
straw. 

“Right off,” Hammer assured him. “Wait 
till I locks up an’ I’ll go wid you to see de 
cullud gemman what runs de Clarion” 



CHAPTER XX 
SHOTS AT NIGHT 

HURRIED walk of several blocks 



brought Fish and Hammer to the ink- 


^ smeared shack that housed the Clarion, 
but the editor was out. A cinnamon-colored 
pickaninny, however, helped Hammer to find 
the issue in which his advertisement for the 
white goat had appeared, and deprived of the 
editor’s literary guidance they were forced to 
use this as a pattern. After twenty minutes 
of great mental stress they left the following 
advertisement for insertion in the next issue: 

LOST.—One baby. Color, black. 

Marking, black. Size, very little. An¬ 
swers to the name of Little Fish. 

When last seen was being pushed up 
Church Street by his father. Finder 
return to Mr Clinton, Huntersville, and 
receive suitable reward. 

Fish’s generous feet shuffled more and more 
slowly after he had parted from Hammer and 
came in sight of his thickset father-in-law who, 


273 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


milk bottle in hand, still waited beside the 
strange babyless carriage in front of the white, 
clapboard house. Mr. Clinton had been pac¬ 
ing up and down, and when he caught sight 
of Fish, empty-handed, he strode toward him. 

Fish’s knees turned to water, and his 
thoughts turned to prayer. Things had hap¬ 
pened so rapidly since he took those drinks, he 
was only beginning fully to realize that Little 
Fish was lost, and that he would be blamed. 
Unable to justify himself, he hastened to think 
up an excuse. 

“Whar my baby?” shouted Mr. Clinton. 

“What baby?” asked Fish, sparring for time. 

“What?” Even the lawyer, experienced in 
repartee, lost his bearings at this sally. 

“I means my gran-baby what I give to you 
jes’ now in dat other baby carriage. Dat’s 
what I mean.” 

“What other baby carriage?” 

“Is you crazy?” demanded Mr. Clinton. 

“Dat’s de baby carriage you give me. I 
ain’t had my han’ off it.” 

“If you ain’t had yo’ han’ off it, how dat 
baby git out widout you seein’?” 

“Dey mus’ warn’t no baby in it.” 

Mr. Clinton put his hands on his hips and 
stared. 


274 




SHOTS AT NIGHT 


“Is you crazy or is me?” 

“Well, I ain’t,” retorted the father. The hot 
sun was beginning to give effect again to the 
green lightning he had swallowed, and his 
courage began to rise. “You give me a baby 
carriage an’ tole me to push it or not eat. I 
pushed it. I done my share. I didn’t see no 
baby in it when you give it to me.” 

Mr. Clinton was nonplussed. He remem¬ 
bered now that he had found the covered car¬ 
riage in the shade of the house, had rolled it 
from there to the sidewalk, and had then called 
Fish. He was not sure he had actually seen 
Little Fish in it. 

Before the conversation could proceed fur¬ 
ther, the comely light-brown Macedonia, high- 
coiled hair gleaming in the sun, strolled from 
the house to inspect the feeding of her infant. 

“Was Little Fish in the carriage?” Mr. 
Clinton asked her. 

“Sho’ he was.” 

“Den somebody done stole him,” said Fish. 

Macedonia looked from one to the other, 
then let out a scream that brought Mrs. Clin¬ 
ton’s gray hair and gold spectacles to the 
window. 

“Let’s go inside and figure out what to do,” 
suggested Mr. Clinton weakly, putting an 
275 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


arm round his daughter. In the parlor, Mrs. 
Clinton tried to calm Macedonia, who was on 
the verge of hysteria. Mr. Clinton sank heav¬ 
ily into a chair and Fish took a remote seat 
with a despondent conviction that Fate, as 
usual, was laying a trap for him. 

Macedonia had calmed sufficiently to de¬ 
mand the details from Mr. Clinton, when there 
came a ring at the doorbell. Fish stumbled 
over two chairs and returned with an envelope. 
As his education had never proceeded so far 
as reading and writing, he turned the missive 
over to Mr. Clinton. And Mr. Clinton, in a 
voice of mingled fear and indignation, read the 
note aloud: 

Yore gran’baby will be returned safe an* sound if you put 
one thousan’ dollars in the Lighting Stump at nine 
o’clock to-nite. If you tell the perleece, or try any funny 
tricks, yore baby’s th’oat will be cut from year to year and 
we will deliver his gizzard to you by return mail. Await¬ 
ing your reply we are respectfully the black hand. 

Mr. Clinton passed the note to the trembling 
women. At the bottom of the penciled scrawl 
was a roughly drawn hand. 

“Lawdy! Lawdy!” moaned Macedonia. 
But Mrs. Clinton after reading the note was 
less impressed. 


276 




SHOTS AT NIGHT 


“Some tricky nigger,” she decided. “We 
ought to ’phone de police an’ have ’em watch 
dat Lightning Stump all night. Den dey’d 
ketch him when he come for de money.” 

“But,” objected her husband, “the letter say 
if we tell de police—” 

“He ain’t goin’ commit no murder an’ git 
hung for it,” Mrs. Clinton interrupted. 

“An’ I ain’t gwine take no chance on his 
doin’ it, neither,” snapped Mr. Clinton. “Dat 
baby is worth more dan a thousan’ dollars to 
me.” 

“Lawd, yes!” chimed Macedonia. 

“What I gwine do is dis,” announced the 
lawyer. “I gwine put one thousan’ dollars in 
real money in the stump, like he say. Den he 
can’t have no excuse for doin’ Little Fish no 
harm. An’ I ain’t gwine tell de police, ’cause 
he might have a frien’ at de police station what 
would inform him of it.” 

“Dat’s right,” echoed Macedonia. 

“You ought to tell de police,” repeated Mrs. 
Clinton. 

“Naw, suh,” retorted Mr. Clinton. “Better 
let ’em have dat thousan’ dollars I was gwine 
to put in de lunch room for him when he 
growed up dan have de lunch room an’ no 
Little Fish.” 


277 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Who brought dis note?” inquired Mrs. 
Clinton suddenly. 

“A boy,” said Fish. 

“Would you know him if you seen him 
again?” 

Fish pondered. “I didn’t pay him no mind.” 

“Ain’t dat jes’ like dat good-for-nothin’ nig¬ 
ger,” cried the father-in-law. “Fish, you come 
outside. I got somethin’ to talk to you ’bout.” 

Outside, Mr. Clinton, with a guarded look 
toward the house, murmured to Fish: 

“Go up in de attic an’ git my shotgun. 
Clean it good, an’ put it behin’ de storm door 
whar we can pick it up when we go out to¬ 
night. Put my pistol wid it. I’m gwine down¬ 
town an’ git dat money an’ git some shells 
for de shotgun. You be here when I git back, 
an’ don’t say nothin’ to de ladies.” 

Fish, his eyes protruding with excitement, 
gloomily went indoors and climbed the stairs 
to the attic. To his mind the situation was 
getting less and less satisfactory. He had not 
the slightest yearning to exchange shots with 
any member of the Black Hand. His idea was 
to put the money in the Lightning Stump while 
there was yet some cheerful daylight, and then 
leave the stump as rapidly as might be. By 
the use of some finesse, however, he had man- 
278 




SHOTS AT NIGHT 


aged secretly to cache the shotgun and pistol 
behind the storm doors before Mr. Clinton 
returned for dinner. 

That meal was not a gladsome affair. Mace¬ 
donia ate with an appetite increased by grief, 
but Fish was haunted by the fear that this meal 
might be his last; and Mr. Clinton brooded 
upon the intrinsic value of a thousand dollars. 
Only Mrs. Clinton seemed to have preserved 
a normal equanimity. 

Time passed for Fish all too swiftly after 
dinner, for eighty-thirty came and found him 
with a revolver, and Mr. Clinton with a shot¬ 
gun, walking along beneath the stars. Mr. 
Clinton’s house was on the very frontiers of the 
suburb of Huntersville; and the Lightning 
Stump—a charred heaven-struck remnant of 
a weeping willow—sat a mile away in the cen¬ 
ter of lonesome fields. The two unwilling ad¬ 
venturers soon had left the granolithic walk, 
and were stumbling through tangled grasses. 
After twenty minutes of darkness and silence, 
during which Fish’s blood had gradually be¬ 
come congealed with fear, the demonlike shape 
of the stump suddenly lifted its withered arms 
before them. 

“Lissen.” Mr. Clinton’s usually strident 
voice had shrunk to a tremulous whisper. “I 
279 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


puts de money right here. See? Now you 
goes to dat big stump over dere an' lays down 
an’ waits. I gwine hide over by dat little tree. 
Den we sees ’em either way dey come.” 

“How come we can’t wait together?” in¬ 
quired Fish, his teeth chattering. 

It irritated Mr. Clinton for Fish thus to voice 
his own fear. “You do like I tell you,” he 
snapped. 

“Well, don’t shoot ’less you see somebody.” 

“Why not?” 

“ ’Cause when you shoot I runs,” Fish an¬ 
nounced. “An’ I don’t want to run ’less I has 
to, ’cause I might run into somebody.” 

“You got feathers on yo’ legs, you chicken!” 
Mr. Clinton rasped. 

“I ain’t lookin’ for no Black Han’,” retorted 
Fish, trying to prolong the discussion so as to 
keep Mr. Clinton with him. “Not on a dark 
night like dis.” 

“You got a gun, ain’t you?” 

“You take both de guns an’ let me go home,” 
Fish suggested. 

“You git over dere whar you belong!” Mr. 
Clinton aimed a kick at Fish, and that lean 
gentleman, preferring a deferred to an imme¬ 
diate danger, reluctantly moved away through 
the uncanny dark. 


280 




SHOTS AT NIGHT 


He came soon upon his post, beside the clay- 
incrusted roots of an overturned chestnut, and 
lay down in the fresh fragrant odor of dewy 
grass. The darkness about him seemed to hide 
fierce, black men with phosphorescent eyes, 
each with a pistol pointed at his heart. The 
beating of his heart, Fish felt, could be heard 
a hundred feet away, and he had a creepy sen¬ 
sation that some one was on the other side of 
the overturned roots. He would have arisen 
and fled except he was afraid Mr. Clinton 
would mistake him for a kidnaper and fill him 
with buckshot. 

The feeling that some one was on the other 
side of the tree roots became stronger and 
stronger. An unmistakably human, probably 
colored and possibly familiar odor seemed to 
touch his nostrils. He could stand the sus¬ 
pense no longer. With the noiselessness of a 
cat he crawled to where there was an opening, 
large enough for a man's body, between the 
overturned roots and the prone tree trunk. 
Through this he slowly projected his head and 
shoulders. Emerging on the other side, he 
peered behind the roots and saw no one. He 
was just turning to squint down the length of 
the tree trunk when something weighing about 
two hundred pounds fell on the back of his 
281 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


neck and squashed his face into the soft earth. 
Into his jolted and astounded mind came a hiss 
of warning. 

“Keep still, Fish Kelly. Don’t, I gwine cut 
yo’ th’oat!” 

The weight on his neck was released and 
Fish turned his protruding eyes upward. The 
face fitted the voice and the avoirdupois. It 
was Lawyer Little. 

“Might as well cut it as scare me like dat.” 
Fish crawled all the way through the hole and 
brushed off his face. “What you doin’ here?” 

Lawyer chuckled. “Me? I ’tends to git 
some money out of a stump.” 

Fish stared. “How did you know?” Then 
comprehension dawned on him. “Is you a 
Black Han’?” 

“I’ll say I is. An’ I ’tends to fill my black 
han’ wid money. Lissen. Did he put real 
money dere?” 

“Real money, wid a picture on it an’ every¬ 
thin’,” Fish assured him. 

“Did he tell de police?” 

“Naw, suh. He wanted dat chile’s gizzard 
to stay whar it would do de mos’ good.” 

“Lissen to me,” said Lawyer. “Dis mornin’ 
you an’ me went in pardners, didn’t we?” 

“Yeah. I was to git one eight’ of de profits.” 

282 



SHOTS AT NIGHT 


Lawyer nudged him. “Is we still in pard- 
ners?” 

Fish thought heavily. He was badly in need 
of thirty dollars for board money 

“We is in pardners,” he agreed, “but I got 
to have mo’ of de profits." 

“One eight' is plenty when I takes all de 
risks," Lawyer objected. 

“All right, den. We ain't in pardners. You 
go git dat stump money; den I go git Mr. 
Clinton; an' den we go an' gits you." 

Lawyer repressed his desire to do murder. 
“How much does you want now?" he de¬ 
manded. 

“What's twice times eight?" asked Fish, 
whose mathematical powers didn't reach such 
heights. 

“Sixteen." 

Cupidity grew in Fish with the sense of vic- 
tory.“How much is twice times sixteen?" he 
asked. 

“Thirty-two." 

“Den I gits one thirty-tooth," announced the 
shrewd trader. 

Lawyer tactfully hesitated. Then: “All 
right," he grumbled. “Now go out an' git dat 
money." 

“Hold on," said Fish. “Whar's my baby?" 

283 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“He in his carriage right at de head of de 
street you live on, in a clump of bushes. I 
was gwine push him out of de bushes an’ let 
de carriage roll right down de street by itself 
to yo’ house. Now go git de money/’ 

“First I gits my share,” announced Fish, 
gloating upon his brief authority over Lawyer, 
who usually dominated him. 

“You is de mos’ unreasonablest nigger!” 
cried the stout gentleman. “How I gwine 
pay you ’fo’ I gits mine? How we gwine tell 
how much a thirty-tooth is ’fo’ we sees what’s 
dere?” 

“Dat’s easy. You know how. A fo’th is fo’ 
dollars, ain’t it? A eight’ is eight dollars, a 
sixteent’ is sixteen dollars, an’ a thirty-tooth is 
thirty-two dollars. An’ dat’s what I git ’fo’ 
anything else happens.” 

Lawyer became desperate. He knew the 
futility of trying to reason with Fish after that 
potato-shaped black skull had once harbored 
an idea. He drew forth a wallet. 

“Here’s yo’ thirty-two dollars,” he snapped. 
“Now, will you go git dat money?” 

Fish pocketed the bills. “Why should I go 
git it?” he asked. “It’s yo’ money. I got 
mine.” He became alarmed at the animal-like 
sound of rage from Lawyer’s throat. “Mr. 

284 




SHOTS AT NIGHT 


Clinton right straight de other side dat Light- 
nin’ Stump/’ he propitiated. “He can’t see 
you if you keep low.” 

Lawyer, after a moment of cautious peering, 
took up his opera hat from where it lay on the 
grass and, bending over as far as the gen¬ 
erosity of his figure would permit, made a 
bee line for the Lightning Stump and its 
treasure. 

Fish watched him. His bulk had become all 
but indiscernible when suddenly near the 
Lightning Stump the darkness was pierced by 
two arrows of flame, accompanied by the re¬ 
ports of two revolver shots. Lawyer’s glob¬ 
ular figure became visible above the horizon 
as he leaped wildly into the air. Then with a 
sound like the roaring of a great wind, he 
began returning toward Fish through the high 
grass with the speed of a deer. Two more 
shots rang out and again Lawyer leaped high 
as if vaulting the bullets. He passed Fish like 
a running cannon ball, and the diminishing 
noise of his retreat through the shrubbery was 
like the progress of a hurricane. 

Behind Lawyer came pursuing footsteps and 
Fish experienced an unpleasant thrill of sur¬ 
prise at recognizing the dome-shaped helmet 
and wide shoulders of Officer Johnson. The 
285 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


policeman, not having Lawyer’s incentive, 
made less speed through the underbrush, and 
nearly opposite Fish he tripped and fell. While 
he was struggling to rise another figure ap¬ 
peared on the scene. It was Mr. Clinton, who 
cried: “Fish! You, Fish!” 

“Dis ain’t Fish. Dis is Officer Johnson,” 
said that worthy. 

A horrible thought suddenly disturbed Fish 
in his contemplation of the scene. Lawyer 
had flown without the thousand dollars. What 
would happen now to Little Fish? Would the 
other Black Handers follow out their threat? 
Thoughtless of consequences, he leaped up and 
dashed in pursuit. 

He heard a yell behind him: “Dar another 
one!” There came the terrific bang of a shot¬ 
gun and the as yet unscattered shot made un¬ 
lovely music over his head. He ducked so 
suddenly he went forward on one shoulder, 
cutting his forehead on a rock, scratching his 
face and tearing his coat. He was on his feet 
in a flash, and his speed increased. 

Mr. Clinton let go the other barrel but with 
no appreciable effect. “I missed him,” he said 
to Officer Johnson in disappointment. “How 
many was dey?” 

“I was fightin’ wid six of ’em ’fo’ you come 
286 





SHOTS AT NIGHT 


up/’ said Officer Johnson. “Dat make seven. 
Well, dey gone now.” 

“Yes, dey gone,” cried Mr. Clinton with 
heat. “’Cause you done scared ’em! Dey 
done lef’ my thousan’ dollars, but dey got my 
gran’baby! What you doin’ buttin’ in?” 

“Mrs. Clinton, yo’ wife, she ast me to,” re¬ 
plied Officer Johnson with dignity. 

“Ain’t dat jes’ like a woman,” groaned the 
attorney. “Did she show you dat letter? Now 
dey ain’t no tellin’ what’s gwine happen to my 
baby. Like as not dey’ll kill him.” 

“Dat’s right,” Officer Johnson agreed. “I 
was readin’ in de paper dis mornin’ how some 
Black Handers in Chicago cut off a baby’s two 
arms an’ sent ’em home to its pappy.” 

“Is dat all you got to say,” snapped Mr. 
Clinton, “after you done cause’ de baby to be 
kilt?” 

The offended policeman withdrew into a 
shell of silence and they tramped angrily home¬ 
ward without further talk. When, still an¬ 
gry, they entered the sitting room of the Clin¬ 
tons’ residence twenty minutes later, they were 
confronted by an astonishing spectacle. 

In the ease of shirt sleeves Fish Kelly, his 
face cut up as though by a tremendous battle, 
even his shirt torn, was eating freshly fried 
287 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


ham and eggs off the best parlor table, and be¬ 
ing waited on by no less a person than Mrs. 
Clinton herself. Seated beside him was Mace¬ 
donia, and in her arms, his long lips fastened 
to a full bottle of milk, lay Little Fish Kelly, 
Junior, as lively and as pert and as black as 
ever. 

“Oh, poppa!” cried the radiant Macedonia. 
“Ain’t Fish wonderful? He had a big fight 
and took Little Fish away from ’em all by his- 
self.” 

“How many men was you fightin’?” inquired 
Officer Johnson professionally. 

“Seben,” said Fish, his mouth full of egg. 

Mr. Clinton sank into a near-by chair. The 
truth of the matter was that Fish had merely 
found the baby carriage in a clump of bushes 
at the head of the street and had rolled it home. 
But Mr. Clinton was not aware of that, and 
the correspondence in numbers between the 
imaginary men Fish and Officer Johnson had 
fought was convincing. He sat and gazed at 
his son-in-law in frank admiration. 

Later that night, in the darkness and pri¬ 
vacy of his bedroom, Fish looked up at the 
ceiling and allowed his soul to expand. A 
hero, with a month’s board money in his 
288 



SHOTS AT NIGHT 


pocket. No work, no rolling of baby carriages, 
for thirty days. 

“Settin’ pretty!” said Fish to himself and 
grinned. 

But as he lay there and thought things over, 
he remembered Mr. Clinton’s favorite remark: 
“Dat nigger ain’t never goin’ do nothin’ but 
push a cart.” 

“I wonder,” Fish numbled, and fell asleep 
frowning. 




CHAPTER XXI 

LOVE POWDERS AND DRAGON'S BLOOD 


F ORTUNE is fickle. It was not so very 
long after the recovery of Little Fish 
that Fish Kelly, in distress, sought out 
Lawyer Little. And Lawyer Little, desposi- 
tory of wisdom, furnished the key. Lawyer 
knew a man, who knew a colored lady, who 
worked for a white woman, who knew another 
colored lady, who knew a man who was an 
Egyptian from Egypt. His head was wrapped 
in silk till it was as big as a watermillion. The 
toes of his red shoes curled up till they touched 
his baggy silk trousers. A black cat with fiery 
eyes sat on his right shoulder and told him 
what happened by day. An owl sat on his 
right shoulder and told him what happened by 
night. The Egyptian from Egypt never ate 
and never slept. Jes’ sat in a dark room look¬ 
in’ into a big glass ball. In that ball he saw 
everything that happened. You could dig a 
hole in the ground and kivver yourself up. 
290 


LOVE POWDERS AND DRAGON’S BLOOD 


He could tell you de color of yo' necktie jes' 
de same. 

Fish had wormed his way through the in¬ 
tricacies of Lawyer's directions and now stood 
before the door of the fearsome yaller man 
from Egypt. The house was one of a row of 
dilapidated, wooden dwellings on Fenchurch 
Street. Although the other houses showed the 
animation of kinky heads, black faces and the 
whites of eyes, this house was silent and fore¬ 
boding. Green shades covered its windows 
and the glass panels of its peeling door. Nailed 
to its yellowish clapboards was a hand-painted 
sign. Fish couldn't read the words, but the 
pictures of bears, bulls, stars, and serpents 
were sufficiently alarming. 

Hollow-eyed from three days of worry, the 
sweat streaming from his black face to his re¬ 
treating chin and prominent Adam's apple, his 
long, skinny frame positively trembling, Fish 
crept up the four sagging steps and knocked 
timorously on the door. 

For some moments there was no answer. 
Fish was about to yield to his impulse to flee, 
when he observed a movement of the green 
curtain on one of the glass door panels. The 
curtain raised slowly. It disclosed the start¬ 
lingly black head and vivid green eyes of a cat. 

291 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


The cat stared at Fish for a moment; then the 
curtain lowered again. 

“Feet do yo’ duty!” 

Fish turned and crept across the porch. He 
had his foot on the first step when he heard 
the door open behind him. He remained with 
his foot on the first step as if paralyzed, afraid 
to look around. He jumped violently when a 
hand grasped his arm. 

“You wish to consult me?” asked a voice 
with a peculiar accent. “Come this way.” 

Fish felt himself urged across the porch, 
through a dark hall and into a darker room, 
which smelled of Chinese punk and onions. In 
the dimness, the tall, spooklike outline of the 
conjurer guided him to a table. Fish was 
pushed into a chair, and the Egyptian from 
Egypt sank into a chair opposite. He switched 
on a lamp which threw a green circle of light 
on the table between them. A black cat leaped 
noiselessly from the floor to the table and 
thence to the Egyptian’s shoulder. In the 
added illumination Fish saw on the other side 
of the man’s turbaned head a small owl, its 
luminous eyes wide and staring. 

“Let me see your hand,” said a hollow voice. 

And, after he had examined Fish’s long, 
black, trembling member: “This is bad. Worse 
292 




LOVE POWDERS AND DRAGON’S BLOOD 


than I had expected. This is terrible!” He 
pushed Fish’s hand away as if his peering soul 
could no longer stand the horrible things it 
saw. “You had better tell me all you know,” 
he sighed. “Leave out nothing.” 

Fish blinked his prominent eyes and mois¬ 
tened his lips. He had trouble enough, but it 
would make a long story. His mind was too 
paralyzed with dread to be fluent. So he made 
it brief. 

“They’s a gal I wants to—” his receding chin 
quivered—“to love me. An’ they’s a man, a 
big man, I wants to cast a spell on.” 

The truth of it was that Fish had come home 
three evenings before in fine good humor with 
the world. Mr. Clinton was in the parlor and 
Fish had asked him to lend him his pack of ten 
beagle hounds to hunt rabbits with the next 
day. 

For answer, Mr. Clinton had swung a right 
hook to Fish’s eye, knocking him head fore¬ 
most into the rubber plant. With luck and 
speed Fish managed to get a table between 
them. While Mr. Clinton, with murder in his 
eye, circled the table in pursuit, Fish gathered 
from his monosyllables the cause of his anger. 

Even Fish had to admit that Mr. Clinton 
justified. He remembered vividly that 
293 


was 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


time when he had come home late, and having 
lost his key, had climbed in the second story 
window where Macedonia’s nurse was sleep¬ 
ing. It had been natural of Mr. Clinton to 
suspect him of being the burglar; not so 
natural for Mr. Clinton to come to the store 
the next day and apologize. 

And now Mr. Clinton had discovered—from 
a neighbor who had been up that night with 
a teething baby—that his apology had not been 
warranted, and that for months his son-in-law 
must have regarded him with secret mirth. 

While Fish circled the parlor table, one jump 
ahead of eternal life, he kept one prominent 
eye out for an avenue of escape, the other for 
Macedonia, his wife. Ever since she and he 
had come to live with her parents, Macedonia 
had been the single buffer between him and 
his parental enemies. At the eleventh lap, 
with Mr. Clinton still a length and a half be¬ 
hind, Macedonia, her glossy hair high-coiled 
above her yellow oval face, appeared in the 
doorway. 

When she saw Fish she cried: “Here de man 
what wished my baby daid!” Then she picked 
up a vase and smashed it upon his head. 

It was time, Fish decided, to leave home. 
His decision was strengthened by the crash of 
294 



LOVE POWDERS AND DRAGON’S BLOOD 


another vase as he dashed through the front 
door. The last words of father and daughter 
were spoken in unison: “I sees you ag'in an’ I 
cuts yo' heart out!” 

The Egyptian from Egypt cleared his 
throat. “A love charm is ten dollars,” he in¬ 
toned hollowly. “A curse is fifteen dollars.” 
Then he added, rapidly running his words to¬ 
gether so they sounded like a promise: “Re- 
sults-guaranteed-no-money-refunded.” 

“I ain't got but twenty dollars.” 

“With you?” 

“Yas, suh!” 

“Give it to the spirits and I will see what 
can be done.” The man with the turban 
reached into the darkness and with a quick 
movement placed a human skull on the table. 
“Push it through the right eye,” he directed, 
“and say these words: ‘Hashem, doem, go¬ 
lem.' ” 

If any suspicion had lurked in Fish's mind 
that his adviser was not in league with the 
spirits of darkness, it was entirely dispelled be¬ 
fore his trembling fingers had thrust the four 
five-dollar bills through the right eye of the 
late lamented. He was ready to believe that 
the yellow gentleman could snap his fingers 
and turn the glare of noonday into night-time 
295 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


with a moon and stars. He sent up a silent 
prayer of thanks that the voodoo man was on 
his side and not on Mr. Clinton’s. 

The gentleman from Egypt, who was born 
in Newark, New Jersey, rose and went to a 
cupboard. “These are love powders,” he said 
when he returned, pushing forward a small 
bottle containing powdered sugar. “Sprinkle 
them on candy or food, and who ever eats it 
will love you forever. And this,”—he pushed 
forward a little glass bottle full of grape juice 
—“is dragon’s blood. Put this on food or in 
coffee and whoever swallows it will be cursed 
by the curse of the Queen of the Seven Stars.” 
Then by way of diversion he added hopefully: 
“Past, present, and future read for ten dollars.” 

But Fish had risen, the love powders and 
dragon’s blood gripped tightly in his pocket. 
Mumbling something about coming back soon, 
he groped his way out of the house of evil and 
into the dazzling sunshine of Fenchurch 
Street. A nervous grin of hope disclosed his 
white, protruding teeth. There remained but 
the problem of getting the charmed contents of 
the bottles into the systems of Macedonia and 
her parent. If Macedonia would but love him 
enough they could return to the peaceful do¬ 
mesticity of their own rooms on Queen Street, 
296 




LOVE POWDERS AND DRAGON'S BLOOD 


leaving Mr. Clinton to cope with the curse of 
the Queen of the Seven Stars at his leisure. 
Fish could not dream of anything sweeter. 

As Fish shuffled his wide, flat feet over the 
undulations of Fenchurch Street, hope rose 
within him, although not so high that he lost 
the ache in his heart. He and Macedonia had 
been lovers during their two years of marriage. 
Never before had she turned against him, and 
he was not experienced enough to know that a 
lady, of whatever color, must love a man a 
great deal before she will break her favorite 
vase over his head. He did not know that 
Macedonia’s heart felt the same ache as his 
own; and his whole soul was intent upon so 
cajoling Fate that his little “yaller fever” 
would want to gather up her pickaninny and 
come to live with him alone in their old 
chambers on Queen Street. 

His heart almost stopped beating as he came 
in sight of Mr. Clinton’s white clapboard 
house. His black shoes—sliced three times 
longitudinally so as to expose his toes for cool¬ 
ness and comfort—moved more slowly. He 
pulled his black slouch hat further over his still 
blacker countenance. The gradual progress 
of his tall, thin frame, flapped about by a black 
297 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


suit three sizes too large, resembled the de¬ 
liberate wavering of a measuring worm. 

Presently he was in front of the neat white 
door. But here he stopped, his breath coming 
fast. He could no more have lifted the shiny 
brass knocker than he could have flown. As 
he stood there he was startled nearly out of his 
wits by a call: “Fish” 

From a near-by window protruded the friz¬ 
zled, gray head of his next-door neighbor, the 
lady who, to her sympathetic regret, had given 
Fish away. 

“Ain't nobody home, Fish,” she shrilled. 
“Dey done all gone out.” 

Fish grinned a weak grin of thanks and, 
glancing up and down the street, unlocked the 
front door and entered. He had figured out 
how he would get the love powders into Mace¬ 
donia. Hurrying upstairs, he found on her 
bureau the box of cream-colored chewing 
taffy he had brought her the day before his 
expulsion. It was still half full, so taking out 
the love powders he sprinkled them carefully 
over it, rubbing them in with his fingers where 
they fell too thick. This gave the sticks of 
candy a rather zebra-like appearance, but on 
the whole he was satisfied with his work. 

From the upstairs window he looked once 
298 




LOVE POWDERS AND DRAGON'S BLOOD 


more to see if the coast was clear, then has¬ 
tened downstairs to find some means of leav¬ 
ing the dragon’s blood for Mr. Clinton. As 
he passed through the dining room he observed 
that the table had been extended to its greatest 
length. It was covered with a white cloth, 
and places had been set for at least a dozen 
people. 

“When I leaves, dey has a big time!” he mut¬ 
tered bitterly, as he passed on to the pantry. 
Here there seemed to be great profusion of 
food. His mouth watered at the sight of a 
large ham and, in the refrigerator, a turkey. 
It was some minutes before he thought of a 
way of providing the dragon’s blood for Mr. 
Clinton exclusively. Then he remembered 
that on an upper shelf was a bottle of “bitters” 
out of which Mr. Clinton took about three 
fingers each evening before dinner “for his 
stomach.” 

Fish got down the bottle of bitters and 
poured the curse into it. Thoughtlessly lick¬ 
ing from his thumb and finger some of the 
dragon’s blood that had spilled, he went out 
the front door and shuffled around to the back 
of the house for one fond look at the beagle 
hounds before returning to exile. 




CHAPTER XXII 
THE DARKEST HOUR 


T O his astonishment, Fish found the gate 
of the beagle hounds’ inclosure swing¬ 
ing wide open. Not a single one of 
the long-eared, long-tailed, white-and-yellow 
rabbit hounds was anywhere in sight. 

“Macedonia done dat.” The gray-haired 
neighbor appeared suddenly at his elbow. “She 
come out here to feed dem dawgs, an’ she war 
in sech a swivet ’bout gwine to de horsepital 
she forgot to close dat gate.” 

“ ’Bout gwine to de wich?” demanded Fish. 
“Horsepital, I says.” 

“What she doin’ goin’ to a horsepital?” Fish 
suddenly remembered having licked the drag¬ 
on’s blood from his fingers. Was he to be 
cursed by an injury to Macedonia? “She ain’t 
sick, is she?” he pleaded. 

“ ’Tain’t her.” 

“Den who ’tis? What’s matter, lady! can’t 
you talk?” 


300 


THE DARKEST HOUR 


“You ought to know mo’ ’bout yo’ own chile 
dan what I does.” 

“Little Fish? Lady, don’t tell me it’s Little 
Fish! What horsepital, lady?” 

“ ’Pears to me lak dey say it was de Chil- 
dern’s Horsepital on Church Street.” 

Fish Kelly passed by her like a flying crow. 
For three blocks he ran as fast as his legs 
would carry him and then, on Church Street, 
scrambled aboard a trolley. “Lawdy, mistah! 
Don’t stop so much. Sho’ do run like a 
hearse.” The ten-minute’s ride seemed like an 
hour, but finally he was standing before the 
white nurse in charge of the colored chil¬ 
dren’s ward. 

“Lady, my baby, my liT Fish Kelly, is he 
much sick, lady?” 

“You mean the little Kelly baby brought in 
about an hour ago?” 

“Yassum, lady! Dat’s him.” 

“He isn’t sick at all.I understand they were 
going to have some colored lawyers at their 
house for dinner to-night, and they thought 
this would be a convenient time to leave the 
baby for examination for adenoids.” 

“You mean he ain’t sick, lady?” 

“Not a bit.” 

Fish heaved a sigh of immense relief and in 
301 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


his tar-black face his protruding white teeth 
shone in an expansive grin. “Lady, kin I see 
dat chile my own self?” 

The nurse smiled. “Go through that door 
on the right. He’s in the last cot.” 

Fish shuffled with a light heart down the 
clean wooden corridor, redolent of carbolic 
acid, turned into the ward for colored chil¬ 
dren, and tiptoed along the aisle between the 
small cots. He saw from afar Little Fish’s 
black potato-shaped head silhouetted against 
the white pillow, and hastened his steps till he 
stood, with shining eyes, looking down at him. 

Then a shout, a scream from Fish Kelly, 
Senior, echoed through the quiet building, 
brought doctors in white suits and nurses in 
blue-and-white uniforms crowding through 
the doorway and filling up the narrow aisle. 

They found Fish, his face a leaden gray, 
holding up the sheet that had covered Little 
Fish, pointing downward with averted eyes. 
From Little Fish’s left wrist a blotch of crim¬ 
son saturated the sheet and mattress. A 
young doctor, pushing Fish aside, lifted the 
tiny black hand. 

“Miss Smith—a tourniquet, quick! What 
do you think of this damned carelessness! 
Somebody dropped this lancet and the kid 
302 




THE DARKEST HOUR 


rolled on it. Miss Wilson, get ready for a 
blood transfusion. We’ve got to work fast.” 

Little Fish, his forearm in a tourniquet, was 
carried out swiftly to the operating room. 
“We need blood for this baby,” said the young, 
pink-cheeked doctor, turning back to Fish. 
“Will you give it?” 

Fish, his thin face the color of lead, swal¬ 
lowed his prominent Adam’s apple three or 
four times. He knew nothing of the mysteri¬ 
ous ways of hospitals and doctors. But he 
knew that blood is what a man lives by. Little 
Fish Kelly, his baby, Macedonia’s baby, 
would die unless he was given blood. And 
somebody had to give it. The person who 
gave it of course would die. He would like 
to see Macedonia—just for a moment—first. 

“Boss,” he asked of the doctor, “kin you 
wait a whiles? Jes’ till I goes home an’ comes 
back?” 

“Not a minute,” the doctor snapped. “This 
has got to be done quick if it’s going to suc¬ 
ceed.” 

Fish moistened his dry protruding lips with 
the tip of his tongue. His knees felt trembly. 

“All right, boss,” he said, and tried to 
straighten his skinny back. “I’se ready!” 

“Follow me,” the doctor instructed, and led 
303 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


the way two doors down the hall to the oper¬ 
ating room. Fish, as directed, lay down upon 
a table next to the table occupied by his son. 
A nurse put what looked like a gauze-covered 
coffee strainer over his mouth and nose. A 
sweet, sickish odor assailed his nostrils. The 
nurse said—“Breathe deeply—breathe deeply 
—breathe deeply—” 

“Too bad I got to leave befo' I starts a busi¬ 
ness for my baby,” Fish murmured into the 
tube. His throat hurt at the thought that he 
had been unable to see Macedonia to explain 
how he felt and to say farewell. He hoped 
she wouldn't blame him—that she would un¬ 
derstand he had done the best he could. His 
ears buzzed and things about him faded away. 
“Why did I lick dat thumb!” Too bad to 
leave—too bad to leave the soft summer 
breezes and patches of yellow sunlight on cool 
green grass. “Baby— I done my bes\ Baby 
—good-by!” 

Fish opened his eyes and saw the doctor 
standing over him. “Here he comes!” The 
doctor's lips moved, but his voice sounded from 
far away. “Eyes is still good,” thought Fish. 
“Reckon I'se lookin' up from hell.” Then he 
heard his own voice, also from far off, saying: 
“I wants a drink o' water; I wants a drink o’ 
304 




THE DARKEST HOUR 


water.” The nurse lifted his head, and he 
drank. “Is dis heaben or hell?” he whispered. 

“This is earth,” grinned the doctor. 

Fish looked slowly from one to the other. 
“When is I gwine die?” he asked. 

“You aren’t going to die at all,” said the 
doctor heartily. “You’ll be walking out of 
here pronto, as good as ever. And the kid’s 
all right, too.” 

“You means I ain’t gwine to die?” 

“Why, no! Did you think it would kill you 
to give your blood to the kid?” 

Fish nodded weakly. 

The doctor looked at the nurse and the nurse 
looked at the doctor. They were not smiling. 
The doctor cleared his throat. 

“Why did you agree to give your blood if 
you thought it would kill you?” 

Fish rolled his eyes in languid resentment. 

“He my baby, ain’t he?” 

“Well,” exclaimed the doctor, “you are cer¬ 
tainly a white nigger!” 

“If I’se white, ’pearances sho’ am deceivin’,” 
grinned Fish. “Mr. Doctor, when does I leave 
here?” 

“Right now, if you feel equal to it.” 

Fish swung his feet down and sat dizzily on 
the edge of the table. “Lady what held my 
305 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


nose sho' did make me sleep tight. Ain't woke 
up yit.” He slid gingerly to the floor. “Boy, 
howdy! Us gwine live, after all. Feet, can 
you walk?” 

Feet could. Feet did. Feet took Fish back 
along the clean corridor and out into the warm 
sunshine. “Feet is prime; head not so good.” 
A razor of pain cut through his forehead. He 
felt a sick qualm at the pit of his stomach. 
“Boy, for why you lick dat thumb! Boy, you 
brings bad luck wharever you goes.” He shuf¬ 
fled along disconsolately. A tide of gloom and 
forebodings rose gradually over his spirits. 

“Boy, if you love yo' liT high yaller, you 
better go 'way an' leave her. Dat's best.” 

Before he had shuffled two more blocks, his 
mind was made up. It was nearly six o'clock 
in the afternoon. Mr. Clinton would be home, 
the family would be assembled. He, Fish 
Kelly, would walk in upon them and say good- 
by. He held no animosity. He would tell 
Mr. Clinton not to drink the bitters. He would 
go away, go to England, or maybe Raleigh, 
North Ca'lina. His eyes moistened as he lin¬ 
gered over that scene—the gathered family, 
who had so mistreated him, stricken to silence 
as with a kind heart he turned and walked 
306 



THE DARKEST HOUR 


away. Then he would go to France, or pos¬ 
sibly jump a freight for New Orleans. 

Feet led him up Church Street into the sub¬ 
urb of Huntersville and presently within sight 
of the white clapboard house. The long French 
windows between the dining room and the side 
porch were open. Fish slanted a look at the 
sun and decided the family must be nearly 
ready for dinner. But he did not crave their 
food. He was not even afraid to confront 
them. He was so filled with the sentiment 
of renunciation, and with kindness, he feared 
no one. He came to give, not to receive. 

He went up to the neat white door and 
knocked boldly. Shutters next door flew 
open with a bang and a gray, kinky head pro¬ 
truded. “Macedonia an’ her ma done gone 
a-runnin’ to de horsepital half hour ago, Fish. 
Dat baby o’ yourn done cut hisself. Sho’ was 
scairt. Jes’ drapped ever-thing an’ run. I 
been lookin’ for Mr. Clinton, to tell him when 
he come.” 

Fish nodded, blinked his eyes, and let him¬ 
self in at the front door. He would wait. As 
he walked through the small square entrance 
hall he thought he heard strange sounds. On 
the threshold of the dining room he stopped 
aghast. 


307 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Silhoutted against the open French windows 
the figure of a yellow-and-white dog stood with 
feet wide apart upon the dining-room table, 
teeth buried in the creamy oblong juciness of 
a Smithfield ham. From all over the room 
there came the muffled clamor of snuffing, 
damp noses, of feet slipping on plates, of wag¬ 
ging tails striking against chair rungs. Fish 
saw a yellow-and-white body on the other end 
of the table, tearing white meat from the breast 
of a huge cold turkey, the legs of which were 
being drawn in opposite directions by two lop- 
eared beagle hounds. It was too late to do 
anything. The darky’s delight, a cold dinner, 
had been ruined. On the once immaculate 
tablecloth, cheese and olive sandwiches had 
been turned over and trampled up with a suc¬ 
culent mess of cold greens and boiled pork. 
Pickles skidded from beneath tugging paws 
and collided with rolling roasting ears of corn. 
Mr. Clinton had ten beagle hounds. He kept 
them lean and hungry for speed. 

Fish yelled and kicked at those nearest, but 
they merely ran to the other side of the table. 
He knocked the three off his end of the table, 
but they took the turkey with them. It landed 
with an unpleasant plump upon the carpet. He 
gave up. 


308 




THE DARKEST HOUR 


“Ain’t no use fightin’ against dragon’s 
blood.” 

He felt weak after the exertion. On the side¬ 
board was a decanter of blackberry wine. He 
filled a glass and sipped it with appreciation. 
The dogs ate ravenously. To an impartial ob¬ 
server, seeing the wreck of what had been 
meant for a beautiful feast, Fish might have 
seemed a lean, dark, sinister spirit from an¬ 
other world, gloating between draughts of 
wine while his dumb imps completed his fiend¬ 
ish plans. 

At this moment Mr. Clinton, followed by 
ten colored members of the bar, came in the 
front door. 

Fish faced Mr. Clinton with a feeling of 
kindness and pity. His speech was prepared. 
He set down the glass of wine and wiped his 
protruding lips. 

“Mr. Clinton,” he said, while that burly gen¬ 
tleman, radiant in a frock coat and a speaking 
checked vest, stood with his colleagues and 
gazed upon the scene of ruin with the sudden 
paralysis of surprise, “Mr. Clinton, I have 
called upon you for de las’ time, to say good- 
by. You treated me bad, but I forgives.” 

Mr. Clinton came nearer. His mouth hung 
open and his eyes, behind their horn-rimmed 
309 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


spectacles, popped out in his yellow face. Fish, 
in his weakened condition, had been quickly 
susceptible to the fumes of the wine. He was 
going to let bygones be bygones. Before a 
large and distinguished audience, he would for¬ 
give his father-in-law, and say farewell. It 
did not occur to him that in the sight of Mr. 
Clinton he was as a red flag to a bull. He did 
not realize that Mr. Clinton would immediately 
remember his earlier request for the loan of 
the beagle hounds, the blow that followed, and 
look upon the present havoc as a deliberate 
attempt at revenge. Instead, Fish held out a 
long, black hand. 

“Mr. Clinton, I forgives you and says good- 
by. Fs goin’ ’way for good—to France or 
maybe Raleigh.” 

Fish had hardly completed his sentence be¬ 
fore he realized that Mr. Clinton’s entire right 
side, preceded by Mr. Clinton’s fist, was ap¬ 
proaching him with great velocity. He saw 
suddenly a beautiful circle of stars, some red, 
some green, some yellow. The house shook 
and the floor struck him on the back of the 
head. “Lady,” he muttered inaudibly, “leg- 
go my nose.” Then somebody blew the sun 
out. 

When Fish opened his eyes again he thought 
310 




THE DARKEST HOUR 


he was in heaven. Everything he saw seemed 
to verify this impression. The ceiling was the 
ceiling of the beloved room on Queen Street 
where he and Macedonia had started their 
career together. The wall paper of large red 
roses belonged to the ceiling. In the corner 
was the old sewing machine, and on the man¬ 
tel the heart-shaped alarm clock that looked 
like gold. On the floor was the same new red 
carpet. But there was something else, a pres¬ 
ence, that made it seem real. He painfully 
turned his head. 

Yes, it must be heaven. There by the win¬ 
dow, in her neat brown dress, her glossy hair 
as usual coiled above her oval light-brown 
face, Macedonia leaned over a glass on the 
table into which she was pouring a yellow 
liquid from a bottle. 

She turned at the sound of movement, came 
to him, knelt and slipped her arm under his 
head. 

“My man!” 

“Baby, say dem words once mo’!” 

“My man. My hero man. Does he give his 
blood to my chile? Does he git hurted ’cause 
I leaves dem dawgs git out? Does ever’body, 
even his baby, treat him bad?” 

“Whose baby is talkin’?” 

3ii 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Yo’ baby. Yo’ baby done brung yo’ back 
whar us belongs. Here whar us gwine stay 
so nobody can't part us." 

Fish sighed deeply and closed his popped 
eyes. A beatific smile made his white teeth 
shine in his ebony face. “Dat owl-cat man, 
he sho’ am a good frien’.’’ 

“What you sayin’, honey?" 

“Baby, I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. I ain’t got 
time to say nothin’. I’se too busy bein’ 
happy." 

Macedonia kissed him. “Poppa say he 
through wid us for good. But I don’t care." 

“Me neither," Fish agreed. But he doubted 
that Mr. Clinton was through with him. 




CHAPTER XXIII 

THE MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


MONTH went by in a state of armed 



truce, the relations between the Clin¬ 


tons and the Kellys being of a distant 
and formal nature. But an interview that 
then took place in Mr. Clinton’s office proved 
that Fish was right in believing that Mr. 
Clinton was not through with him. 

“Sit down!” roared Mr. Clinton as Lawyer 
entered. 

Lawyer Little’s valor was nine parts dis¬ 
cretion. He did not take time even to flick up 
the long tails of his once black but now 
greenish coat, but subsided so suddenly into 
the near-mahogany chair beside Mr. Clinton’s 
near-mahogany desk, that his greasy old opera 
hat fell from his plump, bacon-colored hand 
and rolled over by the china cuspidor. 

Mr. Clinton’s gray-clad bulk was silhouetted 
against a cherry bookcase half filled with law 
books bound in tan leather. He remained 
standing, and glared down at Lawyer through 


3i3 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


his horn-rimmed spectacles, his close-cropped 
gray mustache a fierce straight line across his 
square “high-yellow” countenance. 

“You knows,” he thundered, “dat it ain’t 
right for me to talk a pussonal an’ confidential 
matter to a man wid a reputation like yourn.” 

“Sho’ ain’t, Mr. Clinton,” agreed Lawyer 
ingratiatingly. He had felt uneasy ever since 
he had been summoned to Mr. Clinton’s pres¬ 
ence—for one reason, because Mr. Clinton’s 
office was in such uncomfortable proximity to 
the city jail. “I ain’t had de honor of seein’ 
you, suh, since you stop bein’ deputy assistant 
to de assistant prosecutin’ attorney.” 

“Dat’s right,” said Mr. Clinton grimly, “an’ 
sink it into your haid dat I’m liable to be assist¬ 
ant to de prosecutor again.” 

“It done sunk ’fore you spoke, Mr. Clinton.” 

“Now another thing: they ain’t no witnesses 
to dis here conversation.” 

“I ain’t seen none, suh.” Lawyer turned his 
spherical body in a sudden inspection of the 
two closed doors leading to the corridor, and 
glanced at the green baize screen standing in 
the corner. 

“Therefore, if you say I said anything, I can 
deny it, and sue you for criminal libel.” 

3H 



MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


“You sho’ is cute, I’ll remark dat,” com¬ 
mented Lawyer in sincere admiration. 

Mr. Clinton twirled the heavy yellow chain 
that hung across the gray vest of his impres¬ 
sive abdomen. His expression became molli¬ 
fied. He seated himself in the swivel chair and 
swung his large tan shoes up on the desk. 

“I reckon you knows dat skinny, good-for- 
nothin’ son-in-law of mine what is name’ Fish 
Kelly?” 

“Um,” grunted Lawyer in a sympathetic 
tone that conveyed no hint of esteem. 

“Well,” snapped the father-in-law, in a sud¬ 
den burst of bitterness, “I gwine git rid of him. 
You understan’ dat?” 

Even Lawyer Little, whose life had been 
given over to misdemeanors that sometimes 
had skirted the edge of felony, gasped slightly. 

“Yeah?” he inquired with a rising inflection. 
“I s’pose you means,” he added with the 
suavity of one who is endeavoring to be con¬ 
genial, “dat you want me to help you kill 
him.” 

Mr. Clinton’s feet dropped to the floor and 
he banged on the desk with his fist. 

“You fat idjit,” he shouted in his thunderous 
voice, “does I look like a murderer?” 

“Why, Mr. Clinton,” protested Lawyer, in- 
315 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


stantly, in pained surprise. “How kin you ast 
me sich a question? Can’t you tell when a 
man’s jokin’?” 

Mr. Clinton glared for a moment at Law¬ 
yer’s round shining countenance, then put his 
feet back on the desk. Lawyer, now that he 
had weathered the squall, whipped out a red 
bandanna handkerchief and mopped his bullet¬ 
shaped cranium, the sparse black wool of 
which had recently been clipped at the expense 
of the city. He realized that he had not risen 
in Mr. Clinton’s esteem by this disclosure of 
the extent to which he was willing to be ac¬ 
commodating. He squirmed in his chair, and 
dabbed at the three chins that billowed out 
over his collar. 

“What I mean is dis,” explained Fish’s 
father-in-law. “Dat black skinny nigger been 
a thorn in my foot ever since I first seen him. 
He got my girl to marry him, an’ she could 
have had the highest-livingest colored man in 
town. Den dey had a baby,” Mr. Clinton con¬ 
tinued bitterly, “what was black as he is. My 
own gran’child! Den dat nigger don’t make 
enough to keep a millionaire out of de poor- 
house. I all de time got to be a-contributin’ 
and a-contributin’.” Mr. Clinton looked wor¬ 
ried. “An’ jes’ now I got unusual expenses.” 

316 



MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


He glanced quickly at Lawyer as if he had 
made a slip by referring to the thing that 
worried him. But Lawyer was merely bland 
attention. “He won’t never do nothin’ all his 
life ’cept push a cart for Greenberg’s delica¬ 
tessen,” Mr. Clinton ended. 

“Ain’t it de trufe!” sang Lawyer virtuously, 
although his own acquaintance with labor was 
limited to the times he had repaired the county 
roads, by request. 

“And now I’s sick of it,” concluded Mr. Clin¬ 
ton. “I gwine kick him out of dis town, den 
I gwine git my daughter a divorce, and give 
her a new start in life. Dat’s what I gwine do.” 

“An’ you is right” Lawyer had never for¬ 
given Fish for ceasing to cooperate with him 
in questionable financial schemes and settling 
down, two years ago, to a quiet married life. 
He felt the jealousy that unsuccessful crime 
always feels for successful virtue. The idea of 
visiting irretrievable disaster upon the gentle 
Fish was music to his ears. “Do Miss Mace¬ 
donia, his wife, feel de same way you do?” 

“Co’se she don’t. You ever know a woman 
what had any common sense when it come to 
her husband? But after I gits things fixed she 
gwine look at it my way. Ain’t gwine be no 
other way to look at it.” 

3i7 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Sho’ am glad you is after Fish Kelly, an’ 
not me/’ remarked Lawyer flatteringly. “What 
way can I ’sist you, suh?” 

Mr. Clinton went to the door, and peered 
into the corridor. 

“We got to keep dis thing confidential,” he 
said when he returned. “An’ do it quiet.” He 
looked nervously behind the green baize 
screen. “If we is caught doin’ dis, you git 
five years at de littlest.” 

“Five years!” exclaimed Lawyer. “How 
much does you git?” 

“I ain’t gwine git caught,” replied Mr. 
Clinton. 

Lawyer swallowed. His light-brown coun¬ 
tenance took on a greenish tinge. 

“Did you say five years?” he inquired 
gently. 

“For conspiracy, yes,” answered Mr. Clin¬ 
ton abstractedly. He was pacing up and down 
the room, pulling at his mustache, wondering 
if it was safe, after all, to enlist Lawyer as a 
partner. 

Lawyer glanced at the door. 

“If it’s all de same to you, Mr. Clinton,” he 
began, “I sho’ would like to finish dis here 
talk to-morrow.” He rose and picked up his 
hat. “I promised I’d meet a man ...” 

318 



MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


“Sit down!” roared Mr. Clinton for the 
second time. 

Lawyer sat down so suddenly that his chair 
cracked. 

“Dis is de plan,” snapped Mr. Clinton, hav¬ 
ing decided that he was forced to take a 
chance. He couldn’t do the dirty work him¬ 
self, and Lawyer was the only person he knew 
who combined the willingness to help him 
with the wit to carry it through. “You see 
Fish Kelly an’ gits him to come here to dis 
office. I gwine let him see dat dere’s a 
thousan’-dollar bond in de drawer of this here 
desk. Before he gits here, you git here first 
and hide bellin’ dat screen. When he come in 
I gwine unlock dat drawer an’ let him see de 
bond, an’ den slip outside an’ leave him a 
chance.” 

Lawyer chuckled. “What I mean—dat’s 
slick!” 

Mr. Clinton became enthusiastic. 

“He takes it. I lets him walk out wid it; 
den I git Officer Johnson an’ ketches him on 
de street an’ brings him back.” 

“An’ den,” Lawyer added, “we sends him up 
de James River a-bustin’ rocks for de Gover’- 
mint.” 

“No,” said the father-in-law, “dat’s where 
3i9 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


you shows you don’t know nothin’. If I was 
to send him to de pen for stealin’, Macedonia 
would know I done it for meanness an’ she’d 
stick by him. Dat’s a woman. A woman don’t 
care what a man do—” Lawyer was inter¬ 
ested to catch a hint of reminiscence in the 
words of this pillar of Huntersville society. 
“Jes’ so he don’t do nothin’ ’gainst her 

“Dat’s right,” agreed Lawyer. “I mought 
a-known you was figgerin’ on sump’n’ deep.” 

“Dat’s de way I always figgers,” admitted 
this bulwark of respectability. “What I does 
den is tell Fish I gwine let him off easy. Let 
him skip town an’ stay ’way for good. If he 
ever come back I gwine send him to jail for 
life.” 

“Now you talkin’!” cried Lawyer, and 
slapped his fat knee. “Could you sen’ him up 
long for dat?” he inquired seriously. 

“So long he’d forgit whar he was born an’ 
raised.” 

“An’ den what?” asked Lawyer. 

“An’ den—” Mr. Clinton smiled a chilling 
smile. “You lets Macedonia know what 
woman he run away wid.” 

Lawyer fairly gasped in admiration. “I’ll 
say you is deep!” he exulted. “Dat’s one thing 
sho’ do make a woman mad.” 

320 




MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


“Yes,” agreed Mr. Clinton. The same 
shadow of worry passed suddenly over his 
square yellow face. “Yes,” he repeated slowly, 
“it sho’ would. I mean, it sho’ do.” He looked 
again at Lawyer after this verbal slip; but 
Lawyer was patting his fat leg and chuckling 
till the lone button on his greenish coat hopped 
up and down. 

“You can Tange to have dat black nigger 
here at fo’ o’clock dis evenin’?” inquired the 
Master Mind. 

“All cocked an’ primed,” assured Lawyer, 
rising cheerfully and putting on his hat, “ready 
to be shot to glory.” 

Eve’y time I comes to town 
De boys start kickin’ my dog aroun\ 

Makes no diff’ence ef he is a houn’, 

Dey gotta stop kickin’ my dog aroun’. 

These words, at about the time of the fore¬ 
going conference, wound from the thin coun¬ 
tenance of Fish Kelly. The business that Mr. 
Clinton, in one of his rare fits of good humor, 
had promised to buy for his grandchild, of 
course had never materialized, and Fish had 
been forced to return to the propulsion of a 
pushcart for Mr. Greenberg’s delicatessen. 

At the moment he would have said that he 
321 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


was singing, but the song was really a series 
of painful and melancholy moans, sympto¬ 
matic of the depression of his spirit. 

Fish’s aged black suit hung listlessly upon 
his tall thin frame; the dusky gleam of a bare 
toe showed as mute witness to poverty through 
a slit in one of his disconsolate tan oxfords, 
and his ebon countenance, prominent of tooth 
and eye, glistened sweatily as though it had 
just emerged from an ink bottle. He rested 
the front of his pushcart against the curb, 
dropped a brick in it to hold it down, and 
shambled toward the store entrance. 

Eve’y time I comes to town, 

De boys start kickin’ . . . 

Fish stopped. On the corner stood a 
spindling youth who was quite the queerest 
person he had ever seen. The youth’s natural 
color was what might be called a “high yaller,” 
but in a circular area about his mouth, and in 
places on his forehead, the skin apparently had 
peeled away, and here his complexion was as 
white as any man’s. Fish had heard—as who 
in Huntersville has not?—that there are 
lotions which will make the hair straight and 
the skin white, and it seemed that here was an 
ocular demonstration. He sidled nearer. His 
322 




MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


own skin was so black that his protruding eyes 
and teeth seemed startlingly white by contrast, 
and the thought that this darkness might 
somehow be relieved had a corresponding 
effect upon the gloom of his spirits. 

“Sho' is warm, ain't it?" Fish inquired. 

“Sho’ is," agreed the youth who was turning 
white. He was quite a gentleman of fashion, 
with a new maroon-colored suit, a pearl fedora 
with a green band, and shiny yellow shoes 
stylishly lumpy at the tips. Observing Fish's 
interest in his appearance, he nonchalantly 
shot out his wrist and examined a goldish 
watch. 

“Um!" Fish was unable to repress a moan 
of admiration. “Some watch!" 

“Jes' bought it dis mornin'," grinned the 
youth, who seemed pleased to find some one 
with whom to share his enjoyment. “How 
you like dis suit an' hat?" 

“Sho' am noble." 

“Jes’ bought dem, too. How you like dese 
shoes?" 

Fish was momentarily diverted from his 
interest in turning white. 

“How you make all dis money?" 

The youth smiled covertly. 

3 2 3 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Mo’ dan one way of makin’ money. Don't 
always have to work for it." 

“What’s dat other way?" asked Fish 
eagerly. 

“Can’t everybody do it," answered the youth, 
smiling as if at some secret. “First place, you 
got to be born right." 

“Born right?’’ Fish was nonplussed. “What 
your name, colored boy?" 

The boy snickered. “Don’t tell my name in 
dis city. Dat’s what I got de money for. Can’t 
tell my name ’cept when I’s home. Den every¬ 
body know it." 

“What place is dat?" 

“Newbern. Ever been to Newbern?" 

“Naw," said Fish. “But my wife’s father, 
he used to travel down dat way, long time 
back. He a big lawyer here. His name 
Clinton." 

The youth started. “Does you know him?" 
he asked in alarm. “Don’t tell him I said 
nothin’ to you. Please don’t!’’ 

“You ain’t said nothin’. What you talkin’ 
’bout?" 

“I promised to leave town dis mornin’," said 
the boy nervously. “If he know I still here—’’ 

There was a rattle and grinding behind 
them, the squeaking of a brake, and an instant 

324 




MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


later the gray-clad bulk of Mr. Clinton towered 
above them. He said nothing as he looked 
from Fish to the spotted youth and back again, 
but his expression was not a pretty thing to 
see. The youth began to tremble. 

Fish assimilated some of the boy’s fear and 
was on the point of silently stealing away 
when Mr. Clinton anticipated him. 

“What you doin’ talkin’ to dis boy?” he de¬ 
manded, his straight gray mustache twisting 
into a murderous snarl. “Answer me!” Be¬ 
hind his spectacles his eyes had become blood¬ 
shot with rage. Fish fell back and raised an 
arm. 

“Ain’t doin’ nothin’,” he began with a dry 
throat. But the powerful Mr. Clinton with a 
quick movement caught him by the coat and 
whirled him with a sickening impact against 
a wooden telegraph pole, jerked him from his 
knees, to which he had fallen, and kicked him 
viciously once, and again, and again—until 
Fish with the strength of agony broke away 
and dashed into the open side doorway of the 
delicatessen. 

In the rear of the store, finding himself un¬ 
pursued, Fish limped to a window and, while 
rubbing himself, looked out. 

Mr. Clinton had returned to the spotted 

325 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


youth, who had remained transfixed and trem¬ 
bling. 

“Didn’t I tell you to ketch dat nine o’clock 
train?” the lawyer demanded through shut 
teeth. “You go on to de station right now 
while I follows you.” 

The boy hurried off in the direction of the 
railroad station and Mr. Clinton, after stalling 
his engine twice, followed slowly in his tiny 
Rolls-Rough coupe. 

Fish Kelly sat down cautiously upon a case 
of canned goods and gave himself over to bit¬ 
terness. This, certainly, was the last straw. 
For years he had lived in a state of subjection 
based upon fear. First, when he was unmar¬ 
ried, Lawyer Little had forced him week after 
week to be the cat’s-paw in risky ventures, and 
he had been afraid to refuse. After his mar¬ 
riage to Macedonia, daughter of the prominent 
and influential Mr. Clinton, Lawyer had feared 
to bother him, but the scepter had passed to 
his father-in-law. Fish’s nature was of the 
gentlest. He was eager to meet friendliness 
with gratitude and requite kindness with affec¬ 
tion. Through no fault of his own, Mr. Clin¬ 
ton had chosen consistently to make him the 
butt of sarcasm and ridicule, to which he had 
submitted because a melancholy sense of in- 
326 




MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


feriority suggested that perhaps the affronts 
were deserved. But this latest offense was 
different. Absolutely without rhyme or rea¬ 
son, Mr. Clinton had attacked him savagely 
and had kicked him off the street as though 
he had been a dog. 

Fish felt a hardening within, as though his 
soul were turning to iron. The most yielding 
of natures, once thoroughly aroused, become 
sometimes the most adamant, seeming to rally 
all at once the unused forces of resolution. As 
if an outside strength had come to assist him, 
Fish felt that he was done with being abused. 
He stood up, took a deep breath, and thumped 
himself upon his narrow chest. As he loaded 
his cart with baskets of canned goods and 
vegetables, in preparation for the next deliv¬ 
ery, the pains in his legs served but to remind 
him of a new-found emancipation. With more 
cheerfulness and in louder volume his quavery 
tenor rang out: 

Makes no diff'ence if he is a houn* 

Dey gotta stop kickin' my- 

He was interrupted by a familiar voice and 
looked up from the arrangement of a basket 
to see the globular greenish figure of Lawyer 
Little, whose shining light-brown counte- 

327 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


nance, beneath a dusty opera hat, was light¬ 
ened by a specious smile of friendship. 

“Hello dar, black boy! Been lookin' for 
you .” 

“What you want?” Fish pouted his long 
lips and opened and shut his prominent eyes. 
He had promised Macedonia to keep away 
from Lawyer Little. And he had kept his 
promise—scrupulously—largely because when 
in proximity to Lawyer he was overpowered 
by that gentleman's personality and unable to 
stay out of trouble. But just at this moment 
he felt that he could brave Lawyer's influence 
without fear. 

“Wants somebody to split some money wid 
me. Dat's all.” Lawyer grinned fatly. “I 
s'pose you got mo' money dan you need.” 

Fish took off his black felt hat and scratched 
the undulations of his kinky head. 

“Wouldn't say dat,” he answered. His 
prominent teeth showed whitely in a smile. 
“But I got all de trouble I needs.” 

“I ain't said nothin' 'bout no trouble, is I?” 

“01' Lady Trouble speak over yo' shoulder.” 

“Lissen,” said Lawyer. “Come wid me an' 
I gwine show you how you can git dat business 
you been talkin' 'bout.” 

Fish felt a jump in his heart. A little busi- 
328 




MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


ness would make him independent. Then he 
could match Mr. Clinton, sneer for sneer. 
After Mr. Clinton's false promises, it would be 
heavenly to succeed without his help. 

“Whar you want to go?" asked Fish. 

“Jes’ up to de Palm Palace, whar we can 
talk." 

Lawyer waddled hastily in advance to con¬ 
ceal his smile of triumph. Fish shuffled with 
him along the brick paved, sunny street. At 
the next corner they entered the Palm Palace, 
passed through the soda-dispensing part and 
into the back room where stood three pool 
tables and, in a corner, a green-covered table 
upon which, the police claimed, sometimes dice 
were rolled. Lawyer led the way to seats by 
a table in a dark and unfrequented nook. Fish, 
concealing his defiance of Lawyer, Mr. Clinton 
and a hostile universe, folded his long limbs 
into a chair. 

“Fish," said Lawyer, “dat pa-in-law of yourn 
promised to buy a business for you to run an' 
build up for Little Fish. Didn't he?" 

Fish's eyes blinked sullenly. “Dat's what he 
promise. Dat ain't what he done." 

“I know it ain't. An’ dat sho' do make me 
mad. A frien’ of mine is a frien' of mine." 

329 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


Fish maintained a heavy and suspicious 
silence. 

“A frien’ of mine is a frien’ of mine/’ Lawyer 
repeated, “an’ it sho’ did make me mad when 
I come by de Liberty Lunch Room dis morn- 
in’ an’ seen it was for sale. ‘Mr. Clinton should 
oughter buy dat for Fish,’ I says to myself, 
dike he promise,’ I says.” 

Fish muttered a bitter assent. 

“I happen to meet Mr. Clinton ’bout dat 
time,” Lawyer continued, “an’ I done mention 
dis to him. He took me in his office an’ talked 
’bout you sump’n’ scandalous. I says to him, 
I says, ‘Fish Kelly is a frien’ of mine; an’ a 
frien’ of mine,’ I says, ‘is a frien’ of mine.’ An’ 
I puts on my hat an’ walks out.” 

Fish believed all of this except Lawyer’s 
defiance of Mr. Clinton. His bitterness rose. 

“If dat man was a honest man,” said Lawyer 
with feeling, “he sho’ would buy you dat 
place.” 

“Um,” agreed the son-in-law. 

“I ain’t got no interest in dis,” said Lawyer. 
“ ’Cept to advise you like a frien’. You know 
what I’d do if I was you? I’d go up to Mr. 
Clinton’s office at fo’ o’clock dis evenin’. He 
said he’d be dar den. An’ I would deman’ of 
him to keep his promise. Can’t do you no 
330 



MYSTERY OF THE HOUSE OF CLINTON 


harm. An’ if you reminds him of it real strong, 
and tells him it's a good payin’ business, like 
as not he’d do like he say.” 

“Dat’s easy said.” 

“You know why it ain’t easy for you? ’Cause 
you scared of dat man.” 

Fish made an inarticulate sound of dissent. 

“Yes you is! An’ dey ain’t no sense in it. 
You scared of him jes’ ’cause you is. If he 
was scared of you, den you’d be boss. Jes’ like 
de old sayin’, you look a wild animal in de eye 
an’ he turn away.” 

“I tried dat on a dog once,” objected Fish, 
“an’ he run me from hell on through.” 

“Dat’s ’cause he warn’t a wild animal,” ex¬ 
plained Lawyer patly. “He war a domestic 
animal. But I tell you what I means. Ain’t 
you never seen a big young rooster what is 
scared of a little old rooster, jes’ ’cause he was 
raise up wid him?” 

“Sho’ is.” 

“An’ ain’t you never shook dis old rooster up 
in a flour bag, so de young rooster don’t know 
him, an’ den see de young rooster beat de face 
off’n him?” 

“Dat’s right.” 

“Dat’s de way wid you an’ Mr. Clinton,” 
Lawyer repeated profoundly. “You is de 
33i 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


young rooster an’ he is de old one. You jes’ 
scared of him ’cause you is, dat’s all. Ain’t no 
sense in it. If he was scared of you, you’d be 
boss.” 

Fish felt suddenly that this was true. It 
comported exactly with the strength that had 
come to him after Mr. Clinton’s unwarranted 
violence. He rose, struck the table with his 
palm and thrust his black face near Lawyer’s. 

“I ain’t gwine be under hack to nobody no 
mo’,” he announced. “I gwine up to see dat 
man at fo’ o’clock an’ tell him what I think.” 

Lawyer drew back. 

“You got a look in yo’ eye like a lion!” he 
said. So startled was he at this metamorphosis 
that Fish was shuffling out of the room before 
he had recovered sufficiently to speak. 




CHAPTER XXIV 
SETTIN* PRETTY 


F ISH, his jaw set tight, returned to his 
pushcart, leaned against it and pursued 
his round of deliveries. On Queen 
Street, before his door, he spied Little Fish, 
clad in blue rompers from which his skinny 
bowed legs ran down, like sticks of licorice, to 
bare feet that were characteristically long and 
flat. His undulatory head was potato-shaped 
and coal black, and when his white eyeballs 
rolled at Fish in recognition, the father’s eyes 
moistened with joy. 

Macedonia, in a trim red-and-white calico 
dress, came out of the street door and hailed 
him. 

“What for you lookin’ so serious?” Her 
oval light-brown face was anxious. 

“I done decide sump’n’. Dat’s all.” 

“Don’t you go git in no trouble.” She gave 
her glossy hair a pat. 

“I gwine have a surprise for you,” said Fish 
grimly, “ ’fo’ dis day is over.” 

333 


MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Fish Kelly,” she exclaimed, her brown 
eyes large, “you ain't been schemin' roun' again 
wid dat Lawyer Little, is you?” 

“Ain't been schemin' roun' wid nobody,” 
retorted Fish. “You wait. My liT baby gwine 
see if his pa can't do mo' dan push a cart.” 

He leaned once more against the handle of 
the pushcart, while Macedonia followed the 
progress of his tall thin frame with thoughtful 
eyes. 

“Meet me at de Liberty Lunch Room,” he 
turned and shouted, “ 'bout fo' o'clock.” 

Then he went on his way. At four o'clock 
he parked his empty cart before the side en¬ 
trance of the delicatessen, and shuffled lugubri¬ 
ously up the street toward Mr. Clinton's law 
office. Ordinarily he would have been gray 
with fear at the thought of bearding this burly 
yellow gentleman, but to-day, as by some 
miracle, the iron had entered his soul. Law¬ 
yer's encouragement had been all that he 
required to convince him that he need no 
longer be a coward. He wasn't going to take 
any violence from Mr. Clinton. He reached 
in his pocket and closed his fingers round a 
large clasp knife. With this as a further moral 
support he mounted the rickety wooden stairs 
to Mr. Clinton's office. 

334 




SETTIN 9 PRETTY 


Mr. Clinton was seated at his near-mahog¬ 
any desk, and in the corner behind him, making 
a sort of inclosure against the wall, was a large 
green baize screen. He appeared to be looking 
for something in the desk's middle drawer, 
found it, unfolded the crisp green paper of a 
thousand-dollar railway bond, folded it again 
and dropped it into the drawer, which he partly 
closed. Then he glanced up and seemed to be 
surprised to see Fish Kelly. 

. “Mister Clinton," Fish began firmly— 

“Jes' a minute," interrupted Mr. Clinton, “I 
mus' step out an' see a man." He got up and 
hurried into the corridor, closing the door 
behind him. 

Fish sat down and waited, rehearsing in his 
mind the peremptory words that he was going 
to address to his father-in-law. His imagina¬ 
tion had been fired by Lawyer's encourage¬ 
ment, and he decided while he waited that his 
attitude would be militant. He would shout 
at Mr. Clinton as if he himself were a person 
to be feared, and then—had not Lawyer said 
it?—fear would enter Mr. Clinton's heart and 
Mr. Kelly, instead of Mr. Clinton, would be 
boss. 

The minutes passed, however, and Mr. Clin¬ 
ton did not return. There was a somehow 
335 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


familiar odor in the room, and Fish, although 
he could not explain it, had an uncomfortable 
feeling that he was not alone. He remembered 
that Macedonia was to meet him at the Liberty 
Lunch Room at four o'clock, and as it was now 
after that hour, and as Mr. Clinton gave no 
sign of ever returning, Fish got up and shuffled 
out into the street, determining that the inter¬ 
view—which was to be so unfortunate for Mr. 
Clinton—had merely been postponed. 

His flat-footed shuffle had borne him no 
further than the next corner when he heard 
rapid footsteps behind him, and the next 
moment a heavy hand fell upon his shoulder. 

Fish was startled when he turned and dis¬ 
covered that the heavy hand proceeded from 
the blue sleeve of Police Officer Johnson. His 
conscience was clear, however, and his momen¬ 
tary panic changed to anger when he saw that 
the colored policeman was accompanied by 
Mr. Clinton. 

“What you all want?" he demanded belliger¬ 
ently. 

“You," said Officer Johnson briefly. 

“For what?" 

“For takin’ dat bon' out of my desk. Dat’s 
what," snapped Mr. Clinton. 

“What you talkin' 'bout, man?" 

33b 




SETTIN’ PRETTY 


‘Til show you!” Mr. Clinton roughly 
jerked open Fish's coat and thrust his hand 
into the inside pocket. Not finding the bond 
there, he tried Fish's other pockets, and ran 
his hand everywhere that he thought it might 
be concealed. 

“‘Why, you ain't got it!” he exclaimed in 
surprise. 

“Naw, I ain’t got it,” cried Fish, wrought 
up by this latest injustice. “But I got you! 
I come to yo' office lookin' for you.” Fish 
remembered Lawyer's advice and began to 
shout. “You's a fine sort of man to be a law¬ 
yer, ain't you?” He thrust his black face close 
to Mr. Clinton's. “You's a fine man to be 
gran'pappy to my Little Fish!” 

Mr. Clinton fell back a step. His face paled. 
He had been wondering how much the white- 
spotted yellow youth had said to Fish. Now 
his worst dread seemed confirmed. 

Fish followed him, carried onward by suc¬ 
cess. “You's a fine man, ain't you?” he 
shouted, repeating the words that had been 
so effective. 

“Wait—wait, Fish!” Mr. Clinton pleaded. 
“We don't want talk 'bout dis in company.” 

“I don't want talk 'bout nothin',” replied 
Fish in a loud voice. “All I want is you to 
337 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


come on wid me to de Liberty Lunch Room, 
which you is gwine buy dis very day for yo* 
liT gran’chile, like you promised.” 

“All right. Lit go wid you,” agreed Mr. 
Clinton hurriedly. He would have done any¬ 
thing rather than have Fish blurt out in public 
what the spotted youth might have told him. 
For Mr. Clinton, with all his other faults, was 
really here the victim of his own tender¬ 
heartedness. Years ago, when he had been 
called occasionally to Newbern on business, 
he had engaged in a love affair with a young 
“high-brown” lady of that vicinity. After a 
while this lady informed him that he was to be 
the father of her child. He had represented 
himself in Newbern as a single man; and he 
knew that if any hint of this thing drifted back 
to his own city it would topple his cherished 
reputation for respectability, and, what was 
more serious, disrupt his domestic peace. Mrs. 
Clinton was a lady to be respected for reasons 
that she was always willing to make plain. So, 
foolishly and impulsively, to save public scan¬ 
dal, he had married the girl, thus committing 
the crime of bigamy and entering upon a 
career of pain. For of course the high-brown 
lady had eventually discovered his duplicity; 
and whenever she felt herself in need of funds 
338 




SETTIN 9 PRETTY 


she so advised Mr. Clinton, wording the notice 
so that it was less of a request than a demand. 

Upon looking back, Mr. Clinton remembered 
that the lady had whispered the news to him 
in the moonlight when they were both look¬ 
ing down from a high bridge to the water 
below. The thought had occurred to him then 
that it would be a good idea to pitch her over. 
But she had seemed so pretty in the moonlight 
his tender heart restrained him. 

Mr. Clinton had solemnly sworn, many 
times since, never to be tender-hearted again. 

As he walked along with Fish, Mr. Clinton 
concluded that his son-in-law was taking ad¬ 
vantage of the situation to blackmail him into 
keeping his promise. He decided that if he 
had to buy the restaurant, he would buy it in 
his own name—Fish could neither read nor 
write and wouldn’t know the difference. Then, 
when the time was propitious, he would pitch 
Fish over. In fact, if he got hold of Lawyer 
right away, it wasn’t too late to work out the 
bond plot to a satisfactory conclusion. 

They arrived at the Liberty Lunch Room, 
and after inspecting its double row of oilcloth- 
covered tables, visiting the kitchen, where the 
cook was juggling flapjacks, and examining 
the store of goods, Mr. Clinton agreed that the 
339 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


place was worth a thousand dollars. He told 
the proprietor that he would come the next day 
and conclude the transaction. 

“Naw, you won’t,” interrupted Fish. Mace¬ 
donia had arrived, and he was pining to display 
his new-found power over mankind. “You be 
back here wid de money whilst we waits for 
you, dat’s what you gwine do.” 

“Why, sure, Fish,” Mr. Clinton acceded, 
with a ghastly smile. He was helpless, and 
before his own daughter. He left them and 
walked back to his office, racking his brain for 
some means of getting Fish out of the way. 
The immediate thing was to get the bond from 
his desk and take it over to the bank—which 
was open until eight o’clock—and put it in his 
safe-deposit box. After that he would buy the 
restaurant in his own name, and return to 
the office for another conference with Lawyer. 

He mounted the rickety steps, entered the 
office and opened the drawer of his desk. The 
bond was gone. He rushed over to the screen 
and jerked it aside. Lawyer Little was gone, 
too. 

Fish and Macedonia sat at a table by the 
restaurant window and awaited Mr. Clinton’s 
return. 


340 




SETTIN’ PRETTY 


“How come you talk to him like dat?” in¬ 
quired the wondering Macedonia. “How come 
he take it?” 

“How come it?” Fish tilted his egg-shaped 
cranium upward. He put a thumb in his vest 
and looked down at Macedonia sideways. 
Against his black skin his prominent white 
teeth glittered. “ ’Cause I skeered him.” 

“You skeered him?” cried the wife. “You 
ain’t never skeered nobody in yo’ life!” 

“Dat’s right,” Fish agreed. “Dey always 
been skeerin’ me. But from now on I gwine 
skeer dem first.” 

“What kind o’ fool talk is dis?” 

“Dis ain’t no fool talk, ’ooman. Ain’t you 
seen yo’ own pappy hawin’ when I say ‘Haw’ 
an’ geein’ when I say ‘Gee’?” 

“Yeah. But dat man like a mule, too. He 
haw for a while, den he lif’ his hin’ leg.” 

“He ain’t gwine let nothin’ fly at me. Dar’s 
Lawyer Little ’cross de street. You watch 
me skeer him, too.” 

“Fish, you better leave dat fat nigger be. 
You rarin’ for a fall!” 

But Fish, confident in the new method he 
had found for triumphing over humanity, had 
passed into the street. 

34i 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


“Lawyer Little/’ he shouted peremptorily, 
“come here!” 

Lawyer started, looked hastily up and down 
the street, then waddled over to where Fish 
was standing. He peered uneasily into the 
restaurant and then asked: 

“What you want, Fish?” 

“I wants you,” Fish said loudly, glaring at 
the fat man, who paled visibly. 

“Me?” inquired Lawyer. He removed his 
greasy opera hat and passed a plump brown 
hand nervously over his clipped skull. “What 
you want wid me, Mr. Kelly?” 

“Mr. Clinton gwine buy dis lunch room for 
me,” Fish snapped, thrusting his face into 
Lawyer’s, “an’ I wants you to come here in de 
mornin’ and sweep de place out.” 

Lawyer’s eyes opened and his jaw dropped. 
“He gwine buy dis place for you?” he asked, 
as if he was hearing unwelcome news. 

“You heerd me. An’ after you sweeps it 
out I wants you to wash de dishes an’ wait on 
de tables. You git dat?” 

“Certainly, Mr. Kelly,” said Lawyer in a 
weak voice. Fish had attacked him at the 
psychological moment. After he had removed 
the bond from Mr. Clinton’s desk, Lawyer 
had gone in succession to three banks in an 
342 




SETTIN 9 PRETTY 


endeavor to sell it. At each place they had 
unhesitatingly refused to deal with him and 
had viewed him with such suspicion that he 
was rapidly becoming a nervous wreck from 
the mere fact of having the valuable but use¬ 
less document in his possession. Every time 
it crackled in his pocket he heard the judge 
say: “Five years!” 

In desperation, Lawyer had thought of re¬ 
turning to Mr. Clinton, giving him back the 
bond, and receiving forgiveness on condition 
that he make the plot against Fish successful. 
But now he was like a rat in a trap. It was 
evident, if Mr. Clinton was buying the res¬ 
taurant, that Clinton and Fish had come to¬ 
gether again—no doubt in order to inflict a 
double revenge upon himself. 

“Lissen,” said Lawyer, speaking in a con¬ 
fidential tone and coming nearer. “Is you an’ 
me frien’s?” 

“I ain’t a frien’ of nobody,” Fish roared. 

“An’ you is right,” said Lawyer, always sail¬ 
ing with the wind. “But you is a frien’ of 
mine. An’ a frien’ of mine is a frien’ of mine.” 
Lawyer stepped closer and opened his coat. 
“You is a frien’ of mine,” he explained, “an’ I 
done brung you a present.” He handed Fish 
the thousand-dollar bond. 

343 



MISTER FISH KELLY 


“What’s dis?” asked Fish. 

“Dat’s from me, jes’ ’cause you give me a 
job,” explained Lawyer, moving away now 
that the dreadful piece of paper was safely out 
of his hands. “It’s a gif’ from me to you.” 

“What good is it?” 

“Take it to de bank,” said Lawyer, “an’ 
dey’ll give you a thousan’ dollars for it.” 

“Sho’ nuff?” 

“Sho’ dey will. An’ after you gits de money 
you don’t have to give me none of it ’less you’s 
a mind to.” 

Lawyer looked over Fish’s shoulder, and 
with an agility surprising in one so fat, darted 
up the lane next to the restaurant. Fish 
turned to see Mr. Clinton’s tiny coupe round¬ 
ing the corner. 

“Who was skeered of who?” demanded Fish 
of his better half as he opened the rusty screen 
door and reentered the restaurant. 

“Here poppa now,” replied Macedonia. She 
was all agog at these topsy-turvy occurrences, 
and expected at any moment to see an explo¬ 
sion that would blow Fish to atoms. 

Mr. Clinton came in with a check and a 
folded piece of paper in his yellow hand. The 
proprietor, being summoned, signed this bill of 
sale, and Mr. Clinton gave him the check. 

344 




SETTIN’ PRETTY 


“What do dat paper say?” inquired Fish in 
his new loud voice. 

“Dat paper jes’ a receipt,” explained Mr. 
Clinton, folding it and putting it in his pocket. 

“What do it say? Read it,” commanded 
Fish in his grand manner. 

Mr. Clinton frowned, but took out the paper. 
Fish snatched it from his hand and passed it 
to Macedonia. 

“What do it say?” he repeated. 

“It say,” read Macedonia, “dat Mister 
Washington sell dis place to Mister Clinton 
for cash in hand paid.” 

Fish passed the paper to Mr. Clinton. 
“Change dat Clinton to say de place is sold 
to Fish Kelly, Junior,” he directed. 

Mr. Clinton felt the impulse to murder, but 
he realized that until he could connect with 
Lawyer Little he was a beaten man. He made 
the change. 

“Now I keeps dis,” announced Fish, and he 
put it in his pocket. 

Fish’s plan of “scaring the other fellow 
first” had been so successful, without excep¬ 
tion, that he felt he had the world by the tail. 
He stared at Mr. Clinton with so much assur¬ 
ance that Mr. Clinton was convinced Fish was 
in a position to wreck his life. As a matter of 
345 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


fact, the idea had never entered Fish’s mind 
that his father-in-law was anything but a 
model of virtue. Fish, with a clear conscience, 
was simply benefiting from the truth that 
a bad conscience makes the bravest man a 
coward. Mr. Clinton’s eyes wavered and 
turned aside. His expression of anger changed 
to one of forced hilarity. 

“You’s a good business man, Fish.” He 
wrinkled his square yellow face in a pained 
grin. Behind his horn spectacles he was think¬ 
ing that if he could find Lawyer Little and 
charge him with stealing the bond, he could 
frighten him into helping still to make the 
plot against Fish work out. So long as 
the clever and ruthless Lawyer was on his 
side, the odds were yet with him. 

Even as Mr. Clinton thought this, Fish drew 
a crackly piece of green-printed paper from his 
pocket. 

“Another thing,” he snapped, “here a 
paper worth a thousan’ dollars at de bank. 
You know dem people; I wants you to git de 
money for me—leave it in de bank an’ bring 
me a receipt.” 

Mr. Clinton’s eyes protruded and his mouth 
dropped open hopelessly. Fish had placed in 
his hand his own thousand-dollar railway 
346 




SETT1N' PRETTY 


bond—and had instructed him what to do 
with it. 

Mr. Clinton mechanically put the bond in 
his pocket. This was evidence enough, to his 
mind, that Lawyer and Fish had got together 
to fight him. If so, there was nothing to do 
but submit. Lawyer had knowledge of his 
conscienceless plot against his son-in-law; 
Fish, he thought, knew the secrets of his past. 
He was beaten because the cards were stacked 
against him. 

“Fll bring you de receipt, Fish,” said Mr. 
Clinton. And in his voice was a note of respect 
that no one had ever heard there before. Fish 
heard it and rejoiced. Mr. Clinton, with his 
broad shoulders somewhat drooped, walked 
slowly from the lunch room and turned up the 
street toward the bank. 

Macedonia looked after him in wonder. 
Then her gaze rested upon Fish in an admira¬ 
tion that was close to awe. 

“Fish, how come poppa treat you so respect¬ 
ful? How come Lawyer Little skeered of you, 
too?” 

“How come it? I done shook ’em bofe up 
in a bag of flour. Dat’s how come it. I done 
change dere color.” 


347 




MISTER FISH KELLY 


This was a bit thick, but Macedonia accepted 
the results as sufficiently explanatory. 

“I always thought you was gwine to be a 
great man, Fish. I always did.” 

“An’ you was right,” agreed Fish as he com¬ 
placently thrust a hand, Napoleon-wise, into 
his breast. He rested his weight upon one heel 
and turned the other foot outward at an angle 
of careless elegance. 

Looking down to admire his pose, he ob¬ 
served a large black toe that emerged through 
an aperture in his shoe. 

“Ne J mind, toe,” he assured that member, 
“from now on you an’ me gwine be settin’ 
pretty!” 

(i) 


THE END 























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