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Archive C-D

· Emily Dickinson: I felt a Funeral, in my Brain · Verhalen van de zandloper van Guy Commerman · The Promoter by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story) · Daniil Charms: Verzameld werk in Nederlandse vertaling · Paul Laurence Dunbar : The Scapegoat (II). Short story · Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Scapegoat (I). Short story · A Matter Of Doctrine by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story) · Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Interference Of Patsy Ann. Short Story · Majella Cullinane: Whisper of a Crow’s Wing (Poetry) · Old Abe’s Conversion by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story) · Joni Mitchell: New Critical Readings · The Home-Coming Of ‘Rastus Smith by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story)

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Emily Dickinson: I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

 

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

Emily Dickinson
(1830-1886)
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive C-D, Archive C-D, Dickinson, Emily


Verhalen van de zandloper van Guy Commerman

  

Guy Commerman, een hoog gewaardeerde auteur bij Uitgeverij Kleinood & Grootzeer is op 10 januari 2019 overleden.

Juist op dat moment was zijn nieuwe bundel: Verhalen van de zandloper, voltooid. De bundel bevat zijn laatste gedichten en is tevens een eerbetoon aan deze veelzijdige dichter en aimabel mens.

Guy Commerman (1938 – 2019)
Verhalen van de zandloper
De derde bundel van Guy Commerman bij Kleinood & Grootzeer
Eerste druk 100 genummerde en door de auteur gesigneerde exemplaren. Boekje, 62 pagina’s,
gelijmd 21 x 10,5 cm.
ISBN/EAN 978-90-76644-93-6
€18,-

# Meer informatie bij Uitgeverij Kleinood & Grootzeer

• fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: #Editors Choice Archiv, - Book News, - Bookstores, Archive C-D, Archive C-D, Art & Literature News, In Memoriam, LITERARY MAGAZINES


The Promoter by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story)

THE PROMOTER

Even as early as September, in the year of 1870, the newly emancipated had awakened to the perception of the commercial advantages of freedom, and had begun to lay snares to catch the fleet and elusive dollar.

Those controversialists who say that the Negro’s only idea of freedom was to live without work are either wrong, malicious, or they did not know Little Africa when the boom was on; when every little African, fresh from the fields and cabins, dreamed only of untold wealth and of mansions in which he would have been thoroughly uncomfortable.

These were the devil’s sunny days, and early and late his mowers were in the field. These were the days of benefit societies that only benefited the shrewdest man; of mutual insurance associations, of wild building companies, and of gilt-edged land schemes wherein the unwary became bogged. This also was the day of Mr. Jason Buford, who, having been free before the war, knew a thing or two, and now had set himself up as a promoter. Truly he had profited by the example of the white men for whom he had so long acted as messenger and factotum.

As he frequently remarked when for purposes of business he wished to air his Biblical knowledge, “I jest takes the Scripter fur my motter an’ foller that ol’ passage where it says, ‘Make hay while the sun shines, fur the night cometh when no man kin work.'”

It is related that one of Mr. Buford’s customers was an old plantation exhorter. At the first suggestion of a Biblical quotation the old gentleman closed his eyes and got ready with his best amen. But as the import of the words dawned on him he opened his eyes in surprise, and the amen died a-borning. “But do hit say dat?” he asked earnestly.

“It certainly does read that way,” said the promoter glibly.

“Uh, huh,” replied the old man, settling himself back in his chair. “I been preachin’ dat t’ing wrong fu’ mo’ dan fo’ty yeahs. Dat’s whut comes o’ not bein’ able to read de wo’d fu’ yo’se’f.”

Buford had no sense of the pathetic or he could never have done what he did—sell to the old gentleman, on the strength of the knowledge he had imparted to him, a house and lot upon terms so easy that he might drowse along for a little time and then wake to find himself both homeless and penniless. This was the promoter’s method, and for so long a time had it proved successful that he had now grown mildly affluent and had set up a buggy in which to drive about and see his numerous purchasers and tenants.

Buford was a suave little yellow fellow, with a manner that suggested the training of some old Southern butler father, or at least, an experience as a likely house-boy. He was polite, plausible, and more than all, resourceful. All of this he had been for years, but in all these years he had never so risen to the height of his own uniqueness as when he conceived and carried into execution the idea of the “Buford Colonizing Company.”

Humanity has always been looking for an Eldorado, and, however mixed the metaphor may be, has been searching for a Moses to lead it thereto. Behold, then, Jason Buford in the rôle of Moses. And equipped he was to carry off his part with the very best advantage, for though he might not bring water from the rock, he could come as near as any other man to getting blood from a turnip.

The beauty of the man’s scheme was that no offering was too small to be accepted. Indeed, all was fish that came to his net.

Think of paying fifty cents down and knowing that some time in the dim future you would be the owner of property in the very heart of a great city where people would rush to buy. It was glowing enough to attract a people more worldly wise than were these late slaves. They simply fell into the scheme with all their souls; and off their half dollars, dollars, and larger sums, Mr. Buford waxed opulent. The land meanwhile did not materialise.

It was just at this time that Sister Jane Callender came upon the scene and made glad the heart of the new-fledged Moses. He had heard of Sister Jane before, and he had greeted her coming with a sparkling of eyes and a rubbing of hands that betokened a joy with a good financial basis.

The truth about the newcomer was that she had just about received her pension, or that due to her deceased husband, and she would therefore be rich, rich to the point where avarice would lie in wait for her.

Sis’ Jane settled in Mr. Buford’s bailiwick, joined the church he attended, and seemed only waiting with her dollars for the very call which he was destined to make. She was hardly settled in a little three-room cottage before he hastened to her side, kindly intent, or its counterfeit, beaming from his features. He found a weak-looking old lady propped in a great chair, while another stout and healthy-looking woman ministered to her wants or stewed about the house in order to be doing something.

“Ah, which—which is Sis’ Jane Callender,” he asked, rubbing his hands for all the world like a clothing dealer over a good customer.

“Dat’s Sis’ Jane in de cheer,” said the animated one, pointing to her charge. “She feelin’ mighty po’ly dis evenin’. What might be yo’ name?” She was promptly told.

“Sis’ Jane, hyeah one de good brothahs come to see you to offah his suvices if you need anything.”

“Thanky, brothah, charity,” said the weak voice, “sit yo’se’f down. You set down, Aunt Dicey. Tain’t no use a runnin’ roun’ waitin’ on me. I ain’t long fu’ dis worl’ nohow, mistah.”

“Buford is my name an’ I came in to see if I could be of any assistance to you, a-fixin’ up yo’ mattahs er seein’ to anything for you.”

“Hit’s mighty kind o’ you to come, dough I don’ ‘low I’ll need much fixin’ fu’ now.”

“Oh, we hope you’ll soon be better, Sistah Callender.”

“Nevah no mo’, suh, ’til I reach the Kingdom.”

“Sis’ Jane Callender, she have been mighty sick,” broke in Aunt Dicey Fairfax, “but I reckon she gwine pull thoo’, the Lawd willin’.”

“Amen,” said Mr. Buford.

“Huh, uh, children, I done hyeahd de washin’ of de waters of Jerdon.”

“No, no, Sistah Callendah, we hope to see you well and happy in de injoyment of de pension dat I understan’ de gov’ment is goin’ to give you.”

“La, chile, I reckon de white folks gwine to git dat money. I ain’t nevah gwine to live to ‘ceive it. Des’ aftah I been wo’kin’ so long fu’ it, too.”

The small eyes of Mr. Buford glittered with anxiety and avarice. What, was this rich plum about to slip from his grasp, just as he was about to pluck it? It should not be. He leaned over the old lady with intense eagerness in his gaze.

“You must live to receive it,” he said, “we need that money for the race. It must not go back to the white folks. Ain’t you got nobody to leave it to?”

“Not a chick ner a chile, ‘ceptin’ Sis’ Dicey Fairfax here.”

Mr. Buford breathed again. “Then leave it to her, by all means,” he said.

“I don’ want to have nothin’ to do with de money of de daid,” said Sis’ Dicey Fairfax.

“Now, don’t talk dat away, Sis’ Dicey,” said the sick woman. “Brother Buford is right, case you sut’ny has been good to me sence I been layin’ hyeah on de bed of affliction, an’ dey ain’t nobody more fitterner to have dat money den you is. Ef de Lawd des lets me live long enough, I’s gwine to mek my will in yo’ favoh.”

“De Lawd’s will be done,” replied the other with resignation, and Mr. Buford echoed with an “Amen!”

He stayed very long that evening, planning and talking with the two old women, who received his words as the Gospel. Two weeks later the Ethiopian Banner, which was the organ of Little Africa, announced that Sis’ Jane Callender had received a back pension which amounted to more than five hundred dollars. Thereafter Mr. Buford was seen frequently in the little cottage, until one day, after a lapse of three or four weeks, a policeman entered Sis’ Jane Callender’s cottage and led her away amidst great excitement to prison. She was charged with pension fraud, and against her protestations, was locked up to await the action of the Grand Jury.

The promoter was very active in his client’s behalf, but in spite of all his efforts she was indicted and came up for trial.

It was a great day for the denizens of Little Africa, and they crowded the court room to look upon this stranger who had come among them to grow so rich, and then suddenly to fall so low.

The prosecuting attorney was a young Southerner, and when he saw the prisoner at the bar he started violently, but checked himself. When the prisoner saw him, however, she made no effort at self control.

“Lawd o’ mussy,” she cried, spreading out her black arms, “if it ain’t Miss Lou’s little Bobby.”

The judge checked the hilarity of the audience; the prosecutor maintained his dignity by main force, and the bailiff succeeded in keeping the old lady in her place, although she admonished him: “Pshaw, chile, you needn’t fool wid me, I nussed dat boy’s mammy when she borned him.”

It was too much for the young attorney, and he would have been less a man if it had not been. He came over and shook her hand warmly, and this time no one laughed.

It was really not worth while prolonging the case, and the prosecution was nervous. The way that old black woman took the court and its officers into her bosom was enough to disconcert any ordinary tribunal. She patronised the judge openly before the hearing began and insisted upon holding a gentle motherly conversation with the foreman of the jury.

She was called to the stand as the very first witness.

“What is your name?” asked the attorney.

“Now, Bobby, what is you axin’ me dat fu’? You know what my name is, and you one of de Fairfax fambly, too. I ‘low ef yo’ mammy was hyeah, she’d mek you ‘membah; she’d put you in yo’ place.”

The judge rapped for order.

“That is just a manner of proceeding,” he said; “you must answer the question, so the rest of the court may know.”

“Oh, yes, suh, ‘scuse me, my name hit’s Dicey Fairfax.”

The attorney for the defence threw up his hands and turned purple. He had a dozen witnesses there to prove that they had known the woman as Jane Callender.

“But did you not give your name as Jane Callender?”

“I object,” thundered the defence.

“Do, hush, man,” Sis’ Dicey exclaimed, and then turning to the prosecutor, “La, honey, you know Jane Callender ain’t my real name, you knows dat yo’se’f. It’s des my bus’ness name. W’y, Sis’ Jane Callender done daid an’ gone to glory too long ‘go fu’ to talk erbout.”

“Then you admit to the court that your name is not Jane Callender?”

“Wha’s de use o’ my ‘mittin’, don’ you know it yo’se’f, suh? Has I got to come hyeah at dis late day an’ p’ove my name an’ redentify befo’ my ol’ Miss’s own chile? Mas’ Bob, I nevah did t’ink you’d ac’ dat away. Freedom sutny has done tuk erway yo’ mannahs.”

“Yes, yes, yes, that’s all right, but we want to establish the fact that your name is Dicey Fairfax.”

“Cose it is.”

“Your Honor, I object—I——”

“Your Honor,” said Fairfax coldly, “will you grant me the liberty of conducting the examination in a way somewhat out of the ordinary lines? I believe that my brother for the defence will have nothing to complain of. I believe that I understand the situation and shall be able to get the truth more easily by employing methods that are not altogether technical.”

The court seemed to understand a thing or two himself, and overruled the defence’s objection.

“Now, Mrs. Fairfax——”

Aunt Dicey snorted. “Hoomph? What? Mis’ Fairfax? What ou say, Bobby Fairfax? What you call me dat fu’? My name Aunt Dicey to you an’ I want you to un’erstan’ dat right hyeah. Ef you keep on foolin’ wid me, I ‘spec’ my patience gwine waih claih out.”

“Excuse me. Well, Aunt Dicey, why did you take the name of Jane Callender if your name is really Dicey Fairfax?”

“W’y, I done tol’ you, Bobby, dat Sis’ Jane Callender was des’ my bus’ness name.”

“Well, how were you to use this business name?”

“Well, it was des dis away. Sis’ Jane Callender, she gwine git huh pension, but la, chile, she tuk down sick unto deaf, an’ Brothah Buford, he say dat she ought to mek a will in favoh of somebody, so’s de money would stay ‘mongst ouah folks, an’ so, bimeby, she ‘greed she mek a will.”

“And who is Brother Buford, Aunt Dicey?”

“Brothah Buford? Oh, he’s de gemman whut come an’ offered to ‘ten’ to Sis’ Jane Callender’s bus’ness fu’ huh. He’s a moughty clevah man.”

“And he told her she ought to make a will?”

“Yas, suh. So she ‘greed she gwine mek a will, an’ she say to me, ‘Sis Dicey, you sut’ny has been good to me sence I been layin’ hyeah on dis bed of ‘fliction, an’ I gwine will all my proputy to you.’ Well, I don’t want to tek de money, an’ she des mos’ nigh fo’ce it on me, so I say yes, an’ Brothah Buford he des sot an’ talk to us, an’ he say dat he come to-morror to bring a lawyer to draw up de will. But bless Gawd, honey, Sis’ Callender died dat night, an’ de will wasn’t made, so when Brothah Buford come bright an’ early next mornin’, I was layin’ Sis’ Callender out. Brothah Buford was mighty much moved, he was. I nevah did see a strange pusson tek anything so hard in all my life, an’ den he talk to me, an’ he say, ‘Now, Sis’ Dicey, is you notified any de neighbours yit?’ an’ I said no I hain’t notified no one of de neighbours, case I ain’t ‘quainted wid none o’ dem yit, an’ he say, ‘How erbout de doctah? Is he ‘quainted wid de diseased?’ an’ I tol’ him no, he des come in, da’s all. ‘Well,’ he say, ‘cose you un’erstan’ now dat you is Sis’ Jane Callender, caise you inhe’it huh name, an’ when de doctah come to mek out de ‘stiffycate, you mus’ tell him dat Sis’ Dicey Fairfax is de name of de diseased, an’ it’ll be all right, an’ aftah dis you got to go by de name o’ Jane Callender, caise it’s a bus’ness name you done inhe’it.’ Well, dat’s whut I done, an’ dat’s huccome I been Jane Callender in de bus’ness ‘sactions, an’ Dicey Fairfax at home. Now, you un’erstan’, don’t you? It wuz my inhe’ited name.”

“But don’t you know that what you have done is a penitentiary offence?”

“Who you stan’in’ up talkin’ to dat erway, you nasty impident little scoun’el? Don’t you talk to me dat erway. I reckon ef yo’ mammy was hyeah she sut’ny would tend to yo’ case. You alluse was sassier an’ pearter den yo’ brother Nelse, an’ he had to go an’ git killed in de wah, an’ you—you—w’y, jedge, I’se spanked dat boy mo’ times den I kin tell you fu’ hus impidence. I don’t see how you evah gits erlong wid him.”

The court repressed a ripple that ran around. But there was no smile on the smooth-shaven, clear-cut face of the young Southerner. Turning to the attorney for the defence, he said: “Will you take the witness?” But that gentleman, waving one helpless hand, shook his head.

“That will do, then,” said young Fairfax. “Your Honor,” he went on, addressing the court, “I have no desire to prosecute this case further. You all see the trend of it just as I see, and it would be folly to continue the examination of any of the rest of these witnesses. We have got that story from Aunt Dicey herself as straight as an arrow from a bow. While technically she is guilty; while according to the facts she is a criminal according to the motive and the intent of her actions, she is as innocent as the whitest soul among us.” He could not repress the youthful Southerner’s love for this little bit of rhetoric.

“And I believe that nothing is to be gained by going further into the matter, save for the purpose of finding out the whereabouts of this Brother Buford, and attending to his case as the facts warrant. But before we do this, I want to see the stamp of crime wiped away from the name of my Aunt Dicey there, and I beg leave of the court to enter a nolle prosse. There is only one other thing I must ask of Aunt Dicey, and that is that she return the money that was illegally gotten, and give us information concerning the whereabouts of Buford.”

Aunt Dicey looked up in excitement, “W’y, chile, ef dat money was got illegal, I don’ want it, but I do know whut I gwine to do, cause I done ‘vested it all wid Brothah Buford in his colorednization comp’ny.” The court drew its breath. It had been expecting some such dénouement.

“And where is the office of this company situated?”

“Well, I des can’t tell dat,” said the old lady. “W’y, la, man, Brothah Buford was in co’t to-day. Whaih is he? Brothah Buford, whaih you?” But no answer came from the surrounding spectators. Brother Buford had faded away. The old lady, however, after due conventions, was permitted to go home.

It was with joy in her heart that Aunt Dicey Fairfax went back to her little cottage after her dismissal, but her face clouded when soon after Robert Fairfax came in.

“Hyeah you come as usual,” she said with well-feigned anger. “Tryin’ to sof’ soap me aftah you been carryin’ on. You ain’t changed one mite fu’ all yo’ bein’ a man. What you talk to me dat away in co’t fu’?”

Fairfax’s face was very grave. “It was necessary, Aunt Dicey,” he said. “You know I’m a lawyer now, and there are certain things that lawyers have to do whether they like it or not. You don’t understand. That man Buford is a scoundrel, and he came very near leading you into a very dangerous and criminal act. I am glad I was near to save you.”

“Oh, honey, chile, I didn’t know dat. Set down an’ tell me all erbout it.”

This the attorney did, and the old lady’s indignation blazed forth. “Well, I hope to de Lawd you’ll fin’ dat rascal an’ larrup him ontwell he cain’t stan’ straight.”

“No, we’re going to do better than that and a great deal better. If we find him we are going to send him where he won’t inveigle any more innocent people into rascality, and you’re going to help us.”

“W’y, sut’ny, chile, I’ll do all I kin to he’p you git dat rascal, but I don’t know whaih he lives, case he’s allus come hyeah to see me.”

“He’ll come back some day. In the meantime we will be laying for him.”

Aunt Dicey was putting some very flaky biscuits into the oven, and perhaps the memory of other days made the young lawyer prolong his visit and his explanation. When, however, he left, it was with well-laid plans to catch Jason Buford napping.

It did not take long. Stealthily that same evening a tapping came at Aunt Dicey’s door. She opened it, and a small, crouching figure crept in. It was Mr. Buford. He turned down the collar of his coat which he had had closely up about his face and said:

“Well, well, Sis’ Callender, you sut’ny have spoiled us all.”

“La, Brothah Buford, come in hyeah an’ set down. Whaih you been?”

“I been hidin’ fu’ feah of that testimony you give in the court room. What did you do that fu’?”

“La, me, I didn’t know, you didn’t ‘splain to me in de fust.”

“Well, you see, you spoiled it, an’ I’ve got to git out of town as soon as I kin. Sis’ Callender, dese hyeah white people is mighty slippery, and they might catch me. But I want to beg you to go on away from hyeah so’s you won’t be hyeah to testify if dey does. Hyeah’s a hundred dollars of yo’ money right down, and you leave hyeah to-morrer mornin’ an’ go erway as far as you kin git.”

“La, man, I’s puffectly willin’ to he’p you, you know dat.”

“Cose, cose,” he answered hurriedly, “we col’red people has got to stan’ together.”

“But what about de res’ of dat money dat I been ‘vestin’ wid you?”

“I’m goin’ to pay intrus’ on that,” answered the promoter glibly.

“All right, all right.” Aunt Dicey had made several trips to the little back room just off her sitting room as she talked with the promoter. Three times in the window had she waved a lighted lamp. Three times without success. But at the last “all right,” she went into the room again. This time the waving lamp was answered by the sudden flash of a lantern outside.

“All right,” she said, as she returned to the room, “set down an’ lemme fix you some suppah.”

“I ain’t hardly got the time. I got to git away from hyeah.” But the smell of the new baked biscuits was in his nostrils and he could not resist the temptation to sit down. He was eating hastily, but with appreciation, when the door opened and two minions of the law entered.

Buford sprang up and turned to flee, but at the back door, her large form a towering and impassive barrier, stood Aunt Dicey.

“Oh, don’t hu’y, Brothah Buford,” she said calmly, “set down an’ he’p yo’se’f. Dese hyeah’s my friends.”

It was the next day that Robert Fairfax saw him in his cell. The man’s face was ashen with coward’s terror. He was like a caught rat though, bitingly on the defensive.

“You see we’ve got you, Buford,” said Fairfax coldly to him. “It is as well to confess.”

“I ain’t got nothin’ to say,” said Buford cautiously.

“You will have something to say later on unless you say it now. I don’t want to intimidate you, but Aunt Dicey’s word will be taken in any court in the United States against yours, and I see a few years hard labour for you between good stout walls.”

The little promoter showed his teeth in an impotent snarl. “What do you want me to do?” he asked, weakening.

“First, I want you to give back every cent of the money that you got out of Dicey Fairfax. Second, I want you to give up to every one of those Negroes that you have cheated every cent of the property you have accumulated by fraudulent means. Third, I want you to leave this place, and never come back so long as God leaves breath in your dirty body. If you do this, I will save you—you are not worth the saving—from the pen or worse. If you don’t, I will make this place so hot for you that hell will seem like an icebox beside it.”

The little yellow man was cowering in his cell before the attorney’s indignation. His lips were drawn back over his teeth in something that was neither a snarl nor a smile. His eyes were bulging and fear-stricken, and his hands clasped and unclasped themselves nervously.

“I—I——” he faltered, “do you want to send me out without a cent?”

“Without a cent, without a cent,” said Fairfax tensely.

“I won’t do it,” the rat in him again showed fight. “I won’t do it. I’ll stay hyeah an’ fight you. You can’t prove anything on me.”

“All right, all right,” and the attorney turned toward the door.

“Wait, wait,” called the man, “I will do it, my God! I will do it. Jest let me out o’ hyeah, don’t keep me caged up. I’ll go away from hyeah.”

Fairfax turned back to him coldly, “You will keep your word?”

“Yes.”

“I will return at once and take the confession.”

And so the thing was done. Jason Buford, stripped of his ill-gotten gains, left the neighbourhood of Little Africa forever. And Aunt Dicey, no longer a wealthy woman and a capitalist, is baking golden brown biscuits for a certain young attorney and his wife, who has the bad habit of rousing her anger by references to her business name and her investments with a promoter.

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
The Promotor
From The Heart Of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories reprinted in 1904 by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.
Short Story

• fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive C-D, Archive C-D, Dunbar, Paul Laurence, Dunbar, Paul Laurence, Paul Laurence Dunbar


Daniil Charms: Verzameld werk in Nederlandse vertaling

Het Russische absurdisme laat zich gemakkelijk terugbrengen tot één man: Daniil Charms. “Charms is kunst,’ schreef een vriend over hem.

Met zijn opvallende verschijning, zijn excentriciteit, zijn creatieve tegendraadsheid was hij een fenomeen en groeide hij na zijn dood uit tot een wereldwijd bekende cultschrijver. “Mij interesseert alleen “onzin”,’ schreef hij ooit, “alleen dat wat geen enkele praktische zin heeft.’

Charms blinkt uit in het tonen van de onsamenhangendheid van het bestaan en de onvoorspelbaarheid van het lot. Hij zoekt naar een ongefilterde verbeelding van de chaos die wij voortbrengen, los van zingeving en in de hoop op nieuwe ervaringen en aha-erlebnissen. In zijn werk laat hij willekeur vergezeld gaan van een stevige dosis, vaak zwartgallige, humor.

Voor het eerst verschijnt een grote uitgave van Charms’ werk in de Russische Bibliotheek, samengesteld uit proza, toneelteksten, gedichten, autobiografisch proza en kinderverhalen, en rijkelijk aangevuld met avantgardistische illustraties.

Auteur: Daniil Charms
Verzameld werk
Vertaald door Yolanda Bloemen
Russische Bibliotheek (RB)
Uitgeverij van Oorschot
Verschijningsdatum januari 2018
Taal Nederlands
1e druk
Bindwijze: Hardcover
Afmetingen 20,3 x 12,8 x 3,4 cm
736 pagina’s
ISBN 9789028282353
€ 44,99

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Paul Laurence Dunbar : The Scapegoat (II). Short story

THE SCAPEGOAT (II)

A year is not a long time. It was short enough to prevent people from forgetting Robinson, and yet long enough for their pity to grow strong as they remembered. Indeed, he was not gone a year. Good behaviour cut two months off the time of his sentence, and by the time people had come around to the notion that he was really the greatest and smartest man in Cadgers he was at home again.

He came back with no flourish of trumpets, but quietly, humbly. He went back again into the heart of the black district. His business had deteriorated during his absence, but he put new blood and new life into it. He did not go to work in the shop himself, but, taking down the shingle that had swung idly before his office door during his imprisonment, he opened the little room as a news- and cigar-stand.

Here anxious, pitying custom came to him and he prospered again. He was very quiet. Uptown hardly knew that he was again in Cadgers, and it knew nothing whatever of his doings.

“I wonder why Asbury is so quiet,” they said to one another. “It isn’t like him to be quiet.” And they felt vaguely uneasy about him.

So many people had begun to say, “Well, he was a mighty good fellow after all.”

Mr. Bingo expressed the opinion that Asbury was quiet because he was crushed, but others expressed doubt as to this. There are calms and calms, some after and some before the storm. Which was this?

They waited a while, and, as no storm came, concluded that this must be the after-quiet. Bingo, reassured, volunteered to go and seek confirmation of this conclusion.

He went, and Asbury received him with an indifferent, not to say, impolite, demeanour.

“Well, we’re glad to see you back, Asbury,” said Bingo patronisingly. He had variously demonstrated his inability to lead during his rival’s absence and was proud of it. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to work.”

“That’s right. I reckon you’ll stay out of politics.”

“What could I do even if I went in?”

“Nothing now, of course; but I didn’t know—-“

He did not see the gleam in Asbury’s half shut eyes. He only marked his humility, and he went back swelling with the news.

“Completely crushed–all the run taken out of him,” was his report.

The black district believed this, too, and a sullen, smouldering anger took possession of them. Here was a good man ruined. Some of the people whom he had helped in his former days–some of the rude, coarse people of the low quarter who were still sufficiently unenlightened to be grateful–talked among themselves and offered to get up a demonstration for him. But he denied them. No, he wanted nothing of the kind. It would only bring him into unfavourable notice. All he wanted was that they would always be his friends and would stick by him.

They would to the death.

There were again two factions in Cadgers. The school-master could not forget how once on a time he had been made a tool of by Mr. Bingo. So he revolted against his rule and set himself up as the leader of an opposing clique. The fight had been long and strong, but had ended with odds slightly in Bingo’s favour.

But Mr. Morton did not despair. As the first of January and Emancipation Day approached, he arrayed his hosts, and the fight for supremacy became fiercer than ever. The school-teacher is giving you a pretty hard brought the school-children in for chorus singing, secured an able orator, and the best essayist in town. With all this, he was formidable.

Mr. Bingo knew that he had the fight of his life on his hands, and he entered with fear as well as zest. He, too, found an orator, but he was not sure that he was as good as Morton’s. There was no doubt but that his essayist was not. He secured a band, but still he felt unsatisfied. He had hardly done enough, and for the school-master to beat him now meant his political destruction.

It was in this state of mind that he was surprised to receive a visit from Mr. Asbury.

“I reckon you’re surprised to see me here,” said Asbury, smiling.

“I am pleased, I know.” Bingo was astute.

“Well, I just dropped in on business.”

“To be sure, to be sure, Asbury. What can I do for you?”

“It’s more what I can do for you that I came to talk about,” was the reply.

“I don’t believe I understand you.”

“Well, it’s plain enough. They say that the school-teacher is giving you a pretty hard fight.”

“Oh, not so hard.”

“No man can be too sure of winning, though. Mr. Morton once did me a mean turn when he started the faction against me.”

Bingo’s heart gave a great leap, and then stopped for the fraction of a second.

“You were in it, of course,” pursued Asbury, “but I can look over your part in it in order to get even with the man who started it.”

It was true, then, thought Bingo gladly. He did not know. He wanted revenge for his wrongs and upon the wrong man. How well the schemer had covered his tracks! Asbury should have his revenge and Morton would be the sufferer.

“Of course, Asbury, you know what I did I did innocently.”

“Oh, yes, in politics we are all lambs and the wolves are only to be found in the other party. We’ll pass that, though. What I want to say is that I can help you to make your celebration an overwhelming success. I still have some influence down in my district.”

“Certainly, and very justly, too. Why, I should be delighted with your aid. I could give you a prominent place in the procession.”

“I don’t want it; I don’t want to appear in this at all. All I want is revenge. You can have all the credit, but let me down my enemy.”

Bingo was perfectly willing, and, with their heads close together, they had a long and close consultation. When Asbury was gone, Mr. Bingo lay back in his chair and laughed. “I’m a slick duck,” he said.

From that hour Mr. Bingo’s cause began to take on the appearance of something very like a boom. More bands were hired. The interior of the State was called upon and a more eloquent orator secured. The crowd hastened to array itself on the growing side.

With surprised eyes, the school-master beheld the wonder of it, but he kept to his own purpose with dogged insistence, even when he saw that he could not turn aside the overwhelming defeat that threatened him. But in spite of his obstinacy, his hours were dark and bitter. Asbury worked like a mole, all underground, but he was indefatigable. Two days before the celebration time everything was perfected for the biggest demonstration that Cadgers had ever known. All the next day and night he was busy among his allies.

On the morning of the great day, Mr. Bingo, wonderfully caparisoned, rode down to the hall where the parade was to form. He was early. No one had yet come. In an hour a score of men all told had collected. Another hour passed, and no more had come. Then there smote upon his ear the sound of music. They were coming at last. Bringing his sword to his shoulder, he rode forward to the middle of the street. Ah, there they were. But–but–could he believe his eyes? They were going in another direction, and at their head rode–Morton! He gnashed his teeth in fury. He had been led into a trap and betrayed. The procession passing had been his–all his. He heard them cheering, and then, oh! climax of infidelity, he saw his own orator go past in a carriage, bowing and smiling to the crowd.

There was no doubting who had done this thing. The hand of Asbury was apparent in it. He must have known the truth all along, thought Bingo. His allies left him one by one for the other hall, and he rode home in a humiliation deeper than he had ever known before.

Asbury did not appear at the celebration. He was at his little news-stand all day.

In a day or two the defeated aspirant had further cause to curse his false friend. He found that not only had the people defected from him, but that the thing had been so adroitly managed that he appeared to be in fault, and three-fourths of those who knew him were angry at some supposed grievance. His cup of bitterness was full when his partner, a quietly ambitious man, suggested that they dissolve their relations.

His ruin was complete.

The lawyer was not alone in seeing Asbury’s hand in his downfall. The party managers saw it too, and they met together to discuss the dangerous factor which, while it appeared to slumber, was so terribly awake. They decided that he must be appeased, and they visited him.

He was still busy at his news-stand. They talked to him adroitly, while he sorted papers and kept an impassive face. When they were all done, he looked up for a moment and replied, “You know, gentlemen, as an ex-convict I am not in politics.”

Some of them had the grace to flush.

“But you can use your influence,” they said.

“I am not in politics,” was his only reply.

And the spring elections were coming on. Well, they worked hard, and he showed no sign. He treated with neither one party nor the other. “Perhaps,” thought the managers, “he is out of politics,” and they grew more confident.

It was nearing eleven o’clock on the morning of election when a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand appeared upon the horizon. It came from the direction of the black district. It grew, and the managers of the party in power looked at it, fascinated by an ominous dread. Finally it began to rain Negro voters, and as one man they voted against their former candidates. Their organisation was perfect. They simply came, voted, and left, but they overwhelmed everything. Not one of the party that had damned Robinson Asbury was left in power save old Judge Davis. His majority was overwhelming.

The generalship that had engineered the thing was perfect. There were loud threats against the newsdealer. But no one bothered him except a reporter. The reporter called to see just how it was done. He found Asbury very busy sorting papers. To the newspaper man’s questions he had only this reply, “I am not in politics, sir.”

But Cadgers had learned its lesson.

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
The Scapegoat (II)
Short story

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Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Scapegoat (I). Short story

THE SCAPEGOAT (I)

The law is usually supposed to be a stern mistress, not to be lightly wooed, and yielding only to the most ardent pursuit. But even law, like love, sits more easily on some natures than on others.

This was the case with Mr. Robinson Asbury. Mr. Asbury had started life as a bootblack in the growing town of Cadgers. From this he had risen one step and become porter and messenger in a barber-shop. This rise fired his ambition, and he was not content until he had learned to use the shears and the razor and had a chair of his own. From this, in a man of Robinson’s temperament, it was only a step to a shop of his own, and he placed it where it would do the most good.

Fully one-half of the population of Cadgers was composed of Negroes, and with their usual tendency to colonise, a tendency encouraged, and in fact compelled, by circumstances, they had gathered into one part of the town. Here in alleys, and streets as dirty and hardly wider, they thronged like ants.

It was in this place that Mr. Asbury set up his shop, and he won the hearts of his prospective customers by putting up the significant sign, “Equal Rights Barber-Shop.” This legend was quite unnecessary, because there was only one race about, to patronise the place. But it was a delicate sop to the people’s vanity, and it served its purpose.

Asbury came to be known as a clever fellow, and his business grew. The shop really became a sort of club, and, on Saturday nights especially, was the gathering-place of the men of the whole Negro quarter. He kept the illustrated and race journals there, and those who cared neither to talk nor listen to someone else might see pictured the doings of high society in very short skirts or read in the Negro papers how Miss Boston had entertained Miss Blueford to tea on such and such an afternoon. Also, he kept the policy returns, which was wise, if not moral.

It was his wisdom rather more than his morality that made the party managers after a while cast their glances toward him as a man who might be useful to their interests. It would be well to have a man–a shrewd, powerful man–down in that part of the town who could carry his people’s vote in his vest pocket, and who at any time its delivery might be needed, could hand it over without hesitation. Asbury seemed that man, and they settled upon him. They gave him money, and they gave him power and patronage. He took it all silently and he carried out his bargain faithfully. His hands and his lips alike closed tightly when there was anything within them. It was not long before he found himself the big Negro of the district and, of necessity, of the town. The time came when, at a critical moment, the managers saw that they had not reckoned without their host in choosing this barber of the black district as the leader of his people.

Now, so much success must have satisfied any other man. But in many ways Mr. Asbury was unique. For a long time he himself had done very little shaving–except of notes, to keep his hand in. His time had been otherwise employed. In the evening hours he had been wooing the coquettish Dame Law, and, wonderful to say, she had yielded easily to his advances.

It was against the advice of his friends that he asked for admission to the bar. They felt that he could do more good in the place where he was.

“You see, Robinson,” said old Judge Davis, “it’s just like this: If you’re not admitted, it’ll hurt you with the people; if you are admitted, you’ll move uptown to an office and get out of touch with them.”

Asbury smiled an inscrutable smile. Then he whispered something into the judge’s ear that made the old man wrinkle from his neck up with appreciative smiles.

“Asbury,” he said, “you are–you are–well, you ought to be white, that’s all. When we find a black man like you we send him to State’s prison. If you were white, you’d go to the Senate.”

The Negro laughed confidently.

He was admitted to the bar soon after, whether by merit or by connivance is not to be told.

“Now he will move uptown,” said the black community. “Well, that’s the way with a coloured man when he gets a start.”

But they did not know Asbury Robinson yet. He was a man of surprises, and they were destined to disappointment. He did not move uptown. He built an office in a small open space next his shop, and there hung out his shingle.

“I will never desert the people who have done so much to elevate me,” said Mr. Asbury.

“I will live among them and I will die among them.”

This was a strong card for the barber-lawyer. The people seized upon the statement as expressing a nobility of an altogether unique brand.

They held a mass meeting and indorsed him. They made resolutions that extolled him, and the Negro band came around and serenaded him, playing various things in varied time.

All this was very sweet to Mr. Asbury, and the party managers chuckled with satisfaction and said, “That Asbury, that Asbury!”

Now there is a fable extant of a man who tried to please everybody, and his failure is a matter of record. Robinson Asbury was not more successful. But be it said that his ill success was due to no fault or shortcoming of his.

For a long time his growing power had been looked upon with disfavour by the coloured law firm of Bingo & Latchett. Both Mr. Bingo and Mr. Latchett themselves aspired to be Negro leaders in Cadgers, and they were delivering Emancipation Day orations and riding at the head of processions when Mr. Asbury was blacking boots. Is it any wonder, then, that they viewed with alarm his sudden rise? They kept their counsel, however, and treated with him, for it was best. They allowed him his scope without open revolt until the day upon which he hung out his shingle. This was the last straw. They could stand no more. Asbury had stolen their other chances from them, and now he was poaching upon the last of their preserves. So Mr. Bingo and Mr. Latchett put their heads together to plan the downfall of their common enemy.

The plot was deep and embraced the formation of an opposing faction made up of the best Negroes of the town. It would have looked too much like what it was for the gentlemen to show themselves in the matter, and so they took into their confidence Mr. Isaac Morton, the principal of the coloured school, and it was under his ostensible leadership that the new faction finally came into being.

Mr. Morton was really an innocent young man, and he had ideals which should never have been exposed to the air. When the wily confederates came to him with their plan he believed that his worth had been recognised, and at last he was to be what Nature destined him for–a leader.

The better class of Negroes–by that is meant those who were particularly envious of Asbury’s success–flocked to the new man’s standard. But whether the race be white or black, political virtue is always in a minority, so Asbury could afford to smile at the force arrayed against him.

The new faction met together and resolved. They resolved, among other things, that Mr. Asbury was an enemy to his race and a menace to civilisation. They decided that he should be abolished; but, as they couldn’t get out an injunction against him, and as he had the whole undignified but still voting black belt behind him, he went serenely on his way.

“They’re after you hot and heavy, Asbury,” said one of his friends to him.

“Oh, yes,” was the reply, “they’re after me, but after a while I’ll get so far away that they’ll be running in front.”

“It’s all the best people, they say.”

“Yes. Well, it’s good to be one of the best people, but your vote only counts one just the same.”

The time came, however, when Mr. Asbury’s theory was put to the test. The Cadgerites celebrated the first of January as Emancipation Day. On this day there was a large procession, with speechmaking in the afternoon and fireworks at night. It was the custom to concede the leadership of the coloured people of the town to the man who managed to lead the procession. For two years past this honour had fallen, of course, to Robinson Asbury, and there had been no disposition on the part of anybody to try conclusions with him.

Mr. Morton’s faction changed all this. When Asbury went to work to solicit contributions for the celebration, he suddenly became aware that he had a fight upon his hands. All the better-class Negroes were staying out of it. The next thing he knew was that plans were on foot for a rival demonstration.

“Oh,” he said to himself, “that’s it, is it? Well, if they want a fight they can have it.”

He had a talk with the party managers, and he had another with Judge Davis.

“All I want is a little lift, judge,” he said, “and I’ll make ’em think the sky has turned loose and is vomiting niggers.”

The judge believed that he could do it. So did the party managers. Asbury got his lift. Emancipation Day came.

There were two parades. At least, there was one parade and the shadow of another. Asbury’s, however, was not the shadow. There was a great deal of substance about it–substance made up of many people, many banners, and numerous bands. He did not have the best people. Indeed, among his cohorts there were a good many of the pronounced rag-tag and bobtail. But he had noise and numbers. In such cases, nothing more is needed. The success of Asbury’s side of the affair did everything to confirm his friends in their good opinion of him.

When he found himself defeated, Mr. Silas Bingo saw that it would be policy to placate his rival’s just anger against him. He called upon him at his office the day after the celebration.

“Well, Asbury,” he said, “you beat us, didn’t you?”

“It wasn’t a question of beating,” said the other calmly. “It was only an inquiry as to who were the people–the few or the many.”

“Well, it was well done, and you’ve shown that you are a manager. I confess that I haven’t always thought that you were doing the wisest thing in living down here and catering to this class of people when you might, with your ability, to be much more to the better class.”

“What do they base their claims of being better on?”

“Oh, there ain’t any use discussing that. We can’t get along without you, we see that. So I, for one, have decided to work with you for harmony.”

“Harmony. Yes, that’s what we want.”

“If I can do anything to help you at any time, why you have only to command me.”

“I am glad to find such a friend in you. Be sure, if I ever need you, Bingo, I’ll call on you.”

“And I’ll be ready to serve you.”

Asbury smiled when his visitor was gone. He smiled, and knitted his brow. “I wonder what Bingo’s got up his sleeve,” he said. “He’ll bear watching.”

It may have been pride at his triumph, it may have been gratitude at his helpers, but Asbury went into the ensuing campaign with reckless enthusiasm. He did the most daring things for the party’s sake. Bingo, true to his promise, was ever at his side ready to serve him. Finally, association and immunity made danger less fearsome; the rival no longer appeared a menace.

With the generosity born of obstacles overcome, Asbury determined to forgive Bingo and give him a chance. He let him in on a deal, and from that time they worked amicably together until the election came and passed.

It was a close election and many things had had to be done, but there were men there ready and waiting to do them. They were successful, and then the first cry of the defeated party was, as usual, “Fraud! Fraud!” The cry was taken up by the jealous, the disgruntled, and the virtuous.

Someone remembered how two years ago the registration books had been stolen. It was known upon good authority that money had been freely used. Men held up their hands in horror at the suggestion that the Negro vote had been juggled with, as if that were a new thing. From their pulpits ministers denounced the machine and bade their hearers rise and throw off the yoke of a corrupt municipal government. One of those sudden fevers of reform had taken possession of the town and threatened to destroy the successful party.

They began to look around them. They must purify themselves. They must give the people some tangible evidence of their own yearnings after purity. They looked around them for a sacrifice to lay upon the altar of municipal reform. Their eyes fell upon Mr. Bingo. No, he was not big enough. His blood was too scant to wash away the political stains. Then they looked into each other’s eyes and turned their gaze away to let it fall upon Mr. Asbury. They really hated to do it. But there must be a scapegoat. The god from the Machine commanded them to slay him.

Robinson Asbury was charged with many crimes–with all that he had committed and some that he had not. When Mr. Bingo saw what was afoot he threw himself heart and soul into the work of his old rival’s enemies. He was of incalculable use to them.

Judge Davis refused to have anything to do with the matter. But in spite of his disapproval it went on. Asbury was indicted and tried. The evidence was all against him, and no one gave more damaging testimony than his friend, Mr. Bingo. The judge’s charge was favourable to the defendant, but the current of popular opinion could not be entirely stemmed. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty.

“Before I am sentenced, judge, I have a statement to make to the court. It will take less than ten minutes.”

“Go on, Robinson,” said the judge kindly.

Asbury started, in a monotonous tone, a recital that brought the prosecuting attorney to his feet in a minute. The judge waved him down, and sat transfixed by a sort of fascinated horror as the convicted man went on. The before-mentioned attorney drew a knife and started for the prisoner’s dock. With difficulty he was restrained. A dozen faces in the court-room were red and pale by turns.

“He ought to be killed,” whispered Mr. Bingo audibly.

Robinson Asbury looked at him and smiled, and then he told a few things of him. He gave the ins and outs of some of the misdemeanours of which he stood accused. He showed who were the men behind the throne. And still, pale and transfixed, Judge Davis waited for his own sentence.

Never were ten minutes so well taken up. It was a tale of rottenness and corruption in high places told simply and with the stamp of truth upon it.

He did not mention the judge’s name. But he had torn the mask from the face of every other man who had been concerned in his downfall. They had shorn him of his strength, but they had forgotten that he was yet able to bring the roof and pillars tumbling about their heads.

The judge’s voice shook as he pronounced sentence upon his old ally–a year in State’s prison.

Some people said it was too light, but the judge knew what it was to wait for the sentence of doom, and he was grateful and sympathetic.

When the sheriff led Asbury away the judge hastened to have a short talk with him.

“I’m sorry, Robinson,” he said, “and I want to tell you that you were no more guilty than the rest of us. But why did you spare me?”

“Because I knew you were my friend,” answered the convict.

“I tried to be, but you were the first man that I’ve ever known since I’ve been in politics who ever gave me any decent return for friendship.”

“I reckon you’re about right, judge.”

In politics, party reform usually lies in making a scapegoat of someone who is only as criminal as the rest, but a little weaker. Asbury’s friends and enemies had succeeded in making him bear the burden of all the party’s crimes, but their reform was hardly a success, and their protestations of a change of heart were received with doubt. Already there were those who began to pity the victim and to say that he had been hardly dealt with.

Mr. Bingo was not of these; but he found, strange to say, that his opposition to the idea went but a little way, and that even with Asbury out of his path he was a smaller man than he was before. Fate was strong against him. His poor, prosperous humanity could not enter the lists against a martyr. Robinson Asbury was now a martyr.

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
The Scapegoat (I)
Short story

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A Matter Of Doctrine by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story)

A MATTER OF DOCTRINE

There was great excitement in Miltonville over the advent of a most eloquent and convincing minister from the North.

The beauty about the Rev. Thaddeus Warwick was that he was purely and simply a man of the doctrine. He had no emotions, his sermons were never matters of feeling; but he insisted so strongly upon the constant presentation of the tenets of his creed that his presence in a town was always marked by the enthusiasm and joy of religious disputation.

The Rev. Jasper Hayward, coloured, was a man quite of another stripe. With him it was not so much what a man held as what he felt. The difference in their characteristics, however, did not prevent him from attending Dr. Warwick’s series of sermons, where, from the vantage point of the gallery, he drank in, without assimilating, that divine’s words of wisdom.

Especially was he edified on the night that his white brother held forth upon the doctrine of predestination. It was not that he understood it at all, but that it sounded well and the words had a rich ring as he champed over them again and again.

Mr. Hayward was a man for the time and knew that his congregation desired something new, and if he could supply it he was willing to take lessons even from a white co-worker who had neither “de spi’it ner de fiah.” Because, as he was prone to admit to himself, “dey was sump’in’ in de unnerstannin’.”

He had no idea what plagiarism is, and without a single thought of wrong, he intended to reproduce for his people the religious wisdom which he acquired at the white church. He was an innocent beggar going to the doors of the well-provided for cold spiritual victuals to warm over for his own family. And it would not be plagiarism either, for this very warming-over process would save it from that and make his own whatever he brought. He would season with the pepper of his homely wit, sprinkle it with the salt of his home-made philosophy, then, hot with the fire of his crude eloquence, serve to his people a dish his very own. But to the true purveyor of original dishes it is never pleasant to know that someone else holds the secret of the groundwork of his invention.

It was then something of a shock to the Reverend Mr. Hayward to be accosted by Isaac Middleton, one of his members, just as he was leaving the gallery on the night of this most edifying of sermons.

Isaac laid a hand upon his shoulder and smiled at him benevolently.

“How do, Brothah Hayward,” he said, “you been sittin’ unner de drippin’s of de gospel, too?”

“Yes, I has been listenin’ to de wo’ds of my fellow-laborah in de vineya’d of de Lawd,” replied the preacher with some dignity, for he saw vanishing the vision of his own glory in a revivified sermon on predestination.

Isaac linked his arm familiarly in his pastor’s as they went out upon the street.

“Well, what you t’ink erbout pre-o’dination an’ fo’-destination any how?”

“It sutny has been pussented to us in a powahful light dis eve’nin’.”

“Well, suh, hit opened up my eyes. I do’ know when I’s hyeahed a sehmon dat done my soul mo’ good.”

“It was a upliftin’ episode.”

“Seem lak ‘co’din’ to de way de brothah ‘lucidated de matter to-night dat evaht’ing done sot out an’ cut an’ dried fu’ us. Well dat’s gwine to he’p me lots.”

“De gospel is allus a he’p.”

“But not allus in dis way. You see I ain’t a eddicated man lak you, Brothah Hayward.”

“We can’t all have de same ‘vantages,” the preacher condescended. “But what I feels, I feels, an’ what I unnerstan’s, I unnerstan’s. The Scripture tell us to get unnerstannin’.”

“Well, dat’s what I’s been a-doin’ to-night. I’s been a-doubtin’ an’ a-doubtin’, a-foolin’ erroun’ an’ wonderin’, but now I unnerstan’.”

“‘Splain yo’se’f, Brothah Middleton,” said the preacher.

“Well, suh, I will to you. You knows Miss Sally Briggs? Huh, what say?”

The Reverend Hayward had given a half discernible start and an exclamation had fallen from his lips.

“What say?” repeated his companion.

“I knows de sistah ve’y well, she bein’ a membah of my flock.”

“Well, I been gwine in comp’ny wit dat ooman fu’ de longes’. You ain’t nevah tasted none o’ huh cookin’, has you?”

“I has ‘sperienced de sistah’s puffo’mances in dat line.”

“She is the cookin’est ooman I evah seed in all my life, but howsomedever, I been gwine all dis time an’ I ain’ nevah said de wo’d. I nevah could git clean erway f’om huh widout somep’n’ drawin’ me back, an’ I didn’t know what hit was.”

The preacher was restless.

“Hit was des dis away, Brothah Hayward, I was allus lingerin’ on de brink, feahful to la’nch away, but now I’s a-gwine to la’nch, case dat all dis time tain’t been nuffin but fo’-destination dat been a-holdin’ me on.”

“Ahem,” said the minister; “we mus’ not be in too big a hu’y to put ouah human weaknesses upon some divine cause.”

“I ain’t a-doin’ dat, dough I ain’t a-sputin’ dat de lady is a mos’ oncommon fine lookin’ pusson.”

“I has only seed huh wid de eye of de spi’it,” was the virtuous answer, “an’ to dat eye all t’ings dat are good are beautiful.”

“Yes, suh, an’ lookin’ wid de cookin’ eye, hit seem lak’ I des fo’destinated fu’ to ma’y dat ooman.”

“You say you ain’t axe huh yit?”

“Not yit, but I’s gwine to ez soon ez evah I gets de chanst now.”

“Uh, huh,” said the preacher, and he began to hasten his steps homeward.

“Seems lak you in a pow’ful hu’y to-night,” said his companion, with some difficulty accommodating his own step to the preacher’s masterly strides. He was a short man and his pastor was tall and gaunt.

“I has somp’n’ on my min,’ Brothah Middleton, dat I wants to thrash out to-night in de sollertude of my own chambah,” was the solemn reply.

“Well, I ain’ gwine keep erlong wid you an’ pestah you wid my chattah, Brothah Hayward,” and at the next corner Isaac Middleton turned off and went his way, with a cheery “so long, may de Lawd set wid you in yo’ meddertations.”

“So long,” said his pastor hastily. Then he did what would be strange in any man, but seemed stranger in so virtuous a minister. He checked his hasty pace, and, after furtively watching Middleton out of sight, turned and retraced his steps in a direction exactly opposite to the one in which he had been going, and toward the cottage of the very Sister Griggs concerning whose charms the minister’s parishioner had held forth.

It was late, but the pastor knew that the woman whom he sought was industrious and often worked late, and with ever increasing eagerness he hurried on. He was fully rewarded for his perseverance when the light from the window of his intended hostess gleamed upon him, and when she stood in the full glow of it as the door opened in answer to his knock.

“La, Brothah Hayward, ef it ain’t you; howdy; come in.”

“Howdy, howdy, Sistah Griggs, how you come on?”

“Oh, I’s des tol’able,” industriously dusting a chair. “How’s yo’se’f?”

“I’s right smaht, thankee ma’am.”

“W’y, Brothah Hayward, ain’t you los’ down in dis paht of de town?”

“No, indeed, Sistah Griggs, de shep’erd ain’t nevah los’ no whaih dey’s any of de flock.” Then looking around the room at the piles of ironed clothes, he added: “You sutny is a indust’ious ooman.”

“I was des ’bout finishin’ up some i’onin’ I had fu’ de white folks,” smiled Sister Griggs, taking down her ironing-board and resting it in the corner. “Allus when I gits thoo my wo’k at nights I’s putty well tiahed out an’ has to eat a snack; set by, Brothah Hayward, while I fixes us a bite.”

“La, sistah, hit don’t skacely seem right fu’ me to be a-comin’ in hyeah lettin’ you fix fu’ me at dis time o’ night, an’ you mighty nigh tuckahed out, too.”

“Tsch, Brothah Hayward, taint no ha’dah lookin’ out fu’ two dan it is lookin’ out fu’ one.”

Hayward flashed a quick upward glance at his hostess’ face and then repeated slowly, “Yes’m, dat sutny is de trufe. I ain’t nevah t’ought o’ that befo’. Hit ain’t no ha’dah lookin’ out fu’ two dan hit is fu’ one,” and though he was usually an incessant talker, he lapsed into a brown study.

Be it known that the Rev. Mr. Hayward was a man of a very level head, and that his bachelorhood was a matter of economy. He had long considered matrimony in the light of a most desirable estate, but one which he feared to embrace until the rewards for his labours began looking up a little better. But now the matter was being presented to him in an entirely different light. “Hit ain’t no ha’dah lookin’ out fu’ two dan fu’ one.” Might that not be the truth after all. One had to have food. It would take very little more to do for two. One had to have a home to live in. The same house would shelter two. One had to wear clothes. Well, now, there came the rub. But he thought of donation parties, and smiled. Instead of being an extravagance, might not this union of two beings be an economy? Somebody to cook the food, somebody to keep the house, and somebody to mend the clothes.

His reverie was broken in upon by Sally Griggs’ voice. “Hit do seem lak you mighty deep in t’ought dis evenin’, Brothah Hayward. I done spoke to you twicet.”

“Scuse me, Sistah Griggs, my min’ has been mighty deeply ‘sorbed in a little mattah o’ doctrine. What you say to me?”

“I say set up to the table an’ have a bite to eat; tain’t much, but ‘sich ez I have’—you know what de ‘postle said.”

The preacher’s eyes glistened as they took in the well-filled board. There was fervour in the blessing which he asked that made amends for its brevity. Then he fell to.

Isaac Middleton was right. This woman was a genius among cooks. Isaac Middleton was also wrong. He, a layman, had no right to raise his eyes to her. She was the prize of the elect, not the quarry of any chance pursuer. As he ate and talked, his admiration for Sally grew as did his indignation at Middleton’s presumption.

Meanwhile the fair one plied him with delicacies, and paid deferential attention whenever he opened his mouth to give vent to an opinion. An admirable wife she would make, indeed.

At last supper was over and his chair pushed back from the table. With a long sigh of content, he stretched his long legs, tilted back and said: “Well, you done settled de case ez fur ez I is concerned.”

“What dat, Brothah Hayward?” she asked.

“Well, I do’ know’s I’s quite prepahed to tell you yit.”

“Hyeah now, don’ you remembah ol’ Mis’ Eve? Taint nevah right to git a lady’s cur’osity riz.”

“Oh, nemmine, nemmine, I ain’t gwine keep yo’ cur’osity up long. You see, Sistah Griggs, you done ‘lucidated one p’int to me dis night dat meks it plumb needful fu’ me to speak.”

She was looking at him with wide open eyes of expectation.

“You made de ’emark to-night, dat it ain’t no ha’dah lookin’ out aftah two dan one.”

“Oh, Brothah Hayward!”

“Sistah Sally, I reckernizes dat, an’ I want to know ef you won’t let me look out aftah we two? Will you ma’y me?”

She picked nervously at her apron, and her eyes sought the floor modestly as she answered, “Why, Brothah Hayward, I ain’t fittin’ fu’ no sich eddicated man ez you. S’posin’ you’d git to be pu’sidin’ elder, er bishop, er somp’n’ er othah, whaih’d I be?”

He waved his hand magnanimously. “Sistah Griggs, Sally, whatevah high place I may be fo’destined to I shall tek my wife up wid me.”

This was enough, and with her hearty yes, the Rev. Mr. Hayward had Sister Sally close in his clerical arms. They were not through their mutual felicitations, which were indeed so enthusiastic as to drown the sound of a knocking at the door and the ominous scraping of feet, when the door opened to admit Isaac Middleton, just as the preacher was imprinting a very decided kiss upon his fiancee’s cheek.

“Wha’—wha'” exclaimed Middleton.

The preacher turned. “Dat you, Isaac?” he said complacently. “You must ‘scuse ouah ‘pearance, we des got ingaged.”

The fair Sally blushed unseen.

“What!” cried Isaac. “Ingaged, aftah what I tol’ you to-night.” His face was a thundercloud.

“Yes, suh.”

“An’ is dat de way you stan’ up fu’ fo’destination?”

This time it was the preacher’s turn to darken angrily as he replied, “Look a-hyeah, Ike Middleton, all I got to say to you is dat whenevah a lady cook to please me lak dis lady do, an’ whenevah I love one lak I love huh, an’ she seems to love me back, I’s a-gwine to pop de question to huh, fo’destination er no fo’destination, so dah!”

The moment was pregnant with tragic possibilities. The lady still stood with bowed head, but her hand had stolen into her minister’s. Isaac paused, and the situation overwhelmed him. Crushed with anger and defeat he turned toward the door.

On the threshold he paused again to say, “Well, all I got to say to you, Hayward, don’ you nevah talk to me no mor’ nuffin’ ’bout doctrine!”

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
A Matter Of Doctrine
From The Heart Of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories reprinted in 1904 by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.
Short Story

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Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Interference Of Patsy Ann. Short Story

THE INTERFERENCE OF PATSY ANN

Patsy Ann Meriweather would have told you that her father, or more properly her “pappy,” was a “widover,” and she would have added in her sad little voice, with her mournful eyes upon you, that her mother had “bin daid fu’ nigh onto fou’ yeahs.” Then you could have wept for Patsy, for her years were only thirteen now, and since the passing away of her mother she had been the little mother for her four younger brothers and sisters, as well as her father’s house-keeper.

But Patsy Ann never complained; she was quite willing to be all that she had been until such time as Isaac and Dora, Cassie and little John should be old enough to care for themselves, and also to lighten some of her domestic burdens. She had never reckoned upon any other manner of release. In fact her youthful mind was not able to contemplate the possibility of any other manner of change. But the good women of Patsy’s neighbourhood were not the ones to let her remain in this deplorable state of ignorance. She was to be enlightened as to other changes that might take place in her condition, and of the unspeakable horrors that would transpire with them.

It was upon the occasion that little John had taken it into his infant head to have the German measles just at the time that Isaac was slowly recovering from the chicken-pox. Patsy Ann’s powers had been taxed to the utmost, and Mrs. Caroline Gibson had been called in from next door to superintend the brewing of the saffron tea, and for the general care of the fretful sufferer.

To Patsy Ann, then, in ominous tone, spoke this oracle. “Patsy Ann, how yo’ pappy doin’ sence Matildy died?” “Matildy” was the deceased wife.

“Oh, he gittin’ ‘long all right. He was mighty broke up at de fus’, but he ‘low now dat de house go on de same’s ef mammy was a-livin’.”

“Oom huh,” disdainfully; “Oom huh. Yo’ mammy bin daid fou’ yeahs, ain’t she?”

“Yes’m; mighty nigh.”

“Oom huh; fou’ yeahs is a mighty long time fu’ a colo’d man to wait; but we’n he do wait dat long, hit’s all de wuss we’n hit do come.”

“Pap bin wo’kin right stiddy at de brick-ya’d,” said Patsy, in loyal defence against some vaguely implied accusation, “an’ he done put some money in de bank.”

“Bad sign, bad sign,” and Mrs. Gibson gave her head a fearsome shake.

But just then the shrill voice of little John calling for attention drew her away and left Patsy Ann to herself and her meditations.

What could this mean?

When that lady had finished ministering to the sick child and returned, Patsy Ann asked her, “Mis’ Gibson, what you mean by sayin’ ‘bad sign, bad sign?'”

Again the oracle shook her head sagely. Then she answered, “Chil’, you do’ know de dev’ment dey is in dis worl’.”

“But,” retorted the child, “my pappy ain’ up to no dev’ment, ‘case he got ‘uligion an’ bin baptised.”

“Oom-m,” groaned Sistah Gibson, “dat don’ mek a bit o’ diffunce. Who is any mo’ ma’yin’ men den de preachahs demse’ves? W’y Brothah ‘Lias Scott done tempted matermony six times a’ready, an’ ‘s lookin’ roun’ fu’ de sebent, an’ he’s a good man, too.”

“Ma’yin’,” said Patsy breathlessly.

“Yes, honey, ma’yin’, an’ I’s afeared yo’ pappy’s got notions in his haid, an’ w’en a widower git gals in his haid dey ain’ no use a-pesterin’ wid ’em, ‘case dey boun’ to have dey way.”

“Ma’yin’,” said Patsy to herself reflectively. “Ma’yin’.” She knew what it meant, but she had never dreamed of the possibility of such a thing in connection with her father. “Ma’yin’,” and yet the idea of it did not seem so very unalluring.

She spoke her thoughts aloud.

“But ef pap ‘u’d ma’y, Mis’ Gibson, den I’d git a chanct to go to school. He allus sayin’ he mighty sorry ’bout me not goin’.”

“Dah now, dah now,” cried the woman, casting a pitying glance at the child, “dat’s de las’ t’ing. He des a feelin’ roun’ now. You po’, ign’ant, mothahless chil’. You ain’ nevah had no step-mothah, an’ you don’ know what hit means.”

“But she’d tek keer o’ the chillen,” persisted Patsy.

“Sich tekin’ keer of ’em ez hit ‘u’d be. She’d keer fu’ ’em to dey graves. Nobody cain’t tell me nuffin ’bout step-mothahs, case I knows ’em. Dey ain’ no ooman goin’ to tek keer o’ nobody else’s chile lak she’d tek keer o’ huh own,” and Patsy felt a choking come into her throat and a tight sensation about her heart while she listened as Mrs. Gibson regaled her with all the choice horrors that are laid at the door of step-mothers.

From that hour on, one settled conviction took shape and possessed Patsy Ann’s mind; never, if she could help it, would she run the risk of having a step-mother. Come what may, let her be compelled to do what she might, let the hope of school fade from her sight forever and a day—but no step-mother should ever cast her baneful shadow over Patsy Ann’s home.

Experience of life had made her wise for her years, and so for the time she said nothing to her father; but she began to watch him with wary eyes, his goings out and his comings in, and to attach new importance to trifles that had passed unnoticed before by her childish mind.

For instance, if he greased or blacked his boots before going out of an evening her suspicions were immediately aroused and she saw dim visions of her father returning, on his arm the terrible ogress whom she had come to know by the name of step-mother.

Mrs. Gibson’s poison had worked well and rapidly. She had thoroughly inoculated the child’s mind with the step-mother virus, but she had not at the same time made the parent widow-proof, a hard thing to do at best. So it came to pass that with a mysterious horror growing within her, Patsy Ann saw her father black his boots more and more often and fare forth o’ nights and Sunday afternoons.

Finally her little heart could contain its sorrow no longer, and one night when he was later than usual she could not sleep. So she slipped out of bed, turned up the light, and waited for him, determined to have it out, then and there.

He came at last and was all surprise to meet the solemn, round eyes of his little daughter staring at him from across the table.

“W’y, lady gal,” he exclaimed, “what you doin’ up at ‘his time?”

“I sat up fu’ you. I got somep’n’ to ax you, pappy.” Her voice quivered and he snuggled her up in his arms.

“What’s troublin’ my little lady gal now? Is de chillen bin bad?”

She laid her head close against his big breast, and the tears would come as she answered, “No, suh; de chillen bin ez good az good could be, but oh, pappy, pappy, is you got gal in yo’ haid an’ a-goin’ to bring me a step-mothah?”

He held her away from him almost harshly and gazed at her as he queried, “W’y, you po’ baby, you! Who’s bin puttin’ dis hyeah foolishness in yo’ haid?” Then his laugh rang out as he patted her head and drew her close to him again. “Ef yo’ pappy do bring a step-mothah into dis house, Gawd knows he’ll bring de right kin’.”

“Dey ain’t no right kin’,” answered Patsy.

“You don’ know, baby; you don’ know. Go to baid an’ don’ worry.”

He sat up a long time watching the candle sputter, then he pulled off his boots and tiptoed to Patsy’s bedside. He leaned over her. “Po’ little baby,” he said; “what do she know about a step-mothah?” And Patsy saw him and heard him, for she was awake then, and far into the night.

In the eyes of the child her father stood convicted. He had “gal in his haid,” and was going to bring her a step-mother; but it would never be; her resolution was taken.

She arose early the next morning and after getting her father off to work as usual, she took the children into hand. First she scrubbed them assiduously, burnishing their brown faces until they shone again. Then she tussled with their refractory locks, and after that she dressed them out in all the bravery of their best clothes.

Meanwhile her tears were falling like rain, though her lips were shut tight. The children off her mind, she turned her attention to her own toilet, which she made with scrupulous care. Then taking a small tin-type of her mother from the bureau drawer, she put it in her bosom, and leading her little brood she went out of the house, locking the door behind her and placing the key, as was her wont, under the door-step.

Outside she stood for a moment or two, undecided, and then with one long, backward glance at her home she turned and went up the street. At the first corner she paused again, spat in her hand and struck the watery globule with her finger. In the direction the most of the spittle flew, she turned. Patsy Ann was fleeing from home and a step-mother, and Fate had decided her direction for her, even as Mrs. Gibson’s counsels had directed her course.

The child had no idea where she was going. She knew no one to whom she might turn in her distress. Not even with Mrs. Gibson would she be safe from the horror which impended. She had but one impulse in her mind and that was to get beyond the reach of the terrible woman, or was it a monster? who was surely coming after her. On and on she walked through the town with her little band trudging bravely along beside her. People turned to look at the funny group and smiled good-naturedly as they passed, and one man, a little more amused than the rest, shouted after them, “Where you goin’, sis, with that orphan’s home?”

But Patsy Ann’s dignity was impregnable. She walked on with her head in the air, the desire for safety tugging at her heart.

The hours passed and the gentle coolness of morning turned into the fierce heat of noon, and still with frequent rests they trudged on, Patsy ever and anon using her divining hand, unconscious that she was doubling and redoubling on her tracks. When the whistles blew for twelve she got her little brood into the shade of a poplar tree and set them down to the lunch which, thoughtful little mother that she was, she had brought with her. After that they all stretched themselves out on the grass that bordered the sidewalk, for all the children were tired out, and baby John was both sleepy and cross. Even Patsy Ann drowsed and finally dropped into the deep slumber of childhood. They looked too peaceful and serene for passers-by to bother them, and so they slept and slept.

It was past three o’clock when the little guardian awakened with a start, and shook her charges into activity. John wept a little at first, but after a while took up his journey bravely with the rest.

She had just turned into a side street, discouraged and bewildered, when the round face of a coloured woman standing in the doorway of a whitewashed cottage caught her eye and attention. Once more she paused and consulted her watery oracle, then turned to encounter the gaze of the round-faced woman. The oracle had spoken and she turned into the yard.

“Whaih you goin’, honey? You sut’ny look lak you plumb tukahed out. Come in an’ tell me all ’bout yo’se’f, you po’ little t’ing. Dese yo’ little brothas an’ sistahs?”

“Yes’m,” said Patsy Ann.

“W’y, chil’, whaih you goin’?”

“I don’ know,” was the truthful answer.

“You don’ know? Whaih you live?”

“Oh, I live down on Douglas Street,” said Patsy Ann, “an’ I’s runnin’ away f’om home an’ my step-mothah.”

The woman looked keenly at her.

“What yo’ name?” she said.

“My name’s Patsy Ann Meriweather.”

“An’ is yo’ got a step-mothah?”

“No,” said Patsy Ann, “I ain’ got none now, but I’s sut’ny ‘spectin’ one.”

“What you know ’bout step-mothahs, honey?”

“Mis’ Gibson tol’ me. Dey sho’ly is awful, missus, awful.”

“Mis’ Gibson ain’ tol’ you right, honey. You come in hyeah and set down. You ain’ nothin’ mo’ dan a baby yo’se’f, an’ you ain’ got no right to be trapsein’ roun’ dis away.”

Have you ever eaten muffins? Have you eaten bacon with onions? Have you drunk tea? Have you seen your little brother John taken up on a full bosom and rocked to sleep in the most motherly way, with the sweetness and tenderness that only a mother can give? Well, that was Patsy Ann’s case to-night.

And then she laid them along like ten-pins crosswise of her bed and sat for a long time thinking.

To Maria Adams about six o’clock that night came a troubled and disheartened man. It was no less a person than Patsy Ann’s father.

“Maria! Maria! What shall I do? Somebody don’ stole all my chillen.”

Maria, strange to say, was a woman of few words.

“Don’ you bothah ’bout de chillen,” she said, and she took him by the hand and led him to where the five lay sleeping calmly across the bed.

“Dey was runnin’ f’om home an’ dey step-mothah,” said she.

“Dey run hyeah f’om a step-mothah an’ foun’ a mothah.” It was a tribute and a proposal all in one.

When Patsy Ann awakened, the matter was explained to her, and with penitent tears she confessed her sins.

“But,” she said to Maria Adams, “ef you’s de kin’ of fo’ks dat dey mek step-mothahs out o’ I ain’ gwine to bothah my haid no mo’.”

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
The Interference Of Patsy Ann. Short Story
From The Heart Of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories reprinted in 1904 by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.
Short Story

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Majella Cullinane: Whisper of a Crow’s Wing (Poetry)

Originally from Limerick, Ireland, Majella Cullinane has lived in New Zealand since 2008.

With an MLitt in Creative Writing from St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, in 2011, she published her first poetry collection, Guarding The Flame, with Salmon Poetry.

Her poems and short stories have been published in Ireland, the UK and New Zealand.

In 2014 she was awarded the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University, and in 2017 was the Sir James Wallace Trust/Otago University Writer in Residence at the Pah Homestead in Auckland.

She won the 2017 Caselberg International Prize for Poetry, and has been shortlisted for the Strokestown and Bridport International Poetry Prizes.

Better to consider
the small shapes in the gorgeous chaos of the world:
a snowflake flitting through the air,
swathes of blue and orange entangling the sky in their warm shawl,
glances to be tucked away like stones run smooth by rivers,
the shadows of our hands like wings, playing with the light.

Whisper of a Crow’s Wing
Author: Majella Cullinane
Language: English
Poetry
Paperback
100 pages
ISBN: 9781912561360
Publisher: Salmon Publishing
1 Dec. 2018
£10.00

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Whisper of a Crow’s Wing

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Old Abe’s Conversion by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story)

OLD ABE’S CONVERSION

The Negro population of the little Southern town of Danvers was in a state of excitement such as it seldom reached except at revivals, baptisms, or on Emancipation Day. The cause of the commotion was the anticipated return of the Rev. Abram Dixon’s only son, Robert, who, having taken up his father’s life-work and graduated at one of the schools, had been called to a city church.

When Robert’s ambition to take a college course first became the subject of the village gossip, some said that it was an attempt to force Providence. If Robert were called to preach, they said, he would be endowed with the power from on high, and no intervention of the schools was necessary. Abram Dixon himself had at first rather leaned to this side of the case. He had expressed his firm belief in the theory that if you opened your mouth, the Lord would fill it. As for him, he had no thought of what he should say to his people when he rose to speak. He trusted to the inspiration of the moment, and dashed blindly into speech, coherent or otherwise.

Himself a plantation exhorter of the ancient type, he had known no school except the fields where he had ploughed and sowed, the woods and the overhanging sky. He had sat under no teacher except the birds and the trees and the winds of heaven. If he did not fail utterly, if his labour was not without fruit, it was because he lived close to nature, and so, near to nature’s God. With him religion was a matter of emotion, and he relied for his results more upon a command of feeling than upon an appeal to reason. So it was not strange that he should look upon his son’s determination to learn to be a preacher as unjustified by the real demands of the ministry.

But as the boy had a will of his own and his father a boundless pride in him, the day came when, despite wagging heads, Robert Dixon went away to be enrolled among the students of a growing college. Since then six years had passed. Robert had spent his school vacations in teaching; and now, for the first time, he was coming home, a full-fledged minister of the gospel.

It was rather a shock to the old man’s sensibilities that his son’s congregation should give him a vacation, and that the young minister should accept; but he consented to regard it as of the new order of things, and was glad that he was to have his boy with him again, although he murmured to himself, as he read his son’s letter through his bone-bowed spectacles: “Vacation, vacation, an’ I wonder ef he reckons de devil’s goin’ to take one at de same time?”

It was a joyous meeting between father and son. The old man held his boy off and looked at him with proud eyes.

“Why, Robbie,” he said, “you—you’s a man!”

“That’s what I’m trying to be, father.” The young man’s voice was deep, and comported well with his fine chest and broad shoulders.

“You’s a bigger man den yo’ father ever was!” said his mother admiringly.

“Oh, well, father never had the advantage of playing football.”

The father turned on him aghast. “Playin’ football!” he exclaimed. “You don’t mean to tell me dat dey ‘lowed men learnin’ to be preachers to play sich games?”

“Oh, yes, they believe in a sound mind in a sound body, and one seems to be as necessary as the other in fighting evil.”

Abram Dixon shook his head solemnly. The world was turning upside down for him.

“Football!” he muttered, as they sat down to supper.

Robert was sorry that he had spoken of the game, because he saw that it grieved his father. He had come intending to avoid rather than to combat his parent’s prejudices. There was no condescension in his thought of them and their ways. They were different; that was all. He had learned new ways. They had retained the old. Even to himself he did not say, “But my way is the better one.”

His father was very full of eager curiosity as to his son’s conduct of his church, and the son was equally glad to talk of his work, for his whole soul was in it.

“We do a good deal in the way of charity work among the churchless and almost homeless city children; and, father, it would do your heart good if you could only see the little ones gathered together learning the first principles of decent living.”

“Mebbe so,” replied the father doubtfully, “but what you doin’ in de way of teachin’ dem to die decent?”

The son hesitated for a moment, and then he answered gently, “We think that one is the companion of the other, and that the best way to prepare them for the future is to keep them clean and good in the present.”

“Do you give ’em good strong doctern, er do you give ’em milk and water?”

“I try to tell them the truth as I see it and believe it. I try to hold up before them the right and the good and the clean and beautiful.”

“Humph!” exclaimed the old man, and a look of suspicion flashed across his dusky face. “I want you to preach fer me Sunday.”

It was as if he had said, “I have no faith in your style of preaching the gospel. I am going to put you to the test.”

Robert faltered. He knew his preaching would not please his father or his people, and he shrank from the ordeal. It seemed like setting them all at defiance and attempting to enforce his ideas over their own. Then a perception of his cowardice struck him, and he threw off the feeling that was possessing him. He looked up to find his father watching him keenly, and he remembered that he had not yet answered.

“I had not thought of preaching here,” he said, “but I will relieve you if you wish it.”

“De folks will want to hyeah you an’ see what you kin do,” pursued his father tactlessly. “You know dey was a lot of ’em dat said I oughn’t ha’ let you go away to school. I hope you’ll silence ’em.”

Robert thought of the opposition his father’s friends had shown to his ambitions, and his face grew hot at the memory. He felt his entire inability to please them now.

“I don’t know, father, that I can silence those who opposed my going away or even please those who didn’t, but I shall try to please One.”

It was now Thursday evening, and he had until Saturday night to prepare his sermon. He knew Danvers, and remembered what a chill fell on its congregations, white or black, when a preacher appeared before them with a manuscript or notes. So, out of concession to their prejudices, he decided not to write his sermon, but to go through it carefully and get it well in hand. His work was often interfered with by the frequent summons to see old friends who stayed long, not talking much, but looking at him with some awe and a good deal of contempt. His trial was a little sorer than he had expected, but he bore it all with the good-natured philosophy which his school life and work in a city had taught him.

The Sunday dawned, a beautiful, Southern summer morning; the lazy hum of the bees and the scent of wild honeysuckle were in the air; the Sabbath was full of the quiet and peace of God; and yet the congregation which filled the little chapel at Danvers came with restless and turbulent hearts, and their faces said plainly: “Rob Dixon, we have not come here to listen to God’s word. We have come here to put you on trial. Do you hear? On trial.”

And the thought, “On trial,” was ringing in the young minister’s mind as he rose to speak to them. His sermon was a very quiet, practical one; a sermon that sought to bring religion before them as a matter of every-day life. It was altogether different from the torrent of speech that usually flowed from that pulpit. The people grew restless under this spiritual reserve. They wanted something to sanction, something to shout for, and here was this man talking to them as simply and quietly as if he were not in church.

As Uncle Isham Jones said, “De man never fetched an amen”; and the people resented his ineffectiveness. Even Robert’s father sat with his head bowed in his hands, broken and ashamed of his son; and when, without a flourish, the preacher sat down, after talking twenty-two minutes by the clock, a shiver of surprise ran over the whole church. His father had never pounded the desk for less than an hour.

Disappointment, even disgust, was written on every face. The singing was spiritless, and as the people filed out of church and gathered in knots about the door, the old-time head-shaking was resumed, and the comments were many and unfavourable.

“Dat’s what his schoolin’ done fo’ him,” said one.

“It wasn’t nothin’ mo’n a lecter,” was another’s criticism.

“Put him ‘side o’ his father,” said one of the Rev. Abram Dixon’s loyal members, “and bless my soul, de ol’ man would preach all roun’ him, and he ain’t been to no college, neither!”

Robert and his father walked home in silence together. When they were in the house, the old man turned to his son and said:

“Is dat de way dey teach you to preach at college?”

“I followed my instructions as nearly as possible, father.”

“Well, Lawd he’p dey preachin’, den! Why, befo’ I’d ha’ been in dat pulpit five minutes, I’d ha’ had dem people moanin’ an’ hollerin’ all over de church.”

“And would they have lived any more cleanly the next day?”

The old man looked at his son sadly, and shook his head as at one of the unenlightened.

Robert did not preach in his father’s church again before his visit came to a close; but before going he said, “I want you to promise me you’ll come up and visit me, father. I want you to see the work I am trying to do. I don’t say that my way is best or that my work is a higher work, but I do want you to see that I am in earnest.”

“I ain’t doubtin’ you mean well, Robbie,” said his father, “but I guess I’d be a good deal out o’ place up thaih.”

“No, you wouldn’t, father. You come up and see me. Promise me.”

And the old man promised.

It was not, however, until nearly a year later that the Rev. Abram Dixon went up to visit his son’s church. Robert met him at the station, and took him to the little parsonage which the young clergyman’s people had provided for him. It was a very simple place, and an aged woman served the young man as cook and caretaker; but Abram Dixon was astonished at what seemed to him both vainglory and extravagance.

“Ain’t you livin’ kin’ o’ high fo’ yo’ raisin’, Robbie?” he asked.

The young man laughed. “If you’d see how some of the people live here, father, you’d hardly say so.”

Abram looked at the chintz-covered sofa and shook his head at its luxury, but Robert, on coming back after a brief absence, found his father sound asleep upon the comfortable lounge.

On the next day they went out together to see something of the city. By the habit of years, Abram Dixon was an early riser, and his son was like him; so they were abroad somewhat before business was astir in the town. They walked through the commercial portion and down along the wharves and levees. On every side the same sight assailed their eyes: black boys of all ages and sizes, the waifs and strays of the city, lay stretched here and there on the wharves or curled on doorsills, stealing what sleep they could before the relentless day should drive them forth to beg a pittance for subsistence.

“Such as these we try to get into our flock and do something for,” said Robert.

His father looked on sympathetically, and yet hardly with full understanding. There was poverty in his own little village, yes, even squalour, but he had never seen anything just like this. At home almost everyone found some open door, and rare was the wanderer who slept out-of-doors except from choice.

At nine o’clock they went to the police court, and the old minister saw many of his race appear as prisoners, receiving brief attention and long sentences. Finally a boy was arraigned for theft. He was a little, wobegone fellow hardly ten years of age. He was charged with stealing cakes from a bakery. The judge was about to deal with him as quickly as with the others, and Abram’s heart bled for the child, when he saw a negro call the judge’s attention. He turned to find that Robert had left his side. There was a whispered consultation, and then the old preacher heard with joy, “As this is his first offence and a trustworthy person comes forward to take charge of him, sentence upon the prisoner will be suspended.”

Robert came back to his father holding the boy by the hand, and together they made their way from the crowded room.

“I’m so glad! I’m so glad!” said the old man brokenly.

“We often have to do this. We try to save them from the first contact with the prison and all that it means. There is no reformatory for black boys here, and they may not go to the institutions for the white; so for the slightest offence they are sent to jail, where they are placed with the most hardened criminals. When released they are branded forever, and their course is usually downward.”

He spoke in a low voice, that what he said might not reach the ears of the little ragamuffin who trudged by his side.

Abram looked down on the child with a sympathetic heart.

“What made you steal dem cakes?” he asked kindly.

“I was hongry,” was the simple reply.

The old man said no more until he had reached the parsonage, and then when he saw how the little fellow ate and how tenderly his son ministered to him, he murmured to himself, “Feed my lambs”; and then turning to his son, he said, “Robbie, dey’s some’p’n in ‘dis, dey’s some’p’n in it, I tell you.”

That night there was a boy’s class in the lower room of Robert Dixon’s little church. Boys of all sorts and conditions were there, and Abram listened as his son told them the old, sweet stories in the simplest possible manner and talked to them in his cheery, practical way. The old preacher looked into the eyes of the street gamins about him, and he began to wonder. Some of them were fierce, unruly-looking youngsters, inclined to meanness and rowdyism, but one and all, they seemed under the spell of their leader’s voice. At last Robert said, “Boys, this is my father. He’s a preacher, too. I want you to come up and shake hands with him.” Then they crowded round the old man readily and heartily, and when they were outside the church, he heard them pause for a moment, and then three rousing cheers rang out with the vociferated explanation, “Fo’ de minister’s pap!”

Abram held his son’s hand long that night, and looked with tear-dimmed eyes at the boy.

“I didn’t understan’,” he said. “I didn’t understan’.”

“You’ll preach for me Sunday, father?”

“I wouldn’t daih, honey. I wouldn’t daih.”

“Oh, yes, you will, pap.”

He had not used the word for a long time, and at sound of it his father yielded.

It was a strange service that Sunday morning. The son introduced the father, and the father, looking at his son, who seemed so short a time ago unlearned in the ways of the world, gave as his text, “A little child shall lead them.”

He spoke of his own conceit and vainglory, the pride of his age and experience, and then he told of the lesson he had learned. “Why, people,” he said, “I feels like a new convert!”

It was a gentler gospel than he had ever preached before, and in the congregation there were many eyes as wet as his own.

“Robbie,” he said, when the service was over, “I believe I had to come up here to be converted.” And Robbie smiled.

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
Old Abe’s Conversion
From The Heart Of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories reprinted in 1904 by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.
Short Story

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Joni Mitchell: New Critical Readings

Joni Mitchell: New Critical Readings recognizes the importance and innovativeness of the musician and artist Joni Mitchell and the need for a collection that theorizes her work as musician, composer, cultural commentator and antagonist.

It showcases pieces by established and early career academics from the fields of popular music and literary studies on subjects such as Mitchell’s guitar technique, the politics of aging in her work, and her fractious relationship with feminism.

The collection features close readings of specific songs, albums, and performances while also paying keen attention to Mitchell’s wider cultural contributions and significance.

About the Author: Ruth Charnock is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln, UK. She is the author of Anaïs Nin: Bad Sex, Shame and Contemporary Culture (forthcoming, 2019) and various articles and essays on Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Anaïs Nin, contemporary American literature, and popular culture.

Joni Mitchell
New Critical Readings
Editor: Ruth Charnock
Published: 24-01-2019
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
248 pages
Illustrations: 2 bw illus
Dimensions: 229 x 152 mm
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1501332090
ISBN-13: 978-1501332098
£86.40

# new books
joni mitchell
new critical readings

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The Home-Coming Of ‘Rastus Smith by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story)

THE HOME-COMING OF ‘RASTUS SMITH

There was a great commotion in that part of town which was known as “Little Africa,” and the cause of it was not far to seek. Contrary to the usual thing, this cause was not an excursion down the river, nor a revival, baptising, nor an Emancipation Day celebration. None of these was it that had aroused the denizens of “Little Africa,” and kept them talking across the street from window to window, from door to door, through alley gates, over backyard fences, where they stood loud-mouthed and arms akimboed among laden clothes lines. No, the cause of it all was that Erastus Smith, Aunt Mandy Smith’s boy, who had gone away from home several years before, and who, rumour said, had become a great man, was coming back, and “Little Africa,” from Douglass Street to Cat Alley, was prepared to be dazzled. So few of those who had been born within the mile radius which was “Little Africa” went out into the great world and came into contact with the larger humanity that when one did he became a man set apart. And when, besides, he went into a great city and worked for a lawyer whose name was known the country over, the place of his birth had all the more reason to feel proud of her son.

So there was much talk across the dirty little streets, and Aunt Mandy’s small house found itself all of a sudden a very popular resort. The old women held Erastus up as an example to their sons. The old men told what they might have done had they had his chance. The young men cursed him, and the young girls giggled and waited.

It was about an hour before the time of the arrival of Erastus, and the neighbours had thinned out one by one with a delicacy rather surprising in them, in order that the old lady might be alone with her boy for the first few minutes. Only one remained to help put the finishing touches to the two little rooms which Mrs. Smith called home, and to the preparations for the great dinner. The old woman wiped her eyes as she said to her companion, “Hit do seem a speshul blessin’, Lizy, dat I been spaihed to see dat chile once mo’ in de flesh. He sholy was mighty nigh to my hea’t, an’ w’en he went erway, I thought it ‘ud kill me. But I kin see now dat hit uz all fu’ de bes’. Think o’ ‘Rastus comin’ home, er big man! Who’d evah ‘specked dat?”

“Law, Mis’ Smif, you sholy is got reason to be mighty thankful. Des’ look how many young men dere is in dis town what ain’t nevah been no ‘count to dey pa’ents, ner anybody else.”

“Well, it’s onexpected, Lizy, an’ hit’s ‘spected. ‘Rastus allus wuz a wonnerful chil’, an’ de way he tuk to work an’ study kin’ o’ promised something f’om de commencement, an’ I ‘lowed mebbe he tu’n out a preachah.”

“Tush! yo’ kin thank yo’ stahs he didn’t tu’n out no preachah. Preachahs ain’t no bettah den anybody else dese days. Dey des go roun’ tellin’ dey lies an’ eatin’ de whiders an’ orphins out o’ house an’ home.”

“Well, mebbe hit’s bes’ he didn’ tu’n out dat way. But f’om de way he used to stan’ on de chaih an’ ‘zort w’en he was a little boy, I thought hit was des what he ‘ud tu’n out. O’ co’se, being’ in a law office is des as pervidin’, but somehow hit do seem mo’ worl’y.”

“Didn’t I tell you de preachahs is ez worldly ez anybody else?”

“Yes, yes, dat’s right, but den ‘Rastus, he had de eddication, fo’ he had gone thoo de Third Readah.”

Just then the gate creaked, and a little brown-faced girl, with large, mild eyes, pushed open the door and came shyly in.

“Hyeah’s some flowahs, Mis’ Smif,” she said. “I thought mebbe you might like to decorate ‘Rastus’s room,” and she wiped the confusion from her face with her apron.

“La, chil’, thankee. Dese is mighty pu’tty posies.” These were the laurels which Sally Martin had brought to lay at the feet of her home-coming hero. No one in Cat Alley but that queer, quiet little girl would have thought of decorating anybody’s room with flowers, but she had peculiar notions.

In the old days, when they were children, and before Erastus had gone away to become great, they had gone up and down together along the byways of their locality, and had loved as children love. Later, when Erastus began keeping company, it was upon Sally that he bestowed his affections. No one, not even her mother, knew how she had waited for him all these years that he had been gone, few in reality, but so long and so many to her.

And now he was coming home. She scorched something in the ironing that day because tears of joy were blinding her eyes. Her thoughts were busy with the meeting that was to be. She had a brand new dress for the occasion—a lawn, with dark blue dots, and a blue sash—and there was a new hat, wonderful with the flowers of summer, and for both of them she had spent her hard-earned savings, because she wished to be radiant in the eyes of the man who loved her.

Of course, Erastus had not written her; but he must have been busy, and writing was hard work. She knew that herself, and realised it all the more as she penned the loving little scrawls which at first she used to send him. Now they would not have to do any writing any more; they could say what they wanted to each other. He was coming home at last, and she had waited long.

They paint angels with shining faces and halos, but for real radiance one should have looked into the dark eyes of Sally as she sped home after her contribution to her lover’s reception.

When the last one of the neighbours had gone Aunt Mandy sat down to rest herself and to await the great event. She had not sat there long before the gate creaked. She arose and hastened to the window. A young man was coming down the path. Was that ‘Rastus? Could that be her ‘Rastus, that gorgeous creature with the shiny shoes and the nobby suit and the carelessly-swung cane? But he was knocking at her door, and she opened it and took him into her arms.

“Why, howdy, honey, howdy; hit do beat all to see you agin, a great big, grown-up man. You’re lookin’ des’ lak one o’ de big folks up in town.”

Erastus submitted to her endearments with a somewhat condescending grace, as who should say, “Well, poor old fool, let her go on this time; she doesn’t know any better.” He smiled superiorly when the old woman wept glad tears, as mothers have a way of doing over returned sons, however great fools these sons may be. She set him down to the dinner which she had prepared for him, and with loving patience drew from his pompous and reluctant lips some of the story of his doings and some little word about the places he had seen.

“Oh, yes,” he said, crossing his legs, “as soon as Mr. Carrington saw that I was pretty bright, he took me right up and gave me a good job, and I have been working for him right straight along for seven years now. Of course, it don’t do to let white folks know all you’re thinking; but I have kept my ears and my eyes right open, and I guess I know just about as much about law as he does himself. When I save up a little more I’m going to put on the finishing touches and hang out my shingle.”

“Don’t you nevah think no mo’ ’bout bein’ a preachah, ‘Rastus?” his mother asked.

“Haw, haw! Preachah? Well, I guess not; no preaching in mine; there’s nothing in it. In law you always have a chance to get into politics and be the president of your ward club or something like that, and from that on it’s an easy matter to go on up. You can trust me to know the wires.” And so the tenor of his boastful talk ran on, his mother a little bit awed and not altogether satisfied with the new ‘Rastus that had returned to her.

He did not stay in long that evening, although his mother told him some of the neighbours were going to drop in. He said he wanted to go about and see something of the town. He paused just long enough to glance at the flowers in his room, and to his mother’s remark, “Sally Ma’tin brung dem in,” he returned answer, “Who on earth is Sally Martin?”

“Why, ‘Rastus,” exclaimed his mother, “does yo’ ‘tend lak yo’ don’t ‘member little Sally Ma’tin yo’ used to go wid almos’ f’om de time you was babies? W’y, I’m s’prised at you.”

“She has slipped my mind,” said the young man.

For a long while the neighbours who had come and Aunt Mandy sat up to wait for Erastus, but he did not come in until the last one was gone. In fact, he did not get in until nearly four o’clock in the morning, looking a little weak, but at least in the best of spirits, and he vouchsafed to his waiting mother the remark that “the little old town wasn’t so bad, after all.”

Aunt Mandy preferred the request that she had had in mind for some time, that he would go to church the next day, and he consented, because his trunk had come.

It was a glorious Sunday morning, and the old lady was very proud in her stiff gingham dress as she saw her son come into the room arrayed in his long coat, shiny hat, and shinier shoes. Well, if it was true that he was changed, he was still her ‘Rastus, and a great comfort to her. There was no vanity about the old woman, but she paused before the glass a longer time than usual, settling her bonnet strings, for she must look right, she told herself, to walk to church with that elegant son of hers. When he was all ready, with cane in hand, and she was pausing with the key in the door, he said, “Just walk on, mother, I’ll catch you in a minute or two.” She went on and left him.

He did not catch her that morning on her way to church, and it was a sore disappointment, but it was somewhat compensated for when she saw him stalking into the chapel in all his glory, and every head in the house turned to behold him.

There was one other woman in “Little Africa” that morning who stopped for a longer time than usual before her looking-glass and who had never found her bonnet strings quite so refractory before. In spite of the vexation of flowers that wouldn’t settle and ribbons that wouldn’t tie, a very glad face looked back at Sally Martin from her little mirror. She was going to see ‘Rastus, ‘Rastus of the old days in which they used to walk hand in hand. He had told her when he went away that some day he would come back and marry her. Her heart fluttered hotly under her dotted lawn, and it took another application of the chamois to take the perspiration from her face. People had laughed at her, but that morning she would be vindicated. He would walk home with her before the whole church. Already she saw him bowing before her, hat in hand, and heard the set phrase, “May I have the pleasure of your company home?” and she saw herself sailing away upon his arm.

She was very happy as she sat in church that morning, as happy as Mrs. Smith herself, and as proud when she saw the object of her affections swinging up the aisle to the collection table, and from the ring she knew that it could not be less than a half dollar that he put in.

There was a special note of praise in her voice as she joined in singing the doxology that morning, and her heart kept quivering and fluttering like a frightened bird as the people gathered in groups, chattering and shaking hands, and he drew nearer to her. Now they were almost together; in a moment their eyes would meet. Her breath came quickly; he had looked at her, surely he must have seen her. His mother was just behind him, and he did not speak. Maybe she had changed, maybe he had forgotten her. An unaccustomed boldness took possession of her, and she determined that she would not be overlooked. She pressed forward. She saw his mother take his arm and heard her whisper, “Dere’s Sally Ma’tin” this time, and she knew that he looked at her. He bowed as if to a stranger, and was past her the next minute. When she saw him again he was swinging out of the door between two admiring lines of church-goers who separated on the pavement. There was a brazen yellow girl on his arm.

She felt weak and sick as she hid behind the crowd as well as she could, and for that morning she thanked God that she was small.

Aunt Mandy trudged home alone, and when the street was cleared and the sexton was about to lock up, the girl slipped out of the church and down to her own little house. In the friendly shelter of her room she took off her gay attire and laid it away, and then sat down at the window and looked dully out. For her, the light of day had gone out.

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(1872 – 1906)
The Home-Coming Of ‘Rastus Smith
From The Heart Of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories reprinted in 1904 by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York. Short Story

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