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FICTION: SHORT STORIES

· Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (103). Een roman als feuilleton · Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (102). Een roman als feuilleton · Paul Laurence Dunbar : The Scapegoat (II). Short story · Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Scapegoat (I). Short story · H. G. Wells: The Flying Man · Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (101). Een roman als feuilleton · Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (100). Een roman als feuilleton · A Matter Of Doctrine by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Short story) · Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (099). Een roman als feuilleton · Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Interference Of Patsy Ann. Short Story · Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (098). Een roman als feuilleton · Clemens J. Setz: Der Trost runder Dinge (Erzählungen)

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Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (103). Een roman als feuilleton

Grootvader Bernhard heeft een flesje in zijn hand en dept azijn op de arm van Thija, die door een bij is gestoken. Thija wordt vaak gestoken.

`Heb je de angel er uitgezogen?’ vraagt grootvader.
Thija laat het kleine zwarte puntje zien op de nagel van haar wijsvinger, maar door zijn kippige ogen ziet grootvader het niet.
`Rotbijen’, zegt Thija. `Waarom steken bijen vooral meisjes?’
`Meisjes hebben zoet bloed’, zegt grootvader. `Jullie zijn van suiker. Vroeger woonde er een meisje in ons dorp dat helemaal door de bijen is opgegeten. Van haar hebben ze alleen de botten teruggevonden.’

`Vorige week vertelde u dat ze door een wolf was opgegeten.’
`Zei ik dat? Dan moet ik me toen hebben vergist. Zie je, ik word oud. Ik haal de dingen door elkaar. Ik denk dat er twee meisjes zijn opgegeten, een door bijen en een door een wolf.’
`Dat van die wolf is waar’, zegt Mels. `Grootvader Rudolf vertelt het ook. In een strenge winter, langgeleden, zijn de wolven uit het bos gekomen en hebben een meisje opgegeten.’
`Ik denk dat Rudolf het verhaaltje over het meisje dat is opgegeten door de wolf zelf in omloop heeft gebracht.’
`Zoals u het praatje over het meisje dat is opgegeten door de bijen zelf hebt bedacht?’

`Zo zal het wel zijn gegaan’, lacht grootvader. `Oude mannen vertellen maar wat. Zo ontstaan verhalen. Sommigen schrijven ze op. En dat leren jullie dan op school als geschiedenis.’

Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (103)
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Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (102). Een roman als feuilleton

Voor de bouwvakkers zit de werkdag erop. Ze lopen terug naar de auto en vertrekken. Mels rolt naar de silo om het resultaat beter te bekijken. De steigers staan al een paar meter boven de grond.

De deur van de voormalige directiekamer staat open. Hij kan er zo binnenrijden. De meubels van de laatste directeuren staan er nog. Alles is gebleven zoals het was. Niemand heeft ooit de moeite genomen hier iets weg te halen. Alles is verrot en vervuild. Het heeft voor niemand waarde meer. Het ziet ernaaruit dat de arbeiders het allemaal in een container voor grof vuil zullen gooien.

Het gepolitoerde bureau van Frans-Joseph zit onder het vuil. De kast, met de monsters van de meelproducten die ze maakten, staat er nog. De affiches aan de muur, huisvrouwen die glunderend hun pakken meel vasthouden. De foto’s van de stichters van de fabriek, de weduwe Hubben-Houba zo breed als de molenaar zelf, aan haar rokken zoon Frits, die later de molen zou overnemen, en Tom, de zoon die naar Amerika zou verdwijnen. En de dochters die naar het klooster werden gestuurd, zodat ze geen beroep konden doen op de erfenis, en zo geruisloos uit de geschiedenis van de familie en van de fabriek werden weggesluisd.

De grote foto van Frits Hubben, de erfgenaam die het bedrijf liet verhuizen van de watermolen naar de fabriek, zittend aan een bureau. Naast hem de twee zonen, Frans-Hubert en Frans-Joseph, beiden al met een blik in de ogen die verraadt dat het hen allemaal geen bal interesseert.
De foto’s van de laatste generatie. De kinderen van Frans-Hubert en van Frans-Joseph, van wie niemand nog in het bedrijf heeft gewerkt, vrolijk lachend bijeen op een grasveld voor een villa.

Hij vindt het jammer dat hij niet eerder wist dat dit hier allemaal hing te vergaan. Hij had het graag willen behouden. De foto’s had hij kunnen bewaren in zijn archief, maar nu zijn ze waardeloos. Vocht heeft ze aangetast en beschimmeld. Waterkringen lopen door het rottende papier. Deze rotzooi kan hij niet meer mee naar huis nemen, ook al zou hij het willen. Lizet wil het zeker niet in huis hebben.

In een laatje vindt hij stukken van het reclamearchief, waar Frits Hubben zo zorgvuldig mee omging. Foto’s van vrouwen die verlekkerd een beslag kloppen, met in hun hand een pak patentmeel van Hubben. Foto’s van de verpakkingen van Luxe- en Excellentmeel, die zo mooi zijn dat ze van meel een kostbaarheid maken. Een foto van een dikke man, glunderend met een pak anti-obstipatiemeel vol zemelen in de hand, het wondermeel waarvan hardlijvige mensen een gezonde stoelgang zouden krijgen. Foto’s in een bakkerij waar de balen Hubben Broodmeel hoog liggen opgeslagen, en de bakker en zijn knechten trots de glimmende broden met suikerkorst tonen. Winkels in levensmiddelen en koloniale waren met Hubbens bijzondere soorten brood- en bakmeel in de rekken. Hubbens broodmeel in Indonesië en Zuid-Afrika. Alle foto’s stralen glorie uit en demonstreren daardoor des te meer hoe onnodig de ondergang van de fabriek was.

In zijn woede grijpt hij een pot met een verdroogde bloem van de vensterbank en gooit hem naar het familieportret van de lapzwansen. Het glas rinkelt. Dat doet goed.
Dan pas ziet hij de bouwlift, aan de achterkant van de silo. Die moeten ze vandaag hebben geplaatst. In een opwelling rijdt hij ernaartoe en rolt het platform op van de lift. Hij drukt op de knop. Het ding werkt. Ze hebben vergeten de stroom uit te schakelen.

Langzaam gaat hij naar boven. Het is opwindend. Hij voelt zich een klein kind dat iets doet wat verboden is.
De lift staat stil. Hij is op het hoogste punt aangekomen. Nu weer naar beneden? Of het dak op? De vloerplaat kan uitgeschoven worden. Door een druk op een knop schuift de plaat tot op het dak en vormt een brug.
Hij rijdt het dak op. Hij kijkt rond en voelt zich vrij.

Op nog geen halve meter van de rand stopt hij de rolstoel. Tussen zijn voeten doorkijkend, in de diepte, ziet hij het dorp zoals een vogel het ziet. De rookpluimen boven de rode, blauwe en grauwe daken. Hij kan ze tellen. Nu hij er bovenop kijkt, ontdekt hij de regelmaat in het patroon. Broederlijk liggen de huizen dicht naast elkaar. Hun goten omarmen elkaar en verbinden meer dan honderd huizen. Aan elkaar gesloten pannenrijen, rood, blauw en grijs, versterken het beeld van een gesloten dorp.

Vanaf hier is zijn huis het zevende dak van rechts. Als je het dorp vanaf het noorden binnenkomt, is zijn huis het derde aan de rechterkant. Kom je vanuit het zuiden, dan is het ‘t tweeëntwintigste huis aan de linkerkant. Kom je van de weg langs de Wijer, dan is het vanaf de brug het zevende huis rechts, aan de overkant van de straat.

Zou je met een bootje over de Wijer het dorp binnenvaren tegen de stroom op, dan is het het negende huis links. Tegenover zijn huis ligt slagerij Kemp. Kemp levert bierworst aan café De Zwaan, dat aan de andere kant van de brug ligt, en fijne vleeswaren als er in De Zwaan een uitvaartmaal wordt geserveerd of als er een trouwpartij is.

Maar er komt niemand over de Wijer het dorp binnenvaren. Nu, laat in de middag, is de beek een zilveren streep tussen de weilanden, die soms heel even zwart wordt als er een wolk voor de zon trekt. Vanmiddag zijn er weinig wolken. De zon schijnt zo overdadig dat de miljoenen margrieten langs het riviertje een breed wit tapijt vormen. De oevers zijn net zo wit als vroeger, toen de weide wit was omdat zijn moeder er de lakens op te bleken had gelegd en hij haar moest helpen om stenen op de hoeken te leggen, zodat de wind ze niet kon meenemen.
Van bovenaf lijkt het dorp veel lieflijker dan het in werkelijkheid is. Het centrum van vroeger is maar klein. De huizen staan er dicht op elkaar, alsof ze bang zijn voor de uitgestrektheid van de velden, weilanden en bossen die het dorp omringen, maar vooral voor de groeiende buitenwijken.

Hoewel het dorp diep beneden hem ligt, lijkt alles waar hij naar kijkt toch heel dichtbij. De wand van de silo versterkt de geluiden van beneden, zodat hij alles hoort wat zich daar afspeelt. Er zijn maar een paar mensen op straat, maar doordat hij van zo hoog op hen neerkijkt, hebben ze hun proporties verloren: het zijn gedrongen poppetjes.

Nu hoeft hij alleen maar de rem van zijn rolstoel te ontkoppelen, de wind zal hem wel een zetje willen geven. Voor het eerst sinds lang zullen ze naar hem kijken, allemaal, daar in het dorp. Hij glimlacht bij de gedachte, juist omdat hij dat niet nodig heeft. Hij hoeft geen aandacht, hij wil alleen maar dat ze weten wie hij is.
Hij hoort hoe de mensen met elkaar praten. De daken kunnen wel het zicht op de mensen verbergen, maar nemen niet hun stemmen weg. Hij meent zelfs het ademen van de baby in de tuin van zijn dochter te horen. En het snorren van de poes, die als een bal opgerold aan het voeteneind in de kinderwagen ligt. Het is gevaarlijk. De kat mag niet op de baby gaan liggen, dat zou de dood van het kind kunnen betekenen.

Eigenlijk zou hij moeten schreeuwen, om de kat te verjagen. Maar het beest zal hem niet horen. Van beneden kan niemand hem horen. Hij heeft eens een man vanaf het dak van de silo naar beneden zien schreeuwen, de mond wijdopen, de handen als een toeter aan de mond, maar niemand hoorde hem.
Het is zelfs nog maar de vraag of ze hem van de straat af kunnen zien. Als ze naar boven zouden kijken, kijken ze tegen de onderkant van de rolstoel aan, de voetenplankjes. Ze zullen denken dat het ding iets is van de aannemer die de silo verbouwt.

Opeens hoort hij zoemen achter zijn rug. De lift. De vloerplaat wordt naar binnen gehaald. Dan zakt de lift naar beneden. Heeft iemand hem ontdekt? Halen ze hem nu van het dak?
Hij hoort veel stemmen tegelijk en doet moeite om het koor van geluiden te ontrafelen. Een voor een weet hij de stemmen in zijn oren te ontcijferen. De stem van Kemp, de slager, de stemmen van de samenwonende nichtjes Tinie en Tinie van de Bercken, die beiden al bijna honderd moeten zijn en theedrinken op het terras achter het huis waarmee ze samen in de tijd wegzakken. De postbode, die `post!’ roept bij elke brievenbus waar hij wat in gooit, ook bij een huis dat al jaren leegstaat en waarin de post zich in de gang tot een berg heeft opgehoopt.

Hij hoort niet alleen de stemmen van degenen die beneden zijn, er klinken ook fragmenten door van stemmen van langgeleden. De bewoners van het kerkhof. Grootvader Bernhard. Juffrouw Fijnhout. Ze zijn rumoerig en praten door elkaar heen, net of ze hem allemaal tegelijk iets willen zeggen. Of ze hem roepen. Eén stem is goed te verstaan omdat hij zacht en rustig is. Grootvader Bernhard. Fragmenten van zinnen. `Zonnebloemen zijn … zomerbui … lusten jullie een … heb ik al klaar’, waaruit Mels begrijpt dat regen goed was voor zonnebloemen en dat grootvader glazen limonade voor hen op het aanrecht heeft staan. Hoewel grootvader Bernhard steeds stukken van zinnen inslikt, begrijpt hij hem toch goed als hij zegt: `Niet doen … is heilig … niet de hand aan …’ Even ziet hij hem zitten, in zijn leunstoel, boven op de betonnen grafsteen, maar dan lost zijn beeld op in het zonlicht om weer op te duiken bij het molenhuis, op zijn stukje land bij de Wijer.

Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (102)
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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

• fleursdumal.nl magazine

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


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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H. G. Wells: The Flying Man

The Flying Man

The Ethnologist looked at the bhimraj feather thoughtfully. “They seemed loth to part with it,” he said.

“It is sacred to the Chiefs,” said the lieutenant; “just as yellow silk, you know, is sacred to the Chinese Emperor.”

The Ethnologist did not answer. He hesitated. Then opening the topic abruptly, “What on earth is this cock-and-bull story they have of a flying man?”

The lieutenant smiled faintly. “What did they tell you?”

“I see,” said the Ethnologist, “that you know of your fame.”

The lieutenant rolled himself a cigarette. “I don’t mind hearing about it once more. How does it stand at present?”

“It’s so confoundedly childish,” said the Ethnologist, becoming irritated. “How did you play it off upon them?”

The lieutenant made no answer, but lounged back in his folding-chair, still smiling.

“Here am I, come four hundred miles out of my way to get what is left of the folk-lore of these people, before they are utterly demoralised by missionaries and the military, and all I find are a lot of impossible legends about a sandy-haired scrub of an infantry lieutenant. How he is invulnerable — how he can jump over elephants — how he can fly. That’s the toughest nut. One old gentleman described your wings, said they had black plumage and were not quite as long as a mule. Said he often saw you by moonlight hovering over the crests out towards the Shendu country. — Confound it, man!”

The lieutenant laughed cheerfully. “Go on,” he said. “Go on.”

The Ethnologist did. At last he wearied. “To trade so,” he said, “on these unsophisticated children of the mountains. How could you bring yourself to do it, man?”

“I’m sorry,” said the lieutenant, “but truly the thing was forced upon me. I can assure you I was driven to it. And at the time I had not the faintest idea of how the Chin imagination would take it. Or curiosity. I can only plead it was an indiscretion and not malice that made me replace the folk-lore by a new legend. But as you seem aggrieved, I will try and explain the business to you.

“It was in the time of the last Lushai expedition but one, and Walters thought these people you have been visiting were friendly. So, with an airy confidence in my capacity for taking care of myself, he sent me up the gorge — fourteen miles of it — with three of the Derbyshire men and half a dozen Sepoys, two mules, and his blessing, to see what popular feeling was like at that village you visited. A force of ten — not counting the mules — fourteen miles, and during a war! You saw the road?”

“Road!” said the Ethnologist.

“It’s better now than it was. When we went up we had to wade in the river for a mile where the valley narrows, with a smart stream frothing round our knees and the stones as slippery as ice. There it was I dropped my rifle. Afterwards the Sappers blasted the cliff with dynamite and made the convenient way you came by. Then below, where those very high cliffs come, we had to keep on dodging across the river — I should say we crossed it a dozen times in a couple of miles.

“We got in sight of the place early the next morning. You know how it lies, on a spur halfway between the big hills, and as we began to appreciate how wickedly quiet the village lay under the sunlight, we came to a stop to consider.

“At that they fired a lump of filed brass idol at us, just by way of a welcome. It came twanging down the slope to the right of us where the boulders are, missed my shoulder by an inch or so, and plugged the mule that carried all the provisions and utensils. I never heard such a death-rattle before or since. And at that we became aware of a number of gentlemen carrying matchlocks, and dressed in things like plaid dusters, dodging about along the neck between the village and the crest to the east.

“‘Right about face,’ I said. ‘Not too close together.’

“And with that encouragement my expedition of ten men came round and set off at a smart trot down the valley again hitherward. We did not wait to save anything our dead had carried, but we kept the second mule with us — he carried my tent and some other rubbish — out of a feeling of friendship.

“So ended the battle — ingloriously. Glancing back, I saw the valley dotted with the victors, shouting and firing at us. But no one was hit. These Chins and their guns are very little good except at a sitting shot. They will sit and finick over a boulder for hours taking aim, and when they fire running it is chiefly for stage effect. Hooker, one of the Derbyshire men, fancied himself rather with the rifle, and stopped behind for half a minute to try his luck as we turned the bend. But he got nothing.

“I’m not a Xenophon to spin much of a yarn about my retreating army. We had to pull the enemy up twice in the next two miles when he became a bit pressing, by exchanging shots with him, but it was a fairly monotonous affair — hard breathing chiefly — until we got near the place where the hills run in towards the river and pinch the valley into a gorge. And there we very luckily caught a glimpse of half a dozen round black heads coming slanting-ways over the hill to the left of us — the east that is — and almost parallel with us.

“At that I called a halt. ‘Look here,’ says I to Hooker and the other Englishmen; ‘what are we to do now?’ and I pointed to the heads.

“‘Headed orf, or I’m a nigger,’ said one of the men.

“‘We shall be,’ said another. ‘You know the Chin way, George?’

“‘They can pot every one of us at fifty yards,’ says Hooker, ‘in the place where the river is narrow. It’s just suicide to go on down.’

“I looked at the hill to the right of us. It grew steeper lower down the valley, but it still seemed climbable. And all the Chins we had seen hitherto had been on the other side of the stream.

“‘It’s that or stopping,’ says one of the Sepoys.

“So we started slanting up the hill. There was something faintly suggestive of a road running obliquely up the face of it, and that we followed. Some Chins presently came into view up the valley, and I heard some shots. Then I saw one of the Sepoys was sitting down about thirty yards below us. He had simply sat down without a word, apparently not wishing to give trouble. At that I called a halt again; I told Hooker to try another shot, and went back and found the man was hit in the leg. I took him up, carried him along to put him on the mule — already pretty well laden with the tent and other things which we had no time to take off. When I got up to the rest with him, Hooker had his empty Martini in his hand, and was grinning and pointing to a motionless black spot up the valley. All the rest of the Chins were behind boulders or back round the bend. ‘Five hundred yards,’ says Hooker, ‘if an inch. And I’ll swear I hit him in the head.’

“I told him to go and do it again, and with that we went on again.

“Now the hillside kept getting steeper as we pushed on, and the road we were following more and more of a shelf. At last it was mere cliff above and below us. ‘It’s the best road I have seen yet in Chin Lushai land,’ said I to encourage the men, though I had a fear of what was coming.

“And in a few minutes the way bent round a corner of the cliff. Then, finis! the ledge came to an end.

“As soon as he grasped the position one of the Derbyshire men fell a-swearing at the trap we had fallen into. The Sepoys halted quietly. Hooker grunted and reloaded, and went back to the bend.

“Then two of the Sepoy chaps helped their comrade down and began to unload the mule.

“Now, when I came to look about me, I began to think we had not been so very unfortunate after all. We were on a shelf perhaps ten yards across it at widest. Above it the cliff projected so that we could not be shot down upon, and below was an almost sheer precipice of perhaps two or three hundred feet. Lying down we were invisible to anyone across the ravine. The only approach was along the ledge, and on that one man was as good as a host. We were in a natural stronghold, with only one disadvantage, our sole provision against hunger and thirst was one live mule. Still we were at most eight or nine miles from the main expedition, and no doubt, after a day or so, they would send up after us if we did not return.

“After a day or so . . . ”

The lieutenant paused. “Ever been thirsty, Graham?”

“Not that kind,” said the Ethnologist.

“H’m. We had the whole of that day, the night, and the next day of it, and only a trifle of dew we wrung out of our clothes and the tent. And below us was the river going giggle, giggle, round a rock in mid stream. I never knew such a barrenness of incident, or such a quantity of sensation. The sun might have had Joshua’s command still upon it for all the motion one could see; and it blazed like a near furnace. Towards the evening of the first day one of the Derbyshire men said something — nobody heard what — and went off round the bend of the cliff. We heard shots, and when Hooker looked round the corner he was gone. And in the morning the Sepoy whose leg was shot was in delirium, and jumped or fell over the cliff. Then we took the mule and shot it, and that must needs go over the cliff too in its last struggles, leaving eight of us.

“We could see the body of the Sepoy down below, with the head in the water. He was lying face downwards, and so far as I could make out was scarcely smashed at all. Badly as the Chins might covet his head, they had the sense to leave it alone until the darkness came.

“At first we talked of all the chances there were of the main body hearing the firing, and reckoned whether they would begin to miss us, and all that kind of thing, but we dried up as the evening came on. The Sepoys played games with bits of stone among themselves, and afterwards told stories. The night was rather chilly. The second day nobody spoke. Our lips were black and our throats afire, and we lay about on the ledge and glared at one another. Perhaps it’s as well we kept our thoughts to ourselves. One of the British soldiers began writing some blasphemous rot on the rock with a bit of pipeclay, about his last dying will, until I stopped it. As I looked over the edge down into the valley and saw the river rippling I was nearly tempted to go after the Sepoy. It seemed a pleasant and desirable thing to go rushing down through the air with something to drink — or no more thirst at any rate — at the bottom. I remembered in time, though, that I was the officer in command, and my duty to set a good example, and that kept me from any such foolishness.

“Yet, thinking of that, put an idea into my head. I got up and looked at the tent and tent ropes, and wondered why I had not thought of it before. Then I came and peered over the cliff again. This time the height seemed greater and the pose of the Sepoy rather more painful. But it was that or nothing. And to cut it short, I parachuted.

“I got a big circle of canvas out of the tent, about three times the size of that table-cover, and plugged the hole in the centre, and I tied eight ropes round it to meet in the middle and make a parachute. The other chaps lay about and watched me as though they thought it was a new kind of delirium. Then I explained my notion to the two British soldiers and how I meant to do it, and as soon as the short dusk had darkened into night, I risked it. They held the thing high up, and I took a run the whole length of the ledge. The thing filled with air like a sail, but at the edge I will confess I funked and pulled up.

“As soon as I stopped I was ashamed of myself — as well I might be in front of privates — and went back and started again. Off I jumped this time — with a kind of sob, I remember — clean into the air, with the big white sail bellying out above me.

“I must have thought at a frightful pace. It seemed a long time before I was sure that the thing meant to keep steady. At first it heeled sideways. Then I noticed the face of the rock which seemed to be streaming up past me, and me motionless. Then I looked down and saw in the darkness the river and the dead Sepoy rushing up towards me. But in the indistinct light I also saw three Chins, seemingly aghast at the sight of me, and that the Sepoy was decapitated. At that I wanted to go back again.

“Then my boot was in the mouth of one, and in a moment he and I were in a heap with the canvas fluttering down on the top of us. I fancy I dashed out his brains with my foot. I expected nothing more than to be brained myself by the other two, but the poor heathen had never heard of Baldwin, and incontinently bolted.

“I struggled out of the tangle of dead Chin and canvas, and looked round. About ten paces off lay the head of the Sepoy staring in the moonlight. Then I saw the water and went and drank. There wasn’t a sound in the world but the footsteps of the departing Chins, a faint shout from above, and the gluck of the water. So soon as I had drunk my full I started off down the river.

“That about ends the explanation of the flying man story. I never met a soul the whole eight miles of the way. I got to Walters’ camp by ten o’clock, and a born idiot of a sentinel had the cheek to fire at me as I came trotting out of the darkness. So soon as I had hammered my story into Winter’s thick skull, about fifty men started up the valley to clear the Chins out and get our men down. But for my own part I had too good a thirst to provoke it by going with them.

“You have heard what kind of a yarn the Chins made of it. Wings as long as a mule, eh? — And black feathers! The gay lieutenant bird! Well, well.”

The lieutenant meditated cheerfully for a moment. Then he added, “You would scarcely credit it, but when they got to the ridge at last, they found two more of the Sepoys had jumped over.”

“The rest were all right?” asked the Ethnologist.

“Yes,” said the lieutenant; “the rest were all right, barring a certain thirst, you know.”

And at the memory he helped himself to soda and whisky again.

Herbert George Wells
(1866-1946)
The Stolen Bacillus and other incidents
short stories

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Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (101). Een roman als feuilleton

Mels is ziek van eenzaamheid. Tijger en Thija hebben diepe gaten in zijn hoofd achtergelaten. En grootvader Bernhard kan hem niet troosten, al vertelt hij nog zulke mooie verhalen. Zijn hoofd wil geen verhalen meer horen. Zelfs zijn moeder kan hem niet troosten, terwijl ze heel goed begrijpt wat er in hem omgaat.

Maar zijn vader vindt hem een mietje omdat hij zo lang verdriet heeft over een meisje.
`Het land zit vol meisjes’, zegt zijn vader. `En stuk voor stuk zijn ze mooier dan dat spichtige ding. Je wordt nog honderd keer verliefd.’ Hij kan zijn vader wel vermoorden.
Lusteloos zit hij in de boot en kijkt in het dode, zwarte water van de Wijer. Hij snapt niet dat ze hier vroeger zulke vette, blinkende vissen hebben gevangen. Zilveren forellen met roze buiken. Het is nu al meer dan een week geleden dat Thija vertrokken is en nog steeds heeft ze geen brief gestuurd.

Met moeite roeit hij naar de brug, maar de boot is veel zwaarder dan vroeger en loopt steeds aan de grond. Elke keer als hij, tot aan de knieën in het water, de boot vlot moet duwen, zou hij het liefst gillend naar het andere eind van de wereld rennen. Wat heb je aan een boot als je er helemaal alleen in zit en niet weet waar je naartoe wilt varen?

Eindelijk is hij bij de brug. Lizet van het café hangt over de reling. Hij ziet haar pas als hij de boot vastlegt en op de wal wil springen.
`Wíj hebben een echte boot’, zegt Lizet.
`Krijg de pest met je boot’, wil hij roepen, maar hij doet het niet.
`Mijn vader heeft een motorboot gekocht. Zondag gaan we varen. Je mag mee als je wilt.’
`Als ik niks te doen heb’, zegt Mels, maar hij weet nu al dat hij niet mee wil.
`Er is nooit wat te doen op zondag’, zegt Lizet.

Mels weet dat ze gelijk heeft. Dat heeft hij afgelopen zondag voor het eerst gemerkt. Toen was Thija pas één dag weg. Toen Tijger er nog was, gingen ze met z’n drieën roeien, schaatsen, of eekhoorns vangen. Op zondagen reisden ze naar China op de woorden van Thija. De zondagen waren veel te kort. Maar aan de eerste zondag waarop hij alleen was, kwam geen einde.
Hij wordt al ziek als hij denkt aan de komende zondag.

`Verdomme!’ Hij schreeuwt het uit.
`Praat je vaak in jezelf?’ vraagt Lizet.
`Hoezo?’
`Je vloekt tegen jezelf.’
`Die rotboot. Het is meer duwen dan varen.’
`Ga toch mee, zondag. Dan zie je pas een echte boot. Met een kajuit.’
`Goed, ik ga mee.’ Hij zegt het omdat hij bang is voor de komende zondag. Hij kan niet tegen een zwarte zondag, waarop alle bomen zwart zijn en het riet zwart is en hij niet eens bij zijn grootvader Bernhard kan zijn omdat alles in zijn huis zwart, morsdood en leeg is.

`We vertrekken om acht uur, met de auto.’
`Niet met de boot?’
`Je denkt toch niet dat we met een motorboot op de Wijer gaan varen. Zo’n roestbeek. We hebben de boot op de Maas liggen.’
Mels heeft al spijt van zijn belofte.

Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (101)
wordt vervolgd

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Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (100). Een roman als feuilleton

Wel honderd keer is hij naar Rotterdam gereisd, op zoek naar Thija. Een paar keer per jaar. Hij heeft zich nooit los kunnen maken van de Wijer en de boottochtjes met Tijger en Thija. Die herinneringen zijn z’n intiemste bezit. Als een schatbewaarder is hij bij de Wijer blijven wonen.

In Rotterdam heeft hij geen spoor van haar gevonden. Zijn hele leven is hij op zoek geweest naar een schim. Natuurlijk was ze anders geworden. Natuurlijk was ze net zo oud als hij en moest hij haar niet zoeken tussen de kinderen die op straat speelden, maar tussen de vrouwen in de winkels, in de trams, in de restaurants, in de opiumkitten. Bij alle vrouwen keek hij naar de knieën, op zoek naar het roze mondje op de rechterknie, maar hij vond het nooit terug. Vaak had hij er zich belachelijk door gemaakt.

En haar vader? Hij had er vaak over gesproken met de heer Wong Lun Hing, die een hotelletje had waar hij altijd had overnacht. De heer Wong had overal navraag gedaan in de Chinese gemeenschap, maar geen spoor gevonden van een Lacoste die getrouwd was met een Chinese. De enige Lacoste die ze hadden kunnen ontdekken was een Fransman geweest, die een theeplantage had gehad in China en die, al wat ouder, toen hij zijn plantage aan de communisten had verloren, in Rotterdam was gaan wonen en een handel in thee had opgezet. Een thee-imperium dat handelde over de hele wereld. Hij woonde in Rotterdam en had een zoon. Navraag bij hem had niets opgeleverd.

Tot Wong Lun Hing op zekere dag had geopperd dat die heren van de thee er in hun goede tijden in China meestal bijzitten op na hielden. Buitenvrouwen. Had Lacoste zo’n buitenvrouw laten overkomen en haar ver weg van Rotterdam in een huis gezet waar hij haar af en toe bezocht?

Op eigen houtje was Mels achter Lacoste aangegaan, maar op het adres dat Wong Lun Hing had achterhaald, woonde iemand anders, iemand die alleen maar wist dat hij het huis had gekocht van een makelaar, die het te koop had aangeboden omdat de vorige eigenaar was gestorven, waarna zijn weduwe met onbekende bestemming was vertrokken.

Een dood spoor, maar wel een spoor dat veel onrust in hem had gewekt.
In een paar kranten had hij een oproep geplaatst aan Thija Lacoste, ondertekend met Mels Gommans. Nooit had hij er iets op gehoord.
Door al zijn zoektochten had hij de stad Rotterdam leren kennen. De havens, die jaar na jaar veranderden. De straten die nooit hetzelfde waren. De mensen van wie hij zich nooit een gezicht herinnerde, maar wel het rumoer dat ze maakten. De hoerenbuurt. Chinese meisjes bij de vleet. Matrozenhoeren die spaarden voor een eigen zaak, een eigen bordeel.

Telkens was hij teleurgesteld teruggekomen uit Rotterdam. Thuis was zijn eerste gang steeds naar de Wijer, waar de boot lag te verrotten in het riet. Na jaren restte er niet meer van dan het rondhout van de boeg. Hij nam het mee naar huis en bewaarde het op zolder. De laatste tastbare herinnering aan Tijger en Thija.
Sinds hij in de rolstoel zit, is hij niet meer in Rotterdam geweest.

Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (100)
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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.
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Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (099). Een roman als feuilleton

Thija komt buiten met haar reistas. Ze heeft een mantelpakje aan, lichtgrijs, rood afgebiesd. Ze ziet eruit als een dochter van een deftige familie, die naar kostschool vertrekt. Ze heeft een strik in het haar, net als op zondag wanneer ze naar de kerk gaat.

Ze zet de reistas op de grond en gaat erop zitten. Haar onmogelijk lange rok hangt op het trottoir, zodat ze hem wat op moet trekken.
Mels gaat op de stoep zitten, aan de andere kant van de straat, want hij is ontzettend boos.
Thija vijlt haar nagels.

`Hou op met dat gedoe’, zegt hij boos.
`Ik schrijf je toch’, zegt Thija. `Ik vergeet je echt niet.’
`Weet je nu waar je gaat wonen?’
`Rotterdam, dat zei ik toch. Ik schrijf je volgende week al. Elke week schrijf ik.’
Er rijdt een auto door de straat, langzaam. Passeert hen. Even is ze uit zijn ogen weg. Dat even doet al pijn.
`Ik heb een cadeau voor je.’
`Wat is het?’ vraagt hij.
`Kom het maar halen.’
`Je moet het me brengen.’

Blijkbaar hoort ze aan zijn toon dat hij niet toe zal geven, zeker niet nu hij zo geweldig boos is over het afscheid. Ze staat op en steekt de straat over. De rok hangt bijna op haar schoenen. De neuzen glimmen.
Uit haar reistas pakt ze een doosje, met een lint eromheen.
`Je mag het pas uitpakken als ik weg ben.’
`Goed.’
Hij neemt het pakje aan en steekt het in zijn zak.

Ze komt naast hem zitten. Even is het alsof er niets aan de hand is, alsof ze een spelletje gaan doen dat de hele dag zal duren. Zoals ze het zo vaak gedaan hebben. Raden waar je naar kijkt. De stemmen van voorbijgangers nadoen. Of gewoon verhalen vertellen.
Haar moeder komt buiten en zet een paar dozen met huisraad op de stoep.
`Nemen jullie niet alles mee?’
`De koffers worden later opgehaald. Ze zijn nooit uitgepakt. Eigenlijk hebben we er niets van nodig. Voorlopig gaan we in een hotel wonen, tot we een huis hebben gevonden.’
Ze slaat een arm om hem heen. Hij voelt hoe warm haar arm is, ook al is die nog zo dun. Haar huid is van zijde.
`Ik wil liever blijven’, zegt ze. `Ik vind het net zo erg als jij. Maar het kan niet. Als je ouders verhuizen, moet je mee.’

Een auto rijdt voor en stopt voor haar deur. Thija’s vader stapt uit. Mels heeft hem nog nooit gezien. Hij schrikt een beetje van hem. Het is een oudere, forse en grijze man. Niet veel jonger dan zijn grootvader. Niet de vader die hij had verwacht. De man groet hem niet, hij kijkt gewoon over hem heen. Het is een man die het druk heeft, dat kun je zo aan hem zien. Daarom neemt hij hen nu mee naar Rotterdam, om hen vaker te zien. Mels snapt het, maar het is niet eerlijk.
Haar vader laadt de dozen in de achterbak en klopt het stof van zijn handen.
Mels voelt de tranen langs zijn wangen lopen.

`Niet doen’, zegt ze. `Ik schrijf je toch. Ik schrijf je alles wat ik nog over China weet.’
`Je gaat naar Rotterdam!’
`Kom op, we hebben weinig tijd’, zegt haar moeder. `Je moet nu afscheid nemen.’ Ze strijkt Mels over het haar en loopt naar de auto.
`Nou, ik moet gaan.’ Thija staat op en geeft hem een kus.
Door zijn tranen heen ziet Mels haar in de auto stappen. Hij ziet hoe die stomme rok van haar even blijft haken. Ze valt bijna de auto in. Als hij een pistool had zou hij haar vader doodschieten. Maar misschien ook niet. Hij weet het niet. Hij is verlamd. Hij zou niet eens kunnen schieten.

De auto rijdt de straat uit. Ze zwaait. Hij wil terugzwaaien, maar het gaat niet. Hij is versteend. Het liefst was hij dood.
Pas als de auto al een uur weg is, of misschien wel twee uur, gaat hij naar huis.
Op zijn kamer pakt hij het cadeautje uit. Het is papier over papier. Laag na laag. Het pakje wordt steeds kleiner. Ten slotte blijft er een klein velletje van een kladblok over.

`Misschien gaan we zo ver weg dat ik je nooit meer zal zien’, leest hij. `We blijven maar even in Rotterdam. Een paar dagen, of een paar weken. Dan vertrekken we naar China, waar mijn vader op een theeplantage gaat werken. Ik weet niet eens in welk China. Hij zegt er niets over tegen mij, maar ik denk dat hij Formosa bedoelt. Meer weet ik er ook niet van. Misschien kom ik later naar Nederland terug, om te studeren. Ik moest dit opschrijven, want ik kon het je niet vertellen omdat ik zelf niet wil dat het gebeurt. Ik wil niet zonder jou naar China. Maar ook al zou ik je nooit meer zien, je moet weten dat ik altijd net zo veel van jou zal houden als van Tijger. Thija.’

Liggend op bed perst hij zijn hoofd zo vast in het kussen dat alles zwart wordt. Hij wil net zo dood zijn als Tijger.

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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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Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (098). Een roman als feuilleton

Mels blijft even staan op de brug en kijkt uit over de Wijer. Was de beek vroeger blauwer?

Is het echt waar dat ze vroeger tot op de bodem konden kijken omdat het water zo helder was als kristal, of herinnert hij zich dat zo omdat hij alles van vroeger idealiseert? Als ze in hun bootje zaten, voeren ze op een kleine rivier van stromend glas.

Het blauw dat hij in zijn geheugen heeft, was onzegbaar blauw. Het diepste blauw.

Hij sluit zijn ogen om zich dat blauw van de Wijer voor de geest te halen. De blauwe zomerkleur van het stromende water. Het blauw van de libellen. Het geel van de lisdodden. De spekwitte huid van de waterlelies.

Zonder nog op te kijken draait hij zijn rolstoel en rijdt naar huis.

Ton van Reen: Het diepste blauw (098)
wordt vervolgd

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Clemens J. Setz: Der Trost runder Dinge (Erzählungen)

Ein elsässischer Soldat im Ersten Weltkrieg entdeckt am Nachthimmel das Sternbild des Großen Burschen, das so schauderhaft ist, dass er niemandem davon erzählen kann.

Ein junger Mann, der sich in die blinde Anja verliebt hat, muss feststellen, dass ihr Apartment von oben bis unten mit Beschimpfungen bekritzelt ist. Marcel, sechzehn Jahre alt, hinterlässt auf der Toilettenwand eines Erotiklokals seine Handynummer und den Namen Suzy.

Familie Scheuch bekommt eines Tages Besuch von einem Herrn Ulrichsdorfer, der vorgibt, in ihrem Haus aufgewachsen zu sein, und einen Elektroschocker unter seinem geliehenen Anzugjackett verbirgt.

Das ganz und gar Unerwartete bricht in das Leben von Clemens J. Setz’ Figuren ein. Ihr Schöpfer erzählt davon einfühlsam, fast zärtlich. Durch Falltüren gestattet er uns Blicke auf rätselhafte Erscheinungen und in geheimnisvolle Abgründe des Alltags, man stößt auf Wiedergänger und auf Sätze, die einen mit der Zunge schnalzen lassen.

Der Trost runder Dinge ist ein Buch voller Irrlichter und doppelter Böden – radikal erzählt und aufregend bis ins Detail.

Clemens J. Setz wurde 1982 in Graz geboren, wo er Mathematik sowie Germanistik studierte und heute als Übersetzer und freier Schriftsteller lebt. 2011 wurde er für seinen Erzählband Die Liebe zur Zeit des Mahlstädter Kindes mit dem Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse ausgezeichnet. Sein Roman Indigo stand auf der Shortlist des Deutschen Buchpreises 2012 und wurde mit dem Literaturpreis des Kulturkreises der deutschen Wirtschaft 2013 ausgezeichnet. 2014 erschien sein erster Gedichtband Die Vogelstraußtrompete. Für seinen Roman Die Stunde zwischen Frau und Gitarre erhielt Setz den Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis 2015.

Clemens J. Setz
Der Trost runder Dinge
Erzählungen
Erschienen: 11.02.2019
Gebunden
320 Seiten
ISBN: 978-3-518-42852-8
Suhrkamp Verlag AG
Mit Abbildungen
€ 24,00

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Der Trost runder Dinge
Erzählungen
Clemens J. Setz

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