Sivut kuvina

brass. With both he had shriven many picnics on the shoulders of our parson

a dying immigrant.

Gallons of coffee we cooked during the winter, when young people gathered around our kitchen stove, everybody taking turns at chopping tarred paving blocks on a padded drafting board. Eight wedlocks and lasting oneswe promoted among mail carriers, milkmen, butchers' and grocers' clerks, draftsmen, and factory hands, and their respective sweethearts, that first winter.

A lake trip to Ludington stands out as the rarest of honeymoon trips. We were sent as delegates to a church convention there, with steamer fares paid, and board and room for four days free of charge. That week I ate literally barrels of Michigan peaches, which fruit farmers dumped in feeding troughs at the church. The fun we had, Margaret and I, diving for dimes in cold Lake Michigan, while a score of pastors, and a hundred delegates, cheered! And she a month with child!

On our return a storm blew up. At midnight a small gale tossed the steamer in the air like a basket ball. Delegates leaped out of their berths and gathered in the crowded lounging room, singing, 'Led by Jesus, we are traveling home!' A seasick pastor asked me how far we were from land. Quick as a flash Margaret responded: 'I know that joke. Fifty fathoms.' She was not even seasick in that gale, and after all those peaches. My own stomach was weak the first time in my life.

Yes, Chicago was a city of 'eats.' For three years every blessed working day I had starved.


She wanted a child, though she was a child herself, riding horseback at

and bartering scandalous secrets with his daughters. During the months that followed our honeymoon trip I marveled at her spirit.

I was her only nurse. Daily the pastor's wife, God bless her, dropped in to bathe the baby. It was a cold spring. I tucked the little fellow into a laundry basket next to the kitchen stove, and the night long kept a fire that singed the basket. Once I touched his hand to feel how warm it was. He clasped my finger. What a grip! And he would not let go. I feared to pry open his fist -I might break his fingers. I carried basket and all to Margaret, awaking her from her first mother slumber. She freed my finger- and asked for her breakfast.

Two weeks, and she was at the 'L' station to meet me! The boy was riding on her right hip. Thus she always carried him, holding on to him with one arm and swinging the other. People used to stop on the street to look, when she sped by, her small energetic feet stepping with a style entirely her own, and the baby rocking on her limber hip, his back to her. Such happy chums we were, the three of us!

He was nine months old and teething when he bit his mother's breast. How that human animal raged when we weaned him! We did not have sense enough to wean him gradually. He always grunted before mealtime. 'H-r-r-u-h! H-r-r-u-h!' he said. In vain we fed him zwieback and milk, potatoes and gravy, bread and sugar and water. 'H-r-r-u-h! H-r-r-u-h!' he said for hours, and looked at us as if we had betrayed him. Our growth had just begun. 'H-r-r-u-h! H-r-r-u-h!'

('Doomsday' will be the title of the February installment)



AT a certain level of the airshaft two songs, issuing from opposite windows, met, mingled minor refrains, and rose together toward Negro Harlem's black sky; two futile prayers which spent themselves like mist ere they reached the roof. The one was a prayer for the love of man, the other a prayer for the love of God: 'blues,' and a spiritual.

The blues song would have drowned the spiritual had it not labored against a closed window. No such barrier stayed the spiritual. To be sure the singer was old, as her present posture emphasized: shoulders bent round, dim eyes and unsteady hands searching the pages of the Bible on her lap. But her voice was well sustained, and her song was none the less clear because it accompanied her endless thumbing of thin leaves.

Like her eyes and her fingers, her hymn sought comfort, sought while it almost despaired:

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out three of your five rooms to lodgers, your resources are still unequal to your rent, you make up the deficit by means of a rent party. You provide music, your friends provide advertisement, and your guests, by paying admission, provide what your resources lack.

Such a party Mammy now witnessed. Through the window opposite her own she commanded most of one room and a corner of another in the adjacent flat. The window was indeed a screen upon which flashed a motion picture oddly alive and colorful. Boys whose loose trousers were too long for their legs and girls whose tight skirts were too short for theirs hugged each other close, keeping time to the rhythm of hoarsely phonographed blues.

Bright enough dresses, certainly: scarlet and green and glowing purple, rendering dark complexions darker, lending life to pale ones; dresses that, having lost half their volume, put all their color into the rest. Bright enough faces, too: boys wagging their heads and grinning, girls gayly laughing at their jokes.

But such a dance! The camel walk. Everybody 'cameling.' Had God wanted man to move like a camel He'd have put a hump in his back. Yet was there any sign of what God wanted in that scene across the shaft? Skins that He had made black bleached brown, brown ones bleached cream-color; hair that He had made long and kinky bobbed short and ironed dead straight.

Young girls' arms about boys' shoulders, their own waists tightly clasped; bodies warmly fused, bending to the sensual waves of the 'camel.' Where was God in that?

Mammy watched as she had often watched before, with a dull wonder that such colossal wickedness should be allowed to prevail. The song that had mingled with hers now filtered through the closed window opposite and came alone to her ears, bringing no reassurance. For all that it plumbed the nadir of woe, was it not a song of sin?

'Lawdy, Lawdy, I can't help but cry an' moan. Lawdy, Lawdy, I can't help but cry an' moan. My man done gone and lef' megone an' lef'

me all alone.'

One couple swung into view which especially caught Mammy's attention, so completely had it abandoned itself to the dance. Mammy saw with a little quiver of alarm that the boy was her grandson, Sam. Wesley, her other grandson, was also somewhere in that company, and it was Wesley's girl with whom Sam was dancing. If Wesley ever saw Sam dancing like that with Ellie

In the visible corner of the far room Mammy recognized Wesley's back. Wesley's shoulders, far less mobile than Sam's, were gradually turning as he faced about in the slow measure of the dance. In but a few seconds he would be looking at his cousin through the intervening doorway, would see Sam and Ellie's exaggerated movements, despite the people between. An old and mounting hostility between them would swiftly surge and flare -they would quarrel, perhaps they would fight. Mammy sat up, leaned tensely forward, whispered, 'Lawd, have mercy!'

Unlike her earlier prayer, this one was, apparently heard, for at that moment the blues halted and the

dancing abruptly ceased. The change of partners, however, only momentarily relieved Mammy's qualms. Over her settled a deadly certainty that the clash had been merely postponed. There would be many more dances, one of which would rejoin Ellie and Sam as partners. The later that happened, the higher would everyone's spirits be, the wilder the dancing, and so the quicker and hotter Wesley's resentment. As the new dance began, Mammy grew rapidly surer of what she foresaw. Soon her helplessness and the increasing effort to suppress her excitement welled almost beyond bearing. Her misgiving urged her to do something to prevent this long-deferred crisis; but somehow she could only sit still and look on and pray that this time for once her foresight would prove wrong.

Her apprehension became black emptiness into which memories, rocketwise, soared and burst: rumor of opportunity in the cities of the North

certainty of ruin should rumor prove false; hope of young and old men departing, of women and children gone after them despair of tranquil homes upheaved, of families ruthlessly scattered; the joy she herself had felt when these two grandsons had finally sent for her the sorrow of being the last to leave the lopsided old Virginia home.

They were equally dear to Mammy, these two boys, and, until they had come to New York, had been equally fond of each other. They had grown up together, attended the four-monthsa-year school together, played hooky, fished, hunted rabbits, and got baptized together; and finally, caught in the epidemic fever of migration that swept the dark-skinned South, they had left home together to find their fortunes in Harlem.

As life had thus brought some to

seek wealth, so death, back home, brought others to seek peace; but Mammy had been beckoned toward neither goal, had simply been left quite alone. And rather because there was nothing else to do than because they wanted or needed her, the cousins, Wesley and Sam, had offered to let her housekeep for them in a small flat in the great city.

Scarcely had she got over the shock of underground railroads, of trains overhead, of mountainous buildings where people lived like chickens, before she perceived that the city had done something to Wesley and Sam. They had lost their comradeship, they just managed to tolerate each other, and they compensated for this mere toleration by goading each other persistently with strange, new, malicious jibes:

'Down-home boy lak you ain' got no business in no city nohow.'

'Don' ketch me th'owin' my money 'way on no numbers, though, uh no baseball pool.'

'Co'se not. You don' make no money. How you go'n' th'ow any 'way?'

Mammy soon saw what new feature of their life lay at the bottom of this. To Sam, whose hands learned quickly, the city had been kind. Starting as handy man in a garage, he had soon become a mechanic's helper, and now at last was a mechanic with wages of sixty dollars a week. Wesley, always more awkward, had found the city indifferent, and so perforce had become his own boss, washing windows at fifteen cents each. So Harlem, where there was insistent competition to test and reward special skill, and where there was so much more for men to quarrel about and resent, had quickly estranged these two unguarded lads simply by paying the one twice as much as the other; had furnished them thus with taunts that had not been

possible back home, and now kept them constantly wounding each other with the heedless cruelty of children wounds that would one day translate themselves from the spirit into the flesh.

'Ellie? Ellie yo' gal? Whut business you got wid a gal? You could n' buy a gal coffee 'n' a san'wich.'

'Reckon you could buy huh champagne an' lobster.'

An' I don' mean maybe.' 'Better put some dat accident 'nsurance den.'

'What you talkin' 'bout?'



"Cause 'f I ketch you messin' roun' Ellie I'm sho' go'n' turn yo' damper down. An' I don' mean maybe.'

'Shuh! Listen t' dis boogy. Man, my slowes' move's too fas' f' you.' 'Not yo' slowes' move roun' Ellie ain't.'

'One my thoughts 'd bust yo' haid wide open.'

"Yeah? Well it don' do nuthin' to yo' haid but swell it.'

Suddenly these remembered mockings leaped out of past into present. As one rudely waked starts up, so Mammy's fear now started out of the stupor of memory. In the room across the airshaft Sam and Wesley were facing each other, the fire of their hostility having driven the onlookers back into an expectant surrounding circle. Mammy saw the boys' lips. move, and from their malignant countenances and the dismay on the faces about them she knew that again bitter taunts were being exchanged, this time in company in company where words quickly kindled action. Hitherto her own presence had always restrained them. Now the only spectators were hoodlums off the street, before whom the boys might well wish to show off, at the same time squaring the urgent account of a hundred bygone insults. The antagonists stood toe to toe,

Sam the more lithe, slightly taller, Wesley broader and heavier. Their lips no longer moved, and Mammy recognized that silent, critical moment in an encounter when the mere forward swaying of a body is enough to free madness.

She jumped up, tried to cry out a warning, achieved but a groan: 'Good Lawd!' Her impotence became frenzy; she cast about wildly for some means of diverting the inevitable. A soft golden glint caught and held her eyes

the gilt edge of the Bible still in her hand, touched to a glow by light from across the way.

The Bible was suddenly divine revelation, an answer. She hesitated only long enough to note Sam's hand creeping toward his coat pocket. 'God fo'give me,' she breathed; then drew back an arm grown opportunely strong, and hurled the Word with all her might through the pane of the opposite window.

At the crash and jingle of glass she shrank back into the shadow of her own room; yet not so far back as to obscure the picture of her two grandsons, staring limply agape, now at each other, now at the Book at their feet.


Mammy asked Ellie point-blank:'Which a one my boys you lak sho' nuff?'

And Ellie, a girl of the city, replied with a laugh and a toss of her bob:

'Both of 'em. Why not?'

They sat in the kitchen of Mammy's three-room flat, of which the parlor served as the boys' bedroom and the third room on the airshaft as Mammy's own. Ellie and a chum occupied a similar apartment, the adjacent one, where the rent party had been given; and Ellie occasionally 'ran in,' ostensibly anxious to inquire after Mammy,

actually hoping to see one of the boys and possibly make a date.

Mammy saw through these visits, of course, and had thought that Ellie's interest was in Wesley. But Ellie's behavior with Sam at the party tinctured this conclusion with doubt. No girl, thought Mammy, who liked one man would behave like that with another—not with both present.

Hence, with characteristic directness, Mammy instituted investigation; and Ellie's side-stepping answer but whetted a suspicion already keen. "You lak bofe of 'm d' same?' 'I'll say I do.' 'Jes' d' same?'

'Nothin' different.'

'Hmph. Dat mean you don' really lak neither one of 'm, den.'

'Oh, yes, I do. Pretty skee sheiks for country jakes.'

'Whut you lak 'bout 'm?'

'Well, different things. Sam's crazy and knows how to show a girl a good time, see? Wesley ain't so crazy, but he tries hard and you can depend on him. You wonder about Sam, you know about Wesley. Wesley's betterlookin', too.'

'S'posin' you had to choose between 'm. Which a one you take?'

'Oh, Sam. Sam makes twice as much as Wesley.'

The casualness of that answer made Mammy wince. To accustom yourself to some things is easy to subways and 'L's,' to army-worm traffic, to hard grassless pavements, hot treeless sidewalks, cold distant starless skies; even to a fifth-story roost on the airshaft of a seven-story hencoop. But to accustom yourself to the philosophy of the metropolis, to its ruthless opportunism that is hard.

'S'posin',' Mammy experimented, 'dey bofe made zackly d' same? Which a one you take den?'

The questioning began to irritate

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