[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search

  --  LOVE TOOK UP THE HARP OF LIFE.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XI.
  --  THE FAIR.--

Hopkins, Pauline E.
Contending Forces



" Boisterous jest and humor unrefined,
That leave, though rough, no painful sting behind;
Warm social joys surround the Negro's cot.
No ennui clouds, no coming cares annoy,
Nor wants nor sorrows check the Negro's joy."

The days went on apace at No. 500 D Street, but a spirit of restlessness seemed to pervade the atmosphere; expectancy was on tiptoe. Everyone was absorbed in preparations for the fair. Such a time had not been known for years among the colored people. Every available individual was pressed into the service.

Naturally many factions had arisen, and a fierce but friendly rivalry divided the different societies within the church. Some of these were none too cordial to the outsiders who had joined them, and whom they dubbed in derision "the colored 400."

"I'd jes' like to know," said Sister Mary Jane Robinson, with a hand on each hip, "I'd jes' like to know who asked the '400' fer eny o' thar help? I've been a member hyar fer more'n thurty years, and this chuch has lived without'em." This was one morning directly after

service, while the good sisters were waiting for class to begin. As the fair was the all-absorbing topic at present, conversation naturally ended in going over all the interesting details connected with it.

"Lor', Sis' Robberson, what mortal diffurunce does it make as long as the chuch gits the money? The mo' helpers we has the easier it makes it fer we-uns," replied Sister Scott, as she endeavored to pour oil on the troubled waters. Sister Robinson was a veritable firebrand; she spoke first and thought afterwards.

"Thar's that Mrs. Willis with her 'High Chuch' notions," continued Sister Robinson. "Sister Smith has made her presidunt of the fine arts and fancy work department. Warn't eny o' the members o' this chuch good enough, an' they didn't know enough, did they, to 'tend to that business! Thar's that pianner an' that silver set an' that ar gold watch an' chain that's goin' to be voted fer. Ef that stuff don't be lef' right hyar in this chuch thar's gwine ter be trouble. An' as fer that dimon' pin that's to go to the one who sells the most admission tickets--well, now, ef the hard wurkin' sisters o' this chuch what swets over the washtub earnin' an' hones' livin' don't desarve it, then what's the matter? yas, I wants ter know what's the matter?" Here the irate woman sawed

the air with hand and arm as she laid down the law on the back of the nearest settee. By this time a group of sisters attracted by her loud tones had gathered around, anxious to learn what the trouble could be.

"Well, honey," said one meek-looking woman, "don't le's borry trouble. The way the committee has fixed the bisness I cayn't see how thar can be eny monkeyin' with the votin' or sellin' o' the tickets. I do declar', my dear, I think the right ones will git the prizes."

"I'm a-doin' my level best," said another sister with hands hard and horny with toil, "I'm a-doin' my level best to git that dimon' pin fer my Mandy. I've got William Vanderbilt and Charles Sumner Astor Gould and the twins all out sellin' tickets 'mong my white people. An' I tell you, sisters, you's all goin' to have a hard time to git 'way with yer Aunt Hanner Jackson this time."

The family surname was Jackson, but Mrs. Jackson liked to name her children for all the celebrities that she heard of, and sometimes it made a bewildering combination when one found that William Vanderbilt was represented by a sprightly little Negro boy with crispy hair and beadlike black eyes.

"That silver service is jes' my size," here chimed in another sister, "an' it's goin' hard

with anyone what tries to git it 'way from me; I'm sellin' tickets to beat the ban. I've done picked out a sideboard fer it down to Osgood's. I can git it fer a dollar down an' a dollar a week, an' expec' to have it ef it takes me all the summer an' winter ter pay fer it."

"Talkin' 'bout the prizes, ain't yer?" spoke up another sister who had just joined the group, "thet gold watch an' chain is jes' what Jim Anderson wants. 'Jim,' I says to him, 'thar's yer chance fer a good easy way ter git yer a watch.' He's jes' raisin' heaven an' earth a-git-tin' votes fer hisself."

"Hope you all won't be disapinted," here Sister Robinson broke in again, "but ef yer listens to me you'll watch them high-toned colored folks you all's been gittin' ter help yer. They never come 'roun' people that they don't hold on a 'quality with theirselves 'thout it means suthin.' These ejecated folks is allers lookin' to make suthin'. Most o' them's too lazy to wurk. They wouldn't tech a flatiron or a washtub with a ten-foot pole, an' they'd ruther live on dried codfish fer a month than to do their own scrubbing. Ef eny o' them whitefolksey colored ladies gits them prizes, I'm goin' fer to take out my letter, an' put my wurk into some chuch what will presheate it; you hyar me!"


"Now sisters," chimed in the meek one again, "none o' yer ain't said a word 'bout tryin' to git one o' the prizes fer yer pastor. I do think that's a leetle bit selfish in us. S'pose we give him the pianny."

"Hump!" grunted Sister Robinson, "when I jined this chuch I jined the meetin'-house an' not the minister! I reckon he kin jes' look out fer hisself; sides he's got a orgin an' don't need a pianny. He gits his cellery, don't he?" she queried, as she glared at the group about her. Taking their silence for consent she continued in a firm voice: "He's too much everythin' to everybody, an' that wife o' hisn is too white fer me. I used ter be takin' fresh eggs an' ham an' chickuns out to that house all the time, but resuntly I'se been reasunin' with myself, an' I camed to the conclusion that I won't do it no mo'. Can't tell what is the matter with these colored men; a good wholesome-lookin' colored woman with kinkey hair don't stan' no livin' chance ter git a decen'-lookin' man fer a husban', an' I fer one am a-settin' my face agin them men."

"Purty much so, purty much so!" came from various ones in the group.

"Lord knows, Sis' Robberson," said Sister Scott, "may be you is right; an' ef thar's eny monkeyin' goin' on we's all goin' ter s'port yer in whatever yer thinks is the bes' course."


"All right," replied Sister Robinson, considerably mollified by this concession. "I'll jes' take good care thet none o' us gits imposed on. Phelia Davis an' Sarah Ann White has got charge o' the 'fectionery table an' the salads, but ef I don' knock 'em silly with roast pig, corn dodgers an' biled cabbage, then I'm a sinner!"

Sister Robinson walked away, followed by a number of admiring satellites. Sister Scott and Sister Jackson were left alone.

"Good Lawd!" said Sister Scott to Sister Jackson, "Good Lawd! 'Mandy Jackson, did you hear Mary Jane Robberson talk? Thar ain't nuthin' the matter with her, only she's 'fraid thet somebody's gwine ter hol' the moneydraw fastened agin her. I tell yer them '400' folks she's runnin' 'll keep a close watch on her an' how much money she takes in at the 'old Southern dinner-table,' you hyar me!"

"An' I fer one am glad of it," replied Sister Jackson. "Mary Jane Robberson thinks she owns this chuch an' everyone in it sence Mr. Jacobs lef' John Robberson thet five hundred dollars, an' they bo't thet house out o' town."

"Bless yer soul, honey, thet's jes' so. I never see what a little posterity makes some people have a swell head. I tell yer, honey, we'd better all o' us keep our eye on the money-draw.

When folks gits to buyin' houses--um, chile, watch 'em!"

On Monday evening the fair opened. At five o'clock in the morning all the women who could get there made their appearance at the church, where the janitor was waiting to receive them. The first floor of the building contained a large lecture-room, three class-rooms, the pastor's study, a dining-room and a kitchen. Each chairman of a committee had a certain space assigned to her by Ma Smith; then that committee took charge and proceeded to beautify the spot and arrange their wares for inspection. Ice cream, oysters, salads and temperance drinks were to be served in a fairy-like grotto formed by grouping evergreen trees together. Among the trees small tables were to be set, making a charming solitude à deux . Electricity, cunningly concealed in rose-colored shades, was to furnish the lighting. Pretty girl-waiters, in white dresses and fancy caps, completed a fascinating picture. This section was under the immediate direction of Mrs. Ophelia Davis and Mrs. Sarah Ann White.

"You hear me, Sarah Ann," said Ophelia Davis to her friend, "you hear me, that Mary Jane Robberson means trouble. She's down on the aristocracy; she don't 'tend to give the

minister a show over them prizes, an' you an' me's got to keep a whip han' over her somehow. The minister's goin' to git a new suit o' clo's out o' this, an' you an' me's gwine to have thet pianny! Lord knows whether there'll be one brick o' this chuch lef' on another when this fair is done, but she ain't gwine ter walk on me, you hyar me. I'm a-studyin' fer her, an' ef she runs up agin me thar'll be trouble."

Meanwhile Mrs. Robinson and her coterie stood around and looked at the unique ideas for a fair which had been developed, and wondered how it was that the "400" people and their followers always had such a happy knack of getting everything just right. Her committee had intended to have nothing but a plain dining-room, but after seeing the gorgeous display made by Mrs. Davis and Mrs. White, a hurried meeting was called to consult about ways and means of defeating the enemy. All the other women stopped their work, too, and came to admire the effects gained by the introduction of the lights and the tête-à-tête tables.

"A very happy thought," said Mrs. Willis, as she glanced approvingly about her. "Where did you get the idea?"

"I got it up to Mis' Mason's when Molly Mason was merried."


"That's where you lived so long, wasn't it, Mrs. Davis?" asked one of the girls, as she paused a moment in her work of arranging festoons of evergreens, and stood back to note the effect.

"I lived there an' nowhere else the first fifteen years I was up North," replied Mrs. Davis proudly.

"Were they very wealthy? Do you ever see them nowadays?" asked Mrs. Willis.

"Mis' Mason was wurth her millions , an' Molly was her only chile," replied Mrs. Davis, now fairly launched on her favorite subject. "The Mason wedding" had passed into a proverb among the young people who were acquainted with Mrs. Davis. "You see, when Molly was merried, Mis' Mason took it into her head to have a caterer from Boston do the work of feeding the guests. She was livin' in Worcester then. Even the servants were invited to the weddin'. She had a house that matched her money, you may jes' reckon, and the whole o' her lawn was used fer feeding an' fer dancin'. There were two acres o' lan' nuthin' but lawn, an' all among the trees you could see little tables set out an' plenty o' lanterns, although in the dancin' pavilion they jes' connected a gas-pipe with the main one, an' had the place lit with gas jes' as ef you was in the house."


"You ought to ask them to contribute to the fair, and help you out with your table," remarked Mrs. Willis.

Mrs. Davis cocked her head on one side and said, with a knowing wink at Mrs. Willis: "Now, ain't yer talkin', honey, an' mebe I ain't writ to her an' tol' her all 'bout Mary Jane Robberson! Jes' yer hol' on, chile, tell yer sees me paralyze her."

"Did you go to the wedding, Mrs. Davis?" asked Sappho, who, being something of a stranger, did not know all the little points about the wedding.

" Who, me? " exclaimed Mrs. Davis; " yes'm , I jes' did! Lor', chile, but Mis' Mason's a lady borned; she don't know how to be like some o' yer Northern people. Sho! these ladies up here are so 'fraid thet the black'll rub off. Down South the big white folks has nussed so meny black mammies thet they don' know nuthin' else fer their chillun. It don' matter how black you is ef yer willin' to keep in the mud. Up here it's diffurunt; you can do all right and live all right, but don't put yer han' on a white man or woman, or they'll have a fit fer fear the black'll rub off."

"I suppose you went to the wedding dressed to kill," said one of the girls.

"Lor', chile, I had to have a new light silk

fer that , I tell yer. An' sech a time as I had when I went to git me a pair o' paten' leather shoes. Clorindy, gal," she called to a young woman who was placing trees in position, "what kin' o' way do you call that to put them trees? You ain't got a bit o' eye fer bein' an artis', your ferpendicler is all crooked. Bring me a cheer thar, some one o' you gals, and let me fix thet tree right." Having straightened out the matter of the trees, she returned panting and puffing to the refreshment bar. "As I was sayin', the man said he didn't hev a shoe in the shop thet would fit me. I tol' him I knowed better; he jes' said thet 'cause I was a colored 'ooman. Then he went to the show-window and took out a pair, an' tol' me to set down an' he'd try 'em on me an' see ef they'd do, an' ef they would I might have 'em, an' he'd git another pair thet'd do fer signs jes' as well as them. I tol' him I didn't care a bit ef they was signs; why didn't he trot 'em out when I asked him fer 'em fust? 'Well,' he says, 'they's number 'levens, an' I didn't want ter insult yer.' ` Insult nuthin',' says I, `as long as I can git 'em on.' They fitted me all right, only they kin' o' cramped me across my bunyon. I always has a hard time with that dratted bunyon o' mine. I managed to wear 'em, though I'm free to say thet I never felt as though I got my muney out
o' the plagy things. As I was sayin', I was cook, an' the second girl was colored, too; we jes' hired an open barush to drive to the chuch in--I b'lieve in doin' things right--an' I tell you the white folks was dumb when we druve up that night to the chuch do' an' stepped out o' the kerrige onto the strip o' carpet under the yawnin', fer all the worl' jes' like quality. We got 'long all right tell we struck the entry, then Sally kin' o' hung back when she saw a big usher lookin' fer all the worl' like a picter-book, standin' ther an' tellin' us to wait our turn to be seated in the fambly pew. Yes, 'ndeed! Bless yer soul, Mis' Mason had done put us into one o' the fambly pews! I'm used to them sort o' things myself, but yer see, Sally she's kin' o' low-down corn-shucker, not used to nothin' 'tall, an' I kep' my eye onto her; I could see it inter her face thet she intended to give me the slip an' bolt an' hide herself. `Oh, Mis' Davis,' says she, `has we got to walk all the way up thet aisle with one o' them white gemplemen?' 'Yes, Sally, we has, an' it won't kill us nuther to be like live gentry fer onct in our lives.' Jes' then one o' them made fer me, an' I only had time to whisper: `Brace up, Sally, an' be a 'ooman,' when I foun' myself walkin' up the aisle on thet white man's arm, as big as Cuffy, an' a-sweatin' to beat the ban'."

"What became of Sally?" asked Sappho.

"Bless yer soul, Miss Sappho, when she sawed me go she jes' broke an' run down them steps plum inter the street, an' made tracks fer the house all dressed as she was in white shefong, an' when I got back thar she was a-standin' up in the middle o' the kitchen floor grinnin' like a Chessy cat. `Mis' Davis,' says she, `Mis' Davis, I wouldn't a-walked up thet chuch aisle with thet white gempleman fer a thousan' dollars, 'deed'n I wouldn't.' I was so mad with thet fool gal thet I jes' itched ter spank her well. How we to 'vance eny ef we don't 'brace out 'tunities, I'd like ter know?"

All the committees worked willingly, and soon every one of the departments had been provided with appropriate enclosures like quaint pictures set in exquisite frames. The bare walls disappeared, and the whole place burst into beauty bewildering enough to draw the money from the pockets of the spectators who would come with the evening to help a worthy charity. Mrs. Robinson, with her "old-fashioned busy bees," as they called themselves, had hurriedly decorated the dining-room with American flags and Christian Endeavor banners. The long, white-covered tables looked very inviting, and the motherly women in black dresses, white aprons and bandanna handkerchiefs tied into

fantastic head-coverings, added another charm which their soft Southern accent completed. Late in the afternoon the tired workers examined the results of their labors with much satisfaction.

  --  LOVE TOOK UP THE HARP OF LIFE.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XI.
  --  THE FAIR.--