Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XI. -- THE FAIR.-- Concluded .|
feasts maturing busy hands appear,
And jest and laugh assail the ready ear."
On Monday evening at 7 P.M. the doors of the fair were opened. In the center of the hall the prize piano was advantageously placed; and Dora, as the organist of the church, displayed its merits in a few well-chosen numbers. There were selections given also by a banjo, guitar and mandolin club of local reputation. Cozily ensconced behind a bower of tropical plants and flowers they discoursed popular selections in a manner which displayed most favorably the really fine musical ability which each one of them possessed. In another corner of the hall, under a tent which represented an Indian lodge, was a great and mysterious attraction: Madam Frances, spiritualistic soothsayer and marvellous mind-reader, had offered her services to the committee, and would send out bulletins, at so much a letter, on subjects supposed to be unknown to all the world but the persons themselves. The young people were in a flutter over this particular feature, the men no less so than the women. Who could
Superstition is supposed to be part of the Negro's heritage. They have brought much of it from their native Africa. It gives color, picturesqueness--light and shade we may say--to the darkness of life and complexion which so far has marked the Negro for its own. Claiming kinship with the Egyptians and other black races of the Eastern continent, the Negro is thought to possess wonderful powers of necromancy. Races are like families. The East Indian shows remarkable ability to awaken the superstitious fears of a community in his native country; so with the Egyptian; so with the Negro. But transplant them on a foreign shore and much of their supposed power vanishes. So with the Negro. We hear much of
Madam Frances was supposed to be skilled in the occult arts which were once the glory of the freshly imported African. Wonderful tales were told of her ability to foretell the future. Her services were of great value to the managers of the fair, for her fame had been
"I knew a princess; she was old,
Crisp-haired, flat-featured, with a look
Such as no dainty pen of gold
Would write of in a fairy book.
Her face was like the Sphinx's face, to me,
Touched with vast patience, desert grace,
And lonesome, brooding mystery.
Nothing of loveliest loveliness
This strange, sad princess seemed to lack;
Majestic with her calm distress
She was, and beautiful, though black."
A quaint conceit which gave great pleasure to the children, big and little, was the pretty great-nephew of the seeress who, dressed in costume, represented Mercury and carried messages to the fortunate ones remembered by the mystic powers of Futurity. Alphonse was a beautiful boy about eight years old, with golden curls and dark blue eyes that looked out on life from beneath their sweeping lashes with a glance all too melancholy for one of his tender years. There are children who seem to have been born with the shadows of life heavy upon them. So it was with little Alphonse. He passed from groups of merry young people and pleasant elders who, attracted by the beauty of the weird child, sought to beguile him with soft caress and loving touch; he would stand quietly waiting until the speaker had finished his question, would answer carefully, and suffer the caresses as though accepting them as a part of his duty, and would return to the tent and his aunt, evincing no desire for the frolic and fun which belongs to the golden days of childhood. Many influential whites were present in order to display their philanthropic interest in the welfare of the colored people. They gazed with surprise upon the child, and could not be convinced when told that he was a Negro, and identified by ties of blood with the blackest
Sappho was tired, and one of the young girls in her Bible class, noticing the weariness of her attitude, insisted upon assuming the duties of cashier for an hour. She gladly availed herself of the girl's offer, and turned with a sigh of relief to find a secluded seat where she could watch unobserved the passing of the gay throng. As she turned a hand was laid gently on her arm, and Will Smith's gay voice sounded in her ear: "Whither away, fair lady?"
Sappho smiled back into the debonair face as she replied: "Just to the fairy grotto to rest a while."
"I will accompany thee, fair queen," hummed Will, as he drew her hand within his arm and moved slowly through the crowd toward the refreshment room. No more was said until they reached the spot; then Will seated her at one of the most secluded tables, placing himself upon the opposite side.
"Lord love yer, Sarah Ann, jes' see that couple!" said Mrs. Davis to Mrs. White. "Ef that ain't a match then no matter! See him look at her! I'se goin' to wait on them myself; an' Sarah Ann, you keep these young squirts busy in some other corner; there ain't nobody goin' ter spile sport ef I can help it."
Mrs. Davis bustled over to the young people and literally beamed upon them. "Good evening; now Mr. Smith, what be you an' Miss Sappho goin' to have? You see I've jes' camed over to wait on yer myself."
"Good evening, Mrs. Davis; you are looking as bright and charming as a rose. How are the refreshments going?"
"Charmin'!" responded Mrs. Davis, secretly delighted at the compliment. "Ain't you 'shamed to talk like that to an ol' 'ooman? You young fellers gits worse every day. Jes'
"What about Friday night?" asked Sappho.
"Nuthin', only I've got a big s'prise waitin' fer Mary Jane Robberson."
"Friday will be a mighty unlucky day for Sister Robinson, eh?" laughed Will.
"Thar won't be a thing doin' fer her, honey, you'll see. I'se gwine ter paralize her!"
"I'll bet my money on you every time, Mrs. Davis," laughed Will. "I have every confidence in your business sagacity. I feel sorry for Sister Robinson."
"She'll need yer sorrow," replied Mrs. Davis. "Mary Jane Robberson's jealous, an' when people gits jealous they can't do the bes' thing in the bes' place. I ain't jealous o' nobody, an' I'se jes' settin' back here watchin' her kill herself, as cool as a sittin' hen. I had a letter from Mis' Mason, an' she says as how she's goin' ter stan' by me. You know what that means, don' yer, honey? Oysters, coffee, ice cream and cake fer two," she murmured, repeating Will's order. "My head's level, thar ain't a thing the matter with it," she finished, as she turned to execute the order.
A silence fell between the two as they sat within the shadow of the trees, content to be with each other. Will was happy to have the privilege of feasting his eyes upon the lovely face opposite him, which dimpled and blushed in such a charming manner beneath his glance. Never before had she seemed to abandon herself so completely to the influence of his passion; but tonight she laid aside her coldness and seemed ready to accept the homage which he was longing to lay at her feet. The girl felt it.
"Why," she asked herself, "why should I always walk in the shadow of a crime for which I am in no way to blame? Why deny myself all the pleasures of a home and love with such a man as he who will offer me the noblest heritage of woman?"
The more she thought the stronger became her resolve not to fight against fate, but to accept the goods the gods provided without question. She would rise above maddening fears, penance for involuntary wrongs, the sackcloth and ashes of her life, and be as other women, who loved and were beloved. So she smiled on Will bewitchingly; sallies of wit and fun flashed from her pretty lips in a way which was as fascinating as bewildering. Will knew her to be well educated, but had never
They had very nearly finished their lunch when the room was invaded by Dora, followed by Doctor Lewis, who had arrived from New Orleans the last of the previous week.
"Oh, here you are, Sappho, I've been looking for you everywhere. Have you had one of Madam Frances's predictions? She is creating a sensation."
"No," replied Sappho, "I have not. Have you one? Is it good?"
"Yes, I have one. For my part I think it's rubbish. Just listen," and she read from a slip of paper in her hand:
All that glistens is not gold;
Often have you heard this told.
Despise the false; welcome the true,
So shall you receive your due.
"Now whatever in the world does she mean by all that?"
"Where's John?" asked her brother rather abruptly; "has he had a message, too?"
"Yes; and he's so mad that he won't give anyone a decent word," replied his sister. "I'm sure," she continued, "if I felt as hateful as
"Do you remember how his message read?" asked her brother.
"Yes," said Dora, "it was something like this: 'He who expects gain shall lose. Be faithful to the object of your choice, or merit the fate reserved for fickleness and deceit.'"
"Can't blame him for feeling wrathy over such a fortune as that, can you, Lewis?" asked Will, turning to his sister's companion.
"Gad, no!" replied the doctor. "If he would only prove unfaithful to 'the object of his choice' how happy some other fellow might be."
Dora looked at her companion with scorn on her countenance. "I just think I hate you sometimes, Arthur Lewis!" she exclaimed, as she turned to leave the room.
"Oh, I say, Dora, do have something before you go," urged the unlucky fellow, as he followed his angry companion toward the door.
"No, I won't have anything. I do believe you just love to see John Langley quarrel with me, but it won't do you a bit of good, Arthur Lewis, not a bit."
As they vanished from sight Will turned to Sappho and said: "Dora and John worry me, Miss Clark; I fear that there is trouble ahead
"Let us hope that all things may turn out for the best," replied Sappho.
"I don't know why I should worry you with this, Miss Clark," said Will, as he turned toward her with a light in his eyes which a man gives to but one woman in the world. "Miss Clark--Sappho--"
"Ah, here you are." This time it was John Langley who had broken in upon the lovers. He came up to them smiling, polished, bland. Sappho wondered why she had never noticed how very disagreeable John Langley's smile was. She shuddered a bit as he drew nearer to them. Behind him walked the little Mercury, and in his hand he held a white missive just drawn from the small black velvet bag which hung at his side.
"Mercury wanted to find you, Miss Clark, and as I had a message for you from your mother, Will, I ventured to interrupt your earnest conversation. I hope I don't intrude." He bowed with easy grace to Sappho and bade her good evening, at the same time taking the chair which Will vacated as he rose to go to his mother.
"Thank you, John. No, you do not intrude. Miss Clark, I shall see you again shortly, I hope. I would very much like to finish our conversation."
Sappho bowed and he turned away. She followed the retreating figure with her eyes; John watched her jealously, and the child stood and watched them both. Finally with a sigh she opened the note, but before reading it turned to murmur a gentle apology to Langley.
"Oh, never mind me," he returned pleasantly; "if you get such a mongrel mixture as the one sent to me, I shan't envy you the pleasure you'll get out of it."
"It wasn't pleasant, I remember. Dora told us about it."
"Pleasant! A regular death's head at a feast, I call it. Do read yours, Miss Clark, and see if you haven't something better."
"Let me see: 'The mysterious stars bespeak for you better luck than you have already had. Harassed and perplexed by fickle Fortune, love shall find a way.'"
"Bravo!" cried John. But how could it be otherwise? If the same blood which inaugurated the Trojan wars, of which fair Helen was the object, still runs in the veins of the gods of love and fortune, they could not resist the influence of so much youth and beauty as we are blessed with here tonight."
"And what shall I say in reply to so gallant a speech, Mr. Langley? To my way of thinking, such words should be uttered to one alone. You must have forgotten Dora." Sappho turned to the waiting child and drew him into her lap.
"Because a man is engaged to one girl does that spoil all the pleasure which lies in meeting others? One woman can never tie my wandering fancy; my heart is large enough to appreciate the charms of the fair sex wherever discovered. Dora don't like it, I know, but she'll get used to it after we are married," he said, recklessly.
Sappho kissed the child on her lap, and placing the postage for her letter in his hand, told him to run away. "Truly, Mr. Langley, you appear in a new light. Why do you tell your thoughts to me, who am Dora's friend? I do not wish to hear them."
There was a mocking smile on his face as he turned to her from watching the child. "A pretty boy that. His is beauty of a rare kind. Do you know, I fancy that he resembles you."
"Really, Mr. Langley, you grow very strange in your conversation. I shall have to beg you to excuse me," and with a haughty little bow she left the place.
John watched her departure with a slight
The fair had been very popular, and most successful from a business point of view. The week was now drawing to a close. The community was on the qui vive over the rivalry between Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Davis. Racy developments were looked for on the closing night. Every woman had ranged herself on one side or the other, and not a few of the men had been led by their vigorous wives to declare themselves for a chosen leader.
Friday night was to end the sale of votes on the prizes. Saturday was to be devoted to counting up the votes, so that at nine o'clock that night the successful winners could be announced. The pastor was asked to allow the fair to run another week, but he declined emphatically, saying that so many controversies had grown out of it that another week would seriously deplete his membership and bring disaster upon the cause of religion. So that idea was abandoned. Wednesday Mrs. Robinson was ahead on the piano but behind on the dining-room receipts. Thursday night Mrs. Davis
Mrs. Davis viewed the action of her rival with stolid countenance, from which the envoys of the other side, who stood about trying to catch a word to repeat to their champion, could gain no comfort. To her trusted henchmen she whispered: "Jes' you watch me keep 'em guessin'. I'm a-goin' to show 'em, shortly, that the 'race am not to the swif'er nor the battle to the stron'er, but to her what enjureth untel the end.'"
As half-past seven approached various savory smells could be traced to the "old Southern dining-room," but above all the enticing scents which were ever introduced to aggravate the palate of the lover of good living, the knowing ones could trace the odor of a rare and tempting dainty--the opossum! Yes, Mrs. Robinson had conspired with her Southern friends and received a tempting animal direct from the
"Well, Sis' Davis," said one of the brothers when the door closed upon the visitors and the company felt at liberty to enjoy itself after its own fashion, "well, sister, that ruther gits ahead of you. Sis' Robberson's got you dead sure this time."
He laughed with a good-natured chuckle which was meant to be very aggravating.
"Beats who? me? " snorted Mrs. Davis, as she turned upon the questioner with a stony stare. "White folks don't scare Ophelia Davis. I'se seed 'em befo' in my life, an' I've eat at the table wif 'em, that's mo'. Didn't hev to hev the do' shet on me to keep me out the dining-room 'cause they was feered the black'd rub off. I think too much o' my white people to trot 'em up here to this one-cen' 'fair."
"No use, Sis' Davis, we's got yer," laughed another member who had just come up. "Robberson's smart."
"Smart!" cried the irate woman, now thoroughly
"Five minutes is all you's got, anyhow. Can't change much in five minutes," laughed another.
Just at this moment a messenger boy made his way from the door and was conducted to the judges' seat. He handed them an envelope which upon being opened was seen to contain two bits of paper.
"Please step this way, Mrs. Davis, and make your mark for value received," called out one of the judges.
Mrs. Davis was escorted to the table by a curious crowd, anxious to know the meaning of this latest sensation. The judge stood up after she had signed, and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, knowing the interest that you take in all that relates to the two ladies who are rival candidates for the piano, and also for the ten dollars for the largest amount taken at a refreshment table, I beg leave to state that one hundred and fifty dollars have been contributed by Mrs. Mason and Mrs. Molly Mason Farnham, to be used for buying votes in the favor of Mrs. Davis in the contest for the piano, and to swell the receipts at her refreshment tables.
And they were given with a will, led by the pastor, who stood upon a chair and swung his bandanna handkerchief wildly in the air.
Mrs. Davis was greatly excited. "Sis' Robberson's got me, has she? Beat, am I? How 'bout it, honeys, how 'bout it?"
Sister Mary Jane Robinson was carried home sick, in a herdic.
The next night brought a great crowd to see the distribution of the prizes. The fun waxed warmer and warmer as each name was called. When young 'Mandy Jackson was called to receive the diamond pin, her twin brothers turned handsprings in the aisle, and yelled out: "Hi, 'Mandy, yer a peach! We-uns did the bisness fer yer, yer bet."
Sister Susanna Johnson received the much-coveted silver set, and thought with pride of the handsome sideboard, and made up her mind
Jim Anderson walked up to the judges' stand feeling very bashful and with a fearful grin on his face, when his name was called for the gold watch and chain.
"Wet it, Jim! wet it!" cried one of his friends.
"Set 'em up, ol' man!" roared another, as Jim returned to his seat. "Don't be 'shamed; do the right thing by the boys."
Jim Anderson was angry. He was a trustee, and was looked up to by all the young members as an exemplary Christian. Jim made up his mind not to stand it, and he paused on the way to his seat and offered to take the speaker and "set him up" by standing him on his head if he'd only come out where he could get at him, "makin' a fool o' him right out in chuch."
This stopped the fun in that direction, for Jim was a beef-lugger at the "big" market, and they had a wholesome regard for his muscle.
But when Mrs. Davis was called for the piano and the ten dollars, the excitement broke out with renewed vigor: "Speech! speech!" resounded from all over the hall.
"You must say a word to your friends, sister," said the pastor. Then she stood up.
"Friends, I'm much oblivigated to yer fer makin' all this noise over me, but bein' a lonesome ol' 'ooman, an' with no ejkation, I cayn't make no speech. I'll jes' say thar's nuthin' mean 'bout me. I don' feel good 'cause some o' us is took sick 'long o' all this. Now, pastor, I want yer to take this ten dollars over to Sis' Robberson an' tell her we's quits, an' I fergive her fer all her mean feelin's to me. Will you do it?"
The pastor promised, and for a while pandemonium reigned. And after that the pastor could not forbear saying a few words about how good it was "to dwell together in brotherly love." Sister Sarah Ann White said "the brothers had nuthin' to do with it, it was Ophelia Davis an' nobody else."
Mrs. Davis, true to her word, had not forgotten the pastor; and all the women, mindful of the feeling engendered by Mrs. Robinson against him, had secretly gone about among the "400," and money enough had been contributed to buy him a fine new Sunday suit, made up in the latest clerical fashion. After all the prizes had been presented, the women formed in a body, and headed by Ma Smith, marched up to the judges' seats and presented him with the result of their good feelings. So everybody was made happy.
It was estimated that the proceeds of the fair exceeded the eight thousand dollars hoped for, and no church had more sincere cause to rejoice on the next Easter Sunday than the body of people comprising the church on X Street, who on that memorable day consecrated anew to God their house of worship free from all encumbrances.