Uzyskaj dostęp do tej i ponad 60000 książek od 6,99 zł miesięcznie
Cobb is remembered best for his humorous stories of Kentucky and is part of the American literary regionalism school. These stories were collected first in the book Old Judge Priest (1915), whose title character was based on a prominent West Kentucky judge named William Pitman Bishop. Writer Joel Harris wrote of these tales, "Cobb created a South peopled with honorable citizens, charming eccentrics, and loyal, subservient blacks, but at their best the Judge Priest stories are dramatic and compelling, using a wealth of precisely rendered detail to evoke a powerful mood."Among his other books are the humorous Speaking of Operations (1916), and anti-prohibition ode to bourbon, Red Likker (1929).
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 380
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Thank you for reading. In the event that you appreciate this book, please consider sharing the good word(s) by leaving a review, or connect with the author.
This book is a work of fiction; its contents are wholly imagined.
All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.
Copyright © 2018 www.deaddodopublishing.co.uk
A LADY AND A GENTLEMAN
THE ORDER OF THE BATH
TWO OF EVERYTHING
WE OF THE OLD SOUTH
KILLED WITH KINDNESS
PEACE ON EARTH
THREE WISE MEN OF THE EAST SIDE
THE COWBOY AND THE LADY—AND HER PA
A CLOSE SHAVE
HOW TO CHOKE A CAT WITHOUT USING BUTTER
THERE WERE THE HOTEL LOBBIES; they roared and spun like whirlpools with the crowds that were in them. But the streets outside were more like mill-races, and the exits from the railroad stations became flumes down which all morning and all afternoon the living torrents unceasingly had poured. Every main crossing was in a twist of opposing currents. Overhead, on cornices and across window-ledges and against house-fronts and on ropes which passed above the roadway from one building to another, hung buntings and flags and streamers, the prevalent colors being red and white; and also many great goggle-eyed and bewhiskered portraits of dead warriors done on sail-cloth in the best styles of two domestic schools—sign-painting and election-bannering. Numbers of brass bands marched to and fro, playing this, that, and the next appropriate air, but when in doubt playing “Dixie”; and the musicians waded knee-deep through an accumulating wreckage of abandoned consonants—softly dropped _g’s_, eliminated _r’s_. In short, the United Confederate Veterans were holding their annual reunion, this being the evening of the opening day. For absolute proof that this really was a reunion of his kind, there was visible here and there a veteran. His average age was eighty-three years and some odd months. He was feeble or he was halt or sometimes he was purblind. Only very rarely did he carry his years and his frame straight. He was near to being swept away and drowned in a vast and fragrant sea of gracious, chattering femininity. His daughters and his granddaughters and his nieces and his younger sisters and, very rarely, his wife—they collectively were as ten to one against him. They were the sponsors and the maids of honor and the matrons of honor and the chaperons; they represented such-and-such a camp or such-and-such a state, wearing flowing badges to attest their queenly distinctions; wearing, also, white summery gowns, the most of them, with touches of red. But the older women nearly always were in black. Here and there moved the Amazonian figure of one among them who had decked herself for this great occasion in a gray uniform with bullet buttons of brass in twin rows down the front of the jacket and with a soldier cap on her bobbed hair—nearly always it was bobbed—and gold braid at the seams of her short walking skirt. A crafty stylist even had thought out the added touches of epaulets for her straight shoulders and a pair of black cavalry boots; and she went about much admired by herself and the rest. You see, it was like this: In the days when there were many of them, the veterans had shared their reunions with their women. Now that they were so few and so weakly, their women would let the veterans share the reunions with them. It was very much like this—a gorgeous social event, the whole South participating; with sentiment for its half-erased background, with the memories of a war that ended nearly sixty years before for its fainting, fading excuse; with the splendid promise of balls and parties and receptions and flirting and love-making and match-making for its assembly call to the campaigning rampaging young of the species. Only over by the river at the big yellow pine auditorium did the puny veteran element yet hold its own against the dominant attendant tides of the newer generations of its descendants. “General Van Brunk of Texas, honored leader of the Trans-Mississippi Department, will now present the important report of the Committee on History,” the octogenarian commander-in-chief was announcing to those fifteen hundred white heads that nodded before him like so much ripened cotton in the bolls. So General Van Brunk, holding the typewritten fruitage of one year’s hard work in his palsied hands, took the platform and cleared a shrunken throat and began. But just then the members of the Orphan Brigade of Kentucky—thirty-two of them, no less—marched down the middle aisle with a fife-and-drum corps at their head and a color-bearer bearing a tattered rag on a scarred staff, and everybody rose up shakily to give the Rebel yell, and nobody, not even General Van Brunk, ever heard a word of General Van Brunk’s report. It was ordered spread upon the minutes, though, while the commander-in-chief stood up there with his arms outstretched and wept a welcome to the straggly incoming column. He was an Orphan himself. The proceedings were proceeding according to custom. The orator chosen to deliver the annual oration would have an easy time of it when his hour came next day. “Comrades of my father,” he would say and they would applaud for five minutes. He would mention Jackson and they would whoop for seven minutes; mention Lee and that would mean ten minutes of the same. And so on. At a quarter to ten a certain portly churchman—lately a chaplain with the A.E.F.—who by invitation had come down from Minneapolis to bear an affectionate message to these old men on behalf of the American Legion, wormed his way out of a side door of the auditorium, his job done. Inside his black garments he was perspiring heavily. The air of the packed hall had been steaming hot. He stood for a minute on the sidewalk, grateful for the cooling wind of the May night and trying to decide whether he ought to turn east or west to get back to his hotel. He was a bishop of the Episcopal Church and he had the bishop’s look and manner. On his arm he felt a bony clutch, like the clutch of a parrot’s foot. A bent shell of a man was alongside him; it was this shell had fastened its skeleton fingers upon his sleeve. Out of a head that was just a skull with a brown hard skin stretched over it, a pair of filmed eyes looked up into his face, and from behind an ambush of dense white whiskers came a piping voice saying: “Howdy, son.” The bishop was startled and secretly amused. He was used to being called “Father"—frequently his collar and vest deceived Romanists—but he couldn’t remember when anyone had addressed him as “son.” “Good evening, sir,” he answered. “Son,” quavered the other—he must be all of ninety, the bishop decided—"say, son, I heared you back thar—part of whut you said. You done fust-rate—yep, fust-rate, fur a Yankee. You air a Yankee, ain’t you?” “Well, I was born in Nebraska, but I live now in Minnesota,” said the bishop. “That so? Well, I’m an Alabama boy!” All at once the bishop ceased to be amused. As the talon released its fumbling hold on him and the remnant tottered away, the bishop’s right arm came up smartly but involuntarily in a military salute. “He calls himself a boy!” quoth the bishop, addressing no one in particular. “I know now why they fought four years against such odds!” Suddenly he was prouder than ever of being an American. And he, a stranger to these parts, felt the pathos of it all—the pathos of age and decrepitude, the pathos of the thronging shadows of an heroic Lost Cause, the gallant pathos of these defeated men who even now at their time of life would never admit they had been defeated—these things, thrown out in relief against this screen of blaring brass and pretty young girls and socially ambitious mothers and general hullabaloo. But this story, such as it is, is not concerned with this particular reunion so much as it is concerned with the reactions to the reunion of one surviving Confederate who attended it. He was not an imported orator nor a thwarted deliverer of historical reports, nor yet the commander of some phantom division whose main camp ground now was a cemetery. He was still what he had been back yonder in ‘65—a high private of the rear rank. He was fond of saying so. With him it was one favorite little joke which never staled. He was a very weary high private as he trudged along. An exceedingly young and sleepy Boy Scout was his guide, striving to keep in stride with him. First the old man would tote his small valise, then the Scout would take it over for a spell. They had ridden together on a street-car. At a corner which the guide thought must be their corner, they got off. They were entering an outlying part of the city, that much was certain, at least. The last high-dangled example of the art preservative as practiced by local masters of outdoor advertising service—it was labeled with the name of President Jefferson Davis, so it must be a likeness of President Davis—was swinging aloft far behind them. Those thin broken sounds of distant band-music no longer came to their ears. The houses were getting scarcer, getting to be farther apart. They stumbled in the darkness across railroad tracks, thence passed on through a sort of tunnel that was as black inside as a pocket. When they came out from under the culvert they found themselves in a desert so far as stirring life went. “Shore you’re not lost, sonny?” asked the old man for the second or third time. “No, suh, I think not.” But the youngster’s tone had lost its earlier manful conviction. “It oughter be right down this way somewhere. I guess we’ll strike it soon.” So they went ahead. The veteran’s trudge became a shamble. The Scout’s step became a drowsy stagger. That Scout was growing very tired in his legs; they were such short legs. He had been on duty since breakfast time. It was the high private’s turn to carry the grip. He halted and put it down to ease his cramped hand and to breathe. His companion lurched with a bump against the telephone pole and gave a comatose grunt. “Look here, little pardner,” said the old man, “you act like to me you’re mighty near played out. Whereabouts do you live?” “Clean over—over—on the other side of town from here.” The child spoke between jaw-stretching yawns. “That car-line back there goes right past our house though.” His voice was very wistful as he said that. “Tell you what, then. It’d be wrong to keep you up any longer. But me, I’m one of these here old-time campaigners. You hand me over that piece of paper with the name and the number and all on it, and then you put out for home and get yourself a good night’s rest. By myself I’ll be shore to locate the place we’re hunting for. Anyway, you’ve done enough good deeds for one day.” That Scout might be sleepy, but sleepy or not he had a bounden service to perform and would have so stated. But the veteran cut short those plucky semiconscious protests of his, and being outargued, the boy surrendered a scrap of cardboard and bade his late charge good-by and good night and set out on his return to civilization. Under a near-by electric this old-time campaigner adjusted his glasses and studied the scribbled face of the card. Immediately above his head a street-marker showed on the lamp-post where the light would fall on it, and next he looked up and spelled out the lettering there. He merely was reconfirming a fact already confirmed. “This is certainly the right street,” he said to himself. “But the question is—which-a-way is the right house? The thing for me to do, I reckin, is to roust up somebody and ask—if I can find anybody awake.” Diagonally opposite, he made out the square bulk of a sizable two-story structure. It must be a dwelling, for it had a bit of lawn in front of it; it must be tenanted because a patchy dullish crescent of illumination made outlines for a transom above the door. Maybe somebody over there might be smart enough to tell him. He went across, moving very slowly, and toiled up a flight of porch steps. There were only four of the steps; he would have taken his oath there were a full dozen of them. He fumbled at the door-jamb until he found a knocker. To his knocking the response was immediate. From the inner side there was the scraping sound as of a heavy bolt being withdrawn. Next a lock clicked, and then discreetly, almost cautiously, the door opened a few inches and the face of a negro girl was revealed to him in the dim glow of a heavily hooded light burning behind her in the entry hall. She squinted hard at him. “Whut you want yere this time o’ night, mista?” she demanded. Her manner was not hospitable; it bordered on the suspicious. “I’m looking for an address,” he began. “Dis can’t be it.” “I know that. But I thought maybe somebody here might help direct me.” From his growing exhaustion the intruder fairly was panting. “I’m sort of lost.” “Oh, so tha’s it? Wait a minute, then.” Still holding the door slightly ajar, she called rearward over her shoulder: “Miss Sissie! Oh, Miss Sissie!” “What is it?” The answer came from back of her. “They’s a ole, kinder feebled-up lookin’ w’ite gen’elman out yere w’ich he think he’s lost his way.” “Wait, I’ll come talk to him.” A middle-aged tall woman, who was dressed, so the stranger decided, as though expecting stylish company, appeared now at the door and above the servant’s shoulder eyed him appraisingly. He tried to tell her his mission, but his voice weakened on him and trailed off. He caught at the door-casing; he felt dizzy. The white woman elbowed the black one aside. “Come on in,” she ordered. “Get out of the way, can’t you, Pansy?” She threw this second command at her maid. “Don’t you see he’s about ready to drop? Pick up his valise. There, that’s it, mister. Just put your weight on me.” She half-lifted him across the threshold and eased him down upon a sofa in the hall. The negress closed and barred the door. “Run make some hot coffee,” her employer bade her. “Or maybe you’d rather have a little liquor? I’ve got plenty of it in the house.” She addressed the slumped intruder. “Nome, I never touch anything strong. But I reckin a cup of coffee would taste good to me—if I’m not putting you out too much? You’ll please have to excuse me, ma’am, for breaking in on you this way, but I—” Remembering his manners, he got his hat off in a little flurry of confusion. “Where were you trying to get to?” With difficulty he brought his card forth from his pocket and she took it from him and read what was written upon it. “You’re a good long two miles and a half from where you belong,” she told him sharply. “But ain’t this Bonaventure Avenue?” “Yes, North Bonaventure. You came out Lawes Drive, didn’t you?—the wide street where the trolley-line is? Well, you should have gone south when you turned off. Instead of that you came north. These people"—she consulted the card again—"Philipson or whatever the name is—are they friends of yours?” “Well, yes, ma’am, and nome. I’ve never met them. But they’re taking in one old soldier during the reunion, the hotels and the boarding-houses and all being so full up. And a gentleman at Tennessee Headquarters—that’s my headquarters, ma’am—he gave me that card and sent me there.” “Send you alone?” Her angular shoulders, bare above a low-cut evening gown, shrugged impatiently. “Oh, nome, one of these here little Boy Scouts he came with me to show me the way. You see, ma’am, it’s rightly my own fault, my not being all settled before dark. But I didn’t get in on the steam-cars till about six o’clock this evening and I didn’t want to miss the opening session at the big hall. So I went right there, packing my baggage along with me, just as soon as I’d got me a snack of supper, me not wanting to miss anything, as I was saying to you, ma’am. Then when the speechmaking and all was over, me and this little Boy Scout—he’d stayed right along with me at the hall—we put out to find where I was to stay. But he couldn’t hardly drag one foot behind the other. Poor little wore-out fellow, I reckin he’d been running around all day. So a few minutes ago I made him go on home, me figuring I could find the house my own self. And—well, here I am, ma’am, imposing on your kindness and mighty sorry to do it, too.” “Never mind that part of it.” “But just as soon as I can get a dram of hot coffee in me I expect I’ll feel stronger and then I’ll be shoving along and not bother you any more. I reckin that long train ride and the excitement and everything must ‘a’ took it out of me, some way. There was a time when it wouldn’t have bothered me at all—not a bit. Still, I’ll have to confess I’m getting along, ma’am. I’ll be eighty-four this coming ninth of August.” “Listen to me: You’re not going to stir another inch tonight. You stay right here and tomorrow morning I’ll decide myself whether you’re fit to go trapesing off across to the other side of town.” “Oh, ma’am, I couldn’t do that!” “Why couldn’t you?” “But, ma’am, are you taking in any visitors during the reunion?” “I wasn’t aiming to.” Her voice was grim. “But I’m fixing now to do that very little thing, whether or no.” “But honest, now—I—” He scuffled with his tired feet. “It’s mighty good and mighty sweet of you, ma’am, but I’d hate to impose on you like that.” “No imposition. There’re five spare bedrooms in this house—and nobody in any of them. And nobody going to be in any of them, either, while you’re here—except you. I think you’ll be comfortable.” “I know I’d be comfortable but—” “Then it’s all settled. By the way, I don’t know your name yet?” “My name is Braswell—Nathan Braswell, late high private of the rear rank in the Eighteenth Tennessee Infantry. But up at Forks of Hatchie—that’s my home town, ma’am, a little town up in West Tennessee—they call me the Reverend Braswell, sometimes.” “Reverend?” Her eyelids narrowed. “Are you a minister?” “Oh, nome. But sometimes when we’re short on a preacher I make out to take the pulpit and read the Scriptures and make a little kind of a talk—not a regular sermon—just a little kind of a religious talk. And I’m purty active in church work generally. So I reckin that’s why some people call me the Reverend Braswell. But I never use the entitlement myself—it wouldn’t be becoming in a layman.” “I see. You preach but you’re not a preacher. I guess you practice what you preach, too. You look like a good man, to me—and a good man can be set down anywhere and not suffer by it; at least that’s my opinion. So, Mr. Braswell, right here is where you camp.” “Just as you say, ma’am.” His surrender was complete now, his weariness was, too. “Probably you’re right—if I tried to go any further tonight it’s likely I wouldn’t be much good tomorrow and I want to be spry and fresh so I can knock around and see if I can’t run across some of my old pardners in the army. But excuse me again—you got my name but you ain’t told me yours?” “Call me Miss Sissie, if you want to. That’s what nearly everybody does call me. Or else just plain Sis.” “All right, Miss Sissie, just as you say.” He bowed to her with a grave simplicity. “And I’m sure I’m very much beholden to you, ma’am. It ain’t every day that an old fellow like me is lucky enough to run into such a lovely nice lady as you.” He drank his coffee, and, being helped to his feet, he went upstairs with some aid from the lovely nice lady and presently was sound asleep in a clean bed in what he regarded as a very fine bedroom indeed. Its grandeur impressed him even through his tiredness. Coming back down after seeing him properly bestowed, the mistress of the house hailed the colored girl. “Pansy,” she said, “this place is out of business until further orders, understand?” At that, Pansy seemed deeply puzzled. “But, Miss Sissie,” she expostulated, “don’t you remember ‘at a suttin party—you know, Mista J. W. B.—is ‘spectin’ to be yere most any time wid—” “Did you hear what I told you?” A quality of metallic harshness in Miss Sissie’s voice was emphasized. “Yessum, but you know yo’se’f how that there party, Mista J. W. B., is. He’ll shore be dis’p’inted. He’s liable raise Cain. He’s—” “Get him on the telephone; you know his number. Tell him this place is closed for tonight and for every day and every night until further notice from me. And tell the same thing to everybody else who calls up or stops by during the reunion. Get me?” By her tone she menaced the darky. “Yassum.” “Then turn that hall light out.”
For three days Mr. Braswell abode under that roof. Frequently during that time he remarked that he couldn’t remember when he’d had a pleasanter stay anywhere. Nor could it be said that Miss Sissie failed in any possible effort to make the visit pleasant for him. He limped down to breakfast next morning; to limp was the best he could do. His entertainer gave her household staff a double surprise, first by coming down to join him at the meal instead of taking her coffee and rolls in her room and second by appearing not in negligée but in a plain dark house-gown which accentuated rather than softened the square contours of her face and the sharp lines in it. By daylight the two had better opportunity to study each other than the somewhat hurried meeting of the night before had afforded. She saw in him a gentle tottery relic of a man with a pair of faded unworldly old eyes looking out from a bland, wrinkly, rather empty face. He saw in her a most kindly and considerate hostess. Privately he decided she must have had plenty of sorrow in her time—something or other about her told him that life had bestowed upon her more than her proper share of hard knocks. He figured that living here alone in such a big house—except for the servants she seemed to be quite alone—must be lonesome for her, too. As they sat down, just the two of them, he said, not apologetically exactly but a bit timidly: “I hope, ma’am, you don’t mind if I say a grace at your table? I always like to invoke the divine blessing before I break bread—seems like to me it makes the victuals taste better. Or maybe"—he hesitated politely—"maybe it’s your custom to ask the blessing your own self?” “You say it, please,” she urged him in a curious strained fashion, which, however, he did not notice, and lowered her head. She lifted it once—to shoot a quick venomous glance at Pansy, who stood to serve, and a convulsive giggle which had formed in Pansy’s throat died instantly. Then she bowed it again and kept it bowed while he asked God to sanctify this food to their uses and to be merciful to all within those walls and to all His children everywhere. For Jesus’ sake, Amen! She piled his plate abundantly and, for all his bodily infirmity, he showed her a healthy appetite. He talked freely, she encouraging him by proving a good listener. He was a widower with one married daughter. Since his wife’s death he had made his home with this daughter. Her husband was a mighty fine man—not religious, but high-principled and doing very well indeed as a banker, considering that Forks of Hatchie was such a small town. He himself had been in the grain and feed business for most of his life but was retired now. He’d never been much of a hand for gadding over the world. Going to reunions once a year was about the extent of his traveling around. In all the time since the United Confederate Veterans had been formed he’d missed but one reunion—that was the spring when his wife died. “Minty—that’s my daughter, ma’am—Minty, she didn’t want me to come to this one,” he went on. “She was afraid for me to be putting out alone on such a long trip ‘way down here; she kept saying, Minty did, she was afraid the excitement might be too much for me at my age. But I says to her, I says, ‘Minty, child, when my time comes for me to go I don’t ask anything better than that it should be whilst I’m amongst my old comrades, with the sound of one of our old battle songs ringing in my ears!’ I says to her, ‘Shucks, but what’s the use of talking that way! Nothing’s going to happen to me. I can get there and I can get back!’ I says to her. ‘Going to reunion makes me feel young and spry all over again.’ But, ma’am, I’m afraid Minty was right about it, this time anyhow. I actually don’t believe I’m going to be able to get back down-town for today’s doings—not for the morning’s session anyway. I have to own up to you that I feel all kind of let-down and no-account, someway.” So through the forenoon he sat in an easy chair in an inner sitting-room and Miss Sissie, abandoning whatever else she might have had to do, read to him the accounts of the great event which filled column after column of the morning paper. He dozed off occasionally but she kept on reading, her voice droning across the placid quiet. Following the dinner which came at midday, she prevailed on him to take a real nap, and he stretched out on a sofa under a light coverlid which she tucked about him and slept peacefully until four o’clock. Late in the afternoon a closed car containing a couple—a man and a woman—stopped in the alleyway behind the house and the driver came to the back door, but Miss Sissie went out and gave him a message for his passengers and he returned to his car and drove away. There were no other callers that day. Mr. Braswell fretted a little after supper over his inability to muster up strength for getting to the auditorium, but somewhat was consoled by her assurances that a good night’s rest should put him in proper trim for marching in the big parade next morning. By nine o’clock he was in bed and Miss Sissie had a silent idle evening at home and seemed not ungrateful for it. On the second morning the ancient greeted her in what plainly was his official wardrobe for parading. A frayed and threadbare butternut jacket, absurdly short, with a little peaked tail sticking out behind and a line of tarnished brass buttons spaced down its front, hung grotesquely upon his withered framework. Probably it had fitted him once; now it was acres too loose. Pinned to the left breast was a huge badge, evidently home-made, of yellowed white silk, and lengthwise of it in straggled letters worked with faded red floss ran the number and name of his regiment. In his hand he carried a slouch-hat which had been black once but now was a rusty brown, with a scrap of black ostrich-plume fastened to its band by a brass token. With trembling fingers he proudly caressed the badge. “My wife made it for me out of a piece of her own wedding-dress nearly thirty years ago,” he explained. “I’ve worn it to every reunion since then. It’s funny how you put me in mind of my wife. Not that you look like her nor talk like her either. She was kind of small and she had a low voice and you’re so much taller and your way of speaking is deeper and carries further than hers did. And of course you can’t be more than half as old as she’d be if she’d lived. Funny, but you do remind me of her, though. Still, I reckin that’s easy to explain. All good women favor each other some way even when they don’t look alike. It’s something inside of them that does it, I judge—goodness and purity and thinking Christian thoughts.” If she winced at that last his innocent, weakened old eyes missed it. Anyhow the veteran very soon had personal cause for distress. He had to confess that he wasn’t up to marching. Leaving the dining-room, he practically collapsed. He was heart-broken. “Don’t you worry,” said Miss Sissie, in that masterful way of hers. “Even if you’re not able to turn out with the rest of them you’re going to see the parade. I can’t send you down-town in my own car—it’s—it’s broken down—and I can’t go with you myself—I—I’m going to be busy. But I can send you in a taxicab with a careful man to drive and you can see the parade.” “That’s mighty sweet of you—but then, I reckin it’s your nature to be sweet and thoughtful for other folks,” he said gratefully. “But, ma’am"—and doubt crept into his voice—"but ain’t all the public hacks likely to be engaged beforehand for today?” “I happen to know the manager of the leading taxicab company here,” she told him. “He’ll do what I say even if he has to take a rig away from somebody else. I’ll telephone him.” “But with the streets all crowded the way they’ll be, won’t it be hard to find a place where I can watch the other boys marching by?” In his eagerness he was childish. “That’ll be arranged, too,” she stated. “As it so happens, I also know the chief of police. I’ll call him up and give him the number of the taxi you’re in and I’ll guarantee one of his policemen will be on the special lookout for you at the far end of the Drive to see to it that you get a good place somewhere along the route.” “Seems like to me the most important people in this town must respect you mighty highly!” he exclaimed happily. “Well, I guess it’s that same way everywhere—all kinds of people are bound to recognize a real lady when they meet her and look up to her!” “Oh, yes, there’s one thing more.” She added this as if by an afterthought. “You needn’t tell anybody you meet—any of your old friends or any of the committeemen or anybody—where you’re stopping. You see, I didn’t arrange to take in any visitors for the reunion—there were reasons why I didn’t care to take in anyone—and now that I have you with me I wouldn’t care for anybody connected with the local arrangements to know about it. You understand, don’t you?—they might think I was presuming on their rights.” “Oh, yes’m, I understand,” he said unsuspectingly. “It’ll just be a little secret between us if that’s the way you’d rather it was. But I couldn’t rightly tell anybody anyhow—seeing that you ain’t ever told me what your last name is. I’d like to know it, too—I aim to write you a letter after I get home.” “My name is Lamprey,” she said. “Cecelia Lamprey. I don’t hear it very often myself—at least, not spoken out in full. And now I’d better be ringing up those influential friends of mine—you mustn’t be late getting started.”
The same taxicab driver who drove him on this day came again on the third day to take Miss Sissie’s venerable house guest to his train. It would appear that her car still was out of commission. She did not accompany him to the station. Domestic cares would hold her, she told him. She did not go to the front of the house to see him off, either. Indeed a more observant person than Mr. Braswell might have marveled that so constantly she had secluded herself indoors during his visit; and not only indoors, but behind windows curtained against the bright, warm Southern sunshine. They exchanged their farewells in her living-room. “I ain’t never going to forget you,” he told her. “If you’d been my own daughter you couldn’t ‘a’ treated me any nicer than what you have—and me just an old stove-up spavined country-jake that you never saw before in your life and probably never will see again. You ain’t seen fit, ma’am, to tell me much about yourself—seems like you let me do most of the talking, and that suited me—but old as I am I know a perfect lady when I see one and that’s what you are, ma’am, and what always you must have been and always will be—good-by and God bless you!” Saying nothing, she bent in the attitude of one accepting a benediction, and a moment later she was following him to the door and watching him as he crept in his labored, faltering gait along the entrance-hall. Under his arm was his luncheon to be eaten on the train; she had with her own hands prepared and boxed it. She waited there on the threshold until the hooded front door clicked behind him. “Pansy,” she called then toward the back of the house, and now her voice had in it a customary rasping quality which, strangely, had been almost altogether lacking from it these past two or three days. “You, Pansy!” “Yassum.” “You might call up that party that we turned down the other night and tell him this place has reopened for business as usual.”
Approximately two weeks later, Mr. Randolph Embury, president of the Forks of Hatchie People’s Bank, wrote as follows to the mayor of that city where the veterans had met: “Dear Mr. Mayor: You may possibly recall that we met in 1922 while serving as delegates for our respective states at the Inter-Southern Commercial Congress in Norfolk? I am therefore taking advantage of our slight acquaintance and am trespassing upon your patience to ask a favor which means a great deal to my wife. “Her aged father, the late Nathan Braswell, attended the recent Confederate Reunion in your city. Almost immediately upon his arrival back at this place he suffered a stroke of paralysis. Within ten days a second stroke resulted fatally to him. The interment took place yesterday, the twenty-ninth inst. His loss in this community is very deeply mourned. He was the last old soldier left here. “Although rendered completely helpless by the first stroke, he remained almost entirely rational and coherent until the second one occurred. In this stage of his illness he spoke repeatedly of his experiences while at the reunion. He was a guest in the private home of one who must have been a most cultured and charming lady—undoubtedly a lady of position and affluence. By her graciousness and her zealous care of him and her constant ministrations to his comfort she made a deep impression upon him. He was most anxious that she should know of his gratitude, and repeatedly he charged us to write her, telling how much he appreciated the attentions shown him. “Naturally, during his illness and until after the interment neither my wife nor myself had much time for letter-writing. But this morning Mrs. Embury wrote to this lady, thanking her in her dead father’s name and in ours and telling her that with practically his last conscious breath he spoke affectionately of her and paid tribute to her splendid womanly qualities and even uttered a little prayer for her well-being. He was a very devout man. That letter I enclose with this one, but in an unaddressed envelop. Mrs. Embury, of course, is most anxious that it should reach the intended recipient promptly. “The reason for not addressing it you will understand when I tell you that my father-in-law could not remember his benefactress’s last name except that it began with an ‘L’ and sounded something like ‘Lampey’ or ‘Lambry.’ He referred to her always as ‘Miss Sissie,’ which I would judge was her familiar name among more intimate friends. He could not remember the name of the street upon which she resided. However, he did describe the residence as being a very large and very handsome one, standing in a somewhat secluded part of the outskirts and not far from where a railroad track and an overhead viaduct were. “This, then, is the favor I would ask of you: If the lady is as prominently connected as I had reason to believe from Mr. Braswell’s statements, I assume you know her already. If not, I take it that it should not be a very difficult matter to locate one whose character and attainments must have given her a high standing among your good citizens. So I am asking you to see to it that the enclosed letter is put at once into her hands. “Thanking you in advance for any trouble or inconvenience to which you may be put in carrying out our wishes, I remain, “Yours most sincerely, “RANDOLPH EMBURY.” And within four days got back the following reply: “Mayor’s Office, June 2. “Dear Sir: “Yours received and contents carefully noted. In reply to same would say that while ready at any time to serve you and your good wife in every way possible, yet in this case I am put in a delicate attitude and fear you also may be put in one should I undertake to fulfill your desire. “Undoubtedly the person that your late father-in-law had in mind was one Cecelia Lamprey, better known as ‘Sis.’ But not by the widest stretch of imagination could anyone think of her as a ‘lady.’ She is the proprietress of a most notorious assignation house located on North Bonaventure Avenue, this city, and according to my best information and belief, has always been a woman of loose morals and bad repute. I might add that having been elected on a reform ticket and being committed to the task of ridding our city of evil, I am at present setting on foot an effort to close up her establishment, which has until lately enjoyed secret ‘protection,’ and to drive her from our midst. “Accordingly, I am constrained to believe that, being probably semi-delirious, the lately deceased, your esteemed father-in-law, must have made a mistake. I assume that he had ‘Sis’ Lamprey’s house pointed out to him and in his ravings got it confused with the domicile where he was housed during his sojourn among us. It is not conceivable to me that a man such as you describe would, while in his sober senses, set foot inside an establishment so readily recognizable at a glance as being absolutely disreputable, let alone remain there for any appreciable period of time. It is equally incredible to think of ‘Sis’ opening her doors to any decent person or for any worthy purpose. “In view of these facts I am constrained to believe your wife would shrink from any contact or any communication with such an individual. I am therefore taking the liberty of holding her letter on my desk until you and she have had opportunity to consider this embarrassing situation and to decide what you should do. My advice is that you instruct me to return the letter to you at once and consider the incident closed. However, I await your further instruction. (Signed) “JASON BRODERICK, Mayor.” To which the following reply was immediately dispatched by wire: “Nevertheless, on behalf of my wife and myself, kindly be so good as immediately to deliver the letter in question to the lady in question.”
IT SEEMED LIKE EVERYTHING THAT
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks