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The constable who had arrested old Peter led his prisoner away through alleys and quiet streets--though for that matter all the streets of Clarendon were quiet in midafternoon--to a guardhouse or calaboose, constructed of crumbling red brick, with a rusty, barred iron door secured by a heavy padlock. As they approached this structure, which was sufficiently forbidding in appearance to depress the most lighthearted, the strumming of a banjo became audible, accompanying a mellow Negro voice which was singing, to a very ragged ragtime air, words of which the burden was something like this:
"W'at's de use er my wo'kin' so hahd? I got a' 'oman in de white man's yahd. W'en she cook chicken, she save me a wing; W'en dey 'low I'm wo'kin', I ain' doin' a thing!"
The grating of the key in the rusty lock interrupted the song. The constable thrust his prisoner into the dimly lighted interior, and locked the door.
"Keep over to the right," he said curtly, "that's the niggers' side."
"But, Mistah Haines," asked Peter, excitedly, "is I got to stay here all night? I ain' done nuthin'."
"No, that's the trouble; you ain't done nuthin' fer a month, but loaf aroun'. You ain't got no visible means of suppo't, so you're took up for vagrancy."
"But I does wo'k we'n I kin git any wo'k ter do," the old man expostulated. "An' ef I kin jus' git wo'd ter de right w'ite folks, I'll be outer here in half a' hour; dey'll go my bail."
"They can't go yo' bail to-night, fer the squire's gone home. I'll bring you some bread and meat, an' some whiskey if you want it, and you'll be tried to-morrow mornin'."
Old Peter still protested.
"You niggers are always kickin'," said the constable, who was not without a certain grim sense of humour, and not above talking to a Negro when there were no white folks around to talk to, or to listen. "I never see people so hard to satisfy. You ain' got no home, an' here I've give' you a place to sleep, an' you're kickin'. You doan know from one day to another where you'll git yo' meals, an' I offer you bread and meat and whiskey--an' you're kickin'! You say you can't git nothin' to do, an' yit with the prospect of a reg'lar job befo' you to-morrer--you're kickin'! I never see the beat of it in all my bo'n days."
When the constable, chuckling at his own humour, left the guardhouse, he found his way to a nearby barroom, kept by one Clay Jackson, a place with an evil reputation as the resort of white men of a low class. Most crimes of violence in the town could be traced to its influence, and more than one had been committed within its walls.
"Has Mr. Turner been in here?" demanded Haines of the man in charge.
The bartender, with a backward movement of his thumb, indicated a door opening into a room at the rear. Here the constable found his man--a burly, bearded giant, with a red face, a cunning eye and an overbearing manner. He had a bottle and a glass before him, and was unsociably drinking alone.
"Howdy, Haines," said Turner, "How's things? How many have you got this time?"
"I've got three rounded up, Mr. Turner, an' I'll take up another befo' night. That'll make fo'--fifty dollars fer me, an' the res' fer the squire."
"That's good," rejoined Turner. "Have a glass of liquor. How much do you s'pose the Squire'll fine Bud?"
"Well," replied Haines, drinking down the glass of whiskey at a gulp, "I reckon about twenty-five dollars."
"You can make it fifty just as easy," said Turner. "Niggers are all just a passell o' black fools. Bud would 'a' b'en out now, if it hadn't be'n for me. I bought him fer six months. I kept close watch of him for the first five, and then along to'ds the middle er the las' month I let on I'd got keerliss, an' he run away. Course I put the dawgs on 'im, an' followed 'im here, where his woman is, an' got you after 'im, and now he's good for six months more."
"The woman is a likely gal an' a good cook," said Haines. "_She'd_ be wuth a good 'eal to you out at the stockade."
"That's a shore fact," replied the other, "an' I need another good woman to help aroun'. If we'd 'a' thought about it, an' give' her a chance to hide Bud and feed him befo' you took 'im up, we could 'a' filed a charge ag'inst her for harborin' 'im."
"Well, I kin do it nex' time, fer he'll run away ag'in--they always do. Bud's got a vile temper."
"Yes, but he's a good field-hand, and I'll keep his temper down. Have somethin' mo'?"
"I've got to go back now and feed the pris'ners," said Haines, rising after he had taken another drink; "an' I'll stir Bud up so he'll raise h--ll, an' to-morrow morning I'll make another charge against him that'll fetch his fine up to fifty and costs."
"Which will give 'im to me till the cotton crop is picked, and several months more to work on the Jackson Swamp ditch if Fetters gits the contract. You stand by us here, Haines, an' help me git all the han's I can out o' this county, and I'll give you a job at Sycamo' when yo'r time's up here as constable. Go on and feed the niggers, an' stir up Bud, and I'll be on hand in the mornin' when court opens."
When the lesser of these precious worthies left his superior to his cups, he stopped in the barroom and bought a pint of rotgut whiskey--a cheap brand of rectified spirits coloured and flavoured to resemble the real article, to which it bore about the relation of vitriol to lye. He then went into a cheap eating house, conducted by a Negro for people of his own kind, where he procured some slices of fried bacon, and some soggy corn bread, and with these various purchases, wrapped in a piece of brown paper, he betook himself to the guardhouse. He unlocked the door, closed it behind him, and called Peter. The old man came forward.
"Here, Peter," said Haines, "take what you want of this, and give some to them other fellows, and if there's anything left after you've got what you want, throw it to that sulky black hound over yonder in the corner."
He nodded toward a young Negro in the rear of the room, the Bud Johnson who had been the subject of the conversation with Turner. Johnson replied with a curse. The constable advanced menacingly, his hand moving toward his pocket. Quick as a flash the Negro threw himself upon him. The other prisoners, from instinct, or prudence, or hope of reward, caught him, pulled him away and held him off until Haines, pale with rage, rose to his feet and began kicking his assailant vigorously. With the aid of well-directed blows of his fists he forced the Negro down, who, unable to regain his feet, finally, whether from fear or exhaustion, lay inert, until the constable, having worked off his worst anger, and not deeming it to his advantage seriously to disable the prisoner, in whom he had a pecuniary interest, desisted from further punishment.
"I might send you to the penitentiary for this," he said, panting for breath, "but I'll send you to h--ll instead. You'll be sold back to Mr. Fetters for a year or two tomorrow, and in three months I'll be down at Sycamore as an overseer, and then I'll learn you to strike a white man, you----"
The remainder of the objurgation need not be told, but there was no doubt, from the expression on Haines's face, that he meant what he said, and that he would take pleasure in repaying, in overflowing measure, any arrears of revenge against the offending prisoner which he might consider his due. He had stirred Bud up very successfully--much more so, indeed, than he had really intended. He had meant to procure evidence against Bud, but had hardly thought to carry it away in the shape of a black eye and a swollen nose.
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