It was the day set for the grand parade and picnic of "The Sons and Daughters of Repent Ye Saith the Lord," and, with the first light of morning, Catfish Row had burst into a fever of preparation. Across the narrow street, the wharf, from which the party was to leave, bustled and seethed with life. A wagon rattled out to the pier-head and discharged an entire load of watermelons. Under the vigilant eyes of a committee a dozen volunteers lifted the precious freight from the vehicle, and piled it ready for the steamer.
From behind the next pier, with a frenzied threshing of its immense stern paddle, came the excursion boat. Tall open exhaust funnels flanked the walking-beam, and coughed great salmon-colored plumes of steam into the faint young sunlight. A fierce torrent of wood-smoke gushed from the funnel and went tumbling away across the harbor. Painters were hurled, missed, coiled, and hurled again. Then, amid a babblement of advice and encouragement, the craft was finally moored in readiness for the Lodge.
The first horizontal rays of the sun were painting the wall a warm claret, when Porgy opened his door, to find Peter already dressed for the parade, and perched upon the back of his gaily blanketed horse. He wore a sky-blue coat, white pants which were thrust into high black leggings, and a visored cap, from beneath which he scowled fiercely down upon the turmoil around the feet of his mount. Across his breast, from right shoulder to left hip, was a broad scarlet sash, upon which was emblazoned, "Repent Ye Saith the Lord!" and from his left breast fluttered a white ribbon bearing the word "MARSHAL." From time to time, he would issue orders in hoarse, menacing gutturals, which no one heeded; and twice, in the space of half an hour, he rode out to the pier-head, counted the watermelons, and returned to report the number to an important official who had arrived in a carriage to supervise the arrangements.
Momently the confusion increased, until at eight o'clock it culminated in a general exodus toward the rendezvous for the parade.
The drowsy old city had scarcely commenced its day when, down through King Charles Street, the procession took its way. Superbly unself-conscious of the effect that
it produced, it crashed through the slow, restrained rhythm of the city's life like a wild, barbaric chord. All of the stately mansions along the way were servantless that day, and the aristocratic matrons broke the ultimate canon of the social code and peered through front windows at the procession as it swept flamboyantly across the town.
First came an infinitesimal negro boy, scarlet-coated, and aglitter with brass buttons. Upon his head was balanced an enormous shako; and while he marched with left hand on hip and shoulders back, his right hand twirled a heavy gold-headed baton. Then the band, two score boys attired in several variations of the band master's costume, strode by. Bare, splay feet padded upon the cobbles; heads were thrown back, with lips to instruments that glittered in the sunshine, launching daring and independent excursions into the realm of sound. Yet these improvisations returned always to the eternal boom, boom, boom of an underlying rhythm, and met with others in the sudden weaving and ravening of amazing chords. An ecstasy of wild young bodies beat living into the blasts that shook the windows of the solemn houses. Broad, dusty, blueblack feet shuffled and danced on the manycolored cobbles and the grass
between them. The sun lifted suddenly over the housetops and flashed like a torrent of warm, white wine between the staid buildings, to break on flashing teeth and laughing eyes.
After the band came the men members of the lodge, stepping it out to the urge of the marshals who rode beside them, reinforcing the marching rhythm with a series of staccato grunts, shot with crisp, military precision from under their visored caps. Breast crossslashed with the emblems of their lodge, they passed.
Then came the carriages, and suddenly the narrow street hummed and bloomed like a tropic garden. Six to a carriage sat the sisters. The effect produced by the colors was strangely like that wrought in the music; scarlet, purple, orange, flamingo, emerald; wild, clashing, unbelievable discords; yet, in their steady flow before the eye, possessing a strange, dominant rhythm that reconciled them to each other and made them unalterably right. The senses reached blindly out for a reason. There was none. They intoxicated, they maddened, and finally they passed, seeming to pull every ray of color from the dun buildings, leaving the sunlight sane, flat, dead.
For its one brief moment out of the year
the pageant had lasted. Out of its fetters of civilization this people had risen, suddenly, amazingly. Exotic as the Congo, and still able to abandon themselves utterly to the wild joy of fantastic play, they had taken the reticent, old Anglo-Saxon town and stamped their mood swiftly and indelibly into its heart. Then they passed, leaving behind them a wistful envy among those who had watched them go,-those whom the ages had rendered old and wise.
When the exodus from the Row was completed, Bess helped Porgy out to the boat and established him in an angle of the maindeck cabin, where he could see and enjoy the excursion to the full. Below them on the wharf, Maria, who had the direction of the refreshment committee in hand, moved about among the baskets and boxes, looking rather like a water-front conflagration, in a voluminous costume of scarlet and orange. Bess left Porgy and descended the ladder.
"I gots a ready hand wid bundle," she announced diffidently.
The immense negress paused, and looked her up and down.
"Well, well, it looks like yer tryin' ter be decent," she commented.
Instantly the woman chilled. "Yuh kin go tuh Hell!" she said deliberately. "I ain't axin fuh no sermon. I want a job. Does yuh want a han' wid dem package, or not?"
For a moment their eyes met. Then they laughed suddenly, loudly together, with complete understanding.
"All right, den," the older woman said "Ef yuh is dat independent, yuh kin tek dem basket on board."
After that they worked together, until the procession arrived, without the interchange of further remarks.
Down the quiet bay, like a great, frenzied beetle, the stern-wheeler kicked its way. On the main deck the band played without cessation. In a ring before it, a number of negroes danced, for the most part shuffling singly. The sun hurled the full power of an August noon upon the oil-smooth water, and the polished surface cast it upward with added force under the awnings. The decks sagged with color, and repeated explosions of laughter rode the heat waves back to the drowsing, lovely old city long after the boat
had turned the first bend in the narrow river and passed from view on its way to the negro picnic grounds on Kittiwar Island.
Thrashing its way between far-sweeping marshes and wooded sea islands, the boat would burst suddenly into lagoon after lagoon, that lay strewn along the coast, that blazed in the noon like great fire-opals held in silver mesh.
Finally a shout went up. Kittiwar lay before them, thrusting a slender wharf from its thickly wooded extremity into the slack tide.
The debarkation over, Maria took possession of a clearing that stood in a dense forest of palmettoes and fronted on the beach, and marshalled her committee to prepare the lunch. From the adjacent beach came the steady, cool thunder of the sea and the unremitting hum of sand, as tireless winds scooped it from the dunes and sent it in low, flat-blown layers across the hard floor of the beach.
The picnickers heard it, and answered with a shout. Soon the streaming whiteness of the inner surf was dotted with small, glistening black bodies; the larger figures, with skirts hoisted high, were wading in the shallows.
Porgy sat with a large myrtle bush in
one hand, with which he brushed flies from several sleeping infants. The sun lay heavy and comforting upon him. One of the children stirred and whimpered. He hummed a low, bumbling song to it. There was a new contentment in his face. After a while he commenced to nod.
"I go an' git some palmettuh leaf fuh tablecloth," Bess told Maria; and, without waiting for an answer, she took a knife from a basket, and entered the dense tangle of palm and vine that walled the clearing.
Almost immediately she was in another world. The sounds behind her became faint, and died. A rattler moved its thick body sluggishly out of her way. A flock of wood ibis sprang suddenly up, broke through the thick roof of palm leaves, and streamed away over the treetops toward the marsh with their legs at the trail.
She cut a wide fan-shaped leaf from the nearest palmetto. Behind her someone breathed-a deep interminable breath.
The woman's body stiffened slowly. Her eyes half closed and were suddenly dark and knowing. Some deep ebb or flow of blood touched her face, causing it to darken
heavily, leaving the scar livid. Without turning, she said slowly:
"Yas, yuh know berry well, dis Crown."
The deep sound shook her. She turned like one dazed, and looked him up and down. His body was naked to the waist, and the blue cotton pants that he had worn on the night of the killing had frayed away to his knees. He bent slightly forward. The great muscles of his torso flickered and ran like the flank of a horse. His small wicked eyes burned, and he moistened his heavy lips.
Earth had cared for him well. The marshes had provided eggs of wild fowl, and many young birds. The creek had given him fish, crabs and oysters in abundance, and the forest had fed him with its many berries, and succulent palmetto cabbage.
"I seen yuh land," he said, "an' I been waitin' fuh yuh. I mos' dead ob lonesome on dis damn island, wid not one Gawd's person to swap a word wid. Yuh gots any happy dus' wid yuhi"
"No," she said; then with an effort, "Crown, I gots somethin' tuh tell yuh. I done gib up dope; and beside dat, I sort ob change my way."
His jaw shot forward, and the huge shoulder muscles bulged and set. His two great hands went around her throat and closed like the slow fusing of steel on steel. She stopped speaking. He drew her to him until his face touched hers. Under his hands her arteries pounded, sending fierce spurts of flame through her limbs, beating redly behind her eyeballs. His hands slackened. Her face changed, her lips opened, but she said nothing. Crown broke into low, shaken laughter, and threw her from him.
"Now come wid me," he ordered.
Into the depths of the jungle they plunged; the woman walking in front with a trance-like fixity of gaze. They followed one of the narrow hard-packed trails that had been beaten by the wild hogs and goats that roamed the island.
On each side of them, the forest stood like a wall, its tough low trees and thickbodied palmettoes laced and bound together with wire-strong vines. Overhead the foliage met, making the trail a tunnel as inescapable as though it had been built of masonry.
The man walked with a swinging, effortless stride, but his breath sounded in long, audible inhalations, as though he labored physically.
When they had journeyed for half an hour they crossed a small cypress swamp. The cypress-knees jutted grotesquely from the yellow water, and trailing Spanish moss extended drab stalactites that brushed their faces as they threaded the low, muddy trail. Finally Bess emerged into a small clearing, in the centre of which stood a low hut with sides of plaited twigs and roof of palmetto leaves laid on top of each other in regular rows like shingles.
Crown was close behind her. At the low door of the hut she paused and turned toward him. He laughed suddenly and hotly at what he saw in her face.
"I know yuh ain't change," he said. "Wid yuh an' me it always goin' tuh be de same. See!"
He snatched her body toward him with such force that her breath was forced from her in a sharp gasp. Then she inhaled deeply, threw back her head, and sent a wild laugh out against the walls of the clearing.
Crown swung her about and threw her face forward into the hut.
The sun was so low that its level rays shot through the tunnels of the forest and
bronzed its ceiling of woven leaves when Bess returned to the clearing. She paused for a moment. Behind her, screened by the underbrush, stood Crown.
"Now 'member wut I tells yuh," he said. "Yuh kin stay wid de cripple 'til de cotton come. Den I comin'. Davy will hide we on de ribber boat fur as Sawannah. Den soon de cotton will be comin' in fas', an' libbin will be easy. Yuh gits dat?"
For a moment she looked into the narrow, menacing eyes, then nodded.
"Go 'long den, an' tote fair, les yuh wants tuh meet yo' Gawd."
She stepped into the open. Already most of the party were on the boat. She crossed the narrow beach to the wharf.
Maria stood by the gangplank and looked at her with suspicious eyes. "Wuh yuh been all day'?" she demanded.
"I git los' in de woods, an' I can't git my bearin's 'til sundown. But dat ain't nobody' business 'cep' me an' Porgy, ef yuh wants tuh know."
She found Porgy on the lower deck near the stern, and seated herself by him in silence. He was looking into the sunset, and gave no evidence of having noticed her arrival.
Through the illimitable, mysterious
night, the steamer took its way. Presently it swung out of one of the narrow channels and wallowed like an antediluvian monster into the stillness of a wide lagoon. Out of the darkness, low, broad waves moved in upon it, trailing stars along their swarthy backs to shatter into silver dust against the uncouth bows.
To Porgy and Bess, still sitting silent in the stern, came only the echoes of drowsy conversations, sounds of sleeping, and the rhythmic splash and drip of the single great wheel behind them. The boat forged out into the centre of the lagoon, and the shore line melted out behind it. Where it had shown a moment before, could now be seen only the steady climb of constellations out of the water's rim, and the soft, humid lamps of low, near stars. The night pressed in about the two quiet figures.
Porgy had said no word since their departure. His body had assumed its old, tense attitude. His face wore again its listening look. Now, he said slowly:
"Yuh nebber lie tuh me, Bess."
"No," came an even, colorless voice, "I nebber lie tuh yuh. Yuh gots tuh gib me dat."
Another interval, then:
"War it Crown'?"
A sharp, indrawn breath beside him, and a whisper:
"How yuh known
"Gawd gib cripple many t'ings he ain't gib strong men." Then again, patiently, "War it Crown?"
"Yes, it war."
"Wut he says"
"He comin' fuh me when de cotton come tuh town."
"I tell um-yes."
After a while the woman reached out a hand and closed it lightly about the man's arm. Under the sleeve she felt the muscles go rigid. What power! She tried to circle it with her hand. It was almost as big as Crown's. It was strange that she had not noticed that before. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came. Presently she sighed, and withdrew her hand.
Through the immense emptiness of sea and sky the boat forged slowly toward the distant city's lights.
"I gots e r feel in' yistuhday, " announced Maria to Serena Robbins, as she took a batch of wet clothing from the latter's tub, gave it
one twist with her enormous hands, and set it aside to go upon the line.
"Wut yuh gots er feelin' 'bout?"
"I gots er feelin' w'en Porgy 'oman come out de wood on de picnic, she done been wid Crown."
At the mention of the murderer's name Serena stepped back, and her usual expression of sanctimonious complacency slowly changed. Her lower lip shot forward, and her face darkened.
"Yuh t'ink dat nigger on Kittiwari" she asked.
"I allus figgered he bin dey in dem deep palmetters," Maria replied.
"Tut w'en I look in Bess's eye las' night, I sho ob two t'ing: one, dat he is dey, an' two, dat she been wid um."
"Yuh b'lieb she still run wid dat nigger?"
"Dem sort ob mens ain't need tuh worry 'bout habin' 'omen," Maria told her. "Dey kin lay de lash on um, an' kick um in de street; den dey kin whistle w'en dey ready, an' dere dey is ag'in lickin' dey han'."
"She goin' stay wid Porgy, ef she know wut good fuh she."
"She know all right, an' she lub Porgy. But ef dat nigger come attuh she, dey ain't goin' tuh be noboddy roun' hyuh but Porgy an' de goat."
A sudden dark flame blazed in Serena's face, sweeping the acquired complacency before it, and changing it utterly. She leant forward, and spoke heavily:
"Dat nigger bes' t'ank he Gawd dat I gots My Jedus now fuh hol' back my han'!"
"Yuh ain't means dat yuh is goin' tuh gib um up tuh de w'ite folks ef he come back to town, 'stead ob settle wid um yu'self?" Maria asked incredulously.
"I ain't know wut fuh do," the other replied, the hatred in her face giving way to a look of perplexity. "Ef dat nigger come tuh town he sho tuh git kill' sooner er later. Den de w'ite folks goin' lock me up. Dey gots it on de writin's now dat I been Robbins' wife; an' dey goin' figger I like as not kill um. I knows two people git lock up dat way, an' dey ain't do one Gawd t'ing."
"Nigger sho' gots fuh keep he eye open in dis worl'," the big negress observed. "But we can't turn no nigger ober tuh de police."
A man paused before the entrance of the court, and looked in. To the two women he was only a silhouette standing under the arch against a dazzling expanse of bay; but the foppish outlines of the indolent, slender figure were unmistakable.
A smile of pleased anticipation grew about
Maria's wide mouth. She dried her hands upon her apron.
"Jus' like I been tellin' yuh !" she remarked to Serena. "T'ank Gawd, Jedus ain't gots me yit wuh he gots you; an' I still mens enough tuh straighten out a crooked nigger. See dat yalluh snake wrigglin' in de do'way? He de one wut sell Bess dat happy dus'."
Drying her hands and bared forearms with ominous thoroughness, she crossed to her shop. The room was empty when she entered. She went at once to the stove which stood in its corner, with its legs set upon four bricks. She bent forward, placed a shoulder against one of its corners, gave a heave, and drew out a brick. Then she straightened up, spat first on one hand, then on the other, and, carrying the brick in her immense right, lightly, and with a certain awful fondness, stepped out of her door.
Sportin' Life was now within the entrance, and presented an unsuspecting profile to the cook-shop.
With frightful deliberation, Maria swung her long arm back; then, like the stroke of a rattler, it shot forward. The brick caught the mulatto full on the side of the head. He crumpled among his gaudy habiliments like a stricken bird.
After a space of time the victim blinked feebly, then opened his eyes upon Maria's face. She was mopping his head with a wet rag, and his first glance discovered an expression of gentleness on her heavy features. Reassured, he opened his eyes wide. But the gentleness was gone. He felt himself gripped by the shoulders, and suddenly snatched upward to be placed upon unsteady legs. Then he was propelled rapidly toward the gate.
At the pavement's edge Maria swung her victim around until his wandering and reluctant gaze met hers.
"De las' time yuh wuz aroun' hyuh, I ain't hab nuttin' on yuh but my eyes. Now I knows yuh-yuh damn, dirty, dope-peddler, wreckin' de homes ob dese happy niggers .
Her arms shot forward and back like locomotive pistons. The man's head snapped to an acute angle, and righted itself with difficulty.
"Now, w'en I done flingin' yuh out dis gate," she proceeded, "it's de las' time yuh is goin' tuh leabe it erlibe. Eberybody say I is er berry t'orough nigger, an' ef yuh ebber comes roun' hyuh agin, drunk or sobuh, I ain't goin' to be t'rough wid yuh carcase
ontil I t'row yuh bones out tuh de buzza'd one by one."
Abruptly she reversed the luckless man and placed a foot in the small of his back. Then with a heave that seemed to bring into play every muscle of her huge bulk, she catapulted him once and for all out of Catfish Row and the lives of its inhabitants.