October blew down from the north, bracing, and frosty-clear. It sent a breeze racing like mad over the bay and bouncing into the court to toss the clothes-lines like lanyards of signal flags. The torpid city and wide, slumbrous marshes were stung to sudden life and laughed up at the far, crisp blue of the sky.
Out in the harbor mouth, a faint wisp of smoke grew and blackened, and presently beneath it the rusty hull of a tramp lifted from the Atlantic, and thrust its blunt nose into the waters of the bay.
Summer had gone. Soon the cotton would be coming through.
It was nine o'clock, and still Porgy lingered in the court. His blood leapt swiftly in his veins, and he experienced that sweet upsurge of life that the North knows with the bursting of spring, but that comes most keenly to the sultry lands with the strong breath of autumn. Yet, when he looked up at the sky, a vague prescience of disaster darkened his spirit. He sat beside Bess in the doorway, with his eyes upon the
child in her lap. After a while he took the baby into his arms, and then the foreboding suddenly became pain.
He looked up and met the gaze of the woman. It was there in her eyes also, plain for him to see.
Out in the silence of the street a sound commenced to grow. Only a faint, far murmur at first, it gathered weight until it became a steady rumble, with a staccato clip, clip, clip running through it.
There were a few women and children about, and they ran to the entrance to see. But Porgy and Bess sat and looked fixedly at the bay, where it lay beyond the gate.
Then the drays came, and the bay was blotted out by the procession.
The great mules, fat and strong from their summer in pasture, moved swiftly with a sharp click of shoes, and the drivers cracked their whips and laughed down at the crowd. The low platforms of the vehicles seemed almost to brush the ground; and, upon them, clear to the top of the entrance arch, the bales towered, with the fibre showing in dazzling white patches where the bagging was torn. Twenty or more in the train they passed.
Scarcely had the rumble receded in the distance, than a burst of heavy laughter
sounded in the street, and two tall figures strode through the entrance and into the group of women and children. There was a bright flash from bandanas, and one of the men swung a child to his shoulder. Loud greetings followed, and another burst of laughter, heavy, deep-chested and glad.
From an upper window a woman's voice called, "Come on, Sister; le's we go down. De stevedore is comin' back."
Porgy turned toward Bess, and moistened his lips with his tongue. Then he spoke in a low husky voice:
"Us ain't talk much sence de picnic, Bess, you an' me. But I gots tuh talk now. I gots tuh know how you an' me stan'."
Bess regarded him dumbly. For a moment the look which Serena had seen when she had tried to take the baby brushed her face, then it passed, leaving it hopeless.
Porgy leaned forward. "Yuh is wantin' tuh go wid Crown w'en he come?"
Then she answered: "W'en I tek dat dope, I know den dat I ain't yo' kin'. An' w'en Crown put he han' on me dat day, I run tuh he like water. Some day dope comin' agin. An' some day Crown goin' put he han' on my t'roat. It goin' be like dyin' den. But I gots tuh talk de trut' tuh yuh. W'en dem time come, I goin' tuh go."
"Ef dey warn't no Crown?" Porgy whispered. Then before she could answer, he hurried on: "Ef dey wuz only jes' de baby an' Porgy, wut den?"
The odd incandescence flared in her face, touching it with something eternal and b autiful beyond the power of human flesh to convey. She took the child from Porgy with a hungry, enfolding gesture. Then her composure broke.
"Oh, fuh Gawd sake, Porgy, don't let dat man come an' handle me ! Ef yuh is willin' tuh keep me, den lemme stay. Ef he jus' don't put dem hot han' on me, I kin be good, I kin 'member, I kin be happy."
She broke off abruptly, and hid her face against that of the child.
Porgy patted her arm. "Yuh ain't needs tuh be 'fraid," he assured her. "Ain't yuh gots yo' man? Ain't yuh gots Porgy? Wut kin of a nigger yuh t'inks yuh gots anyway, fuh let annuduh nigger carry he 'oman? No, suh! yuh gots yo' man now; yuh gots Porgy"
From behind a sea island the full October moon lifted its chill disc and strewed the bay with cold, white fire. The lights were
out in Catfish Row, except for a shaft of firelight that fell across the dark from Serena's room, and a faint flicker in the cook- shop, where Maria was getting her fire laid in readiness for the early breakfast.
A cry sounded in the court, which was quickly muffled; then followed low, insolent laughter.
Maria was at her door instantly. Across the court, a man could be seen for one moment, seated on Serena's wash-bench; then behind him the door closed with a bang, shutting off the shaft of firelight.
Maria crossed the court, and when she had reached the man's side he looked up. The moonlight fell upon his face. It was Crown. "What yuh doin' hyuh?" she asked him.
"Jus' droppin' in on a few ole frien'."
"Come tuh de shop," she commanded. "I gots tuh hab talk wid yuh."
He arose obediently, and followed her.
Maria turned up the lamp and faced about as Crown entered the room. He had to bend his head to pass under the lintel, and his shoulders brushed the sides of the opening.
The big negress stood for a long moment looking at him. Her gaze took in the straight legs with their springing thighs straining the fabric of the cotton pants, the
slender waist, and the almost unbelievable outward flare of the chest to the high, straight span of the shoulders.
A look of deep sadness grew in hersomber face.
"Wid uh body like dat !" she said at last, "why yuh is goin' aroun' huntin' fuh deat'?"
Crown laughed uneasily, stepped into the room, and sat at a table. He placed his elbows upon it, hunched his shoulders forward with a writhing of muscle beneath the shirt, then dropped his chin in his hands, and regarded the woman.
"I know dese hyuh niggers," he replied. "Dey is a decent lot. Dey wouldn't gib no nigger away tuh de w'ite folks."
"Dat de Gawd' trut'. Only dey is odder way ob settlin' up er debt."
"Serena?" he asked, with a sidelong look, and a laugh. "Dat sister gots de fear ob Gawd in she heart. I ain't 'fraid none ob she."
After a moment of silence he asked abruptly: "Bess still libbin' wid de cripple?"
"Yes; an' she a happy, decent 'oman. Yuh bes' leabe she alone."
"Fer Gawd' sake ! Wut yuh t'ink I come tuh dis damn town fuh? I ain't jus' huntin fuh deat'! I atter my 'oman."
Maria placed her hands on the table opposite the man and bent over to look into his face.
"'Oman is all berry much de same," she said in a low, persuasive voice. "Dey comes an' dey goes. One sattify a man quick as annuduh. Dey is lots ob bettuh lookin' gal dan Bess. She fix fuh life now wid dat boy. I ax yuh go an' lef she. Gib she uh chance."
"It tek long time tuh learn one 'oman," he said slowly. "Me an' Bess done fight dat all out dese fibe year gone."
"Yuh ain't goin' leabe she den?" There was an unusual note of pleading in the heavy voice.
"Not till Hell freeze."
After a moment he arose and turned to her.
"I gots tuh go out now. I ain' t sho wedder I goin' away tuhnight or wait fuh tuhmorruh night. I goin' look aroun' an' see how de lan' lay; but I'll be seein yuh agin befo' I goes."
Maria regarded him for a long moment; the look of sadness in her face deepened to a heavy melancholy; but she said nothing.
Crown started for the street with his long, swaggering stride. The big woman watched him until he turned to the north at the entrance and passed from view. Then she
locked the door and, with a deep sigh, walked to her own room.
Porgy opened his eyes suddenly. The window, which had been luminous when he went to sleep, was now darkened. He watched it intently. Slowly he realized that parts of the little square still showed the moonlit waters of the bay, and that only the centre was blocked out by an intervening mass. Then the mass moved, and Porgy saw that it was the torso and shoulders of a man. The window was three feet in width, yet the shoulders seemed to brush both sides of it as the form bent forward. The sash was down, and presently there came a sound as though hands were testing it to see whether it could be forced up.
Porgy was lying on his back. He reached his left hand over the covers and let the fingers touch ever so lightly the sleeping faces of first the baby, then the woman. His right hand slid beneath his pillow, and his strong, slender fingers closed about the handle of a knife.
At the window the slight, testing noise continued.
It was certainly after midnight when Maria looked from her doorway; for the moon was tottering on the western wall, and while she stood looking, slowly it dropped over and vanished.
The vague forebodings that she had felt when she talked to Crown earlier in the evening had kept sleep from her; with each passing hour her fears increased, and with them a sense of imminence that finally forced her to get up, slip on a wrapper, and prepare to make the rounds of the court.
But on opening her door, she was at once reassured. The square stood before her like a vast cistern brimmed with misty dark and roofed with a lid of sky. A cur grovelled forward on its belly from a near-by nook, and licked one of her bare feet with its moist, warm tongue.
Above her, in the huge honeycomb of the building, someone was snoring in a slow, steady rhythm.
The big negress drew a deep sigh of relief and turned back toward her room.
A sound of cracking wood snapped the silence. Then, like a flurry of small bells, came a shiver of broken glass on the stones. Maria spun around, and tried to locate the sound; but no noise followed. Silence flowed back over the court and settled pal-
pably into its recesses. The faint, not unpleasant rhythm of the snoring came insistently forward.
Suddenly Maria turned, her face quick with apprehension. She drew her wrapper closely about her, and crossed to Porgy's door. With only half of the distance traversed, she heard a sound from the room. It was more of a muffled thump than anything else, and with it, something very like a gasp.
When her hand closed over the knob all was silent again, except that she could hear a long, slightly shuddering breath.
Then came a sound that caused her flesh to prickle with primal terror. It was so unexpected, there in the chill, silent night. It was Porgy's laugh, but different. Out of the stillness it swelled suddenly, deep, aboriginal, lustful. Then it stopped short.
Maria heard the baby cry out; then Bess's voice, sleepy and mystified. "Fuh Gawd' sake, Porgy, what yuh laughin' 'bout?"
"Dat all right, honey," came the answer "Don't yuh be worrying Yuh gots Porgy now, an' he look atter he Oman. Ain't I done tells yuh: Yuh gots er man now."
Maria turned the knob, entered the room, and closed the door quickly behind her.
Night trailed westward across the city. In the east, out beyond the ocean's rim, essential light trembled upward and seemed to absorb rather than quench the morning stars. Out of the sliding planes of mist that hung like spent breath above the city, shapes began to emerge and assume their proper values.
Far in the upper air over Catfish Row a speck appeared. It took a long, descending spiral, and became two, then three. Around a wide circle the specks swung, as though hung by wires from a lofty pivot. The light brightened perceptibly. The specks dropped to a lower level, increased in size, and miraculously became a dozen. Then some of them dropped in from the circumference of the circle, cutting lines across like the spokes of a wheel, and from time to time flapping indolent wings. Dark and menacing when they flew to the westward, they would turn easily toward the east, and the sun, still below the horizon, would gild their bodies with ruddy gold, as they sailed, breast on, toward it.
Down, down they dropped, reaching low, and yet lower levels, until at last they seemed to brush the water-front buildings with their sombre wings. Then gradually they narrowed to a small circle that pa-
trolled the air directly over a shape that lay awash in the rising tide, across the street from Catfish Row.
Suddenly from the swinging circle a single bird planed down and lit with an awkward, hopping step directly before the object. For a moment he regarded it with bleak, predatory eyes; then flew back to his fellows. A moment later the whole flock swooped down, and the shape was hidden by flapping wings and black awkward bodies that hopped about and fought inward to the centre of the group.
A negro who had been sleeping under an overturned bateau awoke and rubbed his eyes; then he sprang up and, seizing an oar, beat the birds away with savage blows.
He bent over the object for a moment, then turned and raced for the street with eyes showing white.
"Fuh Gawd' sake, folks," he cried, "come hyuh quick ! Hyuh Crown, an' he done dead."
A group of three white men stood over the body. One was the plain-clothes man with the goatee and stick who had investigated the Robbins murder. Behind him
stood a uniformed policeman. The third, a stout, leisurely individual, was stooping over the body, in the act of making an examination.
"What do you make of it, Coroner?" asked the plain-clothes man.
"Knife between fifth and sixth ribs; must have gone straight through the heart."
"Well, he had it comin' to him," the detective observed. "They tell me he is the nigger, Crown, who killed Robbins last April. That gives us the widow to work on fer a starter, by the way; and Hennessy tells me that he used to run with that dope case we had up last August. She's livin' in the Row, too. Let's go over and have a look."
The Coroner cast an apprehensive glance at the forbidding structure across the way.
"Can't be so sure," he cautioned. "Corpse might have been washed up. Tide's on the flood."
"Well, I'm goin' to have a look at those two women, anyway," the plain-clothes man announced. "That place is alive with crooks. I'd like to get something on it that would justify closing it up as a public nuisance, and throwing the whole lot of 'em out in the street. One murder and a happy-dust riot already this summer; and here we are again."
Then turning to the policeman, he gave his orders.
"Get the wagon and take the body in. Then you had better come right back. We might have some arrests. The Coroner and I'll investigate while you're gone."
He turned away toward the Row, assuming that he would be followed.
"All right, Cap; what do you say?" he called.
The Coroner shook his ponderous figure down into his clothes, turned with evident reluctance, and joined him.
"All right," he agreed. "But all I need is a couple of witnesses to identify the body at the inquest."
Across the street a small negro boy detached himself from the base of one of the gateposts and darted through the entrance.
A moment later the white men strode into an absolutely empty square. Their heels made a sharp sound on the flags, and the walls threw a clear echo down upon them.
A cur that had been left napping in the sun woke with a start, looked about in a bewildered fashion, gave a frightened yelp, and bolted through a doorway.
It was all clearly not to the taste of the Coroner, and he cast an uneasy glance about him.
"Where do we go?" he asked.
"That's the widow's room over there, if she hasn't moved. We'll give it a look first," said the detective.
The door was off the latch, and, without knocking, he kicked it open and walked in.
The room was small, but immaculately clean. Beneath a patched white quilt could be seen the form of a woman. Two other women were sitting in utter silence beside the bed. The form under the covers moaned.
"Drop that," the detective commanded. "And answer some questions." The moaning stopped.
"Where were you yesterday and last night?"
The reply came slowly, as though speaking were great pain.
"I been sick in dis bed now t'ree day an' night."
"We been settin' wid she, nursin' she, all dat time," one of the women said.
And the other supplemented. "Dat de Gawd' trut'."
"You would swear to that?" asked the Coroner.
Three voices answered in chorus:
"Yes, Boss, we swear tuh dat."
"There you are," said the Coroner to the plain-clothes man, "an air-tight alibi."
The detective regarded him for a moment with supreme contempt. Then he stepped forward and jerked the sheet from Serena's face, which lay upon the pillow as immobile as a model done in brown clay
"You know damn well that you were out yesterday !" he snapped. "I have a good mind to get the wagon and carry you in."
"What do you say to that?" he demanded.
But Serena had nothing to say, and neither had her handmaidens.
Then he turned a menacing frown upon them, as they sat motionless with lowered eyes.
They jumped slightly, and their eyes showed white around the iris. Suddenly they
"We swear tuh Gawd, we done been hyuh wid she t'ree day."
"Oh, Hell!" said the exasperated detective. "What's the use? You might as well argue with a parrot-cage."
"That woman is just as ill at this moment as you are," he said to his unenthusiastic associate when they were again in the sunlight
"Her little burlesque show proves that, if nothing else. But there is her case all prepared. I don't believe she killed Crown; she doesn't look like that kind. She is either just playing safe, or she has something entirely different on her chest. But there's her story; and you'll never break in without witnesses of your own; and you'll never get 'em."
The Coroner was not a highly sensitized individual; but as he moved across the empty court, he found it difficult to control his nerves under the scrutiny which he felt leveled upon him from behind a hundred shuttered windows. Twice he caught himself looking covertly over his shoulders; and, as he went, he bore hopefully away toward the entrance.
But the detective was intent upon his task, and presently called him back.
"This is the cripple's room," he said. "He ain't much of a witness. I tried to break him in the Robbins case; but he wouldn't talk. I want to have a look at the woman, though."
He kicked the door open suddenly. Porgy and Bess were seated by the stove, eating breakfast from tin pans. On the bed in the corner the baby lay. Porgy paused, with his spoon halfway
to his mouth, and looked up. Bess kept her eyes on the pan, and continued to eat.
The Coroner stopped in the doorway, and made a businesslike show of writing in a notebook. "What's your name?" he asked Porgy.
The cripple studied him for a long moment, taking in the ample proportions of the figure and the heavy, but not unsympathetic, face. Then he smiled one of his fleeting, ingenuous smiles.
"Jus' Porgy," he said. "Yuh knows me, Boss. Yuh is done gib me plenty ob penny on King Charles Street."
"Of course, you're the goat-man. I didn't know you without your wagon," he said amiably. Then, becoming businesslike, he asked:
"This nigger, Crown. You knew him by sight. Didn't you?"
Porgy debated with himself for a moment, looked again into the Coroner's face, was reassured by what he saw there, and replied:
"Yes, Boss; I 'member urn w'en he usen tuh come hyuh, long ago."
"You could identify him, I supposed"
Porgy looked blank.
"You'd know him if you saw him again?"
"Yes, Boss; I know um."
The Coroner made a note in his book, closed it with an air of finality, and put it in his pocket.
During the brief interview, the detective had been making an examination of the room. The floor had been recently scrubbed, and was still damp in the corners. He gave the clean, pine boards a close scrutiny, then paused before the window. The bottom of the lower sash had been broken, and several of the small, square panes were missing.
"So this is where you killed Crown, eh?" he announced.
The words fell into the silence and were absorbed by it, causing them to seem theatrical and unconvincing. Neither Porgy nor Bess spoke. Their faces were blank and noncommittal. After a full moment, the woman said:
"I ain't onduhstan', Boss. Nobody hyuh ain't kill Crown. My husban' he fall t'rough dat winduh yisterday when he leg gib 'way. He er cripple."
"Anyone see him do it?" enquired the Coroner from the door.
"Oh, yes, Boss," replied Bess, turning to him. "T'ree or four ob de mens was in de street; dey will tell yuh all 'bout um."
"Yes, of course; more witnesses," sneered the detective. Then turning to the Coroner,
he asked with a trace of sarcasm in his tone: "That satisfies you fully, I suppose?"
The Coroner's nerves were becoming edgy.
"For God's sake," he retorted, "do you expect me to believe that a cripple could kill a two-hundred pound buck, then tote him a hundred yards? Well, I've got what I need now anyway. As far as I'm concerned, I'm through."
They were passing the door of Maria's shop when the detective caught sight of something within that held his gaze.
"You can do as you please," he told his unwilling companion. "But I'm going to have a look in here. I have never been able to get anything on this woman; but she is a bad influence in the neighborhood. I'd trust her just as far as I could throw her."
The Coroner heaved a sigh of resignation, and they stepped back, and entered the shop.
Upon the flooring, directly before the door, and not far from it, was a pool of blood. Standing over the pool was a table, and upon it lay the carcass of a shark. Maria sat on a bench behind the table. As the men entered she swung an immense cleaver downward. A cross-section of the shark detached itself and fell away on a pile of similar slices. A thin stream of blood
dribbled from the table, augmenting the pool upon the floor.
Maria did not raise her eyes from her task. Again the cleaver swung up, and whistled downward.
From the street sounded the clatter of the returning patrol.
"I'll wait for you in the wagon," said the Coroner hastily, and stepped back into the sunlight.
But he was not long alone. The uninterrupted swing of the dripping cleaver was depressing, and the enthusiasm of his associate waned.
The bell clanged. Hoofs struck sparks from the cobbles, and the strong but uncertain arm of the law was withdrawn, to attend to other and more congenial business.
The sound from the retreating wagon dwindled and ceased.
For a moment Catfish Row held its breath; then its windows and doors flew open, and poured its life out into the incomparable autumn weather. The crisis had passed. There had been no arrests.
Serena stepped forth, her arms filled with the morning's wash,
" 'Ain't it hahd tuh be er nigger!' " someone sang in a loud, clear voice. And everybody laughed.
Down the street, like an approaching freight train, came the drays, jarring the building and rattling the windows, as the heavy tires rang against the cobbles.
Bess and Porgy came out with the others, and seated themselves against the wall in the gracious sunlight. Of the life, yet apart from it, sufficient unto each other, they did not join in the loud talk and badinage that was going on about them. Like people who had come on a long, dark journey, they were content to sit, and breathe deeply of the sun. The baby was sleeping in Bess's arms, and from time to time she would sing a stave to it in a soft, husky voice.
Into the court strode a group of stevedores. Their strong white teeth flashed in the sunshine, and their big, panther-like bodies moved easily among the women and children that crowded about them.
"Wey all de gals?" called one in a loud, resonant voice. "Mus' be dey ain't know dat dis is pay-day."
Two women who were sitting near Porgy and Bess rose and went forward, with their arms twined about each other's waists. In a few minutes they were out of the crowd
again, each looking up with admiring eyes into the face of one of the men.
"Mens an' 'omans ain't de same," said Porgy. "One mont' ago dem gals been libbin' wid dey own mens. Den de storm tek um. Now dey is fuhgit um a'ready, an' gibbin' dey lub tuh de nex'."
"No; dey is diff'rent fuh true," replied Bess. "An' yuh won't nebber onduhstan'. All two dem gal gots baby fuh keep alibe." She heaved a deep sigh; and then added, "Dey is jus' 'oman, an' nigger at dat. Dey is doin' de bes' dey kin-dat all."
She was looking down at the baby while she spoke, and when she raised her eyes and looked at Porgy, he saw that they were full of tears.
"But you, Bess; you is diff'rent f'om dat?" he said, with a gently interrogating note in his voice.
"Dat 'cause Gawd ain't mek but one Porgy!" she told him. "Any 'oman gots tuh be decent wid you. But I gots fuh tell yuh de trut', widout Porgy I is jus' like de res'."
A shadow drifted across their laps, and they lifted their faces to the sky.
A solitary buzzard had left the circle that had hung high in the air all morning, and was swinging back and forth over the Row, almost brushing the parapet of the roof as
it passed. While Porgy and Bess looked, it suddenly raised the points of its wings, reached tentative legs downward, spread its feet wide, and lit on the edge of the roof directly over their room.
"My Gawd!" exclaimed Maria, who was standing near. "Crown done sen' he buzzud back fuh bring trouble. Knock urn off, Porgy. Fer Gawd' sake, knock urn off befo' he settle!"
The cripple reached out and picked up a brick-bat. The happiness had left his face, and his eyes were filled with fear. With a swing of his long, powerful arm, he sent the missile on its errand.
It struck the parapet directly beneath the bird.
With a spasmodic flap of wings, the black body lifted itself a few feet from the building, then settled suddenly back. For a moment it hopped awkwardly about, as though the roof were red hot beneath its feet, then folded its wings, drew its nude head in upon its breast, and surveyed the court with its aloof, malevolent eyes.
"T'row agin!" Maria called, handing Porgy another brick-bat. But he seemed not to hear. His face quivered, and he hid it in his hands.
"Sonny," the big negress called to a small boy who was standing near, looking at the bird with his mouth open. "Git out on de roof wid uh stick, an' run dat bird away."
But Porgy plucked at her skirt, and she looked down.
"Let um be," he said in a hopeless voice. "It too late now. Ain't yuh see he done settle, an' he pick my room fuh light ober? It ain't no use now. Yuh knows dat. It ain't no use."
The next morning Porgy sat in his accustomed place by Archdale's door. Autumn had touched the oaks in the park across the way, and they brushed the hard, bright sky with a slow circling motion, and tossed handfuls of yellow leaves down upon the pedestrians who stepped briskly along.
King Charles Street was full of hurrying men on their way to the cotton offices and the big wholesale warehouses that fronted on the wharves. Like the artery of a hale old man who has lain long asleep, but who wakens suddenly and springs into a race, the broad thoroughfare seemed to pound and sing with life.
The town was in a generous mood. Again and again the bottom of Porgy's cup gave forth its sharp, grateful click as a coin struck it and settled. But the cripple had not even his slow glance of thanks for his benefactors on that flashing autumn morning. Always he kept veiled, apprehensive eyes directed either up or down the street, or lifted frightened glances to the sky, as though fearing what he might see there.
At noon a white man stopped before him. But he did not drop a coin and pass on.
After a moment, Porgy brought his gaze back, and looked up.
The white man reached forward, and handed him a paper.
"Dat fuh me?" asked Porgy, in a voice that shook.
"You needn't mind takin' it," the man assured him with a laugh. "It's just a summons as witness to the Coroner's inquest. You knew that nigger, Crown, didn't you?"
He evidently took Porgy's silence for assent, for he went on.
"Well, all you got to do is to view the body in the presence of the Coroner, tell him who it is, and he'll take down all you say."
Porgy essayed speech, failed, tried again, and finally whispered:
"I gots tuh go an' look on Crown' face
wid all dem w'ite folks lookin' at me. Dat it?"
His voice was so piteous that the constable reassured him:
"Oh, cheer up; it's not so bad. I reckon you've seen a dead nigger before this. It will all be over in a few minutes."
"Dey ain't goin' be no nigger in dat room 'cept me?" Porgy asked.
"Just you and Crown, if you still call him one."
After a moment Porgy asked:
"I couldn't jus' bring a 'oman wid me? I couldn't eben carry my-my 'oman?"
"No," said the white man positively. "Now I've got to be gettin' along, I reckon. Just come over to the Court House in half an hour, and I'll meet you and take you in. Only be sure to come. If you don't show up it's jail for you, you know."
For a moment after the man had gone, Porgy sat immovable, with his eyes on the pavement. Then a sudden change swept over him. He cast one glance up and down the hard, clean street, walled by its uncompromising, many-eyed buildings. Then in a panic he clambered into his cart, gave a cruel twist to the tail of his astonished goat, and commenced a spasmodic, shambling race up Meeting House Road in the direction in
which he knew that, miles away, the forests lay.
To many, the scene which ensued on the upper Meeting House Road stands out as an exquisitely humorous episode, to be told and retold with touching up of high lights and artistic embellishments. To these, in the eyes of whom the negro is wholly humorous, per se, there was not the omission of a single conventional and readily recognizable stage property.
For, after all, what could have been funnier than an entirely serious race between a negro in a dilapidated goat-cart, and the municipality's shining new patrol wagon, fully offered and clanging its bell for the crowds to hear as it came.
The finish took place in the vicinity of the railway yards and factories, and the street was filled with workmen who smoked against the walls, or ate their lunch, sitting at the pavement's edge-grand-stand seats, as they were quite accurately described in the telling.
The street cars ran seldom that far out; and Porgy had the thoroughfare almost entirely to himself. His face wore a demented look, and was working pitifully. In his
panic, he wrung the tail of his unfortunate beast without mercy. The lunchers along the pavement saw him coming, and called to friends further along; so that as he came, he was greeted with shouts of laughter and witty sallies from the crowd.
Then the wagon appeared, a mere speck in the distance, but sending the sound of its bell before it as an advertisement of its presence. It grew rapidly until it reached the cheering crowds. Then it seemed that even the sedate officers of the law were not above a sly humor of their own, for the vehicle slackened its pace perceptibly and prolonged the final moment of capture.
The big buildings had been left behind, and there lay before Porgy only the scattered, cheap bungalows of the labor quarters; and beyond, as elusive and desirable as the white man's heaven, glimmered the far line of the woods, misty and beautiful in the pink autumn haze.
The patrol forged ahead and came to a clanging stop. The officers leapt out and, amid shouts of laughter from the crowd, lifted wagon, goat and man into the vehicle. The driver jerked the horse back into its breechings, swung the wagon with a dramatic snap that was not wasted upon his gallery, and sent it clanging and rocking
back in the direction from which it had come.
Porgy fell forward, with his arms thrown out upon the back of the goat, and buried his face between them in the shaggy, evil-smelling hair.
The workmen upon the sidewalks cheered and shouted with mirth. Surely it had been a great day. They would not soon have another laugh to match it.
When the wagon reached the down-town district, the inquest was over. It had been a simple matter to secure another witness for the identification of the body. The jury had made short work of their task, and had found that Crown had come to his death as the result of a chest wound at the hands of person or persons unknown.
Porgy was taken at once to the station house, where the charge of "Contempt of Court" was formally entered against him on the blotter, and he was locked up to await trial early the following morning.
Under the wheezing gas jet, the Recorder looked Porgy over with his weary glance, brought the tips of his slender fingers together; gave him "five days," in his tired
drawl, and raised his eyes to the next negro on the morning's list.
They hoisted the outfit, goat and all, into the patrol for the trip to the jail, thus again brightening a day for a group of lighthearted Nordics upon the pavement.
A large, red-faced policeman took his seat at the rear of the wagon.
"You sure beat all!" he confided to Porgy, with a puzzled frown. "Runnin' away like the devil was after you, from bein' a witness; an' now goin' to jail with a face like Sunday mornin'."
In the fresh beauty of an early October morning, Porgy returned home. There were few of his friends about, as work was now plentiful, and most of those who could earn a day's wage were up and out. He drove through the entrance, pulled his goat up short, and looked about him.
Serena was seated on her bench with a baby in her arms.
Porgy gave her a long look, and a question commenced to dawn in his eyes. The child turned in her arms, and his suspicions were confirmed. It was his baby-his and Bess's.
Then Serena looked up and saw him. She arose in great confusion, clasped the infant to her ample bosom, and, without a word of greeting, stepped through her doorway. Then, as though struck by an afterthought, she turned, thrust her head back through the opening, and called loudly: "Oh, Maria! hyuh Porgy come home." Then she disappeared and the door slammed shut.
Mystified and filled with alarm, Porgy turned his vehicle toward the cook-shop and arrived at the door just as Maria stepped over the threshold.
She seated herself on the sill and brought her face level with his. Then she looked into his eyes.
What Porgy saw there caused him to call out sharply:
"Where's Bess? Tell me, quick, where's Bess ?"
The big negress did not answer, and after a moment her ponderous face commenced to shake.
Porgy beat the side of his wagon with his fist.
"Where, where-" he began, in a voice that was suddenly shrill.
But Maria placed a steadying hand over his frantic one and held it still.
"Dem dutty dogs got she one day w'en I gone out," she said in a low, shaken voice. "She been missin' yuh an' berry low in she min' 'cause she can't fin' out how long yuh is lock up fuh. Dat damn houn' she knock off de wharf las' summer fin' she like dat an' git she tuh tek er swalluh ob licker. Den half a dozen of de mens gang she, an' mek she drunk."
"But wuh she now ?" Porgy cried. "I ain't keer ef she wuz drunk. I want she now."
Maria tried to speak, but her voice refused to do her bidding. She covered her face with her hands, and her throat worked convulsively.
Porgy clutched her wrist. "Tell me," he commanded. "Tell me, now."
"De mens all carry she away on de ribber boat," she sobbed. "Dey leabe word fuh me dat dey goin' tek she all de way tuh Sawannah, an' keep she dey. Den Serena, she tek de chile, an' say she is goin' gib um er Christian raisin'."
Deep sobs stopped Maria's voice. For a while she sat there, her face buried in her hands. But Porgy had nothing to say. When she finally raised her head and looked at him, she was surprised at what she saw. The keen autumn sun flooded boldly
through the entrance and bathed the drooping form of the goat, the ridiculous wagon, and the bent figure of the man in hard, satirical radiance. In its revealing light, Maria saw that Porgy was an old man. The early tension that had characterized him, the mellow mood that he had known for one eventful summer, both had gone; and in their place she saw a face that sagged wearily, and the eyes of age lit only by a faint reminiscent glow from suns and moons that had looked into them, and had already dropped down the west.
She looked until she could bear the sight no longer; then she stumbled into her shop and closed the door, leaving Porgy and the goat alone in an irony of morning sunlight.