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greatest novelist since
whoever they Victorian. Foolish, perhaps, but not
VEN the blush has not vanished
haps as we generalize about the man-
The impression gained from current fiction and from newspaper columns is that the chaperon is a thing of the past, that morals are fitted agilely to desires, and that custom has staled. A well known dramatic critic two years ago censured a play because it made use of the fact that gentlemen at dinner parties linger to smoke among themselves, while the ladies retire to chatter. This, he affirmed, was outworn and
As antidote for boredom, then, seek again Victorian circles. Here you will find old gallantries and priceless chivalries, and you will learn that woman is to be courted and won. You will learn again to cloak your thoughts in flannel underclothes and to wear precise and engaging costumes. The discussion of personalities before the screen will be frowned upon, and you will be forced to hunt further for the impersonal epigram.
This was not a lazy existence. Life was not slow moving, for it played in undercurrents where the swimming was dangerous for the careless. It has not vanished. You can find it if you look and, should the fond mammas frown upon you at first, you will soon learn to use your wits again. After all, Victorianism was merely an exercise of the gifts for concealment and intrigue, and you will discover that even frankness can quickly be forgotten and banished to limbo.
By DuBose Heyward
With Sketches by Theodore Nadejen
(The first of three selections from a novel of Negro life in old Charleston.)
A Place in the Sun
ORGY lived in the Golden Age. Not the Golden Age of a remote and legendary past; nor yet the chimerical era treasured by every man past middle life, that never existed except in the heart of youth; but an age when men, not yet old, were boys in an ancient, beautiful city that time had forgotten before it destroyed.
In this city there persisted the Golden Age of many things, and not the least among them was that of beggary. In those days the profession was one with a tradition. A man begged, presumably, because he was hungry, much as a man of more energetic temperament became a stevedore from the same cause. His plea for help produced the simple reactions of a generous impulse, a movement of the hand, and the gift of a coin, instead of the elaborate and terrifying processes of organized philanthropy. His antecedents and his mental age were his own affair, and, in the majority of cases, he was as happily oblivious of one as of the other.
Had it all been otherwise, had Porgy come a generation, or even a score of years, later, there would have been a repetition of the old tragedy of genius without opportunity. For, as the artist is born with the vision of beauty,
and the tradesman with an eye for barter, so was Porgy equipped by a beneficent providence for a career of mendicancy. Instead of the sturdy legs that would have predestined him for the life of a stevedore on one of the great cotton wharves, he had, when he entered the world, totally inadequate nether extremities, quick to catch the eye, and touch the ready sympathy of the passerby. Either by birth, or through the application of a philosophy of life, he had acquired a personality that could not be ignored, one which at the same time interested and subtly disturbed. There was that about him which differentiated him from the hordes of fellow practitioners who competed with him for the notice of the tenderhearted. Where others bid eagerly for attention, and burst into voluble thanks and blessings, Porgy sat silent, rapt. There was something Eastern and mystic about the intense introspection of his look. He never smiled, and he acknowledged gifts only by a slow lifting of the eyes that had odd shadows in them. He was black with the almost purple blackness of unadulterated Congo blood. His hands were very large and muscular, and, even when flexed idly in his lap, seemed shockingly formidable in contrast with his frail body. Unless one were unusually preoccupied at the mo
ment of dropping a coin in his cup, he carried away in return a very definite, yet somewhat disquieting, impression: a sense of infinite patience, and beneath it the vibration of unrealized, but terrific, energy.
No one knew Porgy's age. No one remembered when he first made his appearance among the ranks of the local beggars. A woman who had married twenty years before remembered him because he had been seated on the church steps, and had given her a turn when she went in.
Once a child saw Porgy, and said suddenly, "What is he waiting for?" That expressed him better than anything else. He was waiting, waiting with the concentrating intensity of a burning-glass.
As consistent in the practice of his
flags, and turn the tide of customers home before his empty cup.
But Porgy best loved the late afternoons, when the street was quiet again, and the sunlight, deep with color, shot level over the low roof of the apothecary shop to paint the cream stucco on the opposite dwelling a ruddy gold and turn the old, rain washed tiles on the roof to burnished copper. Then the slender, white clad lady who lived in the house would throw open the deep French windows of the second story drawing room, and sitting at the piano, where Porgy could see her dimly, she would play on through the dusk until old Peter drove by with his wagon to carry him home.
profession as any of the business and PORGY had but one vice. With his
professional men who were his most valued customers, Porgy was to be found any morning, by the first arrival in the financial district, against the wall of the old apothecary shop that stands at the corner of King Charles Street and the Meeting House Road. Long custom, reinforced by an eye for the beautiful, had endeared that spot to him. He would sit there in the cool of the early hours and look across the narrow thoroughfare into the green freshness of Jasper Square, where the children flew their kites, and played hide-and-seek among the shrubs. Then, when the morning advanced, and the sun poured its semi-tropical heat between the twin rows of brick, to lie impounded there, like a stagnant pool of flame, he would experience a pleasant atavistic calm, and would doze lightly under the terrific heat, as only a full blooded Negro can. Toward afternoon a slender blue shadow would commence to grow about him that would broaden with great rapidity, cool the baking
day reduced to the dead level of the commonplace, he was by night an inveterate gambler. Each evening his collections were carefully divided into a minimum for room and food, and the remainder for the evening's game. Seen in the light of the smoking kerosene lamp, with the circle of excited faces about him, he was no longer the beggar in the dust. His stagnant blood leaped to sudden life. He was the peer of the great, hulking fellows who swung cotton bales and stank intolerably from labor in the fertilizer mills. He even knew that he had won their grudging respect, for he had a way of coaxing and wheedling the little ivory cubes that forced them to respond. The loud "Oh, my Baby" and explosive "Come seben" of his fellow gamesters seldom brought silver when he experienced that light, keen feeling and thought of the new, soft spoken words to say. In those hours he lost his look of living in the future. While the ivories flew, he existed in an in
tense and burning present. One Saturday night in late April, with the first premonitory breath of summer in the air, Porgy sat in the gaming circle that had gathered before his door in Catfish Row, and murmured softly to his gods of chance. All day he had been conscious of a vague unrest. There had been no breeze from the bay, and from his seat outside the apothecary shop the sky showed opaque blue-grey and bore heavily upon the town. Toward evening a thunderhead had lifted over the western horizon and growled ominously; but it had passed, leaving the air hot, vitiated, and moist. The Negroes had come in for the night feeling irritable, and, instead of the usual Saturday night of song and talk, the rooms were for the most part dark and silent, and the court deserted.
The game started late, and there were few players. Opposite Porgy, sitting upon his haunches and casting his dice in moody silence, was a Negro called Crown. He was a stevedore, had the body of a gladiator, and a bad name. His cotton hook, hanging from his belt by a thong, gleamed in the lamplight, and rang a clear note on the flags when he leaned forward to throw. Crown had been drinking with Robbins, who sat next to him, and the air was rank with the effluvium of vile corn whisky. Robbins was voluble, and as usual, when in liquor, talked incessantly of his wife and children, of whom he was inordinately proud. He was a good provider, and, except for his
Saturday night drink and game, of steady habits.
"Dat lady ob mine is a born whitefolks nigger", he boasted. "She fambly belong tuh Gob'ner Rutledge. Ain't yer see Miss Rutledge sheself come tuh visit she when she sick? An' dem chillen of mine, dem is raise wid ways."
"Yo' bes sabe yo' talk for dem damn dice. Dice ain't gots no patience wid 'oman!" cut in a young Negro of the group.
"Da's de trut'", called another. "Dey is all two after de same nigger money. Dat mek um can't git 'long."
"Shet yo' damn mout' an' t'row!" growled Crown.
Robbins, taken aback, rolled the dice hastily. Scarcely had they settled before Crown scooped them fiercely into
his great hand, and, swearing foully at them, sent them tumbling out across the faintly illuminated circle, to lose them on the first cast. Then Porgy took them up tenderly, and held them for a moment cupped in his muscular, slim fingered hand.
"Oh, little stars, roll me some light!" he sang softly; made a pass, and won. "Roll me a sun an' moon!" he urged; and again the cubes did his bidding.
"Porgy witch dem dice", Crown snarled, as he drained his flask and sent it shattering against the pavement.
Under the beetling walls of the tenement the game went swiftly forward. In a remote room several voices were singing drowsily, as though burdened by the oppression of the day. other part of the building someone was picking a guitar monotonously, chord after chord, until the dark throbbed like an old wound. But the players were oblivious of all except the splash of orange light that fell upon the flags, and the living little cubes that flashed or dawdled upon it, according to the mood of the hand that propelled them. Peter, the old wagoner, sat quietly smoking in Porgy's doorway, and looked on with the indulgent smile of tolerant age. Once when Crown lost heavily, and turned snarling upon Robbins with, "T'row dem damn dice fair, nigger", he cautioned mildly, "Frien' an' licker an' dice ain't meant tuh 'sociate. Yo' mens bes' go slow."
Then, in a flash, it happened.
Robbins rolled again, called the dice, and retrieved them before Crown's slow wits got the count, then swept the heap of coins into his pocket.
With a low snarl, straight from his crouching position, Crown hurled his tremendous weight forward, shattering the lamp, and bowling Robbins over against the wall. Then they were up and facing each other. The oil from
the broken lamp settled between two flags and blazed up ruddily. Crown was crouched for a second spring, with lips drawn from gleaming teeth. The light fell strong upon thrusting jaw, and threw the sloping brow into shadow. One hand touched the ground lightly, balancing the massive torso. The other arm held the cotton hook forward, ready, like a prehensile claw. In comparison Robbins was pitifully slender and inadequate. There was a single desperate moment of indecision; then he took his only chance. Like a thrown spear, he hurled his lithe body forward under the terrifying hook, and clinched. Down, down, down the centuries they slid. Clothes could not hold them. Miraculously the tawny, ridged bodies tore through the thin coverings. Bronze ropes and bars slid and wove over great shoulders. Bright, ruddy planes leaped out on backs in the fire flare, then were gulped by sliding shadows. A heady, bestial stench absorbed all other odors. A fringe of shadowy watchers crept from cavernous doorways, sensed it, and commenced to wail eerily. Backward and forward, in a space no larger than a small room, the heaving, inseparable mass rocked and swayed. Breath labored like steam. At times the fused single body would thrust out a rigid arm, or the light would point out, for one hideous second, a tortured, mad face. Again the mass would rise as though propelled a short distance from the earth, topple, and crash down upon the pavement with a jarring impact.
Such terrific expenditure of human energy could not last. The end came quickly, and with startling suddenness. Crown broke his adversary's weakening hold, and held him the length of one mighty arm. The other swung the cotton hook downward. Then he dropped his victim, and swaggered