What particularly irritated Maurice Oakley was that Berry should to the very last keep up his claim of innocence. He reiterated it to the very moment that the train which was bearing him away pulled out of the station. There had seldom been seen such an example of criminal hardihood, and Oakley was hardened thereby to greater severity in dealing with the convict's wife. He began to urge her more strongly to move, and she, dispirited and humiliated by what had come to her, looked vainly about for the way to satisfy his demands. With her natural protector gone, she felt more weak and helpless than she had thought it possible to feel. It was hard enough to face the world. But to have to ask something of it was almost more than she could bear.
With the conviction of her husband the last five hundred dollars had been confiscated as belonging to the stolen money, but their former deposit remained untouched. With this she had the means at her disposal to tide over their present days of misfortune. It was not money she lacked, but confidence. Some inkling of the world's attitude towards her, guiltless though she was, reached her and made her afraid.
Her desperation, however, would not let her give way to fear, so she set forth to look for another house. Joe and Kit saw her go as if she were starting on an expedition into a strange country. In all their lives they had known no home save the little cottage in Oakley's yard. Here they had toddled as babies and played as children and been happy and care-free. There had been times when they had complained and wanted a home off by themselves, like others whom they knew. They had not failed, either, to draw unpleasant comparisons between their mode of life and the old plantation quarters system. But now all this was forgotten, and there were only grief and anxiety that they must leave the place and in such a way.
Fannie went out with little hope in her heart, and a short while after she was gone Joe decided to follow her and make an attempt to get work.
"I 'll go an' see what I kin do, anyway, Kit. 'T ain't much use, I reckon, trying to get into a bahbah shop where they shave white folks, because all the white folks are down on us. I 'll try one of the coloured shops."
This was something of a condescension for Berry Hamilton's son. He had never yet shaved a black chin or put shears to what he termed "naps," and he was proud of it. He thought, though, that after the training he had received from the superior "Tonsorial Parlours" where he had been employed, he had but to ask for a place and he would be gladly accepted.
It is strange how all the foolish little vaunting things that a man says in days of prosperity wax a giant crop around him in the days of his adversity. Berry Hamilton's son found this out almost as soon as he had applied at the first of the coloured shops for work.
"Oh, no, suh," said the proprietor, "I don't think we got anything fu' you to do; you 're a white man's bahbah. We don't shave nothin' but niggahs hyeah, an' we shave 'em in de light o' day an' on de groun' flo'."
"W'y, I hyeah you say dat you could n't git a paih of sheahs thoo a niggah's naps. You ain't been practisin' lately, has you?" came from the back of the shop, where a grinning negro was scraping a fellow's face.
"Oh, yes, you 're done with burr-heads, are you? But burr-heads are good enough fu' you now."
"I think," the proprietor resumed, "that I hyeahed you say you was n't fond o' grape pickin'. Well, Josy, my son, I would n't begin it now, 'specially as anothah kin' o' pickin' seems to run in yo' fambly."
Joe Hamilton never knew how he got out of that shop. He only knew that he found himself upon the street outside the door, tears of anger and shame in his eyes, and the laughs and taunts of his tormentors still ringing in his ears.
It was cruel, of course it was cruel. It was brutal. But only he knew how just it had been. In his moments of pride he had said all those things, half in fun and half in earnest, and he began to wonder how he could have been so many kinds of a fool for so long without realising it.
He had not the heart to seek another shop, for he knew that what would be known at one would be equally well known at all the rest. The hardest thing that he had to bear was the knowledge that he had shut himself out of all the chances that he now desired. He remembered with a pang the words of an old negro to whom he had once been impudent, "Nevah min', boy, nevah min', you 's bo'n, but you ain't daid!"
It was too true. He had not known then what would come. He had never dreamed that anything so terrible could overtake him. Even in his straits, however, desperation gave him a certain pluck. He would try for something else for which his own tongue had not disqualified him. With Joe, to think was to do. He went on to the Continental Hotel, where there were almost always boys wanted to "run the bells." The clerk looked him over critically. He was a bright, spruce-looking young fellow, and the man liked his looks.
"Well, I guess we can take you on," he said. "What 's your name?"
"Joe," was the laconic answer. He was afraid to say more.
"Well, Joe, you go over there and sit where you see those fellows in uniform, and wait until I call the head bellman."
Young Hamilton went over and sat down on a bench which ran along the hotel corridor and where the bellmen were wont to stay during the day awaiting their calls. A few of the blue-coated Mercuries were there. Upon Joe's advent they began to look askance at him and to talk among themselves. He felt his face burning as he thought of what they must be saying. Then he saw the head bellman talking to the clerk and looking in his direction. He saw him shake his head and walk away. He could have cursed him. The clerk called to him.
"I did n't know," he said,--"I did n't know that you were Berry Hamilton's boy. Now, I 've got nothing against you myself. I don't hold you responsible for what your father did, but I don't believe our boys would work with you. I can't take you on."
Joe turned away to meet the grinning or contemptuous glances of the bellmen on the seat. It would have been good to be able to hurl something among them. But he was helpless.
He hastened out of the hotel, feeling that every eye was upon him, every finger pointing at him, every tongue whispering, "There goes Joe Hamilton, whose father went to the penitentiary the other day."
What should he do? He could try no more. He was proscribed, and the letters of his ban were writ large throughout the town, where all who ran might read. For a while he wandered aimlessly about and then turned dejectedly homeward. His mother had not yet come.
"Did you get a job?" was Kit's first question.
"No," he answered bitterly, "no one wants me now."
"No one wants you? Why, Joe--they--they don't think hard of us, do they?"
"I don't know what they think of ma and you, but they think hard of me, all right."
"Oh, don't you worry; it 'll be all right when it blows over."
"Yes, when it all blows over; but when 'll that be?"
"Oh, after a while, when we can show 'em we 're all right."
Some of the girl's cheery hopefulness had come back to her in the presence of her brother's dejection, as a woman always forgets her own sorrow when some one she loves is grieving. But she could not communicate any of her feeling to Joe, who had been and seen and felt, and now sat darkly waiting his mother's return. Some presentiment seemed to tell him that, armed as she was with money to pay for what she wanted and asking for nothing without price, she would yet have no better tale to tell than he.
None of these forebodings visited the mind of Kit, and as soon as her mother appeared on the threshold she ran to her, crying, "Oh, where are we going to live, ma?"
Fannie looked at her for a moment, and then answered with a burst of tears, "Gawd knows, child, Gawd knows."
The girl stepped back astonished. "Why, why!" and then with a rush of tenderness she threw her arms about her mother's neck. "Oh, you 're tired to death," she said; "that 's what 's the matter with you. Never mind about the house now. I 've got some tea made for you, and you just take a cup."
Fannie sat down and tried to drink her tea, but she could not. It stuck in her throat, and the tears rolled down her face and fell into the shaking cup. Joe looked on silently. He had been out and he understood.
"I 'll go out to-morrow and do some looking around for a house while you stay at home an' rest, ma."
Her mother looked up, the maternal instinct for the protection of her daughter at once aroused. "Oh, no, not you, Kitty," she said.
Then for the first time Joe spoke: "You 'd just as well tell Kitty now, ma, for she 's got to come across it anyhow."
"What you know about it? Whaih you been to?"
"I 've been out huntin' work. I 've been to Jones's bahbah shop an' to the Continental Hotel." His light-brown face turned brick red with anger and shame at the memory of it. "I don't think I 'll try any more."
Kitty was gazing with wide and saddening eyes at her mother.
"Were they mean to you too, ma?" she asked breathlessly.
"Mean? Oh Kitty! Kitty! you don't know what it was like. It nigh killed me. Thaih was plenty of houses an' owned by people I 've knowed fu' yeahs, but not one of 'em wanted to rent to me. Some of 'em made excuses 'bout one thing er t' other, but de res' come right straight out an' said dat we 'd give a neighbourhood a bad name ef we moved into it. I 've almos' tramped my laigs off. I 've tried every decent place I could think of, but nobody wants us."
The girl was standing with her hands clenched nervously before her. It was almost more than she could understand.
"Why, we ain't done anything," she said. "Even if they don't know any better than to believe that pa was guilty, they know we ain't done anything."
"I 'd like to cut the heart out of a few of 'em," said Joe in his throat.
"It ain't goin' to do no good to look at it that a-way, Joe," his mother replied. "I know hit 's ha'd, but we got to do de bes' we kin."
"What are we goin' to do?" cried the boy fiercely. "They won't let us work. They won't let us live anywhaih. Do they want us to live on the levee an' steal, like some of 'em do?"
"What are we goin' to do?" echoed Kitty helplessly. "I 'd go out ef I thought I could find anythin' to work at."
"Don't you go anywhaih, child. It 'ud only be worse. De niggah men dat ust to be bowin' an' scrapin' to me an' tekin' off dey hats to me laughed in my face. I met Minty--an' she slurred me right in de street. Dey 'd do worse fu' you."
In the midst of the conversation a knock came at the door. It was a messenger from the "House," as they still called Oakley's home, and he wanted them to be out of the cottage by the next afternoon, as the new servants were coming and would want the rooms.
The message was so curt, so hard and decisive, that Fannie was startled out of her grief into immediate action.
"Well, we got to go," she said, rising wearily.
"But where are we goin'?" wailed Kitty in affright. "There 's no place to go to. We have n't got a house. Where 'll we go?"
"Out o' town someplace as fur away from this damned hole as we kin git." The boy spoke recklessly in his anger. He had never sworn before his mother before.
She looked at him in horror. "Joe, Joe," she said, "you 're mekin' it wuss. You 're mekin' it ha'dah fu' me to baih when you talk dat a-way. What you mean? Whaih you think Gawd is?"
Joe remained sullenly silent. His mother's faith was too stalwart for his comprehension. There was nothing like it in his own soul to interpret it.
"We 'll git de secon'-han' dealah to tek ouah things to-morrer, an' then we 'll go away some place, up No'th maybe."
"Let 's go to New York," said Joe.
They had heard of New York as a place vague and far away, a city that, like Heaven, to them had existed by faith alone. All the days of their lives they had heard of it, and it seemed to them the centre of all the glory, all the wealth, and all the freedom of the world. New York. It had an alluring sound. Who would know them there? Who would look down upon them?
"It 's a mighty long ways off fu' me to be sta'tin' at dis time o' life."
"We want to go a long ways off."
"I wonder what pa would think of it if he was here," put in Kitty.
"I guess he 'd think we was doin' the best we could."
"Well, den, Joe," said his mother, her voice trembling with emotion at the daring step they were about to take, "you set down an' write a lettah to yo' pa, an' tell him what we goin' to do, an' to-morrer--to-morrer--we 'll sta't."
Something akin to joy came into the boy's heart as he sat down to write the letter. They had taunted him, had they? They had scoffed at him. But he was going where they might never go, and some day he would come back holding his head high and pay them sneer for sneer and jibe for jibe.
The same night the commission was given to the furniture dealer who would take charge of their things and sell them when and for what he could.
From his window the next morning Maurice Oakley watched the wagon emptying the house. Then he saw Fannie come out and walk about her little garden, followed by her children. He saw her as she wiped her eyes and led the way to the side gate.
"Well, they 're gone," he said to his wife. "I wonder where they 're going to live?"
"Oh, some of their people will take them in," replied Mrs. Oakley languidly.
Despite the fact that his mother carried with her the rest of the money drawn from the bank, Joe had suddenly stepped into the place of the man of the family. He attended to all the details of their getting away with a promptness that made it seem untrue that he had never been more than thirty miles from his native town. He was eager and excited. As the train drew out of the station, he did not look back upon the place which he hated, but Fannie and her daughter let their eyes linger upon it until the last house, the last chimney, and the last spire faded from their sight, and their tears fell and mingled as they were whirled away toward the unknown.