Old Reliable in Africa/Chapter 35
ALL that afternoon Zack plied happily back and forth between the quarters to the gun-boat, making things tidy in the Colonel's cabin, while Said never budged from the catfish stand, assuming an air of proprietorship which made Zack stop and snort. "I sho' is got to bus' one mo' egg in dat nigger. Ef I jes' takes de notion, I'll beat him up so his godmudder wouldn't know him. Wonder what's de wust I kin do to him."
Sunshine itself glowed no warmer than the Old Reliable smile as he approached the catfish stand. The Dongalawi was polishing his pans to a nicety when Zack's shadow fell across his work: "Side, why'nt you come on an' load dat baggage?" Said Wad Darho glanced up, without cessation of industry; "I must keep my bazaar."
This complacent reply came pretty near jolting Old Reliable out of his determination to be agreeable: "You ain't got no catfish stan', not yit."
Said smiled: "Effendi must go, who shall stay? It is I, Said Wad Darho, who will stay. The thrifty shop-keeper arose, gazed contentedly around him, and stood with folded arms.
"Dat kind o' talk don't tree no coon. Fudl, he gwine to stay too, but dat don't make it his'n. You can't go lopin' down de big road an' take up wid de fust catfish stan' you comes acrost. Dat ain't de law."
Now Said in his village had heard somewhat of this mysterious and malignant thing they called "the law." He had witnessed many wailings concerning it, corvee, conscription, and the cutting off of hands. The mere suggestion of law disquieted him.
"It is mine," Said spoke with wavering stubbornness.
Zack pulled out an impressive looking document, abstracted from Mr. Bim's waste basket, "How come it your'n? Whar's yo' paper for it? Maybe I got Fudl's name writ on dis paper."
The Dongalawi's legs crumpled up and tangled together like snapped fiddle strings. He sank to his knee and caught the hem of Zack's coat, "But the Illustrious Effendi promised—Excellency."
"I ain't gwine to give nothin' to Fudl. I'm gwine to put yo' name on dis paper—pervided you 'tends to yo' job."
The conquered Said reached out both his claws, but Zack deliberately stuck the paper into his pocket and ordered, "Come along wid me."
Once more as master and servant Old Reliable led his obedient Dongalawi to the squatty brick quarters where three bare-legged Arabs held three donkeys in front. Three white men conferred together within, and three sun-helmets rested upon their table, when Zack passed through the dining-room with Said slinking at his heels. Zack would have preferred to close the intervening door, but a lingering fear of Said constrained him to leave it ajar. Said glanced nervously at the shut-in room and the life oozed out of him, even before the Black Effendi showed his hand with a peremptory, "Nigger, you lied me out o' dat money, an' got to give it back. I'm gwine to holler fer Cunnel, an' say somebody is robbed me, an' I wants you searched. Dey knows you couldn't git all dat gole money, 'thout stealin' it, and dey won't never let you out o' jail."
Like a trapped hyena Said sprang to the outer door—it was locked, and the key gone. There he turned at bay and showed his white fangs, while Zack nodded wisely—"Dat's all I wants to know—you got dat money wid you. Give it here."
At the sound of Zack's lifted voice Colonel Spottiswoode called from the next room, "Zack, do you need more help?"
Before Zack could answer, Said thrust a dirty rag into his hand, and Zack maneuvered nearer the dining-room door—nearer the white folks—counting the recovered old pieces as he dropped them one by one into his pocket.
"Dat's de way to do business. Now git a move on you, Side, an' tote Cunnel's boxes to de steam boat. No, suh, Cunnel, us don't need no help."
The gunboat Nasir turned her prow to the North. Colonel Beverly Spottiswoode and Zack Foster Effendi, with radiant faces, stood on the forward deck, their helmets lifted in courteous farewell. Every voice on bank shouted a separate good-by—all save one, a lean and lone and silent Dongalawi who stood apart with folded arms in front of the Hot Cat Eating House.
"Why, Zack, yonder is Said. Isn't he going with us?"
"Naw suh, I done fired Said. Dat nigger kep' me so pestered I give him de catfish stan' to make him stay here."
"That's not your property; it belongs to the company."
"Yas suh, I jes' 'lowed I'd leave dat 'twixt Side an' Mister Bim."
The sun shone, the palms waved, the river bore them onward to Khartum. Pleasant were the days of sea and sky, and merry the rattle of rushing wheels, until Zack heard the A. V. Railroad porter call, "Vicksburg! All out for Vicksburg!"
Then pleasanter than all was their Christmas bear hunt, the roaring fire at night with the gentlemen sitting around it—gentlemen who laughed whenever Old Reliable told of Said Wad Darho, the shirt-tailed Dongalawi, whom he had left behind him at the Hot Cat Eating House in Africa.