Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/166

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I’ve got no grudge against a nigger—on his side of the counter and in his end of the house. When they used to come to me with the asthma or water-brash, I would always ask ’em about their symptoms an’ their kids an’ their crops whilst I was takin’ their money. Fact is”—he bowed his cheeks to his fists in thought—“I kind o’ like a decent nigger. It was bred in me, I reckon.”

There are limits set in the South to a “liking” for Negroes —somewhat dangerous and very proper limits. This man recognized them; evidently acted within them. His case was very strange.

“Why let that bother you?” I humoured him. “I like ’em myself—any man does that really knows ’em.”

“Any man that had the dry-nurse I did,” he mused, “a stout, half-grown Kafir-blooded nigger boy! Well, about the drug business, I don’t know hardly how it started, but it seemed to be the talk amongst the darkies that I would give ’em a square deal—that I would go to some pains to mix ’em the right medicine, and all that.”

“You mean, they took you for their only friend?” I countered this assumption of virtue.

“Well,” he confessed, “I don’t know just what to say when you put it that-a-way. There are some as fine old families in these parts as you will ever meet, but there have been a lot o’ mighty wild boys that grew up over Dalby way. God knows I believe in chivalry, an’ the supremacy of the white race, Stranger, but———” He turned and faced me, suddenly on his guard.

“But you don’t believe in leaving the proof of it entirely to the hoodlum element,” I conceded. “Any thoughtful white man will agree with you there, so go ahead.”

He went ahead somewhat more directly: “Well, I will say that things have occurred in this very county that can never be justified under any law of God or gentlemen, and our citizens just let it drift along, drift along. That’s what’s the matter with our nigger population to-day. Sullen? Disrespectful? Yes, even the good ones feel like they’ve got no show, no matter how well they behave. Doctor, we’re losing our grip on ’em morally. It’s a big, tangled-up question, I'll tell you. . . . Of course, I went along treatin’ ’em about the same as usual, you understand, but more and more they