« AnteriorContinuar »
last, and you fellows began to come, you lips. “As long as I live, I shall never seemed like our very own come back after forget," he said. “And others of us have many years, and,” he added, a throb in his seen it, too, in other ways—be sure Amervoice, “we were most awfully glad to see ica will never forget, either." you-we wanted a chance to show you She looked up at his untouched youth how England felt.”
out of her beautiful sad eyes, the exalted Skipworth Cary rose to his feet. The | light still shining through her tears. tears for his friend were still wet upon “Yes,” she said, “you see it was—I don't his lashes. Stooping, he took Lady Sher- know exactly how to put it-but it was wood's hands in his and raised them to his | England to America.”
Wilbur Daniel STEELE Since 1915 Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886- ), a North Carolinian by birth, has been publishing with regularity short stories of unusual merit. While his impressionistic style and realistic detail seem to ally him with the modern Realists, the conscious design of his stories raises them as works of art above the productions of most of his contemporaries. Vivid projection of character, exceptional facility in motivating plot, and keen sensibility to artistic form character. ize his work.
In "Footfalls," which appeared in the Pictorial Review in 1920, the elements of character, plot, and setting are harmoniously blended, that of character predominating. Boaz Negro, with his "unquenchable exuberance" finally triumphant over tragic circumstance, is an unforgettable figure.
This is not an easy story; not a road | arms. He came into his shop singing. for tender or for casual feet. Better the His voice, strong and deep as the chest meadows. Let me warn you, it is as from which it emanated, rolled out hard as that old man's soul and as sunless | through the doorway and along the as his eyes. It has its inception in catas street, and the fishermen, done with their trophe, and its end in an act of almost in | morning work and lounging and smoking credible violence; between them it tells along the wharfs, said, “Boaz is to work barely how one long blind can become already.” Then they came up to sit in also deaf and dumb.
the shop. He lived in one of those old puritan sea In that town a cobbler's shop is a club. towns where the strain has come down One sees the interior always dimly austere and moribund, so that his act thronged. They sit on the benches would not be quite unbelievable. Ex | watching the artisan at his work for cept that the town is no longer Puritan hours, and they talk about everything in and Yankee. It has been betrayed; it the world. A cobbler is known by the has become an outpost of the Portuguese company he keeps. islands.
Boaz Negro kept young company. He This man, this blind cobbler himself, would have nothing to do with the old. was a Portuguese from St. Michael, in On his own head the gray hairs set the Western Islands, and his name was thickly. Boaz Negro.
He had a grown son. But the benches He was happy. An unquenchable ex in his shop were for the lusty and valiant uberance lived in him. When he arose young, men who could spend the night in the morning he made vast, as it were drinking, and then at three o'clock in the uncontrollable, gestures with his stout morning turn out in the rain and dark Reprinted by courtesy of Wilbur Daniel |
to pull at the weirs, sing songs, buffet Steele.
| one another among the slippery fish in the
srot is scarceo hear of his dan
boat's bottom, and make loud jokes about tone!" "Good night to you, Caleb the fundamental things, love and birth | Snow!" and death. Harkening to their boasts | To Boaz Negro it was still broad day. and strong prophecies his breast heaved | Now, because of this, he was what and his heart beat faster. He was a might be called a substantial man. He large, full-blooded fellow, fashioned for owned his place, his shop, opening on exploits; the flame in his darkness burned the sidewalk, and behind it the dwellinghigher even to hear of them.
house with trellised galleries upstairs and It is scarcely conceivable how Boaz Ne- down. gro could have come through this much of And there was always something for his life still possessed of that unquenchable his son, a "piece for the pocket," a dollar-, and priceless exuberance; how he would five-, even a ten-dollar bill if he had sing in the dawn; how, simply listening “got to have it." Manuel was “a good to the recital of deeds in gale or brawl, boy.” Boaz not only said this; he felt he could forget himself a blind man, tied | that he was assured of it in his underto a shop and a last; easily make of standing, to the infinite peace of his himself a lusty young fellow breast heart. ing the sunlit and adventurous tide of It was curious that he should be iglife.
norant only of the one nearest to him. He had had a wife, whom he had loved. Not because he was physically blind. Be Fate, which had scourged him with the certain he knew more of other men and initial scourge of blindness, had seen fit of other men's sons than they or their to take his Angelina away. He had had neighbors did. More, that is to say, of four sons. Three, one after another, had | their hearts, their understandings, their been removed, leaving only Manuel, the | idiosyncrasies, and their ultimate weight. youngest. Recovering slowly, with agony, in the balance-pan of eternity. from each of these recurrent blows, his His simple explanation of Manuel was unquenchable exuberance had lived. And that Manuel "wasn't too stout." To there was another thing quite as extra others he said this, and to himself. Manordinary. He had never done anything uel was not indeed too robust. How but work, and that sort of thing may kill should he be vigorous when he never did the Aame where an abrupt catastrophe anything to make him so ? He never fails. Work in the dark. Work, work, worked. Why should he work, when work! And accompanied by privation; existence was provided for, and when an almost miserly scale of personal econ there was always that "piece for the omy. Yes, indeed, he had "skinned his | pocket”? Even a ten-dollar bill on a fingers," especially in the earlier years. Saturday night! No, Manuel "wasn't When it tells most.
too stout." How he had worked! Not alone in In the shop they let it go at that. The the daytime, but also sometimes, when | misssteps and frailties of every one else orders were heavy, far into the night. It in the world were canvassed there with was strange for one, passing along that the most shameless publicity. But Boaz deserted street at midnight, to hear issu | Negro was a blind man, and in a sense ing from the black shop of Boaz Negro their host. Those reckless, strong young the rhythmical tap-tap-tap of hammer on fellows respected and loved him. It was wooden peg.
allowed to stand at that. Manuel was Nor was that sound all: no man in "a good boy.” Which did not prevent town could get far past that shop in his them, by the way, from joining later in nocturnal wandering unobserved. No the general condemnation of that father's more than a dozen footfalls, and from the laxity—“the ruination of the boy !" darkness Boaz's voice rolled forth, fra | “He should have put him to work, ternal, stentorian, “Good night, An- / that's what.”
“He should have said to Manuel, | Trade, there was a "Good night, Mr. 'Look here, if you want a dollar, go earn Negro!" it first.'"
On Boaz's part, his attitude toward As a matter of fact, only one man ever his lodger was curious and paradoxical. gave Boaz the advice direct. That was He did not pretend to anything less than Campbell Wood. And Wood never sat reverence for the young man's position; in that shop.
precisely on account of that position he In every small town there is one young was conscious toward Wood of a vague man who is spoken of as "rising." As distrust. This was because he was an often as not he is not a native, but “from uneducated fellow. away."
To the uneducated the idea of large In this town Campbell Wood was that finance is as uncomfortable as the idea of man. He had come from another part the law. It must be said for Boaz that, of the state to take a place in the bank. responsive to Wood's unfailing civility, He lived in the upper story of Boaz he fought against this sensation of dim Negro's house, the ground floor now do and somehow shameful distrust. ing for Boaz and the meagre remnant of Nevertheless his whole parental soul his family. The old woman who came in was in arms that evening, when, returnto tidy up for the cobbler looked after ing from the bank and finding the shop Wood's rooms as well.
empty of loungers, Wood paused a moDealing with Wood, one had first of ment to propose the bit of advice already all the sense of his incorruptibility. A referred to. little ruthless perhaps, as if one could “Haven't you ever thought of having imagine him, in defense of his integrity, Manuel learn the trade?”. cutting off his friend, cutting off his own A suspicion, a kind of premonition, hand, cutting off the very stream flowing | lighted the fires of defense. out from the wellsprings of human kind "Shoemaking,” said Boaz, "is good ness. An exaggeration, perhaps.
enough for a blind man." He was by long odds the most eligible “Oh, I don't know. At least it's betyoung man in town; good looking in a ter than doing nothing at all.” spare, ruddy, sandy-haired Scottish fash Boaz's hammer was still. He sat ion; important, incorruptible, "rising.". silent, monumental. Outwardly. For But he took good care of his heart. Pre once his unfailing response had failed cisely that; like a sharp-eyed duenna to him, “Manuel ain't too stout, you his own heart. One felt that here was know." Perhaps it had become sudthe man, if ever was the man, who held denly inadequate. his destiny in his own hand. Failing, of He hated Wood; he despised Wood; course, some quite gratuitous and unfore more than ever before, a hundredfold seeable catastrophe.
inore, quite abruptly, he distrusted Wood. Not that he was not human, or even How could a man say such things as incapable of laughter or passion. He was, Wood had said? And where Manuel in a way, immensely accessible. He himself might hear! never clapped one on the shoulder; on the Where Manuel had heard! Boaz's other hand, he never failed to speak. Not other emotions-hatred and contempt and even to Boaz.
distrust-were overshadowed. Sitting Returning from the bank in the after in darkness, no sound had come to his noon, he had always a word for the cob ears, no footfall, no infinitesimal creaking bler. Passing out again to supper at his of a floor-plank. Yet by some sixth unboarding-place, he had another, about the canny sense of the blind he was aware weather, the prospects of rain. And if that Manuel was standing in the dusk of Boaz were at work in the dark when he the entry joining the shop to the house. returned from an evening at the Board of Boaz made a Herculean effort. The
anuel "no responstwardly.
voice came out of his throat, harsh, bit take away that money bodily, under caster, and loud enough to have carried ten ual cover of his coat, to his own lodgtimes the distance to his son's ears. ings behind the cobbler-shop of Boaz Ne“Manuel is a good boy!"
gro? For this one, this important night! “Yes-h’m-yes—I suppose so.”
He was sorry the coin-sack had slipped, Wood shifted his weight. He seemed because he did not like to have the reuncomfortable.
sponsibility of secret sharer cast upon "Well. I'll be running along, I-ugh! any one, even upon Boaz, even by acciHeavens!" i
dent. On the other hand, how tremendSomething was happening. Boaz ously fortunate that it had been Boaz and heard exclamations, breathings, the rustle not another. So far as that went, Wood of sleeve-cloth in large, frantic, and futile had no more anxiety now than before. graspings all without understanding. One incorruptible knows another. Immediately there was an impact on the “I'd trust you, Mr. Negro" (that was floor, and with it the unmistakable clink one of the fragments which came and of metal. Boaz even heard that the metal stuck in the cobbler's brain), “as far as I was minted, and that the coins were gold. would myself. As long as it's only you. He understood. A coin-sack, gripped not I'm just going up here and throw it quite carefully enough for a moment un under the bed. Oh, yes, certainly.” der the other's overcoat, had shifted, | Boaz ate no supper. For the first slipped, escaped, and fallen.
time in his life food was dry in his gullet. And Manuel had heard!
Even under those other successive crushIt was a dreadful moment for Boaz, ing blows of Fate the full and generous dreadful in its native sense, as full of habit of his functionings had carried on dread. Why? It was a moment of hor unabated; he had always eaten what was rid revelation, ruthless clarification. His set before him. Tonight, over his unson, his link with the departed Angelina, touched plate, he watched Manuel with that "good boy"-Manuel, standing in the | his sightless eyes, keeping track of his shadow of the entry, visible alone to the every mouthful, word, intonation, breath. blind, had heard the clink of falling gold, What profit he expected to extract from and-and Boaz wished that he had not! this catlike surveillance it is impossible to
There, amazing, disconcerting, destroy say. ing, stood the sudden fact.
When they arose from the supperSitting as impassive and monumental table Boaz made another Herculean efas ever, his strong, bleached hands at rest fort. “Manuel, you're a good boy!". on his work, round drops of sweat came The formula had a quality of appeal, of out on Boaz's forehead. He scarcely took despair, and of command. the sense of what Wood was saying. "Manuel, you should be short of Only fragments.
money, maybe. Look, what's this? A "Government money, understand-for tenner? Well, there's a piece for the the breakwater workings-huge-too pocket; go and enjoy yourself.” many people know here, everywhere He would have been frightened had don't trust the safetin safe-Noah's Manuel, upsetting tradition, declined the Ark'-give you my word-Heavens, no!". offering. With the morbid contrariness
It boiled down to this the money, of the human imagination, the boy's avid more money than was good for that anti grasping gave him no comfort. quated “Noah's Ark" at the bank and He went out into the shop, where it whose contemplated sojourn there over was already dark, drew to him his last, night was public to too many minds in his tools, mallets, cutters, pegs, leather. short, Wood was not only incorruptible, And having prepared to work, he rehe was canny. To what one of those mained idle. He found himself listenminds, now, would it occur that he should | ing.
It has been observed that the large of his chair, the bony framework of his phenomena of sunlight and darkness were body. Very faint indeed. Sinking back nothing to Boaz Negro. A busy night easily into the background of the wind. was broad day. Yet there was a differ They, too, came and went, this room, ence; he knew it with the blind man's that, to the passage, the stair-head, and eyes, the ears.
away. About them, too, there was the Day was a vast confusion, or rather a same quality of being led and at the same wide fabric, of sounds; great and little time of being driven. sounds all woven together, voices, foot Time went by. In his darkness it falls, wheels, far-off whistles and fog semed to Boaz that hours must have horns, Alies buzzing in the sun. Night passed. He heard voices. Together was another thing. Still there were with the footfalls, that abrupt, brief, and voices and footfalls, but rarer, emerging | (in view of Wood's position) astounding from the large, pure body of silence as interchange of sentences made up his hisdefinite, surprising, and yet familiar en tory of the night. Wood must have tities.
opened the door at the head of the stair; To-night there was an easterly wind, by the sound of his voice he would coming off the water and carrying the be standing there, peering below perhaps; sound of waves. So far as other fugitive perhaps listening. sounds were concerned it was the same as "What's wrong down there?” he silence. The wind made little difference called. “Why don't you go to bed ?" to the ears. It nullified, from one direc After a moment, came Manuel's voice, tion at least, the other two visual pro | "Ain't sleepy." cesses of the blind, the sense of touch and "Neither am I. Look here, do you the sense of smell. It blew away from like to play cards?" the shop, toward the living-house.
"What kind ? Euchre! I like euchre As has been said, Boaz found himself | all right. Or pitch.” listening, scrutinizing with an extraordin "Well, what would you say to coming ary attention, this immense background up and having a game of euchre then, of sound. He heard footfalls. The Manuel? If you can't sleep?" story of that night was written, for him, “That'd be all right.” in footfalls.
The lower footfalls ascended to join He heard them moving about the the footfalls on the upper floor. There house, the lower floor, prowling here, was the sound of a door closing. there, halting for long spaces, advancing, Boaz sat still. In the gloom he might retreating softly on the planks. About have been taken for a piece of furniture, this aimless, interminable perambulation of machinery, an extraordinary lay figthere was something to twist the nerves, ure, perhaps, for the trying on of the something led and at the same time driven boots he made. He seemed scarcely to like a succession of frail and indecisive breathe, only the sweat starting from his charges.
brow giving him an aspect of life. Boaz lifted himself from his chair. All He ought to have run, and leaped up his impulse called him to make a stir, that inner stair and pounded with his join battle, cast in the breach the re fists on that door. He seemed unable to enforcement of his presence, authority, move. At rare intervals feet passed on good will. He sank back again; his the sidewalk outside, just at his elbow, so hands fell down. The curious impotence to say, and yet somehow, to-night, imof the spectator held him.
measurably far away. Beyond the orbit He heard footfalls, too, on the upper of the moon. He heard Rugg, the policefloor, a little fainter, borne to the inner man, noting the silence of the shop, mutrather than the outer ear, along the solid tering, “Boaz is to bed to-night," as he causeway of partitions and floor, the legs | passed.