A SHIVER went through Lonnie. He drew his hand away from his sharp chin, remembering what Clem had said. It made him feel now as if he were committing a crime by standing in Arch Gunnard’s presence and allowing his face to be seen.
He and Clem had been walking up the road together that afternoon on their way to the filling station when he told Clem how much he needed rations. Clem stopped a moment to kick a rock out of the road, and said that if you worked for Arch Gunnard long enough, your face would be sharp enough to split the boards for your own coffin.
As Lonnie turned away to sit down on an empty box beside the gasoline pump, he could not help wishing that he could be as unafraid of Arch Gunnard as Clem was. Even if Clem was a Negro, he never hesitated to ask for rations when he needed something to eat; and when he and his family did not get enough, Clem came right out and told Arch so. Arch stood for that, but he swore that he was going to run Clem out of the country the first chance he got.
Lonnie knew without turning around that Clem was standing at the corner of the filling station with two or three other Negroes and looking at him, but for some reason he was unable to meet Clem’s eyes.
Arch Gunnard was sitting in the sun, honing his jack-knife blade on his boot top. He glanced once or twice at Lonnie’s hound, Nancy, who was lying in the middle of the road waiting for Lonnie to go home.
“That your dog, Lonnie?”
Jumping with fear, Lonnie’s hand went to his chin to hide the lean face that would accuse Arch of shortrationing.
Arch snapped his fingers and the hound stood up, wagging her tail. She waited to be called.
“Mr. Arch, I—”
Arch called the dog. She began crawling towards them on her belly, wagging her tail a little faster each time Arch’s fingers snapped. When she was several feet away, she turned over on her back and lay on the ground with her four paws in the air.
Dudley Smith and Jim Weaver, who were lounging around the filling station, laughed. They had been leaning against the side of the building, but they straightened up to see what Arch was up to.
Arch spat some more tobacco juice on his boot top and whetted the jack-knife blade some more.
“What kind of a hound dog is that, anyway, Lonnie?” Arch said.”Looks like to me it might be a ketch hound.”
Lonnie could feel Clem Henry’s eyes boring into the back of his head. He wondered what Clem would do if it had been his dog Arch Gunnard was snapping his fingers at and calling like that.
“His tail’s way too long for a coon hound or a bird dog, ain’t it, Arch?” somebody behind Lonnie said, laughing out loud.
Everybody laughed then, including Arch. They looked at Lonnie, waiting to hear what he was going to say to Arch.
“Is he a ketch hound, Lonnie?” Arch said, snapping his finger again.
“Mr. Arch, I—”
“Don’t be ashamed of him, Lonnie, if he don’t show signs of turning out to be a bird dog or a fox hound. Everybody needs a hound around the house that can go out and catch pigs and rabbits when you are in a hurry for them. A ketch hound is a mighty respectable animal. I’ve known the time when I was mighty proud to own one.”
Arch Gunnard was getting ready to grab Nancy by the tail. Lonnie sat up, twisting his neck until he caught a glimpse of Clem Henry at the other corner of the filling station. Clem was staring at him with unmistakable meaning, with the same look in his eyes he had had that afternoon when he said that nobody who worked for Arch Gunnard ought to stand for short-rationing. Lonnie lowered his eyes. He could not figure out how a Negro could be braver than he was. There were a lot of times like that when he would have given anything he had to be able to jump into Clem’s shoes and change places with him.
“The trouble with this hound of yours, Lonnie, is that he’s too heavy on his feet. Don’t you reckon it would be a pretty slick little trick to lighten the load some, being as how he’s a ketch hound to begin with?”