The rooms of the “Banner” Club–an organization of social intent, but with political streaks–were a blaze of light that Christmas Eve night. On the lower floor some one was strumming on the piano, and upstairs, where the “ladies” sat, and where the Sunday smokers were held, a man was singing one of the latest coon songs. The “Banner” always got them first, mainly because the composers went there, and often the air of the piece itself had been picked out or patched together, with the help of the “Banner’s” piano, before the song was taken out for somebody to set the “‘companiment” to it.
The proprietor himself had just gone into the parlor to see that the Christmas decorations were all that he intended them to be when a door opened and an old man entered the room. In one hand he carried an ancient carpetbag, which he deposited on the floor, while he stared around at the grandeur of the place. He was a typical old uncle of the South, from the soles of his heavy brogans to the shiny top of his bald pate, with its fringe of white wool. It was plain to be seen that he was not a denizen of the town, or of that particular quarter. They do not grow old in the Tenderloin. He paused long enough to take in the appointments of the place, then, suddenly remembering his manners, he doffed his hat and bowed with old-fashioned courtesy to the splendid proprietor.
“Why, how’do, uncle!” said the genial Mr. Turner, extending his hand. “Where did you stray from?”
“Howdy, son, howdy,” returned the old man gravely. “I hails f’om Miss’ippi myse’f, a mighty long ways f’om hyeah.”
His voice and old-time intonation were good to listen to, and Mr. Turner’s thoughts went back to an earlier day in his own life. He was from Maryland himself. He drew up a chair for the old man and took one himself. A few other men passed into the room and stopped to look with respectful amusement at the visitor. He was such a perfect bit of old plantation life and so obviously out of place in a Tenderloin club room.
“Well, uncle, are you looking for a place to stay?” pursued Turner.
“Not ‘zackly, honey; not ‘zackly. I come up hyeah a-lookin’ fu’ a son o’ mine dat been away f’om home nigh on to five years. He live hyeah in Noo Yo’k, an’ dey tell me whaih I ‘quiahed dat I li’ble to fin’ somebody hyeah dat know him. So I jes’ drapped in.”
“I know a good many young men from the South. What’s your son’s name?”
“Well, he named aftah my ol’ mastah, Zachariah Priestley Shackelford.”
“Zach Shackelford!” exclaimed some of the men, and there was a general movement among them, but a glance from Turner quieted the commotion.
“Why, yes, I know your son,” he said. “He’s in here almost every night, and he’s pretty sure to drop in a little later on. He has been singing with one of the colored companies here until a couple of weeks ago.”
“Heish up; you don’t say so. Well! well! well! but den Zachariah allus did have a mighty sweet voice. He tu’k hit aftah his mammy. Well, I sholy is hopin’ to see dat boy. He was allus my favorite, aldough I reckon a body ain’ got no livin’ right to have favorites among dey chilluns. But Zach was allus sich a good boy.”
The men turned away. They could not remember a time since they had known Zach Shackelford when by any stretch of imagination he could possibly have been considered good. He was known as one of the wildest young bucks that frequented the club, with a deft hand at cards and dice and a smooth throat for whisky. But Turner gave them such a defiant glance that they were almost ready to subscribe to anything the old man might say.