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A Mess Of Pottage
by [?]

“But, my f’en’s, I want to ax you, who was behind Ab’aham Lincoln? Who was it helt up dat man’s han’s when dey sent bayonets an’ buttons to enfo’ce his word–umph? I want to–to know who was behin’ him? Wasn’ it de ‘Publican pa’ty?” There were cries of “Yes, yes! dat’s so!” One old sister rose and waved her sunbonnet.

“An’ now I want to know in dis hyeah day o’ comin’ up ef we a-gwineter ‘sert de ol’ flag which waved ovah Lincoln, waved ovah Gin’r’l Butler, an’ led us up straight to f’eedom? Ladies an’ gent’men, an’ my f’en’s, I know dar have been suttain meetin’s held lately in dis pa’t o’ de town. I know dar have been suttain cannerdates which have come down hyeah an’ brung us de mixed wine o’ Babylon. I know dar have been dem o’ ouah own people who have drunk an’ become drunk–ah! But I want to know, an’ I want to ax you ter-night as my f’en’s an’ my brothahs, is we all a-gwineter do it–huh? Is we all a-gwineter drink o’ dat wine? Is we all a-gwineter reel down de perlitical street, a-staggerin’ to an’ fro?–hum!”

Cries of “No! No! No!” shook the whole church.

“Gent’men an’ ladies,” said the old man, lowering his voice, “de pa’able has been ‘peated, an’ some o’ us–I ain’t mentionin’ no names, an’ I ain’t a-blamin’ no chu’ch–but I say dar is some o’ us dat has sol’ dere buthrights fu’ a pot o’ cabbage.”

What more Deacon Swift said is hardly worth the telling, for the whole church was in confusion and little more was heard. But he carried everything with him, and Lane’s work seemed all undone. On a back seat of the church Tom Swift, the son of the presiding officer, sat and smiled at his father unmoved, because he had gone as far as the sixth grade in school, and thought he knew more.

As the reporters say, the meeting came to a close amid great enthusiasm.

The day of election came and Little Africa gathered as usual about the polls in the precinct. The Republicans followed their plan of not bothering about the district. They had heard of the Deacon’s meeting, and chuckled to themselves in their committee-room. Little Africa was all solid, as usual, but Lane was not done yet. His emissaries were about, as thick as insurance agents, and they, as well as the Republican workers, had money to spare and to spend. Some votes, which counted only for numbers, were fifty cents apiece, but when Tom Swift came down they knew who he was and what his influence could do. They gave him five dollars, and Lane had one more vote and a deal of prestige. The young man thought he was voting for his convictions.

He had just cast his ballot, and the crowd was murmuring around him still at the wonder of it–for the Australian ballot has tongues as well as ears–when his father came up, with two or three of his old friends, each with the old ticket in his hands. He heard the rumor and laughed. Then he came up to Tom.

“Huh,” he said, “dey been sayin’ ‘roun’ hyeah you voted de Democratic ticket. Go mek ’em out a lie.”

“I did vote the Democratic ticket,” said Tom steadily.

The old man fell back a step and gasped, as if he had been struck.

“You did?” he cried. “You did?”

“Yes,” said Tom, visibly shaken; “every man has a right–“

“Evah man has a right to what?” cried the old man.

“To vote as he thinks he ought to,” was his son’s reply.

Deacon Swift’s eyes were bulging and reddening.

“You–you tell me dat?” His slender form towered above his son’s, and his knotted, toil-hardened hands opened and closed.

“You tell me dat? You with yo’ bringin’ up vote de way you think you’re right? You lie! Tell me what dey paid you, or, befo’ de Lawd, I’ll taih you to pieces right hyeah!”

Tom wavered. He was weaker than his father. He had not gone through the same things, and was not made of the same stuff.

“They–they give me five dollahs,” he said; “but it wa’n’t fu’ votin’.”

“Fi’ dollahs! fi’ dollahs! My son sell hisse’f fu’ fi’ dollahs! an’ forty yeahs ago I brung fifteen hun’erd, an’ dat was only my body, but you sell body an’ soul fu’ fi’ dollahs!”

Horror and scorn and grief and anger were in the old man’s tone. Tears trickled down his wrinkled face, but there was no weakness in the grip with which he took hold of his son’s arms.

“Tek it back to ’em!” he said. “Tek it back to ’em.”

“But, pap–“

“Tek it back to ’em, I say, or yo’ blood be on yo’ own haid!”

And then, shamefaced before the crowd, driven by his father’s anger, he went back to the man who had paid him and yielded up the precious bank-note. Then they turned, the one head-hung, the other proud in his very indignation, and made their way homeward.

There was prayer-meeting the next Wednesday night at Bethel Chapel. It was nearly over and the minister was about to announce the Doxology, when old Deacon Swift arose.

“Des’ a minute, brothahs,” he said. “I want to mek a ‘fession. I was too ha’d an’ too brash in my talk de othah night, an’ de Lawd visited my sins upon my haid. He struck me in de bosom o’ my own fambly. My own son went wrong. Pray fu’ me!”