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A Short Natural History
by [?]

If ever a person might be said to have dedicated his being to the pursuit of leisure, that selfsame was Red Hoss Shackleford, of color, and highly so. He was one who specialized in the deft and fine high art of doing nothing at all. With him leisure was at once a calling to be followed regularly and an ideal to be fostered. But also he loved to eat, and he had a fancy for wearing gladsome gearings, and these cravings occasionally interfered with the practice of his favorite vocation. In order that he might enjoy long periods of manual inactivity it devolved upon him at intervals to devote his reluctant energies to gainful labor. When driven to it by necessity, which is said to be the mother of invention and which certainly is the full sister to appetite, Red Hoss worked. He just naturally had to–sometimes.

You see, in the matter of being maintained vicariously he was less fortunately circumstanced than so many of his fellows in our town were, and still are. He had no ministering parent doing cookery for the white folks, and by night, in accordance with a time-hallowed custom with which no sane housekeeper dared meddle, bringing home under a dolman cape loaded tin buckets and filled wicker baskets. Ginger Dismukes, now–to cite a conspicuous example–was one thus favored by the indulgent fates.

Aunt Ca’line Dismukes, mother of the above, was as honest as the day was long; but when the evening of that day came, such trifles, say, as part of a ham or a few left-over slices of cake fell to her as a legitimate if unadvertised salvage. Every time the quality in the big house had white meat for their dinner, Ginger, down the alley, enjoyed drumsticks and warmed-up stuffing for his late supper. He might be like the tapeworm in that he rarely knew in advance what he would have to eat, but still, like the tapeworm, he gratefully absorbed what was put before him and asked no questions of the benefactor. Without prior effort on his part he was fed even as the Prophet Elijah was fed by the ravens of old. This simile would acquire added strength if you’d ever seen Aunt Ca’line, her complexion being a crow’s-wing sable.

Red Hoss had no dependable helpmate, such as Luther Maydew had, with a neatly lettered sign in her front window: GOING-OUT WASHING TAKEN IN HERE. Luther’s wife was Luther’s only visible means of support, yet Luther waxed fat and shiny and larded the earth when he walked abroad. Neither had Red Hoss an indulgent and generous patron such as Judge Priest’s Jeff–Jeff Poindexter–boasted in the person of his master. Neither was he gifted in the manipulation of the freckled bones as the late Smooth Crumbaugh had been; nor yet possessed he the skill of shadow boxing as that semiprofessional pugilist, Con Lake, possessed it. Con could lick any shadow that ever lived, and the punching bag that could stand up before his onslaughts was not manufactured yet; wherefore he figured in exhibition bouts and boxing benefits, and between these lived soft and easy. He enjoyed no such sinecure as fell to the lot of Uncle Zack Matthews, who waited on the white gentlemen’s poker game at the Richland House, thereby harvesting many tips and whose otherwise nimble mind became a perfect blank twice a year when he was summoned before the grand jury.

Red Hoss did, indeed, have a sister, but the relations between them were strained since the day when Red Hoss’ funeral obsequies had been inopportunely interrupted by the sudden advent among the mourners of the supposedly deceased, returning drippingly from the river which presumably had engulfed him. His unexpected and embarrassing reappearance had practically spoiled the service for his chief relative. She never had forgiven Red Hoss for his failure to stay dead, and he long since had ceased to look for free pone bread and poke chops in that quarter.