Lucy came slowly into the room and
stood near the door. She was of the peculiar-looking
negress type sometimes seen in the South light
of complexion, with hard, porcelain-like blue eyes
and kinky hair which, instead of being black, is brown
or brownish red. After her first startled glance
toward Bristow she stood with her head lowered and
with an expression of sulky stubbornness.
“Sit down!” he ordered
after a few moments’ silence, indicating a chair
near the wall.
She took her seat while he stepped
to the door and closed it.
“Now, Lucy,” he said,
pulling at his lower lip as he stood in the middle
of the room and looked down at her, “I’m
not going to hurt you, and there’s nothing for
you to be afraid of. All I want you to do is to
tell me the truth.”
In spite of his reassuring words,
the woman caught the full meaning of the goading sharpness
in his voice. She immediately became more sullen.
“‘Deed, I ain’ got
nothin’ to tell ’bout you white folks,”
she said, with a touch of insolence.
“This isn’t about white
folks,” he corrected her, resisting his quick
impulse to anger. “It’s about coloured
“Nothin’ ‘bout dem
neithuh,” she continued in the same tone.
“I don’ know nothin’ ’cep’n
I wuz drunk. I done tole all dat down at de p’lice
“Listen to me!” he commanded,
a little pale, “You know perfectly well what
I want to find out. I want you to tell me everything
you remember about Perry Carpenter’s actions
and words last Monday night the night before
She raised and lowered her eyes rapidly,
the lids working like the shutter of a camera.
“I knows what you wants, an’
I knows I don’ know nothin’ ’tall
’bout it,” she objected, her sullenness
a patent defiance.
He stared at her for a full two minutes.
She could hear the breath whistling between his teeth;
the sound of it frightened her.
“Don’t lie to me!”
he said, now a trifle hoarse. “It isn’t
necessary, and it doesn’t do anybody any good you
or Perry either.”
She began to whimper.
Looking at her, he was conscious of
being absorbed in the attempt to keep his temper instead
of eliciting what she had to tell. He smiled.
“Stop that sniffling, and tell
me what you know about Monday night! Don’t
you remember that Perry told you he was going to Mrs.
Withers’ house and steal her jewelry?”
“I done tole you I don’ remembuh nothin’.”
He took a step toward her and lifted
his open hand as if to strike her in the face.
Without waiting for the blow, she slid from the chair
and fell sprawling to the floor, where she lay, moaning.
She obeyed him, her arms held folded
over her head as a shield against expected blows.
She was still sullen, uncommunicative, her head down.
He limped swiftly to the door, left
the room and went to the front part of the house.
He paced the length of the living room several times,
his fists clenched, his protuberant lip grown heavier.
He called to Mattie, who was in the kitchen.
“I wish,” he directed,
“you’d go down to Sterrett’s and
get a dozen oranges.”
“Yes, suh. Right now, Mistuh Bristow?”
“Yes; hurry. I want some orangeade.”
He returned to the bedroom and closed
the door. Lucy was bent forward on the chair,
“Stop that!” he said,
feeling now that he had himself and her under control.
“If you don’t stop, you’ll have something
real to sniffle about before I’m through with
you! Now begin. What about Perry last Monday
“Please, suh,” she changed
her tone, “lemme go. I ain’
got nothin’ to say. I feels like I might
say somethin’ dat ain’ so. I’se
kinder skeered you might make me say somethin’
whut I don’ mean to say.”
Moving deliberately, a fine, little
tremor in his fingers, he took off his coat and vest
and hung them on the back of a chair. He had just
noticed that it was warm and close in the shut-up room.
There was a ringing in his ears. He kept repeating
to himself that, if he lost his temper, she would
never become communicative.
He began all over again, patient, persistent
When Mattie came back with the oranges,
she met Lucy just outside the kitchen door. There
were no tears in the Thomas woman’s eyes, but
she seemed greatly distressed.
“Whut’d he want offen
you?” Mattie asked, with the negro’s usual
replied the other, looking blankly out across Mattie’s
shoulder. “He jes’ axed me whut I
knowd ’bout Perry dat night.”
“I tole you dar warn’t
nothin’ to be skeered uv him foh,” said
Mattie. “Some uv you niggers ain’
got no sense.”
“Yas; dat’s so,”
Lucy agreed dully, and walked slowly away.
She moved as if she felt that there
was something frightful behind her. When she
was half-way home, she broke into a run, and, moaning,
ran the remainder of the distance. She threw
herself on her bed and sobbed a long time.
She had talked, and for the present
she thought she felt more sorry for Perry than she
did for herself.
In the meantime, Bristow had gone
into the bathroom to wash his hands.
“Pah!” he exclaimed, disgusted.
He dried his hands and walked, whistling,
out to the living room. No matter how distasteful
the scene with the sullen woman had been, the substantial
fact remained that he had in his pocket an important
document. After all, Lucy Thomas had talked and
“Mattie,” he called, “fix
me an orangeade, please. Mr. Greenleaf’s
late for dinner, and I need a little freshening up.”
He went to the living room window
again and gazed, with thoughtful, slightly sad eyes,
out toward the mountains.
“These policemen!” he
was thinking contemptuously. “They don’t
know how to make blockheads tell what they can tell.
There are ways and ways.”