These thoughts were interrupted by sounds as of altercation. I had nearly reached the end of the lane, where I should again emerge into the White man’s world, and where I was now walking the lane spread into a broader space with ells and angles and rotting steps, and habitations mostly too ruinous to be inhabited. It was from a sashless window in one of these that the angry voices came. The first words which were distinct aroused my interest quite beyond the scale of an ordinary altercation:—
“Calls you’self a reconstuckted niggah?”
This was said sharply and with prodigious scorn. The answer which it brought was lengthy and of such a general sullen incoherence that I could make out only a frequent repetition of “custom house,” and that somebody was going to take care of somebody hereafter.
Into this the first voice broke with tones of highest contempt and rapidity:—
“President gwine to gib brekfus’ an’ dinnah an suppah to de likes ob you fo’ de whole remaindah oh youh wuthless nat’ral life? Get out ob my sight, you reconstuckted niggah. I come out oh de St. Michael.”
There came through the window immediately upon this sounds of scuffling and of a fall, and then cries for help which took me running into the dilapidated building. Daddy Ben lay on the floor, and a thick, young savage was kicking him. In some remarkable way I thought of the solidity of their heads, and before the assailant even knew that he had a witness, I sped forward, aiming my kettle-supporter, and with its sharp brass edge I dealt him a crack over his shin with astonishing accuracy. It was a dismal howl that he gave, and as he turned he got from me another crack upon the other shin. I had no time to be alarmed at my deed, or I think that I should have been very much so; I am a man above all of peace, and physical encounters are peculiarly abhorrent to me; but, so far from assailing me, the thick, young savage, with the single muttered remark, “He hit me fuss,” got himself out of the house with the most agreeable rapidity.
Daddy Ben sat up, and his first inquiry greatly reassured me as to his state. He stared at my paper bundle. “You done make him hollah wid dat, sah!”
I showed him the kettle-supporter through a rent in its wrapping, and I assisted him to stand upright. His injuries proved fortunately to be slight (although I may say here that the shock to his ancient body kept him away for a few days from the churchyard), and when I began to talk to him about the incident, he seemed unwilling to say much in answer to my questions. And when I offered to accompany him to where he lived, he declined altogether, assuring me that it was close, and that he could walk there as well as if nothing had happened to him; but upon my asking him if I was on the right way to the carpenter’s shop, he looked at me curiously.
“No use you gwine dab, sah. Dat shop close up. He not wukkin, dis week, and dat why fo’ I jaw him jus’ now when you come in an’ stop him. He de cahpentah, my gran’son, Cha’s Coteswuth.”