The place was now almost deserted; only a few stragglers hung on, and they were all the worse for drink. I look back upon the life I then led with a shudder when I think what would have been had I not escaped it. I had read some Negro dialect and had heard snatches of it on my journey down from Washington; but here I heard it in all of its fullness and freedom. We went into the main room, and I was little pre pared for what I saw. The girls in white dresses with fresh ribbons in their hair; the boys in new suits and creaky shoes; the great crowd of parents and friends, the flowers, the prizes and congratulations, made the day seem to me one of the greatest importance. All of them were cigar makers and worked in one of the large factories--cigar making is the one trade in which the color-line is not drawn. The sounding of a bell, he told me, was the signal for the students to gather in the general assembly hall, and he asked me if I would go.
It seems like the author suggests that Shiny is not actually applauded because of his speech, but rather because of his skin colour and the fact that white people expect less from him. They cherish a sullen hatred for all white men, and they value life as cheap. I was down on the programme for one number. We, at length, turned down a pair of stairs that led to a basement, and I found myself in an eating-house somewhat better than those I had seen in passing; but that did not mean much for its excellence. In those last days I often sat at her bedside and read to her until she fell asleep.
At the end of that time my spirits began to revive, and I took an interest in the ship, my fellow passengers, and the voyage in general. Those who before had not moved a finger were now waving their hands above their heads. These players often improvised crude and, at times, vulgar words to fit the melodies. I paused, undecided, for a moment; then turned and slowly retraced my steps, and so changed the whole course of my life. As I passed through the hallway I saw that my mother was busy with one of her customers; I rushed up into my own little room, shut the door, and went quickly to where my looking-glass hung on the wall. When we had become located we went out and got supper; then walked around until about ten o'clock. When we had passed through a small vestibule and reached the hallway we heard mingled sounds of music and laughter, the clink of glasses and the pop of bottles.
A more than sufficient number of people with musical and elocutionary talent volunteered their services to make a programme. On the second or third day out we passed several spouting whales; but I could not arouse myself to make the effort to go to the other side of the ship to see them. It was impossible for him to make a thousand in a week because he had to work very carefully and slowly. The other two are ragtime music and the cake-walk. I spoke to them frankly about my financial condition and re lated the main fact of my misfortune in Atlanta. But, in these later years, several cases have come to my personal knowledge in which old Negroes have died and left what was a considerable fortune to the descendants of their former masters.
The unkempt appearance, the shambling, slouching gait and loud talk and laughter of these people aroused in me a feeling of almost repulsion. The place was now almost deserted; only a few stragglers hung on, and they were all the worse for drink. The judges arrived at their decision by a process of elimination. I sent for catalogues of all the prominent schools in the East, and eagerly gathered all the information I could concerning them from different sources. The sight of that boy gallantly waging with puny, black arms, so unequal a battle, touched the deep springs in the hearts of his audience, and they were swept by a wave of sympathy and admiration. I had thought of her in a childish way only as the most beautiful woman in the world; now I looked at her searching for defects. I knew it was useless to do so, but I searched through every other coat, every pair of trousers, every vest, and even into each pair of socks.
Of course, the reader must know that all of this adoration was in secret; next to my great love for this young lady was the dread that in some way she would find it out. I felt positively giddy, and it was several minutes before I was able to make any clear and definite observations. And so, for a couple of years my life was divided between my music and my school books. He ended by emptying it over what was, relatively, the only quiet man at the table excepting myself, bringing from him a volley of language which made the others appear dumb by comparison. It may be that she never knew that she gave me a sword-thrust that day in school which was years in healing. To some natures this stimulant of life in a great city becomes a thing as binding and neces sary as opium is to one addicted to the habit.
What were his thoughts when he stepped forward and looked into that crowd of faces, all white with the exception of a score or so that were lost to view. His face was as black as night, but shone as though it was polished; he had sparkling eyes, and when he opened his mouth he displayed glistening white teeth. I was shy of the girls, and remained so; even now, a word or look from a pretty woman sets me all a-tremble. Personal history and childhood is always in the bottom of people and their behavior. I remember that I had a particular fondness for the black keys. They gen erally came in cabs ; some of them would stay only for a few minutes, while others sometimes stayed until morning. There was a dancing pavilion, a great deal of drinking and generally a fight or two to add to the excitement.
As the guests began to pay less attention to me I was enabled to pay more to them. When I had somewhat col lected my senses I realized that in a large back room into which the main room opened, there was a young fellow singing a song, accompanied on the piano by a short, thick-set, dark man. Occasionally we ran through a little white and green village that was like an oasis in a desert. I was never guilty of any serious misconduct, but my love of fun sometimes got me into trouble. When the last tone died away the few who began to applaud were hushed by the silence of the others; and for once I played without receiving an encore.