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Chang-How and Anarky by Jennie Woodville

 

"Gret beezle!"

A dismayed silence while Anarky, our cook—black as night, eyes set square in her head, that head set level on her stout black shoulders—walked around the Chinese youth my husband had brought home as an experiment in our domestic life—around the Chinese youth with his wiry frame and insinuating stoop of the shoulders, and a smile of neutral tint lying placid but wary on his buff countenance.

"Lordy-mussy!" quoth Anarky. Another vehement, aggressive pause on her part, a silence observant and self-defensive on his. "Name o' Satan, Mis' Maud! what is it?"

"This is to be your fellow-servant, Anarky."

"Gret Beezle! Wish I may die ef I didn't think it wor a yaller rat!"

"Anarky, I am ashamed of you! What should Mr. Smith want with a yellow rat?"

"Thought he bought it at de sukus in New York, an' gif to you like he did dat monkey. Ef it ain't no rat, an' ain't a monkey, name o' Satan, what kin it be? 'Tain't a 'ooman, for all dem gret long sleeves: you know dat yo'se'f. An' 'tain't like no man as eber I seed. What dat hangin' on to its head? An' what motter wid its eyes, sot crank-sided right 'ginst its nose, kickin' up der heels, pintin' ebry way for Sunday—one en' uv um ez sharp as a 'nittin'-needle, an' tudder en' ez roun' ez a marble?"

Chang-how sent one eye skirmishing in my direction, and the other toward Anarky, and the same deprecatory yet wary smile rested like moonlight on his placid face.

"That will do, Anarky," said I. "I wish you to understand that this is to be your fellow-servant. You will cook and wash as usual. Chang-how will attend in the dining-room, and do I don't know yet exactly what else; but I wish you to be kind to him, remembering that he is a stranger in a strange land. Also, I will have no further remarks on his personal appearance."

Silenced by authority, but unmoved by my eloquence, Anarky made another tour of inspection—silently raised the end of Chang-how's queue, disgustedly let it fall, and went to the door. There she stopped and looked at him again. "Good Lord!" said she under her breath by way of parting salute.

The look of mild unconcern that had rested on Chang-how's features was rippled by a quaint, cunning smile, and for the first time he cast a quick glance full at her, then stood again with folded hands, calm, submissive, apparently unobservant.

Seeing the antagonism that was likely to exist between them, I myself showed Chang-how and his bundle to the room he was to occupy, and in a short time he emerged clad in a neat white jacket, his queue deftly bound around his head, ready for business.

The fellow was exceedingly bright and quick, and, though he never seemed to be "takin' notes," nothing escaped his observation. He learned our ways in an incredibly short time, and when those ways did not come in conflict with any habit previously formed he adapted himself to them at once; but woe to any pet notion that interfered with Chang's preconceived ideas! That notion had to go to the wall. However, that has nothing to do here.

Whether Chang-how had been "takin' notes" was a debatable point, but that somebody was taking everything takable on the premises soon became a self-evident proposition; and this was uncomfortable for more reasons than one. Mr. Smith and I almost quarrelled about it. He would not believe it to be Chang-how, and I was determined it should not be Anarky. Said he, "Anarky is taking advantage of the popular idea that the Chinese are invariably dis—"

"Now, who ever heard anything like that?" I interrupted. "What does Anarky know about the popular idea concerning the Chinese? About as much as I should know if you were to talk to me about the Teutonic idiom for mezzo-tinted phonetics."

"You have convinced me, my dear, that Chang-how is the guilty party; but the idea I meant to convey before you knocked me down with those big words was this—that Anarky, knowing what people think of the Chinese, indulges her dishonest yearnings, believing we shall suppose the thief to be Chang-how."

"But I know it isn't Anarky, because Anarky always had a blundering, awkward, above-board way of stealing that made it only taking things, and she was always getting caught; and Chang-how always manages not to be found out. And I know it is Chang-how; I know it by that. It shows he is used to it."

Mr. Smith laughed.

"It does! and I know it is Chang-how and it isn't Anarky."

Then Mr. Smith laughed again, and said women were born to be lawyers.

Chang-how would come to me (he was dining-room servant, you remember): "Evly one spoonee no come homee."

"How you mean, Chang-how? Where spoonee go?"

"All no light: all longee. Spoonee go 'way: I no find him."

"Oh, but you must find them, Chang-how. How many go?"

"Four spoonee."

"But they are solid silver! You really must find them."

"You tell where lookee, I go lookee."

"I am sure I don't know were you are to look. And two forks were missing last week!"

I stared reflectively at a June-bug on the window-sill. Chang-how stood with folded hands and drooping shoulders, a seraphic calm upon his features, as of one who had stood upon the burning deck when all but he had fled. Evidently he had done his duty. I was so impressed with this fact, and that the responsibility, if not the guilt, was now mine, that I simply said, "Go set the table then, Chang-how. Mr. Smith will have to tell us what to do when he comes home."

Exit Chang.

Enter Anarky: "Mis' Maud, how many hank'chers you sent out dis week?"

"Twenty-three, I believe."

"An' now I ain't got but nineteen. You see dat? How many socks for Mas' Jim?"

"Six or seven, I suppose. Why?"

"You see dat again? Ain't but fo' par lef'! Ef I don't beat him, shoze I'm a nigger!"

"Your Mas' Jim?" I asked, smiling.

"'Tain't nobody but dat yaller varmint dat's stealin' roun' de lot.—Lor'! Lor'! ef I jes' could cotch him!"

"Anarky, while we are talking about it, I—I really wish you would manage a little better about the biscuit and—well, the eggs, and—and a good many little things of the kind. I am sure we have an abundance of everything, and it mortifies me exceedingly not to have it at table. Haven't you and Chang everything you want, and as much?"

"We gits more'n 'nuff. An' what goes outen de kitchen goes correc'. Whar dey lands 'tween dar an' de din'-room don't nobody know but dat yaller dorg. I misses things cornstant—things dat I ain't took my eyes off 'em, 'cep' ter wink; an', bless de Lord! while I wor a-winkin' de lard done took to its heels or de flour flewed away."

The next evening, when Chang brought in supper, Anarky walked by his side in solemn state, empty-handed, dignified, watchful. He appeared totally unconscious of his escort, and I made no remark; but Mr. Smith sent him into the hall on an errand, and during his absence Anarky rose to explain: "Which you see all dem biskit, Mis' Maud?"

"Yes: I am glad we are getting all right again, Anarky."

"Well, I got dat many mo' in de ub'n now—jes' like I use ter hab 'fo' dat—" Here an appalling idea seemed to strike her. "War dat Chow-chow nigger?" she exclaimed, and made a dash toward the door. As she reached it Chang-how quietly glided in and handed Mr. Smith the paper he had gone for.

The next moment a sound came from the kitchen—something between a howl and a roar—and following in its wake came Anarky. Almost inarticulate with rage, she shook her brawny fist in Chang-how's face. "You good-fur-nuthin' yaller houn'!" she exclaimed.

Mr. Smith wheeled around on his chair and looked at her in stern surprise. Chang-how stood his ground and gazed at her with the unruffled calm of a full moon beaming o'er a raging sea.

She turned to us, trembling with excitement: "Well, ef dat ain't de beatinest trick et ebber I seed! Think dat yaller houn' ain't stole de biskit outen de ub'n? An', 'fo' Gord! I didn't know he'd been out o' here long 'nuff for a dog to snap at a fly! Ef you ain't de oudaishusest—" She stopped and glared at him with the despairing, silent venom of one who felt herself a pauper in words, a verbal failure, a wretched creature who in the supreme hour of trial was proving herself the wrong person in the wrong place.

Chang-how's hands were folded, and his eyes rested dreamily on the floor. Evidently, he was contentedly rolling tea-leaves in his native land.

Suspiciously regarding the abnormal appearance of Chang-how's neat white jacket, I forbore to rebuke my sable favorite, but Mr. Smith, not having observed the little protuberances which had attracted my attention toward his more delicately-tinted protégé, said with decision, "Go to the kitchen, Anarky, and send in supper or bring it yourself; and make haste about it."

Anarky turned again to Chang-how and fixed her great black eyes on him in silence. Then she sounded a note of solemn warning: "Lord! Lord! Shang-hai!" said she, "ef ebber I does cotch you out an' out, ef ebber I does git a good square holt on you, I'll t'ar you all to pieces! Yo' mammy won't want what'll be left uv you, 'cos' 'twon't be wuf berryin'!"

"Shut upee! too much jawee," said Chang-how benignly, and dreamed again of his native land. But for three days nothing was missing in Anarky's department, and so far Chang-how escaped with unbroken bones.

On the evening of the fourth day I received a letter announcing the coming of visitors, and it unfortunately occurred to me that Chang-how might assist Anarky in the laundry, thus affording her an opportunity for greater display in the culinary department; so I called him up: "You washeeman, Chang-how?"

"Oh yes, I washee all light," said Chang.

"You help Anarky iron to-day I give you more money."

"All light! How muchee?"

"One dollar."

"Two dollar."

"One dollar."

"No washee one dollar," said Chang.

"No washee at all, then."

"One dollar ap."

"Nor a dollar and a half: I get other washee."

"Melican man no washee ap."

"Oh yes. Melican woman suit me."

"All light! I washee one dollar."

"Very well. As soon, then, as you leave the dining-room go to the laundry. And, Chang, no make cook cross."

"Cook too much talkee: cookee bad egg."

"Well, you no make cookee cross perhaps I give you more money."

"All light! How muchee?"

"No matter: a quarter."

"Ap."

"A half, then."

Going to the laundry, I said to Anarky, "Chang-how will assist you in the ironing to-day, so that you can get through quickly and show my friends some of your best cooking, Anarky. I do hope—"

"What Shang-doodle know 'bout i'unin'?" asked Anarky sulkily.

"Oh, he knows ever so much," said I with cheerful faith; "and I do hope you will try to get on nicely with him this time. You know what the Bible says about brothers dwelling together in unity, and all that?"

"Chang-jaw ain't none o' my brudder, an' I ain't none o' his'n," resisted Anarky.

"Oh yes, we are all brothers; and if you will only be Chang-how's long enough to get through with the ironing, I will give you almost anything you want."

"Gimme a nigger all day long," said Anarky: "I fa'rly hates a Chinee an' a Orrisher."

"Try it to-day, though, Anarky, for my sake," said I persuasively; and she consented, though sulkily enough.

Hearing Chang-how coming, I seated myself on the stairway leading into the laundry, curious to see how they would work together.

Anarky pointed authoritatively to a heap of dried linen. "Sprinkle dem ar cloze," said she to Chang. "I'm gwine out in de yard to git what's on de line."

While she was gone, Chang-how, as is the manner of his people, filled his mouth with water, and was blowing it in a fine spray over the linen when Anarky appeared in the doorway, a basket of clothes on her head, her knuckles on her hips. As she caught sight of Chang-how moistening the linen with water from his mouth she stopped: she staggered, her basket fell to the floor, and, stooping down, she threw her hands above her head, then brought them down again with a violent slap on her knees.

"Good Lor'! come down," said she, "an' look at dat yaller houn' a-spittin' on Mis' Maud's cloze.—I got you now! Can't nobody blame me fur beatin' you 'bout dat."

Then she flew at him, and what a scene it was! She, black, brawny, of immense physical power—he, lithe, sinewy, supple as a panther. It was a spectacle! First one, then the other, seemed to have the advantage. She would catch him in her powerful grasp, and, lifting him off his feet, swing him in the air as if about to slam him to his final resting-place, when by some inexplicable manœuvre he would writhe from between her fingers or wriggle himself to the back of her neck and mash her nose flat against her breast as if bent on suffocating her or breaking her neck. In a moment she would reach back with both hands and pull him over her head very much as men doff a shirt. Likely as not, Chang came down with his heels in the air, and at it they would go again. Presently she was tripped, and fell with a violence that should have broken every bone in her body, but before Chang-how could pursue his advantage she had wheeled on her side, wound his queue halfway up her arm and had her knee on his breast.

"Good for you, An—! I mean, aren't you ashamed of yourself? Stop! for Heaven's sake, stop! You might kill him."

As well have spoken to the winds. And as they became more terribly in earnest I began to scream for help: "Stop, Anarky! (Murder! murder!)—Here, Chang, take the poker. (Mu—u—u—r—der!) Great Heaven! don't hit her with it! Stop, Chang-how! (Mur—d—e—r! Oh, mercy! somebody come!)—Here, Anarky, take the pota- (Mur—d—e—r—rr!)—potato-masher and don't kill (M—u—r—der!)—kill him with it, unless he kills you first.—Oh, mercy! mercy! I don't know what else to give you all to keep you from killing (Murder!)—killing each other with.—Anarky, you are breaking his neck!—Here's a flatiron, Chang! (Murder! Fire! fire! fire!)"

This brought the neighbors and the neighbors' children, and their neighbors and their neighbors' children, and finally a forlorn policeman, who marched Anarky to the magistrate's office and left Chang to do up his pigtail at leisure, and reflect how often he had sinned and gone unwhipt of justice, and now, in the hour of peace and in the act of duty, retribution had deliberately sought him out, and found him and disposed of him as afore told.

It seems that Anarky went quietly enough to the magistrate, who gave her the choice between going to jail and depositing five dollars as security for her appearance next morning for examination. Not having five dollars to deposit, she was allowed an hour in which to seek some one who would go bail for her. At the end of that time she returned to the office panting, exhausted, wiping the perspiration from her face with her blue cotton apron.

"Who is going bail for you?" she was asked.

Calmly turning down the sleeves that had been rolled above her shining black elbows, she replied with contempt, "I ain't been arter no bail: I dun been home an' finish beatin' de lites outen dat yaller houn'. Dat all de bail I wants! Which ef ennybody's lookin' fur him, dey kin fin' his pigtail, an' maybe a piece uv his head a-stickin' to it, hin' de chick'n-coop at Mas' Jim's. Now kyar me to jail an' lemme res'. I boun' he don't spit on no mo' cloze I got ter han'le!"

Jennie Woodville.