II III IV
V VI VII
A large circular clearing, enclosed by
the serried ranks of gigantic trunks
of tall trees whose tops are lost to view. In
the center is a big dead stump—worn by time into a curious resemblance
to an auction block. The moon floods the clearing with a
clear light. Jones forces his way in through the forest on
the left. He looks wildly about the clearing with hunted, fearful
glances. His pants are in tatters, his
shoes cut and misshapen, flapping about
his feet. He slinks cautiously to the stump in the center and sits
down in a tense position, ready for instant flight. Then he holds
his head in his hands and rocks back and
forth, moaning to himself miserably.
Oh Lawd, Lawd! Oh Lawd, Lawd! (Suddenly
he throws himself on his
knees and raises his clasped hands to the sky—in a
voice of agonized pleading.) Lawd Jesus, heah my prayer! I'se
a po' sinner, a po' sinner! I knows I done
wrong, I knows it! When I cotches
Jeff cheatin' wid loaded dice my anger overcomes me and I
kills him dead! Lawd, I done wrong! When dat guard hits me wid de
whip, my anger overcomes me, and I kills
him dead. Lawd, I done wrong! And
down heah whar dese fool bush niggers raises me up
to the seat o' de mighty, I steals all I could grab. Lawd, I done
wrong! I knows it! I'se sorry! Forgive me,
Lawd! Forgive dis po' sinner! (then
beseeching terrifiedly) And keep dem away, Lawd! Keep dem
away from me! And stop dat drum soundin' in my ears! Dat begin to
sound ha'nted, too. (He gets to his feet, evidently slightly
reassured by his prayer—with
attempted confidence.) De
Lawd'll preserve me from dem ha'nts after dis. (sits down on
the stump again) I ain't skeered
o' real men. Let dem come. But dem
odders (He shudders—then looks down at his feet, working
his toes inside the shoe—with a
groan.) Oh, my po' feet! Dem shoes
ain't no use no more 'ceptin' to hurt. I'se better off widout dem.
(He unlaces them and pulls them off—holds the wrecks of
the shoes in his hands and regards them mournfully.) You was real,
A-one patin' leather, too. Look at you now. Emperor, you'se gittin'
(He sighs dejectedly and remains
with bowed shoulders, staring down
at the shoes in his hands as if reluctant to throw them away. While
his attention is thus occupied, a crowd of figures silently enter
the clearing from all sides. All are dressed in Southern costumes
of the period of the fifties of the last
century. There are middle-aged who are evidently well-to-do planters.
There is one spruce, authoritative individual—the
auctioneer. There are a crowd of curious
spectators, chiefly young belles and dandies who have come to
the slave-market for diversion. All
exchange courtly greetings in dumb show and chat silently together.
There is something stiff, rigid, unreal,
marionettish about their movements.
They group themselves about the stump. Finally a batch of
slaves are led in from the left by an attendant—three men of different
ages, two women, one with a baby in her arms, nursing. They are
placed to the left of the stump, beside Jones.
planters look them over appraisingly as if they were cattle, and
exchange judgments on each. The dandies point with their fingers and
make witty remarks. The belles titter bewitchingly. All this in silence
save for the ominous throb of the tom-tom. The auctioneer holds
up his hand, taking his place at the stump. The groups strain forward
attentively. He touches Jones on the shoulder peremptorily,
motioning for him to stand on the stump—the auction block.
(Jones looks up, sees the figures
on all sides, looks wildly
for some opening to escape, sees none, screams and leaps madly
to the top of the stump to get as far away from them as possible.
He stands there, cowering, paralyzed with
horror. The auctioneer begins his
silent spiel. He points to Jones, appeals to
the planters to see for themselves. Here is a good field hand, sound
in wind and limb as they can see. Very strong still in spite of
being middle-aged. Look at that back. Look at those shoulders. Look
at the muscles in his arms and his sturdy legs. Capable of any amount
of hard labor. Moreover, of a good disposition, intelligent and
tractable. Will any gentleman start the bidding? The planters raise
their fingers, make their bids. They are apparently all eager to
possess Jones. The bidding is lively, the crowd interested. While
this has been going on, Jones has been seized by
the courage of desperation. He dares to look down, and around him.
Over his face abject terror gives way to
mystification, to gradual realization—stutteringly.)
What you all doin', white folks?
What's all dis? what you all lookin'
at me fo'? what you doin' wid me, anyhow? (suddenly convulsed
with raging hatred and fear) Is dis a auction? Is you sellin'
me like dey uster hefo' de war? (jerking
out his revolver just as the auctioneer knocks
him down to one of the planters—glaring from him to the purchaser)
And you sells me? And you buys me? I shows you I'se a
free nigger, damn yo' souls! (He
fires at the auctioneer and at the planter with
such rapidity that the two shots are almost simultaneous. As if
this were a signal the walls of the forest fold in. Only blackness
remains and silence broken by Jones as he
rushes off, crying with fear—and
by the quickened, ever louder beat of the tom-tom.)