Roast Chicking

I AIN’T got no fambly, youse might say, ‘nless youse would count Rosie an’ the woman. What I means is, I ain’t got no fambly of my own.

My father an’ mother is both dead, an’ I am the only one of the childern what lived. They was eight of us, but I never seen none of them for I was the younges’, an’ the rest all died when they was babies yet. I was the only one what lived — which ain’t no fault of my ol’ man’s.

Many is the time I has jest been goin’ to step inside of the house when somethin’ in my head has said to me, ‘Louie, don’t go in,’ and I hev went back. An’ afterwards I has found that my father was lay in’ for me inside, an’ it has been jest in the grace of a hair’s breath that I ain’t killed — sech a good shot is my ol’ man.

An’ if it wa’n’t for that voice on the insides of me warnin’ me, I would n’t be livin’ unto this day.

Father was in the saloon business first. He was at that for about sixteen year’ when he sells out an’ buys a private place, an’ lives private. He stands that for jest about one year when he goes back into business agin.

He sure was one ornery cuss, an’ youse might say, I never had no respec’ for him. The earlies’ remembrances I hev got of him is a lickin’.

C’n youse think back to the first thing youse c’n remember? I kin. I c’n see that bar yet, jest like it was ycst’day, an’ me runnin’ round it, an’ father after me with a board he has broke off ‘n a box, in his hand. An’ ma over in the corner with her apern over her face, cryin’.

It was jest like I was horned there in the saloon, right then, for I don’t remember nothin’ that has happened before, an’ it seems like that is the first time I ever has seen my father an’ my mother. I knows who they are without no one tellin’ me, but I don’t recollec’ ever hevin’ saw them before. Nor does I even remember seein’ my ol’ man pull that board off ‘n the box, yet I knows that is what he done. Nothin’ that has happened before does I remember.

Ma said father licked me long before I c’d walk yet, but I don’t recollec’ that far back.

Now me — I never laid a hand on the little feller, nor on Rosie neither. But the woman — she was always as ready with her hand as she is with her mouth. But after the little feller was took, I never let her lay no hand on Rosie again.

Sech a tongue has she got in her head that I don’t dast say much what she kin do and what she can’t do. But after the little feller goes to his grave with the marks of a broom handle on his little body, somethin’ on the insides of me kind of busts like, an’ I tells the woman there ain’t goin’ to be no more lickin’ in my house again. An’ there ain’t, unto this day.

Now ma, she wa’n’t like father. She never licked me less ‘n I done somethin’. But I never walks past my ol’ man but what I has to duck quick, an’ youse c’n believe me or not, I never goes no nearer to him than I has to.

Other childern ust to run away from school, but me — I run away to school. Not that I took to book-learnin’, but because I knowed when I was in school, father could n’t tech me.

They wa’n’t no impulsatory school laws in them days, like they is now, an’ father wa’n’t for leavin’ me go to school at all. An’ many the lickin’ has he give me for goin’. Always he ust to say, ‘Do youse think I have brung you into the world for a dirty loafer?’ An’ he makes up a sayin’ which says, ‘Them as don’t work, don’t eat.’ An’ never does I get no supper on the days I goes to school, only what I sneaks.

An’ cert’nly I would be a ignorant man to-day, if it wa’n’t for Miss Lang, a school-teacher where lived in the same house with me onct. It was her that learned me both to read an’ write.

Nor was I allowed to have pets like the other fellows.

The only pet I ever has is a chicking, which I would n’t of had, only ma she keeps chickings, an’ father don’t find out for a long time. Even unto this day I could cry when I thinks of Henery.

I raises him from a little lame chick. For some reason his mother won’t own him, so I scratches for him, an’ looks out for him, an’ soon he is follerin’ me round everywheres. An’ often I sneaks him in, an’ he sleeps on the foot of my bed at nights. I could n’t of thought more of my own brother if one of them would of lived.

As I already told youse, my ol’ man owns a saloon — but it wa’n’t jest a saloon. It was a grocery store an’ billiard-room an’ saloon, all in one.

One day I was goin’ past the corn bin, an’ I done what I always done when father ain’t around — I takes out a handful of corn.

Then I goes out in the yard an’ I calls Henery, an’ he comes limpin’ up an’ hops onto my shoulder. An’ every time I puts a kernel of corn in my mouth, he leans his head over real sassy an’ pecks it out. An’ always he is that careful that he don’t hurt me.

An’ all the time I don’t know my ol’ man is anywheres around, till he starts cussin’.

I gives Henery a quick fling one way, an’ I beats it another, for I knows father.

I stays away all day, an’ I don’t git in till supper time, countin’ that by that time father will either be too busy or too drunk to do anything.

I ‘low to sneak in an’ swipe a piece of bread or somethin’, but when I gits in the kitchin an’ smells what I smells, horses can’t drag me away. But it is many a long day after that but what that same smell makes me sick to my stummiek. Even unto this day when I talks about it, I c’n feel my stummick goin’ flip-flop, jest like that.

Ma don’t say nothin’. She jest goes on gittin’ things ready to set on the table, an’ I c’n see she has been cryin’. But I don’t think nothin’ partic’lar about that, seem’ it ain’t many days she ain’t been cryin’.

Then I hears father comin’ in, an’ I starts to run. But he sees me before I gits out. So I beats it to the other side of the table from where he is at, so the more chanct to hev when he comes after me. But instid of doin’ what I am lookin’ for, he says real sof’ an’ kind, ‘Well, well, Louie, youse are jest in time for your birthday supper,’ he says. ‘Set up,’ he says.

An’ sure enough, it is my birthday, which I never would of thought of.

I am so hungry that I decides to resk it, an’ I sides over to the table, keepin’ one eye on my ol’ man, an’ the other on the nices’ roast chicking you ever see — all carved an’ ready to eat.

I have a oncasy feel in’ all the time about father, an’ when he pushes the plate over my way, without even helpin’ hisself first., I grabs a leg quick, thinkin’ his game is to leave me pret’ near git a piece, an’ then jerk it away.

But no, he leaves it settin’ right in front of me. I don’t like the way he is smilin’, for I knows it don’t mean no good to me, but I intends to eat while I has the chanct.

When I has a’most the whole leg et, father says, jest as if he is surprised, ‘Well, I do declare, this here Henery seems to be some chicking. Shove him over to me till I tries him.’

Never c’n I tell youse my feelin’s. There I sets with part of my little Henery unchawed in my mouth. An’ certainly, neither c’n I swaller him, nor c’n I spit him out.

Ma, she has bust out cryin’. But me — I am jest settin’ there like a statute, with my mouth hangin’ open.

Father is laffin’ that way he has where youse can’t hear him, an’ he is reachin’ over to help hisself to little Henery when a red-hot iron comes runnin’ up by backbone an’ into my head. An’ without hardly knowin’ what I’m doin’, I grabs the plate with Henery on it, jumps past father before he knows where I’m about, an’ lights out for the woods.

An’ when I examines that plate, I finds that I hev et the poor little game leg that I has rubbed many a time tryin’ to make it longer.

An’ that piece where is left in my mouth unchawed has disappeared. You have saw magician fellers which holds a egg up in front of youse — now youse see it, now youse don’t? Youse c’n laff when I tells it, but that same kind of a miracle has happened — for neither has I spit out Henery nor has I swallered him, yet certainly there ain’t no Henery left in my mouth. It is jest like the egg I tol’ youse about — he ain’t in my mouth, he ain’t out of my mouth, he ain’t nowheres.

I puts what is left of Henery together the best way I kin. Then I wraps him in my coat, an’ buries him out there in the woods.

After which I says, ‘Gawd,’I says, ‘I don’t know no prayer, but if youse will jest tell Henery I did n’t know it was him, an’ that I would of starved first before I would of et his little game leg, I ‘ll do somethin’ for youse some day,’ I says.

‘An’ leave father to me, Gawd,’ I says, ‘for I knows him better than youse, livin’ with him as I does,’ I says. ‘Jest leave him live till I am growed up,’ I says, ‘an’ I ‘ll git even with him,’ I says. Which both me an’ Gawd done.

Then I tries to sing ‘Where is my wanderin’ boy to-night?’ which is the only funeral song I knows, but I don’t git far till I busts out ervin’ like I ain’t done but onct since, an’ that is when the little feller passes away.

I truns myself on the little grave I has jest made, an’ I must of went to sleep, for when I looks up again it is early mornin’.

I hunts for a stone big enough to cover over Henery’s grave so no dog can’t dig him up, then I picks up the plate an’ starts for home.

I don’t know why I am goin’ home, for I knows my of man will be layin’ for me. But it is jest like somethin’ is dead on the insides of me, an’ I don’t care no more what happens.

I am a’most home when I sees ma runnin’ toward me. I am lookin’ for a cuffin’ off ‘n her for not havin’ no coat on; but instid of that she grabs the plate off ‘n me, an’ tells me to beat it quick, for father is waitin’ at the barn with the horsewhip.

I don’t know why I does it, but I walks straight on, an’ I am jest past the big tree, when out jumps father an’ ketches me by the arm. An’ when he is through with me I can’t stand on my two feet, but am layin’ there by the fence. Some people picks me up an’ takes me to the doctor’s, an’ he puts stuff on the open places where makes them hurt worser than they does before. Then he ties me up.

But even with that I don’t feel that there lickin’ like youse would think. It is jest as I has already told youse — somethin’ is dead on the insides of me, an’ I don’t feel nothin’ the same.

They tells me afterwards that the neighbors has my ol’ man arrested, an’ he has to pay a big fine. But me — I don’t see him agin for a’most two year.

There is a farmer — Mr. Henderschott by name — where sees father give me that lickin’, an’ he takes me home for a ‘prentice on his farm. An’ there it is that I am interdooced to Miss Lang, the lady teacher I has a’ready told youse of.

She is boardin’ at Mr. Henderschott’s, an’ one evenin’ she says at the supper table, ‘After youse fellers git through eatin’, go an’ warsh yourselves, an’ then come into the settin’room, for I am goin’ to learn youse somethin’.’

They is three of us workin’ there, an’ when we gits through eatin’, the other two fellers goes out to the pump, but I am tired, an’ besides I don’t see the need for no more learnin’. So I sneaks up to the attic, an’ has jest turned in when in walks Miss Lang.

‘Louie,’ she says, ‘either youse kin git up an’ dress yourself, or I ‘ll do it for youse,’ she says.

I seen her manage a horse onct, so I gits up an’ does what she tells me. An’ I thank her unto this day, for as I always says, if it would n’t of been for Miss Lang, neither could I read or write.

I am at Mr. Henderschott’s for a’most two year, when father comes after me. Mr. Henderschott ain’t for leavin’ me go, but father says he will git the law on him, so he leaves me. He says certainly he hates to see me go for I am the best worker he ever had.

An’ all this time I ain’t et one bite of chicking. When I smells one cookin’ it makes me sick, an’ all I kin think of is, I wants my little Henery back.

It is late at night when we gits home, an’ ma she is settin’ in the kitchin. ‘Hello, Louie,’ she says. ‘Hello, ma,’ I says, an’ I goes up to bed.

Father has me up early the next mornin’ ploughin’ the back lot. I am growed considerable in them two year, an’ my ol’ man ‘lows I am goin’ to make up for lost time.

When I goes home for dinner an’ smells what I smells I has the feelin’ that I can’t stand on my two feet. I starts to git out, but father, who has came in, shoves me into my place at the table, an’ calls ma to put on the dinner. Which she done — bustin’ out cryin’ while she done so. For there on the plate is a roast chicking, lookin’ for all the world like my little Henery.

Father puts his revolver on the table beside of him, an’ then he pushes the plate over in front of me, jest like he done that other time. An’ all the time he is smilin’ an laffin’ that way he has.

‘Louie,’ he says, ‘have a leg of Henery’s grandchild. An’ either you eats,’ he says, ‘or youse gits this here bullet,’he says.

I am settin’ there thinkin’ I would ruther have the bullet, when all of a suddent that same red-hot iron I tells you about before comes runnin’ up my backbone an’ into my head, an’ I grabs not only a leg, but as much of that chicking where I kin hold in my two hands. An’ I starts eatin’ as fast as I kin. For the feelin’ has came to me, what right has that chicking, or no chicking, to live, when my little Henery is dead! I wants to eat it, an’ also I wants to eat every chicking they is. An’ that feelin’ has stayed by me unto this day.

When my ol’ man sees what I am at, he stops shakin’ of hisself laffin’, an’ he gives me a knock on the head where sends that chicking acrost the room, an’ me on top of it. Then he makes me pick it up an’ put it on his plate.

Ma, she goes for to help me, an’ he gives her two black eyes. Why, she has a pair of eyes on her where she can’t look out of her head. He says it is her what puts me up to hawgin’ that chicking.

But it wa’n’t ma. It is jest as I has told youse. I has the feelin’ that I don’t want no chicking to live an’ enjoy hisself, now my Henery is dead. An’ never has that feelin’ left me.

That is why they ain’t no one kin help Mr. Cupp eat hisself sober as good as me. He is the only one I knows of where kin eat as much chicking as me, an’ even then, he has to be his drunkes’ to do it.