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List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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coat striped longitudinally according to Punch's idea of "Uncle Sam,"
the coat a swallow-tail bound and faced with scarlet, and a bell-
crowned white hat.  This conceit of a colored Yankee seemed to tickle
all colors in the audience amazingly.  Mary, the "bright" woman (this
is the universal designation of the light mulatto), was a pleasing
but bold yellow girl, who wore a natty cap trimmed with scarlet, and
had the assured or pert manner of all traveling sawdust performers.

"Oh, yes," exclaimed a bright woman in the crowd, "Happy John was
sure enough one of Wade Hampton's slaves, and he's right good looking
when he's not blackened up."

Happy John sustained the promise of his name by spontaneous gayety
and enjoyment of the fleeting moment; he had a glib tongue and a
ready, rude wit, and talked to his audience with a delicious mingling
of impudence, deference, and patronage, commenting upon them
generally, administering advice and correction in a strain of humor
that kept his hearers in a pleased excitement.  He handled the banjo
and the guitar alternately, and talked all the time when he was not
singing.  Mary (how much harder featured and brazen a woman is in
such a position than a man of the same caliber!) sang, in an
untutored treble, songs of sentiment, often risque, in solo and in
company with John, but with a cold, indifferent air, in contrast to
the rollicking enjoyment of her comrade.

The favorite song, which the crowd compelled her to repeat, touched
lightly the uncertainties of love, expressed in the falsetto pathetic
refrain:

    "Mary's gone away wid de coon."

All this, with the moon, the soft summer night, the mixed crowd of
darkies and whites, the stump eloquence of Happy John, the singing,
the laughter, the flaring torches, made a wild scene.  The
entertainment was quite free, with a "collection" occasionally during
the performance.

What most impressed us, however, was the turning to account by Happy
John of the "nigger" side of the black man as a means of low comedy,
and the enjoyment of it by all the people of color.  They appeared to
appreciate as highly as anybody the comic element in themselves, and
Happy John had emphasized it by deepening his natural color and
exaggerating the "nigger" peculiarities.  I presume none of them
analyzed the nature of his infectious gayety, nor thought of the
pathos that lay so close to it, in the fact of his recent slavery,
and the distinction of being one of Wade Hampton's niggers, and the
melancholy mirth of this light-hearted race's burlesque of itself.

A performance followed which called forth the appreciation of the
crowd more than the wit of Happy John or the faded songs of the
yellow girl.  John took two sweet-cakes and broke each in fine pieces
into a saucer, and after sugaring and eulogizing the dry messes,
called for two small darky volunteers from the audience to come up on
the platform and devour them.  He offered a prize of fifteen cents to
the one who should first eat the contents of his dish, not using his
hands, and hold up the saucer empty in token of his victory.  The
cake was tempting, and the fifteen cents irresistible, and a couple
of boys in ragged shirts and short trousers and a suspender apiece
came up shamefacedly to enter for the prize.  Each one grasped his
saucer in both hands, and with face over the dish awaited the word
"go," which John gave, and started off the contest with a banjo
accompaniment.  To pick up with the mouth the dry cake and choke it
down was not so easy as the boys apprehended, but they went into the
task with all their might, gobbling and swallowing as if they loved
cake, occasionally rolling an eye to the saucer of the contestant to
see the relative progress, John strumming, ironically encouraging,
and the crowd roaring.  As the combat deepened and the contestants
strangled and stuffed and sputtered, the crowd went into spasms of
laughter.  The smallest boy won by a few seconds, holding up his
empty saucer, with mouth stuffed, vigorously trying to swallow, like
a chicken with his throat clogged with dry meal, and utterly unable
to speak.  The impartial John praised the victor in mock heroics, but
said that the trial was so even that he would divide the prize, ten
cents to one and five to the other--a stroke of justice that greatly
increased his popularity.  And then he dismissed the assembly, saying
that he had promised the mayor to do so early, because he did not
wish to run an opposition to the political meeting going on in the
courthouse.

The scene in the large court-room was less animated than that out-
doors; a half-dozen tallow dips, hung on the wall in sconces and
stuck on the judge's long desk, feebly illuminated the mixed crowd of
black and white who sat in, and on the backs of, the benches, and
cast only a fitful light upon the orator, who paced back and forth
and pounded the rail.  It was to have been a joint discussion between
the two presidential electors running in that district, but, the
Republican being absent, his place was taken by a young man of the
town.  The Democratic orator took advantage of the absence of his
opponent to describe the discussion of the night before, and to give
a portrait of his adversary.  He was represented as a cross between a
baboon and a jackass, who would be a natural curiosity for Barnum.
"I intend," said the orator," to put him in a cage and exhibit him
about the deestrict."  This political hit called forth great
applause.  All his arguments were of this pointed character, and they
appeared to be unanswerable.  The orator appeared to prove that there
wasn't a respectable man in the opposite party who wasn't an office-
holder, nor a white man of any kind in it who was not an office-
holder.  If there were any issues or principles in the canvass, he
paid his audience the compliment of knowing all about them, for he
never alluded to any.  In another state of society, such a speech of
personalities might have led to subsequent shootings, but no doubt
his adversary would pay him in the same coin when next they met, and
the exhibition seemed to be regarded down here as satisfactory and
enlightened political canvassing for votes.  The speaker who replied,
opened his address with a noble tribute to woman (as the first
speaker had ended his), directed to a dozen of that sex who sat in
the gloom of a corner.  The young man was moderate in his sarcasm,
and attempted to speak of national issues, but the crowd had small
relish for that sort of thing.  At eleven o'clock, when we got away
from the unsavory room (more than half the candles had gone out), the
orator was making slow headway against the refished blackguardism of
the evening.  The german was still "on" at the hotel when we ascended
to our chamber, satisfied that Asheville was a lively town.

The sojourner at Asheville can amuse himself very well by walking or
driving to the many picturesque points of view about the town; livery
stables abound, and the roads are good.  The Beau-catcher Hill is
always attractive; and Connolly's, a private place a couple of miles
from town, is ideally situated, being on a slight elevation in the
valley, commanding the entire circuit of mountains, for it has the
air of repose which is so seldom experienced in the location of a
dwelling in America whence an extensive prospect is given.  Or if the
visitor is disinclined to exertion, he may lounge in the rooms of the
hospitable Asheville Club; or he may sit on the sidewalk in front of
the hotels, and talk with the colonels and judges and generals and
ex-members of Congress, the talk generally drifting to the new
commercial and industrial life of the South, and only to politics as
it affects these; and he will be pleased, if the conversation takes a
reminiscent turn, with the lack of bitterness and the tone of
friendliness.  The negro problem is commonly discussed
philosophically and without heat, but there is always discovered,
underneath, the determination that the negro shall never again get
the legislative upper hand.  And the gentleman from South Carolina
who has an upland farm, and is heartily glad slavery is gone, and
wants the negro educated, when it comes to ascendency in politics--
such as the State once experienced--asks you what you would do
yourself.  This is not the place to enter upon the politico-social
question, but the writer may note one impression gathered from much
friendly and agreeable conversation.  It is that the Southern whites
misapprehend and make a scarecrow of "social equality."  When, during
the war, it was a question at the North of giving the colored people
of the Northern States the ballot, the argument against it used to be
stated in the form of a question: "Do you want your daughter to marry
a negro?"  Well, the negro has his political rights in the North, and
there has come no change in the social conditions whatever.  And
there is no doubt that the social conditions would remain exactly as
they are at the South if the negro enjoyed all the civil rights which
the Constitution tries to give him.  The most sensible view of this
whole question was taken by an intelligent colored man, whose brother
was formerly a representative in Congress.  "Social equality," he
said in effect, "is a humbug.  We do not expect it, we do not want
it.  It does not exist among the blacks themselves.  We have our own
social degrees, and choose our own associates.  We simply want the
ordinary civil rights, under which we can live and make our way in
peace and amity.  This is necessary to our self-respect, and if we
have not self-respect, it is not to be supposed that the race can
improve.  I'll tell you what I mean.  My wife is a modest,
intelligent woman, of good manners, and she is always neat, and
tastefully dressed.  Now, if she goes to take the cars, she is not
permitted to go into a clean car with decent people, but is ordered
into one that is repellent, and is forced into company that any
refined woman would shrink from.  But along comes a flauntingly
dressed woman, of known disreputable character, whom my wife would be

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