Best American Humorous Short Stories HTML version

humor of the thing, and as he had shouted and gurgled and laughed over the fun of things
when all alone, or holding forth among the men and women and little children of his
color, so he shouted and gurgled and broke from sonorous chuckles to musical, falsetto
mirth when he fronted the sweeping tiers of faces across the intoxicating glare of the
footlights. He had that rare power of transmitting something of his own enjoyments.
When Gideon was on the stage, Stuhk used to enjoy peeping out at the intent, smiling
faces of the audience, where men and women and children, hardened theater-goers and
folk fresh from the country, sat with moving lips and faces lit with an eager interest and
sympathy for the black man strutting in loose-footed vivacity before them.
"He's simply unique," he boasted to wondering local managers--"unique, and it took me
to find him. There he was, a little black gold-mine, and all of 'em passed him by until I
came. Some eye? What? I guess you'll admit you have to hand it some to your Uncle
Felix. If that coon's health holds out, we'll have all the money there is in the mint."
That was Felix's real anxiety--"If his health holds out." Gideon's health was watched over
as if he had been an ailing prince. His bubbling vivacity was the foundation upon which
his charm and his success were built. Stuhk became a sort of vicarious neurotic, eternally
searching for symptoms in his protégé; Gideon's tongue, Gideon's liver, Gideon's heart
were matters to him of an unfailing and anxious interest. And of late--of course it might
be imagination --Gideon had shown a little physical falling off. He ate a bit less, he had
begun to move in a restless way, and, worst of all, he laughed less frequently.
As a matter of fact, there was ground for Stuhk's apprehension. It was not all a matter of
managerial imagination: Gideon was less himself. Physically there was nothing the
matter with him; he could have passed his rigid insurance scrutiny as easily as he had
done months before, when his life and health had been insured for a sum that made good
copy for his press-agent. He was sound in every organ, but there was something lacking
in general tone. Gideon felt it himself, and was certain that a "misery," that embracing
indisposition of his race, was creeping upon him. He had been fed well, too well; he was
growing rich, too rich; he had all the praise, all the flattery that his enormous appetite for
approval desired, and too much of it. White men sought him out and made much of him;
white women talked to him about his career; and wherever he went, women of color--
black girls, brown girls, yellow girls--wrote him of their admiration, whispered, when he
would listen, of their passion and hero-worship. "City niggers" bowed down before him;
the high gallery was always packed with them. Musk-scented notes scrawled upon
barbaric, "high-toned" stationery poured in upon him. Even a few white women, to his
horror and embarrassment, had written him of love, letters which he straightway
destroyed. His sense of his position was strong in him; he was proud of it. There might be
"folks outer their haids," but he had the sense to remember. For months he had lived in a
heaven of gratified vanity, but at last his appetite had begun to falter. He was sated; his
soul longed to wipe a spiritual mouth on the back of a spiritual hand, and have done. His
face, now that the curtain was down and he was leaving the stage, was doleful, almost