It was raining as I got off the train in
Nashville, Tennessee -- a slow, gray rain. I was tired so I went straight to my
A big, heavy man was walking up and down in the hotel
lobby. Something about the way he moved made me think of a hungry dog looking
for a bone. He had a big, fat, red face and a sleepy expression in his eyes. He
introduced himself as Wentworth Caswell -- Major Wentworth Caswell -- from "a
fine southern family." Caswell pulled me into the hotel's barroom and yelled for
a waiter. We ordered drinks. While we drank, he talked continually about
himself, his family, his wife and her family. He said his wife was rich. He
showed me a handful of silver coins that he pulled from his coat pocket.
By this time, I had decided that I wanted no more of him.
I said good night.
I went up to my room and looked out the window. It was ten
o'clock but the town was silent. "A nice quiet place," I said to myself as I got
ready for bed. Just an ordinary, sleepy southern town."
I was born in the south myself. But I live in New York
now. I write for a large magazine. My boss had asked me to go to Nashville. The
magazine had received some stories and poems from a writer in Nashville, named
Azalea Adair. The editor liked her work very much. The publisher asked me to get
her to sign an agreement to write only for his magazine.
I left the hotel at nine o'clock the next morning to find
Miss Adair. It was still raining. As soon as I stepped outside I met Uncle
Caesar. He was a big, old black man with fuzzy gray hair.
Uncle Caesar was wearing the strangest coat I had ever
seen. It must have been a military officer's coat. It was very long and when it
was new it had been gray. But now rain, sun and age had made it a rainbow of
colors. Only one of the buttons was left. It was yellow and as big as a fifty
Uncle Caesar stood near a horse and carriage. He opened
the carriage door and said softly, "Step right in, sir. I'll take you anywhere
in the city."
"I want to go to eight-sixty-one Jasmine Street," I said,
and I started to climb into the carriage. But the old man stopped me. "Why do
you want to go there, sir? "
"What business is it of yours?" I said angrily. Uncle
Caesar relaxed and smiled. "Nothing, sir. But it's a lonely part of town. Just
step in and I'll take you there right away."
Eight-sixty-one Jasmine Street had been a fine house once,
but now it was old and dying. I got out of the carriage.
"That will be two dollars, sir," Uncle Caesar said. I gave
him two one-dollar bills. As I handed them to him, I noticed that one had been
torn in half and fixed with a piece of blue paper. Also, the upper right hand
corner was missing.
Azalea Adair herself opened the door when I knocked. She
was about fifty years old. Her white hair was pulled back from her small, tired
face. She wore a pale yellow dress. It was old, but very clean.
Azalea Adair led me into her living room. A damaged table,
three chairs and an old red sofa were in the center of the floor.
Azalea Adair and I sat down at the table and began to
talk. I told her about the magazine's offer and she told me about herself. She
was from an old southern family. Her father had been a judge.
Azalea Adair told me she had never traveled or even
attended school. Her parents taught her at home with private teachers. We
finished our meeting. I promised to return with the agreement the next day, and
rose to leave.
At that moment, someone knocked at the back door. Azalea
Adair whispered a soft apology and went to answer the caller. She came back a
minute later with bright eyes and pink cheeks. She looked ten years younger.
"You must have a cup of tea before you go," she said. She shook a little bell on
the table, and a small black girl about twelve years old ran into the room.
Azalea Adair opened a tiny old purse and took out a dollar
bill. It had been fixed with a piece of blue paper and the upper right hand
corner was missing. It was the dollar I had given to Uncle Caesar. "Go to Mister
Baker's store, Impy," she said, "and get me twenty-five cents' worth of tea and
ten cents' worth of sugar cakes. And please hurry."
The child ran out of the room. We heard the back door
close. Then the girl screamed. Her cry mixed with a man's angry voice. Azalea
Adair stood up. Her face showed no emotion as she left the room. I heard the
man's rough voice and her gentle one. Then a door slammed and she came back into
"I am sorry, but I won't be able to offer you any tea
after all," she said. "It seems that Mister Baker has no more tea. Perhaps he
will find some for our visit tomorrow."
We said good-bye. I went back to my hotel.
Just before dinner, Major Wentworth Caswell found me. It
was impossible to avoid him. He insisted on buying me a drink and pulled two
one-dollar bills from his pocket. Again I saw a torn dollar fixed with blue
paper, with a corner missing. It was the one I gave Uncle Caesar. How strange, I
thought. I wondered how Caswell got it.
Uncle Caesar was waiting outside the hotel the next
afternoon. He took me to Miss Adair's house and agreed to wait there until we
had finished our business.
Azalea Adair did not look well. I explained the agreement
to her. She signed it. Then, as she started to rise from the table, Azalea Adair
fainted and fell to the floor. I picked her up and carried her to the old red
sofa. I ran to the door and yelled to Uncle Caesar for help. He ran down the
street. Five minutes later, he was back with a doctor.
The doctor examined Miss Adair and turned to the old black
driver. "Uncle Caesar," he said, "run to my house and ask my wife for some milk
and some eggs. Hurry!"
Then the doctor turned to me. "She does not get enough to
eat," he said. "She has many friends who want to help her, but she is proud.
Mrs. Caswell will accept help only from that old black man. He was once her
"Mrs. Caswell." I said in surprise. "I thought she was
"She was," the doctor answered, "until she married
Wentworth Caswell twenty years ago. But he's a hopeless drunk who takes even the
small amount of money that Uncle Caesar gives her."
After the doctor left I heard Caesar's voice in the other
room. "Did he take all the money I gave you yesterday, Miss Azalea?" "Yes,
Caesar," I heard her answer softly. "He took both dollars."
I went into the room and gave Azalea Adair fifty dollars.
I told her it was from the magazine. Then Uncle Caesar drove me back to the
A few hours later, I went out for a walk before dinner. A
crowd of people were talking excitedly in front of a store. I pushed my way into
the store. Major Caswell was lying on the floor. He was dead.
Someone had found his body on the street. He had been
killed in a fight. In fact, his hands were still closed into tight fists. But as
I stood near his body, Caswell's right hand opened. Something fell from it and
rolled near my feet. I put my foot on it, then picked it up and put it in my
People said they believed a thief had killed him. They
said Caswell had been showing everyone that he had fifty dollars. But when he
was found, he had no money on him.
I left Nashville the next morning. As the train crossed a
river I took out of my pocket the object that had dropped from Caswell's dead
hand. I threw it into the river below.
It was a button. A yellow button... the one from Uncle