Ad kept on looking at Nick. He had his cap down over his eyes. Nick felt nervous.
“How the hell do you get that way?” came out from under the cap sharply at Nick.
“Who the hell do you think you are? You’re a snotty bastard. You come in here where nobody asks you and eat a man’s food and when he asks to borrow a knife you get snotty.”
He glared at Nick, his face was white and his eyes almost out of sight under the cap.
“You’re a hot sketch. Who the hell asked you to butt in here?”
“You’re damn right nobody did. Nobody asked you to stay either. You come in here and act snotty about my face and smoke my cigars and drink my liquor and then talk snotty. Where the hell do you think you get off?”
Nick said nothing. Ad stood up.
“I’ll tell you, you yellow-livered Chicago bastard. You’re going to get your can knocked off. Do you get that?”
Nick stepped back. The little man came toward him slowly, stepping flat-footed forward, his left foot stepping forward, his right dragging up to it.
“Hit me,” he moved his head. “Try and hit me.”
“I don’t want to hit you.”
“You won’t get out of it that way. You’re going to take a beating, see? Come on and lead at me.”
“Cut it out,” Nick said.
“All right, then, you bastard.”
The little man looked down at Nick’s feet. As he looked down the Negro, who had followed behind him as he moved away from the fire, set himself and tapped him across the base of the skull. He fell forward and Bugs dropped the cloth-wrapped blackjack on the grass. The little man lay there, his face in the grass. The Negro picked him up, his head hanging, and carried him to the fire. His face looked bad, the eyes open. Bugs laid him down gently.
“Will you bring me the water in the bucket, Mister Adams,” he said. “I’m afraid I hit him just a little hard.”
The Negro splashed water with his hand on the man’s face and pulled his ears gently. The eyes closed.
Bugs stood up.
“He’s all right,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about. I’m sorry, Mister Adams.”
“It’s all right,” Nick was looking down at the little man. He saw the blackjack on the grass and picked it up. It had a flexible handle and was limber in his hand. Worn black leather with a handkerchief wrapped around the heavy end.
“That’s a whalebone handle,” the Negro smiled. “They don’t make them any more. I didn’t know how well you could take care yourself and, anyway, I didn’t want you to hurt him or mark him up no more than he is.”
The Negro smiled again.
“You hurt him yourself.”
“I know how to do it. He won’t remember nothing of it. I have to do it to change him when he gets that way.”
Nick was still looking down at the little man, lying, his eyes closed, in the firelight. Bugs put some wood on the fire.
“Don’t you worry about him none, Mister Adams. I seen him like this plenty of times before.”
“What made him crazy?” Nick asked.
“Oh, a lot of things.” the Negro answered from the fire. “Would you like a cup of this coffee, Mister Adams?”
He handed Nick the cup and smoothed the coat he had placed under the unconscious man’s head.
“He took too many beatings, for one thing,” the Negro sipped the coffee. “But that just made him sort of simple. Then his sister was his manager and they was always being written up in the papers all about brothers and sisters and how she loved her brother and how he loved his sister, and then they got married in New York and that made a lot of unpleasantness.”
“I remember about it.”
“Sure. Of course they wasn’t brother and sister no more than a rabbit, but there was a lot of people didn’t like it either way and they commenced to have disagreements, and one day she just went off and never come back.”
He drank the coffee and wiped his lips with the pink palm of his hand.