The Finding of Zach
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The rooms of the "Banner" Club—an organization of social intent, but
with political streaks—were a blaze of light that Christmas Eve
night. On the lower floor some one was strumming on the piano, and
upstairs, where the "ladies" sat, and where the Sunday smokers were
held, a man was singing one of the latest coon songs. The "Banner"
always got them first, mainly because the composers went there, and
often the air of the piece itself had been picked out or patched
together, with the help of the "Banner's" piano, before the song was
taken out for somebody to set the "'companiment" to it.
The proprietor himself had just gone into the parlor to see that the
Christmas decorations were all that he intended them to be when a door
opened and an old man entered the room. In one hand he carried an
ancient carpetbag, which he deposited on the floor, while he stared
around at the grandeur of the place. He was a typical old uncle of the
South, from the soles of his heavy brogans to the shiny top of his
bald pate, with its fringe of white wool. It was plain to be seen that
he was not a denizen of the town, or of that particular quarter. They
do not grow old in the Tenderloin. He paused long enough to take in
the appointments of the place, then, suddenly remembering his manners,
he doffed his hat and bowed with old-fashioned courtesy to the
"Why, how'do, uncle!" said the genial Mr. Turner, extending his hand.
"Where did you stray from?"
"Howdy, son, howdy," returned the old man gravely. "I hails f'om
Miss'ippi myse'f, a mighty long ways f'om hyeah."
His voice and old-time intonation were good to listen to, and Mr.
Turner's thoughts went back to an earlier day in his own life. He was
from Maryland himself. He drew up a chair for the old man and took one
himself. A few other men passed into the room and stopped to look with
respectful amusement at the visitor. He was such a perfect bit of old
plantation life and so obviously out of place in a Tenderloin club
"Well, uncle, are you looking for a place to stay?" pursued Turner.
"Not 'zackly, honey; not 'zackly. I come up hyeah a-lookin' fu' a son
o' mine dat been away f'om home nigh on to five years. He live hyeah
in Noo Yo'k, an' dey tell me whaih I 'quiahed dat I li'ble to fin'
somebody hyeah dat know him. So I jes' drapped in."
"I know a good many young men from the South. What's your son's name?"
"Well, he named aftah my ol' mastah, Zachariah Priestley Shackelford."
"Zach Shackelford!" exclaimed some of the men, and there was a general
movement among them, but a glance from Turner quieted the commotion.
"Why, yes, I know your son," he said. "He's in here almost every
night, and he's pretty sure to drop in a little later on. He has been
singing with one of the colored companies here until a couple of weeks
"Heish up; you don't say so. Well! well! well! but den Zachariah allus
did have a mighty sweet voice. He tu'k hit aftah his mammy. Well, I
sholy is hopin' to see dat boy. He was allus my favorite, aldough I
reckon a body ain' got no livin' right to have favorites among dey
chilluns. But Zach was allus sich a good boy."
The men turned away. They could not remember a time since they had
known Zach Shackelford when by any stretch of imagination he could
possibly have been considered good. He was known as one of the wildest
young bucks that frequented the club, with a deft hand at cards and
dice and a smooth throat for whisky. But Turner gave them such a
defiant glance that they were almost ready to subscribe to anything
the old man might say.
"Dis is a mighty fine place you got hyeah. Hit mus' be a kind of a
hotel or boa'din' house, ain't hit?"
"Yes, something like."
"We don' have nuffin' lak dis down ouah way. Co'se, we's jes' common
folks. We wo'ks out in de fiel', and dat's about all we knows—fiel',
chu'ch an' cabin. But I's mighty glad my Zach 's gittin' up in de
worl'. He nevah were no great han' fu' wo'k. Hit kin' o' seemed to go
agin his natur'. You know dey is folks lak dat."
"Lots of 'em, lots of 'em," said Mr. Turner.
The crowd of men had been augmented by a party from out of the card
room, and they were listening intently to the old fellow's chatter.
They felt now that they ought to laugh, but somehow they could not,
and the twitching of their careless faces was not from suppressed
The visitor looked around at them, and then remarked: "My, what a lot
of boa'dahs you got."
"They don't all stay here," answered Turner seriously; "some of them
have just dropped in to see their friends."
"Den I 'low Zach'll be drappin' in presently. You mus' 'scuse me fu'
talkin' 'bout him, but I's mighty anxious to clap my eyes on him. I's
been gittin' on right sma't dese las' two yeahs, an' my ol' ooman she
daid an' gone, an' I kin' o' lonesome, so I jes' p'omised mysef dis
Crismus de gif' of a sight o' Zach. Hit do look foolish fu' a man ez
ol' ez me to be a runnin' 'roun' de worl' a spen'in' money dis away,
but hit do seem so ha'd to git Zach home."
"How long are you going to be with us?"
"Well, I 'specs to stay all o' Crismus week."
"Maybe—" began one of the men. But Turner interrupted him. "This
gentleman is my guest. Uncle," turning to the old man, "do you
ever—would you—er. I've got some pretty good liquor here, ah—"
Zach's father smiled a sly smile. "I do' know, suh," he said,
crossing his leg high. "I's Baptis' mys'f, but 'long o' dese Crismus
holidays I's right fond of a little toddy."
A half dozen eager men made a break for the bar, but Turner's uplifted
hand held them. He was an autocrat in his way.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I think I remarked some time ago
that Mr. Shackelford was my guest." And he called the waiter.
All the men had something and tapped rims with the visitor.
"'Pears to me you people is mighty clevah up hyeah; 'tain' no wondah
Zachariah don' wan' to come home."
Just then they heard a loud whoop outside the door, and a voice broke
in upon them singing thickly, "Oh, this spo'tin' life is surely
killin' me." The men exchanged startled glances. Turner looked at
them, and there was a command in his eye. Several of them hurried out,
and he himself arose, saying: "I've got to go out for a little while,
but you just make yourself at home, uncle. You can lie down right
there on that sofa and push that button there—see, this way—if you
want some more toddy. It shan't cost you anything."
"Oh, I'll res' myself, but I ain' gwine sponge on you dat away. I got
some money," and the old man dug down into his long pocket. But his
host laid a hand on his arm.
"Your money's no good up here."
"Wh—wh—why, I thought dis money passed any whah in de Nunited
States!" exclaimed the bewildered old man.
"That's all right, but you can't spend it until we run out."
"Oh! Why, bless yo' soul, suh, you skeered me. You sho' is clevah."
Turner went out and came upon his emissaries, where they had halted
the singing Zach in the hallway, and were trying to get into his
muddled brain that his father was there.
"Wha'sh de ol' man doin' at de 'Banner,' gittin' gay in his ol' days?
That was enough for Turner to hear. "Look a-here," he said, "don't you
get flip when you meet your father. He's come a long ways to see you,
and I'm damned if he shan't see you right. Remember you're stoppin' at
my house as long as the old man stays, and if you make a break while
he's here I'll spoil your mug for you. Bring him along, boys."
Zach had started in for a Christmas celebration, but they took him
into an empty room. They sent to the drug store and bought many
things. When the young man came out an hour later he was straight, but
"Why, Pap," he said when he saw the old man, "I'll be—"
"Hem!" said Turner.
"I'll be blessed!" Zach finished.
The old man looked him over. "Tsch! tsch! tsch! Dis is a Crismus gif'
fu' sho'!" His voice was shaking. "I's so glad to see you, honey; but
chile, you smell lak a 'pothac'ay shop."
"I ain't been right well lately," said Zach sheepishly.
To cover his confusion Turner called for eggnog.
When it came the old man said: "Well, I's Baptis' myse'f, but seein'