A Matter of Doctrine by Paul Laurence Dunbar
There was great excitement in Miltonville over the advent of a most
eloquent and convincing minister from the North. The beauty about the
Rev. Thaddeus Warwick was that he was purely and simply a man of the
doctrine. He had no emotions, his sermons were never matters of
feeling; but he insisted so strongly upon the constant presentation of
the tenets of his creed that his presence in a town was always marked
by the enthusiasm and joy of religious disputation.
The Rev. Jasper Hayward, coloured, was a man quite of another
stripe. With him it was not so much what a man held as what he felt.
The difference in their characteristics, however, did not prevent him
from attending Dr. Warwick's series of sermons, where, from the vantage
point of the gallery, he drank in, without assimilating, that divine's
words of wisdom.
Especially was he edified on the night that his white brother held
forth upon the doctrine of predestination. It was not that he
understood it at all, but that it sounded well and the words had a rich
ring as he champed over them again and again.
Mr. Hayward was a man for the time and knew that his congregation
desired something new, and if he could supply it he was willing to take
lessons even from a white co-worker who had neither de spi'it ner de
fiah. Because, as he was prone to admit to himself, dey was sump'in'
in de unnerstannin'.
He had no idea what plagiarism is, and without a single thought of
wrong, he intended to reproduce for his people the religious wisdom
which he acquired at the white church. He was an innocent beggar going
to the doors of the well-provided for cold spiritual victuals to warm
over for his own family. And it would not be plagiarism either, for
this very warming-over process would save it from that and make his own
whatever he brought. He would season with the pepper of his homely wit,
sprinkle it with the salt of his home-made philosophy, then, hot with
the fire of his crude eloquence, serve to his people a dish his very
own. But to the true purveyor of original dishes it is never pleasant
to know that someone else holds the secret of the groundwork of his
It was then something of a shock to the Reverend Mr. Hayward to be
accosted by Isaac Middleton, one of his members, just as he was leaving
the gallery on the night of this most edifying of sermons.
Isaac laid a hand upon his shoulder and smiled at him benevolently.
How do, Brothah Hayward, he said, you been sittin' unner de
drippin's of de gospel, too?
Yes, I has been listenin' to de wo'ds of my fellow-laborah in de
vineya'd of de Lawd, replied the preacher with some dignity, for he
saw vanishing the vision of his own glory in a revivified sermon on
Isaac linked his arm familiarly in his pastor's as they went out
upon the street.
Well, what you t'ink erbout pre-o'dination an' fo'-destination any
It sutny has been pussented to us in a powahful light dis
Well, suh, hit opened up my eyes. I do' know when I's hyeahed a
sehmon dat done my soul mo' good.
It was a upliftin' episode.
Seem lak 'co'din' to de way de brothah 'lucidated de matter
to-night dat evaht'ing done sot out an' cut an' dried fu' us. Well
dat's gwine to he'p me lots.
De gospel is allus a he'p.
But not allus in dis way. You see I ain't a eddicated man lak you,
We can't all have de same 'vantages, the preacher condescended.
But what I feels, I feels, an' what I unnerstan's, I unnerstan's. The
Scripture tell us to get unnerstannin'.
Well, dat's what I's been a-doin' to-night. I's been a-doubtin' an'
a-doubtin', a-foolin' erroun' an' wonderin', but now I unnerstan'.
'Splain yo'se'f, Brothah Middleton, said the preacher.
Well, suh, I will to you. You knows Miss Sally Briggs? Huh, what
The Reverend Hayward had given a half discernible start and an
exclamation had fallen from his lips.
What say? repeated his companion.
I knows de sistah ve'y well, she bein' a membah of my flock.
Well, I been gwine in comp'ny wit dat ooman fu' de longes'. You
ain't nevah tasted none o' huh cookin', has you?
I has 'sperienced de sistah's puffo'mances in dat line.
She is the cookin'est ooman I evah seed in all my life, but
howsomedever, I been gwine all dis time an' I ain' nevah said de wo'd.
I nevah could git clean erway f'om huh widout somep'n' drawin' me back,
an' I didn't know what hit was.
The preacher was restless.
Hit was des dis away, Brothah Hayward, I was allus lingerin' on de
brink, feahful to la'nch away, but now I's a-gwine to la'nch, case dat
all dis time tain't been nuffin but fo'-destination dat been a-holdin'
Ahem, said the minister; we mus' not be in too big a hu'y to put
ouah human weaknesses upon some divine cause.
I ain't a-doin' dat, dough I ain't a-sputin' dat de lady is a mos'
oncommon fine lookin' pusson.
I has only seed huh wid de eye of de spi'it, was the virtuous
answer, an' to dat eye all t'ings dat are good are beautiful.
Yes, suh, an' lookin' wid de cookin' eye, hit seem lak' I des
fo'destinated fu' to ma'y dat ooman.
You say you ain't axe huh yit?
Not yit, but I's gwine to ez soon ez evah I gets de chanst now.
Uh, huh, said the preacher, and he began to hasten his steps
Seems lak you in a pow'ful hu'y to-night, said his companion, with
some difficulty accommodating his own step to the preacher's masterly
strides. He was a short man and his pastor was tall and gaunt.
I has somp'n' on my min,' Brothah Middleton, dat I wants to thrash
out to-night in de sollertude of my own chambah, was the solemn reply.
Well, I ain' gwine keep erlong wid you an' pestah you wid my
chattah, Brothah Hayward, and at the next corner Isaac Middleton
turned off and went his way, with a cheery so long, may de Lawd set
wid you in yo' meddertations.
So long, said his pastor hastily. Then he did what would be
strange in any man, but seemed stranger in so virtuous a minister. He
checked his hasty pace, and, after furtively watching Middleton out of
sight, turned and retraced his steps in a direction exactly opposite to
the one in which he had been going, and toward the cottage of the very
Sister Griggs concerning whose charms the minister's parishioner had
It was late, but the pastor knew that the woman whom he sought was
industrious and often worked late, and with ever increasing eagerness
he hurried on. He was fully rewarded for his perseverance when the
light from the window of his intended hostess gleamed upon him, and
when she stood in the full glow of it as the door opened in answer to
La, Brothah Hayward, ef it ain't you; howdy; come in.
Howdy, howdy, Sistah Griggs, how you come on?
Oh, I's des tol'able, industriously dusting a chair. How's
I's right smaht, thankee ma'am.
W'y, Brothah Hayward, ain't you los' down in dis paht of de town?
No, indeed, Sistah Griggs, de shep'erd ain't nevah los' no whaih
dey's any of de flock. Then looking around the room at the piles of
ironed clothes, he added: You sutny is a indust'ious ooman.
I was des 'bout finishin' up some i'onin' I had fu' de white
folks, smiled Sister Griggs, taking down her ironing-board and resting
it in the corner. Allus when I gits thoo my wo'k at nights I's putty
well tiahed out an' has to eat a snack; set by, Brothah Hayward, while
I fixes us a bite.
La, sistah, hit don't skacely seem right fu' me to be a-comin' in
hyeah lettin' you fix fu' me at dis time o' night, an' you mighty nigh
tuckahed out, too.
Tsch, Brothah Hayward, taint no ha'dah lookin' out fu' two dan it
is lookin' out fu' one.
Hayward flashed a quick upward glance at his hostess' face and then
repeated slowly, Yes'm, dat sutny is de trufe. I ain't nevah t'ought
o' that befo'. Hit ain't no ha'dah lookin' out fu' two dan hit is fu'
one, and though he was usually an incessant talker, he lapsed into a
Be it known that the Rev. Mr. Hayward was a man of a very level
head, and that his bachelorhood was a matter of economy. He had long
considered matrimony in the light of a most desirable estate, but one
which he feared to embrace until the rewards for his labours began
looking up a little better. But now the matter was being presented to
him in an entirely different light. Hit ain't no ha'dah lookin' out
fu' two dan fu' one. Might that not be the truth after all. One had to
have food. It would take very little more to do for two. One had to
have a home to live in. The same house would shelter two. One had to
wear clothes. Well, now, there came the rub. But he thought of donation
parties, and smiled. Instead of being an extravagance, might not this
union of two beings be an economy? Somebody to cook the food, somebody
to keep the house, and somebody to mend the clothes.
His reverie was broken in upon by Sally Griggs' voice. Hit do seem
lak you mighty deep in t'ought dis evenin', Brothah Hayward. I done
spoke to you twicet.
Scuse me, Sistah Griggs, my min' has been mighty deeply 'sorbed in
a little mattah o' doctrine. What you say to me?
I say set up to the table an' have a bite to eat; tain't much, but
'sich ez I have'you know what de 'postle said.
The preacher's eyes glistened as they took in the well-filled board.
There was fervour in the blessing which he asked that made amends for
its brevity. Then he fell to.
Isaac Middleton was right. This woman was a genius among cooks.
Isaac Middleton was also wrong. He, a layman, had no right to raise his
eyes to her. She was the prize of the elect, not the quarry of any
chance pursuer. As he ate and talked, his admiration for Sally grew as
did his indignation at Middleton's presumption.
Meanwhile the fair one plied him with delicacies, and paid
deferential attention whenever he opened his mouth to give vent to an
opinion. An admirable wife she would make, indeed.
At last supper was over and his chair pushed back from the table.
With a long sigh of content, he stretched his long legs, tilted back
and said: Well, you done settled de case ez fur ez I is concerned.
What dat, Brothah Hayward? she asked.
Well, I do' know's I's quite prepahed to tell you yit.
Hyeah now, don' you remembah ol' Mis' Eve? Taint nevah right to git
a lady's cur'osity riz.
Oh, nemmine, nemmine, I ain't gwine keep yo' cur'osity up long. You
see, Sistah Griggs, you done 'lucidated one p'int to me dis night dat
meks it plumb needful fu' me to speak.
She was looking at him with wide open eyes of expectation.
You made de 'emark to-night, dat it ain't no ha'dah lookin' out
aftah two dan one.
Oh, Brothah Hayward!
Sistah Sally, I reckernizes dat, an' I want to know ef you won't
let me look out aftah we two? Will you ma'y me?
She picked nervously at her apron, and her eyes sought the floor
modestly as she answered, Why, Brothah Hayward, I ain't fittin' fu' no
sich eddicated man ez you. S'posin' you'd git to be pu'sidin' elder, er
bishop, er somp'n' er othah, whaih'd I be?
He waved his hand magnanimously. Sistah Griggs, Sally, whatevah
high place I may be fo'destined to I shall tek my wife up wid me.
This was enough, and with her hearty yes, the Rev. Mr. Hayward had
Sister Sally close in his clerical arms. They were not through their
mutual felicitations, which were indeed so enthusiastic as to drown the
sound of a knocking at the door and the ominous scraping of feet, when
the door opened to admit Isaac Middleton, just as the preacher was
imprinting a very decided kiss upon his fiancee's cheek.
Wha'wha' exclaimed Middleton.
The preacher turned. Dat you, Isaac? he said complacently. You
must 'scuse ouah 'pearance, we des got ingaged.
The fair Sally blushed unseen.
What! cried Isaac. Ingaged, aftah what I tol' you to-night. His
face was a thundercloud.
An' is dat de way you stan' up fu' fo'destination?
This time it was the preacher's turn to darken angrily as he
replied, Look a-hyeah, Ike Middleton, all I got to say to you is dat
whenevah a lady cook to please me lak dis lady do, an' whenevah I love
one lak I love huh, an' she seems to love me back, I's a-gwine to pop
de question to huh, fo'destination er no fo'destination, so dah!
The moment was pregnant with tragic possibilities. The lady still
stood with bowed head, but her hand had stolen into her minister's.
Isaac paused, and the situation overwhelmed him. Crushed with anger and
defeat he turned toward the door.
On the threshold he paused again to say, Well, all I got to say to
you, Hayward, don' you nevah talk to me no mor' nuffin' 'bout