forty-seven           

            A hammer's strident detonations can be heard. They ricochet through the woods with an avid, early-morning energy, remarkable since they come from the general direction of Randolph Bates' abode. He is working (or so it appears from Zachary's vantage point as he approaches), labouring in his shirtsleeves despite the chill, hammering, hammering, building something that looks like a miniature jailhouse set on wheels. Definitely bars (Zachary can see them as his horse draws near) atop a rickety, stripped-down caisson, hence the wheels. Somewhat crude in construction, the bones, at least, of the structure appear to be complete. Bates sights his friend and waves a welcome with the handsaw he now applies. Zachary arrives, dismounts, and picks his way through piles of scavenged materials.

            "Without bearing witness myself, I would not believe it; Randy Bates not only up before noon, but up and working."

            Bates grins an iron-studded grin—the corners of his mouth chockfull of nails. He takes them out.

            "Howdy, Zack. What brings you round so bright and early?"

            "I need back my axe."

            "Dang! Sorry, Zack. Plumb forgot I borrowed it. Well, what do you think of my project?"

            Bates gestures toward his handiwork with pride.

            "Looks fine. What is it?"

            "What is it? Ain't you never been to a travelling circus? It's a carnival wagon, o' course; the kind you show off freaks in. You know, like mermaids and werewolves; things like that? l once seen this man called 'primordial'; a genuine caveman, he was, that had to be chained hand and foot on account of him being so ornery. Had teeth like fangs. For a penny you could look at him, and for a nickel you could poke him with a stick. Shoulda seen the line out front. The carnie vendor that owned 'im musta made a mint."

            "Aren't mermaids and werewolves a might scarce in these parts, Randy? Cavemen, too? Seems you have the cart before the horse."

            "Zack, you surprise me. Do you really think I'd build such a contraption without I first caught something worth displaying in it?"

            "The only thing I heard you've caught of late is some undersized maroon. Are you planning to stick on fish scales, fur, or false incisors?"

            "Very funny, very funny. It just so happens I got me something better, if you'd kindly step this way."

            Bates leads Zachary behind his cabin down a bald path to where a two-by-four is wedged against a ramshackle privy door. Zachary gets a whiff of an acrid smell inside.

            "Jesus, Randy, you haven't stuffed a human being in there."

            "He's puny; plenty o' room. You'll see. Just stand right there and wait whilst I unveil my acquisition."

            Bates bars the threshold with his arm, braces his back against the wood, and gives the prop a kick. With the door still shut, he dramatically steps aside, clears his throat...

The scene transforms:

            "Ladies and gentlemen..."

            A crowd has gathered as Bates, now dressed in shirt, frock coat, and cravat, prepares to lift the canvas that conceals his exhibit.

            "...you are about to see one of Mother Nature's oddities. Bred in darkest Africa, a direct descendant of savages and cannibals, caught, caged, and shipped to our great South Carolina shore, whereupon, by some un-Godly power, this freak escaped—part man, part beast—and has run wild ever since, surviving like an animal through cunning and half-human wits, eating toads, the heads off chickens, and every kind of varmint, speechless—cannot utter sounds beyond the simplest grunts and screeches (except you'd swear he comprehends whenever someone speaks)—this Pygmy—yes, you heard me right—this Pygmy—stands no taller than a stump—is not just runty—one of the smallest full-growed humanoids the world has ever seen—but he's FEROCIOUS! So heed this warning: please stay out of reach. The bars will hold him, have no fear, but you'd be well-advised to keep your distance. And furthermore I suggest the ladies ought to stand behind the gents; often as not, when gawked at, the little feller spits."

            Though the crowd is small and mostly coloured and no one has paid a cent, Bates is confident his enterprise is only just beginning. He has big plans: visit first the plantations, get some practice, smooth the rough spots from his spiel, then head for downtown Charleston, to the fairgrounds, and therein make a fortune.

            All eyes are riveted.

            "Hope it not de Mojo. Hope de Whites don' snatch de Mojo. Mojo Rags be all us niggahs got. Him like a legen'; some fo'ks even say a saint..."

            "So dey finely ketch 'im. Knew dey would 'ventu'ly; cain't 'spec' de Patterrollers mess up aw de time. Knew dey one day git lucky, prove dat Mojo Rags plain-fo'ks like us. Man be a size'ble fool b'lieves dem Conju'e tales run rampant."

           "...Saint Francis; Mojo Rags a tan Saint Francis..."

            "Not gwon look. Nope. If dat him, I refuse to lay eyes on 'im. Might's well stare de Devil in de face, may Jesus save us. Dey evil in dis worl' aplenty wit'out us drag our bones out dis fiel', behol' some demon."

            "...Talks wit all de animals. Dey his frien's, jus' like Saint Francis. Do miracles, too, from time to time, heared tell..."

            "Purty wagon. Real col'ful—all dem curly-cue designs."

            "...like de time Olivia's girl-chile wouldn' drop an' de Mojo come. Pass dem han's' jus' oncet, make a sign, an' presto her d'liver..."

            "What holdin' up de show? Dis talky-talk White man think us not gots wo'k need doin'?"

            "...o' dat time de twis'er headin' fo' de Quarters an' Mojo, him appear, an' dat ole twis'er's tail lif' off de groun' an' leap clean ovah-head. Didn' see dat my own se'f, but I heared tell. Heared tell a lot..."

            Bates draws the cord. The canvas rises, rolls up evenly like a window shade.

            "...Den dere dat time... Oh, Lawd, oh, Lawd! I think dat him. It is. I know it him. Oh, Lawd. Oh, dis mos' cruel. Dis shameful. Sinful. What de Mojo ev' done bad gots coup him up insides dis gaudy cage? Oh, it a pity. It a awful, cryin' shame."

            "Ain't dat mos' sorry."

           "I not lookin'. Not. Not... Aw... Aw, dat so sad."

            "Po' li'ly scamp."

            "Kep' us waitin' like dis fo' to cas' our eyes on dat?"

            Bates looks disappointed, as the crowd, to a man, disperses. He shrugs a disgruntled shrug and lets the canvas drop.