An Honest Thief

Every village has a ‘bad man’ of its own, and St. Victoria Village was no exception. It had Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer was a real ‘bad man’, and not even Big Joe would venture to cross his path. Besides, everybody knew that Mr. Spencer had a gun, and they knew he had used it once or twice too. Mr. Spencer didn’t ever go out of his way to interfere with anybody, but everybody knew what happened to anybody who was foolish enough to interfere with Mr. Spencer.

Mr. Spencer had a reputation.

Now, at the time I am speaking of, every morning when Mr. Spencer got up, he made the sign of the cross, went and cleaned his teeth, and then left the house and went into the open yard to look at his banana tree.

He had a lovely banana tree. Its trunk was beautiful and long and graceful, the leaves wide and shiny, and, in the morning, with the dewdrops glinting silvery on them, it seemed like something to worship, at least Mr. Spencer thought so.

Mr. Spencer’s wife used to say to him “Eh, but Selwyn, you like you bewitch or something. Every morning as God send, I see you out there looking up in that banana tree. What happen? Is you woman or something? Don’t tell me you starting to go dotish.”

And Mr. Spencer would say, “Look, woman, mind you own business, eh?” and if she was near him, she would collect a clout around her head too.

So one morning Mrs. Spencer got vexed and said: “You going have to choose between me and that blasted banana tree.”

“Okay, you kin pack up and go as soon as you please,” Mr. Spencer said.

So Mrs. Spencer went home to her mother. But, all said and done, Mrs. Spencer really loved her husband, so after two days she came back and begged for forgiveness.

Mr. Spencer said:  “Good.  You have learn your lesson.  You know now just where you stand.”

“Yes, Selwyn.” Mrs. Spencer said.

“That is a good banana tree,” Mr. Spencer said. “When them bananas ripe, and you eat them, you will be glad I take such good care of the tree.”

“Yes, Selwyn,” she said.

The banana tree thrived under Mr. Spencer’s care. Its bunch of bananas grew and grew, and became bigger and lovelier every day,

Mr. Spencer said: “They kin win first prize at any agricultural exhibition, you know, Ellie.”

“Yes, Selwyn,” she said.

And now, every morning Mr. Spencer would jump out of bed the moment he woke and run outside to look at his banana tree. He would feel the bunch of bananas and murmur, “Yes, they really coming good. I going give them a few more days.”

And he would say this every day.

Monday morning he touched them and smiled and said: “They really coming good. I going give them couple days more.”

Tuesday morning he smiled and said, “A couple days more. They really coming good.”

Wednesday morning, and so on, and so on, and so on.

The lovelier the bananas grew, the more Mr. Spencer heard of them, all through the day.

Mr. Spencer would get up from his breakfast and say: “I wonder if that tree all right! Ellie, you think so? Look, you better go and give it little water with the hose.”

Or, he would wake up in the middle of the night, and rouse his wife and say. “Hey, but Ellie, I wonder if the night temperature ain’t too cold for the tree! Look, you best had warm some water and put to the roots, along with some manure. Go ‘long right now!”

And Mrs. Spencer would have to obey.

One morning Mr. Spencer came in from the yard and said as usual.  “Ellie girl, them bananas real lovely now.  I think I going pick them in couple days’ time.”

“Always ‘couple days”, she said, peeved.  “Man, why you don’t pick them now quick before you lose them or something? You ain’t even got no paling round the yard.  Suppose somebody come in here one o’ these nights and t’ief them?”

“T’ief which?” Mr. Spencer said. “T’ief  which? T’ief which?”

The truth was, nobody in the village would have dared to steal Mr. Spencer’s bananas, for, as I have mentioned, he was a ‘bad man’.

Then, one day, another ‘bad man’ came to live in the village. He was the biggest and toughest man anybody had ever seen. He had long hairy arms and a big square head and a wide mouth.  His name was Bulldog.

Everybody said “One o’ these days Bulldog and Mr. Spencer going clash. Two bad men can’t live in the same village.”

And they told Mr. Spencer “Bulldog will beat you!”

“Beat who? Beat who? Beat who?” Mr. Spencer said. He always repeated everything three times when he was indignant.

And Bulldog said: “Who this Spencer is?”  Show him to me.”

So one evening they took Bulldog out by Mr. Spencer’s, and he came up where Mr. Spencer was watering his tree and said: “You is this Mr. Spencer?”

“How that get your business?” Mr. Spencer asked.

“Well, this is how. If you is this Spencer man. I kin beat you.”

Bulldog always came straight to the point.

“Who say so? Who say so? Who say so?”

“I say so.”

“And may I ask who the hell you is?” Mr. Spencer ask. “Where you come from?”

“You never hear ‘bout me?” Bulldog said, surprised. “Read any newspaper that print since 1950, and you will see that I always getting convicted for wounding with intent. I is a master at wounding with intent. I would wound you with intent as soon as I look at you. You wants to taste my hand?”

Mr. Spencer didn’t want to, however. He looked Bulldog up and down and said: “Well, I ain’t denying you might stand up to me for a few minutes”.

He paused a moment, and then said: “But I bet you ain’t got a banana tree like mine.”

He had Bulldog there.

It was true that Bulldog had a banana tree, and, seen alone, it was a very creditable banana tree. But beside Mr. Spencer’s, it was a little warped relic of a banana tree.

Bulldog said: “Man, you got me there for truth.”

“That ain’t nothing,” Mr. Spencer said. “Look up there at them bananas!”

Bulldog looked. His eyes and mouth opened wide. He rubbed his eyes. He asked: “Wait, them is real bananas?”

“Um-hum,” Mr. Spencer replied modestly. “Of course they still a bit young, so if they seem a little small. . .”

“Small!” Bulldog said. “Man, them is the biggest bananas I ever see in my whole life. Lemme taste one.”

“One o’ which? One o’ which? One o’ which?”

Bulldog didn’t like this. “Look, if you get too pow’ful with me, I bet you loss the whole dam bunch.”

“Me and you going get in the ropes over them same bananas,” Mr. Spencer said. “I kin see that. And now, get out o’ my yard before I wound you with intent and with this same very chopper I got here.”

Bulldog left. But he vowed to taste one of Mr. Spencer’s bananas if it was the last thing he ever did.

Mrs. Spencer told her husband: “Don’t go and bring yourself in any trouble with that jail-bird. Give he a banana and settle it.”

“Not for hell,” Mr. Spencer said. “If he want trouble, he come to the right place. Lemme ketch him ’round that banana tree.  I waiting for he.”

“C’dear, pick the bananas and eat them all quick ‘fore he come back and t’ief them.”

‘No,” Mr. Spencer said. “I waiting for he. I waiting. Let him come and touch one, just one, and see what he get.”

A few days passed. Bulldog had tried to forget Mr. Spencer’s bananas, but he couldn’t put them out of his mind. He did everything he could to rid his thoughts of that big beautiful bunch of bananas, which had tempted him that day in Mr. Spencer’s yard.

And then he began to dream about them. He talked about them in his sleep. He began to lose weight. And every day when he passed by Mr. Spencer’s land, he would see Mr. Spencer watering the banana tree, or manuring it, or just looking at it, and the bananas would seem to wink at Bulldog, and challenge him to come and touch one of them.

One morning, Bulldog woke up and said: “I can’t stand it no longer. I got to have one of Spencer’s bananas today, by the hook or by the crook. I will go and ask him right now.”

He got up and went to Mr. Spencer.

Mr. Spencer was in the yard feeling the bananas. He was saying to himself “Boy, these looking real good. I going to pick them tomorrow.”

Bulldog stood up at the edge of Mr. Spencer’s land. He didn’t want to offend him by trespassing. He called out: “Mr. Spencer, please, give me one of your bananas.”

Mr. Spencer turned round and saw him. He said: “Look, get out o’ my sight before I go and do something ignorant.”

And Bulldog said: “This is you last chance. If I don’t get a banana now, you losing the whole bunch, you hear?”

“But look at… But look at…But look at.” Mr. Spencer was so mad, he could scarcely talk.

Now Bulldog was a conscientious thief. He had certain moral scruples. He liked to give his victims a fifty-fifty chance.

He said: “I going t’ief you bananas tonight, Spencer. Don’t say I ain’t tell you.”

“You’s a idiot?” Mr. Spencer called back. “Why you don’t come? I got a rifle and I will clap a shot in the seat o’ you pants, so help me.”

“Anyhow, I going t’ief you bananas,” Bulldog said. “I can’t resist it no more.”

“Come as soon as you ready, but anything you get you kin tek.”

‘That is okay,” Bulldog said. “I tekking all o’ them.”

Mr. Spencer pointed to a sign under the banana tree. It read Tresspassers will be persecuted.

“And for you, persecuting mean shooting.”  Bulldog said nothing more but went home.

A little later in the day, a little boy brought a message on a piece of notepaper to Mr. Spencer. It read “I will thief your bananas between 6 o’clock tonite & 2 o’clock tomorra morning”. Mr. Spencer went inside and cleaned his gun.

Mrs. Spencer said, “But look how two big men going kill they self over a bunch of bananas! Why you don’t go and pick them bananas and mek sure he can’t get them.”

‘Woman,” Mr. Spencer replied, “this is a matter of principle. I refuse to tek the easy way out. Bulldog is a blasted robber and he must be stopped, and I, Adolphus Selwyn McKenzie Hezekiah Spencer, is the onliest man to do it. Now, you go and boil some black coffee for me. I will have to drink it and keep awake tonight if I is to stand up for law and order.”

At six o’clock, Mr. Spencer sat down at his backdoor with his rifle propped upon the step and trained on the banana tree. He kept his eyes fixed there for the slightest sign of movement, and didn’t even blink. It was a lovely moonlight night.

“If he think I mekking sport, let him come, let him come, let him come.”

Seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve o’clock.  And no sign of Bulldog.

And Mr. Spencer hadn’t taken his eyes off the banana tree once. In the moonlight, the tree stood there lovely and still, and the bananas glistened. Mr. Spencer said, “They real good now I going pick them tomorrow without fail.”

Mrs. Spencer said: “Look Selwyn, come lewwe go to bed. The man ain’t a fool. He ain’t coming.”

“Ain’t two o’clock yet,” Mr. Spencer said. And all the time, Mrs. Spencer kept him supplied with bread and black coffee. He took his food with one hand and disposed of it, without ever taking his eyes off the tree. The other hand he kept on the gun, one finger on the trigger. He was determined not to take his eyes off that tree.

One o’clock. No Bulldog.

Half-past one. No Bulldog. Quarter to two. No Bulldog.

Mrs. Spencer said: ‘The man ain’t coming. Lewwe go to bed. Is a quarter to two now.”

“We may as well wait till two and done now,” Mr. Spencer said.

Ten to two.  No Bulldog.

“Hell! This is a waste o’ good time,” Mr. Spencer said. Five to two.

At one minute to two, Mr. Spencer looked at his wristwatch to make sure and turned his head and said to his wife, “But look how this dam vagabond make we waste we good time.”

Then he looked back at the banana tree.

He stared. His mouth opened wide.

The banana tree stood there empty, and the only indication that it had once proudly displayed its prize bunch of bananas was the little stream of juice that was dribbling down from the bare, broken stem.