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Title: Mam' Linda
Author: Harben, Will N. (Will Nathaniel)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mam' Linda" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



MAM’ LINDA

By Will N. Harben

Illustrated by F. B. Masters

1907



CHAPTER I.

[Illustration: 9017]

N the rear of the long store, at a round table under a hanging-lamp with
a tin shade, four young men sat playing poker. The floor of that portion
of the room was raised several feet higher than that of the front, and
between the two short flights of steps was the inclining door leading
to the cellar, which was damp and dark and used only for the storage of
salt, syrup, sugar, hardware, and general rubbish.

Near the front door the store-keeper, James Blackburn, a portly, bearded
man of forty-five, sat chatting with Carson Dwight, a young lawyer of
the town.

“I don’t want any of you boys to think that I’m complaining,” the elder
man was saying. “I’ve been young myself; in fact, as you know, I go the
gaits too, considering that I’m tied down by a family and have a
living to make. I love to have the gang around--I _swear_ I do, though
sometimes I declare it looks like this old shebang is more of a place of
amusement than a business house in good standing.”

“Oh, I know we hang around here too much,” Carson Dwight replied; “and
you ought to kick us out, the last one of us.”

“Oh, it isn’t so bad at night like this, when trade’s over, but it
is sort o’ embarrassing during the day. Why, what do you think? A
Bradstreet commercial reporter was in the other day to get a statement
of my standing, and while he was here Keith Gordon--look at him now,
the scamp! holding his cards over his head; that’s a bluff. I’ll bet he
hasn’t got a ten-spot. While that agent was here Keith and a lot more of
your gang were back there on the platform dancing a hoe-down. The
dust was so thick you couldn’t see the windows. The reporter looked
surprised, but he didn’t say anything. I told him I thought I’d be able
to pay for all I bought in market, and that I had no idea how much I was
worth. I haven’t invoiced my stock in ten years. When I run low I manage
to replenish somehow, and so it goes on from year to year.”

“Well, I am going to talk to the boys,” Dwight said. “They are taking
advantage of your goodnature. The whole truth is they consider you one
of them, Jim. Marrying didn’t change you. You are as full of devilment
as any of the rest, and they know it, and love to hang around you.”

“Well, I reckon that’s a fact,” Blackburn answered, “and I believe
I’d rather you wouldn’t mention it. I think a sight of the gang, and
I wouldn’t hurt their feelings for the world. After all, what does
it matter? Life is short, and if Trundle & Hodgson are getting more
mountain custom than I am, I’ll bet I get the biggest slice of life.
They’ll die rich, but, like as not, friendless. By-the-way, I see your
partner coming across the street. I forgot to tell you; he was looking
for you a few minutes ago. You had a streak of luck when you joined
issues with him; Bill Gamer’s a rough sort o’ chap, but he is by all
odds the brainiest lawyer in Georgia to-day.”

At this juncture a man of medium stature, with a massive head crowned by
a shock of reddish hair, a smooth-shaven, freckled face, and small feet
and hands stood in the doorway. He wore a long black broadcloth coat,
a waistcoat of the same material, and baggy gray trousers. The exposed
portion of his shirt-front and the lapels of his coat were stained by
tobacco juice.

“I’ve been up to the den, over to the Club, and the Lord only knows
where else looking for you,” he said to his partner, as he advanced,
leaned against a showcase on the counter, and stretched out his arms
behind him.

“Work for us, eh?” Carson smiled.

“No; since when have you ever done a lick after dark?” was the dry
reply. “I’ve come to give you a piece of advice, and I’m glad Blackburn
is here to join me. The truth is, Dan Willis is in town. He is full and
loaded for bear. He’s down at the wagon-yard with a gang of his mountain
pals. Some meddling person--no doubt your beautiful political opponent
Wiggin--has told him what you said about the part he took in the mob
that raided! negro town.”

“Well, he doesn’t deny it, does he?” Dwight asked, his eyes flashing.

“I don’t know whether he does or not,” said Gamer. “But I know he’s the
most reckless and dangerous man in the county, and when he is drunk he
will halt at nothing. I thought I’d advise you to avoid him.”

“Avoid him? You mean to say”--Dwight stood up in his anger--“that I, a
free-born American citizen, must sneak around in my own home to avoid
a man that puts on a white mask and sheet and with fifty others like
himself steals into town and nearly thrashes the life out of a lot of
banjo-picking negroes? Most of them were good-for-nothing, lazy scamps,
but they were born that way, and there was one in the bunch that I know
was harmless. Oh yes, I got mad about it, and I talked plainly, I know,
but I couldn’t help it.”

“You _could_ have helped it,” Gamer said, testily; “and you ought to
have protected your own interests better than to give Wiggin such a
strong pull over you. If you are elected it will be by the aid of that
very mob and their kin and friends. We may be able to smooth it all
over, but if you have an open row with Dan Willis to-night, the cause of
it will spread like wildfire, and bum votes for you in wads and bunches.
Good God, man, the idea of giving Wiggin a torch like that to wave in
the face of your constituency--you, a _town_ man, standing up for the
black criminal brutes that are plotting to pull down the white race! I
say that’s the way Wiggin and Dan Willis would interpret your platform.”

“I can’t help it,” Dwight repeated, more calmly, though his voice
shook with suppressed feeling as he went on. “If I lose all I hope for
politically--and this seems like the best chance I’ll ever have to get
to the legislature--I’ll stand by my convictions. We must have law
and order among ourselves if we expect to teach such things to poor,
half-witted black people. I was mad that night. You know that I love the
South. Its blood is my blood. Three of my mother’s brothers and two of
my father’s died fighting for the ‘Lost Cause,’ and my father was under
fire from the beginning of the war to the end. In fact, it is my love
for the South, and all that is good and pure and noble in it, that made
my blood boil that night. I saw a part of it you didn’t see.”

“What was that?” Garner asked.

“It was a clear moonlight night,” Dwight went on. “I was sitting at the
window of my room at home, looking out over Major Warren’s yard, when
the first screams and shouts came from the negro quarter. I suspected
what it was, for I’d heard of the threats the mountaineers had made
against that part of town, but I wasn’t prepared for what I actually
saw. The cottage of old Uncle Lewis and Mammy Linda is just behind the
Major’s house, you know, and in plain view of my window. I saw the
old pair come to the door and run out into the yard, and then I heard
Linda’s voice. ‘It’s my child!’ she screamed. ‘They are killing him!’
Uncle Lewis tried to quiet her, but she stood there wringing her hands
and sobbing and praying. The Major raised the window of his room and
looked out, and I heard him ask what was wrong. Uncle Lewis tried to
explain, but his voice could not be heard above his wife’s cries. A few
minutes later Pete came running down the street. They had let him
go. His clothes were torn to strips and his back was livid with great
whelks. He had no sooner reached the old folks than he keeled over in a
faint. The Major came down, and he and I bent over the boy and finally
restored him to consciousness. Major Warren was the maddest man I ever
saw, and a mob a hundred strong couldn’t have touched the negro and left
him alive.”

“I know, that was all bad enough,” Garner admitted, “but antagonizing
those men now won’t better the matter and may do you more political
damage than you’ll get over in a lifetime. You can’t be a politician
and a preacher both; they don’t go together. You can’t dispute that
the negro quarter of this town was a disgrace to a civilized community
before the White Caps raided it. Look at it now. There never was such a
change. It is as quiet as a Philadelphia graveyard.”

“It’s the way they went about it that made me mad,” Carson Dwight
retorted. “Besides, I know that boy. He is as harmless as a kitten, and
he only hung around those dives because he loved to sing and dance with
the rest. I _did_ get mad; I’m mad yet. My people never lashed their
slaves when they were in bondage; why should I stand by and see them
beaten now by men who never owned negroes and never loved or understood
them? Before the war a white man would stand up and protect his slaves;
why shouldn’t he now take up for at least the most faithful of their
descendants?”

“That’s it,” Blackburn spoke up, admiringly. “You are a chip off of the
old block, Carson. Your daddy would have shot any man who tried to whip
one of his negroes. You can’t help the way you feel; but I agree with
Bill here, you can’t get the support of mountain people if you don’t, at
least, _pretend_ to see things their way.”,

“Well, I can’t see _this_ thing their way,” fumed Dwight; “and I’m not
going to try. When I saw that old black man and woman that awful night
with their very heart-strings torn and bleeding, and remembered
that they had been kind to my mother when she was at the point of
death--sitting by her bedside all night long as patiently as blocks of
stone, and shedding tears of joy at the break of day when the doctor
said the crisis had passed--when I think of that and admit that I
stand by with folded hands and see their only child beaten till he
is insensible, my blood boils with utter shame. It has burned a great
lesson into my brain, and that is that we have got to have law and order
among ourselves if we expect to keep the good opinion of the world at
large.”

“I understand Pete would have got off much easier if he hadn’t fought
them like a tiger,” said Blackburn. “They say--”

“And why _shouldn’t_ he have fought?” Carson asked, quickly. “The nearer
the brute creation a man is the more he’ll fight. A tame dog will fight
if you drive him into a corner and strike him hard enough.”

“Well, you busted up our game,” joined in Keith Gordon, who had left
the table in the rear and now came forward, accompanied by another young
man, Wade Tingle, the editor of the _Headlight_. “Wade and I both agree,
Carson, that you’ve got to handle Dan Willis cautiously. We are backing
you tooth and toe-nail in this campaign, but you’ll tie our hands if you
antagonize the mountain element. Wiggin knows that, and he is working it
for all it’s worth.”

“That’s right, old man,” the editor joined in, earnestly. “I may as well
be plain with you. I’m making a big issue out of my support of you, but
if you make the country people mad they will stop taking my paper. I
can’t live without their patronage, and I simply can’t back you if you
don’t stick to _me_.”

“I wasn’t raising a row,” the young candidate said. “But Garner came to
me just now, actually advising me to avoid that dirty scoundrel. I won’t
dodge any blustering bully who is going about threatening what he will
do to me when he meets me face to face. I want your support, but I can’t
buy it that way.”

“Well,” Garner said, grimly, more to the others than to his partner,
“there will be a row right here inside of ten minutes. I see that now.
Willis has heard certain things Carson has said about the part he took
in that raid, and he is looking for trouble. Carson isn’t in the mood to
take back anything, and a fool can see how it will end.”



CHAPTER II.

[Illustration: 9025]

EITH GORDON and Tingle motioned to Garner, and the three stepped out on
the sidewalk leaving Blackburn and the candidate together. The street
was quite deserted. Only a few of the ramshackle street lights were
burning, though the night was cloudy, the location of the stores,
barbershop, hotel, and post-office being indicated by the oblong patches
of light on the ground in front of them.

“You’ll never be able to move him,” Keith Gordon said, stroking his
blond mustache nervously. “The truth is, he’s terribly worked up over
it. Between us three, boys, Carson never loved but one woman in his
life, and she’s Helen Warren. Mam’ Linda is her old nurse, and Carson
knows when she comes home and hears of Pete’s trouble it is going to
hurt her awfully. Helen has a good, kind heart, and she loves Linda as
if they were the same flesh and blood. If Carson meets Willis to-night
he’ll kill him or get killed. Say, boys, he’s too fine a fellow for that
sort of thing right on the eve of his election. What the devil can we
do?”

“Oh, I see; there’s a woman at the bottom of it,” Garner said,
cynically. “I’m not surprised at the way he’s acting now, but I thought
that case was over with. Why, I heard she was engaged to a man down
where she’s visiting.”

“She really may be,” Gordon admitted, “but Carson is ready to fight
her battles, anyway. I honestly think she turned him down when he was
rolling so high with her brother, just before his death a year ago, but
that didn’t alter his feelings towards her.”

Garner grunted as he thrust his hand deep into his breast-pocket for
his plug of tobacco and began to twist off a corner of it. “The most
maddening thing on earth,” he said, “is to have a close friend who is a
darned fool. I’m tired of the whole business. Old Dwight is out of all
patience with Carson for the reckless way he has been living, but the
old man is really carried away with pride over the boy’s political
chances. He had that sort of ambition himself in his early life, and he
likes to see his son go in for it. He was powerfully tickled the
other day when I told him Carson was going in on the biggest wave of
popularity that ever bore a human chip, but he will cuss a blue streak
when the returns come in, for I tell you, boys, if Carson has a row with
Dan Willis to-night over this negro business, it will knock him higher
than a kite.”

“Do you know whether Carson has anything to shoot with?” Tingle asked,
thoughtfully.

“Oh yes, I saw the bulge of it under his coat just now,” Garner
answered, still angrily, “and if the two come together it will be
raining lead for a while in the old town.”

“I was just thinking about his sick mother,” Keith Gordon remarked.
“My sister told me the other day that Mrs. Dwight was in such a low
condition that any sudden shock would be apt to kill her. A thing like
this would upset her terribly--that is, if there is really any shooting.
Don’t you suppose if we were to remind Carson of her condition that he
might agree to go home?”

“No, you don’t know him as well as I do,” Garner said, firmly. “It would
only make him madder. The more reasons we give him for avoiding Willis
the more stubborn he’ll be. I guess we’ll have to let him sit there and
make a target of himself.”

Just then a tall mountaineer, under a broad-brimmed soft hat, wearing a
cotton checked shirt and jean trousers passed through the light of
the entrance to the hotel near by and slouched through the intervening
darkness towards them.

“It’s Pole Baker,” said Keith. “He’s a rough-and-ready supporter of
Carson’s. Say, hold on, Pole!”

“Hold on yourself; what’s up?” the mountaineer asked, with a laugh.
“Plottin’ agin the whites?”

“We want to ask you if you’ve seen Dan Willis to-night,” Garner
questioned.

“Have I?” Baker grunted. “That’s exactly why I’m lookin’ fer you town
dudes instead o’ goin’ on out home where I belong. I’m as sober as an
empty keg, but I git charged with bein’ in the Darley calaboose every
time I don’t answer the old lady’s roll-call at bed-time. You bet Willis
is loaded fer bear, and he’s got some bad men with him down at the
wagon-yard. Wiggin has filled ‘em up with a lot o’ stuff about what
Carson said concernin’ the White Cap raid t’other night. I thought I’d
sorter put you fellers on, so you could keep our man out o’ the way
till their liquor wears off. Besides, I’m here to tell you, Bill Garner,
that’s a nasty card Wiggin’s set afloat in the mountains. He says a
regular gang of blue-bloods has been organized here to take up fer town
coons agin the pore whites in the country. We might crush such a report
in time, you know, but we’ll never kill it if thar’s a fight over it
to-night.”

“That’s the trouble,” the others said, in a breath.

“Wait one minute--you stay right here,” Baker said, and he went and
stood in front of the store door and looked in for a moment; then he
came back. “I thought maybe he’d let us all talk sense to ‘im, but you
can’t put reason into a man like that any easier than you can dip up
melted butter with a hot awl. I can’t see any chance unless you fellers
will leave it entirely to me.”

“Leave it to you?” Garner exclaimed. “What could you do?”

“I don’t know whether I could do a blessed thing or not, boys, but the
dam thing is so desperate that I’m willin’ to try. You see, I never talk
my politics--if I do, I talk it on t’other side to see what I kin pick
up to advantage. The truth is, I think them skunks consider me a Wiggin
man, and I’d like to git a whack at ‘em. Maybe I can git ‘em to leave
town. Abe Johnson is the leader of ‘em, and he never gets too drunk to
have some natural caution.”

“Well, it certainly couldn’t do any harm for you to try, Pole,” said
Tingle.

“Well, I’ll go down to the wagon-yard and see if they are still hanging
about.”

As he approached the place in question, which was an open space about
one hundred yards square surrounded by a high fence, at the lower end
of the main street, Pole stood in the broad gateway and surveyed the
numerous camp-fires which gleamed out from the darkness. He finally
descried a group of men around a fire between two white-hooded wagons
to the wheels of which were haltered several horses. As Pole advanced
towards them, paying cheerful greetings to various men and women around
the different fires he had to pass, he recognized Dan Willis, Abe
Johnson, and several others.

A quart whiskey flask, nearly empty, stood on the ground in the light
of the fire round which the men were seated. As he approached they
all looked up and nodded and muttered careless greetings. It seemed to
suggest a movement on the part of Dan Willis, a tall man of thirty-five
or thirty-six years of age, who wore long, matted hair and had bushy
eyebrows and a sweeping mustache, for, taking up the flask, he rose
and dropped it into his coat-pocket and spoke to the two men who sat on
either side of Abe Johnson.

“Come on,” he growled, “I want to talk to you. I don’t care whether you
join us or not, Abe.”

“Well, I’m out of it,” replied Johnson. “I’ve talked to you fellows till
I’m sick. You are too darned full to have any sense.”

Willis and the two men walked off together and stood behind one of the
wagons. Their voices, muffled by the effects of whiskey, came back to
the ears of the remaining two.

“Goin’ out home to-night, Abe?” Baker asked, carelessly.

“I want to, but I don’t like to leave that damned fool here in the
condition he’s in. He’ll either commit murder or git his blasted head
shot off.”

“That’s exactly what _I_ was thinking about,” said Pole, sitting down
on the ground carelessly and drawing his knees up in the embrace of his
strong arms. “Look here, Abe, me’n you hain’t to say quite as intimate
as own brothers born of the same mammy, but I hain’t got nothin’ agin
you of a personal nature.”

“Oh, I reckon that’s all right,” the other said, stroking his round,
smooth-shaven face with a dogged sweep of his brawny hand. “That’s all
right, Pole.”

“Well, my family knowed yore family long through the war,” Abe. “My
daddy was with yourn at the front, an’ our mothers swapped sugar an’
coffee in them hard times, an’, Abe, I’m here to tell you I sorter
hate to see an unsuspectin’ neighbor like you walk blind into serious
trouble, great big trouble, Abe--trouble of the sort that would make a
man’s wife an’ childern lie awake many and many a night.”

“What the hell you mean?” Johnson asked, picking up his ears.

“Why, it’s this here devilment that’s brewin’ betwixt Dan an’ Carson
Dwight.”

[Illustration: 0031]

“Well, what’s that got to do with _me?_” Johnson asked, in surly
surprise.

“Well, it’s jest this, Abe,” Pole leaned back till his feet rose from
the ground, and he twisted his neck as his eyes followed the three men
who, with their heads close together, had moved a little farther away.
“Maybe you don’t know it, Abe, but I used to be in the government
revenue service, and in one way and another that’s neither here nor
there I sometimes drop onto underground information, an’ I want to give
you a valuable tip. I want to start you to thinkin’. You’ll admit, I
reckon, that if them two men meet to-night thar will be apt to be blood
shed.”

Johnson stared over the camp-fire sullenly. “If Carson Dwight hain’t had
the sense to git out o’ town thar will be, an’ plenty of it,” he said,
with a dry chuckle.

“Well, thar’s the difficulty,” said Pole. “He hain’t left town, an’
what’s wuss than that, his friends hain’t been able to budge ‘im from his
seat in Blackburn’s store, whar Dan couldn’t miss ‘im ef he was stalkin’
about blindfolded. He’s heard threats, and he’s as mad a man as ever
pulled hair.”

“Well, what the devil--”

“Hold on, Abe. Now, I’ll tell you whar _you_ come in. My underground
information is that the Grand Jury is hard at work to git the facts
about that White Cap raid. The whole thing--name of leader and members
of the gang has been kept close so far, but--”

“Well”--the half-defiant look in the face of Johnson gave way to one of
growing alarm--“well!” he repeated, but went no further.

“It’s this way, Abe--an’ I’m here as a friend, I reckon. You know as
well as I do that if thar is blood shed to-night it will git into court,
and a lots about the White Cap raid, and matters even further back, will
be pulled into the light.”

Pole’s words had made a marked impression on the man to whom they had
been so adroitly directed. Johnson leaned forward nervously. “So you
think--” But he hung fire again.

“Huh, I think you’d better git Dan Willis out o’ this town, Abe, an’
inside o’ five minutes, ef you can do it.”

Johnson drew a breath of evident relief. “I can do it, Pole, and I’ll
act by your advice,” he said. “Thar’s only one thing on earth that would
turn Dan towards home, but I happen to know what that is. He’s b’ilin’
hot, but he ain’t any more anxious to stir up the Grand Jury than some
of the rest of us. I’ll go talk to ‘im.”

As Johnson moved away, Pole Baker rose and slouched off in the darkness
in the direction of the straggling lights along the main street. At the
gate he paused and waited, his eyes on the wagons and camp-fire he had
just left. Presently he noticed something and chuckled. The horses, with
clanking trace-chains, passed between him and the fire--they were being
led round to be hitched to the wagons. Pole chuckled again. “I’m not
sech a dern fool as I look,” he said, “Well, I had to lie some and act
a part that sorter went agin the grain, but my scheme worked. If I
ever git to hell I reckon it will be through tryin’ to do right--in the
main.”



CHAPTER III.

[Illustration: 9035]

HE wide avenue which ran north and south and cut the town of Darley
into halves held the best and oldest residences. One side of the street
caught the full rays of the morning sun and the other the slanting red
beams of the afternoon. For so small a town, it was a well-graded and
well-kept thoroughfare. Strips of grass lay like ribbons between the
sidewalks and the roadway, and at the triangular spaces created by
the intersection of certain streets there were rusty iron fences built
primarily to protect diminutive fountains which had long since ceased to
play. In one of these little parks, in the heart of the town, as it
was in the hearts of the inhabitants, stood a monument erected to “The
Confederate Dead,” a well-modelled, life-size figure of a Southern
private wrought in stone in faraway Italy. Had it been correctly placed
on its pedestal?--that was the question anxiously asked by reverent
passers-by, for the cloaked and knapsacked figure, which time was
turning gray, stood with its back to the enemy’s country.

“Yes, it is right,” some would say, “for the soldier is represented as
being on night picket-duty in Northern territory, and his thoughts and
eyes are with his dear ones at home and the country he is defending.”

Henry Dwight, the wealthy sire of the aggressive young man with whom the
foregoing chapters have principally dealt, lived in one of the moss and
ivy grown houses on the eastern side of the avenue. It was a red brick
structure two and a half stories high, with a colonial veranda, and had
a square, white-windowed cupola as the apex of the slanting roof. There
was a semicircular drive, which entered the grounds at one corner in the
front and swept gracefully past the door. The central and smaller
front gate, for the use of pedestrians, with its imitation stone posts,
spanned by a white crescent, was reached from the house by a
gravelled walk bordered by boxwood. On the right and left were rustic
summerhouses, grape arbors and parterres containing roses and other
flowers, all of which were well cared for by an old colored gardener.

Henry Dwight was a grain and cotton merchant, money-lender, and the
president and chief stockholder of the Darley Cotton Mills, whose great
brick buildings and cottages for employés stood a mile or so to the
west of the town. This morning, having written his daily letters, he was
strolling in his grounds smoking a cigar. To any one who knew him well
it would have been plain that his mind was disturbed.

Adjoining the Dwight homestead there was another ancestral house equally
as spacious and stand-. ing in quite as extensive, if more neglected,
grounds. It was here that Major Warren lived, and it happened that he,
too, was on his lawn just beyond the ramshackle intervening fence, the
gate of which had fallen from its hinges and been taken away.

The Major was a short, slight old gentleman, quite a contrast to the
John Bull type of his lusty, side-whiskered neighbor. He wore a dingy
brown wig, and as he pottered about, raising a rose from the earth with
his gold-headed ebony stick, or stooped to uproot an encroaching weed,
his furtive glance was often levelled on old Dwight.

“I declare I really might as well,” he muttered, undecidedly. “What’s
the use making up your mind to a thing and letting it go for no sensible
reason. He’s taking a wrong view of it. I can tell that by the way he
puffs at his cigar. Yes, I’ll do it.”

The Major passed through the gateway and slowly drew near his
preoccupied neighbor.

“Good-morning, Henry,” he said, as Dwight looked up. “If I’m any judge
of your twists and turns, you are not yet in a thoroughly good-humor.”

“Good-humor? No, sir, I’m _not_ in a good-humor. How could I be when
that young scamp, the only heir to my name and effects--”

Dwight’s spleen rose and choked out his words, and, red in the face, he
stood panting, unable to go further.

“Well, it seems to me, while he’s not _my_ son,” the Major began, “that
you are--are--well, rather overbearing--I might say unforgiving. He’s
been sowing wild oats, but, really, if I am any judge of young men, he
is on a fair road to--to genuine manhood.”

“Road to nothing,” spluttered Dwight. “I gave him that big farm to
see what he could do in its management. Never expected him to work a
lick--just wanted to see if he could keep it on a paying basis, but it
was an investment of dead capital. Then he took up the law. He did a
little better at that along with Bill Garner to lean on, but that never
amounted to anything worth mentioning. Then he went into politics.”

“And I heard you say yourself, Henry,” the Major ventured, gently,
“that you believed he was actually cut out for a future statesman.”

“Yes, and like the fool that I was I hoped for it. I was so glad to see
him really interested in politics that I laid awake at night thinking
of his success. I heard of his popularity on every hand. Men came to me,
and women, too, telling me they loved him and were going to work for
him against that jack-leg lawyer Wiggin, and put him into office with
a majority that would ring all over the State; and they meant it, I
reckon. But what did he do? In his stubborn, bull-headed way he abused
those mountain men who took the law into their hands for the public
good, and turned hundreds of them against him; and all for a nigger--a
lazy, trifling nigger boy!”

“Well, you see,” Major Warren began, lamely, “Carson and I saw Pete the
night he was whipped so severely and we took pity on him. They played
together when they were boys, as boys all over the South do, you know,
and then he saw Mam’ Linda break down over it and saw old Lewis crying
for the first time in the old man’s life. I was mad, Henry, myself, and
you would have been if you had been there. I could have fought the men
who did it, so I understand how Carson felt, and when he made the remark
Wiggin is using to such deadly injury to his prospects my heart warmed
to the boy. If he doesn’t succeed as a politician it will be because he
is too genuine for a tricky career of that sort. His friends are trying
to get him to make some statement that will reinstate him with the
mountain people who sympathized with the White Caps, but he simply won’t
do it.”

“Won’t do it! I reckon not!” Dwight blurted out. “Didn’t the young idiot
wait in Blackburn’s store for Dan Willis to come and shoot the top of
his head off? He sat there till past midnight, and wouldn’t move an inch
till actual proof was brought to him that Willis had left town. Oh,
I’m no fool! I know a thing or two. I’ve watched him and your daughter
together. That’s at the bottom of it. She sat down on him before she
went off to Augusta, but her refusal didn’t alter him. He knows Helen
thinks a lot of her old negro mammy, and in her absence he simply took
up her cause and is fighting mad about it--so mad that he is blind to
his political ruin. That’s what a man will do for a woman. They say
she’s about to become engaged down there. I hope she is, and that Carson
will have pride enough when he hears of it to let another man do her
fighting, and one with nothing to lose by it.”

“She hasn’t written me a thing about any engagement,” the Major
answered, with some animation; “but my sister highly approves of the
match and writes that it may come about. Mr. Sanders is a well-to-do,
honorable man of good birth and education: Helen never seemed to get
over her brother’s sad death. She loved poor Albert more than she ever
did me or any one else.”

“And I always thought that it was Carson’s association with your son in
his dissipation that turned Helen against him. For all I know, she may
have thought Carson actually led Albert on and was partly the cause of
his sad end.”

“She may have looked at it that way,” the Major said, musingly. They had
now reached the porch in the rear of the house and they went together
into the wide hall. A colored maid with a red bandanna tied like a
turban round her head was dusting the walnut railing of the stairs.
Passing through the hall, the old gentlemen turned into the library,
a great square room with wide windows and tall, gilt-framed pier-glass
mirrors.

“Yes, I’m sure that’s what turned her against him,” Dwight continued,
“and that is where, between you and Helen, I get mixed up. Why do you
always take up for the scamp? It looks to me like you’d resent the way
he acted with your son after the boy’s terrible end.”

“There is a good deal more in the matter, Henry, than I ever told you
about.” Major Warren’s voice faltered. “To be plain, that is my secret
trouble. I reckon if Helen was to discover the actual truth--_all of
it_--she would never feel the same towards me. I think maybe I ought to
tell you. It certainly will explain why I am so much interested in your
boy.” They sat down, the owner of the house in a reclining-chair at an
oblong, carved mahogany table covered with books and papers, the visitor
on a lounge near by.

“Well, it always has seemed odd to me,” old Dwight said. “I couldn’t
exactly believe you wanted to bring him and Helen together, after your
experience with that sort of man under your own roof.”

“It is this way,” said the Major, awkwardly. “To begin with, I am sure,
from all I’ve picked up, that it was not your son that was leading
mine on to dissipation, but just the other way. He’s dead and gone, but
Albert was always ready for a prank of any sort. Henry, I want to talk
to you about it because it seems to me you are in the same position in
regard to Carson that I was in regard to my poor boy, and I’ve prayed
a thousand times for pardon for what I did in anger and haste. Henry,
listen to me. If ever a man made a vital mistake I did, and I’ll bear
the weight of it to my grave. You know how I worried over. Albert’s
drinking and his general conduct. Time after time he made promises that
he would turn over a new leaf only to break them. Well, it was on the
last trip--the fatal one to New York, where he had gone and thrown away
so much money. I wrote him a severe letter, and in answer to it I got a
pathetic one, saying he was sick and tired of the way he was doing and
begging me to try him once more and send him money to pay his way home.
It was the same old sort of promise and I didn’t have faith in him. I
was unfair, unjust to my only son. I wrote and refused, telling him that
I could not trust him any more. Hell inspired that letter, Henry--the
devil whispered to me that I’d been indulgent to the poor boy’s injury.
Then came the news. When he was found dead in a small room on the top
floor of that squalid hotel--dead by his own hand--my letter lay open
beside him.”

“Well, well, you couldn’t help it!” Dwight said, most awkwardly, and he
crossed his short, fat legs anew and reached for an open box of cigars.
“You were trying to do your duty as you saw it, and to the best of your
ability.”

“Yes, but my method, Henry, resulted in misery and grief to me and Helen
that can never be cured. You see, it is because of that awful mistake
that I take such an interest in Carson. I love him because Albert loved
him, and because sometimes it seems to me that you are most too quick
to condemn him. Oh, he’s different! Carson has changed wonderfully since
Albert died. He doesn’t drink to excess now, and Garner says he has quit
playing cards, having only one aim, and that to win this political
race--to win it to please you, Henry.”

“Win it!” Dwight sniffed. “He’s already as dead as a salt mackerel--laid
out stiff and stark by his own bull-headed stupidity. I’ve always talked
down drinking and card-playing, but I have known some men to succeed in
life who had such habits in moderation; but you nor I nor no one else
ever saw a blockhead succeed at anything. I tell you he’ll never make
a successful politician. Wiggin will beat the hind sights off of him.
Wiggin is simply making capital of the fool’s inability to control his
temper and sympathies. Wiggin would have let that mob thrash his own
father and mother rather than antagonize them and lose their votes. He
knows Carson comes of fighting stock, and he will continue to egg Dan
Willis and others on, knowing that every resentful word from Carson will
make enemies for him by the score.”

“Oh, I can see that, too!” the Major sighed; “but, to save me, I can’t
help admiring the boy. He thinks the White Caps did wrong that night
and he simply can’t pretend otherwise. It is the principle of the thing,
Henry. He is an unusual sort of candidate, and his stand may ruin his
chances, but I--I glory in his firmness. I must say g me to try him once
more and send him money to pay his way home. It was the same old sort of
promise and I didn’t have faith in him. I was unfair, unjust to my only
son. I wrote and refused, telling him that I could not trust him any
more. Hell inspired that letter, Henry--the devil whispered to me that
I’d been indulgent to the poor boy’s injury. Then came the news. When he
was found dead in a small room on the top floor of that squalid hotel--
dead by his own hand--my letter lay open beside him.”

“Well, well, you couldn’t help it!” Dwight said, most awkwardly, and he
crossed his short, fat legs anew and reached for an open box of cigars.
“You were trying to do your duty as you saw it, and to the best of your
ability.”

“Yes, but my method, Henry, resulted in misery and grief to me and Helen
that can never be cured. You see, it is because of that awful mistake
that I take such an interest in Carson. I love him because Albert loved
him, and because sometimes it seems to me that you are most too quick to
condemn him. Oh, he’s different! Carson has changed wonderfully since
Albert died. He doesn’t drink to excess now, and Garner says he has quit
playing cards, having only one aim, and that to win this political race-
-to win it to please you, Henry.”

“Win it!” Dwight sniffed. “He’s already as dead as a salt mackerel--laid
out stiff and stark by his own bull-headed stupidity. I’ve always talked
down drinking and card-playing, but I have known some men to succeed in
life who had such habits in moderation; but you nor I nor no one else
ever saw a blockhead succeed at anything. I tell you he’ll never make a
successful politician. Wiggin will beat the hind sights off of him.
Wiggin is simply making capital of the fool’s inability to control his
temper and sympathies. Wiggin would have let that mob thrash his own
father and mother rather than antagonize them and lose their votes. He
knows Carson comes of fighting stock, and he will continue to egg Dan
Willis and others on, knowing that every resentful word from Carson will
make enemies for him by the score.”

“Oh, I can see that, too!” the Major sighed; “but, to save me, I can’t
help admiring the boy. He thinks the White Caps did wrong that night and
he simply can’t pretend otherwise. It is the principle of the thing,
Henry. He is an unusual sort of candidate, and his stand may ruin his
chances, but I--I glory in his firmness. I must say that.”

“Oh yes, that’s the trouble with you sentimental people,” Dwight fumed.
“Between you and the boy’s doting mother, the Lord only knows where
he’ll land. I’ve overlooked a lot in him in the hope that he’d put this
election through, but I shall let him go his own way now. It has come
to a pretty pass if I have to see my son beaten to the dust by a man of
Wiggin’s stamp because of that long-legged negro boy of yours who would
have been better long ago if he had been soundly thrashed.”

When his visitor had gone Dwight dropped his unfinished cigar into the
grate and went slowly upstairs to his wife’s room. At a small-paned
window overlooking the flower-garden, on a couch supported in a
reclining position by several puffy pillows, was Mrs. Dwight. She was
well past middle-age and of extremely delicate physique. Her hair was
snowy white, her skin thin to transparency, her veins full and blue.

“That was Major Warren, wasn’t it?” she asked, in a soft, sweet voice,
as she put down the magazine she had been reading.

“Yes,” Dwight answered, as he went to a little desk in one corner of the
room and took a paper from a pigeon-hole and put it into his pocket.

“How did he happen to come over so early?” the lady pursued.

“Because he wanted to, I reckon,” Dwight started out, impatiently, and
then a note of caution came into his voice as he remembered the warning
of the family physician against causing the patient even the slightest
worry. “Warren hasn’t a blessed thing to do, you know, from mom till
night. So when he strikes a busy man he is apt to hang on to him and
talk in his long-winded way about any subject that takes possession of
his brain. He’s great on showing men how to manage their own affairs. It
takes an idle man to do that. If that man hadn’t had money left to him
he would now be begging his bread from door to door.”

“Somehow I fancied it was about Carson,” Mrs. Dwight sighed.

“There you go!” her husband said, with as much grace of evasion as lay
in his sturdy compound. “Lying there from day to day, you seem to have
contracted Warren’s complaint. You think nobody can drop in even for a
minute without coming about your boy--your boy! Some day, if you live
long enough, you may discover that the universe was not created solely
for your son, nor made just to revolve around him either.”

“Yes, I suppose I _do_ worry about Carson a great deal,” the invalid
admitted; “but you haven’t told me right out that the Major was _not_
speaking of him.”

The old man’s face was the playground of conflcting impulses. He grew
red with anger and his lips trembled on the very verge of an outburst,
but he controlled himself. In fact, his irritability calmed down as he
suddenly saw a loop-hole through which to escape her questioning.

“The truth is,” he said, “Warren was talking about Albert’s death. He
talked quite a while about it. He almost broke down.”

“Well, I’m so worried about Carson’s campaign that I imagine all sorts
of trouble,” Mrs. Dwight sighed. “I lay awake nearly all of last night
thinking about one little thing. When he was in his room dressing the
other day, I heard something fall to the floor. Hilda had taken him some
hot water for shaving, and when she came back she told me he had dropped
his revolver out of his pocket. You know till then I had had no idea he
carried one, and while it may be necessary at times, the idea is very
disagreeable.”

“You needn’t let _that_ bother you,” Dwight said, as he took his hat to
go down to his office at his warehouse. “Nearly all the young men carry
them because they think it looks smart. Most of them would run like a
scared dog if they saw one pointed at them even in fun.”

“Well, I hope my boy will never have any use for one,” the invalid said.
“He is not of a quarrelsome nature. It takes a good deal to make him
angry, but when he gets so he is not easily controlled.”



CHAPTER IV.

[Illustration: 9046]

HE young men in Carson Dwight’s set had an odd sort of lounging-place.
It was Keith Gordon’s room above his father’s bank in an old building
which had withstood the shot and shell of the Civil War. “The Den,” as
it was called by its numerous hap-hazard occupants, was reached from
the street on the outside by a narrow flight of worm-eaten and rickety
stairs and a perilous little balcony or passage that clung to the
brick wall, twenty feet from the ground, along the full length of the
building. It was here in one of the four beds that Keith slept, when
there was room for him. After a big dance or a match game of baseball,
when there were impecunious visitors from neighboring towns left over
for various and sundry reasons, Keith had to seek the sanctimonious
solitude of his father’s home or go to the hotel.

The den was about twenty-five feet square. It was not as luxurious as
such bachelor quarters went in Augusta, Savannah, or even Atlanta,
but it answered the purpose of “the gang” which made use of it. Keith
frankly declared that he had overhauled and replenished it for the last
time. He said that it was absolutely impossible to keep washbasins and
pitchers, when they were hurled out of the windows for pure amusement of
men who didn’t care whether they washed or not. As for the laundry bill,
he happened to know that it was larger than that of the Johnston House
or the boarding department of the Darley Female College. He said, too,
that he had warned the gang for the last time that the room would be
closed if any more clog-dancing were indulged in. He said his father
complained that the plastering was dropping down on his desk below,
and sensible men ought to know that a thing like that could not go on
forever.

The rules concerning the payment for drinks were certainly lax. No
accounts were kept of any man’s indebtedness. Any member of the gang was
at liberty to stow away a flask of any size in the bureau or wash-stand
drawer, or under the mattresses or pillows of his or anybody else’s bed,
where Skelt, the negro who swept the room, and loved stimulants could
not find it.

Bill Garner, as brainy as he was, while he was always welcome at his
father’s house in the country, a mile from town, seemed to love the
company of this noisy set. Through the day it was said of him that he
could read and saturate himself with more law than any man in the State,
but at night his recreation was a cheap cigar, his old bulging carpet
slippers, a cosey chair in Keith’s room, and--who would think it?--the
most thrilling Indian dime novel on the market. He could quote the
French, German, Italian, and Spanish classics by the page in a strange
musical accent he had acquired without the aid of a master or any sort
of intercourse with native foreigners. He knew and loved all things
pertaining to great literature--said he had a natural ear for Wagner’s
music, had comprehended Edwin Booth’s finest work, knew a good picture
when he saw it; and yet he had to have his dime novel. In it he found
mental rest and relaxation that was supplied by nothing else. His
bedfellow was Bob Smith, the genial, dapper, ever daintily clad clerk at
the Johnston House. Garner said he liked to sleep with Bob because Bob
never--sleeping or waking--took anything out of him mentally. Besides
dressing to perfection, Bob played rag-time on the guitar and sang the
favorite coon songs of the day. His duties at the hotel were far from
arduous, and so the gang usually looked to him to arrange dances and
collect toll for expenses. And Bob was not without his actual monetary
value, as the proprietor of the hotel had long since discovered, for
when Bob arranged a dance it meant that various socially inclined
drummers of good birth and standing would, at a hint or a telegram from
the clerk, “lay over” at Darley for one night anyway.

If Bob had any quality that disturbed the surface of his uniform
equanimity it was his excessive pride in Carson Dwight’s friendship.
He interlarded his talk with what Carson had said or done, and Carson’s
candidacy for the Legislature had become his paramount ambition. Indeed,
it may as well be stated that the rest of the gang had espoused Dwight’s
political cause with equal enthusiasm.

It was the Sunday morning following the night Pole Baker had prevented
the meeting between Dwight and Dan Willis, and most of the habitual
loungers were present waiting for Skelt to black their boots, and
deploring the turn of affairs which looked so bad for their favorite.
Wade Tingle was shaving at one of the windows before a mirror in a
cracked mahogany frame, when they all recognized Carson’s step on the
balcony and a moment later Dwight stood in the doorway.

“Hello, boys, how goes it?” he asked.

“Oh, right side up, old man,” Tingle replied, as he began to rub the
lather into his face with his hand to soften his week-old beard before
shaving. “How’s the race?”

“It’s all right, I guess,” Dwight said, wearily, as he came in and sat
down in a vacant chair against the wall. “How goes it in the mountains?
I understand you’ve been over there.”

“Yes, trying to rake in some ads, stir up my local correspondents,
and take subscriptions. As to your progress, old man, I’m sorry to say
Wiggin’s given it a sort of black eye. There was a meeting of farmers
over in the tenth, at Miller’s Spring. I was blamed sorry you were
not there. Wiggin made a speech. It was a corker--viewed as campaign
material solely. That chap’s failed at the law, but he’s the sharpest,
most unprincipled manipulator of men’s emotions I ever ran across. He
showed you up as Sam Jones does the ring-tailed monster of the cloven
foot.”

“What Carson said about the Willis and Johnson mob was his theme, of
course?” said Garner, above the dog-eared pages of his thriller.

“That and ten thousand things Carson never dreamed of,” returned Tingle.
“Here’s the way it went. The meeting was held under a bush-arbor to
keep the sun off, and the farmers had their wives and children out for
a picnic. A long-faced parson led in prayer, some of the old maids piped
up with a song that would have ripped slits in your musical tympanum,
Garner, and then a raw-boned ploughman in a hickory shirt and one
gallus introduced the guest of honor. How they could have overlooked the
editor-in-chief and proprietor of the greatest agricultural weekly in
north Georgia and picked out that skunk was a riddle to me.”

“Well, what did he say?” Garner asked, as sharply as if he were
cross-examining a non-committal witness of importance.

“What did he say?” Tingle laughed, as he wiped the lather from his face
with a ragged towel and stood with it in his hand. “He began by saying
that he had gone into the race to win, and that he was going to the
Legislature as sure as the sun was on its way down in this country and
on its way up in China. He said it was a scientific certainty, as easily
demonstrated as two and two make four. Those hardy, horny-handed men
before him that day were not going to the polls and vote for a town dude
who parted his hair in the middle, wore spike-toed shoes that glittered
like a new dash-board, and was the ringleader of the rowdiest set of
young card-players and whiskey-drinkers that ever blackened the morals
of a mining-camp. He said that about the gang, boys, and I didn’t have a
thing to shoot with. In fact, I had to sit there and take in more.”

“What did he say about his _platform?_” Garner asked, with a heavy
frown; “that’s what I want to get at. You never can hurt a politician
by circulating the report that he drinks--that’s what half of ‘em vote
for.”

“Oh, his platform seemed to be chiefly that he was out to save the
common people from the eternal disgrace of voting for a man like Dwight.
He certainly piled it on thick and heavy. It would have made Carson’s
own mother slink away in shame. Carson, Wiggin said, had loved niggers
since he was knee high to a duck, and had always contended that a negro
owned by the aristocracy of the South was ahead of the white, razor-back
stock in the mountains who had never had that advantage. Carson was up
in arms against the White Caps that had come to Darley and whipped those
lazy coons, and was going to prosecute every man in the bunch to the
full extent of the United States law. If he got into the Legislature he
intended to pass laws to make it a penitentiary offence for a white man
to shove a black buck off the sidewalk. ‘But he’s not going to take his
seat in the Capitol of Georgia,’ Wiggins said, with a yell--‘if Carson
Dwight went to Atlanta it would _not_ be on a free pass.’ And, boys,
that crowd yelled till the dry leaves overhead clapped an encore. The
men yelled and the women and children yelled.”

“He’s a contemptible puppy!” Dwight said, angrily.

“Yes, but he’s a slick politician among men of that sort,” said Tingle.
“He certainly knows how to talk and stir up strife.”

“And I suppose you sat there like a bump on a log, and listened to all
that without opening your mouth!” Keith Gordon spoke up from his bed,
where he lay in his bath-robe smoking over the remains of the breakfast
Skelt had brought from the hotel on a big black tray.

“Well, I _did_--get up,” Tingle answered, with a manly flush.

“Oh, you _did!_” Garner leaned forward with interest.

“Well, I’m glad you happened to be on hand, for your paper has
considerable influence over there.”

“Yes, I got up. I waved my hands up and down like a buzzard rising,
to keep the crowd still till I could think of something to say; but,
Carson, old man, you know what an idiot I used to be in college debates.
I could get through fairly well on anything they would let me write down
and read off, but it was the impromptu thing that always rattled me.
I was as mad as hell when I rose, but all those staring eyes calmed me
wonderfully. I reckon I stood there fully half a minute swallowing--”

“You damned fool!” Garner exclaimed, in high disgust.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I was,” Tingle admitted. “I stood there
gasping like a catfish enjoying his first excursion in open air. It was
deathly still. I’ve heard it said that dying men notice the smallest
things about them. I remember I saw the horses and mules haltered
out under the trees with their hay and fodder under their noses--the
dinner-baskets all in a cluster at the spring guarded by a negro woman.
Then what do you think? Old Jeff Condon spoke up.

“‘Lead us in prayer, brother,’ he said, in reverential tones, and since
I was born I never heard so much laughing.”

“You certainly _did_ play into Wiggin’s hands,” growled the disgruntled
Garner. “That’s exactly what a glib-tongued skunk like him would want.”

“Well, it gave me a minute to try to get my wind, anyway,” said Tingle,
still red in the face, “but I wasn’t equal to a mob of baseball rooters
like that. I started in to deny some of Wiggin’s charges when another
smart Alec spoke up and said: ‘Hold on! tell us about the time you and
your candidate started home from a ball at Catoosa Springs in a buggy,
and were so drunk that the horse took you to the house of a man who used
to own him sixteen miles from where you wanted to go. Of course, you
all know, boys, that was a big exaggeration, but I had no idea it was
generally known. Anyway, I thought the crowd would laugh their heads
off. I reckon it was the way I looked. I felt as if every man, woman,
and child there had mashed a bad egg on me and was chuckling over their
marksmanship. I ended up by getting mad, and I saw by Wiggin’s grin that
he liked that. I managed to say a few things in denial, and then Wiggin
got up and roasted me and my paper to a turn. He said that in supporting
Dwight editorially the _Headlight_ was giving sanction to Dwight’s ideas
in favor of the negro and against honest white people, and that every
man there who had any family or State pride ought to stop taking
the dirty sheet; and, bless your life, some of them did cancel their
subscriptions when they met me after the speaking; but I’m going to
keep on mailing it, anyway. It will be like sending free tracts to the
heathen, but it may bear fruit.”



CHAPTER V.

[Illustration: 9054]

ALF an hour later all the young men had left the room except Garner
and Dwight. Garner still wore the frown brought to his broad brow by
Tingle’s recital.

“I’ve set my heart on putting this thing through,” he said; “and while
it looks kind of shaky, I haven’t lost all hope yet. Of course, your
reckless remarks about the White Caps have considerably damaged us in
the mountains, but we may live it down. It may die a natural death if
you and Dan Willis don’t meet and plug away at each other and set the
talk afloat again. I reckon he’ll keep out of your way when he’s sober,
anyway.”

“I am not running after him,” Carson returned. “I simply said what I
thought and Wiggin made the most of it.”

Garner was silent for several minutes, then he folded his dime novel and
bent it across his knee, and when he finally spoke Dwight thought he
had never seen a graver look on the strong face. He had seen it full
of emotional tears when Garner was at the height of earnest appeal to a
jury in a murder case; he had seen it dark with the fury of unjust legal
defeat, but now there was a strange feminine whiteness at the corners of
the big facile mouth, a queer twitching of the lips.

“I’ve made up my mind to tell you a secret,” he said, falteringly. “I’ve
come near it several times and backed out. It’s a subject I don’t know
how to handle. It’s about a woman, Carson. You know I’m not a ladies’
man. I don’t call on women; I don’t take them buggy-riding; I don’t
dance with them, or even know how to fire soft things at them like you
and Keith, but I’ve had my experience.”

“It certainly is a surprise to me,” Dwight said, sympathetically, and
then in the shadow of Garner’s seriousness he found himself unable to
make further comment.

“I reckon you’ll lose all respect for me for thinking there was a ghost
of a chance in that particular quarter,” Garner pursued, without meeting
his companion’s eye. “But, Carson, my boy, there is a certain woman
that every man who knows her has loved or is still loving. Keith’s crazy
about her, though he has given up all hope as I did long ago, and even
poor Bob Smith thinks he’s in luck if she will only listen to one of his
new songs or let him do her some favor. We all love her, Carson, because
she is so sweet and kind to us--”

“You mean--” Dwight interrupted, impulsively, and then lapsed into
silence, an awkward flush rising to his brow.

“Yes, I mean Helen Warren, old man. As I say, I had never thought of a
woman that way in my life. We were thrown together once at a house-party
at Hilburn’s farm--well, I simply went daft. She never refused to
walk with me when I asked her, and seemed specially interested in my
profession. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have since discovered
that she has that sweet way with every man, rich or poor, married or
single. Well, to make a long story short, I proposed to her. The whole
thing is stamped on my brain as with a branding-iron. We had taken a
long walk that morning and were seated under a big beech-tree near a
spring. She kept asking about my profession, her face beaming, and it
all went to my head. I knew that I was the ugliest man in the State,
that I had no style about me, and knew nothing about being nice to women
of her sort; but her interest in everything pertaining to the law made
me think, you know, that she admired that kind of thing. I went wild. As
I told her how I felt I actually cried. Think of it--I was silly enough
to blubber like a baby! I can’t describe what happened. She was shocked
and pained beyond description. She had never dreamed that I felt that
way. I ended by asking her to try to forget it all, and we had a long,
awful walk to the house.”

“That _was_ tough,” Carson Dwight said, a queer expression on his face.

“Well, I’ve told it to you for a special reason,” Garner said, with a
big, trembling sigh. “Carson, I am a close observer, and I afterwards
made up my mind that I knew why she had led me on to talk so much about
the law and my work in particular.”

“Oh, you found that out!” Carson said, almost absently.

“Yes, my boy, it was about the time you and I were thinking of going in
together. It was all on your account.”

Carson stared straight at Garner. “_My_ account? Oh no!”

“Yes, on your account. I’ve kept it from you all this time. I’m your
friend now in full--to the very bone, but at that time I felt too sore
to tell you. I’d lost all I cared for on earth, but I simply had too
much of primitive man left in me to let you know how well you stood. My
God, Carson, about that time I used to sit at my desk behind some old
book pretending to read, but just looking at you as you sat at work
wondering how it would feel to have what was yours. Then I watched you
both together; you seemed actually made for each other, an ideal couple.
Then came your--she refused you.”

“I know, I know, but why talk about it, Garner?” Carson had risen and
stood in the doorway in the rays of the morning sun. There was silence
for a moment. The church bells were ringing and negroes and whites were
passing along the street below.

“It may be good for me to speak of it and be done with it, or it may
not,” said Garner; “but this is what I was coming to. I’ve said it was
a long time before I could tell you that she was once--I don’t know how
she is now, but she was at one time in love with you.”

“Oh no, no, she was never that!” Dwight said. “We were great friends,
but she never cared that much for me or for any one.”

“Well, it was a long time before I could say what I thought about
that, and I have only just now taken another step in self-renunciation.
Carson, I can now say that you didn’t have a fair deal, and that I have
reached a point in which I want to see you get it. I think I know why
she refused you.”

“You do?” Dwight said, pale and excited, as he came away from the door
and leaned heavily against the wall near his friend.

“Yes, it was this way. I’ve studied it all out. She loved Albert as few
women love their brothers, and his grim end was an almost unbearable
shock. After his death, you know it leaked out that you had been
Albert’s constant companion through his dissipation, almost, in fact, up
to the very end. She couldn’t reconcile herself to your part, innocent
as it was, in the tragedy, and it simply killed the feeling she had for
you. I suppose it is natural to a character as strong as hers.”

“I’ve always feared that--that was the reason,” said Dwight,
falteringly, as he went back to the door and looked out. There was a
droop of utter dejection on him and his face seemed to have aged.
“Garner,” he said, suddenly, “there is no use denying anything. You have
admitted your love for her, why should I deny mine? I never cared for
any other woman and I never shall.”

“That’s right, but you didn’t get a fair deal, all the same,” said
Garner. “She’s never looked for any sort of justification in your
conduct; her poor brother’s death stands like a draped wall between you,
but I know you were not as black as you were painted. Carson, all the
time you were keeping pace with Albert Warren you were blind to the gulf
ahead of him and were simply glorying in his friendship--_because he was
her brother_. Ah, I know that feeling!”

Carson was silent, while Garner’s gray eyes rested on him for a moment
full of conviction, and then he nodded. “Yes, I think that was it. It
was my ruination, but I could not get away from the fascination of
his companionship. He fairly worshipped her and used to talk of her
constantly when we were together, and he--he sometimes told me things
she kept back. He knew how I felt. I told him. Through him I seemed to
be closer to her. But when the news came that he was dead, and when
I met her at the funeral at the church, and caught her eye, I saw her
shrink back in abhorrence. She wouldn’t go out with me ever again after
that, and was never exactly the same.”

“That was two years ago, my boy,” Garner said, significantly, “and your
character has changed. You are a better, firmer man. In fact, it seems
to me that your change dates from Albert Warren’s death. But now I’m
coming to the thing that prompted me to say all this. I met Major Warren
in the post-office this morning. He was greatly excited. Carson, she
has just written him that she is coming home for a long stay and the old
gentleman is simply wild with delight.”

“Oh, she’s coming, then!” Dwight exclaimed, in surprise.

“Yes, and Keith and Bob and the rest of her adorers will go crazy over
the news and want to celebrate it. I didn’t tell them. I wanted you to
know it first. There is one other thing. You know you can’t tell whether
there is anything in an idle report, but the gossips say she has perhaps
met her fate down there. I’ve even heard his name--one Earle Sanders, a
well-to-do cotton merchant of good standing in the business world. But
I’ll never believe she’s engaged to him till the cards are out.”

“I really think it may be true,” Carson Dwight said, a firm, set
expression about his lips. “I’ve heard of him. He’s a man of fine
character and intellect. Yes, it may be true, Garner.”

“Well,” and Garner drew himself up and folded his arms, “if it should
happen to be so, Carson, there would be only one thing to do, and that
would be to grin and bear it.”

“Yes, that would be the only thing,” Dwight made answer. “She has a
right to happiness, and it would have been wrong for her to have tied
herself to me, when I was what I was, and when I am still as great a
failure as I am.”

He turned suddenly out onto the passage, and Garner heard his resounding
tread as he walked away.

“Poor old chap,” Garner mused, as he leaned forward and looked at the
threadbare toes of his slippers, “if he weathers this storm he’ll make
a man right--if not, he’ll go down with the great majority, the motley
throng meant for God only knows what purpose.”



CHAPTER VI.

[Illustration: 9061]

HE Warren homestead was in a turmoil of excitement over Helen’s return.
The ex-slaves of the family for miles around had assembled to celebrate
the occasion in quite the ante-bellum fashion. The men and grown boys
sat about the front lawn and on the steps of the long veranda and talked
of the day Helen was born, of her childhood, of her beauty and numerous
conquests, away from them, and of the bare possibility of her deigning
to accept the hand of some one of her powerful and wealthy suitors.

In her own chamber, a great square room with many windows, Helen, tall,
graceful, with light-brown eyes and almost golden hair, was receiving
the women and girls. She had brought a present suitable for each of
them, as they knew she would, and the general rejoicing was equal to
that of an old-time Georgia Christmas.

“You are all here,” Helen smiled, as she looked about the room, “except
Mam’ Linda. Is she not well?”

“Yessum, she’s well as common,” Jennie, a yellow house-maid, said, “as
well as she been since Pete had dat scrimmage wid de White Caps. Missie,
you gwine notice er gre’t change in Mam’ Lindy. Since dat turrible
night, while she seem strong in de body, she looks powerful weak in
de face en sperit. Unc’ Lewis is worried about ‘er. She des set in er
cottage do’ en rock back an’ fo’th all day long. You done heard ‘bout dat
lambastin’, ‘ain’t you, Missie?”

“Yes, my father wrote me about it,” Helen replied, an expression of
sympathetic pain on her well-featured face, “but he didn’t tell me that
mammy was taking it so hard.”

“He was tryin’ ter keep you fum worryin’,” Jennie said, observantly.
“Marster knowed how much sto’ you set by yo’ old mammy. He was de
maddest man you ever laid eyes on dat night, but he couldn’t do nothin’,
fer it was all over, en dem white trash done skedaddle back whar dey
come fum.”.

“And was Pete so much to blame?” Helen asked, her voice shaking.

“Blame fer de company he been keepin’, Missie--dat’s all; but what you
gwine ter do wid er strappin’ young nigger growin’ up? It des like it
was in de old day fo’ de war. De niggers had to have deir places ter
meet an’ cut up shines. Dey been done too much of it at Ike Bowen’s. De
white folks dat lived round dar couldn’t sleep at night. It was one long
shindig or a fist-cuff scrap fum supper till daylight.”

“Well, I wish Mam’ Linda would come to see me,” Helen said. “I’m anxious
about her. If she isn’t here soon I’ll go to her.”

“She’s comin’ right on, Missie,” another negro girl said, “but she tol’
Unc’ Lewis she was gwine ter wait till we all cleared out. She say you
her baby, en she ain’t gwine ter be bothered wid so many, when she see
you de fust time after so long.”

“That’s exactly like her,” Helen smiled. “Well, you all must go now,
and, Jennie, tell her I am dying to see her.”

The room was soon cleared of its chattering and laughing throng, and
Linda, supported by her husband, a stalwart mulatto, came from her
cottage behind the house and went up to Helen’s room. She was short,
rather portly, about half white, and for that reason had a remarkably
intelligent face which bore the marks of a strong character. Entering
the room, after sharply enjoining her husband to wait for her in the
hall, she went straight up to Helen and laid her hand on the young
lady’s head.

“So I got my baby back once mo’,” she said, tenderly.

“Yes, I couldn’t stay away, Mammy,” Helen said, with an indulgent smile.
“After all, home is the sweetest place on earth--but you mustn’t stand
up; get a chair.”

The old woman obeyed, slowly placing the chair near that of her mistress
and sitting down. “I’m glad you got back, honey,” she said. “I loves all
my white folks, but you is my baby, en I never could talk to de rest of
um lak I kin ter you. Oh, honey, yo’ old mammy has had lots en lots er
trouble!”

“I know, Mammy, father wrote me about it, and I’ve heard more since I
got here. I know how you love Pete.”

Linda folded her arms on her breast and leaned forward till her elbows
rested on her knees. Helen saw a wave of emotion shake her whole body
as she straightened up and faced her with eyes that seemed melting in
grief. “Honey,” she said, “folks said when de law come en give we all
freedom dat de good day was at hand. It was ter be a time er plenty en
joy fer black folks; but, honey, never while I was er slave did I had
ter suffer what I’m goin’ thoo now. In de old time marster looked after
us; de lash never was laid on de back er one o’ his niggers. No white
pusson never dared to hit one of us, en yit now in dis day er glorious
freedom, er whole gang of um come in de dead er night en tied my child
wid ropes en tuck turn about lashin’ ‘im. Honey, sometimes I think dey
ain’t no Gawd fer a pusson wid one single streak er black blood in ‘im.
Ef dey is er Gawd fer sech es me, why do He let me pass thoo what been
put on me? I heard dat boy’s cryin’ half er mile, honey, en stood in de
flo’ er my house en couldn’t move, listenin’ en listenin’ ter his
screams en dat lash failin’ on ‘im. Den dey let ‘im loose en he come
runnin’ erlong de street ter find me--ter find his mammy, honey--his
mammy who couldn’t do nothin’ fer ‘im. En dar right at my feet he fell
over in er faint. I thought he was dead en never would open his eyes
ergin.”

“And I wasn’t here to comfort you!” Helen said, in a tearful tone of
self-reproach. “You were alone through it all.”

“No, I wasn’t, honey. Thank de Lawd, dar is some er de right kind er
white folks left. Marse Carson Dwight heard it all fum his room en come
over. He raised Pete up en tuck ‘im in an’ laid ‘im on de baid. He tuck ‘im
up in his arms, honey, young marster did, en set to work to bring ‘im to.
An’ after de po’ boy was easy en ersleep en de doctor gone off, Marse
Carson come ter me en tuck my hand. ‘Mam’ Lindy,’ he said, es pale as ef
he’d been sick er long time, ‘dis night’s work has give me some’n’ ter
think erbout. De best white men in de Souf won’t stan’ fer dis. Sech
things cayn’t go on forever. Ef I go to de Legislature I’ll see dat dey
gwine ter pass laws ter pertect you faithful old folks.”

“Carson said that?” Helen’s voice was husky, her glance averted.

“Yes, en he was dead in earnest, honey; he wasn’t des talkin’ ter
comfort me. I know, kase I done hear suppen else dat happened since
den.”

“What was that?” Helen asked.

“Why, dey say dat Marse Carson went straight down-town en tried ter find
somebody dat was in de mob. He heard Dan Willis was among ‘em--you know
who he is, honey. He’s er bad, desp’rate moonshine man. Well, Marse
Carson spoke his mind about ‘im, an’ dared ‘im out in de open. Unc’
Lewis said Mr. Garner an’ all Marse Carson’s friends tried to stop
 ‘im, kase it would go dead agin ‘im in his ‘lection, but Marse Carson
wouldn’t take back er word, en was so mad he couldn’t hold in. En dat
another hard thing to bear, honey,” Linda went on. “Des think, Marse
Carson cayn’t even try to help er po’ old woman lak me widout ruinin’
his own chances.”

“Is it as serious as that?” Helen asked, with deep concern.

“Yes, honey, he never kin win his race lessen he act diffunt. Dey say
dat man Wiggin is laughin’ fit ter kill hisse’f over de way he got de
upper hold. I told Marse Carson des t’other day he mustn’t do dat way,
but he laughed in my face in de sweet way he always did have. ‘Ef dey
vote ergin me fer dat, Mam’ Lindy,’ he say, ‘deir votes won’t be worth
much.’ Marse Carson is sho got high principle, honey. His pa think he
ain’t worth much, but _he’s_ all right. You mark my words, he’s gwine
ter make a gre’t big man--he gwine ter do dat kase he’s got er tender
heart in ‘im, an ain’t afeard of anything dat walk on de yeath. He may
lose dis one ‘lection, but he’ll not stop. I know young white men, thoo
en thoo, en I never y it seen er better one.”

[Illustration: 0067]

“Have you--have you seen him recently?” Helen asked, surprised at the
catch in her voice.

“Oh yes, honey,” the old woman said, plaintively; “seem lak he know how
I’m sufferin’, en he been comin’ over often en talkin’ ter me’n Lewis.
Seem lak he’s so sad, honey, here late. Ain’t you seed ‘im yit, honey?”

“No, he hasn’t been over,” Helen replied, rather awkwardly. “He will
come, though; he and I are good friends.”

“You gwine find ‘im changed er lot, honey,” the old woman said. “Do you
know, I don’t believe he ever got over Marse Albert’s death. He warn’t
ter blame ‘bout dat, honey, dough I do believe he feel dat way. Seem lak
we never kin fetch up Marse Albert’s name widout Marse Carson git sad.
One night here late when Lewis was talkin’ ‘bout when yo’ pa went off
en fetched young master home, Marse Carson hung his head en say: ‘Mam’
Lindy, I wish dat time could be go over ergin. I would act so diffunt.
I never seed whar all dem scrapes was leadin’ to. But it learned me a
lesson, Mam’ Lindy.’”

“That’s it,” Helen said, bitterly, as if to herself; “he survived. He
has profited by the calamity, but my poor, dear brother--” She went no
further, for her voice broke and her eyes filled with tears.

“Don’t think erbout dat, honey,” old Linda said, consolingly. “You got
yo’ one great trouble lak I has, but you is at home wid we all now, en
you must not be sad.”

“I don’t intend to be, Mammy,” Helen said, wiping her eyes on her
handkerchief. “We are going to try to do something to keep Pete out of
trouble. Father thinks it is his associates that are to blame. We must
try in future to keep him away from bad company.”

“Dat what I want ter do, honey,” the old woman said, “en ef I des had
somewhar ter send ‘im so he could be away fum dis town I’d be powerful
glad.”



CHAPTER VII.

[Illustration: 9070]

Helen anticipated, the young ladies of the town, her most intimate
friends and former school-mates, came in a body that afternoon to see
her. The reception formally opened in the great parlor down-stairs,
but it was not many minutes before they all found themselves in Helen’s
chamber fluttering about and chattering like doves in their spring
plumage.

“There’s no use putting it off longer,” Ida Tarpley, Helen’s cousin,
laughed; “they are all bent on seeing your _things_, and they will
simply spend the night here if you don’t get them out.”

“Oh, I think that would look so vain and silly in me,” Helen protested,
her color rising. “I don’t like to exhibit my wardrobe as if I were a
dressmaker, or a society woman who is hard up and trying to dispose of
them.”

“The idea of your not doing it, dear,” Mary King, a little blonde, said,
“when not one of us has seen a decent dress or hat since the summer
visitors went away last fall.”

“Leave it to me,” Ida Tarpley laughed. “You girls get off the bed. I
want something to lay them on. If it were only evening I’d make her
put on that gown she wore at the Governor’s ball. You remember what the
_Constitution’s_ society reporter said about it. He said it was a poet’s
dream. If I ever get one it will be _in_ a dream. You must really wear
it to your dance, Helen.”

“_My_ dance?” Helen said, in surprise.

“Oh, I hope I’m not telling secrets,” Ida said; “but I met Keith Gordon
and Bob Smith in town as I came on. They had a list and were taking
subscriptions from all the young men. They had already enough put down
to buy a house and lot. They say they are going to give you the swellest
dance that was eyer heard of. Bob said that it simply had to surpass
anything you’d been to in Augusta or Atlanta. Expense is not to be
considered. The finest band in Chattanooga has already been engaged;
the refreshments are to be brought from there by a caterer and a dozen
expert waiters. A carload of flowers have been ordered. It is to open
with a grand march.” Ida swung her hands and body comically to and fro
as if in the cake walk, and bowed low. “Nobody is to be allowed to dance
with you who hasn’t an evening suit on, and _then_ only once. They are
all crazy about you, Helen. I never could understand it. I’ve tried to
copy the look you have in the eyes hundreds of times, but it won’t have
the slightest effect.”

“There’s only one explanation of it,” Miss Wimberley, another girl,
remarked; “it is simply because she really likes them all.”

“Well, I really do, as for that,” Helen said; “and I think it is awfully
nice of them to give me such a dance. It’s enough to turn a girl’s head.
Well, if Ida really is going to pull out my things, I’ll go down-stairs
and make you a lemonade.”

Later in the afternoon the young ladies had all gone except Ida Tarpley,
who lingered with Helen on the veranda.

“I’m glad the girls didn’t have the bad taste to embarrass you by
questioning you about Mr. Sanders,” Ida said. “Of course, it is all over
town. Uncle spoke of the possibility of it to some one and that put
it afloat. I’m anxious to see him, Helen. I know he must be
nice--everything, in fact, that a man ought to be, for you always had
high ideals.”

Helen flushed almost angrily, and she drew herself erect and stood quite
rigid, looking at her cousin.

“Ida,” she said, “I don’t like what you have just said.”

“Oh, dearest, I’m sorry, but I thought--”

“That’s the trouble about a small town,” Helen went on. “People take
such liberties with you, and about the most delicate things. Down in
Augusta my friends never would think of saying I was actually engaged
to a man till it was announced. But here at home it is in every mouth
before they have even seen the gentleman in question.”

“But you really have been receiving constant attentions from Mr. Sanders
for more than a year, haven’t you, dear?” Miss Tarpley asked, blandly.

“Yes, but what of that?” Helen retorted. “He and I are splendid friends.
He has been very kind and thoughtful of my comfort, and I like him. He
is noble, sincere, and good. He extended the sweetest sympathy to me
when I went down there under my great grief, and I never can forget it,
but, nevertheless, Ida, I have not promised to marry him.”

“Oh, I see, it is not actually settled yet,” Miss Tarpley said. “Well,
I’m glad. I’m very, very glad.”

“You are glad?” Helen said, wonderingly.

“Yes, I am. I’m glad because I don’t want you to go away off down there
and marry a stranger to us. I really hope something will break it up. I
know Mr. Sanders must be awfully fond of you--any man would be who had
a ghost of a chance of winning you--and I know your aunt has been doing
all in her power to bring the match about--but I understand you, dear,
and I am afraid you would not be happy.”

“Why do you say that so--so positively?” Helen asked, coldly.

“Because,” Ida said, impulsively, “I don’t believe a girl of your
disposition ever could love in the right way more than once, and--”

“And what?” Helen demanded, her proud lips compressed, her eyes flashing
defiantly.

“Well, I may be wrong, dear,” Miss Tarpley went on, “but if you were not
actually in love before you went to Augusta, you were very near it.”

“How absurd!” Helen exclaimed, with a little angry toss of her head.

“Do you remember the night our set drove out to the Henderson party? I
went with Mr. Garner and Carson Dwight took you? Oh, Helen, I met you
and Carson walking together in the moonlight that evening under the
apple-trees in the old meadow, and if ever a pair of human beings really
loved each other you two must have done so that night. I saw it in his
happy, triumphant face, and in the fact, Helen dear, that you allowed
him to be with you so much, when you knew other admirers were waiting to
see you.”

Helen looked down; her face was clouded over, her proud lip twitched.

“Ida,” she said, tremulously, “I don’t want you ever again to mention
Carson Dwight’s name to me in--in that way. You have no right to.”

“Yes, I have,” Ida protested, firmly. “I have the right as a loyal
friend to the best, most suffering, and noblest young man I ever knew. I
read you like a book, dear. You really cared very, very much for Carson
once, but after your great loss you never thought the same of him
again.”

“No, nor I never shall,” Helen said, firmly. “I admire him and shall
treat him as a good friend when we meet, but that will be the end of it.
Whether I cared for him or not, as girls care for young men, is neither
here nor there. It is over with.”

“And all simply because he was a little wild at the time your poor
brother--”

“Stop!” Helen said; “don’t argue the matter. I can only now associate
him with the darkest hour of my life. I’m tempted to tell you something,
Ida,” and Helen bowed her head for a moment, and then went on in an
unsteady voice. “When my poor brother’s trunk was brought home, it was
my duty to put the things it contained in order. There I found some
letters to him, and one dated only two days before Albert’s death was
from--from Carson Dwight. I read only a portion of it, but it revealed a
page in poor Albert’s life that I had never read--never dreamed could be
possible.”

“But Carson,” Ida Tarpley exclaimed; “what did _he_ have to do with
that?”

Helen swallowed the lump in her throat, and with a cold, steely gleam in
her eyes she said, bitterly: “He could have held out his hand with the
superior strength you think he has and drawn the poor boy back from the
brink, but he didn’t. The words he wrote about it were light, flippant,
and heartless. He treated the whole awful situation as a joke, as if--as
if he _himself_ were familiar with such unmentionable things.”

“Ah, I begin to understand it all now!” Ida sighed. “That letter,
coupled with Cousin Albert’s awful death, was such a terrible shock that
you cannot feel the same towards Carson. But oh, Helen, you would pity
him if you knew him now as I do. He has never altered in his feelings
towards you. In fact, it seems to me that he loves you even more deeply
than ever. And, dear, if you had seen his patient efforts to make a
better man of himself you’d not harbor such thoughts against him. You
will understand Carson some day, but it may then be too late. I don’t
believe a woman ever has a real sweetheart but once. You may marry the
man your aunt wants you to take, but your heart will some day turn back
to the other. You will remember, too, and bitterly, that you condemned
him for a youthful fault which you ought to have pardoned.”

“Do you think so, Ida?” Helen asked, her soft, brown eyes averted.

“Yes, and you’ll remember, too, that while his other friends were trying
to help him stick to his resolutions you turned against him. He’s going
to make a great and good man, Helen. I’ve known that for some time. He
is having his troubles, but even they will help him to be stronger
in the end. His greatest trial is going on right now, while folks are
saying that you are going to marry another man. Pshaw! you may say what
you like about Mr. Sanders’ good qualities, but I know I shall not
like him,” concluded Ida, with a smile, as she turned to go. “He is a
usurper, and I’m dead against him.”

Helen remained on the veranda after her cousin had left till the
twilight gathered about her. She was about to go in, as it was near
tea-time, when she heard a grumbling voice down the street and saw old
Uncle Lewis returning from town, driving his son, the troublesome Peter,
before him.

“You go right thoo dat gate on back ter dat house, you black imp er
‘straction!” he thundered, “er I’ll tek er boa’d en lambast de life
out’n you. Here it is night-time en you ain’t chop no stove-wood fer
de big house kitchen, en been lyin’ roun’ dem cotton wagons raisin’ mo’
rows wid dem mountain white men.”

“What’s the matter, Uncle Lewis?” Helen asked, as the boy sulkily passed
round the corner of the house and the old man, out of breath, paused at
the steps.

“Oh, Missy, you don’t know what me’n’ Mam’ Lindy got to bear up under. We
don’t know how ter manage dat boy. Lindy right now is out’n ‘er head
wid worry. Buck Black come tol’ us ‘bout an hour ago dat Pete en some mo’
triflin’ niggers was down at de warehouse sassin’ some mountain white
men. Buck heard Pete say dat Johnson en his gang couldn’t whip him ergin
dout gittin’ in trouble, en dey was in er inch of er big row when de
marshal busted it up. Buck ain’t no fool, fer a black man, Missy, en
he told me’n’ Lindy ef we don’t manage ter git Pete out’n de company he
keeps dat dem white men will sho string ‘im up.”

“Yes, something has to be done, that’s plain,” said Helen,
sympathetically. “I know Mam’ Linda must be worrying, and I’ll go down
to see her this evening. It doesn’t seem to me that a town like this is
best for a boy like Pete. I’ll speak to father about it, Uncle Lewis. It
won’t do to have Mammy bothered like this. It will kill her. She is not
strong enough to stand it.”

“Oh, Missy,” the old man said, “I wish you would try ter do some’n’.
Me’n’ Lindy is sho at de end er our rope.”

“Well, I promise you I’ll do all I can, Uncle Lewis,” Helen said, and,
much relieved, the old negro trudged homeward.



CHAPTER VIII.

[Illustration: 9078]

LOCAL institution in which “the gang” was more or less interested was
known as the “Darley Club.” It occupied the entire upper floor of
a considerable building on the main street, and had been organized,
primarily, by the older married men of the town to give the young men of
the best families a better meeting-place than the bar-rooms and offices
of the hotels. At first the older men looked in occasionally to see that
the rather rigid rules of the institution were being kept. But men of
middle-age and past, who have comfortable firesides, are not fond of
the noisy gatherings of their original prototypes, and the Club was
soon left to the management of the permanent president, Mr. Wade Tingle,
editor of the _Headlight_.

Wade endeavored, to the best of his genial nature, to enforce all rules,
collect all dues, and impose all fines, but he wasn’t really the man for
the place. He accepted what cash was handed to him, trying to remember
the names of the payers and amounts as he wrote his editorials,
political notes, and social gossip, ending up at the end of each month
with no money at all to pay the rent or the wages of the negro factotum.
However, there was always an outlet from this embarrassment, for
Wade had only to draw a long face as he met some of the well-to-do
stay-at-homes and say that “club expenses were somehow running short,”
 and without question the shortage was made up. Wade had tried to be
officially stern, too, on occasion. Once when Keith Gordon had violated
what Wade termed club discipline, not to say club etiquette, Wade
threatened to be severe. But it happened to be a point upon which there
was a division of opinion, and Keith also belonged to “the gang.” It had
happened this way: Keith had a certain corner in the Club reading-room
where he was wont to write his letters of an evening, and coming down
after supper one night he discovered that the attendant had locked the
door and gone off to supper. Keith was justly angry. He stood at the
door for a few minutes, and then, being something of an athlete, he
stepped back, made a run the width of the sidewalk, and broke the lock,
left the door hanging on a single hinge, and went up and calmly wrote
his letters. As has been intimated, Wade took a serious view of this
violation of club dignity, his main contention being that Keith ought
to have the lock repaired and the hinge replaced. However, Keith just
as firmly stood on his rights, his contention being that a member of the
Club in good standing could not be withheld from his rights by the mere
carelessness of a negro or a twenty-five cent cast-iron lock. So it was
that, in commemoration of the incident, the door remained without the
lock and hinge for many a day.

It was in this building that the grand ball in honor of Helen Warren’s
home-coming was to be given. During the entire preceding day Bob Smith
and Keith Gordon worked like happy slaves. The floor had been roughened
by roller-skating, and a carpenter with plane and sand-paper was
smoothing it, Bob giving it its finishing touch by whittling sperm
candles over it and rubbing in the shavings with the soles of his shoes
as he pirouetted about, his right arm curved around an imaginary waist.
The billiard-tables were pushed back against the wall, the ladies’
dressing-rooms thoroughly scoured and put in order, and the lamps
cleaned and trimmed. Keith had brought down from his home some
fine oil-paintings, and these were hung appropriately. But Keith’s
_chef-d’ouvre_ of arrangement and decoration was a happy inspiration,
and he was enjoining it on the initiated ones to keep it as a surprise
for Helen. He had once heard her say that her favorite flower was the
wild daisy, and as they were now in bloom, and grew in profusion in the
fields around the town, Keith had ordered several wagon-loads of them
gathered, and now the walls of the ballroom were fairly covered with
them. Graceful festoons of the flowers hung from the ceiling, draped
the doorways, and rose in beautiful mounds on the white-clothed
refreshment-tables.

As a special favor he admitted Carson Dwight in at the carefully guarded
door at dusk on the evening of the ball, first drawing down the blinds
and lighting the candles and lamps that his chum might have the full
benefit of the scene as it would strike Helen on her arrival.

“Isn’t that simply superb?” he asked. “Do you reckon they gave her
anything prettier while she was down there? I don’t believe it, Carson.
I think this is the dandiest room a girl ever tripped a toe in.”

“Yes, it’s all right,” Dwight said, admiringly. “It is really great, and
she will appreciate it keenly. She is that way.”

“I think so myself,” said Keith. “I’ve been nervous all day, though, old
man. I’ve been watching every train.”

“Afraid the band wouldn’t come?” asked Dwight.

“No, those coons can be depended on; they will be down in full force
with the best figure-caller in the South. No, I was afraid, though, that
Helen might have written to that Augusta chump, and that he would come
up. That certainly would give the thing cold feet.”

“Ah!” Carson exclaimed; “I see.”

“The dear girl wouldn’t rub it in on us to that extent, old man,” Keith
said. “I know it now. She really may be engaged to him, and she may not,
but she knows how we feel, and it’s bully of her not to invite him. It
would really have been a wet blanket to the whole business. We’d have
to treat him decently, as a visitor, you know, but I’d rather have taken
castor-oil for my part of it. All the gang except you were over to see
her Sunday afternoon; why didn’t you go?”

“Oh, you know I live only next door, with an open gate between, and
I thought I’d better give my place to you fellows who don’t have my
opportunity. I’ve already seen her. In fact, she ran over to see my
mother yesterday.”

The ball was in full swing when Carson arrived that night. The street in
front of the club was crowded with carriages, buggies, and livery-stable
“hacks.” The introductory grand march was in progress, and when Carson
went to the improvised dressing-room in charge of Skelt to check his
hat he found Garner standing before a mirror tugging at the lapels of an
evening coat and trying to adjust a necktie which kept climbing higher
than it should. Darley was just at the point in its post-bellum struggle
where evening dress for men was a thing more of the luxurious past than
the stern present, and Dwight readily saw that his partner had persuaded
himself for once to don borrowed plumage.

“What’s the matter?” Carson asked, as he thrust his hat-check into the
pocket of his immaculate white waistcoat.

“Oh, the damn thing don’t fit!” said Garner, in high disgust. “I know
now that my father has a hump, or did have when he ordered this suit for
his wedding-trip. The tailor who designed this _costeem de swaray_ tried
to help him out, but he has transferred the hump to me by other means
than heredity. Look how the back of it sticks out from my neck!”

“That’s because you twist your body to see it in the glass,” said
Carson, consolingly. “It’s not so bad when you stand straight.”

“It’s a case of not seeing others as they see you, eh?” Garner said,
better satisfied. “I haven’t taken a chew of tobacco to-night. I
wouldn’t splotch this shirt for the world. I couldn’t spit farther than
an inch with this collar on, anyway. She’s holding the reel for me. I
can’t dance anything else, but I can go through that pretty well if I
get at the end and watch the others. You’d better hurry up and see
her card. There is a swell gang coming on the ten-o’clock train from
Atlanta, and they all know her.”

It was during the interval following the third number on the programme
that Carson met Helen promenading with Keith and offered her his arm.

“Oh, isn’t it simply superb?” she said, when Keith had bowed
himself away and they had joined the other strollers round the big,
flower-perfumed room. “Carson, really I actually cried for joy just now
in the dressing-room. I declare I never want to go away from home again.
I’ll never have such devoted friends as these.”

“It is nice of you to look at it that way, Helen,” he said, “after the
gay time you have had in Augusta and other cities.”

“At least it is honest and sincere here at home,” she answered,
“while down there it is--well, full of strife, social competition, and
jealousies. I really; got homesick and simply had to come back.”

“We are simply delighted to have you again,” he said, almost fearing to
look upon her, for in her exquisite evening gown and the proud poise of
her head she seemed more beautiful and imperious, and farther removed
from his hopes than he had thought her even in the darkest hours of her
first refusal to condone his fatal offence.

She was looking straight into his eyes with a thoughtful, questioning
stare, when she said: “They all seem the same, Carson, except you. Bob
Smith, Keith, and even Mr. Garner are just like I left them, but somehow
you are altered. You look so much older, so much more serious. Is it
politics that is weighing you down--making you worry?”

“Well,” he laughed, evasively, “politics is not exactly the easiest game
in the world, and the bare fear that I may not succeed, after all, is
enough to make a fellow of my temperament worry. It seems to be my last
throw of the dice, Helen. My father will lose all faith in me if this
does not go through.”

“Yes, I know it is serious,” the girl said. “Keith and Mr. Garner
have talked to me about it. They say they have never seen you so much
absorbed in anything before. You really must win, Carson--you simply
must!”

“But this is no time to talk over sordid politics,” he said, with a
smile. “This is your party and it must be made delightful.”

“Oh, I have my worries, too,” she said, gravely. “I felt a queer twinge
of conscience to-night when all the servants came to see me before I
left home. They were all so happy except Mam’ Linda. She tried to act
like the rest, but, Carson, her trouble about that worthless boy is
actually killing the dear old woman. She has her pride, too, and it
has been wounded to the quick. She was always proud of the fact that my
father never had whipped one of his slaves. I’ve heard her boast of it a
hundred times; and now that she no longer belongs to us in reality, and
her only child was beaten so cruelly, she simply can’t get over it.”

“I knew she felt that way,” Dwight said, sympathetically.

Helen’s hand tightened unconsciously on his arm as they were passing
by the corner containing the orchestra. “Do you know,” she said, “Mam’
Linda told me that of all the people who had been to see her since
then that you had been the kindest, most thoughtful, the most helpful?
Carson, that was very, very sweet of you.”

“I was only electioneering,” he said, with a flush. “I was after Uncle
Lewis’s vote and Mam’ Linda’s influence.”

“No, you were not,” Helen declared. “It was pure, unadulterated
unselfishness on your part. You were sorry for her and for Uncle Lewis
and even Pete, who certainly needed punishment of some sort for the way
he’s been conducting himself. Yes, it was only your good heart. I know
that, for several persons have told me you have even gone so far as to
let the affair hamper you in your political career. Oh, I know all about
what your opponent is saying, and I know mountain people well enough to
know you have given him a powerful weapon. They are terribly wrought
up over the race troubles, and it would be easy enough for them to
misunderstand your exact feeling. Oh, Carson, you must not let even Mam’
Linda’s trouble stand between you and your high aim. Taking up her cause
will perhaps not do a bit of good, for no one person can solve so vital
a problem as that is, and your agitation of it may wreck your last
hope.”

“I’ve promised to keep my mouth shut, if Dan Willis and men of his
sort will not stay right at my heels with their threats. My campaign
managers--the gang, who hold a daily caucus at the den and lay down
my rules of conduct--have exacted that much from me on the penalty of
letting me go by the board if I disobey.”

“The dear boys!” Helen exclaimed. “I like every one of them, they are so
loyal to you. The close friendship of you all for one another is simply
beautiful.”

“Coming back to the inevitable Pete,” Dwight remarked, a few minutes
later. “I’ve been watching him since he was whipped, and I know he is in
great danger of getting even more deeply into trouble. He has a stupidly
resentful disposition, as many of his race have, and he is going around
making surly threats about Johnson, Wiggin, and others. If he keeps that
up and they get hold of it he will certainly get into serious trouble.”

“My father was speaking of that to-night,” Helen said. “And he was
thinking if there were any way of getting the boy away from his idle
town associates that it might prevent trouble and ease Mam’ Linda’s
mind.”

“I was thinking of that the other day when I saw Uncle Lewis searching
for him among the idle negroes,” said Carson; “and I have an idea.”

“Oh, you have? What is it?” Helen asked, eagerly.

“Why, Pete always has seemed to like me and take my advice, and as there
is, plenty of work on my farm for such a hand as he is I could give him
a good place and wages over there where he’d be practically removed from
his present associates.”

“Splendid, splendid!” Helen cried; “and will you do it?”

“Why, certainly, and right away,” Carson answered. “If you will have
Mam’ Linda send him down to me in the morning I’ll give him some
instructions and a good sharp talk, and I’ll make my overseer at the
farm put him to work.”

“Oh, it is splendid!” Helen declared. “It will be such good news for
Mam’ Linda. She’d rather have him work for you than any one in the
world.”

“There comes Wade to claim his dance,” Dwight said, suddenly; “and I
must be off.”

“Where are you going?” she asked, almost regretfully.

“To the office to work on political business--dozens and dozens of
letters to answer. Then I’m coming back for my waltz with you. I
sha’n’t fail.” And as he put on his hat and threaded his way through the
whirling mass of dancers down to the street, he recalled with something
of a shock that not once in their talk had he even _thought_ of his
rival. He slowed up in the darkness and leaned against a wall. There
was a strange sinking of his heart as he faced the grim reality that
stretched out drearily before him. She was, no doubt, to be the wife of
another man. He had lost her. She was not for him, though there in
the glare of the ballroom, amid the sensuous strains of music, in the
perfume of the flowers dying in her service, she had seemed as close to
him in heart, soul, and sympathy as the night he and she--

He had reached his office, a little one-story brick building in the row
of lawyers’ offices on the side street leading from the post-office to
the courthouse, and he unlocked the door and went in and lighted the
little murky lamp on his desk and pulled down a package of unanswered
letters.

Yes, he must work--work with that awful pain in his breast, the dry,
tightening sensation in his throat, the maddening vision of her dazzling
beauty and grace and sweetness before him. He dipped his pen, drew the
paper towards him, and began to write: “My dear Sir,--In receiving the
cordial assurances of your support in the campaign before me, I desire
to thank you most heartily and to--”

He laid the pen down and leaned back. “I can’t do it, at least not
to-night,” he said. “Not while she is there looking like that and with
my waltz to come, and yet it must be done. I’ve lost her, and I am only
making it harder to bear. Yes, I must work--work!”

The pen went into the ink again. On the still night air came the strains
of music, the mellow, sing-song voice of the figure-caller in the
“square” dance, the whir and patter of many feet.



CHAPTER IX.

[Illustration: 9089]

EAVING Carson Dwight, Wade Tingle, and Bob Smith chatting about the ball
in the den the next morning, Garner went to the office, bit off a chew
of tobacco, and plunged into work with a vigor which indicated that
he was almost ashamed of his departure from his beaten track into the
unusual fields of social gayety. He still wore the upright collar and
white necktie of the night before, but the hitherto carefully guarded
expanse of shirt-front was already in imminent danger of losing all that
had once recommended it as a presentable garment.

With his small hand well spread over the page of the book he was
consulting, he had become oblivious to his surroundings when suddenly a
man stood in the doorway. He was tall and gaunt and wore a broad-brimmed
hat, a cotton checked shirt, jean trousers supported by a raw-hide belt,
and a pair of tall boots which, as he stood fiercely eying Garner, he
angrily lashed with his riding-whip. It was Dan Willis. His face was
slightly flushed from drink, and his eyes had the glare even his best
friends had learned to tear and tried to avoid.

“Whar’s that that dude pardner o’ yourn?” he asked.

“Oh, you mean Dwight!” Garner had had too much experience in the
handling of men to change countenance over any sudden turn of affairs,
either for or against his interests, and he had, also, acquired
admirable skill in most effective temporizing. “Why, let me see, Dan,”
 he went on, after he had paused for fully a moment, carefully inspected
the lines he was reading, frowned as if not quite satisfied therewith,
and then slowly turned down a leaf. “Let me think. Oh, you want to see
Carson! Sit down; take a chair.”

“I don’t want to set down!” Willis thundered. “I want to see that damned
dude, and I want to see him right off.”

“Oh, that’s it!” said Garner. “You are in a _hurry!_” And then, from the
rigid setting of his jaw, it was plain that the lawyer had decided on
the best mode of handling the specimen glowering down upon him. “Oh yes,
I remember now, Willis, that you were loaded up a few nights ago looking
for that chap. Now, advice is cheap--that is, the sort I’m going to give
you. Under ordinary circumstances I’d charge a fee for it. My advice to
you is to straddle that horse of yours and get out of this town. You are
looking for trouble--great, big, far-reaching trouble.”

“You hit the nail that pop, Bill Garner,” the mountaineer snorted. “I’m
expectin’ to git trouble, or _give_ trouble, an’ I hain’t goin’ to lose
time nuther. This settlement was due several days ago, but got put off.”

“Look here, Willis”--Garner stood up facing him--“you may not be a fool,
but you are acting powerfully like one. You are letting that measly
little candidate for the legislature make a cat’s-paw of you. That’s
what you’re doing. He knows, if he can get up a shooting-scrap between
you and my pardner over that negro-whipping business, it will turn a few
mountain votes his way. If you get shot, Wiggin will have more charges
to make; and if Carson was to get the worst of it, the boy would be
clean out of the skunk’s way. You and Wiggin are both in bad business.”

“Well, that’s _my_ lookout!” the mountaineer growled, beside himself in
rage. “Carson Dwight said I was with Johnson the night the gang came in
and whipped them coons, and--”

“Well, you _were_,” said Garner, as suddenly as if he were browbeating a
witness. “What’s the use to lie about it?”

“Lie--you say I--?”

“I said I didn’t _want_ you to lie about it,” said Garner, calmly. “I
know half the mob, and respect most of them. I have an idea that some of
my own kinsfolk was along that night. They thought they were doing right
and acting in the best interests of the community. That’s neither here
nor there. The men that were licked were negroes, and most of them bad
ones at that, but when a big, strapping man of your stamp comes with
blood in his eye and a hunk of metal on his hip, looking for the son
of an old Confederate soldier, who is a Democratic candidate for the
legislature, and a good all-round white citizen, why, I say that is the
time to call a halt, and to call it out loud! I happen to know a few of
the grand jury, and if there is trouble of a serious nature in this town
to-day, I can personally testify to enough deliberation in your voice
and eye this morning to jerk your neck out of joint.”

“What the hell do I care for you or your law?” Dan Willis snorted. “It’s
what that damned dude said about _me_ that he’s got to swallow, and if
he’s in this town I’ll find him. A fellow told me if he wasn’t here he’d
be in Keith Gordon’s room. I don’t know whar that is, but I kin find
out.” Turning abruptly, Willis strode out into the street again.

“The devil certainly is to pay now,” Garner said, with his deepest frown
as he closed the law-book, thrust it back into its dusty niche in his
bookcase, and put on his hat. “Carson is still up there with those boys,
and that fellow may find him any minute. Carson won’t take back a thing.
He’s as mad about the business as Willis is. I wonder if I can possibly
manage to keep them apart.”

On his way to the den he met Pole Baker standing on the corner of the
street by a load of wood, which Pole had brought in to sell. Hurriedly,
Garner explained the situation, ending by asking the farmer if he could
see any way of getting Willis out of town.

“I couldn’t work him myself,” Baker said, “fer the dern skunk hain’t any
more use fer me than I have fer him, but I reckon I kin put some of his
pals onto the job.”

“Well, go ahead, Pole,” Garner urged. “I’ll run up to the room and try
to detain Carson. For all you do, don’t let Willis come up there.”

Garner found the young men still in the den chatting about the ball and
Carson’s campaign.

Wade Tingle sat at the table with several sheets of paper before him,
upon which, in a big, reporter’s hand, he had been writing a glowing
account of “the greatest social event” in the history of the town.

“I’ve got a corking write-up, Bill,” he said, enthusiastically. “I’ve
just been reading it to the gang. It is immense. Miss Helen sent me a
full memorandum of what the girls wore, and, for a green hand, I think I
have dressed ‘em up all right.”

“The only criticism I made on it, Garner,” spoke up Keith from his bed
in the corner, where he lay fully dressed, “is that Wade has ended all
of Helen’s descriptions by adding, ‘and diamonds.’ I’ll swear I’m
no critic of style in writing, but that eternal ‘and diamonds, and
diamonds, and diamonds,’ at the end of every paragraph, sounds so
monotonous that it gets funny. He even had Miss Sally Ware’s plain black
outfit tipped off with ‘and diamonds.’”

“Well, I look at it this way, Bill,” Wade said, earnestly, as Garner sat
down, “Of course, the girls who had them on would not like to see them
left out, for they are nice things to have, and, on the other hand,
those who were short in that direction would feel sorter out of it.”

“I think if he had just written ‘jewels’ once in awhile,” Keith said,
“it would sound all right, and leave something to the imagination.”

“That might help,” Garner said, his troubled glance on Carson’s rather
grave face; “but see that you don’t write it ‘jewelry.’”

“Well, I’ll accept the amendment,” Wade said, as he began to scratch
his manuscript and rewrite.

Carson Dwight stood up. “Did you leave the office open?” he asked
Garner. “I’ve got to shape up that Holcolm deed and consult the
records.”

“Let it go for a while. I want to look it over first,” Garner said,
rather suddenly. “Sit down. I want to talk to you about the--the race.
You’ve got a ticklish proposition before you, old boy, and I’d like to
see you put it through.”

“Hear, hear!” cried Keith, sitting up on the edge of his bed. “Balls and
what girls wear belong to the regular run of life, but when the chief
of the gang is about to be beaten by a scoundrel who will hesitate at
nothing, it’s time to be wide awake.”

“That’s it,” said Garner, his brow ruffled, his ear open to sounds
without, his uneasy eyes on the group around him. And for several
minutes he held them where they sat, listening to his wise and observant
views of the matter in hand. Suddenly, while he was in the midst of a
remark, a foot-fall sounded on the long passage without. It was heavy,
loud, and striding. Garner paused, rose, went to the bureau, and from
the top drawer took out a revolver he always kept either there or in his
desk at the office. There was a firm whiteness about his lips which was
new to his friends.

“Carson,” he said, “have you got your gun?” and he stood staring at the
doorway.

A shadow fell on the floor; a man entered. It was Pole Baker, and he
looked around him in surprise, his inquiring stare on Garner’s unwonted
mien and revolver.

“Oh, it’s you!” Garner exclaimed. “Ah, I thought--”

“Yes, I come to tell you that--” Baker hesitated, as if uncertain
whether he was betraying confidence, and then catching Garner’s warning
glance, he said, non-committally: “Say, Bill, that feller you and me was
talkin’ about has jest gone home. I reckon you won’t get yore money out
of him to-day.”

“Oh, well, it was a small matter, anyway, Pole,” Garner said, in a tone
of appreciative relief, as he put the revolver back in the drawer and
closed it. “I’ll mention it to him the next time he’s in town.”

“Say, what was the matter with you just now, Garner?” Wade Tingle asked
over the top of his manuscript. “I thought you were going to ask Carson
to fight a duel.”

But with his hand on Dwight’s arm Garner was moving to the door. “Come
on, lot’s get to work,” he said, with a deep breath and a grateful side
glance at Baker.

In front of the office one of Carson’s farm wagons drawn by a pair of
mules was standing. Tom Hill-yer, Carson’s overseer and general manager,
sat on the seat, and behind him stood Pete Warren, ready for his stay in
the country.

“Miss Helen’s made quick work of it, I see,” Carson remarked. “She’s
determined to get that rascal out of temptation.”

“You ought to give him a sharp talking to,” said Garner. “He’s got
entirely too much lip for his own good. Skelt told me this morning that
if Pete doesn’t dry up some of that gang will hang him before he is a
month older. He doesn’t know any better, and means nothing by it, but he
has already made open threats against Johnson and Willis. You understand
those men well enough to know that in such times as these a negro can’t
do that with impunity.”

“I agree with you, and I’ll stop and speak to him now.”

When Carson came in and sat down at his desk, a few moments later,
Garner looked across at him and smiled.

“You certainly let him off easy,” he said. “I could have thrown a
Christmas turkey down the scamp’s throat through that grin of his. I saw
you run your hand in your pocket and knew he was bleeding you.”

“Oh, well, I reckon I’m a failure at that sort of thing,” Dwight
admitted, with a sheepish smile. “I started in by saying that he must
not be so foolhardy as to make open threats against any of those men,
and he said: ‘Looky here, Marse Carson, dem white rapscallions cut
gashes in my body deep enough ter plant corn in, an’ I ain’t gwine ter
love ‘em fer it. _You_ wouldn’t, you know you wouldn’t.’”

“And he had you there,” Garner said, grimly. “Well, they may say what
they please up North about our great problem, but nothing but time and
the good Lord can solve it. You and I can tell that negro to keep his
mouth shut from sunup till sun-down, but I happen to know that he had a
remote white ancestor that was the proudest, hardest fighter that ever
swung a sword. Some of the rampant agitators say that deportation is
the only solution. Huh! if you deported a lot of full-blood blacks along
with such chaps as this one, it would be only a short time before the
yellow ones would have the rest in bondage, and so history would be
going backward instead of forward. I guess it’s going forward right now
if we only had the patience to see it that way.”



CHAPTER X.

[Illustration: 9098]

|NE beautiful morning near the first of June, as Carson was strolling on
the upper veranda at home, waiting for the breakfast-bell, Keith Gordon
came by on his horse on his way to town.

“Heard the news?” he called out, as he reined in at the gate and leaned
on the neck of his mount.

“No; what’s up?” Carson asked, and as he spoke he saw Helen Warren
emerge from the front door of her father’s house and step down among the
dew-wet rose-bushes that bordered the brick walk.

“Horrible enough in all reason,” Keith replied. “There’s been a
cold-blooded murder over near your farm. Abe Johnson, who led that mob,
you know, and his wife were killed by some negro with an axe. The whole
country is up in arms and crazy with excitement.”

“Wait, I’ll come right down,” Carson said, and he disappeared into
the house. And when he came out a moment later he found Helen on the
sidewalk talking to Keith, and from her grave face he knew she had
overheard what had been said.

“Isn’t it awful?” she said to Carson, as he came out at the gate. “Of
course, it is the continuation of the trouble here in town.”

“How do they know a negro did it?” Carson asked, obeying the natural
tendency of a lawyer to get at the facts.

“It seems,” answered Gordon, “that Mrs. Johnson lived barely long enough
after the neighbors got there to say that it was done by a mulatto, as
well as she could see in the darkness. In their fury, the people are
roughly handling every yellow negro in the neighborhood. They say the
darkies are all hiding out in the woods and mountains.”

Then the conversation paused, for old Uncle Lewis, who was at work with
a pair of garden-sheafs behind some rose-bushes close by, uttered a
groan and, wide-eyed and startled, came towards them.

“It’s awful, awful, awful!” they heard him say. “Oh, my Gawd, have
mercy!”

“Why, Uncle Lewis, what’s the matter?” Helen asked, in sudden concern
and wonder over his manner and tone.

“Oh, missy, missy!” he groaned, as he shook his head despondently. “My
boy over dar ‘mongst ‘em right now. Oh, my Lawd! I know what dem white
folks gwine ter say fust thing, kase Pete didn’t had no mo’ sense ‘an
ter--”

“Stop, Lewis!” Carson said, sharply. “Don’t be the first to implicate
your own son in a matter as serious as this is.”

“I ain’t, marster!” the old man groaned, “but I know dem white folks
done it ‘fo’ dis.”

“I’m afraid you are right, Lewis,” Keith said, sympathetically. “He may
be absolutely innocent, but, since his trouble with that mob, Pete has
really talked too much. Well, I must be going.”

As Keith was riding away, old Lewis, muttering softly to himself and
groaning, turned towards the house.

“Where are you going?” Helen called out, as she still lingered beside
Carson.

“I’m gwine try to keep Linda fum hearin’ it right now,” he said. “Ef
Pete git in it, missy, it gwine ter kill yo’ old mammy.”

“I’m afraid it will,” Helen said. “Do what you can, Uncle Lewis. I’ll
be down to see her in a moment.” As the old man tottered away, Helen
looked up and caught Carson’s troubled glance.

“I wish I were a man,” she said.

“Why?” he inquired.

“Because I’d take a strong stand here in the South for law and order
at any cost. We have a good example in this very thing of what our
condition means. Pete may be innocent, and no doubt is, for I don’t
believe he would do a thing like that no matter what the provocation,
and yet he hasn’t any sort of chance to prove it.”

“You are right,” Carson said. “At such a time they would lynch him, if
for nothing else than that he had dared to threaten the murdered man.”

“Poor, poor old mammy!” sighed Helen. “Oh, it is awful to think of what
she will suffer if--if--Carson, do you really think Pete is in actual
danger?” Dwight hesitated for a moment, and then he met her stare
frankly.

“We may as well face the truth and be done with it,” he said. “No negro
will be safe over there now, and Pete, I am sorry to say, least of all.”

“If he is guilty he may run away,” she said, shortsightedly.

“If he’s guilty we don’t _want_ him to get away,” Carson said, firmly.
“But I really don’t think he had anything to do with it.”

Helen sighed. They had stepped back to the open gate, and there they
paused side by side. “How discouraging life is!” she said. “Carson, in
planning to get Pete over there, you and I were acting on our purest,
noblest impulses, and yet the outcome of our efforts may be the gravest
disaster.”

“Yes, it seems that way,” he responded, gloomily; “but we must try to
look on the bright side and hope for the best.”

On parting with Helen, Carson went into the big, old-fashioned
dining-room, and after hurriedly drinking a cup of coffee he went down
to his office. Along the main thoroughfare, on the street comers, and in
front of the stores he found little groups of men with grave faces, all
discussing the tragedy. More than once in passing he heard Pete’s name
mentioned, and for fear of being questioned as to what he thought about
it he hurried on. Garner was an early riser, and he found him at his
desk writing letters.

“Well, from all accounts,” Garner said, “your man Friday seems to be in
a ticklish place over there, innocent or not--that is, if he hasn’t had
the sense to skip out.”

“Somehow, I don’t think Pete is guilty,” Carson said, as he sank into
his big chair. “He’s not that stamp of negro.”

“Well, I haven’t made up my mind on that score,” the other remarked. “Up
to the time he left here he seemed really harmless enough, but we don’t
know what may have taken place since then between him and Johnson. Funny
we didn’t think of the danger of sticking match to tinder like that. I
admit I was in favor of sending him. Miss Helen was so pleased over it,
too. I met her the other day at the post-office and she was telling me,
with absolute delight, that Pete was doing well over there, working like
an old-time cornfield darky, and behaving himself. Now, I suppose, she
will be terribly upset.”

Carson sighed. “We blame the mountain people, in times of excitement,
for acting rashly, and yet right here in this quiet town half the
citizens have already made up their minds that Pete committed the crime.
Think of it, Garner!”

“Well, you see, it’s pretty hard to imagine who _else_ did it,” Garner
declared.

“I don’t agree with you,” disputed Carson, warmly; “when there are half
a dozen negroes who were whipped just as Pete was and who have
horrible characters. There’s Sam Dudlow, the worst negro I ever saw,
an ex-convict, and as full of devilment as an egg is of meat. I saw his
scowling face the next day after he was whipped, and I never want to see
it again. I’d hate to meet him in the dark, unarmed. He wasn’t making
open threats, as Pete was, but I’ll bet he would have handled Johnson
or Willis roughly if he had met either of them alone and got the
advantage.”

“Well, we are not trying the case,” Garner said, dryly; “if we are,
I don’t know where the fees are to come from. Getting money out of an
imaginary case is too much like a lawyer’s first year under the shadow
of his shingle.”



CHAPTER XI.

[Illustration: 9103]

IMMEDIATELY on parting with Carson, Helen went down to Linda’s cottage.
Lewis was leaning over the little, low fence talking to a negro, who
walked on as she drew near.

“Where is Mam’ Linda?” she asked, guardedly. “In de house, missy,” Lewis
answered, pulling off his old slouch hat and wadding it tightly in his
fingers. “She ‘ain’t heard nothin’ yit. Jim was des tellin’ me er whole
string er talk folks was havin’ down on de street; but I told ‘im not
to let ‘er hear it. Oh, missy, it gwine ter kill ‘er. She cayn’t stan’ it.
Des no longer ‘n las’ night she was settin’ in dat do’ talkin’ ‘bout
how happy she was to hear Pete was doin’ so well over on Marse Carson’s
place. She said she never would forget young marster’s kindness to er
old nigger’oman, en now”--the old man spread out his hands in apathetic
gesture before him--“now you see what it come to!”

“But nothing serious has really happened to Pete yet,” Helen had started
to say, when the old man stopped her.

“Hush, honey, she comin’!”

There was a sound of a footstep in the cottage. Linda appeared in
the doorway, and with a clouded face and disturbed manner invited her
mistress into the cottage, placing a chair for the young lady, and
dusting the bottom of it with her apron.

“How do you feel this morning, mammy?” Helen asked, as she sat down.

“I’m well emough in my _body_, honey”--the old woman’s face was
averted--“but dat ain’t all ter a pusson in dis life. Ef des my body
was all I had, I wouldn’t be so bad off, but it’s my _mind_, honey. I’m
worried ‘bout dat boy ergin. I had bad dreams las’ night, en thoo ‘em
all he seemed ter be in some trouble. Den when I woke dis mawnin’ en
tried ter think ‘twas only des er dream, I ain’t satisfied wid de way all
of um act. Lewis look quar out’n de eyes, en everybody dat pass erlong
hatter stop en lead Lewis off down de fence ter talk. I ain’t no fool,
honey! I notice things when dey ain’t natcherl. Den here you come ‘fo’
yo’ breakfust-time. I’ve watched you, chile, sence you was in de cradle
en know every bat er yo’ sweet eyes. Oh, honey”--Linda suddenly sat down
and covered her face with her hands, pressing them firmly in--“honey,”
 she muttered, “suppen’s done gone wrong. I’ve knowed it all dis mawnin’
en I’m actually afeard ter ax youall ter tell me. I--can’t think of but
one thing, I’m so muddled up, en dat is dat my boy done thowed up his
work en gone away off somers wid bad company; en yit, honey”---she
now rocked herself back and forth as if in torture and finished with a
steady stare into Helen’s face--“dat cayn’t be it. Dat ain’t bad ernough
ter mek Lewis act like he is, en--en--well, honey, you might es well
come out wid it. I’ve had trouble, en I kin have mo’.”

Helen sat pale and undecided, unable to formulate any adequate plan of
procedure. At this juncture Lewis leaned in the doorway, and, as his
wife’s back was towards him, he could not see her face.

“I want ter step down-town er minute, Lindy,” he said. “I’ll be right
back. I des want ter go ter de sto’. We’re out er coffee, en--”

Linda suddenly turned her dark, agonized face upon him. “You are not
goin’ till you tell me what is gone wrong wid my child,” she said.
“What de matter wid Pete, Lewis?”

The old man’s surprised glance wavered between his Wife’s face and
Helen’s. “Why, Lindy, who say--” he feebly began.

But she stopped him with a gesture at once impatient and full of fear.
“Tell me!” she said, firmly--“tell me!”

Lewis shambled into the cottage and stood over her, a magnificent
specimen of the manhood of his race. Helen’s eyes were blinded by tears
she could hot restrain.

“‘Tain’t tiothiri’, Lindy, ‘pon my word ‘tain’t nothin’ but dis,” he
said, gently. “Dar’s been trouble over near Marse Carson’s farm, but not
one soul is done say Pete was in it--_not one soul_.”

“What sort o’ trouble?” Linda pursued.

“Er man en his wife was killed over dar in baid last night.”

“What man en woman?” Linda asked, her mouth falling open in suspense,
her thick lip hanging.

“Abe Johnson en his wife.”

Linda leaned forward, her hands locked like things of iron between her
knees. “Who done it, Lewis?--who killed um?” she gasped.

“Nobody knows dat yit, Lindy. Mrs. Johnson lived er little while after
de neighbors come, en she said it was er--she said it was er yaller
nigger, en--en--” He went no further, being at the end of his diplomacy,
and simply stood before her helplessly twisting his hat in his hands.
The room was very still. Helen wondered if her own heart had stopped
beating, so tense and strained was her emotion. Linda sat bent forward
for a moment; they saw her raise her hands to her head, press them there
convulsively, and then she groaned.

“Miz Johnson say it was a yaller nigger!” she moaned. “Oh, my Gawd!”

“Yes, but what dat, ‘oman?” Lewis demanded in assumed sharpness of tone.
“Dar’s oodlin’s en oodlin’s er yaller niggers over dar.”

“Dey ain’t none of ‘em been whipped by de daid man, ‘cepin’ my boy.”
 Linda was now staring straight at him. “None of ‘em never made no
threats but Pete. Dey’ll kill ‘im--” She shuddered and her voice
fell away into a prolonged sob. “You hear me? Dey’ll hang my po’ baby
boy--hang ‘im--_hang_ ‘im!”

Linda suddenly rose to her full height and stood glowering upon them,
her face dark and full of passion and grief combined. She raised her
hands and held them straight upward.

“I want ter curse Gawd!” she cried. “You hear me? I ain’t done nothin’
ter deserve dis here thing I’ve been er patient slave of white folks, en
my mammy an’ daddy was ‘fo’ me. I’ve acted right en done my duty ter dem
what owned me, en--en now I face dis. I hear my onliest child beggin’
fer um to spare ‘im en listen ter ‘im. I hear ‘im beggin’ ter see his
old mammy ‘fo’ dey kill ‘im. I see ‘em drag-gin’ ‘im off wid er rope
roun’--” With a shriek the woman fell face downward on the floor. As if
under the influence of a terrible nightmare, Helen bent over her. She
was insensible. Without a word, Lewis lifted her in his arms and bore
her to a bed in the corner.

“Dis gwine ter kill yo’ old mammy, honey,” he gulped. “She ain’t never
gwine ter git up fum under it--never in dis world.”

But Helen, with womanly presence of mind, had dampened her handkerchief
in some water and was gently stroking the dark face with it. After a
moment Linda drew a deep, lingering breath and opened her eyes.

“Lewis,” was her first thought, “go try en find out all you kin. I’m
gwine lie here en pray Gawd ter be merciful. I said I’d curse ‘Im, but
I won’t. He my mainstay. I _got_ ter trust ‘Im. Ef He fail me I’m lost.
Oh, honey, yo’ old mammy never axed you many favors; stay here wid ‘er en
pray--pray wid all yo’ might ter let dis cup pass. Oh, Gawd, don’t
let ‘em!--_don’t_ let ‘em! De po’ boy didn’t do it. He wouldn’t harm a
kitten. He talked too much, case he was smartin’ under his whippin’, but
dat was all!”

Motioning to Lewis to leave them alone, Helen sat down on the edge of
the bed and put her arm round Linda’s shoulders, but the old woman rose
and went to the door and closed it, then she came back and stood by
Helen in the half-darkness that now filled the room.

“I want you ter git down here by my baid en pray fer me, honey,” she
said. “Seem ter me lak de Lawd always have listen ter white folks mo’
den de black, anyway, en I want you ter beg ‘Im ter spare po’ li’l’
foolish Pete des dis time--_des dis once_.” Kneeling by the bed, Helen
covered her wet face with her hands. Linda knelt beside her, and Helen
prayed aloud, her clear, sweet voice ringing through the still room.



CHAPTER XII.

[Illustration: 9109]

N Carson Dwight’s farm, as the place was not particularly well kept,
the negro hands lived in dismantled log-cabins scattered here and there
about the fields, or in the edge of the woods surrounding the place. In
one of these, at the overseer’s suggestion, Pete had installed himself,
his household effects consisting only of a straw mattress thrown on the
puncheon floor and a few cooking utensils for use over the big fireplace
of the mud-and-log chimney.

Here he was sleeping on the night of the tragedy which had stirred the
country-side into a white heat of race hatred. He had spent the first
half of the night at a negro dance, two miles away, at a farm, and
was much elated by finding that he had attracted marked attention and
feminine favor, which was due to the fact that he was looked upon by the
country blacks as something out of the usual run--a town darky with a
glib tongue and many other accomplishments, and a negro, too, as Pete
assured them, who stood high in the favor of his master, whose name
carried weight wherever it was mentioned.

Shortly after dawn Pete was still sleeping soundly, as was his habit
after a night of pleasure, when his door was rudely shaken.

“Pete Warren! Pete Warren!” a voice called out sharply. “Wake up in dar;
wake up, I tell you!”

There was no response--no sound came from within the cabin except the
deep respiration of the sleeper. The door was shaken again, and then,
as it was not locked, and slightly ajar, the little old negro man on the
outside pushed the shutter open and entered, stalking across the floor
to where Pete lay.

“Wake up here, you fool!” he said, as he bent and shook Pete roughly.
“Wake up, ef you know what good fer you.”

Pete turned over; his snoring broke into little gasps. He opened his
eyes, stared inquiringly for an instant, and then his eyelids began to
close drowsily.

“Looky here!” He was roughly handled again by the black hand on his
shoulder. “You young fool, you dance all night till you cayn’t keep yo’
eyes open in de day-time, but ef you don’t git er move on you en light
out er dis cabin you’ll dance yo’ last jig wid nothin’ under yo’ feet
but wind. It’ll be er game er frog in de middle en you be de frog.”

“What dat?--what dat you givin’ me, Uncle Richmond?” Pete was now awake
and sitting bolt upright on the mattress.

“Huh, I come ter tell you, boy, dat you ‘bout ter git in trouble, en,
fer all I know, de biggest you ever had in all yo’ bo’n days.”

“Huh, you say I is, Uncle Richmond?” Pete exclaimed, incredulously.
“What wrong wid me?”

The old man stepped back till he could look through the cabin door over
the fields upon which the first streaks of daylight were falling in
grayish, misty splotches.

“Pete,” he said, “somebody done slip in Abe Johnson’s house en brain him
en his wife wid er axe.”

“Huh, you don’t say!” Pete stared in sleepy astonishment. “When dat
happen, Uncle Richmond?”

“Las’ night, er towards mawnin’,” the old man said. “Ham Black come
en toi’ me. He say we better all hide out; it gwine ter be de
biggestm ‘cite-ment ever heard of in dese mountains; but, Pete, _you_ de
main one ter look out--you, you!”

“Me! Huh, what you say dat fer, Uncle Rich’?”

“‘Ca’se dey gwine ter look fer you de fus one, Pete. You sho is been
talkin’ too much out yo’ mouf ‘bout dat whippin’ Johnson done give you
en Sam Dudlow, en de res’ um in town dat night. Ham tol’ me ter come
warn you ter hide out, en dat quick. Ham say he know in reason you
didn’t do it, ‘ca’se, he say, yo’ bark is wuss’n yo’ bite. Ham say he
bet ‘twas done by some nigger dat didn’t talk so much. Ham say he mighty
nigh sho Sam Dudlow done it, ‘ca’se Sam met Abe Johnson in de big road
yisterday en Johnson cussed ‘im en lashed at ‘im wid er whip. Ham say
dat nigger come on ter de sto’ lookin’ lak er devil in men’s clothes.
But he didn’t say nothin’ even den. Look lak he was des lyin’ low bidin’
his time.”

Pete got up and began to dress himself with the unimaginative disregard
for danger that is characteristic of his race.

“I bet, myse’f, Sam done it,” he said, reflectively.

“He’s er bad yaller nigger, Uncle Richmond, en ever since Johnson en Dan
Willis larruped we-all, he’s been sulkin’ en growlin’. But es you say,
Uncle Rich’, he didn’t talk out open. He lay low.”

“Dat don’t mek no diffunce, boy,” the old black man went on, earnestly;
“you git out’n here in er hurry en mek er break fer dem woods. Even den
I doubt ef dat gwine ter save yo’ skin, ’ca’se Dan Willis got er pair er
blood-hounds dat kin smell nigger tracks thoo er ten-inch snow.”

“Huh, I say, Uncle Richmond, you don’t know me,” Pete said. “You don’t
know me, ef you ‘low I’m gwine ter run fum dese white men. I ‘ain’t
been nigh dat Abe Johnson’s house--not even cross his line er fence. I
promised Marse Carson Dwight not ter go nigh ‘im, en--en I promised ‘im
ter let up on my gab out here, en I done dat, too. No, suh, Unc’ Rich’,
you git somebody else ter run yo’ foot-race. I’m gwine ter cook my
breakfust lak I always do en den go out ter my sprouts dat hatter be
grubbed. I got my task ter do, rain er shine.”

“Look here, boy,” the old man’s blue-black eyes gleamed as he stared at
Pete. “I know yo’ mammy en daddy, en I like um. Dey good black folks er
de ol’ stripe, en always was friendly ter me, en I don’t like ter see
you in dis mess. I tell you, I’m er old man. I know how white men act
in er case like dis--dey don’t have one bit er pity er reason. Dey will
kill you sho. Dey’d er been here ‘fo’ dis, but dey gittin’ together.
Listen! Hear dem hawns en yellin’?--dat at Wilson’s sto’. Dey will be
here soon. I don’t want ter stan’ here en argue wid you. I ‘ain’t had
nothin’ ter do wid it, but dey would saddle some of it onto me ef dey
found out I come here ter warn you. Hurry up, boy.”

“I ain’t gwine ter do it, Uncle Rich’,” Pete declared, firmly, and with
a grave face. “You are er old man, but you ain’t givin’ me good advice.
Ef I run, dey would say I was guilty sho’, en den, es you say, de dogs
could track me down, anyway.”

The boy’s logic seemed unassailable. The piercing, beadlike eyes of the
old man flickered. “Well,” he said, “I done all I could. I’m gwine move
on. Even now, dey may know I come here at dis early time, en mix me
up in it. Good-bye. I hope fer Mammy Lindy’s sake dat dey will let you
off--I do sho.”

Left alone, Pete went out to the edge of the wood behind his cabin and
gathered up some sticks, leaves, and pieces of bark that had fallen from
the decaying boughs of the trees, and brought them into the cabin and
deposited them on the broad stone hearth. Then he uncovered the coals
he had the night before buried in the ashes, and made a fire for the
preparation of his simple breakfast. He had a sharp sense of animal
hunger, which was due to his long walk to and from the dance and the
fact that he was bodily sound and vigorous. He took as much fresh-ground
corn-meal as his hands would hold from a tow bag in a corner of the room
and put it into a tin pan. To this he added a cup of water and a bit of
salt, stirring it with his hand till it was well mixed. He then deftly
formed it into a pone, and, wrapping it in a clean husk of corn, he
deposited it in the hot ashes, covering it well with live coals. Then he
made his coffee, being careful that the water in the pot did not rise
as high as the point near the spout where the vessel leaked. Next he
unwrapped a strip of “streak o’ lean streak o’ fat” bacon, and with
his pocket-knife sliced some of it into a frying-pan already hot. These
things accomplished, he had only to wait a few minutes for the heat to
do its work, and he stepped back and stood in the doorway.

Far across the meadow, now under the slanting rays of the sun, he saw
old Uncle Richmond, bowlegged and short, waddling along through the dewy
grass and weeds, his head bowed, his long arms swinging at his sides.

“Huh!” was Pete’s slow comment, “so somebody done already settled Abe
Johnson’s hash. I know in reason it was Sam Dudlow, en I reckon ef dat
rampacious gang er white men lays hands on ‘im--ef dey lays hands on
 ‘im--” He was recalling certain details of the recent riots in Atlanta,
and an unconscious shudder passed over him. “Well,” he continued to
reflect, “Abe Johnson was a hard man on black folks, but his wife was
er downright good ‘oman. Ever’body say she was, en she _was_. It was a
gre’t pity ter kill her dat way, but I reckon Sam was afeard she’d
tell it on ‘im en had ter kill um bofe. Yes, Miz Johnson was er good
‘oman--good ter niggers. She fed lots of ‘em behind dat man’s back, en
wished ‘em well; en now, po’, po’ ‘oman!”

Pete went back to the fireplace and with the blade of his knife turned
the curling white and brown strips of bacon, and with the toe of his
coarse, worn shoe pushed fresher coals against his coffee-pot. Then for
a moment he stood gravely looking at the fire.

“Well,” he mused, with a shrugging of his shoulders. “I wish des _one
thing_, I wish Marse Carson was here. He wouldn’t let ‘em tech me. He’s
de best en smartest lawyer in Georgia, en he would tell ‘em what er lot
er fools dey was ter say I done it, when I was right dar’n my baid. My!
dat bacon smell good! I wish I had er few fresh hen aigs ter drap in dat
brown grease. Huh! it make my mouf water.”

There was no table in the room, and so when he had taken up his
breakfast he sat down on the floor and ate it with supreme relish.
Through all the meal, however, in spite of the arguments he was mentally
producing, there were far under the crust of his being certain elemental
promptings towards fear and self-preservation.

“Well, dar’s one thing,” he mused. “Marse Hillyer done laid me out my
task ter do in de old fiel’ en I ain’t ergoin’ to shirk it, ’ca’se Marse
Carson gwine ter ax ‘im, when he go in town, how I’m gittin’ on, en I
wants er good repo’t. No, I ain’t goin’ ter shirk it, ef all de dogs en
white men in de county come yelpin’ on de hunt for Sam Dudlow.”



CHAPTER XIII.

[Illustration: 9116]

IS breakfast over, Pete shouldered his grubbing-hoe, an implement shaped
like an adze, and made his way through the dewy undergrowth of the wood
to an open field an eighth of a mile from his cabin. There he set to
work on what was considered by farmers the hardest labor connected with
the cultivation of the soil. It consisted of partly digging and partly
pulling out by the roots the stout young bushes which infested the
neglected old fields.

Pete was hard at work in the corner of a ten-rail worm-fence, when,
hearing a sound in the wood, which sloped down from a rocky hill
quite near him, he saw a farmer, who lived in the neighborhood, pause
suddenly, even in a startled manner, and stare steadily at him.

“Oh!” Pete heard him exclaim; “why, you are Carson Dwight’s new man,
ain’t you, from Darley?”

“Yes, suh, dat me,” the negro replied. “Mr. Hillyer, de overseer fer
my boss, set me on dis yer job. I want ter clean it up ter de branch by
Sadday.”

“Huh!” The man approached nearer, eying the negro closely from head to
foot, his glance resting longer on Pete’s hip-pocket than anywhere else.
“Huh! I heard down at the store just now that you’d left--throwed up
your job, I mean--an’ gone clean off.”

“No, I hain’t throwed up no job,” the negro said, his slow intelligence
groping for the possible cause of such a report. “I been right here
since my boss sent me over, en I’m gwine stay lessen he sen’ fer me
ter tek care o’ his hosses in town. I reckon you heard er Marse Carson
Dwight’s fine drivin’ stock.” The farmer pulled his long brown beard,
his eyes still on Pete’s face; it was as if he had not caught the boy’s
last remark.

“They said down at the store that you left last night, after--that you
went off last night. A man said he seed you at the nigger blow-out on
Hilton’s farm about one o’clock, and that after it was over you turned
towards--I don’t know--I’m just tellin’ you what they said down at the
store.”

“I _was_ at dat shindig,” Pete said. “I walked fum here dar en back
ergin.”

“Huh, well”--the farmer’s face took on a shrewd expression--“I must
move on. I’m lookin’ fer a brown cow with a white tail, an’ blaze on ‘er
face.” As the man disappeared in the wood, Pete was conscious of a
sense of vague uneasiness which somehow seemed to be a sort of augmented
recurrence of the feeling left by the warning of his early visitor.

“Dat white man certainly act curi’s,” Pete mused, as he leaned on
the handle of his hoe and stared at the spot where the farmer had
disappeared in the woods. “I’ll bet my hat he been thinkin’, lak Uncle
Rich’ said dey would, dat I had er hand in dat bloody business. Po’
Miz Johnson--I reckon dey layin’ ‘er out now. She certney was good. I
remember how she tol’ me at de spring de day I come here ter try en be a
good, steady boy en not mek dem white men pounce on me ergin. Po’ ‘oman!
Seem lak er gre’t pity. I reckon Abe Johnson got what was comin’ ter
 ‘im, but it look lak even Sam Dudlow wouldn’t er struck dat good’oman
down. Maybe he thought he had ter--maybe she cornered ‘im; but I dunno;
he’s er tough nigger--de toughest I ever run ercross, en I’ve seed er
lots um.”

Pete leaned on the fence, wiped his perspiring brow with his bare hand,
snapped his fingers like a whip to rid them of the drops of sweat, and
allowed his thoughts to merge into the darker view of the situation. He
was really not much afraid. Under grave danger, a negro has not so great
a concern over death as a white man, because he is not endowed with
sufficient intelligence to grasp its full import, and yet to-day Pete
was feeling unusual qualms of unrest.

“Dar’s one thing sho,” he finally concluded; “dat white man looked
powerful funny when he seed me, en he said he heard I’d run off. I’ll
bet my hat he’s makin’ a bee-line fer dat sto’ ter tell ‘em whar I is
right now. I wish one thing. I wish Marse Carson was here; he’d sen’ ‘em
 ‘bout deir business mighty quick.”

With a shrug of indecision, the boy set to work. His back happened to be
turned towards the store, barely visible over the swelling ground in the
distance, and so he failed to note the rapid approach across the meadow
of two men till they were close upon him. One was Jeff Braider, the
sheriff of the county, a stalwart man of forty, in high top-boots, a
leather belt holding a-long revolver, a broad-brimmed hat, and coarse
gray suit; his companion was a hastily deputized citizen armed with a
double-barrelled shot-gun.

“Put down that hoe, Pete!” the sheriff commanded, sharply, as the negro
turned with it in his hand. “Put it down, I say! Drop it!”

“What I gwine put it down for?” the negro asked, in characteristic tone.
“Huh! I got ter do my work.”

“Drop it, and don’t begin to give me your jaw,” the sheriff said.
“You’ve got to come on with us. You are under arrest.”

“What you ‘rest me fer?” Pete asked, still doggedly.

“You are accused of killing the Johnsons last night, and if you didn’t
do it, I’m here to say you are in the tightest hole an innocent man ever
got in. King and I are going to do our level best to put you in safety
in the Gilmore jail so you can be tried fairly by law, but we’ve got to
get a move on us. The whole section is up in arms, and we’ll have hard
work dodging ‘em. Come on. I won’t rope you, but if you start to run
we’ll shoot you down like a rabbit, so don’t try that on.”

“My Gawd, Mr. Braider, I didn’t kill dem folks!” Pete said, pleadingly.
“I don’t know a thing about it.”

“Well, whether you did or not, they say you threatened to do it, and
your life won’t be worth a hill of beans if you stay here. The only
thing to do is to get you to the Gilmore jail. We may make it through
the mountains if we are careful, but we’ve got to git horses. We can
borrow some from Jabe Parsons down the road, if he hasn’t gone crazy
like all the rest. Come on.”

“I tell you, Mr. Braider, I don’t know er thing ‘bout dis,” Pete said;
“but it looks ter me lak mebby Sam Dudlow--”

“Don’t make any statement to me,” the officer said, humanely enough in
his rough way. “You are accused of a dirty job, Pete, and it will take
a dang good lawyer to save you from the halter, even if we save you from
this mob; but talkin’ to me won’t do no good. Me’n King here couldn’t
protect you from them men if they once saw you. I tell you, young man,
all hell has broke loose. For twenty miles around no black skin will
be safe, much less yours. Innocent or guilty, you’ve certainly shot off
your mouth. Come on.”

Without further protest, Pete dropped his hoe and went with them.
Doggedly, and with an overpowering and surly sense of injury, he
slouched along between the two men.

A quarter of a mile down a narrow, private road, which was traversed
without meeting any one, they came to Parsons’ farm-house, a one-story
frame building with a porch in front, and a roof that sloped back to
a crude lean-to shed in the rear. A wagon stood under the spreading
branches of a big beech, and near by a bent-tongued harrow, weighted
down by a heap of stones, a chicken-coop, an old beehive, and a
ramshackle buggy. No one was in sight. No living thing stirred about the
place, save the turkeys and ducks and a solitary peacock strutting
about in the front yard, where rows of half-buried stones from the
mountain-sides formed the jagged borders of a gravel walk from the fence
to the steps.

The sheriff drew the gate open and, according to rural etiquette,
hallooed lustily. After a pause the sound of some one moving in the
house reached their ears. A window-curtain was drawn aside, and later a
woman stood in the doorway and advanced wonderingly to the edge of the
porch. She was portly, red of complexion, about middle-aged, and dressed
in checked gingham, the predominating color of which was blue.

“Well, I’ll be switched!” she ejaculated; “what do you-uns want?”

“Want to see Jabe, Mrs. Parsons; is he about?”

“He’s over in his hay-field, or was a minute ago. What you want with
him?”

“We’ve got to borrow some hosses,” the sheriff answered. “We want
three--one fer each. We’re goin’ to try to dodge them blood-thirsty
mobs, Mrs. Parsons, an’ put this feller in jail, whar he’ll be safe.”

“_That_ boy?” The woman came down the steps, rolling her sleeves up.
“Why, that boy didn’t kill them folks. I know that boy, he’s the son of
old Mammy Linda and Uncle Lewis Warren. Now, look here, Jeff Braider,
don’t you and Bill King go and make eternal fools o’ yourselves. That
boy didn’t no more do that nasty work than I did. It ain’t _in_ ‘im. He
hain’t that look. I know niggers as well as you or anybody else.”

“No, I _didn’t_ do it, Mrs. Parsons,” the prisoner affirmed. “I didn’t!
I didn’t!”

“I know you didn’t,” said the woman. “Wasn’t I standin’ here in the door
this mornin’ and saw him git up an’ go out to git his wood and cook his
breakfast? Then I seed ‘im shoulder his grubbin’-hoe and go to the field
to work. You officers may think you know it all, but no nigger ain’t
agoin’ to stay around like that after killin’ a man an’ woman in cold
blood. The nigger that did that job was some scamp that’s fur from the
spot by this time, and not a boy fetched up among good white folks like
this one was, with the best old mammy and daddy that ever had kinky
heads.”

“But witnesses say he threatened Abe Johnson a month ago,” argued
Braider. “I have to do my duty, Mrs. Parsons. There never would be any
justice if we overlooked a thing as pointed as that is.”

“Threatened ‘im?” the woman cried; “well, what does that prove? A nigger
will talk back an’ act surly on his death-bed if he’s mad. That’s all
the way they have of defendin’ theirselves. If Pete hadn’t talked some
after the lashin’ he got from them men, thar’d ‘a’ been some’n’ wrong
with him. Now, you let ‘im loose. As shore as you start off with that
boy, he’ll be lynched. The fact that you’ve got ‘im in tow will be all
them crazy men want. You couldn’t get two miles in any direction from
here without bein’ stopped; they are as thick as fleas on all sides, an’
every road is under watch.”

“I’m sorry I can’t take yore advice, Mrs. Parsons,” Braider said, almost
out of patience. “I’ve got my duty to perform, an’ I know what it is a
sight better than you do.”

“If you start off with that boy his blood will be on yore head,” the
woman said, firmly. “Left alone, and advised to hide opt till this
excitement is over, he might stand a chance to save his neck; but with
you--why, you mought as well stand still and yell to that crazy gang to
come on.”

“Well, we’ve got to git horses to go on with, and yours are the
nearest.”

“Huh! you won’t ride no harmless nigger to the scaffold on _my_ stock,”
 the woman said, sharply. “I know whar my duty lies. A woman with a
thimbleful of brains don’t have to listen to a long string of testimony
to know a murderer when she sees one; that boy’s as harmless as a baby
and you are trying your level best to have him mobbed.”

“Well, right is on my side, and I can take the horses if I see fit in
the furtherance of law an’ order,” said Braider. “If Jabe was here he’d
tell me to go ahead, an’ so I’ll have to do it anyway. Bill, you stay
here on guard an’ I’ll bridle the horses an’ lead ‘em out.”

A queer look, half of anger, half of definite purpose, settled on the
strong, rugged face of the woman, as she saw the sheriff stalk off to
the barn-yard gate, enter it, and let it close after him.

“Bill King,” she said, drawing nearer the man left in charge of the
bewildered prisoner, who now for the first time under the words of his
defender had sensed his real danger--“Bill King, you hain’t agoin’ to
lead that poor boy right to his death this way--you don’t look like that
sort of a man.” She suddenly swept her furtive eyes over the barn-yard,
evidently noting that the sheriff was now in the stable. “No, you
hain’t--for I hain’t agoin’ to _let_ you!” And suddenly, without warning
even to the slightest change of facial expression, she grasped the end
of the shot-gun the man held, and whirled him round Like a top.

“Run, boy!” she cried. “Run for the woods, and God be with you!” For an
instant Pete stood as if rooted to the spot, and then, as swift of foot
as a young Indian, he turned and darted through the gate and round the
farm-house, leaving the woman and King struggling for the possession of
the gun. It fell to the ground, but she grasped King around the waist
and clung to him with the tenacity of a bull-dog.

“Good God, Mrs. Parsons,” he panted, writhing in her grasp, “let me
loose!”

There was a smothered oath from the barn-yard, and, revolver in hand,
the sheriff ran out.

“What the hell!--which way did he go?” he gasped.

But King, still in the tight embrace of his assailant, seemed too badly
upset to reply. And it was not till Braider had torn her locked hands
loose that King could stammer out, “Round the house--into the woods!”

“An’ we couldn’t catch ‘im to save us from--” Braider said. “Madam, I’ll
handle you for this! I’ll push this case against you to the full limit
of the law!”

“You’ll do nothin’ of the kind,” the woman said, “unless you want to
make yourself the laughin’-stock of the whole community. In doin’ what
I done I acted fer all the good women of this country; an’ when you
run ag’in we’ll beat you at the polls. Law an’ order’s one thing,
but officers helpin’ mobs do their dirty work is another. If the boy
deserves a trial he deserves it, but he’d not ‘a’ stood one chance in
ten million in your charge, _an’ you know it_.”

At this juncture a man emerged from the close-growing bushes across the
road, a look of astonishment on his face. It was Jabe Parsons. “What’s
wrong here?” he cried, excitedly.

“Oh, nothin’ much,” Braider answered, with a white sneer of fury. “We
stopped here with Pete Warren to borrow your horses to git ‘im over the
mountain to the Gilmore jail, an’ your good woman grabbed Bill’s gun
while I was in the stable an’ deliberately turned the nigger loose.”

“Great God! what’s the matter with you?” Parsons thundered at his wife,
who, red-faced and defiant, stood rubbing a small bruised spot on her
wrist.

“Nothin’s the matter with me,” she retorted, “except I’ve got more sense
than you men have. I know that boy didn’t kill them folks, an’ I didn’t
intend to see you-all lynch ‘im.”

“Well, I know he did!” Parsons yelled. “But he’ll be caught before
night, anyway. He can’t hide in them woods from hounds like they’ve got
down the road.”

“Your wife ‘lowed he’d be safer in the woods than in the Gilmore jail,”
 Braider said, with another sneer.

“Well, he _would_. As for that,” Parsons retorted, “if you think that
army headed by the dead woman’s daddy an’ brothers would halt at a puny
bird-cage like that jail, you don’t know mountain men. They’d smash the
damn thing like an egg-shell. I reckon a sheriff has to _pretend_ to act
fer the law, whether he earns his salary or not. Well, I’ll go down the
road an’ tell ‘em whar to look. Thar’ll be a picnic som ‘er’s nigh here
in a powerful short while. We’ve got men enough to surround that whole
mountain.”



CHAPTER XIV.

[Illustration: 9127]

HE following night was a cloudless, moonlit one, and restlessly and
heart-sore Helen walked the upper floor of the veranda, her eyes
constantly bent on the street leading past Dwight’s on to the centre of
the town. The greater part of the day she had spent with Linda, trying
to pacify her and rouse the hope that Pete would not be implicated in
the trouble in the mountains. Helen had gone down to Carson’s office
about noon, feeling vaguely that he could advise her better than any one
else in the grave situation. She had found Garner seated at his desk,
bent over a law-book, a studious expression on his face. Seeing her in
the doorway, he sprang up gallantly and proffered a rickety chair, from
which he had hastily dumped a pile of old newspapers.

“Is Carson in?” she asked, sitting down.

“Oh no, he’s gone over to the farm,” Garner said. “I couldn’t hold him
here after he heard of the trouble. You see, Miss Helen, he thinks,
from a few things picked up, that Pete is likely to be suspected and be
roughly handled, and, you know, as he was partly the cause of the boy’s
going there, he naturally would feel--”

“I was the _real_ cause of it,” the girl broke in, with a sigh and a
troubled face. “We both thought it was for the best, and if it results
in Pete’s death I shall never forgive myself.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t look at it that way,” Garner said. “You were both acting
for what you thought was right. As I say, I tried my best to keep Carson
from going over there to-day, but he would go. We almost had an open
rupture over it. You see, Miss Helen, I have set my head on seeing him
in the legislature, and he is eternally doing things that kill votes.
There is not a thing in the category of political offences as fatal as
this very thing. He’s already taken Pete’s part and abused the men
who whipped him, and now that the boy is suspected of retaliating and
killing the Johnsons, why, the people will--well, I wouldn’t be one bit
surprised to see them jump on Carson himself. Men infuriated like that
haven’t any more sense than mad dogs, and they won’t stand for a white
man opposing them. But, of course, you know why Carson is acting so
recklessly.”

“I do? What do you mean, Mr. Garner?”

The lawyer smiled, wiped his facile mouth with his small white hand, and
said, teasingly: “Why, you are at the bottom of it. Carson wants to save
the boy simply because you are indirectly interested in him. That’s the
whole thing in a nutshell. He’s been as mad as a wet hen ever since they
whipped Pete, because he was the son of your old mammy, and now that the
boy’s in actual peril Carson has gone clean daft. Well, it’s reported
among the gossips about town that you turned him down, Miss Helen--like
you did some of the balance of us presumptuous chaps that didn’t know
enough to keep our hearts where they belonged--but you sat on the best
man in the bunch when you did it. It’s me that’s doing this talking.”

Helen sat silent and pale for a moment, unable to formulate a reply to
his outspoken remark. Presently she said, evasively: “Then you think
both of them are in actual danger?”

“Well, Pete hasn’t one chance in a million,” Garner said, gently. “There
is no use trying to hide that fact; and if Carson should happen to run
across Dan Willis--well, one or the other would have to drop. Carson
is in a dangerous mood. He believes as firmly in Pete’s innocence as he
does in his own, and if Dan Willis dared to threaten him, as he’s likely
to do when they meet, why, Carson would defend himself.”

Helen drew her veil down over her eyes and Garner could see that she was
quivering from head to foot.

“Oh, it’s awful--awful!” he heard her say, softly. Then she rose and
moved to the open door, where she stood as if undecided what step to
take. “Is there no way to get any--any news?” she asked, tremulously.

“None now,” he told her. “In times of excitement over in the mountains,
few people come into town; they all want to stay at home and see it
through.”

She stepped out on the sidewalk, and he followed her, gallantly holding
his hat in his hand. Scarcely a soul was in sight. The town seemed
deserted.

“Madam, rumor,” Garner said, with a smile, “reports that your friend Mr.
Sanders, from Augusta, is coming up for a visit.”

“Yes, I had a letter from him this morning,” Helen said, in a dignified
tone. “My father must have spoken of it. It will be Mr. Sanders’ first
visit to Darley, and he will find us terribly upset. If I knew how to
reach him I’d ask him to wait a few days till this uncertainty is
over, but he is on his way here--is, in fact, stopping somewhere in
Atlanta--and intends to come on up to-morrow or the next day. Does--does
Carson--has he heard of Mr. Sanders’ coming?”

“Oh yes, it was sprung on him this morning for a deadly purpose,” Garner
said, with a significant smile. “The whole gang--Keith, Wade, and Bob
Smith--were in here trying to keep him from going to the farm. They had
tried everything they could think of to stop him, and as a last resort
set in to teasing. Keith told him Sanders would sit in the parlor
and say sweet things to you while Carson was trying to liberate the
ex-slaves of your family at the risk of bone and sinew. Keith
said Carson was showing the finest proof of fidelity that was ever
given--fidelity to _the man in the parlor_.”

“Keith ought to have been ashamed of himself,” Helen said, with her
first show of vexation. “And what did Carson say?”

“The poor chap took it all in a good-humor,” Garner said. “In fact, he
was so much wrought up over Pete’s predicament that he hardly heard what
they were saying.”

“You really think Carson is in danger, too?” Helen continued, after a
moment’s silence.

“If he meets Dan Willis, yes,” said Garner. “If he opposes the mob,
yes again. Dan Willis has already succeeded in creating a lot of
unpopularity for him in that quarter, and the mere sight of Carson at
such a time would be like a torch to a dry hay-stack.”

So Helen had gone home and spent the afternoon and evening in real
torture of suspense, and now, as she walked the veranda floor alone with
a realization of the grim possibilities of the case drawn sharply before
her mental vision, she was all but praying aloud for Carson’s safe
return, and anxiously keeping her gaze on the moonlit street below.
Suddenly her attention was drawn to the walk in front of the Dwight
house. Some one was walking back and forth in a nervous manner, the
intermittent flare of a cigar flashing out above the shrubbery like the
glow of a lightning-bug. Could it be--had Carson returned and entered
by the less frequently used gate in the rear? For several minutes she
watched the figure as it strode back and forth with never-ceasing tread,
and then, fairly consumed with the desire to set her doubts at rest, she
went down into the garden at the side of the house, softly approached
the open gate between the two homesteads, and called out: “Carson, is
that you?”

The figure paused and turned, the fire of the cigar described a red
half-circle against the dark background, but no one spoke. Then, as she
waited at the gate, her heart in her mouth, the smoker came towards her.
It was old Henry Dwight. He wore no hat nor coat, the night being warm,
and one of his fat thumbs was under his broad suspender.

“No, it’s not him, Miss Helen,” he said, rather gruffly. “He hasn’t got
back yet. I’ve had my hands full since supper. My wife is in a bad way.
She has been worrying awfully since twelve o’clock, when Carson didn’t
turn up to dinner as usual. She’s guessed what he went to the farm for,
and she’s as badly upset as old Linda is over that trifling Pete. I
thought I had enough trouble before the war over _my_ niggers, but here,
forty years later, _yours_ are upsetting things even worse. I only wish
the men that fought to free the black scamps had some part of the burden
to bear.”

“It really is awful,” Helen responded; “and so Mrs. Dwight is upset by
it?”

“Oh yes, we had the doctor to come, and he gave some slight dose or
other, but he said the main thing was to get Carson back and let
her know for sure that he was safe and sound. I sent a man out there
lickety-split on the fastest horse I have, and he ought to have got back
two hours ago. That’s what I’m out here for. I know she’s not going to
let me rest till her mind is at ease.”

“Do you really think any actual harm could have come to Carson?” Helen
inquired, anxiously.

“It could come to anybody who has the knack my boy has for eternally
rubbing folks the wrong way,” the old man retorted from the depths of
his irritation; “but, Lord, my young lady, _you_ are at the bottom of
it!”

“I? Oh, Mr. Dwight, don’t say that!” Helen pleaded.

“Well, I’m only telling you the _truth_,” said Dwight, throwing his
cigar away and putting, both thumbs under his suspenders. “You know that
as well as I do. He sees how you are bothered about your old mammy, and
he has simply taken up your cause. It’s just what I’d ‘a’ done at his
age. I reckon I’d ‘a’ fought till I dropped in my tracks for a girl
I--but from all accounts you and Carson couldn’t agree, or rather _you_
couldn’t. He seems to be agreeing now and staking his life and political
chances on it. Well, I don’t blame him. It never run in the Dwight
blood to love more than once, an’ then it was always for the pick of the
flock. Well, you are the pick in this town, an’ I wouldn’t feel like he
was my boy if he stepped down and out as easy as some do these days. I
met him on his way to the farm and tried to shame him out of the trip.
I joined the others in teasing him about that Augusta fellow, who can
do his courting by long-distance methods in an easy seat at his
writing-desk, while up-country chaps are doing the rough work for
nothing, but it didn’t feaze ‘im. He tossed his stubborn head, got
pretty red in the face, and said he was trying to help old Linda and
Lewis out, and that he know well enough you didn’t care a cent for him.”

Helen had grown hot and cold by turns, and she now found herself unable
to make any adequate response to such personal allusions.

“Huh, I see I got you teased, too!” Dwight said, with a short, staccato
laugh. “Oh, well, you mustn’t mind me. I’ll go in and see if my wife is
asleep, and if she is I’ll go to bed myself.”

Helen, deeply depressed, and beset with many conflicting emotions,
turned back to the veranda, and, instead of going up to her room, she
reclined in a hammock stretched between two of the huge, fluted columns.
She had been there perhaps half an hour when her heart almost stopped
pulsating as she caught, the dull beat of horses’ hoofs up the street.
Rising, she saw a horseman rein in at the gate at Dwight’s. It was
Carson; she knew that by the way he dismounted and threw the rein over
the gate-post.

“Carson!” she called out. “Oh, Carson, I want to see you!”

He heard, and came along the sidewalk to meet her at the gate where
she now stood. What had come over him? There was an utter droop of
despondent weariness upon him, and then as he drew near she saw that his
face was pale and haggard. For a moment he stood, his hand on the gate
she was holding open, and only stared.

“Oh, what has happened?” she cried. “I’ve been waiting for you. We
haven’t heard a word.”

In a tired, husky voice, for he had made many a speech through the
day, he told her of Pete’s escape. “He’s still hiding somewhere in the
mountains,” he said.

“Oh, then he may get away after all!” she cried.

Dwight said nothing, seeming to avoid her great, staring, anxious eyes.
She laid her hand almost unconsciously on his arm.

“Don’t you think he has a chance, Carson?” she repeated--“a bare
chance?”

“The whole mountain is surrounded, and they are beating the woods,
covering every inch of the ground,” he said. “It is now only a question
of time. They will wait till daybreak, and then continue till they have
found him. How is Mam’ Linda?”

“Nearly dead,” Helen answered, under her breath.

“And my mother?” he said.

“She is only worried,” Helen told him. “Your father thinks she will be
all right as soon as she is assured of your return.”

“Only worried? Why, he sent me word she was nearly dead,” Carson said,
with a feeble flare of indignation. “I wanted to stay, to be there to
make one final effort to convince them, but when the message reached me,
and things were at a standstill anyway, I came home, and now, even if I
started back to-night, I’d likely be too late. He tricked me--my father
tricked me!”

“And you yourself? Did you meet that--Dan Willis?” Helen asked. He
stared at her hesitatingly for an instant, and then said: “I happened
not to. He was very active in the chase and seemed always to be
somewhere else. He killed all my efforts.” Carson leaned heavily against
the white paling fence as he continued. “As soon as I’d talk a crowd
of men into my way of thinking, he’d come along and fire them with fury
again. He told them I was only making a grandstand play for the negro
vote, and they swallowed it. They swallowed it and jeered and hissed me
as I went along. Garner is right. I’ve killed every chance I ever had
with those people. But I don’t care.”

Helen sighed. “Oh, Carson, you did it all because--because I felt as I
did about Pete. I know that was it.”

He made no denial as he stood awkwardly avoiding her eyes.

“I shall never, never forgive myself,” she said, in pained accents. “Mr.
Garner and all your friends say that your election was the one thing you
held desirable, the one thing that would--would thoroughly reinstate you
in your father’s confidence, and yet I--I--oh, Carson I _did_ want you
to win! I wanted it--wanted it--wanted it!”

“Oh, well, don’t bother about that,” he said, and she saw that he was
trying to hide his own disappointment. “I admit I started into this
because--because I knew how keenly you felt for Linda, but to-day,
Helen, as I rode from mad throng to mad throng of those good men with
their dishevelled hair and bloodshot eyes, their very souls bent to
that trail, that pitiful trail of revenge, I began to feel that I was
fighting for a great principle, a principle that you had planted within
me. I gloried in it for its own sake, and because it had its birth in
your sweet sympathy and love for the unfortunate. I could never have
experienced it but for you.”

“But you failed,” Helen almost sobbed. “You failed.”

“Yes, utterly. What I’ve done amounted to nothing more than irritating
them. Those men, many of whom I love and admire, were wounded to their
hearts, and I was only keeping their sores open with my fine-spun
theories of human justice. They will learn their lesson slowly, but
_they will learn it_. When they have caught and lynched poor, stupid
Pete, they may learn later that he was innocent, and then they will
realize what I was trying to keep them from doing. They will be friendly
to me then, but Wiggin will be in office.”

“Yes, my father thinks this thing is going to defeat you.” Helen sighed.
“And, Carson, it’s killing me to think that I am the prime cause of it.
If I’d had a man’s head I’d have known that your effort could accomplish
nothing, and I’d have been like Mr. Garner and the others, and asked
you not to mix up in it; but I couldn’t help myself. Mam’ Linda has your
name on her lips with every breath. She thinks the sun rises and sets in
you, and that you only have to give an order to have it obeyed.”

“That’s the pity of it,” Carson said, with a sigh.

At this juncture there was the sound of a window-sash sliding upward,
and old Dwight put out his head.

“Come on in!” he called out. “Your mother is awake and absolutely
refuses to believe you haven’t a dozen bullet-holes in you.”

“All right, father, I’m coming,” Carson said, and impulsively he held
out his hand and clasped Helen’s in a steady, sympathetic pressure.

“Now, you go to bed, little girl,” he said, more tenderly than he
realized. In fact, it was a term he had used only once before, long
before her brother’s death. “Pardon me,” he pleaded; “I didn’t know what
I was saying. I--I was worried over seeing you look so tired, and--and I
spoke without thinking.”

“You can say it whenever you wish, Carson,” she said. “As if I could get
angry at you after--after--” But she did not finish, for with her hand
still warmly clasping his fingers, she was listening to a distant sound.
It was a restless human tread on a resounding floor.

“It’s Mam’ Linda,” Helen said. “She walks like that night and day.
I must go to her and--tell her you are back, but oh, how _can_ I?
Good-night, Carson. Ill never forget what you have done--never!”



CHAPTER XV.

[Illustration: 9139]

FTER an almost sleepless night, spent for the greater part in despondent
reflections over his failure in the things to which he had directed
his hopes and energies, Carson rose about seven o’clock, went into his
mother’s room to ask how she had rested through the night, and then
descended, to breakfast. It was eight o’clock when he arrived at the
office. Garner was there in a cloud of dust, sweeping a pile of torn
papers into the already filled fireplace.

“I’m going to touch a match to this the first rainy day--if I think of
it,” he said. “It’s liable to set the roof on fire when it’s dry as it
is now.”

“Any news from the mountains?” Carson asked, as he sat down at his desk.

“Yes; Pole Baker was in here just now.” Garner leaned his broom-handle
against the mantel-piece, and stood critically eying his partner’s worn
face and dejected mien. “He said the mob, or mobs, for there are twenty
factions of them, had certainly hemmed Pete in. He was hiding somewhere
on Elk Knob, and they hadn’t then located him. Pole left there long
before day and said they had already set in afresh. I reckon it will be
over soon. He told me to keep you here if I had to swear out a writ of
dangerous lunacy against you. He says you have not only killed your own
political chances, but that you couldn’t save the boy if you were the
daddy of every man in the chase. They’ve smelled blood and they want to
taste it.”

“You needn’t worry about me,” Carson said, dejectedly. “I realize how
helpless I was yesterday, and am still. There was only one thing that
might have been done if we had acted quickly, and that was to telegraph
the Governor for troops.”

“But you wouldn’t sanction that; you know you wouldn’t,” said Garner.
“You know every mother’s son of those white men is acting according to
the purest dictates of his inner soul. They think they are right. They
believe in law, and while I am a member of the bar, by Heaven! I say
to you that our whole legal system is rotten to the core. Politics will
clear a criminal at the drop of a hat. A dozen voters can jerk a man
from life imprisonment to the streets of this town by a single telegram.
No, you know those sturdy men over there think they are right, and you
would not be the cause of armed men shooting them down like rabbits in a
fence corner.”

“No, they think they are right,” Carson said. “And they were my friends
till this came up. Any mail?”

“I haven’t been to the post-office. I wish you’d go. You need exercise;
you are off color--you are as yellow as a new saddle. Drop this thing.
The Lord Himself can’t make water run up-hill. Quit thinking about it.”

Carson went out into the quiet street and walked along to the
post-office. At the intersection of the streets near the Johnston
House, on any ordinary day, a dozen drays and hacks in the care of
negro drivers would have been seen, and on the drays and about the hacks
stood, as a rule, many idle negro men and boys; but this morning the
spot was significantly vacant. At the negro barber-shop, kept by Buck
Black, a mulatto of marked dignity and intelligence for one of his race,
only the black barbers might be seen, and they were not lounging about
the door, but stood at their chairs, their faces grave, their tongues
unusually silent. They might be asking themselves questions as to the
possible extent of the fires of race-hatred just now raging--if the
capture and death of Pete Warren would quench the conflagration, or
if it would roll on towards them like the licking flames of a burning
prairie--they might, I say, ask _themselves_ such questions, but to the
patrons of their trade they kept discreet silence. And no white man who
went near them that day would ask them what they believed or what they
felt, for the blacks are not a people who give much thought even to
their own social problems. They had leaned for many generations upon
white guidance, and, with childlike, hereditary instinct, they were
leaning still.

Finding no letters of importance in the little glass-faced and numbered
box at the post-office, Carson, sick at heart and utterly discouraged,
went up to the Club. Here, idly knocking the balls about on a
billiard-table, a cigar in his mouth, was Keith Gordon.

“Want to play a game of pool?” he asked.

“Not this morning, old man,” Carson answered.

“Well, I don’t either,” said Keith. “I went to the bank and tried to add
up some figures for the old man, but my thinker wouldn’t work. It’s out
of whack. That blasted nigger Pete is the prime cause of my being upset.
I came by Major Warren’s this morning. Sister feels awfully sorry
for Mam’ Linda, and asked me to take her a jar of jelly. You know old
colored people love little attentions like that from white people, when
they are sick or in trouble. Well”--Keith held up his hands, the palms
outward--“I don’t want any more in mine. I’ve been to death-bed scenes,
funerals, wrecks on railroads, and all sorts of horrors, but that was
simply too much. It simply beggars description--to see that old woman
bowed there in her door like a dumb brute with its tongue tied to a
stake. It made me ashamed of myself, though, for not at least trying
to do something. I glory in you, old man. You failed, but you _tried_.
By-the-way, that’s the only comfort Mam’ Linda has had--the only thing.
Helen was there, the dear girl--and to think her visit home has to be
like this!--she was there trying to soothe the old woman, but nothing
that was said could produce anything but that awful groaning of hers
till Lewis said something about your going over there yesterday, and
that stirred her up. She rose in her chair and walked to the gate and
folded her big arms across her breast.

“‘I thank God young marster felt fer me dat way,’ she said. ‘He’s
de best young man on de face o’ de earth. I’ll go down ter my grave
blessing ‘im fer dis. He’s got er _soul_ in ‘im. He knows how old Mammy
Lindy feels en he was tryin’ ter help her, God bless ‘im! He couldn’t do
nothin’, but he tried--he tried, dough everybody was holdin’ ‘im back en
sayin’ it would spile his ‘lection. Well, if it _do_ harm ‘im, it will
show dat Gawd done turn ergin white en black bofe.’ I came away,” Keith
finished, after a pause, in which Carson said nothing. “I couldn’t stand
it. Helen was crying like a child, her face wet with tears, and she
wasn’t trying to hide it. I was looking for some one to come every
minute with the final news, and I didn’t want to face that. Good God,
old man, what are we coming to? Historians, Northern ones, seem to think
the days of slavery were benighted, but God knows such things as this
never happened then. Now, did it?”

“No; it’s terrible,” Carson agreed, and he stepped to a window and
looked out over the roofs of the near-by stores to the wagon-yard
beyond.

“Well, the great and only, the truly accepted one,” Keith went on, in
a lighter tone, “the man who did us all up brown, Mr. Earle Sanders, of
Augusta, has unwittingly chosen a gloomy date for his visit. He’s here,
installed in the bridal-chamber of the Hotel de Johnston. Helen got a
note from him just as I was leaving. On my soul, old man--maybe it’s
because I want to see it that way--but, really, it didn’t seem to me
that she looked exactly elated, you know, like I imagined she would,
from the way the local gossips pile it on. You know, the idea struck me
that maybe she is not _really engaged_, after all.”

“She is worried; she is not herself to-day,” Carson said, coldly, though
in truth his blood was surging hotly through his veins. It had come
at last. The man who was to rob him of all he cared for in life was at
hand. Turning from Keith, he pretended to be looking over some of
the dog-eared magazines in the reading-room, and then feeling an
overwhelming desire to be alone with the dull pain in his breast, he
waved a careless signal to Keith and went down to the street. In front
of the hotel stood a pair of sleek, restive bays harnessed to a new
top-buggy. They were held by the owner of the best livery-stable in the
town, a rough ex-mountaineer.

“Say, Carson,” the man called out, proudly, “you’ll have to git up early
in the morning to produce a better yoke of thorough-breds than these.
Never been driven over these roads before. I didn’t intend to let ‘em
out fer public use right now, but a big, rich fellow from Augusta is
here sparkin’, and he wanted the best I had and wouldn’t touch anything
else. Money wasn’t any object. He turned up his nose at all my other
stock. Gee! look at them trim legs and thighs--a dead match as two
black-eyed peas.”

“Yes, they are all right.” Carson walked on and went into Blackburn’s
store, for no other reason than that he wanted to avoid meeting people
and discussing the trouble Pete Warren was in, or hearing further
comments on the stranger’s visit. He might have chosen a better retreat,
however, for in a group at the window nearest the hotel he found
Blackburn, Garner, Bob Smith, and Wade Tingle, all peering stealthily
out through the dingy glass at the team Carson had just inspected.

“He’ll be out in a minute,” Wade was saying, in an undertone. “Quit
pushing me, Bob! They say he’s got dead loads of money.”

“You bet he has,” Bob declared; “he had a wad of it in big bills large
enough to stuff a sofa-pillow with. Ike, the porter, who trucked his
trunk up, said he got a dollar tip. The head waiter is expecting to buy
a farm after he leaves. Gee! there he comes! Say, Garner, _you_ ought to
know; is that a brandy-and-soda complexion?”

“No, he doesn’t drink a drop,” answered Garner. “Well, he looks all
right, as well as I can see through this immaculate window with my eyes
full of spiderwebs. My, what clothes! Say, Bob, is that style of derby
the thing now? It looks like an inverted milk-bucket. Come here, Carson,
and take a peep at the conqueror. If Keith were here we’d have a
quomm. By George, there’s Keith now! He’s watching at the window of the
barber-shop. Call him over, Blackburn. Let’s have him here; we need more
pall-bearers.”

“Seems to me you boys are the corpses,” Blackburn jested. “I’d be
ashamed to let a clothing-store dummy like that beat me to the tank.”

Carson had heard enough. In his mood and frame of mind their open
frivolity cut him to the quick. Going out, unnoticed by the others, he
went to his office. In the little, dusty consultation-room in the rear
there was an old leather couch. On this he threw himself. There had been
moments in his life when he had worn the crown of misery, notably the day
Albert Warren was buried, when, on approaching Helen to offer her his
sympathies, she had turned from him with a shudder. That had been a
gloomy hour, but _this_--he covered his face with his hands and lay
still. On that day a faint hope had vaguely fluttered within him--a hope
of reformation; a hope of making a worthy place for himself in life
and of ultimately winning her favor and forgiveness. But now it was all
over. He had actually seen with his own eyes the man who was to be her
husband. He was sure now that the report was true. The visit at such a
grave crisis confirmed all that had been said. Helen had telegraphed him
of her trouble, and Sanders had made all haste to reach her side.



CHAPTER XVI.

[Illustration: 9147]

EHIND the dashing bays the newcomer drove down to Warren’s. On the
seat beside him sat a negro boy sent from the livery-stable to hold the
horses. Sanders was dressed in the height of fashion, was young, of the
blond type, and considered handsome. A better figure no man need have
desired. The people living in the Warren neighborhood, who peered
curiously out of windows, not having Dwight’s affairs at heart, indulged
in small wonder over the report that Helen was about to accept such a
specimen of city manhood in preference to Carson or any of “the home
boys.”

Alighting at the front gate, Sanders went to the door and rang. He was
admitted by a colored maid and shown into the quaint old parlor with its
tall, gilt-framed, pier-glass mirrors and carved mahogany furniture.
The wide front, lace-curtained windows, which opened on a level with
the veranda floor, let in a cooling breeze which was most agreeable in
contrast to the beating heat out-of-doors.

He had only a few minutes to wait, for Helen had just returned from
a visit to Linda’s cottage and was in the library across the hall.
He heard her coming and stood up, flushing expectantly, an eager
light flashing in his eyes.

“I am taking you by surprise,” he said, as he grasped her extended hand
and held it for an instant.

“Well, you know you told me when I left,” Helen said, “that it would
be impossible for you to get away from business till after the first of
next month, so I naturally supposed--”

“The trouble was”--he laughed as he stood courteously waiting for her to
sit before doing so himself--“the trouble was that I didn’t know myself
then as I do now. I thought I could wait like any sensible man of my
age, but I simply couldn’t, Helen. After you left, the town was simply
unbearable. I seemed not to want to go anywhere but to the places to
which we went together, and there I suffered a regular agony of the
blues. The truth is, I’m killing two birds with one stone. We were about
to send our lawyer to Chattanooga to settle up a legal matter there, and
I persuaded my partner to let me do it. So you see, after all, I shall
not be wholly idle. I can run up there from here and back, I believe, in
the same day.”

“Yes, it is not far,” Helen answered. “We often go up there to do
shopping.”

“I’m going to confess something else,” Sanders said, flushing slightly.
“Helen, you may not forgive me for it, but I’ve been uneasy.”

“Uneasy?” Helen leaned as far back in her chair as she could, for he had
bent forward till his wide, hungry eyes were close to hers.

“Yes, I’ve fought the feeling every day and night since you left. At
times my very common-sense would seem to conquer and I’d feel a little
better about it, but it would only be a short time till I’d be down in
the dregs again.”

“Why, what is the matter?” Helen asked, half fearfully.

“It was your letters, Helen,” he said, his handsome face very grave as
he leaned towards her.

“My letters? Why, I wrote as often--even often-er--than I promised,” the
girl said.

“Oh, don’t think me over-exacting,” Sanders implored her with eyes and
voice. “I know you did all you agreed to do, but somehow--well, you
know you seemed so much like one of us down there that I had become
accustomed to thinking of you as almost belonging to Augusta; but your
letters showed how very dear Darley and its people are to you, and I was
obliged to--well, face the grim fact that we have a strong rival here in
the mountains.”

“I thought you knew that I adore my old home,” she said, simply.

“Oh yes, I know--most people do--but, Helen, the letter you wrote about
the dance your friends--your ‘boys,’ as you used to call them--gave you
at that quaint club, why, it is simply a piece of literature. I’ve read
it over and over time after time.”

“Oh, I only wrote as I felt, out of a full heart,” the girl said.
“When you meet them, and know them as I do, you will not wonder at my
fidelity--at my enthusiasm over that particular tribute.”

Sanders laughed. “Well, I suppose I am simply jealous--jealous not alone
for myself, but for Augusta. Why, you can’t imagine how you are missed.
A party of the old crowd went around to your aunt’s as usual the
Wednesday following your departure, but we were so blue we could hardly
talk to one another. Helen, the spirit of our old gatherings was gone.
Your aunt actually cried, and your uncle really drank too much brandy
and soda.”

“Well, you mustn’t think I don’t miss them all,” Helen said, deeply
touched. “I think of them every day. It was only that I had been away
so long that it was glorious to get back home--to my real home again. I
love it down there; it is beautiful; you were all so lovely to me, but
this here is different.”

“That’s what I felt in reading your letters,” Sanders said. “A tone of
restful content and happiness was in every line you wrote. Somehow,
I wanted you, in my selfish heart, to be homesick for us so that you
would”--the visitor drew a deep breath--“be all the more likely to--to
consent to live there, you know, _some day_, permanently.” Helen made
no reply, and Sanders, flushing deeply, wisely turned the subject, as he
rose and went to a window and drew the curtain aside.

“Do you see those horses?” he asked, with a smile. “I brought them
thinking I might prevail on you to take a drive with me this morning. I
have set my heart on seeing some of the country around the town, and I
want to do it with you. I hope you can go.”

“Oh, not to-day! I couldn’t think of it to-day!” Helen cried,
impulsively.

“Not to-day?” he said, crestfallen.

“No. Haven’t you heard about Mam’ Linda’s awful trouble?”

“Oh, that is _her_ son!” Sanders said. “I heard something of it at the
hotel. I see. She really must be troubled.”

“It is a wonder it hasn’t killed her,” Helen answered. “I have never
seen a human being under such frightful torture.”

“And can nothing be done?” Sanders asked. “I’d really like to be of
use--to help, you know, in _some_ way.”

“There is nothing to be done--nothing that _can_ be done,” Helen said.
“She knows that, and is simply waiting for the end.”

“It’s too bad,” Sanders remarked, awkwardly. “Might I go to see her?”

“I think you’d better not,” said the girl. “I don’t believe she would
care to see any but very old friends. I used to think I could comfort
her, but even I fail now. She is insensible to anything but that
one haunting horror. She has tried a dozen times to go over to the
mountains, but my father and Uncle Lewis have prevented it. That mob,
angry as they are, might really kill her, for she would fight for her
young like a tigress, and people wrought up like those are mad enough to
do anything.”

“And some people think the negro may not really be guilty, do they not?”
 Sanders asked.

“I am sure he is not,” Helen sighed. “I feel it; I know it.”

There was the sound of a closing gate, and Helen looked out.

“It is my father,” she said. “Perhaps he has heard something.”

Leaving her guest, she went out to the steps. “Whose turn-out?” the
Major asked, with admiring curiosity, indicating the horses and buggy.

“Mr. Sanders has come,” she said, simply. “He’s in the parlor. Is there
any news?”

“Nothing.” The old man removed his hat and wiped his perspiring brow.
“Nothing except that Carson Dwight has gone over there on a fast horse.
Linda sent him a message, begging him to make one more effort, and he
went. All his friends tried to stop him, but he dashed out of town like
a madman. He won’t accomplish a thing, and it may cost him his life,
but he’s the right sort, daughter. He’s got a heart in him as big as
all out-of-doors. Blackburn told him Dan Willis was over there, a raging
demon in human shape, but it only made Carson the more determined. His
father saw him and ordered him back, and was speechless with fury when
Carson simply waved his hand and rode on. Go back to the parlor. I’ll
join you in a minute.”

“Have you heard anything?” Sanders asked, as Helen re-entered the room
and stood white and distraught before him.

She hesitated, her shifting glance on the floor, and then she stared at
him almost as one in a dream. “He has heard nothing except--except that
Carson Dwight has gone over there. He has gone. Mam’ Linda begged him to
make one other effort and he couldn’t resist her. She--she was good to
his mother and to him when he was a child, and he feels grateful. She
thinks he is the only one that can help. She told me last night that she
believed in him as she once believed in God. He can do nothing, but he
knew it would comfort her for him to try.”

“This Mr. Dwight is one of your--your old friends, is he not?”

Sanders’ face was the playground of conflicting emotions as he stood
staring at her.

“Yes,” Helen answered; “one of my best and truest.”

“He has undertaken a dangerous thing, has he not?” Sanders managed to
say.

“Dangerous?” Helen shuddered. “He has an enemy there who is now
seeking his life. They are sure to meet. They have already quarrelled,
and--_about this very thing_.”

She sat down in the chair she had just left and Sanders stood near her.
There was a voice in the hall. It was the Major ordering a servant to
bring in mint julep, and the next moment he was in the parlor hospitably
introducing himself to the visitor.

Seeing her opportunity, Helen rose and left them together. She went up
to her room, with heavy, dragging footsteps, and stood at the window
overlooking the Dwight garden and lawn.

Carson knew that Sanders was in town, she told herself, in gloomy
self-reproach. He knew his rival was with her, and right now as the poor
boy was speeding on to--his death, he thought Sanders was making love to
her. Helen bit her quivering lip and clinched her fingers. “Poor boy!”
 she thought, almost with a sob, “he deserves better treatment than
that.”



CHAPTER XVII

[Illustration: 9154]

N his escape from the sheriff and his deputy, Pete Warren ran with the
speed of a deer-hound through the near-by woods. Thinking his pursuers
were close behind him, he did not stop even to listen to their
footsteps. Through dell and fen, up hill and down, over rocks and
through tangled undergrowth he forged his way, his tongue lolling from
the corner of his gaping mouth. The thorns and briers had tom gashes in
his cheeks, neck, and hands, and left his clothing in strips. The wild
glare of a hunted beast was in his eyes. The land was gradually sloping
upward. He was getting upon the mountain. For a moment the distraught
creature paused, bent his ear to listen and try to decide, rationally,
calmly, which was the better plan, to hide in the caverns and craggy
recesses of the frowning heights above or speed onward over more level
ground. For a moment the drumlike pounding of his heart was all
the sound he heard, and then the blast of a hunter’s horn broke
the stillness, not two hundred yards away, and was thrown back in
reverberating echoes from the mountain-side. This was followed by
a far-off answering shout, the report of a signal-gun, and then the
mellow, terrifying baying of blood-hounds fell upon his ears. Pete stood
erect, his knees quivering. No thought of prayer passed through his
brain. Prayer, to his mind, was only a series of empty vocal sounds
heard chiefly in churches where black men and women stood or knelt in
their best clothes, and certainly not for emergencies like this, where
granite heavens were closing upon stony earth and he was caught between.

Suddenly bending lower, and fresher for the second wind he had got,
he sped onward again, choosing the valley rather than the steeper
mountain-side. Shouts, gun reports, horn-blasts, and the baying of the
hounds now followed him. Presently he came to a clear mountain creek
about twenty feet wide and not deeper anywhere than his waist, and in
many places barely covering the slimy brown stones over which it flowed.
Here, as if by inspiration, came the remembrance of some story he had
heard about a pursued negro managing to elude the scent of blood-hounds
by taking to water, and into the icy stream Pete plunged, and, slipping,
stumbling, falling, he made his way onward.

But his reason told him this slow method really would not benefit him,
for his pursuers would soon catch up and see him from the banks. He had
waded up the stream about a quarter of a mile, when he came to a spot
where the stout branches of a sturdy leaning beech hung down within his
reach. The idea which came to him was worthy of a white man’s brain,
for, pulling on the bough and finding it firm, he decided upon the
original plan of getting out of the water there, where his trail would
be lost to sight or scent, and climbing into the dense foliage above.
His pursuers might not think to look upward at exactly that spot, and
the hounds, bent on catching the scent from the ground where he landed,
would speed onward, farther and farther away. At all events it was worth
the trial.

With quivering hands he drew the bough down till its leaves sank under
the water. It bore his weight well and from it he climbed to the
massive trunk and higher upward, till, in a fork of the tree, he rested,
noticing, with a throb of relief, that the bough had righted itself and
hung as before above the surface of the stream. On came the dogs; he
could not hear them now, for, intent upon their work, they made no
sound, but the hoarse, maddened voices of men under their guidance
reached his ears. The swish through the undergrowth, the patter, as of
rain on dry leaves, as their claws hurled the ground behind them, the
snuffing and sneezing--_that was the hounds_. Closer and closer Pete
hugged the tree, hardly breathing, fearing now that the water dripping
from his clothing or the bruised leaves of the bough might betray his
presence. But the hounds, one on either side of the stream, their noses
to the earth, dashed on. Pete caught only a gleam of their sleek, dim
coats and they were gone. Behind them, panting, followed a dozen men.
In his fear of being seen, Pete dared not even look at their inflamed
faces. With closed eyes pressed against his wet coat-sleeve, he clung to
his place, a hunted thing, neither fish, fowl, nor beast, and yet, like
them all, a creature of the wilderness, endowed with the instinct of
self-preservation.

“They will run ‘im down!” he heard a man say. “Them dogs never have
failed. The black devil thought he’d throw ‘em off by taking to water.
He didn’t know we had one for each bank.”

On ran the men, the sound of their progress becoming less and less
audible as they receded. Was he safe now? Pete’s slow intelligence
answered no. He was still fully alive to his danger. He might stay there
for awhile, but not for long. Already, perhaps owing to his desperate
running, he had an almost maddening thirst, a thirst which the sheer
sight of the cool stream so near tantalized. Should he descend, satisfy
his desire, and attempt to regain his place of hiding? No, for he might
not seclude himself so successfully the next time. Then, with his face
resting on his arm, he began to feel drowsy. Twisting his body about,
he finally found himself in a position in which he could recline
still close to the tree and rest a little, though his feet and legs,
surcharged with blood, were painfully weighted downward. The forest
about him was very quiet. Some bluebirds above his head were singing
merrily. A gray squirrel with a fuzzy tail was perched inquiringly
on the brown bough of a near-by pine. Pete reclined thus for several
minutes, and then the objects about him appeared to be in a blur. The
far off shouts, horn-blasts, and gun reports beat less insistently on
his tired brain, and then he found himself playing with a kitten--the
queerest, most amusing kitten--in the sunlight in front of his mother’s
door.

He must have slept for hours, for when he opened his eyes the sun was
sinking behind the top of a distant hill. He tried to draw his aching
legs up higher and felt stinging pricks of pain from his hips to his
toes, as his blood leaped into circulation again. After several efforts
he succeeded in standing on the bough. To his pangs of thirst were now
added those of hunger. For hours he stood thus. He saw the light of day
die out, first on the landscape and later from the clear sky. Now,
he told himself, under cover of night, he would escape, but something
happened to prevent the attempt. Through the darkness he saw the
flitting lights off many pine torches. They passed to and fro under
the trees, sometimes quite near him, and as far as he could see up the
mountain-sides they flickered like the sinister night-eyes of his doom.
He stood till he felt as if he could do so no longer, and then he got
down on the bough as before, and after hours of conscious hunger and
thirst and cramping pains he slept again. Thus he passed that night, and
when the golden rays of sunlight came piercing the gray mountain mists
and flooding the landscape with its warm glory, Pete Warren, hearing the
voices of sleepless revenge, now more numerous and harsh and packed with
hate--hearing them on all sides from far and near--dared not stir. He
remained perched in his leafy nook like some half-knowing, primeval
thing, avoiding the flint-tipped arrows of the high-cheeked,
straight-haired men lurking beneath.



CHAPTER XVIII

[Illustration: 9159]

ARSON DWIGHT remained two days in the vicinity of his farm waiting
gloomily for the discovery and arrest of Pete Warren, his sole
hope being that at the last grewsome moment he might prevail on the
distraught man-hunters to listen to a final appeal for law and order.
He was forced, however, to return to Darley, feeling sure, as did
the others, that Pete was hiding in some undiscovered place in the
mountains, or shrewd and deft enough to avoid the approach of man or
hound. But it would not be for long, the hunters told themselves, for
the entire spot was surrounded and well guarded and they would starve
him out.

“The gang” breathed more freely when they saw Carson appear in the
doorway of the den on the night of his return, and learned that through
some miracle he had failed to meet Dan Willis, though not one of them
was favorably impressed by the outward appearance of their leader. His
eyes, in their darkened sockets, gleamed like despondent fires; on his
tanned cheeks hectic flushes had appeared and his hands quivered as if
from nervous exhaustion. Not a man among them dared reproach him for the
further and futile political mistake he had made. He was a ruined man,
and yet they admired him the more as they looked down on him, begrimed
with the dregs of his failure. Garner’s opinion, to himself expressed,
was that Dwight was a failure only on the surface, but that it was the
surface which counted everywhere except in heaven, and there no one knew
what sort of coin would be current. Garner loved him. He loved him for
his hopeless fidelity to Helen, for his firm-jawed clinging to a mere
principle, such as trying to keep an old negro woman who had faith in
him from breaking her heart, for his risking death itself to obtain full
justice-for the black boy who was his servant. Yes, Garner mused,
Carson certainly deserved a better deal all round, but deserving a thing
according to the highest ethics, and getting it according to the lowest
were different.

I The following night there was a queer, secret meeting of negroes in
the town. Stealthily they left their cabins and ramshackle homes, and
one by one they glided through the darkest streets and alleys to the
house of one Neb Wynn, a man who had acquired his physical being and
crudely unique personality from the confluence of three distinct streams
of blood--the white, the Cherokee Indian, and the negro. He owned and
drove a dray on the streets of the town, and being economical he had
accumulated enough means to build the two-story frame (not yet painted)
house in which he lived. The lower floor was used as a negro restaurant,
which Neb’s wife managed, the upper was devoted to the family bedroom, a
guest-chamber for any one who wished to spend the night, and a fair-sized
“hall,” with windows on the street, which was rented to colored people
for any purpose, such as dances, lodge meetings or church sociables.

It was in this room, where no light burned, that the negroes assembled.
Indeed, no sort of illumination was used below, and when a negro who had
been secretly summoned reached the spot, he assured himself that no
one was in sight, and then he approached the restaurant door on tiptoe,
rapped twice with his knuckles, paused a moment, and then rapped three
times. Thereupon Neb, with his ear to the key-hole on the inside,
cautiously opened the door and drew the applicant within, and, closing
the shutter softly, asked, “What is the password?”

“Mercy,” was the whispered reply.

“What’s the countersign?”

“Peace an’ good-will to all men. Thy will be done. Amen.”

“All right, I know you,” Neb would say. “Go up ter de hall en set down,
but mind you, don’t speak _one_ word!”

And thus they gathered--the men who were considered the most substantial
colored citizens of the town. About ten o’clock Neb crept cautiously up
the narrow stairs, entered the room, and sat down.

“We are all here,” he announced. “Brother Hard-castle, I’m done wid my
part. I ain’t no public speaker; I’ll leave de rest ter you.”

A figure in one of the comers rose. He was the leading negro minister
of the place. He cleared his throat and then said: “I would open with
prayer, but to pray we ought to stand or kneel, and either thing would
make too much disturbance. We can only ask God in our hearts, brothers,
to be with us here in the darkness, and help lead us out of our trouble;
help us to decide if we can, singly or in a body, what course to pursue
in the grave matter that faces our race. We are being sorely tried,
tried almost past endurance, but the God of the white man is the God of
the black. Through a dark skin the light of a pure heart shines as far
in an appeal for help towards the throne of Heaven as through a white.
I’m not prepared to make a speech. I can’t. I am too full of sorrow and
alarm. I have just left the mother of the accused boy and the sight of
her suffering has upset me. I have no harsh words, either, for the white
men of this town. Every self-respecting colored citizen has nothing but
words of praise for the good white men of the South, and in my heart, I
can’t much blame the men of the mountains who are bent on revenge, for
the crime perpetrated by one of our race was horrible enough to justify
their rage. It is only that we want to see full justice done and the
absolutely innocent protected. I have been talking to Brother Black
to-day, and I feel--”

He broke off, for a hiss of warning as low as the rattle of a hidden
snake escaped Neb Wynn’s lips. On the brick sidewalk below the steps
of some solitary passer-by rang crisply on the still night air. It died
away in the distance and again all was quiet.

“Now you kin go on,” Neb said. “We des got to be careful, gen’men. Ef a
meetin’ lak dis was knowed ter be on tap de last one of us would be in
trouble, en dey would pull my house down fust. You all know dat.”

“You are certainly right,” the preacher resumed. “I was only going to
call on Brother Black to say something in a line with the-talk I had
with him today. He’s got the right idea.”

“I’m not a speaker,” Buck Black began, as he stood up. “A man who runs
a barber-shop don’t have any too much time ter read and study, but I’ve
giv’ dis subject a lot o’ thought fust an’ last. I almost giv’ up after
dat big trouble in Atlanta; I ‘lowed dar wasn’t no way out of we-alls’
plight, but I think diffunt now. A _white_ man made me see it. I read
some’n’ yesterday in the biggest paper in dis State. It was written by
de editor an’ er big owner in it. Gen’men, it was de fust thing I’ve
seed dat seemed ter me ter come fum on high as straight as a bolt of
lightnin’. Brother black men, dat editor said dat de white race had
tried de whip-lash, de rope, en de firebrand fer forty years en de
situation was still as bad as ever. He said de question never would be
plumb settled till de superior race extend a kind, helpful hand ter
de ignorant black an’ lead ‘im out er his darkness en sin en crime.
Gen’men, dem words went thoo en thoo me. I knowed dat man myself, when
I lived in Atlanta; I’ve seed his honest face en know he meant what he
said. He said it was time ter blaze er new trail, er trail dat hain’t
been blazed befo’--er trail of love en forgiveness en pity, er trail
de Lord Jesus Christ would blaze ef he was here in de midst o’ dis
struggle.”

“Dat so, dat so!” Neb Wynn exclaimed, in a rasping whisper. “Gawd know
dat de trufe.”

“An’ I’m here ter-night,” Buck Black continued, “ter say ter you all dat
I’m ready ter join fo’ces wid white men like dat. De old time white man
was de darky’s best friend; he owned ‘im, but he helped ‘im. In de old
slave days black crimes lak our race is guilty of ter-day was never
heard of--never nowhar! Dar’s er young white man here in dis town, too,
dat I love,” Black continued, after a pause. “I needn’t mention his
name; I bound you it is writ on every heart in dis room. You all know
what he did yesterday an’ day befo’--in spite er all de argument en
persuasions of his friends dat is backin’ ‘im in politics, he went out
dar ter de mountains in de thick o’ it. I got it straight. I seed er man
fum dar yesterday, en he said Marse Carson Dwight was out ‘mongst dem men
pleadin’ wid ‘em ter turn Pete over ter him en de law. He promised ter
give er bond dat was big enough ter wipe out all he owned on earth, ef
dey’d only spare de boy’s life en give ‘im a trial. Dey say Dan Willis
wanted ter shoot ‘im, but Willis’s own friends wouldn’t let ‘im git nigh
 ‘im. I was in my shop last night when he come in town an’ axed me ter
shave ‘im up so he could go home en pacify his mother. She was sick en
anxious about him. He got in my chair. Gen’men, I used ter brag beca’se
I shaved General John B. Gordon once, when he was up here speakin’, but
fum now on my boast will be shavin’ Marse Carson Dwight. He got in de
chair an’ laid back so tired he looked lak er dyin’ man. He was all
spattered fum head ter foot wid mud dat he’d walked an’ rid thoo. I was
so sorry fer ‘im I could hardly do my work. I was cryin’ half de time,
dough he didn’t see it, ’ca’se he jes layed dar wid his eyes closed.
Hate de white race lak some say we do?” Black’s voice rose higher and
quivered. “No, suh, I’ll never hate de race dat fetched dat white man in
dis world. When he got out de chair de fus thing he ax was ef I’d heard
how Mam’ Lindy was. I told ‘im she was pretty bad off, worried in her
mind lak she was; den he turn fum de glass whar he was tyin’ his necktie
wid shaky fingers en said: ‘I thought I might fetch ‘er some hope, Buck,
but I done give up. Ef I only had Pete in my charge safe in er good
reliable jail I could free ‘im, fer I don’t believe he killed dem
folks.’”

Buck Black paused. It was plain that his hearers were much affected,
though no sound at all escaped them. The speaker was about to resume,
when he was prevented by a sharp rapping on the stair below.

“Hush!” Neb Wynn commanded, in a warning whisper. He crept on tiptoe
across the carpetless room, out into the hallway, and leaned over the
baluster.

“Who dat?” he asked, in a calm, raised voice.

“It’s me, Neb. I want ter see you. Come down!”

“It’s my wife>” Neb informed the breathless room. “Sounds lak she’s
scared ‘bout some’n’. Don’t say er word till I git back. Mind, you folks
got ter be careful ter-night.”

He descended the creaking stairs to the landing below. They caught the
low mumbling of his voice intermingled with the perturbed tones of his
wife, and then he crept back to them, strangely silent they thought, for
after he had resumed his seat against the wall in the dark human circle,
they heard only his heavy breathing. Fully five minutes passed, and
then he sighed as if throwing something off his mind, some weight of
perplexing indecision.

“Well, go on wid what you was sayin’, Brother Black,” he said. “I reckon
our meetin’ won’t be ‘sturbed.”

“I almost got to what I was coming to,” Buck Black continued, rising
and leaning momentously on the back of his chair. “I was leadin’ up to
a gre’t surprise, gen’men. I’m goin’ to tell you faithful friends a
secret, a secret which, ef it was out dat we knowed it, might hang us
all. So far it rests wid des me an’ a black ‘oman dat kin be trusted, my
wife. Gen’men, I know whar Pete Warren is. I kin lay my hands on ‘im any
time. He’s right here in dis town ter-night.”

A subdued burst of surprise rose from the dark room, then all was still,
so still that the speaker’s grasp of his chair gave forth a harsh,
rasping sound.

“Yes, my wife seed ‘im in de ol’ lumber-yard back o’ our house, en he
was sech er sight ter look at dat she mighty nigh went out’n ‘er senses.
He was all cut in de face, en his clothes en shoes was des hangin’ ter
 ‘im by strings, en his eyes was ‘most poppin’ out’n his head. He was
starvin’ ter death--hadn’t had a bite t’ eat since he run off. When she
seed ‘im it was about a hour by sun, en he begged ‘er to fetch ‘im some
victuals. Gen’men, he was so hungry dat she say he licked her han’s lak
er dog, en cried en tuck on powerful. She come home en told me, en ax me
what ter do. Gen’men, ‘fo’ God on high I want ter do my duty ter my
race en also to de white, but I couldn’t see any safe way ter meddle.
De white folks, some of ‘em, anyway, say dat we aid en encourage
crimes ‘mongst our people, en while my heart was bleedin’ fer dat boy en
his folks, I couldn’t underhanded he’p ‘im widout goin’ ter de men in
power accordin’ ter law.”

“And you did right,” spoke up the minister. “As much as I pity the boy,
I would have acted as you have done. He is accused of murder and is an
escaped prisoner. To decide that he was innocent and help him escape is
exactly what we are blaming his pursuers for doing--taking the law into
hands not sanctioned by authority. There is only one thing that can
decide the matter, and that is the decision of a judge and jury.”

“Dat’s exactly de way I looked at it,” said Black, “en so I tol’ my wife
not ter go nigh ‘im ergin. I knowed dis meetin’ was up fer ter-night, en
I des thought I’d fetch it here en lay it ‘fo’ you all en take er vote
on it.”

“A good idea,” said the minister from his chair. “And, brethren, it
seems to me we, as a body of representative negroes of this town, have
now a golden opportunity to prove our actual sincerity to the white
race. As you say, Brother Black, we have been accused of remaining
inactive when a criminal was being pursued for crimes against the white
people. If we can agree on it to a unit, and can turn the prisoner over
now that all efforts of the whites to apprehend him have failed, our act
will be flashed all round the civilized world and give the lie to the
charge in question. Do you think, Brother Black, that Pete Warren is
still hiding near your house?”

“Yes, I do,” answered the barber. “He would be afeard ter leave dat
place, en I reckon he’s waitin’ dar now fer my wife ter fetch ‘im
some’n’ ter eat.”

“Well, then, all we’ve got to do is to see if we can thoroughly agree on
the plan proposed. I suppose one of the first things, if we do agree to
turn him over to the law, is to consult with Mr. Carson Dwight and see
if he can devise a way of acting with perfect safety to the prisoner and
all concerned. If he can, our duty is clear.”

“Yes, he’s de man, God knows dat,” Black said, enthusiastically. “He
won’t let us run no risk.”

“Well, then,” said the minister, who had the floor, “let us put it to
a vote. Of course, it must be unanimous. We can’t act on a thing as
dangerous as this without a thorough agreement. Now, you have all
heard the plan proposed. Those in favor make it known by standing up as
quietly as you possibly can, so that I may count you.”

Very quietly, for so many acting in concert, men on all sides of the
hall stood up. The minister then began to grope round the room, touching
with his hands the standing voters.

“Who’s this?” he suddenly exclaimed, when he reached Neb Wynn’s chair
and lowered his hands to the drayman, who was the only one not standing.
“It’s me,” Neb answered; “me, dat’s who--_me!_”

“Oh!” There was an astonished pause.

“Yes, it’s me. I ain’t votin’ yo’ way,” Neb said. “You all kin act fer
yo’selves. I know what I’m about.”

“But what’s de matter wid you?” Buck Black demanded, rather sharply.
“All dis time you been de most anxious one ter do some’n’, en now when
we got er chance ter act wid judgment en caution, all in a body, en, as
Brother Hardcastle say, ter de honor of ou’ race, why you up en--”

“Hold on, des keep yo’ shirt on!” said Neb, in a queer, tremulous voice.
“Gen’men, I ain’t placed des zactly de same es you-all is. I don’t want
ter tek de whole ‘sponsibility on my shoulders, en I don’t intend to.”

“You are not taking it all on your shoulders, brother,” said the
minister, calmly; “we are acting in a body.”

“No, it’s all on _me_,” Neb said. “You said, Buck Black, dat Pete was in
de lumber-yard ‘hind yo’ house. He ain’t. You might search ever’ stack o’
planks en ever’ dry-kiln dar, but you wouldn’t fin’ ‘im. He’s a cousin
er my wife’s, en me’n dat boy was good, true friends, en so he come
here des now, when you heard my wife call me, an’ th’owed hisse’f on my
mercy. He’s out at my stable now, up in de hay-loft, waitin’ fer me ter
fetch ‘im suppin ter eat, as soon as you all go off. My wife say he’s
de most pitiful thing dat God ever made, en, gen’men, I’m sorry fer ‘im.
Law or no law, I’m sorry _fer_ ‘im. It’s all well enough fer you ter set
here in yo’ good clothes wid good meals er victuals inside o’ you, en
know you got er good safe baid ter go ter--it’s all well enough fer you
ter vote on what is ter be done, but ef you _do_ vote fer it en clap
 ‘im ‘hind de bars en he’s hung--hung by de neck till he’s as stiff es a
bone, you’ll be helpin’ ter do it. Law is one thing when it’s law, it’s
another thing when it ain’t fit ter spit on. You all talk _jestice,
jestice_, en you think it would be er powerful fine thing ter prove ter
de worl’ how honest you all is by handin’ dat po’ yaller dog over to de
law. Put yo’selves in Pete’s shoes an’ you wouldn’t be so easy ter vote
yo’selves ‘hind de bars. You’d say de bird in de han’ is wuth three in
de bush, en you’d stay away firm de white man’s court-house. De white
men say deirselves dat dar ain’t no jestice, en dey’s right. Carson
Dwight is er good lawyer, en he’d fight till he drapped in his tracks,
but de State solicitor would rake up enough agin Pete Warren to keep de
jury’s blood b’ilin’. Whar’d dey git a jury but fum de ranks o’ de very
men dat’s chasin’ Pete lak er rabbit now? Whar’d dey git a jury dat ud
believe in his innocence when dey kin prove dat he done threatened de
daid man? No whar in dis State. No innocent nigger’s ever been hung,
hein? No innocent nigger’s in de chain gang, hein? Huh, dey as thick dar
es fleas.”

When Neb had ceased speaking not a voice broke the stillness of the room
for several minutes, then the minister said, with a deep-drawn breath:
“Well, there is really no harm in looking at all sides of the question.
The very view you have taken, Brother Wynn, may be the one that
has really kept colored people from being more active in the legal
punishment of their race. But it seems to me that it would only be fair,
since you say Pete Warren is near, for him to be told of the situation
and left to decide for himself.”

“I’m willin’ ter do dat, God knows,” said Neb, “en ef y’all say so, I’ll
fetch ‘im here en you kin splain it ter ‘im.”

“I’m sure that will be best,” said Hardcastle. “Hurry up. To save time,
you might bring his food here--that is, if your wife has not taken it to
him.”

“No, she was afeard ter go out dar. I’ll mek ‘er fetch it up here while
I go after him. It may tek time, fer he may be afeard to come in. But ef
I tell ‘im de grub’s here, I bound you he’ll come a-hustlin’.”

They heard Neb’s voice below giving instructions to his wife, and then
the outer door in the rear was opened and closed. Presently a step was
heard on the stair, and they held their breaths expectantly, but it was
only Neb’s wife with a tray of food. Gropingly she placed it on a little
table, which she softly dragged from a corner into the centre of the
room, and without a word retired. A door below creaked on its hinges;
steps shambling and unsteady resounded hollowly from the floor beneath,
and Neb’s urgent, pacific voice rose to the tense ears of the listeners,
“Come on; don’t be a baby, Pete!” they heard Neb say. “Dey all yo’
friends en want ter he’p you out ‘n yo’ trouble ef dey kin.”

“Whar dat meat? whar it? oh, God! whar it?” It was the voice of the
pursued boy, and it had a queer, uncanny sound that all but struck
terror to the hearts of the listeners.

“She lef’ it up dar whar dey all is,” Neb said; “come on! I’ll give it
to you!”

That seemed to settle the matter, for the clambering steps drew nearer;
and then two figures slightly denser than the darkness came into the
room.

“Wait; let me git you er chair,” Neb said.

“Whar it? whar it? my God! whar dat meat?” Pete cried, in a harsh,
rasping voice.

“Whar’d she put it?” Neb asked. “Hanged ef I know.”

“On the table,” said Hardcastle.

Neb reached out for the tray and had barely touched it, when Pete sprang
at him with a sound like the snarl of an angry dog. The tray fell with a
crash to the floor and the food with it.

“There!” Neb exclaimed; “you did it.”

Then the spectators witnessed a pitiful, even repulsive scene, for the
boy was on the floor, a big bone of ham in his clutch. For a moment
nothing was heard except the snuffling, gulping, crunching sound that
issued from Pete’s nose, mouth, and jaws. Then a noise was heard below.
It was a sharp rapping on the outer door.

“Sh!” Neb hissed, warmingly; but there was no cessation of the ravenous
eating of the starving negro. Neb cautiously looked out of the window,
allowing only his head to protrude over the windowsill. “Who dar?” he
called out.

“Me, Neb; Jim Lincum,” answered the negro below. “You told me ef I heard
any news over my way ter let you know.”

“Oh yes,” said Neb.

“Folks think Pete done lef de woods, Neb. De mob done scattered ter hunt
all round de country. A gang of ‘em was headed dis way at sundown.”

“Oh, dat so?” Neb said; “well we done gone ter baid, Jim, or I’d open de
do’ en let you have er place ter sleep.”

“Don’t want no place ter sleep, Neb,” was the answer, in a half-humorous
tone. “Don’t want ter sleep nowhar ‘cep’ on my laigs sech times as dese.
Er crowd er white men tried ter nab me while I was in my cotton-patch
at work dis mawnin’ but I made myse’f scarce. Dey hot en heavy after
Sam Dudlow; some think he had er hand in de killin’. Dey cayn’t find dat
nigger, dough.”

“Well, good-night, Jim. I got ter git some rest,” and Neb drew his head
back and lowered the window-sash.

“Jim’s all right,” he said, “but I couldn’t tek ‘im in here. Dem men may
‘a’ been followin’ ‘im on de sly.”

He advanced to the middle of the room and stood over the crouching
figure still noisily eating on the floor.

“Pete, Brother Hardcastle got suppin ter ‘pose ter you, en we ‘ain’t got
any too much time. We goin’ ter tell you ‘bout it an leave it ter you.
One thing certain, you ain’t safe hidin’ out like you is, en nobody
ain’t safe dat he’ps hide you, so I say suppin got ter be done in yo’
case.”

“I want y’all ter sen’ fer Marse Carson,” Pete mumbled, between his
gulps. “He kin fix me ef anybody kin.”

“That’s what we were about to propose, Pete,” said the preacher. “You
see--”

“Sh!” It was Neb’s warning hiss again. All was silence in the room; even
Pete paused to listen. It was the low drone of human voices, and many
in number, immediately below. A light from a suddenly exposed lantern
flashed ‘on the walls. Neb approached the window, but afraid even
cautiously to raise the sash, he stood breathless. Then through his
closed teeth came the words: “We are caught; gen’men, we in fer it
certain en sho! Dey done tracked us down!”

There was a loud rapping on the door below, a stifled scream from Neb’s
wife at the foot of the stairs, and then a sharp, commanding voice
sounded outside.

“Open up, Neb Wynn!” it said. “We are onto your game. Some devilment is
in the wind and we are going to know what it is.”

Neb suddenly and boldly threw up the sash and looked out. “All right,
gen’men, don’t bre’k my new lock. I’ll be down dar in er minute.” Then
quickly turning to Pete, he bent and drew him up. “Mak’ er bre’k fer dat
winder back dar, slide down de shed-roof, en run fer yo’ life. Run!”

There was a great clatter of chairs and feet in the group of men, a
crashing of a thin window-sash in the rear, a heavy, thumping sound on a
roof outside, and a loud shout from lusty throats below.

“There he goes! Catch ‘im! Head ‘im off! Shoot ‘im!”

Then darkness, chaos, and terror reigned.



CHAPTER XIX.

[Illustration: 9175]

HILE these things were being enacted, Sanders, who had taken supper at
Warren’s, and Helen sat on the front veranda in the moonlight. Scarcely
any other topic than Mam’ Linda’s trouble had been broached between
them, though the ardent visitor had made many futile efforts to draw
the girl’s thought into more cheerful channels. It was shortly after ten
o’clock, and Sanders was about to take his leave, when old Lewis emerged
from the shadows of the house and was shambling along the walk towards
the gate leading into the Dwight grounds, when Helen called out to him:
“Where are you going, Uncle Lewis?”

He doffed his old slouch hat and stood bare and, bald, his smooth pate
gleaming in the moonlight.

“I started over ter see Marse Carson, missy,” he said, in a low, husky
voice. “I knows good en well dat he can’t do a thing, but Linda’s been
beggin’ me ever since she seed him en Mr. Garner drive up at de back
gate. She thinks maybe dey l’arnt suppin ‘bout Pete. I knows dey hain’t,
honey, ’ca’se dey ud ‘a’ been over ‘fo’ dis. Dar he is on de veranda
now--oh, Marse Carson! Kin I see you er minute, suh?”

“Yes, I’ll be right down, Lewis,” Carson answered, leaning over the
railing.

As he came out of the house and approached across the grass, Sanders and
Helen went to meet him. He bowed to Helen and nodded coldly to Sanders,
to whom he had barely been introduced, and then with a furrowed brow he
stood and listened as the old man humbly made his wants known.

“I’m sorry to say I haven’t heard a thing, Uncle Lewis,” he said. “I’d
have been right over to see Mam’ Linda if I had. So far as I can see,
everything is just the same.”

“Oh, young marster, I don’t know what I’m ergoin’ ter do,” the old negro
groaned. “I don’t see how Linda’s gwine ter pass thoo another night.
She’s burnin’ at de stake, Marse Carson, but thoo it all she blesses
you, suh, fer tryin’ so hard. My Gawd, dar she come now; she couldn’t
wait.”

He hastened across the grass to where the old woman stood, and caught
hold of her arm.

“Whar Marse Carson? Whar young marster?” Linda cried, and then, catching
sight of the trio, she tottered unaided towards them.

“Oh, young marster, I can’t stan’ it; I des _can’t!_” she groaned,
as she caught Dwight’s hand and clung to it. “I am a mother ef I _am_
black, an’ dat my onliest child. My onliest child, young marster, en de
po’ boy is ‘way over in dem mountains starvin’ ter death wid dem men
en dogs on his track. Oh, young marster, ol’ Mammy Lindy is cert’nly
crushed. Ef I could see Pete in his coffin I could put up wid it, but
dis here--dis here”--she struck her great breast with her hand--“dis
awful pain! I can’t stan’ it--I des can’t!”

Carson lowered his head. There was a look of profound and tortured
sympathy on his strong face. Garner came out of the house smoking a
cigar and strolled across the grass towards them, but observing the
situation he paused at a flowering rose-bush and stood looking down the
moonlit street towards the court-house and grounds dimly outlined in the
distance. Garner had never been considered very emotional; no one had
ever detected any indications of surprise or sorrow in his face. He
simply stood there to-night avoiding contact with the inevitable. As a
criminal lawyer he had been obliged to inure himself to exhibitions
of mental suffering as a physician inures himself to the presence of
physical pain, and yet had Garner been questioned on the matter, he
would have admitted that he admired Carson Dwight for the abundant
possession of the very qualities he lacked. He positively envied his
friend to-night. There was something almost transcendental in the
heart-wrung homage the old woman was paying Carson. There was something
else in the fact that the wonderful tribute to courage and manliness
was being paid there without reservation or stint before the (and Garner
chuckled) very eyes of the woman who had rejected Carson’s love, and in
the very presence of the masculine incongruity (as Garner viewed him)
by her side. All the display of emotion, _per se_, had no claims on
Garner’s interest, but the sheer, magnificent play of it, and its
palpable clutch on things of the past and possible events of the future,
held him as would the unfolding evidence in an important law case.

“But oh, young marster,” old Linda was saying; “thoo it all you been
my stay en comfort; not even God’s been as good ter me as you have; you
tried ter he’p po’ ol’ Lindy, but de Lawd on high done deserted her. Dar
ain’t no just, reasonable God dat will treat er po’ old black ‘oman es
I’m treated, honey. In slavery en out I’ve done de best--de very best
I could fer white en black, en now as I stan’ here, after er long life,
wid my feet in de grave, I don’t deserve ter be punished wid dis slow
fire. Go ter de white ‘omen er dis here big Newnited States en ax’ ‘em
how dey would feel in my fix. Ef de mothers in dis worl’ could see me
ter-night en read down in my heart, er river of tears would flow fer me.
Dat so, en’ yet de God I’ve prayed ter-night en mornin’, in slavery
en out, has turned His back on me. I’ve prayed, young marster, till my
throat is sore, till now I hain’t got no strength nor faith lef’ in me,
en--well, here I stand. You all see me.” Without a word, his face
wrung with pain, Carson clasped her hand, and bowing to Helen and her
companion he moved away and joined Garner.

“It was high time you were getting out of that,” Garner said, as he
pulled at his cigar and drew his friend back towards the house. “You
can do nothing, and letting Linda run on that way only works her up to
greater excitement. But say, old man, what’s the matter with you?”

Carson was white, and the arm Garner had taken was trembling.

“I don’t know, Garner, but I simply can’t stand anything like that,”
 Dwight said, his eyes on the group they had left. “It actually makes me
sick. I--I can’t stand it. Good-night, Garner; if you won’t sleep here
with me, I’ll turn in. I--I--”

“Hush! what’s that?” Garner interrupted, his ear bent towards the centre
of the town.

It was a loud and increasing outcry from the direction of Neb Wynn’s
house. Several reports of revolvers were heard, and screams and shouts:
“Head ‘im off! Shoot ‘im! There he goes!”

“Great God!” Garner cried, excitedly; “do you suppose it is--”

He did not finish, for Carson had raised his hand to check him and stood
staring through the moonlight in the direction from which the sounds
were coming. There were now audible the rapid and heavy foot-falls of
many runners. On they came, the sound increasing as they drew nearer.
They were only a few blocks distant now. Carson cast a hurried glance
towards the Warren house. There, leaning on the fence, supported by
Helen and Lewis, stood Linda, silent, motionless, open-mouthed. Sanders
stood alone, not far away. On came the rushing throng. They were turning
the nearest corner. Somebody, or something, was in the lead. Was it a
man, an animal, a mad dog, a----

On it came forming the point of a human triangle. It was a man, but a
man doubled to the earth by. fatigue and weakness, a man who ran as
if on the point of sprawling at every desperate leap forward. His hard
breathing now fell on Carson’s ears.

“It’s Pete!” he said, simply.

Garner laid a firm hand on his friend’s arm.

“Now’s the time for you to have common-sense,” he said. “Remember, you
have lost all you care for by this thing--don’t throw your very life
into the damned mess. By God, you _sha’n’t!_ I’ll--”

“Oh, Marse Carson, it’s Pete!” It was Linda’s voice, and it rang out
high, shrill, and pleading above the roar and din. “Save ‘im! Save ‘im!”

Dwight wrenched his arm from the tense clutch of Garner and dashed
through the gate, and was out in the street just as the negro reached
him and stretched out his arms in breathless appeal and fell sprawling
at his feet. The fugitive remained there on his knees, his hands
clutching the young man’s legs, while the mob gathered round.

“He’s the one!” a hoarse voice exclaimed. “Kill ‘im! Burn the black
fiend!”

Standing pinioned to the ground by Pete’s terrified clutch, Carson
raised his hands above his head. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” he kept crying, as
the crowd swayed him back and forth in their effort to lay hold of the
fugitive who was clinging to his master with the desperate clutch of a
drowning man.

“Stop! Listen!” Carson kept shouting, till those nearest him became
calmer, and forming a determined ring, pressed the outer ones back.

“Well, listen!” these nearest cried. “See what he’s got to say. It’s
Carson Dwight. Listen! He won’t take up for him; he’s a white man. He
won’t defend a black devil that--”

“I believe this boy is innocent!” Carson’s voice rang out, “and I plead
with you as men and fellow-citizens to give me a chance to prove it to
your fullest satisfaction. I’ll stake my life on what I say. Some of you
know me, and will believe me when I say I’ll put up every cent I have,
everything I hold dear on earth, if you will only give me the chance.”

A fierce cry of opposition rose in the outskirts of the throng, and
it passed from lip to lip till the storm was at its height again. Then
Garner did what surprised Carson as much as anything he had ever seen
from that man of mystery.

“Stop! Listen!” Garner thundered, in tones of such command that they
seemed to sweep all other sounds out of the tumult. “Let’s hear what
he’s got to say. It can do no harm! Listen, boys!”

The trick worked. Not three men in the excited mob associated the voice
or personality with the friend and partner of the man demanding
their attention. The tumult subsided; it fell away till only the low,
whimpering groans of the frightened fugitive were heard. There was
a granite mounting-block on the edge of the sidewalk, and feeling it
behind him: Carson stood upon it, his hands on the woolly pate of the
negro still crouching at his feet. As he did so, his swift glance took
in many things about him: he saw Linda at the fence, her head bowed
upon her arms as if to shut out from her sight the awful scene; near her
stood Lewis, Helen, and Sanders, their expectant gaze upon him; at the
window of his mother’s room he saw the invalid clearly outlined against
the lamplight behind her. Never had Carson Dwight put so much of his
young, sympathetic soul into words. His eloquence streamed from him like
a swollen torrent of logic. On the still night air his voice rose clear,
firm, confident. It was no call to them to be merciful to the boy’s
mother bowed there like a thing cut from stone, for passion like theirs
would have been inflamed by such advice, considering that the fugitive
was charged with having slain a woman. But it was a calm call to
patriotism. Carson Dwight plead with them to let their temperate action
that night say to all the world that the day of unbridled lawlessness
in the fair Southland was at an end. Law and order on the part of itself
was the South’s only solution of the problem laid like another unjust
burden on a sorely tried and suffering people.

“Good, good! That’s the stuff!” It was the raised voice of the adroit
Garner, under his broad-brimmed hat in the edge of the crowd. “Listen,
neighbors; let him go on!”

There was a fluttering suggestion of acquiescence in the stillness that
followed Garner’s words. But other obstacles were to arise. A clatter of
galloping horses was heard round the corner on the nearest side street,
and three men, evidently mountaineers, rode madly up. They reined in
their panting, snorting mounts.

“What’s the matter?” one of them asked, with an oath. “What are you
waiting for? That’s the damned black devil.”

“They are waiting, like reasonable human beings, to give this man a
chance to establish his innocence,” Carson cried, firmly.

“They are, damn you, are they?” the same voice retorted. There was a
pause; the horseman raised his arm; a revolver gleamed in the moonlight;
there was a flash and a report. The crowd saw Carson Dwight suddenly
lean to one side and raise his hands to the side of his head.

[Illustration: 0183]

“My God, he’s shot!” Garner called out. “Who fired that gun?”

For an instant horrified silence reigned; Carson still stood pressing
his hands to his temple.

No one spoke; the three restive horses were rearing and prancing about
in excitement. Garner made his way through the crowd, elbowing them
right and left, till he stood near the fugitive and his defender.

“A good white man has been shot,” he cried out--“shot by a man on one of
those horses. Be calm. This is a serious business.”

But Carson, with his left hand pressed to his temple, now stood erect.

“Yes, some coward back there shot me,” he said, boldly, “but I don’t
think I am seriously wounded. He may fire on me again, as a dirty coward
will do on a defenceless man, but as I stand here daring him to try it
again I plead with you, my friends, to let me put this boy into jail.
Many of you know me, and know I’ll keep my word when I promise to move
heaven and earth to give him a fair and just trial for the crime of
which he is accused.”

“Bully for you, Dwight! My God, he’s got grit!” a voice cried. “Let him
have his way, boys. The sheriff is back there. Heigh, Jeff Braider, come
to the front! You are wanted!”

“Is the sheriff back there?” Carson asked, calmly, in the strange
silence that had suddenly fallen.

“Yes, here I am.” Braider was threading his way towards him through
the crowd. “I was trying to spot the man that fired that shot, but he’s
gone.”

“You bet he’s gone!” cried one of the two remaining horsemen, and,
accompanied by the other, he turned and, they galloped away. This seemed
a final signal to the crowd to acquiesce in the plan proposed, and they
stood voiceless and still, their rage strangely spent, while Braider
took the limp and cowering prisoner by the arm and drew him down from
the block. Pete, only half comprehending, was whimpering piteously and
clinging to Dwight.

“It’s all right, Pete,” Carson said. “Come on, we’ll lock you up in the
jail where you’ll be safe.” Between Carson and the sheriff, followed
by Garner, Pete was the centre of the jostling throng as they moved off
towards the jail.

“What dey gwine ter do, honey?” old Linda asked, finding her voice for
the first time, as she leaned towards her young mistress.

“Put him in jail where he’ll be safe,” Helen said. “It’s all over now,
mammy.”

“Thank God, thank God!” Linda cried, fervently. “I knowed Marse Carson
wouldn’t let ‘em kill my boy--I knowed it--I knowed it!”

“But didn’t somebody say Marse Carson was shot, honey?” old Lewis asked.
“Seem ter me like I done heard--”

Pale and motionless, Helen stood staring after the departing crowd, now
almost out of view. Carson Dwight’s thrilling words still rang in her
ears. He had torn her very heart from her breast and held it in his
hands while speaking. He had stood there like a God among mere men,
pleading as she would have pleaded for that simple human life, and they
had listened; they had been swept from their mad purpose by the fearless
sincerity and conviction of his young soul. They had shot at him while
he stood a target for their uncurbed passion, and even then he had dared
to taunt them with cowardice as he continued his appeal.

“Daughter, daughter!” her father on the upper floor of the veranda was
calling down to her.

“What is it, father?” she asked.

“Do you know if Carson was hurt?” the Major asked, anxiously. “You know
he said he wasn’t, but it would be like him to pretend so, even if he
were wounded. It may be only the excitement that is keeping him up, and
the poor boy may be seriously injured.”

“Oh, father, do you think--?” Helen’s heart sank; a sensation like
nausea came over her, and she reeled and almost fell. Sanders, a queer,
white look on his face, caught hold of her arm and supported her to a
seat on the veranda. She raised her eyes to the face of her escort as
she sank into a chair. “Do you think--did he look like he was wounded?”

“I could not make out,” Sanders answered, solicitously, and yet his lip
was drawn tight and he stood quite erect. “I--I thought he was at first,
but later when he continued to speak I fancied I was mistaken.”

“He put his hands to his temple,” Helen said, “and almost fell. I saw
him steady himself, and then he really seemed stunned for a moment.”

Sanders was silent. “I remember her aunt said,” he reflected, in grim
misery, his brows drawn together, “that she once had a sweetheart up
here. _Is this the man?_”



CHAPTER XX

[Illustration: 9188]

EN minutes later, while they still sat on the veranda waiting for
Carson’s return, they saw Dr. Stone, the Dwights’ family physician,
alight from his horse at the hitching-post nearby.

“I wonder what that means?” the Major asked. “He must have been sent for
on Carson’s account and thinks he is at home. Speak to him, Lewis.”

Hearing his name called, Dr. Stone approached, his medicine-case in
hand.

“Were you looking for Carson?” Major Warren asked.

“Why, no,” answered the doctor, in surprise; “they said Mrs. Dwight was
badly shocked. Was Carson really hurt?”

“We were trying to find out,” said the Major. “He went on to the jail
with the sheriff, determined to see Pete protected.”

There was a sound of an opening door and old Dwight came out to the
fence, hatless, coatless, and pale. “Come right in, doctor,” he said,
grimly. “There’s no time to lose.”

“Is it as bad as that?” Stone asked.

“She’s dying, if I’m any judge,” was the answer. “She was standing at
the window and heard that pistol-shot and saw Carson was hit. She fell
flat on the floor. We’ve done everything, but she’s still unconscious.”

The two men went hastily into the room where Mrs. Dwight lay, and they
were barely out of sight when Helen noticed some one rapidly approaching
from the direction of the jail. It was Keith Gordon, and as he entered
the gate he laid his hand on Linda’s shoulder and said, cheerily, “Don’t
worry now; Pete is safe and the mob is dispersing.”

“But Carson,” Major Warren asked; “was he hurt?”

“We don’t exactly know yet.” Keith was now at Helen’s side, looking into
her wide-open, anxious eyes. “He wouldn’t stop a second to be examined.
He was afraid something might occur to alter the temper of the mob and
wasn’t going to run any risks. The crowd, fortunately for Pete, was made
up mostly of towns-people. One man from the mountains, a blood relative
of the Johnsons, could have kindled the blaze again with a word, and
Carson knew it. He was more worried about his mother than anything else.
She was at the window and he saw her fall; he urged me to hurry back to
tell her he was all right. I’ll go in.”

But he was detained by the sound of voices down the street. It was
a group of half a dozen men, and in their midst was Carson Dwight,
violently protesting against being supported.

“I tell you I’m all right!” Helen heard him saying. “I’m not a baby,
Garner; let me alone!”

“But you are bleeding like a stuck pig,” Garner said. “Your handkerchief
is literally soaked. And look at your shirt!”

“It’s only skin-deep,” Carson cried. “I was stunned for a moment when it
hit me, that’s all.” Helen, followed by her father and Sanders, advanced
hurriedly to meet the approaching group. They gave way as she drew near,
and she and Dwight faced each other.

“The doctor is in the house, Carson,” she said, tenderly; “go in and let
him examine your wound.”

“It’s only a scratch, Helen, I give you my word,” he laughed, lightly.
“I never saw such a squeamish set of men in my life. Even stolid old
Bill Garner has had seven duck fits at the sight of my red handkerchief.
How’s my mother?”

Helen’s eyes fell. “Your father says he is afraid it is quite serious,”
 she said. “The doctor is with her; she was unconscious.”

They saw Carson wince; his face became suddenly rigid. He sighed. “It
may not be so well after all. Pete is safe for awhile, but if she--if
my mother were to--” He went no further, simply staring blankly into
Helen’s face. Suddenly she put her hand up to his blood-stained
temple and gently drew aside the matted hair. Their eyes met and clung
together.

“You must let Dr. Stone dress this at once,” she said, more gently,
Sanders thought, than he had ever heard a woman speak in all his life.
He turned aside; there was something in the contact of the two that at
once maddened him and drew him down to despair. He had dared to hope
that she would consent to become his wife, and yet the man to whom she
was so gently ministering had once been her lover. Yes, that was the
man. He was sure of it now. Dwight’s attitude, tone of voice, and glance
of the eye were evidence enough. Besides, Sanders asked himself, where
was the living man who could know Helen Warren and not be her slave
forever afterwards?

“Well, I’ll go right in,” Carson said, gloomily. He and Keith and Garner
were passing through the gate when Linda called to him as she came
hastily forward, but Keith and Garner were talking and Carson did not
hear the old woman’s voice. Helen met her and paused. “Let him alone
to-night, mammy,” she said, almost bitterly, it seemed to Sanders, who
was peering into new depths of her character. “_Your_ boy is safe, but
Carson is wounded--_wounded_, I tell you, and his mother may be dying.
Let him alone for to-night, anyway.”

“All right, honey,” the old woman said; “but I’m gwine ter stay here
till de doctor comes out en ax ‘im how dey bofe is. My heart is full
ter-night, honey. Seem ‘most like God done listen ter my prayers after
all.”

Sanders lingered with the pale, deeply distraught young lady on the
veranda till Keith came out of the house, passed through the gate, and
strode across the grass towards them.

“They are both all right, thank God!” he announced. “The doctor says
Mrs. Dwight has had a frightful shock but will pull through. Carson was
right; his wound was only a scratch caused by the grazing bullet. But
God knows it was a close call, and I think there is but one man in the
State low enough to have fired the shot.”

When Keith and Sanders had left her, Helen went with dragging, listless
feet up the stairs to her room.

Lighting her lamp, she stood looking at her image in the mirror on her
bureau. How strangely drawn and grave her features appeared! It seemed
to her that she looked older and more serious than she had ever looked
in her life.

Dropping her glance to her hands, she noted something that sent a
thrill through her from head to foot. It was a purple smudge left on her
fingers by their contact with Carson Dwight’s wound. Stepping across
to her wash-stand, she poured some water into the basin, and was on the
point of removing the stain when she paused and impulsively raised it
towards her lips. She stopped again, and stood with her hand poised in
mid-air. Then a thought flashed into her brain. She was recalling the
contents of the fatal letter of Carson’s to her poor brother; the hot
blood surged over her. She shuddered, dipped her hands, and began to
lave them in the cooling water. Carson was noble; he was brave; he had a
great and beautiful soul, and yet he had written that letter to her
dead brother. Yes, she had openly encouraged Sanders, and she must be
honorable. At any rate, he was a good, clean man and his happiness was
at stake. Yes, she supposed she would finally marry him. She would marry
him.



CHAPTER XXI.

[Illustration: 9193]

ARSON was slightly weakened by the loss of blood and the unusual tax on
his strength, and yet, wearing a strip of sticking-plaster as the
only sign of his wound, he was at the office betimes the next morning,
anxious to make an early start into the arrangements for a hurried
preliminary trial of his client. Garner, as, was that worthy’s habit
when kept up late at night, was still asleep in the den when Helen
called.

Carson was at his desk, bending over a law-book, his pipe in his mouth,
when, looking up, he saw her standing in the doorway and rose instantly,
a flush of gratification on his face.

“I’ve come to see you about poor Pete,” she began, her pale face taking
on color as if from the heat of his own. “I know it’s early, but I
couldn’t wait. Mam’ Linda was in my room this morning at the break of
day, sitting by my bed rocking back and forth and moaning.”

“She’s uneasy, of course,” Carson said. “That’s only natural of a mother
placed as she is.”

“Oh yes,” Helen answered, with a sigh. “She was thoroughly happy last
night over his rescue, but now you see she’s got something else to worry
about. She now wonders if he will be allowed a fair trial.”

“The boy must have that,” Carson said, and then his face clouded over
and he held himself more erect as he glanced past her out at the door.
“Is Mr. Sanders--did he come with you? You see, I met him on the way to
your house as I came down.”

“Yes, he’s there talking over the trouble with my father,” Helen made
rather awkward answer. “He came in to breakfast, but--but I wasn’t at
the table. I was with Mam’ Linda.” And thereupon Helen blushed more
deeply over the reflection that these last words might sound like
intentional and even presumptuous balm to the sensitiveness of a
rejected suitor.

“I was afraid he might be waiting on the outside,” Carson said,
awkwardly. “I want to show hospitality to a stranger in town, you know,
but somehow I can’t exactly do my full duty in his case.”

“You are not expected to,” and Helen had tripped again, as her fresh
color proved. “I mean, Carson--” But she could go no further.

“Well, I am unequal to it, anyway,” Carson replied, with tightening lips
and a steady, honest stare. “I don’t dislike him personally. I hold no
actual grudge against him. From all I’ve heard of him he is worthy of
any woman’s love and deepest respect. I’m simply off the committee of
entertainment during his stay.”

“I--I--didn’t come down to talk about Mr. Sanders,” Helen found herself
saying, as the shortest road from the trying subject. “It seems to me
you ought to hate me. I have, I know, through my concern over Pete,
caused you endless trouble and loss of political influence. Last night
you did what no other man would or could have done. Oh, it was so brave,
so noble, so glorious! I laid awake nearly all night thinking about it.
Your wonderful speech rang over and over in my ears. I was too excited
to cry while it was actually going on, but I shed tears of joy when I
thought it all over afterwards.”

“Oh, that wasn’t anything!” Dwight said, forcing a light tone, though
his flush had died out. “I knew you and Linda wanted the boy saved, and
it wasn’t anything. I ran no risk. It was only fun--a game of football
with a human pigskin snatched here and there by a frenzied mob of
players. When it fell of its own accord at my feet, and I had laid hands
on it, I would have put it over the line or died trying, especially when
you and Sanders--who has beaten me in a grander game--stood looking on.
Oh, I’m only natural! I wanted to win because--first, because it was
your wish, and--because _that man was there._”

Helen’s glance fell to the ragged carpet which, clogged with the dried
mud of a recent rain, stretched from her feet to the door. Then she
looked helplessly round the room at the dusty, open bookshelves,
Garner’s disreputable desk strewn with pamphlets, printed forms of notes
and mortgages, cigar-stubs, and old letters. Her eyes rested longer on
the dingy, small-paned windows to which the cobwebs clung.

“You always bring up his name,” she said, almost resentfully. “Is it
really quite fair to him?”

“No, it isn’t,” he admitted, quickly. “And from this moment that sort of
banter is at an end. Now, what can I do for you? You came to speak about
Pete.”

She hesitated for a moment. It was almost as if, after all she had said,
that if the subject was to be dropped, hers, not his, should be the
final word.

“I came to tell you that Mam’ Linda and I have just left the jail. She
was so wrought up and weak that I made Uncle Lewis take her home in a
buggy. He says she didn’t close her eyes all last night and this morning
refused to touch her breakfast. Then the sight of Pete in his awful
condition completely unnerved her. Did you get a good look at him last
night, Carson--I mean in the light?”

“No.” Dwight shrugged his broad shoulders. “But he looked bad enough as
it was.”

“The sight made me ill,” Helen said. “The jailer let us go into the
narrow passage and we saw him through the bars of the cell. I would
never have known him in the world. His clothing was all in shreds and
his face and arms were gashed and tom, his feet bare and bleeding. Poor
mammy simply stood peering through at him and crying, ‘My boy, my baby,
my baby!’ Carson, I firmly believe he is innocent.”

“So do I,” Dwight made prompt answer. “That is, I am reasonably sure of
it. I shall know _positively_ when I talk to him to-day.”

“Then you will secure his liberty, won’t you?” Helen asked, eagerly. “I
promised mammy I’d talk to you and bring her a report of what you said.”

“I am going to do everything in my power,” Dwight said; “but I don’t
want to raise false hopes only to disappoint you and Linda all the more
later.”

“Oh, Carson, tell me what you mean. You don’t seem sure of the outcome.”

“You must try to look-at the thing bravely, Helen,” Dwight said, firmly.
“There is more in it than an inexperienced girl like you could imagine.
I think we can arrange for a trial to-morrow, but it seems often that it
is while such trials are in progress that the people become most wrought
up; and then, you know, to-day and to-night must pass, and--” He broke
off, avoiding her earnest stare of inquiry.

“Go on, Carson, you can trust me, if I _am_ only a girl.”

“To tell you the truth,” Dwight complied, “it is the next twenty-four
hours that I dread most. That mob last night, it seems, was made up
for the most part of men here in town, workers in the factories and
iron-foundries--many of whom know me personally and have faith in my
promises. If it were left with them I’d have little to fear, but it is
the immediate neighbors of the dead man and woman, the members of the
gang of White Caps who whipped Pete and feel themselves personally
affronted by what they believe to be his crime--they are the men, Helen,
from whom I fear trouble.”

Helen was pale and her hands trembled, though she strove bravely to be
calm.

“You still fear that they may rise and
come--and--take--him--out--of--jail? Oh!” She clasped her hands tightly
and stood facing him, a look of terror growing in her beautiful
eyes. “And can’t something be done? Mr. Sanders spoke this morning of
telegraphing the Governor to send troops to guard the jail.”

“Ah, that’s it!” said Carson, grimly. “But who is to take that
responsibility on himself. I can’t, Helen. It might be the gravest, most
horrible mistake a man ever made, one that would haunt him to his very
grave. The Governor, not understanding the pulse of the people here,
might take the word of some one on the spot. Garner and I know him
pretty well. We’ve been of political service to him personally, and he
would do all he could if we telegraphed him, but--we couldn’t do it. By
the stroke of our pen we might make orphans of the children of scores of
honest white men, and widows of their wives, for the bayonets and shot
of a regiment of soldiers would not deter such men from what they regard
as sacred duty to their families and homes. If the Governor’s troops
did military duty, they would have to hew down human beings like wheat
before a scythe. The very sight of their uniforms would be like a red
rag to a mad bull. It would be a calamity such as has never taken
place in the State. I can’t have a hand in that, Helen, and not another
thinking man in the South would. I love the men of the mountains
too well. They are turning against me politically because we differ
somewhat, but I simply can’t see them shot like rabbits in a net. Pete
is, after all, only _one_--they are many, and they are conscientiously
acting according to their lights. The machinery of modern law moves too
slowly for them. They have seen crime triumphant too often to trust to
any verdict other than that reached from their own reasoning.”

“I see; I see!” Helen cried, her face blanched. “I don’t blame you,
Carson, but poor mammy; what can I say to her?”

“Do your best to pacify and encourage her,” Dwight answered, “and we’ll
hope for the best.”

He stood in the doorway and watched her as she walked off down the
little street. “Poor, dear girl!” he mused. “I had to tell her the
truth. She’s too brave and strong to be treated like a child.”

He turned back to his desk and sat down. There was a deep frown on his
face. “I came within an inch of losing my grip on myself,” his thoughts
ran on. “Another moment and I’d have let her know how I am suffering.
She must never know that--never!”



CHAPTER XXII

[Illustration: 9200]

ALF an hour later Garner came in. He walked about the room, a half smile
on his face, sniffing the air as if with unctuous delight, casting now
and then an amused glance at his inattentive partner.

“What do you mean? What are you up to now?” Carson asked, slightly
irritated over having his thoughts disturbed.

“She’s been here,” Garner answered. “She told me so just now, and I want
to inhale the heavenly perfume she left in this disreputable hole. Good
Lord, you don’t mean that you let her see those rotten slippers of mine!
If you’d been half a friend you’d have kicked them out of sight, but you
didn’t care; you’ve got on a clean collar and necktie, and that plaster
on your alabaster brow would admit you to the highest realm of the
elect--provided the door-keeper was a woman and knew how you got your
ticket. Huh! I really don’t know what will become of me if I associate
with you much longer. Your conduct last night upset me. I turned in to
bed about two o’clock. Bob Smith was doing night-work at the hotel, and
he came in and had to be told the whole thing; and he’d no sooner got
to bed than Keith came in, and Bob had to hear _his_ version. I had
a corking dime novel, but it was too tame after the racket you went
through. The _Red Avenger_ I was trying to get interested in couldn’t
hold a candle, even in his bareback ride strapped to a wild mustang in a
mad dash across a burning prairie, to your horse-block rescue act. What
_you_ did was _new_, and I was _there_. The burning prairie business has
been overdone and the love interest in the _Red Avenger_ was weak, while
yours--_well!_”

Garner sat down in his creaking revolving-chair and thrust his thumbs
into the arm-holes of his vest.

“Mine?” Carson said, coldly. “I don’t exactly see your point.”

“Well, the love business was there all the same,” Garner laughed,
significantly; “for, thrilling as it all was, I had an eye to that. I
couldn’t keep from wondering how I’d have felt if I’d been in your place
and had your chances.”

“_My_ chances!” Dwight frowned. It was plain that he did not like
Garner’s bold encroachments on his natural reserve.

“Yes, your chances, dang you!” Garner retorted, with a laugh. “Do you
know, my boy, that as a psychological proposition, the biggest, most
earnest, most credulous-looking ass on earth is the man who comes to
a strange town to do his courting and has nothing to do but that one
thing, at stated hours through the day or evening, while everybody
around him is going about attending to business. I’ve watched that
fellow hanging around the office of the hotel, kicking his heels
together to kill time between visits, and in spite of all I’ve heard
about his stability and moral worth I can’t respect him. Hang it, if I
were in his place and wanted to spend a week here, I’d peddle cigars on
the street--I’d certainly have _something_ to occupy my spare time. But
I’ll be flamdoodled if you didn’t give him something to think about last
night. Of all things, it strikes me, that could make a man like that
sick--sick as a dog at the very stomach of his hopes--would be to see a
former sweetheart of his fair charmer standing under shot and shell in
front of her ancestral mansion protecting her servants from a howling
mob like that, and later to see the defender, with the step of a David
with a sling, come traipsing back victorious in her cause, all gummed up
with blood and fighting still like hell to keep his friends from choking
him to death in sheer admiration. She and Sanders may be engaged, but
I’ll be dadblamed if I wouldn’t be worried if I were in his place.”

“I wish you would let up, Garner,” Dwight said, almost angrily. “I know
you mean well, but you don’t understand the situation, and I have told
you before that I don’t like to talk about it.”

“I _did_ want to tell you how it was rubbed in on him this morning,”
 Garner said, only half apologetically, “and if you don’t care, I’ll
finish.”

Carson said nothing. Spots of red were on his cheeks, and with a teasing
smile Garner went on: “I had stopped to speak to her on the corner just
now, when the Major and his Highness from Augusta joined us. The old
man was simply bursting with enthusiasm over what you accomplished last
night. According to the Major, you were the highest type of Southerner
since George Washington, and the obtuse old chap kept turning to Sanders
for his confirmation of each and every statement. Sanders was doing it
with slow nods and inarticulate grunts, about as readily as a seasick
passenger specifies items for his dinner, while Helen stood there
blushing like a red rose. Well,” Garner concluded, as he kicked off one
of his untied shoes to put on a slipper, “it may be cold comfort to you,
viewed under the search-light of all the gossip in the air, but your
blond rival is so jealous that the green juice of it is oozing from the
pores of his skin.”

“It isn’t fair to him to look at it as you are,” Dwight said. “Under the
same circumstances he could have taken my place.”

“Under the same circumstances, yes,” Garner grinned. “But it is
circumstances that make things what they are in this world, and I tell
you that fellow needs circumstances worse than any man I ever saw. He
is worried. I stopped and watched him as he walked on with her, and I
declare it looked to me like he kicked himself under his long coat at
every step. Say, look! Isn’t that Pole Baker across the street? The
fellow behind the gray horse. Yes, that’s who it is. I’ll call him. He
may have news from the mountains.”

Answering the summons, Baker led his horse across the street to where
the two friends stood waiting on the edge of the pavement.

“Have they heard of the arrest over there, Pole?” Garner asked.

“Yes,” the farmer drawled out. “I was at George Wilson’s store this
morning, where a big gang was waiting for food supplies from their
homes. Dan Willis fetched the report--by-the-way, fellows, just between
us three, I’ll bet he was the skunk that fired that shot. I’m pretty
sure of it, from what I’ve picked up from some of his pals.”

“But what are they going to do?” Carson asked, anxiously.

“That’s exactly what I come in town to tell you,” answered the
mountaineer. “They are taking entirely a new tack. A report has leaked
out that Sam Dudlow was seen prowling about Johnson’s just ‘fore dark
the night of the murder, and they are dead on his track. They are
concentrating their forces to catch him, and, since Pete Warren is safe
in jail, they say they are going to let ‘im stay thar awhile anyway.”

“Good!” Garner cried, rubbing his hands together. “We’ve got two
chances, now, my boy--to prove Pete innocent at court or by their
catching the right man. In my opinion, Dudlow is the coon that did the
Job, and I believe he did it alone. Pete is too chicken-hearted and
he’s been too well brought up. Now let’s get to work. You go talk to the
prisoner, Carson, and put him through that honeyfugling third degree
of yours. He’ll confess if he did it, and if he did, may the Lord have
mercy on his soul! I won’t help defend him.”

“That’s whar I stand,” Pole Baker said. “It’s enough trouble savin’
_innocent_ niggers these days without bothering over the guilty. Shyster
lawyers tryin’ to protect the bad ones for a little fee is at the bottom
of all this lawlessness anyway.”



CHAPTER XXIII.

[Illustration: 9205]

S the prisoner’s counsel, Carson had no difficulty in seeing him. At the
outer door of the red brick structure, with its slate roof and dormer
windows, Dwight met Burt Barrett, the jailer, a tall though strong young
man, who had once lived in the mountains and had been a moonshiner, and
was noted for his grim courage in any emergency.

“I understand the trial is set for to-morrow,” he remarked, as he opened
the outer door which led into a hallway at the end of which was the
portion of the house in which he lived with his wife and children.

“Yes,” Carson replied; “the judge has telegraphed that he will come
without fail.”

The jailer shrugged his shoulders and laughed. “I feel a sight better
over it than I did last night. I understand that the mob is going to let
us alone till they can catch Sam Dudlow; if they lay hands on that scamp
they certainly will barbecue ‘im alive. As for Pete, I can’t make up my
mind about him; he’s a trifling nigger and no mistake. He’s got a good,
old-time mammy and daddy, and none of Major Warren’s niggers have
ever been in the chain-gang, but this boy has talked a lot and been in
powerful bad company. If you can keep him out of the clutch of the mob
you may save his neck, but you’ve got a job before you.”

“I want to ask what you think about putting a guard round the jail,”
 Carson said, when they were at the foot of the stairs leading to the
cells on the floor above.

“As far as I’m concerned, I hope you won’t have it done,” said Barrett.
“To save your neck, you couldn’t summon men that wouldn’t be prejudiced
agin the nigger, an’ if the report went out that we had put a force
on at the jail it would only make the mob madder, and make them act
quicker. A hundred armed citizens wouldn’t stop a lynching gang--not
a shot would be fired by white men at white men, so what would be the
use?”

“That’s what the sheriff thinks exactly, Burt,” Carson replied. “I
presume the only thing to do is to treat the arrest as usual. I’m doing
all I can to assure the people that there is to be a fair and speedy
trial.”

They had reached the top of the stairs and were near Pete’s cell, when
the jailer turned and asked, in an undertone, “Are you armed?”

“Why, no,” Carson said, in surprise.

“Good Lord! I wouldn’t advise you to go inside the cell then. I’ve known
niggers to kill their best friends when they are desperate.”

“I’m not afraid of this one,” Dwight laughed. “I must get inside. I want
to know the whole truth, and I can’t talk to him through the grating. Is
he in the cell on the right?”

“No, the first on the left; it’s the only doublebarred one in the jail.”

In one corner of the fairly “well lighted room stood a veritable cage,
the sides, top and bottom consisting of heavy steel lattice-work. As the
jailer was unlocking the massive door, Carson peered through one of the
squares and a most pitiful sight met his eye, for at the sound of the
key in the lock Pete, in his tatters and gashed and swollen face, had
crouched down on his dingy blanket and remained there quaking in terror.

“Get up!” the jailer ordered, in a not unkindly tone; “it’s Carson
Dwight to see you.”

At this the negro’s face lighted up, his eyes blazed in the sudden flare
of relief, and he rose quickly. “Oh, Marse Carson, I was afeared--”

“Lock us in,” Dwight said to the jailer; “when I’m through I’ll call
you.”

“All right, you know him better than I do,” Barrett said. “I’ll wait
below.”

“Pete,” Carson said, gently, when they were alone, “your mother says she
wants me to defend you under the charge brought against you. Do you wish
it, too?”

“Yasser, Marse Carson; but, Marse Carson, I don’t know no mo’ about
dat thing dan you do. ‘Fo’ God, Marse Carson, I’m telling you de trufe.
Lawsy, Marse Carson, you kin git me out o’ here ef you’ll des tell ‘em
ter let me go. Dey all know you, Marse Carson, en dey know none er yo’
kind er black folks ain’t er gwine ter do er nasty thing lak dat. Look
how dey did las’ night! Shucks! dey wouldn’t er lef’ enough o’ my haar
fer er hummin’-bird’s nest, ef I hadn’t got ter you in de nick er time.
Dat pack er howlin’ rapscallions was tryin’ ter tear me ter mince-meat
when you fired off dat big speech en made ‘em all feel lak crawlin’ in
holes. You tell ‘em, Marse Carson--you tell de jailer ter le’ me out.
Dat man know you ain’t no fool; he know you is de biggest lawyer in de
Souf. Ain’t I heard old marster say you gwine up, en up, en up, till you
set in de jedge’s seat in de cote? Las’ night, when you ‘gun on ‘em,
en let out dat way, I knowed I was safe, but I don’t see what yo’-all
waitin’ fer; I want ter go home ter mammy, Marse Carson. Look lak she
been sick, en she cried en tuck on here, en so did young miss. Marse
Carson, _what’s de matter wid me?_ What I done? I ain’t er bad nigger.
Unc’ Richmond, on de farm, toi’ me ‘twas’ ca’se I made threats ergin dat
white man ‘ca’se he whipped me. I did talk er lot, Marse Carson, but I
never meant no harm. I was des er li’l mad, en--”

“Stop, Pete!” There was a crude wooden stool in the cell and Carson sat
down on it. His heart was overflowing with pity for the simple, trusting
creature before him as he went on gently and yet firmly: “You don’t
realize it, Pete, but you are in the most dangerous position you were
ever in. I am powerless to release you. You’ll have to be taken to court
and seriously tried by law for the crime of which you are charged. Pete,
I’m going to defend you, but I can’t do a thing for you unless you tell
me the whole truth. If you did this thing you must tell me--_me_, do you
understand. We are alone. No one can hear you, and if you confess it to
me it will go no further. Do you understand?”

Dwight’s glance was fixed on the floor. To this point he had steeled
himself against a too impulsive faith in the negro’s words that he might
logically satisfy himself beyond any doubt as to the innocence or guilt
of his client. There was silence. He dared not look into the gashed
face before him, dreading to read what might be written there by the
quivering hand of self-condemnation. The sheer length of the ensuing
pause sent cold darts of fear through him. He waited another moment,
then raised his eyes to the staring ones fixed upon him. To his
astonishment they were full of tears; the great, heavy lip of the negro
was quivering like that of a weeping child.

“Why, Marse _Carson!_” he sobbed; “my God, I thought you knowed I didn’t
do it! When you tol’ ‘em all las’ night dat I wasn’t de right one, I
thought you meant it. I never once thought you--_you_ was gwine ter turn
ergin me.”

Carson restrained himself by an effort as he went on, still calmly, with
the penetrating insistency of grim justice itself.

“Then do you know anything about it?” he asked;--“_anything at all?_”

“Nothing I could swear to, Marse Carson,” Pete replied, wiping his eyes
on his torn and sleeveless arm.

“Do you suspect anybody, Pete?”

“Yasser, I do, Marse Carson. Somehow, I b’lieve dat Sam Dudlow done
it. I b’lieve it ‘ca’se folks say he’s run off; en what he run off fer
lessen he’s de one? Oh, Marse Carson, I ‘lowed I was havin’ er hard
‘nough time lak it is, but ef _you_ gwine jine de rest uv um en--”

“Stop; think!” Carson went on, almost sternly, so eager was he to get
vital facts bearing on the situation. “I want to know, Pete, why you
think Sam Dudlow killed the Johnsons. Have you any other reason except
that he has left?”

Pete hesitated a moment, then he answered: “I think he de one, Marse
Carson, ‘ca’se one day while me’n him en some more niggers was loadin’
cotton at yo’ pa’s warehouse, some un was guyin’ me ‘bout de stripes
Johnson en Willis lef’ on my back, en I was--I was shootin’ off my mouf.
I didn’t mean er thing, Marse Carson, but I was talkin’ too much, en Sam
come ter me, he did, en said: ‘Yo’ er fool, nigger; yo’ sort never gits
even fer er thing lak dat. It’s de kind dat lay low en do de wuk right.’
En, Marse Carson, w’en I hear dem folks was daid I des laid it ter Sam,
in my mind.”

“Pete,” Dwight said, as he rose to leave, “I firmly believe you are
innocent.”

“Thank God, Marse Carson! I thought you’d b’lieve me. Now, w’en you
gwine let me out?”

“I can’t tell that, Pete,” Dwight answered, as cheerfully as possible.
“You need a suit of clothes. I’ll send you one right away.”

“One er yo’s, Marse Carson?” The gashed face actually glowed with the
delight of a child over a new toy.

“I was going to order a new one,” Carson answered. “I’d ruther have one
er yo’s ef you got one you thoo with,” Pete said, eagerly. “Dar ain’t
none in dis town lak dem you git fum New York. Is you quit wearin’ dat
brown checked one you got last spring?”

“Oh yes, you can have that, Pete, if you wish, and I’ll send you some
shoes and other things.”

“My God! will yer, boss? Lawd, won’t I cut er shine at chu’ch next
Sunday! Say, Marse Carson, you ain’t gwine ter let um keep me in here
over Sunday, is you?”

“I’ll do the best I can for you, Pete,” the young man said, and when
the jailer had opened the door he descended the stairs with a heavy,
despondent tread.

“Poor, poor devil!” he said to himself. “He’s not any more responsible
than a baby. And yet our laws hold him, in his benighted ignorance, more
tightly, more mercilessly than they do the highest in the land.”



CHAPTER XXIV.

[Illustration: 9212]

ESPITE the news Pole Baker had brought to town regarding the disposition
of the mountaineers to let justice take its formal trend in the case
of the negro already arrested, as the day wore on towards its close
the whole town took on an air of vague excitement. Men who now lived at
Darley, but had been former residents of the country, and were supposed
to know the temper and character of the aggrieved people, shook their
heads and smiled grimly when the subject of Pete’s coming trial was
mentioned. “Huh!” said one of these men, who kept a small grocery
store on the main street, “that nigger’ll never see the door of the
court-house.”

And that opinion grew and seemed to saturate the very garment of
approaching night. The negroes at work in various ways about the
business portion of the town left their posts early, and with no comment
to the whites or even to their own kind, they betook themselves to their
homes--or elsewhere. The negroes who had held the interrupted meeting at
Neb Wynn’s house had been all that day less in evidence than any of the
others. The attempt to stimulate law and order, to meet the white race
on common ground, had been crudely and yet sincerely made. They had done
all they could within their restricted limitations; it now behooved them
personally to avoid the probable overflow of the coming crisis.
Their meeting in secret, they feared, was not understood. The present
prisoner, in fact, had to all appearances, at least, been knowingly
harbored by them. To explain would be easy enough; convincing an
infuriated, race-mad mob of their friendly, helpful intentions would be
impossible. Hence it was that long-headed, now silent-tongued, Neb Wynn
locked up his domicile, and with his wife and children stole through the
darkest streets and alleys to the house of a citizen who had owned his
father.

“Marse George,” he said. “I want you ter take me ‘n my folks in fer
ter-night.”

“All right, Neb,” the white man answered; “we’ve got plenty of room. Go
round to the kitchen and get your suppers. I didn’t know it was as bad
as that, but it may be well to be on the safe side.”

Just after dark Carson went home to supper. As he drew near the front
gate he noticed that the Warren house was lighted both in the upper and
lower portions and that a group of persons were standing on the veranda.
He noticed the towering form of old Lewis and the bowed, bandanna-clad
head of Linda, and with them, evidently offering consolation, stood
Helen, the Major, Sanders, and Keith Gordon.

Carson was entering the gate when Keith through the twilight recognized
him and signalled him to wait. And leaving the others Keith came over to
him.

“I must see you, Carson,” he said, in a voice that had never sounded so
grave. “Can we go in? If Mam’ Linda sees you she’ll be after you. She’s
terribly upset.”

“Come into the library,” Carson said. “I see it’s lighted. We’ll not be
disturbed there.”

Inside the big, square room, with its simple furnishings and drab tints,
Carson sank, weary from his nervous strain and loss of sleep, into an
easy-chair and motioned his friend to take another, but Keith, nervously
twirling his hat in his hands, continued to stand.

“It’s awful, old man, simply awful!” he said. “I’ve been there since
sundown trying to pacify that old man and woman, but what was the use?”

“Then she’s afraid--” Carson began.

“Afraid? Good God! how could she help it? The negro preacher and his
wife came to her and Lewis and frankly tried to prepare them for the
worst. Uncle Lewis is speechless, and Linda is past the tear-shedding
stage. Hand in hand the old pair simply pace the floor like goaded
brutes with human hearts and souls bound up in them. Then Helen--the
poor, dear girl! Isn’t this a beautiful homecoming for her? I feel like
fighting, and yet there’s nothing to hit but empty, heartless air. I
don’t care if you know it, Carson.” Keith sank into a chair and leaned
forward, his eyes glistening with the condensed dew of tense emotion. “I
don’t deny it. Helen is the only girl I ever cared for. She’s treated
me very kindly ever since she discovered my feeling, and given me to
understand in the sweetest way the utter hopelessness of my case, but I
still feel the same. I thought I was growing out of it, but seeing her
sorrow to-day has shown me what she is to me--and what she always will
be. I’ll love her all my life, Carson. She’s suffering terribly over
this. She loves her old mammy as much as if they were the same flesh and
blood. Oh, it was pitiful, simply pitiful! Helen was trying to pacify
her just now, and the old woman suddenly laid her hand on her breast and
cried out: ‘Don’t talk ter me, honey child, I nursed bofe you en Pete on
dis here breast, an’ dat boy’s _me_--my own self, heart en soul, en ef
God let’s dem men hang ‘im ter-night, I’ll curse ‘Im ter my grave.’”

“Poor old woman!” Carson sighed. “If it has to come to her, it would be
better to have it over with. It would have been better if I had stood
back last night and let them have their way.”

“Oh no,” protested Keith; “that’s Linda’s sole comfort. She hardly draws
a breath that doesn’t utter your name. She still believes that her only
hope rests in you. She says you’ll yet think of something--that you’ll
yet do something to prevent the thing. She cries that out every now
and then. Oh, Carson, I don’t amount to anything, but before God I can
truthfully say that I’d give my life to have Linda talk that way about
me--before Helen.”

Carson groaned, his tense hands were locked like prongs of steel in
front of him, his face was deathly pale. “You wouldn’t like any sort of
talk or idle compliments if you were bound hand and foot as I am,” he
said. “It’s mockery. It’s vinegar rubbed into my wounds. It’s hell!”

He tore himself from his chair and began to stride about the room like
a restless tiger in a cage. His walk took him into the hall utterly
forgetful of the presence of his friend. There a colored maid came to
him and said, “Your mother wants you, sir.”

He stared at the girl blankly for a moment, then he seemed to pull
himself together. “Has my mother heard--?”

“No, sir, your father told us not to excite her.”

“All right, I’ll go up,” Carson said. “Tell Mr. Gordon, in the library,
to wait for me.”

“I was wondering if you had come,” the invalid said, as he bent over her
bed, took her hand, and kissed her. “I presume you have been very busy
all day over Pete’s case?”

“Yes, very busy, mother dear.”

“And is it all right now? Your father tells me the trial is set for
to-morrow. Oh, Carson, I’m very proud of you. I heard your speech last
night, and it seemed to lift me to the very throne of God. Oh, you are
right, you are right! It is our duty to love and sympathize with those
poor creatures. They are still children in the cradles of their past
slavery. They can’t act for themselves. Their crimes are due chiefly to
the lack of the guiding hands they once had. Oh, my son, your father
is angry with you for spoiling your political chances by such a radical
stand, but even if you lose the race by it, I shall be all the prouder
of you, for you have shown that you won’t sell yourself. I wish I could
go to the courthouse to-morrow, but the doctor won’t let me. He says I
mustn’t have another shock like that last night, when I heard that shot,
saw you reel, and thought you were killed. Son, are you listening?”

“Why, yes, mother. I--” His mind was really elsewhere. He had dropped
her hand, and was standing with furrowed brow and tightly drawn lips in
the shadow thrown by the lamp on a table near by and the high posts of
the old-fashioned bedstead.

“I thought you seemed to be thinking of something else,” said the
invalid, plaintively.

“I really was troubled about leaving Keith downstairs by himself,”
 Carson said. “Perhaps I’d better run down now, mother.”

“Oh yes, I didn’t know he was there. Ask him to supper.”

“All right, mother,” and he left the room with a slow step, finding
Gordon on the veranda below fitfully puffing at a cigar as he walked to
and fro.

“Helen called me to the fence just now,” Keith said. “She’s all broken
to pieces. She is relying solely on you now. She sent you a message.”

“Me?”

“Yes, with the tears streaming down her cheeks she simply said, ‘Tell
Carson that I am praying that he will think of some way to avert this
disaster.”

“She said that!” Carson turned and stared through the gathering shadows
towards the jail. There was a moment’s pause, then he asked, in a tone
that was harsh, crisp, and rasping: “Keith, could you get together
to-night fifteen men who would stick to me through personal friendship
and help me arrive at some decision as to--to what is best?”

“Twenty, Carson--twenty who would risk their lives at a word from you.”

“They might have to sacrifice--”

“That wouldn’t make a bit of difference; I know the ones you can depend
on. You’ve got genuine friends, the truest and bravest a man ever had.”

“Then have as many as you can get to meet me at Blackburn’s store at
nine o’clock. We may accomplish nothing, but I want to talk to them.
God knows it is the only chance. No, I can’t explain now. There is not
a moment to lose. Tell Blackburn to keep the doors shut and let them
assemble in the rear as secretly and quietly as possible.”

“All right, Carson. I’ll have the men there.”



CHAPTER XXV.

[Illustration: 9219]

HEN Carson reached the front door of Blackburn’s store about nine
o’clock that evening, he found it closed. For a moment he stood under
the Crude wooden shed that roofed the sidewalk and looked up and down
the deserted street. It was a dark night, and from the aspect of the
heavy, troubled clouds high winds seemed in abeyance beyond the hills
to the west. He was wondering how he had best make his presence known
to his friends within the store, when he heard a soft whistle, and Keith
Gordon, the flaring disk of a cigar lighting his expectant face, stepped
out of a dark doorway.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, in a cautious undertone. “They are
getting impatient. You see, they thought you’d be here earlier.”

“I couldn’t get away while my mother was awake,” Carson said. “Dr. Stone
was there and warned me not to leave at night. She can’t stand any
more excitement. So I had to stay with her. I read to her till she fell
asleep. Who’s here?”

“The gang and fully fifteen other trusty fellows--you’ll see them on the
inside, every man of them with a gun. At the last moment I heard Pole
Baker was down at the wagon-yard, and I nabbed him.”

“Good; I’m glad you did. Now let’s go in.”

“Not yet, old man,” Keith objected. “Blackburn gave special orders not
to open the door if any person was in sight. Let’s walk to the corner
and look around.”

They went to the old bank building on the corner, and stood at the foot
of the stairs leading up to the den. No one was in sight. Across the
numerous tracks of the switch-yard hard by there was a steam flouring
mill which ground day and night, and the steady puffing of the engine
beat monotonously on their ears. In a red flare of light they saw the
shadowy form of the engineer stoking the fire.

“Now the way is clear,” said Keith; “we can go in, but I want to prepare
you for a disappointment, old man.”

Carson stared through the darkness as arm in arm they moved back to the
store. “You mean--”

“I’ll tell you, Carson. The meeting of these fellows to-night is a big
proof of the--the wonderful esteem in which they hold you. No other man
could have got them together at such a time; but, all the same, they are
not going to allow you to--you see, Carson, they have had time to
talk it over in there, and have unanimously agreed that to make any
opposition by force would be worse than folly. Pole Baker brought
some reliable news, reliable and terrible. Why, he told us just
now--however, wait. He will tell you about it.”

Giving a rap on the door that was recognized within, they were admitted
by Blackburn, who stood back in the shadow and quickly closed the
shutter and locked it again. In the uncertain light of a lamp with a
murky chimney, on the platform in the rear, seated on boxes, nail kegs,
chairs, table, and desk, Dwight beheld a motley gathering of his friends
and supporters. Kirk Fitzpatrick, the brawny, black-handed tinner, who
had a jest for every moment, was there; Wilson, the shoemaker; Tobe
Hassler, the German baker; Tom Wayland, the good-hearted drug clerk,
whose hair was as red as blood; Bob Smith, Wade Tingle, and, nestled
close to the lamp, and looking like a hunchback, crouched Garner, so
deep in a newspaper that he was utterly deaf and blind to sounds and
things around him. Besides those mentioned, there were several other
ardent friends of the candidate.

“Well, here you are at last,” Garner cried, throwing down his paper. “If
I hadn’t had something to read I’d have been asleep. I don’t know any
more than a rabbit what you intend to propose, but whatever it is, we
are late enough about it.”

Hurriedly Carson explained the cause of his delay and took the chair
which the tinner, with the air of a proud inferior, was pushing towards
him. As he sat down and the lamplight fell athwart his careworn face,
the group was overwhelmed with sympathy and a strange, far-reaching
respect they could hardly understand. To-night they were, more than
usual, under the spell of that inner force which had bound them one and
all to him and which, they felt, nothing but dishonor could break. And
yet there they sat so grimly banded together against him that he felt it
in their very attitudes.

“The truth is”--Garner broke the awkward pause--“we presume you got us
together to-night to offer open opposition--in case, of course, that the
mob means harm to your client. That seems the only thing a body of men
can do. But, my dear boy, there are two sides to this question. For
reasons of your own, chief among which is a most beautiful principle to
see the humblest stamp of man get justice--for these reasons you call on
your friends to stand to you, and they will stand, I reckon, to the end,
but it’s for you, Carson, to act reasonably and think as readily of the
interests of all of us as for those of the unfortunate prisoner. To
meet that mob by opposition to-night would--well, ask Pole Baker for the
latest news. When you have heard what he knows to be true, I am sure you
will see the utter futility of any movement whatsoever.”

All eyes were now turned on the gaunt mountaineer, who was sitting on an
inverted nail keg whittling to a fine point a bit of wood which now and
then he thrust automatically between his white front teeth.

“Well, Carson,” he began, in drawling tones, “I lowed you-uns would want
to know just how the land lays, and as I had a sort of underground way
of gettin’ at first-hand facts, I raked in all the information I could
an’ come on to town. I’d heard about how low your mother was, an’ easy
upset by excitement, an’ so I didn’t go up to your house. I met Keith,
an’ he told me I could see you at this meetin’, an’ so I waited. Carson,
the jig is certainly up with that coon. No power under high heaven
could save his neck. The report that was circulated this morning, was
deliberately sent out to throw the authorities off their guard. Only
about thirty men are still on Sam Dudlow’s trail--the rest, hundreds and
hundreds, in bunches an’ factions, each faction totin’ a flag to show
whar they hail from, an’ all dressed in white sheets, is headed this
way.”

“Do you mean right at this moment?” Carson asked, as he started to rise.

Pole motioned to him to sit down.

“They won’t be here till about twelve o’clock,” he said. “They’ve passed
the word about amongst ‘em, and agreed to meet, so that all factions can
take part, at the old Sandsome place, two miles out on the Springtown
road. They will start from there at half-past eleven on the march for
the jail. It will be after twelve before they get here. Pete’s got that
long to make his peace, but no longer. And right here, Carson, before I
stop, I want to say that thar ain’t a man in this State I’d do a favor
for quicker than I would for you, but many of us here to-night are
family men, and while that nigger may, as you think, be innocent, still
his life is just one life, while--well”--Baker snapped his dry fingers
with a click that was as sharp as the cocking of a revolver--“I wouldn’t
give _that_ for our lives if we opposed them men. They are as mad
as wounded wild-cats. They believe he done it; they know on reliable
testimony that he said he’d kill Johnson; an’ they want his blood. Five
hundred such as we are wouldn’t halt ‘em a minute. I want to help, but
I’m tied hand an’ foot.”

There was silence after Pole’s voice died away. Then Garner rapped on
the table with his small hand and tossed back the long, thick hair from
his massive brow.

“You may as well know the truth, Carson,” he said, calmly. “We put it to
a vote just before you came, and we all agreed that we would--well, try
to bring you round to some sort of resignation; try to get you to throw
it off your mind and stop worrying.”

To their surprise Carson took up the lamp and rose. “Wait a moment,”
 he said, and with the lamp in hand he crossed the elevated part of
the floor and went down the steps into the cellar. They were left in
darkness for a moment, the rays of the lamp flashing now only on the
front wall and door of the long building.

“Huh, there ain’t anybody hiding there!” Blackburn cautiously called
out. “I looked through the full length of it, turned over every box
and barrel, before you came. I wasn’t going to run any risk of having a
stray tramp in a caucus like this.”

There was some fixed quality in Dwight’s drawn face as he emerged,
carrying the lamp before him, ascended the steps, and again took his
place at the table.

“You thought somebody might be hiding there,” the store-keeper said;
“but I was careful to--”

“No, it wasn’t that,” Carson said. “I was wondering--I was trying to
think--”

He paused as if submerged in thought, and Garner turned upon him
almost sternly. He had never before used quite such a harsh tone to his
partner.

“You’ve gone far enough, Carson,” he said. “There are limits even to the
deepest friendship. You can’t ask your best friends to make their wives
widows and their children orphans in a blind effort to save the neck of
one miserable negro, even if he’s as innocent as the angels in heaven.
As for yourself, your heroism has almost led you into a cesspool of
reckless absurdity. You have let that old man and woman up there, and
Miss--that old man and woman, _anyway_--work on your sympathies till you
have lost your usual judgment. I’m your friend and--”

“Stop! Wait!” Carson stood up, his hands on the edge of the table, the
lamp beneath him throwing his mobile face into the shadow of his firm,
massive jaw. “Stop!” he repeated. “You say you have given up. Boys,
I can’t. I tell you I _can’t_. I simply can’t let them kill that boy.
Every nerve in my body, every pulsation of my soul screams out against
it. I have set my heart on averting this horror. Ten years ago I could
have gone to my bed and slept peacefully, as many good citizens of this
town will to-night, under the knowledge that the verdict of mob law was
to be executed, but in the handling of this case I’ve had a new birth.
There is no God in heaven if--I say if--He has not made it _possible_
for the mind and will of man to prevent this horror. There must be a
way; there _is_ a way, and if I could put my ideas into your brains
to-night--my faith and confidence into your souls--we’d prevent this
calamity and set an example for our fellows to follow in future.”

“Your ideas into our brains!” Garner said, in a tone of amused
resentment. “Well, I like that, Carson; but if you can see a ghost of a
chance to save that boy’s neck with safety to our own, I’d like to have
you plug it through my skull, if you have to do it with a steel drill.
At present I’m the senior member of the firm of Garner & Dwight, but
I’ll take second place hereafter, if you can do what you are aiming at.”

“I don’t mean to reflect on your intelligences,” Dwight went on,
passionately, his voice rising higher, “but I _do_ see a way, and I am
praying God at this moment to make you see it as I do and be willing to
help me carry it out.”

“Blaze away, old hoss,” Pole Baker piped up from his seat on the nail
keg. “I’m not a nigger-lover by a long shot, but somehow, seeing how you
feel about this particular one an’ his connections, I’m as anxious to
save ‘im as if I owned ‘im in the good old day an’ his sort was fetchin’
two thousand apiece. You go ahead. I feel kind o’ sneakin’, anyway, for
votin’ agin you while you was up thar nursin’ yore sick mammy. By gum!
you give me the end of a log I kin tote, an’ I’ll do it or break my
back.”

“I want it understood, Carson,” said Wade Tingle at this juncture, “that
I was only voting against our trying to stop that mob by force, and, to
do myself justice, I was voting in the interests of the family men here
to-night. God knows, if you can see any _other_ possible way--”

“We have no time to lose,” Carson said. “If we are to accomplish
anything we must be about it. Gentlemen, what I may propose may, in a
way, be asking you to make a sacrifice almost as great as that of open
resistance. I am going to ask you, law-abiding citizens that you are, to
break the law, as you understand it, but not law as the best wisdom of
man intended it to be. This section is in a state of open lawlessness.
The law I’m going to ask you to break is already broken. The highest
court might hold that we would be no better, in _fact_, than the army of
law-breakers headed this way with the foam of race hatred on their
lips, its insane blaze in their eyes that till recently beamed only in
gentleness and human love. But I’m going to ask you to chose between
two evils--to let an everlasting injustice be done at the hand of a hate
that will drown in tears of regret in time to come, or the lesser evil
of breaking an already broken law. You are all good citizens, and I
tremble and blush over my audacity in asking you to do what you have
never in any form done before.”

Carson paused. Wondering silence fell on the group. Upon each face
struggled evidences of an almost painful desire to grasp his meaning.
That it was momentous no man there doubted. Even the ever equable Garner
was shaken from, his habitual stoic attitude, and with his delicate
fingers rigidly supporting his great head he stared open-mouthed at the
speaker.

“Well, well, what is it?” he presently asked.

“There is only one chance I see,” and Dwight stood erect, his arms
folded, and stepped back so that the light of the lamp fell full upon
his tense features. The patch of sticking plaster stood out from his
pale skin, giving his perspiring brow an uncanny look. “There is only
one thing to do, my friends, and without your help I stand powerless.
I suggest that we form ourselves into a supposed mob of disguised men,
that we go ahead of the others to the jail, and actually _force Burt
Barrett to turn the prisoner over to us_.”

“Great God!” Garner, stood up, and leaned on the table. “_Then_
what--what would you do? Good Lord!”

Carson pointed steadily to the cellar-door and swallowed the lump of
excitement in his throat. “I would, unseen by any one, if possible,
bring him here and imprison him, in that cellar, guarded by us only
till--till such a time as we could safely deliver him to a court of
justice.”

“By God, you _are_ a wheel-hoss!” burst from Pole Baker’s lips. “That’s
as easy as failin’ off a log.”

“Do you mean to make Burt Barrett believe we are--are actually bent on
lynching the negro?” demanded Keith Gordon, new-born enthusiasm bubbling
from his eyes and voice.

“Yes, that would be the only way,” said Carson. “Barrett is a sworn
officer of the law, and his position is his livelihood. Even if we could
persuade him to join us, it wouldn’t be fair to him, for he would
be shouldering more responsibility than we would. The only way is to
thoroughly disguise ourselves and compel him to give in as he will be
compelled by the others if we don’t act first. I know he would not fire
upon us.”

“It looks to me like a dandy idea,” spoke up Blackburn. “As for me I
want to reward originality by doing the thing if possible. As for that
cellar, it’s as strong as an ancient fortress anyway and, Carson, Pete
would not try to escape if you ordered him not to. As for disguises, I
can lend you all the bleached sheeting you want. I got in a fresh bale
of it yesterday. I could cut it into ten-yard pieces which would not
hurt the sale of it. Remnants fetch a better price than regular stuff
anyway. Boys, let’s vote on it. All in favor stand up.”

There was a clatter of shoes and rattling of chairs, boxes, kegs and
other articles which had been used for seats. It was an immediate and
unanimous tribute to the sway Carson Dwight’s personality had long
held over them. They stood by him to a man. Even Garner suddenly, and
strangely for his crusty individuality, relegated himself to the rank of
a common private under the obvious leader.

“Hold on, boys!” exclaimed one not so easily relegated to any position
not full of action, and Pole Baker was heard in a further proposal. “So
far the arrangements are good and sound but you-uns haven’t looked far
enough ahead. When we git to the jail thar’s got to be some darned fine
talkin’ of exactly the right sort, or Burt Barrett will smell a mouse
and refuse our demands. In a case like this silence is a sight more
powerful than a lot o’ gab. Now, I propose to have one man, and one man
_only_ to do the talking.”

“Yes, and you are the man,” said Carson. “You must do it.”

“Well, I’m willin’,” agreed Baker. “The truth is, folks say I’m good at
just that sort o’ devilment, an’ I’d sort o’ like the job.”

“You are the very man,” Carson said, with a smile.

“You bet he is,” agreed Blackburn. “Now come down in the store an’ let
me rig you spooks up. We haven’t any too much time to lose.”

“Thar’s another thing you-uns don’t seem to have calculated on,” said
Baker, as Blackburn was leading them down to the dry-goods counter.
“It may take time to quiet public excitement, even if we put this thing
through to-night. You propose to let the impression go out that thar was
a lynchin’. How will you keep ‘em from thinkin’ it’s a fake unless they
see some’n’ hangin’ to a tree-limb in the mornin’? If they thought we’d
put up a job on ‘em, they would nose around till they was onto the whole
business, an’ then thar would be the devil to pay.”

“You are right about that,” said Garner. “If we could convince the big
mob that Pete has been lynched in some secret way or place, by some
other party, who don’t want to be known in the matter, the excitement
would die down in a day or so.”

“A bang-up good idea!” was Pole’s ultimatum. “Leave it to me and I’ll
study up some way to put it to Burt--by gum! How about tellin’ ‘im that,
for reasons of our own, we intend to hide the body whar the niggers
can’t git at it to give it decent burial? I really believe that would go
down.”

“Splendid, splendid!” said Garner. “Work that fine enough, Pole, and it
will give us more time for everything.”

“Well, I can work it all right if I am to do the talkin’,” Pole said, as
he reached out for his portion of the sheeting.



CHAPTER XXVI.

[Illustration: 9231]

IFTEEN minutes later a spectral group in all truth filed out through the
rear door of the store and paused for further orders in the shadow
of the wall of the adjoining bank building. The sky was still darkly
overcast and a drizzle as fine as mist was in the air.

With Carson and Pole in the lead, the party marched grimly two and two,
a weird sight even to themselves. Straight down the alley behind the
stores along the railway they moved, keeping step like trained military
men. Pole, for visual effect, carried a coil of new hemp rope, and he
swung it about in his white, winglike clutch with the ease of a cow-boy,
as he gutturally gave orders as to turns and tentative pauses. Now and
then he would leave the others standing and stride ahead through the
darkness and signal them to come on up. In this way they progressed with
many a halt, and many a cautious détour to avoid the light that steadily
gleamed through some cottage window or chink in a door or some watchman
at his post at some mill or factory, till finally they reached the
grounds surrounding the court-house and jail.

“I don’t know how soft-hearted you are, Carson,” Baker whispered in the
young man’s ear, “but thar’s one thing a man full of feelin’ like you
seem to be ought to be ready to guard against.”

“What is that, Pole?”

“Why, you know, if we git the poor devil out he’ll be sure he’s done
for, an’ he’ll be apt to raise an’ awful row, beggin’ an’ prayin’ an’
no tellin’ what else. But for all you do, don’t open yore mouth. Let ‘im
bear it--tough as it will be--till we kin git to a safe place. Thar’ll
be folks listenin’ in the houses along the way to the store, an’ ef you
was to speak one kind word the truth might leak out. To all appearances
we are lynchers of the most rabid brand.”

“I understand that, Pole,” said Carson. “I won’t interfere with your
work.”

“Don’t call it _my_ work,” said Baker, admiringly. “I’ve been through
a sight of secret things in my time, but I never heard of a scheme as
slick an’ deep-laid as this. If she goes through safe I’ll put you at
the top of my list. It looks like it will work, but a body never kin
tell. Burt Barrett is the next hill to climb. I don’t know him well
enough to foresee what stand he’ll take. Boys, have yore guns ready, an’
when I order you to take aim, you do it as if you intend to make a hole
in whatever is in front of you. Our bluff is the biggest that ever was
thought of, but it has to go. Now, come on!”

Through the open gateway they marched across the public lawn covered
with fresh green grass to the jail near by. A dog chained in a kennel
behind the house waked and snarled, but he did not bark. There was a
little porch at the entrance to the building, and along this the ghostly
band silently arranged themselves.

“Hello in thar, Burt Barrett!” Pole suddenly cried out, in sharp, stern
tones, and there was a pause. Then from the darkness within came the
sound of some one striking a match. A flickering light flared up in the
room on the right of the entrance; then the voice of a woman was heard.

“Burt, what is it?” she asked, in a startled tone.

“I don’t know; I’ll see,” a coarser voice made answer. Another pause and
a door on the inside was opened, then the heavier outer one, and Burt
Barrett, half dressed, stood staring at the grewsome assemblage before
him.

[Illustration: 0233]

“We’ve come after that damned nigger,” said Baker, succinctly, his
tone so low in his throat that even an intimate friend would not have
recognized it, and as he spoke he raised his coil of rope and tapped the
floor of the porch.

Barrett, as many a brave man would have done in his place, stood
helplessly bewildered. Presently he drew himself together and said,
firmly: “Gentlemen, I’m a sworn officer of the law. I’ve got a duty to
perform and I’m going to do it.” And thereupon they saw the barrel of a
revolver which the jailer held in his hand. In the awful stillness that
engulfed his words the click of its hammer, as the weapon was cocked,
sounded sharp and distinct.

“Too bad, but he’s goin’ to act ugly, boys,” Pole said, with grim
finality. “He is a white man _in looks_, but he’s j’ined forces with
the black devils that are bent on rulin’ our land. Steady, take aim!
If thar’s less’n twenty holes in his carcass when he’s examined in the
mornin’ it will stand for some member’s eternal disgrace. Aim careful!”

There was a startled scream at the half-open window of the bedroom on
the right and the jailer’s wife thrust out her head.

“Don’t shoot ‘im!” she screamed. “Don’t! Give ‘em the keys, Burt. Are
you a fool?”

“He certainly looks it,” was Baker’s comment, in a tone of well-assumed
only half-bridled rage. “Give ‘im ten seconds to drap them keys, boys.
I’ll count. When I say ten blaze away, an’ let a yawnin’ hell take ‘im.”

“Gentlemen, I--”

“Burt! Burt! what do you mean?” the woman cried again. “Are you plumb
crazy?”

“One!” counted Pole--“two!--three--”

“I want to do what’s right,” the jailer temporized. “Of course, I’m
overpowered, and if--”

“Five!--six!” went on Pole, his voice ringing out clear and piercing.

There was a jingling of steel. The spectators, peering through ragged
eye-holes in their white caps, saw the bunch of keys as it emerged from
Barrett’s pocket and fell to the doorstep.

“Gentlemen, you may live to be sorry for this night’s work,” he said.

“What do you care what we’re sorry for,” Pole said, grimly, “just so you
ain’t turned into a two-legged sifter? Now”--as he stooped to pick up
the keys--“you git back in thar to yore wife an’ children. We
simply mean business an’ know what we are about. An’ look here, Burt
Barrett”--Pole nudged Carson, who stood close to him--“thar’ll be
another gang here in a few minutes on the same business. You kin tell
 ‘em we beat ‘em to the hitchin’-post, an’, moreover, you kin tell ‘em
that we said that when we settle this nigger’s hash them nor nobody else
will ever be able to find hair or hide of ‘im. A buryin’ to the general
run o’ niggers is their greatest joy an’ pride, but they’ll never cut up
high jinks over this one.”

“Good, by Heaven!” Garner chuckled, as he recalled Pole’s diplomatic
suggestion at the store.

Without another word of protest the jailer receded into the house,
leaving the door open, and, led by Pole, the others entered the hallway
with a firm tread and mounted the stairs to the floor above. All was
still here, and so dark that Baker lighted a bit of candle and held it
over his head. Knowing the cell in which Pete was confined, Carson led
them to its door. As they paused there and Pole was fumbling with-the
keys, a low, stifled scream escaped from the prisoner, and then, in the
dim, checkered light thrown by the candle through the bars, they saw the
negro standing close against the farthest grating. Pole had found the
right key and opened the door.

“It’s all up with you, Pete Warren,” he said; “you needn’t make a row.
You’ve got to take your medicine. Come on.”

“Oh, my God, my God!” cried the negro, as with great, glaring eyes he
gazed upon them. “I never done it. I never done it. Don’t kill me!”

“Bring ‘im on, boys!” Pole produced an artificial oath with difficulty,
for he really was deeply moved. “Bring ‘im on!”

Two of the spectres seized Pete’s hands just as his quaking knees bent
under him and he was falling down. He started to pull back, and then,
evidently realizing the utter futility of resisting such an overwhelming
force, he allowed himself to be led through the door of the cell and
down the stairs into the yard.

“I never done it, before God I never done it!” he went on, sobbing like
a child. “Don’t kill me, white folks. Gi’ me one chance. Tek me ter
Marse Carson Dwight; he’ll tell you I ain’t de man.”

“He’ll tell us a lot!” growled Baker, with another of his mechanical
oaths. “Dry up!”

“Oh, my God have mercy!” For the first time Pete noticed the coil of
rope and the sight of it redoubled his terror. On his knees he sank,
trying to cover his eyes with his imprisoned hands, and quivering like
an aspen. Hardly knowing what he was doing, Carson Dwight impulsively
bent over him, but before he had opened his lips the watchful Baker had
roughly drawn him back.

“Don’t, for God’s sake!” the mountaineer whispered, warningly, and
he pointed across the street to the houses near by. Indeed, as if to
sanction his precaution, a window-sash in the upper story of the nearest
house was raised, and a pale, white-haired man looked out. It was the
leading Methodist preacher of the place. For one moment he stared down
on them, as if struck dumb by the terror of the scene.

“In the name of Christ, our Lord, our Saviour, be merciful, neighbors,”
 he said, in a voice that shook. “Don’t commit this crime against
yourselves and the community you live in. Spare him! In the name of God,
hand him back to the protection of the law.”

“The law be hanged, parson,” Pole retorted, as part of his rare rôle.
“We are looking after that; thar hain’t no law in this country that’s
wuth a hill o’ beans.”

“Be merciful--give the man a chance for his life,” the preacher
repeated. “Many think he is innocent!”

Hearing that plea in his behalf, Pete screamed out and tried to extend
his hands supplicatingly towards his defender, but under Baker’s
insistent orders he was dragged, now struggling more desperately,
farther down the street.

“Ah, Pole, tell the poor--” Keith Gordon began, when the mountaineer
sharply commanded: “Dry up! You are disobeyin’ orders. Hurry up; bring
 ‘im on. That other gang may hear this racket, and then--come on, I tell
you! You violate my leadership and I’ll have you court-martialled.”

In some fashion or other they moved on down the street, now taking a
more direct way to the store in the fear that they might be met by the
expected lynchers and foiled in their purpose. They had traversed the
entire length of the street leading from the court-house to the bank
building, and were about to turn the corner to reach the rear door of
the store, when, in a qualm of fresh despair, Pete’s knees actually gave
way beneath him and he sank limply to the sidewalk.

“Lord, I reckon we’ll have to tote ‘im!” Pole said.

“Pick ‘im up, boys, and be quick about it. This is a ticklish spot. Let
one person see us and the game will be up.”

Pete clearly misunderstood this, and seeing in the words a hint that
help or protection was not far away, he suddenly opened his mouth and
began to scream.

As quick as a flash Carson, who was immediately behind him, clapped his
hand over his lips and said, “Hush, for God’s sake, Pete, we are your
friends!”

With his mouth still closed by the hand upon it, the negro could only
stare into Carson’s mask too terrified to grasp more than that he had
heard a kindly voice.

“Hush, Pete, not a word! We are trying to save you,” and Carson removed
his hand.

“Who dat? Oh, my God, who dat talkin’?” Pete gasped.

“Carson Dwight,” said the young man. “Now hush, and hurry.”

“Thank God it you, Marse Carson--oh, Marse Carson, Marse Carson, you
ain’t gwine ter let um kill me!”

“No, you are safe, Pete.”

In a rush they now bore him round the corner, and then pausing at the
door of the store, to be certain that no extraneous eye was on them,
they waited breathlessly for an order from their leader.

“All right, in you go!” presently came from Pole’s deep voice, in a
great breath of relief. “Open the door, quick!”

The shutter creaked and swung back into the black void of the store,
and the throng pressed inward. The door was closed. The darkness was
profound.

“Wait; listen!” Pole cautioned. “Thar might be somebody on the sidewalk
at the front.”

“Oh, my God, Marse Carson, is you here?” came from the quaking negro.

“Sh!” and Pole imposed silence. For a moment they stood so still that
only the rapid panting of the negro was audible.

“All right, we are safe,” Baker said. “But, gosh! it was a close shave!
Strike a light an’ let’s try to ease up this feller. I hated to be
rough, but somebody had to do it.”

“Yes, it had to be,” said Dwight. “Pete, you are with friends. Strike a
light, Blackburn, the poor boy is scared out of his wits.”

“Oh, Marse Carson, what dis mean? what you-all gwine ter do ter me?”

Blackburn had groped to the lamp on the table and was scratching a match
and applying the flame to the wick. The yellow light flashed out, and a
strange sight met the bewildered gaze of the negro as kindly faces
and familiar forms gradually emerged from the sheeting. Near him stood
Dwight, and grasping his hand, Pete clung to it desperately.

“Oh, Marse Carson, what dey gwine ter do ter me?”

“Nothing, Pete, you are all right now,” Carson said, as tenderly as if
he were speaking to a hurt child. “The mob was coming and we had to do
what we did to save you.” He explained the plan of keeping him hidden in
the cellar for a few days, and asked Pete if he would consent to it.

“I’ll do anything you say, Marse Carson,” the negro answered. “You know
what’s best fer me.”

“I’ve got an old mattress here,” Blackburn spoke up; “boys, let’s get it
into the cellar. It will make him comfortable.”

And with no sense of the incongruity of their act, considering that as
the sons of ex-slave-holders they had never in their lives waited upon
a negro, Wade Tingle and Keith Gordon drew the dusty mattress from a
dry-goods box in the corner of the room and bore the cumbersome thing
through the cellar doorway into the cob webbed darkness beneath.
Blackburn followed with a candle, indicating the best-ventilated spot
for its placement. Thither Carson led his still benumbed client, who
would move only at his bidding, and then like a jerky automaton.

“You won’t be afraid to stay here, will you, Pete?” he asked.

The negro stared round him at the encroaching shadows in childlike
perturbation.

“You gwine ter lock me in, Marse Carson?” he asked.

Carson explained that in a sense he was still a prisoner, but a prisoner
in the hands of friends--friends who had pledged themselves to see that
justice was done him. The negro slowly lowered himself to the mattress
and stretched out his legs on the stone pavement. An utter droop of
despair seemed to settle on him. From the depths of his wide-open eyes
came a stare of dejection complete.

“Den I _hain’t_ free?” he said.

“No, not wholly, Pete,” Carson returned; “not quite yet.”

“Dry up down thar. Listen!” It was Baker’s voice in a guarded tone as he
stood in the cellar doorway.

The group around the negro held its breath. The grinding of footsteps on
the floor over their heads ceased. Then from the outside came the steady
tramp of many feet on the brick sidewalk, the clatter of horses’ hoofs
in the street.

“Sh! Blow out the light,” Carson said, and Blackburn extinguished it.
Profound darkness and stillness filled the long room. Like an army,
still voiceless and grimly determined, the human current flowed
jailward. It must have numbered several hundred, judged by the time it
took to pass. The sound was dying out in the distance when Carson, the
last to leave Pete, crept from the cellar, locked the door, and joined
the others in the darkness above.

“That mob would hang every man of us if they caught on to our trick,”
 said Baker, with a queer, exultant chuckle.

Carson moved past him towards the front door.

“Where you goin’?” Pole asked, sharply.

“I want to see how the land lies on the outside,” answered Carson.

“You’ll be crazy if you go,” said Blackburn, and the others pressed
round Dwight and anxiously joined in the protest.

“No, I must go,” Dwight firmly persisted. “We ought to find out exactly
what that crowd thinks to-night, so we’ll know what to depend on. If
they think a lynching took place they will go home satisfied; if not,
as Pole says, they may suspect us, and the most godless riot that ever
blackened human history may take place here in this town.”

“He’s right,” declared the mountaineer. “Somebody ought to go. I really
think I’m the man, by rights, an’--”

“No, I want to satisfy myself,” was Dwight’s ultimatum. “Stay here till
I come back.”

Blackburn accompanied him to the front door, cautiously looked out, and
then let him pass through.

“Knock when you get back--no, here, take the key to the back door and
let yourself in. So far, so good, my boy, but this is absolutely the
most ticklish job we ever tackled. But I’m with you. I glory in your
spunk.”

There was a swelling murmuring, like the onward sweep of a storm from
the direction of the courthouse. Voices growing louder and increasing in
volume reached their ears.

“Wait for me. Keep the lights out for all you do,” Dwight said, and off
he strode in the darkness.

In the gloom and stillness of the store the others waited his return,
hardly daring to raise their voices above a whisper. He was gone nearly
an hour, and then they heard the key softly turned in the lock and
presently he stood in their midst.

“They’ve about dispersed,” he said, in a tone of intense fatigue. “They
lay it to the Hillbend faction, who had some disagreement with them
to-day. They seem satisfied.”

“Gentlemen”--it was Garner’s voice from his chair at the table--“there’s
one thing that must be regarded as sacred by us to-night, and that is
the _absolute_ secrecy of this thing.”

“Good Lord, you don’t think any of us would be fool enough to talk
about it!” exclaimed Blackburn, in an almost startled tone over the bare
suggestion. “If I thought there was a man here who would blab this to a
living soul, I’d--”

“Well, I only wanted to impress that on you all,” said Garner. “To
all intents and purposes we are law-breakers, and I’m a member of the
Georgia bar. Where are you going, Carson?”

“Down to speak to Pete,” answered Dwight. “I want to try to pacify him.”

When he came back a moment later he said: “I’ve promised to stay here
till daylight. Nothing else will satisfy him; he’s broken all to pieces,
crying like a nervous woman. As soon as I agreed to stay he quieted
down.”

“Well, I’ll keep you company,” said Keith. “I can sleep like a top on
one of the counters.”

“Hold on, there is something else,” Carson said, as they were moving to
the rear door. “You know the news will go out in the morning that Pete
was taken off somewhere and actually lynched. This will be a terrible
blow to his parents, and I want permission from you all to let those
two, at least, know that--”

“No!” Garner cried, firmly, even fiercely, as he turned and struck the
counter near him with his open hand. “There you go with your eternal
sentiment! I tell you this is a grave happening tonight--grave for us
and still graver for Pete. Once let that mob find out that they were
tricked and they will hang our man or burn this town in the effort.”

“I understand that well enough,” admitted Dwight, “but the Lord knows we
could trust his own flesh and blood when they have so much at stake.”

“I am not willing to _risk_ it, if you are,” said Garner, crisply,
glancing round at the others for their sanction. “It will be an awful
thing for them to hear the current report in the morning, but they’d
better stand it for a few days than to spoil the whole thing. A negro
is a negro, and if Lewis and Linda knew the truth they would be Shouting
instead of weeping and the rest of the darkies would suspect the truth.”

“That’s a fact,” Blackburn put in, reluctantly. “Negroes are quick
to get at the bottom of things, and with no dead body in sight to
substantiate a lynching story they would smell a mouse and hunt for it
till they found it. No, Carson, _real_ weeping right now from the mammy
and daddy will help us out more than anything else. Yes, they will have
to bear it; they will be all the happier in the end.”

“I suppose you are right,” Dwight gave in. “But it’s certainly tough.”



CHAPTER XXVII.

[Illustration: 9247]

T was just at the break of day the following morning. Major Warren, who
had not retired until late the night before in his perturbed state of
mind over the calamity which hovered in the air, was sleeping lightly,
when he was awakened by the almost noiseless presence of some one in his
room. Sitting up in bed he stared through the half darkness at a form
which towered straight and still between him and the open window through
which the first touches of the new day were stealing. “Who’s there?” he
demanded, sharply.

“It’s me, Marse William--Lewis.”

“Oh, you!” The Major put his feet down to the rug at the side of
his bed, still not fully awake. “Well, is it time to get up?
Anything--wrong? Oh, I remember now--Pete!”

A groan from the great chest of the negro set the air to vibrating, but
he said nothing, and the old gentleman saw the bald pate suddenly sink.

“Oh, Lewis, I hope--” Major Warren paused, unable to continue, so vast
and grewsome were the fears his servant’s attitude had inspired. The old
negro took a step or two forward and then said: “Oh, marster, dey done
tuck ‘im out las’ night--dey tuck my po’ boy--” A great sob rose in old
Lewis’s breast and burst on his lips.

“Really, you don’t mean it--you can’t, after--”

“Yasser, yasser; he daid, marster. Pete done gone! Dey killed ‘im las’
night, Marse William.”

“But--but how do you know?”

“I des dis minute seed Jake Tobines; he slipped up ter my house en
called me out. Jake lives back ‘hind de jail, Marse William, en when de
mob come him en his wife heard de racket en slipped out in de co’n-patch
ter hide. He seed de gang, marster, wid his own eyes, en heard um ax fer
de boy. At fus Marse Barrett refused ter give ‘im up, but dey ordered
fire on ‘im en he let um have de keys. Jake seed um fetch Pete out, en
heard ‘im beggin’ um ter spar’ his life, but dey drug ‘im off.”

There was silence broken only by the old negro’s sobs and the smothered
effort he was making to restrain his emotion.

“And mammy,” the Major began, presently; “has she heard?”

“Not yit, marster, but she is awake--she been awake all night long--on
her knees prayin’ most er de time fer mercy--she was awake when Jake
come en she knowed I went out ter speak ter ‘im, en when I come back
in de house, marster, she went in de kitchen. I know what she done dat
fur--she didn’t want ter know, suh, fer certain, ef I’d heard bad news
or not. I wanted ter let ‘er know, but I was afeared ter tell ‘er, en come
away. I loves my wife, marster--I--I loves her mo’ now dat Pete’s gone
dan ever befo’. I loves ‘er mo’ since she been had ter suffer dis way,
en, marster, dis gwine ter kill ‘er. It gwine ter kill Lindy, Marse
William.”

“What’s the matter, father?” It was Helen Warren’s voice, and with a
look of growing terror on her face she stood peering through the open
doorway. The Major ejaculated a hurried and broken explanation, and with
little, intermittent gasps of horror the young lady advanced to the old
negro.

“Does Mam’ Linda know?” she asked, her face ghastly and set in
sculptural rigidity.

“Not yet, missy, not yet--it gwine ter kill yo’ ol’ mammy, child.”

“Yes, it may,” Helen said, an odd, alien quality of resignation in her
voice. “I suppose I’d better go and break it to her. Father, Pete was
innocent, absolutely innocent. Carson Dwight assured me of it. He was
innocent, and yet--oh!”

With a shudder she turned back to her room across the hall. In the
stillness the sound of the match she struck to light her lamp was
raspingly audible. Without another word, and wringing the extended hand
of his wordless master, Lewis crept down the stairs and out into the
pale light of early morning. Like an old tree fiercely beaten by a
storm, he leaned towards the earth. He looked about him absently for a
moment, and then sat down on the edge of the veranda floor and lowered
his head to his brown, sinewy hands.

A negro woman with a milk-pail on her arm came up the walk from the
gate and started round the house to the kitchen door, but seeing him
she stopped and leaned over him. “Is what Jake done say de trufe?” she
asked.

“Yassum, yassum, it done over, Mary Lou--done over,” Lewis said, looking
up at her from his blearing eyes; “but ef you see Lindy don’t let on ter
her yit. Young miss gwine ter tell ‘er fust.”

“Oh, my Lawd, it done over, den!” the woman said, shudderingly; “it
gwine ter go hard with Mam’ Lindy, Unc’ Lewis.”

“It gwine ter _kill_ ‘er, Mary Lou; she won’t live dis week out. I know
 ‘er. She had ernough dis life wid all she been thoo fur ‘erself en her
white folks, in bondage en out, en’ dis gwine ter settle ‘er. I don’t
blame ‘er. I’m done thoo myse’f. Ef de Lawd had spar’ my child, I
wouldn’t er ax mo’, but, Mary Lou, I hope I ain’t gwine ter stay long.
I’ll hear dat po’ boy beggin’ fer mercy every minute while I live, en
what I want mo’ of it fur? Shucks! no, I’m raidy--en, ‘fo’ God, I wish
dey had er tuck us all three at once. Dat ud ‘a’ been some comfort, but
fer Pete ter be by hisse’f beggin’ um ter spar’ ‘im--all by hisse’f, en
me ‘n his mammy--”

The old man’s head went down and his body shook with sobs. The woman
looked at him a moment, and then, wiping her eyes on her apron, she went
on her way.

A few minutes later, just as the red sun was rising in a clear sky and
turning the night’s moisture into dazzling gems on the grass and leaves
of trees and shrubbery, like the beneficent smile of God upon a pleasing
world, Helen descended the stairs. She had the sweet, pale face of a
suffering nun as she paused, looked down on the old servant, and caught
his piteous and yet grateful, upturned glance.

“I’m going to her now, Uncle Lewis,” she said. “I want to be the first
to tell her.”

“Yes, you mus’ be de one,” Lewis sighed, as he rose stiffly; “you de
onliest one.”

He shambled along in her wake, his old hat, out of respect for her
presence, grasped in his tense hand. As they drew near the little
sagging gate at the cottage there was a sound of moving feet within,
and Linda stood in the doorway shading her eyes from the rays of the sun
with her fat hand. To the end of her life Helen had the memory of the
old woman’s face stamped on her brain. It was a yellow mask, which might
have belonged to a dead as well as a living creature, behind which the
lights of hope and shadows of despair were vying with each other for
supremacy. In no thing pertaining to the situation did the pathos so
piteously lie as in the fact that Linda was deliberately playing a
part--fiercely acting a rôle that would fit itself to that for which the
agony of her soul was pleading. She was trying to smile away the shadows
her inward fears, her racial intuition were casting on her face.

“Mighty early fer you ter come, honey,” she said; “but I reckon you is
worried ‘bout yo’ ol’ mammy.”

“Yes, it’s early for me to be up,” Helen said, avoiding the wavering
glance that seemed in reality to be avoiding the revelation of hers.
“But I saw Uncle Lewis and thought I’d come back with him.”

“You hain’t had yo’ breakfast yit, honey, I know,” said Linda, reaching
for a chair half-heartedly and placing it for her young mistress, and
then her eyes fell on her husband’s bareheaded, bowed attitude as he
stood at the gate, and something in it, through her sense of sight, gave
her a deadening blow. For an instant she almost reeled; she drew a deep
breath, a breath that swelled out her great, motherly bosom, then with
her hands hanging limply at her side, she stood in front of Helen. For
a moment she did not speak, and then, with her face on fire, her great,
somnolent eyes ablaze, she suddenly bent down and put her hands on
Helen’s knees and said: “Looky here, honey, I’ve been afraid of it all
night long, an’ I’ve fit it off an’ fit it off, an’ I got up dis mawnin’
fightin’ it off, but ef you come here so early ‘ca’se--ef you come here
ter tell me dat my child--ef you come here--ef you come here--gre’t God
on high, it ain’t so! it cayn’t be dat way! Look me in de eyes, honey,
I’m raidy en waitin’ fer you ter give it de lie.”

For one moment she glared at Helen as the girl sat white and quivering,
her glance on the floor, and then she uttered a piercing scream like
that of a frightened beast, and grasping the hand of her husband, who
was now by her side, she pointed a finger of stone at Helen. “Look!
Look, Lewis; my Gawd, she _ain’t lookin’ at me!_ Look at me, honey
chile; look at me! D’ you hear me say--” She stood firmly for an instant
and then she reeled into her husband’s arms.

“She daid; whut I tol you? Missy, yo’ ol’ mammy daid,” and lifting his
wife in his arms he bore her to the bed in the corner of the room. “Yes,
she done daid,” he groaned, as he straightened up.

“No, she’s only fainted,” said Helen; “bring me the camphor, quick!”



CHAPTER XXVIII.

[Illustration: 9253]

HAT morning at the usual hour the store-keepers opened their dingy
houses in the main street and placed along the narrow brick sidewalks
the dusty, stock-worn samples of their wares. The clerks and porters as
they swept the floors would pause to discuss the happening of the
night just gone. Old Uncle Lewis and Mammy Linda Warren’s boy had been
summarily dealt with, that was all. The longer word just used had of
late years become a part of the narrowest vocabulary, suggesting to
crude minds many meanings not thought of by lexicographers, not the
least of which was something pertaining to justice far-reaching, grim,
and unfailing in these days of bribery and graft. Only a few of the more
analytical and philosophical ventured to ask themselves if, after
all, the boy might have been innocent. If they put the question to the
average citizen it was tossed off with a shrug and a “Well, what’s the
difference? It’s such talk as he was guilty of that is at the bottom of
all the black crimes throughout the South.” Such venom as Pete’s was
the very muscle of the black claws that were everywhere reaching out for
helpless white throats. Dead? Yes, he was dead. What of it? How else was
the black, constantly increasing torrent to be dammed?

And yet by ten o’clock that morning even these tongues were silenced,
for news strange and startling began to steal in from the mountains. The
party who had been in pursuit of the desperado Sam Dudlow had overtaken
him--found him hiding in a bam, covered with hay. He was unarmed and
made no resistance, laughing as if the whole thing were a joke. He
frankly told them that he would have given himself up earlier, but he
had hoped to live long enough to get even with the other leader of the
mob that had whipped him at Darley, a certain Dan Willis. He confessed
in detail exactly how he had murdered the Johnsons and that he had done
it alone. Pete Warren was in no way implicated in it. The lynchers, to
get the whole truth, threatened him; they tortured him; they tied him
to a tree and piled pine fagots about him, but he still stuck to his
statement, and when they had mercifully riddled him with bullets, just
as his clothing was igniting, they left him hanging by the road-side, a
grewsome scarecrow as a warning to his kind, and, led by Jabe Parsons,
they made all haste to reach the faction on Pete Warren’s track to tell
them that the boy was innocent.

Jabe Parsons, carrying a load on his mind, remembering his wife’s
valiant stand in behalf of the younger accused, rode faster than his
tired fellows, and near his own farm met the lynchers returning from
Darley. “Too late,” they told him, in response to his news, the Hillbend
boys had done away with the Darley jailbird and mysteriously hidden the
body to inspire fear among the negroes.

At Darley consternation swept the place as story after story of Aunt
Linda’s prostration passed from house to house. “Poor, faithful old
woman! Poor old Uncle Lewis!” was heard on every side.

About half-past ten o’clock Helen, accompanied by Sanders, came
down-town. At the door of Carson’s office they parted and Helen came
in. Carson happened to be alone. He rose suddenly from his seat and came
towards her, shocked by the sight of her wan face and dejected mien.

“Why, Helen!” he cried, “surely you don’t think--” and then he checked
himself as he hastened to get a chair for her.

“I’ve just left mammy,” she began, in a voice that was husky with
emotion. “Oh, Carson, you can’t imagine it! It is simply heart-rending,
awful! She is lying there at death’s door staring up at the ceiling,
simply benumbed.”

Carson sat down at his desk and leaned his head on his hand. Could he
keep back the truth under such pressure? It was at this juncture that
Garner came in. Casting a hurried glance at the two, and seeing Helen’s
grief-stricken attitude, he simply bowed.

“Excuse me, Miss Helen, just a moment,” he said. “Carson, I left a paper
in your pigeon-hole,” and as he bent and extracted a blank envelope from
the desk he whispered, warningly: “Remember, not one word of this! Don’t
forget the agreement! Not a soul is to know!” And putting the envelope
into his pocket he went out of the room, casting back from the threshold
a warning, almost threatening glance.

“I’ve been with her since sunup,” Helen went on.

“She fainted at first, and when she came to--oh, Carson, you love her
as I do, and it would have broken your heart to have heard her! Oh, such
pitiful wailing and begging God to put her out of pain!”

“Awful, awful!” Dwight said; “but, Helen--” Again he checked himself.
Before his mind’s eye rose the faces of the faithful group who had stood
by him the night before. He had pledged himself to them to keep the
thing secret, and no matter what his own faith in Helen’s discretion
was he had no right, even under stress of her grief, to betray what had
occurred. No, he couldn’t enlighten her--not just then, at all events.

“I was there when Uncle Lewis came in to tell her that proof had come
of Pete’s absolute innocence,” Helen went on, “but instead of comforting
her it seemed to drive her the more frantic. She--but I simply can’t
describe it, and I won’t try. You will be glad to know, Carson, that the
only thing in the shape of comfort she has had was your brave efforts in
her behalf. Over and over she called your name. Carson, she used to pray
to God; she never mentions Him now. You, and you alone, represent all
that is good and self-sacrificing to her. She sent me to you. That’s why
I am here.”

“She sent you?” Carson was avoiding her eyes, fearful that she might
read in his own a hint of the burning thing he was trying to withhold.

“Yes, you see the report has reached her about what the lynchers said
in regard to hiding Pete’s body. You know how superstitious the negroes
are, and she is simply crazy to recover the--the remains. She wants to
bury her boy, Carson, and she refuses to believe that some one can’t
find him and bring him home. She seems to think you can.”

“She wants me to--” He went no further.

“If it is possible, Carson. The whole thing is so awful that it has
driven me nearly wild. You will know, perhaps, if anything can be done,
but, of course, if it is wholly out of the question--”

“Helen”--in his desperation he had formulated a plan--“there is
something that you ought to know. You have every right to know it, and
yet I’m bound in honor not to let it out to any one. Last night,” he
went on, modestly, “in the hope of formulating some plan to avert
the coming trouble, I asked Keith to get a number of my best friends
together. We met at Blackburn’s store. No positive, sworn vows were
made. It was only the sacred understanding between men that the matter
was to be held inviolate, owing to the personal interests of every
man who had committed himself. You see, they came at my suggestion, as
friends of mine true and loyal, and it seems to me that I’d have a moral
right, even now, to take another into the body--another whom I trust as
thoroughly and wholly as any one of them. Do you understand, Helen?”

“No, I’m in the dark, Carson,” she said, with a feeble smile.

“You see, I want to speak freely to you,” he continued. “I want to
tell you some things you ought to know, and yet I am not free to do so
unless--unless you will tacitly join us. Helen, do you understand?
Are you willing to become one of us so far as absolute secrecy is
concerned?”

“I am willing to do anything you’d advise, Carson,” the girl replied,
groping for his possible meaning through the cloud of mystery his queer
words had thrown around him. “If something took place that I ought to
know, and you are willing to confide it to me, I assure you I can be
trusted. I’d die rather than betray it.”

“Then, as one of us, I’ll tell you,” Carson said, impressively. “Helen,
Pete, is not dead.”

“Not dead?” She stared at him incredulously from her great, beautiful
eyes. Slowly her white hand went out till it rested on his, and remained
there, quivering.

“No, he’s alive and so far in safe keeping, free from harm at present,
anyway.”

Her fingers tightened on his hand, her sweet, appealing face drew nearer
to his; she took a deep breath. “Oh, Carson, don’t say that unless you
are _quite_ sure.”

“I am absolutely sure,” he said; and then, as they sat, her hand still
lingering unconsciously on his, he explained it all, leaving the part he
had taken out of the recital as much as possible, and giving the chief
credit to his supporters. She sat spellbound, her sympathetic soul
melting and flowing into the warm current of his own while he talked as
it seemed to her no human being had ever talked before.

When he had concluded she drew away her hand and sat erect, her bosom
heaving, her eyes glistening.

“Oh, Carson,” she cried; “I never was so happy in my life! It actually
pains me.” She pressed her hand to her breast. “Mammy will be so--but
you say she must not--must not yet--”

“That’s the trouble,” Dwight said, regretfully.

“I’m sure I could put her and Lewis on their guard so that they
would act with discretion, but Blackburn and Garner--in fact, all the
rest--are afraid to risk them, just now anyway. You see, they
think Linda and Lewis might betray it in their emotions--their very
happiness--and so undo everything we have accomplished.”

“Surely, now that the report of Sam Dudlow’s confession has gone out,
they would let Pete alone,” Helen said.

“I wouldn’t like to risk it quite yet,” said Dwight. “Right now, while
they are under the impression that an innocent negro has been lynched,
they seem inclined to quiet down, but once let the news go out that a
few town men, through trickery, had freed the prisoner, and they would
rise more furious than ever. No, we must be careful. And, Helen, you
must remember your promise. Don’t let even your sympathy for Linda draw
it out of you.”

“I can keep it, and I really shall,” Helen said.

“But you must release me as soon as you possibly can.”

“I’ll do that,” he promised, as she rose to go.

“I’ll keep it,” she repeated, when she had reached the door; “but to do
so I’ll have to stay away from mammy. The sight of her agony would wring
it from me.”

“Then don’t go near her till I see you,” Dwight cautioned her. “I’ll
meet all the others to-day and put the matter before them. Perhaps they
may give in on that point.”



CHAPTER XXIX

[Illustration: 9260]

T the corner of the street Helen encountered Sanders, who was waiting
for her. At the sight of him standing on the edge of the sidewalk,
impatiently tapping the toe of his neatly shod foot with the ferrule of
his tightly rolled silk umbrella, she experienced a shock which would
have eluded analysis. He had been so completely out of her thoughts, and
her present mood was of such an entrancing nature that she felt a desire
to indulge it undisturbed. The bare thought of the platitudes she would
have to exchange with any one ignorant of her dazzling discovery was
unpleasant. After all, what was it about Sanders that vaguely incited
her growing disapproval? This morning could it possibly be his very
faultlessness of attire, his spick-and-span air of ownership in her body
and soul because of their undefined understanding as to his suit, or was
it because--because he had, although through no fault of his own, taken
no part in the thing which today, for Helen, somehow, held more weight
than all other earthly happenings? Indeed, fate was not using the Darley
visitor kindly. He was unwittingly like a healthy soldier on a furlough
making himself useful in the drawing-room while news of victory was
pouring in from his comrades at the front.

“You see I waited for you,” he said, gracefully raising his hat; “but,
Helen, what has happened? Why, what is the matter?”

“Nothing,” she said; “nothing at all.”

“But,” he went on, frowning in perplexity as he suited his step to hers,
“I never saw any one in my life change so suddenly. Why, when you went
into that office you were simply a picture of despair, but now you look
as if you were bursting with happiness. Your face is flushed, your eyes
are fairly dancing. Helen, if I thought--”

He paused, his own color rising, a deeper frown darkening his brow.

“If you thought what?” she asked, with a little irritation.

“Oh”--he knocked a stone out of his way with his umbrella--“what’s the
use denying it! I’m simply jealous. I’m only a natural human being, and
I suppose I’m jealous.”

“You have no cause to be,” she said, and then she bit her lip with
vexation at the slip of the tongue. Why should she defend herself to
him? She had never said she loved him. She had not yet consented to
marry him. Besides, she was in no mood to gratify his vanity. She wanted
simply to be alone with the boundless delight she was allowed to share
with no one but--Carson--Carson!--the one who had, for _her sake_, made
the sharing of it possible.

“Well, I am uneasy, and I can’t help it,” Sanders went on, gloomily.
“How can I help it? You left me so sad and depressed that you had hardly
a word for me, and after seeing this Mr. Dwight you come out looking--do
you know,” he broke off, “that you were there alone with that fellow
nearly an hour?”

“Oh no, it couldn’t have been so long,” she said, further irritated by
his open defence of what he erroneously considered his rights.

“But it was, for I timed you,” Sanders affirmed. “Heaven knows I counted
the actual minutes. There is a lot about this whole thing I don’t like,
but I hardly know what it is.”

“You are not only jealous but suspicious,” Helen said, sharply. “Those
are things I don’t like in any man.”

“I’ve offended you, but I didn’t mean to,” Sanders said, with a sudden
turn towards precaution. “You’ll forgive me, won’t you, Helen?”

“Oh yes, it’s all right.” She had suddenly softened. “Really, I am sorry
you feel hurt. Don’t think any more about it. I have a reason which I
can’t explain for feeling rather cheerful just now.” They had reached
the next street corner and she patised. “I want to go by Cousin Ida’s.
She lives down this way.”

“And you’d rather I didn’t go along?”

“I have something particular to say to her.”

“Oh, I see. Then may I come as usual this afternoon?”

Her wavering, half-repentant glance fell. “Not this afternoon,” she
said. “I ought to be with mammy. Couldn’t you call this evening?”

“It will seem a long time to wait in this dreary place, with nothing
to occupy me,” he said; “but I shall be well repaid. So I may come this
evening?”

“Oh yes, I shall expect you then,” and Helen turned and left him.

In the front garden of the Tarpley house she found her cousin watering
the flowers. Observing Helen at the gate, Miss Tarpley hastily put down
the tin sprinkling-pot and hurried to her.

“I was just going up to see mammy,” Ida said. “I know I can be of no use
and yet I wanted to try. Oh, the poor thing must be suffering terribly!
She had enough to bear as it was, but that last night--oh!”

“Yes--yes,” Helen said. “It is hard on her.”

Ida Tarpley rested her two hands on the tops of the white palings of the
fence and stared inquiringly into Helen’s face.

“Why do you say it in that tone?” she asked; “and with that queer,
almost smiling look in your eyes? Why, I expected to see you prostrated,
and--well, I don’t think--I actually don’t think I ever saw you looking
better in my life. What’s happened, Helen?”

“Oh, nothing.” Helen was now making a strong effort to disguise her
feelings, and she succeeded to some extent, for Miss Tarpley’s thoughts
took another trend.

“And poor, dear Carson,” she said, sympathetically. “The news must have
nearly killed him. He came by here last night making all haste to get
down-town, as he said, to see if something couldn’t be done. He was
terribly wrought up, and I never saw such a look of determination on a
human face. ‘Something _has_ to be done,’ he said; ‘something _must_ be
done! The boy is innocent and shall not die like a dog. It would kill
his mother, and she is a good, faithful old woman. No, he shall not
die!’ And with those words he hurried on. Oh, Helen, that is sad,
too. It is sad to see as noble a young spirit as he has fail in such a
laudable undertaking. Think of how he stood up before that surging mob
and let them shoot at him while he shouted defiance in their teeth,
till they cowered down and slunk away! Think of a triumph like that, and
then, after all, to meet with such galling defeat as overtook him last
night! When I heard of the lynching I actually cried. I think I felt
for him as much as I did for Mam’ Linda. Poor, dear boy! You know why he
wanted to do it so much--you know that as well as I do.”

“Why he wanted to do it!” Helen echoed, almost hungry for the sweet
confirmation of Dwight’s fidelity to her cause.

“Yes, you know--you know that his whole young soul was set on it because
it was your wish, because you were so troubled over it. I’ve seen that
in his eyes ever since the matter came up. I saw it there last night,
and it seemed to me that his very heart was burning up within him. Oh,
I get mad at you--to think you’d let that Augusta man, even if you do
intend some day to marry him--that you’d let him be here at such a time,
as if Carson hadn’t enough to bear without that. Ah, Helen, no other
human being will ever love you as Carson Dwight does--never, never while
the sun shines.”

With a misleading smile of denial on her face Helen turned homeward. He
loved her--Carson Dwight--_that man_ of all men--still loved her. Her
body felt imponderable as she strode blithely on her way. In her
hands she carried a human life--the life of the poor boy Carson had so
wonderfully struggled for and intrusted to her keeping. To his mother
and father Pete was dead, but to her and Carson, her first sweetheart,
he still lived. The secret was theirs to hold between their throbbing
hearts. Old Linda’s grief was but a dream. Helen and Carson could draw
aside the black curtain and tell her to look and see the truth.

Standing with bowed head at the front gate when she arrived home, she
saw old Uncle Lewis, his bald pate bared to the sunshine.

“Mam’ Lindy axin’ ‘bout you, missy,” he said, pitifully. “She say you
went down-town ter see Marse Carson, en she seem mighty nigh crazy ter
know ef you found whar de--de body er de po’ boy is at. Dat all she’s
beggin’ en pleadin’ fer now, missy, en ef dem white mens refuse it, de
Lawd only know what she gwine ter do.”

Helen gazed at him helplessly. Her whole young being was wrung with the
desire to let him know the truth, and yet how could she tell him what
had been revealed to her in such strict confidence?

“I’ll go see mammy now,” she said. “I’ve no news yet, Uncle Lewis--no
news that I can give you. I’m looking for Carson to come up soon.”

As she neared the cottage the motley group of negroes, serious-faced men
and women, bland-eyed persons in their teens, and half-clad children,
around the door intuitively and respectfully drew aside and she
entered the cottage unaccompanied and unannounced. Linda was not in the
sitting-room, where she expected to find her, and so, wonderingly, Helen
turned into the kitchen adjoining. Here the general aspect of things
added to her growing surprise, for the old woman had drawn close the
curtains of the little, small-paned windows, and before a small fire in
the chimney she sat prone on the ash-covered hearth. That alone might
not have been so surprising, but Linda had covered her body with several
old tow sacks upon which she had plentifully sprinkled ashes. The
grayish powder was in her short hair, on her face and bare arms, and
filled her lap. There was one thing in the world that the old woman
prized above all else--a big, leather-bound family Bible which she had
owned since she first learned to read under the instruction of Helen’s
mother, and this, also ash-covered, lay open by her side.

“Is I gwine ter bury my chile?” she demanded, as she glared up at her
mistress. “What young marster say? Is I, or is I never ter lay eyes on
 ‘im ergin? Is I de only nigger mother dat ever lived on dis yeth, bound
er free, dat cayn’t have dat much? Tell me. Ef dey gwine ter le’ me see
 ‘im Marse Carson ud know it. What he say?”

Rendered fairly speechless by the predicament she was in, Helen could
only stand staring helplessly. Presently, however, she bent, and lifting
the Bible from the floor she laid it on the table. With her massive
elbows on her knees, her fat hands over her face and almost touching the
flames, Linda rocked back and forth.

“Dey ain’t no God!” she cried; “ef dey is one He’s es black es de back
er dat chimbley. Dat book is er lie. Dey ain’t no love en mercy anywhars
dis side de blinkin’, grinnin’ stars. Don’t tell me er nigger’s prayers
is answered. Didn’t I pray las’ night till my tongue was swelled in my
mouf fer um ter spare my boy? En what in de name er all created was de
answer? When de day broke wid de same sun shinin’ dat was shinin’ when
he laid de fus time on my breas’, de news was fetch me dat my baby chile
was dragged out wid er rope rounst his neck, prayin’ ter men whilst I
was prayin’ ter God. Look lak dat enough, hein? But no, nex’ come de
news dat ef he’d er lived one short hour longer dey might er let ‘im go
‘ca’se dey foun’ de right one. Look lak dat enough, too, hein? But nex’
come de word, en de las’ message: innocent or no, right one or wrong
one, my chile wasn’t goin’ ter have a common bury in’-place--not even
in de Potter’s Fiel’ dis book tell erbout so big. Don’t talk ter me! Ef
prayers fum niggers is answered mine was heard in hell, en old Scratch
en all his imps er darkness was managin’ it. Don’t come near me! I might
lay han’s on you. I ain’t myself. I heard er low trash white man say
once dat niggers was des baboons. I may be one, en er wild one fer all
I know--oh, honey, don’t pay no ‘tention ter me. Yo’ ol’ mammy is bein’
burnt at de stake en she ain’t ‘sponsible. She love you, honey--she love
you even in ‘er gre’t trouble.”

“I understand, mammy,” and Helen put her arms around the old woman’s
neck. An almost overpowering impulse had risen in her to tell the old
sufferer the truth, but thinking that some of the negroes might be
listening, and remembering her promise, she restrained herself.

“I’m going to write a note to Carson to come up at once,” she said.
“He’ll have something to tell you, mammy.”

And passing the negroes about the door she went to the house, and
hastening into the library she wrote and forwarded by a servant the
following note:

_“Dear Carson,--Come at once, and come prepared to tell her. I can’t
stand it any longer. Do, do come._

_“Helen.”_



CHAPTER XXX

[Illustration: 9269]

ALF an hour later Helen, waiting at the front gate, saw a horse and
buggy turn the corner down the street. She recognized it as belonging
to Keith Gordon. Indeed, Keith was driving, and with him was Carson
Dwight.

Helen’s heart bounded, a vast weight of incalculable responsibility
seemed to lift itself from her. She unlatched the gate and swung it
open.

“Oh, I thought you’d never come!” she smiled, as he sprang out and
advanced to her. “I would have broken my oath of allegiance to the clan
if you had waited a moment longer.”

“I might have known you couldn’t keep it,” Dwight laughed. “Mam’ Linda
would have drawn it out of you just as you did out of me.”

“But are you going to tell her?” Helen asked, just as Keith, who had
stepped aside to fasten his horse, came up.

“Yes,” Carson answered. “Keith and I made a lightning trip around and
finally persuaded all the others. Invariably they would shake their
heads, and then we’d simply tell them you wished it, and that settled
it. They all seem flattered by the idea that you are a member.”

“But say, Miss Helen,” Keith put in, gravely, “we really must guard
against Lewis and Linda’s giving it away. It is a most serious business,
and, our own interests aside, the boy’s life depends on it.”

“Well, we must get them away from the cottage,” said Helen. “They are
now literally surrounded by curious negroes.”

“Can’t we have them up here in the parlor?” Carson asked. “Your father
is down-town; we saw him as we came up.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Helen responded, eagerly. “The servants are
all at the cottage; we’ll make them stay there and have Uncle Lewis and
Mam’ Linda here.”

“Suppose I run down and give the message,” proposed Keith, and he was
off with the speed of a ball-player on a home-run.

“Do you think there is any real danger to Mam’ Linda’s health in letting
her know it suddenly?” Carson asked, thoughtfully.

“We must try to reveal it gradually,” Helen said, after reflecting for
a moment. “There’s no telling. They say great joy often kills as quickly
as great sorrow. Oh, Carson, isn’t it glorious to be able to do this?
Don’t you feel happy in the consciousness that it was your great,
sympathetic heart that inspired this miracle, your wonderful brain and
energy and courage that actually put it through?”

“Not through yet,” he laughed, depreciatingly, as his blood flowed hotly
into his cheeks. “It would be just my luck right now to have this thing
turn smack dab against us. We are not out of the woods yet, Helen, by
long odds. The rage of that mob is only sleeping, and I have enemies,
political and otherwise, who would stir it to white heat at a moment’s
notice if they once got an inkling of the truth.” He snapped his
fingers. “I wouldn’t give that for Pete’s life if they discover our
trick. Pole Baker had just come in town when Keith and I left. He said
the Hillbend people were earnestly denying all knowledge of any lynching
or of the whereabouts of Pete’s body, and that some people were
already asking queer questions. So, you see, if on top of that growing
suspicion, old Lewis and Linda begin to dance a hoe-down of joy instead
of weeping and wailing--well, you see, that’s the way it stands.”

“Oh, then, perhaps we’d better not tell them, after all,” Helen said,
crestfallen. “They are suffering awfully, but they would rather bear it
for awhile than to be the cause of Pete’s death.”

“No,” Carson smiled; “from the way you wrote, I know you have had about
as much as you can stand, and we simply must try to make them comprehend
the full gravity of the matter.”

At this juncture Keith came up panting from his run and joined them.
“Great Heavens!” he cried, lifting his hands, the palms outward. “I
never saw such a sight. I can stand some things, but I’m not equal to
torture of that kind.”

“Are they coming?” Carson asked.

“Yes, there’s Lewis now. Of course, I couldn’t give them a hint of the
truth down there in that swarm of negroes, and so my message that you
wanted to see them here only seemed to key them up higher.”

Carson turned to Lewis, who, hat in hand, his black face set in stony
rigidity, had paused near by and stood waiting respectfully to be spoken
to.

“Uncle Lewis,” he said, “we’ve got good news for you and Linda, but
a great deal depends on its being kept secret. I must exact a sacred
promise of you not to betray to a living soul by word of mouth or act
what I am going to tell you. Will you promise, Lewis?”

The old man leaned totteringly forward till his gaunt fingers closed
upon one of the palings of the fence; his eyes blinked in their deep
cavities. He made an effort to speak, but his voice hung in his mouth.
Then he coughed, cleared his throat, and slid one of his ill-shod feet
backward, as he always did in bowing, and said, falteringly: “God on
high know, young marster, dat I’d keep my word wid you. Old Unc’ Lewis
would keep his word wid you ef dey was burnin’ ‘im at de stake. You been
de bes’ friend me ‘n Mam’ Lindy ever had, young marster. You been de
kind er friend dat _is_ er friend. When you tried so hard t’other night
ter save my boy fum dem men even when dey was shootin’ at you en tryin’
ter drag you down--oh, young marster, I wish you’d try me. I want ter
show you how I feel down here in my heart. Dem folks is done had deir
way; my boy is daid, but God know it makes it easier ter give ‘im up ter
have er young, high-minded white man lak you--”

“Stop, here’s Mam’ Linda,” Carson said. “Don’t tell her now, Lewis; wait
till we are inside the house; but Pete is alive and safe.”

The old man’s eyes opened wide in an almost deathlike stare, and he
leaned heavily against the fence.

“Oh, young marster,” he gasped, “you don’t mean--you sholy can’t
mean--”

“Hush! not a word.” Carson cautioned him with uplifted hand, and they
all looked at old Linda as she came slowly across the grass. A shudder
of horror passed over Dwight at the change in her. The distorted,
swollen face was that of a dead person, only faintly vitalized by some
mechanical force. The great, always mysterious depths of her eyes were
glowing with bestial fires. For a moment she paused near them and stood
glaring with incongruous defiance as if nothing in mortal shape could
mean aught but ill towards her.

“Carson has something--something very important to tell you, dear
mammy,” Helen said, “but we must go inside.”

“He ain’t got nothin’ ter tell me dat I don’t know,” Linda muttered,
“lessen it is whar dey done put my chile’s body. Ef you know dat, young
marster--ef--”

But old Lewis had moved to her side, his face ablaze. He laid his hand
forcibly on her shoulder. “Hush, ‘oman!” he cried. “In de name er
God, shet yo’ mouf en listen ter young marster--listen ter ‘im Linda,
honey--hurry up--hurry up in de house!”

“Yes, bring her in here,” Carson said, with a cautious glance around,
and he and Helen and Keith moved along the walk while Linda suffered
herself, more like an automaton than a human being, to be half dragged,
half led up the steps and into the parlor. Keith, who had vaguely put
her in the category of the physically ill, placed an easy-chair for her,
but from force of habit, while in the presence of her superiors, the
old woman refused to sit. She and Lewis stood side by side while Carson
carefully closed the door and came back.

“We’ve got some very, very good news for you, Mam’ Linda,” said he; “but
you must not speak of it to a soul. Linda, the men who took Pete from
jail did not kill him. He is still alive and safe, so far, from harm.”

To the surprise of them all, Linda only stared blankly at the tremulous
speaker. It was her husband who, full of fire and new-found happiness,
now leaned over her. “Didn’t you hear young marster?” he gulped; “didn’t
you hear ‘im say we-all’s boy was erlive?--_erlive_, honey?”

With an arm of iron Linda pushed him back and stood before Carson.

“You come tell me dat?” she cried, her great breast tumultuously
heaving. “Young marster, ‘fo’ God I done had enough. Don’t tell me dat
now, en den come say it’s er big mistake after you find out de trufe.”

“Pete’s all right, Linda,” Carson said, reassuringly. “Keith and Helen
will tell you about it.”

With an appealing look in her eyes Linda extended a detaining hand
towards him, but he had gone to the door and was cautiously looking out,
his attention being drawn to the sound of footsteps in the hall. It was
two negro maids just entering the house, having left half a dozen other
negroes on the walk in front. Going out into the hall, Carson commanded
the maids and the loiterers to go away, and the astonished blacks, with
many a curious, backward glance, made haste to do his bidding. A heavy
frown was on his face and he shrugged his broad shoulders as he took
his place on the veranda to guard the parlor door. “It’s a ticklish
business,” he mused; “if we are not very careful these negroes will drop
on to the truth in no time.”

He had dismissed the idlers in the nick of time, for there was a sudden,
joyous scream from Linda, a chorus of warning voices. The full import of
the good news was only just breaking upon the stunned consciousness of
the old sufferer. Screams and sobs, mingled with hysterical laughter,
fell upon Carson’s ears, through all of which rang the persistent drone
of Keith Gordon’s manly voice in gentle admonition. The door of the
parlor opened and old Lewis came forth, his black face streaming with
tears. Going to Carson he attempted to speak, but, unable to utter a
word, he grasped the young man’s hand, and pressing it to his lips he
staggered away. A few minutes later Keith came out doggedly trying to
divest his boyish features of a certain glorified expression that had
settled on them.

“Good God!” he smiled grimly, as he fished a cigar from the pocket of
his waistcoat, “I’m glad that’s over. It struck her like a tornado. I’m
glad I’m not in your shoes. She’ll literally fall on your neck. Good
Lord! I’ve heard people say negroes haven’t any gratitude--Linda’s
burning up with it. You are her God, old man. She knows what you did,
and she knows, too, that we opposed you to the last minute.”

“You told her, of course,” Carson said, reprovingly.

“I had to. She was trying to dump it all on me as the only member of
the gang present. I told her, the whole thing was born in your brain and
braced up by your backbone. Oh yes, I told her how we fought your
plan and with what determination you stuck to it in the face of all
opposition. No, the rest of us don’t deserve any credit. We’d have
squelched you if we could. Well, I simply wasn’t cut out for heroic
things. The easy road has always been mine to any destination, but I
reckon nothing worth much was ever picked up by chance.”

The two friends had gone down to the gate and Keith was unhitching
his horse, when Helen came out on the veranda, and seeing Carson she
hastened to him.

“She’s up in my room,” she explained. “I’m going to keep her there
for the rest of the day anyway. I’m glad now that we took so much
precaution. She admits that we were right about that. She says if
she had known Pete was safe she might have failed to keep it from
the others. But she is going to help us guard the secret now. But oh,
Carson, she is already begging to be allowed to see Pete. It’s pitiful.
There are moments even now when she even seems to doubt his safety, and
it is all I can do to convince her. She is begging to see you, too. Oh,
Carson, when you told me about it why did you leave out the part you
took? Keith told us all about your fight against such odds, and how you
sat up all night at the store to keep the poor boy company.”

“Keith was with me,” Carson said, flushing, deeply. “Well, we’ve got
Pete bottled up where he is safe for the present, but there is no
telling when suspicion may be directed to us.”

“We are going to win; I feel it!” said Helen, fervidly. “Don’t forget
that I’m a member of the clan. I’m proud of the honor,” and pressing his
hand warmly she hurried back to the house.



CHAPTER XXXI

[Illustration: 9278]

N his way to Blackburn’s store the next morning to inquire about the
prisoner, Carson met Garner coming out of the barber-shop, where he had
just been shaved.

“Any news?” Carson asked, in a guarded voice, though they were really
out of earshot of any one.

“No actual _news_,” Garner replied, stroking his thickly powdered chin;
“but I don’t like the lay of the land.”

“What’s up now?” Dwight asked.

“I don’t know that there is anything wrong yet; but, my boy,
discovery--discovery grim and threatening is in the very air about us.”

“What makes you think so, Garner?” They paused on the street crossing
leading over to Blackbum’s store.

“Oh, it’s all due to old Linda and Lewis,” Garner said, in a tone of
conviction. “You know I was dead against letting them know Pete was
alive.”

“You think we made a mistake in that, then?” Carson said. “Well, the
pressure was simply too strong, and I had to give way under it. But why
do you think it was a bad move?”

“From the way it’s turning out,” said Garner. “While Buck Black was
shaving me just now he remarked that his wife had seen Uncle Lewis and
Linda and that she thought they were acting very peculiarly. I asked him
in as off-hand and careless a manner as I could what he meant, and he
said that his wife didn’t think they acted exactly as if they had
just lost their only child. Buck said it looked like they were only
pretending to be brokenhearted. I thought the best way to discourage him
was to be silent, and so I closed my eyes and he went on with his work.
Presently, however, he said bluntly, ‘Look here, Colonel Garner’--Buck
always calls me colonel--‘where do you think they put that boy?’ He had
me there, you know, and I felt ashamed of myself. The idea of as good a
lawyer as there is in this end of the State actually wiggling under the
eye and tongue of a coon as black as the ace of spades! Finally I told
him that, as well as I could gather, the Hillbend faction had put Pete
out of the way, and were keeping it a secret to intimidate the negroes
through their natural superstition. And what do you reckon Buck said.
Huh, he’d make a good detective! He said he’d had his eye on the most
rampant of the Hillbend men and that they didn’t look like they’d
lynched anything as big as a mouse. In fact, he thought they were on the
lookout for a good opportunity in that line.”

“It certainly looks shaky,” Carson admitted, as they moved on to the
store, where Blackburn stood waiting for them just inside the doorway.

“How did Pete pass the night?” Carson asked, his brow still clouded by
the discouraging observations of his partner.

“Oh, all right,” Blackburn made reply. “Bob and Wade slept here on
the counters. They say he snored like a saw-mill. They could hear him
through the floor. Boys, I hate to dash cold water in your faces, but I
never felt as shaky in my life.”

“What’s the matter with _you?_” Garner asked, with an uneasy laugh.

“I’m afraid a storm is rising in an unexpected quarter,” said the
store-keeper, furtively glancing up and down the street, and then
leading them farther back into the store.

“Which quarter is that?” Carson asked, anxiously.

“The sheriff is acting odd--mighty odd,” said Blackburn.

“Good Lord! you don’t think Braider’s really on our trail do you?”
 Garner cried, in genuine alarm.

“Well, you two can make out what it means yourselves,” and Blackburn
pulled at his short chin whiskers doggedly. “It was only about half an
hour ago--Braider’s drinking some, and was, perhaps, on that account a
little more communicative--he came in here, his face as red as a pickled
beet, and smelling like a bunghole in a whiskey-barrel, and leaned
against the counter on the dry-goods side.

“‘I’m the legally elected sheriff of this county, ain’t I?’ he said, in
his maudlin way, and I told him he was by a big majority.

“‘Well,’ he said, after looking down at the floor for a minute, ‘I’ll
bet you boys think I’m a dem slack wad of an officer.’

“I didn’t know what the devil he was driving at, and so I simply kept
my mouth shut, but you bet your life I had my ears open, for there was
something in his eye that I didn’t like, and then when he said ‘_you
boys_’ in that tone I began to think he might be on to the work we did
the other night.”

“Well, what next?” Carson asked, sharply. “Well, he just leaned on the
counter, about to slide down every minute,” Blackburn went on, “and
then he began to laugh in a silly sort of way and said, ‘Them _Hillbend_
fellers are a slick article, ain’t they?’ Of course I didn’t know what
to say,” said the store-keeper, “for he had his eyes on me and was
grinning to beat the Dutch, and that is the kind of cross-examination I
fail at. Finally, however, I managed to say that the Hillbend folks had
beaten the others to the jail, anyway, and he broke out into another
knowing laugh. ‘The Hillbend gang didn’t have as fur to go,’ he said.
‘Oh, they are a slick article, an’ they’ve got a slick young leader.’”

“What else?” asked Carson, who looked very grave and stood with his lips
pressed together.

“Nothing else,” Blackburn answered. “Just then Wiggin, your boon
companion and bosom friend, stopped at the door and called him.”

“Good Lord, _and with Wiggin!_” Garner exclaimed. “Our cake is dough,
and it’s good and wet.”

“Yes, he’s a Wiggin man!” said Blackburn. “I’ve known he was pulling
against Carson for some time. It seems like Braider sized up the
situation, and decided if he was going to be re-elected himself he’d
better pool issues with the strongest man, and he picked that skunk as
the winner. I went to the door and watched them. They went off, arm in
arm, towards the court-house.”

“Braider is evidently on to us,” Carson decided, grimly; “and the truth
is, he holds us in the palm of his hand. If he should insist on carrying
out the law, and rearresting Pete and putting him back in jail, Dan
Willis would see that he didn’t stay there long, and Wiggin would swear
out a warrant against us as the greatest law-breakers unhung.”

“Oh yes, the whole thing certainly looks shaky,” admitted Blackburn.

“I tell you one thing, Carson,” Garner observed, grimly, “there are no
two ways about it, we are going to lose our client and your election
just as sure as we stand here.”

“I don’t intend to give up yet,” Dwight said, his lip twitching
nervously and a fierce look of determination dawning in his eyes. “We’ve
accomplished too much so far to fail ignominiously. Boys, I’d give
everything I have to ward this thing off from old Aunt Linda. She’s
certainly borne enough.”

The two lawyers went to their office, avoiding the numerous groups of
men about the stores who seemed occupied with the different phases
of the ever-present topic. They seated themselves at their desks, and
Garner was soon at work. But there was nothing for Carson to do, and
he sat gloomily staring through the open doorway out into the sunshine.
Presently he saw Braider across the street and called Garner’s attention
to him. Then to their surprise the sheriff turned suddenly and came
directly towards them.

“Gee, here he comes!” Garner exclaimed; “he may want to pump us. Keep
a sharp eye on him, Carson. He may really not know anything actually
incriminating, after all. Watch him like a hawk!”



CHAPTER XXXII.

[Illustration: 9285]

HE young men pretended to be deeply absorbed over their work when the
stalwart officer loomed up in the doorway, his broad-brimmed hat well
back on his head, the flush of intoxicants in his tanned face, his step
unsteady.

“I hope I won’t disturb you, gentlemen,” he said; “but you are two men
that I want to talk to--I might say talk to as a brother.”

“Come in, come in, Braider,” Carson said; “take that chair.”

[Illustration: 0283]

As Braider moved with uncertain step to a chair, tilted it to one side
to divest it of its burden of books, newspapers, and old briefs and
other defunct legal documents, Garner with a wary look in his eye fished
a solitary cigar from his pocket--the one he had reserved for a mid-day
smoke--and prof-ered it.

“Have a cigar,” he said, “and make yourself comfortable.”

The sheriff took the cigar as absent-mindedly as he would, in his
condition, have received a large banknote, and held it too tightly for
its preservation in his big red hand.

“Yes, I want to talk to you boys, and I want to say a whole lot that I
hope won’t go any further. I’ve always meant well by you two, and hoped
fer your success both in the law--and politics.”

Garner cast an amused glance, in spite of the gravity of the situation,
at his partner, and then said, quite evenly, “We know that, Braider--we
always _have_ known it.”

“Well, as I say, I want to _talk_ to you. I’ve heard that an honest
confession is good for the soul, if not for the pocket, and I’m here to
make one, as honest as I kin spit it out.”

“Oh, that’s it?” said Garner, and with a wary look of curiosity on his
face he sat waiting.

“Yes, and I want to begin back at the first and sort o’ lead up. It’s
hard to keep a fellow’s political leaning hid, Carson, and I reckon
you may have heard that I had some notion of casting my luck in with
Wiggin.”

“After he began circulating those tales about me, yes,” Carson said,
with a touch of severity; “not before, Braider--at least not when I
worked as I did the last time for your own election.”

“You are plumb right,” the sheriff said, readily enough. “I flopped over
sudden, I’ll acknowledge; but that’s neither here nor there.” He paused
for a moment and the lawyers exchanged steady glances.

“He may want to make a bargain with us,” Garner’s eyes seemed to say,
but Carson’s mind had grasped other and more dire possibilities as he
recalled Blackburn’s remark of a few minutes before. In fact all those
assurances of good-will might mean naught else than that the sheriff--at
the instigation of Wiggin and others--had come actually to arrest him as
the leader of the men who had intimidated the county jailer and
stolen away the State’s prisoner. The thought seemed to be borne
telepathically to Garner, for that worthy all at once sat more rigidly,
more aggressively defiant in his chair, and the pen he was chewing
was suspended before his lips. This beating about the bush, in serious
things, at least, was not Garner’s method.

“Well, well, Braider,” he said, with a change of tone and manner, “tell
us right out what you want. The day is passing and we’ve got lots to
do.”

“All right, all right,” agreed the intoxicated man; “here goes. Boys,
what I’m going to say is a sort of per-personal matter. You’ve both
treated me like a respectable citizen and officer of the law, and I’ve
taken it just as if I fully deserved the honor. But Jeff Braider ain’t
no hypocrite, if he _is_ a politician and hobnobs with that sort of
riffraff. Boys, always, away down at the bottom of everything I ever did
tackle in this life, has been the memory of my old mother’s teachings,
and I’ve tried my level best, as a man, to live up to ‘em. I don’t know
as I ever come nigh committing crime--as I regard it--till here lately.
Crime, they tell me, stalks about in a good many disguises. The crime
I’m talking about had two faces to it. You could look at it one way
and it would seem all right, and then from another side it would look
powerful bad. Well, I first saw this thing the night the mob raided
Neb Wynn’s shanty and run Pete Warren out and chased him to your house,
Carson. You may not want to look me in the eye ag’in, my boy, when I
tell you, but I could have come to your aid a sight quicker that night
than I did if I hadn’t been loaded down with so many fears of injury
to myself. As I saw that big mob rushing like a mad river after that
nigger, I said to myself, I did, that no human power or authority could
save ‘im anyway, and that if I stood up before the crowd and tried to
quiet them, that--well, if I wasn’t shot dead in my tracks I’d kill
myself politically, and so I waited in the edge of the crowd, hiding
like a sneak-thief, till--till you did the work, and then I stepped up
as big as life and pretended that I’d just arrived.”

“Oh!” Garner exclaimed, and he stared at the bowed head of the officer
with a look of wonder in his eyes; and it was a look of hope, too,
for surely no human being of exactly _this_ stamp would take unfair
advantage of any one.

“That was the _first_ time,” Braider gulped, as he went on, his glance
now directed solely to Carson. “My boy, I went to bed that night, after
we jailed that nigger, feeling meaner than an egg-sucking dog looks when
he’s caught in the act. If there is anything on earth that will shame a
man it is to see another display more moral and physical courage than he
does, and you did enough of both that night to show me where I stood. It
was a new thing to me, and it made me mad. I was a good soldier in the
war--I wear a Confederate veteran’s badge that was pinned onto my coat
in public by the | beautiful daughter of a dead comrade--but being shot
at in a bunch ain’t the same as being the _only_ target, and I showed my
limit.”

“Oh, you are exaggerating the whole thing,” Carson said, with a flush of
embarrassment.

“No I ain’t, Carson Dwight,” Braider said, feelingly, and he took out
his red cotton handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “You showed me that
night the difference between bravery, so-called, and the genuine thing.
I reckon bravery for personal gain is a weak imitation of bravery that
acts just out of human pity as yours did that night. Well, that ain’t
all. The next day I was put to a worse test than ever. It was noised
about, you know, that a bigger mob than the first was rising. I stayed
out of the centre of town as much as I could, for everywhere I went
folks would look at me as if they thought I’d surely do something to
protect the prisoner, and at home my wife was whimpering around all day,
saying she was sure Pete was innocent, or enough so to deserve a trial,
if not for himself for the sake of his mammy and daddy. But what was
such a wavering thing as I was to do? I took it that seventy-five per
cent, of the men who had backed me with their ballot in my election was
bent on lynching the prisoner, and if I opposed them they would consider
me a traitor. On the other hand, I was up against this: if I did put
up a feeble sort of opposition and gave in easy under pressure, the
conservative men, like some we have here in town, would say I didn’t
mean business or I’d have actually opened fire on the mob. You see,
boys, I wasn’t man enough to take a stand either way, and though I well
knew what was coming, I went about lying like a dog--lying in my throat,
telling everybody that the indications showed that the excitement had
quieted down. I went home that night and told my wife all was serene,
and I drank about a quart of rye whiskey to keep me from thinking about
the business and went to bed, but my conscience, I reckon, was stronger
than my whiskey, for I rolled and tumbled all night. It seemed to me
that I was, with my own hands, tying the rope around that pore nigger’s
neck. There I lay, a sworn officer of the law, flat on my back with
not enough moral courage in my miserable carcass to have killed a gnat.
Carson, if I saw you once before my eyes that long night, I saw you
five hundred times. Your speech rang over and over in my ears. I saw you
stand there when a ball had already grazed your brow and defy them to
shoot again. I saw that poor black boy clinging to your knees, and
knew that the light of Heaven had shone on you, while I lay in the hot
darkness of the bottomless pit.”

“God, you do put it strong!” Garner exclaimed.

“I’m not putting it half strong enough,” the sheriff went on. “I don’t
deserve to hold office even in a community half run by mob law. But I
ain’t through. I ain’t through yet. I got up early that awful morning,
and went out to feed my hogs at a pen that stands on a back street, and
there a woman milking a cow told me that it was over Pete Warren was
done for--guilty or not, he was done for. I went in the house and tried
to gulp down my breakfast, faced by my wife, who wouldn’t speak to me,
and showed in other ways what she thought about the whole thing. She was
eternally sighing and going on about old Mammy Lindy and her feelings. I
first went to the jail, and there I was told that two mobs had come, the
first the Hillbend crowd, who did the work, and the bigger mob that got
there too late.”

Braider’s voice had grown husky and he coughed. Garner stole a searching
glance of inquiry at Carson, but Dwight, his face suffused with a warm
look of pity for the speaker, was steadily staring through the open
door.

“I ain’t done yet, God knows I ain’t,” the sheriff gulped. “That morning
I felt meaner than any convict that ever wore ball and chain. If I’d
been tried and found guilty of stabbing a woman in the back I don’t
believe I could have felt less like a man. I tried to throw it all off
by thinking that I couldn’t have done any good anyway, but it wouldn’t
work. Carson, you and your plucky stand for the maintenance of law was
before me, and you wasn’t paid for the work while I was. Huh! do you
remember seeing me as you came out of Blackburn’s store that morning,
with your hair all tousled up and your eyes looking red and bloodshot?”

“Yes, I remember seeing you,” said Dwight. “I would have stopped to
speak to you but--but I was in a hurry to get home.”

“Well, you may have heard that I used to be a sort of a one-horse
detective,” Braider went on, “and I had acquired a habit of looking
for the explanation of nearly every unusual thing I saw, and--well,
you coming out of that store before it was opened for trade, while the
shutters in the front was still closed, struck me as odd. Then again,
remembering your big interest in Pete’s case, somehow, it didn’t seem to
me--meeting you sudden that way--that you looked quite as downhearted
as I expected. In fact, I thought you appeared sort o’ satisfied over
something.”

“Oh!” Garner exclaimed, all at once suspecting Braider of a gigantic
ruse to entrap them. “You thought he looked chipper, did you? Well, I
must say he looked exactly the other way to me when I first saw him that
day.”

“Well, it started me to wondering, anyway,” went on the sheriff,
ignoring Garner’s interruption, “and I set to work to watch. I hung
about the restaurant across the street, smoking a cigar and keeping my
eyes on that store. After awhile I saw Bob Smith go in the store and
then Wade Tingle. Then I saw a big tray of grub covered with a white
cloth sent from the Johnston House, and Bob Smith come to the door and
took it in, sending the coon that fetched it back to the hotel. Well,
I waited a minute or two and then sauntered, careless-like, across and
went in. I chatted awhile with Bob and Wade, noticing, I remember, that
for a newspaper man Wade seemed powerful indifferent about gathering
items about what had happened, and that Blackburn was busy folding up
a tangled lot of short pieces of white sheeting. All this time I was
looking about to see where that waiter full of grub had gone. Not a
sign of it was in sight, but in a lull in the talk I heard the clink of
crockery somewhere below me, and I caught on. Boys, I’m here to tell you
that never did a condemned soul feel as I felt. I went out in the open
air praying, actually praying, that what I suspected might be true. I
started for the jail and on the way met Burt Barrett. I asked him for
particulars, and when he said that the Hillbend mob had left word that
nobody need even look for the remains of the boy my heart gave a big
jump in the same way as it had when that clip and saucer collided in
that cellar. I asked Burt if he noticed which way the mob tuck the
prisoner, and he said down towards town. I asked him if it wasn’t odd
for Hillbend folks to go that way to hang a man, and he agreed that it
was. Well, to make a long story short, I was on to your gigantic ruse,
and God above knows what a load it took off of me. You had saved me,
Carson--you had saved me from toting that crime to my grave. I knew
you were the ringleader, for I didn’t know anybody else who would have
thought of such a plan. You are a sight younger man than I am, but you
stuck to principle, while I shirked principle, duty, and everything
else. Doing all that was hurting your political chances, and you knew
it, but you stuck to what was right all the same.”

“Yes, he certainly has queered his political chances,” Garner said,
grimly, with a look of wonder in his eye over the sheriff’s frank
confession. “But you, I think you said, were a Wiggin man,” he finished.

“Well, Wiggin and some others _think_ I am yet,” said Braider; “and
I reckon I was till this thing come up; but, boys, I guess I’ve got
a little smidgin of good left in me, for somehow Wiggin has turned my
stomach. But I hain’t got to what I was leading up to. Neither one of
you hain’t admitted that there is a nigger in that wood-pile yet, and I
don’t blame you for keeping it to yourselves. That is your business,
but the time has come when Jeff Braider’s got to do the right thing or
plunge deeper into hellishness, and he’s had a taste of what it means
and don’t want no more of it. I may lose all I’ve got by it. Wiggin and
his gang may beat me to a cold finish next election, but from now on I’m
on the other side.”

“Good,” said Garner; “that’s the way to talk. Was that what you were
leading up to, Braider?”

“Not altogether,” and the sheriff rose and stood over Carson, resting
his hand on the young man’s shoulder to steady himself. “My boy, I’ve
come to tell you that the damnedest, blackest plot agin you that ever
was laid has been hatched out.”

“What is that, Braider?” Carson asked, calmly enough under the
circumstances.

“Wiggin and his gang have found out that a trick was played night before
last. The Hillbend men convinced them that they didn’t lynch anybody,
and the Wiggin crowd smelt around until they dropped on to the thing.
The only fact they are short on is where the boy is hid. They think he
is in the house of one of the negro preachers. Wiggin come to me, not
half an hour ago, and considering me one of his stand-bys, he told me
all about it. The scheme is for me to arrest Pete and jail ‘im on the
charge of murder and then to arrest you fer being the ringleader of a
jail-breaking gang, who preaches law and order in public for political
gain and breaks both in secret.”

“And what do they think will become of Pete?” Carson asked, a touch of
supreme bitterness in his tone.

“Wiggin didn’t say; but I know what would happen to him. The seeds of
bloody riot are being strewn broadcast by the handful. They’ve been to
every member of the crowd that lynched Sam Dudlow and warned them, on
their lives, not to repeat the statement that Dudlow had said Pete was
innocent. They told the lynchers that you two lawyers were on the hunt
for men who had heard the confession and intend to use that as evidence
against them.”

“Ah, that _is_ slick, slick!” Garner muttered.

“Slick as double-distilled goose-grease,” said Braider. “The lynchers
are denying to friend or foe that Dudlow said a word, and the news is
spreading like wildfire that Pete was Dudlow’s accomplice, and that you,
Carson, are trying, with a gang of town dudes, to carry your point by
main, bull-headed force.”

“I see, I see.” Carson had risen and with a deep frown on his face stood
leaning against the top of his desk. He extended his hand to the officer
and said, “I appreciate your telling me all this, Braider, more than I
can say.”

“What’s the good of my telling you if the news doesn’t benefit you?”
 the sheriff asked. “Carson, I want to see you win. I ain’t half a man
myself, but I’ve got two little boys just starting to grow up, and I
wish they could be like you--a two-legged bull-dog that clamps his teeth
on what’s right and won’t let loose. Carson, you’ve got a chance--a bare
chance--to get your man out alive.”

“What’s that?” Dwight asked, eagerly.

“Why, let me hold the mob in check by promising to arrest Pete, and
you get some trusty feller to take him in a buggy to-night through the
country to Chattanooga. It would be a ticklish trip, and you want a man
that won’t get scared at his shadow, for on every road out of Darley,
men will be on the lookout, but if you once got him there he would be
absolutely safe, for no mob would go out of the State to do work of that
sort. Getting a good man is the main thing.”

“I’ll do it myself,” Dwight said, firmly. “You?” Garner cried. “That’s
absurd!”

“I’m the only one who _could_ do it,” Carson declared, “for Pete would
not go with any one else.”

“I really believe you are right,” Garner agreed, reluctantly; “but it is
a nasty undertaking after all you’ve been through.”

“By gum!” exclaimed Braider, extending his hand to Dwight. “I hope you
will do it. I want to see you complete a darn good all-round job.” >
“Well, you _are_ an officer of the law,” Garner observed, with amusement
written all over his rugged face, “asking a man to steal your own
prisoner.”

“What else can I do that’s at all decent?” Braider asked. “Besides,
do you fellows know that there never has been any written warrant for
Pete’s arrest. I started to jail him without any, and old Mrs. Parsons
turned him loose. The only time he was put in jail was by Carson
himself. By George! as I look at it, Carson, you have every right to
take him out of jail, by any hook or crook, since you was responsible
for him being there instead of hanging to a limb of a tree. I tell
you, my boy, there ain’t any law on earth that can touch you. Nobody is
prepared to testify against Pete, and if you will get him to Chattanooga
and keep him there for a while he can come back here a free man.”

“I have friends there who will look after him,” Dwight said. “I’ll start
with him to-night.”



CHAPTER XXXIII.

[Illustration: 9297]

HAT afternoon Keith Gordon went to Warren’s to tell Helen of Carson’s
plan for the removal of Pete. She received him in the big parlor, and he
found her seated at one of the wide windows which, in summer-time, was
used as a doorway to the veranda.

“I met the conquering hero, Mr. Sanders, on my way down,” he said,
lightly. “I presume he has been here as usual.”

“He only called to say good-bye,” Helen answered, a little coldly.

“Oh, that _is_ news,” Keith pursued, in the same tone. “Rather sudden,
isn’t it?”

“No, his affairs would not permit a longer visit,” said Helen. “But you
didn’t come to talk of him; it was something about Pete.”

She sat very still and rigid while he went into detail as to the whole
situation, and when he had finished she rested her chin in her white
hand, and he saw her breast rise and fall tremulously.

“There is danger attached to the trip,” she said, without looking at
him. “I know it, Keith, by the way you talk.”

He deliberated for an instant, then acknowledged: “Yes, there is, and
to my way of thinking, Helen, there is a great deal. Wade and I tried to
get him to consent to some other plan, but he wouldn’t hear to it.
He’s so anxious to put it through all right that he won’t trust to any
substitute, and he won’t let any one else go along, either. He thinks it
would attract too much attention.”

“In what particular way does the danger lie?” Helen faltered, and Keith
saw her pass her hand over her mouth as if to reprimand her lips for
their unsteadiness.

“I’d tell you there wasn’t any at all, as Carson would have me do,”
 Keith declared; “but when a fellow has the courage of an army of men, I
believe in his getting the full credit for it. You want to know and
I’m going to tell you. He’s been through ticklish places enough in this
business, but going over that lonely road to-night, when a thousand
furious men may be on the lookout for him, is the worst thing he has
tackled. It wouldn’t be so very dangerous to a man who would throw up
his hands if accosted, but, Helen, if you could have seen Carson’s face
when he was telling us about it, you would know that he will actually
die rather than see Pete taken. He’s reckless of late, anyway.”

“Reckless!” Helen echoed, and this time she gave Keith a full, almost
pleading stare.

“Oh yes, you know he’s reckless. He’s been so ever since Mr. Sanders
came. It looks to me like--well, I reckon a man can understand another
better than a woman can, but it looks to me like Carson is doing the
whole thing because you feel so worried about it.”

“You certainly wrong him there,” Helen declared.

“He is doing it simply because it is right.”

“Oh, of course he thinks it’s _right,_” Keith returned, with a boyish
smile; “he thinks everything _you_ want is right.”

When Keith had gone Helen went at once to Linda’s cottage to tell her
the news, putting it in as hopeful a light as possible, and not touching
upon the danger of the journey. But the old woman had a very penetrating
mind, and she stood in the doorway with a deeply furrowed brow for
several minutes without saying anything, then her observation only added
to Helen’s burden of anxiety.

“Chile,” she said, “ol’ Lindy don’t like de way dat looks one bit.
You say young marster got ter steal off in de dead o’ night, en dat he
cayn’t even let me see my boy once ‘fo’ he go. Suppin up, honey--suppin
up! De danger ain’t over yit. Honey, I know what it is,” Linda groaned;
“dem white folks is rising ergin.”

“Well, even if that is the reason”--Helen felt the chill hand of fear
grasp her heart at the admission--“even if that is it, Carson will
get him away safely.”

“Ef he _kin_, honey, ef he _kin!_” Linda moaned.

“‘God been behind ‘im all thoo so fur, but I seed de time when de Lawd
Hisse’f seem ter turn His back on folks tryin’ ter do dey level best.”

Leaving Linda muttering and moaning in the cottage doorway, the girl
went with a despondent step back to the big empty house and wandered
aimlessly about the various rooms.

As night came on and her father returned from town, she met him on the
veranda and gave him a kiss of greeting, but she soon discovered that
he had heard nothing. In fact, he was one of the many who still believed
that Pete had been lynched, the vague whisperings to the contrary not
having reached his old ears. She sat with him at the tea-table, and then
went up to her room and lighted her lamp on her bureau. As she did so
she looked at her reflection in the mirror and started at the sight of
her grave features. Then a flash from her wrist caught her eye. It was
the big diamond of a beautiful bracelet which Sanders had given her,
and as she looked at it she shuddered. Was she superstitious? She hardly
knew, and yet a strange idea took possession of her brain. Would her
unspoken prayers for Carson Dwight’s safety in his perilous expedition
be answered while she wore that gift from another man, after she had
spurned Carson’s great and lasting love, and allowed the poor boy to
think that she had given herself heart and soul to this stranger? She
hesitated only a moment, and opening a jewel box she unclasped the
bracelet and put it away. Then with a certain lightness of heart she
went to the window overlooking the grounds of the Dwight homestead
and stood there staring out in the hope of seeing Carson. But he was
evidently not at home, for no lights were visible except a dim one in
the invalid’s room and one in old Dwight’s chamber adjoining.

At ten o’clock Helen disrobed herself still with that awful sense of
impending tragedy hovering over her. The oil in her lamp was almost out,
and for this reason only she extinguished the flame, else she would
have kept it burning through the night to dissipate the material shadows
which seemed to accentuate those of her spirit. She heard the old
grandfather clock on the stair-landing below solemnly strike ten, then
the monotonous tick-tack as the great pendulum swung to and fro. Sleep
was out of the question. A few minutes before eleven she heard a soft
foot-fall on the walk in the front garden, and going out on the veranda
she looked down.

The bowed form of a woman was moving restlessly back and forth from the
steps to the gate.

“Is that you, mammy?” Helen asked, softly.

The handkerchiefed head was lifted and Linda looked up.

“Yes, it’s me, honey. I can’t sleep. What de use? Kin er mother sleep
when her chile is comin’ in de worl’? No, you know she can’t; neither
kin she close ‘er eyes when she’s afeared dat same chile is gwine out of
it. I’m afeared, honey. I’m afeared ter-night wuss dan all. Seem lak
de evil sperits des been playin’ wid us all erlong--makin’ us think we
gwine ter come thoo, so’t will hit us harder w’en it do strack de blow.
You go on back ter yo’ baid, honey. You catch yo’ death er cold. I’m
gwine home right now.”

Helen saw the old woman disappear round the corner of the house, but
she remained on the veranda. The clock was striking eleven, and she
was about to go in, when she heard the dull beat of hoofs on the
carriage-drive of the Dwight place, and through the half moonlight she
saw a pair of horses, Carson’s best, harnessed to a buggy and driven
by their owner slowly and cautiously going towards the big gate. Dwight
himself got down to open it. She heard his low commands to the spirited
animals as he led them forward by the bit, and then he stepped back to
close and latch the gate. She had an overpowering impulse to call out to
him; but would it be wise? His evident precaution was to keep his mother
from knowing of his departure, and Helen’s voice might attract the
attention of the invalid and seriously hamper him in his undertaking.
With her hands pressed to her breast she saw him get into the buggy,
heard his calm voice as he spoke to the horses, and then he was off--off
to do his duty--and _hers_. She went back to her room and laid down,
haunted by the weird thought that she would never see him again. Then,
all at once, she had a flash of memory which sent the hot blood of
shame from her heart to her brain, and she sat up, staring through the
darkness. _That_ was the man against whom she had steeled her heart for
his conduct, his youthful indiscretions with her unfortunate brother.
Was Carson Dwight to go forever unpardoned--unpardoned by such as _she_
while _that_ sort of soul held suffering sway within him?

The hours of the long night dragged by and another day began. Keith came
up after breakfast and related the particulars of Carson’s departure.
Graphically he recounted how the gang had robed the ill-starred Pete in
grotesque woman’s attire and seen him and Carson safely in the buggy,
but that was all that could be told or foretold. As for Keith, he and
all the rest were trying to look on the bright side, and they would
succeed better but for the long face Pole Baker had drawn when he came
into town early that morning and heard of the expedition.

“So he was uneasy?” Helen said, in perturbation.

Keith hesitated for a moment and then answered: “Yes, to tell you the
truth, Helen, it almost staggered him. He is a good-natured, long-headed
chap, and he lost his temper. He cursed us all out for a silly, stupid
set for allowing Carson to take such a risk. Finally we drew out of him
what he feared. He said the particular road Carson took to reach the
State line was actually alive with men, who had been keyed up to the
highest tension by Wiggin and his followers. Pole said they had their
eye on that road particularly because it was the most direct way to
Chattanooga, and that Carson wouldn’t have one chance in five hundred
of passing unmolested. He said the idea of fooling men of that stamp by
putting Pete in a woman’s dress in the company of Carson, of all human
beings, was the work of insane men.”

“It really was dangerous!” said Helen, pale to the lips.

“Well, we meant it for the best”--Keith defended himself and his
friends--“we didn’t know the road was a particularly dangerous one. In
fact, Pole didn’t learn it himself until several hours after Carson had
left. I really believe he’d have helped us do what we did if he had been
with us last night. We did the best we could; besides, Carson was going
to have his way. Every protest we made was swept off with that winning
laugh of his. In spite of the gravity of the thing, he kept us roaring.
I have never seen him in better spirits. He was bowing and scraping
before that veiled and hooded darky as if he were the grandest lady in
the land. He even insisted on handing Pete into the buggy and protecting
his long skirt from the dusty wheel. We never realized what we had done
till he was gone and we all gathered in the store and talked it over.
Blackburn, I reckon, being the oldest, was the bluest. He almost cried.
Helen, I’ve seen popular men in my life, but I never saw one with so
many friends as Carson. He’s an odd combination. His friends love him
extravagantly and his enemies hate him to the limit.”

Late that afternoon, unable to wait longer for news of Carson, Helen
went down to his office. Garner was in, and she surprised a look of
firmly grounded uneasiness on his strong face. For a moment it was as if
he intended to make some equivocal reply to her inquiry, but threw aside
the impulse as unworthy of her courage and intelligence.

“To be candid,” he said, as he stood stroking his chin, which bristled
with open disregard for appearances under stress of more important
things--“to tell you the whole truth, Miss Helen, I don’t like the lay
of the land.” Then he told her that the sheriff had just informed him
of the whispered rumor that a body of men had met Carson Dwight and his
charge near the State line about three o’clock in the morning. What had
taken place the sheriff didn’t know, beyond the fact that the men had
disbanded and returned to their homes all gravely uncommunicative. What
it meant no one but the participants knew. To face the facts, it looked
very much as if harm had really come to one, if not to both, of the two.
The mob had evidently been wrought to a high pitch of resentment for
the trick Carson had played in stealing the prisoner from jail, and this
second attempt to get him away may have enraged his enemies to outright
violence against him, especially as Dwight was a fighting man and very
hot-headed when roused.

Unable to discuss the matter in her depressed frame of mind, Helen left
him and went home. The whole story being now out, she found her father
warmly excited and disposed to talk about it in all its phases, the
earliest as well as the latest, but she had no heart for it, and after
urging the Major not to speak of it to Linda she went supperless to her
room.

Two hours passed. The dusk had given way to the deeper darkness of
evening. The moon had not yet risen and the starlight from a partly
clouded sky was not sufficiently luminous to aid the vision in reaching
any considerable distance, and yet from one of the rear windows of her
room, where she stood morosely contemplative, she could see the vague
outlines of Linda’s cottage. It was while she was looking at the doorway
of the little domicile, which stood out above the shrubbery of the rear
garden as if dimly lighted from a candle within, that she saw something
which caused her heart to suddenly bound. It was the live coal of a
cigar, and the smoker seemed to be leaving the cottage, passing through
the little gateway, and entering her father’s grounds. What more natural
than for Carson, if he had returned safely, to go at once to the mother
of the boy with the news? Helen almost held her breath. She would soon
be reasonably sure, for if it were Carson he would take a diagonal
direction to reach the gateway to the Dwight homestead. Was it Carson,
or--could it be her father? Her heart sank over the last surmise, and
then it bounded again, for the coal of fire, fitfully flaring, was
moving in the direction prayed for. Down the stairs Helen glided
noiselessly, lest the Major hear her, and yet rapidly. When she reached
the front veranda and descended the steps to the grass of the lawn she
was just in time to see the red disk passing through the gateway
to Dwight’s. No form was visible, and yet she called out firmly and
clearly: “Carson! Carson!” The coal of fire paused, described a curve,
and she bounded towards it.

“Did you call me?” Carson Dwight asked, in a voice so low from
hoarseness that it hardly reached her ears.

“Yes, wait!” she panted. “Oh, you’ve gotten back!”

They now stood face to face.

“Oh yes,” he laughed, with a gesture towards his throat of apology for
his hoarseness; “did you think I was off for good?”

“No, but I was afraid”--she was shocked by the pallor of his usually
ruddy face, the many evidences of fatigue upon him, the nervous way
he stood holding his hat and cigar--“I was afraid you had met with
disaster.”

“But why did you feel that way?” he asked, reassuringly.

“Oh, from what Keith said in general, and Mr. Garner, too. They declared
the road you took was full of desperadoes, and--”

“I might have known they would exaggerate the whole business,” Carson
said, with a smile. “Why, I’ve just come from Mam’ Linda’s. I went to
tell her that Pete is all right and as sound as a dollar. He’s in the
charge of good, reliable friends of mine up there, and wholly out
of danger. In fact, he’s as happy as a lark. When I left him he was
surrounded by a gang of as trifling scamps as himself bragging about his
numerous escapes and--he’s generous--my importance in the community we
live in. Well, he’s certainly been _important_ enough lately.”

“But did you not meet with--with any opposition at all?” Helen went on,
insistently.

“Oh, well”--he hesitated, struck a match, and applied it to his already
lighted cigar--“we lost our way, for one thing. You see, I was a little
afraid to carry a light, and it was hard to make out the different
sign-boards, and, all in all, it was a slow trip, but we got through all
right. And hungry! Gee whiz! We struck a restaurant in the outskirts of
Chattanooga about sunup, and while that fellow was cooking us some steak
and making coffee we could have eaten him alive. If Mam’ Linda
could have seen her boy eat she would have no fears as to his bodily
condition.”

“But didn’t you meet some men who stopped you?” Helen asked, staring
steadily into his eyes.

He blinked, flicked the ashes from his cigar, and said: “Yes, we did,
and they were really on the war-path, but they seemed very reasonable,
and when I had talked to them and explained the matter from our
stand-point--why, they--they let us go.”

They had gone into the grounds and were near the main walk when the gate
was opened and a man came striding towards them. It was Jeff Braider.

“Oh, I’ve been looking for you everywhere, Carson,” he cried, warmly,
shaking Dwight’s hand. “I heard you’d got back, but I wanted to see you
with my own eyes. Lord, Lord, my boy, if I’d known the awful trouble I
was getting you into I’d never have let you take that road. I’ve just
heard the whole story. For genuine pluck and endurance you certainly
take the rag off the bush. Why, nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of
a thousand would have given up the game, but you, you young bull-dog--”

“Carson, Carson! are you down there?” It was a man’s voice from an upper
window.

“Yes, father, what is it?”

“Your mother wants to see you right now. She’s waked up and is worrying.
Come on in.”

“You’ll both excuse me for just a moment, I know,” Carson said, as if
glad of the interruption. “I’ll be back presently. I haven’t seen my
mother since I returned, and she is very nervous and easily excited.”



CHAPTER XXXIV

[Illustration: 9309]

O you are the only lady member of the secret gang that stole my
prisoner!” the sheriff said, laughingly. “The boys told me all about
it.”

“I wasn’t taken in till they had done all the work,” Helen smiled. “I
was only an honorary addition, elected more to keep my mouth shut than
for any other service I could perform.”

“Oh, _that_ was it!” Braider laughed. “Well, they certainly put the
thing through. I’ve mixed up in a lot of hair-raising scrapes in my
time, but that kidnapping business was the brightest idea ever sprung
from a man’s head. This fellow Dwight is a corker. Did he tell you what
he went through last night?”

“Not a thing,” replied Helen; “the truth is, I have an idea he was
trying to mislead me.”

“Well, he certainly was if he didn’t tell you he had the hardest fight
for his life and that nigger’s that ever a man made. You noticed how
hoarse he was, didn’t you? That is due to it. The poor chap was up all
last night and drove the biggest part of to-day. I’ll bet, strong as he
is, he’s as limber as a dish-rag.”

“Then he really had trouble?” Helen breathed, heavily.

“Trouble! And he didn’t mention it to you? Young men in this day and
time certainly play their cards peculiar. When I was on the carpet we
boys had a way of making the most to women folks of everything we did,
and it was generally the loudest talker that won the game. But here I
find this ‘town dude,’ as the country people call his sort, actually
trying to make you think he went to Chattanooga last night in a Pullman
car. Good Lord, it gives me the all-overs to think of it! I heard all
about it. I met a man who was along, and he told me the whole thing from
start to finish.”

“What was it?” Helen asked, breathlessly.

“Why,” answered Braider, casting a glance towards Dwight’s as if fearful
of being overheard, “I didn’t know it, but somehow the mob had got wind
of what Carson intended to do, and, bless you, they were waiting for him
near the State line primed and cocked. The boy’s enemies had fixed him.
They had worked the mob up to the highest pitch of fury with all sorts
of tales against Pete. They had produced men who had really heard the
nigger threaten to harm Johnson, and they themselves testified that
Carson was saving the nigger only to capture black voters as their
friend and benefactor. The mob was mad as Tucker at him for tricking
them the other night, and they certainly had it in for him.”

“They were mad at Carson _personally_, then?” Helen said.

“_Were_ they? They were ready to drink his blood. They halted the buggy,
took them both out, and tied them.”

“Tied Car--” Helen’s voice died away, and she stood staring at Braider
unable to speak.

“Yes, they tied them both and led them off into the woods. They then
fastened Pete to a stump and piled sticks and brush around him and told
Carson they were going to make him see them burn the boy alive and when
that was done they intended to silence his tongue by shooting him dead
in his tracks.”

Helen covered her face with her hands and stifled a groan.

“His power of gab saved him, Miss Helen,” Braider went on. “It saved
them both. It wasn’t any begging, either; that wouldn’t have gone with
that sort of gang. With his hands and feet tied he began to talk--that’s
what ails his throat now--and the man that confessed it to me said such
rapid fire of words and argument never before rolled from human lips. He
told them he knew they would kill him; that they were a merciless band
of desperadoes; but he was going to fire some truths at them that they
would remember after he was gone, I’m no talker, Miss Helen. I can’t
possibly repeat what the man told me. He said at first Carson couldn’t
get their attention, but after awhile, when they were getting ready to
apply the match, something in Dwight’s voice caught their ear and they
paused. He talked and talked, until a man behind him, in open defiance,
cut the cords that held his hands. Later another cut his feet loose, and
then Carson walked boldly up to Pete and stood beside him, and although
a growl of fury was still in the air he kept talking. The man that told
me about it said Carson first picked up one of the sticks around the
prisoner and hurled it from him to emphasize something he said, then
another and another, until the mob saw him kicking the sticks away and
roaring out an offer to fight the whole bunch single-handed. Gee whiz!
I’d have given ten years of my life to have heard it. He hadn’t a thing
to say in favor of Pete’s general character; he said the boy was an
idle, fun-loving, shiftless fellow, but he was innocent of the crime
charged against him and he should not die like a dog. He spoke of the
fine characters of Pete’s mother and father and of the old woman’s
grief, and then, Miss Helen, he said something about _you_, and the man
that told me about it said that one thing did more to soften and quell
the crowd than anything else.”

“He said something about _me?_” Helen cried. “Me?”

“Yes; no names was mentioned, but they knew who he meant,” Braider went
on. “Carson spoke of your family and of the close bond of human sympathy
between it and all the blacks that had once belonged to your folks,
and said that the daughter of that house, the most beautiful womanly
character that had ever blessed the South, was praying at that moment
for the safety of the prisoner, and if they carried out their plans she
would shed tears of sorrow. ‘Your intentions are good,’ Carson said.
‘You are all sincere men acting, as you see it, in the interests of the
women of the South. Listen to this gentlewoman’s prayer uttered through
my mouth to-night for mercy and human justice.’

“It fairly swept them off their feet, Miss Helen. The man that told me
about it said he never saw a more thoroughly shamed lot of men in his
life; he said they released Pete and led the horses around and stood
like mile-posts with nothing to say as Carson drove away. The man that
told me said he’d bet ninety per cent, of the gang would vote for Dwight
this fall. But I must be going; if that young buck knew I’d been telling
you all this he’d give _me_ a tongue-lashing, and I don’t want any of
his sort in mine.”

Helen waited for about ten minutes alone on the grass--waited for
Carson. When he finally came out and hurried towards her, he found her
with her handkerchief pressed over her eyes.

“Why, what is the matter, Helen?” he asked, in sudden concern.

She remained silent for a moment, and then with glistening eyes she
looked up at him as he stood pale and disturbed, the plaster still
marking his wound and gleaming in the starlight.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, laying her hand tenderly on his
arm, her voice holding cadences of ineffable sweetness.

“Oh, Braider’s been talking to you, I see!” Dwight said, with a frown of
displeasure.

“Why, didn’t you tell me, Carson?” she repeated, putting her disengaged
hand on his arm and raising her appealing face till it was close to his.

He shrugged his shoulders, still frowning, and then said, flushing under
her urgent gaze: “Because, Helen, you’ve already seen and heard too much
of this awful stuff. It really is not fit for a gentle, sensitive girl
like you.”

“Oh, Carson,” she cried, her suffused face held even closer to his, “you
are the dearest, sweetest boy in the world!” and she turned and left
him, left him alone there in his fatigue, alone under the starlight to
fight as he had never fought before the deathless yearning for her.



CHAPTER XXXV.

[Illustration: 9315]

WO weeks went by. Great changes had come over the temper of the
insurgent mountain people. They had gradually come to accept the rescue
of Pete Warren as a chance bit of real justice that was as admirable as
it was unusual and heroic. A sufficient number of men had come forward
and testified to Sam Dudlow’s ante-mortem confession to exculpate
Carson’s client, and some who had a leaning towards Dwight’s cause
politically were hinting, on occasion, that surely a man who would take
such a plucky stand for the rights of a humble negro would not be a mere
figure-head in the legislature of the State. At all events, there was
one man who ground his teeth in secret rage over the subtle turn of
affairs, and that man was Wiggin. He still busied himself sowing the
seditious seed of race hatred wherever he found receptive soil, but,
unfortunately for his cause, in many places where unbridled fury had
once ploughed the ground a sort of frost had fallen. Most men whose
passions are unduly wrought undergo a certain sort of relapse, and
Wiggin found many who were not so much interested in their support of
him as formerly when an open and defiant enemy was to be defeated.

Wiggin was puzzled more about Jeff Braider than any one of his former
supporters. Braider was too good a politician to admit that he had in
any way aided Carson Dwight by a betrayal of the plot against him,
for that was exactly the sort of thing Wiggin could hold out to his
constituents as the act of a man disloyal to his official post,
for, guilty or innocent, the prisoner should have been held, as any
law-abiding citizen would admit. As to Pete’s guilt Wiggin’s opinion
was unchanged, and he made no bones of saying so; he believed, so he
declared, that Pete was Dudlow’s accomplice, and the dastardly manner of
his release was a shame and a disgrace to any white man’s community.

As for Jeff Braider, he was in such high feather over the success of his
swerving towards the right in the nick of time that he refrained from
drink and wore better clothing. He liked the situation. He felt, now,
that he could serve his country, his God, and himself with a clear
conscience, for Carson Dwight looked like a winner and they had agreed
to work together.

Helen Warren, after her impulsive leaning towards her first sweetheart
that night in the garden, had permitted herself to undergo the keenest
suffering which was due to her strangely unsettled mind. Was she
strictly honest? she asked herself. She had openly encouraged a good man
to hope that she would finally become his wife, and the letters she was
receiving from him daily were of the tenderest, most appealing nature,
showing that Sanders’ love for her and faith in her fair dealing were
too deeply grounded to be easily uprooted. Besides, as he perhaps had
the right to do, the Augusta man had spoken of his hopes to his mother
and sister, and those sympathetic ladies had written Helen adroit
letters which all but plainly alluded to the “understanding” as being
the forerunner of a most welcome family event.

Many times had the poor girl seated herself to respond to these
communications, and found herself absolutely unequal to the performance
in the delicate spirit that the occasion demanded. The window of her
room, at which her writing-desk stood, looked out over the garden at
Dwight’s, and the very spot where she had left Carson that memorable
night was in open view. How could she throw herself into anything, yes
_anything_ pertaining to her compact with Sanders while the ever-present
thrill and ecstasy of that moment was permeating her? What had it really
meant--that ecstatic yearning to kiss the lips so close to hers, the
lips which had quivered in dumb adoration and despair as he strove to
keep from her ken the suffering he had undergone in her service?

One day she rebelled against the painful, almost morbid, state of
indecision that was on her and firmly decided that there was but one
honorable course to pursue and that was in every way to be true to her
tacit promise to the absent suitor, and in a spasm of resolution she
was about to set herself to the correspondence just mentioned when Mam’
Linda was announced. The old woman had just returned from a visit to
Chattanooga to see her son and in addition to news of his well-being she
had many other things to say. The letters would have to wait, Helen told
herself, and her old nurse was admitted. Linda remained two hours, and
Helen sat the while in a veritable dream as the old woman gave Pete’s
version of Carson Dwight’s conduct before the mob on the lonely mountain
road. And when Linda had gone, Helen turned to her desk. There lay the
white sheets fluttering in the summer breeze, mutely beckoning her back
to stem reality. Helen stared at them and then with a little cry of pain
she lowered her head to her folded arms and wept--not for Sanders in
his complacent, epistolary hopefulness, but for the one who had bravely
borne more than his burden of pain, and upon whom she had resolved to
put still more. Helen told herself that it would not be the first time
_ideal_ happiness had not been a factor in a sensible marriage. The time
would come, in her life, as it had in the lives of so many other women,
when she would look back on her present feeling for Carson, and wonder
how she ever could have fancied--but, no, that would be unfair to him,
to his wealth of spirituality, to his gentleness, his courage to--to
Carson _just as he was_, to Carson who must always, always be the same,
different from all living men. Yes, he was to go out of her life. Out
of her life--how strange! and yet it would be so, for she would be the
_wife_ of----

She shuddered and sat staring at the floor.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

[Illustration: 9319]

IGGIN was no insignificant opponent; he held weapons as powerful as fire
applied to inflammable material. The papers were filled with accounts
of race rioting in all parts of the South, and in his speeches on
the stump, through the length and breadth of the county, he kept his
particular version of the bloody happenings well before his hearers.

“This is a white man’s country,” was the key-note of all his hot
tirades, “and the white man is bound to rule.” He accomplished
one master-stroke. There was to be a considerable gathering of the
Confederate, veterans at an annual picnic at Shell Valley, a few miles
from Springtown, and by no mean diplomacy Wiggin had, by shrewdly
ingratiating himself into the good graces of the committee of
arrangements, managed to have himself invited as the only orator of the
occasion. He meant to make it the greatest day of the campaign, and in
some respects, as will be seen he did.

The farmers came from all parts of the county in their best attire, in
their best turnouts, from plain, springless road-wagons to glittering
buggies. The wood which stretched on all sides from the spring was
filled with vehicles, horses, mules, and even oxen.

The grizzled veterans, battered as much by post-bellum hardship and
toil as by war, came with their wives, sons, and daughters, and brought
baskets to the rich contents of which any man was welcome. A crude
platform had been erected near the spring under the shadiest trees, and
upon this the speaker of the day was to hold forth. Behind the little
impromptu table holding a glass pitcher of water and a tumbler, erected
for Wiggin’s special benefit, were a number of benches made of undressed
boards. And to these seats the wives and daughters of the leading
citizens were invited.

Jabe Parsons, being a man of importance as a land-owner and an old
soldier, was instructed on his arrival in his rickety buggy to escort
his wife, who was gorgeously arrayed in a new green-and-red checked
gingham gown with a sunbonnet to match, to the front seat on the
platform, and he obeyed with a sort of ploughman’s swagger that
indicated his pride in the possession of a wife so widely known and
respected. Indeed, no woman who had arrived--and she had come later
than the rest--had caused such a ripple of comment. Always liked for
her firmness in any stand she took in matters of church or social life,
since her Amazonian rescue of Pete Warren from the very halter of death
she was even more popular. The women of the county had not given much
thought to the actual guilt or innocence of the boy, but they wanted
Mrs. Parsons--as a specimen of their undervalued sex--to be right in
that instance, as she had always been about every other matter upon
which she had stood flat-footed, and so they all but cheered her on this
first public appearance after conduct which ‘had been so widely talked
about.

Really, if Wiggin could have had the reception Mrs. Parsons received
from beaming eyes and faces he would have felt that his star, which had
been rather below the horizon than above of late, had become a fixed
ornament in the political heavens. But Wiggin gave no thought to her,
and there’s where he made a mistake. Women were beneath the notice
of serious men, Wiggin thought, except as a means of controlling a
husband’s vote, and there he made another mistake. It would have been
well for him if he could have noticed the fires of contempt in Mrs.
Parsons’ eyes as he made his way through the crowd, bowing right
and left, and took his seat in the only chair on the platform, and
proceeded, of course, to take a drink of water.

A country parson, while the multitude sat upon the grass, crude benches,
buggy-cushions, or heaps of pine needles, opened the ceremonies with a
long-winded prayer, composed of selections from all the prayers he knew
by rote and ending with something resembling a benediction. Then a young
lady was asked to recite a dramatic poem relating to the “Lost Cause,”
 and she did it with such telling effect that the gray heads of the
old soldiers sank to their chests, and, in memory of camp-fire,
battle-field, and comrades left in unmarked graves, the tears flowed
down furrowed cheeks and strong forms were shaken by sobs.

It was into this holy silence that the unmoved, preoccupied Wiggin rose
to cast his burning brand. Through curtains of tears he laid his fuse to
hidden magazines of powder.

“I believe in getting right down to business,” he began, in a crisp,
rasping voice that reached well to the outskirts of the crowd. “There’s
nothing today that is as important to you, fellow-citizens, as the
correct use of the ballot. I am a candidate for your votes. I mean to
represent you in the next legislature, and I don’t intend to be foiled
by the tricks, lies, and underhand work of a gang of stuck-up town men
who laugh at your honest appearance and homely ways. God knows you are
the salt of the earth, and when I hear men of that stamp making fun of
you behind your backs it makes me mad. My father was a mountain farmer,
and when men throw dirt on folks of your sort they throw it into the
tenderest recesses of my being and it smarts like salt in a fresh cut.”

There was applause from a group in the edge of the crowd led by long,
tall Dan Willis, and it spread uncertainly to other parts of the
gathering.

“Hit ‘em, blast ‘em, hit ‘em, Wiggin,” a man near Willis shouted; “hit
 ‘em!”

“You bet I’ll hit ‘em, brother,” Wiggin panted, as he rolled up his
coat-sleeve and pulled down his rumpled cuff. “That’s what I’m here for.
I’m here, by the holy stars, to show you people a few things which have
been overlooked. I intend to go into the history of this case. I want
you all to look back a few weeks. A gang of worthless negroes in Darley
became so bad and openly defiant in their rowdyism that they were
literally running the town. Whenever they would be hauled up before the
mayor for disgraceful conduct some old slave-holder, who used to own
them or their daddies, would come up and pay their fine and they’d be
turned loose again. The black scamps became so spoiled that whenever
country people would come in town they would laugh at them, imitate
their talk, call them po’ white trash, and push them off the sidewalks.
Some of you mountain men stood it, God bless your Caucasian bones, just
as long as human endurance would let you, and then you formed a secret
gang that went into Darley one night and pulled their dives and gave
them a lashing on their bare backs that brought about a reform. As every
Darley man will tell you, it purified the very air. The negroes were put
to work, and they didn’t hover like swarms of buzzards round the public
square. All of which showed plainly that the cowhide was the only
corrective that the niggers knew about or cared a cent for. Trying them
in a mayor’s court was elevating them to the level of a white man, and
they liked it.”

“You bet!” cried out Dan Willis, and a laugh went round which spurred
Wiggin to further flights of vituperation.

“Now to my next step in this history,” he thundered. “In that gang of
soundly thrashed scamps there were two who were chums, as I could prove
by sworn testimony. Those black fiends refused to submit passively. They
skulked around making sullen threats and trying to incite race riot.
Failing in this, what did they do? One of them, being hand in glove with
Carson Dwight, who says he’s going to beat me in this election, applied
to him for a job and was sent out to Dwight’s farm near to that of
Abe Johnson, who is thought--by some--to have been the leader of the
thrashing delegation. That nigger, Pete Warren, was promptly joined by
his black pal, and Johnson and his wife, one of the best women in this
State, were foully murdered in the dead hours of the night as they lay
sleeping in their beds. Who did it? _I_ know who did it. _You_ know
who did it. Fellow-citizens, those two niggers, with their backs still
smarting and their tongues still wagging, were the devils who did the
deed.”

Low muttering was heard throughout the crowd as men turned to one
another to make comment on the statement. In its incipiency it meant
no more, perhaps, than that reason, hard driven by rising emotion,
was honestly striving to keep the equitable poise which had recently
governed it, but it sounded to the thoughtless, inflammable element like
sullen, swelling acquiescence to the bitter charges, and they took it
up. Wiggin paused, drank from the tumbler, and watched his flashing fuse
in its sinuous course through the assemblage.

Mrs. Parsons was near the edge of the platform, and Pole Baker, rising
from the grass near by, where he had been coolly whittling a stick,
stealthily approached her.

“Great goodness, Mrs. Parsons,” he whispered in her ear, “that skunk is
cutting a wide swath to-day, sure! He could git up a lynching-bee right
here in five minutes if he had any sort of material. The only thing of
the right color is that old woman selling ginger-cakes and cider at the
spring. Don’t you think I’d better slip down and tell her to go home?”

“It might save the old thing’s neck,” Mrs. Parsons answered, in the same
half-amused spirit. “If he keeps on I don’t think I’ll be able to hold
my seat. Why don’t you say something?”

“Me? Oh, I ain’t no public speaker, Mrs. Parsons. That oily gab of
Wiggin’s would twist me into a hundred knots, and Carson Dwight would
cuss me out for making matters worse. I never feel like talking unless
I’m drunk, and then I’m tongue-tied.”

“Well, I don’t git drunk and I don’t git tongue-tied!” grunted Mrs.
Parsons; “and I tell you, Pole, if that fool keeps on I’ll either talk
or bust.”

“Well, don’t bust--we need women like you right now,” Baker smiled. “But
the truth is, if some’n’ ain’t done for our side this thing will sweep
Carson Dwight clean out of the field.”

“Yes, because men are born fools,” retorted the woman. “Look at their
faces, the last one of them right now is mad enough to lynch a nigger
baby, and a _gal_ baby at that.”

With a laugh, Pole went back to his seat on the grass for Wiggin was
thundering again.

“What happened _next!_” he demanded, bending over his table, a hand on
each end of it, his keen, alert eyes sweeping like twin search-lights
into the deeps of the countenances turned to him. “Why, just this and
nothing more. Knowing that the jack-leg lawyers of that measly town
would clog the wheels of justice for their puny fees, and hold those
fiends over for other hellishness, some of you rose and took the law
into your own hands. You jerked one to glory as quick as you laid hands
on him, and part of you were hard on the track of his mate, when my
honorable opponent, not wanting to lose the fee he was to get for
pulling the case through, met the mob and managed, by a lot of
grand-stand playing and solemn promises to see that the negro was
legally tried, to put him in jail.

“Those promises he kept like the honorable gentleman he is,” Wiggin
snorted, tossing back his hair in white rage and rolling up his sleeves
again. “You know how he kept his word to the public. He organized a
secret band of his dirty associates in town, dressed ‘em up like White
Caps, and they went to the jail and took the nigger out. Then they
hid him in a cellar of a store where you all buy supplies, out of the
goodness of your patriotic souls, and later sent him in a new suit of
clothes to Chattanooga, where he is now engaged in the same sort of life
that he was here, an idle, good-for-nothing, lazy tramp, who says he’s
as good as any white man that ever wore shoe-leather and no doubt thinks
he will some day marry a white woman.”

The rising storm burst, and Wiggin stood above it calmly viewing it in
all its subdued and open fury. Shouts of rage rent the air. Men with
blanched faces, men with gleaming eyes, rose from their seats, as if
a call to their manhood for instantaneous action had been sounded, and
walked about muttering threats, grinding their teeth, and clinching
their brawny hands.

“Ah, ha!” Wiggin bellowed; “I see you catch my idea. But I’m not
through. Just wait!”

He paused to drink again, and Pole Baker, with a grave look in his
honest eye approached the sculpturesque shape of Mrs. Parsons and nudged
her.

“Did you ever in yore life?” he said; but staring him in the eyes
steadily, the woman seemed not to hear what he was saying. Her lower lip
was twitching and there was an expression of settled determination in
her eyes. Baker, wondering, moved back to his place, for Wiggin had
levelled his guns again.

“And the man that was at the head of it, what is he doing right now? Why
he’s leaning back in his rocking-chair in his law-office drawing a fat
pension from his rich old daddy, taking in big fees for such legal work
as that, and fairly splitting his sides laughing at you folks, who he
calls a lot of sap-headed hillbillies, fit only for hopping clods and
feeding hogs on swill and pussley weeds. Oh, that was a picnic--that
trick he and those town rowdies put up on you! It was a gentle rebuke to
you, and when he gets to the legislature he says he--”

“Legislature be damned!” Dan Willis roared, and the crowd took up his
cry.

“Oh yes, _you’ll_ vote him in,” Wiggin went on, with a vast air of mock
depression and reproach; “you think you won’t now, but when he gets up
and tells his side of it with a forced tear or two, your women folks
will say, ‘Poor boy!’ and tell you what to do at the polls.”

Comprehensive applause greeted the speaker as he sat down. Hats were
thrown in the air and Dan Willis organized and gave three resounding
cheers.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

[Illustration: 9328]

F the audience was surprised at what next happened, what may be said of
the astounded candidate when he saw the powerful form of Mrs. Parsons
rise from her seat near him and calmly stride with the tread of an angry
man to the speaker’s stand and take off her curtained bonnet and begin
to wave it up and down to indicate that she wanted them to keep their
places?

“I never made a speech in my life,” she gulped--“that is, not outside of
an experience meetin’. But, people, ef this ain’t an experience meeting
I never went to one. Ef the Lord God had told me Hisse’f in a blazonin’
voice from heaven that any human bein’ could take such a swivelled-up,
contemptible shape as the man that’s yelled at you like a sick calf
to-day, I never would have believed it. I’ve got a right to be heard.
I couldn’t set still. It would give me St. Vitus’s dance to try it
ten minutes longer. I’ve got a right to talk, because, friends and
neighbors, this contemptible creature has, in a roundabout way, accused
_me_ of law-breaking, an’--”

“Why, madam!” Wiggin gasped, as he half rose and stared around in utter
bewilderment. “I don’t even _know_ you! I never laid eyes on you before
this minute--”

“Well, take a good look at me now!” Mrs. Parsons hurled at him, “for I’m
the woman that helped Pete Warren git away from the sheriff, when your
sort were after the poor, silly nigger to lynch him for a crime he
had nothin’ to do with. If you are right in all your empty tirade this
morning, I’m a woman unfit for the community I live in, and if I have
to share that honor with a man of your stamp, I’ll lynch myself on the
first tree I come to.”

She turned from the astounded, suddenly crestfallen speaker to the
open-mouthed audience.

“Listen to me, men, women, and children!” she thundered, in a voice that
was as steady and clear in resonance as a bell. “If there was ever a
crafty, spider-like politician on earth you have listened to him spout
to-day. He’s picked out the one big sore-spot in your kind natures and
he’s punched it, and jabbed it, and lacerated it with every sort of
thorn he could stick into it, till he gained his aim in makin’ you
one and all so blind with rage at the black race that you are about to
overlook the good in yore own.

“There are two sides to this matter, and you would be pore excuses for
men if you jest looked at one side of it. Carson Dwight is the other
candidate, and I don’t know but one thing agin his character, and that
is that he ever allowed his name to be put up along with this
man’s. It’s a funny sort of race, anyway--run by a greyhound and a
jack-rabbit.”

A ripple of amusement passed over many faces, and there were several
open laughs over Wiggin’s evident discomfiture. He started to rise, but
voices from all parts of the gathering cried out: “Sit down, Wiggin! Sit
down, it ain’t yore time!”

“No, it _hain’t_ his time,” said Mrs. Parsons, unrolling her bonnet
like a switchman’s flag and waving it to and fro. “I started to tell
you about Carson Dwight. He can’t help bein’ born in a rich family any
more’n I could in a pore one, but I’m here to tell you that since I had
the moral backbone to aid that nigger to git away I’ve thanked God a
thousand times that I did that much to help genuine justice along. I
could listen to forty million men like this candidate expound his views
and it wouldn’t alter me one smidgen in the belief that Carson Dwight
has acted only as a true Christian would. He knew that nigger. He had
known him, I’m told, from childhood up. He knew the sort of black stock
the boy sprung from, an’ the white family he was trained in, an’ he
simply didn’t believe he was guilty of that crime. Believing that, thar
wasn’t but one honest thing for him to do, and that was to fight for the
pore thing’s rights. He knew that most of the racket agin the boy was
got up by t’other candidate, and he set about to save the pore, beggin’
darky’s neck from the halter or his body from the burning brush-heap.
Did he do it at a sacrifice? Huh, answer me that! Where did you ever see
another politician on the eve of his election that would take up such a’
issue as that, infuriating nearly every person who had promised to vote
for him? Where will you find a young man with enough stamina to stand on
a horse-block over the heads of hundreds of howling demons, and with one
wound from a pistol on his brow, darin’ ‘em to shoot ag’in and holdin’
on like a bull-dog to the pore cowerin’ wreck at his feet?”

There was applause, slight at first, but increasing. There were,
too, under Mrs. Parson’s eye many softening faces, and into them she
continued to throw her heart-felt appeal.

“You’ve been told this morning that Carson Dwight makes fun of us
country people. I’ll admit I saw him do it once, but it was _only_ once.
He made fun of a mountain chap over at Darley one circus day. The fellow
had insulted a nice country gal, and Carson Dwight made a _lot_ of fun
of him. He hammered the dirty scamp’s face till it looked like a ripe
tomato that the rats had been gnawin’.”

At this point there was laughter loud and prolonged.

“Now, listen,” the speaker went on. “I want you to hear something, and I
don’t want you ever to forget it. I got it straight from a truthful man
who was there. The night you mountain men gathered from all sides like
the rising of the dead on Judgment Day, and got ready to march to Darley
to take that boy out of jail, the news reached Carson Dwight just an
hour or so before the appointed time. He got a few friends together
and told them if they cared for him to make one more effort to stop the
trouble.

“Gentlemen, to some extent they was like you. They wasn’t--I’m
told--much interested in the fate of that nigger, one way or another,
and so they sat thar in judgment over Carson Dwight, and tried to argue
 ‘im down. I’m told by a respectable man who was thar” (and here Pole
Baker lowered his head till his eyes were out of sight and continued to
whittle his stick) “that nothin’ feazed ‘im. Pity was in his big, boyish
heart, and it looked out of his eyes and clogged up his voice. They told
him it meant ruination to all his political hopes, and that it would
turn his daddy against him for good and all. But he said he didn’t care.
They held out agin him a long time, and then one thing he said won ‘em
over--one thing. Kin you imagine what that was, friends and neighbors?
It was this: Carson Dwight said he loved you mountain men with all his
heart; he said no better or braver blood ever flowed in human veins than
yours; he said he knew you _thought_ you was right, but that you hadn’t
had the chance to discover what he had found out, and that was that
Pete Warren was innocent and as harmless as a baby, and that--now,
listen!--that he knew the time would come when you’d be convinced of the
truth and carry regret for your haste to your graves. ‘It is because,’
he told them, ‘I want to save men that I love from remorse and sorrow
that I am in for this thing!’ Fellow-citizens, that shot went home.
Those worthless ‘town dudes,’ as they was called just now, saved you
from committing a crime against yourselves an’ God on high. Did any
human bein’ ever see a better illustration than that of the duty of
enlightened folks to-day--the duty of them who, with divine sight, see
great truths--to lead others in the right direction? As God Almighty
smiles over you to-day in this broad sunlight, that gang in that store,
headed by a new Joseph, was an’ are the truest and best friends you ever
had.”

There was no open applause, but Mrs. Parsons saw something in the
melting faces before her that was infinitely more encouraging, and
after a moment’s pause, and leaning slightly on the table, she went on:
“Before I set down, I want to say one word about this big race question,
anyway. I’m just a plain woman, but I read papers an’ I’ve thought about
it a lot. We hear some white folks say that the education the niggers
are now gettin’ is the prime cause of so much crime amongst the
blacks--they say this in spite of the fact that it is always the
uneducated niggers that commit the rascality. No, my friends, it ain’t
education that’s the cause, it is _the lack_ of it. Education ain’t just
what is learnt in school-books. It is anything that makes folks higher
an’ better. Before the war niggers was better educated, for they had the
education that come from bein’ close to the white race an’ profitin’ by
the’r example. After slavery was abolished the poor, simple numskulls,
great, overgrown, fun-lovin’ children, was turned loose without advice
or guidin’ hand, an’ the worst part of ‘em went downhill. Slavery was
education, and I’ll bet the Lord had a hand in it, for it has lifted
a race from the jungles of Africa to a civilized land full of free
schools. So I say, teach ‘em the difference between right an’ wrong, an’
then let ‘em work out their own salvation.

“Who in the name of common-sense is to do this if it ain’t you of the
superior race? _But!_ wait a minute, think! How can you possibly teach
 ‘em what law an’ order is without knowin’ a little about it yourselves?
How can you learn a nigger what justice means when he sees his brother,
son, or father, shot dead in his tracks or hung, like a scare-crow to
the limb of a tree because some lower grade black man a hundred miles
off has committed a dastardly deed? No sensible white man ever thought
of puttin’ the two races on equality. The duty of the white blood is
always to keep ahead of the black, and it will. This candidate openly
declares that the time is coming when the negroes will overpower the
whites. A man that has as poor an opinion of his own race as that ought
to be kicked out of it. Now I can’t vote, but I want every woman in
this crowd that believes I know what I’m talkin’ about to see that her
brother, father, or husband votes for a member of the legislature that
knows what law an’ order means, an’ not for a red-handed anarchist who
would lay this country in ruins to gain his own puny aims. That’s all
I’ve got to say.”

When she had finished there was still no applause. They had learned that
it was unseemly to make a demonstration at church, when deeply moved by
a sermon, and they had heard something to-day that had lifted them as
high under her sway as they had sunken low under Wiggin’s. The formal
part of the exercises was over, and they proceeded to spread out the
contents of their baskets. Wiggin, after his successful ascent, had
fallen with something like a thud. He saw Mrs. Parsons helped from the
platform by her proudly flushing husband and instantly surrounded by
people anxious to offer congratulations. Wiggin shuddered for he stood
quite alone. Those who were in sympathy with him seemed afraid to
openly signify it. Even Dan Willis lurked back under the trees, his face
flushed with liquor and inward rage.

Pole Baker, however, was more thoughtful of the candidate’s comfort.
With a queer twinkle of amusement in his eyes, and polishing, with the
dexterity of a carver of cherry-stones, his little stick, he approached
the candidate.

“Say, Wiggin,” he drawled out, “I want to ax you a question.”

“All right, Baker, what is it?” the candidate asked, absent-mindedly.

“Don’t you remember tellin’ me,” Pole began, “that you never had in all
yore life met a man that made better an’ truer predictions about things
to come than I did?”

“Yes, I think so, Baker--yes, I remember now,” answered Wiggin. “You do
seem to have a head that way. Some men have more than others, a sort of
foresight or intuition.”

Pole chuckled. “You remember I said Teddy Rusefelt would whip the socks
off of Parker. I’m a Democrat an’ always will be, but I kin see things
that are goin’ to be agin me as plain as them I’m prayin’ for. Well, you
remember I was called a traitor jest beca’se I told what was comin’, but
I hit the nail on the head, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did,” admitted the downcast candidate.

“An’ I was right about the majority Towns would git for the State
senate, Mayhew for solicitor, an’ Tim Bloodgood for the last
legislature.”

“Yes, you were, I remember that,” said Wiggin.

“I hit it on the Governor’s race to a gnat’s heel, too, didn’t I?” Pole
pursued, his keen eyes fixed on those of the man before him.

“Yes, you did,” admitted Wiggin; “you really seem to have remarkable
foresight.”

“Well, then,” said Baker, “I’ve got a prediction to make about your race
agin Carson Dwight.”

“Oh, you have!” exclaimed Wiggin, now all attention.

“Yes, and this time I’d bet my two arms and the first joint of my right
leg agin a pinch o’ snuff that Carson’ll beat you worse than a man was
ever whipped in his life.”

“You think so, Baker?” Wiggin was trying to sneer.

“I don’t think anything about it; I _know_ it,” said Pole.

Wiggin stared at the ground a moment aimlessly, then he said,
doggedly, and yet with an evident desire for information at any sort of
fountain-head: “What makes you think I’m beat, Baker?”

“Because you’ve showed you hain’t no politician, an’ you’ve got a born
one to beat. For one thing, you’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest. Women,
when they set the’r heads agin a’body, are devils in petticoats, an’ the
one that presided this mornin’ has got more influence than forty
men. Before you are a day older every man who has a wife, mother, or
sweetheart will be afraid to speak to you in broad daylight. Then ag’in,
no candidate ever won a race on a platform of pure hate an’ revenge. You
made that crowd as mad as hell just now, while you was belchin’ out that
stuff, but as soon as Sister Parsons showed ‘em what a friend of the’rs
Dwight was they melted to him like thin snow after a rain.”



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

[Illustration: 9337]

NE morning, three days later, Pole Baker slouched down the street from
the wagon-yard and went into Garner & Dwight’s office, finding Garner at
his desk. The mountaineer looked cautiously about the room and asked, in
a guarded tone: “Is Carson anywhars about?”

“Not down yet,” Garner said. “His mother was not so well last night, and
it may be that he had to sit up with her and has overslept himself.”

“Well, I’m glad he ain’t here,” Baker said, “for I want to speak to you
about him sorter in private.”

“Anything gone wrong?” Garner asked, looking up curiously.

“Well, not yet, Bill, but I believe in takin’ the bull by the horns
before he takes you in the stomach. I’ve been powerful afeared for some
time that Carson and Dan Willis would run together, and I dread it now
more than ever. In the first place, I don’t like the look in Carson’s
eye. He knows that devil has been on his track, and it has worked him up
powerful; besides, Willis is more rampant than ever.”

“What’s gone wrong with him?” Garner inquired, uneasily.

“Well, for a while, you know, he was full of hope that Wiggin was goin’
to beat Carson, and that sorter satisfied him, but now that Wiggin is
losin’ ground, Dan don’t see revenge that way. Besides, since old Sister
Parsons made that rip-roarin’ speech respectable folks are turnin’ the’r
backs on Wiggin and all his backers. The gal Willis was to marry has
throwed ‘im clean over, an’ the preacher at Hill Crest just as good as
called his name out in meetin’ in talkin’ of the open lawlessness that
is spreadin’ over the land. Oh, Willis is mad--he’s got all hell in ‘im,
an’ he’s makin’ more threats agin Dwight. Now, to-morrow is Friday, an’
the next day is Saturday, an’ on Saturday Dan Willis is comin’ in town.
I got that straight. Wiggin is a snake in the grass, and he’s constantly
naggin’ Dan about his row with Carson, and it will take slick work on
our part to prevent serious trouble. Wiggin wouldn’t care. If the two
met he’d profit either way, for if Carson was killed he’d have the field
to himself, an’ if Carson killed Willis the boy’d have to stand trial
for his life, an’ a man wouldn’t run much of a political race with a
charge of bloody murder hangin’ over ‘im.”

“True--true as Gospel!” Garner frowned; “but what plan had you in mind,
Pole--I mean what plan to obviate trouble?”

“Why, you see,” the mountaineer replied, “I ‘lowed you might be able
to trump up some business excuse for gittin’ Carson out o’ town next
Saturday.”

“Well, I think I can,” Garner cried, his eyes brightening. “The truth
is, I was to go myself over to see old man Purdy, the other side of
Springtown> to take his deposition in an important matter, but I can
pretend to be tied here and foist it onto Carson.”

“Good; that’s the stuff!” Pole said, with a smile of satisfaction. “But
for the love of mercy don’t let Dwight dream what’s in the wind or he’d
die rather than budge an inch.”

So it was that Carson the following Friday afternoon made his
preparations for a ride on horseback through the country, his plan being
to spend the night at the little hotel at Springtown and ride on to
Purdy’s farm the next morning after breakfast, and return to
Darley Saturday evening shortly after dark. His horse stood at the
hitching-rack in front of the office, and, ready for his journey, he was
going out when Garner called him back.

“Are you armed, my boy?” Garner questioned.

“Not now, old man,” Dwight said. “I’ve carried that two pounds of cold
metal on my hip till I got tired of it and left it in my room. If I
can’t live in a community without being a walking arsenal I’ll leave the
country.”

“You’d better make an exception of to-day, anyhow,” Garner said,
reaching down into the drawer of his desk. “Here, take my gun.”

“Well, I might accidentally need it,” Dwight said, thoughtfully, as he
took the weapon and put it into his pocket.

As he was unfastening his horse, Dr. Stone crossed the street from the
opposite sidewalk and approached him.

“Where are you off to this time?” the old man asked.

Carson explained as he tightened the girth of his saddle and pulled the
blanket into place.

“Well, I’d get back as soon as I could well manage it,” the physician
said, his eyes on the ground. Carson started and looked grave.

“Why, doctor, you are not afraid--”

“Oh, she’s doing very well, my boy, but--well, there is no use keeping
back anything from anybody as much concerned as you are. The truth is,
she’s very low. I think we can pull her through all right, with care and
attention, but I feel that I ought to warn you and lecture you a little,
too. You see, as I’ve often said, she is a woman who suffers mightily
from worry and excitement of any kind, and your adventures of late have
not had the best effect on her health. I hope it’s all over and that you
will settle down to something more steady. Her life really is in your
hands more than mine, for if you should have any more trouble of a
serious nature it would simply kill her. I only mention this,”
 the doctor continued, laying his hand on the young man’s arm half
apologetically, “because there is some little talk going round that you
and Dan Willis haven’t quite settled your differences yet. If I were in
your place, Carson, I’d take a good deal from that man before I’d have
trouble with him right now, considering the critical condition your
mother is in. A shooting-scrape on top of all the rest, even if you
got-the best of it, would simply send that good woman to her grave.”

“Then we won’t have any shooting-scrape!” Carson said, his voice
quivering. “You can depend on that, doctor.”

The road Dwight took as the most direct way to his destination
really passed within two miles of the home of Dan Willis, and yet the
likelihood of his meeting the desperado never once crossed Carson’s
mind. In this, however, he was to meet with surprise. He had got well
into the mountains, and, full of hope as to his campaign, was heartily
enjoying a slow ride on his ambling horse through a narrow, shaded road,
after leaving the heat of the open thoroughfare, when far ahead of him
he saw a horseman at the side of the way pinning with his pocket-knife
to the smooth bark of a sycamore-tree a white envelope. The distance was
at first too great for Dwight to recognize the rider, though his object
and occupation were soon evident, for suddenly wheeling on his rather
skittish mount the man drew back about twenty paces from the tree, drew
a revolver and began to fire at the target, sending one shot after the
other, as rapidly as he could rein and spur his frightened animal to
an approved distance and steadiness, until his weapon was empty. The
marksman, evidently a mountaineer, as indicated by his wide-brimmed soft
hat and easy gray shirt, thrust his hand into his trousers-pocket and
took out sufficient cartridges for another round, and was thumbing them
dexterously into their places when Carson drew near enough to recognize
him.

A thrill, a sort of shock, certainly not due even to subconscious fear,
passed over Dwight, and he almost drew upon his rein. Then a hot flush
of shame rose in him and tingled through every nerve in his body, as
he wondered if for one instant he could have feared the presence of any
living man, armed or unarmed, and running his hand behind him to be sure
that his own revolver was in place, and with his head well up he rode
even more briskly forward. He had no thought of caution. The sharp
warning Dr. Stone had given him so recently never entered his brain.
That was the man who, on several occasions, had threatened to kill him,
and who, Carson firmly believed, had once tried it. That there was to be
grim trouble he did not doubt. Averting it after the manner of a coward
was not thought of.

When the two riders were about a hundred yards apart, Dan Willis,
hearing the fall of horses’ hoofs, looked up suddenly. There was
no mistaking the evolution of his facial expression from startled
bewilderment to that of angry, bestial satisfaction. Uttering an
unctuous grunt of delight, and with his revolver swinging easily against
his brawny thigh, by the aid of his tense left hand the mountaineer drew
his horse squarely into the very middle of the narrow road and there
essayed to check him. The animal, quivering with excitement from
the shots just fired over his head, was still restive and swerved
tremblingly from side to side, but with prodding spur and fierce
command Willis managed to keep him in the attitude of open opposition to
Carson’s passage, which was, as things go in the mountains, a threat not
to be misunderstood.

Carson Dwight read the action well, and his blood boiled.

“Halt thar!” Dan Willis suddenly called out, in a sharp, fierce tone,
and as he spoke he raised his revolver till the hand holding it rested
on the high pommel of his saddle.

“Why should I halt?” almost to his surprise rang clearly from Dwight’s
lips. “This is a public road!”

[Illustration: 0343]

“Not for _yore_ sort,” was hurled back. “It’s entirely too narrow for
a gentleman an’ a dog to pass on. _I’m_ goin’ to pass, but I’ll walk my
hoss over yore body. I’ve been praying for this chance, an’ God or Hell,
one or t’other, sent it to me. Some folks say you’ve got grit. I’ve my
doubts about it, for you are the hardest man to meet I ever wanted to
settle with, but if you’ve got any sand in yore gizzard you’ve got a
chance to spill some of it now.”

“I don’t want to have trouble with you,” Dwight controlled himself
enough to say. “Bloodshed is not in my line.”

“But you’ve _got_ to fight!” Willis roared. “If you don’t I’ll ride up
to you an’ spit in yore damned, sneakin’ face.”

“Well, I hardly think you’ll do that,” said Carson, his rage
overwhelming him. “But before we go into this thing tell me, for my
own satisfaction if you are the one who tried to kill me the night Pete
Warren was jailed.”

“You bet I was, and damned sorry I missed.” Willis’s revolver was
raised. The sharp click of the hammer sounded like the snapping of a
metallic twig. Then alive but to one thought, and that of alert and
instantaneous self-preservation, Dwight quickly drew his weapon. With
his teeth ground together, his breath coming fast, he took as careful
aim as was possible at the shifting horseman, conscious of the advantage
his antagonist had over him in the calmness of his own mount. He saw
a puff of smoke before Willis’s eyes, heard the sharp report of the
mountaineer’s revolver, and wondered if the ball had lodged in his body.

“I am fully justified,” something within him seemed to say as he pressed
the trigger of his revolver. His hand had never been more steady, his
aim never better, and yet the smile and taunting laugh of Willis proved
to him that he had missed. The eyes of his assailant gleamed like those
of an infuriated beast as he tried to steady his rearing and plunging
horse to shoot again. Once more he fired, but the shot went wild, and
with a snort of fear his horse broke from the road and plunged madly
into the bushes bordering the way. Carson could just see Willis’s head
and shoulders above a thick growth of wild vines and at these he aimed
steadily and fired. Had he won? he asked himself. There was a smothered
report from Willis’s revolver, as if it were fired by an inert finger.
The mountaineer’s head sank out of sight. What did it mean? Carson
wondered, and with his weapon still cocked and poised he grimly waited.
It was only for an instant, for the frightened horse plunged out into
the open again. Willis was still in the saddle, but what was it about
him that seemed so queer? He was evidently making an effort to guide
his horse, but the hand holding his revolver hung helplessly against his
thigh; his left shoulder was sinking. Then Carson caught sight of his
face, a frightful, blood-packed mask distorted past recognition, that of
a dying man--a horrible, never-to-be-forgotten grimace. The horses
bore the antagonists closer together; their eyes met in a direct stare.
Willis’s body was rocking like a mechanical thing on a pivot.

“You forced me to do it!” Carson Dwight said, his great soul rising to
heights of pity and dismay never reached before. “God knows I did not
want to shoot you. Dan, I never have had anything against you. I would
have avoided this if I could.”

The stare of the wounded man flickered. With a moan of pain he bent to
the neck of his horse and remained there a moment, and then, dropping
his revolver and resting both quivering hands on the pommel of his
saddle, he drew himself partially erect. His eyes were rolling upward,
his purple lips moved as if to speak, but his vocal organs seemed to
have lost their power. Holding to his pommel with his left hand, he
raised his right and partially extended it towards Dwight, but he
had not the strength to sustain its weight, and with another moan, a
frothing at the mouth, Dan Willis toppled from his horse and went to the
ground, the animal breaking away in alarm and running down the road.

Quickly dismounting, Carson bent over the dying man. “Dan, were you
offering me your hand?” he asked, tenderly. But there was no response.
The mountaineer was dead. There he lay, a pint whiskey flask nearly
empty of its contents protruding from his shirt.

Carson looked up and about him. The sky had never seemed clearer, the
forest never so beautifully lush and green, so full of sylvan recesses
and the gladsome songs of birds. Higher and more majestic never had the
mountains seemed to tower into God’s infinite blue. And yet here at his
feet lay the remains of one who had been created in the image of his
Maker, as lifeless as the clod from which he had sprung. All _this_--and
Carson’s horse nibbling with bitted mouth the short grass which grew
about. There were no fires of satisfied revenge at which the spiritually
chilled young man could warm himself. Regret steeped in the vat of
remorse filled his young soul. Seating himself at the side of the
road, he remained there a long time calmly laying his plans. Of course,
knowing the law as he knew it, he would give himself up to the sheriff.
Then with a start and a shock of horror he thought of his mother. Dr.
Stone’s warning now loomed up before him as if written in letters
of fire. Yes, this--this, of all things, would kill her! Knowing her
nature, nothing that could happen to him would be more fatal. Not even
his own death by violence would hold such terrors for her sensitive,
imaginative temperament, which exaggerated every ill or evil that beset
his path. After all, he grimly asked himself, which way did his real
duty lie? Obedience to the law he reverenced demanded that he throw
himself upon its slow and creaking routine, and yet was there not a
higher tribunal? By what right should the legal machinery of his or any
other country require the life of a stricken woman that the majesty of
its forms might be upheld and the justice or injustice to an outlaw who
had persistently hounded him be formally passed upon?

No, he told himself, the right to protect his mother was _his_--it was
even more, as he saw it, it was his first duty. And yet if he kept his
own counsel, he asked himself, his legal mind now active, what were the
chances of escape from accusation? Noticing the target still pinned
to the trunk of the tree with the dead man’s pocket-knife, the shots
showing on the bark and paper, and the sprawling attitude of the corpse
with the wound over the region of the heart, he asked himself, with
faintly rising hope, what more natural than to assume that death had
resulted from accident? What more reasonable than the theory that on his
frightened horse Dan Willis had accidentally directed his shot upon
his own body? What better evidence that he was not at himself than the
almost empty flask in his shirt? Yes, Carson Dwight decided, it was his
duty to wait at least to see further before taking a step which
would result in even deeper tragedy. Besides, he knew he was morally
guiltless. His conscience was clear; there was consolation in that at
all events. But now what must he do? To go on to Springtown by that road
was out of the question, for only a mile or so farther on was a store
and a few farm-houses, and it would be known there that he had passed
the fatal spot. So, remounting, he rode slowly back towards Darley, now
earnestly, and even craftily, hoping that he would meet no one. He was
successful, for he reached the main road, which was longer, not so well
graded, and a more sparsely settled thoroughfare to his destination.

He had lost time, and he now put his horse into a brisk canter and sped
onward with a queer blending of emotions. The thought of possibly
saving his mother from a terrible shock buoyed him up while the grewsome
happening put a weight upon him he had never borne before.



CHAPTER XXXIX

[Illustration: 9350]

T was after dark when he finally reached Springtown and rode through the
quiet little street to the only hotel in the village kept by a certain
Tom Wyman, whom Dwight knew. Dismounting, he turned his tired horse
over to a negro porter and went into the room which was used at once
as parlor and office. A dog-eared account-book lay open on a table,
and here, at the request of the cordial Wyman, a short, portly man with
sandy hair and mustache, Carson registered his name.

“You are out electioneering, I know,” the proprietor smiled, agreeably,
as he rubbed his fat hands together. “Well, you are going to run like a
scared dog. I hear your name everywhere. It looked as black as Egyptian
darkness for you once, but you are gaining ground. No man ever had a
better campaign document than the speech Jabe Parsons’ wife made. Gee
whiz! it was a stem-winder; it set folks to laughin’ at Wiggin, and that
was the worst thing that ever happened to him. Jabe Parsons is for you
now, though he headed one wing of the mob agin your pet darky. You see,
Jabe wants to prove that his wife was right in the way she first felt
about the matter, and he’s a strong man.”

As if in a dream, so far into the background had even his contest been
thrust by the tragedy, Carson heard himself as if from the mouth of
another explaining that it was legal business that had brought him
thither, and calmly asking the best road from the village to Purdy’s
farm, whither he intended to go the following morning after breakfast.

A few minutes later the supper bell was rung by a negro, who carried it
with deafening clangor through the main hall and round the house, and
two or three drummers, of the small-trade class, a village storekeeper,
and a stock-drover or two clattered in on the uncarpeted floor to the
dining-room, and with more noise drew out their chairs and sat down. It
happened that Carson knew none of them, and so he sat silent through the
meal. Usually of robust appetite, to-night all inclination to physical
nourishment had deserted him. Try as he would to fasten his mind upon
more cheerful things, the view of Dan Willis’s body stretched upon the
ground, the ghastly features struggling in the throes of death, came
again and again before his eyes with tenacious persistency. Morbidly, he
asked himself if that state of mind would continue always. The disaster
really had crept upon him through no deliberate fault of his. In fact,
he could trace its very beginning to his determination to turn over
a new leaf and make a better man of himself--to that and to a natural
inborn pity for a persecuted creature, and yet here was he, his hands
stained red, unable by any stoicism or philosophy to rid himself of a
gloom as deep as the void of space. Genuine man that he was, he pitied
the giant who had fallen before him. His mind, trained to logical
reasoning in most matters, told him that he was more than justified in
what he had done; but then, if so, to what was due this strange shock
to his whole being--this restless sense of boundless debt to something
never met before, the ominous flapping of wings in a new darkness around
him?

After supper, to kill time until the hour of retiring, Carson declined
the proffered cigar of his host, and to avoid the--to him--empty chatter
of the others, now assembled on the little porch, he strolled down the
street. Here groups of men sat in front of the stores in the dim
light thrown from murky lamps within, but it happened that he was not
recognized by any of them though there were several gaunt forms he knew,
and he passed on, walking feverishly. On and on he strode till he
had covered more than a mile and suddenly came upon a little church
surrounded by a graveyard. He leaned upon the rotten fence and looked
over at the mounds marked by white marble slabs in some cases, plain,
unlettered natural stones in others, and some unmarked by any sort of
monument, but having little white palings around them.

Carson Dwight shuddered and turned his face back towards the village as
he asked himself if this might be the resting-place of the man he had
slain. Life to him had been so bounteous, despite all the trials he
had encountered, that to think that he had by his own hand, even under
gravest provocation, deprived a human being of its privileges gave him
pain akin to nothing he had ever felt before.

Reaching his room in the hotel, which was at the head of the stairs
in the front part of the house, his first impulse was to lock his
door--why, he could not have explained. It was not fear; what was it?
With a defiant smile he left it unfastened and proceeded to undress
himself. As he threw himself on his bed he became conscious of the
impulse to say his prayers. What a queer thing! It had been years since
he had actually knelt in prayer, and yet tonight he wanted to do so. A
strange, hot, rebellious mood came over him a few minutes later as
he lay staring at the disk on the sky-blue ceiling cast by the
lamp-chimney. He felt like crying out to the infinite powers in tones of
demand to lift the weird, stifling pall that was pressing down on him.

The words his father had spoken in a rage when the old gentleman had
first seen the wound on his forehead after Pete Warren’s rescue now came
to him with startling force: “All this for a trifling negro! Have you
lost your senses?”

What, Carson asked himself, would his father say to this deeper
step--this headlong plunge into misfortune as the outcome of the cause
he had espoused?

Carson could not sleep, and fancying that if his light were out he might
do so, he rose and extinguished it and went back to bed. But he was
still restless. The hours dragged by. It was after twelve o’clock, when
on the still night air came the steady beat of a horse’s hoofs in the
distance, growing louder and louder, till with a cry of “Woah!” the
animal was reined in at the hotel door, and the stentorian voice of the
rider called out: “Hello! hello in thar!”

There was a pause, but no response. The landlord was evidently a sound
sleeper.

“Hello! hello!” Again the call rang jarringly through the empty hall
below and up the stairway.

Carson sat erect, put his feet on the floor, and stood out in the
centre of the room. He told himself that it was an officer of the law
in pursuit of him. How silly to have imagined that such a thing could
remain hidden! And his mother! Yes, it would kill her! Poor, poor,
gentle, frail woman! He had tried to obviate the blow, resorting to
deception, to actual flight; he had submerged himself in the mire of
criminal secrecy, according to the letter of the law, that he might
shield her, and for what purpose? Yes, the blow would kill her. Dr.
Stone had plainly said so.

He went to the window and looked out. At the gate below he saw a man on
a horse, and heard him muttering impatiently.

“Hello in Thar!” The cry was accompanied by an oath. “Are you-uns plumb
deaf? What do you keep a tavern fur, anyhow?”

There was a sound in the room below of some one getting out of bed, and
then a drowsy voice cried: “Who’s there?” It was the landlord.

“Me, Jim Purvines. Let me in, Tom. I’ve got to have a bed an’ a stall
fer my nag. I’m completely fagged out.”

“All right, all right. I’ll join you in a minute. Where in the thunder
have you been, Jim?”

“To the inquest. They made me serve. Samson called a jury right off so
they could move the body home. The dead man’s mammy didn’t want it to
lie thar all night.”

“Good Lord! Jury? Dead man? Why, what’s happened, Jim?”

“Oh, come off! You don’t mean you hain’t heard the news?” The rider had
dismounted and was leading his horse through the gate to the steps on
which the landlord now stood. “Why, Tom, Dan Willis has gone to his last
accountin’. The Webb children, out pickin’ huckleberries, come across
his remains on the Treadwell road a mile t’other side o’ Wilks’s store.
At first it was thought he’d met his death by bein’ throwed from his
colt, fer somebody seed it loose with saddle an’ bridle on, but when we
examined the body we found a bullet-hole over the heart.”

“Good Lord! Who done it, Jim?”

Carson’s heart was in his mouth; his breath was held; there was a pause
which seemed without end.

“Done it hisself, Tom. The jury had no difficulty comin’ to that
decision from ample evidence. He’d tuck his pocket-knife an’ stuck up an
envelope with his name on it agin a tree, an’, half drunk, as we judged
from his flask, he was shootin’ at it over the head of a young colt that
hain’t been broke a month. Dan must have had the devil in ‘im, an’ was
determined to train the animal to stand under fire, fer we seed whar the
dirt was pawed up powerful all around. We calculated that the colt got
to buckin’ an’ to keep from bein’ throwed off Dan turned his gun the
wrong way. Anyhow, he’s no more.”

“Yes, an’ I reckon a body ought to respect the dead, good or bad,”
 said the landlord; “but there won’t be a river of tears shed, Jim. That
fellow was a living threat to law and order.”

“Yes, I have heard that he was the chap that shot Carson Dwight the
night he saved that nigger from the mob.”

“Sh! He’s up-stairs now,” The landlord lowered his voice.

“You don’t say! Sort o’ out of his beat, ain’t he?”

“I don’t know--on his way to Purdy’s. Go on in; I’ll attend to your
horse and come back and find you a place to bunk.”

Carson sank back on his bed. A sense of vast, almost soothing relief was
on him. His mother was saved. The verdict that had been rendered would
forever bury the facts. Now, he told himself, he could sleep with his
mind at rest. And yet--

He heard the new-corner ascend the stairs with heavy, shambling tread
and enter the room adjoining his own. Through a crack between the floor
and the thin partition he saw a pencil of candle-light and heard the
grinding of boot-soles on the floor as the man undressed. Then the light
went out, the bed-slats creaked, and all was still.



CHAPTER XL

[Illustration: 9357]

WIGHT reached Darley the following evening shortly after dusk, and rode
straight through the central portion of the town and past his office.
All day long he had debated with himself whether it would be wise to
take Garner into his confidence, and at last had decided that it would
do no good, and only cause his sympathetic partner to worry needlessly,
since Garner nor no one else could point out any better course than
the one to which, perforce, he had committed himself. Carson now
comprehended his insistent morbidness. It was not fear; it was not a
guilty conscience; it was only the galling shackles of unwonted and
hateful secrecy, the vague and far-reaching sense of uncertainty, the
knowledge of being, before the law (which was no respecter of persons,
circumstances, or sentiment), as guilty of murder as any other untried
violator of peace and order.

On the way down the street to his home he met Dr. Stone, who was also
riding, and reined in.

“My mother--how is she, doctor?” he asked. “I’ve been away since I saw
you yesterday.”

“You’ll really be surprised when you see her,” the old man smiled.
“She’s tip-top! I never saw such a change for the better in all my
experience. She had old Linda in her room when I was there about noon,
and they were laughing and cracking jokes at a great rate. She’ll pull
through now, my boy. I tried to get her to tell me what had happened,
but she threw me off with the joke that she had changed doctors and
was taking another fellow’s medicine on the sly, and then she and Linda
laughed together. I believe the old negro knew what she meant. I’ll
tell you one thing, Carson, if I wasn’t afraid of hurting your pride I’d
congratulate you on what happened to that chap Willis. Really, if that
thing hadn’t taken place you and he would have had trouble. Some think
he was getting ready for you when he was shooting at that target.”

“Perhaps so, doctor,” Carson said, glad that the dusk veiled his face
from the old man’s sight. “Well, I’ll go on.”

At the carriage gate at home he found old Lewis standing ready to take
his horse.

“Hello!” Carson said, with a joke that was foreign to his mood; “when
did Major Warren discharge you?”

“Hain’t discharge me yit, young marster,” Lewis smiled, in delight, as
he opened the gate and reached out for the bridle. “I knowed you’d be
along soon, en so I waited fer you. Marse Carson, Linda powerful anxious
ter see you. She settin’ on yo’-all’s veranda-step now; she been axin’
is you got back all evenin’. Dar she come now, young marster. I’ll put
up yo’ horse.”

“All right, Uncle Lewis,” and Dwight, seeing the old woman shambling
towards him, went across the lawn and met her.

“Oh, young marster, I been waitin’ fer you,” she said. “I got some’n’
ter ax you, suh.”

“What is it?” he asked: “If it is anything I can do I’ll be glad to help
you.”

“I don’t like ter bother you, young marster,” Linda said, plaintively;
“but somehow it don’t seem lak anybody know what ter do. I went ter
young miss, en she said fer me ter see you--dat you was de onliest one
ter decide. Marse Carson, of course you done heard dat man Willis done
killed hisse’f, ain’t you?”

“Oh yes, Mam’ Linda--oh yes!” Dwight said, his voice holding an odd,
submerged quality.

“Well, young marster, you see, me’n Lewis thought dat, bein’ as dat man
was de ringleader, en de only one left on de rampage after my boy, dat,
now he’s daid, I might sen’ ter Chattanoogy fer Pete en let ‘im come on
home.”

“Why, I thought he was doing well up there?” Carson said again, in a
tone which to himself sounded as expressionless as if spoken only from
the lips.

“Dat so; dat so, too,” Linda sighed; “but, Marse Carson, he de onliest
child I got en I wants ‘im wid me. I wants ‘im whar I kin see ‘im en try
ter ‘fluence ‘im ter do what’s right. In er big place lak Chattanoogy
he may git in mo’ trouble, en--” She went no further, her voice growing
tremulous and finally failing.

“Well, send for him, by all means,” Dwight said. “He’ll be all right
here. We’ll find something for him to do.”

“En, en--dar won’t be no mo’ trouble?” Linda faltered.

“None in the world now, mammy,” he replied. “The people all over the
country are thoroughly satisfied that he’s innocent. No one will even
appear against him. He is all right now.”

Tears welled up in Linda’s eyes and she wiped them off on her apron.
“Thank God, young marster; one time I thought I never would want ter
live another minute, en yit right now--right now I’m de happiest woman
in de whole world, en you done it, young marster. You stood up fer er
po’ old nigger ‘oman when de world was turn agin ‘er, en God on high
know I bless you. I bless you in every prayer I sen’ up.”

He turned from her as she stood wiping her eyes and went on to his
mother’s room, finding her, to his delight, sitting up in an easy-chair
near the table on which stood a lamp and a book she had been reading.

“Did you see Linda?” Mrs. Dwight asked, as he kissed her tenderly and
stood, still with that everpresent alien weight at his heart, stroking
her soft cheek. He nodded and smiled.

“And did you tell her--did you decide that Pete could come back?”

He nodded and smiled again. “She seems to think I’m running the
country.”

“As far as her interests are concerned, you _have_ been,” the invalid
said, proudly. “Oh, Carson, you know somehow it has happened that I
never knew Linda so well as some of our own slaves, but since this thing
came up I have thoroughly enjoyed having her come to see me. I keep her
here hours, at a time. Do you know why?”

He shook his head. “Not unless it is because she has such a strong
individuality and is so original.”

“No, that isn’t it--it is simply, my boy, because she worships the very
ground you walk on, and I love to hear her express it in the thousands
of indirect ways she has. Oh, Carson, I’m simply foolish--_foolish_
about you! I have never been able to tell you how I felt about your
heroic conduct. I was afraid to. I gloried in it, but your constant
danger tied my tongue--I was afraid you’d take more risks. I’ve got a
secret to tell you.”

“To tell me?” he said, still stroking her cheek. “Yes; Dr. Stone, seeing
that I was so much better this morning tried to worm it out of me, but
I wouldn’t tell him the cause. Carson, for a long time I have harbored
a gnawing, secret fear. It was with me night and day. I knew it was
dragging me down, keeping me from proper sleep and proper nourishment,
but I couldn’t rid myself of it till this morning.”

“What was it, mother?” he asked, unable to see her drift.

“The fear, my boy, that you and that Dan Willis would meet face to face
has for a long time been a constant nightmare to me. I had picked up in
various ways, sometimes from remarks let fall by your father or one of
the servants, more about your differences with that man than you were
aware of. I tried to keep you from knowing how I felt, but it was
secretly dragging me to my grave.”

“And now, mother?” he asked, an almost hopeful light breaking far away
on his clouded horizon.

“Oh, it may be an awful sin, for I’m told Willis had a mother”--Mrs.
Dwight sighed--“but when the news came to-day that he had accidentally
killed himself I became a new woman. He was the one thing I dreaded
above all else, for, Carson, if he had not shot himself you and he would
have met and one of you would have fallen. Oh, I’m so happy. I’m going
to get well now, my boy. You will see me out on the lawn in a day or
two.”

His eyes were on the floor at her feet. Why he gave so much of his
mental burden to mere utterance he could not have explained, but he
said: “And even if we _had_ met, mother, and he had tried to shoot
me, and--and I, in self-defence you know, had been forced to kill
him--really forced--I suppose even that situation would have--disturbed
you?”

“Oh, don’t, don’t talk of that!” Mrs. Dwight cried. “I don’t think it
is right to think of unpleasant things when one is happy. God did it,
Carson. God did it to save you.”

“All right, mother, I was only thinking--”

“Well, think of pleasanter things,” Airs. Dwight interrupted him.
“Helen’s been over to see me rather oftener of late. We frequently sit
and chat together. It makes me feel young again. She is very free with
me about herself--that is, about everything except her affair with Mr.
Sanders.”

“She doesn’t talk of that much, then?” he ventured, tentatively.

“She won’t talk about it at all,” said the invalid; “and that’s what
seems so queer about it. A woman can see deeper into a woman’s heart
than a man can, and I’ve been wondering over Helen. Sometimes I almost
think--” Mrs. Dwight seemed lost in thought and unconscious of the fact
that she had ceased speaking.

“You were saying, mother,” he reminded her, eagerly, “that you almost
thought--”

“Why, it seems to me, Carson, that any natural girl ought to be so
full of her engagement to the man she is to marry that she would
really _love_ to talk about it. Really it seems to me that Helen may
be questioning her heart in this matter, but she’ll end by marrying Mr.
Sanders. It looks as if she has pledged herself in some way or other,
and she is the very soul of honor.”

“Oh yes, she is all that,” Dwight said, in an effort at lightness. “Now,
good-night, mother.”

Much fatigued from his journey and the mental strain upon him, he
went up to his room. Throwing off his coat, the night being warm to
oppressiveness, he lighted a cigar and sat in the wide-open window. What
a strange, tempestuous life was his! How like a mere bauble of soul and
flesh was he buffeted between highest heaven and lowest earth! And for
what purpose was he created in the vast scheme of endless solar systems?

From the row of negro cabins and cottages below, across the dewy grass
and shrubbery, on the flower-perfumed air came sounds of unrestrained
merriment. Some negro in a cottage near Linda’s was playing a
mouth-organ to the accompaniment of a sweetly twanging guitar. There was
a rhythmic clapping of hands, the musical, drumlike thumping of feet
on resounding boards, snatches of happy songs, clear, untrammelled,
childlike laughter.

They--and naught else--had brought him his burden. That complete justice
might be meted out to such as they, he had dipped his hands into the
warm blood of his own race, and was an outlaw bearing an honored name,
stalking forth, pure of heart, and yet masked and draped with deceit,
among his own kind. And for what ultimate good? Alas! he was denied
even the solace of a look into futurity. And yet--born in advance of his
time, as the Son of God was born ahead of His--there was yet something
in him which--while he shrank from the depth and bitterness of _his_
cup--lifted him, in his unmated loneliness, in his blindness, to far-off
light--high above the material world. There to suffer, there to endure,
and yet--there.



CHAPTER XLI.

[Illustration: 9365]

T was the day following the burial of the body of Dan Willis. Old man
Purdy, whom Carson had gone to see, was at Dilk’s cross-roads store
with a basket of fresh eggs, which he had brought to exchange for their
market value in coffee. Several other farmers were seated about the
store on nail-kegs and soap-boxes whittling sticks and chewing tobacco,
their slow tongues busy with the details of the recent death and
interment.

Old Purdy was speaking of how the children had discovered the body, and
remarked that it would have been found several hours sooner if Carson
Dwight had only taken the shorter road that day to Springtown instead of
the longer.

“Why, Dwight come from Darley, didn’t he?” asked Dilk, as he wrote
down the number of eggs he had counted on a piece of brown paper on the
counter and waited before continuing.

“Why, yes,” Purdy made answer; “he told me, as we were goin’ through the
work he had to do at my house, that he had gone to Springtown an’ stayed
all that night an’ then rid on to me.”

The store-keeper’s hands hovered over the basket for an instant, then
they rested on its edge. “Well, I can’t make out what under the sun
Dwight went so far out o’ his way for. It’s fully five mile farther, and
the road is so rough and washed out that it’s mighty nigh out of use.”

“Well, that does look kind o’ funny, come to think of it,” admitted
Purdy, as he gazed into the bland faces around him. “I never thought of
it before, but it certainly looks odd, to say the least.”

“Of course thar may not be a thing _in_ it,” said Dilk, in a guarded
tone, “but it _does_ all seem strange, especially after we’ve heard so
much talk about the threats passin’ betwixt them very two men. I mean,
you see, neighbors, that it sort o’ looks, providential that--that Dan
met with the accident before Dwight an’ him come together over here.
That’s what I mean.”

All heads nodded gravely, all minds were busy, each in its own
individual way, and stirred by something more exciting than the mere
accidental death of Willis or the formality of his burial.

There was a rather prolonged silence broken only by the click of the
eggs which Dilk was counting into a new tin dish-pan. When he had
finished he weighed out the coffee and emptied it into the white,
smoothly ironed poke Purdy’s wife had sent along for that purpose. Then
he looked straight into Purdy’s eyes.

“Did you notice--if thar ain’t no harm in axin’--whether Dwight
seemed--well, anyways upset or--or bothered while he was at your house?”

“Well, _I_ didn’t,” replied the farmer; “but my wife was in the room
while he was doin’ the writin’ that had to be done, an’ I remember now
she axed me after he left ef he was a drinkin’ man. I told her no,
I didn’t think he was _now_, though he used to be sorter wild, an’ I
wanted to know why she axed me. She said she never had seed anybody’s
hands shake like his did while he held the pen, an’ that he had a quar
look about the eyes like he’d lost a power o’ sleep.”

“Was--was anything said in his presence about Willis’s death that
you remember of?” the storekeeper pursued, with the skill of a legal
crossexaminer, while the listeners stared, their cuds of tobacco
compressed between their grinders.

Purdy’s face had grown rigid, almost as that of an important witness on
the stand in court. “I can’t just remember,” he said. “There was so much
talk about it on all sides that day. Oh yes--now I recall that--well,
you see we was all at my house, eager for news, and it struck me, you
know, as if Dwight wasn’t as anxious to talk as the rest--in fact, it
looked like he sorter wanted to change the subject.”

“Oh!” The exclamation was breathed simultaneously from several mouths.

“Of course, neighbors,” Purdy began, in alarm, “don’t understand me for
one minute to--” But he broke off, for Dilk had something else to
observe.

“Them two men was at dagger’s-p’ints, I’ve heard,” he declared. “Friends
on both sides was movin’ heaven an’ earth to keep ‘em apart. Now if
Dwight _did_ take that long, roundabout road from Darley to Springtown,
why, they didn’t meet. But ef Dwight went the way he always _has_ tuck,
an’ I’ve seed ‘im out this way often enough, why--” Dilk raised his
hands and held them poised significantly in mid-air.

“But the coroner’s jury found,” said Purdy, “that Willis was shootin’ at
a target he’d stuck up on a tree with his own knife, an’ that his young
hoss was skittish, an’--”

“All the better proof of bad blood betwixt ‘em,” burst from a farmer on
a nail-keg. “The truth is, some hold now that Willis was out practising
so he could wing that particular game. The only thing I see agin what
you-uns seem to think is that it’s been kept quiet. Dwight is a lawyer
an’ knows the law, an’ he wouldn’t cover a thing like that up when
all he’d have to do would be to establish proof that it was done in
self-defence an’ git his walking-papers.”

“Thar you are!” Dilk said, in a voice that rang with conviction; “but
suppose _one_ thing--suppose this. Suppose the provocation wasn’t
exactly strong enough to quite justify killing. Suppose Dwight, made
mad by all he’d heard, drawed an’ fired without due warning, and suppose
while he was thar in that quiet spot he had time to think it all over
and decided that he’d stand a better chance of escape by not bein’ known
in the matter. A body never can tell. You kin bet your boots if Dwight
_did_ kill ‘im an’ hid the fact, he had ample legal reasons fer not
wantin’ to be mixed up in it.”

The seed was sown, and upon soil well suited to rapid germination and
growth. By the next day the noxious weed had its head well above the
ground, and, like the crab-grass the farmers knew to be so tenaciously
prolific, it was spreading rapidly.



CHAPTER XLII.

[Illustration: 9369]

WEEK went by. Helen Warren had been sitting that warm afternoon in
the big bay-window of the parlor. A cooling breeze fanned the old lace
curtains inward, bringing the perfume of the the garden and now and then
revealing a wealth of color on the rose-bushes near by. She had just
read an appealing letter from Sanders in which he had expressed himself
as having been so disturbed by her refusal to assure him positively of
what his ultimate fate was to be that he had permitted himself to worry
considerably. So greatly concerned, indeed, was he that he had confided
in his mother, who, he wrote, had made matters worse by asking him
flatly if he was absolutely sure that he was loved in the one and only
way a man should be loved by the woman he was hoping to win for his
wife.

He was writing all this to Helen in a straightforward, manly way,
putting her sharply on her honor, as it were, and she, poor girl, was
worried in her turn. Leaving her chair, she went to the piano and seated
herself and began to play. She was thus occupied when Ida Tarpley came
in suddenly and unannounced, as she felt privileged to do at any time.

“Well, tell me,” the visitor smiled, “what’s the matter with your
playing? Why, you used to have a good, even touch, but as I came up
the walk I declare I thought it was some one tuning the piano. You were
dropping enough notes to fill a waste-paper basket.”

“Oh, I’m not in the mood for it, I presume!” Helen said, checking a
sigh.

“I understand.” Miss Tarpley gently pushed back Helen’s hair and kissed
her brow. “You can’t deny it; you were thinking about Carson Dwight and
all his troubles.”

Helen flushed and dropped her glance to her lap, then she rose from the
piano and the two girls moved hand in hand to the window. “The truth
is,” Helen admitted, “that I have been wondering if anything has gone
wrong with him--any bad news or indications about his election.”

“He can’t be worrying about the election,” Ida said, confidently. “Mr.
Garner comes to see me often and confides in me rather freely, and he
says the people are flocking back to Carson in swarms and droves. They
understand him now and admire him for the courageous stand he took.”

“Well, something is wrong with him,” Helen declared, eying her cousin
sadly. “Mam’ Linda never makes a mistake; she knows him through and
through. She went to thank him last night for getting a position for
Pete to work regularly at the flouring mill, and she came back really
depressed and shaking her head.

“‘Suppin certain sho gone wrong wid young mars-ter, honey,’ she said.
‘He ain’t never been lak dis before; he ain’t _hisse’f_, I tell you!
He’s yaller an’ shaky an’ look quar out’n de eyes.’”

“Oh!” and Miss Tarpley sank into one of the chairs in the window. “I’m
almost sorry you mentioned that, for now I’ll worry. I’ve always had his
cause at heart, and now--Helen, I’m afraid something very, very serious
is hanging over him.

[Illustration: 0371]

I’m not hinting at anything that might come out of his disappointment
over your affair with Mr. Sanders, either. It seems to me he accepted
that as inevitable and is making the best of it, but it is something
else.”

“Something else!” Helen repeated. “Oh, Ida, how horribly you talk! Do
you mean--is it possible that he was more seriously wounded that night
than he has let us know?”

“No, it’s not that. I don’t know what it is. In fact, Mr. Garner says--”

“What does he say, Ida?” Helen threw into the gap left by her cousin’s
failure to proceed, and stood staring.

“Well, you know it is easy sometimes to tell when one is not revealing
everything, and I felt that way about Mr. Garner when he called night
before last. In the first place, though he tried to do it in a casual
sort of way, he kept talking of Carson all the time. It was almost as
if he had come to see if I would confirm some secret fear of his, for
he seemed to get near it several times and then backed out. Once he went
further than he intended, for he said, as if it were a slip of the
lip, when we were speculating on the possible cause of Carson’s
depression--he said, ‘There is _one_ thing, Miss Ida, that I fear, and I
fear it so much that I dare not even mention it to myself.’”

“Oh!” exclaimed Helen, and she leaned on the back of her chair; “what
could he have meant?”

“I don’t know; Mr. Garner wouldn’t explain; in fact, he seemed rather
upset by his unintentional remark. He laughed awkwardly and changed the
subject, and never alluded to Carson again while he stayed. As he was
getting his hat in the hall, I followed him and tried to pin him down
to some sort of explanation, and then he made an effort to throw me off.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you know Carson is terribly blue about losing Helen, and
it has, of course, caused him to care less about his election, but he’ll
come around in time.’ I told Mr. Garner then that I was sure he had
meant something else. I was looking straight at him and saw his
glance fall, but that was all I got out of him. Something is wrong,
Helen--something very, very serious.”

“Have you seen Carson lately, Ida?” Helen asked, with rigid lips.

“Not to speak to him; he seems to avoid me, but as I sat in the window
of my room yesterday afternoon I saw him go by. He didn’t see me, but
I saw his face in repose, and oh, cousin, it wrung my heart. He really
must have some great secret trouble, and it hurts me to feel that I
can’t help him bear it. He used to confide in me, but he seems to shun
me now, and that, too, in itself, is queer.”

“It is not about his mother, either,” Helen sighed, “for her health has
been improving lately.” And as Miss Tarpley was leaving she accompanied
her, gloomily to the door.

The twilight fell softly, and as Helen sat in the hammock on the veranda
her father came in at the gate and up the walk. She rose to greet him
with her customary kiss, and taking his arm they began to stroll back
and forth along the veranda. She was hoping that he would speak of
Carson Dwight, but he didn’t, and she was forced to mention him herself,
which she did rather stiffly in her effort to make it appear as merely
casual.

“Ida was saying this afternoon that Carson is not looking well--or,
rather, that he seems to be worried,” she faltered out, and then she
hung on to the Major’s arm and waited.

“Oh, I don’t know,” the old gentleman said, reflectively. “I went into
his office this afternoon to get a blank check, and found him at his
desk with a pile of letters from his supporters all over the county.
Well, I acknowledge I wondered why he should have so little enthusiasm
when the thing is going his way like the woods afire, and his crusty old
father fairly chuckling with pride and delight; but what’s the use of
talking to you! You know if he is blue there is only _one_ reason for
it.”

“Only one reason!” Helen echoed, faintly.

“Yes, how could the poor boy be happy--thoroughly, so I mean--when the
whole town can talk of nothing else but the grandeur of your approaching
marriage. Mrs. Snodgrass has started the report that your aunt is to
give you a ten-thousand-dollar trousseau and that Sanders is to load
you down with family jewels. Mrs. Snod says we are going to have such a
crowd here at the house that the verandas will be enclosed in canvas
and the tables be set barbecue fashion on the lawn, and that the family
servants and all their unlynched descendants are to be brought from the
four quarters of the earth to wait on the multitude in the old style.
You needn’t bother; that’s what ails Carson. He’s got plenty of pride,
and that sort of talk will hurt any man.” But Helen was unconvinced.
After supper she sat alone on the veranda, her father being occupied
with the evening papers in the library. What could Garner have meant by
his remark to Ida? With a heavy heart and her hands tightly clasped
in her lap, Helen sat trying to fathom the mystery, for that there was
mystery she had no doubt.

She went back to the first days of her return home. When she had
arrived her heart--the queer, inconsistent thing which was now so deeply
concerned with Carson Dwight’s affairs--had been coldly steeled against
him. The next salient event of that gladsome period was the ball in
her honor of which all else had faded into the background except that
memorable talk with Carson and his promise to remove Pete from the
temptations of living in town. The boy had gone, then the real trouble
had begun. Carson had rescued him from a violent death before her very
eyes. That speech of his was never to be forgotten. It had roused her
as she had never been roused by human eloquence. With a throb of terror,
she heard the report of the pistol fired by Dan Willis, his
avowed enemy--Dan Willis upon whom a just Providence had
visited--visited--visited--She sat staring at the ground, her beautiful
eyes growing larger, her hands clutching each other like clamps of
vitalized steel.

“Oh!” she cried. “No, no! not that--not that!” It was an accident. The
coroner and his jury had said so. But how strange! No one had mentioned
it, and yet it had happened on the very day Carson had ridden along the
fatal road to reach Springtown. She knew the way well. She herself
had driven over it twice with Carson, and had heard him say it was the
nearest and best road, and that he would _never take any other_.

Ah, yes, _that_ was the explanation--_that_ was what Garner feared.
_That_ was the terrible fatality which the shrewd lawyer, knowing its
full gravity, had hardly dared mention even to himself. Carson Dwight,
her hero, had killed a man!

Helen rose like a mechanical thing, and with dragging feet went up the
stairs to her room. Before her open window--the window looking out upon
the Dwight lawn and garden--she sat in the still darkness, now praying
that Carson might appear as he sometimes did. If she saw him, should
she go to him? Yes, for the pain, the cold clutch on her heart of the
discovery was like the throes of death. She told herself that she had
been the primal cause of this as of all his suffering. In the blind
desire to oblige her, he had wrecked his every hope. He had lost all
and yet was uncomplaining. Indeed, he was trying to hide his misfortune,
bearing it alone, like the man he was.

She heard her father closing the library windows to prepare for bed. His
steps rang hollowly as he came out into the hall below and called up to
her: “Daughter, are you asleep?”

A reply hung in her dry throat. She feared to trust her voice to
utterance. She heard the Major mutter, as if to himself, “Well,
good-night, daughter,” and then his footsteps died out. Again she was
alone with her grim discovery.

The town clock had just struck ten when she saw the red coal of a
cigar on the Dwight lawn quite near the gate leading into her father’s
grounds. It was he. She knew it by the fitful flaring of the cigar.
Noiselessly she glided down the stairs, softly she turned the big brass
key in the massive lock and went out and sped, light of foot, across the
dewy grass. As she approached him Dwight was standing with his back to
her, his arms folded.

“Carson!” she called, huskily, and he turned with a start and a stare of
wonder through the gloom.

“Oh,” he said, “it’s you,” and doffing his hat he came through the
gateway and stood by her. “It’s time, young lady, that you were asleep,
isn’t it?”

She saw through his effort at lightness of manner.

“I noticed your cigar and wanted to speak to you,” she said, in a voice
that sounded tense and even harsh. It rose almost in a squeak and
died in her tight throat. Something in his wan face and shifting eyes,
noticeable even in the darkness, confirmed her in the conviction that
she had divined his secret.

“You wanted to see me,” he said; “I’ve had so many things to think about
lately, in this beastly political business, you know, that I’m sadly
behind in my social duties.”

“I--I’ve been thinking about you all evening,” she said, lamely.
“Somehow, I felt as if I simply must see you and talk to you.”

“How good of you!” he cried. “I don’t deserve it, though--at such a
time, anyway. It is generally conceded that it is a woman’s duty, placed
as you are, to think of only one thing and one individual. In this case
the man is the luckiest one in God’s universe. He’s well-to-do, has
scores of admiring, influential friends, and is to marry the grandest,
sweetest woman on earth. If that isn’t enough to make a man happy,
why--”

“Stop; don’t speak that way!” Helen commanded. “I can’t stand it. I
simply can’t stand it, Carson!”

He stared at her inquiringly for a moment, as she stood with her face
averted, and then he heaved a big sigh as he gently, almost reverently,
touched her sleeve to direct her glance upon himself.

“What is it, Helen?” he said, softly, a wealth of tenderness in his
shaking voice. “What’s gone wrong? Don’t tell me _you_ are unhappy.
Things have gone crooked with me of late--I--I mean that my father has
been displeased, till quite recently at least, and I have not been in
the best mood; but I have been sustained by the thought that you, at
least, were happy. If I thought you were not, I don’t know what I would
do.”

“How can I be happy when you--when you--” Her voice dwindled away into
nothingness, and she could only face him with all her agony and despair
burning in her great, melting eyes.

“When I what, Helen?” he asked, gropingly. “Surely you are not troubled
about _me_, now that my political horizon is so bright that my opponent
can’t look at it without smoked glasses. Oh, I’m all right. Ask
Garner--ask your father--ask Braider--ask anybody.”

“I was not thinking of your _election_,” she found voice, to say. “Oh,
Carson, _do_ have faith in me! I crave it; I long for it; I yearn for
it. I want to help you. I want to stand by you and suffer with you. You
can trust me. You tried me once--you remember--and I stood the test.
Before God, I’ll never breathe it to a soul. Oh”--stopping him by
raising her despairing hand--“don’t try to deceive me because I’m a
girl. The uncertainty is killing me. I’ll not close my eyes to-night.
The truth will be easier borne because I’ll be bearing it--_with you_.”

“Oh, Helen, can it be possible that you--” He had spoken impulsively and
essayed to check himself, but now, pale as a corpse, he stood before her
not knowing what to do or say. He opened his mouth as if to speak, and
then with a helpless shrug of his shoulders he lapsed into silence, a
droop of utter despondency upon him. She was now sure she was right,
and a shaft she had never met before entered her heart and remained
there--remained there to strengthen her, good woman that she was, as
such things have strengthened women of all periods. She laid her firm
hand upon his arm in a pressure meant to comfort him, and with the
purity of a sorrowing angel she said: “I know the truth, dear Carson,
and if you don’t show me a way to get you out from under it--you who did
it all for my sake--if you don’t I shall die. I can’t stand it.”

He stood convicted before her. With bowed head he remained silent for a
moment, then he said, almost with a groan: “To think, on top of it all,
that you must know--_you!_ I was bearing it all right, but now you--you
poor, gentle, delicate girl--you have to be dragged into this as you
have been dragged into every miserable thing that ever happened to
me. It began with your brother’s death--I helped stain that memory for
you--now this--this unspeakable thing!”

“You did it wholly in self-defence,” she said. “You _had_ to do it. He
forced it on you.”

“Yes, yes--he or fate, the imps of Satan or the elemental passion born
in me. Flight, open flight lay before me, but that would have been the
death of self-respect--so it came about.”

“And you kept it on account of your mother?” she went on, insistently,
her agonized face close to his.

“Yes, of course. It would kill her, Helen, and I would be doing it
deliberately, for I know what the consequences would be. I must be my
own tribunal. I have no right to take still another life that legal
curiosity may be gratified. But till I am proven innocent I am a
murderer--that’s what hurts. I am offering myself to my fellow-men as
a maker of laws, and yet am deliberately defying those made by my
predecessors.”

“Your mother must never know,” Helen said, firmly. “No one shall but you
and I, Carson. We’ll bear it together.” She took his hand and held it
tightly for a moment, then pressing it tenderly against her cold cheek,
she lowered her head and left him--left him there under the vague
starlight, the soulful fragrance of her soothing personality upon him,
causing him to forget his peril, his grief, and his far-reaching sorrow,
and to draw close to his aching breast her heavenly sympathy and undying
fidelity.



CHAPTER XLIII.

[Illustration: 9382]

NE morning, a week later, Pole Baker slouched down the street from the
wagon-yard, and, peering into the law-office of Garner & Dwight, he
stood undecided on the deserted street, his hands thrust deep into
the pockets of his baggy trousers. He took another surreptitious look.
Garner was at his desk, his great brow wrinkled as with concentrated
thought, his coarse hair awry, his coat off and shirt-sleeves rolled up
to his elbows, his fingers stained with ink. Glancing up at this moment,
he caught the farmer’s eye and nodded: “Hello!” he said, cordially;
“come in. How’s our young colt running out your way?”

“Like a shot out of a straight-barrelled gun,” Baker retorted. “He’s the
most popular man in the county. He had a slow start, in all that nigger
mess, but he’s all right now.”

“So you think he’ll be elected?” Garner said, as Pole sat down in a
chair near his desk and began to twirl his long, gnarled fingers.

“Well, I didn’t say _that_, exactly,” the farmer answered.

“But you said--” In his perplexity the lawyer could only stare.

“I reckon thar are lots of things in this life that kin keep fellows out
of offices besides the men runnin’ agin ‘em,” Baker said, significantly.

The eyes of the two men met in a long, steady stare; each was trying to
read the other. But Garner was too shrewd a lawyer to be pumped even
by a trusted friend, and he simply leaned back and took up his pen. “Oh
yes, of course,” he observed, “a good many slips betwixt the cup and the
lip.”

Silence fell between the two men. Baker broke it suddenly and with his
customary frankness. “Look here, Bill Garner,” he said. “That young
feller’s yore partner an’ friend, but I’ve got his interests at heart
myself, an’ it don’t do no harm sometimes fer two men to talk over what
concerns a friend to both. I come in town to talk to _somebody_, an’ it
looks like you are the man.”

“Oh, that’s it,” Garner said. “Well, out with it, Baker.”

Pole thrust his right hand into his pocket and took out a splinter of
soft pine and his knife. Then, with the toe of his heavy shoe, he drew
a wooden, sawdust-filled cuspidor towards him and over it he prepared to
whittle.

“I want to talk to you about Carson,” he said. “It ain’t none o’ my
business, Bill, but I believe he’s in great big trouble.”

“You do, eh?” and Garner seemed to throw caution to the winds as he
leaned forward, his great, facile mouth open. “Well, Pole?”

“Gossip--talk under cover from one mouth to another,” the mountaineer
drawled out, “is the most dangerous thing, next to a bucket o’ powder in
a cook-stove that you are goin’ to bake in, of anything I know of.
Gossip has got hold of Dwight, Bill, an’ it’s tangled itself all about
him. Ef some’n’ ain’t done to choke it off it will git him down as shore
as a blacksnake kin swallow a toad after he’s kivered it with slime.”

“You mean--” But Garner seemed to think better of his inclination
towards subterfuge and broke off.

“I mean about the way Dan Willis met his death,” Pole said, to the
point. “I’m no fool an’ you ain’t, at least you wouldn’t be ef you was
paid by some client to git at the facts. Folks are ready to swear Carson
was seed the day that thing happened on that road inside of a mile o’
whar Willis was found. You know what time Carson left here that day; it
was sometime after dinner, an’ the hotel man at Spring-town says he got
thar an’ registered after dark. He says, too, that Carson looked nervous
an’ upset an’ seemed more anxious to avoid folks than the general run of
vote-hunters. Then--then, oh, well, what’s the use o’ beatin’ about the
bush? You know an’ I know that Carson hain’t been actin’ like himself
since then. It’s all we can do to git ‘im interested in his own
popularity, an’ that shows some’n’ is wrong--dead wrong. An’ it looks
to me like it is a matter that ought to be attended to. Killin’ a man is
serious enough in the eyes of the law without covering it up till it’s
jerked out of you by the State solicitor.”

“So you think the two men met?” Garner said, now quite as if he were
inquiring into the legal status of any ordinary case.

“That’s my judgment,” answered Pole. “And if I’m right, then it seems to
me that Carson an’ his friends ought to take action before--”

“Before what?” Garner prompted, almost eagerly. “Before the grand jury
takes it up, as you know they will have to with all this commotion goin’
the rounds.”

“Yes, Carson ought to act--concerned in it or not,” said Garner. “If
something isn’t done right away, it might be sprung on him on the very
eve of his election and actually ruin him.”

“I’m worried, an’ I don’t deny it,” said the mountaineer. “You see,
Bill, Carson’s a lawyer, and he knows whether he had a good case of
self-defence or not, an’ shirking investigation this way looks powerful
like--”

“Like he was himself the--aggressor,” interpolated Garner, with a frown.

“Yes, like that,” said Baker. “Of course we know Willis was houndin’ the
boy and making threats, but Carson’s hot-headed, as hot-headed as they
make ‘em, an’ maybe he flared up at the first sight of Willis an’ blazed
away at ‘im. I don’t see no other reason for him lyin’ so low about it.”

“I’m glad you came to me,” Garner said. “I’ll admit I’ve been fearing
the thing, Pole. It will be a delicate matter to broach, but I’m going
to talk to him about it. As you say, the longer it remains like it is
the more serious it becomes. Good Lord! if he _did_ kill Willis--if he
_did_ kill him, it would take sharp work to clear him of the charge of
murder after the silly way he has acted about it. Why, dang it, it’s
almost an admission of guilt!”

Baker had barely left the office when Carson came in, nodded to his
partner, and sat down at his desk and began in an absent-minded way
to cut open some letters that were waiting for him. Unobserved Garner
watched him from behind the worn book he was holding up to his face.
Hardened lawyer that he was, Garner’s heart melted with pity as he noted
the dark splotches under the young man’s eyes, the pathetic droop of
his shoulders, the evidences in every facial line of the grim inward
struggle that was going on in the brave, supersensitive soul. Garner put
down his book and went into the little consultation-room in the rear and
stood at the window which looked out upon a small patch of corn in an
adjoining lot.

“He did it!” he said, grimly. “Yes, he did it. Poor chap!”

The task before him was the hardest Garner had ever faced. He could have
discussed, to the finest points of detail, such a case for a client, but
Carson--the strange, winning personality over which he had marvelled
so often--was different. He was the most courageous, the most
self-sacrificing, the most keenly suffering human being Garner had ever
known, and the most sensitively honorable. How was it possible, even
indirectly, to allude to so grave a charge against such a man? And yet,
Garner reflected, pessimistically, the best of men sometimes reach a
point at which their high moral and spiritual tension, under one crucial
test or another, breaks. Why should it not be so in Carson Dwight’s
case.

Garner went back to his desk, sat down, and turned his revolving-chair
till he faced Carson’s profile. “Look here, old chap,” he said. “I’ve
got something of a very unpleasant nature to say to you, and it’s a
pretty hard thing to do, considering my keen regard for you.”

Dwight glanced up from the letter he held before him. He read Garner’s
face in a steady stare for a moment, and then said, with a sigh, as he
laid the letter down: “I see you’ve heard it. Well, I knew it would get
out. I’ve seen it coming for several days.”

“I began to guess it a week or so back,” Garner went on, outwardly calm;
“but this morning in talking to Pole Baker I became convinced of it.
It is a grim sort of thing, my boy, but you must not despair. You’ve
surmounted more obstacles than any young fellow I know, and I believe
you will eventually come through this. Though you must acknowledge that
it would have been far wiser to have given yourself up at once.”

“I couldn’t do it,” Carson responded, gloomily. “I thought of it.
I started on my way to Braider, really, but finally decided that it
wouldn’t do.”

“Good God! was it as bad as that?” Garner exclaimed. “I’ve been hoping
against hope that you could--”

“It couldn’t be worse.” Carson lowered his head till it rested on his
hand. His face went out of Garner’s view. “It’s going to kill her,
Garner. She can’t stand it. Dr. Stone told me that another shock would
kill her.”

“You mean--my Lord! you mean your _mother?_ You--you”--Garner leaned
forward, his face working, his eyes gleaming--“you mean that you did
not report it because of her condition? Great God! why didn’t I think of
that?”

“Why, certainly.” Carson looked round. “Did you think it was because--”

“I thought it was because you had--had killed him in--well, in a manner
you feared would not be adjudged wholly justifiable. I never dreamed of
the _real_ reason. I see it all now,” and Garner rose from his chair and
with his lips twitching he laid his hand on Dwight’s back. “I understand
perfectly, and I admire you more than I can say. Now, tell me all about
it.”

For an hour the two friends sat talking together. Calmly Carson went
into detail as to the happening, and when he had finished Garner said:
“You’ve got a good case, but you can easily see that it is grievously
hampered by your concealment of the facts so long. To make a jury see
exactly how you felt about your mother’s reception of the thing may be
hard, for the average man is not by nature quite so finely strung as
that, but we must _make_ them see it. Dr. Stone’s testimony as to his
advice to you will help. But, by all means, we must make the advance
ourselves as soon as possible--before a charge is brought against you
by the grand jury.” v “But”--and Dwight groaned aloud--“my mother simply
cannot go through it, Garner. I know her. It will kill her.”

“She simply must bear it,” Garner said, gloomily. “We must find a way
to brace her up to the ordeal. I have it. All my hopes are based on our
making such a clear statement before Squire Felton, with the testimony
of several witnesses as to Willis’s threats against you, that he will
throw it out of court. I can see the squire to-day and have a hearing
set for to-morrow. We’ll make quick work of it. I’ll also see your
father and--”

“My father!” Carson exclaimed, despondently.

“Yes, I’ll see him and explain the whole thing. I think I can get him to
keep the matter from reaching your mother till after the hearing. She is
still confined to her room, and surely your father can manage that part
of it.”

“Yes,” Carson replied, gloomily; “and he will do all he can, though it’s
going to be a terrible blow to him. But--if--if the justice court should
bind me over, and I should have to go to jail to await trial, then my
mother--”

“Don’t think about her now!” Garner said, testily. “Let’s work for a
prompt dismissal and not look on the dark side till we have to. I’ll run
down and talk to your father at once, before the rumor reaches him and
drives him crazy. I tell you it’s in the very air; I’ve felt it for
several days.”



CHAPTER XLIV.

[Illustration: 9390]

N his office in one corner of his great grain and cotton warehouse, at a
dusty, littered desk before a murky, cobweb-bed window, Garner found
old Dwight, his lap full of telegraphic reports, his head submerged in a
morning paper containing the market and crop news in general. Outside of
the thin-walled office heavy iron trucks, in the grasp of brawny black
men, rattled and rumbled over the heavy floor and across weighty skids
into open cars in the rear. There was the creaking sound of the big hand
elevators engaged in hoisting and lowering bales, barrels, bags, and
casks, the mellow sing-song of the light-hearted negroes as they toiled,
blissfully ignorant of the profound gloom which had fallen on the
defender of their rights.

“I came to see you on an important matter concerning Carson,” Garner
began, as he leaned over the old man’s desk.

Dwight lowered his paper, shrugged his shoulders, and sniffed.

“Campaign funds, I reckon,” he said. “Well, I’ve been looking for some
such demand. In fact, I’ve been astonished that you fellows haven’t
been after me sooner. I’ll do anything but buy whiskey to give away. I’m
against that custom.”

“It wasn’t _that_,” said Garner, who, usually plain-spoken, shrank from
beating about the bush even in so delicate a matter. “The truth is,
Carson is in a little trouble, Mr. Dwight.”

“Trouble?” the merchant said, bluntly. “Will you kindly show me when
he’s ever been out of it? Since the day he was born it’s been scrape
after scrape. By all possessed, Billy, when he wasn’t a year old I had
to spend fifty dollars to encase all the chimneys in with iron grating
to keep him from crawling into the fire. He’s walked or stumbled into
every fire that was made since then. When he was only twelve a man out
at the farm fell in a well and nothing would do Carson but that he must
go down after him. He did it, fastened the only available rope about the
man and sent him to the top, and when they lowered it to Carson he was
so nearly drowned that he could hardly sit in the loop. If I had a list
of the scrapes that boy went through at home and at college I’d sell it
to some blood-and-thunder novel writer. It would make his fortune. Well,
what is it now?”

“Carson is in very serious trouble I’m afraid, Mr. Dwight,” Garner said,
as he took a chair and sat down. “You will have to prepare yourself for
a pretty sharp shock. He couldn’t help it. It was pushed on him to
such an extent that there was no other way out of it and retain his
self-respect. Mr. Dwight, you, of course, heard of Dan Willis’s death?”

“Yes, and thought that now that he was under the sod Carson would
surely--”

“The death was not an accident, Mr. Dwight,”

Garner interrupted, and his eyes rested steadily on the old man’s face.

“You mean that Willis killed himself--that he--”

“I mean that he _forced_ Carson to kill him, Mr. Dwight.”

The old merchant’s face was working as if in the throes of death; he
leaned forward, his eyes wide in growing horror.

“Don’t, don’t say that, Billy; take it back!” he gasped. “Anything but
that--anything else under God’s shining sun.”

“You must try to be calm,” Garner said, gently. “It can’t be helped.
After all, the poor boy was forced to do it to save his life.”

Old Dwight lowered his face to his hands and groaned. The negro at the
head of the gang of truckmen approached and leaned in the doorway. He
had come to ask some directions about the work, but with widening eyes
he stood staring. Garner peremptorily waved him away, and, rising, he
laid his hand on Dwight’s shoulder.

“Don’t take it so hard!” he said, soothingly. “Remember, there is a lot
to do, and that’s what I came to see you about.”

Old Dwight raised his blearing eyes, which, in his pallid face now
looked bloodshot, and stammered out: “What is there to do? What does it
mean? How was it kept till now? Was he trying to hide it?”

“Yes”--Garner nodded--“the poor boy has been bearing it in secret. He
was afraid the news of it would seriously injure his mother.”

“And it will!” Dwight groaned. “She will never bear it in the world.
She is as frail as a flower. His conduct has brought her within a
hair’s-breadth of the grave more than once, and nothing under high
heaven could save her from this. It’s awful, awful!”

“I know it’s bad, but we’ve got to save him, Mr. Dwight. You can’t have
your own son--”

“Have him _what?_” Dwight rose, swaying from side to side, and stood
facing the lawyer.

“Well, you can’t have him sent to jail for murder; you can’t have
him--found guilty and publicly executed. The law is a ticklish business.
Absolutely innocent men have been hanged time after time. I tell you
this concealment of the thing, and Carson’s hot fury at Willis and
the remarks he has made here and there about him--the fact that he was
armed--that there were no witnesses to the duel--that he allowed the
erroneous verdict of the coroner’s jury to go on record--all these
things, with a scoundrel like Wiggin in the background at deadly work to
thwart us and pull Carson out of his track, are very, very serious. It
is the most serious job I ever tackled in the courts, but I’m going to
put it through or, as God is my judge, Mr. Dwight, I’ll throw up the
law.”

Tears were now flowing freely from the old merchant’s eyes and,
unhindered, dripped from his face to the ground. Taking Garner’s hand
he grasped it firmly, and as he wrung it he sobbed: “Save my boy, Billy,
and I’ll never let you want for means as long as you live. He’s all I’ve
got, and I’m prouder of him than I ever let folks know. I’ve made a lot
of fuss over some things he’s done, but through it all I was proud of
him, proud of him because he saw deeper into right than I did. Even this
nigger question--I talked against that a lot, because I thought it
would pull him down, but when I heard how he got you all together in
Blackburn’s store that night and persuaded you to save old Linda’s
boy--when I learned of that and heard the old woman’s cries of joy, and
saw the far-reaching effects of what Carson was standing for, I was so
proud and thankful that I sneaked off to my room and cried--cried like a
child; and now upon it all, as his reward, comes this thing. Oh, Billy,
save him! Don’t crush the poor boy’s spirit. I’ve always wanted to aid
you in some substantial way for your interest in him, and I’m going to
do it this time.”

“I hope we can squash the thing in justice court in the morning, Mr.
Dwight,” Garner said, confidently. “The chief thing is for you to keep
it all from your wife until then, anyway. I can’t do a thing with Carson
till his mind is at ease over her. He worships the ground she walks on,
Mr. Dwight, and if it hadn’t been for that he would have been out of
this trouble long ago, for I’m sure a plain statement of the matter
immediately after it happened would have cleared him without any
trouble. In his desire to spare his mother he has complicated the case,
that’s all.”

“Oh, I can keep it from his mother that long easy enough,” said Dwight.
“I’ll go home now and see to it. Pull my boy through this, Billy. If you
have to draw on me for every cent I’ve got, pull him through. I’m going
to treat him different in the future-. If he can get out of this I
believe he will be elected and make a great man.”

An hour later Garner hurried back to the office.

“Everything is in fine shape!” he chuckled, as he threw off his coat
and fell to work at his desk. “Squire Felton has fixed the hearing for
to-morrow morning at eleven and Pole Baker has gone on the fastest horse
in the livery-stable to secure witnesses for our side. He says he can
find them galore in the mountains, and your father is as solid as a
stone wall. He fell all in a tumble at first, but braced up, said some
beautiful things about you, and went home to see that your mother’s ears
are closed.

“I saw the sheriff, too. What do you think? When I told him the facts,
and said that you were ready to give yourself up, he almost cried.
Braider’s a trump. He said that the law gave him the right to let you go
on your own recognizance, and that before he’d arrest you and put you in
a common jail he’d have his arms and legs cut off. He said, knowing
your heart as he knew it, he’d let you go all the way to Canada without
stopping you, and that if you were bound over on this charge he’d throw
up his job rather than arrest you. He told me he’d been looking for
it--that he got wind of it two days ago, and would have been in to see
you about it if he hadn’t been afraid you’d misunderstand his coming
at such a time. He put a flea in my ear, too. He said we must beware of
Wiggin. He has an idea that Wiggin has been on to this for sometime and
may have a dangerous dagger up his sleeve. The district-attorney is out
of town to-day but will be back to-night. He’s as straight as a die and
will act fair. I will see him the first thing in the morning. Now, you
brace up. Leave everything to me. You are as good a lawyer as I am, but
you are too nervous and worried about your mother to act on your best
judgment.”

At this juncture the colored gardener from Dwight’s came in with a note
directed to Garner. Garner opened it and read it while Carson stood
looking on. It ran: _“Dear Billy,--Everything is all right at this end,
and will remain so, at least till after the hearing to-morrow. I enclose
my check for ten thousand dollars as a retaining fee. I always intended
to give you a little start, and I hope this will help you materially.
Save my boy. Save him, Billy. For God’s sake pull him through; don’t let
this thing crush his spirit. He’s got a great and a useful future before
him if only we can pull him through this.”_

Carson read the note through a blur and turned away. He was standing
alone in the dreary little consultation-room a few minutes later, when
Garner came to him, old Dwight’s check fluttering in his hands.

“Your dad’s the right sort,” he said, his eyes gleaming with the infant
fires of avarice. “One only has to know how to understand him. The
size of this check is out of all reason, but if I can do what he wishes
to-morrow, I’ll not only accept it, but I’ll put it to a glorious use.
Carson, there is a young woman in this town whom I’ll ask to marry me,
and I’ll buy a home with this to start life on.”

“Ida Tarpley?” said Carson.

“She’s the one,” Garner said, with a bare touch of rising color. “I
think she would take me, from a little remark she dropped, and it was
through you that I found her.”

“Through me?” Dwight said.

“Yes, it was in talking of your ups and downs that I first saw into
her wonderfully sweet and sympathetic nature. Carson, if you get your
walking-papers in the morning, I won’t wait ten minutes before I pop
the question. The lack of means was the only thing that kept me from
proposing the last time I saw her.”



CHAPTER XLV.

[Illustration: 0398]

HE next morning when Garner reached the office, he found Carson
surrounded by “the gang,” Blackburn was just leaving, his mild eyes
fixed gloomily on the sidewalk, and Wade Tingle, Keith Gordon, and Bob
Smith sat about the office with long-drawn, stoical faces.

“I was just telling Carson that it will be a walkover in court this
morning,” Wade was saying, comfortingly, as Garner sat down at his desk,
his great brow clouded. “Don’t you think so, Garner?”

“Well, I’ll tell you _one_ thing, boys,” Garner answered, irritably,
“it’s too important a matter to make light over, and I want you fellows
to clear out so we can get to work. I’ve got to talk to Carson, and I
can’t do it with so many here. I’m not accustomed to thinking with a
crowd around.”

“You bet we’ll skedaddle, then, old man,” said Keith; “but we’ll be at
the--the hearing.”

When they had gone droopingly out, Carson came from the window at which
he had been standing and looked Garner over, noting with surprise that
the lower parts of the legs of his partner’s trousers were dusty and his
boots unpolished. The shirt Garner wore had sleeves that were too long
for his arms, and a pair of soiled cuffs covered more than half of
the small hands. His standing collar had become crumpled, and his
ever-present black silk necktie, with its unshapely bow and brown,
frayed edges, had slipped out of place. His hair was awry, his whole
manner nervous and excitable.

“Keith says you didn’t sleep at the den last night,” Dwight said,
tentatively. “Did you go out to your father’s?”

Garner seemed to hesitate for an instant, then he crossed his dusty legs
and began to draw upon and tie more firmly the loose strings of his worn
and cracked patent-leather shoes.

“Look here, Carson,” he said, when he had fumblingly tied the last knot,
“you are too strong and brave a man to be treated in the wishy-washy
way a woman’s treated. Besides, you’ll have to know the truth sooner or
later, anyway, and you may as well be prepared for it.”

“Something gone wrong?” Dwight asked, calmly.

“Worse than I dreamed was possible,” Garner said. “I thought we’d have
comparatively smooth sailing, but--well, it’s your danged luck! Pole
Baker come in this morning about two o’clock. I’d taken a room at
the hotel to get away from those chattering boys so I could think. I
couldn’t sleep, and was trying to get myself straight with a dime novel
that wouldn’t hold my attention, when Pole came and found me. Carson,
that rascal Wiggin is the blackest devil that ever walked the earth in
human shape.”

“He’s been at work,” said Carson, calmly.

“You’d think so,” said Garner. “Pole says wherever he went, expecting to
lay hands on good witnesses who had heard Willis make threats, he found
that Wiggin had got there first and put up a tale that closed their
mouths like clams.”

“I see,” said Dwight. “He frightened them off.”

“I should think he did. He put them on their guard, telling them,
without hinting at any trouble of yours, that if they had a call to
court, of any sort whatsoever, to get out of it, as it would only be a
trick on our part to implicate them in the lynching business.”

“So we have no witnesses,” said Dwight.

“Not even a photograph of one!” replied Garner, bitterly. “I sent Pole
right out again, tired as he was, in another direction. He had a faint
idea that he might persuade Willis’s mother to testify, though I told
him he was on a wild-goose chase, for not one mother in ten thousand
would turn over a hand to aid a man who--a man under just such
circumstances. Then I got a horse--”

“At that time of night?” Carson cried.

“What was the difference? I couldn’t sleep, anyway, and the cool night
air made me feel better, but I failed. The men I saw admitted that they
had heard Dan talk some, but they couldn’t recall any absolute threats.
When I got back to town it was eight o’clock. I ate a snack at the
restaurant and then hurried off to see the district-attorney. Mayhew is
a good man, Carson, and a fair man. I think he is the most honest and
conscientious solicitor we’ve ever had. But right there I saw the track
of your guardian angel. As early as it was, Wiggin had been there before
me. Mayhew wouldn’t admit that he had, but I knew it from his reserved
manner. Why, I expected to see the solicitor take the whole thing
lightly, you know, considering your standing at the bar and your family
name, but I found him--well, entirely too serious about it. He really
talked as if it were the gravest thing that had ever happened. I saw
that he was badly prejudiced, and I tried to disabuse his mind of some
hidden impressions, but he wouldn’t talk much. All at once, however,
he looked me in the face and asked me how on earth any sensible man,
familiar with the law, could keep a thing like that concealed as long
as you did. I told him, in as plausible and direct a way as I could, how
you felt in regard to your mother’s condition. He listened attentively,
then he shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘Why, Garner, Dr. Stone told
my wife the other day that Mrs. Dwight was improving rapidly. Surely she
wasn’t as bad off as all that.’ My Lord! I was set back so badly that I
hardly knew what to say. He went on then to tell me that folks through
the country had been saying that towns-people always managed to avoid
the law by some hook or crook, or influence, or money, and that he was
not going to subject himself to public criticism even in the case of a
man as popular as you are.”

“That was Wiggin’s work!” Carson said, his lips pressed tightly together
as he turned back to the window.

“Yes, that’s his method. He’s the trickiest scamp unhung. Of course,
he can’t hope to see you actually convicted of this thing, but he does
evidently think he can have you bound over to trial at the next term of
court, and beat you at the polls in the mean time. He thinks with his
negro incendiary speeches to rouse the lowest element, and the charges
that you’ve murdered one of your own race to inflame the prejudices of
others, that he can snow you under good and deep. But we’ve got to
make the best of it. There is no shirking or postponing of this hearing
to-day. Even if the very--the very worst comes,” Garner finished,
slowly, as if shrinking from the words he was uttering, “we can give any
bonds the court may demand.”

“But”--and Dwight turned from the window and stood before his
friend--“what if they refuse to take bonds at all and I have to go to
jail?”

“What do you want to cross a bridge like that for?” Garner demanded,
plainly angered by the sheer possibility in question.

Dwight leaned over Garner and put his hand on the dusty shoulder.
“_That_ would kill my mother, old man!”

“Do you think so, Carson?” Garner was deeply moved.

“I know it, Garner, and her blood would be on my head.”

“Well, we must _win!_” Garner said, and a look of firm determination
came into his eyes; “that is all there is about it. We must win. Eternal
truth and justice are on our side. We must win.”



CHAPTER XLVI.

[Illustration: 0403]

HE big, square court-room was filled to overflowing when at the last
moment Carson and Garner arrived. Just inside the door they found old
Dwight standing, his battered silk hat in his hand, and with an air of
unwonted humility upon him, patiently awaiting their coming.

“Is everything all right?” he anxiously whispered to Garner, as he
reached out and caught his son’s hand and held on to it.

“Yes, all right, Mr. Dwight,” Garner replied; “and is--is your wife--”

“Yes, we are safe on that score,” the old man said, encouragingly, to
Carson. “I only slipped away for a minute. I won’t wait here, but will
hurry back and stand guard. God bless you, my boy.” When Dwight had
turned towards the door and was moving away, Carson glanced over the
crowded room. All eyes were fixed, it seemed to him, anxiously and
sympathetically on his face. As he passed through the central aisle
to reach the railed-in enclosure where, at his elevated desk, the
magistrate sat, gravely consulting with the State solicitor, Carson’s
mind was gloomily active with the numerous instances in which, to
his knowledge, innocent men had been convicted by the complication
of circumstantial evidence, in a chair which Braider was solicitously
placing near that of Garner, the young man’s glance again swept the big
room. On the last row of benches sat Linda, Uncle Lewis, and Pete in
the company of other negro friends of his. Their fixed and awed facial
expressions added to his gloom. Near the railing sat “the gang”--Gordon,
Tingle, and Bob Smith--their faces long-drawn. Behind them sat Helen and
her father, with Ida Tarpley. Catching Helen’s anxious glance, Carson
tried to smile lightly as he responded to her bow, but there was
something in his act which seemed to him to be empty pretence and rather
unworthy of one in his position. Guilty or innocent in the eyes of the
law, he told himself he was there to rid his character of the
gravest charge that could be made against a human being, and from the
indications, as seen by the shrewd Garner, he was not likely to leave
the room a free man. He shuddered as he grimly pictured Braider--the
feeling, sympathetic Braider--coming to him there before all those eyes
and formally placing him under arrest at the order of the court. He sank
to the lowest ebb of despair as he pictured his mother’s hearing of
the news. Almost in a daze Carson sat dumb and blind to the formal
proceedings. Like a child, he felt a soothing comfort in the knowledge
that he was leaning on such a skilled friend as that of the hardened
young lawyer at his side, and yet for the first time in his life he was
pitying himself. Things had really gone hard with him. He had tried his
best to do the right thing of late, but fate had at last overpowered
him. He was losing faith in the impulses which had led him, blind under
the blaze of youthful enthusiasm, to that seat here under the cold,
accusing eye of the law.

He was drawn out of his lethargy by the clear, ringing, confident voice
of the solicitor. It was a strong, an utterly heartless speech, “the
gang” thought. Duty to the State and public protection was its key-note.
Personally, Mayhew had nothing but the kindliest feeling and strongest
admiration for the defendant. He belonged to one of the best and oldest
families in the South, and was a man of undaunted courage and remarkable
brains. But with all that, Mayhew believed, as he tugged at his heavy
mustache and stared with confident eyes at the magistrate, he could show
that lurking under the creditable and refined exterior of the defendant
was a keenly vindictive nature--a nature that was maddened beyond
forbearance by opposition. The solicitor promised to show by competent
witnesses, when the matter was brought to trial, that Carson Dwight
believed--mark the word _believed_--without an iota of proof, that Dan
Willis had fired upon him in the mob that was attempting to lynch Pete
Warren. Believing this, your honor, I say, with no sort of proof, I
think the State will have no trouble in establishing the fact
that Dwight had sufficient _motive_ for what was done, and that he
deliberately and with aforethought went armed with no other intent than
to kill Willis. Furthermore, Mayhew could show, he declared, that Dwight
had carefully concealed the deed, letting it go out to the world that
the finding of the coroner’s jury was correct, and making no statement
to the contrary till he was driven to it by the encroachments of
verifiable rumor and the certainty of adverse action by the grand jury.
That being the status of the case, the solicitor could only urge upon
the court its duty to hold Carson Dwight on the charge of murder in the
first degree.

Deep in his slough of depression, Dwight, looking over the breathless
audience, noticed the serious faces he knew and loved. Helen was deathly
pale, and her father sat with bowed head, fingering his gold-headed
ebony cane. Keith Gordon’s face was as full of reproach for what the
solicitor had said as that of a grief-stricken woman. Wade Tingle sat
flushed with rebellious anger, and Bob Smith, not grasping the full
import of the high-sounding words, stared from under his neatly
plastered hair like a wondering child at a funeral. It was Mam’ Linda’s
almost savage glare that more firmly fixed Carson’s wandering glance.
She sat there, her visage full of half-savage passion, her large lip
hanging low and quivering, her breast heaving, her eyes gleaming.

Carson had not the heart to follow Garner’s weak and inadequate plea as
the lawyer stood, his small hands clutched and bloodless behind him. He
had not been able, he said, to reach the witnesses he had expected to
produce, who would swear that Dan Willis, time after time, had pursued
the defendant and made threats against his life, but he felt that a calm
statement of Carson Dwight’s would be believed, and that--

Here there was a commotion in the room. The bailiff at the door was
talking loudly to some one. The magistrate rapped vigorously for order,
and in the pause that ensued Pole Baker came striding down the aisle,
leading a little woman wearing a black cotton sun-bonnet and dress of
the same material. Leaving her standing, Baker approached Garner and
whispered in his ear. Then, with a suddenly kindling face, the lawyer
turned and whispered to the woman. A moment later he drew himself up to
his full height and said, in a clear, confident voice that reached all
parts of the room: “Your honor, I have a witness here that I want to
have sworn.”

The district-attorney stood up and stared curiously at the woman. “If
I’m not mistaken that’s Dan Willis’s mother,” he said, with a smile.
“She is a witness I’m looking for myself.”

“Well, you are welcome to what she’ll testify,” Garner dryly retorted.

A moment later the little woman was on the stand, holding her bonnet in
her hand, her small, wizened face as colorless as parchment, her black
hair brushed as smoothly as patent leather down over her brow and tied in
a small, tight knot behind her head.

“Now, Mrs. Willis,” Garner went on, casting a significant glance at
Carson, who was gazing at him in growing wonder, “just tell the court
in your own way what happened at your house the day your son met his
death.”

The room was very still when she began in a low, quivering voice which,
gradually steadied itself as she continued.

“Well,” she said, “Mr. Wiggin come to the fence while we-all was eatin’
our breakfast, an’ called Danny out an’ they had a talk near the
cow-lot. I don’t know what was said, but I was sorry they got together
for Mr. Wiggin always upset Danny an’ started ‘im to drinkin’ and
rantin’ agin Mr. Dwight here in town.”

She paused a moment, and then Garner, leaning easily on the back of his
chair, said, encouragingly: “All right, Mrs. Willis, you are doing very
well. Now, just go ahead and tell the court all that took place to the
best of your recollection.”

“Well, thar wasn’t much to recollect that happened right thar _at
home_,” the witness went on, plaintively; “of course, the shootin’ tuck
place about a mile from thar on the--”

“Pardon me, Mrs. Willis,” Garner interrupted. “You are getting the cart
before the horse. I want you to tell his honor how your son acted when
he came into the house after his talk with Mr. Wiggin.”

“Why, when Danny fust come in, Mr. Garner, he went to the bureau drawyer
and tuck out his revolver an’ loaded it thar before us, cussin’ at every
breath agin Mr. Dwight. I tried to calm ‘im down, an’ so did my brother
George, but he was as nigh crazy as I ever saw any human bein’ in my
life. He said he was goin’ straight to Darley an’ kill Carson Dwight, if
he had to go to his daddy’s house an’ drag ‘im out of his bed. He said
he’d tried it once an’ slipped up, but that if he missed again he’d kill
hisse’f in disgust.”

“I see, I see,” Garner said, in the pause that ensued. He stroked his
smooth chin with his tapering fingers and opened and shut his mouth,
and he kept his eyes on the ceiling as if the witness had made the most
ordinary sort of statement. He leaned again on the back of his chair,
and then lowering his glance to the face of the witness, he asked: “Did
you gather from Dan’s talk that morning, Mrs. Willis, when it was that
he made the _first_ attempt on the life of Carson Dwight?”

“Well, I don’t know as I did _then_,” the woman answered; “but he told
us about it the day after he fired the shot.”

“Oh, he did!” Garner’s face was still a study of guileless indifference,
and he stroked his chin again, his eyes now on the floor, his arms
folded across his breast. “What day was that, Mrs. Willis?”

“Why, the day after Mr. Dwight kept the mob from hangin’ old Lindy
Warren’s boy.”

Profound astonishment was now visible on every countenance except that
of Garner. “I never knew positively before _who_ fired that shot,” he
said, carelessly, “though, of course, I had an idea who did it. So Dan
admitted that?”

“Yes, he told us about that, and about tryin’ to git at Mr. Dwight
several other times.”

“I reckon you are satisfied in your own mind that if Mr. Dwight hadn’t
defended himself Dan would have killed him?” Garner pursued, adroitly.

“I know he would, Mr. Garner, an’ when I heard the report that Danny had
shot hisse’f by accident, while he was practisin’ with his pistol, I
was reconciled to it. I didn’t think Mr. Dwight was to blame. I always
thought he was doin’ the best he could, an’ that politics caused the bad
blood. I always liked ‘im, to tell the truth. I’d heard that he was a
friend to the pore an’ humble, even to pore old niggers, an’ somehow
I felt relieved when I heard he’d escaped my boy. I knowed Danny meant
murder an’ that no good could come of it. I’d a sight ruther know a
child of mine was dead an’ in the hands of his Maker than tied up in
jail waitin’ to be publicly hung in the end. No, it is better like it
is, though if I may be allowed to say so, I can’t for the life of me,
understand what you-all have got Mr. Dwight hauled up here like this,
when his mother is in sech a delicate condition. Good Lord, he hain’t
done nothin’ to be tried for!”

“That will do, Mrs. Willis,” Garner was heard to say, his voice harshly
stirring the emotion-packed stillness of the room; “that will do, unless
my brother Mayhew wants to ask you some questions.”

“The State has no case, your honor,” Mayhew said, with a sickly smile.
“The truth is, I think we’ve all been imbibing too freely of politics.
I confess I’ve listened to Wiggin myself. It looks like, failing to get
Dan Willis to kill Dwight, he’s set about trying to have it done by law.
Your honor, the State is out of the case.”

There was a pause of astonishment and then the truth burst upon the
audience. Realizing that Carson Dwight was more than a free man,
vindicated, restored to them, “the gang” rose as a man and yelled. Led
by Pole Baker and the enthusiastic Braider, they pressed around him,
climbing over the railing and crushing chairs to splinters. Then, amid
the shouts and glad tears of the spectators, the most popular man in the
county was raised perforce upon the stout shoulders of Baker and Braider
and borne down the aisle towards the door.

Above the heads of all, Carson, flushed with confusion, glanced over the
room. Immediately in front of him stood Helen. She was looking straight
and eagerly at him, her face aglow, her eyes filled with tears. She
paused with her father just outside the door, and as “the gang” bore
their struggling and protesting hero past, she raised her hand to him.
Blushing in fresh embarrassment, he took it, only to have it torn from
him the next instant.

“Let me down, Pole!” he cried.

“No, sir, we don’t let you down!” Pole shouted. “We’ve got it in for
you. We are goin’ to lynch you!”

The crowd, appreciating the joke, thereupon raised the queerest cry that
ever burst from breasts surcharged with joy.

“Lynch him!” they yelled. “Lynch him!”

Half an hour afterwards Carson went home. His father was at the fence
looking for him. He had heard the news and his old face was beaming with
joy as he opened the gate for his son and took him into his arms.

“How’s mother?” was Carson’s first inquiry.

“She’s all right and she knows, too?”

“She knows!” Carson exclaimed, aghast.

“Yes, old Mrs. Parsons was the first to bring me the news, and she
assured me she could impart it to your mother in such a way as not to
shock her at all.”

“And you let her?” Carson said, anxiously.

“Yes, and she did the slickest piece of work I ever heard of. I knew she
was considered a wonderful woman, but she’s the smoothest article I ever
met. I laughed till I cried. I was in the mood for laughing, anyway.
Mrs. Parsons began by adroitly working your mother up to such a pitch
of fury against Willis for his nagging pursuit of you that your mother
could have shot him herself, and then, in an off-hand way, Mrs. Parsons
led on to the meeting between you. Willis had his gun in your face, and
was about to pull the trigger, when your pistol went off and saved
your life. She went on to say that Dan’s mother had just been to the
court-house testifying that her son had tried to murder you, and that
she didn’t blame you in the slightest. I declare, Mrs. Parsons actually
made it appear that Willis was on trial instead of you. Anyway, it’s all
right. We’ve got nothing to fear now.”



CHAPTER XLVII.


[Illustration: 9413]

IX weeks later the election came off.

It was no “walk-over” for Carson. Wiggin seemed only more desperately
spurred on by every exposition of his underhand chicanery. He died
hard. He fought with his nose in the mire, but, throwing honor to
the winds, he fought. Carson Dwight’s stand on the negro question was
Wiggin’s strongest weapon. It was a torch with which the candidate could
inflame the breasts of a certain class of men at a moment’s notice.
He was a crude but powerful speaker, and wherever he went he left
smouldering or raging fires. Pledged to him were the lowest order of
men, and they fought for him and worked for him like bandits in the
dark. Over these men he wielded a sword of fear. Carson Dwight’s
intention in getting to the legislature was to make laws against
lynching, and every man who had ever protected his home and fireside by
summary justice to the black brutes would be ferreted out and imprisoned
for life. But Dwight’s more gentle and saner reasoning, backed by his
heroic conduct of the past, held sway. He was elected. He was not only
elected, but, as the exponent of a new issue, the news of his election
was telegraphed all over the South. He had written some articles for
Wade Tingle’s paper which had been widely copied and commented on, and
his political course was watched by many conservative thinkers, who
prophesied a remarkable career for him. He was a fearless man, with
a new voice, who had taken a radical stand based on humanitarian and
Christian principles. Family history was simply repeating itself. His
ancestors had stood for the humane treatment of the slaves thrust
upon them by circumstances, and he, in the same hereditary spirit,
was standing for kind, just treatment of those ex-slaves and their
descendants. No man who knew him would have accused him of believing in
the social equality of the races any more than they would earlier have
brought the same charge against his ancestors.

On the night the returns were brought in and it was known that he had
triumphed, “the gang” had arranged a big pine torch-light procession,
and it passed with its blaze and din through every street of the town.
Carson was at home when they lined themselves, in all their tooting of
horns, beating of drums, and general clatter, along the front fence. The
town brass-band did its best, and every sort of transparency that the
inventive mind of Wade Tingle could devise was borne, as if by the smoke
and heat of the torches themselves, above the long procession.

Garner separated himself from the throng, and, clad in a new and costly
suit of clothes, a tribute to his engagement to Miss Tarpley--a fine
black frock-coat, broadcloth trousers, and a silk hat--he made his way
into the house and up the stairs to the veranda above, where Carson and
his mother and father were standing.

“The boys want a speech,” he said to Carson, “and you’ve got to give
them the best in your shop. By George, they deserve it.” Carson was
demurring, but his mother pressed him to comply, and Garner, with his
stateliest strut, his coat buttoned so tightly at the waist that, the
tails spread out as if inviting him to sit down, and his hat held on
a level with his left shoulder, advanced to the balustrade, and in
his happiest mood introduced the man who, he declared, was the
broadest-minded, the most conscientious and fearless candidate that
ever trod the boards of a political platform. They were to receive the
expression of gratitude and appreciation of a man whose name was written
upon every heart present. Garner had the distinguished honor and pride
to introduce his law partner and close friend, the Hon. Carson Dwight.

Carson never spoke better in his life. What he said was from a boyish
heart overflowing with content and good-will. When he had finished Mrs.
Dwight rose from her chair and proudly stood by his side. The cheers at
her appearance rent the air. Then Garner pushed old Dwight forward from
the shadow of a column where he was standing, and as the old gentleman
awkwardly bowed his greeting, the cheers broke out afresh. Bob Smith,
who was a sort of drum-major, with a ribbon-wound walking-cane for a
baton, struck up, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” and as the crowd
sang it to the spluttering and jangling accompaniment of the band the
procession moved down the street.

At this juncture Major Warren came up to offer his congratulations.
Carson was standing a few minutes later talking to Garner. He was trying
to hear what his partner was saying in his bubbling and enthusiastic
way about his engagement to Miss Tarpley, but he found it difficult to
listen, for the conversation between his mother and Major Warren had
fixed his attention.

“I tried to get her to come over to hear the speech, but she wouldn’t,”
 the Major was saying. “I can’t make her out here lately, Mrs. Dwight.
She used to be so different in anything concerning Carson. She is now
actually hiding behind the vines on the veranda.”

“Perhaps she is so much in love with Mr. Sanders that she--”

“That’s the very point,” the Major broke in. “She won’t talk about
Sanders, and she--well, really, I think the two have quit writing to
each other.”

“Perhaps she--oh, do you think, Major, that--” Carson heard no more; his
father had come forward and was talking to Garner.

Carson slipped away. He glided down the stairs and out at the door on
the side next to Warren’s and rapidly strode across the grass. Passing
through the little gateway, he reached the veranda and the vines
concealing the spot where the hammock was hanging. He saw no one at
first and heard no sound. Then he called out: “Helen!”

“What is it?” a timid, even startled voice from the vines answered, and
Helen looked out.

“Why didn’t you come over with your father?” Carson asked. “He said he
wanted you to, but you preferred to stay here.”

“I _did_ want to congratulate you,” Helen, said, as he came up the steps
and they stood face to face. “I’m so happy over it, Carson, that really
I was afraid I’d show it too much.”

“I’m glad you feel that way,” he said, awkwardly. “It was a hard fight,
and I thought several times I was beaten.”

“What did you ever touch that wasn’t hard?” she said, with a sweet,
reminiscent laugh.

They were silent for a moment and then he said: “I’m not quite satisfied
with your reason for not coming over with your father just now--really,
you see, it is in a line with your actions for the last six weeks.
Helen, you actually have avoided me.”

“On the contrary,” she said, “you have made it a point to stay away from
me.”

“Well,” he sighed, “considering, you know, Sanders and his claims, I
really thought I’d better keep my place.”

“Oh!” Helen exclaimed, and then she sank deeper into the vines.

For one instant he stood trembling before her, and then he asked,
boldly: “Helen, tell me, are you engaged to him?”

She made no answer for a moment, and then in the moonlight he saw her
flushed face against the vines and caught an almost startled glance from
her wonderful eyes. She looked straight at him.

“No, I’m not, and I never have been,” she said.

“You never have been?” he repeated. “Oh, Helen--” But he went no
further. For a moment he hung fire, then he said: “Don’t you care for
him, Helen? Are you and I good enough friends for me to dare to ask
that?”

“I thought once that I might love him, in time” she faltered; “but when
I came home and found--and found how deeply I had misunderstood and
wronged you, I--I--” She broke off, her face buried in the leaves of the
vines.

“Oh, Helen!” he cried; “do you realize what you are saying to me? You
know my whole life is wrapped up in you. Don’t raise my hopes to-night
unless there is at least some chance of my winning. If there is one
little chance, I’ll struggle for it all the rest of my life.”

“Do you remember,” she asked, looking at him, one side of her flushed
face pressed against the vines--“do you remember the night you told me
in the garden about that awful trouble of yours, and I promised to bear
it with you?”

“Yes,” he said, wonderingly.

“Well,” she went on, “I went straight to my room after I left you and
wrote to Mr. Sanders. I told him exactly how I felt. I simply couldn’t
keep up a correspondence with him after--Carson, I knew that night when
I left you there in your gloom and sorrow that I loved you with all
my soul and body. Oh, Carson, when I heard your voice in your glorious
speech just now, and knew that you have loved me all this time, I was so
glad that I cried. I’m the happiest, proudest girl on earth.”

And as they stood hand in hand, too joyful for utterance, the glow of
his triumph lit the sky and the din and clatter, the song and shouts of
those who loved him were borne to him on the breeze.


THE END





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