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Title: The Spectre In The Cart - 1908
Author: Page, Thomas Nelson
Language: English
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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.

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THE SPECTRE IN THE CART

By Thomas Nelson Page

Charles Scribner’s Sons New York, 1908

Copyright, 1891, 1904, 1906


I had not seen my friend Stokeman since we were at college together,
and now naturally we fell to talking of old times. I remembered him as
a hard-headed man without a particle of superstition, if such a thing
be possible in a land where we are brought up on superstition, from the
bottle. He was at that time full of life and of enjoyment of whatever it
brought. I found now that his wild and almost reckless spirits had been
tempered by the years which had passed as I should not have believed
possible, and that gravity had taken place of the gaiety for which he
was then noted.

He used to maintain, I remember, that there was no apparition or
supernatural manifestation, or series of circumstances pointing to such
a manifestation, however strongly substantiated they appeared to be,
that could not be explained on purely natural grounds.

During our stay at college a somewhat notable instance of what was by
many supposed to be a supernatural manifestation occurred in a deserted
house on a remote plantation in an adjoining county.

It baffled all investigation, and got into the newspapers, recalling the
Cock Lane ghost, and many more less celebrated apparitions. Parties were
organized to investigate it, but were baffled. Stokeman, on a bet of a
box of cigars, volunteered to go out alone and explode the fraud; and
did so, not only putting the restless spirit to flight, but capturing it
and dragging it into town as the physical and indisputable witness both
of the truth of his theory and of his personal courage. The exploit gave
him immense notoriety in our little world.

I was, therefore, no little surprised to hear him say seriously now that
he had come to understand how people saw apparitions.

“I have seen them myself,” he added, gravely.

“You do not mean it!” I sat bolt upright in my chair in my astonishment.
I had myself, largely through his influence, become a sceptic in matters
relating to the supernatural.

“Yes, I have seen ghosts. They not only have appeared to me, but were as
real to my ocular vision as any other external physical object which I
saw with my eyes.

“Of course, it was an hallucination. Tell me; I can explain it.”

“I explained it myself,” he said, dryly. “But it left me with a little
less conceit and a little more sympathy with the hallucinations of
others not so gifted.”

It was a fair hit.

“In the year--,” he went on, after a brief period of reflection, “I was
the State’s Attorney for my native county, to which office I had been
elected a few years after I left college, and the year we emancipated
ourselves from carpet-bag rule, and I so remained until I was appointed
to the bench. I had a personal acquaintance, pleasant or otherwise,
with every man in the county. The district was a close one, and I could
almost have given the census of the population. I knew every man who was
for me and almost every one who was against me. There were few neutrals.
In those times much hung on the elections. There was no borderland. Men
were either warmly for you or hotly against you.

“We thought we were getting into smooth water, where the sailing was
clear, when the storm suddenly appeared about to rise again. In the
canvass of that year the election was closer than ever and the contest
hotter.

“Among those who went over when the lines were thus sharply drawn was an
old darky named Joel Turnell, who had been a slave of one of my nearest
neighbors, Mr. Eaton, and whom I had known all my life as an easygoing,
palavering old fellow with not much principle, but with kindly manners
and a likable way. He had always claimed to be a supporter of mine,
being one of the two or three negroes in the county who professed to
vote with the whites.

“He had a besetting vice of pilfering, and I had once or twice defended
him for stealing and gotten him off, and he appeared to be grateful to
me. I always doubted him a little; for I believed he did not have force
of character enough to stand up against his people, and he was a chronic
liar. Still, he was always friendly with me, and used to claim the
emoluments and privileges of such a relation. Now, however, on a sudden,
in this campaign he became one of my bitterest opponents. I attributed
it to the influence of a son of his, named Absalom, who had gone off
from the county during the war when he was only a youth, and had stayed
away for many years without anything being known of him, and had now
returned unexpectedly. He threw himself into the fight. He claimed to
have been in the army, and he appeared to have a deep-seated animosity
against the whites, particularly against all those whom he had known
in boyhood. He was a vicious-looking fellow, broad-shouldered and
bow-legged, with a swagger in his gait. He had an ugly scar on the side
of his throat, evidently made by a knife, though he told the negroes, I
understood, that he had got it in the war, and was ready to fight again
if he but got the chance. He had not been back long before he was in
several rows, and as he was of brutal strength, he began to be much
feared by the negroes. Whenever I heard of him it was in connection
with some fight among his own people, or some effort to excite race
animosity. When the canvass began he flung himself into it with fury,
and I must say with marked effect.

“His hostility appeared to be particularly directed against myself, and
I heard of him in all parts of the district declaiming against me. The
negroes who, for one or two elections, had appeared to have quieted
down and become indifferent as to politics were suddenly revivified. It
looked as if the old scenes of the Reconstruction period, when the
two sides were like hostile armies, might be witnessed again. Night
meetings, or ‘camp-fires,’ were held all through the district, and
from many of them came the report of Absalom Turnell’s violent speeches
stirring up the blacks and arraying them against the whites. Our side
was equally aroused and the whole section was in a ferment. Our effort
was to prevent any outbreak and tide over the crisis.

“Among my friends was a farmer named John Halloway, one of the best men
in my county, and a neighbor and friend of mine from my boyhood. His
farm, a snug little homestead of fifty or sixty acres, adjoined our
plantation on one side; and on the other, that of the Eatons, to whom
Joel Turnell and his son Absalom had belonged, and I remember that as a
boy it was my greatest privilege and reward to go over on a Saturday and
be allowed by John Halloway to help him plough, or cut his hay. He was
a big, ruddy-faced, jolly boy, and even then used to tell me about being
in love with Fanny Peel, who was the daughter of another farmer in the
neighborhood, and a Sunday-school scholar of my mother’s. I thought him
the greatest man in the world. He had a fight once with Absalom Turnell
when they were both youngsters, and, though Turnell was rather older and
much the heavier, whipped him completely. Halloway was a good soldier
and a good son, and when he came back from the war and won his wife, who
was a belle among the young farmers, and settled down with her on
his little place, which he proceeded to make a bower of roses and
fruit-trees, there was not a man in the neighborhood who did not rejoice
in his prosperity and wish him well. The Halloways had no children and,
as is often the case in such instances, they appeared to be more to each
other than are most husbands and wives. He always spoke of his wife
as if the sun rose and set in her. No matter where he might be in the
county, when night came he always rode home, saying that his wife would
be expecting him. ‘Don’t keer whether she ‘s asleep or not,’ he used to
say to those who bantered him, ‘she knows I ‘m a-comin’, and she always
hears my click on the gate-latch, and is waitin’ for me.’

“It came to be well understood throughout the county.

“‘I believe you are hen-pecked,’ said a man to him one night.

“‘I believe I am, George,’ laughed Hallo-way, ‘and by Jings! I like it,
too.’

“It was impossible to take offence at him, he was so good-natured. He
would get out of his bed in the middle of the night, hitch up his horse
and pull his bitterest enemy out of the mud. He had on an occasion
ridden all night through a blizzard to get a doctor for the wife of
a negro neighbor in a cabin near by who was suddenly taken ill. When
someone expressed admiration for it, especially as it was known that the
man had not long before been abusing Halloway to the provost-marshal,
who at that time was in supreme command, he said:

“‘Well, what ‘s that got to do with it? Wa ‘n ‘t the man ‘s wife sick?
I don’t deserve no credit, though; if I had n’t gone, my wife would n’
‘a’ let me come in her house.’

“He was an outspoken man, too, not afraid of the devil, and when he
believed a thing he spoke it, no matter whom it hit. In this way John
had been in trouble several times while we were under ‘gun-rule’;
and this, together with his personal character, had given him great
influence in the county, and made him a power. He was one of my most
ardent friends and supporters, and to him, perhaps, more than to any
other two men in the county, I owed my position.

“Absalom Turnell’s rancorous speeches had stirred all the county, and
the apprehension of the outbreak his violence was in danger of
bringing might have caused trouble but for John Halloway’s coolness and
level-headedness. John offered to go around and follow Absalom up at his
meetings. He could ‘spike his guns,’ he said.

“Some of his friends wanted to go with him. ‘You ‘d better not try
that,’ they argued. That fellow, Ab. Turnell ‘s got it in for you.’ But
he said no. The only condition on which he would go was that he should
go alone.

“‘They ain’t any of ‘em going to trouble me. I know ‘em all and I git
along with ‘em first rate. I don’t know as I know this fellow Ab.; he ‘s
sort o’ grown out o’ my recollection; but I want to see. He knows me, I
know. I got my hand on him once when he was a boy--about my age, and he
ain’t forgot that, I know. He was a blusterer; but he did n ‘t have real
grit. He won’t say nothin’ to my face. But I must go alone. You all are
too flighty.’

“So Halloway went alone and followed Ab. up at his ‘camp-fires,’ and if
report was true his mere presence served to curb Ab.’s fury, and take
the fire out of his harangues. Even the negroes got to laughing and
talking about it ‘Ab. was jest like a dog when a man faced him,’ they
said; ‘he could n’ look him in the eye.’

“The night before the election there was a meeting at one of the worst
places in the county, a country store at a point known as Burley’s Fork,
and Halloway went there, alone--and for the first time in the canvass
thought it necessary to interfere. Absalom, stung by the taunts of
some of his friends, and having stimulated himself with mean whiskey,
launched out in a furious tirade against the whites generally, and me
in particular; and called on the negroes to go to the polls next day
prepared to ‘wade in blood to their lips.’ For himself, he said, he had
‘drunk blood’ before, both of white men and women, and he meant to drink
it again. He whipped out and flourished a pistol in one hand and a knife
in the other.

“His language exceeded belief, and the negroes, excited by his violence,
were showing the effect on their emotions of his wild declamation, and
were beginning to respond with shouts and cries when Halloway rose and
walked forward. Absalom turned and started to meet him, yelling his fury
and threats, and the audience were rising to their feet when they were
stopped. It was described to me afterward.

“Halloway was in the midst of a powder magazine, absolutely alone,
a single spark would have blown him to atoms and might have caused a
catastrophe which would have brought untold evil. But he was as calm as
a May morning. He walked through them, the man who told me said, as if
he did not know there was a soul in a hundred miles of him, and as if
Absalom were only something to be swept aside.

“‘He wa’ n’t exac’ly laughin’, or even smilin’, said my informant, ‘but
he jest looked easy in his mine.’

“They were all waiting, he said, expecting Absalom to tear him to pieces
on the spot; but as Halloway advanced, Absalom faltered and stopped. He
could not stand his calm eye.

“‘It was jest like a dog givin’ way before a man who ain’t afraid of
him,’ my man said. ‘He breshed Absalom aside as if he had been a fly,
and began to talk to us, and I never heard such a speech.’

“I got there just after it happened; for some report of what Absalom
intended to do had reached me that night and I rode over hastily,
fearing that I might arrive too late. When, however, I arrived at the
place everything was quiet, Absalom had disappeared. Unable to face
his downfall, he had gone off, taking old Joel with him. The tide of
excitement had changed and the negroes, relieved at the relaxing of the
tension, were laughing among themselves at their champion’s defeat and
disavowing any sympathy with his violence. They were all friendly with
Halloway.

“‘Dat man wa’ n’ nothin’ but a’ outside nigger, nohow,’ they said. ‘And
he always was more mouth then anything else,’ etc.

“‘Good L--d! He say he want to drink blood!’ declared one man to
another, evidently for us to hear, as we mounted our horses.

“‘Drink _whiskey!_’ replied the other, dryly, and there was a laugh of
derision.

“I rode home with Halloway.

“I shall never forget his serenity. As we passed along, the negroes were
lining the roads on their way homeward, and were shouting and laughing
among themselves; and the greetings they gave us as we passed were
as civil and good-humored as if no unpleasantness had ever existed. A
little after we set out, one man, who had been walking very fast just
ahead of us, and had been keeping in advance all the time, came close
to Halloway’s stirrup and said something to him in an undertone. All I
caught was, layin’ up something against him.’

“‘That ‘s all right, Dick; let him lay it up, and keep it laid up,’
Halloway laughed.

“‘Dat ‘s a bad feller!’ the negro insisted, uneasily, his voice kept in
an undertone. ‘You got to watch him. I’se knowed him from a boy.’

“He added something else in a whisper which I did not catch.

“‘All right; certainly not! Much obliged to you, Dick. I ‘ll keep my
eyes open. Goodnight.’

“‘Good-night, gent’men’; and the negro fell back and began to talk with
the nearest of his companions effusively.

“‘Who is that?’ I asked, for the man had kept his hat over his eyes.

“‘That ‘s Dick Winchester. You remember that old fellow ‘t used to
belong to old Mr. Eaton--lived down in the pines back o’ me, on the
creek ‘t runs near my place. His wife died the year of the big snow.’

“It was not necessary for him to explain further. I remembered the negro
for whom Hal-loway had ridden through the storm that night.

“I asked Halloway somewhat irrelevantly, if he carried a pistol. He said
no, he had never done so.

“‘Fact is, I ‘m afraid of killin’ somebody. And I don’t want to do that,
I know. Never could bear to shoot my gun even durin’ o’ the war, though
I shot her ‘bout as often as any of ‘em, I reckon--always used to shut
my eyes right tight whenever I pulled the trigger. I reckon I was a
mighty pore soldier,’ he laughed. I had heard that he was one of the
best in the army.

“‘Besides, I always feel sort o’ cowardly if I ‘ve got a pistol on.
Looks like I was afraid of somebody--an’ I ain’t. I ‘ve noticed if two
fellows have pistols on and git to fightin’, mighty apt to one git hurt,
maybe both. Sort o’ like two dogs growling--long as don’t but one of ‘em
growl it’s all right. If don’t but one have a pistol, t’ other feller
always has the advantage and sort o’ comes out top, while the man with
the pistol looks mean.’

“I remember how he looked in the dim moonlight as he drawled his quaint
philosophy.

“‘I ‘m a man o’ peace, Mr. Johnny, and I learnt that from your mother--I
learnt a heap o’ things from her,’ he added, presently, after a little
period of reflection. ‘She was the lady as used always to have a kind
word for me when I was a boy. That ‘s a heap to a boy. I used to think
she was an angel. You think it ‘s _you_ I’m a fightin’ for in this
canvass? ‘T ain’t. I like you well enough, but I ain’t never forgot
your mother, and her kindness to my old people durin’ the war when I
was away. She give me this handkerchief for a weddin’ present when I
was married after the war--said ‘t was all she had to give, and my wife
thinks the world and all of it; won’t let me have it ‘cept as a favor;
but this mornin’ she told me to take it--said ‘twould bring me luck.’ He
took a big bandana out of his pocket and held it up in the moonlight. I
remembered it as one of my father’s.

“‘She ‘ll make me give it up to-morrow night when I git home,’ he
chuckled.

“We had turned into a road through the plantations, and had just come to
the fork where Halloway’s road turned off toward his place.

“‘I lays a heap to your mother’s door--purty much all this, I reckon.’
His eye swept the moon-bathed scene before him. ‘But for her I might n’t
‘a got _her_. And ain’t a’ man in the world got a happier home, or as
good a wife.’ He waved his hand toward the little homestead that was
sleeping in the moonlight on the slope the other side of the stream, a
picture of peace.

“His path went down a little slope, and mine kept along the side of the
hill until it entered the woods. A great sycamore tree grew right in
the fork, with its long, hoary arms extending over both roads, making a
broad mass of shadow in the white moonlight.

“The next day was the day of election. Hal-loway was at one poll and I
was at another; so I did not see him that day. But he sent me word that
evening that he had carried his poll, and I rode home knowing that we
should have peace.

“I was awakened next morning by the news that both Halloway and his
wife had been murdered the night before. I at once galloped over to his
place, and was one of the first to get there. It was a horrible sight.
Halloway had evidently been waylaid and killed by a blow of an axe just
as he was entering his yard gate, and then the door of the house had
been broken open and his wife had been killed, after which Halloway ‘s
body had been dragged into the house, and the house had been fired with
the intention of making it appear that the house had burned by accident.
But by one of those inscrutable fatalities, the fire, after burning half
of two walls, had gone out.

“It was a terrible sight, and the room looked like a shambles. Halloway
had plainly been caught unawares while leaning over his gate. The back
of his head had been crushed in with the eye of an axe, and he had
died instantly. The pleasant thought which was in his mind at the
instant--perhaps, of the greeting that always awaited him on the click
of his latch; perhaps, of his success that day; perhaps, of my mother’s
kindness to him when he was a boy--was yet on his face, stamped there
indelibly by the blow that killed him. There he lay, face upward, as the
murderer had thrown him after bringing him in, stretched out his full
length on the floor, with his quiet face upturned! looking in that
throng of excited, awe-stricken men, just what he had said he was: a
man of peace. His wife, on the other hand, wore a terrified look on her
face. There had been a terrible struggle. She had lived to taste the
bitterness of death, before it took her.”

Stokeman, with a little shiver, put his hand over his eyes as though to
shut out the vision that recurred to him. After a long breath he began
again.

“In a short time there was a great crowd there, white and black. The
general mind flew at once to Absalom Turnell. The negroes present were
as earnest in their denunciation as the whites; perhaps, more so, for
the whites were past threatening. I knew from the grim-ness that trouble
was brewing, and I felt that if Absalom were caught and any evidence
were found on him, no power on earth could save him. A party rode off
in search of him, and went to old Joel’s house. Neither Absalom nor Joel
were there; they had not been home since the election, one of the women
said.

“As a law officer of the county I was to a certain extent in charge at
Halloway’s and in looking around for all the clews to be found, I came
on a splinter of ‘light-wood’ not as large or as long as one’s little
finger, stuck in a crack in the floor near the bed: a piece of a stick
of ‘fat-pine,’ such as negroes often carry about, and use as tapers. One
end had been burned; but the other end was clean and was jagged just as
it had been broken off. There was a small scorched place on the planks
on either side, and it was evident that this was one of the splinters
that had been used in firing the house. I called a couple of the
coolest, most level-headed men present and quietly showed them the spot,
and they took the splinter out and I put it in my pocket.

“By one of those fortuitous chances which so often happen in every
lawyer’s experience, and appear inexplicable, Old Joel Turnell walked
up to the house just as we came out. He was as sympathetic as possible,
appeared outraged at the crime, professed the highest regard for
Halloway, and the deepest sorrow at his death. The sentiment of the
crowd was rather one of sympathy with him, that he should have such a
son as Absalom.

“I took the old man aside to have a talk with him, to find out where his
son was and where he had been the night before. He was equally vehement
in his declarations of his son’s innocence, and of professions of regard
for Halloway. And suddenly to my astonishment he declared that his son
had spent the night with him and had gone away after sunrise.

“Then happened one of those fatuous things that have led to the
detection of so many negroes and can almost be counted on in their
prosecution. Joel took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his
face, and as he did so I recognized the very handkerchief Halloway had
shown me the night before. With the handkerchief, Joel drew out several
splinters of light-wood, one of which had been broken off from a longer
piece. I picked it up and it fitted exactly into the piece that had been
stuck in the crack in the floor. At first, I could scarcely believe
my own senses. Of course, it became my duty to have Joel arrested
immediately. But I was afraid to have it done there, the crowd was
so deeply incensed. So I called the two men to whom I had shown the
light-wood splinter, told them the story, and they promised to get him
away and arrest him quietly and take him safely to jail, which they did.

“Even then we did not exactly believe that the old man had any active
complicity in the crime, and I was blamed for arresting the innocent old
father and letting the guilty son escape. The son, however, was arrested
shortly afterward.

“The circumstances from which the crime arose gave the case something
of a political aspect, and the prisoners had the best counsel to be
procured, both at our local bar and in the capital. The evidence was
almost entirely circumstantial, and when I came to work it up I found,
as often occurs, that although the case was plain enough on the outside,
there were many difficulties in the way of fitting all the circumstances
to prove the guilt of the accused and to make out every link in the
chain. Particularly was this so in the prosecution of the young man,
who was supposed to be the chief criminal, and in whose case there was a
strong effort to prove an alibi.

“As I worked, I found to my surprise that the guilt of the old man,
though based wholly on circumstantial evidence, was established more
clearly than that of his son--not indeed, as to the murders, but as to
the arson, which served just as well to convict on. The handkerchief,
which Joel had not been able to resist the temptation to steal, and the
splinter of light-wood in his pocket, which fitted exactly into that
found in the house, together with other circumstances, proved his guilt
conclusively. But although there was an equal moral certainty of the
guilt of the young man, it was not so easy to establish it by law.

“Old Dick Winchester was found dead one morning and the alibi was almost
completely proved, and only failed by the incredibility of the witnesses
for the defence. Old Joel persistently declared that Absalom was
innocent, and but for a confession by Absalom of certain facts intended
to shift the suspicion from himself to his father, I do not know how his
case might have turned out.

“I believed him to be the instigator as well as the perpetrator of the
crime.

“I threw myself into the contest, and prosecuted with all the vigor I
was capable of. And I finally secured the conviction of both men. But
it was after a hard fight. They were the only instances in which,
representing the Commonwealth, I was ever conscious of strong personal
feeling, and of a sense of personal triumph. The memory of my last ride
with Hal-loway, and of the things he had said to me; the circumstances
under which he and his wife were killed; the knowledge that in some sort
it was on my account; and the bitter attacks made on me personally;(for
in some quarters I was depicted as a bloodthirsty ruffian, and it
was charged that I was for political reasons prosecuting men whom I
personally knew to be innocent), all combined to spur me to my utmost
effort. And when the verdicts were rendered, I was conscious of a sense
of personal triumph so fierce as to shock me.

“Not that I did not absolutely believe in the guilt of both prisoners;
for I considered that I had demonstrated it, and so did the jurors who
tried them.

“The day of execution was set. An appeal was at once taken in both cases
and a stay was granted, and I had to sustain the verdicts in the upper
court. The fact that the evidence was entirely circumstantial had
aroused great interest, and every lawyer in the State had his theory.
The upper court affirmed in both cases and appeals were taken to the
highest court, and again stay of execution was granted.

“The prisoners’ counsel had moved to have the prisoners transferred to
another county, which I opposed. I was sure that the people of my county
would observe the law. They had resisted the first fierce impulse,
and were now waiting patiently for justice to take its course. Months
passed, and the stay of execution had to be renewed. The road to
Halloway’s grew up and I understood that the house had fallen in,
though I never went that way again. Still the court hung fire as to its
conclusion.

“The day set for the execution approached for the third time without the
court having rendered its decision.

“On the day before that set for the execution, the court gave its
decision. It refused to interfere in the case of old Joel, but reversed
and set aside the verdict in that of the younger man. Of a series
of over one hundred bills of exception taken by his counsel as a
‘drag-net,’ one held; and owing to the admission of a single question
by a juror, the judgment was set aside in Absalom’s case and a new trial
was ordered.

“Being anxious lest the excitement might increase, I felt it my duty to
stay at the county-seat that night, and as I could not sleep I spent the
time going over the records of the two cases; which, like most causes,
developed new points every time they were read.

“Everything was perfectly quiet all night, though the village was
filling up with people from the country to see the execution, which at
that time was still public. I determined next morning to go to my home
in the country and get a good rest, of which I began to feel the need.
I was detained, however, and it was well along in the forenoon before I
mounted my horse and rode slowly out of town through a back street. The
lane kept away from the main road except at one point just outside of
town, where it crossed it at right angles.

“It was a beautiful spring day--a day in which it is a pleasure merely
to live, and as I rode along through the quiet lane under the leafy
trees I could not help my mind wandering and dwelling on the things
that were happening. I am not sure, indeed, that I was not dozing; for I
reached the highway without knowing just where I was.

“I was recalled to myself by a rush of boys up the street before
me, with a crowd streaming along behind them. It was the head of the
procession. The sheriff and his men were riding, with set faces, in
front and on both sides of a slowly moving vehicle; a common horse-cart
in which in the midst of his guards, and dressed in his Sunday clothes,
with a clean white shirt on, seated on his pine coffin, was old Joel. I
unconsciously gazed at him, and at the instant he looked up and saw me.
Our eyes met as naturally as if he had expected to find me there, and
he gave me as natural and as friendly a bow--not a particle reproachful;
but a little timid, as though he did not quite know whether I would
speak to him.

“It gave me a tremendous shock. I had a sudden sinking of the heart, and
nearly fell from my horse.

“I turned and rode away; but I could not shake off the feeling. I tried
to reassure myself with the reflection that he had committed a terrible
crime. It did not compose me. What insisted on coming to my mind was the
eagerness with which I had prosecuted him and the joy I had felt at my
success.

“Of course, I know now it was simply that I was overworked and needed
rest; but at that time the trouble was serious.

“It haunted me all day, and that night I could not sleep. For many days
afterwards, it clung to me, and I found myself unable to forget it, or
to sleep as I had been used to do.

“The new trial of Absalom came on in time, and the fight was had all
over again. It was longer than before, as every man in our county had an
opinion, and a jury had to be brought from another county. But again the
verdict was the same. And again an appeal was taken; was refused by
the next higher court; and allowed by the highest; this time because a
talesman had said he had expressed an opinion, but had not formed one.
In time the appeal was heard once more, and after much delay, due to
the number of cases on the docket and the immense labor of studying
carefully so huge a record, it was decided. It was again reversed, on
the technicality mentioned, and a new trial was ordered.

“That same day the court adjourned for the term.

“Having a bed-room adjoining my office, I spent that night in town. I
did not go to sleep until late, and had not been asleep long when I was
awakened by the continual repetition of a monotonous sound. At first I
thought I was dreaming, but as I aroused it came to me distinctly: the
sound of blows in the distance struck regularly. I awaked fully. The
noise was in the direction of the jail. I dressed hastily and went down
on the street. I stepped into the arms of a half-dozen masked men who
quietly laid me on my back, blindfolded me and bound me so that I could
not move. I threatened and struggled; but to no purpose, and finally
gave it up and tried expostulation. They told me that they intended no
harm to me; but that I was their prisoner and they meant to keep me.
They had come for their man, they said, and they meant to have him. They
were perfectly quiet and acted with the precision of old soldiers.

“All the time I could hear the blows at the jail as the mob pounded the
iron door with sledges, and now and then a shout or cry from within.

“The blows were on the inner door, for the mob had quickly gained access
to the outer corridor. They had come prepared and, stout as the door
was, it could not resist long. Then one great roar went up and the blows
ceased suddenly, and then one cry.

“In a little while I heard the regular tramp of men, and in a few
minutes the column came up the street, marching like soldiers. There
must have been five hundred of them. The prisoner was in the midst,
bare-headed and walking between two mounted men, and was moaning and
pleading and cursing by turns.

“I asked my captors if I might speak, and they gave me ten minutes. I
stood up on the top step of the house, and for a few minutes I made what
I consider to have been the best speech I ever made or shall make. I
told them in closing that I should use all my powers to find out who
they were, and if I could do so I should prosecute them, everyone, and
try and have them hanged for murder.

“They heard me patiently, but without a word, and when I was through,
one of the leaders made a short reply. They agreed with me about the
law; but they felt that the way it was being used was such as to cause
a failure of justice. They had waited patiently, and were apparently no
nearer seeing justice executed than in the beginning. So they proposed
to take the law into their own hands. The remedy was, to do away with
all but proper defences and execute the law without unreasonable delay.

“It was the first mob I had ever seen, and I experienced a sensation
of utter powerlessness and insignificance; just as in a storm at sea,
a hurricane, or a conflagration. The individual disappeared before the
irresistible force.

“An order was given and the column moved on silently.

“A question arose among my guards as to what should be done with me.

“They wished to pledge me to return to my rooms and take no steps until
morning, but I would give no pledges. So they took me along with them.

“From the time they started there was not a word except the orders
of the leader and his lieutenants and the occasional outcry of the
prisoner, who prayed and cursed by turns.

“They passed out of the village and turned in at Halloway’s place.

“Here the prisoner made his last struggle. The idea of being taken to
Halloway’s place appeared to terrify him to desperation. He might as
well have struggled against the powers of the Infinite. He said he would
confess everything if they would not take him there. They said they did
not want his confession. He gave up, and from this time was quiet; and
he soon began to croon a sort of hymn.

“The procession stopped at the big sycamore under which I had last
parted from Halloway.

“I asked leave to speak again; but they said no. They asked the prisoner
if he wanted to say anything. He said he wanted something to eat. The
leader said he should have it; that it should never be said that any
man--even he--had asked in vain for food in that county.

“Out of a haversack food was produced in plenty, and while the crowd
waited, amidst profound silence the prisoner squatted down and ate up
the entire plateful.

“Then the leader said he had just five minutes more to live and he had
better pray.

“He began a sort of wild incoherent ramble; confessed that he had
murdered Halloway and his wife, but laid the chief blame on his father,
and begged them to tell his friends to meet him in heaven.

“I asked leave to go, and it was given me on condition that I would not
return for twenty minutes. This I agreed to.

“I went to my home and aroused someone, and we returned. It was not much
more than a half-hour since I had left, but the place was deserted. It
was all as silent as the grave. There was no living creature there.
Only under the great sycamore, from one of its long, pale branches that
stretched across the road, hung that dead thing with the toes turned a
little in, just out of our reach, turning and swaying a little in the
night wind.

“We had to climb to the limb to cut the body down.

“The outside newspapers made a good deal of the affair. I was charged
with indifference, with cowardice, with venality. Some journals even
declared that I had instigated the lynching and participated in it, and
said that I ought to be hanged.

“I did not mind this much. It buoyed me up, and I went on with my work
without stopping for a rest, as I had intended to do.

“I kept my word and ransacked the county for evidence against the
lynchers. Many knew nothing about the matter; others pleaded their
privilege and refused to testify on the ground of self-crimination.

“The election came on again, and almost before I knew it I was in the
midst of the canvass.

“I held that election would be an indorsement of me, and defeat would be
a censure. After all, it is the indorsement of those about our own home
that we desire.

“The night before the election I spoke to a crowd at Burley’s Fork. The
place had changed since Halloway checked Absalom Turnell there. A large
crowd was in attendance. I paid Halloway my personal tribute that night,
and it met with a deep response. I denounced the lynching. There was a
dead silence. I was sure that in my audience were many of the men who
had been in the mob that night.

“When I rode home quite a company started with me.

“The moon, which was on the wane, was, I remember, just rising as we set
ont It was a soft night, rather cloudy, but not dark, for the sad moon
shone a little now and then, looking wasted and red. The other men
dropped off from time to time as we came to the several roads that led
to their homes and at last I was riding alone. I was dead tired and
after I was left by my companions sat loungingly on my horse. My mind
ran on the last canvass and the strange tragedy that had ended it, with
its train of consequences. I was not aware when my horse turned off from
the main road into the by-lane that led through the Halloway place to
my own home. My horse was the same I had ridden that night. I awaked
suddenly to a realization of where I was, and regretted for a second
that I had come by that road. The next moment I put the thought away
as a piece of cowardice and rode on, my mind perfectly easy. My horse
presently broke into a canter and I took a train of thought distinctly
pleasant. I mention this to account for my inability to explain what
followed. I was thinking of old times and of a holiday I had once spent
at Halloway ‘s when old Joel came through on his way to his wife’s
house. It was the first time I remembered ever seeing Joel. I was
suddenly conscious of something white moving on the road before me. At
the same second my horse suddenly wheeled with such violence as to break
my stirrup-leather and almost throw me over his neck. I pulled him up
and turned him back, and there before me, coming along the unused road
up the hill from Hallo way’s, was old Joel, sitting in a cart, looking
at me, and bowing to me politely just as he had done that morning on his
way to the gallows; while dangling from the white limb of the sycamore,
swaying softly in the wind, hung the corpse of Absalom. At first I
thought it was an illusion and I rubbed my eyes. But there they were.
Then I thought it was a delusion; and I reined in my horse and reasoned
about it. But it was not; for I saw both men as plainly as I saw my
stirrup-leather lying there in the middle of the road, and in the same
way. My horse saw them too, and was so terrified that I could not keep
him headed to them. Again and again I pulled him around and looked at
the men and tried to reason about them; but every time I looked there
they were, and my horse snorted and wheeled in terror. I could see the
clothes they wore: the clean, white shirt and neat Sunday suit old Joel
had on, and the striped, hickory shirt, torn on the shoulders, and the
gray trousers that the lynched man wore--I could see the white rope
wrapped around the limb and hanging down, and the knot at his throat; I
remembered them perfectly. I could not get near the cart, for the road
down to Halloway’s, on which it moved steadily without ever approaching,
was stopped up. But I rode right under the limb on which the other man
hung, and there he was just above my head. I reasoned with myself, but
in vain. There he still hung silent and limp, swinging gently in the
night wind and turning a little back and forth at the end of the white
rope.

“In sheer determination to fight it through I got off my horse and
picked up my stirrup. He was trembling like a leaf. I remounted and rode
back to the spot and looked again, confident that the spectres would now
have disappeared. But there they were, old Joel, sitting in his cart,
bowing to me civilly with timid, sad, friendly eyes, as much alive as I
was, and the dead man, with his limp head and arms and his toes turned
in, hanging in mid-air.

“I rode up under the dangling body and cut at it with my switch. At the
motion my horse bolted. He ran fully a mile before I could pursue him
in.

“The next morning I went to my stable to get my horse to ride to the
polls. The man a the stable said:

“‘He ain’t fit to take out, sir. You must ‘a gi’n him a mighty hard ride
last night--he won’t tetch a moufful; he ‘s been in a cold sweats all
night.’

“Sure enough, he looked it.

“I took another horse and rode out by Halloway’s to see the place by
daylight.

“It was quiet enough now. The sycamore shaded the grass-grown track, and
a branch, twisted and broken by some storm, hung by a strip of bark from
the big bough that stretched across the road above my head, swaying,
with limp leaves, a little in the wind; a dense dogwood bush in full
bloom among the young pines, filled a fence-corner down the disused road
where old Joel had bowed to me from his phantom cart the night before.
But it was hard to believe that these were the things which had created
such impressions on my mind--as hard to believe as that the quiet
cottage peering out from amid the mass of peach-bloom on the other slope
was one hour the home of such happiness, and the next the scene of such
a tragedy.” Once more he put his hand suddenly before his face as though
to shut out something from his vision. “Yes, I have seen apparitions,”
 he said, thoughtfully, “but I have seen what was worse.”





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