Part 5 out of 6
"Gentlemen, this meeting will come to order."
Which they was orderly enough before that,
but they all took off their hats when he rapped,
like in a court room or a church, and most of 'em
They set down in the school kids' seats, or on top
of the desks, and their legs stuck out into the aisles,
and they looked uncomfortable and awkward. But
they looked earnest and they looked sollum, too,
and they wasn't no joking nor skylarking going
on, nor no kind of rowdyness, neither. These
here men wasn't toughs, by any manner of means,
but the most part of 'em respectable farmers. They
had a look of meaning business.
"Gentlemen," says the feller who had rapped,
"who will you have for your chairman?"
"I reckon you'll do, Will," says another feller
to the raw-boned man, which seemed to satisfy
him. But he made 'em vote on it before he took
"Now then," says Will, "the accused must have
"Will," says another feller, very hasty, "what's
the use of all this fuss an' feathers? You know as
well as I do there's nothing legal about this. It's
only necessary. For my part--"
"Buck Hightower," says Will, pounding on the
desk, "you will please come to order." Which
Buck done it.
"Now," says the chairman, turning toward
Doctor Kirby, who had been setting there looking
thoughtful from one man to another, like he was
sizing each one up, "now I must explain to the
chief defendant that we don't intend to lynch him."
He stopped a second on that word LYNCH as if
to let it soak in. The doctor, he bowed toward
him very cool and ceremonious, and says, mocking
"You reassure me, Mister--Mister--What is
your name?" He said it in a way that would of
made a saint mad.
"My name ain't any difference," says Will, trying
not to show he was nettled.
"You are quite right," says the doctor, looking
Will up and down from head to foot, very slow and
insulting, "it's of no consequence in the world."
Will, he flushed up, but he makes himself steady
and cool, and he goes on with his little speech:
"There is to be no lynching here to-night. There
is to be a trial, and, if necessary, an execution."
"Would it be asking too much," says the
doctor very polite, "if I were to inquire who is
to be tried, and before what court, and upon what
There was a clearing of throats and a shuffling of
feet fur a minute. One old deaf feller, with a red
nose, who had his hand behind his ear and was
leaning forward so as not to miss a breath of what
any one said, ast his neighbour in a loud whisper,
"How?" Then an undersized little feller, who
wasn't a farmer by his clothes, got up and moved
toward the platform. He had a bulging-out fore-
head, and thin lips, and a quick, nervous way
"You are to be tried," he says to the doctor,
speaking in a kind of shrill sing-song that cut your
nerves in that room full of bottled-up excitement
like a locust on a hot day. "You are to be tried before
this self-constituted court of Caucasian citizens--
Anglo-Saxons, sir, every man of them, whose for-
bears were at Runnymede! The charge against
you is stirring up the negroes of this community
to the point of revolt. You are accused, sir, of
representing yourself to them as some kind of a
Moses. You are arraigned here for endangering
the peace of the county and the supremacy of the
Caucasian race by inspiring in the negroes the hope
Old Daddy Withers had been setting back by
the door. I seen him get up and slip out. It didn't
look to me to be any place fur a gentle old poet.
While that little feller was making that charge
you could feel the air getting tingly, like it does
before a rain storm.
Some fellers started to clap their hands like at a
political rally and to say, "Go it, Billy!" "That's
right, Harden!" Which I found out later Billy
Harden was in the state legislature, and quite a
speaker, and knowed it. Will, the chairman, he
pounded down the applause, and then he says to
the doctor, pointing to Billy Harden:
"No man shall say of us that we did not give you
a fair trial and a square deal. I'm goin' to appoint
this gentleman as your counsel, and I'm goin' to
give you a reasonable time to talk with him in pri-
vate and prepare your case. He is the ablest
lawyer in southwest Georgia and the brightest son
of Watson County."
The doctor looks kind of lazy and Bill Harden,
and back agin at Will, the chairman, and smiles
out of the corner of his mouth. Then he says,
sort of taking in the rest of the crowd with his
remark, like them two standing there pay-
ing each other compliments wasn't nothing but
"I hope neither of you will take it too much to
heart if I'm not impressed by your sense of jus-
tice--or your friend's ability."
"Then," said Will, "I take it that you intend to
act as your own counsel?"
"You may take it," says the doctor, rousing of
himself up, "you may take it--from me--that
I refuse to recognize you and your crowd as a court
of any kind; that I know nothing of the silly accusa-
tions against me; that I find no reason at all why I
should take the trouble of making a defence before
an armed mob that can only mean one of two things."
"One of two things?" says Will.
"Yes," says the doctor, very quiet, but raising
his voice a little and looking him hard in the eyes.
"You and your gang can mean only one of two
things. Either a bad joke, or else--"
And he stopped a second, leaning forward in his
chair, with the look of half raising out of it, so as
to bring out the word very decided--
The way he done it left that there word hanging
in the room, so you could almost see it and almost
feel it there, like it was a thing that had to be faced
and looked at and took into account. They all
felt it that-a-way, too; fur they wasn't a sound fur
a minute. Then Will says:
"We don't plan murder, and you'll find this
ain't a joke. And since you refuse to accept
Jest then Buck Hightower interrupts him by yell-
ing out, "I make a motion Billy Harden be prosecut-
ing attorney, then. Let's hurry this thing along!"
And several started to applaud, and call fur Billy
Harden to prosecute. But Will, he pounded down
the applause agin, and says:
"I was about to suggest that Mr. Harden might
be prevailed upon to accept that task."
"Yes," says the doctor, very gentle and easy.
"Quite so! I fancied myself that Mr. Harden came
along with the idea of making a speech either for
or against." And he grinned at Billy Harden in a
way that seemed to make him wild, though he tried
not to show it. Somehow the doctor seemed to be
all keyed up, instead of scared, like a feller that's
had jest enough to drink to give him a fighting edge.
"Mr. Chairman," says Billy Harden, flushing
up and stuttering jest a little, "I b-beg leave to
"What," says the doctor, sort of playing with
Billy with his eyes and grin, and turning like to
let the whole crowd in on the joke, "DECLINE? The
eminent gentleman declines! And he is going to
sit down, too, with all that speech bottled up in
him! O Demosthenes!" he says, "you have lost
your pebble in front of all Greece."
Several grinned at Billy Harden as he set down,
and three or four laughed outright. I guess about
half of them there knowed him fur a wind bag, and
some wasn't sorry to see him joshed. But I seen
what the doctor was trying to do. He knowed he
was in an awful tight place, and he was feeling that
crowd's pulse, so to speak. He had been talking
to crowds fur twenty years, and he knowed the
kind of sudden turns they will take, and how to
take advantage of 'em. He was planning and
figgering in his mind all the time jest what side to
ketch 'em on, and how to split up the one, solid
crowd-mind into different minds. But the little
bit of a laugh he turned against Billy Harden was
only on the surface, like a straw floating on a whirl-
pool. These men was here fur business.
Buck Hightower jumps up and says:
"Will, I'm getting tired of this court foolishness.
The question is, Does this man come into this
county and do what he has done and get out again?
We know all about him. He sneaked in here and
gave out he was here to turn the niggers white--
that he was some kind of a new-fangled Jesus sent
especially to niggers, which is blasphemy in itself--
and he's got 'em stirred up. They're boilin' and
festerin' with notions of equality till we're lucky
if we don't have to lynch a dozen of 'em, like they
did in Atlanta last summer, to get 'em back into
their places again. Do we save ourselves more
trouble by stringing him up as a warning to the
negroes? Or do we invite trouble by turning him
loose? Which? All it needs is a vote."
And he set down agin. You could see he had
made a hit with the boys. They was a kind of a
growl rolled around the room. The feelings in
that place was getting stronger and stronger. I
was scared, but trying not to show it. My fingers
kept feeling around in my pocket fur something
that wasn't there. But my brain couldn't remember
what my fingers was feeling fur. Then it come on
me sudden it was a buckeye I picked up in the woods
in Indiany one day, and I had lost it. I ain't super-
stitious about buckeyes or horse-shoes, but remem-
bering I had lost it somehow made me feel worse.
But Doctor Kirby had a good holt on himself; his
face was a bit redder'n usual, and his eyes was spark-
ling, and he was both eager and watchful. When
Buck Hightower sets down the chairman clears his
throat like he is going to speak. But--
"Just a moment," says Doctor Kirby, getting
on his feet, and taking a step toward the chairman.
And the way he stopped and stood made everybody
look at him. Then he went on:
"Once more," he says, "I call the attention of
every man present to the fact that what the last
speaker proposes is--"
And then he let 'em have that word agin, full in
their faces, to think about--
"MURDER! Merely murder."
He was bound they shouldn't get away from that
word and what it stood fur. And every man there
DID think, too, fur they was another little pause.
And not one of 'em looked at another one fur a
minute. Doctor Kirby leaned forward from the
platform, running his eyes over the crowd, and jest
natcherally shoved that word into the room so hard
with his mind that every mind there had to take it in.
But as he held 'em to it they come a bang from
one of the windows. It broke the charm. Fur
everybody jumped. I jumped myself. When the
end of the world comes and the earth busts in the
middle, it won't sound no louder than that bang
did. It was a wooden shutter. The wind was ris-
ing outside, and it flew open and whacked agin'
Then a big, heavy-set man that hadn't spoke
before riz up from one of the hind seats, like he had
heard a dare to fight, and walked slowly down
toward the front. He had a red face, which was
considerable pock-marked, and very deep-set eyes,
and a deep voice.
"Since when," he says, taking up his stand a
dozen feet or so in front of the doctor, "since when
has any civilization refused to commit murder when
murder was necessary for its protection?"
One of the top glasses of that window was out,
and with the shutter open they come a breeze through
that fluttered some strips of dirty-coloured papers,
fly-specked and dusty and spider-webbed, that
hung on strings acrost the room, jest below the
ceiling. I guess they had been left over from some
"My friend," said the pock-marked man to the
doctor--and the funny thing about it was he didn't
talk unfriendly when he said it--"the word you
insist on is just a WORD, like any other word."
They was a spider rousted out of his web by that
disturbance among the strings and papers. He
started down from above on jest one string of web,
seemingly spinning part of it out of himself as he
come, the way they do. I couldn't keep my eyes
"Murder," says the doctor, "is a thing."
"It is a WORD," says the other man, "FOR a thing.
For a thing which sometimes seems necessary.
Lynching, war, execution, murder--they are all
words for different ways of wiping out human life.
Killing sometimes seems wrong, and sometimes
right. But right or wrong, and with one word or
another tacked to it, it is DONE when a community
wants to get rid of something dangerous to it."
That there spider was a squat, ugly-looking devil,
hunched up on his string amongst all his crooked
legs. The wind would come in little puffs, and
swing him a little way toward the doctor's head,
and then toward the pock-marked man's head,
back and forth and back and forth, between them
two as they spoke. It looked to me like he was
listening to what they said and waiting fur
"Murder," says the doctor, "is murder--illegal
killing--and you can't make anything else out of
it, or talk anything else into it."
It come to me all to oncet that that ugly spider
was swinging back and forth like the pendulum on
a clock, and marking time. I wondered how much
time they was left in the world.
"It would be none the less a murder," said the
pock-marked man, "if you were to be hanged after
a trial in some county court. Society had been
obliged to deny the privilege of committing murder
to the individual and reserve it for the community.
If our communal sense says you should die, the
thing is neither better nor worse than if a sheriff
"I am not to be hanged by a sheriff," says the
doctor, very cool and steady, "because I have com-
mitted no crime. I am not to be killed by you
because you dare not, in spite of all you say, outrage
the law to that extent."
And they looked each other in the eyes so long
and hard that every one else in the schoolhouse
held their breath.
"DARE not?" says the pock-marked man. And
he reached forward slow and took that spider in
his hand, and crushed it there, and wiped his hand
along his pants leg. "Dare not? YES, BUT WE DARE.
The only question for us men here is whether we
dare to let you go free."
"Your defence of lynching," says Doctor Kirby,
"shows that you, at least, are a man who can think.
Tell me what I am accused of?"
And then the trial begun in earnest.
The doctor acted as his own lawyer, and
the pock-marked man, whose name was
Grimes, as the lawyer agin us. You could
see that crowd had made up its mind before-hand,
and was only giving us what they called a trial to
satisfy their own conscience. But the fight was be-
twixt Grimes and Doctor Kirby the hull way through.
One witness was a feller that had been in the hotel
at Cottonville the night we struck that place. We
had drunk some of his licker.
"This man admitted himself that he was here to
turn the niggers white," said the witness.
Doctor Kirby had told 'em what kind of medicine
he was selling. We both remembered it. We both
had to admit it.
The next witness was the feller that run the
tavern at Bairdstown. He had with him, fur proof,
a bottle of the stuff we had brought with us. He
told how we had went away and left it there that
Another witness told of seeing the doctor talking
in the road to that there nigger bishop. Which any
one could of seen it easy enough, fur they wasn't
nothing secret about it. We had met him by ac-
cident. But you could see it made agin us.
Another witness says he lives not fur from that
Big Bethel church. He says he has noticed the
niggers was worked up about something fur several
days. They are keeping the cause of it secret. He
went over to Big Bethel church the night before, he
said, and he listened outside one of the windows to
find out what kind of doctrine that crazy bishop was
preaching to them. They was all so worked up,
and the power was with 'em so strong, and they was
so excited they wouldn't of hearn an army march-
ing by. He had hearn the bishop deliver a message
to his flock from the Messiah. He had seen him go
wild, afterward, and preach an equality sermon.
That was the lying message the old bishop had took
to 'em, and that Sam had told us about. But how
was this feller to know it was a lie? He believed in
it, and he told it in a straight-ahead way that would
make any one see he was telling the truth as he
thought it to be.
Then they was six other witnesses. All had been
in the gang that lynched the nigger that day. That
nigger had confessed his crime before he was lynched.
He had told how the niggers had been expecting of a
Messiah fur several days, and how the doctor was
him. He had died a-preaching and a-prophesying
and thinking to the last minute maybe he was going
to get took up in a chariot of fire.
Things kept looking worse and worse fur us.
They had the story as the niggers thought it to be.
They thought the doctor had deliberately repre-
sented himself as such, instead of which the doc-
tor had refused to be represented as that there
Messiah. More than that, he had never sold a
bottle of that medicine. He had flung the idea of
selling it way behind him jest as soon as he seen
what the situation really was in the black coun-
ties. He had even despised himself fur going into
it. But the looks of things was all the other
Then the doctor give his own testimony.
"Gentlemen," he says, "it is true that I came
down here to try out that stuff in the bottle there,
and see if a market could be worked up for it. It is
also true that, after I came here and discovered
what conditions were, I decided not to sell the stuff.
I didn't sell any. About this Messiah business I
know very little more than you do. The situation
was created, and I blundered into it. I sent the
negroes word that I was not the person they ex-
pected. The bishop lied to them. That is my
But they didn't believe him. Fur it was jest
what he would of said if he had been guilty, as
they thought him. And then Grimes gets up and
"Gentlemen, I demand for this prisoner the
penalty of death.
"He has lent himself to a situation calculated to
disturb in this county the peaceful domination of the
black race by the white.
"He is a Northern man. But that is not against
him. If this were a case where leniency were possi-
ble, it should count for him, as indicating an ig-
norance of the gravity of conditions which confront
us here, every day and all the time. If he were my
own brother, I would still demand his death.
"Lest he should think my attitude dictated by
any lingering sectional prejudice, I may tell him what
you all know--you people among whom I have lived
for thirty years--that I am a Northern man myself.
"The negro who was lynched to-day might never
have committed the crime he did had not the wild,
disturbing dream of equality been stirring in his
brain. Every speech, every look, every action
which encourages that idea is a crime. In this
county, where the blacks outnumber us, we must
either rule as masters or be submerged.
"This man is still believed by the negroes to
possess some miraculous power. He is therefore
doubly dangerous. As a sharp warning to them he
must die. His death will do more toward ending
the trouble he has prepared than the death of a
"And as God is my witness, I speak and act
not through passion, but from the dictates of
He meant it, Grimes did. And when he set down
they was a hush. And then Will, the chairman,
begun to call the roll.
I never been much of a person to have bad dreams
or nightmares or things like that. But ever since
that night in that schoolhouse, if I do have a night-
mare, it takes the shape of that roll being called.
Every word was like a spade grating and gritting
in damp gravel when a grave is dug. It sounded
so to me.
"Samuel Palmour, how do you vote?" that chair-
man would say.
Samuel Palmour, or whoever it was, would hist
himself to his feet, and he would say something
He wouldn't say it joyous. He wouldn't say it
mad. He would be pale when he said it, mebby--
and mebby trembling. But he would say it like it
was a duty he had to do, that couldn't be got out
of. That there trial had lasted so long they wasn't
hot blood left in nobody jest then--only cold blood,
and determination and duty and principle.
"Buck Hightower," says the chairman, "how
do you vote?"
"Death," says Buck; "death for the man. But
say, can't we jest LICK the kid and turn him
And so it went, up one side the room and down
the other. Grimes had showed 'em all their duty.
Not but what they had intended to do it before
Grimes spoke. But he had put it in such a way they
seen it was something with even MORE principle to
it than they had thought it was before.
"Billy Harden," says the chairman, "how do you
vote?" Billy was the last of the bunch. And most
had voted fur death. Billy, he opened his mouth
and he squared himself away to orate some. But
jest as he done so, the door opened and Old Daddy
Withers stepped in. He had been gone so long I
had plumb forgot him. Right behind him was a
tall, spare feller, with black eyes and straight
"I vote," says Billy Harden, beginning of his
speech, "I vote for death. The reason upon which
But Doctor Kirby riz up and interrupted him.
"You are going to kill me," he said. He was pale
but he was quiet, and he spoke as calm and steady
as he ever done in his life. "You are going to kill
me like the crowd of sneaking cowards that you are.
And you ARE such cowards that you've talked two
hours about it, instead of doing it. And I'll tell
you why you've talked so much: because no ONE
of you alone would dare to do it, and every man of
you in the end wants to go away thinking that the
other fellow had the biggest share in it. And no
ONE of you will fire the gun or pull the rope--you'll
do it ALL TOGETHER, in a crowd, because each one will
want to tell himself he only touched the rope, or
that HIS GUN missed.
"I know you, by God!" he shouted, flushing up
into a passion--and it brought blood into their
faces, too--"I know you right down to your roots,
better than you know yourselves."
He was losing hold of himself, and roaring like a
bull and flinging out taunts that made 'em squirm.
If he wanted the thing over quick, he was taking
jest the way to warm 'em up to it. But I don't
think he was figgering on anything then, or had any
plan up his sleeve. He had made up his mind he
was going to die, and he was so mad because he
couldn't get in one good lick first that he was nigh
crazy. I looked to see him lose all sense in a minute,
and rush amongst them guns and end it in a
But jest as I figgered he was on his tiptoes fur
that, and was getting up my own sand, he throwed
a look my way. And something sobered him. He
stood there digging his finger nails into the palms
of his hands fur a minute, to get himself back. And
when he spoke he was sort of husky.
"That boy there," he says. And then he stops
and kind of chokes up. And in a minute he was
begging fur me. He tells 'em I wasn't mixed up
in nothing. He wouldn't of done it fur himself,
but he begged fur me. Nobody had paid much
attention to me from the first, except Buck High-
tower had put in a good word fur me. But some-
how the doctor had got the crowd listening to him
agin, and they all looked at me. It got next to me.
I seen by the way they was looking, and I felt it in
the air, that they was going to let me off.
But Doctor Kirby, he had always been my friend.
It made me sore fur to see him thinking I wasn't
with him. So I says:
"You better can that line of talk. They don't
get you without they get me, too. You orter know
I ain't a quitter. You give me a pain."
And the doctor and me stood and looked at each
other fur a minute. He grinned at me, and all of a
sudden we was neither one of us much giving a
whoop, fur it had come to us both at oncet what
awful good friends we was with each other.
But jest then they come a slow, easy-going
sort of a voice from the back part of the room.
That feller that had come in along with Old
Daddy Withers come sauntering down the middle
aisle, fumbling in his coat pocket, and speaking
as he come.
"I've been hearing a great deal of talk about
killing people in the last few minutes," he says.
Everybody rubbered at him.
There was something sort of careless in his
voice, like he had jest dropped in to see a
show, and it had come to him sudden that
he would enjoy himself fur a minute or two taking
part in it. But he wasn't going to get TOO worked
up about it, either, fur the show might end by mak-
ing him tired, after all.
As he come down the aisle fumbling in his coat,
he stopped and begun to slap all his pockets. Then
his face cleared, and he dived into a vest pocket.
Everybody looked like they thought he was going
to pull something important out of it. But he
didn't. All he pulled out was jest one of these here
little ordinary red books of cigarette papers. Then
he dived fur some loose tobacco, and begun to roll
one. I noticed his fingers was long and white and
slim and quick. But not excited fingers; only the
kind that seems to say as much as talking says.
He licked his cigarette, and then he sauntered
ahead, looking up. As he looked up the light fell
full on his face fur the first time. He had high
cheek bones and iron-gray hair which he wore
rather long, and very black eyes. As he lifted his
head and looked close at Doctor Kirby, a change
went over both their faces. Doctor Kirby's mouth
opened like he was going to speak. So did the other
feller's. One side of his mouth twitched into
something that was too surprised to be a grin, and
one of his black eyebrows lifted itself up at the same
time. But neither him nor Doctor Kirby spoke.
He stuck his cigarette into his mouth and turned
sideways from Doctor Kirby, like he hadn't noticed
him pertic'ler. And he turns to the chairman.
"Will," he says. And everybody listens. You
could see they all knowed him, and that they
all respected him too, by the way they was waiting
to hear what he would say to Will. But they was
all impatient and eager, too, and they wouldn't
wait very long, although now they was hushing each
other and leaning forward.
"Will," he says, very polite and quiet, "can I
trouble you for a match?"
And everybody let go their breath. Some with a
snort, like they knowed they was being trifled with,
and it made 'em sore. His eyebrows goes up agin,
like it was awful impolite in folks to snort that-a-
way, and he is surprised to hear it. And Will, he
digs fur a match and finds her and passes her over.
He lights his cigarette, and he draws a good
inhale, and he blows the smoke out like it done him
a heap of good. He sees something so interesting
in that little cloud of smoke that everybody else
looks at it, too.
"Do I understand," he says, "that some one is
going to lynch some one, or something of that sort?"
"That's about the size of it, colonel," says Will.
"Um!" he says, "What for?"
Then everybody starts to talk all at once, half of
them jumping to their feet, and making a perfect
hullabaloo of explanations you couldn't get no sense
out of. In the midst of which the colonel takes a
chair and sets down and crosses one leg over the
other, swinging the loose foot and smiling very
patient. Which Will remembers he is chairman of
that meeting and pounds fur order.
"Thank you, Will," says the colonel, like getting
order was a personal favour to him. Then Billy
Harden gets the floor, and squares away fur a long-
winded speech telling why. But Buck Hightower
jumps up impatient and says:
"We've been through all that, Billy. That man
there has been tried and found guilty, colonel, and
there's only one thing to do--string him up."
"Buck, _I_ wouldn't," says the colonel, very mild.
But that there man Grimes gets up very sober
and steady and says:
"Colonel, you don't understand." And he tells
him the hull thing as he believed it to be--why
they has voted the doctor must die, the room warm-
ing up agin as he talks, and the colonel listening
very interested. But you could see by the looks of
him that colonel wouldn't never be interested so
much in anything but himself, and his own way of
doing things. In a way he was like a feller that
enjoys having one part of himself stand aside and
watch the play-actor game another part of himself
is acting out.
"Grimes," he says, when the pock-marked man
finishes, "I wouldn't. I really wouldn't."
"Colonel," says Grimes, showing his knowledge
that they are all standing solid behind him, "WE
"Ah," says the colonel, his eyebrows going up,
and his face lighting up like he is really beginning
to enjoy himself and is glad he come, "indeed!"
"Yes," says Grimes, "WE WILL!"
"But not," says the colonel, "before we have
talked the thing over a bit, I hope?"
"There's been too much talk here now," yells
Buck Hightower, "talk, talk, till, by God, I'm sick
of it! Where's that ROPE?"
"But, listen to him--listen to the colonel!" some
one else sings out. And then they was another
hullabaloo, some yelling "no!" And the colonel, very
patient, rolls himself another smoke and lights it
from the butt of the first one. But finally they
quiets down enough so Will can put it to a vote.
Which vote goes fur the colonel to speak.
"Boys," he begins very quiet, "I wouldn't lynch
this man. In the first place it will look bad in
the newspapers, and--"
"The newspapers be d---d!" says some one.
"And in the second place," goes on the colonel,
"it would be against the law, and--"
"The law be d----d!" says Buck Hightower.
"There's a higher law!" says Grimes.
"Against the law," says the colonel, rising up
and throwing away his cigarette, and getting inter-
"I know how you feel about all this negro busi-
ness. And I feel the same way. We all know that
we must be the negros' masters. Grimes there
found that out when he came South, and the
idea pleased him so he hasn't been able to talk
about anything else since. Grimes has turned into
what the Northern newspapers think a typical
"Boys, this thing of lynching gets to be a habit.
There's been a negro lynched to-day. He's the
third in this county in five years. They all needed
killing. If the thing stopped there I wouldn't care
so much. But the habit of illegal killing grows
when it gets started.
"It's grown on you. You're fixing to lynch your
first white man now. If you do, you'll lynch an-
other easier. You'll lynch one for murder and the
next for stealing hogs and the next because he's
unpopular and the next because he happens to
dun you for a debt. And in five years life will be
as cheap in Watson County as it is in a New York
slum where they feed immigrants to the factories.
You'll all be toting guns and grudges and trying to
lynch each other.
"The place to stop the thing is where it starts.
You can't have it both ways--you've got to stand
pat on the law, or else see the law spit on right
and left, in the end, and NOBODY safe. It's
either law or--"
"But," says Grimes, "there's a higher law than
that on the statute books. There's--"
"There's a lot of flub-dub," says the colonel,
"about higher laws and unwritten laws. But we've
got high enough law written if we live up to it.
"Colonel Tom Buckner," says Buck Hightower,
"what kind of law was it when you shot Ed Howard
fifteen years ago? What--"
"You're out of order," says the chairman,
"Colonel Buckner has the floor. And I'll remind
you, Buck Hightower, that, on the occasion you drag
in, Colonel Buckner didn't do any talking about
higher laws or unwritten laws. He sent word to the
sheriff to come and get him if he dared."
"Boys," says the colonel, "I'm preaching you
higher doctrine than I've lived by, and I've made
no claim to be better or more moral than any of
you. I'm not. I'm in the same boat with all of
you, and I tell you it's up to ALL of us to stop lynch-
ings in this county--to set our faces against it.
I tell you--"
"Is that all you've got to say to us, colonel?"
The question come out of a group that had drawed
nearer together whilst the colonel was talking.
They was tired of listening to talk and arguments,
and showed it.
The colonel stopped speaking short when they
flung that question at him. His face changed.
He turned serious all over. And he let loose jest
Not very loud, but with a ring in it that sounded
like danger. And he got 'em waiting agin, and
hanging on his words.
"No!" he repeats, louder, "not all. I have this
to say to you--"
And he paused agin, pointing one long white
finger at the crowd--
"IF YOU LYNCH THIS MAN YOU MUST KILL ME FIRST!"
I couldn't get away from thinking, as he stood
there making them take that in, that they was some-
thing like a play-actor about him. But he was in
earnest, and he would play it to the end, fur he
liked the feelings it made circulate through his
frame. And they saw he was in earnest.
"You'll lynch him, will you?" he says, a kind of
passion getting into his voice fur the first time,
and his eyes glittering. "You think you will?
Well, you WON'T!
"You won't because _I_ say NOT. Do you hear?
I came here to-night to save him.
"You might string HIM up and not be called to
account for it. But how about ME?"
He took a step forward, and, looking from face to
face with a dare in his eyes, he went on:
"Is there a man among you fool enough to think
you could kill Tom Buckner and not pay for it?"
He let 'em all think of that for jest another
minute before he spoke agin. His face was as white
as a piece of paper, and his nostrils was working, but
everything else about him was quiet. He looked
the master of them all as he stood there, Colonel
Tom Buckner did--straight and splendid and
keen. And they felt the danger in him, and they
felt jest how fur he would go, now he was started.
"You didn't want to listen to me a bit ago," he
said. "Now you must. Listen and choose. You
can't kill that man unless you kill me too.
"TRY IT, IF YOU THINK YOU CAN!"
He reached over and took from the teacher's
desk the sheet of paper Will had used to check off
the name of each man and how he voted. He held
it up in front of him and every man looked at it.
"You know me," he says. "You know I do not
break my word. And I promise you that unless you
do kill me here tonight--yes, as God is my witness,
I THREATEN you--I will spend every dollar I own and
every atom of influence I possess to bring each one
of you to justice for that man's murder."
They knowed, that crowd did, that killing a man
like Colonel Buckner--a leader and a big man in
that part of the state--was a different proposition
from killing a stranger like Doctor Kirby. The
sense of what it would mean to kill Colonel Buckner
was sinking into 'em, and showing on their faces.
And no one could look at him standing there, with
his determination blazing out of him, and not under-
stand that unless they did kill him as well as Doctor
Kirby he'd do jest what he said.
"I told you," he said, not raising his voice, but
dropping it, and making it somehow come creeping
nearer to every one by doing that, "I told you the
first white man you lynched would lead to other
lynchings. Let me show you what you're up
"Kill the man and the boy here, and you must
kill me. Kill me, and you must kill Old Man
Every one turned toward the door as he men-
tioned Old Man Withers. He had never been very
far into the room.
"Oh, he's gone," said Colonel Tom, as they
turned toward the door, and then looked at each
other. "Gone home. Gone home with the name
of every man present. Don't you see you'd have
to kill Old Man Withers too, if you killed me? And
then, HIS WIFE! And then--how many more?
"Do you see it widen--that pool of blood? Do
you see it spread and spread?"
He looked down at the floor, like he really seen
it there. He had 'em going now. They showed it.
"If you shed one drop," he went on, "you must
shed more. Can't you see it--widening and deep-
ening, widening and deepening, till you're wading
knee deep in it--till it climbs to your waists--till
it climbs to your throats and chokes you?"
It was a horrible idea, the way he played that
there pool of blood and he shuddered like he felt it
climbing up himself. And they felt it. A few men
can't kill a hull, dern county and get away with it.
The way he put it that's what they was up against.
"Now," says Colonel Tom, "what man among
you wants to start it?"
Nobody moved. He waited a minute. Still
nobody moved. They all looked at him. It was
awful plain jest where they would have to begin.
It was awful plain jest what it would all end up in.
And I guess when they looked at him standing there,
so fine and straight and splendid, it jest seemed
plumb unpossible to make a move. There was a
spirit in him that couldn't be killed. Doctor Kirby
said afterward that was what come of being real
"quality," which was what Colonel Tom was--
it was that in him that licked 'em. It was the best
part of their own selves, and the best part of their
own country, speaking out of him to them, that done
it. Mebby so. Anyhow, after a minute more of
that strain, a feller by the door picks up his gun out
of the corner with a scrape, and hists it to his
shoulder and walks out. And then Colonel Tom
says to Will, with his eyebrow going up, and that
one-sided grin coming onto his face agin:
"Will, perhaps a motion to adjourn would be in
So many different kinds of feeling had been
chasing around inside of me that I had
numb spots in my emotional ornaments
and intellectual organs. The room cleared out of
everybody but Doctor Kirby and Colonel Tom and
me. But the sound of the crowd going into the road,
and their footsteps dying away, and then after
that their voices quitting, all made but very little
sense to me. I could scarcely realize that the dan-
ger was over.
I hadn't been paying much attention to Doctor
Kirby while the colonel was making that grand-
stand play of his'n, and getting away with it. Doc-
tor Kirby was setting in his chair with his head sort
of sunk on his chest. I guess he was having a hard
time himself to realize that all the danger was past.
But mebby it wasn't that--he looked like he might
really of forgot where he was fur a minute, and
might be thinking of something that had happened
a long time ago.
The colonel was leaning up agin the teacher's
desk, smoking and looking at Doctor Kirby.
Doctor Kirby turns around toward the colonel.
"You have saved my life," he says, getting up
out of his chair, like he had a notion to step over and
thank him fur it, but was somehow not quite sure
how that would be took.
The colonel looks at him silent fur a second, and
then he says, without smiling:
"Do you flatter yourself it was because I think
it worth anything?"
The doctor don't answer, and then the colonel
"Has it occurred to you that I may have saved
it because I want it?"
"Do you know of any one who has a better right
to TAKE it than I have? Perhaps I saved it because
it BELONGS to me--do you suppose I want any one
else to kill what I have the best right to kill?"
"Tom," says Doctor Kirby, really puzzled, to
judge from his actions, "I don't understand what
makes you say you have the right to take my life."
"Dave, where is my sister buried?" asts Colonel
"Buried?" says Doctor Kirby. "My God, Tom,
is she DEAD?"
"I ask you," says Colonel Tom.
"And I ask you," says Doctor Kirby.
And they looked at each other, both wonderized,
and trying to understand. And it busted on me
all at oncet who them two men really was.
I orter knowed it sooner. When the colonel
was first called Colonel Tom Buckner it struck me I
knowed the name, and knowed something about it.
But things which was my own consarns was attract-
ing my attention so hard I couldn't remember what
it was I orter know about that name. Then I seen
him and Doctor Kirby knowed each other when they
got that first square look. That orter of put me
on the track, that and a lot of other things that
had happened before. But I didn't piece things
together like I orter done.
It wasn't until Colonel Tom Buckner called him
"Dave" and ast him about his sister that I seen
who Doctor Kirby must really be.
HE WAS THAT THERE DAVID ARMSTRONG!
And the brother of the girl he had run off with
had jest saved his life. By the way he was talking,
he had saved it simply because he thought he had
the first call on what to do with it.
"Where is she?" asts Colonel Tom.
"I ask you," says Doctor Kirby--or David
Well, I thinks to myself, here is where Daniel
puts one acrost the plate. And I breaks in:
"You both got another guess coming," I says.
"She ain't buried anywheres. She ain't even dead.
She's living in a little town in Indiany called Athens
--or she was about eighteen months ago."
They both looks at me like they thinks I am crazy.
"What do you know about it?" says Doctor
"Are you David Armstrong?" says I.
"Yes," says he.
"Well," I says, "you spent four or five days within
a stone's throw of her a year ago last summer,
and she knowed it was you and hid herself away
Then I tells them about how I first happened to
hear of David Armstrong, and all I had hearn from
Martha. And how I had stayed at the Davises in
Tennessee and got some more of the same story
from George, the old nigger there.
"But, Danny," says the doctor, "why didn't you
tell me all this?"
I was jest going to say that not knowing he was
that there David Armstrong I didn't think it any
of his business, when Colonel Tom, he says to
Doctor Kirby--I mean to David Armstrong:
"Why should you be concerned as to her where-
abouts? You ruined her life and then deserted her."
Doctor Kirby--I mean David Armstrong--
stands there with the blood going up his face into
his forehead slow and red.
"Tom," he says, "you and I seem to be working
at cross purposes. Maybe it would help some if
you would tell me just how badly you think I
"You ruined her life, and then deserted her,"
says Colonel Tom agin, looking at him hard.
"I DIDN'T desert her," said Doctor Kirby. "She
got disgusted and left ME. Left me without a chance
to explain myself. As far as ruining her life is
concerned, I suppose that when I married her--"
"Married her!" cries out the colonel. And David
Armstrong stares at him with his mouth open.
"My God! Tom," he says, "did you think
And they both come to another standstill.
And then they talked some more and only got more
mixed up than ever. Fur the doctor thinks she has
left him, and Colonel Tom thinks he has left her.
"Tom," says the doctor, "suppose you let me
tell my story, and you'll see why Lucy left me."
Him and Colonel Tom had been chums together
when they went through Princeton, it seems--I
picked that up from the talk and some of his story
I learned afterward. He had come from Ohio in
the beginning, and his dad had had considerable
money. Which he had enjoyed spending of it,
and when he was a young feller never liked to work
at nothing else. It suited him. Colonel Tom,
he was considerable like him in that way. So they
was good pals when they was to that school together.
They both quit about the same time. A couple
of years after that, when they was both about
twenty-five or six years old, they run acrost each
other accidental in New York one autumn.
The doctor, he was there figgering on going to
work at something or other, but they was so many
things to do he was finding it hard to make a choice.
His father was dead by that time, and looking fur
a job in New York, the way he had been doing it,
was awful expensive, and he was running short of
money. His father had let him spend so much
whilst he was alive he was very disappointed to
find out he couldn't keep on forever looking fur work
So Colonel Tom says why not come down home
into Tennessee with him fur a while, and they will
both try and figger out what he orter go to work at.
It was the fall of the year, and they was purty good
hunting around there where Colonel Tom lived,
and Dave hadn't never been South any, and so he
goes. He figgers he better take a good, long vaca-
tion, anyhow. Fur if he goes to work that winter
or the next spring, and ties up with some job that
keeps him in an office, there may be months and
months pass by before he has another chance at
a vacation. That is the worst part of a job--I
found that out myself--you never can tell when
you are going to get shut of it, once you are fool
enough to start in.
In Tennessee he had met Miss Lucy. Which
her wedding to Prent McMakin was billed fur to
come off about the first of November, jest a month
"I don't know whether I ever told you or not,"
says the doctor, "but I was engaged to be married
myself, Tom, when I went down to your place.
That was what started all the trouble.
"You know engagements are like vaccina-
tion--sometimes they take, and sometimes
they don't. Of course, I had thought at one
time I was in love with this girl I was engaged
to. When I found out I wasn't, I should have
told her so right away. But I didn't. I
thought that she would get tired of me after a
while and turn me loose. I gave her plenty of
chances to turn me loose. I wanted her to
break the engagement instead of me. But
she wouldn't take the hints. She hung on like an
Ohio Grand Army veteran to a country post-office.
About half the time I didn't read her letters, and
about nineteen twentieths of the time I didn't
answer them. They say hell hath no fury like a
woman scorned. But it isn't so--it makes them
all the fonder of you. I got into the habit of think-
ing that while Emma might be engaged to me, I
wasn't engaged to Emma. Not but what Emma
was a nice girl, you know, but--
"Well, I met Lucy. We fell in love with each
other. It just happened. I kept intending to
write to the other girl and tell her plainly that
everything was off. But I kept postponing it.
It seemed like a deuce of a hard job to tackle.
"But, finally, I did write her. That was the very
day Lucy promised to throw Prent McMakin over
and marry me. You know how determined all
your people were that Lucy should marry McMakin,
Tom. They had brought her up with the idea
that she was going to, and, of course, she was bored
with him for that reason.
"We decided the best plan would be to slip away
quietly and get married. We knew it would raise
a row. But there was bound to be a row anyhow
when they found she intended to marry me instead
of McMakin. So we figured we might just as well
be away from there.
"We left your place early on the morning of
October 31, 1888--do you remember the date,
Tom? We took the train for Clarksville, Tennessee,
and got there about two o'clock that afternoon.
I suppose you have been in that interesting centre
of the tobacco industry. If you have you may
remember that the courthouse of Montgomery
County is right across the street from the best hotel.
I got a license and a preacher without any trouble,
and we were married in the hotel parlour that
afternoon. One of the hotel clerks and the county
clerk himself were the witnesses.
"We went to Cincinnati and from there to
Chicago. There we got rooms out on the South
Side--Hyde Park, they called it. And I got me a
job. I had some money left, but not enough to buy
kohinoors and race-horses with. Beside, I really
wanted to get to work--wanted it for the first
time in my life. You remember young Clayton
in our class? He and some other enterprising
citizens had a building and loan association. Such
things are no doubt immoral, but I went to work
"We had been in Chicago a week when Lucy
wrote home what she had done, and begged for-
giveness for being so abrupt about it. At least,
I suppose that is what she wrote. It was--"
"I remember exactly what she wrote," says
"I never knew exactly," says the doctor. "The
same mail that brought word from you that your
grandfather had had some sort of a stroke, as a
consequence of our elopement, brought also two
letters from Emma. They had been forwarded
from New York to Tennessee, and you had for-
warded them to Chicago.
"Those letters began the trouble. You see, I
hadn't told Emma when I wrote breaking off the
engagement that I was going to get married the
next day. And Emma hadn't received my letter,
or else had made up her mind to ignore it. Anyhow,
those letters were regular love-letters.
"I hadn't really read one of Emma's letters for
months. But somehow I couldn't help reading
these. I had forgotten what a gift for the expres-
sion of sentiment Emma had. She fairly revelled
in it, Tom. Those letters were simply writhing
with clinging female adjectives. They SQUIRMED
"You may remember that Lucy was a rather
jealous sort of a person. Right in the midst of her
alarm and grief and self-reproach over her grand-
father, and in the midst of my efforts to comfort
her, she spied the feminine handwriting on those
two letters. I had glanced through them hurriedly,
and laid them on the table.
"Tom, I was in bad. The dates on them, you
know, were so RECENT. I didn't want Lucy to read
them. But I didn't dare to ACT as if I didn't want
her to. So I handed them over.
"I suppose--to a bride who had only been
married a little more than a week--and who had
hurt her grandfather nearly to death in the marry-
ing, those letters must have sounded rather odd.
I tried to explain. But all my explanations only
seemed to make the case worse for me. Lucy was
furiously jealous. We really had a devil of a row
before we were through with it. I tried to tell her
that I loved no one but her. She pointed out that
I must have said much the same sort of thing to
Emma. She said she was almost as sorry for Emma
as she was for herself. When Lucy got through
with me, Tom, I looked like thirty cents and felt
like twenty-five of that was plugged.
"I didn't have sense enough to know that it was
most of it grief over her grandfather, and nerves and
hysteria, and the fact that she was only eighteen
years old and lonely, and that being a bride had a
certain amount to do with it. She had told me that
I was a beast, and made me feel like one; and I
took the whole thing hard and believed her. I
made a fine, five-act tragedy out of a jealous fit
I might have softened into comedy if I had had
"I wasn't so very old myself, and I hadn't ever
been married before. I should have kept my mouth
shut until it was all over, and then when she began
to cry I should have coaxed her up and made her
feel like I was the only solid thing to hang on to
in the whole world.
"But the bottom had dropped out of the uni-
verse for me. She had said she hated me. I was
fool enough to believe her. I went downtown and
began to drink. I come home late that night.
The poor girl had been waiting up for me--waiting
for hours, and becoming more and more frightened
when I didn't show up. She was over her jealous
fit, I suppose. If I had come home in good shape,
or in anything like it, we would have made up then
and there. But my condition stopped all that.
I wasn't so drunk but that I saw her face change
when she let me in. She was disgusted.
"In the morning I was sick and feverish. I was
more than disgusted with myself. I was in despair.
If she had hated me before--and she had said
she did--what must she do now? It seemed to
me that I had sunk so far beneath her that it would
take years to get back. It didn't seem worth while
making any plea for myself. You see, I was young
and had serious streaks all through me. So when
she told me that she had written home again, and
was going back--was going to leave me, I didn't
see that it was only a bluff. I didn't see that she
was really only waiting to forgive me, if I gave
her a chance. I started downtown to the building
and loan office, wondering when she would leave,
and if there was anything I could do to make her
change her mind. I must repeat again that I was a
fool--that I needed only to speak one word, had
I but known it.
"If I had gone straight to work, everything might
have come around all right even then. But I
didn't. I had that what's-the-use feeling. And I
stopped in at the Palmer House bar to get some-
thing to sort of pull me together.
"While I was there, who should come up to the
bar and order a drink but Prent McMakin."
"Yes!" says Colonel Tom, as near excited as
he ever got.
"Yes," says Armstrong, "nobody else. We saw
each other in the mirror behind the bar. I don't
know whether you ever noticed it or not, Tom, but
McMakin's eyes had a way of looking almost like
cross-eyes when he was startled or excited. They
were a good deal too near together at any time.
He gave me such a look when our eyes met in the
mirror that, for an instant, I thought that he in-
tended to do me some mischief--shoot me, you
know, for taking his bride-to-be away from him,
or some fool thing like that. But as we turned
toward each other I saw he had no intention of
"Hadn't he?" says Colonel Tom, mighty in-
"No," says the doctor, looking at Colonel Tom
very puzzled, "did you think he had?"
"Yes, I did," says the colonel, right thoughtful.
"On the contrary," says Armstrong, "we had a
drink together. And he congratulated me. Made
me quite a little speech, in fact; one of the flowery
kind, you know, Tom, and said that he bore me no
rancour, and all that."
"The deuce he did!" says Colonel Tom, very low,
like he was talking to himself. "And then what?"
"Then," says the doctor, "then--let me see--
it's all a long time ago, you know, and McMakin's
part in the whole thing isn't really important."
"I'm not so sure it isn't important," says the
colonel, "but go on."
"Then," says Armstrong, "we had another drink
together. In fact, a lot of them. We got awfully
friendly. And like a fool I told him of my quarrel
"LIKE a fool," says Colonel Tom, nodding his
head. "Go on."
"There isn't much more to tell," says the doctor,
"except that I made a worse idiot of myself yet,
and left McMakin about two o'clock in the after-
noon, as near as I can recollect. Somewhere about
ten o'clock that night I went home. Lucy was
gone. I haven't seen her since."
"Dave," says Colonel Tom, "did McMakin
happen to mention to you, that day, just why he
was in Chicago?"
"I suppose so," says the doctor. "I don't know.
Maybe not. That was twenty years ago. Why?"
"Because," says Colonel Tom, very grim and
quiet, "because your first thought as to his intention
when he met you in the bar was MY idea also. I
thought he went to Chicago to settle with you.
You see, I got to Chicago that same afternoon."
"The same day?"
"Yes. We were to have come together. But
I missed the train, and he got there a day ahead
of me. He was waiting at the hotel for me to
join him, and then we were going to look you up
together. He found you first and I never did
"But I don't exactly understand," says the
doctor. "You say he had the idea of shooting
"I don't understand everything myself," says
Colonel Tom. "But I do understand that Prent
McMakin must have played some sort of a two-
faced game. He never said a word to me about
having seen you.
"Listen," he goes on. "When you and Lucy
ran away it nearly killed our grandfather. In fact,
it finally did kill him. When we got Lucy's letter
that told you were in Chicago I went up to bring
her back home. We didn't know what we were
going to do, McMakin and I, but we were both
agreed that you needed killing. And he swore
that he would marry Lucy anyhow, even--"
"MARRY HER!" sings out the doctor, "but we WERE
"Dave," Colonel Tom says very slow and steady,
"you keep SAYING you were married. But it's
strange--it's right STRANGE about that marriage."
And he looked at the doctor hard and close, like
he would drag the truth out of him, and the doctor
met his look free and open. You would of thought
Colonel Tom was saying with his look: "You MUST
tell me the truth." And the doctor with his was
answering: "I HAVE told you the truth."
"But, Tom," says the doctor, "that letter she
wrote you from Chicago must--"
"Do you know what Lucy wrote?" interrupts
Colonel Tom. "I remember exactly. It was sim-
ply: 'FORGIVE ME. I LOVED HIM SO. I AM HAPPY.
I KNOW IT IS WRONG, BUT I LOVE HIM SO YOU MUST
"But couldn't you tell from THAT we were married?"
cries out the doctor.
"She didn't mention it," says Colonel Tom.
"She supposed that her own family had enough
faith in her to take it for granted," says the doctor,
very scornful, his face getting red.
"But wait, Dave," says Colonel Tom, quiet and
cool. "Don't bluster with me. There are still a
lot of things to be explained. And that marriage
is one of them.
"To go back a bit. You say you got to the house
somewhere around ten o'clock that evening and
found Lucy gone. Do you remember the day of
"It was November 14, 1888."
"Exactly," says Colonel Tom. "I got to Chicago
at six o'clock of that very day. And I went at
once to the address in Lucy's letter. I got there
between seven and eight o'clock. She was gone.
My thought was that you must have got wind of
my coming and persuaded her to leave with you in
order to avoid me--although I didn't see how you
could know when I would get there, either, when
I thought it over."
"And you have never seen her since," says Arm-
"I HAVE seen her since," says Colonel Tom, "and
that is one thing that makes me say your story needs
"But where--when--did you see her?" asts
the doctor, mighty excited.
"I am coming to that. I went back home again.
And in July of the next year I heard from her."
"Heard from her?"
"By letter. She was in Galesburg, Illinois,
if you know where that is. She was living there
alone. And she was almost destitute. I wrote
her to come home. She would not. But she had
to live. I got rid of some of our property in Ten-
nessee, and took enough cash up there with me to
fix her, in a decent sort of way, for the rest of her
life, and put it in the bank. I was with her there for
ten days; then I went back home to get Aunt Lucy
Davis to help me in another effort to persuade her
to return. But when I got back North with Aunt
Lucy she had gone."
"Yes, and when we returned without her to
Tennessee there was a letter telling us not to try to
find her. We thought--I thought--that she
might have taken up with you once again."
"But, my God! Tom," the doctor busts out,
"you were with her ten days there in Galesburg!
Didn't she tell you then--couldn't you tell from
the way she acted--that she had married
"That's the odd thing, Dave," says the colonel,
very slow and thoughtful. "That's what is so very
strange about it all. I merely assumed by my atti-
tude that you were not married, and she let me
assume it without a protest."
"But did you ask her?"
"Ask her? No. Can't you see that there was
no reason why I should ask her? I was sure. And
being sure of it, naturally I didn't talk about it to
her. You can understand that I wouldn't, can't
you? In fact, I never mentioned you to her. She
never mentioned you to me."
"You must have mistaken her, Tom."
"I don't think it's possible, Dave," said the
colonel. "You can mistake words and explanations
a good deal easier than you can mistake an atmos-
phere. No, Dave, I tell you that there's something
odd about it--married or not, Lucy didn't BELIEVE
herself married the last time I saw her."
"But she MUST have known," says the doctor,
as much to himself as to the colonel. "She MUST
have known." Any one could of told by the way
he said it that he wasn't lying. I could see that
Colonel Tom believed in him, too. They was both
sicking their intellects onto the job of figgering out
how it was Lucy didn't know. Finally the doctor
says very thoughtful:
"Whatever became of Prentiss McMakin, Tom?"
"Dead," says Colonel Tom, "quite a while ago."
"H-m," says the doctor, still thinking hard.
And then looks at Colonel Tom like they was an
idea in his head. Which he don't speak her out.
But Colonel Tom seems to understand.
"Yes," he says, nodding his head. "I think
you are on the right track now. Yes--I shouldn't
Well, they puts this and that together, and they
agrees that whatever happened to make things hard
to explain must of happened on that day that
Prentiss McMakin met the doctor in the bar-room,
and didn't shoot him, as he had made his brags he
would. Must of happened between the time that
afternoon when Prentiss McMakin left the doctor
and the time Colonel Tom went out to see his sister
and found she had went. Must of happened some-
how through Prent McMakin.
We goes home with Colonel Tom that night. And
the next day all three of us is on our way to Athens,
Indiany, where I had seen Miss Lucy at.
Fur my part, as the train kept getting further
and further north, my feelings kept getting
more and more mixed. It come to me
that I might be steering straight fur a bunch of
trouble. The feeling that sadness and melancholy
and seriousness was laying ahead of me kept me
from really enjoying them dollar-apiece meals on
the train. It was Martha that done it. All this
past and gone love story I had been hearing about
reminded me of Martha. And I was steering
straight toward her, and no way out of it. How
did I know but what that there girl might be expect-
ing fur to marry me, or something like that? Not
but what I was awful in love with her whilst we was
together. But it hadn't really set in on me very
deep. I hadn't forgot about her right away. But
purty soon I had got to forgetting her oftener than
I remembered her. And now it wasn't no use talk-
ing--I jest wasn't in love with Martha no more, and
didn't have no ambition to be. I had went around
the country a good bit, and got intrusted in other
things, and saw several other girls I liked purty well.
Keeping steady in love with jest one girl is mighty
hard if you are moving around a good bit.
But I was considerable worried about Martha.
She was an awful romanceful kind of girl. And
even the most sensible kind is said to be fools about
getting their hearts broke and pining away and
dying over a feller. I would hate to think Martha
had pined herself sick.
I couldn't shut my eyes to the fact we was en-
gaged to each other legal, all right. And if she
wanted to act mean about it and take it to a
court it would likely be binding on me. Then I
says to myself is she is mean enough to do that I'll be
derned if I don't go to jail before I marry her,
and stay there.
And then my conscience got to working inside of
me agin. And a picture of her getting thin and not
eating her vittles regular and waiting and waiting
fur me to show up, and me never doing it, come to
me. And I felt sorry fur poor Martha, and thought
mebby I would marry her jest to keep her from
dying. Fur you would feel purty tough if a girl
was to get so stuck on you it killed her. Not that
I ever seen that really happen, either; but first and
last there has been considerable talk about it.
It wasn't but what I liked Martha well enough.
It was the idea of getting married, and staying
married, made me feel so anxious. Being married
may work out all right fur some folks. But I
knowed it never would work any with me. Or not
fur long. Because why should I want to be tied
down to one place, or have a steady job? That
would be a mean way to live.
Of course, with a person that was the doctor's
age it would be different. He had done his running
around and would be willing to settle down now, I
guessed. That is, if he could get his differences with
this here Buckner family patched up satisfactory.
I wondered whether he would be able to or not.
Him and Colonel Tom were talking constant on the
train all the way up. From the little stretches of
their talk I couldn't help hearing, I guessed each
one was telling the other all that had happened
to him in the time that had passed by. Colonel
Tom what kind of a life he had lived, and how he had
married and his wife had died and left him a wid-
ower without any kids. And the doctor--it was
always hard fur me to get to calling him anything
but Doctor Kirby--how he had happened to start
out with a good chancet in life and turn into jest
a travelling fakir.
Well, I thinks to myself now that he has got to be
that, mebby her and him won't suit so well now,
even if they does get their differences patched up.
Fur all the forgiving in the world ain't going to
change things, or make them no different. But, so
long as the doctor appeared to want to find her so
derned bad, I was awful glad I had been the means
of getting him and Miss Lucy together. He had
done a lot fur me, first and last, the doctor had, and
I felt like it helped pay him a little. Though if they
was to settle down like married folks I would feel
like a good old sport was spoiled in the doctor,
We had to change cars at Indianapolis to get to
that there little town. We was due to reach it
about two o'clock in the afternoon. And the nearer
we got to the place the nervouser and nervouser all
three of us become. And not owning we was. The
last hour before we hit the place, I took a drink of
water every three minutes, I was so nervous. And
when we come into the town I was already standing
out onto the platform. I wouldn't of been sur-
prised to find Martha and Miss Lucy down there to
the station. But, of course, they wasn't. Fur
some reason I felt glad they wasn't.
"Now," I says to them two, as we got off the
train, "foller me and I will show you the house."
Everybody rubbers at strangers in a country
town, and wonders why they have come, and what
they is selling, and if they are mebby going to start
a new grain elevator, or buy land, or what. The
usual ones around the depot rubbered at us, and I
hearn one geezer say to another:
"See that big feller there? He was through here
a year or two ago selling patent medicine."
"You don't say so!" says the other one, like it
was something important, like a president or a circus
had come, and his eyes a-bugging out. And the
doctor hearn them, too. Fur some reason or other
he flushed up and cut a look out of the corner of his
eye at Colonel Tom.
We went right through the main street and out
toward the edge of town, by the crick, where Miss
Lucy's house was. And, if anything, all of us feel-
ing nervouser yet. And saying nothing and not
looking at each other. And Colonel Tom rolling
cigarettes and fumbling fur matches and lighting
them and slinging them away. Fur how does any-
body know how women is going to take even the
most ordinary little things?
I knowed the way well enough, and where the
house was, but as we went around the turn in the
road I run acrost a surprised feeling. I come onto
the place where our campfire had been them nights
we was there. Looey had drug an old fence post
onto the fire one night, and the post had only burned
half up. The butt end of it, all charred and flaked,
was still laying in the grass and weeds there. It
hit me with a queer feeling--like it was only yester-
day that fire had been lit there. And yet I knowed
it had been a year and a half ago.
Well, it has always been my luck to run into
things without the right kind of a lie fixed up ahead
of time. They was three or four purty good stories
I had been trying over in my head to tell Martha
when I seen her. Any one of them stories might of
done all right; but I hadn't decided WHICH one to
use. And, of course, I run plumb into Martha.
She was standing by the gate, which was about
twenty yards from the veranda. And all four lies
popped into my head at oncet, and got so mixed up
with one another there, I seen right off it was useless
to try to tell anything that sounded straight. Be-
sides, when you are in the fix I was in, what can you
tell a girl anyhow?
So I jest says to her:
Martha, she had been fussing around some flower
bushes with a pair of shears and gloves on. She
looks up when I says that, and she sizes us all up
standing by the gate, and her eyes pops open, and so
does her mouth, and she is so surprised to see me she
drops her shears.
And she looks scared, too.
"Is Miss Buckner at home?" asts Colonel Tom,
lifting his hat very polite.
"Miss B-B-Buckner?" Martha stutters, very
scared-like, and not taking her eyes off of me to
"Miss Hampton, Martha," I says.
"Y-y-y-es, s-sh-she is," says Martha. I wondered
what was the matter with her.
It is always my luck to get left all alone with my
troubles. The doctor and the colonel, they walked
right past us when she said yes, and up toward the
house, and left her and me standing there. I
could of went along and butted in, mebby. But I
says to myself I will have the derned thing out here
and now, and know the worst. And I was so
interested in my trouble and Martha that I didn't
even notice if Miss Lucy met 'em at the door, and
if so, how she acted. When I next looked up they
was all in the house.
"Martha--" I begins. But she breaks in.
"Danny," she says, looking like she is going to
cry, "don't l-l-look at me l-l-like that. If you
knew ALL you wouldn't blame me. You--"
"Wouldn't blame you fur what?" I asts her.
"I know it's wrong of me," she says, begging-like.
"Mebby it is and mebby it ain't," I says. "But
what is it?"
"But you never wrote to me," she says.
"You never wrote to me," I says, not wanting
her to get the best of me, whatever it was she might
be talking about.
"And then HE came to town!--"
"Who?" I asts her.
"Don't you know?" she says. "The man I am
going to marry."
When she said that I felt, all of a sudden, like
when you are broke and hungry and run acrost a
half dollar you had forgot about in your other pants.
I was so glad I jumped.
"Great guns!" I says.
I had never really knowed what being glad was
"Oh, Danny, Danny," she says, putting her
hands in front of her face, "and here you have come
to claim me for your bride!"
Which showed me why she had looked so scared.
That there girl had went and got engaged to another
feller. And had been laying awake nights suffering
fur fear I would turn up agin. And now I had.
Looey, he always said never to trust a woman!
"Martha," I says, "you ain't acted right with me."
"Oh, Danny, Danny," she says, "I know it! I
"Some fellers in my place," I says, "would raise
a dickens of a row."
"I DID love you once," she says, looking at me
from between her fingers.
"Yes," says I, acting real melancholy, "you did.
And now you've quit it, they don't seem to me to be
nothing left to live fur." Martha, she was an awful
romanceful girl. I got the notion that mebby she
was enjoying her own remorsefulness a little bit.
I fetched a deep sigh and I says:
"Some fellers would kill theirselves on the spot!"
"Oh!--Oh!--Oh!--" says Martha.
"But, Martha," says I, "I ain't that mean. I
ain't going to do that."
That dern girl ackshellay give me a disappointed
look! If anything, she was jest a bit TOO romanceful,
"No," says I, cheering up a little, "I am going
to do something they ain't many fellers would
do, Martha. I'm going to forgive you. Free
and fair and open. And give you back my half of
that ring, and--"
Dern it! I had forgot I had lost that half of that
there ring! I remembered so quick it stopped me.
"You always kept it, Danny?" she asts me, very
soft-spoken, so as not to give pain to one so faithful
and so noble as what I was. "Let me see it, Danny."
I made like I was feeling through all my pockets
fur it. But that couldn't last forever. I run out
of pockets purty soon. And her face begun to show
she was smelling a rat. Finally I says:
"These ain't my other clothes--it must be in
"Danny," she says, "I believe you LOST it."
"Martha," I says, taking a chancet, "you know
you lost YOUR half!"
She owns up she has lost it a long while ago.
And when she lost it, she says, she knowed that
was fate and that our love was omened in under an
evil star. And who was she, she says, to struggle
"Martha," I says, "I'll be honest with you.
Fate got away with my half too one day when I
didn't know they was crooks like her sticking