Here was something out of their calculations; something for them, mentally, to chew on. Mystification is a good thing sometimes. It gives the brain a fillip, stirs memory, puts the gears of imagination in mesh. One man, an old, tobacco-chewing fellow, began to stare harder at the face on the floor. Something moved in his intellect.
“No, but look here now, by God——”
He had even stopped chewing. But he was forestalled by another.
“Say now, if it don’t look like that fellow Wood, himself. The bank fellow—that was burned—remember? Himself.”
“That cachorra was not burned. Not that Wood. You darned fool!”
Boaz spoke from his chair. They hardly knew his voice, emerging from its long silence; it was so didactic and arid.
“That cachorra was not burned. It was my boy that was burned. It was that cachorra called my boy upstairs. That cachorra killed my boy. That cachorra put his clothes on my boy, and he set my house on fire. I knew that all the time. Because when I heard those feet come out of my house and go away, I knew they were the feet of that cachorra from the bank. I did not know where he was going to. Something said to me—you better ask him where he is going to. But then I said, you are foolish. He had the money from the bank. I did not know. And then my house was on fire. No, it was not my boy that went away; it was that cachorra all the time. You darned fools! Did you think I was waiting for my own boy?”
“Now I show you all,” he said at the end. “And now I can get hanged.”
No one ever touched Boaz Negro for that murder. For murder it was in the eye and letter of the Law. The Law in a small town is sometimes a curious creature; it is sometimes blind only in one eye.
Their minds and imaginations in that town were arrested by the romantic proportions of the act. Simply, no one took it up. I believe the man, Wood, was understood to have died of heart-failure.
When they asked Boaz why he had not told what he knew as to the identity of that fugitive in the night, he seemed to find it hard to say exactly. How could a man of no education define for them his own but half-denied misgivings about the Law, his sense of oppression, constraint and awe, of being on the defensive, even, in an abject way, his skepticism? About his wanting, come what might, to “keep clear of the Law”?
He did say this, “You would have laughed at me.”
And this, “If I told folk it was Wood went away, then I say he would not dare come back again.”
That was the last. Very shortly he began to refuse to talk about the thing at all. The act was completed. Like the creature of fable, it had consumed itself. Out of that old man’s consciousness it had departed. Amazingly. Like a dream dreamed out.
Slowly at first, in a makeshift, piece-at-a-time, poor man’s way, Boaz commenced to rebuild his house. That “eyesore” vanished.