“There’s some one by yon fire.”
“No, there ain’t.”
“See the bushes move.”
Bang! bang! bang!
“Let’s rush through and fire the house.”
“And leave a pa’cel of niggers behind to shoot your lights out? Not me.”
“What the hell are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“I wish I could see a nigger.”
Stealthy steps were approaching, a glint of steel flashed behind the fire lights. Each band mistook the other for the armed Negroes, and the leaders yelled in vain; human power can not stay the dashing torrent of fear-inspired human panic. Whirling, the mob fled till it struck the road in two confused, surging masses. Then in quick frenzy, shots flew; three men threw up their hands and tumbled limply in the dust, while the main body rushed pellmell toward town.
At early dawn, when the men relaxed from the strain of the night’s vigil, Alwyn briefly counselled them: “Hide your guns.”
“Why?” blustered Rob. “Haven’t I a right to have a gun?”
“Yes, you have, Rob; but don’t be foolish—hide it. We’ve not heard the last of this.”
But Rob tossed his head belligerently.
In town, rumor spread like wildfire. A body of peaceful whites passing through the black settlement had been fired on from ambush, and six killed—no, three killed—no, one killed and two severely wounded.
“The thing mustn’t stop here,” shouted Sheriff Colton; “these niggers must have a lesson.” And before nine next morning fully half the grown members of the same mob, now sworn in as deputies, rode with him to search the settlement. They tramped insolently through the school grounds, but there was no shred of evidence until they came to Rob’s cabin and found his gun. They tied his hands behind him and marched him toward town.
But before the mob arrived the night before, Johnson feeling that his safety lay in informing the white folks, had crawled with his gun into the swamp. In the morning he peered out as the cavalcade approached, and not knowing what had happened, he recognized Colton, the sheriff, and signalled to him cautiously. In a moment a dozen men were on him, and he appealed and explained in vain—the gun was damning evidence. The voices of Rob’s wife and children could be heard behind the two men as they were hurried along at a dog trot.
The town poured out to greet them—“The murderers! the murderers! Kill the niggers!” and they came on with a rush. The sheriff turned and disappeared in the rear. There was a great cloud of dust, a cry and a wild scramble, as the white and angry faces of men and boys gleamed a moment and faded.
A hundred or more shots rang out; then slowly and silently, the mass of women and men were sucked into the streets of the town, leaving but black eddies on the corners to throw backward glances toward the bare, towering pine where swung two red and awful things. The pale boy-face of one, with soft brown eyes glared up sightless to the sun; the dead, leathered bronze of the other was carved in piteous terror.