“Then I shall die, and my only regret will be that I shall die at the hands of such an abominable wretch as you are,” was Bernard’s answer.
Bernard was stood against the wall. The six men retired to their closets and returned with rifles. Bernard gazed at the men unflinchingly. They formed a line, ten paces in front of him. Belton gave Bernard one last chance, as he said, to save his life, by silence as to his plans.
Bernard said: “If I live I shall surely proclaim your infamy to our people and slay you besides. The curse of our doomed race is just such white folks’ niggers as you are. Shoot, shoot, shoot, you whelps.”
They took aim and, at a command from Belton, fired. When the smoke had lifted, Belton said: “Bernard, those were blank cartridges. I desired to give you another chance. If you consent to leave me unmolested to ferret out those conspirators I will take your word as your bond and spare your life. Will you accept your life at such a low price?”
“Come here and let me give you my answer,” said Bernard. “Let me whisper something in your ear.”
Belton drew near and Bernard spat in his face and said, “Take that, you knave.”
Belton ordered Bernard seized and carried to the center of the room where stood what appeared to be an acting pole, but what was in reality a complete gallows. A black cap was adjusted over Bernard’s head and a rope tied to his hands. He was told that a horrible death awaited him. He was informed that the platform on which he stood was a trap door that concealed an opening in the center of the building, that extended to the first floor. He was told that he would be dropped far enough to have his arms torn from his body and would be left to die.
Bernard perceptibly shuddered at the fate before him but he had determined long since to be true to every higher aspiration of his people, and he would die a death however horrible rather than stand by and see aspiring souls slaughtered for organizing to secure their rights at all hazards. He muttered a prayer to God, closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and nerved himself for the ordeal, refusing to answer Belton’s last appeal.
Belton gave command to spring the trap door after he had counted three. In order to give Bernard a chance to weaken he put one minute between each count. “One——Two——Three——” he called out.
Bernard felt the floor give way beneath his feet and he shot down with terrific speed. He nerved himself for the shock that was to tear his limbs from his body, but, strange to say, he felt the speed lessening as he fell and his feet eventually struck a floor with not sufficient force to even jar him severely. “Was this death? Was he dead or alive?” he was thinking within himself, when suddenly the mask was snatched from his face and he found himself in a large room containing desks arranged in a semi-circular form. There were one hundred and forty-five desks, and at each a person was seated.