He tried to speak again. “We’ll be damned, but we’ll get the nigger!” called some one beside him. The words struck him like a blow. He saw red, and the sudden rage upheld him. He knew that he was to fight—a blind fight for he cared not what. The old savage instinct blazed within him—the instinct to do battle to death—to throttle with, his single hand the odds that opposed. With a grip of iron he braced himself against the doorway, covering the entrance.
“I’ll be damned if you do!” he thundered.
A quick shot rang out sharply. The flash blinded him, and the smoke hung in his face. Then the moon shone and he heard a cry—the cry of a well-known voice.
“By God, it’s Nick Burr!” it said. He took a step forward.
“Boys, I am Nick Burr,” he cried, and he went down in the arms of the mob.
They raised him up, and he stood erect between the leaders. There was blood on his lips, but a man tore off a mask and wiped it away. “By God, it’s Nick Burr!” he exclaimed as he did so.
Nicholas recognised his voice and smiled. His face was gray, but his eyes were shining, and as he steadied himself with all his strength, he said with a laugh. “There’s no harm done, man.” But when they laid him down a moment later he was dead.
He lay in the narrow path between the doorstep and the gate where roses bloomed. Some one had started for the nearest house, but the crowd stood motionless about him. “By God, it’s Nick Burr!” repeated the man who had held him.
The sheriff knelt on the ground and raised him in his arms. As he folded his coat about him he looked up and spoke.
“And he died for a damned brute,” was what he said.
It was the afternoon of election day, and Eugenia sat in her drawing-room with Sally Bassett.
Outside there was the sound of tramping feet, for the people were giving him burial. They had been passing so for half an hour and they still went on, on, on—he was going to his grave in state.
“There are the drums,” said Sally, turning her ear. “All Virginia has come to town, I believe. The whole city is in mourning, and by and by they will put up his statue in the Capitol Square—but if he had lived, would he have had the senatorship?”
“Ah, who knows?” said Eugenia. She played idly with the spoon of her teacup, her eyes on the coals.
“As you say—who knows?” murmured the other. “And, after all, it is perhaps better that he died just now. He would have tried to lift us too high, and we should have fallen back. He was a hero, and the public can’t always keep to the heroic level.”
There were tears in her voice.
Eugenia turned from her and said nothing.
After, Sally had gone she still sat with her cup in her hand before the fire. Her child was rolling on the floor at her feet, but she did not stoop to him. She was not thinking—she was merely resting from emotion—as she would rest for the remainder of her days.