[BOOK III] CHAPTER V
WHILE Gaston and the men were carrying Flora and Tom to the house, another searching party was formed. There were no women and children among than, only grim-visaged silent men, and a pair of little mild-eyed sharp-nosed blood-hounds. All the morning men were coming in from the country and joining this silent army of searchers.
Doctor Graham came, looked long and gravely at Flora and turned a sad face toward Tom.
"Now, doctor wait—don't say a word yet. I don't want to know the truth, if it's the worst. Don't kill me in a minute. Let me live as long as there's breath in her body—after that! well, that's the end—there's nothin after that!"
The doctor started to speak.
"Wait," pleaded Tom, "let me tell you something. I've been praying all night. I've seen God face to face. She can't die. He told me so—"
He paused and his grip on the doctor's arm relaxed as though he were about to faint, but he rallied.
The kindly old doctor said gently, "Sit down Tom."
He tried to lead Tom away from the bed, but he held on like a bull dog.
The child breathed heavily and moaned.
Tom's face brightened. "She's comin' to, doctor,—thank God!"
The doctor paid no more attention to him and went on with his work as best he could.
Tom laid his tear-stained face close to hers, and murmured soothingly to her as he used to when she was a wee baby in his arms,
"There, there, honey, it will be all right now! The doctor's here, and he'll do all he can! And what he can't do, God will. The doctor'll save you. God will save you! He loves you. He loves me. I prayed all night. He heard me. I saw the shinin' glory of His face! He's only tryin' His poor old servant."
The broken artery was found and tied and the bleeding stopped. When the wound on her head was dressed the doctor turned to Tom,
"That wound is bad, but not necessarily fatal."
"Keep the house quiet and don't let her see a strange face once she regains consciousness," was his parting injunction.
The next morning her breathing was regular, and pulse stronger, but feverish; and about seven o'clock she came out of her comatose state and regained consciousness. She spoke but once, and apparently at the sound of her own voice immediately went into a convulsion, clinching her little fists, screaming and calling to her father for help!
When Tom first heard that awful cry and saw her terrified eyes and drawn face, he tried to cover his own eyes and stop his ears. Then he gathered the little convulsed body into his arms and crooned into her ears,
"There, Pappy's baby, don't cry! Pappy's got you now. Nothin' can hurt
you. There, there, nothin' shall come nigh you!"
He covered her face with tears and kisses while he whispered and soothed her to sleep. When the noon train came up from Independence, General Worth arrived. Tom had asked Gaston to telegraph for him in his name.
Tom eagerly grasped his hand. "General I knowed you'd come—you're a man to tie to. I never knowed you to fail me in your life. You're one of the smartest men in the world too. You never got us boys in a hole so deep you didn't pull us out"—
"What can I do for you?" interrupted the General.
"Ah, now's the worst of all, General. I'm in water too deep for me. My baby, the last one left on earth, the apple of my eye, all that holds my old achin' body to this world—she's—about—to—die! I can't let her. General, you must save her for me. I want more doctors. They say there's a great doctor at Independence. I want 'em all. Tell 'em it's a poor old one-legged soldier who's shot all to pieces and lost his wife and all his children—all but this one baby. And I can't lose her! They'll come if you ask 'em—" His voice broke.
"I'll do it, Tom. I'll have them here on a special in three hours or maybe sooner," returned the General pressing his hand and hurrying to the telegraph office.
The doctors arrived at three o'clock and held a consultation with Doctor Graham. They decided that the loss of blood had been so great that the only chance to save her was in the transfusion of blood.
"I'll give her the blood, Tom," said Gaston quietly removing his cost and baring his arm.
The old soldier looked up through grateful tears.
"Next to the General, you're the best friend God ever give me, boy!"
The General turned his face away and looked out of the window. The doctors
immediately performed the operation, transfusing blood from Gaston into the
The results did not seem to promise what they had hoped. Her fever rose steadily. She became conscious again and immediately went into the most fearful convulsions, breaking the torn artery a second time.
Just as the sun sank behind the blue mountains' peaks in the west her heart fluttered and she was dead.
Tom sat by the bed for two hours, looking, looking, looking with wide staring eyes at her white dead face. There was not the trace of a tear. His mouth was set in a hard cold way and he never moved or spoke.
The Preacher tried to comfort Tom, who stared at him as though he did not recognise him at first, and then slowly began,
"Go away, Preacher, I don't want to see or talk to you now. It's all a swindle and a lie. There is no God!"
"Tom, Tom!" groaned the Preacher.
"I tell you I mean it," he continued. "I don't want any more of God or His heaven. I don't want to see God. For if I should see Him, I'd shake my fist in His face and ask Him where His almighty power was when my poor little baby was screamin' for help while that damned black beast was tearin' her to pieces! Many and many a time I've praised God when I read the Bible there where it said, not a sparrow falleth to the ground without His knowledge, and the very hairs of our head are numbered. Well, where was He when my little bird was flutterin' her broken bleedin' wings in the claws of that stinkin' baboon,—damn him to everlastin' hell!—It's all a swindle I tell you!"
The Preacher was watching him now with silent pity and tenderness.
"What a lie it all is!" Tom repeated. "Scratch my name off the church
roll. I ain't got many more days here, but I won't lie. I'm not a hypocrite.
I'm going to meet God cursin' Him to His face!"
The Preacher slipped his arm around the old soldier's neck, and smoothed the tangled hair back from his forehead as he said brokenly,
"Tom, I love you! My whole soul is melted in sympathy and pity for you!"
The stricken man looked up into the face of his friend, saw his tears and felt the warmth of his love flood his heart, and at last he burst into tears.
"Oh! Preacher, Preacher! you're a good friend I know, but I'm done, I can't live any more! Every minute, day and night, I'll hear them awful screams—her a callin' me for help! I can see her lyin' out there in the woods all night alone moanin' and bleedin'!"
His breast heaved and he paused as if in reverie. And then he sprang up, his face livid and convulsed with volcanic passions, that half strangled him while he shrieked,
"Oh! if I only had him here before me now, and God Almighty would give me strength with these hands to tear his breast open and rip his heart out!—I—could—eat—it—like—a—wolf!"
* * * * * *
When they reached the cemetery the next day and the body was about to be lowered into the grave, Tom suddenly spied old Uncle Reuben Worth leaning on his spade by the edge of the crowd. Uncle Reuben was the grave digger of the town and the only negro present.
"Wait!" said Tom raising his hand. "Don't put her in that grave! A nigger dug it. I can't stand it:" He turned to a group of old soldier comrades standing by and said,
"Boys, humour an old broken man once more. You'll dig another grave for
me, won't you? It won't take long. The folks can go home that don't want
to stay. I ain't got no home to go to now but this graveyard."
His comrades filled up the grave that Uncle Reuben had dug, and opened a new one on the other side of the graves where slept his other loved ones.
Gaston took Tom to his home and stayed with him several hours trying to help him. He seemed to have settled into a stupor from which nothing could rouse him When at length the old man fell asleep, Gaston softly closed the door and returned to his office with a heavy heart.
As he neared the centre of the town, he heard a murmur like the distant moaning of the wind in the hush that comes before a storm. It grew louder and louder and became articulate with occasional words that seemed far away and unreal. What could it be? He had never heard such a sound before. Now it became clearer and the murmur was the tread of a thousand feet and the clatter of horses' hoofs. Not a cry, or a shout, or a word. Silence and hurrying feet!
Ah! he knew now. It was a searchers returning, a grim swaying voiceless mob with one black figure amid them. They were swarming into the court house square under the big oak where an informal trial was to be held.
He rushed forward to protest against a lynching. He could just catch a glimpse of the negro's head swaying back and forth, protesting innocence in a singing monotone as though he were already half dead.
He pushed his way roughly through the excited crowd, to the centre where Hose Norman, the leader, stood with one end of a rope in his hand and the other around the negro's neck.
The negro turned his head quickly toward the movement made by the crowd as Gaston pressed forward.
It was Dick!
Dick recognised him at the same moment, leaped toward
and fell at his feet crying and pleading as he held his feet and legs.
"Save me, Charlie! I nebber done it! I nebber done it! For God's sake help me! Keep 'em off! Dey gwine burn me erlive!"
Gaston turned to the crowd. "Men, there's not one among you that loved that old soldier and his girl as I did. But you must not do this crime. If this negro is guilty, we can prove it in that court house there, and he will pay the penalty with his life. Give him a fair trial"—
"That's a lawyer talkin' now!" said a man in the crowd. "We know that tune. The lawyers has things their own way in a court house." A murmur of assent mingled with oaths ran through the crowd.
"Fair trial !" sneered Hose Norman snatching Dick from the ground by the rope. "Look at the black devil's clothes splotched all over with her blood. We found him under a shelvin' rock where he'd got by wadin' up the branch a quarter of a mile to fool the dogs. We found his track in the sand some places where he missed the water and tracked him clear from where we found Flora to the cave he was lying in. Fair trial—hell! We're just waitin' for er can o' oil. You go back and read your law books—we'll tend ter this devil."
The messenger came with the oil and the crowd moved forward. Hose shouted, "Down by Tom Camp's by his spring, down the spring branch to the Flat Rock where he killed her!"
On the crowd moved, swaying back and forth with Gaston in their midst by Dick's side begging for a fair trial for him. A crowd that hurries and does not shout is a fearful thing. There is something inhuman in its uncanny silence.
Gaston's voice sounded strained and discordant. They
paid no more attention to his protest than to the chirp of a cricket.
They reached the spot where the child's body had been found. They tied the screaming, praying negro to a live pine and piled around his body a great heap of dead wood and saturated it with oil. And then they poured oil on his clothes.
Gaston looked around him begging first one man then another to help him fight the crowd and rescue him. Not a hand was lifted, or a voice raised in protest. There was not a negro among them. Not only was no negro in that crowd, but there was not a cabin in all that county that would not have given shelter to that brute, though they knew him guilty of the crime charged against him. This was the one terrible fact that paralysed Gaston's efforts.
Hose Norman stepped forward to apply a match and Gaston grasped his arm.
"For God's sake, Hose, wait a minute!" he begged. "Don't disgrace our town, our county, our state, and our claims to humanity by this insane brutality. A beast wouldn't do this. You wouldn't kill a mad dog or a rattlesnake in such a way. If you will kill him, shoot him or knock him in the head with a rock,—don't burn him alive!"
Hose glared at him and quietly remarked,
"Are you done now? If you are, stand out of the way!"
He struck the match and Dick uttered a scream. As Hose leaned forward with his match Gaston knocked him down, and a dozen stalwart men were upon him in a moment.
"Knock the fool in the head!" one shouted.
"Pin his arms behind him!" said another.
Some one quickly pinioned his arms with a cord. He
stood in helpless rage and pity, and as he saw the match applied, bowed his head and burst into tears.
He looked up at the silent crowd standing there like voiceless ghosts with renewed wonder.
Under the glare of the light and the tears the crowd seemed to melt into a great crawling swaying creature, half reptile half beast, half dragon half man, with a thousand legs and a thousand eyes, and ten thousand gleaming teeth, and with no ear to hear and no heart to pity!
All they would grant him was the privilege of gathering Dick's ashes and charred bones for burial.
* * * * * *
The morning following the lynching, the Preacher hurried to Tom Camp's to see how he was bearing the strain.
His door was wide open, the bureau drawers pulled out, ransacked, and some of their contents were lying on the floor.
"Poor old fellow, I'm afraid he's gone crazy!" exclaimed the Preacher. He hurried to the cemetery. There he found Tom at the newly made grave. He had worked through the night and dug the grave open with his bare hands and pulled the coffin up out of the ground. He had broken his finger nails all off trying to open it and his fingers were bleeding. At last he had given up the effort to open the coffin, sat down beside it, and was arranging her toys he had made for her beside the box. He had brought a lot of her clothes, a pair of little shoes and stockings, and a bonnet, and he had placed these out carefully on top of the lid. He was talking to her.
The Preacher lifted him gently and led him away, a hopeless madman.