Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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Produced by David Widger from page images generously
provided by the Internet Archive


By Will N. Harben

Illustrated by F. B. Masters



[Illustration: 9017]

N the rear of the long store, at a round table under a hanging-lamp with
a tin shade, four young men sat playing poker. The floor of that portion
of the room was raised several feet higher than that of the front, and
between the two short flights of steps was the inclining door leading
to the cellar, which was damp and dark and used only for the storage of
salt, syrup, sugar, hardware, and general rubbish.

Near the front door the store-keeper, James Blackburn, a portly, bearded
man of forty-five, sat chatting with Carson Dwight, a young lawyer of
the town.

“I don’t want any of you boys to think that I’m complaining,” the elder
man was saying. “I’ve been young myself; in fact, as you know, I go the
gaits too, considering that I’m tied down by a family and have a
living to make. I love to have the gang around - I _swear_ I do, though
sometimes I declare it looks like this old shebang is more of a place of
amusement than a business house in good standing.”

“Oh, I know we hang around here too much,” Carson Dwight replied; “and
you ought to kick us out, the last one of us.”

“Oh, it isn’t so bad at night like this, when trade’s over, but it
is sort o’ embarrassing during the day. Why, what do you think? A
Bradstreet commercial reporter was in the other day to get a statement
of my standing, and while he was here Keith Gordon - look at him now,
the scamp! holding his cards over his head; that’s a bluff. I’ll bet he
hasn’t got a ten-spot. While that agent was here Keith and a lot more of
your gang were back there on the platform dancing a hoe-down. The
dust was so thick you couldn’t see the windows. The reporter looked
surprised, but he didn’t say anything. I told him I thought I’d be able
to pay for all I bought in market, and that I had no idea how much I was
worth. I haven’t invoiced my stock in ten years. When I run low I manage
to replenish somehow, and so it goes on from year to year.”

“Well, I am going to talk to the boys,” Dwight said. “They are taking
advantage of your goodnature. The whole truth is they consider you one
of them, Jim. Marrying didn’t change you. You are as full of devilment
as any of the rest, and they know it, and love to hang around you.”

“Well, I reckon that’s a fact,” Blackburn answered, “and I believe
I’d rather you wouldn’t mention it. I think a sight of the gang, and
I wouldn’t hurt their feelings for the world. After all, what does
it matter? Life is short, and if Trundle & Hodgson are getting more
mountain custom than I am, I’ll bet I get the biggest slice of life.
They’ll die rich, but, like as not, friendless. By-the-way, I see your
partner coming across the street. I forgot to tell you; he was looking
for you a few minutes ago. You had a streak of luck when you joined
issues with him; Bill Gamer’s a rough sort o’ chap, but he is by all
odds the brainiest lawyer in Georgia to-day.”

At this juncture a man of medium stature, with a massive head crowned by
a shock of reddish hair, a smooth-shaven, freckled face, and small feet
and hands stood in the doorway. He wore a long black broadcloth coat,
a waistcoat of the same material, and baggy gray trousers. The exposed
portion of his shirt-front and the lapels of his coat were stained by
tobacco juice.

“I’ve been up to the den, over to the Club, and the Lord only knows
where else looking for you,” he said to his partner, as he advanced,
leaned against a showcase on the counter, and stretched out his arms
behind him.

“Work for us, eh?” Carson smiled.

“No; since when have you ever done a lick after dark?” was the dry
reply. “I’ve come to give you a piece of advice, and I’m glad Blackburn
is here to join me. The truth is, Dan Willis is in town. He is full and
loaded for bear. He’s down at the wagon-yard with a gang of his mountain
pals. Some meddling person - no doubt your beautiful political opponent
Wiggin - has told him what you said about the part he took in the mob
that raided! negro town.”

“Well, he doesn’t deny it, does he?” Dwight asked, his eyes flashing.

“I don’t know whether he does or not,” said Gamer. “But I know he’s the
most reckless and dangerous man in the county, and when he is drunk he
will halt at nothing. I thought I’d advise you to avoid him.”

“Avoid him? You mean to say” - Dwight stood up in his anger - “that I, a
free-born American citizen, must sneak around in my own home to avoid
a man that puts on a white mask and sheet and with fifty others like
himself steals into town and nearly thrashes the life out of a lot of
banjo-picking negroes? Most of them were good-for-nothing, lazy scamps,
but they were born that way, and there was one in the bunch that I know
was harmless. Oh yes, I got mad about it, and I talked plainly, I know,
but I couldn’t help it.”

“You _could_ have helped it,” Gamer said, testily; “and you ought to
have protected your own interests better than to give Wiggin such a
strong pull over you. If you are elected it will be by the aid of that
very mob and their kin and friends. We may be able to smooth it all
over, but if you have an open row with Dan Willis to-night, the cause of
it will spread like wildfire, and bum votes for you in wads and bunches.
Good God, man, the idea of giving Wiggin a torch like that to wave in
the face of your constituency - you, a _town_ man, standing up for the
black criminal brutes that are plotting to pull down the white race! I
say that’s the way Wiggin and Dan Willis would interpret your platform.”

“I can’t help it,” Dwight repeated, more calmly, though his voice
shook with suppressed feeling as he went on. “If I lose all I hope for
politically - and this seems like the best chance I’ll ever have to get
to the legislature - I’ll stand by my convictions. We must have law
and order among ourselves if we expect to teach such things to poor,
half-witted black people. I was mad that night. You know that I love the
South. Its blood is my blood. Three of my mother’s brothers and two of
my father’s died fighting for the ‘Lost Cause,’ and my father was under
fire from the beginning of the war to the end. In fact, it is my love
for the South, and all that is good and pure and noble in it, that made
my blood boil that night. I saw a part of it you didn’t see.”

“What was that?” Garner asked.

“It was a clear moonlight night,” Dwight went on. “I was sitting at the
window of my room at home, looking out over Major Warren’s yard, when
the first screams and shouts came from the negro quarter. I suspected
what it was, for I’d heard of the threats the mountaineers had made
against that part of town, but I wasn’t prepared for what I actually
saw. The cottage of old Uncle Lewis and Mammy Linda is just behind the
Major’s house, you know, and in plain view of my window. I saw the
old pair come to the door and run out into the yard, and then I heard
Linda’s voice. ‘It’s my child!’ she screamed. ‘They are killing him!’
Uncle Lewis tried to quiet her, but she stood there wringing her hands
and sobbing and praying. The Major raised the window of his room and
looked out, and I heard him ask what was wrong. Uncle Lewis tried to
explain, but his voice could not be heard above his wife’s cries. A few
minutes later Pete came running down the street. They had let him
go. His clothes were torn to strips and his back was livid with great
whelks. He had no sooner reached the old folks than he keeled over in a
faint. The Major came down, and he and I bent over the boy and finally
restored him to consciousness. Major Warren was the maddest man I ever
saw, and a mob a hundred strong couldn’t have touched the negro and left
him alive.”

“I know, that was all bad enough,” Garner admitted, “but antagonizing
those men now won’t better the matter and may do you more political
damage than you’ll get over in a lifetime. You can’t be a politician
and a preacher both; they don’t go together. You can’t dispute that
the negro quarter of this town was a disgrace to a civilized community
before the White Caps raided it. Look at it now. There never was such a
change. It is as quiet as a Philadelphia graveyard.”

“It’s the way they went about it that made me mad,” Carson Dwight
retorted. “Besides, I know that boy. He is as harmless as a kitten, and
he only hung around those dives because he loved to sing and dance with
the rest. I _did_ get mad; I’m mad yet. My people never lashed their
slaves when they were in bondage; why should I stand by and see them
beaten now by men who never owned negroes and never loved or understood
them? Before the war a white man would stand up and protect his slaves;
why shouldn’t he now take up for at least the most faithful of their

“That’s it,” Blackburn spoke up, admiringly. “You are a chip off of the
old block, Carson. Your daddy would have shot any man who tried to whip
one of his negroes. You can’t help the way you feel; but I agree with
Bill here, you can’t get the support of mountain people if you don’t, at
least, _pretend_ to see things their way.”,

“Well, I can’t see _this_ thing their way,” fumed Dwight; “and I’m not
going to try. When I saw that old black man and woman that awful night
with their very heart-strings torn and bleeding, and remembered
that they had been kind to my mother when she was at the point of
death - sitting by her bedside all night long as patiently as blocks of
stone, and shedding tears of joy at the break of day when the doctor
said the crisis had passed - when I think of that and admit that I
stand by with folded hands and see their only child beaten till he
is insensible, my blood boils with utter shame. It has burned a great
lesson into my brain, and that is that we have got to have law and order
among ourselves if we expect to keep the good opinion of the world at

“I understand Pete would have got off much easier if he hadn’t fought
them like a tiger,” said Blackburn. “They say - ”

“And why _shouldn’t_ he have fought?” Carson asked, quickly. “The nearer
the brute creation a man is the more he’ll fight. A tame dog will fight
if you drive him into a corner and strike him hard enough.”

“Well, you busted up our game,” joined in Keith Gordon, who had left
the table in the rear and now came forward, accompanied by another young
man, Wade Tingle, the editor of the _Headlight_. “Wade and I both agree,
Carson, that you’ve got to handle Dan Willis cautiously. We are backing
you tooth and toe-nail in this campaign, but you’ll tie our hands if you
antagonize the mountain element. Wiggin knows that, and he is working it
for all it’s worth.”

“That’s right, old man,” the editor joined in, earnestly. “I may as well
be plain with you. I’m making a big issue out of my support of you, but
if you make the country people mad they will stop taking my paper. I
can’t live without their patronage, and I simply can’t back you if you
don’t stick to _me_.”

“I wasn’t raising a row,” the young candidate said. “But Garner came to
me just now, actually advising me to avoid that dirty scoundrel. I won’t
dodge any blustering bully who is going about threatening what he will
do to me when he meets me face to face. I want your support, but I can’t
buy it that way.”

“Well,” Garner said, grimly, more to the others than to his partner,
“there will be a row right here inside of ten minutes. I see that now.
Willis has heard certain things Carson has said about the part he took
in that raid, and he is looking for trouble. Carson isn’t in the mood to
take back anything, and a fool can see how it will end.”


[Illustration: 9025]

EITH GORDON and Tingle motioned to Garner, and the three stepped out on
the sidewalk leaving Blackburn and the candidate together. The street
was quite deserted. Only a few of the ramshackle street lights were
burning, though the night was cloudy, the location of the stores,
barbershop, hotel, and post-office being indicated by the oblong patches
of light on the ground in front of them.

“You’ll never be able to move him,” Keith Gordon said, stroking his
blond mustache nervously. “The truth is, he’s terribly worked up over
it. Between us three, boys, Carson never loved but one woman in his
life, and she’s Helen Warren. Mam’ Linda is her old nurse, and Carson
knows when she comes home and hears of Pete’s trouble it is going to
hurt her awfully. Helen has a good, kind heart, and she loves Linda as
if they were the same flesh and blood. If Carson meets Willis to-night
he’ll kill him or get killed. Say, boys, he’s too fine a fellow for that
sort of thing right on the eve of his election. What the devil can we

“Oh, I see; there’s a woman at the bottom of it,” Garner said,
cynically. “I’m not surprised at the way he’s acting now, but I thought
that case was over with. Why, I heard she was engaged to a man down
where she’s visiting.”

“She really may be,” Gordon admitted, “but Carson is ready to fight
her battles, anyway. I honestly think she turned him down when he was
rolling so high with her brother, just before his death a year ago, but
that didn’t alter his feelings towards her.”

Garner grunted as he thrust his hand deep into his breast-pocket for
his plug of tobacco and began to twist off a corner of it. “The most
maddening thing on earth,” he said, “is to have a close friend who is a
darned fool. I’m tired of the whole business. Old Dwight is out of all
patience with Carson for the reckless way he has been living, but the
old man is really carried away with pride over the boy’s political
chances. He had that sort of ambition himself in his early life, and he
likes to see his son go in for it. He was powerfully tickled the
other day when I told him Carson was going in on the biggest wave of
popularity that ever bore a human chip, but he will cuss a blue streak
when the returns come in, for I tell you, boys, if Carson has a row with
Dan Willis to-night over this negro business, it will knock him higher
than a kite.”

“Do you know whether Carson has anything to shoot with?” Tingle asked,

“Oh yes, I saw the bulge of it under his coat just now,” Garner
answered, still angrily, “and if the two come together it will be
raining lead for a while in the old town.”

“I was just thinking about his sick mother,” Keith Gordon remarked.
“My sister told me the other day that Mrs. Dwight was in such a low
condition that any sudden shock would be apt to kill her. A thing like
this would upset her terribly - that is, if there is really any shooting.
Don’t you suppose if we were to remind Carson of her condition that he
might agree to go home?”

“No, you don’t know him as well as I do,” Garner said, firmly. “It would
only make him madder. The more reasons we give him for avoiding Willis
the more stubborn he’ll be. I guess we’ll have to let him sit there and
make a target of himself.”

Just then a tall mountaineer, under a broad-brimmed soft hat, wearing a
cotton checked shirt and jean trousers passed through the light of
the entrance to the hotel near by and slouched through the intervening
darkness towards them.

“It’s Pole Baker,” said Keith. “He’s a rough-and-ready supporter of
Carson’s. Say, hold on, Pole!”

“Hold on yourself; what’s up?” the mountaineer asked, with a laugh.
“Plottin’ agin the whites?”

“We want to ask you if you’ve seen Dan Willis to-night,” Garner

“Have I?” Baker grunted. “That’s exactly why I’m lookin’ fer you town
dudes instead o’ goin’ on out home where I belong. I’m as sober as an
empty keg, but I git charged with bein’ in the Darley calaboose every
time I don’t answer the old lady’s roll-call at bed-time. You bet Willis
is loaded fer bear, and he’s got some bad men with him down at the
wagon-yard. Wiggin has filled ‘em up with a lot o’ stuff about what
Carson said concernin’ the White Cap raid t’other night. I thought I’d
sorter put you fellers on, so you could keep our man out o’ the way
till their liquor wears off. Besides, I’m here to tell you, Bill Garner,
that’s a nasty card Wiggin’s set afloat in the mountains. He says a
regular gang of blue-bloods has been organized here to take up fer town
coons agin the pore whites in the country. We might crush such a report
in time, you know, but we’ll never kill it if thar’s a fight over it

“That’s the trouble,” the others said, in a breath.

“Wait one minute - you stay right here,” Baker said, and he went and
stood in front of the store door and looked in for a moment; then he
came back. “I thought maybe he’d let us all talk sense to ‘im, but you
can’t put reason into a man like that any easier than you can dip up
melted butter with a hot awl. I can’t see any chance unless you fellers
will leave it entirely to me.”

“Leave it to you?” Garner exclaimed. “What could you do?”

“I don’t know whether I could do a blessed thing or not, boys, but the
dam thing is so desperate that I’m willin’ to try. You see, I never talk
my politics - if I do, I talk it on t’other side to see what I kin pick
up to advantage. The truth is, I think them skunks consider me a Wiggin
man, and I’d like to git a whack at ‘em. Maybe I can git ‘em to leave
town. Abe Johnson is the leader of ‘em, and he never gets too drunk to
have some natural caution.”

“Well, it certainly couldn’t do any harm for you to try, Pole,” said

“Well, I’ll go down to the wagon-yard and see if they are still hanging

As he approached the place in question, which was an open space about
one hundred yards square surrounded by a high fence, at the lower end
of the main street, Pole stood in the broad gateway and surveyed the
numerous camp-fires which gleamed out from the darkness. He finally
descried a group of men around a fire between two white-hooded wagons
to the wheels of which were haltered several horses. As Pole advanced
towards them, paying cheerful greetings to various men and women around
the different fires he had to pass, he recognized Dan Willis, Abe
Johnson, and several others.

A quart whiskey flask, nearly empty, stood on the ground in the light
of the fire round which the men were seated. As he approached they
all looked up and nodded and muttered careless greetings. It seemed to
suggest a movement on the part of Dan Willis, a tall man of thirty-five
or thirty-six years of age, who wore long, matted hair and had bushy
eyebrows and a sweeping mustache, for, taking up the flask, he rose
and dropped it into his coat-pocket and spoke to the two men who sat on
either side of Abe Johnson.

“Come on,” he growled, “I want to talk to you. I don’t care whether you
join us or not, Abe.”

“Well, I’m out of it,” replied Johnson. “I’ve talked to you fellows till
I’m sick. You are too darned full to have any sense.”

Willis and the two men walked off together and stood behind one of the
wagons. Their voices, muffled by the effects of whiskey, came back to
the ears of the remaining two.

“Goin’ out home to-night, Abe?” Baker asked, carelessly.

“I want to, but I don’t like to leave that damned fool here in the
condition he’s in. He’ll either commit murder or git his blasted head
shot off.”

“That’s exactly what _I_ was thinking about,” said Pole, sitting down
on the ground carelessly and drawing his knees up in the embrace of his
strong arms. “Look here, Abe, me’n you hain’t to say quite as intimate
as own brothers born of the same mammy, but I hain’t got nothin’ agin
you of a personal nature.”

“Oh, I reckon that’s all right,” the other said, stroking his round,
smooth-shaven face with a dogged sweep of his brawny hand. “That’s all
right, Pole.”

“Well, my family knowed yore family long through the war,” Abe. “My
daddy was with yourn at the front, an’ our mothers swapped sugar an’
coffee in them hard times, an’, Abe, I’m here to tell you I sorter
hate to see an unsuspectin’ neighbor like you walk blind into serious
trouble, great big trouble, Abe - trouble of the sort that would make a
man’s wife an’ childern lie awake many and many a night.”

“What the hell you mean?” Johnson asked, picking up his ears.

“Why, it’s this here devilment that’s brewin’ betwixt Dan an’ Carson

[Illustration: 0031]

“Well, what’s that got to do with _me?_” Johnson asked, in surly

“Well, it’s jest this, Abe,” Pole leaned back till his feet rose from
the ground, and he twisted his neck as his eyes followed the three men
who, with their heads close together, had moved a little farther away.
“Maybe you don’t know it, Abe, but I used to be in the government
revenue service, and in one way and another that’s neither here nor
there I sometimes drop onto underground information, an’ I want to give
you a valuable tip. I want to start you to thinkin’. You’ll admit, I
reckon, that if them two men meet to-night thar will be apt to be blood

Johnson stared over the camp-fire sullenly. “If Carson Dwight hain’t had
the sense to git out o’ town thar will be, an’ plenty of it,” he said,
with a dry chuckle.

“Well, thar’s the difficulty,” said Pole. “He hain’t left town, an’
what’s wuss than that, his friends hain’t been able to budge ‘im from his
seat in Blackburn’s store, whar Dan couldn’t miss ‘im ef he was stalkin’
about blindfolded. He’s heard threats, and he’s as mad a man as ever
pulled hair.”

“Well, what the devil - ”

“Hold on, Abe. Now, I’ll tell you whar _you_ come in. My underground
information is that the Grand Jury is hard at work to git the facts
about that White Cap raid. The whole thing - name of leader and members
of the gang has been kept close so far, but - ”

“Well” - the half-defiant look in the face of Johnson gave way to one of
growing alarm - “well!” he repeated, but went no further.

“It’s this way, Abe - an’ I’m here as a friend, I reckon. You know as
well as I do that if thar is blood shed to-night it will git into court,
and a lots about the White Cap raid, and matters even further back, will
be pulled into the light.”

Pole’s words had made a marked impression on the man to whom they had
been so adroitly directed. Johnson leaned forward nervously. “So you
think - ” But he hung fire again.

“Huh, I think you’d better git Dan Willis out o’ this town, Abe, an’
inside o’ five minutes, ef you can do it.”

Johnson drew a breath of evident relief. “I can do it, Pole, and I’ll
act by your advice,” he said. “Thar’s only one thing on earth that would
turn Dan towards home, but I happen to know what that is. He’s b’ilin’
hot, but he ain’t any more anxious to stir up the Grand Jury than some
of the rest of us. I’ll go talk to ‘im.”

As Johnson moved away, Pole Baker rose and slouched off in the darkness
in the direction of the straggling lights along the main street. At the
gate he paused and waited, his eyes on the wagons and camp-fire he had
just left. Presently he noticed something and chuckled. The horses, with
clanking trace-chains, passed between him and the fire - they were being
led round to be hitched to the wagons. Pole chuckled again. “I’m not
sech a dern fool as I look,” he said, “Well, I had to lie some and act
a part that sorter went agin the grain, but my scheme worked. If I
ever git to hell I reckon it will be through tryin’ to do right - in the


[Illustration: 9035]

HE wide avenue which ran north and south and cut the town of Darley
into halves held the best and oldest residences. One side of the street
caught the full rays of the morning sun and the other the slanting red
beams of the afternoon. For so small a town, it was a well-graded and
well-kept thoroughfare. Strips of grass lay like ribbons between the

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