Chapter X - The Court-house Bell
The court-house bell ringing in the night! No hesitating stroke of Schofields' Henry, no uncertain touch, was on the rope. A loud, wild, hurried clamor pealing out to wake the country-side, a rapid clang! clang! clang! that struck clear in to the spine.
The court-house bell had tolled for the death of Morton, of Garfield, of Hendricks; had rung joy-peals of peace after the war and after political campaigns; but it had rung as it was ringing now only three times; once when Hibbard's mill burned, once when Webb Landis killed Sep Bardlock and intrenched himself in the lumber-yard and would not be taken till he was shot through and through, and once when the Rouen accommodation was wrecked within twenty yards of the station.
Why was the bell ringing now? Men and women, startled into wide wakefulness, groped to windows--no red mist hung over town or country. What was it? The bell rang on. Its loud alarm beat increasingly into men's hearts and quickened their throbbing to the rapid measure of its own. Vague forms loomed in the gloaming. A horse, wildly ridden, splashed through the town. There were shouts; voices called hoarsely. Lamps began to gleam in the windows. Half-clad people emerged from their houses, men slapping their braces on their shoulders as they ran out of doors. Questions were shouted into the dimness.
Then the news went over the town.
It was cried from yard to yard, from group to group, from gate to gate, and reached the furthermost confines. Runners shouted it as they sped by; boys panted it, breathless; women with loosened hair stumbled into darkling chambers and faltered it out to new-wakened sleepers; pale girls clutching wraps at their throats whispered it across fences; the sick, tossing on their hard beds, heard it. The bell clamored it far and near; it spread over the country-side; it flew over the wires to distant cities. The White-Caps had got Mr. Harkless!
Lige Willetts had lost track of him out near Briscoes', it was said, and had come in at midnight seeking him. He had found Parker, the "Herald" foreman, and Ross Schofield, the typesetter, and Bud Tipworthy, the devil, at work in the printing-room, but no sign of Harkless, there or in the cottage. Together these had sought for him and had roused others, who had inquired at every house where he might have gone for shelter, and they had heard nothing. They had watched for his coming during the slackening of the storm and he had not come, and there was nowhere he could have gone. He was missing; only one thing could have happened.
They had roused up Warren Smith, the prosecutor, the missing editor's most intimate friend in Carlow, and Homer, the sheriff, and Jared Wiley, the deputy. William Todd had rung the alarm. The first thing to do was to find him. After that there would be trouble--if not before. It looked as if there would be trouble before. The men tramping up to the muddy Square in their shirt-sleeves were bulgy about the right hips; and when Homer Tibbs joined Lum Landis at the hotel corner, and Landis saw that Homer was carrying a shot-gun, Landis went back for his. A hastily sworn posse galloped out Main Street. Women and children ran into neighbors' yards and began to cry. Day was coming; and, as the light grew, men swore and savagely kicked at the palings of fences that they passed.
In the foreglow of dawn they gathered in the Square and listened to Warren Smith, who made a speech from the court-house fence and warned them to go slow. They answered him with angry shouts and hootings, but he made his big voice heard, and bade them do nothing rash; no facts were known, he said; it was far from certain that harm had been done, and no one knew that the Six-Cross-Roads people had done it--even if something had happened to Mr. Harkless. He declared that he spoke in Harkless's name. Nothing could distress him so much as for them to defy the law, to take it out of the proper hands. Justice would be done.
"Yes it will!" shouted a man below him, brandishing the butt of a raw-hide whip above his head. "And while you jaw on about it here, he may be tied up like a dog in the woods, shot full of holes by the men you never lifted a finger to hender, because you want their votes when you run for circuit judge. What are we doin' here? What's the good of listening to you?"
There was a yell at this, and those who heard the speaker would probably have started for the Cross-Roads without further parley, had not a rumor sprung up, which passed so rapidly from man to man that within five minutes it was being turbulently discussed in every portion of the crowd. The news came that the two shell-gamblers had wrenched a bar out of a window under cover of the storm, had broken jail, and were at large. Their threats of the day before were remembered now, with convincing vividness. They had sworn repeatedly to Bardlock and to the sheriff, and in the hearing of others, that they would "do" for the man who took their money from them and had them arrested. The prosecuting attorney, quickly perceiving the value of this complication in holding back the mob that was already forming, called Homer from the crowd and made him get up on the fence and confess that his prisoners had escaped--at what time he did not know, probably toward the beginning of the storm, when it was noisiest.
"You see," cried the attorney, "there is nothing as yet of which we can accuse the Cross-Roads. If our friend has been hurt, it is much more likely that these crooks did it. They escaped in time to do it, and we all know they were laying for him. You want to be mighty careful, fellowcitizens. Homer is already in telegraphic communication with every town around here, and we'll have those men before night. All you've got to do is to control yourselves a little and go home quietly." He could see that his words (except those in reference to returning home--no one was going home) made an impression. There rose a babble of shouting and argument and swearing that grew continually louder, and the faces the lawyer looked down on were creased with perplexity, and shadowed with an anger that settled darker and darker.
Mr. Ephraim Watts, in spite of all confusion, clad as carefully as upon the preceding day, deliberately climbed the fence and stood by the lawyer and made a single steady gesture with his hand. He was listened to at once, as his respect for the law was less notorious than his irreverence for it, and he had been known in Carlow as a customarily reckless man. They wanted illegal and desperate advice, and quieted down to hear it. He spoke in his professionally calm voice.
"Gentlemen, it seems to me that Mr. Smith and Mr. Ribshaw" (nodding to the man with the rawhide whip) "are both right. What good are we doing here? What we want to know is what's happened to Mr. Harkless. It looks just now like the shell-men might have done it. Let's find out what they done. Scatter and hunt for him. 'Soon as anything is known for certain, Hibbard's mill whistle will blow three times. Keep on looking till it does. Then" he finished, with a barely perceptible scornful smile at the attorney, "then we can decide on what had ought to be done."
Six-Cross-Roads lay dark and steaming in the sun that morning. The forge was silent, the saloon locked up, the roadway deserted, even by the pigs. The broken old buggy stood rotting in the mud without a single lean, little old man or woman--such were the children of the Cross-Roads--to play about it. The fields were empty, and the rag-stuffed windows blank, under the baleful glance of the horsemen who galloped by at intervals, muttering curses, not always confining themselves to muttering them. Once, when the deputy sheriff rode through alone, a tattered black hound, more wolf than dog, half-emerged, growling, from beneath one of the tumble-down barns, and was jerked back into the darkness by his tail, with a snarl fiercer than his own, while a gun-barrel shone for a second as it swung for a stroke on the brute's head. The hound did not yelp or whine when the blow fell. He shut his eyes twice, and slunk sullenly back to his place.
The shanties might have received a volley or two from some of the mounted bands, exasperated by futile searching, had not the escape of Homer's prisoners made the guilt of the Cross-Roads appear doubtful in the minds of many. As the morning waned, the advocates of the theory that the gamblers had made away with Harkless grew in number. There came a telegram from the Rouen chief of police that he had a clew to their whereabouts; he thought they had succeeded in reaching Rouen, and it began to be generally believed that they had escaped by the one-o'clock freight, which had stopped to take on some empty cars at a side-track a mile northwest of the town, across the fields from the Briscoe house. Toward noon a party went out to examine the railroad embankment.
Men began to come back into the village for breakfast by twos and threes, though many kept on searching the woods, not feeling the need of food, or caring if they did. Every grove and clump of underbrush, every thicket, was ransacked; the waters of the creek, shallow for the most part, but swollen overnight, were dragged at every pool. Nothing was found; there was not a sign.
The bar of the hotel was thronged all morning as the returning citizens rapidly made their way thither, and those who had breakfasted and were going out again paused for internal, as well as external, reinforcement. The landlord, himself returned from a long hunt, set up his whiskey with a lavish hand.
"He was the best man we had, boys," said Landis, as he poured the little glasses full. "We'd ort of sent him to the legislative halls of Washington long ago. He'd of done us honor there; but we never thought of doin' anything fer him; jest set 'round and let him build up the town and give him empty thankyes. Drink hearty, gentlemen," he finished, gloomily, "I don't grudge no liquor to-day--except to Lige Willetts."
"He was a good man," said young William Todd, whose nose was red, not from the whiskey. "I've about give up."
Schofields' Henry drew his sleeve across his eyes. "He was the only man in this whole city that didn't jab and nag at me when I done my best," he exclaimed, with an increasing break in his utterance. "Many a good word I've had from him when nobody in town done nothin' but laugh an' rile an' badger me about my--my bell." And Schofields' Henry began to cry openly.
"He was a great hand with the chuldern," said one man. "Always have something to say to 'em to make 'em laugh when he went by. 'Talk more to them 'n he would to grown folks. Yes, sir."
"They knowed him all right," added another. "I reckon all of us did, little and big."
"It's goin' to seem mighty empty around here," said Ross Schofield. "What's goin' to become o' the 'Herald' and the party in this district? Where's the man to run either of 'em now. Like as not," he concluded desperately, "the election'll go against us in the fall."
Dibb Zane choked over his four fingers. "We might's well bust up this dab-dusted ole town ef he's gone."
"I don't know what's come over that Cynthy Tipworthy," said the landlord. "She's waited table on him last two year, and her brother Bud works at the 'Herald' office. She didn't say a word--only looked and looked and looked --like a crazy woman; then her and Bud went off together to hunt in the woods. They just tuck hold of each other's hands like----"
"That ain't nothin'," Homer Tibbs broke in. "You'd ort to've saw old Miz Hathaway, that widder woman next door to us, when she heard it. He had helped her to git her pension; and she tuck on worse 'n' anything I ever hear--lot worse 'n' when Hathaway died."
"I reckon there ain't many crazier than them two Bowlders, father and son," said the postmaster, wiping the drops from his beard as he set his glass on the bar. "They rid into town like a couple of wild Indians, the old man beatin' that gray mare o' theirn till she was one big welt, and he ain't natcherly no cruel man, either. I reckon Lige Willetts better keep out of Hartley's way."
"I keep out of no man's way," cried a voice behind him. Turning, they saw Lige standing on the threshold of the door that led to the street. In his hand he held the bridle of the horse he had ridden across the sidewalk, and that now stood panting, with lowered head, half through the doorway, beside his master. Lige was hatless, splashed with mud from head to foot; his jaw was set, his teeth ground together; his eyes burned under red lids, and his hair lay tossed and damp on his brow. "I keep out of no man's way," he repeated, hoarsely.
"I heard you, Mr. Tibbs, but I've got too much to do, while you loaf and gas and drink over Lum Landis's bar--I've got other business than keeping out of Hartley Bowlder's way. I'm looking for John Harkless. He was the best man we had in this ornery hole, and he was too good for us, and so we've maybe let him get killed, and maybe I'm to blame. But I'm going to find him, and if he's hurt--damn me! I'm going to have a hand on the rope that lifts the men that did it, if I have to go to Rouen to put it there! After that I'll answer for my fault, not before!"
He threw himself on his horse and was gone. Soon the room was emptied, as the patrons of the bar returned to the search, and only Mr. Wilkerson and the landlord remained, the bar being the professional office, so to speak, of both.
Wilkerson had a chair in a corner, where he sat chanting a funeral march in a sepulchral murmur, allowing a parenthetical hic to punctuate the dirge in place of the drum. Whenever a batch of newcomers entered, he rose to drink with them; and, at such times, after pouring off his liquor with a rich melancholy, shedding tears after every swallow, he would make an exploring tour of the room on his way back to his corner, stopping to look under each chair inquiringly and ejaculate: "Why, where kin he be!" Then, shaking his head, he would observe sadly: "Fine young man, he was, too; fine young man. Pore fellow! I reckon we hain't a-goin' to git him."
At eleven o'clock. Judge Briscoe dropped wearily from his horse at his own gate, and said to a wan girl who came running down the walk to meet him: "There is nothing, yet. I sent the telegram to your mother--to Mrs. Sherwood."
Helen turned away without answering. Her face was very white and looked pinched about the mouth. She went back to where old Fisbee sat on the porch, his white head held between his two hands; he was rocking himself to and fro. She touched him gently, but he did not look up. She spoke to him.
"There isn't anything--yet. He sent the telegram to mamma. I shall stay with you, now, no matter what you say." She sat beside him and put her head down on his shoulder, and though for a moment he appeared not to notice it, when Minnie came out on the porch, hearing her father at the door, the old scholar had put his arm about the girl and was stroking her fair hair softly.
Briscoe glanced at them, and raised a warning finger to his daughter, and they went tiptoeing into the house, where the judge dropped heavily upon a sofa with an asthmatic sigh; he was worn and tired. Minnie stood before him with a look of pale inquiry, and he shook his head.
"No use to tell them; but I can't see any hope," he answered her, biting nervously at the end of a cigar. "I expect you better bring me some coffee in here; I couldn't take another step to save me. I'm too old to tear around the country horseback before breakfast, like I have to-day."
"Did you send her telegram?" Minnie asked, as he drank the coffee she brought him. She had interpreted "coffee" liberally, and, with the assistance of Mildy Upton (whose subdued nose was frankly red and who shed tears on the raspberries), had prepared an appetizing table at his elbow.
"Yes," responded the judge, "and I'm glad she sent it. I talked the other way yesterday, what little I said--it isn't any of our business--but I don't think any too much of those people, somehow. She thinks she belongs with Fisbee, and I guess she's right. That young fellow must have got along with her pretty well, and I'm afraid when she gives up she'll be pretty bad over it; but I guess we all will. It's terribly sudden, somehow, though it's only what everybody half expected would come; only we thought it would come from over yonder." He nodded toward the west. "But she's got to stay here with us. Boarding at Sol Tibbs's with that old man won't do; and she's no girl to live in two rooms. You fix it up with her-- you make her stay."
"She must," answered his daughter as she knelt beside him and patted his coat and handed him several things to eat at the same time. "Mr. Fisbee will help me persuade her, now that she's bound to stay in spite of him and the Sherwoods, too. I think she is perfectly grand to do it. I've always thought she was grand--ever since she took me under her wing at school when I was terribly 'country' and frightened; but she was so sweet and kind she made me forget. She was the pet of the school, too, always doing things for the other girls, for everybody; looking out for people simply heads and heads bigger than herself, and so recklessly generous and so funny about it; and always thoughtful and--and--pleasant----"
Minnie was speaking sadly, mechanically; but suddenly she broke off with a quick sob, sprang up and went to the window; then, turning, cried out:
"I don't believe it! He knew how to take care of himself too well. He'd have got away from them."
Her father shook his head. "Then why hasn't he turned up? He'd have gone home after the storm if something bad wasn't the matter."
"But nothing--nothing that bad could have happened. They haven't found-- any--anything."
"But why hasn't he come back, child?"
"Well, he's lying hurt somewhere, that's all."
"Then why haven't they found him?"
"I don't care!" she cried, and choked with the words and tossed her dishevelled hair from her temples; "it isn't true. Helen won't believe it --why should I? It's only a few hours since he was right here in our yard, talking to us all. I won't believe it till they've searched every stick and stone of Six-Cross-Roads and found him."
"It wasn't the Cross-Roads," said the old gentleman, pushing the table away and relaxing his limbs on the sofa. "They probably didn't have anything to do with it. We thought they had at first, but everybody's about come to believe it was those two devils that he had arrested yesterday."
"Not the Cross-Roads!" echoed Minnie, and she began to tremble violently. "Haven't they been out there yet?"
"What use? They are out of it, and they can thank God they are!"
"They are not!" she cried excitedly. "They did it. It was the White-Caps. We saw them, Helen and I."
The judge got upon his feet with an oath. He had not sworn for years until that morning. "What's this?" he said sharply.
"I ought to have told you before, but we were so frightened, and--and you went off in such a rush after Mr. Wiley was here. I never dreamed everybody wouldn't know it was the Cross-Roads; that they would think of any one else. And I looked for the scarecrow as soon as it was light and it was 'way off from where we saw them, and wasn't blown down at all, and Helen saw them in the field besides--saw all of them----"
He interrupted her. "What do you mean? Try to tell me about it quietly, child." He laid his hand on her shoulder.
She told him breathlessly (while he grew more and more visibly perturbed and uneasy, biting his cigar to pieces and groaning at intervals) what she and Helen had seen in the storm. When she finished he took a few quick turns about the room with his hands thrust deep in his coat pockets, and then, charging her to repeat the story to no one, left the house, and, forgetting his fatigue, rapidly crossed the fields to the point where the bizarre figures of the night had shown themselves to the two girls at the window.
The soft ground had been trampled by many feet. The boot-prints pointed to the northeast. He traced them backward to the southwest through the field, and saw where they had come from near the road, going northeast. Then, returning, he climbed the fence and followed them northward through the next field. From there, the next, beyond the road that was a continuation of Main Street, stretched to the railroad embankment. The track, raggedly defined in trampled loam and muddy furrow, bent in a direction which indicated that its terminus might be the switch where the empty cars had stood last night, waiting for the one-o'clock freight. Though the fields had been trampled down in many places by the searching parties, he felt sure of the direction taken by the Cross-Roads men, and he perceived that the searchers had mistaken the tracks he followed for those of earlier parties in the hunt. On the embankment he saw a number of men, walking west and examining the ground on each side, and a long line of people following them out from town. He stopped. He held the fate of Six-CrossRoads in his hand and he knew it.
He knew that if he spoke, his evidence would damn the Cross-Roads, and that it meant that more than the White-Caps would be hurt, for the CrossRoads would fight. If he had believed that the dissemination of his knowledge could have helped Harkless, he would have called to the men near him at once; but he had no hope that the young man was alive. They would not have dragged him out to their shanties wounded, or as a prisoner; such a proceeding would have courted detection, and, also, they were not that kind; they had been "looking for him" a long time, and their one idea was to kill him.
And Harkless, for all his gentleness, was the sort of man, Briscoe believed, who would have to be killed before he could be touched. Of one thing the old gentleman was sure; the editor had not been tied up and whipped while yet alive. In spite of his easy manners and geniality, there was a dignity in him that would have made him kill and be killed before the dirty fingers of a Cross-Roads "White-Cap" could have been laid upon him in chastisement. A great many good Americans of Carlow who knew him well always Mistered him as they would have Mistered only an untitled Morton or Hendricks who might have lived amongst them. He was the only man the old darky, Uncle Xenophon, had ever addressed as "Marse" since he came to Plattville, thirty years ago.
Briscoe considered it probable that a few people were wearing bandages, in the closed shanties over to the west to-day. A thought of the number they had brought against one man; a picture of the unequal struggle, of the young fellow he had liked so well, unarmed and fighting hopelessly in a trap, and a sense of the cruelty of it, made the hot anger surge up in his breast, and he started on again. Then he stopped once more. Though long retired from faithful service on the bench, he had been all his life a serious exponent of the law, and what he went to tell meant lawlessness that no one could hope to check. He knew the temper of the people; their long suffering was at an end, and they would go over at last and wipe out the Cross-Roads. It depended on him. If the mob could be held off over to-day, if men's minds could cool over night, the law could strike and the innocent and the hotheaded be spared from suffering. He would wait; he would lay his information before the sheriff; and Horner would go quietly with a strong posse, for he would need a strong one. He began to retrace his steps.
The men on the embankment were walking slowly, bending far over, their eyes fixed on the ground. Suddenly one of them stood erect and tossed his arms in the air and shouted loudly. Other men ran to him, and another far down the track repeated the shout and the gesture to another far in his rear; this man took it up, and shouted and waved to a fourth man, and so they passed the signal back to town. There came, almost immediately three long, loud whistles from a mill near the station, and the embankment grew black with people pouring out from town, while the searchers came running from the fields and woods and underbrush on both sides of the railway.
Briscoe paused for the last time; then he began to walk slowly toward the embankment.
The track lay level and straight, not dimming in the middle distances, the rails converging to points, both northwest and southeast, in the cleanwashed air, like examples of perspective in a child's drawing-book. About seventy miles to the west and north lay Rouen; and, in the same direction, nearly six miles from where the signal was given, the track was crossed by a road leading directly south to Six-Cross-Roads.
The embankment had been newly ballasted with sand. What had been discovered was a broad brown stain on the south slope near the top. There were smaller stains above and below; none beyond it to left or right; and there were deep boot-prints in the sand. Men were examining the place excitedly, talking and gesticulating. It was Lige Willetts who had found it. His horse was tethered to a fence near by, at the end of a lane through a cornfield. Jared Wiley, the deputy, was talking to a group near the stain, explaining.
"You see them two must have knowed about the one-o'clock freight, and that it was to stop here to take on the empty lumber cars. I don't know how they knowed it, but they did. It was this way: when they dropped from the window, they beat through the storm, straight for this side-track. At the same time Mr. Harkless leaves Briscoes' goin' west. It begins to rain. He cuts across to the railroad to have a sure footing, and strikin' for the deepo for shelter--near place as any except Briscoes' where he'd said good-night already and prob'ly don't wish to go back, 'fear of givin' trouble or keepin' 'em up--anybody can understand that. He comes along, and gets to where we are precisely at the time they do, them comin' from town, him strikin' for it. They run right into each other. That's what happened. They re-cog-nized him and raised up on him and let him have it. What they done it with, I don't know; we took everything in that line off of 'em; prob'ly used railroad iron; and what they done with him afterwards we don't know; but we will by night. They'll sweat it out of 'em up at Rouen when they get 'em."
"I reckon maybe some of us might help," remarked Mr. Watts, reflectively.
Jim Bardlock swore a violent oath. "That's the talk!" he shouted. "Ef I ain't the first man of this crowd to set my foot in Roowun, an' first to beat in that jail door, an' take 'em out an' hang 'em by the neck till they're dead, dead, dead, I'm not Town Marshal of Plattville, County of Carlow, State of Indiana, and the Lord have mercy on our souls!"
Tom Martin looked at the brown stain and quickly turned away; then he went back slowly to the village. On the way he passed Warren Smith.
"Is it so?" asked the lawyer.
Martin answered with a dry throat. He looked out dimly over the sunlit fields, and swallowed once or twice. "Yes, it's so. There's a good deal of it there. Little more than a boy he was." The old fellow passed his seamy hand over his eyes without concealment. "Peter ain't very bright, sometimes, it seems to me," he added, brokenly; "overlook Bodeffer and Fisbee and me and all of us old husks, and--and--" he gulped suddenly, then finished--"and act the fool and take a boy that's the best we had. I wish the Almighty would take Peter off the gate; he ain't fit fer it."
When the attorney reached the spot where the crowd was thickest, way was made for him. The old colored man, Xenophon, approached at the same time, leaning on a hickory stick and bent very far over, one hand resting on his hip as if to ease a rusty joint. The negro's age was an incentive to fable; from his appearance he might have known the prophets, and he wore that hoary look of unearthly wisdom many decades of superstitious experience sometimes give to members of his race. His face, so tortured with wrinkles that it might have been made of innumerable black threads woven together, was a living mask of the mystery of his blood. Harkless had once said that Uncle Xenophon had visited heaven before Swedenborg and hell before Dante. To-day, as he slowly limped over the ties, his eyes were bright and dry under the solemn lids, and, though his heavy nostrils were unusually distended in the effort for regular breathing, the deeply puckered lips beneath them were set firmly.
He stopped and looked at the faces before him. When he spoke his voice was gentle, and though the tremulousness of age harped on the vocal strings, it was rigidly controlled. "Kin some kine gelmun," he asked, "please t'be so good ez t' show de ole main whuh de W'ite-Caips is done shoot Marse Hawkliss?"
"Here was where it happened, Uncle Zen," answered Wiley, leaning him forward. "Here is the stain."
Xenophon bent over the spot on the sand, making little odd noises in his throat. Then he painfully resumed his former position. "Dass his blood," he said, in the same gentle, quavering tone. "Dass my bes' frien' whut lay on de groun' whuh yo staind, gelmun."
There was a pause, and no one spoke.
"Dass whuh day laid 'im an' dass whuh he lie," the old negro continued. "Dey shot 'im in de fiels. Dey ain' shot 'im hear-yondeh dey drugged 'im, but dis whuh he lie." He bent over again, then knelt, groaningly, and placed his hand on the stain, one would have said, as a man might place his hand over a heart to see if it still beat. He was motionless, with the air of hearkening.
"Marse, honey, is you gone?" He raised his voice as if calling, "Is you gone, suh?--Marse?"
He looked up at the circle about him, and, still kneeling, not taking his hand from the sand, seeming to wait for a sign, to listen for a voice, he said: "Whafo' you gelmun think de good Lawd summon Marse Hawkliss? Kaze he de mos' fittes'? You know dat man he ketch me in de cole night, wintuh 'to' lais', stealin' 'is wood. You know whut he done t'de ole thief? Tek an' bull' up big fiah een ole Zen' shainty; say, 'He'p yo'se'f an' welcome. Reckon you hongry, too, ain' you, Xenophon?' Tek an' feed me. Tek an' tek keer o' me ev' since. Ah pump de baith full in de mawin'; mek 'is bed; pull de weeds out'n of de front walk--dass all. He tek me in. When Ah aisk 'im ain' he fraid keep ole thief he say, jesso: 'Dass all my fault, Xenophon; ought look you up long 'go; ought know long 'go you be cole dese baid nights. Reckon Ahm de thievenest one us two, Xenophon, keepin' all dis wood stock' up when you got none,' he say, jesso. Tek me in; say he lahk a thief. Pay me sala'y. Feed me. Dass de main whut de Caips gone shot lais' night." He raised his head sharply, and the mystery in his gloomy eyes intensified as they opened wide and stared at the sky, unseeingly.
"Ise bawn wid a cawl!" he exclaimed, loudly. His twisted frame was braced to an extreme tension. "Ise bawn wid a cawl! De blood anssuh!"
"It wasn't the Cross-Roads, Uncle Xenophon," said Warren Smith, laying his hand on the old man's shoulder.
Xenophon rose to his feet. He stretched a long, bony arm straight to the west, where the Cross-Roads lay; stood rigid and silent, like a seer; then spoke:
"De men whut shot Marse Hawkliss lies yondeh, hidin' f'um de light o' day. An' him"--he swerved his whole rigid body till the arm pointed northwest--"he lies yondeh. You won't find him heah. Dey fought 'im een de fiel's an' dey druggen 'im heah. Dis whim dey lay 'im down. Ise bawn wid a cawl!"
There were exclamations from the listeners, for Xenophon spoke as one having authority. Suddenly he turned and pointed his outstretched hand full at Judge Briscoe.
"An' dass de main," he cried, "dass de main kin tell you Ah speak de trufe."
Before he was answered, Eph Watts looked at Briscoe keenly and then turned to Lige Willetts and whispered: "Get on your horse, ride in, and ring the court-house bell like the devil. Do as I say!"
Tears stood in the judge's eyes. "It is so," he said, solemnly. "He speaks the truth. I didn't mean to tell it to-day, but somehow--" He paused. "The hounds!" he cried. "They deserve it! My daughter saw them crossing the fields in the night--saw them climb the fence, hoods, gowns, and all, a big crowd of them. She and the lady who is visiting us saw them, saw them plainly. The lady saw them several times, clear as day, by the flashes of lightning--the scoundrels were coming this way. They must have been dragging him with them then. He couldn't have had a show for his life amongst them. Do what you like--maybe they've got him at the Cross-Roads. If there's a chance of it--dead or alive--bring him back!"
A voice rang out above the clamor that followed the judge's speech.
"'Bring him back!' God could, maybe, but He won't. Who's travelling my way? I go west!" Hartley Bowlder had ridden his sorrel up the embankment, and the horse stood between the rails. There was an angry roar from the crowd; the prosecutor pleaded and threatened unheeded; and as for the deputy sheriff, he declared his intention of taking with him all who wished to go as his posse. Eph Watts succeeded in making himself heard above the tumult.
"The Square!" he shouted. "Start from the Square. We want everybody, and we'll need them. We want every one in Carlow to be implicated in this posse."
"They will be!" shouted a farmer. "Don't you worry about that."
"We want to get into some sort of shape," cried Eph.
"Shape, hell!" said Hartley Bowlder.
There was a hiss and clang and rattle behind him, and a steam whistle shrieked. The crowd divided, and Hartley's sorrel jumped just in time as the westbound accommodation rushed through on its way to Rouen. From the rear platform leaned the sheriff, Horner, waving his hands frantically as he flew by, but no one understood--or cared--what he said, or, in the general excitement, even wondered why he was leaving the scene of his duty at such a time. When the train had dwindled to a dot and disappeared, and the noise of its rush grew faint, the court-house bell was heard ringing, and the mob was piling pell-mell into the village to form on the Square. The judge stood alone on the embankment.
"That settles it," he said aloud, gloomily, watching the last figures. He took off his hat and pushed back the thick, white hair from his forehead. "Nothing to do but wait. Might as well go home for that. Blast it!" he exclaimed, impatiently. "I don't want to go there. It's too hard on the little girl. If she hadn't come till next week she'd never have known John Harkless."