THE LYNCHING BEE.
A shiver of horror crept over Dr. Stone as he raised himself heavily from the iron bed upon which he had passed the night, on the morning after we last saw him slowly driving away from the parsonage, self admitted "the happiest man in the world." The events of that night the reader has been led to anticipate from the words which escaped Dr. Leighton in his conversation with Regenia. Dr. Stone drove home, put away his horse for the night, and had just time enough to settle himself comfortably in his chair, light a cigar and open a letter which he was about to read, when an imperative knock called him to the door. Two officers stepped inside and presenting cocked revolvers at his head, said: "Not a word; you are our prisoner."
"Permit me to get my hat, gentlemen," the doctor said coolly. "I will accompany you without protest."
Slipping a pair of nippers about his wrists, they led him away to prison. As the officers handed him over to the jailer the doctor said: "Now that I am here, you will be kind enough to inform me of the nature of my offense."
"You will find that out soon enough," the officer addressed replied, significantly. "Your crime is not a killing one," he said, relenting a little as the jailor led the crest-fallen young man away to his cell.
As the doctor raised himself on his elbow and looked around, he saw, standing at the barred window, across the room, gazing for the last time upon the rising sun, a man. His face was black, his features sharp, his form symmetrical, and the doctor noted as the man turned slowly toward him that his eyes flashed with a dangerous daring. He also discerned that the stranger wore the badge and uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic.
"Good morning," said Lotus, as the man slowly moved over toward him and sat down on the bed by his side.
"Good morning, Doctor," he replied. "I did not know I had such good company."
It was Harvey Meeks. He had been arrested a few hours before and surreptitiously incarcerated.
"You are about as much surprised to find me here as both of us are to find ourselves in such a predicament," said the doctor huskily.
"Your company is indeed an unlooked for sorrow, but I have been expecting something of the sort since yesterday," Mr. Meeks calmly answered.
"I am in ignorance of my offense," said the doctor. "Of what have they accused you?"
"Defending a helpless child, I suppose," said Mr. Meeks. "It was this way: Yesterday two boys, one white, the other black, engaged in a youthful setto in front of my grocery. A crowd was attracted before I went out to see what was the matter. The black boy being the most hardy, came off first best in the melee. I stopped the fight and thought that would be the last of the trouble. The crowd continued to hang about the store and in an hour or two had been largely augmented by a number of 'roughs.' I noticed the colored boy sitting in the store, but busy with making out my bills, to-morrow being pay day at the mill, had entirely forgotten the incident, when I was rudely awakened to the danger of the situation by hearing loud, angry voices calling the boy to come out. I went to the door, tried to persuade the crowd to leave, told them that it was only a boyish encounter and it was too trivial for men to pay any attention to. I turned to go back into the store when one of the half-drunken wretches called after me: 'You are trying to shield the little nigger, and you need a dressing down as well as the boy. You are too saucy anyhow, since you got into your new store, Harvey Meeks.' I might say here that I noticed the crowd a rival groceryman, busily circulating among the men, and from his air and frequent gestures, knew that he was urging the excited men to loot my store. To make a long story short, the crowd seeing that they could not pick a quarrel with me, avowed their intention to come in and take the boy out. They made a rush for the door, pushed in, and advanced to take the child. The little fellow ran to me and clinging to my coat skirts, pleaded for protection. I ordered the crowd back and when they continued to advance, seized an ax-handle from the counter and engaged with them. Several bullets whizzed past my head, but in my anger I did not mind them. I whipped out of my store the whole cowardly crew, closed the door, locked it and fled to the woods. I went home last night, hoping against hope that the matter would blow over. As I left my house about four o'clock to again seek a hiding place, I was arrested. I saved the child, though," he added proudly.
Lotus sat there for sometime holding the big manly fellow's hand, and in the tears that chased each other down the cheeks of both, a sympathy which neither could have expressed in words sealed the tender compact of brotherly love so soon to be sundered by the hand of death.
"If the mob that fled before the strokes of that ax-handle finds out that I am in this jail, all the law in the state will not keep breath in my body twenty-four hours," said Mr. Meeks, sadly.
"Surely the authorities will protect you," said Lotus reassuringly.
"The sheriff holds his office by the will of that mob. I am a citizen and a soldier, but belong to the class that can be maltreated with impunity. We have no vote. Such a citizen is a non descript, a waif, a plaything at the mercy of every counter current in the sea of hate."
"Do not look at it in such a funereal way. While there is life there is hope," replied Dr. Stone.
"If it ends as I feel it will and you escape death as I hope and pray you may," he went on, ignoring Dr. Stone's words of consolation, "make me one promise, doctor. I have wife and son. The woman can take care of herself; see that the boy is sent north and educated."
"If I live," said Lotus, "I promise to carry out your wishes."
"I did you a service last night. I saved Miss Underwood from the clutches of Dr. Leighton. I left him more dead than alive—another point in favor of my hanging," he added.
He related to Lotus the incident with which the reader is already acquainted.
"Dr. Leighton is at the bottom of my trouble," said Lotus. "He has been too friendly with me recently to pass without suspicion."
Dr. Stone was silent. As he sat there thinking over the events of the previous night he wondered in his heart if ever again those scenes would be repeated. The jailor came in with breakfast, but neither of the prisoners had the appetite to touch it. The day wore away. As the scenes of night closed in upon them, Lotus noticed that his companion grew restless; his step more quick and nervous, the lines of his face tightened as the hours dragged their slow length along.
At last as if impatient, he turned to Lotus with a look he will never forget, and said, "It must be nearly midnight. I have only a few hours to live."
He knelt by the side of the iron couch and in a low, but steady voice, thanked God for the blessings of the past, asked in childlike simplicity Providential care of his soon to be widowed wife. His voice trembled a little as he prayed for his boy. Lotus was not forgotten. He prayed for him also, and then, as if all the hopes of his life had centred around him, he pleaded again for heaven's blessings and guidance for the child of his love. Then, "Into thy hand, Father, I commit my soul. All my life I have trusted Thee, sustain me now."
Never before had Lotus Stone heard such a prayer. If through the days of his college course a doubt of the realities of Christianity had ever darkened his thoughts, that prayer had driven that doubt away forever. He rose from his knees with a look of triumph in his eyes.
"They are coming. My hour is at hand," he said resignedly. His keen ears had detected the tramp, tramp of approaching death long before Lotus was aware of its insidious approach.
"This is the cell," Lotus heard someone say without. There was a moment of deathlike stillness; then the thud of a huge half of a telephone post, told to the silent watchers within that the mob was at its work. One tremendous thud, and the huge hinges break from their fastenings—the door, followed by the telephone post, falls to the floor with a deafening crash. They enter.
"There he is," someone cried. A wild yell, like the roar of a horde of hungry, ferocious brutes, greets this information. Lotus instinctively turned toward Harvey Meeks. He stood there, his arms folded, his head erect, the very personification of chivalrous manhood, "without fear and without reproach." The door opening into the cell was battered down and "the best citizens," as the cowardly ruffians are called, dragged Harvey Meeks from the prison. To call this vile, low born trash best citizen, is to promulgate a libel upon decency that true Southern manhood, in the name of honor, should refute.
The mob moved along the street. Harvey Meeks, the rope already around his neck, was pulled after them to the place of execution. The bystanders hurled vile epithets at him as he passed, and little boys wantonly stuck their knives into his quivering flesh. Several times, as the blood from these numberless wounds ran into his shoes and spurting out marked the trail of the serpent to the bridge where he was to die, did the victim piteously beg that he be killed outright.
"Do not cut me up by inches. Kill me like a man," he entreated.
No heed was paid to his prayer, save to increase the torture which he was receiving. At the bridge the mob tightened the rope and then ordered him to get upon the rail and jump over.
This he refused to do. "I will not kill myself," he said.
"Stand back!" said two stalwart fellows. "We'll throw the d—d old scoundrel over."
They picked him up, lifted him upon the railing and then shoved him over. As he fell he caught hold of the side of the bridge. "Let go!" they cried. Harvey, like a drowning man clinging to a straw, tightened his grip.
"Here, I'll make him let go," someone said, and drawing out a long knife, he reached down and cutting off the victim's fingers one by one, passed them to the jeering crowd, as mementoes of the occasion.
At last the dying man, for want of fingers, loosed his hold and dropped with a dull thud over the side of the bridge. As his body writhed and twisted in the air, a hundred revolvers, more merciful than man's torture, filled the swaying body full of holes, putting the struggling soul beyond the reach of misery. The blood of that martyred Christian, spilt by the relentless cruelty of white heathen, ran red in the muddy waters of the eddying river. The evidences of guilt were carried on to the father of waters, the Mississippi bore them to the restless ocean, and the accusing winds gathered them into their friendly arms and wafted them up to the courts of heaven.
Not satisfied with his bloody deeds the man who cut off Harvey Meeks' fingers, returned with some of his companions and drawing the body up, decapitated it. Attaching the rope under the arms of the corpse, he swung the ghastly, headless body over the bridge, to hang there over Sunday. Taking the head over to a neighboring saloon, the crowd pushed through the glazed doors in high glee. Two of the men, staggered up to the bar and stood there, while one of them said, "Give us three whiskies; one for me, one for Jack, and one," he said, as they lifted up by the ears the amputated head to the counter, "for old Harvey."
Dr. Leighton, throwing his cigar from his fingers, left the room. He had seen enough for one night. Of the best families of Grandville, this spotted scion of a highly respected ancestry was the solitary representative.
Chapter 22 (there is no Chap. 23) -- Chapter 25