When the mob which murdered poor Harvey Meeks left the jail, the night of the lynching, Lotus Stone was so shocked at the fate of his friend that it never occurred to him to walk out of the open doors and make his escape. For two hours the egress from his place of confinement was unguarded. The sheriff, the jailor and everybody else were having a two hours' respite. They had gone to see the hanging, which if they had not aided openly, in their hearts they had connived at the work the mob had so easily accomplished.
In the early hours of the morning the jailor returned. He visited the cell inhabited by Dr. Stone and having satisfied himself that the prisoner had not taken "French leave," fastened up the main entrance as securely as he could and went to bed. Lotus Stone did not sleep a wink that night. Whenever he closed his eyes he could hear the wild yells of the infuriated mob ringing in his ears and see the firm, resigned face of Harvey Meeks calmly awaiting the worst.
All through the weary hours of that long night he sat on his iron couch, his head buried in his hands, fearfully, if impatiently, awaiting the dawn of the morrow. What a change a few hours can make in the life of a human being! Verily, existence is as the days of a hireling; life is but a tale that is told. One short day and the self-admitted "happiest man in the world" is as ready to confess that Misery claims him for her own.
When the first red rays of the rising sun fell through the iron lattice of the only window in the room, Dr. Lotus Stone was hardly less unwilling to believe, than had been his sad companion the morning before, that perhaps it would never again rise in all its glory to shine for him. One thought alone beat in upon the discouraged condition of Lotus with the certainty of fate: "Whatever the accusation against him, Regenia would never believe it true." His faith in her love was an impregnable barrier against the dashing waves of despair. Let all the world be false, Regenia, at least, would be as true as gold. It remains to be seen whether the faith, which he believed on that morning to be as fixed as the eternal certitudes, will be shaken by the trials awaiting him.
There was a marked difference between the man that the officer led out to the preliminary trial and the one he brought to jail two evenings previous. Haggard, his eyes sunken, his face bristling with a beard of two days' growth, halting steps, untidy in appearance, the elegant Dr. Stone staggered into the presence of the justice and took his seat on the prisoner's bench. The accusation was read and the hearing was begun. Lotus looked around for his accuser. He was not left long in ignorance.
Abe Johnsing, whose acquaintance the reader has made in another chapter, seated himself in the witnesses' chair. This indolent rascal, who by a strange mischance, had broken his leg instead of his worthless neck, brought suit for mal-practice. He told his story, a web of well-woven lies, concocted of course, by the chicanery of Dr. Leighton. Abe Johnsing would never have dreamed of prosecuting Dr. Stone had not the blandishment of Dr. Leighton excited his cupidity. Dr. Leighton knew that Lotus Stone had no money to pay damages, but he persuaded Abe Johnsing that he had, well knowing that with a few dollars in sight the ignorant loafer could be induced to swear away the life of his own sister. Abe Johnsing was one of those traitorous Afro-Americans who for a few paltry dollars and the deceptive smiles of such as Dr. Leighton, would sell the fee simple of their soul's salvation. "May their tribe wither and die under the righteous hate of all true men."
Dr. Leighton followed Abe Johnsing. While professing the greatest esteem for Dr. Stone, candor and professional pride compelled him to make an unbiased statement of the case of the case of Abe Johnsing as he found it.
The justice stopped him. "The court," he said, "has already heard testimony enough to hold the prisoner."
Dr. Stone asked to make a statement.
"It is entirely unnecessary," was the reply. "You are bound over to court without bail. Take the prisoner back to jail," he said to the officer. "Bring on the next case," Lotus heard the unjust judge cry out, as the officer led him back to his dingy cell.
Lotus was surprised the first day of his arrest that Regenia did not come to condole with him in his misfortune, but when two, three, four days, and finally a week had passed, he settled down to the conclusion that Regenia was no better than the other sunshine friends who had flitted about him in prosperity, only to disappear when clouds arose.
The Grand Jury sat a week after the preliminary hearing noted above; and a "true bill" was found, an indictment alleged, and Dr. Lotus Stone was ordered to appear in court and show cause why he should not be punished in consequence of mal-practice inflicted upon Abe Johnsing. It was evident to Lotus after the rank partiality evinced at the first trial, that he need not expect a shadow of justice from the stultified court of Grandville. He was given counsel, as a matter of course, but counsel without heart or sympathy injures rather than assists. He had no witnesses. Not a friend showed his face to give comfort or offer assistance, from the time of his incarceration to the day of his trial. True, he was not well known. He was a man that made friends slowly. He went to Grandville to stay, and therefore did not waste his time fawning upon the necks of half the city that thrift might follow fawning. He wisely concluded that time and merit, with close attention to his exacting profession, would bring him both friends and success. What friends he had were intimidated by the lynching of Harvey Meeks and consulting discretion, left Dr. Stone to his fate.
The day for trial arrived. The evidence was a repetition of that given in the preliminary hearing. Dr. Stone's testimony in his own behalf would have convinced an unprejudiced jury of his innocence. He clearly showed that against his admonitions Abe Johnsing had made his crooked leg more crooked, by breaking it a second time in a drunken debauch.
Why weary the reader over the details of this one-sided trial? When the evidence was all in, the judge, to the surprise of everyone, instructed the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. It need hardly be recorded that the jury followed the judge's instructions.
The next day sentence was passed. When asked if he had anything to say in his own defense, why sentence should not be passed, Dr. Stone arose, There was a hush in the crowded court' all eyes were turned toward the prisoner whose manly bearing excited admiration, if his words could not change the intention of the court. In a few clear, well formed sentences Lotus dissected the trumped-up evidence presented by the plaintiff and then turning to the judge, he upbraided him for his rank unfairness. As he proceeded to pour out a torrent of invectives, the crowd began to cry out "Lynch him, lynch him," and pushing by the sheriff, started toward Lotus to carry out their intention.
The judge and sheriff, by dint of threats and admonition, finally succeeded in mollifying the irate citizens. Sentence was pronounced and Lotus Stone was ordered to spend three years in the convict mines and to pay a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars. He was accordingly ordered to be ready to start for the mines that night. His horse, buggy and other savings of a lifetime were seized to answer the demands of justice. He waited and hoped till the last minute that Regenia would come to say good-bye and strengthen his courage to bear up under the living death which he felt awaited him. He looked in vain. Handcuffed, he was marched off to the station. Only one soul in all that city showed him a single mark of kindness.
As he neared a corner where a crowd jeered at him as he passed, the little boy who was his patient the night he had first met Regenia, heedless of the guying by-standers, pushed out and gave him a flower. The tears flowed down his cheeks at this grateful remembrance of happier days. When the train pulled from the station, the hapless doctor still held as if a most precious antidote, the flower, a fading reminder of life's yesterday and to-day.
Where was Regenia Underwood, that she thus neglected her friend—her avowed and accepted lover? Wild with delirium in the parsonage in Irondale. The shock she had received at the hands of Dr. Leighton had left her unconscious for two days. When consciousness returned, brain fever set in and for weeks after Lotus Stone was an inmate of the convict camp, she lingered between life and death. When she finally began to convalesce, her good nurses were put to their wit's end to hide from her the facts of Dr. Stone's conviction. She finally worried so over his failure to come and see her, that the doctor feared that keeping the truth from her longer would be more deleterious than telling the whole story. The knowledge that her lover had suffered so much and was still suffering, and not a friend had been near to protest his innocence or cheer his sad heart to bear up misfortunes, effected Regenia deeply; but her physician had timed so well his revelation, and proceeded with so much tact, that the evil effects feared were warded off.
Regenia wrote to Clement St. John as soon as she was strong enough and asked him to advise her what steps to pursue to have Lotus pardoned.
She did not begin work till after the Christmas vacation. Her work no longer filled the nameless void, which widened and deepened as the days went by. With Lotus a martyr to the machinations of Doctor Leighton, life was robbed of half its charm; her school of all its interest. She grew listless, her step lost its elasticity, her eyes their sparkle, her life its elixir. The world said she was ill, her work was too taxing, and advised rest and change. Mother Thomas could have told a different story—a story of sleepless nights, tear-bedewed pillows and a heart slowly breaking with piteous sorrow for the man she loved.
Chapter 24 -- Chapter 26