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- The Law of the Land - 40/49 -
issued by the court of that county to its duly instituted executive officer.
Blount's face was an evil thing to see. At a grasp he caught from a belt which hung at the head board of the bed a well-worn revolver whitened where long friction on the scabbard had worn away the bluing. "Out of the way, Eddring," he cried. "Get your head out of the way, man!" His pistol sight followed steadily here and there, searching for a clean opening at its victim, now partly protected by Eddring as the latter sprang between them. Blount sat on the edge of the bed, his crippled arm fast at his side, his unshaven face aflame, his red eye burning in an unspeakable rage as it shone down the pistol-barrel, grimly hunting for a vital spot on the body of the man beyond him.
"Get out, quick," cried Eddring, and pushed the man through the door. He sprang to Blount and pushed him in turn back upon the bed.
"It's the law!" he reiterated.
"The law be damned!" cried Calvin Blount. "Let me up! Let me at him! _Him_--to come around here to arrest _me_-that damned nigger! You, Bill!" he called out, raising his voice. "Throw him off my place. Kill him!" He struggled furiously with Eddring in his effort to gain the door.
The new sheriff of Tullahoma County was ashen in color when he emerged into the hall; and then it was only to look into the muzzle of a rifle, held steadily by old Bill. There ambled up to Bill's side, also, Jack, and between them they laid hold of the sheriff of the county and pushed him out of the house and across the lawn, administering meanwhile to his body repeated deliberate and energetic kicks, and thus enthusiastically propelling him into the very presence of his waiting posse, who raised never a hand to resent these indignities to one who had been their chosen representative for the advancement of their race.
"I'll see 'bout dis yer, I will!" cried the sheriff, as at last he got clear and took refuge in the boat which lay waiting at the edge of the lawn. "I'll have you-all up for 'sistin' a officah, dat's whut I will."
"'Sistin' a officah! Who! _You?"_ said Bill. The scorn in his voice was infinite. "Say, you low-down scoun'rel, you say very much mo' an' I'll blow yoh head off. You're on our _lan'_, does you know dat? Now you git _off_, right soon."
The officer of the law retreated as far as he could into the boat. "You thought Cunnel Blount was all 'lone in bed, too weak to move, didn't you?" resumed Bill. "Why, blame you, you couldn't 'rest Colonel Calvin Blount, not if he was _daid!_ Go 'long dah, now!"
Mose Taylor, the grim jest, the sardonic answer of the whites of Tullahoma County to those who deal fluently with questions of which they know but little, was fain to take Bill's sincere advice. Behind the shelter of the first clump of trees, he folded his arms into a posture as near resembling that of Napoleon as he could assume. He frowned heavily. "Huh!" said he savagely, looking from one to another of the crew who made his "posse." "Huh!" he said again, and yet again, "Huh!" A cloud sat on his soul. It seemed to him that persons like himself, earnestly engaged in settling the race problem, ought not to have such difficulties cast in their way.
Meantime, in the house, Eddring still confronted the rage of Colonel Blount.
"You," panted Blount. "You! I thought you were one of us."
"I am, I am!" cried Eddring. "I was with you in what you did. I tried to get to you. It had to be done. But somewhere, Cal, we must stop. We've got to pull up. We can't fight lawlessness with worse lawlessness. We must begin with the law."
A bitter smile was his answer. "Is that sort of sheriff the foundation that you lay?" said Calvin Blount, panting, as at length he threw his six-shooter upon the bed. "Let me tell you, then, the law is never going to stand. That's no law for the Delta."
Eddring sunk his face between his hands. "Cal," he said, "we've got to begin. This country is being ruined, and perhaps it is partly our own fault. Now, I am guilty as you. are; but I say, we have got to give ourselves up to the law."
"Give myself up? Why, of _course_ I will. I was going up directly, soon as I got well, to talk it over with the judge, and arrange for a trial. All this has got to be squared up legally, of course. But that's a heap different from sending a nigger sheriff down here to arrest Cal Blount in his own house. Why, I'm one of the oldest citizens in these here bottoms. I've carried my end of the log for fifty years, with black and white. Why, if I should go in with that fellow, where'd be my reputation? I'd have a heap of show of living down here after that, wouldn't I? Why, my neighbors'd kill me, and do me a kindness at that."
"But we must begin," said Eddring, insistently, once more. "There must be some law. We'll go in and surrender. I'll take your case."
"You mean you'll be my lawyer at the trial?"
"Yes, I'll defend you. But as for you and me, we're for the state, after all. We've got to prosecute this entire system which prevails down here to-day. We're growing more and more lawless all over the South, all over America. Now, we don't want that. We don't believe in it. Then what can we do? How can we get to the bottom of this thing? Cal, I reckon you and I are brave enough to begin."
Even as they were speaking, they heard a knock at the door, and Miss Lady once more stood looking in hesitatingly upon these stern-faced men. Upon her own face there was horror, terror.
"I don't know what to do!" she cried, her hands at her temples. "I don't know where to go. You tell me this is my home, and I have nowhere else to go, but this is a _terrible_ place. Why, I have just heard about what happened--about Delphine and those others. Why, sir,"--this to Eddring,--"you knew it all the time. You saw. You knew!"
"Yes," said Eddring, "that is why I would not let you walk down that little path on the island. I didn't want you to know--we didn't want you ever to know."
"Yes, Miss Lady," affirmed Blount, "we knew. We didn't want you to know."
"But is there no law?" she cried. "Why do you do these things? The punishment is for the officers, for the courts, and not for you. Why, how can I _look_ at you without shivering?"
"What shall we do, Miss Lady?" asked Blount, coldly. "What's the right thing to do? Listen. We've done this thing for _you_. You're a white girl. The white women of this country--if we _didn't_ do these things, what chance would you and your like have in this country? Now, we've done it for you, and we'll finish the way you say. You're to decide. Shall we go in and surrender? Shall we be tried? Remember, it is our own lives at stake, then."
"We will go in, and we will meet our trial," said John Eddring, rising and interrupting, even as Miss Lady buried her face in her hands. "We will begin, right here."
THE LAW OF THE LAND
One morning in the early fall, the little town of Clarksville, county-seat of Tullahoma County, was thronged with people from all the country round about. There was in progress the trial of certain white citizens under indictment for murder, among these some of the most respected men of that region. The case of Colonel Calvin Blount had been chosen as the first of many.
The court-room in the square brick court house was packed with masses of silent men. The halls were crowded. The yard of the court house was full, and the streets were alive with grim-faced men. The hitching racks were lined with saddle horses, and other horses and countless mules were hitched to fences and trees even beyond the outskirts of the town. The hotels had long since abandoned system, and every dwelling house was open and full to overflowing.
Outside of the town, or mingling in the fringes of the crowd at its edges, there huddled even greater numbers of those of the colored race. Some of these were armed. The white men in the streets were armed. None showed hurry or agitation; none shouted or gesticulated; yet the clerk of the court had a pistol in his pocket; each juryman was likewise equipped; the judge on the bench knew there was a pistol in the drawer of the desk before him. This gathering of the people was thoughtfully prepared. It was a crisis, and was so recognized.
The silent audience was packed close up to the rail back of which was stationed the judge's stand and jury-box. Within the railing there was scanty room; every member of the local bar was there, and many lawyers from counties round about.
Erect in the grave-faced assemblage, there stood one man, pale of face but with burning eyes. It was John Eddring, attorney for the defense in the case of the state against Calvin Blount, charged with murder. His voice, clean-cut, eager, incisive, reached every corner of the room. His gestures were few and downright. He was swept forward by his own convictions of the truth.
Eddring was approaching the conclusion of the argument which he had begun the previous day. The testimony in these cases, known generally as the "lynching cases," had long been in and had passed through examination, cross-examination, rebuttal and surrebuttal.
Eddring knew that he would be followed by an able man, a district attorney conscientious in the discharge of his duty, however unpleasant it might be. He had therefore with the greatest care analyzed the evidence of the state as offered, and had demonstrated the technical impossibility of a conviction. Yet this, he knew, would not upon this occasion suffice. He went on toward the heart of the real case which he felt was then on trial before this jury of the people.
"Your Honor and gentlemen of the jury," he continued, "we all know
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