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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 10038

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The doctor acted as his own lawyer, and the pock-marked man, whose name was Grimes, as the lawyer agin us. You could see that crowd had made up its mind before-hand, and was only giving us what they called a trial to satisfy their own conscience. But the fight was betwixt Grimes and Doctor Kirby the hull way through.

One witness was a feller that had been in the hotel at Cottonville the night we struck that place. We had drunk some of his licker.

"This man admitted himself that he was here to turn the niggers white," said the witness.

Doctor Kirby had told 'em what kind of medicine he was selling. We both remembered it. We both had to admit it.

The next witness was the feller that run the tavern at Bairdstown. He had with him, fur proof, a bottle of the stuff we had brought with us. He told how we had went away and left it there that very morning.

Another witness told of seeing the doctor talking in the road to that there nigger bishop. Which any one could of seen it easy enough, fur they wasn't nothing secret about it. We had met him by accident. But you could see it made agin us.

Another witness says he lives not fur from that Big Bethel church. He says he has noticed the niggers was worked up about something fur several days. They are keeping the cause of it secret. He went over to Big Bethel church the night before, he said, and he listened outside one of the windows to find out what kind of doctrine that crazy bishop was preaching to them. They was all so worked up, and the power was with 'em so strong, and they was so excited they wouldn't of hearn an army marching by. He had hearn the bishop deliver a message to his flock from the Messiah. He had seen him go wild, afterward, and preach an equality sermon. That was the lying message the old bishop had took to 'em, and that Sam had told us about. But how was this feller to know it was a lie? He believed in it, and he told it in a straight-ahead way that would make any one see he was telling the truth as he thought it to be.

Then they was six other witnesses. All had been in the gang that lynched the nigger that day. That nigger had confessed his crime before he was lynched. He had told how the niggers had been expecting of a Messiah fur several days, and how the doctor was him. He had died a-preaching and a-prophesying and thinking to the last minute maybe he was going to get took up in a chariot of fire.

Things kept looking worse and worse fur us. They had the story as the niggers thought it to be. They thought the doctor had deliberately represented himself as such, instead of which the doctor had refused to be represented as that there Messiah. More than that, he had never sold a bottle of that medicine. He had flung the idea of selling it way behind him jest as soon as he seen what the situation really was in the black counties. He had even despised himself fur going into it. But the looks of things was all the other way.

Then the doctor give his own testimony.

"Gentlemen," he says, "it is true that I came down here to try out that stuff in the bottle there, and see if a market could be worked up for it. It is also true that, after I came here and discovered what conditions were, I decided not to sell the stuff. I didn't sell any. About this Messiah business I know very little more than you do. The situation was created, and I blundered into it. I sent the negroes word that I was not the person they expected. The bishop lied to them. That is my whole story."

But they didn't believe him. Fur it was jest what he would of said if he had been guilty, as they thought him. And then Grimes gets up and says:

"Gentlemen, I demand for this prisoner the penalty of death.

"He has lent himself to a situation calculated to disturb in this county the peaceful domination of the black race by the white.

"He is a Northern man. But that is not against him. If this were a case where leniency were possible, it should count for him, as indicating an ignorance of the gravity of conditions which confront us here, every day and all the time. If he were my own brother, I would still demand his death.

"Lest he should think my attitude dictated by any lingering sectional prejudice, I may tell him what you all know-you people among whom I have lived for thirty years-that I am a Northern man myself.

"The negro who was lynched to-day might never have committed the crime he did had not the wild, disturbing dream of equality been stirring in his brain. Every speech, every look, every action which encourages that idea is a crime. In this county, where the blacks outnumber us, we must either rule as masters or be submerged.

"This man is still believed by the negroes to possess some miraculous power. He is therefore doubly dangerous. As a sharp warning to them he must die. His death will do more toward ending the trouble he has prepared than the death of a dozen negroes.

"And as God is my witness, I speak and act not through passion, but from the di

ctates of conscience."

He meant it, Grimes did. And when he set down they was a hush. And then Will, the chairman, begun to call the roll.

I never been much of a person to have bad dreams or nightmares or things like that. But ever since that night in that schoolhouse, if I do have a nightmare, it takes the shape of that roll being called. Every word was like a spade grating and gritting in damp gravel when a grave is dug. It sounded so to me.

"Samuel Palmour, how do you vote?" that chairman would say.

Samuel Palmour, or whoever it was, would hist himself to his feet, and he would say something like this:

"Death."

He wouldn't say it joyous. He wouldn't say it mad. He would be pale when he said it, mebby-and mebby trembling. But he would say it like it was a duty he had to do, that couldn't be got out of. That there trial had lasted so long they wasn't hot blood left in nobody jest then-only cold blood, and determination and duty and principle.

"Buck Hightower," says the chairman, "how do you vote?"

"Death," says Buck; "death for the man. But say, can't we jest LICK the kid and turn him loose?"

And so it went, up one side the room and down the other. Grimes had showed 'em all their duty. Not but what they had intended to do it before Grimes spoke. But he had put it in such a way they seen it was something with even MORE principle to it than they had thought it was before.

"Billy Harden," says the chairman, "how do you vote?" Billy was the last of the bunch. And most had voted fur death. Billy, he opened his mouth and he squared himself away to orate some. But jest as he done so, the door opened and Old Daddy Withers stepped in. He had been gone so long I had plumb forgot him. Right behind him was a tall, spare feller, with black eyes and straight iron-gray hair.

"I vote," says Billy Harden, beginning of his speech, "I vote for death. The reason upon which I base-"

But Doctor Kirby riz up and interrupted him.

"You are going to kill me," he said. He was pale but he was quiet, and he spoke as calm and steady as he ever done in his life. "You are going to kill me like the crowd of sneaking cowards that you are. And you ARE such cowards that you've talked two hours about it, instead of doing it. And I'll tell you why you've talked so much: because no ONE of you alone would dare to do it, and every man of you in the end wants to go away thinking that the other fellow had the biggest share in it. And no ONE of you will fire the gun or pull the rope-you'll do it ALL TOGETHER, in a crowd, because each one will want to tell himself he only touched the rope, or that HIS GUN missed.

"I know you, by God!" he shouted, flushing up into a passion-and it brought blood into their faces, too-"I know you right down to your roots, better than you know yourselves."

He was losing hold of himself, and roaring like a bull and flinging out taunts that made 'em squirm. If he wanted the thing over quick, he was taking jest the way to warm 'em up to it. But I don't think he was figgering on anything then, or had any plan up his sleeve. He had made up his mind he was going to die, and he was so mad because he couldn't get in one good lick first that he was nigh crazy. I looked to see him lose all sense in a minute, and rush amongst them guns and end it in a whirl.

But jest as I figgered he was on his tiptoes fur that, and was getting up my own sand, he throwed a look my way. And something sobered him. He stood there digging his finger nails into the palms of his hands fur a minute, to get himself back. And when he spoke he was sort of husky.

"That boy there," he says. And then he stops and kind of chokes up. And in a minute he was begging fur me. He tells 'em I wasn't mixed up in nothing. He wouldn't of done it fur himself, but he begged fur me. Nobody had paid much attention to me from the first, except Buck Hightower had put in a good word fur me. But somehow the doctor had got the crowd listening to him agin, and they all looked at me. It got next to me. I seen by the way they was looking, and I felt it in the air, that they was going to let me off.

But Doctor Kirby, he had always been my friend. It made me sore fur to see him thinking I wasn't with him. So I says:

"You better can that line of talk. They don't get you without they get me, too. You orter know I ain't a quitter. You give me a pain."

And the doctor and me stood and looked at each other fur a minute. He grinned at me, and all of a sudden we was neither one of us much giving a whoop, fur it had come to us both at oncet what awful good friends we was with each other.

But jest then they come a slow, easy-going sort of a voice from the back part of the room. That feller that had come in along with Old Daddy Withers come sauntering down the middle aisle, fumbling in his coat pocket, and speaking as he come.

"I've been hearing a great deal of talk about killing people in the last few minutes," he says.

Everybody rubbered at him.

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