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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 13218

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


There was something sort of careless in his voice, like he had jest dropped in to see a show, and it had come to him sudden that he would enjoy himself fur a minute or two taking part in it. But he wasn't going to get TOO worked up about it, either, fur the show might end by making him tired, after all.

As he come down the aisle fumbling in his coat, he stopped and begun to slap all his pockets. Then his face cleared, and he dived into a vest pocket. Everybody looked like they thought he was going to pull something important out of it. But he didn't. All he pulled out was jest one of these here little ordinary red books of cigarette papers. Then he dived fur some loose tobacco, and begun to roll one. I noticed his fingers was long and white and slim and quick. But not excited fingers; only the kind that seems to say as much as talking says.

He licked his cigarette, and then he sauntered ahead, looking up. As he looked up the light fell full on his face fur the first time. He had high cheek bones and iron-gray hair which he wore rather long, and very black eyes. As he lifted his head and looked close at Doctor Kirby, a change went over both their faces. Doctor Kirby's mouth opened like he was going to speak. So did the other feller's. One side of his mouth twitched into something that was too surprised to be a grin, and one of his black eyebrows lifted itself up at the same time. But neither him nor Doctor Kirby spoke.

He stuck his cigarette into his mouth and turned sideways from Doctor Kirby, like he hadn't noticed him pertic'ler. And he turns to the chairman.

"Will," he says. And everybody listens. You could see they all knowed him, and that they all respected him too, by the way they was waiting to hear what he would say to Will. But they was all impatient and eager, too, and they wouldn't wait very long, although now they was hushing each other and leaning forward.

"Will," he says, very polite and quiet, "can I trouble you for a match?"

And everybody let go their breath. Some with a snort, like they knowed they was being trifled with, and it made 'em sore. His eyebrows goes up agin, like it was awful impolite in folks to snort that-away, and he is surprised to hear it. And Will, he digs fur a match and finds her and passes her over. He lights his cigarette, and he draws a good inhale, and he blows the smoke out like it done him a heap of good. He sees something so interesting in that little cloud of smoke that everybody else looks at it, too.

"Do I understand," he says, "that some one is going to lynch some one, or something of that sort?"

"That's about the size of it, colonel," says Will.

"Um!" he says, "What for?"

Then everybody starts to talk all at once, half of them jumping to their feet, and making a perfect hullabaloo of explanations you couldn't get no sense out of. In the midst of which the colonel takes a chair and sets down and crosses one leg over the other, swinging the loose foot and smiling very patient. Which Will remembers he is chairman of that meeting and pounds fur order.

"Thank you, Will," says the colonel, like getting order was a personal favour to him. Then Billy Harden gets the floor, and squares away fur a longwinded speech telling why. But Buck Hightower jumps up impatient and says:

"We've been through all that, Billy. That man there has been tried and found guilty, colonel, and there's only one thing to do-string him up."

"Buck, I wouldn't," says the colonel, very mild.

But that there man Grimes gets up very sober and steady and says:

"Colonel, you don't understand." And he tells him the hull thing as he believed it to be-why they has voted the doctor must die, the room warming up agin as he talks, and the colonel listening very interested. But you could see by the looks of him that colonel wouldn't never be interested so much in anything but himself, and his own way of doing things. In a way he was like a feller that enjoys having one part of himself stand aside and watch the play-actor game another part of himself is acting out.

"Grimes," he says, when the pock-marked man finishes, "I wouldn't. I really wouldn't."

"Colonel," says Grimes, showing his knowledge that they are all standing solid behind him, "WE WILL!"

"Ah," says the colonel, his eyebrows going up, and his face lighting up like he is really beginning to enjoy himself and is glad he come, "indeed!"

"Yes," says Grimes, "WE WILL!"

"But not," says the colonel, "before we have talked the thing over a bit, I hope?"

"There's been too much talk here now," yells Buck Hightower, "talk, talk, till, by God, I'm sick of it! Where's that ROPE?"

"But, listen to him-listen to the colonel!" some one else sings out. And then they was another hullabaloo, some yelling "no!" And the colonel, very patient, rolls himself another smoke and lights it from the butt of the first one. But finally they quiets down enough so Will can put it to a vote. Which vote goes fur the colonel to speak.

"Boys," he begins very quiet, "I wouldn't lynch this man. In the first place it will look bad in the newspapers, and-"

"The newspapers be d--d!" says some one.

"And in the second place," goes on the colonel, "it would be against the law, and-"

"The law be d--d!" says Buck Hightower.

"There's a higher law!" says Grimes.

"Against the law," says the colonel, rising up and throwing away his cigarette, and getting interested.

"I know how you feel about all this negro business. And I feel the same way. We all know that we must be the negros' masters. Grimes there found that out when he came South, and the idea pleased him so he hasn't been able to talk about anything else since. Grimes has turned into what the Northern newspapers think a typical Southerner is.

"Boys, this thing of lynching gets to be a habit. There's been a negro lynched to-day. He's the third in this county in five years. They all needed killing. If the thing stopped there I wouldn't care so much. But the habit of illegal killing grows when it gets started.

"It's grown on you. You're fixing to lynch your first white man now. If you do, you'll lynch another easier. You'll lynch one for murder and the next for stealing hogs and the next because he's unpopular and the next because he happens to dun you for a debt. And in five years life will be as cheap in Watson County as it is in a New York slum where they feed immigrants to the factories. You'll all be toting guns and grudges and trying to lynch each other.

"The place to stop the thing is where it starts. You can't have it b

oth ways-you've got to stand pat on the law, or else see the law spit on right and left, in the end, and NOBODY safe. It's either law or-"

"But," says Grimes, "there's a higher law than that on the statute books. There's-"

"There's a lot of flub-dub," says the colonel, "about higher laws and unwritten laws. But we've got high enough law written if we live up to it. There's-"

"Colonel Tom Buckner," says Buck Hightower, "what kind of law was it when you shot Ed Howard fifteen years ago? What-"

"You're out of order," says the chairman, "Colonel Buckner has the floor. And I'll remind you, Buck Hightower, that, on the occasion you drag in, Colonel Buckner didn't do any talking about higher laws or unwritten laws. He sent word to the sheriff to come and get him if he dared."

"Boys," says the colonel, "I'm preaching you higher doctrine than I've lived by, and I've made no claim to be better or more moral than any of you. I'm not. I'm in the same boat with all of you, and I tell you it's up to ALL of us to stop lynchings in this county-to set our faces against it. I tell you-"

"Is that all you've got to say to us, colonel?"

The question come out of a group that had drawed nearer together whilst the colonel was talking. They was tired of listening to talk and arguments, and showed it.

The colonel stopped speaking short when they flung that question at him. His face changed. He turned serious all over. And he let loose jest one word:

"NO!"

Not very loud, but with a ring in it that sounded like danger. And he got 'em waiting agin, and hanging on his words.

"No!" he repeats, louder, "not all. I have this to say to you-"

And he paused agin, pointing one long white finger at the crowd-

"IF YOU LYNCH THIS MAN YOU MUST KILL ME FIRST!"

I couldn't get away from thinking, as he stood there making them take that in, that they was something like a play-actor about him. But he was in earnest, and he would play it to the end, fur he liked the feelings it made circulate through his frame. And they saw he was in earnest.

"You'll lynch him, will you?" he says, a kind of passion getting into his voice fur the first time, and his eyes glittering. "You think you will? Well, you WON'T!

"You won't because I say NOT. Do you hear? I came here to-night to save him.

"You might string HIM up and not be called to account for it. But how about ME?"

He took a step forward, and, looking from face to face with a dare in his eyes, he went on:

"Is there a man among you fool enough to think you could kill Tom Buckner and not pay for it?"

He let 'em all think of that for jest another minute before he spoke agin. His face was as white as a piece of paper, and his nostrils was working, but everything else about him was quiet. He looked the master of them all as he stood there, Colonel Tom Buckner did-straight and splendid and keen. And they felt the danger in him, and they felt jest how fur he would go, now he was started.

"You didn't want to listen to me a bit ago," he said. "Now you must. Listen and choose. You can't kill that man unless you kill me too.

"TRY IT, IF YOU THINK YOU CAN!"

He reached over and took from the teacher's desk the sheet of paper Will had used to check off the name of each man and how he voted. He held it up in front of him and every man looked at it.

"You know me," he says. "You know I do not break my word. And I promise you that unless you do kill me here tonight-yes, as God is my witness, I THREATEN you-I will spend every dollar I own and every atom of influence I possess to bring each one of you to justice for that man's murder."

They knowed, that crowd did, that killing a man like Colonel Buckner-a leader and a big man in that part of the state-was a different proposition from killing a stranger like Doctor Kirby. The sense of what it would mean to kill Colonel Buckner was sinking into 'em, and showing on their faces. And no one could look at him standing there, with his determination blazing out of him, and not understand that unless they did kill him as well as Doctor Kirby he'd do jest what he said.

"I told you," he said, not raising his voice, but dropping it, and making it somehow come creeping nearer to every one by doing that, "I told you the first white man you lynched would lead to other lynchings. Let me show you what you're up against to-night.

"Kill the man and the boy here, and you must kill me. Kill me, and you must kill Old Man Withers, too."

Every one turned toward the door as he mentioned Old Man Withers. He had never been very far into the room.

"Oh, he's gone," said Colonel Tom, as they turned toward the door, and then looked at each other. "Gone home. Gone home with the name of every man present. Don't you see you'd have to kill Old Man Withers too, if you killed me? And then, HIS WIFE! And then-how many more?

"Do you see it widen-that pool of blood? Do you see it spread and spread?"

He looked down at the floor, like he really seen it there. He had 'em going now. They showed it.

"If you shed one drop," he went on, "you must shed more. Can't you see it-widening and deepening, widening and deepening, till you're wading knee deep in it-till it climbs to your waists-till it climbs to your throats and chokes you?"

It was a horrible idea, the way he played that there pool of blood and he shuddered like he felt it climbing up himself. And they felt it. A few men can't kill a hull, dern county and get away with it. The way he put it that's what they was up against.

"Now," says Colonel Tom, "what man among you wants to start it?"

Nobody moved. He waited a minute. Still nobody moved. They all looked at him. It was awful plain jest where they would have to begin. It was awful plain jest what it would all end up in. And I guess when they looked at him standing there, so fine and straight and splendid, it jest seemed plumb unpossible to make a move. There was a spirit in him that couldn't be killed. Doctor Kirby said afterward that was what come of being real "quality," which was what Colonel Tom was-it was that in him that licked 'em. It was the best part of their own selves, and the best part of their own country, speaking out of him to them, that done it. Mebby so. Anyhow, after a minute more of that strain, a feller by the door picks up his gun out of the corner with a scrape, and hists it to his shoulder and walks out. And then Colonel Tom says to Will, with his eyebrow going up, and that one-sided grin coming onto his face agin:

"Will, perhaps a motion to adjourn would be in order?"

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