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   Chapter 8 THE HINT NOT TAKEN.

Unfettered By Sutton E. Griggs Characters: 10438

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The eyes of the civilized world were now directed to the settlement wherein Beulah was murdered, in order to witness there the workings of the sentiment of justice.

The poet's pen, the artist's brush, the sculptor's chisel, have long since despaired of adequately setting forth the natural charms of the Southland, the home of birds and flowers, grand with mountains, beautiful with valleys, restful in the girdling arms of her majestic streams, presided over by skies that are the bluest of the blue.

Knowing the proud place given the Southland by the fiat of Nature, the world of mankind riveted its gaze upon her eagerly and pressed to know the fate of those who murdered Beulah. The great heart of the South throbbed with a sense of shame over the perpetration of the crime and now sought to shake itself loose from the benumbing influences of an ever-pervading race feeling that was so powerful as to render inoperative so many higher sentiments. The pulpit and the press spoke in terrible tones to the hearts and consciences of the whites in denunciation of the crime and in demand that the guilty parties be brought to trial.

In addition to their natural horror of the crime, the best white people of the South had another incentive for desiring that they should act worthily in the matter. The white people had arrogated to themselves the right of exclusive control of public affairs. This act had been quietly submitted to by the Negroes, and the people of the North at that time appeared to be disposed to accept in great measure the Southern white man's view of his own problem. With all that they demanded practically conceded, they felt the more under obligations to make human life within their borders safe and sacred.

The Governor of the State offered large rewards for the apprehension and conviction of the perpetrators of the crime. In spite, however, of all the indignation of the South, no arrests were made. The members of the mob were in some way related to practically every influential family in the county in which the crime had been committed. In many cases the prosecutors would have found themselves proceeding against their closest kin.

The coroner's jury, duly impanelled and sworn, viewed the remains of Beulah and brought in the stereotyped verdict that "the deceased came to her death at the hands of a party or parties to the jury unknown." This verdict brought the incident to a close, so far as society, acting through legally constituted agencies, was concerned. But the incident was not in reality closed; for when a given agency fails to adequately meet the demands of humanity, the people find a way of making their power felt. Public sentiment began to mete out, in its own peculiar way, the justice which the courts had felt unable to administer.

The young men who had committed the crime, found themselves ostracized on every hand. Those who were engaged to be married, received notes cancelling their engagements.

When the people so elect they can make a citizen's garb burn into the soul of a man with an intensity equal to that of prison stripes. If the perpetrators of the crime were not convicts, the difference would not have been discovered by a comparison of their feelings with those of real convicts.

It came to the ears of 'Squire Mullen that his son Alfred had been the one to apply the torch and to strike the blow that brought on Beulah's death. The 'Squire was the soul of honor, as he understood it, and while he believed it to be the design of God that the white man should keep the Negro in a subordinate place, he yet deemed it an unspeakable horror to needlessly afflict a helpless people.

'Squire Mullen went to the room of his son on the night of the day on which he had heard of the part that the young man had played in the matter. The hour was late; his son was asleep in bed. The father said to himself as he looked at his sleeping offspring:

"I do not yet know that my boy is that guilty. Let me stroke those Saxon curls and kiss his cheek once more before I find out whether or not he is guilty." His caressings awoke Alfred, and the tenderness died out of the 'Squire's face, a look of stern justice mounted the throne.

He said: "Alfred, news reaches me that you applied the torch to Uncle Stephen's house while his daughter was in there, and that you struck the blow that killed her. I have come to know of you, my son, as to whether you did or did not do these things."

Alfred sat up in bed, a look of deep remorse upon his young and handsome face.

"Father," he said, "I would give the world to be able to truthfully say that the statements are false; but I cannot. The statements are true, too true!"

'Squire Mullen's eyes closed, his features became pinched, a harrowing groan escaped his lips. In his heart, honor and justice were throttling the love of his son. The moment was as excruciating as the soul of man ever knew. The struggle was great, for the opposing forces were great; but the conflict was of but a moment's duration.

'Squire Mullen turned and dragged himself out of the room. His step was no longer elastic. That instant had brought on the old age which his energetic will had per

sisted in delaying. In a few minutes he returned, bringing with him the family pistol. He placed it on the lamp-stand that stood at the head of Alfred's bed. Without saying a word he left the room. He went to bed, but, alas, could not sleep. He lay throughout the night expecting a sound that failed to come. When the fowls in the barnyard began to signal the approach of day, he arose and went to Alfred's room again. He said, "Alfred! Alfred! Alfred!" Alfred awoke.

"Can you sleep on such a night?" said the 'Squire, in tones of agony. "Is the family honor that low also? Can we thus bear open disgrace? Alfred! Alfred! There is a pistol at the head of your bed." So saying, the 'Squire returned to his room to again listen for the sound that would have been the most welcome of any that could be made.

Alfred now understood that his father desired him to commit suicide. He grasped the pistol and held it in his hand. He longed at that moment for the courage to die, but it was missing. He had been brought up from infancy by a "black mammy," and she had succeeded in imbuing his soul with her living fear of hell and her conceptions of a personal devil. As he sought to lift the pistol to his head, vivid pictures of lurid flames and grinning demons arose and paralyzed the hand that he desired to pull the trigger. Day broke and he was yet alive.

The 'Squire now came and took the pistol from the table where Alfred had replaced it, saying not a word to his son. That day he summoned all of his relations that were near by to gather at his home. In response to his request they came, their wives and daughters accompanying them.

In the middle of the afternoon the men repaired to the front yard, leaving the women in the house. It was somewhat cold and a bonfire was started to keep them warm. A circle of chairs was formed around the fire and the men sat down, two chairs having been put within the circle to be occupied by 'Squire Mullen and Alfred. These two now took their seats side by side. A huge leather back book was in the 'Squire's hands. His face wore a stern aspect, but one could tell that grief born of love was gnawing at his vitals. Since the previous night his hair had whitened and his brave eye had lost its glitter. He arose to address the meeting. Opening the book which he had in hand, he said: "Kinsmen, I hold in my hand the record book of the Mullens. I shall on this occasion read to you a terse statement of the most notable achievements of the Mullens from the time of William of Normandy until the present."

They all listened attentively while he read, Alfred's eyes being cast upon the ground.

Having traced the family history to his own generation, the 'Squire read of the deeds of prowess of himself and the others assembled who had rendered excellent service to the cause of the Southern Confederacy. When through with this he called the name of Alfred Mullen.

The 'Squire paused, then said: "Kinsmen, it would appear that I must now record the deed of one who claims to be my offspring and a partaker of the blood of our illustrious family. If so be, then the record must read that Alfred Mullen, on a Christmas morn, murdered a Negro girl in the absence of all male protection. The murder was unprovoked, and committed by Alfred Mullen while he had the protection of a gang of his fellows.

"Kinsmen, I have summoned you here to know if this deed must go on record. If you decide that it shall not go on record, you know what that means."

Turning to Alfred, he said: "It means that you must abandon the name of Mullen upon pain of being killed; that you must never lay claim to kinship with us; that you must go forth with the mark of Cain upon your brow."

The 'Squire now took his seat. There was a short pause. Then one by one the relatives arose and, with becoming gravity, made speeches repudiating Alfred, insisting that his sin against the traditional honor of the house of Mullen was unpardonable.

Before taking a final vote, Alfred was asked as to whether he had anything to say. He made no reply; his head was still bowed. A vote was then taken and Alfred stood expelled from the Mullen family forever.

The assembly now adjourned, and all the men, save Alfred, returned to the house, where sat the women in silence and in sorrow. Alfred, the out-cast, had gone. When the men entered the room Mrs. Mullen read in their countenances the fate of her boy, and she uttered a short, sharp scream of anguish that she could not repress.

"Mourn not for Cain," said 'Squire Mullen, whose twitching face belied the sternness of his voice. His heart, too, was sadly, cruelly torn by what had befallen his boy, but as best he could he maintained an outward calm.

That night a mob was formed at 'Squire Mullen's house. In silence the men proceeded to the barroom where their sons had imbibed the inspiration for their nefarious crime. They dragged out all of the kegs and barrels containing liquor, and emptied the contents on the ground. They then set the building on fire, and it was soon an ash-heap. A committee waited upon the barkeeper, reimbursed him for his losses and warned him to never more sell liquor in that settlement.

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