“Mine Enemy, O Mine Enemy!”

The proceedings of the day⁠—planned originally as a “demonstration,” dignified subsequently as a “revolution,” under any name the culmination of the conspiracy formed by Carteret and his colleagues⁠—had by seven o’clock in the afternoon developed into a murderous riot. Crowds of white men and half-grown boys, drunk with whiskey or with license, raged through the streets, beating, chasing, or killing any negro so unfortunate as to fall into their hands. Why any particular negro was assailed, no one stopped to inquire; it was merely a white mob thirsting for black blood, with no more conscience or discrimination than would be exercised by a wolf in a sheepfold. It was race against race, the whites against the negroes; and it was a one-sided affair, for until Josh Green got together his body of armed men, no effective resistance had been made by any colored person, and the individuals who had been killed had so far left no marks upon the enemy by which they might be remembered.

“Kill the niggers!” rang out now and then through the dusk, and far down the street and along the intersecting thoroughfares distant voices took up the ominous refrain⁠—“Kill the niggers! Kill the damned niggers!” Now, not a dark face had been seen on the street for half an hour, until the group of men headed by Josh made their appearance in the negro quarter. Armed with guns and axes, they presented quite a formidable appearance as they made their way toward the new hospital, near which stood a schoolhouse and a large church, both used by the colored people. They did not reach their destination without having met a number of white men, singly or in twos or threes; and the rumor spread with incredible swiftness that the negroes in turn were up in arms, determined to massacre all the whites and burn the town. Some of the whites became alarmed, and recognizing the power of the negroes, if armed and conscious of their strength, were impressed by the immediate necessity of overpowering and overawing them. Others, with appetites already whetted by slaughter, saw a chance, welcome rather than not, of shedding more black blood. Spontaneously the white mob flocked toward the hospital, where rumor had it that a large body of desperate negroes, breathing threats of blood and fire, had taken a determined stand.

It had been Josh’s plan merely to remain quietly and peaceably in the neighborhood of the little group of public institutions, molesting no one, unless first attacked, and merely letting the white people see that they meant to protect their own; but so rapidly did the rumor spread, and so promptly did the white people act, that by the time Josh and his supporters had reached the top of the rising ground where the hospital stood, a crowd of white men much more numerous than their own party were following them at a short distance.

Josh, with the eye of a general, perceived that some of his party were becoming a little nervous, and decided that they would feel safer behind shelter.

“I reckon we better go inside de hospittle, boys,” he exclaimed. “Den we’ll be behind brick walls, an’ dem other fellows’ll be outside, an’ ef dere’s any fightin’, we’ll have de bes’ show. We ain’ gwine ter do no shootin’ till we’re pestered, an’ dey’ll be less likely ter pester us ef dey can’t git at us widout runnin’ some resk. Come along in! Be men! De gov’ner er de President is gwine ter sen’ soldiers ter stop dese gwines-on, an’ meantime we kin keep dem white devils f’m bu’nin’ down our hospittles an’ chu’ch-houses. Wen dey comes an’ fin’s out dat we jes’ means ter pertect ou’ prope’ty, dey’ll go ’long ’bout deir own business. Er, ef dey wants a scrap, dey kin have it! Come erlong, boys!”

Jerry Letlow, who had kept out of sight during the day, had started out, after night had set in, to find Major Carteret. Jerry was very much afraid. The events of the day had filled him with terror. Whatever the limitations of Jerry’s mind or character may have been, Jerry had a keen appreciation of the danger to the negroes when they came in conflict with the whites, and he had no desire to imperil his own skin. He valued his life for his own sake, and not for any altruistic theory that it might be of service to others. In other words, Jerry was something of a coward. He had kept in hiding all day, but finding, toward evening, that the riot did not abate, and fearing, from the rumors which came to his ears, that all the negroes would be exterminated, he had set out, somewhat desperately, to try to find his white patron and protector. He had been cautious to avoid meeting any white men, and, anticipating no danger from those of his own race, went toward the party which he saw approaching, whose path would cross his own. When they were only a few yards apart, Josh took a step forward and caught Jerry by the arm.

“Come along, Jerry, we need you! Here’s another man, boys. Come on now, and fight fer yo’ race!”

In vain Jerry protested. “I don’ wan’ ter fight,” he howled. “De w’ite folks ain’ gwine ter pester me; dey’re my frien’s. Tu’n me loose⁠—tu’n me loose, er we all gwine ter git killed!”

The party paid no attention to Jerry’s protestations. Indeed, with the crowd of whites following behind, they were simply considering the question of a position from which they could most effectively defend themselves and the building which they imagined to be threatened. If Josh had released his grip of Jerry, that worthy could easily have escaped from the crowd; but Josh maintained his hold almost mechanically, and, in the confusion, Jerry found himself swept with the rest into the hospital, the doors of which were promptly barricaded with the heavier pieces of furniture, and the windows manned by several men each, Josh, with the instinct of a born commander, posting his forces so that they could cover with their guns all the approaches to the building. Jerry still continuing to make himself troublesome, Josh, in a moment of impatience, gave him a terrific box on the ear, which stretched him out upon the floor unconscious.

“Shet up,” he said; “ef you can’t stan’ up like a man, keep still, and don’t interfere wid men w’at will fight!” The hospital, when Josh and his men took possession, had been found deserted. Fortunately there were no patients for that day, except one or two convalescents, and these, with the attendants, had joined the exodus of the colored people from the town.

A white man advanced from the crowd without toward the main entrance to the hospital. Big Josh, looking out from a window, grasped his gun more firmly, as his eyes fell upon the man who had murdered his father and darkened his mother’s life. Mechanically he raised his rifle, but lowered it as the white man lifted up his hand as a sign that he wished to speak.

“You niggers,” called Captain McBane loudly⁠—it was that worthy⁠—“you niggers are courtin’ death, an’ you won’t have to court her but a minute er two mo’ befo’ she’ll have you. If you surrender and give up your arms, you’ll be dealt with leniently⁠—you may get off with the chain-gang or the penitentiary. If you resist, you’ll be shot like dogs.”

“Dat’s no news, Mr. White Man,” replied Josh, appearing boldly at the window. “We’re use’ ter bein’ treated like dogs by men like you. If you w’ite people will go ’long an’ ten’ ter yo’ own business an’ let us alone, we’ll ten’ ter ou’n. You’ve got guns, an’ we’ve got jest as much right ter carry ’em as you have. Lay down yo’n, an’ we’ll lay down ou’n⁠—we didn’ take ’em up fust; but we ain’ gwine ter let you bu’n down ou’ chu’ches an’ school’ouses, er dis hospittle, an’ we ain’ comin’ out er dis house, where we ain’ disturbin’ nobody, fer you ter shoot us down er sen’ us ter jail. You hear me!”

“All right,” responded McBane. “You’ve had fair warning. Your blood be on your”⁠—His speech was interrupted by a shot from the crowd, which splintered the window-casing close to Josh’s head. This was followed by half a dozen other shots, which were replied to, almost simultaneously, by a volley from within, by which one of the attacking party was killed and another wounded.

This roused the mob to frenzy.

“Vengeance! vengeance!” they yelled. “Kill the niggers!”

A negro had killed a white man⁠—the unpardonable sin, admitting neither excuse, justification, nor extenuation. From time immemorial it had been bred in the Southern white consciousness, and in the negro consciousness also, for that matter, that the person of a white man was sacred from the touch of a negro, no matter what the provocation. A dozen colored men lay dead in the streets of Wellington, inoffensive people, slain in cold blood because they had been bold enough to question the authority of those who had assailed them, or frightened enough to flee when they had been ordered to stand still; but their lives counted nothing against that of a riotous white man, who had courted death by attacking a body of armed men.

The crowd, too, surrounding the hospital, had changed somewhat in character. The men who had acted as leaders in the early afternoon, having accomplished their purpose of overturning the local administration and establishing a provisional government of their own, had withdrawn from active participation in the rioting, deeming the negroes already sufficiently overawed to render unlikely any further trouble from that source. Several of the ringleaders had indeed begun to exert themselves to prevent further disorder, or any loss of property, the possibility of which had become apparent; but those who set in motion the forces of evil cannot always control them afterwards. The baser element of the white population, recruited from the wharves and the saloons, was now predominant.

Captain McBane was the only one of the revolutionary committee who had remained with the mob, not with any purpose to restore or preserve order, but because he found the company and the occasion entirely congenial. He had had no opportunity, at least no tenable excuse, to kill or maim a negro since the termination of his contract with the state for convicts, and this occasion had awakened a dormant appetite for these diversions. We are all puppets in the hands of Fate, and seldom see the strings that move us. McBane had lived a life of violence and cruelty. As a man sows, so shall he reap. In works of fiction, such men are sometimes converted. More often, in real life, they do not change their natures until they are converted into dust. One does well to distrust a tamed tiger.

On the outskirts of the crowd a few of the better class, or at least of the better clad, were looking on. The double volley described had already been fired, when the number of these was augmented by the arrival of Major Carteret and Mr. Ellis, who had just come from the Chronicle office, where the next day’s paper had been in hasty preparation. They pushed their way towards the front of the crowd.

“This must be stopped, Ellis,” said Carteret. “They are burning houses and killing women and children. Old Jane, good old Mammy Jane, who nursed my wife at her bosom, and has waited on her and my child within a few weeks, was killed only a few rods from my house, to which she was evidently fleeing for protection. It must have been by accident⁠—I cannot believe that any white man in town would be dastard enough to commit such a deed intentionally! I would have defended her with my own life! We must try to stop this thing!”

“Easier said than done,” returned Ellis. “It is in the fever stage, and must burn itself out. We shall be lucky if it does not burn the town out. Suppose the negroes should also take a hand at the burning? We have advised the people to put the negroes down, and they are doing the job thoroughly.”

“My God!” replied the other, with a gesture of impatience, as he continued to elbow his way through the crowd; “I meant to keep them in their places⁠—I did not intend wholesale murder and arson.”

Carteret, having reached the front of the mob, made an effort to gain their attention.

“Gentlemen!” he cried in his loudest tones. His voice, unfortunately, was neither loud nor piercing.

“Kill the niggers!” clamored the mob.

“Gentlemen, I implore you”⁠—

The crash of a dozen windows, broken by stones and pistol shots, drowned his voice.

“Gentlemen!” he shouted; “this is murder, it is madness; it is a disgrace to our city, to our state, to our civilization!”

“That’s right!” replied several voices. The mob had recognized the speaker. “It is a disgrace, and we’ll not put up with it a moment longer. Burn ’em out! Hurrah for Major Carteret, the champion of ‘white supremacy’! Three cheers for the Morning Chronicle and ‘no nigger domination’!”

“Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” yelled the crowd.

In vain the baffled orator gesticulated and shrieked in the effort to correct the misapprehension. Their oracle had spoken; not hearing what he said, they assumed it to mean encouragement and cooperation. Their present course was but the logical outcome of the crusade which the Morning Chronicle had preached, in season and out of season, for many months. When Carteret had spoken, and the crowd had cheered him, they felt that they had done all that courtesy required, and he was good-naturedly elbowed aside while they proceeded with the work in hand, which was now to drive out the negroes from the hospital and avenge the killing of their comrade.

Some brought hay, some kerosene, and others wood from a pile which had been thrown into a vacant lot near by. Several safe ways of approach to the building were discovered, and the combustibles placed and fired. The flames, soon gaining a foothold, leaped upward, catching here and there at the exposed woodwork, and licking the walls hungrily with long tongues of flame.

Meanwhile a desultory firing was kept up from the outside, which was replied to scatteringly from within the hospital. Those inside were either not good marksmen, or excitement had spoiled their aim. If a face appeared at a window, a dozen pistol shots from the crowd sought the spot immediately.

Higher and higher leaped the flames. Suddenly from one of the windows sprang a black figure, waving a white handkerchief. It was Jerry Letlow. Regaining consciousness after the effect of Josh’s blow had subsided, Jerry had kept quiet and watched his opportunity. From a safe vantage-ground he had scanned the crowd without, in search of some white friend. When he saw Major Carteret moving disconsolately away after his futile effort to stem the torrent, Jerry made a dash for the window. He sprang forth, and, waving his handkerchief as a flag of truce, ran toward Major Carteret, shouting frantically:⁠—

“Majah Carteret⁠—O majah! It’s me, suh, Jerry, suh! I didn’ go in dere myse’f, suh⁠—I wuz drag’ in dere! I wouldn’ do nothin’ ’g’inst de w’ite folks, suh⁠—no, ’ndeed, I wouldn’, suh!”

Jerry’s cries were drowned in a roar of rage and a volley of shots from the mob. Carteret, who had turned away with Ellis, did not even hear his servant’s voice. Jerry’s poor flag of truce, his explanations, his reliance upon his white friends, all failed him in the moment of supreme need. In that hour, as in any hour when the depths of race hatred are stirred, a negro was no more than a brute beast, set upon by other brute beasts whose only instinct was to kill and destroy.

“Let us leave this inferno, Ellis,” said Carteret, sick with anger and disgust. He had just become aware that a negro was being killed, though he did not know whom. “We can do nothing. The negroes have themselves to blame⁠—they tempted us beyond endurance. I counseled firmness, and firm measures were taken, and our purpose was accomplished. I am not responsible for these subsequent horrors⁠—I wash my hands of them. Let us go!”

The flames gained headway and gradually enveloped the burning building, until it became evident to those within as well as those without that the position of the defenders was no longer tenable. Would they die in the flames, or would they be driven out? The uncertainty soon came to an end.

The besieged had been willing to fight, so long as there seemed a hope of successfully defending themselves and their property; for their purpose was purely one of defense. When they saw the case was hopeless, inspired by Josh Green’s reckless courage, they were still willing to sell their lives dearly. One or two of them had already been killed, and as many more disabled. The fate of Jerry Letlow had struck terror to the hearts of several others, who could scarcely hide their fear. After the building had been fired, Josh’s exhortations were no longer able to keep them in the hospital. They preferred to fight and be killed in the open, rather than to be smothered like rats in a hole.

“Boys!” exclaimed Josh⁠—“men!⁠—fer nobody but men would do w’at you have done⁠—the day has gone ’g’inst us. We kin see ou’ finish; but fer my part, I ain’ gwine ter leave dis worl’ widout takin’ a w’ite man ’long wid me, an’ I sees my man right out yonder waitin’⁠—I be’n waitin’ fer him twenty years, but he won’ have ter wait fer me mo’ ’n ’bout twenty seconds. Eve’y one er you pick yo’ man! We’ll open de do’, an’ we’ll give some w’ite men a chance ter be sorry dey ever started dis fuss!”

The door was thrown open suddenly, and through it rushed a dozen or more black figures, armed with knives, pistols, or clubbed muskets. Taken by sudden surprise, the white people stood motionless for a moment, but the approaching negroes had scarcely covered half the distance to which the heat of the flames had driven back the mob, before they were greeted with a volley that laid them all low but two. One of these, dazed by the fate of his companions, turned instinctively to flee, but had scarcely faced around before he fell, pierced in the back by a dozen bullets.

Josh Green, the tallest and biggest of them all, had not apparently been touched. Some of the crowd paused in involuntary admiration of this black giant, famed on the wharves for his strength, sweeping down upon them, a smile upon his face, his eyes lit up with a rapt expression which seemed to take him out of mortal ken. This impression was heightened by his apparent immunity from the shower of lead which less susceptible persons had continued to pour at him.

Armed with a huge bowie-knife, a relic of the civil war, which he had carried on his person for many years for a definite purpose, and which he had kept sharpened to a razor edge, he reached the line of the crowd. All but the bravest shrank back. Like a wedge he dashed through the mob, which parted instinctively before him, and all oblivious of the rain of lead which fell around him, reached the point where Captain McBane, the bravest man in the party, stood waiting to meet him. A pistol-flame flashed in his face, but he went on, and raising his powerful right arm, buried his knife to the hilt in the heart of his enemy. When the crowd dashed forward to wreak vengeance on his dead body, they found him with a smile still upon his face.

One of the two died as the fool dieth. Which was it, or was it both? “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord, and it had not been left to Him. But they that do violence must expect to suffer violence. McBane’s death was merciful, compared with the nameless horrors he had heaped upon the hundreds of helpless mortals who had fallen into his hands during his career as a contractor of convict labor.

Sobered by this culminating tragedy, the mob shortly afterwards dispersed. The flames soon completed their work, and this handsome structure, the fruit of old Adam Miller’s industry, the monument of his son’s philanthropy, a promise of good things for the future of the city, lay smouldering in ruins, a melancholy witness to the fact that our boasted civilization is but a thin veneer, which cracks and scales off at the first impact of primal passions.