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The Tragedy At Three Forks
by [?]

“Now there you go with regular nigger stubbornness; didn’t I tell you that that was the only way out of this? If you persist in saying you didn’t do it, they’ll hang you; whereas, if you own, you’ll only get a couple of years in the ‘pen.’ Which ‘ud you rather have, a couple o’ years to work out, or your necks stretched?”

“Oh, we’ll ‘fess, Mistah, we’ll ‘fess we done it; please, please don’t let ’em hang us!” cried the thoroughly frightened blacks.

“Well, that’s something like it,” said the prosecuting attorney as he rose to go. “I’ll see what can be done for you.”

With marvelous and mysterious rapidity, considering the reticence which a prosecuting attorney who was friendly to the negroes should display, the report got abroad that the negroes had confessed their crime, and soon after dark, ominous looking crowds began to gather in the streets. They passed and repassed the place, where stationed on the little wooden shelf that did duty as a doorstep, Jane Hunster sat with her head buried in her hands. She did not raise up to look at any of them, until a hand was laid on her shoulder, and a voice called her, “Jane!”

“Oh, hit’s you, is it, Bud,” she said, raising her head slowly, “howdy?”

“Howdy yoreself,” said the young man, looking down at her tenderly.

“Bresh off yore pants an’ set down,” said the girl making room for him on the step. The young man did so, at the same time taking hold of her hand with awkward tenderness.

“Jane,” he said, “I jest can’t wait fur my answer no longer! you got to tell me to-night, either one way or the other. Dock Heaters has been a-blowin’ hit aroun’ that he has beat my time with you. I don’t believe it Jane, fur after keepin’ me waitin’ all these years, I don’t believe you’d go back on me. You know I’ve allus loved you, ever sence we was little children together.”

The girl was silent until he leaned over and said in pleading tones, “What do you say, Jane?”

“I hain’t fitten fur you, Bud.”

“Don’t talk that-a-way, Jane, you know ef you jest say ‘yes,’ I’ll be the happiest man in the state.”

“Well, yes, then, Bud, for you’re my choice, even ef I have fooled with you fur a long time; an’ I’m glad now that I kin make somebody happy.” The girl was shivering, and her hands were cold, but she made no movement to rise or enter the house.

Bud put his arms around her and kissed her shyly. And just then a shout arose from the crowd down the street.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It’s the boys gittin’ worked up, I reckon. They’re going to lynch them niggers to-night that burned ole man Williams out.”

The girl leaped to her feet, “They mustn’t do it,” she cried. “They ain’t never been tried!”

“Set down, Janey,” said her lover, “they’ve owned up to it.”

“I don’t believe it,” she exclaimed, “somebody’s jest a lyin’ on ’em to git ’em hung because they’re niggers.”

“Sh–Jane, you’re excited, you ain’t well; I noticed that when I first come to-night. Somebody’s got to suffer fur that house-burnin’, an’ it might ez well be them ez anybody else. You mustn’t talk so. Ef people knowed you wuz a standin’ up fur niggers so, it ‘ud ruin you.”

He had hardly finished speaking, when the gate opened, and another man joined them.

“Hello, there, Dock Heaters, that you?” said Bud Mason.

“Yes, it’s me. How are you, Jane?” said the newcomer.

“Oh, jest middlin’, Dock, I ain’t right well.”

“Well, you might be in better business than settin’ out here talkin’ to Bud Mason.”

“Don’t know how as to that,” said his rival, “seein’ as we’re engaged.”

“You’re a liar!” flashed Dock Heaters.

Bud Mason half rose, then sat down again; his triumph was sufficient without a fight. To him “liar” was a hard name to swallow without resort to blows, but he only said, his flashing eyes belying his calm tone, “Mebbe I am a liar, jest ast Jane.”