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The Tragedy At Three Forks
by [?]

“Is that the truth, Jane?” asked Heaters, angrily.

“Yes, hit is, Dock Heaters, an’ I don’t see what you’ve got to say about it; I hain’t never promised you nothin’ shore.”

Heaters turned toward the gate without a word. Bud sent after him a mocking laugh, and the bantering words, “You’d better go down, an’ he’p hang them niggers, that’s all you’re good fur.” And the rival really did bend his steps in that direction.

Another shout arose from the throng down the street, and rising hastily, Bud Mason exclaimed, “I must be goin’, that yell means business.”

“Don’t go down there, Bud!” cried Jane. “Don’t go, fur my sake, don’t go.” She stretched out her arms, and clasped them about his neck.

“You don’t want me to miss nothin’ like that,” he said as he unclasped her arms; “don’t you be worried, I’ll be back past here.” And in a moment he was gone, leaving her cry of “Bud, Bud, come back,” to smite the empty silence.

When Bud Mason reached the scene of action, the mob had already broken into the jail and taken out the trembling prisoners. The ropes were round their necks and they had been led to a tree.

“See ef they’ll do anymore house-burnin’!” cried one as the ends of the ropes were thrown over the limbs of the tree.

“Reckon they’ll like dancin’ hemp a heap better,” mocked a second.

“Justice an’ pertection!” yelled a third.

“The mills of the gods grind swift enough in Barlow County,” said the schoolmaster.

The scene, the crowd, the flaring lights and harsh voices intoxicated Mason, and he was soon the most enthusiastic man in the mob. At the word, his was one of the willing hands that seized the rope, and jerked the negroes off their feet into eternity. He joined the others with savage glee as they emptied their revolvers into the bodies. Then came the struggle for pieces of the rope as “keepsakes.” The scramble was awful. Bud Mason had just laid hold of a piece and cut it off, when some one laid hold of the other end. It was not at the rope’s end, and the other man also used his knife in getting a hold. Mason looked up to see who his antagonist was, and his face grew white with anger. It was Dock Heaters.

“Let go this rope,” he cried.

“Let go yoreself, I cut it first, an’ I’m a goin’ to have it.”

They tugged and wrestled and panted, but they were evenly matched and neither gained the advantage.

“Let go, I say,” screamed Heaters, wild with rage.

“I’ll die first, you dirty dog!”

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a knife flashed in the light of the lanterns, and with a sharp cry, Bud Mason fell to the ground. Heaters turned to fly, but strong hands seized and disarmed him.

“He’s killed him! Murder, murder!” arose the cry, as the crowd with terror-stricken faces gathered about the murderer and his victim.

“Lynch him!” suggested some one whose thirst for blood was not yet appeased.

“No,” cried an imperious voice, “who knows what may have put him up to it? Give a white man a chance for his life.”

The crowd parted to let in the town marshal and the sheriff who took charge of the prisoner, and led him to the little rickety jail, whence he escaped later that night; while others improvised a litter, and bore the dead man to his home.

The news had preceded them up the street, and reached Jane’s ears. As they passed her home, she gazed at them with a stony, vacant stare, muttering all the while as she rocked herself to and fro, “I knowed it, I knowed it!”

The press was full of the double lynching and the murder. Conservative editors wrote leaders about it in which they deplored the rashness of the hanging but warned the negroes that the only way to stop lynching was to quit the crimes of which they so often stood accused. But only in one little obscure sheet did an editor think to say, “There was Salem and its witchcraft; there is the south and its lynching. When the blind frenzy of a people condemn a man as soon as he is accused, his enemies need not look far for a pretext!”