Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/169

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THE SECRET AT THE CROSSROADS

135

amputation of a hand, stepped in promptly from behind the door.

“Havin’ a fine time around here, ain’t you?” Agard greeted him. “Now you take that buckboard and get it away from here as fast as you can, toward Dalby. Get it clear off of the road as soon as you can, and don’t worry about coming back right away. Understand?”

Steve apparently caught the meaning. Agard turned to me: “Doctor, shall we be going?”

He took the front of the stretcher, and I the rear. Followed closely by old Gabe, we stumbled along through the dark over pathless ground.

I was reasonably certain that a dead white man and a half-dead Negro were involved in this scrape. Gabe would not even admit that John had stolen the corn. But it stands to reason that he had. He had a mule.

Evidently an altercation had occurred down at the Peak cabin. The white farmer’s shotgun and John’s five-inch dirk had come into play in some sequence—simultaneously, perhaps, and not in order of the nightmare that Gabe related.

Gabe did not believe that the incident was closed. He was in extremities of fright.

I wanted to hurry but could not see my steps. I heard the buckboard rattling away. We entered the live-oak marsh; three times I was splashing blindly through the “branch.” We forced our way through tall bear-grass, willows, and sassafras sprouts. The load of the burly Negro was like iron fetters.

At last a black obstruction loomed before us. This turned out to be another of the doctor’s shanties—the “spring-house,” he called it. He braced himself and threw back a rusty lock; we passed in and laid our stertorous burden on a dank wooden floor. He then transferred Gabe’s load to the inside.

“Now, you clear out of here,” he ordered the old darky. “Go up the branch; go away up. Keep goin’ till you get to Millard’s pasture. Then look out for yourself.”

Gabe had done the best he knew for his wayward son. He now embraced the occasion to eliminate himself.

Agard struck a match and coaxed an oil wick into flame.