I was lying in bed awake one summer night. The resta’ the family was asleep. But not me. I was thinking some about Lilly, as I usually do, and then my thoughts turned to my best friend Nellie. Her family was camped down in our woods, and I knew they were about ta leave. They had lived there a good part of th’ summer, and we were best friends. I was so sad to see them go. I had never had a girlfriend before that lived so close. I heard Papa stirring, then talkin’ quietly to Tom. I couldn’t hear much, but I did hear Papa say “Joe’s camp.”
Joe was Nellie’s papa.
When Papa opened the door, I saw in the moonlight that Papa had his rifle. Something was wrong at Nellie’s place!
I eased out of bed, slipped into my dress, and tiptoed out the back door quietly, and pulled it closed real softly, just as I heard Tom whisperin’ to Mama. The fields were brightly lit up by the full moon. I had to go down there.
I saw Papa slip into the woods. I followed behind.
Just before I got to Nellie’s camp, I could hear a bunch of men talkin’. I got to where I could see a little, and hid by a big tree. A big man was holding a long thing in his hand. A bunch of men that looked like white ghosts were sittin’ on horseback, kinda in a half circle, around the tent.
I was scared ta death. I wanted to scream, but I was so scared, I don’t think I could have. I didn’t dare move. They would hear me. I could barely breathe. Those men had several lanterns, and in the dim light I could see guns. Where was Papa?
The big man, still standin’ in the circle, held somethin’ in his hand that he was waving around. His white gown like thing he wore floated around as he moved, and he had a mask on that looked really scary.
What could be happenin’?
Then, I saw something that scared me most to death. A black man, stripped to his waist, was tied to a tree. His hands seemed to be tied around it. Then, the big man started talkin’
“Nigger, where you made your big mistake was decidin’ to move in here. We don’t allow no niggers hereabouts. If you live past tonight, and I ain’t so sure that’s gonna happen, take yer nigger woman and yer nigger youngn’s and clear out, else you’ll all die here.”
Then he looked up at the men on horseback. “Don’t be shootin’ no guns, or the Thackers will hear and be down here in a heartbeat. He’s next on our list. But we gotta take care of business here first.”
He was plannin’ to hit our cabin next! I had to warn Tom, but if I moved now, they would see me.
The whip flashed through the moonlight, and hit the tied man across the back. Really hard. The black man just stiffened. He didn’t say a word.
The big man pulled the whip back again. There was a bright flash, and a gun thundered.
The Big man screamed, dropped the whip, and fell to the ground, rolling around, holdin’ his leg, screamin an bawlin’.
I didn’t even see it happen, it was so fast, but Papa just suddenly appeared, right beside the big man, holding him around the neck with his pistol to his head.
“Fat Bob, you better pray real hard that your friends think really highly of you. Cause if I see a rifle move, or anybody sneezes, I’m gonna blow yer brains out right here.” Papa just knelt right there, lookin’ around at the men in the circle. Nobody moved a muscle.
Fat Bob was sobbin’ and cryin’ but he managed to holler, “Please! Nobody move! He’s gonna kill me!”
Papa spoke. “OK. Nice and easy, you men with rifles drop em’ to the ground. I’ll turn em’ in to the general store in town. You can get em’ there in two days, if you’ve got the nerve.
I know some of you men, and I know you have always been fair. This family has found a job, a long way off, and they’ll be movin’ on pretty soon. They’re just starving people, tryin’ to find a way to make a livin’. You would do the same if you were in their place.
Wearin’ masks around in the night, scarin’ and hurtin’ people ain’t no way for good men to act. I got no quarrel with you, if you leave me and mine alone. I’m gonna hold this gun to Fat Bob’s head ‘till I hear the last hoof beat fade out. Now go home, men, an stop listenin’ to the likes of Fat Bob.”
Without a word, those men who were dressed up like ghosts, with masks on their faces, turned their horses toward town. And just left.
Papa cut the man loose, and I could see it was Mr, Joe.
Papa said, “See to yer family,”
Well, I guess the family had heard enough of what was going on ‘cause they all came out of the tent, all running to hug an crowd around Mr. Joe.
Papa talked real quietly and seriously to Fat Bob a little, helped him onto his horse, then he left too, still cryin’.
I didn’t wait any longer. Papa would whip me good if he ever knew I had come down here. I eased out into the woods a ways, then ran as quietly and fast as I could to the cabin.
I could tell Mama and Tom were by the front door with guns, talking quietly and seemed to be really excited. I guess they had heard all the commotion.
I slipped in the back door, tiptoed to my bed. Josh was still sound asleep. I didn’t take time to shed my dress. Just jumped in bed and covered up, and listened.
After a long time, I heard a bunch of people talkin’ outside, and then after a while, Mama came in, shakin’ us awake. I opened my eyes and yawned and rubbed my eyes, and said, real sleepy like, “What is it, Mama?
“Nothing you need to worry your sweet head about. But, since this is Nelly’s last night, the kids are gonna bunk in here with you and Josh tonight.
I never lied about this to Mama. I just never told her.