Bethany House Publishers
A lone rider galloped through the night.
Luckily there was enough of a moon for his horse to see its way along the deserted dirt road. He could not slow down or it would be too late. Many lives, and his own future, could depend on his getting there in time.
He had his own sleeplessness to thank that he had gotten wind of the plot at all. Otherwise he might have slept through the whole thing.
* * *
Something had awakened him shortly after midnight—fate, an inner premonition, maybe the voice of God telling him to wake up and sound the warning. Whatever it was, suddenly he was awake in his bed, with blackness and silence around him.
He rolled over, groped for his nightstand, struck a match, lit a candle, then looked at his watch where it lay at his bedside.
He sighed and lay back down. This was no time for sane men to be awake. Yet some inner sense told him that he ought to get up and have a look around. He crawled out of bed, pulled on his trousers and boots, picked up the candle lamp, and went downstairs.
What he was afraid of, he wasn't sure. There had been some petty thievery in town. Deke Steeves and a few of his cronies were always up to no good. But what could they steal from his place?
His mind clouded with dark forebodings.
The warnings that had been given him were threatening enough. Were they perhaps not going to wait to see if he complied? He had been sure they would do nothing unless he crossed them. Even then, he had doubted they would try anything serious. Their own livelihoods were too dependent on him.
But had he misjudged their intentions?
His heart beat rapidly. Thinking something was afoot against him, he hurried into the night to inspect the mill and warehouse.
A hurried walk throughout the premises, however, revealed nothing. The whole town was quiet except for the occasional bark of a dog. He tried to tell himself that he was letting his imagination run away with him. Everything was fine.
He turned and made has way back toward his house.
Suddenly a noise disturbed the quiet of night...booted feet clumped along the street half a block away.
Quickly he blew out his candle and crept back against the wall of the warehouse.
Whoever it was, they were coming this way. It sounded like there were two of them. He waited in the shadows.
"...said they'd meet us at one..." whispered one of the men as they drew closer.
The listener recognized the voice instantly. He knew practically everybody in town, but he hadn't known he was involved. This thing was more widespread than he had imagined.
Cautiously he slipped out to follow them, straining to listen to the subdued conversation ahead of him.
"They been given enough warnings...time for action..."
From somewhere a third man joined them. Under his arm he carried something white.
"McSimmons is bringing enough from his place. Didn't want to wake up the whole town."
"...meet on the north end of town."
"...same thing I heard...through fooling around..."
"...blood spilled tonight...before morning..."
"...that plantation house...smoldering cinders..."
The listener had heard enough. He hurriedly retraced his steps to his own place. He knew well enough what plantation house they were talking about. Whether he could get there in time to save it and prevent bloodshed, he didn't know.
But he had to try.
Five minutes later, after hastily gathering a few papers from his office, he was saddling his own horse in the darkness. He would leave town by the southern road, then circle back around, hoping the others wouldn't hear him.
* * *
On he rode in the night.
By his reckoning he had left town somewhere around twelve-forty. That gave him at least twenty minutes on them, though organizing a group of fifteen or twenty would take some time. A few would probably be late. The six-mile ride would take them longer. They would have more reason for stealth than haste. He would probably gain a forty-minute lead on them, maybe an hour at best.
How to wake up his friends without getting his head blown off was a question he had not thought about until he neared his destination.
As he considered it, he realized there was no need for delicacy or quiet. The situation was desperate. Every second counted. He needed to get them out of their beds and gone as quickly as possible. He might as well go in with gun blazing!
He reached the plantation and slowed. There wasn't a sound or a light anywhere.
Well, he thought, I've come this far...there's no turning back now.
He rode into the yard between the house and barn, then pulled out his rifle and fired two quick shots into the air.
As the echoes died away, amid the howls of a couple dogs and a few whinnies and bellows from the barn, lanterns were lit and yells of alarm sounded throughout the house.
"Inside there," he called up toward the second-floor windows where the reflection of a few lights had appeared. "Hey, wake up...it's Watson! Templeton...Ward...I've got to talk to you!"
A window slid open. Ward Daniels' face appeared along with the barrel of a rifle.
"Who's there?" he called down.
"Daniels...it's Herb Watson!" shouted their visitor. "Get down here, both of you—I've got to talk to you. Now! Be quick about it. They're coming...they're coming tonight!"
Ward pulled his head back inside and shut the window. A minute later both brothers appeared on the front porch, Templeton coming from the barn and carrying a lantern, Ward with his rifle still in hand.
"What's it all about, Herb?" asked Templeton. "You'll have everyone in a tizzy, shooting off guns in the middle of the night."
"Yeah, that might have been a mistake," said Watson. "I hope they're far enough away and didn't hear it. But I had to get you out of your beds—there's no time to lose...they're coming. They're on the way. We've got to act fast. You've got to get out of here, all of you."
"You think it's that serious?" asked Ward.
"I overheard a few of them as they were going to join Sam and Bill and the others. They're determined to kill someone tonight, and burn this place to the ground. They said that blood would be spilled and your house in cinders before morning. They said that Sam had ordered it—that he was through fooling around with warnings."
The two brothers glanced at each other. They could tell from the urgency in his tone that their friend had never been more serious in his life.
"What about what we talked about before?" asked Templeton. "Now there's no time. We can't just run out—where will that leave you? They'll just burn the place anyway."
"I've been thinking about it riding out here," said Watson. "If you're willing, we could arrange it now. As long as we all sign, it will be legal. I brought some preliminary papers. You'll have to trust me that you'll get what's coming to you. We'll have to arrange for that later, after I've got your harvest in."
Templeton thought a minute, then sighed.
"We trust you, Herb," he said. "I don't suppose we have much choice. But even if we did, we'd trust you. You've proved yourself a good friend and a man of honor. Besides that, you may just have saved our lives and put yours in danger coming here like this. So maybe you're right...maybe the time has finally come."
"It has, believe me."
"I don't like the idea of leaving you to face them alone. We'd have a better chance if we all—"
"Look, Templeton—if they see any of you, none of us will have a chance. The only way there will be any chance of saving Rosewood is if you are all gone when they get here. Don't even think of trying to fight. There are too many of them. They would surround us and have the barn and house in flames in five minutes."
"We could hide out in the woods."
"That's the first thing they'll think of. They'll search the place before they're going to believe me. Come on, make up your minds—they're on the way, I tell you!"
Templeton looked again at his brother. As he did, two young men walked quickly toward them from the direction of what had once been the slave cabins. One was black, the other white. The latter had a Colt 45 in his hand. They had heard the shots, assumed danger, and had come running.
"It's all right, boys, it's Mr. Watson."
"Jeremiah—good to see you," said Watson, extending his hand to the young black man.
"Mister Watson," said Jeremiah as they shook hands.
"Trouble is on the way, boys," said Templeton. "We've got to get everybody up and dressed. Ward, you take Herb inside and the two of you start drawing something up. You'll know what to say, Herb. I'll go upstairs and get the girls. Jeremiah, you two get your father and Josepha up here. We'll all meet in the house in five minutes. Tell Josepha we need coffee—lots of it...and strong. Let's go!"
* * *
Even as they spoke, on the outskirts of Greens Crossing, eighteen men were mounting their horses and pulling white capes made from bedsheets over their heads and shoulders. Each rider carried a torch made of rags soaked in kerosene, though they would wait to light them until they were closer.
Every man also had a gun. On this particular night, no one had been invited along who wasn't prepared to use it.
Miss Katie's Rosewood (Carolina Cousins #4) by Michael Phillips
Copyright © 2007; ISBN 9780764200441
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.<