THIS was early in the force’s history — so early that as yet no sub-station of State Police had ever been planted in Washington County.
Captain Pitcher, commanding ‘A’ Troop, was now about to place one there, and, in reviewing the territory, had selected Burgettstown as the location for the new outpost. Burgettstown, close to the Ohio line, lies some sixty miles from the troop’s home barracks.
Sergeant Charles Jacobs, late 3rd United States Cavalry, Private Gjertsen, late corporal of United States Marines, and two other troopers, composed the new detail. On sending the men off, the captain made them a farewell speech. That speech, for him, was a long one, yet every word of it carved its indelible mark.
‘You men have to make good in that county. You are going to establish a name for the force. Do your full duty. Get what you go for. Keep every act above criticism. And never “start anything” first.”
Burgettstown is a typical farming community — quiet, orderly, prosperous, and as vulnerable as an oyster without its shell. The constable of Burgettstown was seventy years old, and, although far from well-preserved, his quavering strength might yet have sufficed for all the home-bred needs of the bailiwick. But, as it happened, the real needs of Burgettstown were not home-bred at all.
There was Cherry Valley, for example, only four short miles away.
Cherry Valley was the central point in a circle of mining plants. It possessed their one and only store — a company store; it had some places of dubious amusement. It had also a large and bad negro element, mingled with that sort of white stock that will so mingle.
Cherry Valley, by its own proud word, was a ‘tough proposition,’ and from its toughness emanated a considerable part of Burgettstown’s woes. They ranged from chicken-stealing and drunken Sunday sprees to the firing of haystacks and barns, thefts of crops, and attacks upon women in lonely places. And no local means of protection with which Burgettstown was endowed operated against them in the slightest degree.
Yet these things had become so much a part of Burgettstown’s daily life as to be accepted more or less like the weather that Providence is pleased to send, on a par with the discipline of a world of travail and sojourning, to be borne with resignation and to be taken as they came.
Burgettstown, as yet, had no personal knowledge of the power and purpose of a State Police, and in so far as it substituted surmise for experience, its surmise ran that the force must be simply a new-fangled avenue of graft, a creation of costly, arrogant uselessness. The farmers, therefore, in their farmers’ skepticism as to all new things, held aloof and looked askance.
And so it happened that the first applicant for help to call at the substation door was a very humble one indeed. It was a harmless old negro, who, by some mischance, had incurred the wrath of one of the black bullies of the Cherry Valley gang. The bully had promised to kill this white-polled ancient on sight, and, as he habitually ‘toted a gun,’ he was likely to carry out his threat at their first meeting.
‘ Certainly ain’t gwine to be no meetin’ if I sees him first,’ the old man declared with conviction; ‘but I cyan’t have eyes all round my head at once, an’ I cyan’t rest nights tryin’ to keep ’em so. If you could help me, boss, I certainly would be thankful. Nobody else won’t, not in dis world! I ’se begged ’em all.’
He had sworn out a warrant for the apprehension of his persecutor, and had taken the warrant to the constable, in due and proper course. But the constable, honest gray-beard that he was, feigned no ability to serve that writ. He knew that the burly black rascal would at best snatch it out of his hand and tear it up before his face, and that he would be lucky to escape merely with ridicule and without bodily injury. So the constable had flatly refused the attempt. The patient old negro had then plodded back to the squire.
‘Dis here writ—please, sah, constable say he won’t serve it. What I gwine to do next?’
‘ Don’t know. Guess there ain’t anything to do next,’ opined the squire.
‘But, squire, I’se too afraid! Dat man gwine to kill me, sure!’
‘Well, then, I guess you’d better move away from here. Go some place where he won’t find you. That would be my idea.’
The suppliant stood for a moment silent, with hanging head. Then, with a sigh, he started down the path from the squire’s door. Perhaps something in the humble dejection of the figure touched the justice slightly. Perhaps he suddenly remembered that this man could wield a whitewash brush a little bit better than any one else in the borough, and that in haying time he came in handily.
‘Look here, you!’ he shouted down the path, ‘there’s those State Police just come to town. I don’t reckon they ’ll do anything for you, but it could n’t hurt to walk over and ask ’em before you pack up. Your time ain’t worth much, anyhow.’
‘Certainly we will serve this warrant,’ said Sergeant Jacobs, having read the writ. ‘ Why not? ’
The old negro could scarcely credit his ears. ‘But—but Cherry Valley’s an awful wicked place, and Cherry Valley fights by de bunch. Razors — and knives — an’ every kind of gun.’
‘Now, uncle, don’t you fret. Go along home and eat your dinner in peace. We’ll take care of you. Leave Cherrys Valleys to us.’
The old man stared, while his lips moved. He seemed to be repeating the words to himself, savoring them one by one. Slowly his heart shone through his wrinkled mask, translated. Fifty years had rolled away. Once more he stood in a world that he knew —among ‘real white folks’ at home. He clasped his knotted hands while the tears rolled down his cheeks.
‘ O master! master, dear! ’ he sobbed and laughed together, falling unconsciously upon the long-hushed name. ‘D-don’t let ’em hurt you over there. Don’t let ’em harm one lil’ hair of yo’ precious haid! Dis nigger ain’t wuth it! ’
‘May de Lord forgive me!’ he said again, as he watched the sergeant and Private Gjertsen ride out of sight, down the Cherry Valley road. ‘ May de Lord have mercy on my sinful soul! I certainly did think He done called all his old-time peoples home!’ It was a Saturday afternoon — the afternoon of pay-day. The gangs had gathered in Cherry Valley, and the weekly trouble was already afoot. Men and women had been drinking heavily, quarrels were progressing, ugly combinations had formed. As the two troopers rode down the street, a cloud of hostile questions surrounded them. Who were they? Why had they come?
Their uniform was unknown here, their name and purpose were almost as strange. But they looked like men claiming authority, and Cherry Valley in theory denied authority utterly. In the concrete it had never seen it — knew it not at all.
Sergeant Jacobs glanced in at the windows of the company store as they passed. The windows were filled with lowering faces, among them some that were American and of the better sort.
Said the sergeant to Trooper Gjertsen, —
‘I’ll wager we haven’t a friend in the whole village — Americans, foreigners, negroes, every one of them is ready to fight.’
They rode on a few yards farther, coming to a house on whose porch a stalwart negro lounged.
‘As we’re strangers everywhere, we may as well begin here,’ remarked the sergeant, dismounting.
They tied their horses and entered.
Within the thick squalor of the place some fifteen or twenty negroes were playing poker and drinking. To the query of the sergeant they answered, with surly scowls, that the man he sought was not in that house.
Satisfying themselves that this was probably true, the troopers proceeded to another and yet other negro abodes, still with a like result. Everywhere the same surly quasi-insolence, the same hostile withholding of all information, suggestions, or help.
Finally they approached a house at whose front door a slatternly white woman sat, while a little mulatto girl stood on the back porch. In some vague way the two suggested a guard.
‘We’ll try this place,’ said Sergeant Jacobs. ‘ I ’ll take the front door, Gjertsen. You go to the rear.’
Both officers asked the seeming sentries whether the negro named in the warrant was within the house. Both received a defiant ‘No!’ Then they entered, from their respective sides, and together made a thorough search of the ground floor. The search proved barren. The troopers mounted to the second and only remaining floor. Here also their hunt revealed nothing, Disappointed, they descended the stairs, and were about leaving the house, when an indefinable shade on the face of the white woman made them pause.
‘Are you quite sure that this man is not in the house?’
‘Sure? Of course I’m sure!’ the woman snapped back.
The sergeant looked her square in the eye, long and steadily. ‘I’ll just go up and have another glance,’ he began.
‘Can’t you take a lady’s word, then, you coward, you —’ And she babbled off, like a hot geyser, into a torrent of mud.
‘And I ’ll bring him down with me in a moment,’ concluded the sergeant imperturbably, his foot on the stair.
‘There’s just this one place left, and he must be in it,’ Sergeant Jacobs was saying, a moment later.
He stood before the chimney-breast in the rear chamber, gazing at the chimney-hole. In point of size that hole might conceivably have admitted the body of a man. But it was stuffed tight with old blankets and gunnysacks, to keep the wind away, and the blankets and gunny-sacks were gray with a season’s dust.
“If he’s in there, they’ve done it well!’ exclaimed Gjertsen.
They had, indeed, done it with talent. Fine white coal-ash, scattered over the hastily arranged cloths and then fanned off to avoid unnatural surplus, suggested an inference that might easily deceive. But when the two officers had jerked the last obstructing gunny-sack out of that chimney-hole the view that rewarded them comprised one large splay-foot.
They got him down, sooty and perspiring, and very wroth. They searched him for arms and found that he had turned his gun and razor over to the woman before making his ascent. At first he was confused, but as he breathed less creosote he grew more threatening and bold.
‘We’ll handcuff this man,’ said the sergeant.
As the irons clicked fast, the woman burst out again into railings. ‘Tin soldiers !’ she screamed, and launched into her malodorous vocabulary.
Meanwhile, a mob of no mean dimensions had assembled around the house. It numbered several hundred persons, chiefly negroes and foreign miners, with the negroes everywhere well to the fore. Sergeant Jacobs, with a practiced glance, estimated its temper and its probable trend of thought, Much, as he well knew, depended on the justice of that quick estimate. His object was, first, to get his prisoner out of Cherry Valley and over to the Burgettstown jail without harm to the man; and, second but not less, to avoid any outbreak and consequent birth of ill feeling on the part of the crowd itself.
‘ Got to make good in that county,’ Captain Pitcher had said. ‘You are going to establish a name for the force.’
And back in the first days, when all the force were recruits together, had not the major himself impressed upon his troopers, one and all, —
‘ In making an arrest you may use no force beyond the minimum necessary.’
That crowd, then, must not be allowed to conceive ideas that would necessitate violence.
‘They will centre at first on the horses,’ the sergeant theorized to himself. ‘I’ll amuse them with the horses while Gjertsen gets ahead with the man. ‘Gjertsen,’ he said, ‘remain dismounted and start away with the prisoner. I’ll follow you.’
Sergeant Jacobs killed as much time as he could in untying the two mounts. The crowd looked on, intent, sullen, and muttering. At last one in the front rank shouted, —
‘ What are you taking this man away for?’
‘Why do you ask?’ responded the officer.
‘ I got a right to know. He lives here. I demand to know.’
The speaker was a blue-black giant with a mouth like a collapsible megaphone. His manner was truculent.
‘If you want to find out,’ coolly replied the sergeant, ‘come down to the squire’s office by and by. Then you can hear all about it.’
The murmurs of the negroes swelled, bordered on abuse. The sergeant faced around.
‘I am an officer of the State Police,’ said he, very sharply and distinctly. ‘Remember that you are permitted to show no disrespect and to use no bad language concerning the uniform of the State of Pennsylvania, which I wear.’
As yet they guessed but dimly of what he spoke. The meaning had still to be proved to them. But something in his bearing gave them pause, nevertheless.
With all their lawless ill-will, with all their old impunity, with all their swarming numbers, they hesitated and held back in the presence of this one stranger. In the crowd there were a hundred young men of far more than the sergeant’s weight, men of ox-like strength, bred to blood and violence. A sheriff’s posse, however well armed, would have been their half-holiday joy. But this solitary figure now confronting them diffused some unknown influence — was as strange as if it had descended from Mars. The uniform, color of a thunder-cloud, severe as if cast in steel, suggesting a power somewhere unseen; the body that moulded the uniform, lithe, clean-muscled, hard, suggested an iron discipline that itself is power; the face, clear-cut, lean, quick, with dark, live eyes, faithfully promising surprise to whoever should go too far — all these contributed their parts. The crowd held back.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Jacobs, watching the progress of his comrade, saw him safely turn the corner of the street. In a moment more he would be passing the Coal Company’s store. ‘There,’thought the sergeant, ‘we shall certainly get backing. The superintendent will come out with his men.’
Leading the horses, and at a deliberate pace, not to excite the mob, he moved on to rejoin Gjertsen.
They passed the company store. It was crowded with the very people on whom officers of the State should have been able to count for staunch support. But not a man of them came forth. Instead, they hung in the windows and doors, with jeers on their faces, voicing grotesque solicitude as to the fate of ‘tin soldiers’ in Cherry Valley — betting on the number of pieces into which they would be dissected before the hour was done.
The two officers paid no heed — kept straight on their homeward course. The manacled negro walked before them. The crowd, bunched dark and swollen, like swarming bees, hung buzzing where the sergeant had left it.
‘I guess we’re all right now,’ said Gjertsen.
‘We’ll mount in a moment,’the sergeant assented.
But at this the prisoner, who had so far submitted, sullenly dumb, aroused himself to dispute his fate.
‘I ain’t goin’ to walk to Burgettstown,’ he announced. ’If you want me to go to Burgettstown, you got to take me in a rig.’
’Keep right along going. We can’t get any conveyance here. A four-mile walk won’t hurt anybody,’answered the sergeant good-naturedly.
The fellow slouched on for a few yards, obedient though glowering. But he had caught his cue. His aim now was to communicate it to his timorous friends behind.
‘By Moses, I ain’t — goin’ — on!’ he bellowed; and stopped short in his tracks.
‘Go on,’ said the sergeant.
The prisoner obeyed once more. But he had gained a moment’s time, and time was all that was needed for his policy to take effect. This also the troopers appreciated.
Another rod or two, and then the black played his trump card. He flung himself flat on the ground. ‘I won’t walk no fo’ miles for nobody!’ he howled. ‘I won’t walk no fo’ miles for nobody on earth! Yah! Yah! Yah!’
Trooper Gjertsen jerked him upright. It was not too easily done, for the fellow made himself a dead, disjointed, flaccid mass. Yet done it was, and quickly, for such a job. Meanwhile Sergeant Jacobs held the horses, and kept a corner of his eye on the crowd.
The crowd was moving at last. The big blue-black spokesman, leading it, was coming on at a dead run. By the posture of his hand, the sergeant thought that he was holding concealed a revolver. Therefore, interposing himself between Private Gjertsen with his captive and the oncoming giant, and holding the horses with his left arm as a man holds a shield, he awaited the moment. It came. He saw that the negro’s hands were empty — and that he was making for the prisoner first.
‘Here,’shouted the new arrival, at the top of his bull-like lungs, ‘you don’t have to go with these men. They don’t have no authority here. They can’t take you, I say.’
From the rapidly nearing crowd rose an inarticulate howl of applause.
Sergeant Jacobs, enveloped in calm, proceeded like a methodical nurse with an infant lunatic. Without difficulty or seeming exertion, he encircled the big negro with his grip, pinning the two flapping arms tight to the body.
He had dropped the horses. Apache, he knew, would stand alone, like the friend and brother that he was, in the hour of need.
‘Take the cuff off that other fellow’s right hand, Gjertsen. Snap it on this one’s left.—So! There’s a pair of love-birds for you! —Now, you two, you are not going to start a riot. March! ’
The thing was done so quickly, so unexpectedly, that it had the effect of a stroke of fate. The big bold leader, the dare-devil spokesman, had been plucked like a wayside weed. In an instant it was over. Shame sat upon him. His place of glory could know him no more.
Where the leader had fallen so desperately, would the crew rush in and dare? It parleyed. It hesitated.
But the two burly blacks were not yet subdued. ‘We’ll have our rights!’ bellowed the giant, a sea-lawyer ashore. ‘You’re obliged to give us transportation.’
‘ Transpo’tation! Transpo’tation! ’ howled the other. ‘We want transpo’tation ! ’ ‘You can’t compel us to walk. It’s against the law.’
Said Sergeant Jacobs, ‘You’ll walk or be dragged.’
Then each trooper pulled his hitching-strap from his saddle, each fastened a strap to a negro’s unmanacled wrist, and mounted.
‘Start up,’ ordered the sergeant.
The blacks came to their feet with sprawling haste. Handcuffed together like Siamese twins, and with their free hands lariated by a taut line, they had no choice.
‘Well — I guess we’ll walk,’ growled one.
‘Until you’re done guessing and are quite sure of it, you ’ll walk as you are,’ the sergeant replied.
They plunged on for a few yards, between the two horses.
‘Please, sir, won’t you kindly allow us to walk in front of the horses in the natural way, if you please, sir!’
It was the big spokesman this time, his insolence suddenly gone.
As Gjertsen unfastened the straps, the sergeant looked back. The crowd, so shortly before on the ragged verge of an outbreak that would have put enmity between the people and the force in that valley for years to come — that crowd of hostile hundreds was melting away. No more fight was left in it. It was thinking. It was going home. It was almost won to a laugh.
‘ I believe the major would like that,’ Sergeant Jacobs murmured.
‘I think Captain Pitcher would say it’s a right start,’ Gjertsen elaborated. ‘But there were moments —’
‘ There were,’ the sergeant concurred.
The march ended at the squire’s office door.
‘Now, what about the other man?’ asked the justice, having disposed of the subject of the first arrest.
‘In his case,’ responded the sergeant, ‘we ask for a considerable penalty. These are our first arrests in Washington County. We intend to be fair, square, and not too severe. But this man tried his best to cause a riot in resistance to the execution of the Law. We do not intend to encourage such enterprise.’
‘I’ll give him four months,’ said the squire.
Later, the prisoner begged that he might speak to Sergeant Jacobs alone.
‘ Cap’n,’ said he, ‘squire’s given me four months. But before I go away, I want to explain to you that I did n’t know you was a State Police officer. Did n’t know what a State Police officer is. I came up from Virginny, I did. I thought you was just like all the militia down there — just tin soldiers that nobody don’t mind. An’, cap’n, I want to ask your pardon before I go away, because, when I get out, Cherry Valley ain’t no place for me unless you know I’m your man’
‘Marse Sergeant Jacobs’ man, indeed!’ snorted old Uncle White-wool when he heard the tale. He had already
attached himself, body, soul, and lonely heart, to his new hero, and had endowed him with all the attributes of long ago. ‘Marse Sergeant Jacobs don’t have no use fo’ dat common new trash! I’se de onlies’ nigger he tolerate ’bout his pusson. My name is Jacobs, sah, if you please. I’se changed it to suit de occasion.’
Such was the introduction of the State Police to Washington County; and the sub-station details, one after another over a long period, followed a good start. But at last came a day when the ‘economy’ of the State Legislature so operated that Burgettstown sub-station must be withdrawn for lack of funds to sustain its Spartan cost; and then was afforded a gauge of the real feeling of the farmers toward the force. That thinly populated region sent in a petition signed by nearly four thousand persons, urgently protesting against the withdrawal of the devoted friends and protectors without whose presence they scarcely now knew how to live.