II III IV
V VI VII
In the forest. A wide dirt
road runs diagonally from right,
front, to left, rear. Rising sheer
on both sides the forest walls it in. The
moon is now up. Under its light the road glimmers ghastly and unreal.
It is as if the forest had stood aside momentarily to let the
road pass through and accomplish its veiled purpose. This done, the
forest will fold in upon itself again and the road will be no more.
Jones stumbles in from the forest on the right. His
uniform is ragged and torn. He looks
about him with numbed surprise when he sees the road, his eyes
blinking in the bright moonlight. He flops down exhaustedly and pants
heavily for a while. Then with sudden anger
I'm meltin' wid heat! Runnin' an'
runnin' an' runnin'! Damn dis
heah coat! Like a strait jacket! (He
tears off his coat and flings it
away from him., revealing himself stripped to the waist.) Den!
Dat's better! Now I kin breathe! (Looking
down at his feet, the spurs
catch his eye.) And to hell wid dese high-fangled spurs. Dey're
what's been a-trippin' me up an' breakin' my neck.
(He unstraps them and flings them away disgustedly.) Dere!
I gits rid o' dem frippety Emperor trappin's an' I travels lighter.
Lawd! I'se tired! (after
a pause, listening to the insistent beat of the tom-tom in
the distance) I must 'a put some distance between myself an' dem—runnin'
like dat—and yit—dat damn drum sound
jes' de same—nearer, even. Well,
I guess I a'most holds my lead anyhow. Dey
won't never catch up. (with a
sigh) If on'y my fool legs stands up. Oh, I'se sorry I evah went
in for dis. Dat
Emperor job is sho' hard to shake. (He looks around him suspiciously.)
How'd dis road evah git heah? Good level
road, too. I never remembers seein'
it befo'. (shaking his head apprehensively) Dese woods is
sho' full o' de queerest things at night. (with a sudden terror)
Lawd God, don't let me see no more o' dem
ha'nts! Dey gits my goat! (then
trying to talk himself into confidence) Ha'nts! You fool nigger,
dey ain't no such things! Don't de Baptist parson tell you dat
many time? Is you civilized, or is you like dese ign'rent black niggers
heah? Sho'! Dat was all in yo' own head. Wasn't nothin' dere. Wasn't
no Jeff! Know what? You jus' get seem' dem things 'cause yo' belly's
empty and you's sick wid hunger inside. Hunger 'fects yo'
head and yo' eyes. Any fool know dat. (then pleading fervently)
But bless God, I don't come across no more
o' dem, whatever dey is! (then
cautiously) Rest! Don't talk! Rest! You needs it. Den you
gits on yo' way again. (looking at the moon) Night's half gone
a'most. You hits de coast in de mawning! Den
you'se all safe.
(From the right forward a small
gang of negroes enter. They are dressed
in striped convict suits, their heads are shaven, one leg drags
limpingly, shackled to a heavy ball and chain. Some carry picks, the
others shovels. They are followed by a white man dressed in the uniform
of a prison guard. A Winchester rifle is slung across his
shoulders and he carries a heavy whip. At a signal from the guard
they stop on the road opposite where Jones
is sitting. Jones, who has been
staring up at the sky, unmindful of
their noiseless approach, suddenly looks down and sees them. His eyes
pop out, he tries to get to his feet and fly, but sinks back, too
numbed by fright to move. His voice catches in a choking prayer.)
(The prison guard cracks his
that signal all the convicts start to work on the road. They swing
their picks, they shovel, but not a sound
comes from their labor. Their
movements, like those of Jeff in the preceding scene,
are those of automatons,—rigid, slow, and mechanical. The prison
guard points sternly at Jones with
his whip, motions him to take his place among the other shovellers.
Jones gets to his feet in a hypnotized
stupor. He mumbles subserviently.)
Yes, suh! Yes, suh! I'se comin'.
(As he shuffles, dragging
one foot, over to his place,
he curses under his breath with rage and hatred.)
God damn yo' soul, I gits even wid
you yit, sometime.
(As if there were a shovel in his
hands he goes through weary, mechanical
gestures of digging up dirt, and throwing it to the roadside. Suddenly
the guard approaches him angrily, threateningly. He
raises his whip and lashes Jones viciously across the
shoulders with it. Jones winces with pain and cowers abjectly.
The guard turns his back on him and walks away
contemptuously. Instantly Jones straightens up. With
arms upraised as if his shovel were a club in his hands he springs
murderously at the unsuspecting guard. In
the act of crashing down his shovel
on the white man's skull, Jones suddenly
becomes aware that his hands are empty. He cries despairingly.)
Whar's my shovel? Gimme my shovel
'till I splits his damn head!
(Appealing to his fellow convicts) Gimme a shovel, one
o' you, fo' God's sake!
(They stand fixed in motionless
attitudes, their eyes on the ground. The
guard seems to wait expectantly, his back turned to
the attacker. Jones bellows with baffled, terrified rage,
tugging frantically at his revolver.)
I kills you, you white debil, if
it's de last thing I evah does!
Ghost or debil, I kill you agin!
the revolver and fires point blank at the guard's back.
Instantly the walls of the forest close in from both sides; the
road and the figures of the convict gang are
blotted out in an enshrouding darkness. The only sounds are a crashing
in the underbrush as Jones leaps away in mad flight
and the throbbing of the tom-tom, still far distant, but increased
in volume of sound and rapidity of