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SCENE FOUR

  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.)

  Lawd Jesus!

  (The prison guard cracks his whip—noiselessly—and at 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!

  (He frees 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 beat.)


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