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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481

An unfamiliar event, the murder of an old Civil War veteran, has roused a placid North Carolina village. Within twenty-four hours, the sheriff and his posse have captured a suspect, a young mulatto, who is unknown to any of them. Disappointed that the preliminary hearing will not take place for another week, a crowd gathers around a whisky jug and plans to lynch the suspect, but Sheriff Campbell, an educated and socially prominent man, is tipped off and proceeds to hold the mob at bay.

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After their initial retreat, the sheriff takes up a position in the prisoner’s cell as the best position for keeping an eye on the mob. He removes the handcuffs and fetters from his prisoner to give the man a chance in case his protector is killed, although he feels nothing but “contempt and loathing” for the suspect. When a gunshot from the nearby woods whistles through the window and distracts the sheriff, the prisoner seizes a revolver that the law officer, armed with a shotgun, has left on a nearby bench. As the sheriff lays aside his shotgun, the prisoner, regarded as too cowardly and lacking in initiative to pose a threat, takes the sheriff prisoner.

Although he insists that he did not kill the old war veteran but merely stole a coat from him, the young man knows that he has no better chance with a jury than with the mob, and so he forces the sheriff to unlock the cell and front doors and prepares to kill him. When the sheriff exclaims, “You would not kill the man to whom you owe your own life,” the prisoner informs him that he has spoken more truth than he realizes, for the young man is the sheriff’s own son Tom by one of his slaves from prewar days....

(The entire section contains 481 words.)

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