An excerpt from Southern Transit, a Novel


–Boston, June 2, 1854

They wanted blood, no mistake, and he found it hard to blame them. The crowd’s roar seemed almost inhuman—a howl as unrelenting as a raging storm at sea.

A well-aimed brick proved their resolve. It shattered the last unbroken window on the ground floor of the courthouse and landed nearby, not a foot from where Third Lieutenant Andrew Gunn crouched inside.

After four hours of slinging rocks, bricks, and epithets at the building, the mob outside had not tired, still threatening to storm the doors of the courthouse, as they had the night before. In fact, their number had grown by half since the last time he’d checked.

Mid-afternoon shadows cast a penumbra over the courtyard, shrouding the crowd in partial twilight. He scanned their livid faces, fearing—among other equally horrid things—that he might recognize a neighbor, maybe a friend or two among them.

Not likely, though, was it? Even before the trial, his few real friends could have weathered a squall in a leaky skiff and, if need be, allowed room in the boat for a wet cat. After today, there might be more room for the cat. No thanks to the verdict.

He ducked below the window sill, as the most reliable man among his band of thirty edged up and knelt beside him.

“Kettle’s about to boil over, Mr. Gunn.” Boatswain Thomas Nelson took a swig from a canteen, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and offered to share. “Them people evidently don’t take too kindly to the notion of sending runaway slaves back to their masters. They ain’t likely to just pick up and go home quiet.”

“Now, whatever gave you that idea, Bos’n?” Gunn drank deeply from the canteen. The tepid water tasted of their ship’s dank scuttlebutt, but it was the only refreshment to pass over his tongue since his morning tea.

Nelson screwed up his mouth into a wry smile and shrugged. “Call it a hunch, sir.”

Gunn drank again, too fast, coughed and passed the canteen back. Part of him, perhaps the best part, wanted to be out there among the protesters. But there was nothing for it at the moment.

“Yeah, well, truth be told, I don’t blame them. I’m not real fond of the idea, myself.”

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