—Boston Federal Courthouse, June 2, 1854.
Outside the broken window, the crowd’s fury rose to a keen howl as unrelenting as a raging storm at sea. The people wanted more blood, no mistake, unless justice should prevail. Nothing else would satisfy. Third Lieutenant Andrew Gunn had never seen the like. Truth be told, he found it hard to blame them, though in part it was his blood they demanded.
A well-aimed brick proved their resolve. It shattered the last unbroken pane in the ground-floor window where Gunn crouched inside the courthouse. He ducked and shielded his face from flying splinters of glass. The brick landed not three feet from him on the floor with a dull thud and broke into scattered pieces. A quick glance through the smashed window verified that, after four hours of slinging rocks, bricks, and epithets at the building, the mob in the courtyard had not tired of threatening to storm the courthouse doors as they had the night before.
In fact, their number in the square had grown by more than half in the last hour, pressing ever closer toward the eastern entrance of the courthouse, which Gunn and his men had barricaded shut against an expected attack. A squad of armed marines outside the entrance presented the first line of defense. Their leveled rifles, bayonets fixed, measured the short gap between them and the menacing mob. Each of the four entrances at either end and on both sides of the long, rectangular building were guarded the same way.
Mid-afternoon shadows cast a partial twilight over the courtyard. Gunn peered over the windowsill at the livid faces in the throng, fearing—among other equally horrid things—that he might spy a neighbor, or even a friend among them.
He shook his head. It was an unlikely prospect for a man with few true friends. Come to think of it, if this current predicament had been, say, a shipwreck at sea, he and all his friends could have abandoned ship in a skiff—with room to spare for a wet cat, no less. Hang it, after today most likely the crazed cat could have the run of the boat.
A shipwreck in some ways might have been preferable to this bind. In the two years since his commissioning in the Revenue Cutter Service, no other situation, however hazardous, had caused him to think so. Even among the shipwrecked there was usually at least some hope of rescue. But there was no ready rescue or escape from his sworn duty as a federal officer.