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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

Two Lives For One

Title:     Two Lives For One
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

The place of Macon, Georgia, in the early part of this century was marked only by an inn. One of its guests was a man who had stopped there on the way to Alabama, where he had bought land. The girl who was, to be his wife was to follow in a few days. In the morning when he paid his reckoning he produced a well-filled pocket-book, and he did not see the significant look that passed between two rough black-bearded fellows who had also spent the night there, and who, when he set forth, mounted their horses and offered to keep him company. As they rode through the deserted village of Chilicte one of the twain engaged the traveller in talk while the other, falling a little behind, dealt him a blow with a loaded whip that unseated him. Divining their purpose, and lacking weapons for his own defence, he begged for mercy, and asked to be allowed to return to his bride to be, but the robbers had already made themselves liable to penalty, and two knife-thrusts in the breast silenced his appeals. The money was secured, the body was dropped into a hollow where the wolves would be likely to find and mangle it, and the outlaws went on their way.

Men of their class do not keep money long, and when the proceeds of the robbery had been wasted at cards and in drink they separated. As in fulfilment of the axiom that a murderer is sure to revisit the scene of his crime, one of the men found himself at the Ocmulgee, a long time afterward, in sight of the new town--Macon. In response to his halloo a skiff shot forth from the opposite shore, and as it approached the bank he felt a stir in his hair and a touch of ice at his heart, for the ferryman was his victim of years ago. Neither spoke a word, but the criminal felt himself forced to enter the boat when the dead man waved his hand, and he was rowed across, his horse swimming beside the skiff. As the jar of the keel was felt on the gravel he leaped out, urged his horse to the road, sprang to the saddle, and rushed away in an agony of fear, that was heightened when a hollow voice called, "Stay!"

After a little he slackened pace, and a farmer, who was standing at the roadside, asked, in astonishment, "How did you get across? There is a freshet, and the ferryman was drowned last night." With a new thrill he spurred his horse forward, and made no other halt until he reached the tavern, where he fell in a faint on the steps, for the strain was no longer to be endured. A crowd gathered, but he did not see it when he awoke--he saw only one pair of eyes, that seemed to be looking into his inmost soul--the eyes of the man he had slain. With a yell of terror and of insane fury he rushed upon the ghost and thrust a knife into its breast. The frenzy passed. It was no ghost that lay on the earth before him, staring up with sightless eyes. It was his fellow-murderer--his own brother. That night the assassin's body hung from a tree at the cross-roads.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Two Lives For One