October 1911, Near Honea Path, South Carolina
Will had repeated the trip back and forth between the river and Jelly three or four times when he heard a car in the distance. He could tell that the sound was coming from across the bridge in the direction Joe had gone and, in another moment, he realized what he heard was more than one car.
It surprised him and he stood near the road waiting, thinking he would wave for help. He could see a puff of dusty air swelling above the road and he heard the rumble of car engines growing louder and louder. It sounded like a parade out in the middle of nowhere. And then slowly, slowly like water rising to crest over a mud dam, like a rain barrel filling, the knowledge of what was happening came to Will.
He had moved into the shadow of a tree at the river’s edge when the first car drove into view. It was like the head of a train with car after car following behind it and first one part of the line swinging out at the curve in the road and then another. Will stepped back a little way from the river and thought how visible he still was, the one person here who did not belong to the caravan, the one person set in the opposite direction—a young boy with a horse and wagon, taking water from the stream. He thought how unnatural it was for him even to be here.
The lead car was rolling onto the bridge and, as it drew parallel to him, it slowed down to a halt. Then a man stuck his head out the window. “Boy,” he called down to him. “Hey, boy, you seen the deputy from Honea Path up through here?”
Will felt a little scattered, a little wild. Had they seen Joe? And if they’d seen Joe, what had Joe told them?
But he had to say something. “No sir,” he answered, and he tried to think how his voice sounded, if it seemed like he was lying.
“Boy, you sure? You didn’t see a car?”
“I was asleep.” Will motioned toward the wagon bed. “I’m waiting for my cousin.” Will twisted the cup in his hand and felt the jagged handle cut into his thumb. It was all he could do not to cry out. “I maybe heard a car,” he said.
The man ducked his head back in the car, and Will could hear him talking to the other men before he stuck it out again. “You see the deputy, boy, you tell him he’s got friends looking to help him out.” Will heard the laughter of the other men as the car started moving again and watched as the whole caravan passed across the bridge, men with their shotgun barrels resting against the window frames.