EXCERPT: From Chapter A Different Sin:
The thud of the gavel released the courtroom spectators from silence. Voices rose in a babble of argument, approbation and anguish: assured, broad-voweled Brahmin accents, loud Irish brogues, the softly slurred tones of blacks who'd found Boston a tenuous refuge and gazed at the manacled defendant with helpless fellow feeling. Not, David thought, that the proceedings could be termed a trial. The Fugitive Slave Law empowered United States commissioners to rule a man a fugitive solely on his alleged owner's affidavit, with no testimony on his own behalf.
From his seat in the third row of newsmen, David Carter stared over the heads in front of him at the parade of witnesses called by the accused fugitive's attorneys to testify that the apprehension of Anthony Burns was a case of mistaken identity: the one possible defense. Burns' volunteer attorney, the renowned Richard Henry Dana, proceeded with an assurance matched by that of Robert Morris, his young colored assistant. David's thoughts strayed from the hearing as he studied the dapper, colored lawyer, admiring his poise in front of the crowded courtroom.
He's a hell of a lot more comfortable up there than I'd be, David admitted to himself. Wonder how the hell he got to be a lawyer? Couldn't have been easy for a Nigra, even up here in Boston. Though Mike managed to become a doctor. Done a damn sight more with his life than I have despite Dad's insistence on putting me through university.
David wrenched his attention back to the efforts of the two attorneys to prove Burns' arrest an error. It seemed damned unlikely they'd succeed. He studied the accused fugitive. Burns' face was an ebony mask, his apprehension betrayed by the drops of swear beading his forehead, his quick sidelong glances at Colonel Charles Suttle, who'd journeyed from Virginia to claim him as his property. The manacles clanked as he shifted position. Why in hell couldn't Suttle accept a fair price for Burns from the abolitionists, instead of dragging him back to slavery? David wondered. Though he supposed the irate slaveowner wanted to make an example of him. David felt a quick rush of sympathy for the runaway.
There wasn't a damn thing he could do though. Anymore than he'd been able to help when Mike, his own half brother, had been carried back to slavery under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law three years earlier. David glanced at his scribbled notes, hoping he could make enough sense of them to wire a coherent report. It was as an illustrator he hoped to establish himself, not a reporter. But his costly wire to the editor of his hometown paper had brought him only a request to forward an account of the trial. At least the Gazette's return telegram had gained him admittance to the courtroom. He could do a quick sketch or two during the recess. He turned his pad to a clean page and set to work.
He drew the courtroom scene, then did a rough outline of Burns' figure before stopping to massage his cramped fingers. He stood and moved toward the aisle to stretch, muttering apologies as he climbed over the feet of scribbling newsmen.
"It's a long sit in such cramped quarters, isn't it, but not half as long I daresay as for that poor devil chained up there." David turned at the words of the man standing in the aisle beside him. The other man waved his hand in the direction of the manacled fugitive, then offered it to David in a handshake. "I'm Zachary Walker, with the New York Tribune. Which paper do you write for?"
"Alexandria Gazette. Alexandria, Virginia." No point in explaining further.
Walker withdrew his hand, an expression of apparent distaste crossing his goodhumored face. "Virginia, eh. I suppose you'll be glad to see this poor fellow dragged back into slavery then."
"Hardly, sir," David said. These damn abolitionists were all alike - tarred all Southerners with the same brush. "I have a half brother who's colored, who was taken as a fugitive three years ago. I've some idea what Burns is going through."
Walker's eyebrows rose, two bushy white question marks under a high, ruddy forehead. Dammit, David wondered, what had made him blurt out his family's private affairs? The bailiff's cry ended the recess. David returned to his seat with relief, thankful to be spared further embarrassment.