It took a surprisingly short time
to ring Mayfield with a barbed-wire barricade.
A large stock of steel fence posts was on hand in the
local farm supply stores, and these could be driven
rapidly even in the frozen ground. There was
plenty of wire. What more was needed, both of
wire and posts, was taken from adjacent farmland fences,
and by the end of the week following the Mayor’s
pronouncement the task was completed and the guards
were at their posts.
In all that time there had been no
occasion to turn anyone away, but sentiment both for
and against the program was heavy and bitter within
On the Sunday after completion of
the fence, Dr. Aylesworth chose to speak of it in
his sermon. He had advertised that he would do
so. The church was not only packed, but large
numbers of people stood outside in the freezing weather
listening through the doors. Even greater excitement
was stirred by the whispered information that Mayor
Hilliard was sitting in the center of the congregation.
The minister had titled his sermon,
“My Brother’s Keeper.” He opened
by saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?
We know the answer to that question, my friends.
For all the thousands of years that man has been struggling
upward he has been developing the answer to that question.
We know it, even though we may not always abide by
“We know who our brothers are all
mankind, whether in Asia or in Europe or next door
to our own home. These are our brothers.”
As he elaborated on the theme, Ken
thought that this was his mother’s belief which
she had expressed when the fence was first mentioned.
“We cannot help those in distant
lands,” said Dr. Aylesworth. “As much
as our hearts go out to them and are touched with compassion
at their plight, we can do nothing for them.
For those on our own doorstep, however, it is a different
“We are being told now by our
civil authorities in this community that we must drive
away at the point of a gun any who come holding out
their hands for succor and shelter. We are told
we must drive them away to certain death.
“I tell you if we do this thing,
no matter what the outcome of our present condition,
we shall never be able to look one another in the
eye. We shall never be able to look at our own
image without remembering those whom we turned away
when they came to us for help. I call upon you
to petition our civil authorities to remove this brutal
and inhumane restriction in order that we may be able
to behave as the civilized men and women we think
we have become. Although faced with disaster,
we are not yet without a voice in our own actions,
and those who have made this unholy ruling can be
persuaded to relent if the voices of the people are
He sat down amid a buzz of whispered
comment. Then all eyes turned suddenly at the
sound of a new voice in the hall. Mayor Hilliard
was on his feet and striding purposefully toward the
“Reverend, you’ve had
your say, and now I think I’ve got a right to
have mine. I know this is your bailiwick and
you can ask me to leave if you want to. However,
these are my people six days a week to your one.
Will you let me say my piece?”
Dr. Aylesworth rose again, a smile
of welcome on his face. “I think we share
the people, or, rather, they share us on all 7 days
of the week,” he said. “I will be
happy to have you use this pulpit to deliver any message
you may care to.”
“Thanks,” said Mayor Hilliard
as he mounted the platform and stood behind the pulpit.
“Dr. Aylesworth and I,” he began, “have
been good friends for a long time. We usually
see eye to eye on most things, but in this we are
“What he says is true enough.
If enough of you want to protest what I’ve done
you can have a change, but that change will have to
include a new mayor and a new set of councilmen.
I was elected, and the Council was elected to make
rules and regulations for the welfare of this community
as long as we were in office.
“We’ve made this rule
about allowing no more refugees in Mayfield and it’s
going to stand as long as we’re in office.
By next summer, if the harvest is even a few days
late, your children are going to be standing around
crying for food you can’t give them, and you
are going to have to cut your supplies to one-fifth
their normal size. That’s the way it adds
up after we count all the people in the valley, and
all the cases and sacks of food in the warehouses.
“It’s just plain arithmetic.
If we keep adding more people we’re all going
to get closer and closer to starvation, and finally
wake up one morning and find we’ve gone over
the edge of it.
“Now, if that’s what you
want, just go ahead and get some city officers who
will arrange it for you. If anybody in this town,
including you, Dr. Aylesworth, can think of a more
workable answer or one that makes better sense than
the one we’ve got I’d like to know about
It snowed heavily that afternoon out
of a bitter, leaden sky. It started in the midst
of the morning service, and by the time the congregation
dispersed it was difficult to see a block away.
There was little comment about what
they had heard, among the people leaving the church.
They walked with heads bowed against the snow toward
their cold homes and sparsely filled pantries.
The community chapel was near the
edge of town. One of the boundary fences lay
only two blocks away. From that direction, as
the crowd dispersed, there came the sudden sound of
a shot. It was muffled under the heavy skies
and the dense snow, but there was no mistaking the
Ken jerked his head sharply.
“That must have been one of the guards!”
he said. His father nodded. Together, they
raced in the direction of the sound. Others began
running, too, their hearts pounding in anticipation
of some crisis that might settle the unanswered questions.
Ken noticed ahead of them, through
the veil of snow, the chunky figure of Mayor Hilliard
running as rapidly as he could. As they came to
the fence they saw the guard standing on one side,
his rifle lowered and ready. On the other side
of the barbed-wire enclosure was a stout, middle-aged
man. He wore an overcoat, but there was no hat
on his head. His face was drawn with agony and
He staggered on his feet as he pleaded
in a tired voice. “You’ve got to
let me come in. I’ve walked all the way
in this blizzard. I haven’t had any food
for two days.”
A group of churchgoers lined the fence
now, additional ones coming up slowly, almost reluctantly,
but knowing they had to witness what was about to
take place. Ken exclaimed hoarsely to his father,
“That’s Sam Baker! He runs the drugstore
and newsstand in Frederick. Everybody in Mayfield
knows Sam Baker!”
Sam Baker turned in bewildered, helpless
pleading to the crowd lined on the other side of the
fence. Mayor Hilliard stood back a dozen yards
from the wire.
“You’ve got to help me,”
Sam Baker begged. “You can’t make
me go back all that way. It’s 50 miles.
There’s nothing there. They’re all
dead or lost in the snow. Give me something to
“You’ve got to move on,”
the guard said mechanically. “Nobody gets
in. That’s the law here.”
Along the fence, people pressed close,
and one or two men started hesitantly to climb.
Mayor Hilliard’s voice rang out, “Anybody
who goes on the other side of that fence stays
on the other side!”
The men climbed down. No one
said anything. Sam Baker scanned them with his
helpless glance once more. Then he turned slowly.
Fifty feet from the fence he fell in the snow, face
Mayor Hilliard spoke slowly and clearly
once more. “If anyone so much as throws
a crust of bread over that fence the guard has orders
As if frozen, the onlookers remained
immobile. The guard held his fixed stance.
Mayor Hilliard stood, feet apart, his hands in his
pockets, staring defiantly. On the other side
of the fence, the thick flakes of snow were rapidly
covering the inert form of Sam Baker. In only
a few moments he would be obliterated from their sight.
That would be the signal for them all to turn and
go home, Ken thought.
Impulsively, he took a step forward.
He looked at his father’s face. “Dad...”
Professor Maddox touched Ken’s
arm with a restraining hand. His face was grim
and churned by conflicting desires.
The utter stillness was broken then
by the crunching sound of boots in the snow.
All eyes turned to the powerful, white-maned figure
that approached. Dr. Aylesworth was hatless and
the snow was thick in his hair. He paused a moment,
comprehending the situation. Then he strode forward
to the fence.
He put a foot on the wire, and climbed.
His coat caught on the barbs as he jumped to the other
side. He ripped it free, ignoring the tear of
Mayor Hilliard watched as if hypnotized.
He jerked himself, finally, out of his immobility.
“Parson!” he cried. “Come back
Dr. Aylesworth ignored the command.
He strode forward with unwavering steps.
“It’s no different with
you than it is with any other man,” Hilliard
shouted. He took the gun from the guard.
“You’re breaking the law. If you
don’t stop I’ll shoot!”
The majestic figure of the minister
turned. He faced Hilliard without hesitation.
“Shoot,” he said. He turned back and
moved once more to the fallen druggist.
There was sweat on Mayor Hilliard’s
face now. He brushed it with a gloved hand.
His hat fell unnoticed to the ground. He raised
the gun no higher. “Aylesworth,”
he called, and his voice was pleading now, “we’ve
got to do what’s right!”
The minister’s voice came back
to him, hollowly, as if from an immense distance.
“Yes, we’ve got to do what’s right.”
Dr. Aylesworth could be seen faintly through the veil
of snow as he bent down, raising the druggist’s
heavy form to his own back in a fireman’s carry,
then turning to retrace his steps.
Mayor Hilliard let the gun sag in
his hands. At the fence Dr. Aylesworth paused.
“Separate those wires,” he ordered those
They hastily obeyed, pressing their
feet on the lower wire, raising the center one.
“Take him!” the minister commanded.
He rolled the figure of Sam Baker gently through the
opening and crawled through himself. “Bring
him to my house,” he said. Without a glance
at the Mayor, he strode off through the parted crowd
One by one, the onlookers followed,
slowly, never glancing at the immobile figure of the
Mayor. Hilliard watched the last of them fade
into the snow curtain, and he stood there alone, still
holding the gun in his hand.
The guard came up at last. “Do
you want me to keep on here, Mr. Hilliard?”
“I still say it was the only
thing to do,” said Mrs. Maddox at the dinner
table. “How could anyone claim to be human
and think of leaving poor Mr. Baker lying there in
“It was the only thing Dr. Aylesworth
could do,” said Professor Maddox. “Mayor
Hilliard did the only thing he could do.
Which was right, and which was wrong I
don’t think any of us are really sure any more.”
“What do you suppose may come
of this?” asked Professor Larsen.
“I don’t know,”
Ken’s father admitted. “There’s
a lot of excitement in town. A fellow named Meggs
is stirring up talk against Hilliard. He’s
the storekeeper who tried to hold a profiteering sale,
“I heard there were some fights
in town after church,” said Maria.
Ken nodded. “Yes, I heard about them, too.”
“It mustn’t start here!”
exclaimed Mrs. Larsen. “That must be the
way it began in Chicago and Berkeley. We can’t
let it happen here!”
During the next few days a kind of
unspoken truce seemed to reign over the town.
It was rumored that both Mayor Hilliard and Dr. Aylesworth
were waiting for the other to come for a talk, but
that neither was willing to go first under the circumstances.
Orders had been given that Sam Baker was to get no
special ration. He would get only what others
shared with him out of their own meager allotment.
In the laboratory on College Hill
it was confirmed that Professor Maddox had indeed
discovered a completely effective means of cleansing
metals of the destroying dust. Art Matthews and
the science club boys were once again scouring the
town for engine parts that could be cleaned and used
in assembling new and, this time, workable engines.
On Friday morning Professor Douglas
came in late, after all the others had been there
for a couple of hours. He was panting from his
rapid walk up the hill. “Have you heard
the news?” he exclaimed.
The others looked up. “What
news?” Professor Maddox asked.
“A couple of farmers and ranchers
from the south end of the valley rode in about 3 o’clock
this morning. They were half-dead. They said
their places and several others had been attacked
last night. Everything in the whole southern
part of the valley, beyond the point, has been looted
and burned. Six families, still living on their
own places were wiped out.”
“Who did it?” Professor Larsen exclaimed.
“Nomads! The ranchers say
there’s a band of over three thousand camped
down by Turnerville, about 20 miles from here.
They’ve been moving across the country, killing
and looting everything that’s in their way.
Now they’re headed for Mayfield. They’ve
heard about us having a big cache of supplies.”
All work in the laboratory ceased
as the men gathered around Professor Douglas.
They stared into the distance, but their thoughts were
“Three thousand,” said
Professor Maddox slowly. “We could put twice
that many good men against them. We ought to be
able to stand them off, if they attack. What’s
Hilliard doing about it?”
“He wants us all down there
this morning. There doesn’t seem to be much
question about him staying on as Mayor since this came
In a group the men left the half-completed
experiments and made their way down the hill to the
City Hall. When they arrived they found the Council
chamber already filled. The Mayor and the councilmen
were at their conference table on the platform in
front of the room.
At one side, facing both the leaders
and the audience, were three ragged, unshaven strangers
in heavy boots and ill-fitting coats. They had
not bothered to remove the fur-lined caps from their
Nomads, Ken thought. It was apparent what was
“We’re coming in,”
the center man was saying. His massive size and
strength showed even under the thick covering of clothes.
“I say we’re coming in, and we either
come peaceable and you treat us right or we come in
our own way. It doesn’t make much difference
to us how we do it. You just call the shots,
Mister, and we’ll play it your way. We’ve
got two thousand armed men who know how to shoot fast
and straight because they’ve done a lot of it
the last two months. They’re the ones that
shot faster and straighter than the guys they were
“You want to live here peaceably
with us, is that it?” questioned Mayor Hilliard.
The man laughed harshly. “Why
sure! We’re peaceful people, aren’t
we, Men?” He took reassurance from his grinning
companions. “Just as peaceful as them around
“How about those ranch families you murdered
The speaker laughed again. “They
didn’t want peace, did they, Men? All we
asked for was a little something to eat and they started
an argument with us. We just don’t like
Mayor Hilliard glanced beyond the
table to the first row of listeners. His glance
fell upon Dr. Aylesworth. “Before giving
my consent to your coming in,” he said slowly,
“I’d like to hear from one of our more
prominent citizens. This is Dr. Aylesworth, one
of our ministers. Would you like to tell these
people how we feel about their proposal, Reverend?”
The minister rose slowly, his eyes
never leaving the three nomads. “It will
be a pleasure to tell them.” Then to the
three he said, “You can go right back where
you came from. That’s our answer to your
The big man snarled. “So
that’s the way you want it, is it? Well
then, we’ll be back, and when we come you’ll
wish you’d sung a different tune!”
Mayor Hilliard smiled a wry smile.
“I didn’t expect our minister to be quite
so unfeeling of your plight. Since I am in agreement
with his views, however, I must say that you will
not be back, because you are not going anywhere.
Sheriff, arrest these men!”
Instantly, the big man dropped his
hand to his pocket. Before his gun was halfway
out, a shot rang from the rear doorway of the crowded
room. The stranger dropped to the platform like
a crumpled bull.
said Hilliard to the other two. “You came
here with a white flag, but it had our people’s
blood all over it. We are not violating any truce
because this is not an affair of honor among gentlemen.
It’s going to be only an extermination of wild