Part 2 out of 9
"Gena! _Oh,_ Gena!" and as his wife did not answer, he said to
one of his children, "_Oh,_ Axylone, jes run inter de kitchen,
son, an' tell yer ma ter put on anudder plate, fer Bre'er 'Liab's
comin' ober ter take a bite wid us."
Eliab kept on protesting, but it was in vain. Nimbus bent over him
as tenderly as a mother over the cradle of her first-born, clasped
his arms about him, and lifting him from the bench bore him away
to his own house.
With an unconscious movement, which was evidently acquired by long
experience, the afflicted man cast one arm over Nimbus' shoulder,
put the other around him, and leaning across the stalwart breast
of his friend so evenly distributed his weight that the other bore
him with ease. Entering his own house, Nimbus placed his burden in
the chair at the head of the table, while he himself took his seat
on one of the wooden benches at the side.
"I jes brought Bre'er 'Liab in ter supper, honey," said he to
his wife; "kase I see'd he war gettin' inter de dumps like, an' I
'llowed yer'd chirk him up a bit ef yer jes hed him over h'yer a
"Shan't do it," said the bright-eyed woman saucily.
"Kase why?" queried her husband.
"Kase Bre'er 'Liab don't come oftener. Dat's why."
"Dar, now, jes see what yer done git fer being so contrary-like,
will yer?" said the master to his guest. H'yer, you Axylone,"
he continued to his eldest born, " fo'd up yer han's while Bre'er
'Liab ax de blessin'. You, too, Capting," shaking his finger at
a roll of animated blackness on the end of the seat opposite.
"Now, Bre'er 'Liab."
The little black fingers were interlocked, the close-clipped, kinky
heads were bowed upon them; the master of the house bent reverently
over his plate; the plump young wife crossed her hands demurely
on the bright handle of the big coffee-pot by which she stood, and
"Bre'er 'Liab," clasping his slender fingers, uplifted his eyes
and hands to heaven, and uttered a grace which grew into a prayer.
His voice was full of thankfulness, and tears crept from under his
The setting sun, which looked in upon the peaceful scene, no doubt
flickered and giggled with laughter as he sank to his evening couch
with the thought, "How quick these 'sassy' free-niggers do put on
airs like white folks!"
In the tobacco-field on the hillside back of his house, Nimbus and
his wife, Lugena, wrought in the light of the full moon nearly all
the night which followed, and early on the morrow Nimbus harnessed
his mule into his canvas-covered wagon, in which, upon a bed
of straw, reclined his friend Eliab Hill, and drove again to the
place of registration. On arriving there he took his friend in his
arms, carried him in and sat him on the railing before the Board.
Clasping the blanket close about his deformed extremities the
cripple leaned upon his friend's shoulder and answered the necessary
questions with calmness and precision.
"There's a pair for you, captain," said Gleason, nodding good-naturedly
toward Nimbus as he bore his helpless charge again to the wagon.
"Is he white?" asked the officer, with a puzzled look.
"White?" exclaimed Sheriff Gleason, with a laugh. "No, indeed! He's
a nigger preacher who lives with Nimbus down at Red Wing. They're
great cronies--always together. I expect he's at the bottom of all
the black nigger's perversity, though he always seems as smooth
and respectful as you please. He's a deep one. I 'llow he does
all the scheming, and just makes Nimbus a cat's-paw to do his work.
I don't know much about him, though. He hardly ever talks with
"He seems a very remarkable man," said the officer.
"Oh, he is," said the sheriff. "Even in slave times he was a very
influential man among the niggers, and since freedom he and Nimbus
together rule the whole settlement. I don't suppose there are ten
white men in the county who could control, square out and out, as
many votes as these two will have in hand when they once get to
"Was he a slave? What is his history?"
"I don't exactly know," answered the sheriff. "He is quite a young
man, and somehow I never happened to hear of him till some time
during the war. Then he was a sort of prophet among them, and while
he did a power of praying for you Yanks, he always counselled the
colored people to be civil and patient, and not try to run away or
go to cutting up, but just to wait till the end came. He was just
right, too, and his course quieted the white folks down here on the
river, where there was a big slave population, more than a little."
"I should like to know more of him," said the chairman.
"All right," said Gleason, looking around. "If Hesden Le Moyne
is here, I'll get him to tell you all about him, at noon. If he is
not here then, he will come in before night, I'm certain."
A FRIENDLY PROLOGUE.
As they went from the place of registration to their dinner at the
hotel, the sheriff, walking beside the chairman, said: "I spoke
to Le Moyne about that negro fellow, Eliab Hill, and he says he's
very willing to tell you all he knows about him; but, as there are
some private matters connected with the story, he prefers to come
to your room after dinner, rather than speak of it more publicly."
"I am sure I shall be much obliged to him if he will do so," said
"You will find him one of the very finest men you ever met, I'm
thinking," continued Gleason. "His father, Casaubon Le Moyne, was
very much of a gentleman. He came from Virginia, and was akin
to the Le Moynes of South Carolina, one of the best of those old
French families that brag so much of their Huguenot blood. I never
believed in it myself, but they are a mighty elegant family; no
doubt of that. I've got the notion that they were not as well off
as they might be. Perhaps the family got too big for the estate.
That would happen with these old families, you know; but they were
as high-toned and honorable as if their fore-bears had been kings.
Not proud, I don't mean--not a bit of that--but high-spirited and
"His mother was a Richards--Hester Richards--the daughter of old
man Jeems Richards. The family was a mighty rich one; used to own
all up and down the river on both sides, from Red Wing to Mulberry
Hill, where Hesden now lives. Richards had a big family of boys and
only one gal, who was the youngest. The boys was all rather tough
customers, I've heard say, taking after their father, who was about
as hard a man to get along with as was ever in this country. He
came from up North somewhere about 1790, when everybody thought this
pea-vine country was a sort of new Garden of Eden. He was a well
educated and capable man, but had a terrible temper. He let the
boys go to the devil their own way, just selling off a plantation
now and then and paying their debts. He had so much land that
it was a good thing for him to get rid of it. But he doted on the
gal, and sent her off to school and travelled with her and give her
every sort of advantage. She was a beauty, and as sweet and good
as she was pretty. How she come to marry Casaubon Le Moyne nobody
ever knew; but it's just my opinion that it was because they loved
each other, and nothing else. They certainly were the best matched
couple that I ever saw. They had but one child--this young man
Hesden. His mother was always an invalid after his birth; in fact
hasn't walked a step since that time. She was a very remarkable
woman. though, and in spite of her sickness took charge of her
son's education and fitted him for college all by herself. The
boy grew up sorter quiet like, probably on account of being in his
mother's sick room so much; but there wasn't anything soft about
him, after all.
"The old man Casaubon was a Unioner--the strongest kind. Mighty few
of them in this county, which was one of the largest slave-holding
counties in the State. It never had anything but a big Democratic
majority in it, in the old times. I think the old man Le Moyne, run
for the Legislature here some seven times befo're he was elected,
and then it was only on his personal popularity. That was the only
time the county ever had a Whig representative even. When the war
came on, the old man was right down sick. I do believe he saw
the end from the beginning. I've heard him tell things almost to
a fraction jest as they came out afterward. Well, the young man
Hesden, he had his father's notions, of course, but he was pluck.
He couldn't have been a Le Moyne, or a Richards either, without
that. I remember, not long after the war begun--perhaps in the
second year, before the conscription came on, anyhow--he came into
town riding of a black colt that he had raised. I don't think it
had been backed more than a few times, and it was just as fine as
a fiddle. I've had some fine horses myself, and believe I know what
goes to make up a good nag, but I've never seen one that suited my
notion as well as that black. Le Moyne had taken a heap of pains
with him. A lot of folks gathered 'round and was admiring the
beast, and asking questions about his pedigree and the like, when
all at once a big, lubberly fellow named Timlow--Jay Timlow--said
it was a great pity that such a fine nag should belong to a Union
man an' a traitor to his country. You know, captain, that's what
we called Union men in them days. He hadn't more'n got the words
out of his mouth afore Hesden hit him. I'd no idea he could
strike such a blow. Timlow was forty pounds heavier than he, but
it staggered him back four or five steps, and Le Moyne follered
him up, hitting just about as fast as he could straighten his arm,
till he dropped. The queerest thing about it was that the horse
follered right along, and when Timlow come down with his face all
battered up, and Le Moyne wheeled about and started over to the
Court House, the horse kept on follerin' him up to the very steps.
Le Moyne went into the Court House and stayed about ten minutes.
Then he came out and walked straight across the square to where
the crowd was around Timlow, who had been washing the blood off
his face at the pump. Le Moyne was as white as a sheet, and Timlow
was jest a-cussing his level best about what he would do when he
sot eyes on him again. I thought there might be more trouble, and
I told Timlow to hush his mouth--I was a deputy then--and then I
told Le Moyne he mustn't come any nearer. He was only a few yards
away, with a paper in his hand, and that horse just behind him. He
stopped when I called him, and said:
"'You needn't fear my coming for any further difficulty, gentlemen.
I merely want to say'--and he held up the paper--' that I have
enlisted in the army of the Confederate States, and taken this horse
to ride--given him to the Government. And I want to say further,
that if Jay Timlow wants to do any fighting, and will go and enlist,
I'll furnish him a horse, too.'
"With that he jumped on his horse and rode away, followed by a
big cheer, while Jay Timlow stood on the pump platform sopping his
head with his handkerchief, his eyes as big as saucers, as they say,
from surprise. We were all surprised, for that matter. As soon as
we got over that a little we began to rally Timlow over the outcome of
his little fracas. There wasn't no such timber in him as in young
Le Moyne, of course--a big beefy fellow--but he couldn't stand
that, and almost before we had got well started he put on his hat,
looked round at the crowd a minute, and said, 'Damned if I don't do
it!' He marched straight over to the Court House and did it, too.
"Le Moyne stood up to his bargain, and they both went out in the
same company a few days afterward. They became great friends, and
they do say the Confederacy had mighty few better soldiers than
those two boys. Le Moyne was offered promotion time and again, but
he wouldn't take it. He said he didn't like war, didn't believe
in it, and didn't want no responsibility only for himself. Just
about the last fighting they had over about Appomattox--perhaps
the very day before the Surrender--he lost that horse and his
left arm a-fighting over that same Jay Timlow, who had got a ball
in the leg, and Le Moyne was trying to keep him out of the hands
of you Yanks.
"He got back after a while, and has been living with his mother on
the old plantation ever since. He married a cousin just before he
went into the service--more to have somebody to leave with his ma
than because he wanted a wife, folks said. The old man, Colonel
Casaubon, died during the war. He never seemed like himself after
the boy went into the army. I saw him once or twice, and I never
did see such a change in any man. Le Moyne's wife died, too. She
left a little boy, who with Le Moyne and his ma are all that's left
of the family. I don't reckon there ever was a man thought more
of his mother, or had a mother more worth setting store by, than
Hesden Le Moyne." They had reached the hotel when this account
was concluded, and after dinner the sheriff came to the captain's
room and introduced a slender young man in neatly fitting jeans,
with blue eyes, a dark brown beard, and an empty coat-sleeve, as
Mr. Hesden Le Moyne.
He put his felt hat under the stump of his left arm and extended
his right hand as he said simply:
"The sheriff said you wished to see me about Eliab Hill."
"I did," was the response; "but after what he has told me, I desired
to see you much more for yourself."
The sheriff withdrew, leaving them alone together, and they fell
to talking of army life at once, as old soldiers always will, each
trying to locate the other in the strife which they had passed
through on opposite sides.
A BRUISED REED.
"Eliab Hill," said Le Moyne, when they came at length to the subject
in relation to which the interview had been solicited, "was born
the slave of Potem Desmit, on his plantation Knapp-of-Reeds, in
the lower part of the county. His mother was a very likely woman,
considerable darker than he, but still not more than a quadroon, I
should say. She was brought from Colonel Desmit's home plantation
to Knapp-of-Reeds some little time before her child was born. It
was her first child, I believe, and her last one. She was a very
slender woman, and though not especially unhealthy, yet never
strong, being inclined to consumption, of which she finally died.
Of course his paternity is unknown, though rumor has not been silent
in regard to it. It is said that a stubborn refusal on his mother's
part to reveal it led Colonel Desmit, in one of his whimsical
moods, to give the boy the name he bears. However, he was as bright
a child as ever frolicked about a plantation till he was some
five or six years old. His mother had been a house-servant before
she was sent to Knapp-of-Reeds, and being really a supernumerary
there, my father hired her a year or two afterward as a nurse for
my mother, who has long been an invalid, as you may be aware."
His listener nodded assent, and he went on:
"Her child was left at Knapp-of-Reeds, but Saturday nights it
was brought over to stay the Sunday with her, usually by this boy
Nimbus, who was two or three years older than he. The first I remember
of his misfortune was one Saturday, when Nimbus brought him over
in a gunny-sack, on his back. It was not a great way, hardly half
a mile, but I remember thinking that it was a pretty smart tug for
the little black rascal. I was not more than a year or two older
than he, myself, and not nearly so strong.
"It seems that something had happened to the boy, I never knew
exactly what--seems to me it was a cold resulting from some exposure,
which settled in his legs, as they say, producing rheumatism or
something of that kind--so that he could not walk or hardly stand
up. The boy Nimbus had almost the sole charge of him during the
week, and of course he lacked for intelligent treatment. In fact,
I doubt if Desmit's overseer knew anything about it until it
was too late to do any good. He was a bright, cheerful child, and
Nimbus was the same dogged, quiet thing he is now. So it went on,
until his mother, Moniloe, found that he had lost all use of his
legs. They were curled up at one side, as you saw them, and while
his body has developed well they have grown but little in comparison.
"Moniloe made a great outcry over the child, to whom she was much
attached, and finally wrought upon my father and mother to buy
herself and her crippled boy. Colonel Desmit, on whom the burden
of his maintenance would fall, and who saw no method of making him
self-supporting, was willing to sell the mother on very moderate
terms if my father would take the child and guarantee his support.
This was done, and they both became my father's property. Neither
forgot to be grateful. The woman was my mother's faithful nurse
until after the war, when she died, and I have never been able to
fill her place completely, since. I think Eliab learned his letters,
and perhaps to read a little, from me. He was almost always in my
mother's room, being brought in and set down upon a sheepskin on
one side the fireplace in the morning by his mammy. My mother had
great sympathy with his misfortune, the more, I suppose, because
of her own very similar affliction. She used to teach him to sew
and knit, and finally, despite the law, began to encourage him to
read. The neighbors, coming in and finding him with a book in his
hands, began to complain of it, and my father, in order to silence
all such murmurs, manumitted him square out and gave bonds for his
support, as the law required.
"As he grew older he remained more and more in his mother's cabin,
in one corner of which she had a little elevated platform made for
him. He could crawl around the room by means of his hands, and had
great skill in clambering about by their aid. When he was about
fifteen a shoemaker came to the house to do our plantation work.
Eliab watched him closely all the first day; on the second desired
to help, and before the month had passed was as good a shoemaker
as his teacher. From that time he worked steadily at the trade,
and managed very greatly to reduce the cost of his support.
"He was a strange boy, and he and this fellow Nimbus were always
together except when prevented by the latter's tasks. A thousand
times I have known Nimbus to come over long after dark and leave
before daylight, in order to stay with his friend over night. Not
unfrequently he would carry him home upon his back and keep him for
several days at Knapp-of-Reeds, where both were prime favorites, as
they were with us also. As they grew older this attachment became
stronger. Many's the time I have passed there and seen Nimbus working
in the tobacco and Eliab with his hammers and lasts pounding away
under a tree near by. Having learned to read, the man was anxious
to know more. For a time he was indulged, but as the hot times just
preceding the war came on, it became indiscreet for him to be seen
with a book.
"While he was still very young he began to preach, and his
ministrations were peculiarly prudent and sensible. His influence
with his people, even before emancipation, was very great, and
has been increased by his correct and manly conduct since. I regard
him, sir, as one of the most useful men in the community.
"For some reason, I have never known exactly what, he became anxious
to leave my house soon after Nimbus' return from the army, although
I had offered him the free use of the little shop where he and his
mother had lived, as long as he desired. He and Nimbus, by some hook
or crook, managed to buy the place at Red Wing. It was a perfectly
barren piney old-field then, and not thought of any account except
for the timber there was on it. It happened to be at the crossing
of two roads, and upon a high sandy ridge, which was thought to be
too poor to raise peas on. The man who sold it to them--their old
master Potem Desmit--no doubt thought he was getting two or three
prices for it; but it has turned out one of the best tobacco
farms in the county. It is between two very rich sections, and in
a country having a very large colored population, perhaps the largest
in the county, working the river plantations on one side and the
creek bottoms on the other. I have heard that Nimbus takes great
credit to himself for his sagacity in foreseeing the capabilities
of Red Wing. If he really did detect its value at that time, it
shows a very fine judgment and accounts for his prosperity since.
Eliab Hill affirms this to be true, but most people think he does
the planning for the whole settlement. Nimbus has done extremely
well, however. He has sold off, I should judge, nearly half his
land, in small parcels, has worked hard, and had excellent crops.
I should not wonder, if his present crop comes off well and the
market holds on, if before Christmas he were worth as many thousands
as he had hundreds the day he bought that piney old-field. It
don't take much tobacco at a dollar a pound, which his last crop
brought, lugs and all, to make a man that does his own work and
works his own land right well off. He's had good luck, has worked
hard, and has either managed well or been well advised; it don't
"He has gathered a good crowd around him too, sober, hard-working
men; and most of them have done well too. So that it has become
quite a flourishing little settlement. I suppose there are some
fifty or sixty families live there. They have a church, which
they use for a school-house, and it is by a great deal the best
school-house in the county too. Of course they got' outside help,
some from the Bureau, I reckon, and more perhaps from some charitable
association. I should think the church or school-house must have
cost fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars. They have a splendid
school. Two ladies from the North are teaching there--real ladies,
I should judge, too."
The listener smiled at this indorsement.
"I see," said Le Moyne, "it amuses you that I should qualify my
words in that manner. It seems unneccessary to you."
"Well, it may be; but I assure you, sir, we find it hard to believe
that any one who will come down here and teach niggers is of very
much account at home."
"They are generally of the very cream of our Northern life,"
said the other. "I know at this very time the daughters of several
prominent clergymen, of two college professors, of a wealthy merchant,
of a leading manufacturer, and of several wealthy farmers, who are
teaching in these schools. It is missionary work, you see--just
as much as going to Siam or China. I have never known a more
accomplished, devoted, or thoroughly worthy class of ladies, and
do not doubt that these you speak of, well deserve your praise
"Well, it may be," said the other dubiously; "but it is hard for
us to understand, you know. Now, they live in a little old house,
which they have fixed up with flowers and one thing and another
till it is very attractive--on the outside, at least. I know nothing
about the inside since their occupancy. It was a notable place in
the old time, but had quite run down before they came. I don't
suppose they see a white person once a month to speak to them, unless
indeed some of the officers come over from the post at Boyleston,
now and then. I am sure that no lady would think of visiting them
or admitting them to her house. I know a few gentlemen who have
visited the school just out of curiosity. Indeed, I have ridden
over once myself, and I must say it is well worth seeing. I should
say there were three or four hundred scholars, of all ages, sizes,
and colors--black, brown, white apparently, and all shades of what
we used to call 'ginger-cake.' These two ladies and the man Eliab
teach them. It is perfectly wonderful how they do get on. You ought
to see it."
"I certainly shall," said Pardee, "as a special duty calls me there.
How would it do for a polling-place?"
"There ought to be one there, but I should be afraid of trouble,"
answered Le Moyne seriously.
"Name me one or two good men for poll-holders, and I will risk any
"Well, there is Eliab. He's a good man if there ever was one, and
"How about Nimbus?"
"He's a good man too, honest as the day is long, hard-headed and
determined, but he can't read or write."
"That is strange."
"It _is_ strange, but one of the teachers was telling me so
when I was there. I think he has got so that he can sign his first
name--his only one, he insists--but that is all, and he cannot read
"I should have thought he would have been one of the first to learn
that much at least."
"So should I. He is the best man of affairs among them all--has
good judgment and sense, and is always trying to do something to
get on. He says he is 'too busy to get larnin', an' leaves that
and preachin' to Bre'er' 'Liab.'" "Do they keep up their former
"Keep it up? 'Liab lives in Nimbus' lot, has his meals from his
table, and is toted about by Nimbus just the same as if they were
still boys. Nimbus seems to think more of him than he would of a
brother--than he does of his brothers, for he has two whom he seems
to care nothing about. His wife and children are just as devoted
to the cripple as Nimbus, and 'Liab, on his part, seems to think as
much of them as if they were his own. They get along first-rate,
and are prospering finely, but I am afraid they will have trouble
"Oh, well, I don't know; they are niggers, you see, and our people
are not used to such things."
"I hope your apprehensions are groundless."
"Well, I hope so too."
The officer looked at his watch and remarked that he must return
to his duty, and after thanking his companion for a pleasant hour,
and being invited to call at Mulberry Hill whenever occasion might
serve, the two men parted, each with pleasant impressions of the
AN EXPRESS TRUST.
Fortunately for Nimbus, he had received scarcely anything of his
pay while in the service, and none of the bounty-money due him,
until some months after the surrender, when he was discharged at
a post near his old home. On the next day it happened that there
was a sale of some of the transportation at this post, and through
the co-operation of one of his officers he was enabled to buy a
good mule with saddle and bridle for a song, and by means of these
reached home on the day after. He was so proud of his new acquisition
that he could not be induced to remain a single day with his former
comrades. He had hardly more than assured himself of the safety of
his wife and children before he went to visit his old friend and
playmate, Eliab Hill. He found that worthy in a state of great
"You see," he explained to his friend, "Mister Le Moyne" (with a
slight emphasis on the title) "bery kindly offered me de use ob dis
cabin's long as I might want it, and has furnished me with nearly
all I have had since the S'rrender. While my mother lived and he
had her services and a well-stocked plantation and plenty ob hands,
I didn't hab no fear o' being a burden to him. I knew he would get
good pay fer my support, fer I did de shoemakin' fer his people,
and made a good many clo'es fer dem too. Thanks to Miss Hester's
care, I had learned to use my needle, as you know, an' could do
common tailorin' as well as shoemakin'. I got very little fer my
wuk but Confederate money and provisions, which my mother always
insisted that Mr. Le Moyne should have the benefit on, as he had
given me my freedom and was under bond for my support.
"Since de S'rrender, t'ough dere is plenty ob wuk nobody has any
money. Mr. Le Moyne is just as bad off as anybody, an' has', to go
in debt fer his supplies. His slaves was freed, his wife is dead,
he has nobody to wait on Miss Hester, only as he hires a nuss; his
little boy is to take keer on, an' he with only one arm an' jest a
bare plantation with scarcely any stock left to him. It comes hard
fer me to eat his bread and owe him so much when I can't do nothin'
fer him in return. I know he don't mind it, an' b'lieve he would
feel hurt if he knew how I feel about it; but I can't help it,
Nimbus--I can't, no way."
"Oh, yer mustn't feel that 'ere way, Bre'er 'Liab," said his friend.
"Co'se it's hard fer you jes now, an' may be a little rough on Marse
Moyne. But yer mus' member dat atter a little our folks 'll hev
money. White folks got ter have wuk done; nebber do it theirselves;
you know dat; an' ef we does it now we's boun' ter hev pay fer it.
An' when we gits money, you gits wuk. Jes' let Marse Moyne wait
till de crap comes off, an' den yer'll make it all squar wid him.
I tell yer what, 'Liab, it's gwine ter be great times fer us niggers,
now we's free. Yer sees dat mule out dar?" he asked, pointing to
a sleek bay animal which he had tied to the rack in front of the
house when he rode up.
"Yes, o' course I do," said the other, with very little interest
in his voice.
"Likely critter, ain't it?" asked Nimbus, with a peculiar tone.
"Certain. Whose is it?"
"Wal, now, dat's jes edzackly de question I wuz gwine ter ax of
you. Whose yer spose 'tis?"
"I'm sure I don't know. One o' Mr. Ware's?"
"I should tink not, honey; not edzackly now. Dat ar mule b'longs
ter _me_--Nimbus! D'yer h'yer dat, 'Liab?"
"No! Yer don't tell me? Bless de Lord, Nimbus, yer's a fortunit
man. Yer fortin's made, Nimbus. All yer's got ter do is ter wuk fer
a livin' de rest of this year, an' then put in a crap of terbacker
next year, an' keep gwine on a wukkin' an' savin', an' yer fortin's
made. Ther ain't no reason why yer shouldn't be rich afore yer's
fifty. Bless the Lord, Nimbus, I'se that glad for you dat I can't
find no words fer it."
The cripple stretched out both hands to his stalwart friend, and
the tears which ran down his cheeks attested the sincerity of his
words. Nimbus took his outstretched hands, held them in his own a
moment, then went to the door, looked carefully about, came back
again, and with some embarrassment said,
"An' dat ain't all, Bre'er 'Liab. Jes' you look dar."
As he spoke Nimbus took an envelope from the inside pocket of his
soldier jacket and laid it on the bench where the other sat. 'Liab
looked up in surprise, but in obedience to a gesture from Nimbus
opened it and counted the contents.
"Mos' five hundred dollars!" he said at length, in amazement. "Dis
yours too, Bre'er Nimbus?"
"Co'se it is. Didn't I tell yer dar wuz a good time comin'?"
"Bre'er Nimbus," said Eliab solemnly, "you gib me your word you
git all dis money honestly?"
"Co'se I did. Yer don't s'pose Nimbus am a-gwine ter turn thief at
dis day, does yer?"
"How you get it?" asked Eliab sternly.
"How I git it?" answered the other indignantly. "You see dem
clo'es? Hain't I been a-sojerin' nigh onter two year now? Hain't
I hed pay an' bounty, an' rations too? One time I wuz cut off from
de regiment, an' 'ported missin' nigh bout fo' months afo' I managed
ter git over ter Port R'yal an' 'port fer duty, an' dey gib me money
fer rations all dat time. Tell yer, 'Liab, it all counts up. I'se
spent a heap 'sides dat."
Still Eliab looked incredulous.
"You see dat _dis_charge?" said Nimbus, pulling the document
from his pocket. "You jes look at what de paymaster writ on dat,
ef yer don't b'lieve Nimbus hez hed any luck. 'Sides dat, I'se got
de dockyments h'yer ter show jes whar an' how I got dat mule."
The care which had been exercised by his officer in providing
Nimbus with the written evidence of his ownership of the mule was
by no means needless. According to the common law, the possession
of personal property is _prima facie_ evidence of its ownership;
but in those early days, before the nation undertook to spread
the aegis of equality over him, such was not the rule in the case
of the freedman. Those first legislatures, elected only by the
high-minded land-owners of the South, who knew the African, his
needs and wants, as no one else could know them, and who have always
proclaimed themselves his truest friends, enacted with especial
care that he should not "hold nor own nor have any rights of property
in any horse, mule, hog, cow, steer, or other stock," unless the
same was attested by a bill of sale or other instrument of writing
executed by the former owner. It was well for Nimbus that he was
armed with his "dockyments."
Eliab Hill took the papers handed him by Nimbus, and read, slowly
and with evident difficulty; but as he mastered line after line
the look of incredulity vanished, and a glow of solemn joy spread
over his face. It was the first positive testimony of actual
freedom--the first fruits of self-seeking, self-helping manhood
on the part of his race which had come into the secluded country
region and gladdened the heart of the stricken prophet and adviser.
With a sudden jerk he threw himself off his low bench, and burying
his head upon it poured forth a prayer of gratitude for this evidence
of prayer fulfilled. His voice was full of tears, and when he said
"Amen," and Nimbus rose from his knees and put forth his hand to
help him as he scrambled upon his bench, the cripple caught the
hand and pressed it close, as he said:
"Bress God, Nimbus, I'se seen de time often an' often 'nough when
I'se hed ter ax de Lor' ter keep me from a-envyin' an' grudgin' de
white folks all de good chances dey hed in dis world; but now I'se
got ter fight agin' covetin' anudder nigga's luck. Bress de Lor',
Nimbus, I'se gladder, I do b'lieve, fer what's come ter you dan yer
be yerself. It'll do you a power of good--you an' yours--but what
good wud it do if a poor crippled feller like me hed it? Not a
bit. Jes' git him bread an' meat, Nimbus, dat's all. Oh, de Lord
knows what he's 'bout, Nimbus. Mind you dat. He didn't give you
all dat money fer nothing, an' yer'll hev ter 'count fer it, dat
you will; mighty close too, 'kase he keeps his books right. Yer must
see ter dat, Bre'er Nimbus." The exhortation was earnestly given,
and was enforced with tears and soft strokings of the dark strong
hand which he still clasped in his soft and slender ones.
"Now don't you go ter sayin' nuffin' o' dat kind, ole feller. I'se
been a-tinkin' ebber sence I got dat money dat it's jes ez much
'Liab's ez'tis mine. Ef it hadn't been fer you I'd nebber knowed
'nough ter go ober to de Yanks, when ole Mahs'r send me down ter
wuk on de fo'tifications, an' so I neber git it at all. So now,
yer see, Bre'er 'Liab, _you's_ gwine ter keep dat 'ere money.
I don't feel half safe wid it nohow, till we find out jes what
we wants ter do wid it. I 'lows dat we'd better buy a plantation
somewheres. Den I kin wuk it, yer know, an' you kin hev a shop,
an' so we kin go cahoots, an' git along right smart. Yer see, ef
we do dat, we allers hez a livin', anyhow, an' der ain't no such
thing ez spendin' an' losin' what we've got."
There was great demurrer on the part of the afflicted friend, but
he finally consented to become his old crony's banker. He insisted,
however, on giving him a very formal and peculiarly worded receipt
for the money and papers which he received from him. Considering
that they had to learn the very rudiments of business, Eliab Hill
was altogether right in insisting upon a scrupulous observance of
what he deemed "the form of sound words."
In speaking of the son of his former owner as "Mister," Eliab Hill
meant to display nothing of arrogance or disrespect. The titles
"Master" and "Missus," were the badges of slavery and inferiority.
Against their use the mind of the freedman rebelled as instinctively
as the dominant race insisted on its continuance. The "Black
Codes" of 1865, the only legislative acts of the South since the
war which were not affected in any way by national power or Northern
sentiment, made it incumbent on the freedman, whom it sought to
continue in serfdom, to use this form of address, and denounced
its neglect as disrespectful to the "Master" or "Mistress." When
these laws ceased to be operative, the custom of the white race
generally was still to demand the observance of the form, and this
demand tended to embitter the dislike of the freedmen for it. At
first, almost the entire race refused. After a while the habit of
generations began to assert itself. While the more intelligent and
better educated of the original stock discarded its use entirely,
the others, and the children who had grown up since emancipation,
came to use it almost interchangeably with the ordinary form of
address. Thus Eliab Hill, always nervously alive to the fact of
freedom, never allowed the words to pass his lips after the Surrender,
except when talking with Mrs. Le Moyne, to whose kindness he owed
so much-in early years. On the other hand, Nimbus, with an equal
aversion to everything connected with slavery, but without the
same mental activity, sometimes dropped into the old familiar habit.
He would have died rather than use the word at another's dictation
or as a badge of inferiority, but the habit was too strong for one
of his grade of intellect to break away from at once. Since the
success of the old slaveholding element of the South in subverting
the governments based on the equality of political right and power,
this form of address has become again almost universal except in
the cities and large towns.
Situated on the sandy, undulating chain of low, wooded hills
which separated the waters of two tributaries of the Roanoke, at
the point where the "big road" from the West crossed the country
road which ran northward along the crest of the ridge, as if in
search of dry footing between the rich valleys on either hand, was
the place known as Red Wing. The "big road" had been a thoroughfare
from the West in the old days before steam diverted the ways of
traffic from the trails which the wild beasts had pursued. It led
through the mountain gaps, by devious ways but by easy grades,
along the banks of the water-courses and across the shallowest
fords down to the rich lowlands of the East. It was said that the
buffalo, in forgotten ages, had marked out this way to the ever-verdant
reed-pastures of the then unwooded East; that afterward the Indians
had followed his lead, and, as the season served, had fished upon
the waters of Currituck or hunted amid the romantic ruggedness
of the Blue Appalachians. It was known that the earlier settlers
along the Smoky Range and on the Piedmont foot-hills had used this
thoroughfare to take the stock and produce of their farms down to
the great plantations of the East, where cotton was king, and to
the turpentine orchards of the South Atlantic shore line.
At the crossing of these roads was situated a single house, which
had been known for generations, far and near, as the Red Wing
Ordinary. In the old colonial days it had no doubt been a house
of entertainment for man and beast. Tradition, very well based and
universally accepted, declared that along these roads had marched
and countermarched the hostile forces of the Revolutionary period.
Greene and Cornwallis had dragged their weary columns over the
tenacious clay of this region, past the very door of the low-eaved
house, built up of heavy logs at first and covered afterward with
fat-pine siding, which had itself grown brown and dark with age.
It was said that the British regulars had stacked their arms around
the trunk of the monster white-oak that stretched its great arms
out over the low dark house, which seemed to be creeping nearer
and nearer to its mighty trunk for protection, until of late years
the spreading branches had dropped their store of glossy acorns and
embossed cups even on the farther slope of its mossy roof, a good
twenty yards away from the scarred and rugged bole. "Two decks
and a passage"--two moderate-sized rooms with a wide open pass-way
between, and a low dark porch running along the front--constituted
all that was left of a once well-known place of public refreshment.
At each end a stone chimney, yellowish gray and of a massiveness
now wonderful to behold, rose above the gable like a shattered tower
above the salient of some old fortress. The windows still retained
the little square panes and curious glazing of a century ago. Below
it, fifty yards away to the eastward, a bold spring burst out of
the granite rock, spread deep and still and cool over its white
sandy bottom, in the stone-walled inclosure where it was confined
(over half of which stood the ample milk-house), and then gurgling
along the stony outlet ran away over the ripple-marked sands of
its worn channel, to join the waters of the creek a mile away.
It was said that in the olden time there had been sheds and out-buildings,
and perhaps some tributary houses for the use of lodgers, all of
which belonged to and constituted a part of the Ordinary. Two things
had deprived it of its former glory. The mart-way had changed even
before the iron horse charged across the old routes, scorning their
pretty curves and dashing in an almost direct line from mountain
to sea. Increasing population had opened new routes, which diverted
the traffic and were preferred to the old way by travelers. Besides
this, there had been a feud between the owner of the Ordinary and
the rich proprietor whose outspread acres encircled on every side
the few thin roods which were attached to the hostel, and when the
owner thereof died and the property, in the course of administration,
was put upon the market, the rich neighbor bought it, despoiled
it of all its accessories, and left only the one building of two
rooms below and two above, a kitchen and a log stable, with crib
attached, upon the site of the Ordinary which had vexed him so
long. The others were all cleared away, and even the little opening
around the Ordinary was turned out to grow up in pines and black-jacks,
all but an acre or two of garden-plot behind the house. The sign
was removed, and the overseer of Colonel Walter Greer, the new
owner, was installed in the house, which thenceforth lost entirely
its character as an inn.
In the old days, before the use of artificial heat in the curing
of tobacco, the heavy, coarse fibre which grew upon rich, loamy
bottom lands or on dark clayey hillsides was chiefly prized by the
grower and purchaser of that staple. The light sandy uplands, thin
and gray, bearing only stunted pines or a light growth of chestnut
and clustering chinquapins, interspersed with sour-wood, while
here and there a dogwood or a white-coated, white-hearted hickory
grew, stubborn and lone, were not at all valued as tobacco lands.
The light silky variety of that staple was entirely unknown, and
even after its discovery was for a longtime unprized, and its habitat
and peculiar characteristics little understood. It is only since
the war of Rebellion that its excellence has been fully appreciated
and its superiority established. The timber on this land was of no
value except as wood and for house-logs. Of the standard timber
tree of the region, the oak, there was barely enough to fence it,
should that ever be thought desirable. Corn, the great staple of
the region next to tobacco, could hardly be "hired" to grow upon
the "droughty" soil of the ridge, and its yield of the smaller
grains, though much better, was not sufficient to tempt the owner
of the rich lands adjacent to undertake its cultivation. This land
itself, he thought, was only good "to hold the world together" or
make a "wet-weather road" between the rich tracts on either hand.
Indeed, it was a common saying in that region that it was "too poor
even to raise a disturbance upon."
To the westward of the road running north and south there had once
been an open field of some thirty or forty acres, where the wagoners
were wont to camp and the drovers to picket their stock in the
halcyon days of the old hostelry. It had been the muster-ground
of the militia too, and there were men yet alive, at the time of
which we write, whose fathers had mustered with the county forces
on that ground. When it was "turned out," however, and the Ordinary
ceased to be a place of entertainment, the pines shot up, almost
as thick as grass-blades in a meadow, over its whole expanse. It
is strange how they came there. Only black-jacks and the lighter
decidua which cover such sandy ridges had grown there before, but
after these were cleared away by the hand of man and the plow for
a few years had tickled the thin soil, when nature again resumed
her sway, she sent a countless army of evergreens, of mysterious
origin, to take and hold this desecrated portion of her domain. They
sprang up between the corn-rows before the stalks had disappeared
from sight; they shot through the charred embers of the deserted
camp-fire; everywhere, under the shade of each deciduous bush,
protected by the shadow of the rank weeds which sprang up where
the stock had fed, the young pines grew, and protected others, and
shot slimly up, until their dense growth shut out the sunlight and
choked the lately protecting shrubbery. Then they grew larger, and
the weaker ones were overtopped by the stronger and shut out from
the sunlight and starved to death, and their mouldering fragments
mingled with the carpet of cones and needles which became thicker
and thicker under their shade, until at the beginning of the war a
solid, dark mass of pines fit for house-logs, and many even larger,
stood upon the old muster-field, and constituted the chief value
of the tract of two hundred acres which lay along the west side
of the plantation of which it formed a part. It was this tract
that Nimbus selected as the most advantageous location for himself
and his friend which he could find in that region. He rightly
judged that the general estimate of its poverty would incline the
owner to part with a considerable tract at a very moderate price,
especially if he were in need of ready money, as Colonel Desmit
was then reputed to be, on account of the losses he had sustained
by the results of the war. His own idea of its value differed
materially from this, and he was thoroughly convinced that, in the
near future, it would be justified. He was cautious about stating
the grounds of this belief even to Eliab, having the natural fear
of one unaccustomed to business that some other person would get
wind of his idea and step into his Bethesda while he, himself,
waited for the troubling of the waters.
He felt himself quite incompetent to conduct the purchase, even
with Eliab's assistance, and in casting about for some white man
whom they could trust to act as their agent, they could think of
no one but Hesden Le Moyne. It was agreed, therefore, that Eliab
should broach the matter to him, but he was expressly cautioned
by Nimbus to give him no hint of the particular reasons which led
them to prefer this particular tract or of their means of payment,
until he had thoroughly sounded him in regard to the plan itself.
This Eliab did, and that gentleman, while approving the plan of
buying a plantation, if they were able, utterly condemned the idea
of purchasing a tract so notoriously worthless, and refused to have
anything to do with so wild a scheme. Eliab, greatly discouraged,
reported this fact to his friend and urged the abandonment of the
plan. Nimbus, however, was stubborn and declared that "if Marse
Hesden would not act for him he would go to Louisburg and buy it
of Marse Desmit himself."
"Dar ain't no use o' talkin', 'Liab," said he. "You an' Marse
Hesden knows a heap more'n I does 'bout most things; dar ain't no
doubt 'bout dat 'an nobody knows it better'n I does. But what Nimbus
knows, he _knows_, an' dat's de eend on't. Nobody don't know
it any better. Now, I don't know nuffin' 'bout books an' de scripter
an' sech-like, only what I gits second-hand--no more'n you does
'bout sojerin', fer instance. But I tell ye what, 'Liab, I does
know 'bout terbacker, an' I knows _all_ about it, too. I kin
jes' gib you an' Marse Hesden, an' aheap mo' jes like you uns,
odds on dat, an' beat ye all holler ebbery time. What I don't know
'bout dat ar' crap dar ain't no sort ob use a tryin' to tell me.
I got what I knows de reg'lar ole-fashioned way, like small-pox,
jes by 'sposure, an' I tell yer 'Liab, hit beats any sort ob
'noculation all ter rags. Now, I tell _you_, 'Liab Hill, dat
ar' trac' ob lan' 'bout dat ole Or'nery is jes' de berry place we
wants, an' I'm boun' ter hev it, ef it takes a leg. Now you heah
dat, don't yer?"
Eliab saw that it was useless for him to combat this determination.
He knew the ruggedness of his friend's character and had long ago
learned, that he could only be turned from a course, once fixed
upon in his own mind, by presenting some view of the matter which
had not occurred to him before. He had great confidence in Mr.
Le Moyne's judgment--almost as much as in Nimbus', despite his
admiration for his herculean comrade--so he induced his friend to
promise that nothing more should be done about the matter until he
could have an opportunity to examine the premises, with which he
was not as familiar as he would like to be, before it was altogether
decided. To this Nimbus readily consented, and soon afterwards
he borrowed a wagon and took Eliab, one pleasant day in the early
fall, to spy out their new Canaan. When they had driven around
and seen as much of it as they could well examine from the vehicle,
Nimbus drove to a point on the east-and-west road just opposite
the western part of the pine growth, where a sandy hill sloped
gradually to the northward and a little spring burst out of it and
trickled across the road.
"Dar," he said, waving his hand toward the slope; "dar is whar
I wants my house, right 'longside ob dat ar spring, wid a good
terbacker barn up on de hill dar."
"Why, what do yer want ter lib dar fer?" asked the other in
surprise, as he peered over the side of the wagon, in which he sat
upon a thick bed of fodder which Nimbus had spread over the bottom
for his comfort.
"Kase dat ar side-hill am twenty-five acres ob de best terbacker
groun' in Ho'sford County."
"Yer don't say so, Nimbus?"
"Dat's jes what I do say, 'Liab, an' dat's de main reason what's
made me so stubborn 'bout buyin' dis berry track of lan'. Pears ter
me it's jes made fer us. It's all good terbacker lan', most on't
de berry best. It's easy clar'd off an' easy wukked. De 'backer
growed on dis yer lan' an' cured wid coal made outen dem ar pines
will be jes es yaller ez gold an' as fine ez silk, 'Liab. I knows;
I'se been a watchin' right smart, an' long ago, when I used ter
pass by here, when dey fust begun ter vally de yaller terbacker, I
used ter wonder dat some pore white man like Marse War', dat knowed
how ter raise an' cure terbacker, didn't buy de ole place an' wuk
for demselves, 'stead ob overseein' fer somebody else. It's quar
dey nebber t'ought on't. It allers seemed ter me dat I wouldn't ax
fer nothin' better."
"But what yer gwine ter do wid de ole house?" asked Eliab.
"Wal, Bre'er Liab," said Nimbus with a queer grimace, "I kinder
'llowed dat I'd ler you hab dat ar ter do wid jes 'bout ez yer
"Oh, Bre'er Nimbus, yer don't mean dat now?"
"Don't I? wal, you jes see ef I don't. I'se gwine ter lib right
h'yer, an' ef yer don't occupy dat ole Red Wing Or'nery I'm durned
ef it don't rot down. Yer heah dat man? Dar don't nobody else lib
in it, shuah."
Eliab was very thoughtful and silent, listening to Nimbus' comments
and plans until finally, as they sat on the porch of the old house
eating their "snack," he said,
"Nimbus, dar's a heap ob cullud folks libbin' jes one way an'
anudder from dis yer Red Wing cross-roads."
"Co'se dey is, an' dat's de berry reason I'se sot my heart on yer
habbin' a shop right h'yer. Yer shore ter git de wuk ob de whole
country roun', an' der's mo' cullud folks right up an' down de
creek an' de ribber h'yer dan ennywhar hereabouts dat I knows on."
"But, Nimbus--" said he, hesitatingly.
"Yis, 'Liab, I hears ye."
"Couldn't we hab a church here?"
"Now yer's _talkin'_," exclaimed Nimbus. "Swar ter God, it's
quare I nebber tink ob dat, now. An' you de minister? Now yer
_is_ talkin', shuah! Why de debble I nebber tink ob dat afo'?
Yer see dem big pines dar, straight ez a arrer an' nigh 'bout
de same size from top ter bottom? What yer s'pose dem fer, 'Liab?
Dunno? I should tink not. House logs fer de church, 'Liab. Make
it jes ez big ez yer wants. Dar 'tis. Only gib me some few shingles
an' a flo', an' dar yer hev jes ez good a church ez de 'postles
ebber hed ter preach in."
"An' de school, Nimbus?" timidly.
"Shuah 'nough. Why I nebber tink ob dat afo'? An' you de teacher!
Now you is talkin', 'Liab, _certain_ shuah! Dat's jes de
ting, jes what we wants an' hez got ter hev. Plenty o' scholars
h'yer-abouts, an' de church fer a school-house an' Bre'er 'Liab
fer de teacher! 'Clar fer it, Bre'er'Liab, you hez got ahead-piece,
dat's a fac'. Now I nebber tink of all dat togedder. Mout hev
come bimeby, little to a time, but not all to wonst like, as 'tis
wid you. Lord, how plain I sees it all now! De church an' school-house
up dar on de knoll; Nimbus' house jes about a hundred yards furder
on, 'cross de road; an' on de side ob de hill de 'backer-barn; you
a teachin' an' a preachin' an' Nimbus makin' terbacker, an' Gena
a-takin' comfort on de porch, an' de young uns gittin' larnin'!
Wh-o-o-p! Bre'er 'Liab, yer's a great man, shuah!"
Nimbus caught him in his strong arms and whirled him about in a
frenzy of joy. When he sat him down Eliab said quietly:
"We must get somebody else to teach for a while. 'Liab don't know
'nough ter do dat ar. I'll go to school wid de chillen an' learn
'nough ter do it bimeby. P'raps dis what dey call de 'Bureau' mout
start a school here ef you should ax 'em, Nimbus. Yer know dey'd
be mighty willin' ter 'blige a soldier, who'd been a fightin' fer
'em, ez you hev."
"I don't a know about dat ar, Bre'er'Liab, but leastaways we can't
do no more'n make de trial, anyhow."
After this visit, Eliab withdrew all opposition, not without doubt,
but hoping for the best, and trusting, prayerfully, that his friend's
sanguine expectations might be justified by the result. So it was
determined that Nimbus should make the purchase, if possible, and
that the old Ordinary, which had been abandoned as a hostel on
the highway to the Eastern market, be made a New Inn upon the road
which the Freedman must now take, and which should lead to liberty
ON THE WAY TO JERICHO.
Colonel Desmit's devotion to the idea that slave property was more
profitable than any other, and the system by which he had counted
on almost limitless gain thereby, was not only overthrown by the
universal emancipation which attended the issue of the war, but
certain unlocked for contingencies placed him upon the very verge
of bankruptcy. The location of his interests in different places,
which he had been accustomed, during the struggle, to look upon
as a most fortunate prevision, resulted most disastrously. As the
war progressed, it came about that those regions which were at
first generally regarded as the most secure from hostile invasion
became the scene of the most devastating operations.
The military foresight of the Confederate leaders long before led
them to believe that the struggle would be concluded, or would
at least reach its climax, in the Piedmont region. From the coast
to the mountains the Confederacy spanned, at this point, only two
hundred miles. The country was open, accessible from three points
upon the coast, at which lodgment was early made or might have been
obtained, and only one flank of the forces marching thence toward
the heart of the Confederacy could be assailed. It was early
apprehended by them that armies marching from the coast of North
Carolina, one column along the course of the Cape Fear and another
from Newberne, within fair supporting distance and converging
toward the center of the State, would constitute the most dangerous
movement that could be made against the Confederacy, since it would
cut it in twain if successful; and, in order to defeat it, the Army
of Virginia would have to be withdrawn from its field of operations
and a force advancing in its track from the James would be enabled
to co-operate with the columns previously mentioned. It is
instructive to note that, upon the other side, the untrained instinct
of President Lincoln was always turning in the same direction.
In perusing the field of operations his finger would always stray
to the eastern coast of North Carolina as the vital point, and
no persuasions could induce him to give up the apparently useless
foothold which we kept there for more than three years without
material advantage. It was a matter of constant surprise to the
Confederate military authorities that this course was not adopted,
and the final result showed the wisdom of their premonition.
Among others, Colonel Desmit had obtained an inkling of this idea,
and instead of concentrating all his destructible property in
the region of his home, where, as it resulted, it would have been
comparatively secure, he pitched upon the "piney-woods" region to
the south-eastward, as the place of greatest safety.
He had rightly estimated that cotton and naval stores would, on
account of the rigorous blockade and their limited production in
other countries, be the most valuable products to hold when the
period of war should end. With these ideas he had invested largely
in both, and in and about a great factory at the falls of a chief
tributary of the Pedee, he had stored his cotton; and in the heart
of that sombre-shadowed stretch of soughing pines which lies between
the Cape Fear and the Yadkin he had hidden his vast accumulation
of pitch, turpentine, and resin. Both were in the very track of
Sherman's ruthless legions. First the factory and the thousands of
bales carefully placed in store near by were given to the flames.
Potestatem Desmit had heard of their danger, and had ridden post-haste
across the rugged region to the northward in the vain hope that
his presence might somehow avert disaster. From the top of a rocky
mountain twenty miles away he had witnessed the conflagration, and
needed not to be told of his loss. Turning his horse's head to the
eastward, at a country-crossing near at hand, he struck out with
unabated resolution to reach the depot of his naval stores before
the arrival of the troops, in order that he might interpose for their
preservation. He had quite determined to risk the consequences of
capture in their behalf, being now fully convinced of the downfall
of the Confederacy.
During the ensuing night he arrived at his destination, where he
found everything in confusion and affright. It was a vast collection
of most valuable stores. For two years they had been accumulating.
It was one of the sheet-anchors which the prudent and far-seeing
Potestatem Desmit had thrown out to windward in anticipation of a
coming storm. For half a mile along the bank of the little stream
which was just wide enough to float a loaded batteau, the barrels
of resin and pitch and turpentine were piled, tier upon tier,
hundreds and thousands upon thousands of them. Potestatem Desmit
looked at them and shuddered at the desolation which a single
torch would produce in an instant. He felt that the chances were
desperate, and he had half a mind to apply the torch himself and
at least deprive the approaching horde of the savage pleasure of
destroying his substance. But he had great confidence in himself,
his own powers of persuasion and diplomacy. He would try them once
more, and would not fail to make them serve for all they might be
worth, to save this hoarded treasure.
It was barely daylight the next morning when he was awakened by the
cry, "The Yanks are coming!" He had but a moment to question the
frightened messenger, who pressed on, terror-stricken, in the very
road which he might have known would be the path of the advancing
enemy, instead of riding two miles into the heart of the boundless
pine forest which stretched on either hand, where he would have
been as safe from capture as if he had been in the center of the
pyramid of Cheops.
Potestatem Desmit had his carriage geared up, and went coolly forth
to meet the invaders. He had heard much of their savage ferocity,
and was by no means ignorant of the danger which he ran in thus going
voluntarily into their clutches. Nevertheless he did not falter.
He had great reliance in his personal presence. So he dressed with
care, and arrayed in clean linen and a suit of the finest broadcloth,
then exceedingly rare in the Confederacy, and with his snowy hair
and beard, his high hat, his hands crossed over a gold-headed
cane, and gold-mounted glasses upon his nose, he set out upon his
mission. The night before he had prudently removed from the place
every drop of spirits except a small demi-john of old peach-brandy,
which he put under the seat of his carriage, intending therewith to
regale the highest official whom he should succeed in approaching,
even though it should be the dreaded Sherman himself.
He had proceeded perhaps half a mile, when his carriage was all at
once surrounded by a motley crew of curiously dressed but well-armed
ruffians, whose very appearance disgusted and alarmed him. With oaths
and threats the lumbering chariot, which represented in itself no
little of respectability, was stopped. The appearance of such a
vehicle upon the sandy road of the pine woods coming directly toward
the advancing column struck the "bummers" with surprise. They made
a thousand inquiries of the frightened driver, and were about to
remove and appropriate the sleek span of carriage-horses when the
occupant of the carriage, opening the window, thrust out his head,
and with a face flaming with indignation ordered them to desist,
bestowing upon them a volley of epithets, beginning with "rascals"
and running as far into the language of abuse as his somewhat heated
imagination could carry him.
"Hello, Bill," said the bummer who was unfastening the right-wheeler,
as he looked back and saw the red face framed in a circlet of
white hair and beard. "Just look at this old sunflower, will you?
I guess the old bird must think he commands this brigade. Ha! ha!
ha! I say, old fellow, when did you leave the ark?"
"And was Noah and his family well when you bid 'em good-by?" queried
This levity and ridicule were too much for Colonel P. Desmit
to endure. He leaned out of the carriage window, and shaking his
gold-headed cane at the mirthful marauders denounced them in language
fearful in its impotent wrath.
"Take me to General Sherman, you rascals! I want to see the general!"
he yelled over and over again.
"The hell you do! Well, now, mister, don't you know that the General
is too nervous to see company to-day? He's just sent us on ahead
a bit to say to strangers that he's compelled to refuse all visitors
to-day. He gits that way sometimes, does 'Old Bill,' so ye mustn't
think hard of him, at all."
"Take me to the general, you plundering pirates!" vociferated the
enraged Colonel. "I'll see if a country gentleman travelling in his
own carriage along the highway is to be robbed and abused in this
manner!" "Robbed, did he say?" queried one, with the unmistakable
brogue of an Irishman. "Faith, it must be the gintleman has somethin'
very important along wid him in the carriage, that he's gittin' so
excited about; and its meself that'll not see the gintleman imposed
upon, sure." This with a wink at his comrades. Then to the occupant
of the carriage: "What did yer honor say might be yer name, now?
It's very partickler the General is about insthructin' us ter ax
the names of thim that's wantin' an' inthroduction to him, ye know?"
The solemnity of this address half deceived the irate Southron,
and he answered with dignity, "Desmit--Colonel Potestatem Desmit,
of Horsford County, sir."
"Ah, d'ye hear that, b'ys? Faith, it's a kurnel it is ye've been
a shtoppin' here upon the highway! Shure it may be he's a goin' to
the Gineral wid a flag of thruce, belike."
"I do wish to treat with the General," said Desmit, thinking he
saw a chance to put in a favorable word.
"An' d'ye hear that, b'ys? Shure the gintleman wants to thrate the
Gineral. Faith it'll be right glad the auld b'y'll be of a dhrap
of somethin' good down here in the pine woods."
"Can I see the General, gentlemen?" asked Desmit, with a growing
feeling that he had taken the wrong course to accomplish his end.
The crowd of "bummers" constantly grew larger. They were mounted
upon horses and mules, jacks and jennets, and one of them had put
a "McClellan saddle" and a gag-bit upon one of the black polled cattle
which abound in that region, and which ambled easily and briskly
along with his rider's feet just brushing the low "poverty-pines"
which grew by the roadside. They wore all sorts of clothing. The
blue and the gray were already peacefully intermixed in the garments
of most of them. The most grotesque variety prevailed especially
in their head-gear, which culminated in the case of one who wore a
long, barrel-shaped, slatted sun-bonnet made out of spotted calico.
They were boisterous and even amusing, had they not been well
armed and apparently without fear or reverence for any authority or
individual. For the present, the Irishman was evidently in command,
by virtue of his witty tongue.
"Can ye see the Gineral, Kurnel?" said he, with the utmost apparent
deference; "av coorse ye can, sir, only it'll be necessary for you
to lave your carriage an' the horses and the nagur here in the care
of these gintlemen, while I takes ye to the Gineral mesilf."
"Why can I not drive on?"
"Why can't ye dhrive? Is it a Kurnel ye is, an' don't know that?
Shure the cavalry an' the arthillery an' the caysons an' one thing
an' another of that kind would soon crush a chayriot like that to
flinders, ye know."
"I cannot leave my carriage," said Desmit.
"Mein Gott, shust hear him now I" said a voice on the other side,
which caused Desmit to turn with a start. A bearded German, with a
pair of myoptic glasses adding their glare to the peculiar intensity
of the short-sighted gaze, had climbed upon the opposite wheel
during his conversation with Pat, and leaning half through the
window was scanning carefully the inside of the carriage. He had
already one hand on the demijohn of peach-brandy upon which the
owner's hopes so much depended. Potetsatem Desmit was no coward,
and his gold-headed cane made the acquaintance of the Dutchman's
poll before he had time to utter a word of protestation.
It was all over in a minute, then. There was a rush and a scramble.
The old man was dragged out of his carriage, fighting manfully
but vainly. Twenty hands laid hold upon him. The gold-headed cane
vanished; the gold-mounted glasses disappeared; his watch leaped
from his pocket, and the chain was soon dangling at the fob of one
of the still laughing marauders. Then one insisted that his hat
was unbecoming for a colonel, and a battered and dirty infantry
cap with a half-obliterated corps badge and regimental number was
jammed down on his gray hairs; he was required to remove his coat,
and then another took a fancy to his vest. The one who took his
coat gave him in exchange a very ragged, greasy, and altogether
disgusting cavalry jacket, much too short, and not large enough to
button. The carriage was almost torn in pieces in the search for
treasure. Swords and bayonets were thrust through the panelling; the
cushions were ripped open, the cover torn off, and every possible
hiding-place examined. Then thinking it must be about his person,
they compelled him to take off his boots and stockings. In their
stead a pair of almost soleless shoes were thrown him by one who
appropriated the boots.
Meantime the Irishman had distributed the contents of the demijohn,
after having filled his own canteen. Then there was great hilarity.
The taste of the "colonel" was loudly applauded; his health was
drunk, and it was finally decided to move on with him in charge.
The "bummer" who rode the polled ox had, in the mean time, shifted
his saddle to one of the carriage-horses, and kindly offered the
steer to the "colonel." One who had come upon foot had already
mounted the other horse. The driver performed a last service for
his master, now pale, trembling, and tearful at the insults and
atrocities he was called on to undergo, by spreading one of the carriage
cushions over the animal's back and helping the queerly-habited
potentate to mount his insignificant steed. It was better than
marching through the hot sand on foot, however.
When they reached the little hamlet which had grown up around his
collection of turpentine distilleries they saw a strange sight.
The road which bore still further to the southward was full of
blue-coated soldiers, who marched along with the peculiar swinging
gait which marked the army that "went down to the sea." Beyond the
low bridge, under a clump of pines which had been spared for shade,
stood a group of horsemen, one of whom read a slip of paper, or
rather shouted its contents to the soldiery as they passed, while
he flourished the paper above his head. Instantly the column was
in an uproar. Caps were thrown into the air, voices grew hoarse
with shouting; frantic gesticulation, tearful eyes and laughter,
yells, inane antics, queer combinations of sacrilegious oaths and
absurd embraces were everywhere to be seen and heard.
"Who is that?" asked Desmit of the Irishman, near whom he had kept,
pointing to the leading man of the group under the tree.
"Faith, Kurnel, that is Gineral-----. Would ye like an inthroduction,
"Yes, yes," said Desmit impatiently.
"Thin come wid me. Shure I'll give ye one, an' tell him ye sint
him a dhrink of auld pache to cilebrate the good news with. Come
Just as they stepped upon the bridge Desmit heard a lank Hoosier
"What is in them bar'ls?"
And some one answered,
"Hooray!" said the first. "A bonfire!" "Hurry! hurry!" Desmit
cried to his guide.
"Come on thin, auld gintleman. It's mesilf that'll not go back on
a man that furnishes a good dhram for so joyful an occasion."
They dismounted, and, pressing their way through the surging mass
on the bridge, approached the group under the pines.
"Gineral," said the Irishman, taking off the silk hat which Desmit
had worn and waving it in the air; "Gineral, I have the honor
to inthroduce to ye anl auld gintleman--one av the vera furst
families--that's come out to mate ye, an' begs that ye'll taste jest
a dhrap av the finest auld pache that ivver ran over yer tongue,
jist ter cilebrate this vera joyful occasion,"
He waved his hat toward Desmit, and handed up his canteen at once.
The act was full of the audacity of his race, but the news had
overthrown all sense of discipline. The officer even lifted the
canteen to his lips, and no doubt finding Pat's assertion as to its
quality to be true allowed a reasonable quantity of its aromatic
contents to glide down his throat, and then handed it to one of
"General! General!" shrieked Desmit in desperation, as he rushed
"What do you want, sir?" said the officer sternly.
There was a rush, a crackle, and a still louder shout.
Both turned and saw a tongue of red flame with a black, sooty tip
leap suddenly skyward. The great mass of naval stores was fired,
and no power on earth could save a barrel of them now. Desmit
staggered to the nearest tree, and faint and trembling watched the
flame. How it raged! How the barrels burst and the liquid flame
poured over the ground and into the river! Still it burned! The whole
earth seemed aflame! How the black billows of heavy smoke poured
upward, hiding the day! The wind shifted and swept the smoke-wave
over above the crowding, hustling, shouting column. It began to rain,
but under the mass of heavy smoke the group at the pines stood dry.
And still, out of the two openings in the dark pines upon the
other side of the stream, poured the two blue-clad, steel-crowned
columns! Still the staff officer shouted the glad tidings,
"_Lee--surrendered--unconditionally_.'" Still waved aloft the
dispatch! Still the boundless forests rang with shouts! Still the
fierce flame raged, and from the column which had gone into the
forest beyond came back the solemn chant, which sounded at that
moment like the fateful voice of an avenging angel;
"John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave; His soul is
One who looked upon the scene thinks of it always when he reads of
the last great day--the boundless flame--the fervent heat--the
shouts--the thousands like the sands of the sea--all are not to be
forgotten until the likeness merges into the dread reality!
The Irishman touched Desmit as he leaned against the pine.
"War that yours, misther?" he asked, not unkindly.
Desmit nodded affirmatively.
"Here," said the other, extending his canteen. "There's a drink
left. Take it."
Desmit took it with a trembling hand, and drained it to the last
"That's right," said the Irishman sympathetically. "I'm right
sorry for ye, misther, that I am; but don't ye nivver give up heart.
There's more turpentine where that come from, and this thing's over
now. I couldn't find yer bull for ye, mister, but here's a mule.
Ye'd better jest take him and git away from here before this row's
over. Nobody'll miss ye now."
Two weeks afterward a queerly clad figure rode up to the elegant
mansion of Colonel Potestatem Desmit, overlooking the pleasant
town of Louisburg in the county of Horsford, and found a party of
Federal officers lounging upon his wide porches and making merry
after war's alarums!
NEGOTIATING A TREATY.
Not only did Colonel Desmit lose his cotton and naval stores; but
the funds which he had invested, with cautious foresight, in the
bonds of the State and the issues of its banks, were also made
worthless by the result of the war. Contrary to the expectations
of the most prudent and far-seeing, the bonds issued by the States
in rebellion during the period of war, were declared to be attaint
with treason, and by the supreme power of the land were forbidden
to be paid. In addition to this he found himself what was properly
termed "land-poor." The numerous small plantations which he had
acquired in different parts of the country, in pursuance of his
original and inherited design of acquiring wealth by slave-culture,
though intrinsically very valuable, were just at this time
in the highest degree unavailable. All lands had depreciated to a
considerable extent, but the high price of cotton had tempted many
Northern settlers and capitalists into that belt of country where
this staple had been most successfully raised, and their purchases,
as well as the continued high price of the staple, had kept up the
prices of cotton-lands far beyond all others.
Then, too, the lack of ready money throughout the country and the
general indebtedness made an absolute dearth of buyers. In the four
years of war there had been no collections. The courts had been
debarred from judgment and execution. The sheriff had been without
process, the lawyer without fees, the creditor without his money.
Few indeed had taken advantage of this state of affairs to pay
debts. Money had been as plenty as the forest leaves in autumn,
and almost as valueless. The creditor had not desired to realize
on his securities, and few debtors had cared to relieve themselves.
There had come to be a sort of general belief that when the war
ended there would be a jubilee for all debtors--that each one would
hold what he had, and that a promise to pay would no more trouble
or make afraid even the most timid soul. So that when the courts
came to be unchained and the torrent of judgments and executions
poured forth under their seals, the whole country was flooded with
bankruptcy. Almost nobody could pay. A few, by deft use of present
advantages, gathered means to discharge their own liabilities and
take advantage of the failure of others to do so. Yet they were
few indeed. On every court-house the advertisements of sale covered
the panels of the door and overflowed upon the walls. Thousands
of homesteads, aye, hundreds of thousands of homes--millions of
acres--were sold almost for a song--frequently less than a shilling
an acre, generally less than a dollar.
Colonel Desmit had not been an exception to these rules. He had
not paid the obligations maturing during the war simply because he
knew he could not be compelled to do so. Instead of that, he had
invested his surplus in lands, cotton, and naval stores. Now the
evil day was not far off, as he knew, and he had little to meet it.
Nevertheless he made a brave effort. The ruggedness of the disowned
family of Smiths and the chicanery inherited from the gnarly-headed
and subtle-minded old judge came to his rescue, and he determined
not to fail without a fight. He shingled himself with deeds of
trust and sales under fraudulent judgments or friendly liens, to
delay if they did not avert calamity. Then he set himself at work
to effect sales. He soon swallowed his wrath and appealed to the
North--the enemy to whom he owed all his calamities, as he thought.
He sent flaming circulars to bleak New England health-exhibits to
the smitten of consumption, painting the advantages of climate,
soil, and society--did all in his power to induce immigrants to
come and buy, in order that he might beat off poverty and failure
and open disgrace. He made a brave fight, but it had never occurred
to him to sell an acre to a colored man when he was accosted by
Nimbus, who, still wearing some part of his uniform, came, over to
negotiate with him for the purchase of Red Wing.
All these untoward events had not made the master of Knapp-of-Reeds
peculiarly amiable, or kindly disposed toward any whom he deemed
in the remotest manner responsible for his loss. For two classes
he could not find words sufficient to express his loathing--namely,
Yankees and Secessionists. To the former directly and to the latter
indirectly he attributed all his ills. The colored man he hated as
a man, as bitterly as he had before highly prized him as a slave.
At the outset of the war he had been openly blamed for his coolness
toward the cause of the Confederacy. Then, for a time, he had
acquiesced in what was done--had "gone with his State," as it was
then expressed--and still later, when convinced of the hopelessness of
the struggle, he had advocated peace measures; to save his property
at all hazards, some said; because he was at heart a Unionist,
others declared So, he had come to regard himself as well disposed
toward the Union, and even had convinced himself that he had
suffered persecution for righteousness' sake, when, in truth, his
"Unionism" was only an investment made to avoid loss.
These things, however, tended to embitter him all the more against
all those persons and events in any manner connected with his
misfortunes. It was in such a mood and under such circumstances,
that word was brought to Mr. Desmit in his private library, that "a
nigger" wanted to see him. The servant did not know his name, what
he wanted, or where he came from. She could only say that he had
ridden there on a "right peart mule" and was a "right smart-looking
boy." She was ordered to bring him in, and Nimbus stood before his
master for the first time since he had been sent down the country
to work on fortifications intended to prevent the realization of
his race's long-delayed vision of freedom. He came with his hat
in his hand, saying respectfully,
"How d'ye, Marse Desmit?"
"Is that you, Nimbus? Get right out of here! I don't want any such
grand rascal nigger in my house."
"But, Marse Desrnit," began the colored man, greatly flurried by
this rude greeting.
"I don't want any 'buts.' Damn you, I've had enough of all such
cattle. What are you here for, anyhow? Why don't you go back to
the Yankees that you ran away to? I suppose you want I should feed
you, clothe you, support you, as I've been doing for your lazy
wife and children ever since the surrender. I shan't do it a day
longer--not a day! D'ye hear? Get off from my land before the sun
goes down to-morrow or I'll have the overseer set his dogs on you."
"All right," said Nimbus coolly; "jes yer pay my wife what's due
her and we'll leave ez soon ez yer please."
"Due her? You damned black rascal, do you stand there and tell me
I owe her anything?"
Strangely enough, the colored man did not quail. His army life had
taught him to stand his ground, even against a white man, and he
had not yet learned how necessary it was to unlearn the lesson of
liberty and assume again the role of the slave. The white man was
astounded. Here was a "sassy nigger" indeed! This was what freedom
did for them!
"Her papers dat you gib her at de hirin', Marse Potem," said Nimbus,
"says dat yer shall pay her fo' dollars a month an' rations. She's
hed de rations all reg'lar, Marse Desrnit; dat's all right, but
not a dollar ob de money."
"You lie, you black rascal!" said Desmit excitedly; "she's drawn
every cent of it!"
"Wal," said Nimbus, "ef dat's what yer say, we'll hev ter let de
'Bureau' settle it."
"What, sir? You rascal, do you threaten me with the 'Bureau'?"
shouted Desmit, starting toward him in a rage, and aiming a blow
at him with the heavy walking-stick he carried.
"Don't do dat, Marse Desmit," cried the colored man; "don't do
There was a dangerous gleam in his eye, but the white man did not
heed the warning. His blow fell not on the colored man's head, but
on his upraised arm, and the next moment the cane was wrested from
his hands, and the recent slave stood over his former master as he
lay upon the floor, where he had fallen or been thrown, and said:
"Don't yer try dat, Marse Desmit; I won't bar it--dat I won't, from
no man, black ner white. I'se been a sojer sence I was a slave, an'
ther don't no man hit me a lick jes cos I'm black enny mo'. Yer's
an' ole man, Marse Desmit, an' yer wuz a good 'nough marster ter
me in the ole times, but yer mustn't try ter beat a free man. I
don't want ter hurt yer, but yer mustn't do dat!"
"Then get out of here instantly," said Desmit, rising and pointing
toward the door.
"All right, Marse," said Nimbus, stooping for his hat; "'tain't
no use fer ye to be so mad, though. I jes come fer to make a trade
"Get out of here, you damned, treacherous, ungrateful, black rascal.
I wish every one of your whole race had the small-pox! Get out!"
As Nimbus turned to go, he continued:
"And get your damned lazy tribe off from my plantation before
to-morrow night, if you don't want the dogs put on them, too!"
"I ain't afeard o' yer dogs," said Nimbus, as he went down the
hall, and, mounting his mule, rode away.
With every step his wrath increased. It was well for Potestatem
Desmit that he was not present to feel the anger of the black giant
whom he had enraged. Once or twice he turned back, gesticulating
fiercely and trembling with rage. Then he seemed to think better
of it, and, turning his mule into the town a mile off his road,
he lodged a complaint against his old master, with the officer of
the "Bureau," and then rode quietly home, satisfied to "let de law
take its course," as he said. He was glad that there was a law for
him--a law that put him on the level with his old master--and
meditated gratefully, as he rode home, on what the nation had
wrought in his behalf since the time when "Marse Desmit" had sent
him along that very road with an order to "Marse Ware" to give
him "twenty lashes well laid on." The silly fellow thought that
thenceforth he was going to have a "white man's chance in life."
He did not know that in our free American Government, while the
Federal power can lawfully and properly ordain and establish the
theoretical rights of its citizens, it has no legal power to support
and maintain those rights against the encroachment of any of the
States, since in those matters the State is sovereign, and the part
is greater than the whole.
BORN OF THE STORM.
Perhaps there was never any more galling and hated badge of defeat
imposed upon a conquered people than the "Bureau of Freedmen,
Refugees, and Abandoned Lands," a branch of the Federal executive
power which grew out of the necessities of the struggle to put
down rebellion, and to which, little by little, came to be referred
very many of those matters which could by no means be neglected,
but which did not properly fall within the purview of any other
branch of military administration. It is known, in these latter
days, simply as the Freedmen's Bureau, and thought to have been
a terrible engine of oppression and terror and infamy, because of
the denunciations which the former slave-owners heaped upon it,
and the usually accepted idea that the mismanaged and malodorous
Freedmen's Savings Bank was, somehow or other, an outgrowth and
exponent of this institution. The poor thing is dead now, and, like
dead humanity, the good it did has been interred with its bones.
It has been buried, with curses deep and bitter for its funeral
obsequies. Its officers have been loaded with infamy. Even its
wonderful results have been hidden from the sight of man, and its
history blackened with shame and hate. It is one of the curious
indices of public feeling that the North listened, at first, with
good-natured indifference to the virulent diatribes of the recently
conquered people in regard to this institution; after a time wonder
succeeded to indifference; until finally, while it was still an
active branch of the public service, wondering credulity succeeded,
and its name became synonymous with disgrace; so that now there
is hardly a corner of the land in which a man can be found brave
enough to confess that he wore the uniform and performed the duties
of an agent of the "Freedmen's Bureau." The thorough subserviency
of Northern sentiment to the domination of that masterly will
which characterized "the South" of the old regime was never better
illustrated. "Curse me this people!" said the Southern Balak--of
the Abolitionist first, of the Bureau-Officer next, and then of
the Carpet-Bagger. The Northern Balaam hemmed and paltered, and
then--_cursed the children of his loins_!
Of the freedmen, our recent allies in war, the grateful and devoted
friends, of the nation which had opened for them the gateway of the
future, not one of the whole four millions had a word to utter in
reproach of this branch of the service, in which they were particularly
interested. Strangely enough, too, none of those Union men of
the South, who had been refugees during the war or friends of that
Union after its close, joined in the complaints and denunciations
which were visited on this institution and its agents. Neither did
the teachers of colored schools, nor the officers and agents of
those charitable and missionary associations of the North, whose
especial work and purpose was the elevation and enlightenment of
the colored man, see fit to unite in that torrent of detraction
which swept over the country in regard to the "Bureau" and its
agents. But then, it may be that none of these classes were able
to judge truly and impartially of its character and works! They may
have been prepossessed in its favor to an extent which prevented
a fair and honest determination in regard to it.
Certain it is that those who stood upon the other side--those who
instituted and carried on rebellion, or the greater part of them,
and every one of those who opposed reconstruction, who fought to
the last moment the enfranchisement of the black; every one who
denied the right of the nation to emancipate the slave; every one
who clamored for the payment of the State debts contracted during
the war; all of those who proposed and imposed the famous "black
codes,"--every one of these classes and every man of each class avowed
himself unable to find words to express the infamy, corruption, and
oppression which characterized the administration of that climacteric
outrage upon a brave, generous, overwhelmed but unconquered
--forgiving but not to be forgiven, people.
They felt themselves to have been in all things utterly innocent
and guileless. The luck of war had been terribly against them, they
considered, but the right remained with them. They were virtuous.
Their opponents had not only been the aggressors at the outset,
but had shown themselves little better than savages by the manner
in which they had conducted the war; and, to crown the infamy of
their character, had imposed upon "the South" at its close that
most nefarious of all detestable forms of oppressive degradation,
"the Bureau." Their orators grew magniloquent over its tyrannical
oppression; the Southern press overflowed with that marvellous
exuberance of diatribe of which they are the acknowledged masters--to
all of which the complaisant North gave a ready and subservient
concurrence, until the very name reeked in the public mind with
infamous associations and degrading ideas.
A few men tried to stem the torrent. Some who had been in its service
even dared to insist that they had not thereby rendered themselves
infamous and unworthy. The nation listened for a time with kindly
pity to their indignant protests, and then buried the troublesome
and persistent clamorers in the silence of calm but considerate
disbelief. They were quietly allowed to sink into the charitable
grave of unquestioning oblivion. It was not any personal attaint
which befouled their names and blasted their public prospects, but
simply the fact that they had obeyed the nation's behest and done
a work assigned to them by the country's rulers. Thus it came to
pass that in one third of the country it was an ineffaceable brand
of shame to have been at any time an agent or officer of this
Bureau, and throughout the rest of the country it was accounted a
fair ground for suspicion. In it all, the conquering element was
simply the obedient indicator which recorded and proclaimed the
sentiment and wish of the conquered. The words of the enemy were
always regarded as being stamped with the mint-mark of truth and
verity, while the declarations of our allies accounted so apparently
false and spurious as to be unworthy of consideration, even when
attested by svvorn witnesses and written in blood upon a page of
history tear blotted and stained with savage deeds. All this was
perfectly natural, however, and arose, almost unavoidably, from
the circumstances under which the institution was created and the
duties which it was called upon to discharge. It may not be amiss
to consider again the circumstances under which it came to exist.
This is how this institution had its origin: As the war to put down
rebellion progressed and our armies advanced farther and farther
into the heart of the Confederacy, the most devoted and malignant
adherents of the Confederate cause abandoned their homes and
all that they could not easily take with them, and fled within
the Confederate lines. Those white people who were adverse to the
Confederate cause, or at least lukewarm in its support, spurred
by the rigors of conscription and the dangers of proscription and
imprisonment, took their lives in their hands, left their homes,
and fled by every available road to the shelter of the Federal
forces. Those who had no homes--the slaves--either deserted by their
owners or fancying they saw in that direction a glimmer of possible
freedom, swarmed in flank and rear of every blue-clad column which
invaded the Confederacy, by thousands and tens of thousands. They
fled as the Israelites did from the bondage of Egypt, with that
sort of instinctive terror which has in all ages led individuals,
peoples, and races to flee from the scene of oppression. The whites
who came to us were called "refugees," and the blacks at first
"contrabands," and after January 1, 1863, "freedmen." Of course
they had to be taken care of. The "refugee" brought nothing with
him; the freedrnan had nothing to bring. The abandoned lands of
the Confederates were, in many cases, susceptible of being used
to employ and supply these needy classes who came to us for aid
and sustenance. It was to do this that the Freedmen's Bureau was
Its mission was twofold--to extend the helping hand to the needy
who without such aid must have perished by disease and want,
and to reduce the expenses of such charity by the cultivation and
utilization of abandoned lands. It was both a business and a missionary
enterprise. This was its work and mission until the war ended. Its
"agents" were chosen from among the wounded veteran officers of
our army, or were detached from active service by reason of their
supposed fitness on account of character or attainments. Almost
every one of them had won honor with the loss of limb or of health;
all had the indorsement and earnest approval of men high in command
of our armies, who had personal knowledge of their character and
believed in their fitness. This renders it all the more remarkable
that these men should so soon and so universally, as was stoutly
alleged and weakly believed, have become thieves and vagabonds
--corrupters of the blacks and oppressors of the whites. It only
shows how altogether impossible it is to foresee the consequences
of any important social or political movement upon the lives and
characters of those exposed to its influences.
When the war ended there were four millions of men, women, and
children without homes, houses, lands, money, food, knowledge, law,
right, family, friends, or possibility for self-support. All these
the Bureau adopted. They constituted a vast family of foundlings,
whose care was a most difficult and delicate matter, but there was
not one among them all who complained of the treatment they received.
It is somewhat strange, too, that the officers of this Branch of
the service should have all misbehaved in exactly the same manner.
Their acts of oppression and outrage were always perpetrated
in defence of some supposed right of a defenceless and friendless
race, overwhelmed with poverty--the bondmen of ignorance--who had
no money with which to corrupt, no art with which to beguile, and
no power with which to overawe these representatives of authority.
For the first time in the history of mankind, the corrupt and
unprincipled agents of undefined power became the servants, friends,
protectors, agents, and promoters of the poor and weak and the
oppressors of the rich, the strong, the learned, and the astute.
It may be said that this view cannot be true; that thousands
of men selected from the officers of our citizen-soldiery by the
unanswerable certificate of disabling wounds and the added prestige
of their commander's recommendation, a class of men in physical,
intellectual and moral power and attainments far superior to the
average of the American people--it may be said that such could not
have become all at once infamously bad; and, if they did suffer such
transformation, would have oppressed the blacks at the instigation
of the whites, who were willing and able to pay well for such
subversion of authority, and not the reverse. This would seem to
be true, but we are not now dealing with speculations, but with
facts! We know that they did become such a pest because at the South
they were likened to the plagues of Egypt, and the North reiterated
and affirmed this cry and condoled with the victims of the oppression
with much show of penitence, and an unappeasable wrath toward the
instruments of the iniquity. Thus the voice of the people--that
voice which is but another form of the voice of God--proclaimed
these facts to the world, so that they must thenceforth be held
indisputable and true beyond the utmost temerity of scepticism.
The _facts_ remain. The puzzling _why_, let whosoever will endeavor
Perhaps the most outrageous and debasing of all the acts of the
Bureau, in the eyes of those who love to term themselves "the South,"
was the fact that its officers and agents, first of all, allowed
the colored man to be sworn in opposition to and in contradiction
of the word of a white man.
That this should be exasperating and degrading to the Southern
white man was most natural and reasonable. The very corner-stone
of Southern legislation and jurisprudence for more than a hundred
years was based upon this idea: the negro can have no rights, and
can testify as to no rights or wrongs, as against a white man. So
that the master might take his slave with him when he committed
murder or did any other act in contravention of law or right,
and that slave was like the mute eunuch of the seraglio, silent
and voiceless before the law. Indeed, the law had done for the
slave-owner, with infinitely more of mercy and kindness, what the
mutilators of the upper Nile were wont to do for the keepers of
the harems of Cairo and Constantinople--provided them with slaves
who should see and hear and serve, but should never testify of
what they saw and knew. To reverse this rule, grown ancient and
venerable by the practice of generations, to open the mouths which
had so long been sealed, was only less infamous and dangerous than
to accord credence to the words they might utter. To do both was
to "turn back the tide of time," indeed, and it passed the power
of language to portray the anger, disgust, and degradation which
it produced in the Southern mind. To be summoned before the officer
of the Bureau, confronted with a negro who denied his most solemn
averments, and was protected in doing so by the officer who,
perhaps, showed the bias of the oppressor by believing the negro
instead of the gentleman, was unquestionably, to the Southerner,
the most degrading ordeal he could by any possibility be called
upon to pass through.
From this it will be understood that Colonel Desmit passed a most
uneasy night after Nimbus had left his house. He had been summoned
before the Bureau! He had expected it. Hardly had he given way
to his petulant anger when he recognized the folly of his course.
The demeanor of the colored man had been so "sassy" and aggravating,
however, that no one could have resisted his wrath, he was sure.
Indeed, now that he came to look back at it, he wondered that
he had been so considerate. He was amazed that he had not shot
the impudent rascal on the spot instead of striking him with his
walking-stick, which he was very confident was the worst that could
be urged against him. However, that was enough, for he remembered
with horror that, not long before, this same Bureau officer had
actually imprisoned a most respectable and correct man for having
whipped a "nigger" at work in his crop, who had been "too sassy"
to be tolerated by any gentleman.
So it was with much trepidation that the old man went into the town
the next morning, secured the services of a lawyer, and prepared
for his trial before the "Bureau." Nimbus was intercepted as he
came into town with his wife, and an attempt made to induce him to
withdraw the prosecution, but that high-minded litigant would hear
nothing of the proposed compromise. He had put his hand to the plow
and would not look back. He had appealed to the law--"the Bureau"
and only "the Bureau" should decide it. So Colonel Desmit and his
lawyer asked a few hours' delay and prepared themselves to resist
and disprove the charge of assault upon Nimbus. The lawyer once
proposed to examine the papers in the case, but Desmit said that
was useless--the boy was no liar, though they must make him out
one if they could. So, at the time appointed, with his lawyer
and train of witnesses, he went before "the Bureau," and there met
Nimbus and his wife, Lugena.
"The Bureau" wore the uniform of a captain of United States infantry,
and was a man about forty-five years of age, grave and serious of
look, with an empty sleeve folded decorously over his breast. His
calm blue eyes, pale, refined face, and serious air gave him the
appearance of a minister rather than a ruthless oppressor, but his
reputation for cruelty among certain people was as well established
as that of Jeffreys. He greeted Mr. Desmit and his attorney with
somewhat constrained politeness, and when they were seated proceeded
to read the complaint, which simply recited that Colonel Desmit,
having employed Lugena, the wife of complainant, at a given rate
per month, had failed to make payment, and had finally, without
cause, ordered her off his premises.
"Is that all?" asked the lawyer.
"That is all," answered the officer.
"Has no other complaint been lodged against Colonel Desmit?"
"We cannot--that is--we did not expect this," said the attorney,
and then after a whispered consultation with his client, he added,
"We are quite willing to make this matter right. We had entirely
misunderstood the nature of the complaint."
"Have you any further complaint to make against Colonel Desmit?"
asked the officer, of Nimbus.
"No," said that worthy, doubtfully. "He was pretty brash wid me,
an' 'llowed ter hit me wid a stick; but he didn't--at least not ter
speak on--so I don't make no 'count ob dat. 'Twas jes dis matter
ob Lugeny's wuk dat made me bring him h'yer--nuffin' else."
"When did this matter of the stick occur?" asked the officer.
"On'y jes yeste'day, sah."
"Where was it?"
"Up ter Marse Potem's, sah. In his house."
"How did it happen?"
"Wal, you see, sah, I went up dar ter see ef I could buy a track
ob lan" from him, an'--"
"What!" exclaimed Desmit, in astonishment. "You didn't say a word
to me about land."
"No more I didn't," answered Nimbus, "kase yer didn't gib me no
chance ter say a word 'bout it. 'Peared like de fus sight on me
made yer mad, an' den yer jes feathered away on me, spite ob all I
could do er say. Yer see, sah," to the officer, "I'd made a bit ob
money in de wah, an' wanted ter see ef I could buy a bit ob pore
lan' ob Marse Desmit--a track jes good fer nothin on'y fer a nigga
ter starve on--but afore I could git to dat Marse Desmit got so
uproarous-like dat I clean fergot what'twas I cum fer."
"There was evidently a misunderstanding," said the attorney.
"I should think so," said the officer, dryly. "You say you have no
complaint to make about that affair?" he added to Nimbus. "No,"
said he; "'twan't a tingob any 'count, nohow. I can't make out
what'twas made Marse Potem so fractious anyhow. I reckon, as he says,
dar must hev ben some mistake about it. Ef he'll fix up dis matter
wid Lugena, I hain't no mo' complaint, an' I'se mighty sorry 'bout
dat, kase Marse Desmit hab allus been mighty kin' ter me--all 'cept
dis time an' once afo'."
"There's the money for the woman," said the attorney, laying some
bills on the officer's table; "and I may say that my client greatly
regrets the unfortunate misunderstanding with one of the best of
his old slaves. He desires me to say that the woman's services have
been entirely satisfactory, and that she can keep right on under
the contract, if she desires."
So that was settled. The officer discharged Colonel Desmit, commended
Nimbus for the sensible view he had taken of the quarrel, and the
parties gave way for other matters which awaited the officer's
This would not seem to have been so very oppressive, but anything
growing out of the war which had resulted so disastrously for him
was hateful to Colonel Desmit, and we should not wonder if his
grandchildren told over, with burning cheeks, the story of the
affront which was offered to their ancestor in haling him before
that infamous tribunal, "the Bureau," to answer a charge preferred
by a "nigger."
TO HIM AND HIS HEIRS FOREVER.
After leaving the office of "the Bureau," the parties repaired
to that of the lawyer, and the trade for the land which had been
so inopportunely forestalled by Colonel Desmit's hasty temper was
entered upon in earnest. That gentleman's financial condition was
such as to render the three or four hundred dollars of ready money
which Nimbus could pay by no means undesirable, while the property
itself seemed of so little value as to be regarded almost as an
incumbrance to the plantation of which it was a part. Such was its
well-established reputation for poverty of soil that Desmit had
no idea that the purchaser would ever be able to meet one of his
notes for the balance of the purchase money, and he looked forward
to resuming the control of the property at no distant day, somewhat
improved by the betterments which occupancy and attempted use would
compel the purchaser to make. He regarded the cash to be paid in
hand as just so much money accidentally found in his pathway, for
which, in no event, was he to render any _quid pro quo_. But
of this he said nothing. It was not his business to look after the
interests of a "sassy nigger." In fact, he felt that the money was
in a sense due to him on account of the scurvy trick that Nimbus
had played him, in deserting to the Yankees after agreeing to look
after his "niggers" on the breast-works, although, as the event
proved, his master would have gained nothing by his remaining. So