Part 3 out of 9
the former master and slave met on the level of barter and sale,
and gave and took in the conflict of trade.
Except the small tract just about the old hostel, which has
already been mentioned, the plantation, which included Red Wing,
was descended from an ancestor of the Richards family, who had come
from the North about the close of the Revolution and "entered" an
immense tract in this section. It had, however, passed out of the
family by purchase, and about the beginning of the war of Rebellion
a life estate therein was held by its occupant, while the reversion
belonged to certain parties in Indiana by virtue of the will of a
common ancestor. This life-tenant's necessities compelled him to
relinquish his estate, which was bought by Colonel Desmit, during
the second year of the war, together with the fee which he had
acquired in the tract belonging to the old Ordinary, not because he
wanted the land about Red Wing, but because the plantation to which
it was attached was a good one, and he could buy it on reasonable
terms for Confederate currency. He expected to treat with the
Indiana heirs and obtain their respective interests in the fee,
which no doubt he would have been able to acquire very cheaply but
for the intevening accident of war, as the life-tenant was yet of
middle age and the succession consequently of little probable value
to living reversioners. This, however, he had not done; but as his
deed from the life-tenant was in form an exclusive and unlimited
conveyance, it had been quite forgotten that the will of his
grandfather limited it to a life estate. So when Nimbus and his
friend and counsellor, Eliab Hill, sought to negotiate the purchase
of Red Wing, no mention was made of that fact; neither was it
alluded to when they came again to conclude the purchase, nor when
instructions were given to Colonel Desmit's lawyer to prepare the
The trade was soon brought to an apparently happy conclusion. Nimbus
bought two hundred acres at a price of eight hundred dollars, paying
one half the price agreed upon in cash, and for the balance gave
three notes of equal amounts, one maturing each year thereafter, and
received from Colonel Uesmit a bond for title to the whole tract,
with full covenants of warranty and seizin. Colonel Desmit accounted
the notes of little value; Nimbus prized the bond for title above
any patent of nobility. Before the first note fell due all had
been discharged, and the bond for title was exchanged for a deed
in fee, duly executed. So the recent slave, who had but lately been
the subject of barter and sale, was clothed with the rights of a
According to the former law, the slave was a sort of chattel-real.
Without being attached to the land, he was transferable from one
owner to another only by deed or will. In some States he descended
as realty, in others as personalty, while in others still, he
constituted a separate kind of heritable estate, which was especially
provided for in the canons of descent and statutes regulating
administration. There was even then of record in the county of
Horsford a deed of sale, bearing the hand and seal of P, Desmit,
and executed little more than a year previously, conveying to one
Peyton Winburn "all the right, title, and interest of said Desmit,
in and to a certain runaway negro boy named Nimbus." The said
Winburn was a speculator in slaves who had long been the agent of
Desmit in marketing his human crop, and who, in the very last hours
of the Confederacy, was willing to risk a few dollars on the result.
As he well stated it to himself, it was only staking one form
of loss against another. He paid Confederate money for a runaway
negro. If the Confederacy failed, the negro would be free; but then,
too, the money would be worthless. So with grim humor he said to
himself that he was only changing the form of his risk and could
not possibly lose by the result. Thus, by implication of law,
the recent _subject_ of transfer by deed was elevated to the
dignity of being a _party_ thereto. The very instrument of
his bondage became thereby the sceptre of his power. It was only an
incident of freedom, but the difference it measured was infinite.
No wonder the former slave tiembled with elation as he received
this emblem of autonomy, or that there was a look of gloom on the
face of the former master as he delivered the carefully-enrolled deed,
made complete by his hand and seal, and attested by his attorney.
It was the first time the one had felt the dignity of proprietorship,
or the other had known the shame of fraud. The one thought of the
bright future which lay before his children, to whom he dedicated
Red Wing at that moment in his heart, in terms more solemn than the
legal phrases in which Potestatem Desmit had guaranteed to them the
estate in fee therein. The other thought of the far-away Indiana
reversioners, of whose rights none knew aught save himself--himself
and Walter Greer, who had gone away to the wilds of Texas, and
might never be heard of any more. It was the first time he had
ever committed a deliberate fraud, and when he handed the freedman
the deed and said sadly, "I never expected to come down to this,"
those who heard him thought he meant his low estate, and pitied his
misfortunes. He smiled meaningly and turned hastily away, when
Nimbus, forgetting his own elation, said, in tones of earnest
"I declar, Marse Desmit, I'se sorry fer you--I is dat; an' I hopes
yer'll come outen dis yer trouble a heap better nor yer's lookin'
Then they separated--the one to treasure his apples of Sodom, the
other to nourish the memory of his shame.
A CHILD OF THE HILLS.
"Come at once; Oscar very low."
This was the dispatch which an awkward telegraph messenger handed
to the principal teacher of "No. 5," one soft September day of
1866. He waited upon the rough stone step, while she, standing in
the doorway, read it again and again, or seemed to do so, as if she
could not make out the import of the few simple words it contained.
'No 5' was a school-house in one of the townships of Bankshire
County, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In it were taught
the children, within school age, of one of those little hamlets
which have crept up the valleys of the White Mountains, toled on
and on, year after year, farther and farther up the little rivulets
that dash down the mountain slopes, by the rumble and clatter of
These mountain streams are the magic handiwork of the nymphs and
fays who for ages have lain hidden in the springs that burst out
into little lakes upon the birch-crowned summits, and come rushing
and tumbling down the rocky defiles to join the waters of the
Housatuck. School-house No. 5 was thriftily placed on a bit of
refractory land just opposite the junction of two streams which had
their rise in two lakelets miles away from each other--one lying
under the shadow of Pixey Mountain, and the other hidden among the
wooded hills of Birket. They were called "ponds," but are, in truth,
great springs, in whose icy coldness the mountain trout delight.
Back of the school-house, which, indeed, was half built into it,
was a sharp, rocky hillside; across the road which ran before it
was a placid pond, bordered on the farther side by a dark fringe of
evergreens that lay between it and the-wide expanse of white-armed
birches and flaming maples, now beginning to feel the autumn's
breath, on the rugged mountain-side above. A little to the left
was the narrow gorge through which one of the streams discharged,
its bottom studded with ponds and mills, and its sharp sides flecked
with the little white-painted homes of well-to-do operatives; to
the right and left along the other branch and the course of the
united streams, the rumble of water-wheels, the puff of laboring
engines, and the groan of tortured machinery never ceased.
Machine-shops and cotton-factories, bagging-mills and box-mills,
and wrapping-mills, and print-mills, and fine-paper-mills, and
even mills for the making of those filmy creations of marvellous
texture and wonderful durability which become the representatives of
value in the form of bank-notes, were crowded into the narrow gorges.
The water was fouled with chemic combinations from source to mouth.
For miles up and down one hardly got a breath of air untainted with
the fumes of chemicals. Bales of rags, loads of straw, packages
of woody pulp, boxes of ultramarine dye, pipes leading from the
distant mountain springs, and, above all, the rumble and the groaning
of the beating-engines told to every sense that this was one of
the great hillside centres of paper-manufacture in New England.
The elegant residences of the owners were romantically situated
on some half-isolated promonotory around which the stream sweeps,
embowered with maples and begirt with willows at its base; or
nestled away in some nook, moss-lined and hemlock-shaded, which
marks where some spring brook bubbles down its brief career to the
larger stream; or in some plateau upon the other side, backed by a
scraggly old orchard, and hidden among great groves of rock-maples
which the careful husbandman spared a hundred years ago for a
"sugar-bush," little dreaming that the nabobs of the rushing streams
would build homesteads beneath their shade. And all along, here
and there, wherever a house could find a foothold or the native
ruggedness be forced to yield one lodgment, houses and shops
and crowded tenements stood thick. It was a busy and a populous
village, full of wealth and not barren of poverty, stretched along
the rushing tributary for more than a mile, and then branching with
its constituent forks up into the mountain gorges.
In the very centre of this busy whirl of life stood the little
white two-story school-house, flanked on one side by the dwelling
of a mill-owner, and on the other by a boarding-house; and just
below it, across the street, a machine-shop, and a little cottage
of cased logs, with minute-paned windows, and a stone chimney
which was built before the Revolution by the first inhabitant of
the little valley. A little to the left of the school-house was a
great granite boulder, rising almost to its eaves, which had been
loosened from the mountain-side two miles up the gorge when the
dam at the mouth of the pond gave way years before in a freshet,
and brought down and left, by the respectful torrent almost at the
threshold of the temple of knowledge.
Such was the scene the Indian summer sun looked down upon, while
the teacher stood gazing fixedly at the message which she held.
Curious faces peered out of the windows and through the door,
which she left ajar when she came into the hall. She took no note
of this infraction of discipline. "Any answer, ma'arn?" The
messenger-boy shifts his weight awkwardly upon the other foot, as
he asks, but receives no reply.
For two years Mollie Ainslie, with her assistants, had dispensed
the sweets of knowledge at "No. 5," to the children of the little
hamlet. The hazy morning light revealed a small, lithe figure,
scarcely taller than the messenger-boy that stood before her;
a fair, white face; calm, gray eyes; hair with a glint of golden
brown, which waved and rippled about a low, broad brow, and was
gathered in a great shining coil behind; and a mouth clear-cut and
firm, but now drawn and quivering with deep emotion. The comely head
was finely poised upon the slender neck, and in the whole figure
there was an air of self-reliance and power that accorded well with
the position which she held. A simple gray dress, with a bright
ribbon at the throat and a bunch of autumn flowers carelessly tucked
into the belt which circled the trim waist, completed the picture
framed in the doorway of the white school-house. She stood, with
eyes fastened on the paper which she held in one hand, while the
other pressed a pencil-head against her cheek, unmindful of the
curious glances that were fixed upon her from within, until the
messenger-boy had twice repeated his customary question:
"Any answer, ma'am?"
She reached forth her hand, slowly and without reply. The boy looked
up and saw that she was gazing far beyond him and had a strained,
fixed look in her eyes.
"Want a blank?" he asked, in a tone of unconscious sympathy.
She did not answer, but as he put his pad of blanks into her
outstretched hand she drew it back and wrote, in a slow and absent
manner, a message in these words:
"To CAPTAIN OSCAR AINSLIE, Boyleston, Va.
"Collect?" asked the boy.
She inquired, and paid the charges in the same unheeding way. The
messenger departed with a wistful glance at the dry, pained eyes
which heeded him not. With a look of dumb entreaty at the overhanging
mountain and misty, Indian summer sky, and a half perceptible shiver
of dread, Mollie Ainslie turned and entered again the school-room.
GOOD-MORROW AND FAREWELL.
A week afterward, Mollie Ainslie stood beside the bed of her only
brother and watched the sharp, short struggle which he made with
their hereditary enemy, consumption. Weakened by wounds and exposure,
he was but ill-prepared to resist the advances of the insidious
foe, and when she reached his side she saw that the hope, even of
delay, was gone. So she took her place, and with ready hand, brave
heart, and steady purpose, brightened his pathway to the tomb.
Oscar and Mollie Ainslie were the oniy children of a New England
clergyman whose life had lasted long enough, and whose means had
been sufficient, with the closest economy, to educate them both
according to the rigorous standards of the region in which they were
born. Until the son entered college they had studied together,
and the sister was almost as well prepared for the university course
as the brother when they were separated. Then she stepped out of
the race, and determined, though scarcely more than a child, to
become herself a bread-winner, in order that her father's meager
salary might be able to meet the drain of her brother's college
expenses. She did this not only without murmuring, but with
actual pleasure. Her ambition, which was boundless, centered upon
her brother. She identified herself with him, and cheerfully gave
up every advantage, in order that his opportunities might be more
complete. To Oscar these sacrifices on his sister's part were
very galling. He felt the wisdom of the course pursued toward him
by his family, and was compelled to accede in silence to prevent
the disappointment which his refusal would bring. Yet it was the
keenest trial for him to think of accepting his sister's earnings,
and only the conviction that to do so was the quickest and surest
way to relieve her of the burden of self-support, induced him to
submit to such an arrangement.
Hardly had he entered upon his college course when the war of
Rebellion came on, and Oscar Ainslie saw in the patriotic excitement
and the promise of stirring events a way out of a situation whose
fetters were too heavy for him to bear by reason of their very
tenderness. He was among the first, therefore, to enlist, happy
thereby to forestall his sister's determination to engage in teaching,
for his sake. His father was grieved at the son's abandonment of
his projected career, but his heart was too patriotic to object.
So he gave the bright-eyed young soldier his blessing as he bade
him good-by, standing there before him, strong and trim, in his
close-fitting cavalry uniform. He knew that Oscar's heart beat high
with hope, and he would not check it, though he felt sure that they
looked into each other's eyes for the last time. When his own were
glazing over with the ghastly grave-light, more than two years
afterward, they were gladdened by the announcement which came
throbbing along the wires and made bright the whole printed page
from which he read: "Private Oscar Ainslie, promoted to a Captaincy
for gallant conduct on the field of Gettysburg." Upon this he rallied
his fading energies, and waited for a week upon the very brink of
the chill river, that he might hear, before he crossed over, from
the young soldier himself, how this honor was won. When he had
learned this he fell asleep, and not long after, the faithful wife
who had shared his toils and sacrifices heard the ceaseless cry
of his lonely spirit, and was gathered again to his arms upon the
shore where beauty fadeth not forever.
The little homestead upon the rocky hillside overlooking the village
was all that was left to the brother and sister; but it was more
than the latter could enjoy alone, so she fled away and entered
upon the vocation in which we found her engaged. Meantime her
brother had risen in. rank, and at the close of the war had been
transferred to the regular army as a reward of distinguished merit.
Then his hereditary foe had laid siege to his weakened frame, and
a brother officer had telegraphed to the sister in the Bankshire
hills the first warning of the coming end.
It was a month after her arrival at Boyleston, when her brother,
overcoming the infatuation which usually attends that disease, saw
that the end was near and made provision respecting it.
"Sis," he said, calling her by the pet name of their childhood,
"what day of the month is it?"
"The thirteenth, Oscar--your birthday," she replied briskly. "Don't
you see that I have been out and gathered leaves and flowers to
decorate your room, in honor of the event?"
Her lap was full of autumn leaves-maple and gum, flaming and
variegated, brown oak of various shapes and shades, golden hickory,
the open burrs of the chintuapin, pine cones, and the dun scraggly
balls of the black-gum, some glowing bunches of the flame-bush,
with their wealth of bursting red beries, and a full-laden branch
of the black-haw.
The bright October sun shone through the open window upon her as
she arranged them with deft fingers, contrasting the various hues
with loving skill, and weaving ornaments for different points in
the bare room of the little country hotel where her brother lay.
He watched her awhile in silence, and then said sadly,
"Yes, my last birthday."
Her lips trembled, and her head drooped lower over her lap, but
she would not let him see her agitation. So she simply said,
"Do not say that, Oscar."
"No," he replied, "I ought not to say so. I should have said, my
last earthly birthday. Sit closer, Sis, where I can see you better.
I want to talk to you."
"Do you know," he continued, as she came and sat upon his bedside,
spreading her many-hued treasures over the white coverlet, "that
I meant to have been at home to-day?"
"And are you not?" she asked cheerfully. "Am I not with you?"
"True, Sis, and you are my home now; but, after all, I did want to
see the old New England hills once more. One yearns for familiar
scenes after years of war. I meant to have gone back and brought
you here, away from the cold winters that sting, and bite, and
kill. I hoped that, after rest, I might recover strength, and that
you might, here escape the shadow which has fastened upon me."
"Have you seen my horse, Midnight?" he asked, after a fit of
coughing, followed by a dreamy silence.
"How do you like him?"
"He is a magnificent creature."
"Would he let you approach him?"
"I had no trouble in doing so."
None?" He's very vicious, too. Everybody has had trouble with him.
Do you think you could ride him?"
"I have ridden him every day for two weeks."
"Ah! that is how you have kept so fresh." Then, after a pause, "Do
you know how I got him?"
"I heard that he was captured."
"Yes, in the very last fight before the surrender at Appomattox.
I was with Sheridan, you know. We were pursuing the retreating
columns--had been pressing them hotly ever since the break at
Petersburg--on the rear and on both flanks, fighting, worrying,
and watching all the time. On the last day, when the retreat had
become a rout, as it seemed, a stand was made by a body of cavalry
just on the crest of a smoothly-sloping hill. Not anticipating
serious resistance, we did not wait for the artillery to come up
and dislodge them, but deploying a brigade we rode on, jesting and
gay, expecting to see them disperse when we came within range and
join the rabble beyond. We were mistaken. Just when we got within
easy charging distance, down they came, pell-mell, as dashing a
body of dirty veterans as I ever saw. The attack was so unexpected
that for a time we were swept off our feet and fairly carried
backward with surprise. Then we rallied, and there was a sharp,
short struggle. The enemy retreated, and we pressed after them. The
man that rode this horse seemed to have selected me as his mark.
He rode straight at me from the first. He was a fine, manly-looking
fellow, and our swords were about the last that were crossed in the
struggle. We had a sharp tussle for a while. I think he must have
been struck by a chance shot. At least he was unseated just about
the time my own horse was shot under me. Looking around amid the
confusion I saw this horse without a rider. I was in mortal terror
of being trampled by the shifting squadrons and did not delay, but
sprang into the saddle and gave him the spur. When the Confederate
bugles sounded the retreat I had a terrible struggle to keep him
from obeying orders and carrying me away into their lines. After
that, however, I had no trouble with him. But he is not kind to
strangers, as a rule. I meant to have taken him home to you," he
added, sadly. "You will have him now, and will prize him for my
sake, will you not, Sis?"
"You know, Oscar, that everything you have ever loved or used will
be held sacred," she answered tearfully.
"Yes, I know," he rejoined. "Sis, I wish you would make me a
"You know I will."
"Well, then, do not go back to our old home this winter, nor the
next, nor--but I will not impose terms upon you. Stay as long as
you can content yourself in this region. I am afraid for you. I
know you are stronger and have less of the consumptive taint about
you than I, but I am afraid. You would have worked for me when I
was in college, and I have worked only for you, since that time.
All that I have saved--and I have saved all I could, for I knew
that my time was not long--is yours. I have some money on deposit,
some bonds, and a few articles of personal property--among the
latter, Midnight. All these are yours. It will leave you comfortable
for a time at least. Now, dear, promise that I shall be buried and
remain in the cemetery the Government is making for the soldiers
who fell in those last battles. Somehow, I think it will keep
you here, in order that you may be near me, and save you from the
disease which is devouring my life."
A week afterward his companions followed, with rever ed arms,
the funereally-caparisoned Midnight to the grounds of the National
Cemetery, and fired a salute over a new-made grave.
Nimbus, taking with him his helpless friend, had appealed, soon
after his purchase, to the officer of the Bureau for aid in erecting
a school-house at Red Wing. By him he had been referred to one
of those charitable associations, through whose benign agency the
great-hearted North poured its free bounty into the South immediately
upon the cessation of strife.
Perhaps there has been no grander thing in our history than the eager
generosity with which the Christian men and women of the North gave
and wrought, to bring the boon of knowledge to the recently-enslaved.
As the North gave, willingly and freely, men and millions to save
the nation from disruption, so, when peace came, it gave other brave
men and braver women, and other unstinted millions to strengthen
the hands which generations of slavery had left feeble and inept.
Not only the colored, but the white also, were the recipients of
this bounty. The Queen City of the Confederacy, the proud capital
of the commonwealth of Virginia, saw the strange spectacle of her
own white children gathered, for the first time, into free public
schools which were supported by Northern charity, and taught
by noble women with whom her high-bred Christian dames and dainty
maidens would not deign to associate. The civilization of the
North in the very hour of victory threw aside the cartridge-box,
and appealed at once to the contribution-box to heal the ravages of
war. At the door of every church throughout the North, the appeal
was posted for aid to open the eyes of the blind whose limbs had
just been unshackled; and the worshipper, as he gave thanks for
his rescued land, brought also an offering to aid in curing the
ignorance which slavery had produced.
It was the noblest spectacle that Christian civilization has ever
witnessed--thousands of schools organized in the country of a
vanquished foe, almost before the smoke of battle had cleared away,
free to the poorest of her citizens, supported by the charity, and
taught by kindly-hearted daughters of a quick-forgiving enemy. The
instinct of our liberty-loving people taught them that light must
go with liberty, knowledge with power, to give either permanence or
value. Thousands of white-souled angels of peace, the tenderly-reared
and highly-cultured daughters of many a Northern home, came into
the smitten land to do good to its poorest and weakest. Even to
this day, two score of schools and colleges remain, the glorious
mementoes of this enlightened bounty and Christian magnanimity.
And how did the white brothers and sisters of these messengers of
a matchless benevolence receive them? Ah, God! how sad that history
should be compelled to make up so dark a record--abuse, contumely,
violence! Christian tongues befouled with calumny! Christian lips
blistered with falsehood! Christian hearts overflowing with hate!
Christian, pens reeking with ridicule because other Christians
sought to do their needy fellows good! No wonder that faith grew
weak and unbelief ran riot through all the land when men looked
upon the spectacle! The present may excuse, for charity is kind;
but the future is inexorable and writes its judgments with a pen
hard-nibbed! But let us not anticipate. In thousands of Northern
homes still live to testify these devoted sisters and daughters,
now grown matronly. They are scattered through every state, almost
in every hamlet of the North, while other thousands have gone,
with the sad truth carved deep upon their souls, to testify in that
court where "the action lies in its true nature."
Nimbus found men even more ready to assist than he and his fellows
were to be aided. He himself gave the land and the timbers; the
benevolent association to whom he had appealed furnished the other
materials required; the colored men gave the major part of the labor,
and, in less than a year from the time the purchase was made, the
house was ready for the school, and the old hostelry prepared for
the teachers that had been promised.
So it was that, when Nimbus came to the officer in charge at
Boyleston and begged that a teacher might be sent to Red Wing, and
met the reply that because of the great demand they had none to
send, Mollie Ainslie, hearing of the request, with her load of sorrow
yet heavy on her lonely heart, said, "Here am I; take me." She
thought it a holy work. It was, to her simple heart, a love-offering
to the memory of him who had given his life to secure the freedom
of the race she was asked to aid in lifting up. The gentle child
felt called of God to do missionary work for a weak and struggling
people. She thought she felt the divine commandment which rested
on the Nazarene. She did not stop to consider of the "impropriety"
of her course. She did not even know that there was any impropriety
in it. She thought her heart had heard the trumpet-call of duty,
and, like Joan of Arc, though it took her among camps and dangers,
she would not flinch. So Nimbus returned happy; an officer was sent
to examine the location and report. Mollie, mounted upon Midnight,
accompanied him. Of course, this fact and her unbounded delight
at the quaint beauty of Red Wing was no part of the reason why
Lieutenant Hamilton made a most glowing report on the location;
but it was owing to that report that the officer at the head of the
"Bureau" in that district, the department-commander, and finally
the head of the Bureau, General Howard himself, indorsed the scheme
most warmly and aided it most liberally. So that soon afterward
the building was furnished as a school-house, Mollie Ainslie, with
Lucy Ellison, an old schoolmate, as her assistant, was installed
at the old hostlery, and bore sway in the school of three hundred
dusky pupils which assembled daily at Red Wing. Midnight was given
royal quarters in the old log-stable, which had been re-covered
and almost rebuilt for his especial delectation, the great square
stall, with its bed of dry oak leaves, in which he stood knee-deep,
being sufficient to satisfy even Miss Mollie's fastidious demands
for the comfort of her petted steed After a time Eliab Hill, to
whose suggestion the whole plan was due, became also an assistant
Mollie Ainslie did not at all realize the nature of the task she
had undertaken, or the burden of infamy and shame which a Christian
people would heap upon her because of this kindly-meant work done
in their midst!
It was more than a year afterward. Quite a little village had grown
up around the church and school-house at Red Wing, inhabited by
colored men who had been attracted thither by the novelty of one
of their own members being a proprietor. Encouraged by his example,
one and another had bought parcels of his domain, until its size was
materially reduced though its value was proportionately enhanced.
Those who settled here were mostly mechanics--carpenters and
masons--who worked here and there as they could find employment,
a blacksmith who wrought for himself, and some farm laborers who
dreaded the yearly system of hire as too nearly allied to the slave
regime, and so worked by the day upon the neighboring plantations.
One or two bought somewhat larger tracts, intending to imitate the
course of Nimbus and raise the fine tobacco for which the locality
was already celebrated. All had built cheap log-houses, but their
lots were well fenced and their "truck-patches" clean and thrifty,
and the little hamlet was far from being unattractive, set as it
was in the midst of the green forests which belted it about. From
the plantations on either side, the children flocked to the school.
So that when the registering officer and the sheriff rode into
the settlement, a few days after the registration at Melton, it
presented a thriving and busy spectacle.
Upon the hillside, back of his house, Nimbus, his wife, and two
men whom he had employed were engaged in cutting the tobacco which
waved--crinkled and rank, with light ygjlowish spots showing here
and there upon the great leaves--a billow of green in the autumn
wind. The new-comers halted and watched the process for a moment
as they rode up to the barn, while the sheriff explained to the
"This is the first cutting, as it is called. They only take out the
ripest this time, and leave the rest for another cutting, a week
or two later. You see, he goes through there," pointing to Nimbus,
"and picks out the ripe, yellow-looking plants. Then he sets his
knife in at the top of the stalk where it has been broken off to
prevent its running up to seed, and splits it down almost to the
ground; then he cuts the stalk off below the split, and it is ready
to be hung on the thin narrow strips of oak, which you see stuck
up here and there, where the cutting has been done. They generally
put from seven to ten plants on a stick, according to the size
of the plants; so that the number of sticks makes a very accurate
measure of the size of the crop, and an experienced hand can tell
within a few pounds the weight of any bulk of tobacco by simply
counting the sticks."
They rode up to the barn and found it already half full of tobacco.
Nimbus came and showed the officer how the sticks were laid upon
beams placed at proper intervals, the split plants hanging tops
downward, close together, but not touching each other. The upper
portions of the barn were first filled and then the lower tiers,
until the tobacco hung within two or three feet of the bottom. The
barn itself was made of logs, the interstices closely chinked and
daubed with clay, so as to make it almost air-tight. Around the
building on the inside ran a large stone flue, like a chimney laid
on the ground. Outside was a huge pile of wood and a liberal supply
of charcoal. Nimbus thus described the process of curing: "Yer
see, Capting, we fills de barn chock full, an' then shets it up fer
a day or two, 'cording ter de weather, sometimes wid a slow fire
an' sometimes wid none, till it begins ter sweat--git moist, yer
know. Den we knows it's in order ter begin de curin', an' we puts
on mo' fire, an' mo,' an' mo', till de whole house gits hot an' de
leaves begins ter hev a ha'sh, rough feel about de edges, an' now
an' den one begins ter yaller up. Den we raises de heat jes ze fast
ez we kin an' not fire de barn. Some folks uses de flues alone
an' some de coal alone, but I mostly 'pends on de flues wid a few
heaps of coal jes here an' dar 'bout de flo', at sech a time, kase
eberyting 'pends on a even reg'lar heat dat you kin manage good.
Den you keeps watch on it mighty close an' don't let it git too hot
nor yet fail ter be hot 'nough, but jes so ez ter keep it yallerin'
up nicely. When de leaves is crisp an' light so dat dey rustles
roun' in de drafts like dead leaves in the fall, yer know, it's
cured; an' all yer's got ter du den is ter dry out de stems an'
stalks. Dat's got ter be done, tho,' kase ef yer leaves enny bit
ob it green an' sappy-like, fust ting yer knows when it comes in
order--dat is, gits damp an' soft--de green runs outen de stems
down inter de leaves an' jes streaks 'em all ober, or p'raps it
turns de fine yaller leaf a dull greenish brown. So yer's got ter
keep up yer fire till every stalk an' stem'll crack like a pipe-stem
ez soon ez yer bends 'em up. Den yer lets de fire go down an' opens
der do' fer it ter come in order, so't yer kin bulk it down."
"What do you mean by 'bulking it down'?"
"Put it in bulk, like dis yer," said he, pointing to a pile of sticks
laid crosswise of each other with the plants still on them, and
carefully covered to keep out the weather. "Yer see," he continued,
"dis answers two pu'poses; fust yergits yer barn empty an' uses it
again. Den de weather don't git in ter signify, yer know, an' so
it don't come inter order any more an' color up wid de wet; dat
is, 'less yer leaves it too long or de wedder is mighty damp."
"Oh, he knows," said the sheriff, with a ring of pride in his
voice. "Nimbus was raised in a tobacco-field, and knows as much
as anybody about it. How did your first barn cure up, Nimbus?"
"Right bright and even, sah," answered the colored man, as he
thrust his hand under the boards spread over the bulk near which he
stood, and drew out a few leaves, which he smoothed out carefully
and handed to his visitors. "I got it down in tol'able fa'r order,
too, alter de rain t'odder evenin'. Dunno ez I ebber handled a
barn thet, take it all round, 'haved better er come out fa'rer in
my life--mighty good color an' desp'ut few lugs. Yer see, I got it
cut jes de right time, an' de weather couldn't hev ben better ef
I'd hed it made ter order."
The sheriff stretched a leaf to its utmost width, held it up to
the sunshine, crumpled it between his great palms, held it to his
face and drew a long breath through it, rubbed the edges between thumb
and finger, pinched the stem with his thumb-nail till it broke in
half a dozen places, and remarked with enthusiasm, to the Northern
man, who stood rubbing and smelling of the sample he held, in
awkward imitation of one whom he recognized as a connoisseur:
"That's prime terbacker, Captain. If it runs like that through
the bulk and nothing happens to it before it gets to the warehouse,
it'll bring a dollar a pound, easy. You don't often see such
terbacker any year, much less such a one as this has been. Didn't
it ripen mighty uneven, Nimbus?" "Jest about ez it oughter--a
little 'arlier on the hilltop an' dry places 'long de sides, an'
den gradwally down ter de moister places. Dar wa'n't much ob dat
pesky spotted ripenin' up--jes a plant h'yer an' anodder dar, all
in 'mong de green, but jest about a good barnfull in tollable
fa'r patches, an' den anodder comin' right on atter it. I'll hev
it full agin an' fire up by to-morrer evenin'."
"Do you hang it right up after cutting?" asked the officer.
"Wal, we mout do so. Tain't no hurt ter do it dat er way, only it
handles better ter let it hang on de sticks a while an' git sorter
wilted--don't break de leaves off ner mash 'em up so much loadin'
an" unloadin', yer know," answered Nimbus.
"How much have you got here?" asked the sheriff, casting his eye
over the field; "forty thousand?"
"Wal," said Nimbus, "I made up sixty thousand hills, but I hed ter
re-set some on 'em. I s'pose it'll run somewhere between fifty an'
"A right good crop," said the sheriff. "I doubt if any man in the
county has got a better, take it all 'round."
"I don't reckon ther's one wukked enny harder fer what he's got,"
said the colored man quietly.
"No, I'll guarantee ther hain't," said the other, laughing. "Nobody
ever accused you of being lazy, Nimbus. They only fault you fer
being too peart."
"All 'cause I wants my own, an' wuks fer it, an' axes nobody enny
odds, but only a fa'r show--a white man's chance ter git along,"
responded Nimbus, with a touch of defiance in his tone.
"Well, well," said the sheriff good-naturedly, "I won't never fault
ye for that, but they do say you're the only man, white er black,
that ever got ahead of Potem Desmit in a trade yet. How's that,
"I paid him all he axed," said the colored man, evidently flattered
by this tribute to his judgment as to the value of Red Wing. "Kase
white folks won't see good fine-terbacker lan' when dey walks ober
it, tain't my fault, is it?"
"No more tain't, Nimbus; but don't yer s'pose yer Marse Potem's
smartly worried over it?"
"La, no, I reckon not. He don't 'pear ter be, ennyhow. He war by
here when I was curin' up dis barn, an' stopped in an' looked at
it, an' axed a power ob questions, an' got Lugena ter bring him out
some buttermilk an' a corn pone. Den he went up an' sot an hour
in de school an' sed ez how he war mighty proud ter see one of his
ole nigga's gittin' on dat er way."
"Wal, now, that was kind of him, wasn't it?"
"Dat it war, sah, an' hit done us all a power ob good, too. Hev
you ebber ben ter de school, Mr. Sheriff? No? wal, yer oughter;
an' you, too, Capting. Dar's a little Yankee woman, Miss Mollie
Ainslie, a runnin' ob it, dat do beat all curration fer managin'
tings. I'd nebber'd got long so h'yer, not by no means, ez I hez,
but fer her advice--her'n an' 'Liab's, gentlemen. Dar she am now,"
he added, as a slight figure, mounted on a powerful black horse,
and dressed in a dark riding-habit, with a black plume hanging from
a low-crowned felt hat, came out of the woods below and cantered
easily along the road a hundred yards away, toward the school-house.
The visitors watched her curiously, and expressed a desire to visit
the school. Nimbus said that if they would walk on slowly he would
go by the house and get his coat and overtake them before they
reached the school-house. As they walked along the sheriff said,
"Did you notice the horse that Yankee schoolmarm rode?"
"I noticed that it was a very fine one," was the reply.
"I should think it was. I haven't seen a horse in an age that
reminded me so much of the one I was telling you about that Hesden
Le Moyne used to have. He is fuller and heavier, but if I was not
afraid of making Hesden mad I would rig him about a nigger-teacher's
riding his horse around the country. Of course it's not the same,
but it would be a good joke, only Hesden Le Moyne is not exactly
the man one wants to start a joke on."
When they arrived at the school-house they found that Mollie
Ainslie had changed her habit and was now standing by the desk on
the platform in the main room, clad in a neat half-mourning dress,
well adapted to the work of the school-room, quiet and composed,
tapping her bell to reduce to order the many-hued crowd of scholars of
all ages and sizes who were settling into their places preparatory
to the morning roll-call. Nimbus took his visitors up the broad aisle,
through an avenue of staring eyes, and introduced them awkwardly,
but proudly, to the self-collected little figure on the platform.
She in turn presented to them her assistant, Miss Lucy Ellison,
a blushing, peach-cheeked little Northern beauty, and Eliab Hill,
now advanced to the dignity of an assistant also, who sat near her
on the platform. The sheriff nodded awkwardly to the ladies, as
if doubtful how much deference it would do to display, said, "How
d'ye, 'Liab?" to the crippled colored man, laid his saddle-bags on
the floor, and took the chair assigned to him. The Northern man
greeted the young ladies with apparent pleasure and profound respect,
shook hands with the colored man, calling him "Mister" Hill, and
before sitting down looked out on the crowded school with evident
Before proceeding with the roll-call Miss Ainslie took the large
Bible which lay upon her desk, and approaching the gentlemen said:
"It is our custom every morning to read a portion of the Scripture
and offer prayer. We should be glad if either of you would conduct
these exercises for us."
Both declined, the sheriff with some confusion, and the other
remarking that he desired to see the school going on as if he were
not present, in order that he might the better observe its exercises.
Miss Ainslie returned to her desk, called the roll of a portion
of the scholars, and then each of her assistants called the names
of those assigned to their charge. A selection from the Scripture
was next read by the preceptress, a hymn sung under her lead with
great spirit and correctness, and then Eliab Hill, clasping his
hands, said, "Let us pray." The whole school knelt, the ladies
bowed their heads upon the desk, and Eliab offered an appropriate
prayer, in which the strangers were not forgotten, but were each
kindly and fitly commended to the Divine care. Then there was an
impromptu examination of the school. Each of the teachers heard a
class recite, there was more singing, with other agreeable exercises,
and it was noon before the visitors thought of departing. Then they
were invited to dine with the lady teachers at the old Ordinary,
and would have declined, on the ground that they must go on to the
next precinct, but Nimbus, who had been absent for an hour, now
appeared and brought word that the table was spread on the porch
under the great oak, and their horses already cared for; so that
excuse would evidently be useless. The sheriff was very uneasy,
but the other seemed by no means displeased at the delay. However,
the former recovered when he saw the abundant repast, and told many
amusing stories of the old hostel. At length he said:
"That is a fine horse you rode this morning, Miss Ainslie. May I
ask to whom it belongs?"
"To me, of course," replied the lady, in some surprise.
"I did not know," replied the sheriff, slightly confused. "Have
you owned him long?"
"Nearly two years, she answered."
"Indeed? Somehow I can't get it out of my head that I have seen him
before, while I am quite sure I never had the pleasure of meeting
you until to-day."
"Quite likely," she answered; "Nimbus sometimes rides him into
Melton for the mail."
"No," said he, shaking his head, "that is not it. But, no matter,
he's a fine horse, and if you leave here or wish to sell him at
any time, I hope you will rememher and give me a first chance."
He was astonished at the result of his harmless proposal.
"Sir," said the little lady, her gray eyes filling and her voice
choking with emotion, "that was my only brother's favorite horse.
He rode him in the army, and gave him to me when he died. No money
could buy him under any circumstances."
"Beg pardon," said the sheriff; "I had no idea--I--ah--"
To relieve his embarrassment the officer brought forward the special
object of his visit by stating that it was thought desirable to
establish a voting precinct at Red Wing for the coming election,
if a suitable place to hold the election could be found, and asked
if the school-house could be obtained for that purpose. A lively
conversation ensued, in which both gentlemen set forth the advantages
of the location to the voters of that section. Miss Ellison seemed
to favor it, but the little lady who was in charge only asked
questions and looked thoughtful. When at length her opinion was
directly asked, she said:
"I had heard of this proposal through both Mr. Hill and Nimbus, and
I must say I quite agree with the view taken by the former. If it
were necessary in order to secure the exercise of their rights by
the colored men I would not object; but I cannot see that it is.
It would, of course, direct even more attention to our school, and
I do not think the feeling toward us among our white neighbors is
any too kindly now. We have received no serious ill-treatment, it
is true, but this is the first time any white person has ventured
into our house. I don't think that anything should be done to excite
unnecessary antipathy which might interfere with what I must consider
the most important element of the colored man's development, the
opportunity for education."
"Why, they hold the League meetings there, don't they?" asked the
sheriff, with a twinkle which questioned her sincerity.
"Certainly," she answered calmly. "At least I gave them leave to
do so, and have no doubt they do. I consider that necessary. The
colored men should be encouraged to consider and discuss political
affairs and decide in regard to them from their own standpoint.
The League gives them this opportunity. It seems to be a quiet
and orderly gathering. They are all colored men of the same way of
thought, in the main, and it is carried on entirely by them; at
least, such is the case here, and I consider the practice which it
gives in the discussion of public affairs and the conduct of public
assemblies as a most valuable training for the adults who will
never have a chance to learn otherwise."
"I think Nimbus is in favor of having the election here," said
"No doubt," she replied. "So are they all, and they have been very
pressing in their importunity--all except Mr. Hill. They are proud
of their school and the building, which is the joint product of
their own labor and the helpfulness of Northern friends, and are
anxious for every opportunity to display their unexpected prosperity.
It is very natural, but I think unwise."
"Nimbus owns the land, don't he?" asked the sheriff.
"No, He gave that for school and church purposes, and, except that
they have a right to use it on the Sabbath, it is in my charge as
the principal teacher here," she replied, wilh dignity.
"And you do not desire the election held here?" asked Captain
"I am sorry to discommode the voters around here, white or black,
but I would not balance a day's time or a day's walk against the
more important interests of this school to the colored people. They
can walk ten miles to vote, if need be, but no exertion of theirs
could replace even the building and its furniture, let alone the
school which it shelters."
"That is very true," said the officer, thoughtfully.
So the project was abandoned, and Melton remained the nearest
polling-place to Red Wing.
As they rode away the two representatives of antipodal thought
discussed the scenes they had witnessed that day, which were equally
new to them both, and naturally enough drew from them entirely
different conclusions. The Northern man enthusiastically prophesied
the rapid rise and miraculous development of the colored race
under the impetus of free schools and free thought. The Southern
man only saw in it a prospect of more "sassy niggers," like Nimbus,
who was "a good enough nigger, but mighty aggravating to the white
With regard to the teachers, he ventured only this comment:
"Captain, it's a mighty pity them gals are teaching a nigger school.
They're too likely for such work--too likely by half."
The man whom he addressed only gave a low, quiet laugh at this
remark, which the other found it difficult to interpret.
THE SHADOW OF THE FLAG.
As soon as it became known that the plan of having a polling-place
at Red Wing had been abandoned, there was an almost universal
expression of discontent among the colored people. Never before had
the authority or wisdom of the teachers been questioned. The purity
of their motives and the devotion they had displayed in advancing
every interest of those to whom they had come as the missionaries
of light and freedom, had hitherto protected them from all jealousy
or suspicion on the part of the beneficiaries of their devotion.
Mollie Ainslie had readily and naturally fallen into the habit
of controlling and directing almost everything about her, simply
because she had been accustomed to self-control and self-direction,
and was by nature quick to decide and resolute to act. Conscious
of her own rectitude, and fully realizing the dangers which might
result from the experiment proposed, she had had no hesitation
about withholding her consent, without which the school-house could
not be used, and had not deemed it necessary to consult the general
wish of the villagers in regard to it. Eliab Hill had approved her
action, and she had briefly spoken of it to Nimbus--that was all.
Now, the people of Red Wing, with Nimbus at their head, had set
their hearts upon having the election held there. The idea was
flattering to their importance, a recognition of their manhood
and political co-ordination which was naturally and peculiarly
gratifying. So they murmured and growled, and the discontent grew
louder and deeper until, on the second day thereafter, Nimbus, with
two or three other denizens of Red Wing, came, with gloomy, sullen
faces, to the school-house at the hour for dismissal, to hold an
interview with Miss Ainslie on the subject. She knew their errand,
and received them with that cool reserve which so well became her
determined face and slight, erect figure. When they had stated
their desire, and more than half indicated their determination to
have the election held there at all hazards, she said briefly,
"I have not the slightest objection."
"Dar now," said Nimbus exultingly; "I 'llowed dar mus' be somethin'
wrong 'bout it. They kep' tellin' me that you 'posed it, an' tole
de Capting dat it couldn't never be held here wid your consent
while you wuz in de school."
"So I did."
"You don't say? an' now yer's changed yer mind."
"I have not changed my mind at all." "No? Den what made you say
yer hadn't no 'jections, just now."
"Because I have not. It is a free country. You say you are determined
to have the election here, I am fully convinced that it would do
harm. Yet you have a right to provide a place, and hold it here,
if you desire. That I do not question, and shall not attempt
to prevent; only, the day that you determine to do so I shall
pack up my trunk, ride over to Boyleston, deliver the keys to the
superintendent, and let him do as he chooses about the matter."
"Yer don't mean ter say yer'd go an' leave us fer good, does yer,
Miss Mollie?" asked Nimbus in surprise.
"Certainly," was the reply; "when the people have once lost confidence
in me, and I am required to give up my own deliberate judgment to
a whimsical desire for parade, I can do no more good here, and will
leave at once."
"Sho, now, dat won't do at all--no more it won't," responded Nimbus.
"Ef yer feel's dat er way 'bout it, der ain't no mo' use a-talkin'.
Dere's gwine ter be nary 'lection h'yer ef it really troubles you
ladies dat 'er way."
So it was decided, and once again there was peace.
To compensate themselves for this forbearance, however, it was
suggested that the colored voters of Red Wing and vicinity should
meet at the church on the morning of election and march in a body
to the polls with music and banners, in order most appropriately and
significantly to commemorate their first exercise of the electoral
privilege. To this Miss Ainslie saw no serious objection, and
in order fully to conciliate Nimbus, who might yet feel himself
aggrieved by her previous decision, she tendered him the loan of
her horse on the occasion, he having been elected marshal.
From that time until the day of the election there was considerable
excitement. There were a number of political harangues made in
the neighborhood; the League met several times; the colored men
appeared anxious and important about the new charge committed to
their care; the white people were angry, sullen, and depressed.
The school at Red Wing went peaceably on, interrupted only by the
excitement attendant upon the preparations making for the expected
Almost every night, after work was over, the colored people would
gather in the little hamlet and march to the music of a drum and
fife, and under the command of Nimbus, whose service in the army
had made him a tolerable proficient in such tactical movements as
pertained to the "school of the company." Very often, until well
past midnight the fife and drum, the words of command, and the
rumble of marching feet could be heard in the little village. The
white people in the country around about began to talk about "the
niggers arming and drilling," saying that they intended to "seize
the polls on election day;" "rise up and murder the whites;" "burn
all the houses along the river;" and a thousand other absurd and
incredible things which seemed to fill the air, to grow and multiply
like baleful spores, without apparent cause. As a consequence
of this there grew up a feeling of apprehension among the colored
men also. They feared that these things were said simply to make a
ready and convenient excuse for violence which was to be perpetrated
upon them in order to prevent the exercise of their legal rights.
So there were whisperings and apprehension and high resolve upon
both sides. The colored men, conscious of their own rectitude, were
either unaware of the real light in which their innocent parade was
regarded by their white neighbors, or else laughed at the feeling
as insincere and groundless. The whites, having been for generations
firm believers in the imminency of servile insurrections; devoutly
crediting the tradition that the last words of George Washington,
words of wisdom and warning, were, "Never trust a nigger with a gun;"
and accustomed to chafe each other into a fever heat of excitement
over any matter of public interest, were ready to give credence
to any report--all the more easily because of its absurdity. On
the other hand, the colored people, hearing these rumors, said to
themselves that it was simply a device to prevent them from voting,
or to give color and excuse for a conflict at the polls.
There is no doubt that both were partly right and partly wrong.
While the parade was at first intended simply as a display, it came
to be the occasion of preparation for an expected attack, and as
the rumors grew more wild and absurd, so did each side grow more
earnest and sincere. The colored men determined to exercise their
rights openly and boldly, and the white men were as fully determined
that at any exhibition of "impudence" on the part of the "niggers"
they would teach them a lesson they would not soon forget.
None of this came to the ears of Mollie Ainslie. Nevertheless she
had a sort of indefinite foreboding of evil to come out of it, and
wished that she had exerted her influence to prevent the parade.
On the morning of the election day a motley crowd collected at an
early hour at Red Wing. It was noticeable that every one carried
a heavy stick, though there was no other show of arms among them.
Some of them, no doubt, had pistols, but there were no guns in the
crowd. They seemed excited and alarmed. A few notes from the fife,
however, banished all irresolution, and before eight o'clock two
hundred men gathered from the country round marched away toward
Melton, with a national flag heading the column, in front of which
rode Eliab Hill in the carryall belonging to Nimbus. With them
went a crowd of women and children, numbering as many more, all
anxious to witness the first exercise of elective power by their
race, only just delivered from the bonds of slavery. The fife
screeched, the drum rattled; laughter and jests and high cheer
prevailed among them all. As they marched on, now and then a white
man rode past them, silent and sullen, evidently enraged at the
display which was being made by the new voters. As they drew nearer
to the town it became evident that the air was surcharged with
trouble. Nimbus sent back Miss Ainslie's horse, saying that he was
afraid it might get hurt. The boy that took it innocently repeated
this remark to his teacher.
Within the town there was great excitement. A young man who had passed
Red Wing while the men were assembling had spurred into Melton and
reported with great excitement that the "niggers" were collecting
at the church and Nimbus was giving out arms and ammunition; that
they were boasting of what they would do if any of their votes were
refused; that they had all their plans laid to meet negroes from
other localities at Melton, get up a row, kill all the white men,
burn the town, and then ravish the white women. This formula of
horrors is one so familiar to the Southern tongue that it runs off
quite unconsciously whenever there is any excitement in the air
about the "sassy niggers." It is the "form of sound words," which
is never forgotten. Its effect upon the Southern white man is
magical. It moves him as the red rag does a mad bull. It takes away
all sense and leaves only an abiding desire to kill.
So this rumor awakened great excitement as it flew from lip to lip.
Few questioned its verity, and most of those who heard felt bound
in conscience to add somewhat to it as they passed it on to the
next listener. Each one that came in afterward was questioned
eagerly upon the hypothesis of a negro insurrection having already
taken shape. "How many are there?" "Who is at the head of it?"
"How are they armed?" "What did they say?" were some of the queries
which overwhelmed every new comer. It never seemed to strike any
one as strange that if the colored men had any hostile intent they
should let these solitary horsemen pass them unmolested. The fever
spread. Revolvers were flourished and shot-guns loaded; excited
crowds gathered here and there, and nearly everybody in the
town sauntered carelessly toward the bridge across which Nimbus'
gayly-decked column must enter the town. A few young men rode out
to reconnoitre, and every few minutes one would come dashing back
upon a reeking steed, revolver in hand, his mouth full of strange
oaths and his eyes flaming with excitement.
It was one of these that precipitated the result. The flag which
waved over the head of the advancing column had been visible from
the town for some time as now and then it passed over the successive
ridges to the eastward. The sound of fife and drum had become more
and more distinct, and a great portion of the white male population,
together with those who had come in to the election from the
surrounding country, had gathered about the bridge spanning the swift
river which flowed between Melton and the hosts of the barbarous
and bloodthirsty "niggers" of the Red Wing country. Several of
the young scouts had ridden close up to the column with tantalizing
shouts and insulting gestures and then dashed back to recount their
own audacity; until, just as the Stars and Stripes began to show
over the last gullied hill, one of them, desirous of outdoing his
comrades in bravado, drew his revolver, flourished it over his head,
and cast a shower of insulting epithets upon the colored pilgrims
to the shrine of ballatorial power. He was answered from the dusky
crowd with words as foul as his own. Such insult was not to be
endured. Instantly his pistol was raised, there was a flash, a puff
of fleecy smoke, a shriek from amid the crowd.
At once all was confusion. Oaths, cries, pistol-shots, and a shower
of rocks filled the air as the young man turned and spurred back
to the town. In a moment the long covered-bridge was manned by
a well-armed crowd, while others were seen running toward it. The
town was in an uproar.
The officers of election had left the polls, and in front of the
bridge could be seen Hesden Le Moyne and the burly sheriff striving
to keep back the angry crowd of white men. On the hill the colored
men, for a moment struck with amazement, were now arming with stones,
in dead earnest, uttering loud cries of vengeance for one of their
number who, wounded and affrighted, lay groaning and writhing by
the roadside. They outnumbered the whites very greatly, but the
latter excelled them in arms, in training, and in position. Still,
such was their exasperation at what seemed to them a wanton and
unprovoked attack, that they were preparing to charge upon the
bridge without delay. Nimbus especially was frantic with rage.
"It's the flag!" he shouted; "the damned rebels are firing on the
flag!" He strode back and forth, waving an old cavalry sabre
which he had brought to mark his importance as marshal of the day,
and calling on his followers to stand by him and they would "clean
out the murderous crowd." A few pistol shots which were fired from
about the bridge but fell far short, added to their excitement and
Just as they were about to rush down the hillside, Mollie Ainslie,
with a white set face, mounted on her black horse, dashed in front
of them, and cried,
Eliab Hill had long been imploring them with upraised hands to be
calm and listen to reason, but his voice was unheeded or unheard
in the wild uproar. The sight of the woman, however, whom all of
them regarded so highly, reining in her restive horse and commanding
silence, arrested the action of all. But Nimbus, now raging like a
mad lion, strode up to her, waving his sword and cursing fearfully
in his wild wrath, and said hoarsely:
"You git out o' de way, Miss Mollie! We all tinks a heap ob you,
but yer hain't got no place h'yer! De time's come for _men_
now, an' dis is men's wuk, an' we's gwine ter du it, too! D'yer
see dat man dar, a-bleedin' an' a-groanin'? Blood's been shed! We's
been fired into kase we wuz gwine ter exercise our rights like men
under de flag ob our kentry, peaceable, an' quiet, an' disturbin'
nobody! 'Fore God, Miss Mollie, ef we's men an' fit ter hev enny
rights, we won't stan' dat! We'll hev blood fer blood! Dat's what
we means! You jes git outen de way!" he added imperiously. "We'll
settle dis yer matter ourselves!" He reached out his hand as he
spoke to take her horse by the bit.
"Stand back!" cried the brave girl. "Don't you touch him, sir!" She
urged her horse forward, and Nimbus, awed by her intensity, slowly
retreated before her, until she was but a pace or two in front of
the line which stretched across the road. Then leaning forward,
"Nimbus, give me your sword!"
"What you wants ob dat, Miss Mollie?" he asked in surprise.
"No matter; hand it to me!"
He took it by the blade, and held the heavy basket-hilt toward her.
She clasped her small white fingers around the rough, shark-skin
handle and raised it over her head as naturally as a veteran leader
desiring to command attention, and said:
"Now, Nimbus, and the rest of you, you all know that I am your
friend. My brother was a soldier, and fought for your liberty on
this very horse. I have never advised you except for your good, and
you know I never will. If it is right and best for you to right now,
I will not hinder you. Nay, I will say God-speed, and for aught I
know fight with you. I am no coward, if I am a woman. You know what
I have risked already for your good. Now tell me what has happened,
and what this means."
There was a cheer at this, and fifty excited voices began the
"Stop! stop!'" she cried. "Keep silent, all of you, and let Mr.
Hill tell it alone. He was here in front and saw it all."
Thereupon she rode up beside the carry-all, which was now in the
middle of the throng, and listened gravely while Eliab told the
whole story of the march from Red Wing, There was a buzz when he
had ended, which she stilled by a word and a wave of the hand, and
then turning to Nimbus she said:
"Nimbus, I appoint you to keep order in this crowd until my return.
Do not let any man, woman, or child move forward or back, whatever
may occur. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am, I hears; but whar you gwine, Miss Mollie?"
"Into the town."
"No yer don't, Miss Mollie," said he, stepping before her. "Dey'll
kill you, shore."
"No matter. I am going. You provoked this affray by your foolish
love of display, and it must be settled now, or it will be a matter
of constant trouble hereafter."
"But, Miss Mollie--"
"Not a word! You have been a soldier and should obey orders. Here
is your sword. Take it, and keep order here. Examine that poor
fellow's wound, and I will go and get a doctor for him."
She handed Nimbus his sword and turned her horse toward the bridge.
Then a wail of distress arose from the crowd. The women begged her
not to go, with tears. She turned in her saddle, shook her head,
and raised her hand to show her displeasure at this. Then she took
a handkerchief from her pocket and half waving it as she proceeded,
went toward the bridge.
"Well, I swear," said the sheriff; "if that are gal ain't coming
in with a flag of truce. She's pluck, anyhow. You ought to give
her three cheers, boys."
The scene which had been enacted on the hill had been closely watched
from the bridge and the town, and Mollie's conduct had been pretty
well interpreted though her words could not be heard. The nerve which
she had exhibited had excited universal comment, and it needed no
second invitation to bring off every hat and send up, in her honor,
the shrill yell with which our soldiers became familiar during the
Recognizing this, her pale face became suffused with blushes, and
she put her handkerchief to her lips to hide their tremulousness as
she came nearer. She ran her eyes quickly along the line of strange
faces, until they fell upon the sheriff, by whom stood Hesden Le
Moyne. She rode straight to them and said,
"Oh, Mr. Sheriff--"
Then she broke down, and dropping the rein on her horse's neck,
she pressed her handkerchief to her face and wept. Her slight frame
shook with sobs. The men looked at her with surprise and pity.
There was even a huskiness in the sheriff's voice as he said,
"Miss Ainslie--I--I beg your pardon, ma'am-but--"
She removed the handkerchief, but the tears were still running down
her face as she said, glancing round the circle of sympathizing
"Do stop this, gentlemen. It's all a mistake. I know it must be a
"We couldn't help it, ma'am," said one impulsive youth, putting in
before the elders had time to speak; "the niggers was marching on
the town here. Did you suppose we was going to sit still and let
them burn and ravage without opposition? Oh, we haven't got so low
as that, if the Yankees did outnumber us. Not yet!"
There was a sneering tone in his voice which did more than sympathy
could, to restore her equanimity. So she said, with a hint of a
smile on her yet tearful face,
"The worst thing those poor fellows meant to do, gentlemen, was
to make a parade over their new-found privileges--march up to the
polls, vote, and march home again. They are just like a crowd of
boys over a drum and fife, as you know. They carefully excluded
from the line all who were not voters, and I had them arranged so
that their names would come alphabetically, thinking it might be
handier for the officers; though I don't know anything about how an
election is conducted," she added, with an ingenuous blush. "It's
all my fault, gentlemen! I did not think any trouble could come
of it, or I would not have allowed it for a moment. I thought it
would be better for them to come in order, vote, and go home than
to have them scattered about the town and perhaps getting into
"So 'twould," said the sheriff. "Been a first-rate thing if we'd
all understood it--first-rate."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, gentlemen--so sorry, and I'm afraid one man is
killed. Would one of you be kind enough to go for a doctor?"
"Here is one," said several voices, as a young man stepped forward
and raised his hat respectfully.
"I will go and see him," he said.
He walked on up the hill alone.
"Well, ma'am," said the sheriff, "what do you think should be done
"If you would only let these people come in and vote, gentlemen.
They will return at once, and I would answer with my life for
their good behavior. I think it was all a misunderstanding."
"Certainly--certainly, ma'am," said the sheriff. "No doubt about
She turned her horse and was about to ride back up the hill, but
Hesden Le Moyne, taking off his hat, said:
"Gentlemen, I think we owe a great deal to the bravery of this
young lady. I have no doubt but all she says is literally true.
Yet we like to have got into trouble which might have been very
serious in its consequences, nay, perhaps has already resulted
seriously. But for her timely arrival, good sense, and courage there
would have been more bloodshed; our town would have been disgraced,
troops posted among us, and perhaps lives taken in retaliation.
Now, considering all this, I move a vote of thanks to the lady,
and that we all pledge ourselves to take no notice of these people,
but let them come in and vote and go out, without interruption.
All that are in favor of that say Aye!"
Every man waved his hat, there was a storm of "ayes," and then the
old rebel yell again, as, bowing and blushing with pleasure, Mollie
turned and rode up the hill.
There also matters had assumed a more cheerful aspect by reason of
her cordial reception at the bridge, and the report of the surgeon
that the man's wound, though quite troublesome, was by no means
serious. She told in a few words what had occurred, explained the
mistake, reminded them that such a display would naturally prove
very exasperating to persons situated as the others were, counselled
moderation and quietness of demeanor, and told them to re-form
their ranks and go forward, quietly vote, and return. A rousing
cheer greeted her words. Eliab Hill uttered a devout prayer
of thankfulness. Nimbus blunderingly said it was all his fault,
"though he didn't mean no harm," and then suggested that the flag
and music should be left there in charge of some of the boys,
which was approved. The wounded man was put into the carry-all by
the side of Eliab, and they started down the hill. The sheriff, who
was waiting at the bridge, called out for them to bring the flag
along and have the music strike up.
So, with flying colors and rattling drum-beat, the voters of Red
Wing marched to the polls; the people of Melton looked good-naturedly
on; the young hot-bloods joked the dusky citizen, and bestowed
extravagant encomiums on the plucky girl who had saved them from
so much threatened trouble; and Mollie Ainslie rode home with a hot,
flushed face, and was put to bed by her co-laborer, the victim of
a raging headache.
"I declare, Mollie Ainslie," said Lucy, "you are the queerest girl I
ever saw. I believe you would ride that horse into a den of lions,
and then faint because you were not eaten up. I could never do what
you have done--never in the world--but if did I wouldn't get sick
because it was all over."
The day after the election a colored lad rode up to the school-house,
delivered a letter for Miss Ainslie to one of the scholars, and
rode away. The letter was written in an even, delicate hand, which
was yet full of feminine strength, and read as follows:
"My son Hesden has told me of your courage in preventing what must
otherwise have resulted in a most terrible conflict yesterday, and
I feel it to be my duty, in behalf of many ladies whose husbands and
sons were present on that occasion, to express to you our gratitude.
It is seldom that such opportunity presents itself to our sex, and
still more seldom that we are able to improve it when presented.
Your courage in exerting the power you have over the peculiar people
toward whom you hold such important relations, commands my utmost
admiration. It is a matter of the utmost congratulation to the good
people of Horsford that one of such courage and prudence occupies
the position which you hold. I am afraid that the people whom you
are teaching can never be made to understand and appreciate the
position into which they have been thrust by the terrible events
of the past few years. I am sure, however, that you will do all
in your power to secure that result, and most earnestly pray for
your success. Could I leave my house I should do myself the pleasure
to visit your school and express my gratitude in person. As it is,
I can only send the good wishes of a weak old woman, who, though
once a slave-mistress, was most sincerely rejoiced at the down-fall
of a system she had always regarded with regret, despite the
humiliation it brought to her countrymen.
"HESTER LE MOYNE."
This was the first word of commendation which had been received
from any Southern white woman, and the two lonely teachers were
greatly cheered by it. When we come to analyze its sentences there
seems to be a sort of patronizing coolness in it, hardly calculated
to awaken enthusiasm. The young girls who had given themselves
to what they deemed a missionary work of peculiar urgency and
sacredness, did not stop to read between the lines, however, but
perused with tears of joy this first epistle from one of their own
sex in that strange country where they had been treated as leprous
outcasts by all the families who belonged to the race of which
they were unconscious ornaments. They jumped to the conclusion that
a new day was dawning, and that henceforth they would have that
companionship and sympathy which they felt that they deserved from
the Christian women by whom they were surrounded.
"What a dear, good old lady she must be!" exclaimed the pretty
and gushing Lucy Ellison. "I should like to kiss her for that sweet
So they took heart of grace, talked with the old "Mammy" who had
charge of their household arrangements about the gentle invalid
woman, whom she had served as a slave, and pronounced "jes de
bestest woman in de worl', nex' to my young ladies," and then they
went on with their work with renewed zeal.
Two other results followed this affair, which tended greatly to
relieve the monotony of their lives. A good many gentlemen called
in to see the school, most of them young men who were anxious for
a sight of the brave lady who had it in charge, and others merely
desirous to see the pretty Yankee "nigger teachers." Many would, no
doubt, have become more intimate with them, but there was something
in the terms of respectful equality on which they associated with
their pupils, and especially with their co-worker, Eliab Hill, which
they could not abide or understand. The fame of the adventure had
extended even beyond the county, however, and raised them very
greatly in the esteem of all the people.
Miss Ainslie soon noticed that the gentlemen she met in her rides,
instead of passing her with a rude or impudent stare began to greet
her with polite respect. Besides this, some of the officers of
the post at Boyleston, hearing of the gallant conduct of their
country-woman, rode over to pay their respects, and brought back
such glowing reports of the beauty and refinement of the teachers
at Red Wing that the distance could not prevent others of the garrison
from following their example; and the old Ordinary thereafter
witnessed many a pleasant gathering under the grand old oak which
shaded it. Both of the teachers found admirers in the gallant
company, and it soon became known that Lucy Ellison would leave
her present situation erelong to brighten the life of a young
lieutenant. It was rumored, too, that another uniform covered the
sad heart of a cavalier who asked an exchange into a regiment on
frontier duty, because Mollie Ainslie had failed to respond favorably
to his passionate addresses.
So they taught, read, sang, wandered along the wood-paths in
search of new beauties to charm their Northern eyes; rode together
whenever Lucy could be persuaded to mount Nimbus' mule, which, despite
its hybrid nature, was an excellent saddle-beast; entertained with
unaffected pleasure the officers who came to cheer their loneliness;
and under the care of their faithful old "Mammy" and the oversight
of a kind-hearted, serious-faced Superintendent, who never missed
Red Wing in his monthly rounds, they kept their oddly transformed
home bright and cheerful, their hearts light and pure, and their
faith clear, daily thanking God that they were permitted to do what
they thought to be His will.
All of their experiences were not so pleasant. By their own sex
they were still regarded with that calm, unobserving indifference
with which the modern lady treats the sister who stands without
the pale of reputable society. So far as the "ladies" of Horsford
were concerned, the "nigger teachers" at Red Wing stood on the plane
of the courtesan--they were _seen_ but not _known._ The
recognition which they received from the gentlemen of Southern
birth had in it not a little of the shame-faced curiosity which
characterizes the intercourse of men with women whose reputations
have been questioned but not entirely destroyed. They were treated
with apparent respect, in the school-room, upon the highway, or
at the market, by men who would not think of recognizing them when
in the company of their mothers, sisters, or wives. Such treatment
would have been too galling to be borne had it not been that the
spotless-minded girls were all too pure to realize its significance.
Eliab Hill had from the first greatly interested the teachers
at Red Wing. The necessities of the school and the desire of the
charitable Board having it in charge, to accustom the colored people
to see those of their own race trusted and advanced, had induced
them to employ him as an assistant teacher, even before he was
really competent for such service. It is true he was given charge
of only the most rudimentary work, but that fact, while it inspired
his ambition, showed him also the need of improvement and made him
a most diligent student.
Lucy Ellison, as being the most expert in housewifely accomplishments,
had naturally taken charge of the domestic arrangements at the
Ordinary, and as a consequence had cast a larger share of the
school duties upon her "superior officer," as she delighted to call
Mollie Ainslie. This division of labor suited well the characteristics
of both. To plan, direct, and manage the school came as naturally
and easily to the stirring Yankee "school-marm" as did the ordering
of their little household to the New York farmer's daughter. Among
the extra duties thus devolved upon the former was the supervision
and direction of the studies of Eliab Hill. As he could not
consistently with the requisite discipline be included in any of the
regular classes that had been formed, and his affliction prevented
him from coming to them in the evening for private instruction,
she arranged to teach him at the school-house after school hours.
So that every day she remained after the school was dismissed to
give him an hour's instruction. His careful attention and rapid
progress amply repaid her for this sacrifice, and she looked
forward with much pleasure to the time when, after her departure,
he should be able to conduct the school with credit to himself and
profit to his fellows.
Then, for the first time, she realized how great is the momentum
which centuries of intelligence and freedom give to the mind of
the learner--how unconscious is the acquisition of the great bulk
of that knowledge which goes to make up the Caucasian manhood of
the nineteenth century.
Eliab's desire to acquire was insatiable, his application was
tireless, but what he achieved seemed always to lack a certain
flavor of completeness. It was without that substratum of general
intelligence which the free white student has partly inherited and
partly acquired by observation and experience, without the labor
or the consciousness of study. The whole world of life, business,
society, was a sealed book to him, which no other hand might open
for him; while the field of literature was but a bright tangled
thicket before him.
That unconscious familiarity with the past which is as the
small-change of daily thought to us was a strange currency to his
mind. He had, indeed, the key to the value of each piece, and could,
with difficulty, determine its power when used by another, but he
did not give or receive the currency with instinctive readiness.
Two things had made him clearly the intellectual superior of his
fellows--the advantages of his early years by which he learned to
read, and the habit of meditation which the solitude of his stricken
life induced. This had made him a thinker, a philosopher far more
profound than his general attainments would naturally produce. With
the super-sensitiveness which always characterizes the afflicted,
also, he had become a most acute and subtle observer of the human
countenance, and read its infinite variety of expression with
ease and certainty. In two things he might be said to be profoundly
versed--the spirit of the Scriptures, and the workings of the
human heart. With regard to these his powers of expression were
commensurate with his knowledge. The Psalms of David were more
comprehensible to him than the simplest formulas of arithmetic.
Mollie Ainslie was not unfrequently amazed at this inequality of
nature in her favorite pupil. On one side he seemed a full-grown
man of grand proportions; on the other, a pigmy-child. She had heard
him pour forth torrents of eloquence on the Sabbath, and felt the
force of a nature exceptionally rich and strong in its conception
of religious truths and human needs, only to find him on the
morrow floundering hopelessly in the mire of rudimentary science,
or getting, by repeated perusals, but an imperfect idea of some
author's words, which it seemed to her he ought to have grasped
at a glance.
He had always been a man of thought, and now for two years he had
been studying after the manner of the schools, and his tasks were
yet but rudimentary. It is true, he had read much and had learned
not a little in a thousand directions which he did not appreciate,
but yet he was discouraged and despondent, and it is no wonder that
he was so. The mountain which stood in his pathway could not be
climbed over nor passed by, but pebble by pebble and grain by grain
must be removed, until a broad, smooth highway showed instead. And
all this he must do before he could comprehend the works of those
writers whose pages glow with light to _our_ eyes from the
very first. He read and re-read these, and groped his way to their
meaning with doubt and difficulty.
Being a woman, Mollie Ainslie was not speculative. She could not
solve this problem of strength and weakness. In power of thought,
breadth of reasoning, and keenness of analysis she felt that
he was her master; in knowledge--the power of acquiring and using
scientific facts--she could but laugh at his weakness. It puzzled
her. She wondered at it; but she had never sought to assign a reason
for it. It remained for the learner himself to do this. One day,
after weeks of despondency, he changed places with his teacher
during the hour devoted to his lessons, and taught her why it was
that he, Eliab Hill, with all his desire to learn and his ceaseless
application to his tasks, yet made so little progress in the
acquisition of knowledge.
"It ain't so much the words, Miss Mollie," he said, as he threw
down a book in which he had asked her to explain some passage she
had never read before, but the meaning of which came to her at a
glance--"it ain't so much the words as it is the ideas that trouble
me. These men who write seem to think and feel differently from
those I have known. I can learn the words, but when I have them
all right I am by no means sure that I know just what they mean,"
"Why, you must," said the positive little Yankee woman; "when one
has the words and knows the meaning of all of them, he cannot help
knowing what the writer means."
"Perhaps I do not put it as I should," said he sadly. "What I want
to say is, that there are thoughts and bearings that I can never
gather from books alone. They come to you, Miss Ainslie, and to
those like you, from those who were before you in the world, and
from things about you. It is the part of knowledge that can't be
put into books. Now I have none of that. My people cannot give
it to me. I catch a sight of it here and there. Now and then,
a conversation I heard years ago between some white men will come
up and make plain something that I am puzzling over, but it is not
easy for me to learn."
"I do not think I understand you," she replied; "but if I do, I
am sure you are mistaken. How can you know the meanings of words,
and yet not apprehend the thought conveyed?"
"I do not know _how_," he replied. "I only know that while
thought seems to come from the printed page to your mind like
a flash of light, to mine it only comes with difficulty and after
many readings, though I may know every word. For instance," he
continued, taking up a voiume of Tennyson which lay upon her table,
"take any passage. Here is one: 'Tears, idle tears, I know not what
they mean!' I have no doubt that brings a distinct idea to your
"Yes," she replied, hesitatingly; "I never thought of it before,
but I think it does."
"Well, it does not to mine. I cannot make out what is meant by
'idle' tears, nor whether the author means to say that he does not
know what 'tears' mean, or only 'idle' tears, or whether he does
not understand such a display of grief because it _is_ idle."
"Might he not have meant any or all of these?" she asked.
"That is it," he replied. "I want to know what he _did_ mean.
Of course, if I knew all about his life and ways, and the like,
I could tell pretty fully his meaning. You know them because his
thoughts are your thoughts, his life has been your life. You belong
to the same race and class. I am cut off from this, and can only
stumble slowly along the path of knowledge."
Thus the simple-minded colored man, taught to meditate by the
solitude which his affliction enforced upon him, speculated in
regard to the _leges non scripta_ which control the action of
the human mind and condition its progress.
"What has put you in this strange mood, Eliab?" asked the teacher
His face flushed, and the mobile mouth twitched with emotion as
he glanced earnestly toward her, and then, with an air of sudden
"Well, you see, that matter of the election--you took it all in
in a minute, when the horse came back. You knew the white folks
would feel aggravated by that procession, and there would be
trouble. Now, I never thought of that. I just thought it was nice
to be free, and have our own music and march under that dear old
flag to do the work of free men and citizens. That was all."
"But Nimbus thought of it, and that was why he sent back the horse,"
"Not at all. He only thought they might pester the horse to plague
him, and the horse might get away and be hurt. We didn't, none of
us, think what the white folks would feel, because we didn't know.
"But why should this affect you?"
"Just because it shows that education is something more that I
had thought--something so large and difficult that one of my age,
raised as I have been, can only get a taste of it at the best."
"Well, what then? You are not discouraged?"
"Not for myself--no. The pleasure of learning is reward enough to
me. But my people, Miss Mollie, I must think of them. I am only
a poor withered branch. They are the straight young tree. I must
think of them and not of Eliab. You have taught me--this affair,
everything, teaches me--that they can only be made free by knowledge.
I begin to see that the law can only give us an opportunity to make
ourselves freemen. Liberty must be earned; it cannot be given."
"That is very true," said the practical girl, whose mind recognized
at once the fact which she had never formulated to herself. But
as she looked into his face, working with intense feeling and so
lighted with the glory of a noble purpose as to make her forget
the stricken frame to which it was chained, she was puzzled at what
seemed inconsequence in his words. So she added, wonderingly, "But
I don't see why this should depress you. Only think how much you
have done toward the end you have in view. Just think what you have
accomplished--what strides you have made toward a full and complete
manhood. You ought to be proud rather than discouraged."
"Ah!" said he, "that has been for myself, Miss Mollie, not for my
people. What am I to my race? Aye," he continued, with a glance
at his withered limbs, "to the least one of them not--not--" He
covered his face with his hands and bowed his head in the self-abasement
which hopeless affliction so often brings.
"Eliab," said the teacher soothingly, as if her pupil were a child
instead of a man older than herself, "you should not give way to
such thoughts. You should rise above them, and by using the powers
you have, become an honor to your race."
"No, Miss Mollie," he replied, with a sigh, as he raised his head
and gazed into her face earnestly. "There ain't nothing in this
world for me to look forward to only to help my people. I am only
the dust on the Lord's chariot-wheels--only the dust, which must be
brushed out of the way in order that their glory may shine forth.
And that," he continued impetuously, paying no attention to her
gesture of remonstrance, "is what I wanted to speak to you about
this evening. It is hard to say, but I must say it--must say it
now. I have been taking too much of your time and attention, Miss
"I am sure, Mr. Hill--" she began, in some confusion.
"Yes, I have," he went on impetuously, while his face flushed hotly.
"It is the young and strong only who can enter into the Canaan the
Lord has put before our people. I thought for a while that we were
just standing on the banks of Jordan--that the promised land was
right over yon, and the waters piled up like a wall, so that even
poor weak 'Liab might cross over. But I see plainer now. We're
only just past the Red Sea, just coming into the wildnerness, and
if I can only get a glimpse from Horeb, wid my old eyes by and by,
'Liab 'll be satisfied. It'll be enough, an' more'n enough, for
him. He can only help the young ones--the lambs of the flock--a
little, mighty little, p'raps, but it's all there is for him to
do." "Why, Eliab--" began the astonished teacher again.
"Don't! don't! Miss Mollie, if you please," he cried, with a look
of pain. "I'se done tried--I hez, Miss Mollie. God only knows how
I'se tried! But it ain't no use--no use," he continued, with a fierce
gesture, and relapsing unconsciously into the rougher dialect that
he had been training himself to avoid. "I can't do it, an' there's
no use a-tryin'. There ain't nothin' good for me in this worl'--not
in this worl'. It's hard to give it up, Miss Mollie--harder'n you'll
ever dream; but I hain't blind. I knows the brand is on me. It's
on my tongue now, that forgets all I've learned jes ez soon ez the
time of trial comes."
He seemed wild with excitement as he leaned forward on the table
toward her, and accompanied his words with that eloquence of
gesticulation which only the hands that are tied to crippled forms
acquire. He paused suddenly, bowed his head upon his crossed arms,
and his frame shook with sobs. She rose, and would have come around
the table to him. Raising his head quickly, he cried almost fiercely:
"Don't! don't! don't come nigh me, Miss Mollie! I'm going to do
a hard thing, almost too hard for me. I'm going to get off the
chariot-wheel--out of the light of the glory--out of the way of the
young and the strong! Them that's got to fight the Lord's battles
must have the training, and not them that's bound to fall in
the wilderness. The time is precious--precious, and must not be
wasted. You can't afford to spend so much of it on me! The Lord
can't afford ter hev ye, Miss Mollie! I must step aside, an' I'se
gwine ter do it now. If yer's enny time an' strength ter spar'
more'n yer givin' day by day in the school, I want yer should
give it to--to--Winnie an' 'Thusa--they're bright girls, that have
studied hard, and are young and strong. It is through such as them
that we must come up--our people, I mean. I want you to give them
my hour, Miss Mollie--_my_ hour! Don't say you won't do it!"
he cried, seeing a gesture of dissent. "Don't say it! You must do
it! Promise me, Miss Mollie--for my sake! for--promise me--now--quick!
afore I gets too weak to ask it!"
"Why, certainly, Eliab," she said, in amazement, while she half
shrank from him as if in terror. "I will do it if you desire it so
much. But you should not get so excited. Calm yourself! I am sure
I don't see why you should take such a course; but, as you say,
they are two bright girls and will make good teachers, which are
"Thank God! thank God!" cried the cripple, as his head fell again
upon his arms. After a moment he half raised it and said, weakly,
"Will you please call Nimbus, Miss Mollie? I must go home now. And
please, Miss Mollie, don't think hard of 'Liab--don't, Miss Mollie,"
he said humbly.
"Why should I?" she asked in surprise. "You have acted nobly, though
I cannot think you have done wisely. You are nervous now. You may
think differently hereafter. If you do, you have only to say so.
I will call Nimbus. Good-by!"
She took her hat and gloves and went down the aisle. Happening
to turn near the door to replace a book her dress had brushed from
a desk, she saw him gazing after her with a look that haunted her
memory long afterward.
As the door closed behind her he slid from his chair and bowed his
head upon it, crying out in a voice of tearful agony, "Thank God!
thank God!" again and again, while his unfinished form shook with
hysteric sobs. "And _she_ said I was not wise!" he half
laughed, as the tears ran down his face and he resumed his invocation
of thankfulness. Thus Nimbus found him and carried him home with
his wonted tenderness, soothing him like a babe, and wondering what
had occurred to discompose his usually sedate and cheerful friend.
"I declare, Lucy," said Mollie Ainslie that evening, to her co-worker,
over their cosy tea, "I don't believe I shall ever get to understand
these people. There is that Eliab Hill, who was getting along
so nicely, has concluded to give up his studies. I believe he is
half crazy anyhow. He raved about it, and glared at me so that I
was half frightened out of my wits. I wonder why it is that cripples
are always so queer, anyhow?"
She would have been still more amazed if she had known that from
that day Eliab Hill devoted himself to his studies with a redoubled
energy, which more than made up for the loss of his teacher's aid.
Had she herself been less a child she would have seen that he whom
she had treated as such was, in truth, a man of rare strength.
HOW THE FALLOW WAS SEEDED.
The time had come when the influences so long at work, the seed
which the past had sown in the minds and hearts of races, must at
length bear fruit. The period of actual reconstruction had passed,
and independent, self-regulating States had taken the place
of Military Districts and Provisional Governments. The people of
the South began, little by little, to realize that they held their
future in their own hands--that the supervising and restraining
power of the General Government had been withdrawn. The colored
race, yet dazed with the new light of liberty, were divided between
exultation and fear. They were like a child taking his first
steps--full of joy at the last accomplished, full of terror at the
one which was before.
The state of mind of the Southern white man, with reference to the
freedman and his exaltation to the privilege of citizenship is
one which cannot be too frequently analyzed or too closely kept in
mind by one who desires fully to apprehend the events which have
since occurred, and the social and political structure of the South
at this time.
As a rule, the Southern man had been a kind master to his slaves.
Conscious cruelty was the exception. The real evils of the system
were those which arose from its _un_-conscious barbarism--the
natural and inevitable results of holding human beings as chattels,
without right, the power of self-defence or protestation--dumb
driven brutes, deprived of all volition or hope, subservient to
another's will, and bereft of every motive for self-improvement
as well as every opportunity to rise. The effect of this upon the
dominant race was to fix in their minds, with the strength of an
absorbing passion, the idea of their own innate and unimpeachable
superiority, of the unalterable inferiority of the slave-race, of the
infinite distance between the two, and of the depth of debasement
implied by placing the two races, in any respect, on the same
level. The Southern mind had no antipathy to the negro in a menial
or servile relation. On the contrary, it was generally kind and
considerate of him, as such. It regarded him almost precisely as
other people look upon other species of animate property, except
that it conceded to him the possession of human passions, appetites,
and motives. As a farmer likes to turn a favorite horse into a
fine pasture, watch his antics, and see him roll and feed and run;
as he pats and caresses him when he takes him out, and delights
himself in the enjoyment of the faithful beast--just so the slave-owner
took pleasure in the slave's comfort, looked with approval upon his
enjoyment of the domestic relation, and desired to see him sleek
and hearty, and physically well content.
It was only _as a man_ that the white regarded the black with
aversion; and, in that point of view, the antipathy was all the
more intensely bitter since he considered the claim to manhood an
intrusion upon the sacred and exclusive rights of his own race. This
feeling was greatly strengthened by the course of legislation and
legal construction, both national and State. Many of the subtlest
exertions of American intellect were those which traced and defined
the line of demarcation, until there was built up between the races,
_considered as men_, a wall of separation as high as heaven
and as deep as hell.
It may not be amiss to cite some few examples of this, which will
serve at once to illustrate the feeling itself, and to show the
steps in its progress.
1. It was held by our highest judicial tribunal that the phrase "we
the people," in the Declaration of Independence, did not include
slaves, who were excluded from the inherent rights recited therein
and accounted divine and inalienable, embracing, of course, the
right of self-government, which rested on the others as substantial
2. The right or privilege, whichever it may be, of intermarriage
with the dominant race was prohibited to the African in all the
States, both free and slave, and, for all legal purposes, that man
was accounted "colored" who had one-sixteenth of African blood.
3. The common-law right of self-defence was gradually reduced by
legal subtlety, in the slave States, until only the merest shred
remained to the African, while the lightest word of disobedience or
gesture of disrespect from him, justified an assault on the part
of the white man.
4. Early in the present century it was made a crime in all the
States of the South to teach a slave to read, the free blacks were
disfranchised, and the most stringent restraining statutes extended
over them, including the prohibition of public assembly, even for
divine worship, unless a white man were present.
5. Emancipation was not allowed except by decree of a court
of record after tedious formality and the assumption of onerous
responsibilities on the part of the master; and it was absolutely
forbidden to be done by testament.
6. As indicative of the fact that this antipathy was directed against
the colored man as a free agent, a man, solely, may be cited the
well-known fact of the enormous admixture of the races by illicit
commerce at the South, and the further fact that this was, in very
large measure, consequent upon the conduct of the most refined
and cultivated elements of Southern life. As a thing, an animal, a
mere existence, or as the servant of his desire and instrument of
his advancement, the Southern Caucasian had no antipathy to the
colored race. As one to serve, to nurse, to minister to his will
and pleasure, he appreciated and approved of the African to the
7. Every exercise of manly right, sentiment, or inclination, on the
part of the negro, was rigorously repressed. To attempt to escape
was a capital crime if repeated once or twice; to urge others to
escape was also capitally punishable; to learn to read, to claim
the rights of property, to speak insolently, to meet for prayer
without the sanction of the white man's presence, were all offences
against the law; and in this case, as in most others, the law was
an index as well as the source of a public sentiment, which grew
step by step with its progress in unconscious barbarity.
8. Perhaps the best possible indication of the force of this
sentiment, in its ripened and intensest state, is afforded by the
course of the Confederate Government in regard to the proposal that
it should arm the slaves. In the very crisis of the struggle, when
the passions of the combatants were at fever heat, this proposition
was made. There was no serious question as to the efficiency or
faithfulness of the slaves. The masters did not doubt that, if
armed, with the promise of freedom extended to them, they would
prove most effective allies, and would secure to the Confederacy
that autonomy which few thoughtful men at that time believed it
possible to achieve by any other means. Such was the intensity of
this sentiment, however, that it was admitted to be impossible to
hold the Southern soldiery in the field should this measure be
adopted. So that the Confederacy, rather than surrender a tithe
of its prejudice against the negro _as a man_, rather than
owe its life to him, serving in the capacity of a soldier, chose
to suffer defeat and overthrow. The African might raise the food,
build the breastworks, and do aught of menial service or mere
manual labor required for the support of the Confederacy, without
objection or demurrer on the part of any; but they would rather
surrender all that they had fought so long and so bravely to secure,
rather than admit, even by inference, his equal manhood or his
fitness for the duty and the danger of a soldier's life. It was a
grand stubborness, a magnificent adherence to an adopted and declared
principle, which loses nothing of its grandeur from the fact that
we may believe the principle to have been erroneous.
9. Another very striking and peculiar illustration of this sentiment
is the fact that one of the most earnest advocates of the abolition of