Part 4 out of 9
slavery, and a type of its Southern opponents, the author of "The
Impending Crisis"--a book which did more than any other to crystallize
and confirm the sentiment awakened at the North by "Uncle Tom's
Cabin"--was perhaps more bitterly averse to the freedom, citizenship,
and coexistence of the African with the Caucasian than any man that
has ever written on the subject. He differed from his slaveholding
neighbors only in this: _they_ approved the African as a menial,
but abominated him as a self-controlling man; _he_ abhorred
him in both relations. With _them,_ the prejudice of race
made the negro hateful only when he trenched on the sacred domain
of their superior and self-controlling manhood; with _him,_
hatred of the race overleaped the conventional relation and included
the African wherever found, however employed, or in whatsoever
relation considered. His horror of the black far overtopped his
ancient antipathy to the slave. The fact that he is an exception,
and that the extravagant rhodomontades of "Nojoque" are neither
indorsed nor believed by any considerable number of the Southern
people, confirms most powerfully this analysis of their temper
toward the African.
10. Still another signal instance of its accuracy is the striking
fact that one of the hottest political struggles since the war
arose out of the proposition to give the colored man the right to
testify, in courts of justice, against a white man. The objection
was not bottomed on any desire to deprive the colored man of
his legal rights, but had its root in the idea that it would be a
degradation of the white man to allow the colored man to take the
witness-stand and traverse the oath of a Caucasian.
Now, as it relates to our story:--That this most intense and vital
sentiment should find expression whenever the repressive power of
the conquering people was removed was most natural; that it would
be fanned into a white heat by the freedman's enfranchisement was
beyond cavil; and that Red Wing should escape such manifestations
of the general abhorrence of the work of development there going
on was not to be expected, even by its most sanguine friend.
Although the conduct of the teachers at Red Wing had been such as
to awaken the respect of all, yet there were two things which made
the place peculiarly odious. One was the influence of Eliab Hill
with his people in all parts of the county, which had very greatly
increased since he had ceased to be a pupil, in appearance, and
had betaken himself more than ever to solitude and study. The other
was the continued prosperity and rugged independence of Nimbus,
who was regarded as a peculiarly "sassy nigger." To the malign
influence of these two was attributed every difference of opinion
between employer and employee, and every impropriety of conduct on
the part of the freedmen of Horsford. Eliab was regarded as a wicked
spirit who devised evil continually, and Nimbus as his willing
familiar, who executed his purpose with ceaseless diligence. So Red
Wing was looked upon with distrust, and its two leading characters,
unconsciously to themselves, became marked men, upon whom rested
the suspicion and aversion of a whole community.
AN OFFERING OF FIRST-FRUITS.
An election was impending for members of the Legislature, and
there was great excitement in the county of Horsford. Of white
Republicans there were not above a half dozen who were openly known
as such. There were two or three others who were regarded with
some suspicion by their neighbors, among whom was Hesden Le Moyne.
Since he had acted as a judge of election at the time of the
adoption of the Constitution, he had never been heard to express
any opinion upon political matters. He was known to have voted for
that Constitution, and when questioned as to his reasons for such
a course, had arrogantly answered,
"Simply because I saw fit to do so."
His interrogator had not seen fit to inquire further. Hesden Le
Moyne was not a man with whom one wished to provoke a controversy.
His unwillingness to submit to be catechised was generally accepted
as a proof positive of his "Radical" views. He had been an adviser
of Nimbus, his colored playmate, in the purchase of the Red Wing
property, his interest in Eliab Hill had not slackened since that
worthy cast in his lot with Nimbus, and he did not hesitate to
commend the work of the school. He had several times attended
the examinations there, had become known to the teachers, and took
an active interest in the movement there going on. What his personal
views were in regard to the very peculiar state of affairs by which
he was surrounded he had never found it necessary to declare. He
attended quietly to the work of his plantation, tenderly cared for
his invalid mother, and watched the growth of his little son with
the seemingly settled conviction that his care was due to them
rather than to the public. His counsel and assistance were still
freely sought in private matters by the inhabitants of the little
village of Red Wing, and neither was ever refused where he saw that
it might do good. He was accounted by them a friend, but not a
partisan, and none of them had ever discussed any political questions
with him, except Eliab Hill, who had more than once talked with
him upon the important problem of the future of that race to which
the unfortunate cripple was so slightly akin and yet so closely
There was a large majority of colored men in the county, and one
of the candidates for the Legislature was a colored man. While
elections were under the military control there had been no serious
attempt to overcome this majority, but now it was decided that the
county should be "redeemed," which is the favorite name in that
section of the country for an unlawful subversion of a majority.
So the battle was joined, and the conflict waged hot and fierce.
That negroes--no matter how numerous they might be--should rule,
should bear sway and control in the county of Horsford, was
a thought not by any means to be endured. It was a blow on every
white cheek--an insult to every Caucasian heart. Men cursed wildly
when they thought of it. Women taunted them with cowardice for
permitting it. It was the one controlling and consuming thought of
On the other hand, the colored people felt that it was necessary
for them to assert their newly-acquired rights if they expected to
retain them. So that both parties were influenced by the strongest
considerations which could possibly affect their action.
Red Wing was one of the points around which this contest raged the
hottest. Although it had never become a polling precinct, and was
a place of no mercantile importance, it was yet the center from
which radiated the spirit that animated the colored men of the most
populous district in the county. It was their place of meeting and
conference. Accustomed to regard their race as peculiarly dependent
upon the Divine aid because of the lowly position they had so long
occupied, they had become habituated to associate political and
religious interests. The helplessness of servitude left no room
for hope except through the trustfulness of faith. The generation
which saw slavery swept away, and they who have heard the tale of
deliverance from the lips of those who had been slaves, will never
cease to trace the hand of God visibly manifested in the events
culminating in liberty, or to regard the future of the freed race
as under the direct control of the Divine Being. For this reason
the political and religious interests and emotions of this people
are quite inseparable. Wherever they meet to worship, there they
will meet to consult of their plans, hopes, and progress, as at once
a distinct race and a part of the American people. Their religion
is tinged with political thought, and their political thought shaped
by religious conviction.
In this respect the colored race in America are the true children
of the Covenanters and the Puritans. Their faith is of the same
unquestioning type, which no disappointment or delay can daunt,
and their view of personal duty and obligation in regard to it is
not less intense than that which led men to sing psalms and utter
praises on board the storm-bound "Mayflower." The most English of
all English attributes has, by a strange transmutation, become the
leading element in the character of the Africo-American. The same
mixed motive of religious duty toward posterity and devotion to
political liberty which peopled the bleak hills of New England and
the fertile lands of Canaan with peoples fleeing from bondage and
oppression, may yet cover the North with dusky fugitives from the
spirit and the situs of slavery.
From time to time there had been political meetings held at the
church or school-house, composed mainly of colored men, though now
and then a little knot of white men would come in and watch their
proceedings, sometimes from curiosity, and sometimes from spleen.
Heretofore, however, there had been no more serious interruption
than some sneering remarks and derisive laughter. The colored men
felt that it was their own domain, and showed much more boldness than
they would ever manifest on other occasions. During this campaign,
however, it was determined to have a grand rally, speeches, and a
barbecue at Red Wing. The colored inhabitants of that section were
put upon their mettle. Several sheep and pigs were roasted, rude
tables were spread under the trees, and all arrangements made for
a great occasion.
At an early hour of the day when it was announced that the meeting
would be held, groups of colored people of all ages and both sexes
began to assemble. They were all talking earnestly as they came,
for some matter of unusual interest seemed to have usurped for
the moment their accustomed lightness and jollity of demeanor.
Nimbus, as the most prosperous and substantial colored man of
the region, had always maintained a decided leadership among them,
all the more from the fact that he had sought thereby to obtain
no advantage for himself. Though a most ardent supporter of that
party with which he deemed the interests of his race inseparably
allied, he had never taken a very active part in politics, and had
persistently refused to be put forward for any official position,
although frequently urged to allow himself to be named a candidate.
"No," he would always say; "I hain't got no larnin' an' not much
sense. Besides, I'se got all I kin manage, an' more too, a-takin'
keer o' dis yer farm. Dat's what I'm good fer. I kin manage terbacker,
an' I'd ruther hev a good plantation an' run it myself, than all
the offices in the worl'. I'se jes fit fer dat, an' I ain't fit
fer nuffin' else."
His success proved the justice of his estimate, and the more he
prospered the stronger was his hold upon his people. Of course,
there were some who envied him his good-fortune, but such was his
good-nature and readiness to render all the assistance in his
power that this dangerous leaven did not spread. "Bre'er Nimbus" was
still the heart and life of the community which had its center at
Red Wing. His impetuosity was well tempered by the subtle caution
of Eliab Hill, without whose advice he seldom acted in any important
The relations between these two men had continued singularly close,
although of late Eliab had been more independent of his friend's
assistance than formerly; for, at the suggestion of the teachers,
his parishioners had contributed little sums--a dime, a quarter,
and a few a half-dollar apiece--to get him one of those wheeled
chairs which are worked by the hands, and by means of which the
infirm are frequently enabled to move about without other aid. It
was the first time they had ever given anything to a minister of
their own, and it was hard for those who had to support families
upon a pittance which in other parts of the country would mean
starvation; yet so many had hastened to give, that the "go-cart,"
as it was generally called, proved a vehicle of marvelous luxury
and finish to the unaccustomed eyes of these rude children of the
In this chair Eliab was able to transport himself to and from the
school-room, and even considerable distances among his people.
This had brought him into nearer relations with them, and it was
largely owing to his influence that, after Northern benevolence
began to restrict its gifts and to condition its benevolence upon
the exercise of a self-help which should provide for a moiety of
the expense, the school still continued full and prosperous, and
the services of Miss Ainslie were retained for another year--the
last she intended to give to the missionary work which accident
had thrust upon her young life. Already her heart was pining for
the brightness and kindly cheer of the green-clad hills from which
she had been exiled so long, and the friends whose hearts and arms
would welcome her again to her childhood's home.
On the morning of the barbecue Nimbus and his household were astir
betimes. Upon him devolved the chief burden of the entertainment
which was to be spread before his neighbors. There was an abundance
of willing hands, but few who could do much toward providing
the requisite material. His premises had undergone little change
beyond the wide, cool, latticed walk which now led from his house
to the kitchen, and thence to "Uncle 'Liab's" house, over which
Virginia-creepers and honeysuckle were already clambering in the
furious haste which that quick-growing clime inspires in vegetation.
A porch had also been added to his own house, up the posts and
along the eaves of which the wisteria was clambering, while its
pendulous, lilac flower-stems hung thick below. A few fruit-trees
were planted here and there, and the oaks, which he had topped and
shortened back when he cut away the forest for his house-lot, had
put out new and dense heads of dark-green foliage that gave to the
humble home a look of dignity and repose hardly to be matched by
more ornate and costly structures. Upon the north side the corn
grew rank and thick up to the very walls of the mud-daubed gable,
softening its rudeness and giving a charm even to the bare logs
of which it was formed. Lugena had grown full and matronly, had
added two to her brood of lusty children, and showed what even a
brief period of happiness and prosperity would do for her race as
she bustled about in neat apparel with a look of supreme content
on her countenance.
Long before the first comers from the country around had made their
appearance, the preparations were completed, the morning meal
cleared away, the table set in the latticed passage for the dinner
of the most honored guests, the children made tidy, and Nimbus,
magnificently attired in clean shirt, white pants and vest, a
black alpaca coat and a new Panama hat, was ready to welcome the
Eliab, too, made tidy by the loving care of his friends, was early
mounted in his hand-carriage, and propelling himself here and there to
meet the first comers. The barbecue was roasting under the charge
of an experienced cook; the tables were arranged, and the speakers'
stand at the back of the school-house in the grove was in the hands
of the decorators. All was mirth and happiness. The freedmen were
about to offer oblations to liberty--a sacrifice of the first-fruits
A BLACK DEMOCRITUS.
"_I say_, Bre'er Nimbus!" cried a voice from the midst of a
group of those first arriving, "how yer do dis mornin'? Hope yer's
well, Squar', you an' all de family."
The speaker was a slender, loose-jointed young man, somewhat shabbily
attired, with a shapeless narrow-brimmed felt hat in his hand, who
was bowing and scraping with a mock solemnity to the dignitary of
Red Wing, while his eyes sparkled with fun and his comrades roared
at his comic gestures.
"Is dat you, Berry?" said Nimbus, turning, with a smile. "How yer
do, Berry? Glad ter see ye well," nodding familiarly to the others
and extending his hand.
"Thank ye, sah. You do me proud," said the jester, sidling towards
him and bowing to the crowd with serio-comic gravity. "Ladies an'
gemmen, yer jes takes notice, ef yer please, dat I ain't stuck
up--not a mite, I ain't, ef I _is_ pore. I'se not ashamed ter
shake hands wid Mr. Squar' Nimbus--Desmit--War'. I stan's by him
whatever his name, an' no matter how many he's got, ef it's more'n
he's got fingers an' toes." He bowed low with a solemn wave of his
grimy hat, as he shook the proffered hand, amid the laughter of
his audience, with whom he seemed to be a prime favorite.
"Glad ter know it, Berry," said Nimbus, shaking the other's hand
warmly, while his face glowed with evident pleasure. "How's all
gittin' on wid ye, ennyhow?"
"Gittin' on, Bre'er Nimbus?" replied Berry, striking an attitude.
"Gittin' on, did yer say? Lor' bress yer soul, yer nebber seed
de beat--nebber. Ef yer ebber pegs out h'yer at Red Wing, Bre'er
Nimbus, all yer's got ter du is jes ter come up on de Kentry Line
whar folks _libs._ Jes you look o' dar, will yer?" he continued,
extending a slender arm ending in a skinny hand, the widely parted
fingers of which seemed like talons, while the upturned palm was
worn smooth and was of a yellowish, pallid white about the fingers'
ends. "Jes see de 'fec's ob high libbin' on a nigger. Dar's muscle
fer ye. All you needs, Bre'er Nimbus, is jest a few weeks ob good
feed! Come up dar now an' wuk a farm on sheers, an' let Marse
Sykes 'llowance ye, an' yer'll come out like me an' git some good
clothes, too! Greatest place ter start up a run-down nigger yer
ever seed. Jes' look at me, now. When I went dar I didn't hev a
rag ter my back--nary a rag, an' now jes see how I'se covered wid
There was a laugh from the crowd in which Berry joined heartily,
rolling his eyes and contorting his limbs so as to show in the
completest manner the striking contrast between his lank, stringy,
meanly-clad frame and the full, round, well-clothed form of Nimbus.
When the laughter had subsided he struck in again, with the art of
an accomplished tease, and sidling still closer to the magnate of
Red Wing, he said, with a queer assumption of familiarity:
"An' how is yer good lady, Missus Lugena, an' all de babies, Squar'?
They tell me you're gittin' on right smart an' think of settin' up
yer kerridge putty soon. Jes' ez soon ez yer git it ready, Sally
an' me's a-comin' over ter christen it. We's cousins, yer know,
Squar', leastways, Sally an' Lugena's allus said ter be kin on the
father's side--the white side ob de family, yer know. Yer wouldn't
go back on yer relations, would yer, Nimbus? We ain't proud, not a
bit proud, Bre'er Nimbus, an' yer ain't a gwine ter forgit us, is
yer? Yah, yah, yah!"
There was a tinge of earnestness in this good-natured banter, but
it was instantly dissipated by Nimbus's reply:
"Not a bit of it, cousin Berry. Lugena charged me dis berry mornin',
jes ez soon ez I seed you an' Sally, ter invite ye ter help eat
her big dinner to-day. Whar' is Sally?"
"Dar now," said Berry, "dat's jes what I done tole Sally, now. She's
got a notion, kase you's rich yer's got stuck up, you an' Lugena.
But I tole her, sez I, 'Nimbus ain't dat ar sort of a chile, Nimbus
hain't. He's been a heap luckier nor de rest of us, but he ain't
got de big-head, nary bit.' Dat's what I say, an' durn me ef I
don't b'lieve it too, I does. We's been hevin' purty hard times,
Sally an' me hez. Nebber did hev much luck, yer know--'cept for
chillen. Yah, yah! An' jes' dar we's hed a trifle more'n we 'zackly
keered about. Might hev spared a few an' got along jest ez well,
'cordin' ter my notion. Den de ole woman's been kinder peaked this
summer, an' some two or free ob de babies hez been right poorly,
an' Sal--wal, she got a leettle fretted, kase yer know we both
wuks purty hard an' don't seem ter git ahead a morsel. So she got
her back up, an' sez she ter me dis mornin': 'Berry,' sez she, 'I
ain't a gwine ter go near cousin Nimbus', I ain't, kase I hain't
got no fine clo'es, ner no chicken-fixing ter take ter de barbecue
nuther.' So she's done stop up ter Bob Mosely's wid de baby, an' I
t'ought I'd jes come down an' spy out de lan' an' see which on us
wuz right. Dat's de fac' truf, Bre'er Nimbus, an' no lyin". Yah,
"Sho, sho, Berry," replied Nimbus, reproachfully; "what makes Sally
sech a big fool? She oughter be ashamed ter treat her ole fren's
dat ar way."
"Now yer talkin', Bre'er Nimbus, dat you is! But la sakes! Bre'er
Nimbus, dat ar gal hain't got no pride. Why yer wouldn't b'lieve
hit, but she ain't even 'shamed of Berry--fac'! Yah, yah! What yer
tinks ob dat now?"
"Why, co'se she ain't," said Nimbus. "Don't see how she could be.
Yer always jes dat peart an' jolly dat nobody couldn't git put out
"Tink so, Bre'er Nimbus? Wal, now, I'shures ye dat yer couldn't
be wuss mistaken ef yer'd tried. On'y jes' dis mornin' Marse Sykes
got put out wid me jes de wus kind."
"How's dat, Berry?"
"Wal, yer see, I'se been a wukkin' fer him ebber sence de s'rrender
jes de same ez afore, only dat he pays me an' I owes him. He pays
me in sto' orders, an' it 'pears like I owes him mo' an' mo' ebbery
time we settles up. Didn't use ter be so when we lied de Bureau,
kase den Marse Sykes' 'count didn't use ter be so big; but dese
las' two year sence de Bureau done gone, bress God, I gits nex'
ter nuffin' ez we goes 'long, an' hez less 'n nuffin' atterwards."
"What wages d'ye git?" asked Nimbus.
"Marse Sykes, he sez I gits eight dollahs a month, myself, an'
Sally she gits fo'; an' den we hez tree pounds o' meat apiece an'
a peck o' meal, each on us, ebbery week. We could git along right
peart on dat--we an' de chillens, six on 'em--wid jes' a drop o'
coffee now an' agin, yer know; but yer see, Sally, she's a leetle
onsartin an' can't allus wuk, an' it 'pears like it takes all ob my
wuk ter pay fer her rations when she don't wuk. I dunno how 'tis,
but dat's de way Marse Sykes figgers it out,"
"Yer mus' buy a heap ob fine clo'es," said one of the bystanders.
"'Wall, ef I does, I leaves 'em ter home fer fear ob wearin' 'em
out, don't I?" said Berry, glancing at his dilapidated costume.
"Dat's what's de matter. I'se bad 'nough off, but yer jest orter
see dem chillen! Dey war's brak ebbery day jes' like a minister,
yer knows--not sto' clo'es dough, oh, no! home-made all de time!
Mostly bar'-skins, yer know! Yah, yah!"
"An' yer don't drink, nuther," said one whose words and appearance
clearly showed that he regarded it as a matter of surprise that
any one should not.
"'Ceptin' only de Christmas an' when some feller treats," responded
"P'raps he makes it outen de holidays," said a third.
"Dar's whar my boss sloshes it on ter me. Clar ef I don't hev more
holidays than dar is wuk-days, 'cordin 'ter his 'count."
"Holidays!" said Berry; "dat's what's de matter. Hain't hed but
jes tree holidays 'cep' de Chris'mas weeks, in all dat time. So,
I 'llowed I'd take one an' come ter dis yer meetin'. Wal, 'long de
fust ob de week, I make bold ter tell him so, an' ebber sence dat
'pears like he's gwine ter hu't hisself, he's been so mad. I'se
done tried not ter notice it, kase I'se dat solemn-like myself, yer
knows, I couldn't 'ford ter take on no mo' ob dat kind; but every
day or two he's been a lettin' slip somethin' 'bout niggas gaddin'
roun', yer know."
"That was mean," said Nimbus, "kase ef yer is allus laughin' an'
hollerin' roun', I'm boun' ter say dar ain't no stiddier han' in
de county at enny sort ob wuk."
"Jes' so. Much obleeged ter ye, Squar', fer dat. Same ter yeself
'tu. Howsomever, _he_ didn't make no sech remark, not ez
I heerd on, an' dis mornin' bright an' airly, he comed roun' an'
axes me didn't I want ter take de carry-all and go ter Lewyburg;
an' when I 'llowed dat I didn't keer tu, not jes to-day, yer know,
he axed me, was I comin' h'yer ter dis yer meetin', an' when I
'llowed I was, he jes' got up an' rar'd. Yah, yah! how he did make
de turf fly, all by hissef, kase I wur a whistlin' 'Ole Jim Crow'
an' some other nice psalm-tunes, jes' ter keep myself from larfin'
in his face! Till finally he sez, sez he, 'Berry Lawson, ef yer
goes ter dat er Radikil meetin', yer needn't never come back ter
my plantation no mo'. Yer can't stay h'yer no longer--' jes so.
Den I made bold ter ax him how our little 'count stood, kase we's
been livin' mighty close fer a while, in hopes ter git a mite ahead
so's ter sen' de two oldes' chillen ter school h'yer, 'gin winter.
An' den sez he, 'Count be damned!'--jes so; 'don't yer know hit's
in de papers dat ef yer don't 'bey me an' wuk obedient ter my
wishes, yer don't git nary cent, nohow at all?' I tole him I didn't
know dat ar, and didn't reckon he did. Den he out wid de paper an'
read it ober ter me, an' shure 'nough, dar 'tis, dough I'll swar
I nebber heerd nothin' on't afo'. Nebber hed no sech ting in de
papers when de Bureau man drawed 'em up, dat's shuah."
"How de debble yer come ter sign sech a paper, Berry?" said Nimbus.
"Dod burned ef I know, Cousin Nimbus. Jes kase I don' know no better,
I s'pose. How I gwine ter know what's in dat paper, hey? Does you
read all de papers yer signs, Squar' Nimbus? Not much, I reckons;
but den you keeps de minister right h'yer ter han' tu read 'em for
ye. Can't all ob us afford dat, Bre'er Nimbus."
"Yah, yah, dat's so!" "Good for _you,_ Berry!" from the crowd.
"Wal, yer orter hev a guardian--all on us ought, for dat matter,"
said Nimbus; "but I don't s'pose dere's ary man in de country dat
would sign sech a paper ef he know'd it, an' nobody but Granville
Sykes that would hev thought of sech a dodge."
"It's jes so in mine," said one of the bystanders. "And in mine;"
"an' mine," added one and another.
"And has any one else offered to turn men off for comin' here?"
To his surprise, he learned that two thirds the men in the crowd
had been thus threatened.
"Jes let 'em try it!" he exclaimed, angrily. "Dey dassent do it,
nohow. They'll find out dat a man can't be imposed on allus, ef he
_is_ pore an' black. Dat dey will! I'se only jes a pore man,
but I hain't enny sech mean cuss ez to stan' roun' an' see my race
an' kin put on in dat ar way, I hain't."
"All right, Cousin Nimbus, ef Marse Sykes turns me outen house an'
home, I knows right whar I comes ter, now."
"Co'se yer do," said Nimbus, proudly. "Yer jes comes ter me an' I
takes keer on ye. I needs anudder han' in de crap, ennyhow."
"Now, Cousin Nimbus, yer ain't in airnest, is yer? Yer don't
mean dat, pop-suah, does yer now?" asked Berry anxiously. "Dat
I does, Cousin Berry! dat I does!" was the hearty response.
"Whoop, hurrah!" cried Berry, throwing up his hat, turning
a hand-spring, and catching the hat as it came down. "Whar's dat
Sally Ann? H'yeah, you fellers, clar away dar an' let me come at
her. H'yer I goes now, I jes tole her dis yer bressed mornin' dat
it tuk a fool fer luck. Hi-yah!" he cried, executing a sommersault,
and diving through the crowd he ran away. As he started off, he
saw his wife walking along the road toward Nimbus' house by the
side of Eliab Hill in his rolling-chair. Berry dashed back into
the circle where Nimbus was engaged in earnest conversation with
the crowd in relation to the threats which had been made to them
by their employers.
"H'yer, Cousin Nimbus," he cried, "I done fergot ter thank ye,
I was dat dar' flustered by good luck, yer know. I'se a t'ousan'
times obleeged ter ye, Bre'er Nimbus, jes' a t'ousan' times, an'
h'yer's Sally Ann, right outside on de road h'yer, she'll be powerful
glad ter hear on't. I'd jes ez lief wuk fer you as a white man,
Bre'er Nimbus. I ain't proud, I ain't! Yah! yah!"
He dragged Nimbus through the crowd to intercept his wife, crying
out as soon as they came near:
"H'yer, you Sally Ann, what yer tinks now? H'yer's Bre'er Nimbus
sez dat ef dat ole cuss, Marse Sykes, should happen ter turn us off,
he's jest a gwine ter take us in bag an' baggage, traps, chillen
and calamities, an' gib us de bes' de house affo'ds, an' wuk in de
crap besides. What yer say now, you Sally Ann, ain't yer 'shamed
fer what yer sed 'bout Bre'er Nimbus only dis yere mornin'?"
"Dat I be, Cousin Nimbus," said Sally, turning a comely but careworn
face toward Nimbus, and extending her hand with a smile. "Bre'er
'Liab was jest a-tellin' me what a fool I was ter ever feel so
toward jes de bes' man in de kentry, ez he sez."
"An' I be damned ef he ain't right, too," chimed in Berry.
"Sho, you Berry. Ain't yer'shamed now--usin' cuss-words afore de
minister!" said Sally.
"Beg yer parding, Bre'er Hill," said Berry, taking off his hat,
and bowing with mock solemnity to that worthy. "Hit's been sech a
long time sence Sunday come ter our house dat I nigh 'bout forgot
"An' yer manners too," said Sally briskly, turning from her
conversation with Nimbus.
"Jes so, Bre'er Hill, but yer see I was dat ar flustered by my
ole woman takin' on so 'bout dat ar sneakin' cuss ob a Marse Sykes
a turnin' on us off, dat I hardly knowed which from todder, an'
when Cousin Nimbus 'greed ter take me up jes de minnit he dropped
me down, hit kinder tuk me off my whoopendickilar, yer know."
A DOUBLE-HEADED ARGUMENT.
The attempt to prevent the attendance of voters at the meeting,
showing as it did a preconcerted purpose and design on the part
of the employers to use their power as such, to overcome their
political opponents, was the cause of great indignation at the
meeting, and gave occasion for some flights of oratory which would
have fallen upon dull ears but for the potent truth on which they
were based. Even the cool and cautious Eliab Hill could not restrain
himself from an allusion to the sufferings of his people when he
was raised upon the platform, still sitting in his rolling-chair,
and with clasped hands and reverent face asked God's blessing upon
the meeting about to be held.
Especially angry was our friend Nimbus about this attempt to
deprive his race of the reasonable privileges of a citizen. Perhaps
the fact that he was himself a proprietor and employer rendered him
still more jealous of the rights of his less fortunate neighbors.
The very immunity which he had from any such danger no doubt
emboldened him to express his indignation more strongly, and after
the regular speeches had been made he mounted the platform and made
a vigorous harangue upon the necessity of maintaining the rights
which had been conferred upon them by the chances of war.
"We's got ter take keer ob ourselves," said he. "De guv'ment hez
been doin' a heap for us. It's gin us ourselves, our wives, our
chillen, an' a chance ter du fer ourselves an' fer dem; an' now
we's got ter du it. Ef we don't stan' togedder an' keep de white
folks from a-takin' away what we's got, we nebber gits no mo'.
In fac', we jes goes back'ards instead o' forrards till yer can't
tell de difference twixt a free nigger an' a rale ole time slave.
Dat's my 'pinion, an' I say now's de time ter begin--jes when dey
begins. Ef a man turns off ary single one fer comin' ter dis meetin'
evr'y han' dat is ter wuk for him oughter leave him to once an'
nary colored man ought ter do a stroke ob wuk fer him till he
takes 'em back."
Loud cheers greeted this announcement, but one old white-headed man
arose and begged leave to ask him a question, which being granted,
"Now, feller citizens, I'se been a listenin' ter all dat's been
said here to-day, an' I'm jest ez good a 'Publikin ez enny ub de
speakers. Yer all knows dat. But I can't fer de life ob me see how
we's gwine ter carry out sech advice. Ef we leave one man, how's
we gwine ter git wuk wid anodder? An' ef we does, ain't it jest a
shiftin' ub han's? Does it make ary difference--at least enough
ter speak on--whether a white man hez his wuk done by one nigger
"But," said Nimbus, hotly, "we oughtn't ter _none_ on us wuk
"Then," said the old man, "what's we ter do fer a libbin'? Here's
half er two thirds ob dis crowd likely ter be turned off afore
to-morrer night. Now what's yer gwine ter do 'bout it? We's got
ter lib an' so's our wives an' chillens? How's we gwine ter s'port
dem widout home or wuk?"
"Let them git wuk wid somebody else, that's all," said Nimbus.
"Yes, Bre'er Nimbus, but who's a-gwine ter s'port 'em while we's
waitin' fer de white folks ter back down, I wants ter know?"
"I will," said Nimbus, proudly.
"I hain't no manner ob doubt," said the other, "dat Bre'er Nimbus'll
do de berry bes' dat he can in sech a case, but he must 'member
dat he's only one and we's a great many. He's been mighty fortinit
an' I'se mighty glad ter know it; but jes s'pose ebbery man in de
county dat hires a han' should turn him off kase he comes ter dis
meetin' an' goes ter 'lection, what could Bre'er Nimbus du towards
a feedin' on us? Ob co'se, dey's got ter hev wuk in de crop, but
you mus' member dat when de 'lection comes off de crap's all laid
by, an' der ain't no mo' pressin' need fer wuk fer months ter come.
Now, how's we gwine ter lib during dat time? Whar's we gwine ter
lib? De white folks kin stan' it--dey's got all dey wants--but
we can't. Now, what's we gwine ter do? Jest ez long ez de guv'ment
stood by us an' seed dat we hed a fa'r show, we could stan' by de
guv'ment. I'se jest ez good a 'Publikin ez ennybody h'yer, yer all
knows dat; but I hain't a gwine ter buck agin impossibles, I ain't.
I'se got a sick wife an' five chillen. I ain't a gwine ter bring
'em nex' do' ter starvation 'less I sees some use in it. Now, I
don't see no use in dis h'yer notion, not a bit. Ef de white folks
hez made up der minds--an' hit seems ter me dey hez--dat cullu'd
folks shan't vote 'less dey votes wid dem, we mout jest ez well
gib up fust as las'!"
"Nebber! nebber, by God!" cried Nimbus, striding across the
platform, his hands clenched and the veins showing full and round
on neck and brow. The cry was echoed by nearly all present. Shouts,
and cheers, and groans, and hisses rose up in an indistinguishable
"Put him out! Down wid him!" with other and fiercer cries, greeted
the old man's ears.
Those around him began to jostle and crowd upon him. Already violent
hands were upon him, when Eliab Hill dashed up the inclined plane
which had been made for his convenience, and, whirling himself
to the side of Nimbus, said, as he pointed with flaming face and
imperious gesture to the hustling and boisterous crowd about the
In an instant Nimbus was in the midst of the swaying crowd, his
strong arms dashing right and left until he stood beside the now
"Dar, dar, boys, no mo' ob dat," he cried, as he pushed the howling
mass this way and that. "Jes you listen ter Bre'er 'Liab. Don't
yer see he's a talkin' to yer?" he said, pointing to the platform
where Eliab sat with upraised hand, demanding silence.
When silence was at last obtained he spoke with more earnestness and
power than was his wont, pleading for moderation and thoughtfulness
for each other, and a careful consideration of their surroundings.
"There is too much truth," he said, "in all that has been said
here to-day. Brother Nimbus is right in saying that we must guard
our rights and privileges most carefully, if we would not lose
them. The other brother is right, too, in saying that but few of
us can exercise those privileges if the white men stand together
and refuse employment to those who persist in voting against
them. It is a terrible question, fellow-citizens, and one that it
is hard to deal with. Every man should do his duty and vote, and
act as a citizen whenever called upon to do so, for the sake of
his race in the future. We should not be weakly and easily driven
from what has been gained for us. We may have to suffer--perhaps
to fight and die; but our lives are nothing to the inheritance we
may leave our children.
"At the same time we should not grow impatient with our brethren
who cannot walk with us in this way. I believe that we shall win
from this contest the supreme seal of our race's freedom. It may
not come in our time, but it will be set on the foreheads of our
children. At all events, we must work together, aid each other,
comfort each other, stand by each other. God has taught us patience
by generations of suffering and waiting, and by the light which
came afterwards. We should not doubt Him now. Let us face our
danger like men; overcome it if we may, and if not, bow to the force
of the storm and gather strength, rooting ourselves deep and wide
while it blows, in order that we may rise erect and free when it
shall have passed.
"But above all things there must be no disagreement. The colored
people must stand or fall together. Those who have been as fortunate
as our Brother Nimbus may breast the tempest, and we must all
struggle on and up to stand beside them. It will not do to weakly
yield or rashly fight. Remember that our people are on trial, and
more than mortal wisdom is required of us by those who have stood
our friends. Let us show them that we are men, not only in courage
to do and dare, but also to wait and suffer. Let the young and
strong, and those who have few children, who have their own homes
or a few months' provision, let them bid defiance to those who
would oppress us; but let us not require those to join us who are
not able or willing to take the worst that may come. Remember that
while others have given us freedom, we must work and struggle and
wait for liberty--that liberty which gives as well as receives,
self-supporting, self-protecting, holding the present and looking
to the future with confidence. We must be as free of the employer
as we are of the master--free of the white people as they are of
us. It will be a long, hard struggle, longer and harder than we
have known perhaps; but as God lives, we shall triumph if we do but
persevere with wisdom and patience, and trust in Him who brought us
up out of the Egypt of bondage and set before our eyes the Canaan
The effect of this address was the very opposite of what Eliab had
intended. His impassioned references to their imperilled liberty,
together with his evident apprehension of even greater danger than
was then apparent, accorded so poorly with his halting counsel
for moderation that it had the effect to arouse the minds of his
hearers to resist such aggression even at every risk. So decided
was this feeling that the man whom Nimbus had just rescued from
the rudeness of those about him and who had been forgotten during
the remarks of the minister, now broke forth and swinging his hat
about his head, shouted:
"Three cheers for 'Liab Hill! an' I tells yer what, brudderin',
dat ef dis yer is ter be a fight fer takin' keer ob de freedom we's
got, I'se in fer it as fur ez ennybody. We must save the crap
that's been made, ef we don't pitch ary other one in our day at
all. Them's my notions, an' I'll stan' by 'em--er die by 'em ef
wust comes ter wust."
Then there was a storm of applause, some ringing resolutions were
adopted, and the meeting adjourned to discuss the barbecue and talk
patriotism with each other.
There was much clamor and boasting. The candidates, in accordance
with a time-honored custom in that region, had come prepared to
treat, and knowing that no liquor could be bought at Red Wing, had
brought a liberal supply, which was freely distributed among the
On account of the large majority of colored voters in this country,
no attempt had previously been made to influence them in this
manner, so that they were greatly excited by this threat of coercion.
Of course, they talked very loud, and many boasts were made, as
to what they would do if the white people persisted in the course
indicated. There was not one, however, who in his drunkest moment
threatened aught against their white neighbors unless they were
unjustly debarred the rights which the law conferred upon them.
They wanted "a white man's chance." That was all.
There was no such resolution passed, but it was generally noised
abroad that the meeting had resolved that any planter who discharged
a hand for attending that meeting would have the privilege of
cutting and curing his tobacco without help. As this was the chief
crop of the region, and one admitting of no delay in its harvesting
and curing, it was thought that this would prove a sufficient
guaranty of fair treatment. However, a committee was appointed
to look after this matter, and the day which had seemed to dawn so
inauspiciously left the colored voters of that region more united
and determined than they had ever been before.
TAKEN AT HIS WORD
It was past midnight of the day succeeding the meeting, when
Nimbus was awakened by a call at his front gate. Opening the door
he called out:
"Nobody but jes we uns, Bre'er Nimbus," replied the unmistakable
voice of Berry. "H'yer we is, bag an' baggage, traps an' calamities,
jest ez I tole yer. Call off yer dogs, ef yer please, an' come an'
'scort us in as yer promised. H'yer we is--Sally an' me an' Bob
an' Mariar an' Bill an' Jim an' Sally junior--an' fo' God I can't
get fru de roll-call alone. Sally, you jest interduce Cousin Nimbus
ter de rest ob dis family, will yer?"
Sure enough, on coming to the gate, Nimbus found Berry and Sally
there with their numerous progeny, several bundles of clothing and
a few household wares.
"Why, what does dis mean, Berry?" he asked.
"Mean? Yah, yah!" said the mercurial Berry. "Wal now, ain't dat
cool? H'yer he axes me ter come ter his house jest ez soon ez ever
Marse Granville routs us offen his plantation, an' ez soon's ever
we comes he wants ter know what it means! How's dat fer cousinin',
eh? Now don't yer cry, Sally Ann. Jes yer wait till I tell Cousin
Nimbus de circumstanshuels an' see ef he don't ax us inside de
"Oh, Cousin Nimbus," said Sally, weeping piteously, "don't yer
go ter fault us now--don't please. Hit warn't our fault at all;
leastways we didn't mean it so. I did tell Berry he'd better stay
an' du what Marse Sykes wanted him ter, 'stead of comin' tu der
meetin', an' my mind misgive me all day kase he didn't. But I didn't
look for no sech bad luck as we've hed."
"Come in, come in, gal," said Nimbus, soothingly, as he opened the
gate, "an' we'll talk it all ober in de mornin'."
"Oh, der ain't nuffin' mo' to be told, Squar'," said Berry, "on'y
when we done got home we foun' dis yer truck outdoors in the road,
an' dechillen at a neighbor's cryin' like de mischief. De house
was locked up an' nailed up besides. I went down ter Marse Sykes'
an' seed him, atter a gret while, but he jes sed he didn't know
nothin' 'bout it, only he wanted the house fer somebody ez 'ud wuk
when he tole 'em tu, instead ub gaddin' roun' ter p'litcal meetins;
an' ez my little traps happened ter be in de way he'd jes sot'em
inter de big-road, so dey'd be handy when I come ter load 'em on
ter take away. So we jes take de lightest on 'em an' de chillen an'
corned on ter take up quarters wid you cordin' ter de 'rangement
we made yesterday."
"Dat's all right; jes right," said Nimbus; "but I don't understand
it quite. Do yer mean ter say dat Marse Sykes turn you uns offen
his plantation while you'se all away, jes kase yer come ter de
"Nuffin' else in de libbin yairth. Jes put us out an' lock de do'
an' nailed up de winders, an' lef de tings in de big-road."
"But didn't yer leave the house locked when you came here?"
"Nary bit. Nebber lock de do' at all. Got no lock, ner key, ner
nuffin' ter steal ub enny account ef enny body should want ter
break in. So what I lock de do' fer? Jes lef de chillen wid one ob
de neighbors, drawed do' tu, an' comes on. Dat's all."
"An' he goes in an' takes de tings out? We'll hab de law ob him;
dat we will, Berry. De law'll fotch him, pop sure. Dey can't treat
a free man dat 'ere way no mo', specially sence de constooshunel
'mendments. Dat dey can't."
So Berry became an inmate of Castle Nimbus, and the next day that
worthy proprietor went over to Louisburg to lay the matter before
Captain Pardee, who was now a practising lawyer in that city. He
returned at night and found Berry outside the gate with a banjo
which he accounted among the most precious of his belongings,
entertaining a numerous auditory with choice selections from an
Berry was a consummate mimic as well as an excellent singer, and
his fellows were never tired either of his drolleries or his songs.
Few escaped his mimicry, and nothing was too sacred for his wit.
When Nimbus first came in sight, he was convulsing his hearers by
imitating a well-known colored minister of the county, giving out
a hymn in the most pompous manner.
"De congregashun will now rise an' sing, ef yer please, the free
hundred an' ferty-ferd _hime._" Thereupon he began to sing:
"Sinner-mans will yer go
To de high lans' o' Hebben,
Whar de sto'ms nebber blow
An' de mild summer's gibben?
Will yer go? will yer go?
Will yer go, sinner-mans?
Oh, say. sinner-mans, will yer go?"
Then, seeing Nimbus approach, he changed at once to a political
"De brack man's gittin' awful rich
The people seems ter fear,
Alt'ough he 'pears to git in debt
A little ebbery year.
Ob co'se he gits de biggest kind
Ob wages ebbery day,
But when he comes to settle up
Dey dwindles all away.
"Den jes fork up de little tax
Dat's laid upon de poll.
It's jes de tax de state exac's
Fer habben ob a soul!"
"Yer got no lan', yer got no cash,
Yer only got some debts;
Yer couldn't take de bankrupt law
'Cos ye hain't got no 'assets.'
De chillen dey mus' hev dere bread;
De mudder's gettin' ole,
So darkey, you mus' skirmish roun'
An' pay up on yer poll."
"Den jes fork up de little tax, etc.
"Yer know's yer's wuked dis many a year.
To buy de land for 'Marster,'
An' now yer orter pay de tax
So't he kin hold it faster.
He wuks one acre 'n ebbery ten,
De odders idle stan';
So pay de tax upon _yo're_ poll
An' take it off _his_ lan'.
"Den jes fork up de little tax, etc.
"Oh! dat's de song dat some folks sing!
Say, how d'y'e like de soun'?
Dey say de pore man orter pay
For walkin' on de groun"!
When cullud men was slaves, yer know',
'Twas drefful hard to tax 'em;
But jes de minnit dat dey's free,
God save us! how dey wax 'em!
"Den jes fork up de little tax, etc."
"What you know 'bout poll-tax, Berry?" asked Nimbus, good-naturedly,
when the song was ended. "Yer hain't turned politician, hez yer?"
"What I know 'bout poll-tax, Squar' Nimbus? Dat what yer ax? Gad!
I knows all 'bout 'em, dat I do, from who tied de dog loose. Who'se
a better right, I'd like ter know? I'se paid it, an' ole Marse
Sykes hes paid it for me; an' den I'se hed ter pay him de tax an'
half a dollah for 'tendin' ter de biznis for me. An' den, one time
I'se been 'dicted for not payin' it, an' Marse Sykes tuk it up,
an' I hed ter wuk out de tax an' de costs besides. Den I'se hed ter
wuk de road ebbery yeah some eight er ten days, an' den wuk nigh
'bout ez many more fer my grub while I wuz at it. Oh, I knows 'bout
poll-tax, I does! Dar can't nobody tell a nigger wid five er six
chillen an' a sick wife, dat's a wukkin' by de yeah an' a gettin'
his pay in ole clo'es an' orders--dar can't nobody teach _him_
nothin' 'bout poll-tax, honey!" There was a laugh at this which
showed that his listeners agreed fully with the views he had
The efforts to so arrange taxation as to impose as large a burden
as possible upon the colored man, immediately after his emancipation,
were very numerous and not unfrequently extremely subtle. The Black
Codes, which were adopted by the legislatures first convened under
what has gone into history as the "Johnsonian" plan of reconstruction,
were models of ingenious subterfuge. Among those which survived
this period was the absurd notion of a somewhat onerous poll-tax.
That a man who had been deprived of every benefit of government
and of all means of self-support or acquisition, should at once be
made the subject of taxation, and that a failure to list and pay
such tax should be made an indictable offense, savored somewhat of
the ludicrous. It seemed like taxing the privilege of poverty.
Indeed, the poor men of the South, including the recent slaves,
were in effect compelled to pay a double poll-tax. The roads
of that section are supported solely by the labor of those living
along their course. The land is not taxed, as in other parts of
the country, for the support of those highways the passability of
which gives it value; but the poor man who travels over it only on
foot must give as much of his labor as may be requisite to maintain
it. This generally amounts to a period ranging from six to ten
days of work per annum. In addition to this, he is required to pay
a poll-tax, generally about two dollars a year, which is equivalent
to at least one fourth of a month's pay. During both these periods
he must board himself.
So it may safely be estimated that the average taxes paid by a
colored man equals one half or two thirds of a month's wages, even
when he has not a cent of property, and only maintains his family
by a constant miracle of effort which would be impossible but
for the harsh training which slavery gave and which is one of the
beneficent results of that institution. If he refuses to work the
road, or to pay or list the poll-tax, he may be indicted, fined,
and his labor sold to the highest bidder, precisely as in the old
slave-times, to discharge the fine and pay the tax and costs of
prosecution. There is a grim humor about all this which did not fail
to strike the colored man and induce him to remark its absurdity,
even when he did not formulate its actual character.
A thousand things tend to enhance this absurdity and seeming
oppression which the imagination of the thoughtful reader will
readily supply. One is the self evident advantage which this state
of things gives to the landowners. By it they are enabled to hold
large tracts of land, only a small portion of which is cultivated
or used in any manner. By refusing to sell on reasonable terms and
in small parcels, they compel the freedmen to accept the alternative
of enormous rents and oppressive terms, since starvation is the
only other that remains to them.
The men who framed these laws were experts in legislation and adepts
in political economy. It would perhaps be well for countries which
are to-day wrestling with the question: "What shall we do with our
poor?" to consider what was the answer the South made to this same
inquiry. There were four millions of people who owned no property.
They were not worth a dollar apiece. Of lands, tenements and
hereditaments they had none. Life, muscle, time, and the clothes
that conceal nakedness were their only estate. But they were rich
in "days' works." They had been raised to work and liked it. They
were accustomed to lose _all_ their earnings, and could be
relied on to endure being robbed of a part, and hardly know that
they were the subject of a new experiment in governmental ways
and means. So, the dominant class simply taxed the possibilities
of the freedman's future, and lest he should by any means fail to
recognize the soundness of this demand for tribute and neglect to
regard it as a righteous exemplification of the Word, which declares
that "from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which
he hath," they frugally provided:
1. That the ignorant or inept citizen neglecting to list his poll
for taxation should be liable to indictment and fine for such
refusal or neglect.
2. That if unable to pay such tax and fine and the costs of prosecution,
he should be imprisoned and his labor sold to the highest bidder
until this claim of the State upon his poverty should be fully
3. That the employer should be liable to pay the personal taxes of
his employees, and might recoup himself from any wages due to said
hirelings or to become due.
4. To add a further safeguard, in many instances they made the
exercise of the elective franchise dependent upon the payment of
Should the effete monarchies of the Old World ever deign to glance
at our civil polity, they will learn that taxation is the only sure
and certain cure for pauperism, and we may soon look for their
political economists to render thanks to the "friends" of the
former slave for this discovery of a specific for the most ancient
of governmental ills!
The song that has been given shows one of the views which a race
having little knowledge of political economy took of this somewhat
peculiar but perhaps necessary measure of governmental finance.
The group broke up soon after Nimbus arrived, and Berry, following
him upon the porch said, as he laid his banjo in the window:
"Wal, an' what did de Cap'n say 'bout my case 'gin Marse Granville
"He said you could indict him, an' hev him fined by de court ef he
turned yer off on 'count ob yer perlitical principles."
"Bully fer de Cap'n!" said Berry, "dat's what I'll do, straight
away. Yah, yah! won't dat er be fun, jes makin' ole Mahs'r trot up
ter de lick-log fer meanness ter a nigger? Whoop! h'yer she goes!"
and spreading his hands he made "a cart-wheel" and rolled on his
outstretched hands and feet half way to the gate, and then turned
a handspring back again, to show his approval of the advice given
by the attorney.
"An' he says," continued Nimbus, who had looked seriously on at
his kinsman's antics, "dat yer can sue him an' git yer wages fer de
whole year, ef yer kin show dat he put yer off widout good reason."
"Der ain't no mite ob trouble 'bout dat ar, nary mite," said Berry,
confidently. "You knows what sort uv a wuk-hand I is in de crap,
"Yes, I knows dat," was the reply; "but de cap'n sez dat it mout
take two or tree year ter git dese cases fru de court, an' dar
must, of co'se, be a heap ob cost an' trouble 'bout 'em."
"An' he's right tu', Bre'er Nimbus," said Berry seriously.
"Dat's so, Berry," answered Nimbus, "an' on account ob dat, an' der
fac' dat yer hain't got no money an' can't afford ter resk de wages
dat yer family needs ter lib on, an' 'cause 'twould make smart ob
feelin' an' yer don't stan' well fer a fa'r show afore de court
an' jury, kase of yer color, _he_ sez yer'd better jes thank
de Lo'd fer gittin' off ez well ez yer hev, an' try ter look out
fer breakers in de futur. He sez ez how it's all wrong an' hard
an' mean an' all dat, but he sez, tu, dat yer ain't in no sort ob
fix ter make a fight on't wid Marse Sykes. Now, what _you_
The person addressed twirled his narrow-brimmed felt hat upon his
finger for a time and then said, looking suddenly up at the other:
"Uncle Nimbus, Berry's right smart ob a fool, but damn me ef I
don't b'lieve de Cap'n's in de right on't. What you say, now?"
Nimbus had seated himself and was looking toward the darkening west
with a gloomy brow. After a moment's silence he said:
"I'se mighty feared yer both right, Bre'er Berry. But it certain
ar' a mighty easy way ter git wuk fer nothin', jes ter wait till
de crap's laid by an' den run a man off kase he happens ter go ter
a political meetin'! 'Pears like tain't _much_ more freedom
dan we hed in ole slave-times."
"Did it ebber'ccur ter you. Uncle Nimbus," said Berry, very
thoughtfully, "dat dis yer ting _freedom_ waz a durn curus
affair fer we cullud people, ennyhow?"
"Did it ever? Wal, now, I should tink it hed, an' hit 'ccurs ter
me now dat it's growin' quarer an' quarer ebbery day. Though I'se
had less on't ter bear an' puzzle over than a-most enny on ye,
dat I hez, I don't know whar it'll wuk out. 'Liab sez de Lord's a
doin' His own wuk in His own way, which I 'specs is true; but hit's
a big job, an' He's got a quare way ob gittin' at it, an' seems
ter be a-takin' His own time fer it, tu. Dat's my notion."
It was no doubt childish for these two simple-minded colored men
to take this gloomy view of their surroundings and their future.
They should have realized that the fact that their privileges were
insecure and their rights indefensible was their own misfortune,
perhaps even their fault. They should have remembered that the
susceptibilities of that race among whom their lot had been cast by
the compulsion of a strange providence, were such as to be greatly
irritated by anything like a manly and independent exercise of
rights by those who had been so long accounted merely a superior
sort of cattle. They should not have been at all surprised to find
their race helpless and hopeless before the trained and organized
power of the whites, controlled by the instinct of generations and
animated by the sting of defeat.
All this should have been clear and plain to them, and they should
have looked with philosophic calmness on the abstract rights which
the Nation had conferred and solemnly guaranteed to them, instead
of troubling themselves about the concrete wrongs they fancied
they endured. Why should Berry Lawson care enough about attending
a political meeting to risk provoking his employer's displeasure
by so doing; or why, after being discharged, should he feel angry
at the man who had merely enforced the words of his own contract?
He was a free man; he signed the contract, and the courts were open
to him as they were to others, if he was wronged. What reason was
there for complaint or apprehension, on his part?
Yet many a wiser head than that of Berry Lawson, or even that of
his more fortunate kinsman, the many-named Nimbus, has been sorely
puzzled to understand how ignorance and poverty and inexperience
should maintain the right, preserve and protect themselves against
opposing wisdom, wealth and malicious skill, according to the
spirit and tenor of the Reconstruction Acts. But it is a problem
which ought to trouble no one, since it has been enacted and provided
by the Nation that all such persons shall have all the rights and
privileges of citizens. That should suffice.
However, the master-key to the feeling which these colored men
noted and probed in their quiet evening talk was proclaimed aloud
by the county newspaper which, commenting on the meeting at Red Wing
and the dismissal of a large number of colored people who attended
it in opposition to the wish of their employers, said:
"Our people are willing that the colored man should have all his
rights of _person_ and of _property_; we desire to promote his
_material_ welfare; but when he urges his claim to political right,
he offers a flagrant insult to the white race. We have no sympathy
to waste on negro-politicians or those who sympathize with and
encourage them." [Footnote: Taken from the Patriot-Democrat,
Clinton, La., Oct 1876.]
The people of Horsford county had borne a great deal from
negro-domination. New men had come into office by means of colored
votes, and the old set to whom office had become a sort of perquisite
were deprived thereby of this inherited right. The very presence
of Nimbus and a few more who like him were prosperous, though in a
less degree, had been a constant menace to the peace of a community
which looked with peculiar jealousy upon the colored man in his
new estate. This might have been endured with no evil results had
their prosperity been attended with that humility which should
characterize a race so lately lifted from servitude to liberty. It
was the "impudent" assertion of their "rights" that so aggravated
and enraged the people among whom they dwelt. It was not so much
the fact of their having valuable possessions, and being entitled
to pay for their labor, that was deemed such an outrage on the part
of the colored race, but that they should openly and offensively
use those possessions to assert those rights and continually hold
language which only "white men" had a right to use. This was more
than a community, educated as the Southerners had been, could be
expected peaceably to endure.
As a farmer, a champion tobacco-grower and curer, as the most
prosperous man of his race in that section, Horsford was not without
a certain pride in Nimbus; but when he asserted the right of his
people to attend a political meeting without let or hindrance,
losing only from their wages as hirelings the price of the time
thus absent, he was at once marked down as a "dangerous" man. And
when it was noised abroad that he had proposed that all the colored
men of the county should band together to protect themselves against
this evil, as he chose to regard it, he was at once branded not
only as "dangerous" but as a "desperate" and "pestiferous" nigger,
instead of being considered merely "sassy," as theretofore.
So this meeting and its results had the effect to make Nimbus far
more active in political matters than he had ever been before, since
he honestly believed that their rights could only be conserved by
their political co-operation. To secure this he travelled about
the country all the time he could spare from his crop, visiting the
different plantations and urging his political friends to stand
firm and not be coaxed or driven away from the performance of
their political duty. By this means he became very "obnoxious" to
the "best people" of Horsford, and precipitated a catastrophe that
might easily have been avoided had he been willing to enjoy his own
good fortune, instead of clamoring about the collective rights of
MOTES IN THE SUNSHINE.
Mollie Ainslie's third year of teacher's life was drawing near its
close. She had promised her brother to remain at the South during
that time in order that she might escape the perils of their native
climate. She was of vigorous constitution but of slight build, and
he dreaded lest the inherited scourge should take an ineradicable
hold upon her system. She had passed her school-girl life with safety;
but he rightly judged that a few years in the genial climate where
she then was would do very much toward enabling her to resist the
approaches of disease.
The work in which she had been engaged had demanded all her energies
and commanded all her devotion. Commencing with the simplest of
rudimentary training she had carried some of her pupils along until
a fair English education had been achieved. One of these pupils
had already taken the place vacated a few months before by Lucy
Ellison, since which time Mollie had occupied alone the north
rooms of the old hostelry--a colored family who occupied the other
portion serving as protectors, and bringing her meals to her own
apartments. A friend had spent a portion of this time with her, a
schoolmate whose failing health attested the wisdom of the condition
her dying brother had imposed in regard to herself. As the warm
weather approached this friend had returned to her New England
home, and Mollie Ainslie found herself counting the days when she
might also take her flight.
Her work had not grown uninteresting, nor had she lost any of her
zeal for the unfortunate race she had striven to uplift; but her
heart was sick of the terrible isolation that her position forced
upon her. She had never once thought of making companions, in
the ordinary sense, of those for whom she labored. They had been
so entirely foreign to her early life that, while she labored
unremittingly for their advancement and entertained for many of
them the most affectionate regard, there was never any inclination
to that friendly intimacy which would have been sure to arise if
her pupils had been of the same race as herself. She recognized
their right most fully to careful and polite consideration; she
had striven to cultivate among them gentility of deportment; but
she had longed with a hungry yearning for friendly white faces,
and the warm hands and hearts of friendly associates.
Her chief recreation in this impalpable loneliness--this Chillon
of the heart in which she had been bound so long--was in daily
rides upon her horse, Midnight. Even in her New England home she
had been passionately fond of a horse, and while at school had been
carefully trained in horsemanship, being a prime favorite with the
old French riding-master who had charge of that branch of education
in the seminary of her native town. Midnight, coming to her from
the dying hand of her only brother, had been to her a sacred trust
and a pet of priceless value. All her pride and care had centered
upon him, and never had horse received more devoted attention. As
a result, horse and rider had become very deeply attached to each
other. Each knew and appreciated the other's good qualities and
varying moods. For many months the petted animal had shown none
of that savageness with which his owner had before been compelled
occasionally to struggle. He had grown sleek and round, but had
lost his viciousness, so far as she was concerned, and obeyed her
lightest word and gesture with a readiness that had made him a subject
of comment in the country around, where the "Yankee school-marm"
and her black horse had become somewhat noted.
There was one road that had always been a favorite with the horse
from the very first. Whenever he struck that he pressed steadily
forward, turning neither to the right or left until he came to a
rocky ford five miles below, which his rider had never permitted
him to cross, but from which he was always turned back with
difficulty--at first with a troublesome display of temper, and at
the last, with evident reluctance.
It was in one of her most lonely moods, soon after the incidents
we have just narrated, that Mollie Ainslie set out on one of her
customary rides. In addition to the depression which was incident
to her own situation, she was also not a little disturbed by the
untoward occurrences affecting those for whom she had labored so
long. She had never speculated much in regard to the future of the
freedmen, because she had considered it as assured. Growing to
womanhood in the glare of patriotic warfare, she had the utmost
faith in her country's honor and power. To her undiscriminating
mind the mere fact that this honor and power were pledged to the
protection and elevation of the negro had been an all-sufficient
guarantee of the accomplishment of that pledge. In fact, to her
mind, it had taken on the reality and certainty of a fact already
accomplished. She had looked forward to their prosperity as an
event not to be doubted. In her view Nimbus and Eliab Hill were
but feeble types of what the race would "in a few brief years"
accomplish for itself. She believed that the prejudice that prevailed
against the autonomy of the colored people would be suppressed,
or prevented from harmful action by the national power, until the
development of the blacks should have shown them to be of such
value in the community that the old-time antipathy would find itself
without food to exist upon longer.
She had looked always upon the rosy side, because to her the country
for which her brother and his fellows had fought and died was the
fairest and brightest thing upon earth. There might be spots upon
the sun's face, but none were possible upon her country's escutcheon.
So she had dreamed and had fondly pictured herself as doing both a
patriot's and a Christian's duty in the work in which she had been
engaged. She felt less of anger and apprehension with regard to
the bitter and scornful whites than of pity and contempt for them,
because they could not appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the
Nation of which they were an unwilling part, and of the future
that lay just before. She regarded all there had been of violence
and hate as the mere puerile spitefulness of a subjugated people.
She had never analyzed their condition or dreamed that they would
ever be recognized as a power which might prove dangerous either
to the freedman's rights or to the Nation itself.
The recent events had opened her eyes. She found that, unknown to
herself, knowledge had forced itself upon her mind. As by a flash
the fact stood revealed to her consciousness that the colored man
stood alone. The Nation had withdrawn its arm. The flag still waved
over him, but it was only as a symbol of sovereignty renounced--of
power discarded. Naked privileges had been conferred, but the right
to enforce their recognition had been abandoned. The weakness and
poverty of the recent slave was pitted alone and unaided against the
wealth and power and knowledge of the master. It was a revelation
of her own thought to herself, and she was stunned and crushed by
She was no statesman, and did not comprehend anything of those
grand policies whose requirements over-balance all considerations
of individual right--in comparison with which races and nations
are but sands upon the shore of Time. She little realized how grand
a necessity lay at the back of that movement which seemed to her
so heartless and inexcusable. She knew, of course, vaguely and
weakly, that the Fathers made a Constitution on which our government
was based. She did not quite understand its nature, which was very
strange, since she had often heard it expounded, and as a matter
of duty had read with care several of those books which tell us
all about it.
She had heard it called by various names in her far New England
home by men whom she loved and venerated, and whose wisdom and
patriotism she could not doubt. They had called it "a matchless
inspiration" and "a mass of compromises;" "the charter of liberty"
and "a league with Hell;" "the tocsin of liberty" and "the manacle
of the slave." She felt quite sure that nobler-minded, braver-hearted
men than those who used these words had never lived, yet she could
not understand the thing of which they spoke so positively and so
passionately. She did not question the wisdom or the patriotism of
the Fathers who had propounded this enigma. She thought they did
the best they knew, and knew the best that was at that time to be
She had never _quite_ believed them to be inspired, and she
was sure they had no models to work after. Greece and Rome were
not republics in the sense of our day, and in their expanded growth
did not profess to be, at any time; Switzerland and San Marino
were too limited in extent to afford any valuable examples; Venice
while professedly a republic had been as unique and inimitable as
her own island home. Then there were a few experiments here and
there, tentative movements barren of results, and that was all that
the civilized world had to offer of practical knowledge of democracy
at that time. Beyond this were the speculations of philosophers
and the dreams of poets. Or perhaps the terms should be reversed,
for the dreams were oft-times more real and consistent than the
lucubrations. From these she did not doubt that our ancient sages
took all the wisdom they could gather and commingled it with the
riper knowledge of their own harsh experience.
But yet she could not worship the outcome. She knew that Franklin
was a great man and had studied electricity very profoundly, for
his day; but there are ten thousand unnoted operators to-day who
know more of its properties, power and management than he ever
dreamed of. She did not know but it might be so with regard to free
government. The silly creature did not know that while the world
moves in all things else, it stands still or goes backward in
governmental affairs. She never once thought that while in science
and religion humanity is making stupendous strides, in government
as in art, it turns ever to the model of the antique and approves
the wisdom only of the ancient.
So it was that she understood nothing of the sacredness of right
which attaches to that impalpable and indestructible thing, a State
of the American Union--that immortal product of mortal wisdom, that
creature which is greater than its creator, that part which is more
than the whole, that servant which is lord and master also. If she
had been given to metaphysical researches, she would have found
much pleasure in tracing the queer involutions of that network of
wisdom that our forefathers devised, which their sons have labored
to explain, and of which the sword had already cut some of the
more difficult knots. Not being a statesman or a philosopher, she
could only wonder and grow sad in contemplating the future that
she saw impending over those for whom she had labored so long.
IN THE PATH OF THE STORM.
While Mollie Ainslie thought of these things with foreboding, her
steed had turned down his favorite road, and was pressing onward
with that persistency which characterizes an intelligent horse having
a definite aim in view. The clouds were gathering behind her, but
she did not notice them. The horse pressed on and on. Closer and
closer came the storm. The road grew dark amid the clustering oaks
which overhung its course. The thunder rolled in the distance and
puffs of wind tossed the heavy-leafed branches as though the trees
begged for mercy from the relentless blast. A blinding flash, a
fierce, sharp peal, near at hand, awoke her from her reverie. The
horse broke into a quick gallop, and glancing back she saw a wall
of black cloud, flame-lighted and reverberant, and felt the cold
breath of the summer storm come sweeping down upon her as she sped
She saw that it would be useless to turn back. Long before she
could reach any shelter in that direction she would be drenched.
She knew she was approaching the river, but remembering that she
had noticed some fine-looking houses just on the other side, she
decided that she would let the horse have his own way, and apply at
one of these for shelter. She was sure that no one would deny her
that in the face of such a tornado as was raging behind her. The
horse flew along as if a winged thing. The spirit of the storm seemed
to have entered into him, or else the thunder's voice awakened
memories of the field of battle, and for once his rider found
herself powerless to restrain his speed or direct his course. He
laid back his ears, and with a short, sharp neigh dashed onward
with a wild tremor of joy at the mad race with wind and storm.
The swaying tree-tops waved them on with wild gesticulations. The
lightning and the thunder added wings to the flying steed.
Just before reaching the river bank they had to pass through
a stretch of tall pines, whose dark heads were swaying to and fro
until they almost met above the narrow road, making it so dark
below that the black horse grew dim in the shadow, while the gaunt
trunks creaked and groaned and the leaves hissed and sobbed as the
wind swept through them. The resinous fragrance mingled with the
clayey breath of the pursuing storm. The ghost-like trunks stood
out against the lightning flashes like bars before the path of flame.
She no longer tried to control her horse. Between the flashes, his
iron feet filled the rocky road with sparks of fire. He reached
the ford and dashed knee-deep into the dark, swift stream, casting
a cool spray around him before he checked his speed. Then he halted
for an instant, tossed his head as if to give the breeze a chance
to creep beneath his flowing mane, cast a quick glance back at
his rider, and throwing out his muzzle uttered a long, loud neigh
that seemed like a joyful hail, and pressed on with quick, careful
steps, picking his way along the ledge of out-cropping granite which
constituted the ford, as if traversing a well-remembered causeway.
The water grew deeper and darker; the rider reached down and
gathered up her dark habit and drew her feet up close beneath her.
The current grew swifter. The water climbed the horse's polished
limbs. It touched his flanks and foamed and dashed about his rugged
breast. Still he picked his way among the rocks with eager haste,
neighing again and again, the joy-ringing neighs of the home-coming
steed. The surging water rose about his massive shoulders and the
rider drew herself still closer up on the saddle, clinging to bow
and mane and giving him the rein, confident in his prowess and
intelligence, wondering at his eagerness, yet anxious for his footing
in the dashing current. The wind lifted the spray and dashed it
about her. The black cloud above was fringed with forked lightning
and resonant with swift-succeeding peals of thunder. The big drops
began to fall hissing into the gurgling waters. Now and then they
splashed on her hands and face and shot through her close-fitting
habit like icy bolts. The brim of the low felt hat she wore and
its dark plume were blown about her face. Casting a hurried glance
backward, she saw the grayish-white storm-sheet come rushing over
the sloping expanse of surging pines, and heard its dull heavy roar
over the rattle of the aerial artillery which echoed and re-echoed
And now the wind shifted, first to one point and then to another.
Now it swept down the narrow valley through which the stream ran;
now it dashed the water in her face, and anon it seemed about
to toss her from her seat and hurl her over her horse's head. She
knew that the fierce storm would strike her before she could reach
any place of shelter. The wild excitement of a struggle with the
elements flamed up in her face and lighted her eyes with joy. She
might have been a viking's daughter as her fair hair blew over her
flushed face, while she patted her good steed and laughed aloud
for very glee at the thought of conflict with the wild masterful
storm and the cool gurgling rapid which her horse breasted so
There was a touch of fun, too, in the laugh, and in the arch
gleaming of her eyes, as she thought of the odd figure which she
made, perched thus upon the saddle in mid-river, blown and tossed by
the wind, and fleeing from the storm. Her rides were the interludes
of her isolated life, and this storm was a part of the fun.
She enjoyed it as the vigorous pleasure-seeker always enjoys the
simulation of danger.
The water shoaled rapidly as they neared the farther shore. The
black horse mounted swiftly to the bank, still pressing on with
unabated eagerness. She leaned over and caught up the stirrup,
thrust her foot into it, regained her seat and seized the reins,
as with a shake and a neigh he struck into a long easy gallop.
"Go!" she said, as she shook the reins. The horse flew swiftly along
while she swayed lightly from side to side as he rose and fell with
great sinewy strides. She felt him bound and quiver beneath her,
but his steps were as though the black, corded limbs were springs
of steel. Her pride in the noble animal she rode overcame her fear
of the storm, which followed swifter than they fled. She looked
eagerly for a by-path leading to some farm-house, but the swift-settling
darkness of the summer night hid them from her eager glance, if
any there were. Half a mile from the ford, and the storm over-took
them--a wall of wind-driven rain, which dashed and roared about
them, drenching the rider to the skin in an instant. In a moment
the red-clay road became the bed of a murky torrent. The horse's
hoofs, which an instant before echoed on the hard-beaten track,
splashed now in the soft mud and threw the turbid drops over her
dripping habit and into her storm-washed face. A quarter of a mile
more, and the cold streams poured down her back and chilled her
slight frame to the marrow. Her hands were numb and could scarce
cling to the dripping reins. Tears came into her eyes despite
herself. Still the wild cloud-burst hurled its swift torrents of
icy rain upon them. She could scarcely see her horse's head, through
the gray, chilly storm-sheet.
"Whoa! whoa, Midnight!" she cried, in tremulous tones through her
chattering teeth and white, trembling lips. All her gay exultant
courage had been drenched and chilled out of her. She tried to
check his stride with a loose convulsive clutch at the reins as she
peered about with blinded eyes for a place of shelter. The horse
shook his head with angry impatience, neighed again, clasped the bit
in his strong teeth, stretched his neck still further and covered
the slippery ground with still swifter strides. A hundred yards
more and he turned into a narrow lane at the right, between two
swaying oaks, so quickly as almost to unseat his praticed rider,
and with neigh after neigh dashed down to a great, rambling, old
farm-house just visible under the trees at the foot of the lane,
two hundred yards away. The way was rough and the descent sharp,
but the horse did not slacken his speed. She knew it was useless to
attempt to check him, and only clung to the saddle pale with fear
as he neared the high gate which closed its course. As he rose with
a grand lift to take the leap she closed her eyes in terror. Easy
and swift as a bird's flight was the leap with which the strong-limbed
horse cleared the high palings and lighted on the soft springy turf
within; another bound or two and she heard a sharp, strong voice
which rang above the storm with a tone of command that betrayed no
doubt of obedience:
"Whoa, Satan! Stand, sir!"
The fierce horse stopped instantly. Mollie Ainslie was thrown heavily
forward, clasped by a strong arm and borne upon the piazza. When
she opened her eyes she saw the torrents pouring from the eaves,
the rain beating itself into spray upon the ground without, the
black horse steaming and quivering at the steps of the porch, and
Hesden Le Moyne gazing anxiously down into her face. The water
dripped from her garments and ran across the porch. She shook as
if in an ague-fit. She could not answer the earnest inquiries that
fell from his lips. She felt him chafing her chill, numbed hands,
and then the world was dark, and she knew no more of the kindly
care which was bestowed upon her.
LIKE AND UNLIKE.
When she awoke to consciousness she was lying on a bed in an apartment
which was a strange compound of sitting- and sleeping-room. The
bed stood in a capacious alcove which seemed to have been built
on as an afterthought. The three sides were windows, in the outer
of which were tastefully arranged numerous flowering plants, some
of which had clambered up to the ceiling and hung in graceful
festoons above the bed. The window-shades were so arranged as to
be worked by cords, which hung within easy reach of one lying there.
The night had not fully come, but a lamp was burning at the side
of the bed yet beyond its head-board, so that its rays lit up the
windows and the green trailing vines, but did not fall upon the
bed. In an invalid's chair drawn near the bedside, a lady well past
the middle age but with a face of singular sweetness and refinement
was watching and directing the efforts which were being made for
the resuscitation of the fainting girl by two servant women, who
were busily engaged in chafing her hands and making warm applications
to her chilled limbs.
As she opened her eyes they took in all these things, but she could
not at once remember what had happened or where she was, This sweet
vision of a home interior was so different from the low, heavy-beamed
rooms and little diamond-paned windows of the Ordinary, even after
all her attempts to make it cosy, that she seemed to have awakened
in fairy land. She wondered dully why she had never trained ivies
and Madeira vines over those dark beams, and blushed at the thought
that so simple a device had never occurred to her. She lay motionless
until she had recalled the incidents of the day. She had recognized
Mr. Le Moyne at once, and she knew by instinct that the graceful
lady who sat beside her was she who had written her the only word
of sympathy or appreciation she had ever received from one of her
own sex in the South. She was anxious for a better view and turned
"Ah, here are you, my dear!" said a soft, low voice, as the light
fell upon her opened eyes. "Move me up a little, Maggie," to one
of the servants." We are glad to see you coming around again. Don't
move, dear," she continued, as she laid her thin soft hand upon the
plump one of the reclining girl." You are among friends. The storm
and the ride were too much for you, and you fainted for a little
while. That is all. There is no trouble now. You weren't hurt, were
you?" she asked anxiously.
"No," said the other, wonderingly.
"We are glad of that," was the reply. "You are exhausted, of course,
but if you do not get cold you will soon be all right. Maggie,"
she continued, to the servant, "tell Mr. Hesden to bring in that
hot toddy now. He had better put the juice of a lemon it it, too.
Miss Ainslie may not be accustomed to taking it. I am Mrs. Le Moyne,
I forgot to say," she added, turning to her unintended guest, "and
Hesden, that is my son, tells me that you are Miss Ainslie, the
brave young teacher at Red Wing whom I have long wished to see. I
am really glad that chance, or Hesden's old war horse Satan, brought
you here, or I am afraid I should never have had that pleasure.
This is Hesden," she continued, nodding toward him as he entered
with a small silver waiter on which was a steaming pitcher and
a delicate glass. "He has been my nurse so long that he thinks no
one can prepare a draught for a sick person so well as he, and I
assure you that I quite agree with his notion. You have met before,
I believe. Just take a good dose of this toddy and you will be
better directly. You got a terrible drenching, and I was afraid
you would have a congestive chill when they brought you in here as
white as a sheet with your teeth chattering like castanets."
Hesden Le Moyne filled the glass with the steaming decoction and
held the salver toward her. She took it and tried to drink.
"Hand me the waiter, Hesden," said his mother, reprovingly, "and
raise her head. Don't you see that Miss Ainslie cannot drink lying
there. I never saw you so stupid, my son. I shall have to grow
worse again soon to keep you from getting out of practice entirely."
Thus reproached, Hesden Le Moyne put his arm hesitatingly beneath
the pillow, raised the flushed face upon it and supported the young
lady while she quaffed the hot drink. Then he laid her easily down,
smoothed the pillow with a soft instinctive movement, poured out
a glass of the toddy which he offered to his mother, and then,
handing the waiter to the servant, leaned over his mother with a
caressing movement and said:
"You must look out, little mother. Too much excitement will not
do for you. You must not let Miss Ainslie's unexpected call disturb
"No indeed, Hesden," she said, as she looked up at him gratefully,
"I feel really glad of any accident that could bring her under our
roof, now that I am satisfied that she is to experience no harm
from her stormy ride. She will be all right presently, and we will
have supper served here as usual. You may tell Laura that she need
be in no haste."
Having thus dismissed her son she turned to her guest and said:
"I have been an invalid so long that our household is all ordered
with regard to that fact. I am seldom able to be taken out to dinner,
and we have got into the habit of having a late supper here, just
Hesden, his little boy, and I, and to-night we will have the table
set by the bedside and you will join us."
The sudden faint was over; the toddy had sent the blood tingling
through the young girl's veins. The _role_ of the invalid was
an unaccustomed one for her to play, and the thought of supping
in bed was peculiarly distasteful to her self-helping Northern
training. It was not long before she began to manifest impatience.
"Are you in pain, dear?" asked the good lady, noticing with the
keen eye of the habitual invalid her restive movements.
"No, indeed," was the reply. "I am not at all sick. It was only
a little faint. Really, Mrs. Le Moyne, I would rather get up than
"Oh, lie still," said the elder lady, cheerfully. "The room hardly
looks natural unless the bed is occupied. Besides," she added
with a light laugh, "you will afford me an excellent opportunity
to study effects. You seem to me very like what I must have been
when I was first compelled to abandon active life. You are very
nearly the same size and of much the same complexion and cast of
features. You will pardon an old lady for saying it, I am sure. Lest
you should not, I shall be compelled to add that I was considered
something of a beauty when I was young. Now, you shall give me
an idea of how I have looked in all the long years that couch has
been my home. I assure you I shall watch you very critically, for
it has been my pride to make my invalid life as pleasant to myself
and as little disagreeable to others as I could. Knowing that I
could never be anything else, I devised every plan I could to make
myself contented and to become at least endurable to my family."
"Everyone knows how well you have succeeded, Mrs, Le Moyne," said
the young girl. "It must indeed have been a sad and burdened life,
and it seems to me that you have contrived to make your sick room
a perfect paradise." "Yes, yes," said the other, sadly, "it is
beautiful. Those who loved me have been very indulgent and very
considerate, too. Not only every idea of my own has been carried
into effect, but they have planned for me, too. That alcove was
an idea of my husband's. I think that the sunlight pouring in at
those windows has done more to prolong my life than anything else.
I did not think, when thirty years ago I took to my bed, that I
should have survived him so long--so long--almost eight years. He
was considerably older than I, but I never looked to outlive him,
"That lamp-stand and little book-rack," she continued, with
the garrulity of the invalid when discoursing of his own affairs,
"were Hesden's notions, as were many other things in the room. The
flowers I had brought in, one by one, to satisfy my hunger for the
world without. In the winter I have many more. Hesden makes the
room a perfect conservatory, then. They have come to be very dear
to me, as you may well suppose. That ivy now, over the foot of the
bed, I have watched it from a little slip not a finger high. It is
twenty-seven years old."
So she would have run on, no one knows to what length, had not the
servant entered to set the table for supper. Under her mistress'
directions she was about to place it beside the bed, when the young
girl sprang into a sitting posture and with flaming cheeks cried
"Please, Mrs. Le Moyne, I had rather not lie here. I am quite
well--just as well as ever, and I wish you would let me get up."
"But how can you, dear?" was the reply. "Your clothes are drying
in the kitchen. They were completely drenched."
"Sure enough," answered Miss Ainslie. "I had forgotten that." She
laid herself down resignedly as the invalid said:
"If Hesden's presence would annoy you, he shall not come. I only
thought it might be pleasanter for you not to be confined to the
conversation of a crippled old woman. Besides, it is his habit, and
I hardly know what he would do if he had to eat his supper elsewhere."
"Oh, certainly, I would not wish to disturb your usual arrangement,"
answered Mollie, "but--" she began, and then stoppd with some signs
"But what, my dear?" asked the elder lady, briskly. "Do you mean
that you are not accustomed as I am to invalidism, and hardly like
the notion of supping in bed as an introduction to strangers? Well,
I dare say it would be annoying, and if you think you are quite
well enough to sit up, I reckon something better may be arranged."
"I assure you, Mrs. Le Moyne," said the other, "that I am quite
well, but pray do not let me make you any trouble."
"Oh, no trouble at all, dear; only you will have to wear one of
my gowns now many years old. I thought they were very pretty then,
I assure you. I should be very glad to see them worn again. There
are few who could wear them at all; but I think they would both fit
and suit you. You are like enough to me to be my daughter. Here,
She called the servant, and gave some directions which resulted in
her bringing in several dresses of an ancient pattern but exquisite
texture, and laying them upon the bed.
"You will have to appear in full dress, my dear, for I have no
other gowns that would be at all becoming," said Mrs. Le Moyne.
"How very beautiful!" said the girl sitting up in the bed, gazing
at the dainty silks and examining their quaint patterns. "But
really, Mrs. Le Moyne--"
"Now, please oblige me by making no more objections," interrupted
that lady. "Indeed," she added, shaking her finger threateningly
at her guest, "I will not listen to any more. The fit has seized
me now to have you sit opposite me at the table. It will be like
facing. my own youth; for now that I look at you more closely,
you seem wonderfully like me. Don't you think so, Maggie?"
"'Deed I do," said the servant, "an' dat's jes what Laura was a
sayin' ter me when we done fotch de young lady in here in a faint.
She sez ter me, sez she, 'Maggie, ebber you see anybody look so
much like de Mistis made young again?'"
"Hush, Maggie," said her mistress, gaily; "don't you see how the
young lady is blushing, while it is the poor, faded woman here in
the chair who ought to blush at such a compliment?"
And indeed the bright flushed face with its crown of soft golden
hair escaped from its customary bondage, tossing in sunny tendrils
about the delicate brow and rippling in waves of light over her
shoulders, was a picture which any woman past the middle life might
well blush and sigh to recognize as the counterpart of her youth.
The two women looked at each other and both laughed at the admiration
each saw in the other's glance.
"Well," said Mollie, as she sank smilingly on her pillow, "I see
I must submit. You will have your own way."
She raised her arm above' her head and toyed with a leaf of the
ivy which hung in graceful festoons about the head-board. As she
did so the loose-sleeved wrapper which had been flung about her
when her own drenched clothing was removed, fell down almost to
her shoulder and revealed to the beauty-worshipping watcher by the
bedside an arm of faultless outline, slender, pink-tinged, plump
and soft. When she had toyed lazily for a moment with the ivy, she
dropped her arm listlessly down upon the bed. It fell upon one of
the dresses which lay beside her.
"Ah, thank you!" exclaimed Mrs. Le Moyne.
"You have relieved me greatly. I was trying to decide which
one I wanted you to wear, when your arm dropped across that pale,
straw-colored silk, with the vine border around the corsage and the
clambering roses running down the front. That is the one you must
wear. I never wore it but once, and the occasion is one I shall
always like to recall."
There was a gleeful time in the invalid's room while the fair girl
was being habited in the garments of a by-gone generation, and when
Hesden Le Moyne and his boy Hildreth were admitted to the hearty
evening meal, two women who seemed like counterparts sat opposite
each other at the sparkling board--the one habited in black silk
with short waist, a low, square bodice with a mass of tender lawn
showing about the fair slender neck, puffed at the shoulders with
straight, close sleeves reaching to the wrists, around which peeped
some rows of soft white lace; the white hair combed in puffs beside
the brow, clustering above its pinky softness and falling in a
silvery cataract upon the neck. The style of the other's dress was
the same, save that the shoulders were uncovered, and except for
the narrow puff which seemed but a continuation on either side, of
the daintily-edged bodice, the arm hung pink and fair over the amber
satin, uncovered and unadorned save at the wrist, where a narrow
circlet of gold clung light and close about it. Her hair was dressed
in the same manner as the elder lady's, and differed only in its
golden sheen. The customary lamp had been banished, and colored
wax-candles, brought from some forgotten receptacle, burned in the
quaint old candelabra with which the mantels of the house had long
The one-armed veteran of thirty gazed in wonder at this unaccustomed
brightness. If he needed to gaze long and earnestly at the
fair creature who sat over against his mother, to determine the
resemblances which had been noted between the permanent and the
temporary invalid, who shall blame him for so doing?
Little Hildreth in his six-year-old wonderment was less judicial,
or at least required less time and inquiry to decide, for he cried
out even before an introduction could be given,
"Oh, papa, see, I've got a new, young grandma."
It was a gay party at that country supper-table, and four happier
people could hardly have gone afterward into the parlor where the
invalid allowed herself to be wheeled by her son in special honor
of their unintended guest.
Miss Ainslie was soon seated at the piano which Hesden had kept in
tune more for the pleasure of occasional guests than his own. It
was three years since she had touched one, but the little organ,
which some Northern benefactor had given to the church and school
at Red Wing, had served to prevent her fingers from losing all
their skill, and in a few minutes their wonted cunning returned.
She had been carefully trained and had by nature rare musical gifts.
The circumstances of the day had given a wonderful exhilaration to
her mind and thought. She seemed to have taken a leaf out of Paradise
and bound it among the dingy pages of her dull and monotonous life.
Every thing about her was so quaint and rare, the clothes she wore
so rich and fantastic, that she could not control her fancy. Every
musical fantasy that had ever crept into her brain seemed to be
trooping along its galleries in a mad gallop as her fair fingers
flew over the time-stained keys. The little boy stood clinging to
her skirt in silent wonder, his fair, sensitive face working, and
his eyes distended, with delighted amazement.
The evening came to an end at last, and when the servant went with
her in her quaint attire, lighting her up the winding stairway
from the broad hall to the great airy room above, with its yawning
fireplace cheery with the dying embers of a fire built hours ago
to drive out the dampness, and its two high-posted beds standing
there in lofty dignity, the little Yankee school marm could hardly
realize what madcap freaks she had perpetrated since she bounded
over the gate at the foot of the lane leading from the highway down
to Mulberry Hill, the ancestral home of the Richards family.
As she sat smiling and blushing over the memory of what she had
done and said in those delicious hours, a servant tapped at the
door and announced that Master Hildreth, whom she bore in her arms
and whose chubby fists were stuck into his eyes, was crying most
disconsolately lest he should lose his "new grandma" while he slept.
She had brought him, therefore, to inquire whether he might occupy
one of the beds in the young lady's room. Mollie had not seen for
so many years a child that she could fondle and caress, that it
was with unbounded delight that she took the little fellow from
his nurse's arms, laid him on the bed and coaxed his eyes to slumber.
AN UNBIDDEN GUEST.
When the morning dawned the boy awoke with hot cheeks and bloodshot
eyes, moaning and restless, and would only be quiet when pillowed
in the arms of his new-found friend. A physician who was called
pronounced his ailment to be scarlet-fever. He soon became delirious,
and his fretful moans for his "new grandma" were so piteous that
Miss Ainslie could not make up her mind to leave him. She stayed
by his bed-side all day, saying nothing of returning to Red Wing,
until late in the afternoon a messenger came from there to inquire
after her, having traced her by inquiry among several who had seen
her during the storm, as well as by the report that had gone out
from the servants of her presence at Mulberry Hill.
When Hesden Le Moyne came to inform her of the messenger's arrival,
he found her sitting by his son's bedside, fanning his fevered brow,
as she had done the entire day. He gazed at them both in silence
a moment before making known his errand. Then he took the fan from
her hand and informed her of the messenger's arrival. His voice
sounded strangely, and as she looked up at him she saw his face
working with emotion. She cast down her eyes quickly. She could
not tell why. All at once she felt that this quiet, maimed veteran
of a lost cause was not to her as other men. Perhaps her heart
was made soft by the strange occurrences of the few hours she had
passed beneath his mother's roof. However that may be, she was
suddenly conscious of a feeling she had never known before. Her
cheeks burned as she listened to his low, quiet tones. The tears
seemed determined to force themselves beneath her downcast lids,
but her heart bounded with a strange undefined joy.
She rose to go and see the messenger. The sick boy moaned and
murmured her name. She stole a glance at the father, and saw his
eyes filled with a look of mingled tenderness and pain. She walked
to the door. As she opened it the restless sufferer called for her
again. She went out and closed it quickly after her. At the head
of the stairs she paused, and pressed her hand to her heart while
she breathed quick and her face burned. She raised her other hand
and pushed back a stray lock or two as if to cool her forehead. She
stood a moment irresolute; glanced back at the door of the room she
had left, with a half frightened look; placed a foot on the first
stair, and paused again. Then she turned suddenly back with a
scared resolute look in her gray eyes, opened the door and glided
swiftly to the bedside. Hesden Le Moyne's face was buried in the
pillow. She stood over him a moment, her bosom heaving with short,
quick sighs. She reached out her hand as if she would touch him,
but drew it quickly back. Then she spoke, quietly but with great
effort, looking only at the little sufferer.
"Mr. Le Moyne?" He raised his head quickly and a flush of joy swept
over his face. She did not see it, at least she was not looking at
him, but she knew it. "Would you like me to--to stay--until--until
this is over?"
He started, and the look of joy deepened in his face. He raised his
hand but let it fall again upon the pillow, as he answered humbly
"If you please, Miss Ainslie." She put her hand upon the bed, in
order to seem more at ease, as she replied, with a face which she
knew was all aflame,
"Very well. I will remain for--the present."
He bent his head and kissed her hand. She drew it quickly away and
added in a tone of explanation:
"It would hardly be right to go back among so many children after
such exposure." So quick is love to find excuse. She called it
duty, nor ever thought of giving it a tenderer name.
He made no answer. So easy is it for the fond heart to be jealous
of a new-found treasure.
She waited a moment, and then went out and wrote a note to Eliab
Hill. Then she went into the room of the invalid mother. How sweet
she looked, reclining on the bed in the pretty alcove, doing penance
for her unwonted pleasure of the night before! The excited girl
longed to throw her arms about her neck and weep. It seemed to her
that she had never seen any one so lovely and loveable. She went
to the bedside and took the slender hand extended toward her,
"So," said Mrs. Le Moyne, "I hear they have sent for you to go back
to Red Wing. I am sorry, for you have given us great pleasure; but
I am afraid you will have only sad memories of Mulberry Hill. It
is too bad! Poor Hildreth had taken such a liking to you, too. I
am sure I don't blame him, for I am as much in love with you as an