"Might he not have meant any or all of these?" she asked.
"That is it," he replied. "I want to know what he did mean. Of course, if I knew all about his life and ways, and the like, I could tell pretty fully his meaning. You know them because his thoughts are your thoughts, his life has been your life. You belong to the same race and class. I am cut off from this, and can only stumble slowly along the path of knowledge."
Thus the simple-minded colored man, taught to meditate by the solitude which his affliction enforced upon him, speculated in regard to the leges non scripta which control the action of the human mind and condition its progress.
"What has put you in this strange mood, Eliab?" asked the teacher wonderingly.
His face flushed, and the mobile mouth twitched with emotion as he glanced earnestly toward her, and then, with an air of sudden resolution, said:
"Well, you see, that matter of the election—you took it all in in a minute, when the horse came back. You knew the white folks would feel aggravated by that procession, and there would be trouble. Now, I never thought of that. I just thought it was nice to be free, and have our own music and march under that dear old flag to do the work of free men and citizens. That was all."
"But Nimbus thought of it, and that was why he sent back the horse," she answered.
"Not at all. He only thought they might pester the horse to plague him, and the horse might get away and be hurt. We didn't, none of us, think what the white folks would feel, because we didn't know. You did."
"But why should this affect you?"
"Just because it shows that education is something more that I had thought—something so large and difficult that one of my age, raised as I have been, can only get a taste of it at the best."
"Well, what then? You are not discouraged?"
"Not for myself—no. The pleasure of learning is reward enough to me. But my people, Miss Mollie, I must think of them. I am only a poor withered branch. They are the straight young tree. I must think of them and not of Eliab. You have taught me—this affair, everything, teaches me—that they can only be made free by knowledge. I begin to see that the law can only give us an opportunity to make ourselves freemen. Liberty must be earned; it cannot be given."
"That is very true," said the practical girl, whose mind recognized at once the fact which she had never formulated to herself. But as she looked into his face, working with intense feeling and so lighted with the glory of a noble purpose as to make her forget the stricken frame to which it was chained, she was puzzled at what seemed inconsequence in his words. So she added, wonderingly, "But I don't see why this should depress you. Only think how much you have done toward the end you have in view. Just think what you have accomplished—what strides you have made toward a full and complete manhood. You ought to be proud rather than discouraged."
"Ah!" said he, "that has been for myself, Miss Mollie, not for my people. What am I to my race? Aye," he continued, with a glance at his withered limbs, "to the least one of them not—not—" He covered his face with his hands and bowed his head in the self-abasement which hopeless affliction so often brings.
"Eliab," said the teacher soothingly, as if her pupil were a child instead of a man older than herself, "you should not give way to such thoughts. You should rise above them, and by using the powers you have, become an honor to your race."
"No, Miss Mollie," he replied, with a sigh, as he raised his head and gazed into her face earnestly. "There ain't nothing in this world for me to look forward to only to help my people. I am only the dust on the Lord's chariot-wheels—only the dust, which must be brushed out of the way in order that their glory may shine forth. And that," he continued impetuously, paying no attention to her gesture of remonstrance, "is what I wanted to speak to you about this evening. It is hard to say, but I must say it—must say it now. I have been taking too much of your time and attention, Miss Mollie."
"I am sure, Mr. Hill—" she began, in some confusion.
"Yes, I have," he went on impetuously, while his face flushed hotly. "It is the young and strong only who can enter into the Canaan the Lord has put before our people. I thought for a while that we were just standing on the banks of Jordan—that the promised land was right over yon, and the waters piled up like a wall, so that even poor weak 'Liab might cross over. But I see plainer now. We're only just past the Red Sea, just coming into the wildnerness, and if I can only get a glimpse from Horeb, wid my old eyes by and by, 'Liab 'll be satisfied. It'll be enough, an' more'n enough, for him. He can only help the young ones—the lambs of the flock—a little, mighty little, p'raps, but it's all there is for him to do." "Why, Eliab—" began the astonished teacher again.
"Don't! don't! Miss Mollie, if you please," he cried, with a look of pain. "I'se done tried—I hez, Miss Mollie. God only knows how I'se tried! But it ain't no use—no use," he continued, with a fierce gesture, and relapsing unconsciously into the rougher dialect that he had been training himself to avoid. "I can't do it, an' there's no use a-tryin'. There ain't nothin' good for me in this worl'—not in this worl'. It's hard to give it up, Miss Mollie—harder'n you'll ever dream; but I hain't blind. I knows the brand is on me. It's on my tongue now, that forgets all I've learned jes ez soon ez the time of trial comes."
He seemed wild with excitement as he leaned forward on the table toward her, and accompanied his words with that eloquence of gesticulation which only the hands that are tied to crippled forms acquire. He paused suddenly, bowed his head upon his crossed arms, and his frame shook with sobs. She rose, and would have come around the table to him. Raising his head quickly, he cried almost fiercely:
"Don't! don't! don't come nigh me, Miss Mollie! I'm going to do a hard thing, almost too hard for me. I'm going to get off the chariot-wheel—out of the light of the glory—out of the way of the young and the strong! Them that's got to fight the Lord's battles must have the training, and not them that's bound to fall in the wilderness. The time is precious—precious, and must not be wasted. You can't afford to spend so much of it on me! The Lord can't afford ter hev ye, Miss Mollie! I must step aside, an' I'se gwine ter do it now. If yer's enny time an' strength ter spar' more'n yer givin' day by day in the school, I want yer should give it to—to—Winnie an' 'Thusa—they're bright girls, that have studied hard, and are young and strong. It is through such as them that we must come up—our people, I mean. I want you to give them my hour, Miss Mollie—my hour! Don't say you won't do it!" he cried, seeing a gesture of dissent. "Don't say it! You must do it! Promise me, Miss Mollie—for my sake! for—promise me—now—quick! afore I gets too weak to ask it!"
"Why, certainly, Eliab," she said, in amazement, while she half shrank from him as if in terror. "I will do it if you desire it so much. But you should not get so excited. Calm yourself! I am sure I don't see why you should take such a course; but, as you say, they are two bright girls and will make good teachers, which are much needed."
"Thank God! thank God!" cried the cripple, as his head fell again upon his arms. After a moment he half raised it and said, weakly,
"Will you please call Nimbus, Miss Mollie? I must go home now. And please, Miss Mollie, don't think hard of 'Liab—don't, Miss Mollie," he said humbly.
"Why should I?" she asked in surprise. "You have acted nobly, though I cannot think you have done wisely. You are nervous now. You may think differently hereafter. If you do, you have only to say so. I will call Nimbus. Good-by!"
She took her hat and gloves and went down the aisle. Happening to turn near the door to replace a book her dress had brushed from a desk, she saw him gazing after her with a look that haunted her memory long afterward.
As the door closed behind her he slid from his chair and bowed his head upon it, crying out in a voice of tearful agony, "Thank God! thank God!" again and again, while his unfinished form shook with hysteric sobs. "And she said I was not wise!" he half laughed, as the tears ran down his face and he resumed his invocation of thankfulness. Thus Nimbus found him and carried him home with his wonted tenderness, soothing him like a babe, and wondering what had occurred to discompose his usually sedate and cheerful friend.
"I declare, Lucy," said Mollie Ainslie that evening, to her co-worker, over their cosy tea, "I don't believe I shall ever get to understand these people. There is that Eliab Hill, who was getting along so nicely, has concluded to give up his studies. I believe he is half crazy anyhow. He raved about it, and glared at me so that I was half frightened out of my wits. I wonder why it is that cripples are always so queer, anyhow?"
She would have been still more amazed if she had known that from that day Eliab Hill devoted himself to his studies with a redoubled energy, which more than made up for the loss of his teacher's aid. Had she herself been less a child she would have seen that he whom she had treated as such was, in truth, a man of rare strength.
HOW THE FALLOW WAS SEEDED.
The time had come when the influences so long at work, the seed which the past had sown in the minds and hearts of races, must at length bear fruit. The period of actual reconstruction had passed, and independent, self-regulating States had taken the place of Military Districts and Provisional Governments. The people of the South began, little by little, to realize that they held their future in their own hands—that the supervising and restraining power of the General Government had been withdrawn. The colored race, yet dazed with the new light of liberty, were divided between exultation and fear. They were like a child taking his first steps—full of joy at the last accomplished, full of terror at the one which was before.
The state of mind of the Southern white man, with reference to the freedman and his exaltation to the privilege of citizenship is one which cannot be too frequently analyzed or too closely kept in mind by one who desires fully to apprehend the events which have since occurred, and the social and political structure of the South at this time.
As a rule, the Southern man had been a kind master to his slaves. Conscious cruelty was the exception. The real evils of the system were those which arose from its un-conscious barbarism—the natural and inevitable results of holding human beings as chattels, without right, the power of self-defence or protestation—dumb driven brutes, deprived of all volition or hope, subservient to another's will, and bereft of every motive for self-improvement as well as every opportunity to rise. The effect of this upon the dominant race was to fix in their minds, with the strength of an absorbing passion, the idea of their own innate and unimpeachable superiority, of the unalterable inferiority of the slave-race, of the infinite distance between the two, and of the depth of debasement implied by placing the two races, in any respect, on the same level. The Southern mind had no antipathy to the negro in a menial or servile relation. On the contrary, it was generally kind and considerate of him, as such. It regarded him almost precisely as other people look upon other species of animate property, except that it conceded to him the possession of human passions, appetites, and motives. As a farmer likes to turn a favorite horse into a fine pasture, watch his antics, and see him roll and feed and run; as he pats and caresses him when he takes him out, and delights himself in the enjoyment of the faithful beast—just so the slave-owner took pleasure in the slave's comfort, looked with approval upon his enjoyment of the domestic relation, and desired to see him sleek and hearty, and physically well content.
It was only as a man that the white regarded the black with aversion; and, in that point of view, the antipathy was all the more intensely bitter since he considered the claim to manhood an intrusion upon the sacred and exclusive rights of his own race. This feeling was greatly strengthened by the course of legislation and legal construction, both national and State. Many of the subtlest exertions of American intellect were those which traced and defined the line of demarcation, until there was built up between the races, considered as men, a wall of separation as high as heaven and as deep as hell.
It may not be amiss to cite some few examples of this, which will serve at once to illustrate the feeling itself, and to show the steps in its progress.
1. It was held by our highest judicial tribunal that the phrase "we the people," in the Declaration of Independence, did not include slaves, who were excluded from the inherent rights recited therein and accounted divine and inalienable, embracing, of course, the right of self-government, which rested on the others as substantial premises.
2. The right or privilege, whichever it may be, of intermarriage with the dominant race was prohibited to the African in all the States, both free and slave, and, for all legal purposes, that man was accounted "colored" who had one-sixteenth of African blood.
3. The common-law right of self-defence was gradually reduced by legal subtlety, in the slave States, until only the merest shred remained to the African, while the lightest word of disobedience or gesture of disrespect from him, justified an assault on the part of the white man.
4. Early in the present century it was made a crime in all the States of the South to teach a slave to read, the free blacks were disfranchised, and the most stringent restraining statutes extended over them, including the prohibition of public assembly, even for divine worship, unless a white man were present.
5. Emancipation was not allowed except by decree of a court of record after tedious formality and the assumption of onerous responsibilities on the part of the master; and it was absolutely forbidden to be done by testament.
6. As indicative of the fact that this antipathy was directed against the colored man as a free agent, a man, solely, may be cited the well-known fact of the enormous admixture of the races by illicit commerce at the South, and the further fact that this was, in very large measure, consequent upon the conduct of the most refined and cultivated elements of Southern life. As a thing, an animal, a mere existence, or as the servant of his desire and instrument of his advancement, the Southern Caucasian had no antipathy to the colored race. As one to serve, to nurse, to minister to his will and pleasure, he appreciated and approved of the African to the utmost extent.
7. Every exercise of manly right, sentiment, or inclination, on the part of the negro, was rigorously repressed. To attempt to escape was a capital crime if repeated once or twice; to urge others to escape was also capitally punishable; to learn to read, to claim the rights of property, to speak insolently, to meet for prayer without the sanction of the white man's presence, were all offences against the law; and in this case, as in most others, the law was an index as well as the source of a public sentiment, which grew step by step with its progress in unconscious barbarity.
8. Perhaps the best possible indication of the force of this sentiment, in its ripened and intensest state, is afforded by the course of the Confederate Government in regard to the proposal that it should arm the slaves. In the very crisis of the struggle, when the passions of the combatants were at fever heat, this proposition was made. There was no serious question as to the efficiency or faithfulness of the slaves. The masters did not doubt that, if armed, with the promise of freedom extended to them, they would prove most effective allies, and would secure to the Confederacy that autonomy which few thoughtful men at that time believed it possible to achieve by any other means. Such was the intensity of this sentiment, however, that it was admitted to be impossible to hold the Southern soldiery in the field should this measure be adopted. So that the Confederacy, rather than surrender a tithe of its prejudice against the negro as a man, rather than owe its life to him, serving in the capacity of a soldier, chose to suffer defeat and overthrow. The African might raise the food, build the breastworks, and do aught of menial service or mere manual labor required for the support of the Confederacy, without objection or demurrer on the part of any; but they would rather surrender all that they had fought so long and so bravely to secure, rather than admit, even by inference, his equal manhood or his fitness for the duty and the danger of a soldier's life. It was a grand stubborness, a magnificent adherence to an adopted and declared principle, which loses nothing of its grandeur from the fact that we may believe the principle to have been erroneous.
9. Another very striking and peculiar illustration of this sentiment is the fact that one of the most earnest advocates of the abolition of 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 allied.
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 the hour.
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 matter.
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 plantation.
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 expected arrivals.
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 of freedom.
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 'em!"
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, 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 wid yer."
"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 Berry.
"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?" asked Nimbus.
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 my 'ligion."
"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, he said:
"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 er another?"
"But," said Nimbus, hotly, "we oughtn't ter none on us wuk fer him."
"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 roar.
"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 old man,
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 terrified remonstrant.
"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 of liberty."
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 voters.
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 gate."
"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 meetin' yesterday?"
"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 extensive repertory.
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 song.
"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 expressed.
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 redeemed.
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 such tax.
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 Sykes?"
"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, Bre'er Nimbus?"
"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 think, Berry?"
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 his race.
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 it.
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 known.
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 away.
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 above her.
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 gallantly.
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.