The water shoaled rapidly as they neared the farther shore. The black horse mounted swiftly to the bank, still pressing on with unabated eagerness. She leaned over and caught up the stirrup, thrust her foot into it, regained her seat and seized the reins, as with a shake and a neigh he struck into a long easy gallop.
"Go!" she said, as she shook the reins. The horse flew swiftly along while she swayed lightly from side to side as he rose and fell with great sinewy strides. She felt him bound and quiver beneath her, but his steps were as though the black, corded limbs were springs of steel. Her pride in the noble animal she rode overcame her fear of the storm, which followed swifter than they fled. She looked eagerly for a by-path leading to some farm-house, but the swift-settling darkness of the summer night hid them from her eager glance, if any there were. Half a mile from the ford, and the storm over-took them—a wall of wind-driven rain, which dashed and roared about them, drenching the rider to the skin in an instant. In a moment the red-clay road became the bed of a murky torrent. The horse's hoofs, which an instant before echoed on the hard-beaten track, splashed now in the soft mud and threw the turbid drops over her dripping habit and into her storm-washed face. A quarter of a mile more, and the cold streams poured down her back and chilled her slight frame to the marrow. Her hands were numb and could scarce cling to the dripping reins. Tears came into her eyes despite herself. Still the wild cloud-burst hurled its swift torrents of icy rain upon them. She could scarcely see her horse's head, through the gray, chilly storm-sheet.
"Whoa! whoa, Midnight!" she cried, in tremulous tones through her chattering teeth and white, trembling lips. All her gay exultant courage had been drenched and chilled out of her. She tried to check his stride with a loose convulsive clutch at the reins as she peered about with blinded eyes for a place of shelter. The horse shook his head with angry impatience, neighed again, clasped the bit in his strong teeth, stretched his neck still further and covered the slippery ground with still swifter strides. A hundred yards more and he turned into a narrow lane at the right, between two swaying oaks, so quickly as almost to unseat his praticed rider, and with neigh after neigh dashed down to a great, rambling, old farm-house just visible under the trees at the foot of the lane, two hundred yards away. The way was rough and the descent sharp, but the horse did not slacken his speed. She knew it was useless to attempt to check him, and only clung to the saddle pale with fear as he neared the high gate which closed its course. As he rose with a grand lift to take the leap she closed her eyes in terror. Easy and swift as a bird's flight was the leap with which the strong-limbed horse cleared the high palings and lighted on the soft springy turf within; another bound or two and she heard a sharp, strong voice which rang above the storm with a tone of command that betrayed no doubt of obedience:
"Whoa, Satan! Stand, sir!"
The fierce horse stopped instantly. Mollie Ainslie was thrown heavily forward, clasped by a strong arm and borne upon the piazza. When she opened her eyes she saw the torrents pouring from the eaves, the rain beating itself into spray upon the ground without, the black horse steaming and quivering at the steps of the porch, and Hesden Le Moyne gazing anxiously down into her face. The water dripped from her garments and ran across the porch. She shook as if in an ague-fit. She could not answer the earnest inquiries that fell from his lips. She felt him chafing her chill, numbed hands, and then the world was dark, and she knew no more of the kindly care which was bestowed upon her.
LIKE AND UNLIKE.
When she awoke to consciousness she was lying on a bed in an apartment which was a strange compound of sitting- and sleeping-room. The bed stood in a capacious alcove which seemed to have been built on as an afterthought. The three sides were windows, in the outer of which were tastefully arranged numerous flowering plants, some of which had clambered up to the ceiling and hung in graceful festoons above the bed. The window-shades were so arranged as to be worked by cords, which hung within easy reach of one lying there. The night had not fully come, but a lamp was burning at the side of the bed yet beyond its head-board, so that its rays lit up the windows and the green trailing vines, but did not fall upon the bed. In an invalid's chair drawn near the bedside, a lady well past the middle age but with a face of singular sweetness and refinement was watching and directing the efforts which were being made for the resuscitation of the fainting girl by two servant women, who were busily engaged in chafing her hands and making warm applications to her chilled limbs.
As she opened her eyes they took in all these things, but she could not at once remember what had happened or where she was, This sweet vision of a home interior was so different from the low, heavy-beamed rooms and little diamond-paned windows of the Ordinary, even after all her attempts to make it cosy, that she seemed to have awakened in fairy land. She wondered dully why she had never trained ivies and Madeira vines over those dark beams, and blushed at the thought that so simple a device had never occurred to her. She lay motionless until she had recalled the incidents of the day. She had recognized Mr. Le Moyne at once, and she knew by instinct that the graceful lady who sat beside her was she who had written her the only word of sympathy or appreciation she had ever received from one of her own sex in the South. She was anxious for a better view and turned toward her.
"Ah, here are you, my dear!" said a soft, low voice, as the light fell upon her opened eyes. "Move me up a little, Maggie," to one of the servants." We are glad to see you coming around again. Don't move, dear," she continued, as she laid her thin soft hand upon the plump one of the reclining girl." You are among friends. The storm and the ride were too much for you, and you fainted for a little while. That is all. There is no trouble now. You weren't hurt, were you?" she asked anxiously.
"No," said the other, wonderingly.
"We are glad of that," was the reply. "You are exhausted, of course, but if you do not get cold you will soon be all right. Maggie," she continued, to the servant, "tell Mr. Hesden to bring in that hot toddy now. He had better put the juice of a lemon it it, too. Miss Ainslie may not be accustomed to taking it. I am Mrs. Le Moyne, I forgot to say," she added, turning to her unintended guest, "and Hesden, that is my son, tells me that you are Miss Ainslie, the brave young teacher at Red Wing whom I have long wished to see. I am really glad that chance, or Hesden's old war horse Satan, brought you here, or I am afraid I should never have had that pleasure. This is Hesden," she continued, nodding toward him as he entered with a small silver waiter on which was a steaming pitcher and a delicate glass. "He has been my nurse so long that he thinks no one can prepare a draught for a sick person so well as he, and I assure you that I quite agree with his notion. You have met before, I believe. Just take a good dose of this toddy and you will be better directly. You got a terrible drenching, and I was afraid you would have a congestive chill when they brought you in here as white as a sheet with your teeth chattering like castanets."
Hesden Le Moyne filled the glass with the steaming decoction and held the salver toward her. She took it and tried to drink.
"Hand me the waiter, Hesden," said his mother, reprovingly, "and raise her head. Don't you see that Miss Ainslie cannot drink lying there. I never saw you so stupid, my son. I shall have to grow worse again soon to keep you from getting out of practice entirely."
Thus reproached, Hesden Le Moyne put his arm hesitatingly beneath the pillow, raised the flushed face upon it and supported the young lady while she quaffed the hot drink. Then he laid her easily down, smoothed the pillow with a soft instinctive movement, poured out a glass of the toddy which he offered to his mother, and then, handing the waiter to the servant, leaned over his mother with a caressing movement and said:
"You must look out, little mother. Too much excitement will not do for you. You must not let Miss Ainslie's unexpected call disturb you."
"No indeed, Hesden," she said, as she looked up at him gratefully, "I feel really glad of any accident that could bring her under our roof, now that I am satisfied that she is to experience no harm from her stormy ride. She will be all right presently, and we will have supper served here as usual. You may tell Laura that she need be in no haste."
Having thus dismissed her son she turned to her guest and said:
"I have been an invalid so long that our household is all ordered with regard to that fact. I am seldom able to be taken out to dinner, and we have got into the habit of having a late supper here, just Hesden, his little boy, and I, and to-night we will have the table set by the bedside and you will join us."
The sudden faint was over; the toddy had sent the blood tingling through the young girl's veins. The role of the invalid was an unaccustomed one for her to play, and the thought of supping in bed was peculiarly distasteful to her self-helping Northern training. It was not long before she began to manifest impatience.
"Are you in pain, dear?" asked the good lady, noticing with the keen eye of the habitual invalid her restive movements.
"No, indeed," was the reply. "I am not at all sick. It was only a little faint. Really, Mrs. Le Moyne, I would rather get up than lie here."
"Oh, lie still," said the elder lady, cheerfully. "The room hardly looks natural unless the bed is occupied. Besides," she added with a light laugh, "you will afford me an excellent opportunity to study effects. You seem to me very like what I must have been when I was first compelled to abandon active life. You are very nearly the same size and of much the same complexion and cast of features. You will pardon an old lady for saying it, I am sure. Lest you should not, I shall be compelled to add that I was considered something of a beauty when I was young. Now, you shall give me an idea of how I have looked in all the long years that couch has been my home. I assure you I shall watch you very critically, for it has been my pride to make my invalid life as pleasant to myself and as little disagreeable to others as I could. Knowing that I could never be anything else, I devised every plan I could to make myself contented and to become at least endurable to my family."
"Everyone knows how well you have succeeded, Mrs, Le Moyne," said the young girl. "It must indeed have been a sad and burdened life, and it seems to me that you have contrived to make your sick room a perfect paradise." "Yes, yes," said the other, sadly, "it is beautiful. Those who loved me have been very indulgent and very considerate, too. Not only every idea of my own has been carried into effect, but they have planned for me, too. That alcove was an idea of my husband's. I think that the sunlight pouring in at those windows has done more to prolong my life than anything else. I did not think, when thirty years ago I took to my bed, that I should have survived him so long—so long—almost eight years. He was considerably older than I, but I never looked to outlive him, never.
"That lamp-stand and little book-rack," she continued, with the garrulity of the invalid when discoursing of his own affairs, "were Hesden's notions, as were many other things in the room. The flowers I had brought in, one by one, to satisfy my hunger for the world without. In the winter I have many more. Hesden makes the room a perfect conservatory, then. They have come to be very dear to me, as you may well suppose. That ivy now, over the foot of the bed, I have watched it from a little slip not a finger high. It is twenty-seven years old."
So she would have run on, no one knows to what length, had not the servant entered to set the table for supper. Under her mistress' directions she was about to place it beside the bed, when the young girl sprang into a sitting posture and with flaming cheeks cried out:
"Please, Mrs. Le Moyne, I had rather not lie here. I am quite well—just as well as ever, and I wish you would let me get up."
"But how can you, dear?" was the reply. "Your clothes are drying in the kitchen. They were completely drenched."
"Sure enough," answered Miss Ainslie. "I had forgotten that." She laid herself down resignedly as the invalid said:
"If Hesden's presence would annoy you, he shall not come. I only thought it might be pleasanter for you not to be confined to the conversation of a crippled old woman. Besides, it is his habit, and I hardly know what he would do if he had to eat his supper elsewhere."
"Oh, certainly, I would not wish to disturb your usual arrangement," answered Mollie, "but—" she began, and then stoppd with some signs of confusion.
"But what, my dear?" asked the elder lady, briskly. "Do you mean that you are not accustomed as I am to invalidism, and hardly like the notion of supping in bed as an introduction to strangers? Well, I dare say it would be annoying, and if you think you are quite well enough to sit up, I reckon something better may be arranged."
"I assure you, Mrs. Le Moyne," said the other, "that I am quite well, but pray do not let me make you any trouble."
"Oh, no trouble at all, dear; only you will have to wear one of my gowns now many years old. I thought they were very pretty then, I assure you. I should be very glad to see them worn again. There are few who could wear them at all; but I think they would both fit and suit you. You are like enough to me to be my daughter. Here, you Maggie!"
She called the servant, and gave some directions which resulted in her bringing in several dresses of an ancient pattern but exquisite texture, and laying them upon the bed.
"You will have to appear in full dress, my dear, for I have no other gowns that would be at all becoming," said Mrs. Le Moyne.
"How very beautiful!" said the girl sitting up in the bed, gazing at the dainty silks and examining their quaint patterns. "But really, Mrs. Le Moyne—"
"Now, please oblige me by making no more objections," interrupted that lady. "Indeed," she added, shaking her finger threateningly at her guest, "I will not listen to any more. The fit has seized me now to have you sit opposite me at the table. It will be like facing. my own youth; for now that I look at you more closely, you seem wonderfully like me. Don't you think so, Maggie?"
"'Deed I do," said the servant, "an' dat's jes what Laura was a sayin' ter me when we done fotch de young lady in here in a faint. She sez ter me, sez she, 'Maggie, ebber you see anybody look so much like de Mistis made young again?'"
"Hush, Maggie," said her mistress, gaily; "don't you see how the young lady is blushing, while it is the poor, faded woman here in the chair who ought to blush at such a compliment?"
And indeed the bright flushed face with its crown of soft golden hair escaped from its customary bondage, tossing in sunny tendrils about the delicate brow and rippling in waves of light over her shoulders, was a picture which any woman past the middle life might well blush and sigh to recognize as the counterpart of her youth. The two women looked at each other and both laughed at the admiration each saw in the other's glance.
"Well," said Mollie, as she sank smilingly on her pillow, "I see I must submit. You will have your own way."
She raised her arm above' her head and toyed with a leaf of the ivy which hung in graceful festoons about the head-board. As she did so the loose-sleeved wrapper which had been flung about her when her own drenched clothing was removed, fell down almost to her shoulder and revealed to the beauty-worshipping watcher by the bedside an arm of faultless outline, slender, pink-tinged, plump and soft. When she had toyed lazily for a moment with the ivy, she dropped her arm listlessly down upon the bed. It fell upon one of the dresses which lay beside her.
"Ah, thank you!" exclaimed Mrs. Le Moyne.
"You have relieved me greatly. I was trying to decide which one I wanted you to wear, when your arm dropped across that pale, straw-colored silk, with the vine border around the corsage and the clambering roses running down the front. That is the one you must wear. I never wore it but once, and the occasion is one I shall always like to recall."
There was a gleeful time in the invalid's room while the fair girl was being habited in the garments of a by-gone generation, and when Hesden Le Moyne and his boy Hildreth were admitted to the hearty evening meal, two women who seemed like counterparts sat opposite each other at the sparkling board—the one habited in black silk with short waist, a low, square bodice with a mass of tender lawn showing about the fair slender neck, puffed at the shoulders with straight, close sleeves reaching to the wrists, around which peeped some rows of soft white lace; the white hair combed in puffs beside the brow, clustering above its pinky softness and falling in a silvery cataract upon the neck. The style of the other's dress was the same, save that the shoulders were uncovered, and except for the narrow puff which seemed but a continuation on either side, of the daintily-edged bodice, the arm hung pink and fair over the amber satin, uncovered and unadorned save at the wrist, where a narrow circlet of gold clung light and close about it. Her hair was dressed in the same manner as the elder lady's, and differed only in its golden sheen. The customary lamp had been banished, and colored wax-candles, brought from some forgotten receptacle, burned in the quaint old candelabra with which the mantels of the house had long been decorated.
The one-armed veteran of thirty gazed in wonder at this unaccustomed brightness. If he needed to gaze long and earnestly at the fair creature who sat over against his mother, to determine the resemblances which had been noted between the permanent and the temporary invalid, who shall blame him for so doing?
Little Hildreth in his six-year-old wonderment was less judicial, or at least required less time and inquiry to decide, for he cried out even before an introduction could be given,
"Oh, papa, see, I've got a new, young grandma."
It was a gay party at that country supper-table, and four happier people could hardly have gone afterward into the parlor where the invalid allowed herself to be wheeled by her son in special honor of their unintended guest.
Miss Ainslie was soon seated at the piano which Hesden had kept in tune more for the pleasure of occasional guests than his own. It was three years since she had touched one, but the little organ, which some Northern benefactor had given to the church and school at Red Wing, had served to prevent her fingers from losing all their skill, and in a few minutes their wonted cunning returned. She had been carefully trained and had by nature rare musical gifts. The circumstances of the day had given a wonderful exhilaration to her mind and thought. She seemed to have taken a leaf out of Paradise and bound it among the dingy pages of her dull and monotonous life. Every thing about her was so quaint and rare, the clothes she wore so rich and fantastic, that she could not control her fancy. Every musical fantasy that had ever crept into her brain seemed to be trooping along its galleries in a mad gallop as her fair fingers flew over the time-stained keys. The little boy stood clinging to her skirt in silent wonder, his fair, sensitive face working, and his eyes distended, with delighted amazement.
The evening came to an end at last, and when the servant went with her in her quaint attire, lighting her up the winding stairway from the broad hall to the great airy room above, with its yawning fireplace cheery with the dying embers of a fire built hours ago to drive out the dampness, and its two high-posted beds standing there in lofty dignity, the little Yankee school marm could hardly realize what madcap freaks she had perpetrated since she bounded over the gate at the foot of the lane leading from the highway down to Mulberry Hill, the ancestral home of the Richards family.
As she sat smiling and blushing over the memory of what she had done and said in those delicious hours, a servant tapped at the door and announced that Master Hildreth, whom she bore in her arms and whose chubby fists were stuck into his eyes, was crying most disconsolately lest he should lose his "new grandma" while he slept. She had brought him, therefore, to inquire whether he might occupy one of the beds in the young lady's room. Mollie had not seen for so many years a child that she could fondle and caress, that it was with unbounded delight that she took the little fellow from his nurse's arms, laid him on the bed and coaxed his eyes to slumber.
AN UNBIDDEN GUEST.
When the morning dawned the boy awoke with hot cheeks and bloodshot eyes, moaning and restless, and would only be quiet when pillowed in the arms of his new-found friend. A physician who was called pronounced his ailment to be scarlet-fever. He soon became delirious, and his fretful moans for his "new grandma" were so piteous that Miss Ainslie could not make up her mind to leave him. She stayed by his bed-side all day, saying nothing of returning to Red Wing, until late in the afternoon a messenger came from there to inquire after her, having traced her by inquiry among several who had seen her during the storm, as well as by the report that had gone out from the servants of her presence at Mulberry Hill.
When Hesden Le Moyne came to inform her of the messenger's arrival, he found her sitting by his son's bedside, fanning his fevered brow, as she had done the entire day. He gazed at them both in silence a moment before making known his errand. Then he took the fan from her hand and informed her of the messenger's arrival. His voice sounded strangely, and as she looked up at him she saw his face working with emotion. She cast down her eyes quickly. She could not tell why. All at once she felt that this quiet, maimed veteran of a lost cause was not to her as other men. Perhaps her heart was made soft by the strange occurrences of the few hours she had passed beneath his mother's roof. However that may be, she was suddenly conscious of a feeling she had never known before. Her cheeks burned as she listened to his low, quiet tones. The tears seemed determined to force themselves beneath her downcast lids, but her heart bounded with a strange undefined joy.
She rose to go and see the messenger. The sick boy moaned and murmured her name. She stole a glance at the father, and saw his eyes filled with a look of mingled tenderness and pain. She walked to the door. As she opened it the restless sufferer called for her again. She went out and closed it quickly after her. At the head of the stairs she paused, and pressed her hand to her heart while she breathed quick and her face burned. She raised her other hand and pushed back a stray lock or two as if to cool her forehead. She stood a moment irresolute; glanced back at the door of the room she had left, with a half frightened look; placed a foot on the first stair, and paused again. Then she turned suddenly back with a scared resolute look in her gray eyes, opened the door and glided swiftly to the bedside. Hesden Le Moyne's face was buried in the pillow. She stood over him a moment, her bosom heaving with short, quick sighs. She reached out her hand as if she would touch him, but drew it quickly back. Then she spoke, quietly but with great effort, looking only at the little sufferer.
"Mr. Le Moyne?" He raised his head quickly and a flush of joy swept over his face. She did not see it, at least she was not looking at him, but she knew it. "Would you like me to—to stay—until—until this is over?"
He started, and the look of joy deepened in his face. He raised his hand but let it fall again upon the pillow, as he answered humbly and tenderly,
"If you please, Miss Ainslie." She put her hand upon the bed, in order to seem more at ease, as she replied, with a face which she knew was all aflame,
"Very well. I will remain for—the present."
He bent his head and kissed her hand. She drew it quickly away and added in a tone of explanation:
"It would hardly be right to go back among so many children after such exposure." So quick is love to find excuse. She called it duty, nor ever thought of giving it a tenderer name.
He made no answer. So easy is it for the fond heart to be jealous of a new-found treasure.
She waited a moment, and then went out and wrote a note to Eliab Hill. Then she went into the room of the invalid mother. How sweet she looked, reclining on the bed in the pretty alcove, doing penance for her unwonted pleasure of the night before! The excited girl longed to throw her arms about her neck and weep. It seemed to her that she had never seen any one so lovely and loveable. She went to the bedside and took the slender hand extended toward her,
"So," said Mrs. Le Moyne, "I hear they have sent for you to go back to Red Wing. I am sorry, for you have given us great pleasure; but I am afraid you will have only sad memories of Mulberry Hill. It is too bad! Poor Hildreth had taken such a liking to you, too. I am sure I don't blame him, for I am as much in love with you as an invalid can be with any one but herself. Hesden will have a hard time alone in this great house with two sick people on his hands."
"I shall not go back to Red Wing to-day."
"No, I do not think it would be right to endanger so many by exposure to the disease." "Oh," carelessly; "but I am afraid yon may take it yourself."
"I hope not. I am very well and strong. Besides, Hildreth calls for me as soon as I leave him for a moment."
"Poor little fellow! It is pitiable to know that I can do nothing for him."
"I will do what I can, Mrs. Le Moyne."
"But you must not expose yourself in caring for a strange child, my dear. It will not do to be too unselfish."
"I cannot leave him, Mrs. Le Moyne."
She left the room quickly and returned to her place at the sufferer's bedside. Hesden Le Moyne rose as she approached. She took the fan from his hand and sat down in the chair he had occupied. He stood silent a moment, looking down upon her as she fanned the uneasy sleeper, and then quietly left the room.
"What a dear, tender-hearted thing she is!" said Mrs. Le Moyne to herself after she had gone. "So lady-like and refined too. How can such a girl think of associating with niggers and teaching a nigger school? Such a pity she is not one of our people. She would be just adorable then. Don't you think so, Hesden?" she said aloud as her son entered. Having been informed of the subject of her cogitations, Mr. Hesden Le Moyne replied, somewhat absently and irrelevantly, as she thought, yet very warmly,
"Miss Ainslie is a very remarkable woman."
He passed into the hall, and his mother, looking after him, said,
"Poor fellow! he has a heap of trouble." And then it struck her that her son's language was not only peculiar but amusing. "A remarkable woman!" She laughed to herself as she thought of it. A little, brown-haired, bright-eyed, fair-skinned chit, pretty and plucky, and accomplished no doubt, but not at all "remarkable." She had no style nor pride. Yankee women never had. And no family of course, or she would not teach a colored school. "Remarkable!" It was about the only thing Miss Ainslie was not and could not be. It was very kind of her to stay and nurse Hildreth, though she only did that out of consideration for the colored brats under her charge at Red Wing. Nevertheless she was glad and gratified that she did so. She was a very capable girl, no doubt of that, and she would feel much safer about Hildreth because of her care. It was just in her line. She was like all Yankee women—just a better class of housemaids. This one was very accomplished. She had played the piano exquisitely and had acted the lady to perfection in last night's masquerade. But Hesden must be crazy to call her remarkable. She chuckled lightly as she determined to rally him upon it, when she saw him next. When that time came, the good lady had quite forgotten her resolve.
A LIFE FOR A LIFE.
It was a time of struggle at Mulberry Hill. Love and death fought for the life of little Hildreth Le Moyne. The father and the "new grandma" watched over him most assiduously; the servants were untiring in their exertions; the physician's skill was not lacking, but yet none could foresee the result. The invalid below sent frequent inquiries. First one and then the other stole away to ask her some question or bring her tidings in regard to the lad in whose life was bound up the hope of two old families.
One morning, while the child was still very sick, when Miss Ainslie awoke after the brief sleep which had been all the rest she had allowed herself from her self-imposed task, her head seemed strangely light. There was a roaring in her ears as if a cataract were playing about them. Her limbs ached, and every movement seemed unusually difficult—almost painful. She walked across the room and looked dully into the mirror on her dressing-case, resting her hands on the top of the high old-fashioned furniture as she did so. She was only able to note that her eyes looked heavy and her face flushed and swollen, when a sharp pain shot through her frame, her sight grew dim, the room spun round and round. She could only crawl back and clamber with difficulty upon the high-posted bed, where the servant found her fevered and unconscious when she came an hour later to awaken her for breakfast. The struggle that had been waged around the bed of the young child was now renewed by that of his self-constituted nurse. Weeks passed away before it was over, and ere that time the music of little feet had ceased about the ancient mansion, and the stroke to pride and love had rendered the invalid grand-mother still more an invalid.
The child had been her hope and pride as its mother had been her favorite. By a strange contrariety the sunny-faced little mother had set herself to accomplish her son's union with the tall, dark, and haughty cousin, who had expired in giving birth to little Hildreth. There was nothing of spontaneity and no display of conjugal affection on the part of the young husband or his wife; but during the absence of her son, the invalid was well cared for and entertained by the wife, whom she came to love with an intensity second only to that she lavished on her son. In the offspring of these two her heart had been wrapped up from the hour of his birth. She had dreamed out for him a life full of great actualities, and had even reproached Hesden for his apathy in regard to public affairs during the stirring scenes enacting around them, urging him to take part in them for his son's sake.
She was a woman of great ambition. At first this had centered in her son, and she had even rejoiced when he went into the army, though he was earnestly opposed to the war, in the hope that it might bring him rank and fame. When these did not come, and he returned to her a simple private, with a bitterer hate for war and a sturdier dislike for the causes which had culminated in the struggle than he had when it began, she had despaired of her dream ever being realized through him, but had fondly believed that the son of the daughter-in-law she had so admired and loved would unite his father's sterling qualities with his mother's pride and love of praise, and so fulfill her desire that the family name should be made famous by some one descended from herself. This hope was destroyed by the death of the fair, bright child whom she loved so intensely, and she felt a double grief in consequence. In her sorrow, she had entirely secluded herself, seeing no one but her nurse and, once or twice, her son. The sick girl in the room above was somehow unpleasantly connected with her grief, and received no real sympathy in her illness. There was even something of jealousy in the mind of the confirmed invalid, when she remembered the remarkable manner in which the child had been attracted toward the new-comer, as well as the fact that she had nursed him so faithfully that his last words were a moan for his "new grandma," while his real grandmother lay useless and forgotten in her dim-shadowed room below.
Besides, it was with a feeling of envy that she recognized the fact that, for the first time in his life, her son was more absorbed in another's welfare than in her own. The chronic ailment of the mother had no doubt become so much a thing of habit in his life that it failed to impress him as it should, while the illness of the young girl, having, as he believed, been incurred by her voluntary attendance upon his son inspired him with a feeling of responsibility that would not otherwise have existed. Something had occurred, too, which had aroused a feeling upon his part which is often very close akin to a tenderer one. As soon as he had learned of her illness, he had endeavored to induce some of his female relatives to come and attend her, but they had all flatly refused. They would come and care for the child, they said; they would even send the "Yankee school-marm" flowers, and make delicacies to tempt her appetite, but they would not demean themselves by waiting upon a sick "nigger teacher." They did not fear the contagion; indeed they would have come to take care of little Hildreth but that they did not care to meet his Yankee nurse. They even blamed Hesden for allowing her to come beneath his roof, and intimated that she had brought contagion with her.
He was angry at their injustice and prejudice. He had known of its existence, but it never before seemed so hateful. Somehow he could not rid himself of two thoughts: one was of the fairy creature whose song and laughter and bird-like grace and gaiety, as she masqueraded in the quaint dress of olden time, had made the dull old mansion bright as a dream of Paradise for a single night. It had seemed to him, then, that nothing so bright and pure had ever flitted through the somber apartments of the gray old mansion. He remembered the delight of his boy—that boy whom he loved more than he had ever loved any one, unless it were his invalid mother—and he could not forget the same slight form, with serious shadowed face and earnest eyes moving softly about the sick-room of the child, her eyes full of sorrowful anxiety as if the life she sought to save were part of her own being. He wondered that any one could think of her as a stranger. It was true she had come from the North and was engaged in a despised avocation, but even that she had glorified and exalted by her purity and courage until his fastidious lady mother herself had been compelled to utter words of praise. So his heart grew sore and his face flushed hot with wrath when his cousins sneered at this lily which had been blighted by the fevered breath of his son.
They tauntingly advised him to send to Red Wing and get some of her "nigger" pupils to attend upon her. Much to their surprise he did so, and two quiet, gentle, deft-handed watchers came, who by day and by night sat by her bedside, gladly endeavoring to repay the debt they owed to the faithful teacher. But this did not seem to relieve Mr. Le Moyne of anxiety. He came often and watched the flushed face, heard the labored breathing, and listened with pained heart to the unmeaning murmurs which fell from her lips—the echoes of that desert dreamland through which fever drags its unconscious victims. He heard his own name and that of the fast-failing sufferer in the adjoining room linked in sorrowful phrase by the stammering tongue. Even in the midst of his sorrow it brought him a thrill of joy. And when his fear became fact, and he mourned the young life no love could save, his visits to the sick-room of her who had been his co-watcher by his child's bedside became more frequent. He would not be denied the privilege until the crisis came, and reason resumed her sway. Then he came no more, but every day sent some token of remembrance.
Mrs. Le Moyne had noted this solicitude, and with the jealousy of the confirmed invalid grudged the sick girl the slightest of the thoughtful attentions that she alone had been accustomed to receive. She did not dream that her son, Hesden Le Moyne, cared anything for the little Yankee chit except upon broadly humanitarian grounds, or perhaps from gratitude for her kindly attention to his son; but even this fretted her. As time went on, she came more and more to dislike her and to wish that she had never come beneath their roof. So the days flew by, grew into weeks, and Mollie Ainslie was still at Mulberry Hill, while important events weve happening at Red Wing.
A VOICE FROM THE DARKNESS.
It was two weeks after Miss Ainslie's involuntary flight from Red Wing that Nimbus, when he arose one morning, found a large pine board hung across his gateway. It was perhaps six feet long and some eighteen or twenty inches wide in the widest part, smoothly planed upon one side and shaped like a coffin lid. A hole had been bored in either end, near the upper corner, and through each of these a stout cord had been passed and tied into a loop, which, being slipped over a paling, one on each side the gate, left the board swinging before it so as effectually to bar its opening unless the board were first removed.
The attention of Nimbus was first directed to it by a neighbor-woman who, stopping in front of the gate, called out to him in great excitement, as he sat with Berry Lawson on his porch waiting for his breakfast:
"Oh, Bre'er Nimbus, what in de libbin' yairth is dis h'yer on your gate? La sakes, but de Kluckers is after you now, shore 'nough!"
"Why, what's de matter wid yer, Cynthy?" said Nimbus, cheerfully. "Yer hain't seen no ghosteses nor nuffin', bez ye?"
"Ghosteses, did yer say?" answered the excited woman. "Jes yer come an' look, an' ef yer don't say hit wuss ner ghosteses, yer may count Cynthy a fool. Dat's all."
Berry started down to the gate, Nimbus following him, carelessly.
"Why, hello, Bre'er Nimbus! Yer shore hez got a signboard cross de passway. Jes look a' dat now! What yer 'spect it mout be, cousin?" said Berry, stopping short and pointing to the board hung on the fence.
"'Clar, I dunno," said Nimbus, as he strode forward and leaned over the fence to get a sight of the other side of the board. "'Spec' it must be some of dem Ku Kluck's work, ez Cynthy says."
After examining it a moment, he directed Berry to lift up the other end, and together they carried it to the house of Eliab Hill, where its grotesque characters were interpreted, so far as he was able to translate them, as well as the purport of a warning letter fastened on the board by means of a large pocket-knife thrust through it, and left sticking in the soft wood.
Upon the head of the coffin-shaped board was roughly drawn, in black paint, a skull and cross-bones and, underneath them, the words "Eliab Hill and Nimbus Desmit," and below these still, the mystic cabala, "K.K.K," a formulary at which, just at that time, a great part of the nation was laughing as a capital illustration of American humor. It was accounted simply a piece of grotesquerie intended to frighten the ignorant and superstitious negro.
The old claim of the South, that the colored man could be controlled and induced to labor only by the lash or its equivalent, had many believers still, even among the most earnest opponents of slavery, and not a few of these even laughed good-naturedly at the grotesque pictures in illustrated journals of shadowy beings in horrible masks and terrified negroes cowering in the darkness with eyes distended, hair rising in kinky tufts upon their heads, and teeth showing white from ear to ear, evidently clattering like castanets. It was wonderfully funny to far-away readers, and it made uproarious mirth in the aristocratic homes of the South. From the banks of the Rio Grande to the waters of the Potomac, the lordly Southron laughed over his glass, laughed on the train, laughed in the street, and laughed under his black cowl of weirdly decorated muslin—not so much at the victims of the terrible Klan, as at the silly North which was shaking its sides at the mask he wore. It was an era of fun. Everybody laughed. The street gamins imitated the Kluck, which gave name to the Klan. It was one of the funniest things the world had ever known.
The Yankee—Brother Jonathan—had long been noted as a droll. A grin was as much a part of his stock apparel as tow breeches or a palm-leaf hat. The negro, too, had from time immemorial been portrayed upon the stage and in fiction as an irrepressible and inimitably farcical fellow. But the "Southern gentleman" was a man of different kidney from either of these. A sardonic dignity hedged him about with peculiar sacredness. He was chivalrous and baronial in his instincts, surroundings, and characteristics. He was nervous, excitable, and bloodthirsty. He would "pluck up drowned honor by the locks" and make a target of everyone who laughed. He hunted, fought, gambled, made much of his ancestors, hated niggers, despised Yankees, and swore and swaggered on all occasions. That was the way he was pictured in the ancient days. He laughed—sometimes—not often, and then somewhat sarcastically—but he did not make himself ridiculous. His amour propre was most intense. He appreciated fun, but did not care that it should be at his expense. He was grave, irritable and splenetic; but never comical. A braggart, a rough-rider, an aristocrat; but never a masquerader. That was the old-time idea.
Yet so had the war and the lapse of half a decade changed this people that in one State forty thousand men, in another thirty, in others more and in others less, banded together with solemn oaths and bloody ceremonies, just to go up and down the earth in the bright moonlight, and play upon the superstitious fears of the poor ignorant and undeveloped people around them. They became a race of jesters, moonlight masqueraders, personators of the dead. They instituted clubs and paraded by hundreds, the trained cavalry of a ghostly army organized into companies, battalions, divisions, departments, having at their head the "Grand Wizard of the Empire." It was all in sport—a great jest, or at the worst designed only to induce the colored man to work somewhat more industriously from apprehension of ghostly displeasure. It was a funny thing—the gravest, most saturnine, and self-conscious people on the globe making themselves ridiculous, ghostly masqueraders by the hundred thousand! The world which had lately wept with sympathy for the misfortunes of the "Lost Cause," was suddenly convulsed with merriment at the midnight antics of its chivalric defenders. The most vaunted race of warriors seized the cap and bells and stole also the plaudits showered upon the fool. Grave statesmen, reverend divines, legislators, judges, lawyers, generals, merchants, planters, all who could muster a good horse, as it would seem, joined the jolly cavalcade and rollicked through the moonlight nights, merely to make fun for their conquerors by playing on the superstitious fear of the sable allies of the Northmen. Never before was such good-natured complaisance, such untiring effort to please. So the North laughed, the South chuckled, and the world wondered.
But the little knot of colored men and women who stood around Eliab Hill while he drew out the knife which was thrust through the paper into the coffin-shaped board laid across the front of his "go-cart," and with trembling lips read the message it contained—these silly creatures did not laugh. They did not even smile, and a joke which Berry attempted, fell flat as a jest made at a funeral.
There is something very aggravating about the tendency of this race to laugh at the wrong time, and to persist in being disconsolate when every one can see that they ought to dance. Generation after generation of these perverse creatures in the good old days of slavery would insist on going in search of the North Pole under the most discouraging circumstances. On foot and alone, without money or script or food or clothing; without guide or chart or compass; without arms or friends; in the teeth of the law and of nature, they gave themselves to the night, the frost, and all the dangers that beset their path, only to seek what they did not want!
We know there was never a happier, more contented, light-hearted, and exuberant people on the earth than the Africo-American slave! He had all that man could reasonably desire—and more too! Well-fed, well-clothed, luxuriously housed, protected from disease with watchful care, sharing the delights of an unrivalled climate, relieved of all anxiety as to the future of his off-spring, without fear of want, defiant of poverty, undisturbed by the bickerings of society or heartburnings of politics, regardless of rank or station, wealth, kindred, or descent, it must be admitted that, from an earthly point of view, his estate was as near Elysian as the mind can conceive. Besides all this, he had the Gospel preached unto him—for nothing; and the law kindly secured him against being misled by false doctrines, by providing that the Bread of Life should never be broken to him unless some reputable Caucasian were present to vouch for its quality and assume all responsibility as to its genuineness!
That a race thus carefully nourished, protected, and guarded from error as well as evil should be happy, was just as natural as that the sun should shine. That they were happy only lunatics could doubt. All their masters said so. They even raved when it was denied. The ministers of the Gospel—those grave and reverend men who ministered unto them in holy things, who led their careless souls, blindfolded and trustful, along the straight and narrow way—all declared before high Heaven that they were happy, almost too happy, for their spiritual good. Politicians, and parties, and newspapers; those who lived among them and those who went and learned all about them from the most intelligent and high-toned of their Caucasian fellow-beings—nigh about everybody, in fact—declared, affirmed, and swore that they were at the very utmost verge of human happiness! Yet even under these circumstances the perverse creatures would run away. Indeed, to run away seemed to be a characteristic of the race like their black skin and kinkling hair! It would have seemed, to an uninformed on-looker, that they actually desired to escape from the paternal institution which had thrown around their lives all these blissful and beatifying circumstances. But we know it was not so. It was only the inherent perversity of the race!
Again, when the war was ended and they were thrown upon the cold charity of an unfriendly world, naked, poor, nameless, and homeless, without the sheltering and protecting care of that master who had ever before been to them the incarnation of a kindly Providence —at that moment when, by all the rules which govern Caucasian human nature, their eyes should have been red with regretful tears, and their hearts overburdened with sorrow, these addled-pated children of Africa, moved and instigated by the perverse devil of inherent contrariness, were grinning from ear to ear with exasperating exultation, or bowed in still more exasperating devotion, were rendering thanks to God for the calamity that had befallen them!
So, too, when the best people of the whole South masqueraded for their special benefit, they stupidly or stubbornly failed and refused to reward their "best friends" for the entertainment provided for them, at infinite pains and regardless of expense, even with the poor meed of approving cachinnation. They ought to have been amused; they no doubt were amused; indeed, it is morally impossible that they should not have been amused—but they would not laugh! Well may the Caucasian of the South say of the ebony brother whom he has so long befriended and striven to amuse: "I have piped unto you, and you have not danced!"
So Eliab read, to a circle whose cheeks were gray with pallor, and whose eyes glanced quickly at each other with affright, these words
"ELIAB HILL AND NIMBUS DESMIT: You've been warned twice, and it hain't done no good. This is your last chance. If you don't git up and git out of here inside of ten days, the buzzards will have a bait that's been right scarce since the war. The white folks is going to rule Horsford, and sassy niggers must look out. We're not going to have any such San Domingo hole as Red Wing in it, neither. Now just sell off and pack up and git clear off and out of the country before we come again, which will be just as soon as the moon gits in the left quarter, and has three stars in her lower horn. If you're here then you'll both need coffins, and that boy Berry Lawson that you coaxed away from his employer will hang with you.
"Remember! Remember! REMEMBER!
"By order of the Grand Cyclops of the Den and his two Night Hawks, and in the presence of all the Ghouls, on the fifth night of the sixth Dark Moon!
Hardly had he finished reading this when a letter was brought to him which had been found on the porch of the old Ordinary. It was addressed to "MISS MOLLIE AINSLIE, Nigger Teacher at Red Wing," but as it was indorsed "K.K.K." Eliab felt no compunctions in opening it in her absence. It read:
"MISS AINSLIE: We hain't got no spite against you and don't mean you no harm; but the white folks owns this country, and is going to rule it, and we can't stand no such nigger-equality schools as you are running at Red Wing. It's got to stop, and you'd better pick up and go back North where you come from, and that quick, if you want to keep out of trouble. Remember!
"By order of the Grand Cyclops of the Den and his Ghouls, K.K.K."
"P.S. We don't mean to hurt you. We don't make no war on women and children as the Yankees did, but we mean what we say—git out! And don't come back here any more neither!"
The rumor of the mysterious Klan and its terrible doings had been in the air for many months. From other States, and even from adjoining counties, had come to their ears the wail of its victims. But so preponderating was the colored population of Horsford, and so dependent upon their labor was its prosperity, that they had entertained little fear of its coming among them. Two or three times before, Nimbus and Eliab had received warnings and had even taken some precautions in regard to defense; but they did not consider the matter of sufficient moment to require them to make it public. Indeed, they were inclined to think that as there had been no acts of violence in the county, these warnings were merely the acts of mischievous youngsters who desired to frighten them into a display of fear. This seemed to be a more serious demonstration, but they were not yet prepared to give full credence to the threat conveyed in so fantastic a manner.
A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION.
"Wal, dey manage to fotch Berry inter it widout sending him a letter all to hissef, alter all," said that worthy, when Eliab, with pale lips, but a firm voice, had finished reading the paper. "Ben done 'spectin' dat, all de time sence I come h'yer, Cousin Nimbus. I'se been a-hearin' 'bout dese Klu Kluckers dis smart while now, ober yer in Pocatel and Hanson counties, an' I 'spected Marse Sykes'd be a-puttin' 'em on ter me jest ez soon as dey got ober here. He hed no idear, yer know, but what I'd hev ter go back an' wuk fer jes what I could git; an sence I hain't he's mad about it, dat's all. What yer gwine ter do 'bout it, Nimbus?"
"I'se gwine ter stay right h'yer an' fight it out, I is," said Nimbus, doggedly. 'I'se fout fer de right ter live in peace on my own lan' once, an' I kin fight for it agin. Ef de Ku Kluckers wants ter try an' whip Nimbus, jes let 'em come on," he said, bringing down his clenched right hand upon the board which was upheld by his left, with such force that it was split from end to end.
"Hi! you take keer dar, Cousin Nimbus," said Berry, hopping out of the way of the falling board with an antic gesture. "Fust you know, yer hurt yer han' actin' dat er way. What YOU gwine ter do 'bout dis yer matter, Uncle 'Liab?" he continued, turning to the preacher.
The man addressed was still gazing on the threatening letter. His left hand wandered over his dark beard, but his face was full of an unwavering light as he replied:
"The Lord called me to my work; He has opened many a door before me and taken me through many trials. He has written, 'I will be with thee alway, even unto the end.' Bless His holy Name! Hitherto, when evil has come I have waited on Him. I may not do a man's part like you, my brother," he continued, laying his hand on Nimbus' knotted arm and gazing admiringly upon his giant frame," but I can stand and wait, right here, for the Lord's will to be done; and here I will stay—here with my people. Thank the Lord, if I am unable to fight I am also unable to fly. He knew what a poor, weak creature I was, and He has taken care of that. I shall stay, let others do as they may. What are you going to do, Brother Berry? You are in the same danger with Nimbus and me."
"Wal, Bre'er 'Liab," replied Berry," I hab jes 'bout made up MY min' ter run fer it. Yer see, I'se jes a bit differently sarcumstanced from what either o' you 'uns is. Dar's Nimbus now, he's been in de wah an' knows all 'bout de fightin' business; an' you's a preacher an' knows all der is ob de prayin' trade. But I never was wuth nothin' ob any account at either. It's de feet ez hez allers stood by me," he added, executing a double-shuffle on the plank walk where he stood; "an' I 'llows ter stan' by dem, an' light outen here, afore dem ar Kluckers comes roun' fer an answer ter dat ar letter. Dat's my notion, Bre'er 'Liab."
"Yer don't mean yer gwine ter run away on de 'count ob dese yer Ku Kluckers, does yer, Berry?" said Nimbus, angrily.
"Dat's jes 'zackly what I do mean, Cousin Nimbus—no mistake 'bout dat," answered Berry, bowing towards Nimbus with a great show of mock politeness. "What else did yer tink Berry mean, hey? Didn't my words 'spress demselves cl'ar? Yer know, cousin, dat I'se not one ob de fightin' kine. Nebber hed but one fight in my life, an' den dar wuz jes de wuss whipped nigger you ebber seed. Yer see dem sinners, eh?" rolling up his sleeve and showing a round, close-corded arm. "Oh, I'se some when I gits started, I is. All whip-cord an' chain-lightnin', whoop! I'll bet a harf dollar now, an borrer de money from Bre'er Nimbus h'yer ter pay it, dat I kin turn more han'-springs an' offener an' longer nor ary man in dis crowd. Oh, I'se some an' more too, I is, an' don't yer fergit it. 'Bout dat fight?" he continued to a questioner, "oh, yes, dat was one ob de mos' 'markable fights dar's ever been in Ho'sford county. Yer see 'twuz all along uv Ben Slade an' me. Lor' bress yer, how we did fight! 'Pears ter me dat it must hev been nigh 'bout harf a day we wuz at it."
"But you didn't lick Ben, did you, Berry?" asked one of the bystanders in surprise.
"Lick him? Yer jes' orter see de corn I wollered down 'long wid dat nigga'! Dar must hev been close on ter harf an acre on't."
"But he's a heap bigger'n you, Berry, ez stout ez a bull an' one ob de bes' fighters ebber on de hill at Louisburg. Yer jest romancin' now, Berry," said Nimbus, incredulously.
"Oh, but yer don't understan' it, cousin," said Berry. "Yer see I played fer de under holt—an' got it, dat I did. Lor'! how dat ar Ben did thrash de groun' wid me! Ole Mahs'r lost a heap ob corn on 'count dat ar fight! But I hung on ter him, an' nebber would hev let him go till now, ef—ef somebody hedn't pulled me out from under him!"
There was a roar of laughter at this, in which Berry joined heartily, and as it began to die out he continued: "Dat's de only fight I ebber hed, an' I don't want no mo'. I'se a peaceable man, an' don't want ter hurt nobody. Ef de Kluckers wants ter come whar I is, an' gibs me sech a perlite notice ez dat ter quit, I'se gwine ter git out widout axin' no imper'ent questions 'bout who was dar fust. An' I'se gwine ter keep gittin' tu—jest' ez fur an' ez fast ez dey axes me ter move on, ez long ez de road's cut out an' I don't come ter no jumpin'-off place. Ef dey don't approve of Berry Lawson a stayin' roun' h'yer, he's jes' a gwine West ter grow up wid der kentry."
"I'd sooner be dead than be sech a limber-jinted coward!" said Nimbus. "I'm sorry I ebber tuk ye in atter Marse Sykes hed put yer out in de big road, dat I am." There was a murmur of approval, and he added: "An' ef yer hed enny place ter go ter, yer shouldn't stay in my house nary 'nother minit."
"Now, Cousin Nimbus," said Berry, soberly, "dar hain't nary bit ob use ob enny sech talk ter me. Berry arns his libbin' ef he does hab his joke now an' agin."
"Oh, no doubt o' dat," said Nimbus. "Ther ain't no better han' in enny crop dan Berry Lawson. I've said dat often an' over."
"Den yer jes take back dem hard words yer spoke 'bout Berry, won't yer now, Cousin Nimbus?" said Berry, sidling up to him and looking very much as if he intended to give the lie to his own account of his fighting proclivities.
"No, I won't," said Nimbus, positively. "I do say dat any man ez runs away kase de Ku Kluck tries ter scar him off is a damn coward, 'n I don't care who he calls his name neither."
"Wal, now, Cousin Nimbus," said Berry, his eyes flashing and his whole appearance falsifying his previous poltroonery, "dar's two sides ter dat ar question. I hain't nebber been a sojer like you, cousin, an' it's a fac' dat I don't keer ter be; but I du say ez how I'd be ez willin' ter stan' up an' fight fer de rights we's got ez enny man dat ebber's trod de sile ennywhere's 'bout Red Wing, ef I thought ez how 'twould do de least bit ob good. But I tell yer, gemmen, hit won't do enny good, not de least bit, an' I knows it. I'se seen de Ku Kluckers, gemmen, an' I knows who some on 'em is, an' I knows dat when sech men takes hold ob sech a matter wid only pore niggers on de udder side, dar ain't no chance fer de niggers. I'se seen 'em, an' I knows."
"When?" "Whar?" "Tell us 'bout it, Berry!" came up from all sides in the crowd which had collected until now almost all the inhabitants of Red Wing and its vicinity were there.
"Oh, 'tain't nuffin'," said he, nonchalantly. "What Berry says, ain't no 'count, nohow."
"Yes, tell us 'bout it," said Nimbus, in a conciliatory tone.
"Wal, ef you wants ter hear, I'll tell it," said Berry, condescendingly. "Yer mind some tree er fo' weeks ago I went ter Bre'er Rufe's, ober in Hanson county, on a Friday night, an' didn't git back till a Monday mornin'?"
"Sartin," said Nimbus, gravely.
"Wal, 'twas along o' dis yer business dat I went thar. I know'd yer'd got one er two warnin's sence I'd come yere wid yer, an' I 'llowed it were on account ob me, kase dem ar Sykeses is monstrous bad folks when dey gits mad, an' ole Marse Granville, he war powerful mad at me findin' a home here wid my own relations. So, I tole Sally Ann all 'bout it, an' I sez to her, 'Sally,' sez I, 'I don't want ter make Nimbus no sort o' trouble, I don't, kase he's stood up ter us like a man. Now, ef dey should take a notion ter trouble Bre'er Nimbus, hit mout do him a heap of harm, kase he's got so much truck 'round him here ter lose.' So we made it up dat I was ter go ter Bre'er Rufe Paterson's, ober in Hanson county an' see ef we couldn't find a place ter lib dar, so's not ter be baitin' de hawks on ter you, Cousin Nimbus."
"Now you, Berry," said Nimbus, extending his hand heartily, "what for yer no tell me dis afore?"
"Jes kase 'twas no use," answered Berry. "Wall, yer know, I left h'yer 'bout two hours ob de sun, an' I pushes on right peart, kase it's a smart step ober ter Rufe's, ennyhow, an' I wanted ter see him an' git back ter help Nimbus in de crap ob a Monday. Sally hed fixed me up a bite o' bread an' a piece o' meat, an' I 'llowed I'd jes stop in some piney ole-field when I got tired, eat my snack, go ter sleep, an' start fresh afo' daylight in de mornin' for de rest ob de way. I'd been a wukkin' right peart in de new-ground dat day, an' when I got ter dat pine thicket jes past de spring by de Brook's place, 'twixt de Haw Ribber an' Stony Fork, 'long 'bout nine o'clock I reckon, I wuz dat done out dat I jes takes a drink at de spring, eats a bite o' bread an' meat, hunts a close place under de pines, an' goes ter sleep right away.
"Yer knows dar's a smart open place dar, whar dey used ter hev de ole muster-ground. 'Twas de time ob de full moon, an' when I woke up a-hearin' somethin', an' kind o' peeped out under de pine bushes, I t'ought at fust dat it was de ghostesses ob de ole chaps dat hed come back ter muster dar, sure 'nough. Dey warn't more'n ten steps away from me, an' de boss man, he sot wid his back to me in dat rock place what dey calls de Lubber's Cheer. De hosses was tied all round ter de bushes, an' one ob 'em warn't more'n tree steps from me, nohow. I heard 'em talk jest ez plain ez you can hear me, an' I know'd right smart ob de voices, tu; but, la sakes! yer couldn't make out which from t'odder wid dem tings dey hed on, all ober der heads, an' way down to der feet."
"What did they say?" asked Eliab Hill.
"Wal, Bre'er 'Liab, dey sed a heap, but de upshot on't all was dat de white folks hed jes made up dar min's ter run dis kentry, spite ob ebbery ting. Dey sed dat dey wuz all fixed up in ebbery county from ole Virginny clean ter Texas, an' dey wuz gwine ter teach de niggers dere place agin, ef dey hed ter kill a few in each county an' hang 'em up fer scarecrows—jes dat 'ere way. Dey wa'n't no spring chickens, nuther. Dar wur Sheriff Gleason. He sed he'd corned over ter let 'em know how they was gittin' on in Ho'sford. He sed dat ebbery white man in de county 'cept about ten or twelve was inter it, an' dey wuz a gwine ter clean out nigger rule h'yer, shore. He sed de fust big thing they got on hand wuz ter break up dis buzzard-roost h'yer at Red Wing, an' he 'llowed dat wouldn't be no hard wuk kase dey'd got some pretty tough tings on Nimbus an" 'Liab both.
"Dey wuz all good men, I seed de hosses, when dey mounted ter go 'way. I tell ye dey wuz good 'uns! No pore-white trash dar; no lame hosses ner blind mules ner wukked down crap-critters, Jes sleek gentlemen's hosses, all on 'em.
"Wal, dey went off atter an hour er two, an' I lay dar jes in a puffick lather o' sweat. I was dat dar skeered, I couldn't sleep no mo' dat ar night, an' I darsn't walk on afore day kase I wuz afeared o' meetin' some on 'em. So I lay, an' t'ought dis ting all ober, an' I tell ye, fellers, 'tain't no use. 'Spose all de white men in Ho'sford is agin us, what's we gwine ter do? We can't lib. Lots o' niggers can't lib a week widout wuk from some white man. 'Sides dat, dey's got de bosses an' de guns, an' de 'sperience; an' what we got? Jes nuffin'. Der ain't no mo' use o' fightin' dan ob tryin' ter butt down 'simmons off a foot-an'-a-half tree wid yer head. It don't make no sort o' matter 'bout our rights. Co'se we'se got a right ter vote, an' hold meetin's, an' be like white folks; but we can't do it ef dey's a mind ter stop us. An' dey is—dat berry ting!
"Nimbus sez he's gwine ter fight, an' 'Liab sez he's gwine ter pray. Dat's all right, but it won't do nobody else enny good nor them nuther. Dat's my notion. What good did fightin' er prayin' either used ter do in ole slave times? Nary bit. An' dey's got us jest about ez close ez dey hed us den, only de halter-chain's a leetle mite longer, dat's all. All dey's got ter do is jes ter shorten up on de rope an' it brings us in, all de same ez ever. Dat's my notion. So I'se gwine ter move on ebbery time dey axes me tu; kase why, I can't help it. Berry'll git enough ter eat most ennywhar, an' dat's 'bout all he 'spects in dis worl'. It's a leetle better dan de ole slave times, an' ef it keeps on a-growin' better 'n better, gineration atter gineration, p'raps some of Berry's kinfolks'll git ter hev a white man's chance some time."
Berry's experience was listened to with profound interest, but his conclusions were not received with favor. There seemed to be a general conviction that the colored race was to be put on trial, and that it must show its manhood by defending itself and maintaining its rights against all odds. His idea of running away was voted a cowardly and unworthy one, and the plan advocated by Nimbus and Eliab, to stay and fight it out or take whatever consequences might result, was accepted as the true one to be adopted by men having such responsibility as rested upon them, as the first generation of free-men in the American history of their race.
So, Nimbus and his friends made ready to fight by holding a meeting in the church, agreeing upon signals, taking account of their arms, and making provision to get ammunition. Berry prepared for his exodus by going again to his brother Rufus' house and engaging to work on a neighboring plantation, and some two weeks afterward he borrowed Nimbus' mule and carry-all and removed his family also. As a sort of safeguard on this last journey, he borrowed from Eliab Hill a repeating Spencer carbine, which a Federal soldier had left at the cabin of that worthy, soon after the downfall of the Confederacy. He was probably one of those men who determined to return home as soon as they were convinced that the fighting was over. Sherman's army, where desertion had been unknown during the war, lost thousands of men in this manner between the scene of Johnston's surrender and the Grand Review at Washington, which ended the spectacular events of the war. Eliab had preserved this carbine very carefully, not regarding it as his own, but ready to surrender it to the owner or to any proper authority when demanded. It was useless without the proper ammunition, and as this seemed to be a peculiar emergency, he allowed Berry to take it on condition that he should stop at Boyleston and get a supply of cartridges. Eliab had never fired a gun in his life, but he believed in defending his rights, and thought it well to be ready to resist unlawful violence should it be offered.
THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW.
A few days after the events narrated in the last two chapters, the sheriff presented himself at Red Wing. There was a keen, shrewd look in the cold, gray eyes under the overhanging brows, as he tied his horse to the rack near the church, and taking his saddle-bags on his arm, crossed the road toward the residence of Nimbus and Eliab Hill.
Red Wing had always been a remarkably peaceful and quiet settlement. Acting under the advice of Miss Ainslie and Eliab, Nimbus had parted with none of his possessions except upon terms which prevented the sale of spirituous liquors there. This was not on account of any "fanatical" prejudice in favor of temperance, since the Squire of Red Wing was himself not exactly averse to an occasional dram; but he readily perceived that if such sale could be prohibited in the little village the chances for peace and order would be greatly improved. He recognized the fact that those characters that were most likely to assemble around a bar-room were not the most likely to be valuable residents of the settlement. Besides the condition in his own deeds, therefore, he had secured through the members of the Legislature from his county the passage of an act forever prohibiting the sale of spirituous liquors within one mile of the school-house at Red Wing. Just without this limit several little shanties had been erected where chivalric white men doled out liquor to the hard-working colored men of Red Wing. It was an easy and an honorable business and they did not feel degraded by contact with the freedmen across the bar. The superior race did not feel itself debased by selling bad whisky at an extravagant price to the poor, thirsty Africans who went by the "shebangs" to and from their daily toil. But Nimbus and the law would not allow the nearer approach of such influences.
By these means, with the active co-operation of the teachers, Red Wing had been kept so peaceful, that the officers of the law rarely had occasion to appear within its limits, save to collect the fiscal dues from its citizens.
It was with not a little surprise, therefore, that Nimbus saw the stalwart sheriff coming towards him where he was at work upon the hillside back of his house, "worming" and "topping" a field of tobacco which gave promise of a magnificent yield.
"Mornin', Nimbus," said the officer, as he drew near, and turning partially around glanced critically over the field and furtively at the little group of buildings below. "A fine stand of terbacker you've got—mighty even, good growth. Don't think I've seen quite as good-looking a crap this year. There's old man George Price up about Rouseville, he's got a mighty fine crap—always does have, you know. I saw it yesterday and didn't think anything could be better, but your's does beat it, that's sure. It's evener and brighter, and a trifle heavier growth, too. I told him that if anybody in the county could equal it you were the man; but I had no idea you could beat it. This is powerful good land for terbacker, certain."
"'Tain't so much the land," said Nimbus, standing up to his arm-pits in the rank-leaved crop above which his bare black arms glistened in the hot summer sun, "as 'tis the keer on't. Powerful few folks is willin' ter give the keer it takes ter grow an' cure a fine crop o' terbacker. Ther ain't a minit from the time yer plant the seed-bed till ye sell the leaf, that ye kin take yer finger offen it widout resk ob losin' all yer wuk."
"That's so," responded the sheriff, "but the land has a heap to do with it, after all."
"Ob co'se," said Nimbus, as he broke a sucker into short pieces between his thumb and finger, "yer's got ter hab de sile; but ther's a heap mo' jes ez good terbacker lan' ez dis, ef people only hed the patience ter wuk it ez I do mine."
"Wal, now, there's not so much like this," said the sheriff, sharply, "and you don't think so, neither. You wouldn't take a big price for your two hundred acres here now." He watched the other's countenance sharply as he spoke, but the training of slavery made the face of the black Ajax simply Sphinx-like in its inscrutability.
"Wal, I don't know," said Nimbus, slowly, "I mout and then again I moutn't, yer know. Ther'd be a good many pints ter think over besides the quality of the sile afore I'd want ter say 'yes' er 'no' to an offer ob dat kind."
"That's what I thought," said the sheriff. "You are nicely fixed here, and I don't blame you. I had some little business with you, and I'm glad I come to-day and caught ye in your terbacker. It's powerful fine."
"Business wid me?" asked Nimbus in surprise. "What is it?"
"Oh, I don't know," said the officer, lightly, as he put on his spectacles, opened his saddle-bags and took out some papers. "Some of these lawyers have got after you, I suppose, thinking you're getting along too peart. Let me see," he continued, shuffling over the papers in his hand. "Here's a summons in a civil action—the old man, Granville Sykes, against Nimbus Desmit and Eliab Hill. Where is 'Liab? I must see him, too. Here's your copy," he continued, handing Nimbus the paper and marking the date of service on the original in pencil with the careless promptitude of the well-trained official.
Nimbus looked at the paper which was handed him in undisguised astonishment.
"What is dis ting, anyhow, Marse Sheriff?" he asked.
"That? Why, that is a summons. Can't you read it? Here, let me take it."
He read over the legal formulary requiring Nimbus to be and appear at the court house in Louisburg on the sixth Monday after the second Monday in August, to answer the demand of the plaintiff against him, and concluding with the threat that in default of such appearance judgment would be entered up against him.
"You see, you've got to come and answer old man Granville's complaint, and after that you will have a trial. You'll have to get a lawyer, and I expect there'll be smart of fuss about it before it's over. But you can afford it; a man as well fixed as you, that makes such terbacker as this, can afford to pay a lawyer right smart. I've no doubt the old man will get tired of it before you do; but, after all, law is the most uncertain thing in the world."
"What does it mean? Has he sued me?" asked Nimbus.
"Sued you? I should rather think he had—for a thousand dollars damages too. That is you and 'Liab, between you."
"But what for? I don't owe him anythin' an' never did."
"Oh, that's nothing. He says you've damaged him. I've forgot what it's about. Let me see. Oh, yes, I remember now. He says you and 'Liab enticed away his servant—what's his name? that limber-jinted, whistlin' feller you've had working for you for a spell."
"That's it, Berry—Berry Lawson, That's the very chap. Well, old Granville says you coaxed him to leave his employ, and he's after you under the statute."
"But it's a lie—every word on't! I nebber axed Berry ter leave him, an' hed no notion he was a gwine ter do it till Marse Sykes throwed him out in de big road."
"Wal, wal, I don't know nothing about that, I'm sure. He says you did, you say you didn't. I s'pose it'll take a court and jury to decide betwixt ye. It's none of my concern. Oh, yes," he continued, "I like to have forgot it, but here's a capias for you, too—you and 'Liab again. It seems there's a bill of indictment against you. I presume it's the same matter. I must have a bond on this for your appearance, so you'd better come on down to 'Liab's house with me. I'll take you for him, and him for you, as sureties. I don't suppose 'Liab'll be apt to run away, eh, and you're worth enough for both."
"What's this all about?" asked Nimbus.
"Well, I suppose the old man Sykes got ye indicted under the statute making it a misdemeanor, punishable with fine and imprisonment, to coax, hire, or seduce away one's niggers after he's hired 'em. Just the same question as the other, only this is an indictment and that's a civil action—an action under the code, as they call it, since you Radicals tinkered over the law. One is for the damage to old man Sykes, and the other because it's a crime to coax off or harbor any one's hirelings."
"Is dat de law, Mister Sheriff?"
"Oh, yes, that's the law, fast enough. No trouble about that. Didn't know it, did you? Thought you could go and take a man's "hands" right out from under his nose, and not get into trouble about it, didn't ye?"
"I t'ought dat when a man was free anudder could hire him widout axin' leave of his marster. Dat's what I t'ought freedom meant."
"Oh, not exactly; there's lots of freedom lyin' round loose, but it don't allow a man to hire another man's hands, nor give them aid and comfort by harboring and feeding them when they break their contracts and run away. I reckon the old man's got you, Nimbus. If one hook don't catch, the other will. You've been harborin' the cuss, if you didn't entice him away, and that's just the same."
"Ef you mean by harborin' that I tuk my wife's kinsman in when ole Marse Sykes turned his family out in de big road like a damned ole rascal—"
"Hold on, Nimbus!" said the sheriff, with a dangerous light in his cold gray eyes; "you'd better not talk like that about a white gentleman."
"Whose ter hender my talkin', I'd like ter know? Hain't I jes' de same right ter talk ez you er Marse Sykes, an' wouldn't you call me a damn rascal ef I'd done ez he did? Ain't I ez free ez he is?"
"You ain't white!" hissed the sheriff.
"No, an' it seems I ain't free, nuther!" was the hot reply." H'yer t'other night some damn scoundrels—I'specs they wuz white, too, an' yer may tell 'em from me dat I called 'em jes what I did—come an' hung a board 'fore my gate threatening ter kill me an' 'Liab kase we's 'too sassy,' so they sed. Now, 'Liab Hill ner me nebber disturb nobody, an' nebber do nothin' only jes stan' up for our own rights, respectful and peaceable-like; but we hain't ter be run down in no sech way, I'se a free man, an' ef I think a man's a gran' rascal I'se gwine ter say so, whether he's black er white; an' ef enny on 'em comes ter Ku Klux me I'll put a bullet t'rough dem! I will, by God! Ef I breaks the law I'll take the consequences like a man, but I'll be damned ef ennybody shall Ku Kluck me without somebody's goin' 'long with me, when I drops outen dis world! Dat much I'se sot on!"
The sheriff did not answer, only to say, "Careful, careful! There's them that would give you a high limb if they heard you talk like that."
They went together to the house. The required bonds were given, and the sheriff started off with a chuckle. He had hardly passed out of sight when he checked his horse, returned, and calling Nimbus to the gate, said to him in a low tone:
"See here, Nimbus, if you should ever get in the notion of selling this place, remember and let me have the first chance."
"All right, Marse Gleason."
"And see here, these little papers I've served to-day—you needn't have any trouble about them in that case. You understand," with a wink.
"Dunno ez I does, Marse Sheriff," stolidly.
"Oh, well, if you sell to me, I'll take care of them, that's all."
"An' ef I don't?"
"Oh, well, in that case, you must look out for yourself."
He wheeled his horse and rode off with a mocking laugh.
Nimbus returned to the porch of Eliab's house where the preacher sat thoughtfully scanning the summons and capias.
"What you tink ob dis ting, 'Liab?"
"It is part of a plan to break you up, Nimbus," was the reply.
"Dar ain't no sort ob doubt 'bout that, 'Liab," answered Nimbus, doggedly, "an' dat ole Sheriff Gleason's jes' at de bottom ob it, I do b'lieve. But I ain't ter be druv off wid law-suits ner Ku Kluckers. I'se jest a gwine ter git a lawyer an' fight it out, dat I am."
A PARTICULAR TENANCY LAPSES.
The second day after the visit of the sheriff, Nimbus was sitting on his porch after his day's work when there was a call at his gate.
"Who's dar?" he cried, starting up and gazing through an opening in the honeysuckle which clambered up to the eaves and shut in the porch with a wall of fragrant green. Seeing one of his white neighbors, he went out to the gate, and after the usual salutations was greeted with these words:
"I hear you's gwine to sell out an' leave, Nimbus?"
"How'd ye hear dat?"
"Wal, Sheriff Gleason's a' been tellin' of it 'round, and ther ain't no other talk 'round the country only that."
"What 'ud I sell out an' leave for? Ain't I well 'nough off whar I is?"
"The sheriff says you an' 'Liab Hill has been gittin' into some trouble with the law, and that the Ku Klux has got after you too, so that if you don't leave you're likely to go to States prison or have a whippin' or hangin' bee at your house afore you know it."
"Jes let 'em come," said Nimbus, angrily—"Ku Kluckers or sheriffs, it don't make no difference which. I reckon it's all 'bout one an' de same ennyhow. It's a damn shame too. Dar, when de 'lection come las' time we put Marse Gleason in agin, kase we hadn't nary white man in de county dat was fitten for it an' could give de bond; an' of co'se dere couldn't no cullu'd man give it. An' jes kase we let him hev it an' he's feared we mout change our minds now, here he is a runnin' 'roun' ter Ku Klux meetin's an' a tryin' ter stir up de bery ole debble, jes ter keep us cullu'd people from hevin' our rights. He can't do it wid me, dat's shore. I hain't done nuffin' an' I won't run. Ef I'd a-done ennythin' I'd run, kase I don't b'lieve more'n ennybody else in a, man's stayin' ter let de law git a holt on him; but when I hain't done nary ting, ther ain't nobody ez kin drive me outen my tracks."
"But the Ku Klux mout lift ye outen 'em," said the other with a weak attempt at wit.
"Jes let 'em try it once!" said Nimbus, excitedly. "I'se purty well prepared for 'em now, an' atter tomorrer I'll be jes ready for 'em. I'se gwine ter Louisburg to-morrer, an' I 'llow that atter I come back they won't keer ter meddle wid Nimbus. Tell yer what, Mister Dossey, I bought dis place from ole Marse Desmit, an' paid for it, ebbery cent; an' I swar I ain't a gwine ter let no man drive me offen it—nary foot. An' ef de Ku Klux comes, I's jest a gwine ter kill de las' one I gits a chance at. Now, you min' what I say, Mister Dossey, kase I means ebbery word on't."
The white man cowered before the other's energy. He was of that class who were once denominated "poor whites." The war taught him that he was as good a man to stop bullets as one that was gentler bred, and during that straggle which the non-slaveholders fought at the beck and in the interest of the slaveholding aristocracy, he had learned more of manhood than he had ever known before. In the old days his father had been an overseer on a plantation adjoining Knapp-of-Reeds, and as a boy he had that acquaintance with Nimbus which every white boy had with the neighboring colored lads—they hunted and fished together and were as near cronies as their color would allow. Since the war he had bought a place and by steady work had accumulated some money. His plantation was on the river and abutted on the eastern side with the property of Nimbus. After a moment's silence he said:
"That reminds me of what I heard to-day. Your old Marse Potem is dead."
"Yer don't say, now!"
"Yes—died yesterday and will be buried to-morrow."
"La, sakes! An' how's he lef ole Missus an' de gals, I wonder?"
"Mighty pore I'm afraid. They say he's been mighty bad off lately, an' what he's got won't more'n half pay his debts. I reckon the widder an' chillen'll hev ter 'homestead it' the rest of their lives."
"Yer don't tink so? Wal, I do declar', hit's too bad. Ez rich ez he was, an' now ter come down ter be ez pore ez Nimbus—p'raps poorer!"
"It's mighty hard, that's sure. It was all along of the wah that left everybody pore in this country, just as it made all the Yankees rich with bonds and sech-like."
"Sho'! what's de use ob bein' a fool? 'Twan't de wah dat made Marse Desmit pore. 'Twuz dat ar damn fool business ob slavery afo' de wah dat wound him up. Ef he'd never been a 'speculator' an' hadn't tried to grow rich a raisin' men an' wimmen for market he'd a been richer'n ever he was, when he died."
"Oh, you're mistaken 'bout that, Nimbus. The wah ruined us all."
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Nimbus, derisively. "What de wah ebber take from you, Mister Dossey, only jes yer oberseer's whip? An' dat wur de berry best ting ebber happen ter ye, kase it sot yer to wuk an' put yer in de way ob makin' money for yerself. It was hard on sech ez ole Mahs'r, dat's a fac, even ef 'twas mostly his own fault; but it was worth a million ter sech ez you. You 'uns gained mo' by de outcome ob de wah, right away, dan we cullu'd folks'll ebber git, I'm afeared."
"Yer may be right," said Dawsey, laughing, and with a touch of pride in his tone. "I've done pretty well since the wah. An' that brings me back to what I come over for. I thought I'd ax, if ye should git in a notion of selling, what yer'd take fer yer place here?"
"I hain't no idea uv selling, Mister Dossey, an' hain't no notion uv hevin' any 'nuther. You an' ebberybody else mout jest ez well larn, fust ez las', dat I shan't never sell only jes ter make money. Ef I put a price on Red Wing it'll be a big one; kase it ain't done growing yet, an' I might jest ez well stay h'yr an' grow ez ter go West an' grow up wid de kentry, ez dat fool Berry Lawson's allers tellin' about."
"Wal, that's all right, only ef you ever want ter sell, reasonable-like, yer know who to come to for your money. Good-night!"
The man was gathering up his reins when Nimbus said:
"When did yer say ole Mahsr's funeral was gwine ter be?"
"To-morrow afternoon at four o'clock, I heerd."
"Thank ye. I'se 'bout made up my mind ter go ter Louisburg to-morrer, stay ter dat funeral, an' come back nex' day. Seems ter me ole Mahs'r'd be kind o' glad ter see Nimbus at his funeral, fer all I wan't no gret fav'rite o' his'n. He wa'nt sich a bad marster, an' atter I bought Red Wing he use ter come ober ebbery now an' agin, an' gib me a heap ob advice 'bout fixin' on it up. I allus listened at him, tu, kase ef ennybody ever knowed nex' do' ter ebberyting, dat ar man wuz ole Marse Potem. I'se sorry he's dead, I is; an' I'se mighty sorry for ole Missus an' de gals. An' I'se a gwine ter go ter dat er funeral an' see him laid away, ef it do take anudder day outen de crap; dat I is, shore.
"An' that 'minds me," said the white man, "that I heard at the same time, that Walter Greer, who used to own the plantation afore yer Marse Desmit bought it, died sometime lately, 'way out in Texas. It's quare, ain't it, that they should both go nigh about the same time. Good-night."
The "poor-white" neighbor rode away, little dreaming that the colored man had estimated him aright, and accounted him only an emissary of his foes, nor did he comprehend the importance of the information he had given.
THE BEACON-LIGHT OF LOVE.
Mollie Ainslie had been absent from Red Wing more than a month. It was nearly midnight. The gibbous moon hung over the western tree-tops. There was not a sound to be heard in the little hamlet, but strangely draped figures might have been seen moving about in the open glades of the piney woods which skirted Red Wing upon the west.
One after another they stole across the open space between the church and the pine grove, in its rear, until a half-dozen had collected in its shadow. One mounted on another's shoulders and tried one of the windows. It yielded to his touch and he raised it without difficulty. He entered and another after him. Then two or three strange-looking packages were handed up to them from the outside. There was a whispered discussion, and then the parties within were heard moving cautiously about and a strong benzoic odor came from the upraised window. Now and then a sharp metallic clang was heard from within. At length the two that had entered returned to the window. There was a whispered consultation with those upon the outside. One of these crept carefully to the corner and gave a long low whistle. It was answered after a moment's interval, first from one direction and then from another, until every part of the little hamlet resounded with short quick answers. Then the man at the corner of the church crept back and whispered,
One of the parties inside came out upon the window-sill and dropped lightly to the ground. The other mounted upon the window-sill, and turned round upon his knees; there was a gleam of light within the building, a flicker and a hiss, and then with a mighty roar the flame swept through it as if following the trail of some combustible. Here and there it surged, down the aisles and over the desks, white and clear, showing in sharpest silhouette every curve and angle of building and furniture.
The group at the window stood gazing within for a moment, the light playing on their faces and making them seem ghastly and pale by the reflection; then they crept hastily back into the shadow of the wood—all but one, who, clad in the horribly grotesque habit of the Ku Klux Klan, stood at the detached bell-tower, and when the flames burst forth from the windows solemnly tolled the bell until driven from his post by the heat.
One had hardly time to think, before the massive structure of dried pitch-pine which northern charity had erected in the foolish hope of benefiting the freedmen, where the young teachers had labored with such devotion, and where so many of the despised race had laid the foundation of a knowledge that they vainly hoped might lift them up into the perfect light of freedom, was a solid spire of sheeted flame.
By its ghastly glare, in various parts of the village were to be seen groups and single armed sentries, clad in black gowns which fell to their very feet, spire-pointed caps, grotesquely marked and reaching far above the head, while from the base a flowing masque depended over the face and fell down upon the shoulders, hiding all the outlines of the figure.
The little village was taken completely by surprise. It had been agreed that the ringing of the church bell should be the signal for assembling at the church with such arms as they had to resist the Ku Klux. It had not been thought that the danger would be imminent until about the expiration of the time named in the notice; so that the watch which had been determined upon had not been strictly kept, and on this night had been especially lax on one of the roads leading into the little hamlet.
At the first stroke of the bell all the villagers were awake, and from half-opened doors and windows they took in the scene which the light of the moon and the glare of the crackling fire revealed. Then dusky-skinned forms stole hastily away into the shadows of the houses and fences, and through the rank-growing corn of the little truck-patches, to the woods and fields in the rear. There were some who since the warning had not slept at home at all, but had occupied little leafy shelters in the bush and half-hid burrows on the hillside. On the eyes of all these gleamed the blaze of the burning church, and each one felt, as he had never realized before, the strength of that mysterious band which was just putting forth its power to overturn and nullify a system of laws that sought to clothe an inferior and servile race with the rights and privileges theretofore exercised solely by the dominant one.
Among those who looked upon this scene was Eliab Hill. Sitting upon his bench he gazed through the low window of his little cottage, the flame lighting up his pale face and his eyes distended with terror. His clasped hands rested on the window-sill and his upturned eyes evidently sought for strength from heaven to enable him manfully to perform the part he had declared his determination to enact. What he saw was this:
A company of masked men seemed to spring out of the ground around the house of Nimbus, and, at a whistle from one of their number, began swiftly to close in upon it. There was a quick rush and the door was burst open. There were screams and blows, angry words, and protestations within. After a moment a light shot up and died quickly out again—one of the party had struck a match. Eliab heard the men cursing Lugena, and ordering her to make up a light on the hearth. Then there were more blows, and the light shone upon the window. There were rough inquiries for the owner, and Eliab thanked God that his faithful friend was far away from the danger and devastation of that night. He wondered, dully, what would be his thought when he should return on the morrow, and mark the destruction wrought in his absence, and tried to paint his rage.
While he thought of these things the neighboring house was ransacked from top to bottom. He heard the men cursing because their search was fruitless. They brought out the wife, Lugena, and two of her children, and coaxed and threatened them without avail. A few blows were struck, but the wife and children stoutly maintained that the husband and father was absent, attending his old master's funeral, at Louisburg. The yellow light of the blazing church shone on the house, and made fantastic shadows all around. The lurid glare lighted up their faces and pictured their terror. They were almost without clothing. Eliab noticed that the hand that clasped Lugena's black arm below the band of the chemise was white and delicate.
The wife and children were crying and moaning in terror and pain. Oaths and blows were intermingled with questions in disguised voices, and gasping broken answers. Blood was running down the face of the wife. The younger children were screaming in the house. Children and women were shrieking in every direction as they fled to the shelter of the surrounding woods. The flame roared and crackled as it licked the resin from the pine logs of the church and leaped aloft. It shone upon the glittering needles of the surrounding pines, lighted up the ripening tobacco on the hillside, sparkled in the dewy leaves of the honeysuckle which clambered over the freedman's house and hid the staring moon with its columns of black smoke.
The search for Nimbus proving unavailing—they scarcely seemed to expect to find him—they began to inquire of the terror-stricken woman the whereabouts of his friend.