"Where is 'Liab Hill?" asked the man who held her arm.
"What have you done with that snivelling hop-toad minister?" queried another.
"Speak, damn you! and see that you tell the truth," said a third, as he struck her over the bare shoulders with a stick.
"Oh! don't! don't!" shrieked the poor woman as she writhed in agony. "I'll tell! I will, gentlemens—I will—I will! Oh, my God! don't! don't!" she cried, as she leaped wildly about, tearing the one garment away in her efforts to avoid the blows which fell thick and fast on every part of her person, now fully exposed in the bright light.
"Speak, then!" said the man who held the goad. "Out with it! Tell where you've hid him!"
"He ain't—here, gentlemen! He—he—don't—stay here no mo'."
Again the blows came thick and fast. She fell upon the ground and rolled in the dust to avoid them. Her round black limbs glistened in the yellow light as she writhed from side to side.
"Here I am—here!" came a wild, shrill shriek from Eliab's cabin.
Casting a glance towards it, one of the men saw a blanched and pallid face pressed against the window and lighted by the blazing church—the face of him who was wont to minister there to the people who did not know their own "best friends!"
"There he is!"—"Bring the damn rascal out!"—"He's the one we want, anyhow!"
These and numerous other shouts of similar character, beat upon the ears of the terrified watcher, as the crowd of masked marauders rushed towards the little cabin which had been his home ever since Red Wing had passed into the possession of its present owner. It was the first building erected under the new proprietorship, and was substantially built of pine logs. The one low window and the door in front were the only openings cut through the solidly-framed logs. The door was fastened with a heavy wooden bar which reached across the entire shutter and was held in place by strong iron staples driven into the heavy door-posts. Above, it was strongly ceiled, but under the eaves were large openings made by the thick poles which had been used for rafters. If the owner had been capable of defense he could hardly have had a castle better adapted for a desperate and successful struggle than this.
Eliab Hill knew this, and for a moment his face flushed as he saw the crowd rush towards him, with the vain wish that he might fight for his life and for his race. He had fully made up his mind to die at his post. He was not a brave man in one sense of the word. A cripple never is. Compelled to acknowledge the physical superiority of others, year after year, he comes at length to regard his own inferiority as a matter of course, and never thinks of any movement which partakes of the aggressive. Eliab Hill had procured the strong bar and heavy staples for his door when first warned by the Klan, but he had never concocted any scheme of defense. He thought vaguely, as he saw them coming towards him in the bright moonlight and in the brighter glow of the burning sanctuary, that with a good repeating arm he might not only sell his life dearly, but even repel the attack. It would be a proud thing if he might do so. He was sorry he had not thought of it before. He remembered the Spencer carbine which he had given a few days before to Berry Lawson to clean and repair, and to obtain cartridges of the proper calibre, in order that it might be used by some one in the defense of Red Wing. Berry had not yet returned. He had never thought of using it himself, until that moment when he saw his enemies advancing upon him with wild cries, and heard the roar of the flaming church. He was not a hero. On the contrary, he believed himself a coward.
He was brave enough in suffering, but his courage was like that of a woman. He was able and willing to endure the most terrible evils, but he did not think of doing brave things or achieving great acts. His courage was not aggressive. He could be killed, but did not think of killing. Not that he was averse to taking life in self-defense, but he had been so long the creature of another's will in the matter of locomotion that it did not occur to him to do otherwise than say: "Do with me as thou wilt. I am bound hand and foot. I cannot fight, but I can die."
He shrank from acute pain with that peculiar terror which the confirmed invalid always exhibits, perhaps because he realizes its horror more than those who are usually exempt from its pangs.
As he pressed his face close to the flame-lighted pane, and watched the group of grotesquely disguised men rushing toward his door, his eyes were full of wild terror and his face twitched, while his lips trembled and grew pale under the dark mustache. There was a rush against the door, but it did not yield. Another and another; but the heavy bar and strong staples held it fast. Then his name was called, but he did not answer. Drawing his head quickly from the window, he closed the heavy wooden shutter, which fitted closely into the frame on the inside, and fastened it with a bar like that upon the door. Hardly had he done so when a blow shattered the window. Something was thrust in and passed around the opening, trying here and there to force open the shutter, but in vain. Then it was pressed against the bottom, just where the shutter rested on the window-sill. There was an instant's silence save that Eliab Hill heard a click which he thought was caused by the cocking of a revolver, and threw himself quickly down upon his bench. There was a sharp explosion, a jarring crash as the ball tore through the woodwork, and hurtling across the room buried itself in the opposite wall. Then there were several shots fired at the door. One man found a little hole in the chinking, between two of the logs, and putting his revolver through, fired again and again, sending spits of hot flame and sharp spiteful reverberations through the darkness of the cabin.
Eliab Hill watched all this with fixed, staring eyes and teeth set, but did not move or speak. He scrambled off the bench, and crawled, in his queer tri-pedal fashion, to the cot, crept into it, and with hands clasped, sat bolt upright on the pillow. He set his back against the wall, and, facing the door, waited for the end. He wished that some of the bullets that were fired might pierce his heart. He even prayed that his doom might come sharp and swift—that he might be saved from torture—might be spared the lash. He only feared lest his manhood should fail him in the presence of impending suffering.
There came a rush against the door with some heavy timber. He guessed that it was the log from the hitching rack in front of Nimbus' house. But the strong bar did not yield. They called out his name again, and assured him that if he did not undo the door they would fire the house. A strange look of relief, even of joy, passed over his face as he heard this declaration. He clasped his hands across his breast as he sat upon the bed, and his lips moved in prayer. He was not afraid to die, but he was afraid that he might not be strong enough to endure all the pain that might be caused by torture, without betraying his suffering or debasing his manhood. He felt very weak and was glad to know that fire and smoke would hide his groans and tears.
While he waited for the hissing of the flame the blows of an axe resounded on the door. It was wielded by stalwart hands, and ere long the glare from without shone through the double planking.
"Hello, 'Liab—'Liab Hill!" cried a voice at the opening which seemed to the quiet listener within strangely like that of Sheriff Gleason. "Damn me, boys, if I don't believe you've killed the nigger, shooting in there. Hadn't we better just set the cabin afire and let it burn?"
"Put in your hand and see if you can't lift the bar," said another. "I'd like to know whether the scoundrel is dead or alive. Besides that, I don't fancy this burning houses. I don't object to hanging a sassy nigger, or anything of that kind, but burning a house is a different matter. That's almost too mean for a white man to do. It's kind of a nigger business, to my notion."
"For instance!" said another, with a laugh, pointing to the blazing church.
"Oh, damn it!" said the former, "that's another thing. A damn nigger school-house ain't of no more account than a brush-pile, anyhow."
A hand was thrust through' the opening and the bar lifted from one socket and drawn out of the other. Then the door flew open and a half dozen men rushed into the room. The foremost fell over the rolling chair which had been left near the door, and the others in turn fell over him.
"What the hell!" cried one. "Here, bring the light here. What is this thing anyhow?"
The light was brought, and the voice continued: "Damned if it ain't the critter's go-cart. Here kick the damn thing out—smash it up! Such things ain't made for niggers to ride on, anyhow. He won't need it any more—not after we have got through with him."
"That he won't!" said another, as the invalid's chair which had first given Eliab Hill power to move himself about was kicked out of the door and broken into pieces with blows of the axe.
Eliab Hill felt as if a part of his life was already destroyed. He groaned for the fate of this inseparable companion of all his independent existence. It had grown dearer to him than he knew. It hurt him, even then, to hear the coarse, grim jests which were uttered as its finely-wrought frame cracked beneath the blows of the axe, and its luxurious belongings were rent and torn by the hands that would soon rend and tear its owner. He had come to look upon the insensate machine with a passionate regard. While it seemed like tearing away his limbs to take it from him, yet there was a feeling of separate animate existence about it which one never feels towards his own members. He had petted and polished and cared for this strong, pretty, and easily worked combination of levers and springs and wheels that had served him so faithfully, until it seemed to his fancy like an old and valued friend.
THE "BEST FRIENDS" REVEAL THEMSELVES.
"Bring alight!" shouted the leader. One of the men rushed into the house of Nimbus, and snatched a flaming brand from the hearth. As he ran with it out of the front door, he did not see a giant form which leaped from the waving corn and sprang into the back door. The black foot was bare and made no sound as it fell upon the threshold. He did not see the black, furious face or the right arm, bared above the elbow, which snatched a saber from the top of a cupboard. He did not see the glaring, murderous eyes that peered through the vine-leaves as he rushed, with his flaming brand aloft, out of the house to the hut of Eliab. As he readied the door the light fell upon the preacher, who sat upon the bed. The fear of death had passed away—even the fear of suffering was gone. His lips moved in prayer, the forgiving words mingling with the curses of his assailants: "O God, my help and my shield!" ("Here he is, God damn him.") "Forgive them, Father—" ("I've got him.") "They know not—-a—h!"
A long, shrill shriek—the voice of a man overborne by mortal agony—sounded above the clamor of curses, and above the roar of the blazing church. There was a fall upon the cabin floor—the grating sound of a body swiftly drawn along its surface—and one of the masked marauders rushed out dragging by the foot the preacher of the Gospel of Peace. The withered leg was straightened. The weakened sinews were torn asunder, and as his captor dragged him out into the light and flung the burden away, the limb dropped, lax and nerveless, to the ground. Then there were blows and kicks and curses from the crowd, which rushed upon him. In the midst, one held aloft a blazing brand. Groans and fragments of prayer came up through the din. [Footnote: Those who are interested in such matters may find some curiously exact parallels of the characters and incidents of this chapter testified to under oath in the "Report of the Committee on Ku-Klux Outrages in the Southern States." The facts are of no special interest, however, except as illustrations of the underlying spirit and cause of this strange epidemic of violence.]
All at once there was a roar as of a desert lion bursting from its lair. They looked and saw a huge black form leap from the porch of the other house and bound toward them. He was on them in a minute. There was the swish of a saber swung by a practiced hand, and the high-peaked mask of the leader bent over the hissing blade, and was stripped away, leaving a pale, affrighted face glaring stupidly at the ebon angel of wrath in the luried fire-light. A fearful oath came through the white, strong teeth, which showed hard-set below the moustache. Again the saber whistled round the head of the avenger. There was a shriek of mortal agony, and one of the masqueraders fell. The others shrunk back. One fired a shot. The man with the torch stood for the moment as though transfixed, with the glaring light still held aloft. Then, with his revolver, he aimed a close, sure shot at the dusky giant whom he watched.
Suddenly he saw a woman's naked figure, that seemed to rise from the ground. There was a gleam of steel, and then down through mask and flesh and bone crashed the axe which had fallen by the door step, and the blood spurted upon Lugena's unclothed form and into the face of the prostrate Eliab, as the holder of the torch fell beside him. Then the others gave way, and the two black forms pursued. There were some wild shots fired back, as they fled toward the wood beyond the road.
Then from its depths came a flash and a roar. A ball went shrieking by them and flew away into the darkness beyond. Another, and another and another! It was not the sharp, short crack of the revolver, but the fierce angry challenge of the rifle. They had heard it before upon the battle-field, and terror lent them wings as they fled. The hurtling missiles flew here and there, wherever a masked form could be seen, and pursued their fleeing shadows into the wood, glancing from tree to tree, cutting through spine and branch and splintering bole, until the last echo of their footsteps had died away.
Then all was still, except the roar of the burning church and the solemn soughing of the pines, as the rising west wind rustled their branches.
Nimbus and his wife stood listening in the shade of a low oak, between the scene of conflict and the highway. No sound of the flying enemy could be heard.
"Nimbus! Oh, Nimbus!" the words came in a strained, low whisper from the unclad figure at his side.
"Is you hurt, honey?"
"Nary bit. How should I be? They run away ez quick ez I come. Did they 'buse you, 'Gena?"
"None of enny 'count," she answered, cautiously, for fear of raising his anger to a point beyond control—"only jest a tryin' ter make me tell whar you was—you an' 'Liab."
"Whar's yer clo'es, honey?"
"In de house, dar, only what I tore, getting away from 'em." "An' de chillen?"
"Dey's run out an' hid somewheres. Dey scattered like young pa'tridges."
"Dey's been hunted like 'em too, eh?"
He lays his hand in caution upon the bare shoulder next him, and they both crouch closer in the shadow and listen. All is quiet, except groans and stertorous breathing near the cabin.
"It's one of them damned villains. Let me settle him!" said Nimbus.
"Don't, don't!" cried Lugena, as she threw her arms about his neck. "Please don't, honey!"
"P'raps it's Bre'er 'Liab! Let me go!" he said, hastily.
Cautiously they started back through the strip of yellow light which lay between them and the cabin of Eliab. They could not believe that their persecutors were indeed gone. Nimbus's hand still clutched the saber, and Lugena had picked up the axe which she had dropped.
The groaning came indeed from Eliab. He had partially recovered from the unconsciousness which had come over him while undergoing torture, and with returning animation had come the sense of acute suffering from the injuries he had received.
"Bre'er 'Liab!" whispered Nimbus, bending over him.
"Is that you, Nimbus?" asked the stricken man in surprise. "How do you come to be here?"
"Jes tuk it inter my head ter come home atter de funeril, an' done got here jest in time ter take a han' in what was gwine on."
"Is the church all burned down, Nimbus?"
"De ruf hez all fell in. De sides 'll burn a long while yet. Dey'se logs, yer know."
"Did 'Gena get away, Nimbus?"
"Here I is, Bre'er 'Liab."
"Is anybody hurt?"
"Not ez we knows on, 'cept two dat's lyin' on de groun' right h'yer by ye," said Nimbus.
"Dead?" asked 'Liab, with a shudder. He tried to raise himself up but sank back with a groan.
"Oh, Bre'er 'Liab! Bre'er 'Liab!" cried Nimbus, his distress overcoming his fear, "is you hurt bad? My God!" he continued, as he raised his friend's head and saw that he had lapsed again into insensibility, "my God! 'Gena, he's dead!"
He withdrew the hand he had placed under the shoulders of the prostrate man. It was covered with blood.
"Sh—sh! You hear dat, Nimbus?" asked Lugena, in a choked whisper, as she started up and peered toward the road. "Oh, Nimbus, run! run! Do, honey, do! Dar dey comes! Dey'll kill you, shore!"
She caught her husband by the arm, and endeavored to drag him into the shadow of the cabin.
"I can't leave Bre'er 'Liab," said Nimbus, doggedly.
"Yer can't help him. Yer'll jes stay an' be killed ye'self! Dar now, listen at dat!" cried the trembling woman.
The sound to which she referred was that of hurried footfalls in the road beyond their house. Nimbus heard it, and stooping over his insensible friend, raised him in his arms and dashed around the cabin into the rank-growing corn beyond. His wife followed for a few steps, still carrying the axe. Then she turned and peered through the corn-rows, determined to cover her husband's retreat should danger threaten him from that direction. After waiting awhile and hearing nothing more, she concluded to go to the house, get some clothing, and endeavor to rally her scattered brood.
Stealing softly up to the back door—the fire had died out upon the hearth—she entered cautiously, and after glancing through the shaded porch began to dress. She had donned her clothing and taken up her shoes preparatory to going back to the shelter of the cornfield, when she thought she heard a stealthy footstep on the porch. Her heart stood still with terror. She listened breathlessly. It came again. There was no doubt of it now—a slow, stealthy step! A board creaked, and then all was still. Again! Thank God it was a bare foot! Her heart took hope. She stole to the open door and peeped out. There, in the half shadow of the flame-lit porch, she saw Berry Lawson stealing toward her. She almost screamed for joy. Stepping into the doorway she whispered,
"Is dat you, 'Gena?" whispered that worthy, tiptoeing hastily forward and stepping into the shadow within the room. "How'd yer manage ter live t'rough dis yer night, 'Gena? An' whar's Nimbus an' de chillen?"
These questions being hastily answered, Lugena began to inquire in regard to his presence there.
"Whar I come from? Jes got back from Bre'er Rufe's house. Druv at night jes ter save de mornin' ter walk back in. Lef' Sally an' de chillen dar all right. When I come putty nigh ter Red Wing I sees de light o' de fire, an' presently I sez to myself, sez I, 'Berry, dat ain't no common fire, now. Ain't many houses in the kentry roun' make sech a fire ez dat. Dat mus' be de church, Berry.' Den I members 'bout de Ku Kluckers, an' I sez ter myself agin, sez I, 'Berry, dem rascals hez come ter Red Wing an' is raisin' de debble dar now, jes dere own way.' Den I runs de mule and de carryall inter de woods, 'bout a mile down de road, an' I takes out Bre'er 'Liab's gun, dat I'd borrered fer company, yer know, an' hed got some cattridges fer, ober at Lewyburg, an' I comes on ter take a han' in—ef dar wa'n't no danger, yer know, honey.
"When I gits ober in de woods, dar, I heah de wust sort ob hullabaloo ober h'yer 'bout whar Bre'er 'Liab's house was—hollerin' an' screamin' an' cussin' an' fightin'. I couldn't make it all out, but I'llowed dat Nimbus wuz a-habbin' a hell ob a time, an' ef I wuz gwine ter do anyting, dat wuz about de right time fer me ter put in. So I rested dis yer ole gal," patting the carbine in his hand, "agin a tree an' jes slung a bullet squar ober dere heads. Ye see, I dassent shoot too low, fer fear ob hurtin' some of my fren's. 'D'ye heah dat shot, 'Gena? Lord! how de ole gal did holler. 'Pears like I nebber hear a cannon sound so big. De Ku Kluckers 'peared ter hear it too, fer dey comed squar outen h'yer inter de big road. Den I opened up an' let her bark at 'em ez long ez I could see a shadder ter pull trigger on. Wonder ef I hurt enny on 'em. D'yer know, 'Gena, wuz enny on 'em killed?"
"Dar's two on 'em a layin' out dar by 'Liab's house," said the woman.
"Yer don't say so!" said Berry with a start. "La, sakes! what's dat?" he continued, breathlessly, as a strange sound was heard in the direction indicated. They stole out upon the porch, and as they peered through the clustering wine-leaves a ghastly spectacle presented itself to their eyes.
One of the prostrate forms had risen and was groping around on its hands and knees, uttering a strange moaning sound. Presently it staggered to its feet, and after some vain efforts seized the mask, the long flowing cape attached to which fell down upon the shoulders, and tore it away. The pale, distorted face with a bloody channel down the middle was turned inquiringly this way and that. The man put his hand to his forehead as if to collect his thoughts. Then he tried to utter a cry; the jaw moved, but only unintelligible sounds were heard.
Lugena heard the click of the gun-lock, and turning, laid her hand on Berry, as she said,
"Don't shoot! 'Tain't no use!"
"Yer right, it ain't," said Berry with chattering teeth. "Who ebber seed a man walkin' 'roun' wid his head split wide open afo'?"
The figure staggered on, looked a moment at the house, turned toward the burning church, and then, seeming to recall what had happened, at once assumed a stealthy demeanor, and, still staggering as it went, crept off toward the gate, out of which it passed and went unsteadily off down the road.
"Dar ain't no sort of use o' his dodgin' 'round," said Berry, as the footsteps died away. "De berry debble'd gib him de road, enny time."
As he spoke, a whistle sounded down the road. Berry and Lugena instantly sought shelter in the corn. Crouching low between the rows, they saw four men come cautiously into the yard, examine the prostrate man that remained, and bear him off between them, using for a stretcher the pieces of the coffin-shaped board which had been hung upon the gate two weeks before.
"THE ROSE ABOVE THE MOULD."
The convalescence of Mollie Ainslie was very rapid, and a few days after the crisis of her disease her attendants were able to return to their homes at Red Wing. Great was the rejoicing there over the recovery of their favorite teacher. The school had been greatly crippled by her absence and showed, even in that brief period, how much was due to her ability and skill. Everybody was clamorous for her immediate return—everybody except Eliab Hill, who after an almost sleepless night sent a letter begging her not to return for a considerable time.
It was a strangely earnest letter for one of its apparent import. The writer dwelt at considerable length upon the insidious and treacherous character of the disease from which she was recovering. He grew eloquent as he detailed all that the people of Red Wing owed to her exertions in their behalf, and told how, year after year, without any vacation, she had labored for them. He showed that this must have been a strain upon her vital energies, and pointed out the danger of relapse should she resume her duties before she had fully recovered. He begged her, therefore, to remain at Mulberry Hill at least a month longer; and, to support his request, informed her that with the advice and consent of the Superintendent he had dismissed the school until that time. He took especial pains, too, to prevent the report of the threatened difficulty from coming to her ears. This was the more easily accomplished from the fact that those who had apprehended trouble were afraid of being deemed cowardly if they acknowledged their belief. So, while the greater number of the men in the little hamlet were accustomed to sleep in the neighboring thickets, in order to be out of harm's way should the Ku Klux come to make good their decree, very little was said, even among themselves, about the threatened attack.
In utter unconsciousness, therefore, of the fate that brooded over those in whom she took so deep an interest, Mollie abandoned herself to the restful delights of convalescence. She soon found herself able to visit the room of the confirmed invalid below, and though she seemed to detect a sort of coolness in her manner she did not dream of associating the change with herself. She attributed it entirely to the sore affliction which had fallen upon the household since her arrival, and which, she charitably reasoned, her own recovery must revive in their minds in full force. So she pardoned the fair, frail invalid who, reclining languidly upon the couch, asked as to her health and congratulated her in cool, set phrases upon her recovery.
Such was not the case, however, with her host. There were tears in his eyes when he met her on the landing for the first time after she left her sick-bed. She knew they were for the little Hildreth whom she had nursed and whom her presence recalled. And yet there was a gleam in his eyes which was not altogether of sorrow. She, too, mourned for the sweet child whom she had learned to love, and her eyes responded to the tender challenge with copious tears. Yet her own feelings were not entirely sad. She did not know why. She did not stop to analyze or reason. She only gave him her hand—how thin and white it was compared with the first time he had seen her and had noted its soft plumpness!
Their lips quivered so that they could not speak. He held her hand and assisted the servant in leading her into the parlor. She was still so weak that they had to lay her on the sofa. Hesden Le Moyne bent over her for a little while, and then hurried away. He had not said a word, and both had wept; yet, as she closed her eyes after he had gone she was vaguely conscious that she had never been so happy before in her life. So the days wore on, quietly and swiftly, full of a tender sorrow tempered with an undefined joy. Day by day she grew stronger and brighter, needing less of assistance but receiving even more of attention from the stricken father of her late charge.
"You have not asked about Satan," said Mr. Le Moyne suddenly one day.
"Why should I?" she replied, with an arch look. "If that personage will be equally forgetful of me I am sure I shall be very glad."
"Oh, I mean your horse—Midnight, as you call him," laughed Hesden.
"So I supposed," she replied. "I have a dim notion that you applied that eipthet to him on the night of my arrival. Your mother, too, said something about 'Satan,' that night, which I remember puzzled me very greatly at the moment, but I was too much flustered to ask about it just then. Thinking of it afterward, I concluded that she intended to refer to my black-skinned pet. But why do you give him that name?"
"Because that was the first name he ever knew," answered Hesden, with an amused smile.
"The first name he ever knew? I don't understand you," she replied. "My brother captured him at Appomattox, or near there, and named him Midnight, and Midnight he has been ever since."
"Very true," said Hesden, "but he was Satan before that, and very well earned this name, in his young days." "In his young days?" she asked, turning towards him in surprise. "Did you know him then?"
"Very well, indeed," he replied, smiling at her eagerness. "He was raised on this plantation and never knew any other master than me until that day at Rouse's Bridge."
"Why, that is the very place my brother captured him. I remember the name now that you mention it!" she exclaimed.
"Is it anything surprising," said he, "that the day I lost him should be the day he captured him?"
"No—not exactly—but then"—she paused in confusion as she glanced at the empty sleeve which was pinned across his breast.
"Yes," said he, noticing her look, "I lost that there," pointing to the empty sleeve as he spoke; "and though it was a sore loss to a young man who prided himself somewhat on his physical activity, I believe I mourned the horse more than I did the arm."
"But my brother—" she began with a frightened look into his face.
"Well, he must have been in my immediate vicinity, for Satan was the best-trained horse in the squadron. Even after I was dismounted, he would not have failed to keep his place in the ranks when the retreat was sounded, unless an unusually good horseman were on his back."
"My brother said he had as hard a struggle with him then as he had with his rider before," she said, looking shyly up.
"Indeed! I am obliged to him," he responded with a smile. "The commendation of an enemy is always pleasant to a soldier."
"Oh, he said you were terribly bloodthirsty and rode at him as if nothing would satisfy you but his life," she said, with great eagerness.
"Very likely," he answered, lightly. "I have some reputation for directness of purpose, and that was a moment of desperation. We did not know whether we should come back or not, and did not care. We knew that the end was very near, and few of us wished to outlive it. Not that we cared so much—many of us at least—for the cause we fought for; but we dreaded the humiliation of surrender and the stigma of defeat. We felt the disgrace to our people with a keenness that no one can appreciate who has not been in like circumstances. I was opposed to the war myself, but I would rather have died than have lived to see the surrender."
"It must have been hard," she said, softly.
"Hard!" he exclaimed. "I should think it was! But then," he added, his brow suddenly clearing, "next to the fact of surrender I dreaded the loss of my horse. I even contemplated shooting him to prevent his falling into the hands of the enemy."
"My brother thought you were rather anxious to throw away your own life," she said, musingly.
"No," he answered, "just indifferent. I wonder if I saw him at all."
"Oh, you must, for you-" she began eagerly, but stopped in confusion.
"Well, what did I do? Nothing very bad, I hope?" he asked.
"Well, you left an ugly scar on a very smooth forehead, if you call that bad, sir," she said, archly.
"Indeed! Of course I do," was the reply, but his tone indicated that he was thinking less of the atrocity which she had laid to his charge than of the events of that last day of battle. "Let me see," said he, musingly. "I had a sharp turn with a fellow on a gray horse. He was a slender, fair-haired man"—looking down at the figure on the sofa behind which he stood as if to note if there were any resemblance. "He was tall, as tall as I am, I should say, and I thought—I was of the impression—that he was of higher rank than a captain. He was somewhat in advance of his line and right in my path. I remember thinking, as I crossed swords with him that if—if we were both killed, the odds would be in favor of our side. He must have been a colonel at least, or I was mistaken in his shoulder-straps."
"My brother was a colonel of volunteers," she said, quietly. "He was only a captain, however, after his transfer to the regular army."
"Indeed!" said he with new interest. "What was he like?"
For answer Mollie put her hand to her throat, and opening a gold locket which she wore, held up the case so far as the chain would allow while Hesden bent over to look at it. His face was very near her own, and she noted the eagerness with which he scanned the picture.
"Yes, that is the man!" he said at length, with something like a sigh. "I hope I did not injure him seriously."
"Only his beauty," she replied, pleasantly.
"Of which, judging from what I see," he said saucily, letting his eyes wander from the miniature to her face, "he could afford to lose a good deal and yet not suffer by comparison with others."
It was a bold, blunt compliment, yet it was uttered with evident sincerity; but she had turned the locket so that she could see the likeness and did not catch the double meaning of his words. So she only answered calmly and earnestly, "He was a good brother."
A shadow passed over his face as he noticed her inattention to his compliment, but he added heartily,
"And a gallant one. I am glad that my horse fell into his hands."
She looked at him and said,
"You were very fond of your horse?"
"Yes, indeed!" he answered. "He was a great pet before we went into the service, and my constant companion for nearly three years of that struggle. But come out on the porch, and let me show you some of the tricks I taught him, and you will not only understand how I prized him, but will appreciate his sagacity more than you do now."
He assisted her to a rocking-chair upon the porch, and, bidding a servant to bring out the horse, said:
"You must remember that I have but one arm and have not seen him, until lately, at least, for five years.
"Poor old fellow!" he added, as he went down the steps of the porch, and told the servant to turn him loose. He called him up with a snap of his thumb and finger as he entered the yard and patted his head which was stretched out to receive the caress. "Poor fellow! he is not so young as he was then, though he has had good care. The gray hairs are beginning to show on his muzzle, and I can detect, though no one else might notice them, the wrinkles coming about his eyes. Let me see, you are only nine years old, though,—nine past. But it's the war that tells—tells on horses just as well as men. You ought to be credited with about five years for what you went through then, old fellow. And a man—Do you know, Miss Mollie," he said, breaking suddenly off—"that a man who was in that war, even if he did not get a shot, discounted his life about ten years? It was the wear and tear of the struggle. We are different from other nations. We have no professional soldiers—at least none to speak of. To such, war is merely a business and peace an interlude. There is no mental strain in their case. But in our war we were all volunteers. Every man, on both sides, went into the army with the fate of a nation resting on his shoulders, and because he felt the burden of responsibility. It was that which killed—killed and weakened—more than shot and shell and frost and heat together. And then—what came afterward?"
He turned towards her as he spoke, his hand still resting on the neck of the horse which was rubbing against him and playfully nipping at him with his teeth, in manifestation of his delight.
Her face had settled into firm, hard lines. She seemed to be looking beyond him, and the gray coldness which we saw about her face when she read the telegram in the far-away Bankshire hills, settled on cheek and brow again, as she slowly repeated, as though unconscious of their meaning, the lines:
"In the world's broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!"
Hesden Le Moyne gazed at her a moment in confused wonder. Then he turned to the horse and made him perform various tricks at his bidding. He made him back away from him as far as he chose by the motion of his hand, and then, by reversing the gesture, brought him bounding back again. The horse lifted either foot at his instance, lay down, rolled over, stood upon his hind feet, and finally knelt upon the edge of the porch in obeisance to his mistress, who sat looking, although in a preoccupied manner, at all that was done. Hesden Le Moyne was surprised and somewhat disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm over what he thought would give her so much pleasure. She thanked him absently when it was over, and retired to her own room.
WHAT THE MIST HID.
The darkness was already giving way to the gray light of a misty morning following the attack on Red Wing. The mocking birds, one after another, were responding to each other's calls, at first sleepily and unwillingly, as though the imprisoned melody compelled expression, and then, thoroughly aroused and perched upon the highest dew-laden branches swaying and tossing beneath them, they poured forth their rival orisons. Other sounds of rising day were coming through the mist that still hung over the land, shutting out the brightness which was marching from the eastward. The crowing of cocks, the neighing of horses, and the lowing of cattle resounded from hill to hill across the wide bottom-lands and up and down the river upon either hand. Nature was waking from slumber—not to the full, boisterous wakefulness which greets the broad day, but the half-consciousness with which the sluggard turns himself for the light, sweet sleep of the summer morning.
There was a tap at the open window that stood at the head of Hesden Le Moyne's bed. His room was across the hall from his mother's, and upon the same floor. It had been his room from childhood. The window opened upon the wide, low porch which ran along three sides of the great rambling house. Hesden heard the tap, but it only served to send his half-awakened fancy on a fantastic trip through dreamland. Again came the low, inquiring tap, this time upon the headboard of the old mahogany bedstead. He thought it was one of the servants coming for orders about the day's labors. He wondered, vaguely and dully, what could be wanted. Perhaps they would go away if he did not move. Again it came, cautious and low, but firm and imperative, made by the nail of one finger struck sharply and regularly against the polished headboard. It was a summons and a command for silence at once. Hesden raised himself quickly and looked toward the window. The outline of a human figure showed dimly against the gray darkness beyond.
"Who's there?"—in a low, quiet voice, as though caution had been distinctly enjoined.
"Marse Hesden!"—a low whisper, full of suppressed excitement.
"You, Nimbus?" said Le Moyne, as he stepped quickly out of bed and approached the window. "What's the matter?"
"Marse Hesden," whispered the colored man, laying a hand trembling with excitement on his shoulder as he came near, "is yer a friend ter 'Liab Hill?"
"Of course I am; you know that"—in an impatient undertone.
"Sh—sh! Marse Hesden, don't make no noise, please," whispered Nimbus. "I don't mean ter ax ef yer's jes got nothin' agin' him, but is yer that kind ob a friend ez 'll stan' by him in trouble?"
"What do you mean, Nimbus?" asked Hesden in surprise.
"Will yer come wid me, Marse Hesden—slip on yer clo'es an' come wid me, jist a minnit?" Hesden did not think of denying this request. It was evident that something of grave importance had occurred. Hardly a moment had elapsed before he stepped cautiously out upon the porch and followed Nimbus. The latter led the way quickly toward a spring which burst out of the hillside fifty yards away from the house, at the foot of a giant oak. Lying in the shadow of this tree and reclining against its base, lay Eliab Hill, his pallid face showing through the darkness like the face of the dead.
A few words served to tell Hesden Le Moyne what the reader already knows.
"I brought him here, Marse Hesden, kase ther ain't no place else dat he'd be safe whar he could be tuk keer on. Dem ar Kluckers is bound ter kill him ef dey kin. He's got ter be hid an' tuk keer on till he's well—ef he ever gits well at all."
"Why, you don't think he's hurt—not seriously, do you?"
"Hurt, man!" said Nimbus, impatiently. "Dar ain't much difference atwixt him an' a dead man, now.
"Good God! Nimbus, you don't mean that. He seems to sleep well," said Hesden, bending over the prostrate form.
"Sleep! Marse Hesden, I'se kerried him tree miles sence he's been a-sleepin' like dat; an' de blood's been a runnin' down on my hans an' a-breakin' my holt ebbery now an' den, tu!"
"Why, Nimbus, what is this you tell me? Was any one else hurt?"
"Wal, dar's a couple o' white men a-layin' mighty quiet dar, afo' 'Liab's house."
Hesden shuddered. The time he had dreaded had come! The smouldering passion of the South had burst forth at last! For years—ever since the war-prejudice and passion, the sense of insult and oppression had been growing thicker and blacker all over the South. Thunders had rolled over the land. Lightnings had fringed its edges. The country had heard, but had not heeded. The nation had looked on with smiling face, and declared the sunshine undimmed. It had taken no note of exasperation and prejudice. It had unconsciously trampled under foot the passionate pride of a conquered people. It had scorned and despised a sentiment more deeply inwrought than that of caste in the Hindoo breast.
The South believed, honestly believed, in its innate superiority over all other races and peoples. It did not doubt, has never doubted, that, man for man, it was braver, stronger, better than the North. Its men were "gentlemen"—grander, nobler beings than the North ever knew. Their women were "ladies"—gentle, refined, ethereal beings, passion and devotion wrapped in forms of ethereal mould, and surrounded by an impalpable effulgence which distinguished them from all others of the sex throughout the world. Whatever was of the South was superlative. To be Southern-born was to be prima facie better than other men. So the self-love of every man was enlisted in this sentiment. To praise the South was to praise himself; to boast of its valor was to advertise his own intrepidity; to extol its women was to enhance the glory of his own achievements in the lists of love; to vaunt its chivalry was to avouch his own honor; to laud its greatness was to extol himself. He measured himself with his Northern compeer, and decided without hesitation in his own favor.
The South, he felt, was unquestionably greater than the North in all those things which were most excellent, and was only overtopped by it in those things which were the mere result of numbers. Outnumbered on the field of battle, the South had been degraded and insulted by a sordid and low-minded conqueror, in the very hour of victory. Outnumbered at the ballot-box, it had still dictated the policy of the Nation. The Southern white man naturally compared himself with his Northern brother. For comparison between himself and the African—the recent slave, the scarcely human anthropoid—he found no ground. Only contrast was possible there. To have these made co-equal rulers with him, seated beside him on the throne of popular sovereignty, merely, as he honestly thought, for the gratification of an unmanly spite against a fallen foe, aroused every feeling of exasperation and revenge which a people always restive of restraint could feel.
It was not from hatred to the negro, but to destroy his political power and restore again their own insulted and debased supremacy that such things were done as have been related. It was to show the conqueror that the bonds in which the sleeping Samson had been bound were green withes which he scornfully snapped asunder in his first waking moment. Pride the most overweening, and a prejudice of caste the most intense and ineradicable, stimulated by the chagrin of defeat and inflamed by the sense of injustice and oppression—both these lay at the bottom of the acts by which the rule of the majorities established by reconstructionary legislation were overthrown. It was these things that so blinded the eyes of a whole people that they called this bloody masquerading, this midnight warfare upon the weak, this era of unutterable horror, "redeeming the South!"
There was no good man, no honest man, no Christian man of the South who for an instant claimed that it was right to kill, maim, beat, wound and ill-treat the black man, either in his old or his new estate. He did not regard these acts as done to another man, a compeer, but only as acts of cruelty to an inferior so infinitely removed from himself as to forbid any comparison of rights or feelings. It was not right to do evil to a "nigger;" but it was infinitely less wrong than to do it unto one of their own color. These men did not consider such acts as right in themselves, but only as right in view of their comparative importance and necessity, and the unspeakable inferiority of their victims.
For generations the South had regarded the uprising of the black, the assertion of his manhood and autonomy, as the ultima thule of possible evil. San Domingo and hell were twin horrors in their minds, with the odds, however, in favor of San Domingo. To prevent negro domination anything was justifiable. It was a choice of evils, where on one side was placed an evil which they had been taught to believe, and did believe, infinitely outweighed and overmatched all other evils in enormity. Anything, said these men in their hearts; anything, they said to each other; anything, they cried aloud to the world, was better, is better, must be better, than negro rule, than African domination.
Now, by negro rule they meant the exercise of authority by a majority of citizens of African descent, or a majority of which they constituted any considerable factor. The white man who acted with the negro in any relation of political co-ordination was deemed even worse than the African himself. If he became a leader, he was anathematized for self-seeking. If he only co-operated with his ballot, he was denounced as a coward. In any event he was certain to be deemed a betrayer of his race, a renegade and an outcast. Hesden Le Moyne was a Southern white man. All that has just been written was essential truth to him. It was a part of his nature. He was as proud as the proudest of his fellows. The sting of defeat still rankled in his heart. The sense of infinite distance between his race and that unfortunate race whom he pitied so sincerely, to whose future he looked forward with so much apprehension, was as distinct and palpable to him as to any one of his compeers. The thousandth part of a drop of the blood of the despised race degraded, in his mind, the unfortunate possessor.
He had inherited a dread of the ultimate results of slavery. He wished—it had been accounted sensible in his family to wish—that slavery had never existed. Having existed, they never thought of favoring its extinction. They thought it corrupting and demoralizing to the white race. They felt that it was separating them, year by year, farther and farther from that independent self-relying manhood, which had built up American institutions and American prosperity. They feared the fruit of this demoralization. For the sake of the white man, they wished that the black had never been enslaved. As to the blacks—they did not question the righteousness of their enslavement. They did not care whether it were right or wrong. They simply did not consider them at all. When the war left them free, they simply said, "Poor fellows!" as they would of a dog without a master. When the blacks were entrusted with the ballot, they said again, "Poor fellows!" regarding them as the blameless instrument by which a bigoted and revengeful North sought to degrade and humiliate a foe overwhelmed only by the accident of numbers; the colored race being to these Northern people like the cat with whose paw the monkey dragged his chestnuts from the fire. Hesden had only wondered what the effect of these things would be upon "the South;" meaning by "the South" that regnant class to which his family belonged—a part of which, by a queer synecdoche, stood for the whole.
His love for his old battle-steed, and his curious interest in its new possessor, had led him to consider the experiment at Red Wing with some care. His pride and interest in Eliab as a former slave of his family had still further fixed his attention and awakened his thought. And, finally, his acquaintance with Mollie Ainslie had led him unconsciously to sympathize with the object of her constant care and devotion.
So, while he stood there beside the stricken man, whose breath came stertorous and slow, he was in that condition of mind of all others most perilous to the Southern man—he had begun to doubt: to doubt the infallibility of his hereditary notions; to doubt the super-excellence of Southern manhood, and the infinite superiority of Southern womanhood; to doubt the incapacity of the negro for self-maintenance and civilization; to doubt, in short, all those dogmas which constitute the differential characteristics of "the Southern man." He had gone so far—a terrible distance to one of his origin—as to admit the possibility of error. He had begun to question—God forgive him, if it seemed like sacrilege—he had begun to question whether the South might not have been wrong—might not still be wrong—wrong in the principle and practice of slavery, wrong in the theory and fact of secession and rebellion, wrong in the hypothesis of hate on the part of the conquerors, wrong in the assumption of exceptional and unapproachable excellence.
The future was as misty as the gray morning.
Hesden Le Moyne stood with Nimbus under the great low-branching oak, in the chill morning, and listened to the labored breathing of the man for the sake of whose humanity his father had braved public opinion in the old slave-era, which already seemed centuries away in the dim past. The training of his life, the conditions of his growth, bore fruit in that moment. He pitied the outraged victim, he was shocked at the barbarity of his fellows; but there was no sense of injustice, no feeling of sacred rights trampled on and ignored in the person of the sufferer. He remembered when he had played with Eliab beside his mother's hearth; when he had varied the monotony of study by teaching the crippled slave-boy the tasks he himself was required to perform. The tenderness of old associations sprang up in his mind and he felt himself affronted in the person of the protege of his family. He disliked cruelty; he hated cowardice; and he felt that Eliab Hill had been the victim of a cruel and cowardly assault. He remembered how faithfully this man's mother had nursed his own. Above all, the sentiment of comradeship awoke. This man who had been his playfellow had been brutally treated because of his weakness. He would not see him bullied. He would stand by him to the death.
"The cowards!" he hissed through his teeth. "Bring him in, Nimbus, quick! They needn't expect me to countenance such brutality as this!"
"Marse Hesden," said the black Samson who had stood, silently watching the white playmate of his boyhood, while the latter recovered himself from the sort of stupor into which the revelation he had heard had thrown him, "God bress yer fer dem words! I 'llowed yer'd stan' by 'Liab. Dat's why I fotched him h'yer."
"Of course I would, and by you too, Nimbus."
"No, Marse Hesden, dat wouldn't do no sort o' good. Nimbus hez jes got ter cut an' run fer it. I 'specs them ar dat's a lyin' dar in front ob 'Liab's do' ain't like ter do no mo' troublin'; an' yer knows, Marse Hesden, 'twouldn't nebber be safe fer a cullu'd man dat's done dat ar ter try an' lib h'yerabouts no mo'!"
"But you did it in defense of life. You had a right to do it, Nimbus."
"Dar ain't no doubt o' dat, Marse Hesden, but I'se larned dat de right ter du a ting an' de doin' on't is two mighty diff'rent tings, when it's a cullu'd man ez does it. I hed a right ter buy a plantation an' raise terbacker; an' 'Liab hed a right ter teach an' preach; an' we both hed a right ter vote for ennybody we had a mind ter choose. An' so we did; an' dat's all we done, tu. An' now h'yer's what's come on't, Marse Hesden."
Nimbus pointed to the bruised creature before them as he spoke, and his tones sounded like an arraignment.
"I am afraid you are right, Nimbus," said the white man, with a sense of self-abasement he had never thought to feel before one of the inferior race. "But bring him in, we must not waste time here."
"Dat's a fac'," said Nimbus, with a glance at the East. "'Tain't more'n 'bout a hour till sun-up, an' I mustn't be seen hereabouts atter dat. Dey'll be a lookin' atter me, an' 'twon't be safe fer Nimbus ter be no whar 'cept in de mos' lonesome places. But whar's ye gwine ter put 'Liab, Marse Hesden?"
"In the house—anywhere, only be quick about it. Don't let him die here!" said Hesden, bending over the prostrate man and passing a hand over his forehead with a shudder.
"But whar'bouts in de house yer gwine ter put him, Marse Hesden?"
"Anywhere, man—in my room, if nowhere else. Come, take hold here!" was Hesden's impatient rejoinder as he put his one hand under Eliab's head and strove to raise him up.
"Dat won't do, Marse Hesden," said Nimbus, solemnly. 'Liab had a heap better go back ter de woods an' chance it wid Nimbus, dan be in your room."
"Why? Kase yer knows dat de men what done disting ain't a-gwine ter let him lib ef dey once knows whar he's ter be found. He's de one dey wuz atter, jest ez much ez Nimbus, an' p'raps a leetle more, dough yer knows ther ain't a mite o' harm in him, an' nebber was, But dat don't matter. Deytinks dat he keeps de cullu'd folks togedder, an' makes' em stan' up for dere rights, an' dat's why dey went fer him. 'Sides dat, ef he didn't hurt none on 'em dey know he seed an' heerd 'em, an' so'll be afeared ter let up on him on dat account."
"I'd like to see the men that would take him out of my house!" said Le Moyne, indignantly.
"Dar'd jes be two men killed instead ob one, ef yer should," said the other, dryly.
"Perhaps you're right," said Le Moyne, thoughtfully. "The men who did this will do anything. But where shall we put him? He can't lie here."
"Marse Hesden, does yer mind de loft ober de ole dinin'-room, whar we all used ter play ob a Sunday?"
"Of course, I've got my tobacco bulked down there now," was the answer. "Dat's de place, Marse Hesden!"
"But there's no way to get in there except by a ladder," said Hesden.
"So much de better. You gits de ladder, an' I brings 'Liab."
In a few minutes Eliab was lying on some blankets, hastily thrown over a bulk of leaf tobacco, in the loft over the old dining-room at Mulberry Hill, and Hesden Le Moyne was busy bathing his face, examining his wounds, and endeavoring to restore him to consciousness.
Nimbus waited only to hear his report that the wounds, though numerous and severe, were not such as would be likely to prove fatal. There were several cuts and bruises about the head; a shot had struck the arm, which had caused the loss of blood; and the weakened tendons of the cramped and unused legs had been torn asunder. These were all the injuries Le Moyne could find. Nimbus dropped upon his knees, and threw his arms about the neck of his friend at this report, and burst into tears.
"God bress yer, 'Liab! God bress yer!" he sobbed.
"Nimbus can't do no mo' fer ye, an' don't 'llow he'll nebber see ye no mo'—no mo' in dis world! Good-by, 'Liab, good-by! Yer don't know Nimbus's gwine away, does yer? God bress yer, p'raps it's better so—better so!"
He kissed again and again the pale forehead, from which the dark hair had been brushed back by repeated bathings. Then rising and turning away his head, he extended his hand to Le Moyne and said:
"Good-bye, Marse Hesden! God bress yer! Take good keer o' 'Liab, Mahs'r, an'—an'—ef he gits round agin, don't let him try ter stay h'yrabouts—don't, please! 'Tain't no use! See ef yer can't git him ter go ter de Norf, er somewhar. Oh, my God!" he exclaimed, suddenly, as the memory of his care of the stricken friend came suddenly upon him, "my God! what'll he ebber do widout Nimbus ter keer fer him?"
His voice was drowned in sobs and his grip on the hand of the white man was like the clasp of a vice.
"Don't go, Nimbus, don't!" pleaded Hesden.
"I must, Marse Hesden," said he, repressing his sobs. "l'se got ter see what's come o' 'Gena an' de rest, an' it's best fer both. Good-by! God bress yer! Ef he comes tu, ax him sometimes ter pray for Nimbus. But'tain't no use—no use—fer he'll do it without axin'. Good-by!"
He opened the wooden shutter, ran down the ladder, and disappeared, as the misty morning gave way to the full and perfect day.
Q. E. D.
As Mollie Ainslie grew stronger day by day, her kind host had done all in his power to aid her convalescence by offering pleasing attentions and cheerful surroundings. As soon as she was able to ride, she had been lifted carefully into the saddle, and under his watchful supervision had made, each day, longer and longer rides, until, for some days preceding the events of the last few chapters, her strength had so fully returned that they had ridden several miles. The flush of health had returned to her cheeks, and the sleep that followed her exercise was restful and refreshing.
Already she talked of returning to Red Wing, and, but for the thoughtfulness of Eliab Hill in dismissing the school for a month during her illness, would have been present at the terrible scenes enacted there. She only lingered because she was not quite recovered, and because there was a charm about the old plantation, which she had never found elsewhere. A new light had come into her life. She loved Hesden Le Moyne, and Hesden Le Moyne loved the Yankee school-marm. No word of love had been spoken. No caress had been offered. A pall hung over the household, in the gloom of which the lips might not utter words of endearment. But the eyes spoke; and they greeted each other with kisses of liquid light when their glances met. Flushed cheeks and tones spoke more than words. She waited for his coming anxiously. He was restive and uneasy when away. The peace which each one brought to the other's heart was the sure witness of well-grounded love. She had never asked herself where was the beginning or what would be the end. She had never said to herself, "I love him;" but his presence brought peace, and in her innocence she rested there as in an undisturbed haven.
As for him—he saw and trembled. He could not shut his eyes to her love or his own. He did not wish to do so. And yet, brave man as he was, he trembled at the thought. Hesden Le Moyne was proud. He knew that Mollie Ainslie was as proud as himself. He had the prejudices of his people and class, and he knew also that she had the convictions of that part of the country where she had been reared. He knew that she would never share his prejudices; he had no idea that he would ever share her convictions. He wished that she had never taught a "nigger school"—not for his own sake, he said to himself, with a flush of shame, but for hers. How could she face sneers? How could he endure insults upon his love? How could he ask her to come where sneers and insults awaited her? Love had set himself a hard task. He had set before him this problem: "New England Puritanism and Southern Prejudice; how shall they be reconciled?" For the solution of this question, there were given on one side a maiden who would have plucked out her heart and trampled it under her feet, rather than surrender one tenet in her creed of righteousness; and on the other side a man who had fought for a cause he did not approve rather than be taunted with having espoused one of the fundamental principles of her belief. To laugh at locksmiths was an easy thing compared with the reading of this riddle!
On the morning when Eliab was brought to Mulberry Hill, Mrs. Le Moyne and Mollie breakfasted together alone in the room of the former. Both were troubled at the absence of the master of the house.
"I cannot see why he does not come," said Mrs. Le Moyne. "He is the soul of punctuality, and is never absent from a meal when about home. He sent in word by Laura early this morning that he would not be at breakfast, and that we should not wait for him, but gave no sort of reason. I don't understand it."
"I hope he is not sick. You don't think he has the fever, do you?" said Mollie, with evident anxiety.
The elder woman glanced keenly at her as she replied in a careless tone:
"Oh, no indeed. You have no occasion for anxiety. I told Laura to take him a cup of coffee and a roll in his room, but she says he is not there. I suppose something about the plantation requires his attention. It is very kind of you, I am sure; but I have no doubt he is quite well."
There was something in the tone as well as the words which cut the young girl to the heart. She could not tell what it was. She did not dream that it was aimed at herself. She only knew that it sounded harsh and cold, and unkind. Her heart was very tender. Sickness and love had thrown her off her guard against sneers and hardness. It did not once occur to her that the keen-sighted invalid, whose life was bound up in her son's life, had looked into the heart which had never yet syllabled the love which filled it, and hated what she saw. She did not deem it possible that there should be aught but kindly feeling for her in the household she had all but died to serve. Moreover, she had loved the delicate invalid ever since she had received a letter from her hand. She had always been accustomed to that unconscious equality of common right and mutual courtesy that prevails so widely at the North, and had never thought of construing the letter as one of patronizing approval. She had counted it a friendly commendation, not only of herself, but of her work. This woman she had long pictured to herself as one that rose above the prejudice by which she was surrounded. She who, in the old times, had bravely taught Eliab Hill to read in defiance of the law, would surely approve of a work like hers.
So thought the silly girl, not knowing that the gentle invalid had taught Eliab Hill the little that he knew before emancipation more to show her defiance of meddling objectors, than for the good of the boy. In fact, she had had no idea of benefiting him, other than by furnishing him a means of amusement in the enforced solitude of his affliction. Mollie did not consider that Hester Le Moyne was a Southern woman, and as such, while she might admire courage and accomplishments in a woman of Northern birth, always did so with a mental reservation in favor of her own class. When, however, one came from the North to teach the negroes, in order that they might overpower and rule the whites, which she devoutly believed to be the sole purpose of the colored educational movement, no matter under what specious guise of charity it might be done, she could not go even so far as that.
Yet, if such a one came to her, overwhelmed by stress of weather, she would give her shelter; if she were ill she would minister unto her; for these were Christian duties. If she were fair and bright, and brave, she would delight to entertain her; for that was a part of the hospitality of which the South boasted. There was something enjoyable, too, in parading the riches of a well-stocked wardrobe and the lavish splendors of an old Southern home to one who, she believed, had never seen such magnificence before; for the belief that poverty and poor fare are the common lot of the country folks at the North is one of the fallacies commonly held by all classes at the South. As slavery, which was the universal criterion of wealth and culture at the South, did not prevail at all at the North, they unconsciously and naturally came to associate self-help with degradation, and likened the Northern farmer to the poor white "cropper." Where social rank was measured by the length of the serving train, it was not strange that the Northern self-helper should be despised and his complacent assumption of equal gentility scorned.
So Mrs. Le Moyne had admired the courage of Mollie Ainslie before she saw her; she had been charmed with her beauty and artless grace on the first night of her stay at Mulberry Hill, and had felt obliged to her for her care of the little Hildreth; but she had not once thought of considering her the peer of the Richardses and the Le Moynes, or as standing upon the same social plane as herself. She was, no doubt, good and honest and brave, very well educated and accomplished, but by no means a lady in her sense of the word. Mrs. Le Moyne's feeling toward the Northern school-teacher was very like that which the English gentry express when they use the word "person." There is no discredit in the term. The individual referred to may be the incarnation of every grace and virtue, only he is of a lower degree in the social scale. He is of another grade.
Entertaining such feelings toward Mollie, it was no wonder that Mrs. Le Moyne was not pleased to see the anxious interest that young lady freely exhibited in the health of her son.
On the other hand, the young New England girl never suspected the existence of such sentiments. Conscious of intellectual and moral equality with her hostess, she did not imagine that there could be anything of patronage, or anything less than friendly sympathy and approval, in the welcome she had received at Mulberry Hill. This house had seemed to her like a new home. The exile which she had undergone at Red Wing had unfitted her for the close analysis of such pleasing associations. Therefore, the undertone in Mrs. Le Moyne's remarks came upon her like a blow from an unseen hand. She felt hurt and humbled, but she could not exactly tell why. Her heart grew suddenly heavy. Her eyes filled with tears. She dallied a little while with coffee and toast, declined the dainties pressed upon her with scrupulous courtesy, and presently, excusing her lack of appetite, fled away to her room and wept.
"I must be nervous this morning," she said to herself smilingly, as she dried her eyes and prepared for her customary morning ride. On going down stairs she found a servant in waiting with her horse ready saddled, who said: "Mornin', Miss Mollie. Marse Hesden said ez how I was ter tell yer dat he was dat busy dis mornin' dat he couldn't go ter ride wid yer to-day, nohow. I wuz ter gib yer his compliments, all de same, an' say he hopes yer'll hev a pleasant ride, an' he wants ter see yer when yer gits back. He's powerful sorry he can't go."
"Tell Mr. Le Moyne it is not a matter of any consequence at all, Charley," she answered pleasantly.
"Yer couldn't never make Marse Hesden b'lieve dat ar, no way in de world," said Charles, with deft flattery, as he lifted her into the saddle. Then, glancing quickly around, he said in a low, earnest voice: "Hez ye heerd from Red Wing lately, Miss Mollie?"
"Not for a day or two. Why?" she asked, glancing quickly down at him.
"Oh, nuffin', only I wuz afeared dar'd been somethin' bad a gwine on dar, right lately."
"What do you mean, Charles?" she asked, bending down and speaking anxiously.
"Don't say nuffin' 'bout it, Miss Mollie—dey don't know nuffin' 'bout it in h'yer," nodding toward the house, "but de Ku Kluckers was dar las' night."
"You don't mean it, Charles?"
"Dat's what I hear," he answered doggedly.
"Anybody hurt?" she asked anxiously.
"I don't know dat, Miss Mollie. Dat's all I hear—jes dat dey'd been dar."
THROUGH A CLOUD-RIFT.
It was with a heavy heart that Mollie Ainslie passed out of the gate and rode along the lane toward the highway. The autumn sun shone bright, and the trees were just beginning to put on the gay trappings in which they are wont to welcome wintry death. Yet, somehow, everything seemed suddenly to have grown dark and dull. Her poor weak brain was overwhelmed and dazed by the incongruity of the life she was leaving with that to which she was going back—for she had no hesitation in deciding as to the course she ought to pursue.
She did not need to question as to what had been done or suffered. If there was any trouble, actual or impending, affecting those she had served, her place was with them. They would look to her for guidance and counsel. She would not fail them. She did not once think of danger, nor did she dream that by doing as she proposed she was severing herself entirely from the pleasant life at the fine old country seat which had been so eventful.
She did, indeed, think of Hesden. She always thought of him of late. Everything, whether of joy or of sorrow, seemed somehow connected with him. She thought of him—not as going away from him, or as putting him out of her life, but as deserving his approval by her act. "He will miss me when he finds that I do not return. Perhaps he will be alarmed," she said to herself, as she cantered easily toward the ford. "But then, if he hears what has happened, he will know where I have gone and will approve my going. Perhaps he will be afraid for me, and then he will—" Her heart seemed to stop beating! All its bright current flew into her face. The boundless beatitude of love burst on her all at once. She had obeyed its dictates and tasted its bliss for days and weeks, quite unconscious of the rapture which filled her soul. Now, it came like a great wave of light that overspread the earth and covered with a halo all that was in it. How bright upon the instant was everything! The sunshine was a beating, pulsing ether animated with love! The trees, the fields, the yellow-breasted lark, pouring forth his autumn lay, the swallows, glancing in the golden sunshine and weaving in and out on billowy wing the endless dance with which they hie them southward ere the winter comes—everything she saw or heard was eloquent with look and tones of love! The grand old horse that carried her so easily, how strange and how delightful was this double ownership, which yet was only one! Hers? Hesden's? Hesden's because hers, for—ah, glowing cheek! ah, bounding heart! how sweet the dear confession, breathed—nay told unspokenly—to autumn sky and air, to field and wood and bird and beast, to nature's boundless heart—she was but Hesden's! The altar and the idol of his love! Oh, how its incense thrilled her soul and intoxicated every sense! There was no doubt, no fear, no breath of shame! He would come and ask, and she—would give? No! no! no! She could not give, but she would tell, with word and look and swift embrace, how she had given—ah! given all—and knew it not! Oh, fairer than the opened heaven is earth illumined with love!
As she dreamed, her horse's swift feet consumed the way. She reached the river—a silver billow between emerald banks, to-day! Almost unheedingly she crossed the ford, just smiling, rapt in her vision, as memory brought back the darkness of her former crossing! Then she swept on, through the dark, over-arching pines, their odor mingling with the incense of love which filled her heart. She had forgotten Red Wing and all that pertained to it. The new song her lips had been taught to sing had made thin and weak every melody of the past, Shall care cumber the heart of the bride? She knew vaguely that she was going to Red Wing. She recognized the road, but it seemed glorified since she travelled it before. Once, she thought she heard her name called. The tone was full of beseeching. She smiled, for she thought that love had cheated her, and syllabled the cry of that heart which would not be still until she came again. She did not see the dark, pleading face which gazed after her as her horse bore her swiftly beyond his ken.
On and on, easily, softly! She knows she is approaching her journey's end, but the glamour of love enthralls her senses yet. The last valley is passed. She ascends the last hill. Before her is Red Wing, bright and peaceful as Paradise before the spoiler came. She has forgotten the story which the hostler told. The sight of the little village but heightens her rapture. She almost greets it with a shout, as she gives her horse the rein and dashes down the little street. How her face glows! The wind toys with stray tresses of her hair! How dull and amazed the people seem whom she greets so gayly! Still on! Around the angle of the wood she turns—and comes upon the smouldering church!
Ah, how the visions melt! What a cry of agony goes up from her white lips! How pale her cheeks grow as she drops the rein from her nerveless fingers! The observant horse needs no words to check his swift career. The scene of desolation stops him in an instant. He stretches out his head and looks with staring eyes upon the ruin. He snuffs with distended nostrils the smoke that rises from the burning.
The villagers gather around. She answers every inquiry with low moans. Gently they lead her horse under the shadow of the great oak before the old Ordinary. Very tenderly she is lifted down and borne to the large-armed rocker on the porch, which the weeping, trembling old "mammy" has loaded with pillows to receive her.
All day long she heard the timid tread of dusky feet and listened to the tale of woe and fear. Old and young, those whom she had counselled, and those whom she had taught, alike sought her presence and advice. Lugena came, and showed her scarred form; brought her beaten children, and told her tale of sorrow. The past was black enough, but the shadow of a greater fear hung over the little hamlet. They feared for themselves and also for her. They begged her to go back to Mr. Le Moyne's. She smiled and shook her head with a soft light in her eyes. She would not go back until the king came and entreated her. But she knew that would be very soon. So she roused herself to comfort and advise, and when the sun went down, she was once more the little Mollie Ainslie of the Bankshire hills, only fairer and ruddier and sweeter than ever before, as she sat upon the porch and watched with dewy, love-lit eyes the road which led to Mulberry Hill.
The shadows came. The night fell; the stars came out; the moon arose—he came not. Stealthy footsteps came and went. Faithful hearts whispered words of warning with trembling lips. She did not fear. Her heart was sick. She had not once dreamed that Hesden would fail to seek her out, or that he would allow her to pass one hour of darkness in this scene of horror. She almost began to wish the night might be a counterpart of that which had gone before. She took out her brother's heavy revolver, loaded every chamber, laid it on the table beside her chair, and sat, sleepless but dry-eyed, until the morning.
The days went by. Hesden did not come, and sent no word. He was but five miles away; he knew how she loved him; yet the grave was not more voiceless! She hoped—a little—even after that first night. She pictured possibilities which she hoped might be true. Then the tones of the mother's voice came back to her—the unexplained absence—the unfulfilled engagement—and doubt was changed to certainty! She did not weep or moan or pine. The Yankee girl had no base metal in her make. She folded up her vision of love and laid it away, embalmed in the fragrance of her own purity, in the inmost recess of her heart of hearts. The rack could not have wrung from her a whisper of her one day in Paradise. She was simply Mollie Ainslie, the teacher of the colored school at Red Wing, once more; quiet, cool, and practical, giving herself day by day, with increased devotion, to the people whom she had served so faithfully before her brief translation.
A GLAD GOOD-BY.
A few days after her departure from Mulberry Hill, Mollie Ainslie wrote to Mrs. Le Moyne:
"MY DEAR MADAM: You have no doubt heard of the terrible events which have occurred at Red Wing. I had an intimation of trouble just as I set out on my ride, but had no idea of the horror which awaited me upon my arrival here, made all the more fearful by contrast with your pleasant home.
"I cannot at such a time leave the people with whom I have labored so long, especially as their only other trusted adviser, the preacher, Eliab Hill, is missing. With the utmost exertion we have been able to learn nothing of him or of Nimbus since the night of the fire. There is no doubt that they are dead. Of course, there is great excitement, and I have had a very anxious time. I am glad to say, however, that my health continues to improve. I left some articles scattered about in the room I occupied, which I would be pleased if you would have a servant collect and give to the bearer.
"With the best wishes for the happiness of yourself and Mr. Hesden, and with pleasant memories of your delightful home, I remain,
"Yours very truly,
To this she received the following reply:
"Miss MOLLIE AINSLIE: I very much regret the unfortunate events which occasioned your hasty departure from Mulberry Hill. It is greatly to be hoped that all occasion for such violence will soon pass away. It is a great calamity that the colored people cannot be made to see that their old masters and mistresses are their best friends, and induced to follow their advice and leadership, instead of going after strangers and ignorant persons of their own color, or low-down white men, who only wish to use them for their own advantage. I am very sorry for Eliab and the others, but I must say I think they have brought it all on themselves. I am told they have been mighty impudent and obstreperous, until really the people in the neighborhood did not feel safe, expecting every day that their houses or barns would be burned down, or their wives or daughters insulted, or perhaps worse, by the lazy, saucy crowd they had gathered about them. "Eliab was a good boy, but I never did like that fellow Nimbus. He was that stubborn and headstrong, even in his young days, that I can believe anything of him. Then he was in the Yankee army during the war, you know, and I have no doubt that he is a desperate character. I learn he has been indicted once or twice, and the general belief is that he set the church on fire, and, with a crowd of his understrappers, fixed up to represent Ku Klux, attacked his own house, abused his wife and took Eliab off and killed him, in order to make the North believe that the people of Horsford are only a set of savages, and so get the Government to send soldiers here to carry the election, in order that a filthy negro and a low-down, dirty, no-account poor-white man may misrepresent this grand old county in the Legislature again.
"I declare, Miss Ainslie, I don't see how you endure such things. You seemed while here very much of a lady, for one in your sphere of life, and I cannot understand how you can reconcile it with your conscience to encourage and live with such a terrible gang.
"My son has been very busy since you left. He did not find time to inquire for you yesterday, and seemed annoyed that you had not apprised him of your intention to leave. I suppose he is afraid that his old horse might be injured if there should be more trouble at Red Wing.
"HESTER RICHARDS LE MOYNE."
"P.S.—I understand that they are going to hunt the fellow Nimbus with dogs to-morrow. I hope they will catch him and hang him to the nearest tree. I have no doubt he killed poor Eliab, and did all the rest of the bad things laid to his charge. He is a desperate negro, and I don't see how you can stand up for him. I hope you will let the people of the North know the truth of this affair, and make them understand that Southern gentlemen are not such savages and brutes as they are represented."
The letter was full of arrows designed to pierce her breast; but Mollie Ainslie did not feel one of them. After what she had suffered, no ungenerous flings from such a source could cause her any pain. On the contrary, it was an object of interest to her, in that it disclosed how deep down in the heart of the highest and best, as well as the lowest and meanest, was that prejudice which had originally instigated such acts as had been perpetrated at Red Wing. The credulous animosity displayed by this woman to whom she had looked for sympathy and encouragement in what she deemed a holy work, revealed to her for the first time how deep and impassable was the channel which time had cut between the people of the North and those of the South.
She did not lose her respect or regard for Mrs. Le Moyne. She did not even see that any word which had been written was intended to stab her, as a woman. She only saw that the prejudice-blinded eyes had led a good, kind heart to endorse and excuse cruelty and outrage. The letter saddened but did not enrage her. She saw and pitied the pride of the sick lady whom she had learned to love in fancy too well to regard with anger on account of what was but the natural result of her life and training.
PUTTING THIS AND THAT TOGETHER.
After Mollie had read the letter of Mrs. Le Moyne, it struck her as a curious thing that she should write to her of the hunt which was to be made after Nimbus, and the great excitement which there was in regard to him. Knowing that Mrs. Le Moyne and Hesden were both kindly disposed toward Eliab, and the latter, as she believed, toward Nimbus also, it occurred to her that this might be intended as a warning, given on the hypothesis that those parties were in hiding and not dead.
At the same time, also, it flashed upon her mind that Lugena had not seemed so utterly cast down as might naturally be expected of a widow so suddenly and sadly bereaved. She knew something of the secretive powers of the colored race. She knew that in the old slave times one of the men now living in the little village had remained a hidden runaway for months, within five miles of his master's house, only his wife knowing his hiding-place. She knew how thousands of these people had been faithful to our soldiers escaping from Confederate prisons during the war, and she felt that a secret affecting their own liberty, or the liberty of one acting or suffering in their behalf, might be given into the keeping of the whole race without danger of revelation. She remembered that amid all the clamorous grief of others, while Lugena had mourned and wept over the burning of the church and the scenes of blood and horror, she had exhibited little of that poignant and overwhelming grief or unappeasable anger which she would have expected, under the circumstances, from one of her temperament. She concluded, therefore, that the woman might have some knowledge in regard to the fate of her husband, Eliab, and Berry, which she had not deemed it prudent to reveal. With this thought in mind, she sent for Lugena and asked if she had heard that they were going to hunt for her husband with dogs.
"Yes, Miss Mollie, I'se heerd on't," was the reply, "but nebber you mind. Ef Nimbus is alive, dey'll nebber git him in no sech way ez dat, an' dey knows it. 'Sides dat, it's tree days ago, an' Nimbus ain't no sech fool ez ter stay round dat long, jes ter be cotched now. I'se glad ter hear it, dough, kase it shows ter me dat dey hain't killed him, but wants ter skeer him off, an' git him outen de kentry. De sheriff—not de high-sheriff, but one ob his understrappers—wuz up ter our house to-day, a-purtendin' ter hunt atter Nimbus. I didn't put no reliance in dat, but somehow I can't make out cla'r how dey could hev got away with him an' Berry an' 'Liab, all on 'em, atter de fight h'yer, an' not left no trace nor sign on' em nowhar.
"Now, I tell yer what's my notion, Miss Mollie," she added, approaching closer, and speaking in a whisper; "I'se done a heap o' tinkin' on dis yer matter, an' dis is de way I'se done figgered it out. I don't keer ter let on 'bout it, an' mebbe you kin see furder inter it nor I kin, but I'se jes made up my min' dat Nimbus is all right somewhars. I don't know whar, but it's somewhar not fur from 'Liab—dat yer may be shore on, honey. Now, yer see, Miss Mollie, dar's two or tree tings makes me tink so. In de fus' place, yer know, I see dat feller, Berry, atter all dis ting wuz ober, an' talked wid him an' told him dat Nimbus lef all right, an' dat he tuk 'Liab wid him, an' dat Bre'er 'Liab wuz mighty bad hurt. Wal, atter I told him dat, an' he'd helped me hunt up de chillens dat wuz scattered in de co'n, an' 'bout one place an' anudder, Berry he 'llows dat he'll go an' try ter fin' Nimbus an' 'Liab. So he goes off fru de co'n wid dat ar won'ful gun dat jes keeps on a-shootin' widout ary load.
"Atter a while I heahs him ober in de woods a-whistlin' an' a-carryin' on like a mockin'-bird, ez you'se heerd de quar critter du many a time." Mollie nodded affirmatively, and Lugena went on: "I couldn't help but laugh den, dough I wuz nigh about skeered ter death, ter tink what a mighty cute trick it wuz. I knowed he wuz a callin' Nimbus an' dat Nimbus 'ud know it, tu, jest ez soon ez he heerd it; but yer know ennybody dat hadn't heerd it over an offen, wouldn't nebber tink dat it warn't a mocker waked up by de light, or jes mockin' a cat-bird an' rain-crow, an' de like, in his dreams, ez dey say dey does when de moon shines, yer know."
Mollie smiled at the quaint conceit, so well justified by the fact she had herself often observed. Lugena continued:
"I tell yer, Miss Mollie, dat ar Berry's a right cute nigga, fer all dey say 'bout him. He ain't stiddy, like Nimbus, yer know, ner pious like 'Liab—dat is not ter hurt, yer know—but he sartin hab got a heap ob sense, fer all dat."
"It was certainly a very shrewd thing, but I don't see what it has to do with the fate of Nimbus," said Mollie. "I don't wish to seem to discourage you, but I am quite certain, myself, that we shall never see Nimbus or Eliab again."
"Oh, yer can't discourage me, Miss Mollie," answered the colored woman bravely. "I jes knows, er ez good ez knows, dat Nimbus is all right yit awhile. Now I tells yer, honey, what dis yer's got ter du wid it. Yer see, it must ha' been nigh about a half-hour atter Nimbus left afore Berry went off; jes dat er way I tole yer "bout."
"Well?" said Mollie, inquiringly.
"Wal," continued Lugena, "don't yer see? Dar hain't been nary word heard from neither one o' dem boys sence."
"Well?" said Mollie, knitting her brows in perplexity.
"Don't yer see, Miss Mollie," said the woman impatiently, "dat dey couldn't hab got 'em bofe togedder, 'cept Berry had found Nimbus fust?"
"Wal! Don't yer see dar would hev been a—a—terrible fight afore dem two niggas would hev gin up Bre'er 'Liab, let alone derselves? Yer must 'member dat dey had dat ar gun. Sakes-a-massy! Miss Mollie, yer orter hev hearn it dat night. 'Peared ter me yer could hab heard it clar' roun' de yairth, ef it is round, ez yer say 'tis. Now, somebody—some cullu'd body—would have been shore ter heah dat gun ef dar'd been a fight."
"I had not thought of that, Lugena," said Mollie.
"Co'se yer hadn't, honey; an' dere's sunthin' else yer didn't link ob, nuther, kase yer didn't know it," said Lugena. "Yer min' dat boy Berry, he'd done borrered our mule, jest afo' dat, ter take Sally an' de chillen an' what few duds dey hez down inter Hanson County, whar his brudder Rufe libs, an' whar dey's gwine ter libbin' tu. Dar didn't nobody 'spect him ter git back till de nex' day, any more'n Nimbus; an' it war jes kinder accidental-like dat either on 'em got h'yer dat night. Now, Miss Mollie, what yer s'pose hez come ob dat ar mule an' carryall? Dat's de question."
"I'm sure I don't know, 'Gena, said Mollie thoughtfully. "Ner I don't know, nuther," was the response; "but it's jes my notion dat whar dey is, right dar yer'll fin' Nimbus an' Berry, an' not fur off from dem yer'll find Bre'er 'Liab."
"You may be right," said her listener, musingly.
"I'se pretty shore on't, honey. Yer see when dat ar under-sheriff come ter day an' had look all 'round fer Nimbus, he sed, finally, sez he, 'I'se got a'tachment'—dat's what he call it, Miss Mollie—a'tachment 'gin de property, or sunthin' o' dat kine. I didn't know nary ting 'bout it, but I spunked up an' tole him ebbery ting in de house dar was mine. He argyfied 'bout it a right smart while, an' finally sed dar wan't nuffin' dar ob no 'count, ennyhow. Den he inquired 'bout de mule an' de carryall, an' atter dat he went out an' levelled on de crap."
"Did what?" asked Mollie.
"Levelled on de crap, Miss, dat's what he said, least-a-ways. Den he called fer de key ob de 'backer-barn, an' I tole him 'twan't nowheres 'bout de house—good reason too, kase Nimbus allus do carry dat key in his breeches pocket, 'long wid his money an' terbacker. So he takes de axe an' goes up ter de barn, an' I goes 'long wid him ter see what he's gwine ter du. Den he breaks de staple an' opens de do'. Now, Miss Mollie, 'twan't but a week er two ago, of a Sunday atternoon, Nimbus an' I wuz in dar lookin' roun', an' dar wuz a right smart bulk o' fine terbacker dar—some two er tree-hundred poun's on't. Now when de sheriff went in, dar wa'n't more'n four or five ban's ob 'backer scattered 'long 'twixt whar de pile had been an' de do'. Yah! yah! I couldn't help laughin' right out, though I wuz dat mad dat I couldn't hardly see, kase I knowed ter once how 'twas. D'yer see now, Miss Mollie?" "I confess I do not," answered the teacher.
"No? Wal, whar yer 'spose dat 'backer gone ter, hey?"
"I'm sure I don't know. Where do you think?"
"What I tink become ob dat 'backer? Wal, Miss Mollie, I tink Nimbus an' Berry put dat 'backer in dat carryall, an' den put Bre'er 'Liab in on dat 'backer, an' jes druv off somewhar—'Gena don't know whar, but dat 'backer 'll take 'em a long way wid dat ar mule an' carryall. It's all right, Miss Mollie, it's all right wid Nimbus. 'Gena ain't feared. She knows her ole man too well fer dat!
"Yer know he runned away once afo' in de ole slave times. He didn't say nary word ter me 'bout gwine ober ter de Yanks, an' de folks all tole me dat I nebber'd see him no mo'. But I knowed Nimbus, an' shore 'nough, atter 'bout two year, back he come! An' dat's de way it'll be dis time—atter de trouble's ober, he'll come back. But dat ain't what worries me now, Miss Mollie," continued Lugena. "Co'se I'd like ter know jes whar Nimbus is, but I know he's all right. I'se a heap fearder 'bout Bre'er 'Liab, fer I 'llow it's jes which an' t'other ef we ever sees him again. But what troubles me now, Miss Mollie, is 'bout myseff."
"About yourself?" asked Mollie, in surprise.
"'Bout me an' my chillens, Miss Mollie," was the reply.
"Why, how is that, 'Gena?"
"Wal yer see, dar's dat ar 'tachment matter. I don't understan' it, nohow."
"Nor I either," said Mollie.
"P'raps yer could make out sunthin' 'bout it from dese yer," said the colored woman, drawing a mass of crumpled papers from her pocket.
Mollie smoothed them out upon the table beside her, and began her examination by reading the endorsements. The first was entitled, "Peyton Winburn v. Nimbus Desmit, et al. Action for the recovery of real estate. Summons." The next was endorsed, "Copy of Complaint," and another, "Affidavit and Order of Attachment against Non-Resident or Absconding Debtor."
"What's dat, Miss Mollie?" asked Lugena, eagerly, as the last title was read. "Dat's what dat ar sheriff man said my Nimbus was—a non—non—what, Miss Mollie? I tole him 'twan't no sech ting; but la sakes! I didn't know nothing in de worl' 'bout it. I jes 'llowed dat 'twas sunthin' mighty mean, an' I knowed dat I couldn't be very fur wrong nohow, ef I jes contraried ebbery word what he said. What does it mean, Miss Mollie?"
"It just means," said Mollie, "that Nimbus owes somebody—this Mr. Winburn, I judge, and—"
"It's a lie! A clar, straight-out lie!" interrupted Lugena. "Nimbus don't owe nobody nary cent—not nary cent, Miss Mollie! Tole me dat hisself jest a little time ago."
"Yes, but this man claims he owes him—swears so, in fact; and that he has run away or hidden to keep from paying it," said Mollie. "He swears he is a non-resident—don't live here, you know; lives out of the State somewhere."
"An' Peyton Winburn swars ter dat?" asked the woman, eagerly.
"Didn't I tell yer dat Nimbus was safe, Miss Mollie?" she cried, springing from her chair. "Don't yer see how dey cotch derselves? Ef der's ennybody on de green yairth dat knows all 'bout dis Ku Kluckin' it's Peyton Winburn, and dat ar Sheriff Gleason. Now, don't yer know dat ef he was dead dey wouldn't be a suin' on him an' a swearin' he'd run away?"
"I'm sure I don't know, but it would seem so," responded Mollie.
"Seem so! it's boun' ter be so, honey," said the colored woman, positively.
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Mollie. "It's a matter I don't understand. I think I had better take these papers over to Captain Pardee, and see what ought to be done about them. I am afraid there is an attempt to rob you of all your husband has acquired, while he is away."
"Dat's what I'se afeared on," said the other. "An' it wuz what Nimbus 'spected from de fust ob dis h'yer Ku Kluck matter. Dear me, what ebber will I do, I dunno—I dunno!" The poor woman threw her apron over her head and began to weep.
"Don't be discouraged, 'Gena," said Mollie, soothingly. "I'll stand by you and get Mr. Pardee to look after the matter for you."
"T'ank ye, Miss Mollie, t'ank ye. But I'se afeared it won't do no good. Dey's boun' ter break us up, an' dey'll do it, sooner or later! It's all of a piece—a Ku Kluckin' by night, and a-suin' by day. 'Tain't no use, t'ain't no use! Dey'll hab dere will fust er last, one way er anudder, shore!"
Without uncovering her head, the sobbing woman turned and walked out of the room, across the porch and down the path to the gate.
"Not if I can help it!" said the little Yankee woman, as she smoothed down her hair, shut her mouth close, and turned to make a more thorough perusal of the papers Lugena had left with her. Hardly had she finished when she was astonished by Lugena's rushing into the room and exclaiming, as she threw herself on her knees:
"Oh, Miss Mollie, I done forgot—I was dat ar flustered 'bout de 'tachment an' de like, dat I done forgot what I want ter tell yer most ob all. Yer know, Miss Mollie, dem men dat got hurt dat ar night—de Ku Kluckers, two on 'em, one I 'llow, killed out-an'-out, an' de todder dat bad cut—oh, my God!" she cried with a shudder, "I nebber see de likes—no nebber, Miss Mollie. All down his face—from his forehead ter his chin, an' dat too—yes, an' his breast-bone, too—looked like dat wuz all split open an' a-bleedin'! Oh, it war horrible, horrible, Miss Mollie!"
The woman buried her face in the teacher's lap as if she would shut out the fearful spectacle.
"There, there," said Mollie, soothingly, as she placed a hand upon her head. "You must not think of it. You must try and forget the horrors of that night."
"Don't yer know, Miss Mollie, dat dem Ku Kluckers ain't a-gwine ter let de one ez done dat lib roun' h'yer, ner ennywhar else dat dey can come at 'em, world widout end?"
"Well, I thought you were sure that Nimbus was safe?"
"Nimbus?" said the woman in surprise, uncovering her face and looking up. "Nimbus? 'Twan't him, Miss Mollie, 'twan't him. I 'llows it mout hev been him dat hurt de one dat 'peared ter hev been killed straight out; but it was me dat cut de odder one, Miss Mollie."
"You?" cried Mollie, in surprise, instinctively drawing back. "You?"
"Yes'm," said Lugena, humbly, recognizing the repulse. "Me—wid de axe! I hope yer don't fault me fer it, Miss Mollie."
"Blame you? no indeed, 'Gena!" was the reply. "Only it startled me to hear you say so. You did entirely right to defend yourself and Nimbus. You should not let that trouble you for a moment."
"No, Miss Mollie, but don't yer know dat de Ku Kluckers ain't a-gwine ter fergit it?"
"Heavens!" said the Yankee girl, springing up from her chair in uncontrollable excitement. "You don't think they would hurt you—a woman?"
"Dat didn't save me from bein' stripped an' beat, did it?"
"Too true, too true!" moaned the teacher, as she walked back and forth wringing her hands. "Poor child! What can you do?—what can you do?"
"Dat's what I want ter know, Miss Mollie," said the woman. "I dassent sleep ter home at night, an' don't feel safe ary hour in de day. Dem folks won't fergit, an' 'Gena won't nebber be safe ennywhar dat dey kin come, night ner day. What will I do, Miss Mollie, what will I do? Yer knows Nimbus 'll 'llow fer 'Gena ter take keer ob herself an' de chillen an' de plantation, till he comes back, er sends fer me, an' I dassent stay, not 'nudder day, Miss Mollie! What'll I do? What'll I do?"