Bricks Without Straw
Albion W. Tourgee
Part 5 out of 9
invalid can be with any one but herself. Hesden will have a hard
time alone in this great house with two sick people on his hands."
"I shall not go back to Red Wing to-day."
"No, I do not think it would be right to endanger so many by exposure
to the disease." "Oh," carelessly; "but I am afraid yon may take
"I hope not. I am very well and strong. Besides, Hildreth calls
for me as soon as I leave him for a moment."
"Poor little fellow! It is pitiable to know that I can do nothing
"I will do what I can, Mrs. Le Moyne."
"But you must not expose yourself in caring for a strange child,
my dear. It will not do to be too unselfish."
"I cannot leave him, Mrs. Le Moyne."
She left the room quickly and returned to her place at the sufferer's
bedside. Hesden Le Moyne rose as she approached. She took the fan
from his hand and sat down in the chair he had occupied. He stood
silent a moment, looking down upon her as she fanned the uneasy
sleeper, and then quietly left the room.
"What a dear, tender-hearted thing she is!" said Mrs. Le Moyne to
herself after she had gone. "So lady-like and refined too. How
can such a girl think of associating with niggers and teaching a
nigger school? Such a pity she is not one of our people. She would
be just adorable then. Don't you think so, Hesden?" she said aloud
as her son entered. Having been informed of the subject of her
cogitations, Mr. Hesden Le Moyne replied, somewhat absently and
irrelevantly, as she thought, yet very warmly,
"Miss Ainslie is a very remarkable woman."
He passed into the hall, and his mother, looking after him, said,
"Poor fellow! he has a heap of trouble." And then it struck her
that her son's language was not only peculiar but amusing. "A
remarkable woman!" She laughed to herself as she thought of it. A
little, brown-haired, bright-eyed, fair-skinned chit, pretty and
plucky, and accomplished no doubt, but not at all "remarkable."
She had no style nor pride. Yankee women never had. And no family
of course, or she would not teach a colored school. "Remarkable!"
It was about the only thing Miss Ainslie was not and could not
be. It was very kind of her to stay and nurse Hildreth, though she
only did that out of consideration for the colored brats under her
charge at Red Wing. Nevertheless she was glad and gratified that
she did so. She was a very capable girl, no doubt of that, and she
would feel much safer about Hildreth because of her care. It was
just in her line. She was like all Yankee women--just a better class
of housemaids. This one was very accomplished. She had played
the piano exquisitely and had acted the lady to perfection in last
night's masquerade. But Hesden must be crazy to call her remarkable.
She chuckled lightly as she determined to rally him upon it, when
she saw him next. When that time came, the good lady had quite
forgotten her resolve.
A LIFE FOR A LIFE.
It was a time of struggle at Mulberry Hill. Love and death fought
for the life of little Hildreth Le Moyne. The father and the "new
grandma" watched over him most assiduously; the servants were untiring
in their exertions; the physician's skill was not lacking, but
yet none could foresee the result. The invalid below sent frequent
inquiries. First one and then the other stole away to ask her some
question or bring her tidings in regard to the lad in whose life
was bound up the hope of two old families.
One morning, while the child was still very sick, when Miss
Ainslie awoke after the brief sleep which had been all the rest
she had allowed herself from her self-imposed task, her head seemed
strangely light. There was a roaring in her ears as if a cataract
were playing about them. Her limbs ached, and every movement seemed
unusually difficult--almost painful. She walked across the room
and looked dully into the mirror on her dressing-case, resting her
hands on the top of the high old-fashioned furniture as she did
so. She was only able to note that her eyes looked heavy and her
face flushed and swollen, when a sharp pain shot through her frame,
her sight grew dim, the room spun round and round. She could only
crawl back and clamber with difficulty upon the high-posted bed,
where the servant found her fevered and unconscious when she came
an hour later to awaken her for breakfast. The struggle that had
been waged around the bed of the young child was now renewed by
that of his self-constituted nurse. Weeks passed away before it was
over, and ere that time the music of little feet had ceased about
the ancient mansion, and the stroke to pride and love had rendered
the invalid grand-mother still more an invalid.
The child had been her hope and pride as its mother had been her
favorite. By a strange contrariety the sunny-faced little mother
had set herself to accomplish her son's union with the tall, dark,
and haughty cousin, who had expired in giving birth to little
Hildreth. There was nothing of spontaneity and no display of
conjugal affection on the part of the young husband or his wife;
but during the absence of her son, the invalid was well cared for
and entertained by the wife, whom she came to love with an intensity
second only to that she lavished on her son. In the offspring of
these two her heart had been wrapped up from the hour of his birth.
She had dreamed out for him a life full of great actualities,
and had even reproached Hesden for his apathy in regard to public
affairs during the stirring scenes enacting around them, urging
him to take part in them for his son's sake.
She was a woman of great ambition. At first this had centered in her
son, and she had even rejoiced when he went into the army, though
he was earnestly opposed to the war, in the hope that it might
bring him rank and fame. When these did not come, and he returned
to her a simple private, with a bitterer hate for war and a sturdier
dislike for the causes which had culminated in the struggle than
he had when it began, she had despaired of her dream ever being
realized through him, but had fondly believed that the son of the
daughter-in-law she had so admired and loved would unite his father's
sterling qualities with his mother's pride and love of praise, and
so fulfill her desire that the family name should be made famous
by some one descended from herself. This hope was destroyed by the
death of the fair, bright child whom she loved so intensely, and
she felt a double grief in consequence. In her sorrow, she had
entirely secluded herself, seeing no one but her nurse and, once
or twice, her son. The sick girl in the room above was somehow
unpleasantly connected with her grief, and received no real sympathy
in her illness. There was even something of jealousy in the mind
of the confirmed invalid, when she remembered the remarkable manner
in which the child had been attracted toward the new-comer, as well
as the fact that she had nursed him so faithfully that his last
words were a moan for his "new grandma," while his real grandmother
lay useless and forgotten in her dim-shadowed room below.
Besides, it was with a feeling of envy that she recognized the fact
that, for the first time in his life, her son was more absorbed
in another's welfare than in her own. The chronic ailment of the
mother had no doubt become so much a thing of habit in his life that
it failed to impress him as it should, while the illness of the
young girl, having, as he believed, been incurred by her voluntary
attendance upon his son inspired him with a feeling of responsibility
that would not otherwise have existed. Something had occurred,
too, which had aroused a feeling upon his part which is often very
close akin to a tenderer one. As soon as he had learned of her
illness, he had endeavored to induce some of his female relatives
to come and attend her, but they had all flatly refused. They
would come and care for the child, they said; they would even send
the "Yankee school-marm" flowers, and make delicacies to tempt her
appetite, but they would not demean themselves by waiting upon a
sick "nigger teacher." They did not fear the contagion; indeed they
would have come to take care of little Hildreth but that they did
not care to meet his Yankee nurse. They even blamed Hesden for
allowing her to come beneath his roof, and intimated that she had
brought contagion with her.
He was angry at their injustice and prejudice. He had known of its
existence, but it never before seemed so hateful. Somehow he could
not rid himself of two thoughts: one was of the fairy creature
whose song and laughter and bird-like grace and gaiety, as she
masqueraded in the quaint dress of olden time, had made the dull
old mansion bright as a dream of Paradise for a single night. It
had seemed to him, then, that nothing so bright and pure had ever
flitted through the somber apartments of the gray old mansion. He
remembered the delight of his boy--that boy whom he loved more than
he had ever loved any one, unless it were his invalid mother--and
he could not forget the same slight form, with serious shadowed face
and earnest eyes moving softly about the sick-room of the child,
her eyes full of sorrowful anxiety as if the life she sought to
save were part of her own being. He wondered that any one could
think of her as a stranger. It was true she had come from the North
and was engaged in a despised avocation, but even that she had
glorified and exalted by her purity and courage until his fastidious
lady mother herself had been compelled to utter words of praise.
So his heart grew sore and his face flushed hot with wrath when
his cousins sneered at this lily which had been blighted by the
fevered breath of his son.
They tauntingly advised him to send to Red Wing and get some of
her "nigger" pupils to attend upon her. Much to their surprise he
did so, and two quiet, gentle, deft-handed watchers came, who by
day and by night sat by her bedside, gladly endeavoring to repay
the debt they owed to the faithful teacher. But this did not seem
to relieve Mr. Le Moyne of anxiety. He came often and watched the
flushed face, heard the labored breathing, and listened with pained
heart to the unmeaning murmurs which fell from her lips--the echoes
of that desert dreamland through which fever drags its unconscious
victims. He heard his own name and that of the fast-failing sufferer
in the adjoining room linked in sorrowful phrase by the stammering
tongue. Even in the midst of his sorrow it brought him a thrill of
joy. And when his fear became fact, and he mourned the young life
no love could save, his visits to the sick-room of her who had
been his co-watcher by his child's bedside became more frequent.
He would not be denied the privilege until the crisis came, and
reason resumed her sway. Then he came no more, but every day sent
some token of remembrance.
Mrs. Le Moyne had noted this solicitude, and with the jealousy of
the confirmed invalid grudged the sick girl the slightest of the
thoughtful attentions that she alone had been accustomed to receive.
She did not dream that her son, Hesden Le Moyne, cared anything for
the little Yankee chit except upon broadly humanitarian grounds,
or perhaps from gratitude for her kindly attention to his son; but
even this fretted her. As time went on, she came more and more to
dislike her and to wish that she had never come beneath their roof.
So the days flew by, grew into weeks, and Mollie Ainslie was still
at Mulberry Hill, while important events weve happening at Red
A VOICE FROM THE DARKNESS.
It was two weeks after Miss Ainslie's involuntary flight from Red
Wing that Nimbus, when he arose one morning, found a large pine
board hung across his gateway. It was perhaps six feet long and
some eighteen or twenty inches wide in the widest part, smoothly
planed upon one side and shaped like a coffin lid. A hole had been
bored in either end, near the upper corner, and through each of
these a stout cord had been passed and tied into a loop, which,
being slipped over a paling, one on each side the gate, left the
board swinging before it so as effectually to bar its opening unless
the board were first removed.
The attention of Nimbus was first directed to it by a neighbor-woman
who, stopping in front of the gate, called out to him in great
excitement, as he sat with Berry Lawson on his porch waiting for
"Oh, Bre'er Nimbus, what in de libbin' yairth is dis h'yer on your
gate? La sakes, but de Kluckers is after you now, shore 'nough!"
"Why, what's de matter wid yer, Cynthy?" said Nimbus, cheerfully.
"Yer hain't seen no ghosteses nor nuffin', bez ye?"
"Ghosteses, did yer say?" answered the excited woman. "Jes yer
come an' look, an' ef yer don't say hit wuss ner ghosteses, yer
may count Cynthy a fool. Dat's all."
Berry started down to the gate, Nimbus following him, carelessly.
"Why, hello, Bre'er Nimbus! Yer shore hez got a signboard cross de
passway. Jes look a' dat now! What yer 'spect it mout be, cousin?"
said Berry, stopping short and pointing to the board hung on the
"'Clar, I dunno," said Nimbus, as he strode forward and leaned over
the fence to get a sight of the other side of the board. "'Spec'
it must be some of dem Ku Kluck's work, ez Cynthy says."
After examining it a moment, he directed Berry to lift up the
other end, and together they carried it to the house of Eliab Hill,
where its grotesque characters were interpreted, so far as he was
able to translate them, as well as the purport of a warning letter
fastened on the board by means of a large pocket-knife thrust
through it, and left sticking in the soft wood.
Upon the head of the coffin-shaped board was roughly drawn, in
black paint, a skull and cross-bones and, underneath them, the
words "Eliab Hill and Nimbus Desmit," and below these still, the
mystic cabala, "K.K.K," a formulary at which, just at that time,
a great part of the nation was laughing as a capital illustration
of American humor. It was accounted simply a piece of grotesquerie
intended to frighten the ignorant and superstitious negro.
The old claim of the South, that the colored man could be controlled
and induced to labor only by the lash or its equivalent, had many
believers still, even among the most earnest opponents of slavery,
and not a few of these even laughed good-naturedly at the grotesque
pictures in illustrated journals of shadowy beings in horrible
masks and terrified negroes cowering in the darkness with eyes
distended, hair rising in kinky tufts upon their heads, and teeth
showing white from ear to ear, evidently clattering like castanets.
It was wonderfully funny to far-away readers, and it made uproarious
mirth in the aristocratic homes of the South. From the banks of
the Rio Grande to the waters of the Potomac, the lordly Southron
laughed over his glass, laughed on the train, laughed in the street,
and laughed under his black cowl of weirdly decorated muslin--not
so much at the victims of the terrible Klan, as at the silly North
which was shaking its sides at the mask he wore. It was an era of
fun. Everybody laughed. The street gamins imitated the _Kluck,_
which gave name to the Klan. It was one of the funniest things the
world had ever known.
The Yankee--Brother Jonathan--had long been noted as a droll.
A grin was as much a part of his stock apparel as tow breeches
or a palm-leaf hat. The negro, too, had from time immemorial been
portrayed upon the stage and in fiction as an irrepressible and
inimitably farcical fellow. But the "Southern gentleman" was a
man of different kidney from either of these. A sardonic dignity
hedged him about with peculiar sacredness. He was chivalrous and
baronial in his instincts, surroundings, and characteristics. He
was nervous, excitable, and bloodthirsty. He would "pluck up drowned
honor by the locks" and make a target of everyone who laughed. He
hunted, fought, gambled, made much of his ancestors, hated niggers,
despised Yankees, and swore and swaggered on all occasions. That was
the way he was pictured in the ancient days. He laughed--sometimes--not
often, and then somewhat sarcastically--but he did not make
himself ridiculous. His _amour propre_ was most intense. He
appreciated fun, but did not care that it should be at his expense.
He was grave, irritable and splenetic; but never comical. A braggart,
a rough-rider, an aristocrat; but never a masquerader. That was
the old-time idea.
Yet so had the war and the lapse of half a decade changed this
people that in one State forty thousand men, in another thirty, in
others more and in others less, banded together with solemn oaths
and bloody ceremonies, just to go up and down the earth in the
bright moonlight, and play upon the superstitious fears of the poor
ignorant and undeveloped people around them. They became a race
of jesters, moonlight masqueraders, personators of the dead. They
instituted clubs and paraded by hundreds, the trained cavalry of
a ghostly army organized into companies, battalions, divisions,
departments, having at their head the "Grand Wizard of the Empire."
It was all in sport--a great jest, or at the worst designed only
to induce the colored man to work somewhat more industriously from
apprehension of ghostly displeasure. It was a funny thing--the
gravest, most saturnine, and self-conscious people on the globe
making themselves ridiculous, ghostly masqueraders by the hundred
thousand! The world which had lately wept with sympathy for
the misfortunes of the "Lost Cause," was suddenly convulsed with
merriment at the midnight antics of its chivalric defenders. The
most vaunted race of warriors seized the cap and bells and stole
also the plaudits showered upon the fool. Grave statesmen, reverend
divines, legislators, judges, lawyers, generals, merchants, planters,
all who could muster a good horse, as it would seem, joined the
jolly cavalcade and rollicked through the moonlight nights, merely
to make fun for their conquerors by playing on the superstitious
fear of the sable allies of the Northmen. Never before was such
good-natured complaisance, such untiring effort to please. So the
North laughed, the South chuckled, and the world wondered.
But the little knot of colored men and women who stood around Eliab
Hill while he drew out the knife which was thrust through the paper
into the coffin-shaped board laid across the front of his "go-cart,"
and with trembling lips read the message it contained--these silly
creatures did not laugh. They did not even smile, and a joke which
Berry attempted, fell flat as a jest made at a funeral.
There is something very aggravating about the tendency of this race
to laugh at the wrong time, and to persist in being disconsolate
when every one can see that they ought to dance. Generation after
generation of these perverse creatures in the good old days of
slavery would insist on going in search of the North Pole under the
most discouraging circumstances. On foot and alone, without money
or script or food or clothing; without guide or chart or compass;
without arms or friends; in the teeth of the law and of nature,
they gave themselves to the night, the frost, and all the dangers
that beset their path, only to seek what they did not want!
We know there was never a happier, more contented, light-hearted,
and exuberant people on the earth than the Africo-American slave! He
had all that man could reasonably desire--and more too! Well-fed,
well-clothed, luxuriously housed, protected from disease with watchful
care, sharing the delights of an unrivalled climate, relieved of
all anxiety as to the future of his off-spring, without fear of
want, defiant of poverty, undisturbed by the bickerings of society
or heartburnings of politics, regardless of rank or station, wealth,
kindred, or descent, it must be admitted that, from an earthly point
of view, his estate was as near Elysian as the mind can conceive.
Besides all this, he had the Gospel preached unto him--for nothing;
and the law kindly secured him against being misled by false
doctrines, by providing that the Bread of Life should never be
broken to him unless some reputable Caucasian were present to vouch
for its quality and assume all responsibility as to its genuineness!
That a race thus carefully nourished, protected, and guarded from
error as well as evil should be happy, was just as natural as that
the sun should shine. That they were happy only lunatics could doubt.
All their masters said so. They even raved when it was denied. The
ministers of the Gospel--those grave and reverend men who ministered
unto them in holy things, who led their careless souls, blindfolded
and trustful, along the straight and narrow way--all declared
before high Heaven that they were happy, almost too happy, for
their spiritual good. Politicians, and parties, and newspapers;
those who lived among them and those who went and learned all about
them from the most intelligent and high-toned of their Caucasian
fellow-beings--nigh about everybody, in fact--declared, affirmed,
and swore that they were at the very utmost verge of human happiness!
Yet even under these circumstances the perverse creatures _would_
run away. Indeed, to run away seemed to be a characteristic of
the race like their black skin and kinkling hair! It would have
seemed, to an uninformed on-looker, that they actually desired to
escape from the paternal institution which had thrown around their
lives all these blissful and beatifying circumstances. But we know
it was not so. It was only the inherent perversity of the race!
Again, when the war was ended and they were thrown upon the cold
charity of an unfriendly world, naked, poor, nameless, and homeless,
without the sheltering and protecting care of that master who had
ever before been to them the incarnation of a kindly Providence
--at that moment when, by all the rules which govern Caucasian human
nature, their eyes should have been red with regretful tears, and
their hearts overburdened with sorrow, these addled-pated children
of Africa, moved and instigated by the perverse devil of inherent
contrariness, were grinning from ear to ear with exasperating
exultation, or bowed in still more exasperating devotion, were
rendering thanks to God for the calamity that had befallen them!
So, too, when the best people of the whole South masqueraded
for their special benefit, they stupidly or stubbornly failed and
refused to reward their "best friends" for the entertainment provided
for them, at infinite pains and regardless of expense, even with
the poor meed of approving cachinnation. They ought to have been
amused; they no doubt were amused; indeed, it is morally impossible
that they should not have been amused--but they would not laugh!
Well may the Caucasian of the South say of the ebony brother whom
he has so long befriended and striven to amuse: "I have piped unto
you, and you have not danced!"
So Eliab read, to a circle whose cheeks were gray with pallor, and
whose eyes glanced quickly at each other with affright, these words
"ELIAB HILL AND NIMBUS DESMIT: You've been warned twice, and it
hain't done no good. This is your last chance. If you don't git
up and git out of here inside of ten days, the buzzards will have
a bait that's been right scarce since the war. The white folks is
going to rule Horsford, and sassy niggers must look out. We're not
going to have any such San Domingo hole as Red Wing in it, neither.
Now just sell off and pack up and git clear off and out of the
country before we come again, which will be just as soon as the
moon gits in the left quarter, and has three stars in her lower
horn. If you're here then you'll both need coffins, and that boy
Berry Lawson that you coaxed away from his employer will hang with
"Remember! _Remember!_ REMEMBER!
"By order of the Grand Cyclops of the Den and his two Night Hawks,
and in the presence of all the Ghouls, on the fifth night of the
sixth Dark Moon!
Hardly had he finished reading this when a letter was brought to
him which had been found on the porch of the old Ordinary. It was
addressed to "MISS MOLLIE AINSLIE, Nigger Teacher at Red Wing," but
as it was indorsed "K.K.K." Eliab felt no compunctions in opening
it in her absence. It read:
"MISS AINSLIE: We hain't got no spite against you and don't mean
you no harm; but the white folks owns this country, and is going
to rule it, and we can't stand no such nigger-equality schools as
you are running at Red Wing. It's got to stop, and you'd better
pick up and go back North where you come from, and that quick, if
you want to keep out of trouble. Remember!
"By order of the Grand Cyclops of the Den and his Ghouls, K.K.K."
"P.S. We don't mean to hurt you. We don't make no war on women and
children as the Yankees did, but we mean what we say--git out! And
don't come back here any more neither!"
The rumor of the mysterious Klan and its terrible doings had
been in the air for many months. From other States, and even from
adjoining counties, had come to their ears the wail of its victims.
But so preponderating was the colored population of Horsford, and
so dependent upon their labor was its prosperity, that they had
entertained little fear of its coming among them. Two or three
times before, Nimbus and Eliab had received warnings and had even
taken some precautions in regard to defense; but they did not
consider the matter of sufficient moment to require them to make
it public. Indeed, they were inclined to think that as there had
been no acts of violence in the county, these warnings were merely
the acts of mischievous youngsters who desired to frighten them into
a display of fear. This seemed to be a more serious demonstration,
but they were not yet prepared to give full credence to the threat
conveyed in so fantastic a manner.
A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION.
"Wal, dey manage to fotch Berry inter it widout sending him a letter
all to hissef, alter all," said that worthy, when Eliab, with pale
lips, but a firm voice, had finished reading the paper. "Ben done
'spectin' dat, all de time sence I come h'yer, Cousin Nimbus. I'se
been a-hearin' 'bout dese Klu Kluckers dis smart while now, ober
yer in Pocatel and Hanson counties, an' I 'spected Marse Sykes'd
be a-puttin' 'em on ter me jest ez soon as dey got ober here. He
hed no idear, yer know, but what I'd hev ter go back an' wuk fer
jes what I could git; an sence I hain't he's mad about it, dat's
all. What yer gwine ter do 'bout it, Nimbus?"
"I'se gwine ter stay right h'yer an' fight it out, I is," said
Nimbus, doggedly. 'I'se fout fer de right ter live in peace on
my own lan' once, an' I kin fight for it agin. Ef de Ku Kluckers
wants ter try an' whip Nimbus, jes let 'em come on," he said,
bringing down his clenched right hand upon the board which was
upheld by his left, with such force that it was split from end to
"Hi! you take keer dar, Cousin Nimbus," said Berry, hopping out
of the way of the falling board with an antic gesture. "Fust you
know, yer hurt yer han' actin' dat er way. What YOU gwine ter do
'bout dis yer matter, Uncle 'Liab?" he continued, turning to the
The man addressed was still gazing on the threatening letter. His
left hand wandered over his dark beard, but his face was full of
an unwavering light as he replied:
"The Lord called me to my work; He has opened many a door before
me and taken me through many trials. He has written, 'I will be
with thee alway, even unto the end.' Bless His holy Name! Hitherto,
when evil has come I have waited on Him. I may not do a man's part
like you, my brother," he continued, laying his hand on Nimbus'
knotted arm and gazing admiringly upon his giant frame," but I can
stand and wait, right here, for the Lord's will to be done; and here
I will stay--here with my people. Thank the Lord, if I am unable to
fight I am also unable to fly. He knew what a poor, weak creature
I was, and He has taken care of that. I shall stay, let others do
as they may. What are you going to do, Brother Berry? You are in
the same danger with Nimbus and me."
"Wal, Bre'er 'Liab," replied Berry," I hab jes 'bout made up MY min'
ter run fer it. Yer see, I'se jes a bit differently sarcumstanced
from what either o' you 'uns is. Dar's Nimbus now, he's been in de
wah an' knows all 'bout de fightin' business; an' you's a preacher
an' knows all der is ob de prayin' trade. But I never was wuth
nothin' ob any account at either. It's de feet ez hez allers stood
by me," he added, executing a double-shuffle on the plank walk
where he stood; "an' I 'llows ter stan' by dem, an' light outen
here, afore dem ar Kluckers comes roun' fer an answer ter dat ar
letter. Dat's my notion, Bre'er 'Liab."
"Yer don't mean yer gwine ter run away on de 'count ob dese yer Ku
Kluckers, does yer, Berry?" said Nimbus, angrily.
"Dat's jes 'zackly what I do mean, Cousin Nimbus--no mistake 'bout
dat," answered Berry, bowing towards Nimbus with a great show of
mock politeness. "What else did yer tink Berry mean, hey? Didn't
my words 'spress demselves cl'ar? Yer know, cousin, dat I'se not
one ob de fightin' kine. Nebber hed but one fight in my life, an'
den dar wuz jes de wuss whipped nigger you ebber seed. Yer see dem
sinners, eh?" rolling up his sleeve and showing a round, close-corded
arm. "Oh, I'se some when I gits started, I is. All whip-cord
an' chain-lightnin', whoop! I'll bet a harf dollar now, an borrer
de money from Bre'er Nimbus h'yer ter pay it, dat I kin turn more
han'-springs an' offener an' longer nor ary man in dis crowd. Oh,
I'se some an' more too, I is, an' don't yer fergit it. 'Bout dat
fight?" he continued to a questioner, "oh, yes, dat was one ob de
mos' 'markable fights dar's ever been in Ho'sford county. Yer see
'twuz all along uv Ben Slade an' me. Lor' bress yer, how we did
fight! 'Pears ter me dat it must hev been nigh 'bout harf a day
we wuz at it."
"But you didn't lick Ben, did you, Berry?" asked one of the bystanders
"Lick him? Yer jes' orter see de corn I wollered down 'long wid
dat nigga'! Dar must hev been close on ter harf an acre on't."
"But he's a heap bigger'n you, Berry, ez stout ez a bull an' one ob
de bes' fighters ebber on de hill at Louisburg. Yer jest romancin'
now, Berry," said Nimbus, incredulously.
"Oh, but yer don't understan' it, cousin," said Berry. "Yer see I
played fer de _under holt_--an' got it, dat I did. Lor'! how
dat ar Ben did thrash de groun' wid me! Ole Mahs'r lost a heap
ob corn on 'count dat ar fight! But I hung on ter him, an' nebber
would hev let him go till now, ef--ef somebody hedn't pulled me
out from under him!"
There was a roar of laughter at this, in which Berry joined heartily,
and as it began to die out he continued: "Dat's de only fight
I ebber hed, an' I don't want no mo'. I'se a peaceable man, an'
don't want ter hurt nobody. Ef de Kluckers wants ter come whar I
is, an' gibs me sech a perlite notice ez dat ter quit, I'se gwine
ter git out widout axin' no imper'ent questions 'bout who was
dar fust. An' I'se gwine ter keep gittin' tu--jest' ez fur an' ez
fast ez dey axes me ter move on, ez long ez de road's cut out an'
I don't come ter no jumpin'-off place. Ef dey don't approve of Berry
Lawson a stayin' roun' h'yer, he's jes' a gwine West ter grow up
wid der kentry."
"I'd sooner be dead than be sech a limber-jinted coward!" said
Nimbus. "I'm sorry I ebber tuk ye in atter Marse Sykes hed put yer
out in de big road, dat I am." There was a murmur of approval, and
he added: "An' ef yer hed enny place ter go ter, yer shouldn't stay
in my house nary 'nother minit."
"Now, Cousin Nimbus," said Berry, soberly, "dar hain't nary bit
ob use ob enny sech talk ter me. Berry arns his libbin' ef he does
hab his joke now an' agin."
"Oh, no doubt o' dat," said Nimbus. "Ther ain't no better han' in
enny crop dan Berry Lawson. I've said dat often an' over."
"Den yer jes take back dem hard words yer spoke 'bout Berry, won't
yer now, Cousin Nimbus?" said Berry, sidling up to him and looking
very much as if he intended to give the lie to his own account of
his fighting proclivities.
"No, I won't," said Nimbus, positively. "I do say dat any man ez
runs away kase de Ku Kluck tries ter scar him off is a damn coward,
'n I don't care who he calls his name neither."
"Wal, now, Cousin Nimbus," said Berry, his eyes flashing and his
whole appearance falsifying his previous poltroonery, "dar's two
sides ter dat ar question. I hain't nebber been a sojer like you,
cousin, an' it's a fac' dat I don't keer ter be; but I du say ez
how I'd be ez willin' ter stan' up an' fight fer de rights we's got
ez enny man dat ebber's trod de sile ennywhere's 'bout Red Wing, ef
I thought ez how 'twould do de least bit ob good. But I tell yer,
gemmen, hit won't do enny good, not de least bit, an' I knows it.
I'se seen de Ku Kluckers, gemmen, an' I knows who some on 'em is,
an' I knows dat when sech men takes hold ob sech a matter wid only
pore niggers on de udder side, dar ain't no chance fer de niggers.
I'se seen 'em, an' I _knows_."
"When?" "Whar?" "Tell us 'bout it, Berry!" came up from all sides
in the crowd which had collected until now almost all the inhabitants
of Red Wing and its vicinity were there.
"Oh, 'tain't nuffin'," said he, nonchalantly. "What Berry says,
ain't no 'count, nohow."
"Yes, tell us 'bout it," said Nimbus, in a conciliatory tone.
"Wal, ef _you_ wants ter hear, I'll tell it," said Berry,
condescendingly. "Yer mind some tree er fo' weeks ago I went ter
Bre'er Rufe's, ober in Hanson county, on a Friday night, an' didn't
git back till a Monday mornin'?"
"Sartin," said Nimbus, gravely.
"Wal, 'twas along o' dis yer business dat I went thar. I know'd
yer'd got one er two warnin's sence I'd come yere wid yer, an' I
'llowed it were on account ob me, kase dem ar Sykeses is monstrous bad
folks when dey gits mad, an' ole Marse Granville, he war powerful
mad at me findin' a home here wid my own relations. So, I tole Sally
Ann all 'bout it, an' I sez to her, 'Sally,' sez I, 'I don't want
ter make Nimbus no sort o' trouble, I don't, kase he's stood up ter
us like a man. Now, ef dey should take a notion ter trouble Bre'er
Nimbus, hit mout do him a heap of harm, kase he's got so much truck
'round him here ter lose.' So we made it up dat I was ter go ter
Bre'er Rufe Paterson's, ober in Hanson county an' see ef we couldn't
find a place ter lib dar, so's not ter be baitin' de hawks on ter
you, Cousin Nimbus."
"Now you, Berry," said Nimbus, extending his hand heartily, "what
for yer no tell me dis afore?"
"Jes kase 'twas no use," answered Berry. "Wall, yer know, I left
h'yer 'bout two hours ob de sun, an' I pushes on right peart, kase
it's a smart step ober ter Rufe's, ennyhow, an' I wanted ter see
him an' git back ter help Nimbus in de crap ob a Monday. Sally hed
fixed me up a bite o' bread an' a piece o' meat, an' I 'llowed I'd
jes stop in some piney ole-field when I got tired, eat my snack,
go ter sleep, an' start fresh afo' daylight in de mornin' for de
rest ob de way. I'd been a wukkin' right peart in de new-ground dat
day, an' when I got ter dat pine thicket jes past de spring by de
Brook's place, 'twixt de Haw Ribber an' Stony Fork, 'long 'bout
nine o'clock I reckon, I wuz dat done out dat I jes takes a drink
at de spring, eats a bite o' bread an' meat, hunts a close place
under de pines, an' goes ter sleep right away.
"Yer knows dar's a smart open place dar, whar dey used ter hev de
ole muster-ground. 'Twas de time ob de full moon, an' when I woke
up a-hearin' somethin', an' kind o' peeped out under de pine bushes,
I t'ought at fust dat it was de ghostesses ob de ole chaps dat hed
come back ter muster dar, sure 'nough. Dey warn't more'n ten steps
away from me, an' de boss man, he sot wid his back to me in dat
rock place what dey calls de Lubber's Cheer. De hosses was tied all
round ter de bushes, an' one ob 'em warn't more'n tree steps from
me, nohow. I heard 'em talk jest ez plain ez you can hear me, an'
I know'd right smart ob de voices, tu; but, la sakes! yer couldn't
make out which from t'odder wid dem tings dey hed on, all ober der
heads, an' way down to der feet."
"What did they say?" asked Eliab Hill.
"Wal, Bre'er 'Liab, dey sed a heap, but de upshot on't all was dat
de white folks hed jes made up dar min's ter run dis kentry, spite
ob ebbery ting. Dey sed dat dey wuz all fixed up in ebbery county
from ole Virginny clean ter Texas, an' dey wuz gwine ter teach de
niggers dere place agin, ef dey hed ter kill a few in each county
an' hang 'em up fer scarecrows--jes dat 'ere way. Dey wa'n't no
spring chickens, nuther. Dar wur Sheriff Gleason. He sed he'd corned
over ter let 'em know how they was gittin' on in Ho'sford. He sed
dat ebbery white man in de county 'cept about ten or twelve was
inter it, an' dey wuz a gwine ter clean out nigger rule h'yer,
_shore_. He sed de fust big thing they got on hand wuz ter
break up dis buzzard-roost h'yer at Red Wing, an' he 'llowed dat
wouldn't be no hard wuk kase dey'd got some pretty tough tings on
Nimbus an" 'Liab both.
"Dey wuz all good men, I seed de hosses, when dey mounted ter go
'way. I tell ye dey wuz good 'uns! No pore-white trash dar; no lame
hosses ner blind mules ner wukked down crap-critters, Jes sleek
gentlemen's hosses, all on 'em.
"Wal, dey went off atter an hour er two, an' I lay dar jes in a
puffick lather o' sweat. I was dat dar skeered, I couldn't sleep
no mo' dat ar night, an' I darsn't walk on afore day kase I wuz
afeared o' meetin' some on 'em. So I lay, an' t'ought dis ting all
ober, an' I tell ye, fellers, 'tain't no use. 'Spose all de white
men in Ho'sford is agin us, what's we gwine ter do? We can't lib.
Lots o' niggers can't lib a week widout wuk from some white man.
'Sides dat, dey's got de bosses an' de guns, an' de 'sperience; an'
what we got? Jes nuffin'. Der ain't no mo' use o' fightin' dan ob
tryin' ter butt down 'simmons off a foot-an'-a-half tree wid yer
head. It don't make no sort o' matter 'bout our rights. Co'se we'se
got a _right_ ter vote, an' hold meetin's, an' be like white
folks; but we can't do it ef dey's a mind ter stop us. An' dey
_is_--dat berry ting!
"Nimbus sez he's gwine ter fight, an' 'Liab sez he's gwine ter
pray. Dat's all right, but it won't do nobody else enny good nor
them nuther. Dat's my notion. What good did fightin' er prayin'
either used ter do in ole slave times? Nary bit. An' dey's got
us jest about ez close ez dey hed us den, only de halter-chain's
a leetle mite longer, dat's all. All dey's got ter do is jes ter
shorten up on de rope an' it brings us in, all de same ez ever.
Dat's my notion. So I'se gwine ter move on ebbery time dey axes me
tu; kase why, I can't help it. Berry'll git enough ter eat most
ennywhar, an' dat's 'bout all he 'spects in dis worl'. It's a leetle
better dan de ole slave times, an' ef it keeps on a-growin' better
'n better, gineration atter gineration, p'raps some of Berry's
kinfolks'll git ter hev a white man's chance some time."
Berry's experience was listened to with profound interest, but
his conclusions were not received with favor. There seemed to be
a general conviction that the colored race was to be put on trial,
and that it must show its manhood by defending itself and maintaining
its rights against all odds. His idea of running away was voted
a cowardly and unworthy one, and the plan advocated by Nimbus and
Eliab, to stay and fight it out or take whatever consequences might
result, was accepted as the true one to be adopted by men having
such responsibility as rested upon them, as the first generation
of free-men in the American history of their race.
So, Nimbus and his friends made ready to fight by holding a meeting
in the church, agreeing upon signals, taking account of their
arms, and making provision to get ammunition. Berry prepared for
his exodus by going again to his brother Rufus' house and engaging
to work on a neighboring plantation, and some two weeks afterward
he borrowed Nimbus' mule and carry-all and removed his family also.
As a sort of safeguard on this last journey, he borrowed from Eliab
Hill a repeating Spencer carbine, which a Federal soldier had left
at the cabin of that worthy, soon after the downfall of the Confederacy.
He was probably one of those men who determined to return home as
soon as they were convinced that the fighting was over. Sherman's
army, where desertion had been unknown during the war, lost thousands
of men in this manner between the scene of Johnston's surrender and
the Grand Review at Washington, which ended the spectacular events
of the war. Eliab had preserved this carbine very carefully, not
regarding it as his own, but ready to surrender it to the owner or
to any proper authority when demanded. It was useless without the
proper ammunition, and as this seemed to be a peculiar emergency,
he allowed Berry to take it on condition that he should stop at
Boyleston and get a supply of cartridges. Eliab had never fired
a gun in his life, but he believed in defending his rights, and
thought it well to be ready to resist unlawful violence should it
THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW.
A few days after the events narrated in the last two chapters, the
sheriff presented himself at Red Wing. There was a keen, shrewd
look in the cold, gray eyes under the overhanging brows, as he tied
his horse to the rack near the church, and taking his saddle-bags
on his arm, crossed the road toward the residence of Nimbus and
Red Wing had always been a remarkably peaceful and quiet settlement.
Acting under the advice of Miss Ainslie and Eliab, Nimbus had parted
with none of his possessions except upon terms which prevented the
sale of spirituous liquors there. This was not on account of any
"fanatical" prejudice in favor of temperance, since the Squire of
Red Wing was himself not exactly averse to an occasional dram; but
he readily perceived that if such sale could be prohibited in the
little village the chances for peace and order would be greatly
improved. He recognized the fact that those characters that were
most likely to assemble around a bar-room were not the most likely
to be valuable residents of the settlement. Besides the condition
in his own deeds, therefore, he had secured through the members
of the Legislature from his county the passage of an act forever
prohibiting the sale of spirituous liquors within one mile of the
school-house at Red Wing. Just without this limit several little
shanties had been erected where chivalric white men doled out liquor
to the hard-working colored men of Red Wing. It was an easy and an
honorable business and they did not feel degraded by contact with
the freedmen across the bar. The superior race did not feel itself
debased by selling bad whisky at an extravagant price to the poor,
thirsty Africans who went by the "shebangs" to and from their daily
toil. But Nimbus and the law would not allow the nearer approach
of such influences.
By these means, with the active co-operation of the teachers, Red
Wing had been kept so peaceful, that the officers of the law rarely
had occasion to appear within its limits, save to collect the fiscal
dues from its citizens.
It was with not a little surprise, therefore, that Nimbus saw the
stalwart sheriff coming towards him where he was at work upon the
hillside back of his house, "worming" and "topping" a field of
tobacco which gave promise of a magnificent yield.
"Mornin', Nimbus," said the officer, as he drew near, and turning
partially around glanced critically over the field and furtively
at the little group of buildings below. "A fine stand of terbacker
you've got--mighty even, good growth. Don't think I've seen quite
as good-looking a crap this year. There's old man George Price up
about Rouseville, he's got a mighty fine crap--always does have, you
know. I saw it yesterday and didn't think anything could be better,
but your's does beat it, that's sure. It's evener and brighter,
and a trifle heavier growth, too. I told him that if anybody in
the county could equal it you were the man; but I had no idea you
could beat it. This is powerful good land for terbacker, certain."
"'Tain't so much the land," said Nimbus, standing up to his arm-pits
in the rank-leaved crop above which his bare black arms glistened
in the hot summer sun, "as 'tis the keer on't. Powerful few folks
is willin' ter give the keer it takes ter grow an' cure a fine
crop o' terbacker. Ther ain't a minit from the time yer plant the
seed-bed till ye sell the leaf, that ye kin take yer finger offen
it widout resk ob losin' all yer wuk."
"That's so," responded the sheriff, "but the land has a heap to do
with it, after all."
"Ob co'se," said Nimbus, as he broke a sucker into short pieces
between his thumb and finger, "yer's got ter hab de sile; but ther's
a heap mo' jes ez good terbacker lan' ez dis, ef people only hed
the patience ter wuk it ez I do mine."
"Wal, now, there's not so much like this," said the sheriff,
sharply, "and you don't think so, neither. You wouldn't take a big
price for your two hundred acres here now." He watched the other's
countenance sharply as he spoke, but the training of slavery made
the face of the black Ajax simply Sphinx-like in its inscrutability.
"Wal, I don't know," said Nimbus, slowly, "I mout and then again
I moutn't, yer know. Ther'd be a good many pints ter think over
besides the quality of the sile afore I'd want ter say 'yes' er
'no' to an offer ob dat kind."
"That's what I thought," said the sheriff. "You are nicely fixed
here, and I don't blame you. I had some little business with you,
and I'm glad I come to-day and caught ye in your terbacker. It's
"Business wid me?" asked Nimbus in surprise. "What is it?"
"Oh, I don't know," said the officer, lightly, as he put on his
spectacles, opened his saddle-bags and took out some papers. "Some
of these lawyers have got after you, I suppose, thinking you're
getting along too peart. Let me see," he continued, shuffling over
the papers in his hand. "Here's a summons in a civil action--the
old man, Granville Sykes, against Nimbus Desmit and Eliab Hill.
Where is 'Liab? I must see him, too. Here's your copy," he continued,
handing Nimbus the paper and marking the date of service on the
original in pencil with the careless promptitude of the well-trained
Nimbus looked at the paper which was handed him in undisguised
"What is dis ting, anyhow, Marse Sheriff?" he asked.
"That? Why, that is a summons. Can't you read it? Here, let me take
He read over the legal formulary requiring Nimbus to be and appear
at the court house in Louisburg on the sixth Monday after the second
Monday in August, to answer the demand of the plaintiff against him,
and concluding with the threat that in default of such appearance
judgment would be entered up against him.
"You see, you've got to come and answer old man Granville's
complaint, and after that you will have a trial. You'll have to
get a lawyer, and I expect there'll be smart of fuss about it before
it's over. But you can afford it; a man as well fixed as you, that
makes such terbacker as this, can afford to pay a lawyer right
smart. I've no doubt the old man will get tired of it before you
do; but, after all, law is the most uncertain thing in the world."
"What does it mean? Has he sued me?" asked Nimbus.
"Sued you? I should rather think he had--for a thousand dollars
damages too. That is you and 'Liab, between you."
"But what for? I don't owe him anythin' an' never did."
"Oh, that's nothing. He says you've damaged him. I've forgot what
it's about. Let me see. Oh, yes, I remember now. He says you and
'Liab enticed away his servant--what's his name? that limber-jinted,
whistlin' feller you've had working for you for a spell."
"That's it, Berry--Berry Lawson, That's the very chap. Well, old
Granville says you coaxed him to leave his employ, and he's after
you under the statute."
"But it's a lie--every word on't! I nebber axed Berry ter leave
him, an' hed no notion he was a gwine ter do it till Marse Sykes
throwed him out in de big road."
"Wal, wal, I don't know nothing about that, I'm sure. He says you
did, you say you didn't. I s'pose it'll take a court and jury to
decide betwixt ye. It's none of my concern. Oh, yes," he continued,
"I like to have forgot it, but here's a _capias_ for you,
too--you and 'Liab again. It seems there's a bill of indictment
against you. I presume it's the same matter. I must have a bond on
this for your appearance, so you'd better come on down to 'Liab's
house with me. I'll take you for him, and him for you, as sureties.
I don't suppose 'Liab'll be apt to run away, eh, and you're worth
enough for both."
"What's this all about?" asked Nimbus.
"Well, I suppose the old man Sykes got ye indicted under the statute
making it a misdemeanor, punishable with fine and imprisonment,
to coax, hire, or seduce away one's niggers after he's hired 'em.
Just the same question as the other, only this is an indictment
and that's a civil action--an action under the code, as they call
it, since you Radicals tinkered over the law. One is for the damage
to old man Sykes, and the other because it's a crime to coax off
or harbor any one's hirelings."
"Is dat de law, Mister Sheriff?"
"Oh, yes, that's the law, fast enough. No trouble about that. Didn't
know it, did you? Thought you could go and take a man's "hands"
right out from under his nose, and not get into trouble about it,
"I t'ought dat when a man was free anudder could hire him widout
axin' leave of his marster. Dat's what I t'ought freedom meant."
"Oh, not exactly; there's lots of freedom lyin' round loose, but
it don't allow a man to hire another man's hands, nor give them
aid and comfort by harboring and feeding them when they break their
contracts and run away. I reckon the old man's got you, Nimbus. If
one hook don't catch, the other will. You've been harborin' the
cuss, if you didn't entice him away, and that's just the same."
"Ef you mean by harborin' that I tuk my wife's kinsman in when
ole Marse Sykes turned his family out in de big road like a damned
"Hold on, Nimbus!" said the sheriff, with a dangerous light in
his cold gray eyes; "you'd better not talk like that about a white
"Whose ter hender my talkin', I'd like ter know? Hain't I jes' de
same right ter talk ez you er Marse Sykes, an' wouldn't you call
me a damn rascal ef I'd done ez he did? Ain't I ez free ez he is?"
"You ain't white!" hissed the sheriff.
"No, an' it seems I ain't free, nuther!" was the hot reply." H'yer
t'other night some damn scoundrels--I'specs they wuz white, too,
an' yer may tell 'em from me dat I called 'em jes what I did--come
an' hung a board 'fore my gate threatening ter kill me an' 'Liab
kase we's 'too sassy,' so they sed. Now, 'Liab Hill ner me nebber
disturb nobody, an' nebber do nothin' only jes stan' up for our
own rights, respectful and peaceable-like; but we hain't ter be
run down in no sech way, I'se a free man, an' ef I think a man's
a gran' rascal I'se gwine ter _say_ so, whether he's black er
white; an' ef enny on 'em comes ter Ku Klux me I'll put a bullet
t'rough dem! I will, by God! Ef I breaks the law I'll take the
consequences like a man, but I'll be damned ef ennybody shall Ku
Kluck me without somebody's goin' 'long with me, when I drops outen
dis world! Dat much I'se sot on!"
The sheriff did not answer, only to say, "Careful, careful! There's
them that would give you a high limb if they heard you talk like
They went together to the house. The required bonds were given,
and the sheriff started off with a chuckle. He had hardly passed
out of sight when he checked his horse, returned, and calling Nimbus
to the gate, said to him in a low tone:
"See here, Nimbus, if you should ever get in the notion of selling
this place, remember and let me have the first chance."
"All right, Marse Gleason."
"And see here, these little papers I've served to-day--you needn't
have any trouble about them in that case. You understand," with
"Dunno ez I does, Marse Sheriff," stolidly.
"Oh, well, if you sell to me, I'll take care of them, that's all."
"An' ef I don't?"
"Oh, well, in that case, you must look out for yourself."
He wheeled his horse and rode off with a mocking laugh.
Nimbus returned to the porch of Eliab's house where the preacher
sat thoughtfully scanning the summons and _capias_.
"What you tink ob dis ting, 'Liab?"
"It is part of a plan to break you up, Nimbus," was the reply.
"Dar ain't no sort ob doubt 'bout that, 'Liab," answered Nimbus,
doggedly, "an' dat ole Sheriff Gleason's jes' at de bottom ob it,
I do b'lieve. But I ain't ter be druv off wid law-suits ner Ku
Kluckers. I'se jest a gwine ter git a lawyer an' fight it out, dat
A PARTICULAR TENANCY LAPSES.
The second day after the visit of the sheriff, Nimbus was sitting
on his porch after his day's work when there was a call at his
"Who's dar?" he cried, starting up and gazing through an opening
in the honeysuckle which clambered up to the eaves and shut in
the porch with a wall of fragrant green. Seeing one of his white
neighbors, he went out to the gate, and after the usual salutations
was greeted with these words:
"I hear you's gwine to sell out an' leave, Nimbus?"
"How'd ye hear dat?"
"Wal, Sheriff Gleason's a' been tellin' of it 'round, and ther
ain't no other talk 'round the country only that."
"What 'ud I sell out an' leave for? Ain't I well 'nough off whar
"The sheriff says you an' 'Liab Hill has been gittin' into some
trouble with the law, and that the Ku Klux has got after you too,
so that if you don't leave you're likely to go to States prison or
have a whippin' or hangin' bee at your house afore you know it."
"Jes let 'em come," said Nimbus, angrily--"Ku Kluckers or sheriffs,
it don't make no difference which. I reckon it's all 'bout one
an' de same ennyhow. It's a damn shame too. Dar, when de 'lection
come las' time we put Marse Gleason in agin, kase we hadn't nary
white man in de county dat was fitten for it an' could give de
bond; an' of co'se dere couldn't no cullu'd man give it. An' jes
kase we let him hev it an' he's feared we mout change our minds
now, here he is a runnin' 'roun' ter Ku Klux meetin's an' a tryin'
ter stir up de bery ole debble, jes ter keep us cullu'd people from
hevin' our rights. He can't do it wid me, dat's shore. I hain't done
nuffin' an' I won't run. Ef I'd a-done ennythin' I'd run, kase I
don't b'lieve more'n ennybody else in a, man's stayin' ter let de
law git a holt on him; but when I hain't done nary ting, ther ain't
nobody ez kin drive me outen my tracks."
"But the Ku Klux mout _lift_ ye outen 'em," said the other
with a weak attempt at wit.
"Jes let 'em try it once!" said Nimbus, excitedly. "I'se purty
well prepared for 'em now, an' atter tomorrer I'll be jes ready
for 'em. I'se gwine ter Louisburg to-morrer, an' I 'llow that
atter I come back they won't keer ter meddle wid Nimbus. Tell yer
what, Mister Dossey, I bought dis place from ole Marse Desmit,
an' paid for it, ebbery cent; an' I swar I ain't a gwine ter let
no man drive me offen it--nary foot. An' ef de Ku Klux comes, I's
jest a gwine ter kill de las' one I gits a chance at. Now, you min'
what I say, Mister Dossey, kase I means ebbery word on't."
The white man cowered before the other's energy. He was of that
class who were once denominated "poor whites." The war taught him
that he was as good a man to stop bullets as one that was gentler
bred, and during that straggle which the non-slaveholders fought
at the beck and in the interest of the slaveholding aristocracy,
he had learned more of manhood than he had ever known before. In the
old days his father had been an overseer on a plantation adjoining
Knapp-of-Reeds, and as a boy he had that acquaintance with Nimbus
which every white boy had with the neighboring colored lads--they
hunted and fished together and were as near cronies as their color
would allow. Since the war he had bought a place and by steady
work had accumulated some money. His plantation was on the river
and abutted on the eastern side with the property of Nimbus. After
a moment's silence he said:
"That reminds me of what I heard to-day. Your old Marse Potem is
"Yer don't say, now!"
"Yes--died yesterday and will be buried to-morrow."
"La, sakes! An' how's he lef ole Missus an' de gals, I wonder?"
"Mighty pore I'm afraid. They say he's been mighty bad off lately,
an' what he's got won't more'n half pay his debts. I reckon the
widder an' chillen'll hev ter 'homestead it' the rest of their
"Yer don't tink so? Wal, I do declar', hit's too bad. Ez rich ez he
was, an' now ter come down ter be ez pore ez Nimbus--p'raps poorer!"
"It's mighty hard, that's sure. It was all along of the wah that
left everybody pore in this country, just as it made all the Yankees
rich with bonds and sech-like."
"Sho'! what's de use ob bein' a fool? 'Twan't de wah dat made Marse
Desmit pore. 'Twuz dat ar damn fool business ob slavery afo' de
wah dat wound him up. Ef he'd never been a 'speculator' an' hadn't
tried to grow rich a raisin' men an' wimmen for market he'd a been
richer'n ever he was, when he died."
"Oh, you're mistaken 'bout that, Nimbus. The wah ruined us all."
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Nimbus, derisively. "What de wah ebber take
from you, Mister Dossey, only jes yer oberseer's whip? An' dat wur
de berry best ting ebber happen ter ye, kase it sot yer to wuk an'
put yer in de way ob makin' money for yerself. It was hard on sech
ez ole Mahs'r, dat's a fac, even ef 'twas mostly his own fault; but
it was worth a million ter sech ez you. You 'uns gained mo' by de
outcome ob de wah, right away, dan we cullu'd folks'll ebber git,
"Yer may be right," said Dawsey, laughing, and with a touch of
pride in his tone. "I've done pretty well since the wah. An' that
brings me back to what I come over for. I thought I'd ax, if ye
should git in a notion of selling, what yer'd take fer yer place
"I hain't no idea uv selling, Mister Dossey, an' hain't no notion
uv hevin' any 'nuther. You an' ebberybody else mout jest ez well
larn, fust ez las', dat I shan't never sell only jes ter make money.
Ef I put a price on Red Wing it'll be a big one; kase it ain't done
growing yet, an' I might jest ez well stay h'yr an' grow ez ter go
West an' grow up wid de kentry, ez dat fool Berry Lawson's allers
"Wal, that's all right, only ef you ever want ter sell, reasonable-like,
yer know who to come to for your money. Good-night!"
The man was gathering up his reins when Nimbus said:
"When did yer say ole Mahsr's funeral was gwine ter be?"
"To-morrow afternoon at four o'clock, I heerd."
"Thank ye. I'se 'bout made up my mind ter go ter Louisburg to-morrer,
stay ter dat funeral, an' come back nex' day. Seems ter me ole
Mahs'r'd be kind o' glad ter see Nimbus at his funeral, fer all I
wan't no gret fav'rite o' his'n. He wa'nt sich a bad marster, an'
atter I bought Red Wing he use ter come ober ebbery now an' agin,
an' gib me a heap ob advice 'bout fixin' on it up. I allus listened
at him, tu, kase ef ennybody ever knowed nex' do' ter ebberyting,
dat ar man wuz ole Marse Potem. I'se sorry he's dead, I is; an'
I'se mighty sorry for ole Missus an' de gals. An' I'se a gwine ter
go ter dat er funeral an' see him laid away, ef it do take anudder
day outen de crap; dat I is, shore.
"An' that 'minds me," said the white man, "that I heard at the same
time, that Walter Greer, who used to own the plantation afore yer
Marse Desmit bought it, died sometime lately, 'way out in Texas.
It's quare, ain't it, that they should both go nigh about the same
The "poor-white" neighbor rode away, little dreaming that the
colored man had estimated him aright, and accounted him only an
emissary of his foes, nor did he comprehend the importance of the
information he had given.
THE BEACON-LIGHT OF LOVE.
Mollie Ainslie had been absent from Red Wing more than a month.
It was nearly midnight. The gibbous moon hung over the western
tree-tops. There was not a sound to be heard in the little hamlet,
but strangely draped figures might have been seen moving about
in the open glades of the piney woods which skirted Red Wing upon
One after another they stole across the open space between the
church and the pine grove, in its rear, until a half-dozen had
collected in its shadow. One mounted on another's shoulders and
tried one of the windows. It yielded to his touch and he raised
it without difficulty. He entered and another after him. Then two
or three strange-looking packages were handed up to them from the
outside. There was a whispered discussion, and then the parties
within were heard moving cautiously about and a strong benzoic
odor came from the upraised window. Now and then a sharp metallic
clang was heard from within. At length the two that had entered
returned to the window. There was a whispered consultation with
those upon the outside. One of these crept carefully to the corner
and gave a long low whistle. It was answered after a moment's
interval, first from one direction and then from another, until
every part of the little hamlet resounded with short quick answers.
Then the man at the corner of the church crept back and whispered,
One of the parties inside came out upon the window-sill and dropped
lightly to the ground. The other mounted upon the window-sill, and
turned round upon his knees; there was a gleam of light within the
building, a flicker and a hiss, and then with a mighty roar the
flame swept through it as if following the trail of some combustible.
Here and there it surged, down the aisles and over the desks, white
and clear, showing in sharpest silhouette every curve and angle
of building and furniture.
The group at the window stood gazing within for a moment, the light
playing on their faces and making them seem ghastly and pale by
the reflection; then they crept hastily back into the shadow of
the wood--all but one, who, clad in the horribly grotesque habit
of the Ku Klux Klan, stood at the detached bell-tower, and when
the flames burst forth from the windows solemnly tolled the bell
until driven from his post by the heat.
One had hardly time to think, before the massive structure of dried
pitch-pine which northern charity had erected in the foolish hope
of benefiting the freedmen, where the young teachers had labored
with such devotion, and where so many of the despised race had laid
the foundation of a knowledge that they vainly hoped might lift
them up into the perfect light of freedom, was a solid spire of
By its ghastly glare, in various parts of the village were to be
seen groups and single armed sentries, clad in black gowns which
fell to their very feet, spire-pointed caps, grotesquely marked and
reaching far above the head, while from the base a flowing masque
depended over the face and fell down upon the shoulders, hiding
all the outlines of the figure.
The little village was taken completely by surprise. It had been
agreed that the ringing of the church bell should be the signal
for assembling at the church with such arms as they had to resist
the Ku Klux. It had not been thought that the danger would be imminent
until about the expiration of the time named in the notice; so
that the watch which had been determined upon had not been strictly
kept, and on this night had been especially lax on one of the roads
leading into the little hamlet.
At the first stroke of the bell all the villagers were awake, and
from half-opened doors and windows they took in the scene which
the light of the moon and the glare of the crackling fire revealed.
Then dusky-skinned forms stole hastily away into the shadows of the
houses and fences, and through the rank-growing corn of the little
truck-patches, to the woods and fields in the rear. There were
some who since the warning had not slept at home at all, but had
occupied little leafy shelters in the bush and half-hid burrows
on the hillside. On the eyes of all these gleamed the blaze of the
burning church, and each one felt, as he had never realized before,
the strength of that mysterious band which was just putting forth
its power to overturn and nullify a system of laws that sought to
clothe an inferior and servile race with the rights and privileges
theretofore exercised solely by the dominant one.
Among those who looked upon this scene was Eliab Hill. Sitting upon
his bench he gazed through the low window of his little cottage, the
flame lighting up his pale face and his eyes distended with terror.
His clasped hands rested on the window-sill and his upturned eyes
evidently sought for strength from heaven to enable him manfully
to perform the part he had declared his determination to enact.
What he saw was this:
A company of masked men seemed to spring out of the ground around
the house of Nimbus, and, at a whistle from one of their number,
began swiftly to close in upon it. There was a quick rush and the
door was burst open. There were screams and blows, angry words,
and protestations within. After a moment a light shot up and died
quickly out again--one of the party had struck a match. Eliab
heard the men cursing Lugena, and ordering her to make up a light
on the hearth. Then there were more blows, and the light shone upon
the window. There were rough inquiries for the owner, and Eliab
thanked God that his faithful friend was far away from the danger
and devastation of that night. He wondered, dully, what would
be his thought when he should return on the morrow, and mark the
destruction wrought in his absence, and tried to paint his rage.
While he thought of these things the neighboring house was ransacked
from top to bottom. He heard the men cursing because their search
was fruitless. They brought out the wife, Lugena, and two of her
children, and coaxed and threatened them without avail. A few blows
were struck, but the wife and children stoutly maintained that the
husband and father was absent, attending his old master's funeral,
at Louisburg. The yellow light of the blazing church shone on
the house, and made fantastic shadows all around. The lurid glare
lighted up their faces and pictured their terror. They were almost
without clothing. Eliab noticed that the hand that clasped Lugena's
black arm below the band of the chemise was white and delicate.
The wife and children were crying and moaning in terror and pain.
Oaths and blows were intermingled with questions in disguised
voices, and gasping broken answers. Blood was running down the
face of the wife. The younger children were screaming in the house.
Children and women were shrieking in every direction as they fled
to the shelter of the surrounding woods. The flame roared and
crackled as it licked the resin from the pine logs of the church
and leaped aloft. It shone upon the glittering needles of the
surrounding pines, lighted up the ripening tobacco on the hillside,
sparkled in the dewy leaves of the honeysuckle which clambered over
the freedman's house and hid the staring moon with its columns of
The search for Nimbus proving unavailing--they scarcely seemed to
expect to find him--they began to inquire of the terror-stricken
woman the whereabouts of his friend.
"Where is 'Liab Hill?" asked the man who held her arm.
"What have you done with that snivelling hop-toad minister?" queried
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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'
"Dey's run out an' hid somewheres. Dey scattered like young
"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
"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
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
"You have not asked about Satan," said Mr. Le Moyne suddenly one
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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