The Marrow of Tradition
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 4 out of 5
brought up by a Delamere, for a crime of which he is innocent?
Preposterous! I'll speak to the authorities and see that you are
properly protected until this mystery is unraveled. If Tom had been
here, he would have had you out before now, Sandy. My grandson is a
genuine Delamere, is he not, Sandy?"
"Yas, suh, yas, suh," returned Sandy, with a lack of enthusiasm which he
tried to conceal from his master. "An' I s'pose ef he hadn' gone
fishin' so soon dis mawnin', he'd 'a' be'n lookin' after me, suh."
"It has been my love for him and your care of me, Sandy," said the old
gentleman tremulously, "that have kept me alive so long; but now explain
to me everything concerning this distressing matter, and I shall then be
able to state your case to better advantage."
"Well, suh," returned Sandy, "I mought's well tell de whole tale an' not
hol' nothin' back. I wuz kind er lonesome las' night, an' sence I be'n
tu'ned outen de chu'ch on account er dat cakewalk I didn' go ter, so
he'p me God! I didn' feel like gwine ter prayer-meetin', so I went
roun' ter see Solomon Williams, an' he wa'n't home, an' den I walk' down
street an' met Josh Green, an' he ax' me inter Sam Taylor's place, an' I
sot roun' dere wid Josh till 'bout 'leven o'clock, w'en I sta'ted back
home. I went straight ter de house, suh, an' went ter bed an' ter sleep
widout sayin' a wo'd ter a single soul excep' Mistuh Tom, who wuz
settin' up readin' a book w'en I come in. I wish I may drap dead in my
tracks, suh, ef dat ain't de God's truf, suh, eve'y wo'd of it!"
"I believe every word of it, Sandy; now tell me about the clothes that
you are said to have been found cleaning, and the suspicious articles
that were found in your room?"
"Dat's w'at beats me, Mars John," replied Sandy, shaking his head
mournfully. "Wen I lef home las' night after supper, my clo's wuz all
put erway in de closet in my room, folded up on de she'f ter keep de
moths out. Dey wuz my good clo's,--de blue coat dat you wo' ter de
weddin' fo'ty years ago, an' dem dere plaid pants I gun Mistuh Cohen fo'
dollars fer three years ago; an' w'en I looked in my closet dis mawnin',
suh, befo' I got ready ter sta't fer Belleview, dere wuz my clo's layin'
on de flo', all muddy an' crumple' up, des lack somebody had wo' 'em in
a fight! Somebody e'se had wo' my clo's,--er e'se dere'd be'n some
witchcraf, er some sort er devilment gwine on dat I can't make out, suh,
ter save my soul!"
"There was no witchcraft, Sandy, but that there was some deviltry might
well be. Now, what other negro, who might have been mistaken for you,
could have taken your clothes? Surely no one about the house?"
"No, suh, no, suh. It couldn't 'a' be'n Jeff, fer he wuz at Belleview
wid you; an' it couldn't 'a' be'n Billy, fer he wuz too little ter wear
my clo's; an' it couldn't 'a' be'n Sally, fer she's a 'oman. It's a
myst'ry ter me, suh!"
"Have you no enemies? Is there any one in Wellington whom you imagine
would like to do you an injury?"
"Not a livin' soul dat I knows of, suh. I've be'n tu'ned out'n de
chu'ch, but I don' know who my enemy is dere, er ef it wuz all a
mistake, like dis yer jailin' is; but de Debbil is in dis somewhar, Mars
John,--an' I got my reasons fer sayin' so."
"What do you mean, Sandy?"
Sandy related his experience of the preceding evening: how he had seen
the apparition preceding him to the house, and how he had questioned Tom
upon the subject.
"There's some mystery here, Sandy," said Mr. Delamere reflectively.
"Have you told me all, now, upon your honor? I am trying to save your
life, Sandy, and I must be able to trust your word implicitly. You must
tell me every circumstance; a very little and seemingly unimportant bit
of evidence may sometimes determine the issue of a great lawsuit. There
is one thing especially, Sandy: where did you get the gold which was
found in your trunk?"
Sandy's face lit up with hopefulness.
"Why, Mars John, I kin 'splain dat part easy. Dat wuz money I had lent
out, an' I got back f'm--But no, suh, I promise' not ter tell."
"Circumstances absolve you from your promise, Sandy. Your life is of
more value to you than any other thing. If you will explain where you
got the gold, and the silk purse that contained it, which is said to be
Mrs. Ochiltree's, you will be back home before night."
Old Mr. Delamere's faculties, which had been waning somewhat in sympathy
with his health, were stirred to unusual acuteness by his servant's
danger. He was watching Sandy with all the awakened instincts of the
trial lawyer. He could see clearly enough that, in beginning to account
for the possession of the gold, Sandy had started off with his
explanation in all sincerity. At the mention of the silk purse, however,
his face had blanched to an ashen gray, and the words had frozen upon
A less discerning observer might have taken these things as signs of
guilt, but not so Mr. Delamere.
"Well, Sandy," said his master encouragingly, "go on. You got the gold
Sandy remained silent. He had had a great shock, and had taken a great
"Mars John," he asked dreamily, "you don' b'lieve dat I done dis thing?"
"Certainly not, Sandy, else why should I be here?"
"An' nothin' wouldn' make you b'lieve it, suh?"
"No, Sandy,--I could not believe it of you. I've known you too long and
"An' you wouldn' b'lieve it, not even ef I wouldn' say one wo'd mo'
"No, Sandy, I believe you no more capable of this crime than I would
be,--or my grandson, Tom. I wish Tom were here, that he might help me
overcome your stubbornness; but you'll not be so foolish, so absurdly
foolish, Sandy, as to keep silent and risk your life merely to shield
some one else, when by speaking you might clear up this mystery and be
restored at once to liberty. Just tell me where you got the gold," added
the old gentleman persuasively. "Come, now, Sandy, that's a good
"Mars John," asked Sandy softly, "w'en my daddy, 'way back yander befo'
de wah, wuz about ter be sol' away f'm his wife an' child'en, you
bought him an' dem, an' kep' us all on yo' place tergether, didn't you,
"Yes, Sandy, and he was a faithful servant, and proved worthy of all I
did for him."
"And w'en he had wo'ked fer you ten years, suh, you sot 'im free?"
"Yes, Sandy, he had earned his freedom."
"An' w'en de wah broke out, an' my folks wuz scattered, an' I didn'
have nothin' ter do ner nowhar ter go, you kep' me on yo' place, and
tuck me ter wait on you, suh, didn't you?"
"Yes, Sandy, and you have been a good servant and a good friend; but
tell me now about this gold, and I'll go and get you out of this, right
away, for I need you, Sandy, and you'll not be of any use to me shut up
"Jes' hol' on a minute befo' you go, Mars John; fer ef dem people
outside should git holt er me befo' you _does_ git me out er here, I may
never see you no mo', suh, in dis worl'. W'en Mars Billy McLean shot me
by mistake, w'ile we wuz out huntin' dat day, who wuz it boun' up my
woun's an' kep' me from bleedin' ter def, an' kyar'ed me two miles on
his own shoulders ter a doctuh?"
"Yes, Sandy, and when black Sally ran away with your young mistress and
Tom, when Tom was a baby, who stopped the runaway, and saved their lives
at the risk of his own?"
"Dat wa'n't nothin', suh; anybody could 'a' done dat, w'at wuz strong
ernuff an' swif' ernuff. You is be'n good ter me, suh, all dese years,
an' I've tried ter do my duty by you, suh, an' by Mistuh Tom, who wuz
yo' own gran'son, an' de las' one er de fam'ly."
"Yes, you have, Sandy, and when I am gone, which will not be very long,
Tom will take care of you, and see that you never want. But we are
wasting valuable time, Sandy, in these old reminiscences. Let us get back
to the present. Tell me about the gold, now, so that I may at once look
after your safety. It may not even be necessary for you to remain here
"Jes' one wo'd mo', Mars John, befo' you go! I know you're gwine ter do
de bes' you kin fer me, an' I'm sorry I can't he'p you no mo' wid it;
but ef dere should be any accident, er ef you _can't_ git me out er
here, don' bother yo' min' 'bout it no mo', suh, an' don' git yo'se'f
ixcited, fer you know de doctuh says, suh, dat you can't stan'
ixcitement; but jes' leave me in de han's er de Lawd, suh,--_He'll_ look
after me, here er hereafter. I know I've fell f'm grace mo' d'n once,
but I've done made my peace wid Him in dis here jail-house, suh, an' I
ain't 'feared ter die--ef I haf ter. I ain' got no wife ner child'n ter
mo'n fer me, an' I'll die knowin' dat I've done my duty ter dem dat
hi'ed me, an' trusted me, an' had claims on me. Fer I wuz raise' by a
Delamere, suh, an' all de ole Delameres wuz gent'emen, an' deir
principles spread ter de niggers 'round 'em, suh; an' ef I has ter die
fer somethin' I didn' do,--I kin die, suh, like a gent'eman! But ez fer
dat gol', suh, I ain' gwine ter say one wo'd mo' 'bout it ter nobody in
Nothing could shake Sandy's determination. Mr. Delamere argued,
expostulated, but all in vain. Sandy would not speak.
More and more confident of some mystery, which would come out in time,
if properly investigated, Mr. Delamere, strangely beset by a vague
sense of discomfort over and beyond that occasioned by his servant's
danger, hurried away upon his errand of mercy. He felt less confident of
the outcome than when he had entered the jail, but was quite as much
resolved that no effort should be spared to secure protection for Sandy
until there had been full opportunity for the truth to become known.
"Take good care of your prisoner, sheriff," he said sternly, as he was
conducted to the door. "He will not be long in your custody, and I shall
see that you are held strictly accountable for his safety."
"I'll do what I can, sir," replied the sheriff in an even tone and
seemingly not greatly impressed by this warning. "If the prisoner is
taken from me, it will be because the force that comes for him is too
strong for resistance."
"There should be no force too strong for an honest man in your position
to resist,--whether successfully or not is beyond the question. The
officer who is intimidated by threats, or by his own fears, is recreant
to his duty, and no better than the mob which threatens him. But you
will have no such test, Mr. Wemyss! I shall see to it myself that there
is no violence!"
THE HONOR OF A FAMILY
Mr. Delamere's coachman, who, in accordance with instructions left by
Miller, had brought the carriage around to the jail and was waiting
anxiously at the nearest corner, drove up with some trepidation as he
saw his master emerge from the prison. The old gentleman entered the
carriage and gave the order to be driven to the office of the Morning
Chronicle. According to Jerry, the porter, whom he encountered at the
door, Carteret was in his office, and Mr. Delamere, with the aid of his
servant, climbed the stairs painfully and found the editor at his desk.
"Carteret," exclaimed Mr. Delamere, "what is all this talk about
lynching my man for murder and robbery and criminal assault? It's
perfectly absurd! The man was raised by me; he has lived in my house
forty years. He has been honest, faithful, and trustworthy. He would no
more be capable of this crime than you would, or my grandson Tom. Sandy
has too much respect for the family to do anything that would reflect
disgrace upon it."
"My dear Mr. Delamere," asked Carteret, with an indulgent smile, "how
could a negro possibly reflect discredit upon a white family? I should
really like to know."
"How, sir? A white family raised him. Like all the negroes, he has been
clay in the hands of the white people. They are what we have made them,
or permitted them to become."
"We are not God, Mr. Delamere! We do not claim to have created
"No; but we thought to overrule God's laws, and we enslaved these people
for our greed, and sought to escape the manstealer's curse by laying to
our souls the flattering unction that we were making of barbarous
negroes civilized and Christian men. If we did not, if instead of making
them Christians we have made some of them brutes, we have only ourselves
to blame, and if these prey upon society, it is our just punishment! But
my negroes, Carteret, were well raised and well behaved. This man is
innocent of this offense, I solemnly affirm, and I want your aid to
secure his safety until a fair trial can be had."
"On your bare word, sir?" asked Carteret, not at all moved by this
Old Mr. Delamere trembled with anger, and his withered cheek flushed
darkly, but he restrained his feelings, and answered with an attempt at
"Time was, sir, when the word of a Delamere was held as good as his
bond, and those who questioned it were forced to maintain their
skepticism upon the field of honor. Time was, sir, when the law was
enforced in this state in a manner to command the respect of the world!
Our lawyers, our judges, our courts, were a credit to humanity and
civilization. I fear I have outlasted my epoch,--I have lived to hear of
white men, the most favored of races, the heirs of civilization, the
conservators of liberty, howling like red Indians around a human being
slowly roasting at the stake."
"My dear sir," said Carteret soothingly, "you should undeceive yourself.
This man is no longer your property. The negroes are no longer under our
control, and with their emancipation ceased our responsibility. Their
insolence and disregard for law have reached a point where they must be
"The law," retorted Mr. Delamere, "furnishes a sufficient penalty for
any crime, however heinous, and our code is by no means lenient. To my
old-fashioned notions, death would seem an adequate punishment for any
crime, and torture has been abolished in civilized countries for a
hundred years. It would be better to let a crime go entirely unpunished,
than to use it as a pretext for turning the whole white population into
a mob of primitive savages, dancing in hellish glee around the mangled
body of a man who has never been tried for a crime. All this, however,
is apart from my errand, which is to secure your assistance in heading
off this mob until Sandy can have a fair hearing and an opportunity to
prove his innocence."
"How can I do that, Mr. Delamere?"
"You are editor of the Morning Chronicle. The Chronicle is the leading
newspaper of the city. This morning's issue practically suggested the
mob; the same means will stop it. I will pay the expense of an extra
edition, calling off the mob, on the ground that newly discovered
evidence has shown the prisoner's innocence."
"But where is the evidence?" asked Carteret.
Again Mr. Delamere flushed and trembled. "My evidence, sir! I say the
negro was morally incapable of the crime. A man of forty-five does not
change his nature over-night. He is no more capable of a disgraceful
deed than my grandson would be!"
Carteret smiled sadly.
"I am sorry, Mr. Delamere," he said, "that you should permit yourself to
be so exercised about a worthless scoundrel who has forfeited his right
to live. The proof against him is overwhelming. As to his capability of
crime, we will apply your own test. You have been kept in the dark too
long, Mr. Delamere,--indeed, we all have,--about others as well as this
negro. Listen, sir: last night, at the Clarendon Club, Tom Delamere was
caught cheating outrageously at cards. He had been suspected for some
time; a trap was laid for him, and be fell into it. Out of regard for
you and for my family, he has been permitted to resign quietly, with the
understanding that he first pay off his debts, which are considerable."
Mr. Delamere's face, which had taken on some color in the excitement of
the interview, had gradually paled to a chalky white while Carteret was
speaking. His head sunk forward; already an old man, he seemed to have
aged ten years in but little more than as many seconds.
"Can this be true?" he demanded in a hoarse whisper. "Is it--entirely
"True as gospel; true as it is that Mrs. Ochiltree has been murdered,
and that this negro killed her. Ellis was at the club a few minutes
after the affair happened, and learned the facts from one of the
participants. Tom made no attempt at denial. We have kept the matter out
of the other papers, and I would have spared your feelings,--I surely
would not wish to wound them,--but the temptation proved too strong for
me, and it seemed the only way to convince you: it was your own test. If
a gentleman of a distinguished name and an honorable ancestry, with all
the restraining forces of social position surrounding him, to hold him
in check, can stoop to dishonor, what is the improbability of an
illiterate negro's being at least capable of crime?"
"Enough, sir," said the old gentleman. "You have proved enough. My
grandson may be a scoundrel,--I can see, in the light of this
revelation, how he might be; and he seems not to have denied it. I
maintain, nevertheless, that my man Sandy is innocent of the charge
against him. He has denied it, and it has not been proved. Carteret, I
owe that negro my life; he, and his father before him, have served me
and mine faithfully and well. I cannot see him killed like a dog,
without judge or jury,--no, not even if he were guilty, which I do not
Carteret felt a twinge of remorse for the pain he had inflicted upon
this fine old man, this ideal gentleman of the ideal past,--the past
which he himself so much admired and regretted. He would like to spare
his old friend any further agitation; he was in a state of health where
too great excitement might prove fatal. But how could he? The negro was
guilty, and sure to die sooner or later. He had not meant to interfere,
and his intervention might be fruitless.
"Mr. Delamere," he said gently, "there is but one way to gain time. You
say the negro is innocent. Appearances are against him. The only way to
clear him is to produce the real criminal, or prove an alibi. If you, or
some other white man of equal standing, could swear that the negro was
in your presence last night at any hour when this crime could have taken
place, it might be barely possible to prevent the lynching for the
present; and when he is tried, which will probably be not later than
next week, he will have every opportunity to defend himself, with you
to see that he gets no less than justice. I think it can be managed,
though there is still a doubt. I will do my best, for your sake, Mr.
Delamere,--solely for your sake, be it understood, and not for that of
the negro, in whom you are entirely deceived."
"I shall not examine your motives, Carteret," replied the other, "if you
can bring about what I desire."
"Whatever is done," added Carteret, "must be done quickly. It is now
four o'clock; no one can answer for what may happen after seven. If he
can prove an alibi, there may yet be time to save him. White men might
lynch a negro on suspicion; they would not kill a man who was proven, by
the word of white men, to be entirely innocent."
"I do not know," returned Mr. Delamere, shaking his head sadly. "After
what you have told me, it is no longer safe to assume what white men
will or will not do;--what I have learned here has shaken my faith in
humanity. I am going away, but shall return in a short time. Shall I
find you here?"
"I will await your return," said Carteret.
He watched Mr. Delamere pityingly as the old man moved away on the arm
of the coachman waiting in the hall. He did not believe that Mr.
Delamere could prove an alibi for his servant, and without some positive
proof the negro would surely die,--as he well deserved to die.
THE DISCOMFORT OF ELLIS
Mr. Ellis was vaguely uncomfortable. In the first excitement following
the discovery of the crime, he had given his bit of evidence, and had
shared the universal indignation against the murderer. When public
feeling took definite shape in the intention to lynch the prisoner,
Ellis felt a sudden sense of responsibility growing upon himself. When
he learned, an hour later, that it was proposed to burn the negro, his
part in the affair assumed a still graver aspect; for his had been the
final word to fix the prisoner's guilt.
Ellis did not believe in lynch law. He had argued against it, more than
once, in private conversation, and had written several editorials
against the practice, while in charge of the Morning Chronicle during
Major Carteret's absence. A young man, however, and merely representing
another, he had not set up as a reformer, taking rather the view that
this summary method of punishing crime, with all its possibilities of
error, to say nothing of the resulting disrespect of the law and
contempt for the time-honored methods of establishing guilt, was a mere
temporary symptom of the unrest caused by the unsettled relations of the
two races at the South. There had never before been any special need for
any vigorous opposition to lynch law, so far as the community was
concerned, for there had not been a lynching in Wellington since Ellis
had come there, eight years before, from a smaller town, to seek a place
for himself in the world of action. Twenty years before, indeed, there
had been wild doings, during the brief Ku-Klux outbreak, but that was
before Ellis's time,--or at least when he was but a child. He had come
of a Quaker family,--the modified Quakers of the South,--and while
sharing in a general way the Southern prejudice against the negro, his
prejudices had been tempered by the peaceful tenets of his father's
sect. His father had been a Whig, and a non-slaveholder; and while he
had gone with the South in the civil war so far as a man of peace could
go, he had not done so for love of slavery.
As the day wore on, Ellis's personal responsibility for the intended
_auto-da-fe_ bore more heavily upon him. Suppose he had been wrong? He
had seen the accused negro; he had recognized him by his clothes, his
whiskers, his spectacles, and his walk; but he had also seen another
man, who resembled Sandy so closely that but for the difference in their
clothes, he was forced to acknowledge, he could not have told them
apart. Had he not seen the first man, he would have sworn with even
greater confidence that the second was Sandy. There had been, he
recalled, about one of the men--he had not been then nor was he now able
to tell which--something vaguely familiar, and yet seemingly discordant
to whichever of the two it was, or, as it seemed to him now, to any man
of that race. His mind reverted to the place where he had last seen
Sandy, and then a sudden wave of illumination swept over him, and filled
him with a thrill of horror. The cakewalk,--the dancing,--the
speech,--they were not Sandy's at all, nor any negro's! It was a white
man who had stood in the light of the street lamp, so that the casual
passer-by might see and recognize in him old Mr. Delamere's servant. The
scheme was a dastardly one, and worthy of a heart that was something
worse than weak and vicious.
Ellis resolved that the negro should not, if he could prevent it, die
for another's crime; but what proof had he himself to offer in support
of his theory? Then again, if he denounced Tom Delamere as the murderer,
it would involve, in all probability, the destruction of his own hopes
with regard to Clara. Of course she could not marry Delamere after the
disclosure,--the disgraceful episode at the club would have been enough
to make that reasonably certain; it had put a nail in Delamere's coffin,
but this crime had driven it in to the head and clinched it. On the
other hand, would Miss Pemberton ever speak again to the man who had
been the instrument of bringing disgrace upon the family? Spies,
detectives, police officers, may be useful citizens, but they are rarely
pleasant company for other people. We fee the executioner, but we do not
touch his bloody hand. We might feel a certain tragic admiration for
Brutus condemning his sons to death, but we would scarcely invite Brutus
to dinner after the event. It would harrow our feelings too much.
Perhaps, thought Ellis, there might be a way out of the dilemma. It
might be possible to save this innocent negro without, for the time
being, involving Delamere. He believed that murder will out, but it need
not be through his initiative. He determined to go to the jail and
interview the prisoner, who might give such an account of himself as
would establish his innocence beyond a doubt. If so, Ellis would exert
himself to stem the tide of popular fury. If, as a last resort, he
could save Sandy only by denouncing Delamere, he would do his duty, let
it cost him what it might.
The gravity of his errand was not lessened by what he saw and heard on
the way to the jail. The anger of the people was at a white heat. A
white woman had been assaulted and murdered by a brutal negro. Neither
advanced age, nor high social standing, had been able to protect her
from the ferocity of a black savage. Her sex, which should have been her
shield and buckler, had made her an easy mark for the villainy of a
black brute. To take the time to try him would be a criminal waste of
public money. To hang him would be too slight a punishment for so
dastardly a crime. An example must be made.
Already the preparations were under way for the impending execution. A
T-rail from the railroad yard had been procured, and men were burying it
in the square before the jail. Others were bringing chains, and a load
of pine wood was piled in convenient proximity. Some enterprising
individual had begun the erection of seats from which, for a pecuniary
consideration, the spectacle might be the more easily and comfortably
Ellis was stopped once or twice by persons of his acquaintance. From one
he learned that the railroads would run excursions from the neighboring
towns in order to bring spectators to the scene; from another that the
burning was to take place early in the evening, so that the children
might not be kept up beyond their usual bedtime. In one group that he
passed he heard several young men discussing the question of which
portions of the negro's body they would prefer for souvenirs. Ellis
shuddered and hastened forward. Whatever was to be done must be done
quickly, or it would be too late. He saw that already it would require a
strong case in favor of the accused to overcome the popular verdict.
Going up the steps of the jail, he met Mr. Delamere, who was just coming
out, after a fruitless interview with Sandy.
"Mr. Ellis," said the old gentleman, who seemed greatly agitated, "this
"It is indeed, sir!" returned the younger man. "I mean to stop it if I
can. The negro did not kill Mrs. Ochiltree."
Mr. Delamere looked at Ellis keenly, and, as Ellis recalled afterwards,
there was death in his eyes. Unable to draw a syllable from Sandy, he
had found his servant's silence more eloquent than words. Ellis felt a
presentiment that this affair, however it might terminate, would be
fatal to this fine old man, whom the city could ill spare, in spite of
his age and infirmities.
"Mr. Ellis," asked Mr. Delamere, in a voice which trembled with
ill-suppressed emotion, "do you know who killed her?"
Ellis felt a surging pity for his old friend; but every step that he had
taken toward the jail had confirmed and strengthened his own resolution
that this contemplated crime, which he dimly felt to be far more
atrocious than that of which Sandy was accused, in that it involved a
whole community rather than one vicious man, should be stopped at any
cost. Deplorable enough had the negro been guilty, it became, in view of
his certain innocence, an unspeakable horror, which for all time would
cover the city with infamy. "Mr. Delamere," he replied, looking the
elder man squarely in the eyes, "I think I do,--and I am very sorry."
"And who was it, Mr. Ellis?"
He put the question hopelessly, as though the answer were a foregone
"I do not wish to say at present," replied Ellis, with a remorseful
pang, "unless it becomes absolutely necessary, to save the negro's life.
Accusations are dangerous,--as this case proves,--unless the proof, be
For a moment it seemed as though Mr. Delamere would collapse upon the
spot. Rallying almost instantly, however, he took the arm which Ellis
involuntarily offered, and said with an effort:--
"Mr. Ellis, you are a gentleman whom it is an honor to know. If you have
time, I wish you would go with me to my house,--I can hardly trust
myself alone,--and thence to the Chronicle office. This thing shall be
stopped, and you will help me stop it."
It required but a few minutes to cover the half mile that lay between
the prison and Mr. Delamere's residence.
THE VAGARIES OF THE HIGHER LAW
Mr. Delamere went immediately to his grandson's room, which he entered
alone, closing and locking the door behind him. He had requested Ellis
to wait in the carriage.
The bed had been made, and the room was apparently in perfect order.
There was a bureau in the room, through which Mr. Delamere proceeded to
look thoroughly. Finding one of the drawers locked, he tried it with a
key of his own, and being unable to unlock it, took a poker from beside
the stove and broke it ruthlessly open.
The contents served to confirm what he had heard concerning his
grandson's character. Thrown together in disorderly confusion were
bottles of wine and whiskey; soiled packs of cards; a dice-box with
dice; a box of poker chips, several revolvers, and a number of
photographs and paper-covered books at which the old gentleman merely
glanced to ascertain their nature.
So far, while his suspicion had been strengthened, he had found nothing
to confirm it. He searched the room more carefully, and found, in the
wood-box by the small heating-stove which stood in the room, a torn and
crumpled bit of paper. Stooping to pick this up, his eye caught a gleam
of something yellow beneath the bureau, which lay directly in his line
First he smoothed out the paper. It was apparently the lower half of a
label, or part of the cover of a small box, torn diagonally from corner
to corner. From the business card at the bottom, which gave the name, of
a firm of manufacturers of theatrical supplies in a Northern city, and
from the letters remaining upon the upper and narrower half, the bit of
paper had plainly formed part of the wrapper of a package of burnt cork.
Closing his fingers spasmodically over this damning piece of evidence,
Mr. Delamere knelt painfully, and with the aid of his cane drew out from
under the bureau the yellow object which, had attracted his attention.
It was a five-dollar gold piece of a date back toward the beginning of
To make assurance doubly sure, Mr. Delamere summoned the cook from the
kitchen in the back yard. In answer to her master's questions, Sally
averred that Mr. Tom had got up very early, had knocked at her
window,--she slept in a room off the kitchen in the yard,--and had told
her that she need not bother about breakfast for him, as he had had a
cold bite from the pantry; that he was going hunting and fishing, and
would be gone all day. According to Sally, Mr. Tom had come in about ten
o'clock the night before. He had forgotten his night-key, Sandy was out,
and she had admitted him with her own key. He had said that he was very
tired and was going, immediately to bed.
Mr. Delamere seemed perplexed; the crime had been committed later in the
evening than ten o'clock. The cook cleared up the mystery.
"I reckon he must 'a' be'n dead ti'ed, suh, fer I went back ter his room
fifteen er twenty minutes after he come in fer ter fin' out w'at he
wanted fer breakfus'; an' I knock' two or three times, rale ha'd, an'
Mistuh Tom didn' wake up no mo' d'n de dead. He sho'ly had a good
sleep, er he'd never 'a' got up so ea'ly."
"Thank you, Sally," said Mr. Delamere, when the woman had finished,
"that will do."
"Will you be home ter suppah, suh?" asked the cook.
It was a matter of the supremest indifference to Mr. Delamere whether he
should ever eat again, but he would not betray his feelings to a
servant. In a few minutes he was driving rapidly with Ellis toward the
office of the Morning Chronicle. Ellis could see that Mr. Delamere had
discovered something of tragic import. Neither spoke. Ellis gave all his
attention to the horses, and Mr. Delamere remained wrapped in his own
When they reached the office, they were informed by Jerry that Major
Carteret was engaged with General Belmont and Captain McBane. Mr.
Delamere knocked peremptorily at the door of the inner office, which was
opened by Carteret in person.
"Oh, it is you, Mr. Delamere."
"Carteret," exclaimed Mr. Delamere, "I must speak to you immediately,
"Excuse me a moment, gentlemen," said Carteret, turning to those within
the room. "I'll be back in a moment--don't go away."
Ellis had left the room, closing the door behind him. Mr. Delamere and
Carteret were quite alone.
"Carteret," declared the old gentleman, "this murder must not take
"'Murder' is a hard word," replied the editor, frowning slightly.
"It is the right word," rejoined Mr. Delamere, decidedly. "It would be a
foul and most unnatural murder, for Sandy did not kill Mrs. Ochiltree."
Carteret with difficulty restrained a smile of pity. His old friend was
very much excited, as the tremor in his voice gave proof. The criminal
was his trusted servant, who had proved unworthy of confidence. No one
could question Mr. Delamere's motives; but he was old, his judgment was
no longer to be relied upon. It was a great pity that he should so
excite and overstrain himself about a worthless negro, who had forfeited
his life for a dastardly crime. Mr. Delamere had had two paralytic
strokes, and a third might prove fatal. He must be dealt with gently.
"Mr. Delamere," he said, with patient tolerance, "I think you are
deceived. There is but one sure way to stop this execution. If your
servant is innocent, you must produce the real criminal. If the negro,
with such overwhelming proofs against him, is not guilty, who is?"
"I will tell you who is," replied Mr. Delamere. "The murderer is,"--the
words came with a note of anguish, as though torn from his very
heart,--"the murderer is Tom Delamere, my own grandson!"
"Impossible, sir!" exclaimed Carteret, starting back involuntarily.
"That could not be! The man was seen leaving the house, and he was
"All cats are gray in the dark, Carteret; and, moreover, nothing is
easier than for a white man to black his face. God alone knows how many
crimes have been done in this guise! Tom Delamere, to get the money to
pay his gambling debts, committed this foul murder, and then tried to
fasten it upon as honest and faithful a soul as ever trod the earth."
Carteret, though at first overwhelmed by this announcement, perceived
with quick intuition that it might easily be true. It was but a step
from fraud to crime, and in Delamere's need of money there lay a
palpable motive for robbery,--the murder may have been an afterthought.
Delamere knew as much about the cedar chest as the negro could have
known, and more.
But a white man must not be condemned without proof positive.
"What foundation is there, sir," he asked, "for this astounding charge?"
Mr. Delamere related all that had taken place since he had left
Belleview a couple of hours before, and as he proceeded, step by step,
every word carried conviction to Carteret. Tom Delamere's skill as a
mimic and a negro impersonator was well known; he had himself laughed at
more than one of his performances. There had been a powerful motive, and
Mr. Delamere's discoveries had made clear the means. Tom's unusual
departure, before breakfast, on a fishing expedition was a suspicious
circumstance. There was a certain devilish ingenuity about the affair
which he would hardly have expected of Tom Delamere, but for which the
reason was clear enough. One might have thought that Tom would have been
satisfied with merely blacking his face, and leaving to chance the
identification of the negro who might be apprehended. He would hardly
have implicated, out of pure malignity, his grandfather's old servant,
who had been his own care-taker for many years. Here, however, Carteret
could see where Tom's own desperate position operated to furnish a
probable motive for the crime. The surest way to head off suspicion from
himself was to direct it strongly toward some particular person, and
this he had been able to do conclusively by his access to Sandy's
clothes, his skill in making up to resemble him, and by the episode of
the silk purse. By placing himself beyond reach during the next day, he
would not be called upon to corroborate or deny any inculpating
statements which Sandy might make, and in the very probable case that
the crime should be summarily avenged, any such statements on Sandy's
part would be regarded as mere desperate subterfuges of the murderer to
save his own life. It was a bad affair.
"The case seems clear," said Carteret reluctantly but conclusively. "And
now, what shall we do about it?"
"I want you to print a handbill," said Mr. Delamere, "and circulate it
through the town, stating that Sandy Campbell is innocent and Tom
Delamere guilty of this crime. If this is not done, I will go myself and
declare it to all who will listen, and I will publicly disown the
villain who is no more grandson of mine. There is no deeper sink of
iniquity into which he could fall."
Carteret's thoughts were chasing one another tumultuously. There could
be no doubt that the negro was innocent, from the present aspect of
affairs, and he must not be lynched; but in what sort of position would
the white people be placed, if Mr. Delamere carried out his Spartan
purpose of making the true facts known? The white people of the city had
raised the issue of their own superior morality, and had themselves made
this crime a race question. The success of the impending "revolution,"
for which he and his _confreres_ had labored so long, depended in large
measure upon the maintenance of their race prestige, which would be
injured in the eyes of the world by such a fiasco. While they might yet
win by sheer force, their cause would suffer in the court of morals,
where they might stand convicted as pirates, instead of being applauded
as patriots. Even the negroes would have the laugh on them,--the people
whom they hoped to make approve and justify their own despoilment. To be
laughed at by the negroes was a calamity only less terrible than failure
Such an outcome of an event which had already been heralded to the four
corners of the earth would throw a cloud of suspicion upon the stories
of outrage which had gone up from the South for so many years, and had
done so much to win the sympathy of the North for the white South and to
alienate it from the colored people. The reputation of the race was
threatened. They must not lynch the negro, and yet, for the credit of
the town, its aristocracy, and the race, the truth of this ghastly story
must not see the light,--at least not yet.
"Mr. Delamere," he exclaimed, "I am shocked and humiliated. The negro
must be saved, of course, but--consider the family honor."
"Tom is no longer a member of my family. I disown him. He has covered
the family name--my name, sir--with infamy. We have no longer a family
honor. I wish never to hear his name spoken again!"
For several minutes Carteret argued with his old friend. Then he went
into the other room and consulted with General Belmont. As a result of
these conferences, and of certain urgent messages sent out, within half
an hour thirty or forty of the leading citizens of Wellington were
gathered in the Morning Chronicle office. Several other curious persons,
observing that there was something in the wind, and supposing correctly
that it referred to the projected event of the evening, crowded in with
those who had been invited.
Carteret was in another room, still arguing with Mr. Delamere. "It's a
mere formality, sir," he was saying suavely, "accompanied by a mental
reservation. We know the facts; but this must be done to justify us, in
the eyes of the mob, in calling them off before they accomplish their
"Carteret," said the old man, in a voice eloquent of the struggle
through which he had passed, "I would not perjure myself to prolong my
own miserable existence another day, but God will forgive a sin
committed to save another's life. Upon your head be it, Carteret, and
not on mine!"
"Gentlemen," said Carteret, entering with Mr. Delamere the room where
the men were gathered, and raising his hand for silence, "the people of
Wellington were on the point of wreaking vengeance upon a negro who was
supposed to have been guilty of a terrible crime. The white men of this
city, impelled by the highest and holiest sentiments, were about to take
steps to defend their hearthstones and maintain the purity and
ascendency of their race. Your purpose sprung from hearts wounded in
their tenderest susceptibilities."
"'Rah, 'rah!" shouted a tipsy sailor, who had edged in with the crowd.
"But this same sense of justice," continued Carteret oratorically,
"which would lead you to visit swift and terrible punishment upon the
guilty, would not permit you to slay an innocent man. Even a negro, as
long as he behaves himself and keeps in his place, is entitled to the
protection of the law. We may be stern and unbending in the punishment
of crime, as befits our masterful race, but we hold the scales of
justice with even and impartial hand."
"'Rah f' 'mpa'tial ban'!" cried the tipsy sailor, who was immediately
ejected with slight ceremony.
"We have discovered, beyond a doubt, that the negro Sandy Campbell, now
in custody, did not commit this robbery and murder, but that it was
perpetrated by some unknown man, who has fled from the city. Our
venerable and distinguished fellow townsman, Mr. Delamere, in whose
employment this Campbell has been for many years, will vouch for his
character, and states, furthermore, that Campbell was with him all last
night, covering any hour at which this crime could have been committed."
"If Mr. Delamere will swear to that," said some one in the crowd, "the
negro should not be lynched."
There were murmurs of dissent. The preparations had all been made. There
would be great disappointment if the lynching did not occur.
"Let Mr. Delamere swear, if he wants to save the nigger," came again
from the crowd.
"Certainly," assented Carteret. "Mr. Delamere can have no possible
objection to taking the oath. Is there a notary public present, or a
justice of the peace?"
A man stepped forward. "I am a justice of the peace," he announced.
"Very well, Mr. Smith," said Carteret, recognizing the speaker. "With
your permission, I will formulate the oath, and Mr. Delamere may repeat
it after me, if he will. I solemnly swear,"--
"I solemnly swear,"--
Mr. Delamere's voice might have come from the tomb, so hollow and
unnatural did it sound.
"So help me God,"--
"So help me God,"--
"That the negro Sandy Campbell, now in jail on the charge of murder,
robbery, and assault, was in my presence last night between the hours of
eight and two o'clock."
Mr. Delamere repeated this statement in a firm voice; but to Ellis, who
was in the secret, his words fell upon the ear like clods dropping upon
the coffin in an open grave.
"I wish to add," said General Belmont, stepping forward, "that it is not
our intention to interfere, by anything which may be done at this
meeting, with the orderly process of the law, or to advise the
prisoner's immediate release. The prisoner will remain in custody, Mr.
Delamere, Major Carteret, and I guaranteeing that he will be proved
entirely innocent at the preliminary hearing to-morrow morning."
Several of those present looked relieved; others were plainly,
disappointed; but when the meeting ended, the news went out that the
lynching had been given up. Carteret immediately wrote and had struck
off a handbill giving a brief statement of the proceedings, and sent out
a dozen boys to distribute copies among the people in the streets. That
no precaution might be omitted, a call was issued to the Wellington
Grays, the crack independent military company of the city, who in an
incredibly short time were on guard at the jail. Thus a slight change
in the point of view had demonstrated the entire ability of the leading
citizens to maintain the dignified and orderly processes of the law
whenever they saw fit to do so.
* * * * *
The night passed without disorder, beyond the somewhat rough handling of
two or three careless negroes that came in the way of small parties of
the disappointed who had sought alcoholic consolation.
At ten o'clock the next morning, a preliminary hearing of the charge
against Campbell was had before a magistrate. Mr. Delamere, perceptibly
older and more wizened than he had seemed the day before, and leaning
heavily on the arm of a servant, repeated his statement of the evening
before. Only one or two witnesses were called, among whom was Mr. Ellis,
who swore positively that in his opinion the prisoner was not the man
whom he had seen and at first supposed to be Campbell. The most
sensational piece of testimony was that of Dr. Price, who had examined
the body, and who swore that the wound in the head was not necessarily
fatal, and might have been due to a fall,--that she had more than likely
died of shock attendant upon the robbery, she being of advanced age and
feeble health. There was no evidence, he said, of any other personal
Sandy was not even bound over to the grand jury, but was discharged upon
the ground that there was not sufficient evidence upon which to hold
him. Upon his release he received the congratulations of many present,
some of whom would cheerfully have done him to death a few hours before.
With the childish fickleness of a mob, they now experienced a
satisfaction almost as great as, though less exciting than, that
attendant upon taking life. We speak of the mysteries of inanimate
nature. The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of
the universe. One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next
we see in them the reflection of the divine image. Sandy, having thus
escaped from the Mr. Hyde of the mob, now received the benediction of
its Dr. Jekyll. Being no cynical philosopher, and realizing how nearly
the jaws of death had closed upon him, he was profoundly grateful for
his escape, and felt not the slightest desire to investigate or
criticise any man's motives.
With the testimony of Dr. Price, the worst feature of the affair came to
an end. The murder eliminated or rendered doubtful, the crime became a
mere vulgar robbery, the extent of which no one could estimate, since no
living soul knew how much money Mrs. Ochiltree had had in the cedar
chest. The absurdity of the remaining charge became more fully apparent
in the light of the reaction from the excitement of the day before.
Nothing further was ever done about the case; but though the crime went
unpunished, it carried evil in its train. As we have seen, the charge
against Campbell had been made against the whole colored race. All over
the United States the Associated Press had flashed the report of another
dastardly outrage by a burly black brute,--all black brutes it seems are
burly,--and of the impending lynching with its prospective horrors. This
news, being highly sensational in its character, had been displayed in
large black type on the front pages of the daily papers. The dispatch
that followed, to the effect that the accused had been found innocent
and the lynching frustrated, received slight attention, if any, in a
fine-print paragraph on an inside page. The facts of the case never came
out at all. The family honor of the Delameres was preserved, and the
prestige of the white race in Wellington was not seriously impaired.
* * * * *
Upon leaving the preliminary hearing, old Mr. Delamere had requested
General Belmont to call at his house during the day upon professional
business. This the general did in the course of the afternoon.
"Belmont," said Mr. Delamere, "I wish to make my will. I should have
drawn it with my own hand; but you know my motives, and can testify to
my soundness of mind and memory."
He thereupon dictated a will, by the terms of which he left to his
servant, Sandy Campbell, three thousand dollars, as a mark of the
testator's appreciation of services rendered and sufferings endured by
Sandy on behalf of his master. After some minor dispositions, the whole
remainder of the estate was devised to Dr. William Miller, in trust for
the uses of his hospital and training-school for nurses, on condition
that the institution be incorporated and placed under the management of
competent trustees. Tom Delamere was not mentioned in the will.
"There, Belmont," he said, "that load is off my mind. Now, if you will
call in some witnesses,--most of my people can write,--I shall feel
entirely at ease."
The will was signed by Mr. Delamere, and witnessed by Jeff and Billy,
two servants in the house, neither of whom received any information as
to its contents, beyond the statement that they were witnessing their
master's will. "I wish to leave that with you for safe keeping,
Belmont," said Mr. Delamere, after the witnesses had retired. "Lock it
up in your safe until I die, which will not be very long, since I have
no further desire to live."
An hour later Mr. Delamere suffered a third paralytic stroke, from which
he died two days afterwards, without having in the meantime recovered
the power of speech.
The will was never produced. The servants stated, and General Belmont
admitted, that Mr. Delamere had made a will a few days before his death;
but since it was not discoverable, it seemed probable that the testator
had destroyed it. This was all the more likely, the general was inclined
to think, because the will had been of a most unusual character. What
the contents of the will were, he of course did not state, it having
been made under the seal of professional secrecy.
This suppression was justified by the usual race argument: Miller's
hospital was already well established, and, like most negro
institutions, could no doubt rely upon Northern philanthropy for any
further support it might need. Mr. Delamere's property belonged of right
to the white race, and by the higher law should remain in the possession
of white people. Loyalty to one's race was a more sacred principle than
deference to a weak old man's whims.
Having reached this conclusion, General Belmont's first impulse was to
destroy the will; on second thoughts he locked it carefully away in his
safe. He would hold it awhile. It might some time be advisable to talk
the matter over with young Delamere, who was of a fickle disposition and
might wish to change his legal adviser.
IN SEASON AND OUT
Wellington soon resumed its wonted calm, and in a few weeks the intended
lynching was only a memory. The robbery and assault, however, still
remained a mystery to all but a chosen few. The affair had been dropped
as absolutely as though it had never occurred. No colored man ever
learned the reason of this sudden change of front, and Sandy Campbell's
loyalty to his old employer's memory kept him silent. Tom Delamere did
not offer to retain Sandy in his service, though he presented him with
most of the old gentleman's wardrobe. It is only justice to Tom to state
that up to this time he had not been informed of the contents of his
grandfather's latest will. Major Carteret gave Sandy employment as
butler, thus making a sort of vicarious atonement, on the part of the
white race, of which the major felt himself in a way the embodiment, for
the risk to which Sandy had been subjected.
Shortly after these events Sandy was restored to the bosom of the
church, and, enfolded by its sheltering arms, was no longer tempted to
stray from the path of rectitude, but became even a more rigid Methodist
than before his recent troubles.
Tom Delamere did not call upon Clara again in the character of a lover.
Of course they could not help meeting, from time to time, but he never
dared presume upon their former relations. Indeed, the social
atmosphere of Wellington remained so frigid toward Delamere that he left
town, and did not return for several months.
Ellis was aware that Delamere had been thrown over, but a certain
delicacy restrained him from following up immediately the advantage
which the absence of his former rival gave him. It seemed to him, with
the quixotry of a clean, pure mind, that Clara would pass through a
period of mourning for her lost illusion, and that it would be
indelicate, for the time being, to approach her with a lover's
attentions. The work of the office had been unusually heavy of late. The
major, deeply absorbed in politics, left the detail work of the paper to
Ellis. Into the intimate counsels of the revolutionary committee Ellis
had not been admitted, nor would he have desired to be. He knew, of
course, in a general way, the results that it was sought to achieve; and
while he did not see their necessity, he deferred to the views of older
men, and was satisfied to remain in ignorance of anything which he might
disapprove. Moreover, his own personal affairs occupied his mind to an
extent that made politics or any other subject a matter of minor
As for Dr. Miller, he never learned of Mr. Delamere's good intentions
toward his institution, but regretted the old gentleman's death as the
loss of a sincere friend and well-wisher of his race in their unequal
Despite the untiring zeal of Carteret and his associates, the campaign
for the restriction of the suffrage, which was to form the basis of a
permanent white supremacy, had seemed to languish for a while after the
Ochiltree affair. The lull, however, was only temporary, and more
apparent than real, for the forces adverse to the negro were merely
gathering strength for a more vigorous assault. While little was said in
Wellington, public sentiment all over the country became every day more
favorable to the views of the conspirators. The nation was rushing
forward with giant strides toward colossal wealth and world-dominion,
before the exigencies of which mere abstract ethical theories must not
be permitted to stand. The same argument that justified the conquest of
an inferior nation could not be denied to those who sought the
suppression of an inferior race. In the South, an obscure jealousy of
the negro's progress, an obscure fear of the very equality so
contemptuously denied, furnished a rich soil for successful agitation.
Statistics of crime, ingeniously manipulated, were made to present a
fearful showing against the negro. Vital statistics were made to prove
that he had degenerated from an imaginary standard of physical
excellence which had existed under the benign influence of slavery.
Constant lynchings emphasized his impotence, and bred everywhere a
growing contempt for his rights.
At the North, a new Pharaoh had risen, who knew not Israel,--a new
generation, who knew little of the fierce passions which had played
around the negro in a past epoch, and derived their opinions of him from
the "coon song" and the police reports. Those of his old friends who
survived were disappointed that he had not flown with clipped wings;
that he had not in one generation of limited opportunity attained the
level of the whites. The whole race question seemed to have reached a
sort of _impasse_, a blind alley, of which no one could see the outlet.
The negro had become a target at which any one might try a shot.
Schoolboys gravely debated the question as to whether or not the negro
should exercise the franchise. The pessimist gave him up in despair;
while the optimist, smilingly confident that everything would come out
all right in the end, also turned aside and went his buoyant way to more
For a time there were white men in the state who opposed any reactionary
step unless it were of general application. They were conscientious men,
who had learned the ten commandments and wished to do right; but this
class was a small minority, and their objections were soon silenced by
the all-powerful race argument. Selfishness is the most constant of
human motives. Patriotism, humanity, or the love of God may lead to
sporadic outbursts which sweep away the heaped-up wrongs of centuries;
but they languish at times, while the love of self works on ceaselessly,
unwearyingly, burrowing always at the very roots of life, and heaping up
fresh wrongs for other centuries to sweep away. The state was at the
mercy of venal and self-seeking politicians, bent upon regaining their
ascendency at any cost, stultifying their own minds by vague sophistries
and high-sounding phrases, which deceived none but those who wished to
be deceived, and these but imperfectly; and dulling the public
conscience by a loud clamor in which the calm voice of truth was for the
moment silenced. So the cause went on.
Carteret, as spokesman of the campaign, and sincerest of all its
leaders, performed prodigies of labor. The Morning Chronicle proclaimed,
in season and out, the doctrine of "White Supremacy." Leaving the paper
in charge of Ellis, the major made a tour of the state, rousing the
white people of the better class to an appreciation of the terrible
danger which confronted them in the possibility that a few negroes might
hold a few offices or dictate the terms upon which white men should fill
them. Difficulties were explained away. The provisions of the Federal
Constitution, it was maintained, must yield to the "higher law," and if
the Constitution could neither be altered nor bent to this end, means
must be found to circumvent it.
The device finally hit upon for disfranchising the colored people in
this particular state was the notorious "grandfather clause." After
providing various restrictions of the suffrage, based upon education,
character, and property, which it was deemed would in effect
disfranchise the colored race, an exception was made in favor of all
citizens whose fathers or grandfathers had been entitled to vote prior
to 1867. Since none but white men could vote prior to 1867, this
exception obviously took in the poor and ignorant whites, while the same
class of negroes were excluded.
It was ingenious, but it was not fair. In due time a constitutional
convention was called, in which the above scheme was adopted and
submitted to a vote of the people for ratification. The campaign was
fought on the color line. Many white Republicans, deluded with the hope
that by the elimination of the negro vote their party might receive
accessions from the Democratic ranks, went over to the white party. By
fraud in one place, by terrorism in another, and everywhere by the
resistless moral force of the united whites, the negroes were reduced to
the apathy of despair, their few white allies demoralized, and the
amendment adopted by a large majority. The negroes were taught that
this is a white man's country, and that the sooner they made up their
minds to this fact, the better for all concerned. The white people would
be good to them so long as they behaved themselves and kept their place.
As theoretical equals,--practical equality being forever out of the
question, either by nature or by law,--there could have been nothing but
strife between them, in which the weaker party would invariably have
Some colored men accepted the situation thus outlined, if not as
desirable, at least as inevitable. Most of them, however, had little
faith in this condescending friendliness which was to take the place of
constitutional rights. They knew they had been treated unfairly; that
their enemies had prevailed against them; that their whilom friends had
stood passively by and seen them undone. Many of the most enterprising
and progressive left the state, and those who remain still labor under a
sense of wrong and outrage which renders them distinctly less valuable
The great steal was made, but the thieves did not turn honest,--the
scheme still shows the mark of the burglar's tools. Sins, like chickens,
come home to roost. The South paid a fearful price for the wrong of
negro slavery; in some form or other it will doubtless reap the fruits
of this later iniquity.
Drastic as were these "reforms," the results of which we have
anticipated somewhat, since the new Constitution was not to take effect
immediately, they moved all too slowly for the little coterie of
Wellington conspirators, whose ambitions and needs urged them to prompt
action. Under the new Constitution it would be two full years before the
"nigger amendment" became effective, and meanwhile the Wellington
district would remain hopelessly Republican. The committee decided,
about two months before the fall election, that an active local campaign
must be carried on, with a view to discourage the negroes from attending
the polls on election day.
The question came up for discussion one forenoon in a meeting at the
office of the Morning Chronicle, at which all of the "Big Three" were
"Something must be done," declared McBane, "and that damn quick. Too
many white people are saying that it will be better to wait until the
amendment goes into effect. That would mean to leave the niggers in
charge of this town for two years after the state has declared for white
supremacy! I'm opposed to leaving it in their hands one hour,--them's
This proved to be the general opinion, and the discussion turned to the
subject of ways and means.
"What became of that editorial in the nigger paper?" inquired the
general in his blandest tones, cleverly directing a smoke ring toward
the ceiling. "It lost some of its point back there, when we came near
lynching that nigger; but now that that has blown over, why wouldn't it
be a good thing to bring into play at the present juncture? Let's read
it over again."
Carteret extracted the paper from the pigeon-hole where he had placed it
some months before. The article was read aloud with emphasis and
discussed phrase by phrase. Of its wording there could be little
criticism,--it was temperately and even cautiously phrased. As
suggested by the general, the Ochiltree affair had proved that it was
not devoid of truth. Its great offensiveness lay in its boldness: that a
negro should publish in a newspaper what white people would scarcely
acknowledge to themselves in secret was much as though a Russian
_moujik_ or a German peasant should rush into print to question the
divine right of the Lord's Anointed. The article was racial
_lese-majeste_ in the most aggravated form. A peg was needed upon which
to hang a _coup d'etat_, and this editorial offered the requisite
opportunity. It was unanimously decided to republish the obnoxious
article, with comment adapted to fire the inflammable Southern heart and
rouse it against any further self-assertion of the negroes in politics
"The time is ripe!" exclaimed McBane. "In a month we can have the
niggers so scared that they won't dare stick their heads out of doors on
"I wonder," observed the general thoughtfully, after this conclusion had
been reached, "if we couldn't have Jerry fetch us some liquor?"
Jerry appeared in response to the usual summons. The general gave him
the money, and ordered three Calhoun cocktails. When Jerry returned with
the glasses on a tray, the general observed him with pointed curiosity.
"What, in h--ll is the matter with you, Jerry? Your black face is
splotched with brown and yellow patches, and your hair shines as though
you had fallen head-foremost into a firkin of butter. What's the matter
Jerry seemed much embarrassed by this inquiry.
"Nothin', suh, nothin'," he stammered. "It's--it's jes' somethin' I
be'n puttin' on my hair, suh, ter improve de quality, suh."
"Jerry," returned the general, bending a solemn look upon the porter,
"you have been playing with edged tools, and your days are numbered. You
have been reading the Afro-American Banner."
He shook open the paper, which he had retained in his hand, and read
from one of the advertisements:--
"'Kinky, curly hair made straight in two applications. Dark skins
lightened two shades; mulattoes turned perfectly white.'
"This stuff is rank poison, Jerry," continued the general with a mock
solemnity which did not impose upon Jerry, who nevertheless listened
with an air of great alarm. He suspected that the general was making fun
of him; but he also knew that the general would like to think that Jerry
believed him in earnest; and to please the white folks was Jerry's
consistent aim in life. "I can see the signs of decay in your face, and
your hair will all fall out in a week or two at the latest,--mark my
McBane had listened to this pleasantry with a sardonic sneer. It was a
waste of valuable time. To Carteret it seemed in doubtful taste. These
grotesque advertisements had their tragic side. They were proof that the
negroes had read the handwriting on the wall. These pitiful attempts to
change their physical characteristics were an acknowledgment, on their
own part, that the negro was doomed, and that the white man was to
inherit the earth and hold all other races under his heel. For, as the
months had passed, Carteret's thoughts, centring more and more upon the
negro, had led him farther and farther, until now he was firmly
convinced that there was no permanent place for the negro in the United
States, if indeed anywhere in the world, except under the ground. More
pathetic even than Jerry's efforts to escape from the universal doom of
his race was his ignorance that even if he could, by some strange
alchemy, bleach his skin and straighten his hair, there would still
remain, underneath it all, only the unbleached darky,--the ass in the
When the general had finished his facetious lecture, Jerry backed out of
the room shamefacedly, though affecting a greater confusion than he
really felt. Jerry had not reasoned so closely as Carteret, but he had
realized that it was a distinct advantage to be white,--an advantage
which white people had utilized to secure all the best things in the
world; and he had entertained the vague hope that by changing his
complexion he might share this prerogative. While he suspected the
general's sincerity, he nevertheless felt a little apprehensive lest the
general's prediction about the effects of the face-bleach and other
preparations might prove true,--the general was a white gentleman and
ought to know,--and decided to abandon their use.
This purpose was strengthened by his next interview with the major. When
Carteret summoned him, an hour later, after the other gentlemen had
taken their leave, Jerry had washed his head thoroughly and there
remained no trace of the pomade. An attempt to darken the lighter spots
in his cuticle by the application of printer's ink had not proved
equally successful,--the retouching left the spots as much too dark as
they had formerly been too light.
"Jerry," said Carteret sternly, "when I hired you to work for the
Chronicle, you were black. The word 'negro' means 'black.' The best
negro is a black negro, of the pure type, as it came from the hand of
God. If you wish to get along well with the white people, the blacker
you are the better,--white people do not like negroes who want to be
white. A man should be content to remain as God made him and where God
placed him. So no more of this nonsense. Are you going to vote at the
"What would you 'vise me ter do, suh?" asked Jerry cautiously.
"I do not advise you. You ought to have sense enough to see where your
own interests lie. I put it to you whether you cannot trust yourself
more safely in the hands of white gentlemen, who are your true friends,
than in the hands of ignorant and purchasable negroes and unscrupulous
"Dere's no doubt about it, suh," assented Jerry, with a vehemence
proportioned to his desire to get back into favor. "I ain' gwine ter
have nothin' ter do wid de 'lection, suh! Ef I don' vote, I kin keep my
job, can't I, suh?"
The major eyed Jerry with an air of supreme disgust. What could be
expected of a race so utterly devoid of tact? It seemed as though this
negro thought a white gentleman might want to bribe him to remain away
from the polls; and the negro's willingness to accept the imaginary
bribe demonstrated the venal nature of the colored race,--its entire
lack of moral principle!
"You will retain your place, Jerry," he said severely, "so long as you
perform your duties to my satisfaction and behave yourself properly."
With this grandiloquent subterfuge Carteret turned to his next article
on white supremacy. Jerry did not delude himself with any fine-spun
sophistry. He knew perfectly well that he held his job upon the
condition that he stayed away from the polls at the approaching
election. Jerry was a fool--
"The world of fools hath such a store,
That he who would not see an ass,
Must stay at home and shut his door
And break his looking-glass."
But while no one may be entirely wise, there are degrees of folly, and
Jerry was not all kinds of a fool.
MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM
Events moved rapidly during the next few days. The reproduction, in the
Chronicle, of the article from the Afro-American Banner, with Carteret's
inflammatory comment, took immediate effect. It touched the Southern
white man in his most sensitive spot. To him such an article was an
insult to white womanhood, and must be resented by some active
steps,--mere words would be no answer at all. To meet words with words
upon such a subject would be to acknowledge the equality of the negro
and his right to discuss or criticise the conduct of the white people.
The colored people became alarmed at the murmurings of the whites, which
seemed to presage a coming storm. A number of them sought to arm
themselves, but ascertained, upon inquiring at the stores, that no white
merchant would sell a negro firearms. Since all the dealers in this sort
of merchandise were white men, the negroes had to be satisfied with
oiling up the old army muskets which some of them possessed, and the few
revolvers with which a small rowdy element generally managed to keep
themselves supplied. Upon an effort being made to purchase firearms from
a Northern city, the express company, controlled by local men, refused
to accept the consignment. The white people, on the other hand, procured
both arms and ammunition in large quantities, and the Wellington Grays
drilled with great assiduity at their armory.
All this went on without any public disturbance of the town's
tranquillity. A stranger would have seen nothing to excite his
curiosity. The white people did their talking among themselves, and
merely grew more distant in their manner toward the colored folks, who
instinctively closed their ranks as the whites drew away. With each day
that passed the feeling grew more tense. The editor of the Afro-American
Banner, whose office had been quietly garrisoned for several nights by
armed negroes, became frightened, and disappeared from the town between
The conspirators were jubilant at the complete success of their plans.
It only remained for them to so direct this aroused public feeling that
it might completely accomplish the desired end,--to change the political
complexion of the city government and assure the ascendency of the
whites until the amendment should go into effect. A revolution, and not
a riot, was contemplated.
With this end in view, another meeting was called at Carteret's office.
"We are now ready," announced General Belmont, "for the final act of
this drama. We must decide promptly, or events may run away from us."
"What do you suggest?" asked Carteret.
"Down in the American tropics," continued the general, "they have a way
of doing things. I was in Nicaragua, ten years ago, when Paterno's
revolution drove out Igorroto's government. It was as easy as falling
off a log. Paterno had the arms and the best men. Igorroto was not
looking for trouble, and the guns were at his breast before he knew it.
We have the guns. The negroes are not expecting trouble, and are easy
to manage compared with the fiery mixture that flourishes in the
"I should not advocate murder," returned Carteret. "We are animated by
high and holy principles. We wish to right a wrong, to remedy an abuse,
to save our state from anarchy and our race from humiliation. I don't
object to frightening the negroes, but I am opposed to unnecessary
"I'm not quite so particular," struck in McBane. "They need to be
taught a lesson, and a nigger more or less wouldn't be missed. There's
too many of 'em now."
"Of course," continued Carteret, "if we should decide upon a certain
mode of procedure, and the negroes should resist, a different reasoning
might apply; but I will have no premeditated murder."
"In Central and South America," observed the general reflectively, "none
are hurt except those who get in the way."
"There'll be no niggers hurt," said McBane contemptuously, "unless they
strain themselves running. One white man can chase a hundred of 'em.
I've managed five hundred at a time. I'll pay for burying all the
niggers that are killed."
The conference resulted in a well-defined plan, to be put into operation
the following day, by which the city government was to be wrested from
the Republicans and their negro allies.
"And now," said General Belmont, "while we are cleansing the Augean
stables, we may as well remove the cause as the effect. There are
several negroes too many in this town, which will be much the better
without them. There's that yellow lawyer, Watson. He's altogether too
mouthy, and has too much business. Every nigger that gets into trouble
sends for Watson, and white lawyers, with families to support and social
positions to keep up, are deprived of their legitimate source of
"There's that damn nigger real estate agent," blurted out McBane. "Billy
Kitchen used to get most of the nigger business, but this darky has
almost driven him to the poorhouse. A white business man is entitled to
a living in his own profession and his own home. That nigger don't
belong here nohow. He came from the North a year or two ago, and is hand
in glove with Barber, the nigger editor, which is enough of itself to
damn him. _He'll_ have to go!"
"How about the collector of the port?"
"We'd better not touch him. It would bring the government down upon us,
which we want to avoid. We don't need to worry about the nigger
preachers either. They want to stay here, where the loaves and the
fishes are. We can make 'em write letters to the newspapers justifying
our course, as a condition of their remaining."
"What about Billings?" asked McBane. Billings was the white Republican
mayor. "Is that skunk to be allowed to stay in town?"
"No," returned the general, "every white Republican office-holder ought
to be made to go. This town is only big enough for Democrats, and
negroes who can be taught to keep their place."
"What about the colored doctor," queried McBane, "with the hospital, and
the diamond ring, and the carriage, and the other fallals?"
"I shouldn't interfere with Miller," replied the general decisively.
"He's a very good sort of a negro, doesn't meddle with politics, nor
tread on any one else's toes. His father was a good citizen, which
counts in his favor. He's spending money in the community too, and
contributes to its prosperity."
"That sort of nigger, though, sets a bad example," retorted McBane.
"They make it all the harder to keep the rest of 'em down."
"'One swallow does not make a summer,'" quoted the general. "When we get
things arranged, there'll be no trouble. A stream cannot rise higher
than its fountain, and a smart nigger without a constituency will no
longer be an object of fear. I say, let the doctor alone."
"He'll have to keep mighty quiet, though," muttered McBane
discontentedly. "I don't like smart niggers. I've had to shoot several
of them, in the course of my life."
"Personally, I dislike the man," interposed Carteret, "and if I
consulted my own inclinations, would say expel him with the rest; but my
grievance is a personal one, and to gratify it in that way would be a
loss to the community. I wish to be strictly impartial in this matter,
and to take no step which cannot be entirely justified by a wise regard
for the public welfare."
"What's the use of all this hypocrisy, gentlemen?" sneered McBane.
"Every last one of us has an axe to grind! The major may as well put an
edge on his. We'll never get a better chance to have things our way. If
this nigger doctor annoys the major, we'll run him out with the rest.
This is a white man's country, and a white man's city, and no nigger has
any business here when a white man wants him gone!"
Carteret frowned darkly at this brutal characterization of their
motives. It robbed the enterprise of all its poetry, and put a solemn
act of revolution upon the plane of a mere vulgar theft of power. Even
the general winced.
"I would not consent," he said irritably, "to Miller's being disturbed."
McBane made no further objection.
There was a discreet knock at the door.
"Come in," said Carteret.
Jerry entered. "Mistuh Ellis wants ter speak ter you a minute, suh," he
Carteret excused himself and left the room.
"Jerry," said the general, "you lump of ebony, the sight of you reminds
me! If your master doesn't want you for a minute, step across to Mr.
Brown's and tell him to send me three cocktails."
"Yas, suh," responded Jerry, hesitating. The general had said nothing
"And tell him, Jerry, to charge them. I'm short of change to-day."
"Yas, suh; yas, suh," replied Jerry, as he backed out of the presence,
adding, when he had reached the hall: "Dere ain' no change fer Jerry dis
time, sho': I'll jes' make dat _fo_' cocktails, an' de gin'l won't
never know de diffe'nce. I ain' gwine 'cross de road fer nothin', not ef
I knows it."
Half an hour later, the conspirators dispersed. They had fixed the hour
of the proposed revolution, the course to be pursued, the results to be
obtained; but in stating their equation they had overlooked one
factor,--God, or Fate, or whatever one may choose to call the Power that
holds the destinies of man in the hollow of his hand.
THE MISSING PAPERS
Mrs. Carteret was very much disturbed. It was supposed that the shock of
her aunt's death had affected her health, for since that event she had
fallen into a nervous condition which gave the major grave concern. Much
to the general surprise, Mrs. Ochiltree had left no will, and no
property of any considerable value except her homestead, which descended
to Mrs. Carteret as the natural heir. Whatever she may have had on hand
in the way of ready money had undoubtedly been abstracted from the cedar
chest by the midnight marauder, to whose visit her death was immediately
due. Her niece's grief was held to mark a deep-seated affection for the
grim old woman who had reared her.
Mrs. Carteret's present state of mind, of which her nervousness was a
sufficiently accurate reflection, did in truth date from her aunt's
death, and also in part from the time of the conversation with Mrs.
Ochiltree, one afternoon, during and after the drive past Miller's new
hospital. Mrs. Ochiltree had grown steadily more and more childish after
that time, and her niece had never succeeded in making her pick up the
thread of thought where it had been dropped. At any rate, Mrs. Ochiltree
had made no further disclosure upon the subject.
An examination, not long after her aunt's death, of the papers found
near the cedar chest on the morning after the murder had contributed to
Mrs. Carteret's enlightenment, but had not promoted her peace of mind.
When Mrs. Carteret reached home, after her hurried exploration of the
cedar chest, she thrust into a bureau drawer the envelope she had found.
So fully was her mind occupied, for several days, with the funeral, and
with the excitement attending the arrest of Sandy Campbell, that she
deferred the examination of the contents of the envelope until near the
end of the week.
One morning, while alone in her chamber, she drew the envelope from the
drawer, and was holding it in her hand, hesitating as to whether or not
she should open it, when the baby in the next room began to cry.
The child's cry seemed like a warning, and yielding to a vague
uneasiness, she put the paper back.
"Phil," she said to her husband at luncheon, "Aunt Polly said some
strange things to me one day before she died,--I don't know whether she
was quite in her right mind or not; but suppose that my father had left
a will by which it was provided that half his property should go to that
woman and her child?"
"It would never have gone by such a will," replied the major easily.
"Your Aunt Polly was in her dotage, and merely dreaming. Your father
would never have been such a fool; but even if he had, no such will
could have stood the test of the courts. It would clearly have been due
to the improper influence of a designing woman."
"So that legally, as well as morally," said Mrs. Carteret, "the will
would have been of no effect?"
"Not the slightest. A jury would soon have broken down the legal claim.
As for any moral obligation, there would have been nothing moral about
the affair. The only possible consideration for such a gift was an
immoral one. I don't wish to speak harshly of your father, my dear,
but his conduct was gravely reprehensible. The woman herself had no
right or claim whatever; she would have been whipped and expelled from
the town, if justice--blind, bleeding justice, then prostrate at the
feet of slaves and aliens--could have had her way!"
"But the child"--
"The child was in the same category. Who was she, to have inherited the
estate of your ancestors, of which, a few years before, she would
herself have formed a part? The child of shame, it was hers to pay the
penalty. But the discussion is all in the air, Olivia. Your father never
did and never would have left such a will."
This conversation relieved Mrs. Carteret's uneasiness. Going to her room
shortly afterwards, she took the envelope from her bureau drawer and
drew out a bulky paper. The haunting fear that it might be such a will
as her aunt had suggested was now removed; for such an instrument, in
the light of what her husband had said confirming her own intuitions,
would be of no valid effect. It might be just as well, she thought, to
throw the paper in the fire without looking at it. She wished to think
as well as might be of her father, and she felt that her respect for his
memory would not be strengthened by the knowledge that he had meant to
leave his estate away from her; for her aunt's words had been open to
the construction that she was to have been left destitute. Curiosity
strongly prompted her to read the paper. Perhaps the will contained no
such provision as she had feared, and it might convey some request or
direction which ought properly to be complied with.
She had been standing in front of the bureau while these thoughts passed
through her mind, and now, dropping the envelope back into the drawer
mechanically, she unfolded the document. It was written on legal paper,
in her father's own hand.
Mrs. Carteret was not familiar with legal verbiage, and there were
several expressions of which she did not perhaps appreciate the full
effect; but a very hasty glance enabled her to ascertain the purport of
the paper. It was a will, by which, in one item, her father devised to
his daughter Janet, the child of the woman known as Julia Brown, the sum
of ten thousand dollars, and a certain plantation or tract of land a
short distance from the town of Wellington. The rest and residue of his
estate, after deducting all legal charges and expenses, was bequeathed
to his beloved daughter, Olivia Merkell.
Mrs. Carteret breathed a sigh of relief. Her father had not preferred
another to her, but had left to his lawful daughter the bulk of his
estate. She felt at the same time a growing indignation at the thought
that that woman should so have wrought upon her father's weakness as to
induce him to think of leaving so much valuable property to her
bastard,--property which by right should go, and now would go, to her
own son, to whom by every rule of law and decency it ought to descend.
A fire was burning in the next room, on account of the baby,--there had
been a light frost the night before, and the air was somewhat chilly.
For the moment the room was empty. Mrs. Carteret came out from her
chamber and threw the offending paper into the fire, and watched it
slowly burn. When it had been consumed, the carbon residue of one sheet
still retained its form, and she could read the words on the charred
portion. A sentence, which had escaped her eye in her rapid reading,
stood out in ghostly black upon the gray background:--
"All the rest and residue of my estate I devise and bequeath to my
daughter Olivia Merkell, the child of my beloved first wife."
Mrs. Carteret had not before observed the word "first." Instinctively
she stretched toward the fire the poker which she held in her hand, and
at its touch the shadowy remnant fell to pieces, and nothing but ashes
remained upon the hearth.
Not until the next morning did she think again of the envelope which had
contained the paper she had burned. Opening the drawer where it lay, the
oblong blue envelope confronted her. The sight of it was distasteful.
The indorsed side lay uppermost, and the words seemed like a mute
"The Last Will and Testament of Samuel Merkell."
Snatching up the envelope, she glanced into it mechanically as she moved
toward the next room, and perceived a thin folded paper which had
heretofore escaped her notice. When opened, it proved to be a
certificate of marriage, in due form, between Samuel Merkell and Julia
Brown. It was dated from a county in South Carolina, about two years
before her father's death.
For a moment Mrs. Carteret stood gazing blankly at this faded slip of
paper. Her father _had_ married this woman!--at least he had gone
through the form of marriage with her, for to him it had surely been no
more than an empty formality. The marriage of white and colored persons
was forbidden by law. Only recently she had read of a case where both
the parties to such a crime, a colored man and a white woman, had been
sentenced to long terms in the penitentiary. She even recalled the
circumstances. The couple had been living together unlawfully,--they
were very low people, whose private lives were beneath the public
notice,--but influenced by a religious movement pervading the community,
had sought, they said at the trial, to secure the blessing of God upon
their union. The higher law, which imperiously demanded that the purity
and prestige of the white race be preserved at any cost, had intervened
at this point.
Mechanically she moved toward the fireplace, so dazed by this discovery
as to be scarcely conscious of her own actions. She surely had not
formed any definite intention of destroying this piece of paper when her
fingers relaxed unconsciously and let go their hold upon it. The draught
swept it toward the fireplace. Ere scarcely touching the flames it
caught, blazed fiercely, and shot upward with the current of air. A
moment later the record of poor Julia's marriage was scattered to the
four winds of heaven, as her poor body had long since mingled with the
dust of earth.
The letter remained unread. In her agitation at the discovery of the
marriage certificate, Olivia had almost forgotten the existence of the
letter. It was addressed to "John Delamere, Esq., as Executor of my Last
Will and Testament," while the lower left hand corner bore the
direction: "To be delivered only after my death, with seal unbroken."
The seal was broken already; Mr. Delamere was dead; the letter could
never be delivered. Mrs. Carteret unfolded it and read:--
MY DEAR DELAMERE,--I have taken the liberty of naming you as executor of
my last will, because you are my friend, and the only man of my
acquaintance whom I feel that I can trust to carry out my wishes,
appreciate my motives, and preserve the silence I desire.
I have, first, a confession to make. Inclosed in this letter you will
find a certificate of marriage between my child Janet's mother and
myself. While I have never exactly repented of this marriage, I have
never had the courage to acknowledge it openly. If I had not married
Julia, I fear Polly Ochiltree would have married me by main force,--as
she would marry you or any other gentleman unfortunate enough to fall in
the way of this twice-widowed man-hunter. When my wife died, three years
ago, her sister Polly offered to keep house for me and the child. I
would sooner have had the devil in the house, and yet I trembled with
alarm,--there seemed no way of escape,--it was so clearly and obviously
the proper thing.
But she herself gave me my opportunity. I was on the point of
consenting, when she demanded, as a condition of her coming, that I
discharge Julia, my late wife's maid. She was laboring under a
misapprehension in regard to the girl, but I grasped at the straw, and
did everything to foster her delusion. I declared solemnly that nothing
under heaven would induce me to part with Julia. The controversy
resulted in my permitting Polly to take the child, while I retained the
Before Polly put this idea into my head, I had scarcely looked at Julia,
but this outbreak turned my attention toward her. She was a handsome
girl, and, as I soon found out, a good girl. My wife, who raised her,
was a Christian woman, and had taught her modesty and virtue. She was
free. The air was full of liberty, and equal rights, and all the
abolition claptrap, and she made marriage a condition of her remaining
longer in the house. In a moment of weakness I took her away to a place
where we were not known, and married her. If she had left me, I should
have fallen a victim to Polly Ochiltree,--to which any fate was
And then, old friend, my weakness kept to the fore. I was ashamed of
this marriage, and my new wife saw it. Moreover, she loved me,--too
well, indeed, to wish to make me unhappy. The ceremony had satisfied her
conscience, had set her right, she said, with God; for the opinions of
men she did not care, since I loved her,--she only wanted to compensate
me, as best she could, for the great honor I had done my
handmaiden,--for she had read her Bible, and I was the Abraham to her
Hagar, compared with whom she considered herself at a great advantage.
It was her own proposition that nothing be said of this marriage. If any
shame should fall on her, it would fall lightly, for it would be
undeserved. When the child came, she still kept silence. No one, she
argued, could blame an innocent child for the accident of birth, and in
the sight of God this child had every right to exist; while among her
own people illegitimacy would involve but little stigma. I need not
say that I was easily persuaded to accept this sacrifice; but touched by
her fidelity, I swore to provide handsomely for them both. This I have
tried to do by the will of which I ask you to act as executor. Had I
left the child more, it might serve as a ground for attacking the will;
my acknowledgment of the tie of blood is sufficient to justify a
I have taken this course for the sake of my daughter Olivia, who is dear
to me, and whom I would not wish to make ashamed; and in deference to
public opinion, which it is not easy to defy. If, after my death, Julia
should choose to make our secret known, I shall of course be beyond the
reach of hard words; but loyalty to my memory will probably keep her
silent. A strong man would long since have acknowledged her before the
world and taken the consequences; but, alas! I am only myself, and the
atmosphere I live in does not encourage moral heroism. I should like to
be different, but it is God who hath made us, and not we ourselves!
Nevertheless, old friend, I will ask of you one favor. If in the future
this child of Julia's and of mine should grow to womanhood; if she
should prove to have her mother's gentleness and love of virtue; if, in
the new era which is opening up for her mother's race, to which,
unfortunately, she must belong, she should become, in time, an educated
woman; and if the time should ever come when, by virtue of her education
or the development of her people, it would be to her a source of shame
or unhappiness that she was an illegitimate child,--if you are still
alive, old friend, and have the means of knowing or divining this thing,
go to her and tell her, for me, that she is my lawful child, and ask
her to forgive her father's weakness.
When this letter comes to you, I shall have passed to--the Beyond; but I
am confident that you will accept this trust, for which I thank you now,
in advance, most heartily.
The letter was signed with her father's name, the same signature which
had been attached to the will.
Having firmly convinced herself of the illegality of the papers, and of
her own right to destroy them, Mrs. Carteret ought to have felt relieved
that she had thus removed all traces of her dead father's folly. True,
the other daughter remained,--she had seen her on the street only the
day before. The sight of this person she had always found offensive, and
now, she felt, in view of what she had just learned, it must be even
more so. Never, while this woman lived in the town, would she be able to
throw the veil of forgetfulness over this blot upon her father's memory.
As the day wore on, Mrs. Carteret grew still less at ease. To herself,
marriage was a serious thing,--to a right-thinking woman the most
serious concern of life. A marriage certificate, rightfully procured,
was scarcely less solemn, so far as it went, than the Bible itself. Her
own she cherished as the apple of her eye. It was the evidence of her
wifehood, the seal of her child's legitimacy, her patent of
nobility,--the token of her own and her child's claim to social place
and consideration. She had burned this pretended marriage certificate
because it meant nothing. Nevertheless, she could not ignore the
knowledge of another such marriage, of which every one in the town
knew,--a celebrated case, indeed, where a white man, of a family quite
as prominent as her father's, had married a colored woman during the
military occupation of the state just after the civil war. The legality
of the marriage had never been questioned. It had been fully consummated
by twenty years of subsequent cohabitation. No amount of social
persecution had ever shaken the position of the husband. With an iron
will he had stayed on in the town, a living protest against the
established customs of the South, so rudely interrupted for a few short
years; and, though his children were negroes, though he had never
appeared in public with his wife, no one had ever questioned the
validity of his marriage or the legitimacy of his offspring.
The marriage certificate which Mrs. Carteret had burned dated from the
period of the military occupation. Hence Mrs. Carteret, who was a good
woman, and would not have done a dishonest thing, felt decidedly
uncomfortable. She had destroyed the marriage certificate, but its ghost
still haunted her.
Major Carteret, having just eaten a good dinner, was in a very agreeable
humor when, that same evening, his wife brought up again the subject of
their previous discussion.
"Phil," she asked, "Aunt Polly told me that once, long before my father
died, when she went to remonstrate with him for keeping that Woman in
the house, he threatened to marry Julia if Aunt Polly ever said another
word to him about the matter. Suppose he _had_ married her, and had then
left a will,--would the marriage have made any difference, so far as the
will was concerned?"
Major Carteret laughed. "Your Aunt Polly," he said, "was a remarkable
woman, with a wonderful imagination, which seems to have grown more
vivid as her memory and judgment weakened. Why should your father marry
his negro housemaid? Mr. Merkell was never rated as a fool,--he had one
of the clearest heads in Wellington. I saw him only a day or two before
he died, and I could swear before any court in Christendom that he was
of sound mind and memory to the last. These notions of your aunt were
mere delusions. Your father was never capable of such a folly."
"Of course I am only supposing a case," returned Olivia. "Imagining such
a case, just for the argument, would the marriage have been legal?"
"That would depend. If he had married her during the military
occupation, or over in South Carolina, the marriage would have been
legally valid, though morally and socially outrageous."
"And if he had died afterwards, leaving a will?"
"The will would have controlled the disposition of his estate, in all
"Suppose he had left no will?"
"You are getting the matter down pretty fine, my dear! The woman would
have taken one third of the real estate for life, and could have lived
in the homestead until she died. She would also have had half the other
property,--the money and goods and furniture, everything except the
land,--and the negro child would have shared with you the balance of the
estate. That, I believe, is according to the law of descent and
Mrs. Carteret lapsed into a troubled silence. Her father _had_ married
the woman. In her heart she had no doubt of the validity of the
marriage, so far as the law was concerned; if one marriage of such a
kind would stand, another contracted under similar conditions was
equally as good. If the marriage had been valid, Julia's child had been
legitimate. The will she had burned gave this sister of hers--she
shuddered at the word--but a small part of the estate. Under the law,
which intervened now that there was no will, the property should have
been equally divided. If the woman had been white,--but the woman had
_not_ been white, and the same rule of moral conduct did not, _could_
not, in the very nature of things, apply, as between white people! For,
if this were not so, slavery had been, not merely an economic mistake,
but a great crime against humanity. If it had been such a crime, as for
a moment she dimly perceived it might have been, then through the long
centuries there had been piled up a catalogue of wrong and outrage
which, if the law of compensation be a law of nature, must some time,
somewhere, in some way, be atoned for. She herself had not escaped the
penalty, of which, she realized, this burden placed upon her conscience
was but another installment.
If she should make known the facts she had learned, it would mean
what?--a division of her father's estate, a recognition of the legality
of her father's relations with Julia. Such a stain upon her father's
memory would be infinitely worse than if he had _not_ married her. To
have lived with her without marriage was a social misdemeanor, at which
society in the old days had winked, or at most had frowned. To have
married her was to have committed the unpardonable social sin. Such a
scandal Mrs. Carteret could not have endured. Should she seek to make
restitution, it would necessarily involve the disclosure of at least
some of the facts. Had she not destroyed the will, she might have
compromised with her conscience by producing it and acting upon its
terms, which had been so stated as not to disclose the marriage. This
was now rendered impossible by her own impulsive act; she could not
mention the will at all, without admitting that she had destroyed it.
Mrs. Carteret found herself in what might be called, vulgarly, a moral
"pocket." She could, of course, remain silent. Mrs. Carteret was a good
woman, according to her lights, with a cultivated conscience, to which
she had always looked as her mentor and infallible guide.
Hence Mrs. Carteret, after this painful discovery, remained for a long
time ill at ease,--so disturbed, indeed, that her mind reacted upon her
nerves, which had never been strong; and her nervousness affected her
strength, which had never been great, until Carteret, whose love for her
had been deepened and strengthened by the advent of his son, became
alarmed for her health, and spoke very seriously to Dr. Price concerning
THE SHADOW OF A DREAM
Mrs. Carteret awoke, with a start, from a troubled dream. She had been
sailing across a sunlit sea, in a beautiful boat, her child lying on a
bright-colored cushion at her feet. Overhead the swelling sail served as
an awning to keep off the sun's rays, which far ahead were reflected
with dazzling brilliancy from the shores of a golden island. Her son,
she dreamed, was a fairy prince, and yonder lay his kingdom, to which he
was being borne, lying there at her feet, in this beautiful boat, across
the sunlit sea.
Suddenly and without warning the sky was overcast. A squall struck the
boat and tore away the sail. In the distance a huge billow--a great
white wall of water--came sweeping toward their frail craft, threatening
it with instant destruction. She clasped her child to her bosom, and a
moment later found herself struggling in the sea, holding the child's
head above the water. As she floated there, as though sustained by some
unseen force, she saw in the distance a small boat approaching over the
storm-tossed waves. Straight toward her it came, and she had reached out
her hand to grasp its side, when the rower looked back, and she saw that
it was her sister. The recognition had been mutual. With a sharp
movement of one oar the boat glided by, leaving her clutching at the
empty air. She felt her strength begin to fail. Despairingly she
signaled with her disengaged hand; but the rower, after one mute,
reproachful glance, rowed on. Mrs. Carteret's strength grew less and
less. The child became heavy as lead. Herself floating in the water, as
though it were her native element, she could no longer support the
child. Lower and lower it sank,--she was powerless to save it or to
accompany it,--until, gasping wildly for breath, it threw up its little
hands and sank, the cruel water gurgling over its head,--when she awoke
with a start and a chill, and lay there trembling for several minutes
before she heard little Dodie in his crib, breathing heavily.
She rose softly, went to the crib, and changed the child's position to
an easier one. He breathed more freely, and she went back to bed, but
not to sleep.
She had tried to put aside the distressing questions raised by the
discovery of her father's will and the papers accompanying it. Why
should she be burdened with such a responsibility, at this late day,
when the touch of time had well-nigh healed these old sores? Surely, God
had put his curse not alone upon the slave, but upon the stealer of men!
With other good people she had thanked Him that slavery was no more, and
that those who once had borne its burden upon their consciences could
stand erect and feel that they themselves were free. The weed had been
cut down, but its roots remained, deeply imbedded in the soil, to spring
up and trouble a new generation. Upon her weak shoulders was placed the
burden of her father's weakness, her father's folly. It was left to her
to acknowledge or not this shameful marriage and her sister's rights in
their father's estate.
Balancing one consideration against another, she had almost decided
that she might ignore this tie. To herself, Olivia Merkell,--Olivia
Carteret,--the stigma of base birth would have meant social ostracism,
social ruin, the averted face, the finger of pity or of scorn. All the
traditional weight of public disapproval would have fallen upon her as
the unhappy fruit of an unblessed union. To this other woman it could
have had no such significance,--it had been the lot of her race. To
them, twenty-five years before, sexual sin had never been imputed as
more than a fault. She had lost nothing by her supposed illegitimacy;
she would gain nothing by the acknowledgment of her mother's marriage.
On the other hand, what would be the effect of this revelation upon Mrs.
Carteret herself? To have it known that her father had married a negress
would only be less dreadful than to have it appear that he had committed
some terrible crime. It was a crime now, by the laws of every Southern
State, for white and colored persons to intermarry. She shuddered before
the possibility that at some time in the future some person, none too
well informed, might learn that her father had married a colored woman,
and might assume that she, Olivia Carteret, or her child, had sprung
from this shocking _mesalliance_,--a fate to which she would willingly
have preferred death. No, this marriage must never be made known; the
secret should remain buried forever in her own heart!
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