The Marrow of Tradition
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 5 out of 5
But there still remained the question of her father's property and her
father's will. This woman was her father's child,--of that there could
be no doubt, it was written in her features no less than in her father's
will. As his lawful child,--of which, alas! there could also be no
question,--she was entitled by law to half his estate. Mrs. Carteret's
problem had sunk from the realm of sentiment to that of material things,
which, curiously enough, she found much more difficult. For, while the
negro, by the traditions of her people, was barred from the world of
sentiment, his rights of property were recognized. The question had
become, with Mrs. Carteret, a question of _meum_ and _tuum_. Had the
girl Janet been poor, ignorant, or degraded, as might well have been her
fate, Mrs. Carteret might have felt a vicarious remorse for her aunt's
suppression of the papers; but fate had compensated Janet for the loss;
she had been educated, she had married well; she had not suffered for
lack of the money of which she had been defrauded, and did not need it
now. She had a child, it is true, but this child's career would be so
circumscribed by the accident of color that too much wealth would only
be a source of unhappiness; to her own child, on the contrary, it would
open every door of life.
It would be too lengthy a task to follow the mind and conscience of this
much-tried lady in their intricate workings upon this difficult problem;
for she had a mind as logical as any woman's, and a conscience which she
wished to keep void of offense. She had to confront a situation
involving the element of race, upon which the moral standards of her
people were hopelessly confused. Mrs. Carteret reached the conclusion,
ere daylight dawned, that she would be silent upon the subject of her
father's second marriage. Neither party had wished it known,--neither
Julia nor her father,--and she would respect her father's wishes. To act
otherwise would be to defeat his will, to make known what he had
carefully concealed, and to give Janet a claim of title to one half her
father's estate, while he had only meant her to have the ten thousand
dollars named in the will.
By the same reasoning, she must carry out her father's will in respect
to this bequest. Here there was another difficulty. The mining
investment into which they had entered shortly after the birth of little
Dodie had tied up so much of her property that it would have been
difficult to procure ten thousand dollars immediately; while a demand
for half the property at once would mean bankruptcy and ruin. Moreover,
upon what ground could she offer her sister any sum of money whatever?
So sudden a change of heart, after so many years of silence, would raise
the presumption of some right on the part of Janet in her father's
estate. Suspicion once aroused, it might be possible to trace this
hidden marriage, and establish it by legal proof. The marriage once
verified, the claim for half the estate could not be denied. She could
not plead her father's will to the contrary, for this would be to
acknowledge the suppression of the will, in itself a criminal act.
There was, however, a way of escape. This hospital which had recently
been opened was the personal property of her sister's husband. Some time
in the future, when their investments matured, she would present to the
hospital a sum of money equal to the amount her father had meant his
colored daughter to have. Thus indirectly both her father's will and her
own conscience would be satisfied.
Mrs. Carteret had reached this comfortable conclusion, and was falling
asleep, when her attention was again drawn by her child's breathing. She
took it in her own arms and soon fell asleep.
"By the way, Olivia," said the major, when leaving the house next
morning for the office, "if you have any business down town to-day,
transact it this forenoon. Under no circumstances must you or Clara or
the baby leave the house after midday."
"Why, what's the matter, Phil?"
"Nothing to alarm you, except that there may be a little political
demonstration which may render the streets unsafe. You are not to say
anything about it where the servants might hear."
"Will there be any danger for you, Phil?" she demanded with alarm.
"Not the slightest, Olivia dear. No one will be harmed; but it is best
for ladies and children to stay indoors."
Mrs. Carteret's nerves were still more or less unstrung from her mental
struggles of the night, and the memory of her dream came to her like a
dim foreboding of misfortune. As though in sympathy with its mother's
feelings, the baby did not seem as well as usual. The new nurse was by
no means an ideal nurse,--Mammy Jane understood the child much better.
If there should be any trouble with the negroes, toward which her
husband's remark seemed to point,--she knew the general political
situation, though not informed in regard to her husband's plans,--she
would like to have Mammy Jane near her, where the old nurse might be
protected from danger or alarm.
With this end in view she dispatched the nurse, shortly after breakfast,
to Mammy Jane's house in the negro settlement on the other side of the
town, with a message asking the old woman to come immediately to Mrs.
Carteret's. Unfortunately, Mammy Jane had gone to visit a sick woman in
the country, and was not expected to return for several hours.
THE STORM BREAKS
The Wellington riot began at three o'clock in the afternoon of a day as
fair as was ever selected for a deed of darkness. The sky was clear,
except for a few light clouds that floated, white and feathery, high in
air, like distant islands in a sapphire sea. A salt-laden breeze from
the ocean a few miles away lent a crisp sparkle to the air.
At three o'clock sharp the streets were filled, as if by magic, with
armed white men. The negroes, going about, had noted, with uneasy
curiosity, that the stores and places of business, many of which closed
at noon, were unduly late in opening for the afternoon, though no one
suspected the reason for the delay; but at three o'clock every passing
colored man was ordered, by the first white man he met, to throw up his
hands. If he complied, he was searched, more or less roughly, for
firearms, and then warned to get off the street. When he met another
group of white men the scene was repeated. The man thus summarily held
up seldom encountered more than two groups before disappearing across
lots to his own home or some convenient hiding-place. If he resisted any
demand of those who halted him--But the records of the day are
historical; they may be found in the newspapers of the following date,
but they are more firmly engraved upon the hearts and memories of the
people of Wellington. For many months there were negro families in the
town whose children screamed with fear and ran to their mothers for
protection at the mere sight of a white man.
Dr. Miller had received a call, about one o'clock, to attend a case at
the house of a well-to-do colored farmer, who lived some three or four
miles from the town, upon the very road, by the way, along which Miller
had driven so furiously a few weeks before, in the few hours that
intervened before Sandy Campbell would probably have been burned at the
stake. The drive to his patient's home, the necessary inquiries, the
filling of the prescription from his own medicine-case, which he carried
along with him, the little friendly conversation about the weather and
the crops, and, the farmer being an intelligent and thinking man, the
inevitable subject of the future of their race,--these, added to the
return journey, occupied at least two hours of Miller's time.
As he neared the town on his way back, he saw ahead of him half a dozen
men and women approaching, with fear written in their faces, in every
degree from apprehension to terror. Women were weeping and children
crying, and all were going as fast as seemingly lay in their power,
looking behind now and then as if pursued by some deadly enemy. At sight
of Miller's buggy they made a dash for cover, disappearing, like a covey
of frightened partridges, in the underbrush along the road.
Miller pulled up his horse and looked after them in startled wonder.
"What on earth can be the matter?" he muttered, struck with a vague
feeling of alarm. A psychologist, seeking to trace the effects of
slavery upon the human mind, might find in the South many a curious
illustration of this curse, abiding long after the actual physical
bondage had terminated. In the olden time the white South labored under
the constant fear of negro insurrections. Knowing that they themselves,
if in the negroes' place, would have risen in the effort to throw off
the yoke, all their reiterated theories of negro subordination and
inferiority could not remove that lurking fear, founded upon the obscure
consciousness that the slaves ought to have risen. Conscience, it has
been said, makes cowards of us all. There was never, on the continent of
America, a successful slave revolt, nor one which lasted more than a few
hours, or resulted in the loss of more than a few white lives; yet never
was the planter quite free from the fear that there might be one.
On the other hand, the slave had before his eyes always the fear of the
master. There were good men, according to their lights,--according to
their training and environment,--among the Southern slaveholders, who
treated their slaves kindly, as slaves, from principle, because they
recognized the claims of humanity, even under the dark skin of a human
chattel. There was many a one who protected or pampered his negroes, as
the case might be, just as a man fondles his dog,--because they were
his; they were a part of his estate, an integral part of the entity of
property and person which made up the aristocrat; but with all this
kindness, there was always present, in the consciousness of the lowest
slave, the knowledge that he was in his master's power, and that he
could make no effectual protest against the abuse of that authority.
There was also the knowledge, among those who could think at all, that
the best of masters was himself a slave to a system, which hampered his
movements but scarcely less than those of his bondmen.
When, therefore, Miller saw these men and women scampering into the
bushes, he divined, with this slumbering race consciousness which years
of culture had not obliterated, that there was some race trouble on
foot. His intuition did not long remain unsupported. A black head was
cautiously protruded from the shrubbery, and a black voice--if such a
description be allowable--addressed him:--
"Is dat you, Doctuh Miller?"
"Yes. Who are you, and what's the trouble?"
"What's de trouble, suh? Why, all hell's broke loose in town yonduh. De
w'ite folks is riz 'gins' de niggers, an' say dey're gwine ter kill
eve'y nigger dey kin lay han's on."
Miller's heart leaped to his throat, as he thought of his wife and
child. This story was preposterous; it could not be true, and yet there
must be something in it. He tried to question his informant, but the man
was so overcome with excitement and fear that Miller saw clearly that he
must go farther for information. He had read in the Morning Chronicle, a
few days before, the obnoxious editorial quoted from the Afro-American
Banner, and had noted the comment upon it by the white editor. He had
felt, as at the time of its first publication, that the editorial was
ill-advised. It could do no good, and was calculated to arouse the
animosity of those whose friendship, whose tolerance, at least, was
necessary and almost indispensable to the colored people. They were
living, at the best, in a sort of armed neutrality with the whites; such
a publication, however serviceable elsewhere, could have no other
effect in Wellington than to endanger this truce and defeat the hope of
a possible future friendship. The right of free speech entitled Barber
to publish it; a larger measure of common-sense would have made him
withhold it. Whether it was the republication of this article that had
stirred up anew the sleeping dogs of race prejudice and whetted their
thirst for blood, he could not yet tell; but at any rate, there was
mischief on foot.
"Fer God's sake, doctuh, don' go no closeter ter dat town," pleaded his
informant, "er you'll be killt sho'. Come on wid us, suh, an' tek keer
er yo'se'f. We're gwine ter hide in de swamps till dis thing is over!"
"God, man!" exclaimed Miller, urging his horse forward, "my wife and
child are in the town!"
Fortunately, he reflected, there were no patients confined in the
hospital,--if there should be anything in this preposterous story. To
one unfamiliar with Southern life, it might have seemed impossible that
these good Christian people, who thronged the churches on Sunday, and
wept over the sufferings of the lowly Nazarene, and sent missionaries to
the heathen, could be hungering and thirsting for the blood of their
fellow men; but Miller cherished no such delusion. He knew the history
of his country; he had the threatened lynching of Sandy Campbell vividly
in mind; and he was fully persuaded that to race prejudice, once roused,
any horror was possible. That women or children would be molested of set
purpose he did not believe, but that they might suffer by accident was
more than likely.
As he neared the town, dashing forward at the top of his horse's speed,
he heard his voice called in a loud and agitated tone, and, glancing
around him, saw a familiar form standing by the roadside, gesticulating
He drew up the horse with a suddenness that threw the faithful and
obedient animal back upon its haunches. The colored lawyer, Watson, came
up to the buggy. That he was laboring under great and unusual excitement
was quite apparent from his pale face and frightened air.
"What's the matter, Watson?" demanded Miller, hoping now to obtain some
"Matter!" exclaimed the other. "Everything's the matter! The white
people are up in arms. They have disarmed the colored people, killing
half a dozen in the process, and wounding as many more. They have forced
the mayor and aldermen to resign, have formed a provisional city
government _a la Francaise_, and have ordered me and half a dozen other
fellows to leave town in forty-eight hours, under pain of sudden death.
As they seem to mean it, I shall not stay so long. Fortunately, my wife
and children are away. I knew you were out here, however, and I thought
I'd come out and wait for you, so that we might talk the matter over. I
don't imagine they mean you any harm, personally, because you tread on
nobody's toes; but you're too valuable a man for the race to lose, so I
thought I'd give you warning. I shall want to sell you my property,
too, at a bargain. For I'm worth too much to my family to dream of ever
attempting to live here again."
"Have you seen anything of my wife and child?" asked Miller, intent upon
the danger to which they might be exposed.
"No; I didn't go to the house. I inquired at the drugstore and found
out where you had gone. You needn't fear for them,--it is not a war on
women and children."
"War of any kind is always hardest on the women and children," returned
Miller; "I must hurry on and see that mine are safe."
"They'll not carry the war so far into Africa as that," returned
Watson; "but I never saw anything like it. Yesterday I had a hundred
white friends in the town, or thought I had,--men who spoke pleasantly
to me on the street, and sometimes gave me their hands to shake. Not one
of them said to me today: 'Watson, stay at home this afternoon.' I might
have been killed, like any one of half a dozen others who have bit the
dust, for any word that one of my 'friends' had said to warn me. When
the race cry is started in this neck of the woods, friendship, religion,
humanity, reason, all shrivel up like dry leaves in a raging furnace."
The buggy, into which Watson had climbed, was meanwhile rapidly nearing
"I think I'll leave you here, Miller," said Watson, as they approached
the outskirts, "and make my way home by a roundabout path, as I should
like to get there unmolested. Home!--a beautiful word that, isn't it,
for an exiled wanderer? It might not be well, either, for us to be seen
together. If you put the hood of your buggy down, and sit well back in
the shadow, you may be able to reach home without interruption; but
avoid the main streets. I'll see you again this evening, if we're both
alive, and I can reach you; for my time is short. A committee are to
call in the morning to escort me to the train. I am to be dismissed from
the community with public honors." Watson was climbing down from the
buggy, when a small party of men were seen approaching, and big Josh
Green, followed by several other resolute-looking colored men, came up
and addressed them.
"Dr. Miller," cried Green, "Mr. Watson,--we're lookin' fer a leader. De
w'ite folks are killin' de niggers, an' we ain' gwine ter stan' up an'
be shot down like dogs. We're gwine ter defen' ou' lives, an' we ain'
gwine ter run away f'm no place where we 'we got a right ter be; an' woe
be ter de w'ite man w'at lays ban's on us! Dere's two niggers in dis
town ter eve'y w'ite man, an' ef we 'we got ter be killt, we'll take
some w'ite folks 'long wid us, ez sho' ez dere's a God in heaven,--ez I
s'pose dere is, dough He mus' be 'sleep, er busy somewhar e'se ter-day.
Will you-all come an' lead us?"
"Gentlemen," said Watson, "what is the use? The negroes will not back
you up. They haven't the arms, nor the moral courage, nor the
"We'll git de arms, an' we'll git de courage, ef you'll come an' lead
us! We wants leaders,--dat's w'y we come ter you!"
"What's the use?" returned Watson despairingly. "The odds are too heavy.
I've been ordered out of town; if I stayed, I'd be shot on sight,
unless I had a body-guard around me."
"We'll be yo' body-guard!" shouted half a dozen voices.
"And when my body-guard was shot, what then? I have a wife and children.
It is my duty to live for them. If I died, I should get no glory and no
reward, and my family would be reduced to beggary,--to which they'll
soon be near enough as it is. This affair will blow over in a day or
two. The white people will be ashamed of themselves to-morrow, and
apprehensive of the consequences for some time to come. Keep quiet,
boys, and trust in God. You won't gain anything by resistance."
"'God he'ps dem dat he'ps demselves,'" returned Josh stoutly. "Ef Mr.
Watson won't lead us, will you, Dr. Miller?" said the spokesman, turning
to the doctor.
For Miller it was an agonizing moment. He was no coward, morally or
physically. Every manly instinct urged him to go forward and take up the
cause of these leaderless people, and, if need be, to defend their lives
and their rights with his own,--but to what end?
"Listen, men," he said. "We would only be throwing our lives away.
Suppose we made a determined stand and won a temporary victory. By
morning every train, every boat, every road leading into Wellington,
would be crowded with white men,--as they probably will be any
way,--with arms in their hands, curses on their lips, and vengeance in
their hearts. In the minds of those who make and administer the laws, we
have no standing in the court of conscience. They would kill us in the
fight, or they would hang us afterwards,--one way or another, we should
be doomed. I should like to lead you; I should like to arm every colored
man in this town, and have them stand firmly in line, not for attack,
but for defense; but if I attempted it, and they should stand by me,
which is questionable,--for I have met them fleeing from the town,--my
life would pay the forfeit. Alive, I may be of some use to you, and you
are welcome to my life in that way,--I am giving it freely. Dead, I
should be a mere lump of carrion. Who remembers even the names of those
who have been done to death in the Southern States for the past twenty
"I 'members de name er one of 'em," said Josh, "an' I 'members de name
er de man dat killt 'im, an' I s'pec' his time is mighty nigh come."
"My advice is not heroic, but I think it is wise. In this riot we are
placed as we should be in a war: we have no territory, no base of
supplies, no organization, no outside sympathy,--we stand in the
position of a race, in a case like this, without money and without
friends. Our time will come,--the time when we can command respect for
our rights; but it is not yet in sight. Give it up, boys, and wait. Good
may come of this, after all."
Several of the men wavered, and looked irresolute.
"I reckon that's all so, doctuh," returned Josh, "an', de way you put
it, I don' blame you ner Mr. Watson; but all dem reasons ain' got no
weight wid me. I'm gwine in dat town, an' ef any w'ite man 'sturbs me,
dere'll be trouble,--dere'll be double trouble,--I feels it in my
"Remember your old mother, Josh," said Miller.
"Yas, sub, I'll 'member her; dat's all I kin do now. I don' need ter
wait fer her no mo', fer she died dis mo'nin'. I'd lack ter see her
buried, suh, but I may not have de chance. Ef I gits killt, will you do
me a favor?"
"Yes, Josh; what is it?"
"Ef I should git laid out in dis commotion dat's gwine on, will you
collec' my wages f'm yo' brother, and see dat de ole 'oman is put away
"Yes, of course."
"Wid a nice coffin, an' a nice fune'al, an' a head-bo'd an' a
"All right, suh! Ef I don' live ter do it, I'll know it'll be 'tended
ter right. Now we're gwine out ter de cotton compress, an' git a lot er
colored men tergether, an' ef de w'ite folks 'sturbs me, I shouldn't be
s'prise' ef dere'd be a mix-up;--an' ef dere is, me an _one_ w'ite man
'll stan' befo' de jedgment th'one er God dis day; an' it won't be me
w'at'll be 'feared er de jedgment. Come along, boys! Dese gentlemen may
have somethin' ter live fer; but ez fer my pa't, I'd ruther be a dead
nigger any day dan a live dog!"
INTO THE LION'S JAWS
The party under Josh's leadership moved off down the road. Miller, while
entirely convinced that he had acted wisely in declining to accompany
them, was yet conscious of a distinct feeling of shame and envy that he,
too, did not feel impelled to throw away his life in a hopeless
Watson left the buggy and disappeared by a path at the roadside. Miller
drove rapidly forward. After entering the town, he passed several small
parties of white men, but escaped scrutiny by sitting well back in his
buggy, the presumption being that a well-dressed man with a good horse
and buggy was white. Torn with anxiety, he reached home at about four
o'clock. Driving the horse into the yard, he sprang down from the buggy
and hastened to the house, which he found locked, front and rear.
A repeated rapping brought no response. At length he broke a window, and
entered the house like a thief.
"Janet, Janet!" he called in alarm, "where are you? It is only
There was no reply. He ran from room to room, only to find them all
empty. Again he called his wife's name, and was about rushing from the
house, when a muffled voice came faintly to his ear,--
"Is dat you, Doctuh Miller?"
"Yes. Who are you, and where are my wife and child?"
He was looking around in perplexity, when the door of a low closet under
the kitchen sink was opened from within, and a woolly head was
"Are you _sho'_ dat's you, doctuh?"
"Yes, Sally; where are"--
"An' not some w'ite man come ter bu'n down de house an' kill all de
"No, Sally, it's me all right. Where is my wife? Where is my child?"
"Dey went over ter see Mis' Butler 'long 'bout two o'clock, befo' dis
fuss broke out, suh. Oh, Lawdy, Lawdy, suh! Is all de cullud folks be'n
killt 'cep'n' me an' you, suh? Fer de Lawd's sake, suh, you won' let 'em
kill me, will you, suh? I'll wuk fer you fer nuthin', suh, all my bawn
days, ef you'll save my life, suh!"
"Calm yourself, Sally. You'll be safe enough if you stay right here, I
'we no doubt. They'll not harm women,--of that I'm sure enough,
although I haven't yet got the bearings of this deplorable affair. Stay
here and look after the house. I must find my wife and child!"
The distance across the city to the home of the Mrs. Butler whom his
wife had gone to visit was exactly one mile. Though Miller had a good
horse in front of him, he was two hours in reaching his destination.
Never will the picture of that ride fade from his memory. In his dreams
he repeats it night after night, and sees the sights that wounded his
eyes, and feels the thoughts--the haunting spirits of the thoughts--that
tore his heart as he rode through hell to find those whom he was
seeking. For a short distance he saw nothing, and made rapid progress.
As he turned the first corner, his horse shied at the dead body of a
negro, lying huddled up in the collapse which marks sudden death. What
Miller shuddered at was not so much the thought of death, to the sight
of which his profession had accustomed him, as the suggestion of what it
signified. He had taken with allowance the wild statement of the fleeing
fugitives. Watson, too, had been greatly excited, and Josh Green's group
were desperate men, as much liable to be misled by their courage as the
others by their fears; but here was proof that murder had been
done,--and his wife and children were in the town. Distant shouts, and
the sound of firearms, increased his alarm. He struck his horse with the
whip, and dashed on toward the heart of the city, which he must traverse
in order to reach Janet and the child.
At the next corner lay the body of another man, with the red blood
oozing from a ghastly wound in the forehead. The negroes seemed to have
been killed, as the band plays in circus parades, at the street
intersections, where the example would be most effective. Miller, with a
wild leap of the heart, had barely passed this gruesome spectacle, when
a sharp voice commanded him to halt, and emphasized the order by
covering him with a revolver. Forgetting the prudence he had preached to
others, he had raised his whip to strike the horse, when several hands
seized the bridle.
"Come down, you damn fool," growled an authoritative voice. "Don't you
see we're in earnest? Do you want to get killed?"
"Why should I come down?" asked Miller. "Because we've ordered you to
come down! This is the white people's day, and when they order, a nigger
must obey. We're going to search you for weapons."
"Search away. You'll find nothing but a case of surgeon's tools, which
I'm more than likely to need before this day is over, from all
"No matter; we'll make sure of it! That's what we're here for. Come
down, if you don't want to be pulled down!"
Miller stepped down from his buggy. His interlocutor, who made no effort
at disguise, was a clerk in a dry-goods store where Miller bought most
of his family and hospital supplies. He made no sign of recognition,
however, and Miller claimed no acquaintance. This man, who had for
several years emptied Miller's pockets in the course of more or less
legitimate trade, now went through them, aided by another man, more
rapidly than ever before, the searchers convincing themselves that
Miller carried no deadly weapon upon his person. Meanwhile, a third
ransacked the buggy with like result. Miller recognized several others
of the party, who made not the slightest attempt at disguise, though no
names were called by any one.
"Where are you going?" demanded the leader.
"I am looking for my wife and child," replied Miller.
"Well, run along, and keep them out of the streets when you find them;
and keep your hands out of this affair, if you wish to live in this
town, which from now on will be a white man's town, as you niggers will
be pretty firmly convinced before night."
Miller drove on as swiftly as might be. At the next corner he was
stopped again. In the white man who held him up, Miller recognized a
neighbor of his own. After a short detention and a perfunctory search,
the white man remarked apologetically:--
"Sorry to have had to trouble you, doctuh, but them's the o'ders. It
ain't men like you that we're after, but the vicious and criminal class
Miller smiled bitterly as he urged his horse forward. He was quite well
aware that the virtuous citizen who had stopped him had only a few weeks
before finished a term in the penitentiary, to which he had been
sentenced for stealing. Miller knew that he could have bought all the
man owned for fifty dollars, and his soul for as much more.
A few rods farther on, he came near running over the body of a wounded
man who lay groaning by the wayside. Every professional instinct urged
him to stop and offer aid to the sufferer; but the uncertainty
concerning his wife and child proved a stronger motive and urged him
resistlessly forward. Here and there the ominous sound of firearms was
audible. He might have thought this merely a part of the show, like the
"powder play" of the Arabs, but for the bloody confirmation of its
earnestness which had already assailed his vision. Somewhere in this
seething caldron of unrestrained passions were his wife and child, and
he must hurry on.
His progress was painfully slow. Three times he was stopped and
searched. More than once his way was barred, and he was ordered to turn
back, each such occasion requiring a detour which consumed many minutes.
The man who last stopped him was a well-known Jewish merchant. A
Jew--God of Moses!--had so far forgotten twenty centuries of history as
to join in the persecution of another oppressed race! When almost
reduced to despair by these innumerable delays, he perceived, coming
toward him, Mr. Ellis, the sub-editor of the Morning Chronicle. Miller
had just been stopped and questioned again, and Ellis came up as he was
starting once more upon his endless ride.
"Dr. Miller," said Ellis kindly, "it is dangerous for you on the
streets. Why tempt the danger?"
"I am looking for my wife and child," returned Miller in desperation.
"They are somewhere in this town,--I don't know where,--and I must find
Ellis had been horror-stricken by the tragedy of the afternoon, the
wholly superfluous slaughter of a harmless people, whom a show of force
would have been quite sufficient to overawe. Elaborate explanations were
afterwards given for these murders, which were said, perhaps truthfully,
not to have been premeditated, and many regrets were expressed. The
young man had been surprised, quite as much as the negroes themselves,
at the ferocity displayed. His own thoughts and feelings were attuned to
anything but slaughter. Only that morning he had received a perfumed
note, calling his attention to what the writer described as a very noble
deed of his, and requesting him to call that evening and receive the
writer's thanks. Had he known that Miss Pemberton, several weeks after
their visit to the Sound, had driven out again to the hotel and made
some inquiries among the servants, he might have understood better the
meaning of this missive. When Miller spoke of his wife and child, some
subtle thread of suggestion coupled the note with Miller's plight.
"I'll go with you, Dr. Miller," he said, "if you'll permit me. In my
company you will not be disturbed."
He took a seat in Miller's buggy, after which it was not molested.
Neither of them spoke. Miller was sick at heart; he could have wept with
grief, even had the welfare of his own dear ones not been involved in
this regrettable affair. With prophetic instinct he foresaw the hatreds
to which this day would give birth; the long years of constraint and
distrust which would still further widen the breach between two peoples
whom fate had thrown together in one community.
There was nothing for Ellis to say. In his heart he could not defend the
deeds of this day. The petty annoyances which the whites had felt at the
spectacle of a few negroes in office; the not unnatural resentment of a
proud people at what had seemed to them a presumptuous freedom of speech
and lack of deference on the part of their inferiors,--these things,
which he knew were to be made the excuse for overturning the city
government, he realized full well were no sort of justification for the
wholesale murder or other horrors which might well ensue before the day
was done. He could not approve the acts of his own people; neither could
he, to a negro, condemn them. Hence he was silent.
"Thank you, Mr. Ellis," exclaimed Miller, when they had reached the
house where he expected to find his wife. "This is the place where I was
going. I am--under a great obligation to you."
"Not at all, Dr. Miller. I need not tell you how much I regret this
Ellis went back down the street. Fastening his horse to the fence,
Miller sprang forward to find his wife and child. They would certainly
be there, for no colored woman would be foolhardy enough to venture on
the streets after the riot had broken out.
As he drew nearer, he felt a sudden apprehension. The house seemed
strangely silent and deserted. The doors were closed, and the Venetian
blinds shut tightly. Even a dog which had appeared slunk timidly back
under the house, instead of barking vociferously according to the usual
habit of his kind.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
Miller knocked at the door. There was no response. He went round to the
rear of the house. The dog had slunk behind the woodpile. Miller knocked
again, at the back door, and, receiving no reply, called aloud.
"Mrs. Butler! It is I, Dr. Miller. Is my wife here?"
The slats of a near-by blind opened cautiously.
"Is it really you, Dr. Miller?"
"Yes, Mrs. Butler. I am looking for my wife and child,--are they here?"
"No, sir; she became alarmed about you, soon after the shooting
commenced, and I could not keep her. She left for home half an hour ago.
It is coming on dusk, and she and the child are so near white that she
did not expect to be molested."
"Which way did she go?"
"She meant to go by the main street. She thought it would be less
dangerous than the back streets. I tried to get her to stay here, but
she was frantic about you, and nothing I could say would keep her. Is
the riot almost over, Dr. Miller? Do you think they will murder us all,
and burn down our houses?"
"God knows," replied Miller, with a groan. "But I must find her, if I
lose my own life in the attempt."
Surely, he thought, Janet would be safe. The white people of Wellington
were not savages; or at least their temporary reversion to savagery
would not go as far as to include violence to delicate women and
children. Then there flashed into his mind Josh Green's story of his
"silly" mother, who for twenty years had walked the earth as a child, as
the result of one night's terror, and his heart sank within him.
Miller realized that his buggy, by attracting attention, had been a
hindrance rather than a help in his progress across the city. In order
to follow his wife, he must practically retrace his steps over the very
route he had come. Night was falling. It would be easier to cross the
town on foot. In the dusk his own color, slight in the daytime, would
not attract attention, and by dodging in the shadows he might avoid
those who might wish to intercept him. But he must reach Janet and the
boy at any risk. He had not been willing to throw his life away
hopelessly, but he would cheerfully have sacrificed it for those whom he
He had gone but a short distance, and had not yet reached the centre of
mob activity, when he intercepted a band of negro laborers from the
cotton compress, with big Josh Green at their head.
"Hello, doctuh!" cried Josh, "does you wan' ter jine us?"
"I'm looking for my wife and child, Josh. They're somewhere in this
den of murderers. Have any of you seen them?"
No one had seen them.
"You men are running a great risk," said Miller. "You are rushing on to
"Well, suh, maybe we is; but we're gwine ter die fightin'. Dey say de
w'ite folks is gwine ter bu'n all de cullud schools an' chu'ches, an'
kill all de niggers dey kin ketch. Dey're gwine ter bu'n yo' new
hospittle, ef somebody don' stop 'em."
"Josh--men--you are throwing your lives away. It is a fever; it will
wear off to-morrow, or to-night. They'll not burn the schoolhouses, nor
the hospital--they are not such fools, for they benefit the community;
and they'll only kill the colored people who resist them. Every one of
you with a gun or a pistol carries his death warrant in his own hand.
I'd rather see the hospital burn than have one of you lose his life.
Resistance only makes the matter worse,--the odds against you are too
"Things can't be any wuss, doctuh," replied one of the crowd sturdily.
"A gun is mo' dange'ous ter de man in front of it dan ter de man behin'
it. Dey're gwine ter kill us anyhow; an' we're tired,--we read de
newspapers,--an' we're tired er bein' shot down like dogs, widout jedge
er jury. We'd ruther die fightin' dan be stuck like pigs in a pen!"
"God help you!" said Miller. "As for me, I must find my wife and child."
"Good-by, doctuh," cried Josh, brandishing a huge knife. "'Member 'bout
de ole 'oman, ef you lives thoo dis. Don' fergit de headbo'd an' de
footbo'd, an' a silver plate on de coffin, ef dere's money ernuff."
They went their way, and Miller hurried on. They might resist attack; he
thought it extremely unlikely that they would begin it; but he knew
perfectly well that the mere knowledge that some of the negroes
contemplated resistance would only further inflame the infuriated
whites. The colored men might win a momentary victory, though it was
extremely doubtful; and they would as surely reap the harvest later on.
The qualities which in a white man would win the applause of the world
would in a negro be taken as the marks of savagery. So thoroughly
diseased was public opinion in matters of race that the negro who died
for the common rights of humanity might look for no meed of admiration
or glory. At such a time, in the white man's eyes, a negro's courage
would be mere desperation; his love of liberty, a mere animal dislike of
restraint. Every finer human instinct would be interpreted in terms of
savagery. Or, if forced to admire, they would none the less repress.
They would applaud his courage while they stretched his neck, or carried
off the fragments of his mangled body as souvenirs, in much the same way
that savages preserve the scalps or eat the hearts of their enemies.
But concern for the fate of Josh and his friends occupied only a
secondary place in Miller's mind for the moment. His wife and child were
somewhere ahead of him. He pushed on. He had covered about a quarter of
a mile more, and far down the street could see the signs of greater
animation, when he came upon the body of a woman lying upon the
sidewalk. In the dusk he had almost stumbled over it, and his heart came
up in his mouth. A second glance revealed that it could not be his wife.
It was a fearful portent, however, of what her fate might be. The "war"
had reached the women and children. Yielding to a professional instinct,
he stooped, and saw that the prostrate form was that of old Aunt Jane
Letlow. She was not yet quite dead, and as Miller, with a tender touch,
placed her head in a more comfortable position, her lips moved with a
last lingering flicker of consciousness:--
"Comin', missis, comin'!"
Mammy Jane had gone to join the old mistress upon whose memory her
heart was fixed; and yet not all her reverence for her old mistress, nor
all her deference to the whites, nor all their friendship for her, had
been able to save her from this raging devil of race hatred which
momentarily possessed the town.
Perceiving that he could do no good, Miller hastened onward, sick at
heart. Whenever he saw a party of white men approaching,--these brave
reformers never went singly,--he sought concealment in the shadow of a
tree or the shrubbery in some yard until they had passed. He had covered
about two thirds of the distance homeward, when his eyes fell upon a
group beneath a lamp-post, at sight of which he turned pale with horror,
and rushed forward with a terrible cry.
"MINE ENEMY, O MINE ENEMY!"
The proceedings of the day--planned originally as a "demonstration,"
dignified subsequently as a "revolution," under any name the culmination
of the conspiracy formed by Carteret and his colleagues--had by seven
o'clock in the afternoon developed into a murderous riot. Crowds of
white men and half-grown boys, drunk with whiskey or with license, raged
through the streets, beating, chasing, or killing any negro so
unfortunate as to fall into their hands. Why any particular negro was
assailed, no one stopped to inquire; it was merely a white mob thirsting
for black blood, with no more conscience or discrimination than would be
exercised by a wolf in a sheepfold. It was race against race, the whites
against the negroes; and it was a one-sided affair, for until Josh Green
got together his body of armed men, no effective resistance had been
made by any colored person, and the individuals who had been killed had
so far left no marks upon the enemy by which they might be remembered.
"Kill the niggers!" rang out now and then through the dusk, and far down
the street and along the intersecting thoroughfares distant voices took
up the ominous refrain,--"Kill the niggers! Kill the damned niggers!"
Now, not a dark face had been seen on the street for half an hour,
until the group of men headed by Josh made their appearance in the negro
quarter. Armed with guns and axes, they presented quite a formidable
appearance as they made their way toward the new hospital, near which
stood a schoolhouse and a large church, both used by the colored people.
They did not reach their destination without having met a number of
white men, singly or in twos or threes; and the rumor spread with
incredible swiftness that the negroes in turn were up in arms,
determined to massacre all the whites and burn the town. Some of the
whites became alarmed, and recognizing the power of the negroes, if
armed and conscious of their strength, were impressed by the immediate
necessity of overpowering and overawing them. Others, with appetites
already whetted by slaughter, saw a chance, welcome rather than not, of
shedding more black blood. Spontaneously the white mob flocked toward
the hospital, where rumor had it that a large body of desperate negroes,
breathing threats of blood and fire, had taken a determined stand.
It had been Josh's plan merely to remain quietly and peaceably in the
neighborhood of the little group of public institutions, molesting no
one, unless first attacked, and merely letting the white people see that
they meant to protect their own; but so rapidly did the rumor spread,
and so promptly did the white people act, that by the time Josh and his
supporters had reached the top of the rising ground where the hospital
stood, a crowd of white men much more numerous than their own party were
following them at a short distance.
Josh, with the eye of a general, perceived that some of his party were
becoming a little nervous, and decided that they would feel safer behind
"I reckon we better go inside de hospittle, boys," he exclaimed. "Den
we'll be behind brick walls, an' dem other fellows 'll be outside, an' ef
dere's any fightin', we'll have de bes' show. We ain' gwine ter do no
shootin' till we're pestered, an' dey'll be less likely ter pester us
ef dey can't git at us widout runnin' some resk. Come along in! Be men!
De gov'ner er de President is gwine ter sen' soldiers ter stop dese
gwines-on, an' meantime we kin keep dem white devils f'm bu'nin' down
our hospittles an' chu'ch-houses. Wen dey comes an' fin's out dat we
jes' means ter pertect ou' prope'ty, dey'll go 'long 'bout deir own
business. Er, ef dey wants a scrap, dey kin have it! Come erlong, boys!"
Jerry Letlow, who had kept out of sight during the day, had started out,
after night had set in, to find Major Carteret. Jerry was very much
afraid. The events of the day had filled him with terror. Whatever the
limitations of Jerry's mind or character may have been, Jerry had a keen
appreciation of the danger to the negroes when they came in conflict
with the whites, and he had no desire to imperil his own skin. He valued
his life for his own sake, and not for any altruistic theory that it
might be of service to others. In other words, Jerry was something of a
coward. He had kept in hiding all day, but finding, toward evening, that
the riot did not abate, and fearing, from the rumors which came to his
ears, that all the negroes would be exterminated, he had set out,
somewhat desperately, to try to find his white patron and protector. He
had been cautious to avoid meeting any white men, and, anticipating no
danger from those of his own race, went toward the party which he saw
approaching, whose path would cross his own. When they were only a few
yards apart, Josh took a step forward and caught Jerry by the arm.
"Come along, Jerry, we need you! Here's another man, boys. Come on now,
and fight fer yo' race!"
In vain Jerry protested. "I don' wan' ter fight," he howled. "De w'ite
folks ain' gwine ter pester me; dey're my frien's. Tu'n me loose,--tu'n
me loose, er we all gwine ter git killed!"
The party paid no attention to Jerry's protestations. Indeed, with the
crowd of whites following behind, they were simply considering the
question of a position from which they could most effectively defend
themselves and the building which they imagined to be threatened. If
Josh had released his grip of Jerry, that worthy could easily have
escaped from the crowd; but Josh maintained his hold almost
mechanically, and, in the confusion, Jerry found himself swept with the
rest into the hospital, the doors of which were promptly barricaded with
the heavier pieces of furniture, and the windows manned by several men
each, Josh, with the instinct of a born commander, posting his forces so
that they could cover with their guns all the approaches to the
building. Jerry still continuing to make himself troublesome, Josh, in a
moment of impatience, gave him a terrific box on the ear, which
stretched him out upon the floor unconscious.
"Shet up," he said; "ef you can't stan' up like a man, keep still, and
don't interfere wid men w'at will fight!" The hospital, when Josh and
his men took possession, had been found deserted. Fortunately there were
no patients for that day, except one or two convalescents, and these,
with the attendants, had joined the exodus of the colored people from
A white man advanced from the crowd without toward the main entrance to
the hospital. Big Josh, looking out from a window, grasped his gun more
firmly, as his eyes fell upon the man who had murdered his father and
darkened his mother's life. Mechanically he raised his rifle, but
lowered it as the white man lifted up his hand as a sign that he wished
"You niggers," called Captain McBane loudly,--it was that worthy,--"you
niggers are courtin' death, an' you won't have to court her but a minute
er two mo' befo' she'll have you. If you surrender and give up your
arms, you'll be dealt with leniently,--you may get off with the
chain-gang or the penitentiary. If you resist, you'll be shot like
"Dat's no news, Mr. White Man," replied Josh, appearing boldly at the
window. "We're use' ter bein' treated like dogs by men like you. If you
w'ite people will go 'long an' ten' ter yo' own business an' let us
alone, we'll ten' ter ou'n. You've got guns, an' we've got jest as
much right ter carry 'em as you have. Lay down yo'n, an' we'll lay down
ou'n,--we didn' take 'em up fust; but we ain' gwine ter let you bu'n
down ou' chu'ches an' school'ouses, er dis hospittle, an' we ain' comin'
out er dis house, where we ain' disturbin' nobody, fer you ter shoot us
down er sen' us ter jail. You hear me!"
"All right," responded McBane. "You've had fair warning. Your blood be
on your"--His speech was interrupted by a shot from the crowd, which
splintered the window-casing close to Josh's head. This was followed by
half a dozen other shots, which were replied to, almost simultaneously,
by a volley from within, by which one of the attacking party was killed
and another wounded.
This roused the mob to frenzy.
"Vengeance! vengeance!" they yelled. "Kill the niggers!"
A negro had killed a white man,--the unpardonable sin, admitting neither
excuse, justification, nor extenuation. From time immemorial it had been
bred in the Southern white consciousness, and in the negro consciousness
also, for that matter, that the person of a white man was sacred from
the touch of a negro, no matter what the provocation. A dozen colored
men lay dead in the streets of Wellington, inoffensive people, slain in
cold blood because they had been bold enough to question the authority
of those who had assailed them, or frightened enough to flee when they
had been ordered to stand still; but their lives counted nothing against
that of a riotous white man, who had courted death by attacking a body
of armed men.
The crowd, too, surrounding the hospital, had changed somewhat in
character. The men who had acted as leaders in the early afternoon,
having accomplished their purpose of overturning the local
administration and establishing a provisional government of their own,
had withdrawn from active participation in the rioting, deeming the
negroes already sufficiently overawed to render unlikely any further
trouble from that source. Several of the ringleaders had indeed begun to
exert themselves to prevent further disorder, or any loss of property,
the possibility of which had become apparent; but those who set in
motion the forces of evil cannot always control them afterwards. The
baser element of the white population, recruited from the wharves and
the saloons, was now predominant.
Captain McBane was the only one of the revolutionary committee who had
remained with the mob, not with any purpose to restore or preserve
order, but because he found the company and the occasion entirely
congenial. He had had no opportunity, at least no tenable excuse, to
kill or maim a negro since the termination of his contract with the
state for convicts, and this occasion had awakened a dormant appetite
for these diversions. We are all puppets in the hands of Fate, and
seldom see the strings that move us. McBane had lived a life of violence
and cruelty. As a man sows, so shall he reap. In works of fiction, such
men are sometimes converted. More often, in real life, they do not
change their natures until they are converted into dust. One does well
to distrust a tamed tiger.
On the outskirts of the crowd a few of the better class, or at least of
the better clad, were looking on. The double volley described had
already been fired, when the number of these was augmented by the
arrival of Major Carteret and Mr. Ellis, who had just come from the
Chronicle office, where the next day's paper had been in hasty
preparation. They pushed their way towards the front of the crowd.
"This must be stopped, Ellis," said Carteret. "They are burning houses
and killing women and children. Old Jane, good old Mammy Jane, who
nursed my wife at her bosom, and has waited on her and my child within
a few weeks, was killed only a few rods from my house, to which she was
evidently fleeing for protection. It must have been by accident,--I
cannot believe that any white man in town would be dastard enough to
commit such a deed intentionally! I would have defended her with my own
life! We must try to stop this thing!"
"Easier said than done," returned Ellis. "It is in the fever stage, and
must burn itself out. We shall be lucky if it does not burn the town
out. Suppose the negroes should also take a hand at the burning? We have
advised the people to put the negroes down, and they are doing the job
"My God!" replied the other, with a gesture of impatience, as he
continued to elbow his way through the crowd; "I meant to keep them in
their places,--I did not intend wholesale murder and arson."
Carteret, having reached the front of the mob, made an effort to gain
"Gentlemen!" he cried in his loudest tones. His voice, unfortunately,
was neither loud nor piercing.
"Kill the niggers!" clamored the mob.
"Gentlemen, I implore you"--
The crash of a dozen windows, broken by stones and pistol shots, drowned
"Gentlemen!" he shouted; "this is murder, it is madness; it is a
disgrace to our city, to our state, to our civilization!"
"That's right!" replied several voices. The mob had recognized the
speaker. "It _is_ a disgrace, and we'll not put up with it a moment
longer. Burn 'em out! Hurrah for Major Carteret, the champion of 'white
supremacy'! Three cheers for the Morning Chronicle and 'no nigger
"Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!" yelled the crowd.
In vain the baffled orator gesticulated and shrieked in the effort to
correct the misapprehension. Their oracle had spoken; not hearing what
he said, they assumed it to mean encouragement and cooeperation. Their
present course was but the logical outcome of the crusade which the
Morning Chronicle had preached, in season and out of season, for many
months. When Carteret had spoken, and the crowd had cheered him, they
felt that they had done all that courtesy required, and he was
good-naturedly elbowed aside while they proceeded with the work in hand,
which was now to drive out the negroes from the hospital and avenge the
killing of their comrade.
Some brought hay, some kerosene, and others wood from a pile which had
been thrown into a vacant lot near by. Several safe ways of approach to
the building were discovered, and the combustibles placed and fired. The
flames, soon gaining a foothold, leaped upward, catching here and there
at the exposed woodwork, and licking the walls hungrily with long
tongues of flame.
Meanwhile a desultory firing was kept up from the outside, which was
replied to scatteringly from within the hospital. Those inside were
either not good marksmen, or excitement had spoiled their aim. If a face
appeared at a window, a dozen pistol shots from the crowd sought the
Higher and higher leaped the flames. Suddenly from one of the windows
sprang a black figure, waving a white handkerchief. It was Jerry Letlow.
Regaining consciousness after the effect of Josh's blow had subsided,
Jerry had kept quiet and watched his opportunity. From a safe
vantage-ground he had scanned the crowd without, in search of some
white friend. When he saw Major Carteret moving disconsolately away
after his futile effort to stem the torrent, Jerry made a dash for the
window. He sprang forth, and, waving his handkerchief as a flag of
truce, ran toward Major Carteret, shouting frantically:--
"Majah Carteret--_O_ majah! It's me, suh, Jerry, suh! I didn' go in
dere myse'f, suh--I wuz drag' in dere! I wouldn' do nothin' 'g'inst de
w'ite folks, suh,--no, 'ndeed, I wouldn', suh!"
Jerry's cries were drowned in a roar of rage and a volley of shots from
the mob. Carteret, who had turned away with Ellis, did not even hear his
servant's voice. Jerry's poor flag of truce, his explanations, his
reliance upon his white friends, all failed him in the moment of supreme
need. In that hour, as in any hour when the depths of race hatred are
stirred, a negro was no more than a brute beast, set upon by other brute
beasts whose only instinct was to kill and destroy.
"Let us leave this inferno, Ellis," said Carteret, sick with anger and
disgust. He had just become aware that a negro was being killed, though
he did not know whom. "We can do nothing. The negroes have themselves to
blame,--they tempted us beyond endurance. I counseled firmness, and firm
measures were taken, and our purpose was accomplished. I am not
responsible for these subsequent horrors,--I wash my hands of them. Let
The flames gained headway and gradually enveloped the burning building,
until it became evident to those within as well as those without that
the position of the defenders was no longer tenable. Would they die in
the flames, or would they be driven out? The uncertainty soon came to an
The besieged had been willing to fight, so long as there seemed a hope
of successfully defending themselves and their property; for their
purpose was purely one of defense. When they saw the case was hopeless,
inspired by Josh Green's reckless courage, they were still willing to
sell their lives dearly. One or two of them had already been killed, and
as many more disabled. The fate of Jerry Letlow had struck terror to the
hearts of several others, who could scarcely hide their fear. After the
building had been fired, Josh's exhortations were no longer able to keep
them in the hospital. They preferred to fight and be killed in the open,
rather than to be smothered like rats in a hole.
"Boys!" exclaimed Josh,--"men!--fer nobody but men would do w'at you
have done,--the day has gone 'g'inst us. We kin see ou' finish; but fer
my part, I ain' gwine ter leave dis worl' widout takin' a w'ite man
'long wid me, an' I sees my man right out yonder waitin',--I be'n
waitin' fer him twenty years, but he won' have ter wait fer me mo' 'n
'bout twenty seconds. Eve'y one er you pick yo' man! We'll open de do',
an' we'll give some w'ite men a chance ter be sorry dey ever started
The door was thrown open suddenly, and through it rushed a dozen or more
black figures, armed with knives, pistols, or clubbed muskets. Taken by
sudden surprise, the white people stood motionless for a moment, but the
approaching negroes had scarcely covered half the distance to which the
heat of the flames had driven back the mob, before they were greeted
with a volley that laid them all low but two. One of these, dazed by
the fate of his companions, turned instinctively to flee, but had
scarcely faced around before he fell, pierced in the back by a dozen
Josh Green, the tallest and biggest of them all, had not apparently been
touched. Some of the crowd paused in involuntary admiration of this
black giant, famed on the wharves for his strength, sweeping down upon
them, a smile upon his face, his eyes lit up with a rapt expression
which seemed to take him out of mortal ken. This impression was
heightened by his apparent immunity from the shower of lead which less
susceptible persons had continued to pour at him.
Armed with a huge bowie-knife, a relic of the civil war, which he had
carried on his person for many years for a definite purpose, and which
he had kept sharpened to a razor edge, he reached the line of the crowd.
All but the bravest shrank back. Like a wedge he dashed through the mob,
which parted instinctively before him, and all oblivious of the rain of
lead which fell around him, reached the point where Captain McBane, the
bravest man in the party, stood waiting to meet him. A pistol-flame
flashed in his face, but he went on, and raising his powerful right arm,
buried his knife to the hilt in the heart of his enemy. When the crowd
dashed forward to wreak vengeance on his dead body, they found him with
a smile still upon his face.
One of the two died as the fool dieth. Which was it, or was it both?
"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord, and it had not been left to Him.
But they that do violence must expect to suffer violence. McBane's death
was merciful, compared with the nameless horrors he had heaped upon the
hundreds of helpless mortals who had fallen into his hands during his
career as a contractor of convict labor.
Sobered by this culminating tragedy, the mob shortly afterwards
dispersed. The flames soon completed their work, and this handsome
structure, the fruit of old Adam Miller's industry, the monument of his
son's philanthropy, a promise of good things for the future of the city,
lay smouldering in ruins, a melancholy witness to the fact that our
boasted civilization is but a thin veneer, which cracks and scales off
at the first impact of primal passions.
By the light of the burning building, which illuminated the street for
several blocks, Major Carteret and Ellis made their way rapidly until
they turned into the street where the major lived. Reaching the house,
Carteret tried the door and found it locked. A vigorous ring at the bell
brought no immediate response. Carteret had begun to pound impatiently
upon the door, when it was cautiously opened by Miss Pemberton, who was
pale, and trembled with excitement.
"Where is Olivia?" asked the major.
"She is upstairs, with Dodie and Mrs. Albright's hospital nurse. Dodie
has the croup. Virgie ran away after the riot broke out. Sister Olivia
had sent for Mammy Jane, but she did not come. Mrs. Albright let her
white nurse come over."
"I'll go up at once," said the major anxiously. "Wait for me,
Ellis,--I'll be down in a few minutes."
"Oh, Mr. Ellis," exclaimed Clara, coming toward him with both hands
extended, "can nothing be done to stop this terrible affair?"
"I wish I could do something," he murmured fervently, taking both her
trembling hands in his own broad palms, where they rested with a
surrendering trustfulness which he has never since had occasion to
doubt. "It has gone too far, already, and the end, I fear, is not yet;
but it cannot grow much worse." The editor hurried upstairs. Mrs.
Carteret, wearing a worried and haggard look, met him at the threshold
of the nursery.
"Dodie is ill," she said. "At three o'clock, when the trouble began, I
was over at Mrs. Albright's,--I had left Virgie with the baby. When I
came back, she and all the other servants had gone. They had heard that
the white people were going to kill all the negroes, and fled to seek
safety. I found Dodie lying in a draught, before an open window, gasping
for breath. I ran back to Mrs. Albright's,--I had found her much better
to-day,--and she let her nurse come over. The nurse says that Dodie is
threatened with membranous croup."
"Have you sent for Dr. Price?"
"There was no one to send,--the servants were gone, and the nurse was
afraid to venture out into the street. I telephoned for Dr. Price, and
found that he was out of town; that he had gone up the river this
morning to attend a patient, and would not be back until to-morrow. Mrs.
Price thought that he had anticipated some kind of trouble in the town
to-day, and had preferred to be where he could not be called upon to
assume any responsibility."
"I suppose you tried Dr. Ashe?"
"I could not get him, nor any one else, after that first call. The
telephone service is disorganized on account of the riot. We need
medicine and ice. The drugstores are all closed on account of the riot,
and for the same reason we couldn't get any ice."
Major Carteret stood beside the brass bedstead upon which his child was
lying,--his only child, around whose curly head clustered all his hopes;
upon whom all his life for the past year had been centred. He stooped
over the bed, beside which the nurse had stationed herself. She was
wiping the child's face, which was red and swollen and covered with
moisture, the nostrils working rapidly, and the little patient vainly
endeavoring at intervals to cough up the obstruction to his breathing.
"Is it serious?" he inquired anxiously. He had always thought of the
croup as a childish ailment, that yielded readily to proper treatment;
but the child's evident distress impressed him with sudden fear.
"Dangerous," replied the young woman laconically. "You came none too
soon. If a doctor isn't got at once, the child will die,--and it must
be a good doctor."
"Whom can I call?" he asked. "You know them all, I suppose. Dr. Price,
our family physician, is out of town."
"Dr. Ashe has charge of his cases when he is away," replied the nurse.
"If you can't find him, try Dr. Hooper. The child is growing worse every
minute. On your way back you'd better get some ice, if possible."
The major hastened downstairs.
"Don't wait for me, Ellis," he said. "I shall be needed here for a
while. I'll get to the office as soon as possible. Make up the paper,
and leave another stick out for me to the last minute, but fill it up in
case I'm not on hand by twelve. We must get the paper out early in the
Nothing but a matter of the most vital importance would have kept Major
Carteret away from his office this night. Upon the presentation to the
outer world of the story of this riot would depend the attitude of the
great civilized public toward the events of the last ten hours. The
Chronicle was the source from which the first word would be expected; it
would give the people of Wellington their cue as to the position which
they must take in regard to this distressful affair, which had so far
transcended in ferocity the most extreme measures which the conspirators
had anticipated. The burden of his own responsibility weighed heavily
upon him, and could not be shaken off; but he must do first the duty
nearest to him,--he must first attend to his child.
Carteret hastened from the house, and traversed rapidly the short
distance to Dr. Ashe's office. Far down the street he could see the glow
of the burning hospital, and he had scarcely left his own house when the
fusillade of shots, fired when the colored men emerged from the burning
building, was audible. Carteret would have hastened back to the scene of
the riot, to see what was now going on, and to make another effort to
stem the tide of bloodshed; but before the dread of losing his child,
all other interests fell into the background. Not all the negroes in
Wellington could weigh in the balance for one instant against the life
of the feeble child now gasping for breath in the house behind him.
Reaching the house, a vigorous ring brought the doctor's wife to the
"Good evening, Mrs. Ashe. Is the doctor at home?"
"No, Major Carteret. He was called to attend Mrs. Wells, who was taken
suddenly ill, as a result of the trouble this afternoon. He will be
there all night, no doubt."
"My child is very ill, and I must find some one."
"Try Dr. Yates. His house is only four doors away."
A ring at Dr. Yates's door brought out a young man.
"Is Dr. Yates in?"
"Can I see him?"
"You might see him, sir, but that would be all. His horse was frightened
by the shooting on the streets, and ran away and threw the doctor, and
broke his right arm. I have just set it; he will not be able to attend
any patients for several weeks. He is old and nervous, and the shock was
"Are you not a physician?" asked Carteret, looking at the young man
keenly. He was a serious, gentlemanly looking young fellow, whose word
might probably be trusted.
"Yes, I am Dr. Evans, Dr. Yates's assistant. I'm really little more
than a student, but I'll do what I can."
"My only child is sick with the croup, and requires immediate
"I ought to be able to handle a case of the croup," answered Dr. Evans,
"at least in the first stages. I'll go with you, and stay by the child,
and if the case is beyond me, I may keep it in check until another
He stepped back into another room, and returning immediately with his
hat, accompanied Carteret homeward. The riot had subsided; even the glow
from the smouldering hospital was no longer visible. It seemed that the
city, appalled at the tragedy, had suddenly awakened to a sense of its
own crime. Here and there a dark face, emerging cautiously from some
hiding-place, peered from behind fence or tree, but shrank hastily away
at the sight of a white face. The negroes of Wellington, with the
exception of Josh Green and his party, had not behaved bravely on this
critical day in their history; but those who had fought were dead, to
the last man; those who had sought safety in flight or concealment were
alive to tell the tale.
"We pass right by Dr. Thompson's," said Dr. Evans. "If you haven't
spoken to him, it might be well to call him for consultation, in case
the child should be very bad."
"Go on ahead," said Carteret, "and I'll get him."
Evans hastened on, while Carteret sounded the old-fashioned knocker upon
the doctor's door. A gray-haired negro servant, clad in a dress suit and
wearing a white tie, came to the door.
"De doctuh, suh," he replied politely to Carteret's question, "has gone
ter ampitate de ahm er a gent'eman who got one er his bones smashed wid
a pistol bullet in de--fightin' dis atternoon, suh. He's jes' gone, suh,
an' lef' wo'd dat he'd be gone a' hour er mo', suh."
Carteret hastened homeward. He could think of no other available
physician. Perhaps no other would be needed, but if so, he could find
out from Evans whom it was best to call.
When he reached the child's room, the young doctor was bending anxiously
over the little frame. The little lips had become livid, the little
nails, lying against the white sheet, were blue. The child's efforts to
breathe were most distressing, and each gasp cut the father like a
knife. Mrs. Carteret was weeping hysterically. "How is he, doctor?"
asked the major.
"He is very low," replied the young man. "Nothing short of
tracheotomy--an operation to open the windpipe--will relieve him.
Without it, in half or three quarters of an hour he will be unable to
breathe. It is a delicate operation, a mistake in which would be as
fatal as the disease. I have neither the knowledge nor the experience to
attempt it, and your child's life is too valuable for a student to
practice upon. Neither have I the instruments here."
"What shall we do?" demanded Carteret. "We have called all the best
doctors, and none are available."
The young doctor's brow was wrinkled with thought. He knew a doctor who
could perform the operation. He had heard, also, of a certain event at
Carteret's house some months before, when an unwelcome physician had
been excluded from a consultation,--but it was the last chance.
"There is but one other doctor in town who has performed the operation,
so far as I know," he declared, "and that is Dr. Miller. If you can get
him, he can save your child's life."
Carteret hesitated involuntarily. All the incidents, all the arguments,
of the occasion when he had refused to admit the colored doctor to his
house, came up vividly before his memory. He had acted in accordance
with his lifelong beliefs, and had carried his point; but the present
situation was different,--this was a case of imperative necessity, and
every other interest or consideration must give way before the imminence
of his child's peril. That the doctor would refuse the call, he did not
imagine: it would be too great an honor for a negro to decline,--unless
some bitterness might have grown out of the proceedings of the
afternoon. That this doctor was a man of some education he knew; and he
had been told that he was a man of fine feeling,--for a negro,--and
might easily have taken to heart the day's events. Nevertheless, he
could hardly refuse a professional call,--professional ethics would
require him to respond. Carteret had no reason to suppose that Miller
had ever learned of what had occurred at the house during Dr. Burns's
visit to Wellington. The major himself had never mentioned the
controversy, and no doubt the other gentlemen had been equally silent.
"I'll go for him myself," said Dr. Evans, noting Carteret's hesitation
and suspecting its cause. "I can do nothing here alone, for a little
while, and I may be able to bring the doctor back with me. He likes a
* * * * *
It seemed an age ere the young doctor returned, though it was really
only a few minutes. The nurse did what she could to relieve the child's
sufferings, which grew visibly more and more acute. The mother, upon the
other side of the bed, held one of the baby's hands in her own, and
controlled her feelings as best she might. Carteret paced the floor
anxiously, going every few seconds to the head of the stairs to listen
for Evans's footsteps on the piazza without. At last the welcome sound
was audible, and a few strides took him to the door.
"Dr. Miller is at home, sir," reported Evans, as he came in. "He says
that he was called to your house once before, by a third person who
claimed authority to act, and that he was refused admittance. He
declares that he will not consider such a call unless it come from you
"That is true, quite true," replied Carteret. "His position is a just
one. I will go at once. Will--will--my child live until I can get Miller
"He can live for half an hour without an operation. Beyond that I could
give you little hope."
Seizing his hat, Carteret dashed out of the yard and ran rapidly to
Miller's house; ordinarily a walk of six or seven minutes, Carteret
covered it in three, and was almost out of breath when he rang the bell
of Miller's front door.
The ring was answered by the doctor in person.
"Dr. Miller, I believe?" asked Carteret.
"I am Major Carteret. My child is seriously ill, and you are the only
available doctor who can perform the necessary operation."
"Ah! You have tried all the others,--and then you come to me!"
"Yes, I do not deny it," admitted the major, biting his lip. He had not
counted on professional jealousy as an obstacle to be met. "But I _have_
come to you, as a physician, to engage your professional services for my
child,--my only child. I have confidence in your skill, or I should not
have come to you. I request--nay, I implore you to lose no more time,
but come with me at once! My child's life is hanging by a thread, and
you can save it!"
"Ah!" replied the other, "as a father whose only child's life is in
danger, you implore me, of all men in the world, to come and save it!"
There was a strained intensity in the doctor's low voice that struck
Carteret, in spite of his own pre-occupation. He thought he heard, too,
from the adjoining room, the sound of some one sobbing softly. There was
some mystery here which he could not fathom unaided.
Miller turned to the door behind him and threw it open. On the white
cover of a low cot lay a childish form in the rigidity of death, and by
it knelt, with her back to the door, a woman whose shoulders were shaken
by the violence of her sobs. Absorbed in her grief, she did not turn, or
give any sign that she had recognized the intrusion.
"There, Major Carteret!" exclaimed Miller, with the tragic eloquence of
despair, "there lies a specimen of your handiwork! There lies _my_ only
child, laid low by a stray bullet in this riot which you and your paper
have fomented; struck down as much by your hand as though you had held
the weapon with which his life was taken!"
"My God!" exclaimed Carteret, struck with horror. "Is the child dead?"
"There he lies," continued the other, "an innocent child,--there he lies
dead, his little life snuffed out like a candle, because you and a
handful of your friends thought you must override the laws and run this
town at any cost!--and there kneels his mother, overcome by grief. We
are alone in the house. It is not safe to leave her unattended. My duty
calls me here, by the side of my dead child and my suffering wife! I
cannot go with you. There is a just God in heaven!--as you have sown, so
may you reap!"
Carteret possessed a narrow, but a logical mind, and except when
confused or blinded by his prejudices, had always tried to be a just
man. In the agony of his own predicament,--in the horror of the
situation at Miller's house,--for a moment the veil of race prejudice
was rent in twain, and he saw things as they were, in their correct
proportions and relations,--saw clearly and convincingly that he had no
standing here, in the presence of death, in the home of this stricken
family. Miller's refusal to go with him was pure, elemental justice; he
could not blame the doctor for his stand. He was indeed conscious of a
certain involuntary admiration for a man who held in his hands the power
of life and death, and could use it, with strict justice, to avenge his
own wrongs. In Dr. Miller's place he would have done the same thing.
Miller had spoken the truth,--as he had sown, so must he reap! He could
not expect, could not ask, this father to leave his own household at
such a moment.
Pressing his lips together with grim courage, and bowing mechanically,
as though to Fate rather than the physician, Carteret turned and left
the house. At a rapid pace he soon reached home. There was yet a chance
for his child: perhaps some one of the other doctors had come; perhaps,
after all, the disease had taken a favorable turn,--Evans was but a
young doctor, and might have been mistaken. Surely, with doctors all
around him, his child would not be permitted to die for lack of medical
attention! He found the mother, the doctor, and the nurse still grouped,
as he had left them, around the suffering child.
"How is he now?" he asked, in a voice that sounded like a groan.
"No better," replied the doctor; "steadily growing worse. He can go on
probably for twenty minutes longer without an operation."
"Where is the doctor?" demanded Mrs. Carteret, looking eagerly toward
the door. "You should have brought him right upstairs. There's not a
minute to spare! Phil, Phil, our child will die!"
Carteret's heart swelled almost to bursting with an intense pity. Even
his own great sorrow became of secondary importance beside the grief
which his wife must soon feel at the inevitable loss of her only child.
And it was his fault! Would that he could risk his own life to spare her
and to save the child!
Briefly, and as gently as might be, he stated the result of his errand.
The doctor had refused to come, for a good reason. He could not ask him
Young Evans felt the logic of the situation, which Carteret had
explained sufficiently. To the nurse it was even clearer. If she or any
other woman had been in the doctor's place, she would have given the
Mrs. Carteret did not stop to reason. In such a crisis a mother's heart
usurps the place of intellect. For her, at that moment, there were but
two facts in all the world. Her child lay dying. There was within the
town, and within reach, a man who could save him. With an agonized cry
she rushed wildly from the room.
Carteret sought to follow her, but she flew down the long stairs like a
wild thing. The least misstep might have precipitated her to the bottom;
but ere Carteret, with a remonstrance on his lips, had scarcely reached
the uppermost step, she had thrown open the front door and fled
precipitately out into the night.
Miller's doorbell rang loudly, insistently, as though demanding a
response. Absorbed in his own grief, into which he had relapsed upon
Carteret's departure, the sound was an unwelcome intrusion. Surely the
man could not be coming back! If it were some one else--What else might
happen to the doomed town concerned him not. His child was dead,--his
distracted wife could not be left alone.
The doorbell rang--clamorously--appealingly. Through the long hall and
the closed door of the room where he sat, he could hear some one
knocking, and a faint voice calling.
"Open, for God's sake, open!"
It was a woman's voice,--the voice of a woman in distress. Slowly Miller
rose and went to the door, which he opened mechanically.
A lady stood there, so near the image of his own wife, whom he had just
left, that for a moment he was well-nigh startled. A little older,
perhaps, a little fairer of complexion, but with the same form, the same
features, marked by the same wild grief. She wore a loose wrapper, which
clothed her like the drapery of a statue. Her long dark hair, the
counterpart of his wife's, had fallen down, and hung disheveled about
her shoulders. There was blood upon her knuckles, where she had beaten
with them upon the door. "Dr. Miller," she panted, breathless from her
flight and laying her hand upon his arm appealingly,--when he shrank
from the contact she still held it there,--"Dr. Miller, you will come
and save my child? You know what it is to lose a child! I am so sorry
about your little boy! You will come to mine!"
"Your sorrow comes too late, madam," he said harshly. "My child is dead.
I charged your husband with his murder, and he could not deny it. Why
should I save your husband's child?"
"Ah, Dr. Miller!" she cried, with his wife's voice,--she never knew how
much, in that dark hour, she owed to that resemblance--"it is _my_
child, and I have never injured you. It is my child, Dr. Miller, my only
child. I brought it into the world at the risk of my own life! I have
nursed it, I have watched over it, I have prayed for it,--and it now
lies dying! Oh, Dr. Miller, dear Dr. Miller, if you have a heart, come
and save my child!"
"Madam," he answered more gently, moved in spite of himself, "my heart
is broken. My people lie dead upon the streets, at the hands of yours.
The work of my life is in ashes,--and, yonder, stretched out in death,
lies my own child! God! woman, you ask too much of human nature! Love,
duty, sorrow, _justice_, call me here. I cannot go!"
She rose to her full height. "Then you are a murderer," she cried
wildly. "His blood be on your head, and a mother's curse beside!"
The next moment, with a sudden revulsion of feeling, she had thrown
herself at his feet,--at the feet of a negro, this proud white
woman,--and was clasping his knees wildly.
"O God!" she prayed, in tones which quivered with anguish, "pardon my
husband's sins, and my own, and move this man's hard heart, by the blood
of thy Son, who died to save us all!"
It was the last appeal of poor humanity. When the pride of intellect and
caste is broken; when we grovel in the dust of humiliation; when
sickness and sorrow come, and the shadow of death falls upon us, and
there is no hope elsewhere,--we turn to God, who sometimes swallows the
insult, and answers the appeal.
Miller raised the lady to her feet. He had been deeply moved,--but he
had been more deeply injured. This was his wife's sister,--ah, yes! but
a sister who had scorned and slighted and ignored the existence of his
wife for all her life. Only Miller, of all the world, could have guessed
what this had meant to Janet, and he had merely divined it through the
clairvoyant sympathy of love. This woman could have no claim upon him
because of this unacknowledged relationship. Yet, after all, she was his
wife's sister, his child's kinswoman. She was a fellow creature, too,
and in distress.
"Rise, madam," he said, with a sudden inspiration, lifting her gently.
"I will listen to you on one condition. My child lies dead in the
adjoining room, his mother by his side. Go in there, and make your
request of her. I will abide by her decision."
The two women stood confronting each other across the body of the dead
child, mute witness of this first meeting between two children of the
same father. Standing thus face to face, each under the stress of the
deepest emotions, the resemblance between them was even more striking
than it had seemed to Miller when he had admitted Mrs. Carteret to the
house. But Death, the great leveler, striking upon the one hand and
threatening upon the other, had wrought a marvelous transformation in
the bearing of the two women. The sad-eyed Janet towered erect, with
menacing aspect, like an avenging goddess. The other, whose pride had
been her life, stood in the attitude of a trembling suppliant.
"_You_ have come here," cried Janet, pointing with a tragic gesture to
the dead child,--"_you_, to gloat over your husband's work. All my life
you have hated and scorned and despised me. Your presence here insults
me and my dead. What are you doing here?"
"Mrs. Miller," returned Mrs. Carteret tremulously, dazed for a moment by
this outburst, and clasping her hands with an imploring gesture, "my
child, my only child, is dying, and your husband alone can save his
life. Ah, let me have my child," she moaned, heart-rendingly. "It is my
only one--my sweet child--my ewe lamb!"
"This was _my_ only child!" replied the other mother; "and yours is no
better to die than mine!"
"You are young," said Mrs. Carteret, "and may yet have many
children,--this is my only hope! If you have a human heart, tell your
husband to come with me. He leaves it to you; he will do as you
"Ah," cried Janet, "I have a human heart, and therefore I will not let
him go. _My_ child is dead--O God, my child, my child!"
She threw herself down by the bedside, sobbing hysterically. The other
woman knelt beside her, and put her arm about her neck. For a moment
Janet, absorbed in her grief, did not repulse her. "Listen," pleaded
Mrs. Carteret. "You will not let my baby die? You are my sister;--the
child is your own near kin!"
"My child was nearer," returned Janet, rising again to her feet and
shaking off the other woman's arm. "He was my son, and I have seen him
die. I have been your sister for twenty-five years, and you have only
now, for the first time, called me so!"
"Listen--sister," returned Mrs. Carteret. Was there no way to move this
woman? Her child lay dying, if he were not dead already. She would tell
everything, and leave the rest to God. If it would save her child, she
would shrink at no sacrifice. Whether the truth would still further
incense Janet, or move her to mercy, she could not tell; she would leave
the issue to God.
"Listen, sister!" she said. "I have a confession to make. You are my
lawful sister. My father was married to your mother. You are entitled to
his name, and to half his estate."
Janet's eyes flashed with bitter scorn.
"And you have robbed me all these years, and now tell me that as a
reason why I should forgive the murder of my child?"
"No, no!" cried the other wildly, fearing the worst. "I have known of it
only a few weeks,--since my Aunt Polly's death. I had not meant to rob
you,--I had meant to make restitution. Sister! for our father's sake,
who did you no wrong, give me my child's life!"
Janet's eyes slowly filled with tears--bitter tears--burning tears. For
a moment even her grief at her child's loss dropped to second place in
her thoughts. This, then, was the recognition for which, all her life,
she had longed in secret. It had come, after many days, and in larger
measure than she had dreamed; but it had come, not with frank kindliness
and sisterly love, but in a storm of blood and tears; not freely given,
from an open heart, but extorted from a reluctant conscience by the
agony of a mother's fears. Janet had obtained her heart's desire, and
now that it was at her lips, found it but apples of Sodom, filled with
dust and ashes!
"Listen!" she cried, dashing her tears aside. "I have but one word for
you,--one last word,--and then I hope never to see your face again! My
mother died of want, and I was brought up by the hand of charity. Now,
when I have married a man who can supply my needs, you offer me back the
money which you and your friends have robbed me of! You imagined that
the shame of being a negro swallowed up every other ignominy,--and in
your eyes I am a negro, though I am your sister, and you are white, and
people have taken me for you on the streets,--and you, therefore, left
me nameless all my life! Now, when an honest man has given me a name of
which I can be proud, you offer me the one of which you robbed me, and
of which I can make no use. For twenty-five years I, poor, despicable
fool, would have kissed your feet for a word, a nod, a smile. Now, when
this tardy recognition comes, for which I have waited so long, it is
tainted with fraud and crime and blood, and I must pay for it with my
"And I must forfeit that of mine, it seems, for withholding it so long,"
sobbed the other, as, tottering, she turned to go. "It is but just."
"Stay--do not go yet!" commanded Janet imperiously, her pride still
keeping back her tears. "I have not done. I throw you back your
father's name, your father's wealth, your sisterly recognition. I want
none of them,--they are bought too dear! ah, God, they are bought too
dear! But that you may know that a woman may be foully wronged, and yet
may have a heart to feel, even for one who has injured her, you may have
your child's life, if my husband can save it! Will," she said, throwing
open the door into the next room, "go with her!"
"God will bless you for a noble woman!" exclaimed Mrs. Carteret. "You do
not mean all the cruel things you have said,--ah, no! I will see you
again, and make you take them back; I cannot thank you now! Oh, doctor,
let us go! I pray God we may not be too late!"
Together they went out into the night. Mrs. Carteret tottered under the
stress of her emotions, and would have fallen, had not Miller caught and
sustained her with his arm until they reached the house, where he turned
over her fainting form to Carteret at the door.
"Is the child still alive?" asked Miller.
"Yes, thank God," answered the father, "but nearly gone."
"Come on up, Dr. Miller," called Evans from the head of the stairs.
"There's time enough, but none to spare."
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