Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"I feel my sinews slackened with the fright, And a cold sweat thrills down o'er all my limbs As if I were dissolving into water." --DRYDEN.
Early one evening, a few days subsequent to the tragical death of Jones, the Ion family carriage, well freighted, was bowling along the road leading toward the Oaks.
A heavy shower had laid the dust and cooled the air, and the ride past blooming hedgerows, and fertile fields was very delightful. The parents were in cheerful mood, the children gay and full of life and fun.
"Oh, yonder is grandpa's carriage coming this way!" cried Eddie as they neared the cross-road which must be taken to reach Roselands in the one direction, and Ashlands in the other.
"Yes, turn out here, Solon, and wait for them to come up," said Mr. Travilla.
"On your way to the Oaks?" Mr. Dinsmore queried as his carriage halted along side of the other. "Well, we will turn about and go with you."
"No, we were going to Roselands but will put off the call to another day, if you were coming to Ion," Mr. Travilla answered.
"No, the Dinsmores had not set out for Ion, but to visit Sophie at Ashlands; Daisy, her youngest child, was very ill."
"I wish you would go with us, Elsie," Rose said to Mrs. Travilla. "I know it would be a comfort to Sophie to see you."
"Yes, we have plenty of room here," added Mr. Dinsmore, "and your husband and children can certainly spare you for an hour or so."
Elsie looked inquiringly at her husband.
"Yes, go, wife, if you feel inclined," he said pleasantly. "The children shall not lose their ride. I will go on to Roselands with them, make a short call, as I have a little business with your grandfather, then take them home."
"And we will have their mother there probably shortly after," said Mr. Dinsmore.
So the exchange was made and the carriages drove on, taking opposite directions when they came to the cross-road.
Arrived at Roselands, Mr. Travilla found only the younger members of the family at home, the old gentleman having driven out with his daughters. Calhoun thought however that they would return shortly, and was hospitably urgent that the visitors should all come in and rest and refresh themselves.
The younger cousins joined in the entreaty, and his own children seeming desirous to accept the invitation, Mr. Travilla permitted them to do so.
They, with Aunt Chloe and Dinah, were presently carried off to the nursery by Molly Percival and the Conly girls, while their father walked into the grounds with Calhoun and Arthur.
"Wal," whispered Dick to his cousin, drawing him aside unnoticed by the rest, who were wholly taken up with each other, "now's our time for some fun with those Ku Klux things. They must be about done, and I reckon will be packed off out o' the house before long."
Walter nodded assent; they stole unobserved from the room, flew up to their own for the key, hurried to the sewing-room of their mothers, and finding there two disguises nearly completed, sufficiently so for their purpose, arrayed themselves in them, slipped unseen down a back staircase, and dashing open the nursery door, bounded with a loud whoop, into the midst of its occupants.
Children and nurses joined in one wild shriek of terror, and made a simultaneous rush for the doors, tumbling over each other in their haste and affright.
But fortunately for them, Mr. Travilla and Calhoun had come in from the grounds, were on their way to the nursery, and entered it from the hall but a moment later than the boys did by the opposite door.
Mr. Travilla instantly seized Dick, (Calhoun doing the same by Walter), tore off his disguise, and picking up a riding-whip, lying conveniently at hand, administered a castigation that made the offender yell and roar for mercy.
"You scoundrel!" replied the gentleman, still laying on his blows, "I have scant mercy for a great strong boy who amuses himself by frightening women and helpless little children."
"But you're not my father, and have no right, oh, oh, oh!" blubbered Dick, trying to dodge the blows and wrench himself free, "I'll--I'll sue you for assault and battery."
"Very well, I'll give you plenty while I'm about it, and if you don't want a second dose, you will refrain from frightening my children in future."
It was an exciting scene, Walter getting almost as severe handling from Calhoun, nurses and children huddling together in the farthest corner of the room, Baby Herbert screaming at the top of his voice, and the others crying and sobbing while shrinking in nervous terror from the hideous disguises lying in a heap upon the floor.
"O, take them away! take them away, the horrid things!" screamed Virginia Conly, shuddering and hiding her face. "Wal and Dick, you wicked wretches, I don't care if they half kill you."
"Papa, papa, please stop. O, Cal, don't whip him any more. I'm sure they'll never do it again," pleaded little Elsie amid her sobs and tears, holding Vi fast and trying to soothe and comfort her.
"There, go," said Calhoun, pushing Walter from the room, "and if ever I catch you at such a trick again, I'll give you twice as much."
Dick, released by his captor with a like threat, hastened after his fellow delinquent, blubbering and muttering angrily as he went.
Calhoun gathered up the disguises, threw them into a closet, locked the door and put the key into his pocket.
"There!" said he, "they're out of sight and couldn't come after us if they were alive; and there's no life in them; and little else but linen and cotton."
Baby Herbert ceased his cries and cuddled down on Aunt Chloe's shoulder; the other four ran to their father.
He encircled them all in his arms, soothing them with caresses and words of fatherly endearment. "There, there, my darlings, dry your tears; papa will take care of you; nothing shall hurt you."
"Papa, they's like that horrid thing that shooted the man," sobbed Vi, clinging to him in almost frantic terror. "Oh don't let's ever come here any more!"
"I so frightened, papa, I so frightened; p'ease tate Harold home," sobbed the little fellow, the others joining in the entreaty.
"Yes, we will go at once," said Mr. Travilla, rising, Vi in one arm Harold in the other; and motioning to the servants to follow, he was about to leave the room, when Calhoun spoke.
"Do not go yet, Mr. Travilla: I think grandpa and the ladies will be here directly."
"Thanks, but I will see Mr. Dinsmore at another time. Now my first duty is to these terrified little ones."
"I am exceedingly sorry for what has occurred; more mortified than I can express--"
"No need for apology, Conly; but you must see the necessity for our abrupt departure. Good evening to you all."
Calhoun followed to the carriage door, helped to put the children in, then addressing Mr. Travilla, "I see you doubt me, sir," he said, "and not without reason, I own; yet I assure you I have no property in those disguises, never have worn, and never will wear such a thing: much less take part in the violence they are meant to protect from punishment."
"I am glad to hear you say so, Cal. Good evening." And the carriage whirled away down the avenue.
The rapid motion and the feeling that the objects of their affright were being left far behind, seemed to soothe and reassure the children, yet each sought to be as near as possible to their loved protector.
Harold and the babe soon fell asleep, and on reaching home were carried directly to bed; but the older ones begged so hard to be allowed to "stay with papa till mamma came home" that he could not find it in his heart to refuse them.
The Dinsmore party found Sophie devoting herself to her sick child; the attack had been sudden and severe, and all the previous night the mother had watched by the couch of the little sufferer with an aching heart, fearing she was to be taken from her; but now the danger seemed nearly over, a favorable change having taken place during the day.
Daisy had fallen into a quiet slumber, and leaving the nurse to watch at the bedside, the mother received and conversed with her friends in an adjoining room.
Though evidently very glad to see them, she seemed, after the first few moments, so depressed and anxious, that at length her sister remarked it, and asked if there were any other cause than Daisy's illness.
"Yes, Rose," she said, "I must own that I am growing very timid in regard to these Ku Klux outrages. Since they have taken to beating and shooting whites as well as blacks, women as well as men, who shall say that we are safe? I a Northern woman too and without a protector."
"I do not think they will molest a lady of your standing," said Mr. Dinsmore, "the widow too of a Confederate officer. But where is Boyd, that you say you are without a protector?"
A slight shudder ran over Sophie's frame. "Boyd?" she said, drawing her chair nearer and speaking in an undertone, "he is my great dread, and for fear of wounding mother's feelings I have had to keep my terrors to myself. I know that he is often out, away from the plantation, all night. I have for weeks past suspected that he was a Ku Klux, and last night, or rather early this morning, my suspicions were so fully confirmed that they now amount almost to certainty. I had been up all night with Daisy, and a little before sunrise happening to be at the window, I saw him stealing into the house with a bundle under his arm,--something white rolled up in the careless sort of way a man would do it."
"I am not surprised," said Mr. Dinsmore, "he is just the sort of man one would expect to be at such work,--headstrong, violent tempered, and utterly selfish and unscrupulous. Yet I think you may dismiss your fears of him, and feel it rather a safeguard than otherwise to have a member of the Klan in your family."
"It may be so," she said, musingly, the cloud of care partially lifting from her brow.
"And at all events you are not without a protector, dear sister," whispered Rose, as she bade adieu. "'A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows is God in his holy habitation.'"
Elsie too had a word of sympathy and hope for her childhood's friend, and with warm invitations to both the Oaks and Ion as soon as Daisy could be moved with safety, they left her, greatly cheered and refreshed by their visit.
"My heart aches for her," Elsie said as they drove away, "what a sad, sad thing to be a widow!"
"Yes;" responded Rose, "and to have lost your husband so,--fighting against the land of your birth and love."
There was a long pause broken by a sudden, half frightened exclamation from Rosie. "Papa! what if we should meet the Ku Klux!"
"Not much danger, I think: they are not apt to be abroad so early. And we are nearing Ion."
"I presume Edward has reached home before us," remarked Elsie, "I wonder how my little ones enjoyed their first visit to Roselands without their mother."
She soon learned; for she had scarcely set foot in the veranda ere they were clinging about her and pouring out the story of their terrible fright.
She pitied, soothed and comforted them, trying to dispel their fears and lead them to forgive those who had so ill-used them, though it cost no small effort to do so herself.