Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly What I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps, Fill all thy bones with aches; make thee roar, That beasts shall tremble at thy din." --SHAKESPEARE'S TEMPEST.
The Ion family were spending the day at the Oaks. It was now early in the fall of 1868 and political excitement ran high over the coming presidential election. There had been as yet no effectual check given to the lawless proceedings of the Ku Klux, and their frequent raids and numerous deeds of violence had inaugurated a reign of terror that was a shame and reproach to our boasted civilization and free institutions.
Many of the poorer class, both blacks and whites, dared not pass the night in their houses, but when darkness fell, fled for safety to the shelter of the nearest woods, carrying their beds with them, and sleeping in the open air.
That the Ku Klux Klan was a political organization working in the interests of the Democratic party, their words to their victims left no doubt. The latter were told that they were punished for belonging to the Union League or for favoring the Republican party or using their influence in its behalf, and threatened with severer treatment if they dared vote its ticket or persuade others to do so.
The outrages were highly disapproved by all Republicans and by most of the better class in the opposite party; but many were afraid to express their opinions of the doings of the Klan, lest they should be visited with its terrors; while for the same reason, many of its victims preferred to suffer in silence rather than institute proceedings, or testify against their foes.
It was a state of things greatly deplored by our friends of the Oaks and Ion, and Messrs. Dinsmore and Travilla, who were not of the timid sort, had been making efforts to bring some of the guilty ones to justice; though thus far with very little success.
Such an errand had taken them to the town on this particular day.
They were returning late in the afternoon and were still several miles from home, when, passing through a bit of woods, a sudden turn of the road brought them face to face with a band of mounted men, some thirty or forty in number, not disguised but rough and ruffianly in appearance and armed with clubs, pistols and bowie knives.
The encounter was evidently a surprise to both parties, and reining in their steeds, they regarded each other for a moment in grim silence.
Then the leader of the band, a profane, drunken wretch, who had been a surgeon in the Confederate army, scowling fiercely upon our friends and laying his hand on a pistol in his belt, growled out, "A couple of scalawags! mean dirty rascals, what mischief have you been at now, eh?"
Disdaining a reply to his insolence, the gentlemen drew their revolvers, cocked them ready for instant use, and whirling their horses half way round and backing them out of the road so that they faced it, while leaving room for the others to pass, politely requested them to do so.
"Not so fast!" returned the leader, pouring out a torrent of oaths and curses; "we've a little account to settle with you two, and no time's like the present."
"Yes, shoot 'em down!" cried a voice from the crowd.
"Hang 'em!" yelled another, "the ---- ---- rascals!"
"Yes," roared a third, "pull 'em from their horses and string 'em up to the limb o' that big oak yonder."
Our friends faced them with dauntless air.
"You will do neither," said Mr. Dinsmore, in a firm, quiet tone; "we are well armed and shall defend ourselves to the last extremity."
Travilla threw his riding whip into the road a foot or two in front of his horse's head, saying, as he looked steadily into the leader's eyes, "The first one who passes that to come nearer to us is that instant a dead man."
The two were well known in the community as men of undoubted courage and determination; also as excellent marksmen.
A whisper ran along the lines of their opponents.
"He's a dead shot; and so's Dinsmore; and they're not afraid o' the devil himself. Better let 'em go for this time."
The leader gave the word, "Forward!" and with hisses, groans and a variety of hideous noises, they swept along the road and passed out of sight, leaving our friends masters of the field.
"Cruelty and cowardice go hand in hand," observed Mr. Travilla, as they resumed their homeward way.
"Yes, those brave fellows prefer waging war upon sleeping unarmed men, and helpless women and children, to risking life and limb in fair and open fight with such as you and I," returned his companion.
"They are Ku Klux, you think?"
"I am morally certain of it, though I could not bring proof to convict even that rascally Dr. Savage."
They agreed not to mention the occurrence in presence of their wives: also that it would be best for Travilla to take his family home early, Mr. Dinsmore and Horace Jr. accompanying them as an escort.
This they could readily do without arousing the fears of the ladies, as both were constantly coming and going between the two places.
The sun was nearing the horizon when they reached the Oaks.
Rose and Elsie were in the veranda awaiting their coming in some anxiety.
"Oh," they cried, "we are so rejoiced to see you! so thankful that you are safe. We feared you had met some of those dreadful Ku Klux."
"Yes, little wife, we are safe, thanks to the protecting care which is over us all in every place," Mr. Travilla said, embracing her as though they had been long parted.
"Ah yes," she sighed, "how I have been forgetting to-day the lessons of faith and trust I have tried to impress upon Mrs. Leland. It is far easier to preach than to practice."
Little feet came running in from the grounds, little voices shouted, "Papa has come! Papa and grandpa too," and a merry scene ensued--hugging, kissing, romping--presently interrupted by the call to tea.
There was nothing unusual in the manner of either gentleman and the wives had no suspicion that they had been in peril of their lives.
"I think it would be well to return home early to-night," Mr. Travilla remarked to Elsie.
"Yes," she said, "on account of the children."
So the carriage was ordered at once, and shortly after leaving the table they were on their way--Elsie, children and nurses in the carriage, with Mr. Travilla, Mr. Dinsmore and son, all well armed, as their mounted escort.
Horace had been taken aside by his father and told of the afternoon's adventure, and in his indignation was almost eager for "a brush with the insolent ruffians."
None appeared, however; Ion was reached in safety, they tarried there an hour or more, then returned without perceiving any traces of the foe.
The hush of midnight has fallen upon the Oaks, Ion, Fairview and all the surrounding region; the blinking stars and young moon, hanging a golden crescent just above the horizon, look down upon a sleeping world; yet not all asleep, for far down the road skirting yonder wood, a strange procession approaches;--goblin-like figures, hideous with enormous horns, glaring eye-balls and lolling red tongues, and mounted upon weird-looking steeds, are moving silently onward.
They reach a small house hard by the road-side, pause before it, and with a heavy riding whip the leader thunders at the door.
The frightened inmates, startled from their sleep, cry out in alarm, and a man's voice asks, "Who's there?"
"Open the door," commands the leader in a strange sepulchral voice.
"I must know first who is there and what's wanted," returns the other, hurrying on his clothes.
A shot is fired, and penetrating the door, strikes the opposite wall.
"Open instantly, or we'll break in, and it'll be the worse for you," thunders the leader; and with trembling hands, amid the cries of wife and children, the man removes the bars, draws back the bolts, and looks out, repeating his question, "What's wanted?"
"Nothing, this time, Jim White, but to warn you that if you vote the Republican ticket, we'll call again, take you to the woods, and flog you within an inch of your life--Beware! Forward, men!" and the troop sweeps onward, while White closes and bars the door again, and creeps back to bed.
"Ku Klux!" says the wife shuddering. "Jim, we'll have to hide o' nights now, like the rest. Hush, hush, children, they're gone now; so go to sleep; nothing'll hurt ye. Jim, ye'll mind?"
"Yes, yes, Betsy, though it galls me to be ordered round like a nigger; me with as white a skin as any o' them."
Onward, still onward sweeps the goblin train, and again and again the same scene is enacted, the victim now a poor white, and now a freedman.
At length they have reached Fairview; they pause before the gate, two dismount, make off into the woods, and presently reappear bearing on their shoulders a long dark object; a little square of white visible on the top.
They pass through the gate, up the avenue, and silently deposit their burden at the door, return to their companions, and with them repair to the negro quarter.
Dismounting, they tie their horses to the fence, and leaving them in charge of one of their number, betake themselves to the nearest cabin, surround it, break open the door, drag out the man, carry him to a little distance, and with clubs and leathern straps, give him a terrible beating.
Leaving him half dead with pain and fright, they return to his cabin, threaten his wife and children, rob him of his gun, and pass on to repeat their lawless deeds; menacing some, beating and shooting others; not always sparing women or children; the latter perhaps, being hurt accidentally in the melee.
From the quarter at Fairview, they passed on to that of Ion, continuing there the same threats and acts of violence; winding up by setting fire to the school-house, and burning it to the ground.
The bright light shining in at the open windows of her room, awoke the little Elsie. She sprang from her bed, and ran to the window. She could see the flames bursting from every aperture in the walls of the small building, and here and there through the roof, curling about the rafters, sending up volumes of smoke, and showers of sparks; and in their light the demon-like forms of the mischief-doers, some seated upon their horses and looking quietly on, others flitting to and fro in the lurid glare; while the roar and crackling of the flames, and the sound of falling timbers came distinctly to her ear.
At the sight a panic terror seized the child. She flew into the room where her parents lay sleeping, but with habitual thoughtfulness for others, refrained from screaming out in her fright, lest she should rouse the little ones.
She went to her father's side, put her lips to his ear, and said in low tremulous tones, "Papa, papa, please wake up, I'm so frightened; there's a fire and the Ku Klux are there. O papa, I'm afraid they'll come here and kill you!" and she ended with a burst of almost hysterical weeping, rousing both father and mother.
"What is it, darling?" asked Mr. Travilla, starting up to a sitting posture, and throwing an arm about the child, "what has alarmed my pet?" while the mother, exclaiming "Vi! is she gone again?" sprang out upon the floor, and hastily threw on a dressing-gown.
"No, no, no, mamma; Vi's safe in bed, but look at that red light on the wall yonder! it's fire, and the Ku Klux!"
In another moment all three were at the window overlooking the scene.
"The school-house!" exclaimed Mr. Travilla. "I am not surprised; for the Klan is greatly opposed to the education of the negro, and has burned down buildings used for that purpose in other places. Do you see them, wife? those frightful looking horned animals."
"Yes," she said with a shudder, followed by a deep sigh, "and O Edward what may they not be doing to our poor people? can we do anything to save them?"
He shook his head sadly.
"No: they are out in considerable force, and I could do nothing, single-handed, against twenty or thirty armed men."
"O papa, mamma, I am so frightened!" cried little Elsie, clinging to them both. "Will they come here and hurt us?"
"I think not, daughter," her father said soothingly; "their raids have hitherto been almost entirely confined to the blacks, and poor whites, with now and then one of those from the North whom they style carpet-baggers."
"Be calm, dearest, and put your trust in the Lord," the mother said, folding the trembling, sobbing child to her breast. "'The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him, and the Lord shall cover him all the day long.' 'Not an hair of your head shall fall to the ground without your Father.'"
"Yes, sweet words," said Mr. Travilla; "and remember what the Lord Jesus said to Pilate, 'Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.'"
A short pause, in which all three gazed intently at the scene of conflagration, then, "Do you see how the walls are tottering?" said Mr. Travilla, and even as he spoke they tumbled together into one burning mass, the flames shot up higher than before, burning with a fierce heat and roar, while by their lurid light the Ku Klux could be seen taking up their line of march again.
The two Elsies watched in almost breathless suspense till they saw them turn in a direction to take them farther from Ion.
"Thank God they are not coming here!" ejaculated Mrs. Travilla, in low, reverent, grateful tones.
"Hark, mamma, papa, I hear cries and screams!" exclaimed little Elsie. "Oh it must be some of the poor women and children coming up from the quarter!"
As the child spoke there came a quick sharp tap, that seemed to tell of fright and excitement, at the outer door of the suite of apartments, and an old servant, hardly waiting for the permission to enter, thrust in his head, saying in tremulous tones, "Mars Ed'ard, de people's all comin' up from de quarter, an' knockin' an' cryin' to get in. Dere's been awful times down dere; de Ku Klu--"
"Yes, yes, Jack, I know; but be quiet or you'll wake the children. Open the hall door and let the poor things in, of course," said Mr. Travilla, "and I'll be down in a moment."
"Plenty room on de back veranda, Mars Ed'ard, an' 'tween dat an' de kitchen."
"Very well, they'll be safe there, but if they don't feel so let them into the hall."
The head was withdrawn, the door closed, and Jack's shuffling feet could be heard descending the stairs.
Mr. and Mrs. Travilla, having each completed a hasty toilet, were about to go down; but little Elsie clung to her mother.
"Mamma, mamma, don't go and leave me! please let me go too."
"My darling, you would be quite safe here; and it is much earlier than your usual hour for rising."
"But day is breaking, mamma, and I could not sleep any more: besides maybe I could help to comfort them."
"I think she could," said her father, and mamma gave consent at once.
They found the back veranda, the kitchen, and the space between, filled with an excited crowd of blacks, old and young, talking, gesticulating, crying, moaning and groaning.
"De Ku Klux, de Ku Klux!" was on every tongue.
"Tell ye what, darkies," one was saying, "dey's debbils! why two ob dem stop befo' my doah an' say 'You black rascal, give us some watah! quick now fo' we shoot you tru the head': den I hand up a gourd full--'bout a quart min' yo',--an de fust snatch it an' pour it right down his troat, an' hand de gourd back quick's a flash; den he turn roun' an' ride off, while I fill de gourd for de udder, an' he do jes de same. Tell ye what dey's debbils! didn't you see de horns, an' de big red tongues waggin'?"
There was a murmur of assent, and a shudder ran through the throng. But Mr. Travilla's voice was heard in cheerful reassuring tones.
"No, boys, they are men, though they do the work of devils. I have seen their disguise, and under that long red tongue, which is made of flannel, and moved by the wearer's real tongue, there is a leather bag, inside of the disguise--and into it they pour the water; not down their throats."
"Dat so, Mars Ed'ard?" cried several, drawing a long breath of relief.
"Yes, that is so, boys. And they've been threatening and abusing you to-night?"
"Yes, sah, dat dey hab!" cried a score of voices, and one after another showed his wounds, and told a piteous tale.
Elsie and her namesake daughter wept over their losses and sufferings: the medicine closet was unlocked and its stores liberally drawn upon for materials to dress their wounds, both master and mistress attending to them with their own hands; and at the same time speaking soothing, comforting words, and promising help to repair the damage to their property, and make good their losses: also to bring their enemies to justice if that might be possible.
It was broad daylight ere the work was finished.
The veranda was nearly empty now, the people slowly returning to their homes--Mr. Travilla having assured them the danger was past for the present--when Elsie caught sight of a woman whom she had not observed till that moment.
The poor creature had dropped down upon a bench at the kitchen door. Her right arm hung useless at her side; with the left she held the bloody corpse of a puny infant to her breast, and the eyes she lifted to the face of her mistress were full of a mute, tearless agony.
Elsie's overflowed at the piteous sight. "O my poor Minerva," she said, "what is this they have done to you and poor little Ben?"
"Oh, oh, oh, Miss Elsie! de Ku Kluxes dey shot tru de doah, an' de balls flyin' all roun', an'--an'--one hit me on de arm, an' killed my baby!" she sobbed, "oh! oh! oh! de doctah mend de arm, but de baby, he--he--done gone foreber;" and the sobs burst forth with renewed violence, while she hugged the still form closer, and rocked herself to and fro in her grief.
"Gone to heaven, my poor Minerva, to be forever safe and happy with the dear Lord Jesus," her mistress said in quivering tones, the tears rolling fast down her own cheeks.
"An' he neber hab no mo' miseries, honey," said Aunt Dicey, drawing near; "no Ku Klux come into de garden ob de Lord to scare him or hurt him; bress his little heart!"
"Wish we all dere, safe an' happy like he! Let me wash off de blood an' dress him clean for de grave," said Aunt Sally, the nurse of the quarter, gently taking the child, while Mr. Travilla and Elsie bound up the wounded arm, speaking soothingly to the sufferer, and promising the doctor's aid as soon as it could be procured.
Aunt Sally sat near attending to the last offices for the tiny corpse, little Elsie looking on, with big tears coursing down her cheeks. Presently going to her mother's side, she whispered a few words in her ear.
"Yes, dear, you may go to the bureau drawer and choose it yourself," was the prompt reply, and the child ran into the house, returning directly with a baby's slip of fine white muslin, delicately embroidered.
"Put this on him, Aunt Sally," she said; "mamma gave me leave to get it."
Then going to the bereaved mother, and clasping the dusky, toil-worn hand with her soft, white fingers, "Don't cry, Minerva," she said, "you know poor little Ben was always sick, and now he is well and happy. And if you love Jesus, you will go to be with him again some day."
Evidently much gratified by the honor done her dead babe, Minerva sobbed out her thanks for that, and the dressing of her wounded arm, and dropping a courtesy, followed Aunt Sally as she bore the corpse into Aunt Dicey's cabin close by.
The scanty furniture of Minerva's own had been completely demolished by the desperadoes, and her husband terribly beaten.
He and one or two others had not come up with the crowd, presumably from inability to do so, and Mr. Travilla now mounted his horse and went in search of them.
They had been left by their assailants in the woods, where one--"Uncle Mose"--dreadfully crippled by rheumatism, still lay on the ground half dead with bruises, cuts, and pistol shot wounds.
Another had crawled to his cabin and fainted upon its threshold; while a third lay weltering in his gore some yards distant from his.
Mr. Travilla had them all carried into their houses, and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit, and a messenger was dispatched in all haste for Dr. Barton.
The family at Fairview had slept through the night undisturbed by the vicinity, or acts of the raiders. Mr. Leland's first intimation of their visit was received as he opened the front door at his usual early hour for beginning his morning round of the plantation.
He almost started back at the sight of a rude pine coffin directly before him; but recovering himself instantly, stooped to read a label affixed to the lid.
"Beware, odious carpet-bagger! this is your third and last warning. Leave the country within ten days, or your carcass fills this."
He read it deliberately through, carefully weighing each word, not a muscle of his face moving, not a tremor agitating his nerves.
Turning to his overseer, who at that moment appeared before him, "Bring me a hatchet," he said in stern, calm tones, "and be quick, Park; I would not have your mistress see this on any account."
Stepping upon the lid as he spoke, he broke it in with a crash, finishing his work when the hatchet came, by quickly chopping and splitting the coffin up into kindling-wood.
"There!" he said, bidding the man gather up the fragments and carry them to the kitchen, "they'll not put me into that, at all events. What mischief have they been at in the quarter, I wonder?" he added, springing into the saddle.
"Dreffle bad work, sah; mos' killed two ob de boys; scared de rest to deff," said Park, hastily obeying the order to gather up the bits of wood, "jes' gwine tell ye, sah, when you tole me go for de hatchet."
"Indeed! hellish work! Follow me, Park, as quickly as you can. And mind, not a word of this," pointing to the demolished coffin, "to any one," and putting spurs to his horse, he galloped off in the direction of the quarter.
But presently catching sight of the still smoking embers of the Ion school-house, he drew rein for an instant with a sudden exclamation of surprise and regret. "The wretches, what will they do next? burn our houses about our ears?" and sighing, he pursued his way.
Indignant anger, and tender pity and compassion filled his breast by turns, on reaching the quarter and discovering the state of things there; worse even than Park's report had made it.
He rode from cabin to cabin inquiring into the condition of the inmates and speaking words of pity and of hope.
Finding several badly bruised and cut, and others suffering from gunshot wounds, he sent to the house for lint, salve and bandages, and directed a lad to run to the stables, saddle a horse; and go immediately for Dr. Barton.
"De doctah ober to Ion now, sah," returned the boy, "debbils dore las' night, too, sah."
"Run over to Ion, then, and ask the doctor to come here when he is through there," said Mr. Leland.
Mr. Travilla came with the doctor and the two planters compared notes, in regard to damages, Mr. Leland also telling the story of the coffin laid at his door.
"What do you intend doing?" asked Mr. Travilla.
"Inclination says, 'Stay and brave it out;' but I have not yet fully decided. I have invested all my means in this enterprise, and have a wife and family of helpless little ones to support."
"That makes it hard indeed; yet I fear your life is in great danger. But come what may, Leland, I stand your friend. If you should be attacked, fly to Ion; you will find an open door, a hearty welcome, and such protection as I am able to give. I think we could conceal you so that it would be a matter of difficulty for your foes to find you."
"A thousand thanks! God bless you for your kindness, sir!" exclaimed Leland, with emotion, warmly grasping the hand held out to him; and the two parted, each wending his homeward way.