Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"The more the bold, the bustling, and the bad, Press to usurp the reins of power, the more Behooves it virtue, with indignant zeal, To check their combination." --THOMSON
The spirit of resistance was now fully aroused within the breasts of our friends of Ion and the Oaks. Mr. Travilla's was a type of the American character; he would bear long with his injuries, vexations, encroachments upon his rights, but when once the end of his forbearance was reached, woe to the aggressor; for he would find himself opposed by a man of great resources, unconquerable determination and undaunted courage.
His measures were taken quietly, but with promptness and energy. He had been seeking proofs of the identity of the raiders, and found them in the case of one of the party; whose gait had been recognized by several, his voice by one or two, while the mark of his bloody hand laid upon the clothing of one of the women as he roughly pushed her out of his way, seemed to furnish the strongest circumstantial evidence against him.
George Boyd's right hand had been maimed in a peculiar manner during the war, and this bloody mark upon the woman's night-dress was its exact imprint.
Already Mr. Travilla had procured his arrest, and had him imprisoned for trial, in the county jail.
Yet this was but a small part of the day's work: lumber had been ordered, and men engaged for the rebuilding of the school-house; merchandise also to replace the furniture and clothing destroyed; and arms for every man at the quarter capable of using them.
All this Elsie knew and approved, as did her father and brother. For Mrs. Carrington's sake they deeply regretted that Boyd was implicated in the outrage; but all agreed that justice must have its course.
The question had been mooted in both families whether any or all of them should leave the South until the restoration of law and order should render it a safe abiding place for honest, peaceable folk, but unanimously decided in the negative.
The gentlemen scorned to fly from the desperadoes and resign to their despotic rule their poor dependents and the land of their love; nay they would stay and defend both to the utmost of their power; and the wives upheld their husbands in their determination and refused to leave them to meet the peril alone.
Returning from the burial of Uncle Mose, Mr. Dinsmore and Horace spent an hour at Ion before riding back to the Oaks.
The three gentlemen were in the library earnestly discussing the state of affairs, when Elsie, coming down from seeing her little ones settled for the night, heard the sound of wheels in the avenue, and stepping to the door saw the Ashlands carriage just drawing up in front of it.
The vehicle had scarcely come to a standstill ere its door was thrown hastily open and the elder Mrs. Carrington alighted.
Elsie sprang to meet her with outstretched arms, and the exclamation, "My dear old friend!" though her heart beat quickly, her cheek crimsoned, and tears filled her eyes.
The old lady, speechless with grief, fell upon her neck and wept there silently for a moment; then low and gaspingly, in a voice broken with sobs, "I--have--come to--ask about--George," she said, "can it, oh can it be that he has done this dreadful thing?" and shuddering she hid her face on Elsie's shoulder her slight frame shaken with the sobs she vainly strove to suppress.
"Dear Mrs. Carrington, I am so sorry, so very sorry to think it," Elsie said, in a voice full of tears, "my heart aches for you who love him so; you who have been so sorely afflicted: may the Lord give you strength to bear up under this new trial."
"He will! he does! My sister's son! oh tis sad, 'tis heart-breaking! But the proofs: what are they?"
Elsie named them; first drawing her friend to a seat where she supported her with her arm.
"Yes, yes, his voice, his gait are both peculiar, and--his hand. Let me see that--that garment."
Leading her into a private room, and seating her comfortably there Elsie had it brought and laid before her.
Mrs. Carrington gave it one glance, and motioning it away with a look and gesture of horror, dropped her face into her hands and groaned aloud.
Elsie kneeling by her side, clasped her arms about her and wept with her.
"A slayer of the weak and helpless--a murderer--a midnight assassin!" groaned the half distracted aunt.
"May there not possibly be some mistake. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt," whispered Elsie.
"Alas there seems scarcely room for doubt!" sighed Mrs. Carrington, then, with a determined effort to recover her composure, "But don't think, dear Elsie, that I blame you or your husband. Can I see him? and your father if he is here?"
"Yes, they are both here and will rejoice if they can be of any comfort or service to you. Ah, I hear papa's voice in the hall, asking for me!" and stepping to the door, she called to him and her husband, "Please come in here," she said, "Mrs. Carrington wishes to see you both."
"You here and alone at this late hour, my dear madam!" Mr. Dinsmore exclaimed, taking the old lady's hand in a cordial grasp, "your courage surprises me."
"Ah, my good friend, they who have little to lose, need not have much to do with fear," she answered. "That was what I told Sophie who would have had me defer my call till to-morrow."
"My dear madam, you are surely right in thinking that no one would molest you--a lady whom all classes unite in loving and honoring," Mr. Travilla said, greeting her with almost filial respect and affection.
She bowed in acknowledgment. "Do not think for a moment that I have come to upbraid you, gentlemen. Justice demands that those who break the laws suffer the penalty, and I have nothing to say against it; though the criminal be my own flesh and blood. But I want to hear all about this sad affair."
They told her briefly all they knew, she listening with calm though sad demeanor.
"Thank you," she said when they had finished. "That George is guilty, I dare hardly doubt, and I am far from upholding him in his wickedness. As you all know, I was strong for accession, and am no Republican now, but I say perish the cause that can be upheld only by such measures as these. I would have every member of this wicked, dreadful conspiracy brought to punishment; they are ruining their country; but their deeds are not chargeable upon the secessionists of the war time, as a class."
"That is certainly true, madam."
"We are fully convinced of that, Mrs. Carrington," the gentlemen replied.
She rose to take leave. Mr. Travilla requested her to delay a little till his horse could be brought to the door, and he would see her home.
"No, no, Travilla," said Mr. Dinsmore, "Horace and I will do that, if Mrs. Carrington will accept our escort."
"Many thanks to you both, gentlemen," she said, "but I assure you I am not in the least afraid; and it would be putting you to unnecessary trouble."
"On the contrary, my dear madam, it would be a pleasure; and as our horses are already at the door, we need not delay you a moment," said Mr. Dinsmore. "It will not take us so very far out of our way, either: and I should like to have a word with Sophie."
Upon that Mrs. Carrington gratefully accepted his offer, and the three went away together.
Convinced of his guilt, Mrs. Carrington made no effort to obtain the release of her nephew, but several of his confederates having perjured themselves to prove an alibi in his favor, he was soon at large again.
He showed his face no more at the Oaks or Ion, and upon occasion of an accidental meeting with Travilla or either of the Dinsmores, regarded him with dark, scowling looks, sometimes adding a muttered word or two of anger and defiance.
In the meantime damages had been repaired in the quarters at Fairview and Ion, and the men at the latter, secretly supplied with arms; also the rebuilding of the school-house was going rapidly forward.
A threatening notice was presently served upon Mr. Travilla, ordering him to desist from the attempt, as the teaching of the blacks would not be allowed by the Ku Klux.
He however paid no attention to the insolent demand, and the work went on as before.
Mr. Leland had succeeded in keeping the affair of the coffin from his wife thus saving her much anxiety and distress.
To leave just at this time would be a great pecuniary loss, and he had decided to remain; but had laid his plans carefully for either resistance or escape in case of an attack.
A couple of large, powerful, and very fine watch dogs were added to his establishment, and a brace of loaded pistols and a bowie knife were always within reach of his hand.
One night the family were aroused by the furious barking of the dogs. Instantly Mr. Leland was out upon the floor hastily throwing on his clothes, while his wife, with the frightened cry. "The Ku Klux!" ran to the window.
"Yes it is! they are surrounding the house! O Robert, fly for your life!" she cried in the wildest terror. "O God save my poor husband from these cruel foes!" she added, dropping upon her knees and lifting hands and eyes to heaven.
"He will, Mary, never fear, wife," Mr. Leland said almost cheerfully, snatching up his weapons as he spoke. "Pray on, it's the best thing you can do to help me."
"You must fly!" she said, "you can't fight twenty men and I think there are at least that many."
"I'll slip out at the back door then, and make for the woods," he answered, rushing from the room.
Children and servants were screaming with affright, the ruffians thundering at the front door, calling loudly upon Mr. Leland to come out, and threatening to break it down if he did not immediately appear.
Summoning all her courage, the wife went again to the window and called to them, asking what was wanted.
"Leland. Tell him to come out here at once or it will be the worse for him," returned the leader, in a feigned, unnatural voice.
"He is not here," she said.
"He'd better show himself at once," returned the ruffian, "he'll not escape by refusing to do so; we'll search every corner till we find him."
"That will be as God pleases," she said in a calm, firm tone, her courage rising with the emergency.
She was answered with a yell of rage, and a repeated order to come down and open the door.
"I shall do no such thing," she said; "and what is more, I shall shoot down the first man that sets foot on the stairs."
It was a sudden resolution that had come to her. Encouraged by Mrs. Travilla's precept and example, she had been, for months past, industriously training herself in the use of firearms, and kept her loaded revolver at hand; and now she would create a diversion in her husband's favor, keeping the raiders at bay at the front of the building while he escaped at the back; they believed him to be in the upper story: if she could prevent it, they should not learn their mistake, till he had had time to gain the woods and distance pursuit.
The door could not much longer withstand the heavy blows dealt it; already there were sounds as if it were about to give way.
"Archie," she said, turning to her son and speaking very rapidly, "those men are here to kill your father; you must help me to prevent them from coming up to hunt him. The rest of you children stop that loud crying, which won't do any good. Kneel down and pray, pray, pray to God to help your father to get away from them. Archie, throw this black cloak round you. Here are two loaded pistols. I will take one, you the other; we will station ourselves on the landing at the head of the first flight of stairs. It is darker in the house than out of doors, and they will not be able to see us, but as the door falls and they rush in we can see them in their white gowns, and against the light. Come!"
They hurried to the landing.
"Now we must not be in too great haste," she whispered in his ear; "keep cool, take sure aim, and fire low."
The words had scarcely left her lips when the door fell with a crash, and with a yell like an Indian war whoop several disguised men rushed into the hall and hastily advanced toward the stairway; but the instant the foremost set foot upon it, two shots were fired from above, evidently not without effect; for with an oath he staggered back and fell into the arms of his comrades.
He was borne away by two of them, while the others returned the fire at random, for they could not see their adversaries.
The balls whistled past Mrs. Leland and her son, but they stood their ground bravely, and as two of their assailants attempted to ascend the stairs; fired again and again driving them back for a moment.
At the same time sounds of conflict came from the rear of the dwelling,--an exchange of shots, whoops and yells, the hurried tramp of many feet, and the yelping, barking and howling of the dogs--and instantly the hall was cleared, every man there hastening to join in this new struggle, apparently satisfied that their intended victim was endeavoring to make his escape in that direction.
Seeing this, Mrs. Leland and her son ran to a window overlooking the new scene of contest, their hearts beating between hope and fear.
Mr. Leland had slipped cautiously out of the back door, and, revolver in hand, stepped into the yard, but only to find himself surrounded by his foes.
They attempted to seize him, but eluding their grasp, he fired right and left, several shots in succession, the others returning his fire, and following in hot pursuit.
There was no moon that night, and the darkness and a simple suit of black, were favorable to Leland, for while the long white gowns of the Ku Klux not only trammelled their movements, but rendered each an easy target for his shot, they could take but uncertain aim at him, and on gaining the woods, he was soon lost to their view in the deepened gloom of its recesses.
But the balls had been falling about him like hailstones, and as the sounds of pursuit grew fainter, he found himself bleeding profusely from a wound in the leg. He dropped behind a fallen tree, and partially stanched the wound with some leaves which he bound on with a handkerchief, fortunately left in his coat pocket on retiring that night.
This was scarcely accomplished, when sounds of approaching footsteps and voices told him the danger was not yet over.
He crouched close in his hiding place, and hardly dared breathe as they passed and repassed, some almost stepping on him. But he remained undiscovered, and at length they abandoned the search, and returning to the vicinity of the house, gathered up their wounded and went away.
Yet Leland felt that it was not safe for him to venture back to his home, as they might return at any moment; but to remain where he was with his wound undressed was almost certain death.
He resolved to accept Mr. Travilla's offered hospitality, if his strength would carry him so far, and was rising to make the attempt, when the cracking of a dead branch told him that some living thing was near, and he fell back again, listening intently for the coming footsteps.
"Robert! Robert!" called a low tremulous voice.
"O Mary, is it you?" he responded, in low but joyous accents, and the next moment his wife's arms were about his neck, her tears warm upon his cheek, while Archie stood sobbing beside them.
"Thank God, thank God that you are alive!" she said, "But are you unhurt?"
"No, I am bleeding fast from a wound in my leg," Leland answered faintly.
"I've brought lint and bandages," she said, "let me bind it up as well as I can in the dark."
"Daren't we strike a light?" asked Archie.
"No, my son, it might bring them on us again, and we must speak low too."
"Yes, father; but oh what will you do? you can't come back home again?"
"No; I must go to Ion at once, while I can do so under cover of the darkness. Travilla has offered to hide me there. Archie, my brave boy, I can trust you with this secret."
"Father, they shall kill me before I'll tell it."
"I trust you will not be tried so far," Leland said with emotion. "I would not save my life at the sacrifice of yours. I leave your mother in your care, my boy; be dutiful and affectionate to her, and kind to your little brother and sisters. Mary, dear, you and Archie will have to manage the plantation in my absence," and he went on to give some directions.
"I will do my best," she said tearfully, "and as we have been for months past frequent visitors at Ion, I can surely go to see you there occasionally without exciting suspicion."
"Yes, I think so."
"Father," said Archie, "you can never walk to Ion; let me bring my pony and help you to mount him; then I will lead him to Ion and bring him back again."
"That is a bright thought; we will do so, if you can saddle him in the dark and bring him here very quietly."
"I'll try, father," and the boy hastened away in the direction of the stables.
He returned sooner than they dared hope, with the pony saddled and bridled. Husband and wife bade a mournful adieu. Mr. Leland mounted with his son's assistance, and silently they threaded their way through the woods to Ion.
"Hoo! hoo! hoo!" the cry came in loud and clear through the open windows of the bedroom of the master and mistress of Ion, and startled them both from their slumbers.
"Hoo, hoo! hoo!" it came again, and with a light laugh, Elsie said, "Ah it is only an owl; but to my sleeping ear it seemed like a human cry of distress. But Edward--"
He had sprung from the bed and was hurrying on his clothes. "I doubt if it is not, little wife," he said. "It is the signal of distress Leland and I had agreed upon, and he may be in sore need of aid."
"Let me go with you!" she cried tremulously, hastening to don dressing-gown and slippers. "Shall I strike a light?"
"No, not till we go down below where the shutters are closed. There is no knowing what foe may be lurking near."
Seizing his revolvers, he left the room as he spoke, she following close behind, a pistol in one hand, a lamp and match-box in the other.
Silently they groped their way over the stairs, through the halls and corridors, till they reached a side door, which Mr. Travilla cautiously unbarred.
"Who is there?" he asked scarcely above his breath.
"I, sir," and Mr. Leland stepped in and fell fainting to the floor.
Elsie had set her lamp upon a table, and laid her pistol beside it, and while her husband carefully secured the door again, she struck a light and brought it near.
Together they stooped over the prostrate form.
"He is not dead?" she asked with a shudder.
"No, no: only a faint; but, see, he is wounded! Your keys, wife!"
"Here," she said, taking them from her pocket, where, with rare presence of mind, she had thrust them ere leaving her room.
They hastened to apply restoratives, and bind up the wound more thoroughly than Mrs. Leland had been able to do it.
Restored to consciousness, Leland gave a brief account of the affair, refreshed himself with food and drink set before him by Elsie's fair hands, and then was conducted by Mr. Travilla to an upper room in a wing of the building, dating back to the old days of Indian warfare. It was distant from the apartments in use by the family, and had a large closet entered by a concealed door in the wainscoting.
"Here I think you will be safe," remarked his host. "No one but my wife and myself yet knows of your coming, and it shall be kept secret from all but Aunt Chloe and Uncle Joe, two tried and faithful servants. Except Dr. Barton; he is safe and will be needed to extract the ball."
"Yes; and my wife and boy and the Dinsmores," added Leland with a faint smile. "Travilla, my good friend, I can never thank you enough for this kindness."
"Tut, man! 'tis nothing! are we not told to lay down our lives for the brethren? Let me help you to bed; I fear that leg will keep you there for some days."
"I fear so indeed, but am sincerely thankful to have gotten off so well," replied Leland, accepting the offered assistance.
"A most comfortable, nay luxurious prison cell," he remarked cheerily, glancing about upon the elegant and tasteful furniture, "truly the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places."
Mr. Travilla smiled. "We will do what we can to make amends for the loss of liberty. It can not be far from daybreak now: I will remove the light, throw open the shutters and leave you to rest. You must of course be anxious about your family. I will ride over to Fairview and bring you news of them within the hour."