Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"Revenge at first though sweet, Bitter ere long, back on itself recoils." --MILTON.
George Boyd, who was of most vindictive temper, had laid his plans for the night of the raid upon Ion, to wreak his vengeance not upon Travilla only, but also upon the woman on whose clothing he had left the impress of his bloody hand.
With this in view, he went first to the kitchen department where, as he had learned through the gossip of the servants, she now passed the night, intending afterward to have a hand in the brutal flogging to be meted out to Mr. Travilla. He headed the attacking party there, and it was he who received upon his person the full broadside from Aunt Dicey's battery of soap ladles.
The pain was horrible, the scorching mass clinging to the flesh and burning deeper and deeper as he was borne shrieking away in the arms of his comrades.
"Oh take it off! take it off! I'm burning up, I tell you!" he yelled as they carried him swiftly down the avenue; but they hurried on, seemingly unmindful of his cries, mingled though they were with oaths and imprecations, nor paused till they had reached the shelter of the woods at some little distance on the opposite side of the road.
"Curse you!" he said between his clenched teeth, as they laid him down at the foot of a tree, "curse you! for keeping me in this agony. Help me off with these--duds. Unbutton it, quick! quick! I'm burning up, I tell you; and my hands are nearly as bad as my face. Oh! oh! you fiends! do you want to murder me outright? you're bringing all the skin with it!" he roared, writhing in unendurable torture, as they dragged off the disguise. "Oh kill me! Bill, shoot me through the head and put me out of this torment, will you?"
"No, no, I daren't. Come, come, pluck up courage and bear it like a man."
"Bear it indeed! I only wish you had it to bear. I tell you it can't be borne! Water, water, for the love of heaven! carry me to the river and throw me in. My eyes are put out; they burn like balls of fire."
"Stop that yelling, will you!" cried a voice from a little distance, "you'll betray us. We're whipped, and there's troops coming up too."
"Yes, heard their tramp, tramp distinctly ramble of artillery too. Can't be more'n a mile off, if that. Hurry, boys, no time to lose! Who's this groaning at such an awful rate? What's the matter?"
"Scalded; horribly scalded."
"He ain't the only one, though maybe he's the worst. And Blake's killed outright; two or three more, I believe; some with pretty bad pistol-shot wounds. Tell you they made warm work for us. There's been a traitor among us; betrayed our plans and put 'em on their guard."
He concluded with a torrent of oaths and fearful imprecations upon the traitor, whoever he might be.
"Hist!" cried the one Boyd had addressed as Bill, "hist boys! the bugle call! they're on us. Stop your noise, Boyd, can't you!" as the latter, seized, and borne onward again, not too gently, yelled and roared with redoubled vigor: "Be quiet or you'll have 'em after us in no time."
"Shoot me through the head then: it's the only thing that'll help me to stop it."
Mr. Lilburn, keeping well in the shadow of the trees, had hurried after the retreating foe, and concealing himself behind a clump of bushes close to the gate, caused his bugle note to sound in their ears as if coming from a point some half a mile distant.
Convinced that a detachment of United States troops were almost upon them, those carrying the dead and wounded dashed into the wood with their burdens, while in hot haste the others mounted and away, never drawing rein until they had put several miles between them and the scene of their attempted outrage.
Meantime those in the wood, moving as rapidly as possible under the circumstances, were plunging deeper and deeper into its recesses.
There was an occasional groan or half suppressed shriek from others of the wounded, but Boyd's cries were incessant and heart-rending, till a handkerchief was suddenly thrust into his mouth with a muttered exclamation, "Necessity knows no law! it's to save your own life and liberty as well as ours."
At length, well nigh spent with their exertions, the bearers paused, resting their burdens for a moment upon the ground, while they listened intently for the sounds of pursuit.
"We've baffled 'em, I think," panted Bill, "I don't hear no more of that--tramp, tramp, and the bugle's stopped too."
"That's so and I reckon we're pretty safe now," returned another voice. "But what's to be done with these fellows? where'll we take 'em?"
"To Rood's still-house," was the answer. "It's about half a mile further on, and deep in the woods. And I say you, Tom Arnold, pull off your disguise and go after Dr. Savage as fast as you can. Tell him to come to the still-house on the fleetest horse he can get hold of; and bring along everything necessary to dress scalds and pistol-shot wounds. Say there's no time to lose or Boyd'll die on our hands. Now up with your load, boys, and on again."
The voice had a tone of command and the orders were instantly obeyed.
The still-house was an old, dilapidated frame building, whose rude accommodations differed widely from those to which, save during his army life, Boyd had been accustomed from infancy.
They carried him in and laid him down upon a rough pallet of straw furnished with coarse cotton sheets and an army blanket or two, not over clean.
But in his dire extremity of pain he heeded naught of this, and his blinded eyes could not see the bare rafters overhead, the filthy uncarpeted floor, the few broken chairs and rude board seats, or the little unpainted pine table with its bit of flickering, flaming tallow candle, stuck in an old bottle.
His comrades did what they could for his relief; but it was not much, and their clumsy handling was exquisite torture to the raw, quivering flesh, and his entreaties that they would put him out of his misery at once, by sending a bullet through his brain, were piteous to hear. They had taken his arms from him, or he would have destroyed himself.
The room was filled with doleful sounds,--the groans and sighs of men in sore pain, but his rose above all others.
Dr. Savage arrived at length, but half drunk, and, an unskillful surgeon at his best, made but clumsy work with his patients on this occasion.
Yet the applications brought, in time, some slight alleviation of even Boyd's unendurable agony; his cries grew fainter and less frequent, till they ceased altogether, and like the other wounded he relieved himself only with an occasional moan or groan.
The doctor had finished his task, and lay in a drunken sleep on the floor. The uninjured raiders had followed his example, the candle had burned itself out and all was darkness and silence save the low, fitful sounds of suffering.
To Boyd sleep was impossible, the pain of his burns was still very great; especially in his eyes, the injury to which he feared must result in total blindness. How could he bear it? he asked himself, to go groping his way through life in utter darkness? Horrible! horrible! he would not endure it; they had put the means of self-destruction out of his way now, but on the first opportunity to get hold of a pistol, he would blow his own brains out and be done with this agony. The Bible was a fable; death an eternal sleep; he had been saying it for years, till he thought his belief--or more correctly unbelief--firmly fixed: but now the early teachings of a pious mother came back to him and he trembled with the fear that they might be true.
"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment." "Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God." "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Fire, fire! oh how unendurable he had found it! dare he risk its torment throughout the endless ages of eternity? Self-destruction might be but a plunge into deeper depths of anguish: from which there could be no return.
For days and weeks he lay in his miserable hiding place, almost untended save for the doctor's visits, and the bringing of his meals by one or another of his confederates, who would feed him with a rough sort of kindness, then go away again, leaving him to the solitary companionship of his own bitter thoughts.
He longed for the pleasant society and gentle ministrations of his aunt, and he knew that if sent for she would come to him, and that his secret would be safe with her; but alas, how could he bear that she should know of his crime and its punishment? She who had so earnestly besought him to forsake his evil ways and live in peace and love with all men: she who had warned him again and again that "the way of transgressors is hard," and that "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." She who had loved, cared for, and watched over him with almost a mother's undying, unalterable tenderness and devotion.
How ungrateful she would deem his repeated attempt against the home and husband of one whom she loved as her own child. She would not reprove him, she would not betray him, but he would know that in her secret heart she condemned him as a guilty wretch, a disgrace to her and all his relatives; and that would be worse, far worse to his proud spirit than the dreary loneliness of his present condition, and the lack of the bodily comforts she would provide.
No, he would bear his bitter fate as best he might, and though he had proved the truth of her warning words, she should never know it, if he could keep it from her.
Troops had arrived in the neighborhood the day after the raid on Ion; so to Boyd's other causes of distress was added the constant fear of detection and apprehension. This was one reason why the visits of his confreres were few and short.
The Klan was said to have disbanded and outrages had ceased, but an investigation was going on and search being made for the guilty parties; also United States revenue officers were known to be in quest of illicit distilleries; to which class this one of Rood's belonged.
"What's the news?" asked Boyd one morning while Savage was engaged in dressing his hurts.
"Very bad; you'll have to get out of this at once if you don't want to be nabbed. A jail might be more comfortable in some respects, eh, old boy? but I s'pose you prefer liberty.
"'Better to sit in Freedom's hall, With a cold damp floor, and a mouldering wall, Than to bend the neck or to bow the knee In the proudest palace of Slavery.'
"Fine sentiment, eh, Boyd?"
The doctor was just drunk enough to spout poetry without knowing or caring whether it was exactly apropos or not.
"Very fine, though not quite to the point, it strikes me," answered Boyd, wincing under the not too gentle touch of the inebriate's shaking hand. "But how am I to get out of this? blind and nearly helpless as I am?"
"Well, sir, we've planned it all out for you--never forsake a brother in distress, you know. There's a warrant out for Bill Dobbs and he has to skedaddle too. He starts for Texas to-night, and will take charge of you."
Savage went on to give the details of the plan, then left with a promise to return at night-fall. He did so, bringing Dobbs and Smith with him. Boyd's wounds were attended to again, Dobbs looking on to learn the modus operandi; then the invalid, aided by Smith on one side and Dobbs on the other, was conducted to an opening in the woods where a horse and wagon stood in readiness, placed in it, Dobbs taking a seat by his side and supporting him with his arm, and driven a few miles along an unfrequented road to a little country station, where they took the night train going south.
The conductor asked no questions; merely exchanged glances with Dobbs, and seeing him apparently in search of a pin in the inside of his coat, opened his own and handed him one, then passed on through the car.
Boyd was missed from the breakfast table at Ashlands on the morning after the raid upon Ion. His aunt sent a servant to his room to see if he had overslept himself.
The man returned with the report that "Marse George" was not there and that his bed had certainly not been occupied during the night.
Still as his movements were at all times rather uncertain, and the ladies, having had no communication with the Oaks or Ion on the previous day, were in ignorance of all that had transpired there, his absence occasioned them no particular anxiety or alarm. The meal went on, enlivened by cheerful chat.
"Mamma," said Herbert, "it's a lovely morning: do give us a holiday and let's drive over to the Oaks; we haven't seen Aunt Rose and the rest for ever so long."
The other children joined in the petition; grandma put in a word of approval, and mamma finally consented, if the truth were told nothing loth to give, or to share the treat.
The carriage was ordered at once, and they set out shortly after leaving the table.
Arrived at their destination they found Mrs. Murray on the veranda, looking out with an eager, anxious face.
"Ah!" she said, coming forward as the ladies alighted, "I didna expect--my sight is no so keen as in my younger days, and I thocht till this moment 'twas Mr. Dinsmore's carriage, bringing them hame again after their dreadfu' nicht at Ion."
Both ladies turned pale, and old Mrs. Carrington leaned heavily upon her daughter-in-law for support. Her lips moved but no sound same from them, and she gasped for breath.
"Oh tell us!" cried Sophie, "what, what has happened?"
The children too were putting the same question in varying tones and words.
"The Ku Klux," faltered the housekeeper. "An' ye hadna heard aboot it, my leddies?"
"No, no, not a word," exclaimed Sophie, "but see, my mother is fainting. Help me to carry her into the house."
"No, no, I can walk: I am better now, thank you," said Mrs. Carrington, in low, faltering tones, "Just give me the support of your arm, Mrs. Murray."
They led her in between them, and laid her on a sofa.
"And that's where George was!" she sighed, closing her eyes wearily. Then half starting up, "Tell me, oh tell me, was--was--Mr. Travilla injured?"
"No, my leddy, he had been warned, and was ready for them."
"Thank God! thank God!" came faintly from the white quivering lips, as she sank back upon her pillow again, and two great tears stealing from beneath the closed eyelids rolled slowly down the furrowed cheeks.
"You have heard the particulars then?" said Sophie, addressing the housekeeper. "And my brother and sister were there?"
"Yes, ma'am, and Master Horace, and Miss Rosie too. Yes; and some of the men-servants. Mr. Dinsmore's man John was one o' them, and he's come back, and frae him I learned a' was richt with our friends."
"Oh call him in and let me hear all he can tell!" entreated the old lady.
The request was immediately complied with, and John gave a graphic and in the main correct account of the whole affair.
His tale was to all his auditors one of intense, thrilling, painful interest. They lost not a word and when he had finished his story the old lady cross-questioned him closely. "Did he know who had warned Mr. Travilla? were any of the raiders recognized?"
Both of these questions John answered in the negative. "At least," he corrected himself, "he had not heard that any one was recognized: they were all completely disguised, and they had carried away their dead and wounded; both the shot and the scalded."
At that moment Mr. Dinsmore's family carriage drove up, and John bowed and retired.
There were tearful embraces between the sisters and other relatives, and between Rose and the elder Mrs. Carrington.
"I feel as if you had been in terrible danger." said Sophie, wiping her eyes. "John has just been telling us all about it. What a mercy that Mr. Travilla was warned in time!"
"By whom, Horace? if it be not an improper question," asked the old lady, turning to Mr. Dinsmore.
"By a detective, Mrs. Carrington, who was secretly present at their meeting and heard all the arrangements."
"He then knew who were the members appointed to be of the attacking party?"
Mr. Dinsmore bowed assent.
"Was George one?"
"My dear madam I did not see the detective, but their raids are usually made by men coming from a distance."
"You are evading my question. I implore you to tell me all you know. George did not come down to breakfast; had evidently not occupied his bed last night, and this seems to explain his absence. I know, too, that he has bitterly hated Travilla since--since his arrest and imprisonment. Will you not tell me? Any certainty is to be preferred to this--this horrible suspense. I would know the worst."
Thus adjured Mr. Dinsmore told her George had been appointed one of the party, but that he could not say that he was actually there. Also he suppressed the fact that the appointment had been by George's own request.
She received the communication in silence, but the anguish in her face told that she felt little doubt of her nephew's guilt. And as days and weeks rolled on bringing no news of him, her suspicions settled into a sad certainty; with the added sorrowful doubt whether he were living or dead.