Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"So false is faction, and so smooth a liar, As that it never had a side entire." --DANIEL.
By the first of December Mr. Travilla had entirely recovered from the ill effects of his accident--which had occurred early in November--and life at Ion resumed its usual quiet, regular, but pleasant routine, varied only by frequent exchange of visits with the other families of the connection, and near neighbors, especially the Lelands.
Because of the presence among them of their northern relatives, this winter was made a gayer one than either of the last two, which had seen little mirth or jovialty among the older ones, subdued as they were by recent, repeated bereavements. Time had now somewhat assuaged their grief, and only the widowed ones still wore the garb of mourning.
A round of family parties for old and young filled up the holidays; and again just before the departure of the Rosses and Allisons in the early spring, they were all gathered at Ion for a farewell day together.
Some of the blacks in Mr. Leland's employ had been beaten and otherwise maltreated only the previous night by a band of armed and disguised men, and the conversation naturally turned upon that occurrence.
"So the Ku Klux outrages have begun in our neighborhood," remarked Mr. Horace Dinsmore, and went on to denounce their proceedings in unmeasured terms.
The faces of several of his auditors flushed angrily. Enna shot a fierce glance at him, muttering "scalawag," half under her breath, while his old father said testily, "Horace, you speak too strongly. I haven't a doubt the rascals deserved all they got. I'm told one of them at least, had insulted some lady, Mrs. Foster, I believe, and that the others had been robbing hen-roosts and smoke-houses."
"That may perhaps be so, but at all events every man has a right to a fair trial," replied his son, "and so long as there is no difficulty in bringing such matters before the civil courts, there is no excuse for Lynch law, which is apt to visit its penalties upon the innocent as well as the guilty."
At this, George Boyd, who, as the nephew of the elder Mrs. Carrington and a member of the Ashlands household, had been invited with the others, spoke warmly in defence of the organization, asserting that its main object was to defend the helpless, particularly in guarding against the danger of an insurrection of the blacks.
"There is not the slightest fear of that," remarked Mr. Travilla, "there may be some few turbulent spirits among them, but as a class they are quiet and inoffensive."
"Begging your pardon, sir," said Boyd, "I find them quite the reverse;--demanding their wages directly they are due, and not satisfied with what one chooses to give. And that reminds me that you, sir, and Mr. Horace Dinsmore, and that carpet-bagger of Fairview are entirely too liberal in the wages you pay."
"That is altogether our own affair, sir," returned Mr. Dinsmore, haughtily. "No man or set of men shall dictate to me as to how I spend my money. What do you say, Travilla?"
"I take the same position; shall submit to no such infringement of my liberty to do as I will with my own."
Elsie's eyes sparkled: she was proud of her husband and father. Rose, too, smiled approval.
"Sounds very fine," growled Boyd, "but I say you've no right to put up the price of labor."
"Papa," cried young Horace, straightening himself and casting a withering look upon Boyd, "I hope neither you nor Brother Edward will ever give in to them a single inch. Such insolence!"
"Let us change the subject," said old Mr. Dinsmore, "it is not an agreeable one."
It so happened that a few days after this Messrs. Dinsmore, Travilla and Leland were talking together just within the entrance to the avenue at Ion when Wilkins Foster, George Boyd and Calhoun Conly came riding by.
They brought their horses to a walk as they neared the gate, and Foster called out sneeringly, "Two scalawags and a carpet-bagger! fit company for each other."
"So we think, sir," returned Travilla coolly, "though we do not accept the epithets you so generously bestow upon us."
"It is an easy thing to call names; any fool is equal to that," said Mr. Leland, in a tone of unruffled good-nature.
"True; and the weapon of vituperation is generally used by those who lack brains for argument or are upon the wrong side," observed Mr. Dinsmore.
"Is that remark intended to apply to me sir?" asked Foster, drawing himself up with an air of hauteur and defiance.
"Not particularly: but if you wish to prove yourself skilled in the other and more manly weapon, we are ready to give you the opportunity."
"Yes; come in, gentlemen, and let us have a free and friendly discussion," said Mr. Travilla.
Boyd and Conly at once accepted the invitation, but Foster, reining in his horse in the shade of a tree at the gate, said, "No, thank you; I don't care to alight, can talk from the saddle as well as anyway. I call you scalawags, Messrs. Dinsmore and Travilla, because though natives of the South, you have turned against her."
"Altogether a mistake," observed Travilla.
"I deny the charge and call upon you to prove it," said Mr. Dinsmore.
"Easy task; you kept away and took no part in our struggle for independence."
"That is we (I speak for Travilla as well as myself) had no share in the effort to overthrow the best government in the world, the hope of the down-trodden and oppressed of all the earth a struggle which we foresaw would prove, as it has, the almost utter destruction of our beloved South. They who inaugurated secession were no true friends to her."
"Sir!" cried Boyd, with angry excitement, "ours was as righteous a cause as that of our Revolutionary fathers."
Mr. Dinsmore shook his head. "They fought against unbearable tyranny; and that after having exhausted every other means of obtaining a redress of their grievances; and we had suffered no oppression at the hands of the general government."
"Hadn't we?" interrupted Foster fiercely. "Were the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law carried out by the North? didn't some of the Northern States pass laws in direct opposition to it? and didn't Yankee abolitionists come down here interfering with our institutions and enticing our negroes to run away, or something worse?"
"Those were the acts of private individuals, and individual states, entirely unsanctioned by the general government, which really had always rather favored us than otherwise."
"But uncle," said Conly, "there would have been no secession but for the election of Lincoln, an abolition candidate."
"And who elected him? who but the Democrats of the South? They made a division in the Democratic party, purposely to enable the Republicans to elect their man, that they might use his election as a pretext for secession."
A long and hot discussion followed, each one present taking more or less part in it. It was first the causes of the war, then the war itself; after that the reconstruction policy of Congress, which was bitterly denounced by Foster and Boyd.
"Never was a conquered people treated so shamefully!" cried the former, "it is a thing hitherto unheard of in the history of the world, that gentlemen should be put under the rule of their former slaves."
"Softly, softly, sir," said Leland, "surely you forget that the terms proposed by the fourteenth amendment, substantially left the power of the State governments in your hands, and enabled you to limit suffrage and office to the white race. But you rejected it, and refused to take part in the preliminary steps for reorganizing your State governments. So the blacks acquired the right to vote and hold office: they were, as a class, well meaning, but ignorant, and their old masters refusing to accept office at their hands, or advise them in regard to their new duties, they fell an easy prey to unscrupulous white men, whose only care was to enrich themselves by robbing the already impoverished states, through corrupt legislation.[A] Now, sir, who was it that really put you under the rule of your former slaves, if you are there?"
[Footnote A: See report of Congressional Committee of Investigation]
Foster attempted no reply, but merely reiterated his assertion that no conquered people had ever been so cruelly used; to which Messrs. Travilla, Dinsmore and Leland replied with a statement of facts, i.e., that before the war was fairly over, the Government began to feed, clothe, shelter and care for the destitute of both colors, and millions were distributed in supplies; that in 1865 a bureau was organized for this purpose, and expended in relief, education and aid to people of both colors, and all conditions, thirteen millions, two hundred and thirty thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven dollars, and forty cents; while millions more were given by charitable associations and citizens of the North: that the Government sold thousands of farm animals in the South, at low rates, and large quantities of clothing and supplies at merely nominal prices, that there had been no executions for treason, no confiscation of lands, but that some estates abandoned by the owners during the war, and taken possession of and cultivated by the Government, had been returned in better condition than they would have been in if permitted to lie idle; that the railroads of the South were worn out by the war, woodwork rotted, rails and machinery worn out; that the Government forces as they advanced, captured the lines, repaired the tracks, rebuilt bridges and restored and renewed the rolling stock; that at the close of the war the Government might have held all these lines, but instead turned them over to the stockholders, sold them the rolling stock at low rates, and on long time, and advanced millions of dollars to the southern railroads; that there were debts estimated, when the war began, at three hundred millions of dollars due the merchants of the North; that they compounded with their southern debtors, abating more than half their dues, and extending time for the payment of the remainder; that a bankrupt act was passed enabling those hopelessly involved to begin business anew. Sound institutions took the places of the old broken banks, and United States currency that of Confederate notes, etc. etc.[B]
[Footnote B: See Reports of Congressional Committee of Investigation.]
Foster attempted no denial of these facts, but spoke bitterly of corruption among the state government officials, resulting in ruinous taxation etc.
His antagonists freely admitted that there had been frauds and great extravagance, yet claimed that neither party was responsible for these, but members of both and persons belonging to neither who cared only for their own gains.[C] "And who," they asked, "are responsible for their success in obtaining the positions which enable them thus to rob the community?"
[Footnote C: See Reports of Congressional Committee of Investigation.]
"They had no vote from me," said Foster. "But, I say it again, we have been shamefully treated; if they'd confiscated my property and cut off my head, I'd have suffered less than I have as things have gone."
"Why not petition Congress for those little favors? Possibly it may not yet be too late;" returned Leland, laughing.
This ended the talk, Foster put spurs to his horse and rode off in a rage.
"Come, Conly, we've surely had enough of this Republican discourse: let us go also," said Boyd, and with a haughty wave of his hand to the others, he hurried into the road and remounted.
But Conly did not follow. Elsie joined the group at that moment and laying her hand on his arm, said with one of her sweetest smiles, "Don't go, Cal, you must stay and take tea with us; it is already on the table."
"Thank you, I will," he said with a pleased look.
He was one of his cousin's ardent admirers, thinking her the most beautiful, intelligent, fascinating woman he had ever seen.
She extended her invitation to Leland and Boyd, Mr. Travilla seconding it warmly, but it was courteously declined by both, and each went his way.
"Papa, you will not forsake us?" Elsie said gayly, putting both hands into his and smiling up into his face, her sweet soft eyes, brimful of fond, filial affection; "but you know you are at home and need no invitation."
"Yes," he said, returning the smile, and holding the hands fast for a moment, "I am at home and shall stay for an hour or so."