Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness, Wherein the pregnant enemy does much." --SHAKESPEARE'S TWELFTH NIGHT.
"Will you walk into the library, gentlemen? I have just received a package of new books, which, perhaps, you would like to examine," said Mr. Travilla to his guests as they left the tea-table.
"Presently, thank you," Mr. Dinsmore answered, catching Elsie's eye, and perceiving that she had something for his private ear.
She took his arm and drew him out to her flower garden, while her husband and Calhoun sought the library.
"Papa, I want a word with you about Cal. I do not like Foster and Boyd; that is, they seem to me to be unprincipled men, of violent temper and altogether very bad associates for him; and you must have noticed how intimate he is with them of late."
"Yes, I regret it, but have no authority to forbid the intimacy."
"I know; but, papa, you have great influence; he is proud to be known as your nephew; and don't you think you might be able to induce him to give them up for some better friend; my brother, for instance? Papa, he is twenty-one now, and are not his principles sufficiently fixed to enable him to lead Cal and Arthur, doing them good instead of being injured by association with them?"
"Yes, you are right; Horace is not one to be easily led, and Calhoun is. I am glad you have spoken and reminded me of my duty."
"My dear father, please do not think I was meaning to do that," she cried, blushing, "it would be stepping out of my place. But Edward and I have had several talks about Cal of late, and decided that we will make him very welcome here, and try to do him good. Edward suggested, too, what a good and helpful friend Horace might be to him, if you approved, and I said I would speak to you first, and perhaps to my brother afterward."
"Quite right. I think Horace will be very willing. I should be loth to have him drawn into intimacy with Boyd or Foster, but as he likes neither their conduct nor their principles, I have little fear of that."
They sauntered about the garden a few moments longer, then rejoined the others, who were still in the library.
The children were romping with each other and Bruno on the veranda without; the merry shouts, the silvery laughter coming pleasantly in through the open windows.
"How happy they seem, Cousin Elsie," remarked Calhoun, turning to her.
"Yes, they are," she answered, smiling. "You are fond of children, Cal?"
"Yes; suppose you let me join them."
"Suppose we all do," suggested Mr. Dinsmore, seeing Travilla lay aside his book, and listen with a pleased smile to the glad young voices.
"With all my heart," said the latter as he rose and led the way, "I find nothing more refreshing after the day's duties are done, than a romp with my children."
For the next half hour they were all children together; then Aunt Chloe and Dinah came to take the little ones to bed, and Elsie, after seeing her guests depart, followed to the nursery.
Mr. Dinsmore rode over to Roselands with his nephew, conversing all the way in a most entertaining manner, making no allusion to politics or to Boyd or Foster.
Calhoun was charmed, and when his uncle urged him to visit the Oaks more frequently, observing that he had been there but once since Horace's return from college, and proposing that he should begin by coming to dinner the next day and staying as long as suited his convenience, the invitation was accepted with alacrity and delight.
On returning home Mr. Dinsmore explained his views and wishes, with regard to Calhoun, to his wife and son, who at once cordially fell in with them in doing all they could to make his visit enjoyable. In fact, so agreeable did he find it that his stay was prolonged to several days.
The morning papers one day brought news of several fresh Ku Klux outrages, beatings, shootings, hanging.
Mr. Dinsmore read the account aloud at the breakfast table, and again made some remarks against the organization.
Calhoun listened in silence, then as Mr. Dinsmore laid the paper down, "Uncle," said he doubtfully, and with downcast troubled look, "don't you think the reconstruction acts form some excuse for the starting of such an organisation?"
"Let the facts answer," returned Mr. Dinsmore: "the organization existed as early as 1866; the reconstruction acts were passed in March, 1867."[D]
[Footnote D: See Reports of Congressional Committee of Investigation.]
"Ah, yes, sir, I had forgotten the dates; I've heard that reason given; and another excuse is the fear of a conspiracy among the negroes to rob and murder the whites: and I think you can't deny that they are thievish."
"I don't deny, Cal, that some individuals among them have been guilty of lawless acts, particularly stealing articles of food; but they are poor and ignorant; have been kept in ignorance so long that we cannot reasonably expect in them a very strong sense of the rights of property and the duty of obedience to law; yet I have never been able to discover any indications of combined lawlessness among them. On the contrary they are themselves fearful of attack."
"Well, sir, then there were those organizations in the other--the Republican party; the Union Leagues and Redstrings. I've been told the Ku Klux Klan was gotten up in opposition to them."
"I presume so, but Union Leaguers and Redstrings do not go about in disguise, robbing, beating, murdering."
"But then the carpet-baggers," said Calhoun, waxing warm, "putting mischief into the negroes' heads, getting into office and robbing the state in the most shameless wholesale manner; they're excuse enough for the doings of the Ku Klux."
"Ah!" said his uncle, "but you forget that their organization was in existence before the robberies of the state began: also that they do not trouble corruptionists: and why? because they are men of both parties; some of them men who direct and control, and might easily suppress the Klan. No, no, Cal, judged out of their own mouths, by their words to their victims, with some of whom I have conversed, their ruling motives are hostility to the Government, to the enjoyment of the negro of the rights given him by the amendments to the Constitution, and by the laws which they are organized to oppose.[E] Their real object is the overthrow of the State governments and the return of the negro to bondage. And tell me, Cal, do you look upon these midnight attacks of overpowering numbers of disguised men upon the weak and helpless, some of them women, as manly deeds? Is it a noble act for white men to steal from the poor ignorant black his mule, his arms, his crops, the fruit of his hard labor?"
[Footnote E: See Reports of Congressional Committee of Investigation.]
"No, sir," returned Calhoun half-reluctantly, his face flushing hotly.
"No, emphatically no, say I!" cried Horace, Jr., "what could be more base, mean, or cowardly?"
"You don't belong, do you, Cal?" asked Rosie, suddenly.
He dropped his knife and fork, his face fairly ablaze, "What--what could make you think that, Rosie? No, no, I--don't belong to any organization that acknowledges that name."
A suspicion for the first time flashed upon Mr. Dinsmore, a suspicion of the truth. Calhoun Conly was already a member of the White Brotherhood, the name by which the Klan was known among themselves, Ku Klux being the one given to the world at large; that thus they might avail themselves of the miserable, Jesuitical subterfuge Calhoun had just used.
He had been wheedled into joining it by Foster and Boyd, who utterly deceived him in regard to its objects. He had never taken part in the outrages and was now fully determined that he never would; resolving that while keeping its secrets, the penalty of the exposure of which was death, he would quietly withdraw and attend no more of its meetings. He understood the language of the searching look Mr. Dinsmore gave him and seized the first opportunity for a word in private, to vindicate himself.
"Uncle," he said with frank sincerity, "I am not free to tell you everything, as I could wish, but I hope you will believe me when I assure you that I never had any share in the violent doings of the Ku Klux, and never will."
Mr. Dinsmore bent upon him a second look of keen scrutiny. Conly bore it without flinching; and extending his hand, his uncle replied, "I think I understand the situation: but I will trust you, Cal, and not fear that in entertaining you here I am harboring a hypocrite and spy who may betray my family and myself into the hands of midnight assassins."
"Thanks, uncle, you shall never have cause to repent of your confidence," the lad answered with a flush of honest pride.
He returned to Roselands the next day, and went directly to an upper room, at some distance from those usually occupied by the family, from whence came the busy hum of a sewing machine.
The door was securely fastened on the inner side, but opened immediately in response to three quick, sharp taps of a pencil which Calhoun took from his pocket.
It was his mother's face that looked cautiously out upon him. "Oh, you have returned," she said in an undertone; "well, come in. I'm glad to see you."
He stepped in, and she locked the door again, and sitting down, resumed the work, which it seemed had been laid aside to admit him. She was making odd looking rolls of cotton cloth; stuffing them with cotton wool.
Mrs. Johnson, the only other person present, was seated before the sewing machine, stitching a seam in a long garment of coarse, white linen.
"How d'ye do, Cal?" she said, looking up for an instant to give him a nod.
He returned the greeting, and taking a chair by Mrs. Conly's side, "All well, mother?" he asked.
"Quite. You're just in time to tell me whether these are going to look right. You know we've never seen any, and have only your description to go by."
She held up a completed roll. It looked like a horn, tapering nearly to a point.
"I think so," he said; "but, mother, you needn't finish mine: I shall never use it."
"Calhoun Conly, what do you mean?" she cried, dropping the roll into her lap, and gazing at him with kindling eyes.
"You're not going to back out of it now?" exclaimed Enna, leaving her machine, and approaching him in sudden and violent anger. "You'd better take care, coward, they'll kill you if you turn traitor; and right they should too."
"I shall not turn traitor," he said quietly, "but neither shall I go any farther than I have gone. I should never have joined, if Boyd and Foster hadn't deceived me as to the objects of the organization."
"But you have joined, Cal, and I'll not consent to your giving it up," said his mother.
"I don't like to vex you, mother," he answered, reddening, "but--"
"But you'll have your own way, whether it displeases me or not? A dutiful son, truly."
"This is Horace's work, and he's a scalawag, if he is my brother," cried Enna, with growing passion, "but if I were you, Cal Conly, I'd be man enough to have an opinion of my own, and stick to it."
"Exactly what I'm doing, Aunt Enna. I went into the thing blindfold; I have found out what it really is--a cruel, cowardly, lawless concern--and I wash my hands of it and its doings."
Bowing ceremoniously he unlocked the door, and left the room.
Enna sprang to it and fastened it after him. "If he was my son, I'd turn him out of the house."
"Father would hardly consent," replied her sister, "and if he did, what good would it do? Horace or Travilla would take him in of course."
"Well, thank heaven, Boyd and Foster are made of sterner stuff and our labor's not all lost," said Enna, returning to her machine.
The two ladies had been spending many hours every day in that room for a week past, no one but Calhoun being admitted to their secrets, for whether in the room or out of it they kept the door always carefully locked.
The curiosity of servants and children was strongly excited, but vain had been all their questions and coaxing, futile every attempt to solve the mystery up to the present time.
But three or four days after Calhoun's return from the Oaks, the thought suggested itself to mischievous, prying Dick and his coadjutor Walter, that the key of some other lock in the house might fit that of the door they so ardently desired to open. They only waited for a favorable opportunity to test the question in the temporary absence of their mothers from that part of the building, and to their great joy discovered that the key of the bedroom they shared together was the duplicate of the one which had so long kept their masculine curiosity at bay.
It turned readily in the lock and with a smothered exclamation of delight they rushed in and glanced eagerly about.
At first they saw nothing in any way remarkable--the familiar furniture, the sewing machine, the work-table and baskets of their mothers, a few shreds of white cotton and linen, a scrap here and there of red braid littering the carpet near the machine, and the low rocking-chair used by Mrs. Conly.
"Pooh! nothing here to be so secret about," cried Walter, but Dick, nodding his head wisely said, "Let's look a little further. What's in that closet?"
They ran to it, opened the door, and started back in sudden momentary affright.
"'Taint alive," said Dick, the bolder of the two, quickly recovering himself; "horrid thing! I reckon I know what 'tis," and he whispered a few words in his companion's ear.
Walter gave a nod of acquiescence of the opinion.
"Here's another 'most finished," pursued Dick, dragging out and examining a bundle he found lying on the closet floor. (The one which had so startled them hung on the wall.) "We'll have some fun out of 'em one of these times when it's ready, eh, Wal?"
"Yes, but let's put 'em back, and hurry off now, for fear somebody should come and catch us. I'm afraid those folks in the drawing-room may go, and our mothers come up to their work again."
"So they might, to be sure," said Dick, rolling up the bundle and bestowing it in its former resting place. "We must be on the watch, Wal, or we'll miss our chance; they'll be sending them out o' this about as soon as they're finished."
"Yes. Who do you think they're for?"
(The boys scorned the rules of English grammar, and refused to be fettered by them. Was not theirs a land of free speech--for the aristocratic class to which they undoubtedly belonged?)
"Cal and Art, of course."
"Don't you believe it, Art cares for nothing but his books and Silverheels. Wasn't that a jolly birthday present, Dick? I wish Travilla and Cousin Elsie would remember ours the same way."
"Reckon I do. There, everything's just as we found it. Now let's skedaddle."