Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"A horrid spectre rises to my sight, Close by my side, and plain, and palpable In all good seeming and close circumstance As man meets man." --JOANNA BAILLIE.
It was a sultry summer night, silent and still, not a leaf stirring, hardly so much as the chirp of an insect to be heard. The moon looked down from a cloudless sky upon green lawns and meadows, fields and forests clothed in richest verdure; gardens, where bloomed lovely flowers in the greatest variety and profusion, filling the air in their immediate vicinity with an almost overpowering sweetness; a river flowing silently to the sea; cabins where the laborer rested from his toil, and lordlier dwellings where, perchance, the rich man tossed restlessly on his more luxurious couch.
Mr. and Mrs. Travilla had spent the earlier part of the evening at the Oaks, and after their return, tempted by the beauty of the night, had sat conversing together in the veranda long after their usual hour for retiring. Now they were both sleeping soundly.
Perhaps the only creature awake about the house or on the plantation, was Bungy the great watch dog, who, released from the chain that bound him during the day, was going his rounds keeping guard over his master's property.
A tiny figure, clothed in white, stole noiselessly from the house, flitted down the avenue, out into the road beyond, and on and on till lost to view in the distance. So light was the tread of the little bare feet, that Bungy did not hear it, nor was Bruno, sleeping on the veranda, aroused.
On and on it glided, the little figure, now in the shadow of the trees that skirted the road-side, now out in the broad moonbeams where they fell unimpeded upon dew-laden grass and dusty highway alike.
Ion had been left more than a mile behind, yet farther and farther the bit feetie were straying, farther from home and love, and safety, when a grotesque, hideous form suddenly emerged from a wood on the opposite side of the road.
Seemingly of gigantic stature, it wore a long, white garment, that, enveloping it from head to foot, trailed upon the ground, rattling as it moved, and glistening in the moonlight; the head was adorned with three immense horns, white, striped with red, a nose of proportional size, red eyes and eyebrows, and a wide, grinning red mouth, filled with horrible tusks, out of which roiled a long red tongue.
Catching sight of the small white form gliding along on the other side of the road, it uttered a low exclamation of mingled wonder, awe and superstitious dread.
But at that instant a distant sound was heard like the rumble of approaching wheels, and it stepped quickly behind a tree.
Another minute or so and a stage came rattling down the road, the hideous monster stepped boldly out from the shadow of the tree, there was the sharp crack of a rifle, and the driver of the stage tumbled from his high seat into the road. The horses started madly forward, but some one caught the reins and presently brought them to a standstill.
"Ku Klux!" exclaimed several voices, as the trailing, rattling white gown disappeared in the recesses of the wood.
The stage door was thrown open, three or four men alighted, and going to the body stooped over it, touched it, spoke to it, asking, "Are you badly hurt, Jones?"
But there was no answer.
"Dead, quite dead," said one.
"Yes, what shall we do with him?"
"Lift him into the stage and take him to the next town."
The last speaker took hold of the head of the corpse, the others assisted, and in a few moments the vehicle was on its way again with its load of living and dead.
No one had noticed the tiny white figure which now crouched behind a clump of bushes weeping bitterly and talking to itself, but, in a subdued way as if fearful of being overheard.
"Where am I? O mamma, papa, come and help your little Vi! I don't know how I got here. Oh, where are you, my own mamma?" A burst of sobs; then "Oh, I'm so 'fraid! and mamma can't hear me, nor papa; but Jesus can; I'll ask him to take care of me; and he will."
The small white hands folded themselves together and the low sobbing cry went up, "Dear Jesus, take care of your little Vi, and don't let anything hurt her; and please bring papa to take her home."
At Ion little Elsie woke and missed her sister. They slept together in a room opening into the nursery on one side, and the bedroom of their parents on the other. Doors and windows stood wide open and the moon gave sufficient light for the child to see at a glance that Vi was no longer by her side.
Slipping out of bed, she went softly about searching for her, thinking to herself the while, "She's walking in her sleep again, dear little pet, and I'm afraid she may get hurt; perhaps fall down stairs."
She had heard such fears expressed by her papa and mamma since of late Violet had several times risen and strayed about the house in a state of somnambulism.
Elsie passed from room to room growing more and more anxious and alarmed every moment at her continued failure to find any trace of the missing one. She must have help.
Dinah, who had care of the little ones, slept in the nursery. Going up to her bed, Elsie shook her gently.
"What's de matter, honey?" asked the girl, opening her eyes and raising herself to a sitting posture.
"Where's Violet? I can't find her."
"Miss Wi'let? aint she fas' asleep side o' you, Miss Elsie?"
"No, no, she isn't there, nor in any of mamma's rooms. I've looked through them all. Dinah where is she? We must find her: come with me, quick!"
Dinah was already out of bed and turning up the night lamp.
"I'll go all ober de house, honey," she said, "but 'spect you better wake yo' pa. He'll want to look for Miss Wi'let hisself."
Elsie nodded assent, and hastening to his side softly stroked his face with her hand, kissed him, and putting her lips close to his ear, whispered half sobbingly, "Papa, papa, Vi's gone: we can't find her."
He was wide awake instantly. "Run back to your bed, darling," he said: "and don't cry; papa will soon find her."
He succeeded in throwing on his clothes and leaving the room without rousing his wife. He felt some anxiety, but the idea that the child had left the house never entered his mind until a thorough search seemed to give convincing proof that she was not in it.
He went out upon the veranda. Bruno rose, stretched himself and uttered a low whine.
"Bruno, where is our little Violet?" asked Mr. Travilla, stooping to pat the dog's head and showing him the child's slipper, "lead the way, sir; we must find her." There was a slight tremble in his tones.
"Dinah," he said, turning to the girl, who stood sobbing in the doorway, "if your mistress wakes while I am gone, tell her not to be alarmed; no doubt with Bruno's help I shall very soon find the child and bring her safely back. See he has the scent already," as the dog who had been snuffing about suddenly started off at a brisk trot down the avenue.
Mr. Travilla hurried after, his fatherly heart beating with mingled hope and fear.
On and on they went closely following in the footsteps of the little runaway. The dog presently left the road that passed directly in front of Ion, and turned into another, crossing it at right angles, which was the stage route between the next town and the neighboring city.
It was now some ten or fifteen minutes since the stage had passed this spot bearing the dead body of the driver who had met his tragical end some quarter of a mile beyond.
The loud rumble of the wheels had waked little Vi, and as in a flash she had seen the whole--the horrible apparition in its glistening, rattling robes, step out from behind a tree and fire, and the tumble of its victim into the dusty road. Then she had sunk down upon the ground overpowered with terror.
But the thought of the almighty Friend who, she had been taught, was ever near and able to help, calmed her fears somewhat.
She was still on her knees sobbing out her little prayer over and over again, when a dark object bounded to her side, and Bruno's nose was thrust rather unceremoniously into her face.
"Bruno, you good Bruno!" she cried clasping her arms about his neck, "take me home! take me home!"
"Ah, papa will do that, now he has found his lost darling," said a loved voice, as a strong arm put aside the bushes, and grasped her slight form with a firm, but tender hold. "How came my little pet here so far away from home?" he asked, drawing her to his breast.
"I don't know, papa," she sobbed, nestling in his arms and clinging about his neck, her wet cheek laid close to his, "that carriage waked me, and I was 'way out here, and that dreadful thing was over there by a tree, and it shooted the man, and he tumbled off on the ground. O papa, hurry, hurry fast, and let's go home; it might come back and shoot us too."
"What thing, daughter?" he asked, soothing her with tender caresses, as still holding her to his breast, he walked rapidly toward home.
"Great big white thing, with horns, papa."
"I think my pet has been dreaming?"
"No, no, papa, I did see it, and it fired, and the man tumbled off, and the horses snorted and ran so fast; then they stopped, and the other mans came back, and I heard them say, 'He's killed; he's quite dead.' O papa, I'm so frightened!" and she clung to him with convulsive grasp, sobbing almost hysterically.
"There, there, darling: papa has you safe in his arms. Thank God for taking care of my little pet," he said, clasping her closer, and quickening his pace, while Bruno wagging his tail and barking joyously, gamboled about them, now leaping up to touch his tongue to the little dusty toes now bounding on ahead, and anon returning to repeat his loving caress; and so at last they arrived at home.
Mr. Travilla had scarcely left the house, ere the babe waked his mother. She missed her husband at once, and hearing a half smothered sob coming from the room occupied by her daughters; she rose and with the babe in her arms, hastened to ascertain the cause.
She found Elsie alone, crying on the bed with her face half hidden in the pillows.
"My darling, what is it?" asked the mother's sweet voice. "But where is Vi?"
"O, mamma, I don't know; that is the reason I can't help crying," said the child, raising herself and putting her arms about her mother's neck, as the latter sat down on the side of the bed. "But don't be alarmed, mamma, for papa has gone to find her."
"Where, daughter? she cannot have gone out of the house, surely?"
At this instant Dinah appeared and delivered her master's message.
To obey his injunction not to be alarmed, was quite impossible to the loving mother heart, but she endeavored to conceal her anxiety and to overcome it by casting her care on the Lord. The babe had fallen asleep again, and laying him gently down, she took Elsie in her arms and comforted her with caresses and words of hope and cheer.
"Mamma," said the little girl, "I cannot go to sleep again till papa comes back."
"No, I see you can't, nor can I so we will put on our dressing-gowns and slippers, and sit together at the window, to watch for him, and when we see him coming up the avenue with Vi in his arms, we will run to meet them."
So they did, and the little lost one, found again, was welcomed by mother and sister, and afterward by nurse and mammy, with tender, loving words, caresses and tears of joy.
Then Dinah carried her to the nursery, washed the soiled, tired little feet, changed the draggled night-gown for a fresh and clean one, and with many a hug and honeyed word, carried her back to bed, saying, as she laid her down in it, "Now, darlin', don't you git out ob heyah no mo' till mornin'."
"No, I'll hold her fast; and papa has locked the doors so she can't get out of these rooms," said Elsie, throwing an arm over Vi.
"Yes, hold me tight, tight" murmured Vi, cuddling down close to her sister, and almost immediately falling asleep, for she was worn out with fatigue and excitement.
Elsie lay awake some time longer, her young heart singing for joy over her recovered treasure, but at length fell asleep also, with the murmur of her parents' voices in her ears.
They were talking of Violet, expressing their gratitude to God that no worse consequences had resulted from her escapade, and consulting together how to prevent a repetition of it.
Mr. Travilla repeated to his wife the child's story of her awaking and what she had seen and heard.
"Oh my poor darling, what a terrible fright for her!" Elsie exclaimed, "but do you not think it must have been all a dream?"
"That was my first thought; but on further consideration I fear it may have been another Ku Klux outrage. I dare say, the disguise worn by them may answer to her description of 'the horrible thing that shooted the man;' I judge so from what I have heard of it."
"But who could have been the victim?" she asked with a shudder.
"I do not know. But her carriage was probably the stage: it was about the hour for it to pass."
Day was already dawning and they did not sleep again.
Mr. Travilla had gone on his regular morning round over the plantation, and Elsie stole softly into the room of her little daughters.
Though past their usual hour for rising they still slept and she meant to let them do so as long as they would. They made a lovely picture lying there clasped in each other's arms. Her heart swelled with tender emotions, love, joy and gratitude to Him who had given these treasures and preserved them thus far from all danger and evil. She bent over them pressing a gentle kiss upon each round rosy cheek.
Little Elsie's brown eyes opened wide, and putting her arm about her mother's neck, "Mamma," she whispered, with a sweet, glad smile, "was not God very good to give us back our Vi?"
"Yes, dearest, oh, so much better than we deserve!"
Violet started up to a sitting posture. "Mamma, oh mamma, I did have a dreadful, dreadful dream!--that I was 'way off from you and papa, out in the night in the woods, and I saw--"
She ended with a burst of frightened sobs and tears, hiding her face on the bosom of her mother who already held her closely clasped to her beating heart.
"Don't think of it, darling, you are safe now in your own dear home with papa and mamma and sister and brothers." Tender soothing caresses accompanied the loving words.
"Mamma, did I dream it?" asked the child lifting her tearful face, and shuddering as she spoke.
The mother was too truthful to say yes, though she would have been glad her child should think it but a dream.
"Perhaps some of it was, daughter," she said, "though my pet did walk out in her sleep; but papa is going to manage things so that she can never do it again. And God will take care of us, my darling."
The sobs grew fainter and softly sighing, "Yes mamma," she said, "I asked him to send papa to bring me home, and he did."
"And papa came in here this morning and kissed both his girls before he went down stairs. Did you know that?"
"Did he? Oh I wish I'd waked to give him a good hug!"
"I too;" said Elsie, "Papa loves us very much, doesn't he, mamma?"
"Dearly, dearly, my child; you and all his little ones."
Vi's tears were dried and when her father came in she met him with a cheerful face, quite ready for the customary romp, but days passed ere she was again her own bright, merry self, or seemed content unless clinging close to one or the other of her parents.
While the family were at the breakfast table, Uncle Joe came in with the mail, his face full of excitement and terror.
"Dem Ku Kluxes dey's gettin' awful dangerous, Massa," he said, laying down the bag with a trembling hand, "dey's gone an' shot the stage drivah an' killed 'um dead on the spot. Las' night, sah, jes ober yondah in de road todder side o' Mars Leland's place, and--"
Mr. Travilla stopped him in the midst of his story, with a warning gesture and an anxious glance from one to another of the wondering, half frightened little faces about the table.
"Another time and place, Uncle Joe."
"Yes, sah, beg pardon, sah, Massa Edard," and the old man, now growing quite infirm from age, hobbled away talking to himself. "Sure nuff, you ole fool, Joe, might 'a knowed you shouldn't tole no such tings fo' de chillum."
"Was it 'bout my dream, papa?" Vi asked with quivering lip and fast filling eyes.
"Never mind, little daughter; we needn't trouble about our dreams," he said cheerily, and began talking of something else, in a lively strain that soon set them all to laughing.
It was not until family worship was over and the children had left the room that he said to his wife, "The Ku Klux were abroad last night and I have no doubt Uncle Joe's story is quite true, and that our poor little Vi really saw the murder."
Elsie gave him a startled, inquiring look. "You have other proof?"
"Yes; Leland and I met in going our rounds this morning, and he told me he had found a threatening note, signed 'K.K.K,' tacked to his gate, and had torn it down immediately, hoping to conceal the matter from his wife, who, he says is growing nervously fearful for his safety."
"Oh, what a dreadful state of things! Do these madmen realize that they are ruining their country?"
"Little they care for that, if they can but gain their ends,--the subversion of the Government, and the return of the negro to his former state of bondage."
She was standing by his side, her hand on his arm. "My husband," she said in trembling tones, looking up into his face with brimming eyes, "what may they not do next? I begin to fear for you and my father and brother."
"I think you need not, little wife," he said, drawing her head to a resting place on his shoulder, and passing his hand caressingly over her hair, "I think they will hardly meddle with us, natives of the place, and men of wealth and influence. And," he added low and reverently, "are we not all in the keeping of Him without whom not one hair of our heads can fall to the ground?"
"Yes, yes, I will trust and not be afraid," she answered, smiling sweetly through her tears. Then catching sight, through the open window, of a couple of horsemen coming up the avenue, "Ah, there are papa and Horace now!" she cried, running joyfully out to meet them.
"Have you heard of last night's doings of the Ku Klux?" were the first words of Horace Jr. when the greetings had been exchanged.
"Run away, dears, run away to your play," Elsie said to her children, and at once they obeyed.
"Uncle Joe came in this morning with a story that Jones, the stage driver had been shot by them last night in this vicinity," Mr. Travilla answered, "but I stopped him in the midst of it, as the children were present. Is it a fact?"
"Only too true," replied Mr. Dinsmore.
"Yes," said Horace, "I rode into the town, before breakfast, found it full of excitement; the story on everybody's tongue, and quite a large crowd about the door of the house where the body of the murdered man lay."
"And is the murderer still at large," asked Elsie.
"Yes; and the worst of it is that no one seems to have the least idea who he is."
"The disguise preventing recognition, of course," said Mr. Travilla.
Then the grandfather and uncle were surprised with an account of little Vi's escapade.
"If Violet were my child," said Mr. Dinsmore, "I should consult Dr. Burton about her at once. There must be undue excitement of the brain that might be remedied by proper treatment."
Elsie cast an anxious look at her husband.
"I shall send for the doctor immediately," he said, and summoning a servant dispatched him at once upon the errand.
"Don't be alarmed, daughter," Mr. Dinsmore said; "doubtless a little care will soon set matters right with the child."
"Yes; I do not apprehend any thing serious, if the thing is attended to in time," Mr. Travilla added cheerfully; then went on to tell of the notice affixed to Fairview gate.
They were all of the opinion that these evil doers, should, if possible, be brought to justice; but the nature and extent of the organization rendered it no easy matter for the civil courts to deal with them. The order being secret, the members were known as such only among themselves, when strangers, recognizing each other by secret signs. They were sworn to aid and defend a brother member under all circumstances; were one justly accused of crime, others would come forward and prove an alibi by false swearing; were they on the jury, they would acquit him though perfectly cognizant of his guilt. In some places the sheriff and his deputies were members, perhaps the judge also[F]. Thus it happened that though one or two persons who had been heard to talk threateningly about Jones, as "a carpet-agger and Republican, who should be gotten rid of, by fair means or foul," were arrested on suspicion, they were soon set at liberty again, and his death remained unavenged.
[Footnote F: See Reports of Congressional Committee of Investigation.]