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- Bricks Without Straw - 80/87 -


"The Radical candidate would do well to take advice. The white men of the State desire a peaceful summer and autumn. They are wearied of heated political strife. If they are forced to vigorous action it will be exceedingly vigorous, perhaps unpleasantly so. Those who cause the trouble will suffer most from it. Bear that in mind, persons colored and white-skinned. We reiterate our advice to the reflective and argumentative Radical leader, to be careful how he goes, and not stir up the animals too freely; they have teeth and claws."

Still another said:

"Will our people suffer a covert danger to rankle in their midst until it gains strength to burst into an open enemy? Will they tamely submit while Hesden Le Moyne rallies the colored men to his standard and hands over Horsford to the enemy? Will they stand idly and supinely, and witness the consummation of such an infamous conspiracy? No! a thousand times, No! Awake! stir up your clubs; let the shout go up; put on your red shirts and let the ride begin. Let the young men take the van, or we shall be sold into political slavery."

Another sounded the key-note of hostility in these words:

"Every white man who dares to avow himself a Radical should be promptly branded as the bitter and malignant enemy of the South; every man who presumes to aspire to office through Republican votes should be saturated with stench. As for the negroes, let them amuse themselves, if they will, by voting the Radical ticket. We have the count. We have a thousand good and true men in Horsford whose brave ballots will be found equal to those of five thousand vile Radicals."

One of his opponents, in a most virulent speech, called attention to the example of a celebrated Confederate general. "He, too," said the impassioned orator, "served the Confederacy as bravely as Hesden Le Moyne, and far more ably. But he became impregnated with the virus of Radicalism; he abandoned and betrayed the cause for which he fought; he deserted the Southern people in the hour of need and joined their enemies. He was begged and implored not to persevere in his course, but he drifted on and on, and floundered deeper and deeper into the mire, until he landed fast in the slough where he sticks to-day. And what has he gained? Scorn, ostracism, odiurn, ill-will--worse than all, the contempt of the men who stood by him in the shower of death and destruction. Let Hesden Le Moyne take warning by his example."

And so it went on, day after day. Personal affront was studiously avoided, but in general terms he was held up to the scorn and contempt of all honest men as a renegade and a traitor. Those who had seemed his friends fell away from him; the home which had been crowded with pleasant associates was desolate, or frequented only by those who came to remonstrate or to threaten. He saw his mistake, but he knew that anger was worse than useless. He did not seek to enrage, but to convince. Failing in this, he simply performed the duty which he had undertaken, as he said he would do it--fearlessly, openly, and faithfully.

The election came, and the result--was what he should have been wise enough to foresee. Nevertheless, it was a great and grievous disappointment to Hesden Le Moyne. Not that he cared about a seat in the Legislature; but it was a demonstration to him that in his estimate of the people of whom he had been so proud he had erred upon the side of charity. He had believed them better than they had shown themselves. The fair future which he had hoped was so near at hand seemed more remote than ever. His hope for his people and his State was crushed, and apprehension of unspeakable evil in the future forced itself upon his heart.

CHAPTER LIX.

THE SHUTTLECOCK OF FATE.

"Marse Hesden, Marse Hesden!" There was a timorous rap upon the window of Hesden Le Moyne's sleeping-room in the middle of the night, and, waking, he heard his name called in a low, cautious voice.

"Who is there?" he asked.

"Sh--sh! Don't talk so loud, Marse Hesden. Please come out h'yer a minnit, won't yer?"

The voice was evidently that of a colored man, and Hesden had no apprehension or hesitancy in complying with the request. In fact, his position as a recognized friend of the colored race had made such appeals to his kindness and protection by no means unusual. He rose at once, and stepped out upon the porch. He was absent for a little while, and when he returned his voice was full of emotion as he said to his wife,

"Mollie, there is a man here who is hungry and weary. I do not wish the servants to know of his presence. Can you get him something to eat without making any stir?"

"Why, what--" began Mollie.

"It will be best not to stop for any questions," said Hesden hurriedly, as he lighted a lamp and, pouring some liquor into a glass, started to return. "Get whatever you can at once, and bring it to the room above. I will go and make up a fire."

Mollie rose, and, throwing on a wrapper, proceeded to comply with her husband's request. But a few moments had elapsed when she went up the stairs bearing a well-laden tray. Her slippered feet made no noise, and when she reached the chamber-door she saw her husband kneeling before the fire, which was just beginning to burn brightly. The light shone also upon a colored man of powerful frame who sat upon a chair a little way back, his hat upon the floor beside him, his gray head inclined upon his breast, and his whole attitude indicating exhaustion.

"Here it is, Hesden," she said quietly, as she stepped into the room.

The colored man raised his head wearily as she spoke, and turned toward her a gaunt face half hidden by a gray, scraggly beard. No sooner did his eyes rest upon her than they opened wide in amazement. He sprang from his chair, put his hand to his head, as if to assure himself that he was not dreaming, and said,

"What!--yer ain't--'fore God it must be--Miss Mollie!"

"Oh, Nimbus!" cried Mollie, with a shriek. Her face was pale as ashes, and she would have fallen had not Hesden sprang to her side and supported her with his arm, while he said,

"Hush! hush! You must not speak so loud. I did not expect you so soon or I would have told you."

The colored man fell upon his knees, and gazed in wonder on the scene.

"Oh, Marse Hesden!" he cried, "is it--can it be our Miss Mollie, or has Nimbus gone clean crazy wid de rest ob his misfortins?"

"No, indeed!" said Hesden. "It is really Miss Mollie, only I have stolen her away from her old friends and made her mine."

"There is no mistake about it, Nimbus," said Mollie, as she extended her hand, which the colored man clasped in both his own and covered with tears and kisses, while he said, between his sobs,

"Tank God! T'ank God! Nimbus don't keer now! He ain't afeared ob nuffin' no mo', now he's seen de little angel dat use ter watch ober him, an' dat he's been a-dreamin' on all dese yeahs! Bress God, she's alive! Dar ain't no need ter ax fer 'Gena ner de little ones now; I knows dey's all right! Miss Mollie's done tuk keer o' dem, else she wouldn't be h'yer now. Bress de Lord, I sees de deah little lamb once mo'."

"There, there!" said Mollie gently. "You must not talk any more now. I have brought you something to eat. You are tired and hungry. You must eat now. Everything is all right. 'Gena and the children are well, and have been looking for you every day since you went away."

"Bress God! Bress God! I don't want nuffin' mo' !" said Nimbus. He would have gone on, in a wild rhapsody of delight, but both Hesden and Mollie interposed and compelled him to desist and eat. Ah! it was a royal meal that the poor fugitive had spread before him. Mollie brought some milk. A coffee-pot was placed upon the fire, and while he ate they told him of some of the changes that had taken place. When at length Hesden took him into the room where Eliab had remained concealed so long, and closed the door and locked it upon him, they could still hear the low tones of thankful prayer coming from within. Hesden knocked upon the door to enjoin silence, and they returned to their room, wondering at the Providence which had justified the faith of the long-widowed colored wife.

The next day Hesden went to the Court House to ascertain what charges there were against Nimbus. He found there were none. The old prosecution for seducing the laborers of Mr. Sykes had long ago been discontinued. Strangely enough, no others had been instituted against him. For some reason the law had not been appealed to to avenge the injuries of the marauders who had devastated Red Wing. On his return, Hesden came by way of Red Wing and brought Eliab home with him.

The meeting between the two old friends was very affecting. Since the disappearance of Nimbus, Eliab had grown more self-reliant. His two years and more of attendance at a Northern school had widened and deepened his manhood as well as increased his knowledge, and the charge of the school at Red Wing had completed the work there begun. His self-consciousness had diminished, and it no longer required the spur of intense excitement to make him forget his affliction. His last injuries had made him even more helpless, when separated from his rolling-chair, but his life had been too full to enable him to dwell upon his weakness so constantly as formerly.

In Nimbus there was a change even more apparent. Gray hairs, a bowed form, a furrowed face, and that sort of furtive wildness which characterizes the man long hunted by his enemies, had taken the place of his former unfearing, bull-fronted ruggedness. His spirit was broken. He no longer looked to the future with abounding hope, careless of its dangers.


Bricks Without Straw - 80/87

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