IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO
A STUDY OF THE NEGRO RACE PROBLEM A NOVEL
Sutton E. Griggs
Berl Trout's Declaration 1 I A Small Beginning 3 II The School 8 III The Parson's Advice 15 IV The Turning of a Worm 24 V Belton Finds a Friend 38 VI A Young Rebel 48 VII A Sermon, a Sock, And a Fight 64 VIII Many Mysteries Cleared Up 83 IX Love and Politics 95 X Cupid Again at Work 111 XI No Befitting Name 125 XII On the Dissecting Board 139 XIII Married and yet not Married 161 XIV " " " " " (Continued) 171 XV Weighty Matters 177 XVI Unwritten History 188 XVII Crossing the Rubicon 200 XVIII The Storm's Master 223 XIX The Parting of Ways 249 XX Personal (Berl Trout) 262
TO THE PUBLIC.
The papers which are herewith submitted to you for your perusal and consideration, were delivered into my hands by Mr. Berl Trout.
The papers will speak for themselves, but Mr. Trout now being dead I feel called upon to say a word concerning him.
Mr. Berl Trout was Secretary of State in the Imperium In Imperio, from the day of its organization until the hour of his sad death. He was, therefore, thoroughly conversant with all of the details of that great organization.
He was a warm personal friend of both Bernard and Belton, and learned from their own lips the stories of their eventful lives.
Mr. Trout was a man noted for his strict veracity and for the absolute control that his conscience exercised over him.
Though unacquainted with the Imperium In Imperio I was well acquainted with Berl, as we fondly called him. I will vouch for his truthfulness anywhere.
Having perfect faith in the truthfulness of his narrative I have not hesitated to fulfil his dying request by editing his Ms., and giving it to the public. There are other documents in my possession tending to confirm the assertions made in his narrative. These documents were given me by Mr. Trout, so that, in case an attempt is made to pronounce him a liar, I might defend his name by coming forward with indisputable proofs of every important statement.
Very respectfully, Sutton E. Griggs, March 1, 1899. Berkley, Va.
IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO.
BERL TROUT'S DYING DECLARATION.
I am a traitor. I have violated an oath that was as solemn and binding as any ever taken by man on earth.
I have trampled under my feet the sacred trust of a loving people, and have betrayed secrets which were dearer to them than life itself.
For this offence, regarded the world over as the most detestable of horrors, I shall be slain.
Those who shall be detailed to escort my foul body to its grave are required to walk backwards with heads averted.
On to-morrow night, the time of my burial, the clouds should gather thick about the queenly moon to hide my funeral procession from her view, for fear that she might refuse to longer reign over a land capable of producing such a wretch as I.
In the bottom of some old forsaken well, so reads our law, I shall be buried, face downward, without a coffin; and my body, lying thus, will be transfixed with a wooden stave.
Fifty feet from the well into which my body is lowered, a red flag is to be hoisted and kept floating there for time unending, to warn all generations of men to come not near the air polluted by the rotting carcass of a vile traitor.
Such is my fate. I seek not to shun it. I have walked into odium with every sense alert, fully conscious of every step taken.
While I acknowledge that I am a traitor, I also pronounce myself a patriot.
It is true that I have betrayed the immediate plans of the race to which I belong; but I have done this in the interest of the whole human family—of which my race is but a part.
My race may, for the time being, shower curses upon me; but eventually all races, including my own, shall call me blessed.
The earth, in anger, may belch forth my putrid flesh with volcanic fury, but the out-stretched arms of God will receive my spirit as a token of approval of what I have done.
With my soul feasting on this happy thought, I send this revelation to mankind and yield my body to the executioner to be shot until I am dead.
Though death stands just before me, holding before my eyes my intended shroud woven of the cloth of infamy itself, I shrink not back.
Yours, doomed to die, BERL TROUT.
IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO
A SMALL BEGINNING.
"Cum er long hunny an' let yer mammy fix yer 'spectabul, so yer ken go to skule. Yer mammy is 'tarmined ter gib yer all de book larning dar is ter be had eben ef she has ter lib on bred an' herrin's, an' die en de a'ms house."
These words came from the lips of a poor, ignorant negro woman, and yet the determined course of action which they reveal vitally affected the destiny of a nation and saved the sun of the Nineteenth Century, proud and glorious, from passing through, near its setting, the blackest and thickest and ugliest clouds of all its journey; saved it from ending the most brilliant of brilliant careers by setting, with a shudder of horror, in a sea of human blood.
Those who doubt that such power could emanate from such weakness; or, to change the figure, that such a tiny star could have dimensions greater than those of earth, may have every vestige of doubt removed by a perusal of this simple narrative.
Let us now acquaint ourselves with the circumstances under which the opening words of our story were spoken. To do this, we must need lead our readers into humble and commonplace surroundings, a fact that will not come in the nature of a surprise to those who have traced the proud, rushing, swelling river to the mountain whence it comes trickling forth, meekly and humbly enough.
The place was Winchester, an antiquated town, located near the northwestern corner of the State of Virginia.
In October of the year 1867, the year in which our story begins, a white man by the name of Tiberius Gracchus Leonard had arrived in Winchester, and was employed as teacher of the school for colored children.
Mrs. Hannah Piedmont, the colored woman whom we have presented to our readers as addressing her little boy, was the mother of five children,—three girls and two boys. In the order of their ages, the names of her children were: James Henry, aged fifteen, Amanda Ann, aged thirteen, Eliza Jane, aged eleven, Belton, aged eight, and Celestine, aged five. Several years previous to the opening of our history, Mr. Piedmont had abandoned his wife and left her to rear the children alone.
School opened in October, and as fast as she could get books and clothing Mrs. Piedmont sent her children to school. James Henry, Amanda Ann, and Eliza Jane were sent at about a week's interval. Belton and Celestine were then left—Celestine being regarded as too young to go. This morning we find Belton's mother preparing him for school, and we shall stand by and watch the preparations.
The house was low and squatty and was built of rock. It consisted of one room only, and over this there was a loft, the hole to climb into which was in plain view of any one in the room. There was only one window to the house and that one was only four feet square. Two panes of this were broken out and the holes were stuffed with rags. In one corner of the room there stood a bed in which Mrs. Piedmont and Amanda Ann slept. Under this was a trundle bed in which Eliza Jane and Celestine slept at the head, while Belton slept at the foot. James Henry climbed into the loft and slept there on a pallet of straw. The cooking was done in a fireplace which was on the side of the house opposite the window. Three chairs, two of which had no backs to them, completed the articles in the room.
In one of these chairs Mrs. Piedmont was sitting, while Belton stood before her all dressed and ready to go to school, excepting that his face was not washed.
It might be interesting to note his costume. The white lady for whom Mrs. Piedmont washed each week had given her two much-torn pairs of trousers, discarded by her young son. One pair was of linen and the other of navy blue. A leg from each pair was missing; so Mrs. Piedmont simply transferred the good leg of the linen pair to the suit of the navy blue, and dressed the happy Belton in that suit thus amended. His coat was literally a conglomeration of patches of varying sizes and colors. If you attempted to describe the coat by calling it by the name of the color that you thought predominated, at least a half dozen aspirants could present equal claims to the honor. One of Belton's feet was encased in a wornout slipper from the dainty foot of some young woman, while the other wore a turned over boot left in town by some farmer lad who had gotten himself a new pair. His hat was in good condition, being the summer straw last worn by a little white playfellow (when fall came on, this little fellow kindly willed his hat to Belton, who, in return for this favor, was to black the boy's shoes each morning during the winter).
Belton's mother now held in her hand a wet cloth with which she wished to cleanse his face, the bacon skin which he gnawed at the conclusion of his meal having left a circle of grease around his lips. Belton did not relish the face washing part of the programme (of course hair combing was not even considered). Belton had one characteristic similar to that of oil. He did not like to mix with water, especially cold water, such as was on that wet cloth in his mother's hand. However, a hint in reference to a certain well-known leather strap, combined with the offer of a lump of sugar, brought him to terms.
His face being washed, he and his mother marched forth to school, where he laid the foundation of the education that served him so well in after life.
A man of tact, intelligence, and superior education moving in the midst of a mass of ignorant people, ofttimes has a sway more absolute than that of monarchs.
Belton now entered the school-room, which in his case proves to be the royal court, whence he emerges an uncrowned king.
The house in which the colored school was held was, in former times, a house of worship for the white Baptists of Winchester. It was a long, plain, frame structure, painted white. Many years prior to the opening of the colored school it had been condemned as unsafe by the town authorities, whereupon the white Baptists had abandoned it for a more beautiful modern structure.
The church tendered the use of the building to the town for a public school for the colored children. The roof was patched and iron rods were used to hold together the twisting walls. These improvements being made, school was in due time opened. The building was located on the outskirts of the town, and a large open field surrounded it on all sides.
As Mrs. Piedmont and her son drew near to this building the teacher was standing on the door-steps ringing his little hand bell, calling the children in from their recess. They came running at full speed, helter skelter. By the time they were all in Mrs. Piedmont and Belton had arrived at the step. When Mr. Leonard saw them about to enter the building an angry scowl passed over his face, and he muttered half aloud: "Another black nigger brat for me to teach."
The steps were about four feet high and he was standing on the top step. To emphasize his disgust, he drew back so that Mrs. Piedmont would pass him with no danger of brushing him. He drew back rather too far and began falling off the end of the steps. He clutched at the door and made such a scrambling noise that the children turned in their seats just in time to see his body rapidly disappearing in a manner to leave his feet where his head ought to be.
Such a yell of laughter as went up from the throats of the children! It had in it a universal, spontaneous ring of savage delight which plainly told that the teacher was not beloved by his pupils.
The back of the teacher's head struck the edge of a stone, and when he clambered up from his rather undignified position his back was covered with blood. Deep silence reigned in the school-room as he walked down the aisle, glaring fiercely right and left. Getting his hat he left the school-room and went to a near-by drug store to have his wounds dressed.
While he was gone, the children took charge of the school-room and played pranks of every description. Abe Lincoln took the teacher's chair and played "'fessor."
"Sallie Ann ain't yer got wax in yer mouf?"
"Den take dis stick and prop yer mouf opun fur half hour. Dat'll teach yer a lesson."
"Billy Smith, yer didn't know yer lessun," says teacher Abe. "Yer may stan' on one leg de ballunce ob de ebenning."
"Henry Jones, yer sassed a white boy ter day. Pull off yer jacket. I'll gib yer a lessun dat yer'll not furgit soon. Neber buck up to yer s'periors."
"John Jones, yer black, nappy head rascal, I'll crack yer skull if yer doan keep quiut."
"Cum year, yer black, cross-eyed little wench, yer. I'll teach yer to go to sleep in here." Annie Moore was the little girl thus addressed.
After each sally from Abe there was a hearty roar of laughter, he imitated the absent teacher so perfectly in look, voice, manner, sentiment, and method of punishment.
Taking down the cowhide used for flogging purposes Abe left his seat and was passing to and fro, pretending to flog those who most frequently fell heir to the teacher's wrath. While he was doing this Billy Smith stealthily crept to the teacher's chair and placed a crooked pin in it in order to catch Abe when he returned to sit down.
Before Abe had gone much further the teacher's face appeared at the door, and all scrambled to get into their right places and to assume studious attitudes. Billy Smith thought of his crooked pin and had the "cold sweats." Those who had seen Billy put the pin in the chair were torn between two conflicting emotions. They wanted the pin to do its work, and therefore hoped. They feared Billy's detection and therefore despaired.
However, the teacher did not proceed at once to take his seat. He approached Mrs. Piedmont and Belton, who had taken seats midway the room and were interested spectators of all that had been going on. Speaking to Mrs. Piedmont, he said: "What is your name?"
She replied: "Hannah Lizabeth Piedmont."
"Well, Hannah, what is your brat's name?"
"His name am Belton Piedmont, arter his grandaddy."
"Well, Hannah, I am very pleased to receive your brat. He shall not want for attention," he added, in a tone accompanied by a lurking look of hate that made Mrs. Piedmont shudder and long to have her boy at home again. Her desire for his training was so great that she surmounted her misgivings and carried out her purposes to have him enrolled.
As the teacher was turning to go to his desk, hearing a rustling noise toward the door, he turned to look. He was, so to speak, petrified with astonishment. There stood on the threshold of the door a woman whose beauty was such as he had never seen surpassed. She held a boy by the hand. She was a mulatto woman, tall and graceful. Her hair was raven black and was combed away from as beautiful a forehead as nature could chisel. Her eyes were a brown hazel, large and intelligent, tinged with a slight look of melancholy. Her complexion was a rich olive, and seemed especially adapted to her face, that revealed not a flaw.
The teacher quickly pulled off his hat, which he had not up to that time removed since his return from the drug store. As the lady moved up the aisle toward him, he was taken with stage fright. He recovered self-possession enough to escort her and the boy to the front and give them seats. The whole school divided its attention between the beautiful woman and the discomfitted teacher. They had not known that he was so full of smiles and smirks.
"What is your name?" he enquired in his most suave manner.
"Fairfax Belgrave," replied the visitor.
"May I be of any service to you, madam?"
At the mention of the word madam, she colored slightly. "I desire to have my son enter your school and I trust that you may see your way clear to admit him."
"Most assuredly madam, most assuredly." Saying this, he hastened to his desk, opened it and took out his register. He then sat down, but the next instant leapt several feet into the air, knocking over his desk. He danced around the floor, reaching toward the rear of his pants, yelling: "Pull it out! pull it out! pull it out!"
The children hid their faces behind their books and chuckled most gleefully. Billy Smith was struck dumb with terror. Abe was rolling on the floor, bellowing with uncontrollable laughter.
The teacher finally succeeded in extricating the offending steel and stood scratching his head in chagrin at the spectacle he had made of himself before his charming visitor. He took an internal oath to get his revenge out of Mrs. Piedmont and her son, who had been the innocent means of his double downfall that day.
His desk was arranged in a proper manner and the teacher took his pen and wrote two names, now famous the world over.
"Bernard Belgrave, age 9 years."
"Belton Piedmont, age 8 years."
Under such circumstances Belton began his school career.
THE PARSON'S ADVICE.
With heavy heart and with eyes cast upon the ground, Mrs. Piedmont walked back home after leaving Belton with his teacher. She had intended to make a special plea for her boy, who had all along displayed such precociousness as to fill her bosom with the liveliest hopes. But the teacher was so repulsive in manner that she did not have the heart to speak to him as she had intended.
She saw that the happenings of the morning had had the effect of deepening a contemptuous prejudice into hatred, and she felt that her child's school life was to be embittered by the harshest of maltreatment.
No restraint was put upon the flogging of colored children by their white teachers, and in Belton's case his mother expected the worst. During the whole week she revolved the matter in her mind. There was a conflict in her bosom between her love and her ambition. Love prompted her to return and take her son away from school. Ambition bade her to let him stay. She finally decided to submit the whole matter to her parson, whom she would invite to dinner on the coming Sunday.
The Sabbath came and Mrs. Piedmont aroused her family bright and early, for the coming of the parson to take dinner was a great event in any negro household. The house was swept as clean as a broom of weeds tied together could make it. Along with the family breakfast, a skillet of biscuits was cooked and a young chicken nicely baked.
Belton was very active in helping his mother that morning, and she promised to give him a biscuit and a piece of chicken as a reward after the preacher was through eating his dinner. The thought of this coming happiness buoyed Belton up, and often he fancied himself munching that biscuit and biting that piece of chicken. These were items of food rarely found in that household.
Breakfast over, the whole family made preparations for going to Sunday school. Preparations always went on peacefully until it came to combing hair. The older members of the family endured the ordeal very well; but little "Lessie" always screamed as if she was being tortured, and James Henry received many kicks and scratches from Belton before he was through combing Belton's hair.
The Sunday school and church were always held in the day-school building. The Sunday school scholars were all in one class and recited out of the "blue back spelling book." When that was over, members of the school were allowed to ask general questions on the Bible, which were answered by anyone volunteering to do so. Everyone who had in any way caught a new light on a passage of scripture endeavored, by questioning, to find out as to whether others were as wise as he, and if such was not the case, he gladly enlightened the rest.
The Sunday school being over, the people stood in groups on the ground surrounding the church waiting for the arrival of the parson from his home, Berryville, a town twelve miles distant. He was pastor of three other churches besides the one at Winchester, and he preached at each one Sunday in the month. After awhile he put in his appearance. He was rather small in stature, and held his head somewhat to one side and looked at you with that knowing look of the parrot. He wore a pair of trousers that had been black, but were now sleet from much wear. They lacked two inches of reaching down to the feet of his high-heeled boots. He had on a long linen cluster that reached below his knees. Beneath this was a faded Prince Albert coat and a vest much too small. On his head there sat, slightly tipped, a high-topped beaver that seemed to have been hidden between two mattresses all the week and taken out and straightened for Sunday wear. In his hand he held a walking cane.
Thus clad he came toward the church, his body thrown slightly back, walking leisurely with the air of quiet dignity possessed by the man sure of his standing, and not under the necessity of asserting it overmuch in his carriage.
The brothers pulled off their hats and the sisters put on their best smiles as the parson approached. After a cordial handshake all around, the preacher entered the church to begin the services. After singing a hymn and praying, he took for his text the following "passige of scripter:"
"It air harder fur a camel to git through de eye of a cambric needle den fur a rich man to enter de kingdom of heben."
This was one of the parson's favorite texts, and the members all settled themselves back to have a good "speritual" time.
The preacher began his sermon in a somewhat quiet way, but the members knew that he would "warm up bye and bye." He pictured all rich men as trying to get into heaven, but, he asserted, they invariably found themselves with Dives. He exhorted his hearers to stick to Jesus. Here he pulled off his collar, and the sisters stirred and looked about them. A little later on, the preacher getting "warmer," pulled off his cuffs. The brethren laughed with a sort of joyous jumping up and down all the while—one crying "Gib me Jesus," another "Oh I am gwine home," and so on.
One sister who had a white lady's baby in her arms got happy and flung it entirely across the room, it falling into Mrs. Piedmont's lap, while the frenzied woman who threw the child climbed over benches, rushed into the pulpit, and swung to the preacher's neck, crying—"Glory! Glory! Glory!" In the meanwhile Belton had dropped down under one of the benches and was watching the proceedings with an eye of terror.
The sermon over and quiet restored, a collection was taken and given to the pastor. Mrs. Piedmont went forward to put some money on the table and took occasion to step to the pulpit and invite the pastor to dinner. Knowing that this meant chicken, the pastor unhesitatingly accepted the invitation, and when church was over accompanied Mrs. Piedmont and her family home.
The preacher caught hold of Belton's hand as they walked along. This mark of attention, esteemed by Belton as a signal honor, filled his little soul with joy. As he thought of the manner in which the preacher stirred up the people, the amount of the collection that had been given him, and the biscuits and chicken that now awaited him, Belton decided that he, too, would like to become a preacher.
Just before reaching home, according to a preconcerted plan, Belton and James Henry broke from the group and ran into the house. When the others appeared a little later on, these two were not to be seen. However, no question was asked and no search made. All things were ready and the parson sat down to eat, while the three girls stood about, glancing now and then at the table. The preacher was very voracious and began his meal as though he "meant business."
We can now reveal the whereabouts of Belton and James Henry. They had clambered into the loft for the purpose of watching the progress of the preacher's meal, calculating at each step how much he would probably leave. James Henry found a little hole in the loft directly over the table, and through this hole he did his spying. Belton took his position at the larger entrance hole, lying flat on his stomach. He poked his head down far enough to see the preacher, but held it in readiness to be snatched back, if the preacher's eyes seemed to be about to wander his way.
He was kept in a state of feverish excitement, on the one hand, by fear of detection, and on the other, by a desire to watch the meal. When about half of the biscuits were gone, and the preacher seemed as fresh as ever, Belton began to be afraid for his promised biscuit and piece of chicken. He crawled to James Henry and said hastily—"James, dees haf gone," and hurriedly resumed his watch. A moment later he called out in a whisper, "He's tuck anudder." Down goes Belton's head to resume his watch. Every time the preacher took another biscuit Belton called out the fact to James.
All of the chicken was at last destroyed and only one biscuit remained; and Belton's whole soul was now centered on that biscuit. In his eagerness to watch he leaned a good distance out, and when the preacher reached forth his hand to take the last one Belton was so overcome that he lost his balance and tumbled out of his hole on the floor, kicking, and crying over and over again: "I knowed I wuzunt goin' to git naren dem biscuits."
The startled preacher hastily arose from the table and gazed on the little fellow in bewilderment. As soon as it dawned upon him what the trouble was, he hastily got the remaining biscuit and gave it to Belton. He also discovered that his voracity had made enemies of the rest of the children, and he very adroitly passed a five cent piece around to each.
James Henry, forgetting his altitude and anxious not to lose his recompense, cried out loudly from the loft: "Amanda Ann you git mine fur me."
The preacher looked up but saw no one. Seeing that his request did not have the desired effect, James Henry soon tumbled down full of dust, straw and cobwebs, and came into possession of his appeasing money. The preacher laughed heartily and seemed to enjoy his experience highly.
The table was cleared, and the preacher and Mrs. Piedmont dismissed the children in order to discuss unmolested the subject which had prompted her to extend an invitation to the parson. In view of the intense dislike the teacher had conceived for Belton, she desired to know if it were not best to withdraw him from school altogether, rather than to subject him to the harsh treatment sure to come.
"Let me gib yer my advis, sistah Hannah. De greatest t'ing in de wul is edification. Ef our race ken git dat we ken git ebery t'ing else. Dat is de key. Git de key an' yer ken go in de house to go whare you please. As fur his beatin' de brat, yer musn't kick agin dat. He'll beat de brat to make him larn, and won't dat be a blessed t'ing? See dis scar on side my head? Old marse Sampson knocked me down wid a single-tree tryin' to make me stop larning, and God is so fixed it dat white folks is knocking es down ef we don't larn. Ef yer take Belton out of school yer'll be fighting 'genst de providence of God."
Being thus advised by her shepherd, Mrs. Piedmont decided to keep Belton in school. So on Monday Belton went back to his brutal teacher, and thither we follow him.
THE TURNING OF A WORM.
As to who Mr. Tiberius Gracchus Leonard was, or as to where he came from, nobody in Winchester, save himself, knew.
Immediately following the close of the Civil War, Rev. Samuel Christian, a poor but honorable retired minister of the M.E. Church, South, was the first teacher employed to instruct the colored children of the town.
He was one of those Southerners who had never believed in the morality of slavery, but regarded it as a deep rooted evil beyond human power to uproot. When the manacles fell from the hands of the Negroes he gladly accepted the task of removing the scales of ignorance from the blinded eyes of the race.
Tenderly he labored, valiantly he toiled in the midst of the mass of ignorance that came surging around him. But only one brief year was given to this saintly soul to endeavor to blast the mountains of stupidity which centuries of oppression had reared. He fell asleep.
The white men who were trustees of the colored school, were sorely puzzled as to what to do for a successor. A Negro, capable of teaching a school, was nowhere near. White young men of the South, generally, looked upon the work of teaching "niggers" with the utmost contempt; and any man who suggested the name of a white young lady of Southern birth as a teacher for the colored children was actually in danger of being shot by any member of the insulted family who could handle a pistol.
An advertisement was inserted in the Washington Post to the effect that a teacher was wanted. In answer to this advertisement Mr. Leonard came. He was a man above the medium height, and possessed a frame not large but compactly built. His forehead was low and narrow; while the back of his head looked exceedingly intellectual. Looking at him from the front you would involuntarily exclaim: "What an infamous scoundrel." Looking at him from the rear you would say: "There certainly is brain power in that head."
The glance of Mr. Leonard's eye was furtive, and his face was sour looking indeed. At times when he felt that no one was watching him, his whole countenance and attitude betokened the rage of despair.
Most people who looked at him felt that he carried in his bosom a dark secret. As to scholarship, he was unquestionably proficient. No white man in all the neighboring section, ranked with him intellectually. Despite the lack of all knowledge of his moral character and previous life, he was pronounced as much too good a man to fritter away his time on "niggers."
Such was the character of the man into whose hands was committed the destiny of the colored children of Winchester.
As his mother foresaw would be the case, Belton was singled out by the teacher as a special object on which he might expend his spleen. For a man to be as spiteful as he was, there must have been something gnawing at his heart. But toward Bernard none of this evil spirit was manifested. He seemed to have chosen Bernard for his pet, and Belton for his "pet aversion." To the one he was all kindness; while to the other he was cruel in the extreme.
Often he would purchase flowers from the florist and give to Bernard to bear home to his mother. On these days he would seemingly take pains to give Belton fresh bruises to take home to his mother. When he had a particularly good dinner he would invite Bernard to dine with him, and would be sure to find some pretext for forbidding Belton to partake of his own common meal.
Belton was by no means insensible to all these acts of discrimination. Nor did Bernard fail to perceive that he, himself, was the teacher's pet. He clambered on to the teacher's knees, played with his mustache, and often took his watch and wore it. The teacher seemed to be truly fond of him.
The children all ascribed this partiality to the color of Bernard's skin, and they all, except Belton, began to envy and despise Bernard. Of course they told their parents of the teacher's partiality and their parents thus became embittered against the teacher. But however much they might object to him and desire his removal, their united protests would not have had the weight of a feather. So the teacher remained at Winchester for twelve years. During all these years he instructed our young friends Belton and Bernard.
Strangely enough, his ardent love for Bernard and his bitter hatred of Belton accomplished the very same result in respect to their acquirements. The teacher soon discovered that both boys were talented far beyond the ordinary, and that both were ambitious. He saw that the way to wound and humiliate Belton was to make Bernard excel him. Thus he bent all of his energies to improve Bernard's mind. Whenever he heard Belton recite he brought all of his talents to bear to point out his failures, hoping thus to exalt Bernard, out of whose work he strove to keep all blemishes. Thus Belton became accustomed to the closest scrutiny, and prepared himself accordingly. The result was that Bernard did not gain an inch on him.
The teacher introduced the two boys into every needed field of knowledge, as they grew older, hoping always to find some branch in which Bernard might display unquestioned superiority. There were two studies in which the two rivals dug deep to see which could bring forth the richest treasures; and these gave coloring to the whole of their afterlives. One, was the History of the United States, and the other, Rhetoric.
In history, that portion that charmed them most was the story of the rebellion against the yoke of England. Far and wide they went in search of everything that would throw light on this epoch. They became immersed in the spirit of that heroic age.
As a part of their rhetorical training they were taught to declaim. Thanks to their absorption in the history of the Revolution, their minds ran to the sublime in literature; and they strove to secure pieces to declaim that recited the most heroic deeds of man, of whatever nationality.
Leonidas, Marco Bozarris, Arnold Winklereid, Louis Kossuth, Robert Emmett, Martin Luther, Patrick Henry and such characters furnished the pieces almost invariably declaimed. They threw their whole souls into these, and the only natural thing resulted. No human soul can breathe the atmosphere of heroes and read with bated breath their deeds of daring without craving for the opportunity to do the like. Thus the education of these two young men went on.
At the expiration of twelve years they had acquired an academic education that could not be surpassed anywhere in the land. Their reputation as brilliant students and eloquent speakers had spread over the whole surrounding country.
The teacher decided to graduate the young men; and he thought to utilize the occasion as a lasting humiliation of Belton and exaltation of his favorite, Bernard Belgrave. Belton felt this.
In the first part of this last school year of the boys, he had told them to prepare for a grand commencement exercise, and they acted accordingly. Each one chose his subject and began the preparation of his oration early in the session, each keeping his subject and treatment secret from the other.
The teacher had announced that numerous white citizens would be present; among them the congressman from the district and the mayor of the town. Belton determined upon two things, away down in his soul. He determined to win in the oratorical contest, and to get his revenge on his teacher on the day that the teacher had planned for his—(Belton's) humiliation. Bernard did not have the incentive that Belton did; but defeat was ever galling to him, and he, too, had determined to win.
The teacher often reviewed the progress made by Bernard on his oration, but did not notice Belton's at all. He strove to make Bernard's oration as nearly perfect as labor and skill could make it. But Belton was not asleep as to either of the resolutions he had formed. Some nights he could be seen stealing away from the congressman's residence. On others he could be seen leaving the neighborhood of the school, with a spade in one hand and a few carpenter's tools in the other.
He went to the congressman, who was a polished orator with a national reputation, in order that he might purge his oration from its impurities of speech. As the congressman read the oration and perceived the depth of thought, the logical arrangement, the beauty and rhythm of language, and the wide research displayed, he opened his eyes wide with astonishment. He was amazed that a young man of such uncommon talents could have grown up in his town and he not know it. Belton's marvelous talents won his respect and admiration, and he gave him access to his library and criticized his oration whenever needed.
Secretly and silently preparations went on for the grand conflict. At last the day came. The colored men and women of the place laid aside all work to attend the exercises. The forward section of seats was reserved for the white people. The congressman, the mayor, the school trustees and various other men of standing came, accompanied by their wives and daughters.
Scholars of various grades had parts to perform on the programme, but the eyes of all sought the bottom of the page where were printed the names of the two oratorical gladiators:
"BELTON PIEDMONT. BERNARD BELGRAVE."
The teacher had given Bernard the last place, deeming that the more advantageous. He appointed the congressman, the mayor, and one of the school trustees to act as judges, to decide to whom he should award a beautiful gold medal for the more excellent oration. The congressman politely declined and named another trustee in his stead. Then the contest began. As Belton walked up on the platform the children greeted him with applause. He announced as his subject: "The Contribution of the Anglo-Saxon to the Cause of Human Liberty." In his strong, earnest voice, he began to roll off his well turned periods. The whole audience seemed as if in a trance. His words made their hearts burn, and time and again he made them burst forth in applause.
The white people who sat and listened to his speech looked upon it as a very revelation to them, they themselves not having had as clear a conception of the glory of their race as this Negro now revealed. When he had finished, white men and women crowded to the front to congratulate him upon his effort, and it was many minutes before quiet was restored sufficiently to allow the programme to proceed.
Bernard took his position on the platform, announcing as his subject: "Robert Emmett." His voice was sweet and well modulated and never failed to charm. Admiration was plainly depicted on every face as he proceeded. He brought to bear all the graces of a polished orator, and more than once tears came into the eyes of his listeners. Particularly affecting was his description of Emmett's death. At the conclusion it was evident that his audience felt that it would have been difficult to have handled that subject better.
The judges now retired to deliberate as to whom to give the prize. While they are out, let us examine Belton's plans for carrying out the second thing, upon the accomplishment of which he was determined; viz., revenge.
In the rear of the schoolhouse, there stood an old wood-shed. For some slight offence the teacher had, two or three years back, made Belton the fire-maker for the balance of his school life instead of passing the task around according to custom. Thus the care of the wood-house had fallen permanently to Belton's lot.
During the last year Belton had dug a large hole running from the floor of the wood-shed to a point under the platform of the school room. The dirt from this underground channel he cast into a deep old unused well, not far distant. Once under the platform, he kept on digging, making the hole larger by far. Numerous rocks abounded in the neighborhood, and these he used to wall up his underground room, so that it would hold water. Just in the middle of the school-room platform he cut, from beneath, a square hole, taking in the spot where the teacher invariably stood when addressing the school. He cut the boards until they lacked but a very little, indeed, of being cut through. All looked well above, but a baby would not be safe standing thereon. Belton contrived a kind of prop with a weight attached. This prop would serve to keep the cut section from breaking through. The attached weight was at rest in a hole left in the wall of the cavity near its top. If you dislocated the weight, the momentum that it would gather in the fall would pull down the prop to which it was attached.
Finally, Belton fastened a strong rope to the weight, and ran the rope under the schoolhouse floor until it was immediately beneath his seat. With an auger he made a hole in the floor and brought the end through. He managed to keep this bit of rope concealed, while at the same time he had perfect command of his trap door.
For two or three nights previous to commencement day Belton had worked until nearly morning filling this cistern with water. Now when through delivering his oration, he had returned to his seat to await the proper moment for the payment of his teacher. The judges were out debating the question as to who had won. They seemed to be unable to decide who was victorious and beckoned for the teacher to step outside.
They said: "That black nigger has beat the yellow one all to pieces this time, but we don't like to see nigger blood triumph over any Anglo-Saxon blood. Ain't there any loop-hole where we can give it to Bernard, anyhow?"
"Well, yes," said the teacher eagerly, "on the ground of good behavior."
"There you hit it," said the Mayor. "So we all decide."
The judges filed in, and the Mayor arose to announce their decision. "We award," said he to the breathless audience, "the prize to Bernard Belgrave."
"No! no! no!" burst forth from persons all over the house. The congressman arose and went up to Belton and congratulated him upon his triumph over oratory, and lamented his defeat by prejudice. This action caused a perceptible stir in the entire audience.
The teacher went to his desk and produced a large gold medal. He took his accustomed place on the platform and began thus:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the proudest moment of my life." He got no further. Belton had pulled the rope, the rope had caused the weight to fall, and the weight had pulled the prop and down had gone the teacher into a well of water.
"Murder! Murder! Murder!" he cried "Help! Help! Help! I am drowning. Take me out, it is cold."
The audience rushed forward expecting to find the teacher in a dangerous situation; but they found him standing, apparently unharmed, in a cistern, the water being a little more than waist deep. Their fright gave way to humor and a merry shout went up from the throats of the scholars.
The colored men and women laughed to one side, while the white people smiled as though they had admired the feat as a fine specimen of falling from the sublime to the ridiculous. Bending down over the well, the larger students caught hold of the teacher's arms and lifted him out.
He stood before the audience wet and shivering, his clothes sticking to him, and water dripping from his hair. The medal was gone. The teacher dismissed the audience, drew his last month's pay and left that night for parts unknown.
Sometimes, even a worm will turn when trodden upon.
BELTON FINDS A FRIEND.
Long before the rifle ball, the cannon shot, and the exploding shell were through their fiendish task of covering the earth with mortals slain; while the startled air was yet busy in hurrying to Heaven the groans of the dying soldier, accompanied as they were by the despairing shrieks of his loved ones behind; while horrid War, in frenzied joy, yet waved his bloody sword over the nation's head, and sought with eager eagle eyes every drop of clotted gore over which he might exult; in the midst of such direful days as these, there were those at the North whom the love of God and the eye of faith taught to leap over the scene of strife to prepare the trembling negro for the day of freedom, which, refusing to have a dawn, had burst in meridian splendor upon his dazzled gaze.
Into the southland there came rushing consecrated Christians, men and women, eager to provide for the negro a Christian education. Those who stayed behind gathered up hoarded treasures and gladly poured them into the lap of the South for the same laudable purpose. As a result of the coming of this army of workers, bearing in their arms millions of money, ere many years had sped, well nigh every southern state could proudly boast of one or more colleges where the aspiring negro might quench has thirst for knowledge.
So when Bernard and Belton had finished their careers at the Winchester public school, colleges abounded in the South beckoning them to enter. Bernard preferred to go to a northern institution, and his mother sent him to enter Harvard University.
Belton was poor and had no means of his own with which to pursue his education; but by the hand of providence a most unexpected door was opened to him. The Winchester correspondent of the Richmond Daily Temps reported the commencement exercises of the Winchester public school of the day that Belton graduated. The congressman present at the exercises spoke so highly of Belton's speech that the correspondent secured a copy from Belton and sent it to the editor of The Temps.
This was printed in The Temps and created a great sensation in political and literary circles in every section of the country. Every newspaper of any consequence reproduced the oration in full. It was published and commented upon by the leading journals of England. The President of the United States wrote a letter of congratulation to Belton. Everywhere the piece was hailed as a classic.
After reading the oration, Mr. V.M. King, editor of The Temps, decided to take it home with him and read it to his wife. She met him at the door and as he kissed her she noticed that there was a sober look in his eye. Tenderly he brushed back a few stray locks of his wife's hair, saying as he did so, in a somewhat troubled tone: "Wife, it has come at last. May the good Lord cease not to watch over our beloved but erring land." She inquired as to what he meant. He led her to his study and read to her Belton's oration.
In order to understand the words which we have just quoted as being spoken by him to his wife, let us, while he reads, become a little better acquainted with Mr. King and his paper, The Temps.
Mr. King was born and reared in Virginia, was educated at a Northern University, and had sojourned for several years in England. He was a man of the broadest culture. For several years he had given the negro problem most profound study. His views on the subject were regarded by the white people of the South as ultra-liberal. These views he exploited through his paper, The Temps, with a boldness and vigor, gaining thereby great notoriety.
Though a democrat in politics, he was most bitterly opposed to the practice, almost universal in the South, of cheating the negro out of his right to vote. He preached that it was unjust to the negro and fatal to the morals of the whites.
On every possible occasion he viciously assaulted the practice of lynching, denouncing it in most scathing terms. In short, he was an outspoken advocate of giving the negro every right accorded him by the Constitution of the United States.
He saw the South leading the young negro boy and girl to school, where, at the expense of the state, they were taught to read history and learn what real liberty was, and the glorious struggles through which the human race had come in order to possess it. He foresaw that the rising, educated negro would allow his eye to linger long on this bloody but glorious page until that most contagious of diseases, devotion to liberty, infected his soul.
He reasoned that the negro who had endured the hardships of slavery might spend his time looking back and thanking God for that from which he had made his escape; but the young negro, knowing nothing of physical slavery, would be peering into the future, measuring the distance that he had yet to go before he was truly free, and would be asking God and his own right arm for the power to secure whatever rights were still withheld.
He argued that, living as the negro did beneath the American flag, known as the flag of freedom, studying American history, and listening on the outer edge of great Fourth of July crowds to eloquent orators discourse on freedom, it was only a matter of a few years before the negro would deify liberty as the Anglo-Saxon race had done, and count it a joy to perish on her altar.
In order that the Republic might ever stand, he knew that the principles of liberty would have to be continually taught with all the eloquence and astuteness at command; and if this teaching had the desired effect upon the white man it would also be powerful enough to awaken the negro standing by his side.
So, his ear was to the ground, expecting every moment to hear the far off sounds of awakened negroes coming to ask for liberty, and if refused, to slay or be slain.
When he read Belton's oration he saw that the flame of liberty was in his heart, her sword in his hand, and the disdain of death stamped on his brow. He felt that Belton was the morning star which told by its presence that dawn was near at hand.
Thus it was that he said to his wife: "Wife, it has come at last. May the good Lord cease not to watch over our beloved land."
This expression was not the offspring of fear as to the outcome of a possible conflict, for, Anglo-Saxon like, that was with him a foregone conclusion in favor of his own race. But he shuddered at the awful carnage that would of necessity ensue if two races, living house to house, street to street, should be equally determined upon a question at issue, equally disdainful of life, fighting with the rancor always attendant upon a struggle between two races that mutually despise and detest each other.
He knew that it was more humane, more in accordance with right, more acceptable with God, to admit to the negro that Anglo-Saxon doctrine of the equality of man was true, rather than to murder the negro for accepting him at his word, though spoken to others.
Feeling thus, he pleaded with his people to grant to the negro his rights, though he never hinted at a possible rebellion, for fear that the mention of it might hasten the birth of the idea in the brain of the negro.
That evening, after he had read the oration to his wife and told her of his forebodings, he sat with his face buried in his hands, brooding over the situation. Late in the night he retired to rest, and the next morning, when he awoke, his wife was standing by his bed, calling him. She saw that his sleep was restless and thought that he was having troubled dreams. And so he was.
He dreamed that a large drove of fatted swine were munching acorns in a very dense forest of oaks, both tall and large. The oaks were sending the acorns down in showers, and the hogs were greedily consuming them. The hogs ate so many that they burst open, and from their rotting carcasses fresh oaks sprang and grew with surprising rapidity. A dark cloud arose and a terrible hurricane swept over the forest; and the old and new oaks fought furiously in the storm, until a loud voice, like unto that of a God, cried out above all the din of the hurricane, saying in tones of thunder: "Know ye not that ye are parents and children? Parents, recognize your children. Children, be proud of the parents from whom you spring."
The hurricane ceased, the clouds sped away as if in terror, and the oaks grew up together under a clear sky of the purest blue, and beautiful birds of all kinds built their nests in the trees, and carolled forth the sweetest songs.
He placed upon the dream the following interpretation:
The swine were the negroes. The oak trees were the white people. The acorns were the doctrine of human liberty, everywhere preached by Anglo-Saxons. The negroes, feasting off of the same thought, had become the same kind of being as the white man, and grew up to a point of equality. The hurricane was the contest between the two races over the question of equality. The voice was intended to inform the whites that they had brought about these aspirations in the bosom of the negro, and that the liberty-loving negro was their legitimate offspring, and not a bastard. The whites should recognize their own doings. On the other hand, the negro should not be over boastful, and should recognize that the lofty conception of the dignity of man and value and true character of liberty were taught him by the Anglo-Saxon. The birds betokened a happy adjustment of all differences; and the dream that began in the gloom of night ended in the dawn of day.
Mr. King was very cheerful, therefore, and decided to send to Winchester for Belton, thinking that it might be a wise thing to keep an eye and a friendly hand on a young negro of such promise. In the course of a couple of days, Belton, in response to his request, arrived in Richmond. He called at the office of The Temps and was ushered into Mr. King's office.
Mr. King had him take a seat. He enquired of Belton his history, training, etc. He also asked as to his plans for the future. Finding that Belton was desirous of securing a college education, but was destitute of funds, Mr. King gladly embraced the opportunity of displaying his kind interest. He offered to pay Belton's way through college, and the offer was gladly accepted.
He told Belton to call at his home that evening at seven o'clock to receive a check for his entire college course. At the appointed hour Belton appeared at Mr. King's residence.
Mr. King was sitting on his front porch, between his wife and aged mother, while his two children, a girl and boy, were playing on the lawn. Belton was invited to take a seat, much to his surprise.
Seeing a stranger, the children left their play and came to their father, one on each side. They looked with questioning eyes from father to Belton, as if seeking to know the purpose of the visit.
Mr. King took the check from his pocket and extended it toward Belton, and said: "Mr. Piedmont, this will carry you through college. I have only one favor to ask of you. In all your dealings with my people recognize the fact that there are two widely separated classes of us, and that there is a good side to the character of the worst class. Always seek for and appeal to that side of their nature."
Belton very feelingly thanked Mr. King, and assured him that he would treasure his words. He was true to his promise, and decided from that moment to never class all white men together, whatever might be the provocation, and to never regard any class as totally depraved.
This is one of the keys to his future life. Remember it.
A YOUNG REBEL.
In the city of Nashville, Tennessee, there is a far famed institution of learning called Stowe University, in honor of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
This institution was one of the many scores of its kind, established in the South by Northern philanthropy, for the higher education of the Negro. Though called a university, it was scarcely more than a normal school with a college department attached.
It was situated just on the outskirts of the city, on a beautiful ten-acre plot of ground. The buildings were five in number, consisting of a dormitory for young men, two for young ladies, a building for recitations, and another, called the teachers' mansion; for the teachers resided there. These buildings were very handsome, and were so arranged upon the level campus as to present a very attractive sight.
With the money which had been so generously given him by Mr. King, Belton entered this school. That was a proud day in his life when he stepped out of the carriage and opened the University gate, feeling that he, a Negro, was privileged to enter college. Julius Caesar, on entering Rome in triumph, with the world securely chained to his chariot wheels; Napoleon, bowing to receive the diadem of the Caesars' won by the most notable victories ever known to earth; General Grant, on his triumphal tour around the globe, when kings and queens were eager rivals to secure from this man of humble birth the sweeter smile; none of these were more full of pleasurable emotion than this poor Negro lad, who now with elastic step and beating heart marched with head erect beneath the arch of the doorway leading into Stowe University.
Belton arrived on the Saturday preceding the Monday on which school would open for that session. He found about three hundred and sixty students there from all parts of the South, the young women outnumbering the young men in about the proportion of two to one.
On the Sunday night following his arrival the students all assembled in the general assembly room of the recitation building, which room, in the absence of a chapel, was used as the place for religious worship. The president of the school, a venerable white minister from the North, had charge of the service that evening. He did not on this occasion preach a sermon, but devoted the hour to discoursing upon the philanthropic work done by the white people of the North for the freedmen of the South.
A map of the United States was hanging on the wall, facing the assembled school. On this map there were black dots indicating all places where a school of learning had been planted for the colored people by their white friends of the North. Belton sat closely scrutinizing the map. His eyes swept from one end to the other. Persons were allowed to ask any questions desired, and Belton was very inquisitive.
When the hour of the lecture was over he was deeply impressed with three thoughts: First, his heart went out in love to those who had given so freely of their means and to those who had dedicated their lives to the work of uplifting his people.
Secondly, he saw an immense army of young men and women being trained in the very best manner in every section of the South, to go forth to grapple with the great problems before them. He felt proud of being a member of so promising an army, and felt that they were to determine the future of the race. In fact, this thought was reiterated time and again by the president.
Thirdly, Belton was impressed that it was the duty of those receiving such great blessings to accomplish achievements worthy of the care bestowed. He felt that the eyes of the North and of the civilized world were upon them to see the fruits of the great labor and money spent upon them.
Before he retired to rest that night, he besought God to enable him and his people, as a mark of appreciation of what had been done for the race, to rise to the full measure of just expectation and prove worthy of all the care bestowed. He went through school, therefore, as though the eyes of the world were looking at the race enquiringly; the eyes of the North expectantly; and the eyes of God lovingly,—three grand incentives to his soul.
When these schools were first projected, the White South that then was, fought them with every weapon at its command. Ridicule, villification, ostracism, violence, arson, murder were all employed to hinder the progress of the work. Outsiders looked on and thought it strange that they should do this. But, just as a snake, though a venomous animal, by instinct knows its enemy and fights for its life with desperation, just so the Old South instinctively foresaw danger to its social fabric as then constituted, and therefore despised and fought the agencies that were training and inspiring the future leaders of the Negro race in such a manner as to render a conflict inevitable and of doubtful termination.
The errors in the South, anxious for eternal life, rightfully feared these schools more than they would have feared factories making powder, moulding balls and fashioning cannons. But the New South, the South that, in the providence of God, is yet to be, could not have been formed in the womb of time had it not been for these schools. And so the receding murmurs of the scowling South that was, are lost in the gladsome shouts of the South which, please God, is yet to be.
But lest we linger too long, let us enter school here with Belton. On the Monday following the Sunday night previously indicated, Belton walked into the general assembly room to take his seat with the other three hundred and sixty pupils. It was the custom for the school to thus assemble for devotional exercises. The teachers sat in a row across the platform, facing the pupils. The president sat immediately in front of the desk, in the center of the platform, and the teachers sat on either side of him.
To Belton's surprise, he saw a colored man sitting on the right side of and next to the president. He was sitting there calmly, self-possessed, exactly like the rest. He crossed his legs and stroked his beard in a most matter of fact way. Belton stared at this colored man, with his lips apart and his body bent forward. He let his eyes scan the faces of all the white teachers, male and female, but would end up with a stare at the colored man sitting there. Finally, he hunched his seat-mate with his elbow and asked what man that was. He was told that it was the colored teacher of the faculty.
Belton knew that there was a colored teacher in the school but he had no idea that he would be thus honored with a seat with the rest of the teachers. A broad, happy smile spread over his face, and his eyes danced with delight. He had, in his boyish heart, dreamed of the equality of the races and sighed and hoped for it; but here, he beheld it in reality. Though he, as a rule, shut his eyes when prayer was being offered, he kept them open that morning, and peeped through his fingers at that thrilling sight,—a colored man on equal terms with the white college professors.
Just before the classes were dismissed to their respective class rooms, the teachers came together in a group to discuss some matter, in an informal way. The colored teacher was in the center of the group and discussed the matter as freely as any; and he was listened to with every mark of respect. Belton kept a keen watch on the conference and began rubbing his hands and chuckling to himself with delight at seeing the colored teacher participating on equal terms with the other teachers.
The colored teacher's views seemed about to prevail, and as one after another the teachers seemed to fall in line with him Belton could not contain himself longer, but clapped his hands and gave a loud, joyful, "Ha! ha!"
The eyes of the whole school were on him in an instant, and the faculty turned around to discover the source and cause of the disorder. But Belton had come to himself as soon as he made the noise, and in a twinkling was as quiet and solemn looking as a mouse.
The faculty resumed its conference and the students passed the query around as to what was the matter with the "newcomer." A number tapped their heads significantly, saying: "Wrong here." How far wrong were they! They should have put their hands over their hearts and said: "The fire of patriotism here;" for Belton had here on a small scale, the gratification of the deepest passion of his soul, viz., Equality of the races. And what pleased him as much as anything else was the dignified, matter of fact way in which the teacher bore his honors. Belton afterwards discovered that this colored man was vice-president of the faculty.
On a morning, later in the session, the president announced that the faculty would hold its regular weekly meeting that evening, but that he would have to be in the city to attend to other masters. Belton's heart bounded at the announcement. Knowing that the colored teacher was vice-president of the faculty, he saw that he would preside. Belton determined to see that meeting of the faculty if it cost him no end of trouble. He could not afford, under any circumstances, to fail to see that colored man preside over those white men and women.
That night, about 8:30 o'clock, when the faculty meeting had progressed about half way, Belton made a rope of his bed clothes and let himself down to the ground from the window of his room on the second floor of the building. About twenty yards distant was the "mansion," in one room of which the teachers held their faculty meetings. The room in which the meeting was held was on the side of the "mansion" furthest from the dormitory from which Belton had just come. The "mansion" dog was Belton's friend, and a soft whistle quieted his bark. Belton stole around to the side of the house, where the meeting was being held. The weather was mild and the window was hoisted. Belton fell on his knees and crawled to the window, and pulling it up cautiously peeped in. He saw the colored teacher in the chair in the center of the room and others sitting about here and there. He gazed with rapture on the sight. He watched, unmolested, for a long while.
One of the lady teachers was tearing up a piece of paper and arose to come to the window to throw it out. Belton was listening, just at that time, to what the colored teacher was saying, and did not see the lady coming in his direction. Nor did the lady see the form of a man until she was near at hand. At the sight she threw up her hands and screamed loudly from fright. Belton turned and fled precipitately. The chicken-coop door had been accidentally left open and Belton, unthinkingly, jumped into the chicken house. The chickens set up a lively cackle, much to his chagrin. He grasped an old rooster to stop him, but missing the rooster's throat, the rooster gave the alarm all the more vociferously. Teachers had now crowded to the window and were peering out. Some of the men started to the door to come out. Belton saw this movement and decided that the best way for him to do was to play chicken thief and run. Grasping a hen with his other hand, he darted out of the chicken house and fled from the college ground, the chickens squalling all the while. He leapt the college fence at a bound and wrung off the heads of the chickens to stop the noise.
The teachers decided that they had been visited by a Negro, hunting for chickens; laughed heartily at their fright and resumed deliberations. Thus again a patriot was mistaken for a chicken thief; and in the South to-day a race that dreams of freedom, equality, and empire, far more than is imagined, is put down as a race of chicken thieves. As in Belton's case, this conception diverts attention from places where startling things would otherwise be discovered.
In due time Belton crept back to the dormitory, and by a signal agreed upon, roused his room-mate, who let down the rope, by means of which he ascended; and when seated gave his room-mate an account of his adventure.
Sometime later on, Belton in company with another student was sent over to a sister University in Nashville to carry a note for the president. This University also had a colored teacher who was one point in advance of Belton's. This teacher ate at the same table with the white teachers, while Belton's teacher ate with the students. Belton passed by the dining room of the teachers of this sister University and saw the colored teacher enjoying a meal with the white teachers. He could not enjoy the sight as much as he would have liked, from thinking about the treatment his teacher was receiving. He had not, prior to this, thought of that discrimination, but now it burned him.
He returned to his school and before many days had passed he had called together all the male students. He informed them that they ought to perfect a secret organization and have a password. They all agreed to secrecy and Belton gave this as the pass word: "Equality or Death."
He then told them that it was his ambition and purpose to coerce the white teachers into allowing the colored teacher to eat with them. They all very readily agreed; for the matter of his eating had been thoroughly canvassed for a number of sessions, but it seemed as though no one dared to suggest a combination. During slavery all combinations of slaves were sedulously guarded against, and a fear of combinations seems to have been injected into the Negro's very blood.
The very boldness of Belton's idea swept the students away from the lethargic harbor in which they had been anchored, and they were eager for action. Belton was instructed to prepare the complaint, which they all agreed to sign. They decided that it was to be presented to the president just before devotional exercises and an answer was to be demanded forthwith. One of the young men had a sister among the young lady students, and, through her Belton's rebellion was organized among the girls and their signatures secured.
The eventful morning came. The teachers glanced over the assembled students, and were surprised to see them dressed in their best clothes as though it was the Sabbath. There was a quiet satisfied look on their faces that the teachers did not understand.
The president arrived a little late and found an official envelope on his desk. He hurriedly broke the seal and began to read. His color came and went. The teachers looked at him wonderingly. The president laid the document aside and began the devotional exercises. He was nervous throughout, and made several blunders. He held his hymn book upside down while they were singing, much to the amusement of the school. It took him some time to find the passage of scripture which he desired to read, and after reading forgot for some seconds to call on some one to pray.
When the exercises were through he arose and took the document nervously in hand. He said; "I have in my hands a paper from the students of this institution concerning a matter with which they have nothing to do. This is my answer. The classes will please retire." Here he gave three strokes to the gong, the signal for dispersion. But not a student moved. The president was amazed. He could not believe his own eyes. He rang the gong a second time and yet no one moved. He then in nervous tones repeated his former assertions and then pulled the gong nervously many times in succession. All remained still. At a signal from Belton, all the students lifted their right hands, each bearing a small white board on which was printed in clear type: "Equality or Death."
The president fell back, aghast, and the white teachers were all struck dumb with fear. They had not dreamed that a combination of their pupils was possible, and they knew not what it foreboded. A number grasped the paper that was giving so much trouble and read it. They all then held a hurried consultation and assured the students that the matter should receive due attention.
The president then rang the gong again but the students yet remained. Belton then arose and stated that it was the determination of the students to not move an inch unless the matter was adjusted then and there. And that faculty of white teachers beat a hasty retreat and held up the white flag! They agreed that the colored teacher should eat with them.
The students broke forth into cheering, and flaunted a black flag on which was painted in white letters; "Victory." They rose and marched out of doors two by two, singing "John Brown's Body lies mouldering in the grave, and we go marching on."
The confused and bewildered teachers remained behind, busy with their thoughts. They felt like hens who had lost their broods. The cringing, fawning, sniffling, cowardly Negro which slavery left, had disappeared, and a new Negro, self-respecting, fearless, and determined in the assertion of his rights was at hand.
Ye who chronicle history and mark epochs in the career of races and nations must put here a towering, gigantic, century stone, as marking the passing of one and the ushering in of another great era in the history of the colored people of the United States. Rebellions, for one cause or another, broke out in almost every one of these schools presided over by white faculties, and as a rule, the Negro students triumphed.
These men who engineered and participated in these rebellions were the future leaders of their race. In these rebellions, they learned the power of combinations, and that white men could be made to capitulate to colored men under certain circumstances. In these schools, probably one hundred thousand students had these thoughts instilled in them. These one hundred thousand went to their respective homes and told of their prowess to their playmates who could not follow them to the college walls. In the light of these facts the great events yet to be recorded are fully accounted for.
Remember that this was Belton's first taste of rebellion against the whites for the securing of rights denied simply because of color. In after life he is the moving, controlling, guiding spirit in one on a far larger scale; it need not come as a surprise. His teachers and school-mates predicted this of him.
A SERMON, A SOCK AND A FIGHT.
Belton remained at Stowe University, acquiring fame as an orator and scholar. His intellect was pronounced by all to be marvelously bright.
We now pass over all his school career until we come to the closing days of the session in which he graduated. School was to close on Thursday, and the Sunday night previous had been designated as the time for the Baccalaureate sermon. On this occasion the entire school assembled in the general assembly room,—the graduating class occupying the row of front seats stretching across the room. The class, this year, numbered twenty-five; and they presented an appearance that caused the hearts of the people to swell with pride.
Dr. Lovejoy, president of the University, was to preach the sermon. He chose for his text, "The Kingdom of God is within us." We shall choose from his discourse just such thoughts as may throw light upon some events yet to be recorded, which might not otherwise be accounted for:
"Young men, we shall soon push you forth into the midst of a turbulent world, to play such a part as the voice of God may assign you. You go forth, amid the shouts and huzzahs of cheering friends, and the anxious prayers of the faithful of God. The part that you play, the character of your return journey, triumphant or inglorious, will depend largely upon how well you have learned the lesson of this text. Remember that the kingdom of God is within you. Do not go forth into the world to demand favors of the world, but go forth to give unto the world. Be strong in your own hearts.
"The world is like unto a wounded animal that has run a long way and now lies stretched upon the ground, the blood oozing forth from gaping wounds and pains darting through its entire frame. The huntsman, who comes along to secure and drink the feverish milk of this animal that is all but a rotting carcass, seriously endangers his own well being. So, young men, do not look upon this dying, decaying world to feed and support you. You must feed and support it. Carry fresh, warm, invigorating blood in your veins to inject into the veins of the world. This is far safer and nobler than sticking the lance into the swollen veins of the world, to draw forth its putrid blood for your own use. I not only exhort you but I warn you. You may go to this dying animal as a surgeon, and proceed to cut off the sound portions for your own use. You may deceive the world for awhile, but it will, ere long, discover whether you are a vandal or a surgeon; and if it finds you to be the former, when you are closest to its bosom, it will squeeze you tightly and tear your face to shreds.
"I wish now to apply these thoughts to your immediate circumstances.
"You shall be called upon to play a part in the adjusting of positions between the negro and Anglo-Saxon races of the South. The present status of affairs cannot possibly remain. The Anglo-Saxon race must surrender some of its outposts, and the negro will occupy these. To bring about this evacuation on the part of the Anglo-Saxon, and the forward march of the negro, will be your task. This is a grave and delicate task, fraught with much good or evil, weal or woe. Let us urge you to undertake it in the spirit to benefit the world, and not merely to advance your own glory.
"The passions of men will soon be running high, and by feeding these passions with the food for which they clamor you may attain the designation of a hero. But, with all the energy of my soul, I exhort you to not play with fire, merely for the sake of the glare that it may cast upon you. Use no crisis for self-aggrandizement. Be so full of your own soul's wealth that these temptations may not appeal to you. When your vessel is ploughing the roughest seas and encountering the fiercest gales, consult as your chart the welfare of the ship and crew, though you may temporarily lose fame as a captain.
"Young men, you are highly favored of God. A glorious destiny awaits your people. The gates of the beautiful land of the future are flung wide. Your people stand before these gates peering eagerly within. They are ready to march. They are waiting for their commanders and the command to move forward. You are the commanders who must give the command. I urge, I exhort, I beseech you, my dear boys, to think not of yourselves. Let your kingdom be within. Lead them as they ought to be led, taking no thought to your own glory.
"If you heed my voice you shall become true patriots. If you disregard it, you will become time-serving demagogues, playing upon the passions of the people for the sake of short-lived notoriety. Such men would corral all the tigers in the forest and organize them into marauding regiments simply for the honor of being in the lead. Be ye none of these, my boys. May your Alma Mater never feel called upon to cry to God in anguish to paralyze the hand that she herself has trained.
"Be not a burrowing parasite, feasting off of the world's raw blood. Let the world draw life from you. Use not the misfortunes of your people as stones of a monument erected to your name. If you do, the iron fist of time will knock it over on your grave to crumble your decaying bones to further dust.
"Always serve the world as the voice of good conscience, instructed by a righteous God, may direct. Do this and thou shalt live; live in the sweetened memory of your countrymen; live in the heart of your Alma Mater; live when the earth is floating dust, when the stars are dead, when the sun is a charred and blackened ruin; live on the bosom of your Savior, by the throne of his God, in the eternal Heavens."
The teacher's soul was truly in his discourse and his thoughts sank deep into the hearts of his hearers. None listened more attentively than Belton. None were more deeply impressed than he. None more readily incorporated the principles enumerated as a part of their living lives.
When the preacher sat down he bowed his head in his hands. His frame shook. His white locks fluttered in the gentle spring breeze. In silence he prayed. He earnestly implored God to not allow his work and words to be in vain. The same fervent prayer was on Belton's lips, rising from the center of his soul. Somewhere, these prayers met, locked arms and went before God together. In due time the answer came.
This sermon had much to do with Belton's subsequent career. But an incident apparently trivial in itself was the occasion of a private discourse that had even greater influence over him. It occurred on Thursday following the night of the delivery of the sermon just reported. It was on this wise:
Belton had, in everything, excelled his entire class, and was, according to the custom, made valedictorian. His room-mate was insanely jealous of him, and sought every way possible to humiliate him. He had racked his brain for a scheme to play on Belton on commencement day, and he at last found one that gave him satisfaction.
There was a student in Stowe University who was noted for his immense height and for the size and scent of his feet. His feet perspired freely, summer and winter, and the smell was exceedingly offensive. On this account he roomed to himself. Whenever other students called to see him he had a very effective way of getting rid of them, when he judged that they had stayed long enough. He would complain of a corn and forthwith pull off a shoe. If his room was crowded, this act invariably caused it to be empty. The fame of these feet spread to the teachers and young ladies, and, in fact, to the city. And the huge Mississippian seemed to relish the distinction.
Whenever Belton was to deliver an oration he always arranged his clothes the night beforehand. So, on the Wednesday night of the week in question, he carefully brushed and arranged his clothes for the next day. In the valedictory there were many really touching things, and in rehearsing it before his room-mate Belton had often shed tears. Fearing that he might he so touched that tears would come to his eyes in the final delivery, he had bought a most beautiful and costly silk handkerchief. He carefully stowed this away in the tail pocket of his handsome Prince Albert suit of lovely black. He hung his coat in the wardrobe, very carefully, so that he would merely have to take it down and put it on the next day.
His room-mate watched his movements closely, but slyly. He arose when he saw Belton hang his coat up. He went down the corridor until he arrived at the room occupied by the Mississippian. He knocked, and after some little delay, was allowed to enter.
The Mississippian was busy rehearsing his oration and did not care to be bothered. But he sat down to entertain Belton's room-mate for a while. He did not care to rehearse his oration before him and he felt able to rout him at any time. They conversed on various things for a while, when Belton's room-mate took up a book and soon appeared absorbed in reading. He was sitting on one side of a study table in the center of the room while the Mississippian was on the other. Thinking that his visitor had now stayed about long enough, the Mississippian stooped down quietly and removed one shoe. He slyly watched Belton's room-mate, chuckling inwardly. But his fun died away into a feeling of surprise when he saw that his shoeless foot was not even attracting attention.
He stooped down and pulled off the other shoe, and his surprise developed into amazement when he saw that the combined attack produced no result. Belton's room-mate seemed absorbed in reading.
The Mississippian next pulled off his coat and pretending to yawn and stretch, lifted his arms just so that the junction of his arm with his shoulder was on a direct line with his visitor's nose. Belton's room-mate made a slight grimace, but kept on reading. The Mississippian was dumbfounded.
He then signified his intention of retiring to bed and undressed, eyeing his visitor all the while, hoping that the scent of his whole body would succeed.
He got into bed and was soon snoring loudly enough to be heard two or three rooms away; but Belton's room-mate seemed to pay no attention to the snoring.
The Mississippian gave up the battle in disgust, saying to himself: "That fellow regards scents and noises just as though he was a buzzard, hatched in a cleft of the roaring Niagara Falls." So saying, he fell asleep in reality and the snoring increased in volume and speed.
Belton's room-mate now took a pair of large new socks out of his pocket and put them into the Mississippian's shoes, from which he took the dirty socks already there. Having these dirty socks, he quietly tips out of the room and returns to his and Belton's room.
Belton desired to make the speech of his life the next day, and had retired to rest early so as to be in prime nervous condition for the effort. His room-mate stole to the wardrobe and stealthily extracted the silk handkerchief and put these dirty socks in its stead. Belton was then asleep, perhaps dreaming of the glories of the morrow.
Thursday dawned and Belton arose, fresh and vigorous. He was cheerful and buoyant that day; he was to graduate bedecked with all the honors of his class. Mr. King, his benefactor, was to be present. His mother had saved up her scant earnings and had come to see her son wind up the career on which she had sent him forth, years ago.
The assembly room was decorated with choice flowers and presented the appearance of the Garden of Eden. On one side of the room sat the young lady pupils, while on the other the young men sat. Visitors from the city came in droves and men of distinction sat on the platform. The programme was a good one, but all eyes dropped to the bottom in quest of Belton's name; for his fame as an orator was great, indeed. The programme passed off as arranged, giving satisfaction and whetting the appetite for Belton's oration. The president announced Belton's name amid a thundering of applause. He stepped forth and cast a tender look in the direction of the fair maiden who had contrived to send him that tiny white bud that showed up so well on his black coat. He moved to the center of the platform and was lustily cheered, he walked with such superb grace and dignity.
He began his oration, capturing his audience with his first sentence and bearing them along on the powerful pinions of his masterly oratory; and when his peroration was over the audience drew its breath and cheered wildly for many, many minutes. He then proceeded to deliver the valedictory to the class. After he had been speaking for some time, his voice began to break with emotion. As he drew near to the most affecting portion he reached to his coat tail pocket to secure his silk handkerchief to brush away the gathering tears. As his hand left his pocket a smile was on well-nigh every face in the audience, but Belton did not see this, but with bowed head, proceeded with his pathetic utterances.
The audience of course was struggling between the pathos of his remarks and the humor of those dirty socks.
Belton's sweetheart began to cry from chagrin and his mother grew restless, anxious to tell him or let him know in some way. Belton's head continued bowed in sadness, as he spoke parting words to his beloved classmates, and lifted his supposed handkerchief to his eyes to wipe away the tears that were now coming freely. The socks had thus come close to Belton's nose and he stopped of a sudden and held them at arm's length to gaze at that terrible, terrible scent producer. When he saw what he held in his hand he flung them in front of him, they falling on some students, who hastily brushed them off.
The house, by this time, was in an uproar of laughter; and the astonished Belton gazed blankly at the socks lying before him. His mind was a mass of confusion. He hardly knew where he was or what he was doing. Self-possession, in a measure, returned to him, and he said: "Ladies and gentlemen, these socks are from Mississippi. I am from Virginia."
This reference to the Mississippian was greeted by an even louder outburst of laughter. Belton bowed and left the platform, murmuring that he would find and kill the rascal who had played that trick on him. The people saw the terrible frown on his face, and the president heard the revengeful words, and all feared that the incident was not closed.
Belton hurried out of the speakers' room and hastily ran to the city to purchase a pistol. Having secured it, he came walking back at a furious pace. By this time the exercises were over and friends were returning to town. They desired to approach Belton and compliment him, and urge him to look lightly on his humorous finale; but he looked so desperate that none dared to approach him.
The president was on the lookout for Belton and met him at the door of the boys' dormitory. He accosted Belton tenderly and placed his hand on his shoulder. Belton roughly pushed him aside and strode into the building and roamed through it, in search of his room-mate, whom he now felt assured did him the trick.
But his room-mate, foreseeing the consequences of detection, had made beforehand every preparation for leaving and was now gone. No one could quiet Belton during that whole day, and he spent the night meditating plans for wreaking vengeance.
The next morning the president came over early, and entering Belton's room, was more kindly received. He took Belton's hand in his and sat down near his side. He talked to Belton long and earnestly, showing him what an unholy passion revenge was. He showed that such a passion would mar any life that yielded to it.
Belton, he urged, was about to allow a pair of dirty socks to wreck his whole life. He drew a picture of the suffering Savior, crying out between darting pains the words of the sentence, the most sublime ever uttered: "Lord forgive them for they know not what they do." Belton was melted to tears of repentance for his unholy passion.
Before the president left Belton's side he felt sure that henceforth a cardinal principle of his life would be to allow God to avenge all his wrongs. It was a narrow escape for Belton; but he thanked God for the lesson, severe as it was, to the day of his death. The world will also see how much it owes to God for planting that lesson in Belton's heart.
Let us relate just one more incident that happened at the winding up of Belton's school life. As we have intimated, one young lady, a student of the school, was very near to Belton. Though he did not love her, his regard for her was very deep and his respect very great.
School closed on Thursday, and the students were allowed to remain in the buildings until the following Monday, when, ordinarily, they left. The young men were allowed to provide conveyances for the young ladies to get to the various depots. They esteemed that a very great privilege.
Belton, as you know, was a very poor lad and had but little money. After paying his expenses incident to his graduation, and purchasing a ticket home, he now had just one dollar and a quarter left. Out of this one dollar and a quarter he was to pay for a carriage ride of this young lady friend to the railway station. This, ordinarily, cost one dollar, and Belton calculated on having a margin of twenty-five cents. But you would have judged him the happy possessor of a large fortune, merely to look at him.
The carriage rolled up to the girls' dormitory and Belton's friend stood on the steps, with her trunks, three in number. When Belton saw that his friend had three trunks, his heart sank. In order to be sure against exorbitant charges the drivers were always made to announce their prices before the journey was commenced. A crowd of girls was standing around to bid the young lady adieu. In an off-hand way Belton said: "Driver what is your fee?" He replied: "For you and the young lady and the trunks, two dollars, sir."
Belton almost froze in his tracks, but, by the most heroic struggling, showed no signs of discomfiture on his face. Endeavoring to affect an air of indifference, he said: "What is the price for the young lady and the trunks?"
"One dollar and fifty cents."
Belton's eyes were apparently fixed on some spot in the immensity of space. The driver, thinking that he was meditating getting another hackman to do the work, added: "You can call any hackman you choose and you won't find one who will do it for a cent less."
Belton's last prop went with this statement. He turned to his friend smilingly and told her to enter, with apparently as much indifference as a millionaire. He got in and sat by her side; but knew not how on earth he was to get out of his predicament.
The young lady chatted gayly and wondered at Belton's dullness. Belton, poor fellow, was having a tough wrestle with poverty and was trying to coin something out of nothing. Now and then, at some humorous remark, he would smile a faint, sickly smile. Thus it went on until they arrived at the station. Belton by this time decided upon a plan of campaign.
They alighted from the carriage and Belton escorted his friend into the coach. He then came back to speak to the driver. He got around the corner of the station house, out of sight of the train and beckoned for the driver to come to him. The driver came and Belton said: "Friend, here is one dollar and a quarter. It is all I have. Trust me for the balance until tomorrow."
"Oh! no," replied the driver. "I must have my money to-day. I have to report to-night and my money must go in. Just fork over the balance, please."
"Well," said Belton rather independently—for he felt that he now had the upper hand,—"I have given you all the money that I have. And you have got to trust me for the balance. You can't take us back," and Belton started to walk away.