VOL. XXIII.—FEBRUARY, 1877.—No. 2.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1877, by SHELDON & CO., in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
ADMINISTRATION OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
The second session of the Thirty-seventh Congress, from its commencement to its close, tested the strength of the Government and the capability of those who administered it. Disappointment, in consequence of no decisive military success during the first few months of the war, had caused a generally depressed feeling which begot discontent and distrust that in various ways found expression in Congress. Democrats complained more of the incapacity of the Executive than of the inefficiency of the generals, and the entire Administration was censured and denounced by them for acts which, if not strictly legal and constitutional in peace, were necessary and unavoidable in war. Republicans, on the other hand, were dissatisfied because so little was accomplished, and the factious imputed military delay to mismanagement and want of energy in the Administration. Indeed, but for some redeeming naval successes at Hatteras and Port Royal preceding the meeting of Congress in December, the whole belligerent operations would have been pronounced weak and imbecile failures. Conflicting views in regard to the slavery question in all its aspects prevailed; the Democrats insisting that fugitives should be returned to their masters under the provisions of law, as in time of peace. The Republicans were divided on this question, one portion agreeing with the Democrats that all should be returned, another claiming that only escaped slaves who belonged to loyal owners, wherever they resided, should be returned; another portion insisted that there should be no rendition of servants of rebel masters, even in loyal or border States, who, by resisting the laws and setting the authorities at defiance, had forfeited their rights and all Governmental protection. Questions in regard to the treatment of captured rebels, and the confiscation of all property of rebels, were agitated. What was the actual condition of the seceding States, and what would be their status when the rebellion should be suppressed, were also beginning to be controverted points, especially among members of Congress. On these and other questions which the insurrection raised, novel, perplexing, and without law or precedent to guide or govern it, the Administration had developed no well defined policy when Congress convened in December, 1861, but it was compelled to act, and that in such a manner as not to alienate friends or give unnecessary offence, while maintaining the Government in all its Federal authority and rights for the preservation of the Union and the suppression of the rebellion.
The character and duration of the war, which many had supposed would be brief, was still undetermined. While affairs were in this uncertain and inchoate condition, and the Administration had no declared policy on some of the most important questions, Congress came together fired with indignation and revenge for a war so causeless and unprovoked. A large portion of the members, exasperated toward the rebels by reason of the war, and dissatisfied with delays and procrastination, which they imputed chiefly to the Administration, were determined there should be prompt and aggressive action against the persons, property, institutions, and the States which had confederated to break up the Union. There was, however, little unity among the complaining members as to the mode and method of prosecuting the war. It was not difficult to find fault with the Administration, but it was not easy for the discontented to settle on any satisfactory plan of continuing it. The Democrats complained that the President transcended his rightful authority; the radical portion of the Republicans that he was not sufficiently aggressive; that he was deficient in energy and too tender of the rebels. It was at this period, after Congress had been in session two months, and opinions were earnest but diverse and factious, with a progeny of crude and mischievous schemes as to the conduct of affairs and the treatment of the rebels, that Senator Sumner, in the absence of a clearly defined policy on the part of the Administration, and while things were not sufficiently matured to adopt one, submitted his project for overthrowing the State governments and reducing them to a territorial condition, and with the subversion of their governments the abolition of slavery. It was the enunciation of a policy that was in conflict with the Constitution, and would change the character of the Government, but which he intended to force upon the Administration. Though a scheme devised by himself, it had in its main features the countenance of many and some able supporters.
President Lincoln had high respect for Mr. Sumner, but was excessively annoyed with this presentation of the extreme, and, as he considered them, unconstitutional and visionary theories of the Massachusetts Senator, which were intended to commit the Government and shape its course. It was precipitating upon the Administration issues on delicate and deeply important subjects at a critical period—issues involving the structure of the Government and the stability of our Federal system. These questions might have to be ultimately met and disposed of, but it was requisite that they should be met with caution and deliberate consideration. The times and condition of the country were inauspicious for considerate statesmanship. The matters in dispute, the consequences and results of the war, were yet in embryo. There could be no union of sentiment on Senator Sumner's plan, nor any other at that period, in the free States, in Congress, or even in the Republican party. There were half a dozen factions to be reconciled or persuaded to act together. This plan was felt to be an element of discord, which, if it could not be finally averted, might in that gloomy period, when the country was threatened and divided, have been temporarily, at least, avoided. But Senator Sumner, though scholarly and cultured, was not always judicious or wisely discreet. The President, as he expressed himself, could not, in the then condition of affairs, afford to have a controversy with Sumner, but he so managed as to check violent and aggressive demands by quietly interposing delay and non-action.
In the mean time, while the subjects of slavery, reconstruction, and confiscation were being vehemently discussed, he felt the necessity of adopting, or at least proposing, some measure to satisfy public sentiment.
On the subject of confiscation there were differing opinions among the Republicans themselves, in Congress, which called out earnest debate. The Radicals, such as Thaddeus Stevens, who were in fact revolutionists and intended that more should be accomplished by the Government than the suppression of the rebellion and the preservation of the Union, were for the immediate and unsparing confiscation of the property of the rebels by act of Congress without awaiting judicial proceedings. In their view and by their plan rebels, if not outlaws, were to be considered and treated as foreigners, not as American citizens; the States in insurrection were to be reduced to the condition of provinces; the people were to be subjugated and their property taken to defray the expenses of the war. Mr. Sumner, less crafty and calculating than Stevens, but ardent and impulsive, was for proceeding to extreme lengths; and, having the power, he urged that they should embrace "the opportunity which God in his beneficence had offered" to extinguish by arbitrary enactment slavery, and all claim to reserved sovereignty in the States; but Judge Collamer, calm and considerate, and other milder men were opposed to any illegal and unjustifiable enactment.
As is too often the case in high party and revolutionary times, the violent and intriguing were likely to be successful, until it came to be understood that the President would feel it obligatory to place upon the extreme and unconstitutional measures his veto. A knowledge of this and the attending fact, that his veto would be sustained, induced Congress to pass a joint resolution, modifying the act, expounding and declaring its meaning, instead of enacting a new and explicit law, which the judiciary, whose province it is, would expound and construe.
The President, in order not to be misunderstood when informing the House of Representatives that he had affixed his signature to the bill and joint resolution, also transmitted a copy of the message he had prepared to veto the act in its original shape, with his objections, in which he said that by a fair construction of the act he considered persons "are not punished without regular trials, in duly constituted courts, under the forms and the substantial provisions of the law and the Constitution applicable to their several cases." It was apprehended at that time, and subsequent acts proved the apprehension well founded, that Congress or its radical leaders were disposed to assume and exercise not only legislative, but judicial and executive powers. Rebels were by Congress to be condemned and their property confiscated and taken without trial and conviction. Such was not the policy of the President, as was soon well understood; and to reconcile him and those who agreed with him, a provision was inserted that persons who should commit treason and be "adjudged guilty thereof" should be punished. But to prevent misconception from equivocal phraseology in a somewhat questionable act, he explicitly made known that "regular trials in duly constituted courts" were to be observed, and the rights of the executive and judicial departments of the Government maintained. This precaution, and the determination which he uniformly expressed to regard individual rights, and not to impose penalty or inflict punishment for alleged crimes, whether of treason or felony, until after trial and conviction, was not satisfactory to the extremists, who were ready to treat rebels as outlaws, and condemn them without judge or jury.
The Centralists in Congress, who were arrogating executive and judicial as well as legislative power, authorized the President, by special provision in this law, to extend pardon and amnesty on such occasions as he might deem expedient. This was represented as special grace and a great concession; but as the pardoning power is explicitly conferred on the President by the Constitution, the permission or authorization given by the act was entirely supererogatory. Congress could neither enlarge nor diminish the authority of the Executive in that respect; but if the President acquiesced, and admitted the right of the legislative body to grant, it was evident the day was not distant that the same body, when dissatisfied with his leniency, would claim the right to restrain or prohibit. The ulterior design in this grant to the President of authority which he already possessed, and of which they could not legally deprive him, President Lincoln well understood, but felt it to be his duty and it was his policy to have as little controversy with Congress or any of the factions in that body as was possible, and he therefore wisely forebore contention.
On the slavery question, the alleged cause of secession and war, there were legal and perplexing difficulties which, in various ways, embarrassed the Administration, and in the disturbed condition of the country prevented, for a time, the establishment and enforcement of any decisive policy. By the Constitution and laws, slavery and property in slaves were recognized, and the surrender and rendition of fugitives from service to their owners was commanded; but in a majority of the seceding States the usurping governments and the rebel slave-owners were in open insurrection, resisting the Federal authority, defying it and making war upon it. Still there were many citizens in those States who were opposed to secession, loyal to the Federal Government, and earnest friends of the Union, who owned slaves. What policy could the Administration adopt in regard to these two classes of citizens in the same State? The fugitive slave law was not and could not be enforced in States where there was organized rebellion. Should fugitive slaves be returned to both, or either, or neither of the owners in insurrectionary States? There were moreover five or six border States, where slavery existed, which did not secede. The governments and a majority of the people of those States were patriotic supporters of the Union, but there was a large minority in each of them who were violent enemies of the Government and of the Union. Many of them were serving in the rebel armies. For a time there was no alternative but to return slaves to their owners who resided in border States which had neither seceded nor resisted the Government. The Administration was not authorized to discriminate, for instance, between slave-owners on the eastern shore of the Potomac in the lower counties of Maryland and those on the western shore in Virginia. There were, however, no secessionists, through the whole South, more malignantly hostile to the Federal Union than a large portion of the slave-owners in the southern counties of Maryland; but the State not having seceded, and there being no organized resistance to the Government, masters who justified secession continued to reclaim their slaves, while on the opposite side of the river, in Virginia, slave-owners who claimed to be loyal or neutral, could not reclaim or obtain a restoration of their escaped servants. The Executive was compelled to act in each of these cases, and its policy, the dictate of necessity in the peculiar war that existed, was denounced by each of the disagreeing factions. Affairs were in this unsettled and broken condition when Congress convened at its second session in December, 1861. The action of the President in these conflicting cases as they arose, if not condemned, was not fully approved. Many, if not a majority, in Congress were undetermined what course to take. Democrats insisted that the laws must be obeyed in all cases, in war as in peace. The radical portion of the Republicans began to take extreme opposite grounds, and claim that the laws were inoperative in regard to slavery—that slavery was at all times inconsistent with a republican government, and should now be extinguished. Among the revolutionary resolutions of Senator Sumner of the 11th of February were some on the subject of slavery. Other but not dissimilar propositions, antagonistic to slavery, found expression, increasing in intensity as the war was prolonged. While it was evident to most persons that one of the results of the insurrection would be, in some way or form, the emancipation of the slaves, there was no person who seemed capable of devising a constitutional, practical plan for its accomplishment, except by subjugation and violence. To these the President was unwilling to resort; yet the necessity of doing something that did not transcend the law, was morally right, and would tend to the ultimate freedom of the slaves was felt to be an essential and indispensable duty. Unavailing but seductive appeals continued in the mean time to be made by the secessionists to the people of the border slave States to unite with the further South for the security and protection of slavery, in which they had a common interest, and against which there was increasing hostility through the North. It was under these circumstances, with a large and growing portion of the North in favor of abolition—the slave States, including the border States, opposed to the measure and for the preservation of the institution—that the President was to prescribe a policy on which the government in the disordered state of the country was to be administered.
To surmount the difficulties, without setting aside the law, or giving just offence to any, the President, with his accustomed prudence and regard for existing legal rights, devised a course which, if acquiesced in by those most in interest, would, he believed, in a legal way open the road to ultimate, if not immediate, emancipation. Instead of assenting to the demands of the radical extremists that he should, by arbitrary proceedings, and in disregard of law and Constitution, decree freedom to all slaves, he preferred milder and more conciliatory measures. The authority or right of the national Government to abolish or interfere with an institution that was reserved and belonged exclusively to the States, he was not prepared to act upon or admit, though entreated and urged thereto by sincere party friends, and also by party supporters, whose sincerity was doubtful.
There could be no excuse or pretext for such interference but the insurrection; and, even as a war measure, there were obstacles in the condition of the border slave States, to say nothing of loyal, patriotic citizens in the insurrectionary region, that could not be overlooked.
On the 6th of March, within less than three weeks after Senator Sumner had submitted his revolutionary resolution, for reconstruction, and a declaration that it is the duty of Congress "to see that everywhere in this extensive (secession) territory slavery shall cease to exist practically, as it has already ceased to exist constitutionally or morally," that President Lincoln, not assenting to the assumption, sent a message to Congress proposing a plan of voluntary and compensated emancipation. In this message he suggested that "the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to each State pecuniary aid," etc., and he invited an interview upon the 10th of March, with the representatives of the border States, to consider the subject. They did not conclude at this interview to adopt his suggestions, and some of them were much incensed that the proposition had been made, believing it would alienate and drive many, hitherto rightly disposed, into secession.
Nevertheless, the fact that slavery was doomed, and had received a death blow from the war of secession, was so obvious, that the moderate and reflecting began seriously to consider whether they ought not to give the President's plan favorable consideration.
While the policy of voluntary emancipation, in which the States should be aided by the national Government, was not immediately successful, it made such advance as, by the aid of the Federal Government, led to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The advocates of immediate, general, and forcible emancipation, if not satisfied with the conciliatory policy of the President, could not well oppose it.
Warm discussions in Congress, and altercations out of it, on most of the important questions growing out of the war, and particularly on those of confiscation, emancipation, and reconstruction, or the restoration of the States to their rightful position, and the reestablishment of the Union, were had during the whole of the second session of the Thirty-seventh Congress. All of these were exciting and important questions, the last involving grave principles affecting our federal system, and was most momentous in its consequences. As time and events passed on, the convictions and conclusions of the President became more clear and distinct as to the line of policy which it was his duty and that of the Administration to pursue.
Dissenting, wholly and absolutely, from the revolutionary views and schemes of Senator Sumner and those who agreed with him, the President became convinced, as the subject had been prematurely introduced and agitated, with an evident intent to forestall and shape the action of the Government, that the actual status of the rebel States and their true relation to the Federal Government should be distinctly understood. The resolution of Mr. Dixon, a gentleman of culture and intelligence, who, as well as Mr. Sumner, was a New England Senator, and also of the same party, was, it will be observed, diametrically opposed to the principles and the project of the Massachusetts Senator on the great, impending, and forthcoming subject of reconstruction. It was directly known that the President coincided with the Connecticut Senator in the opinion that all the acts and ordinances of secession were mere nullities, and should be so treated; that while such acts might subject individuals to penalties and forfeitures, they did not in any degree affect the States as commonwealths, and their relations to the Federal Government; that such acts were rebellious, insurrectionary, and hostile on the part of the persons engaged in them, but that the States, notwithstanding the acts and conspiracies of individuals, were still members of the Federal Union, and that the loyal citizens of these States had forfeited none of their rights, but were entitled to all the protection and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution.
The theory and principles set forth in Senator Dixon's resolutions were the opinions and convictions of the President, deliberately formed and consistently maintained while he lived, on the subject of reconstruction and the condition of the States and people in the insurrectionary region. In his view there was no actual secession, no dismembering of the Union, no change in the Constitution and Government; the relative position of the States and the Federal Government were unchanged; the organic, fundamental laws of neither were altered by the sectional conspiracy; the whole people, North and South, were American citizens; each person was responsible for his own acts and amenable to law; and he was also entitled to the protection of the law, and the rights and privileges secured by the Constitution. The confiscation and emancipation schemes concerning which there was so much excitement in Congress were of secondary consideration to the all-absorbing one of preserving the Union.
The second session of the Thirty-seventh Congress closed on the 17th of July. Its proceedings had been confused and uneasy, with a good deal of discontented and revolutionary feeling, which increased toward the close. The decisive stand which the President had taken, and which he calmly, firmly, and persistently maintained against the extreme measures of some of the most prominent Republicans in Congress, was unsatisfactory. It was insinuated that his sympathies on important measures had more of a Democratic than Republican tendency; yet the Democratic party maintained an organized and often unreasonable, if not unpatriotic, opposition.
Military operations, aside from naval success at New Orleans and on the upper Mississippi, had been a succession of military reverses. Disagreement between the Secretary of War and the General-in-Chief, which the President could not reconcile, caused the latter to be superseded after the disastrous result before Richmond. Dissensions in the army and among the Republicans in Congress, the persistent opposition of Democrats to the Administration, and the general depression that prevailed were discouraging. "In my position," said the President, "I am environed with difficulties." Friends on whom he felt he ought to be able to rely were dissatisfied with his conscientious scruples and lenity, and party opponents were unrelenting against the Administration.
A few days before Congress adjourned, the President made another but unsuccessful effort to dispose of the slavery question, by trying to induce the border States to take the initiative in his plan of compensated emancipation. The interview between him and the representatives of the border States, which took place on the 12th of July, convinced him that the project of voluntary emancipation by the States would not succeed. Were it commenced by one or more of the States, he had little doubt it would be followed by others, and eventuate in general emancipation by the States themselves. Failing in the voluntary plan, he was compelled, as a war necessity, to proclaim freedom to all slaves in the rebel section, if the war continued to be prosecuted after a certain date. This bold and almost revolutionary measure, which would change the industrial character of many States, could be justified on no other ground than as a war measure, the result of military necessity. It was an unexpected and startling demonstration when announced, that was welcomed by a vast majority of the people in the free States. In Congress, however, neither this nor his project of compensated emancipation was entirely acceptable to either the extreme anti-slavery or pro-slavery men. The radicals disliked the way in which emancipation was effected by the President. But, carried forward by the force of public opinion, they could not do otherwise than acquiesce in the decree, complaining, however, that it was an unauthorized assumption by the Executive of power which belonged to Congress.
The opponents of the President seized the occasion of this bold measure to create distrust and alarm, and the result of the policy of emancipation in the election which followed in the autumn of 1862 was adverse to the Administration. Confident, however, that the step was justifiable and necessary, the President persevered and consummated it by a final proclamation on the 1st of January, 1863.
The fact that the Administration lost ground in the elections in consequence of the emancipation policy served for a time to promote unity of feeling among the members when Congress convened in December. The shock occasioned by the measure when first announced had done its work. The timid, who had doubted the necessity and legality of the act, and feared its consequences, recovered their equipoise, and a reaction followed which strengthened the President in public confidence. But the radical extremists, especially the advocates of Congressional supremacy, began in the course of the winter to reassert their own peculiar ideas and their intention of having a more extreme policy pursued by the Government.
Thaddeus Stevens embraced an early opportunity to declare his extreme views, which were radically and totally antagonistic to those of the President. But Stevens, whose ability and acquirements as a politician, and whose skill and experience as a party tactician were unsurpassed if not unequalled in either branch of Congress, made no open, hostile demonstration toward the President. He restricted himself to contemptuous expressions in private conversation against the Executive policy and general management of affairs. Without an attack on the President, whom he personally liked, the Administration was sneered at as weak and inefficient, of which little could be expected until a more aggressive and scathing policy was adopted. His personal intercourse with members and his talents and eloquence on the floor of the House gave him influence with the representatives on ordinary occasions, but his ultra radical and revolutionary ideas caused the calm and considerate to distrust and disclaim his opinions and his leadership. It was not until a later period, and under another Executive, less affable but not less honest and sincere than Mr. Lincoln, that the suggestions of Stevens were much regarded. When his disciples and adherents became more partisan and numerous, they, in order to give him power and consequence and reconcile their constituents, denominated him the "Great Commoner."
If his political hopes and party schemes had been sometimes successful, his reverses and disappointments had been much greater. Many and severe trials during an active, embittered, and often unscrupulous partisan experience, had tempered his enthusiasm if they had not brought him wisdom. Defeats can hardly be said to have made him misanthropic; but having little philosophy in his composition, he vented his spleen when there was occasion on his opponents in ironical remarks that made him dreaded, and which were often more effective than arguments; but his sagacity and knowledge of men taught him that a hostile and open conflict with a chief magistrate whose honesty even he respected, and whose patriotism the people so generally regarded, would be not only unavailing, but to himself positively injurious. He therefore conformed to circumstances; and while opposed to the tolerant policy of the Administration toward the rebels and the rebel States, he had the tact and address, with his wit and humor, to preserve pleasant social intercourse and friendly personal relations with the President, who well understood his traits and purpose, but avoided any conflict with him.
For the first five or six weeks of the third session of the Thirty-seventh Congress, Stevens improved his time in free and sarcastic remarks on the reconstruction policy of the Government, which he characterized as puerile and feeble, and at length, on the 8th of January, he gave utterance to his feelings, maintaining that "with regard to all the Southern States in rebellion, the Constitution has no binding influence or application." He averred that "in his opinion they were not members of the Union"; that "the ordinances of secession took them out of the Union"; that he "would levy a tax wherever he could upon these conquered provinces"; said he "would not only collect the tax, but he would, as a necessary war measure, take every particle of property, real and personal, life estate and reversion, of every disloyal man, and sell it for the benefit of the nation in carrying on this war."
Several members of Congress hastened to deny that these sentiments and purposes were those of the Republican party; this Mr. Stevens admitted. He said "a very mild denial from the pleasant gentleman from New York [Mr. Olin], and the somewhat softened and modified repudiation of the gentleman from Indiana" (Mr. Colfax), would, he hoped, satisfy the sensitive gentlemen in regard to him, and he "desired to say he did not speak the sentiments of this side of the House as a party."; that "for the last fifteen years he [Stevens] had always been ahead of the party in these matters, but he had never been so far ahead but that the members of the party had overtaken and gone ahead; and they would again overtake him and go with him before the infamous and bloody rebellion was ended." "They will find that they must treat those States, now outside of the Union, as conquered provinces, and settle them with new men, and drive the present rebels as exiles from this country." "Nothing but extermination, or exile, or starvation, will ever induce them to surrender to the Government."
Not very consistent or logical in his policy and views, this subsequently Radical leader proposed to treat the Southern people sometimes as foreigners and at other times as rebel citizens; in either case he would tax, starve, and exile them—make provinces of their States, and overturn their old established governments. Few, comparatively, of the Republicans were at that time prepared to follow Stevens or adopt his vindictive and arbitrary measures. Shocked at his propositions, the "Great Commoner" had at that day few acknowledged adherents. When in vindication of his scheme it was asked upon what ground the collection of taxes could be enforced in the Southern States, Judge Thomas, one of the ablest and clearest minds of the Massachusetts delegation, said, "Upon this ground, that the authority of this Government at this time is as valid over those States as it was before the acts of secession were passed; upon the ground that every act of secession passed by those States is utterly null and void; upon the ground that every act legally null and void cannot acquire force because armed rebellion is behind it, seeking to uphold it; upon the ground that the Constitution makes us not a mere confederacy, but a nation; upon the ground that the provisions of that Constitution strike through the State government and reach directly, not intermediately, the subjects. Subjects of whom? Of the nation—of the United States." "Who ever heard, as a matter of public law, that the authority of a government over its rebellious subjects was lost until that revolution was successful—was a fact accomplished?"
Shortly after the capture of New Orleans and the establishment of Federal authority over Louisiana, two of the Congressional districts of that State elected representatives to Congress. The admission or non-admission of these representatives involved the question of the political condition of the Southern States and people in the Federal Union, and the whole principle, in fact, of restoration and reconstruction.
The subject was long and deliberately considered and fully discussed in Congress. The committee on elections reported in favor of their admission, and Mr. Dawes of Massachusetts, the chairman, stated that "more than ordinary importance is attached to the consideration of this subject. It is not simply whether two gentlemen shall be permitted to occupy seats in this House. The question whether they shall be admitted involves the principles touching the present state of the country to which the attention of the House has more than once been called." He said, "The question now comes up, whether any reason exists that requires any departure from the rules and principles which have been adopted." "An adherence to these principles is vitally important in settling the question, how there is to be a restoration of this Union when this war shall be drawn to a close."
The subject of admitting these representatives and the principles of a restoration of the Union which their admission involved, was debated with earnestness for several days, and finally decided, on the 17th of February, in favor of admitting them, by a vote of ninety-two in the affirmative to forty-four in the negative.
An analysis of this vote, in view of the proceedings, acts, and votes of many of the same members a few years subsequently, after Mr. Lincoln's death, presents some curious and interesting facts. It was not a strictly party vote. Among those who then favored the Administration policy of restoration were Colfax, Dawes, Delano, Fenton, Fisher of Delaware, Wm, Kellogg, J. S. Morrill of Vermont, Governor A. H. Rice of Massachusetts, Shellabarger, and others who opposed the restoration policy of President Lincoln after his death and the accession of President Johnson.
In the negative with Thaddeus Stevens were Ashley, Bingham, the two Conklings, Kelley, McPherson, and a few others. But when reconstruction or exclusion actually took place after the termination of the war, great changes occurred among the members of Congress, and Stevens, the "Great Commoner," who in 1863 had a following of less than one-third of the representatives, rallied, four years later, more than two-thirds to his standard against restoration and for subjugation and exclusion.
Mr. Stevens was no ordinary man. At the bar he was astute and eloquent rather than profound, but in the Legislature of Pennsylvania and in the management of the affairs of that State, where for a period he actively participated and was a ruling mind, he was often rash and turbulent, and had, not without cause, the reputation of being a not over scrupulous politician. Personally my relations with him, though not intimate, were pleasant and friendly. I was first introduced to him at Harrisburg in 1836, when he was a member of the convention that revised the Constitution of Pennsylvania. We occasionally met in after years. He expressed himself pleased with my appointment in Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet, and, notwithstanding we disagreed on fundamental principles, he complimented my administration of the Navy Department, and openly and always sustained my positions, and particularly so on the subject of the blockade, on which there were differences in the Administration. In the Pennsylvania convention of 1836 he was probably the most eloquent speaker, but his ideas were often visionary and radical. He ultimately refused to sign the Constitution because the colored people were denied the elective franchise. Severe as he exhibited himself toward the rebels during and subsequent to the civil war, Mr. Stevens was not by nature, as might be supposed, inhuman in his feelings and sympathies toward his fellow men. To the colored race he seemed always more attached and tender than to the whites, perhaps because they were enslaved and oppressed. He was opposed to slavery, to imprisonment for debt, and to capital punishment. There were strange contradictions in his character. In his political career he had ardent supporters, though many who voted with him had not a high regard for his principles. His course and conduct in the Legislature and government of Pennsylvania did much to debauch the political morals of that State, and in the celebrated "buck-shot war" he displayed the bold and reckless disregard of justice and popular rights that distinguished the latter years of his Congressional life, when he became the acknowledged leader of the radical reconstruction party in Congress.
In his political career and management, though strongly sustained by a local constituency, he had experienced a series of disappointments. The defeat of John Quincy Adams, whom he greatly admired, in 1828, and the election of General Jackson, against whom his prejudices were inveterate, were to him early and grievous vexations.
The attempt of Mr. Adams on his retirement to establish a national anti-Masonic party was warmly seconded by Stevens, and with greater success in Pennsylvania than attended his distinguished leader in Massachusetts. The failure of the attempt was more severely felt by the disciple than by the master. After the annihilation of the anti-Masonic organization and the discomfiture of the buck-shot war, Stevens was less conspicuous, though prominent for a few months in 1840, when he came forward as an earnest advocate of the nomination of General Harrison in that singular campaign which resulted in the General's election. His efficiency and zeal in behalf of both the nomination and election of the "hero of Tippecanoe" were acknowledged, and he and his friends anticipated they would be recognized and he rewarded by a seat in the Cabinet. But he had given offence to the great Whig leader of that day by his preference of Harrison for President, and had moreover an unsavory reputation, which, with the declared opposition of Clay and Webster, caused his exclusion. It was a sore disappointment, from which he never fully recovered. Eight years later, with the advent of General Taylor and the defeated aspirations of the Whig leaders, who had caused his exclusion from Harrison's Cabinet, he sought and obtained an election to the thirty-first Congress from the Lancaster district. In 1856 he strove with all his power to secure the Presidential nomination for John McLane of the Supreme Court, who had or professed to have had anti-Masonic tendencies. His ill success was another disappointment; but in 1859 he was again elected to Congress, and thereafter until his death he represented the Lancaster district.
Disappointments had made him splenetic, but he was not, as represented by his opponents on the two extremes, either a charlatan or a miscreant, though possibly not wholly exempt from charges against him in either respect. In many of his ultra radical and it may be truly said revolutionary views—revolutionary because they changed the structure of the Government—he coincided with Senator Sumner, who was perhaps the leading spirit in the Senate on the subject of reconstruction, but he did not, like the Massachusetts Senator, make any pretence that his project to subjugate the Southern people and reduce their States to the condition of provinces was constitutional, or by authority of the Declaration of Independence. President Lincoln well understood the characteristics of both these men, and, though differing from each on the subject of restoration and reconstruction, he managed to preserve friendly personal relations with both—retained their confidence, and while he lived secured their general support of his Administration. Herein President Lincoln exhibited those peculiar qualities and attributes of mind which made him a leader and manager of men, and enabled him in a quiet and unostentatious way to exercise his executive ability in administering the Government during the most troublesome period of our national history.
This rich, rank Age—does it breed giants now— Dantes or Michaels, Raphaels, Shakespeares? Nay! Its culture is of other sort to-day. From the stanch stem (too ready to allow Growths that divide the strength that should endow The one tall trunk) who firmly lops away, With wise reserve, such shoots as lead astray The wasted sap to some collateral bough?
Had Dante chiselled stone, had Angelo Intrigued with courts, had Shakespeare dulled his pen With critic gauge of Chaucer, Drummond, Ben— What lack there were of that life-giving shade, Which these high-tower'd, centurial oaks have made, Where walk the happy nations to and fro!
MARGARET J. PRESTON.
A LOVE STORY IN TWO CHAPTERS.
The events of the last chapter happened on the night of Friday, July 17, 1874. The following day, Saturday, broke calm, clear, and warm. Elmer awoke early, carefully looked out of a crack in his window curtain, and found that the chimney-builder's room was empty.
"The enemy has flown. I wonder if Alma is up?"
He uncovered a small telegraphic armature and sounder standing on the window-seat, and touched it gently. In an instant there was a response, and Alma replied that she was up and dressed and would soon be down.
She met him in the library, smiling, and apparently happy.
"Oh, Elmer, he has gone away. He left a note on the breakfast table, saying that he had gone to New York, and that he should not return till Monday or Tuesday."
"That's very good; but I think it means mischief."
Just here the breakfast bell rang. The table was set for four, but Alma and Elmer were the only ones who could answer the call, and they sat down to the table alone. They talked of various matters of little consequence, and when the meal was over Elmer announced that as the day was quiet, he should make a little photographing expedition about the neighborhood.
"My visit here is now more than a quarter over, and I wish to take home some photos of the place. Will you not go with me?"
"With all my heart, if I can leave father. But please not talk of going home yet. I hope you will not go till things are settled. We want you, Elmer. You are so wise and strong, and—you know what I mean."
"Perhaps I do. At any rate I'm not going till I have paid up that Belford for his insults."
"Oh, let's not talk of him to-day."
This was eminently wise. They had better enjoy the day of peace that was before them. The shadow of the coming events already darkened their lives, though they knew it not. Mr. Denny was so much better that he could spare Alma, and about ten o'clock she appeared, paper umbrella in hand, at the porch, and Elmer soon joined her bearing a small camera, and a light wooden tripod for its support.
The two spent the morning happily in each other's company, and at one o'clock returned to dinner with quite a number of negatives of various objects of interest about the place. After dinner the young man retreated to his room to prepare for the battle that he felt sure would rage on the following Monday.
He did not know all the circumstances of the trouble that had invaded the family, but he felt sure that the confidential clerk intended some terrible shame or exposure that in some way concerned his cousin Alma. So it was he came to call himself her Lohengrin, come to fight her battles, not with a sword, but with the telegraph, the camera, and the micro-lantern.
The Sabbath passed quietly, and the Monday came. After breakfast the student retreated to his room and tried to study, but could not.
About ten o'clock he heard a carriage of some kind stop before the house. His room being at the rear, he could not see who had come, and thinking that it might be merely some stray visitor, and that at least it did not concern him, he turned to his books and made another attempt to read.
After some slight delay he heard the carriage drive away, and the old house became very still. Then he heard a door open down stairs, and a moment after one of the maids knocked at his door.
"Would Mr. Franklin kindly come down stairs? Mr. Denny wished to see him in the library."
He would come at once; and picking up a number of unmounted photographs from the table, he prepared to go down stairs. He hardly knew why he should take the pictures just then. There seemed no special reason why he should show them to Mr. Denny; still, an indefinite feeling urged him to take them with him.
The library was a small room, dark, with heavy book shelves against the walls, and crowded with tables, desk, and easy chairs. There was a student lamp on the centre table, and in a corner stood a large iron safe. Mr. Denny was seated at the table with his back to the door, and with his head supported by his hand and arm. He did not seem to notice the arrival of his visitor, and Elmer advanced to the table and laid the photographs upon it.
"I am glad you have come, Mr. Franklin. I wish to talk with you. I wish to tell you something. A great affliction has fallen upon us, and I wish you, as our guest, to be prepared for it. I think I can trust you, Elmer Franklin. I remember your mother, my boy. You have her features—and I will trust you for her sake. We are ruined."
"How, sir? How is that possible, with all your property?"
"Not one cent of my property—not a foot of ground, or a single brick, or piece of shafting in the mills—belongs to me."
"This is terrible, sir. How did it happen?"
"It is a short and sad story. I was my father's only child, and there were no other heirs. My father's last illness was very sudden, and he left no will. He told me when he died that he had left everything to me. We never found any will that would bear out this assertion. However, the ordinary process of law gave me the property, and I thought myself secure. Suddenly a will was found, in which all the property was left to a distant relative in New York, and I was merely mentioned with some trifling gift. I contested the will and lost the case. It was an undoubted will, and in my father's own handwriting, and dated more than a year before he died and when I was rusticating from college. I thought I must needs sow my wild oats, and day after to-morrow I pay for them all by total beggary. The devisee, by the will, acted very strangely about the property. He did not disturb me for a very long time. He probably feared to do so; and then he made a mortgage of one hundred thousand dollars on the property, took the money, and went abroad."
"And he left you here in possession?"
"Yes. The interest on the mortgage became due. There was no one to pay it, and they even had the effrontery to come to me. I refused again and again, and every time the interest was added to the mortgage till it rolled up to an enormous amount. Meanwhile the devisee died, penniless, in Europe, and on Wednesday Abrams, the lawyer who holds the mortgage, is to take possession of everything—and we—we are to go—I know not whither."
For a few moments there was a profound silence in the room. The elder man mourned his dreadful fate, and the son of science was ready to shout for joy. Restraining himself with an effort, he said, not without a tremor in his voice:
"And have you searched for any other will?"
"That is an idle question, my son. We have searched these years. Then, too, just as I need a staff for my declining years, it breaks under me."
"You refer to Mr. Belford, sir?"
"Yes. Since I injured my foot in the mill, I have trusted all my affairs to him, and now I sometimes think he is playing me false. Even now, when all this trouble has come upon me, he is absent, and I have no one to consult, nor do I find any to aid or comfort me."
"Perhaps I can aid you, sir."
"I do not know. I fear no one can avail us now."
"May I be very frank with you, sir?"
"Certainly. I am past all pride or fear. There can be nothing worse now."
"I think, sir, you have placed too much confidence in that man. He is not trustworthy."
"How do you know? Can you prove it?"
"Yes, sir. You remember the new chimney?"
"Yes; but he explained that, and collected all the money that had been paid on the supposed extra height of the chimney."
"That was very easy, sir, for he had it in his own pocket. I met some of the work people in the village, and casually asked them how high the chimney was to be, and every man gave the real height. Mr. Belford lied to you about it, and pocketed the difference between his measurements and mine. Of course, when detected he promptly restored the money, and thought himself lucky to have escaped so easily. More than that, he claimed that the chimney was capped with stone. It is not. It is brick to the top, and the upper courses were rubbed over with colored plaster."
"I can hardly believe it. Besides, how can you prove it?"
"That will, sir. Look at it carefully."
So saying, Elmer selected a photograph from those on the table and presented it to Mr. Denny.
The old gentleman looked at it carefully for a few moments, and then said with an air of conviction—
"It is a perfect fraud. I had no idea that the man was such a thief."
"Yes, sir. Look at that bare place where the plaster has fallen off. You can see the brick——"
"Oh, I can see. There is no need to explain the picture. Have you any more?"
"Yes, sir; quite a number. I'm glad I brought them with me."
Mr. Denny turned them over slowly, and commented briefly upon them.
"That's the house. Very well done, my boy. That's the mill. Excellent. I should know it at once. And—eh! what's that? The batting mill?"
"Yes, sir. That's the new building going up beyond the millpond."
"Great heavens! What an outrageous fraud! Mr. Belford told me it was nearly done. He has drawn almost all the money for it already, and according to this picture only one story is up. When was this picture taken?"
"On Saturday, sir. Alma was with me. She will tell you."
Mr. Denny rang a small bell that stood at his elbow, and a maid came to the door.
"Will you call Miss Denny, Anna?"
The maid retired, and in a moment or two Alma appeared. She seemed pale and dejected, and she sat down at once as if weary.
"What is it, father? Any new troubles?"
"Were you with your cousin when he took this photograph?"
She looked at it a moment, and then said wearily:
"Yes. It's the batting mill."
Just here the door opened, and Mr. Belford, hat and travelling bag in hand, as if just from the station, entered the room. The two men looked up in undisguised amazement, but Alma cast her eyes upon the floor, and her face seemed to put on a more ashen hue than ever.
"Ah! excuse me. I did not mean to intrude. I'm just from New York, and I have been so successful that I hastened to lay the news before you."
"What have you to say, Mr. Belford," said Mr. Denny coldly. "There are none but friends here, and you need not fear to speak."
Mr. Franklin hastily gathered up the pictures together, and rolling them up, put them in his pocket, with the mental remark that he "knew of one who was not a friend—no, not much."
"I have arranged everything," said Mr. Belford, with sublime audacity. "The note has been taken up. I have even obtained a release of the mortgage, and here is the cancelled note and the release. To-morrow I will have it recorded."
"We are in no mood for pleasantry, Mr. Belford. The sheriff was here to-day, and Abrams is to take possession on Wednesday."
"Oh, I knew that. He did not get my telegram in time, or he would have saved you all this unnecessary annoyance. And now everything is all serene, and there is Abrams's release in full."
He took out a carefully folded paper, and gave it to Mr. Denny. He read it in silence, and then said:
"It seems to be quite correct. We——"
Alma suddenly dropped her head upon her breast, and slid to the floor in a confused heap. She thought she read in that fatal receipt her death warrant. Nature rebelled, and mercifully took away her senses.
Elmer sprang to her rescue, but Mr. Belford intruded himself.
"It is my place, Mr. Franklin. She is to be my wife."
* * * * *
The dreary day crept to its end. Alma recovered, and retired to her room. Mr. Denny, overcome by the excitement of the interview, was quite ill, and the visitor, oppressed with a sense of partial defeat, took a long walk through the country. The enemy had made such an extraordinary movement that for the time he was disconcerted, and he wished to be alone, that he could think over the situation. About six o'clock in the afternoon he returned looking bright and calm, as if he had thought out his problem and had nerved himself up to do and dare all in behalf of the woman he loved. He went quietly to his room and began his preparations for a vigorous assault upon the enemy.
He rolled out his micro-lantern into the middle of the room, drew up the curtains at the window that faced Mr. Belford's chamber, and prepared to adjust the apparatus to a new and most singular style of lantern projections. He had hardly finished the work to his satisfaction before he heard Alma's knock at the door. He hastily drew down the curtains, and then invited her to come in.
She opened the door and appeared upon the threshold, the picture of resigned and heavy sorrow. She had evidently been weeping, and the dark dress in which she had arrayed herself seemed to intensify the look of anguish on her face. The son of science was disconcerted. He did not know what to say, and, with great wisdom, he said nothing.
She entered the room without a word, and sat wearily down on a trunk. Elmer quickly rolled out the great easy chair so that it would face the open western window.
"Sit here, Miss Denny. This is far more comfortable."
"Oh, Elmer! Have you too turned against me?"
"Not knowingly. Sit here where there is more air, and before this view and this beautiful sunset."
She rose, and with a forlorn smile took the great chair, and then gazed absently out of the window upon the charming landscape, brilliant with the glow of the setting sun. Elmer meanwhile went on with his work, and for a little space neither spoke. Then she said, with a faint trace of impatience in her voice—
"What are you doing, Elmer?"
"Preparing for war."
"It is useless. It is too late."
"Yes. Everything has been settled, and in a very satisfactory manner—at least father is satisfied, and I suppose I ought to be."
She smiled and held out her hand to him.
"How can I ever thank you, cousin Elmer? You will not forget me when I am gone."
"Forget you, Alma! That was unkind."
He took her hand, glanced at the diamond ring upon her finger, and looking down upon her as she lay half reclining in the great chair, he said, with an effort, as if the words pained him:
"Alma, you have surrendered to him."
She looked up with a startled expression, and said:
"What do you mean?"
"You have renewed your engagement with Mr. Belford?"
"Yes—of course I have. He—he is to be my husband——"
"Yes. How did you know it?"
Instead of replying he turned to a drawer and drew forth a long ribbon of white paper. Holding it to the light, near the window, he began to read the words printed in dots and lines upon it.
"Here is your own confession. Here are all the messages you sent me from the parlor, when you broke your engagement with him——"
"Oh, Elmer! Did you save that? Destroy it—destroy it at once. If he should find it, he would never forgive me."
"You need not fear. I shall not destroy it, and it shall never cause you any trouble."
She had risen in her excitement, and stood upon her feet. Suddenly she flushed a rosy red, and a strange light shone in her eyes. The sun had sunk behind the hills, and it had grown dark. As the shadows gathered in the room a strange, mystic light fell on the wall before her. A picture—dim, ghostly, gigantic, and surpassingly beautiful—met her astonished eyes. She gazed at it with a beating heart, awed into silence by its mystery and its unearthly aspect. What was it? What did it mean? By what magic art had he conjured up this vision? She stood with parted lips gazing at it, while her bosom rose and fell with her rapid, excited breathing. Suddenly she threw her arms above her head, and with a cry fell back upon the chair.
"Oh, Elmer! My heart——"
He had been gazing absently out of the window at the fading twilight, and hearing her cry of pain, he turned hastily and said:
"Alma, what is it? Are you——"
He caught sight of the picture on the wall. He understood it at once, and went to the stereopticon that stood at the other end of the room and opened it. The lamp was burning brightly, and he put it out and closed the door. Then he drew out the glass slide, held it a moment to the light to make sure that it was Alma's portrait, and then he kissed it passionately, and shivered it into fragments upon the hearthstone.
She heard the breaking glass, and rose hastily and turned toward him.
"Elmer, that was cruel. Why did you destroy it?"
"Because it told too much."
"It was my picture?"
"Yes. I confess with shame that I stole it when you were asleep under the influence of the gas I gave you. It happened to be in the lantern when you came in."
"And so I saw it pictured on the wall?"
"Yes. In that way did it betray me. Forget it, Alma. Forget me. Forget everything. Forget that I ever came here——"
"No—never. I cannot."
"You will be married soon and go away. I presume we may never meet again."
"Oh, Elmer, forgive me. I am the one to be forgiven. I am alone to blame for all this sorrow. I thought I alone should suffer. But—but, Elmer, you will not forget me, and you see—you must see that what I do is for the best. It is the only way. I cannot see my father beggared."
The clear-headed son of science seemed to be losing his self-control. This was all so new, so exciting, so different from the calm and steady flow of his student life, that he knew not what to say or do. He began to turn over his books and papers in a nervous manner, as if trying to win back control of his own tumultuous thoughts. Fortunately Alma came to his rescue.
"Elmer, hear me."
"Yes," he said with an effort. "Tell me about it; then perhaps we can understand each other better."
"I will. Come and sit by me. It grows dark, and I—well, it is no matter. It will do me good to speak of it."
"Yes, do. Sorrow shared is divided by half."
"And joy shared is doubled," she added. "But we will not talk of 'the might have been.'"
Then she paused and looked out on the gathering night for some minutes in silence. Elmer sat at her feet upon a low stool, and waited till she should speak.
"Elmer, say that you will forgive me whatever happens. No matter how dark it looks for me, forgive me—and—do not forget me. I couldn't bear that. On Wednesday I am to be married to Mr. Belford. It is the only way by which I can save my father. There seems no help for it, and I consented this afternoon. Mr. Belford took up the mortgage, and I am to be his reward."
Elmer heard her through in silence, and then he stood up before her, and his passion broke out in fury upon her.
"Alma Denny, you are a fool."
She cowered before him, and covered her face with her hands.
"Have you no sense? Can you not see the wide pit of deceit that is spread before you? Do you believe what he says? Will you walk into perdition to save your father?"
"Oh, Elmer! Elmer! Spare me, spare me, for my father's sake!"
Her sobs and tears choked her utterance, and she shrank away into the depths of the chair, in shame and terror, thankful that the darkness hid her from his view. Still his righteous indignation blazed upon her hotly.
"Where have you lived? What have you done, that you should be so deceived by this man? How can you save your father? If you cannot find that missing will, of what avail is this withdrawal of the mortgage?"
"I do not know. Oh, Elmer! I am weak, and I have no mother, and father is——I must save him if I can—at any price."
"You cannot save him. The devisee who held the will has heirs. They can still claim the property. Besides, how could Mr. Belford pay off that mortgage? Depend upon it, a gigantic fraud——"
"Elmer! Thank God, you have saved——"
She fainted quietly away, and slid down upon the floor at his feet. He called two of the maids, and with their help he took her to her room and placed her upon her own bed. Then, bidding them care for her properly, he returned to his own room, and the heavy night fell down on the sorrowful house.
Far away in the northwest climbed up a ragged mass of sombre clouds. Afar off the deep voice of the thunder muttered fitfully. The son of science drew up his curtains and looked out on the coming storm. There was a solemn hush and calm in the air. Nature seemed resting, and nerving herself for the warfare of the elements.
He too had need of calm. He drew a chair to the window, and sitting astride of it, he rested his arms upon the back, and his chin upon his folded hands, and for an hour watched the lightning flash from ragged cloud to ragged cloud, and gave himself to deep and anxious thought. The thunder grew nearer and nearer. The dark veil of clouds blotted out the stars one by one. The roar of the water falling over the dam at the mill seemed to fill all the air with its murmur. Every leaf and flower hung motionless.
He heard the village clock strike nine, with loud, deep notes that seemed almost at hand. Every nerve of his body seemed strung to electric tension, and all nature tuned to a higher pitch as if dark and terrible things were abroad in the night.
He heard a sound of closing blinds and windows. The servants were shutting up the house, and preparing it for the storm.
One of them knocked at his door, and asked if she should come in and close his windows.
He opened the door, thanked her, and said he would attend to it himself. As he closed the door and stepped back into the room, he stood upon something and there was a little crash. Thinking it might be glass, he lit a candle and looked for the broken object, whatever it might be.
It was Alma's engagement ring, broken in twain. It had slipped from her nerveless finger when they took her to her room. With a gesture of impatience, he picked up the fragments, and threw them, diamond and all, out of the window into the garden below.
Then for another hour he sat alone in the darkness of his room, watchful and patient. He drew up the curtain toward Alma's room. There was a light there, and he sat gazing at her white curtain till the light was extinguished. The other lights were all put out one after the other, and then it became very still.
The clock struck ten. The gathering storm climbed higher up the western sky. The lightning flashed brighter and brighter. There was a sigh in the tree tops as if the air stirred uneasily.
Suddenly there was another light. Mr. Belford's curtain was brightly illuminated by his candle. Elmer moved his chair so that he could watch the window, and waited patiently till the light was put out. Then he saw the curtain raised and the window drawn down.
"All right, my boy! That's just what I wanted. Nemesis has a clear road, and her shadowy sword shall reach you. Now for the closed circuit alarm."
He silently pulled off his shoes, and then, with the tread of a cat, he felt about his room till he found on the table two delicate coils of fine insulated wire, and a couple of tacks. Carefully opening the door, he crept down stairs and through the hall to the door of the library. The door was closed, and kneeling down on the mat he pushed a tack into the door near the jamb and stuck the other in the door post. From one to another he stretched a bit of insulated wire. Then, aided by the glare of the flashes of lightning, that had now grown bright and frequent, he laid the wires under the mat and along the floor to the foot of the stairs. Then in his stockinged feet he crept upward, dropping the wires over into the well of the stairway as he went. In a moment or two the wires were traced along the floor of the upper entry and under the door into his room. Here they were secured to a small battery, and connected with a tiny electric bell that stood on the mantle shelf. To stifle its sound in case it rang, he threw his straw hat over the bell, and then he felt sure that at least one part of his work was done.
Louder and louder rolled the thunder. The lightning flashed brightly and lit up the bare, mean little room where the wretch cowered and shivered in the bed, sleepless and fearful he knew not why. He feared the storm and the night. He feared everything. His guilty heart made terrors out of the night and nature's healthful workings. The very storm, blessed harbinger of clearer days and sweeter airs, terrified him.
There was a sound of rushing wind in the air. A more vivid flash blinded him. He sat up in bed and stopped his coward ears to drown the splendid roll of the thunder. Another flash seemed to fill the room.
Ah! What was that? His eyes seemed to start from their sockets in terror.
There, written in gigantic letters of fire upon the wall, glowed and burned a single word:
He stared at it and rubbed his eyes. It would not be winked out. There was a loud crash of thunder and a furious dash of rain against the window; then another blinding stroke of lightning. He drew the clothing over his head in abject terror. Again the thunder rolled as if in savage comment on the writing on the wall.
It was a mistake, a delusion. He would face the horrid accusation.
It was gone, and in its place was a picture. It seemed the top of——
Ah! It was that chimney. Already the false stucco had fallen off, and there, pictured upon his wall in lines of fire, were the evidences of his fraud and crime.
He sprang from the bed with an oath and looked out of the window. Darkness everywhere. The beating rain on the window pane ran down in blinding rivulets. A vivid flash of lightning illuminated the garden and the house. Not a living thing was stirring. He turned toward the bed. The terrible picture had gone. With a muttered curse upon his weak, disordered nerves, he crept into bed and tried to sleep.
Suddenly the terrible writing glowed upon the wall again, and he fairly screamed with fright and horror:
He writhed and turned upon the bed in mortal agony. He stared at the letters of the awful word with ashen lips and chattering teeth. What hideous dream was this? Had his reason reeled? Could it play him phantom tricks like this? Or was it an avenging angel from heaven writing his crimes upon the black night?
"Great God! What was that?"
The writing disappeared, and in its place stood a picture of his wretched victim and himself. Her fair, innocent face looked down upon him from the darkness, and he saw his own form beside her.
He raved with real madness now. Great drops of perspiration gathered on his face. He dared not face those beautiful eyes so calmly gazing at him. Where had high Heaven gained such knowledge of him? How could God punish him with such awful cruelty?
"Hell and damnation have come," he screamed in frantic terror. The thunder rolled in deep majesty, and none heard him. The wind and rain beat upon the house, and his ravings disturbed no one.
"Take it away! Take it away!" he cried in sheer madness and agony.
It would not move. The lightning only made the picture more startling and awful. The sweet and beautiful face of Alice Green lived before him in frightful distinctness, and his very soul seemed to burn to cinder before her serene, unearthly presence.
It was her ghost revisiting the earth. Was it to always thus torment him?
"Thank God! It has gone."
The room became pitch dark, and he fell back upon the pillow in what seemed to him a bloody sweat. He could not sleep, and for some time he lay trembling on the bed and trying to collect his senses and decide whether he was in possession of his reason or not.
Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a new vision sprang into existence before him.
An angel in long white robes seemed to be flying through the air toward him, and above her head she held a sword. Beneath her feet was the word "NEMESIS!" in letters of glowing fire.
The poor wretch rose up in bed, kneeled down upon the mattress, and facing the gigantic figure that seemed to float in the air above him, cried aloud in broken gasps.
He threw up his arms and screamed in delirious terror.
The angel advanced through the air toward him and grew larger and taller. She seemed ready to strike him to the ground—and she was gone.
He fell forward flat on his face, and tears gushed from his eyes in torrents. For a while he lay thus moaning and crying, and then he rose, staggered to the wash basin, bathed his face with cold water, and crept shivering and trembling into bed.
* * * * *
The storm moved slowly away. The lightning grew less frequent, and the thunder rolled in more subdued tones. The wind subsided, but the rain fell steadily and drearily. One who watched heard the clock strike twelve and then one.
Slowly the laggard hours slipped away in silence. The rain fell in monotonous showers. The darkness hung like a pall over everything.
The wretch in his bed tossed in sleepless misery. He hardly dared look at the blackness of the night, for fear some new vision might affright him with ghostly warnings. What had he better do? Another night in this haunted room would drive him insane. Had he not better fly—leave all and escape out of sight in the hiding darkness? Better abandon the greater prize, take everything in reach, and fly from scenes so terrible.
He rose softly, dressed completely, took a few essentials from his table, did them up in a bundle, and then like a cat he crept out of the room, never to return. The house was pitch dark and as silent as a tomb. He had no need of a light, and, feeling his way along with his hands on the wall, he stole down stairs and through the hall till he reached the library door. With cautious fingers he turned the handle in silence and pushed the door open. It seemed to catch on the threshold, but it was only for an instant, and then he boldly entered the room.
Placing his bundle upon the table, he took out a small bunch of keys, and with his hands outstretched before him he felt for the safe. It was easily found, and then he put in the key, unlocked the door, and swung it open. With familiar fingers he pulled out what he knew were mere bills and documents, and then he found the small tin box in which—
A blinding glare, an awful flash of overpowering light blazed before him. His eyes seemed put out by its bewildering intensity, and a little scream of terror escaped from his lips. A hand seized him by the collar and dragged him over backward upon the floor. The blazing, burning light filled all the room with a glare more terrible than the lightning. He recovered his sight, and saw Nemesis standing above him, revolver in hand, and with a torch of magnesium wire blazing in horrid flames above his head.
"Stir hand or foot, and—you understand. There are six chambers, and I'm a good shot."
"Let me up, you fool, or I'll kill you."
"Oh! You surprise me, Mr. Belford. I thought it was a common robber."
"No, it is not—so lower your pistol."
"No, sir. You may rise, but make the slightest resistance, and I'll blow your brains into muddy fragments. Sit in that chair, and when I've secured you properly, I'll hear any explanation you may make. Your conduct is very singular, Mr. Belford, to say the least. That's it. Sit down in the arm chair. Now I'm going to tie you into it, and on the slightest sign of resistance I shall fire."
The poor, cowed creature sank into the chair, and the son of science placed his strange lamp upon the table. With the revolver still in hand, he procured a match and lit a candle on the table. Then he extinguished his torch, and the overpowering light gave place to a more agreeable gloom. Then he took from his pocket a tiny electric bell and a little battery made of a small ink bottle. Then he drew forth a small roll of wire, and securing one end to the battery, with the revolver still in hand, he walked round the chair three times, and bound the thief into it with the slender wire.
"Stop this fooling, boy! Lower your revolver, and let me explain matters."
"No, sir. When I have you fast so that you can do no harm, I talk with you—not before. Hold back your head. That's it. Rest it against the chair while I draw this wire over your throat."
"For God's sake, stop! Do you intend to garrote me?"
"No. Only I mean to make you secure."
"This won't hold me long. I'll break your wires in a flash, you little fool."
"No, you will not. The moment the wire is parted that bell will ring, and I shall begin firing, and keep it up till you are disabled or dead."
The man swore savagely, but the cold thread of insulated wire over his throat thrilled his every nerve. It seemed some magic bond, mysterious, wonderful, and dreadful. This cool man of science was an angel of awful and incomprehensible power. His lamp of such mystic brilliance and that battery quite unnerved his coward heart. What awful torture, what burning flash of lightning might not rend him to blackened fragments if the wires were broken! To such depths of puerile ignorance and terror did the wretch sink in his guilty fancy. He dared not move a muscle lest the wire break. The very thought of it filled him with unspeakable agony. The son of science placed himself before his prisoner. With the revolver at easy rest, he said:
"Mr. Belford, I am going to call help. Do not move while I open the door."
In mortal terror the wretch turned his head round to see what was going on. He managed to get a glimpse of the room without breaking the wire round his throat, and he saw the young man stoop to the floor at the door and pick up something. Then he made some strange and rapid motions with the fingers of his right hand, while the left still steadied the revolver.
For several minutes nothing happened. The two men glared at each other in silence, and then there was a sound of opening doors. One closed with an echoing slam that resounded strangely through the old house, and then there were light footsteps in the hall.
"Oh! Elmer! What is it? What has happened?"
"Nothing very serious—merely a common burglar. I called you because I wished help."
"Yes, I heard the bell, and I read your message in my room by the sound. I dressed as quickly as possible. Is there no danger?"
"No. Stand back. Do not come into the room. Call the men, and let them wake the gardener and his son. You yourself call your father, and bid him dress and come down at once. And, Alma, keep cool and do not be alarmed. I need you, Alma, and you must help me."
Then the house was very still, and the watcher paced up and down before his prisoner in silence. There came a hasty opening of doors, and excited steps and flaring lamps in the hall.
"'Tis the young doctor. Oh! By mighty! Here's troubles!"
"Quiet, men! Keep quiet. Come in. He cannot hurt you."
The three men, shivering and anxious, peered into the room with blanched faces and chattering teeth.
"Have you a rope?"
The calm voice of the speaker reassured them, and all three volunteered to go for one.
"No. One is enough. And one of you had better go to Mr. Denny's room and help him down stairs. You, John, may stop with me."
"Gods! Sir, he will spring at me!"
"Never you fear. He's fastened into the chair. Besides——"
"Ay, sir, you've the little pet! That's the kind o' argiment."
"It is a rather nice weapon—six-shooter—Colt's."
Presently, with much clatter, the gardener's son brought a rope, and then, under Mr. Franklin's directions, they bound the man in the chair hand and foot.
A moment after they heard Mr. Denny's crutch stalking down the stairs, and Alma's voice assuring him that there was indeed no danger—no danger at all.
"What does this mean, Mr. Franklin?" said the old gentleman as he came to the door.
"Burglary, sir. That is all. You need fear nothing. We have secured the man."
Mr. Denny entered the room leaning on Alma's arm. He saw the open safe and the papers strewed upon the floor, and he lifted his hand and shook his head in alarm and trouble.
"A robbery! Would they ruin me utterly? Where is the villain?"
Alma turned toward the man in the chair, and clung to her father in terror. The old man lifted his crutch as if to strike.
"My curse be upon you and yours."
"Oh, father, come away. Leave the poor wretch. Perhaps he has taken nothing."
The men gathered round in a circle, and Elmer drew near to Alma. She felt his presence near her, and involuntarily put out her hand to touch him.
"My curse fall on you! Who are you? What have I done to you—you—viper?"
The man secured in the chair, and with the wire drawn tightly over his throat, replied not a word.
Elmer advanced toward him, and Alma, with a little cry, tried to hinder him.
"Do not fear. He cannot move. I will release his head, and perhaps you will recognize him."
The wire about his throat was loosened, and the wretch lifted his head into a more comfortable position.
"Great Heavens! It is Mr. Belford!"
"Yes, sir," said he. "I forgot to put away some papers, and I came down to secure them, and while I was here that wretch surprised me, threatened to murder me, and finally overpowered me and bound me here as you see. If you will ask him to release me, I will get up and explain everything."
"It's a lie," screamed Mr. Denny, lifting his crutch. "I don't believe you—you thief—you robber! It's a lie!"
"Oh, father!" cried Alma. "Release him—let him go. He will go away then, and leave us. He has done wrong; but let him go. It must be some awful mistake—some——"
"No! Never! never! ne—v——"
The word died away on his lips, for on the instant there was a loud ring at the hall door. They all listened in silence. Again the importunate bell pealed through the echoing house.
"It is some one in distress," said Elmer. "John, do you take a light and go to the door. Ask what is wanted before you loose the chain, and tell them to go away unless it is a case of life or death."
They listened in breathless interest to the confused sounds in the hall. There was a moving of locks, and then rough voices talking in suppressed whispers. The candles flared in the cold draught of wind that swept into the room, and the sound of the rain in the trees filled the air. Then the door closed, and John returned, and in an excited whisper said:
"It's Mr. Jones, the sheriff."
At this word Mr. Belford struggled with his bonds, and in a broken voice he cried:
"Oh, Mr. Denny, spare me! Let me not be arrested. I will restore every——"
"Silence, sir!" said Elmer. "Not a word till you are spoken to. What does he want, John?"
"He says he must see Mr. Denny. It's very important—and, oh, sir, he's a'most beside himself, and I wouldn't let him in."
"Call him in at once," said Mr. Denny. "It is a most fortunate arrival. The very man we want."
John returned to the hall, and in a moment an old man, gray-haired and wrinkled, but still vigorous and strong, stood before them. He seemed a giant in his huge great-coat, and when he removed his hat his massive head and thick neck seemed almost leonine.
"Ah! Mr. Sheriff, you have arrived at a most opportune moment. We were just awakened from our beds by this robber. We captured him, and we have him here."
"Beg pardon, sir. Sorry to hear it, but 'twere another errant that brought me here. The widow Green's daughter, Alice, she that was missing, has been found in the mill-race—dead."
They all gave expression to undisguised astonishment, and the prisoner in the chair groaned heavily.
"And I have come for the key of the boat house, sir, that we may go for the—body, sir."
"How horrible! When did all this happen?"
"We dunno, sir. I'd like the key ter once."
"Certainly—certainly, Mr. Sheriff. But this man—cannot you secure him for the night?"
"Oh, ay. But the child, sir. The boys wants your boat to go for her."
"Poor, poor Alice!" cried Alma, wringing her hands.
"John," said Elmer, "get the key for Mr. Jones. Jake, you and your father can go with the men, and, Mr. Jones, perhaps you had better wait with us, for we have a little matter of importance to settle, and we need you."
"Now," said Mr. Franklin, "I have one or two questions I wish to ask the man, and then, Mr. Jones, you will do us a favor if you will take him away.
"Lawrence Belford, as you value your soul, where did you obtain that will?"
If a bolt from the storm overhead had entered the room, it could not have produced a more startling impression than did this simple question. Mr. Denny dropped his crutch, and raised both hands in astonishment. Alma gave a half suppressed scream, and even the sheriff and John were amazed beyond expression.
The man in the chair made no reply, and presently the breathless silence was broken by the calm voice of the young man repeating his question.
"I found it in the leaves of a book in the old bookcase in the mill office."
"What?" cried Mr. Denny, leaning forward and steadying himself by the table. "My father's will! Did you find it? Release him, John. How can we ever thank you, Mr. Belford? It is the missing will——"
"Oh, Lawrence!" said Alma. "Why did you not tell us? why did you not show it? How much trouble it would have saved."
"Have patience, Alma. Let Mr. Belford rise and bring the will."
"No," said Mr. Franklin. "Hear the rest of the story. Mr. Belford, you destroyed or suppressed that will, did you not?"
"Yes, I did—damn you!"
"Good Lord!" cried the sheriff. "Did ye hear that?—destroyed it! That's State's prison."
"Oh, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Denny! have mercy on me! Do not let them arrest me."
The poor creature seemed to be utterly cowed and crushed in an instant.
"Marcy!" said the sheriff, taking out a pair of handcuffs. "It's little marcy ye'll git."
"You ask for mercy!" cried Mr. Denny, his face livid with passion. "You—you wretch! Have you not ruined me? Have you not made my child a beggar, and carried my gray hairs in sorrow to the grave? You knew the value of this will—and you destroyed it! Your other crimes are as nothing to this. I could forgive your monstrous frauds in my mills——"
Mr. Belford winced and looked surprised.
"Ay! wince you may. I have found out everything, thanks to—but I'll not couple his name with yours. And the release of the mortgage—have you that?"