Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XVII. -- THE CANTERBURY CLUB DINNER.|
fares the land to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay.
The Canterbury Club of Boston, which held its annual dinner on this particular evening, was composed of the flower of Boston's literary savans. At the rooms of the club men deep in scientific research touched elbows with the advanced theological scholar and the political economist. Side by side with the vital questions of the hour in the world of progress--wireless telegraphy, the philosophy of trusts, the rise and fall of monarchies, the restoration of Greek art, the philosophy of lynching was beginning to engage the attention of two hemispheres, and information was eagerly sought from every reliable source.
Now it happened that the remarkable ability of Smith in dealing with the acknowledged difficulties of the question had been spoken of to some of the members by the Hon. Herbert Clapp, the president of the club. It had already entertained Doctor Lewis, on account of his great work as an educator among his people,
"One man's meat is another man's poison." The colored people north of Mason and Dixon's line are conspicuous for their advancement along all the lines which are distinctive features in the formation of the polished exterior of the good citizen of such a republic as ours. Among the best circles of this community are found the highest types of intellectual, moral, religious and social improvement. What becomes of such a class as this when hampered by rules and laws made to fit the needs of the Black Belt? laws of life and living which cannot be forced, and ought not to be forced, upon the large class of colored citizens who embody within themselves the highest development of American citizenship? We believe that the spirit of fair play is not yet dead in our beloved country. We believe that there still exists beneath the seething cauldron of prejudice with which the South would deluge the advance of the Negro, brave hearts that will answer the cry of distress with patriotic alacrity, and these same brave hearts will demand for every black face, North and South, the fullest opportunity to develop whatever is best within him.
The young men had planned to go together. Their entrance created a diversion; the English member of Parliament who was the guest of honor
"And a proud yeomanry, its country's pride
When once destroyed can never be supplied."
Will the Republic learn the value of the black children of her adoption when it is too late?
The presence of these young Negroes was generally received as a pleasant innovation among that company. There was a senator from Alabama present among the invited guests, and for a moment he felt his color rise and all the peculiar feelings of his section protest and clamor to make themselves heard when he found that he must perforce be brought into social contact with the despised ex-slave representatives. But he remembered, in time to save himself from ridicule, that he was in Massachusetts. "What matter?" was his inward thought, "some day we shall change all this."
The first course was about over before Will had a chance to look about him. He did not feel at all overpowered by the grandeur displayed. The great room with its high walls and ceiling of magnificently carved mahogany, the massive brass chandeliers, composed of hundreds of tiny electric lights which threw their sparkling rays upon the exquisitely appointed table, with the priceless ware in which the meal was served, the heavy scent of roses which perfumed the air, the silent waiters gliding in and out among the guests,--all seemed the fantastic creation of a dream.
His neighbor happened to be Mr. Withington; his vis-a-vis , a noted editor; farther down the table the recognized a foreign secretary of legation; and so on. Conversation soon became general; flashes of wit, satire, and discussions of rare value to the student--a sumptuous feast of good things. Above the click of glasses he caught snatches of conversation:
"You may search through science and find no evidence of the presence of God in the universe," declared the sharp, decisive voice of a free-thinker, who was plunged in the midst of an argument with a noted theologian of the Episcopal faith. Will listened intently for the answer. It came instantly:
"How could it be otherwise? God has a
"Ah, there you go, with your mythological argument! You cover the clear statement of a fact with a veil of mysticism."
"Very true; but what is the soul, mentality, existence itself, but a living mysticism?" replied the clergyman.
The whole room had become interested by this time, and watched the play of cultured thought and keen argument with great relish.
"It is only when the subjective part of man exists as a distinct entity, then, that you think the presence of God is made clear to him?"
"Yes," replied the clergyman; "for the final end of man is the beginning of spirituality, or the true knowledge of God."
"Ah, but if we let reason speak, we find the flaws in your theory, and your ground becomes untenable. I look forward to the day which coming years shall usher in, when all the discoveries which are being made each year, and the general diffusion of scientific knowledge, shall revolutionize thought, and place God and man on an entirely different plane from that which they now occupy."
"And what is this reason or thought which you feel will do so much? It is but a loan from
"He must have satisfied the Almighty that he is worthy."
Presently Will plunged into the conversation, impelled thereto by a certain philosophical reference with which he was familiar, and which he had studied with great interest.
"What do you think of reason and religion, Mr. Smith?" asked the free-thinker, impressed with the intelligence of his comments. "Are you one with the rest of your race in believing all this talk of spirituality?"
"I believe that reason and religion must act together to discover the perfect power and glory of God," replied Will modestly. (All eyes were for the moment bent upon him.) "There is perfect harmony between them; and it is our own shortsightedness which causes us to doubt."
"Do you not believe that by seeking knowledge and dedicating life to the welfare of mankind and obedience to God in our several vocations, our best faculties will be gratified? wealth, fame, health, and all other good things will flow in a stream, and our delight remain permanent?" asked Doctor Lewis at this stage of the argument.
"Not necessarily obedience to God," replied the free-thinker. "Certain causes bring certain effects, without reference to a presiding deity."
"That's it!" said the Southerner, sotto voce , to his next neighbor. "Negroes are all alike with regard to religion; ignorant, thieving, dirty and lazy, but withal crammed full of religious enthusiasm. You should know them as I do--shouting, screaming, frothing at the mouth with the outpourings of the 'spirit,' and as soon as they are outside of the church door, robbing hen-roosts and watermelon patches. Bah!"
Low as his words were spoken, they caught the ear of Will. His flashing black eyes were turned upon the speaker as he said with a courtly bow:
"Granted that all you say is true, still the Negro does not sin against ages of accumulated knowledge of right and wrong. It is not absolute incapacity in the Negro either, but mere want of information, arising from lack of intelligent exercise of the perceptive faculties. These faults you speak of are but the remnants of an old irresponsible life. The majority of our race has turned aside forever from the old beaten paths of slavery into the undiscovered realms of free thought and free action. Some of the race may abuse the newly acquired
There was a murmur of applause as he finished speaking.
"Well," returned the Southerner, "we will grant that some of you are making progress, but you cannot claim that as a race you are capable of becoming such examples of manhood as you and your friends. To most of you the mystery of government will always remain a mystery; and the hope of assimilating many things which are second nature to the white man, will never become a reality to your race."
"I believe that the same rules which govern all races will be applicable to mine," returned Will. "If men are rude and foolish, down they must go. When at last in any race a new principle appears, an idea, that conserves it. Ideas only save races. If the black man is feeble and impotent, unimportant to the existing races--not on a parity with the best races, the black man must serve and be exterminated. But , if he carries within his bosom the element of a new and coming civilization, he will survive and play his part."
"Hear, hear!" cried the foreign secretary of legation, applauding vigorously, delighted at
"England is troubled over the fact that the two races do not mix, and to all appearances never will," now joined in Mr. Withington. "There seems to be no common ground between them; they cannot live together harmoniously. Can you, gentlemen, explain this to me? I should like to carry back with me, when I return, a clear realization of the facts in the case as viewed by each party to the question. That is part of my mission in this country."
"It is true," said Doctor Lewis, "that our condition is alarming to a degree. Over ten thousand graves made since the war by mob violence, are dotting the South, and of these ninety per cent are the graves of black men."
"You do not get these facts abroad because newspaper reports are doctored by local Southern writers who participate in the lynchings. Free speech and public discussions are not allowed. In the South you must think and speak as the mob dictates," here chimed in John Langley.
"But surely you have constitutional equity
"Constitutional equity is a political fiction," laughed Will.
"Reconstruction is a failure, then?" asked Mr. Withington.
"Reconstruction is not a failure, although the whole South will tell you so, and the North is being persuaded to so believe; the Negro was the living force which rent asunder the old methods of the slave-holding states and brought them out into the healthful light of decent, God-fearing living. But they are trying to take all the credit for the good we may have done them, from us. The lines are drawn more sharply than before the emancipation. Constitutional amendments are dead letters; the ballot-box is nil," replied Will.
"All of which goes to show that race is stronger than law," broke in the Southerner.
"Rather that barbarism is superior to civilization."
"What about the crime of rape?" asked Mr. Withington.
"In nine cases out of ten," replied Lewis, "you will find that the Negro is guiltless of this awful crime. It is brought forward to alienate the sympathy of all decent men from us. It is a crime that strikes the home ties, and as such
"You cannot prove your assertions!" exclaimed the Southerner, white with passion.
"Name a case."
"John Thomas of Georgia."
"He was guilty, and deserved his fate. You, gentlemen, must have heard the story of the atrocities committed by that man. The woman's husband was brutally murdered and she was assaulted. We made the fate of the black devil a terrible example for the rest of his kind in Georgia."
"Do you not know that that story has been proven false all through? It was this way, gentlemen: After the man Thomas was lynched, the colored people were convinced of his innocence. A sum of money was raised by subscription to hire the services of a reputable detective to investigate the matter. He visited the scene of the alleged crime, and it was found that Thomas worked for Cragen on his farm. Thomas heard that his mother was sick, and wished to visit her; having no money, he applied to Cragen for his pay. This enraged
"And for defending himself they lynched him?" said Mr. Withington, with a look on his face which expressed incredulous astonishment, combined with disgust.
"Yes; that was the detective's report, given under oath. What the man suffered at the hands of the lynchers could only be equalled by the sufferings of the martyrs of Nero's time. If every case of Negro lynching could be investigated, we should discover fearful discrepancies between the story of the mob and the real truth."
"That does not prove that white men are ravishers," said the Southerner, returning to the charge.
"Oh," replied Will, with a significant shrug of the shoulders, "take the representatives of my race who are with you tonight. How did we get our complexions, soft curls and regular features? Our ancestors were black, flat-featured, and had many other racial marks. Your race does not intermarry with Negroes, does
"Do you not think, then, that under the circumstances the Government ought to assist the Negro to leave the country?" asked Mr. Withington.
"Never!" cried Will, with glowing countenance, "Never! Here where we have been so outrageously maligned, let us refute the charge like men!"
"That sounds well," said the Southerner with a sneer, "but how will you do it?"
"By using the methods of the South," replied Will quickly; "create sentiment for the race and against its detractors."
"And if you get nothing else out of it, the agitators will do a good business and fill their pockets with money."
"Agitation will do much," said Will calmly, unruffled by the other's display of anger. "It gave us freedom; it will give us manhood. The peace, dignity and honor of this nation rises or falls with the Negro. Frederic Douglas once said: 'Ultimately this nation will be composite. There is a strong demand--a growing demand--for a government capable of protecting all its citizens--rich and poor, white and black--alike.' The causes for such a government still exist. It remains to be seen if the prophecy will be fulfilled."
One of the founders of the American Academy at Rome was present, and conversation now turned upon the development of American talent in art. The political aspect of Great Britain in South Africa and the complications likely to arise therefrom was another interesting topic, but under it all the sentiment expressed and the words spoken by the representatives of an humble race that night lingered in the heart of each scholar and thinker who had heard them.
Will had a pressing engagement, and was obliged to excuse himself to the president of the club. He withdrew as quietly as possible. Those nearest him shook him warmly by the hand, and told him that they hoped to hear from him again, and soon, on the same interesting topic.
Mr. Withington now attached himself to John Langley for the remainder of the evening, seeming well pleased to find himself in such company. As they bade each other good-night at the close of the festivities he said to John, as he placed his card in his hand:
"I leave tomorrow for Canada, on business connected with the Home Office. I may never return to this country, but I want you to believe that I am deeply interested in the welfare of your people. Write to me whatever comes
John bade him good-by, and even his conservative heart was warmed by contact with so good a man. After he had reached his room he took the card from his pocket, and before putting it in a place of safety read the address:
CHARLES MONTFORT-WITHINGTON, M. P.
For a long time he sat there staring at the card in his hand. Where had he heard that name before? "Charles Montfort!" Why, it was the family name of Mrs. Smith! Instantly the words of Madam Frances came to his mind, and a great light seemed to illumine his thoughts: "When you are at that table in the company of those men, you shall have the answer to one of the questions you would ask me."
How often he had listened to the story told by Ma Smith with an incredulous smile. It had seemed to him the idle boasting of a mind entering its dotage. Charles Montfort!--and from England! Heavens! if there should be truth in this fairy tale!