Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER III. -- "COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE."|
"You must be patient and persevere, and after awhile you will be able to make your houses stand. Isn't that right, Mr. Pollock?"
Pollock stood a little apart, gazing in amazement at the scene before him. Golden eagles given to a child to play with was a little beyond him. He made no direct reply to Mr. Montfort's remark, and if the latter had been an observant man, he might have been a bit puzzled at the expression on his face. But Charles Montfort was ingenuousness itself, seeing in no man an enemy. Anson Pollock was his opposite; his ruling passion was covetousness. His eyes were fairly dazzled by the sight of the gold so carelessly strewing the floor. It positively took away his breath.
"Come, Pollock, we will talk over those matters in my study," said Montfort presently. "My son," he added, as he paused at the doorway, "be careful not to lose your ducats. They are your portion to pay your college bills when you cross the ocean to finish your education."
"Going to send him abroad to study?" carelessly inquired Pollock.
"Oh, yes; America's all right for me, but bonny England for my boys."
Anson Pollock, whom Charles Montfort had chosen for his friend, was a man of dashing appearance. He carried his years jauntily, and
He had showered Mrs. Montfort with assiduous attention since her arrival three years before, but he soon found that he made no headway. Once he dared to tell her of his passion--that from the first moment he saw her aboard the "Island Queen" he had been maddened by her beauty.
"Why do you tell me this?" she cried, in angry amazement at his daring. "Am I so careless of my husband's honor that his friends feel at liberty to insult me?"
"Granted that I overstep the bounds of friendship in speaking thus to you, but it is from no lack of respect; rather the deed of one who risks all upon one throw of the dice. Have mercy, I pray you, and grant me your friendship--your love."
Then Grace Montfort said, while her eyes blazed with wrath: "Mr. Pollock, we are strangers here, my husband and I. He trusts you, and I have no wish to disturb that trust; but if you ever address such words to me again, I shall let Mr. Montfort know the kind of man you are. I promise you that he will know how to deal with you." This conversation had taken place one night at a grand fête, where Grace had been the belle of the assembly; they were in the conservatory at the time. Anson Pollock was not accustomed to having his advances received in this way by any woman whom he elected to honor with his admiration. As the indignant woman swept back to the ballroom, he stood and watched her with an evil look, which meant no good. After that they met as usual, but Pollock had never ventured to speak to her again of love. Outwardly he was the same suave, genial gentleman, but within his breast was a living fire of hatred. The two men became faster friends than ever. Mrs. Montfort was pleased to have it so; they had so few friends in this alien land; she felt so lonely, so helpless. She dreaded making enemies. It was but the lull before the storm.
When the study door had closed behind the two men, Mr. Montfort dropped his pleasant,
"Pollock," he began abruptly, "I'm worried."
"What about?" asked Pollock, turning from the window, where he seemed to be viewing the landscape.
"Have you heard the rumors about my wife being of African descent?" Montfort asked, coming very close to Pollock, as though afraid the very air would hear him. "There are threats, too, against my life because of my desire to free my slaves."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Pollock. "I have heard the rumors about Mrs. Montfort, but that is nothing--nothing but the malice of some malicious, jealous woman. As for the threats against your life, how can you think of such things a second time. You are among the most chivalrous people on the face of the earth, who will protect you in your home."
Montfort stood a moment before his friend, gazing at him earnestly; then he said: "Pollock, if anything happens to me, I want you to promise me to help my wife and babies to get back to Bermuda."
"Why, what can happen, man; you are nervous without a cause."
"In that safe," continued Montfort, not heeding the interruption, "you will find money and
"I promise; but it is all nonsense."
"I shall hold you to your promise," replied Montfort solemnly.
The committee on public safety generally met once a month. They had a chairman, but no one knew his identity save a chosen few of the committee. Indeed very little was known positively as to the identity of any of the members; certainly no one would ever have suspected the elegant Anson Pollock of being connected with such an organization.
On this particular evening Bill Sampson lounged by the Jefferson house on the lookout for some of his friends. Anson Pollock sat on the broad steps, evidently on the watch for some one, too. "Hi, Bill!" he called, as the latter came in sight.
"Holloa! want me?" returned Bill; and at a nod from his employer, he followed him through the entrance to a small back room, generally used for the meetings of the committee.
"Anything new for the committee tonight?" asked Pollock, as he lounged over the back of a chair. Bill took a seat on the edge of the table and began cutting circles in the air with his rawhide. Bill Sampson was a character in his way. One could not imagine Newbern
"Wall, mabby, mabby; depends on what you call wurk. Somebody," with a sly glance at Pollock from beneath his bushy eyebrows, "somebody's been circlatin' a r'port about a fren' o' yourn."
"Well," replied Pollock sharply.
"Looks like we'd treed a 'possum, sho."
"Somebody says how's Montfort's slaves is wurkin' fur part pay; leastways, every mother's son o' them'll be free inside o' five years."
"We kin' o' thought that'd do fer a spell. He's done nuff in that ar to convict him an' buy his halter. Thet'll do fer one pint."
"But that don't cover the case. What luck have you had in spreading the other report?"
"Wall," said Bill, as he shot a copious draught of tobacco juice over the sanded floor, "mos' the fellers think it a pity 'bout Mis' Montfort. Blamed nice 'ooman. She's been mighty good to Jeff Peterson's fam'ly, an' Jeff he feels mighty uncomf'table 'bout hurtin' on her, durned ef he don'."
"You and Jeff want to do your duty," replied Pollock. "No matter about sentiment. Influence is great with certain people, and if
"Course, course; we 'tend ter do our duty; yas, sir, our whol duty; but it beats all nater bout Mis' Montfort. I knowed she wuz mixed the minute I seed her, but 'ain't nuff to 'tract 'tention." He paused a moment, and then said with a sigh: "Well, Cap'n, what's yer orders?"
Pollock saw that the man's sympathy was more than half enlisted on the woman's side, and with arch diplomacy changed his tactics. He handed Bill a cigar, saying, "We may as well make ourselves comfortable"; and before the latter had fairly begun to enjoy the fragrant weed, had called for whiskey and was pressing him to help himself. Under its stimulating influence Bill soon lost what slight scruples he had felt, and was as eager for the downfall of the unfortunate family as his patron.
"Well, Bill," continued Pollock, "the first thing to be done is to put Montfort out of the way; then it will be plain sailing. The next question is: Who will do that job?"
"Reckon I know jes' the man--a man o' the right sperrit, who'll be glad to serve his country fer a reasun'ble consideration. An' thet remin's me, how much o' the property is to be resarved fer you?"
"The boys may have what they can get of it; I don't care for any part of the spoils; all I want is the mother and the children."
"Jes' so; wall, now, seein's I understan' the case jes' as you want it, I'll lay low, set the boys on; you keep shady an' stan' ready the minute the mine's fired. I ain't got a cuss agin Montfort myself, but the institootion must be respected. Sure thar's plenty o' whiskey an' stuff in the cellur? 'Twould look kin' o' mean in Montfort not to have a full cellur. It's a big job, an' the boys'll be thirsty." With this, the two worthies arose from their seats and sauntered through the door and up to the bar.
A day or two after the foregoing, Hank Davis, true to his word, formally applied to Mr. Montfort for the position of overseer on his plantation.
"What made you think that I wanted an overseer?" asked Montfort, as he pushed his hat off his face a little farther and eyed the petitioner critically, mentally vowing that he would never place even a horse in the power of such an ill-favored, beastly looking fellow.
"Wall, most Southern gentlemen don't keer ter have a nigger overseer. It spiles 'em; they gives themselves airs, an' git sot up in thar idees. Thought mabby you, bein' a stranger, mightn't know our ways. You see, it's jes'
Charles Montfort looked at him a moment with a slumbering wrath before he asked with dangerous coolness: "What do I understand by what you have just said, Mr. Davis? Do you mean to insinuate that a man cannot do as he will with his own property?"
"Wall, no; not eggsactly; but it's jes' hyar, to speak plainly as 'tween fren's," replied Hank, as he shifted his tobacco to the other side of his mouth, "the plain fac' is: I want the job of drivin' yer niggers, an' you'll want me to keep the commoonity fren'ly to yer now it's got out thet yer a-gwine ter set the gang free byme by."
Charles Montfort possessed one characteristic of the West Indian to a marked degree, and that was a bad temper under just provocation. Without more ado he seized the offending Hank by the collar, and with his riding whip, which he carried in his hand, he administered a sound flogging to the offender. As he released him, he said: "When you leave my grounds, don't you ever set your foot inside
Hank said nothing as he raised himself from the ground where the irate man had thrown him, but as he turned to leave the place he looked at Mr. Montfort; and even in his wrath at the insolence of such a mongrel cur, as he mentally styled Davis, Charles Montfort felt a shudder of real physical fear pass over him for a moment. Surprised at himself, he turned to enter the house, dismissing the whole incident as a piece of impudence which he had done well to chastise.
Taking it all in all, Mr. Montfort was not feeling very happy on this June morning, as he sat upon the piazza thinking over the late encounter. An hour passed swiftly away; still the master of the house continued his meditations; but now he had changed his seat for a thoughtful promenade up and down the broad piazza. Finally he said softly to himself: "Yes, that is just what I will do; I'll send Gracie and the little fellows home for awhile on a visit, and there they shall stay until I know just what the trouble is here about the slaves, and certain insinuations concerning my family are cleared up." When a man makes up his mind that he has solved a difficult problem that has worried him, he generally has an air of relief which
When Hank Davis left Mr. Montfort he moved slowly down the sun-baked road, nursing his wrath and swearing vengeance. Nothing but the life of the man who had inflicted such an insult upon him could wipe it out. He had received the same treatment that he had given hundreds of his associates, until his name and presence had become a terror in the county where he resided. Hitherto he had given his orders and they had been obeyed; but here was a man, a comparative stranger, for whom he considered that he had been willing to do a great kindness, for a consideration, and not only had he met with a refusal of his request but at the same time had received personal violence of a character that was most galling to the spirit of any free-born Southern man--an ordinary cowhiding, such as he would mete out to his slave. As he thought more and more about the matter he grew more and more filled with a desire for vengeance,--not the ordinary kind, but something extraordinary. As he gradually turned over in his mind schemes for the undoing of the Montforts, he was accosted by the voice of Bill
Hank sat down on a log by the wayside and beckoned Bill over to him. The latter came slowly across the field and seated himself astride one end of the log.
"Howdy, Hank"; "Howdy, Bill," passed in greeting between the two cronies.
"'Pears like to me, Hank, yer a-lookin' pale," remarked Bill, as he trailed his whip backward and forward in the dust.
Hank could stand it no longer; and with a terrible imprecation, he unfolded to his friend his tale of woe and insult. Bill listened with eager curiosity, and a satisfied, knowing look
"Wall, wall," said he, "these ar' great times when a d--West Ingy half-white nigger can raise his hand agin a white man. Be yer hurt much, Hank?"
"Some in my body, but more in my feelin's."
"What ar' we a-comin' to? I tell you, Hank, it is 'bout time sumthin' was done."
"That's all well enough to talk," replied Hank, "but what kin a man do agin the money thet thet feller's got to back him up? I cayn't see a handle on him."
"Wall," replied Bill, "I kin ."
"You kin! " exclaimed Hank, while a slow smile of derision covered his face; "wall, I'd jes' like to know how."
"Yer kin laugh, Hank Davis, but it's a fac'. 'Taint goin' to be no hard job, nuther, to git all thet money, all them purty trinkets and fine furniture, and the seven hundred niggers in our pockets ef "--(and here he paused as though to give emphasis to his words) " ef we wurks the thing right."
"Damn it all, man, why don't yer let out?" demanded Hank, as he rose excitedly from his seat on the log. "I'm the man to help on anythin' agin thet man, an' yer knows it. No need of yer bein' so infernal aggravatin' 'bout tellin' me."
Bill laughed at his companion's excitement. "Easy thar, easy, Hank. This ar' a mighty titlish job, but we kin wurk it--we kin wurk it. Fust place, yer see Montfort's brought them slaves o' hisn hyar and don't tend to keep 'em only 'bout ten years, and then every one o' them will have bought hisself, accordin' to the laws thet ar' governin' them over to the West Indies. Now, yer know ther's a bad eggsample to set befo' the niggers roun' this town. Eny way, we's goin' to think so," drawled Bill, with an expressive wink at his friend. "It's a law of the United States that ef eny man is caught creatin' dissatisfacshun among the slaves he desarves death, and death he gits. Now, this ar Montfort has been causin' trouble fer us by his eggsample. Every nigger roun' hyar knows all 'bout his 'rangements fer givin' his slaves thar freedom, and I tell yer, Hank, its causin' dissatisfacshun 'mong all our slaves. An' then the money, honey, the money! sech sights of it all done up in little shammy-skin bags, an' thet boy Jesse settin' on the floor amoosin' hisself buildin' houses with them gold eagles!"
Hank listened to his companion's words with open mouth. As the latter finished he said, with a look of admiration: "Wall, I'll be d--d! Now, look a-hyar, Bill Sampson, yer needn't tell me thet all thet yer have just unfolded to me is
Bill produced a plug of tobacco, offered his friend a chew and took one himself. "What I'm tellin' yer, Hank, is 'tween fren's," said he, chewing and crossing his legs.
"Jes' so," replied Hank.
"I wuz tellin' yer the 'riginater o' this plan, or I wuz about to." Bill paused to spit out some of his tobacco juice on the ground, so that it would not overflow the tank, so to speak, and run out of each corner of his mouth. "Beats all nater, Hank, how a man'll git dead set onter a piece o' caliker."
"Meanin' by that, Bill, that Ans Pollock's got set on some gal."
"Fact!" said Bill, with a wink.
"Who's?" asked Hank.
"It mote be Mis' Montfort herself, Hank."
"Sho, you don' say, re'lly," said Hank, with a wicked look. "Don' blame him, blamed ef I do. But thet's all the good it'll do him."
Bill cut the air into imaginary circles with his whip, and without taking any notice of his
"Bill," said Hank Davis, as he held out his hand to his friend, "we's allers been pardners, an' I reckon we allers will be."