CHAPTER VIII: THE RIOT IN THE MASTER'S HALL
ALARMED at the possible growth of the secret clan into which Ben had urged him to enter, Dr. Cameron determined to press for relief from oppression by an open appeal to the conscience of the Nation.
He called a meeting of conservative leaders in a Taxpayers' Convention at Columbia. His position as a leader had been made supreme by the indignities he had suffered, and he felt sure of his ability to accomplish results. Every county in the state was represented by its best men in this gathering at the Capital.
The day he undertook to present his memorial to the Legislature was one he never forgot. The streets were crowded with negroes who had come to town to hear Lynch, the Lieutenant-Governor, speak in a mass-meeting. Negro policemen swung their clubs in his face as he pressed through the insolent throng up the street to the stately marble Capitol. At the door a black, greasy trooper stopped him to parley. Every decently dressed white man was regarded a spy.
As he passed inside the doors of the House of Representatives, the rush of foul air staggered him. The reek of vile cigars and stale whiskey, mingled with the odour of perspiring negroes, was overwhelming. He paused and gasped for breath.
The space behind the seats of the members was strewn with corks, broken glass, stale crusts, greasy pieces of paper, and picked bones. The hall was packed with negroes, smoking, chewing, jabbering, pushing, perspiring.
A carpet-bagger at his elbow was explaining to an old darkey from down east why his forty acres and a mule hadn't come.
On the other side of him a big negro bawled:
"Dat's all right! De cullud man on top!"
The doctor surveyed the hall in dismay. At first not a white member was visible. The galleries were packed with negroes. The Speaker presiding was a negro, the Clerk a negro, the doorkeepers negroes, the little pages all coal-black negroes, the Chaplain a negro. The negro party consisted of one hundred and one -- ninety-four blacks and seven scallawags, who claimed to be white. The remains of Aryan civilisation were represented by twenty-three white men from the Scotch-Irish hill counties.
The doctor had served three terms as the member from Ulster in this hall in the old days, and its appearance now was beyond any conceivable depth of degradation.
The ninety-four Africans, constituting almost its solid membership, were a motley crew. Every negro type was there, from the genteel butler to the clodhopper from the cotton and rice fields. Some had on second-hand seedy frock-coats their old masters had given them before the war, glossy and threadbare. Old stovepipe hats, of every style in vogue since Noah came out of the ark, were placed conspicuously on the desks or cocked on the backs of the heads of the honourable members. Some wore the coarse clothes of the field, stained with red mud.
Old Aleck, he noted, had a red woolen comforter wound round his neck in place of a shirt or collar. He had tried to go barefooted, but the Speaker had issued a rule that members should come shod. He was easing his feet by placing his brogans under the desk, wearing only his red socks.
Each member had his name painted in enormous gold letters on his desk, and had placed beside it a sixty- dollar French imported spittoon. Even the Congress of the United States, under the inspiration of Oakes Ames and Speaker Colfax, could only afford one of domestic make, which cost a dollar.
The uproar was deafening. From four to six negroes were trying to speak at the same time. Aleck's majestic mouth with blue gums and projecting teeth led the chorus, as he ambled down the aisle, his bow-legs flying their redsock ensigns.
The Speaker singled him out -- his voice was something which simply could not be ignored -- rapped and yelled:
"De gemman from Ulster set down!"
Aleck turned crestfallen and resumed his seat, throwing his big flat feet in their red woollens up on his desk and hiding his face behind their enormous spread.
He had barely settled in his chair before a new idea flashed through his head and up he jumped again:
"Mistah Speaker!" he bawled.
"Orda da!" yelled another.
"Knock 'im in de head!"
The Speaker pointed his gavel at Aleck and threatened him laughingly:
"Ef de gemman from Ulster doan set down I gwine call 'im ter orda!"
Uncle Aleck greeted this threat with a wild guffaw, which the whole House about him joined in heartily. They laughed like so many hens cackling -- when one started the others would follow.
The most of them were munching peanuts, and the crush of hulls under heavy feet added a subnote to the confusion like the crackle of a prairie fire.
The ambition of each negro seemed to be to speak at least a half-dozen times on each question, saying the same thing every time.
No man was allowed to talk five minutes without an interruption which brought on another and another until the speaker was drowned in a storm of contending yells. Their struggles to get the floor with bawlings, bellowings, and contortions, and the senseless rap of the Speaker's gavel, were something appalling.
On this scene, through fetid smoke and animal roar, looked down from the walls, in marble bas-relief, the still white faces of Robert Hayne and George McDuffie, through whose veins flowed the blood of Scottish kings, while over it brooded in solemn wonder the face of John Laurens, whose diplomatic genius at the court of France won millions of gold for our tottering cause, and sent a French fleet and army into the Chesapeake to entrap Cornwallis at Yorktown.
The little group of twenty-three white men, the descendants of these spirits, to whom Dr. Cameron had brought his memorial, presented a pathetic spectacle. Most of them were old men, who sat in grim silence with nothing to do or say as they watched the rising black tide, their dignity, reserve, and decorum at once the wonder and the shame of the modern world.
At least they knew that the minstrel farce being enacted on that floor was a tragedy as deep and dark as was ever woven of the blood and tears of a conquered people. Beneath those loud guffaws they could hear the death-rattle in the throat of their beloved state, barbarism strangling civilisation by brute force.
For all the stupid uproar, the black leaders of this mob knew what they wanted. One of them was speaking now, the leader of the House, the Honourable Napoleon Whipper.
Dr. Cameron had taken his seat in the little group of white members in one corner of the chamber, beside an old friend from an adjoining county whom he had known in better days.
"Now listen," said his friend. "When Whipper talks he always says something."
"Mr. Speaker, I move you, sir, in view of the arduous duties which our presiding officer has performed this week for the State, that he be allowed one thousand dollars extra pay."
The motion was put without debate and carried.
The speaker then called Whipper to the Chair and made the same motion, to give the Leader of the House an extra thousand dollars for the performance of his heavy duties.
It was carried.
"What does that mean?" asked the doctor.
"Very simple; Whipper and the Speaker adjourned the House yesterday afternoon to attend a horse race. They lost a thousand dollars each betting on the wrong horse. They are recuperating after the strain. They are booked for judges of the Supreme Court when they finish this job. The negro mass-meeting to-night is to indorse their names for the Supreme Bench."
"Is it possible!" the doctor exclaimed.
When Whipper resumed his place at his desk, the introduction of bills began. One after another were sent to the Speaker's desk, a measure to disarm the whites and equip with modern rifles a Negro militia of 80,000 men; to make the uniform of Confederate gray the garb of convicts in South Carolina, with the sign of rank to signify the degree of crime; to prevent any person calling another a "nigger"; to require men to remove their hats in the presence of all officers, civil or military, and all disfranchised men to remove their hats in the presence of voters; to force whites and blacks to attend the same schools and open the State University to negroes; to permit the intermarriage of whites and blacks; and to inforce social equality.
Whipper made a brief speech on the last measure:
"Before I am through, I mean that it shall be known that Napoleon Whipper is as good as any man in South Carolina. Don't tell me that I am not on an equality with any man God ever made."
Dr. Cameron turned pale, and trembling with excitement, asked his friend:
"Can that man pass such measures, and the Governor sign them?"
"He can pass anything he wishes. The Governor is his creature - a dirty little scalawag who tore the Union flag from Fort Sumter, trampled it in the dust, and helped raise the flag of the Confederacy over it. Now he is backed by the Government at Washington. He won his election by dancing at negro balls and the purchase of delegates. His salary as Governor is $3,500 a year, and he spends over $40,000. Comment is unnecessary. This Legislature has stolen millions of dollars, and already bankrupted the treasury. The day Howle was elected to the Senate of the United States, every negro on the floor had his roll of bills and some of them counted it out on their desks. In your day the annual cost of the State government was $400,000. This year it is $2,000,000. These thieves steal daily. They don't deny it. They simply dare you to prove it. The writing-paper on the desks cost $16,000. These clocks on the wall $600 each, and every little Radical newspaper in the state has been subsidised in sums varying from $1,000 to $7,000. Each member is allowed to draw for mileage, per diem, and 'sundries.' God only knows what the bill for 'sundries' will aggregate by the end of the session."
"I couldn't conceive of this!" exclaimed the doctor.
"I've only given you a hint. We are a conquered race. The iron hand of Fate is on us. We can only wait for the shadows to deepen into night. President Grant appears to be a babe in the woods. Schuyler Colfax, the Vice- president, and Belknap, the Secretary of War, are in the saddle in Washington. I hear things are happening there that are quite interesting. Besides, Congress now can give little relief. The real law-making power in America is the State Legislature. The State law-maker enters into the holy of holies of our daily life. Once more we are a sovereign State -- a sovereign Negro State."
"I fear my mission is futile," said the doctor.
"It's ridiculous -- I'll call for you to-night and take you to hear Lynch, our Lieutenant Governor. He is a remarkable man. Our negro Supreme Court Judge will preside --"
Uncle Aleck, who had suddenly spied Dr. Cameron, broke in with a laughing welcome:
"I 'clar ter goodness, Dr. Cammun, I didn't know you wuz here, sah. I sho' glad ter see you. I axes yer ter come across de street ter my room; I got sumfin' pow'ful pertickler ter say ter you."
The doctor followed Aleck out of the Hall and across the street to his room in a little boarding-house. His door was locked, and the windows darkened by blinds. Instead of opening the blinds, he lighted a lamp.
"Ob cose, Dr. Cammun, you say nuffin 'bout what I gwine tell you?"
"Certainly not, Aleck."
The room was full of drygoods boxes. The space under the bed was packed, and they were piled to the ceiling around the walls.
"Why, what's all this, Aleck?"
The member from Ulster chuckled:
"Dr. Cammun, yu'se been er pow'ful good frien' ter me -- gimme medicine lots er times, en I hadn't nebber paid you nuttin'. I'se sho' come inter de kingdom now, en I wants ter pay my respects ter you, sah. Des look ober dat paper, en mark what you wants, en I hab 'em sont home fur you."
The member from Ulster handed his physician a printed list of more than five hundred articles of merchandise. The doctor read it over with amazement.
"I don't understand it, Aleck. Do you own a store?"
"Na-sah, but we git all we wants fum mos' eny ob 'em. Dem's 'sundries,' sah, dat de gubment gibs de members. We des orda what we needs. No trouble 'tall, sah. De men what got de goods come roun' en beg us ter take 'em."
The doctor smiled in spite of the tragedy back of the joke.
"Let's see some of the goods, Aleck -- are they first class?"
"Yessah; de bes' goin'. I show you."
He pulled out a number of boxes and bundles, exhibiting carpets, door-mats, hassocks, dog-collars, cow-bells, oil cloths, velvets, mosquito-nets, damask, Irish linen, billiard outfits, towels, blankets, flannels, quilts, women's hoods, hats, ribbons, pins, needles, scissors, dumb-bells, skates, crepe, skirt braids, tooth-brushes, face-powder, hooks and eyes, skirts, bustles, chignons, garters, artificial busts, chemises, parasols, watches, jewelry, diamond earrings ivory-handled knives and forks, pistols and guns, and a Webster's Dictionary.
"Got lots mo' in dem boxes nailed up dar -- yessah, hit's no use er lettin' good tings go by yer when you kin des put out yer hen' en stop 'em! Some er de members ordered horses en carriages, but I tuk er par er fine mules wid harness en two buggies en er wagin. Dey 'roun at de libry stable, sah."
The doctor thanked Aleck for his friendly feeling, but told him it was, of course, impossible for him at this time, being only a taxpayer and neither a voter nor a member of the Legislature, to share in his supply of "sundries."
He went to the warehouse that night with his friend to hear Lynch, wondering if his mind were capable of receiving another shock.
This meeting had been called to indorse the candidacy, for Justice of the Supreme Court, of Napoleon Whipper, the Leader of the House, the notorious negro thief and gambler, and William Pitt Moses, an ex-convict, his confederate in crime. They had been unanimously chosen for the positions by a secret caucus of the ninety-four negro members of the House. This addition to the Court, with the negro already a member, would give a majority to the black man on the last Tribunal of Appeal.
The few white men of the party who had any sense of decency were in open revolt at this atrocity. But their influence was on the wane. The carpet-bagger shaped the first Convention and got the first plums of office. Now the Negro was in the saddle, and he meant to stay. There were not enough white men in the Legislature to force a roll-call on a division of the House. This meeting was an open defiance of all palefaces inside or outside party lines.
Every inch of space in the big cotton warehouse was jammed -- a black living cloud, pungent and piercing.
The distinguished Lieutenant-Governor, Silas Lynch, had not yet arrived, but the negro Justice of the Supreme Court, Pinchback, was in his seat as the presiding officer.
Dr. Cameron watched the movements of the black judge, already notorious for the sale of his opinions, with a sense of sickening horror. This man was but yesterday a slave, his father a medicine-man in an African jungle who decided the guilt or innocence of the accused by the test of administering poison. If the poison killed the man, he was guilty; if he survived, he was innocent. For four thousand years his land had stood a solid bulwark of unbroken barbarism. Out of its darkness he had been thrust upon the seat of judgment of the laws of the proudest and highest type of man evolved in time. It seemed a hideous dream.
His thoughts were interrupted by a shout. It came spontaneous and tremendous in its genuine feeling. The magnificent figure of Lynch, their idol, appeared walking down the aisle escorted by the little scalawag who was the Governor.
He took his seat on the platform with the easy assurance of conscious power. His broad shoulders, superb head, and gleaming jungle-eyes held every man in the audience before he had spoken a word.
In the first masterful tones of his voice the doctor's keen intelligence caught the ring of his savage metal and felt the shock of his powerful personality -- a personality which had thrown to the winds every mask, whose sole aim of life was sensual, whose only fears were of physical pain and death, who could worship a snake and sacrifice a human being.
His playful introduction showed him a child of Mystery, moved by Voices and inspired by a Fetish. His face was full of good humour, and his whole figure rippled with sleek animal vivacity. For the moment, life was a comedy and a masquerade teeming with whims, fancies, ecstasies and superstitions.
He held the surging crowd in the hollow of his hand. They yelled, laughed, howled, or wept as he willed.
Now he painted in burning words the imaginary horrors of slavery until the tears rolled down his cheeks and he wept at the sound of his own voice. Every dusky hearer burst into tears and moans.
He stopped, suddenly brushed the tears from his eyes, sprang to the edge of the platform, threw both arms above his head and shouted:
"Hosannah to the Lord God Almighty for Emancipation!"
Instantly five thousand negroes, as one man, were on their feet, shouting and screaming. Their shouts rose in unison, swelled into a thunder peal, and died away as one voice.
Dead silence followed, and every eye was again riveted on Lynch. For two hours the doctor sat transfixed, listening and watching him sway the vast audience with hypnotic power.
There was not one note of hesitation or of doubt. It was the challenge of race against race to mortal combat. His closing words again swept every negro from his seat and melted every voice into a single frenzied shout:
"Within five years," he cried, "the intelligence and the wealth of this mighty state will be transferred to the Negro race. Lift up your heads. The world is yours. Take it. Here and now I serve notice on every white man who breathes that I am as good as he is. I demand, and I am going to have, the privilege of going to see him in his house or his hotel, eating with him and sleeping with him, and when I see fit, to take his daughter in marriage!"
As the doctor emerged from the stifling crowd with his friend, he drew a deep breath of fresh air, took from his pocket his conservative memorial, picked it into little bits, and scattered them along the street as he walked in silence back to his hotel.