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Griggs, Sutton E. (Sutton Elbert) / Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Race Problem A Novel
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IMPERIUM
IN IMPERIO

A STUDY OF
THE NEGRO RACE PROBLEM
A NOVEL

Sutton E. Griggs

1899




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER. PAGE.

Berl Trout's Declaration 1
I A Small Beginning 3
II The School 8
III The Parson's Advice 15
IV The Turning of a Worm 24
V Belton Finds a Friend 38
VI A Young Rebel 48
VII A Sermon, a Sock, And a Fight 64
VIII Many Mysteries Cleared Up 83
IX Love and Politics 95
X Cupid Again at Work 111
XI No Befitting Name 125
XII On the Dissecting Board 139
XIII Married and yet not Married 161
XIV " " " " " (Continued) 171
XV Weighty Matters 177
XVI Unwritten History 188
XVII Crossing the Rubicon 200
XVIII The Storm's Master 223
XIX The Parting of Ways 249
XX Personal (Berl Trout) 262




TO THE PUBLIC.


The papers which are herewith submitted to you for your perusal and
consideration, were delivered into my hands by Mr. Berl Trout.

The papers will speak for themselves, but Mr. Trout now being dead I
feel called upon to say a word concerning him.

Mr. Berl Trout was Secretary of State in the Imperium In Imperio, from
the day of its organization until the hour of his sad death. He was,
therefore, thoroughly conversant with all of the details of that great
organization.

He was a warm personal friend of both Bernard and Belton, and learned
from their own lips the stories of their eventful lives.

Mr. Trout was a man noted for his strict veracity and for the absolute
control that his conscience exercised over him.

Though unacquainted with the Imperium In Imperio I was well acquainted
with Berl, as we fondly called him. I will vouch for his truthfulness
anywhere.

Having perfect faith in the truthfulness of his narrative I have not
hesitated to fulfil his dying request by editing his Ms., and giving
it to the public. There are other documents in my possession tending
to confirm the assertions made in his narrative. These documents
were given me by Mr. Trout, so that, in case an attempt is made to
pronounce him a liar, I might defend his name by coming forward with
indisputable proofs of every important statement.

Very respectfully,
Sutton E. Griggs,
March 1, 1899. Berkley, Va.




IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO.




BERL TROUT'S DYING DECLARATION.

I am a traitor. I have violated an oath that was as solemn and
binding as any ever taken by man on earth.

I have trampled under my feet the sacred trust of a loving
people, and have betrayed secrets which were dearer to them
than life itself.

For this offence, regarded the world over as the most
detestable of horrors, I shall be slain.

Those who shall be detailed to escort my foul body to its
grave are required to walk backwards with heads averted.

On to-morrow night, the time of my burial, the clouds should
gather thick about the queenly moon to hide my funeral
procession from her view, for fear that she might refuse to
longer reign over a land capable of producing such a wretch as
I.

In the bottom of some old forsaken well, so reads _our_ law, I
shall be buried, face downward, without a coffin; and my body,
lying thus, will be transfixed with a wooden stave.

Fifty feet from the well into which my body is lowered, a
red flag is to be hoisted and kept floating there for time
unending, to warn all generations of men to come not near the
air polluted by the rotting carcass of a vile traitor.

Such is my fate. I seek not to shun it. I have walked into
odium with every sense alert, fully conscious of every step
taken.

While I acknowledge that I am a traitor, I also pronounce
myself a patriot.

It is true that I have betrayed the immediate plans of the
race to which I belong; but I have done this in the interest
of the whole human family--of which my race is but a part.

My race may, for the time being, shower curses upon me; but
eventually all races, including my own, shall call me blessed.

The earth, in anger, may belch forth my putrid flesh with
volcanic fury, but the out-stretched arms of God will receive
my spirit as a token of approval of what I have done.

With my soul feasting on this happy thought, I send this
revelation to mankind and yield my body to the executioner to
be shot until I am dead.

Though death stands just before me, holding before my eyes my
intended shroud woven of the cloth of infamy itself, I shrink
not back.

Yours, doomed to die,
BERL TROUT.




IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO




CHAPTER I

A SMALL BEGINNING.


"Cum er long hunny an' let yer mammy fix yer 'spectabul, so yer ken go
to skule. Yer mammy is 'tarmined ter gib yer all de book larning dar
is ter be had eben ef she has ter lib on bred an' herrin's, an' die en
de a'ms house."

These words came from the lips of a poor, ignorant negro woman, and
yet the determined course of action which they reveal vitally affected
the destiny of a nation and saved the sun of the Nineteenth Century,
proud and glorious, from passing through, near its setting, the
blackest and thickest and ugliest clouds of all its journey; saved it
from ending the most brilliant of brilliant careers by setting, with a
shudder of horror, in a sea of human blood.

Those who doubt that such power could emanate from such weakness;
or, to change the figure, that such a tiny star could have dimensions
greater than those of earth, may have every vestige of doubt removed
by a perusal of this simple narrative.

Let us now acquaint ourselves with the circumstances under which the
opening words of our story were spoken. To do this, we must need lead
our readers into humble and commonplace surroundings, a fact that
will not come in the nature of a surprise to those who have traced
the proud, rushing, swelling river to the mountain whence it comes
trickling forth, meekly and humbly enough.

The place was Winchester, an antiquated town, located near the
northwestern corner of the State of Virginia.

In October of the year 1867, the year in which our story begins, a
white man by the name of Tiberius Gracchus Leonard had arrived in
Winchester, and was employed as teacher of the school for colored
children.

Mrs. Hannah Piedmont, the colored woman whom we have presented to
our readers as addressing her little boy, was the mother of five
children,--three girls and two boys. In the order of their ages, the
names of her children were: James Henry, aged fifteen, Amanda Ann,
aged thirteen, Eliza Jane, aged eleven, Belton, aged eight, and
Celestine, aged five. Several years previous to the opening of our
history, Mr. Piedmont had abandoned his wife and left her to rear the
children alone.

School opened in October, and as fast as she could get books and
clothing Mrs. Piedmont sent her children to school. James Henry,
Amanda Ann, and Eliza Jane were sent at about a week's interval.
Belton and Celestine were then left--Celestine being regarded as too
young to go. This morning we find Belton's mother preparing him for
school, and we shall stand by and watch the preparations.

The house was low and squatty and was built of rock. It consisted of
one room only, and over this there was a loft, the hole to climb into
which was in plain view of any one in the room. There was only one
window to the house and that one was only four feet square. Two panes
of this were broken out and the holes were stuffed with rags. In one
corner of the room there stood a bed in which Mrs. Piedmont and
Amanda Ann slept. Under this was a trundle bed in which Eliza Jane
and Celestine slept at the head, while Belton slept at the foot. James
Henry climbed into the loft and slept there on a pallet of straw. The
cooking was done in a fireplace which was on the side of the house
opposite the window. Three chairs, two of which had no backs to them,
completed the articles in the room.

In one of these chairs Mrs. Piedmont was sitting, while Belton stood
before her all dressed and ready to go to school, excepting that his
face was not washed.

It might be interesting to note his costume. The white lady for whom
Mrs. Piedmont washed each week had given her two much-torn pairs of
trousers, discarded by her young son. One pair was of linen and the
other of navy blue. A leg from each pair was missing; so Mrs. Piedmont
simply transferred the good leg of the linen pair to the suit of the
navy blue, and dressed the happy Belton in that suit thus amended. His
coat was literally a conglomeration of patches of varying sizes and
colors. If you attempted to describe the coat by calling it by the
name of the color that you thought predominated, at least a half dozen
aspirants could present equal claims to the honor. One of Belton's
feet was encased in a wornout slipper from the dainty foot of some
young woman, while the other wore a turned over boot left in town by
some farmer lad who had gotten himself a new pair. His hat was in
good condition, being the summer straw last worn by a little white
playfellow (when fall came on, this little fellow kindly willed his
hat to Belton, who, in return for this favor, was to black the boy's
shoes each morning during the winter).

Belton's mother now held in her hand a wet cloth with which she wished
to cleanse his face, the bacon skin which he gnawed at the conclusion
of his meal having left a circle of grease around his lips. Belton
did not relish the face washing part of the programme (of course
hair combing was not even considered). Belton had one characteristic
similar to that of oil. He did not like to mix with water, especially
cold water, such as was on that wet cloth in his mother's hand.
However, a hint in reference to a certain well-known leather strap,
combined with the offer of a lump of sugar, brought him to terms.

His face being washed, he and his mother marched forth to school,
where he laid the foundation of the education that served him so well
in after life.

A man of tact, intelligence, and superior education moving in the
midst of a mass of ignorant people, ofttimes has a sway more absolute
than that of monarchs.

Belton now entered the school-room, which in his case proves to be the
royal court, whence he emerges an uncrowned king.




CHAPTER II.

THE SCHOOL.


The house in which the colored school was held was, in former times, a
house of worship for the white Baptists of Winchester. It was a long,
plain, frame structure, painted white. Many years prior to the opening
of the colored school it had been condemned as unsafe by the town
authorities, whereupon the white Baptists had abandoned it for a more
beautiful modern structure.

The church tendered the use of the building to the town for a public
school for the colored children. The roof was patched and iron rods
were used to hold together the twisting walls. These improvements
being made, school was in due time opened. The building was located on
the outskirts of the town, and a large open field surrounded it on all
sides.

As Mrs. Piedmont and her son drew near to this building the teacher
was standing on the door-steps ringing his little hand bell, calling
the children in from their recess. They came running at full speed,
helter skelter. By the time they were all in Mrs. Piedmont and Belton
had arrived at the step. When Mr. Leonard saw them about to enter the
building an angry scowl passed over his face, and he muttered half
aloud: "Another black nigger brat for me to teach."

The steps were about four feet high and he was standing on the top
step. To emphasize his disgust, he drew back so that Mrs. Piedmont
would pass him with no danger of brushing him. He drew back rather
too far and began falling off the end of the steps. He clutched at
the door and made such a scrambling noise that the children turned
in their seats just in time to see his body rapidly disappearing in a
manner to leave his feet where his head ought to be.

Such a yell of laughter as went up from the throats of the children!
It had in it a universal, spontaneous ring of savage delight which
plainly told that the teacher was not beloved by his pupils.

The back of the teacher's head struck the edge of a stone, and when he
clambered up from his rather undignified position his back was covered
with blood. Deep silence reigned in the school-room as he walked down
the aisle, glaring fiercely right and left. Getting his hat he left
the school-room and went to a near-by drug store to have his wounds
dressed.

While he was gone, the children took charge of the school-room and
played pranks of every description. Abe Lincoln took the teacher's
chair and played "'fessor."

"Sallie Ann ain't yer got wax in yer mouf?"

"Yes sar."

"Den take dis stick and prop yer mouf opun fur half hour. Dat'll teach
yer a lesson."

"Billy Smith, yer didn't know yer lessun," says teacher Abe. "Yer may
stan' on one leg de ballunce ob de ebenning."

"Henry Jones, yer sassed a white boy ter day. Pull off yer jacket.
I'll gib yer a lessun dat yer'll not furgit soon. Neber buck up to yer
s'periors."

"John Jones, yer black, nappy head rascal, I'll crack yer skull if yer
doan keep quiut."

"Cum year, yer black, cross-eyed little wench, yer. I'll teach yer to
go to sleep in here." Annie Moore was the little girl thus addressed.

After each sally from Abe there was a hearty roar of laughter, he
imitated the absent teacher so perfectly in look, voice, manner,
sentiment, and method of punishment.

Taking down the cowhide used for flogging purposes Abe left his
seat and was passing to and fro, pretending to flog those who most
frequently fell heir to the teacher's wrath. While he was doing this
Billy Smith stealthily crept to the teacher's chair and placed a
crooked pin in it in order to catch Abe when he returned to sit down.

Before Abe had gone much further the teacher's face appeared at the
door, and all scrambled to get into their right places and to assume
studious attitudes. Billy Smith thought of his crooked pin and had the
"cold sweats." Those who had seen Billy put the pin in the chair were
torn between two conflicting emotions. They wanted the pin to do its
work, and therefore hoped. They feared Billy's detection and therefore
despaired.

However, the teacher did not proceed at once to take his seat. He
approached Mrs. Piedmont and Belton, who had taken seats midway the
room and were interested spectators of all that had been going on.
Speaking to Mrs. Piedmont, he said: "What is your name?"

She replied: "Hannah Lizabeth Piedmont."

"Well, Hannah, what is your brat's name?"

"His name am Belton Piedmont, arter his grandaddy."

"Well, Hannah, I am very pleased to receive your brat. He shall not
want for attention," he added, in a tone accompanied by a lurking look
of hate that made Mrs. Piedmont shudder and long to have her boy
at home again. Her desire for his training was so great that she
surmounted her misgivings and carried out her purposes to have him
enrolled.

As the teacher was turning to go to his desk, hearing a rustling noise
toward the door, he turned to look. He was, so to speak, petrified
with astonishment. There stood on the threshold of the door a woman
whose beauty was such as he had never seen surpassed. She held a boy
by the hand. She was a mulatto woman, tall and graceful. Her hair was
raven black and was combed away from as beautiful a forehead as nature
could chisel. Her eyes were a brown hazel, large and intelligent,
tinged with a slight look of melancholy. Her complexion was a rich
olive, and seemed especially adapted to her face, that revealed not a
flaw.

The teacher quickly pulled off his hat, which he had not up to that
time removed since his return from the drug store. As the lady moved
up the aisle toward him, he was taken with stage fright. He recovered
self-possession enough to escort her and the boy to the front and
give them seats. The whole school divided its attention between the
beautiful woman and the discomfitted teacher. They had not known that
he was so full of smiles and smirks.

"What is your name?" he enquired in his most suave manner.

"Fairfax Belgrave," replied the visitor.

"May I be of any service to you, madam?"

At the mention of the word madam, she colored slightly. "I desire to
have my son enter your school and I trust that you may see your way
clear to admit him."

"Most assuredly madam, most assuredly." Saying this, he hastened to
his desk, opened it and took out his register. He then sat down, but
the next instant leapt several feet into the air, knocking over his
desk. He danced around the floor, reaching toward the rear of his
pants, yelling: "Pull it out! pull it out! pull it out!"

The children hid their faces behind their books and chuckled most
gleefully. Billy Smith was struck dumb with terror. Abe was rolling on
the floor, bellowing with uncontrollable laughter.

The teacher finally succeeded in extricating the offending steel and
stood scratching his head in chagrin at the spectacle he had made of
himself before his charming visitor. He took an internal oath to
get his revenge out of Mrs. Piedmont and her son, who had been the
innocent means of his double downfall that day.

His desk was arranged in a proper manner and the teacher took his pen
and wrote two names, now famous the world over.

"Bernard Belgrave, age 9 years."

"Belton Piedmont, age 8 years."

Under such circumstances Belton began his school career.




CHAPTER III.

THE PARSON'S ADVICE.


With heavy heart and with eyes cast upon the ground, Mrs. Piedmont
walked back home after leaving Belton with his teacher. She had
intended to make a special plea for her boy, who had all along
displayed such precociousness as to fill her bosom with the liveliest
hopes. But the teacher was so repulsive in manner that she did not
have the heart to speak to him as she had intended.

She saw that the happenings of the morning had had the effect of
deepening a contemptuous prejudice into hatred, and she felt that
her child's school life was to be embittered by the harshest of
maltreatment.

No restraint was put upon the flogging of colored children by their
white teachers, and in Belton's case his mother expected the worst.
During the whole week she revolved the matter in her mind. There was a
conflict in her bosom between her love and her ambition. Love prompted
her to return and take her son away from school. Ambition bade her to
let him stay. She finally decided to submit the whole matter to her
parson, whom she would invite to dinner on the coming Sunday.

The Sabbath came and Mrs. Piedmont aroused her family bright and
early, for the coming of the parson to take dinner was a great event
in any negro household. The house was swept as clean as a broom of
weeds tied together could make it. Along with the family breakfast, a
skillet of biscuits was cooked and a young chicken nicely baked.

Belton was very active in helping his mother that morning, and she
promised to give him a biscuit and a piece of chicken as a reward
after the preacher was through eating his dinner. The thought of
this coming happiness buoyed Belton up, and often he fancied himself
munching that biscuit and biting that piece of chicken. These were
items of food rarely found in that household.

Breakfast over, the whole family made preparations for going to
Sunday school. Preparations always went on peacefully until it came to
combing hair. The older members of the family endured the ordeal
very well; but little "Lessie" always screamed as if she was being
tortured, and James Henry received many kicks and scratches from
Belton before he was through combing Belton's hair.

The Sunday school and church were always held in the day-school
building. The Sunday school scholars were all in one class and recited
out of the "blue back spelling book." When that was over, members of
the school were allowed to ask general questions on the Bible, which
were answered by anyone volunteering to do so. Everyone who had in
any way caught a new light on a passage of scripture endeavored, by
questioning, to find out as to whether others were as wise as he, and
if such was not the case, he gladly enlightened the rest.

The Sunday school being over, the people stood in groups on the ground
surrounding the church waiting for the arrival of the parson from his
home, Berryville, a town twelve miles distant. He was pastor of three
other churches besides the one at Winchester, and he preached at each
one Sunday in the month. After awhile he put in his appearance. He was
rather small in stature, and held his head somewhat to one side and
looked at you with that knowing look of the parrot. He wore a pair of
trousers that had been black, but were now sleet from much wear. They
lacked two inches of reaching down to the feet of his high-heeled
boots. He had on a long linen cluster that reached below his knees.
Beneath this was a faded Prince Albert coat and a vest much too small.
On his head there sat, slightly tipped, a high-topped beaver that
seemed to have been hidden between two mattresses all the week and
taken out and straightened for Sunday wear. In his hand he held a
walking cane.

Thus clad he came toward the church, his body thrown slightly back,
walking leisurely with the air of quiet dignity possessed by the man
sure of his standing, and not under the necessity of asserting it
overmuch in his carriage.

The brothers pulled off their hats and the sisters put on their best
smiles as the parson approached. After a cordial handshake all around,
the preacher entered the church to begin the services. After singing
a hymn and praying, he took for his text the following "passige of
scripter:"

"It air harder fur a camel to git through de eye of a cambric needle
den fur a rich man to enter de kingdom of heben."

This was one of the parson's favorite texts, and the members all
settled themselves back to have a good "speritual" time.

The preacher began his sermon in a somewhat quiet way, but the members
knew that he would "warm up bye and bye." He pictured all rich men
as trying to get into heaven, but, he asserted, they invariably found
themselves with Dives. He exhorted his hearers to stick to Jesus. Here
he pulled off his collar, and the sisters stirred and looked about
them. A little later on, the preacher getting "warmer," pulled off his
cuffs. The brethren laughed with a sort of joyous jumping up and
down all the while--one crying "Gib me Jesus," another "Oh I am gwine
home," and so on.

One sister who had a white lady's baby in her arms got happy and flung
it entirely across the room, it falling into Mrs. Piedmont's lap,
while the frenzied woman who threw the child climbed over
benches, rushed into the pulpit, and swung to the preacher's neck,
crying--"Glory! Glory! Glory!" In the meanwhile Belton had dropped
down under one of the benches and was watching the proceedings with an
eye of terror.

The sermon over and quiet restored, a collection was taken and given
to the pastor. Mrs. Piedmont went forward to put some money on the
table and took occasion to step to the pulpit and invite the pastor
to dinner. Knowing that this meant chicken, the pastor unhesitatingly
accepted the invitation, and when church was over accompanied Mrs.
Piedmont and her family home.

The preacher caught hold of Belton's hand as they walked along. This
mark of attention, esteemed by Belton as a signal honor, filled
his little soul with joy. As he thought of the manner in which the
preacher stirred up the people, the amount of the collection that had
been given him, and the biscuits and chicken that now awaited him,
Belton decided that he, too, would like to become a preacher.

Just before reaching home, according to a preconcerted plan, Belton
and James Henry broke from the group and ran into the house. When
the others appeared a little later on, these two were not to be seen.
However, no question was asked and no search made. All things were
ready and the parson sat down to eat, while the three girls stood
about, glancing now and then at the table. The preacher was very
voracious and began his meal as though he "meant business."

We can now reveal the whereabouts of Belton and James Henry. They had
clambered into the loft for the purpose of watching the progress
of the preacher's meal, calculating at each step how much he would
probably leave. James Henry found a little hole in the loft directly
over the table, and through this hole he did his spying. Belton took
his position at the larger entrance hole, lying flat on his stomach.
He poked his head down far enough to see the preacher, but held it
in readiness to be snatched back, if the preacher's eyes seemed to be
about to wander his way.

He was kept in a state of feverish excitement, on the one hand, by
fear of detection, and on the other, by a desire to watch the meal.
When about half of the biscuits were gone, and the preacher seemed as
fresh as ever, Belton began to be afraid for his promised biscuit and
piece of chicken. He crawled to James Henry and said hastily--"James,
dees haf gone," and hurriedly resumed his watch. A moment later he
called out in a whisper, "He's tuck anudder." Down goes Belton's head
to resume his watch. Every time the preacher took another biscuit
Belton called out the fact to James.

All of the chicken was at last destroyed and only one biscuit
remained; and Belton's whole soul was now centered on that biscuit.
In his eagerness to watch he leaned a good distance out, and when the
preacher reached forth his hand to take the last one Belton was so
overcome that he lost his balance and tumbled out of his hole on the
floor, kicking, and crying over and over again: "I knowed I wuzunt
goin' to git naren dem biscuits."

The startled preacher hastily arose from the table and gazed on the
little fellow in bewilderment. As soon as it dawned upon him what
the trouble was, he hastily got the remaining biscuit and gave it to
Belton. He also discovered that his voracity had made enemies of the
rest of the children, and he very adroitly passed a five cent piece
around to each.

James Henry, forgetting his altitude and anxious not to lose his
recompense, cried out loudly from the loft: "Amanda Ann you git mine
fur me."

The preacher looked up but saw no one. Seeing that his request did not
have the desired effect, James Henry soon tumbled down full of dust,
straw and cobwebs, and came into possession of his appeasing money.
The preacher laughed heartily and seemed to enjoy his experience
highly.

The table was cleared, and the preacher and Mrs. Piedmont dismissed
the children in order to discuss unmolested the subject which had
prompted her to extend an invitation to the parson. In view of the
intense dislike the teacher had conceived for Belton, she desired
to know if it were not best to withdraw him from school altogether,
rather than to subject him to the harsh treatment sure to come.

"Let me gib yer my advis, sistah Hannah. De greatest t'ing in de wul
is edification. Ef our race ken git dat we ken git ebery t'ing else.
Dat is de key. Git de key an' yer ken go in de house to go whare you
please. As fur his beatin' de brat, yer musn't kick agin dat. He'll
beat de brat to make him larn, and won't dat be a blessed t'ing? See
dis scar on side my head? Old marse Sampson knocked me down wid a
single-tree tryin' to make me stop larning, and God is so fixed it dat
white folks is knocking es down ef we don't larn. Ef yer take Belton
out of school yer'll be fighting 'genst de providence of God."

Being thus advised by her shepherd, Mrs. Piedmont decided to keep
Belton in school. So on Monday Belton went back to his brutal teacher,
and thither we follow him.




CHAPTER IV.

THE TURNING OF A WORM.


As to who Mr. Tiberius Gracchus Leonard was, or as to where he came
from, nobody in Winchester, save himself, knew.

Immediately following the close of the Civil War, Rev. Samuel
Christian, a poor but honorable retired minister of the M.E. Church,
South, was the first teacher employed to instruct the colored children
of the town.

He was one of those Southerners who had never believed in the morality
of slavery, but regarded it as a deep rooted evil beyond human power
to uproot. When the manacles fell from the hands of the Negroes he
gladly accepted the task of removing the scales of ignorance from the
blinded eyes of the race.

Tenderly he labored, valiantly he toiled in the midst of the mass of
ignorance that came surging around him. But only one brief year was
given to this saintly soul to endeavor to blast the mountains of
stupidity which centuries of oppression had reared. He fell asleep.

The white men who were trustees of the colored school, were sorely
puzzled as to what to do for a successor. A Negro, capable of teaching
a school, was nowhere near. White young men of the South, generally,
looked upon the work of teaching "niggers" with the utmost contempt;
and any man who suggested the name of a white young lady of Southern
birth as a teacher for the colored children was actually in danger
of being shot by any member of the insulted family who could handle a
pistol.

An advertisement was inserted in the Washington Post to the effect
that a teacher was wanted. In answer to this advertisement Mr. Leonard
came. He was a man above the medium height, and possessed a frame not
large but compactly built. His forehead was low and narrow; while the
back of his head looked exceedingly intellectual. Looking at him
from the front you would involuntarily exclaim: "What an infamous
scoundrel." Looking at him from the rear you would say: "There
certainly is brain power in that head."

The glance of Mr. Leonard's eye was furtive, and his face was sour
looking indeed. At times when he felt that no one was watching him,
his whole countenance and attitude betokened the rage of despair.

Most people who looked at him felt that he carried in his bosom a dark
secret. As to scholarship, he was unquestionably proficient. No white
man in all the neighboring section, ranked with him intellectually.
Despite the lack of all knowledge of his moral character and previous
life, he was pronounced as much too good a man to fritter away his
time on "niggers."

Such was the character of the man into whose hands was committed the
destiny of the colored children of Winchester.

As his mother foresaw would be the case, Belton was singled out by the
teacher as a special object on which he might expend his spleen. For
a man to be as spiteful as he was, there must have been something
gnawing at his heart. But toward Bernard none of this evil spirit was
manifested. He seemed to have chosen Bernard for his pet, and Belton
for his "pet aversion." To the one he was all kindness; while to the
other he was cruel in the extreme.

Often he would purchase flowers from the florist and give to Bernard
to bear home to his mother. On these days he would seemingly take
pains to give Belton fresh bruises to take home to _his_ mother. When
he had a particularly good dinner he would invite Bernard to dine with
him, and would be sure to find some pretext for forbidding Belton to
partake of his own common meal.

Belton was by no means insensible to all these acts of discrimination.
Nor did Bernard fail to perceive that he, himself, was the teacher's
pet. He clambered on to the teacher's knees, played with his mustache,
and often took his watch and wore it. The teacher seemed to be truly
fond of him.

The children all ascribed this partiality to the color of Bernard's
skin, and they all, except Belton, began to envy and despise Bernard.
Of course they told their parents of the teacher's partiality and
their parents thus became embittered against the teacher. But however
much they might object to him and desire his removal, their united
protests would not have had the weight of a feather. So the teacher
remained at Winchester for twelve years. During all these years he
instructed our young friends Belton and Bernard.

Strangely enough, his ardent love for Bernard and his bitter hatred
of Belton accomplished the very same result in respect to their
acquirements. The teacher soon discovered that both boys were talented
far beyond the ordinary, and that both were ambitious. He saw that the
way to wound and humiliate Belton was to make Bernard excel him. Thus
he bent all of his energies to improve Bernard's mind. Whenever he
heard Belton recite he brought all of his talents to bear to point
out his failures, hoping thus to exalt Bernard, out of whose work he
strove to keep all blemishes. Thus Belton became accustomed to the
closest scrutiny, and prepared himself accordingly. The result was
that Bernard did not gain an inch on him.

The teacher introduced the two boys into every needed field of
knowledge, as they grew older, hoping always to find some branch in
which Bernard might display unquestioned superiority. There were two
studies in which the two rivals dug deep to see which could bring
forth the richest treasures; and these gave coloring to the whole of
their afterlives. One, was the History of the United States, and the
other, Rhetoric.

In history, that portion that charmed them most was the story of
the rebellion against the yoke of England. Far and wide they went in
search of everything that would throw light on this epoch. They became
immersed in the spirit of that heroic age.

As a part of their rhetorical training they were taught to declaim.
Thanks to their absorption in the history of the Revolution, their
minds ran to the sublime in literature; and they strove to secure
pieces to declaim that recited the most heroic deeds of man, of
whatever nationality.

Leonidas, Marco Bozarris, Arnold Winklereid, Louis Kossuth, Robert
Emmett, Martin Luther, Patrick Henry and such characters furnished the
pieces almost invariably declaimed. They threw their whole souls into
these, and the only natural thing resulted. No human soul can breathe
the atmosphere of heroes and read with bated breath their deeds of
daring without craving for the opportunity to do the like. Thus the
education of these two young men went on.

At the expiration of twelve years they had acquired an academic
education that could not be surpassed anywhere in the land. Their
reputation as brilliant students and eloquent speakers had spread over
the whole surrounding country.

The teacher decided to graduate the young men; and he thought to
utilize the occasion as a lasting humiliation of Belton and exaltation
of his favorite, Bernard Belgrave. Belton felt this.

In the first part of this last school year of the boys, he had told
them to prepare for a grand commencement exercise, and they acted
accordingly. Each one chose his subject and began the preparation
of his oration early in the session, each keeping his subject and
treatment secret from the other.

The teacher had announced that numerous white citizens would be
present; among them the congressman from the district and the mayor of
the town. Belton determined upon two things, away down in his soul. He
determined to win in the oratorical contest, and to get his revenge
on his teacher on the day that the teacher had planned for
his--(Belton's) humiliation. Bernard did not have the incentive that
Belton did; but defeat was ever galling to him, and he, too, had
determined to win.

The teacher often reviewed the progress made by Bernard on his
oration, but did not notice Belton's at all. He strove to make
Bernard's oration as nearly perfect as labor and skill could make
it. But Belton was not asleep as to either of the resolutions he
had formed. Some nights he could be seen stealing away from the
congressman's residence. On others he could be seen leaving the
neighborhood of the school, with a spade in one hand and a few
carpenter's tools in the other.

He went to the congressman, who was a polished orator with a national
reputation, in order that he might purge his oration from its
impurities of speech. As the congressman read the oration and
perceived the depth of thought, the logical arrangement, the beauty
and rhythm of language, and the wide research displayed, he opened his
eyes wide with astonishment. He was amazed that a young man of such
uncommon talents could have grown up in his town and he not know it.
Belton's marvelous talents won his respect and admiration, and he gave
him access to his library and criticized his oration whenever needed.

Secretly and silently preparations went on for the grand conflict. At
last the day came. The colored men and women of the place laid aside
all work to attend the exercises. The forward section of seats was
reserved for the white people. The congressman, the mayor, the school
trustees and various other men of standing came, accompanied by their
wives and daughters.

Scholars of various grades had parts to perform on the programme, but
the eyes of all sought the bottom of the page where were printed the
names of the two oratorical gladiators:

"BELTON PIEDMONT.
BERNARD BELGRAVE."

The teacher had given Bernard the last place, deeming that the more
advantageous. He appointed the congressman, the mayor, and one of the
school trustees to act as judges, to decide to whom he should award a
beautiful gold medal for the more excellent oration. The congressman
politely declined and named another trustee in his stead. Then the
contest began. As Belton walked up on the platform the children
greeted him with applause. He announced as his subject: "The
Contribution of the Anglo-Saxon to the Cause of Human Liberty." In his
strong, earnest voice, he began to roll off his well turned periods.
The whole audience seemed as if in a trance. His words made their
hearts burn, and time and again he made them burst forth in applause.

The white people who sat and listened to his speech looked upon it as
a very revelation to them, they themselves not having had as clear a
conception of the glory of their race as this Negro now revealed.
When he had finished, white men and women crowded to the front to
congratulate him upon his effort, and it was many minutes before quiet
was restored sufficiently to allow the programme to proceed.

Bernard took his position on the platform, announcing as his subject:
"Robert Emmett." His voice was sweet and well modulated and never
failed to charm. Admiration was plainly depicted on every face as he
proceeded. He brought to bear all the graces of a polished orator, and
more than once tears came into the eyes of his listeners. Particularly
affecting was his description of Emmett's death. At the conclusion it
was evident that his audience felt that it would have been difficult
to have handled that subject better.

The judges now retired to deliberate as to whom to give the prize.
While they are out, let us examine Belton's plans for carrying out
the second thing, upon the accomplishment of which he was determined;
viz., revenge.

In the rear of the schoolhouse, there stood an old wood-shed. For some
slight offence the teacher had, two or three years back, made Belton
the fire-maker for the balance of his school life instead of passing
the task around according to custom. Thus the care of the wood-house
had fallen permanently to Belton's lot.

During the last year Belton had dug a large hole running from the
floor of the wood-shed to a point under the platform of the school
room. The dirt from this underground channel he cast into a deep old
unused well, not far distant. Once under the platform, he kept on
digging, making the hole larger by far. Numerous rocks abounded in the
neighborhood, and these he used to wall up his underground room,
so that it would hold water.



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Main -> Griggs, Sutton E. (Sutton Elbert) -> Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Race Problem A Novel