But there was my letter waiting. I took my pen, and finished what I had to say about the negro and the injustice we had done to him, as well as to our own race, by the Fifteenth Amendment. I wrote:—
“I think Northerners must often seem to these people strangely obtuse in their attitude. And they deserve such opinion, since all they need to do is come here and see for themselves what the War did to the South.
“You may have a perfectly just fight with a man and beat him rightly; but if you are able to go on with your work next day, while his health is so damaged that for a long while he limps about as a cripple, you must not look up from your busy thriving and reproach him with his helplessness, and remind him of its cause; nor must you be surprised that he remembers the fight longer than you have time for. I know that the North meant to be magnanimous, that the North was magnanimous, that the spirit of Grant at Appomattox filled many breasts; and I know that the magnanimity was not met by those who led the South after Lee’s retirement, and before reconstruction set in, and that the Fifteenth Amendment was brought on by their own doings: when have two wrongs made a right? And to place the negro above these people was an atrocity. You cannot expect them to inquire very industriously how magnanimous this North meant to be, when they have suffered at her hands worse, far worse, than France suffered from Germany’s after 1870.
“I do think there should be a different spirit among some of the later-born, but I have come to understand even the slights and suspicions from which I here and there suffer, since to their minds, shut in by circumstance, I’m always a ‘Yankee.’
“We are prosperous; and prosperity does not bind, it merely assembles people—at dinners and dances. It is adversity that binds—beside the gravestone, beneath the desolated roof. Could you come here and see what I have seen, the retrospect of suffering, the long, lingering convalescence, the small outlook of vigor to come, and the steadfast sodality of affliction and affection and fortitude, your kind but unenlightened heart would be wrung, as mine has been, and is being, at every turn.”
After I had posted this reply to Aunt Carola, I had some fears that my pen had run away with me, and that she might now descend upon me with that reproof which she knew so well how to exercise in cases of disrespect. But there was actually a certain pathos in her mildness when it came. She felt it her duty to go over a good deal of history first, but:—
“I do not understand the present generation,” she finished, “and I suppose that I was not meant to.”
The little sigh in these words did great credit to Aunt Carola.
This vindication off my mind, and relieved by it of the more general thoughts about Kings Port and the South, which the pantomime of Kings Port’s forced capitulation to Hortense had raised in me, I returned to the personal matters between that young woman and John, and Charley. How much did Charley know? How much would Charley stand? How much would John stand, if he came to know?