“Stillings, you look like a fool, but you’re a genius.” And Teerswell fairly hugged him. A few more details settled, and some more whiskey consumed, and Teerswell went home at midnight in high spirits. Stillings looked into the glass and scowled.
“Look like a fool, do I?” he mused. “Well, I ain’t!”
Congressman Cresswell was stirred to his first political activity by the hint given him through Stillings. He not only had a strong personal dislike for Alwyn, but he regarded the promise to him of a high office as a menace to the South.
The second speech which Alwyn made at the Bethel Literary was, as Stillings foresaw, a reply to the stinging criticisms of certain colored papers engineered by Teerswell, who said that Alwyn had been bribed to remain loyal to the Republicans by a six thousand dollar office. Alwyn had been cut to the quick, and his reply was a straight out defence of Negro rights and a call to the Republican Party to redeem its pledges.
Caroline Wynn, seeing the rocks for which her political craft was headed, adroitly steered several newspaper reports into the waste basket, but Stillings saw to it that a circumstantial account was in the Colored American, and that a copy of this paper was in Congressman Cresswell’s hands. Cresswell lost no time in calling on Senator Smith and pointing out to him that Bles Alwyn was a dangerous Negro: seeking social equality, hating white people, and scheming to make trouble. He was too young and heady. It would be fatal to give such a man office and influence; fatal for the development of the South, and bad for the Cotton Combine.
Senator Smith was unconvinced. Alwyn struck him as a well-balanced fellow, and he thought he deserved the office. He would, however, warn him to make no further speeches like that of last night. Cresswell mentioned Stillings as a good, inoffensive Negro who knew his place and could be kept track of.
“Stillings is a good man,” admitted Smith; “but Alwyn is better. However, I’ll bear what you say in mind.”
Cresswell found Mr. Easterly in Mrs. Vanderpool’s parlor, and that gentleman was annoyed at the news.
“I especially picked out this Alwyn because he was Southern and tractable, and seemed to have sense enough to know how to say well what we wanted to say.”
“When, as a matter of fact,” drawled Mrs. Vanderpool, “he was simply honest.”
“The South won’t stand it,” Cresswell decisively affirmed.
“Well—” began Mr. Easterly.
“See here,” interrupted Mrs. Vanderpool. “I’m interested in Alwyn; in fact, an honest man in politics, even if he is black, piques my curiosity. Give him a chance and I’ll warrant he’ll develop all the desirable traits of a first class office-holder.”
Easterly hesitated. “We must not offend the South, and we must placate the Negroes,” he said.
“The right sort of Negro—one like Stillings—appointed to a reasonable position, would do both,” opined Cresswell.