“There ain’t no nigger got sense.”
“Oh, pshaw!” Taylor ejaculated, walking away.
The sheriff was angry and mistrustful. He believed he had discovered a deep-laid scheme of the aristocrats to cultivate friendliness between whites and blacks, and then use black voters to crush the whites. Such a course was, in Colton’s mind, dangerous, monstrous, and unnatural; it must be stopped at all hazards. He began to whisper among his friends. One or two meetings were held, and the flame of racial prejudice was studiously fanned.
The atmosphere of the town and country quickly began to change. Whatever little beginnings of friendship and understanding had arisen now quickly disappeared. The town of a Saturday no longer belonged to a happy, careless crowd of black peasants, but the black folk found themselves elbowed to the gutter, while ugly quarrels flashed here and there with a quick arrest of the Negroes.
Colonel Cresswell made a sudden resolve. He sent for the sheriff and received him at the Oaks, in his most respectable style, filling him with good food, and warming him with good liquor.
“Colton,” he asked, “are you sending any of your white children to the nigger school yet?”
“What!” yelled Colton.
The Colonel laughed, frankly telling Colton John Taylor’s philosophy on the race problem,—his willingness to let Negroes vote; his threat to let blacks and whites work together; his contempt for the officials elected by the people.
“Candidly, Colton,” he concluded, “I believe in aristocracy. I can’t think it right or wise to replace the old aristocracy by new and untried blood.” And in a sudden outburst—“But, by God, sir! I’m a white man, and I place the lowest white man ever created above the highest darkey ever thought of. This Yankee, Taylor, is a nigger-lover. He’s secretly encouraging and helping them. You saw what he did to me, and I’m warning you in time.”
Colton’s glass dropped.
“I thought it was you that was corralling the niggers against us,” he exclaimed.
The Colonel reddened. “I don’t count all white men my equals, I admit,” he returned with dignity, “but I know the difference between a white man and a nigger.”
Colton stretched out his massive hand. “Put it there, sir,” said he; “I misjudged you, Colonel Cresswell. I’m a Southerner, and I honor the old aristocracy you represent. I’m going to join with you to crush this Yankee and put the niggers in their places. They are getting impudent around here; they need a lesson and, by gad! they’ll get one they’ll remember.”
“Now, see here, Colton,—nothing rash,” the Colonel charged him, warningly. “Don’t stir up needless trouble; but—well, things must change.”
Colton rose and shook his head.
“The niggers need a lesson,” he muttered as he unsteadily bade his host good-bye. Cresswell watched him uncomfortably as he rode away, and again a feeling of doubt stirred within him. What new force was he loosening against his black folk—his own black folk, who had lived about him and his fathers nigh three hundred years? He saw the huge form of the sheriff loom like an evil spirit a moment on the rise of the road and sink into the night. He turned slowly to his cheerless house shuddering as he entered the uninviting portals.