Can't wait until Sunday to read "Yankee Reconstructed?
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Jonathan breathed deeply as he stared at the western sky. He had always loved South Carolina sunsets. Their purple clouds swirled across a background of gold, followed by curtains of navy blue. Darkness settled slowly over a city that seemed to be at peace, if only for a few nighttime hours. If he had ever had doubts about the wisdom of bringing his family back to Charleston after the war, they faded away in the soft, scented air. Flowers still bloomed, even in these months of autumn, and the night birds still chirped their sleepy calls. He closed his eyes, holding the memory against whatever challenges the next day might bring. Perhaps that was what made him miss the first flicker of torches from behind him.
“Roses got thorns.”
The mumbled comments, added to the shuffle of boots, jerked Jonathan from his reverie. Turning from the sunset toward the other end of the piazza, he was almost blinded by blazing torches carried by indistinct figures robed in dark clothing. He moved toward the door, open to catch the night breezes. He had left Susan sitting near the door with her tatting, and his first instinct was to protect her from whatever this invasion portended. But he was not quick enough to move back into the house.
The challenging voice froze his movements, his hand still on the latch. He eased the door closer to the frame as he turned to face the group of men now stomping up the gentlemen’s staircase. At the top, they stopped. “You Grenville?” the same voice asked again.
“I’m Jonathan Grenville, yes. What do you want with me?”
The ringleader took a single step onto the piazza. “We don’t want you. We want your nigger.”
“There are no Negroes here.”
“So you say. That’s not what we hear.”
“Who are you? Why do you come in darkness with your faces covered? I am an honest man, and I expect others to be honest as well. Identify yourselves, and then we can talk.”
“Our disguises are for our own protection. There are those who would prevent honest Southern gentlemen from doing everything they can to protect their families, their state, and their heritage. We hide our faces until we know the people we are talking to are not scalawags, carpetbaggers, Yankees, or nigger-lovers. Do you fall into any of those categories, Mr. Grenville?”
Jonathan tried his best not to react to the question. Truth be told, he thought to himself, I probably fit into all four groups. “You are Klansmen, then.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Ah, you have heard of the noble Ku Klux Klan, I see. Why is a fine, upstanding Southern gentleman like yourself not one of us?”
Jonathan refused to be baited. “I’ve heard of you, but I didn’t know you were active in South Carolina. We’ve never needed your kind of interference to manage our affairs. I repeat—What do you want with me?”
“We’re looking for Hector Moreau. Recognize the name, do you?”
“There’s no one else here, except for my family. We hire a woman to help with the cleaning and the children, but she goes to her own home every evening.”
“We’re not after a housemaid. We want Hector Moreau. He’s a fugitive from justice, and we understand he might be heading here to seek your protection. You do know him, although by his former name—Hector Gresham.” It, too, was a statement, not a question.
“Yes, I know Mr. Gresham, but I haven’t seen him in over a year, and I was not aware he had changed his name . . . He has never been a criminal, and he’s certainly not my . . . ‘nigger.’”
“Used to be your slave, didn’t he? That’s what we’ve been told.”
“Long before the war, yes. But I freed him, and he moved his family far south from here to start a new life.”
“Sure. Moved south to cause more trouble, more likely.”
“No, Hector’s not the type to cause trouble. Surely you have the wrong man.”
“Didn’t you own a plantation on Edisto Island?”
“And that’s where he went—to join his father-in-law in stealing your property from you.”
“You’re wrong. His father-in-law, Thomas, purchased a piece of our land at the end of the war, as General Sherman’s Field Order #15 provided, and Hector went to help him turn it into a proper farm. They bought the property fairly. You have the story confused.”
“No, you are the one who is behind the times, Grenville. South Carolina no longer recognizes anything that damnable Sherman had to say. General Howard came to Edisto last October at the order of President Johnson and told the slaves they had to give their land back to its former owners. In February, agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau arrived to assure the peaceful transfer of land, only to find a bunch of sullen, defiant niggers standing their ground, armed with sticks and hoes. Your fellow Thomas was one of the ringleaders, until federal troops forcibly removed the protesters. Thomas and some of his lot armed themselves and declared they would die before they surrendered their land. So some of them did.”
A chuckle came from somewhere in the darkness. “Served them right, too, those damned niggers.”
Jonathan felt a chill ripple across his back, and although this was a conversation he certainly did not want to have, he could not help but ask, “You say you’re looking for Hector, so he was not one of those involved in the incident?”
“No, but that don’t say much about what’ll happen to him when we catch up with him. He’s made his own brand of trouble.”
Another chuckle responded, “String him up, I say. Ain’t fit to live.”
The ringleader held up a hand to quiet his followers and then turned back to Jonathan. “So you haven’t seen him?”
“Well, keep your eyes on the lookout. He’s bound to turn up here sooner or later, and when he does . . .” The statement trailed off but left no doubt as to the threat it proffered. “We’ll be back, Grenville. We’re not through with him . . . or with you.”
. . . . . to be continued . . . . . .