Mt. Clare was literally alive with visiting Knights and their friends. Each new arrival was met at the depot with a band of music, the Committee of Reception, and an escort of their fraters. Music filled the air. The streets were lined with people decked in holiday attire. The citizens, white and black, vied with each other in open-handed hospitality.
The little city had donned its national dress for the occasion. Streamers of red, white and blue accompanied by flags of welcome, duly bespeaking the insignia of knighthood, everywhere flaunted to the breezes the good will which the people bore toward their sable guests. Every precaution necessary to the comfort and pleasure of the visitor was duly provided by the Committee of Arrangements. The hotel proprietors met the incoming guests with a reassuring smile. The "White Elephant" was the headquarters of the Grand Commandery. The Knights and their friends, like a victorious army of invasion, took complete possession of the place.
Conversing in groups in the office, filling every corridor and promenading along every balcony, quiet, genteel and unobtrusive, the visitors, in sober earnest hold sway.
Fraternity hall, the most commodious audience room in the city, was gratuitously tendered as a rendezvous for the commanderies. Here on the first day of the conclave, the mayor of the city spoke his words of welcome and the Eminent Grand Commander delivered his opening address. To these ceremonies the great majority paid but little attention; sight-seeing, boat-riding and crossing the narrow way that connected the two inland seas and separated our country from the dominion of the English, possessed for them, a greater fascination. Canada, to the average Afro-American, is a land of never-ending interest. The English ensign, to these Knights, is only one degree less sacred than the flag of the "stars and bars."
The supreme interest of the conclave week revolved about the second day's proceedings -- the street parade and the prize drill. Long ere the morning cock called the earliest risers from their night's repose, the hotels were alive with bustle and excitement. Each company that had entered the list of prize contestants spent two hours before breakfast, on the morning of the parade, busily executing the prospective programme.
Each commander's face wore an air of triumph, as his men filed in to partake of their well-earned repast.
During breakfast, the sound of martial music seemed to echo from every point of the compass. Long before the last Knight had folded his napkin and drawn his knees from beneath the table, the clattering hoofs of the all important martial of the day's horse, were heard frantically galloping through the streets. Of all the officials that form a part of these gatherings, the marshal of the day is generally the most excited and useless ornament. Armed with a little brief authority, this self inflated personage, with the airs of a major domo, and the gilded trappings of a field marshal on muster day, delights to see his manly shadow in the sun. Ordinarily he is a useless appendage, but in this occasion he exceeds in supercilious stupidity the arrogance of his kind. Galloping his foam-flecked jade, from right to left of the rapidly forming line, he gave his orders in a stentorian voice, always careful to halt where he could be most advantageously observed by the admiring multitude.
Glancing from side to side as he passed, he searched furtively the faces of the bystanders for a smile of approval, which might be appropriated as complimentary to the wisdom of the committee, in appointing a man so eminently fitted by nature, to fill with grace a position demanding such rare and versatile accomplishments
After three or four excursions from the head to the foot of the line, it dawned upon the marshal of the day that the procession waited only his orders to move. Putting spurs to his horse, he once more made his way to the public square, where, after gallantly saluting the ladies standing upon the steps of the city building, he waved his hand to the cannoneer to fire the signal to start. The sight was imposing. A cordon of mounted police led the parade. The Grand Officers, contrary to their general custom, followed on horseback the city's protectors. Not less than three thousand Knights, each commandery headed by a band, marched to the inspiring music with military precision. Chapeaus enriched with ostrich feathers, black coats, silver trimmings, gay uniforms and swords glistening in the sunlight, made a spectacle that must be seen to be appreciated. Along the entire march the citizens lined the streets and openly demonstrated their delight as the intricate movements of the drill were executed. Proud of the approval of the beholders, these black Knights lost no opportunity to show themselves worthy of the kindly consideration being accorded them.
Lotus Stone, although Grand Generallissimo of the Grand Commandery, marched as Eminent Commander of the Knights of the Red Cross. Whether riding or walking he was the most knightly of all that knightly throng. Five feet and ten, his military bearing and symmetrical form, made him easily six feet to the admiring crowd that jostled each other on the curb stones along the line of march.
Clement St. John, who would have made any sacrifice for his friend, blushed at the momentary thrill of jealousy which he experienced as Lotus Stone, in the front of the Red Cross Commandery, passed his point of observation. At the outskirts of the city, the line halted to take the street cars for Recreation Park, where the outing the prize drill were to be held. Here the street became a road, shaded on one side for some distance by giant elms. On the left hand side of the road, surrounded by trees, stood the home of the late Judge Underwood.
Mrs. Underwood, anticipating that the marchers would be thirsty from their long dusty tramp, had paced a barrel of cool water in the front yard, and standing at the gate as the Knights halted under the inviting shade, asked them to walk in and slake their thirst. The men did not wait to be asked a second time. Filing through the open gate, each gracefully lifting his chapeau to the kind old lady as he passed, they soon filled the inclosure. Clement and Lotus were the last to enter.
"See what the tardy bird always finds," said Lotus, with unmistakable disappointment, as he tilted the barrel, only to learn that the last clear cupful had been dipped by the man who preceded him.
"Your bread shall be given," remarked Clement slowly. "Has the water failed?"
"There comes out car, we might as well catch it," replied Lotus, as he turned to retrace his steps.
"Wait, I'll bring you a drink," said a girlish voice from the porch.
Lotus turned just in time to see a sylph-like form disappear through the open door.
"Shall we wait?" asked Lotus, "our car is moving?"
"There are other cars, my unsophisticated friend, and if that were the last, we had better walk out to the park miss the sight of such disinterested loveliness," said Clement, with a knowing wink.
"I am not so sure about the loveliness, but there is little doubt about the disinterestedness," said Lotus with a smile.
He had hardly finished the sentence before there appeared at the door, pitcher in one hand and glass in the other, a vision of beauty that caused both of the young men to forget the moving car, and the hilarious knights waving their gauntleted hands from the steps and windows at their friends left behind.
Clement and Lotus rushed simultaneously up the steps to relieve the blushing girl of her burden. Clement reached the place where she stood first.
"Allow me to relieve you," he said, bowing and ordering out his holiday smile. "I am sorry," he continued, putting forth his hand to take the pitcher, "that our negligence has caused you so much trouble."
She drew back, and smilingly poured out a glass of water, and as she presented it to the over-gallant young man, said: "Let me serve you, Sir Knights. To-day your bread shall be given and your water shall be sure, " she continued archly, finishing the quotation which Clement had doubtingly made a short time before.
Clement received the glass and with a deferential bow, passed it to his friend. "Your kindness will not be forgotten," said Lotus, returning the glass. "A glass of water generously given has promise of reward in the annals of the Good Book."
"Do not mention such a trifle," answered the sweet girl.
"Thoughtful trifles for others are the golden lines in the chapter of life," said Lotus politely, as he lifted his chapeau and walked toward the gate. As he closed the gate, he glanced back at Clement St. John, lingering on the steps in futile dalliance, and he, too, had his instantaneous fit of green-eyed insanity.
"A sweeter draught from a fairer hand was never quaffed," he repeated, as he awaited the arrival of an approaching horse car.
Regenia Underwood, for this was the young girl's name, was the very embodiment of vivacious, budding womanhood.
Dressed in some kind of soft white goods, draped loosely and clasped at the waist with a rosette of cream ribbon, she made a picture seldom seen among the women of our country.
Too fair for a brunette, she was a shade too dark for a blonde. Her complexion was a cream, into which some fairy's hand had deftly mixed the first rays of the morning's sun, throwing into her color a soft, rich, radiance, indescribably elusive. Of medium height, her form was the perfection of symmetry. Her face, of classic mold, was almost severe in its hauteur, yet about the well curved red lips and large brown eyes, swimming in their liquid depths, played constantly the faint suspicion of a smile. A wealth of dark brown hair hung in natural ringlets above her oval forehead. In the company of such a girl, a plain man like Clement St. John might be excused if he tarried on the steps, manufacturing topics of conversation in order to prolong the interview. When, after an awkward, pause, he detected Regenia, peering at the car, on the steps of which stood his friend, he hastily bade the ladies good day and ran to catch the car for Recreation Park.
"Well, well! Did you ever see anything like that?" He asked as soon as he could get his breath.
"You made a good run for an amateur, but I have seen sprinters in my time that could out-wind you," answered Lotus, ignoring Clement's meaning.
"Run? Out wind who? What are you talking about, anyway? Who said I wanted to be entered as a sprinter? What are you trying to give me?" These questions were fired at Lotus in a breath. "You can be obtuse when you are so disposed," he continued. "Are you stone in reality as well as in name? Does a few years in Washington effect a man that way?"
"Hold, hold!" cried Lotus. "You are drowning me in a sea of interrogations."
"Can you put your hand in the bosom of your waist-coat and say, honor bright, that you have not seen something unusual in the last half hour? If you can, I am 'dummed'," he concluded.
"What are you driving at any way?" said Lotus, laughing.
"Do you mean it," asked Clement excitedly. "If you do I have nothing more to say."
"Well, I do not mean it," replied Lotus.
"You are talking now – like a man that has been dismissed from the asylum. Say, did you ever see anything half so beautiful?"
"Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?"
"Beautiful she certainly is, but from such beauty you and I are forever disqualified," he sneeringly replied.
"I am not half so hopeless as I was a few days since," remarked Clement. "There is compensation for all of us while the race has such women as that one. Why one look into her eyes would banish the 'blues' for a century."
"The more you talk the more I am mystified. What possible consolation to me did those eyes you are raving over contain?"
"I can't say what influence they exercised over you," replied Clement, indifferently, "but the Lord knows His own and so does your unworthy servant. That girl belongs to the unnamed race or I never wrote an editorial."
"What new wild goose chase are you on now? It is preposterous. She has not a grain of African pigment beneath her pretty cuticle."
"Call it a wild goose chase if the phrase suits your caprice, but mind if you are not on the same chase before another day. I may be a narrow, self-opinionated news-gatherer, but I find out thing – I do not mope and sigh and run after the impossible. I did not serve my apprenticeship on the 'Times' without learning a thing or two," said Clement proudly.
"Recreation Park," called the conductor. The two friends left the car and rapidly bent their steps toward the main pavilion. Lotus was silent and thoughtful. Clement St. John, with one hand on his friend's shoulder, and gesturing wildly, often awkwardly, with the other, talked incessantly until they passed into the crowd and were lost from view.
Chapter 1 -- Chapter 3