Time sped on wings, so rapidly did it pass during Regenia's stay in the North with her pleasant friends. She did not visit Mt. Claire during her stay. Why should she, when everything there would but serve to recall sad memories of past happiness, which she verily believed could never return. She remained in Minton three months. In the closing days of September she prepared to return to the home of her adoption. Happy as her stay in Minton had been, she was anxious to go back to Grandville. Thoroughly rested, she longed to take up the work of her choice. As was noted in a previous chapter, the trustees had promised on the closing day of school, to enlarge the building and increase the teaching force. They had fulfilled their promise. Regenia had been requested by them to bring another teacher when she came to take the new place. Accordingly, she induced one of her friends in Minton to go South and accept the position. The trip was barren of incidents until they reached Colerain. Here, for the first time, they were made to feel the iron of that discrimination, so trying to Afro-Americans of culture and refinement. As the two girls left the coach at Colerain and essayed to enter the ladies' waiting room, a blear-eyed attendant in the employ of the railroad, stopped them.
"Is that girl your servant?" he curtly asked.
"No," said Regenia, "she is my friend."
"Walk right in the other door," he said, pointing toward an adjoining waiting room.
"Is that the place for ladies?" she asked in surprise.
"No. That's the place for 'niggahs,'" he said, gruffly. "So go along and don't make any trouble," he continued, taking Regenia by the shoulders and starting her sharply in the direction indicated.
The girls, thoroughly frightened, did not wait a second command, but meekly obeyed orders. Regenia's friend, although perhaps her superior in acquisitiveness, her equal in grace and refinement, was unmistakably an Afro-American. The waiting room for Negroes was the smoking room for everybody else. Amid a cloud of smoke, and the insulting stare of coarse white men and rude Negroes, the two young ladies hid away in a corner of the room. Here they sat, too scared to be indignant; smarting under the insult, but too much cowed by their surroundings to protest. Fortunately their stay in Colerain was short. With feelings of relief amounting almost to buoyancy, they welcomed the signal to get aboard for Grandville. Their buoyancy, however, was very short lived. They had hardly settled comfortably in their seats before a trainman came in, and taking up their traveling bags, politely asked them to follow him into the other coach.
In vain they protested that they were satisfied to remain where they were, but all to no purpose. The new teacher indignantly refused to go. Regenia had started, but the intended assistant took hold of her superior, and with more force than politeness compelled her to remain.
"We have first class tickets," said the spirited assistant. "You have no right to charge first class fare for second class accommodations."
"Right or wrong, I have orders to seat you in the forward coach, and I intend to do so, at all hazards," said the trainman.
Suiting the actions to the word, he caught the brave girl by the arm and hustled her unceremoniously into the smoking car. Regenia meekly followed.
In the coach the girls left, sat two dozen Americans, distinguished the world over for their knightly consideration for the rights of women; but not a word was said, not a protest offered as this slender, unoffending daughter of Eve was dragged to the smoking car by the heartless executor of an outrageous public sentiment.
A "heathen Chinese" who was an interested observer, pushed his pigtail further up under his hat, settled himself comfortably in the seat the two girls had vacated, drew from his pocket a late copy of the "Foo Choo Chronicle," and, with an air conscious superiority playing in the corner of his almond eyes, mused, while he pretended to read, upon the wide difference between American theory and practice. The car these two refined American women were compelled by the hard fate of a cowardly public sentiment to enter, would have been disgraceful to use for cattle. The air was thick with every odor that burning tobacco could produce. Ribald stories went the round and bad whiskey played no minor part in the hilarity of the crowd.
The girls sat all that long night with their faces out of the windows, trying in vain to get a pure breath of air. We need not linger over the sickening details of this unhappy journey. What they suffered that night would be harrowing to relate. At daylight, to the intense relief of two passengers, at least, the train reached Grandville. The girls dragged themselves from the coach and hurried to Regenia's boarding house.
Still smarting from the refusal of Dr. Stone to see her off when she left in June, it was with feelings akin to resentment she went down to meet him on the night of her arrival. After the usual greetings, she introduced her friend, who came with her.
Miss Wilson, for that was the girl's name, immediately launched into an unreserved denunciation of the treatment received on their way to Grandville.
"You must look for that sort of thing here, but do not denounce too severely the employee, as he said, he was only obeying orders," remarked Dr. Stone.
"No orders could ever make a real gentleman rude to a lady," answered Miss Wilson hotly. "I never wished I were a man before yesterday. If the men of our race had half the courage of the women, they would stand by their rights to the bitter death."
"That would be about the size of it," said Lotus coolly.
"What would be the size of it?"
"Death, that's all," said Lotus lightly.
"Well, one has but one time to die. I would rather a thousand times die in defense of my rights than live a cowardly poltroon, the scorn of every self-respecting man on earth. Is life so sweet or existence teeming with so many awaiting pleasures that to hold on to a few more uncertain days of it, we must suffer any indignity if we may only be allowed to live?" asked the angry girl.
"All you say is true enough, but it is hard to get discreet men to act upon your advice. We all like to live, I hardly know why unless it is because we are built that way," said Lotus, laughing, "but to be serious, it is probably the hope of a better day that restrains men from flying into the face of fate and heroically surrendering their all to let the world stop long enough to sigh: 'One more unfortunate.'"
"Is it getting better, Doctor, or worse?" asked Regenia. "As one by one the old safeguards once thought necessary are being removed, I confess my faith in a better day is growing weaker."
"The better day is coming, if, in the language of an old friend of mine, 'It's away off.' Just as the asperities that once existed between the North and South are gradually melting away and the old fraternal ties are being more endurably welded, so, against all reason, perhaps, I believe that the real heart of the South is measurably softening toward us. The reign of the poor whites has reached that point where it is a stench in the nostrils of the better classes everywhere. We must not lose faith," he said, nodding toward Regenia. "We must look into the frowning face of blackest night of the rosy hues of coming morning, have faith to believe that though the gathering clouds of social and political despair will break the glorious sunlight of a new emancipation."
"It is helpful to listen to the avowal of such faith, but in the fierce light of the past day's experience I am unable to agree with you," said Miss Wilson.
"Our greatest hope lies in the noble women of our race," said the doctor, politely.
"Our greatest hindrance, perhaps, in our cowardly, lecherous men," said Miss Wilson. With this parting shot, she excused herself and left the room.
"I suppose it is patent to you why I did not accompany you to the station?" said the doctor, as the door closed after Miss Wilson.
"Not exactly," said Regenia.
"If you had not been accompanied on your return, the second trip South would have been as barren of annoyance as the first. If I had escorted you to the station in any other capacity than servant, you would have left Grandville in a smoking car. Under those circumstances you would not have returned. For ten minutes' pleasure I would have sacrificed many happy hours," he said, laughing.
"I should have preferred my friends to accompany me to the station, if a smoking car did loom up as the result," said Regenia.
"Certainly you would," said Lotus, "and for that very reason none of your friends would unnecessarily subject you, through their thoughtlessness to that indignity. It is glorious to have the power of a king, but it is tyrannical to use it. Your unselfishness is proverbial; should I be less unselfish? You would risk all for your friends, but he would be a selfish man indeed who would permit you to do so when threading the perils of a lone woman on a southern railway car."
The doctor soon departed. As Regenia lowered the gas and started to her room, she nearly collided with Mr. Foggs, as he hove from the dining room, breathing like a freight engine going up grade, and pulling about as heavy a load, considering the difference in horse power.
"Ah, Miss Underwood, come and shake hands with me, I haven't laid these two eyes on you since your return. Mrs. Landers informed me this evening that you were back among us," he said, trying to stand still.
"I am very glad to be back," said Regenia politely.
"Come and give me a kiss, won't you?" said the Reverend, bracing himself and starting toward her.
Regenia moved further away, but was evidently speechless with indignation and astonishment. As she attempted to escape him and pass through the door, he caught her by the hand and attempted to embrace her.
"What do you mean?" she said.
"Don't get angry. I don't mean no harm. You do not make so much fuss, I lay you, when that white doctor tries to kiss you," he said with a satanic grin.
Regenia's anger knew no bounds. She unloosed his grasp and before she thought had given the lecherous, drunken old hypocrite such a slap in the face that the impact awakened Mrs. Landers from her doze in the kitchen. The sudden belligerency put forth by Regenia, by its very energy, frightened her from the field.
It sobered old Foggs sufficiently to make an untruthful explanation to Mrs. Landers, and present Regenia's side of the case in a most uncomplimentary light. Regenia had not heard the last of that foul slander repeated by Mr. Foggs. From that night, whenever the young girl's name is mention, he will, with many expressions of unbelief, repeat the story connecting it with Dr. Leighton's.
Thus it is ever: the cormorants of society, whenever their familiarities are rebuffed, wreak their vengeance upon the innocent by sly insinuations intended to ruin the character of those who defend their honor.
Chapter 21 -- Chapter 22