Read CHAPTER XIX - The parting of ways of Imperium in Imperio: A Study Of The Negro Race Problem, free online book, by Sutton E. Griggs, on ReadCentral.com.

At the hour appointed Belton was at the door of the president’s mansion and Bernard was there to meet him. They walked in and entered the same room where years before Belton had, in the name of the Congress, offered Bernard the Presidency of the Imperium.

The evening was mild, and the window, which ran down to the floor, was hoisted. The moon was shedding her full light and Bernard had not lighted his lamp. Each of them took seats near the window, one on one side and the other on the other, their faces toward the lawn.

“Belton,” said Bernard, “that was a masterly speech you made to-day. If orations are measured according to difficulties surmounted and results achieved, yours ought to rank as a masterpiece. Aside from that, it was a daring deed. Few men would have attempted to rush in and quell that storm as you did. They would have been afraid of being torn to shreds, so to speak, and all to no purpose. Let me congratulate you.” So saying he extended his hand and grasped Belton’s feelingly.

Belton replied in a somewhat melancholy strain: “Bernard, that speech and its result ended my life’s work. I have known long since that a crisis between the two races would come some day and I lived with the hope of being used by God to turn the current the right way. This I have done, and my work is over.”

“Ah, no, Belton; greater achievements, by far, you shall accomplish. The fact is, I have called you over here to-night to acquaint you with a scheme that means eternal glory and honor to us both.”

Belton smiled and shook his head.

“When I fully reveal my plan to you, you will change your mind.”

“Well, Bernard, let us hear it.”

“When you closed your speech to-day, a bright light shot athwart my brain and revealed to me something glorious. I came home determined to work it out in detail. This I have done, and now I hand this plan to you to ascertain your views and secure your cooperation.” So saying he handed Belton a foolscap sheet of paper on which the following was written:

A PLAN OF ACTION FOR THE IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO.

1. Reconsider our determination to make known the existence of our Imperium, and avoid all mention of an emigration to Texas.

2. Quietly purchase all Texas land contiguous to states and territories of the Union. Build small commonplace huts on these lands and place rapid fire disappearing guns in fortifications dug beneath them. All of this is to be done secretly, the money to be raised by the issuance of bonds by the Imperium.

3. Encourage all Negroes who can possibly do so to enter the United States Navy.

4. Enter into secret negotiations with all of the foreign enemies of the United States, acquainting them of our military strength and men aboard the United States war ships.

5. Secure an appropriation from Congress to hold a fair at Galveston, inviting the Governor of Texas to be present. It will afford an excuse for all Negro families to pour into Texas. It will also be an excuse for having the war ships of nations friendly to us, in the harbor for a rendezvous.

6. While the Governor is away, let the troops proceed quietly to Austin, seize the capitol and hoist the flag of the Imperium.

7. We can then, if need be, wreck the entire navy of the United States in a night; the United States will then be prostrate before us and our allies.

8. We will demand the surrender of Texas and Louisiana to the Imperium. Texas, we will retain. Louisiana, we will cede to our foreign allies in return for their aid. Thus will the Negro have an empire of his own, fertile in soil, capable of sustaining a population of fifty million people.

Belton ceased reading the paper and returned it to Bernard.

“What is your opinion of the matter, Belton?”

“It is treason,” was Belton’s terse reply.

“Are you in favor of it?” asked Bernard.

“No. I am not and never shall be. I am no traitor and never shall be one. Our Imperium was organized to secure our rights within the United States and we will make any sacrifice that can be named to attain that end. Our efforts have been to wash the flag free of all blots, not to rend it; to burnish every star in the cluster, but to pluck none out.

“Candidly, Bernard, I love the Union and I love the South. Soaked as Old Glory is with my people’s tears and stained as it is with their warm blood, I could die as my forefathers did, fighting for its honor and asking no greater boon than Old Glory for my shroud and native soil for my grave. This may appear strange, but love of country is one of the deepest passions in the human bosom, and men in all ages have been known to give their lives for the land in which they had known nothing save cruelty and oppression. I shall never give up my fight for freedom, but I shall never prove false to the flag. I may fight to keep her from floating over cesspools of corruption by removing the cesspool; but I shall never fight to restrict the territory in which she is to float. These are my unalterable opinions.”

Bernard said: “Well, Belton, we have at last arrived at a point of separation in our lives. I know the Anglo-Saxon race. He will never admit you to equality with him. I am fully determined on my course of action and will persevere.”

Each knew that further argument was unnecessary, and they arose to part. They stood up, looking each other squarely in the face, and shook hands in silence. Tears were in the eyes of both men. But each felt that he was heeding the call of duty, and neither had ever been known to falter. Belton returned to his room and retired to rest. Bernard called his messenger and sent him for every man of prominence in the Congress of the Imperium.

They all slept in the building. The leaders got out of bed and hurried to the president. He laid before them the plan he had shown Belton. They all accepted it and pronounced it good. He then told them that he had submitted it to Belton but that Belton was opposed. This took them somewhat by surprise, and finding that Belton was opposed to it they were sorry that they had spoken so hastily.

Bernard knew that such would be their feelings. He produced a written agreement and asked all who favored that plan to sign that paper, as that would be of service in bringing over other members. Ashamed to appear vacillating, they signed. They then left.

The Congress assembled next day, and President Belgrave submitted his plan. Belton swept the assembly with his eyes and told at a glance that there was a secret, formidable combination, and he decided that it would be useless to oppose the plan.

The President’s plan was adopted. Belton alone voted no.

Belton then arose and said: “Being no longer able to follow where the Imperium leads, I hereby tender my resignation as a member.”

The members stood aghast at these words, for death alone removed a member from the ranks of the Imperium, and asking to resign, according to their law was asking to be shot. Bernard and every member of the Congress crowded around Belton and begged him to reconsider, and not be so cruel to his comrades as to make them fire bullets into his noble heart.

Belton was obdurate. According to the law of the Imperium, he was allowed thirty days in which to reconsider his request. Ordinarily those under sentence of death were kept in close confinement, but not so with Belton. He was allowed all liberty. In fact, it was the secret wish of every one that he might take advantage of his freedom and escape. But Belton was resolved to die.

As he now felt that his days on earth were few, his mind began to turn toward Antoinette. He longed to see her once more and just let her know that he loved her still. He at length decided to steal away to Richmond and have a last interview with her. All the pent up passion of years now burst forth in his soul, and as the train sped toward Virginia, he felt that love would run him mad ere he saw Antoinette once more.

While his train goes speeding on, let us learn a little of the woman whom he left years ago.

Antoinette Nermal Piedmont had been tried and excluded from her church on the charge of adultery. She did not appear at the trial nor speak a word in her own defense. Society dropped her as you would a poisonous viper, and she was completely ostracised. But, conscious of her innocence and having an abiding faith in the justice of God, she moved along undisturbed by the ostracism. The only person about whom she was concerned was Belton.

She yearned, oh! so much, to be able to present to him proofs of her chastity; but there was that white child. But God had the matter in hand.

As the child grew, its mother noticed that its hair began to change. She also thought she discovered his skin growing darker by degrees. As his features developed he was seen to be the very image of Belton. Antoinette frequently went out with him and the people began to shake their heads in doubt. At length the child became Antoinette’s color, retaining Belton’s features.

Public sentiment was fast veering around. Her former friends began to speak to her more kindly, and the people began to feel that she was a martyr instead of a criminal. But the child continued to steadily grow darker and darker until he was a shade darker than his father.

The church met and rescinded its action of years ago. Every social organization of standing elected Antoinette Nermal Piedmont an honorary member. Society came rushing to her. She gently smiled, but did not seek their company. She was only concerned about Belton. She prayed hourly for God to bring him back to her. And now, unknown to her, he was coming.

One morning as she was sitting on her front porch enjoying the morning breeze, she looked toward the gate and saw her husband entering. She screamed loudly, and rushed into her son’s room and dragged him out of bed. She did not allow him time to dress, but was dragging him to the door.

Belton rushed into the house. Antoinette did not greet him, but cried in anxious, frenzied tones: “Belton! there is your white child! Look at him! Look at him!”

The boy looked up at Belton, and if ever one person favored another, this child favored him. Belton was dazed. He looked from child to mother and from mother to child. By and by it began to dawn on him that that child was somehow his child.

His wife eyed him eagerly. She rushed to her album and showed him pictures of the child taken at various stages of its growth. Belton discerned the same features in each photograph, but a different shade of color of the skin. His knees began to tremble. He had come, as the most wronged of men, to grant pardon. He now found himself the vilest of men, unfit for pardon.

A picture of all that his innocent wife had suffered came before him, and he gasped: “O, God, what crime is this with which my soul is stained?” He put his hands before his face.

Antoinette divined his thoughts and sprang toward him. She tore his hands from his face and kissed him passionately, and begged him to kiss and embrace her once more.

Belton shook his head sadly and cried: “Unworthy, unworthy.”

Antoinette now burst forth into weeping.

The boy said: “Papa, why don’t you kiss Mama?”

Hearing the boy’s voice, Belton raised his eyes, and seeing his image, which Antoinette had brought into the world, he grasped her in his arms and covered her face with kisses; and there was joy enough in those two souls to almost excite envy in the bosom of angels.

Belton was now recalled to life. He again loved the world. The cup of his joy was full. He was proud of his beautiful, noble wife, proud of his promising son. For days he was lost in contemplation of his new found happiness. But at last, a frightful picture arose before him. He remembered that he was doomed to die, and the day of his death came galloping on at a rapid pace. Thus a deep river of sadness went flowing on through his happy Elysian fields.

But he remained unshaken in his resolve. He had now learned to put duty to country above everything else. Then, too, he looked upon his boy and he felt that his son would fill his place in the world. But Antoinette was so happy that he could not have the heart to tell her of his fate. She was a girl again. She chatted and laughed and played as though her heart was full of love. In her happiness she freely forgave the world for all the wrongs that it had perpetrated upon her.

At length the day drew near for Belton to go to Waco. He took a tender leave of his loved ones. It was so tender that Antoinette was troubled, and pressed him hard for an answer as to when he was to return or send for them. He begged her to be assured of his love and know that he would not stay away one second longer than was necessary. Thus assured, she let him go, after kissing him more than a hundred times.

Belton turned his back on this home of happiness and love, to walk into the embrace of death. He arrived in Waco in due time, and the morning of his execution came.

In one part of the campus there was a high knoll surrounded on all sides by trees. This knoll had been selected as the spot for the execution.

In the early morn while the grass yet glittered with pearls of water, and as the birds began to chirp, Belton was led forth to die. Little did those birds know that they were chirping the funeral march of the world’s noblest hero. Little did they dream that they were chanting his requiem.

The sun had not yet risen but had reddened the east with his signal of approach. Belton was stationed upon the knoll, his face toward the coming dawn. With his hands folded calmly across his bosom, he stood gazing over the heads of the executioners, at the rosy east.

His executioners, five in number, stood facing him, twenty paces away. They were commanded by Bernard, the President of the Imperium. Bernard gazed on Belton with eyes of love and admiration. He loved his friend but he loved his people more. He could not sacrifice his race for his dearest friend. Viola had taught him that lesson. Bernard’s eyes swam with tears as he said to Belton in a hoarse whisper: “Belton Piedmont, your last hour has come. Have you anything to say?”

“Tell posterity,” said Belton, in firm ringing tones that startled the birds into silence, “that I loved the race to which I belonged and the flag that floated over me; and, being unable to see these objects of my love engage in mortal combat, I went to my God, and now look down upon both from my home in the skies to bless them with my spirit.”

Bernard gave the word of command to fire, and Belton fell forward, a corpse. On the knoll where he fell he was buried, shrouded in an American flag.