North Caroliniana Collection B.W.C Roberts
From Connie to Mother Xmas 1907.
PRIVATELY PRINTED AT
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY MARGARET DEVEREUX ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The descriptions of Southern life in this little book, as well as the accompanying stories, were written by Mrs. Devereux during the past fifteen years, in large part after she had passed her sixty-fifth year. They are essentially reminiscent, and were prepared originally with no thought of publication, but merely to be read to her grandchildren, so that there might be preserved in their minds some conception of the old-time lives of their grandparents. The sketches thus came to be read by me to my own children, who are of the third generation. They brought to my mind so simply, yet so vividly and in so attractive a manner, a picture of the old plantation life, they showed such remarkable memory of interesting details, that they seemed to me
to merit publication. The charm of the descriptions will impress all readers, and the truthfulness of the illustrations of negro character and habits will be recognized by all who are familiar with the South. The sketches are simple, homely little tales prepared for children, and they must be read with this fact in mind; but they have nevertheless an interest and a lesson for maturer readers, to whom they are now offered.
18 Chestnut St., Boston, Mass.
April 27, 1906
|Letter to my Grandchildren||ix|
|Going to the Plantation||40|
|My Own Early Home||52|
|Two Bob Whites||59|
|The Hog-Feeder's Day||85|
|The Junior Reserve||113|
TO MY GRANDCHILDREN
As the “New South,” with all its changes and improvements, rises above the horizon, those whose hearts still cling to the “Old South” look sadly backward and sigh to see it fade away into dimness, to be soon lost to sight and to live only in the memory of the few. Hoping to rescue from oblivion a few of the habits, thoughts, and feelings of the people who made our South what it was, I have drawn from memory a few pen sketches of plantation life, based upon actual events, in which are recorded some of the good and even noble traits of character which were brought forth under the yoke of slavery.
For you, my dear grandchildren, I have tried to fix, before they fade entirely, these already faint reflections from the “light of other days.”
Raleigh, North Carolina,
I AM going to try to describe to you something of the lives and homes of your dear grandfather and of your great-grandfather, because I want you to know something of them, because their mode of life was one of which scarcely a vestige is left now, and because, finally, I don't want you to be led into the misconception held by some that Southern planters and slaveholders were cruel despots, and that the life of the negro slaves on the plantation was one of misery and sorrow.
Before I enter upon my brief narrative I want you to realize that it is all strictly true, being based upon my knowledge of facts; very simple and homely in its details, but with the merit of entire truthfulness.
Your great-grandfather, Thomas Pollock Devereux, and your grandfather, John Devereux, were planters upon an unusually
large scale in North Carolina; together they owned eight large plantations and between fifteen and sixteen hundred negroes. Their lands, situated in the rich river bottoms of Halifax and Bertie counties, were very fertile, the sale crops being corn, cotton, and droves of hogs, which were sent to Southampton county, Virginia, for sale.
The names of your great-grandfather's plantations were Conacanarra, Feltons, Looking Glass, Montrose, Polenta, and Barrows, besides a large body of land in the counties of Jones and Hyde. His residence was at Conacanarra, where the dwelling stood upon a bluff commanding a fine view of the Roanoke river, and, with the pretty house of the head overseer, the small church, and other minor buildings, looked like a small village beneath the great elms and oaks.
Your grandfather's principal plantation, and our winter home, was Runiroi, in Bertie county. The others were “The Lower Plantation” and “Over the Swamp.” At Runiroi we lived and called ourselves at home, and of it I have preserved the clearest
recollection and the fondest memories.
From Kehukee bluff, which we usually visited while waiting for the ferryman on our return journey after the summer's absence, the plantation could be seen stretching away into the distance, hemmed in by the flat-topped cypresses. From there we had a view of our distant dwelling, gleaming white in the sunlight and standing in a green oasis of trees and grass, all looking wonderfully small amid the expanse of flat fields around it. Apart as I now am from the restless, never-ending push of life, when neither men nor women have time for leisure, when even pleasure and amusement are reduced to a business calculation as to how much may be squeezed into a given time, I think it might perhaps calm down some of the nervous restlessness that I perceive in my dear children and grandchildren if they could, for once, stand there in the soft November sunshine. The splendor of the light is veiled in a golden haze, the brown fields bask in the soft radiance and seem to quiver in the heat, while the ceaseless
murmur of the great river is like a cradle song to a sleepy child; the rattle of the old ferryman's chain and the drowsy squeak of his long sweeps seem even to augment the stillness. The trees along the banks appear to lack the energy to hang out the brilliant reds and purples of autumn, but tint their leaves with the soft shades of palest yellow, and these keep dropping and floating away, while the long gray moss waves dreamily in the stillness.
The house at Runiroi was a comfortable, old, rambling structure, in a green yard and flower garden, not ugly, but quite innocent of any pretensions at comeliness. Neither was there, to many, a bit of picturesque beauty in the flat surroundings; and yet this very flatness did lend a charm peculiar to itself. My eyes ever found a delight in its purple distances and in the great, broadarmed trees marking the graceful curves of the river. The approach from the public road, which followed the bank of the river, was through the “willow lane,” between deep-cut ditches, which kept the roadway well drained unless the river overspread
its banks, when the lane was often impassable for days. In the springtime, when the tender green boughs of the willows were swayed by the breeze, it was a lovely spot, and a favorite resort of the children.
I was so young a bride, only seventeen, when I was taken to our winter home, and so inexperienced, that I felt no dread whatever of my new duties as mistress. The household comforts of my childhood's home had seemed to come so spontaneously that I never thought of processes, and naturally felt rather nonplussed when brought into contact with realities. The place had for years been merely a sort of camping-out place for your great-grandfather, who liked to spend a part of the winter there; so the house was given over to servants, who made him comfortable, but who took little heed of anything else.
I recollect my antipathy to a certain old press which stood in the back hall. The upper part was filled with books. In the under cupboard, Minerva kept pies, gingerbread, plates of butter, etc. The outside looked very dim and dusty. I could not
bear to look at it, but knew not how to remedy its defects. I know now that it was a handsome old piece, which a furniture-lover would delight in. However, my youthful appetite did not scorn Minerva's gingerbread, and, as I had many lonely hours to get through with as best I could, I would mount the highest chair that I could find, and ransack the old musty volumes in search of amusement. The collection consisted chiefly of antiquated medical works, some tracts, etc., but once, to my delight, I unearthed two of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels, which were indeed a treasure trove; one of them was “Gaston de Blondeville,” which I thought beautiful. I have regretted that I did not take care of it, for I have never seen another copy.
Minerva was a woman of pretty good sense, but of slatternly habits. She had been so long without a lady to guide her that her original training was either forgotten or entirely disregarded. Once, when starting to Conacanarra for Christmas, I charged her to take advantage of the fine weather to give the passage floors a thorough
scrubbing; they were bare and showed every footprint of black mud from the outside. When it came time to return, in spite of our pleasant Christmas week, we were glad to think of our own home and were rather dismayed when the morning fixed for our departure broke dark and very cold, with little spits of snow beginning to fall. I was much afraid that we should be compelled to yield to the hospitable objections to our going, but at last we succeeded in getting off. We crossed at Pollock's (your great-grandfather's ferry), so that should the storm increase we need not leave our comfortable carriage until we should be at home. It was a lonely drive; the snow fell steadily but so gently that I enjoyed seeing the earth and the trees, the fences and the few lonely houses that we passed all draped in white; though we were warmly wrapped, the anticipation of the crackling fires in our great old fireplaces was delightful. When we got home, the first sound that greeted our ears, as we stepped upon the piazza, was a mournful, long-drawn hymn. Shivering and damp from our walk up the yard,
we opened the door, to see Minerva, with kilted skirts, standing in an expanse of frozen slush and singing at the top of her voice, while she sluiced fresh deluges of water from her shuck brush. I was too disgusted for words, but resolved that this should not occur again. As soon as I could communicate with the outside world I had the hall floors covered with oilcloth (then the fashionable covering). Also, Minerva was displaced, and Phyllis reigned in her stead, but Minerva, nevertheless, always indulged in the belief that she was indispensable to our happiness and comfort.
In honor of my advent as mistress, the floors had been freshly carpeted with very pretty bright carpets, which were in danger of being utterly ruined by the muddy shoes of the raw plantation servants, recently brought in to be trained for the house. Although the soil generally was a soft, sandy loam, I observed in my horseback rides numbers of round stones scattered about in the fields. They were curious stones, and looked perfectly accidental and quite out of place. Their presence excited
my interest, and aroused my curiosity as to their origin, which has never been gratified. They seemed so out of place in those flat fields! However, I determined to utilize them and had a number collected and brought into the yard, and with them I had a pretty paved walk made from the house to the kitchen.
Our house stood upon what was known as the “Second Land,” which meant a slight rise above the wide, low grounds, which were formerly, I believe, the bed of the sluggish stream now known as the Roanoke. All along the edge of these Second Lands, just where they joined the low grounds, there was a bed of beautiful small gravel. I was delighted when I discovered this and at once interested myself in having a gravel walk made up to the front of the house, and this was, when completed, all that I had hoped, and served as a perfect protection against the offending mud.
There was one evil, though, which I could not guard against, and this was the clumsy though well-meaning stupidity of a plantation negro. One afternoon the house
became offensive with the odor of burning wool. I followed up the scent and, after opening several doors, I finally traced it to the dining-room. It was filled with smoke, and there, in front of an enormous fire, squatted Abby. In a fit of most unaccountable industry she had undertaken to clean the brass andirons, and had drawn them red hot from the fire and placed them upon the carpet. Of course, four great holes were the result and, as the carpets had been made in New York, there were no pieces with which the holes could be mended. As I had already decided her to be too stupid to be worth the trouble of training, I felt no desire to find fault with her, so I merely told her to put them back, or rather stood by to see it done. I did not keep her in the house after that, but do not suppose that she ever at all realized the mischief that she had done.
One of my amusements was to watch the birds; they were so numerous, and appeared to be so tame. I set traps for them. This was childish, but I was very young and often rather at a loss to find something to
do; so I used to take with me my small house boy, “Minor,” whom I was training to be a grand butler; he would carry the trap and, after it had been set and baited, I would make him guide me to the trees where the sweetest persimmons grew; there I would while away the morning and on the next we would find one or more birds fluttering in the trap, which, to Minor's silent disgust, I would set free.
The squirrels, too, were a pleasure to me in my horseback rides toward Vine Ridge, especially. Your grandfather and I would pause to watch them playing hide and seek just like children, scampering round and round, their pretty gray tails waving, until some noise would send them out of sight, and the silent forest would seem as if no living thing were near. It was upon one of these rides that your grandfather told me how, when he was about twelve years old, and spending his Christmas holidays at Runiroi with his grandfather, he once said that he could shoot one hundred squirrels between sunrise and sunset. His uncle, George Pollock Devereux, happened to
hear him and rebuked him sharply for so idle a boast, and when your dear grandfather manfully stood his ground, saying that it was not an idle boast, his uncle called him a vain braggart, which so offended your grandfather that he told his uncle that he would prove the truth of his assertion. And so, upon the following morning, he rose early and was at Vine Ridge gun in hand, ready to make his first shot, as soon as the sun should appear. The squirrels were very numerous at first, and he made great havoc among them. Many a mile he tramped that day, scanning with eager eyes the trees above him, in search of the little gray noses, hidden behind the branches, and thus it happened that he got many a fall and tumble among the cypress knees; but what did that matter to his young limbs? he had only to pick himself up again and tramp on. As the day advanced, fewer little bright eyes peeped from the tree-tops and his number was not made up; he was getting tired too, and very hungry, for he had eaten nothing since his early breakfast. He stumbled wearily on, however, determined not
to fail, for he dreaded his uncle's triumphant sarcasm should he do so. A few more shots brought his number to ninety-nine, but where was the one-hundredth to be found? The sun was sinking to the horizon; he had come out from the swamp and was tramping homeward; the gun, so light in the morning, now weighed like lead upon his shoulder. As he looked into every tree for that hundredth squirrel which could not be found, the sun's disk was resting upon the horizon when he turned into the willow lane leading to the house. Just at the entrance there stood a great chestnut oak. This was his last chance. He paused to take one hopeless look, when, to his unspeakable joy, he beheld a fox squirrel seated up among the branches. Now he knew that the fox squirrel was the slyest, as well as the shyest of all his kind; no creature so expert as he in slipping out of range; there would be no chance for a second shot, for now only a rim of the sun was left. With a wildly beating heart he raised his gun, took time to aim well,—fired,—and down came his hundredth squirrel. His wager was won; fatigue
and hunger all gone, he hastened gayly home and with pride emptied his bag before his uncle and his delighted old grandfather, who loved him above everything, and who finally made him his heir, so that your grandfather was quite independent of his own father.
When I first became acquainted with the plantation, the sale crop was taken down to Plymouth in a great old scow, but this was afterward superseded by the introduction of freight steamers, which took the produce direct to Norfolk. These steamers proved to be a great comfort and convenience to us. By them we might receive anything that we desired from Norfolk, of which the things most enjoyed were packages of books,—Vickry and Griffiths, booksellers, having standing orders to send at their discretion what they thought desirable, besides the special orders for what we wished to see.
The advent of a steamer at the landing would cause much pleasurable excitement. If anything of special interest was expected, the first puff of steam from down the river would be eagerly examined through the spyglass.
Then would follow several days of busy life down at the different barns, from which the corn was to be shipped. Before the introduction of the corn-sheller, the corn was beaten from the cob by men wielding great sticks, or flails; others raked the grain into an immense pile; from this pile it was measured by select hands and put into bags, which were carried to the steamer lying at the landing. The men who measured and kept the tally maintained a constant song or chant, and designated the tally, or fifth bushel, by a sort of yell. The overseer stood by with pencil and book and scored down each tally by a peculiar mark. The constant stream of men running back and forth, with bags empty or full, made a very busy scene.
After the corn had been shipped, the boat had steamed down the river, and the place, lately so full of busy life, had returned to its accustomed quiet seclusion, the red-birds came to peck up the corn left upon the ground. I remember how once, upon a cold, gray afternoon, I put on my wraps and ran down to the Sycamore Barn, on purpose
to watch the shy, beautiful things. Snowflakes were beginning to fall and whisper about the great bamboo vines; twisted around the trees upon the river banks, the long gray moss hung motionless and a thick grayness seemed to shut out the whole world; all about me was gray, — earth, sky, trees, barn, everything, except the redbirds and the red berries of a great holly tree under whose shelter I stood, listening to the whispering snowflakes.
The Sycamore Barn derived its name from a great sycamore tree near which it stood. This tree was by far the largest that I ever saw; a wagon with a four-horse team might be on one side, and quite concealed from any one standing upon the other. When I knew it, it was a ruin, the great trunk a mere shell, though the two giant forks, — themselves immense in girth — still had life in them. In one side of the trunk was an opening, about as large as an ordinary door; through this we used to enter, and I have danced a quadrille of eight within with perfect ease.
This tree gave its name to the field in
which it grew, which formed part of the tract known as the Silver Wedge. It was about the Silver Wedge that an acrimonious lawsuit was carried on during the lives of your great-great-grandparents, John and Frances Devereux. She was a Pollock, and the dispute arose through a Mr. Williams, the son or grandson of a certain Widow Pollock, who had, after the death of her first husband, Major Pollock, married a Mr. Williams. She may possibly have dowered in this Silver Wedge tract. At any rate, her Williams descendants set up a claim to it, although it was in possession of the real Pollock descendant, Frances Devereux. It was a large body of very rich land, and intersected the plantation in the form of a wedge, beginning near the Sycamore Barn, and running up far into the Second Lands, widening and embracing the dwelling-house and plantation buildings. I have heard your great-great-grandfather laugh and tell how Williams once came to the house, and, with a sweeping bow and great assumption of courtesy, made your great-great-grandmother welcome to remain in his house.
After the suit had been settled, Williams had occasion to come again to the house, feeling, no doubt, rather crestfallen. Mrs. Devereux met him at the door and, making him a sweeping curtsy, quoted his exact words, making him welcome to her house.
One of my pleasant memories is connected with our fishing porch. This was a porch, or balcony, built upon piles driven into the river upon one side, and the other resting upon the banks. It was raised some eight or ten feet above the water and protected by a strong railing or balustrade and shaded by the overhanging branches of a large and beautiful hackberry tree. It made an ideal lounging-place, upon a soft spring afternoon, when all the river banks were a mass of tender green, and the soft cooing of doves filled the air. We usually took Minor with us to bait our hooks and assist generally, and often went home by starlight with a glorious string of fish.
The drawback to the plantations upon the lower Roanoke lay in their liability to being flooded by the freshets to which the Roanoke was exposed. These were especially
to be dreaded in early spring, when the snow in the mountains was melting. I have known freshets in March to inundate the country for miles. At one time there was not a foot of dry land upon one of the Runiroi plantations. It was upon a mild night in that month that I sat upon the porch nearly all through the night, feeling too anxious to sleep, for your grandfather, the overseer, and every man on the plantation were at the river, working upon the embankments. The back waters from the swamp had already spread over everything. This gentle and slow submersion did no great damage, when there was no growing crop to be injured; the thing to be guarded against was the breaking of the river dam and the consequent rushing in of such a flood as would wash the land into enormous holes, or “breakovers,” of several acres in extent in some places, or make great sand ledges in others, to say nothing of the destruction of fences, the drowning of stock, etc. On the night that I speak of, the moon was at its full and glittered upon the water, rippling all around where dry land should
have been. I sat listening anxiously and occasionally shuddering at a sharp cracking noise, like a pistol shot, and, following upon it, the rushing of water into some plantation up the river. Once in the night I heard a noise and, upon my calling to know who it was, a man replied that they had come up in a canoe to get some water. I could not help laughing; it struck me that water was rather too plentiful just then. They worked upon the dam until there was no more material to work with, water being level with the top on both sides and only a foot of standing-room at the top, so, having done all that they could, all hands took to canoes and went to their homes. That “March freshet” did incalculable damage to the whole region, but still fine crops were made that season. Your grandfather was indefatigable while anything could be done, but, having done all that human energy could, he would resign himself cheerfully to the inevitable, and his family never were saddened by depression on his part. This wonderful elasticity was most noticeable at the fearful period of the surrender and, indeed, through all the
succeeding years, when this power of his, despite all of our losses and anxieties, made our life one of great happiness.
When, during the winter months, a moderate freshet meant nothing more serious than the flooding of the low grounds, it was considered rather a benefit, owing to the rich deposit left upon the land, besides the advantages gained in floating out lumber from the swamps. This March freshet caused great pecuniary loss; new dams had to be constructed at a heavy expense, and many miles of repairing had to be done to those left standing. The few days before the water had reached its height were most trying to the nerves (that is, my nerves). I believe my fears culminated upon the night that I saw the water rippling over our own doorstep and realized that there was not a foot of dry land visible for miles; by morning, though, the river was “at a stand,” and by evening little spots of green were showing themselves in the yard and garden.
The word garden recalls to my memory our pretty garden, a most beautiful continuation of the smooth green yard, its many
alleys bordered with flowers and flowering shrubs. It was, I own, laid out in a stiff, old-fashioned manner, very different from the present and far more picturesque style; still, it was charming, — the profusion of flowers, fed by that wonderful river loam, exceeded anything that I have ever seen elsewhere. In the springtime, what with the flowers, the beautiful butterflies, and the humming-birds, the sunny air would actually seem to quiver with color and life.
Every plantation had a set of buildings which included generally the overseer's house, ginhouse, screw, barn, stable, porkhouse, smokehouse, storehouse, carpenter's shop, blacksmith shop, and loomhouse, where the material for clothing for each plantation was woven, — white cloth for the underclothes, and very pretty striped or checked for outer garments. At Runiroi, the weaver, Scip, was a first-class workman, and very proud of his work. I often had sets of very pretty towels woven in a damask pattern of mixed flax and cotton. The winter clothing was of wool, taken from our own sheep.
The carpenters at Runiroi were Jim, the head carpenter, Austin, and Bill, who were all good workmen. Frank, “Boat Frank,” as he was called, from having formerly served as captain of the old flat-bottomed scow which carried the sale crop to Plymouth, was also in the shop and did beautiful work. I was fond of visiting Jim's shop and ordering all sorts of wooden ware, pails, piggins, trays, etc.; these last, dug out of bowl-gum, were so white that they looked like ivory. Boat Frank was very proud of the smoothness and polish of his trays. Our children, with their mammy, were fond of visiting “Uncle Jim's” shop and playing with such tools as he considered safe for them to handle, while Mammy, seated upon a box by the small fire, would indulge in long talks about religion or plantation gossip. That shop was indeed a typical spot; its sides were lined to the eaves with choice lumber, arranged systematically so that the green was out of reach, while that which was seasoned was close at hand. Uncle Jim would have felt disgraced had a piece of work made of unseasoned wood left his
shop. The smoke from the small fire which burned in the middle of the big shop, upon the dirt floor, escaped in faint blue wreaths through the roof, leaving behind it a sweet, pungent odor. The sun streamed in at the wide-open door, while Jim and Frank tinkered away leisurely upon plough handles and other implements or household articles.
Uncle Jim was a preacher as well as a carpenter. He was quite superior to most of his race, both in sense and principle and was highly thought of by both white and black. Upon two Sundays in each month he preached in the church and his sermons were quite remarkable, teaching in his homely way the necessity of honesty and obedience. His companion in the shop, Boat Frank, was of a more worldly nature, and wore great golden hoops in his ears and a red woolen cap upon his head, and resembled an elderly and crafty ape, as he sat chipping away at his work.
Next came the blacksmith shop, where Bob wielded the great hammer and grinned with childish delight at seeing the children's enjoyment when the sparks flew.
After the blacksmith's shop came the loomhouse, where Scip, the little fat weaver, threw the shuttles and beat up the homespun cloth from morning till night; there, too, were the warping-bars, the winding-blades, and the little quilling-wheel, at which a boy or girl would fill the quills to be in readiness for the shuttles. Scip was an odd figure, with his short legs, and his woolly hair combed out until his head looked as big as a bushel.
The dwellings of the negroes were quite a distance from the “Great House,” as that of the master was called, and were built in two or more long rows with a street between. This was the plan upon every plantation. Each house had a front and back piazza, and a garden, which was cultivated or allowed to run wild according to the thrift of the residents. It generally was stocked with peach and apple trees, and presented a pretty picture in spring, when the blue smoke from the houses curled up to the sky amid the pink blossoms, while the drowsy hum of a spinning-wheel seemed to enhance the quiet of the peaceful surroundings.
The church at Runiroi was large and comfortably furnished with seats; colored texts were upon the walls, and the bell, which summoned the people on Sunday mornings, swung amid the branches of a giant oak. Both your great-grandfather and grandfather employed a chaplain. At Runiroi, he officiated only upon alternate Sundays, as the people liked best to listen to Carpenter Jim. It used to be a pretty sight upon a Sunday morning to see the people, all dressed in their clean homespun clothes, trooping to church, laughing and chattering until they reached the door, when they immediately would assume the deepest gravity and proceed at once to groan and shake themselves more and more at every prayer. The singing would often sound very sweet at a distance, although I must confess that I never sympathized in the admiration of the negro's voice.
Of course, like all other laboring classes, the negroes had to work, and of course, as they had not the incentive of poverty, discipline was necessary. They knew that they would be housed, clothed and well fed
whether they earned these comforts or not; so, in order to insure diligence, reliable men were chosen from among them as assistants to the white overseers; these were called “foremen,” and were looked up to with respect by their fellows. Upon every large plantation there was also a Foreman Plower, his business being to take the lead and see that the plowing was well done and that the plow horses were not maltreated. With the settled men this was unnecessary, but it was very needful with the younger hands. These colored foremen were, in their turn, subject to the overseers, who, in turn, if not found to be temperate and reliable, were dismissed. Upon well-ordered plantations punishments were rare, I may say unknown, except to the halfgrown youths. Negroes, being somewhat lacking in moral sense or fixed principles, are singularly open to the influence of example; and thus it was that a few well-ordered elders would give a tone to the whole plantation, while the evil influences of one ill-disposed character would be equally pronounced.
The plantations of which I am speaking
were singularly remote, being so surrounded by other large plantations that they were exempt from all outside and pernicious influences. The one or two country stores at which the negroes traded might have furnished whiskey, had not those who kept them stood too much in awe of the planters to incur the risk of their displeasure. As the town of Halifax could boast of several little stores, and was the trading post of Feltons, Conacanara, and Montrose, your great-grandfather, in order to prevent the evils of promiscuous trading, caused certain coins to be struck off, of no value except to the one merchant with whom his people were allowed to trade.
Perhaps you will be surprised to know how important to the country merchants was the trade of a plantation, so I will explain to you of what it consisted. Of course, a few of the careless, content with the abundance provided for them, did not care to accumulate, while others, naturally thrifty, amassed a good deal from the sale of otter, coon, mink, and other skins of animals trapped. Then, some owned as many as
thirty beehives. One old woman, known as “Honey Beck,” once hauled thirty or more gallons of honey to Halifax and back again, the whole distance (twenty-five miles), rather than take a low price for it. Besides skins, honey, and beeswax, eggs and poultry were always salable. One of my necessities in housekeeping was a bag of small change, and, as I never refused to take what was brought to me, my pantry was often so overstocked with eggs and my coops with ducks and chickens, that it was a hard matter to know how to consume them.
The beautiful white shad, now so highly prized in our markets, were then a drug. It was the prettiest sight in the early dawn of a spring morning to see the fishermen skimming down the broad river with their dip-nets poised for a catch. My opportunities for seeing them at that early hour were from my bedroom window, when I happened to be visiting the family at Conacanara. Our home at Runiroi stood some distance from the river, but the dwelling at Conacanara was upon a bluff just over the stream.
Beside the sale crops of cotton and corn, sweet potatoes were raised in large quantities for the negroes, to which they were allowed to help themselves without stint, also a summer patch of coarse vegetables such as they liked.
The regular food furnished consisted of corn meal, bacon or pickled pork, varied with beef in the autumn, when the beeves were fat, salt fish with less meat when desired, molasses, dried peas and pumpkins without stint (I mean the peas and pumpkins). I don't suppose any laboring class ever lived in such plenty.
A woman with a family of children always had the use of a cow, the only proviso being that she should look after the calf and see that it did not suffer, for your grandfather was particular about his ox teams; they were the finest that I ever saw, and were well blooded, — Holstein for size and Devon for speed and activity.
Our dairy was very pretty; it was built of immense square logs, with a paved brick floor, and great broad shelves all around. The roof was shaded by hackberry trees,
and the grass around it was like velvet, so thick and green. Old Aunt Betty, who was the dairy woman until she grew too infirm, was the neatest creature imaginable; she wore the highest of turbans, and her clothes were spotless. She took the greatest pride in her dairy; for milk vessels she used great calibashes with wooden covers, and, as they naturally were absorbent, it was necessary to sun one set while another was in use. She kept them beautifully, and the milk and butter were delicious.
There was a man upon the plantation called “Shoe Joe,” or “Gentleman Joe.” He had, when a young man, been body-servant to his young master George, your great-grandfather's brother. I never in my life have seen finer manners than Joe's, so deeply respectful, and so full of courtesy. Notwithstanding his really fine deportment, Joe's nature was low and mean, and something that he did so offended his young master that, to Joe's great disgust, he was remanded back to the plantation and field work. In consequence of this, he always bore his young master a grudge, which, of course,
he kept to himself. Once, however, he made some disrespectful speech before old Betty, who was devoted to her Master George, and this so offended her that she never again spoke to Joe, nor allowed him to make her shoes, though this last was more from fear than vindictiveness. For Shoe Joe was suspected of being a trick negro, and of possessing the power so to trick his work as to cause the death of any one wearing his products. Nothing was productive of more evil upon a plantation than was the existence upon it of a “Trick” or “Goomer” negro; and so insidious was their influence, and so secret their machinations, that, though suspected, it was impossible to prove anything, for, although detested by their fellows, fear kept the latter silent. Nothing would cause such abject terror as the discovery of an odd-looking bundle, wrapped and wrapped with strands of horse-hair, secreted beneath the steps, or laid in an accustomed path. Instantly after such a discovery the person for whom it was meant would begin to pine away, and, unless some counter spell were discovered, death would
ensue. These occurrences, fortunately, were rare, but if the thing once took root upon a plantation, it wrought much evil in various ways. Joe was suspected of these evil practices, and, though a wonderfully capable man at all kinds of work, and a most accomplished courtier, was always looked upon with suspicion. His death was sudden, and the people firmly believed that he had made a compact with the devil, that the term had expired, and that Satan had met him in the woods and broken his neck. He was a tall, finely formed man, as black as ebony, and his movements always reminded me of a serpent.
Negroes, even in these days of school education, retain many of their superstitions, though ashamed to own it. One of their beliefs was that the word you meant the devil's wife, and it was insulting to address any one by that word. To one another it was always yinna. So marked was this custom that the negroes of that section were known as the yinna negroes. This word, though, was never used toward their superiors, who were invariably addressed in the
third person. Manuel was rather a common name among them; there were always two or three Manuels upon every plantation, and one was always called “Hoodie Manuel.” No one could ever discover what this meant; perhaps they did not know themselves, though I am rather inclined to think that it was a superstitious observance, understood, perhaps, only by a select few. I think it must have had some sort of significance, as it was never omitted. As soon as one Hoodie Manuel died, another Manuel assumed the title, though not always the oldest.
It was not required of a woman with a large family to do field work. Such women had their regular tasks of spinning allotted to them, sufficiently light to allow ample time to take care of their houses and children. The younger women (unless delicate) left their children in a day nursery in charge of an elderly woman who was caretaker. Usually they preferred field work, as being more lively; but if one disliked it, she usually soon contrived to be classed among the spinners.
When, occasionally, I happened to go to any of the houses, often quite unexpectedly, I can assert truthfully that I never, in a single instance, saw dirt or squalor in one of them. The floors were clean, the beds comfortable, with white and wonderfully clean blankets. Everything, though very homely, with clumsy benches and tables, looked white and thoroughly clean. I remember hearing your grandfather speak of once going at breakfast time to a house to visit a sick child. The man of the house was seated at a small table while his wife served him. The table was covered with an immaculately clean homespun cloth, and coffee, in a tin pot shining with scrubbing, either sugar or molasses, I forget which, a dish of beautifully fried bacon and hoecakes, fresh from the fire, constituted his plain but most abundant meal.
Separation of families has ever been a favorite plea for the abolition of slavery, and I admit that in theory it was a plausible argument; and justice compels me to say that such instances, though rare, were not unknown. As a rule, however, family ties were
respected, and when, through the settlement of an estate, such separations seemed impending, they were usually prevented by some agreement between the parties; for instance, if a negro man had married a woman belonging to another planter, a compromise was generally effected by the purchase of one of the parties, regardless of self-interest on the part of the owners. Thus families were kept together without regard to any pecuniary loss. Public sentiment was against the severing of family ties.
Before I close this little sketch I will tell you as well as I can the outline of plantation work.
With the beginning of a new year, the crop being all housed, the sale corn being stored in large barns or cribs on the river banks, and the cotton either being sold or kept for better prices, the plowing, ditching, and, when the swamps were full, the floating out of timber, were all carried on with great diligence. At Christmas, when all the clothing, shoes, and Kilmarnock caps had been given out to the ditchers, high waterproof boots were distributed. It was the
custom to allow to every man who desired it a bit of land, upon which, in his spare time, to cultivate a small crop, for which he was paid the market price. Christmas was the usual day chosen for settling these accounts, and the broad piazza was full of happy, grinning black faces gathered around the table at which the master sat, with his account-book and bags of specie. A deep obeisance and a scrape of the foot accompanied each payment, and many a giggle was given to the lazy one whose small payment testified to his indolence. What a contrast between those happy, sleek, laughing faces and the sullen, careworn, ill-fed ones of now! In the early springtime, what was known as the “trashgang,” that is, boys and girls who had never worked, were set to clearing up fences, knocking down cotton stalks, and burning small trash piles.
I pause here to say that, the woodlands being a long distance from the quarters, the supply of fuel was a serious question, and when there was a threat of snow or increasing cold, every man would be employed
in cutting or hauling a supply of fuel to the hosues.
Planting time began with the middle of March. In August the crops were “laid by.” The three days' holiday began with the slaughter of pigs and beeves, in preparation for the annnal dinner upon every plantation. After holiday came the fodder-pulling, a job hated by all, especially by overseer and master, as the drenching dews and the hot sun combined to make much sickness. This work was never begun until late in the morning, but even after the sun had shone upon the fields, the people would be drenched in dew to their waists. Next, the whitening fields told that cotton-picking must begin, and, later on, a killing frost upon the already browning shucks sent the great wagons to the fields, where the corn-gatherers, with sharp needles tied to their wrists, ripped open the tough shucks and let loose the well-hardened ears of grain. As each field became stripped, stock would be turned in to feast upon the peas and pumpkins.
With winter came that period of bliss to
the soul of Cuffee, namely, the hog-killing, when even the smallest urchin might revel in grease and fresh meat.
If eyesight permitted, I might tell you some tales of plantation doings which might perhaps amuse you, but I have said enough to give you some idea of the old Southern life. All that I have said is within bounds, but, after all, I fear I have not been able to give you an adequate idea of the peacefulness and abundance of life upon a great plantation.
GOING TO THE PLANTATION
SUMMER is over; the nights grow chill, and the autumnal tints, beginning to glow upon the hillsides, tell the low-country folk that the time draws near for the yearly flitting to their plantation homes. The planter, who passes the hot season amid the breezy uplands, begins to think of his whitening cotton fields, and grows impatient for the frost, which must fall ere the family may venture into the land of swamps and agues. He looks out upon the flower-beds, glowing with life and quivering in the sunshine, and listens to the incessant shrill-voiced cicada piping from the tree-tops, while the insect-drone, in the heated, languid air, seems to speak of an unending summer; but as “all things come to him who waits,” so at length come the frosts to the planter.
The week preceding the departure is a
busy one, embracing, along with the numberless good-byes, many important after-thoughts in the way of providing the necessities required in the isolated home, where shops are unknown. At length, however, the great boxes are closed, and stand ready for the daylight start of the wagon; the bird-cage, the basket of kittens, and the puppy are also committed by the children to “Ung Jack,” the teamster, who, with the broadest of smiles, promises “little missis” and the “little masters” to take the best of care of them.
Giving the baggage a day's start, the family's departure takes place on the day following. After an early breakfast, Mammy and the younger children bundle into the big carriage, mother and the rest of the little mob follow in the barouche, while papa, who abhors the confinement of a carriage, follows on horseback. Although the animal which he bestrides is a noble specimen of his kind, still it must be confessed that papa does not present a jaunty appearance as he jogs soberly along; and yet, as he sits easily swaying in the saddle, there is about
him a careless grace which marks the natural horseman.
Three days are consumed upon the journey. It might be made in less time; but the party prefer to take it easily, and at midday make a halt by a running stream, where, seated upon a fallen log or mossy bank, they open their well-stored baskets, and dine. The horses utter impatient whinnies as their drivers dip their buckets into the sparkling water of the little stream, and, when these are lifted to their heads, thirstily thrust their muzzles into the cool depths, and drink long and deeply of the refreshing draughts.
At sunset, the tired little ones begin to look out for the white chimneys of old John Tayler's wayside inn, where they are to pass the night. This house has, for generations, been the halting-place for planters' families. Tayler's grandfather and his father have entertained bygone generations; and so it is not strange that, when the little cortège draw up before the old piazza, and the red light from the pine blaze streams out from the open door, not only old John,
but his wife and two elderly daughters stand with beaming faces to give the travelers a hearty greeting, kindly to usher them into the carpetless room and seat them upon the stiff “split-bottomed” chairs. While the women busy themselves in getting supper, old John talks crops and politics to his guests, who, on their part, calmly accept the discomforts of the little inn as one of unalterable laws of nature, without any idea of the possibility of improvement, swallow without complaint the nauseous coffee, and rest philosophically under the home-made sheets and blankets, feebly wondering that so much weight should contain so little warmth.
When supper is over, the women throw a fresh torch upon the fire, and, as it crackles up the wide chimney, and sends its red light and sweet odors over the room, they set themselves to their tasks of picking the seeds from the “raw cotton,” for, being famous spinners and weavers, they disdain that which has had its staples torn by the teeth of the gin.
Upon the second day, the party leave
the hills, now gorgeous in their autumnal brilliancy, the rocky roads, and the swiftly running streams of the up-country, and enter the lonely region where the great turpentine trees rear their lofty crests, and interminable sandy roads stretch away into dimness between columns of stately pines whose lofty tops make solemn music to the sighing wind.
The third day finds them in “The Slashes,” a desolate region inhabited by squatters. As they jolt over corduroy roads between pools of stagnant waters, the travelers look out wearily upon a sparse growth of gallberry and scrub-pine. Now and then they pass the solitary hut of a charcoal-burner, surrounded by its little patch of meagre corn; a pack of cur dogs rush out and bark fiercely, within the safe limits of the wattle fence surrounding the premises; white-headed children gaze from the doorways at the passing carriages.
At the last settlement which they pass, a woman and a small, pale-faced boy are gathering in their corn crop. They are the wife and son of Bolin Brazle, an idle but
good-natured vagabond, who spends his days scraping upon his fiddle up at the store, or occasionally, upon the promise of a drink, lending a hand in rafting tar-barrels. In consequence of the presentation of a worn-out mule, Bolin swears by the planter, wants to run him for the presidency, and obstinately refuses to receive pay for his charcoal. The matter is finally arranged by a barrel of corn being sent as a present whenever a load of charcoal is needed.
Soon after leaving the “Slashes,” a huddle of houses standing irregularly in a grove of magnificent oaks comes into view. In passing the one which does double duty as store and post-office, the travellers look at it with the realization that it is the connecting link with the outside world, as from it the bi-weekly mail is dispensed. Inside, some one (Brazle, no doubt) is scraping a lively jig upon his fiddle; on the long piazza men, lounging in chairs tilted against the wall, take off their hats to the carriages as they roll by. The planter draws his rein for a little friendly greeting, and the men, squirting tobacco juice, stand around and
lazily report the country-side news as to the opening of the cotton, the state of the river, etc. Even the screech of the fiddle has died away.
The long descents of the ferry hill commence, and the carriages roll pleasantly between deeply wooded banks. The approach to the river is marked by long rows of tar-barrels awaiting shipment, or rather rafting. From this point the road has become a sort of concrete from years of leakage from the tar-barrels. The children shriek with joy as the carriages come to a stop, and, craning their heads out, they behold the great tawny river in all its majesty. The repeated hallooings for the ferryman are at length responded to from far upstream. The old scamp is off fishing, and the party seek the shade, where a spring of clear water bubbles from a bank. While the children are drinking copious draughts, the parents stroll off and take a woodland path, which, after many a twist and turn amid thickets of sweet myrtle and purple-berried Bermuda Shrub, brings them to the summit of “The Bluff.”
Standing there, they look down upon the river, two hundred feet below. Upon the further side lie fields, all brown and golden in the sunshine, level and limitless; they stretch into the purple dimness where cypress trees loom upon the horizon, their flat tops mingling dreamily with the soft autumnal hazes. Far away, amid the sunbathed fields, stand the trees which shelter the plantation home, whose chimneys and white gables are scarce visible save where a stray sunbeam falls upon them.
- “So to the Jews fair Canaan stood,
- While Jordan rolled between,”
murmured the mother, as she glanced at her husband, to whom she knew the lands spread before them were, by inheritance and long association, far dearer than could be measured by the mere money value.
Descending again to the ferry, they find the carriage already in the flat, and the children scarce restrained by Mammy from crossing without their elders. They draw deep breaths of delight as they watch old Bartley, with active limp, loosen the chain, and, planting his iron-shod pole deep into
the grating sands, send the flat upstream; then, at a given point, they watch with intense admiration his skill in taking the sweeps and shooting swiftly to the other side.
The horses know that they are near home, and prick up their ears, and go briskly onward. Scarcely a quarter of a mile is gone before the buildings of the “lower plantation” come into view, — a row of cabins built irregularly upon the highest points straggle along the river banks. Each cabin has its little garden with its row of coleworts and its beehives, or perhaps a pumpkin or two shows its yellow sides amid the withered vines. Outside the cabins, fish-nets are hung to dry, and from within comes the sleepy drone of a spinning-wheel; about the doorstep hens are scratching, while from around the corner a cluster of little woolly heads peep out shyly.
Standing in the mellow sunlight, amid fields of ripening corn, with the river gently flowing between levees of such strength as to set floods at defiance, these cabins seem the very embodiment of peaceful security;
the high piles, though, upon which they stand, are rather suggestive, and give a hint of what the now peacefully flowing stream is capable of when roused.
A story is told of an old negro who obstinately refused to leave his house at a time when the unusually high water made it necessary to remove the people to a place of greater security. The rafts were ready, and the people, scared and anxious, had left their houses, and now only waited for old Todge, who, with mulish persistence, refused to be moved. At length, unable to persuade him, and afraid to wait longer, they poled the rafts away. For the first few hours Todge got on very well. He had plenty of provisions, and, as for the isolation, he did not care for it. By and by the water began to make its appearance upon his hearth, and, before long, his little bank of coal, upon which his bread was baking, began to sizzle, and soon became a moist and blackened heap. Todge, however, was not imaginative, and when night fell, he lay down upon his bed and slept without fear; that is, he slept until his bed began to float,
then he awoke and groped his way neck deep in water until he found his ladder and managed by it to climb up into his loft, where he sat shivering, till suddenly he felt the cabin give a lurch, and the water rushed in. It had been lifted clear off the piles, and when it should settle down poor Todge would be caught like a rat in a hole. It was settling fast, and the water was gurgling into poor Todge's ears, when, in desperation, he made a bolt at the roof, and, using his head as a battering ram, succeeded in knocking a hole in it, through which he contrived to creep out. Luckily, the point of the chimney was not quite submerged, and Todge was rescued in the course of the following day.
The road, following the winding of the river, is bordered by giant trees from whose branches the gray moss waves dreamily, while leaves of palest yellow drop and silently float through the still air until they fall into the stream. In the fields, the corngatherers pause to doff their hats and smile their welcome. Ere long the barns and workshops of the upper plantation become
visible. The tall gables and chimneys of the great house glisten in the sunlight. They pass the little church, with its bell half hidden amid the brown leaves of the great oak from which it dangles; from cabin chimneys, half hidden in trees, thin columns of smoke ascend and mingle with the soft blue sky.
At the open gate, a broadly smiling dusky group stands with welcome depicted upon every face. Hearty handshakes of real affection are exchanged, while the children are being hugged, caressed, laughed over, and extolled for their growth and beauty. The master and mistress pass under the trees, whose long shadows rest upon the soft, green grass between streams of sunshine. The old piazza, gilded into brightness, smiles a welcome home.
MY OWN EARLY HOME
I WAS born at the old home in Raleigh, upon the land originally held by my great-grandfather, Colonel Lane, from the Crown. It had been the home of my grandfather, Harry Lane, and of his wife, Mary, and it was there that their children and grandchildren were born. When my oldest brother attained his majority, he took possession of this place, while my mother settled at Wills Forest, which was also part of the Lane land. This, Wills Forest, became our beloved summer home, which I inherited at the death of my dear mother. At the breaking out of the war between the states, your grandfather left to his subordinates his plantation interests in the eastern part of the state, and Wills Forest became our permanent home. Although you never saw this place in its palmy days, still, you are too well acquainted with its
situation to need a description. In spite of neglect, Wills Forest is still beautiful; to it my heart is ever turning with regret and longing for that which can never return. It was for many years the brightest and happiest of homes, and as such it is still remembered by many besides its former inmates.
Hospitality has ever been a marked characteristic of the Lane blood. Colonel Lane's doors were ever open, not only to his friends, but to every wayfarer, and as the small settlement, originally called Bloomsbury, became Raleigh, and the state capital, he found it necessary to build an “ornery” for the accommodation of strangers; this building stood upon Hillsborough Street, and was torn down only a short time ago. These “orneries” were a very common adjunct to gentlemen's residences in country neighborhoods, where there were no inns for the accommodation of travelers. We once stopped at one belonging to the Littles, near Littleton. It was kept by two servants, a man and his wife, belonging to the family, and they made us very comfortable.
My grandfather, Harry Lane, inherited his father's liberal and open-hearted nature, and the old home, even since the death of my brother, still maintains its character for genial hospitality. Nor was Wills Forest inferior to it in that respect. My mother, accustomed from earliest youth to lavish housekeeping, kept it up after her removal to Wills Forest, and, so long as her health permitted, ever took delight in making her home all that a kindly, open-handed hospitality could. Nor do I think its character deteriorated after your grandfather became its master. Both he and I were fond of society, and few strangers ever came to town who were not entertained at Wills Forest. This could not be possible now, but previous to the war it was not at all impossible, and, during the war, at times, we received whole families of refugees. I do not mention these facts in a boastful spirit, but only as a sample of the old customs of the South.
During the winter of 1865, we had the pleasure of entertaining the family of Colonel Norris of Baltimore, and early in March
we had an unexpected visit from a large party of South Carolinians, who had been wounded in an attack made by General Kilpatrick upon Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's command at Fayetteville. Your grandfather met them in the street seeking for shelter; and, compassionating their forlorn condition, he directed them to Wills Forest. When we first caught sight of the cortège surrounding two ambulances, we were alarmed, thinking that it must be the Yankees coming to deprive us of house and home. You may, perhaps, imagine the relief when I saw the dear Confederate gray. I met the cavalcade at the front steps, and bade them welcome; the wounded were brought in and laid upon beds in the nursery, after which I directed one of our men, Frank, the carriage-driver, I think it was, to conduct the horsemen to the stable, to give the horses a plentiful feed, and then to bring the men up to the house to get their dinners. In ordinary times, this unlooked-for addition of more than twenty guests would, no doubt, have been an unwelcome tax, but in those days preceding the sad termination of the
war there were so many poor, half-starved stragglers from the different commands passing to and fro, that we were never unprepared to feed as many as called upon us. At this time, two cooks were kept continually at work in the kitchen preparing such plain food as we could command: such as boiled hams, biscuit, loaf bread, corn bread, and wheat coffee. The milk and butter, all that we had, were joyfully given to our soldiers. The gray jacket was, indeed, a passport to every Southern heart. I have fed many a poor, footsore “boy in gray,” but never in a single instance heard a despondent word from one of them. Most grateful they were for their good, abundant meals, but often too modest to carry any away in their haversacks.
In times of peace, both before and after the war, the social life at the table, with family and always welcome friends, was a source of much pleasure. For a dinner of ten or twelve persons, including ourselves, there would be a ham at the head, a large roast turkey at the foot, a quarter of boiled mutton, a round of beef à la mode, and a
boiled turkey stuffed with oysters. In the middle of the table would be celery in tall cut-glass stands, on the sides cranberries in moulds and various kinds of pickles. With these would be served either four or six dishes of vegetables and scalloped oysters, handed hot from the plate-warmer. The dessert would be a plum pudding, clear stewed apples with cream, with a waiter in the centre filled with calf's-foot jelly, syllabub in glasses, and cocoanut or cheese-cake puddings at the corners. The first cloth was removed with the meats. For a larger entertainment a roast pig would be added, ice-cream would take the place of stewed apples. The dessert cloth would be removed with the dessert, and the decanters and fruit set upon the bare mahogany, with the decanters in coasters; cigars would follow, after the ladies had left, of course.
At the time of the surrender, General Logan borrowed, or asked to borrow, my tables and cut-glass tumblers and wine-glasses; as such a request meant an order, I, of course, allowed them to be taken; to my surprise all
were returned. Generals Grant and Sherman were entertained by Logan at this time, the tables being set before his tent in the grove.
When my two little girls went to day school at St. Mary's, their dinners weresent to them by a negro boy or man. He carried the basket of hot dinner, while another carried the ice for their water, while another often walked behind bearing a large watermelon. As the other day-pupils dined in a similar way, the road at this time of day would be full of negroes carrying dinners.
Since these bygone days, knowledge has increased, and men go to and fro with ease between the far corners of the earth; but I do not think that either virtue or happiness has kept pace with this increase of knowledge, nor has there ever been or will there ever be again such a country as the Old South, nor a people so good, so brave, or so true-hearted as the dear, primitive people of that good old time.
TWO BOB WHITES
TWO Bob Whites were standing beneath the old thorn-bush at the far end of the orchard; indeed, they had been standing there for some time, with their heads held close, just as though they were talking together. In fact, that is just what they were doing. They were talking about the nest that they were going to build. And it was high time, for already there was a nice little brood in that nest beyond the brook. But our Bob Whites were a prudent couple; they did not approve of those early broods which came off barely in time to miss the chilly May rains. But the May spell was over now, the sun shone hot upon the waving wheat, and over the fence, there in the old field, the dewberries were ripe. Already the little boys who live in the house over yonder had been after the berries, regardless
of briers and bare feet. Yes, it was high time that nest was built; but, somehow, they could not fix upon an altogether suitable location. True, the old thorn-bush, with its wide-spreading branches, was most attractive; but there the cart tracks ran too close by. As they stood thus in the clover, all undecided, they were startled by a loud cry from Robin Redbreast, whose nest was high up in that apple tree. Turning to ascertain the cause of the outcry, they espied a great, evil-looking, yellow cat, creeping through the long grass. This decided them, and without waiting another moment, they abandoned the thorn-bush and flew away to seek a safer abode. This they finally found over toward the wheat field, far away from cats and all the nuisances which attend the abodes of men.
The next was built back of the old gray, lichen-covered fence, just above the brook where the hazels and alders grow. All around was a blackberry thicket, and a great tussock of brown sedges sheltered the nest like a roof. Just beyond the fence was the wheat field. No one ever came
there, excepting that now and then on a Saturday the little boys who lived over yonder would pass by with their fishing-poles, jump the fence, and disappear in the hazel thickets. The Bob Whites did n't mind the boys, unless Nip happened to be along, nosing about in search of some mischief to get into. But as yet no little white egg lay in the nest, and when Nip cocked his impudent little ears at them, they were off with a whirr that sent him, scampering, startled and scared, after the boys. From the trees to which they had flown, the Bob Whites watched the movements of the boys with some anxiety. “They might, you know,” whispered Mrs. Bob, “be after that brood of our cousin's beyond the brook; but no, they've stopped — they are throwing something into the water, and there's that good-for-nothing Nip with them, so we may go back to the nest.” But they did not go, for there was that pert Jennie Wren fluttering about, as bold as anything, actually peeping into the bait gourd, and, goodness gracious! she has stolen a worm and flown off with it; what
impudence! And listen, there's Cardinal Grosbeak singing to them, —
- “Boys, boys, boys,
- Do, do, do
- Fish a little deeper.”
There he is, just a little above them, upon the hackberry; now he's flown to that willow; he looks like a coal of fire, there among the green leaves. Now he begins again with his —
- “Boys, boys, boys,
- Do, do, do.”
“The song may do well enough, but we don't approve of such forward ways,” sighed Mrs. Bob. “No,” chimed in Mrs. Mate Hare, limping from her home in the broom sedge. “It's not safe, with that horrid little Nip so near; to be sure, they've got wings, but as for me, he just frightens the life out of me, with his nosing and sniffing; forever nosing and sniffing after some mischief.” And she wiggled her nose and ears and looked so funny that the Bob Whites almost laughed in her face.
Before long there was a little white egg
in the nest, and Bob White was so proud of it that he just stood upon the fences and called, “Bob White, Bob White, Bob White,” all day long. And the boys who lived over yonder at the farmhouse said, “Listen to the Bob White, he's got a nest over there in the wheat.” “Let him alone,” said the farmer; “there'll be good shooting over there by and by.” But Bob White had no thoughts to spare for by-and-bys. The blue June sky and the rustling wheat, the wild roses, and that little egg lying there in the nest were enough for him. So he just turned his round breast to the sunshine, and called “Bob White” louder than ever.
After a while, when the nest was full of eggs, the Bob Whites would creep through the wheat and whisper of the little ones that would soon be coming. “They'll be here by the time the wheat is ripe,” says Bob. “It'll be fine feeding for them,” replies Mrs. Bob. They never thought of the reapers with their sharp scythes, and of the noise and tramping, where all was now so peaceful.
While Mrs. Bob sat upon her eggs, it amused her to see the Mate Hares come limping out at sunset, very timidly at first, pausing, startled, at every sound. Soon, however, they forgot their fears and began their dances, hopping and running round and round like mad, and cutting such capers as quite scandalized the Bob Whites.
“How very odd!” said Mrs. Bob, as she settled herself over her eggs. “I have heard that the March Hares have a Bee in their bonnets.” “Same family,” Bob White replied drowsily. Then Mrs. Bob, pressing her soft feathers gently upon her eggs, tucked her head under her wing and slept.
Their dance over, the Mate Hares skipped down to the meadow, where the dew lay thick upon the clover. “How good!” they said, as they nibbled and munched. “So sweet and tender, with the dew upon it!” “Who would eat dry seeds like the Bob Whites?” said one. “And go to sleep at dusk!” snickered another. “And whistle all day!” said a third. “As much as to say to all men and dogs, ‘Here I am, come and shoot me;’ so silly! Oh, there's no family
like the Mate Hares for sense; come, let's have another dance.” So they skipped and hopped and munched clover until the dawn sent them scudding away to their homes.
Well, at last, upon a sunny June morning, the lonely field was no longer lonely, neither was it quiet; for the grain was ripe and the reapers had come. Yes, the reapers had come, and with them came Nip. Yes, there he was, showing that ugly little red tongue of his, and poking his black nose into every hole and bush; no place was safe from those inquisitive eyes and sharp little cruel teeth. Mr. Bob watched him with a fluttering heart, as he ran sniffing about; suddenly, there came a sharp yelp, and then Mrs. Mate Hare's cotton tail went flying over rock and brier, followed by Nip, with his short, inadequate legs. Soon, however, he tired of this fun, and, trotting back, cocked his ears at the brier patch, sniffed about it, and crept in. Bob White, with an anxious call, flew into a tree.
“He's got a nest somewhere about there,” said one of the reapers. “I bet it's full of eggs,” he added. “Yes, but the boss
has give orders that they ain't to be tetched,” said another. Then there came from the thicket a growl and a yelp, and Mrs. Bob, with a loud whirr, flew to her mate. “Nip's got 'em!” cried one of the men, and, picking up a stone, he ran to the thicket, from whence now issued yelps of anguish. “He'll not trouble them again, I reckon,” the man said, with a grin, as he picked up his scythe.
Nip trotted home with a crestfallen and dejected air, but the Bob Whites, still agitated, remained in the tree, with necks craned anxiously toward the nest. When, at length, Mrs. Bob found courage to return, the melancholy sight met her eyes of three broken eggs, some more scattered ones, and a generally disordered nest. Bob now came to her assistance, the scattered eggs were put back, the nest repaired, and Mrs. Bob contentedly seated herself upon it.
The hatching time was drawing near, and it was a most exciting period. Mrs. Bob sat very still, but, as for Bob, he just fidgeted from nest to tree and back again, stopping around and asking questions. Yes, one egg is pipped; they'll all be out
by to-morrow. And so they were, — thirteen little puff-balls, upon tiny coral feet. “There would have been sixteen, but for that horrid Nip,” sighed Mrs. Bob. But she was very proud and happy, as she led the little brood through the brush, showed them how to pick up ants' eggs, and tore up the soft mould for grubs and other dainties. When the nimble little feet grew tired, she took them to the alder thicket, where, hidden away beneath her feathers, they piped themselves to rest. It was very quiet now: the reapers had gone; there was no rustling of waving wheat, only the shocks stood up silent; there was only the soft clang, clang from the bell-cow, as the herd went home. Then the sun went down, and grayness followed, and from the thicket came the sad cry of the Chuck Will's widow. But the Bob Whites were fast asleep. At dawn, Bob White stood upon the topmost rail, and whistled and whistled as loud as he could; he felt so happy that he had to repeat, “Bob White, Bob White” to everything that he saw, — to the bell-cow, as she passed by on her way to the meadow;
then to the boy, who popped his whip and whistled back; then to the trees, which nodded in return. When the sun came glinting through the leaves and set the dew-drops to glistening and the whole world to laughing, he whistled louder than ever, just for joy. But presently the reapers came again. Then Bob White slipped away and hid himself far down amid the alders, where Mrs. Bob was showing the puff-balls how to pick up grubs and how to use their little nimble legs in running after gnats and other good things. “Don't try to catch that great bee, but come and pick up these ants' eggs,” she called, as she threw aside the earth with her strong claws. “You must attend to what I say, for you are very ignorant little things, and if you are not careful to mind what I say you may be caught up by a hawk at any moment. So, listen: when I say ‘Tuk,’ you must hide yourselves immediately; don't try to run away, but just get under a rock, or even a leaf, or just flatten yourselves upon the ground, if you can't do better; you are so nearly the color of the ground that a boy
will never see you, and you can even escape a hawk's keen eye.”
After a while, mother and brood left the alder thicket, and, as the reapers were now in a distant part of the field, Mrs. Bob led them all to a sunny spot where they might pick upon the fallen grains and wallow in the dry, hot sand. It was very nice to do this, and they were having a charming time, when suddenly voices were heard, and at once two boys were upon them. But not so much as one little brown head or one little pink toe was visible; the sign had been given, and now only a poor, wounded Bob White lay in the path before them. “She's dead,” said one of the boys. “No, she ain't, her wing's broke,” cried the other, as he made a dive at her. But, somehow, Mrs. Bob continued to flop the broken wing, and to elude them. Another futile dive, and the two tin buckets containing the reapers' dinners were thrown down and forgotten in the keen interest of chasing the wounded Bob White, who managed to flop and flutter just beyond their reach until she had led them quite across the
field, — then, with a whirr, she bounded into the air and safely perched herself upon a distant tree. The astonished small boys gazed blankly after her, wiped their hot faces upon their sleeves, and turned, reluctantly, to pick up their buckets. As they went along, hot and crestfallen, one of them suddenly exclaimed: “She's got young ones hid yonder, I bet,” and with that they set off at a run. Mrs. Bob White, who knew boy-nature well, craned her neck to watch, and fluttered nearer. Then Bob White came, and both continued to watch with anxiously beating hearts, for those little boys were evidently bent upon mischief. Would the poor little puff-balls outwit them? One little piping cry, one brown head raised, and all would be lost. But, as they watched, their fears began to subside. The boys are again wiping their hot faces, they look discouraged, they have evidently found nothing; yes, certainly not, for, see, they are picking up their buckets, and now they are going across the field to where the reapers are calling them to hurry along with their dinners.
Such daily annoyances as this now determined the Bob Whites to take refuge in the alder thicket, in whose deep seclusion they soon regained tranquillity of spirits. The dampness of the situation, however, proving most unfavorable to their brood, they anxiously awaited the time when the departure of the reapers would restore quiet and enable them to return to their haunts. At length the wished-for time arrived; from the topmost boughs of the big maple Bob White could see neither man, boy, or dog, in the whole length and breadth of the field. Summoning the family together, they joyfully crept through the brush to bask in the broad stretches of sunshine and to pick up the scattered grain amid the stubble. Here they remained through all the long summer days, their solitude broken only by the yellow butterflies and by the big brown grasshoppers bumping about in the stubble, the silence broken only by the occasional jangle from the bell-cow, as she shook the deerflies from her sleek sides.
By and by, when the goldenrod was yellow upon the hillside, the young ones,
in their new brown coats, began to try their wings, and felt very proud if they could make them whirr, when they rose to the fence or to a low brush. Had they been boys, they would have been called hobble-dehoys; but, being Bob Whites, they were known as squealers, and as such they felt very mannish and ambitious to be independent; but, nevertheless, they still liked to huddle together at nightfall and talk over the day's doings, close to, if not under, the mother's wing.
By and by, again, when goldenrod stood brown and sere upon the hillside and the sumach glowed red in the fence corners and thickets, when the fall crickets were chiming their dirge down amid the grass roots and the air was growing frosty at nights, then the Bob Whites grew restless and took flight for a far-off pea field, noted as a feeding-ground. Here they met other families of kinsfolks, and then began a right royal time, running nimbly through the rich pea vines or scratching in sassafras or sumach thickets for insects, growing fat and growing lazy all the time. The gourmand
of the autumn was in manner quite a contrast to the Bob Whites of the days of young wheat and wild roses. No blithe, good music now issued from that throat, so intent upon good cheer. True, some unpleasant rumors are afloat. The Mate Hares, scudding frantically away, reported an advance of men, with guns and dogs; but the Mate Hares were always silly and unreliable. So our Bob Whites just keep on eating and making merry. Fortune may favor them,—who knows? Let us hope, and listen out next year for the cheery “Bob White, Bob White,” from the old nesting-place.
THE cool fogginess of an August morning has melted under the fierce sun. The level fields, like a waveless ocean, stretch away into the dim, green distance. The hot air quivers above cotton-fields, heavy with bolls and gay with blossoms, which give out a half-sickening fragrance. A languid air rustles low amid the corn, from whose dense growth arises a damp, hot breath. Out in the pasture, work-horses leisurely crop the sunburnt grass, or stand under the trees, lazily switching away the swarming gnats.
A restful quiet broods over the big plantation, for the plow and the hoe have finished their task; sun and showers must do the rest. The crop is “laid by,” and the summer holidays have begun. Three days of rest before the gathering in begins.
Over at the quarter, the young people
fill the long, lazy day with patting and dancing, banjo-playing and watermelon-eating. The elders, for the most part, are absorbed in preparations for the big holiday dinner. By dawn, holes have been dug in the ground and heated for the barbecuing of various meats, and those who hold the honorable posts of cooks are busily engaged in basting, tasting, and sending the small urchins after fuel. Some of the women are kneading flour hoe-cakes; others, gathered about a table under a great mulberry tree, are peeling fruit for pies, while now and then they raise their voices with blood-curdling threats to hasten the lagging steps of a little gang, which, looking like a string of black beetles, troop slowly along from the orchard, each holding in the skirt of his solitary garment the small store of fruit which he has not been able to eat. A row of tables spread in the shade stands ready for the feast, and, along the pathway, the guests from neighboring plantations are already approaching.
Up at the great house an unnatural quiet prevails, for upon this day all work is laid
aside and all are off to the barbecue; even old Aunt Sylvie has forgotten the “misery” in her back, has donned her Sunday garments, and stepped briskly off to the quarter; cook, too, has closed the ever-open kitchen door and departed, along with nurse, over whose toilet her little charges have presided with so much zeal that they have emptied their mother's cologne flask in order to bedew their mammy's pocket-handkerchief to their satisfaction.
Tiny curly-headed Jack feels rather disconsolate without his mammy, but is partially consoled by flattering visions of what her pockets will bring home at the end of the day.1
Away down upon the creek the little gristmill stands silent; the old mossy wheel has for to-day ceased its splash and clatter, and, like all else upon the plantation, is resting from its labor; to-day no sacks stand open-mouthed, awaiting their turn; no little creaking carts, no mill boys[note]
mounted astride their grists are seen upon the path, and Wat, the miller, in the lazy content of dirt and idleness, lies basking in the sun. Within the wattle fence on the other side of the path, his three children, little Dave, Emma Jane, and a fat baby, are sprawling upon the ground, along with the house pig, two puppies, and the chickens. Little Dave, who is perhaps somewhat dwarfed by toting first Emma Jane in her infancy, and now the fat baby, looks not unlike a careworn little ape, as he sits flat upon the ground, spreading his bony toes for the baby to claw at.
Emma Jane, with her stout little body buttoned into a homespun frock, is also seated in the sand, solemnly munching upon a hunk of corn bread, while the chickens, with easy familiarity, peck at the crumbs which fall upon her black shins. Within the cabin, Polly, the miller's wife, has tied a string of beads about her sleek black throat, and now, in all the bravery of her flowered calico, is ready to set off for the quarter; first, though, she pauses at the gate to speak to little Dave.
“When de chile git hongry, you git dat sweeten water off de shelf and gie it to him long wid his bread;” then adds, with a suspicion of tenderness upon her comely face; “I gwine fetch you some pie.” Then, calling to Wat, that he had better “fix his sef and come along, ef he speck to git any of de dinner,” she steps briskly along the narrow pathway, mounts the zigzag fence, and disappears amid the high corn.
Some miles below, where the little creek which turns the mill-wheel steals from out the swamp to join the river, a clumsy, flat-bottomed scow lies grounded upon a sand-bar. This is no evil to Boat Jim, who, sprawled upon the deck, snores away the hours, regardless of the blistering sun beating down upon his uncovered head, and all unconscious of the departure of his chance passenger, an itinerant organ-grinder. This fellow, having had the ill luck to lose the respectable member of the firm, his monkey, and finding difficulty without the aid of his little partner to attract an audience, had, while idling about the docks, encountered Boat Jim, and persuaded the latter to give
him a lift up the river, the condition being that he was to grind as much music as Jim should desire. But, disgusted with three days of slow progress upon the boat, he had, after viciously kicking the unconscious Jim, stolen the small boat and put himself ashore. Following the windings of the creek, he came to the little mill, where, attracted by the shade, he seated himself close to the wattle fence of Polly's little yard. Hearing voices, he peeped through the fence, and his eyes were soon fixed upon little Dave, who, with the fat baby and Emma Jane for spectators, is performing various tricks with infinite delight to himself. He stands upon his head, he turns somersaults, he dances, he pats, and finally he swings himself into a tree, where he skips about with the agility of a monkey. A thought comes into the organ-grinder's head; he glances at the silent mill and at the cabin: evidently both are deserted; here is a chance to replace the dead monkey.
The sun is sending long shafts of crimson light into the swamp and glinting upon the millhouse; the high corn, awakening
from its midday torpor, rustles softly to the evening breeze, as Wat and Polly wend their way homeward. A bucket, lightly poised upon Polly's head, holds scraps of barbecue and little Dave's promised pie, and, as she draws near the wattle fence, she thinks, with a pleased smile, of how she will set it before “de chilluns,” when a prolonged howl falls upon her ears. Recognizing the voice of Emma Jane, she says to herself: “She hongry, I spek,” and trudges on, in nowise disturbed by this familiar sound. But, when they enter the yard, there is only Emma Jane, bawling, open-mouthed, beside the baby, who, with the house pig, lies asleep on the warm sand. The chickens are daintily picking their way to the house, the old muscovy duck has tucked her head under her wing for the night, Old Keep, the stumptailed coon dog, crawls from under the cabin to greet them. But where is Dave?
The miller carries the sleeping child indoors, followed by the still bawling Emma Jane, while the wrathful Polly goes to the back of the house. Stripping the twigs from a switch, she mutters: “I knows what
you's arter; you tuck yoursef to dat watermillion patch, dat whar you gone; but ne' mine, boy, you jest le' me git hold o' you.” Then, after a time given to unsuccessful search, calls of “Da-a-vie—oh, oh, Dave!” fall upon the stillness, to be answered only by weird echo from the lonely swamp. Returning from her search, she finds Wat seated upon the doorstep.
“Dave done took hissel off to de quarter,” he says; “but no mind, I gwine fill him full o' licks in de mornin'.”
But, when morning comes and brings no little Dave, wrath gives place to fear. The plantation is aroused; finally the mill-pond is dragged, and, although the body is not found, the conclusion is that the boy has been drowned.
After a time Polly's smile beams as broadly as ever, but her heart still yearns for her boy, and amid the sleepy drone of her spinning-wheel, she pauses to listen; or, standing in her door, she looks ever wistfully along the crooked path. Across the way, the little mill clatters on as merrily as of yore; Wat heaves the great sacks
upon his brawny shoulder, metes out the grist, and faithfully feeds the hopper; but, when a chance shadow falls athwart the sunny doorway, he looks up with a gleam of hope upon his stupid, honest face, then brushes his hand across his eyes, and goes on in stolid patience with his work. So the summer and the autumn pass, without change, save that Emma Jane substitutes sweet potatoes for corn bread, and the fat baby has learned to balance himself upon his bowlegs.
Upon a winter evening Wat enters the cabin at the usual hour. Polly has laid a bit of clean homespun upon the table; his bowl of coffee, his fried meat, and his hoecake stand ready; but, instead of falling to, as his custom is, he sits silent and despondent, with his face buried in his hands, until Polly asks:—
“What de matter; is you po'ly?”
“I dunno as I'se, to say, po'ly,” Wat replies, “but dat boy's been a-pesterin' me dis livelong day, a-callin' ‘Daddy, Daddy!’ jes' like I talkin' now, till seem like I'se most beat out along o' him.”
“Dat mighty curous,” Polly answered, “'cause Ole Keep, he's been a-howlin' dis blessed day. I 'loved dat Ung Silas were gwine be tuck.”
“'T ain't dat,” the miller interrupted. “Ung Silas, he done got better; he howlin' arter sompen nother, but 't ain't arter Ung Silas.”
Upon that identical winter's day, in a back alley of New York, a small crowd of idlers had gathered to witness the performance of the “Man Monkey.” A little creature, dressed in tinsel, leaped and capered, keeping time to the grinding of an organ. When the spectators were silent, he would glance timidly at his ill-favored keeper, but when they cheered, the poor little figure would strive to outdo itself, in spite of laboring breath and trembling limbs. Then a rope was stretched, and “The Man Monkey,” seizing an end, swung himself up, and, amid the acclamations of the admiring mob, began a new act of his performance. The day was cold, and at that dizzy height the wind struck bitterly through the starved little overtaxed body;
he lost his footing, caught wildly at the rope, missed it, and — fell.
In that brief second did he see the old mill and the little cabin standing in the sunshine? Did he hear his mother's voice? God knows. When a pitying hand gently turned the little heap of quivering humanity, a happy smile lit up the pinched face, and the dying lips murmured, “Daddy.”
THE HOG-FEEDER'S DAY
THE cold gray light of early dawn had given place to saffron, and the first drowsy challenge from the henroost had been shrilly answered from far and near, when old man Jerry awoke from his nap in the chimney corner, and finding himself chilled through all his old, rheumatic bones, bent over the dying embers, pushed together the blackened and half-burned “chunks,” and blew them until they glowed. Then, hitching his stool close into the ashes, he spread his horny palms to the blaze, and basked in its genial warmth as it crackled up the wide chimney. Reaching his pipe from its nook, he filled it, dipped it skillfully in the coals so as to ignite without wasting the precious weed, and drew a long whiff by way of a start; then, bending still closer to the blaze, he pulled away, now and then rubbing
his shins in slow content, as though to emphasize his comfort.
All things, though, must come to an end. The “chunks” became a heap of white ashes, the pipe was finished, and broad shafts of light stealing down the chimney and under the door told “Ung Jerry” that it was time to be stirring.
He had, according to his usual custom, risen from his bed long before cockcrow, and, having cooked and eaten his “morning bread,” had unlatched his door in order to throw a morsel to his old hog-hound, “Drive,” who had already crept from under the house, and stood wagging his stump of a tail in eager expectancy. The morsel being thrown, the old man had cast a knowing look towards the heavens, and, judging by the seven stars that it yet lacked an hour to dawn, had returned to the smoky warmth and comfort of his hovel, where, seated in the chimney nook, he had nodded till roused by the crowings from all the neighboring henroosts — for his cabin was one of many.
The pipe being smoked, Ung Jerry
rose stiffly, and, shuffling to his bed, fumbled underneath it, and, taking care not to disturb the setting hen, brought out two bits of old blanket, with which he proceeded to wrap his feet before putting on his shoes.1
The hog-horn was now slung over the old coat, a bucket of cold victuals was reached from the shelf, and the old hog-feeder, equipped for his day's work, lifted the latch, and, stepping out into the sharp frostiness of the November morning, plodded with heavy steps toward the barnyard, Drive following closely at his heels.
The frosty fields were glittering in the slant rays of the newly risen sun, and sounds of busy life came floating through the crisp air, telling the old man that the day's labor[note]
had begun. The sharp crack of the teamster's whip told that the great ox wagons were already afield. The plow-boys whistled as they led out their mules; men and short-skirted, heavily shod women went trooping to the cotton fields; the milk-women stepped briskly by, with the foaming pails balanced upon their well-poised heads. Then came the cowboys, with noisy whoop, driving before them the crowding, clumsy, sweet-breathed herd, while, fearlessly amid all, pigeons fluttered, greedily picking up the refuse grain, heedless of the hoofs among which they pecked and fluttered.
One small, grizzled mule, of great age and much cunning, had contrived to slip into the feedroom, and was there enjoying a stolen bait of oats when Ung Jerry found her.
“You 'speck I wan't gwine fine you, I reckon, but you'se wrong dis time,” he said, taking her by one of the long ears and leading her off to the barnyard, where the little cart awaited her.
Drive, meanwhile, had crept under the
barn, where, nosing about, he had come upon a hen's nest, and was feasting upon the warm, fresh eggs.
The hitching-up was done with great deliberation. Ung Jerry plodded to and from the harness-room many times, bringing out first a chuck collar, then a bit of leather, finally, after a long search, an end of rope. At length, when all seemed to be adjusted, the old man again retired to the harness-room, where he remained so long that Drive was contemplating another raid upon the hens, when he reappeared, bringing with him an old piece of bagging, with which he proceeded with careful adjustment to protect the old mule's back from the friction of the cart-saddle. She, meanwhile, had stood with closed eyes and flopped ears, immovable save for an occasional twitching of her small, rat-like tail; but when the loading began, her manner changed from its quiescent indifference; watchful glances followed each basketful that was dumped in, and an ominous backing of the ears gave warning of what would happen should the load be heavier than she liked.
At length, all being ready for the start, Ung Jerry climbed slowly to his perch on the cart's edge, gave a jerk to the rope bridle, and Rachel moved off, closely followed by Drive, who, conscious of egg-sucking and fearful of its consequences, had prudently ensconced himself beneath the cart, from whence he eyed, suspiciously, all passers-by.
Slowly the little cart crept along the narrow plantation lanes, crept past the level cornfields and into the wide pasture, where sunburnt mares were grazing with their wild-eyed, unkempt colts; crept past the marsh, where the heron, disturbed in her solitary vigil, rose upon silent wing and sought some more secluded haunt amid the dim recesses of the swamp.
Turning at length into the forest, where the gray moss hanging from the trees almost obscured the deep blue autumnal sky, the cart slowly creaked through the rustling leaves until it came upon a cross fence which barred the way. Here, as Rachel came to a full stop, Ung Jerry awoke from his nap, descended from his perch,
and, unslinging his horn, blew one long blast.
One was enough. In a moment the deep stillness of the forest was broken by the pattering of many little feet; from the thickets the hogs came; each hurrying with might and main to be foremost, they rushed, grunting, squealing, crowding to the fence, where, standing with upturned faces and small covetous eyes, they awaited the feast of golden grain which the old man hastened to scatter amongst them. Then, leaning upon the fence, he noted each greedy grunter as he wriggled his small tail in keenest enjoyment and cracked the sweet corn.
No need was there to count; to the hogfeeder each animal possessed an individuality so marked that in all the drove the absence of the most insignificant was at once detected. So now, as he leaned upon the fence, he cast anxious glances into the dimness beyond. Evidently some were missing.
Drive, too, divining his master's thoughts, stood with look intent and anxious yelp, impatient for the search to begin.
Then the word came, “Seek, boy!”
Scrambling through the fence, he dashed into every covert or tangle wherein a hog might lurk, but without result; there came no rush of feet, no shaking of the brown leaves, no startled grunt. All was still, save for the quick panting of the old hound.
The old man then turned his eyes again upon the greedy mob, still hoping to discover the missing ones amongst them. 'T was all in vain.
“De listed sow, she done gone, an' de big white hogue, he done gone, an' seben head o' shotes!” he at length murmured, still, however, casting expectant glances toward the thickets, in which Drive was still sniffing with uneasy yelpings.
“Seem like dem creturs is clean gone, sho' nuf,” he exclaimed, with an air of unwilling conviction; then adding, “well, ef dey's gone, I'se got 'em to fine, dat's de trufe.”
He called in the dog, and, taking his dinner bucket, climbed the fence and struck off into the woods. Now and again he
would pause, put his horn to his lips, and give a long blast, then stand listening with anxious expectancy. Every thicket was searched. It was a weary tramp,—through bogs and sloshes, where the cypress knees stood up like sugar-loaves in the shallow water, or sometimes his steps were bent to some open glade, where the great oaks dropped sweet mast among the brown leaves.
The day was no longer young when a low fence came into view; beyond it stretched a levee, and at its base a glint of water showed itself through the great trees, which stretched their mighty arms as though they would embrace it.
Ung Jerry, after climbing the fence, mounted the levee and stood upon the brink of a wide and muddy river. Taking off his hat, the old man wiped the sweat from his face, then turned an observant eye upon the river, whose muddy waters were already lapping the boughs of the overhanging trees, and with a long-drawn breath exclaimed, “Bank an' bank!”
Then, as his experienced eye noted the
angry swirls near the shore and the débris borne rapidly upon the turbid current, “An' still on de rise. She gwine be out in de low groun's befo' mornin', bless de Lord; I's been 'spectin' she gwine play dis trick eber since de win' set like et did.”
Then, looking at the field of standing corn upon the further shore, protected by a low levee, and seeming to be upon a lower level than the red waters of the flood, he soliloquized:—
“I's skeared de fresh gwine 'stroy a sight o'Mars Jones's corn. It raly do 'pear like dat corn mout a been housed befo' now.”
The old man's thoughts were interrupted at this point by loud and animated barkings from Drive, and, hurrying to the spot whence they proceeded, he discovered the old hound standing in a broken gap in the fence, in a state of excitement over the numerous footprints which told that the truants had broken through and made for the river, evidently with designs upon “Mars Jones's” cornfield.
“Here's wha' dey tuck de watah,” the
old man remarked to the dog, as together they followed the footprints to the water's edge. “Dat 'ere listed sow, she got mo' sense un folks! She know 'bout Mars Jones's corn, an' dey ain't no fence gwine stop dat cretur when she take a notion for to go.
“Well, well, well, de listed sow, an' de big white hogue, an' seben head o' shotes done tore down de fence, an' took deyselves 'cross de riber for to steal Mars Jones's corn; I 'clare 't is a disgrace. I reckon Mars Jones gwine cuss a plenty when he fine it out. It certinly is a pity for master's creturs to do sich a low-life trick as dat. But bless de Lord,” and a look of crafty triumph came into his face, “dey's got dey bellies full, anyhow.”
With this pleasing reflection, and the conviction that nothing more could be done for the present, the old man seated himself upon a log, opened his bucket, took out his jack-knife, and proceeded to eat his dinner, while Drive sat by, in eager readiness to snatch the morsels flung to him, ere they could reach the ground.
When the meal was finished, dog and man each took comfort in his own way. The dog stretched himself in the sunshine. The old man sat with bent head “a-studyin',” then nodded, then fell into a deep sleep, soothed by the silence, which reigned unbroken save for the distant cawing of a crow.
The long gray moss swayed dreamily upon the motionless boughs of the giant trees. Where the sycamore lifted its gaunt, white arms, the great bald eagle sat immovable, watching with fierce, intent gaze for its prey in the waters below.II
The shadows were growing long upon wood and river when the light dip of a paddle broke upon the stillness, and old Jerry, rousing from his nap, spied a canoe gliding down stream, guided by two youths who, with their guns lying crosswise upon their knees, were making for the bank.
“Mars Harry an' Mars Phil,” he murmured, eying them with lazy curiosity, as they brought their little craft to land, and
after making it fast, picked up their guns, crossed the levee, and struck off into the swamp.
“Dey's after turkey, I 'speck; Mars Harry an' me, we's killed many a varmint in dese here woods. Dey want no Mars Phil 'bout here in dem days befo' ole Mars were tuck down.”
Thus soliloquizing, the old man continued to gaze wistfully after the retreating figures; for their appearance had seemed to bring a disturbing element into his peaceful dreams, and a look of helpless trouble overspread his face as, taking off his hat and slowly scratching his head, he murmured:—
“Seem like it mos' a pity Mars Phil trouble hisself for to come here, anyhow. Well, well, well! we folks all gwine be 'vided up 'twix Mars Harry an' Mars Phil, 'cause ole Mars, he not long for dis world! Bless de Lord, whinsoever it please Him for to teck ole Mars to hisself, I trus' he gwine 'vide off Jerry to Mars Harry's shere, 'cause I nachally ain't got no use for t'other one — he too outlondesh.”
So saying, he rose and reached his bucket from the bough where it hung. Drive, who had for some moments been watching him out of the corner of one red eye, rose also, and the two set out upon their tramp back to the cart.
The old man had climbed the fence, the dog had scrambled through, and both were threading their way across the swamp, when the report of a gun close by caused the dog to beat a retreat from the thicket into which he had thrust his nose, and, with tail tucked in, to creep to his master's side; while the old man, exclaiming, “Good Gor-a-mighty! whot dat?” pushed aside the bushes in order to see what game the boys had brought down.
The sight that met his eyes froze him with horror. Philip's lifeless body lay upon the ground, while Harry, with scared white face, bent over it.
For a brief space the old man stood as if petrified, then muttered: “Jerry ain't gwine know nothin' bout dis here. When ole Mars say, ‘Jerry, what you seen in de Vine Ridge Swash?’ Jerry, he gwine say, ‘Nothin’,
Master, fo' de Lord, I seen nothin' 't all!' An' I ain't gwine tell no lie, nuther, 'cause I ain't gwine look!”
Thus thinking, he cautiously drew back, and, with ashen face and limbs that through trembling almost failed to support him, he stealthily crept away until out of earshot; then took to his heels and fled. When, however, he was forced to pause for breath, he considered if he had done well to desert his young master, and turned reluctantly to retrace his steps, when, as he did so, the air was suddenly rent with ear-piercing shrieks for half a second, and Jerry's heart quailed.
“It's boun' to be de debil,” he whispered. Then, a light seeming to break upon him, he exclaimed: “Bless God! 't ain't nothin' but de ole Chieftain a-blowin'.”
The Chieftain, a small freight steamer, had recently taken the place of the old flat-bottomed scows, and, as the steam whistle was still a novelty, it is not surprising that Ung Jerry, in his terror, should for the moment have mistaken it for some unearthly sound.
After many irresolute pauses, the old
man at length reached the scene of the disaster, and with shaking hands thrust aside the bushes. Except for the small birds silently flitting to their roosts, the place was utterly deserted. The level sunbeams glinted through the gray moss, gilded the tree trunks, and glowed crimson upon the brown leaves; the solitary peace of nature seemed unbroken; only the pool of blood at Ung Jerry's feet told him that what he had witnessed had not been a vision.
After a moment's survey he was turning away, when his eyes fell upon the two guns: here, at least, was something tangible, and the old man proceeded to secrete them in the fallen leaves. Squatted upon the ground, he was too busily engaged to note the sound of approaching footsteps, and started violently when a rough voice accosted him. He mustered courage, however, to quaver:—
“Dat you, Mars Jones?”
“Me? of course it's me! Who did you reckon it was?”
“I dunno, Mars Jones.”
“Well, you'll know next time, if you don't keep them hogs o' yourn out of my corn. Why, that confounded old sow can destroy more corn in one night than you are worth.”
“Yes, Mars Jones, dat de trufe,” meekly assented the old man.
Mars Jones, warming to the subject, now waxed more and more eloquent over his grievances, until, having exhausted his pent up wrath, he had leisure to observe old Jerry's ashen face and shaking limbs, and he exclaimed:—
“Why, what's the matter with you? are you sick?”
“Yes, Mars Jones, I's been po'ly dis liblong day, an' I's gittin' sassifrax for to make me a little drap o' tea, I's got sich a mis'ry.”
“Sassafras!” here broke in Mars Jones; and, good-natured, despite his roughness, he took from his pocket a tickler, and handing Jerry a dram, said:
“Drink this, you old blockhead. Sassifrax, indeed!—what good you reckon sassifrax goin' do you?”
With a scrape and a bow and a “Thank
ye, Marster,” the old man gulped down the dram, and Mars Jones, replacing his tickler, was turning away, when his foot slipped in something, and looking down he saw that it was blood.
The dram had put so much heart into the old man that he was able to reply glibly to Mars Jones's questions.
“It's jes' wha' I 's been markin' hogs, Marster.”
“I don't believe you; I believe you 've been killin' one of your master's hogs — that's what you 've been at.”
But as this did not concern him, he did not wait to inquire further, and so, turning on his heel, he strode off.
The hog-feeder, too, hastening away, took the shortest path back to his cart.
The deserted barnyard lay silent in the white moonlight when the little cart creaked through the gate; but up at the “great house” there were lights and movements where the family watched the coming of the boys.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday passed without tidings, and the hope that they had
been caught by the rising water and imprisoned upon some isolated knoll had been abandoned after the swamps had been searched in every direction. To add to the grief of the household, the master, already enfeebled, now lay prostrated in a condition that almost forbade hope.
Upon Sunday the waters began to abate, fences again appeared, and patches of drowned corn showed themselves above the wastes of water, to the no small joy of the flocks of blackbirds which chattered and fluttered amongst them.
Mr. Jones, tired of the loneliness of his water-girt home, made his way to the meeting-house, more for the sake of a gossip with some of the neighbors than for the day's preaching, and it was there that he first heard the startling news of the unaccountable disappearance of Squire Brace's nephews.
In the excitement, each man was eager to advance his own theory. The discussion ended, however, in the general opinion that their canoe had been swamped in the freshet and the boys drowned, until a newcomer
asserted that the canoe, with Phil's overcoat still in it, had been found tied up at the Vine Ridge landing, and that their guns had been discovered hidden in the leaves at no great distance in the swamp.
Upon hearing this, Mr. Jones could but call to mind his meeting with the hog-feeder, his strange behavior, and the blood upon the ground, and he at once jumped to the conclusion that old Jerry had been at least a party to some foul deed. His suspicions, once made known, became certainties, and the whole party, hastily mounting their horses, rode off to the nearest justice, their convictions gaining ground so rapidly that, ere the house of the justice was reached, poor, simple old Jerry, the most harmless of God's creatures, had become in their estimation a villain of the deepest dye.
Upon this identical Sunday morning the old hog-feeder betook himself to the little plantation church, whose bell, with cracked clamor, gave warning that preaching was about to begin.
The frosty brightness of the past week
had given place to a soft mist, through whose dimness the pale sunbeams looked sadly upon the autumnal world; and as the old man, dressed in his Sunday clothes, plodded along the path, the tiny crickets from beneath the grass sent up their sad, perpetual dirge.
Men and women, all shining with Sabbath cleanness, came straggling toward the church, silently and soberly, without the usual light-hearted laughter, for the trouble at the “great house” was felt by all the little band. Yet their feelings were not without a mixture of pleasurable excitement, for all were anticipating with gloomy satisfaction the lengthy prayers, the groanings, and the head-shakings upon this mournful day.
The congregation had taken their seats, old Jethro had taken his place in the pulpit, the long-drawn cadence of the funeral hymn had floated sadly up to the “great house,” when a noise at the door startled the congregation, who, turning, beheld standing in the door a group of white men. Among them was the overseer, who, coming forward,
announced that hog-feeder Jerry was to be arrested upon a charge of murder. “Not that I believe it, men,” he said, “but the law must take its course.”
In the meantime two others had approached the old man, who had already stumbled to his feet, and, while bowing in a dazed kind of way, kept murmuring, “Sarvent, Marsters.”
Handcuffs were put upon him, and amid a profound silence he was led forth and lifted into a cart. The two sheriffs took their places upon each side of him, and the cortège moved off.
The people, having sufficiently recovered from their shock to jostle one another out of the building, stood huddled together like a flock of frightened sheep; but when the cavalcade had driven off, a subdued clamor of voices arose, all unanimous in contempt for “dese here po' white, who'd ha' knowed better'n to come meddlin' long o' Marster's folks ef Marster wan't down on de bed an' mos' like to die!”
That the dull and simple brain of the old man should have been capable of any
formulated plan is not to be imagined, and when upon the following day he was taken before the justice for examination, he merely acted from an instinct of affection in shielding his young master, even at the risk of his own life. When questioned, he preserved an obstinate silence; then, when forced to speak, denied having seen either of the boys upon the day of their disappearance, but, when cross-questioned, admitted that he had seen Mars Phil in the Vine Ridge woods; and finally, when taxed with the blood upon the ground and with having hidden the guns, he reluctantly admitted that “ef Mars Phil had been hurted” he had done it.
“What did you do with the body?” questioned the justice; “throw it in the river?”
A murmur from the prisoner, which passed for assent, concluded the examination, and the justice, sorely puzzled, committed him to jail to await his trial.
With the early morning, the country people had begun to gather around the courthouse, and when told that the old miscreant had actually confessed to the
murder, their innate love of justice gave place to fierce anger; and when the prisoner, gray with terror, bent and tottering, was led forth, he was surrounded by a silent but determined crowd, who, thrusting the sheriffs aside, seized and drove him before them, and had already slipped the noose about his neck, when an inarticulate shout caused the crowd to sway, — a horseman dashed into their midst and proclaimed that both boys were alive. Their disappearance had been explained on that morning by a letter forwarded by hand, which ran as follows : —
On Board the Chieftain.
Dear Uncle,—This afternoon, while hunting in the Vine Ridge woods, Phil's gun went off and wounded him in the side. I was at my wit's end what to do, when I heard the Chieftain blow up the river; so I tore off to the levee, where I was lucky enough to succeed in attracting Captain Smith's attention, who sent off a boat, and we managed to get Phil on board. I wanted Smith to put back to our landing,
but he thought the current too strong; and on the whole, I believe it is better for Phil to keep on to Hilton, as it would be impossible to get a doctor at home in this high water. Phil's hurt is not very serious, I hope.
Your dutiful nephew,
On the day succeeding Harry's homecoming, he entered the room designated the “study,” in which the Squire was usually to be found when indoors.
The room probably owed the name of “study” to a set of Farmer's Magazines which, in all the dignity of expensive bindings, divided the shelf with a rather damaged edition of “The Turf Register,” a “Farrier's Manual,” a brace of antiquated medical works, and a stack of newspapers. Fishing tackle, a cupping apparatus, a set of engineering instruments, half a dozen ears of extra fine seed corn, medicine scales, and a huge cotton stock filled the rest of the bookcase.
The Squire, seated before a blazing fire, in the lazy comforts of convalescence, with
pipe and tobacco at his elbow, presented a not unenviable picture when contrasted with the wintry grayness outside.
Harry, who had been greatly touched by the old hog-feeder's affectionate fidelity, now sought his uncle in order to beg that as a recompense he might be given his freedom.
“Freedom!” exclaimed the Squire; “why, confound it, my dear boy, what would he do with freedom, if he had it?”
“I think he would like it,” Harry murmured, a little sheepishly.
“Why, he's as free as air now; a deuced sight freer than I am.”
Nevertheless Harry gained his point, and though the Squire growled, “You young jackanapes, you've robbed me of the best hog-feeder on the river,” still he was evidently pleased, and in the evening old Jerry was sent for.
When, in answer to the summons, Jerry presented himself at the study door, his master said to him, with a stateliness fitted to the occasion:—
“Jerry, I have sent for you to tell you that your young master here, as a reward
for your fidelity, desires to give you your freedom.”
Here the Squire paused, and Jerry, not knowing what else to say, said, “Yes, Marster.”
Harry, standing by, was feeling rather wrought up, while the Squire, also somewhat excited, continued:—
“I will give you a house in the free settlement, out in the slashes, and your young master will always take care of you.”
Another rather disconcerting pause was broken by a second “Yes, Marster;” and the old man, picking up his hat, shuffled out.
The Squire glanced at Harry with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, but the boy's face expressed such blank disappointment that he took pity upon him, and, picking up a newspaper, dismissed the matter.
Upon the following evening a low knock was heard at the study door, then a fumbling at the latch, and old Jerry once more stood upon the threshold.
“Well, old man, what is it now?” his master asked kindly. “Come, out with it!” he repeated, as the old man, with a feeble grin,
stood helplessly fingering his hat. “What's the matter?”
And old Jerry, slowly scratching his head, made answer:—
“Thank, Marster; I's come to ax Marster what I done to 'splease Mars?”
“Displease me! Why, what has put that notion into your head?”
“I dunno, Mars, what I's done, but I's skeared Mars mout be set agin me, 'cause he say he gwine sen' me offen de plantation.”
Then Harry explained that he was to be set free, and eagerly enlarged upon the delights of liberty. The hog-feeder listened, but was unmoved: he obstinately declined to accept his freedom, his plea being that “the varments” would “'stroy up his creeturs” if he were not there to look after them.
“De black sow, she got a fine litter o' pigs now, an' de foxes is a'ter 'em de blessed time.”
After this no more could be urged, and Jerry, scraping his foot, went out with a mind full of content.
THE JUNIOR RESERVE
IT was in the early summer of 1864 that the family at Swan Manor was thrown off its balance by the calling out of “The Junior Reserves.” That unfledged boys, and among them their own little smooth-cheeked Billy, should be called upon to fill up the thinned and broken ranks of the Southern army filled their hearts with dismay. The old Squire, with bushy brows beetling over his eyes, sat in grief too deep for words, a prey to the darkest forebodings. Miss Jemima had wept until her eyes were mere nothings, while her nose, coming gallantly to the front, had assumed an undue prominence. Kate, with her pretty lips drawn to keep down the rising sobs, tried all in vain to bestow upon her twin brother bright looks and smiles, ever before so ready and spontaneous. In the early secession days it had seemed such fun to ride to dress
parade and toss bouquets to the laughing “boys in gray,” while all the world played Dixie!
“Away down South in Dixie.”
How she and Billy had whispered and plotted, and how great the triumph when together they climbed the gate-post and, after much toil, successfully planted their little red and white flag! But now, alas! all was changed,—they were fast getting to be grown-up people, and now her own dear Billy must go to help drive the Yankees out of Dixie.
As for Billy himself, a suppressed but exultant grin shone upon his face, a trifle deprecating when in the presence of his grandfather or his tearful Aunt Jemima, but very jubilant despite these drawbacks. In truth this junior reserve was only too pleased to exchange the Latin grammar for the musket, and little cared he for prospective harships, provided school were not among them.
In the few busy days before the departure, Kate followed Billy's footsteps, trying in vain to share his elation. “Good gracious,
Kate,” he would exclaim, when he discovered her furtively wiping her eyes with her little damp ball of a pocket handkerchief, “don't be such a little goose; why, what would you have a fellow do? I had no idea that you were that sort of a girl.” Then, as between laughing and crying her face contorted itself into a sort of spasmodic grin, he would say: “Now that's right, that's the way to do, if you'll just cheer up, I'll be all right; the Yankees 'll not bother me much, you bet.”
At the request of Serena (Billy's former nurse) her boy Cy was chosen to accompany his young master as body servant, one of his chief recommendations being that, naturally “skeary,” he would be a safe companion; also, as his mother proudly averred, he was the fastest runner upon the plantation.
It was upon a golden evening in June that little Billy bade farewell to his home, Miss Jemima and Kate going with him to the little wayside station. Cy, gotten up in great style, followed, while the rear was brought up by a motley procession, — all eager for the honor of carrying some of the
belongings. The Squire, with Don the old Irish setter, stood in the doorway until Billy passed out of sight; then the two together, the old man and the old dog, went back into the silent house.
The path to the station wound its way through a field of ripening wheat, from whence the clear whistle of a partridge smote sharply though the fervid air. Billy paused, and, pointing to a tangle of blackberry, exclaimed: “There's a nest there as sure as shooting, and I'll go there tomor—” A quick catching of the breath cut short the unfinished words, and the boy, with lips slightly drawn, quickened his pace. Kate, choking down her sobs, held his hand in her tight clasp, as she kept pace with his hurried step. Miss Jemima, steadying her voice, remarked with a sprightly air that there would be fine shooting when he should come back in the autumn. Then the little station came into view, looking very empty and deserted; two men loading a flat car were the only living objects to be seen. They paused in their work to greet Billy, and ask where he was off to. It seemed
so strange a thing to Kate that all the world did not know.
The train was not on time, and the waiting became so painful that it was almost with gladness that they heard the warning whistle far down the track. A small crowd had gradually collected, and some one remarked: “She's blowin' for the bridge. It'll be ten minutes before she's here.” To the tumultuously throbbing hearts of the little party it was a positive relief when a puff of smoke was seen and the engine came rushing around the bend. Then there were hurried kisses; the bell clanged, a voice called out, “All aboard,” and the train was off. “Gone, gone, gone,” Kate repeated over and over to herself, as she gazed with tearless eyes into the dim distance of the now silent track.
As the party retraced their steps homeward the partridge was still calling his cheerful “Bob White” from amid the wheat, while from the shadowy depth of a laurel thicket came the sweet gurgle of the woodthrush.
In the late summer, news—glorious
news — came that the foe had been driven back, and their boy was unhurt.
Later, a man from the front at home on furlough was heard to say that “Billy Swan was a regular trump, and had borne himself like a veteran.” Kate walked elate, saying the words over and over, with a proud smile, “A hero, a regular trump,” — he, her own dear Billy. The old Squire, too, with ill-concealed pride in his boy, was once more like his former self.
Happy days — brief, hopeful days! Alas, alas! Many Junes have come and gone since little Billy was laid to rest in the old burying-ground, close to the wheat-field where the partridge calls, calls, the long day through. June roses scatter their leaves above him, and when the sun drops low, with long golden shafts upon the green mound which covers him, from far down in the laurel thicket comes the liquid gurgle of the wood-thrush. Kate looks into faces, once frank and bright, and full of youth and hope, now grown old and seamed with care, and she tells herself that “whom the gods love, die young.”
TWO little snub noses were flattening themselves against the nursery window pane, while the four eager eyes watched the soft flakes whirling through the air and silently descending upon the whitening earth.
“Sposen we was to steal out,” whispered the boy, “an' hide, so Mammy couldn't never find us no more.”
An excited chuckle interrupted the further development of this deliciously lawless scheme; but, though the little sister caught the infection, she prudently turned from the tempting prospect, saying, “No, Sed, I's 'fraid you might git the croups an' die.”
The other occupants of the room were a little roly-poly cherub of a girl, seated in a tiny chair, holding in her arms a rag baby, which she rocked and dangled in servile
imitation of her mammy, who, with bumpings peculiar to the nursery chair, was rocking to sleep a still younger babe. A fair little maiden, curled up comfortably upon a cushion, the firelight glistening upon her yellow locks, bent over a book, from which she read, in high-pitched, childish voice, to her mammy, the story of “Ellen Lynn.” Mammy was very proud that her nursling could read, and would cast admiring looks upon the child as she bent over her book, with finger pointing to each word. Both were absorbed in the story, and every picture was examined with scrupulous care.
Another occupant of the nursery was “Chany,” the under nursemaid. Gawky, sleek, and black, she sat flat upon the floor, her large, well-shod feet turned to the fire, a picture of lazy, vacant content.
“Ch-Ch-Chany,” stuttered Mammy, “look in de top drawer an' git a hankcher and blow dat chile's nose. Go on wid yo book, honey; Mammy ain't goin' 'sturb you no mo.”
“Mr. Lynn left the sleigh, and turning
from the island” — piped little Caroline. Then there came another prolonged snuffle from Sedley.
“You Ch-Ch-Chany, why' n't you git dat hankcher?” caused that languid maiden to bestir herself. Having fumbled in the drawer for the handkerchief, she approached the window, but no sooner did the little boy become aware of her intention than, with a rebellious shake of his curly head, he buried his nose in his little chapped fists, and, regardless of Sibyl's advice, that he had better be good, he firmly stood his ground, determined to resist Chany to the death.
“He ain't gwine let me tetch him,” said Chany, feebly dabbing at him with the handkerchief.
“Do, pray, gal, don't be so no-'count,” Mammy answered. Then Chany, stung by the imputation, made another helpless dive; a scuffle ensued, in which she was utterly routed, and the victorious Sedley threw himself upon Mammy's lap.
“Gi' me de hankcher,” said Mammy, with an air of withering contempt. “There, now, you done woke up your little brother,”
she said, when, the nose being blown, she again returned to trying to jolt baby Joe to sleep. “He jest had drapped off into a doze.”
“Oh, chilluns, le's pop some corn!” Chany now exclaimed. “Here's a whole sight of it,” she went on, as she searched a basket, which she had unearthed from the closet.
“Oh! pop corn!” shouted Sedley and Sibyl, running, and each seizing an ear.
“Oh! pop torn!” echoed the cherub, throwing down her rag baby. So the shovel was run into the ashes, and Chany and the three little ones set to work to shell the corn.
Quiet was again restored, and Caroline, who, all through the hubbub, had kept her finger faithfully upon “island,” continued her reading.
Mammy now substituted a sideways movement of the knees for the more vigorous bumping of the chair, and baby Joe — lying luxuriously upon her wide lap — gazed dreamily into the glowing coals upon the hearth, until gradually the white lids
drooped over the blue eyes, and he slept. The nursery was very quiet now. The corn-poppers were intent upon their work, and Mammy, soothed by the unwonted stillness, listened drowsily to the little reader until fresh interest was excited by the following words.
“The men were now still more alarmed,” read Caroline. “Farmer Lynn said that he would go with them and see what had become of Mr. Lynn and Annie. The whole party accordingly went back to the river. After searching about for some time, one of the men espied something black on the surface of the snow, at a great distance down the river. They all proceeded to the spot, and were dreadfully shocked on arriving there to find that the black spot was a part of Mr. Lynn's arm and that his body was beneath, frozen, and buried up in the snow.”
When Mammy heard these words, she threw up her arms, and exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy 'pon my soul! What! Mr. Lynn hisself?”
To her imagination Mr. Lynn was a most real person. The book was now brought
to her, and she, with little Caroline, looked with deep and mournful interest at the picture of the empty sleigh.
“It certainly is a awful country to live in; seem like it ain't fitten for a dog, much less white folks. To think o' Mr. Lynn hisself bein' froze to death. Well! well! well! It certainly was onexpected.”
The children's story books furnished Mammy with many thoughts. Among them was a set of German nursery tales, full of quaint colored pictures, in which she took especial pleasure. Seated by the nursery fire, the baby asleep in his crib and the others out at play, she would turn the leaves feeling that each picture was a living portrait. Slovenly Peter, Rocking Phillip, and Greedy Jacob were her favorites. Once when shown a pretzel, she exclaimed, “Ef it ain't the very thing what Jacob had in his hand when he busted,” and, taking the pretzel in her hand, she contemplated it with a thoughtful and sentimental air.
The nursery door was now burst open, and in rushed Harry, bringing with him a blast of fresh cold air; black Ned came too,
and both brought upon their feet enough snow to cover the carpet with moist tracks.
“You Ne-Ne-Ned, ain't you got no mo' manners than to be a-tracking up de house dis way? Go 'long out and clean your feet;” but the hubbub was too great for Mammy's words to be heeded; pig-tails were being brandished aloft, and the children all clustered round Harry and Ned, asking questions and clamoring for pig-tails.
“Look!” said Harry. “Here's somefin better'n pig-tails,” and he drew from his pocket the mangled remains of a dozen or more snow-birds.
A scramble now ensued, and Sibyl—having secured as many as she wanted—retired to a corner, and silently fell to plucking them, while Sedley, who was as vainglorious as a Comanche, capered about on his short legs, and boasted of imaginary exploits with trap and dead-fall.
Caroline looked on, half pleased and half disgusted, keeping herself clear of contact.
“Miss Calline she too proud to tetch pig-tails,” grinned Chany.
“'F cose she is,” Mammy answered, bridling. She was very vain of Miss Caroline's daintiness.
The baby was now laid in his crib. Chany was dispatched for salt and pepper; the shovel was again run into the ashes pig-tails were placed delicately upon the coals, and the nursery, pervaded with the various odors of wet shoes, burnt corn, fried grease, etc., was given up to disorder and cooking, into which Mammy threw herself with as much zest as did the children. The pig-tails were broiled to a turn, and the small birds were frizzling away upon the shovel, when Sedley, taking advantage of his opportunity, made a rush for the door, opened it, and was outside, with mouth and hands full of snow. Before Mammy's vigilant eye had noted his escape, he was flying back in triumph, with a big ball in his fist, when she met him and, with dexterous grasp, wrenched it from him.
“Di-di-did anybody ever see your match!” she exclaimed as she hurled the ball into the fire. “I clar I's got a good mind to take you right straight to your ma.”
But Sedley knew the value of such threats and soon wiggled himself out of her grasp.
“Da now, go' long an' 'have yourself,” she said, with admiring fondness, as he laughed and capered away from her.
“Honey, what is you a-doin?” she now inquired of Sibyl, who, with hot cheeks, was bending over a pile of coals. “Cookin' a bird? Let me do it, — you's a-burnin' your little face clean to a cracklin'.”
“No, Mammy, I 'm cookin' my bird for grandma,” the child answered, rejecting all help, “an' I 'm goin' to do it all by myself.”
“Wh', baby honey, your gran'ma ain't comin' before Christmas eve, an' dat 's a week off. Your bird ain't goin' keep all dat time, but ne' mine, I'll make Ned ketch you another one.”
Upon Christmas Eve, the children might have been seen at the big gate, straining their eyes down the road, each hoping to be the first to see their grandmother's carriage. Visions of waxen dolls, sugar-plums,
and other vague delights imparted a double zest to her arrival, — to say nothing of Uncle Robin (the driver) who, in the estimation of the little boys, was of far greater importance than was their grandmother. To them he was an oracle of wisdom, and their delight was to follow him about the stable lot or to sit in the sunshine and hang upon his words; for his imagination was fertile, and the boys would listen with wonder to the tales of his prowess and skill with horses. Something was now observed to be moving far down the road, which soon proved to be the carriage. Yes, there were “Phœnix” and “Peacock,” which no one but Uncle Robin could handle, and there sat Uncle Robin upon the box, and there was grandma inside, smiling and waving her handkerchief, and there, too, sat Aunt Polly, grandma's maid.
The carriage stopped, and Uncle Robin, bowing and smiling, descended and opened the door, and they all scrambled in and were hugged and kissed, and Polly admired their beauty and exclaimed at their growth. Then the door was clapped to
again, but not before Harry had managed to slip out and clamber to the box beside Uncle Robin, who, having driven through the gate, handed him the reins, with a caution to keep his eye upon Peacock. In the estimation of the boy, this sleek and overfed Peacock seemed little less than a raging lion whom only Uncle Robin could quell.
“He'll run in a minute, if he gits a chance,” said the guileful Uncle Robin. So Harry clutched the reins and drove proudly past the lot, in full view of some of the men, turned in at the yard gate, and drew up before the door.
Grandma could not wait for the hanging of the Christmas stockings, but insisted upon opening her trunk at once, and displaying her gifts to the children's delighted eyes. The wax babies exceeded their wildest hopes. The house was made horrible with horns and drums. Mammy laughed and showed her dimples and courtesied over her own gorgeous present, and all felt that Christmas had really come.
For several days, indeed, throughout the
holidays, Harry felt that he had left childhood far behind him, and, as he strutted about the stable yard, he now and then expectorated, in imitation of Uncle Robin, as though he had a quid in his mouth.
Aunt Polly, though far inferior to Uncle Robin in the children's estimation, was yet a person of distinction, and no naughtiness was ever displayed when she was by to witness it.
Mammy usually enjoyed a gossip with Aunt Polly over the nursery fire. But, sometimes feelings of coolness would arise. Polly belonged to the family of the mother of the children, while Mammy came from that of the father, and between the two a slight rivalry had always existed as to the superiority of her own white children.
“'T is a pity Miss Calline's back 's so round,” said Polly one night as the children were being undressed.
Now, if there was a feature in which Mammy took a pride, it was in the straightness of the children's limbs and the flatness of their backs, above all the limbs and backs in the other branches of the family;
so, firing up at once, she replied that she would like to see a flatter back than “this here one,” laying her hand upon Caroline's.
“Miss Emmaline's is a sight flatter,” Polly stoutly maintained. “She's got as pretty shape as ever I see,—all our people's got good shapes from old Missis down. I reckon this chile's got her back from her pa's fambly.” When Polly said this, Mammy felt that the gauntlet had been flung down, and, at once, with an eloquence all her own, so defended the “shapes” of her “fambly” that Polly was fairly beaten in the war of words, and was forced to admit, with many apologies, that Miss Caroline's back was as flat as Miss Emmaline's.
Mammy accepted the apology with some hauteur, and it was several days before entire cordiality was reëstablished; in fact, in all her after life, Mammy would, when in certain moods, hark back to “dat time when dat long-mouthed Polly had de imperdence to say dat our folks' backs were n't as straight as hern.”
Full of peaceful content were the lives of both whites and blacks. Merrily the Christmas went by, to be followed by others as merry, and the winters and summers came and went, turning childhood into maturity and maturity into old age. Mammy's glory reached its zenith when, at “Miss Calline's” grand wedding, she herself rustled about in all the grandeur of a new black silk and Polly was forever squelched. The whole world seemed full of prosperity, abundance, and careless happiness, when suddenly, like a thunderbolt, the war came.
The plantation home was abandoned very carelessly, and with light hearts the family drove away, expecting nothing but to return with the frosts of winter. They refugeed to a farmhouse upon the outskirts of a little up-country village.
Sedley, though still a beardless youth, shouldered his musket, and took his place in the ranks. Sibyl and her mother, in the little rude farmhouse, thought not of their lost splendor, but cheerfully looked for the good days sure to come when, the war over, the dear ones would come back, and the
old times. Every Southern woman knows how it was when the great battles were fought and a trembling, white-lipped group of women and aged men would stand huddled together to hear what the midnight dispatches might have in store for them.
In the little upland village the refugees were closely knit together by hopes and fears in common. When sorrow fell upon one household the little community all mourned. But if the wires brought glad words that all at the front were unharmed, there would come a period of happy reaction; the little society would be wildly gay, especially if one or more young heroes from the front had come home with a slight wound, — just enough to make a demigod of him.
Such was Sedley's happy fate one never-to-be-forgotten summer, when every girl in the village fell madly in love with his blue eyes and his gray coat and his mustache and his lovely voice, as he strummed the guitar in the moonlight, — and most of all with his merry laugh. Did time permit, I might tell of such odd costumes, such
make-ups of homespun and lace, fine old silks and calicoes, in which the Dixie girls danced so merrily.
It was just upon the heels of one of these happy seasons that a rumor was whispered that the army was about to fall back and that the offices and stores would be removed in consequence. At first the rumor was rejected, — no good Confederate would listen to such treason; but finally the croakers were proved to be right. The government stores were hastily removed. The office-holders took a sad farewell of those whom they left behind them, and the little town was abandoned to its fate, outside the Confederate lines.
Sibyl and her mother were among the tearful group who watched the little band of departing friends, as it passed out of the town, waved a last adieu, and strained their dimmed eyes for a last sight of the Confederate gray, ere they went sadly back to their homes.
When Sibyl and her mother reached home, they found Mammy already at work. She had ripped open a feather bed, and
amid its downy depths she was burying whatever she could lay her hands upon. Clothing, jewelry, even a china ornament or two,—all went in. It was a day or two after that Rita complained of a great knot in her bed, which had bruised her back and prevented her sleeping. Mammy heard her, but, waiting until they were alone, said in a half whisper, “Honey, I knows what dat knot is, 't ain't nothin' but your brother's cavalry boots that I hid in the bed. I reckon the feathers has got shuck down. Don't say nothin', an' I'll turn your bed over, and then you won't feel 'em. An', honey, do pray be kereful how you talks before Jim. I ain't got no 'pinion o' Jim, an' it'll never do in de world to let him speck where the things is hid.”
No one knew how soon the Yankees might come, and all were busily engaged in concealing whatever they had of value. People may smile now at some of the recollections of that day, but they were earnest enough then, and as much importance was attached to the concealment of a ham or a
pound of black sugar as to that of a casket of diamonds. Clothing and provisions were hidden in various strange and out-of-the-way places, and, when night came, Mammy and her mistress were glad to rest their tired bodies, although too much excited to sleep. At last, however, a deep sleep fell upon them, from which they were awakened by the distant roar of cannon. The village, though no longer a depot for Confederate stores, was not to be given up without a struggle. It now became a sort of debatable ground, and cannonading, more or less distant, told the anxious listeners of almost daily skirmishes.
Awakened by the cannon's roar, Sibyl opened the window and listened. A pale glory to the eastward, a low rustle of leaves, a drowsy chirp from tiny nests, all merging into one inarticulate murmur of awakening nature, told that night was over. Sibyl and her mother hastily dressed themselves, called Rita from her fearless young sleep, roused up the baby, as they still called little Joe; then asked themselves why they did it. There was nothing to do but to sit on the
porch or to wander aimlessly, listening with beating hearts to the faint and more faint boom of the artillery. And the roses glowed in the May sunshine, and the honeysuckle wafted its perfume in at the open windows, and the bees droned among the flowers, and all was so peaceful, but for the incessant dull roar of the battle.
The Confederates were finally driven back, the Federals entered the town, and then the bummers came streaming through the country, leaving desolation behind them. Cattle, poultry, everything eatable was driven off or carried away in the great army wagons that came crashing along, regardless of all obstacles in their cruel course. Cut off from all news from the army, Sibyl and her mother dragged wearily through the long, sad summer, and the two children grew gaunt for want of nourishing food.
It was a morning in the early autumn that Sibyl, sitting at work by an open window, became suddenly conscious of an unusual presence near her, and, looking up, beheld a man gazing fixedly upon her. A party of Federals had that very morning
visited the house upon a pretended search for concealed weapons, and the girl, with nerves still vibrating with terror, uttered a little shriek, and, starting up, was about to close the window, when the figure leaped over the low sill, a pair of strong arms encircled her, kisses fell upon her lips, and, ere the shriek of terror could find voice, she recognized, under the rough countryman's hat, the laughing eyes of her brother Sedley.
Such meetings can be better imagined than described; seconds had become minutes ere Sibyl or her mother could begin to realize their joy, which, in its first intensity, was almost pain. Then came the breathless questionings as to the well-being of the other dear ones, then the deep sigh of thankfulness from the long-burdened hearts.
At the sound of a strange voice, Mammy, peeping in at the open door, had fallen prostrate with joy, and, while hugging her boy to her faithful bosom, had called upon her Maker to testify that upon this very morning the scissors had stuck up twice.
“An' I knowed when dey done dat, dat somebody was a-comin.' ”
Then Dinah, the cook, came in, courtesying and laughing and loyal as though no emancipating army had set foot in Dixie.
When the joyful tidings had reached the children, Rita's thin legs might have been seen flying through the high grass. The more practical Joe toiled behind, bending under the burden of (their treasure trove) a big pumpkin, a basket of persimmons, and a few stalks of sorghum, for, like the Scriptural colts of the wild ass, they passed their time in searching after every green thing.
In the magnetism of the bright presence of the young soldier, all the sad forebodings seemed to vanish into thin air. While listening to his brave words of hope, they forgot that the sunny hours of this most happy day were hastening by. Already the shadows lay long upon the grass, and there remained yet so much to be said and so little time wherein to say it! By set of sun Sedley must be on his way to rejoin his command. His brief and daring
visit had been achieved by his assuming a disguise before venturing inside the enemy's lines.
“How did you ever manage it?” asked the mother. “I tremble when I think of it.”
“Oh,” he answered, “it was easy enough. I came in with a fellow who was driving cattle into town.”
“Oh, Sed!” his sister whispered; “you ran an awful risk; how will you manage to get back without being discovered?”
“There'll be no trouble about that,” he answered. “Don't you and mother go and worry yourselves about me. I'll be all right, so cheer up and don't look so doleful.”
Urged on by fear, they now almost hurried him away, and Mammy, while filling his haversack with provisions, entreated him to be careful.
“De ain't no tellin' what dem Yankees would do ef dey once clapt hands on you.”
Sedley might guess shrewdly enough what his fate would be in such case, but he replied, with his old boyish laugh, that it was his trade to outrun the Yankees.
“Never fear, Mammy,” he said at parting. “Trust me to beat 'em at that game.”
Then the sad good-byes were said, and manfully he strode down the little path, turning only once to wave a last good-by to the sorrowful group on the broad front porch, who watched till he passed out of sight.
The night was spent in anxious watching, but confidence returned with the morning, and all again settled back to their employments and amusements. Sybil wandered into the parlor, and, sitting down to the piano, sang in a low, sweet voice some of the pathetic war melodies. The “colts of the wild ass seeking after every green thing” had sought the sorghum patch, and Mammy had taken a basket into the garden for a final gathering of sage leaves. The day was dreamy, as only an October day of the South can be. The tempered sunlight, streaming softly through the filmy autumnal mist, threw a veil of loveliness over the homeliest objects; the old gray fences, the russet fields, the lonely pastures, where from beneath the grass roots the tiny
crickets chanted their low, sweet dirge the long day through, the cawing of the crows from a distant treetop, all told in notes of most harmonious pathos that “the fashion of this world passeth away.”
As Mammy, with back stiffened from stooping, raised herself for a moment's rest, she saw Jim lounge into the back yard and speak to Dinah. Mammy had but little use for Jim in general, but now she felt anxious to know what had been going on in the village, and for that reason she left her basket among the sage and went near to hear what he was saying. As she drew near, Dinah suddenly threw up her hands, and, starting from the hencoop on which she had been leaning, came towards her, stuttering and stammering in a manner so excited as to be unintelligible.
“What's dat you say? For God's sake, ooman, say what yere got to say, an' be done wid it!” said Mammy, too frightened to be patient. Jim then drew near to her and, glancing cautiously towards the not very distant piazza, upon which his mistress happened at the moment to
be standing, he whispered, “Dey's done ketched him.”
“K-k-ketched who?” stammered Mammy fiercely.
“Mas' Sedley, dat's who,” Jim answered doggedly.
“How you know? I don't b'lieve a word on it.”
“Anyhow, dey's done done it.”
“Ho' come you know so much 'bout it?”
“'Cause I seen 'em when dey done it.”
“Y-y-you have de face to stan' da an' tell me dat you seen 'em a-troublin' dat chile an' you not lif' a han' to help him?”
“How I gwine help him? G'long, you don't know what you talkin' 'bout.”
“Whar'bouts did dey come across him?” Mammy inquired.
“Right down yonder at de mill,” Jim answered, nodding his head in the direction.
“Good Lord,” exclaimed Mammy, “dey must 'a' ketched him directly after he went away!”
This conversation was carried on in such low murmurings that even a listener at a short distance could not have distinguished
what was said; the three were very intent, but did not omit occasional cautious glances in the direction of the house.
“Dat's so,” Jim replied; “an' den dey shet him up in de mill house, and den I never seed no mo,' 'cause I was skeered an' runned away.”
Then, after an uneasy pause, he added, “I come 'long dat-a-way soon dis mornin',” and here he murmured so low into Mammy's ear that Dinah, though she stretched her neck, could not catch the word, which turned Mammy's brown face to ashen gray. She stood for a minute like one turned to stone, then staggered to her own doorstep. Sitting down, she buried her head in her apron, and so sat motionless for half an hour, while Jim and Dinah continued their guarded murmurings by the hencoop. At the end of half an hour she rose, took a bunch of keys from her pocket, went into her house and, closing the door behind her, unlocked her chest. Drawing from it a little workbox, which had, in years gone by, been one of Caroline's cherished Christmas gifts, she opened it. From beneath her
Sunday pocket handkerchief, and a few other articles of special value, she produced another and smaller box which she opened, and, taking from it a gold coin, looked at it tenderly.
“Po' little fellow! God bless him! he give me this that fus' time he come home from school. I never 'spected to part with it, but ef it's de Lord's will, it may help him now.”
With these thoughts, Mammy quickly replaced the things in her chest, put the coin into her pocket, and, taking up the man's hat, which upon week days she always wore, she strode off towards the mill.
As she passed by the piazza, she paused one moment irresolute, but murmuring to herself, “'T ain't no use upsettin' Mistis, po' cretur, and I can do it better by myself anyhow,” she walked briskly forward, revolving in her mind her plan.
The mill house consisted of two rooms, and in the one in which Jim had reported Sedley to be confined there was a small trapdoor. It had been used for regulating the working of the machinery, and led from beneath
the house directly to the creek, which ran close to the walls of the house. This trap Mammy had once happened to see opened, and in that way knew of its existence, otherwise she would never have suspected it, as, from its infrequent use, it was usually covered with dust and dirt and could not be distinguished from the rest of the floor. Her plan was to endeavor to get speech with Sedley, tell him of the trap-door, and leave the rest to him. Her great fear had been that she might be refused admittance to him, and hence it was that she had thought of her gold piece, as she hoped by its potent influence to be given a few minutes alone with the prisoner.
There would be no great difficulty for Sedley to lift the trap without noise and, when it was lifted, to swing himself through to the ground, to creep until he came to the thick tangle upon the creek banks, then to swim across and escape into the shelter of the woods beyond. That would be simple enough, and Mammy, full of hopeful thoughts, was walking briskly forward, when suddenly a turn in the path brought
into view a small body of Federals, all mounted, and evidently coming from the direction of the mill. They seemed in haste, and she could hear the rattle of their sabres as they cantered by.
Standing amid the broom-sedge, Mammy watched them, casting eager, anxious looks upon them, fearing, dreading to see her boy in their midst, a poor, defenseless captive. Finally, as the last horseman disappeared, she heaved a sigh of infinite relief. “Bless de good Lord, dey ain't took de po' chile wid 'em,” and so went on her way.
At length the gray gables of the little mill house came into view, and Mammy, feeling in her pocket to assure herself that the gold piece was safe at hand, went boldly forward, telling herself that, if she spoke politely, the Yankee guard would not shoot her. So she went on until the little mill came into full view, but with no guard or any other object to inspire fear. All seemed quiet, and the place quite deserted. There were footprints about the door, and broken bushes showed the trampling of both men and horses, but now all was very quiet.
The old mill house looked very peaceful, with the yellow autumnal sun shining upon its moss-grown roof, with no sound to break the deep silence, save the low, continuous warbling of a solitary mocking-bird which, perched upon an overhanging bough, seemed to review its past joys in low, sweet notes of retrospection.
Upon seeing that the place was quite deserted, Mammy paused, and, after looking around to satisfy herself that this was really the case, ascended the steps and, lifting the latch of the door, looked into the outer room.
“Thank God!” she murmured, upon finding it empty. “Thank God! dey 's all took deyselves off to town an' lef' him here, locked up by hisself. It raly is 'stonishin' to think how foolish dem creturs is; dey mout ha' knowed as someon' would ha' come an' let him loose.”
While thus thinking, she had crossed the room, and was now endeavoring to open the door, which gave admittance to the inner and larger apartment. Finding, as she had anticipated, that this door
was fastened, she first called to the prisoner within, and, when no answer was returned, she shook the door until at length the crazy old lock gave way and the door creaked slowly back upon its rusty hinges.
“Honey, whar'bouts is you?” Mammy questioned, as, pausing upon the threshold, she peered into the obscurity beyond. The windowless room was dark, and Mammy, after again calling, groped her way in, straining her eyes into the gloom, but unable to discern any object. Then, suddenly, the deep silence and the gloom smote upon her senses, and a great horror came over her. She turned to rush from the room, when her eyes, grown more accustomed to the darkness, fell upon an object which froze the lifeblood in her veins. It lay almost at her feet. She stooped and bent over it, with thick, laboring breath. Very still it lay, with set white face and wide-open, unseeing eyes.
I REMEMBER when Wheeler's cavalry passed through town that the men, when halted, just dropped in the streets and slept, so that passers-by were forced to step over them, but in spite of starvation and weariness the old indomitable spirit would assert itself. One of the poor fellows, while the column was passing by Christ Church, looked up at the weathercock and remarked to a comrade that it was the first and only instance of Wheeler's boys seeing a chicken which they could not get at.
We were singularly fortunate in the neighborhood of Raleigh in having no lack of wholesome food, and in being able to send boxes of provisions to the army around Petersburg. We, in particular, were plentifully supplied from the plantation, a four-horse wagon being constantly engaged in hauling supplies.
One of the greatest taxes upon our resources, and the event that brought the war very closely home to us, was the advent of the cavalcade and ambulances referred to in my notes concerning My Own Early Home.
Most of the horsemen who had come with the ambulances returned to the front the next morning, leaving behind them six or more sick and wounded, with their surgeon and friends to look after them. Fortunately, the office in the yard (a house with two comfortable rooms) was easily made ready and the wounded men were installed in the quarters which they kept for a month. The wound which afterwards deprived one of the wounded, a young man by the name of Nat Butler, of his arm, was by far the most serious. The attempt to save the arm came very near costing him his life. Instead of healing, the wound constantly sloughed, with great loss of blood. As the wound was between the elbow and the shoulder, the danger attending amputation increased with each sloughing, but the poor boy was deaf to all that his doctor could urge, positively refusing to have the
arm amputated, and he grew weaker and weaker with every hemorrhage. Meantime several of the sick and wounded were so far cured as to be able to return to duty. Captain Butler (an older brother of Nat Butler), Dr. Thompson, Mr. Taylor, and several others whose names I have forgotten, and the bugler, named Glanton, still remained. One morning, while I was in the mealroom getting out dinner, I heard Captain Butler's voice calling loudly that young Butler was bleeding to death. I just took time to call out to my daughters, Annie and Kate, who were just starting to town, to drive as quickly as they could to Dr. Johnson's and to ask him to come. Then I ran down to the office, where I found the poor old captain frantic with terror and quite unable to do anything for the patient, who lay senseless and bleeding upon the bed. I can never forget his ghastly appearance; I never saw so bloodless a face. The mouth, partly open, showed a tongue bluish like new flannel. I went to the bedside and pressed the arm above the wound, as hard as I could, and I held it so until the arrival of Dr. Johnson. I
had thus succeeded in partially arresting the hemorrhage, and possibly may have saved young Butler's life. I started to leave as soon as the doctor came, and when I arose from my knees, I realized for the first time that I was covered with blood. The amputation could no longer be deferred, and the operation took place as soon as the patient's strength permitted, which was, I think, two days after the hemorrhage. There was then barely a chance that he could survive in his weak condition. I shall never forget how the girls and I sat upon the front steps and watched the silent men standing before the office, — it seemed as though the suspense would never end. After the amputation, Butler lay for twenty-four hours like one dead. Finally, when he did rally sufficiently to be given something, I sent our excellent nurse, Caroline, to take care of him, for I could not trust him to the ignorant though kindly meant attentions of his friends. At this time General Galbraith Butler was our guest, and, as the Norrises had now left for Richmond, I gave him a room in the house. He was quite ill there for several
days, during which time the house was thronged with messengers from the front. It gives me pleasure to say that they conducted themselves like polished gentlemen, who appreciated the comforts which they received.
Under Caroline's devoted nursing Nat Butler slowly returned to life and to a degree of strength. When it became evident that Raleigh would soon be in possession of the enemy, Nat Butler declared that he preferred the risk of dying by exposure to that of being captured. It was with the saddest forebodings that we prepared for his departure. The ambulance was made comfortable with pillows, blankets, etc., and nothing was omitted that could contribute to the well-being of the poor sufferer. It was a painful parting, as we all knew that we were on the eve of horrors that we dared not contemplate. The moon shone upon the sorrowful little cortège, as it passed beneath the trees, and we were too sad for tears, as we watched it go slowly out of sight. Nat Butler lived, and visited us a year later, but his life was a brief one.
We were up late that night, bidding adieu to many friends. Indeed, the past few days had been days of varied and intense excitement. People who under ordinary circumstances would have scarcely recognized each other as acquaintances now met and parted as old and dear friends. Mounted officers would come cantering up just for a handshake and a God-keep-you. We were admonished to take off rings or any little bits of jewelry which we might wear. A gentleman sitting by me had concealed my watch in my ball of knitting cotton. People everywhere were wildly seeking places wherein to conceal their valuables. We had no reason to imagine that our house was safer than others, but we could not refuse to receive the trunks and boxes brought to us in desperation, by refugees chiefly, who were leaving town in a panic, and going they knew not whither. All that we could promise was that they should be as well cared for as were our own; and so the garret was packed with all sorts of trunks and boxes, many of which were not claimed until the next autumn.
I cannot pretend to give you an idea of
the excitement and turmoil of that last week of the Confederacy. Every minute of your grandfather's time was taken up with his duties as a state officer, until he, in company with Governor Graham and Dr. Warren, were despatched by Governor Vance to meet Sherman with a flag of truce and to surrender the town. He was absent upon this mission upon a night that I happened to go into the dining-room and found several rough-looking men, whom I took to be Confederates, seated at supper. Robert was waiting upon them, and Adelaide talking, while one of my little children was seated cosily upon the knee of a particularly dirty-looking man. This did not please me, for there was a freedom of manner about them which I had never seen in one of our men before. Still, I had no suspicion that they were not what they seemed, and, being called off, I left them, although a certain uncomfortable feeling caused me to do so unwillingly. Just as I left, a clatter of horses' feet was heard outside, and Adelaide (always loquacious), exclaimed, “Here comes the General and his staff!” The
words were scarcely uttered before the men jumped from their seats and dashed from the room. We were afterwards convinced that they were some of the scum of Sherman's army, and while we (myself and daughters) were sitting quite unsuspectingly, they were lurking near us.
I omitted to mention that, at our urgent invitation, our dear friends the Burgwyns had come to us, and, in the midst of other distractions, I was occupied in disposing of their numerous boxes, barrels, and pictures. There was a universal feeling that there would be a degree of safety in numbers, and we could not possibly have enjoyed more congenial companionship than that of our cousins, the Burgwyns. Upon that day we prepared twenty lunches, which were most thankfully received. I recollect that towards evening some hot tea was made for our old friend, Mr. John Robinson. He had been at work all day, shipping freight and provisions, and transferring engines to Greensboro, to which place he was now going. He had had nothing to eat, and was, as you may imagine, very tired, and so
hungry that his lunch of cold ham, bread, and butter, with many cups of tea, was so much enjoyed that in after life he often spoke of it with real gratitude. When he said good-by, he gave into my keeping a little box of trinkets, requesting me to keep them for him, as he had no idea what his destination might be. I, of course, said that I would try to keep them safely; and I did, returning them just as I had received them, some months later.
Upon that day, our dinner was but a meagre one, consisting chiefly of soup, and, as the very last of the silver had been hidden out of sight, we were compelled to take it from teacups. Upon that night, after the stir and bustle of the day had subsided, after the last good-by had been uttered, and the last horseman had galloped away, a most intense stillness followed, which, if possible, increased our melancholy, and magnified our fearful apprehensions of what was to come.
On the following morning, I saw three odd, rough-looking men come galloping up from the barn. They were mounted
upon mules, were seated far forward upon the withers, and had their knees drawn up after a most ungainly fashion. I saw at a glance that they were not our countrymen. They rode furiously into the yard, where they halted abruptly. The servants stood gaping at them in stupid bewilderment. I went forward and asked them the meaning of this intrusion. Their reply was an insolent demand for my keys. Then I knew that they were bummers. During the whole of this period your grandfather had had more than his hands full at his office, taking care of and sending off government stores, and doing a thousand other things, so that all the domestic offices rested with me. I told the bummers, with a great show of courage, that I had no idea of giving them my keys, and as I walked off, feeling quite triumphant, I had the mortification of seeing them dismount and swagger to the doors of the mealroom, smokehouse, and storeroom, slip their miserable, dastardly swords into the locks, and open the doors, with the most perfect ease. Conscious now of my own weakness, I would not condescend
to parley with them, and watched them at their insolent and thievish game, until their mules were almost hidden beneath the load of hams, sausages, and other plunder. Then they remounted, and dashed off at the same furious pace as they had come. In a little time after others came and played the same game, only adding to their abominable thievishness by driving off our mules and all our cattle. Our horses, I am glad to say, had been sent away.
It was towards noon upon that fatal day that we espied a long blue line crawling serpent-like around a distant hill. Silently we watched, as it uncoiled itself, ever drawing nearer and still nearer, until the one great reptile developed into many reptiles and took the form of men. Men in blue tramping everywhere, horsemen careering about us with no apparent object, wagons crashing through fences as though they had been made of paper. The negroes stood like dumb things, in stupid dismay. It was at a later period that their time of joy came (in many instances it never came); then the only feeling was one of awe.
In an incredibly short time tents were pitched, the flag run up, and the Yankees were here. The crowd grew more dense. A large column was passing through the grove at almost a run, when, to my horror, I saw Adelaide and Lizzie, each with one of my little girls in her arms, rushing along in their midst in a state of such wild excitement that they had almost lost their reason. Almost in despair, I rushed after them, sometimes seeing them, only to lose them again in the moving mass. As I passed a soldier I signed to him for help; I do not think I could have spoken. He saw the danger that threatened my children, and, overtaking the two nurses, took the children and brought them to me. The women had meant no harm, and did not realize the risk.
As I before remarked, every one during this period of panic entertained an idea that he must commit his valuables to the keeping of some one else; for instance, my sister gave her set of pearls to her maid Sally for safe keeping, and Sally, in her turn, brought them to Caroline (her mother). Caroline, not knowing a safe place of concealment,
lifted a stone from her hearth, placed the casket in the cavity, and replaced the stone; this, however, caused the stone to fit loosely in the hole from which it had been displaced, and Caroline, in her fear lest this should lead to the discovery of the pearls, sat all night with her feet resting upon it. She came to me in the morning, looking perfectly haggard, and told me that she had never before passed through such a night of horror, for her house had been crowded with Federals, prying into every corner and taking whatever they fancied. With my sister's casket, she handed me a red cotton handkerchief tied up and full of silver coins, belonging to herself and her husband. She had no place in which to keep it, and asked me to take care of it. I, of course, took charge of it and kept it for her until the last bluecoat had left the place, which was not until August; for, after the departure of the army, a regiment was left in our grove.
One day General Logan came to the door and said that he had reason to believe that a Confederate officer was concealed in
the house, and, if I kept his presence a secret, he threatened me with the consequences. The Federals, while searching for buried treasure, had discovered the amputated arm of poor young Butler, and had jumped to the conclusion that he was concealed in the house. At all events, it served as a plea for them to claim that he was there. When I assured him that this rumor was quite false, his manner was so utterly incredulous that I requested him to satisfy himself of the truth of my assertion by making a search of the entire house and out-buildings. I entreated him to do this, for his threats had so alarmed me that I felt that in that alone lay our preservation. His reply, with an insolent, jeering laugh, was: “I will not take that trouble, for my boys will settle that question.”
The safeguards stationed both at the back and front protected the house. For, whatever might have been their feelings, they dared not relax in their vigilance. The discipline in that army was perfect.
Not long after the above-mentioned interview with Logan, we were told (by a
servant, I think), that the whole division was going to leave that night. This was true. It was before the articles of the surrender had been signed, and Logan was in pursuit of General Johnston. It was a night of such commotion that not one of the family retired to rest. It was discovered, when too late for redress, that Logan had withdrawn our safeguards, taken every commanding officer with him, and had left us to the mercy of his wagon train of bummers and of negroes. That night of terror terminated in a violent storm, in the midst of which your grandfather set out for the headquarters in town for the purpose of demanding a safeguard. With daylight came a greater feeling of safety, so we separated, the girls going to their rooms, and I to mine, in order to refresh ourselves and make a fresh toilet. While so engaged, I kept hearing the bells ringing and tinkling incessantly, and, while I was hurrying to put on my dress in order to inquire the meaning of this, Caroline and Adelaide rushed in, exclaiming that men were climbing the walls of the house, and the tinkling of the bells
was caused by their twisting them off the wires. These women, whose natural color was bright mulatto, now looked ashy. I do not think that I spoke a word, but just flew into the nursery, took the children, and ran up the stairs. As I passed by the sitting-room, I met Kate, all disheveled, running out and saying that men were climbing into her window. I just took time to lock the door between her room and the sitting-room, and then we all ran upstairs, where the Burgwyns and my other girls were quietly dressing, in entire ignorance of what was taking place. It seems strange that I should recollect every trifle so vividly; I remember, even now, that, as I ran up the stair, my throat and mouth became so dry that I could not speak. From the window at the head of the stair nothing was visible but a sea of upturned faces; not just by the house, but away down the slope, as far as the eye could reach, were men's upturned faces. I can never forget the look upon Mrs. Burgwyn's face as she whispered, “We can throw ourselves from the window.” My poor, craven heart might have failed
me, but I am convinced that she could have done it. While we thus stood, a poor, cowering, terror-stricken group, steps were heard approaching, and a tall figure slowly ascended the stairs, and a grim, saturnine-faced man stood before us, and said, “I don't know that I can save you, but for the sake of my mother and sisters I will do all that I can do.” I do not remember whether any one made a reply or not, I only recollect that he went as deliberately as he had come. When your grandfather returned, having with difficulty succeeded in procuring the permit for a safeguard, the mob had begun to disperse. Our deliverer was a man named Fort. He was division quartermaster, and had been left in charge of the wagon trains. He was from one of the Western States, Iowa, I believe. He was a good man, and was God's instrument to save us from destruction. He remained near the house all through the day, and at first said that he would sleep that night inside the dwelling, but afterwards told your grandfather that, upon further consideration, he thought it best that he should stay
outside, so his tent was pitched close to the house, and there he remained until his command left. He was forbidding in manner, and would accept no thanks. I think that he hated us as Southerners, but acted from humanity.
Mr. Burgwyn was suffering from an apoplectic stroke, and was lying insensible. My son had not returned from Appomattox. Had any man been with us, he would have been utterly helpless, and would probably have been murdered.
One day, either immediately preceding or following the incident just related, our ever-faithful man, Frank, stealthily entered the house. He was evidently afraid of being observed, for he slipped in, and closing the door after him, asked to speak a word to his master. When your grandfather came, Frank almost whispered his communication, as though afraid of being overheard. “Master,” he said, “I come to ask you, please, sir, don't go out of the house today;” he would not say why he gave this warning, and it was not until afterwards that we found that the Federals had intended
to hang your grandfather up until he told them where our silver was hidden. I rejoice to say that they did not get one piece of it, although a part of it was buried in the branch that runs at the foot of the grove, and, in digging out a place for watering their horses, they had actually thrown the sand upon the box, thus burying it deeper.
I could relate many other incidents of this period, some of them rather amusing; but it is time to bring my reminiscences to a close. But before doing so, I must say a word about our last safeguard, Monhagan. He was Irish, and possessed all of the best attributes of the Irish character. After the departure of Logan's division, with the rest of Sherman's army, this man was deputed to guard the place, as a regiment was still quartered in the grove. He stayed until August, and, besides faithfully discharging his duties, he exerted himself in other and various ways to ameliorate the inconveniences to which we were subjected. Our servants, lounging in idleness, contented themselves with professions as idle. Frank,
acting upon his master's advice, had taken his family to the plantation. Adelaide was ill the greater part of the summer with brain fever. Monhagan worked the garden, gathered fruit and vegetables, and performed many other services. I felt a little amused when he one day brought me all his money and asked me to take care of it for him. At first I positively refused to take upon myself this responsibility, but yielded at last, and made him count it, and kept it as long as he remained. Every Saturday afternoon he would come and ask me to let him have one dollar and allow him to go to town for a little while. He left with the regiment in August, and he wrote once to your uncle Tom from New York, but omitted to give his address, which we regretted, as we would have liked to have him as a gardener.