favorite cousin, tall and handsome, held the paper above his head, smiling in indulgent amusement at the young kinsman of whom he was ever fond and proud. My father stood in the doorway, watching the progress of the test. My mother had let her sewing fall to her lap while she looked on. The scent of roses from the garden that was the joy of my mother's heart, stole in through open doors and windows. The well-modulated tones, that were to ring musically in church and hall on both sides of the sea, and for more than a half-century to come, read the formal agreement, of which I recalled, in part, the preamble:
"We, the undersigned, citizens of the County of Powhatan, in the State of Virginia."
While the glamour of that moment of ecstatic reminiscence wrought within me, I seized my pen and wrote a telegram of congratulation to the revellers, seated, as I reckoned, at that very hour, about the banqueting-board. I addressed the despatch to Judge Thomas Miller, the grandson of the chairman on the day of the Whig rally. By a remarkable and happy coincidence, for which I had hardly dared to hope, the telegram, sent from a country station in New Jersey, flew straight and fast to the obscure hamlet nearly five hundred miles off, and was handed to Judge Miller at the head of the table while the feast was in full flow. He read it aloud, and the health of the writer was drunk amid such applause as my wildest fancy could not have foreseen in the All-So-Long-Ago when my horizon, all rose-color and gold, was bounded by the confines of "Our County."
RUMORS OF CHANGES - A CORN-SHUCKING - NEGRO TOPICAL SONG
MY mother's love for Richmond was but second to that she felt for husband and children. It was evident to us in after-years that her longing to return to her early home wrought steadily, if silently, upon my father's mind and shaped his plans.
These plans were definitively made and announced to us by the early autumn of 1844. Uncle Carus had removed to the city with his family late in the summer. My sister and I were to be sent to a new school just established in Richmond, and recommended to our parents by Moses Hoge, who was now assistant pastor in the First Presbyterian Church, and had full charge of a branch of the same, built farther up-town than the Old First founded by Dr. John H. Rice. We girls were to live with the Caruses that winter. In the spring the rest of the family would follow, and, thenceforward, our home would be in Richmond.
A momentous change, and one that was to alter the complexion of all our lives. Yet it was so gradually and quietly effected that we were not conscious of so much as a jar in the machinery of our existence.
I heard my mother say, and more than once, in after-years, crowded with incident and with cares of which we never dreamed in those eventless months:
"I was never quite contented to live anywhere out of Richmond, yet I often asked myself during the seven years
we spent in Powhatan if they were not the most carefree I should ever have. I know, now, that they were."
My father gave a fervent assent when he heard this. To him the sojourn was prosperous throughout. Energy, integrity, public spirit, intelligence, and, under the exterior chance acquaintances thought stern, the truest heart that ever throbbed with love to God and love to man, had won for him the esteem and friendship of the best men in the county. Steadily he mounted, by the force of native worth, to the magistrate's bench, and was a recognized factor in local and in state politics. He had established a flourishing Sunday-school in the "Fine Creek neighborhood," where none had ever existed until he made this the nucleus of a church. He was the confidential adviser of the embarrassed planter and the struggling mechanic, and lent a helping hand to both. He was President of a debating society, in which he was, I think, the only man who was not a college graduate.
His business had succeeded far beyond his expectations Except that the increase of means moved him to larger charities, there was no change in our manner of life. We had always been above the pinch of penury, living as well as our neighbors, and, so far as the younger members of the family knew, as well as any reasonable people need desire to live. We had our carriage and horses, my sister and I a riding-horse apiece, abundance of delicacies for the table, and new clothes of excellent quality whenever we wanted them.
The ambitions and glories of the world beyond our limited sphere came to our ken as matter of entertainment, not as provocatives to discontent.
Two nights before we left home for our city school, the Harvest Home - "corn-shucking" - was held. It was always great fun to us younglings to witness the "show." With no premonition that I should never assist at another
similar function, I went into the kitchen late in the afternoon, and, as had been my office ever since I was eight years old, superintended the setting of the supper-table for our servants and their expected guests. I was Mammy Ritta's special pet, and she put in a petition that I would stand by her now, in terms I could not have resisted if I had been as averse to the task as I was glad to perform it:
"Is you goin' to be sech a town young lady that you won't jes' step out and show us how to set de table, honey?" could have but one answer.
A boiled ham had the place of honor at one end of the board, built out with loose planks to stretch from the yawning fireplace, bounding the lower end of the big kitchen, to Mammy's room at the other. My mother had lent tablecloth and crockery to meet the demands of the company. She had, of course, furnished the provisions loading the planks. A shoulder balanced the ham, and side-dishes of sausage, chine, spareribs, fried chicken, huge piles of corn and wheat bread, mince and potato pies, and several varieties of preserves, would fill every spare foot of cloth when the hot things were in place. Floral decorations of feasts would not come into vogue for another decade and more, but I threw the sable corps of workers into ecstasies of delighted wonder by instructing Spotswood, Gilbert, and a stableman to tack branches of pine and cedar along the smoke-browned rafters and stack them in the corners.
"Mos' as nice as bein' in de woods!" ejaculated the laundress, with an audible and long-drawn sniff, parodying, in unconscious anticipation, Young John Chivery's - "I feel as if I was in groves!"
It was nine o'clock before the ostensible business of the evening began. Boards, covered with straw, were the base of the mighty pyramid of corn in the open space between the kitchen-yard and the stables. Straw was strewed
about the heap to a distance of twenty or thirty feet, and here the men of the party assembled, sitting flat on the padded earth. The evening was bland and the moon was at the full. About the doors of kitchen and laundry fluttered the dusky belles who had accompanied the shuckers, and who would sit down to supper with them. Their presence was the inspiration of certain "topical songs," as we would name them - sometimes saucy, oftener flattering. As dear Doctor Primrose hath it, "There was not much wit, but there was a great deal of laughter, and that did nearly as well."
This was what Mea and I whispered to each other in our outlook at the window of our room that gave directly upon the lively scene. We had sat in the same place for seven successive corn-shuckings, as we reminded ourselves, sighing reminiscently.
The top of the heap of corn was taken by the biggest man present and the best singer. From his eminence he tossed down the hooded ears to the waiting hands that caught them as they hurtled through the air, and stripped them in a twinkling. As he tossed, he sang, the others catching up the chorus with a will. Hands and voices kept perfect time.
One famous corn-shuckers' song was encored vociferously. It ran, in part, thus:
She fell in de fire.
"Go de corn! Go de corn!
tell my man Dick
To pull 'er out quick.
(Go de corn!)
Dick he said,
'Dis cow done dade!'
(Go de corn!)"
(Being of an economic turn of mind, the owner of deceased Maria proceeded to make disposition of her several members:)
made her hide over
For a wagon-cover.
(Go de corn!)
cut her hoof up
For a drinkin' cup.
(Go de corn!)
tail I strip'
Fur a wagon-whip.
(Go de corn!)
ribs hol' op
Dat wagon top.
(Go de corn!)"
And so on until, as Mea murmured, under cover of the uproarious "Go de corn!" repeated over and over and over, with growing might of lung - "Maria was worth twice as much dead as alive."
We had had our first nap when the chatter of the Supper-party, saying their farewells to hosts and companions, awoke us. We tumbled out of bed and flew to the window. The moon was as bright as day, the dark figures bustling between us and the heaps of shucks and the mounds of corn, gleaming like gold in the moonlight, reminded us of nimble ants scampering about their hills. The supper had evidently been eminently satisfactory. We could smell hot coffee and sausage still. Fine phrases,
impossible to any but a negro's brain and tongue, flew fast and gayly. The girls giggled and gurgled in palpable imitation of damsels of fairer skins and higher degree.
Hampton - the spruce carriage-driver (as coachmen were named then) of Mr. Spencer D., Effie's father - bowed himself almost double right under our window in worshipful obeisance to a bright mulatto in a blazing red frock.
"Is all de ladies ockerpied wid gentlemen?" he called, perfunctorily, over his shoulder. And, ingratiatingly direct to the coy belle who pretended not to see his approach, "Miss Archer! is you ockerpied?"
Miss Archer tittered and writhed coquettishly.
"Well, Mr. D.! I can't jes' say that I is!"
"Then, jes' hook on hyar, won't you?" crooking a persuasive elbow.
THE COUNTRY GIRLS AT A CITY SCHOOL - VELVET HATS AND
OUR father took us to Richmond the first of October. A stage ran between Cumberland Court House and the city, going down one day and coming up the next, taking in Powhatan wayside stations and one or more in Chesterfield.
We rarely used the public conveyance. This important journey was made in our own carriage. A rack at the back contained two trunks. Other luggage had gone down by the stage. We had dinner at a half-way house of entertainment, leaving home at 9 o'clock A.M., and coming in sight of the town at five in the afternoon.
That night I was lulled to sleep for the first time by what was to be forevermore associated in my thoughts with the fair City of Seven Hills - the song of the river-rapids. It is a song - never a moan. Men have come and men may go; the pleasant places endeared by history, tradition, and memory may be, and have been, laid waste; the holy and beautiful houses in which our fathers worshipped have been burned with fire, the bridges spanning the rolling river have been broken down, and others have arisen in their place; but one thing has remained as unchanged as the heavens reflected in the broad breast of the stream - that is the sweet and solemn anthem, dear to the heart of one who has lived long within the sound of it, as the song of the surf to the homesick exile who asked in the Vale of Tempë, "Where is the sea!"
We were duly entered in the school conducted by Mrs. Nottingham and her four daughters in an irregularly built frame-house - painted "colonial yellow" - which stood at the corner of Fifth and Franklin Streets. It was pulled down long ago to make room for a stately brick residence, built and occupied by my brother Horace.
The school was Presbyterian, through and through. Mr. Hoge had a Bible-class there every Monday morning; the Nottingham family, including boarders, attended Sunday and week-day services in the chapel, a block farther down Fifth Street. The eloquent curate of the Old First was rising fast into prominence in city and church. His chapel was crowded to the doors on Sunday afternoons when there was no service in the mother-church, and filled in forenoon with the colony which, it was settled, should form itself into a corporate and independent body within a few months.
It spoke well for the drill we had had from our tutor, and said something for the obedient spirit in which we had followed the line of study indicated by him, that Mea and I were, after the preliminary examination, classed with girls older than ourselves, and who had been regular attendants upon boarding and day schools of note. If we were surprised at this, having anticipated a different result from the comparison of a desultory home- education in the country, with the "finish" of city methods, we were more amazed at the manners of our present associates. They were, without exception, the offspring of refined and well-to-do parents. The daughters of distinguished clergymen men, of eminent jurists, of governors and congressmen, wealthy merchants and rich James River planters, were our classmates in school sessions and our companions when lessons were over. It was our initial experience in the arrogant democracy of the "Institution."
Be it day-school, boarding-school, or college, the story
of this experience is the same the world over. The frank brutality of question and comment; the violent and reasonless partisanships; the irrational intimacies, and the short lives of these; the combinations against lawful authority; the deceptions and evasions to screen offenders from the consequences of indolence or disobedience - were but a few of the revelations made to the two country girls in the trial-months of that winter.
I had my first shock in the course of an examination upon ancient history conducted by the second and gentlest of the Nottingham sisters - Miss Sarah. I was unaffectedly diffident in the presence of girls who were so much more fashionably attired than we in our brown merino frocks made by "Miss Judy," and trimmed with velvet of a darker shade, that I felt more ill at ease than my innate pride would let me show. But I kept my eyes upon the kind face of the catechist, and answered in my turn distinctly, if low, trying with all my might to think of nothing but the subject in hand. I observed that Mea did the same. I was always sure of her scholarship, and I tingled with pride at her composure and the refined intonations that rendered replies invariably correct. Honestly, I had thought far more of her than of myself, when, after a question from Miss Sarah revealed the fact that I had read Plutarch's Lives, a tall girl next to me dug her elbow into my ribs:
"Law, child! you think yourself so smart!"
She was the daughter of one of the eminent professional men I have alluded to, and three years my senior. I knew her father by reputation, and had been immensely impressed with a sense of the honor of being seated beside her in the class.
"Miss Blank!" said Miss Sarah, as stern as she could ever be. "I am surprised!"
The girl giggled. So did a dozen others. My cheeks
flamed hotly, and my temper followed suit. I made up my mind, then and there, never to like that "creature." I have seen the like misbehavior in college girls who took the highest honors.
Prof. Brander Matthews, of Columbia University, once said to a class in English literature, of which my son was a member:
"I could go through all of my classes and pick out, with unerring certainty, the young men who belong to what may be called 'reading families.' Nothing in the college curriculum ever takes the place in education of a refined early environment and intellectual atmosphere."
I am inclined to adapt the wise utterance to the cultivation of what we class, awkwardly, under the head of "manners." The child, who is taught, by precept and hourly example in home-life, that politeness is a religious duty, and sharp speech vulgar, and who is trained to practice with the members of his family the "small, sweet courtesies of life" that make the society man and woman elegant and popular, will suffer many things at the tongues of school and college mates, yet will not his "manners" depart from him - when he is older!
As home-bred girls, we had to undergo a system of moral and mental acclimation during that session. I do not regret the ordeal. Quiet, confidential talks with Cousin Mary, whose tact was as fine as her breeding, helped me to sustain philosophically what would have made me miserable but for her tender and judicious ministrations.
"It is always right to do the right thing," was a maxim she wrought into my consciousness by many repetitions. "The danger of association with rude and coarse people is that we may fall into their ways to protect ourselves. It may be good for you to rough it for a while, so long as it does not roughen you."
Little by little we got used to the "roughing." Schoolwork
we thoroughly enjoyed, and our teachers appreciated this. From each of them we met with kind and helpful treatment as soon as the routine of study was fully established.
Our French master supplied the crucial test of philosophy and diligence. He was a "character" in his way, and he fostered the reputation. In all my days I have never known a man who could, at pleasure, be such a savage and so fine a gentleman. He was six-feet-something in height, superbly proportioned and heavily mustachioed. Few men curtained the upper lip then. He had received a university education in France; had been a rich man in New York, marrying there the daughter of Samuel Ogden, a well-known citizen, the father of Anna Cora Mowatt, the actress, who afterward became Mrs. Ritchie.
Isidore Guillet lost wife and fortune in the same year, and, after a vain effort to recoup his finances at the North, removed to Richmond with his three sons, and became a fashionable French teacher. He was fierce in class, and suave outside of the recitation-room. Our late and now-more-than-ever-lamented tutor had laid a fair foundation for us in the French language. We were "up" in the verbs to an extent that excited the rude applause of our classmates. We read French as fluently as English, and were tolerably conversant with such French classics as were current in young ladies' seminaries. These things were less than vanity when M. Guillet and Manesca took the field. We were required to copy daily seven or eight foolscap pages-full of that detestable "System." Beginning with "Avez vous le clou?" and running the gamut of "le bon clou," "le mauvais clou," and "le bon clou de votre père," "le mauvais clou de votre grandmère," up to the maddening discords of "l'interrogatif et le negatif" - we were rushed breathlessly along the lines ordained by the merciless "System" and more merciless master, until
it was a marvel that nerves and health were not wrecked. I said just now that the lion roared him soft in general society. Throughout a series of Spanish lessons given to us two girls through the medium of French, he was the mildest-mannered monster I ever beheld. One day he went out of his way to account for the unlikeness to the language-master of the class. The explanation was a refined version of Mr. Bagnet's code - "Discipline must be maintained." To the pair of girls who read and recited to him in their private sitting-room, he was the finished gentleman in demeanor, and in talk delightfully instructive. His family in Paris had known the present generation of Lafayettes. Lamartine - at that epoch of French Revolutionary history, the popular idol - was his personal Friend. He brought and read to us letters from the author- statesman, thrilling with interest, and kept us advised, through his family correspondence, of the stirring changes going on in his native land. All this was in the uncovenanted conversational exercise that succeeded the Spanish lesson. The latter over, he would toss aside the books used in it with an airy "Eh, bien donc! pour la conversation!" and plunge into the matter uppermost in his mind, chatting brilliantly and gayly in the most elegant French imaginable, bringing into our commonplace, provincial lives the flavor and sparkle of the Parisian salon.
To return to our first winter in a city school: The session began on October 5th. We had ceased to be homesick, and were learning to sustain, with seeming good-humor, criticisms of our "countrified ways and old-fashioned talk," when our mother came to town for her fall shopping. She arrived on the first of November, my father tarrying behind to vote on the fourth. We had a glorious Saturday. It was our very first real shopping expedition, and it has had no equal in our subsequent experiences. There was a lecture on Saturday morning. Mr. Richard Sterling, the
brother-in-law of our late tutor, and the head-master of a classical school for boys, lectured to us weekly upon Natural Philosophy. We were out by eleven o'clock, and on emerging from the house, we found our mother awaiting us without.
The day was divine, and we had worn our best walking-dresses, in anticipation of the shopping frolic. Three of the girls had commented upon our smart attire, one remarking that we "really looked like folks." The vocabulary of school-girls usually harmonizes with their deportment. The tall girl I have spoken of as "Miss Blank," added to her patronizing notice of the country girls, the encouraging assurance that "if we only had bonnets less than a century old, we would be quite presentable."
We held our peace, hugging to our souls the knowledge that we were that day to try on two velvet bonnets - real velvet - the like of which had never graced our heads before. We could afford to smile superior to contempt and to patronage - the lowest device of the mean mind, the favorite tool of the consciously underbred.
I forgot heat and bitterness, and misanthropy died a natural death in the milliner's shop. The new hat was a dream of beauty and becomingness in my unlearned eyes. It was a soft plum-color, and had a tiny marabou feather on the side. I had never worn a feather. Mea's was dark-blue and of uncut velvet. It, too, was adorned with a white feather. I could have touched the tender blue heavens with one finger when it was decided that we might wear the new bonnets home, and have the old ones sent up instead.
"You know I never like to have new clothes worn for the first time to church," our mother remarked, aside, to us.
We walked up-town, meeting my father at the foot of Capitol Street. He was in a prodigious hurry, forging
along at a rate that made it difficult for me to overtake him when my mother told me to "run after him, and we would all go home together."
He drew out his watch when I told my errand breathlessly. His eyes were bright with excitement; as he hurried back to offer his arm to his wife, he said:
"I must be on Broad Street when the Northern train comes in. We have just time if you don't mind walking briskly."
Mind it! I could have run every step of the way if that would bring the news to us more quickly. My heart smote me remorsefully. For in the engrossing event of the new bonnet I had forgotten, for the time, that decisive news of the election would certainly be received by the mail-train which ran into Richmond at two o'clock. It must be remembered that the period of which I write antedated the electric telegraph. We had but one through mail daily. Election news had been pouring in heavily, but slowly. We were not quite sure, even yet, how our own State had gone. The returns from New York and Pennsylvania would establish the fact of the great Whig victory beyond a doubt. We said "the Clay victory," and were confident that it was an accomplished, established fact. True, my father and Uncle Carus had spoken rather gravely than apprehensively last night of the unprecedentedly large Irish vote that had been polled.
We were at the corner of Broad and Tenth Streets, and still at racing speed, when the train drew slowly into the station. The track lay in the centre of Broad Street, and the terminus was flush with the sidewalk. I was on one side of my father; my mother had his other arm. Mea, never a rapid walker, was some paces in the rear. I felt my father's step falter and slacken suddenly. Looking into his face, I saw it darken and harden. The mobile mouth was a straight, tense line. I thought that a groan escaped
him. Before I could exclaim, a man strode toward us from the train. He grasped my father's arm and said something in his ear. I caught five words of one sentence:
"The Irish vote did it!"
At the same instant the ludicrous touch, never lacking from the supreme moments of life, was supplied to this by a boy walking down the street, his young face disfigured by the wrathful disappointment stamped upon the visages of most of the men thronging the sidewalk. Some ardent Democrat had nailed a vigorous poke-stalk against the fence, and the lad stopped to kick it viciously. Even my father smiled at the impotent fury of the action.
"That's right, my boy!" he said, and struck the weed into the gutter with a blow of his cane.
"I wish other evils were as easily disposed of!" was all that escaped the tightly-closed lips for the next half-hour.
The gloom rested upon face and spirits for twenty-four hours. Richmond was a Whig city, and the very air seemed oppressed by what we reckoned as a National woe. It is not easy to appreciate in this century that the defeat of a Presidential candidate imported so much to the best men in the country.
"How did you know what had happened, father?" I ventured to ask that night when the silent meal was over. We had moved and spoken as if the beloved dead lay under our roof. I stole out to the long back porch as we arose from table, and stood there, leaning over the railing and listening to the dirge chanted by the river. The stars twinkled murkily through the city fogs; a sallow moon hung low in the west. It was a dolorous world. I wondered how soon the United States Government would collapse into anarchy. Could - would my father continue to live here under the rule of Polk? How I loathed the name and the party that had made it historic! So quietly had my father approached that I was made aware of his
proximity by the scent of his cigar. I was vaguely conscious of a gleam of gratitude that he had this slight solace. His cigar meant much to him. I laid my hand on that resting on the railing. Such strong, capable hands as his were! His fingers were closed silently upon mine, and I gathered courage to put my question. The blow had fallen before we met the man who had hissed at "the Irish vote."
"How did you know what had happened, father?"
No need to speak more definitely. Our minds had room for but one thought.
"It was arranged with the engineer and conductor that a flag should be made fast to the locomotive if there were good news. It was to be a large and handsome flag. Hundreds were on the lookout for it. As soon as I caught sight of the train I saw that the flag was not there."
He smoked hard and fast. A choking in my throat held me silent. For, in a lightning flash of fancy, I had before me the glorious might-have-been that would have driven the waiting hundreds mad with joy. I pictured how proudly the "large, handsome flag" would have floated in the sunshine, and the wild enthusiasm of the crowds collected upon the sidewalks - the gladness that would have flooded our hearts and our home.
It was, perhaps, five minutes before I could manage my voice to say:
"How do you suppose Mr. Clay will bear it?"
I was a woman-child, and my whole soul went out in the longing to comfort the defeated demigod.
"Like the hero that he is, my daughter. This" - still not naming the disaster - "means more to the nation than to him."
He raised his hat involuntarily, as I had seen him do that bright, happy May morning when we walked down to Jordan's Creek to be amused by the Democratic barbecue.
He removed it entirely a week later, and bowed his bared head silently, when a fellow-Whig told him, with moist eyes, that the decisive tidings were brought to the hero as he stood in a social gathering of friends. Mr. Clay - so ran the tale I have never heard contradicted - was called out of the room by the messenger, returning in a few minutes to resume the conversation the summons had interrupted, with unruffled mien and the perfect courtesy that never failed him in public and in private. It was said then that he repeated on that evening, in reply to the expressed sorrow of his companions - if, indeed, it was not said then for the first time - the immortal utterance:
"I would rather be right than President!"
The inevitable dash of the ludicrous struck across the calamity in the form of my father's disapproval of the velvet bonnet I would not have exchanged on Saturday for a ducal tiara. I had meant to reserve the appearance of it as a pleasant surprise, and to call his attention to it when I was dressed for church next day. I did not blame him for not noticing it in our rapid tramp up Capitol Street on Saturday. He had weightier matters on his mind. With the honest desire of diverting him from the train of ideas that had darkened his visage for twenty-four hours, I donned the precious head-piece ten minutes before it was time to set out for church, and danced into my mother's room where he sat reading. Walking up to him, I swept a marvellous courtesy and bolted the query full at him:
"How do you like my new bonnet?"
He lowered the book and surveyed me with lack-lustre eyes.
"Not at all, I am sorry to say."
I fairly staggered back, casting a look of anguished appeal at my mother. Being of my sex, she comprehended it.
"Why, father! we think it very pretty," laying her hand on his shoulder. "And she never had a velvet bonnet before."
I saw the significant tightening of the small fingers, and he must have felt it. But the dull eyes did not lighten, the corners of the mouth did not lift.
"As I said, I do not admire it. Nor do I think it becoming."
I turned on my heel, as he might have done, and went to my room. When Mea and I joined our parents in the lower hall, the splendors of the new bonnets were extinguished by thick barege veils. We had not meant to wear them in November. They were indispensable for summer noons. After I had confided my tale of woe to my sister, we hastened to exhume the veils from our trunks and to bind them over our hats. We walked, slow and taciturn behind our elders for five squares. Then my father turned and beckoned to us. He was actually smiling - a whimsical gleam that had in it something of shame, and much of humor.
"Take off those veils!" he said, positively, yet kindly And, as we hesitated visibly: "I mean what I say! I want to take a good look at those bonnets."
It was in a quiet corner of a secluded street, lined with what was once a favorite shade-tree in Richmond - the Otaheite mulberry. The night had been cold, and the last russet leaves were ankle-deep on the sidewalk. They rustled as I moved uneasily in loosening my veil.
I never passed the spot afterward without thinking of the absurd little episode in the history of those melancholy days.
"I see, now, that they are very pretty and very becoming," my father pursued, as they were divested of the ugly mufflers. "I have been very cross for the past twenty-four hours. I suppose because I have been horribly upset
by the National calamity. We will turn over a new and cleaner leaf.
He was often stern, and oftener imperative. It was his nature to be strong in all that he set his hand or mind unto. I have yet to see another strong man who was so ready to acknowledge a fault, and who made such clean work of the act.
HOME AT CHRISTMAS - A CANDY-PULL AND
WE went home at Christmas!
Twenty years were to elapse before I should spend another Christmas week in the country. We did not know this then. Not a hitch impeded the smooth unrolling of the weeks of expectation and the days of preparation for the holidays. We were to set out on Monday. On Friday, Spotswood drove up to our door, and Mary Anne, my mother's own maid, alighted. That evening James Ivey reported for escort duty. Even elderly women seldom travelled alone at that date. About young girls were thrown protective parallels that would widen our college-woman's mouth with laughter and her eyes with amazement. There were no footpads on the stage-road from Richmond to Powhatan, and had these gentry abounded in the forests running down to the wheel-tracks, stalwart Spotswood and a shot-gun would have kept them at bay. Maid and outrider were the outward sign of unspoken and unwritten conventions rooted in love of womankind. The physical weakness of the sex was their strength; their dependence upon stronger arms and tender hearts their warrant for any and every demand they chose to make upon their natural protectors.
We had none of these things in mind that joyful Monday morning when Uncle Carus, on one hand, and James Ivey on the other, helped us into the carriage. Carriage-steps were folded up, accordion-wise, and doubled back and
down upon the floor of the vehicle when not in use. The clatter, as the coach-door was opened and the steps let down, was the familiar accompaniment of successive arrivals of guests at hospitable homes, and worshippers at country churches.
The trim flight fell with a merry rattle for the two happiest girls in the State, and we sprang in, followed by Mary Anne. We were wedged snugly in place by parcels that filled every corner and almost touched the roof. Presents we had been buying for a month with our own pocket-money and making in our few spare hours, were bound into bundles and packed in boxes. The wells under the cushioned seats were crammed with fragiles and confectionery, the like of which our lesser sisters and brothers had never tasted.
Uncle Carus prophesied a snow-storm. My mother used to say that he was a wise weather-prophet. We stubbornly discredited the prediction until we had left the city spires five miles behind us, and James Ivey's overcoat and leggings (some called them "spatter-dashes") were dotted with feathery flakes. Whereupon we discovered that there was nothing in the world jollier than travelling in a snowstorm, and grew wildly hilarious in the prospect. The snow fell steadily and in grim earnest. By the time we got to Flat Rock, where we were to have the horses and ourselves fed, the wheels churned up, at every revolution, mud that was crushed strawberry in color, topped with whiteness that might have been whipped cream; for the roads were heavy by reason of an open winter. This was Christmas snow. We exulted in it as if we had had a hand in the making. Our gallant outrider, albeit a staid youth of three-and-twenty, fell in with our humor. He made feeble fun of his own appearance as each wrinkle in his garments became a drift, and his dark hair was like a horsehair wig such as we had seen in pictures of English
barristers. His bay horse was a match to our iron-grays, and the twelve hoofs were ploughing through a level fall of six inches before we espied the tremulous sparks we recognized as village windows.
Our throats ached with laughing and our hearts with great swelling waves of happiness, as we tumbled out of our seats - and our bundles after us - at the gate of the long, low house that might have been mean in eyes accustomed to rows of three-storied brick "residences" on city streets. Every door was flung wide; every window was red with fire and lamp light.
We had fried chicken and waffles, hot rolls, ham, beaten biscuits, honey, three kinds of preserves, and, by special petition of all the children, a mighty bowl of snow and cream, abundantly sweetened, for supper. This dispatched, and at full length, the journey having made us hungry, and the sight of us having quickened the appetites of the rest, we sat about the fire in the great "chamber" on the first floor, that was the throbbing heart of the home, and talked until ten o'clock. The faithful clock that hung above the mantel did not vary five minutes from the truth in that number of years; but it was dumbly discreet, never obtruding an audible reminder of the flight of hours. I saw one of the same pattern in a curio shop last week. The salesman asked fifty dollars for it.
The chimney in "the chamber" drew better than any other in the house. A fire was kindled on that hearth, night and morning, for nine months in the year. My mother maintained that the excellent health of her young family was due in part to that fact. A little blaze dispelled the lingering dampness of the morning and the gathering fogs of night. She knew nothing of germs, benevolent and malevolent, but she appreciated the leading fact that cold and humidity signify danger, heat and dryness go with health.
I coveted no girl's home and apparel, as Mea and I
snuggled down under our blankets on the mattress my father was so far in advance of his times as to insist should be substituted for a feather-bed in each bedroom occupied by a child. The "whim" was one of the "notions" that earned for him the reputation of eccentricity with conservative neighbors.
Our windows were casements, and rattled sharply in blasts that had thrashed the snow-storm into a tempest. The wind pounded, as with hammers, upon the sloping roof over our happy heads. Longfellow had not yet written
"My little ones are folded like the flocks,"
but I know my mother felt it.
She came near saying it when I told her at the breakfast table that I fell asleep, saying to myself:
go into the barn and keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing."
"I could think of nothing, whenever I awoke, but the mother sheep with her lambs all with her in the fold," was her answer. "And of 'the hollow of His hand.' We have much to make us thankful this Christmas."
"To make us thankful!" She was ever on the watch for that. Like Martin Luther's little bird, she "sat on her twig, content, and let God take care."
A bright sun left little of what had promised to be a deep snow, by Christmas Day. Four Christmas-guns were fired at midnight of Christmas Eve in four different quarters of the village. That is, holes were drilled with a big auger into the heart of a stout oak or hickory, and stuffed with powder. At twelve o'clock a torch was applied by a fast runner, who took to his heels on the instant to escape the explosion. The detonation was that of a big cannon.
Sometimes, the tree was rent apart. That was a matter of small moment in a region where acres of forest-lands were cleared for tobacco fields by the primitive barbarism of girdling giant trees that had struck their roots into the virgin soil and lifted strong arms to heaven for centuries. From midnight to sunrise the sound of "pop-crackers" and pistol-shots was hardly intermitted by a minute's silence. With the awakening of quieter, because older folk, the air rang with shouts of "Christmas gift!" addressed impartially to young and old, white and black.
The salutation was a grievous puzzle and positive annoyance to our New-England grandmother, the first Christmas she passed with us. By the time she was ready for breakfast she had emptied her pocket of loose coins, and bestowed small articles of dress and ornament upon three or four of the (to her apprehension) importunate claimants. When she made known the grievance - which she did in her usual imperious fashion - my father shouted with laughter. With difficulty he drilled into her mind that the greeting was not a petition, still less a demand. From the day he forbade any of us to say "Christmas gift!" to "Old Mistis," as the servants called her. We children wished her, "A merry Christmas." The servants never learned the unaccustomed form. The old lady did not enter into the real significance of the words that offended her. Nor, for that matter, did one out of a hundred of those who had used it all their lives, as each Christmas rolled around. It never dawned upon me until I heard how Russian peasants and Russian nobility alike greet every one they meet on Easter morning with - "The Lord is risen," receiving the answer, "He is risen indeed!" The exultant cry of "Christmas gift!" was a proclamation of the best thing that ever came into the world. The exchange of holiday offerings at the festal season commemorates the same. All over Christendom it is an act of grateful, if too often blind,
obedience to the command - "Freely ye have received, freely give."
There were twelve servants in our family - eight adults and four children. Not one was overlooked in the distribution of presents that followed breakfast and family prayers. The servants were called in to morning and evening prayers as regularly as the white members were assembled for the service. The custom was universal in town and country, and was, without doubt, borrowed from English country life - the model for Virginian descendants. Men and women took time to pray, and made haste to do nothing. We prate long and loudly now of deep breathing. We practised it in that earlier generation.
On Christmas night we had a "molasses stew." We have learned to say "candy-pull" since then. A huge cauldron of molasses was boiled in the kitchen - a detached building of a story-and-a-half, standing about fifty feet from "the house." Gilbert - the dining-room servant, who would be "a butler" now - brought it into the dining-room when it was done to a turn, and poured it into great buttered platters arranged around the long table. All of us, girls and boys, had pinned aprons or towels over our festive garments, and put back our cuffs from our wrists. My mother set the pace in the pulling. She had a reputation for making the whitest and most spongy candy in the county, and she did it in the daintiest way imaginable. Buttering the tips of her fingers lightly, she drew carefully from the surface of the platter enough of the cooling mixture for a good "pull." In two minutes she had an amber ribbon, glossy and elastic, that bleached fast to cream-color under her rapid, weaving motion, until she coiled or braided completed candy - brittle, dry, and porous - upon a dish lined with paper. She never let anybody take the other end of the rope; she did not butter her fingers a second time, and used the taper tips alone in the work, and she had the
candy on the dish before any of the others had the sticky, scalding mass in working order. We dipped our fingers again and again in butter and, when hard bestead, into flour, which last resort my mother scorned as unprofessional, and each girl had a boy at the other end of her rope. It was graceful work when done secundum artem. The fast play of hands; the dexterous toss and exchange of the ends of shining strands that stiffened too soon if not handled aright; the strain upon bared wrists and strong shoulders as the great ropes hardened; the laughing faces bent over the task; the cries of feigned distress as the immature confectionery became sticky, or parted into strings, under careless manipulation; the merry peals of laughter at defeat or success - made the Christmas frolic picturesque and gay. I wondered then, and I have often asked since, why no painter has ever chosen as a subject this one of our national pastimes.
A homelier, but as characteristic an incident of that Christmas - the last we were to have in the country home - was hog-killing.
The "hog and hominy," supposed by an ignorant reading- public to have formed the main sustenance of the Virginian planter and his big family, are as popularly believed to have been raised upon his own farm or farms. Large herds of pigs were born and brought up on Virginia lands. Perhaps one-half of the pork cured into bacon by country and by village folk, was bought from Kentucky drovers. Early in the winter - before the roads became impassable - immense droves of full-grown hogs crowded the routes leading over mountain and valley into the sister State. We had notice of the approach of one of these to our little town before it appeared at the far end of the main street, by the hoarse grunting that swelled into hideous volume - unmistakable and indescribable - a continuous rush of dissonance, across which were projected occasional squeals.
A drove had entered the village a week before Christmas, and rested for the night in the wide "old field" back of the Bell Tavern. Citizens of the Court House and from the vicinity had bought freely from the drovers. More than twenty big-boned grunters were enclosed in a large pen at the foot of our garden, and fed lavishly for ten days, to recover them from the fatigue of the journey that left them leaner than suited the fancy of the purchaser. On the morning of the cold day appointed for the "killing," they were driven to a near-by "horse-branch" and washed. At noon they were slaughtered at a spot so distant from the house that no sound indicative of the deed reached our ears. Next day the carcasses were duly cut up into hams, shoulders, middlings (or sides of bacon), chines, and spareribs.
Lean leavings from the dissection were apportioned for sausage-meat; the heads and feet would be made into souse (headcheese); even the tails, when roasted in the embers, were juicy tidbits devoured relishfully by children, white and black.
Not an edible atom of the genial porker went to waste in the household of the notable housewife. The entrails, cleaned and scalded into "chitterlings," were accounted a luscious delicacy in the kitchen. They rarely appeared upon the table of "white folks." I never saw them dished for ourselves, or our friends. Yet I have heard my father tell of meeting John Marshall, then Chief Justice of the United States, in the Richmond streets one morning, as the great man was on his way home from the Old Market. He had a brace of ducks over one arm, and a string of chitterlings swung jauntily from the other.
And why not? Judge Marshall had "Hudibras" at his tongue's end, and could have quoted:
warped ear hung o'er the strings,
Which was but souse to chitterlings."
The Virginia house-mother had classic precedent for the utilization of what her granddaughter accounts but offal. I once heard a celebrated divine say, unctuously:
" 'Hog-killing time' is to me the feast of the year."
And nobody stared, or smiled, or said him "Nay." Chine, sparerib, and sausage, such as titillated our palates in the first half of the nineteenth century, are not to be had now for love or money. The base imitations sold to us in the shambles are the output of "contract work."
A NOTABLE: AFFAIR OF HONOR
EARLY in the second winter of our residence in Richmond, the community and the State were thrilled to painful interest by the most notable duel recorded in the history of Virginia.
On the desk at my side lies a time-embrowned pamphlet, containing a full report of the legal proceedings that succeeded the tragedy.
The leading Democratic paper of the State at that time was published by Thomas Ritchie and his sons. The father, to whom was awarded the title of "The Nestor of the Southern Press," was a dignified gentleman who had won the esteem of his fellow-citizens by a long life spent under the limelight that beats more fiercely nowhere than upon a political leader who is also an editor. In morals, stainless, in domestic and social life, exemplary and beloved, the elder Ritchie enjoyed, in the evening of his day, a reputation unblurred by the rancor of partisan spite. The policy of his paper wag fearless, but never unscrupulous. To the Democratic party, the Enquirer was at once banner and bulwark. Of his elder son, William Foushee, I shall have something to say in later chapters, and in a lighter vein. The second son, the father's namesake, was recognized as the moving spirit of the editorial columns.
John Hampden Pleasants was as strongly identified with the Whig party. He was a man in the prime of life; like the Ritchies, descended from an ancient and honorable
Virginia family, noble in physique, and courtly in bearing. He held a trenchant pen, and had been associated from his youth up with the press. He had lately assumed the office of editor-in-chief of a new paper, and brought it into notice by vigorous and brilliant editorials that were the talk of both parties.
The opening gun of what was to be a sanguinary combat was fired by a Washington correspondent of the Enquirer, under date of January 16, 1846:
"I am much mistaken if Mr. John Hampden Pleasants does not intend, with his new paper, to out-Herod Herod - to take the lead of the Intelligencer, if possible, in exciting Abolitionism by showing Southern Whig sympathy in their movements; and thus, for the benefit of Whiggery, to cheat them into the belief that the Southern patrons of either of these gentlemen are ceasing to detest their incendiary principles, and beginning, like the Whigs of the North, to coalesce with them.
"They agitate to affect public opinion at the South, and Messrs. Gales and Pleasants practically tell them to go on - that they are succeeding to admiration."
It was a poor shot - more like a boy's play with a toy gun than a marksman's aim. But the bullet was poisoned by the reference to Abolitionism. That was never ineffective. A friend in conservative Philadelphia called Mr. Pleasants' notice to the attack, which had up to that time escaped his eyes:
"I have d-d this as a lie every time I had a chance, although I believe that you, like myself - a Virginian and a slaveholder - regard Slavery as an evil."
Mr. Pleasants replied in terms that were singularly mild for a fighting political editor.
I may say, here, that it is a gross blunder to compare the methods of party-writers and orators of to-day with those of sixty years ago, to the disadvantage of the former.
They fought, then, without the gloves, and as long as breath lasted.
"I confess my surprise, nay, my regret," wrote Mr. Pleasants, "that the present editors of the Enquirer should, by publication, have indorsed, so far as that sort of indorsement can go, and without any explanatory remark, the misrepresentations of their Washington correspondent. They ought, as public men, to know that I stand upon exactly the same platform with their father in respect to this subject. In 1832 we stood, for once, shoulder to shoulder, and since that time we have both expressed, without intermission, the same abhorrence of Northern Abolition, and the same determination, under no circumstances which could be imagined, to submit, in the slightest degree, to its dictation or intrusion. . . .
"These were also the views - namely, that Slavery was an evil, and ought to be got rid of, but at our own time, at our own motion, and in our own way - of Washington, Jefferson, Henry, George Mason, the two Lees, Madison, Monroe, Wirt, and all the early patriots, statesmen, and sages of Virginia - WITHOUT EXCEPTION!
"Such are my opinions still, and if they constitute me an Abolitionist, I can only say that I would go further to see some of the Abolition leaders hanged than any man in Virginia, especially since their defeat of Mr. Clay.
"In respect to Slavery, I take no pious, no fanatical view. I am not opposed to it because I think it morally wrong, for I know the multitude of slaves to be better off than the whites. I am against it for the sake of the whites, my own race. I see young and powerful commonwealths around us, with whom, while we carry the burden of Slavery, we can never compete in power, and yet with whom we must prepare to contend with equal arms, or consent to be their slaves and vassals - we or our children. In all, I look but to the glory and liberty of Virginia."
The confession of State's Rights would seem strong enough to soften the heart of an original Secessionist - a being as yet unheard of - and the respectful mention of the Nestor of the Enquirer might have drawn the fire of the filial editor. How far these failed of their effect is obvious in the return shot:
"Although the language used by Mr. Pleasants may not be considered directly offensive, yet we are unwilling to allow him or others to make hypotheses in regard to our veracity. When we desire lectures on morals we hope to be allowed to choose our own preceptor. We certainly shall not apply to him!"
In Mr. Pleasants' rejoinder he again reminds the young men that their father and himself had been of the same mind on the Slavery question for twenty years:
"The correspondent may have believed what he said, in ignorance of the facts, and may therefore be guiltless of premeditated injustice, but the editors who indorse his calumny by printing it without any explanation, either did know better, in which case their candor and liberality are compromised, or ought to have known better, in which case they themselves may say what responsibility they incur by printing an accusation utterly false in fact, and calculated to infuse the greatest possible prejudice against him respecting whom it is promulgated."
The answer of the Enquirer was a sneer throughout:
"We doubt whether he knows, himself, what principles he may be disposed to advocate. His most intimate friends are sometimes puzzled to understand his position. . . . If our correspondent 'Macon' wishes it, he will, of course, have the use of our columns, but if he will take our advice, he will let Mr. J. H. P. alone. To use an old proverb - 'Give the gentleman rope enough, and he will hang himself!' "
In a long letter to a personal friend, but published in
the News and Star - what would be called now an "open letter" - Mr. Pleasants sums up the points of the controversy, and calmly assumes the animus of the attack to be personal enmity, a sort of vendetta feud, against which argument is powerless:
"Justice from the Richmond Enquirer I have long ago ceased to expect. For more than twenty years I have lived under its ceaseless misrepresentations and malevolent misconstructions. I had hoped, when the former editor removed to Washington to receive the rich rewards of his devotion to party, to live upon better terms with his successors, and I have studied to cultivate better relations by respectful consideration and undeviating courtesy; but I have found that other passions besides the love of liberty are transmitted from sire to son.... Calmly reviewing this piece of impertinence, I should be of opinion that this assailant meditated fight, if I could think that a young brave would seek, as an antagonist upon whom to flesh his maiden sword, a man so much older than himself as I am, and with dependent children."
In allusion to a former altercation with "Il Secretario," a "foe illustrious for his virtues and talents, whom this aspirant after knighthood" declined to encounter - the senior combatant concludes:
"Battle, then, being clearly not his object, I must suppose that he meant no more than a little gasconade, and the recovery, at a cheap rate, of a forfeited reputation for courage."
With the, to modern taste, odd blending of personality with editorial anonymity that characterized the professional duel throughout, "We, the junior editor," retorts:
"This letter affords strong corroborative evidence of our opinion expressed in our article of the 27th ultimo, and from Mr. J. H. Pleasants' communication, evidently
understood by him to the extent we intended - namely, that fact within our knowledge proved him to be a COWARD.
"He appeals to the confines of age and dependent children. Let it be! We shall not disturb him."
Ten years after the correspondence and the "affair" to which it was the prelude, an eminently respectable citizen of Richmond told my husband of a street-corner scene, date of February 21, 1846, the day on which the last contribution to the war of words above recorded, appeared in the Enquirer.
"One of the groups one saw on all sides, in heated discussion of the newspaper controversy and the probable outcome, was collected about Doctor - , then, as now, pastor of the - Church. He read out the last sentences of Ritchie's ultimatum with strong excitement. Then he struck the paper with his finger, and said: 'The settles the matter! Pleasants must fight! There is no way out of it!'
"One of the party ventured a remonstrance to the effect that 'Pleasants was not a hot-headed boy to throw his life away. He might be made to see reason, and the matter be smoothed over,' etc.
"The minister broke in warmly, with -
" 'Impossible, sir, impossible! No honorable man could sit down quietly under the insult! He must fight! There is no alternative!'
"Now," continued the narrator, "I am not a church-member, and I had no overstrained scruples against duelling at that time. But it sent a queer shock through me when I heard a minister of the gospel of peace take that ground. I felt that I could never go to hear him preach again. And I never did! I heard he made a most feeling allusion to poor Pleasants in a sermon preached shortly after his death. That didn't take the bad taste out of my mouth."
How general was the sympathy with the incautiously expressed opinion of the divine can hardly be appreciated now that the duello is reckoned among the errors of a ruder age. The city was in a ferment for the three days separating the 21st of February and the 25th, on which the memorable encounter took place. If any friend essayed to reconcile the offending and offended parties, we have no note of it.
The nearest approach to arbitration recorded in the story of the trial is in the testimony of a man well-acquainted with both parties, who was asked by one of Mr. Ritchie's seconds to "go upon the ground as a mutual friend."
He testified on the stand: "I declined to do so. I asked him if the matter could be adjusted. I asked if Mr. Ritchie would not be willing to withdraw the epithet of 'coward,' in case Mr. Pleasants should come upon the field. His reply was that Mr. Ritchie conscientiously believed Mr. Pleasants to be a coward."
The persuasions of other friends to whom he spoke, at an evening party (!), of the affair to come off on the morrow, overcame the scruples of the reluctant pacificator. He accompanied the surgeon (the most eminent in the city, and one of the Faculty of Richmond Medical College) to the ground next morning. The meeting was no secret, except - presumably - to the authorities who might have prevented it. Going up to Mr. Ritchie's second, he made a final effort to avert the murder:
"I renewed the application I had made the evening before, telling him that Mr. Pleasants was on the field, and asking him if he would not withdraw the imputation of cowardice. He replied that he would keep his friend there fifteen minutes, and no longer."
The morning was raw, and the wind from the river was searching. There had been rain during the night, and the
ground was slippery with sleet. The principals were equipped with other arms than the duelling pistols.
"Mr. Pleasants put a revolver into the left pocket of his coat; then he took two duelling pistols, one in his right, and the other in his left hand." At this point the witness interpolates: "I looked away about that time." (As well he might!) "The next weapon I saw him arm himself with was his sword-cane under his left arm. He had a bowie-knife under his vest."
Of Mr. Ritchie it was testified:
"He had four pistols and also a revolver. He had the larger pistols in his belt. I did not see his sword until after the rencontre. He had it drawn when I came up to him. I supposed it was a bowie-knife."
After a brief parley as to the disadvantages of a position first selected, and the choice of a second, the word was given to advance and fire. The principals were two hundred yards apart when the word was given.
"Mr. Ritchie fired at the distance of twenty-five or thirty yards. Mr. Pleasants fired his first pistol within about fifteen or twenty feet of Mr. Ritchie. . . . At the third shot they were more rapid. Mr. Pleasants advanced. At the third fire Mr. Ritchie's form became obscure; Mr. Pleasants still advancing, I saw him within six or seven feet of Mr. Ritchie. It was then that Mr. Pleasants fired his second pistol."
Thus the eminent surgeon, who had refused to come to the field as the friend of both parties, but yielded when asked to serve in his professional capacity. He remarks, parenthetically, here:
"I am now giving my recollection of events transpiring in a short time and under great excitement."
Perhaps, in spite of the great excitement, the training of his calling held his senses steady, for his story of the fight is graphic and succinct.
"I saw Mr. Pleasants level his second pistol; I heard the report; I saw Mr. Ritchie stagger back, and I remarked to Mr. D." (the man who had been overpersuaded to witness the murder as a "mutual friend"), " 'Ritchie is a dead man!' I so inferred, because he had staggered back. Then I heard several discharges without knowing who was fireing. I saw Mr. Pleasants striking at Mr. Ritchie with some weapon - whether a cane or a pistol, I do not know. I also saw him make several thrusts with a sword-cane. He gave several blows and two or three thrusts. I do not know if the sword was sheathed. During this part of the affair I saw Mr. Ritchie with his sword in his hand. I did not see him draw it. I saw him in the attitude of one making a thrust, and did see him make one or two thrusts at Mr. Pleasants. I remarked to Mr. D., 'Let us go up, or he'll be stabbed!' Two or three times the cry was made, 'Stop, Pleasants! Stop, Ritchie!' We went up. Mr. Pleasants was tottering; Mr. Ritchie was standing a few feet away, the point of his sword on the ground; he was perfectly quiet. Mr. Archer took Mr. Pleasants' arm and laid him down. He was on the ground when I reached him. Before I got to him I saw Mr. Ritchie leaving the ground. He walked a short distance, and then ran."
It transpired afterward that not one of Pleasants's balls had struck Ritchie. The presumption was that the elder man was wounded by his opponent's first fire, and fired wildly in consequence. He received six balls in various parts of his body. But one of his bullets was found, and that in the gable of a building out of the line of the firing. The ball was embedded in the wood, nine feet above the ground. Mad with pain and blinded by rage, the wounded man struck at the other's face when they were near together - some said, with the useless pistol, others with his sword-cane or bowie-knife. When the fugitive reached the carriage in waiting at the foot of the hill, his face was
covered with blood. His physician was in the carriage, and examined him at once. But for the cut lip he was absolutely uninjured.
The sun was just rising when John Hampden Pleasants was lifted into the carriage and borne back to the city. He knew himself to be mortally wounded from the moment he fell.
This was on Wednesday, February 25th. Before the short winter day neared its noon, the tale was known from one end of Richmond to the other, and the whole population heaved with excitement. Business was practically suspended while men talked over the terrible event; the sidewalks were blocked by gossiping idlers.
Our school was called to order at nine o'clock daily. On this morning, teachers and pupils were unfit for lessons. For Mr. Pleasants' only daughter was one of us, and a general favorite. His niece was likewise a pupil, and the two had the same desk. Their vacant chairs made the tragedy a personal grief to each of us. When Mrs. Nottingham bade us get our Bibles ready for the morning service, not a girl there could read without a break in her trembling voice, and when the dear old lady made tender mention in her prayer of the "sorrowing," and for "those drawing near unto death," our sobs drowned the fervent tones.
I recall, as one of the minor incidents of the dreadful day, that when I went home in the afternoon, my grandmother insisted I should read the newspaper correspondence aloud to her. She was a captious tyrant at times, and, like many another deaf person, sensitive as to the extent of her infirmity. She "was not so very deaf, except in damp weather, or when she had a cold. If people would only speak distinctly, and not mumble, she would have no trouble in understanding what was said." In this connection she often made flattering exception of myself as the "one girl she knew who could speak English."
In this capacity she summoned me to her side. She had the week's papers on her lap. I must pick out the articles "that were responsible for this scandalous affair."
Down I sat, close beside her "good ear," and read, with precise articulation and right emphasis, the editorials from which I have made excerpts in this chapter.
In copying them to-day, the strait-laced New-Englander's classification of the awful event is in my mind and ear. Every detail of the duel and the cold-blooded preparations therefor - the deadly weapons borne by, and girt about the principals; the sang-froid of seconds and attendant "friends"; the savagery of the combat; the tone of public sentiment that made the foul fight within sight of the steeples of the city practicable, although the leading men of the place were cognizant of each step that led to the scene on the river-bank before sunrise that gray morning - can we, in these later times we are wont to compare regretfully with those, sum up the details and the catastrophe in phrase more fit and true?
I resented it hotly, if silently, then. Even my father, who always spoke of duelling as a "remnant of Middle Age barbarism," shared in the universal grief for his party leader laid low in the prime of his useful manhood, and would suffer no censure of the challenge that had made the fight inevitable.
"Pleasants is a brave man, and a proud. He could not endure to sit down quietly under the aspersion of cowardice."
Another terrible day of suspense dragged its slow length along. Hourly bulletins from the chamber where the wounded man was making his last struggle with Fate, alternately cheered and depressed us. He was conscious and cheerful; he had exonerated his opponent from blame in the matter of the duel:
"I thought I had run him through. It was providential
that I did not. Ritchie is a brave man. I shall not recover. You will be candid with me, Doctor? It is all right."
These were some of the sentences caught up by young and old, and repeated with tearful pride in the dying hero. That was what they called him; and when on Friday morning the flag on the capitol hung at half-mast, the mourners who went about the streets were his fellow-townsmen, who had no word of condemnation for him and the rash act that ended his career.
On Saturday morning it began to snow. By Sunday afternoon the streets were eighteen inches deep on the level, with the heaviest snow-fall of the season. Mrs. Pleasants, the widow of a governor of Virginia, and the mother of the slain editor, was a member of the Grace Street Presbyterian Church, of which Reverend Doctor Stiles was then pastor. The funeral services were held there on Sunday, at 3 o'clock P.M. By two the sidewalks were blocked by a crowd of silent spectators, and, half an hour later, every seat in the church, except those reserved for the family and immediate friends of the deceased, was filled. After these had taken their places, there was not standing- room in aisles or galleries. The sermon was an eloquent tribute to the private virtues and the public services of the deceased. One memorable extract is inscribed upon the monument erected by admirers and friends over his grave in Shockoe Hill Cemetery:
With A Genius above Talent, a Courage
None ever forgot the scene who saw the long line of funeral carriages winding, like a black stream, through streets where the snow came up to the axles, under the low-hanging sky that stooped heavily and gloomed into leaden gray
by the time the cortége reached the cemetery. And all the afternoon the brooding air throbbed with the tolling.
We said and believed that Richmond had never known so sad a day since she went into mourning for the three-score victims of the burning of the theatre in 1811.
The trial of Thomas Ritchie for murder in the first, and of the seconds as "principals in the second degree," followed the duel with swiftness amazing to the reader of criminal cases in our age. On March 31, 1846, four of the ablest lawyers in Virginia appeared in court to defend the prisoner.
The old brochure which records the proceedings is curious and deeply interesting reading; in nothing more remarkable than in the defence of what was admitted to be "an unhappy custom" and directly opposed to the laws of the country.
"The letter of the law is made to yield to the spirit of the times" is an italicized sentence in the principal speech of the defence. The same speaker dwelt long and earnestly upon precedents that palliated, excused, and warranted the time-honored (although "unhappy") practice.
Not less than fifteen instances of the supremacy of the higher law of the "spirit of the times" were drawn from English history.
"In not one of which had there been any prosecution.
"And now, gentlemen of the jury, does any one suppose that duelling can be suppressed, or capitally punished, when the first men in the kingdom - such men as Pitt and Fox, and Castlereagh and Canning and Grattan, and Nelson and Wellington, lend the high sanction of their names, and feel themselves justified and compelled to peril their lives upon a point of honor? And I would ask my friend, the Commonwealth's Attorney, if such men as these
constitute the 'swordsmen of England,' and were alone worthy of the times of Tamerlane and Bajazet? . . .
"Was Andrew Jackson regarded as a 'swordsman' and duellist because he fought, not one, but three duels, and once shed the blood of a fellow-man in single combat? He was twice elected to the first office in the world, and died a Christian.... How many of Henry Clay's numerous friends in Virginia, and, especially, the religious portion of them (including ministers of the Gospel), refused to vote for him as President of the United States because he had fought two duels? . . .
"The coroner's inquest held on the body of General Hamilton brought in a verdict of wilful murder against Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States.
"Colonel Burr afterward took his seat in the Senate of the United States as Vice-President; his second, afterward, became a judge; and the second of General Hamilton - a most amiable and accomplished man - I served with in Congress, some years ago. . . .
"I call upon you, then, gentlemen, by every motive that can bind you to a discharge of your duty, to do justice to my unfortunate young friend. Bind up the wounds of his broken-hearted parents; carry joy and peace and consolation to his numerous family and friends; wash out the stain that has been attempted upon his character and reputation, and restore him to his country - as, in truth, he is - pure and unspotted."
The address of the Commonwealth's Attorney is comparatively brief and emphatically half-hearted. We are entirely prepared for the announcement in smaller type at the foot of the last page:
"The argument on both sides" (!) "having been concluded, the jury took the case, and, without leaving the box, returned a verdict of 'Not guilty!'
"The verdict was received by the large auditory with
loud manifestations of applause. Order was promptly commanded by the officers of the court.
"Mr. Ritchie then left the court-house, accompanied by the greater portion of the spectators, who seemed eager to shake hands with him and to congratulate him upon his honorable acquittal."
THE MENACE OF SLAVE INSURRECTION
"RICHMOND, June 8th, 1847
"DEAR EFFIE, - It is past ten o clock, and a rainy night. Just such a one as would make a comfortable bed and a sound snooze no mean objects of desire.
"George Moody, alias 'The Irresistible,' arrived this afternoon, and will leave in the morning, and I cannot let so good an opportunity of writing to you escape. I must scribble a brief epistle.
"The drive down from Powhatan was delightful. I found Mr. Belt extremely pleasant, full of anecdote, a great talker, yet, withal - as Mr. Miller had told me - a good listener. A very necessary qualification, by-the-way, for any one with whom I may chance to be in company.
"The first thing I heard when I reached home was tidings of that worst of bugbears to a Southern woman - an impending insurrection. A double guard was on duty at the capitol, and a detachment of military from the armory paraded the streets all night. I was, I confess, somewhat alarmed, and not a little startled, but gradually my fears wore away, and I slept as soundly that night as if no such thing were in agitation.
" 'Puss Sheppard was in to supper, and her parting salutation to us at going was: 'Farewell! If I am alive in the morning I will come and see if you are!'
"The whole matter ended, like Mr. C.'s sermon - 'just where it began - viz., in nothing.'
"Richmond is rather dull at present. The Texas excitement has subsided almost entirely, and those who gave credence
to the report of the insurrection are desirous to keep as still as possible.
"Morning. - I can write no more. I am sure your good-nature will acquit me of blame so far as matter, chirography, and quality go, when I tell you that I have written this partly by the light of a lamp which finally went out, self-extinguished for want of oil, and partly this morning, when I am suffering with a sick-headache. I feel more like going to bed than writing, but 'The Unexceptionable' is about to take his departure, and waits for this. Write soon and much. I will try to treat you better next time."
In the debate upon the abolition of slavery in my native State,
lost by one vote in the Legislature of 1831-32, while Nat Turner's
insurrection was fresh in the public mind, John Randolph
declared, "Whenever the fire-alarm rings in Richmond every
mother clasps her baby closer to her breast."
I cannot recollect when the whisper of the possibility of
"Insurrection" (we needed not to specify of what kind) did not
send a sick chill to my heart. The menace I here dismiss with a
sentence or two was the most serious that had loomed upon my
horizon. I could not trust myself to dwell upon it within the two
days that had elapsed since my return from a vacation month in
Powhatan. How keenly every circumstance attending it was bitten
into my mind is proved by the distinctness of the etching
preserved by a memory that has let many things of greater
moment escape its hold.
My host, Mr. D., had come in to dinner the day before that set
for my stage-journey back to town, with the pleasing
intelligence that Mr. Lloyd Belt, a former citizen of
Powhatan, but for twenty years a resident of Richmond,
was "going down" - Richmond was always "down," as
London is "up" from every part of England - the next day
and would be glad to take me in his carriage. As I wrote
to Effie, the drive was delightful. My courtly escort took
as much pains to entertain me as if I had been a belle and
a beauty, instead of an unformed school-girl. It was a
way they had - those gentlemen of the Old School - of
recognizing the woman in every baby-girl, and doing it
It did not strike me as strange that Mr. Belt beguiled
the thirty-mile journey with anecdote and disquisition.
He was charming. I never thought that he was likewise
condescending. I am quite as sure that the idea did not
enter his knightly imagination.
As we drove leisurely up Main Street from the bridge,
we noticed that groups of men stood on the street corners
and in the doors of stores, chatting gravely, and, it would
"There must be news from the seat of war!" opined my
The Mexican War was then in progress, and accompanying
raids into the debatable territory of Texas kept public
sentiment in a ferment.
My father and the rest of the family, with a couple of
neighbors, were enjoying the cool of the day upon our
front porch. He came down to the gate to assist me to
alight. So did Mr. Strobia, our elderly next door neighbor,
and he handed me up the steps while my father lingered
to thank my escort for bringing me safely home. In
the joyous confusion of greetings, I had not observed that
Mr. Belt was leaning down from the carriage to my father's
ear, and that both were very grave, until Puss Sheppard,
like the rattlepate she was, whispered loudly to Mr. Strobia:
"I'm scared to death! What is the latest news? You
men won't tell us."
"I have heard no news about anything or anybody!"
ejaculated the old gentleman, testily and loudly, glancing
over his shoulder at Gilbert, who had my trunk on his
shoulder and was carrying it in at the side-gate. "Upon
my soul, I haven't!" And as she caught his arm and swung
around to get the truth from his eyes, he bustled down the
steps and so on home.
I had the tale in full by the time my bonnet was off.
Mea, on one side, and Puss on the other, poured it forth
in excited whispers, having closed "the chamber" door.
Abolitionists had been at work among the negroes in
Henrico and Hanover counties for weeks. There were
indications of an organized conspiracy (in scope and detail
so like the plot for which John Brown's blood paid twelve
years thereafter, that I bethought me of it when the news
from Harper's Ferry stunned the nation), and the city was
under arms. Governor Smith was said to have issued a
proclamation to militia and citizens at large in Latin.
I laughed there.
" 'Extra Billy!' He knows less of Latin than of Choctaw!"
The worthy functionary had earned the sobriquet by
superdiligence in the matter of extra baggage while in the
service of a stage-coach company, and as he was a
Democrat we never forgot it.
"Let that pass!" said Mea, impatiently. "We can't get
away from the fact that where there is so much smoke
there must be a little fire. Some evil business is on foot,
and all the servants know what it is, whether we do or not."
I felt that she was right when Mary Anne and "Mammy,"
Gilbert, Tom, his assistant, and my little maid Paulina,
with black Molly, Percy's nurse, trooped in, one after the
other, to welcome "Miss Firginny" home. They had done
the like ever since I was born. I should have felt hurt and
angry had they failed in the ceremony. My sharpened
senses detected something that was overdone in manner
and speech. They were too glad to see me, and while they
protested, I discerned sarcasm in their grins, a sinister roll in
We talked fast over the supper-table, and of all manner
of things irrelevant to the topic uppermost in our thoughts.
Once, while Gilbert and his half-grown subaltern were out
of the room, I ventured a hasty whisper to my father, at
whose right I sat:
"Father, have we any arms in the house if they should
Without turning his head, he saw, out of the tail of his
eye, Gilbert on the threshold, a plate of hot waffles in hand,
and Tom at his heels bearing a pitcher of fresh water. My
father reached out a deliberate hand for a slice of bread
from a plate near his elbow.
"All that I have to say, my daughter" (his speech as
deliberate as his hand, and every syllable sharp and clear),
"is that we are prepared for them, come when and how
A perceptible shiver, as when one catches breath after an
electric shock, ran around the table. All felt that he had
thrown down the gauntlet, and was ready to take the
consequences. My heart leaped up as an elastic bough from
the weight that had bowed it to the earth. It was no effort
after that to be gay. I told stories of my country sojourn,
retailed the humors of the visit to our old neighborhood,
mimicking this and that rustic, telling of comical sayings of
the colored people who pressed me with queries as to town
life - in short, unbottled a store of fun and gossip that lasted
until bedtime. Then, as I told my correspondent, I went to
bed and slept the sleep of youth, health, and an easy mind.
And this because he who never lied to me had said that
he was "prepared" for the assassins, come when they
A week later, when the fireless smoke had vanished quite
from the horizon, and we dared jest at the "scare," I asked
my mother what arsenal my father had had in reserve that
he could speak so confidently of preparation for midnight
attack and domestic treachery.
"Nothing more formidable than a carving-knife," she
answered, merrily, "and courage that has always served
him in the hour of peril. He was not alarmed. I believe he
would face a hundred negroes with no other weapon than
his bare hands."
I am often asked why, if our family servants were really
and warmly attached to us, we should have let the
"bugbear" poison our pleasures and haunt our midnight
visions. To the present hour I am conscious of a peculiar
stricture of the heart that stops my breath for a second, at
the sudden blast of a hunter's horn in the country. Before I
was eight years old I had heard the tale of Gabriel's
projected insurrection, and of the bloodier outbreak of
murderous fury led by Nat Turner, the petted favorite of a
trusting master. Heard that the signal of attack in both cases
was to be "a trumpet blown long and loud." Again and again,
on my visits to country plantations, I have been thrown into
a paroxysm of terror when awakened from sleep in the
dead of night, by the sound of the horns carried by "coon
hunters" in their rounds of the woods nearest us. I could not
have been over ten, when, on a visit to "Lethe," a
homestead occupied for a while by Uncle Carus, I was
rambling in the garden soon after sunrise, picking roses, and
let them fall from nerveless fingers at the ringing blast of a
"trumpet blown long and loud", from the brow of a
neighboring hill. As it pealed louder and longer, until the
blue welkin above me repeated the sound, I fled as fast
as my freezing feet would carry me, to the deepest
recesses of the graveyard at the foot of the garden, and hid
in a tangle of wild raspberry bushes higher than my head.
There I lay, wet with the dews of the past night, and my
face and hands scratched to bleeding, until the winding horn
grew faint and fainter, and the bay of a pack of hounds told
me what a fool panic had made of me. We always thought
of the graveyard as an asylum in the event of a rising. No
negro would venture to enter it by day or night.
In any ordinary period of danger or distress, I would have
trusted my life in the hands of the men and women who had
been born on the same plantation with my mother, and the
younger generation, to whom she had been a faithful and
benignant friend from their cradles. In fire and flood and
tempest; in good report and evil report; in sickness and in
health; in poverty, as in riches - they would have stood with,
and for us to the death. We knew them to be but children of
a larger growth, passionate and unreasoning, facile and
impulsive, and fanatical beyond anything conceivable by the
full-blooded white. The superstitious savagery their
ancestors had brought from barbarous and benighted Africa,
was yet in their veins. We had heard how Gabriel, a leader
in prayer-meetings, and encouraged by the whites to do
Christian evangelization among his own race, had
deliberately meditated and written down, as sections of the
code to be put into practice, when he should come into his
kingdom of Lower Virginia - a plan of murder of all male
whites, and a partition of the women and girl-children
among his followers, together with arson and tortures
exceeding the deviltries of the red Indians. We had heard
from the lips of eyewitnesses, scenes succeeding the
Southampton massacre of every white within the reach of
the murderous horde howling at the heels of the negro
preacher whom his
master had taught to read and write - how the first victim
of the uprising, in the name of God and freedom, was that
master as he lay asleep at his wife's side. Of how coolly
- even complacently - Turner recorded: "He sprang up,
calling his wife's name. It was his last word. A single blow
was sufficient to kill him. We forgot a baby that was asleep
in the cradle, but Hark went back and dispatched it."
In every plan of rising against their masters, Religion was
a potent element. It was, to their excitable imaginations, a
veritable Holy War, from which there would be no
discharge. The "Mammy" who had nursed her mistress's
baby at her own bosom, would brain it, with the milk yet
wet upon its lips, if bidden by the "prophet" to make the
sacrifice. Nat Turner split with his axe the skull of a boy he
had carried in his arms scores of times, and stayed not his
hand, although the little fellow met him with a happy laugh
and outstretched arms and the cry, "Uncle Nat, you have
come to give me a ride! Haven't you?"
I repeat, we knew with what elements we should have to
deal if the "rising" ever took an organized form. This
ever-present knowledge lay at the root of the hatred of the
"abolition movement." To the Northerner, dwelling at ease
among his own people, it was - except to the leaders - an
abstract principle. "All men are created free and equal" - a
slaveholder had written before his Northern brother
emancipated his unprofitable serfs. Ergo, reasoned the
Northern brother, in judicial survey of the increasing race,
whose labor was still gainful to tobacco and wheat planter,
the negro slave had a right to "liberty and the pursuit of
He did not count the cost of a consummation devoutly to
be desired. He had no occasion to meditate upon the bloody
steps by which the enslaved and alien race would
In the debate upon the abolition of slavery in my native State, lost by one vote in the Legislature of 1831-32, while Nat Turner's insurrection was fresh in the public mind, John Randolph declared, "Whenever the fire-alarm rings in Richmond every mother clasps her baby closer to her breast."
I cannot recollect when the whisper of the possibility of "Insurrection" (we needed not to specify of what kind) did not send a sick chill to my heart. The menace I here dismiss with a sentence or two was the most serious that had loomed upon my horizon. I could not trust myself to dwell upon it within the two days that had elapsed since my return from a vacation month in Powhatan. How keenly every circumstance attending it was bitten into my mind is proved by the distinctness of the etching preserved by a memory that has let many things of greater moment escape its hold.
My host, Mr. D., had come in to dinner the day before that set for my stage-journey back to town, with the pleasing
intelligence that Mr. Lloyd Belt, a former citizen of Powhatan, but for twenty years a resident of Richmond, was "going down" - Richmond was always "down," as London is "up" from every part of England - the next day and would be glad to take me in his carriage. As I wrote to Effie, the drive was delightful. My courtly escort took as much pains to entertain me as if I had been a belle and a beauty, instead of an unformed school-girl. It was a way they had - those gentlemen of the Old School - of recognizing the woman in every baby-girl, and doing it honor.
It did not strike me as strange that Mr. Belt beguiled the thirty-mile journey with anecdote and disquisition. He was charming. I never thought that he was likewise condescending. I am quite as sure that the idea did not enter his knightly imagination.
As we drove leisurely up Main Street from the bridge, we noticed that groups of men stood on the street corners and in the doors of stores, chatting gravely, and, it would seem, confidentially.
"There must be news from the seat of war!" opined my companion.
The Mexican War was then in progress, and accompanying raids into the debatable territory of Texas kept public sentiment in a ferment.
My father and the rest of the family, with a couple of neighbors, were enjoying the cool of the day upon our front porch. He came down to the gate to assist me to alight. So did Mr. Strobia, our elderly next door neighbor, and he handed me up the steps while my father lingered to thank my escort for bringing me safely home. In the joyous confusion of greetings, I had not observed that Mr. Belt was leaning down from the carriage to my father's ear, and that both were very grave, until Puss Sheppard, like the rattlepate she was, whispered loudly to Mr. Strobia:
"I'm scared to death! What is the latest news? You men won't tell us."
"I have heard no news about anything or anybody!" ejaculated the old gentleman, testily and loudly, glancing over his shoulder at Gilbert, who had my trunk on his shoulder and was carrying it in at the side-gate. "Upon my soul, I haven't!" And as she caught his arm and swung around to get the truth from his eyes, he bustled down the steps and so on home.
I had the tale in full by the time my bonnet was off. Mea, on one side, and Puss on the other, poured it forth in excited whispers, having closed "the chamber" door. Abolitionists had been at work among the negroes in Henrico and Hanover counties for weeks. There were indications of an organized conspiracy (in scope and detail so like the plot for which John Brown's blood paid twelve years thereafter, that I bethought me of it when the news from Harper's Ferry stunned the nation), and the city was under arms. Governor Smith was said to have issued a proclamation to militia and citizens at large in Latin.
I laughed there.
" 'Extra Billy!' He knows less of Latin than of Choctaw!"
The worthy functionary had earned the sobriquet by superdiligence in the matter of extra baggage while in the service of a stage-coach company, and as he was a Democrat we never forgot it.
"Let that pass!" said Mea, impatiently. "We can't get away from the fact that where there is so much smoke there must be a little fire. Some evil business is on foot, and all the servants know what it is, whether we do or not."
I felt that she was right when Mary Anne and "Mammy," Gilbert, Tom, his assistant, and my little maid Paulina, with black Molly, Percy's nurse, trooped in, one after the other, to welcome "Miss Firginny" home. They had done
the like ever since I was born. I should have felt hurt and angry had they failed in the ceremony. My sharpened senses detected something that was overdone in manner and speech. They were too glad to see me, and while they protested, I discerned sarcasm in their grins, a sinister roll in lively eyeballs.
We talked fast over the supper-table, and of all manner of things irrelevant to the topic uppermost in our thoughts. Once, while Gilbert and his half-grown subaltern were out of the room, I ventured a hasty whisper to my father, at whose right I sat:
"Father, have we any arms in the house if they should come?"
Without turning his head, he saw, out of the tail of his eye, Gilbert on the threshold, a plate of hot waffles in hand, and Tom at his heels bearing a pitcher of fresh water. My father reached out a deliberate hand for a slice of bread from a plate near his elbow.
"All that I have to say, my daughter" (his speech as deliberate as his hand, and every syllable sharp and clear), "is that we are prepared for them, come when and how they may."
A perceptible shiver, as when one catches breath after an electric shock, ran around the table. All felt that he had thrown down the gauntlet, and was ready to take the consequences. My heart leaped up as an elastic bough from the weight that had bowed it to the earth. It was no effort after that to be gay. I told stories of my country sojourn, retailed the humors of the visit to our old neighborhood, mimicking this and that rustic, telling of comical sayings of the colored people who pressed me with queries as to town life - in short, unbottled a store of fun and gossip that lasted until bedtime. Then, as I told my correspondent, I went to bed and slept the sleep of youth, health, and an easy mind.
And this because he who never lied to me had said that he was "prepared" for the assassins, come when they might.
A week later, when the fireless smoke had vanished quite from the horizon, and we dared jest at the "scare," I asked my mother what arsenal my father had had in reserve that he could speak so confidently of preparation for midnight attack and domestic treachery.
"Nothing more formidable than a carving-knife," she answered, merrily, "and courage that has always served him in the hour of peril. He was not alarmed. I believe he would face a hundred negroes with no other weapon than his bare hands."
I am often asked why, if our family servants were really and warmly attached to us, we should have let the "bugbear" poison our pleasures and haunt our midnight visions. To the present hour I am conscious of a peculiar stricture of the heart that stops my breath for a second, at the sudden blast of a hunter's horn in the country. Before I was eight years old I had heard the tale of Gabriel's projected insurrection, and of the bloodier outbreak of murderous fury led by Nat Turner, the petted favorite of a trusting master. Heard that the signal of attack in both cases was to be "a trumpet blown long and loud." Again and again, on my visits to country plantations, I have been thrown into a paroxysm of terror when awakened from sleep in the dead of night, by the sound of the horns carried by "coon hunters" in their rounds of the woods nearest us. I could not have been over ten, when, on a visit to "Lethe," a homestead occupied for a while by Uncle Carus, I was rambling in the garden soon after sunrise, picking roses, and let them fall from nerveless fingers at the ringing blast of a "trumpet blown long and loud", from the brow of a neighboring hill. As it pealed louder and longer, until the blue welkin above me repeated the sound, I fled as fast
as my freezing feet would carry me, to the deepest recesses of the graveyard at the foot of the garden, and hid in a tangle of wild raspberry bushes higher than my head. There I lay, wet with the dews of the past night, and my face and hands scratched to bleeding, until the winding horn grew faint and fainter, and the bay of a pack of hounds told me what a fool panic had made of me. We always thought of the graveyard as an asylum in the event of a rising. No negro would venture to enter it by day or night.
In any ordinary period of danger or distress, I would have trusted my life in the hands of the men and women who had been born on the same plantation with my mother, and the younger generation, to whom she had been a faithful and benignant friend from their cradles. In fire and flood and tempest; in good report and evil report; in sickness and in health; in poverty, as in riches - they would have stood with, and for us to the death. We knew them to be but children of a larger growth, passionate and unreasoning, facile and impulsive, and fanatical beyond anything conceivable by the full-blooded white. The superstitious savagery their ancestors had brought from barbarous and benighted Africa, was yet in their veins. We had heard how Gabriel, a leader in prayer-meetings, and encouraged by the whites to do Christian evangelization among his own race, had deliberately meditated and written down, as sections of the code to be put into practice, when he should come into his kingdom of Lower Virginia - a plan of murder of all male whites, and a partition of the women and girl-children among his followers, together with arson and tortures exceeding the deviltries of the red Indians. We had heard from the lips of eyewitnesses, scenes succeeding the Southampton massacre of every white within the reach of the murderous horde howling at the heels of the negro preacher whom his
master had taught to read and write - how the first victim of the uprising, in the name of God and freedom, was that master as he lay asleep at his wife's side. Of how coolly - even complacently - Turner recorded: "He sprang up, calling his wife's name. It was his last word. A single blow was sufficient to kill him. We forgot a baby that was asleep in the cradle, but Hark went back and dispatched it."
In every plan of rising against their masters, Religion was a potent element. It was, to their excitable imaginations, a veritable Holy War, from which there would be no discharge. The "Mammy" who had nursed her mistress's baby at her own bosom, would brain it, with the milk yet wet upon its lips, if bidden by the "prophet" to make the sacrifice. Nat Turner split with his axe the skull of a boy he had carried in his arms scores of times, and stayed not his hand, although the little fellow met him with a happy laugh and outstretched arms and the cry, "Uncle Nat, you have come to give me a ride! Haven't you?"
I repeat, we knew with what elements we should have to deal if the "rising" ever took an organized form. This ever-present knowledge lay at the root of the hatred of the "abolition movement." To the Northerner, dwelling at ease among his own people, it was - except to the leaders - an abstract principle. "All men are created free and equal" - a slaveholder had written before his Northern brother emancipated his unprofitable serfs. Ergo, reasoned the Northern brother, in judicial survey of the increasing race, whose labor was still gainful to tobacco and wheat planter, the negro slave had a right to "liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
He did not count the cost of a consummation devoutly to be desired. He had no occasion to meditate upon the bloody steps by which the enslaved and alien race would