University of Virginia Library


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My father blessed me fervently
But did not much complain,
Yet sorely will my mother sigh,
Till I come home again.


At the dawn of day I rose, and without waiting
breakfast, hurried off to the habitation of my father.
I should have slept at home the last night, but that
I could not, under my excited state of feeling, have
trusted myself to meet John Hurdis. For that
matter, however, I might have safely ventured; for
he, probably with a like caution, had also slept from
home. It was arranged between William Carrington
and myself that we were to meet at mid-day,
at a spot upon the road equidistant from both plantations,
and then proceed together. The time between
was devoted to our respective partings; he with
Catharine Walker, and I with my father and mother.
Could it have been avoided with propriety, I
should have preferred to leave this duty undone.
I wished to spare my old mother any unnecessary
pain. Besides, to look her in the face, and behold her


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grief at the time when I meditated to make our separation
a final one, would, I well knew, be a trial
of my own strength, to which I was by no means
willing to subject it. My sense of duty forbade its
evasion, however, and I prepared for it, with as
much manful resolve as I could muster.

My mother's reproaches were less painful to me
than the cold and sullen forbearance of my father.
Since I had resolved to work for him no longer, he
did not seem to care very greatly where I slept.
No that he was indifferent; but his annoyance at
my resolution to leave him, made him less heedful
of my other and minor movements; so he said
nothing to me on my return. Not so my mother.

“The last night, Richard, and to sleep from home!
Ah, my son, you do not think but it may be indeed
the very last night. You know not what may happen,
while you are absent. I may be in my grave
before you return.”

I was affected; her tears always affected me; and
her reproaches were always softened by her tears.
From childhood she had given me to see that she
sorrowed even when she punished me; that she
shared in the pain she felt it her duty to inflict.
How many thousand better sons would there be in
the world, if their parents punished and rewarded
from principle, and never from passion or caprice.
I am sure, with a temperament, reckless and impatient


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like mine, I should have grown up to be a
demon, had not my mother been to me a saint. I
sought to mollify her.

“I did wish to come, mother—I feel the truth of
all you say—but there was a circumstance—I had a
reason for staying away last night.”

“Ay, to be sure,” said my father sullenly; “it
would not be Richard Hurdis if he had not a reason
for doing what he pleased. And pray what was
this good and sufficient reason, Richard?”

“Excuse me, sir, I would rather not mention it.”

“Indeed!” was the response. “You are too
modest by half, Richard. It is something strange
that you should at any time distrust the force of
your own arguments.”

I replied to the sarcasm calmly.

“I do not now, sir—I only do not care to give
unnecessary particulars; and I'm sure that my mother
will excuse them. I trust that she will believe
what I have already said, and not require me to declare
what I would be glad to withhold.”

“Surely, my son,” said the old lady, and my father
remained silent. A painful interval ensued, in
which no one spoke, though all were busily engaged
in thought. My father broke the silence by asking
a question which my mother had not dared to ask.

“And at what hour do you go, Richard?”

“By twelve, sir; my horse is at feed now, and,


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I having nothing but my saddle bags to see to. You
have the biscuit ready, mother, and the venison?”

“Yes, my son—I have put up some cheese also,
which you will not find in the way. Your shirts are
all done up and on the bed.”

It required some effort on my mother's part to tell
me this. I thanked her, and my father proceeded.

“You will want your money, Richard, and I will
get it for you at once. If you desire more than I
owe you, say so. I can let you have it.”

“I thank you, sir, but I shall not need it; my own
money will be quite enough.”

He had made the proffer coldly—I replied proudly;
and he moved away with a due increase of sullenness.
The quick instinct of my mother, when
my father had gone, informed her of the matter
which I had been desirous to withhold.

“You have seen your brother, Richard?”

“How know you?”

“Ask not a mother how she knows the secret of
a son's nature, and how she can read those passions
which she has been unable to control. You have
seen your brother, Richard—you have quarrelled
with him.”

I looked down, and my cheeks burned as with
fire. She came nigh to me and took my hand.

“Richard, you are about to leave us; why can you
not forgive him? Forget your wrongs, if indeed you


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have had any at his hands, and let me no longer have
the sorrow of knowing that the children, who have
been suckled at the same breasts, part, and perhaps
for ever, as enemies.”

“Better, mother, that they should part as enemies,
than live together as such. Your maternal instinct
divines not all, mother—it falls short of the truth.
Hear me speak, and have your answer. I not only
quarrelled with John Hurdis, yesterday; but I laid
violent hands upon him.”

“You did not, you could not.”

“I must speak the truth, mother—I did.”

“And struck him?”

“No! but would have done so, had we not been

“Thank God, for that. It is well for you—Richard.
I should have cursed you with bitterness, had
you struck your brother with clenched hands.”

“I came nigh it, mother. He shook his whip
over my head, and I dragged him from his horse. I
would at that moment have trampled him under my
feet, but that the voice of Mary Easterby arrested
me. She came between us. She alone—I confess
it, mother—she alone kept me from greater violence.”

“Heaven bless her! Heaven bless the chance that
brought her there. Oh, Richard Hurdis! My son,
my son. Why will you not bear more patiently


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with John? Why will you not labour for my sake,
Richard; if not for his and your own?”

She trembled, as if palsied, while I related to her
the adventure of the preceding day; and though
schooled, as women in the new countries of the south
and west are very apt to be, against those emotions
which overcome the keener sensibilities of the sex
in very refined communities, yet I had never seen
her exhibit so much mental suffering before. She
tottered to a chair, at the conclusion of her speech,
refusing my offer to assist her, and burying her face
in her hands, wept without restraint, until suddenly
aroused to consciousness by the approaching foot-steps
of my father. He was a stern man and gave
little heed, and no sympathy to such emotions for
any cause. He would have been more ready to rebuke
than to relieve them; and that feeling of shame
which forbids us to show our sorrows to the unsympathising,
made her hasten to clear up her countenance,
and remove the traces of her suffering, as he
re-entered the apartment.

“Well, Richard,” he said, throwing down a handkerchief
of silver dollars, a more profuse collection
than is readily to be met with, in the same region
now, “here is your money; half in specie, half in
paper. It is all your own; count it for yourself, and
tell me if it's right.”


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“I'm satisfied if you have counted it, sir; there's
no use in counting it again.”

“That's as you think proper, my son; yet I shall
be better satisfied if you will count it.”

I did so to please him, declared myself content
and put the money aside. This done, I proceeded
to put up my clothes, and get myself in readiness.
Such matters took but little time, however; the last
words form the chief and most serious business in
every departure. The fewer of them the better.

So my father thought. His farewell and benediction
were equally and almost mortifyingly brief.

“Well, Richard, since it must be so—if you will
be obstinate—if you will go from where your bread
has been so long buttered, why God send you to a
land where you won't feel the want of those you
leave. I trust, however, to see you return before
long, and go back to the old business.”

“Return I may, father, but not to the old business,”
was my prompt reply; “I have had enough
of that. If I am able to be nothing better than an
overseer, and to look after the slaves of others, the
sooner I am nothing, the better.”

“You speak bravely now, boy,” said my father
now, “but the best bird that ever crowed in the
morning has had his tail feathers plucked before
evening. Look to yourself, my son; be prudent —
keep a bright eye about you as you travel, and learn


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from me what your own fortunes have not taught
you yet, but what they may soon enough teach you
unless you take counsel from experience, that there
is no chicken so scant of flesh, for which there is
not some half starved hawk to whom his lean legs
yield good picking. You have not much money,
but enough to lose, and quite enough for a sharper
to win. Take care of it. Should you find it easily
lost, come back, I say, and you can always find employment
on the old terms.”

“I doubt it not, father—I doubt not to find the
same terms any where on my route from Marengo
to Yalo-busha. There is no lack of employment
when the pay is moderate, and the work plenty.”

“I can get hundreds who will take your place,
Richard, for the same price,” said my father hastily,
and with no little disquiet.

“And do what I have done, sir?”

He did not answer the question, but walked to
and fro for several moments in silence, while I
spoke with my mother.

“And what about your own negroes, Richard?”
he again abruptly addressed me.

“Why, sir, you must work them as usual if you
have no objections. I shall have no need of them
for the present.”

“Yes, but you may want them when the next
year's crop is to be put into the ground.”


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“Hardly, sir—but if I should, I will then charge
you nothing for their time. It shall be my loss.”

“No, that it shall not be, Richard; you shall have
what is right since you leave it altogether to me.
And now, good bye. I'll leave you with your mother
and go into the woods; you can always talk
more freely with her, than you are willing to talk
with me; I don't know why, unless it is that I have
some d—d surly ways about me. Tell her if you
want any thing from me, or if I can do any thing
for you, don't spare your speech—let her know it,
and if it's to be done at all, I'll do it. I won't palaver
with you about my love and all that soft stuff,
but I do love you, Richard, as a man and no sneak.
Good bye, boy—good bye and take care of yourself.”

Thus, after his own rough fashion, my father
spoke his parting. A fountain of good feeling
was warm and playing at heart, though it seemed
stolid and impenetrable as the rocky surface that
shut it in. He was cold, and phlegmatic in his
manner only. One hurried embrace was taken, and
seizing his staff, he disappeared in another instant
from my sight. The soul of my mother seemed to
expand at his departure. His presence restrained
her; and with more than woman's strength, she kept
down, while under the inspection of his stern and


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piercing eye, all of the warmth and tenderness of
woman—of a mother.

“My son, my son, you leave me, you leave me
doubly unhappy—unhappy as you leave me and
perhaps forever—unhappy as you leave me with a
deadly enmity raging in your breast against your
brother. Could you forget this enmity—could you
forgive him before you go, I should be half reconciled
to your departure. I could bear to look for
you daily and to find you not—to call for you hourly,
and to have no answer—to dream of your coming,
and wake only to desire to dream again. Can
you not forgive him, Richard? Tell me that you
will. I pray you, my son, to grant me this, as a
gift and a blessing to myself. I will pray heaven
for all gifts upon you in return. Think, my son,
should death come among us—should one of us be
taken during the time you think to be gone—how
dreadful to think of the final separation without
peace being made between us. Let there be peace,
my son. Dismiss your enmity to John. You know
not that he has wronged you—you know not that he
has used any improper arts with Mary—but if he
has, my son—admitting that he has, still I pray you
to forgive him. Wherefore should you not forgive
him? Of what use to cherish anger? You cannot
contend with him in violence; you must not, you
dare not, as you value a mother's blessing, as you


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dread a mother's curse. Such violence would not
avail to do you justice; it could not give you what
you have lost. To maintain wrath is to maintain a
curse that will devour all your substance and lastly
devour yourself. Bless your poor mother, Richard,
and take her blessing in return. Grant her prayer,
and all her prayers will go along with you for

“Mother, bless me, for I do forgive him.”

Such were my spontaneous words. They came
from my uninstructed, untutored impulse, and at the
moment when I uttered them, I believed fervently
that they came from the bottom of my heart. I
fear that I deceived myself. I felt afterwards, as if
I had not forgiven, and could not forgive him. But
when I spoke, I thought I had, and could not have
spoken otherwise. Her own voluminous and passionate
appeal, had overcome me, and her impulse
bore mine along with it. I may have deceived her,
but I, as certainly, deceived myself. Be it so. The
error was a pious one, and made her happy; as happy,
at least, as, at that moment, she could well be.

I need not dwell upon our parting. It was one
of mixed pain and pleasure. It grieved me to see
how much she suffered, yet it gratified my pride to
find how greatly I was beloved. Once taught how
delicious was the one feeling of pleasure which such
a trial brought with it, I feel—I fear—that I could


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freely have inflicted the pain a second time, if sure
to enjoy the pleasure. Such is our selfishness. Our
vanity still subdues our sufferings, and our pride derives
its most grateful aliment from that which is, or
should be, our grief.

In an hour I was on the road with my companion,
and far out of hearing of my mother's voice.
And yet—I heard it.