University of Virginia Library


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“This night at least * * * * *
The hospitable hearth shall flame
And * * * * *
Find for the wanderer rest and fire.”

Walter Scott.

Colonel Grafton—for we are all colonels more
or less in the southern and southwestern states—
received us at the doorsteps of his mansion, and
gave us that cordial kind of reception which makes
the stranger instantly at home. Our horses were
taken, and, in defiance of all our pleading, were
hurried off to the stables, while we were ushered
into the house by our host, and made acquainted
with his family. This consisted of his wife, a fine
portly dame of forty-five, and some five children,
in the several stages from seven to seventeen. The
eldest, a lovely damsel, with bright blue eyes, and
dark brown hair, fair as a city lily; the youngest,
an ambitious urchin, the cracking of whose knotted
whip filled the room with noises, which it required
an occasional finger-shake of the indulgent mother
finally to subdue. Hospitality was a presiding


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virtue, not an ostentatious pretender, in that pleasant
household, and, in the space of half an hour, we felt
as comfortably at home with its inmates as if we
had been associates all our lives. Colonel Grafton
would not listen to our leaving him that night.
When William pleaded his business, he had a sufficient
answer. The man whom he sought lived
full twelve miles off, and, through a tedious region
of country, it would take us till dark, good riding,
to reach and find the spot, even if we started before
dinner—a violation of good breeding not to be
thought of in Alabama. We were forced to stay,
and, indeed, needed no great persuasion. The air
of the whole establishment took us both at first sight.
There is a household as well as individual manner,
which moves us almost with as great an influence;
and that of Colonel Grafton's was irresistible. A
something of complete life—calm, methodical, symmetrical
life—life in repose—seemed to mark his
parlour, his hall, the arrangement of his grounds
and gardens—the very grouping of the trees. All
testified to the continual presence of a governing
mind, whose whole feeling of enjoyment was derived
from order—a method as rigorous as it was simple
and easy of attainment. Yet there was no trim
formality either in his own or his wife's deportment;
and as for the arrangement of things about his house,
you could impute to neither of them a fastidious


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nicety and marked disposition to set chairs and
tables, books and pictures, over and against each
other of equal size and like colour. To mark what
I mean more distinctly, I will say, that he never
seemed to insist upon having things in their places,
but he was always resolute to have them never in
the way
. There is no citizen of the world who
will not readily conceive the distinction.

We had a good dinner, and after dinner, taking
his wife, and all his children along, he escorted us
over a part of his grounds, pointed out his improvements,
and gave us the domestic history of his settlement.
Miss Grafton afterwards, at her father's
suggestion, conducted us to a pleasant promenade of
her own finding, which, in the indulgence of a very
natural sentimentality, she had entitled, “The Grove
of Coronattee,” after a love-sick Indian maiden of
that name, who, it is said by tradition, preferred
leaving her tribe when it emigrated to the Mississippi,
to an exile from a region in which she had
lived from infancy, and which she loved better than
her people. She afterwards became the wife of a
white man named Johnson, and there the tradition
ends. The true story—as Colonel Grafton more
than hinted—was, that Coronattee was tempted by
Johnson to become his wife long before the departure
of the tribe, and she, in obedience to natural,
not less than Scripture laws, preferred cleaving to


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her husband to going with less endearing relations
into foreign lands. The colonel also intimated his
doubts as to the formality of the ceremony by which
the two were united; but this latter suggestion was
made to us in a whisper;—Julia Grafton wholly
denying, and with some carnestness I thought, even
such portions of her father's version of the romance
as he had permitted to reach her ears.

That night we rejoiced in a warm supper, and
when it was ended, I had reason to remark, with
delight, the effect upon the whole household of that
governing character on the part of its head, which
had impressed me at first entering it. The supper
things seemed removed by magic. We had scarcely
left the table, Mrs. Grafton leading the way, and
taken our places around the fire, when Julia took
her mother's place at the waiter; and without noise,
bustle or confusion, the plates and cups and saucers
were washed and despatched to their proper places.
A single servant only attended, and this servant
seemed endowed with ubiquity. She seemed to
have imbibed the general habits of her superiors,
and did quite as much, if not more, than would have
been done by a dozen servants, and with infinitely
less confusion. Such was the result of method in
the principal—there is a moral atmosphere, and we
become acclimated, when under its action, precisely
as in the physical world. The slave had tacitly


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fallen into the habits and moods of those above her
—as inferiors are very apt to do—and, without a
lesson prescribed or a reason spoken, she had heeded
all lessons, and felt, though she might not have expressed,
the reasons for all. The whole economy
of the household was admirable—not an order was
given—no hesitation or ignorance of what was
needed, shown—but each seemed to know by instinct,
and to perform with satisfaction, his or her
several duties. Our repasts are seldom conducted
any where in the Southwest with a strict attention
to order. A stupid slave puts every thing into
confusion, and we do not help the matter much by
bringing in a dozen to her aid. The fewer servants
about houses the better—they learn to do the more
they are required to do, and acquire a habit of
promptness without which a servant might be always
utterly worth ess.

When the table was removed Julia joined us, and
we all chatted pleasantly together for the space of
an hour. As soon as the conversation seemed to flag,
at a signal from Colonel Grafton, which his daughter
instantly recognised and obeyed, she rose, and
bringing a little stand to the fireside, on which lay
several books, she prepared to read to us in compliance
with one of the fireside laws of her father—
one which he had insisted upon, and which she had
followed, from the first moment of her being able to


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read tolerably. She now read well—sweetly, unaffectedly,
yet impressively. A passage from the
“Deserted Village” interested us for half an hour;
and the book made way for conversation among the
men, aud needle work among the women. But the
whole scene impressed me with delight. It was so
natural, yet so uncommon in its aspect—done with
so much ease, with so little effort, yet so completely.
Speaking of it in compliment to our host when
the ladies had retired, we received a reply which
struck me as embodying the advantages of a whole
host of moral principles, such as are laid down in
books, but without any of their cold and freezing
drynesses. “Sir,” said Colonel Grafton, “I ascribe
the happiness of my family to a very simple origin.
It has always been a leading endeavour with me to
make my children love the family fireside. If the
virtues should dwell any where in a household, it is
there. There I have always and only found them.”

And there they did dwell of a truth. I felt their
force and so did my companion. William, indeed,
was so absolutely charmed with Julia Grafton, that
I began to apprehend that he would not only forget
his betrothed, but his journey also—a journey which,
I doubt not, the reader, agreeing with myself, would
have us instantly resume. But we had consented
to stay with our friendly host that night; and before
we retired we made all necessary inquiries touching


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his debtor. Colonel Grafton gave my friend
little encouragement on the subject of his claim.

“I am almost sorry,” he said, “that I endorsed
that man's note. I fear I shall have to pay it; not
that I regard the loss, but that it will make me the
more reluctant hereafter to assist other poor men in
the same manner. The dishonesty of one beginner
in this way affects the fortunes of a thousand others,
who are possibly free from his or any failings of
the kind. When I signed the note for Webber, he
was my overseer but disposed to set up for himself.
I had found him honest—or rather, I had never
found him dishonest. If he was, he had rogue's
cunning enough to conceal it. Since he left me,
however, he has become an object of suspicion to
the whole neighbourhood, and many are the tales
which I hear of his misconduct. It is not known
how he lives. A miserable patch of corn and one
of potatoes form his only pretence as a farmer, and
to these he pays so little attention, that his apology
is openly laughed at. The cattle are commonly in
the cornfield, and the hogs do what they please with
the potato patch. He does not see, or does not care
to see. He is seldom at home, and you may have
to return to-morrow without finding him. If so,
scruple not to make my house your home so long
as it may serve your purpose and prove agreeable.”

We thanked him with due frankness, and he


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“This man has no known resources whatsoever,
yet he is seldom without money. He is lavish of
it, and must get it easily. It is commonly thought
that he gambles and is connected with a vast association
of gamblers that live upon the steamboats,
and harass the country from Georgia to Louisiana,
assessing the unwary traveller wherever they meet
with him—and you know how many thoughtless,
confident youth we have, who lose their money from
an unwillingness to believe that they can be outwitted
by their neighbour.”

My eye, as these words were spoken, caught that
of William, which turned away in confusion from
my glance. I felt mischievous enough to relate our
adventure at the Tuscaloosa tavern, but Colonel
Grafton talked too well, and we were both too much
interested in what he said to desire to interrupt
him. He proceeded—

“It is even said and supposed by some that he
does worse—that he robs where he cannot win, and
seizes where he cannot cheat. I am not of this
opinion. Rogues as well as honest men find it easy
enough to get along in our country without walking
the highway; and, though I know him to be bold
enough to be a ruffian, I doubt whether such would
be his policy. My notion is that he is a successful
gambler, and, as such, if you find him at home, I
doubt not that you will get your money. At least,


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such is my hope for your sake as well as my own.
If you do, Mr. Carrington, you will trust again, and
I—yes—I will endorse again the poor man's promise
to pay.”

“And how far from you is the residence of this
man?” was my question.

“From twelve to fourteen miles, and through a
miserably wild country. I do not envy you the
ride; you will have an up-hill journey of it full two
thirds of the route, and a cheerless one throughout.
I trust you may not take it in vain; but—whether
you do or not, you must return this way. It is your
nearest route to Columbus, and I can put you on
your way by a short cut which you could not find
yourselves. I shall, of course, expect you.”

Such was the amount of our conference with
this excellent man that night. We separated at
twelve o'clock—a late hour in the country, but the
evening had passed too pleasantly to permit us to
feel it so. A cheerful breakfast in the morning, and
a renewal of all those pleasant thoughts and images
which had fascinated us the night before, made us
hesitate to leave this charming family; and slow
were the first movements which carried us from the
happy territory. Well provided with directions for
finding the way, and cautions to be circumspect and
watchful, we set out for the dwelling of our suspicious