University of Virginia Library


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I hate him for he is a Christian—
But more, for that, in low simplicity,
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
If I can catch him once upon the hip
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.

Merchant of Venice.

We at length reached the dwelling of our debtor
He received us as before, with a plain, rude indifference
of manner, mingled with good nature, nevertheless,
that seemed willing to give pleasure, how-over
unwilling to make any great exertion for it.
There was nothing to startle our apprehension or
make us suspicious. Nobody appeared, save the
host, who played his part to admiration. He would
have carried our horses to the stable, but we refused
to suffer him to do so, alleging our intention to ride
back to Colonel Grafton's as soon as possible.

“What! not before dinner!—you will surely stay
and dine with me. I have prepared for you.”

The rascal spoke truly. He had prepared for us
with a vengeance. I would have declined for I did
not like, though to confess a truth, I did not distrust,


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appearance. But finding us hesitate, and
fearing probably to lose his prey, he resorted to a
suggestion which at once determined us.

“I'm afraid if you can't stop for dinner, I can't
let you have the money to day. A neighbour of
mine to whom I lent it a month ago, promised to
bring it by meal-time, and as he lives a good bit off,
I don't look for him before.”

This, uttered with an air of indifference, settled
our irresolution. The idea of coming back again
to such a place, and so wasting another day, was
any thing but agreeable, and we resolved to stay by
all means, if by so doing, we could effect our object.
Still, as we were bent to ride, as soon as we had got
the money, we insisted that he should not take our
horses, which were fastened to the swinging limbs
of a shady tree before the entrance, in instant
readiness for use. This preparatory conference took
place at the door. We then entered the hovel,
which it will be necessary, in order to detail following
events, briefly to describe. In this particular,
our task is easy—the arts of architecture, in the
southwestern country, being of no very complicated
character. The house, as I have said before, was
built of logs, unhewn, unsquared, rude, ill-adjointed
—the mere hovel of a squatter, who cuts down fine
trees, spoils a good site, and establishes what he impudently
styles his improvements! It consisted


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of a single story, raised upon blocks four feet from
the ground, having an entrance running through the
centre of the building with apartments on either
hand. To the left hand apartment which was used
as a hall, was attached at each end, a little lean-to or
shed, the doors to which opened at once upon the
hall. These rooms were possibly meant as sleeping
apartments, nothing being more common in the
southwest than such additions for such purposes.
In this instance, however, all regard to appearances
seemed to have been neglected, since, in attaching
the shed to each end of the hall, one of these ugly
excrescences was necessarily thrown upon the front
of the building, which, without such an incumbrance
was already sufficiently uncouth and uninviting. If
the exterior of this fabric was thus unpromising
what could be said of it within? It was a mere shell.
There was no ceiling to the hall, and the roof which
covered it, was filled with openings that let in the
generous sun-light, and with undiscriminating liberality
would have let in any quantity of rain. The
furniture consisted of an old sideboard, garnished
with a couple of common decanters, a pitcher with
the mouth broken off, and some three or four
cracked tumblers. A ricketty table was stationary
in the centre of the room, which held, besides, some
half dozen high backed and low bottom chairs, the


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seats of which were covered with untanned deer-skins.

Into these we squatted with little ceremony. Our
host placed before us a bundle of segars. I did not
smoke and declined to partake; but my companion
joined him, and the two puffed away cosily together
to my great annoyance. Mean while an old negro
wench made her appearance, spread a cloth which
might have been clean in some earlier period of the
world's history, but which was inconceivably dirty
now, and proceeded to make other shows, of a like
satisfactory nature, of the promised dinner. The
cloth was soon laid—plates, dishes, knifes and forks,
produced from the capacious sideboard, and, this
done, she proceeded to fill the decanter from a jug
which she brought from the apartment opposite.
She then retired to make her final preparations for
the feast.

To join with him in a glass of whiskey was the
next proceeding, and setting us a hearty example by
half filling his own glass, he would have insisted
upon our drinking with equal liberality. Fortunately
for me, at least, I was stubborn in my moderation.
I was not moderate from prudence, but from
fastidiousness. In the society and house of one
whom I esteemed more than I did the vulgar creature
who sought to persuade me, I feel, and confess,
I should have been more self indulgent. But I


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could not stomach well the whiskey of the person,
whose frequent contact I found it so difficult to
endure. I should not have drank with him at all,
but that I was unwilling to give offence. Such
might have been the case in the event of my refusal,
had it been his cue to quarrel.

We drank, however, and resumed our seats; our
host with a sang froid which seemed habitual if not
natural, dashing into speech without any provocation.

“So you're going back to Colonel Grafton's, are
you. He's a mighty great man now-a-days, and it's
no wonder you young men like him. It's natural
enough for young men to like great men, particularly
when they're well off and have handsome
daughters. You've looked hard upon Miss Julia,
I reckon?”

I said nothing, but Carrington replied in a jocular
manner, which I thought rather too great a concession
of civility to such a creature. He continued:

“Once, to tell you a dog-truth, I rather did like
him myself. He was a gentleman to say the littlest
for him; and, dang it! he made me feel it always
when I stood before him. It was that very thing
that made me come to dislike him. I stood it well
enough while I worked for him, but after I left him
the case was different—I didn't care to have such a
feeling when I set up business for myself. And


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then he took it upon him to give me advice, and to
talk to me about reports going through the neighbourhood,
and people's opinions of me, and all that
d—d sort of stuff, just as if he was my god-father.
I kicked at that, and broke loose mighty soon. I
told him my mind, and then he pretty much told
me his—for Grafton's no coward—and so we concluded
to say as little to one another as we well
could spare.”

“The wisest and safest course for both of you, I
doubt not,” was Carrington's remark.

“As for the safety now, Mr. Carrington,” replied
the debtor, “that's neither here nor there. I would
not give this stump of tobacco for any better security
than my eyes and fingers against Grafton or any
other man in the land. I don't ask for any protection
from the laws—I won't be sued and I don't sue.
Catch me going to the squire to bind my neighbour's
fist or fingers. Let him use them as he pleases;
all I ask is good notice beforehand, a fair field, and
no favour. Let him hold to it then, and see who
first comes bottom upwards.”

“You are confident of your strength,” was my
remark—“yet I should not think you able to match
with Colonel Grafton. He seems to me too much
for you. He has a better frame, and noble muscle.”

Not displeased at what might look like personal


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disparagement, the fellow replied with cool good

“Ah! you're but a young beginner, stranger,
though it may be a bold one. For a first tug or two,
Grafton might do well enough; but his breath
wouldn't hold him long. His fat is too thick about
his ribs to stand it out. I'd be willing to run the
risk of three tugs with him to have a chance at the
fourth. By my grinders, but I would gripe him
then. You should then see a death hug, stranger,
if you never saw it before.”

The fellow's teeth gnashed as he spoke, and his
mouth was distorted, and his eyes glared with an
expression absolutely fiendish. At the same moment
dropping the end of the segar from his hand,
he stuck forth his half contracted fingers, as if in the
effort to grasp his opponent's throat; and I almost
fancied, I beheld the wolf upon his leap. The nails
of his fingers had not been cut for a month, and
looked rather like the claws of a wild beast than the
proper appendages of a man.

“You seem to hate him very much,” was my
unnecessary remark. I uttered it almost unconsciously.
It prompted him to farther speech.

“I do hate him,” was the reply, more than I hate
any thing beside in nature. I don't hate a bear for
I can shoot him; nor a dog, for I can scourge him;
nor a horse for I can manage him; nor a wild bull,


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for I have taken him by the horns when he was
maddest. But I hate that man, Grafton, by the
eternal; and I hate him more because I can't manage
him in any way. He's neither bear, nor bull nor
dog—not so dangerous, yet more difficult than all.
I'd give all I'm worth, and that's something, though
you don't see it, perhaps, only to meet him as a bear,
as a bull, as a dog—ay, by the hokies, as all three
together—and let us all show after our own fashion,
what we are good for. I'd lick his blood that day,
or he should lick mine.”

“It seems to me,” I replied, and my looks and
language must both have partaken largely of the unmitigated
disgust within my soul—“It seems to me
strange, indeed, how any man, having the spirit of
manhood, should keep such a hatred as that festering
in his heart, without seeking to work it out.
Why, if you hate him, do you not fight him?”

“That's well enough said, young master—” he
cried, without hearing me to the end—“but it's
easier to say that, and to desire it, than to get it.
Fight it out indeed—and how am I to make him
fight? send him a challenge! Ha! ha! ha! why he'd
laugh at it, and so would you, young sir, if he showed
you the challenge while you happened to be in
the house. His wife would laugh; and his daughter
would laugh, and even nigger Tom would laugh.
You'd have lots of fun over it—Ha! ha! a challenge


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from Mat Webber to Colonel John Grafton, Grafton
Lodge! what a joke for my neighbour democrats.
Every rascal among them—each of whom would
fight you to-morrow, sir, if you ventured to say they
were not perfectly your equal, would yet laugh to
split their sides to think of the impudence of that
poor devil, Webber, in challenging Colonel John
Grafton, Squire Grafton—the great planter of Grafton
Lodge. Oh no, sir—that's all my eye. There's
no getting a fight out of my enemy in that way.
You must think of some other fashion for righting
poor men in this country.”

There was certainly some truth in what the fellow
said. He felt it, but he seemed no longer angry.
Bating a sarcastic grin, and a slight and seemingly
nervous motion of his fingers, which accompanied
the words, they were spoken with a coolness almost
amounting to good nature. I had, meanwhile, got
somewhat warmed by the viperous malignity which
he had indicated towards a gentleman, who, as you
have seen, had won greatly upon my good regards,
and, without paying much attention to the recovered
ease and quiet of the fellow—so entirely different
from the fierce and wolfish demeanour which had
marked him but a few moments before—I proceeded,
in the same spirit in which I had begun, to reply
to him.

“Had you heard me out, sir, you would, perhaps,


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have spared your speech. I grant you that it might
be a difficult, if not an impossible thing to bring Mr.
Grafton to a meeting; but this difficulty would not
arise, I imagine, from any difference between you
of wealth or station. No mere inequalities of fortune
would deprive any man of his claim to justice
in any field; or my own affairs would frequently
subject me to such deprivation. There must be
something beside this, which makes a man incur a
forfeiture of this sort.”

“Yes, yes,” he replied instantly, with surprising
quickness—“I understand what you would say.
The world must esteem me a gentleman.”

“Precisely,” was my careless reply. The fellow
looked gravely upon me for an instant, but smoothing
down his brow, which began to grow wrinkled,
he proceeded in tones as indifferent as before.

“I confess to you I'm no gentleman—I don't pretend
to it—I wasn't born one and can't afford to
take up the business. It costs too much in clothes,
in trinkets, in fine linen, in book learning and other

I was about to waste a few sentences upon him
to show that these were not the requisites of gentility,
but he spared me any such foolish labour by
going on thus:

“That's neither here nor there. You were going
to tell me of some way by which I could get


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my revenge out of Grafton. Let's hear your ideas
about that. That's the hitch.”

“Not your revenge—I spoke of redress for

“Well, well,” he replied, shaking his head,
“names for the same things, pretty much—but, as
you please. Only tell me how, if you are no gentleman,
mark that—I don't want the revenge—the
redress I mean, of a gentleman—I want the redress
of a man—tell me how I am to get it, when the
person who has wronged me, thinks me too much
beneath him to meet me on a fair ground. What's
my remedy? Tell me that, and I'll give you my
thanks, and call you a mighty clever fellow in the

His insolence annoyed me, and he saw it in my
quick reply: “I thank you, sir, I can spare the compliment—”

He grinned good naturedly: “You a poor man!”
he exclaimed, interrupting me; “by the hokies, you
ought to be rich, and your mother must have had
some mighty high notions when she carried you.
But go on—I ask your pardon—go on.”

I should not have complied with the fellow's wish
but that I felt a secret desire which I could not repress,
to goad him for his insolence: “Well, sir, I
say that I see no difficulty, if the person injured has
the commonest spirit of manhood in him, in getting


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redress from a man who has injured him whatever
be his station. I am convinced, if you seriously
wish for it, you could get yours from Grafton.
There is such a thing, you know, as taking the road
of an enemy.”

“Ha! ha! ha! and what would that come to, or
rather what do you think it would bring me to,
here in Tuscaloosa county? I'll tell you in double
quick time—the gallows. It wouldn't bring you to
the gallows, or any man passing for a gentleman,
but democrats can't bear to see democrats taking
upon themselves the airs of gentlemen. They'd
hang me, my good friend, if they didn't burn me
beforehand, and that would be the upshot of following
your counsel. But, your talk isn't new to me,
I have thought of it long before. Do you think—
but to talk about what you didn't do, is mighty little
business. To put a good deal in a small calabash,
let me tell you then that Mat Webber isn't the man
to sit down and suck his thumbs when his neighbour
troubles him, if so be he can help himself in a
quicker way. I've turned over all this matter in
my mind, and I've come to this conclusion, that I
must wait for some odd hour when good luck is
willing to do what she has never done yet, and
gives me a chance at my enemy. Be certain when
that hour comes, stranger, my teeth shall meet in
the flesh.”


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He filled his glass and drank freely as he concluded.
His face had in it an air of resolve as he spoke
which left little doubt in my mind that he was the
ruffian to do what he threatened, and involuntarily
I shuddered when I thought how many opportunities
must necessarily arise to him for the execution
of any villany from the near neighbourhood in
which he lived with the enemy whom he so deeply
hated. I was not suffered to meditate long upon
this or any subject. The negro woman appeared
bringing in dinner. Some fried bacon and eggs
formed the chief items in our repast, and with an
extra hospitality which had its object, our host
placed our chairs, which were both on the one side
of the table, he, alone, occupying the seat opposite.
Without a solitary thought of evil we sat down to
the repast, which might well be compared to the
bait which is placed by the cunning fowler for the
better entrapping of the unwary bird.