University of Virginia Library




We were nine of us, packed snugly enough in a close
stage, and on the high road from Madison, in Georgia,
to Montgomery, in Alabama. The night was dark, and
the rain falling. The roads were bad, and the driver
as drunk as the least reasonable desperate could desire
under the circumstances. Everybody has an idea, more
or less vivid, of a dark and rainy night; most persons
can form a notion of the drunken driver of a stage-coach—a
swearing, foul-mouthed fellow, pestilent, full
of conceit and insolence, fully conscious of his power
over his nags and passengers, and with just reason
enough left to desire to use his power so as to keep all
parties apprehensive—his horses of the whip, and his
passengers of an upset. But if you know nothing of a
Georgia road in bad weather, at the time I speak of,
you can form but an imperfect idea of the nervous
irritability of the nine within our vehicle that night, as,
trundling through bog and through brier, over stump
and stone, up hill and down dale—as desperate a chase,
seemingly, as that of the Wild Horseman of Burger—we
momently cursed our fates, that had given us over to such
a keeping and such a progress. We could not see each
other's faces, but we could hear each other's words, and
feel each other's hips and elbows.


Page viii

“Hech! There we go!”

“You're into me, stranger, with a monstrous sharp
side of your own.”

“Beg pardon, but—” [Jolt, toss, and tumble.]

“We're gone now, I reckon!”

A general scramble followed the rolling of the baggage
in the rear, and sudden silence of the human voice,
while each strove to maintain his equilibrium, seizing
upon the nearest solid object.

“She rights!” said one.

“Eh! does she? I'm glad of it,” was the reply of
another, “since I hope this gentleman will now suffer
my head to get back fairly upon its shoulders.”

There was a release of the victim and an apology.
Indeed, there were several apologies necessary. We
were momently making free with the arms and sides
and shoulders of our neighbors, under the impulse of a
sudden dread of the upset, which it is wonderful how
we continued to escape. We compared notes. Our
apprehensions were general. The driver was appealed
to; we howled to him through the pipes of a Down
Easter, entreating him to drive more gently.

“Gently, be hanged!” was the horrid answer, followed
up by a tremendous smack of the whip. Away
went the horses at a wilder rate than ever, and we were
left, without hope or consolation, to all sorts of imaginable
and unimaginable terrors. We had no help for it,
and no escape. We could only brood over our terrors,
and mutter our rage. There were curses, not only loud,
but deep. It was in vain that our individual philosophies
strove to silence our discontents; these were kept
alive by the suggestions of less amiable companions.


Page ix
Our very efforts to conceal our fears sufficiently betrayed
them to all who were cool enough to make the discovery.
But self-esteem was reassured by the general sympathy
of most of our comrades. There were various emotions
among us—the modified exponents of the one in common—modified
according to age, temper, and education.
Our various modes of showing them made us altogether
a proper group for dramatic contrasts. We could have
played our parts, no doubt very decently, upon any
stage but that. We could have strutted manfully, and
shown good legs, but scarcely upon boards which
creaked and cracked as with convulsions of their own,
as we hurried headlong up the heights, or rushed whizzing
through the mire. And we should have had
variety enough for character. Our nine passengers
might have represented as many States. Never was
there a more grateful diversity. There was a schoolmaster
from Massachusetts. Whither, indeed, does not
Massachusetts send her schoolmasters, teaching the
same eternal notion of the saintly mission of the Puritans,
and the perfect virtues of their descendants? The
genius of that State was certainly born a pedagogue,
with birch in one hand and horn-book in the other!
There was a machinist from Maine, a queer, quaint,
shrewd, knowing, self-taught Yankee, who had lost half
his fingers in experimenting with his own machines, and
who was brim-full of a new discovery which is to secure
us that “philosopher's stone” of the nineteenth century
—perpetual motion! The principle of our machinist
seemed to lie in the amiable good-nature with which
certain balls, precipitating themselves upon certain
levers, would thus continue a series of ground and lofty


Page x
tumblings which should keep the great globe itself in
motion without other motive agencies. Our New
Yorker was an editor, bound first for New Orleans, and
then for Ashland, where he proposed to visit the god of
his political idolatry. We had a Pennsylvanian, who
seemed to feel as if all the shame of State repudiation
lay on his own particular shoulders; and a Mississippian,
who appeared to deplore nothing so much as that he
could not claim more than the merit of a single vote in
the glorious business of defying the foreign creditor of
the Union Bank. The encounter between these two
parties—the humbled and desponding tone of the one,
contrasted with the exulting and triumphant convictions
of successful right in the other—furnished a picture of
opposites that was perfectly delightful. The leading
idea which troubled our Virginian was, that Tyler was
to be the last of the Presidents which his State would
furnish to the Union; while the South Carolinian, with
whom he seemed intimate, consoled him with the assurance
that his regrets were idle, as the Union would not
much longer need a President. He indulged in the
favorite idea that a dissolution was at hand. “The
Union,” said he, “answered the purposes of the time.
It has survived its uses.” Our Georgian, on the contrary,
was for the extension of the confederacy by the
incorporation of as many new States south of us as we
could persuade into the fold. He was even then upon
his way to Texas, provided with his rifle only, in order
to be in the way to help in the matter of annexation.
Then we had a North Carolinian, a lank-sided fellow
from Tar River, who slept nearly all the way, spite of
toss and tumble, talked only (and constantly) in his


Page xi
sleep, and then chiefly upon the trouble of looking after
his own affairs. Our ninth man was a broth of a boy
in the shape of a huge Tennesseean, who filled up much
more than his proper share of seat, and, trespassing
upon mine with hip, thigh, and shoulder, compelled me
(will he, nill he) to reduce myself to dimensions far more
modest than I have usually been disposed to insist upon
as reasonable. But, there was no chiding or complaining.
He was so good-natured, so conscious of his involuntary
trespasses; at least, so dubious about them.

“I crowd you, stranger; I'm afeard I crowd you;”
and he laid his huge paw upon my shoulder with the
air of one who solicits all possible indulgence. If I
had been utterly squeezed out of proper shape, I could
scarcely have forborne the assurance, which I instantly
made him, that he didn't crowd me in the least.

“Well,” said he, “I'm glad to hear you say so; I
was a little dubious that I was spreading over you; and
if so, I didn't know what to do then; for here, if you
can feel, you'll see my fat lies rather heavy upon the
thighs of this perpetual motion person, and my knee is
a little too much of a dig for the haunches of the man
in front. In fact, he's cutting into me—he's mighty

The man in front, who was the Yankee schoolmaster,
said something in under tones to the effect that men of
such monstrous oversize should always take two places
in a public conveyance, or travel in their own. I caught
the words, but the Tennesseean did not.

“I'm jest as God made me,” he proceeded, as if
apologetically; “and if 'twould be any satisfaction to
you, stranger,” addressing me, “I'm willing to say


Page xii
that I would not be quite so broad if I had my own
way, and the thing was to be done over agin. But as
that's not to be hoped for, I don't complain at all, ef
you don't.”

How could I complain after the last suggestion—
complain of a man who felt his own misfortune with
such a proper conscience! The schoolmaster had something
to say. His tone was exceedingly indignant, but
too much subdued for the ears of the Tennesseean.
My amiable recognition of his bulk seemed to have won
his affections, if, indeed, his great size and my unavoidable
neighborhood did not sufficiently account for them.
His great fat haunches nestled most lovingly against
me, threatening to overlap me entirely, while his huge
arm encircled my neck with an embrace which would
have honored that of the Irish Giant. It was fortunate
that we had no such sulky scoundrels within the stage
as he who lorded it from the box. If we swore at him,
we kept terms with one another. If the storm roared
without, we were pacific enough within; and it was
wonderful, with such a variety, and with so much to
distress and disquiet! Vexed and wearied with the aspect
of affairs without, we succeeded in maintaining
good conditions within; our curses were expended upon
the driver; for one another, we had nothing but civility;
good nature, if not good humor, keeping us in that sobriety
of temper in respect to one another, when an
innocent freedom passes without offence, and we tolerate
a familiar in the barbarian whom, at another season, we
should probably scarce recognize as an acquaintance.
But mere good-nature has no chance, in the long run,
against the protracted fatigue and weariness of such a


Page xiii
ride as ours; and, as if by tacit consent, all parties
seemed to feel the necessity of an effort to dissipate our
dolors. The Maine man, it is true, discoursed of machines,
and the Massachusetts man of Webster; the
one was full of saws, the other of maxims; but the very
square and compass character of their mutual minds
was a worse monotony and fatigue than the wallowing
of our wheels in mire. A lively account, which the
Mississippian now gave us, of the pursuit and hanging
of the Yazoo rogues—that terrible tragedy, which still
needs an historian—soon led us upon another and more
agreeable track, upon which the Georgian entered with
a narrative of his own experience in catching alligators,
in winter, with barbed stakes. To him succeeded the
South Carolinian, with an account of a famous set-to
which he had enjoyed the season before with certain
abolitionists at New Haven, and which he concluded
with an eloquent showing of the necessity for a Southern
confederacy by next July. A stout controversy followed
between him and the representative from Massachusetts,
in which the grievances and quarrel between
the two States were particularly discussed; the Carolinian
concluding by proposing gravely to his opponent
that the territory of North Carolina should be hired by
the belligerent States for the purpose of settling their
squabbles in the only becoming and manly way, by a
resort to the ultima ratio. This dispute thus determined—for
this strange proposition seemed to confound
the man of Webster—we all had something to say
in turn, each mounting his favorite hobby. It was an
easy transition, from this, into anecdote and story, and
even our North Carolinian roused himself up with a


Page xiv
grunt, to yell out a wild ditty of the “old North State,”
which he heard from his great-grandmother, and which
he thought the finest thing in the shape of mixed song
and story which had ever been delivered to mortal
senses since the days of the prophets. It was one of
the many rude ballads of a domestic character, which
we have unwisely failed to preserve, which rehearsed
the doings and death of Blackbeard the Pirate, “as he
sailed” in and out of the harbors of Ocracoke and
Pamlico. The strain was a woful and must have been
a tedious one, but for the interposition of some special
providence, the secret of which remains hidden from us
to this day. It was observed that the voice of the
singer, pitched upon the highest possible key at the
beginning, gradually fell off towards the close of the
second quatrain, sunk into a feeble drawl and quaver
ere he had reached the third, and stopped short very
suddenly in the middle of the fourth. We scarcely
dared, any of us, to conjecture the cause of an interruption
which displeased nobody. If this “sweet singer”
from Tar River fell again to his slumbers, it is
certain that not a whisper to this effect ever passed his
lips. He gave us no premonitions of sleep, and no sequel
to his ballad. We were all satisfied that he should
have his own way in the matter, and never asked him
for the rest of the ditty. He will probably wake up
yet to finish it, but in what company or what coach
hereafter, and after what season of repose, it is hardly
prudent to guess, and not incumbent on us as a duty.

His quiet distressed none of us. There were others
anxious to take his place, and we soon got to be a merry
company indeed. Gradually, in the increasing interest


Page xv
of the several narratives, we forgot, temporarily,
the bad roads and the drunken driver, recalled to the
painful recollection only by an occasional crash and
curse from without, to which we shut our ears almost
as fervently as did Ulysses, when gliding among the
dogs of Scylla. Our singers were, in truth, no great
shakes, and our story-tellers scarcely better; but we
grew indulgent just as we grew needy, and our tastes
accommodated themselves to our necessities. It was
only after all parties seemed to have exhausted their
budget, their efforts subsiding into short and feeble
snatches—when there was only, at long intervals, a sort
of crackling from dry thorns under the pot of wit—it
was only then that our mammoth Tennesseean, who had
hitherto maintained a very modest silence, as if totally
unambitious of the honors of the raconteur, now suddenly
aroused himself with a shake not very unlike
that of a Newfoundland dog fresh from the water.

“Stranger,” says he to me, “ef so be you will only
skrooge yourself up so as to let me have this arm of mine
parfectly free for a swing, as I find it necessary, I'll
let out a little upon you in relation to sartain sarcumstances
that come pretty much to my own knowledge, a
year or two ago, in Florida.”

To skrooge myself up, in the expressive idiom of my
neighbor, into a yet narrower compass than I had been
compelled to keep before, was a thing wholly out of the
question. But a change of position might be effected,
to the relief of both parties, and this was all that he
really wanted. I contrived, after a desperate effort, to
satisfy him, and, in some degree, myself.

“I can't, somehow, talk easy, ef my arms ain't


Page xvi
loose,” he continued, apologetically. “My tongue and
arm must somehow work together, or I ain't half the
man I ought to be. It's like being suffered to spout
out, when you're rushing upon the inimy; and when
you can halloo as you rush, you feel wolfish all over.
I've had the feeling. Now, it's so in talking. Ef you
can use the arms when you talk, your words come free,
and jest of the right nature. It's like what people
mean when they say `the word and the blow!' They
do help each other mightily. Now, I'll try, as we're
mightily close set for room in this wagon, to jest make
as little a swing of the arms as possible; for you see, I
might, onintending anything of the sort, give a person,
standing or sitting on eny side of me, a smart notion of
a knock; that is, in the heat and hurry of the argyment.
I've done such a thing more than once, without meaning
it; only I'll try to be within bounds this time, and
I beg you'll take no offence. I'm sure, gentlemen, if
my motion don't trouble you, though it's a rether on-easy
one, I shan't mind it at all myself.”

Here was an excellent fellow! In his eloquence, he
might swing his great mutton fist across my mazzard,
and the thing, if not positively disagreeable to me,
would be of no sort of disturbance to him! It was difficult
to conceive in what school he had acquired his philosophy.
It was certainly as cool as that of St. Omer's,
but rather lacking in its refinements. At all events
common sense required that, as I could not entirely
escape his action, I should keep as sharp an eye upon
it as possible. It might have been the safest course
to reject the story in regard to its accompaniments,
but that would have seemed unamiable, and I might


Page xvii
have incurred the reproach of being timorous. Besides,
there was some curiosity to hear what sort of a story
would issue from such a source, and we were all too
much in need of excitement to offer any discouragements
to a new hand proposing to work for our benefit;
so, after modestly suggesting the propriety of using as
little action as possible, we began to look with considerable
anxiety to the reopening of those huge jaws,
from which, to say truth, whatever might be the good
things occasionally going in, but few of us had any
anticipations of good things coming out. But he was
slow to begin. He had his preliminary comments upon
what had gone before. His previous silence seems to
have been due to his habit of bolting all his food at
once, and digesting it at leisure. We were now to hear
his critical judgment on previous narratives:—

“I've been mighty well pleased,” quoth the Tennesseean,
“with some of them sarcumstances you've been
telling among you, fellows, and I've made considerable
judgment on some of them that don't seem to me made
to carry water. But I won't be particular jest now,
except to say that I don't see that the narrow man thar,
with his hips cutting into the saft parts of my knee at
every turn down hill (the New England schoolmaster),
I don't see, I say, that he made so good an one of it as
he might have done. Though that, agin, may be the
misfortune of the sarcumstance, and not his fault in
telling it. The sense is, ef so be the thing happened
as he tells it, then the whole town and country ought
to be licked to flinders for suffering the poor gal to be
so imposed on. By the powers! I'd fight to the stump,


Page xviii
eny day and eny how, but I'd make the men see that
the poor weak woman was not to be the only sufferer!”

It would be a tedious task, wanting our Tennesseean's
air, tone, and manner, to follow up this trail, and show
upon what grounds our backwoodsman took offence at
the proprieties in our Yankee's story. It was one of
those cruel narratives of seduction, so frequent in large
commercial cities, where the victim is the only sufferer,
and the criminal the only one to find safety, if not sympathy.
The narrator had given it as a fact within his
own experience, as occurring in his native city; and the
offensive defect in his narration, which the skill of the Tennesseean
was able only to detect and not to define, consisted
in his emotionless and cold-blooded way of unfolding
his details of horror, without showing that he felt
any of the indignation which his tale provoked in every
other bosom.

“Such things can't happen in Tennessee, I tell you,
stranger; and ef they did, nobody would be the wiser of
it. You'd hear of the poor gal's death, the first thing,
and she'd die, prehaps, of no disorder. But she'd rather
die right away, a thousand deaths, sooner than have
her shame in the mouth of any of her kindred; and ef
so be it happen to leak out, there would be somebody—
some brother, or friend, or cousin, or, may-be, her own
father, or may-be a onknown stranger like myself—to
burn priming for her sake, so that the black-hearted
villain shouldn't have it all to himself. But I ain't a
going to catechize your story. I rather reckon it can't
be true, jest as you tell it, stranger. I can't think so
badly of the fellow, Compton, though I reckon he's bad
enough, and I can't think so meanly of your people, that


Page xix
could let him get off without a scratch upon his hide.
I reckon it's a made up thing, jest to make people sorry,
so I won't believe a word of it. But the one I have to
tell is in sober airnest. It happened, every bit of it, on
good authority. Indeed, I'm a knowing to a part on it
myself, as you'll see when we get on; though the better
part of it I got from the mouth of another. It's a history
I picked up in Florida, when I went down to fight the
Simenoles. You know that when the rig'lars got on so
badly with the Injins, splurging here and there with
their big columns, and never doing anything, old Hickory
swore, by all splinters, that we boys from Tennessee should
do the business. So we turned out a small chance of volinteers,
and I was one among 'em. Down we went, calkelating
to ride like a small harricane through and
through the red skins; but twan't so easy a matter,
after all, and I don't think we Tennesseeans did any
better than other people. It wa'n't our fault, to be sure,
for we'd ha' fit fast enough, and whipped 'em too, ef the
sneaking varmints would ha' come up to the scratch;
but they fought shy, and all the glory I got in the campaign
for my share, would lie on the little end of a
cambric needle. But I learned some strange things in
the campaign, and I ain't a bit sorry that I went. One
sarcumstance, it seems to me, was a leetle more strange
than anything I've hearn in this wagon, and if I could
only tell it to you, as I heard some parts of it tell'd to
me, I reckon you'd all say 'twas as good as a Comedy!

As good as a Comedy!” was the hopeful exclamation
all round.

“Let's have it, by all means,” was the eager chorus
of arousing spirits.


Page xx

“Ay, Tennessee, out with it, in short order,” was the
abrupt cry of the Georgian.

“Oblige us,” was the condescending entreaty of South

“Go ahead, old horse,” yelled the Mississippian,
wheeling about from the middle seat of the stage, and
bringing his hard hand flatly down, and with great
emphasis, upon the spacious territory of thigh that
Tennessee claimed for its own, while trespassing greatly
upon that of its neighbors; and the entreaty was promptly
followed up by the machinist from Maine, the ex-editor
from New York, and even the lymphatic pilgrim from
Tar River, who, starting from his seventh heaven of
sleep and dream, cried aloud, in half-waking ecstasy—
“A comedy, O! yes, gi's a comedy. I'm mortal fond
of comedy.”

“Let it but prove what you promise,” said the New
Yorker, “and I'll send it to Harry Placide.”

“Harry Placide?” exclaimed Tennessee, inquiringly.

“The great American actor of comedy!” was the
explanatory answer from New York. “I'll write out
your story, should it prove a good one, and will send it
to Harry. He'll make a comedy of it, if the stuff's in

We spare all that New York said on the occasion, in
honor of comedy and Harry Placide, and in respect to
native materials for the comic muse; particularly as
the Mississippian wound him up, in the most prolonged
part of his dissertation, with—

“Oh! shut up, stranger, anyhow, and don't bother
your head about the actor until we get the play.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion. Our Tennesseean


Page xxi
seemed to fear that he had promised too much. He
prudently qualified the title of his narrative; apparently
discovering, for the first time, that “comedy” meant
something different from story.

“Comedy,” said he; “comedy! Well, gentlemen,
I tell you that when I first heard the affair, everybody
said 'twas as `good as a comedy,' and I thought so too.
'Twas over a camp-fire that we first heard it, and it
mout be that we were all of us jest in the humor to find
a comedy in anything. The story mayn't be like a
comedy, the way I tell it, for you see I don't profess to
be good in sech histories; but I reckon ef you could ha'
seen and heard the chap that first tell'd us, by them
old camp-fires, on the Withlacoochee, you'd say, as we
said all of us, 'twas as `good as a comedy.'”

“Did it make you laugh?” demanded New England,

“Laugh! I guess some did and some didn't,” was
the satisfactory but simple reply. “What I saw of the
affair myself was no laughing matter; but we'll keep
that back for the last. 'Twas something a'most too
strange for laughing; the more, too, as we know'd it to
be nothing but the truth, and it happened here, too, in
one of these western counties of Georgia.”

Here the Georgian put in, confidently—

“I reckon I know all about it. I've heard it myself.”

“Well! you'd better tell it, then,” quoth Tennessee,
very coolly.

“Oh, no!” modestly responded Georgia.

“But, oh! yes! Ef you know it, you've a sort of
right to it, sence it's in your own country; and I rather
reckon you can make a better mouthful of it than I.


Page xxii
I'm but a poor stick at such things, and am quite as
ready to hear you, stranger, as to talk myself.”

“Pshaw!” exclaimed the Georgian. “Go ahead,
man. I'm a mighty conceited fellow, I know, but that's
no reason you should hold me up to make me say so.”

“Gi's your hand, my lad; you're a good we'pon, I
see; though, may-be, a little too quick on trigger.”

A gripe of the extended fists followed in the dark,
and the Tennesseean proceeded.

“The sarcumstance that I am going to tell you tuck
place in one of the western counties of Georgia, not
many years ago, and there's many a person living who
can jest now lay their fingers on the very parties. I've
seen some of them myself. You must take the thing
for its truth more than for its pleasantry; for, about
the one I can answer, and about the other I'm as good
as nobody to have an opinion. I'm not the man to
make folks laugh, onless it's at me, and then I'm jest
as apt to make them cry, too; so you see I'm as good
as comedy and tragedy both, to some. But, as I confess,
a joke don't gain much in goodness when it leaves
my mouth; and ef so be—”

We silenced these preliminaries viva voce; and, thus
arrested, our Tennesseean left off his faces and began.
In a plain and direct manner, he related the occurrences
which will be found in the following chapters. He was
no humorist, though he suffered us all to see in what
the humorous susceptibilities of his story lay. It was
the oddity of the circumstances, rather than their humor,
that held out the attraction for me; and I could
readily perceive how, without confounding comedy with
the merely humorous and ludicrous, the materials thus


Page xxiii
thrown together might, by a dexterous hand, be converted
to the purposes of the stage. The story illustrates
curiously the variety and freedom of character
which we find everywhere in our forest country, where
no long-established usages subdue the fresh and eager
impulses of originality, and where, as if in very mockery
of the conventionalities of city life, the strangest eccentricities
of mood and feeling display themselves in a
connection with the most unimpeachable virtue—eccentricities
of conduct such as would shock the demurer
damsel of the city, to whom the proprieties themselves
are virtues—yet without impairing those substantial
virtues of the country girl, whose principles are wholly
independent of externals. Let the reader only keep in
mind the perfect freedom of will, and the absence of
prescriptive or fashionable discipline in our border
countries, and there will be nothing strange or extravagant
in what is here related of the heroine.

In putting these details together, I have adopted a
fashion of my own, though without hoping, any more
than our Tennesseean, to bring out the humorous points
of the narrative. These must be left to the fancy of
the reader. “As good as a comedy” need not imply
a story absolutely comic; and I do not promise one.
Still, I am disposed to think and to hope that the title
thus sportively adopted will not be found wholly inappropriate
to the volume.

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