University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 38


Mildmay, from the time that his mother died, had, each
succeeding spring, passed two or three weeks on his plantation,
and in that way was somewhat acquainted with the
duties connected with his future career. His business had
been, in his long absence at the North, all things considered,
carefully attended to; and upon his arrival at home,
after a due celebration by the negroes, of “Master's return,”
Mildmay was soon involved in the serious duties of
life, and the novelty of his situation softened any severe
regrets he felt for the scenes he had left at Malden.”

Graham once at home, he occupied most of his leisure
time in writing letters to his old master, in which he gave
interesting details of his new pursuits, and amusing descriptions
of the incidents of plantation life. These letters
were received by the worthy Dr. Elliott, and carefully
perused, and then quietly handed over to some member of
the “Hastings family,” with the remark, “that, perhaps,
something from our young friend, Mildmay, would not be


Page 39

With conscientious regularity, did the Doctor answer
these friendly epistles. He had been made Mildmay's
confidant in all that related to Annie Hastings, and cordially
approving of the proposed union, without interfering,
or in any way encouraging the intermediate steps,
he had promised to act as we have seen, as the medium of
communication, but not until fully authorized so to do, by
the family of the “old Hastings House.”

Whatever were Annie's feelings, no one but herself
knew; it was noticeable among the members of her household,
that upon receiving the Doctor's letters from Mildmay,
she spent a longer time than usual in her room, and
that those same epistles were never seen or heard of, after
being once given into her possession. But, as the Doctor
wrote to his former pupil, “Annie seemed entirely absorbed
in household affairs, and in reading, and of late had
visited even less than usual.” There was, in truth, a quiet
and dignified calmness about her manner, that met with
the most cordial approbation from her staid relations.

Month after month quickly passed away, as Graham
each day found new matters to occupy his attention. His
confidential and trusty business man, Mr. Fenwick, who
had so well managed the estate during Graham's minority,
was anxious now to resign his trust into Graham's hands,
preparatory to commencing business upon his own account.

Graham also found, that the lands he occupied, as well
as those about him, had been worn out by long cultivation,
and that he was really living in a deserted country. From
Mr. Fenwick he learned the fact, that his father, at the
time of his death, had made preparations to remove farther


Page 40
south, and as such an act was more than ever demanded,
he determined at once to set about the necessary preparations.

Graham, as will be seen, had no particular attachment
to the “home place,” and he looked forward with romantic
interest to the founding of one himself, one worthy, as he
thought, of Annie; a home in a new and vigorous State,—
where he could rise with its fortunes, and identify his name
with its prosperity.

With this noble ambition, and accompanied by Mr. Fenwick,
and fortified with letters from the best men of his
native State, in the course of a few days, Mildmay was sailing
down the river Mississippi on his way to New Orleans.
The solemn grandeur of the mighty Father of Waters made
a deep impression upon him, but still more was he affected
as he witnessed the evidences of progress, the rapid strides
of civilization. His soul fairly expanded as he contemplated
the developments of the future, and in the enthusiasm
of the moment he thanked God, that he had been born to
witness and take a part in the scenes around him.

Arriving at his place of destination in the month of
December, he could hardly realize the fact, that the same
season of year, which at Malden bound every thing in
ice and snow, in Louisiana decked every thing in the most
lovely vegetation, and breathed the balmy airs, of a genial

For a few days Mildmay abandoned himself to the novelties
presented by the anomalous character of the southern
metropolis. His extensive reading prepared him to appreciate
the strange architecture he met in the older parts


Page 41
of the city, and his curiosity was excited and gratified by the
Babel-like confusion that prevailed among the tongues and
the people comprising the motley population.

Upon the broad and no-where-else to be seen “levee,”
he beheld in amazement, the accumulating agricultural
wealth of the great valley of a mighty continent. He saw
piled up before him for miles, the sugar, the cotton, the
corn, and the tobacco,—treasures taken from the fields,
yet, in vying abundance, there reposed side by side, vast
piles of mineral wealth, of lead, of iron, of copper, dug from
the embowelled earth.

Assembled in the magnificent halls of his sumptuous
hotel, he found, constantly before his eye, representatives
of all nations, each endeavoring to best display his superiority;
but it was among the Southerners, who seemed to
carry their hearts in their hand, and who were, as the representatives
of the great planting interests, identified with
himself, that he found the marked men of the multitude—
the cordially-acknowledged princes of the crowd.

To this latter class Mildmay, who resembled them in
person, was insensibly drawn by a thousand chords of sympathy,
that had heretofore slumbered in his breast. He
heard them speak of their crops, of their negroes, of their
plantations; he saw their lavish expenditure of money; witnessed
the respect they commanded, from all who conversed
with them, and there rose in his bosom a consciousness of
self-importance, which gave a new dignity to his carriage,
and a wider range to his thoughts.

Fenwick, who was a practical sort of character, very
soon made some congenial acquaintances, and with them,


Page 42
he visited the neighboring plantations, and he could not
suppress his enthusiasm at the richness of the vegetation
he witnessed, and the easy manner with which they were
made to produce an abundant crop, compared to the more
sterile soil of North Carolina.

It soon became known among those interested, what
Mildmay's business was, and offers of land came pouring in
upon him, from a hundred quarters. Whole principalities
were offered him in Texas, at nominal rates. Half opened
plantations high up some still unfamiliar river, upon any
terms he might choose to offer, but as the “location” came
nearer New Orleans, the prices increased, until at last they
reached enormous sums.

Among the acquaintances that Fenwick had picked up
about the hotel, was a tall and rather attractive-looking
individual, who rejoiced in the cognomen of Major Dixon.
This Major Dixon was exceedingly affable, knew exactly the
value of negroes, the prices of cotton and sugar, and seemed
to be acquainted, from personal observation, with every
bit of available land that was for sale, not only in Louisiana
and North Carolina, but in half the Southern States.

To Fenwick, the Major was particularly attentive;
though he did not seem indifferent, still he made no approach
to speak with Mildmay, and it was not until Fenwick had
dwelt in eloquent terms upon the value of the acquaintance,
that Mildmay permitted himself to be introduced.

Major Dixon had a dashing off-hand manner, talked a
great deal of good sense, but occasionally shocked Mildmay's
sensibilities by a remark, which showed either a want
of knowledge of the true use of words, or else an exceedingly
callous heart.


Page 43

Upon the subject of purchasing a plantation Major
Dixon afforded much real information, for Mildmay found
that his opinions were verified by gentlemen, to whom he
had letters of credit and introduction, and there soon sprung
up quite an exchange of time and conversation between Mildmay
and the affable, knowing, and always apparently at leisure,
Major Dixon.

That the acquaintance was respectable Mildmay did
not doubt, for he found that gentlemen, who had been pointed
out to him by the communicative clerk of the hotel, as
some of the wealthiest planters of the State, frequently
were with Dixon in some obscure corner engaged in long
and apparently confidential conversations. Mildmay determined
to solve the mystery, and commissioned Fenwick to
learn who the attentive Major Dixon was.

Each day that Mildmay spent in New Orleans, he enlarged
his circle of acquaintances, and finally accepted one
or two invitations to visit wealthy planters living on “the
coast.” The more he saw of the country and the people
the more he was delighted; and he returned to his hotel
from his suburban trips, inspired with the determination
to select a place at the earliest practicable moment, hasten
home, and complete the laborious business of moving the
accessories of a large plantation.

Among “the bargains” offered him, was one situated
some two hundred miles or more above New Orleans, not
directly upon the river, but presenting a remarkably fine
body of land, on one of the many tributaries emptying into
the Mississippi.

To this place Mildmay was particularly attracted, from


Page 44
the fact, that it was placed for sale in the hands of an agent
of the most responsible character, had already built upon
it a fine mansion, and an abundance of negro cabins; in
fact required nothing, as the advertisement asserted, but a
“respectable force” to combine all the requirements of a
“first class place.”

Major Dixon knew all about the piece of land alluded
to, and gave Mildmay a minute, and, as it afterwards proved,
correct description of it.

He stated that it was originally opened by a wealthy
man from South Carolina, who had ideas of style rather
beyond his means, and became so involved by his many
improvements, that he at last abandoned the property in
disgust, and threw it upon the hands of those who had
been most liberal in loaning him money.

“With fifty good hands,” said Dixon, in conclusion of his
remarks, “in two years the `Heritage Place' can be made
one of the most profitable properties in the country.”

Mildmay and his companion Fenwick left New Orleans,
and with an agent of the owners of the “Heritage Place,”
they took a small steamer, and for more than a day progressed
up the Mississippi River. Sometime in the night,
while Mildmay was asleep, the boat shot into “a bayou,”
and in professional parlance “laid up,” until the following
morning, and soon after Mildmay made his appearance, it
commenced moving between narrowing shores, along which
could occasionally be seen improved plantations, and the
innumerable laborers at their daily work.

The country, though flat, was as beautiful and as rich
in agricultural wealth as could be imagined. Towards noon


Page 45
the little steamer, that went but three or four miles an hour,
ran its bows into the landing at “Heritage Place,” and
leaving Mildmay and his friends, passed on its way, with
the understanding, that in the course of the afternoon it
would pick them up as it returned back to New Orleans.

Two or three acres distant from the shores of “the
bayou,” was a fine stately-looking dwelling, so massive, that
it really had an imposing appearance. It had never been
entirely finished, and already signs of decay were seen upon
the brick pillars that supported the capacious verandahs.

In front and rear could be traced the old lines of what
was once carefully planted shrubbery; and one or two sour
orange-trees, in spite of neglect, were covered with ripened
fruit. The fences were more or less broken down,—in
fact, every thing had a desolate appearance.

Some half mile, in the rear, were twenty partially
finished negro cabins, and other plantation out-buildings.
It seemed as if some enterprising, and more than usually
ambitious person, had commenced all these costly improvements,
and just as they were about being completed, had
suddenly abandoned them to destruction.

Fenwick, by the assistance of the agent, had borrowed
a couple of horses from a neighboring plantation, and he
and Mildmay rode over the “opened land.”

They were gone some two or three hours, and the result
of the ride had left upon both decidedly a favorable
impression. Fenwick showed how little work it would be
to restore things to tolerable order, and how in a year or
so, Mildmay could have a place, that would outvie any
thing he had ever dreamt of in his native State.


Page 46

Meanwhile, an overseer from an adjoining plantation
had come over to see what was going on; and meeting the
agent, and learning the particulars, he went in pursuit of
Mildmay, and offered his services, and volunteered any
information regarding the value of the property. This
person and Fenwick became at once cosy and confidential,
and he gave not only a history of the plantation in question,
but also of the country round about.

It would seem that portions of it had been opened
many years, and was almost entirely occupied by wealthy
people, and in the vicinity were living some of the most
influential men in the country. Except in “high water,” it
was rather an out-of-the-way place (“which was all the
better for the niggers”), yet near to New Orleans,—free
from any overflow to do harm, and inexhaustible in fertility
of soil.

Mildmay listened, and took down the names of the
different persons who would naturally be his neighbors;
made every possible inquiry of the facilities of society,—
not for himself, for he was in this connection thinking of
another, and rode back to the lonely-looking mansion.

Here was “the agent,” a sort of madcap clerk of New
Orleans, who combined a strange mixture of business tact
and knowledge of the world, and particularly of the world
in the interior of Louisiana,—with his trunk opened, a tablecloth
spread upon the ground, and a most substantial dinner
set out, of boiled ham, chicken, bread, sardines, patès, and
excellent claret. Tumblers and plates he had borrowed
from the clerk of the steamer; and all the party, after
Fenwick and Mildmay's astonishment had been expressed


Page 47
at their agent's foresight, sat down on the ground, and
made a hearty meal, and with a better appetite, as Mildmay
said, “than he had ever had before in his life.”

While thus engaged discussing their rural meal, they
observed a gentleman approaching on horseback, who rode
up, and dismounting and throwing his bridle-rein into the
hollow of his left arm, in a graceful and confident manner,
announced that his name was Moreton, and that he was
the nearest neighbor to Heritage Place; that he had
heard from the captain of the steamer as it passed up the
bayou, that two gentlemen had stopped for the purpose
of examining the place, with regard to making a purchase,
and that he had instantly rode over to invite the gentlemen
to his house, where he should be happy to have them
remain as long as it suited their pleasure.

From Mr. Moreton, Mildmay learned additional particulars
relative to his proposed purchase, but declined to
accept at that time, the invitation to visit, whereupon Mr.
Moreton hitched his horse by the bridle to a “swinging
limb,” and with Mildmay sat down on the trunk of a
fallen tree, declaring that he would remain until the
steamer came along.

In the conversation that ensued, Mildmay determined
in his own mind to make the purchase of the plantation.
Mr. Moreton had removed every possible objection he could
urge, and, with this feeling, he bid that gentleman adieu,
was taken up by the passing boat, and the following evening
was again ensconced in his city hotel.