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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 48


Major Dixon, who showed so much ability and disposition
to serve Mildmay and his friend Fenwick, was to
superficial observers a man of leisure, and of the class
termed gentlemen.

Persons, however, who studied faces with success,
would have discovered something rather equivocal about
his eyes, for by a curious conformation of the brow, they
were ordinarily almost hidden from sight; but let Dixon
look a person full in the face, and there were seen shots of
fiery red, mingled with the pure blue, which suggested
that they could burn as if filled with internal fire.

People who had known Dixon for years, if asked to
draw his character, would probably never have agreed
upon any leading trait; for he possessed the ability in a
remarkable degree of not only being all things to all men
for his own purposes, but he could be the exact thing to
the person he was at the moment with; and if Mildmay
and Fenwick had written down their impressions of this
man, they would have both drawn characters as suggested


Page 49
by their individual impressions, and that were most agreeable
to their positions as strangers in the “Crescent City.”

Dixon was a man of first-rate business habits and capacity.
He controlled large sums of money, for he was
secretly connected with many wealthy men, in operations
that involved great outlays of capital; his field of operations
was confined to dealing in slaves,—in common parlance,
he was a “negro trader.” Dixon had been, by long
habit, made a very impersonation of his business. To
people of his own color he was often generous,—never
offensive; but for the negro he had apparently no sympathy,
no feeling whatever.

Sometimes for months together Dixon would live seemingly
a quiet and unexcited life, but it would appear from
subsequent acts, that these calms were only presages of a
coming excitement; and as his business gave him every
facility for gratifying his passions when he pleased to do so,
he carried every thing to excess.

The appearance of a negro always excited Dixon's
animosity; let one of this race pass him accidentally in the
street, or even in the humblest manner address him “as
master,” and his eyes would burn with indignation, and
his hands clutch with nervous tremulousness.

He delighted in crushing those in his power, when they
resisted, and yet he was equally savage upon those who
were passive to his will. He was sometimes awed by a
negro that would rather die than submit, but he was never
touched by the most heart-rending appeals for mercy.

The reason perhaps of his dislike to the negro, independent
of the feelings necessarily engendered by his


Page 50
making them subjects of merchandise, was the consciousness
he had, that he was not respected even by those who
were most benefited by his business; and he had a kind
of monomania, that his degradation in the social scale was
owing not only to his buying and selling negroes, but
also to the influence of public opinion exerted on the
Southern mind by the people of the North, through the
sympathy of the Federal government: consequently, he
hated the people of the North, and the Union, with a bitterness
that knew no bounds. “But for this public opinion
of the `Free States,'” he would sometimes groan through
his clenched teeth, “my calling would be as respectable
as any man's; I should not then be made a scapegoat for
the sins of the buyer, or be compelled to see myself
shunned and avoided by really good people, as if there
were contagion in my touch.”

Yet, although the thick veil of insensibility would sometimes
be partially removed from Dixon's conscience, although
he would for moments get inklings of the true character
of his position as set down by the great mass of the
people, these feelings only had the effect to render him
more callous in the end, for they were ever succeeded by
new outrages upon his hapless victims, and by an accumulation
of renewed hate for the people he so much feared
and despised.

When Dixon saw Mildmay and Fenwick, he at once understood
their relation and purposes, and with his usual
promptness he did all he could to assist them in their contemplated
purchase, from the ulterior object of their probable
demand upon him for slaves.


Page 51

He was intimately acquainted with every part of the
country, his pursuits favoring a most perfect knowledge of
the best lands, and the most wealthy neighborhoods, for it
was only in such places, that he found his best business

Near to Dixon's hotel was his “depot.” Superficially,
it was a very high spiked fence, with a strong door in the
centre, and would never have attracted any particular notice
of the stranger. But once beyond that strong door, you
found yourself in a long room, perhaps a hundred feet in
depth, lighted from the roof, and lined on either side by
benches. Here Dixon displayed what the law pronounced
to be his “chattels.”

In this den he would pace up and down among his
dependents, and fume and fret “that he could not expose
his merchandise unblushingly in the streets,” “that he
could not hire a fine store in the most exposed thoroughfare,
and thrust his goods into the windows or doors, as did
the merchant who sold breastpins or calicoes.”

Here it was that he gave vent to his wrath at the
occasional agitation in the Corporation Council of New
Orleans “as to the propriety of banishing `slave marts' to
the obscure suburbs of the city.” This restraint—this
eternal spirit of opposition, he felt to be like an incubus
upon him, and he rebelled at, and fretted under it, as if in
harness, and he believed that he could never himself be free
until “this false northern public sentiment,” as he termed
it, “was done away, until no one was permitted in the South
to indulge in sickly sentimental notions of humanity.”

A day or two after Dixon met Mildmay, he went to his


Page 52
“depot,” as he termed it, and sitting down in the little
office inside of the door, he took a scrap of paper from a
plethoric-looking purse, and laying it on the wooden table
before him, he seemed absorbed in a profound study.

“Graham Mildmay,” said he, reading from the paper,
“where have I met with that name before?” and he rested
his head on his hand as if in the very strait of perplexity,
and wondered where was his factotum Ben.

Just at this moment, a miserable-looking wretch, a
white man, who sometimes helped Ben at the depot, put
his head in at the office door, and said:

“Major Dixon, that `gent' with the black coat and
white choker, has sent the girl Lizzy back.”

“What for?” said Dixon, indenting his knuckles into
the top of the cypress table.

“Why,” continued the deputy, scratching his head, “he
says he thinks she takes on so about bein' parted from her
child, that she won't do.”

“Send Lizzy here,” returned Dixon, now in a perfect
fury; and he growled, “if I'm troubled with her after
to-morrow, may I turn into a snivelling Yankee peddler,
and earn a living by singing psalms.”

The girl approached the dreaded presence of the negro
trader, evidently convulsed in every limb, and almost speechless
with fear.

“How came you to tell that hypocritical canting scoundrel
I sold you to, that you had a child?”

“I didn't tell him, so help me God!” said the girl, ready
to fall on the floor.

“You either lie, or you went snivelling about the house,”


Page 53
said Dixon, suddenly changing his manner, and lighting up
his face with a smile.

“I said nothing, did nothing, but try to please; for I
didn't want to come back here, Master Dixon,” said the
girl with emotion.

“Well,” returned Dixon, with a calm and agreeable
voice, “go out in the hall, my dear, and to-night I will give
you such a dressing, that afterwards, if I sell you to a sausage-maker
you will cry to be cut up into mince meat before
you will come back again on my hands;” and thus delivering
himself, Dixon waved the girl to retire, and biting off
a huge piece of tobacco, he took up the before alluded to
bit of paper, and soliloquized,—“Where have I met with
the name of Graham Mildmay?”

At this moment, a well dressed, and rather pleasant-faced
man came into Dixon's presence, and pulling up a
chair and throwing his feet upon the table, he asked:

“Dixon, what's the row?”

“Why, the fact is, Ben,” said Dixon, as if perplexed,
“I have met a young planter at my hotel, that's come out
here from North Carolina to buy a place. He's got money,
and seems to be a clever and sharp chap, and I'm thinking
I've heard his name before, but when, where, or how, I can't

Now “Ben” was Dixon's confidential clerk, and business
man when Dixon was away. Ben was understood by half
the town to own the depot. It was Ben who did all the nefarious
work of the establishment, the trading, and, as he said,
“the lying and smartness of the whole concern,” for Dixon
did very little in New Orleans openly, beyond signing title


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papers and receipting for money. With this intimate connection
with Dixon, it is easy to see that he at once became
interested in Mildmay.

“What do you want to do for him?” said Ben, referring
to Mildmay, and appearing anxious to get the cue.

“Why, I want to do him a favor,” said Dixon, frowning
at the apparent insinuation that any thing else was intended.
“He's good next spring for twenty hands more
than he's got, and I want to show him that I'm his friend,
and in that way secure a sale.”

“Maybe he's got a runaway out,” said Ben.

“That's just it,” said Dixon, brightening up, “here,” he
continued, “hand me down my `Free Sile Album,' perhaps
I can find out all about it.”

Ben, as requested, got on a chair, and from a wide
shelf very near the low ceiling, he pulled out what appeared
to have been a merchant's ledger, and opening it on the
table, displayed the once fairly written pages covered over
with innumerable scraps, evidently cut from the columns of

This “Free Sile Album,” as Dixon called it, was perhaps
the best evidence in the world, that could be given,
to show how systematic he had been in carrying on his business.
There at a glance could be seen, every published
account of runaway negroes, who had escaped to the North
or Canada, for the last fifteen years.

By the means of this book, Dixon had a very clear
idea of the whereabouts of many fugitives, and with the
assistance of spies, and occasionally his own interference,
he made unaccounted-for “captures,” and frequently by


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buying, as he expressed it, “a nigger running,” he got
great bargains at little cost.

Ben turned over the pages carefully, and at Dixon's
suggestion, endeavored to find, assorted with the runaways
mentioned, the name of Mildmay.—Dixon, meanwhile, sitting
by as if still uncertain where the name occurred;
finally, Ben looked up, and said, “Here's something most
like it.”

“What is it?” inquired Dixon.

“Why, `Mayfield,'” said Ben, decisively.

“That's near the name; read what it says,” directed
Dixon, whereupon Ben commenced as follows:—

“`On last Saturday morning a little company, consisting
of six fugitives from the land of handcuffs and cowhides,
landed at this station of the under-ground railroad.
They were formerly kept and worked as the property of
the Rev. Mr. Mayfield, near Memphis, in the State of Tennessee.
On the same day fifteen more came in the express
train of the above road. These last were mostly able-bodied
men from Missouri, cruelly held and treated as
property, by people otherwise respectable, and some claiming
to be followers of Christ our Saviour, who died for

“That'll do, Ben,” said Dixon, rising up from his
seat, and whirling round on his feet, perfectly red with
anger—“that'll do; who wants to hear such infernal
stuff as that, I'd like to know? That comes from having
`free States,' cuss 'em! Fugatives from the land of
handcuffs and cowhides! there's another slander on the


Page 56

“Well, there's no use getting mad about it,” said
Ben, who had no other fear of Dixon, than self-interest
dictated. “Maybe you'd like another varse or two; if so,
here goes.”

“No, you needn't,” said Dixon, cooling off. “I believe
I remember the sarcumstance, the nigger was off a
long time I suspect, before his arrival was published; let
me see.”

“Now what is the use of that 'ere book?” asked Ben,
handing it over to Dixon, as if he was glad to get clear
of it.

“Not much use,” returned Dixon, “not much use;
but maybe you'd be astonished if I tell you, I made my
`Black River cotton farm' off of that very book.”

“Oh, you're joking,” said Ben, with an incredulous air.

“Fact, nevertheless,” said Dixon, looking up with
complacency. “You see, Ben, you'll never make money
until you keep books. Now, since I've been in business
for myself, and afore that too, when I saw a notice of a runaway
in a newspaper, crowing over his freedom, I cut him
out, and pasted him in here; it don't cost much time,
nor flour, and it finally gave me all the money I made my
start with. You see that 'ere notice,” continued Dixon,
pointing to a particular scrap, “that 'ere notice marked
over with a pen, `$1000.”

Ben reached his head out of his coat collar, and said,
“he did.”

“The particulars of making that 'ere cool thousand off
a nigger barber, named Hector, that got from Washington
to Canada, is very affecting.


Page 57

“So much money as that!” said Ben, more astonished
at the speculation in a pecuniary way, than at the affecting

“Sure,” said Dixon, “and no mistake; but that's nothing,”
he continued, in an excessive good humor; “that
book, as I said, has nearly paid for my `Black River place,'
and them very little dirty scraps, and the Fugitive Slave
Law has put money in my pocket, like finding it in a

“Fact?” said Ben, looking over the magical items, as
if he fancied he could see them turning to gold or bank

“Fact!” echoed Dixon; “yes, more than fact, they've
been money and fun besides, for I have not only, by the
aid of that book, jerked up a dozen niggers from the free
States in a year, but I have made the abolition scoundrels
howl like hyenas, when they saw me and the `spread
eagle' on their tracks.”

“That must have been fun,” said Ben, rather in a
voice of irony.

“It was fun, fun alive!” continued Dixon, with enthusiasm,
“for,” he continued, in his excitement, “it gave me the
only satisfaction I ever had in my life out of those enemies
of the South,” and having thus uttered his sentiments, he
fell to carefully examining the pages of the book.