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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 58


Dixon having been born in a State where there were no
public schools, his early education had been lamentably
neglected; he was a man grown before he knew his letters,
and, although he had after that time shown his usual determination
of character, in acquiring to read and write,
still he was an imperfect scholar, and made a stumbling
display when he attempted to give a listener an idea of
the meaning of a printed paragraph, so that when his eye
finally fell upon the very item he was looking for, he
handed the “Album” to Ben, and told him to read it
out, Dixon at the same time picking up a piece of pine
wood that was lying on the floor, and taking out a long-bladed
dirk-knife, commenced to whittle.

Ben took the “Album,” and with a sort of comical
gravity, squared himself in his chair, and commenced to
read as follows:—

“`Interesting account of a Fugative.'”

“That's the beginning of the article, isn't it?” asked
Dixon, pressing his knife deeply into the pine splinter in
his hand.


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“Yes,” said Ben, “that's the beginning, don't you see
it is? `Interesting account of a fugative.'”

“Well, go on,” said Dixon, impatiently.

“Look here, Major Dixon,” said Ben, putting the Album
down in his lap,—“do you want me to read the whole
of this 'ere interesting article?”

“Yes, every bit of it,” returned Dixon, in the pure
spirit of contrariety.

“Very well,” said Ben, again edging into the best possible
position for comfort, “here goes.

“`Interesting account of a fugative.'”

“You needn't read that line again,” said Dixon, growing
perfectly “feruchus.”

Ben's eyes twinkled with mischief, but he said nothing,
and went on.

“`On a cold winter night of the year 18—, a negro
man, evidently suffering from hunger, and poorly clad,
knocked at the door of a modest-looking cottage on the
edge of our town. It was, considering the habits of our
people, quite late, being after ten o'clock.'”

“And where about was that town?” inquired Dixon, his
face filled with disgust.

“I suspect,” said Ben, looking along the page, “that
it was Stonyville, Vermont, for it's tuck from the Stonyville
(Vermont) Gazette.” Ben continued:

“`A benevolent-looking, middle-aged woman opened
the door, and seeing the dark and care-worn face of a negro,
staring upon her, she uttered a scream of surprise,
and dropped the candlestick she held in her hand upon the
floor. In another instant a gentleman was at the lady's


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side, and inquired, “Wife, what is the matter?” the lady
pointed to the negro, who now, in turn, became filled with

“What's the meaning of `trepidation?'” inquired
Dixon, suspending his whittling.

“Kind of a scear,” said Ben, with dignity.

“`The moment the gentleman saw the object of surprise,
he stepped in front of the lady, and promptly demanded
the reason of this unseasonable interruption.'”

“I'd a hit him in his infernal black face!” said
Dixon, with impatience.

“Perhaps,” said Ben, again laying down the book in
his lap (for in his peculiar way he took great pleasure in
annoying Dixon), “perhaps you don't want to hear the
rest of this 'ere nigger novel.”

“Yes, I do,” said Dixon, emphatically, for it was one
of his peculiarities of liking to be annoyed by those very
kind of items. It appeared to give him pleasure in stimulating
his hatred of the places and sentiments that gave
them birth. Ben went on:

“`The negro replied that he was nearly perished with
the cold, and was almost starved to death, and after considerable
cross-questioning, acknowledged that he was a
runaway from the South, which last remark affected deeply
the sympathy of Mr. Pendleton, for such was the gentleman's
name, and he asked the negro into the kitchen, and
with his amiable wife, set about relieving the wants of the
poor fugitive.'”

“There,” said Dixon, blazing with wrath, and driving


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his knife an inch at least into the top of the table before

“There's northern rascality; that's for being fastened
on to the free States. Lord! how I wish we could get to
blows, I'd like to stop the wind of such a fellow as that

“But there's too many of 'em,” said Ben, keeping his
eyes deeply riveted on the printed document before him.

Dixon ground his knife around with his hand, and told
Ben to go on, and that gentleman continued:—

“`The poor negro was shivering with cold, and it seemed
as if he would embrace the stove, when he felt the pleasant
glow of warmth it sent through his benumbed frame.'”

“I could have warmed that nigger up, without a stove,”
suggested Dixon, in a philosophical manner.

Ben pretended to be very much amused indeed, and
went on.

“`Mr. Pendleton felt satisfied that the negro told the
truth about having escaped from bondage, and was further
confirmed in the fact, because the negro, against Mr. Pendleton's
wishes, would address him as Master.'”

“Now what do you think of that?” inquired Dixon,
his face eloquent with contempt.

“Think of what?” asked Ben, honestly at a loss.

“Why, of that fellow Pendleton's telling that nigger not
to call him master.”

“I think,” said Ben, imitating Dixon's manner and voice,
“that Pendleton was a chuckle-headed ass;” and he proceeded:—

“`The negro, when he discovered that Mr. Pendleton


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knew he was from the South, begged that he should not be
taken back to his owner, which Mr. Pendleton promised, so
far as he was concerned, should not be done.'”

“Now look at that,” said Dixon, perfectly calm with
amazement, “look at that Pendleton, disobeying the laws
of the land, and violating the sacred constitution, by refusing
to send a negro back to his owner, and calling himself
a Christian, perhaps; for them Yankees all go to

“And don't you think he was Christian?” inquired Ben.

“A Christian,” replied Dixon, his voice full of scorn,
“do you think that a thief can be a Christian? Why, that
'ere Pendleton would have been sent to the Penitentiary
for keeping a runaway horse worth fifty dollars, and yet he
don't mind swindling a southern man out of a nigger worth
a thousand.”

Now Ben was very slow of comprehension on certain
subjects that deeply interested Dixon, and as he never could,
probably from the defects of his early education, exactly
confound a man and an animal together, he returned to his
book and read:—

“`The negro was accommodated with lodgings that night,
and the next day, by the kindness of Mr. P. and other citizens,
he got employment, and very soon established a character
for honesty and industry.

“It would be interesting, if we had time, to trace the
history of this fugitive slave year after year in his northern
home, and mark the rapid improvement made in intelligence
and usefulness. In six months time he learned to
read quite fluently, and soon arranging his varied experience,


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it was found he had naturally a strong and well-balanced
mind, and unlike most of his race, he was frugal, and
took pleasure in saving money.

“By the advice of Mr Pendleton, he hired a small
house, and opened a little store, for the disposal of such
nicknacks as he was able to procure, and finally he started
what was much needed in Stoneyville, a barber's shop. In
this new character, Charles, for such was his name, really
had the head-quarters of news under lock and key, and his
shop kept so neat and clean in summer, and so warm and
snug in winter, was a favorite with all, while every one admitted
that the negro was a model of good manners, and
respectful bearing.'”

“Well, he got his manners in the South,” said Dixon,
putting an enormous piece of tobacco in his mouth.

“`At the close of the third year of his living in Stoneyville,”
continued Ben, without noticing Dixon's interruption,
“Charles met a well-behaved young woman of his own
color and unmarried, and as he had established a good character
in the mean time as a member of the church, he was
married by the resident pastor, being previously baptized
by his request, with the surname of Broadnax.'”

“And what does all that mean?” inquired Dixon, getting
confused with the details.

“Why,” said Ben, “he was married as Charles Broadnax.”

“`At last,' continued Ben to read, `the old sexton of
the “first church” in Stoneyville died, and Charles was
unanimously elected to the office of taking care of the sacred


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edifice, the duties of which he filled to the satisfaction of
every one.'”

“Look here,” said Ben, putting the book down in his
lap, and taking a long breath, “Major, if you don't put in
a word as I go along, I shan't read.”

“And haven't you finished?” said Dixon, leaning over towards
Ben, his eyes wide open with interest.

“No, there's another short item.”

“Well, read it,” said Dixon earnestly, “for you haven't
come to the part I want to hear.”

“Well, here goes,” said Ben, resuming the narrative.

“`We have published this very interesting account of
Charles Broadnax, as a refutation of the common charge
that negroes cannot become useful citizens. This man, this
Christian, admits that until his old master, William Mildmay,
died, a gentleman Charles speaks of in the highest
respect, that he was happy and contented; but that, put under
the charge of a brutal and irresponsible overseer, he
was compelled to escape.'”

By the time Ben got thus far, Dixon started from his
seat, and dancing around the table, something as Indians
do about a bloody scalp, he told Ben he needn't read any
farther, that he had found out all that he wanted to know,
and that he could put the precious book out of sight.

Ben, who was really fatigued, readily obeyed, and turning
to Dixon, he said:

“So, you think Charles Broadnax, esquire, belongs to
the young man Mildmay, at the hotel?”

Dixon leaned down on the table, made a few hieroglyphic
marks on a piece of paper, then clapped his hat on


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his head, and giving Ben a knowing look, he left “the
depot,” and walked rapidly up the street.

As Dixon had anticipated when he left his “pen,” he
found Mildmay in the rotunda of the hotel, quietly smoking
a cigar, and walking up and saluting him, as was his custom
when talking to planters, he took a seat at a respectful
distance, and commenced conversation.

Dixon artfully approached his object, and led the unsuspecting
Mildmay on from one point to another so ingeniously,
that he unfolded his business of slave-dealer
without exciting in his hearer any particular emotion.

This once accomplished, the advantages of the purchase
of “Heritage Place” were discussed, and Mildmay finally
learned with surprise, that Dixon himself had a plantation
in the neighborhood, and that he, Dixon, contemplated in
another year, “that he might possibly give up any active
participation in `his negro-trading business,' and settle
down quietly on his farm.”

From Dixon, Mildmay learned the best way of getting
his slaves on to Louisiana; it was decided that he should
bring them on to Washington, in the District of Columbia,
and there keep them until a vessel sailed directly to New
Orleans, from which point, they could without difficulty
reach their final place of destination. At length, Dixon
reached the subject for the moment nearest his heart.

“I think,” said he, in a careless voice, and apparently
about to leave, “that you have, Mr. Mildmay, a runaway
somewhere in the East.”

“Not that I know of,” said the young man, without displaying
any interest.


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“I think I have heard somewhere,” continued Dixon,
“of a negro boy, called Charles, that belonged to a person
of your name, — that runaway is probably at this time
suffering, as all them runaways do, from hunger and cold.
I tell you, sir,” said Dixon, “a negro has a hard time of it
at the North in winter;” and he assumed a sympathizing

“A negro certainly thrives best in a warm climate,”
said Mildmay; evidently to Dixon's annoyance, not thinking
of the runaway.

“Here's the facts,” said Dixon, taking out a scrap of
paper from his pocket; “a negro boy, named Charles,
some years ago escaped from Washington, and is now living
in the North; he says he belonged to William Mildmay,”—and
Dixon gave the best emphasis that he was
capable of to the name.

Graham started with surprise; “William Mildmay,”
said he, with emotion, “was my father's name—what is it
that you connect it with?”

“Simply,” said Dixon, with great coolness, “that he
was unfortunate in being robbed by them infernal Northeners,
of a good nigger.”

“The accident of having a runaway, sir,” said Mildmay,
with considerable sternness, “is a result of a thousand
causes which I care not to discuss. Now I remember
it, I have noticed upon the old plantation record, that
a boy is set down as having run away while hired out; but
it was many years ago, and I have never heard it otherwise
alluded to before.”

“Wouldn't you like to get him back?” said Dixon,


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pretending to choke at the instant, to keep Mildmay from
seeing the expression of his face.

“I can't say that I would,” replied Mildmay, relapsing
into an indifferent mood. “You know, Major Dixon,
that it is a proverb among planters, `that a recaptured
runaway is unfit to associate with slaves.' I don't remember
of ever hearing of one that the owner would have
back as a gift.”

“But suppose, sir, that the boy was discontented,—
suppose he knew that you had taken possession of your
property, and wanted to come back; what would you do

“If such were the fact,” said Mildmay speculatively,
“why perhaps he might be a good servant,—especially as
he did not run off until my father died.”

“Exactly,” said Dixon, “that's just it; but when he
knows that he could come home, and live with you, why,
wouldn't it be cruel not to let him?”

“I might,” returned Mildmay, “then make a sacrifice
of my judgment, and receive him; but such improbable
circumstances I think never will occur.”

“Would you be willing that I should bring him to
you, if I should meet him?” pursued Dixon, pressing the
matter with increasing earnestness.

“You can do as you please, sir,” said Mildmay; then
hesitating a moment, he continued, “If I found the boy
troublesome or discontented, I could certainly let him go

“Certainly you can,” said Dixon; and making this
remark, he bowed gracefully, and returned to his depot.


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Mildmay, who had received much valuable business information
from Dixon, relative to his future plans, had
continued the conversation about Charles out of respect to
Dixon's seemingly earnest desire to talk, and not from
any interest or real knowledge of what was the construed
import of his language; yet when Dixon and Mildmay
separated, the negro trader assumed that he had
Mildmay's authority to arrest Charles, if he could find
him, and bring him on to Heritage Place, while Mildmay
himself could not have conceived any thing farther from
his thoughts.

A few days only elapsed before Mildmay, much to
Fenwick's satisfaction, had completed the proposed purchase.
By a train of fortunate circumstances, he believed
he had secured a great bargain, which opinion was confirmed
by subsequent examination. The arrangements
having been fully completed, Fenwick was desirous of hurrying
away; and finding Mildmay disposed to carry out
his desire to visit the surrounding country, he took from
his employer some general directions, and rapidly pursued
his way to his old home, to make preparations for the contemplated
removal to Heritage Place.