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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 69


The difficulties attending the removal of Mildmay's “force”
from the “old homestead,” seemed to him at times to be
almost insurmountable. His original intention was to
send the stoutest of his men under the care of Fenwick to
Richmond, and then send them by sea to New Orleans; but
the negroes expressed the utmost horror at being separated,
and as he found it impossible to make them understand that
they were all to meet again in Louisiana, he determined
at whatever cost and trouble it might be, to keep them
all together, and personally superintend their exodus.

For several days the negroes were busy getting together
“their plunder,” and it was with some reluctance
that they abandoned their rude tables, broken chairs, and
clumsy hen-coops, when informed that they were too cumbrous
for exportation; and nothing, perhaps, would have
reconciled them to their loss, had they not discovered that
their master set them the example, by discarding every
thing not positively necessary for the long journey before


Page 70

Mildmay discharged his duties, however, with spirit;
he had very little local attachment for his birth-place, and
but for the fact that the vicinity was hallowed by the
memory of his parents, he would have left with scarce a
lingering look behind. Beside, the rich lands of Heritage
Place, their growth of gigantic magnolias, live-oak,
and their teeming abundance, contrasted strangely bright
with the worn-out, and originally sterile, soil of his native

Governor was the oracle among the negroes; he had
accompanied his master in his travels, and he alone of all
his fellow-servants could give information as to what they
were to expect in the future; and half the long nights
would he sit in the quarters, with an anxiously listening
group of sable faces and staring eyes about him, and detail
the wealth and magnificence that he witnessed “way-down
upon the Mississippi.”

Governor, in his official communications, was particularly
eloquent about the growth of cotton, and expatiated
upon it with never-tiring pertinacity.

“You don't have to get down on your knees, niggers,”
said he one evening, in his exaggerated mood, “to hunt
up cotton bolls, as you do on dis North Carolina farm.
Down in Louziany de cotton jist walks up so high, you
can't reach it widout a ladder.”

Several old “pickers” shook their heads doubtingly,
while the young and inexperienced shouted with ecstasy.

“And how much does de niggers down dar pick
a-day?” significantly asked a doubting “Tom.”

“Oh, dey don't hurt 'emselves much at work,” said




[Description: 726EAF. Illustration page. A man on horseback leads a caravan through a wooded area. The man, in hat and coat, is followed by another man on horseback in hat and shirtsleeves. Behind the second man are slaves on foot. Further back, several covered wagons are visible. A dog runs along in front of the first horseback rider.]

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Governor, laughing boisterously at his own wit; “dey just
pick until dey leab off, and de rest of the time dey hunt

“Bless God for dat!” said a piously disposed field
hand; “bless God for fat possum!”

“But how's de sweet tater crap down dar?” inquired
an old servant-of-all-work, but more especially of the
kitchen garden.

“De fact is,” said Governor, solemnly, a degree of sectional
pride rising in his bosom, “de fact is, men ob color,
dat de old `North State,' as dey call dis place, can just
beat de world cl'ar, for `sweet taters.'”

A smile of the most intense satisfaction passed over
the faces of Governor's auditory, and Jack was so overcome
with joy, apparently, at this instance of local superiority,
that he fell over backwards in his delight, and
kicked Governor's bench from under him, both coming together
on the ground.

This brought the conference to an end, and Governor,
making many impotent threats of vengeance upon Jack's
head, left in disgust.

“Aint dat mighty hard case, to hab no sweet taters
down whar master's gwine!” groaned the matter-of-fact
Tom, and suddenly impressed with an idea of vast importance
to his mind, he hallooed after the retreating Governor.

“Does dey done hab pine knots down dar whar master's

“Not a pine knot, not a pine knot, nebber heard of
such a thing, down dar whar master's gwine,” replied the


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still indignant Governor, at the same time maliciously imitating
the nasal twang of Tom's voice.

“Not a pine knot!” sighed the negroes in chorus;
“Oh Lord!” they ejaculated, as the fearful truth broke in
upon them, “what shall we do widout pine knots?” and
the meeting broke up; the first really serious objection
against removing to Louisiana, having impressed itself
upon their minds.

At the proposed time for starting, five large wagons
were filled with camp equipage, cooking utensils, sick or
delicate women, and infant children. It was near noon
when the long procession of wheeled vehicles and footmen,
started from the old house, and gradually falling into line,
commenced winding their toilsome way along the road.

By nightfall, the “emigrants” had passed beyond
the familiar “vicinity” of their deserted home. A place
was selected for the “encampment,” and all was cheerful
bustle. The negroes went merrily to work to cook their
suppers, the fires blazed brightly in the open air, and sweet
sleep, long ere midnight, rested upon the eyes of all, save
those of the “young master.”

From day to day the train pursued its onward but slow
progress. The care and responsibility that rested upon
Mildmay, hourly changed the giddy thoughts of youth
into the solemn reflections of sobered maturity. As he
rode ahead of his “helpless family,” he could not help
contrasting his position and duties with the lighter experience
of his college days; and there were times when sorrow
and vexation came upon him, and then he envied those


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whose birth had relieved them of the heavy responsibilities
that had been by Providence placed upon him.

If the negroes became dispirited, he encouraged them;
if they were sick, he acted both as nurse and physician.
If the wagons broke, he it was that personally superintended
their repair. In truth, Mildmay alone was the
thinking, responsible soul of the throng.

Week after week passed on, and Mildmay found himself
approaching the end of the most laborious part of his
tedious journey. He had left the mighty pine forests of
North Carolina behind him, which, desolate as they seem,
contain untold wealth, as the reward of well-directed industry,
and was descending into the romantic valley of
the Cumberland, in the State of Tennessee.

The change of vegetation and climate was perceptible.
As the rich lands were met with, population increased, and
the refinements of life followed in the train of wealth. The
independent planters along the highways, often compelled
Mildmay to be their guest, and assisted him in the temporary
disposition of his negroes. Wherever he appeared
he commanded respect, and often did the generous-hearted
Tennesseans congratulate their sister State of Louisiana,
upon the acquisition of such a noble and intelligent young
man as one of her citizens.

As Graham neared the noble tributary of the Ohio, he
became involved with innumerable bodies of emigrants, of
every condition of life, who were, like himself, struggling
on toward a new home.

The imagination cannot paint the scenes of misery and
distress, and yet of hope, portrayed by the different families


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as they moved along. Here were to be seen white men,
as ignorant as their negroes, pursuing their way with the
dogged firmness of American energy, carrying from habit
their rifles on their shoulder; and followed by their wives,
whose superior refinement and sensible ambition, made favorable
contrasts with the sterner sex.

It would have afforded a curious example of Southern
life, to the people of Malden, could they have seen their
favorite student, their eloquent valedictorian, their refined
and carefully arrayed Graham Mildmay; ride along their
elm-embowered streets, as he now appeared at the approaching
termination of this arduous journey to his prospective

His overcoat, which he constantly wore, was soiled;
and his hat, originally broadbrimmed, to protect his face
from the sun and rain, had wilted up under their combined
influences, and flapped rowdily over his face; his
thick, strong boots, were of a dingy yellow color, and
half concealed by the heavy straps that fastened on his
spurs. Around his waist was a belt, that relieved him
from some fatigue while riding, and at nightfall, while
he watched by the camp fire, held the protecting pistol.

Would Annie Hastings have discerned her ideal,
through that rough exterior? The admiring friends of
Malden would not; yet we think, that the microscopic eye
of affection would have seen, in the ease of attitude,—in
the centaur attachment to the noble horse,—in the firm
impress of the foot, though scarcely touching the stirrup,—
in the sovereign carriage of the head,—in the self-reliance
of the eye,—that such was indeed Graham, and that his


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real merits shone forth sublime, although undecked by
fashion's art.

Graham, after nearly two long, weary months, had the
pleasure of seeing, while at his night watch, the puffing
steam from a boat, that was gliding up the long-wished
or Cumberland. The sight filled him with pleasure; the
disagreeable part of his journey was at an end.

On the following morning, Fenwick, who had been dispatched
ahead, some two or three days in advance, met
Mildmay, as had been appointed, at his present encampment,
and gave him the pleasant information, that on the
second day following the fine steamer, “Great West,”
would be at “Ford's landing.”

“This is more fortunate than I could have expected,”
said Mildmay.

“Great luck,” said the imperturbable Fenwick; “only
big boat in the river, last one too, for they say the water is
going down, and they'll have to come to starn wheelers;”
and the faithful Fenwick seemed almost exhausted with his

“How far are we from the ford, Fenwick?” asked Mildmay
with impatient interest.

“Not more than a day's journey, if we push up a little,”
and having said this, Fenwick, who had been away for three
days, without farther parley rode among the negroes,
who were lazily, doggedly preparing for the accustomed
start, and after bustling around, scolding, coaxing and ordering,
informed them of the fact, that at night their foot
travels would be at an end; which fact had a marvellous
effect, not only upon the negroes, but apparently upon the


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jaded cattle, for every thing moved merrily away. There
was again heard the sounds of light-hearted laughter, and
Jack in stentorian voice struck up an extemporaneous refrain,
with a tremendous chorus of—

“Master's going down de ribber,
High O, high O,
Oh, he's de man wid a hundred niggers,
High O, high O,
Walk along steamboat, what you waiting for?
Whew—yaw, yaw, yaw.”

In the course of the ensuing morning, Graham overtook
an old wagon drawn by two skeleton oxen. Before
the animals walked a sallow-faced man, with hair as stiff and
colorless as hay. In the vehicle could be distinguished, in
spite of the hoop-stretched cotton top, a poor woman, that
seemed to be suffering intensely with the repeated attacks
of the ague.

“Where are you from, stranger?” asked Graham, riding
beside the man, and adopting, insensibly to himself, the
language of the road.

“From old North Caroline,” said the man doggedly,
without looking up.

“And where are you going?” continued Graham, with
some curiosity.

“I'm gwine to old Alabam,” was the reply, whined

“By land all the way?” said Graham, feeling in his

“All the way, except I go to Notchee on the Massissip.”


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“How came you to leave the old North State?” pursued
Graham, willing to be interested in any passing event.

“Why you see,” said the animated automation, tipping
his poor oxen on the head with his whip, “Why you see,
the tarpentine and cutting log business stopped on the Pedee,
and the mast crap failed, so the stock died and I
thought I'd go to Alabam, and commence again.”

“And why do you go to Alabama, my friend,” suggested
Graham delicately, “when,” he continued, “you pass
so much good land upon your route?”

“Why you see, I want to get into a healthy region, said
the man, glancing at his wife.

“Why, are there no healthy places save in Alabama?”
queried Mildmay, now decidedly interested.

“No pine lands elsewhar, as I knows on,” said the man,
an air of intelligence for the first time brightening up his
vacant face.

“You have a long way before you,” said Graham in
real sympathy; “and perhaps you will allow me to loan you
a trifle, as I'm a North Carolinian myself;” and Graham
held towards the man a few silver dollars.

“Not a cent,” said the man resolutely, but casting his
eyes behind him, and meeting the gaze of his wife he said
“Perhaps the old woman will have 'em. She wants some
store medicine;” and with this remark he resumed his place
beside his cattle, as if fatigued by conversation.

Graham added to the amount he had proposed to give
to the man, placed the coins in the cold attenuated hand
of the poor emigrant's wife, and received a smile in return,


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that he credited to Annie Hastings, and then with a light
heart galloped on after “his people.”

It was ten o'clock at night before Mildmay reached “the
ford.” It appeared as if his cattle and his negroes had
just strength to accomplish the journey, for they now all
appeared to be absolutely broken down; the task completed,
the spirit of the man no longer sustained his infirmities.

Very little pains was taken to arrange for the night;
the horses were unharnessed where they stopped in the road,
and after being carelessly fed, the negroes sat down, too fatigued
and too happy to think of eating, and in most cases,
while gazing into the clear blue water of the shining river,
fell asleep.

Graham with his own hands, assisted Fenwick in
making up a fire to protect his dependants from the night
air, and with a solemn joy he sat down and thanked Heaven
that the most dreaded task of his life had been so happily

Graham's journey down the Cumberland was characterized
by no startling incident. He was exceedingly fortunate
in procuring a boat large enough to take his slaves,
wagons and other property without difficulty on board. He
superintended the erection of temporary benches behind
the engines as sleeping places for his negroes, provided
them with a large stove for cooking their victuals, and made
them, under the circumstances, very happy indeed.

For himself he selected a comfortable state-room in
the cabin, which he occupied most of the day, in resting
from the fatigues he had gone through with, in reading, and
what to him was of the greatest pleasurable importance,


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in sketching an epitome of his “Wanderings through the
Wilderness,” which was carefully sealed, and at one of the
way post-offices along the river, when the steamer stopped
to procure wood, provisions or passengers, was mailed to
Miss Annie Hastings, Malden.

Fenwick had a comfortable bed prepared among the
negroes, and at night, at stated times, Mildmay took
his watch while Fenwick slept, to preserve them from
evil communications; from being enticed away; and for
their general protection.

Night after night, when Graham's dependants were
wrapped in oblivious, care-dissipating sleep, would he pace
for long and solitary hours; a sentinel, who, not only guarded
and defended, but had to think, act and provide for those
who were placed in his charge. The sickening mists of the
river would roll over his person, while he was at his post,
the profane and reckless conversation of the deck hands
would salute his ear—all was rough, ungenial, barbarous.

Once upon his new plantation, he soon became interested
in the establishment of his force in their quarters, and in
providing his overseer with a house. There were mechanics
to employ, agricultural implements to be obtained, money
to be procured, and a thousand annoyances he could not
anticipate, favorable as were his circumstances, compared
with thousands who seek a new home in the Southwest.

Mr. Moreton occasionally rode over to see Graham, and
assisted him by many useful suggestions; but to return
these visits, Graham never went abroad except on business.
The summer and winter passed away, and spring came.
The crop was in the ground, the prospect of the future was


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bright, and as the necessity of exertion ceased, so did Graham
relax from his cares, and begin to think of some repose
as a reward for his unceasing industry.

It was now that his affection for Annie increased. He
now had a home to invite her to, he longed for her society,
he wished to hear her merry laugh ring through his house,
and see her grace his now solitary table. Fenwick was
competent and trustworthy, and, sooner than he intended,
Graham made his preparations to visit the North.

Judging from Annie's letters (for within the last year
Graham and Annie had directly corresponded with each
other), a responsive chord had been touched in her bosom.
The cold calm reserve of her first epistles, had given way
to a tone of unrestrained confidence.

It was these letters that gilded all of Graham's cares.
In the solitary musings of his journey through the “Old
North State,” in his repose by the side of his camp fire
among the rich lands and hospitable people of Tennessee,
at his midnight watch on the Mississippi, or his solitary
hours at Heritage Place, Annie's letters had been his greatest
solace, and he exulted that he had awakened an interest
in her heart, and that she was the chosen companion of his

Every thing with Graham had gone well. The young
planter felt just pride as he rode over his broad acres, and
witnessed the improvements of Heritage Place. The neglected
out-buildings were now neat and comfortable, the
dilapidated fences were all repaired; and there were evidences
of a coming reward for agricultural labor, pursued under
his own observant eye.


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Graham, in fact, seemed destined to great worldly prosperity.
On the same day he received a letter from North
Carolina announcing his probable heirship to a handsome
estate, left by a distant relative of whose existence he had
never before heard, and one from his commission merchant
in New Orleans, offering him a large advance on the original
amount he gave for Heritage Place

Nearly two years had passed since he left Malden.
Now relieved of the pressure of business cares, he determined,
even sooner than he had intended, to visit the North.
His arrangements were soon made, and leaving every thing
in charge of Fenwick, he set out upon his long anticipated
trip. Graham once upon his journey, was himself surprised
at his own impatience. Night and day he had but
one idea, and that was, to speed on his way.

Arriving at Malden, he at once proceeded to his hotel.
As he rattled along its streets, he recognized the familiar
buildings as they appeared to dance when looked at through
the windows of the coach, and recognized the happy faces
of many merchants and citizens with whom he was familiar.
There were students too, standing about in groups, whose
listless gait and abstracted airs brought old time feelings
to his heart. The coach rattled on. The familiar house
of Dr. Elliott, rising against the sky from its commanding
position, seemed to float by him as if whirling in a circle
of which he was the centre—anon there came familiar trees
and shady walks, then rushed by him the old Hastings
House, the window panes glistening like crystal, all quiet,
all repose, and he sank back upon his cushioned seat, almost
suffocated with the swellings and throbbings of his heart.


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Another instant and the vehicle stopped Its door was
opened, and Mildmay jumped out upon the pavement.
“Mildmay,” “Graham,” shouted a dozen voices at once,
and he was overwhelmed with gratulations.

His fellow students, who had, as freshmen, heard his
eloquent valedictory, but now grown into solemn juniors,
fairly hugged him round the neck, while the honest old
landlord of the “Hotel” stood by, and when he could get
an opportunity helped Graham up the steps as if he were
his own long lost but now returned son.

It was the idle hour of the day at Malden, and the
news spread from mouth to mouth, and ran along the streets
with telegraphic quickness, that “Graham Mildmay had

There was an absolute sensation of pleasure that beat
like a pulse among all the people, so much was Graham beloved.
Dr. Elliott caught the news, as he was working in
his flower-garden, and by twilight trimming into shape a
honeysuckle vine, and the good old man, just where he was,
fell upon his knees and returned thanks to Heaven, that he
was to see his “beloved child again.”

Annie the while was in her own room, looking over
Graham's last letter. “He will certainly be here the day after
to-morrow, if he is not mistaken in the time; he surely
would not delay on the way,” she reflected, as the blood
mantled to her cheeks, and while thus engaged at her own
speculations and communing with her own thoughts, a
favorite but stately old female servant of the Hastings
family stole up to Annie's room and gently pushed at the
door, but finding it locked she stopped and said:


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“Mistress Annie, he's come.”

“Where?” said Annie, looking around vaguely.

“Not here yet, but at the hotel,” replied the solemn
old servant, walking away.

Annie sat a moment like one entranced. Her delicate
face grew red and pale, and then crushing Graham's letter
to her face she found relief in deep, scalding, gushing tears.

As soon as Graham could do so, he slipped away from
his friends, and his first act was to write and dispatch a note
to the old Hastings House, and half an hour afterwards he
was rapidly threading the familiar streets of Malden.

Annie, pale with excitement, sat in the old parlor, buried
in an arm-chair, with a book upside down in her hand, yet
one would suppose, from her intent gaze upon it, that she
was busy reading. The time since Graham had last seen
her had wrought many changes in her appearance. She
was now in the full perfection of maidenly beauty. She
was, too, somewhat grown in height, her form was full and
round, and there was a thoughtful, responsible expression
about her eye, making it far more beautiful than in the
times that were past.

The grim old puritan female servant of the Hastings
family, had lived for years, it might almost be said for a
century, in the house, and had never in all that time shown
any more sentiment or geniality than would a pillar of ice.
She had known Annie from her infancy, and yet had in all
that time coldly and respectfully done her duty toward the
young lady, frowning down any thanks or professions of love
as if they were mortal sins. But now she was roused. It
would seem that she had watched the love passages between


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the young people, and for the first time to Annie's knowledge
had she shown some symptoms of sympathy with the
affairs of the heart; in announcing Graham's arrival, and
when he came upon the steps of the old mansion, before
even his impatient hand was lifted, she opened the door,
and gently letting Graham in, she pointed to the parlor
and said:

“She's there,—alone,” and disappeared.