University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 85


The summer to Graham and Annie passed rapidly away,
and with the fall came the preparations for “the master's”
return to the South.

On the morning following the marriage, there stood in
front of the old Hastings House a carriage, and all the familiar
preparations for a long journey. Presently the door
opened and Graham, with Annie in her travelling dress and
leaning upon his arm, made his appearance. The rear of
the group was filled up with a number of persons, in whose
faces smiles were seen struggling with tears.

The farewells had been uttered, the last embraces given.
As the carriage door closed upon Graham and Annie, the
young wife thrust her hand through the window, and waved
her adieus as long as those who had so carefully raised
and so fondly loved her could be seen; but soon recovering
her self-possession, she seized Mildmay's hand, and looking
in his face with childlike confidence, asked:

“How long, Graham, shall we be in getting home?


Page 86

Graham, once on his way South, became anxious to reach
his journey's end, and by such progress as was not fatiguing
to Annie, he was soon upon the Ohio, and rapidly descending
the Mississippi.

The rivers were low and the best class of accommodations
were not to be had, but to Annie, this very want of
facilities proved a source of constant amusement.

Heritage Place, as has been described, was off the river
some twenty miles, and approached by a bayou, which in
the spring of the year was navigable. When Graham
landed at the point on the river nearest his plantation,
he found that he would have to make the rest of the journey
by land, or in a skiff, as the bayou was now almost
dried up.

There were no families residing near “the landing,” and
no places of accommodation that could afford a comfortable
shelter for the night; and this unexpected difficulty gave
Graham a great deal of annoyance. As the steamer on
which they had lived so pleasantly for many days disappeared,
it seemed to Annie that she and Mildmay had been
abandoned in the forests.

Two negroes who were employed in chopping wood near
by, came forward, and instantly recognized “Master Mildmay,”
and by their assistance Graham got his trunks up
the steep bank, and deposited them and Annie under the
shade of a wide-spreading tree. The negroes then ran off
and said they would return with their master.

“This is rather rough, Annie,” said Graham, looking
around, “but it is very rarely that persons find themselves
in our strait. If Fenwick could have anticipated our arrival,”


Page 87
he continued, “the carriage would have been in

“It's only twenty miles you say, Graham, and then we
are home,” suggested Annie.

“Only twenty.”

“Then let us go at once,” said the young wife, “for I
verily believe I could walk all the way.”

“You are a brave girl,” said Mildmay, laughing, “but
we will do better than that; see, here comes some one who
will assist us,” and Graham looked towards the proprietor
of one of the log cabins in the neighborhood.

A rough-looking man came up, and instantly recognized
Graham, and shook him cordially by the hand. He
said, among other things, that he had been “down the
bayou,” a few days before; had seen Fenwick; that every
thing looked well, and promised a fine crop, and also, that
Fenwick did not expect Mildmay for a week.

This gossip was exceedingly gratifying to Mildmay,
and it was soon arranged, that he would go home in a
“skiff,” as there was water enough for that purpose. The
baggage was removed to the light boat, the two negroes
took their places as oarsmen, and Graham helped Annie
into the stern, and took his place beside her. In the
course of two hours they were sailing merrily along, soon
comparatively to be at the end of the journey.

As the skiff proceeded, Graham explained to Annie
how it was, that in “high water,” the dark muddy sluiceway
through which they were then travelling would contain
a flood, in which the largest ships could navigate; and


Page 88
by other descriptions of scenery, and pleasant incidents, he
beguiled the time.

Gradually the sun settled down in the west, and the
deep, dark shadows of the primitive forests shrouded the
earth; Annie instinctively clung closer to Graham, her
terrors in spite of herself, sometimes almost overcoming
her self-possession.

Four hours had passed away, when in the bend of the
bayou, far ahead, Annie saw, rising up from among the
trees, a stately mansion. It presented an imposing effect
in the dim light.

“Is that a delusion?” said Annie, pointing to the
house, that seemed, from the motion of the skiff, to be itself
moving about.

Graham stared curiously a moment, and then recognized
Annie's home; but so altered, by a thorough painting,
since he had been away, that for a moment he did not
know it himself.

“That is the end of our journey; in a few moments
more we shall be in our own house.”

“I can hardly realize it,” said Annie; “and more,
it seems so strange, to see such mansions rising out of
these desolate-looking woods.”

“To-morrow all will be changed. Once,” he continued,
“on the banks above us, and you will see a country of surpassing

“Go 'long dar”—“what you 'bout, Brandy”—“step
along, Gen. Jackson”—“what's you doing, Logan,” and
other colloquial sounds, suddenly rose from the woods,


Page 89
frightening the owls, who, not yet fairly awake, went
whooping like Indian spirits off into the solitudes.

“As I live,” said Graham, to Annie, “I believe that
is old Ben's voice—Ben—Ho! Ben,” shouted Graham, so
loudly, that he perfectly astonished Annie with his vehemence.

“Crack,” “snap,” went the ox-goad, popping like a
pistol, while the heavy wheels of the cart, seemed to grind
into the earth the limbs of trees over which they were

“Ben—Ben, I say!” again shouted Graham.

“Whoa!” Ben was heard to say; instantly all was still,
and again Graham called.

The next moment there was seen, on the banks of the
bayou, and almost over the skiff, the dark form of a negro,
over whose shoulders rested a long-handled whip.

“Who calls old Ben down dar?” said the man, staring
wildly about.

“Your master,” said Graham, half vexed at old Ben's

“Say dat agin!” said old Ben, commencing a sort of
extempore jig, as most expressive of his joy, at his master's

The skiff had now fairly rounded the point, on which
Ben stood, and coming near him, Graham said:

“Ben, why don't you hurry off to the house, and tell
Mr. Fenwick I am coming, with your mistress, up the

The negro stopped to hear no more; in another instant
he was rushing along in the dark, like a perturbed spirit,


Page 90
yelling and laughing by turns, and when he could find
time, saying:—

“Master's come! master's come!”

It was now completely dark; there had been nothing to
guide the rowers, but the silver thread of the stream, relieved
against the gloom; but in a few moments lights
sprung up in different directions, and were seen moving to
and fro, and finally all came together at one point.

Anon, the snorting of a horse, then the heavy tramp
of hoofs, and then Fenwick was heard to say,

“This way, you scoundrels, with those torches—here's
the landing.”

All this seemed to Annie as if she were in a dream;
she could not believe its reality; even Mildmay appeared
changed; for, from the dim light reflected on his face, he
seemed to have turned to bronze.

The negroes who rowed the “skiff,” now turned it towards
the concentration of lights, and in a moment more
it ceased to move, for want of the proper depth of water.

Gradually the location of things developed themselves
to Graham; for the first time, he knew exactly where he
was, and he found that between him and the solid earth
was twenty feet of soft, muddy deposit of the bayou.

As soon, however, as the skiff was discovered from the
shore, there rushed to it a dozen stout negroes; many
bearing torches, and all anxious to see “master.” Graham
rose up, and hurriedly saluted his dependants, and
then gave directions for getting him out of his temporary
difficulties. Forgetting, at the moment, that Annie
had never seen a dozen negroes in her life, until within


Page 91
the few days she had been on a western steamer, he ordered
some of his men “to carefully lift her ashore.”

Annie heard the order with astonishment; it seemed
in the momentary exaggeration of her fears, that Graham
designed her for destruction, and throwing her arms around
his neck in unqualified terror, she exclaimed:—

“No, no, don't consign me to these men.”

In an instant Graham comprehended Annie's feelings,
and with an inward consciousness of deep pain at his
want of consideration, he sternly commanded the officious
negroes to stand aside; and now communicating freely with
Fenwick, ordered him to get some plank or rails, and
make such a walk, as he could, with safety, help Annie
over himself.

The suggestion once made, it was instantly carried into
effect, and Annie, trembling in every limb with excitement,
reached the shore.

In a few moments more she was in her own room, where
the careful “Clemmy,” the house servant, had considerately
prepared a blazing fire upon the hearth. But the excitement
had confused her mind. She was feverish and restless;
her imagination was filled with dark, mysterious
caverns, and strange-looking beings with torches, who
seemed determined to seize hold of her in some way, and
do her injury. Then there were the many dependants of
Mildmay, who, in their clamorous joy, were crowding into
the doors and windows to see “master” and “mistress.”
All these things overcame Annie, and she weepingly
begged Graham to dispense with all attendants, and sit


Page 92
down beside her, that she might feel, and gradually comprehend,
that they were alone.

In a little while Annie entirely recovered her self-possession,
and with a smile of heaven-born benignity, she
congratulated herself that her travels were at an end.
Night closed in, the angel of peace spread her wings over
the domestic scene; Graham's fondest hope was realized;
Annie was indeed mistress of Heritage Place.