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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 114


Mrs. Mildmay” performed her simple duties as mistress
of Heritage Place with due dignity. Provided with
the best possible servants, her time passed on with little
more real care than if she had been Miss Annie Hastings in
her New England home. Mildmay took advantage of the
pleasant mornings to engage with her in agreeable horseback
rides through the splendid adjoining forests, and the
evenings were passed in reading, or, as Annie herself observed,
“appreciating the luxury of being in the open air.”

The enervating character of the climate, however, had
its effect upon her constitution, and she suffered at times
that approach to indisposition which comes from extreme
lassitude, and want of varied mental excitement. Confined
sometimes to her room all day, at sunset she would
cause Clemmy to move an easy chair upon the broad gallery
of the house; and there she would sit and watch the
stars, which, in a clear southern sky, seem to come rushing
into existence, on the sudden disappearance of the sun
in the west.


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Mildmay, who had himself a keen sense of the beautiful
in nature, as he was leaning one evening against the
heavy columns, watching the close of day, heard the light
footsteps, and turning round, he received Annie with a
smile; and then assisting Clemmy in arranging her easy
chair, and seeing that Annie was luxuriously buried in
the soft cushions, and properly provided by an array of
shawls as a reserved guard against the chilliness of approaching
night, he seated himself nearly in front of
her, and taking out his cigar-case, he ordered Prince to
get him “a light;” and having done all this, he said:

“A few moments more, Annie, and you would have
lost this brilliant sunset.”

Prince instantly returned, bringing a living coal upon
the prong of an ivory-handled fork; Graham blew off
the mouldering ashes, and lit his delicate Havana: then
assuming an easy attitude, he gave one puff, and said,
“Thus, Annie, the aborigines dedicated the fragrance of
the weed to their gods; I, more devout and more useful,
shall let these fleeting clouds serve to destroy the mosquitoes,
already singing round you.”

“You are not the first enthusiast that, in making an
offering, has given the fabled deities the least substantial
part of the sacrifice,” said Annie, rousing as if from a

“Well,” exclaimed Graham, “if I were not so comfortable
just now, and so determined not even to think, I
might reply to your unorthodox remarks, regarding my

“Then,” returned Annie, “perhaps you will explain


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to me the secret charm of that rude seat, so much a favorite;
one would think it was made for very square, and
very straight-backed people, judging from its `form.'”

“There again,” said Graham; “what a pampered
girl; you eschew my compliments, and now question the
integrity of my throne: surely, being half buried in the
deep cushion folds of that old `arm-chair,' makes one an
egotist. But, my lady fair, yonder is a scene that can
have naught but admiration!” and he pointed to the west.

The sun was now in the very effulgence of its departing
glory, and reflected a warm orange tinge upon the face of
Annie; giving her eyes, already softened by debility, a
true sultana look. Behind her chair stood Clemmy,—her
dark and good-natured features glistening like bronze; at
Annie's feet, reposed Ponce de Leon; his eye, however,
was ever vigilant, and seemingly eager to pick a quarrel
with Clemmy for being so near his mistress. Mildmay
had put on his college skullcap, the heavy tassel fastened
to its top hanging nearly to his shoulder; his “blouse
was loose and flowing, while the smoke of his cigar curled
lazily about his head. Prince had quietly slipped back to
his place on the gallery, and went fast asleep.

“It is beautiful! very beautiful!” half whispered
Annie, as she beheld the vast clouds rolling about, changing
into a thousand hues, and leaving between the distant
forms glimpses of distance, which seemed the openings to
other worlds.

“And,” continued Annie, with some animation, “see
you not those vast ranges of almost zenith-reaching mountains,


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glistening in pink and gold; how they are melting,
even while we gaze, into purple and blue?”

Mildmay looked at his wife with admiration, but made
no reply.

“And,” continued Annie, almost rising from her chair,
“see you not those grand peaks, and precipitous sides,
among which I fancy I can find the familiar forms of those
old giant sentinels, that look out upon Malden?”

“True,” half murmured Mildmay, buried in deep reflection;
“there's the old blue ridge itself.”

“What a pity, Mildmay,” suggested Annie, respectfully,
“that these rich lands of the South have not some
granite hills to break up their sameness; I have a fancy
that mountains cherish freedom of thought, as well as perfect
health; is it not thus?”

“So records history,” returned Mildmay, eyeing with
anxious expression the placid appearance of Annie's face.

A few more flashes, and struggling of the god of day,
and scarcely a tinge of his glory was left; the pleasant
evening breeze now sprang up, and laughed among the
hard crisp leaves of the magnolia trees.

And now might be seen moving quietly across the
yard some living thing, scarcely perceptible in the dusk;
on it comes, hesitatingly ascends the gallery stairs, and
stopping at their head, stands, hat in hand, in statue-like

Ponce de Leon is on his feet; he gives a slight growl
of alarm, and appears ready for a defence or attack.

“Who's that on the gallery?” inquired Mildmay,
without moving his head.


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“It's Ben, if you please, master,” replied the negro in
a weak voice.

“And what is the matter with Ben?”

“Ize had de fever all day, and I feel sort o' weak in
de legs,” said the negro, without moving from his place.

“And what have you been doing all day, Ben?”

“Ize been log-rolling myself, but de gang was down in
de cornfield cutting out grass.”

“And how are they getting on, Ben?”

“Oh, bery well, master; 'em alers work when you
come to see 'em.”

“Well, Ben, go down and tell Judy, that I say she
must give you something to make you well.”

“Yes, master;” and “the boy” disappeared.

The climate of the South, and the influence of the
“ancient population” of Louisiana, have unitedly created
a demand, and a taste, for large and luxuriant sleeping
apartments. Prominent among the articles of furniture
are the armoire, and the couch du lit. The armoire, of
massive proportions, is always composed of the richest of
materials, and is very often inlaid with costly and different
tinted woods, the panels are composed of costly mirrors
that reach almost from the floor to the ceiling. In
these receptacles one finds in bright array, not only the
splendid ornaments of the bride, but in a provided place,
repose the jewelled casket, the perfumed notes, the thousand
cherished records of the inmost heart. The couch du lit,
is formed of four ponderous posts, surmounted by a heavy
canopy, from which depends the delicate but necessary
mosquito netting. Underneath, is a couch, large enough


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for giants, yet of more luxuriance than that on which
Imogen reposed. The proud affection of Mildmay had surrounded
Annie with all the elegant associations of the
most favored of her sex, and many cherished mementoes of
her New England home, mingled with the costlier appurtenances,
and gave the charm of familiarity to all.

In one corner of the room, was a costly japan worktable,
a present to Annie in her childhood, from a bachelor
uncle, whose business it was to go down to the sea in ships.
The grotesque figures upon this memento, of horrible dragons,
swallowing beautiful young ladies with pigtails, and
flowers of every possible hue, with gold leaves and red
stalks, and birds flying through houses, and children running
to waste in the air, had greatly amused Annie in her
very youth, and in after years, had been the subject of
much philosophic speculation—but now, nothing could so
excite the tenderest emotions of her heart, as the sight
of those oriental absurdities—made familiar and sanctified
by so many pleasing associations.

If Annie was ever overpowered by the heat and languor
of the day, or felt the influence of those moments of despondency
that will at times come over the happiest of human
hearts; it was only while leaning upon this table, that
the consoling influence of tears came to her relief; and
alike soothed and strengthened, would she leave this domestic

Clemmy, concluding her supper and her gossiping in
the kitchen, returned to the gallery where she busied herself
in setting back the chairs, closing the window blinds,


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and other almost nameless but necessary duties, when, according
to her wont, she went into her mistress's room.

Now Clemmy had, on the afternoon of this particular
day, rendered herself exceedingly useful in the flower garden,
which labor had caused her to neglect her household
duties, and she now, after lighting a wax candle, and
placing it under a tall glass shade, discovered the omission
of drawing the mosquito netting.

Proceeding leisurely to remedy this neglect, with the
instinctive feeling of reverence for things tasteful, so peculiar
to negroes, she with more than usual care removed
the ruffled pillows, and then carefully folded back the fine
linen of snowy whiteness over the rose-tinted counterpane;
then replacing the pillows at the head of the bed,
she seized the silken tassel pendent from the foot of the
tester, and gave the bar a jerk, that instantly expanded it
like a delicate cloud over the couch beneath—and tucking
in the edges of the bar, she next arranged the different
vases, baskets, and nicknacks, according to her ideas.
Then with evident pettishness she removed Annie's Bible to
the mantelpiece, and replaced it by a magnificently bound
volume, which was lying open upon the lounge—she then
stepped into the centre of the room and gave an admiring
glance; every thing in the room met with her perfect approbation;
but the disposition of the gayly bound volume
on the japan table was her master conception.

The night air growing too cool, and the nine o'clock
bell at the quarters having an hour before rung; Annie
rose from her seat in the gallery, moved toward the door
leading into the house, while Mildmay pleading some business

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[Description: 726EAF. Illustration page. A woman in a gown sits at a table in her bedroom and looks over a book. There are another book and a lamp on the table. Behind the woman is a four-poster bed with bedcurtains drawn. In the left foreground is a chair with a blanket thrown over one arm. ]

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matter with Toadvine, left Annie to pursue her inclinations
by herself.

Clemmy was within hearing, but evidently from a perfect
understanding, she continued staring into vacancy, as
if no one was near, leaving Annie to proceed uninterrupted
to her room. The young mistress wore a quiet and satisfied
expression, there was a slight tinge of pleasure warming
up her cheek, it was evident that the evening had been
agreeably spent. On entering as if performing a customary
task, she carefully returned her Bible to its appointed place,
leaving the favorite binding of Clemmy to ignobly repose
its splendor upon the brass nails of one of Mildmay's much
worn travelling trunks. Annie then sat down beside her
little table, and for some moments leaned her head upon
her hand; then, with her costly handkerchief she listlessly
brushed away some suppositious dust from the faces of
numerous little Japanese monsters, and taking up the sacred
volume, she turned to a specific place, buried her fore-finger
among the parted leaves, and seemed for a while to be
musing over the events of the day; then opening the volume
she read, in a low and musical voice, the twenty-fourth
chapter of St. Luke, and throwing herself upon her knees,
poured forth her soul in spontaneous prayer to Heaven,
calling down blessings upon her friends at a distance,
near by, her husband and herself.

Annie had scarcely risen from her kneeling position,
before Clemmy slipped noiselessly into the room, and with
some officiousness prepared to assist her mistress in her
toilet for the night. Annie would willingly have dispensed
with this, but the natural kindness of her own heart would


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not allow her to repel Clemmy's affectionate zeal; she therefore
kindly received from her hands the snowy robe de
and carefully adjusting it, and placing her comb on
the table, thereby leaving her luxuriant hair to fall over
her shoulders, she with forced resignation abandoned herself
to the hands of her faithful domestic.

Clemmy was now happy; it was the honor of arranging
those magnificent curls, that was the pride of her existence,
and made her the envy of all her fellow servants.
Annie herself could not help being amused, as she discovered
the sable face of admiration and triumph reflected
over her shoulder in the glass.

Clemmy skilfully swept away the masses of curls from
Annie's brow, which transformed her loveliness into a simplicity
that would have been commended by the most rigid
puritan of her race. The labor ended, she roused herself,
and stepped toward the bed.

Clemmy, meantime, had seized her gigantic fly brush,
in which glistened and waved the rich plumage of a host of
Juno's birds, and swinging it in the air, made a soft zephyrous
noise, and at the same time, in the most artistic manner
she prepared to lift the edge of the mosquito bar, gave
the signal, and Annie sprang through the opening with a

The busy hum of myriads of insects, thus, by almost
necromancy, cheated of their prey, but made the protection
of the netting more deliciously secure, and Annie was
soon wandering in that mysterious world, where things
past and present, and already realized hopes, mingle in
incongruous yet most harmonious combination.