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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 137


Mildmay and Annie set out for Mr. Moreton's, soon after
breakfast; the day was so fine, that it was agreed that the
journey should be made on horseback, and that on the way,
Annie should ride through the plantation, and gratify her
wishes at the sight of her husband's luxuriant fields.

At the time of starting, the little negroes, who had
come in from “the quarters,” arranged themselves in a
row along the avenue of the lawn, and as Annie passed,
they bowed their comical-looking heads, and said, “Goo'
by, Mistress!” “Goo' by, Master!” and then, as if overcome
with their familiarity, they gave a universal laugh,
and went trooping off behind the house, Ponce de Leon,
with a half malicious, and half mischievous spirit, knocking
a majority of them over on the green sward, by joining
in the scramble.

Meanwhile Governor had opened the gate, and Mildmay
and Annie passed through, and pursued their way
down the road, the servant following at a respectful distance


Page 138
in the rear. Scarcely had this been accomplished,
before Ponce de Leon, having finished his gambols with
the negro children, discovered the cavalcade moving away
without him. With a rush that would have done honor to
a race-horse, he sped across the lawn, and fairly flew over
the palings, and in another moment, was barking and coquetting
around Annie's horse.

“I will be more careful hereafter, Ponce,” said Annie,
laughing, and glancing at her favorite, “how I let you
into my secrets; for, do you know,” she said, looking at
Mildmay, “that I believe some dogs have the quality of

“There cannot be a doubt of it,” he returned, interested
with the suggestion, “and there is nothing to disprove
that they may not even have a future, though still humble

“You have improved, Graham, amazingly, upon my
speculation,” said Annie gayly.

“Perhaps so, but you will admit that there is something
truly poetical in the wild dream of the American
aborigine, where he spiritualizes his future existence; no
heathen mythology has given us a purer and more attractive
picture than the Indian and his dog, side by side, in
the happy hunting-grounds.”

“True, very true,” returned Annie, “and more's the pity,
that so noble a race could not be preserved by civilization.”

“Pity indeed, but it is impossible to preserve the Indian.
In the wild woods, and away from artificial influences,
he flourishes like these mighty forest trees, through


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which we wind our way; but like these trees, if transplanted
or disturbed by cultivation, must wither away.”

“It's a sad picture,” said Annie, thoughtfully; “but,”
she added, “I like their consistency after all, for with the
Indian it is indeed `liberty or death.'”

“Hurrah,” said Mildmay, with playful exultation, “hurrah
for Annie Hastings! who, though so little, is so very
brave; she will yet be the mother of heroes.”

“I will beat you in a fair race to the field gate,” said
Annie, blushing, and pushing her heretofore lingering palfrey
into a gallop, away she sped, Mildmay gallantly following
just in the rear, with Ponce de Leon, crazy with
excitement, far in the van.

As the equestrians came up to the inclosure, Jack, who
had seen them approaching, was at the gate to open it, and
as the party passed in, he gave them a salute of genuine
feeling, which Annie said “was delightful to behold.”

“You can shut up de gate yousef,” said Jack, as Governor,
with an air intended to be much more impressive than
his master's, was about riding on, unheeding his sable

“Oh sartin,” said Governor, wheeling round his pony,
and giving the gate a swing that sent it to with a crash;
and then turning to Jack a look of assumed contempt, he

“Some indiwiduals don't suppose that field darkies can
learn to open and shut a gate at de same time,—it would
be too much for dis world,” and Governor was so delighted
with his own wit, that he nearly fell off of his horse from


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“Mabee not,” said Jack, seizing his hoe and working
away furiously in the soft ground; “mabee not,” he repeated,
his face brightening into a broad grin, and then without
any conceivable reason, except an exuberance of animal
spirits, he broke into a guffaw, not only louder than Governor's
explosion, but so terrific, that it set the crows flying at
the time high over head, cawing with alarm.

At this moment a little negress passed by with a pail
of water on her head, which she was carrying to the gang
in the field. Mildmay filled the gourd that was floating on
the top, and offered it to Annie, which she playfully refused.

“I see, Annie,” said Mildmay, most liberally helping
himself, “that you cannot get accustomed to a gourd,—
but, according to my ideas, it is the only goblet that truly
accords in simplicity with the gently gurgling spring.”

The sun, as it rose higher in the heavens, began to
pour down with intensity, and Mildmay, perceiving that
Annie was suffering from the heat, suggested more rapid
progress, and the two struck into a “lope,” which was continued
for a long distance without interruption.

Upon reaching their destination, it was a grateful relief
to receive the protecting shade of the heavy walls and
overhanging verandahs of the mansion.

Mrs. Moreton met Annie with unusual pleasure marked
upon her face, and Aunt Margaret was so delighted,
that she not only shook both her hands affectionately, but
kissed her on her cheek.

The children, with their nurses, presented themselves
one after another, and it seemed to Annie, in the confusion,


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that a child and a negro were so strangely identified, that
it was difficult to imagine them apart.

“Let us have some water here,” said Mr. Moreton,
looking about generally, after himself and Mildmay had
seated themselves, and the ladies had retired to a distant
part of the house.

Now Mildmay was exceedingly thirsty, and so appeared
Mr. Moreton; but although there were great numbers
of negroes moving about the premises, presenting
themselves and then disappearing like puppets in a show,
still no water came. Finally Mr. Moreton lost all patience,
and with a loud voice cried out:

“John—David—Mary—Jefferson—Wash, why don't
somebody bring some water here?”

Still the negroes moved about, as if unconscious of
hearing any order, and Mr. Moreton jumped up, and was
about getting into a passion, when Aunt Margaret met him
at the door, and in a mild voice said:

“Brother, did I hear you call?”

“Certainly you did,” said Mr. Moreton, sitting back
in his chair nearly exhausted.

Aunt Margaret singled out one of the many idlers in
view, and gave the required directions, and almost instantly
she was obeyed.

“I forgot to ask you, Mr. Mildmay,” said Moreton, taking
up his glass, “I forgot to ask if you would have any
thing with your water. I have myself so long given up the
habit of indulging in any thing `strong,' with the temperate
exceptions of occasionally at dinner, that I fear I have appeared
regardless of the rites of hospitality.”


Page 142

“Not at all,” said Mildmay promptly, “I have, I am
sorry to say, formed a liking for a good cigar, which desire
I gratify, but beyond that, I am careful not to tax my
strength by unnecessary stimulants.”

“Bring some cigars here,” cried Mr. Moreton from
habit, and then catching the eye of the servant holding the
salver and pitcher, he said:

“Viney, bring those cigars here, from off the parlor

The girl obeyed, and presented Mildmay with the box,
but he declined smoking for the time being, and the two
gentlemen again seating themselves, seemed disposed to
enter upon conversation, as persons who had a great deal
to say, and more than sufficient time to say it in.

Annie was shown to a room splendid in size, in the centre
of which was an enormous French bedstead, and on the
side the familiar armoire. A tidy-looking, petted servant
stood at her elbow, ready to do her slightest bidding.
Laying aside a coquettish sun-bonnet, which she preferred
to use in the middle of the day, when out on horseback,
to the more showy riding cap that Mildmay had
provided her with, she sat down in a comfortable chair, and
submitted to the ordeal of examination from the distended
eyes of her sable attendant.

“What's your name?” said Annie to the girl, to relieve
herself from the embarrassment of being an object of
so much undisguised interest.

“My name is Violet, Missus.”

“Violet?” repeated Annie; “you were named after a


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very pretty flower,” she continued, absolutely confused for
something to say.

“Not after a flower, Missus,” said Violet, quite flattered
by the notice she received; “I was done named after
Master's old nurse.”

At this moment the door of the room opened and Aunt
Margaret presented herself, and with a winning smile she
desired Annie to go with her to Mrs. Moreton's room.

Mrs. Moreton, at the moment of Annie's entrance, was
giving directions to a negress how to sew up a seam in a
coarse capote or blanket coat, and near by on the floor, sat
two more negresses busy at the same work.

After the cordial salutations of meeting, “You see, Mrs.
Mildmay,” said Mrs. Moreton, “one of the tasks imposed
upon the mistress of a plantation. You would scarcely believe,”
she continued, “that I have cut out and superintended
the making of thirty of these heavy garments this

“Thirty!” said Annie, with undisguised amazement:
“and can you, Mrs. Moreton, with your delicate hands, do
so much?”

“It would seem so,” said that lady, looking up and
smiling; “I wish this work was the least unpleasant of my
many duties.”

“Well,” said Annie, “as I am ambitious to be a good
wife, I must learn to make them myself,” and she took one
of the heavy coats in her hands.

“Not to-day,” said Aunt Margaret, taking the garment
gently away, “not to-day, but some other time.”

“I will show you presently,” said the lady, still occupied


Page 144
by her duties, “Mr. Moreton's preparations for
weaving and spinning; he finds such labor very useful and
profitable for the women on a large plantation who are too
delicate to be out in rainy days.”

“And do you really spin and weave?” said Annie, with

“Certainly,” said Mrs. Moreton, and she added, “Clotilde,
show Mrs. Mildmay your dress.” (The girl held out
the side of her garment for Annie's inspection.) “We,”
she continued, “clothe all our hands in homespun; it is
much better cloth than that which we buy.”

“And is this the universal custom?” said Annie,
becoming very much interested.

“Most generally,” said Mrs. Moreton, “in old settled

At this moment there burst through the curtains that
hung over the door a little girl, crying out, “Where's
Aunt Margy?” and spinning round the room like a top,
and running against tables and chairs, she came to a stand
still, directly opposite where Annie was sitting.

“Why, Toots,” said Aunt Margaret to the child,
“where have you been this last half hour?”

“Down to the cotton-gin,—see all the corn-mill, and
mules, and the wheels go round and round, and never stop
'till a minute,” replied Toots, with a rapidity of speech
truly astonishing.

“Do take that little minx out of the room, Minnie,”
said Mrs. Moreton, looking at one of the negro girls near
her; “for that child always sets me crazy with her noise.”

“Toots won't set any body crazy with her noise,—she


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will be a good girl, and be 'till,—not do nossin at all;”
and having delivered herself of this speech, Toots commenced
dancing up and down, singing with a loud voice,
each time her little feet struck on the floor.

It was very plain that Aunt Margaret was delighted,
and as Toots for a moment was still, she said,

“Go and shake hands with Mrs. Mildmay, Toots.”

The little perpetual-motion eyed Annie for a moment
with amusing interest, and then with the quickness of
thought rushed forward, jumped into Annie's lap, threw
her arms round her neck, and said,

“How you get such curls all down your face?—how you
come to our house?—how much you love Toots?” and
the little thing clapped her hands and laughed, and crowed
in a perfect ecstasy of delight.

“Why,” said Annie, overcome with astonishment and
gratified surprise, “does this child go on this way all
the time?”

“Yes, all the time,” said Mrs. Moreton, dwelling on
the all; “and I believe she is never still, even when

“Toots very 'till,” said the child with much solemnity;
and she then broke out a loud chirrup, as follows.

“If I had a vife, and she had a baby,
Vife's name Kitty, child's name Gavy.”

“Davy,” said Aunt Margaret, her eyes sparkling with

“Gavy,” said Toots, with gravity.

“Davy,—goose,” repeated Aunt Margaret.


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“Vife's name Kitty, and child's name Davy Goose,”
said Toots, breaking into a loud laugh, and throwing her
head back on Annie's shoulder.

“Minnie, take Toots out in the yard, I say,” said Mrs.
Moreton, putting her hand to her forehead, as if suffering
from a severe pain in the head.

“No, Minnie shan't take Toots,” said the child, springing
from Annie's lap, and running to Aunt Margaret;
“Toots set dog on Minnie, and Pa'll give Minnie `forty,'
—and then Toots broke out into an unintelligible song,
mingled with imitations of all the noises heard in the
poultry-yard; and finding that her mother was really getting
serious, she suddenly calmed down, and walking up to
one of the negro girls that was at work on the capotes, she

“Toots want needlers, — Toots show;” and having
been accommodated with a needle and thread, she went
through the pantomime of biting off the end of the thread,
making a knot, and looking seriously at every one about
her; but finding it impossible to remain quiet, she commenced
dancing up and down, and just as her mother was
within an inch of seizing her dress, she glided away, and
was heard paddling down stairs, laughing, hallooing, at
the, as she supposed, really ineffectual attempts of one of
the servants to arrest her progress.

Annie was so amused at Toots, that, in spite of herself,
she was obliged to give way to hearty laughter.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Moreton, laying down her work, and
looking at Annie with a most injured expression, “if you


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could really imagine how difficult it is to exist with that
child in the house, you would pity me.”

“Why,” said Annie, wiping tears from her eyes,
“Mrs. Moreton, you are indeed to be pitied, for I think
Toots would even kill me.”

“I'll go and see that that dear child has something to
eat,” said Aunt Margaret, leaving the room; and upon going
down stairs, she found Toots running across the lawn,
with a piece of poundcake in one hand, and a stick in the
other, chasing a large number of awkward goslings head-over-heels
before her.