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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 148


Although Moreton and Mildmay had frequently met at
Beechland, and on the highway, they really were but little
acquainted with each other. Mr. Moreton was ceremonious
when out of his own house, and Mildmay had
found constant occupation on his plantation; and, with
Annie's society, had no particular inducement to go
abroad,—so, although Mr. Moreton and Mildmay sat
down together with the mutual idea of being pleased with
each other's society, yet it was nevertheless true, that the
emotions of sympathy were yet to be called forth by the
interchange of harmonious thoughts.

A few moments' conversation only had taken place
before Mr. Moreton and Mildmay, to their own astonishment,
found that they differed on every interchange of
sentiment; and as Mr. Moreton, living as he did in a
somewhat solitary place, had, by long association with his
negroes, become, insensibly to himself, restive under contradiction,
although respectfully offered, and from one he
acknowledged an equal; still his abruptness of manner at


Page 149
first caused Mildmay to yield in silence, and then to differ
from Mr. Moreton even beyond the natural bent of his
true feelings.

“I think that this custom that prevails with some
Southern people of sending their children to the North to
be educated is decidedly wrong, and very ridiculous,” said
Mr. Moreton, with great emphasis of manner.

“I must beg to differ with you again,” said Mildmay,
quietly, “for I have found not only the Northern colleges
excellent as literary institutions, but useful, in giving the
collateral advantage of acquaintance with the social and
commercial character of our brethren of the whole Union.”

“I don't see the advantage you speak of,” returned
Moreton, energetically; “we send our young men on to
the North, and they come back with their heads crammed
full of literary trash, and Southern institutions are made
distasteful to them: I think it ruins them altogether.”

“I haven't found such to be my experience,” said Mildmay,
for the instant annoyed.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Moreton, slightly coloring;
“but the fact is, I forgot, in my knowledge of your
Southern birth and interests, that you had ever seen the
North; so you must excuse me, for I don't in my own
mind identify you with the Yankees.”

“But I have shown great willingness myself to be
identified with them,” said Mildmay, laughing; “for,” he
continued, “the best half of me is the very pith of the
Mayflower stock.”

“True, true,” said Mr. Moreton, his natural gallantry
getting the better of his prejudices; “and I wish such rare


Page 150
infusions were more frequent: but you will admit, my
dear Mildmay,” continued he, after a pause, “that the
tendency of Northern colleges are anti-Southern in their

“Not necessarily so,” said Mildmay, with decision
“for,” he continued, “out of three hundred students I
was associated with at Malden, most of whom were Yankees,
and to the manner born, there were but two avowed
abolitionists; and what is most remarkable, one of those
insanities is now an editor of a secession paper in South
Carolina, and the other a school teacher in Georgia, publishing
addresses cautioning the planters of the South
against using New England primers, lest they get unconsciously
infected with abolition sentiments in spelling English

“Well, there,” said Moreton, whirling around upon his
chair and snapping his fingers in triumph, “don't you see,
Mr. Mildmay, by your own showing, something contemptible
in the —,” and Moreton stopped.

“You were going to say, `New England character,'”
suggested Mildmay, smiling; “but, I see nothing of the
kind in my illustration, and these two young men that I
speak of, are mere time-servers. They thought that anti-slavery
sentiments would help their personal interests in
Connecticut, and so they adopted them. Finishing their
education, they went South, and, always consistent, they
flatter the pro-slavery feeling among us, and are as heartless
and unprincipled and dangerous in their new vocation,
as they were in their old; and,” continued Mildmay, his
eyes flashing fire, “I loathe and despise such cowardly


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creatures; they are a disgrace when compared with the
lowest standards of man.”

“I never had any other feeling for them,” said Mr.
Moreton, with complacency.

“You will pardon me, sir,” said Mildmay, “if I say, that
this truckling to interest, this sacrifice of conscience and
truth, is not peculiar to New England, or New England
men. I think I meet parallel examples sometimes in my
visits to Beechland. I see hypocrites at our doors, for I mistrust
the sincerity of all men, who, owning no negroes themselves,
are violent in defence of our peculiar institutions.”

“I never took that view of it,” said Moreton, rising, and
walking rapidly up and down the gallery; “perhaps you
are right.”

“I know that I am right,” said Mildmay; “look,” he
continued, “at the burnings and lynchings of negroes,
which have disgraced the fair fame of the South, and it
will be found that the planters, the men of wealth and
education, have rarely been participators—the deeds were
done by irresponsible men, who owned no negroes themselves,
but who thus gratified their unholy passions, through
the corrupt idea, that their excessive zeal gave evidence of
devotion to Southern interests.”

“Mildmay, I believe that what you say is true,” said
Moreton, stopping in his walk, and falling into a brown
study, and then thrown off his guard by Mildmay's impressiveness—“Now,
I remember, in the Murrell excitement,
we tried an incendiary at Beechland, and Judge Lynch
sentenced him to be hung. But when the poor fellow was
on the gallows, no one would act as Jack Ketch, and the


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poor devil would have got off, had not a stranger in the
place, and himself suspected of abolition sentiments, adjusted
the rope, and launched the victim into eternity.”

“And, by this murder, the suspected individual appeased
the public sentiment against himself,” said Mildmay,
with emotion.

“Oh yes,” said Mr. Moreton, as if relieved from an
oppressive feeling,—“oh yes, and the man has lived in
Beechland ever since.”

“And would hang us to-morrow,” said Mildmay, with
disgust, “if the insurrection were against us. Upon such
wretched social materials, upon such a moral volcano, do
we slaveholders exist.”

As Mildmay concluded, Mr. Moreton absolutely fell
into his chair. Strange ideas had been awakened in his
mind,—thoughts that had slumbered for years, aroused. A
sort of desolate feeling came over him, the future looked
gloomy and uncertain, and for a moment he mentally groped
in darkness,—and then, brushing his hand across his brow,
he said:

“Mildmay, if we would happily live in the South,
we must not look so deeply and darkly upon the things
around us;” and with this remark, Mr. Moreton's thoughts
launched again into the current of life, allowing the present
only to occupy his mind; the future he carefully excluded.

Fortunately, to relieve both gentlemen of their embarrassment,
Col. Lee, the only person invited to dine with
the Moretons, on Mildmay's visit, was seen riding toward
the house; and by this exclusive invitation Mr. Moreton
intended to show Mildmay the high esteem he placed


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upon his visit, for Col. Lee was presumed only to honor with
his company people of admitted pretensions, for he claimed
for himself, to be one of the “first families of Virginia,”
and consequently was aristocratic to the last degree.

The moment that Moreton caught sight of the Colonel,
he walked out upon the lawn and met that gentleman half
way, and accompanied him into the house. The Colonel
had evidently determined to make an impression. He saluted
Mildmay with a courteous dignity, such as Washington
may have been presumed to use on great state occasions,
and before he had well seated himself, a servant was
already by his side, with a salver containing liqueurs, and
a pitcher of cool water.

Col. Lee helped himself to a glass of wine, and turning
to Moreton and Mildmay, he expressed his pleasure at seeing
them both looking so well, trusted that the ladies were in
good health, and that Mrs. Mildmay found the climate of
Louisiana to agree with her constitution; and, tossing off
his wine, he remarked complacently,

“Moreton, you have the most excellent water on your
place. I know of none so good in the neighborhood. It is a
great blessing to have good water,” and thereupon the
Colonel begged to be excused, as he was quite thirsty
from riding in the dust, and he helped himself again to the
sherry, and then seated himself in an elegant attitude,
and seemed to be prepared to receive admiration of his
personal appearance, and to listen patiently to hear any remarks
that might be made in conversation.

The moment that Col. Lee took his seat, Mr. Moreton
brightened up, and a lively conversation ensued, in which


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Mildmay became interested, from the novelty of the ideas
constantly presented, although they were not always in
accordance with his manner of thinking.

As Mr. Moreton had a large family, the subject of
education was a source of constant reflection; and as
the exchange of ideas progressed, Mr. Moreton, unintentionally
to himself, made some of his favorite remarks against
Northern institutions of learning, when Colonel Lee, perceiving
that Mildmay had differed with Moreton on their
merits, broke out into a eulogistic defence of Southern
Colleges, and wound up by a graphic description of the
“Virginia University,” an institution, he said, that was the
fountain of chivalry, of profound scholarship, and statesmanship;
and gradually progressing, he gave many anecdotes of
the amusements of the students, and described with inimitable
humor, a cock-fight, that took place one evening
in “the chapel,” in which one of the professors lost to him
nearly a half gallon of brandy, besides a box of the best
Spanish cigars.

Mrs. Moreton had scarcely gone through the pantomime
of showing Annie, rather than telling her, how very distracting
Toots' noise was to her head, when a negro presented
herself at Mrs. Moreton's door, and, making a low
courtesy, said:

“Mistress, Aunt Dinah's done got worse.”

“One of your servants sick?” said Annie.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Moreton, putting on a light shawl,
“one of our most valuable women has had `the fever,' and
it seems impossible to break it,” and as Mrs. Moreton said
this she opened an armoire door, and after fumbling among


Page 155
various vials and papers, she took something in her hand,
and excusing herself to Annie, was about to leave the room,
when she turned and said: “Mrs. Mildmay, perhaps you
would like to walk down to the quarters with me.”

Annie at the instant hearing the voice of her husband
and Mr. Moreton on the front gallery, as if engaged in an
interesting conversation, at once assented, and at Mrs.
Moreton's suggestion, put on a large sun-bonnet that was
lying near by in a chair. Thus equipped, she and Mrs.
Moreton proceeded down stairs and passed into the yard
back of the house, a number of little negroes instantly presenting
themselves, who ran ahead and opened the garden

The buildings occupied by Mr. Moreton's negroes, were
quite a feature of his plantation. When he first moved
upon it, he found nothing but a few `log pens.' One of
them he fitted up for himself and wife, for he had no children
at that time; and as soon as he got somewhat settled
his first improvements consisted in the erection of sixteen
commodious cabins, that were in equal numbers arranged in
two parallel lines, making what appeared to be the begining
of a handsome street. At the head was built a large
double cabin, with a spacious verandah, as the house of the
overseer. These buildings finished, Mr. Moreton continued
for a long time to reside in his now, by contrast, still
more humble hut, and he became for a while quite famous
for furnishing his negroes better houses than he himself

“Have you had much sickness on your place?” inquired
Mrs. Moreton, as she walked along.


Page 156

“Some,” said Annie, hesitatingly, “but I have never
seen any myself.”

“Is it possible?” returned Mrs. Moreton; “how
have you been so fortunate?” she asked, with a face expressive
of surprise.

“Why, I have never been told by Mr. Mildmay that I
should go to the quarters on such occasions, and I am sure
I would not volunteer.”

“I have been accustomed from my childhood up,” half
musingly said Mrs. Moreton, “to nurse with my own hands
the sick.—I did it on my father's place, and have continued
to do it ever since I was married to Mr. Moreton.” As
the lady concluded, she, with Annie, stepped into Aunt
Dinah's cabin.

In a room sixteen by twenty feet in size, and destitute
of furniture, save a very rude bedstead, the frame of which
was nailed against the wall, lay stretched out the form of
the patient—of the sick Dinah.

Annie drew back with considerable dread, when she
first looked into the cabin of the slave, but seeing Mrs.
Moreton enter, and with the most sympathetic manner,
proceed at once to the bedside of the patient, she affected
to overcome her great repugnance and followed her

“How do you feel, Dinah?” said her mistress, taking
the sick woman's hand unresistingly in her own.

The negress seemed to have fallen into a doze, and when
she opened her eyes, the astonishment she displayed was
unbounded, as she beheld not only her mistress, but the
delicate form of Annie bending over her.


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“What is the matter?” inquired Mrs. Moreton, with a
soothing voice.

“I done got berry sick,” said Dinah, still in wonder.

“Let me look at your tongue,” said Mrs. Moreton.

The negress did as she was desired, and Mrs. Moreton,
after a moment's speculation, said:

“Dinah, you have been eating something to make you
sick; I see it by your high fever, and believe it, because
little Ann gives me to understand you have been complaining
again of pain.”

“I ain't done eat nothin',” said the woman stolidly,
and giving a sigh, at the same time groaning and turning
her face to the wall.

Mrs. Moreton was not to be deceived. To Annie's surprise
she cross-questioned the woman, and again looked at
her tongue, and finally pressed her delicate fingers upon
the negress' chest.

“I see how it is,” said Mrs. Moreton finally, a shade of
regret passing over her face, “you have been to the water-melon
patch, and have likely killed yourself.”

“Aint done eat nothin,'” repeated Dinah.

Hasn't Dinah been eating water-melon?” said Mrs.
Moreton to little Ann, who just at that moment came into
the cabin.

“Only one, missis,” said the child.

Mrs. Moreton sat down at the foot of the dirty bed, as
if perfectly disheartened, and with a face full of feeling she
said to Annie:

“Mrs. Mildmay, I sat up nearly all last night with that
negress, and got her through a critical sickness, and now you


Page 158
see, by her own imprudence, my labor is lost, and perhaps
her life endangered,” and then turning to little Ann, she
said: “go over to the house, and tell your Mistress Margaret,
to send me the bottle of medicine I was using yesterday.”

“Yes 'em,” said little Ann, running out to perform the

“How came you to disobey me?” said Mrs. Moreton,
turning to the invalid.

“'Cause I had nothin' to eat,” gruffly replied the patient.

“Did you not,” said Mrs. Moreton, “get some soup to-day
that I made for you myself?”

“Never got nothin',” said the negress, growing still
more sullen.

“Ah me!” said Mrs. Moreton much annoyed, and turning
to Annie, she said:

“You will find, Mrs. Mildmay, after you have had my
experience, that a planter's wife is the greatest slave that
exists. If I don't see to every thing, all goes wrong. The
soup, that I prepared to-day with so much care for
this very negress, I have no doubt was eaten up by little

By this time, little Ann had returned, bringing Mrs.
Moreton's parasol.

“I did not send you for this,” said Mrs. Moreton, in
great vexation. “What did you tell Mistress Margaret I

“Something you done had yesterday, missis,” said


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little Ann, perfectly unconscious that she had made any

“I see how it is,” remarked Mrs. Moreton, taking up
the parasol, “I shall have to go back to my room, and
either return myself or send down Aunt Margaret, or I
shall never be certain that what I desire is done aright,”
and wrapping her shawl around her, the two ladies walked
slowly home.

“I am sure,” said Annie, after they left the hearing
of the patient, “that I never can be so good a nurse as you.
Why, Mrs. Moreton,” she continued, “I cannot overcome
my repugnance to the blacks enough, to bear with comfort
the necessary presence of my servants, and I fear that
I could never be of use, by the side of those that are sick.”

“I never had such feelings,” said Mrs. Moreton, without
expressing the least emotion of curiosity or surprise.

The moment that the mistress and guest were gone,
Violet, who watched them from the chamber window, went
back into the room where she first met Annie, and taking
up that lady's bonnet she placed it upon her head, and
drawing the ears close down to her face, she surveyed the
effect with evident admiration. She next put on the riding
habit and throwing a shawl over her left arm, she gracefully
lifted the long skirt from about her feet, and commenced
a pantomime, in which was displayed with artistic perfection,
not only Annie's manner, but also Mrs. Moreton's, and
the nice distinction which Violet made in the characters,
as she carried on an imaginary conversation, could not be

The “favorite servant” then leaned affectedly upon a


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high-backed arm-chair, and eyeing the red velvet of the
upright cushion with the most languishing expression, she
said: “Why, Mr. Mildmay, I am so fatigued, I'm mighty
glad we got to Mr. Moreton's, it's so very warm to-day;”
then throwing the shawl around her shoulders, she wrapped
it close to her person, and completely changing her voice,
she continued: “Really, I am so perfectly distracted with
the noise of the children, and the care of them miserable
idle servants, Mr. Moreton, that I shall certainly go crazy.”
Next falling into the chair and assuming a benign smile,
she turned towards the door and went on: “There, sister,
is that dear smart child again. Come here, Toots, don't
you see your mother is annoyed; come, go down with Aunt
Margaret and leave these unkind people,” and then jumping
up, in the imaginary person of Annie Mildmay, she
courteseyed around the room; until, perceiving her mistress
just at the entrance of the house, she hastily threw aside
her borrowed plumage, and met that lady in the great hall,
with a meekness and innocence of face, that was, perhaps,
the best piece of acting she performed throughout the day.

In the front door of the house stood Aunty, with the
baby. Aunty was a tall, ungainly-looking woman, but possessed
a fine expression of countenance, and had a voice
that sounded unusually cultivated for a negro.

As Annie attempted to pass on she was naturally attracted
to the infant, whose little dimpled hands and arms,
and innocent unformed face, formed a strong contrast with
its hard-visaged, sable nurse. Annie stopped short, and
raising both hands in admiration, exclaimed:

“The dear, dear, sweet little cherub.”


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Aunty smiled at this involuntary compliment to her
charge, as much as if it had been intended for herself, and
raised “the cherub” to give Annie a better view.

The baby's head rolled from side to side, on its little
shoulders, while its eyes stared out on vacancy, showing
that the mind had not yet lit up the clear pupil of black
and blue.

“The dear sweet cherub!” again exclaimed Annie, as
she buried the child in her flaxen curls.

“She's moughty sweet indeed!” finally ejaculated Aunty,
“dat child, young mistress, knows too much for her age.”

“Knows too much?” said Annie, laughing outright at
the very idea of such a thing.

“Why, sartain,” returned Aunty; “for dat are child
will set and study, and think all day; she's too smart entirely,
and,” concluded the faithful nurse, in a commiserating
voice, “if she don't stop a-doing it, she'll never make
old bones, sure and sartain.”

Again Annie gave the prematurely-wise infant another
kiss, and heartily amused at the enthusiasm of the old
negress, followed Mrs. Moreton to her room.