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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 162


Throughout the day, a great bustle had prevailed in Mrs.
Moreton's kitchen. Viney, the cook, was by due notice
informed of the expected visit of Mr. and Mrs. Mildmay,
and had been told to get as excellent a dinner as possible,
in honor of the occasion. Viney had great pride in her
department, and was determined to do something that
would do honor to the family. The consequence was, that
she had managed to get some half-a-dozen negroes added to
the already over-abundant supply natural to Mr. Moreton's
house; and the kitchen was not only crowded with
every variety of dish, for the garnishment of the table,
but it was also crowded with negroes, who, on the pretence
of helping the bustling and important Viney, were
really helping themselves.

The rustling of ladies' dresses in the hall, finally announced,
indirectly, to the gentlemen, that dinner was on
the table; and by the time they reached the parlor, the
folding-doors were thrown open, and the ladies were discovered,
already seated at the hospitable board.


Page 163

Col. Lee was all compliments, and before taking his
seat, he congratulated Mrs. Moreton on her fine appearance,
expressed the most profound pleasure at meeting
with Mrs. Mildmay, “of whose beauty he had heard so
much,” and then seated himself beside Aunt Margaret,
whom he called “a lady of the Old Dominion.”

Mildmay was more ceremonious, and after expressing
his pleasure at seeing Mrs. Moreton, and Mrs. Marbury
(Aunt Margaret), he gave a look of pleasurable intelligence
to Annie, and seated himself by her side. This
being done, Mr. Moreton took his place at the head of the
table, and looking over the viands and his guests, with intense
satisfaction, he ordered the soup to be handed round,
and fell himself to carving the magnificent—and on a
Southern table, never to be dispensed with—ham, that until
then, untouched by knife, was resting before him.

On the first sound of the spoons upon the dishes, there
came a noise in the hall, as of heavy drops of rain beating
upon a roof; then could be heard children's voices, and in
another instant, a dozen or more of boys and girls, of all
sizes and ages, came rushing into the dining-room, clamoring
for something to eat, and evidently urged on by a
score of little negroes, that, in the rear, ably supported
these impetuous applicants.

“These children must all be carried off,” said Mr.
Moreton, holding up his carving-knife and fork, and looking
around as if he expected every moment that he himself
would be devoured.

“Toots ain't doin 'way!” said that little romp, tumbling
from some place plump into the middle of the room,


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“me doin to eat dinner, and sassenger, and cake, and pie,
and—and—and chickenses,” and when she got thus far,
Mrs. Moreton put her hands to her ears, and begged Aunt
Margaret “to take that child, and all the children, away,
until dinner was over.”

“Take Toots up!” said Aunt Margaret to a matronly-looking
negro woman, the seamstress, who had volunteered
to wait on the table; “take Toots up!” continued Aunt
Margaret, “and amuse her as you best can.”

“I won't go to Phyllis!” said Toots, jumping up and
down the room, and falling heels over head against Annie's

“Come, little missis!” said Phyllis, catching hold of
Toots, “come, and I'll tell you that pretty story.” Toots
yielded in an instant, and fairly springing into her nurse's
arms, she could be heard rattling away, until her voice was
lost in the distance, telling Phyllis how much “she liked
to hear that pretty 'tory of the horses, and cagiges, and
womens, and dogs.”

Meanwhile the mass of the children, including George,
Augustus, Minty, Clotilde, Charley, and “little Moreton,”
made a compromise with their father, that they were to
have a table set in an adjoining room (this was a favorite
plan of the servants); in the meanwhile, they were to go
out in the yard and play.

Phyllis carried Toots into the main road, and sitting
down under the shade of a magnificent live-oak, she spread
a shawl on the ground, on which she put her little mistress,
and told Toots for the fortieth time the following story; it
being remarkable, that at each relation, Toots made the


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same comments, asked the same questions, and appeared
more than at any previous time, breathless with excited

“Dar was once, young missis,” began Phyllis, “a
white gentleman, as married another wife, and she was the
stuck-upest woman that never was.”

“What did she do?” asked Toots, out of breath with

“Why, whipped all her black people, just for nothin' at
all,” continued Phyllis.

“She wouldn't whip you, would she?” said Toots,
throwing her arms round Phyllis's neck.

“Wal, I 'spect not,” said the girl, caressing the child,
“but now listen,—you see dis stuck up white lady had
three daughters, the biggest ones she made set in the parlor,
under 'skeeter bars, all day, and do nothin' but have
the black people wait on 'em, all the time; and de other
daughter, who was mighty handsome, was kept up stairs,
and wouldn't done let her go riding horseback, nor to New
Orleans, nor nowhar.

“Now, you see,” continued Phyllis, “somebody on de
'jining plantation gave a big ball, and 'vited all de great
people, but didn't 'vite little Cind'rella; her stuck-up
mother wouldn't let her go along with her bad sisters.”

“I'd a kicked and hollered, and told father, if they
didn't let me go to ball, and have cake, and candies, and
ochancies, and apples.”

“I know you would,” said Phyllis, looking admiringly
at Toots, “but, you see that this little Cind'rella didn't
do it, but just staid at home and cried; when dar was an


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old woman with a cap on, and a long nose, and a broomstick
cum'd into the room, and asked Cind'rella if she
wanted to go to the ball, 'cause her sisters had done gone
already. Now Cind'rella she couldn't go in course, for
you see she had no handsome dress with yaller ribbons,
and blue trimmings, and big breastpin, no carrige to ride,
nor any black people to drive to the ball; now this old
woman was a fairy.”

“What's a fairy?” said Toots, wonderingly.

“A fairy,” said Phyllis, looking rather foolish, “is
somebody that nobody owns, dat just goes about doin'
nothin', and having every thing they wants, dat's a fairy,
Miss Toots. And now,” she continued, “listen what de
fairy done did for Cind'rella; she tuck a punkin, and
made a carrige, and six mouses for horses, and a big rat
for a coach-driver, and put a new dress on, and new shoes
on Cind'rella, and a charm to make her look handsomer
than ever, and sent her off to the big ball.

“You see,” continued Phyllis, “dat de old fairy told
Cind'rella dat she must cum home afore daybreak, her pass
was up you see by dat time, and if she stopped, de patrolers
would cotch her. Now Cind'rella was a dancin' a
'giny reel, with the young master, who owned two hundred
black people, and dey had plenty music, six banjos, and
three fiddles, but den daybreak cum all ov a sudden, and
Cind'rella, 'spectin' her pass wouldn't do no longer, tuck
to her heels, and left her shoe in de middle of de floor.

“Now de rich young man, dat owned two hundred
black people, was in lub wid Cind'rella, and as he couldn't
find her plantation; he sent all his black people out to find


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the young missis that lost her shoe at de time de dancing
was gwine on; at last dey found her up in de arbor sound
asleep, wid one shoe, and dey know'd it was her, and
dey had a big weddin', and every body cum—Mr. Mildmay,
and Col. Lee, and—”

“Cousin Annie,” suggested Toots.

“Yes,” said Phyllis, “Mistress Annie—and all de
black people was dressed up, a waitin' on de tables, and
such a time was never know'd afore.”

“Oh, how I would like to have been there!” said
Toots, clapping her little hands, “wouldn't I had fun, and
thrown turkey bones across the table, and made mother
take me in her lap, and sing me to sleep when—” and
Toots rose from her reclining position, and attempting to
spin round, to show Phyllis how she would go to sleep,
she twisted the shawl about her feet, and as usual, rolled
heels over head, but instantly releasing herself, she went
whooping off down the road, in pursuit of a gaudy butterfly,
that was fluttering along, seemingly on purpose to entice
the little fairy away from home.

Mr. Moreton's children assembled in the lawn, accompanied
by all the little negroes that could be gathered up
on the plantation; and it was enthusiastically agreed to
play “Runaway.” George, a boy about ten years of age,
was captain; and in his imperative manner, and restiveness
under restraint, displayed toward his little dependents,
was a perfect representation of his father. He organized
the play that gave them all so much pleasure.

A little negro, some eight years old, named Puggy
Bill, selected because he was a favorite with “young


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master,” personated the “runaway;” and according to
direction, he tracked over the lawn, running around the
trees, and behind the out-buildings,—turning and twisting
in every possible direction, so as not to cross his own footsteps.
The children, white and black, watching the course
of this little “star in the comedy,” and occasionally shouting
out their pleasure, whenever Puggy Bill showed any
unusual degree of shrewdness in tracking his devious way.

At the feet of George was held, by several officious
little negro boys—a young, and scarcely weaned, deerhound.
The animal—pup though it was, showed by its
heavy limbs, long silken ears, and bright eyes, that it was
of game blood. It seemed to understand that it occupied
a prominent place in the amusements of the hour, and
rested patiently until it was time for action.

At length Puggy Bill completed his circuit, and came
up, quite out of breath, to the group he some fifteen minutes
before had left; when, at a given signal, “Clamper,”
the puppy, was put on “the trail;” and as he set off,
childish shouts encouraged him on his way. The dog,
with his nose close to the ground, followed Puggy Bill's
tracks with a precision that gave the children the greatest
delight; and as he wound around and followed, to admiring
eyes, the unseen course, he was continually cheered. Excited
himself, at last, as he was nearing the end of the
chase, the puppy began to give forth cries of excitement,
and opened its unformed throat, and yelped with puppy joy.

Presently he threaded the group of children, and
leaped rapturously on Puggy Bill, who received the favorite
with open arms, covering him with caresses; “young


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master” George, meanwhile, going on with various explicatives,
as if the runaway, although caught, had made
resistance, and consequently had to be beaten, or shot

The sumptuous dinner was brought to a close,—Annie
stood under the gallery, equipped in her riding-dress,—
Col. Lee had insisted that her palfrey should be brought
close up to the door. Mr. Moreton and Aunt Margaret
shook Annie cordially by the hand, and repeated over and
over again the pleasure they had experienced in her society.
Mr. Moreton and Col. Lee courteously contended
who should assist Annie on her horse, who, fairly mounted,
waved her adieus; and Mildmay, springing in the saddle,
lifted his hat, and in a moment more he and his young
wife were cantering down the road,—the declining sun
cautioning them that they must be quick-footed, if they
would not be surrounded while in the forest by the solitude
of night.