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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 170


Squire Andrew Hobby was professedly a justice of the
peace; his chief business, however, was writing out bills
for the sale of negroes. He was naturally a pompous man,
but generally concealed this peculiarity, as he was dependent
upon the good will of the populace for his official dignity.
Hobby had a high regard for Mildmay, simply
because that gentleman had never treated him with the
least passing notice; and he was accordingly quite flattered,
when Mildmay checked his horse in front of his
little office one morning, and stated that he desired at a
particularly named time his official services at the “Heritage

“And what is it you desire of me?” inquired Hobby
before Mildmay had time to finish his commission.

“Simply,” returned Graham, “to execute the papers
for the sale of a negro; and my reason for troubling you
to come out to my house is, that it may possibly be inconvenient
for Mrs. Mildmay to visit Beechland, to sign the
title deed.”


Page 171

“I'll come out with pleasure,” said Hobby, rubbing
his hands with excitement; “this office of mine is not
much of a place to invite ladies in.”

“The office is well enough,” said Mildmay; “but
ladies, you are aware, find it difficult to leave home.”

“They do,” returned Hobby, with emphasis; and
suddenly assuming his natural manner, he continued,
“Ladies thrive best in the domestic circle, surrounded by
the endearments of home; and, as the editor of the Southern
War Trumpet observes, depending for support upon
the sterner sex, as the vine upon the lordly oak.”

“You are quite an enthusiast, Mr. Hobby, when alluding
to the sex,” returned Mildmay, gathering up the loose
bridle-reins, and preparing to leave.

“Quite,” said Hobby, trying to look impressive;
“quite, Mr. Mildmay, for we can never return the debt of
gratitude we owe to woman.”

Graham struck his spur gently into his horse's flanks,
and as the generous animal started off, he muttered to
himself, “Confound that fellow's stereotyped compliments;
why don't he practise some of his professions, by
taking the most ordinary care of his notoriously neglected

When Mildmay reached home, Mr. Speers was waiting
for him upon the gallery of the house. Mildmay saluted
the gentleman, and after a few moments' conversation
with Annie, returned to his guest.

“I saw Squire Hobby,” said he, drawing up a chair,
and ordering Governor to bring some refreshments; “and


Page 172
I presume he will soon be here, as I saw his horse saddled
before I left town.”

“I'm not specially engaged at this time,” returned
Speers, in a drawling voice, filling his tumbler half full of
brandy, and declining any water. “I've been over the
crap this morning,' he continued, “and though smartly
in the grass, I reckon the niggers can get along without
being touched up, till night, if they must.”

“I am very sorry,” said Mildmay, going to his desk,
and getting out some papers, “that Mr. Murritt, when he
sold me the girl Mary, did not say you owned her husband.”

“He wouldn't a' told you that, and been sharp at a
trade,” said Speers, his eyes twinkling at the preposterous
idea of a trader's saying any thing to interfere with a bargain;
“for,” he suggested, “maybee, you wouldn't have
bought the girl, if you know'd she had been separated from
her husband.”

“I certainly would not,” said Mildmay, his face flushing
with excitement.

“And do you 'spose,” said Speers, with a kind of triumph
unconsciously displayed in his voice, “that Murritt
could make a living if he consulted his niggers as to how
he should sell 'em?”

Mildmay bit his lip, and internally acknowledging, in
spite of himself, that his long residence in the North had
unprepared him somewhat for the associations around him;
and, at the moment, perceiving the busy Mr. Hobby approaching,
he walked toward the gate to meet him, and
lead the way to the house.


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Again the ceremony of drinking was gone through
with, much to the gratification of Speers and Hobby,—the
latter gentleman observing, much to the admiration of

“That if he ever did own a big plantation, he rather
thought if he hadn't any thing else good, he would have
`No. 1,' sperits;” when, suddenly recollecting that Speers
owned only a small plantation, he continued, smiling toward
that gentleman, “in the mean time, I'd have plenty of
plain whiskey.”

“This Mildmay is rather a stiff man,” said Speers,
looking nervously about, Graham having for the moment
left his guests.

“He is,” almost whispered Hobby; “but you see,”
he went on, “it's the way with the rich,—they can afford
to put on airs.”

“But,” continued Speers, with a sort of injured expression,
“Mildmay won't drink,—won't frolic,—won't
card,—won't chaw,—and smokes a cigar as if he did'nt
love it; what kind of a man is that?” and Speers looked
at Hobby as if he had given a question too difficult for
human solution.

“Why, you see, the fact is,” said Hobby, puckering
up his mouth with the expression that he assumed when
on “the bench,” “you see Mr. Mildmay, though born in
old Carolina, was raised among the Yankees, and his edication
has been neglected; I haven't lived, Mr. Speers, in
Beechland nigh on to fifteen years for nothing:” and
Hobby looked more profound than ever, and touching
Speers upon the breast, he continued:


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“We have had a good many cases here like Mildmay,
that didn't cut up such shindys more than a year or two,
and then begun and went it strong to make up. Why
Jim Ruggles, as keeps the race-track, and was tried last
court for stocking cards, commenced here nine years ago
worse than Mildmay.”

“That Jim Ruggles is a good fellow,” said Speers,
with great sympathy, and not exactly comprehending Esq.
Hobby's meaning; and he continued, with some animation,
“that 'ere 'ditement 'bout the cards was done, just
'cause Ruggles is so poor that he can't pertect himself
from abuse.”

“That's true,—that's true,” said the politic Hobby;
“for you see,” added he, “Major Lively said to the court,
`that if wringing in an ace or two at the last game was
to be made a fine of, why he could present the hull bar
to the grand jury;' and so the matter dropped.”

When Mildmay returned to the gallery, he was accompanied
by a negro girl about twenty years of age, whose
drabbled homespun garments betrayed that she had but
just left the wet grass of the cotton field.

“Here's Mary,” said he, to Mr. Speers; “you have
seen her, and are willing to purchase her at the stipulated
price of six hundred dollars?”

Speers rolled his eyes over towards the girl, and examined
her from head to foot; then getting up, and whirling
her round by a rough jerk of her shoulder, and stooping
down and rubbing with his finger a perceptible scar on the
calf of the girl's leg, he again seemed desirous to take a
good look, and stood off, and put himself in an attitude


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assumed by connoisseurs when viewing at a rare picture.
He then turned to her, and abruptly said,

“How come that scar on your leg?”

“It's whar a dog bit me,” said the girl, with perfect
indifference. “Squire Hobby,” said Speers, “look at
that scratch there, and tell me if you believe that girl's

Hobby at once assumed his official face, and, stooping
down, appeared to make a most critical inspection.

“What do you think of it?” said Speers, finally growing

“Why,” said the learned justice, “it mout have been
made by a lash, and it mout have been made by a dog's
bite, or a brier; I suspect it was the effect of accident, as
the girl says.”

“That's enough,” said Speers, seeming to be relieved;
“for you see,” he continued, `I don't buy no scarred
niggers; if I want any sich marks on my property, I'll
make 'em myself.”

“You have decided positively not to sell this girl's
husband to me?” said Graham.

“Yes,” said Speers, gruffly; “for you see, Mr. Mildmay,
I don't know why I shouldn't own a good nigger as
well as any body else.”

“Nor do I,” said Mildmay, thoroughly annoyed; “I
wish Mr. Speers you owned a hundred, if you desire to,—
only I regret that I should have been the instrument of
separating the wife from a negro, to whom you seem so
much attached.”


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Speers evidently felt mortified that he had spoken as
he did, and in a milder voice he said,

“What's the use of troubling ourselves whether this
gal lives with Cooney or not; she can find husbands
enough on Heritage Place.”

“Mary,” said Mildmay, turning to the negro, “when
I proposed to buy you, you said that you were not married?”

“So I did, master,” said the girl, moodily, “but if I
hadn't told you so, Mr. Murritt would a' killed me after
you went away.”

“Mr. Mildmay,” said Speers, perfectly unconscious of
the feelings agitating Graham's breast, “if you'd like to
keep that gal, you needn't be afeard that Cooney will
come on your premises after I tell him to keep away; I
would like to own a nigger that would go whar I told him
not to.”

“It is not best to tempt him so strongly to disobey
you,” said Mildmay.

“Well, if Cooney disobeys me, it shan't be any trouble
to you,” said Speers, trying to be agreeable.

“You see Mary,” said Mildmay, turning to the girl,
“that by being controlled, you deceived me; now you are
at liberty to speak the truth: do you prefer to go with
Mr. Speers, or stay with me?”

“I want to be with Cooney,” was the terse answer.

“Very well,” said Mildmay; “now go to the quarters,
gather up your clothes and bedding, and come to the shed
of the blacksmith's shop in the front road.”


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The girl replied, “Yes, sir,” and walked away.

Mildmay at once produced pen, ink, and paper, and
with the assistance of Governor, they were with a table
placed on the gallery; and Squire Hobby proceeded to
his business of amanuensis.

After examining the pen in every possible light, sticking
the nib between his lips, turning round the paper, and,
in fact, going through much seemingly useless pantomime,
he assumed a very grave face; and, turning to Mildmay,

“What's the girl's name?”


“Her age?”

“About twenty.”


“Six hundred dollars,” said Speers.

“Cash?” said the squire, scratching his nose with the
feather end of the pen.

“Cash,” said Speers, pulling out a roll of bills and
gold half eagles, and laying them down on the table.

These questions and answers having been obtained, the
squire set himself to work. Graham meanwhile went up
into Annie's room, and informed her that her presence was
necessary one moment to sign the bill of sale.

The little wife was trembling and nervous, and it instantly
attracted Mildmay's attention. “What can the
matter be, Annie?” said he, tenderly putting his arm
round her waist.

“Nothing,” said she, trying to look unconcerned;
“but you know that I am not accustomed to the forms of


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business, and I feel an unusual amount of trepidation:
perhaps I am not as well as I might be.”

“I fear so,” said Graham, looking affectionately down
into her face; “you confine yourself too much; let
us get clear of this loquacious squire, and our plain, but
I have no doubt worthy neighbor, Mr. Speers, and then
for a ride down the road. `Sunnyside' is getting as fat
as a Christmas goose just for want of exercise.”

“A ride let it be,” said Annie, with animation; and
arm-and-arm they proceeded to the gallery.

Meanwhile, Squire Hobby was intently busy on the
longest word in the matter before him; and as he never
could master that particular word without much trouble,
he was working it out, by pronouncing aloud each letter as
he went along; while Speers was intently watching progress,—he
having great interest that every thing should be
done right.

“There's `redhibitory' written out in full,” said the
squire, breathing freely, as if he had accomplished a gigantic

“What does it mean?” asked Speers, gathering up all
his money in his hand.

“Why it means just this,” said the squire, waving his
pen around in a sort of flourish; “it means this: `Redhibition,'cording
to the Code (art. 2497), means the avoidance
of sale on account of some vice or defect of the thing
sold, which renders its use either absolutely useless, or its
use so inconvenient and imperfect, that it must be supposed
that the buyer would not have purchased it, had he
known of the vice.'”


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“Does it mean all that 'ere?” said Speers, looking
with a sort of awe upon Hobby.

“It don't do any thing else,” said the squire, really
excited; “and there's many a lawyer as would charge you
a double `V' for not half that information.”

“Has Mary got any thing of the kind you have just
been reading about?” continued Speers, putting back his
money into his pocket.

“Not as I knows on,” said the squire, enjoying the
triumph achieved by his legal knowledge; “for you see,
Mr. Speers, the Code says:

“`Nor can the buyer (art. 2498) institute the redhibitory
action, on account of the latent defects, which the
seller has declared to him before or at the time of the

“What does that mean?” said Speers, his ideas now
nearly all aground.

“Why,” continued the squire, “the `latent defects'
of niggers and animals, 'cording to the Code (art. 2500),
is divided into two classes; vices of body,—vices of character.
The absolute vices of horses and mules is short
wind and glanders; the absolute vices of niggers is leprosy,
madness, and epilepsy. The vices of character
which give rise to the redhibition of slaves is, that the
slave has committed a capital crime, or is addicted to
theft, or running away; and they ain't no vices of character
for horses set down in the Code (art. 2505), though I
think stumbling, colic, and founder, is in horses redhibitory

“But you don't mean to say,” said Speers, now perfectly


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confounded, “that that 'ere nigger I'm going to
buy of Mr. Mildmay has got the leprosy, founders, glanders,
theft, and all that sort of thing, do you?”

“I mean,” said Squire Hobby, endeavoring to imitate
his ideal standard of judicial dignity, “that if this nigger
Mary has any of them 'ere things, and you find it out afore
it is too late, just because I tuck that 'ere word redhibitory
down where it is, it gives you your money back,—and
that's what I mean;” and the squire intended to have
laid back in his chair, as if deeply fatigued under his
official importance, when his eye caught sight of Mildmay
and Annie coming toward them.

The delicate sylph-like beauty of Annie attracted both
these individuals; and their admiration, involuntarily expressed,
could not be felt less than complimentary—it was
so sincere. Annie took her seat near the table, and after
a few moments' pause, Squire Hobby went on, and completed
his labor.

The moment that Mildmay saw the paper was drawn
up, he proposed at once to close the transaction, pleading,
as a reason for his haste, pressing engagements upon his
time. This would have been done, but for the squire's
vanity; his quotations from the Code had thrown Speers
into a profound confusion, and he stated that before the
paper was signed, and the money paid, that he must go
out and take another look at Mary,—which he did, and
not finding visible to his eyes any thing as alarming as the
law terms he had heard, he signified his willingness to go
on, by again producing his gold and bills.

After considerable time, six piles of money, of one hun

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[Description: 726EAF. Illustration page. A slave woman stands at right at the edge of a large pillared porch. On the porch, two men at center sit at a table in conversation. At left, a woman sits in a chair. A man leans over the woman with his left hand in his vest. ]

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dred dollars each were counted out, and shoved over
towards Esq. Hobby, Mildmay remarking, “that the
amount was right.”

The squire inwardly congratulated himself upon the
opportunity he had of displaying his varied talents before
Annie, and in an unusually loud voice, even for him, began
to read as follows:

“Beechland, June 15th, 18—. Know all men by these
presents, that I, Graham Mildmay, of the first part, do, by
these presents, grant, bargain, sell and convey to Mr. Joseph
William Speers, of the second part, a certain negro
girl named Mary La Tour, aged about twenty years, of
a dark and nearly black color, no distinguishing marks of
form, scars, or peculiarities remembered—”

“There is a dog bite on the calf of her leg,” said
Speers, turning perfectly red with astonishment, as he
raised his eyes and saw Annie looking on with surprise,
for Speers, was so intent with the purchase, that the reading
of the bill for the moment banished every thing else
from his mind.

“It's a mere form,” said the squire, gesticulating with
his hand, “mere form, Mr. Speers.”

“And more verbose than positively necessary, is it
not?” said Mildmay, exceedingly vexed that Annie had
been compelled to be present.

“Not at all,” said the squire. I copied this form from
Col. Lee's document, when he sold Tom Jefferson, or Jeff
as he was called, and it is admitted that Lee is the best
lawyer, being from old Virginia, to make tight papers in


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a transaction of this kind, that has ever been in Louisiana
or Mississippi either.”

“Well, go on,” said Mildmay very impatiently; and as
if to protect Annie from further rude remarks, he put his
arm around her chair.

“Where was I?” said the squire, taking up the paper
before him. “Oh—ah—I know,” and he went on as follows:

“No distinguishing marks of form, scars, or particulars
remembered; said girl, Mary La Tour, being sold for the
sum of six hundred dollars, lawful money of the United
States, cash in hand paid, and hereby acknowledged by the
party of the first part, Graham Mildmay, Esq. The said
girl, Mary La Tour, being fully warranted from all redhibitory
defects, sound in body and mind, and the title guarantees,
against all others for ever, the said Mary La Tour
as a slave for life.”

Annie, who had listened to all the proceedings with
mechanical attention, now arose, as Graham, taking the pen
in his hand, signified that the title deed was complete.
He then dashed his name across the paper, placed the pen
in Annie's hand, and pointed where she should place her

“Is this positively necessary?” said she, looking earnestly
at Graham. “Most certainly,” said Squire Hobby,
“you see, madam, your paraphernal rights would otherwise
vitiate the title.”

“And break up the trade,” chimed in Speers.

Annie took up the pen, and her usually delicate and


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neatly written name straggled over the paper, a fearful
evidence to Graham's eye of the conflict going on in Annie's
mind, which he alone, of those who witnessed it, could

The duty performed, Mildmay accompanied Annie to
the entrance of the great hall where stood Clemmy; and
leaving her with the faithful servant, Mildmay returned,—
took up the money still lying on the table, and crushing
it together in his hand, without counting it, much to
the astonishment of Speers, gave it to Governor, and
told him to place it in the escritoire, and get some fresh
water and the decanters, as he presumed the gentlemen
were thirsty.

The ceremony of drinking having been gone through
with, Mildmay paid Esq. Hobby for his services, walked
down to the front gate, waited until both gentlemen had
mounted, and bidding them good day, returned rapidly to
the house.

Speers and Hobby rode along a rod or two, when they
came up to Mary, who was sitting in a listless attitude on
the stump of a fallen tree, her bundle beside her.

“Here's your owner,” said Hobby, thus giving the introduction,
“and a good master he will be too,” continued
he, the politician never deserting him.

Mary looked up, and shouldering her bundle, quietly
asked, “Master, which way must I go?”

“Cross the bayou beyond here, at the old ruined ginhouse,”
said Speers, pointing down the road with his heavy
whip, “go through the woods and you will see Cooney with


Page 184
the other niggers at work in the field, ask him for a hoe,
and stir your stumps until I come.”

“Yes, master,” said Mary, and then she glibly marched
away, while Speers and Hobby together rode toward