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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 185


There was living in the vicinity of Beechland, a rich widow,
known as Mrs. Hartshorn, past the prime of life, and
who, being deeply absorbed in the duties of personally
looking after a large estate, attracted but little attention
in the vicinity. Her residence was much out of the way,
and no one, except on business, or with direct intent, ever
visited her.

Why she remained a widow caused the usual speculation,
but it was evident that she was either disinclined to
enter a second time into the bonds of matrimony, or was
difficult to please, for many authentic cases were known,
and freely spoken of, where she had almost rudely refused
some of the presumptuous worthies in the neighborhood.

On the edge of Beechland, just at the cross roads, was
an old and much decayed church. Years previous, it had
been a pretty village sanctuary, and beneath its shadow
reposed the remains of many of the earlier settlers of the
country. But for a long time it had been neglected. The
doors were battered in,—the windows broken,—the graveyard


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fence nearly destroyed,—in short it was the resting-place
of domestic animals, and never of any philanthropic
use, unless for the temporary shelter it afforded, as a resting-place
for the night, to passing emigrants.

One afternoon, to the astonishment of the villagers,
some twenty of Mrs. Hartshorn's best field hands came
into town in an ox wagon, and as they proceeded along
through the street, made the air vocal with their rude
songs, and finally, stopping in front of the deserted church,
they went to work with hoe and shovel, and in the course
of a few hours produced an improvement, that was charming
to behold.

The doors were partially restored to their places. The
seats and floor of the interior of the building were carefully
cleaned, and the labor thus bestowed, rendered the heretofore
neglected building, considering the mildness of the
weather, a comfortable place for the assembling together
of the people:

The succeeding morning the Southern Clarion, the
local paper of Beechland, in the most conspicuous place in
its editorial columns, contained the following notice.

“We have the pleasure of announcing to our numerous
readers, and all others in the vicinity of our thriving and
prosperous town, that the Reverend W. Claremont Goshawk,
D. D., the great orator and divine, who has so long
been distinguished for his defence of Southern institutions,
and his deep interest in the cause of Southern education,
has consented, at the earnest request of some of our most
influential citizens, to preach a series of two or more sermons.
His first discourse will be on Sunday morning next,


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and he will probably continue with us throughout the entire
week. It is presumed that he will be greeted with an
overflowing audience. We hardly think that it is necessary
to remind our readers, that Mr. Goshawk, on a
recent visit to the North, was attacked by many of the
fanatical clergymen in that part of the country on the subject
of Christian slaveholders, and that his defence of our
time-honored institution, was admitted to be the finest
piece of eloquence, and most stirring appeal that has appeared
for years; he entirely silenced the wolves in sheep's
clothing, who, under the guise of the religious cloak, are carrying
torches in their hands to fire the temple of our great
republic. By the kindness of one of our most beautiful and
accomplished ladies in the vicinity of Beechland, who has
in this case acted in a manner so characteristic of the gentler
sex, our little temple of worship, so long the cherished
ornament of our town, and whose spire so plainly points the
way to heaven, has been thoroughly scrubbed out and
renovated, and will afford comfortable seats for our entire

The weather was exceedingly pleasant, and there was a
universal desire to hear the Rev. Mr. Goshawk. That
dignitary, himself, had been for more than a day the inmate
of Mrs. Hartshorn's house, for it was suddenly recalled
to the mind of some of the people around the Head-quarters,
that early one morning, they saw a tall and
good-looking gentleman, dressed in black, in the widow's
carriage, which was rapidly whirling through the streets.

Perhaps Annie was more interested than any one else;
accustomed to attend church every sabbath, from her youth


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upward, she found this privilege most difficult to dispense
with, and the moment the public notice met her eye, she
consulted Graham, who gave Governor orders to have the
carriage in readiness for the following Sabbath morning.

For a long time Beechland had not borne so gay an appearance,
as it did in its desire to do honor to the Rev.
Mr. Goshawk. Families living many miles distant, had
come to “hear the discourse,” and almost all of the available
ground in the immediate vicinity of the church, was
occupied by splendid “turn-outs,”—in fact the carriages, in
number and equipments, would have done honor to some
state occasion.

People who had been living in each other's neighborhood
for years, now met to renew acquaintances that had
grown dull for want of attrition, and a genial feeling pervaded
the entire assemblage.

The very sight of the pleasing throng, the subdued,
yet self-evident bustle, revived in Annie's mind, most
vividly, the joyous feelings that she felt at Malden, on
similar occasions, and a delightful glow of excitement lit
up her usually rather pale face, as she absolutely threw
herself carelessly into Mildmay's arms, as he assisted her
from the carriage to the ground. “Really, Graham,” said
she, her face radiant with smiles, while smoothing the
wrinkles from her dress, “really this is pleasant, and I
hope Mr. Goshawk will frequently preach for us; I am
sure I shall constantly attend.”

Graham smiled on Annie, and offering her his arm,
the two proceeded into church. It was the first time that
Annie had been seen in public; much, of course, had been


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said about her, in the neighborhood; curiosity was raised
to know, “if so handsome and rich a young man as Mr.
Mildmay, had really done as well as he deserved!” But it
was evident that the verdict was in Annie's favor, for as
she came, necessarily, in full view of the congregation, who
sat facing the door, a telegraphic surprise rested upon the
countenances of all, and it was by Graham observed and felt,
that Annie excited marked admiration.

As for Annie, herself, the moment she stepped inside
of the church, she felt a solemnity of feeling pervade her
heart, that drove all other thoughts, for the moment, from
her mind, as she passed to a proffered seat, and bent her
head in prayer, as perfectly self-possessed, as if kneeling
at her little altar in her own room.

The congregation had been some time in their seats, before
the reverend gentleman made his appearance. In fact,
the first impression of quietness that prevailed, was beginning
to give way. Gentlemen were seen to be moving
about, and looking at the door, and one or two went out,
while the young ladies began to gaze about, and recognize
each other in the congregation, while Governor, and his
fellow-servants on the outside, it was very evident, from
sounds of suppressed laughter, had got together under the
shade of a wide-spreading tree, and were detailing gossip,
and cracking jokes.

Suddenly was heard the tramp of horses, driven rapidly
along the road,—the whip cracked, at which two or three
saddle nags broke their bridles, and scampered down the
village street,—steps were heard rapidly unfolded—a sort
of kid glove, a gossamer fan confusion ensued in the congregation,


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and the Rev. Mr. Goshawk, supporting widow
Hartshorn, made his appearance.

It was afterwards asserted by some one, careful in such
statistics, that almost every gentleman in the congregation
rose involuntarily to offer the widow a seat; but nothing
could surpass the dignity and urbanity, with which the
reverend gentleman abandoned his precious charge, preparatory
to ascending the pulpit.

The Rev. Mr. Goshawk's appearance and manner were
decidedly impressive, and he himself was not unconscious
of the fact. After remaining a few moments in silent
meditation, with his soft white hand pressed to his head,
he beckoned to a negro boy, looking in at a side window,
and when the fellow climbed up into the pulpit, he whispered
something in his ear. A long and mysterious pause
ensued, while the boy ran over to the Head-quarters, and
borrowed a pitcher and tumbler, and returning, set them
within reach of the Rev. Mr. Goshawk.

That gentleman arose, and opening a small gilt-edged
book, read the beautiful hymn, beginning:

“Sweet is the day of sacred rest,
All mortal cares forsake the breast,”
and finishing it, desired some one present to be so kind as
to “lead the singing,” and resumed his seat.

Several moments elapsed, but no voice was raised;
it was apparent that one or two gentlemen were half inclined,
but their hearts or voices failed them,—the reverend
gentleman finally arose, and commenced himself. He
was evidently cultivated in church music, and poured out


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a volume of praise, that even, unsupported as it was,
sounded like an organ.

Scarcely had he sung the first line, when a sweet female
voice, clear as ringing glass, and as hearty as the
birds of the field, joined in, and the two, in wonderful accordance
and harmony, concluded the stanza.

The congregation, for the moment entranced at the unexpected
exhibition, the instant it ceased, turned, by universal
consent, their eyes upon the innocent face of Annie,
who, suddenly perceiving the extraordinary interest she
had so unconsciously created, blushed deep crimson, and
sank back to her seat.

The reverend gentleman selected for his text, “Be
ye holy, as your Father in heaven is holy!
” and
he made it appear as if this injunction was one of the
most literal in the sacred book, one of the most imperative,
and necessary to be obeyed. He drew with tremendous
fervor the character of the Great Jehovah, stated
that none could look upon him and live, that he filled all
space, was the creator of all things, and yet desired to reside
in the heart of corrupt and fallen man,—that man, inclined
as he was to wickedness, “even as the sparks fly
upward,” was, by a holy life and godly conversation, to
render himself a fit temple, a proper temple, a worthy temple,
for this holy, just, and omnipotent Being,—and then
in a few condensed passages, he rapidly portrayed the
punishment of those who refused to obey this dread command.

The congregation was swayed to and fro, as if rocked
in a storm-driven ship; stern, unflinching men, that in the


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hour of danger knew no fear, blanched under the burning
words, and ladies wept, and sighed, with hysterical emotion.

Suddenly Mr. Goshawk stopped, he appeared pained
at the effect he had himself produced. Lowering his voice
to a clear, heart-breaking tone, he said:—

“Brethren, think not that the minister of the Gospel
delights in harrowing your feelings. Should he consult
himself, he would only salute your ears with the dulcet
strains of mercy, but alas! wo betide the prophet who refuses
to cry out against Nineveh.

“If, my friends, you hear at the solemn hour of midnight
the heart-rending cry of fire—fire—FIRE, do you
rush into the streets, and denounce the one who gave the
alarm? no, you bless his name, and hastening on, you flee
for your life from the devouring element.

“So stand I here, crying fire—fire—to your slumbering
consciences. I would have you escape a consuming
flame, that will not only destroy your bodies, but will torment
your souls for ever Flee, I say,—like Bunyan's
Christian, put your fingers to your ears, and hasten while
you yet may, out of the City of Destruction.”

Among Mr. Goshawk's hearers was Dixon. He had,
some weeks before, come up to the vicinity of Beechland,
on business, and having been taken sick, he had, while thus
prostrated, almost literally passed through the valley and
shadow of death. The balmy weather had tempted him
into the street, and gratified by any novelty, he had strolled
into church.

While suffering from disease, he had occasionally reflected


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upon his whole course of life, and had felt many
pangs of remorse while thinking of the past; and it was,
therefore, in a very proper disposition of mind, that he listened
to this most powerful discourse.

When the congregation separated, the different members
pursued their way homeward, and left Dixon by himself.
Although known to almost every person in the house,
no one recognized him, save by a glance. Amid all the
shaking of hands and congratulations, there were no demonstrations
of friendship, or interest, for him. In his
usual humor, he would have vented his spleen in muttered
oaths, and in a thousand recalled circumstances of fancied
power and superiority, that he had, as an offset to any neglect
he might receive; but now his spirit was broken.
There was something in Mr. Goshawk's manner and voice,
that recalled recollections of childhood, when he used to
go to church with his good old mother, and on coming
home, hear her talk of the feelings that animated her
spirit. A thousand words of good advice, a hundred
prayers for her dear child, crowded upon his weakened
brain, and he felt that he was not only despised by man,
but also abandoned by his Maker.

To such an extent was his mind excited, that he hardly
had strength to get to his lodgings, which were comfortable,
although connected with the “Head-quarters.”
Once in his room, he threw himself on the bed, and
seemed to be overcome by the communing of his thoughts;
the acts of his life appeared in review before him, and he
was shocked at the scenes of injustice, bloodshed, and


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violence through which he had passed, and which he had

Although Dixon was a native of Georgia, it had been
impressed upon him while still a child, not only that it was
an unpardonable thing to buy and sell his fellow-beings,
but, also, that it was sinful even to hold slaves. Dixon's
mother was a strict Methodist, and she had been inspired
by this feeling in her youth, by the teachings of parents,
who claimed, while sitting under the unction of John Wesley's
preaching, and listening to his voice “`face to face,'
that they had been converted from the error of their ways,
and convinced of the sin of holding slaves.” These were
the impressions left by a mother upon the mind of Dixon,
and as every reminiscence of his life, that was pleasant to
dwell upon, was associated with that mother, so also were
the impressions she left most vivid and most binding on
his conscience. And these early instructions now came
upon him with tenfold force, as the only legacy, and only
remembered councils and obligations of one, whom,
clouded as was his conscience in other things, he still revered
as a sainted being.

While in this mental agony, Dixon's friend, Puckett,
who had so faithfully nursed him through his long sickness,
came into his room, with a pack of cards and a
couple of tumblers in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey
in the other, and setting them down on the table near by,
he turned to Dixon, and said:

“Come, old fel', I have brought you up some `picters,'
and also something to drink, for you see you can stand a


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little now, and I thought as how you'd like to have a game
of `old sledge,' just to pass away time.”

“I'm too sick to play, Puckett, and too weak to drink!
some other time!” said Dixon, the perspiration starting
on his brow, both from excitement and weakness.

“Bah!” said Puckett, moving a small table into the
middle of the floor; “you don't s'pose,” he continued,
“I've been a mother to you for these three weeks, not to
know what you can stand. Drink a little, any how, is my
motter; and drink a good deal if you can, is my other
motter. Come now, fotch up your chair, and let's high,
low, Jack, and the game,” and Puckett gave the cards,
or “picters,” as he called them, a scientific shuffle.

“I can't play to-day,” said Dixon, peevishly, and astonished,
himself, at the repugnance he felt; “I can't play,
for,” he continued, “you know it's Sunday, Puckett.”

At this remark the Kentuckian put down the cards,
and laying back in his chair, and thrusting his legs far
under the table, he broke out into repeated bursts of laughter;
tears streamed down his cheeks, and at last he rolled
his head from side to side, as if he was too full, and could
not get relief. He found words, however, finally, and said:

“Dixon, by the Lord you will be the death of me—
Sunday! that's a good one; can't play 'cause it's Sunday,”
and Puckett again went off into hysterical laughter, repeating,
“Dixon, you are too funny! Oh! that—that's
too good—too good.”

“But I'm serious,” said Dixon, greatly annoyed.

“That's the very thing!” said Puckett, sticking the
pack of cards in his mouth, to keep from breaking out


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again. “You see that's the joke, one would s'pose you was
in real 'arnest,” and again he rolled about in his chair, and
pushed his fists into his aching sides.

“Puckett,” said Dixon, when that worthy had become
somewhat quiet; “Puckett, don't go down stairs and blow
on me, but I tell you the truth now, when I say I'm going
to reform. I'll do it, Puckett, and you may laugh as
much as you please.”

“He he—ha ha!” cachinated that worthy, but as he
looked up, and saw the pale and excited face of Dixon
for the first time, a feeling of alarm came over him, and
rising up, he said:

“Why, what's the matter, old boy, you look as white as
milk and water?”

“Did you never think about dying, Puckett, or any
thing of that sort?” inquired Dixon, at a loss to know how
to get his naturally good-hearted companion serious.

“Thought about dying?” mechanically echoed he.
“Why, yes, I thought about it once, when I got out of tobacker,
but I don't recollect any other time.”

“Did you never think, Puckett, about another world,
and what will become of us if we go on breaking Sunday,
playing cards and drinking?—I have thought of these
things. I've laid here on my back for days and nights
and been full of thinking. I've been a bad man, Ben.
I've seen sights in this very room that have made my
brain cold; it's awful, Puckett, awful!” and Dixon's face
settled into black despair.

“What did you see, Jim?” asked Puckett, perfectly
at a loss to understand the slave-trader's feelings.


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“I've seen dead nigger women,” said Dixon in reply
screetchin to me for their children—I've seen nigger men
praying for their lives—I've seen whole gangs of niggers,
with their backs all blood, their eyes all sunken, pointing
their long skinny fingers at me, and they keep on doing it
whenever I'm alone!”

“You must have manyaporter,” said Ben, with a kind
of soothing voice. “Didn't you see rats?” he continued,
with an equivocal smile, and looking archly at Dixon.
“Why, Jim Ruggles, after he had his last frolic, seed
the devil; he told me so himself; said he looked like a
rattlesnake forty feet long, twisted all around his body,
with his soft jawed and infarnal open mouth pat up agin his
face, tongue, pizen-hooks and all; so seeing niggers is nothing,”
and Puckett looked at Dixon under the impression
that he had conveyed much consolation by his remarks.

“I wish that I could see a snake, or any thing, Puckett,
but niggers.” I'm afraid of niggers,” and as Dixon said
this, he nervously clutched his rude but sympathizing companion
by the shoulder.

“Is there a living nigger as can scare Jim Dixon?”
asked Ben scornfully, and somewhat confounded at the exhibition
he had witnessed.

“No,” said Dixon in a hissing whisper, “not a living
nigger, Puckett, they can't scare me; it's dead niggers as
claws at my vitals,” and as the invalid said this, he fell in
a fainting fit back on his pillow.

Ben instinctively lifted Dixon up, chafed his temples,
and the moment that he displayed returning consciousness,
gave him some water. The sick man slowly came to himself,


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and after staring vaguely about, begged Ben to put
away the cards and bottle; close the window blinds and set
down by his bed, while he tried to rest.

It was not long before Dixon fell into a lethargic sleep,
when Ben quietly stepped away, and proceeded to the bar-room,
where sat Busteed and three or four of his patrons,
engaged in one of their usual games of chance.

As the Kentuckian presented himself, Busteed laid down
“his hand,” and with unfeigned astonishment asked:

“What's the matter? Puckett, you look as sickly as a
glass of lemonade.”

“Do I?” said the `mother,' who unconsciously to himself,
still bore traces of his excitement at witnessing Dixon's
sufferings—“do I look white? well, that's a good one;
and what do you suppose is the reason?” said Puckett, addressing
the men before him in a mysterious voice.

“Can't say,” was the universal reply.

“Well, boys, you see,” said he, in almost a whisper,
“Dixon's tuck too much; he's got the tremens bad, very
bad; he's seen black ghosts, what do you think of that?”

“I think it's humbug,” said Busteed, and with his companions
he resumed his game.

“Maybe it is,” half soliloquized Puckett, as he turned
away—“maybe it is,” and then he walked up and down
the room, for the first time in his life in profound reflection,
and honestly wondering what the trader did mean.

Dixon slowly recovered his strength of body, but not
his peace of mind. Unable to go much about, he was left
to the solitude of his own chamber, where he reviewed the
past events of his life, and determined, so far as it was in


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his power, to reform his manner and conversation, and also
to make such reparation as was possible, for the crimes he
had committed in the pursuit of his business.

On the plea of indisposition, he carefully abstained from
the company of his former boon companions; and he was
not a person to be intruded upon when he expressed a distaste
for society. In his solitude, he looked forward with
considerable interest to the services of the coming Sunday;
having a vivid, but undefined impression from what he had
heard, that there was a necessity, not only for morality but
for holiness, he earnestly desired to learn the way that such
a high degree of perfection could be reached,—at the moment,
no definite way of propitiation presented itself, but
liberal charities and alms.