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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 211


Near sunset, Toadvine left the “Head-quarters,” and
rode toward the jail. He was exceedingly intoxicated,
which always made him savage; but, in addition to this,
he had been literally swindled out of a considerable sum
of money at cards,—and this fact goaded him to fury.

The jail was situated on the suburbs of the town, and
was reached by going over a ravine, or, as similar obstructions
are termed, “a wash.” In ordinarily dry weather,
there was no difficulty in crossing the ravine, but heavy
and continuous rains had made it saddle-girth deep in
mud; and as Toadvine attempted to rush his horse
through the conglomerated mass, the poor animal stuck
fast,—when, being assailed by blows and oaths, in struggling
to extricate himself he fell upon his side, and tumbled
his rider “heels-over-head” in the slough. Toadvine
was now furious, and as he pulled away at his horse's
bridle, he loaded the very air with his fearful imprecations.
The animal, released of his rider's weight, recovered
his feet, and, by repeated plunges, reached the solid


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The negroes confined in the jail, hearing the noise,
huddled about the heavy iron-grated window, and were
highly amused at what they saw. They made many
rough jokes at Toadvine's expense, any one of which if it
had reached his ears, in his then humor, would have made
him stark, staring mad. Meanwhile, the dogs within the
picketed inclosure of the jail commenced furiously barking,
and gnashing their teeth through the openings of the
fence,—thereby giving additional spirit to the scene.

Toadvine hitched his horse to an old whipping-post
near by; and as soon as he could reach the entrance of the
jail, the keeper anticipated his coming by opening the
door. Toadvine and the jailer saluted after the manner
of old friends, and then disappeared within the precincts
of the old building.

It was with a great deal of difficulty that Toadvine
could be reconciled to his disagreeable accident; while
scolding about it to the jailer, he picked up a piece of
cypress shingle from the floor, and pettishly scraped the
mud from his clothes,—every moment becoming more excited
in his indignation. He abused the road inspectors,
—abused the jail,—and the world generally, and Jack in
particular and especially.

The jailer finally, however, reduced him to quiet, by
producing an old stone jug from a cleft in the heavy timber
walls; and giving Toadvine a broken tumbler, and
taking a gourd himself, he poured out a liberal allowance
of whiskey, and giving the highly original toast, “Better
luck next time,” the twain touched “glasses” with due
solemnity, and drank off the contents.


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The jailer, still bent on mollifying his guest, now produced
an immense plug of tobacco, and handing it to
Toadvine, told him to take a piece, remarking, in a half
playful way, that “that tobacker was sent him 'way from
Old Virginny, by a gentleman that had two runaways in jail
with him for near about a year.”

“And what the hell did he send that to you for, after
keeping his niggers so long?” growled Toadvine, twisting
off a large piece of the weed.

“Because,” said the jailer, with a professional smile,
“I sent him a paper marked around with ink, so he could
tell whar was his property.”

“And he was from Virginny, was he?” inquired
Toadvine, giving his clothes a rub down with the shingle.

“He was,” said the jailer, emphatically.

“And a F. F. V.,” snarled Toadvine, as he discovered
a large “splotch” of mud, heretofore unperceived, over the
calf of his leg.

“I don't know whether he was or not,” said the jailer,
producing an old greasy playing-card. “Here,” he continued,
without paying further attention to Toadvine, “is
the charges agin Mr. Mildmay, for 'resting Jack;” and he
read off the back of a playing-card as follows:

“To Mr. Stubbs, who tuck him up,—two forty-five.

“Jutasses feez, for committin,—a `V.'

“Bored fore daze,—wun twenty; makin a sum total
of ait dollars and seventy sents: and not much neither as
the times goze.”

“Not much,” said Toadvine, taking out his claspknife,
and picking a bit of tobacco leaf from between his


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front teeth with the blade; “not much,” he repeated, as
if in deep reflection, and then went on: “Well, maybe it
an't; but if I had a nigger as run away, and cost me eight
dollars and seventy cents, if I didn't work it out of his
hide, with interest to boot, I hope I may turn nigger myself.”

And the sincerity with which he made this protestation
can be appreciated, when it is known that it closed with
Toadvine's climacteric figure of speech, if he wished to
be considered particularly in earnest.

Toadvine now pulled out a ten dollar gold-piece, and
giving it to the jailer, told the functionary to take his

The jailer found some difficulty in accomplishing his
object, as he had nothing but three half dollar pieces in his
pocket. After considerable discussion, and another drink
of whiskey, it was decided that Toadvine should throw
“heads and tails” for the piece of money in dispute—
whereupon that gentleman took the coin, and resting it on
the side of the fore finger of the right hand, and placing his
thumb underneath it, he emphatically observed:

“Now mark—heads I win, tails you lose,” and then he
sent the silver whirling in the air.

The coin struck the floor with a ringing noise, and
Toadvine bent over to see the result, for it was now getting
dark in the jail; rising up suddenly from his stooping
attitude, he gave the innocent cause of offence a kick
with his foot that sent it spinning across the floor, and then
with a great oath he swore that he had “lost all day,” and
pulling a revolver out of his pocket and examining


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the caps, he moodily told the jailer to “bring down that
infernal nigger, for he was going home.”

Now Jack, who had been, with his fellow-prisoners,
very much amused, as we have already stated, at the floundering
of Toadvine in the mire, was perfectly unconscious
that it was the overseer, and it was not until some time
after, when he recognized the horse hitched in front of the
jail, that the whole truth flashed upon him.

In an instant he seemed to comprehend his situation,
and uttering the exclamation, “Oh Master! what will become
of poor Jack now?” he sunk down upon the floor
the very picture of despair.

“And what's de matter wid you, Jack?” inquired his
humble friends in bondage.

“Oh Lord! oh Lord!” said the poor fellow, wringing
his hands, “it's Mr. Toadvine dats come for me. He's de
man as druv me from home,—he's de man dat got my wife
away,—he's de man as will kill me yet;” and again Jack
buried his head between his knees, and the tears rained
upon the floor.

The sympathy for Jack, expressed by his fellow-prisoners,
was deeply touching. Helpless themselves, yet feeling
the full force of their companion's situation, and too ignorant
to express the emotions of their hearts, they stood
around him in silent agony, in which position they remained
until they heard the huge key rattling in the lock, and
the chain unfastened from the door.

“Here Jack,” said the jailer, without noticing the boy's
expression of face, “gather up your duds, and get down
stairs, you scoundrel.” The boy silently obeyed and left


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the cell; “and now,” said he, turning around to his remaining
prisoners, as he was about closing the door after him,
“don't let me hear any more of that pslam singing to-night
about “Jesus ready stands to save you,” and all that sort
o' thing, because it's damn nonsense, and I'll have no noise
anyhow after the nine o'clock bell rings, and if I hear any,
I'll come up and make you shout hallelujah to a tune
you never larnt at camp meetin';” and with this advice
he locked the door and secured the chain, then putting
the gold eagle received from Toadvine into the bottom
of a long leather purse, he drummed accompaniment with
his huge key on the wall, to Hail Columbia, happy land,
which he whistled with great effect as he went down stairs.

Jack, meantime, stood in the presence of his worst enemy.
Toadvine glared upon him with his bloodshot eyes,
until the knees of the boy gave way from fear, and he sank
upon the floor.

“None of your skulking,” fairly roared Toadvine; “none
of your gammoning me, you infernal black sop. So you
run away, did you, 'cause you could n't bear to have me
whip you? That's for treating you like a lamb. “But,”
he continued, growing white with anger, “Ill cure you of
your tricks to-night 'fore I get you home, and if your whining,
half Yankee master don't like it, he can settle next
day, and get somebody else to whip his niggers for him;”
and Toadvine fairly spun about like a top, with the violence
of his passion.

The jailer, as if it were a customary thing, now opened
a box, sitting in one corner of the room, on which was
marked in great plainness the magical letters “U. S.” It


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had evidently been originally used for packing Springfield
Armory muskets in, and taking therefrom a coil of rope,
he handed it to Toadvine, who, without any apparent consideration
as to the length he wanted, cut off a piece and
gave the remainder back to the jailer; then stepping up
to Jack, he struck him a severe blow with the cord across
his shoulders, and ordering him to hold up his head, commenced
tying the boy around the neck.

“What are you going to do?” inquired the jailer,
with some little surprise.

“Take this feller home; any thing to say agin it?” said
Toadvine, the very act of touching Jack's neck inflaming
still more his tiger passions.

“Nothing more,” said the jailer, placing his hand on
the large bowie-knife he carried in his breast, and eyeing
Toadvine with hostile meaning; “Nothing more—only
`civil tongues is best for health,' and I think you'd better tie
that boy with his elbers behind him, instead of 'round the

Toadvine was cowed, but again feeling disposed to give
way to his passion, which, suppressed against the jailer,
burst with increased fury upon the head of the victim now
so completely in his power.

“I think,” said Toadvine, leading the boy away and
measuring the effect of his words, “I think I understand
my business with niggers.”

“Well, I 'spect you do,” replied the jailer, closing the
door on Toadvine and Jack, and then locking it on the inside,
he proceeded with due deliberation to shut up his establishment
for the night.


Page 218

Toadvine once out of doors, drove Jack ahead of him
while still holding him fast by the rope, and thus the two
proceeded until the boy reached the overseer's horse, which
he respectfully held until the man mounted. Toadvine
then fastened the end of the rope in his hand to the pommel
of the Spanish saddle, and with the quickness of
thought gave his horse the spurs.

The animal jumped, and had it not been that Jack was
still at his head, would in that spring probably have broken
the boy's neck; as it was it nearly threw him to the ground,
but he recovered himself, and leaping forward kept by the
side of the rider. In another moment, Toadvine was again
floundering in the `wash.' Jack instantly seized the horse's
head, and by main strength pulled him through. The moment
that Toadvine felt the solid earth, he again spurred
on the animal, and in the haze of the evening he was recognized
as he passed through the streets of Beechland,
going at a killing pace, with a negro boy almost undistinguishable
in the gloom, following close in his rear.