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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 238


The instant that Toadvine disappeared, and with him the
different persons who had been so recently engaged in his
pursuit, General Bledsoe turned to Mildmay, and showed
by his manner a desire to enter into familiar conversation.
The two gentlemen consequently rode out of “the swamp,”
side by side, and so continued in the open fields, as their
road necessarily led toward Heritage Place. Mildmay was
himself highly delighted with General Bledsoe, and as he
had always heard him spoken of as one of the most influential
persons in the surrounding neighborhood, Graham
felt more than ordinary pleasure that a mutual friendship
promised to be the result of a most singular introduction.

Long before the two had reached the Heritage, all the
particulars of Toadvine's conduct had been discussed and
commented upon, and had given way to more pleasing subjects,
and General Bledsoe had, with exceeding frankness,
accepted an invitation to make a call at the house and partake
of some slight refreshment, before he pursued his way


Page 239

As the gentlemen dismounted, Wash took the horses
and they proceeded on through the lawn. Annie was walking
on the upper gallery, and as Mildmay looked up and
greeted her with a smile, General Bledsoe instinctively
turned his eye also upward, and unexpectedly seeing a
lady, raised his hat and passed uncovered into the house.

Wash soon made his appearance, and armed with water
and a snowy napkin, he presented them to the general,
who, quietly removing his gloves, laved his hands, while
Mildmay performed the same pleasant office in his own

When Graham returned to his guest, he was followed
by Wash carrying a salver, on which were two or three
kinds of choice liqueurs, and a box of superior cigars. The
two gentlemen simply went through the ceremony of
drinking, when Gen. Bledsoe set down his glass, and
taking another, and filling it with cool water, he drank it
off with evident satisfaction; and then throwing himself
into an easy chair, with Mildmay most comfortably disposed
of, directly opposite to him, cigars were selected
and lighted; and after a few moments' silence, the general,
slowly blowing the smoke from his mouth, turned to Mildmay,
and observed:

“From your given name, Mr. Mildmay, I judge that
you are from the `Old North State?”

“Such is the fact,” replied Mildmay, rousing himself
into an attitude of interest.

“Yet I think,” continued the general, in a musing
manner, “that Mildmay is not a North Carolina name?”

“It is not,” said Mildmay; “while my mother's family


Page 240
name is very common, perhaps, there is not one of my
surname that I am aware of in the State.”

“Your mother then was a Graham,” said the general,
still deeply musing. “The Grahams and the Bledsoes
are intimately connected: was your family from the neighborhood
of Mecklenberg?”

“They were from the immediate vicinity of Mecklenberg,”
said Mildmay.

“Then, Mr. Mildmay,” said the general, his face animated
with a smile, “if we Americans paid much attention
to genealogical trees, I should not be surprised if we
could trace ourselves back to the same stock; I know of
no Mecklenberg Grahams that are not relations of mine.”

“I am quite flattered,” said Graham, “by your supposition;
it will be a source of pleasure for me to know
that I have so interesting, though so vague a claim upon
your good opinion.”

“And not so vague, either,” interrupted the general.
“Your grandfather, or great uncle,—and I don't know
which,—just at the close of the Revolution, married
Hetty Bledsoe, and we are certainly third cousins at

Graham laughed, and replied, “he hoped it were

At this instant, the young mistress of Heritage Place
came into the room. She was attired in a simple dress of
white, and had endeavored to assume a dignified appearance
by arranging her hair over her temples; but the
straggling curls peeped out quite comically, in spite of her
labor: a delicate rosebud and a few green leaves glistened


Page 241
on her bosom. Annie had become so unaccustomed to
society save that of her husband, that the appearance of a
stranger brought a slight blush to her cheeks, and heightened
her natural beauty.

“Mrs. Mildmay — General Bledsoe,” said Graham,

The general rose from his seat, and placing his hand
upon his heart, he bowed, as if a courtier by profession;
and then extending his hand, he just touched the tips of
Annie's fingers, and remarked:

“I am happy to have the pleasure of meeting with a
lady whose presence has added so much grace and beauty
to our vicinity. At this very moment, I was trying to
prove to your good husband that we were some sort of
cousins at least; and now,” he continued, smiling at Annie,
“I shall especially insist that I am right.”

Annie expressed her gratification at Gen. Bledsoe's
evident cordiality of manner,—more by her eyes, than by
her remarks; the conversation soon became discursive
and agreeable, and when Gen. Bledsoe left Heritage Place,
a mutual friendship had sprung up between himself and
its occupants: and this feeling seemed to have been
founded rather upon long years of intercourse, than an
accidental meeting of an hour's duration.

The moment Gen. Bledsoe left, Mildmay ordered
“old Uncle Dan” to go to Beechland, and bring up the
body of Jack, that it might be decently interred upon the

Uncle Dan was an eccentric, stuttering old man, who
believed in charms and necromancy, and was looked upon


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by his fellow-slaves with considerable superstitious dread.
When he was told to get his cart, and the object of his
errand, Old Dan rolled up the white of his eyes in the
most alarming manner, and inquired,

“Wha—wha—what make Jack done die for?”

“You will hear that some other time,” said Mildmay,
a cloud passing over his face at the recollection of the
boy's fate; “do as I tell you, and ask no questions now.”

“But master,” said Dan, his face still indicating unmitigated
terror, “Wha—wha—what I goin' to do alone
wid such a funeral?”

“Come straight back from town,” said Mildmay,
sternly; “and if you stop by the way at any of those
groggeries on the edge of Beechland, you will regret it,
sir, for the rest of the year.”

“Wh'—wh'—why, master, you tink I do dat?” and
Dan hobbled off with a manner that would leave an impression
upon those who did not know him, that he was
exceedingly injured at Mildmay's imputation on his immaculate

Dan went to the stable, and catching a mule that was
used for all work, he put on the harness, and then attached
the cart; and having arranged every thing to suit his
mind, he crept into the loft, and brought down a bag of
shelled corn; then going to his own garden-patch, he
pulled up a few vegetables, nearly gone to seed, and
placed them beside the corn; then jumping over the fence
into his mistress's garden, he crawled upon his hands and
knees among some low bushes, covered by what was once
the shed of a bee-house, and dexterously took two setting


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hens, of the Bantam breed, from off their nests; and putting
the exposed eggs in his pockets, he got back safely to
his cart: and arranging the eggs in some cotton seed, and
tying the hens like a bundle in a handkerchief, he covered
the whole up with `dry fodder,' and with a sanctimonious
look, drove out into the highway.

Mildmay, who was temporarily occupied in superintending
some repairs in the road, was sitting on his horse,
when Dan made his appearance; and as the old negro
humbly touched his hat to “master,” he remarked:

“I see, Dan, you have not forgotten the old mule's
appetite, judging from the fodder you take along with

Dan covered up the confusion of his face, by pretending
to look at something in his rear, and then pulling his old
hat over his eyes, as a mark of respect to his master, he
passed on without detection. Mildmay under ordinary circumstances
would have discovered the fraud, but his mind
was too much occupied by the events of the day, to observe
all the minor incidents passing before him.

Dan, as is the case with all old negroes, had a way of
conversing with himself, and if you could overhear him,
it would be difficult, at first, to imagine that he was really
alone, he gave such effect to his “thinking aloud,”—the
moment therefore he got out of reach of observation, he
commenced giving expression to his thoughts:—

Wha-wha-wha-wal, I didn't take de big hens, wha—
wha—wha—what was worth something to mistress, not me;
truck de little ones jus worth notin at all—he-he-he—tuck
em cause de eggs all done spile by de thunder—and ain't


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dat my corn, any how you can fix it?—wha-wha-wha-what
you get along dat away for, Dick Johnson (hitting the
mule over the back), can't ye see de rut, widout old Dan
tellin' you?”

In similar pleasant conversation, Dan indulged, until
he reached the suburb of Beechland, and then stopping his
mule, he cautiously looked around to see if any one was
near him, when satisfying himself that he was not observed,
he took out his stolen goods, and depositing them with
precipitation underneath some brush by the road side, he
hobbled into his seat and rode along.

In a few moments he was in the town—among the old
ruined buildings that every where met the eye, was one
distinguishable for having doors still on their fastenings,
and windows patched with paper, and sashes filled with
rags. Across the front of this wretched house, was painted
“Grocery,” but some wag had blotted up the bottom curve
of the c, and it read, grocery, which was really the idea
the sign was intended to convey.

As Dan neared this noticeable place, he commenced
hallooing with unusual vehemence to his mule, at the
same time, by pretending the animal would not obey the
reins, he managed to land close against the door, which
was immediately opened, and Dan was greeted by a rough-looking
white man,—a few telegraphic signs passed between
the pair, and the negro assuming his naturally innocent
and stolid look, continued his journey.

Passing by a large and evidently a substantial store,
a very gentlemanly-looking young man hallooed out to


Page 245

“Ho! boy, don't you belong to Mr. Mildmay?”

“Ye-ye-yes—master,” said Dan touching his hat.

“Then,” said the gentleman, “when you go home, stop
here, I have something to put in your cart.”

“Ye-ye-yes, sir,” said Dan, again touching his apology
for a hat.

Without more adventure, Dan reached the court-house,
where still lay, and entirely alone, the body of the unfortunate
Jack, but now protected from the vulgar gaze, by a
straight-sided box, made of rough boards, which had been
supplied by the order of the coroner.

Dan sat in his cart, and filled with strange emotions,
eyed askance the wreck of mortality.—As we have said,
he was superstitious, and he had a terrible dread of the

“Wha-wha-wha-what in de world massa send old
Dan down here for,—spose Jack come back agin, and I
'lone in de woods, wha-wha-wha-what cum of old Dan,
ha?” and the poor fellow seemed to expect that every moment
he should be assaulted by spirits from another world.

Not many moments passed, however, before Dan was
surrounded by a number of idle negro gossips, and long
and dismal stories and fearful reminiscences were given,
until from talking and listening, they would start at their
own voices—then anxious to get away from the suggesting
cause of so much terror, they helped Dan to place the coffin
in the cart, and rapidly disappeared.

The negro, now almost paralyzed with fear and trembling,
took out his charm, and addressing the little parcel
as if it had been an intelligent being, asked of it to


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afford him protection in the dark woods, and not to let
Jack come back and hurt him; and he then started for
home: but soon coming up to the store, where he was requested
to stop, one of the clerks, without deigning to ask
Dan what he had for his load, put a bale of rope, a box of
raisins, and a cheese, on top of the coffin; told Dan “to
get them to his master safe,” and ran back into the store.

“Wa-wa-well,” said Dan, as he moved along, “got
something else in dat cart to keep old Dan company;
s'pose old Dan tinks da-da-da-dat box empty, den it's all
right: go 'long, Dick Johnson,” jerking the mule, “don't
be getting to sleep at dis time ob day. Oh, Lord!
wha-a-a-what will become of old niggers?” and for a
moment lost in this reflection, he broke out in a loud
voice, “Dar's Dick a dancin' wid my gal—le-le-let de cotton
grow, who car's—old Dan is all de way from old Kaintuck—Virginny
shuffle—master's home—keep de-de-de
pot a bilin as you pass over Jourdan. Wha-wha-wha—
oh, Lord!”

Arriving at the place where he deposited his “plunder,”
he got down from his seat, and looking cautiously
around, thrust his hand under the bush, and pulled out
a bottle of whiskey “corked” with a corncob; and taking
therefrom a hearty swig, he resumed his place, more vociferous
than ever.

Towards midnight the body of Jack was deposited in
his humble, but once happy cabin.

The grave had already been dug; and just as the
moon commenced rising above the horizon, a few fellow-servants,
who kindly remembered Jack, joined in a funeral


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procession to pay the last tribute to the obscure dead.
As the humble mourners moved along, the simple hymn
went up, that breathed a hope of immortality. The body
was lowered into its last resting-place,—the cold sod fell
heavily upon the rude encasement. When the burial was
completed, the old negro workman gave a last pat with his
heavy spade, and said,

“Thank old Marster above! Jack's done got free papers
at last.”

Major Trimmer was not disappointed in his expectations
of a client, when he saw the murdered body of Jack,
for he knew that he must be “engaged for the defence,”
for no sooner had Toadvine time to collect his ideas,
than he sent the jailer to the major; as might be expected,
Trimmer immediately answered the summons.

The moment Major Trimmer entered Toadvine's cell,
he assumed a vacant look, and answered every question
with the bluntest imaginable monosyllables. To such an
extent was this carried, that his client finally became nervous,
and asked an explanation.

“The first thing to be attended to,” said the major,
suddenly finding his loquacious tongue, “is the fee; arrange
for that, and we will at once proceed to business.”

“And how much will it be?” asked Toadvine, putting
his hand in his pocket.

“A thousand dollars would be a small sum for so bad
a case as yours; but, considering you are not too rich, I'll
say five hundred.”

“You don't mean to say you charge five hundred for


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getting me out of this little affair, do you?” said Toadvine,
gaping in astonishment.

“I don't know what you call a little affair,” said the
major, rising and buttoning his coat, as if intending to go;
“if living in the penitentiary for ten years is a little
affair, I hope you will have a good time of it.”

“But you don't think it is any thing serious, do you?”
inquired Toadvine, becoming alarmed.

“Why, if being in custody, with a clear case of killing
against you, and the whole community in arms, ain't
serious, then I have studied my profession in vain.”

“I see,” said Toadvine, his fears coming upon him
with tenfold force—“I see, but how can I pay you so large
a sum, when I haven't got the money?”

“Well, what have you got?” inquired the major, sententiously.

“There's my horse,” said Toadvine, with bitterness;
“he is worth seventy-five dollars.”

“Well,” said the major.

“Then here is a due-bill on Smithers & Co., drawn
at ninety days by Mr. Mildmay, for one hundred and sixty

“Well,” echoed the major.

“And is not that enough to commence with?” gasped
Toadvine, for the first time beginning to feel that it did
cost something to “kill a nigger.”

“Why,” said the major, reckoning a moment in his
head, “if I take the horse and due-bill even as cash, they
will only make two hundred and forty-four dollars; secure


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me enough to make up the five hundred, else I shall have
no excuse to keep me from appearing for the State.”

“You wouldn't go agin me?” said Toadvine, turning
pale with apprehension.

“I must make a living,” said the major, as cold as

“But,” said Toadvine, more than ever sorry that he
had killed Jack, “I have no other property except an undivided
interest in the boy Jo, now in the possession of
Col. Price.”

“How much do you own of that nigger?”

“One half,” said Toadvine.

“And do you think I could buy the other half of

“I think not, because, you see, ever since Col. Price
parted from his wife, she won't sign away, what he calls,
her `infernal rights.'”

“Paraphernal rights,” you mean, said the major, his
eye beaming with conscious superiority.

“Well, it's something that keeps Price from selling
his half of Jo, and that's all I know about it.”

Now the major had informed himself in advance of all
the property that Toadvine was worth, so pulling out a
paper, and a pocket inkstand, he made a preliminary
transfer to himself of all Toadvine's worldly goods, viz.,
the horse,—Mildmay's due-bill,—and the legal possession
of half of the negro boy Jo; that being done, the major at
once entered upon the business before him, and in less
than ten minutes satisfied Toadvine that it was now easy
to get him clear of the consequences of killing Jack,—


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which made Toadvine again come to the conclusion in his
own mind, that twenty dollars was even more than enough
to pay any one for getting him out of “this little affair.”

After a great deal of “tacking and filling” by the
major, more to affect the imagination of his client than
any thing else, it was finally agreed that the “habeas corpus
was not to be attempted, because it might be possible
that the judge would be strict, as the excitement on
the public mind was decidedly against the prisoner. And
Major Trimmer came to the conclusion, also, that it was
possibly safer for Toadvine to stay in jail than to run the
risk of falling into the hands of Gen. Bledsoe and his
friends; and by way of consolation to the prisoner, he said:
“By lying in a jail a few weeks before the trial, it will
create a sympathy for you outside; and will enable me to
show the jury, that even while the law presumed that you
were innocent, you had suffered sufficient punishment,
even if guilty of the crime charged:” and with these reasons,
Toadvine was content to remain in durance vile.