The Entailed Hat - Or, Patty Cannon's Times
by George Alfred Townsend
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"Rise up, old friend!" cried Clayton; "your transgressions are, at least, washed out in sincere tears. Hear the birds all around us loving and condoning, and filling the air with praise. Come out!"

As they stepped upon Georgetown Square they saw John Randel, Jr., leading a party of surveyors to locate the opposition railroad to Meshach Milburn's. These and many others were pressing towards the whipping-post and pillory, in the rear of the court-house, where stood, exposed by the sheriff, the cleanly mulatto woman who had entertained Virgie in Snow Hill the first night of her flight.

"This free woman, Priscilla Hudson," cried the sheriff, "is to stand one hour in the pillory for the crime of lending her pass to a slave. Thirty lashes she was sentenced to, the Governor has graciously taken off. She is to be sold, out of the state, at the end of one hour, for the term of her natural life, to the highest bidder."

The poor woman stood there, bare armed and bare almost to the bosom, delicate and lovely to see, and the mother of free children, her clothing having been partly removed before the pardon of the stripes was announced to her.

Her head and arms were thrust through the holes in one leaf of the pillory, and thus, thrown forward, her modesty was exposed to the wanton gaze of the crowd, while, on the other side of the same elevated platform, pilloried in like manner, was a female chicken-thief, impudent, indifferent, and chewing tobacco, and spitting it out upon the pillory floor.

As Clayton and Custis saw this scene on their way to the tavern, an egg, thrown from a window of the debtor's jail, whether meant for Mrs. Hudson or not, struck her in the face, and its corrupt contents streamed down her white and shivering breast.

"Shame! shame!" cried the people, as they saw the woman cry, and, gazing up to the jail window, another female face appearing there, turned their cries to curses:

"Hang her! hang her!"

For the last time in life Patty Cannon's bold and comely face swelled again with passionate blood to the roots of the glossy black hair, and the few who saw her rich, dark eyes, inflamed with anger, say their pupils were dilated like the wild-cat's. She was gone in a moment, and the sheriff had wiped Mrs. Hudson's face and breast with a handkerchief passed up by a colored woman.

Two men were now actively going around the crowd, hat in hand, soliciting contributions to buy the woman, the first a blind man, whose eyes were bandaged, and a white man led him, calling loudly:

"The abolitionists have raised three hundred dollars to buy this woman's freedom. We want a hundred more, as some mean people may bid her up high. This man, her husband, stole her pass, to slip a friend away. We couldn't git the evidence in, but it's God's truth, gentlemen! The woman's nursed my wife, an' done a heap of good; and she come here, of her own free will, out of Maryland, to nurse the Chancellor."

Little money was raised in that crowd, since there was little to give, and, addressing the two distinguished strangers, Sorden, the crier, exclaimed:

"What, gentlemen, will you let the Hunn brothers and Tommy Garrett and the Motts give three hundred dollars for a woman they never saw, and we, who see her always doing good, give nothing?"

"Pity! pity!" sobbed the blind man. "I'm burned so bad nobody will buy me, but I stole her pass to help a slave off that I fell in love with."

Judge Custis left Clayton's side, and waited till the hour in the pillory was done, and, after a fierce contest, saw Sorden come off victorious at the sale, though it took every dollar the Judge could raise in Georgetown on his private credit.

"What is the name of the girl you gave her pass to?" asked the Judge of the blind mulatto.

"Virgie, marster."

"My heart told me so," exclaimed the Judge. "Your crime has been punished enough. I will send you to your wife."[15]

* * * * *

John Randel, Jr., observed, that evening:

"Devil Jim Clark has taken example from Patty Cannon, and squared the circle."

"Not dead?" asked Clayton.

"Yes, dead and buried. He was cleaning up his contract on the canal, and mistook the white Irish laborers there for kidnapped niggers. They set on him, and beat him and scared him together, so that he never recovered. They say he was 'converted' on his death-bed; or, as the saying is, 'he died triumphantly;' but the darkeys report that the devil came straight down with a chariot and drove him off."

"That fellow, Whitecar, I'm reserving," said Clayton, "to punish when I can use him to sustain an argument in favor of admitting negro testimony in kidnapping cases.[16] Without that admission, these kidnappers cannot be convicted: even Patty Cannon here may escape us, though she has killed white men."

Sorden spoke up, he being of the party:

"A disease called leprosy has broke out in ole Derrick Molleston's cabin; Sam Ogg has got it, too, and they say he fetched it up from the breakwater. Nobody will go near them. Black Dave is dead; he said he killed a man at Prencess Anne: the young wife of Levin Dennis, who turns out to be a lady, stayed and prayed with him to the last, and he went off humble and happy. But, my skin! another kidnapper has rented Johnson's tavern a'ready."

"The railroad will clear all these evils out," exclaimed Randel. "I've put it into poetry," and he began to recite:

"To dark Naswaddox forest fled The murderer from the main, And with the otter laid his head Amid the swamp and cane: 'Here nothing can pursue my ear, From travelled paths astray; I shall forget, from year to year, The world beyond the bay!'

"The hunted man one morning heard A whistle near and strong, And in the night a fiery light The thickets flashed among: The demon of the engine rushed Along on blazing beams— The hound the murderer had flushed, The outlaw's path was Steam's!"

* * * * *

The cry of hate from the crowd around the whipping-post, as it awoke Patty Cannon's last anger, also determined her last crime.

Fear was relative in her: she had neither the fear of men nor of shame, and only of death as it involved a hereafter. Whether that hereafter was a latent conviction in her mind, or the vivid admonition of guilt and dead men's eyes peering over her dreams and into the silent, lonely watches of haunted midnights, who shall tell? There is no analysis of a native and ancient depravity: it was sown in the marrow, it strengthens in the bone, and, with a cunning, daring self-assertion, gambles upon the faith of living and of dying not. Its very fears push it onward in crime, and make it cruelly tantalize its own fate, as cowards lean over graveyard walls, and shout, with an inner trembling, "Come forth—I dare you!"

So had this woman, conscious of her deserts, bullied eternal justice through its long postponements, never doubting, while ever vexing, the Spirit of God, until the number of her crimes crowded the tablet of her memory, and out of the hideous gulf of her past life gazed faces without names and deeds without memoranda; a procession the longer that strangers were in it, and, shrinking from her, yet pressing on, exclaimed her name or only shrieked "'Tis she!" as if her name was nothing to her curse.

Sleeping in her chains, there were children's eyes watching her from far-off corners, as if to say, "Give us the whole life we would have lived but for you!"

As her swollen limbs festered to the irons, there were babies' cries floating in the air, that seemed to draw near her breasts, as if for food, and suddenly convulse there in screams of pain, and move away with the sounds of suffocation she had heard as they expired.

All night there were callers on her, and whom they were no one could tell; but the jailer's family saw her lips moving and her eyes consult the air, as if she was faintly trying bravado upon certain business-speaking ghosts who had come with bills long overdue and demanded payment, and went out only to come again and again.

Some of these mystic visitors she would jeer at and defy, and stamp her feet, as if they had no rights in equity against her soul, having been on vicious errands when they met their ends, and bankrupts in the court of pity; but suddenly a helpless something would appear, and paralyze her with its little wail, like a babeless mother or a motherless babe, and, with her forehead wet with sweat of agony, she would affect to chuckle, and would whisper, "Nothin' but niggers! nothin' more!"

Day brought her some relief, but also other cares, and of these the chief was the care of money. She had been a spendthrift all her life, and robbed mankind of life and liberty to enjoy the selfish dissipation of spending their blood-money; and what had she bought with it? Nothing, nothing. To spend it, only, she had wrecked her sex and her soul; to spend it for such trifles as children want—candy and common ornaments, a dance and a treat, a gift for some boor or forester or even negro she was misleading, or to establish a silly reputation for generosity: generous at the expense of human happiness, and of robbing people of liberty and life, merely for spending-money!

Now she had none to appease the all-devouring greeds of habit intensified by real necessity: no money to buy dainties or even liquor; no money to spend upon the jailer's family and keep the reputation of kindness alive; no money for decent apparel to appear in court; none to corrupt the law or to hire witnesses and attorneys.

The two demons she had created alternately seized the day and the night: the demon of money plagued her all day, the demon of murder pursued her all night.

Every morning she had insatiate wants; all night she had remorseless visitors; and, close before, the gallows filled the view, with the Devil tying the noose.

That Devil she plainly saw, so busy on the gallows, fitting his ropes and shrouds and long death-caps, and he evaded her, as if he had no commerce with her now.

He was a cool and wistful man, perfectly happy in the prospect of getting her, and not anxious about it, so sure was he of her soon and complete possession.

He was always out in the jail-yard when she looked there, fixing his ropes, sliding the nooses, examining the gallows, like a conscientious carpenter; and in his complacent smile was an awful terror that froze her dumb: he seemed so impersonal, so joyous, so industrious, as if he had waited for her like a long creditor, and compounded the interest on her sins till the infernal sum made him a millionaire in torments.

A Devil it was, real as a man—a slavemaster to whose quiet love of cruelty eternal death was not enough; a man whose unscarred age, old as the rising sun, still came and went in immortal youthfulness and satisfaction, but for the nonce forgetting other debtors in the grip he had on her, as his majestic expiation for his own shortcomings.

He looked like a storekeeper, a man of accounts, a cosmopolitan kidnapper, who knew a good article and had it now. She was so terrified that she wanted to cry to him, and see if he would not remit that business method and become more human, and sauce her back.

But no; the longer she watched, the less he looked towards her, though she knew his smile meant no one else. To hang upon his cord was very little; to go with him after it was stretched, down the burning grates of hell, and see him all so cool and busy in her misery, was the gnawing vulture at her heart.

In vain she tried to throw responsibility for her sins upon a vague, false parentage and fatherhood, and say that she was bred to robbery and vice; a something in her heart responded: "No, you had beauty and health and chaste lovers whom you rejected or tempted, and a mind that was ever clear and knew right from wrong. Conscience never gave you up, though drenched in innocent blood. The often-murdered monitor revived and cried aloud like the striking of a clock, but never was obeyed!"

Thus haunted, deserted, peeped in upon from the hereafter, racked with vain needs, her outlets closed to every escape or subterfuge, revenge itself dead, and disease assisting conscience to banish sleep, the wretched woman crawled to her window one day and saw the helpless effigy of her sex exposed there for doing an act of humanity; and instantly an instinct she immediately obeyed exacted from her one last familiar, heartless deed, to show the crowd that even she, Patty Cannon the murderess, had "no respect for a nigger."

That doctrine long survived her, though she found it old when she came among them.

She aimed an egg at the breast of her sex, and, with a barefaced grin, she saw it strike and burst. The next moment the crowd had recognized and defied her.

In the exasperation of their shout, and of being no longer praised even for insulting a negro, a convulsion of desperate rage overcame the murderess.

Too helpless to retort in any other way, yet in uncontrollable recklessness, she exclaimed, "They never shall see me hang, then!" and swallowed the arsenic she had concealed in her bosom.

That night she died in awful torments.

* * * * *

The venerable Chancellor, lying in the hotel near the whipping-post corner, watched by the released Mrs. Hudson, who must to-morrow depart from the state forever, heard that night voices on the square, saying:

"Patty Cannon's dead. They say she's took poison."

A mighty pain seized the Chancellor's heart, and the loud groans he made called a stranger into the room.

"Is that dreadful woman dead?" sighed the Chancellor.

"Yes; she will never plague Delaware again, marster."

"God be thanked!" the old man groaned. "Justice and murder are kin no more."

They said he died that instant of heart disease.



Vesta found her circle reunited, though with many absentees, at Princess Anne.

Aunt Hominy took her place in the kitchen, and cooked with all her former art, but her voice and understanding were gone, and she never would go past the Entailed Hat, and still regarded it, as nearly as could be made out, as the cause of all her errors and dangers, though she seemed to admit its unevadable dominion.

The poor woman, Mary, finding Samson Hat, in time, wishing to have a partner in the old storehouse, where he had become the only resident, had faith enough left to make her third marriage with him; and his means not only made good the property she had lost, but the hale old man presented her with a babe boy, which took the name of Meshach Phoebus, and on which Judge Custis sagely remarked that it "ought to have been a red-headed nigger, having both the fiery furnace and the blazing sun in its name."

On Samson Hat's death, which resulted from rheumatism reaching his heart, his widow joined her deliverer from slavery, James Phoebus, in the West, where he lived happily with his bride and stepson, and often wrote home of a friend he had there named Abe Lincoln, who made flat-boat voyages with him down the Mississippi. Both Ellenora Phoebus and Hulda Dennis reared Western families which played effective parts in the drama of civilization.

Vesta lost no time in setting free every slave about Teackle Hall and on the farms, with the approval of her father and husband also, and Roxy became the wife of Whatcoat, the rescued freedman, and the replacer, at her mistress's side, of poor Virgie, whose body was brought home and interred by the church where she had been her white sister's bridesmaid. The grief of Vesta for Virgie was quiet, but long, and as that of an equal, not a mistress, though she may have never known how equal.

In the fatalities thronging about her marriage Vesta observed one signal blessing—the complete reform of her father's habits.

He drank nothing whatever, supplying with fruit the pleasures of wine, and with exercise and business, on her husband's behests, the vagrant tours he once made in the forest for politics and amours.

Aware of his sociable and voluptuous nature, Vesta desired to see him married again, to complete and secure his reformation; and, while she was yet puzzling her brain to think of a wife to suit him, he solved the problem himself by cleanly cutting out Rhoda Holland from under the attentions of William Tilghman.

Rhoda had rapidly learned, and had corrected her grammar without losing her humor and her taste for dress, and her free, warm spirits soon made her an elegant woman, in whom, fortunately or unfortunately, a very decided worldly ambition germinated,—at once the proof and the vindication of parvenues.

She may have patterned it upon her uncle, or it may have emanated from his ambitious family stock, which, in and around him, had wakened to the vigor of a previous century; but it was so different from Vesta's nature that, while it but made nobler her soul of tranquil piety and ease of ladyhood, Vesta was interested in Rhoda's self-will and business coquetry.

A higher vitality than Vesta's, Rhoda Holland soon showed, in the superficial senses, more acuteness of sight and insight, quicker intuitions, more self-love, though not selfishness, less scrupulousness, perhaps, in dealing with her lovers, and, with fidelity and virtue, a pushing spirit that Vesta only mildly reproved, since she made the allowance that it was in part inspired by herself.

"Take care, dear," Vesta said one day, "that you grow not away from your heart. With all improving, there is a growth that begets the heart disease. Do you love cousin William Tilghman? He is too true a man to be hurt in his feelings. Nothing in this world, Rhoda, is a substitute for principle in woman."

"I don't want to lose principle, auntie," Rhoda said; "but I am afraid I love life too much to be a pastor's wife. I never saw the world for so long that I'm wild in it. I want to go, to look, and to see, everywhere. I feel my heart is in my wings, and must I go sit on a nest? Miss Somers—"

"The question is, dear, do you love?"

"Auntie, I reckon I love William as much as he does me."

"But he is devoted, Rhoda."

"If I thought I had the whole, full heart of William, Aunt Vesta, and it would give him real pain to disappoint him, I would marry him. But I have watched him like a cat watches a mouse. He wants to marry me to make other people than himself happy; to reconcile you and uncle more; to take uncle more into your family by marrying his niece. William is trying to love Uncle Meshach like a good Christian, but, Aunt Vesta, he thinks more of your little toe than of my whole body."

The crimson color came to Vesta's cheeks so unwillingly, so mountingly, that she felt ashamed of it, and, in place of anger, that many wives so exposed would have shown, she shed some quiet tears.

"Rhoda, don't you know I am your uncle's wife."

Rhoda threw her arms around her.

"Forgive me, dear! When you tell me, Aunt Vesta, that William loves me dearly, I'll gladly marry him. I only want, auntie, not to make happiness impossible, when to wait would be better."

Vesta wondered what Rhoda meant, but, kissing her friend tenderly again, Rhoda whispered:

"Auntie, it's not selfishness that makes me behave so. Indeed, I love William; it's a sacrifice to let him go."

Vesta looked up and found Rhoda's eyes this time full of tears.

"Strange, tender girl!" cried Vesta. "What makes you cry?"

Yet, for some unspoken, perhaps unknown, reasons, they both shed together the tears of a deeper respect for each other.

Soon afterwards Judge Custis, being sent to Annapolis by Milburn, was requested to take Rhoda along, as a part of her education, and Vesta went, also, at her husband's desire.

She feared that her father, devoted as he had become to her husband's business interests, still disliked him and bore him resentment; and Vesta wished to see not only outward but inward reconcilement of those two men, from one of whom she drew her being, and towards the other began to feel sacred yet awful ties that took hold on life and death.

They were taken to the landing by Mr. Milburn and the young rector, and there, as the steamboat approached, Tilghman said:

"Rhoda, your uncle has consented. He wishes us to marry. I ask you, before all of them, to consider my proposal while you are gone, and come home with your reply."

The impetuous girl threw her arms around him and kissed him in silence, and, covering her face with her veil, awaited in uncontrollable tears the steamboat that was to carry her to the mightier world she had never seen, beyond the bay.

After she reached the steamer her stillness and grief continued, and going to bed that night she turned up her face, discolored by tears, for Vesta to kiss her, like a child, and faltered:

"Aunty, don't think I have no principle. Indeed, I have some."

* * * * *

Annapolis, half a century the senior of Baltimore, and the first town to take root in all the Chesapeake land, was now almost one hundred and fifty years old, and the stern monument of Cromwell's protectorate. Its handful of expelled Puritans from Virginia, compelled to organize their county under the name of the Romanist, Anne Arundel, unfurled the standard of the Commonwealth, reddened with a tyrant king's blood, against the invading army of Lord Baltimore, and, shouting "God is our strength: fall on, men!" annihilated feudal Maryland, never to revive; and, after King William's similar revolution in England, "Providence town" took his queen sister's name, Annapolis, like Princess Anne across the bay.

Annapolis became a place of fashion and of court, with horse-races, stage-playing, a press, a club, fox-hunting clergymen, a grand state-house, the town residences of planters, the belles of Maryland, and the seat of war against the French, the British crown, and the slaveholders' insurrection.

It was now in a state of comfortable decline, having yielded to Baltimore and to Washington its once superior influence and society; but a lobby, the first in magnitude ever seen in this province, had assembled in the name of canals and railroads to compete for the bonded aid of the Legislature, and Judge Custis was leading the forlorn hope of the Eastern Shore for some of the subsidy so liberally showered upon the cormorant, Baltimore.

Judge Custis was instructed to lobby at Annapolis for one million dollars, or only one-eighth part of the grants made by the state, and he was to draw on Meshach Milburn for funds, who, meantime, continued out of his private resources to grade and buy right of way for one hundred and thirty miles of railroad.

The adventure was gigantic for the private capital of that day, and the unpopularity of the adventurer at home was soon testified at the state capital.

Vesta, whose carriage had been brought over, looked with a gentle patriotism—being herself of divided Maryland and Virginia sympathies—upon the little peninsulated capital, with its old roomy houses of colonial brick, its circles and triangles in the public ways, and the unchanged names of such streets as King George, Prince George, and the Duke of Gloucester; but Rhoda was excited to the height of state pride in everything she saw, and, with strong faculty, seized on the historical and political relations of Annapolis, till Judge Custis said:

"Vesta, that girl is of the old rebel Milburn stock, I know. She takes it all in like a wild duck diving for the bay celery."

With two such beautiful women to speak for it, the Eastern Shore railroad seemed at first to have many friends, but it was not in the nature of the enterprising elements about Baltimore to yield a point, however complaisant they might appear.

Vesta did not go into general company, but her influence was mildly exercised in her rooms at the large old hotel, and in her carriage as she made excursions in pleasant weather to the South and West rivers, to "the Forest" of Prince George and to the thrifty Quakers of Montgomery. She wrote and received a daily letter, her husband being attentive and tender, despite his growing cares, as he had promised to be on that severe day he made his suit to her.

But the story of her sacrifice, shamefully exaggerated, with all that intensity of expression habitual in a pro-slavery society whenever money is the stake and denunciation the game, was used to injure her husband's interests.

Mr. Milburn was described as a vile Yankee type of miser and overreacher, who had plotted against the fortune of a gentleman and the virtue of his daughter for a long series of remorseless years.

Local opposition affirmed that he would use the railroad to ruin other gentry and oppress his native region, and that he was a Philadelphia emissary and an abolitionist, scheming to create a new state of the three jurisdictions across the bay.

Judge Custis, with his great popularity, did not escape censure; he was said to have winked at the surrender of his child for money and ambition, and to have broken the heart of his estimable wife after he had lost her fortune in an iron furnace.

Senator Clayton, whose mother had originated near Annapolis, made a visit there from Washington, and was entrapped into saying that Delaware would furnish all needful railway facilities for the Eastern Shore, and that two railways there would never pay.

Finally, Judge Custis wrote to his son-in-law to come to Annapolis and meet these misstatements in person.

Milburn came, and his pride being irritated by the nature of the opposition, he wore to the scene of the combat his ancestral hat.

He became at once the most marked figure in Maryland.

In one end of the state he was caricatured in drawings and verses as the generic Eastern-Shore man, wearing such a hat because he had not heard of any later styles.

The connection of a man of last century's hat with such a progressive thing as a railroad, seemed to excite everybody's risibilities. His railroad was called the Hat Line, even in the debates, and coarse people and negroes were hired by wits in the lobby to attend the Legislature with petitions for the Eastern Shore railroad, the whole delegation wearing antique and preposterous hats, gathered up from all the old counties and from the slop-shops of Baltimore; and in that day queer hats were very common, as animal skins of great endurance were still used to manufacture them.[17]

From Somerset word was sent that Milburn retained his hat from no amiable weakness or eccentricity, but because he had entered a vow never to abandon it till he had put every superior he had under his feet; and that he was a victim of gross forest superstition, and had made a bargain with the devil, who allowed him to prosper as long as he braved society with this tile.

The hotel servants chuckled as he went in and out; the oystermen and wood-cutters called jocosely to each other as he passed by; respectable people said he could have no consideration for his wife to degrade her by raising the derision of the town. Judge Custis finally remarked:

"Milburn, I resolved, many years ago, never to address you again on the subject of your dress. My duty makes me break the resolve: your hat is the worst enemy of your railroad."

Vesta, however, was the Entailed Hat's greatest victim. It lay upon her spirits like a shroud. Nervous and apprehensive as she had become, the perpetual admonition and friction of this article drove her into silence and gloom, poisoned the air and blocked up the sunlight, made going forth a constant running of the gantlet, and hospitality a comedy, and human observation a wondering stare.

The hat was the silent, unindicated thing that stood between her and her husband and the rest of the world. She never mentioned it, for she saw that it was forbidden ground. Kind and liberal as her husband was in every other thing, she dared not allude to a matter which had become the centre of his nervous organization, like an indurated sore; and yet she saw, from other than selfish considerations, that this hat was his own worst foe.

Some positive vice—and he had none—some calculating conspiracy—and he was direct as the day—some base amusement or hidden habit or acrid disease would hold him in captivity and pervert his heart less than this simple aberration of behavior. Had he been a hunchback men would have overlooked it; a hideous goitre or wen they would not have resented; but extreme gentility or high-bred courtesy could not refrain from turning to look a second time at a man with a beautiful lady on his arm and a steeple hat upon his head.

The existence of any subject man and wife must not talk together upon, which is yet a daily ingredient of comfort and display, itself disarranges their economy and finally becomes the chronic intruder of their household; and, when it is a trifle, it seems the more an obstacle, because there is no reasoning about it.

This Hat had long ceased to be external: it was worn on Milburn's heart and stifled the healthy throbbing there. It made two men of him,—the outer and the household man,—and, like the Corsican brothers, they were ever conscious of each other, and a word to one aroused the other's clairvoyant sensibility.

"If people would only not observe him," Vesta said, "I think he would lay his hat aside; but that is impossible, and all his pride is in the unending conflict with a law of everlasting society. Who sets a fashion, we do not know; who dares to set one that is obsolete must be a martyr; independence no one can practise but a lunatic. Oh, what tyranny exists that no laws can reach, and how much of society is mere formality!"

Vesta pitied her husband, but the disease was beyond her cure. She had anticipated some compensation for her marriage, in a larger life and society, and in the exercise of her mind, especially in art and music; yet these were purely social things with woman, and the baneful hat was ever darkening her threshold and closing the vista of every other one. She meditated escaping from it by a visit to Europe, which her father had promised her before his embarrassments, and which had been spoken of by Mr. Milburn as due her in the way of musical perfection.

"Uncle," Rhoda Holland said one day, "do put off that old hat. Aunt Vesta could love you so much better! People think it is cruel, uncle. Oh, listen to your wife's heart and not to your pride."

"Stop!" said Milburn. "One more reference to my honest hat and you shall be sent back to Sinepuxent and Mrs. Somers."

It may have been this dreadful threat, or rising ambition, or the fascinations of Judge Custis's position and attentions and remarkable gallantry, that disposed Rhoda to turn her worldly sagacity upon the father of her friend.

The visit to Annapolis occupied the whole winter; as it proceeded, Judge Custis, suppressing the temptations of the table, and feeling his later responsibilities thoughtfully, and desirous of a fixed settlement in a home again, felt a powerful passion to possess Rhoda Holland.

He contended against it in vain. Her beauty and coquetry, and ambition, too, seized his fancy, and worked strongly upon his imagination. He had seen her grow from a forest rose to be the noblest flower of the garden, superb in health, rich in colors, tall and bright and warm, and easily aware of her conquests, and with a magical touch and encouragement. She began to lead him on from mere mischief. He was wise, and observant of women, and he threw himself in the place of her instructor and courtier. She became his pupil, and an exacting one, driving his energies onward, demanding his full attention, stimulating his mind; and Vesta soon saw that her father was a blind captive in the cool yet self-fluttered meshes of her connection.

"Is there any law, husband," Vesta asked, "to prevent Rhoda marrying Judge Custis?"

"I think not. There is no consanguinity. In a society where every degree of cousins marry together, it would be as gratuitous to interfere in such a marriage as to forbid my hat by law."

"He is so enamoured of her," said Vesta, "that I fear the results of her refusing him upon his habits. Father is a better man than he ever was: a wife that can retain his interest will now keep him steady all his life."

The adjournment of the Legislature was at hand; another year, and perhaps years unforeseen in number, were to be occupied in the same slow, illusive quest.

Judge Custis found himself one morning early above the dome of the old state-house, where he frequently went at that hour with Rhoda Holland, to look out upon the bay and the town and "Severn's silver wave reflected."

He turned to her with a sparkle of humor, yet a flush of the cheek, and said:

"My girl, what is to be your answer to Pastor Tilghman's marriage offer?"

"It cannot be."

"Then I am free to ask for another. Rhoda, you have seen that I am foolish for you. I was your admirer when you were a poor forest girl—"

"And when you were a married man," Rhoda interrupted. "How splendid and sly you were! But, even then, I was delighted that a great man like you could even flirt with me. Perhaps you will cut up the same way again?"

"No, Rhoda. This is my last opportunity. I will devote to you my remaining life. I am fifty-five, but it is the best fifty-five in Maryland. You shall have the devotion of twenty-five."

"I want to be taken to Washington," Rhoda said. "I think I could marry an old man if he took me there."

"I will run for Congress, then. You will make a great woman in public life. I do not ask you to love me, but to let me love you. Oh, my child, marriage has been a tragedy with me. I will be a repentant and a fond husband. Hear my selfishness speak and make the sacrifice."

"If I say 'Yes,'" said Rhoda, "it is not to settle down and nurse you. You are to be what you have been this winter: a beau, and an ever fond and gallant gentleman."

"Yes, as long as time will let me."

"Then say no more about it," Rhoda answered, with a little pallor; "if the rest are willing, a poor girl like me will not refuse you, but say, like Ruth, 'Spread thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.' I love your daughter."

Meshach Milburn, not more than half pleased with the turn affairs had taken, hastened to Princess Anne in advance and sought William Tilghman.

"Dear friend," he said, "I hope your heart was not committed to my wayward niece?"

"Has she engaged herself to another, Cousin Meshach?"

"Yes, to Judge Custis. You know what a taking way he has with girls. It was not my match, William."

Milburn looked at the young man and beheld no disappointment on his face—rather a flush of spirit.

"Cousin Meshach," he said, cheerfully, "I thought I could make Rhoda happy; I thought I interpreted her right. Since I was mistaken, it is better that she has been sincere. No, my heart is still a bachelor's and a priest's. See, cousin! The bishop has sent for me to take a larger field."

He united Rhoda and the Judge, as he had married his first love—to another; she was pale and in tears; he kissed her at the altar, and gave his hand to the Judge warmly:

"I know you will be a better Christian, Cousin Daniel. God has given you much love on the earth. Our prayers for you have been answered."

Vesta was disappointed, expecting to see William made happy in a marriage with Rhoda.



As the spring burst upon Princess Anne in cherry blossoms and dogwood flowers, in herring and shad weighting the river seines, and broods of young chickens and peach-trees pullulating, and as the time of fruit and corn and early cantaloupe followed, the life in human veins also unfolded in infant fruit, and Vesta became a mother.

The forest and the court had harmonized in the offspring, and the young boy took the name of Custis Milburn.

Healthy and comely, as if Society had made the match for Nature, the infant flourished without a day's ailing, and grew upon its parents' eyes like a miracle, having the symmetry and loveliness of the mother, and the bold, challenging countenance of the father; and to Meshach it brought the satisfaction of an improved posterity, and an heir to his success; to Vesta, compensation for the loss of worldly society.

She found more joy in Teackle Hall, with this wondrous product of her sacrifice and pain, than with the admiration of all the good families in Maryland; and a sense of warmth and gratitude sprang to her conscience towards the father of this matchless gift.

"I have not given him my whole loyalty," she reflected, with exacting piety; "I have let trifles stand before my vows."

Accordingly, when Milburn, conscience-stricken, and accusing himself of hard conditions in exacting a marriage without love, came one day, with all the magnanimity of a new parent, before his wife to make some restitution, she surprised him by arising and kissing him.

"Sir, I have been very proud and stubborn. Do forgive me!"

He pressed her to his breast, while his tears ran over her face.

"Honey," he said at length, "what a mockery my crime to you has been—to think that you could ever love me! No, I will give you freedom. Dear as your captivity is to me, your cage shall open and you shall fly."

Vesta stepped back at these strange words and waited for him to explain. He continued:

"I will send you to Italy with our child. Your father shall go, too, if you desire. Go from me and these unloved conditions, this hateful bondage and constraint"—his tears flowed fast again, but he let them fall ungrudged,—"find in your music and your noble mind forgetfulness of this unworthy marriage. I can live in the recollection of the blessing you have been to me."

"What!" said Vesta; "do you command me to leave you?"

"Yes. Let it be that. I know how conscientious you are, my darling, but it is your duty to go. A hard struggle is before me: I am deeply embarked in an untried business. Now I can spare the money. Go and find happiness in a happier land."

She went to him again and put her arms around him.

"Leave you?" she said. "What have I done to be driven away? How could I reconcile myself to let you live alone? 'For better or for worse,' I said. God has made it better and better every day."

He held her head between his palms and looked into her eyes, to see if she spoke from the heart.

"Husband," she whispered, "I love you."

* * * * *

The minds of both husband and wife, after this reconcilement, turned to the disturbing hat as the subject of their estrangement hitherto.

Said Milburn to himself: "What a sinner I have been to distress that poor child with my miserable hat! At the first opportunity she gives me, I will lay it aside forever."

Said Vesta to her father and his bride: "What a wicked heart I have kept, to oppose my husband in such a little thing as his good old hat—the badge of his reverence to his family and of his bravery to an impertinent age. I have let it discolor my married life and all the sunshine. But my baby has melted my obdurate heart. Come, unite with me, and let us show him that everything he wears we will adopt proudly."

Therefore, when Milburn next went out, his wife came with a beaming face and elastic step and put on his head his steeple hat. He looked at her grimly, but she stopped his protest with a kiss.

He thought to introduce the subject to Judge Custis, but that fond bridegroom broke in with:

"Milburn, you're a game fellow. It was impudent in me to say one word about your hat. I'll get one like it myself if I can find one. Tut, tut, man! It becomes you. Say no more about it."

Milburn undertook to make the explanation to his niece, but before he could well begin she cried:

"Uncle Meshach, Aunt Vesta is just in love with your hat! She won't hear of your wearing any other. We're all going to stand by it, uncle."

A man chooses his own verdict by a long course of behavior; austerity in the family begets fear; an affectation, whether of folly or resentment, is at last credited to nature; man is seldom allowed to escape from the trap of his own temperament.

So Meshach Milburn never obtained the opportunity to relieve himself from the affliction with which he had afflicted others. Like an impostor who has established the claim of deafness, and mankind bawls in his ear, the hatted spectre was made to feel uncomfortable when he put off his tile—his consistency was at once on trial. He was like a boy who had pricked a cross upon his hand in India ink, and, growing to be a man with taste and position, sees the indelible advertisement of his vulgarity whenever he takes a human hand.

To have put on any other hat would have subjected him to new hoots and comments, and made himself publicly smile at his own folly; he must have climbed as high as the pillory to explain the change and make apology; the society he had faced in defiance seemed all at once united to refuse him a status without his Entailed Hat, and it would have taken the courage of throwing off a life-long alias and living under a forgotten name, to appear in Princess Anne in a new, contemporary head-dress.

Milburn saw that he must wear his old hat for life; he bent under the servitude, and was alone the victim of it now.



The railroad struggle was renewed from year to year.

The Legislature was annually beset by strong lobby forces, and an embittered contest between the Potomac Canal and the greater railway company, to strangle each other, left the Eastern Shore railroad out of notice. Locomotive engines of native invention began to appear; the railroad to Washington was finally opened, and, next, to Harper's Ferry, as Vesta's boy became a young horseman and learned to read. The venerable court-house at Princess Anne, with its eighty-seven years of memories, burned down during these proceedings, and a panic extended over Patty Cannon's old region at the whisper of another Nat Turner rebellion among the slaves; but no mention of the thousands of abductions there was made in the anti-Masonic convention at Baltimore, where Samuel S. Seward and Thaddeus Stevens nominated Mr. Wirt for President, because one white man had been stolen. The murder of Jacob Cannon by Owen Daw did produce some distant comment a little later, chiefly because of the apathy of the Delaware society to pursue the murderer.

By a long course of usury and legal persecution the Cannon brothers had become detested in their own community, and when they sued O'Day, or Daw, for cutting down a bee-tree on one of their farms he had tilled, and then enforced the judgment of ten dollars, Daw,—now a man in growth and of Celtic vindictiveness,—loaded his gun and started for Cannon's Ferry, and waylaid Jacob just as he was leading his horse off the ferry scow.

"Are you going to give me back that ten dollars, you old scoundrel?" shouted O'Day.

"Stand back! stand back!" answered long Jacob; "the quotient was correct; the lex loci and the lex terrae were argued. The lex talionis—"

"Take it!" cried the villain, adroitly firing his shot-gun into the merchant's breast, so as not to injure his humaner beast.

Jacob Cannon staggered to the fence at the head of the wharf, and caught there a moment, and fell dead.

"You scoundrel," screamed Isaac Cannon from the window, "to kill my brother, my executive comfort."

"Yes," answered O'Day, "and I'll give the other barrel to you!"

As Isaac Cannon barricaded himself in, Owen O'Day collected his effects without hurry, and betook himself to the wilds of Missouri.

Cannon's Ferry fell into decay when the railroad at Seaford carried off its trading importance, but there are yet to be seen the never tenanted mansion of the disappointed bridegroom, and the gravestones which show how Jacob's fate frightened Isaac Cannon to a speedy tomb.

In the meantime, John M. Clayton had made use of the fears of Calhoun and his nullifiers, who were menaced with the penalties of treason by the president, to pass a great protective tariff bill by their aid, thus establishing the manufactures in the same period with the railways.

This triumph in the senate left him free to conduct the suit of Randel against the Canal Company, which occupied as many years as the railroad enterprise of Meshach Milburn.

The barbarous system of "pleadings" was then in full vogue, though soon to be weeded out even in its parent England, and the law to be made a trial of facts instead of traverses, demurrers, avoidances, rebutters and surrebutters, churned out of the skim milk of words. Clayton's pleadings require a bold, dull mind to read them now, but he tired his adversaries out, and his cousin, Chief-Justice Clayton, who was jealous of him, had yet to decide in his favor.

Then, after the lapse of years, the issue came to trial at the old Dutch-English town of New Castle, and from the magnitude of the damages claimed, the weight and number of counsel, and the novelty of trying a great corporation, it interested the lawyers and burdened the newspapers, and was popularly supposed to belong to the class of French spoliation claims, or squaring-the-circle problems—something that would be going on at the final end of the world.

"Never you mind, Bob Frame! Walter Jones is a great advocate, but, Goy! he don't know a Delaware jury. I'll get my country-seat, up here on the New Castle hills, out of this case," Clayton said, as he pitched quoits with his fellow-lawyers from Washington and Philadelphia, on the green battery where the Philadelphia steamer came in with the Southern passengers for the little stone-silled railroad.

John Randel, Jr., had ruined a fine engineer, to become a litigious man all his life.

He sued his successor and fellow New-Yorker, Engineer Wright, and was nonsuited. He garnisheed the canal officers, and beset the Legislature for remedial legislation, and threatened Clayton himself with damages; yet had such a fund of experience and such vitality that he kept the outer public beaten up, like the driving of wild beasts into the circle of the hunters. He had surveyed the great city of New York and planned its streets above the new City Hall. Elevated railroads were his projection half a century before they came about. He now looked upon engineering with indifference, and considered himself to have been born for the law.

In the midst of many other duties, Clayton, in course of time, convicted Whitecar of kidnapping, on negro testimony, having obtained a ruling to that end from his cousin, the chief-justice; and a constituent named Sorden (not the personage of our tale), being prosecuted for kidnapping, in order to spite Clayton, was cleared by him at Georgetown after a marvellous exhibition of jury eloquence, and repaid the obligation, years after our story closes, by breaking a party dead-lock in the Legislature of Delaware, where he became a member, and sending Mr. Clayton for the fourth time to the American senate.

* * * * *

The Entailed Hat became more common in the streets of Annapolis than it had been in Princess Anne, as Milburn pressed his bill for assistance year after year, and was shot through the back with slanders from home and hustled in front by overwhelming opposition.

Judge Custis took the field for Congress on the railroad issue, and was elected, through the Forest vote, and his wife went through a Washington season with as much dignity as enjoyment, few suspecting that she was not the Judge's social equal.

The ancestral hat defied all worldly hostility, but became the iron helmet to bend its wearer's back. He prayed in secret for some pitying angel to break the spell that bound him to it, but none conceived that he would let it go.

His boy grew strong, and took his father's dress to be a matter of course; his wife pressed upon him the nauseous ornament he had so long affected; a wide conspiracy seemed to have been formed to drive his head into that hereditary wigwam, and he could not escape it.

Even Grandmother Tilghman, who now was an inmate of Teackle Hall, in William's absence of years, forgot all about the queer hat, and rejoiced to herself that "Bill" had not married "that political girl."

Milburn had maintained his financial solvency by turns and sorties that even his enemies admired, but a railroad built along one man's spine and terminated by a steeple depot on his head must wear out the unrelieved individual at last.

The banks in Baltimore began to break; fierce riots ensued; the state debt had mounted up, through aid to public works, to fifteen million dollars; the Eastern Shore Railroad obtained, too late, the vote of the subsidy expected, and the state treasurer could not find funds to pay it.

The gazettes announced the failure of Meshach Milburn, Esq., of the Eastern Shore.

Without an instant's hesitation, Vesta surrendered her own property, and she and Rhoda Custis opened a select school in a part of Teackle Hall, and let the remainder for residences.

"Why do you make this sacrifice?" asked her husband; "nobody expected it."

"They may say we were married to protect my parents," Vesta answered, "but not that it was to secure myself. My boy shall have a clear name."

His failure ended the active life of Meshach Milburn; too considerate of his family to renew his former low endeavors, he became a clerk in the county offices, through Judge Custis's influence, and wore his hat to stipendiary labor with the regularity, but not the rebellious instincts, of old days, becoming, instead, the victim of a certain religious trance or apathy, which deepened with time.

Vesta saw that Milburn's misfortune extinguished the last remnant of animosity in her father's mind, and the two men went about together, like two old boys who had both been prisoners of war, and were cured of ambition.

Milburn resumed his forest walks and bird-tamings, all traces of ambition left his countenance, and he was as dead to business things as if he had never risen above his forest origin.

He often talked of William Tilghman, and seemed to wish to see him, though for no apparent purpose.

The Asiatic cholera, having begun to make annual visits to the United States, singled out, one day, the wearer of the obsolete hat, and put to the sternest test of affection and humanity the household at Teackle Hall.

Whether from the respect his steady purposes had given them, or the natural devotion in a sequestered society, no soul left his side.

But it brought the final visitation of poverty upon Vesta. Her school was broken up in a day. She dismissed it herself, and calmly sat by her husband's bed, to soothe his dying weakness, and await the providence of God.

He rapidly passed through the stages of cramp and collapse, a nearly perished pulse, and the cadaverous look of one already dead, yet his intellect by the law of the disease, lived unimpaired.

"The stream cannot rise above the fountain," he spoke, huskily; "all we can get from life is love. My darling, you have showered it on me, and been thirsty all your days."

"I have been happy in my duty," Vesta said; "you have been kind to me always. We have nothing to regret."

He wandered a little, though he looked at her, and seemed thinking of his mother.

"Where can we go?" he muttered, pitifully; "I burned the dear old hut down. It would have been a roof for my boy."

His chin trembled, as if he were about to cry, and sighed:

"Fader an' mammy's quarrelled; the mocking-bird won't sing. Ride for the doctor! ride hard! Oh! oh! too late, little chillen! They'se both dead!"

He returned to perfect knowledge in a moment, and fixed his eyes on Vesta, saying,

"I leave you poor. I tried hard. Perhaps—"

His eye was here arrested by some conflict at the door, where Aunt Hominy, notwithstanding her imperfect wits, was striving to keep guard.

"De debbil's measurin' him in! Measurin' him in at las'!" the old woman said; "Miss Vessy's 'mos' free!"

"Admit me!" spoke a clear, familiar voice, "I must see him. Mr. Clayton has won the lawsuit, and two hundred and twenty-six thousand dollars damages! Cousin Meshach is rich again."

"That friendly voice," spoke Meshach, with a happy light in his eyes; "oh, I wanted to hear it again!"

Yet he put his hand up with all his little strength to push away the intruder, who would have kissed him, and whispered,

"No. The cholera!"

"It's the bishop, uncle!" cried Mrs. Custis; "Bishop Tilghman, from the West."

"Don't I know him," Milburn whispered, with sinking voice and powers. "Honest man! Bishop of our church! Bishop in the free West! God bless him!"

He was lost again, as if he had fainted, for some time, and, all kneeling, the young bishop made a prayer.

When they arose Milburn seemed speechless, yet he tried to raise his hand, and, Vesta coming to his aid, his long, lean fingers closed around hers, and he signalled to William Tilghman with his eyes.

The bishop came near, and, by a painful effort, Milburn put his wife's hand in her cousin's. His lips framed a word without a sound:


"Glory to God!" suddenly exclaimed Grandmother Tilghman, who seemed to see without sight all that was going on.

"I knew it would be so, if both would wait," sighed Rhoda to her husband, through her tears.

There was still something on Milburn's mind, though he was unable to explain it. Every attempt was made to interpret his want, but in vain, till Aunt Hominy broke the silence by mumbling:

"He want dat debbil's hat!"

Vesta saw her husband's eyes twinkle as if he had heard the word, and it gave her a thought. She left the room, and returned with her boy, a fine young fellow, obedient to her wish. In his hand was his father's hat.

"What will you do if papa leaves us, Custis?" Vesta spoke, loudly, so that the dying man could hear.

"I will wear my forefather's hat, papa!" said the child.

The dying man drooped his eyes, as if to say "No," and looked fervently at his son and wearily at the old headpiece.

Vesta placed it on his pillow, and waited to know his next wish.

He made a sign, which they interpreted to mean,

"Lift me!"

He was lifted up, livid as the dead, and raised his eyes towards his forehead.

His wife set the Entailed Hat upon his temples.

"Bury it!" he said, in a distinct whisper, and passed away.


* * * * *


[1] In the original manuscript a circumstantial story, as taken from Milburn's lips, was preserved. The "Tales of a Hat" may be separately published.

[2] "Slavery, in the State of Delaware, never had any constitutional recognition. It existed in the colonial period by custom, as over the whole country, but subject to be regulated or abolished by simple legislative enactment. Very early the State of Delaware undertook its regulation, with the view of securing the personal and individual rights of the persons so held in bondage, and to prevent the increase by importation. In 1787 the export of Delaware slaves was forbidden to the Carolinas, Georgia, and the West Indies, and two years later the prohibition was extended to Maryland and Virginia, and it never was repealed, and in 1793 the first penalties were enacted against kidnappers."—Letter of Hon. N. B. Smithers to the Author.

[3] The skull of Ebenezer Johnson can be seen at Fowler & Wells' Museum, New York, with the bullet-hole through it. There, also, are the skulls of Patty and Betty Cannon.

[4] At this point the second episode, telling the descent of the Entailed Hat from Raleigh to Anne Hutchinson, is omitted, to shorten the book.

[5] Frederick Douglass, afterwards Marshal of the District of Columbia, was at this time a slave boy twelve years old, living about twenty miles from the scene of this conversation.

[6] The Nat Turner insurrection in Virginia occurred a year or thereabout later than this time.

[7] The origin of Patty Cannon is in doubt; a pamphlet published near her time gives it as above, with strong circumstantial embellishments, yet there are neighbors who say she was of Delaware and Maryland stock—a Baker and a Moore. The weight of tradition is the other way.

[8] This incident is fully related in "Niles's Register" of April 25, 1829 (No. 919 of the full series), page 144, where also is a contemporary account of Patty Cannon's arrest. The date of the exposure in this story is transposed from April to October. She was to have been tried in October, but died in May, about six weeks after her arrest.

[9] Thomas Hollyday Hicks, the Union Governor of Maryland in 1861, was at the date of these events member elect to the Legislature from the neighborhood of Patty Cannon's operations, and was thirty-one years old. Lanman's "Dictionary of Congress" says: "He worked on his father's farm when a boy, and served as constable and sheriff of his county."

[10] See "Niles's Register," 1826.

[11] See "Niles's Register," 1820, for two long accounts of this crime, saying, "One of them, Perry Hutton, a native of Delaware, formerly a well-known stage-driver, who lately broke jail at Richmond, where he had been committed for kidnapping." See, also, "Scharf's Baltimore Chronicles," pp. 398, 399.

[12] "Niles's Register," 1823.

[13] Spanish proverb: "Little beard, little shame."

[14] This case is related in the "Life of Benjamin Lundy."

[15] A case actually like this, happening twenty-five years later, was related to me by Judge George P. Fisher, of Dover.

[16] See the case of Whitecar in the Delaware reports.

[17] I take the following note from the New York Tribune of December, 1882: "The town of Richmond, Ind., is said to be the centre of Quakerdom in this country, and has five meetings in the two creeds of Fox and Hicks, and the Earlham Quaker College. There I saw the large, fur-covered white hats, a few of which are still left, which were imported into Indiana by the North Carolina Quakers from 'Beard's Hatter Shop,' an extinct locality in the North State, where the Quakers were prolific, and they all ordered these marvellous hats, which are said to be literally entailed, being incapable of wearing out, and as good for the grandson as for the pioneer. They are made of beaver-skin or its imitation in some other fur."

* * * * *


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