HotFreeBooks.com
The Memories of Fifty Years
by William H. Sparks
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"De cane was mity thick, and we went up one hill and down another till we comed to dat big hill ober de creek dar. De todder side ob it is mity steep, but de cane was all de way down it. I was a good ways before em and I jumpt down de steepest place and way I went through de cane down de hill, and de way dey made de bullets whistle was curos. But I got away and went round and told de ole man all dey had done. When I went back all de black people was gone and missus said dese men had tuck em off. De nex nite dey cotch me and carried me to whar our black folks was, and den we all started in a boat down de riber, and when we got to New Orleans we got on a skiff and run down de riber to a big ship and went out to sea dat night and landed at Pensacola, and dare dat wicked ole man sold us to de Spanish."

"Uncle Toney, who was that wicked old man?"

"Ah! my young massa, I musn't tell, cause his grandchillen is great folks here now, and Miss Alice telled me I musn't tell all I knows. Dey aint sponsible, she says, for what dere grandfadder did. But I tell you he was a mity bad man. Well, I staid at Pensacola two years wid my ole oman; and we could talk wid de Injuns, and one day two Injuns dat I knowd out here comed to my cabin, and dey telled me dat ole massa was gone way from here and missus was here by herself and had nobody to help her. So I makes a bargain wid dese Injuns to come here wid me and my old woman. One Saturday night we started to go and see some ob our people dat was bout ten miles from whar we was; but we neber stopped. We tuck to de woods, and we killed a deer wheneber we was hungry. De Injuns, you know, can always do dat. We was a mity long time comin; but at last we got here, and den it was moss a year arter dat before ole massa come. Den dar was more trouble. One day dar comed fifty men and tuck ole massa, and dey tied him and den begin to rob de house. Dey had all de silver and sich like, when de captain comed in, and he did cuss mity hard and made em put it every bit down, and march out. Ole missus she thanked him mitily; but dey carried ole massa off to New Orleans.

"Dar was great trouble wid de nabors. Dey comed and talked bout it; and one day when ole massa was gone bout a mont, when dey was all dar, who should step into de house but ole massa. He was fash, I tell you he was, Dar was old Mr. E——, and Mr. O—-, and Mr. T——, and a heap more, and dey all put der heads togeder and talked. One day ole massa come to me and sez he: 'Toney, you mus get on my black hoss and go down to de bluffs. Watch down de riber, and when you see two big boats comin up—big keel-boats wid plenty ob men on em—way down de riber, jes come as hard as de hoss can bring you here and let me know it.'

"I knowd dar was trouble comin, young massa; for I seed Miss Alice's papa comin wid plenty ob de nabors wid him. He was a tall man, and neber talk much. Miss Alice's modder was a young oman den, and I knowd dey was gwine to be married. When she seed him wid his gun and so many men she gins to cry. Well, I was gone quick, and moss as soon as I got to de cliff, I see de boats way down de riber, pulling long by de shore. I made dat hoss do his best home, when I told old massa: 'Dey's comin, sir!' He sorter grin, and git on his hoss and gallop away down toward St. Catharine's. He telled me to come on, and I comed. When we got to de mouth ob de creek dar was fifty men dar, all wid der guns, settin on de ground, and ole massa talkin to em. Way moss night de boats comed in sight. Den all de men hide in de cane, and massa tell me: 'Toney, you call em and tell em to come to de shore.' I called em, and dey comed and tied der boats to de trees, and de captain and some ob de men jumped on de land, and walked out, and corned close to me.

"De fuss ting dey knowd, bang! bang! bang! go de guns, and de captain fall. De men all run for de boats, and de men on de boats gin to shoot too. I runs wid all my might, and ole massa shout to his friends to fire agin, and two men untying de boats fall. Den dey cut de ropes wid an axe, and shove out de boats into de riber, and pull em away wid de oars too far to hit em. Ole massa comes out ob de cane and goes to de men what is lying on the ground. Dar was six on em, and four was dead sure nuff. Two was jus wounded, and one of dese was de captain. Him de same man what make his men put down de silber and tings dey was takin from ole missus. Den dey carry all on em to de grate house and bury de dead ones. De captain and de oder wounded man was tuck into de house, and ole missus she knowd de captain, and she cried mitily bout his bein shot. Well, he talk plenty bout his wife and modder, and Miss Alice's modder nurse him; but he died, and his grave's yonder wid ole massa and missus. De oder man he got well and went away, and berry soon arter dat Miss Alice's fadder and modder got married. Dar come de judge. He hab seen you, and he ride out ob de road to come see you."

"Toney, I shall come to see you again, and you must tell me more about the family and these people about here; you must tell me everything."

"You musn't tell anybody I tell you anyting. De judge mity quare man; he don't like for people to know all I knows."

The judge rode up, and Toney with great respect arose and saluted him. "Ah!" said he, "you have found this old hermit, have you? Toney is the chronicle of the neighborhood—a record of its history from the day of its first settlement. I hope he has amused you. He is upwards of ninety years old, and retains all his faculties in a remarkable degree."

"I have been quite entertained with his history of the descent of the river with your ancestors. He seems to remember every incident, and says your father was wounded at the Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River."

"He is quite right, sir. It was a perilous trip. My grandfather was a man of wonderful energy and determination. He pioneered the ancestors of almost every family in this vicinage to this place. There was a large grant of land from the Spanish Government made here and divided among his followers, every foot of which is in the possession of their descendants to-day, except perhaps one thousand acres which were swindled from my family by a most iniquitous decision of a jury, influenced by an artful old Yankee lawyer. This spot here, sir, was the nucleus of the first settlement which in a few years spread over the country."

"This county I believe, sir, was once represented in the State of Georgia as the County of Bourbon, at the time this State with Alabama constituted a part of that State."

"My father was elected to represent the county, but he never took his seat. We continued to be governed by the laws of Spain which we found in force here until the line between Florida and the United States was established—indeed until the American Government extended its jurisdiction in the form of a territorial government over the country. I am riding to my sisters. You will have fine shooting if you will go through yonder piece of woods. Every tree seems to have a squirrel upon it. We will meet again at tea. Adieu, till then."

"He been watchin you. Better go, young massa."

"You don't appear, Toney, to like your young master."

"Him not good to Miss Alice. He got plenty sisters; but he only lub two, and dey don't lub anybody but just him. Him not like his fadder nor ole massa yonder. He bring plenty trouble to massa and to his modder. No, me don't like him. Miss Alice know him all."

"Well, Toney, no one shall ever know you have told me anything. Some of these days I will come and see you again. Good by."

"God bress you, young massa! Kill ole nigger some squirrels. Tell Miss Alice dey is for me, and she will make some on de little ones run down here wid em. Good by, massa."

Slowly the young man wended his way to the mansion; but remembering the negro's request, he shot several squirrels, and gave them as requested.

"Then you have been to see Uncle Toney. Did he give you any of his stories? Like all old persons, he loves to talk about his younger days."

"I was quite interested in his narrative of the trip down the river, when your grandparents and your father emigrated to this part of the country."

"Did he tell you his Indian ghost story?"

"He did not. He was quite communicative; but your brother came and arrested his conversation." A shade fell upon the features of the beautiful creature as she turned away to send the squirrels to Toney.

"These are beautiful grounds, Miss Ann."

"Yes, sir; there has been great care bestowed upon them, and they make a fairy-land for my cousin who in fair weather is almost always found here in these walks and shady retreats afforded by these old oaks and pecans."

"There is something very beautiful, miss, in the attachment of Miss Alice to Uncle Toney. The devotion to her on his part almost amounts to adoration."

"My aunt, the mother of Alice, taught her this attachment. There is a little history connected with it, and indeed, sir, all the family remember his services to our grandfather in a most perilous moment; but you must ask its narration from the old man. He loves to tell it. My cousin's memory of her mother is the cherished of her heart. Indeed, sir, that is a strong, deep heart. You may never know it; but should you, you will remember that I told you there was but one Alice. In all her feelings she is intense; her love is a flame—her hate a thorn; the fragrance of the one is an incense—the piercing of the other is deep and agonizing. Shan't we go in, sir; I see the damp of the dew is on your boot-toe, and you have been ill. The absence of the sun is the hour for pestilence to ride the breeze in our climate, and you cannot claim to be fully acclimated."

The autumn progressed, and the rich harvests were being gathered and garnered. This season is the longest and the loveliest of the year in this beautiful country. During the months of September, October, and November, there ordinarily falls very little rain, and the temperature is but slightly different. The evolutions of nature are slow and beneficent, and it seems to be a period especially disposed so that the husbandman should reap in security the fruits of the year's labor. The days lag lazily; the atmosphere is serene, and the cerulean, without a cloud, is deeply blue. The foliage of the forest-trees, so gorgeous and abundant, gradually loses the intense green of summer, fading and yellowing so slowly as scarcely to be perceptible, and by such attenuated degrees accustoming the eye to the change, that none of the surprise or unpleasantness of sudden change is seen or experienced.

The fields grow golden; the redly-tinged leaves of the cotton-plant contrast with the chaste pure white of the lint in the bursting pods, now so abundantly yielding their wealth; the red ripe berries all over the woods, and the busy squirrels gathering and hoarding these and the richer forest-nuts; the cawing of the crows as they forage upon the ungathered corn, feeding and watching with the consciousness of thieves, and the fat cattle ruminating in the shade, make up a scene of beauty and loveliness not met with in a less fervid clime. The entranced rapture which filled my soul when first I looked upon this scene comes over me now with a freshness that brings back the delights of that day with all its cherished memories, though fifty years have gone and their sorrows have crushed out all but hope from the heart—and all the pleasures of the present are these memories kindly clustering about the soul. Perhaps their delights, and those who shared them, will revive in eternity. Perhaps not; perhaps all alike—the pleasant and the painful—are to be lost in an eternal, oblivious sleep. It is all speculation; yet hope and doubt go on to the grave, and thence none return to cheer the one or elucidate the other. But be it eternal life or eternal death, it is wise; for it is of God.

The autumn grew old and was threatening a frost—the great enemy of fever. The falling leaves and the fitful gusts of chill wind presaged the coming of winter. The ear caught the ring of sounds more distant and more distinct now that the languor of summer was gone, and all animal nature seemed more invigorated and more elastic. Health and her inhabitants were returning to the city, and the guests of the hospitable planters were thinning from the country. Business was reviving and commotion was everywhere.

The young stranger was preparing to leave; yet he lingered. Ann had gone; Alice grew more shy and timid, and his walks and rides were solitary, and but that he loved nature in her autumn robes would have been dull and uninteresting. The judge was absent at another plantation beyond the river, and his books and his gun were his only companions. Sometimes he read, sometimes he rode, and sometimes he walked to visit Toney. It was on one of those peculiarly lonely afternoons which come in the last days of October when the stillness persuades to rest and meditation in the woods that, seated on a prostrate tree near the pathway which led down the little creek to the residence of Uncle Toney, the young guest of the judge was surprised by Alice with a small negro girl on their way to visit Uncle Toney. Both started; but in a moment were reassured, and slowly walked to the cabin of the good old negro.

"I have come, Uncle Toney," said the youth, "to see you for the last time. I am going away to-morrow and, as soon as I can, going back to the distant home I so foolishly left."

"I am sorry you tell me so; won't you be sorry, Miss Alice?" asked Toney. Alice bit her lip, and the flush upon her cheek was less ruddy than usual.

"You no find dis country good like yourn, young massa?"

"Yes, Toney, this is a good country, and there is no country more beautiful. But, uncle, it requires more than a beautiful country to make us happy; we must have with us those we love, and who love us; and the scenes of our childhood—our fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters who are glad with us and who sorrow with us, and the companions of our school-days, to make us happy. I am here without any of these—not a relation within a thousand miles; with no one to care for me or to love me." There was something plaintively melancholly in his words and tones. He looked at Alice, her eyes were swimming in tears and she turned away from his gaze.

"You been mity sick, here, young massa, didn't Miss Alice be good to you? Aunt Ann tell me so. If Miss Alice had not nuss you, you die." Alice stepped into the cabin taking with her the basket the little negro had borne, and placing its contents away, came out and handing it to Rose, bid her run home. "I am coming," she said as she adjusted her bonnet-strings, "the bugaboos won't catch you."

"Yes, Uncle Toney, I am very grateful to Miss Alice. I shall never forget her."

How often that word is thoughtlessly spoken? Never to forget, is a long time to remember. Our lives are a constant change: the present drives out the past, and one memory usurps the place of another. Yet there are some memories which are always green. These fasten themselves upon us in agony. The pleasant are evanescent and pass away as a smile, but the bitter live in sighs, recurring eternally.

Both were silent, both were thoughtful. "Good-by, Uncle Toney," said Alice.

"May I join you in your walk home, miss?" There was something in the tone of this request, which caused Alice to look up into his face and pause a moment before replying, when she said, very timidly, "If you please, sir."

The sun was drooping to the horizon and the shadows made giants as thy grew along the sward. "Farewell, Uncle Toney," said the gentleman, shaking hands with the old negro. Alice had walked on.

"O! you needn't say farewell so sorry, you'll come back. I sees him. You'll come back. Eberybody who comes to dis country if he does go way he's sure to come back, ticlar when he once find putty gall like Miss Alice, ya! ya!" laughed the old man. "You'll come back. I knows it."

In a few moments he was by the side of Alice. They lounged lazily along through the beautiful forest a few paces behind Rose, who was too much afraid of bugaboos to allow herself to get far away from her mistress. There was a chill in the atmosphere and now and then a fitful gust of icy wind from the northwest. Winter was coming: these avant-couriers whispered of it; and overhead, swooped high up in the blue, a host of whooping cranes, marching in chase of the sun now cheering the Antarctic just waking from his winter's sleep.

"I believe, sir," said Alice, "that the ancients watched the flight of birds and predicated their predictions or prophecies upon them."

"Yes, the untutored of every age and country observe more closely the operations of nature than the educated. It is their only means of learning. They see certain movements in the beasts and the birds before certain atmospheric changes, and their superstitions influence a belief, that sentient and invisible beings cause this by communicating the changes going on. The more sagacious and observant, and I may add the less scrupulous, lay hold upon this knowledge, to practice for their own pleasure or profit upon the credulity of the masses. There are very many superstitions, miss, which are endowed with a character so holy, that he who would expose them is hunted down as a wretch, unworthy of life. The older and the more ridiculous these, the more holy, and the more sacredly cherished."

"Are you not afraid thus to speak—is there nothing too holy to be profanely assaulted?"

"Nothing which contravenes man's reason. Truth courts investigation—the more disrobed, the more beautiful. Science reveals, that there is no mystery in truth. Its simplicity is often disfigured with unnatural and ridiculous superstitions, and these sometimes are so prominent as to conceal it. They certainly, with many, bring it into disrepute. The more intellectual pluck these off and cast them away. They see and know the truth. Yonder birds obey an instinct: the chill to their more sensitive natures warns them that the winter, or the tempest, or the rain-storm is upon them; they obey this instinct and fly from it. Yet it in due time follows these—the more observant know it, and predict it. Those, with the ancients, were sooth-sayers or prophets; with us, they are the same with the ignorant negroes; with the whites, not quite so ignorant, they are—but, miss, I will not say. I must exercise a little prudence to avoid the wrath of the ignorant—they are multitudinous and very powerful."

"Kind sir, tell me, have you no superstitions? Has nothing ever occurred to you, your reason could not account for? Have no predictions, to be revealed in the coming future, come to you as foretold?"

"Do not press me on that point, if you please, I might astonish and offend you."

"I am not in the least afraid of your offending me, sir. I could not look in your face and feel its inspirations, and believe you capable of offending me."

"Thank you for the generous confidence, thank you. I am going and shall remember this so long as I live, and when in my native land, will think of it as too sacred for the keeping of any but myself."

"Are you really going to leave us, and so soon? I—I—would—but—"

"Miss Alice, I have trespassed too long already upon your brother's hospitality; beside, Miss Alice, I begin to feel that his welcome is worn out. Your brother, for some days, has seemed less cordial than was his wont during the first weeks of my stay here."

"My brother, sir, is a strange being—a creature of whims and caprices. There is nothing fixed or settled in his opinions or conduct. His inviting you to spend the summer with us was a whim: one that has astonished several who have not hesitated to express it. It is as likely on his return from his river place, that he will devour you with kindness as that he will meet you with the coldness he has manifested for some days. Do not let your conduct be influenced by his whims."

"Miss Alice, I am suspicious, perhaps, by nature. I have thought that you have avoided me lately. I have been very lonesome at times."

Alice lifted her bonnet from her head, and was swinging it by the strings as she walked along for a few steps, when she stopped, and, turning to her companion, said with a firm though timid voice: "I cannot be deceitful. You have properly guessed: I have avoided you. It was on your account as well as my own. My self-respect is in conflict with my respect for you. I need not tell you why I avoided you; but I will—conscious that I am speaking to a gentleman who will appreciate my motives and preserve inviolate my communications. You saw my cousin hurry away from here. She came to remain some weeks. The cause of her going was my brother. From some strange, unaccountable cause he became offended with her, and charged her with giving bad advice to me. What she has said to me as advice since she came was in the privacy of my bedroom, and in such tones that had he or another been in the chamber they could not have overheard it. I know, sir, and in shame do I speak it, that I am under the surveillance of the servants, who report to my brother and my sister my every act and every word; and I know, too, my brother's imagination supplies in many instances these reports. Why I am thus watched I know not.

"My brother is my guardian, and nature and duty, it would seem, should prompt him to guard my happiness as well as my interest; but I know in the one instance he fails, and I fear in the other I am suffering. All my family fear him, and none of them love me. I am my parents' youngest child. Oh, sir! England is not the only country where it is a curse to be a younger child. My father died when I was an infant. My mother was affectionate and indulgent; my sisters were harsh and tyrannical, and in very early girlhood taught me to hate them. My mother was made miserable by their treatment of me; and my brother, too, quarrelled with her because she would not subject me to the servility of the discipline he prescribed. This quarrel ripened into hate, and he never came to the house or spoke to my mother for years.

"The day before she died, and when her recovery was thought to be impossible, he came with a prepared will and witnesses, which in their presence he almost forced her to sign: in this will I was greatly wronged, and this brother has tauntingly told me the cause of this was my being the means of prejudicing our mother against him.

"He married a coarse, vulgar Kentucky woman, and brought her into the house. She was insolent and disrespectful toward my mother, and I resented it. She left the house, and died a few months after. Since that day, though I was almost a child, my life has been one of constant persecution on the part of my brother and sisters. I am compelled to endure it, but do so under protest; if not in words, I do in manner, and this I am persuaded you have on more than one occasion observed. Please do not consider me impertinent, nor let it influence you in your opinion of me, when I tell you my brother has rudely said to me that I was too forward in my intercourse with you. It is humiliating to say this to you; but I must, for it explains my conduct, which save in this regard has been motiveless.

"A lady born to the inheritance of fortune is very unpleasantly situated, both toward her family and to the world. These seem solicitous to take greater interest in her pecuniary affairs than in her personal happiness, and are always careful to warn her that her money is more sought than herself—distracting her mind and feelings, and keeping her constantly miserable. Since my school-days I have been companionless. If I have gone into society, I have been under the guard of one or the other of my sisters. These are cold, austere, and repulsive, and especially toward those who would most likely seek my society, and with whom I would most naturally be pleased. I must be retired, cold, and never to seem pleased, but always remarkably silent and dignified. I must be a goddess to be worshipped, and not an equal to be approached and my society courted companionably. In fine, I was to be miserable, and make all who came to me participate in this misery. It was more agreeable to remain at home among my flowers and shrubs, my books, and my visits to Uncle Toney. Do you wonder, sir, that I seem eccentric? You know how the young love companionship—how they crave the amusements which lend zest to life. I enjoy none of this, and I am sometimes, I believe, nearly crazy. I fear you think me so, now. I want to love my brother, but he will not permit me to do so. I fear he has a nature so unlovable that such a feeling toward him animates no heart. My sisters and a drunken sot of a brother-in-law pretend to love him—but they measure their affection by the hope of gain. They reside in Louisiana, and I am glad they are not here during your stay—for you would certainly be insulted, especially if they saw the slightest evidence of esteem for you on brother's part, or kindness on mine."

"Oh! sir, how true is the Scripture, 'Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.' Out of my heart's fulness have I spoken, and, I fear you will think, out of my heart's folly, too; and in my heart's sincerity I tell you I do not know why I have done so to you—for I have never said anything of these things to any one but cousin Ann, before. Perhaps it is because I know you are going away and you will not come to rebuke me with your presence any more; for indeed, sir, I do not know how I could meet you and not blush at the memory of this evening's walk."

"Miss Alice, I have a memory, or it may be a fancy, that in the delirium of my fever, some weeks since, I saw you like a spirit of light flitting about my bed and ministering to my wants; and I am sure, when all supposed me in extremis, you came, and on my brow placed your soft hand, and pressed it gently above my burning brain. My every nerve thrilled beneath that touch; my dead extremities trembled and were alive again. The brain resumed her functions, and the nervous fluid flashed through my entire system, and departing life came back again. You saved my life. Were the records of time and events opened to my inspection and I could read it there, I could not more believe this than I now do. Then what is due from me to you? This new evidence of confidence adds nothing to the obligation—it was full without it. But it is an inspiration I had not before. We are here, Miss Alice, within a few steps of the threshold of the house in which you were born. I am far from the land of my nativity—our meeting was strange, and this second meeting not the less so."

"Ah! you have almost confessed that you are superstitious. You need not have acknowledged that you are romantic; your young life has proven this."

"Stay, Miss Alice: you asked me but now if there had never been the realization of previous predictions. You said you knew I would not offend you. I would not, but may. Now listen to me, here under the shade of this old oak. When I was a child, my nurse was an aged African woman; like all her race, she was full of superstition, and she would converse with me of mysteries, and spells, and wonderful revelations, until my mind was filled as her own with strange superstitions and presentiments. On one occasion, on the Sabbath day, I found her in the orchard, seated beneath a great pear-tree, and went to her—for though I was no longer her ward to nurse, I liked to be with her and hear her talk. It was a beautiful day, the fruit-trees were in bloom, and the spring-feeling in the sunshine was kindling life into activity through all nature. She asked me to let her see my hand and she would tell me my fortune. She pretended sagely to view every line, and here and there to press her index finger sharply down. At length she began to speak.

"'You will not stay with your people,' she said, 'but will be a great traveller; and when in some far-away country, you will be sick—mighty sick; and a beautiful woman will find you, and she will nurse you, and you will love that beautiful woman, and she will love you, and she will marry you, and you will not come to reside with your people any more.' Now, Miss Alice, I have wandered far away from my home, have been sick, very sick, and a beautiful woman has nursed me until I am well, and oh! from my heart I do love that beautiful woman. So far all of this wild prediction has been verified; and it remains with you, my dear Alice, to say if the latter portion shall be. You are too candid to delay reply, and too sincere to speak equivocally."

She trembled as she looked up into his face and read it for a moment. "You are too much of a gentleman to speak as you have, unless it came from your heart. O my God! is this reality, or am I dreaming?" She drooped her head upon his shoulder, and said: "'Whither thou goest I will go; thy house shall be my house, and thy God my God.'"

The full moon was just above the horizon, and the long dark shadows veiled them from view. The judge rode in at the gate, and leaving his horse, went directly into the house. A moment after a carriage drove into the court, and from it dismounted the brother-in-law sot and her weird sister; for indeed she was a very Hecate in looks and mischief. Alice stole away to her chamber; and the happy stranger to wander among the shrubs, regardless of the damp and chill.

Here were two young hearts conscious of happiness; but was it a happiness derived from the respective merits and congenial natures of the two known to each other? They were comparatively strangers, knowing little of the antecedents of each other. Each was unhappily situated—the one from poverty, the other owing to her wealth; the one ardently desirous of bettering pecuniarily his position, the other to release herself from restraints that were tyrannical and to enjoy that independence which she felt was her natural right. Might not these considerations override the purer impulses of the heart arising from that regard for qualities which win upon the mind until ripened first into deep respect, then mellowed into tender affection by association protracted and intimate? They had been reared in societies radically different: their early impressions were equally antagonistic; but their aims were identical—to escape from present personal embarrassments.

They had met romantically. He had been removed for many months from the presence of civilized society, though naturally fond of female association, and craving deeply in his heart the communion again of that intercourse, which had (as he had learned from sad experience) been the chief cause of the happiness of his youth. He met her first as he entered anew the relations of civilized and social society. She was young and exquisitely beautiful. Their meeting was but for a moment; their intercourse was intensely delightful to him, and the interest her ardent nature manifested toward him was extremely captivating. He had gone from her, with her in all his heart.

She for the time was free. She felt not the restraint of her female relatives, and the ardor of her heart burned out in the delighted surprise she experienced in the gentle and genial bearing of one to all seeming rude and uncultivated as the savage he so much resembled in the contour of his apparel. She had trembled with a strange ecstasy as he strolled by her side, and felt a thrill pierce her soul as she looked into his face and saw what she had never seen, beaming in his eyes. She had never seen it before; yet she knew it, and felt she had found what her heart had so long and so ardently craved. She had parted from him with a consciousness that she was never to meet him again; and yet his image was with her by day and by night—her fancy kept him by day, and her dreams by night. She loved him for the mellow civilization of his heart and for the wild savageness of his garb. Oh, the heart of dear woman! it is her world. Would that the realizations of life were as her heart paints and craves them! He had again come as unexpectedly to her; but the figure was without its surroundings: the diamond was there, but the setting was gone, and she was not agreeably surprised: hence the indifference manifested by her when he discovered to her his identity. Intercourse had revived the tenderness of the woman as it dispelled the romance of the girl. Her affection she deemed was not a fancy, but a feeling now. Her heart had wandered and fluttered like a wounded bird seeking some friendly limb for support—some secluded shade for rest. She had found all, and she was happy. He was her future; she thought of none other—of nothing else. Was he as happy? He had seen the rough side of the world, and thought more rationally. His night was sleepless. In a moment of feeling he had asked and received the heart of a lovely being whom he felt he could always love. He knew she was more than anxious for a home where she was mistress, and he must prepare it—but how, or where? He was without means. It was humiliating to depend on hers; and this was the first alloy which stained and impoverished the bliss of his anticipations.

They met in the early morning. Her brow was clouded. None were up save themselves. Their interview was brief and explicit. He saw her in a new phase; she had business tact as well as an independent spirit.

"You must leave this morning," she said, "and immediately after breakfast. My sister has put the servants through the gantlet of inquiry. They knew what she wanted to know, and if inclination had been wanting, the fear of the stocks and torture would have compelled them to tell it to her. She has heard all she wished, to her heart's content. She was in my chamber until midnight, and, as usual, we have quarrelled. They have told her that I was constantly with you, and that I was in love with you, and a thousand things less true than this. She has upbraided me for entering your chamber when you were sick. She menacingly shook her finger at me, and almost threatened corporal punishment if I did not desist from your association. I shall be surprised if she does not insult you upon sight. Nothing will prevent it but fear of offending brother. This she would not do for less than half of his estate—for that, and even more, she is now playing. She pretends devotion to him; and they profess a mutual attachment. If this is sincere, it is the only love either of them ever felt. You must express to brother, the moment you see him, your determination to leave at once, and let it be decided. I don't know your means, but fear you will be embarrassed, as you are comparatively a stranger, in preparing a home for us. Give this to its address, and you will have all you want. Do not stop to look at it. Put it in your pocket—there. I shall not be at the table this morning; there would be unpleasantness for you, I am sure. I shall not see you again until you come to carry me to our own home, which shall be very soon. Despite this contretemps I am very happy; and now farewell. I will write to you; for to-day I mean to tell brother I am to be your wife. I know how he will receive it; but he knows me, and will more than simply approve it. He will wish to give us a wedding; but I will not receive it. Our marriage must be private. Again farewell!" Without a kiss they parted.

What were the reflections of this young man in his long morning's drive he will never forget. 'Twas fifty years ago; but they are green in memory yet, and will be until the grave yonder at the hill's foot, now opening to view, shall close over—close out this mortality, and all the memories which have imbittered life so long.



CHAPTER XXIII.

WHEN SUCCESSFUL, RIGHT; WHEN NOT, WRONG.

TERRITORIAL MISSISSIPPI—WILKINSON—ADAMS—JEFFERSON—WARREN—CLAIBORNE —UNION OF THE FACTIONS—COLONEL WOOD—CHEW—DAVID HUNT—JOSEPH DUNBAR—SOCIETY OF WESTERN MISSISSIPPI—POP VISITS OF A WEEK TO TEA—THE HORSE "TOM" AND HIS RIDER—OUR GRANDFATHER'S DAYS—AN EMIGRANT'S OUTFIT—MY SHARE—GEORGE POINDEXTER—A SUDDEN OPENING OF A COURT OF JUSTICE—THE CALDWELL AND GWINN DUEL—JACKSON'S OPPOSITION TO THE GOVERNOR OF MISSISSIPPI.

The Counties of Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne, and Warren are the river counties carved from the territory first settled in the State of Mississippi. The settlements along the Mississippi came up from New Orleans and went gradually up the stream. The English or American immigration to that river antedated but a very short time the war of the Revolution. The commencement of this war accelerated the settlement, many seeking an asylum from the horrors of war within the peaceful borders of this new and faraway land. The five counties above named constituted the County of Bourbon when the jurisdiction of the United States was extended to the territory. Very soon after it was divided into three counties—Wilkinson, Adams, and Jefferson; and subsequently, as the population increased, Claiborne and Warren were organized and established. These counties were named after John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, General Wilkinson, General Warren, who fell at Bunker's Hill, and General Ferdinand Claiborne, a distinguished citizen of the Territory. As a Territory, Mississippi extended to and comprised all the territory east to the Alabama River or to the Georgia line. In fact, there was no distinct eastern boundary until the admission of the State into the Union.

The leading men of the communities first formed in the five counties on the Mississippi were men of intelligence and substance. The very first were those who, to avoid the consequences of the war of the Revolution, had sought security here. Some, who conscientiously scrupled as to their duty in that conflict—unwilling to violate an allegiance which they felt they owed to the British crown, and equally unwilling to take part against their kindred and neighbors—had left their homes and come here. There were not a few of desperate character, who had come to avoid the penalties of the criminal laws of the countries from which they had fled. The descendants of all these constitute a large element of the population of these counties at the present moment. Some of these sustain the character of their ancestors in an eminent degree; others again are everything but what their parents were.

One feature of the country is different from that of almost any other portion of the United States. The descendants of the first pioneers are all there. There has been no emigration from the country. The consequence is that intermarriages have made nearly all the descendants of the pioneers relatives. In very many instances these marriages have united families whose ancient feuds are traditions of the country.

The opprobrium attached to the name of Tory (which was freely given to all who had either avoided the war by emigration, or who had remained and taken part against the colonies, and then, to avoid the disgrace they had earned at home, and also to escape the penalties of the laws of confiscation, had brought here their property) induced most families to observe silence respecting their early history, or the causes which brought them to the country, and especially to their children. This was true even as late as forty years ago. There were then in these counties many families of wealth and polish, whose ancestors were obnoxious on account of this damaging imputation; and it was remembered as a tradition carefully handed down by those who at a later day came to the country from the neighborhoods left by these families, and in most instances for crimes of a much more heinous character than obedience to conscientious allegiance to the Government. But success had made allegiance treachery, and rebellion allegiance. Success too often sanctifies acts which failure would have made infamous.

"Be it so! though right trampled be counted for wrong, And that pass for right which is evil victorious, Here, where virtue is feeble and villany strong, 'Tis the cause, not the fate of a cause, that is glorious."

The inviting character of the soil and climate induced (as soon as a settled form of government promised protection) rapid emigration to the country. This came from every part of the United States. Those coming from the same State usually located as nearly as practicable in the same neighborhood, and to this day many of these are designated by the name of the country or State from which they came. There are in the County of Jefferson two neighborhoods known to-day as the Maryland settlement and the Scotch settlement, and the writer has many memories—very pleasant ones, too—of happy hours in the long past spent with some of nature's noblemen who were inhabitants of these communities.

Who that has ever sojourned for a time in this dear old county, does not remember the generous and elegant hospitality of Colonel Wood, Joseph Dunbar, and Mr. Chew; nor must I forget that truly noble-hearted man, David Hunt, the founder of Oakland College, whose charitable munificence was lordly in character, but only commensurate with his soul and great wealth. It seems invidious to individualize the hospitality of this community, where all were so distinguished; but I cannot forbear my tribute of respect—my heart's gratitude—to Wood and Dunbar. I came among these people young and a stranger, poor, and struggling to get up in the world. These two opened their hearts, their doors, and their purses to me; but it was not alone to me. Should all who have in like circumstances been the recipients of their generous and unselfish kindnesses record them as I am doing, the story of their munificent generosity and open, exalted hospitality would seem an Eastern romance.

They have been long gathered to their fathers; but so long as any live who knew them, their memories will be green and cherished. In this neighborhood was built the first Protestant Episcopal Church in the State, and here worshipped the Woods, Dunbars, MacGruders, Shields, Greens, and others composing the settlement. The descendants of these families still remain in that neighborhood, where anterior to the late war was accumulated great wealth. The topography of the country is beautifully picturesque with hills and dales, and all exceedingly fertile. These hills are a continuation of the formation commencing at Vicksburg, and extending to Bayou Sara. They are peculiar, and seem to have been thrown over the primitive formation by some extraordinary convulsion, and are of a sandy loam. No marine shells are found in them; but occasionally trees and leaves are exhumed at great depths. No water is found in this loam by digging or boring; but after passing through this secondary formation, the humus or soil of the primitive is reached—the leaves and limbs of trees superincumbent on this indicating its character—then the sand and gravel, and very soon water, as in other primitive formations. These hills extend back from the river in an irregular line from ten to fifteen miles, and are distinguished by a peculiar growth of timber and smaller shrubs.

The magnolias and poplars, with linn, red oak, and black walnut, are the principal trees. There is no pine, but occasionally an enormous sassafras, such as are found in no other section on this continent. There is no stone, and no running water except streams having their rise in the interior, passing through these hills to their debouchment into the river. The entire formation is a rich compost, and in great part soluble in water; this causes them to wash, and when not cultivated with care, they cut into immense gullies and ravines. They are in some places almost mountainous in height and exceedingly precipitous. They are designated at different localities by peculiar names—as the Walnut Hills, Grand Hills, Petit Gulf Hills, Natchez Hills, and St. Catherine Hills. In primitive forest they presented a most imposing appearance.

Large and lofty timber covered from base to summit these hills, increasing their grandeur by lifting to their height the immense vines found in great abundance all over them. The dense wild cane, clothing as a garment the surface of every acre, went to the very tops of the highest hills, adding a strange feature to hill scenery. The river only approaches these hills in a few places and always at right angles, and is by them deflected, leaving them always on the outer curve of the semicircle or bend in the stream. From these points and from the summit of these cliffs the view is very fine, stretching often in many places far up and down the river and away over the plain west of the river, which seems to repose upon its lap as far as the eye can view. The scene is sombre, but grand, especially when lighted by the evening's declining sun. The plain is unbroken by any elevation: the immense trees rise to a great height, and all apparently to the same level—the green foliage in summer strangely commingling with the long gray moss which festoons from the upper to the lower limbs, waving as a garland in the fitful wind; and the dead gray of the entire scene in winter is sad and melancholy as a vast cemetery. There is a gloomy grandeur in this, which is only rivalled by that of the sea, when viewed from a towering height, lazily lolling in the quiet of a summer evening's calm.

To encounter the perils of a pioneer to such a country required men of iron nerve. Such, with women who dared to follow them, to meet and to share every danger and fearlessly to overcome every obstacle to their enterprise, coming from every section of the United States, formed communities and introduced the arts and industry of civilization, to subdue these forests and compel the soil to yield its riches for the use of man. From these had grown a population, fifty years ago, combining the daring and noble traits of human character which lie at the base of a grand and chivalrous civilization. Such men were the leaders and controllers of the society at that time, assuming a uniform and homogeneous character throughout the western portion of the State. The invasion of New Orleans had endangered this section, and to a man they rallied to meet the foe. More than half the male population of that portion of the State were at New Orleans and in the trenches on the memorable 8th of January, 1815. Their conduct upon that occasion was distinguished, and won from General Jackson high commendation. The charge of the Mississippi cavalry, commanded by General Thomas Hinds, the General, in his report of the battle, said, excited the admiration of one army and the astonishment of the other.

This campaign brought together the younger portion of the male population of the State, and under such circumstances as to make them thoroughly to know each other. These men were the prominent personages of the State forty years ago, and they formed the character of the population and inspired the gallantry and chivalry of spirit which so distinguished the troops of Mississippi in the late unfortunate civil war—in all, but in none so conspicuously, in this spirit and nobleness of soul and sentiment, as in the characters of Jefferson Davis and John A. Quitman—foremost to take up arms in the war with Mexico, resigning high positions for the duties of the soldier, to follow the flag, and avenge the insults of a presumptuous foe.

The society of Western Mississippi, forty years ago, was distinguished above any other in the Union, for a bold, generous, and frank character, which lent a peculiar charm. It was polished, yet it was free and unreserved, full of the courtesies of life, with the rough familiarity of a coarser people. The sports of the turf were pursued with enthusiastic ardor. The chase for the fox and the red deer pervaded almost universally the higher walks of life. The topography of the country was such as to make these, in the fearless rides they compelled, extremely hazardous, familiarizing their votaries with danger and inspiring fearlessness and daring. Almost every gentleman had his hunting steed and kennel of hounds; and at the convivial dinner which always followed the hunt, he could talk horse and hound with the zest of a groom or whipper-in, and at the evening soiree emulate D'Orsay or Chesterfield in the polish of his manners and the elegance of his conversation. This peculiarity was not alone confined to the gentlemen. The ladies were familiar with every household duty, and attended to them: they caught from their husbands and brothers the open frankness of their bearing and conversation, a confident, yet not a bold or offensive bearing in their homes and in society, with a polished refinement and an elevation of sentiment in all they said or did, which made them to me the most charming and lovely of their sex—and which made Mississippi forty years ago the most desirable place of rural residence in the Union.

The conduct of these people was universally lofty and honorable. A fawning sycophancy or little meannesses were unknown; social intercourse was unrestrained because all were honorable, and that reserve which so plainly speaks suspicion of your company was never seen. There was no habit of canvassing the demerits of a neighbor or his affairs. The little backbitings and petty slanders which so frequently mar the harmony of communities, was never indulged or tolerated. Homogeneous in its character, the population was harmonious. United in the same pursuits, the emulation was kind and honorable. The tone and purity was superior to low and debasing vices, and these and their concomitants were unknown. There were few dram-shops or places of low resort, and these only for the lower and more debased of the community. Fortunately, fifty years ago, there were but few such characters, no meetings for gaming or debauchery, and the social communion of the people was chaste and cordial at their hospitable and elegant homes.

A peculiar feature of the society of the river counties was the perfect freedom of manners, and yet the high polish, the absence of neighborhood discord, and the strict regard for personal and pecuniary rights: a sort of universal confidence pervaded every community, and in every transaction personal honor supplied the place of litigation. Strangers of respectable appearance were not met with apparent suspicion, but with hospitable kindness; and especially was this the case toward young men who professedly came in search of a new home and new fields for the exercise of their abilities professionally, or for the more profitable employment of any means they might to have brought to the country. Now, at seventy years of age, and after the experience of half a century of men and society in almost every portion of the Union, I can truthfully say, nowhere have I ever met so truthful, so generous, and so hospitable a people as the planters and gentlemen of the river counties of Mississippi, fifty years ago—nowhere women more refined, yet affable; so modest, yet frank and open in their social intercourse; so dignified, without austerity; so chaste and pure in sentiment and action, without prudery or affectation, as the mothers, wives, and daughters of those planters.

The Bench and the Bar were distinguished for ability and purity; many of these have left national reputations—all of them honorable names to their families and profession. Nor were the physicians less distinguished. The names of Provan, McPheters, Cartwright, Ogden, Parker, Cox, and Dennie will be remembered when all who were their compeers shall have passed away, as ornaments to their profession. There is one other, still living at a very advanced age, who was perhaps the superior of any I have mentioned—James Metcalf, who not only was and is an ornament to his profession, but to human nature. He is one of the few surviving monuments of the men of fifty years ago. His life has been eminently useful and eminently pure. He has lived to see his children emulating his example as virtuous and useful citizens, above reproach, and an honor to their parents.

There was not, perhaps, in the Union, a stronger Bar in any four counties than here—Childs, Gibbs, Worley, George Adams, (the father of Generals Daniel and Wirt Adams,) Robert H. Adams, (who died a Senator in the United States Congress when it was an honor to fill the position,) Lyman Harding, W.B. Griffith, John A. Quitman, Joseph E. Davis, (the elder brother of Jefferson Davis,) Thomas B. Reid, Robert J. and Duncan Walker. Time has swept on, and but one of all these remains in life—Robert J. Walker. Edward Tuner, then the presiding judge of the District Court, was a Kentuckian. Four brothers immigrated to the country about the same time. Two remained at Natchez, one at Bayou Sara, in Louisiana, and the fourth went to New Orleans. All became distinguished: three as lawyers, who honored the Bench in their respective localities, and the fourth as a merchant and planter accumulated an immense fortune.

The planters almost universally resided upon their plantations, and their habits were rural and temperate. Their residences were unostentatious, but capacious and comfortable, with every attachment which could secure comfort or contribute to their pleasure. The plantation houses for the slaves were arranged conveniently together, constituting with the barns, stabling, and gin-houses a neat village.

The grounds about the residences were covered with forest-trees carefully preserved; shrubs and flowers were cultivated with exquisite taste among these and over the garden grounds around and beyond them. Social intercourse was of the most cordial and unrestrained character. It was entirely free from that embarrassing ceremony which in urban communities makes it formal, stiff, and a mere ceremony. It was characterized by high-breeding, which made it not only unrestrained but polished, cultivating the heart and the manners to feeling and refinement; making society what it should be—a source of enjoyment and heart-happiness, free from jealousies, rivalries, and regrets.

The distances from plantation to plantation were such as to preclude visiting as a simple call; consequently calls were for spending a day to dine, or an evening to tea, to a rural ride, or some amusement occupying at least half a day, and not unfrequently half a week. Every planter built his house, if not with a view to architectural symmetry and beauty, at least with ample room to entertain his friends, come they in ever such numbers, and his hospitality was commensurate with his house—as capacious and as unpretending. It was the universal habit for both ladies and gentlemen to ride on horseback. The beauty of the forest, through which ran the roads and by-ways—its fragrant blooms—its dark, dense foliage, invited to such exercise; and social reunions were frequently accomplished in the cool shades of these grand old forests by parties ruralizing on horseback when the sun was low, and the shade was sweet, which led them to unite and visit, as unexpectedly as they were welcome, some neighbor, where without ceremony the evening was spent in rural and innocent amusement—a dance, a game of whist or euchre—until weary with these; and on the arrival of the hour for rest they left, and galloped home in the soft moonlight, respectively flushed with health-giving exercise, and only sufficiently fatigued to be able to sleep well.

Nowhere does a splendid woman appear to more advantage than on horseback. Trained from early girlhood to horseback exercise, she learns to sit fearlessly and control absolutely the most fiery steed, to accommodate herself to his every motion, and in his movements to display the ease and grace of this control and confidence. Nowhere on earth were to be found more splendid women or more intrepid riders than the daughters of the planters of Mississippi fifty years ago. Each was provided for her especial use with an animal of high blood, finished form, and well-trained gait. Daily intercourse familiarized rider and horse, and an attachment grew up between them that was always manifested by both upon meeting. It was said by Napoleon that his parade-horse knew and recognized him, and bore himself with more pride and spirit when he was in the saddle than when mounted by any other. Whoever has accustomed himself to treat kindly his saddle-horse, and to suffer no one but himself to ride him, can well understand this. I remember a horse and his rider among my early acquaintances on the banks of the Mississippi, whose mutual attachment was so remarkable as to excite the wonder of strangers. That rider was a true woman—kind, gentle, and yet full of spirit. Affectionate as she was fearless, she had importuned her brother for the gift of a fine young blood-horse, which he gave her upon the condition that she would ride him. She was an experienced rider, and promised.

After a few days of close intimacy, she ventured to mount him. To the astonishment of every one he was perfectly docile, and moved away gently, but with an air of pride, as if conscious of the precious burden he bore. From that time forward no one was permitted to ride him but the lady, who visited him every day in his stall, and always carried him a loaf of bread or a cup of sugar, and never mounted him without going to his front and holding a conversation with pretty Tom, stroking his head with her gentle hand, and giving him a lump of sugar or a biscuit. He was allowed the liberty of the yard, to graze on the young sweet grass of the front lawn, and luxuriate in the shade of the princely trees which grew over it. One or many ladies might go out upon the gallery and remain unnoticed by Tom. The moment, however, that his mistress came, and he saw her or heard her voice, he would neigh in recognition of her presence, and bound immediately forward to the house, manifesting in his eye and manner great pleasure. This was kindly returned by the lady always descending the steps and gently stroking his head, which he would affectionately rest against her person. He would follow her over the yard like a pet spaniel; but he would do this for no one else. He knew her voice, and would obey it, and bound to her call with the alacrity of a child. His pleasure at her coming to mount him, when saddled for a ride, was so marked as to excite astonishment. He would carefully place himself for her convenience, and stand quiet after she was in the saddle until her riding-skirt was adjusted and her foot well in the stirrup, and then she would only say, "Now, Tom!" when he would arch his neck and move off with a playful bound, and curvet about the grounds until she would lay her hand upon his mane, and, gently patting his neck, say, "There, Tom!" Then the play was over, and he went gallantly forward, obediently and kindly as a reasoning being.

The young reader will excuse this garrulity of age: it is its privilege; and I am writing my recollections of bygone years, and none are more pleasant than those which recall to me this great woman—the delightful hours spent in her society at the hospitable home of her family. She still lives, an aged woman, respected by all, and honored in the great merits of her children. Like Tom, they were affectionately trained; and like Tom, they were dutiful in their conduct, and live to perpetuate her intelligence and the noble attributes of her glorious heart. Should these lines ever meet her eye, she will remember the writer, and recall the delightful rides and happy hours spent together a long time ago. We are both in the winter of life, time's uses are almost ended, and all that is blissful now are the memories of the past. Dear Fannie, close the book and your eyes, turn back to fifty years ago, and to the memories common to us both, give the heart one brief moment to these, and, as now I do, drop a tear to them.

The population in the four river counties, at the time of which I write, was much more dense than of any other portion of the State: still there were numerous settlements in different parts of the State quite populous. That upon Pearl River, of these, perhaps, was most populous; but those eastern settlements were constituted of a different people: most of them were from the poorer districts of Georgia and the Carolinas. True to the instincts of the people from whom they were descended, they sought as nearly as possible just such a country as that from which they came, and were really refugees from a growing civilization consequent upon a denser population and its necessities. They were not agriculturists in a proper sense of the term; true, they cultivated in some degree the soil, but it was not the prime pursuit of these people, nor was the location sought for this purpose. They desired an open, poor, pine country, which forbade a numerous population.

Here they reared immense herds of cattle, which subsisted exclusively upon the coarse grass and reeds which grew abundantly among the tall, long-leafed pine, and along the small creeks and branches numerous in this section. Through these almost interminable pine-forests the deer were abundant, and the canebrakes full of bears. They combined the pursuits of hunting and stock-minding, and derived support and revenue almost exclusively from these. They were illiterate and careless of the comforts of a better reared, better educated, and more intelligent people. They were unable to employ for each family a teacher, and the population was too sparse to collect the children in a neighborhood school. These ran wild, half naked, unwashed and uncombed, hatless and bonnetless through the woods and grass, followed by packs of lean and hungry curs, hallooing and yelling in pursuit of rabbits and opossums, and were as wild as the Indians they had supplanted, and whose pine-bark camps were yet here and there to be seen, where temporarily stayed a few strolling, degraded families of Choctaws.

Some of these pioneers had been in the country many years, were surrounded with descendants, men and women, the growth of the country, rude, illiterate, and independent. Along the margins of the streams they found small strips of land of better quality than the pine-forests afforded. Here they grew sufficient corn for bread and a few of the coarser vegetables, and in blissful ignorance enjoyed life after the manner they loved. The country gave character to the people: both were wild and poor; both were sui generis in appearance and production, and both seeming to fall away from the richer soil and better people of the western portion of the State.

Between them and the inhabitants of the river counties there was little communication and less sympathy; and I fancy no country on earth of the same extent presented a wider difference in soil and population, especially one speaking the same language and professing the same religion. Time, and the pushing a railroad through this eastern portion of the State, have effected vast changes for the better, and among these quaintly called piney-woods people now are families of wealth and cultivation. But in the main they are yet rude and illiterate.

Not ten years since, I spent some time in Eastern Mississippi. I met at his home a gentleman I had made the acquaintance of in New Orleans. He is a man of great worth and fine intelligence: his grandfather had emigrated to the country in 1785 from Emanuel County, Georgia. His grandson says: "He carried with him a small one-horse cart pulled by an old gray mare, one feather bed, an oven, a frying-pan, two pewter dishes, six pewter plates, as many spoons, a rifle gun, and three deer-hounds. He worried through the Creek Nation, extending then from the Oconee River to the Tombigbee.

"After four months of arduous travel he found his way to Leaf River, and there built his cabin; and with my grandmother, and my father, who was born on the trip in the heart of the Creek Nation, commenced to make a fortune. He found on a small creek of beautiful water a little bay land, and made his little field for corn and pumpkins upon that spot: all around was poor, barren pine woods, but he said it was a good range for stock; but he had not an ox or cow on the face of the earth. The truth is, it looked like Emanuel County. The turpentine smell, the moan of the winds through the pine-trees, and nobody within fifty miles of him, was too captivating a concatenation to be resisted, and he rested here.

"About five years after he came, a man from Pearl River was driving some cattle by to Mobile, and gave my grandfather two cows to help him drive his cattle. It was over one hundred miles, and you would have supposed it a dear bargain; but it turned out well, for the old man in about six weeks got back with six other head of cattle. How or where, or from whom he got them is not one of the traditions of the family. From these he commenced to rear a stock which in time became large.

"My father and his brothers and sisters were getting large enough to help a little; but my grandfather has told me that my father was nine years old before he ever tasted a piece of bacon or pork. When my father was eighteen years of age he went with a drove of beef cattle to New Orleans. He first went to Baton Rouge, thence down the river. He soon sold out advantageously; for he came home with a young negro man and his wife, some money, and my mother, whom he had met and married on the route. Well, from those negroes, and eight head of cattle, all the family have come to have something.

"I was born nine months after that trip, and grew up, as father had done before me, on the banks of that little creek. I doubt if there ever was a book in my grandfather's house. I certainly never remember to have seen one there, and I was sixteen years old when he died. I think I was very nearly that old before I ever saw any woman but those of the family, and I know I was older than that before ever I wore shoes or pants. Nearly every year father went to Mobile, or Natchez, or New Orleans. The first time I ever knew my mother had a brother, I was driving up the cows, and a tall, good-looking man overtook me in the road and asked where my father lived. I remember I told him, 'At home.' He thought it was impudence, but it was ignorance. However, he was quite communicative and friendly.

"That night, after the family had gone to bed, I heard him tell mother her father was dead, and that he had disinherited her for running off and marrying father. I did not know what this meant; but the next day father came and told mother that her brother wanted to be kind to her, and had proposed to give him a thousand dollars out of the estate of her father, if he and she would take it and sign off. That was the word. I shall not forget, so long as I live, my mother's looks as she walked up to father and said: 'Don't you do it, John. John, I say, don't you do it.' Uncle had gone down to grandfather's, and when he came back, mother had his horse saddled at the fence. She met him at the door, and said: 'You don't come in here. There's your beast; mount him, and go. I am not such a fool as my John. I was raised in Louisiana, and I remember hearing my father say that all he hated in the laws was that a man could not do with his property, when he died, what he pleased. I haven't forgot that. I have not seen nor heard from any of you for fifteen years, and never should, if you hadn't come here to try to cheat me.'

"I was scared, and father was scared; for we knew there was danger when mother's nap was up. Uncle did not reply to mother, but said: 'John, you can sign off.'

"'No, John can't; and I tell you John shan't! so now do you just mount that horse and leave.'

"As she said this she lifted the old rifle out of the rack over the door and rubbed her hand over the barrel to get the sight clear. 'I am not going to tell you to go any more.'

"It was not necessary—uncle went; but he kept looking back until he was at least a quarter of a mile from the house. Mother turned to father and said: 'Now, John, you go after my share of father's truck, and go quick.' He did as she bid him: everybody about the house did that. Well, he was gone three weeks, and came home with six thousand dollars, which he had taken for mother's share; but she said she knew he had been cheated.

"Every dollar of that money remained in the house until I got married and came off here. I got two thousand of it, one negro, and two hundred head of cattle. I had promised my wife's people that I would come and live with them. I am glad I did. I was twenty-one years old when I learned my letters. I have been lucky; have educated my children, and they have educated me, and are talking about running me for Congress. Well, my friend, I believe I could be elected; but that is a small part of the business. I should be of no service to the State, and only show my own ignorance. Come, Sue, can't you give the gentleman some music? Give me my fiddle, and I will help you."

Sue was a beautiful and interesting girl of nineteen, only a short time returned from a four-years residence at the famous Patapsco Institute. She had music in her soul, and the art to pour it out through her fingers' ends. It was an inheritance from her extraordinary father, as any judge of music would have said, who had heard the notes melting from that old black violin, on that rainy night in December. There are not many such instances of men springing from such humble origin in Eastern Mississippi; but this is not a solitary case.

There emigrated from different States, North and South, at a remote period in the brief history of this new country, several young men of talent and great energy, who not only distinguished themselves, but shed lustre upon the State. Among the first of these was George Poindexter, from Virginia; Rankin, from Georgia, (but born in Virginia;) Thomas B. Reid, from Kentucky; Stephen Duncan, and James Campbell Wilkins, from Pennsylvania. The most remarkable of these was George Poindexter. He was a lawyer by profession and a Jeffersonian Republican in politics. Very early in life he became the leader of that party in the State, and was sent to Congress as its sole representative. Very soon he obtained an enviable reputation in that body as a statesman and a powerful debater. His mind was logical and strong; his conception was quick and acute; his powers of combination and application were astonishing; his wit was pointed and caustic, and his sarcasm overwhelming. Unusually quick to perceive the weaker parts of an opponent's argument, his ingenuity would seize these and turn them upon him with a point and power not unfrequently confounding and destroying the effect of all he had urged. From Congress to the Gubernatorial chair of the State was the next step in his political career, and it was in this capacity that he rendered the most signal service to the State. As a lawyer, he was well aware of the wants of the State in statutory provisions for the protection of the people. These were wisely recommended, and, through his exertions, enacted into laws.

The several Governments which had claimed and held jurisdiction over the Territory of Mississippi had issued grants to companies and individuals for large tracts of country in different portions of the State. These grants had not been respected by the succeeding Governments, or else the records had been lost or carried from the country for a time; hence very many conflicting claims made insecure the titles of the proprietors now settled upon these tracts, and were fruitful of endless litigation. To remedy this evil, a statute was recommended by Governor Poindexter and enacted into a law, compelling suit to be commenced by all adverse claimants by a certain day. This effectually cured the evil, and a suit to establish titles is now very rare in Mississippi. As a judge he was able, prompt, impartial, unrivalled in talent, and, at the same time, unsurpassed by any lawyer in the State in legal learning. His administration of the laws was eminently successful. The country was new, with the exception of a few counties, and, as in all new and frontier countries, there were many bad and desperate men. To purge these from society it was necessary that the criminal laws should be strictly enforced. To do so required decision and sternness in the character and conduct of the judges. Very soon after Poindexter was placed on the Bench he manifested these attributes in an eminent degree.

The stern, impartial justice administered to these lawless men, soon created quite a sensation with the class to which they belonged, and threats were freely thrown out against his life; but these had no effect in intimidating him, or in changing his conduct. He went on fearlessly to administer the law, which at that time, instead of imprisonment, inflicted severe corporal punishments for many crimes most common in a new country. These were branding with a hot iron in the hand or on the cheek, whipping on the bare back, and public exposure in the pillory. Not a court went by without some one of these punishments being inflicted upon a male malefactor. Public opinion had begun to look upon these penalties as barbarous, and in very many cases great sympathy was manifested for the culprit.

This sentiment frequently operated with the jury, who were disposed to deal leniently with the accused. This was resisted by Poindexter, and effectually—for so clearly did he impress the minds of jurors with what was their duty, that few escaped where the proof was sufficient to convict; and once pronounced guilty, the extreme penalty of the law was surely awarded. The beneficial influence of this stern and inflexible administration of the laws was soon manifest, and the more orderly of the population unhesitatingly gave their approbation and support to the judge. He sustained in court the dignity of the Bench, restraining alike the license of the Bar and the turbulence of the populace. To do this, he was frequently compelled to exercise to the full the powers of his office.

An amusing anecdote is related of him in connection with the discharge of these duties. When holding court at one time in Natchez, he had sent to jail a turbulent and riotous individual, who could in no other way be restrained. This fellow, once incarcerated, professed great contrition, and humbly petitioned for release, but Poindexter had ordered the sheriff to keep him for a week, and could not be moved from his position. At the expiration of the week he was released, and though he was quiet and orderly, he remained lurking about town and the court-room until the adjournment of court. He watched his opportunity, and meeting the judge upon the street, commenced abusing him roundly; finally telling him he had waited purposely for the opportunity of whipping him, and that he intended then and there to do so. Poindexter, perceiving the sheriff on the opposite side of the street, called to him, and ordered him to open court then and there, which in all due form the sheriff proceeded to do. The bully was startled, and the judge, perceiving this, remarked to him authoritatively, "Now, you scoundrel, be off with yourself, or I will put you in jail for one year!"—when the blackguard speedily decamped, to the infinite amusement of the crowd upon the street.

Governor Poindexter found at Natchez, and a few other localities, strong opposition from the Federal party, then constituted almost entirely of emigrants from Western Pennsylvania, with a sprinkling from the more Eastern States. The party was small, but made up for this deficiency in numbers with zeal and violence. As with all heated and hating partisans, their malevolence was principally directed toward the leaders of the opposing party.

Poindexter was the acknowledged leader of the Republican or Jeffersonian party, and concentrated on himself the hatred of one and the adoration of the other party. His triumphs were complete and overwhelming in every election. He was not scrupulous in the use of terms when speaking of his enemies. These anathemas, darting in the caustic wit and voluble sarcasm so peculiarly his, went to the mark, and kindled hatred into fury. It was determined to get rid of him. His denunciations of Abijah Hunt, a prominent merchant and leading Federalist, being more pointed and personal than toward any other, it seemed incumbent on him to challenge Poindexter to mortal combat—an arbitrament for the settlement of personal difficulties more frequently resorted to at that period than at the present time. They met, and Hunt was killed. But such was the violence of feeling with his party friends, that they were determined Poindexter should not escape unscathed, and he was denounced as having fired before the word agreed upon in the terms of the conflict were fully enunciated. This, however, effected but little, and he continued the idol of his party.

Unfortunately, that bane of genius, dissipation, was poisoning his habits and undermining his reputation. It seems that exalted genius feeds upon excitement, and in some shape must have it. The excitement of active business at the Bar or in the halls of legislation must of necessity be temporary, and the relaxation which follows this is terrible to the excitable temperament of ardent genius. It craves restlessly its natural food, and in the absence of all others, it seeks for this in the intoxicating bowl or the gaming-table. How many brilliant examples of this fatal fact does memory call up from the untimely grave? These, culled from my seniors when I was a youth, from my compeers in early manhood, from the youth I have seen grow up about me, make a host whose usefulness has been lost to the world. Well may the poet sing in melancholy verse that genius is a fatal gift. It dazzles as a meteor with its superhuman light, and as soon fades into darkness, lighting its path with a blaze of glory, astonishing and delighting the world, but consuming itself with its own fire.

Poindexter had won greatly upon the affections of the people of the Territory, in the active part he had taken, in connection with General Ferdinand Claiborne and General Hinds, in stimulating the people to prepare to meet the exigencies of the war of 1812 with Great Britain. Her eastern territory was exposed to the inroads of the Creek Indians, a large and warlike tribe, who were hostile to the United States, and were in league with the English, and being armed by them. The Choctaws and Chickasaws were on her northern frontier, and were threatening. An invasion by the way of New Orleans by English troops was hourly expected. It required great energy and activity to anticipate and guard against these threatening dangers. Poindexter employed his time and his influence to prepare the people to act efficiently and at a moment's warning. When the threatened invasion became a reality, and General Jackson was descending the river with troops as the American commander, and when the militia were on the ground, and nothing remained to be done in Mississippi, he promptly repaired to the scene of action and volunteered his services to Jackson, who, accepting them, placed him on his staff as a volunteer aide.

In this capacity he continued to serve until the end of the campaign and the termination of the war. It was to him the negro or soldier brought the celebrated countersign of "Beauty and booty," found on the battle-field, and which he carried to General Jackson. His enemies laid hold of this incident and perverted it slanderously to his injury, by asserting the note to be a forgery of his, done for the purpose of winning favor with the General, and to cast odium upon an enemy incapable of issuing such an infamous countersign.

Those who have read the history of the various strongholds of the French in Spain which were stormed during the Peninsular war, will remember these were the same troops and the same commanders, who were quite capable of the excesses in New Orleans that they committed in Spain. This slander was never traced; but there were those remaining who, when the breach occurred between General Jackson and Governor Poindexter, asserted that General Jackson believed it, and who circulated industriously the contemptible slander. Poindexter was an active supporter of General Jackson's first election. He believed him honest and capable, and deserving of the reward of the Presidency for his services to the country. He thought, too, that he would bring back the Government to its early simplicity and purity, and administer it upon strictly republican principles. He, with very many of the Jeffersonian school, felt it had diverged from the true track.

These people were opposed to protective tariffs, internal improvements by the United States Government within the limits of a State without the consent of the State, and a national bank, deeming all these measures unconstitutional. The constitutionality of the bank had been affirmed by the Supreme Court, and Poindexter had acquiesced in the decision. Nevertheless, as a senator from the State of Mississippi, he was in harmony with the Administration of Jackson, until Jackson began to send his personal friends and especial favorites from Tennessee to fill the national offices located in Mississippi. Poindexter felt this as an insult to his State, and in the case of Gwinn's appointment as register of the Land-Office at Clinton, Mississippi, he opposed the nomination when sent to the Senate. He was successful in having it rejected.

He urged that though the office was national, and every man in the nation was eligible to fill it, yet it was due to the State that the incumbent should be selected from her own people, provided she could furnish one in every way qualified, and that it was a reflection upon the people of his State to fill the offices within her borders with aliens to her soil and interests—strangers to her people, with no motive to be obliging and respectful to them in the discharge of the duties of the office; that the offices belonged to the people and not to the President, and it was respectful to the people of a State to tender to her people these offices, as had been heretofore the custom; that simply being the President's favorite was not a qualification for office, and this departure from the established usages of former Administrations was a dangerous precedent, and would seem to establish a property in the office, belonging to the President.

This opposition enraged Jackson, who denounced Poindexter and persisted in his determination to give the office to Gwinn. In this he finally succeeded; but most unfortunately for Gwinn, for it embroiled him in quarrels with the citizens of the State. A duel with Judge Caldwell was the consequence, in which both fell. Caldwell died immediately; Gwinn survived to suffer intensely for a few months, when death relieved him.

The people of Mississippi were intensely devoted to General Jackson, and in the mad fury of partisan zeal forgot everything but party, nor permitted themselves for a moment to inquire into the official conduct of any political partisan, especially that of the President. Poindexter had been unhappy in his domestic relations. He had separated from his wife. He charged her with infidelity; forgot his affection for his children, and threw them off, because he doubted their paternity. In the agony of mind consequent upon this he became desperate, and for years was reckless in his dissipations. His wife's friends were respectable and influential. They, with every personal and political enemy he had, united in ascribing to him all the blame in this matter.

The northern portion of the State had been acquired from the Indians, and a population unacquainted with Poindexter or with his services to the State was crowding into the new Territory in such numbers as threatened politically to rule the State. These came principally from the West and South, and were eminently Jacksonian in their politics. Many young aspirants for fame had sprung up in different sections of the State, and these were in no way averse to seeing an old and talented politician shelved; and they joined in the huzza for Jackson and down with his opponents.

Seeing and feeling the tide setting in so strongly as to sweep everything before it except what comported with the views and wishes of General Jackson, and feeling also that he, with the minority in the Senate, could be of no possible use to the country, and beginning to experience the pressure of age, at the conclusion of his senatorial term he made no effort to be re-elected. He retired, disgusted with politics forever, and temporarily from the State. Subsequently an accident fractured both his legs below the knee, and for some years he was unable to walk. Prior to this event he had married a Boston lady—following the example of his divorced wife, who had married a Boston gentleman. With this lady he lived affectionately and happily. He located in Lexington, Kentucky, where he remained only a few years.

It was here I saw him, at his own house, for the last time—spending an evening in company with Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John J. Crittenden, and the celebrated actress, Mrs. Drake. I enjoyed the hospitality, the wit, and a game of whist with him. He soon became weary of Lexington. His heart was in Mississippi, and thither he returned, old and worn. He took up his residence at Jackson, where in a short time he died, and is buried in the beautiful cemetery at that place. While paying a pilgrimage to the grave of a dear boy who died in defence of Jackson in 1866, I saw and paused at the modest stone which marks the grave of Governor Poindexter. Memory was busy with the past. My heart was sad. I had just looked upon the sod which covered my boy, and, thinking of the hours passed, long years ago, with him who was sleeping at my feet, I could not repress the tear due and dear to memory.

Few men have served more faithfully and more efficiently a people than did George Poindexter the people of Mississippi. His talents were indisputably of the first order, and, whatever may have been his short comings morally, none can say his political life was stained with selfishness or corruption. Every trust reposed in him was faithfully and ably discharged, and to him, more than to any of her public servants, is she indebted for the proud position she occupied before the tyrants' heel was upon her neck.

Few men can rise superior to the crushing effects of domestic infelicity: man's hopes, man's happiness, all centred in her whom he has chosen as the companion of his life. His love selects, and his love centres in her. The struggle for fortune, for happiness, for fame, is for her; she shares every success, every misfortune; and when she is kind and affectionate, there he meets with the true manliness of an honest and devoted heart. She smooths the brow of disappointment and sorrow, rejoices in his success, and, in the fulness of her confidence and affection, aids and encourages his exertions and enterprises. This reconciles him to life, and life's cares, troubles, and joys. His spirit is buoyant, come what may; for there is an angel at home, and there is happiness with her: she is the mother of his children; she unites with him in love and exertions for the benefit of these. They are one in these, and with every birth there is a new link to bind and gladden two hearts. Without the virtuous love of woman, man is a miserable being, worthless to himself and useless to his kind. But when the heart's wealth is given to one who has no sympathy with it, and gives only in return coldness and hate; who betrays every confidence and disappoints every hope; who is only happy when he is miserable, and refuses the generous aid a wife owes to his exertions; who rejoices in his failures, and intrigues to produce them, and weeps over his successes with the bitterness of disappointment; who hates her offspring, because they resemble their father; who spurns his caresses, and turns away from his love—then life's hopes are blighted, and all is black before. His energies die out with his hopes; the goading thought is eternally present; he shrinks away from society, and in solitude and obscurity hides him from the world—which too often condemns him as the architect of all his misery.

"Oh, a true woman is a treasure beyond price, but a false one the basest of counterfeits."



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE SILVER-TONGUED ORATOR.

JOHN A. QUITMAN—ROBERT J. WALKER—ROBERT H. ADAMS—FROM A COOPER-SHOP TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE—BANK MONOPOLY—NATCHEZ FENCIBLES—SCOTT IN MEXICO—THOMAS HALL—SARGENT S. PRENTISS—VICKSBURG—SINGLE-SPEECH HAMILTON—GOD-INSPIRED ORATORY—DRUNK BY ABSORPTION—KILLING A TAILOR—DEFENCE OF WILKINSON.

John A. Quitman came to Mississippi in early life. He was a native of the State of New York; had, at first, selected a location in Ohio, but, not being pleased, he determined on coming South, and selected Natchez for his future home. His father was a Prussian; a minister of the German Lutheran Church, and a very learned man. He had preached in seven kingdoms, and in every one in the language of the country. He came to the State of New York when young, and was the bearer of the recognition of the independence of the United States by Frederick the Great, of Prussia. He settled in one of the interior counties of New York, where was born and reared his distinguished son.

When young Quitman came to Natchez, he found the Bar a strong one; but determined to follow the profession of law, and after a short time spent in the office of William B. Griffith, he was admitted to the Bar, and opened an office. Regardless of the overwhelming competition, his open, frank manners soon made him friends, and the stern honesty of his character won the confidence of every one. In a short time, he married the only daughter of Henry Turner, a wealthy planter, and was received into copartnership by William B. Griffith, a lawyer of great ability and eminence, then in full practice at Natchez, and who had married the daughter of Judge Edward Turner, and the cousin of Quitman's wife. Quitman's rise to eminence was rapid in his profession, but more so in the public estimation as a man of great worth. His affability, kindness, and courtesy were so genial and so unaffected as to fasten upon every one, and soon he was the most popular man in the county.

Soon after Quitman, came Duncan and Robert J. Walker—the latter subsequently so distinguished as a senator in Congress from Mississippi, and still more distinguished as the Secretary of the Treasury during the Administration of Mr. Polk. A close intimacy grew up between Quitman and R.J. Walker. This intimacy influenced greatly the future of Quitman. Walker was from Pennsylvania, and had married Miss Bache, the niece of George M. Dallas, sister to the great Professor Bache, and great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. Mrs. Walker was a lady of great beauty, of rare accomplishments, and distinguished for her modesty and womanly bearing. Mr. Bache, the father of Mrs. Walker, emigrated to Texas, was in the Senate of her Congress at the time she was received into the United States, and was the only man who voted against the union. He represented Galveston, and, after his death, that young city, in honor of his services, erected a monument to his memory.

Walker was of ardent temperament, great abilities, strong will, intense application, and was soon, at the Bar, among the first lawyers in the State. He wanted the softness and genial qualities of Quitman, but was superior to him mentally; and in prompt, decisive action his was the stronger character, and controlled. Quitman, being intimately associated with the leading men of the party supporting Mr. Adams, had adopted their opinions and politics; Walker was an ardent supporter of Jackson, and claimed to be the first man who brought forward his name for the Presidency, when he was a citizen of Pennsylvania. Soon after the election of General Jackson, Quitman, displeased with Mr. Clay, abandoned his Whig associates, and united himself with the Democratic party, and from that time until his death was a devoted Democratic partisan. These two men exercised, perhaps, more influence in the State than any others of their day.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse