PRIVATELY PRINTED AT The Riverside Press, Cambridge MDCCCCVI
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY MARGARET DEVEREUX
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The descriptions of Southern life in this little book, as well as the accompanying stories, were written by Mrs. Devereux during the past fifteen years, in large part after she had passed her sixty-fifth year. They are essentially reminiscent, and were prepared originally with no thought of publication, but merely to be read to her grandchildren, so that there might be preserved in their minds some conception of the old-time lives of their grandparents. The sketches thus came to be read by me to my own children, who are of the third generation. They brought to my mind so simply, yet so vividly and in so attractive a manner, a picture of the old plantation life, they showed such remarkable memory of interesting details, that they seemed to me to merit publication. The charm of the descriptions will impress all readers, and the truthfulness of the illustrations of negro character and habits will be recognized by all who are familiar with the South. The sketches are simple, homely little tales prepared for children, and they must be read with this fact in mind; but they have nevertheless an interest and a lesson for maturer readers, to whom they are now offered.
18 Chestnut St., Boston, Mass. April 27, 1906
Letter to my Grandchildren ix
Plantation Life 1
Going to the Plantation 40
My Own Early Home 52
Two Bob Whites 59
Little Dave 74
The Hog-Feeder's Day 85
The Junior Reserve 113
War Reminiscences 150
TO MY GRANDCHILDREN
As the "New South," with all its changes and improvements, rises above the horizon, those whose hearts still cling to the "Old South" look sadly backward and sigh to see it fade away into dimness, to be soon lost to sight and to live only in the memory of the few. Hoping to rescue from oblivion a few of the habits, thoughts, and feelings of the people who made our South what it was, I have drawn from memory a few pen sketches of plantation life, based upon actual events, in which are recorded some of the good and even noble traits of character which were brought forth under the yoke of slavery.
For you, my dear grandchildren, I have tried to fix, before they fade entirely, these already faint reflections from the "light of other days."
Raleigh, North Carolina. December, 1905.
I am going to try to describe to you something of the lives and homes of your dear grandfather and of your great-grandfather, because I want you to know something of them, because their mode of life was one of which scarcely a vestige is left now, and because, finally, I don't want you to be led into the misconception held by some that Southern planters and slaveholders were cruel despots, and that the life of the negro slaves on the plantation was one of misery and sorrow.
Before I enter upon my brief narrative I want you to realize that it is all strictly true, being based upon my knowledge of facts; very simple and homely in its details, but with the merit of entire truthfulness.
Your great-grandfather, Thomas Pollock Devereux, and your grandfather, John Devereux, were planters upon an unusually large scale in North Carolina; together they owned eight large plantations and between fifteen and sixteen hundred negroes. Their lands, situated in the rich river bottoms of Halifax and Bertie counties, were very fertile, the sale crops being corn, cotton, and droves of hogs, which were sent to Southampton county, Virginia, for sale.
The names of your great-grandfather's plantations were Conacanarra, Feltons, Looking Glass, Montrose, Polenta, and Barrows, besides a large body of land in the counties of Jones and Hyde. His residence was at Conacanarra, where the dwelling stood upon a bluff commanding a fine view of the Roanoke river, and, with the pretty house of the head overseer, the small church, and other minor buildings, looked like a small village beneath the great elms and oaks.
Your grandfather's principal plantation, and our winter home, was Runiroi, in Bertie county. The others were "The Lower Plantation" and "Over the Swamp." At Runiroi we lived and called ourselves at home, and of it I have preserved the clearest recollection and the fondest memories.
From Kehukee bluff, which we usually visited while waiting for the ferryman on our return journey after the summer's absence, the plantation could be seen stretching away into the distance, hemmed in by the flat-topped cypresses. From there we had a view of our distant dwelling, gleaming white in the sunlight and standing in a green oasis of trees and grass, all looking wonderfully small amid the expanse of flat fields around it. Apart as I now am from the restless, never-ending push of life, when neither men nor women have time for leisure, when even pleasure and amusement are reduced to a business calculation as to how much may be squeezed into a given time, I think it might perhaps calm down some of the nervous restlessness that I perceive in my dear children and grandchildren if they could, for once, stand there in the soft November sunshine. The splendor of the light is veiled in a golden haze, the brown fields bask in the soft radiance and seem to quiver in the heat, while the ceaseless murmur of the great river is like a cradle song to a sleepy child; the rattle of the old ferryman's chain and the drowsy squeak of his long sweeps seem even to augment the stillness. The trees along the banks appear to lack the energy to hang out the brilliant reds and purples of autumn, but tint their leaves with the soft shades of palest yellow, and these keep dropping and floating away, while the long gray moss waves dreamily in the stillness.
The house at Runiroi was a comfortable, old, rambling structure, in a green yard and flower garden, not ugly, but quite innocent of any pretensions at comeliness. Neither was there, to many, a bit of picturesque beauty in the flat surroundings; and yet this very flatness did lend a charm peculiar to itself. My eyes ever found a delight in its purple distances and in the great, broad-armed trees marking the graceful curves of the river. The approach from the public road, which followed the bank of the river, was through the "willow lane," between deep-cut ditches, which kept the roadway well drained unless the river overspread its banks, when the lane was often impassable for days. In the springtime, when the tender green boughs of the willows were swayed by the breeze, it was a lovely spot, and a favorite resort of the children.
I was so young a bride, only seventeen, when I was taken to our winter home, and so inexperienced, that I felt no dread whatever of my new duties as mistress. The household comforts of my childhood's home had seemed to come so spontaneously that I never thought of processes, and naturally felt rather nonplussed when brought into contact with realities. The place had for years been merely a sort of camping-out place for your great-grandfather, who liked to spend a part of the winter there; so the house was given over to servants who made him comfortable, but who took little heed of anything else.
I recollect my antipathy to a certain old press which stood in the back hall. The upper part was filled with books. In the under cupboard, Minerva kept pies, gingerbread, plates of butter, etc. The outside looked very dim and dusty. I could not bear to look at it, but knew not how to remedy its defects. I know now that it was a handsome old piece, which a furniture-lover would delight in. However, my youthful appetite did not scorn Minerva's gingerbread, and, as I had many lonely hours to get through with as best I could, I would mount the highest chair that I could find, and ransack the old musty volumes in search of amusement. The collection consisted chiefly of antiquated medical works, some tracts, etc., but once, to my delight, I unearthed two of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels, which were indeed a treasure trove; one of them was "Gaston de Blondeville," which I thought beautiful. I have regretted that I did not take care of it, for I have never seen another copy.
Minerva was a woman of pretty good sense, but of slatternly habits. She had been so long without a lady to guide her that her original training was either forgotten or entirely disregarded. Once, when starting to Conacanarra for Christmas, I charged her to take advantage of the fine weather to give the passage floors a thorough scrubbing; they were bare and showed every footprint of black mud from the outside. When it came time to return, in spite of our pleasant Christmas week, we were glad to think of our own home and were rather dismayed when the morning fixed for our departure broke dark and very cold, with little spits of snow beginning to fall. I was much afraid that we should be compelled to yield to the hospitable objections to our going, but at last we succeeded in getting off. We crossed at Pollock's (your great-grandfather's ferry), so that should the storm increase we need not leave our comfortable carriage until we should be at home. It was a lonely drive; the snow fell steadily but so gently that I enjoyed seeing the earth and the trees, the fences and the few lonely houses that we passed all draped in white; though we were warmly wrapped, the anticipation of the crackling fires in our great old fireplaces was delightful. When we got home, the first sound that greeted our ears, as we stepped upon the piazza, was a mournful, long-drawn hymn. Shivering and damp from our walk up the yard, we opened the door, to see Minerva, with kilted skirts, standing in an expanse of frozen slush and singing at the top of her voice, while she sluiced fresh deluges of water from her shuck brush. I was too disgusted for words, but resolved that this should not occur again. As soon as I could communicate with the outside world I had the hall floors covered with oilcloth (then the fashionable covering). Also, Minerva was displaced, and Phyllis reigned in her stead, but Minerva, nevertheless, always indulged in the belief that she was indispensable to our happiness and comfort.
In honor of my advent as mistress, the floors had been freshly carpeted with very pretty bright carpets, which were in danger of being utterly ruined by the muddy shoes of the raw plantation servants, recently brought in to be trained for the house. Although the soil generally was a soft, sandy loam, I observed in my horseback rides numbers of round stones scattered about in the fields. They were curious stones, and looked perfectly accidental and quite out of place. Their presence excited my interest, and aroused my curiosity as to their origin, which has never been gratified. They seemed so out of place in those flat fields! However, I determined to utilize them and had a number collected and brought into the yard, and with them I had a pretty paved walk made from the house to the kitchen.
Our house stood upon what was known as the "Second Land," which meant a slight rise above the wide, low grounds, which were formerly, I believe, the bed of the sluggish stream now known as the Roanoke. All along the edge of these Second Lands, just where they joined the low grounds, there was a bed of beautiful small gravel. I was delighted when I discovered this and at once interested myself in having a gravel walk made up to the front of the house, and this was, when completed, all that I had hoped, and served as a perfect protection against the offending mud.
There was one evil, though, which I could not guard against, and this was the clumsy though well-meaning stupidity of a plantation negro. One afternoon the house became offensive with the odor of burning wool. I followed up the scent and, after opening several doors, I finally traced it to the dining-room. It was filled with smoke, and there, in front of an enormous fire, squatted Abby. In a fit of most unaccountable industry she had undertaken to clean the brass andirons, and had drawn them red hot from the fire and placed them upon the carpet. Of course, four great holes were the result and, as the carpets had been made in New York, there were no pieces with which the holes could be mended. As I had already decided her to be too stupid to be worth the trouble of training, I felt no desire to find fault with her, so I merely told her to put them back, or rather stood by to see it done. I did not keep her in the house after that, but do not suppose that she ever at all realized the mischief that she had done.
One of my amusements was to watch the birds; they were so numerous, and appeared to be so tame. I set traps for them. This was childish, but I was very young and often rather at a loss to find something to do; so I used to take with me my small house boy, "Minor," whom I was training to be a grand butler; he would carry the trap and, after it had been set and baited, I would make him guide me to the trees where the sweetest persimmons grew; there I would while away the morning and on the next we would find one or more birds fluttering in the trap, which, to Minor's silent disgust, I would set free.
The squirrels, too, were a pleasure to me in my horseback rides toward Vine Ridge, especially. Your grandfather and I would pause to watch them playing hide and seek just like children, scampering round and round, their pretty gray tails waving, until some noise would send them out of sight, and the silent forest would seem as if no living thing were near. It was upon one of these rides that your grandfather told me how, when he was about twelve years old, and spending his Christmas holidays at Runiroi with his grandfather, he once said that he could shoot one hundred squirrels between sunrise and sunset. His uncle, George Pollock Devereux, happened to hear him and rebuked him sharply for so idle a boast, and when your dear grandfather manfully stood his ground, saying that it was not an idle boast, his uncle called him a vain braggart, which so offended your grandfather that he told his uncle that he would prove the truth of his assertion. And so, upon the following morning, he rose early and was at Vine Ridge gun in hand, ready to make his first shot, as soon as the sun should appear. The squirrels were very numerous at first, and he made great havoc among them. Many a mile he tramped that day, scanning with eager eyes the trees above him, in search of the little gray noses, hidden behind the branches, and thus it happened that he got many a fall and tumble among the cypress knees; but what did that matter to his young limbs? he had only to pick himself up again and tramp on. As the day advanced, fewer little bright eyes peeped from the tree-tops and his number was not made up; he was getting tired too, and very hungry, for he had eaten nothing since his early breakfast. He stumbled wearily on, however, determined not to fail, for he dreaded his uncle's triumphant sarcasm should he do so. A few more shots brought his number to ninety-nine, but where was the one-hundredth to be found? The sun was sinking to the horizon; he had come out from the swamp and was tramping homeward; the gun, so light in the morning, now weighed like lead upon his shoulder. As he looked into every tree for that hundredth squirrel which could not be found, the sun's disk was resting upon the horizon when he turned into the willow lane leading to the house. Just at the entrance there stood a great chestnut oak. This was his last chance. He paused to take one hopeless look, when, to his unspeakable joy, he beheld a fox squirrel seated up among the branches. Now he knew that the fox squirrel was the slyest, as well as the shyest of all his kind; no creature so expert as he in slipping out of range; there would be no chance for a second shot, for now only a rim of the sun was left. With a wildly beating heart he raised his gun, took time to aim well,—fired,—and down came his hundredth squirrel. His wager was won; fatigue and hunger all gone, he hastened gayly home and with pride emptied his bag before his uncle and his delighted old grandfather, who loved him above everything, and who finally made him his heir, so that your grandfather was quite independent of his own father.
When I first became acquainted with the plantation, the sale crop was taken down to Plymouth in a great old scow, but this was afterward superseded by the introduction of freight steamers, which took the produce direct to Norfolk. These steamers proved to be a great comfort and convenience to us. By them we might receive anything that we desired from Norfolk, of which the things most enjoyed were packages of books,—Vickry and Griffiths, booksellers, having standing orders to send at their discretion what they thought desirable, besides the special orders for what we wished to see.
The advent of a steamer at the landing would cause much pleasurable excitement. If anything of special interest was expected, the first puff of steam from down the river would be eagerly examined through the spy-glass. Then would follow several days of busy life down at the different barns from which the corn was to be shipped. Before the introduction of the corn-sheller, the corn was beaten from the cob by men wielding great sticks, or flails; others raked the grain into an immense pile; from this pile it was measured by select hands and put into bags, which were carried to the steamer lying at the landing. The men who measured and kept the tally maintained a constant song or chant, and designated the tally, or fifth bushel, by a sort of yell. The overseer stood by with pencil and book and scored down each tally by a peculiar mark. The constant stream of men running back and forth, with bags empty or full, made a very busy scene.
After the corn had been shipped, the boat had steamed down the river, and the place, lately so full of busy life, had returned to its accustomed quiet seclusion, the redbirds came to peck up the corn left upon the ground. I remember how once, upon a cold, gray afternoon, I put on my wraps and ran down to the Sycamore Barn, on purpose to watch the shy, beautiful things. Snowflakes were beginning to fall and whisper about the great bamboo vines; twisted around the trees upon the river banks, the long gray moss hung motionless and a thick grayness seemed to shut out the whole world; all about me was gray,—earth, sky, trees, barn, everything, except the redbirds and the red berries of a great holly tree under whose shelter I stood, listening to the whispering snowflakes.
The Sycamore Barn derived its name from a great sycamore tree near which it stood. This tree was by far the largest that I ever saw; a wagon with a four-horse team might be on one side, and quite concealed from any one standing upon the other. When I knew it, it was a ruin, the great trunk a mere shell, though the two giant forks,—themselves immense in girth—still had life in them. In one side of the trunk was an opening, about as large as an ordinary door; through this we used to enter, and I have danced a quadrille of eight within with perfect ease.
This tree gave its name to the field in which it grew, which formed part of the tract known as the Silver Wedge. It was about the Silver Wedge that an acrimonious lawsuit was carried on during the lives of your great-great-grandparents, John and Frances Devereux. She was a Pollock, and the dispute arose through a Mr. Williams, the son or grandson of a certain Widow Pollock, who had, after the death of her first husband, Major Pollock, married a Mr. Williams. She may possibly have dowered in this Silver Wedge tract. At any rate, her Williams descendants set up a claim to it, although it was in possession of the real Pollock descendant, Frances Devereux. It was a large body of very rich land, and intersected the plantation in the form of a wedge, beginning near the Sycamore Barn, and running up far into the Second Lands, widening and embracing the dwelling-house and plantation buildings. I have heard your great-great-grandfather laugh and tell how Williams once came to the house, and, with a sweeping bow and great assumption of courtesy, made your great-great-grandmother welcome to remain in his house. After the suit had been settled, Williams had occasion to come again to the house, feeling, no doubt, rather crestfallen. Mrs. Devereux met him at the door and, making him a sweeping curtsy, quoted his exact words, making him welcome to her house.
One of my pleasant memories is connected with our fishing porch. This was a porch, or balcony, built upon piles driven into the river upon one side, and the other resting upon the banks. It was raised some eight or ten feet above the water and protected by a strong railing or balustrade and shaded by the overhanging branches of a large and beautiful hackberry tree. It made an ideal lounging-place, upon a soft spring afternoon, when all the river banks were a mass of tender green, and the soft cooing of doves filled the air. We usually took Minor with us to bait our hooks and assist generally, and often went home by starlight with a glorious string of fish.
The drawback to the plantations upon the lower Roanoke lay in their liability to being flooded by the freshets to which the Roanoke was exposed. These were especially to be dreaded in early spring, when the snow in the mountains was melting. I have known freshets in March to inundate the country for miles. At one time there was not a foot of dry land upon one of the Runiroi plantations. It was upon a mild night in that month that I sat upon the porch nearly all through the night, feeling too anxious to sleep, for your grandfather, the overseer, and every man on the plantation were at the river, working upon the embankments. The back waters from the swamp had already spread over everything. This gentle and slow submersion did no great damage, when there was no growing crop to be injured; the thing to be guarded against was the breaking of the river dam and the consequent rushing in of such a flood as would wash the land into enormous holes, or "breakovers," of several acres in extent in some places, or make great sand ledges in others, to say nothing of the destruction of fences, the drowning of stock, etc. On the night that I speak of, the moon was at its full and glittered upon the water, rippling all around where dry land should have been. I sat listening anxiously and occasionally shuddering at a sharp cracking noise, like a pistol shot, and, following upon it, the rushing of water into some plantation up the river. Once in the night I heard a noise and, upon my calling to know who it was, a man replied that they had come up in a canoe to get some water. I could not help laughing; it struck me that water was rather too plentiful just then. They worked upon the dam until there was no more material to work with, water being level with the top on both sides and only a foot of standing-room at the top, so, having done all that they could, all hands took to canoes and went to their homes. That "March freshet" did incalculable damage to the whole region, but still fine crops were made that season. Your grandfather was indefatigable while anything could be done, but, having done all that human energy could, he would resign himself cheerfully to the inevitable, and his family never were saddened by depression on his part. This wonderful elasticity was most noticeable at the fearful period of the surrender and, indeed, through all the succeeding years, when this power of his, despite all of our losses and anxieties, made our life one of great happiness.
When, during the winter months, a moderate freshet meant nothing more serious than the flooding of the low grounds, it was considered rather a benefit, owing to the rich deposit left upon the land, besides the advantages gained in floating out lumber from the swamps. This March freshet caused great pecuniary loss; new dams had to be constructed at a heavy expense, and many miles of repairing had to be done to those left standing. The few days before the water had reached its height were most trying to the nerves (that is, my nerves). I believe my fears culminated upon the night that I saw the water rippling over our own doorstep and realized that there was not a foot of dry land visible for miles; by morning, though, the river was "at a stand," and by evening little spots of green were showing themselves in the yard and garden.
The word garden recalls to my memory our pretty garden, a most beautiful continuation of the smooth green yard, its many alleys bordered with flowers and flowering shrubs. It was, I own, laid out in a stiff, old-fashioned manner, very different from the present and far more picturesque style; still, it was charming,—the profusion of flowers, fed by that wonderful river loam, exceeded anything that I have ever seen elsewhere. In the springtime, what with the flowers, the beautiful butterflies, and the humming-birds, the sunny air would actually seem to quiver with color and life.
Every plantation had a set of buildings which included generally the overseer's house, ginhouse, screw, barn, stable, porkhouse, smokehouse, storehouse, carpenter's shop, blacksmith shop, and loomhouse, where the material for clothing for each plantation was woven,—white cloth for the underclothes, and very pretty striped or checked for outer garments. At Runiroi, the weaver, Scip, was a first-class workman, and very proud of his work. I often had sets of very pretty towels woven in a damask pattern of mixed flax and cotton. The winter clothing was of wool, taken from our own sheep.
The carpenters at Runiroi were Jim, the head carpenter, Austin, and Bill, who were all good workmen. Frank, "Boat Frank," as he was called, from having formerly served as captain of the old flat-bottomed scow which carried the sale crop to Plymouth, was also in the shop and did beautiful work. I was fond of visiting Jim's shop and ordering all sorts of wooden ware, pails, piggins, trays, etc.; these last, dug out of bowl-gum, were so white that they looked like ivory. Boat Frank was very proud of the smoothness and polish of his trays. Our children, with their mammy, were fond of visiting "Uncle Jim's" shop and playing with such tools as he considered safe for them to handle, while Mammy, seated upon a box by the small fire, would indulge in long talks about religion or plantation gossip. That shop was indeed a typical spot; its sides were lined to the eaves with choice lumber, arranged systematically so that the green was out of reach, while that which was seasoned was close at hand. Uncle Jim would have felt disgraced had a piece of work made of unseasoned wood left his shop. The smoke from the small fire which burned in the middle of the big shop, upon the dirt floor, escaped in faint blue wreaths through the roof, leaving behind it a sweet, pungent odor. The sun streamed in at the wide-open door, while Jim and Frank tinkered away leisurely upon plough handles and other implements or household articles.
Uncle Jim was a preacher as well as a carpenter. He was quite superior to most of his race, both in sense and principle and was highly thought of by both white and black. Upon two Sundays in each month he preached in the church and his sermons were quite remarkable, teaching in his homely way the necessity of honesty and obedience. His companion in the shop, Boat Frank, was of a more worldly nature, and wore great golden hoops in his ears and a red woolen cap upon his head, and resembled an elderly and crafty ape, as he sat chipping away at his work.
Next came the blacksmith shop, where Bob wielded the great hammer and grinned with childish delight at seeing the children's enjoyment when the sparks flew.
After the blacksmith's shop came the loomhouse, where Scip, the little fat weaver, threw the shuttles and beat up the homespun cloth from morning till night; there, too, were the warping-bars, the winding-blades, and the little quilling-wheel, at which a boy or girl would fill the quills to be in readiness for the shuttles. Scip was an odd figure, with his short legs, and his woolly hair combed out until his head looked as big as a bushel.
The dwellings of the negroes were quite a distance from the "Great House," as that of the master was called, and were built in two or more long rows with a street between. This was the plan upon every plantation. Each house had a front and back piazza, and a garden, which was cultivated or allowed to run wild according to the thrift of the residents. It generally was stocked with peach and apple trees, and presented a pretty picture in spring, when the blue smoke from the houses curled up to the sky amid the pink blossoms, while the drowsy hum of a spinning-wheel seemed to enhance the quiet of the peaceful surroundings.
The church at Runiroi was large and comfortably furnished with seats; colored texts were upon the walls, and the bell, which summoned the people on Sunday mornings, swung amid the branches of a giant oak. Both your great-grandfather and grandfather employed a chaplain. At Runiroi, he officiated only upon alternate Sundays, as the people liked best to listen to Carpenter Jim. It used to be a pretty sight upon a Sunday morning to see the people, all dressed in their clean homespun clothes, trooping to church, laughing and chattering until they reached the door, when they immediately would assume the deepest gravity and proceed at once to groan and shake themselves more and more at every prayer. The singing would often sound very sweet at a distance, although I must confess that I never sympathized in the admiration of the negro's voice.
Of course, like all other laboring classes, the negroes had to work, and of course, as they had not the incentive of poverty, discipline was necessary. They knew that they would be housed, clothed and well fed whether they earned these comforts or not; so, in order to insure diligence, reliable men were chosen from among them as assistants to the white overseers; these were called "foremen," and were looked up to with respect by their fellows. Upon every large plantation there was also a Foreman Plower, his business being to take the lead and see that the plowing was well done and that the plow horses were not maltreated. With the settled men this was unnecessary, but it was very needful with the younger hands. These colored foremen were, in their turn, subject to the overseers, who, in turn, if not found to be temperate and reliable, were dismissed. Upon well-ordered plantations punishments were rare, I may say unknown, except to the half-grown youths. Negroes, being somewhat lacking in moral sense or fixed principles, are singularly open to the influence of example; and thus it was that a few well-ordered elders would give a tone to the whole plantation, while the evil influences of one ill-disposed character would be equally pronounced.
The plantations of which I am speaking were singularly remote, being so surrounded by other large plantations that they were exempt from all outside and pernicious influences. The one or two country stores at which the negroes traded might have furnished whiskey, had not those who kept them stood too much in awe of the planters to incur the risk of their displeasure. As the town of Halifax could boast of several little stores, and was the trading post of Feltons, Conacanara, and Montrose, your great-grandfather, in order to prevent the evils of promiscuous trading, caused certain coins to be struck off, of no value except to the one merchant with whom his people were allowed to trade.
Perhaps you will be surprised to know how important to the country merchants was the trade of a plantation, so I will explain to you of what it consisted. Of course, a few of the careless, content with the abundance provided for them, did not care to accumulate, while others, naturally thrifty, amassed a good deal from the sale of otter, coon, mink, and other skins of animals trapped. Then, some owned as many as thirty beehives. One old woman, known as "Honey Beck," once hauled thirty or more gallons of honey to Halifax and back again, the whole distance (twenty-five miles), rather than take a low price for it. Besides skins, honey, and beeswax, eggs and poultry were always salable. One of my necessities in housekeeping was a bag of small change, and, as I never refused to take what was brought to me, my pantry was often so overstocked with eggs and my coops with ducks and chickens, that it was a hard matter to know how to consume them.
The beautiful white shad, now so highly prized in our markets, were then a drug. It was the prettiest sight in the early dawn of a spring morning to see the fishermen skimming down the broad river with their dip-nets poised for a catch. My opportunities for seeing them at that early hour were from my bedroom window, when I happened to be visiting the family at Conacanara. Our home at Runiroi stood some distance from the river, but the dwelling at Conacanara was upon a bluff just over the stream.
Beside the sale crops of cotton and corn, sweet potatoes were raised in large quantities for the negroes, to which they were allowed to help themselves without stint, also a summer patch of coarse vegetables such as they liked.
The regular food furnished consisted of corn meal, bacon or pickled pork, varied with beef in the autumn, when the beeves were fat, salt fish with less meat when desired, molasses, dried peas and pumpkins without stint (I mean the peas and pumpkins). I don't suppose any laboring class ever lived in such plenty.
A woman with a family of children always had the use of a cow, the only proviso being that she should look after the calf and see that it did not suffer, for your grandfather was particular about his ox teams; they were the finest that I ever saw, and were well blooded,—Holstein for size and Devon for speed and activity.
Our dairy was very pretty; it was built of immense square logs, with a paved brick floor, and great broad shelves all around. The roof was shaded by hackberry trees, and the grass around it was like velvet, so thick and green. Old Aunt Betty, who was the dairy woman until she grew too infirm, was the neatest creature imaginable; she wore the highest of turbans, and her clothes were spotless. She took the greatest pride in her dairy; for milk vessels she used great calibashes with wooden covers, and, as they naturally were absorbent, it was necessary to sun one set while another was in use. She kept them beautifully, and the milk and butter were delicious.
There was a man upon the plantation called "Shoe Joe," or "Gentleman Joe." He had, when a young man, been body-servant to his young master George, your great-grandfather's brother. I never in my life have seen finer manners than Joe's, so deeply respectful, and so full of courtesy. Notwithstanding his really fine deportment, Joe's nature was low and mean, and something that he did so offended his young master that, to Joe's great disgust, he was remanded back to the plantation and field work. In consequence of this, he always bore his young master a grudge, which, of course, he kept to himself. Once, however, he made some disrespectful speech before old Betty, who was devoted to her Master George, and this so offended her that she never again spoke to Joe, nor allowed him to make her shoes, though this last was more from fear than vindictiveness. For Shoe Joe was suspected of being a trick negro, and of possessing the power so to trick his work as to cause the death of any one wearing his products. Nothing was productive of more evil upon a plantation than was the existence upon it of a "Trick" or "Goomer" negro; and so insidious was their influence, and so secret their machinations, that, though suspected, it was impossible to prove anything, for, although detested by their fellows, fear kept the latter silent. Nothing would cause such abject terror as the discovery of an odd-looking bundle, wrapped and wrapped with strands of horse-hair, secreted beneath the steps, or laid in an accustomed path. Instantly after such a discovery the person for whom it was meant would begin to pine away, and, unless some counter spell were discovered, death would ensue. These occurrences, fortunately, were rare, but if the thing once took root upon a plantation, it wrought much evil in various ways. Joe was suspected of these evil practices, and, though a wonderfully capable man at all kinds of work, and a most accomplished courtier, was always looked upon with suspicion. His death was sudden, and the people firmly believed that he had made a compact with the devil, that the term had expired, and that Satan had met him in the woods and broken his neck. He was a tall, finely formed man, as black as ebony, and his movements always reminded me of a serpent.
Negroes, even in these days of school education, retain many of their superstitions, though ashamed to own it. One of their beliefs was that the word you meant the devil's wife, and it was insulting to address any one by that word. To one another it was always yinna. So marked was this custom that the negroes of that section were known as the yinna negroes. This word, though, was never used toward their superiors, who were invariably addressed in the third person. Manuel was rather a common name among them; there were always two or three Manuels upon every plantation, and one was always called "Hoodie Manuel." No one could ever discover what this meant; perhaps they did not know themselves, though I am rather inclined to think that it was a superstitious observance, understood, perhaps, only by a select few. I think it must have had some sort of significance, as it was never omitted. As soon as one Hoodie Manuel died, another Manuel assumed the title, though not always the oldest.
It was not required of a woman with a large family to do field work. Such women had their regular tasks of spinning allotted to them, sufficiently light to allow ample time to take care of their houses and children. The younger women (unless delicate) left their children in a day nursery in charge of an elderly woman who was caretaker. Usually they preferred field work, as being more lively; but if one disliked it, she usually soon contrived to be classed among the spinners.
When, occasionally, I happened to go to any of the houses, often quite unexpectedly, I can assert truthfully that I never, in a single instance, saw dirt or squalor in one of them. The floors were clean, the beds comfortable, with white and wonderfully clean blankets. Everything, though very homely, with clumsy benches and tables, looked white and thoroughly clean. I remember hearing your grandfather speak of once going at breakfast time to a house to visit a sick child. The man of the house was seated at a small table while his wife served him. The table was covered with an immaculately clean homespun cloth, and coffee, in a tin pot shining with scrubbing, either sugar or molasses, I forget which, a dish of beautifully fried bacon and hoe-cakes, fresh from the fire, constituted his plain but most abundant meal.
Separation of families has ever been a favorite plea for the abolition of slavery, and I admit that in theory it was a plausible argument; and justice compels me to say that such instances, though rare, were not unknown. As a rule, however, family ties were respected, and when, through the settlement of an estate, such separations seemed impending, they were usually prevented by some agreement between the parties; for instance, if a negro man had married a woman belonging to another planter, a compromise was generally effected by the purchase of one of the parties, regardless of self-interest on the part of the owners. Thus families were kept together without regard to any pecuniary loss. Public sentiment was against the severing of family ties.
Before I close this little sketch I will tell you as well as I can the outline of plantation work.
With the beginning of a new year, the crop being all housed, the sale corn being stored in large barns or cribs on the river banks, and the cotton either being sold or kept for better prices, the plowing, ditching, and, when the swamps were full, the floating out of timber, were all carried on with great diligence. At Christmas, when all the clothing, shoes, and Kilmarnock caps had been given out to the ditchers, high waterproof boots were distributed. It was the custom to allow to every man who desired it a bit of land, upon which, in his spare time, to cultivate a small crop, for which he was paid the market price. Christmas was the usual day chosen for settling these accounts, and the broad piazza was full of happy, grinning black faces gathered around the table at which the master sat, with his account-book and bags of specie. A deep obeisance and a scrape of the foot accompanied each payment, and many a giggle was given to the lazy one whose small payment testified to his indolence. What a contrast between those happy, sleek, laughing faces and the sullen, careworn, ill-fed ones of now! In the early springtime, what was known as the "trash-gang," that is, boys and girls who had never worked, were set to clearing up fences, knocking down cotton stalks, and burning small trash piles.
I pause here to say that, the woodlands being a long distance from the quarters, the supply of fuel was a serious question, and when there was a threat of snow or increasing cold, every man would be employed in cutting or hauling a supply of fuel to the houses.
Planting time began with the middle of March. In August the crops were "laid by." The three days' holiday began with the slaughter of pigs and beeves, in preparation for the annual dinner upon every plantation. After holiday came the fodder-pulling, a job hated by all, especially by overseer and master, as the drenching dews and the hot sun combined to make much sickness. This work was never begun until late in the morning, but even after the sun had shone upon the fields, the people would be drenched in dew to their waists. Next, the whitening fields told that cotton-picking must begin, and, later on, a killing frost upon the already browning shucks sent the great wagons to the fields, where the corn-gatherers, with sharp needles tied to their wrists, ripped open the tough shucks and let loose the well-hardened ears of grain. As each field became stripped, stock would be turned in to feast upon the peas and pumpkins.
With winter came that period of bliss to the soul of Cuffee, namely, the hog-killing, when even the smallest urchin might revel in grease and fresh meat.
If eyesight permitted, I might tell you some tales of plantation doings which might perhaps amuse you, but I have said enough to give you some idea of the old Southern life. All that I have said is within bounds, but, after all, I fear I have not been able to give you an adequate idea of the peacefulness and abundance of life upon a great plantation.
GOING TO THE PLANTATION
Summer is over; the nights grow chill, and the autumnal tints, beginning to glow upon the hillsides, tell the low-country folk that the time draws near for the yearly flitting to their plantation homes. The planter, who passes the hot season amid the breezy uplands, begins to think of his whitening cotton fields, and grows impatient for the frost, which must fall ere the family may venture into the land of swamps and agues. He looks out upon the flower-beds, glowing with life and quivering in the sunshine, and listens to the incessant shrill-voiced cicada piping from the tree-tops, while the insect-drone, in the heated, languid air, seems to speak of an unending summer; but as "all things come to him who waits," so at length come the frosts to the planter.
The week preceding the departure is a busy one, embracing, along with the numberless good-byes, many important afterthoughts in the way of providing the necessities required in the isolated home, where shops are unknown. At length, however, the great boxes are closed, and stand ready for the daylight start of the wagon; the bird-cage, the basket of kittens, and the puppy are also committed by the children to "Ung Jack," the teamster, who, with the broadest of smiles, promises "little missis" and the "little masters" to take the best of care of them.
Giving the baggage a day's start, the family's departure takes place on the day following. After an early breakfast, Mammy and the younger children bundle into the big carriage, mother and the rest of the little mob follow in the barouche, while papa, who abhors the confinement of a carriage, follows on horseback. Although the animal which he bestrides is a noble specimen of his kind, still it must be confessed that papa does not present a jaunty appearance as he jogs soberly along; and yet, as he sits easily swaying in the saddle, there is about him a careless grace which marks the natural horseman.
Three days are consumed upon the journey. It might be made in less time; but the party prefer to take it easily, and at midday make a halt by a running stream, where, seated upon a fallen log or mossy bank, they open their well-stored baskets, and dine. The horses utter impatient whinnies as their drivers dip their buckets into the sparkling water of the little stream, and, when these are lifted to their heads, thirstily thrust their muzzles into the cool depths, and drink long and deeply of the refreshing draughts.
At sunset, the tired little ones begin to look out for the white chimneys of old John Tayler's wayside inn, where they are to pass the night. This house has, for generations, been the halting-place for planters' families. Tayler's grandfather and his father have entertained bygone generations; and so it is not strange that when the little cortege draw up before the old piazza, and the red light from the pine blaze streams out from the open door, not only old John, but his wife and two elderly daughters stand with beaming faces to give the travelers a hearty greeting, kindly to usher them into the carpetless room and seat them upon the stiff "split-bottomed" chairs. While the women busy themselves in getting supper, old John talks crops and politics to his guests, who, on their part, calmly accept the discomforts of the little inn as one of the unalterable laws of nature, without any idea of the possibility of improvement, swallow without complaint the nauseous coffee, and rest philosophically under the home-made sheets and blankets, feebly wondering that so much weight should contain so little warmth.
When supper is over, the women throw a fresh torch upon the fire, and, as it crackles up the wide chimney, and sends its red light and sweet odors over the room, they set themselves to their tasks of picking the seeds from the "raw cotton," for, being famous spinners and weavers, they disdain that which has had its staples torn by the teeth of the gin.
Upon the second day, the party leave the hills, now gorgeous in their autumnal brilliancy, the rocky roads, and the swiftly running streams of the up-country, and enter the lonely region where the great turpentine trees rear their lofty crests, and interminable sandy roads stretch away into dimness between columns of stately pines whose lofty tops make solemn music to the sighing wind.
The third day finds them in "The Slashes," a desolate region inhabited by squatters. As they jolt over corduroy roads between pools of stagnant waters, the travelers look out wearily upon a sparse growth of gallberry and scrub-pine. Now and then they pass the solitary hut of a charcoal-burner, surrounded by its little patch of meagre corn; a pack of cur dogs rush out and bark fiercely, within the safe limits of the wattle fence surrounding the premises; white-headed children gaze from the doorways at the passing carriages.
At the last settlement which they pass, a woman and a small, pale-faced boy are gathering in their corn crop. They are the wife and son of Bolin Brazle, an idle but good-natured vagabond, who spends his days scraping upon his fiddle up at the store, or occasionally, upon the promise of a drink, lending a hand in rafting tar-barrels. In consequence of the presentation of a worn-out mule, Bolin swears by the planter, wants to run him for the presidency, and obstinately refuses to receive pay for his charcoal. The matter is finally arranged by a barrel of corn being sent as a present whenever a load of charcoal is needed.
Soon after leaving the "Slashes," a huddle of houses standing irregularly in a grove of magnificent oaks comes into view. In passing the one which does double duty as store and post-office, the travellers look at it with the realization that it is the connecting link with the outside world, as from it the bi-weekly mail is dispensed. Inside, some one (Brazle, no doubt) is scraping a lively jig upon his fiddle; on the long piazza men, lounging in chairs tilted against the wall, take off their hats to the carriages as they roll by. The planter draws his rein for a little friendly greeting, and the men, squirting tobacco juice, stand around and lazily report the country-side news as to the opening of the cotton, the state of the river, etc. Even the screech of the fiddle has died away.
The long descents of the ferry hill commence, and the carriages roll pleasantly between deeply wooded banks. The approach to the river is marked by long rows of tar-barrels awaiting shipment, or rather rafting. From this point the road has become a sort of concrete from years of leakage from the tar-barrels. The children shriek with joy as the carriages come to a stop, and, craning their heads out, they behold the great tawny river in all its majesty. The repeated hallooings for the ferryman are at length responded to from far upstream. The old scamp is off fishing, and the party seek the shade, where a spring of clear water bubbles from a bank. While the children are drinking copious draughts, the parents stroll off and take a woodland path, which, after many a twist and turn amid thickets of sweet myrtle and purple-berried Bermuda Shrub, brings them to the summit of "The Bluff."
Standing there, they look down upon the river, two hundred feet below. Upon the further side lie fields, all brown and golden in the sunshine, level and limitless; they stretch into the purple dimness where cypress trees loom upon the horizon, their flat tops mingling dreamily with the soft autumnal hazes. Far away, amid the sun-bathed fields, stand the trees which shelter the plantation home, whose chimneys and white gables are scarce visible save where a stray sunbeam falls upon them.
"So to the Jews fair Canaan stood, While Jordan rolled between,"
murmured the mother, as she glanced at her husband, to whom she knew the lands spread before them were, by inheritance and long association, far dearer than could be measured by the mere money value.
Descending again to the ferry, they find the carriage already in the flat, and the children scarce restrained by Mammy from crossing without their elders. They draw deep breaths of delight as they watch old Bartley, with active limp, loosen the chain, and, planting his iron-shod pole deep into the grating sands, send the flat upstream; then, at a given point, they watch with intense admiration his skill in taking the sweeps and shooting swiftly to the other side.
The horses know that they are near home, and prick up their ears, and go briskly onward. Scarcely a quarter of a mile is gone before the buildings of the "lower plantation" come into view,—a row of cabins built irregularly upon the highest points straggle along the river banks. Each cabin has its little garden with its row of coleworts and its beehives, or perhaps a pumpkin or two shows its yellow sides amid the withered vines. Outside the cabins, fish-nets are hung to dry, and from within comes the sleepy drone of a spinning-wheel; about the doorstep hens are scratching, while from around the corner a cluster of little woolly heads peep out shyly.
Standing in the mellow sunlight, amid fields of ripening corn, with the river gently flowing between levees of such strength as to set floods at defiance, these cabins seem the very embodiment of peaceful security; the high piles, though, upon which they stand, are rather suggestive, and give a hint of what the now peacefully flowing stream is capable of when roused.
A story is told of an old negro who obstinately refused to leave his house at a time when the unusually high water made it necessary to remove the people to a place of greater security. The rafts were ready, and the people, scared and anxious, had left their houses, and now only wailed for old Todge, who, with mulish persistence, refused to be moved. At length, unable to persuade him, and afraid to wait longer, they poled the rafts away. For the first few hours Todge got on very well. He had plenty of provisions, and, as for the isolation, he did not care for it. By and by the water began to make its appearance upon his hearth, and, before long, his little bank of coal, upon which his bread was baking, began to sizzle, and soon became a moist and blackened heap. Todge, however, was not imaginative, and when night fell, he lay down upon his bed and slept without fear; that is, he slept until his bed began to float, then he awoke and groped his way neck deep in water until he found his ladder and managed by it to climb up into his loft, where he sat shivering, till suddenly he felt the cabin give a lurch, and the water rushed in. It had been lifted clear off the piles, and when it should settle down poor Todge would be caught like a rat in a hole. It was settling fast, and the water was gurgling into poor Todge's ears, when, in desperation, he made a bolt at the roof, and, using his head as a battering ram, succeeded in knocking a hole in it, through which he contrived to creep out. Luckily, the point of the chimney was not quite submerged, and Todge was rescued in the course of the following day.
The road, following the winding of the river, is bordered by giant trees from whose branches the gray moss waves dreamily, while leaves of palest yellow drop and silently float through the still air until they fall into the stream. In the fields, the corn-gatherers pause to doff their hats and smile their welcome. Ere long the barns and workshops of the upper plantation become visible. The tall gables and chimneys of the great house glisten in the sunlight. They pass the little church, with its bell half hidden amid the brown leaves of the great oak from which it dangles; from cabin chimneys, half hidden in trees, thin columns of smoke ascend and mingle with the soft blue sky.
At the open gate, a broadly smiling dusky group stands with welcome depicted upon every face. Hearty handshakes of real affection are exchanged, while the children are being hugged, caressed, laughed over, and extolled for their growth and beauty. The master and mistress pass under the trees, whose long shadows rest upon the soft, green grass between streams of sunshine. The old piazza, gilded into brightness, smiles a welcome home.
MY OWN EARLY HOME
I was born at the old home in Raleigh, upon the land originally held by my great-grandfather, Colonel Lane, from the Crown. It had been the home of my grandfather, Harry Lane, and of his wife, Mary, and it was there that their children and grandchildren were born. When my oldest brother attained his majority, he took possession of this place, while my mother settled at Wills Forest, which was also part of the Lane land. This, Wills Forest, became our beloved summer home, which I inherited at the death of my dear mother. At the breaking out of the war between the states, your grandfather left to his subordinates his plantation interests in the eastern part of the state, and Wills Forest became our permanent home. Although you never saw this place in its palmy days, still, you are too well acquainted with its situation to need a description. In spite of neglect, Wills Forest is still beautiful; to it my heart is ever turning with regret and longing for that which can never return. It was for many years the brightest and happiest of homes, and as such it is still remembered by many besides its former inmates.
Hospitality has ever been a marked characteristic of the Lane blood. Colonel Lane's doors were ever open, not only to his friends, but to every wayfarer, and as the small settlement, originally called Bloomsbury, became Raleigh, and the state capital, he found it necessary to build an "ornery" for the accommodation of strangers; this building stood upon Hillsborough Street, and was torn down only a short time ago. These "orneries" were a very common adjunct to gentlemen's residences in country neighborhoods, where there were no inns for the accommodation of travelers. We once stopped at one belonging to the Littles, near Littleton. It was kept by two servants, a man and his wife, belonging to the family, and they made us very comfortable.
My grandfather, Harry Lane, inherited his father's liberal and open-hearted nature, and the old home, even since the death of my brother, still maintains its character for genial hospitality. Nor was Wills Forest inferior to it in that respect. My mother, accustomed from earliest youth to lavish housekeeping, kept it up after her removal to Wills Forest, and, so long as her health permitted, ever took delight in making her home all that a kindly, open-handed hospitality could. Nor do I think its character deteriorated after your grandfather became its master. Both he and I were fond of society, and few strangers ever came to town who were not entertained at Wills Forest. This could not be possible now, but previous to the war it was not at all impossible, and, during the war, at times, we received whole families of refugees. I do not mention these facts in a boastful spirit, but only as a sample of the old customs of the South.
During the winter of 1865, we had the pleasure of entertaining the family of Colonel Norris of Baltimore, and early in March we had an unexpected visit from a large party of South Carolinians, who had been wounded in an attack made by General Kilpatrick upon Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's command at Fayetteville. Your grandfather met them in the street seeking for shelter; and, compassionating their forlorn condition, he directed them to Wills Forest. When we first caught sight of the cortege surrounding two ambulances, we were alarmed, thinking that it must be the Yankees coming to deprive us of house and home. You may, perhaps, imagine the relief when I saw the dear Confederate gray. I met the cavalcade at the front steps, and bade them welcome; the wounded were brought in and laid upon beds in the nursery, after which I directed one of our men, Frank, the carriage-driver, I think it was, to conduct the horsemen to the stable, to give the horses a plentiful feed, and then to bring the men up to the house to get their dinners. In ordinary times, this unlooked-for addition of more than twenty guests would, no doubt, have been an unwelcome tax, but in those days preceding the sad termination of the war there were so many poor, half-starved stragglers from the different commands passing to and fro, that we were never unprepared to feed as many as called upon us. At this time, two cooks were kept continually at work in the kitchen preparing such plain food as we could command: such as boiled hams, biscuit, loaf bread, corn bread, and wheat coffee. The milk and butter, all that we had, were joyfully given to our soldiers. The gray jacket was, indeed, a passport to every Southern heart. I have fed many a poor, footsore "boy in gray," but never in a single instance heard a despondent word from one of them. Most grateful they were for their good, abundant meals, but often too modest to carry any away in their haversacks.
In times of peace, both before and after the war, the social life at the table, with family and always welcome friends, was a source of much pleasure. For a dinner of ten or twelve persons, including ourselves, there would be a ham at the head, a large roast turkey at the foot, a quarter of boiled mutton, a round of beef a la mode, and a boiled turkey stuffed with oysters. In the middle of the table would be celery in tall cut-glass stands, on the sides cranberries in moulds and various kinds of pickles. With these would be served either four or six dishes of vegetables and scalloped oysters, handed hot from the plate-warmer. The dessert would be a plum pudding, clear stewed apples with cream, with a waiter in the centre filled with calf's-foot jelly, syllabub in glasses, and cocoanut or cheesecake puddings at the corners. The first cloth was removed with the meats. For a larger entertainment a roast pig would be added, ice-cream would take the place of stewed apples. The dessert cloth would be removed with the dessert, and the decanters and fruit set upon the bare mahogany, with the decanters in coasters; cigars would follow, after the ladies had left, of course.
At the time of the surrender, General Logan borrowed, or asked to borrow, my tables and cut-glass tumblers and wine-glasses; as such a request meant an order, I, of course, allowed them to be taken; to my surprise all were returned. Generals Grant and Sherman were entertained by Logan at this time, the tables being set before his tent in the grove.
When my two little girls went to day school at St. Mary's, their dinners were sent to them by a negro boy or man. He carried the basket of hot dinner, while another carried the ice for their water, while another often walked behind bearing a large watermelon. As the other day-pupils dined in a similar way, the road at this time of day would be full of negroes carrying dinners.
Since these bygone days, knowledge has increased, and men go to and fro with ease between the far corners of the earth; but I do not think that either virtue or happiness has kept pace with this increase of knowledge, nor has there ever been or will there ever be again such a country as the Old South, nor a people so good, so brave, or so true-hearted as the dear, primitive people of that good old time.
TWO BOB WHITES
Two Bob Whites were standing beneath the old thorn-bush at the far end of the orchard; indeed, they had been standing there for some time, with their heads held close, just as though they were talking together. In fact, that is just what they were doing. They were talking about the nest that they were going to build. And it was high time, for already there was a nice little brood in that nest beyond the brook. But our Bob Whites were a prudent couple; they did not approve of those early broods which came off barely in time to miss the chilly May rains. But the May spell was over now, the sun shone hot upon the waving wheat, and over the fence, there in the old field, the dewberries were ripe. Already the little boys who live in the house over yonder had been after the berries, regardless of briers and bare feet. Yes, it was high time that nest was built; but, somehow, they could not fix upon an altogether suitable location. True, the old thorn-bush, with its wide-spreading branches, was most attractive; but there the cart tracks ran too close by. As they stood thus in the clover, all undecided, they were startled by a loud cry from Robin Redbreast, whose nest was high up in that apple tree. Turning to ascertain the cause of the outcry, they espied a great, evil-looking, yellow cat, creeping through the long grass. This decided them, and without waiting another moment, they abandoned the thorn-bush and flew away to seek a safer abode. This they finally found over toward the wheat field, far away from cats and all the nuisances which attend the abodes of men.
The nest was built back of the old gray, lichen-covered fence, just above the brook where the hazels and alders grow. All around was a blackberry thicket, and a great tussock of brown sedges sheltered the nest like a roof. Just beyond the fence was the wheat field. No one ever came there, excepting that now and then on a Saturday the little boys who lived over yonder would pass by with their fishing-poles, jump the fence, and disappear in the hazel thickets. The Bob Whites didn't mind the boys, unless Nip happened to be along, nosing about in search of some mischief to get into. But as yet no little white egg lay in the nest, and when Nip cocked his impudent little ears at them, they were off with a whirr that sent him, scampering, startled and scared, after the boys. From the trees to which they had flown, the Bob Whites watched the movements of the boys with some anxiety. "They might, you know," whispered Mrs. Bob, "be after that brood of our cousin's beyond the brook; but no, they've stopped—they are throwing something into the water, and there's that good-for-nothing Nip with them, so we may go back to the nest." But they did not go, for there was that pert Jennie Wren fluttering about, as bold as anything, actually peeping into the bait gourd, and, goodness gracious! she has stolen a worm and flown off with it; what impudence! And listen, there's Cardinal Grosbeak singing to them,—
"Boys, boys, boys, Do, do, do Fish a little deeper."
There he is, just a little above them, upon the hackberry; now he's flown to that willow; he looks like a coal of fire, there among the green leaves. Now he begins again with his—
"Boys, boys, boys, Do, do, do."
"The song may do well enough, but we don't approve of such forward ways," sighed Mrs. Bob. "No," chimed in Mrs. Mate Hare, limping from her home in the broom sedge. "It's not safe, with that horrid little Nip so near; to be sure, they've got wings, but as for me, he just frightens the life out of me, with his nosing and sniffing; forever nosing and sniffing after some mischief." And she wiggled her nose and ears and looked so funny that the Bob Whites almost laughed in her face.
Before long there was a little white egg in the nest, and Bob White was so proud of it that he just stood upon the fences and called, "Bob White, Bob White, Bob White," all day long. And the boys who lived over yonder at the farmhouse said, "Listen to the Bob White, he's got a nest over there in the wheat." "Let him alone," said the farmer; "there'll be good shooting over there by and by." But Bob White had no thoughts to spare for by-and-bys. The blue June sky and the rustling wheat, the wild roses, and that little egg lying there in the nest were enough for him. So he just turned his round breast to the sunshine, and called "Bob White" louder than ever.
After a while, when the nest was full of eggs, the Bob Whites would creep through the wheat and whisper of the little ones that would soon be coming. "They'll be here by the time the wheat is ripe," says Bob. "It'll be fine feeding for them," replies Mrs. Bob. They never thought of the reapers with their sharp scythes, and of the noise and tramping, where all was now so peaceful.
While Mrs. Bob sat upon her eggs, it amused her to see the Mate Hares come limping out at sunset, very timidly at first, pausing, startled, at every sound. Soon, however, they forgot their fears and began their dances, hopping and running round and round like mad, and cutting such capers as quite scandalized the Bob Whites.
"How very odd!" said Mrs. Bob, as she settled herself over her eggs. "I have heard that the March Hares have a Bee in their bonnets." "Same family," Bob White replied drowsily. Then Mrs. Bob, pressing her soft feathers gently upon her eggs, tucked her head under her wing and slept.
Their dance over, the Mate Hares skipped down to the meadow, where the dew lay thick upon the clover. "How good!" they said, as they nibbled and munched. "So sweet and tender, with the dew upon it!" "Who would eat dry seeds like the Bob Whites?" said one. "And go to sleep at dusk!" snickered another. "And whistle all day!" said a third. "As much as to say to all men and dogs, 'Here I am, come and shoot me;' so silly! Oh, there's no family like the Mate Hares for sense; come, let's have another dance." So they skipped and hopped and munched clover until the dawn sent them scudding away to their homes.
Well, at last, upon a sunny June morning, the lonely field was no longer lonely, neither was it quiet; for the grain was ripe and the reapers had come. Yes, the reapers had come, and with them came Nip. Yes, there he was, showing that ugly little red tongue of his, and poking his black nose into every hole and bush; no place was safe from those inquisitive eyes and sharp little cruel teeth. Mr. Bob watched him with a fluttering heart, as he ran sniffing about; suddenly, there came a sharp yelp, and then Mrs. Mate Hare's cotton tail went flying over rock and brier, followed by Nip, with his short, inadequate legs. Soon, however, he tired of this fun, and, trotting back, cocked his ears at the brier patch, sniffed about it, and crept in. Bob White, with an anxious call, flew into a tree.
"He's got a nest somewhere about there," said one of the reapers. "I bet it's full of eggs," he added. "Yes, but the boss has give orders that they ain't to be tetched," said another. Then there came from the thicket a growl and a yelp, and Mrs. Bob, with a loud whirr, flew to her mate. "Nip's got 'em!" cried one of the men, and, picking up a stone, he ran to the thicket, from whence now issued yelps of anguish. "He'll not trouble them again, I reckon," the man said, with a grin, as he picked up his scythe.
Nip trotted home with a crestfallen and dejected air, but the Bob Whites, still agitated, remained in the tree, with necks craned anxiously toward the nest. When, at length, Mrs. Bob found courage to return, the melancholy sight met her eyes of three broken eggs, some more scattered ones, and a generally disordered nest. Bob now came to her assistance, the scattered eggs were put back, the nest repaired, and Mrs. Bob contentedly seated herself upon it.
The hatching time was drawing near, and it was a most exciting period. Mrs. Bob sat very still, but, as for Bob, he just fidgeted from nest to tree and back again, stopping around and asking questions. Yes, one egg is pipped; they'll all be out by to-morrow. And so they were,—thirteen little puff-balls, upon tiny coral feet. "There would have been sixteen, but for that horrid Nip," sighed Mrs. Bob. But she was very proud and happy, as she led the little brood through the brush, showed them how to pick up ants' eggs, and tore up the soft mould for grubs and other dainties. When the nimble little feet grew tired, she took them to the alder thicket, where, hidden away beneath her feathers, they piped themselves to rest. It was very quiet now: the reapers had gone; there was no rustling of waving wheat, only the shocks stood up silent; there was only the soft clang, clang from the bell-cow, as the herd went home. Then the sun went down, and grayness followed, and from the thicket came the sad cry of the Chuck Will's widow. But the Bob Whites were fast asleep. At dawn, Bob White stood upon the topmost rail, and whistled and whistled as loud as he could; he felt so happy that he had to repeat, "Bob White, Bob White" to everything that he saw,—to the bell-cow, as she passed by on her way to the meadow; then to the boy, who popped his whip and whistled back; then to the trees, which nodded in return. When the sun came glinting through the leaves and set the dewdrops to glistening and the whole world to laughing, he whistled louder than ever, just for joy. But presently the reapers came again. Then Bob White slipped away and hid himself far down amid the alders, where Mrs. Bob was showing the puff-balls how to pick up grubs and how to use their little nimble legs in running after gnats and other good things. "Don't try to catch that great bee, but come and pick up these ants' eggs," she called, as she threw aside the earth with her strong claws. "You must attend to what I say, for you are very ignorant little things, and if you are not careful to mind what I say you may be caught up by a hawk at any moment. So, listen: when I say 'Tuk,' you must hide yourselves immediately; don't try to run away, but just get under a rock, or even a leaf, or just flatten yourselves upon the ground, if you can't do better; you are so nearly the color of the ground that a boy will never see you, and you can even escape a hawk's keen eye."
After a while, mother and brood left the alder thicket, and, as the reapers were now in a distant part of the field. Mrs. Bob led them all to a sunny spot where they might pick upon the fallen grains and wallow in the dry, hot sand. It was very nice to do this, and they were having a charming time, when suddenly voices were heard, and at once two boys were upon them. But not so much as one little brown head or one little pink toe was visible; the sign had been given, and now only a poor, wounded Bob White lay in the path before them. "She's dead," said one of the boys. "No, she ain't, her wing's broke," cried the other, as he made a dive at her. But somehow, Mrs. Bob continued to flop the broken wing, and to elude them. Another futile dive, and the two tin buckets containing the reapers' dinners were thrown down and forgotten in the keen interest of chasing the wounded Bob White, who managed to flop and flutter just beyond their reach until she had led them quite across the field,—then, with a whirr, she bounded into the air and safely perched herself upon a distant tree. The astonished small boys gazed blankly after her, wiped their hot faces upon their sleeves, and turned, reluctantly, to pick up their buckets. As they went along, hot and crestfallen, one of them suddenly exclaimed: "She's got young ones hid yonder, I bet," and with that they set off at a run. Mrs. Bob White, who knew boy-nature well, craned her neck to watch, and fluttered nearer. Then Bob White came, and both continued to watch with anxiously beating hearts, for those little boys were evidently bent upon mischief. Would the poor little puff-balls outwit them? One little piping cry, one brown head raised, and all would be lost. But, as they watched, their fears began to subside. The boys are again wiping their hot faces, they look discouraged, they have evidently found nothing; yes, certainly not, for, see, they are picking up their buckets, and now they are going across the field to where the reapers are calling them to hurry along with their dinners.
Such daily annoyances as this now determined the Bob Whites to take refuge in the alder thicket, in whose deep seclusion they soon regained tranquillity of spirits. The dampness of the situation, however, proving most unfavorable to their brood, they anxiously awaited the time when the departure of the reapers would restore quiet and enable them to return to their haunts. At length the wished-for time arrived; from the topmost boughs of the big maple Bob White could see neither man, boy, or dog, in the whole length and breadth of the field. Summoning the family together, they joyfully crept through the brush to bask in the broad stretches of sunshine and to pick up the scattered grain amid the stubble. Here they remained through all the long summer days, their solitude broken only by the yellow butterflies and by the big brown grasshoppers bumping about in the stubble, the silence broken only by the occasional jangle from the bell-cow, as she shook the deerflies from her sleek sides.
By and by, when the goldenrod was yellow upon the hillside, the young ones, in their new brown coats, began to try their wings, and felt very proud if they could make them whirr, when they rose to the fence or to a low brush. Had they been boys, they would have been called hobbledehoys; but, being Bob Whites, they were known as squealers, and as such they felt very mannish and ambitious to be independent; but, nevertheless, they still liked to huddle together at nightfall and talk over the day's doings, close to, if not under, the mother's wing.
By and by, again, when goldenrod stood brown and sere upon the hillside and the sumach glowed red in the fence corners and thickets, when the fall crickets were chiming their dirge down amid the grass roots and the air was growing frosty at nights, then the Bob Whites grew restless and took flight for a far-off pea field, noted as a feeding-ground. Here they met other families of kinsfolks, and then began a right royal time, running nimbly through the rich pea vines or scratching in sassafras or sumach thickets for insects, growing fat and growing lazy all the time. The gourmand of the autumn was in manner quite a contrast to the Bob Whites of the days of young wheat and wild roses. No blithe, good music now issued from that throat so intent upon good cheer. True, some unpleasant rumors are afloat. The Mate Hares, scudding frantically away, reported an advance of men, with guns and dogs; but the Mate Hares were always silly and unreliable. So our Bob Whites just keep on eating and making merry. Fortune may favor them,—who knows? Let us hope, and listen out next year for the cheery "Bob White, Bob White," from the old nesting-place.
The cool fogginess of an August morning has melted under the fierce sun. The level fields, like a waveless ocean, stretch away into the dim, green distance. The hot air quivers above cotton-fields, heavy with bolls and gay with blossoms, which give out a half-sickening fragrance. A languid air rustles low amid the corn, from whose dense growth arises a damp, hot breath. Out in the pasture, work-horses leisurely crop the sunburnt grass, or stand under the trees, lazily switching away the swarming gnats.
A restful quiet broods over the big plantation, for the plow and the hoe have finished their task; sun and showers must do the rest. The crop is "laid by," and the summer holidays have begun. Three days of rest before the gathering in begins.
Over at the quarter, the young people fill the long, lazy day with patting and dancing, banjo-playing and watermelon-eating. The elders, for the most part, are absorbed in preparations for the big holiday dinner. By dawn, holes have been dug in the ground and heated for the barbecuing of various meats, and those who hold the honorable posts of cooks are busily engaged in basting, tasting, and sending the small urchins after fuel. Some of the women are kneading flour hoe-cakes; others, gathered about a table under a great mulberry tree, are peeling fruit for pies, while now and then they raise their voices with blood-curdling threats to hasten the lagging steps of a little gang, which, looking like a string of black beetles, troop slowly along from the orchard, each holding in the skirt of his solitary garment the small store of fruit which he has not been able to eat. A row of tables spread in the shade stands ready for the feast, and, along the pathway, the guests from neighboring plantations are already approaching.
Up at the great house an unnatural quiet prevails, for upon this day all work is laid aside and all are off to the barbecue; even old Aunt Sylvie has forgotten the "misery" in her back, has donned her Sunday garments, and stepped briskly off to the quarter; cook, too, has closed the ever-open kitchen door and departed, along with nurse, over whose toilet her little charges have presided with so much zeal that they have emptied their mother's cologne flask in order to bedew their mammy's pocket-handkerchief to their satisfaction.
Tiny curly-headed Jack feels rather disconsolate without his mammy, but is partially consoled by flattering visions of what her pockets will bring home at the end of the day.
Away down upon the creek the little gristmill stands silent; the old mossy wheel has for to-day ceased its splash and clatter, and, like all else upon the plantation, is resting from its labor; to-day no sacks stand open-mouthed, awaiting their turn; no little creaking carts, no mill boys mounted astride their grists are seen upon the path, and Wat, the miller, in the lazy content of dirt and idleness, lies basking in the sun. Within the wattle fence on the other side of the path, his three children, little Dave, Emma Jane, and a fat baby, are sprawling upon the ground, along with the house pig, two puppies, and the chickens. Little Dave, who is perhaps somewhat dwarfed by toting first Emma Jane in her infancy, and now the fat baby, looks not unlike a careworn little ape, as he sits flat upon the ground, spreading his bony toes for the baby to claw at.
Emma Jane, with her stout little body buttoned into a homespun frock, is also seated in the sand, solemnly munching upon a hunk of corn bread, while the chickens, with easy familiarity, peck at the crumbs which fall upon her black shins. Within the cabin, Polly, the miller's wife, has tied a string of beads about her sleek black throat, and now, in all the bravery of her flowered calico, is ready to set off for the quarter; first, though, she pauses at the gate to speak to little Dave.
"When de chile git hongry, you git dat sweeten water off de shelf and gie it to him long wid his bread;" then adds, with a suspicion of tenderness upon her comely face; "I gwine fetch you some pie." Then, calling to Wat, that he had better "fix his sef and come along, ef he speck to git any of de dinner," she steps briskly along the narrow pathway, mounts the zigzag fence, and disappears amid the high corn.
Some miles below, where the little creek which turns the mill-wheel steals from out the swamp to join the river, a clumsy, flat-bottomed scow lies grounded upon a sand-bar. This is no evil to Boat Jim, who, sprawled upon the deck, snores away the hours, regardless of the blistering sun beating down upon his uncovered head, and all unconscious of the departure of his chance passenger, an itinerant organ-grinder. This fellow, having had the ill luck to lose the respectable member of the firm, his monkey, and finding difficulty without the aid of his little partner to attract an audience, had, while idling about the docks, encountered Boat Jim, and persuaded the latter to give him a lift up the river, the condition being that he was to grind as much music as Jim should desire. But, disgusted with three days of slow progress upon the boat, he had, after viciously kicking the unconscious Jim, stolen the small boat and put himself ashore. Following the windings of the creek, he came to the little mill, where, attracted by the shade, he seated himself close to the wattle fence of Polly's little yard. Hearing voices, he peeped through the fence, and his eyes were soon fixed upon little Dave, who, with the fat baby and Emma Jane for spectators, is performing various tricks with infinite delight to himself. He stands upon his head, he turns somersaults, he dances, he pats, and finally he swings himself into a tree, where he skips about with the agility of a monkey. A thought comes into the organ-grinder's head; he glances at the silent mill and at the cabin: evidently both are deserted; here is a chance to replace the dead monkey.
The sun is sending long shafts of crimson light into the swamp and glinting upon the millhouse; the high corn, awakening from its midday torpor, rustles softly to the evening breeze, as Wat and Polly wend their way homeward. A bucket, lightly poised upon Polly's head, holds scraps of barbecue and little Dave's promised pie, and, as she draws near the wattle fence, she thinks, with a pleased smile, of how she will set it before "de chilluns," when a prolonged howl falls upon her ears. Recognizing the voice of Emma Jane, she says to herself: "She hongry, I spek," and trudges on, in nowise disturbed by this familiar sound. But, when they enter the yard, there is only Emma Jane, bawling, open-mouthed, beside the baby, who, with the house pig, lies asleep on the warm sand. The chickens are daintily picking their way to the house, the old muscovy duck has tucked her head under her wing for the night, Old Keep, the stump-tailed coon dog, crawls from under the cabin to greet them. But where is Dave?
The miller carries the sleeping child indoors, followed by the still bawling Emma Jane, while the wrathful Polly goes to the back of the house. Stripping the twigs from a switch, she mutters: "I knows what you's arter; you tuck yoursef to dat watermillion patch, dat whar you gone; but ne' mine, boy, you jest le' me git hold o' you." Then, after a time given to unsuccessful search, calls of "Da-a-vie—oh, oh, Dave!" fall upon the stillness, to be answered only by weird echo from the lonely swamp. Returning from her search, she finds Wat seated upon the doorstep.
"Dave done took hissel off to de quarter," he says; "but no mind, I gwine fill him full o' licks in de mornin'."
But, when morning comes and brings no little Dave, wrath gives place to fear. The plantation is aroused; finally the mill-pond is dragged, and, although the body is not found, the conclusion is that the boy has been drowned.
After a time Polly's smile beams as broadly as ever, but her heart still yearns for her boy, and amid the sleepy drone of her spinning-wheel, she pauses to listen; or, standing in her door, she looks ever wistfully along the crooked path. Across the way, the little mill clatters on as merrily as of yore; Wat heaves the great sacks upon his brawny shoulder, metes out the grist, and faithfully feeds the hopper; but, when a chance shadow falls athwart the sunny doorway, he looks up with a gleam of hope upon his stupid, honest face, then brushes his hand across his eyes, and goes on in stolid patience with his work. So the summer and the autumn pass, without change, save that Emma Jane substitutes sweet potatoes for corn bread, and the fat baby has learned to balance himself upon his bowlegs.