Images de page

that Virginia houses and Virginia tables are all made of indiarubber, and stretch to any extent. I speak of course of the country, where you are not cabined, cribbed, confined' by strange masses of brick and mortar.

The walk, the ride, the book, are often varied, it is true, by special business or amusement. It may

be a fox-hunt; it


be a drill of volunteers; it may be a public meeting ; for Virginians, God save the mark! are not free from the curse of politics, or the drudgery of self-imposed and often infructuous functions. Beside, I think there are some six or seven hundred elections in the year, from watchmen up to Governors, where few men of public spirit would fail to exercise the inalienable rights of American citizens, even were their devotion to cost their health, wealth, and repose. If some wise person had not devised the plan of putting à dozen or two of candidates for various offices upon a party ticket, the poor citizens would have had nothing to do all their lives but to elect.

There is no lack of amusement, however, in a Virginian country house. Many, indeed most of the country gentlemen are well read, though not profoundly learned ; and the character of the popular mind, discursive and expatiating, renders conversation lively and interesting. There is, beyond doubt, a fondness for abstraction, but it is by no means carried to the extent which some of their Northern fellow-citizens impute to the people of this State; and one great blessing is, that we never find that tendency lead to discussion of free grace and predestination.

Thus, in easy toil and pleasant amusement pass the hours of summer day-light. The autumn — the finest but least healthy season of the year - has also its enjoyments.

More exercise can be then taken, either on horse-back or on foot, and life runs as smoothly on the large plantations as it does in any country of the earth. True, the intense heat of the summer, musquitoes, and every winged pest that lives, detract a little, especially from the enjoyment of foreigners; and sometimes, toward night, a little dulness comes upon the march of Time. But then, for the gentlemen, at least, and sometimes for the ladies also, come the 'coon-hunt or the 'possum-hunt. Both must be pursued at night, and are full of sport. For the latter, the party must set out in the early darkness. Dogs, gentlemen, negroes, all assemble at the house or near it, and then forth they issue to the spots most frequented by the cunning vermin. On they go upon the darkling path, till suddenly the sharp eyes or sharp scent of the dogs discover the night-wanderer, and they rush after him, tracking every step. The opossum does not usually run far, but betakes himself speedily to the first little tree he meets with, after he has found out that he is pursued. Up he goes to some thin branch above, and clings, well satisfied to think that his four-footed enemies cannot come after him; but there are the cunning bipeds too upon his trail. He is besieged in his fortress; the little tree is either bent down to the ground, so shaken that he can hold no longer, or cut down by the blows of

an axe.

Down flounders Master 'Possum, and lies quite still, as if he were killed by the fall : not a sign of life in him hands, teet, tail, all still - on his back, on his side, just as he fell. But he is only ‘ playing 'possum;' and the negro gourmand or experienced hunter knows the trick right well, and they soon carry

him off to grace the spit the following day.

The raccoon hunt is pursued in much the same manner; but good coon-dogs are indispensable, and the chase takes place in the early morning. More active and more game, he gives more sport, runs faster and farther, and when brought down from his tree, shows fight, to the detriment of his canine, and sometimes his human pursuers. But 'Coon's fate and 'Possum's are both the same in the end, and the skin is the trophy of the victory:

But a Virginia marriage is perhaps the highest exemplification of the country life in this State. Form, ceremony, are abandoned, though many a good old custom still prevails. Friends, relatives pour in from all quarters: no regard is had to the size of the house or the sort of accommodation. Abundance of every thing is found, and if there be a defect, it is never noticed in the universal hilarity that prevails. Nor are the rejoicings restrained to one day! I have known them last the week, and the whole bridal party cross a broad river to renew on the other side of the water the merriment of the preceding day, with some distant friend or relation.

But enough of plantation life. We need only pause to remark that there is a class of smaller planters, who represent the sturdy yeomanry of England, from whom, in all probability, they spring, is happy probably as their richer neighbors, not so learned, but endowed with that good, hard common-sense which is the best every-day wear in the world. They have competence and ease, if not wealth, and most of them feel with the merry statesman who exclaimed: Give me the otium, hang the dignitate.'

There is another phase of Virginia country life, where we do not have rus in urbe, but rather where the town finds its way into the country. Let us call this, Village Life. At some particular spot, the crossing of two or three roads, a rail-road dépôt, the passage of a river, or the neighborhood of a tavern, the solitary house takes unto itself a companion; another and another follow. Then must come a store, generally furnished with a vast variety of heterogeneous articles, such as hard cider and buttons, tape and butter, bacon and pins, to say nothing of needles, thread, and calico. Moreover, there is a little store of the most commonly-used medicines : tincture of ginger, hive syrup, and castor oil, a good deal of laudanum, and a barrel of whiskey. But in the constant mutations of this transitory world, the store is found wanting in some respect for the needs or caprice of the neighbors. Mrs. Perkins «leclares that she never can get any thing she wants at the store :

Really, Mr. Catskin, who keeps it, should be better supplied.' In the end, down comes a rival to Mr. Catskin - a nice young man, just married.

He builds himself a house; and the new store is greatly patronized, especially if 'the nice young man, just

[ocr errors]

married, adds the faculty of preaching to that of selling bobbin and other dry-goods. The place becomes popular; more dwellings are added; the tavern grows into a hotel; a bar-room gives the opportunity and inducement to drunkenness; a row or two takes place; and the magnates of the village meet together, and consult as to what is to be done. They are not at all ambitious : they would prefer being in the village condition still; but they are becoming populous; there are at least a hundred and fifty souls in the place, including women and children; something must really be done to keep order; and nothing can be done, till an act of incorporation is obtained, and the village turned into a town. Now there is not a single legislator in the whole State, who has the least objection to its being a town, the moment that it likes it : but a mighty fuss is made over the matter; the member for the district is intrusted with the passing of the measure; it is brought forward, debated, argued, speeches are made pro and con; and the inhabitants are delighted with the importance attached to their bill. At length the measure is carried, and the good souls obtain the right of electing their own officers, regulating their own affairs, and managing their own business as unto them seemeth good. Next comes the first election; and only fancy the dignity and satisfaction of every man, woman, child, and little dog in the Town. There are eight officers to be elected, seven trustees, the chairman of whom is mayor, and one sergeant, and the number of electors is eighteen. But, alas! the contest is neither fierce nor exciting. Good Virginian common-sense comes into play. A gentleman of high literary attainments, a good knowledge of law, and a house with two wings, is the choice of his fellow-citizens for mayor; and after a proportionate amount of mint-juleps, the very best men, probably, who could be selected, are named for the various offices.

It is a very curious fact, and one worthy of notice, that such in Virginia is the virtue of mint, an amount of brandy which would obfuscate the intellect if imbibed in a crude state, is so corrected and directed by the salubrious herb as to acciminate the perceptive faculties. There must not be too many glasses, however; and who shall say that too many are not sometimes drank ?

In the mean time, while the election has been going on, neighbors and friends have been pouring into the town of Doodledumville; the evening shades fall round; the bar stands invitingly open, and sundry minor offences are committed which might call for interference on the part of the mayor; but happily for himself and the public, he is not yet in a position to exercise his magisterial functions. But those functions must soon be exercised : municipal laws are enacted, municipal taxes are determined, and the awful face of justice is unveiled. Now, with the lady of the scales and weights, as with other people, it does not do to show her teeth without biting. Some public assemblage takes place, Heaven knows for what; Mr. Jeremy from the neighboring country gets drunk — very drunk — exceedingly drunk indeed.

He becomes pugnacious; sets mayor and sergeant and even justice of the peace at defiance; he draws a bowie-knife; cares for nobody; swears he will cut somebody's throat — no matter whose. The mayor is determined to do his duty; he will have no throats cut there. The sergeant is equally determined, and, after a stout but

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed]

ill-directed resistance, Mr. Jeremy is arrested. What is to be done with him ? Heaven knows. There is neither prison, cage, nor lock-up in the whole place. There is not a house strong enough to keep in a sparrow. The sergeant cannot keep holding on to his neck all night. But a bright thought strikes the mayor. Luckily there is the rail-road hard by, and eke the tavern. The

with a grave

and determined countenance, walks up to the delinquent and thus addresses him: “Mr. Jeremy, you have committed a serious offence, which cannot be tolerated in the town of Doodledumville. You have got drunk, and misconducted yourself: you have damned the chief magistrate, cursed the trustees, and assaulted the sergeant. The majesty of the law must be vindicated. Sir, till you are sober I shall commit you to prison.

Then responds Mr. Jeremy: ‘Go to h—11, you old coon, (hiccup.) Prison! I should like to see your prison, (hiccup ;) where the devil is your prison ? I care no more for you than for that nigger boy, (hiccup.) You ’ve stolen my knife, or I'd give you four inches of steel medicine. Did nt I fight in the Mexican war?— tell me that (hiccup) — and d'ye think I care a cuss for you or your prisons ? Where's your prison? You han't got such a thing, (hiccup.):

The mayor then replies with dignity: 'Sir you stand committed! But as the whole spirit of our laws requires us to temper justice with mercy, I give you your choice, whether you will be incarcerated in the ice-house or shut up in the box-car of this depot.'

MR. JEREMY: 'I do n't care a straw. Shut me up where you like, and keep me in if you can.'

The box-car is judged preferable, and Mr. Jeremy is marched off with all the honors; but alas ! for the impotence of even official will. Mr. Jeremy had not only served in the Mexican war, but he had worked on a rail-road, and the next morning the box-car is found empty, and Mr. Jeremy is over the hills and far away.'

Such is one phase of Virginia village life. There are others and fairer ones where the native kindness of heart and true Christian benevolence, which find no where greater room for exercise than in those small communities, are displayed in their brightest light. I must needs hurry on, however, or fail in obeying your behest.

The negro life of Virginia differs very little, I believe, from the negro life all through the South. In return for food, clothing, house-room, medical attendance, and support in old age, about one third of the labor which is required of the white man in most countries is demanded of the black. He performs it badly, and would not perform it at all if he were not compelled. The rest of his time is spent in singing, dancing, laughing, chattering, and bringing up pigs and chickens. That negroes are the worst serv. ants in the world, every man, I believe, but a thorough-bred Southern man, will admit; but the Southerner has been reared amongst them from his childhood, and in general has a tenderness and affection for them of which Northern men can have no conception. Great care is taken by the law to guard them against oppression and wrong; and after six years' residence in the State, I can safely say, I never saw more than one instance of cruelty toward a negro, and that was perpetrated by a foreigner. That there may still be evils in the system which might be removed by law, and that there may be individual instances of oppression and even bad treatment, I do not deny, but those instances are not so

« PrécédentContinuer »