George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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The new times demanded the new church ; its
gothic beauty deserves the admiration it has re-
ceived; its organ, touched by a master's hand, doth
utter forth a glorious voice ; but so long as one beam
of the old church is fastened to another, and so long
as memory holds her seat, so long there will be one
who will turn from the finer architecture of the
modern structure and forget the grander music of
the organ, to muse over the simpler manners of the
past, and to bring back the plain hymn-music and
the singers that sang it of old, in the Sacred Furni-
ture Wareroorns.




I HA YEN'T got much beard, but what little there
is of it is the worst kind of beard. In the first
place, it is more like Berlin wire, tough and hard,
than an animal or other substance.

Some people, you know, contend that the hair and
nails are vegetables, inasmuch as they continue to
grow after a body is dead. But my beard is a metal.
In the next place, my beard crops out at all sorts of
angles, that on my chin growing downwards, like
anybody else's, while that on my cheeks grows up-
wards, and that on my throat emerges sideways in
every direction, like the rays of a starfish. Lastly,
my skin is exceedingly tender, my jaws very hollow,
and my neck scraggy and fluted, like a consumptive
Corinthian column if you can imagine such a thing.
The consequence is that I can't shave myself, even if
I knew how to sharpen a razor, a feat which I have
often attempted, and shall never perform. That's
certain, for I've tried and tried, till there is no use
in trying. Indeed, it is impossible for a barber to
shave me clean. You see, he can't get at my beard,
and if he could, lie dare not shave both ways, for if


lie does he leaves my face as bloody as a black-heart
cherry, just skinned.

Leander Harrison, the best barber in the State,
according to my thinking, will tell you that my beard
is the worst beard that ever disfigured the human

How serious a thing it is not to be able to shave
myself you will be able to understand as soon as I
tell you how I got shaved in Charlotte. Listen : In
the year 1850 or 1851 the date is not important
I started from town what town ? on horseback
wiiose horse's back ? If you had seen my horse, you
would at once have detected my business. He was
a showy horse, and his trappings, down to the very
martingale, were spick and span new. Saddle-bags
were new, and full of new clothes. Umbrella was
'new, hat new, gloves new, wiiip new in fact, the
whole turnout, rider included, had that slick var-
nished look that things have when fresh from the
hands of the cabinet-maker. I was five and twenty
years old, and the summer was just closing. Surely
you must guess that, although I was not going north,
my object was to lay in a stock of dry goods for the

The day was fine. I had a plenty of excellent
cigars, and never felt better in my life.

Our appearance ("our" meaning the horse and
myself) attracted the attention of everybody we
passed. We were especially pleased with the com-
pliment passed upon us by one of a group of small
negroes, who assembled around us when we stopped


at a woe-begone house on the roadside to get a drink
of water. The compliment ran thus : " Unh ! if dat
ar ain't de pootyest white man and de pootyest hoss
and bridle, I wisht I may nuvver." Under the im-
pulse of this praise we struck off gaily into that lone-
some road that leads to the particular locality in the
county of Charlotte which was the goal of my am-
bition. For twenty miles we passed not a solitary
traveller, and scarcely a human habitation.

I recall only a single log-hut on the left-hand side
of the road. Some two score sickly tobacco plants
crowded up to the very door of this hut, showing
that it was inhabited; but not a living thing was

Fifty yards down the road I overtook a draggle-
tailed rooster, who ran out of my way and hid be-
hind a chestnut tree, and set up a crow in the weak
accents of unmistakable bronchitis. My horse
switched his tail as if to resent the insult, and on
we went along the lonely road. I began to feel not
so comfortable in the saddle as I had been at start-
ing, and my high spirits abated. As I had never
been in that region before, it soon became very cer-
tain that my invariable rule of getting lost had not
been broken. But there was the "main, plain road,"
and all I had to do was to follow it. So I followed
it. And the trot of the showy horse became harder
and harder. Nothing but the ever-delightful and
continually recurring reverie, in which I had been
indulging from the moment I set out, sustained me
while that showy horse trotted harder and still harder


along that dreary road through the interminable
chestnut woods. All at once I was rudely awakened
from my delicious day-dream. The horse had
stopped ; and this is what made him stop :

By rueBin b Riles

This sign, painted in white letters on a black
ground, was fastened by a wooden pin, driven through
its centre, into an augur hole in an immense hewn
gate-post. There was one post, and no fence at all,
only a horse-rack, made of a piece of cedar, with its
many branches trimmed off, laid upon two forked
uprights of Spanish oak. The house had been a large
and good one. Now it was far gone in dark decay,
as were also the few remaining out-houses. All the
old trees had died out ; one side of the large yard
contained a thicket of young locusts, while the other
was imshaded, and almost grassless.

I thought to myself that Mr. Briles's entertainment
was likely to be rather indifferent. Still, it was the
best I could do. So, seeing nobody, I sang out, af-
ter the English fashion,


~No answer.

" House!"

Not a word.

" HOUSE !" this time as loud as I could bawl.

To my surprise I was answered from behind.


"'Taint 'house,' 'tis Briles."

"Ah!" said I, turning around, "how do you do,

" Right peart ; how'd y' come on yourself ?"
The speaker was a fine specimen of a Virginia
countryman; over six feet, bony, dark, athletic, but
lazy, good-natured, yet passionate, and clad only in
a coarse shirt and still coarser " bluein " pantaloons.
" What place is this ?" I asked.

" And where is Mr. Briles ?"
"Wharuvver he is thar you'll find me."
"Well, Mr. Briles, can I get dinner?"
" Sertiiey you kin. We all done dinner mo'n two
hours, and I was jes goin' squrl huntiii' ; but the
leaves is too thick yet awhile, and thar's plenty a
time befo' sundown. I recon we can git you. up
sornethin' or nuther pretty quick that'll do to stay
your stummuck. Boy !"

"Boy" was uttered in a tone calculated to raise
the dead, and very soon a cornfield hand came run-
ning to take my horse. Dismounting slowly, I found
myself so sore from the trotting I had undergone
that I could hardly walk into the house, the inside
of which I will not describe, lest it make this story
too long. Suffice it to say, that it corresponded with
the outside. Depositing my bran new saddle-bags
on the bench it was mighty hard in the porch, I
sat down and took off my hat and cravat, the better
to cool off.

"Take somethin', Mister?"


"With great pleasure," I replied.

"'Taint so dog-goned good, but you're 'bundant
welcome to it. Spos'n I make you a julep ?"

"Very well," said I.

A julep of new whiskey, with brown sugar, and
without ice is rather a hard thing to worry down,,
but I was so exhausted that I really enjoyed it.
After I had finished it, I asked Briles': " What
county is this ?"

" Tcharlut."


" Tcharlut ; the county uv Tcharlut."

"Oh! Charlotte."

"Yes; Tcharlut."

"Well, how far is it from here to the Court

"A little over twenty-one mile jest twenty-one
mile to a nit's night-cap from that ar big white oak
up yonder at the forks uv the road."

" And what is this part of the country called ?
Has it any particular name ?"

" To be sho'. Right here is Brileses, which it is a
presink; but this here ridge ar called 'Venjunce

"Indeed! Why so?"

" They was bleest to name it somethin', I reckon,
and that's what it took its name from."

"Ah! Well, does a gentleman named Cooke
live anywhere in this neighborhood ?"

"Thar's old Beazly Cooke keeps a wheelwright
shop up here about two mile down in the Cub Creek


" He is not the man."

"Thar's Joneeston Cooke, owns 'bout two hundred
niggers, on the river."

"No; it is not he."

"Oh!" he exclaimed, with the most inoffensive
impertinence. " Oh ! I seen your hand plain two
bullets and a bragger a queen by the livins ! It's
the ole Captain you mean. I might a' known you
was arter courtin somethin'. He's rich as mornin'&

"Why, you don't expect me to court him?"

"Yes, maybe I don't. Ef he didn't had them
thousand acres o' low groun's that ar bridle and
saddle would nuvver have stopped at Brileses."

"Well," said I, "if you will turn a city collector
into a courting man, I can't help it."

"Pretty decking you'll do, I jes bet. You'll
cleckt a hundred and twenty poun' uv lady-meat and
about thirty niggers, or else you'll cleckt a kicking ;
one or tuther, sertin."

All this was said in such an indescribably good-
natured, honest tone, that I could not take offence.
So I told Briles that I would take a nap until dinner
was ready.

In what appeared to me a half minute, but was in
fact half an hour, I was awakened by Briles, and told
that dinner was on the table. A small table, covered
with a dingy cloth, was placed in the middle of the
dining room, and thereon I found chicken, ham and
eggs, some sweet potatoes and butter-beans. In ad-
dition to these, there was a plate of good butter, a


pitcher of milk, and three large hoe-cakes. This
was the dinner. Affixed to the ceiling, just over the
table, I perceived one of those fixtures which years
ago used to be in vogue in much larger taverns,
called, I believed, a fan. It consisted of a long piece
of red cloth, suspended by mechanical contrivances
which I cannot describe, and was kept in motion by
means of a rope pulled by a negro boy, who stood
exactly in the centre of the fire-place. As I sat
down, the boy began to pull the fan with vigor.

Briles apologized for his dinner. " Its pritty po'
eatin', and if you jest had waited tel supper time, I'd
a had you some squrls. We kill a ram lam' yistiddy,
the finest you uvver see, fat two inches thick on the
ribs, but the nigger took and put it in the spring
house, thout fastnin' the do,' and the fust thing a ole
houii' sneak in thar and eat it up clean to the bone."
During these remarks, Briles once or twice inter-
rupted himself to say in a loud voice, "boy!" to
which the negro pulling the fan would answer " suli,"
and pull the fan more vigorously than before. Then
Briles would go on with what he had to say. But
he was evidently annoyed about something.

"Of co'se the dog didn't eat"



The fan fluttered faster.

"Didn't eat all the lam', because "



The fan flapped still faster.


"Because we all had done sent a good part of it
away to vayus neighbors "



The fan was going at a terrific rate. Briles
thundered out

"BOY! don't be so dam' induschus!" Never was
a negro so taken aback. He had supposed all the
time, that the object of his master in calling him was
to urge him on in the work of keeping off the flies
with the fan, and now, when he discovered his mis-
take, I don't think the whole county of " Tcharlut"
could have presented a more pitably chop-fallen
spectacle. I laughed outright. But Briles glared at
him savagely, until I thought he would have fallen
where he stood.

When dinner was over, the master of the house
invited me to go out hunting with him, a proposition
to which I would willingly have acceded, if I had not
been so stiff and sore. Briles went off. I lighted
my cigar and lolled upon the bench in the porch. I
pass over the night and the particulars of my intro-
duction to Mrs. Briles, who proved to be both ugly
and quarrelsome for which last Briles, very con-
fidingly, accounted, by saying " there nuvver was no
peace in no family that didn't have children."

The next morning I found myself even more stiff
and sore than I had been the evening previous.
Every joint ached. It was plain that I had to pass
the day at Briles's. Briles did his best to make my
stay agreeable, but the constant sharp voice of Mrs.


jBriles, as she scolded the negroes in the back yard,
and my natural impatience to reach my journey's
end, made all his efforts abortive.

However, the second morning came and found me,
not exactly supple, but able to mount the trotting-
horse again, and to endure him for a season. I de-
termined to hasten on immediately after breakfast.
But when I went to the little dingy-looking glass to
brush my hair, a terrible fact was revealed to me :
My beard was three days old ! Shave I must, and
that immediately; but I could not shave myself. I
had no razor. Strange that I had never thought of
that before leaving town. But somebody must shave
me. Who f There were no barbers in that coun-
try; it was doubtful whether Briles ever shaved at
all ; and what to do I knew not. The case, as it ap-
peared to me at this time, was so grave that I find
it impossible to impart it. I was young, was going
to a highly respectable house, on business of the ut-
most importance. It was indispensable to a good
first impression that my appearance should at least
be decent. As these reflections crowded upon me, I
made up my mind to return to town, get shaved, and
bring a barber back with me.

When I went down to breakfast I told Briles of
my unhappy condition. Sympathizing with me, he
; said he " wished to goodness he could shave me, but
he couldn't. He could trim ha'r tollibly, but never
had laid no razor to no man's jaw but his own."
After thinking over the matter for some time, it
suddenly occurred to him that his man "Benj'min"


liad worked on the " Gunnel," and may be he knew
how to shave. So Benj'min was called. He proved
to be a clumsy, self-important creature, who " 'low'd
he could shave a gent'man good as any barber."
Rather than ride back thirty miles to town, I con-
sented to let Benjamin try his hand on me, upon the
following terms, proposed by himself :

1st. He didn't want me to pay him nuthin no

2nd. If he " made the bleed come," he " wouldn't
take nuthin if I w T as to gin it to him."

3rd. He agreed to shave me " two days under the

4th. If I had " a little ole wescut or hankcher,"
Benjamin would be a thousand times " obleeged" to
me for either of them.

This contract being accepted on my part, Briles
went off to a " vandue," and Benjamin went off after
.his shaving implements. I waited in moody silence
his return.

Soon I heard Mrs. Briles quarrelling with Benja-
min because he attempted to take some of the cook's
hot water, and thought something was said about
" soap," but of this last I was not certain. I waited
and waited. It was fully an hour before Benjamin
came back. In one hand he held a tin bucket, such
as negroes use to carry their dinner to the field, full
of hot water ; in the other was a large, round, dark-
bay, ugly-looking gourd ; and under his arm was
what appeared to me to be a leather surcingle, a mop,
and a bowie-knife ; but I was so mad with him on


account of his delay that I could not see very well.
He came into the porch, where I sat, with a smile
of intense self-esteem on his face, and said he had
been detained all this time by honing the razor. I
answered not a word. Setting down his implements
on the bench behind me, he stood irresolute for a
time, and finally went off. I sat still as a stone.
He soon returned with an axe and a nail. Driving
the nail partway into one of the pillars of the porch,
he bent the head upwards so as to form a hook, and
to this hook he attached the leather surcingle (it was
over a yard long), and began to " strop" the bowie-
knife, which proved, however, to be a razor, or
rather a cross between a razor and a broad-axe.
Never before or since have I seen such an imple-

I looked on, without saying a word. He talked
and strapped, and strapped and talked. When he
had finished strapping his broad-axe (it took him a
quarter of an hour to do so), he tested its sharpness
by nicking his thumb-nail and by splitting a thread
of his w r ool. I kept perfectly quiet. Regarding my-
self as a doomed man, I sat quite passive and ready to
meet my fate. He laid down his razor and went be-
hind me to get the tin-bucket and other things. I
have had many sensations in my time, but I doubt if
all of them put together could produce quite so har-
rowing a state of mind and body as I experienced when
that negro came forward with a large painter's brush
(it was not a mop), and a gourd full of soft soap
this home-made, greasy, villainous stuff. But I


held my peace. He lathered me. Ugh ! I shud-
der when I think of it. But he did lather me up to
my very temples and down to my breast-bone. And
such lather ! "Whew ! I opened not my mouth. Nay,
verily not in the presence of that lather. After
he had invested my countenance with the nauseous
froth, Benjamin gave his baby broad-axe a few more
whets on the surcingle, and the amputation of my
beard commenced. During the first few strokes I
was agreeably surprised, the broad-axe seemed to cut
so smoothly. But when he had scraped my jaws
pretty thoroughly and got over to the fluted part of
my neck, where the beard grew like the vortex of a
whirlpool, I became conscious of a pain that no man
certainly no woman ever realized. I cannot de-
scribe it. It was like tearing the skin off and stick-
ing of red-hot needles into the raw meat, as fast as
it appeared under the razor. But it was something
more than this something more than the dumb rage
I felt, added to this, and something more than the
awful odor of the soft-soap lather, added to that.
Imagine it ! But, like a stoic, I bore it without a
murmur. ISTay, I kept my fury so quiet that I did
not even make a comment when Benjamin made the
remark, for which I had been looking : " Dar now !"
said he, " de blood ar done come, spite 'o all I could
do. Dis razor shave mighty easy, I boun ; but den
de skin on yo' nake 'pear to be monsus weak,

The fact is, the blood was trickling down my



As I made no answer, Benjamin dipped his paint
brush into the soap-gourd, lathered me anew, and
kept on shaving.

"I done shave you down," said he, after awhile,
" right clean and good. Now I gwine ter shave you
up. I 'spec when it go agin de grain, it ar mos' likely
to giv some trouble, but tain' no use o' shavin' unless
you gwine ter do de thing as it ought to be done."

So he shaved me against the grain, and I gritted
my teeth, determined to bear the torture without a
groan, if I died under his hand. At last he got
through "shaving me up" and began running his
finger about in the greasy soap-suds on my throat to
feel which way the beard grew, stopping now and
then to staunch the flowing blood with a towel, and
promising me that as soon as he got through he
would make it all right "by plarsterin' de beard-
holes with a little sut." In getting at the before-
mentioned vortex of beard, he assumed all sorts of
attitudes and bent my head and neck in all manner
of directions, until I thought he would end by twist-
ing my head entirely off. He got in front of me,
behind me, on my right side, on my left side, and in
between my legs. He was very rough and very
determined to fulfill his promise to shave me two
days under the skin. Still I gritted my teeth and
let him keep on his murderous operation. The job
was not an easy one. I felt something almost like
pleasure when he began to perspire and to show
anger, as if the beard were a personal enemy whom
he could not conquer.


"Good G d A'mighty! what a beard!" he at
length exclaimed. It 'pear to grow farst is you
shave it."

I answered not a word.

It is probable that I could have gone through
with that terrific shaving without a syllable of com-
plaint, if Benjamin had not wounded my pride as
well as my person. Getting to a little spot just
under the angle of my jaw, where the beard was
peculiarly twisted in its growth, he became fairly
puzzled. He did his besMo get at it, but he could
not. This way and that, behind me and before me,
on either side, every way, he tried, but all in vain.
Then it was that he broke out, in the most offensive
tone imaginable, with the following unparalleled pro-

"My little marster, there's 'bout three or fo' uv
the outrajusist little bars here I uvver did see. I
carn't gether um, all I kin do. Couldn't you
couldn't you a urrah couldn't you jes start' on
yc? hade (head) for a minute or two, if you please,

The words " stan' on yo' hade " were hardly out of
his mouth before he was lying flat of his back. In
a frenzy of passion, which had been restrained until
it could be restrained to longer, I knocked him sense-
less with a chair. It was like lightning, so quickly
and fiercely was it done; and to this day I have
never been able to tell how I kept from killing him
outright. And this was the way I got shaved in
" Tcharlut." It is enough to make me " stan' on my


hade" whenever I think of it. The rest of the ad-
venture you shall hear.


I left Brileses' with a throat perfectly raw and
bloody, the maddest man the world that day con-
tained, and in the worst possible plight to go a court-
ing. But go I must, and court I must. To return
home would have been folly; I was under a solemn
promise to be at the young lady's house by a cer-
tain day. So I paid Briles his bill a very small
one accepted, not with the best grace, his condo-
lence and his promise to thrash Benj'min soundly,
indignantly rejected Mrs. Briles' proffer to " ease
my misery by wropping my throat in a strip of fat
bacon-rine that would go round twice' t," and set
forth. My throat pained me terribly; my anger
was high, and I rode on as fast as my horse could
carry me. The few persons I encountered eyed me
with a strange look; but I was out of sight be-
fore they could make a remark. Crossing the river,
I entered the county of Halifax not without some
awkward questions from the ferryman. Leaving the
fertile lowlands, I ascended a low range of hills,
trotted rapidly along the ridge, and about dinner
hour found myself lost. Then, for the first time, I
observed the very red a'spect of my bosom. My
collar was in even a worse condition ; it was a bloody
rag. My throat was still bleeding. Dismounting
from my horse, I repaired to a marshy spot in the


woods, and gave my neck a good bathing. The
water was warm, but the astringent property im-
parted to it by the oak leaves which had fallen made
it act like a charm. It staunched the blood com-
pletely, and, though it burnt me severely at first,
produced the most soothing and grateful after-effect.
Feeling much relieved, I sat down on the root of a
tree, and wiped my neck as well as I could with my
handkerchief. I then concluded that the best thing,
nay, the indispensable thing, for me to do, was to
divest myself of my sanguineous under-garment, and
put on a clean one. Accordingly, I went for my sad-
dle-bags, brought them into the woods, about twenty
feet or more from the road, opened them, pulled
out a a a nicely ironed a urah, and proceeded
to make a sylvan toilette. Meanwhile, I became ex-
ceedingly hungry. To stay my hunger, I lit a cigar.
My garment was just on, but not a single button
buttoned, when a negro boy came riding by on a
mule. I called to him to stop. He did so ; looked
around, but saw nobody. I told him to wait a
minute until I could get ready. Though he could
not see me, I could see him very plainly ; and as he
was evidently a little frightened, I thought it ad-
visable to go up to him, and ask him to tell me the
way to the place I was going. Out I walked, ac-
coutred as I was, white above and dark below my
pantaloons being dark grey and cigar in mouth.

As soon as he saw me, he turned to run, but, on
second thought, held his ground. But the moment
I got close to him, he bounced off the mule and ran

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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 27)