George William Bagby.

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

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166 MY VILE BEARD.

through the woods, bawling as hard as he could. Of
course I ran after him. It would never do to let
slip the only chance I had of ascertaining my where-
abouts. The little devil ran like a deer ; but after
a hard chase I overtook him and collared him. The
moment I laid my hands on him, he made the woods
ring with piercing screams, and in a very short time
I was surrounded by half a dozen rough, powerful
white men, one of whom, armed with a sledge-ham-
mer, threatened to " bust my derned head open ef I
didn't let that ar boy go."

It turned out that the spot where I caught the
boy was but a few hundred yards from the interest-
ing village, or blacksmith's shop, of "Madison's
Cross Roads," and that the amiable gentlemen who
surrounded me comprised a large majority of its
population. I explained to them at once the reason
why I had run after the boy, and even went so far
as to tell them about my getting shaved in Charlotte,
thus accounting for the very suspicious appearance
of my throat and the singularity of my costume.
Some of them looked as if they believed me ; others
did not. I overheard one fellow whisper to his
friend :

" That man's bin hung. Don't you see his neck ?
He needn't tell me nothing 'bout his gittin' shaved
at Briles's. Briles's Ben kin shave good as anybody.
I think I heerd thai* was a man hung last Friday in
Pittsylvany, and that ar is the man to a dead moral
certainty."

" I don't like his looks, neither," was the reply.



MY VILE BEARD. 167

"But if a man's bin hung wunst, you can't hang
him nar a'nuther time for the same offenst. It's
agin the law. But what was he a doing to Brace's
Jim? He couldn't a wanted to kill the nigger;
reck'n he could?"

"Dunno," said the h'rst speaker. "He's got the
worst face I uvver see on top of any man. He aint
too good to commit murder jest to keep his hand in."

While this agreeable conversation was going on, I
busied myself in buttoning up my apparel and making
myself as decent as I could. By the time I got
through the citizens of Madison's Cross Roads drew
off a little way, as if to consult what was best to be
done with me. I awaited patiently their decision.
The spokesman came forward and said :

" Mister, you tell a mighty straight sort of story,
but you've got a kind uv count'nance that none uv
we all don't like. I don't want to hurt your feelins,
but the sooner you git away from Madison's Cross
Roads the better. YOU say you're going do\*n to
Squire Cookses. Well, you ken jes go 'long. But
I'm a coming thai* soon to-morrow morning, and ef
your story aint crobborated by facts, I'm gwine to
take you up, according to law."

They all turned and walked off, taking Bruce's
Jim with them. I laughed and went to my saddle-
bags, finished dressing, mounted my steed and started
off quite gaily, both pain and hunger having disap-
peared under the excitement of my amusing inter-
view with the fierce Madison's Cross-Roaders. Un-
fortunately, the only information I had been able to



168 MY VILE BEARD.

get in regard to the locality of Squire Cooke's, was
to the effect that it was " a right sharp ways down
the road, jinin' John Thompson's land, after you get
over the creek." As I rode on, it occurred to me
that it would be a good thing to tie my handkerchief
around my neck, which began to feel sore again, and
to bleed a little. This I did, and felt the better for
it. But now my hunger returned with great violence.
I got down from my horse, and ate a few chestnuts
that I found under the leaves; but these served only
to make me still hungrier. I again mounted and
rode forward. Emerging at length from the seem-
ingly interminable woods, I beheld, to my great joy,
an apple orchard, sure sign of a house in the neighbor-
hood, though none was in view. A fine tree, loaded
with big red apples, was not far from the fence, and
in a very few minutes I had a dozen in my hands
and my pockets, and was sitting on the fence eating
them with great relish. Up came a shabbily-dressed
old fellow, riding a sorrel mare, with awkward colt
behind her. Thinking him some third-rate farmer,
I hailed him in a free and easy manner, and asked
him how far it was to old Squire Cooke's. He re-
plied stiffly, that it was but a short distance. "I
told him that I was on the way to the Squire's house,
and as I had already lost myself twice, I would be
obliged to him if he would show me the exact place."

The old fellow bestowed a suspicious glance upon
me, wrinkled his shaggy eye-brows, in token of
satisfaction or the reverse, and said :

" If you will follow me, I will show you the house."



MY VILE BEARD. 169

You guess the sequel, O reader. The old fellow
was Squire Cooke himself !

I spare you the recital of my inward pangs and
confused apologies when the awkward discovery was
made. One thing I congratulated myself upon, viz. :
that I had not (as I was in an ace of doing several
times) asked the old fellow if Squire Cooke was as
well off as people said he was, and whether he was a
skin-flint, as I had heard.

My reception by Mrs. Cooke was kind, by her
daughter cordial. The Squire kept very grim. At
dinner we had corn-pudding, late in the year as it
was. Like a fool, I said nothing to account for the
alarming appearance of my throat, which was fully
exposed to view, owing to the fact that it was so
.sore outside that the bare idea of tying a cravat
tightly around it, to hide it, was agonizing. The old
lady, obliged to talk to me, always took care to let
her eyes fall below the level of my hair, which was
not pretty hair. My inamorata looked cold. The
hideous redness of my throat had begun to tell on
her. I felt uneasy. The servants gazed at me very
much. Paterfamilias ate a great deal and said no-
thing. My face began to get as red as my throat.
In this pleasant state of bashfulness, and while I was.
in the act of carrying the first forkful of corn-pud-
ding to my mouth, the old gentleman addressed me
a question. You know how corn-pudding retains its
heat. I knew it too, but in my confusion forgot it.
So when the old gentleman suddenly spoke to me,
jpop ! the burning mass of corn-pudding slipped off



170 MY VILE BEARD.

my fork, fell down my loose collar, and lodged ex-
actly where my throat was rawest ! ! Don't ask
what I did. Hah ! but it was hot ! If I didn't
hear things fizz under the corn-pudding. I felt
them. I did not sit still. I did not keep quiet. I
did not display any heroism. I don't know precisely
how I acted. Think I howled. Expect I danced round
the room. Believe I swore. Remember I cried.
The pain was mighty bad. The chagrin was worse.-
Know I cared nothing for the dignity of manhood.
Know I tore open my collar, my bosom, my vest,,
and snatched out the pudding, as much as I could
get of it. It burnt my fingers, and I slung it off,
little caring where it went. Think it spattered the
old gentleman's face. You are correct in saying that
I ought not to have forgotten that I was in the pre-
sence of my sweetheart, and ought to have borne the
pain with a smiling visage. I dare say. Yes, I
ought to have been very smiling. But what is a
sweetheart to a man with an ounce of corn-pudding
frying away on his raw throat ? Answer me that.
Everything was done for me that could be done, and
in process of time I became as easy as a man could
well be under the circumstances. But I felt small-
inclination to make love to Miss Cooke. Nor did
Miss Cooke seem to expect it. She played on the
piano, talked about trifles, and was altogether too
condoling. I discovered a number of defects in her
character. She seemed fond of alluding to painful
subjects. She lacked genuine feeling for the afflicted..



MY VILE BEARD. 1T1

There was a good deal of hypocrisy in her amiable
nature. I was glad when bedtime came.

Slept badly. Throat hurt me. About day, fell
into an uneasy doze, from which I was awakened
by a noise in the yard. My friends of Madison's-
Cross Koad had come to arrest me, as a man who
had impertinently escaped from the gallows, and tried
to kill or kidnap one of Bruce's negroes. Fortunately,,
the Squire was a magistrate, and after hearing the
evidence of his daughter, summoned into the parlor
before sunrise as a witness, dismissed the case, and
sent the Madison Cross Koaders home, grumbling and
dissatisfied. They wanted my blood; that was plain.

My trial did not improve my position as a suitor
in the eyes of any of the family, and I knew it. My
hopes were scattered to the winds. At breakfast,
unable to eat any solid food, I swallowed my coffee
in solemn silence, and as soon as the meal was ended,
went forth to look after my horse. Outside of the
stable I heard two negroes talking. One of them
stuttered :

" D-d-d-dat ar man come cotin' Miss Sally he
he ain't n-n-no thing but a tackey."

"Hoccum he aint? He got good hoss and bridle
is anybody, don't keer whar they come from."

"He d-d-don't war no strops to his britchis."

"But. he got money I seen it!" replied my de-
fender.

" An-an-an he don't war no gallowses."

"Hoccum he don't war no gallowses! How you.
know, I reckon !"



172 MY VILE BEARD.

"Did'nt I I I see him d-d-dis morning, when
dey c-c-come to try him f-f-f ore he dress ?"

" Well, if you sho' he don't war no gallowses ef
you sho 9 den de sooner he clear out from here de
better. I don't wants to b'long to no man whar don't
war gallowses, cause I nuvver see no gent'man but
what he war'd gallowses a par uv um. Evin a
ove'seer, he war one. 'Spectable people nuvver fastens
their britchis with a buckle and tongue, like a gearth,
and Miss Sally ain't gwine hav him, ef you heer my
racket."

This was enough for me. Two hours afterwards
I left Squire Cooke's. Never returned there
and never will not if I had a million " par uv gal-
lowses."



CORNFIELD PEAS.



I KNOW these Virginians pretty well. They are
the greatest people on the face of the earth. In
fact, they are the only people. There was a time
when, in my deep benightment and in my unloyalty
to my ever dear old mother Virginia, I believed that
Englishmen and Russians were people. Such, how-
ever, is not the case. I am wiser now, and know that
England is a country laboring under dry-rot. It is,
as we Virginians say of a tree, "doted," and English-
men are but the fungoid remains of what was once a
people. It is not with much pleasure that I make
this undeniable statement, for we of Virginia sprang
from British loins. In like manner, the Goddess of
Wisdom and of War sprang from that broken-down
old rake and thunderer, Jove. Minerva came from
a pain in Jupiter's head, and Virginia came from a
pain, for the want of sense, in the head of Bull. As
for the Russians, they own slaves, and hence they ape
the manners of Virginians. But their slaves are
white, and until they learn to say "thar" and to call
a cucumber " curcumber," they cannot, in my opinion,
lay any claim whatever to the honor of being called
people. In this connection it is well to state, for the
benefit of political economists, that the apparently



174 CORN-FIELD PEAS.

human beings of the British isles would to this day
have remained what they once were, and even now
seem to be a people but for the Act of Emanci-
pation. There cannot be a people without niggers,
and niggers are not niggers unless they are slaves. A
free nigger is a monstrosity, a paradox, a hand with-
out muscle, an amputated leg, a glass eye-ball, and
-a shinplaster uncurrent at that. In a word, he is
a tender without any locomotive ; fuel coals, for
-example without any machinery. A nigger with-
out a master is latent power off the track. Put him
on by himself, you can get him along only by push-
ing, so constant and severe that it costs more than it
comes to. Tackle him to an engine in the shape of
.a white man, and the long train laden with industrial
products goes it with a rush, the locomotive displays
itself to advantage, and the black tender follows and
keeps close up behind, in a blaze of dust and glory.

Some miles pity the distance is not greater to
the northward and eastward of Yirginia there are, as
it were, people. But they are only Yankees. From
repeated close and careful personal inspection of
great numbers of them, I am prepared to say that
almost any man not born and raised in Yirgiuia
would mistake them for beings endowed with the
-celestial spark of reason. Gifted with the lineaments,
the members and the garb of humanity, they succeeded
for many years in palming themselves off as people.
'The imposture indeed was carried to an incredible
pitch. Yankees, it is said but how can I believe
it ? Yankees were employed to instruct the immortal



CORNFIELD PEAS. 175

mind of the youth of Virginia. Oh ! astounding !
But the statements neither of history nor tradition
can often be trusted, and the above, it must be ad-
mitted, is preposterous. Why, I would respectfully
ask, do we never meet with a Virginian, young or
old, or middle-aged, who says " heaow " for " how,"
" doo " for " dew," " dun't " for " don't," and such
like execrable jargonisms ? I answer, because such
do not exist in the limits of the great Commonwealth,
or if they do, dare not give vocal or other token of
Yankee instruction, lest suddenly they be knocked
down by the earliest sapling which the Virginian
who hears them can wrench from our blessed soil.

A dissenting Englishman, wrenched by the vio-
lence of his fanaticism from the nutritious juices of
beef, and forced to subsist upon the marrowless in-
sipidity of codfish and pumpkins, clams and onions,
the Yankee is not in any sense a person. He is a
chattel of the worst possible master a machine.
He is a bad version of Frankenstein the trembling
and ever obedient slave of his own creation a wiper
and cleaner of the dirty iron structure made by his
own hands. The highest of his menial functions is
revolting to the white handed Virginia nobleman.
For what loftier task has he than to absterge the
grimy orifices, joints, and bowels of a locomotive.
Evidently none. In place of reason he has cuteness
the faculty of invention. On this account he is
tolerated until such time as the Virginians see fit to
~begin that " irrepressible conflict " which must in-
evitably end in the conquest to the daily habit of



176 CORNFIELD PEAS.

chewing tobacco, and the right pronunciation of
" whar," of all that part of the habitable globe which
is capable of enlightened civilization. So long as it
shall seem advisable to countenance improvements in
machinery, the legislators of Virginia, holding now,
as they have always done, and will always do, abso-
lute control of the Federal government, will continue
to surround the Yankee with the protection of law,
and to invest him with the right of suffrage, the lib-
erty of unrestricted concubinage according to the
latest canons of free love, and the full permission to
worship, according to the dictates of his own con-
science, that transitory woolly-headed idol known in
Virginia as a runaway nigger. This period, contrary
to the supposition of all Yankees, and a few of the
less cultivated Virginians, will not be of indefinite
duration. On the contrary, it will be brief quite
brief. It shall come to pass, some dull July after-
noon, about four years from now, that a Virginian,
hearing that Anderson's fine-cut tobacco is seriously
interfering with the sale of the legitimate Orinoco
plug, and learning from his " Enquirer " that Seward
has at last laid his incendiary hand on the supreme
court, with intent to "reconstruct" it that is, to
fill its benches with Abolitionists it shall then come
to pass that a Virginian, rousing from the lethargy
superinduced by the ambrosial diet hereafter to be
glorified, ejecting his fist-big quid to replace it with
another and a larger one, and disengaging his shoe-
less feet from the summit of the lofty mantelpiece,
will slowly repair to the shade of a neighboring



CORNFIELD PEA8. 177

" honey-shuck " tree, behind the ice-house, and there
proceed to fasten his eyes into the corner of a dilapi-
dated worm fence.

In silence so profound as to be interrupted only
by the incessant song of the jar-fly and the intermit-
tent gush of the juice of his adored weed, he will per-
sist in meditation for the space of twenty minutes.
At the expiration of that time he will have done a
thing of which, although it be a work of necessity,
he will be heartily ashamed he will have invented
a machine for the invention of all kinds of machines
that may be required throughout all coming time,
together with an auxiliary machine to attend to all
sorts of machines, to keep them perpetually greased
and in working trim, and to repair any damage, how-
ever extensive, short of entire destruction, that may
put them out of running order. Overpowered by
the unnatural and disgraceful exertion, he will seek
relaxation in the uncalled-for and undeserved chas-
tisement of a small male nigger, order an early sup-
per, eat a quart of iced buttermilk and four clods of
warm dough called done biscuit, and go straight to
bed. Unable to sleep, he will fret himself into an-
other fit of invention, the result of which will be a
machine for pursuing, catching and bringing back
fugitive slaves, to which he will add a patent steel
key for the reopening of the African slave trade.
Satisfied with this, his thoughts will rush joyfully
back to their natural channel. He will recur with
pleasure to the " cardinal principles of the Democratic
party," and after spending a few moments in blissful
12



178 CORNFIELD PEAS.

contemplation of the resolutions of '98, will fall into
a stertorous slumber, and enlighten his wife with his
somnambulistic views of the question of " intervention
for protection." In the morning he will rise to his
plug with more than his wonted ravenous avidity, -eat
some more heated dough diluted with rawish chicken,
straddle a half -fed blooded horse, and pace oif to the
nearest town, to get a young lawyer to write out an
account, preceded and concluded by a number of po-
litical reflections, of his inventions of the day pre-
vious. This account will be published in the Rich-
mond papers, accompanied by leading editorials,
complimenting or abusing the inventor for his party
affiliations. From the moment of that publication,
Jonathan Othello's occupation will be gone. He will
subsist for a time on machine-made boot-pegs, after
which, finding no use for his faculties, he will die of
chagrin and cerebral, or rather cerebellial inanition ;
and then, such consummation being for the first
time possible, the approximate elevation of mankind
toward the altitude of Virginia gentlemen will begin.
Recurring to the subject of "people," it is enough
to say of the dwellers in the western and northwest-
ern sdction of the Confederacy, that a race of aban-
doned hog-fatteners, mule-growers, grain-measurers
and hemp-twisters, could not, even in the most ecstatic
moments of arrogance inspired by bad whiskey, call
themselves " people." To locate a quarter section of
prairie, to enter it, to clear it, and then quit it, and go
to Pike's Peak and come back in rags and vote for
Stephen A. Douglass these performances, though



CORNFIELD PEAS.

not essentially dishonorable, do not occur to me as
being precisely those which a mature, unequivocally
human would delight in. The truth is, the cross be-
tween the Virginian and the Yankee, or the German,
or any of the inferior races, is never, except in a sin-
gle instance, attended with results at all more encour-
aging than the cross between the horse and the ass.
On the one hand we have the hinney or hoosier, an
entirely useless biped ; and on the other the mule or
Missourian, a very good beast of draught when
"broke." The exceptional instance alluded to, one
which, from a sense of justice not less than of per-
sonal obligation, I am constrained to notice, is that of
the Virginia mulatto. I have marvelled, how often
I know not, at the gross and wanton neglect of this
delightful hybrid by Virginia authors and editors.
Why no poem has ever been addressed to one of the
most beautiful and useful staples of our State I could
never tell. Our literature is shamefully defective
in this regard. We have niggers in print by the
thousand, but no mulatto has ever yet gone to press,
unless it be the tobacco press. And yet the mulatto,
if he be a male and in any way related to the Declar-
ation of Independence, makes an unsurpassed fiddler ;
or if of less eminent connection, an excellent carriage
driver and an invaluable barber. But it is to the
softer form of this desirable product that our in-
debtedness is greatest. What would this w r orld be
without a mulatto chambermaid and washerwoman?
Nothing, less than nothing. The violence of my feel-
ings will not permit me to say any more on this point.



180 CORNFIELD PEAS.

Only one other kind of man remains to be dis-
posed of, that run-wild Virginian entitled " South-
erner." As I hope one day to treat this unfortunate
at some length, I shall leave him here, with the
mere observation that the ginning of cotton and the
crushing of sugar cane are requirements altogether
too rapid to be compatible with the lordly indolence
which in all ages and in every land has characterized
" people." It follows, since Virginians are the only
people in the world, they are necessarily the greatest
people on the face of the terraqueous globe. There-
fore, I repeat what I said at first, Virginians are the
greatest people that ever did or ever will draw the
breath of life. For men, women, or children, dead
or alive, climate, soil, scenery, rivers, mountains,
medicinal springs, niggers, horses, cattle, dogs, fish,
oysters, sora, game chickens, apples, peaches, blue
plums, wood-peckers, revivals, gullies, watermelons,
tobacco, chestnuts, hollow logs, chinquapins, natural
bridges, mellow bugs, June apples, shuck mats, per-
simmons, politicians, sweet potatoes, grassnuts, hams,
caves, Methodist preachers, agricultural fairs, gold
and iron ores, light bread, dilapidated houses, horne-
spun clothing, artichokes, wasps, good coifee, mul-
lens, broom straw, waffles, hollyhocks, biscuit, worm
fences, apple jack, ashcake, pines, wild turkeys, cider,
members of congress, whiskey, candidates for the
presidency, cymlings, pipes and stems, turnip salad,
shavers of paper, novelists, unfinished canals, poets,
shoats, railroads that don't pay, hotels, games of
knucks, Democratic inspectors, universities, bar-



CORNFIELD PEAS. 181

keepers, female schools, chigoes, buttermilk, faro-
dealers, horse-cakes, jig-players, and juba-patters
no country on earth will, as we all well know, com-
pare with the Old Dominion. If anybody is in-
clined to dispute this, let him address himself a few
questions.

Haven't we had the most presidents, the greatest
jurists, orators and military men ? Didn't Revenue
win the $1,000 prize at the St. Louis fair? Can
this planet, or any orb that floats in celestial space,
afford anything equal to a thoroughgoing, highbred
Virginia sweetheart ? Where will you find a man
to mix a julep equal to Lemuel Bowser's ? Was the
mother of the Gracchi a circumstance compared to an
old Virginia gentlewoman in a check apron, with a
bundle of keys in a little whiteoak basket on her arm,
and a turkey-wing fan in her hand ?

Is there any chewing tobacco in the world like that
made in Lynchburg ? Ain't Ridgway the greatest
editor that ever put pen to paper ? Is there a place
on this continent or any other where they understand
how to cook fried chicken arid cure hams as they do
in Virginia? Who that ever smoked Langhorne &
Armistead's tobacco, in a Woodall pipe, would give
a d n, or even the fraction of a d n, for any other
tobacco, or any other pipe ? Ain't Hunter, and Botts
and Wise the three most prominent candidates, after
Douglass and a dozen others, for the chief magistracy
of this Union ? Lives there the man not a Virginian
who comprehends the joys of Brunswick stew, the
bliss of roas'n ears, and the rapture of pot liquor?



182 CORNFIELD PEAS.

Did any boy but a Virginia boy ever catch cat-fish
out of a branch with a pin-hook after a heavy shower ?
Point me out the fellow who has danced to the sound
of Henry Thornton's fiddle, and who wouldn't split
the Italian opera into splinters if he could, and you
will point me out a fool. The earth does not produce
oysters any better than Carter's Creek oysters, and you
will hunt through all eternity to no purpose to find
sora superior to those you get in Petersburg. As to


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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 27)