George William Bagby.

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

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ing-glass, and laughs a low laugh at himself. Uneasy,
delighted wretch. He wouldn't be out of here for
the world, but he don't know what to do. He is
afraid to move, lest he disarrange or knock down
something. Finally, after much cogitation and per-
plexment, he thinks it will be no harm to sit down
in that little chair in the corner, and steps softly to-



199

wards it, bumping his head as he goes along. " Dear
me ! what low chairs ladies do use !" A view of the
whole room half in shadow, half in shine pleases
him much. He contrasts it with his own disorderly
bachelor's den, and sighs. One by one he takes in
each separate object, marks them all with a note of
admiration, and at length fixes his eyes permanently
on not the smallest article of furniture in the room.
'Long time he broods over it, his blameless thought

" Cozening the pillow of a lawful kiss."

He thinks of the nest of some white-winged dove
the shell of the pearl of purest ray serene. u Bless
her sweet soul !" ends his reverie, and up he rises,
for it is getting late, and he must decide upon the
course he shall pursue till morning. Grown bolder,
he presumes to touch the little bottles of Bohemian
glass on the toilet table, and marvels much at every
thing deeming womankind wonderful creatures in
all their ways, and envying the hardihood of those
courageous men whose brazen and impudent nerves
carry them unfalteringly through all the " masked
batteries" and feminine mysteries which surround
and terrify him here at dead of night. He takes up
tenderly, as if they were so many infants, the books
that lie on the dormer window sill, reads their titles,
approves the literary taste of the young lady, and
lays them carefully down again, exactly as they were
before he put his profane hands upon them, listen-
ing the while, and hoping nobody down stairs hears
him fumbling about ; for now it is very late indeed.



200

The candle is in the socket he must do something.
What ! Ah ! now he has it. He will play hench-
man to his lady love, lie down outside the door, and
guard her chamber, as though she herself were sleep-
ing there. But the servant, unacquainted with ro-
mance, coming in the morning to bring fresh water
and black his shoes, and finding him stretched in the
passage with his clothes on, will declare he is drunk.
At last, his candle being out, he remembers that he
was sent here to go to sleep in the accustomed mode,
and praying to be forgiven, he reclines upon the
outermost edge of the dove's nest, yields him to
sweet fancies, which presently become dreams, and
so good night to him, for 'tis the happiest of his
life.

We return to the " little stars " which lead to the
attic in the old house at Mountain Yiew, in order
that we may notice the workmanship. Here is ad-
mirable carpentry joining such as you rarely see in
these degenerate days, and material unknown to our
impatient green-timber times. How firm the steps
are under foot and how unworn, although they have
been in daily use full half a century. It is true the
light slippered feet of ladies and the bare soles of
Ethiopian and mulatto maids have frequented this
sturdy little staircase, but the very grain of the wood,
polished to the neck-breaking point, shows what hon-
est w r orkmen our fathers were.

I would like for you to rest a moment in the room
at the foot of the attic staircase, because I have some-
thing to tell you. There is nothing in this room to



201

attract attention, except a red-cushioned settee and
one of those old-fashioned combinations of book-case,
desk, and bureau, which are becoming so rare.
When I first set up in life wtat 21, as M. D. I
owned one of these old conveniences, but sold it in
less than a year, like a fool. How I could have
managed to lug the thing about with me in my mani-
fold wanderings, subsequent to the Esculapian era, it
is impossible to say ; but if ever I do get settled in
a country home I intend to have a " secretary "
what a fine old name ! at the risk of my life. How
in the name of sense is a country gentleman to get
along without a secretary, with its endless pigeon
holes and secret drawers to keep his shot gourds,
powder horns, cap boxes, bonds, accounts, and odds
and ends of everything in, I should like to know?
Why, it wouldn't be worth a man's while to have a
son without a " secretary " to unlock for him on
rainy days, as a special and very great favor : nor
would there be any place to hide things from a man's
wife. It is folly to expect a boy to entertain proper
respect for a father who doesn't own a " secretary "
that wonderful household museum and arcanum
of manhood's great mysteries and treasures.

But about the little room at the foot of the stair-
case. Listen.

One summer night, years ago, long before my
Uncle Flatback ever dreamed of living here, a
young lady tripped noiselessly down these old stair
steps, then almost new, and jumped out of the win-
dow. The wheat, heavy with dew, was growing up



202

to the very walls of the house, and lest the young
lady's clothes might get wet, an obliging young gen-
tleman is at hand, to receive her in his arms and carry
her through the wheat field. In the edge of the
woods, some hundred yards off, a handsome vehicle,
drawn by blooded horses, is waiting. Eound go the
wheels off fly the young couple through the forest,
and ere the morrow's sun is set, they are in North
Carolina, married. Very fair and sweet and gentle
was the young lady ; very brave and wild was her
lover too wild, the old folks thought, for so sweet
a girl. But love tamed the bold lover, and this
proved the happiest of run-a-way matches. Many
sons and daughters were born unto them, and rare
good fortune in this chequered life! all of them
crowned their parents heads with honor. A more
prosperous and respected family dwells not within
the limits of the Commonwealth. One of the sons was
the captain of our company at Manassas the sturdy

"Rifle Grays" of L . Brave as his sire, he rose

to be lieutenant-colonel of the " gallant Eleventh,"
and now lies sick of a severe wound received in
the fierce battle of the Seven Pines. How the
years have sped since the night in which the lovers
eloped from this old house ! Many years have come
and gone over the sleeping dust of the maiden who
leaped out of that window. I remember her in the
prime of womanhood, and she was sweet and gentle
and beautiful then. The snows of seventy winters
lie on the brow of the bold lover, but the fire of his
youth is not spent, and he is passing the evening of



203

his days peacefully away in the midst of his children,
and his children's children, honored and beloved by
all. This happy romance always repeats itself to me
when I seat myself at the foot of the " little stars,"
and look out of the window, and listen to the sum-
mer winds sighing through the leaves of the stout
aspen which has grown up in the old wheat field,
now a verdant yard.

I shall not detain you with a minute description
of the new house, which, as you know, is joined to
the old by a covered passage. It is a more preten-
tious but far less substantial edifice than its humble
companion. On the ground floor there is a high-
pitched parlor what has become of all the "draw-
ing-rooms" we used to have five-and-twerity years
ago, I wonder? and over the parlor there are two
chambers, also high-pitched, and above them a size-
able garret. So you see this modern structure, which
every thunder-gust shakes to its foundation, is tall
enough to look down with contempt on the old house.
But, notwithstanding the disparity in years and stat-
ure, the two seem to get along very well together.
The hard, mathematical eye of a Yankee would be
offended at the juxtaposition of so uneven a couple,
but, thank God ! we in Virginia are used to these in-
congruous architectural matches. It will be a sad
day for us when there is any regularity about any-
thing in Virginia. When people begin to build
houses " on the square," they begin to calculate or,,
to give the word its idiomatic meanness, " cack'late "
and when they begin to " cack'late," they begin to



204

keep an account of expenses which is the infallible
premonitory symptom of the virus of Yankeeism
striking into the bone. I don't want to live among
no sich people. I want to go whar I kin build my
house catty-cornered, lop-sided, slantingdicular, bot-
tom-upwards, any way I please, and have no correct
idea about nothing, 'cept politics.

The glory of the new house is the " big room,"
up stairs. This spacious chamber boasts four great
windows which reach within six inches of the floor
ventilation in perfection ! You are in the house
and out of doors at the same time ; may see every-
thing, hear everthing, and feel every wind that blows.
On one side is the garden, and beyond it, a quarter
of a mile away, is the railroad ; which, seen in pro-
file, looks like the key-board of an interminable piano-
forte. This railroad is great company for us at Moun-
tain Yiew. It reminds us that we are in the world
of busy life and motion, although we are nestled so
snugly under the locusts that you can hardly see us,
brave soldiers, as you rush to the wars. It affords
an easy path to the village, and brings us every day
a squad of convalescent soldiers, who walk out to get
dinner and breathe the pure air. We are never tired
of it. A locomotive under a full head of steam is
always attractive. Every time a train passes, we all
get up to look at it, and, if its speed is at all rapid,
Uncle Jim seldom fails to exclaim, " I George ! she's
a goin' uv it."

Through the window on the opposite side of the
big room, the vision is led down the sloping fields to



205

the " low-grounds," now groaning under a luscious
load of watermelons, muskmelons and cantelopes, and
thence to the river, whose lines of beauty are traced
by masses of luxuriant foliage, so thickly do the trees
and clambering vines crowd to the banks to drink the
life-giving water, all muddy as it is during half the
year. Over the river a hill mounts boldly up, and
on its top a white house is perched, like a castle on
the Rhine. Beyond the hill, far in the distance, are
the knobs of the mountain. Almost at the foot of
that mountain, the father of Uncle Flatback used to
live a Revolutionary soldier, seven years in the line
concerning whom and his hapless daughter, Vir-
ginia, you may one day hear more. The river side of
the big up-stairs room I like far better than the rail-
road side. The view is more extensive, more varied,
rural, sequestered. The railroad suggests the busy
world and all my cares away yonder in the city,
crowded now with thousands on thousands of sick and
wounded, and but lately delivered, thank God ! from
myriads of besieging Yankees. Whereas the river,,
rolling under thick-boughed trees, brings thoughts of
freedom, peace, seclusion, the delights of bathing and
fishing to the mind. Talking about fishing, there is
the noblest beech, the best place for fishing, and,
sometimes, the finest fishing in this little muddy river
that heart could wish. I wrote a piece once about
that old beech, and the fishing frolics I have enjoyed
while reclining on its fantastic roots, equal to any
arm-chair, and under its scanty shade. When my
collected works are printed, I want somebody to



206

hunt up that piece, take out the nonsense and re-
publish it for there are some good things in it, I
think.

But it is not for the peaceful view only that I like
the river-side of the big room so well. It is on ac-
count of the trees the aspens close to the window,
and the sturdy oaks that tower above the crank-sided
carriage-house, just outside the yard. Oh, me ! what
delight to lie by the window during the listless, mid-
summer days, and look at the aspens, all in a flurry
of delight, and watch the lazy, fleecy clouds far up
in the blue welkin. And then at night to stretch out
in the wide bed, or on a soft pallet down on the floor,
close by the window, and look up at the stars through
the gently moving branches, and listen to the mur-
muring and whispering of the leafy creatures. I
know not what they say, but I know they are talk-
ing. They have their secrets tales of the old, old
world, of the "joyous prime" of Eden, and that
dread time when this planet was not ripe for man,
but life was striving up to him through Nature's
every manifestation.

You can't teach me anything about trees. I'm ac-
quainted with 'em ; have known 'em ever since I was
a child, and used to spend whole days with 'em in
the woods. I tell you they are people. Everybody
knows that some trees are tame and others savage,
barbarous, half civilized, and so on. Put a pine tree
in a yard, and what does he look like how does he
feel? He looks out of place, and he feels embar-
rassed and mad, just as a negro field-hand would if



you were to set him down in a parlor, or at a dinner
table in the midst of white folks. Whereas an aspen
or a locust is perfectly at home in a yard, and throws
out his arms affectionately towards the house, and tries
his best to put a hand or two in at the window and
pat you on the cheek with his leafy fingers. You
think trees have got no soul, no mind, no heart.
That's because you have got no soul yourself, plague on
you ! When a little bird hops on a twig, and begins
singing as if he was singing for wages, the tree
thrills clean down to his toes in the ground. So
when the rain comes to fetch water, and the winds
from away over the mountains and oceans come to
tell the news, can't you see how happy the trees are,
how they clap their hands and jump up and down, and
get bright in the face, and actually laugh in the sun-
shine? If you can't its because the panes in the
windows of your soul need washing. You think be-
cause trees can't walk they are an inferior order of
beings. Well, now, if you think a bit, ain't you
too stuck to this earth ? Why don't you step over
to the next star, and find out something that a tree
don't know ?

Men have a small opinion of trees because their
hearts are set on money, stocks, fame, glory, and
such trash ; but boys think differently. Boys love
trees. They love to play with them, love to climb
them, because hugging is the principal part of climb-
ing, and not the least portion of loving. And what's
the reason boys delight so to ride saplings? Young
things love to play with .each other. Do the



208

saplings enjoy it? Enjoy it! Now, look here. Do
you want to provoke me to death ? Did you ever
ride a sapling? Well, then you have noticed that,
after you have done riding, the sapling bends over
for days and days. A man of sense would tell you the
sapling continued to lean over because the " woody
fibre," elasticity, etc., etc., and scientific so-forth. I
know better. It's no such a thing. The sapling re-
mains in the stooping posture because he thinks a
game of leap-frog is going on, and is waiting for the
next boy to come along ; and having a long time to
live (provided he ain't cut down to make a ridge
pole of a henhouse, or a roost for turkeys), and being
mighty patient and sweet-tempered withal, holds an
till the pain in his back compels him to rise up again.
Poor things ! I have seen 'em waiting and waiting,
for days and days after the boys had gone off and
forgot 'em. It makes me right down sorry to look
at 'em.

Let me come back from tree-talk to the river
again the muddy Appomattox whose waters are
as ugly here as its name is picturesque. It sweeps
around the foot of my Uncle Flatback's plantation
in a wide, irregular curve, until its lines of dense
foliage are lost to the view from the windows of the
room "up the big stars." There is a wagon-way
which runs in a straight line by the sweet-potato
patch and the little barn down to the sandy low-
grounds, which, year after year, bear those copious
crops of watermelons, rnuskmelons and cantelopes
for which Mountain View is famous. Just on the



209

river bank there is a hut of pine poles, which might
be taken for a henhouse if it were not so far away
from the mansion itself. In winter time you might
puzzle your brain for ever to find the use of this hut ;
but in summer the protecting lines of string, stretch-
ing from end to end of the melon patch, and the
numerous scare-crows, made out of Winston's old
breeches and Polly's old petticoats, compel you to
the just inference, viz. : that it is the guardhouse of
the dusky sentinels who watch over the precious fruit
which cumbers the ground hard by. 'Lijah, or 'Lijy,
poor fellow ! before he died in the service of his
country working upon the fortifications around
Richmond used to keep watch here ; but John was
always Uncle Flatback's right-hand man in all mat-
ters pertaining to melons.

Of the merits of the Mountain View melons I can
speak by experience, having eaten them a thousand
times, more or less. My only regret is that I can't
eat a thousand at a time. You know, dear reader,
that there are certain occasions deemed very sad by
wise and elevated persons unlike ourselves when
this mortal nature gets the better of us, and the only
perfect happiness seems to be in the unlimited in-
dulgence of our animal apetites. Base, very base
are we, when these sensual seasons overtake and
master us. But poor, pitiful worms of the dust
that we are such seasons will arise ; and we have to
knock under to them, just as we do to the periods of
frost and sunshine. I have known the time, my vir-
tuous and dyspeptic friend, when the highest bliss I
14



210

could picture to myself, was a cloudless summer day,
about two years long, in the which the present des-
picable wretch now writing these lines did nothing
but sit in his shirt sleeves, under the shade of a
mighty tree, and eat the ice-cold core of a vast, pre-
posterous and unbounded watermelon, from soon in
the morning until midnight. Forgive me, forgive
me, ye earthly saints who live not by bread alone,
and who never have any bad thoughts ; but the fact
is, I do really feel sometimes as if I would like to eat
or drink some particular good thing, right straight
ahead for several consecutive centuries, without stop-
ping even to take breath.

Under the locusts in the front yard there is a bench
of a convenient height to be eaten off when a person
is standing up. Here Uncle Flatback leads his
guests of a summer evening, and drawing a great
pocket-knife, plunges it remorselessly into the de-
licious entrails of his green-ribbed victims, until a
dozen or so are split wide open, and lie at the mercy
of the mouth-watering bystanders. Pitch in freely,
young men and maidens, but beware of yonder
grizzly-bearded priest of melons, whose sacrificial
blade has opened this inviting expanse of vegetable
meats for your behoof. His stern and oft-repeated
"take keer uv the seed," is meant in earnest, I as-
sure you. Incur not the wrath of the hospitable
ancient, whatever you do ; but eat till you can eat no
more, and never mind your fingers and mouth, over
which the sweet juice is rapidly crystallizing into
sticky watermelon candy, for 'Liza or Link, as the



211

seed-saving ancient calls her will be here presently
with a bowl full of fresh spring water, nice soap and
plenty of towels the people of Mountain View be-
ing a cleanly race, and having a madness for towels,
of which, to the best of my remembrance, there are
never less than half a million on hand at a time.

Following the course of the river, you find below
the watermelon patch a number of towering syca-
mores, rising out of a tangled thicket. In former
years these trees used to be the resort and dormitory
of that most graceful object of Southern skies the
" tukky-buzzard." It is said they were driven off by
the cannonading of the first battle of Manassas, two
hundred miles away a pretty story, truly. Just
beyond this " roost" there is a dam, over which the
muddy water falls as naturally, if not as beautifully,
as at Niagara. This dam feeds Morton's or Jackson's
mill, a quarter of a mile down the stream ; and this
mill a biggish pile of dusky weatherboarding, which
once had some pretentious to the proud name of
Merchants' mills, and the gable of which may be
seen peeping above the luxurious foliage that lines
the banks of the river, is one of the prettiest and
most pleasing sights at Mountain View. For I am
of Macdon aid's opinion, that true happiness con-
sists in living in the country and owning a little mill.
Apart from the beauty of the big wheel in motion,
there is a satisfaction in taking toll of your neighbor,
a charm in the racket and the dropping corns of the
hopper, and a sense of company in the continual re-
currence of a" nigger boy, perched on top of a meal-



212

bag, far back upon the haunches of a sober-sided old
family mare. Mills suggest peace, home and plenty ;
and then I think the apparition of an honest, chunky,
well-bred, respectful, and not too self-important negro
miller, all covered with meal, at the door of the mill,,
is one of the finest sights in the world, next to a
country blacksmith's shop in the night time. Yan-
kees and English can write poems about their mills-
and smithies ; why can't we of the South ? I'll tell
you ; it's because we are too wretchedly lazy. Plague
take it ! if I had the leisure and the mill, or the black-
smith shop, I wouldn't ask anybody any odds, but
write the poem myself. And I bet you what you
dare, it would be a good one, and, what is more to
the purpose, it would be Southern so Southern that
there would be no mistaking it. A Yankee would
throw up the whites of his eyes on reading it. Con-
soun our Southern poets ! they sing about everything
except the things we common people most care
about the scenes and sounds of home, far in the
depths of the uncontaminated country, where the
little that is yet unpolluted by Yankee ideas and cus-
toms still remains. Our Southern poets all want to
be like Shakspeare, who was a universal sort of all
out o' doors and all over creation of a fellow a man
of no time and no country, but for all time and all
countries and in aiming to be Shakspeare, they
succeed in being nobody at all. If they would quit
straining at the heroic and the historical, kick Tenny-
son and all other models into the middle of next
week, or elsewhere, and if they would content them-



213

selves with the homely, and come right down to the
soil that gave them birth, they might do something.
My judgment, which may be very valuable, for aught
I know, is, that when a man thinks the afflatus is in
him, his first business is to let books rigorously alone ;
his next, second, last and only business is, to go
straight to mother nature, get in her lap, look deeply
in her beautiful eyes, and listen finely to her voice
(whispering to him alone), and then tell what he has
seen and heard as simply and as musically as he can.
Heretofore Southern poets have coveted the appro-
bation of scurvy Yankee newspapers, and followed
Yankee models, oh, shame ! in order to gain it. One
-of the compensations of this frightful war, is the
deliverance of our literature from this bondage, and
the birth of a school of poets truly southern. Al-
ready Hayne, Thompson (J. R.), Timrod, and Ran-
dall, have given us heroic songs, w r hich belong to us
and to us alone born as they are of the inspiration
bequeathed by martyred patriots legacy priceless
and immortal and copied after no models. Better
is yet to come, when time shall have hallowed and
glorified the men and deeds of these fateful days.
Who will sing Stonewall Jackson's elegy ?

On the road from the mill here, since this piece
is to be as rambling and parenthetical as any Sterne
ever wrote let me stop a bit. The little one-story-
and-a-half dwelling house near the mill would make
an exquisite pencil sketch or painting in water colors
or in oil; it is one of myriads in Virginia. Porte
Crayon had an eye for the grand and the comic, also



214

a little imagination. He did partial justice to her
mountain scenery, to the Dismal Swamp, the indi-
genous beings of the rural districts and the Virginia
nigger in his manifold variety, from the conceited
carriage-driver to the fat cook and the little black
boy blowing a " blarther ;" but he had no eye for the
beauties of Virginia homes. Is it a marvel he de-
serted to the Yankees ? Whoso will, let him partake
freely of the moral conveyed in this digression.

On the road from the mill to Uncle Flatback's
there is a beautifully secluded and delightful bridge.
Big trees, dressed with wild, luxuriant vines, bend


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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 27)