Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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The Lost Silver
of Briffault



New York

Dodd, Mead and Company




epoch selected for my tale is generally sup-
posed to be too full of unhappy memories to
become the vehicle of a story. I do not think so.
I know that it abounded in deeds of heroic self-de-
nial, and in trials bringing forth infinite patience and
kindness. Nor can I have given offense to any, for
the law of love and truth has guided me. Also,
among the scenes I depict I spent those happy years
of my life which had on them the dew of youth ; and
though I dwell now among the Highlands of the
Hudson, I recall, with deep affection, the beautiful
land far off by the sunny Colorado. And thus,

though time will go, '

" I mingle yet

The bitter and the sweet, nor quite forget,
Nor quite remember, till these things all seem
The wavering memory of a lovely dream."


















CHAPTER L .-vs..:?


Let us hear again

The freedmen singing under Southern noons ;
Amid the cotton and the sugar-cane,
Or teeming rice-fields by the hot lagoons.
Hear in the cabins, through the summer night,
The cry of Freedom ! bursting unaware,
And setting all its rapturous delight
To sweet accompaniments of song and prayer.

"ITIDSUMMER and midday a day so hot that
-i'J- the crystal air trembled and quivered and glis-
tened, as if it were a veil of woven silver ; and the
white house of the Preston ranch seemed to shrink
away from it into the thick shade of the surrounding
mulberry-trees ; where also the birds, faint and silent,
had hid themselves. But among the vines of the
veranda, the grasshoppers, with their goat-like profiles,
were busily running, and across the hot sand of the


yard a large snake lay prone, with every glittering coil
outstretched, basking in the fiercest rays of the sun.

A woman stood just within the door, a beautiful
woman, with a complexion of that warm pallor so
rarely seen except in the South. Her attitude was
listless and sorrowful, and her eyes were fixed upon
the brilliant rejpfcile, so luxuriously stretching itself
upon the fervid" ground. It roused in her neither
i'eor, hatred, itor/anger ; she felt no desire to take up
Eve's quarrel against the creature. " Let it alone,"
she said to the Negro servant, who was going, with
an eager passion of hatred, to destroy it. Intoxicated
with sunshine, it was unconscious of danger; and to
dismiss death, and say, even to a snake, " Live a little
longer," seemed to Cassia Preston a pleasant thing to
do, and it made a faint ripple in the somber sameness
of her thoughts.

She turned and went toward a door at the other
end of the wide hall, and opened it softly. It showed
her a room in deepest shadow, whose atmosphere was
heavy with the scent of dying roses and the sickly
odor of valerian. On a couch, in the dimmest corner,
there was a little drift of white muslin, and above it
the thin, yellow face of a woman, apparently asleep.
But she stirred as Cassia stood looking at her, and

O '

said, querulously, " I want some coffee, and tell Mam-
my to come and rub my feet."


" Mother, let me take Mammy's place. I do not
think she will come."

" Not come ! What nonsense. Send her here im-

Cassia shut the door and sat down by the fretful
woman. " I can keep bad news from you no longer,
mother. Mammy is her own mistress now. Our
servants are free."

"Free! That is an impossibility. My servants
were given me by my father. I have the papers.
He told me they were made out in such a way that
no one could take them from me no one! They
are mine ; mine as much as the rings on my fingers,"
and she held out her thin hands, trembling with
emotion and glittering with gems.

" I heard they were free nearly a month ago. I
have no doubt it is true. All of Roseland's and
MacKersey's hands have left. Galveston is full of
runaway Negroes ; no one dares to touch them, or
challenge their right. The fields are empty ; you
can't hire a man for gold. The houses are empty ;
in many there is not even an old woman left to make
a biscuit."

" I don't believe it ! Who told you such things ? "

" Sheriff Bowling. He called this morning for a
little breakfast. He sold Chloe's son, you remember,
and Chloe would not cook any thing for him. She


said she had hurt her hand ; but would she have
dared to make an excuse a month ago ? He told
me he was out herding his own cattle. His men
have all gone. Our isolation has been in our favor,
but a man called here three days ago, and even Mam-
my has been changed since. She told me he was
going to Corpus Christ! to look for his wife, Melinda,
and she added, in a very significant manner, ' Thank
God, when he find her dis time, he can keep her,
till black Death come along to part them.' ' :

" If you heard talk like this a month ago, Cassia,
you ought to have prevented the servants hearing it."

" How ? "

" You should have suffered none of them to leave
the place. You should have kept every stranger off
it. I would have watched night and day. Whatever
are our soldiers doing ? "

" There have been reverses "

" Reverses ! There are always reverses in war.
Napoleon had them. Washington had them. Are
we to set our slaves free for reverses ? I shall hold
mine fast until the reverses are on the other side.
What good will there be in the final victory if our
property is all scattered far and wide, and we can't
find it again ? Keep the servants together, Cassia ;
any day, to-morrow even, may bring us better


" Better news will never come. The war is over.
We have lost all, mother."

" How can you say such cruel things, Cassia ? It
wouldn't be just. See what I have sacrificed ! Your
father killed ; your brother away fighting four years ;
very likely he is killed, too ; we haven't heard from
him since April ; think of all my sufferings ! And
then to lose every thing ! No, it wouldn't be just or
right. I will not hear it ! "

"Don't cry, now, dear mother. There is no help
for us in tears, and I do want your advice. The men
are ugly and lazy ; instead of going to the fields they
are hanging about the cabins. The women are just
the same. I asked Celia this morning about the
washing, and she said she did not feel like it. She
said the same last week. Every meal is cooked
more and more slovenly and irregularly. There
is a feeling about the place to-day that frightens
me. I do believe it is the right thing to call the
servants together and tell them they are free. Then
I could get rid of all who refuse to work. Per-
haps Mammy and Chloe will stay if we give them
good wages."

" Give them wages ? I wont do it ! I'll die first !
Pay my own slaves to work for me ? I wont do it 1
I wont do it ! They ought to be ashamed of them-
selves "


Cassia's face darkened. "Let us be reasonable,
mother ; why should they be ashamed ? "

" Born in the family after all we have done for
them," she sobbed.

" Perhaps they think they could have done better
for themselves."

" Are you turning against me, too ? O, Cassia, I
never thought "

" Come, mother, try and face the inevitable."

" To behave so badly Mammy, too. It will kill

Cassia walked to the window and stood a moment
despairingly before the closed blinds ; but, as her
mother's sobs grew louder, she went back and soothed
and kissed the petted, ailing woman into a calmer

Then she sought her own room, ostensibly for her
siesta, but she was far too anxious and restless to
sleep. Nature had not only endowed her with beauty,
she had given her also a clear mind and a moral
bias that was, above all other things, upright ; so that
her duty, and the sense of its immediate necessity,
weighed heavily on her.

She frankly admitted to herself that the servants
had shown a remarkable patience and restraint. Ru-
mors of their approaching freedom had been in the
air for months. For three weeks they had believed in


its reality ; for three days they had been sure of the
stupendous and glorious change in their condition.
" It is no wonder they despise mother and I," she
thought. " When the news first came we ought to
have called them together and told them, and, as far
as it was natural and possible, have rejoiced with them.
Then we could have asked them to remain with us
until John came home and agreed with them about
their wages. But instead of that we have taken
their labor as our right. I must do now what I
know John would have done long ago if he had been

But good is only half good when it is past season.
She felt, when she went down stairs, that her resolve
had come too late. Already there were changes in
progress, and delay had robbed duty of every grace.
She wandered restlessly about the house and garden
until night-fall had brought all the servants into the
kitchen and cabins ; then she asked Uncle Isaac to
gather them together. He was a very old man ; he
had been her great-grandfather's servant. She
thought if any love or gratitude could be depended
upon it was surely his.

Very reluctantly, and only after bitter weeping,
Mrs. Preston had consented to have the tie broken in
her presence. Cassia was certain it ought to be so ;
she wished it to be done as gently as possible, and


she wished them to carry away into new lives a kindly
memory of the old one. It was a most impressive
gathering. Fifty men and women, of all ages and
all shades of color, were there, some with wool like
snow, others in the strength of their prime and the
beauty of their youth. Mrs. Preston covered her face
and sobbed. Cassia, standing at her mother's side?
said :

" Uncle Isaac, you served my great grandfather ? "

" Dat so, Miss Cassia. He was my fust master ;
bought me from de slave-ship Lijafi Hoole eighty-two
years ago."

" And you served my grandfather, also ? "

" Ebery day ob his life bery good master he was.'

" And my father ? "

" De last t'ing de colonel do, 'fore he go to de war,
was to shake hands wid me. I hold de stirrup fur
him. Mighty good man de colonel ! And I nurse
Mass' John, too, in dese arms make his fust fishin'-
rod fur him. Four generations of de Prestons I hab
served, faithful, Miss Cassia."

" Isaac, you are free now. You need serve none of
us any longer. Mammy, Chloe, Jeff, Scip, all of you
even to little Coralie in her cradle, are free. You
can all leave us to-morrow if you wish. You need
never do any thing for us again. Some of you
played with father and mother ; some of you played


with Master John and me. You have been very true
to us. I never heard of any of you, man or woman,
saying a word against the Prestons. You have also
been very kind to us, very patient with us, and God
knows we have tried to be very kind and patient with
you. "We have been one family. It is hard to part
to say < Good-lye: "

It was impossible for her to continue. Most of
the men and women were sobbing with all the passion-
ate abandon of their childlike natures ; Mammy had
knelt down by Mrs. Preston's side, and was chafing
and kissing her hands, and vowing " ueber, neber, to
leave her." Cassia stood among them, white and
sorrowful, slow, large tears falling unconsciously from
her eyes. At length Uncle Isaac said : " What does
de madam and Miss Cassia want us to do ? "

He had slowly stepped forward, and stood in his
tottering age close by his mistress's side. She
stretched out her white, gemmed hand to him, and
he touched it and bowed his snowy head over it with
a native chivalry no art could have imitated.

Cassia answered for her mother. " Uncle Isaac,
we would like all of you to remain on the place, at
your usual work, until Master John returns. He
cannot be long now. You know what Master John
is ; he will pay you the last dime of your right, if he
sells the land to do it. Whatever others are getting


you shall have. I promise for him. We will deal
kindly and honestly by you."

Isaac turned and looked at the people. There was
a slight hesitation ; then Jeff, who was overseer, said :
"Miss Cassia hab done make us a fair offer. I'se
gwine to take it. I kin trust Mass' John and all de
Prestons, I kin."

This was the universal sentiment, and Cassia, with
a sense of great relief, accepted their service under
its new condition. She was too truthful to affect
personal sympathy with this condition, but yet she
could understand the light and triumph in every
face, the sudden and quite unconscious uplifting of
every head, and into her heart there came a kindly

"Here are the keys of the storeroom, Chloe ; I
am sure you would like to make an extra supper for
all to-night."

"Thank'ee, madam, thank'ee Miss Cassia," came
from every lip, and then, with even more than their
usual deference, they left the room and went back
to their quarters. Cassia walked to a side window
and w r atched them, for as soon as they were outside
the house they gave way to the deep joy in their
hearts. Some of the women fell weeping on their
husband's necks. A gigantic negress lifted her baby
high above her head, telling it over and over, in


constantly louder and shriller tones : " You'se f ivi\
Taniar ! Yon'se free, Taraar! Free! free! free!"
The young drew together in little ebony squads
around the white cabins ; the elder ones gathered in
Chloe's big kitchen. After the first few moments
of rapture it was not all joy to them. There were
wives and fathers and mothers who could not help
feeling that freedom had come too late for their hap-
piness. Their loved ones had been sold away, and
they knew not where to find them. So they sat
smoking and talking, almost sadly, in the big kitchen ;
while Chloe, and some of the women, killed and fried
chickens, boiled the ripe young ears of corn, and
made the johnny-cake and coffee. Gladly they
brought out their hoarded pieces of fine linen or
china, and the younger girls laid the tables for their
first freedom supper.

That night Chloe's kitchen was a wonderful place.
The cedar logs blazed and danced in the chimney,
and threw great luster across the tables, and the
shifting groups of women, with their gay turbans
and glinting ear-rings ; across the more somber
groups of talking men, with their glowing corn-cob
pipes and gleaming eyes and light blue hickory
dress. Uncle Isaac had gone to his cabin to rest un-
til supper was ready, and it was nearly ten o'clock

when Cassia saw him, leaning upon Jeff and Scip,


slowly totter across the yard, in order to take his
place as master of the feast.

She was in her mother's room, a large, lofty apart-
ment, with galleries on three sides. Mrs. Preston was
f asleep. She had wept herself to sleep, as children do.
It had been a hard few hours to her, all the more
hard because Mammy had not come to rub her feet,
and do the numberless little things which had become
so necessary to her comfort. She would not suffer
Cassia to take her place. She could not understand
why Mammy should have neglected her, especially
on such an occasion.

"Now, when she is going to have so much when
she knew how hard it would be for me I have no
doubt, Cassia, she is talking to Harriet and Chloe,
and telling them all kinds of things about me."

Poor Mammy ! she was locked in her own cabin.
She was down on her knees, telling God, God only,
how hard her duty was. Telling him again about
the three sons and the one young pretty daughter
that were she knew not where. Asking him to
send from among his legions of angels just one one
of the humblest with a message from her heart to
theirs. " Dey kin come back to me now, Lord," she
pleaded ; " gib dem de heart to do it, and show 'em
de way."

Her children had been her first thought. She had


quite forgot madam until just before Cassia saw
Uncle Isaac go to the kitchen with Jeff and Scip ;
yet she had fully intended to do her usual duties,
and when she rose from her knees and remembered
them, her heart reproached her, and she went quickly
to madam's room. Cassia met her at the door. Her
sad, anxious face troubled Mammy.

" I clean forgot, Miss Cassia. I did, sure. I wont
do so any more."

" She missed you very much, Mammy."
" I'se mighty sorry. I'll stay wid her now."
u No, no ; I will remain to-night. Go and be glad
with the rest, Mammy. You ought to be."

Yet though she had told Mammy to go, she
watched her across the yard with a feeling of deser-
tion. All the foundations of her life were shaken,
and what was to come next she could not even imag-
ine. Though her mother slept heavily, she found it
impossible to rest. As the moon rose high the breeze
from the gulf came with it. She pushed aside the
tangle of the jasmine, and leaned over the gallery
to catch the cool freshness, as it fluttered the long
streamers of gray moss, and talked soughfully with
the vast pecans and thick mulberries.

She could hear down in the cabins the confn.^d
noise of a tumult that was altogether joyful ; broken
laughter, little cries, the echo of conversation, the


movement of feet, the rattle of dishes. She tried to
put herself in the place of those holding such glad
festival, and to feel something of their wonder and
their gratitude. But it was impossible for her, all at
once, to grasp the feelings and thoughts which beat
against her consciousness, like waves against the
shore, leaving only a drift of things behind them.
With dropped hands, and a soul weary and heavy
with emotion, she sat listening. Perhaps she fell
asleep, for when she moved it was with a start, and
the midnight hour was softly striking on her mothers
little Swiss clock. The wind had ceased, and the hot,
still air was full of low whispers of song that swelled
gradually into a burst of triumphant melody. She
could not resist it.

" This tiling can never, never, never happen again
while the world lasts ! I will at least be a witness to
the joy of it." With this thought she went to an
open window which overlooked the yard. Uncle
Isaac sat in the full moonlight ; the rest of the liber-
ated servants were on the ground around him, or
upon the door-steps of the nearest cabins. But Scip
stood by his side, and it was his voice, in a low, in-
tense, whispering song, that had first startled her :

" Go down, Moses,
Go down, Moses,
Go down Moses,


Go down into Egypt,
And tell King Pharaoh
To let my people go 1 "

With every line the man's soul gathered a passion
of feeling that no words can translate ; and at the
last one every voice joined in a chorus of the same
gradual gathering of sound and feeling :

" Let ray people go !
Let my people go I
Let my people go ! "

The majority of Kegroes are fine improvisers, and
in the same manner Scip went over the whole story
of the liberation of Israel in Egypt. He was black as
ebony, but as he stood there, in his grand massive
manhood, and stretching out his bare arm, began :

44 Stretch out de rod,
Stretch it ober de river,"

Cassia was troubled, and her heart was full of a
sympathy that she would not try to analyze.

" Moses shout and Miriam sing I "

Then Scip's sister, Hannah, and his wife Sadie,
chanted the verses with him. till he gave the key-line
to the last jubilant chorus :

" Hallel ujah, Moses ! Hallelujah !
Pass ober de Red Sea !
Pass ober de Red Sea !
Pass ober de Red Sea ! "


In the bright moonlight the scene had a weird and
mystical grandeur, and though the meeting did not
quite break up until the pathos of 'the setting moon
was over it, and the gray dawn creeping up the
eastern slope, Cassia lingered at the window, watch-
ing and listening until the last half-dozen went slowly
to their separate cabins, singing softly :

" Peter, go ring dem bells !
Peter, go ring dem bells 1
Peter, go ring dem bells !
I heard from heabeu to-day !

My Lord, what a morning 1

My Lord, what a morning!

My Lord, what a morning ! "

It is one of the saddest conditions of humanity that
it cannot carry its loftiest enthusiasms into its daily
work ; nay, that they very often make daily work a
hard and dreary thing. The feeling in the Preston
household when the sun rose, and another day was to
begin, was one of lassitude and even crossness.
Usually Mammy brought madam and Cassia a cup
of strong coffee to their rooms about six o'clock ; but
it was long after seven when she appeared, and
madam had become irritable and tearful, for want of
her usual stimulant. An ordinary servant might
have been reproved for negligence; but the re-
lation between mistress and liberated slave was as


yet extraordinary and undetermined. Madam was
silent and injured ; Mammy resented the attitude as
unsympathetic and exacting.

As for Cassia, she had a most unhappy day. She
saw that, at noon, the cows were still in the pens
unmilked ; and the breakfast cooking in the cabins.
The men were lounging about the kitchen, the
women visiting each other and quite neglectful of
their regular duties. Nor was this state of affairs to
be wondered at. With the average intellect of chil-
dren, they had also their ready propensity to make a
holiday. And no one could deny that their circum-
stances excused the holiday feeling. It was per-
fectly natural that the first meaning of freedom to
them, should be a condition of freedom from labor.

They were weary, also, with the excitement of the
night, and to a majority of them had come, for the
first time in their lives, a care and an anxiety about
the future. Chloe's remark, as she fried the rice
cakes for breakfast : " I'se not gwine to stay here.
Tse neber feel free on dis place, " had only voiced
the feeling dominant in most hearts. To dare to
leave the place ! To dare to take all their belong-
ings with them, and go into the nearest town, and
find a home for themselves ! This was the general
ambitious desire ; and yet they knew so little of the
world ; they had such an exaggerated idea of its


dangers, and were so thoroughly under their heredi-
tary fear of the dominant race, that the undertaking
was a momentous one, full of real anxieties, and of
many shadowy dangers.

For three days Cassia bore, with admirable patience,
the hourly provocations of her position. Then it be-
came clear to her that the men had no intention of
working the farm. They were simply idling around,
waiting for something to turn up. They had many
hopes of houses and lands of their own ; they had
been told that when the victorious army entered
Texas with the provisional government, something
extraordinary would be done for them. They were
simple as children, and they believed that, at the very
least, the property of their old masters would be
divided among them ; and most had fully deter-
mined in their own minds what particular portion
should be their own.

" I was born'd on de place, and I'se got a right to
some of it," said Mammy to Chloe ; " if dey'll gib me
de down stairs and de cows and de chickens, I kin
git along fust rate ; and I'se not gwine to hab de
madam 'sturbed at all ; she's welcome as sunshine to
her ole room."

"I'se gwine to La Salle, sister Cirida," answered
Chloe ; " I'se got folks dar, and I'se sick of dis place.
I don't feel free wid Miss Cassia's voice in my ear,


and dat weary tinkle, tinkle of de madam's little
bell. I jist hates it. 1'se gwine to La Salle ; plenty
of big Louses roun' dar, and, please God, I'll git my
share in some ob dem."

There was no general noisy leave-taking, but one
by one the servants stole away, usually in the night.
And every day there was some change in their man-
ner, which pained and angered Cassia. A certain
latitude of speech had always been permitted them,
as well as a familiarity which had its rise in the
family character of the tie, as it had existed ; but
when they became simply " hired servants," this fa-

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe lost silver of Briffault → online text (page 1 of 17)