Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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of my companion. I was by no means certain that he 1 ad
noticed the sounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange
alteration had during the last few minutes taken place in his


demeanor. From, a position fronting my own, he had gradu
ally brought round his chair so as to sit with his face to the
door of the chamber ; and thus I could but partially perceive
his features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were
murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast
yet I knew that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid
opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it in profile. The
motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea, for he
rocked from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform
sway. Having rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the
narrative of Sir Launcelot, which thus proceeded :

?t And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury
of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the
breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the
carcass from out of the way before him, and approached valor-
ously over the silver pavement of the castle to where the shield
was upon the wall ; which in sooth tarried not for his full coming,
but fell down at his feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great
and terrible ringing sound."

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips than as if
a shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily
upon a floor of silver I became aware of a distinct, hollow,
metallic, and clangorous, yet apparently muffled, reverberation.
Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet ; but the measured
rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the
chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly before him,
and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony
rigidity. But as I placed my hand upon his shoulder there
came a strong shudder over his whole person ; a sickly smile
quivered about his lips ; and I saw that he spoke in a low,
hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my pres-
sence. Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the
hideous import of his words.


" Not hear it? yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long
long long many minutes, many hours, many days, have
I heard it yet I dared not oh, pity me, miserable wretch
that I am ! I dared not I dared not speak ! We have put
her living in the tomb ! Said I not that my senses were acute ?
I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the
hollow coffin. I heard them many, many days ago yet I
dared not I dared not speak! And now to-night
Ethelred ha S ha ! the breaking of the hermit s door, and
the death cry of the dragon, and the clangor of the shield !
say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the
iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered
archway of the vault! Oh, whither shall I fly? Will she not
be here anon ? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my
haste ? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair ? Do I not
distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart ?
Madman ! " here he sprang furiously to his feet, and
shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving
up his soul " Madman ! I tell you that she now stands
without the door!"

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had
been found the potency of a spell, the huge antique panels to
which the speaker pointed threw slowly back, upon the instant,
their ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rush
ing gust but then without those doors there did stand the
lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher.
There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of
some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated
frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to
and fro upon the threshold then, with a low moaning cry,
fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and, in
her violent and now final death agonies, bore him to the floor
a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.


From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast.
The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself
crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the
path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so
unusual could have issued ; for the vast house and its shadows
were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full,
setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through
that once barely discernible fissure, of which I have before
spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag
direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly
widened there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind the
entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight my
brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder
there was a long, tumultuous, shouting sound like the voice of
a thousand waters and the deep and dank tarn at my feet
closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the " House
of Usher."


[John Pendleton Kennedy was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in
1 795. After graduating from a local college he studied law and began
to practice his profession. For the rest of his life he divided his
attention among law, politics, and literature. In 1852 he became
Secretary of the Navy under President Fillmore. He died at Newport,
Rhode Island, in 1870.]



\ Swallow Barn is an aristocratical old edifice which sits, like a

Wooding hen, on the southern bank of the James River. It
HXjks down upon a shady pocket or nook, formed by an inden-
Ration of the shore, from a gentle acclivity thinly sprinkled with

> f
V\ I


oaks whose magnificent branches afford habitation to sundry
friendly colonies of squirrels and woodpeckers.

This time-honored mansion was the residence of the family
of Hazards. But in the present generation the spells of love and
mortgage have translated the possession to Frank Meri wether,
who, having married Lucretia, the eldest daughter of my late
Uncle Walter Hazard, and
lifted some gentlemanlike en
cumbrances which had been
sleeping for years upon the
domain, was thus inducted
into the proprietary rights.
The adjacency of his own
estate gave a territorial fea
ture to this alliance, of which
the fruits were no less dis
cernible in the multiplication
of negroes, cattle, and poul
try than in a flourishing clan
of Meriwethers.

The main building is more
than a century old. It is built
with thick brick walls, but

one story in height, and surmounted by a double-faced or
hipped roof, which gives the idea of a ship bottom upwards.
Later buildings have been added to this as the wants or am
bition of the family have expanded. These are all constructed
of wood, and seem to have been built in defiance of all laws
of congruity, just as convenience required. But they form alto
gether an agreeable picture of habitation, suggesting the idea
of comfort in the ample space they fill and in their conspicuous
adaptation to domestic uses.

The hall door is an ancient piece of walnut, which has grown



too heavy for its hinges and by its daily travel has furrowed the
floor in a quadrant, over which it has an uneasy journey. It is
shaded by a narrow porch, with a carved pediment upheld by
massive columns of wood, somewhat split by the sun. An ample
courtyard, inclosed by a semicircular paling, extends in front
of the whole pile, and is traversed by a gravel road leading from
a rather ostentatious iron gate, which is swung between two
pillars of brick surmounted by globes of cut stone. Between
the gate and the house a large willow spreads its arched and
pendent drapery over the grass. A bridle rack stands within
the inclosure, and near it a ragged horse-nibbled plum tree
current belief bein^ that a plum tree thrives on ill usag;e
casts its skeleton shadow on the dust.

Some Lombardy poplars, springing above a mass of shrubbery,
partially screen various supernumerary buildings at a short dis
tance in the rear of the mansion. Amongst these is to be seen
the gable end of a stable, with the date of its erection stiffly
emblazoned in black bricks near the upper angle, in figures set
in after the fashion of the work on a girl s sampler. In the
same quarter a pigeon box, reared on a post and resembling a
huge teetotum, is visible, and about its several doors and win
dows a family of pragmatical pigeons are generally strutting,
bridling, and bragging at each other from sunrise until dark,

Appendant to this homestead is an extensive tract of land
which stretches some three or four miles along the river,
presenting alternately abrupt promontories mantled with pine
and dwarf oak, and small inlets terminating in swamps. Some
sparse portions of forest vary the landscape, which, for the most
part, exhibits a succession of fields clothed with Indian corn,
some small patches of cotton or tobacco plants, with the usual
varieties of stubble and fallow grounds. These are inclosed by
worm fences of shrunken chestnut, where lizards and ground
squirrels are perpetually running races along the rails.


A few hundred steps from the mansion a brook glides at a
snail s pace towards the river, holding its course through a
wilderness of laurel and alder, and creeping around islets covered
with green mosses. Across this stream is thrown a rough bridge,
which it would delight a painter to see ; and not far below it an
aged sycamore twists its roots into a grotesque framework to
the pure mirror of a spring, which wells up its cool waters from
a bed of gravel and runs gurgling to the brook. There it aids J
in furnishing a cruising ground to a squadron of ducks who, in/
defiance of all nautical propriety, are incessantly turning up I
their sterns to the skies. On the grass which skirts the margin >v
of the spring I observe the family linen is usually spread out J
by some three or four negro women, who chant shrill music /
over their washtubs, and seem to live in ceaseless warfare with
sundry little besmirched and bow-legged blacks, who are never
tired of making somersaults and mischievously pushing each^-/
other on the clothes laid down to dry.

Beyond the bridge, at some distance, stands a prominent
object in the perspective of this picture, the most venerable
appendage to the establishment, a huge barn with an immense
roof hanging almost to the ground and thatched a foot thick
with sunburnt straw, which reaches below the eaves in ragged
flakes. It has a singularly drowsy and decrepit aspect. The
yard around it is strewed knee-deep with litter, from the midst
of which arises a long rack resembling a chevaux-de-frise, which
is ordinarily filled with fodder. This is the customary lounge of
half a score of oxen and as many cows, who sustain an imper
turbable companionship with a sickly wagon, whose parched
tongue and drooping swingletrees, as it stands in the sun, give
it a most forlorn and invalid character; whilst some sociable
carts under the sheds, with their shafts perched against the^^-
walls, suggest the idea of a set of gossiping cronies taking their
ease in a tavern porch. Now and then a clownish hobbledehoy


colt, with long fetlocks and disordered mane, and a thousand
burs in his tail, stalks through this company. But as it is for
bidden ground to all his tribe, he is likely very soon to encounter
a shower of corncobs from some of the negro men ; upon which
contingency he makes a rapid retreat across the bars which
imperfectly guard the entrance to the yard, and with an uncouth
display of his heels bounds away towards the brook, where he
stops and looks back with a saucy defiance ; and after affecting
to drink for a moment, gallops away with a braggart whinny to
the fields.


The master of this lordly domain is Frank Meriwether. He
is "now in the meridian of life somewhere about forty-five.
Good cheer and, an easy temper tell well upon him. The first
has given him a comfortable, portly figure, and the latter a
contemplative turn of mind, which inclines him to be lazy and

He has some right to pride himself on his personal appearance,
for he has a handsome face, with a dark-blue eye and a fine
intellectual brow. His head is growing scant of hair on the
crown, which induces him to be somewhat particular in the
management of his locks in that locality, and these are assuming
a decided silvery hue.

It is pleasant to see him when he is going to ride to the
Court House on business occasions. He is then apt to make
his appearance in a coat of blue broadcloth, astonishingly glossy,
and with an unusual amount of plaited ruffle strutting through
the folds of a Marseilles waistcoat. A worshipful finish is given

(to this costume by a large straw hat, lined with green silk. There
is a magisterial fullness in his garments which betokens condition
in the world, and a heavy bunch of seals, suspended by a chain of
gold, jingles as he moves, pronouncing him a man of superfluities.


[He is too lazy to try to go into politics, but did once make a
pretence of studying law in Richmond, and is a somewhat auto
cratic justice of the peace.]

. . . Having in this way qualified himself to assert and main
tain his rights, he came to his estate, upon his arrival at age, a
very model of landed gentlemen. Since that time his avocations
have had a certain literary tincture ; for having settled himself
down as a married man, and got rid of his superfluous foppery,
he rambled with wonderful assiduity through a wilderness of
romances, poems, and dissertations, which are now collected in J**
his library, and, withjLheir battered blue covers, present a lively/*****-
type of an army of continentalsat the close of the war, or.a\ X* 4
hospital of invalids. These have all, at last, given way to the
newspapers a miscellaneous study very attractive and engross
ing to country gentlemen. This line of study has rendered
Meriwether a most perilous antagonist in the matter of legisla
tive proceedings.

A landed proprietor, \vith a good house and a host of servants,
is naturally a hospitable man. A guest is one of his daily wants.
A friendly face is a necessary of life, without which the heart
is apt to starve, or a luxury without which it grows parsimoni
ous. Men who are isolated from society by distance feel these
wants by an instinct, and are grateful for the opportunity to
relieve them. In Meriwether the sentiment goes beyond this. \\^^.
It has, besides, something dialectic in it. His house is open to o 1
everybody, as freely almost as an inn. But to see him when he ^
has had the good fortune to pick up an intelligent, educated
gentleman, and particularly one who listens \vell ! a re
spectable, assentations stranger ! All the better if he has been
in the Legislature, and better still, if in Congress. Such a per
son caught within the purlieus of Swallow Barn may set down
one week s entertainment as certain, inevitable, and as


many more as he likes the more the merrier. He will know
something of the quality of Meriwether s_jiietoric before he
is gone.

Then again, it is very pleasant to see Frank s kind_and con^
siderate bearingtowards his servants and dependents^ His
slaves appreciate this and hold him in most affectionate rever
ence, and, therefore, are not only contented, but happy under
his dominion. . . .

He is somewhat distinguished as a breeder of blooded horses ;
and ever since the celebrated race between Eclipse and Henry
has taken to this occupation with a renewed zeal, as a matter
affecting the reputation of the state. It is delightful to hear him
expatiate upon the value, importance, and patriotic bearing of
this employment, and to listen to all his technical lore touching
the mystery of horsecraft. He has some fine colts in training,
which are committed to the care of a pragmatical old negro,
named Carey, who, in his reverence for the occupation, is the
perfect shadow of his master. He and Frank hold grave and
momentous consultations upon the affairs of the stable, in such
a sagacious strain of equal debate that it would puzzle a spec
tator to tell which was the leading member of the council. Carey
thinks he knows a great deal more upon the subject than his
master, and their frequent intercourse has begot a familiarity in
the old negro which is almost fatal to Meriwether s supremacy.
The old man feels himself authorized to maintain his positions
according to the freest parliamentary form, and sometimes with
a violence of asseveration that compels his master to abandon
his ground, purely out of faint-heartedness. Meriwether gets a
little nettled by Carey s doggedness, but generally turns it off
in a laugh. I was in the stable with him, a few mornings after
my arrival, when he ventured to expostulate with the venerable
groom upon a professional point, but the controversy terminated
in its customary way. " Who sot you up, Master Frank, to tell


me how to fodder that ere cretur, when I as good as nursed
you on my knee ? "

"Well, tie up your tongue, you old mastiff," replied Frank,
as he walked out of the stable, " and cease growling, since you
will have it your own way " ; and then, as we left the old
man s presence, he added, with an affectionate chuckle, " a
faithful old cur, too, that snaps at me out of pure honesty ; he
has not many years left, and it does no harm to humor him/


Whilst Frank Meriwether amuses himself with his quiddities,
and floats through life upon the current of his humor, hisjdameT
my excellent cousin Lucretia, takes charge of the household
affairs, as one who has a reputation to stake upon her adminis
tration. She has made it a perfect science, and great is her
fame in the dispensation thereof !

Those who have visited Swallow Barn will long remember
the morning stir, of which the murmurs arose even unto the
chambers and fell upon the ears of the sleepers : the dry rub
bing of floors, and even the waxing of the same until they were
like ice ; and the grinding of coffee mills ; and the gibber of
ducks, and chickens, and turkeys ; and all the multitudinous
concert of homely sounds. And then, her breakfasts ! I do not
wish to be counted extravagant, but a small regiment might
march in upon her without disappointment; and I would put
them for excellence and variety against anything that ever was
served upon platter. Moreover, all things go like clockwork.
She rises with the lark and infuses an early vigor into the whole
household. And yet she is a thin woman to look upon, and a
feeble ; with a sallow complexion, and a pair of animated
black eyes which impart a portion of fire to a countenance
otherwise demure from the paths worn across it in the frequent


travel of a low-country ague. But, although her life has been
somewhat saddened by such visitations, my cousin is too spirited
a woman to give up to them ; for she is therapeutical in her
constitution, and considers herself a full match for any reason
able tertian in the world. Indeed, I have sometimes thought
that she took more pride in her leechcraft than becomes a
Christian woman ; she is even a little vainglorious,. For, to say
^nothing of ier skill in cojnpounding__siTfrpIes J ^she nas occasion-
ally^roifgn t: dowi i^pon lierJbpnH th? sobfr r^mrrjstrances of
her husband by her pertinacious faith in the efficacy of certain
spells in cases_oflntermittent. _-Hut there is no reasoning against
her experience. She can enumerate the cases " and men may
say what they choose about its being contrary to reason, and all
r that : it is their way ! But seeing is believing nine scoops of
^water in the hollow of the hand, from the sycamore spring, for
Yl three mornings, before sunrise, and a cup of strong coffee with
r / lemon juice, will break an ague, try it when you will." In short,
r^Nfs Frank says, " Lucretia will die in that creed."

I am occasionally up early enough to be witness to her
morning regimen, which, to my mind, is rather tyrannically
enforced against the youngsters of her numerous family, both
white and black. She is in the habit of preparing some death-
routing decoction for them, in a small pitcher, and administering
it to the whole squadron in succession, who severally swallow
the dose with a most ineffectual effort at repudiation, and gallop
off with faces all rue and wormwood.

Everything at Swallow Barn that falls within the superin
tendence of my cousin Lucretia is a pattern of industry. In
fact, I consider her the very priestess^ >f thej\merican system,
for, with her, the protection of manufactures is even more of a
passion than a principle. Every here and there, over the estate,
may be seen, rising in humble guise above the shrubbery, the
rude chimney of a log cabin, where all the livelong day the


plaintive moaning of the spinning wheel rises fitfully upon the
breeze, like the fancied notes of a hobgoblin, as they are some
times imitated in the stories with which we frighten children.
In these laboratories the negro women are employed in pre
paring yarn for the loom, from which is produced not only a
comfortable supply of winter clothing for the working people
but some excellent carpets for the house.

It is refreshing to behold how affectionately vain our good
hostess is of Frank, and what deference she shows to his judg
ment in all matters except those that belong to the home de
partment ; for there she is confessedly, and without appeal, the
paramount power. It seems to be a dogma with her that he is
the very " first man in Virginia," an expression which in this
region has grown into an emphatic provincialism. Frank, in re
turn, is a devout admirer of her accomplishments, and although
he does not pretend to an ear for music, he is in raptures at
her skill on the harpsichord when she plays at night for the
children to dance ; and he sometimes sets her to singing " The
Twins of Latona," and " Old Towler," and " The Rose-Tree in
Full Bearing " (she does not study the modern music) for the
entertainment of his company. On these occasions he stands
by the instrument, and nods his head as if he comprehended
the airs.



The gentlemen of Virginia live apart from each other. They
are surrounded by their bondsmen and dependents ; and the
customary intercourse of society familiarizes their minds to
the relation of high and low degree. They frequently meet in the
interchange of a large and thriftless hospitality, in which the
forms of society are foregone for its comforts, and the business
of life thrown aside for the enjoyment of its pleasures. Their
halls are large, and their boards ample ; and surrounding the


great family hearth, with its immense burthen of blazing wood
casting a broad and merry glare over the congregated house
hold and the numerous retainers, a social winter party in
Virginia affords a tolerable picture of feudal munificence.

Frank Meriwether is a good specimen of the class I have
described. He seeks companionship with men of ability, and is
a zealous disseminator of the personal fame of individuals who
have won any portion of renown in the state. Sometimes I
even think he exaggerates a little, when descanting upon the
prodigies of genius that have been reared in the Old Dominion ;
and he manifestly seems to consider that a young man who
.has astonished a whole village in Virginia by the splendor of
his talents must, of course, be known throughout the United
States ; for he frequently opens his eyes at me with an air of
astonishment when I happen to ask him who is the marvel he
is speaking of.

I observe, moreover, that he has a constitutional fondness
for paradoxes and does not scruple to adopt and republish any
apothegm that is calculated to startle one by its novelty. He
has a correspondence with several old friends who were with
him at college, and who have now risen into an extensive
political notoriety in the state ; these gentlemen furnish him
with many new currents of thought, along which he glides with
a happy velocity. He is essentially meditative in his character

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 5 of 35)