A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
Mr. Pagebrook makes Some Acquaintances
Mr. Robert had often heard of "an Old Virginian welcome," but precisely what constituted it he never knew until the carriage in which he rode drove around the "circle" and stopped in front of the Shirley mansion. The first thing which struck him as peculiar about the preparations made for his reception was the large number of small negroes who thought their presence necessary to the occasion. Little black faces grinned at him from behind every tree, and about a dozen of them peered out from a safe position behind "ole mas'r and ole missus." Mr. Billy had telegraphed from Richmond announcing the coming of his guest, and so every darkey on the plantation knew that "Mas' Joe's son" was "a comin' wid Mas' Billy from de Norf," and every one that could find a safe hiding place in the yard was there to see him come.
Col. Barksdale met him at the carriage while the ladies were in waiting on the porch, as anybody but a Virginian would put it —in the porch, as they themselves would have phrased it. The welcome was of the right hearty order which nobody ever saw outside of Virginia – a welcome which made the guest feel himself at once a very part of the establishment.
Inside the house our young friend found himself sorely puzzled. The furniture was old in style but very elegant, a thing for which he was fully prepared, but it stood upon absolutely bare white floors. There were both damask and lace curtains at the windows, but not a vestige of carpet was anywhere to be seen. Mr. Robert said nothing, but wondered silently whether it was possible that he had arrived in the midst of house-cleaning. Conversation, luncheon, and finally dinner at four, occupied his attention, however, and after dinner the whole family gathered in the porch – for really I believe the Virginians are right about that preposition. I will ask Mr. Robert himself some day.
He soon found himself thoroughly at home in the old family mansion, among relatives who had never been strangers to him in any proper sense of the term. Not only was Mrs. Barksdale his father's sister, but Col. Barksdale himself had been that father's nearest friend. The two had gone west together to seek their fortunes there; but the Colonel had returned after a few years to practice his profession in his native state and ultimately to marry his friend's sister. Mr. Robert soon felt himself literally at home, therefore, and the feeling was intensely enjoyable, too, to a young man who for ten years had not known any home other than that of a bachelor's quarters in a college community. His reception at Shirley had not been the greeting of a guest but rather the welcoming of a long wandering son of the house. To his relatives there he seemed precisely that, and their feeling in the case soon became his own. This "clannishness," as it is called, may not be peculiar to Virginia of all the states, but I have never seen it half so strongly manifested anywhere else as there.
Toward evening Maj.
Pagebrook and his son Ewing rode over to call upon their cousin Robert, and after the introductions were over, "Cousin Edwin" went on to talk of Robert's father, for whom he had felt an unusual degree of affection, as all the relatives had, for that matter, Robert's father having been an especial favorite in the family. Then the conversation became more general.
"When are you going to cut that field of tobacco by the prize barn, Cousin Edwin?" asked Billy. "I see it's ripening pretty rapidly."
"Yes, it is getting pretty ripe in spots, and I wanted to put the hands into it yesterday," replied Maj. Pagebrook; "but Sarah Ann thought we'd better keep them plowing for wheat a day or two longer, and now I'm afraid it's going to rain before I can get a first cutting done."
"How much did you get for the tobacco you sent to Richmond the other day, Edwin?" asked the colonel.
"Only five dollars and three cents a hundred, average."
"You'd have done a good deal better if you'd sold in the spring, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, a good deal. I wanted to sell then, but Sarah Ann insisted on holding it till fall. By the way, I'm going to put all my lots, except the one by the creek, in corn next year, and raise hardly any tobacco."
"All but the creek lot? Why that's the only good corn land you have, Edwin, and it isn't safe to put tobacco in it either, for it overflows a little."
"Yes, I know it. But Sarah Ann is discouraged by the price we got for tobacco this year, and doesn't want me to plant the lots next season at all."
"Why didn't you bring Cousin Sarah Ann over and come to dinner to-day, Cousin Edwin?" asked Miss Barksdale, coming out of the dining-room, key-basket in hand, to speak to the guests.
"Oh! we've only one carriage horse now, you know. I sold the black last week, and haven't been able to find another yet."
"Sold the black! Why, what was that for, Cousin Ed! I thought you specially liked him?" said Billy.
"So I did; but Sarah Ann didn't like a black and a gray together, and she wouldn't let me sell the gray on any terms, though I could have matched the black at once. Winger has a colt well broken that's a perfect match for him. Come, Ewing, we must be going. Sarah Ann said we must be home to tea without fail. You'll come to The Oaks, Robert, of course. Sarah Ann will expect you very soon, and you mustn't stand on ceremony, you know, but come as often as you can while you stay at Shirley."
"What do you think of Cousin Edwin, Bob?" asked Billy when the guests had gone.
"That he is a very excellent person, and – "
"And what? Speak out. Let's hear what you think."
"Well, that he is a very dutiful husband."
"Bob, I'd give a pretty for your knack at saying things. Your tongue's as soft as a feather bed. But wait till you know the madam. You'll say – "
"My son, you shouldn't prejudice Robert against people he doesn't know. Sarah Ann has many good qualities – I suppose."
"Well, then, I don't suppose anything of the sort, else she would have found out how good a man Cousin Edwin is long ago, and would have behaved herself better every way."
"William, you are uncharitable!"
"Not a bit of it, mother. Your charity is like a microscope when it is hunting for something good to say of people. Did you ever hear of the dead Dutchman?"
"Do pray, Billy, don't tell me any of your anecdotes now."
"Just this one, mother. There was a dead Dutchman who had been the worst Dutchman in the business. When the people came to sit up with his corpse – don't run, mother, I'm nearly through – they couldn't find anything good to say about him, and as they didn't want to say anything bad there was a profound silence in the room. Finally one old Dutchman, heaving a sigh, remarked: 'Vell, Hans vas vone goot schmoker, anyhow.' Let me see. Cousin Sarah Ann gives good dinners, anyhow, only she piles too much on the table. See how charitable I am, mother. I have actually found and designated the madam's one good point."
"Come, come, my son," said the colonel, "you shouldn't talk so."
Shortly after tea the two young men pleaded the weariness of travelers in excuse for an early bed going. Mr. Bob was offered his choice between occupying alone the Blue Room, which is the state guest chamber in most Virginian houses, and taking a bed in Billy's room. He promptly chose the latter, and when they were alone, he turned to his cousin and asked:
"Billy, have you such a thing as a dictionary about?"
"Nothing but a law dictionary, I believe. Will that do?"
"Really I do not know. Perhaps it might."
"What do you want to find?" asked Billy.
"I only wish to ascertain whether or not we arrived here in time for 'snack.' You said we would, I believe."
"Well, we did, didn't we?"
"That is precisely what I wish to find out. Having never heard of 'snack' until you mentioned it as one of the things we should find at Shirley, I have been curious to know what it is like, and so I have been watching for it ever since we got here. Pray tell me what it is?"
"Well, that's a good one. I must tell Sudie that, and get her to introduce you formally to-morrow."
"It is another interesting custom of the country, I suppose."
"Indeed it is; and it isn't one of those customs that are 'more honored in the breach than the observance,' either."
Mr. Pagebrook makes a Good Impression
Young Pagebrook was an early riser. Not that he was afflicted with one of those unfortunate consciences which make of early rising a penance, by any means. He was not prejudiced against lying abed, nor bigoted about getting up. He quoted no adages on the subject, and was not illogical enough to believe that getting up early and yawning for an hour or two every morning would bring health, wisdom, or wealth to anybody. In short, he was an early riser not on principle but of necessity. Somehow his eyelids had a way of popping themselves open about sunrise or earlier, and his great brawny limbs could not be kept in bed long after this happened. He got up for precisely the same reason that most people lie abed, namely, because there was nothing else to do. On the morning after his arrival at Shirley he awoke early and heard two things which attracted his attention. The first was a sound which puzzled him more than a little. It was a steady, monotonous scraping of a most unaccountable kind – somewhat like the sound of a carpenter's plane and somewhat like that of a saw. Had it been out of doors he would have thought nothing of it; but clearly it was in the house, and not only so, but in every part of the house except the bedrooms. Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape. What it meant he could not guess. As he lay there wondering about it he heard another sound, greatly more musical, at which he jumped out of bed and began dressing, wondering at this sound, too, quite as much as at the other, though he knew perfectly well that this was nothing more than a human voice – Miss Sudie's, to wit. He wondered if there ever was such a voice before or ever would be again. Not that the young woman was singing, for she was doing nothing of the sort. She was merely giving some directions to the servants about household matters, but her voice was music nevertheless, and Mr. Bob made up his mind to hear it to better advantage by going down-stairs at once. Now I happen to know that this young woman's voice was in no way peculiar to herself. Every well-bred girl in Virginia has the same rich, full, soft tone, and they all say, as she did, "grauss," "glauss" "bausket," "cyarpet," "cyart," "gyarden," and "gyirl." But it so happened that Mr. Bob had never heard a Virginian girl talk before he met Miss Barksdale, and to him her rich German a's and the musical tones of her voice were peculiarly her own. Perhaps all these things would have impressed him differently if "Cousin Sudie" had been an ugly girl. I have no means of determining the point, inasmuch as "Cousin Sudie" was certainly anything else than ugly.
Mr. Robert made a hasty toilet and descended to the great hall, or passage, as they call it in Virginia. As he did so he discovered the origin of the scraping sound which had puzzled him, as it puzzles everybody else who hears it for the first time. Dry "pine tags" (which is Virginian for the needles of the pine) were scattered all over the floors, and several negro women were busy polishing the hard white planks by rubbing them with an indescribable implement made of a section of log, a dozen corn husks ("shucks," the Virginians call them – a "corn husk" in Virginia signifying a cob always), and a pole for handle.
"Good morning, Cousin Robert. You're up soon," said the little woman, coming out of the dining-room and putting a soft, warm little hand in his great palm.
Now to young Pagebrook this was a totally new use of the word "soon," and I dare say he would have been greatly interested in it but for the fact that the trim little woman who stood there, key-basket in hand, interested him more.
"You've caught me in the midst of my housekeeping, but never mind; only be careful, or you'll slip on the pine tags; they're as slippery as glass."
"And is that the reason they are scattered on the floor?"
"Yes, we polish with them. Up North you wax your floors instead, don't you?"
"Yes, for balls and the like, I believe, but commonly we have carpets."
"What! in summer time, too?"
"O yes! certainly, Why not?"
"Why, they're so warm. We take ours up soon in the spring, and never put them down again until fall."
This time Mr. Robert observed the queer use of the word "soon," but said nothing about it. He said instead:
"What a lovely morning it is! How I should like to ride horseback in this air!"
"Would you let me ride with you?" asked the little maiden.
"Such a question, Cousin Sudie!"
Now I am free to confess that this last remark was unworthy Mr. Pagebrook. If not ungrammatical, it is at least of questionable construction, and so not at all like Mr. Pagebrook's usage. But the demoralizing effect of Miss Sudie Barksdale's society did not stop here by any means, as we shall see in due time.
"If you'd really like to ride, I'll have the horses brought," said the little lady.
"And you with me?"
"Yes, if I may."
"I shall be more than happy."
"Dick, run up to the barn and tell Uncle Polidore to saddle Patty for me and Graybeard for your Mas' Robert. Do you hear? Excuse me, Cousin Robert, and I'll put on my habit."
Ten minutes later the pair reined in their horses on the top of a little hill, to look at the sunrise. The morning was just cool enough to be thoroughly pleasant, and the exhilaration which comes of nothing else so surely as of rapid riding began to tell upon the spirits of both. Cousin Sudie was a good rider and a graceful one, and she knew it. Robert's riding hitherto had been done, for the most part, in cities, and on smooth roads; but he held his horse with a firm hand, and controlled him perforce of a strong will, which, with great personal fearlessness and a habit of doing well whatever he undertook to do at all, and undertaking whatever was expected of him, abundantly supplied the lack he had of experience in the rougher riding of Virginia on the less perfectly trained horses in use there. He was a stalwart fellow, with shapely limbs and perfect ease of movement, so that on horseback he was a very agreeable young gentleman to look at, a fact of which Miss Sudie speedily became conscious. Her rides were chiefly without a cavalier, as they were usually taken early in the morning before her cousin Billy thought of getting up; and naturally enough she enjoyed the presence of so agreeable a young gentleman as Mr. Rob certainly was, and her enjoyment of his company – she being a woman – was not diminished in the least by the discovery that to his intellectual and social accomplishments, which were very genuine, there were added a handsome face, a comely person, and a manly enthusiasm for out-door exercise. When he pulled some wild flowers which grew by the road-side without dismounting – a trick he had picked up somewhere – she wondered at the ease and grace with which it was done; when he added to the flowers a little cluster of purple berries from a wild vine, of which I do not know the name, and a sprig of sumac, still wet with dew, she admired his taste; and when he gallantly asked leave to twine the whole into her hair, for her hat had come off, as good-looking young women's hats always do on such occasions, she thought him "just nice."
It is really astonishing how rapidly acquaintanceships form under favorable circumstances. These two young people were shy, both of them, and on the preceding day had hardly spoken to each other at all. When they mounted their horses that morning they were almost strangers, and they might have remained only half acquaintances for a week or a fortnight but for that morning's ride. They were gone an hour, perhaps, in all, and when they sat down to breakfast they were on terms of easy familiarity and genuine friendship.
Mr. Pagebrook Learns Several Things
After breakfast Robert walked out with Billy to see the negroes at work cutting tobacco, an interesting operation always, and especially so when one sees it for the first time.
"Gilbert," said Billy to his "head man," "did you find any ripe enough to cut in the lot there by the prize barn?"
"No sah; dat's de greenest lot of tobawkah on de plantation, for all 'twas plaunted fust. I dunno what to make uv it."
"Why, Billy, I thought Cousin Edwin owned the 'prize' barn!" said Robert.
"So he does – his."
"Are there two of them then?"
"Two of them? What do you mean? Every plantation has its prize barn, of course."
"Indeed! Who gives the prizes?"
"Ha! ha! Bob, that's good; only you'd better ask me always when you want to know about things here, else you'll get yourself laughed at. A prize barn is simply the barn in which we prize tobacco."
"And what is 'prizing' tobacco?"
"Possibly 'prize' a'n't good English, Bob, but it's the standard Ethiopian for pressing, and everybody here uses it. We press the tobacco in hogsheads, you know, and we call it prizing. It never struck me as a peculiarly Southern use of the word, but perhaps it is for all that. You're as sharp set as a circular saw after dialect, a'n't you?"
"I really do not know precisely how sharp set a circular saw is, but I am greatly interested in your peculiar uses of English, certainly."
Upon returning to the house Billy said:
"Bob I must let you take care of yourself for two or three hours now, as I have some papers to draw up and they won't wait. Next week is court week, and I've got a great deal to do between now and then. But you're at home you know, old fellow."
So saying Mr. Billy went to his office, which was situated in the yard, while Robert strolled into the house. Looking into the dining-room he saw there Cousin Sudie. Possibly the young gentleman was looking for her. I am sure I do not know. But whether he had expected to find her there or not, he certainly felt some little surprise as he looked at her.
"Why, Cousin Sudie, is it possible that you are washing the dishes?"
"O certainly! and the plates and cups too. In fact, I wash up all the things once a day."
"Pray tell me, cousin, precisely what you understand by 'dishes,' if I'm not intruding," said Robert.
"O not at all! come in and sit down. You'll find it pleasanter there by the window. 'Dishes?' Why, that is a dish, and that and that," pointing to them.
"I see. The word 'dishes' is not a generic term in Virginia, but applies only to platters and vegetable dishes. What do you call them in the aggregate, Cousin Sudie? I mean plates, platters, cups, saucers, and everything."
"Why 'things,' I suppose. We speak of 'breakfast things,' 'tea things,' 'dinner things.' But why were you astonished to see me washing them, Cousin Robert?"
"Perhaps I ought to have known better, but the fact is I had an impression that Southern ladies were wholly exempt from all work except, perhaps, a little embroidery or some such thing."
"O my! I wish you could see me during circuit court week, when Uncle Carter and Cousin Billy bring the judge and the lawyers home with them at all sorts of odd hours; and they always bring the hungriest ones there are too. I fall at once into a chronic state of washing up things, and don't recover until court is over."
"But really, cousin – pardon me if I am inquisitive, for I am greatly interested in this life here in Virginia, it is so new to me – how is it that you must wash up things at all?"
"Why, I carry the keys, you know. I'm housekeeper."
"Well, but you have servants enough, certainly, and to spare."
"O yes! but every lady washes up the things at least once a day. It would never do to trust it altogether to the servants, you know."
"None of them are sufficiently careful and trustworthy, do you mean?"
"Well, not exactly that; but it's our way here, and if a lady were to neglect it people would think her a poor housekeeper."
"Are there any other duties devolving upon Virginian housekeepers besides 'washing up things?' You see I am trying to learn all I can of a life which is as charmingly strange to me as that of Turkey or China would be if I were to go to either country."
"Any other duties? Indeed there are, and you shall learn what they are, if you won't find it stupid to go my rounds with me. I'm going now."
"I should find dullness itself interesting with you as my fellow observer of it."
"Right gallantly said, kind sir," said Miss Sudie, with an exaggerated curtsy. "But if you're going to make pretty speeches I'll get impudent directly. I'm dreadfully given to it anyhow, and I've a notion to say one impudent thing right now."
"Pray do. I pardon you in advance."
"Well, then, what makes you say 'Virginian housekeepers?'"
"What else should I say?"
"Why, Virginia housekeepers, of course, like anybody else."
"But 'Virginia' is not an adjective, cousin. You would not say 'England housekeepers' or 'France housekeepers,' would you?" asked Robert.скачать книгу бесплатно
страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13