Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

MAR'S E DAB AFTER THE WAR.

A VIRGINIA REMINISCENCE.

66

COLONEL DABNEY CARTER DIGGES reason or other, universally spoken was a Virginia landowner and far- of and to as Mar'se Dab. This mer. Certain of his neighbours was partly, no doubt, an unconused to say “he'd a heap too scious tribute to the local fame much name," but it was the mat- of his family, as if, perhaps, it ter and not the extent of the were due to these latter not to patronymic of which, I fancy, snap the old ties quite so abruptly they were jealous. Indeed one as in ordinary cases, and partly, of these was called Thomas Jeffer- no doubt, to accident. Nor, inson Smith, and the other George deed, was this a unique survival Washington Brown, so it would of old habits; it was simply a have been manifestly absurd for rather exceptional one. So I either to criticise the taste of the think the reason that made those Colonel's godfathers and god- of us who were the Colonel's immothers.

mediate friends and neighbours Whether our friend possessed, speak of him generally, and in or did not possess, too much name frivolous moments to him, as for one or two of his republican “Mar’se Dab," must be sought friends is a matter of no import. for in the humorous contrast We shall briefly allude to this between that great man's impresfurther on. One thing is quite sive personal appearance and the certain,-the names he usually curt juvenility of this particuanswered to in everyday life were, lar sobriquet. At any rate, it as regards brevity, far out of reach is as “ Mar’se Dab” that my old of the most captious criticism. Of friend's image comes most forcibly these “the Cunnel” was the most to my recollection, and it seems formal and dignified, and was used natural to recall his peculiarities, only by comparative strangers or or to attempt to do so, with the inferiors of his own colour. For familiar appellative upon the titlethe rest, he submitled without a page. With regard to the subject murmur to the monosyllabic abbre- of this sketch, I have so far used viation of “ DAB,”—a capital name and shall continue to use the past to shout at an unruly pointer or a tense. I don't wish the reader headstrong setter on a windy day, to suppose Mar’se Dab is dead. no doubt, but a queer name for a Far from it. But because the ingentleman of unquestioned position dustrial system he pursued with and weighing over 200 lb.

such vigour proved so much less Fortunately it was almost al- profitable than picturesque, he is, ways "Uncle Dab,” or “ Cousin I regret to say, now an exile from Dab,” among his friends; while his native land.

The paternal by nearly the whole of the negro acres, fortunately for them I fear population, in spite of the tend- it must be added, know him no ency to drop, after the war, old more. ante-bellum terms that denoted Yes, Mar'se Dab “burst all to servitude, he was still, for some pieces” many years ago, as his

[ocr errors]

neighbours, with that kindly in- viduals may possibly have borne terest people take in their friends' them, but the names themselves futures, used always to prophesy are by no means distinguished. he would. Not a fragment even in Virginia, however, it is other

In from this aforesaid explosion re- wise ; for they are all three written mained wherewith to start him large upon the pages of her past. in a new land-killing enterprise. There are, no doubt, plenty of So he, poor man, scarcely past the people in Virginia possessing one prime of life, had to accept an or other of these names who are offer from his wife's brother, who no connection whatever to the kept a store far away in Western old colonial families who have Kansas. The Colonel, was not, I given to them their local lustre. think, a proud man. He had not The Colonel, however, was a reso much pride in matters of this presentative of the main stock kind as most of his class. But of these three illustrious houses, what he had he was compelled to respectively. For his mother was swallow, when circumstances forced a Carter of Birley, and his grandhim behind the counter of a west- mother had been a Dabney from ern country store. Whether he the shores of the Rappahannoc, took the dose in one gulp, or while as for the Diggeses, are they whether it took some time going not written in the chronicles of down,--and, above all, whether it Berkeley county from generation agreed with him afterwards, I to generation ? never heard. For those, however, Mar'se Dab himself, however, who had known Mar’se Dab on never appeared to take much stock his ancestral acres, it required in the genealogical advantages he a mental effort of no ordinary enjoyed. In many respects indeed kind to imagine him tying up –more particularly in the superpackets of sugar and coffee for ficialities of life—he by no means Teutonic or Scandinavian home- did credit to his courtly progenisteaders. Indeed, it is distressing tors. It used to be a common even to think of the Colonel in matter of whisper in the more such a place or at such an oc- aristocratic circles of Berkeley cupation. It is the firm convic- county—ainong the ladies particution that my old friend would be larly—that " Cousin Dab was a positively grateful to

grateful to me if I mighty rough man for his raising." would consider him as defunct, But then, as these fair critics would that decided me in using the past go on to relate, it was not so much tense in everything relating to to be wondered, seeing of what him.

very ordinary stock" his wife To attempt a Virginia sketch came. Now, as I have said, the without at least a genealogical al. Dabney's, the Carters, and the lusion would not merely be unpar- Diggeses were among the very first donable,- it would be impossible. families in the State. If all their It was an instinctive feeling that members were not educated and this had to come which I think polished men, they ought to have prompted me to open this paper been. But the Thackers, from with the Colonel's full baptismal whose family the Colonel took his name. For the English ear, neither wife, neither were, nor ever had the names of Dabney, of Carter, been, people of education and or of Digges have any particular polish. They were not, it must be significance. Distinguished indi- understood, mere common farmers.

were

17

They owned plenty of land, and as having rather let himself down before the war had acquired almost when he married Amanda Thacker. as many negroes as the Diggeses Southern rural society, however, themselves. Nevertheless they though by no means destroyed

upon quite another social in that district, was greatly shatplane.

tered. People were too poor and The Thackers, in short, belonged too busy, and too sore with the to that enormous class that came outside world, to be very ill-natured between the real gentry of the about such trifles. Still, social south and the poor non-slave- traditions that are founded upon holding whites. Politically a part common sense and natural forces of the great compact" slavocracy, cannot be destroyed in a moment. numerically too its greater part, So, as I have already remarked, but socially, and for obvious the ladies of Berkeley county used reasons, inferior. Not a harshly to say in after years, that it was defined inferiority, it is true; that not altogether to be wondered at would never have done among " Cousin Dab had got so rough.” people whose somewhat precarious

Mar'se Dab's social position is interests were identical, and who then, I think, sufficiently well dewere all members of a dominant picted. I once heard him airily political caste, with most of the described, by a jocose Canadian world against them. But the who was staying in the neighbourdivision was the unavoidable one hood, as "a dilapidated blood." between people with the traditions, The Colonel's friends rather rehabits, and customs of gentlefolk, sented the sobriquet; but when and those whose existence was he heard it himself some time quite devoid of such refinements afterwards, he laughed so -were, in short, solid intelligent that you could have heard him farmers, and nothing more. These all over the plantation, and so things were managed very well. long that his wife got anxious The Diggeses and the Thackers about him,-Uncle Ephraim, howhad been accustomed to inter- ever, who was standing by at change calls regularly every year. the time, reassuredly remarking, The phraseology of the most per- “That's 'zactly how Mar'se Dab fect equality had always been useter laff befo' the wah." maintained when they met, but When I first knew the Colonel, there the fiction ended. Human soon after the close of the war, he nature could do no more, as I might have been five-and-forty. am sure you would have said He weighed 16 stone, and “stood if you had paid a visit first to 6 feet 3 in his stockings.” His the old Digges's homestead, and lung-power was tremendous. The then gone on to the family man- negroes on the place used to sion of the Thackers; and the declare that “ Mar’se Dab could Diggeses and the Thackers were go in two hollers to Shucksville." only types, and very good ones, of Now Shucksville was the county what, to apply English terms, we town, and as it was thirteen miles may call the old gentry and the off, this remark must of course old yeomanry of the south. be regarded as an Ethiopian il

So when the war over-- lustration of a purely allegorical though old prejudices and social nature barriers were a good deal shaken Mar'se Dab's title of Colonel, I

-Mar'se Dab was looked upon may as well here remark, was a

was

was

was

purely honorary one. A captain, Dab, the fire-eating captain, was however, he must certainly had harmlessly removed in the second been. A very different sort of a year of the war. The climax came one, too, from Captain Topfodder, about in this wise. It was in one who kept the store at Digges's Mills, of the great battles of that year, I and took his rank from a freight forget which, that the 20th Virbarge he had skilfully navigated ginia Cavalry were ordered to for many years on the James River charge a regiment of Massachusetts Canal. That the Colonel was in infantry. It was a misty day, and any sense a false pretender to it was not till the horsemen were military honours the very within a couple of hundred yards reverse of truth. Indeed, it was of the enemy that an overwhelmhis valour that may be said to ing body of cavalry was discovered have actually proved in this re- to be drawn up in their rear. At spect his stumbling - block. If any rate the retreat was sounded, valour alone—and of course I and the 20th Virginia wheeled allude to the Civil War—could about. Not so, however, Mar’se have regulated rank, my old friend Dab! That big voice which the should by rights have been a gen- negroes declared would go in two eral of division at the very least. holloas to Shucksville, was heard For it was always said—said, that sounding through the fog and is to say, in Berkeley county- smoke that its owner would be that Dab Digges was the bravest d—d if he'd retreat. And that soldier in the whole Southern was the last that

seen of army. His valour, however, was Mar'se Dab for two years. of such a hopelessly reckless kind, From evidence that filtered out and his contempt of discipline so afterwards, it appeared that the profound, that even the command Yankee infantry were amazed upon of a regiment would have been out that day to receive the charge of a of the question. So as a captain solitary horseman, who came down he started in the 20th Virginia upon them out of the fog, from Cavalry; and a captain he remained whence they never rightly knew. till the second year of the war, They supposed it to be a runaway when he was taken prisoner. Those horse till it got so close they could of his brother officers who survived see that the rider was spurring the struggle used to say it was for all he was worth and shouting extraordinary that Cousin Dab (for like a madman, as they then took the regiment was raised in Berke- him to be. Not a rifle was raised, ley, and most of the officers were but when Mar'se Dab arrived his relations) succeeded in escap- among the enemy's ranks, so far ing death or captivity, or even a from appreciating the forbearance, wound, so long. “There was no he laid about him with such zest man in the war,” they said, “ that that if his sword had had an edge tried so hard to get killed as on it, several people would have Cousin Dab, and that wrought been badly hurt. As it was, he such havoc in the ranks of the was knocked off his horse with enemy; or,” they sometimes added the butt-end of a musket, and in the strictest confidence, “ got his sent to the Federal prison on men so often into tight places.' Lake Erie.

I gathered that it was upon the Here Mar'se Dab chafed for whole considered by no means an nearly two years, picking up various irreparable calamity when Mar'se and useful accomplishments, hard

ly worthy, perhaps, of a Digges. prepared to swear his patient upon Among these he learnt how to that occasion would have reached bake bread, to cut hair, and to the local metropolis in one. pull teeth—studies forced upon When I first knew the Colonel him partly by the ennui of his he had just come to live at Clover position, and partly by the neces- Hill. This was not actually at the sities for making a little money close of the war, but it was at the out of his fellow-prisoners, with close of that three or four years of which to procure those cakes of chaos-political, social, and financhewing-tobacco which were the cial--which ensued in war-worn solace of his life. Again and again, Virginia after the surrender of in the piping times of peace, has Lee and the abolition of slavery; Mar’se Dab joked to me of these the period which marked the first accomplishments. Two of them condict of new conditions with at any rate he carried with him old ideas—that reluctant struggle into private life, and practised of an old civilisation, based on a (in a friendly way of course) dur- kindly picturesque domestic slaving his few spare moments, with ery, to adapt itself to an altered an enthusiasm that I am afraid state of affairs; a change from somewhat victimised his neigh- the obligation for food, clothing, bours. As for hair-cutting, it was lodging, and protection, to a busiat least a harmless if a somewhat ness compact between master and singular hobby. The Colonel was servant, terminable at any moment. indeed in great request in the neigh- Clover Hill was an average Virbourhood as a trimmer of locks. ginia homestead of the better class. As a puller of teeth, Mar’se Dab's It had no pretension, of course, to popularity was nothing like so compare to “ Newtown," the old great. He used an old-fashioned Digges place at the other end of the key, and for the rest trusted only county, where the Colonel's eldest to his herculean strength; so the brother still lived at that time. hesitating attitude of the neigh- There, indeed, at Newtown were bourhood towards him on the tooth bric-à-brac, and old sideboards, question may be partially under- and antediluvian bedsteads, and a stood. There were some people of good deal of old silver and family an economical turn of mind who portraits that, whatever their dewere tempted to call in once the fects may have been as works of gratuitous services of the Colonel. art, represented at any rate ladies But I never heard that the most and gentlemen. Newtown was desperate sufferer from toothache quite a famous place in Virginia; or the most penurious individual but Clover Hill was nothing of ever repeated the experiment. the kind. For that reason, perLiving near, as I did, I have heard haps, it was all the more typical. sounds occasionally proceeding The place, till the Colonel took from Clover Hill that the negroes possession, had been occupied only declared was Mar'se Dab at work by a better-class overseer. Seedupon some confiding countryman's wheat had been stored in the parjay.

lour. The best bedchamber had I was only once, however, a been for years devoted to the storwitness to one of these dental age of dried apples and washed operations. If, as the negroes wool, and the walls were coated said, Mar'se Dab “could go to thick with entomological speciShucksville in two hollers," I am mens that had danced in the

« PoprzedniaDalej »