A Night in
Richard B. Elder
"The general has been sending his ambulance"—Bless these
ambulances! they are as common in Virginia as hen-nest grass or
clumps of sassafras—"to the dépôt every morning
for three or four days for you."
"The deuce he has! Then why didn't he let me know by letter, as
I asked him to do?"
"Can't say, really."
This conversation took place in the main street of the
extraordinary city of Lugston—a city so very peculiar that I
must give it an entire article some day.
Repairing forthwith to a newspaper office, I wrote to the
general how sorry I was that he had been put to so much
trouble—I had not received the letter which he must have
written—obliged to go home in the morning—hoped at some
future time to have the pleasure, etc., etc. Then I went to my
lodgings on Federal Hill, and, behold! there was the letter.
"Although the ambulance"—ever blessed!—"had been so
often to the dépôt, it would be there on Monday
morning, and again on Tuesday evening. Don't fail to," etc.
Whereupon I called for paper and wrote the general that, in spite
of the necessity for my returning home the next day, I would be at
Blank Station on Tuesday evening and meet that
ambulance—blessed ambulance!—or die in the struggle. Go
I would, and go I went—if that is grammar.
A newspaper editor—there is no end of editors in Virginia:
wherever there is a tank, a tan-yard or a wood-pile, there you find
one—a learned professor who had a flourishing school a few
miles up the road (public instruction is playing hob with most of
the private schools in Virginia), and a judge on a lecturing-tour
(how is a Virginia judge to support his family without lecturing,
wood-sawing or other supplementary business?) entertained me most
agreeably on my way to the station.
A cadet from Annapolis was the first object that met my eye when
I got out.
"'S death! a Virginian in that hated uniform?"
I said no such thing, felt no such thing, but was inwardly
pleased that Uncle Sam's money (he gets ten millions a year out of
Virginia tobacco, and then brags about what he does for
our children, the sly old dog!) was educating some of our boys who
otherwise might not be educated half so well, if at all. Moreover,
the broad shoulders, the trim flanks, the aquiline nose, brown hair
and ruddy cheeks of the young fellow recalled the best specimens of
British lads whom I had seen in Canada and elsewhere. In truth, I
could hardly persuade myself that he was not English.
Albion was in the air, for on the other side of the
dépôt there was a lot of trunks and other baggage, the
make of which could not be mistaken. I soon learned that one of the
best estates in the neighborhood had been sold to an Englishman,
who had arrived that very day.
"Furies! the sacred soil of Virginia again passing into
the hands of the blarsted Hinglish, from whom it was wrested a
century ago by the blood and treasure of George Washington's
hatchet! A Federal cadet on one side and an Englishman on the other
of Blank Dépôt, away off here in Bedford! What are we
I did not say or think this either, but was delighted to find
John Bull pervading the Old Dominion.
Another and a bitterer pill, had I been as disloyal as I was
five years ago, and ought to be now, awaited me, as you shall
But where is that ambulance? The blessed vehicle was there, and,
after so long and painful a separation, we should have met face to
face if it had not been backed up to the platform to
receive—whom? me? No, a parcel of ladies, who filled every
seat. My inflammable Southside soul would have burst into a high
blaze at this if a gentleman had not immediately stepped forward
with a snug jug of whisky. Whisky in any vessel I love, but whisky
in a jug not too big to handle easily I adore. My viznomy relaxed,
a beam of joy began to irradiate my features, when to my extreme
surprise the benevolent jug-gentleman said, "Take a glass of claret
punch"—he had the glass as well as the jug—"won't you,
Amazement! claret punch in a jug at a dépôt in the
heart, or at any rate the pericardium, of Bedford county! Where was
I? who was I? what was my name? and where was I going to? In my
life I was never more nonplussed.
The ambulance drove off, and I was consigned to a spring wagon
with a white boy for a driver.
"How far is it to the general's?" I ventured to ask as I stepped
"Never mind, sir: we shall be there in an hour and a half."
And off we went like the wind. He drove very boldly and at the
same time very cautiously, avoiding the numerous stumps, stones and
ruts with admirable dexterity. I began to suspect that the boy was
not a Virginia boy. When at length we reached the smooth stage-road
I began to question him: "Are you the general's son?"
"No, sir: that was my father at the station"—he of the
"How do you like this country?"
My habit from childhood had been to take the life of any
stranger who had the audacity to tell me that he did not like any
and every part of Virginia, but of late I have contented myself
with slicing off his ears.
"The longer I live here the better I like it."
Smart boy! he had saved his auditory organs. But as yet his
accent had not been sufficiently defined to enable me to tell his
nationality. "You are not from England, are you?"
"No, indeed, sir—from New Hampshire."
The appalling truth was out. First, a Yankee uniform; second, an
Englishman; third, a whole raft, a "hull lot," of New Hampshire
Yankees; and yet they call this Virginia!
No wonder I was silent. Night had fallen, we had entered a dark
forest, there was an unreconstructed penknife (somehow or other, I
always forget my bowie-knife and Derringers now-a-days) recently
sharpened in my pocket. Why did I not cut the throat of this little
Oppressor and fatten the soil of my native land
with the blood of the small ruthless Yankee Invader?
It was just because at this moment we caught up with the
ambulance. The two vehicles halted, a young girl and a little boy
left the ambulance and took seats by the side of my driver, and the
greeting of the brother and sister—the latter having just
returned from a visit to her native granite hills—was
actually as affectionate, beautiful and sweet as if they had been
born in the middle of the Mother of States and of Statesmen. And as
the ambulance drove on there came floating back to us ever and anon
on the night wind a still sweeter voice. It came from a young
lady—a young Yankee lady at that—and it sounded sweet
to me—to me myself, my own dear, unadulterated, real Old
Turning from the main road, we wound around among the rocky
ravines in a fashion truly bewildering to a body with weak eyes,
but my little Yankee driver seemed so much at home that I felt no
shadow of fear. Arriving safely at the general's capacious mansion,
I bade my Northern friends good-night, and sat down to a supper
without fried chickens or coffee. In lieu of the latter we had cold
tea, with a slice of lemon in each goblet. After a long talk on
matters of no concern to the reader, during which the general
related a number of capital war-anecdotes, I contrived, as is my
wont, to turn the conversation upon agricultural topics, with the
view of imparting to him a modicum of that consummate farming
wisdom which appertains to every thoroughly conceited
"Fine country you have, general."
"Yes: from Lugston to the Tennessee line, two hundred good
miles, the country is as fine as the sun ever shone upon."
"Appears to be thinly settled."
"You may well say so. Between my house and the station there are
eight or nine thousand acres, most of it excellent land, belonging
to only five or six owners."
"Indeed! What are such immense tracts good for now-a-days?"
"Good for grass."
"But they seem to pay little attention to grass."
"True. It is a splendid cheese country, as I have proved, but
our people are not up to that as yet."
"They will grow tobacco. I saw some fine timber
sacrificed for the sake of new-ground tobacco."
"And why not? A man gets tired of paying taxes for twenty or
thirty years on timber which yields him nothing."
I smiled an invisible smile, reverting in my thoughts to an
assault I had made the week before upon my kinsman in Buckingham.
"William," said I, "why will you Southside people continue to
exhaust your land with tobacco?"
"Dick," he replied, "you are the doggonedest fool out of jail.
You, raised in Virginia, and ask a question like that! Wheat
is uncertain, corn doesn't pay, we are too far from market for
vegetables, too poor to put our lands in grass, and tobacco is the
only thing that will fetch money. As for exhausting land, plenty of
tobacco is raised in Ohio and Connecticut, and you never hear
anybody talk about exhausting land there."
"Yes, but there they manure heavily, giving back to the land as
much as they take, or more."
"Well, old-field pine is good enough manure for a man who has
plenty of land and can take his time."
Thus in two instances my anti-tobacco wisdom turned out to be
about as profitable as King James's memorable Counterblast
against the beloved weed of Virginia.
"But, general," said I, "surely your neighbors don't want to
retain such vast tracts of land."
"Certainly not. Men do not like to part with good land, and if
my friends could set their farms well in grass, so that a few hands
could attend to them, they would only sell at very high figures;
but being unable to do this, they are willing, and many of them
anxious, to sell on most reasonable terms."
"What is the trouble, then?"
"The trouble is about houses."
"Wealthy people seldom emigrate. The men who leave home have
generally but limited means, and coming here they find just the
soil and climate they desire, but no place to lay their heads; and
few if any of them can afford to buy land and build houses at the
same time. This, I am satisfied, is the main difficulty in the way
of the speedy filling up of Virginia with the best class of yeoman
"A difficulty not easily remedied."
"No, for our people, rich in land, are even poorer in money than
the immigrants themselves."
"How on earth, then, did you manage to sell to the New Hampshire
gentleman who came with me this evening, and who, as I learn,
bought a part of your farm?"
"Why, I had a roomy house, and I just opened my doors to him and
his family, and kept them here free of charge till their own house
"Well, general," dropping my voice to the Secesh conspirator
level, "how do you like him?"
The general, known by the antique name of Jones (though the
Sixth Pennsylvania and other Northern cavalry were acquainted with
him under another cognomen), like all the strapping sons of thunder
who went actively into the field instead of staying at home and
abusing Jeff. Davis, does not regard his late enemies with that
intense hatred which is so gratifying to myself and some other
He spoke out aloud: "I like him first rate. He is an admirable
neighbor—a man of sense, practical, sagacious and
industrious; and his family, wife, sons and daughters, are in all
respects worthy of him. I wish the county had a thousand of just
This was a crusher for me. Drawing myself up to my full
height—which ought to be but is not six feet—I seized a
kerosene lamp with my right hand, and looking the unfortunate man
full in the eye, I said very respectfully, "General,
Undismayed, he eyed me back, and, in a tone of what I took to be
cordiality, replied, "Maybe you'd like a little whisky-and-water
before going to bed?"
I thanked him "No," mounted the lofty staircase, divested myself
of sundry sartorial cerements and plunged my earthly tabernacle
into the centre of a big delicious bed. There, while the thunder
rolled among the mountains, the rain plashed upon the
window-shutters and the wind blew like the very devil, I muttered
to myself, "Here is a man bearing worthily one of the most honored
names in the Commonwealth—a member, in fact, of one of the
first—the first—first fam—families in
Vir—gin—ia, actually pr—prais—praising
Yan—Yank—Yankees in—in's own hou—" I was
On the morrow, when I returned to the station and saw how very
lovely the country was, how fertile—the rounded mountains,
when cleared of their royal forests, arable to their very summits,
the air like Olympian nectar, the sunshine a divine balm, the whole
scene a Sabbath-land of peace and of boundless plenty, awaiting
only the cohorts of the North and of the white-cliffed isle—I
would fain have cried, "Come, ye moderately pecunious Bulls, and
you, ye hyperborean Vandals from the far Lake of Winnipiseogee and
the uttermost Cape of Cod—come to this Canaan, not like
carpet-bagging spies to steal our big bunch of grapes and tote it
off on a stick between two of you (as per authentic pictures in
Sunday-school books), but with your shekels, your deniers, your
pence, pounds sterling and crisp greenbacks: come to this beauteous
land, take it, own it, possess it, buy freely, and be sure you
reserve enough cash to build a house with; or, better still, bring
your houses ready made, in nests like buckets or painted pails (I
am sure you have them in your inventive realm). Come, I say, and
oust these mutton-headed Virginians, or sit down beside them, work
with them, teach them to work (you are so certain you can), and
make this American republic the Storehouse of the nations, the
Cornucopia of all creation!"
I got to the station just three hours after the train I intended
to take had left, and had to wait only two hours
for the next train; which was doing pretty well for Virginia.
Possessing my Southside soul in patience, I bought two not very bad
cigars for ten cents, and fell to contemplating some eight or nine
of the Down-Trodden who were hanging around. I must say that the
Down-Trodden did not appear to have been much flattened by the heel
of the Oppressor. As I gazed, a foolish parody started itself in my
When the fair land of Bedford
Was ploughed by the hoof
Of the ruthless invader—
There the thing broke down, and—the events of the night
before, the Englishman, the happy Northern family and the
thoroughly reconstructed general, suggesting it in some queer
cerebral way—a still more foolish negro song, which I had
forgotten for years, popped up in my brain-pan:
Lit-tel gal, I give you ninepunce
Ef you will dance de Haul-back;
And I kin dance de Haul-back,
And you kin dance de Haul back,
And we kin dance de Haul-back.
The relevancy of this utterly absurd thing did not then strike
me. I see it now. A certain people—whom I do love with my
whole heart, not in spite of their faults, but because of them: are
they not my own?—have been dancing the Haul-back for many
generations, and now, under my own eye and quite perceptibly in the
rural parts of Virginia, the dance is coming to an end. Slowly but
surely we are lapsing into Bullo-doodledom, with a momentary
preponderance of Bull. Tempora—do, I entreat you,
allow me the use of my solitary dear delightful old bit of
Latin—mutantur; ay! and we mutate with them. The world
moves, and no amount of Haul-back will stay it.