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CHAPTER V
Something akin to the tulip mania of Holland possessed the Southern country in the early thirties. The Morus multicaulis, upon the leaves of which the silkworm feeds, can be propagated from slips or cuttings. These cuttings commanded a fabulous price. To plant them was to lay a sure foundation for a great fortune.

My uncle visited Richmond at a time when the mania had reached fever-heat. Men hurried through the streets, with bundles of twigs under their arms, as if they were flying from an enemy. All over the city auction sales were held, and fortunes lost or gained—as they are to-day in Wall Street—with the fluctuations of the market. "I saw old Jerry White running with a bundle of sticks under his arm as if the devil were after him," said my uncle,—lazy, rheumatic old Jerry, who had not for years left his chimney corner in winter, or the bench upon which he basked like a lizard in summer, except to eat and sleep!

Long galleries, roofed with glass, were hastily erected all over the country, the last year's eggs of the Bombyx mori obtained at great price, and the freshly gathered leaves of the Morus multicaulis laid in readiness for their hatching.

My uncle ridiculed this madness, although as a physician it interested him. 34 "It does people good to stir them up," he declared. "It wakes up their livers and keeps them out of mischief. It is a fine tonic. They will need no bark and camomile while the fever lasts."

We made a pilgrimage to the distant farm of one of the maniacs. With my narrow skirts drawn closely around me, I tiptoed gingerly along the aisles dividing the long tables, and saw the hideous, grayish yellow, three-inch worms—each one armed with a rhinoceros-like horn on his head—devouring leaves for dear life. They had need for haste. Their time was short. Think of the millions of brave men and fair ladies who were waiting for the strong, shining threads it was their humble destiny to spin! Meanwhile, the lazy moths, their raison d'être having been accomplished, enjoyed in elegant leisure the evening of their days of beneficence. I saw the ease with which their spider-web thread was caught in hot water, and wound in balls as easily as I wound the wools for my aunt's knitting.

Nothing came of it all! In time all the Morus multicaulis was dug up, and good, sensible corn planted in its stead. Old Jerry found again his warm seat by the ingleside, where doubtless he

"backward mused on wasted time,"

and many a better man than poor Jerry was stricken with amazement at his own folly. Does not Morus come from the Greek word for "fool"?

Next to his Bible and the Westminster Catechism, my uncle pinned his faith to the Richmond Whig. Henry Clay was his idol. To make Henry Clay 35President of the United States was something to live for. When the great man passed through Virginia, all Hanover went to Richmond to do him honor, ourselves among the number. He was a son of Hanover, the "Mill boy of the Slashes." The old Mother of Presidents could, never fear, give yet another son to the country! No living man except Webster equalled him in all that the world holds essential to greatness—none was as dear to the mass of people. And yet neither could be elected to the post of Chief Magistrate of those adoring people!

Clay, at the time he visited Richmond, was confident he would win this honor. My uncle resolved I should see "the next President." A procession of citizens was to conduct him to a hall where a banquet awaited him. My uncle found a vacant doorstep on the line of march, and there we awaited the great man's coming. "Ah, there he comes!" exclaimed my uncle. "Look well, little girl! You may never again see the greatest man in the world." But to look was impossible. The crowd thronged us, and my uncle caught me to a vantage-ground on his shoulder. A tumbling sea of hats was all I could see! Presently a space appeared in the procession, and a tall man on the arm of another looked up with a rare smile to the small maiden, lifted his hat, and bowed to her! My uncle never allowed me to forget that one supreme moment in my child-life. To this day I cannot look at the fine bronze statuette of Henry Clay in my husband's library without a sensation born of the pride of that hour.

I am afraid the small maiden dearly loved glory! 36Nobody would ever have guessed the ambitious little heart beating, the next winter, under the cherry merino; nor the conscious lips deep in her poke-bonnet that followed the prayers at church and implored mercy for a miserable sinner! For she had, during that glorious summer, another shining hour to remember. Those penitent lips had been kissed by a great man all the way from England—a man who had kissed the hand of a queen! She had a dim apprehension of virtue through the laying on of hands in church. What, then, might not come in the way of royal attribute from the laying on of lips!

Great thoughts like these so swelled my bosom that I was fain to reveal them to my little Quaker cousin at Shrubbery Hill. She received them gravely. "Oh, Sara Agnes," she ventured, "I am afraid thee is going to be one of the world's people!" All the same she had just dressed her doll Isabella in black silk, with a lace mantilla! The Princess Isabella, born, like myself, in 1830, was even then known as the future queen of Spain. It was an age of young queens.

Among the strangers from abroad who found their way to Virginia, none was more honored in Hanover than the Quaker author and philanthropist, Joseph John Gurney. He was the brother of Elizabeth Fry, who gave her life to the amelioration of the prison horrors of England.

My uncle entertained Dr. Gurney. The house was filled with guests to its utmost capacity. A picture of the long dining-tables rises before me—the gold-and-white best service, the flowers—and 37the sweetest flower of all, my young aunt. She was tall and graceful and very beautiful,—with large gray eyes, dark curls framing her face, delicate features, a lovely smile! She wore a narrow gown of pearl silk, the "surplice" waist belted high, and sleeves distended at the top by means of feather cushions tied in the armholes. I remember my uncle ordered the dinner to be served quietly and in a leisurely manner. "These Englishmen eat deliberately," he said. "Only Americans bolt their food."

In the evening, after the dinner company had left, a small party gathered around the astral lamp in the parlor, and Dr. Gurney drew forth his scrap-book and pencils, and began, as he talked, to retouch sketches he had made during his journey. The parlor was simply furnished. The Virginian of that day seemed to attach small importance to the style of his furniture. His chief pride was in his table, his fine wines, his horses and equipage, and the perfect comfort he could give his guests. There was no bric-a-brac, there were no pictures or brackets on the wall. "I have now," said an artist to me, "seen everything hung on American walls except buckwheat cakes! I have seen the plate in which they were served."

This parlor at Cedar Grove admitted but one picture—a fine copy over the mantel of the School of Athens, which my cousin Charles had brought as a present for my aunt, when he last returned from abroad. She was not responsible for the taste of this inherited home, which she had not tenanted 38very long. The walls of the parlor were papered with a wonderful representation of a Venetian scene—printed at intervals of perhaps four or more feet. There was a castle with turrets and battlements; and a marble stair, flanked with roses in pots, descending into the water. Down this stair came the most adorable creature in the world,—roses on her brocade gown, roses on her broad hat,—and at the foot of the stair a cavalier, also adorable, extended his hand to conduct her to the gondola in waiting. In the distance were more castles, more sea, more gondolas.

In this room the distinguished stranger met the company convened in his honor. If he gasped or shuddered at the ornate walls, he gave no sign. The little girl on the ottoman in the chimney corner, permitted to sit up late because of the rare occasion, listened with wide eyes to conversation she could not understand. Weighty matters were discussed,—for all the world was alive to the question which had to be met later,—the possibility of freeing the slaves under the present constitutional laws. This was a small gathering of the wise men of our neighborhood—come to consult a wise man from the country that had met and solved a similar problem. Perhaps all of these men had, like my uncle, given freedom to inherited slaves.

Presently I found myself, as I half dreamed in the corner, caught up by strong arms to the bosom of the great man himself. Bending over the sleepy head, he whispered a strange story—how that, far away across the seas, there was once a little girl 39"just like you" who loved her play, and loved to sit up and hear grown people talk—how a lady came to her one day and said, "My child, you must study and learn to deny yourself much pleasure, for soon you will be the queen of England"—how the little girl neither laughed nor cried, but said, "I will be good"—how time had gone on, and she had kept her promise and was now grown up to be a lovely lady; and sure enough, just a little while ago had been crowned queen—and how everybody was glad, because they knew, as she had been a good child, she would be a good queen.

That was a long time ago. Many things have happened and been forgotten since then; the Venetian lady and her cavalier have sailed away in unknown seas; the good Englishman has long since gone to his rest; the queen has won, God grant, an immortal crown, having lived to be old, never forgetting all along her life her promise; and the little girl has lived to be old, too! She has dreamed many dreams, but none more beautiful than the one she probably dreamed that night,—all roses and castles and gondolas, and a gracious young queen lovelier than all the rest.

Thus passed the first eight years of my life. Compared with those that followed, they were years of absolute serenity and happiness. They were not gay. This was the time when people who "feared God and desired to save their souls" felt bound to forsake the Established Church, many of whose clergy had become objects of disgust rather than of reverence. Dissenters and Quakers lived all around 40us; my uncle and aunt were Presbyterians, and I heard little but sober talk in my early years. Sometimes we attended the silent meetings of the Quakers, and sometimes old St. Martin's, to which many of our Episcopal friends belonged. Extreme asceticism, however, was as far from the temper of my aunt and uncle as was the extreme of dissipation. They were strict in the observance of the Sabbath and of all religious duties. Temperance in speech and living, moderation, serenity,—these ruled the life at Cedar Grove.

And so, although I cannot claim that

"There was a star that danced,

And under it I was born,"

I look back with gratitude unspeakable to a beautiful childhood, and bless the memory of those who suffered no "shapes of ill to hover near it," and mar its perfect innocence.


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