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CHAPTER XV
William Walker, the "Grey-eyed Man of Destiny," who was in 1854 more talked about than any other man in the country, was our guest for several days in Richmond. Whether he came to accept a dinner given him by the city, or whether the dinner was the result of the visit, I cannot remember. Although we knew him to be an interesting character, we were unprepared for the throng that filled our house every day while he was with us. Beginning early in the day, they poured in until night, and remained, spellbound by the magnetism of this wonderful man. As we could not invite them to leave for the three o'clock dinner (the dinner-hour in Virginia varied then to suit individual convenience), I took counsel of my blessed old negro cook, and following her advice, I spread a table every day with cold dishes,—tongue, ham, chickens, birds, salads, etc.,—to which all were made welcome. The sideboard ably supplemented this informal meal. Old Madeira could be had in those days, and in lieu of the cocktail of the present time, we brewed an appetizer, crowned with "the herb that grows on the grave of good Virginians."

The Richmond market was insufficient for sudden demands. We depended largely upon the small, covered country carts, intercepting them as they passed on their way to the grocers', who bartered 120things dry and liquid for the farmers' poultry, eggs, and butter. At this time of my distress, no carts hove in sight, but I knew a grocer with a noble soul,—one Mark Downey,—to whom I made a personal appeal, and he promised to send me, daily, everything he could gather, from a roasting pig to a reed-bird. My good cook rose to the occasion: "Ain't that Gin'al gone yet?" was her morning salutation, hastily adding, "Nem-mine, honey! We-all kin git along."

In some of the biographical sketches of William Walker I find him painted as little better—in fact, no better—than a pirate; a man of an unbounded stomach for power and place, regarding as nothing life, property, or his own word, and finally, justly forsaken and punished. Others present him to posterity as a scholar, an author, a graduate of colleges, a student at Heidelberg, also a hero of the first water, brave beyond compare; a maker of republics, statesman, dictator,—in all things fearless and dashing. When I turn to the storehouse of my own memory, I find a modest, courtly gentleman, with a strong but not ungentle face:—

"The mildest mannered man

That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat."

Of course I could not appear in the crowd that hung upon his lips all day, but when we gathered around the evening lamp he was never too weary to talk to me—but not about his conquests nor his ambitions. For a woman's ear he had gentler themes than these. 121 One night I startled my husband by asking, "What church do you belong to, General?"

William Walker.

"I have recently become a Catholic," he answered gravely; "it is the faith for a man like me! I have seen the poor wounded fellows die with great serenity after the ministration of their priest."

I recall a striking remark by the General to my husband. He said men are commonly equally courageous, the difference between them being that one man, from keener sensibility, sees a danger of which another is stolidly insensible. The former is really courageous, while the latter is indifferent from lack of apprehension. Himself incapable of fear, a higher authority on the subject cannot be imagined.

When he took leave of us, he gave me a perfect ambrotype picture of himself, probably the only genuine one extant. "Here I am, Madam, and I've always been called an ugly fellow." I ventured the usual deprecatory remark, but he shook his head:—

"I'm afraid there's no doubt about it! On my way here I heard a man close to my car-window sing out, 'Whar's the Gray-eyed Man of Destiny?' As he was close to me, I leaned out and said in a low tone, 'Here, my friend!' 'Friend nothin,' he sneered; 'an' you'd better take in your ugly mug.'"

He looked back from the carriage that took him to the depot and answered my waving handkerchief: "Good-by, good-by, dear lady! I'm going to make Nicaragua a nice place, fit for you!"

Just as we were about to engage in our own life-and-death struggle, we heard he had been betrayed, as Napoleon was betrayed, by the English, to whom, 122after defeat, he had fled for protection, and had met his death bravely.

His dream had been to win Nicaragua, as Houston had won Texas, and then annex it to the United States, thus strengthening the power of the South.

I have been told that many superstitions and legends have sprung up in Nicaragua and Honduras to cluster around the memory of William Walker, but in none is there a firmer belief than that his ghost appears on the anniversary of his death, and will so appear until he is avenged. A Tennessee boy, William G. Erwin, now helping to superintend the digging of the Panama Canal, has told the legend, in Senator Taylor's magazine, from which I select a few verses:—

"One night each year in Honduras, they clear the roads for his ghost,

Their long dead Gringo President—who rides with his phantom host.

He sweeps o'er the land in silence and the cowering natives hide,

From the Wraith of William Walker—who haunts the land where he died.

"Thus it was the wild tale started—that when dying on the sand,

Walker smiled and sternly told them, 'Till avenged I'll haunt your land!'

And now on snow-white stallion once a year at midnight's spell,

Across the land from sea to sea—rides the form that all know well.

"His head is high, his blade is bare, his white steed spurns the ground,

A phantom troop charge close behind—but all make never a sound;

While his blood cries yet for vengeance against this murderous herd—

He will ever come to warn them, that the day is but deferred. 123

"To the sons of old Honduras as they view him through the gloom,

The Gray-eyed Man of Destiny looks the Avatar of Doom;

In his face they read a warning like the writing on the wall,

'Tis, 'Beware, one day the Gringos will avenge their chieftain's fall!'"

My husband entered with great zeal and efficiency into the fight against "The Know-nothing party," or, as they proudly styled themselves, the "American party."

The principles of this party were naturally evolved from the fact that the ignorant foreign vote was influencing elections[2] in the cities, that votes were freely sold, and that drunken aliens frequently had charge of the polls. The mythical order of Washington in a time of peculiar danger was remembered:

"Put none but Americans on guard to-night!"

It seemed reasonable and fitting that Americans, who had won this country from the savage, and fought all its early battles with the French and English, should govern the country they had redeemed. One thing led to another, until it was resolved to form a secret society, with the view of excluding all foreigners and many Roman Catholics from any part in the councils of the nation.

This, briefly, seems to have been at the root of the great Know-nothing movement. The immediate and practical aim in view was that foreigners and Catholics should be excluded from all national, state, county, and municipal offices; that strenuous efforts should be made to change the naturalization 124laws, so that the immigrant could not become a citizen until a resident of twenty-one years in this country. My husband at once perceived the pernicious tendency of the movement, which was sweeping the Northern states with resistless force. Secret lodges were formed everywhere, secret ceremonies inaugurated—grip, passwords, and signs. The country was in a ferment of excitement, followed by outrageous lawlessness. Bands of women made raids on bar-rooms and smashed the glasses, broke the casks, and poured the liquor into the streets. Our one exemplar of similar enterprises should have lived in those days! Garrison burned the Constitution of the United States at an open-air meeting in Framingham, Massachusetts; and the crowd, in spite of a few hisses, shouted "Amen." A mob broke into the enclosure around the Washington Monument, and broke the beautiful block of marble from the Temple of Concord at Rome, which had been sent by the pope as a tribute to Washington. A street preacher, styling himself the Angel Gabriel, incited a crowd at Chelsea, Massachusetts, to deeds of violence. They smashed the windows of the Catholic church, tore the cross from the gable and shivered it to atoms. These were only a few of the outrages growing out of the excitement engendered by the Know-nothing party.

The Enquirer always claimed the credit of unearthing and exposing the signals, passwords, and ceremonies of the society. "I don't know" was one of the answers to the "grip" when brother met brother, and hence the popular name of the organization. Though Virginia had but few Catholics and few 125immigrants, yet, upon principle, she withstood and stayed the Know-nothing torrent that had hitherto swept over every other state.

Party feeling ran high during the election of a Virginia governor, and the junior editor of the Enquirer bore his part boldly and with vigor. For the first few years of his editorial life he devoted himself to study, confining himself closely to his office. A contemporary writer says of him: "Pryor evidently studied the highest standards in his reading, and his editorials were a revelation of strength and purity in classic English. It was impossible, however, for a man of his tastes and force not to drift into politics outside of the sanctum of his paper, and the public soon recognized him as one of the ablest and most eloquent speakers upon the hustings and in the bitter discussions that marked the proceedings of every gathering of the people in those years. In the mutterings and threatenings of the storm that was soon to break in fury upon a hitherto peaceful and peace-loving land, he found abundant opportunity for the cultivation and display of those rare powers of oratory in debate which subsequently forced him to the front of the forum."[3] I can only add to this tribute from a candid historian of the time one observation—the success was great: the memory of it sweet, but—it was bought with a price! The stern price of unremitting labor and self-abnegation.

It was a terrible time in Virginia. Henry A. Wise was the Anti-Know-nothing candidate for governor, and hard and valiant was the fight my husband made 126for his election. It involved him in two duels—not bloodless, but, thank God, not fatal. It is unnecessary to allude to my own fearful anxiety. It will be understood by all women who, like myself, have been and are sufferers from the false standard demanded by the "code of honor," in countries where, to ignore it, would mean ruin and disgrace. We were most devoted adherents of Mr. Wise, and ready to go to the death in his defence, standing as he did in the front, as we believed, of the battle for right, justice, and humanity. Finally, he was triumphantly elected, the pestilent society quenched, and comparative peace for a brief period reigned in Virginia.

The Democratic party was grateful for my husband's hard work, and gave him a beautiful service of silver, inscribed with the appreciation of the party for his "brilliant talents, eminent worth, and distinguished service."

Not long afterward he became the editor of The Richmond South, for which I had the honor to select a motto—"Unum et commune periclum una salus." Perhaps a pen picture of my "Harry Hotspur," as he was called, may amuse those whose kind eyes follow his venerable figure as it passes to-day. "The day after our arrival at the Red Sweet Springs we noticed among a crowd of gentlemen a face which strikingly contrasted with the faces around him. He was a slight figure, with a set of features remarkable for their intellectual cast; a profusion of dark hair falling from his brow in long, straight masses over the collar of his coat gave a student-like air to his whole appearance. We unconsciously rose to our feet on 127hearing his name, and found ourselves in the actual presence of the far-famed editor of the South and in such close vicinity, too! Why, our awe increased almost to trepidation; we felt as if locked in a vault full of inflammable gas, likely to explode with the first light introduced into it. Indeed, five minutes wore away in preliminary explanations before we could be brought to identify the youthful person before us—who might pass for a student of divinity or a young professor of moral philosophy—with the fiery and impetuous editor of the Richmond South. He is, we believe, considered one of the ablest political writers in all the South, and his articles were said to be highly influential in the late party controversy. For ourselves we regard with admiration," etc. "His young family cannot fail to create an immediate interest in the eyes of the most casual observer.... And then his beautiful, noble-looking children; they might serve as models for infant Apollos, such as Thorwaldsen or Flaxman might have prayed for."

They were lovely—my boys—my three little boys!


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