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CHAPTER XXVII
It was supposed that my husband would be absent only a week. The following letter from New York explains his delay:—

"I had intended leaving here yesterday, but our friend, General Warren, invited me for dinner Sunday. I find him in a handsome house in a fashionable quarter of the city. Mrs. Warren inquired kindly about you. She has two charming sisters of our Gordon's age.

"What will you think when I tell you that several gentlemen suggest to me to settle here? Dare I 'then, to beard the lion in his den—the Douglas in his hall!' Not in his 'hall,' certainly, unless I am very specially invited by him, but I might in time wrestle with him, in a court-room. I have a mind to try it. 'The world is all before us where to choose.' I shouldn't like the Douglas to find out I have forgotten all the law I ever knew. Neither would I like my good old Professor Minor (if he reads the N. Y. reports) to make a similar discovery."

Close upon this letter followed another.

"I am not yet determined when to return. I was to leave this morning, but Mr. Ben Wood of the News has requested me to remain a day or two that he might have a talk with me. What this means, I am not sure. I conjecture he will propose some connection with his paper. By the last of the week you may expect me with you."

The last of the week found him still in New York. Early in October he wrote:— 281

"I have accepted Mr. Wood's proposition for the present. The only difficulty I see is the fact that they refuse me a pardon. If they learn that I am writing for the News, they may send me to keep company with John Mitchell. I understand that charges are constantly made against me in Washington. Whatever they are, they are false, trumped up to serve some sinister purpose. Yet I am resolved not to degrade myself by any abject submission. I have never solicited 'pardon,' and I mean to approach them with no further overture.

"I am so glad you liked the box. Don't scold me for extravagance. You have suffered long enough for the mere decencies of life. I am going to work like a beaver and with no other purpose now than to earn a living for my dear wife and children. Ambition! The ambition of my life is to have my darlings settled in comfort. May God assist me in the endeavor!

"My room is at 47 West 12th Street. There you must send my winter clothes—and we must try, whatever is left undone, to send the boys to school."

But after a week or two he became discouraged at the cost of living in New York, and wavered again.

"I feel I cannot bear a long separation from my dear family—my darling little ones. And yet how can I maintain them here? Is it not a cruel fortune which tears us asunder when our delight in each other is about the only source of happiness left us in this world? I shall lose, in this hopeless grind, all the elastic energy of my mind. I cannot live without you! Do you advise me to continue my connection with the News? Twenty-five dollars a week is a pitiful sum, but how can I do better? If I can only procure the comforts of life for my family! That is my only object in life—fame, ambition, office, all these 282things I have renounced forever. Is it not hard that one should be baffled in so reasonable an endeavor? I can leave here at any moment, my connection with the paper being that of a mere contributor. I am not at all responsible for its course, but only for my own articles."

Early in December my husband wrote me the following letter:—

"I am still the victim of ague and fever—the worst I ever suffered. The chill comes on every alternate day, and during its continuance—about two hours—I am tortured with the most agonizing nausea, followed by fever. Thus I spend two days in every week. Dr. Whitehead attends me and expects to relieve me, but meanwhile it is very annoying to be so stricken just as one enters the fight.

"For I have entered the fight! The die is cast—and here I mean to remain, 'sink or swim, survive or perish.' This is the way it has all come about.

"Sitting late one night with Mr. Ben Wood in the News office, he turned to me and said rather abruptly, 'General, why don't you practise law? You would make $10,000 a year.' I answered, 'For the best of all possible reasons—I am not a lawyer.' He replied, 'Neither is C, nor T; yet they make $10,000 a year.'

"Of course the idea of my ever making so great a sum was too preposterous for a moment's thought. Nevertheless, Mr. Wood pressed the appeal; and being enforced by McMasters of the Freeman's Journal, it made an impression on my mind. I said nothing to you about it at the time, because I had, until within the last few weeks, reached no decision in the matter. But just then I received an invitation from Mr. Luke Cozzens for temporary desk room in his office and the use of his library. I have really borrowed books and been studying law in my leisure hours ever since I came to the city, and I now resolved to make application 283for admittance to the Bar! The application was made by James T. Brady, the most eminent of our forensic orators. I was required to make affidavit of my residence in the State, and some other formal facts, but such was my ignorance of legal procedure that I was unable to draw the affidavit, which Judge Barnard perceiving, he kindly drew the paper for me. Thereupon the Hon. John B. Haskins—my former associate in Congress—was appointed to examine me as to my knowledge of Law. Under his lead we went to a restaurant. When seated he proceeded, with much solemnity of manner, to 'examine' me. He asked me, 'What are the essentials of the negotiability of a note?' This question I was prepared to answer, and did answer to his satisfaction.

"After a 'judicial pause,' he asked gravely, 'What will you take?'

"This also I was fully prepared to answer—and entirely to his satisfaction.

"He asked me no other question. He was apparently satisfied with the good sense of my last answer. We returned to the Court, and he reported in favor of my application!

"Still an insuperable obstacle to my practising was an inability to procure an office, for my desk room at Mr. Cozzens's was not suitable for my new dignity. This difficulty has been removed by the offer of Mr. Hughes (an English 'sympathizer') to allow me the use of one of his two rooms for the nominal price of $1 a month in Tryon Row. Both he and I have learned since that this is considered an undesirable locality—a fact of which we were ignorant, but here I must remain until I can better myself. My room is perfectly bare—a carpetless floor, plain uncovered table, and three chairs—one for myself, and the others for possible clients. Here I have swung out my modest shingle soliciting the patronage of the public. 284 "I have commenced attending the Courts regularly and have heard the leading lawyers. I am not vain, as you know, but—I am not afraid of them! But when, when shall I have a chance? The great difficulty in my way is the prejudice against 'rebels'; and that I am sorry to see is not diminishing. I hope to wear it away after a while if, meantime, I do not starve. It is my last cast—and I am resolved to succeed or perish in the attempt. Several New York papers have spoken of my residence here with kindness and compliment, but a silly sneer in the Boston Post—under which I am fool enough to suffer—cut me to the heart, trifling and flippant as it is: 'The Rebel Pryor has opened an office in New York for the practice of the Law, but he has not yet had a rap.'—(R. A. P.).

"Look now for uninteresting letters. It will be study, study, study, ever after this! I am writing now at night, with a languid head. My children—my dear children! How I love them! God bless them!"

He wrote, December 28:—

"My prospects here had brightened a little with the promise of a case that would, in time, have yielded me two hundred dollars, but a friendly priest (and he was wise) persuaded the parties to settle out of Court, and so my hopes were dashed to the ground. But I am retained, provisionally, as counsel for the National Express Company, from which I may make something. My thoughts at Christmas in my lonely office were with my precious household at Cottage Farm. How I regretted my want of money would not permit me to send some holiday presents, but we must bear these privations till happier days. I longed to go to you—but had no money to defray the expense of the trip. Dearest Sara, let us endure these trials with all possible fortitude. If only you can keep happy, I can bear my portion of the burden."

285 In February he wrote me:—

"To-day I make a reckoning of my earnings since my residence in New York. I was admitted to the Bar about the first of December. I have been 'practising,' then, about two months and a half. Well, my receipts for sundry small services have been $356, and I am retained by an express company. I wonder if this looks as if we are 'out of the woods.' Unhappily I have had to pay a debt incurred when I was in Fort Lafayette, and for which I had provided money, but it was embezzled by a dishonest quartermaster at the Fort. Then the small debts we owed when we left Washington—and which, you remember, the Confederate Government 'confiscated' and for which exacted payment—have simply waited for me to get work, and these I must promptly pay. However, I am hopeful. God grant my anticipations may be realized.

"I have some little money owing to me and some doubtful claims, and the Court and lawyers treat me with marked courtesy. I study intensely and am as diligent as possible in attention to my duties. I mean at least to deserve success—which is the surest way to realize it. Kiss the chicks!

"Devotedly,
"R. A. P.

"P.S. A client interrupts me! Don't be depressed, Sallie! A gleam of light gilds our horizon, which has been dark, God knows, long enough. Next summer we must have our home, and won't it be a happy home? God grant it. God bless us all."

Alas, the next letter announced the fading of the "gleam of light" into darkness and disappointment.

"I thought I had two good cases this week, but my clients decided not to sue. Oh, how weary I am of this 286life! But there is no escape, and I must not despond. Stimulate the boys to diligence in their studies. Is Billy still mischievous? And Lucy demure? Ah, Fan! apple of my eye, how I love you! How I long to see you all! The bright, the happy day will soon come, I pray. Heaven only knows how I pine for my family; but my first duty is to feed them, and until that is accomplished I must forego every personal gratification.

"I am convinced the chief obstacle to my success is the prejudice against 'rebels.' That is fearful, and I feel its effects every day. I was lately employed as a referee to report the facts in an application for the discharge of a prisoner by the process of habeas corpus. When my name as referee was announced, one of the counsel arose and protested to the Court that he would not appear before a rebel whose hands were yet red with loyal blood. Thereupon, of course, I declined the appointment. Still, I must toil on, nothing disheartened. The memory of the little household at Cottage Farm animates and sustains me in my troubles. May God bless and prosper us!

"Devotedly,
"R. A. P."

My dear aunt had now joined me with my little girls. One night I was awakened by a voice speaking to me under my window. There stood a negro man. "Mr. Green wants you right away, madam," he said. "He thinks he's dying, an' he says he is obliged to see you. I brought a note."

The note from a relative of Mr. Green confirmed the man's statement, adding: "Let nothing prevent your coming. George will take care of you."

My aunt felt a little nervous at so strange and 287peremptory a summons, but at last we decided I must go. She could see me in the moonlight every step of the way, down the path, across the little bridge at the bottom of the ravine, and up the ascent beyond. So I dressed hurriedly and departed.

I found the house in darkness and silence. The lady who had written me took me into her room and whispered her story. Mr. Green was extremely ill and in great distress because he had made no will. The house was full of his relatives, gathered because his death was expected. He wished to leave everything he possessed to his wife and youngest daughter, Nannie. He had provided for the others—given them their portion. He could not secretly summon a lawyer from town. He was miserably anxious, sleepless, and unhappy.

To-night he had found himself alone with this relative who was nursing him, and drawing her down to his pillow, had begged her "Send for Mrs. Pryor—now and quick. She will write for me."

I knew him only by sight, and I was, of course, surprised. But I did not hesitate. I was at once introduced into his room, and by the light of a solitary candle burning upon the floor in a corner I dimly discerned the gray head and closed eyes of the sick man. He was sleeping peacefully, and we dared not awaken him. Pen, ink, and paper were given me, and prone upon my elbows and knees in the dim corner, I wrote a will, repeating faithfully the words I had received, beginning: "In the name of Almighty God—Amen—I, William Green," etc. 288 We then awaited in silence the waking of the sick man. Very gently I told him my errand, and read twice what I had written, asking him again and again, "Are you sure you do not wish to leave anything whatever to your other children?" "No, no, no!" he answered. I put my arm beneath him, raised him, and the paper was laid on a pillow before him. He looked around helplessly. His spectacles! We placed them, and with the pen in trembling fingers he signed his name, and uttered the last words he probably ever spoke,—"Three witnesses!" His relative signed, I signed, and the negro nurse signed with her mark.

"Now I'll send you home," said his friend, when we left the room. "No," I said, "I can do nothing clandestine. I must stay and tell his relatives how I come to be here."

Very early they all assembled and I said: "I was sent for by your father last night to write his will. If it should displease any one of you, remember he only used my hand. He understood perfectly what he was doing."

"I am sure it is all right, as far as I am concerned," said one. "I have always known this place was to be left to me."

"I know nothing I can reveal," I assured her.

That day Mr. Green died. His will was admitted to probate and never contested.

Early in February old Abram, the faithful servant in whose care my husband left me, announced that we had reached the end of all our resources at Cottage Farm. Rose, the little cow, had died, the turnips 289and potatoes Abram had raised were all gone, the two pigs he had reared had fulfilled their destiny long ago, and the government rations had ceased. He "could scuffle along himself, but 'twa'n't no use to pertend" he could "take care of mistis an' the chilluns, not like they ought to be took care of."

"We must not despair, Abram," I said. "We'll feed the children, never fear! I must plan something to help."

"Plannin' ain't no 'count, mistis, less'n you got sump'n to work on. What we-all goin' to do for wood?"

"What you have done all along, I suppose."

"No'm. Dat's onpossible. We done burn up Fort Gregg an' Battery 45. Der ain' no mo' fortifications on de place as I knows of."

"Fortifications!" I exclaimed. "Why, Abram! you surely haven't been burning the fortifications!"

"Hit's des like I tell you, mistis. De las' stick's on yo' woodpile now."

"Well, Abram," I said gravely, "if we have destroyed our fortifications—burned our bridges—the time has come to change our base. We will move into town."

Of course, without food or fuel, and without Abram, we could not live in the country. The fields were a desolate waste, with no fences to protect a possible crop or to keep cattle within bounds. Abram saw no hope from cultivation—nothing to "work on." He had been a refugee from a lower plantation, and he was now inclined to put out his children to service, and return in his old age to his old 290home and to his old master, who longed to welcome him. He was a grand old man. I doubt not he has a warm place in the bosom of that other Abram the faithful, but no whit more faithful than he.

The afternoon before our departure from Cottage Farm, the weather was so deliciously balmy that I walked over the garden and grounds, thinking of the great drama that had been enacted on this spot. The spring comes early in the lower counties of Virginia. Already the grass was springing, and on the trees around the well which had so often refreshed General Lee, tender young leaves were trembling. Spring had come to touch all scars with her gentle finger-tips. Over all the battle-torn ground, over the grave of the young soldier who had lain so long under my window, over the track ploughed by shot and shell, she had spread a delicate bloom like a smile on the lips of the dead.

Much of my last night at Cottage Farm was spent at the window from which I had watched on that anxious night of my first home-coming. The home had been polluted, sacked, desecrated—and yet I was leaving it with regret. Many a hard battle with illness, with want, with despair, had been fought within those walls. It seemed like a long, dark night in which neither sun nor moon nor stars had appeared; during which we had simply endured, watching ourselves the while, jealous lest the natural rebound of youthful hope and spirit should surprise us, and dishonor those who had suffered and bled and died for our sakes.



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