Monday, September 5, 2016

Bertram Born Part 2


Note the language and descriptions used in this article.

The question was addressed to an Herculean mountaineer who had sat without uttering a syllable hitherto. I had noticed this man at the table, consuming hills of biscuits and lakes of steaming coffee with the same rapt expression which he wore at present. The General straightened himself in his chair, threw back his shaggy head, and began to speak in trumpet tone.
"I shall expound a text from the book of Esther. You shall listen to the Haman proclamation. As a judge I shall hold court in open air and judge all comers. I shall show that everything done in the fear of the Lord prospers, while the devil's work miscarries. My banner shall be unfurled,' Peace on Earth, good will towards Men.' " Then, as though remembering that his audience was not in court, he relapsed into his former slouching posture and continued half to himself : " About once in so often I am driven from my home. The warlike spirit is upon me and I am called to preach to the great men of the earth. One season I rode through seven States. In every town my banner was unfurled, ' Peace on Earth, good will towards Men.' But when they would not hear me and scoffed, I furled my banner and charged through the crowd and through the town crying, Woe! Woe!"
" You might go over to the ' Cove' and convert the Dunkards," said a man in black coat and waistcoat of ecclesiastical cut and not very fresh white cravat. " I had some talk with them the other day. I said, " You believe in baptism three times face foremost. Well, that's a good way too. The Saviour says water, and water's a good thing. I'll duck you, or sprinkle yon, any way you like,—five times backward or seven times heels upward. But meanwhile I'll just say a word about drinking bad whiskey and going hunting when the ground's dry enough to plow."
A spruce, alert little man who had been introduced to the party with somewhat of a flourish as a criminal lawyer from Raleigh, explained to me in an undertone that the last speaker was a missionary of the Episcopal Church, very zealous, not over-fastidious about the means employed to reach and improve the " barbarians." Then, himself not above the desire to produce an impression, my informant gave me incidents from his own experience. For example, when I had asked if he did not find the climate of Raleigh rather bad in summer, he ran on, " Yes, it would be, but we go down the river every now and then to a watering place. Last summer we had quite the scheme. We telegraphed to our young lady friends staying at this watering place to expect a boatful of the boys at a certain hour. When we got near the shore and hotel, we discharged our guns and pistols by way of salute. That brought everybody out. Then one of the boys stood up to hurrah, and intentionally tipped the boat over. We were all provided with life-preservers, and floated about in the water, pretending to be in distress. One of the boys made believe he was drowning. Weeping on shore; men running into the water regardless of their white duck trousers. At this juncture, the corpse produced his flask and took a drink. Everybody felt better."
While listening to this chatter of the law-man, I also noticed that Bertram Born had withdrawn somewhat from the group of loafers, and reclining in his chair, his feet on the railing of the piazza, was tuning his guitar. Now, without preface or prelude, he half recited, half sung with accompaniment of minor chords, a story so simple, so suggestive of true human feeling, so incomplete, that it haunts me. Light from a few handfuls of blazing pine-knots a rod distant from the piazza showed the group of quiet listeners; while from the outer darkness came sounds of the river and night.
" In the wide southern plain, yonder where the rivers are broad and slow and it is warm at Christmas-time, lived a planter owning many slaves.
Mary was a slave, but her hair was straight and brown; her skin was fair as a lily. She had not a drop of nigger blood in her veins. But the old woman she called mother was an African, black as this night. Her, Mary called mother, and claimed to be no better than the blackest.
Mary was a meek and willing servant; but once she ran away to Charleston, her birthplace,—at least where the old black mother had been bought from the Govan family. At first she was sought where her beauty would have found a ready market, in a freedom more sad than slavery; but there she was not. After many months, she was traced to a garret where, more pale and quiet than ever, she was working with her needle; and she was brought back. She did not complain, but always staid quietly with her master afterwards.
When the planter's daughters were sent to Charleston for the winter, she accompanied them as their maid. Visiting, shopping, at church, she always attended them; and so white and decent was Mary, that gentlemen assisting the young ladies to alight from their carriage, would offer her the same courtesy, supposing her to be a companion. Then she would shrink back, saying quietly, 'Excuse me, Sir; I am only a servant.'
One Sunday the planter's daughters drove up to St. Mark's Church, Mary attending them as usual. One of Charleston's beaux went forward to assist the ladies, and took no pains to conceal his mortification when Mary declined his offer with a murmured ' Only a servant, Sir.' But, by God!"—(Here the guitar was laid aside and Bertram finished his story in a conversational tone.) "What any bystander might have noticed, was the striking resemblance between White Mary and this young fellow,—Tom Govan was his name. His mother had been a famous beauty in her day. Mary was apparently a few years older, but if features amount to anything in evidence, she and young Govan were sister and brother.
When old Senator Govan married the young belle, it was whispered that there had been a secret marriage between her and Colonel Simms, shortly before the colonel had been called by some business affairs to the Bermudas, where he took the fever and died. The report was denied by the lady's friends. It would have been a dangerous thing for any one to have repeated the scandal aloud then. Colonel Sitnms was well known to have been at heart an abolitionist, and Senator Govan was a leader in the southern cause.
Tom Govan escorted the planter's daughters to their seat, and white Mary took her place among the servants. Brother and sister were together before the Lord, while the parson droned his sermon with the text, ' Blessed are the Meek.' "
As it was the custom in the mountains to allow Bertram to speak the last word, now that he had ended, the little company broke up. I went to my bed-room, and after blinking awhile at the light wood fire on the broad hearth (for even in summer the nights are often cool at this altitude), and resolving to find out more of the past life of Bertram Born, I fell asleep. But in the morning when I awoke, he had gone.

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