August 25th, 1866.—This is Father’s birthday and Mother always makes a “Red-letter Day” of it, with the delicacies of which he is most fond. Each of us had a present, selected with reference to his taste. He is sixty-eight today and so handsome.
August 20th, 1866.—This is a quiet neighborhood just now, so many of our number are away for the summer. Uncle Richard and Father do not feel the need of other company, they are so devoted to each other but I am sure Mother feels a little lonely sometimes.
Jordan has gone long ago and she has no regular carriage driver. She misses her drives around the country and the visits to the neighbors. She misses the large force of servants she used to manage so skilfully. Like the rich man in the Bible, she could “say to one go and he goeth and to another come, and he cometh,” and now all is different. The few servants we have are no longer cheerful and willing, they are given to grumpy spells, when they go around muttering to themselves and looking as cross as two sticks. Then, too, we never know at night if we will find any servants at all the next morning; all this is very trying to a housekeeper of the ancient regime.
August 4th, 1866.—I have not made a success of training Frances. She was taught the Ten Commandments. She committed them to memory, each one was carefully explained, but in spite of this I do believe she has broken them all save the sixth, she has not yet been guilty of murder, though I am afraid the will to do it is not lacking.
Mother keeps in her wardrobe a bottle of chloroform, she is very careful of this dangerous medicine and it is used for Mattie when she is suffering with the toothache. Mother locks the door of the wardrobe and usually puts the key under her pillow, but we have not yet become accustomed to the need for a lock and a key and sometimes it is forgotten.
This morning, just before day, Mother was awakened by the strong and penetrating fumes of chloroform. She opened her eyes and there stood Frances pouring the drug out on her pillow. Mother was so drowsy she could not move but by a mighty effort she screamed, this aroused Father and Frances ran, but he was too quick for her and locked the door by which she had entered the house.
She fell on her knees and implored forgiveness; said she was looking for money; said she did not intend to hurt “Miss Patsy,” but when daylight came her mother and her grandparents were summoned and the case laid before them. The result is that they have sent her to an uncle who lives in Tallahassee, with orders never to come here again. I am sure I would be glad to be rid of her, for she has given me more trouble than words can tell.
August 1st, 1866.—There is a new member of the family tonight, Richard McPherson Whitehead. He is named for his uncle Mac, who was killed at Winchester. His father and mother are delighted beyond measure and I believe it is the name more than the baby, as they loved that brother so dearly and mourned him so deeply.
In the New York Metropolitan is an answer to “The Conquered Banner.” It is written by Lord Houghton and is fine, but I wish the English people had discovered their real sentiments while there was yet time to help us; still I must admit it is a beautiful poem.
July 21st, 1866.—This is the anniversary of the Battle of Manassas. How hopeful we were then and it seems ages ago, so much has been crowded into life in these last years. The weather is intensely warm, clouds are gathering and a storm is evidently brewing. That will cool us off. Uncle Randal died today and Father feels it very much. He was so good to his slaves and really fond of them.
July 4th, 1866.—We do not keep the Glorious Fourth ; we feel no thrills of patriotism when the stars and stripes float on the breeze. That is, we are not thrilled with love of country. Our flag has been immortalized by Father Ryan in the “Conquered Banner” and in its furled folds all our love of country, all our patriotism is enfolded.
“Furl that banner, it is gory,
Yet ’tis wreathed around with Glory,
And ’twill live in song and story
Though its folds are in the dust.
For though conquered, we adore it
Low the cold dead hands that bore it
And wildly we deplore it
Furl its folds though now we must.”
There are hard things in life ; we cannot see why and faith must be our guide along this uncertain road. Some day, perhaps, we will understand and in time we may even forgive but never can we forget.
June 5th, 1866.—I will have to do some shopping and I am such a very indifferent shopper, but Mother positively will not go to Tallahassee, while the blue-coats have possession and Sister Mart is not here. Sister Mag is not well enough to trouble her with such things and Aunt Sue has gone away for the remainder of the summer. Father says make a list and give it to him and he will write to Smallwood, Earle & Co., to buy in New York and. ship to him. Mrs. Smallwood is a friend of the family and will select what I describe.
Captain Bernard is going to Europe and will get the silk dresses I need, in France. There is a first-class dressmaker in Tallahassee, so I hope we will not have too much trouble with my trousseau.
I wish they were willing for me to have only simple clothes for I am marrying a poor man and I do not ever intend to live beyond his means. Father would be willing but Mother and the sisters think, because they had these clothes I must have them, too. One thing certain, Father shall not get me any expensive jewelry, he shall not get any at all; I would not see him worried for the most costly gems in the world.
May 15th, 1866.—We did not stay as long as we expected and Sister Mart came home with us. Night before last we were sitting in the parlor and Captain Houstoun was sitting outside, on the porch talking to the doctor, who attends the plantation. The Captain has a low voice but the doctor has a loud, rasping voice, which carries far. We could not avoid hearing him if we had wished to do so.
“Yes, Captain,” he said, “this case is the worst case of confluent small-pox I ever saw in my life. You can hardly tell he is a human being; he is just a mass of corruption.”
When Captain Houstoun returned to the room I asked where this case of small-pox was? He made light of it and called the doctor “a calamity howler,” but before I slept I had looked up Fannie, Sister Mart’s black mammy, and found out from her that the sick negro was in a cabin very near the house in which we were staying.
That was enough. No rest for the Captain until he made arrangements for us to leave the next morning. Bright and early we went to Gainesville, where we waited for the train to take us home.
Last spring a battle was fought in the streets of Gainesville between General Dickinson’s men and the Yankees. The doors and windows of the dwellings are still full of holes from the musket balls and splintered wood-work showed where the artillery had showered shot and shell. The citizens showed us where the branches had been cut from the trees by these same balls. The hotel where we waited had been the centre of the attack and was sadly in need of repairs, both to wood-work and glass.
Leaving Gainesville behind us, we gladly welcomed the “iron horse” which would take us back to Tallahassee. There was a stop at every little station and at one of these a stout young man in farmer’s clothes almost lifted into the car, a feeble old woman. She was dressed in black calico, with a bonnet of the same, and she was weeping bitterly.
As the man turned away, after kissing her goodbye, he said, “He’ll meet you at the depot, Mother, I writ him you was comin’.”
Again we were on our way, the poor old woman continued to sob. When lunch time came, I fixed as tempting a lunch as I could and, pouring a glass of port wine, I took it to the end of the car, where she was sitting and asked if she would not have some dinner?
Her poor old face was red and swollen and her voice trembled as she said, “Thank you, but I don’t feel like I ever want enything to eat no more.”
Are you sick ? I asked.
“No, I ain’t sick in the body, it’s my heart is sick,” she replied.
“Try to eat just a little bite,” I begged, “and drink this wine, it is not strong and it will do you good.”
“Jis to please you chile,” she said, but appetite was lacking and her efforts to eat were soon over. “Suppose you tell me what is troubling you, maybe I can help,” said I.
“No, no,” she sobbed. “You nur nobody can help, they is hanged my baby, my dear baby, what never done nothing to nobody.”
I was shocked beyond measure and my first thought was that I had found a lunatic, but her next words told the whole dreadful story.
“Chile, ain’t you read the papers ?” she cried. “Don’t You know how them devils hung poor Mrs. Surratt and my boy, my baby boy? The papers call him Lewis Payne, but that warn’t his name, he tuken that name so he couldn’t be caught up with. When Conscription fust come and my oldest son went in the army and wore the gray clothes, I mourned and cried but pretty soon he deserted and after he hid around a while, he went to the Union men and he tole ’em he couldn’t noways fight but he would work for them if he could get a safe place. Them men sent him up North somewhere and he done pretty well.
“All this time my baby boy was growing bigger and bigger and I knowed soon the conscriptors would be a takin’ him, so I writ a letter to the Yankee general an’ tole him he could have my baby son if he would let him work in a shop. Soon some of the blue-coats come and got him an’ they said I must remember his name was Lewis Payne and his home would be Washington City and he hadn’t ever been in Florida. I promised all this and I was so satisfied because I had kept him out of the Confederate Army. I thought it was such a smart thing to do, and now, they have killed my chile—they hung him with a rope. They said he had plotted to murder President Lincoln. My baby chile, who never had the heart to hurt nothing.”
I found myself crying with this poor mother, she was old and ignorant, she had tried to cheat her country and this was her reward.
The train slowed up, another man closely resembling the first, boarded the train. He took the weeping woman in his arms, kissing her wrinkled face and murmuring words of comfort, but is there any comfort for such self-reproach as hers ? I will probably never see her again but I shall not forget.
I did not write of these happenings in my diary because it was heart-rending and such a blot on the history of any country. Some day when reason resumes her sway, even the perpetrators of these cruel and useless murders will blush with shame for their own ignominy. The reckoning will not come here on this earth, but what will be the verdict when they stand before the bar of God? I am sorry I saw this broken woman but I wish I could remember the real name of her murdered son. She told me but I cannot recall it. All the way home I thought of her and I am debating whether to tell Father and Mother of her or not. It has made me feel dreadfully. I wept, for Anna Surratt was refused even the scant comfort of bidding her mother goodbye.
May 2nd, 1866.—All is ready and we leave as soon as breakfast is over. Goodbye little Diary. “Sleep tight and wake bright,” for I will need you when I return.
May 1st, 1866.—Now that Sister Mart is feeling better, she is beginning to talk of going back to Marion County. Captain Houstoun says he has been keeping “bachelor’s hall” quite long enough. She has invited Cousin Martha, Nina Houstoun and me to go back with her and will also invite other guests and have a merry “House Party.” Captain promises us “all the beaux in Marion and some besides.”
We are going and doubtless will enjoy it, but I hate to leave home when our domestic affairs are in such shape. We never know when, as uncle Arvah says, “servants will turn up missing.” I am gradually learning how to do the needful things and am really a help in the house but Father and Mother think it best for me to go. Sister Mart has had a long and serious illness and has but little strength.
I am going to leave you at home, my Diary. I will have to share a room with the other girls and it is best for you to be out of the way.