“’Tis not for nothing that we Life pursue.
It pays our hopes with something still that’s new;
Each day’s a gift we ne’er enjoyed before,
Like travelers, we’re pleased with seeing more.”
There are no little events in life, those we think of no consequence may be full of fate, and it is at our own risk if we neglect the acquaintances and opportunities that seem to be casually offered, and of small importance. And, as for what we call “accidents,” they are God’s part in every occurrence so called. I am led to this reflection by a circumstance that happened just at this time. When the coach which brought us to Austin was on the point of leaving Bastrop, a man rode rapidly up to it, and, flinging his bridle to a bystander, made a leap to the outside seats, and landed close to Robert. Robert smilingly made room for him, saying as he did so, “That was a clever jump. It is a jump you mustn’t make a miss of—if you try it.”
This introduction preceded a day of pleasant conversation together, and, when the coach stopped at Smith’s Hotel, the Honorable William Bentley stopped there, and at the dinner table we found him again at Robert’s side. The big cigar Robert was smoking when he came to tell me he was going to sit and talk an hour or two, was made from tobacco grown on the Bentley plantation; and, in the course of that evening’s conversation, he told Robert he was the member for his county, and had come to Austin to take his seat in the legislative hall.
“When I got religion,” he continued, “the folks began to talk of sending me to Austin. I was not onto the thing at first, but got sort of dragged into it and at last I gave up, as any Christian might do, specially one new to the business. Now I like it, and there’s no one more ready to devote himself to his country than William Bentley. I want you to know that. So come to the Capitol with me in the morning, and you will see and hear something worth while. If you don’t you may call me short stock, even if I am six feet three in my stockings.”
Robert repeated this speech to me with certain Texan interjections I need not insert, and I asked, “Will you go with him?”
“Certainly, Milly. I expect to enjoy it very much. He says he will show me legislators who are alive, and not a lot of respectable graven images, like they have in Washington. He told me, that young Terry was going to speak for the Rangers, and that the men who did not like plain truths would have to get up and squander, for they would be sure to have the bleeding frontier served up to them, in every heartbreaking style, Terry could manage; and they say he can tell Indian tales that make men shiver, and shout, ‘Shut up, Terry!’ Milly, I have had one of the pleasantest days that I have known in all my life. Is it not strange, dear?”
“Not at all, Robert,” I answered. “The land is so lovely, and the people so friendly, that any good thing seems possible.”
In the morning I watched him, as he dressed with more than usual care, though he was always particular on this subject, more so than I could patiently endure when “hurry” was the order, and I had the children to dress as well as myself, and yet was always kept waiting for some trifling adjustment that seemed to me unnecessary. Comparing notes on this subject with numberless other women, I have come to a fixed and solid conviction that vanity and love of dress is a male, and not a female, foible, and I think, moreover, that Nature in all her departments supports this theory. I am at least quite sure that any woman still young and beautiful would have prepared herself for a possible interview with a Texan legislator, in much less time than my young and still handsome husband found necessary. But the result was perhaps worth the labor, and I watched the Honorable William Bentley and Robert walking up the avenue together, with smiles of satisfaction.
Robert had the English air of reserve, and of entire complacency with his apparel and appearance. His high silk hat typified the quality and fashion of all the garments beneath it, and I have no doubt that he was the only man in Austin wearing gloves that day. His honorable companion was at least a picturesque contrast. He was tall, and thin, and aquiline, loosely and carelessly dressed in a white flannel shirt, dark tweed trousers, and a broad leather belt without furnishings. Gentlemen then wore Wellington boots—no amount of vanity could have made women put on such affairs—but the Honorable Bentley wore very low-cut shoes, and I hardly think his hands had ever dreamed of gloves. However, he wore on his head a handsome black sombrero, with a silver cord and tassel round it.
Looking at the two figures, as they slowly trailed up the avenue, I was forcibly impressed with the fitness of the Texan dress for the Texan climate, and I decided that it would be proper for Robert to adopt as much of it as was suitable to him. I thought he would be pleased to do so. I was as much mistaken when I named the subject. I found Robert wedded to his waistcoat, ashamed to go to the street without a proper coat, and quite sure he would not feel respectable without his suspenders. As for a belt taking their place, that idea was out of the question.
Occupied with such thoughts, I sat sewing at the open window, unconsciously inhaling the sweet air, and bathing myself in the warm, brilliant sunshine. The children were playing with Mrs. Smith’s little daughter in a shady yard at the back of the hotel, and I was alone and full of thought and speculation. The small white dress I was making, I had begun on that morning when Robert returned home with the news that drove us from Memphis so hastily. I had thrown it and my sewing materials into the trunk that was going with me, thinking I should certainly find many hours in which I could finish the garment. But on that dreadful sail down the Mississippi I could not have touched a needle, and ever since the travel had been so continuous, and so unrestful, that sewing had been impossible.
But now! now, I should be at rest, and, as soon as the wagons with the emigrants for New Braunfels reached Austin, we should receive our trunks, for they had taken charge of them at Harrisburg, and could then rent a house and make a new home. Of course, this idea at once recalled our first home in Glasgow, then my mind went reluctantly to Chicago and the pitiful home-breaking there, then to Memphis and the “flee-for-your-lives” hurry with which we had abandoned the home made there. But I was still hopeful. This place was so different. The people were so different. Life itself was different. No one was in a hurry, and I had already caught the spirit of the place, for my needle was taking its time, and going leisurely down a seam it would have once run rapidly over.
“I am going to be happy at last!” I whispered, and then I perversely added, “Perhaps.” Have we not all of us, at some time in our lives, said ill-omened words, which we would gladly have recalled, if it had been possible? The Greeks prayed Demeter not to permit them to use such words, and I instantly prayed to be forgiven the doubting syllables, while within me I heard distinctly the sorrowful spirit’s reproach, “O thou of little faith.” So I dropped my work, and sat silent as a chidden child, a little sorry, a little afraid, and beneath all some hot anger at whatever influence prompted the ill-boding expression.
As I sat I heard the gong announcing lunch, and I wondered why Robert had not returned in time for the meal. He did not come at all, and I went to my room cross and disappointed. I told myself, that however much Robert had been interested, he ought to have remembered the difficulty I had in attending to both children during a meal. He knew how anxious I was, and also how lonely. There was always the little company of men on the sidewalk for him to join, but there was no similar provision for women in the house. Oh, I had a score of small grievances to complain of, and, I am sorry to admit, that I took the hour after lunch to interview every one of them.
Then Mrs. Smith came to my room, and she had a letter in her hand, “It is for you,” she said pleasantly, “and, what do you think? It was brought by one of the House messengers.”
“The House messengers!” I repeated.
“Yes; by one of the boys who wait upon the members. I hope Mr. Barr is all right.”
I had opened the letter, as she was speaking, and I answered cheerfully, “All is well. He says he will be here before five o’clock.” Then we had a little conversation, and, when she was going, I asked her to send the children to me, in order that I might dress them for the afternoon.
Then I read my letter over and over again. It contained only two or three lines, but Oh, how good they were!
Do not expect me until near five o’clock. I have met the most extraordinary good fortune. Be happy, dear. All is well.
I stood with this blessed piece of paper in my hands a few minutes, speechless, my heart brimming over. Then I spread it open on my bed, and kneeling down beside it, I let my tears of contrition and gratitude wet the happy message. The gift of prayer is not always in our power, and at that hour it was far from me, but I thanked God with repentant tears, and then rising with a glad spirit, I put under my feet every doubtful complaining thought.
About five o’clock I heard Robert’s footsteps on the pavement, and also his voice answering those who spoke to him, and his steps were light and firm, and his voice had those happy inflections that only hope realized can utter—sweet and thrilling and full of promise. I was at the door of our room to meet him, and he took me in his arms and whispered, “Dearest, I am so happy to bring you good news.”
“Tell me, Robert. Tell me all about it,” I said, and we sat down together, and he continued, “You know, Milly. I went away with Bentley this morning soon after nine, and we had walked barely two blocks when he said, ‘We will shake up Lawyer Scot for half-an-hour. I want his advice, and you might find his acquaintance a mighty good thing.’ So we entered a small building and were evidently in the lawyer’s office, though no one was visible. Bentley told me to ‘have off my hat and take a chair,’ and he would hunt up Scot. There was a New York paper lying on the table, and also a copy of the Scotchman. I lifted the latter and Bentley went into another room, where I soon heard him talking with great emphasis. In twenty minutes he came back to me accompanied by a man about forty years of age, a man so visibly and plainly Scotch that I could not help smiling when he looked at me.”
“Did he return the smile?” I asked.
“He walked to the table, poured out a glass of water, and gave it to me, then filling one for himself, he touched my glass and said, ‘Here’s to the men o’ Glasgo!’ Then I touched his glass and answered, ‘Fife and all the lands about it!’”
“Was he Fife, Robert? What did he say?”
“He said, ‘O man, you’re right! You’re right! I am Fife! Bone and blood, nerve and brain, I am Fife!’”
“I offered my hand, and he clasped it between his two large brown hands, and said, ‘Sit a few minutes. I want a word with you.’ So he asked my name and what I was in Texas for. I told him that we had been driven from Memphis by fever and the threat of cholera, and had not escaped the terror either in New Orleans, Galveston or Harrisburg. He readily understood the position, and inquired next if we intended to return to Memphis, as soon as it was safe to do so? I told him we intended to remain in Austin if I could find any way in which it would be possible to make a living.
“‘How did you make it in Memphis?’ he asked and I answered, ‘As a professional accountant.’
“‘Accountant!’ he cried, leaping to his feet. ‘Great Scot, you are the very man now wanted! Come, Bentley. I must go to the House with this news. And I must see Raymond before he goes to his office.’
“He was so impetuous, that it was impossible to question him, and in such a hurry that I had hardly time to put my hat on properly; so in a few minutes we were mounting the long flight of steps leading to the Capitol entrance. Here we met Mr. Raymond, who is state treasurer, and Mr. Scot almost shouted, ‘Here’s your accountant, Raymond! Here’s a leal Scot from the city o’ Glasgo, and later from the city o’ Memphis! Here’s the very man you and your legislators are wanting!’”
“And then what, Robert?”
“Then Bentley laughed heartily, and introduced me to Mr. Raymond, and while Scot and Bentley sat down on the top step, and fanned themselves with their Panama hats, I had a talk with Mr. Raymond, the result of which was that he took me to a committee room, and showed me its long table piled high and higher with bills and papers.
“‘We have had three men here,’ said Mr. Raymond, ‘and all of them have thrown up the job. Will you try it?’ I told him I would gladly do so, and then he hoped I would manage it; and I answered, I had never yet seen the tangle of figures I could not manage.
“‘I believe you will clear up this mess,’ he said, ‘and if you do the House will be grateful. In the meantime we will pay you five dollars a day—hours from ten to four including an hour for lunch. Will that be satisfactory?’ I said it would, and he replied, ‘Then do get to work at once.’ I then asked permission to remove my coat while working, and he laughed like a boy and said, ‘Sure! I shall wonder if you don’t take off your waistcoat, and your necktie, also.’ Then I was left to study the laws governing my work and explaining what I had to do.”
“Can you explain it to me, Robert?” I asked.
“I think perhaps you might understand it, if——”
“Of course I can understand it; that is not what I mean. Is it interesting? Is it worth while? Or is it all dollars and cents?”
“It is all dollars and cents—commissions paid to certain men for buying goods for the military board, advances made by different houses, et cetera. You see, Milly,” he continued, “the Republic of Texas has just been bought by the United States. Some of her debts the United States assumes, some she must pay, or has paid herself; and there are agreements covering a score of points of this kind. It is a very intricate piece of business, I assure you.”
“But you can do it, Robert?” I asked.
“Quite easily, when I get the agreements clearly in my mind. I shall do that in a few days, and I like such work. I like it, Milly, as other men like sport, or scientific experiments. Now, Milly, you can look for a house; the trunks will surely be here in a week or ten days, and then we will make another home.”
If I have made friends with my readers by this time they will not need to be told how happy I was, how grateful in my heart of hearts to God, the Giver of all good things, how sure I felt that this wonderful stepping into a fine position was only His doing. I recalled Mr. Bentley’s jump to the roof of the coach, and the little scornful feeling with which I regarded it as a bit of “show off.” I recalled my own shyness at all his kind advances during the “nooning” and my petty, angry wonder that Robert should find him so entertaining. Yet the Honorable Mr. Bentley had been the road to Lawyer Scot, Councillor to the House, and Scot the road to State Treasurer Raymond; and quite independent of my approval the way prepared had been strictly followed to the end proposed, and with that rapidity of events which can only spring from intelligence and power beyond human foresight. Nothing in all my life has so irresistibly convinced me, that the steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord, and that He delighteth in His ways, as this wonderful preparation made ready for us, when we arrived at the place appointed. No intimation of it had been given us, which was fortunate, for if we had been expecting something of the kind, we might have worried and interfered, and tied the hands, or delayed in some way those beyond who were arranging our affairs. For this reason the big events of life are rarely announced beforehand, but when least looked for, the thing we have vainly sought, steals quietly into our possession.
In ten days we heard that the trunks were at Bastrop, and I immediately began to look for a small house. Empty houses, however, were not plentiful, almost everybody owned their own home, and such as were to rent, were few and far between. All of them were in the hands of Lawyer Scot, and I called on him one morning to ask about a little place that seemed suitable. Because he had taken so kindly to Robert, I tried to look as pretty as possible. I put on a clean white frock, with blue satin belt and bows, and a very pretty white sunbonnet. For the white sunbonnets of the Texan girl were things of beauty, and as they were removed on entering a room, I soon learned that the very act of removal communicated a pleasant surprise and a revelation of unsuspected charm. I was wishful to win the good will of one who had been so readily a friend to us. I succeeded very well. He looked up a little glumly as I entered, but when I lifted my sunbonnet, made him a curtsey, and said with a smile, “I am Robert Barr’s wife,” he was delighted. He offered me his chair, and his fan, he had fresh drinking water drawn, he put up windows, he pulled down shades, he was all smiles and graciousness. And I permitted his attentions. I knew that every one made him like me better, and I wished that he might praise me to Robert, for it does the best of husbands good to be reminded by other men, that they have somehow managed to win a paragon.
Then I told him about the house and he said, “It was not good enough.” He told me to remember I would have many calls from the ladies connected with the Administration; and I answered I did not want a house that lady callers might approve, but one suitable for a home for Robert and my children. This sentiment agreed with his natural, primitive ideas of wifehood, and he heartily approved my views, but still he would not hear of the cottage I had selected. Finally he admitted that its water supply was poor, and that the house itself had not a good name. “People who mind freets,” he continued, “talk about it being unlucky, and point out that every one that lives in it, comes to grief of some kind.” But he was willing to warrant that I was above noticing things of that kind.
“Indeed, Mr. Scot,” I answered, “you would lose your warranty. I notice them very much. The atmosphere of a house tells me plainly, what kind of people live in it.”
“Of an empty house?” he asked.
“There are very few empty houses,” I answered, “very few indeed. I knew of one on the busiest corner of a busy street in Chicago. It looked empty. It looked dead. You felt sure neither mortals, nor the bodiless were in its vacant rooms.”
We continued this conversation until the lawyer appeared to remember with a shock, that we were talking of things startlingly foreign to a lawyer’s office, and he ended his next sentence with the information that he had the McArthur place to rent—“a clean, nice house in good company, and without an ugly past to reckon with. I will go with Robert,” he added, “and we will look it over together.”
Robert subsequently took the house. He said I could make any shelter look homelike, and though small, I also saw that it possessed some possibilities. It was a wood building of two stories. There was one large room into which we entered at once, a thing so English that it won my instant approval. It was well lighted by four large windows, and had a little stoop at the front door with a balcony above it. The roof of this room was unplastered, but the want was partly hidden by a ceiling of strong domestic. The walls were covered with the same material, and then papered. On one side there was a wide fireplace, and a door leading into a room beyond.
This room was smaller and no attempt had been made in it to hide the boarding and shingling, except that they had been whitewashed, and of course that decoration could be again applied. An unpainted stairway in this room led to two large rooms above, and a door opened into a yard containing the kitchen, and a small stable. Robert saw all the inconveniences in their unvarnished literalness. I saw them as picturesque irregularities to be accepted with the rest of their environment. Indeed when our trunks arrived, and I stood once more on my own hearth, I liked the idea of bringing a pretty home out of such apparently incongruous materials. I knew that I could do it. With great and repeated suffering I had bought this knowledge. I had paid the price. Good! What we buy, and pay for, is part of ourselves.
Mr. Robert Barr
Chairs and tables and such things were to be purchased and I chose the home made articles. Among them was a high four-poster bedstead, that reminded me of the century-old bedsteads in English farmhouses. But I liked it because it could be draped with white netting to exclude flies and mosquitoes. But I did not get a trundle bed to roll under it. My enthusiasm concerning trundle beds had cooled, and Mary and Lilly had their individual cots in the room going out of mine.
I remember the three weeks in which I was making a pretty home out of these four rooms of boarding and shingles as one of the happiest periods of my life. I had plenty of fine bedding, and table damask, china and plate, some favorite books, and bits of bric-a-brac, a few pictures and rugs, and a good deal of Berlin wool work, and fancy needlework. At night when we had had dinner, and talked over Robert’s experiences at the Capitol, Robert put up shelves here and there for me, hung mosquito nets and shades, and with paint and brush beautified many rough and soiled corners.
Never before had I been so proud of my handsome, clever husband, and I am sure that with elbows bare, and an apron on, I was more charming to him, than I had ever been before. On looking back I find one sure evidence of our perfect love at this time—we hung a number of pictures, and did not have one frown, or cross word about the work. Now if anything will make two people certain of each other’s want of taste, or incorrect eyesight, it is hanging pictures; and if any two doubt this, I advise them to spend an afternoon together in the employment. Robert and I, in these perfect days, never had a doubtful word about any picture, unless his request that a water color portrait of himself, might be turned to the wall when he was in the house, may be taken as coming from some dissatisfaction. It is only necessary to say, I pretended not to hear his request, and that the cherubic boy in a short jacket and square cap disappeared in a way beyond my finding out.
Some weeks of pure happiness followed our settlement, calm-hearted weeks, full of rich content. I made a great many acquaintances, and a few intimate friends. In such a community as the Austin of that date, this result was unavoidable. For color not money was the dividing line, and the consequence was a real democracy. Every good white man was the social equal of every other good white man, but one drop of negro blood put its owner far below social recognition.
And women are never democrats. There is always in their societies an exclusive set. This set in Austin was not as I expected composed mainly of the families connected with the Administration. It was a much more mixed affair. Its leaders were Mrs. Tom Green, and Mrs. George Durham. Mrs. Green was young, clever, and intimately and decidedly Texan. She was witty and sarcastic, and many were afraid of her criticisms. She dressed well, and entertained delightfully, in Texan fashion, the ladies she chose to honor.
Mrs. Durham was the wife of George Durham, an Englishman from my own North Country, and an attaché of the comptroller’s office. Robert was his associate, and they were excellent friends. I saw little of him, but he frequently sent me birds, venison, and other spoils of his rifle. For he was a fine sportsman, and spent his hours of recreation hunting on the prairie, “shooting for glory” as Texans say of a man, who hunts not for food, but for amusement. The Durhams lived in a small log house on the road to the ferry. Every one coming into town, and every one going out of town passed Mrs. Durham’s. Her sitting-room was as entertaining as the local news in the weekly paper. There was no restraint in Mrs. Durham’s company; people could be themselves without fear of criticism. She was not pretty, not stylish, not clever, not in the least fashionable, but she was the favorite of women, who were all of these things. There were no carpets on her floors, and there was a bed in the room wherein her friends congregated. She did not go to entertainments, and I never saw a cup of tea served in her house, yet she was the most popular woman in Austin, and not to be free of Mrs. Durham’s primitive log house, was to be without the hall mark of the inner circle.
Taking all things together, the life lived by the women of Austin at that date was a joyous, genial existence. All had plenty of servants, and they could not then give notice, nor yet pack their little parcel and go without notice so then houses once comfortably ordered, remained so for lengthy periods. Their chief employment appeared to be an endless tucking of fine muslin, and inserting lace in the same. Very little but white swiss or mull was worn, and morning and evening dresses were known by the amount of tucking and lace which adorned them. Some of the women chewed snuff without cessation, and such women, neither “tucked,” nor “inserted.” They simply rocked to-and-fro, and put in a word occasionally. It must be remembered, that the majority of women who “dipped” had likely formed the habit, when it was their only physical tranquilizer, through days and nights of terror, and pain, and watchfulness; and that the habit once formed is difficult to break, even if they desired to break it, which was not a common attitude.
In 1856, I knew of only two pianos in the city of Austin, one was in the Governor’s mansion, the other belonged to a rich Jewish family called Henricks. I think there were certainly more scattered in the large lonely planter’s houses outside the city, but in the city itself, I remember only these two. There was no book store in the city, and books were not obvious in private houses; and if there had been any literary want felt, there was wealth enough to have satisfied it.
How did the women amuse themselves? I often asked myself this question. There was no theatre, no hall for lectures or concerts, no public library, no public entertainments of any kind, except an occasional ball during the sitting of the legislature. Yet for all this, and all this, I reiterate my statement that the women of Austin fifty-six years ago lived a joyous and genial life. It was their pleasant and constant custom to send word to some chosen lady, that they, with Mrs. A. and Mrs. B. were coming to spend the following day with her. If the day was hot, they arrived soon after nine o’clock, got quickly into loose garments and slippers, took out their tucking, and palm leaf fans, and subsided into rocking-chairs. They could all talk well, and by noon were all ready for the delicious dinner sure to be prepared. It consisted usually of young chicken fried in butter, venison roasted with sweet herbs, or the broiled breasts of quails, which cost them about ten cents a dozen, or, if later in the season, a pot-pie of wild turkey. Strong coffee always accompanied the meal, and if any lady could by good luck, or good management, secure milk or cream for a tapioca pudding, or a dish of cup custard, the occasion was memorable. About four o’clock they began to dress, and the carryall arrived; because after half-past-four the invasion of the male might be expected, and it was a point of honor to throw a little mystery around these meetings. Robert once asked me how we had passed the time.
“In different ways,” I answered.
“You talk of course?” he continued.
“Yes, we talk.”
“Can you not tell me some of them?”
“It is not worth while, Robert.”
“You do not wish to tell me?”
“It might be, that you are afraid to tell.”
“It might be.”
“Tell me, Milly. Don’t be provoking.”
“You never tell me, Robert, what George Durham, and Mr. Simcox, and Wash Hill, and the rest of your companions talk about. You always say, if I ask you, ‘It is not worth telling.’”
But when the evening shadows fell, and we sat outside under the great planets shining above us—and apparently twice the size they appear in more northern latitudes—the sweet influences of the Pleiades were too powerful to resist, and I generally then confided to Robert any touching or amusing incident, that had been talked over by us. But sometimes Orion was in the ascendant, and his binding virtues helped me to keep silence, and to be provoking. It must have been Orion at these times, for there is naturally nothing secretive about me.
Our topics were nearly always strictly local, and men dearly love local topics, for instance there was a very pretty old lady frequently present, no matter where the meeting was held. She was a Mrs. R——, aged about sixty-five, the wife of an old Texan Major who had been in every scrimmage that had occurred between the Trinity and the Rio Grande. He was a hale, handsome man far in his eighties, and had virtually lived with his rifle in his hand—on the whole a rather unmanageable human quantity, except in the hands of his pretty little wife. Being near neighbors she was in my house nearly every day, and perhaps the most welcome visitor we had. She was a Highland Scotch woman, from the city of Perth, still beautiful, and always dressed with piquant suggestion of her native land. Robert paid her great attention, and she sent Robert, three or four days every week, a basin of the Scotch broth he loved so naturally, and to which I had never been able to impart the national flavor.
One day when there was a small gathering in my parlor she joined it. Every one immediately noticed that the pretty pink color of her cheeks had vanished, and that she looked jaded and half-angry. For a moment I thought she was going to cry. Not at all! She flushed pinker than ever, and in an hysterical voice, blended of anger and pity, and the faintest suggestion of laughter, said,
“Ladies, I’m picking my steps over an unkent road. I will not believe that anybody has traveled it afore me.”
“It is the Major, of course!” sighed Mrs. Tannin, shaking her head sadly.
“Yes, Mrs. Tannin, it’s the Major. The man is in perfect agony. He has been raving about his room for three days and nights, and Dr. Alexander says the trouble is like to go on for weeks, or even months.”
“Whatever is the matter, Mrs. R——?” I asked.
“That Comanche arrow, I reckon,” said Mrs. Smith.
“Perhaps it is the dengue fever,” suggested Mrs. East.
The little woman shook her head. “It is neither one, nor the other,” she answered. “It is nothing natural, or ordinary. I’m sorry for the man. ’Deed am I, but I cannot for the life of me, help a quiet snicker when not seen. Ladies, the Major is cutting a whole set of new teeth.”
“’Deed it is the very truth. The doctor lanced his gums this morning, as if he was a baby, and I saw the teeth all ready to be born, as it were. The Major was swearing and groaning, and the doctor, who is very religious, telling him ‘to be quiet,’ and me trembling with fear, and begging Ben for his pistol.”
“Did he give it to you?”
“Finally he threw it down on the table, and told me to ‘hobble the thing,’ which I did by locking it up in my own drawer, and putting the key in my pocket,” and she tapped her pocket significantly, to intimate that it was still there.
“Was it Dr. Litten,” I asked, “who operated?”
“No,” she answered. “It was Dr. Alexander, and he was very irritating, calling Ben an old baby, who made more fuss about cutting teeth than the whole twenty-two babies in Austin, whom he knew, that day, were sucking their mother’s milk and cutting their teeth. I thought then the Major would strike him—sure! And again when he was wiping his lance, and said, very kind like, ‘Major, I do pity you,’ my man answered furiously, ‘Be off with your pity, and don’t come here again with it.’”
Some one remarked that it was a dreadful situation, and then the little wife declared, “It wasn’t like Ben to make a fuss about pain. He had come home one day,” she said, “with a Comanche feather sticking out of his back, and had suffered everything but death, and been as meek and mild as any Christian could be. And yet now!” she continued, “he is raging around like a mad bull; he is smashing my china vases, and flinging his broth out of the window, and swearing at the new teeth till he hasn’t another word left—forbye, he vows he will have the first and the last of them pulled out, as sure and quick as they come. O ladies, it is dreadful! Dreadful!” And then she looked at us with such a comical, lugubrious expression, that further restraint was out of the question. For Mrs. R—— was between laughing and crying, and I am afraid we all laughed a little with her. But the incident, though so unusual, was, however, a fact, though how it came to pass, let the doctors tell. We could do nothing but sympathize and offer to make all sorts of nice, soft, mushy dishes for the Major’s sore gums. When Robert came home I did not try to keep the Major’s condition from him, and I felt sure he was contemplating the effect the news would make in his office the next morning; for undoubtedly men love gossip, though they usually call it politics.
I do not know how far this pleasant, homely visiting was imitated by the women living on the outlying ranches and plantations, but I think it likely something of the same kind exists in all tropic countries, where the dwellings of friends are far apart. It was, however, only a superficial quality of the real Texan woman, who was, when I knew her, more than half a century ago, brave and resourceful, especially when her environment was anxious and dangerous. They were then nearly without exception fine riders and crack shots, and quite able, when the men of the household were away, to manage their ranches or plantations, and keep such faithful guard over their families and household, that I never once in ten years, heard of any Indian, or other tragedy occurring.
I have dwelt a little on the character of the Texan woman, because she was in superficial matters and in all her environments a new creation to me. No one knows better than I do, that woman, in all essential characteristics, is the same yesterday, today, and forever, yet the readiness with which she lends herself to the variations of race, climate, caste, creed, nationality, and conditions of every kind, is the greatest charm of her feminality. Thus, in detailing the scene with Mrs. R——, I was instinctively led to picture a group of Scotchwomen, sitting socially together and listening to a similar story. I could see them, not in comfortable lounging gowns, but corseted, collared, cuffed, and belted to the last point of endurance and sewing, of course, for a Ladies’ Aid, or Dorcas Society. If, into the midst of such a group was flung the news of a man near ninety years old cutting a new set of teeth, I know it would be received with looks of frigid disapproval. If assured that it was not an unseemly joke, but an undoubted fact, they would still disapprove such a departure from the decorum of old age.
Perhaps some one might suggest there was a mistake, “it being a circumstance clean beyond the bounds of probability”; then, if told the medical man had seen the new teeth, the question would be, what medical man? And, if he was not one attending their family, his skill would be as certainly doubted, as would be the orthodoxy of any minister, they did not “sit under.” If, finally, the incident got a tardy, grudging admission, some one would “suppose the fact—if it was a fact—ought to be reported to the Royal Society of Surgeons and Physicians in London”; and some one else would be certain to answer, “The Royal Society is already well acquainted with the like of such cases. It has published accounts of them more often than you think. My mother has read the same—whiles.”
This assertion, not being deniable, would elicit the reflection that there was then nothing beyond the ordinary in the circumstance, except that such a thing should happen to the Major, “who had always been the most proper of men, a member of St. Jude’s Kirk, and of the very best society”; and this reflection would probably end the matter. There would be no sympathetic words, and no offers of nice, soft, mushy things to eat for a man nearly ninety, who could so flagrantly violate the ordinary Scotch traditions with regard to teething. How women of other nationalities would receive such a piece of news, I leave my readers to decide. One thing is certain, no two groups of different race and environments, creed or education, would take even such a simple household matter in quite the same spirit and manner. Let men be thankful for the variableness of women. It provides them continually with something to admire, or to wonder over.
Among such scenes and people as I have been describing I spent nearly ten years; and the first three or four of these ten were, in some respects, the happiest years of my life. Their very memory is a blessing unto this day, for often, when I am heart and brain weary, it steals upon me, swift and sweet and sure as a vision. I smell the China trees and the pine. I hear the fluting of the wind, and the tinkling of guitars. I see the white-robed girls waltzing in the moonshine down the broad sidewalks of the avenue, and the men, some in full evening dress, and others in all kinds of picturesque frontier fashion, strolling leisurely down its royally wide highway. I am sitting in the little wood house, with its whitewashed ceilings and unpainted stairway and one sits at my side, who left me forty-five years ago. Oh, believe me! He who raised the shade of Helen, had no greater gift than mine!
About the middle of October Robert finished the work intrusted to him by the Ways and Means Committee of the Session of 1856, and finished it so well, and so completely, that Senator J. W. Throckmorton, Chairman of the Senate Committee, and the Honorable C. W. Buckley, Chairman of the House Committee, entered in their report to the House, the following acknowledgment:
The balance sheet will show the exact pecuniary condition of the affairs of the Board in every point, and it is unnecessary to say more upon the subject, than to invite an inspection of it. The Committee were extremely fortunate in procuring the services of a gentleman to act as their Secretary, so well qualified to perform the duties, and so thoroughly versed in book-keeping as Mr. Barr. His qualifications have lightened their labors, and an inspection of the exhibit prepared by him, is only necessary to prove how fortunate we have been in procuring his services.
I was exceedingly proud of this notice, and it was very fortunate for Robert, for Mr. Shaw, the comptroller, immediately offered him the second desk in his office, so that he had his friend, George Durham, for his confrère. I had not even an hour’s time to be anxious, for Robert went at once from the committee room to the comptroller’s office, and in all probability the future was settled for many years. That was what I thought, and I put out of my memory all the sorrowful past, and counted the present as its compensation.
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