Virginia: The Old Dominion
Frank W. Hutchins and Cortelle Hutchins
Part 3 out of 4
tell us much about them. They only served to recall the tantalizing,
broken bits that the records give of the picturesque life that was
here--of colonial pomp and savage dignity, of London trade and Indian
barter, of English games and merriment, of colonial trials and
tragedies: all this of which we know, yet know so little.
And so we left the old plantation dreaming in the autumn sunshine--left
it to the poets and to the story-tellers, who seem to have adopted it.
They know how to weave the spells that bring back old manor-houses and
gallants and ladies and tall London ships and the vanished scenes of
love and of war. The place belongs to them; old Fleur de Hundred--half
real and half ideal--an old-time bit of story-land.
GADABOUT GOES TO CHURCH
It was the day before Thanksgiving when the houseboat Gadabout, with
her good-byes all said, fished up her anchor from the river bottom in
front of Weyanoke, and started off to find another place to drop it
farther up the stream. She was ready for the holiday. The material for
her Thanksgiving dinner was all aboard: part of it canned and boxed as
the steamer had just brought it from Norfolk; and the rest of it, and
the best of it, plump and gobbling on the stern.
But Gadabout's preparations for the day had not stopped here. Not only
had she provided the season's feast, but she had diligently inquired of
her chart and of her neighbours where she might take her family to
church. The chart had told her of a little stream, called Herring
Creek, a few miles farther up the James, and had shown her a mark upon
the bank of the creek that it called Westover Church. The neighbours
had said that the chart was right; and had added that the church was a
colonial one still in use, and doubtless Thanksgiving services would be
held there. Fortunately, Herring Creek was a stream that Gadabout had
intended running into anyway, as it would be the anchorage most
convenient to the next colonial estate that she should visit--the
plantation of Westover from which the church had taken its name.
From Weyanoke to the old church was not very far; but, as Gadabout had
one or two things to stop for on the way and as she might be delayed by
the tide, this bright Wednesday morning found her bustling up the river
almost afraid that she would be late for service.
Doubtless, in her haste, she was quite put out when we threw the wheel
to starboard as she was passing Court House Creek, and carried her
somewhat out of her way. All that we did it for was to run in close to
look at some "stobs" just showing above the water. At the mouths of
most of the creeks along the James are such "stobs" or broken pilings.
They are the ruins of old-time piers, the last vestige of a vanished,
picturesque river trade.
Ancient pilings have lasted well in the James; and these evidently once
belonged to the piers of up-creek colonial planters. They tell of the
day when ships from England, Holland, and the Indies sailed up the
river for barter with the colonists. While the planters whose estates
fronted directly on the James received their importations upon wharves
before their doors and delivered their tobacco in the same convenient
manner, the planters up the creeks were at more trouble in the matter.
The bars at the mouths of the streams kept the ships from entering; and
they had to wait outside while the planters brought their produce down
upon rafts and in shallow-draft barges, pirogues, and shallops.
Some of the most picturesque of the colonial river trade was at these
little creek-mouth piers. Here came not only the tall ships from
England bearing everything used upon the plantations from match-locks
and armour to satin bodice and perfumed periwig, from plow and spit to
Turkey-worked chairs and silver plate, from oatmeal, cheese, and wine
to nutmegs and Shakespeare's plays; but here came also tramp
craft--broad, deep-laden bottoms from the Netherlands, and English and
Dutch boats from the West Indies. These picturesque vagrant sails
sought their customers from landing to landing, and sold their cargoes
at comparatively low prices. Such a ship was assort of bargain boat for
these scattered settlers up the creeks of the James; a queer, transient
department store at the little cross-roads of tidewater.
There would be exchange of news as well as of commodities, and a
friendly rivalry in the matter of tales of adventure--the planter's
story of Indian attacks being pitted against the captain's yarn of the
"pyrats" that gave him chase off the "Isle of Devils." Then up the
masts of the trading ship the sails would go clacking, and the prow
that had touched the warm wharves of the Indies would point up the
river again, bound for the next landing. And the shallops of the
planter--after loading from the little pier with casks and bales still
strong of the ship's hold, of the tar of the ropes, of the salt of the
sea--would disappear up the forest stream.
A short distance above Court House Creek, Gadabout stopped at a landing
to get some oil. She was rather hurried and flustered about the matter,
as the steamer from Petersburg was coming around the point above and
would soon be making this same landing, and a schooner that was loading
was right in the way, and the first line that was thrown out broke, and
the engine stopped at the wrong time, and--all those people looking on!
Besides, this was supposed to be an interesting fishing point; but how
was a little houseboat to get a look at it, lying there alongside a big
schooner that she couldn't see over? Altogether, Gadabout fumed and
fussed so much here, pitching about in the choppy water, jerking her
ropes, and battering her big neighbour, that it was a relief to all
concerned when she got her oil aboard, cast off her ropes, and, giving
the schooner a last vindictive dig in the ribs, set off up the river.
Even after getting away from the schooner there was not much to be seen
at the landing. Yet, in season, the little place would be quite quaint
and bustling; for it was one of the many fishing hamlets along the
The James has always been a favourite spawning-ground for sturgeon.
Those first colonists, writing enthusiastically of the newfound river,
declared "As for Sturgeon, all the World cannot be compared to it."
They told of a unique and spirited way the Indians had of catching
these huge, lubberly fish. In a narrow bend of the river where the
sturgeon crowded, an adroit fisherman would clap a noose over the tail
of a great fish (a fish perhaps much larger than himself) and go
plunging about with his powerful captive. And he was accounted
"cockarouse," brave fellow, who kept his hold, diving and swimming, and
finally towed his catch ashore.
The colonists early turned their attention to sturgeon fishing. The roe
they prepared and shipped abroad for the Russians' piquant table
delicacy. The grim irony of it--half famished colonists shipping
To-day the coming of the sturgeon puts life into the little hamlets
like the one we had just passed, and dots their sandy beaches with the
bateaux and the drying nets of the fishermen.
[Illustration: A FISHING HAMLET.]
We passed the down-bound steamer near Buckler's Point and her heavy
swell came rolling across toward us. Almost instinctively we turned our
craft crosswise to the river to face the coming waves; for to take them
broadside meant a weary picking up of fragments from the cabin floors,
and a premature commingling of the contents of the refrigerator. Just
beyond Buckler's Point we came to the opening into Herring Creek and,
passing readily over the bar, went on up the little stream. As we
sailed along we caught glimpses to port of the warm, red walls of a
stately building that we knew to be Westover.
[Illustration: A RIVER LANDING.]
We found Herring Creek a good, lazy houseboating waterway; a brown
ribbon of marsh stream wandering aimlessly among the rushes. Turn after
turn, and the marshes still kept us company--the quiet, lone marshes
that had come to have such a charm for us. Evidently, they were
beginning to feel that the year was growing old. Greens were sobering
into browns, and near the water's edge were tips of silvery white. The
frowsy-looking grassy bunches, here and there, were ducking blinds,
where hunters soon would be in hiding with their wooden decoys floating
Like some great marsh creature herself, Gadabout followed the winding
way, puffing along contentedly. Sometimes, when the turns were too
sharp for her liking, she swung to them lazily, with a long purr of
water at bow and stern, and seemed about to wallow off through the
Now something of a bank developed along our starboard side. It grew
into a bluff covered with pines and thick-coated cedars and
white-trunked sycamores and gray beeches. This woodland too had the
year writ old. The surviving green of cedar and pine could not hide the
telltale leafless trees that stood between. But more significant than
leafless trees was the luxuriant holly with its ripe, red berries,
gayly ready for Christmas decorations and to grace the birth of a new
And yet, these were among the most glorious days for houseboating:
tonic days with a hint of winter in the chill, crisp air, and dreamy
days with a lingering of summer in the sun's warm glow. The enervating
heat was over, and the worrisome insects were gone. In peace we could
sail in the marsh stream or climb the banks for ferns and holly.
Gadabout moved with masses of pale reeds, spicy boughs of cedar, bay
branches, and glowing holly nodding on her bow. The air was no longer
filled with the song of birds; but it was alive and cheerily a-twitter
with their fat flittings from seeds to berries, from marsh to woodland.
Heartily we declared that it was better to go an-Autumning than
After a while there were signs of people about. Little boats were
nosing into the bank here and there, and occasionally a white farmhouse
would peep over the bluff above our water-trail.
[Illustration: "LITTLE BOATS WERE NOSING INTO THE BANK HERE AND
It was along toward dinner time when, according to our count, the
houseboat had rounded as many bends as the chart seemed to require, and
ought to be near Westover Church. So, upon catching sight through the
trees of a brick building up on the bluff, we concluded that Gadabout
had reached her journey's end, and an anchor was dropped.
Toward evening Nautica and the Commodore went ashore. At the top of the
hill was a little graveyard, and standing in it was the old church that
we had come to see. It was a small building and plain, but of historic
interest. As originally built, about the middle of the seventeenth
century, it stood not here but down on the shore of the James at
Westover. One of the earliest churches in the country, and then
standing on one of the greatest estates in Virginia, it was a typical
centre of colonial life; and gathered about it, in the little graveyard
by the river, were the tombs of noted colonial dead.
About the middle of the eighteenth century the church was moved to its
present site. Enclosed within a brick wall and with the tombs of
generations of worshippers again clustering about it, Westover Church
had settled down once more to revered old age when the ravages of war
swept over the land. In that sad war of brothers over a union that this
church had seen formed, over soil that it had seen won from Great
Britain, the humble old House of God was left dismantled, its graveyard
walls thrown down, and its tombs broken. After the war, the church was
repaired, and it is still the place of worship for the countryside.
The rectory stood on a bluff near by, overlooking the wide stretch of
marsh and the far windings of the stream. We found that the latest of
the long line of rectors and equally important rectors' wives that
Westover Church has known were the Reverend and Mrs. Cornick, who told
us of the hopes of the little community that the Government would yet
pay indemnity for the injury done by Federal soldiers to the old
The next morning brought so fine a Thanksgiving Day that our gratitude
rose up with the sun--though the rest of us awaited a more convenient
hour. The air was crisp; the sky was unclouded. When, in good time for
morning service, we went up the hill to the old brick church, we saw
horses and carriages lined along the fence. Inside the building some of
the people who had come early were having neighbourly confidences over
the backs of the pews.
Naturally our thoughts went wandering between service and sermon and
church. Sometimes (and through no fault of the good rector either), we
would find ourselves far back in the story of that colonial house of
worship, and full two hundred years away from the text. We would see
this old church as it stood at first on the wild bank of the James, and
the families of those early planters gathering in. They would come from
up and down the river; some in pirogues and pinnaces and sloops, and
some on horseback with the fair dames on pillions behind. Or, somewhat
later, lordly coaches would roll to the door bearing colonial grandees.
The plain little church had seen brave attire in those days, when the
parish worshipped in flowered silks and embroidered waistcoats and
laced head-dresses and powdered periwigs. Then, after the services,
would come the social hour, when dinner invitations went round, parties
were planned, and there was a general changing about of the guests that
were always filling Virginia homes. Doubtless, the lavish hospitality
of the master of Westover, who attended this church, caused quite a
Sunday pilgrimage to that mansion of his that we had glimpsed through
the trees as Gadabout entered Herring Creek.
We went out past chatting groups (stopping for the greeting of the
rector and his wife); past horses that were being unhitched and
vehicles that were cramping and creaking; on down to the stream where
geese were paddling in the marshes, and overhead the rectory doves were
wheeling in the sunny air. Rowing down the creek toward the houseboat,
we stopped here and there to gather reeds and holly.
"This is the first time that we have ever gone to church by boat," said
"Yes," answered Nautica, "and it was just the way to do it. We have
attended a colonial church in a quite colonial way."
When we sat down to our Thanksgiving dinner, we felt almost like
landlubbers again; for while our home acre was a watery one and
Gadabout, boat-like, swung and swayed, yet we had real neighbours up on
the bluff and there was even a church next door. Later, we saw coming
down the stream some good after-dinner cheer--our rowboat with mail
that had been accumulating for days at Westover. Letters and papers and
packages and magazines were welcomed aboard. Comfortably we settled
down for an evening of catching up with the world.
Next morning Gadabout made an uneventful run down the stream, anchored
just within the mouth of the creek, and sent Henry off into the country
Of course certain provisioning arrangements followed Gadabout from
harbour to harbour. Boxes of groceries came up from Norfolk or down
from Richmond by steamer; and also every few days a big cake of ice
arrived in a travelling suit of burlap lined with sawdust. But that
still left many things to be obtained along the way. As most of the
country stores were back from the river, the sailor, on horseback or in
a cart, made many a long provisioning trip.
Toward evening when there came a gentle bump upon Gadabout's guard and
the rattle of a chain upon her cleat, we went out to see what the
supply boat had brought. As soon as we heard the troubled sputtering,
"An' I mos' give up gittin' anything," we knew that the little
shore-boat was a nautical horn of plenty. And so she proved as her
cargo came aboard to an accompaniment of running comment.
"I don' know _where_ I been, an' if I had to go back, I couldn' do it.
That's butter there--that'll do till the nex' box comes. The store
didn' have much of anything; an' I struck out into the country, I did,
an' mos' los' myse'f. But the horse he knowed the way. I got another
turkey, anyhow. I'm cert'nly glad we jes' begun to eat 'em if we got to
eat 'em steady. The man had done sold him; but I used my silver tongue,
I did, an' he let me have him. There's some apples an' turnips an'
sweet potatoes. I got them at the store. An' where I got them eggs at,
I could get a couple of chickens nex' week if I could jes' fin' the
So the fruits of the foraging came tumbling aboard--a promising, goodly
array. And Gadabout had no troubled dreams that night of a wolf
swimming up to her door.
WESTOVER, THE HOME OF A COLONIAL BELLE
On the following day, Gadabout scrambled across the flats out into the
James again, intent upon a visit to Westover.
Unlike Brandon, Westover stands within sight from the river; and we had
a good view of the old homestead as we passed by to make our landing at
the steamer pier which is a little above the house.
There was a break in the tree-fringe on the north bank of the James. A
sea-wall extended along the water's edge, and from either end of it a
brick wall ran far inland. Within the spacious enclosure, the grounds
swept back and up from the river, with noble trees and close-cut lawn;
and crowning the slope stood the beautiful old mansion. A stately
central building of red brick, with dormer windows in its steep-pitched
roof, rose between low flanking corridors and wings like some overlord
with his faithful vassals in attendance. In neutral brown the quiet
river, in shadowy green the sloping lawn, in dull red and gleaming
white the lofty, many-windowed front of Westover--a picture that drew
Gadabout in close to the shoals that day.
The bit of history that goes with the picture gives us many glimpses of
old-time elegance and romance, and helps us to a good idea of some of
the pretentious phases of colonial life. It runs in this way.
Back in the beginnings of things American, when the dissatisfied
planters at James Towne were starting out to establish their estates
along the river, these lands by Herring Creek attracted attention.
Under the name of Westover they soon became the property of the Byrd
family, and rose to prominence among colonial estates in connection
with the fortunes of that distinguished house.
The golden age of Westover was in the days of the second William Byrd,
who was one of the most striking figures of colonial times. Handsome,
learned, witty, and capable; with exquisite taste and elegant culture
fashioned in the friendship of English noblemen; with almost endless
acres and boundless wealth--a cavalier of cavaliers was this
[Illustration: RIVERWARD FRONT OF WESTOVER.]
It is surprising that this _beau-ideal_ should have remained spouseless
for two years after coming into his estate. He must have been
considered the most fascinating matrimonial possibility in the colony.
One can imagine how in a gathering of Virginia maidens intent upon
their tambour embroidery, when the name of Westover's young master came
up, a circle of eyelashes went down and a circle of tender hearts went
both up and down. The prize was finally won by Lucy Parke, daughter of
Colonel Daniel Parke whose portrait hangs at Brandon.
Some years later, family litigation called Colonel Byrd to England,
where his wife and little daughter, Evelyn, joined him, and where his
wife soon died. The residence in London continued for a number of
years; and resulted in giving the Colonel a new wife in the person of a
rich young widow, and in giving social finish and a broken heart to
Under the guidance of her father, she was educated after the manner of
the fashionable life of that day. It must have been a time quite to the
elegant Colonel's liking when London turned in admiration to his
daughter; when, but sixteen and already crowned with social successes,
the cultured beauty from the plantation on the James was presented at
the English Court.
The stories of Evelyn Byrd's London experiences bring many noted names
into the train of those who did her honour: the Lords Chesterfield and
Oxford, and Pope at the height of his glory, and the cynical Lord
Hervey, and Beau Nash, the autocrat of Bath. There should be mentioned
too that old courtier (whoever he was) whose admiration was expressed
in the rather mild witticism, "I no longer wonder that young men are
anxious to go to Virginia to study ornithology, since such beautiful
_birds_ are to be found there."
It was in the midst of this London gayety that Evelyn Byrd so literally
met her fate in meeting the grandson of Lord Peterborough, Charles
Mordaunt. The story of that unhappy love affair--the devoted pair, the
opposition of the maiden's father, and the separation of the
lovers--has become an oft-told but ever attractive romance.
About 1726, Colonel Byrd returned with his family to Virginia; and it
was then, it seems, that he built the present mansion at Westover, and
entered upon the almost sumptuous life there that was to make the
And Westover was a worthy setting for the worthy Colonel. Without the
home, were lawns and gardens beautiful with native and imported trees,
shrubs, and vines; and within the home, spacious rooms with rich
furnishings and art treasures gathered in England and on the Continent.
Here too was one of the largest and most valuable collections of books
in the colonies. As a matter of course, this home was a distinguished
social centre, drawing to itself the most brilliant colonial society.
Colonel Byrd died in 1744, and was buried in the old garden when it was
in all its summer glory. In the next generation, Westover passed to
strangers, having been for a century and a quarter the home of the
Byrds, who for three successive generations had held proud position in
Since then, the plantation has suffered from many changes of ownership,
and from the Civil War. The mansion was held several times by the
Federal forces, being used as headquarters and as an army storehouse.
Among the war injuries it sustained was the destruction of one wing.
The destroyed portion has been rebuilt recently by the present owner of
the estate, Mrs. C. Sears Ramsay. Under her ownership, Westover has had
added interest, especially for lovers of the colonial, on account of
such extensive restoration as has made the old home one of the finest
examples of eighteenth century architecture and furnishing in America.
Surely while we have been telling the story of Westover, Gadabout has
had time to reach the steamboat pier above the house; and we may take
it that she is safely tied to the pilings.
Once ashore, Nautica and the Commodore found that a short walk along
the river bluff brought them to an entrance to the Westover grounds.
Gates of wrought iron, with perhaps a martlet from the Byrd coat of
arms above them, swung between tall pillars in the wall. From this
entrance, a pathway approached the homestead diagonally, and afforded
charming views of the house and its surroundings. To our right as we
walked, the lawn, thick set with trees, sloped gently to the river
wall. To our left, the views came in broken, picturesque bits; a
stretch of shrubbery, a reach of garden wall, some quaint outbuildings
in warm, dull red, a glimpse of courtyard beyond a corner of box, and
then the old home itself.
[Illustration: THE HALL, WITH ITS CARVED MAHOGANY STAIRCASE.]
The riverward portal of Westover stands tall, white, and finely typical
of its day. Above squared stone steps, the double doors with the
fanlight above them are framed by two engaged columns supporting an
elaborate pediment that has the symbolic pineapple in the centre.
We stood before the fine entrance, fancy painting the old-time scene
within; that scene of eighteenth century elegance which is the
traditional picture of colonial Westover. The door opened, and we
entered upon perhaps quite as charming an eighteenth century scene,
which is the Westover of to-day.
A panelled hall extended through the house, the double doors at the
farther end opening upon a glass-enclosed vestibule. About midway, and
from beneath a heavy crystal chandelier, the stairway of carved
mahogany rose to a landing, where an ancient clock stood tall and dark,
then turned and wound to the rooms above.
To the right of the hall was the drawing-room. Passing over its
threshold, we thought of those old colonial days, the days of Colonel
Byrd. As in his time, the light came subdued through the
deep-casemented windows. It fell upon the walls that he had so
handsomely panelled, upon the ceiling that he had ornamented in the
delicate putty-work of his day, and upon furniture in carved mahogany
that was of the period of his ownership of Westover.
At the farther end of the room was the noted mantelpiece imported from
Italy by Colonel Byrd. It is an elaborate creation of Italian marble
with relief design in white upon a black background. In front of it, on
either hand, stood handsome brass torcheres, with their suggestion of
the mellow candle-light that was wont to fall in this same room upon
the courtly Colonel, the lovely Evelyn, and those brilliant assemblages
of colonial times.
Opening also from the hall are the dining-room with its high colonial
mantel and typical Virginia buffet, the French morning-room with its
gray green tints and its touches of gilt, and the library with its old
chimney-piece, high black fire-dogs, and quaint fire-tending irons. All
the rooms have their colonial panelling, deep window-seats, and open
[Illustration: THE HEPPLEWHITE SIDEBOARD WITH BUTLER'S DESK.]
In the dining-room our interest was quickened upon our being told that
the handsome sideboard had belonged to the Byrd family. It is believed
to be a Hepplewhite, though similar in lines to a rare design of
Sheraton's. Above the sideboard a circular, concave mirror of elaborate
eighteenth century type accentuates the period furnishing of the room.
[Illustration: "FOUR-POSTERS AND THE THINGS OF FOUR-POSTER DAYS."]
Up-stairs even more than below, we felt the atmosphere of the olden
time. Perhaps passing the ancient clock on the landing helped to set us
back a century or two. We were quite prepared for the quiet,
old-fashioned upper hall, with its richness half lost in the shadows
and with its sleepy night-stand holding a brass house lantern and a
prim array of candles in brass candlesticks.
In the bedrooms were four-posters and the things of four-poster days.
Wing-cheek chairs of cozy depths told of old-time fireside dreams; a
work-table with attenuated legs called to mind the wearisome needlework
of our foremothers; and a brass warming-pan carried us back to the
times when only such devices could make tolerable the frigid winter
beds of our ancestors.
One of the riverward bedrooms is the romantic centre of Westover. It
now belongs to the little daughter of the house; but nearly two
centuries ago it was the room of Evelyn Byrd. Doubtless, in a sense, it
will always be hers. The soft toned panelled walls, the old fireplace
opposite the door, and the cozy little dressing-room looking
gardenward, all seem to speak of her; and the imaginative visitor can
quite discern a graceful figure in colonial gown there in one of the
deep window seats that look out upon the pleasance and the river.
Here the unfortunate colonial beauty lived and died with the grief that
she brought from over the sea. Here she laid away the rich brocade, the
old court gown of brilliant, bitter memories that was shown to us at
Brandon. Through these windows she looked with ever more wistful eyes
out upon the river, her thoughts hurrying with its waters toward the
ocean and the lover beyond. And one day, it is said, a great ship from
London came, and it touched at the pier before her windows, and Charles
Mordaunt plead his cause with the stern father once more. But he plead
in vain, and the ship and the lover sailed away. For a while longer,
the colonial girl waited and looked out upon the river, then she too
went away and the romance was over.
[Illustration: THE ROMANTIC CENTRE OF WESTOVER; EVELYN BYRD'S OLD
In the family circle at Westover to-day are Mrs. Ramsay, two sons, and
the little daughter, Elizabeth. Among well-known families appearing in
Mrs. Ramsay's ancestry are the Sears and the Gardiners of
Massachusetts, she being a descendant of Lyon Gardiner of Gardiner's
Island. She also claims kinship with the Randolphs and the Reeveses of
Virginia, and a collateral and remote connection with the Byrds.
When we returned to the steamer pier after our visit at Westover, we
found quite a wind on the river and the houseboat fretfully bumping the
pilings. We hastened aboard, ran down stream before a stiff wind, and
skurried back into our harbour in Herring Creek, where Gadabout settled
to her moorings as contented as a duck in the marshes.
AN OLD COURTYARD AND A SUN-DIAL
For some time that little anchorage was our watery home acre. We came
to call it our sunrise harbour. The opening where creek and river met
faced to the east; and it was well worth while, if the morning was not
too chill, to have an eye on that opening when the sun came up.
Breaking through the mist veil that hung over the James, he cast a
golden pontoon across the river, and then came over in all his
splendour. He made straight for the mouth of our little creek, flooding
wood and marsh with misty glow, and fairly crowding his glory into the
One morning, quite in keeping with the splendid burst of dawn, a loud
report rang out over the marshes like the sound of a sunrise gun. But
it was no salute to the orb of day. Somebody was poaching. More shots
followed; and ducks, quacking loudly, fluttered up out of the marshes.
Later, when we were at breakfast, a long rowboat, containing a man and
a pile of brush and doubtless some ducks with the fine flavour of the
forbidden, came out from a break in the marshes and went hurriedly up
As we lay in our harbour, we found ourselves almost unconsciously
listening for a sound that seemed to belong to those chill, gray days.
At last, from somewhere high up in the air, it came ringing down to
us--the stirring "honk, honk" of the wild goose. Though our eyes
searched the heavens, we could see nothing of the living wedge of
flight up there that was cleaving its way southward with the speed of
the wind. But we felt the thrill of that wild, stirring cry and were
Whether the geese brought it or not, bad weather came with them. Half a
gale came driving the rain before it down the river. Gadabout lay with
her bulkheads closed tight about her forward cockpit, and must have
looked most dismal. But inside, dry and warm, she was a very cheery
little craft. We listened quite contentedly to the uproar, looking out
from our windows upon windswept marsh and scudding clouds and the fussy
little wavelets of our harbour. It added to our sense of coziness to
look through a stern window out upon the river where the waters piled
and broke white, in their midst an anchored schooner with swaying
masts, tipsy between wind and tide.
One day when the heavens had gone blue again, though tattered clouds
were still racing across, we hoisted anchor for another visit to
Westover. When Gadabout poked her head out of the creek, she saw a
queer looking craft busy on the James. It was a government buoy-tender,
an awkward side-wheeler with a derrick forward, and big red sticks and
black ones lying on deck.
As we passed the tender, it was moving the red buoy at the mouth of our
creek farther out into the river. Evidently the shoals were encroaching
upon the channel. Gadabout showed little interest in the strange boat
and its doings; and, unconcernedly turning her back, headed up the
river. Of course buoys were all very well and she found them quite a
help in getting about; but all this fussy shifting of them by a few
feet mattered little to her, for she was on the wrong side of them most
of the time anyway.
However, we thought of how differently the watchful buoy-tender would
be regarded by the heavy laden freighters that would pass that way,
their rusty hulls plowing deep. To them how important that each buoy,
each inanimate flagman of the river route, should stand true where
danger lies and truly point the fairway.
Reaching the little cove below the steamboat pier, Gadabout ran close
in and cast anchor. She may well have been proud of the quite
perceptible waves that she sent rolling to the shore and of the quite
audible swish that they made on the beach.
That morning we saw the landward front of Westover, and straightway
forgot all about the more pretentious river front. You step from the
house down into an old-time courtyard. At first you do not see much of
the courtyard itself, for you have heard of its noted entrance gates,
perhaps the first example of ornamental iron-work in the colonies, and
they stand quite conspicuously in front of you. These gates were
imported from England by Colonel William Byrd, whose initials, W.E.B.,
appear inwrought in monogram.
Two great birds standing on stone balls top the gate-posts. With a fine
disregard of both ornithology and heraldry these birds have often been
spoken of as martlets--the martlet appearing in the Byrd coat of arms.
They are evidently eagles, and pretty well developed specimens.
American eagles, we might call them, if they had not lighted upon these
gate-posts before the American nation adopted its emblem--indeed before
the American nation was born. When, in the days of the Civil War, the
Federal troops came along, the soldiers seem to have stood strictly
upon chronology, and to have determined that these fine
prerevolutionary birds were not entitled to any immunity as national
emblems nor even as kinsfolk of "Old Abe." And so their tough feathers
flattened many a bullet, and one eagle had to be sent to Richmond to
get some toes and a new tail.
Turning from the gates, your eyes follow down the courtyard toward the
garden. Walls, outbuildings, the quaint cellar-hut, even the
diamond-shaped stepping-stones along the way, all help to make up a
characteristic colonial scene.
And for what striking bits of colonial life has this old courtyard been
the setting! Now the exquisite Colonel and his ladies would visit the
little capital of Williamsburg; so, at his door, stands ready his
"lordly coach and six with liveried outriders in waiting." Again, the
great gates are thrown open to guests arriving on horseback and in
chariots and chairs. Pompous, beruffled dignitaries vie with gay
gallants in obeisances and compliments to the ladies, and in assisting
them to alight without harm to brocades and laces and rich cloaks and
wide-hooped petticoats. And, yet again, all is a-bustle here with
scarlet-coated horsemen and baying hounds and hurrying black boys and
all that goes to
"Proclaim a hunting-morning."
When the ancient courtyard is left empty again--the colonial coaches
rolled off through the gates; the colonial huntsmen up and away and now
but distant points of red, fading to the music of hounds and horns--we
fall to wondering about those early Virginians.
Such, largely, was their life--abundant leisure, elegant display,
exuberant merrymaking. Just such a life, by all the rules, as would
produce a useless race devoid of any solidity of mind or of character.
Just such a life as in fact produced a race of high-minded, intelligent,
and capable men; a race that gave us Washington, Jefferson, Henry,
Madison, Marshall, Monroe, and the scarcely lesser names on down the
long list of those wonderful sons of the Old Dominion.
It would do no good to ask even that colonial courtyard for an
explanation of all this. It simply recalled what it had seen and heard.
Nor could we of to-day understand the explanation were we to get it.
Unable to reconcile industry and leisure, we underrate the real work
that went with the idling of those early Virginians; and as to the
gayety, we long ago lost sight of the fact that merrymaking is
Turning from the gateway, we went down the old courtyard. We followed a
walk that led past the kitchen and the dairy, skirted a wall, and then
turned through a box-shaded gateway into the garden.
Those December days were not the season of gardens, even in Virginia.
The paths led us not where bloom was, but where bloom had been. Yet,
truly all times are garden times where warm red walls shut you in with
shadowing trees and shrubs, and where ancient box and ivy hedge the
prim old ways.
How much our colonial forefathers thought of their gardens! and how
much their English forefathers thought of theirs! It was in the blood
to have a garden, and to have it walled, and to sit and to walk and to
talk in it.
[Illustration: THE COLONIAL COURTYARD GATES.]
Walking and talking that day with Westover's mistress in Westover's
garden, we soon came upon the tomb of the noted William Byrd.
Representative as was this master of Westover of all that was most
elegant in the colonial life of his day, he was much more than merely a
man of the fashionable world. Ability of a high order went with the
beauty and the ruffles and the powder. He was statesman, scholar, and
author; and in England he had been made, for his proficiency in
science, a fellow of the Royal Society.
[Illustration: TOMB OF COLONEL WILLIAM BYRD.]
We owe a great deal to this old-time grandee for the glimpses his
writings give us of colonial life in the South during the generation
just preceding that of Washington. Unlike the Northern colonists, the
Southern ones left little record of themselves. So much the more
valuable, then, the accounts given by this remarkable man of the times.
We seemed turning from an impressive text as we left the tomb; left the
old grand seignior in his little six feet of earth--six feet out of
175,000 acres! But, after all, it was a rueful text; not one for
morning sunshine and blue sky, for hearts that yet beat strong, that
yet gloried in a boundless estate--all the bright world ours. And the
birds were holding carnival over by the stone basin under the ram's
head on the wall; and the river was dancing in the sunlight; and
besides, we had caught sight of a sun-dial there in that old colonial
garden by the banks of the "King's River"! To he sure we were told that
this was not an ancient timepiece of the sun. We were much too late to
see the original sun-dial of this garden. That old colonial worthy had
found time too long for its marking. Worn with the years that it had
told, it had leaned and dozed, and lost count, and was gone.
But it is not so much that a garden should have an _old_ sun-dial, as
that it should have a sun-dial. For the matter of that, they are all
old. Venerableness is their birthright. Whoever thinks of youth in a
sun-dial? Were you unboxing one just from the maker would you not
expect to find it moss-grown?
Indeed, are these timepieces of sun and shadow made at all, or do they
just occur here and there like hoary rocks and mossy springs? And what
a charming provision of Nature it is that they so often occur in
gardens! Sun-dials and gardens! Sunshine-and-shadow time for plants to
grow by; sunshine-and-shadow time for flowers to bloom by. Surely this
is the only time by which a morning-glory should waken, by which a
four-o'clock should know its hour, by which an evening primrose should
time its fragrant bloom.
Sun-dials and gardens! Sunshine-and-shadow time for birds to sing by;
sunshine-and-shadow time for mortals to laze and dream by. Beautiful,
silent, peaceful time; where no clocks strike the passing hours, no
whistles scream the round of toil. What time like that of the
noiseless, scarce-moving shadow upon the dial for a sleepy old garden
and a day-dreamer in the sunshine? And if, perchance, the garden-lover
is not building castles in Spain, but has crept into the garden only
for brief rest from the fray, or to give a weary clock-driven soul an
hour with its Maker, then truly again--sun-dials and gardens! Sun-dial
time to rest the fainting heart by; sun-dial time for the troubled soul
to reach up to God by. Sun-dials and gardens!
Be the garden-lover what he may--day-dreamer, fainting heart, troubled
soul--how gently the shadow-finger on the dial points the time for him!
How softly, almost lingeringly, it lets the moments slip from gold to
gray, seeking to give him, to the full and unfretted, his little hour
in the sunshine!
And yet, the gentlest marker of time must mark. It may mark very softly
those passing moments of life's lessening span; but when we come to
look again, the shadow has moved on. Nor can childish interference
avail. Spread your rebellious hands upon the dial; you shall only see
the shadow come stealing through your fingers. Stand defiantly in the
path of the sunlight, and blot out the telltale dial shadow with your
own; it but waits until you step aside, then leaps across the moments
you have wasted. Not for you shall the boon to the sick and penitent
King of Judah be repeated; not for you shall the shadow turn backward
on the sun-dial of Ahaz.
AN UNDERGROUND MYSTERY AND A DUCKING-STOOL
For a day or two Gadabout lay out in the James in front of Westover.
One evening it turned cold and a strong wind set in, coming straight at
us across the river. As usual, when Gadabout was anchored on a stormy
night near a lee shore, we cast a lead out ahead, so as to be able to
tell (after it should become too dark to see the land) whether or not
we were dragging anchor.
That is, we called it casting a lead, though in reality the process
consisted in throwing out into the river (as far ahead of us as we
could) a piece of old iron with a string tied to it. Then, at any time,
by gathering up the loose end of the string that lay in the cockpit,
one could detect by the outgo of the line any tendency on the part of
Gadabout to run away with her anchor. It was a very simple device and
not exactly original, having doubtless been used a little earlier by
Christopher Columbus and Noah and those people. But we never permitted
any question of priority to dampen our interest in the thing.
As the evening wore on the storm held steadily; steadily and rapidly
the barometer kept counting backward; and we took the river's width in
wind and sea for half the night. We could not sleep, and sat bolstered
up in our chairs. The Commodore quite likely did breathe audibly now
and then; but Nautica was wide awake, as shown by her announcing with
feeling and frequency that "she knew we were dragging anchor and were
just about to be horribly wrecked upon rocks or 'stobs' or something or
The Commodore arose and busied himself about cockpit and cabin
mysteriously. When he finished his labours, the string from the piece
of iron out in the river came into the cabin through a hole in the wall
made for an engine bell cord. It ran along the ceiling to the after end
of the cabin, where a weight kept it taut. A handkerchief that could be
plainly seen even in the dim light, was fastened to the string just
where it passed above Nautica's head. By this time, the Commodore's
mystery was a mystery no longer; and Nautica was laughing.
"So that is to put an end to all my anxieties, is it?"
"Just so," said the Commodore. "When that anxious feeling comes, watch
the handkerchief. If it is moving toward the door, you may know that
your fears are better grounded than the anchors; but if it is not, try
to get a wink of sleep."
And the wind howled and the boat pitched; but Nautica gazed in such
relief at the immovable handkerchief that she fell asleep in her chair.
When she wakened with a start and looked anxiously at the handkerchief,
it was too late--the storm was over.
In the morning there was nothing to show for all that night's
commotion. Smooth, peaceful, and lazy, old Powhatan was loitering in
the sunlight to the sea. But Gadabout was not to be soothed into
forgetfulness of those night hours. As soon as she had her morning work
done up, she hoisted anchor and headed again for her quiet harbour in
Herring Creek. After that, when we had a mind to go to Westover, we
usually had no mind to take Gadabout with us. Instead, we were more
likely to row up the river or to walk up the beach at low tide.
On the occasion of our last visit to the manor-house, we determined to
go "beachway." We ran our rowboat on a sandy point jutting into the
mouth of the creek, and took our way along the narrow strip of solid
land that lay between river and marsh. White-limbed sycamores and
tangled undergrowth went along with us, and sometimes inclined to take
up more than their share of the narrow way. Brilliant berries gleamed
on some bare, brown bushes, and the green leaves of the smilax
pretended that they grew there too. Along the beach, tall bunches of
reeds stood out against the brown of the river and the blue of the sky
in their waving slenderness.
Looking backward across the marshes, we could see the white railing on
Gadabout's upper deck and could catch the flutter of her flags through
the openings in the trees. As we neared Westover, a slope led to higher
land and to a riverward, side entrance to the grounds. Passing through
this, a tangle of vines swinging with the great iron gate, we followed
the walk toward the house.
Just before reaching the ballroom wing, we paused in front of a small
brick outbuilding to have a few appropriate shivers over what was under
it. From reading and from our talks at Westover, we knew about the
mysterious subterranean chambers down there. To be sure, we had not
seen them yet (one thing and another having got in the way of our
making a visit to them); but surely one need not always wait to see;
one can shiver a little anyway upon hearsay.
And the hearsay was like this. Somewhere underneath that brick
outbuilding was an opening down into the earth, like a dry well, some
fifteen or twenty feet deep. At the bottom, arched doorways on opposite
sides of the shaft opened into two small square rooms. The walls of the
well and of the rooms were cement; and the floors were paved with
brick. A round stone table used to stand in one of the rooms. From this
well once ran two passages or tunnels, large enough for people to go
through; one connecting with the house by a curious stairway in the old
wing that was destroyed in the war, and the other leading to the river.
We stood looking blankly at the closed outbuilding trying to imagine
the hidden rooms and passages beneath it. Tradition told us that they
were for refuge from the Indians. That explanation seemed well enough
at first. But before we could get into the spirit of it enough to catch
even the faintest bit of a warwhoop and to scuttle for the subterranean
chambers, we made up our minds that that was not what the things were
for anyway. There had ceased to be much danger from Indians along that
part of the James by the time even this old home at Westover was built.
So, casting about for a better explanation, we hit upon the idea that
William Byrd had constructed the underground rooms in imitation of
Pope's famous grotto, which the Colonel and his daughter Evelyn must
have seen when entertained by the poet in his villa at Twickenham. But
even after we had pictured the mysterious chambers all hung round with
mirrors, just like Pope's, and candles everywhere, we could see that so
tame a thing as the grotto theory would never do.
There were so many nice, awful things that such a place would be good
for. Spurring our jaded fancy with bits from Ali Baba and the Forty
Thieves, we got on famously for a while with a pirates' den. We had a
long, low, rakish ship lying in the river just off the tunnel's mouth;
black-bearded ruffians, with knives between their teeth, stealing
ashore and disappearing within the dark underground passage; the great
stone table down there heaped with Spanish gold; good Jamaica rum
pouring down wicked throats; the dark tunnels ever echoing the
rollicking chorus, "Six men sat on the dead man's chest"--when suddenly
it occurred to us that we were somewhat compromising the old colonial
grandee, Colonel Byrd. With that we gave the matter up. We quit staring
at a closed brick outbuilding with unseeable things down under it, and
went on our way. And, as it turned out that we never visited the
underground rooms after all, this was as near as we ever came to
solving the colonial mystery.
That day, sitting about the fireplace in Colonel Byrd's library, we
listened to a pleasant chapter in the story of an old manor-house--the
account of the recent restoration of Westover. As in most cases where
extensive rehabilitation of colonial homes has been attempted, an
interesting part of the work was the opening up of goodly old-time
fireplaces that the changing fashions of changing generations had
filled in with brick and mortar. Sometimes they had shrunk to the
dimensions of a modern grate; sometimes even to that of a stovepipe
hole. Indeed, what chronological mile-stones are the various forms of
our American fireplaces! As the historic dates grow larger, the
fireplaces grow smaller.
Of course Westover never had the hugest of fireplaces. Even when this
old home was built, the shrinkage in chimney-pieces had been going on
for some time. No longer was most of the side of a room in a blaze. No
longer was the flame fed by a backlog so huge that "a chain was
attached to it, and it was dragged in by a horse."
How far removed Westover was from the day of such things, is shown by
the noted mantelpiece in the drawing-room. Only with the coming of
smaller fireplaces came those elaborate mantelpieces. But the great
fireplaces of our ancestors yielded slowly, inch by inch, as it were;
and something of the goodly proportions they yet had in Colonel Byrd's
day, the hammer and chisel have shown at Westover.
If the exquisite Colonel's doubtless exquisite ghost haunts this home,
we can imagine his pleasure when, one wintry night, he found reopened
this fine old library fireplace, and sat him down to toast his shapely
calves (even ghostly, they must yet be shapely) in the genial old-time
Some of the most interesting features of the work of putting an old
homestead back into a period from which it has strayed, grow out of the
very limitations. At Westover, while conformity to colonial times is
carried far, even to the exclusion of rocking-chairs, yet there has
been no shrinking from anachronisms that comfort or convenience demand.
Eighteenth century fireplaces may blaze and crackle, and quite imagine
themselves to be still heating the old house; but somewhere down below
is a twentieth century furnace that is quietly doing most of the work.
[Illustration: THE DRAWING-ROOM MANTELPIECE AT WESTOVER.]
And what a shock it must be to the colonial ghosts when they stumble in
the dark over great claw feet, cold even as their own; the feet of
monstrous hollow things, white and awesome as themselves--the things
that moderns call bathtubs!
Over in the kitchen, unfortunately for the picturesque, all has to be
modern. There the eighteenth century furnishing breaks down altogether.
Not from the glowing heart of the old chimney-place, but from a huge,
homely range comes the gastronomic hospitality of present-day Westover.
No devotion to the eighteenth century can bring the colonial kitchen
back again; send the roaring blaze up the wide chimney; swing the crane
with the great kettle into the glow; and rebuild the quaint row of
skillet and gridiron and broiler, perched on their little legs over the
hot embers of the old hearthstone.
Westover has an interesting reminder of the colonial in a copy of an
old survey of the plantation that we saw that day. Our eyes quickly
caught the suggestive name given on the map to the low, sandy point at
the mouth of Herring Creek, where we had left our shore-boat to wait
for us. We had not known that it was a place of such associations as
the words "Ducking-stool Point" indicated.
Upon first landing there, we had been impressed with the unusual depth
of water just off that point; but we had not suspected how, in colonial
tunes, many a too-talkative woman had also been impressed with it. It
was the law, made and provided, that a ducking-stool should be set up
"neere the court-house in every county." So, doubtless, in accordance
with that law, a long pole used to reach out from our sandy point,
having a seat on the end of it, right over the deep water. And, also in
accordance with law, the end of the pole sometimes went down into the
water, and a shivering woman went with it. But what would you, when
"brabbling women slander and scandalize their neighbours, for which
their poore husbands are often brought into chargeable and vexatious
suits and cast in great damages"?
The survey showed, also, where Westover Church stood in colonial days.
Near the river a little way above the house, stood not only the church
but a court-house and a brewing-house, all in sociable and suggestive
proximity. We walked up the river bank to visit the spot.
[Illustration: TOMBS IN THE OLD WESTOVER CHURCHYARD. (In the foreground
is the tomb of Evelyn Byrd.)]
It is still marked by a few gravestones that remain in the deserted
churchyard. Among these is the altar-tomb of Evelyn Byrd. It stands
with an iron band about it, holding the aged stones in place. The
time-dimmed inscription tells us to "be reminded by this awful Tomb" of
many dismal things with which we refuse to associate our thoughts of
this lovely colonial girl.
Rather, we recall the story of her intimacy with Mrs. Anne Harrison of
Berkeley, and of the compact the two friends made, that whichever
should die first should appear at some time to the other. The tale goes
on to tell that Mrs. Harrison, after the death of her friend, was
walking over to Westover one evening, and as she passed the churchyard
she saw the ethereal figure of Evelyn Byrd there by the altar-tomb,
smiling in happy fulfilment of the strange tryst.
It was late afternoon when we were ready to take our way for the last
time down the strip of sandy beach that led from William Byrd's old
home to ours. The sun slanted low over the Powhatan; in its glow the
old manor-house stood out in all its stateliness. We reflected that
just as Westover looked then, it had looked when Colonel Byrd himself
used to step out from the marble portal to saunter among his trees and
flowers, or to take his faultless self out upon the pier perhaps to
watch the unloading of the ship from London Towne. Just so the old
house had looked through all those days when it was the scene of a
luxurious colonial life not excelled by that of the patroons of the
Looking from the home out upon the river we saw a low-laden vessel, all
sail spread to the soft, faltering breeze, coming slowly up stream on
the last of the tide. How she fitted into the old-time setting! She was
one of Colonel Byrd's freighting ships just in from overseas. After a
tempestuous voyage, and a narrow escape from the Spanish too, she had
safely entered Chesapeake Bay and now, the wind serving but ill, she
was slowly drifting up the river.
Soon she would touch at the old colonial pier swarming with plantation
negroes. To the rhythm of African melodies the cargo would come out of
the hold--mahogany furniture, a new statue for the garden, cases of
wine, casks of muscovado sugar, puncheons of rum, plantation machinery,
sweetmeats and spices, and some bewildered Irish cows. Quite likely,
picking their way daintily in the midst of the exciting scene, would
come the lady of the manor and Mistress Evelyn to make anxious inquiry
for boxes of London finery. And then--but, no! that vessel out on the
James, without stopping at all, had sailed on past the old plantation
front. Just a common fishing schooner of to-day bound for Richmond! We
turned and closed behind us the ancient iron gate of Westover.
A BAD START AND A VIEW OF BERKELEY
On the next morning, we exercised one of the most enjoyable
prerogatives of the houseboater, one that belongs to him as to but few
other travellers--that of changing his mind and his destination. We sat
down to breakfast with the intention of moving on up the James to Eppes
Creek; we rose from the table with the determination to make a run up
Powell's Creek, which was a little above us on the other side of the
We always enjoyed these changes of mind. They added so much the more to
our sense of freedom and independence. There were no bits of cardboard
with the names of stations printed on them to predestine our way; no
baggage checks to consign our belongings to fixed destinations. Even at
the last moment a change of mind, a change of rudder, and a new way and
a new destination would lie before us.
Now, our thoughts headed toward Powell's Creek, because up that stream
was another colonial church, called Merchants' Hope Church; and the
next day would be Sunday.
Necessarily, such houseboat voyagers as we, that the Sundays usually
found up forgotten bits of tidewater, were a trifle irregular in the
matter of church-going. Our houseboat would have had to have a
church-boat for a consort to make it otherwise. Yet, as Sunday after
Sunday Gadabout lay in her quiet creek harbours, the spirit of the day
seemed to find her there without the call of church chimes.
Though it was morning when we changed our minds and determined to seek
a high-backed pew in old Merchants' Hope Church, it was evening by the
time we got under way. And in this case, changing our minds did not
work well. We should have come just as near getting to a church and
should have saved ourselves trouble, if we had clung to our first
intention and had spent that Saturday in moving on up the James.
As we crossed the river on the way to Powell's Creek, a closer study of
the sounding-marks on the chart showed a depth of but one half foot at
several places on the flats at the mouth of the stream. Evidently,
getting into that creek was bound to be a problem in fractions; and
Gadabout was not good at fractions and the day was waning and the tide
was setting out.
It seemed that the way to get the best depth of water would be to go to
the lower side of the wide, shallow creek-mouth, and then to enter the
stream in that affectionate style of navigation called "hugging the
And that is the way we did it. But with all the affection that could be
put into the matter, we could not find along that shore any such water
as the chart indicated; and Gadabout was beginning to need it sorely.
So, we sent the sailor out to see where it had gone to. He found it
over on the other side of the creek. Our confidence in the chart had
been betrayed. Depending upon it, we had been hugging the wrong shore.
At first, we thought little of the matter; for, our side of the stream
having played us false, we felt no hesitancy in transferring our
affections to the other side. But we found that poor Gadabout took
things much more seriously. She could not so lightly "off with the old
love and on with the new." For her the affair had already gone too far;
already, for the side she was now on, she had formed a serious, a
hopeless, a lasting attachment.
Our craft aground, our prospects of attending church next day vanished.
Slowly the tide went down; slowly the moon came up; and Nautica made
some candy. By the time it was ready to be put out on the guard to
cool, even what little we had found of Powell's Creek had
disappeared--all about us was just moonlight and mud. And ahead of us
and behind us (sticking down a little way in the mud, but sticking up
more in the moonlight) were the two anchors that we had put out to hold
us in position when the tide should rise in the night. They looked like
great crabs sitting there and watching us.
Of course, sometime in the darkness, Gadabout rose on the flood tide,
and perhaps was even ready to cross to the other side of the creek and
proceed to church. But nobody else was ready then; and so, finding all
asleep, she slowly settled down once more, and we found her in the
morning again hard aground. The good minister of Merchants' Hope Church
must surely have reached "Seventhly, my brethren," before our houseboat
Now, we moved her out in deeper water (for it would not do that she
should be aground next day when we ought to be starting for Eppes
Creek); and it was gratifying this time when we cast our anchors, to
see them go plumping out of sight as anchors should, instead of looking
so distressingly unnautical with flukes sticking up in the air.
But mooring a boat (securing her between two anchors, one ahead and one
astern) is rather unsatisfactory at the best. Often it is necessary so
to hobble your floating home where there is danger of her swinging upon
hidden obstructions; but it is hard on the poetry of houseboating. To
be held in one position, with unvarying scenes in your windows, is too
much like living in a prosaic land home set immovable in sameness.
Your gypsy craft should ride to a single anchor; free to swing to wind
and tide in the rhythm of the river. It is of the essence of home life
afloat to sit down to dinner heading up-stream, and to rise from table
heading down-stream; to open a favourite book with a bit of shore-view
in the casement beside you, and to close the chapter with the open
river stretching from under your window, your half-drawn shade perhaps
cutting the topsail from a distant schooner.
Monday morning dawned bright and fair (as we afterward learned from the
sailor); and bright and fair it certainly was when we made its
acquaintance. The day was yet young when everything was ready for the
trip up the river, and the shores of the little creek were echoing the
harsh clicks of our labouring windlass.
"She's hove short, and all ready to start whenever you are, sir,"
announced the sailor at the bow door.
Nautica snipped a thread and laid down her sewing; the Commodore tossed
his magazine aside. A moment more and we were off. When well out in the
river, we headed toward the left bank, for we were to make a landing at
the pier above Westover to take on two boxes of provisions that had
been left there for us by the Pocahontas. The steamer had gone;
everybody about the wharf had gone; but we had arranged to have the
boxes left out for us, and there they stood on the end of the pier.
Aboard Gadabout was the stir and bustle usually incident to the making
of a landing. Clear and sharp rose the voice of the Commodore; now
issuing his orders, now taking them back again. When he could think of
nothing more to say, he went below and relieved Nautica at the wheel as
our good ship swung beautifully in toward the wharf.
It must be remembered that a houseboat does not come up to piers like a
steamboat, always finding men waiting to catch lines and to help in
making landings. Often, as was the way of it that morning, the
wandering houseboat comes along to find only an empty pier; and if she
wishes to establish any closer relations with it, she must make all the
The wind may be blowing strong; the tide running strong--everything
strong but the qualifications of the commanding officer; in which case,
it is well that preparations for the landing begin early. There should
be a coil of rope made ready at either end of the boat, and also a
light line with a grapnel attached to It. What is a grapnel? How
strange that question sounds to us now, mighty mariners that we have
become! But of course we should remember that there was a time when we
did not know ourselves. Well, a grapnel is much like one of those
fish-hooks that have five points all curving out in different
directions, only it usually weighs several pounds.
[Illustration: "OFTEN ... THE WANDERING HOUSEBOAT COMES ALONG TO FIND
ONLY AN EMPTY PIER."]
The value of the grapnel was shown that day at the pier above Westover.
Though Gadabout swung to the landing finely, a strong off-shore wind
caught her; our ropes fell short; and we should have made but sorry
work of it if a grapnel had not shot out into the air and saved the
day. As it fell upon the wharf, the line attached to it was hauled in
hand over hand; and though the grapnel started to come along with it,
sliding and hopping over the pier, soon one of its points found a crack
or a nail or a knot-hole to get hold of; and the houseboat was readily
drawn up and made fast to the pilings.
The boxes aboard, our lines were cast off and Gadabout moved on up the
[Illustration: A TRAPPER'S HOME BY THE RIVERBANK.]
Soon we were approaching one of the most historic points on the river.
We could tell that by a deserted old manor-house occupying a fine,
neglected site on the left bank of the stream.
While the main structure still stood firm, and would for generations to
come as it had for generations gone, yet the verandas about it had been
partially burned and had collapsed, and the place looked dilapidated
and forlorn. In front, the spacious grounds, once terraced gardens,
stretched wild and overgrown down to the river, where the straggling
ruins of a pier completed the picture of desolation.
But, even neglected and abandoned, this sturdy colonial home, nearly
two centuries old, still wore a noble air of family pride; still looked
bravely out upon the river. And why should it not? What house but old
Berkeley is the ancestral home of a signer of the Declaration of
Independence and of two Presidents of the United States?
This plantation became the colonial seat of the elder branch of the
Harrison family about the beginning of the eighteenth century. It
passed to strangers less than half a century ago.
From its founding, Berkeley was the home of distinguished men. Here
lived Benjamin Harrison, attorney general and treasurer of the colony;
and his son, Major Benjamin Harrison, member of the House of Burgesses;
and his son, Benjamin Harrison, member of the Continental Congress and
signer of the Declaration of Independence; and his son, William Henry
Harrison, famous general and the ninth President of our country; whose
grandson, Benjamin Harrison, became our twenty-third President--a
striking showing of family distinction, and including the only
instance, except that of the Adamses, of two members of the same family
occupying the presidential chair.
[Illustration: BERKELEY. (The ancestral home of a signer of the
Declaration of Independence and of two Presidents of the United
Very different from the Berkeley that we saw, was that fine old
plantation of colonial times. Imagine it, perhaps upon a summer's day
in that memorable year of 1776. There are the great fields of tobacco
and grain, the terraced gardens gay with flowers, the boats at the
landing, and the manor-house standing proudly, "an elegant seat of
The master of Berkeley, that tall, dignified colonial, Colonel Benjamin
Harrison, is not at home. He is at Philadelphia attending the
Continental Congress. Perhaps even now he is affixing his signature,
with its queer final flourish, to the Declaration of Independence. In
the meantime, in front of the old home, a pretty woman in quaint
taffeta "Watteau" and hooped petticoat and dainty high-heeled slippers
is playing with a little boy, among the sweet old shrubs and the
English roses upon the terraces.
That little boy is to bring added honour to old Berkeley; and one day,
as General William Henry Harrison, president-elect of the United
States, his love for this mother shall bring him back to this home of
his boyhood to write, amidst the tender associations of "her old room,"
his inaugural address.
After passing Berkeley, we left the buoyed course and ran the rest of
the way to Eppes Creek in a narrow side channel that threads among the
shallows close along shore. It is what the river-men call a "slue
channel"; and we had to take frequent soundings to follow it. Looking
back at dejected old Berkeley, we were glad to know that a new owner of
the place was about to restore it.
Gadabout soon approached an opening in the river bank that we knew was
the wide mouth of Eppes Creek. We were going to turn into this stream,
not merely for the stream itself, but for a convenient anchorage from
which to reach the last of the noted river homes that we should
visit--Shirley, the colonial seat of the Carters. Our chart showed the
mansion as standing just around the next bend of the James. But we were
not going around that bend, because the chart showed also this little
creek cutting across the point of land lying in the elbow of the river
and apparently affording an inside route to Shirley. We should soon
learn whether or not Gadabout could navigate it and how near it would
take her to the old home.
As we moved slowly into the creek it was between banks in strange and
attractive contrast. The starboard side (that from which we hoped to
find a way to Shirley) was high and covered with trees of many kinds.
The bank to port was low and covered with a marsh forest of cypresses.
It was a dark and gloomy forest, but the spell of its sombre depths
drew our eyes quite as often as the cheerfuller charm of the woodland
on the other side; and so was equally responsible for the zigzag course
that Gadabout was taking.
But it was the high bank that, after a while, was responsible for
Gadabout's ceasing to take any course at all. We came about a bend and
saw, just ahead, a little cove. There were trees crowding close, rich
pines and cedars and bright-beaded holly. One tree leaned far out over
the water, and beneath it two row-boats were drawn up to the bank. We
thought it must surely be the landing-place for Shirley. Gadabout
sidled to starboard, and grapnels were thrown up into the trees to hold
Stepping out on the bank we went up the hill through the woods. On the
way we turned and glanced down upon the houseboat. She looked pretty
enough, little white and yellow cottage, snuggling close to the bank
with a holly tree at her bow and her flags stirring gently in the warm
At the top of the hill, we came out upon the edge of a cornfield.
Everything was cornfield as far as we could see. No house, no road in
sight. Back aboard Gadabout, we got under way again. But the creek soon
lost even its one solid bank and, finding ourselves running between two
lines of marsh woods, we turned about and headed back for the place
where we had stopped, "Leaning Tree Landing," as we called it.
We had gone but a little way when our rudder-cable snapped, the
steering-wheel turned useless, and Gadabout headed for the marsh woods.
She minded none of our makeshift devices to shape her course; and we
were forced to stop the engine and resort to a more primitive motive
The sailor dropped an end of a long pole into the water at the bow of
the houseboat and, bending heavily upon the other end, slowly pushed
her forward as he walked aft along the guard. Steadily back and forth
he paced the rail; steadily, silently, we floated down the stream.
And the silence of our going took hold of us, as we sat lazily in the
bow. How in keeping it all seemed with the quiet of the day, the calm
of the stream, and the stillness of the woods! And how out of keeping
now seemed Gadabout's noisy entrance into that tranquil scene!
"I feel quite apologetic," said Nautica. "Look at these great solemn
trees, just like an assemblage of forest philosophers in the hush of
"We must have stirred them up a bit," replied the Commodore, "with our
puffing and ringing. But I don't think they are deliberating. I believe
they are asleep. It seems more like the hush of poppy-land in here to
"Yes, that is just it." And the answer really came quite dreamily.
"This is the hush of poppy-land, and we are drifting on the quiet brown
waterway that leads through the sleepy, endless afternoon."
And the notion pleased, and so did the languor and the heavy content.
Slowly and steadily the sailor and the long pole went up and down the
guard; slowly and steadily the houseboat moved down the stream.
Now we were skirting the bolder bank where the pines bent heavy heads
over the water, the holly crowded close to the shore, and pale tinted
reeds made border at the water's edge. Now in rounding a curve, we
passed close to the cypress wood fringed with bush and sedge. Delicate
brown festoons of vines hung from the branches; and, high out of reach,
mats of mistletoe clung. It seemed one with our mood and our fancy when
two round yellow eyes stared out of the shadows, two wide lazy wings
were spread, and the bird of daylight slumber took soft, noiseless
flight. We were just getting fully in the humour of our new way of
travel, drifting on in the world of laze-and-dream, when the whole
thing came to an end. A familiar voice from the world of up-and-do was
in our ears, and there was Leaning Tree Landing just ahead.
We anchored out in the channel until low tide; then, after sounding
about the landing and finding a good depth of water and no
obstructions, we drew Gadabout in, bow to the bank, and made fast. We
felt almost as though she were a real, true cottage, with that solid
land at her door and her roof among the branches.
When we looked from Gadabout's windows next morning, a dense fog had
blotted out all of our creek country except that which was close in
about us. But what was left was so beautiful as to more than make up
for the loss. Nature, like most other women, looks particularly well
through a filmy veil. We feared that the mist would soon clear away,
but it did not and we sat down to breakfast with our houseboat floating
in one of the smallest and fairest worlds that had ever harboured her.
A beautiful white-walled world with some shadowy bits of land here and
there, a piece of a misty stream that began and ended in the clouds,
and everything most charmingly out of perspective and unreal. Some
ghostly trees were near us, delicate veils of mist clinging about their
trunks and floating up among the bare branches. Nearer yet, a blur of
reeds marked the shore-line. From somewhere out along the river,
probably from the lighthouse at Jordan's Point, came the tolling of a
As we watched the scene, a faint glow filtered in through the
whiteness, and made it all seem a fairy-land. Indeed, was it not? And
were not the little swaying mist-wreaths that wavered in at our windows
some dainty elves timidly come to give us greeting? All day the fog
held, and the sad tolling of the bell went on. Now and then, the calls
of the river craft would come to our ears.
Toward evening the fog thinned and let the moonlight in. Then we were
quite sure that Gadabout had indeed come to Fairy-land. Now, if only
there were a way leading from Fairy-land to Shirley! And it turned out
that there was.
THE RIGHT WAY TO GO TO SHIRLEY
Everybody goes to Shirley the wrong way. We found that out by ourselves
happening to go the right way.
When you are sailing up the James in your houseboat (You haven't one?
Well, a make-believe one will do just as well, and in some ways
better), do not pass Eppes Creek, as everybody does, and go to the
Shirley pier; but, instead, enter the creek and tie up at Leaning Tree
Landing as we did.
[Illustration: THE FIELD ROAD AND THE QUARTERS.]
Then, instead of taking that trail up the hill that leads only into a
cornfield, look for a path leading to the left through the woods. It is
not much of a path; and unless you love Nature in even her capricious
moods, when she now and then trips the foot of the unwary and mayhap
even scratches, it is too bad after all that you came this way. To love
of Nature should be added a certain measure of agility, so that you
will be all right when you come to the fence. Fortunately, you can let
down the upper rails--being careful to put them back again when you are
safe on the other side.
Beyond the fence, a great pasture-field stretches away endlessly. But
then everything is on a large scale at Shirley. Ampleness is the
keynote; it pervades everything. Before you have half crossed the
field, you will come upon a road that will lead you to a little
eminence near the quarters.
No, it is not a village that you now see peeping out through the grove
over there by the river; it is the group of buildings constituting the
homestead of Shirley. In the bright sunlight, you can pick out bits of
the mansion through the trees, of the dairy, of the kitchen, and of the
smaller buildings; while farther out stand the roomy barns and the
quaint turreted dove-cote. All the buildings are of brick and show a
warm, dull red.
Time has left few such scenes as this--the completely equipped
home-acre of a great; seventeenth century American plantation. The
scene is not exactly a typical one; for few of such early colonial
estates, and indeed not many of the later ones, had homesteads as
complete, as substantially built, and on as large a scale as this of
Now, as you can need no further guidance, we are going off some two or
three hundred years into the past, to see if we can get hold of the
other end of the story of this plantation.
Perhaps the start was "about Christmas time" in the year 1611, when Sir
Thomas Dale, High Marshal of the Colony of Virginia, sailed up the
river from James Towne; killed or drove away all the Indians hereabout;
and then, thinking it ill that so much goodly land should be lying
unoccupied, took possession of a large tract of it for the colony. But
the part that came to be called Shirley is soon lost sight of in the
fogs of tradition. Later, we catch a glimpse of it in the possession of
Lord Delaware. But it is not until the middle of the seventeenth
century that we get a firm hold of this elusive colonial seat and of
its colonial owners.
At that time, in the colony of Virginia, two of the proud families on
two of the proud rivers were the Hills, who had recently acquired the
plantation of Shirley on the James, and the Carters, who were
establishing their seat at Corotoman on the Rappahannock. In the story
of these two houses is most of the story of Shirley.
The Hills became one of the leading families in the colony. It was
Edward Hill, second of the name, who built the present mansion. He was
a member of the King's Council; and his position is indicated, and his
fortune as well, by the building in those early times of such a home.
Antedating almost all of the great colonial homes, it must long have
stood a unique mark of family distinction. The exact date of the
building of the manor-house is not known, but doubtless it was not far
from the middle of the seventeenth century.
In the meantime, the Carters had become notable. This family reached
its greatest prominence in the days of Robert Carter, who was one of
the wealthiest and most influential men in the colony. In person he was
handsome and imposing; in worldly possessions he stood almost
unequalled; and in offices and honours he had about everything that the
colony could give. His estate included more than three hundred thousand
acres of land and about one thousand slaves. Either because of his
imposing person or of his power or of his wealth, or perhaps because of
all three, he was called "King" Carter. He does seem to have been quite
a sovereign, and to have known considerable of the pompous ceremony
that "doth hedge a king."
It was in the fourth generation of the houses of Shirley and of
Corotoman, and in the year 1723, that the families were united by the
marriage of John, son of "King" Carter, and Elizabeth, daughter of the
third Edward Hill. John Carter was a prominent man and the secretary of
the colony; Elizabeth Hill was a beauty and the heiress of Shirley. In
the descendants of this union the old plantation has remained to this
The first time that we went from our creek harbour up to Shirley was a
strange time perhaps for people to be abroad in woods and field-roads.
The day was one of struggle between fog and sun, neither being able to
get his own way, but together making a wonderful world of it. We walked
in a luminous mist; the road very plain beneath our feet, but leading
always into nothingness, and reaching behind us such a little way as to
barely include the tall, following, hazy figure that was Henry.
There was little for us to see, but that little was well worth seeing;
only a tree or a clump of bushes or a hedge-row here and there, but all
dimmed into new forms and graces for that day and for us.
As we neared a ridge of meadowland, a pastoral for a Schenck took shape
in the fog cloud before us. Scattered groups of sheep appeared close at
hand, and, faintly visible beyond them, a denser mass of moving white.
No tree nor landmark was to be seen; just set into the soft whiteness,
showing mistily, was the snowy flock itself. Sheep grazed in groups,
the tan shaded slope in faint colouring beneath them. Here and there a
mother turned her head to call back anxiously for the bleating lambkin
lost behind the white curtain; and, dim and grotesque, the awkward
strayling would come gamboling into sight. Near by on a little hillock,
a single sheep stood with its head thrown up, a ghostly lookout. The
hidden sun made the haze faintly luminous about this wandering flock of
cloudland. We were not the first to move and to break the picture.
As we gained higher ground, a breeze was stirring and the fog was
beginning to lift. When we reached the edge of the Shirley homestead
and passed the turreted dove-cote, the near-by objects had grown quite
distinct. But out on the river the fog yet lay dense; and two boats
somewhere in the impenetrable whiteness were calling warningly to each
Now we went on toward the manor-house that loomed against a soft
background of river fog.
The mansion is wholly unlike either Brandon or Westover, being a
massive square building without wings. It is two and a half stories
high, with a roof of modified mansard style pierced with many dormer
windows. It has both a landward and a riverward front, and both alike.
Each front has a large porch of two stories in Georgian design with
Doric columns. The walls of the house are laid in Flemish bond, black
glazed bricks alternating with the dull red ones. While both the roof
and the porches are departures from the original lines of the house,
yet they are departures that have themselves attained a dignified age
of about a century and a quarter.
Always, in the consideration of colonial homes, Shirley is regarded as
one of the finest examples. This means much more than at first appears.
For the mansions with which Shirley is usually compared, were built
from half a century to a century later.
Continuing along the road as we studied the home, we were led around to
the landward front and into the midst of the ancient messuage.
[Illustration: RIVERWARD FRONT OF SHIRLEY.]
We stood in a great open quadrangle, having the house at one end, the
distant barns at the other; on one side the kitchen, a large two-story
building, and on the other side a similar building used for storage and
for indoor plantation work. A high box hedge ran across from one of
these side buildings to the other, dividing the long quadrangle into
halves, one part adjacent to the house and the other to the barns.
The village effect produced by the grouped buildings must have been
even more striking in colonial times; for then the manor-house was
flanked by two more large brick buildings, forming what might be called
detached wings. One of these was still standing up to the time of the
The visitor is conscious of two dominant impressions, as he stands thus
in the midst of this seventeenth century homestead. The massive
solidity of the place takes hold of one first; but, strangely enough,
the strongest impression is that of an all-pervading air of
youthfulness. Doubtless the oldest homestead on the river, and one of
the oldest in the country, it utterly refuses to look its age. Perhaps
the solid, square compactness of the buildings has much to do with
this. They appear as though built to defy time. Even the shadow of the
venerable trees and the ancient ivy's telltale embrace seem powerless
to break the spell of perennial youth.
In the home, we met Mrs. Bransford, widow of Mr. H.W. Bransford,
Commander and Mrs. James H. Oliver, U.S.N., and Miss Susy Carter. Mrs.
Bransford and Mrs. Oliver are the daughters of the late Mr. and Mrs.
Robert Randolph Carter, and are the present owners of the plantation,
Mrs. Bransford making her home there. Commander Oliver represents the
third consecutive generation of naval officers in the Shirley family.
Upon entering the house in the usual way, from the landward side, the
visitor finds himself in a large square hall occupying one corner of
the building. This room discloses at a glance the type and the genius
of Shirley. It begins at once to tell you all about itself; and when
you know this old hall, you have the key to the mansion and to its
story. It is truly a colonial "great hall." It tells you that by its
goodly old-time ampleness, its high panelled walls with their dimming
portraits, its great chimneypiece flanked by tall cupboards, and its
massive overshadowing stairway.
[Illustration: THE OLD "GREAT HALL."]
The chief architectural feature of the room is this stairway. Starting
in one corner, it rises along the panelled wall until half way to the
ceiling, then turns sharply out into the room for the remainder of its
ascent to the second floor, thus exposing overhead a handsome soffit.
The effect, in connection with the great panelled well of the
staircase, is one of rich and goodly ancientness.
Indeed, though you may enter Shirley feeling that the house, like some
long-lingering colonial belle, is perhaps not quite frank with you
about its age, you will not find the hall taking part in any such
misrepresentation. Despite some modern marks and even the fact that the
fireplace has been closed, this room says in every line that it is very
It stands true to the memory of its seventeenth-century builder who had
known and loved the "great halls" of "Merrie England." It tells of the
time when the life of a household centred in the spacious hall; when
there the great fire burned and the family gathered round--of the time
when halls were the hearts, not the mere portals, of homes.
And so in this room, as in few others in our country, does the visitor
find the setting and the atmosphere of manor-house life in early
colonial days. He can well fancy this "great hall" of Shirley in the
ruddy light of flaming logs that burned in the wide fireplace two
centuries and a half ago. Dusky in far corners or sharply drawn near
the firelight, stood, in those days, chests and tables and forms and
doubtless a bed too with its valance and curtains. In a medley typical
of the times in even the great homes, were saddles, bridles, and
embroidery frames, swords, guns, flute, and hand-lyre.
Here, in a picturesque and almost mediaeval confusion, the family
mostly gathered, while favourite hounds stretched and blinked in the
chimney-place beside the black boy who drowsily tended the fire.
Here, the long, narrow "tabull-bord" was spread with its snowy cloth,
taken from the heavy chest of linen in the corner, of which my lady of
the manor was prodigiously proud. Upon the cloth were placed
soft-lustred pewter and, probably almost from the first, some pieces of
silver too. The salt was "sett in the myddys of the tabull," likely in
a fine silver dish worthy its important function in determining the
seating about the "bord." As family and guests gathered round, the host
and hostess took places side by side at one end; near them the more
important guests were given seats "above the salt," while lesser folk
and children sat "below the salt."
Then, from the distant kitchen in the quadrangle, came slaves or
indentured servant bearing the steaming food in great chargers and
chafing-dishes. Doubtless, in those earliest days, the food was eaten
from wooden trenchers, not plates; while from lip to lip the communal
bowl went round. Knives and spoons were plentiful, but even in such a
home as Shirley forks were still a rarity; and the profusion of napkins
was well when helpful fingers gave service to healthy appetites.
But that was the hall life of very early days. Gradually, in the
colonies as in England, the evolution of refinement specialized the
home; developed drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, libraries; and so took
away from the "great halls" almost all of this intimate life of the
There is something pathetic in this desertion of the ancient, central
hearthstone. We thought of Shirley's old hall growing sadly quiet and
chill as it lost the merry chatter about the "tabull-bord"; as saddles
and bridles jingled there for the last time on their way to some far
outbuilding; as the gentlewomen carried their needlework away, and the
little maids followed with their samplers. At last, all the old life
was gone. Even the master himself came no longer to mull his wine by
the andirons; and the very dogs stretched themselves less often and
with less content at the chimney-side.
All the rooms at Shirley are richly panelled to the ceiling, and have
heavy, ornate cornices and fine, carved mantelpieces and doorways. The
examples of interior woodwork especially regarded by connoisseurs are
the panelling in the morning-room, the elaborately carved mantel in the
drawing-room, and the handsome doorway between that room and the
Upstairs, a central hallway runs through the house, double doors
opening at both riverward and landward ends upon broad porticoes. The
bedrooms on either hand are panelled to the ceiling. They have deep-set
windows, open fireplaces, and quaint old-time furnishings.
And people slept here back in the seventeenth century; dreamed here in
those faraway times when James Towne, now long buried and almost
forgotten, was the capital of the little colony. Here, in succeeding
generations, have slept many notable guests of Shirley. Tradition
includes among these the Duke of Argyle, LaFayette, our own George
Washington, and the Prince of Wales.
[Illustration: THE DRAWING--ROOM.]
Here, too, are some of the oldest ghosts in America. Most of these are
quiet, well-behaved members of the household; but one ancient shade,
Aunt Pratt by name, seems to presume upon her age as old people
sometimes will, and is really quite hard to get along with.
Listen to an instance of her downright unreasonableness. Her portrait
used to hang in the drawing-room among those of the Hills (she is or
was, or however you say it, a sister of the Colonel Hill who built the
mansion); but having become injured it was taken down and put away face
to the wall. Immediately, this ghostly Aunt Pratt showed deep
resentment. Womanlike, she threw herself into a chair in one of these
bedrooms and rocked and rocked violently. Of course she disturbed the
whole household; but no matter how noiselessly people stole in to catch
her at her tantrums, she was always too quick for them--the room was
empty, the chairs all still. At last the picture was got out, repaired,
and rehung. At once all was peace and quiet; Aunt Pratt had had her
FROM CREEK HARBOUR TO COLONIAL RECEPTION
Eppes Creek was the most remote and isolated of all our James River
harbours. Gadabout was like a bit of civilization that had got broken
off and had drifted away into the wild. The stream was such a mere
ribbon with such tall trees along its banks, that we looked upward to
but a narrow lane of open sky. Sometimes the lane was blue, sometimes
gray, and sometimes dark and set with twinkling stars.
The wood across the creek from us was a dismal looking place. The trees
were swamp cypresses that had lost their summer green, and stood
drooping and forlorn in the low, marshy soil. Nautica wasted a good
deal of sympathy upon them as she compared them with the richly clothed
pines and the luxuriant holly upon our side of the stream.
There doubtless was game in that desolate wood; although about the only
living things that we saw in it, even when we rowed close along its
ragged shore, were owls. At night, strange, uncanny cries came out of
the wood, and probably out of the owls also; but such sad and querulous
cries as may well have been the plaints of the mournful marsh forest
itself. Upon our Shirley shore too, there lived an owl, evidently of a
different kind. We never saw him; but at night he worked untiringly
upon a voluminous woodland edition of "Who's Who."
In this harbour, we heard often the stirring cry out of the high
heavens that our ears had caught once in our anchorage at Westover. And
now we saw the wild geese themselves.
Each time, at the first faint "honk," we got quickly to the windows or
out on deck, and stood waiting for the beautiful V-shaped flight to
come swinging into our sky-lane. And with what a glorious sweep the
birds came on! And to what gloriously discordant music!
Sometimes they went over in V's that were quite regular; but often the
diverging lines would grow wavy, the beautiful flying letter still
holding but swinging in and out as though blown about on the face of
Perhaps we had something to do with those variants of the wild goose's
favourite letter. Quite likely the sight of Gadabout, fluttering her
flags down there in Eppes Creek, made those wise old gander leaders
veer in a way somewhat disconcerting to their faithful followers.
But on they came, and on they went in their wonderful flight through
sunshine and through storm, by day and by night; leaving a strangely
roused and quickened world behind them. Just a fleet passing of wings,
a clamour of cries--why should one's heart leap, and his nerves go
restless, and joy and sadness get mixed up inside him? A few birds
flying over--yet stirring as a military pageant! A jangle of senseless
"honks"--yet in it the irresistible urge of bugle and drum!
One cannot explain. One can only stand and look and listen, till the
living, flying letter is lost in the sky; till his ear can no longer
catch the glorious, wild clangour of "the going of the geese."
Isolated as our anchorage was, we had a connecting link between
Gadabout and civilization. It was about three feet long, of a sombre
hue, and its name was Bob. Bob brought us milk and eggs and our mail,
and ran errands generally. He was usually attended by such a retinue
that only the smallest picaninnies could have been left back at the
Sometimes, Bob lightened his labours by having a member of his
following carry a pail or the mail-bag. This worked badly; for it was
only by such badges of office that we were able to tell which was Bob.
But after several small coins had gone into the wrong ragged hats, Bob
grasped the situation; and, in a masterly way, solved the question of
identity without losing the services of his satellites. Henceforth,
when we heard the chattering boys coming through the woods, if we
looked out promptly enough, we would see Bob relieving some one of his
doubles of pail or mail-bag; and by the time he reached the houseboat,
he would be in full possession of all means of identification.
"Would you like to go to meet the ladies and gentlemen on the walls?"
Mrs. Bransford asked one day at Shirley.
The invitation was accepted with as much alacrity as if we had feared
that the reception hours were almost over. But there was really no need
of haste; for the lines of notables on Shirley's walls stand there from
generation to generation, yet receiving always with such dignity and
courtesy as permit not the slightest sign of weariness or expression of
In meeting those old-time owners and lovers of Shirley, the visitor is
passed from one hand-clasp to another, as it were, down through the
generations of colonial times.
Giving precedence to age, we made our first fancied obeisance before
two distinguished looking people who, however, did not seem entitled to
any consideration whatever on the ground of age, being both in the
prime of life. And yet, these were Colonel and Mrs. Edward Hill, second
of the name at Shirley, and the first master and mistress of the
We were a little surprised at the Colonel's appearance; for he was
clean shaven and wore a wig. Now, we had been hobnobbing long enough
with those beginners of our country--Captain John Smith, Sir Edwin
Sandys, Lord Delaware, and the rest--to know that they were a bearded
set and hadn't a wig amongst them.
Fortunately, we remembered in time that this portrait-gentleman, old as
he was, did not quite reach back to the days of those first settlers;
and that he had lived to see the great change of fashion (in the reign
of Charles II) that made Englishmen for generations whiskerless and
Though our land was settled by bearded men, with just the hair on their
heads that Nature gave them (and sometimes, when the Indians were
active, not all of that), yet the country was developed and made
independent and set up as a nation by smooth-faced men, most fuzzily
bewigged. That reign of the razor that began in the days of Colonel
Hill, was a long one, and, later, determined the appearance of the
Father of our Country. Imagine George Washington with a Van Dyck beard!
Of course it was bad form for us to stand there staring at the Colonel
while we reasoned out all this matter of the beards and the wigs. Now
the Commodore, at a suggestion from Nautica's elbow, shifted to the
other foot and cleared his throat to say something. But what was there
to say? It is a little trying, this meeting people who cannot converse
intelligently upon anything that has happened since the seventeenth
At last, we murmured something about Charles II; and, to make sure, let
the murmuring run over a little into the reigns of James II and of
William and Mary, and then passed on; though the Commodore felt there
should have been at least some slight allusion to the pyramids and the
We must have taken very slowly the few steps that carried us to the
next member of the receiving party; for in that time the world moved on
a generation, and we found ourselves paying respects to no less a
personage than "King" Carter himself. Too modest to suppose that he had
come over from Corotoman on our account, we strongly suspected that the
matter of alliance between the families of Hill and of Carter was in
the air; which would account for the presence of the potentate of the
He looked very imposing in his velvets and his elaborate, powdered
periwig, standing ceremoniously, one hand thrust within his rich,
Now was the time for all that we knew about Queen Anne and King George
the First, and about the recent removal of the colonial capital from
James Towne to Williamsburg.
The next dignitaries were very near; but again it took a generation to
get to them, the names being John Carter (usually called Secretary
Carter from his important colonial office) and Elizabeth Hill Carter,
his wife. These were the young people who united the houses of Shirley
and Corotoman. So, even yet, we had got down only to the days of George
Secretary and Mrs. Carter were a handsome pair; she, fair and girlish,
with an armful of roses; he, dark and courtly and one of the most
attractive looking figures we had met in our travels in Colonial-land.
These people could not tell us much about the old manor-house; for,
while possessing two of the finest plantations in the colonies, Shirley
and Corotoman, they made their home chiefly at Williamsburg.
However, they were especially interesting people to meet because of
their familiarity with the first half of the eighteenth century, that
brightest and most prosperous period of colonial life. They could tell
us at first hand of those happy, easy-going times that lay between the
long struggle to establish the colonies and the fierce struggle to make
Though neither Mr. nor Mrs. Carter exactly said so, yet we gathered the
idea that those were days of much dress and frivolity. It seems that
ships came from everywhere with handsome fabrics and costly trifles;
and that rich colonials strove so manfully and so womanfully to follow
the capricious foreign fashions (by means of dressed dolls received
from Paris and London) that usually they were not more than a year or
two behind the styles.
We could not help feeling that the matter of wigs must have been an
especially troublesome one. As styles changed in England, these
important articles of dress (often costing in tobacco the equivalent of
one hundred dollars) had to be sent to London to be made over. Between
the slowness of ships and the slowness of wig-makers, it must often
have happened that even such careful dressers as the fastidious
Secretary himself would be wearing wigs that would scarcely pass muster
at the Court of St. James or at Bath. Indeed, Secretary Carter did not
deny there being some truth in this; but he appeared so at ease that
day at Shirley that we knew, on that occasion at least, he was sure of
One more progression along the receiving line, one more generation
passed by the way, and we came upon Charles Carter, with his strong,
kindly face, a gentleman of the days of George III and of the last days
of colonial times.
And what days those were! The days of stamp acts and "tea parties" and
minute men; of state conventions and continental congresses; of
Lexington and Valley Forge and the surrender of Cornwallis; of the
Articles of Confederation and the formation of the Union. This Charles
Carter saw our nation made and, in the councils of his colony, helped
to make it. Here, in old Shirley, he put down the cup from which he had
right loyally drunk the colonial toast, "The King! God bless him!" and
he took it up again to loyally and proudly drink to "George Washington
and the United States of America."
We met still other old-time people at the manor-house that day; but it
would not do to try to tell about them all. The omitted ones do not
count much, being chiefly wives. Everybody knows that in meeting
colonial people it is scarcely worth while considering a man's wife,
for so soon she is gone and he has another.
Truly, Shirley's colonial reception was very enjoyable, we thought, as
we took a last glance at the serene, old-time faces and caught a last
whiff of ambergris from the queer, old-time wigs.
AN INCONGRUOUS BIT OF HOUSEBOATING
By this time, we were becoming anxious about the lateness of the
season. Of course it was only through some mistake that we were getting
all those fine warm days in December. Perhaps Nature had not had her
weather eye open when Father Time wet his thumb and turned over to the
last page of the calendar. But now, there was something in the look of
the sky and in the feel of the air to make us fearful that the mix-up
of the seasons had been discovered, and that winter was being prodded
to the front.
Still we lingered in Eppes Creek, and soon we could not do otherwise
than linger; for we wakened one morning to find the stream frozen over,
and Gadabout presenting the incongruous spectacle of a houseboat fast
in the ice.
All that day and the next the coldness held; and the ice and the tide
battled along the creek with crackings and roarings and, now and then,
reports like pistol shots. This surely was strange houseboating. It was
a serious matter too. We knew that we might be held in the grip of the
ice indefinitely. We did not care to spend the winter in Eppes Creek;
nor could we abandon our boat there.
Throwing on our heavy wraps and trying to throw off our heavy spirits,
we went above and paced the deck. In mockery our flags rippled under
the northwest wind; from our flower-boxes, leafless, shrivelled little
arms were held up to us; while our bright striped awning, with all its
associations of sunshine and summer-time, was close furled and frozen
stiff and hung with icicles.
We were surprised enough when the weather suddenly changed again, and
the bright, warm sun set up such a thawing as soon sent the ice out of
the creek and our anxieties with it. But no time was to be lost in
getting away from that beautiful, treacherous stream. We should make
one more visit to Shirley and then head again up river. But that last
visit should be a quite conventional one; we should run the houseboat
around to the regular steamboat pier in front of the old manor-house.
It was a warm, hazy afternoon down in Eppes Creek when we untied our
ropes from the trees (cast them off, we ought to say), and Gadabout
pulled her nose from the reedy bank and slowly backed out into the
stream. She was obeying every turn of the steering-wheel perfectly (as
indeed she always did except when the mischievous wind put notions into
her head); and it was not her fault at all when her bow swung round
under the tree that leaned out over the water and almost knocked her
little chimney off. We dropped down the stream and passed out into the
river where everything was softened and beautified by the light fog.
Skirting the low northern shore, we looked across the river at the high
southern one where, through the mist, we could see the town of City
Point and the bold promontory that marked where the Appomattox was
flowing into the James. Upon the tip of the promontory was the home of
the Eppes family, "Appomattox." While the present house is not a
colonial one, the estate is one of the oldest in the country.
Now, just ahead of us was the Shirley pier on one side of the river and
the village of Bermuda Hundred on the other. We headed first for the
village, our intention being to get some supplies there.
We could not see much of Bermuda Hundred, perhaps because there was not
much to see. It consists principally of age, having been founded only
four years after the settlement of James Towne. Still, we let the
sailor go ashore for butter and eggs, trusting that both would be as
modern as possible. Our supplies aboard, Gadabout quickly carried us
across the river and landed us at Shirley.
[Illustration: THE KITCHEN BUILDING, FIFTY YARDS FROM THE MANOR-HOUSE.]
In that last visit to the old home, we went across the quadrangle and
into the kitchen building, with its cook-room on one side of the hall
and its bake-room on the other. Of course most of the colonial kitchen
appointments had long since disappeared; but we were glad to see, in
the stone-paved bake-room, the old-time brick ovens. With their
cavernous depths, they were quite an object lesson in early Virginia
And can any modern ranges bake quite as perfectly as did those colonial
brick ovens? After a fire of oven-wood had flamed for hours in one of
those brick chambers, and at last the iron door had been opened and the
ashes swept out, the heated interior was ready to receive the meats and
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