Friends, Brothers and the Future King of England
We had a boat and often visited our neighbors. Nearly all lived as we did, on the banks above the canal. It was a most delightful life, so free from care. The servants (were) happy too, so lighthearted and devoted to us. When I was old enough I taught them to read and had Sunday school every Sunday afternoon, which some did not like to attend. I always visited the sick and read the Bible and sang hymns. They used to say, “Here comes that angel child to sing for us.”
A very pathetic circumstance, an old woman, the cook at Retreat, who was left to my parents to care for, Old Aunt Milly, died. For some reason, no colored preacher could be gotten, and the colored people were grieved to have her buried with no service. I offered to read our service. I was fifteen, I think. So I, a slip of a girl, led the crowd to the graveyard and with humble voice read our burial service. A boy friend was present and was so impressed by it, he wrote a poem, for which he got the prize (at) school. Dear John Reeve. We were always friends. We corresponded from our fifteenth year to a few months before his death. The mention of his name brings the Christmas houseparty so clearly before me. He was one of the participants. I would like to write of this well remembered “Red Little* Christmas”. We were allowed many pleasures, and we asked for a Christmas party of school and city friends, the party to go up on canal boat. Alas, the winter of 1856 was unprecidented** for its severity, so the canal was frozen. We hoped for snow, but it only froze the harder. An old friend of my father’s, a college mate and groomsman come to the rescue. He would go as our chaperone and we would go in an omnibus, as it was called in those days. The boys were to pay for that and we girls were to furnish the lunch. It was a merry party that started to go forty miles by road and a bad road, but our hearts were light and our chaperone as gay as we were.
(*this is referenced in the next chapter as The Red Letter Christmas)
We stopped at Dover with friends, a Mr. and Mrs. Hanard who had a delightful home. We were most welcome. After resting and eating lunch we started with twenty miles before us. We reached Dungeness about sunset. What joyful voices greeted us. The servants smiling. They loved to have company, and our parents and the dear children were so delighted to see us. A regal supper was ready, of which we partook gladly after our long ride. We were so young and joyous. Our party consisted of the following: Agnes Haxall, Eliza Patton, Bill Smith, Constance Cary, Mollie Logan, Anne Logan, Mr. Henry Roundexter, Alexander Holliday, Philip Haxall, John Reeve, John Fountaine, and Sidney Strother.
We had every pleasure. Our home was large, a grand hall and parlor library, allowing dancing and charades. Our neighbors were constantly coming. We really had a “party” every night. We went horseback riding and skated on the frozen canal, We were invited out to one beautiful entertainment at the home of our friends Mr. and Mrs. Rutherford, and we spent a charming afternoon. I can’t tell of all. Every day something. Christmas holiday ended, but we did not go, making the frozen canal our excuse. Finally our teacher lost patience and said we could come back as we came, so our joy ended when the omnibus arrived. We all said we had never had such good time and I don’t think any of us ever forgot or will forget that Christmas party. So many are dead. Mr. Poindexter and all the boys. Sidney Strother and John Fontaine were killed in the war. Only four left of this happy crowd and we soon will be gone.
I must not forget that we had an addition to our household, another brother. Eliza Patton named him for her father John Mercer Patton, celebrated lawyer of Richmond. This boy is now rector of St. Paul’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a man of sixty.
A speech made by one of my little brothers amused us but horrified my mother. He was speaking to Agnes Hix about going away the next day. He said, “Miss Agnes, I am sorry for you to go, but I think it is just as well. When you came there were forty turkeys in the coop, and they killed the last one today.” Dear Jimmie was only five years old, too young to know that politeness forbids perfect candor. How we laughed over this speech and spoke of it in later years.
And so we left, after three weeks of joy, and our hearts were heavy. We parted at the school house. That year in May we had our musical, the high event of the year. My voice had improved so much I was elected to sing a solo. I remember I was so frightened I could hardly utter a sound. My professor improvised and improvised, and after a desperate effort the voice came, and I sang all through. I was much complimented, and I was the youngest of the soloists. I remember the lovely dress with the satin slippers and a bow of satin ribbon on my hair which was wonderfully long and thick and flowed down my back. And oh, that satin sash! The first I ever remember having in my life and I never felt such a glow of pride and satisfaction. My sister and I played as well, and sang in Choruses. For one time in my life, I was the Star.
Our school days went on for two years. My sister left school. She was a most beautiful woman of the glorious brunette type and was admired where ever she visited — Washington, Alexandria, Richmond among other places, especially Grunbrich.
My father now thought it best to have a tutor, so one was engaged from New York, George Wendell Orme, a very charming young man who lived two years in our home and proved most efficient, and so I went one year to him. He fell in love with my sister, studied for the Pres. church, and married. His wife died young and lost her child. He then went to Germany and died there. I was sincerely attached to him and very grateful for help after the Civil War, giving aid to my brother George in Jackson. While with us he was much unused to our “institutions”. I think if all our northern brethern* could have known us as he did, there would not have been the cruel war.
While with us, he visited Richmond at the time of the fair. My father never failed to attend this great event. He was much interested in it, being a prominent member and always winning prizes, generally for horses and hogs. I well recall how tired my poor little legs used to get, being dragged around to every exhibit, for we children had to go. Once my cousin Bettie Hansbrough went with us. She enjoyed the Exchange Hotel and everything. It was her debut in society. She is now 84 years old in Ballentine Home in Norfolk. We corresponded, yet, dear cousin Bettie and I. I owe her a letter now, September 26th, 1919. She is a well preserved old lady, can see and hear, where I can do so little of both and it is a trial. I don’t like to give trouble. Well, where was I. At the Richmond fair. At one of those fairs the Prince of Wales** visited Richmond. I remember just how he looked, as he rode with his royal escort. I also remember the Duke of Norfolk. I was quite disappointed to find him (the Prince) insignificant looking, a slim, ordinary looking youth, not at all my idea of how a king should look. He did not belie his looks, as he did not prove very kingly to my mind.