第5章 My Cousin Fanny(5)
She repeated them to me once, and I wrote them down.Here they are:
To Galt's Psyche.
Well art thou called the soul;
For as I gaze on thee, My spirit, past control, Springs up in ecstasy.
Thou canst not be dead stone;
For o'er thy lovely face, Softer than music's tone, I see the spirit's grace.
The wild aeolian lyre Is but a silken string, Till summer winds inspire, And softest music bring.
Psyche, thou wast but stone Till his inspiring came:
The sculptor's hand alone Made not that soul-touched frame.
They have lain by me for years, and are pretty good for one who didn't write.
I think, however, she was young when she addressed them to the "soul-touched" work of the young sculptor, who laid his genius and everything at Virginia's feet.They were friends, I believe, when she was a girl, before she caught that cold, and her eyes got bad.
Among her eccentricities was her absurd cowardice.She was afraid of cows, afraid of horses, afraid even of sheep.And bugs, and anything that crawled, used to give her a fit.If we drove her anywhere, and the horses cut up the least bit, she would jump out and walk, even in the mud;and I remember once seeing her cross the yard, where a young cow that had a calf asleep in the weeds, over in a corner beyond her, started toward it at a little trot with a whimper of motherly solicitude.
Cousin Fanny took it into her head that the cow was coming at her, and just screamed, and sat down flat on the ground, carrying on as if she were a baby.Of course, we boys used to tease her, and tell her the cows were coming after her.You could not help teasing anybody like that.
I do not see how she managed to do what she did when the enemy got to Woodside in the war.That was quite remarkable, considering what a coward she was.
During 1864 the Yankees on a raid got to her house one evening in the summer.
As it happened, a young soldier, one of her cousins (she had no end of cousins), had got a leave of absence, and had come there sick with fever just the day before (the house was always a sort of hospital).
He was in the boys' room in bed when the Yankees arrived, and they were all around the house before she knew it.She went downstairs to meet them.
They had been informed by one of the negroes that Cousin Charlie was there, and they told her that they wanted him.She told them they could not get him.
They asked her, "Why? Is he not there?" (I heard her tell of it once.)She said:
"You know, I thought when I told them they could not get him that they would go away, but when they asked me if he was not there, of course I could not tell them a story; so I said I declined to answer impertinent questions.You know poor Charlie was at that moment lying curled up under the bed in the boys' room with a roll of carpet a foot thick around him, and it was as hot as an oven.Well, they insisted on going through the house, and I let them go all through the lower stories;but when they started up the staircase I was ready for them.
I had always kept, you know, one of papa's old horse-pistols as a protection.
Of course, it was not loaded.I would not have had it loaded for anything in the world.I always kept it safely locked up, and I was dreadfully afraid of it even then.But you have no idea what a moral support it gave me, and I used to unlock the drawer every afternoon to see if it was still there all right, and then lock it again, and put the key away carefully.Well, as it happened, I had just been looking at it -- which I called `inspecting my garrison'.I used to feel just like Lady Margaret in Tillietudlam Castle.Well, I had just been looking at it that afternoon when I heard the Yankees were coming, and by a sudden inspiration -- I cannot tell for my life how I did it --I seized the pistol, and hid it under my apron.I held on to it with both hands, I was so afraid of it, and all the time those wretches were going through the rooms down-stairs I was quaking with terror.
But when they started up the stairs I had a new feeling.
I knew they were bound to get poor Charlie if he had not melted and run away, -- no, he would never have run away; I mean evaporated, --and I suddenly ran up the stairway a few steps before them, and, hauling out my big pistol, pointed it at them, and told them that if they came one step higher I would certainly pull the trigger.
I could not say I would shoot, for it was not loaded.Well, do you know, they stopped! They stopped dead still.I declare I was so afraid the old pistol would go off, though, of course, I knew it was not loaded, that I was just quaking.But as soon as they stopped, I began to attack.
I remembered my old grandmother and her scissors, and, like General Jackson, I followed up my advantage.I descended the steps, brandishing my pistol with both hands, and abusing them with all my might.I was so afraid they might ask if it was loaded.But they really thought I would shoot them (you know men have not liked to be slain by a woman since the time of Abimelech), and they actually ran down the steps, with me after them, and I got them all out of the house.
Then I locked the door and barred it, and ran up-stairs and had such a cry over Charlie.[That was like an old maid.]
Afterwards they were going to burn the house, but I got hold of their colonel, who was not there at first, and made him really ashamed of himself;for I told him we were nothing but a lot of poor defenceless women and a sick boy.He said he thought I was right well defended, as I had held a company at bay.He finally promised that if I would give him some music he would not go up-stairs.So I paid that for my ransom, and a bitter ransom it was too, I can tell you, singing for a Yankee!
But I gave him a dose of Confederate songs, I promise you.He asked me to sing the `Star Spangled Banner'; but I told him I would not do it if he burnt the house down with me in it -- though it was inspired by my cousin, Armistead.Then he asked me to sing `Home, Sweet Home', and I did that, and he actually had tears in his eyes -- the hypocrite!
He had very fine eyes, too.I think I did sing it well, though.
I cried a little myself, thinking of the old house being so nearly burnt.
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