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It was not for long that the Wisters and Foulkes were to enjoy the peace and quiet of their solitary situation. Very soon the signs and sounds of war made their way thither. In the first entries of the Journal we are introduced to alarms and affrights. The families are startled by "a great noise." A "large number of waggons" appear, and three hundred of the Philadelphia militia draw up to the door begging for drink. Sally is "mightily scar'd" and runs "in at one door and out at the other, all in a shake with fear; but after awhile, seeing the officers appear gentlemanly, and the soldiers civil," her "fears were in some measure dispell'd, tho'" her "teeth rattled," and her "hand shook like an aspen leaf."
The next day she and "the delicate, chicken-hearted Liddy" Foulke again are "wretchedly scar'd" by a false report that the dreaded Hessians were approaching "and had actually turn'd into our lane." "Well, the fright went off," but she hears that the forces are drawing nearer and expects soon "to be in the midst of one army or t'other," perhaps in the very centre of "war, and ruin, and the clang of arms."
On the following day, however, she experienced her "greatest fright." A party of Virginia light horse rode up to the door and mistaking the red and blue of their uniforms for the British colors "fear tack'd wings to" her feet and she fled to the shelter of the house.
Now "passes an interval of several weeks, in which nothing happen'd worth the time and paper it wou'd take to write it," until October 19th. Then comes a stirring and exciting day crowded with events for Sally to record. In the morning she hears "the greatest drumming, fifing, and rattling of waggons that ever" was heard and goes a little distance to see the American Army as it marched on its way to take a nearer position to the city. In the evening comes the gallant General Smallwood, commander of the Maryland troops, with his staff and a large guard of soldiers, to take up his headquarters in the Foulke house. "The yard and house were in confusion, and glitter'd with military equipments." "There was great running up and down stairs," and Sally has "an opportunity of seeing and being seen, the former the most agreeable, to be sure."
On this nearer view of the military she becomes reconciled to them and feels "in good spirits, though surrounded by an Army, the house full of officers, and the yard alive with soldiers, -- very peaceable sort of men, tho'." They are not such dreadful creatures after all. "They eat like other folks, talk like them, and behave themselves with elegance; so I will not be afraid of them, that I won't." With these observations she goes to her chamber to dream "of bayonets and swords, sashes, guns, and epaulets."
The next morning Sally was up early, and while "Somnus embraces" the General and his suite she begins those piquant and graphic pen-pictures that she has left of them. These officers were of the best blood of the South. They had fought in all the principal battles that had occurred up to this time, and the Maryland officers in particular had become famous for their courage and gallantry. Sally finds them well-bred and amiable, and during their fortnight's stay in the Foulke house takes much pleasure in their society.
She proves especially susceptible to the charms of a young officer of near her own age, -- Major William Truman Stoddert, nephew of the General and a descendant of one of the best and oldest families on the Western Shore of Maryland. On the first evening of the arrival of the party he particularly attracted her notice, but then "appear'd cross and reserv'd." She adds, however, "Thee shall see how agreeably disappointed I was." On the morning following this first acquaintance she thus characterizes him:
"Well, here comes the glory, the Major, so bashful, so famous, &c. He shou'd come before the Captain, but never mind. I at first thought the Major cross and proud, but I was mistaken. He is about nineteen, nephew to the Gen'l, and acts as Major of brigade to him; he cannot be extoll'd for the graces of person, but for those of the mind he may justly be celebrated; he is large in his person, manly, and [has] an engaging countenance and address."
On the third day the Major "is very reserv'd; nothing but 'Good morning,' or 'Your servant, madam.'" Sally now hears "strange things of" him; her informant, doubtless, being Captain Furnival, of Baltimore. The Major is "worth a fortune of thirty thousand pounds, independent of anybody;" he is, moreover, "very bashful; so much so he can hardly look at the ladies." Then she roguishly remarks in an aside, "Excuse me, good sir; I really thought you were not clever; if 'tis bashfulness only, we will drive that away."
Several days now pass and Sally has made but little progress in getting acquainted with the Major; she makes only the single entry: "The Gen'l still here; the Major still bashfull." Not until nearly a week after the arrival of the Major does his bashfulness finally disappear, and then it was her little brother Johnny, -- scarcely old enough yet to play the part of the enfant terrible -- who broke the ice between them.
It was on a Sunday evening. The Major was in the Wisters' parlor. It seems he had lived in the city for a time just before the war as a student in Philadelphia College, now the University of Pennsylvania. In the course of the conversation he asked Mrs. Wister if she knew Miss Nancy Bond. Sally replied for her mother that the "amiable girl" had died a year previously. Sally then notes: "I was diverting Johnny at the table, when he [the Major] drew up his chair to it and began to play with the child. I ask'd him if he knew N. Bond. 'No, ma'am, but I have seen her often.' One word brought on another, and we chatted the greatest part of the evening. He said he knew me directly he saw me. Told me exactly where we liv'd."
Thenceforth the Major makes himself very agreeable. Sally now receives polite "Good Mornings." He "is more sociable than ever. No wonder; a stoic cou'd not resist such affable damsels as we are." She finds him "very clever, amiable, and polite. He has the softest voice, never pronounces the R at all."
She is very much vexed when the "disagreeable" Dr. Diggs "props himself between the Major and me" at the tea-table; so that "after I had drank tea, I jump'd from the table and seated myself at the fire."
The Major "followed my example, drew his chair close to mine, and entertain'd me very agreeably." "No harm. I assure thee: he and I are friends."
"October 29th. -- I walk'd into aunt's this evening. I met the Major. Well, thee will think I am writing his history; but not so. Pleased with the rencounter, Liddy, Betsy, Stodard, and myself, seated by the fire, chatted away an hour in lively and agreeable conversation. I can't pretend to write all he said; but he shone in every subject that we talk'd of."
At the end of a week Sally's sentiment for the Major, as she informs her friend, has reached the stage of "esteem," but we strongly suspect that not even to so rare a confidante as Deborah Norris is the whole revealed. "Another very charming conversation with the young Marylander," she writes. "He seem'd possessed of very amiable manners; sensible and agreeable. He has by his unexceptionable deportment engag'd my esteem."
Early in November the General receives orders to march, and the time of parting comes. Sally is "very sorry; for when you have been with agreeable people, 'tis impossible not to feel regret when they bid you adieu, perhaps forever." Then she significantly remarks: "The Major looks dull."
"About two o'clock the Gen. and Major came to bid us adieu. With daddy and mammy they shook hands very friendly; to us they bow'd politely.
"Our hearts were full. I thought Major was affected.
"'Good-bye, Miss Sally,' spoken very low. He walk'd hastily, mounted his horse. . . . and cantered away. . . . We look'd at him till the turn in the road hid him from our sight. . . . I wonder whether we shall ever see him again."
She now "skips" a few weeks, "nothing of consequence occurring" except the visit of two Virginians who disgust her with their conversation about "turkey hash and fry'd hominy " -- "a pretty discourse to entertain the ladies."
On the 5th of December she is again greatly alarmed on hearing that the British have come out from the city to attack Washington in his intrenchments at Whitemarsh. "What will become of us only six miles distant? We are in hourly expectation of an engagement. I fear we shall be in the midst of it. Heaven defend us from so dreadful a sight."
On the evening of the 6th she is filled with anxiety to see Major Stoddert return ill with fever, brought on by exposure to cold and fatiguing camp life. He is no longer "lively, alert and blooming," but "pale, thin, and dejected, too weak to rise."
He soon grows better, however, and he and Sally once more enjoy each other's society. She now becomes reconciled to the "dreadful situation" and laughs and chats, even "tho' two such large armies are within six miles of us." On the afternoon of the seventh "platoon firing" was heard and the Major in spite of his weak condition was determined to return to the Army, not even Sally's gentle pleading, "Oh! Major, thee is not going" -- in which she "discovered a strong partiality" -- could avail; he went on with his preparations. But the firing soon ceased "and after persuasions innumerable" "he reluctantly agreed to stay. Ill as he was, he would have gone. It showed his bravery, of which we all believe him possess'd of a large share."
In the course of a few days two new figures appear upon the scene, one of whom was destined to be "a principal character" in the liveliest if not the most dramatic part of the whole narrative. These were two young Virginia officers, Captain Lipscomb, "a tall, genteel man," and Mr. Tilly, "a wild, noisy mortal," who had a flute, but to Sally's vexation did "nothing but play the fool."
Sally, however, comes to think Mr. Tilly very handsome and bids her heart "be secure." But this "caution was needless; I found it without a wish to stray."
Of the episode of the "British Grenadier," of Stoddert's and Sally's plot to frighten the "wild and noisy" Tilly, and of the success of the scheme I shall leave Sally's own clever pen to tell.
On December 13th, the day following Tilly's "retreat," Sally writes: "Ah, Deborah, the Major is going to leave us entirely -- just going. I will see him first." Then at noon: "He has gone. I saw him pass the bridge. . . . I seem to fancy he will return in the even'g." But in the evening he does "not come back. We shall not, I fancy, see him again for months, perhaps years, unless he should visit Philad'a." She then concludes, without committing herself further: "We shall miss his agreeable company." A week later when the other officers take their leave she is "sorry" but "'tis a different kind from what I felt some time since. We had not contracted so great an intimacy with those last."
Here the Major takes his final leave; and henceforth he figures no more in these pages. He did not return to the Foulke homestead, nor so far as we know did he ever meet Sally again.
But little penetration is needed to perceive that the fine thread of a love-story runs through these entries. It must be an unsympathetic reader who can dismiss the whole episode as a mere camp flirtation. Certainly, on Sally's part at least, the matter had gone beyond the stage of jesting. As for the Major, although we only see him through Sally's eyes, we can hardly doubt that the old Foulke homestead drew him back to its shelter with a magnet more potent than military reasons. But that the course of true love was checkered or obstructed would seem to be evident. That such an intimacy could not be encouraged is not to be wondered at. A wide gulf of social and religious prejudice lay between them. He was a Maryland cavalier, a member of the Church of England, and a soldier, rich in slaves and plantation lands. She was a Quaker maiden, a member of a religious body that held war to be unchristian, and forbade its members to marry out of the Society or to hold slaves.
Howbeit, when in the course of years the Major took unto himself a wife, the lady of his choice also bore the name of Sally. Whether this was merely chance, or whether some fleeting memory of an earlier time, of days spent in pleasant companionship with the Quaker maiden in the old farmhouse on the Wissahickon, directed his fancy and influenced his choice, history saith not. He died in his early maturity from the lingering effects of the hardships of camp life. Sally Wister died unmarried a few years later.Previous page | Next page
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