Saturday, June 20, 2009

Silas McDowell, on Morganton (part 6)

Morganton and its Surroundings Sixty Years Ago, excerpt, by Silas McDowell, c. 1877, manuscript (transcribed by Ann Walker, ©2009)

    ... As the reader is prepared to believe, during my stay at Morganton I became the protege of my affectionate old landlady Mrs Nancy McEntire, and many of my leisure hours were spent in her company, for really she was a warm hearted sensible and well educated old Irish lady, with only enough of the Irish brogue lingering on her tongue to lend to her kind words that tender pathos that vibrates deep down in the heart. She related to me two incidents that made an indelible impression on my memory, and a recital of these will perhaps, close this publication, and I will give them under the name of "The two stories of my landlady."
    It must be remembered that my landlady was a very pious woman, and yet, in one of our conversations she astounded me with the following question—"McDowell, are you never tempted to doubt the even handed Justice of God in His dealings with the Human family?" I admitted the fact, but that I ever repelled the wicked thought by the recollection of God's promise, that on the Day of Judgment that he would vindicate his dealings with Man. "Yes," she replied, "that is a happy thought, and, but for its comfort I should have been in my grave many years ago." "But," she continued, "during my life I have met with two instances, and it was them—the remembrance of them—that suggested the wicked question I asked you." "McDowell," she continued, "I have a secret—a secret pent up in my own breast for more than forty years, and revealed to no one up to this time, and now, I have resolved to tell it to you. Do you recollect, McDowell, how I was embarrassed when our eyes met when I first saw you?" I replied affirmatively. "McDowell, there was a cause for that, and that cause is the basis of my secret. I have loved but one man in my life—he was a youth in Ireland and I have never seen a man like him—not 'til I met you; and that was the cause why the sight of you startled me." "But, McDowell, I have a story to tell you, a sad story, and it relates to my early history; but don't be alarmed with the thought that I will bore you, for I will be brief in its narration.
    "My maiden name was Young, and I was the only child of an Irishman belonging to the middle classes and a tenant of Col Stewart, who lived at Castle Roigh—(Stuart was the father of the Lord Castle Roigh, now prime minister of England.) This is the last digression I will make. My father and mother both died before I was five years old and I was raised in the family of a paternal uncle, and being heir to two thousand pounds I was a well educated as my uncle's daughters, and grew to be a woman of some pretention for beauty, and had many suitors. Among these was Robert Maxwell, a small graceful black-eyed man with dark curly hair and fair skin, and he was quite witty and intelligent. We became betrothed, which fact, my uncle learning opposed on the ground that Robert Maxwell held no landed property, and he annoyed me by insisting that I should receive the attentions of an old ______ draper at least thirty years my senior. Maxwell and myself had arranged to elope, and go to America, but we were betrayed, and I, confined to my room and closely watched; from which, in a closed carriage I was taken to the city of Cork and placed on board a small ship bound to Charleston in the United States. This was just at the close of the War of the Revolution and in the year 1784. On the next day after I was placed on board the ship I was visited by my uncle and his family, who had come to take leave of me and, also, there soon came onboard James McEntire and a Catholic priest. My uncle, in a few words, stated that he had transferred his guardianship of me, with my money, to his worthy friend James McEntire, and bade me rise to my feet and the priest would make me his wife. Of what followed I have no recollection, and when my mind returned I was in the city of Charleston in a boarding house utterly void of strength, and was recovering from a severe attack of Typhoid fever, and attended by the Dr and James McEntire. I demanded of McEntire how I came there, but the Dr had me hush and not attempt to speak until my strength returned. It was near a month after, before McEntire informed me I was his wife; and the ensued a scene that I will not trouble you with: but I informed him plainly, that as a husband I loathed him as I did a toad,— That I could not love so old a man, and never never could render him the sacred duties of a wife. To confess the truth McDowell I have never loved James McEntire, and though his uniform kindness subdued my hatred, for he was honorable and kind, I can say upon honor, that without loving him I have made him a loyal wife, but, my countryman Tom Moor has hit the nail on the head where he avers that 'Love is a light which shines but once on Life's dull stream.'" But this closes my landlady's first tale.