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Chapter 15: resignation from the army.-marriage to Miss Taylor.-Cuban visit.-winter in Washington.-President van Buren.-return to Brierfield, 1837.

Lieutenant Davis's service had been arduous, and from his first day on the frontier until his last, he had always been a candidate for every duty in which he could be of use, and his conduct had been recognized by the promotion accorded to him by his government. The snows of the Northwest had affected his eyes seriously; his health was somewhat impaired and, naturally domestic in his tastes, he began to look forward longingly to establishing a restful home and to a more quiet life. His engagement to Miss Taylor had now lasted two years, and General Taylor's feelings toward him did not seem to become mollified.

Miss Taylor finally went to her father and told him that she had waited two years, and as, during that time, he had not alleged anything against Lieutenant Davis's character or honor, she would therefore marry him. She had inherited much of her father's decision of [162] character, and felt the manifest injustice that further delay would inflict on her lover.

A boat arrived from St. Louis, and near the time it was to return Captain McRee, with the knowledge of her family, engaged a stateroom and escorted Miss Taylor to it. Colonel Taylor was transacting some regimental business on the boat, and while he was there his daughter made another attempt to reconcile him to her marriage, but all in vain. She sorrowfully gave up hope of winning Colonel Taylor's consent, and went to St. Louis to be married to Lieutenant Davis.

In reference to this reported elopement Mr. Davis wrote: “In 1835 I resigned from the army, and Miss Taylor being then in Kentucky with her aunt — the oldest sister of General Taylor--I went thither and we were married in the house of her aunt, in the presence of General Taylor's two sisters, of his oldest brother, his son-in-law, and many others of the Taylor family.” This house is still standing, and was afterward the residence of Colonel William Christy.

The estrangement between Lieutenant Davis and Colonel Taylor was not healed during the life of Mrs. Davis.

Mr. Davis had seen so much of the discomforts of army life to the families of the officers that, when he decided to marry, he also determined [163] to resign his commission in the army. His resignation was dated June 30, 1835.

After his marriage, Mr. Davis proceeded at once with his bride to visit his family in Mississippi. The first place at which they stopped was “The Hurricane,” which, by this time, had become a valuable plantation, with good “quarters” for the negroes and a comfortable dwelling for the owner.

When Mr. Davis looked about him for an occupation by which he could support his family, his brother proposed to give him a certain tract of land called “The Brierfield,” in lieu of the interest Mr. Davis had in his father's negroes, which had passed into the service of Joseph E. Davis. This was accepted, and he, with his friend and servant James Pemberton — of whom he spoke in the fragment of his Autobiography given in this memoir-and ten negroes whom he bought with a loan from his brother, went to work on “The Brierfield” tract, so called because of a dense growth of briers which were interlocked over the land. The cane was too thick to be uprooted or cut, and they burned it, and then dug little holes in the ground and put in the cotton-seed, which made an unusually fine crop, and the prices of cotton then rendered it very remunerative.

While he was busily at work the summer [164] sped on until what is known on the Mississippi River as “the chill-and-fever season” was upon him, and it was thought advisable for the young couple to seek a more healthful place, as they were unacclimated: so they went to visit his sister, Mrs. Luther Smith, at her “Locust Grove” plantation near Bayou Sara, La.

Very soon after their arrival Mr. Davis was taken very ill with malarial fever, and, the day after, Mrs. Davis became ill also. They were both suffering greatly, but he was considered very dangerously ill, and they were nursed in different rooms. He was too ill to be told of her peril, and delirium saved her from anxiety about him. Soon after the fever set in she succumbed to it, and hearing her voice singing loud and clear a favorite song, “Fairy bells,” he struggled up and reached her bedside — to find her dying. The poor young creature drew her last sigh September 15, 1835, and was buried in his sister's family burying-ground. She was represented to me, by members of the Davis family who knew her best, as refined, intelligent, sincere, and very engaging in her manners. Though a woman of great decision of character she was devoid of the least trace of stubbornness; her judgment was mature, her nature open and faithful, and her temper affectionate and responsive. [165] None of her own relations stood by her early grave, but her husband's family grieved over her with an affectionate sense of their loss and intense sympathy with her bereaved husband. His life was despaired of for a month; and at last, when able to be lifted in his faithful James's arms, he returned to “The Hurricane.” He had become so emaciated and had so serious a cough that it was thought best for him to spend the winter in Havana, whither he went as soon as he was able to travel. He sailed for Havana in the autumn of 1835.

In those days there were no steamships, and the three weeks sail, with a douche of salt water taken on the deck, in the primitive manner of a bucket of sea-water thrown over him by a sailor, Mr. Davis recuperated enough to enjoy to some extent the soft air and tropical luxuriance of Havana.

There was a serious drawback, however, to his recovery. He had no desire for social intercourse, and his only recreation was to go up on the hills and about the fortifications, to sketch. With clinging memory and affection for his old profession he liked to look at the troops drilling; but, while engaged in this way, he was informed by one of the city authorities that if he was seen drawing the plan of the fortifications and watching the drill he would [166] be imprisoned and put on the walls to break stones. “It is known that you are an officer of the United States Army, and if it was not, your bearing and walk proclaim you a soldier.” Disclaimers were unavailing; so even this occupation was denied him.

One day, sick at heart of espionage and irritated into extreme nervousness, he saw a ship making ready for sea, and suddenly decided to sail in her to New York, whither she was bound.

From thence he went to Washington, and was so fortunate as to get in a congressional mess with Mr. Benton, General George Jones, Dr. Lynn, Franklin Pierce, and other prominent men of that day. Of this period General George Jones, of Iowa, wrote thus: “It was in 1838, when I was the last delegate to Congress from the Michigan Territory, that Jefferson Davis reached Washington in the winter and immediately called to see me where I was staying, at Dawson's boarding-house, not more than a hundred yards northeast of the present Senate chamber.” Among the prominent men staying at the same house were Senators Thomas H. Benton from Missouri; his colleague, Dr. Lewis F. Linn; William Allen, Senator of Ohio; Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire, and forty or fifty others. [167]

I introduced Lieutenant Davis to my friends. He was then on his way to his home in Mississippi from Havana, whither he had gone for his health. He soon won the high esteem and respect of the foremost men in the national capital.

He was my guest when I seconded Jonathan Cilley, of Maine, in the great duel with William J. Graves, of Kentucky, in which Cilley was killed.

On one occasion, that winter, Davis and I accompanied Dr. Linn, the Senator from Missouri, and Senator Allen, of Ohio, to a reception given by the Secretary of War. Dr. Linn and I returned home, leaving Senator Allen and Davis to return with John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, at Crittenden's request. After Dr. Linn and I got to bed, we heard the voice of Allen at a distance. He and Davis soon entered our room.

Mr. Davis was bleeding profusely from a deep cut in his head, and the blood was streaming down over his face, and upon his white tie, shirt-front, and white waistcoat.

Mr. Allen, who had been drinking champagne freely, was somewhat intoxicated, and missing the bridge (Mr. Allen being supposed to be familiar with the road) Davis had followed him, and they had both fallen into the Tiber, a small stream which they had to cross. [168] Allen had alighted on his feet, but Mr. Davis, who was perfectly sober, had endeavored to save himself, and had pitched head foremost into the creek and cut his head badly. He was covered with blood, and his clothes were drenched with water and stained with mud. He was on the verge of fainting from the loss of blood when Dr. Linn and myself applied the proper restoratives. In the morning I went to his room and found him again unconscious. I informed Dr. Linn of his condition, and after several hours' hard work we restored him to consciousness. Dr. Linn remarked that he would have been dead had I been five minutes later in reaching him the morning after the accident.

In that day the culvert was not wider than the avenue, and, even in 1845, the sidewalk had no pavement. The boards laid across had no handrail or other guide: so quickly has Washington sprung into a large, bustling, and well-ordered City! Then, the mall began in the first square below the Capitol grounds, and stretched for half a mile to the east, a grassy common, marshy, and at times well-nigh impassable, a part of which was subsequently occupied by the Botanical Garden. In this latter there was no effort at decoration, but it was simply a garden for acclimatizing foreign plants for utilitarian purposes. [169]

While in Washington Mr. Davis paid a visit to the President, and was introduced by the Hon. Franklin Pierce. Mr. Van Buren came in to them, sozgndeacute;, astute, and apparently confiding as a boy; but when one tried to remember his confidences they were either utterances about persons who had become, he felt sure, irreconcilable with him, or were in declared and open hostility. Of the future he did not speak. Then the famous tabourets, called by the Congressional critic “tabby cats,” were gay with their covering of glazed white chintz and pink roses. The adornments of the Executive Mansion were very simple; but the President's refined taste had interspersed old-fashioned bowls and vases of roses throughout the drawing-rooms. After a half-hour's interview the President invited Mr. Davis to breakfast. He went at the appointed time, and the President paid him special attention and talked to him of the army, of general politics, and many more subjects which derived interest from Mr. Van Buren's rich stores of memory and graceful deference of manner. In the midst of a serious conversation after breakfast he looked at Mr. Davis, whose handsome arched feet were at their best in a pair of New Orleans shoes, and said, “Where did you get your shoes, may I ask? I had a pair like that made in France, but [170] have never seen that stitch since.” Mr. Davis told him that he had the shoes made in New Orleans. Of course he liked his shoes all the better for the President's notice of them. This attention to details-personal and governmental-wise reticence, and perfect breeding was probably the source of much of Mr. Van Buren's success.

In the spring Mr. Davis's health was sufficiently recuperated for him to return home, and once more pick up the threads of his life, which had “floated wide” after the death of his young wife.

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