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Margaret Bayard Smith1815-01-01Samuel Harrison SmithLone house -- by the way side. [1815]What a novel letter I could write you if I but had the time and if the passing stage will not take me up. I shall have time enough, for here I must stay till they do, if its all day and night too. A few miles this side of Chester, our stage broke, but the mud was so deep, the gentlemen-- 120 --would not let me get out, we all sat on the upper side, (one of the braces was broke and the carriage rested on the axel) and were drag'd thro' the mud to this house, about two miles off. It was ten o'clock and the people all abed and it was a long time before we could waken them. At last the door was open'd by a nice good looking old quaker lady, with fear and trembling however. There were no men and no assistance of any kind -- the moon was just down and the night so foggy that the driver said it would be very dark. I therefore begged the old lady to keep me all night. The gentlemen said they could get on the horses or walk and as they were anxious to get on, they hade me farewell and commended me to the lady's care. It was eleven o'clock before they got off, the stage supported by an old rail. I then begged my good quaker, to take me to the kitchen fire, as I was very cold and wet. My feet had been wet all day, and getting in and out of the stages in the rain, for it had rain'd hard all day, had wet my clothes. Two sweet looking young women got up and soon made a fine fire. I got in to the chimney corner, for the chimney was like old Mrs. Tracy's, undress'd and dried and warm'd myself. I ask'd them if it would not be too much trouble, if they could give me something for supper. They said they really had nothing at all in the house they didnt often accommodate people, it being a house just for the market folks to stop at. I told them a bowl of tea, with brown sugar would do, for I felt chilly and weary. They put on the tea kettle, and on my asking for an egg, found one. They seem'd curious about me, and when I told them that I came from Washington. I became an object of curiosity to them and they asked me a hundred questions, -- particularly about its being taken by the British, and about slaves. While my kettle-- 121 --was boiling, I sat in one corner and the old lady in the other corner of the chimney. She was a pale, delicate looking woman, with an uncommonly sweet face. She regretted much having no better accomodation, but I told her truly it was more agreeable than a public house, that I could feel as if she was my mother, at least take as good care of me and that her daughters were just the age of mine. Here I must say, a few tears would in spite of me break from my full heart, at the thought of home dear home -- dangers being now over my courage was over too. The dear old lady was so kind. In a few moments I went on with my history of the taking and burning of Washington, which all listen'd eagerly to, while we sat cowering over the fire. I related all the little anecdotes I could remember, our fears at Sidney, and when they heard that I could fire a pistol and had slept with a loaded pistol under my head, and Ann with a penknife in her bosom, they were lost in astonishment and look'd on me as something wonderful. The simplicity of the good folks amused me and their extreme interest excited me to tell them all about Ross Cockburn &c &c I could recollect and like the old soldier I sat by the "fire and show'd how fields were won" -- lost I mean. Whenever I was about to pause, they begg'd me to go on. My little table was put in the corner by me, my bowl of tea and one egg and two crackers I was wrapped in my flannel gown, and my clothes hung round the stove to dry. The sheets for my bed were hung on a chair before the blaze, and if I had indeed been her daughter she could not have been more careful of me, but there was a sick child upstairs whom they had to watch by I therefore summon'd up courage to go to bed alone (the only thing I dreaded) they took me thro' five or six doors, into another house which had been built in-- 122 --addition to this. I requested the candle might be left. In vain I tried to sleep. It was raining and blowing, the windows and doors rattling. I became every moment more nervous, something in the room, threw a shadow on the wall exactly like a coffin -- that night week dear Elizabeth had died -- her image, almost herself was by me, the candle was almost out, I trembled so the bedstead shook under me. I felt almost sure if left in the dark I should fall into some kind of fit, at last I jump'd up and without waiting to put on my flannel gown, I took my almost expiring candle, determined to find my way to the kitchen, and if I could not find another candle, to sit in the chimney corner all night. I open'd the door of a chamber next me, hoping some one of the family might be there, but I saw a bedstead, the idea that some one might have just died there struck me. I dared not look farther, but found my way down stairs into a large empty room, with four doors. I opened the one nearest to me, the wind rushed in and blew out my candle. I then groped all round the room. Two doors were bolted, at last I found one that yielded to my hand, I open'd it, but knew not where I was and was afraid of falling down steps. I thought it best to return to my chamber, tho' with a horror I cannot describe -- then I thought I would sit down in the empty room on the floor. The windows shook with the storm, as if they would have fallen in -- the wind blew most violently and some open door was creaking and slaming. I shook, so I could scarcely stand and was quite unable to find the door at the foot of the stairs. At last, some one called out -- Who's there? I answer'd and the old woman came to me with a light, and look'd quite frightened to see me there. She took me in the kitchen, -- the fire was still burning, and they had been making up bread, &c. I told them I felt unwell and had-- 123 --come down for another candle -- they mixed me a glass of toddy, as they saw me shaking as if I had an ague. After I got warm'd I began one of the stories that had interested them so much and was very cloquent indeed, in hopes of beguiling them to sit up an hour or two with me, but they were too sleepy, for even my most wonderful stories to keep them awake. At last finding neither Cochburn's murders, nor negro conspiracies, nor Georgia negro buyers could keep their eyes open, I again ask'd for a bed fellow and said I felt so lonely I could not sleep. But the daughter could not be spared, and I again returned with a whole candle and crept into bed, where the kind girl tucked me in. But it was in vain, I repeated poetry and exerted my reason. I whose courage had that morning been so admired and extoll'd by my fellow travellers, when in danger of losing my life was now ill with imaginary terrors. After about an hour, I heard doors opening and shutting then foot steps ascending the stairs -- then some one at my door, who whispered, "Are you awake?" To which I gladly answered "Yes," for even the entrance of robbers would have been welcome. But it was my good old lady, who feeling uneasy, had made her youngest daughter, a little girl the size of Anna Maria get up and brought her to me as a bed fellow. The moment I felt warm flesh and blood near me and her little arm round me my trembling and shiverings ceased and soon I drop't into a sweet sleep, from which I was awaken'd by a bright sun, shining in my windows. My pretty bed fellow assisted to dress me and when I went down in the sitting room, I found a fine looking greyheaded old man that put me in mind of Mr. K. He was the father of the family, and I had again in answer to his questions to relate my dangers and hair breadth escapes. A little breakfast table was set for me, and-- 124 --when done they cut this sheet of paper out of a book for me and with an old stub of a pen, I am sitting by the stove to write. No stage has yet pass'd. I think it probable the roads were so dangerous near the Susquehanah and so deep elsewhere, something may have happen'd and that they will not be along till in the evening or night, like us. I can find no book in the house, so for my own amusement as well as yours will write on, if it be all day and by way of making it answer for a chapter in the great work, will go into details in the novel style -- this will be killing two birds with one stone.Now to begin my journal. Like all other times of war and peace, it affords little to say. My ride to Baltimore was as pleasant as on a summer's day, my companion a very agreeable man who knew everybody I knew in New York, and we talked of all the old acquaintance of twenty and 30 years back -- he told me who he was, his business and family. I told him who I was, my husband's business and our family and before we reached Baltimore felt like old acquaintance. When the stage stopp'd we were taken into the stage office and found on enquiry, not a single passenger was going on to Philad. Mr. Dey, said if I would wait he would go to the other stage office and enquire. There were a parcel of men standing round, but no one offer'd me a chair. I asked one of them to carry my letter into Mr. Williamson. Soon after the bar keeper came and asked me to walk into a parlour, where a very genteel young man, came and in the most respectful way, enquir'd what he could do for my accomodation, stating his father was very ill, but he would execute any commands. I might give him. When he understood my wishes, he begg'd me to walk in a better parlour up stairs, while he would go to the other stage office and learn what passengers there were, begging-- 125 --me to feel quite at home and order what I pleased. He soon return'd, likewise Mr. Dey, with information there were two gentlemen going on to Philad. I then ordered a slight dinner, while Mr. D. went to take my seat and speak to the gentlemen and Mr. -- The stage stopp'd and I left off. In the stage were very clever people, but you may judge of the state of the roads, when I was four hours coming 15 miles. At four o'clock I got safely here, but alas not to find all as happy as I had hoped, the whole family were in the greatest anxiety as Sally was very ill. I did not see sister or Elizabeth untill this morning, her life was in danger I believe for some hours, at one, the child was born -- it was six months, it is still alive but no probability of its living. I hope Sally is out of danger, but poor sister and brother are very, very anxious. In this state of the family I feel in the way, tho' all are kind enough to persuade me to stay longer, I think it best to go tomorrow. Brother would have gone with me, had not this event occur'd. Oh how frail is the tenure of human felicity. This happy family may soon be plunged into the greatest grief. Mrs. Bayard, Caroline, Susan and Mrs. Hodge 1 and several other friends came in to see me and have been again this morning. I can scarcely steal time for a few lines, and am writing with them all around me. All are unsettled, going and coming from Sally's. I feel anxious but shall go tomorrow. I am perfectly well, all the better for the exposure and adventures I have met with. I meant to give you an account of the passage of the Susquehannah, and the rest of my journey, but now I feel in no spirits to write it. All our friends and connections of all the different families are in deep mourning.-- 126 --I do not want the girls to get any, but it might be as well to lay aside their gay ribbons. Things seem very different here and at Sidney -- they have just come in to say Sally is much better and has fallen asleep. This is very favorable. I wrote those few lines from Elketon under the impression the mail to Washington would be missing, but it was the northern mail which was deranged. I cannot write more now, for every moment some one is coming in. Heaven bless you all.I cannot even read over what I have written.