Dear cousin Eliza --
The Prestons (especially Tom) always begin a letter by apologizing and accounting for not having written sooner. In imitation of such august example I will explain me delay in three ways --
1st. The information you asked for had started towards Richmond before I got your letter.
-- 2d. The satisfaction with which I looked for the first time at your handwriting was naturally diminished by the circumstance that your communication was not a free will offering, but induced by a matter of business -- a mere call for information, as above mentioned.
--3rd. Your letter was no letter at all, but a note, about a third of the honest-sized sheet on which I am now writing as fast as I can. However, I am glad to hear from my fair cousin in any shape.
We are getting on very well at Hampton House, except that every thing on the place is eaten up, and we are now starving. We are as hungry as a hundred Hessians. Charity clamourously complains that she could cherr[?] a child or a cheval. Frederick is fidgety at finding neither fish nor fowl. Lanegan laments in lackadaisical language the lack of lamb or lobster in the landscape. Joe jabbers that his jaws would join joyfully upon even the joint of a Justice, a Judge, a Jesuit, or a Jew. Margaret makes a most melancholy moan for mutton, meal, meat or molasses. Shot (the setter) seems as if the smallness of the supply has so sharpened his stomach that he could swallow a sack of sausages or a shoal of shad.
I don't know what would have become of me if an old hen about the place, moved with compassion at our destitute condition, had not begun to lay eggs most industriously. How much longer her charity may continue I can't say.
And then, in addition to the pangs of starvation, I am in a considerable state of mental perturbation and alarm -- on the evening before her departure the Empress directed me to attend to four things. I distinctly recalled that they were four, but I can only remember what two of them are.
|Margaret Buchanan Frances Preston Hampton (source: Find a Grave)|
Can't you find out from her what were the four things she told me to do? Of course you can't ask her directly, for she is so dreadfully suspicious that she'd think at once I prompted you -- but you can say to her, in a kind of careless, cursory way "Empress, you must find cousin Sidney very useful about your place, he is so good and ob't I suppose you left him a great deal to [do] for you while you are away?"
"No," she will say (for she is utterly ungrateful) "He isn't of much account. I only told him to do four things -- and he had better not forget them!!"
Then she'll mention what they were, and you can let me know. If this scheme fails I know of but one other resource (besides California) -- I will say to her on return, "Cousin Margaret, I was so afflicted by your absence that I lost half my memory, and therefore only did two of the four things you told me" -- As she is immediately fond of flattery, perhaps . . .
|Sculpture Model of Margaret Preston Hampton by Hiram Powers|
Margaret Buchanan Frances Preston Hampton (January 13, 1818-January 27, 1852)
Eliza Mary Johnston (July 3, 1825-January 31, 1909), by then the lone surviving child of Charles Clement Johnston and Eliza Madison Preston Johnston.
Hiram Powers (1805-1873). His Greek Slave sculpture inspired an 1852 duel involving Algernon's brother Edward William Johnston (1799-1867). Here's a link to the above sculpture model. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Renwick Gallery.]
[Many thanks to Sue Davis, William Myers, Mary Davy and Sally Young for their ongoing research collaboration.]