The Berkeleys and Their Neighbors

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Publisher Description

A provincial Virginia race-course is an excellent place to observe a people which has preserved its distinctiveness as well as the Virginians. So far, they have escaped that general and fatiguing likeness which prevails in most of the universe these days.

Therefore, the Campdown race-course, on a golden day in October, looked like itself and nothing else. The track had started out with the intention of making a perfect ellipse, but meeting a steep incline, it saved the trouble of bringing up the grade, by boldly avoiding the obstacle—so the winning post was considerably nearer the half-mile than the starting post was. Nobody objected to a little thing like this, though. The Virginians are good-natured creatures, and seldom bother about trifles.

It was the fall meeting of the Campdown Jockey Club—a famous institution “befo’ the war.”

At this time the great awakening had not come—the war was not long over. For these people, had they but known it, the end of the war really meant the end of the world—but the change was too stupendous for any human mind to grasp all at once. There came a period of shock before the pain was felt, when the people, groping amid the ruins of their social fabric, patched it up a little here and a little there. They resumed in a dazed and incomplete way their old amusements, their old habits and ways of life. They mortgaged their lands—all that was left to them—with great coolness and a superstitious faith in the future—Virginians are prone to hanker after mortgages—and spent the money untroubled by any reflections where any more was to come from when that was gone.

They were intense pleasure lovers. In that happy afternoon haze in which they had lived until the storm broke, pleasure was the chief end of man. So now, the whole county turned out to see two or three broken-down hacks, and a green colt or two, race for the mythical stakes. It is true, a green silk bag, embroidered in gold, with the legend “$300” hung aloft on a tall pole, for the sweepstakes, but it did not contain three hundred dollars, but about one-half of it in gold, and a check drawn by the president of the Jockey Club against the treasurer for the balance. Most of the members had not paid their dues, and the treasurer didn’t know where the money was to come from, nor the president either, for that matter; but it takes a good deal to discount a Virginian’s faith in the future. The public, too, was fully acquainted with the state of affairs, and the fact that there was any gold at all in the bag, would eventually be in the nature of a pleasant surprise.

The people, in carriages, or on horseback, bore little resemblance to the usual country gathering. They were gentlepeople tinged with rusticity. All of them had good, high sounding Anglo-Saxon names. There was some magnificence of an antique pattern. One huge family ark was drawn by four sleek old horses, with a venerable black coachman on the box, and inside a superb old lady with a black veil falling over her white hair. There were but two really correct equipages in the field. One was a trim, chocolate-colored victoria, with brown horses and a chocolate-colored coachman to match. In it sat a showy woman, with a profusion of dazzling blonde hair, and beside her was an immaculately well dressed blonde man. The turnout looked like a finely finished photograph among a lot of dingy old family portraits.

Fiction & Literature
June 14
Library of Alexandria
The Library of Alexandria

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