In the centre of the quaint old Virginia grave-yard stood two monuments side by side–two plain granite shafts exactly alike. On one was inscribed the name Robert Vaughan Fairfax and the year 1864. On the other was the simple and perplexing inscription, “Cahoots.” Nothing more.
The place had been the orchard of one of the ante-bellum mansions before the dead that were brought back from the terrible field of Malvern Hill and laid there had given it a start as a cemetery. Many familiar names were chiselled on the granite head-stones, and anyone conversant with Virginia genealogy would have known them to belong to some of the best families of the Old Dominion. But “Cahoots,”–who or what was he?
My interest, not to say curiosity, was aroused. There must be a whole story in those two shafts with their simple inscriptions, a life-drama or perhaps a tragedy. And who was more likely to know it than the postmaster of the quaint little old town. Just after the war, as if tired with its exertions to repel the invader, the old place had fallen asleep and was still drowsing.
I left the cemetery–if such it could be called–and wended my way up the main street to the ancient building which did duty as post-office. The man in charge, a grizzled old fellow with an empty sleeve, sat behind a small screen. He looked up as I entered and put out his hand toward the mailboxes, waiting for me to mention my name. But instead I said: “I am not expecting any mail. I only wanted to ask a few questions.”
“Well, sir, what can I do for you?” he asked with some interest.
“I’ve just been up there walking through the cemetery,” I returned, “and I am anxious to know the story, if there be one, of two monuments which I saw there.”
“You mean Fairfax and Cahoots.”
“You’re a stranger about here, of course.”
“Yes,” I said again, “and so there is a story?”
“There is a story and I’ll tell it to you. Come in and sit down.” He opened a wire door into his little cage, and I seated myself on a stool and gave my attention to him.
“It’s just such a story,” he began, “as you can hear in any of the Southern States–wherever there were good masters and faithful slaves. This particular tale is a part of our county history, and there ain’t one of the old residents but could tell it to you word for word and fact for fact. In the days before our misunderstanding with the North, the Fairfaxes were the leading people in this section. By leading, I mean not only the wealthiest, not only the biggest land-owners, but that their name counted for more in social circles and political councils than any other hereabout. It is natural to expect that such a family should wish to preserve its own name down a direct line. So it was a source of great grief to old Fairfax that his first three children were girls, pretty, healthy, plump enough little things, but girls for all that, and consequently a disappointment to their father’s pride of family. When the fourth child came and it proved to be a boy, the Fairfax plantation couldn’t hold the Fairfax joy and it flowed out and mellowed the whole county.
“They do say that Fairfax Fairfax was in one of his further tobacco fields when the good news was brought to him, and that after giving orders that all the darkies should knock off work and take a holiday, in his haste and excitement he jumped down from his horse and ran all the way to the house. I give the story only for what it is worth. But if it is true, it is the first case of a man of that name and family forgetting himself in an emergency.