Westover of Wanalah
A Story of Love and Life in Old Virginia
Library of Alexandria
One midsummer morning in the late eighteen-fifties, Boyd Westover of Wanalah was riding along a Virginia plantation road, accompanied by half a dozen hounds, for whose discipline and restraint he carried a long, flexible black-snake whip. The weapon played the part of sceptre rather than that of sword. The young man had no intention of striking the dogs with it, but whenever their exuberance broke bounds he cracked the lash in air, making a report like that of a pistol shot, and the reminder of his authority was quite sufficient for purposes of canine discipline. He was not hunting. He was merely riding to a distant part of the plantation he controlled, to inspect the work of the negroes there and to give directions for its proper doing. But he liked the company of his dogs and enjoyed their mad relish of the morning. The glory of it gladdened his own spirit in spite of the vexing problems that were never quite absent from his mind. Boyd Westover, a young man of not more than twenty-three or twenty-four years, had never known a serious care until the spring of that year. Then a burden of responsibility had fallen upon him that threatened to bend even his broad shoulders beneath its weight. His father had died suddenly in the early spring, leaving a widow and this one son who in the ordinary course of affairs became administrator of the estate and master of the plantation. Then it was that the burden fell upon him. The plantation was an unusually large one, and its late owner had been accounted the richest man in all the region round about, just as his forbears for generations past had been. Wanalah, the ancestral seat of the family, had been for two hundred years the home of a hospitable, high living, high mettled race of men and women, but during the reign of Boyd Westover's father the hospitality of Wanalah had outdone itself in lavishness. There were always guests in numbers there, and a multitude of servants were withheld from profitable industry to minister to their comfort. There were thoroughbred horses enough in the stables to mount half a company of cavalry, and a like profusion was apparent in the case of every other provision for enjoyment and the unstinted entertainment of guests. In brief the late master of Wanalah had kept open house for all gentlemanly comers. But when Boyd Westover took his degree at the University in early June and returned to Wanalah to assume his duties as administrator, he learned for the first time that the plantation had not been earning the cost of all this high living. There was not only the hereditary debt upon the place—a debt that so great a plantation, wisely conducted, might have borne comfortably—but added to it was a confused mass of fresh debts accumulated during his father's lifetime and in consequence of his extravagance. The entertainment of pleasure-seeking guests was suspended now, of course, during the period of mourning, and in view of the ill health into which his mother had fallen since the shock of his father's sudden death, the suspension seemed likely to endure for a long period to come. In the meantime Boyd Westover was both perplexed and appalled by the magnitude of the problem he was set to solve. For a time he doubted even the solvency of the estate, but later reckonings had shown him that this fear was not justified, though the fact brought small relief to his mind, for peculiar reasons connected with the character of the property itself. If he might have sold out everything, he could have paid off all the debts, leaving a small but sufficient competency for his mother's support. As for himself, he gave no thought for the future. He was young, strong and fit to meet fate unarmed.