As soon as we were married, we came to Virginia. Billy and I had an idea that everything south of the Mason and Dixon line was just waiting for us, and we wanted to earn the eternal gratitude of the community by helping it along. But after we had lived at Jefferson Corners for a little while, we began to feel that there wasn’t any community. There didn’t seem to be any towns like our nice New England ones, with sociable trolley-cars connecting them and farmhouses in a lovely line between. You can ride for miles through this country and never pass anything but gates. Then way up in the hills you will see a clump of trees, and in the clump you can be pretty sure there is a house. In the winter when the leaves are off the trees you can see the house, but in the summer there is no sign of it. In the old days they seemed to feel that they were lacking somewhat in delicacy if they exposed their mansions to the rude gaze of the public.
There was one mansion that Billy took me to now and then. It was empty, and that was why we went. The big houses which were occupied were not open to us, except in a trades-person sort of fashion, and Billy and I are not to be condescended to—we had a pair of grandfathers in the Mayflower. But that doesn’t count down here, where everybody goes back to William the Conqueror.
That great big empty house was a fine place for our Sunday afternoon outings. We always went to church in the morning, and people were very kind, but it was kindness with a question-mark. You see Billy and I live over the store, and none of them had ever lived on anything but ancestral acres.
So our Sunday mornings were a bit stiff and disappointing, but our afternoons were heavenly. We discovered the Empty House in the spring, and there was laurel on the mountains and the grass was young and green on the slopes, and the sky was a faint warm blue with the sailing buzzards black against it. Billy and I used to stop at the second gate, which was at the top of the hill, and look off over the other hills where the pink sheep were pastured. I am perfectly sure that there are no other sheep in the whole wide world like those Albemarle sheep. The spring rains turn the red clay into a mud which sticks like paint, and the sheep are colored a lovely terra-cotta which fades gradually to pink.
The effect is impressionistic, like purple cows. Billy doesn’t care for it, but I do. And I adore the brilliant red of the roads. Billy says he’ll take good brown earth and white flocks. He might be reconciled to black sheep but never to pink ones.
We used to eat our supper on the porch of the Empty House. It had great pillars, and it was rather awe-inspiring to sit on the front steps and look up the whole length, of those Corinthian columns. Billy and I felt dwarfed and insignificant, but we forgot it when we turned our eyes to the hills.
The big door behind us and the blank windows were shut and shuttered close. There were flying squirrels on the roof and little blue-tailed lizards on the stone flagging in front of the house; and there was an old toad who used to keep us company. I called him Prince Charming, and I am sure he was as old as Methuselah, and lived under that stone in some prehistoric age.