- Historic Sites
The Rage Of The Aged Lion
Alone in his empty mansion, the venerable Cassius Clay took unto himself a scandalously youthful bride; when the posse came for him, they met more than their match
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
“The ceremony began, and the man who had led thousands to victory in a crusade for human liberty, who had joyously faced death in innumerable desperate and personal hand-to-hand encounters, who in his youth was a perfect Apollo in appearance if not a Napoleon in the cause of freedom, whose portrait then hung in the palace of a dead Emperor, stood as meekly as a little child, with an expression of unspeakable happiness upon his time-worn but still-fresh and almost youthful features. By his side stood that simple country girl, as shy as a gazelle, knowing as little of the great world in which her venerable husband had played so conspicuous a part as the most untutored daughter of nature.
“The ceremony was very brief, and when it was over, the General gave her a vigorous kiss, which she bashfully but willingly returned. In another moment she had disappeared through the dining room door and Dr. Smith and I sat down before the fire, listening with rapt interest to the General’s reminiscences of his days in Russia, which came floating back upon him when I showed him the newspaper account of the Emperor’s funeral. As I got up to go, I asked General Clay if I could take a picture of his young bride. His expressive face darkened up instantly, and he replied, ‘No, she is not dressed for that. Her hair is not fixed in a fashionable mode. You see, she has no mother; nobody to fix her up like others are fixed. She’s never had her picture taken,’ continued the General, ‘and when she does, she’s going to be fixed up with nice clothes and her hair properly dressed.’
“He readily assented to my request for his own photograph and obligingly stood against the large magnolias while the picture was being taken. He is in excellent health, erect and muscular as an Indian, and bids fair to live many years if he will only quit fighting.
“He walked with me to the door, talking in his agreeable and courtly way. My rather hefty hand was lost and helpless in the grasp of that enormous paw—now so gentle—which had laid such violent hold upon so many luckless adversaries. ‘Goodbye, my young friend,’ he said. ‘Tell all my friends and also my enemies’ … there was just a fleeting grimness in his smile … ‘that I love my little bride better than any woman I ever saw. She is a good, virtuous girl, and I believe she will make me a good and loyal wife.’
“Some think the old General is crazy, but I do not think so. His mind is as clear as a bell. I do not even think he is in his second childhood. But if he is, I shall hereafter have no fear of growing old. … [signed] James Lane Allen.”
As Judge Stephen Trigg Logan, Lincoln’s old law partner, used to say, there was a great “upscuttle” in Richmond and Lexington about this thing; so much so that Judge Chenault, the very judge that had been the General’s friend, concluded that the occasion required the summoning of what was then known as a posse comitatus. It must have had its origin back in the old days of the English common law when the ordinary machinery for compelling the observance of law had broken down. The sheriff, at the order of the county judge, could be directed to form a committee of the people to put down the disorder. Under the statutes, the county judge was the only one who had the right to direct the sheriff to organize it; then, under the statute, the sheriff was required to report to the county judge in writing and describe how the expedition for which it had been created had fared. It could not have been more than two or three hours after James Lane Allen had left the house that the sheriff and six of his posse comitatus, heavily armed, rode down the lane to White Hall. Hitching their horses, and taking proper precautions, they advanced under cover up to the front of the house.
The old General had been suitably warned, apparently, of their approach; because he stood waiting for them on the piazza. He had one of his cannon with which he had once so valiantly defended his antislavery newspaper—the True American —out there. He was a little short of the proper sort of ammunition, but he had done his best; he had loaded it with pieces of trace chains, horseshoe nails, and pieces of old horseshoes. He had his Winchester rifle with him, and he had his knife strapped across his chest, and he had the revolver that President Lincoln had presented to him. Then he spoke to these former friends of his as they peeped out from behind the trees.
He said that it had been a great pride of his through the years that White Hall should be a place of hospitality for all his friends, and he regretted that there should ever be an occasion when it was not such a place. But inasmuch as these gentlemen seemed armed to the teeth and very cautious about exposing themselves, he was bound to conclude that they were there upon a hostile mission. He was bound further to conclude that the mission had to do with his young bride.
“Now,” he said, “gentlemen, nobody, not even my worst enemies, ever accused Cassius Clay of ever detaining a woman against her will. And, of course, if I may be immodest, I can say this, that nobody can say that they ever took a woman away from Cassius Clay, either.” Then he said, “Mrs. Clay is up at the window. You are quite at liberty to talk to her. If she wants to go with you, instead of to remain with me, why, that is entirely all right. I’ll be very glad to place her in your charge, and you can take her. But if she doesn’t want to go, then I can only urge you gentlemen, in order to avoid the shedding of blood, to depart, and stand not on the order of your going.”