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The sole intention of the tales comprised in the following pages is to convey accurate descriptions of the scenery and population of the country in which the author resides. The only merit he claims for them is fidelity. It will be for others to decide whether this claim is well supported.
The legends now presented to the public are entirely fictitious; but they are founded upon incidents which have been witnessed by the author during a long residence in the western states, or upon traditions preserved by the people, and have received but little artificial embellishment. They are given to the American reader with great diffidence, and with a disposition to submit cheerfully to any verdict which public opinion may award.
The beautiful forests of Kentucky, when first visited by the adventurous footsteps of the pioneers, presented a scene of native luxuriance, such as has seldom been witnessed by the human eye. So vast a body of fertile soil had never before been known to exist on this continent. The magnificent forest trees attained a gigantic height, and were adorned with a foliage of unrivalled splendour. The deep rich green of the leaves, and the brilliant tints of the flowers, nourished into full maturity of size and beauty by the extraordinary fertility of the soil, not only attracted the admiration of the hunter, but warmed the fancy of the poet, and forcibly arrested the attention of the naturalist. As the pioneers proceeded step by step, new wonders were discovered; and the features of the country, together with its productions, as they became gradually developed, continued to present the same bold peculiarities and broad outlines. The same scale of greatness pervaded all the works of nature. The noble rivers, all tending towards one great estuary, swept through an almost boundless extent of country, and seemed to be as infinite in number as they were grand in size. The wild animals were innumerable. The forests teemed with living creatures, for this was the paradise of the brute creation. Here were literally "the cattle upon a thousand hills." The buffaloe, the elk, and the deer roamed in vast herds, and all the streams were rich in those animals whose fur is so much esteemed in commerce. Here lurked the solitary panther, the lion of our region, and here prowled the savage wolf. The nutritious fruits of the forest, and the juicy buds of the exuberant thickets, reared the indolent bear to an enormous size. Even the bowels of the earth exhibited stupendous evidences of the master hand of creation. The great limestone beds of the country were perforated with spacious caverns, of vast extent and splendid appearance, many of which yielded valuable minerals; while the gigantic bones found buried in the earth, far exceeding in size those of all known animals on the globe, attested the former existence in this region, of brutes of fearful magnitude.
Such were the discoveries of the first adventurers; such the inducements which allured them onward, and inclined them to linger in these solitudes, enduring the severest privations, and beset by dangers which might have shaken the firmest manhood. But the pioneers were men whose characters were not now to be formed in the school of adversity or danger. They were the borderers, already trained to war and the chase upon the extensive frontiers of our country; men cradled in the forest, and accustomed from their infancy to the bay of the prowling wolf, and the yell of the hostile Indian. Trained to athletic sports and martial exercises, their military propensities were cherished throughout their whole lives, and became engrafted in their nature. Martial habits mingled in all their rural pursuits. If they travelled or walked abroad, it was with the wary step, and jealous vigilance of the Indian: with an eye continually glancing into every thicket, and an ear prepared to catch the slightest alarm of danger. They slept upon their arms, and carried their rifles to the harvest field, to the marriage feast, and to the house of worship. Simple, honest, and inoffensive in their manners, kind and just to each other, they were intrepid, fierce, and vindictive in war. Under an appearance of apathy, with a gait of apparent indolence, and with careless habits, they were muscular and hardy, patient of fatigue, ardent in their temperament, warm hearted, and hospitable. They were the borderers of Virginia and North Carolina, where they had long formed a rampart between the less warlike inhabitants and the savage tribes. In the war of the revolution they had engaged with ardour; but while the acknowledgement of our national independence brought peace to the rest of our country, it left the frontiers still embroiled with the savages.
The backwoodsmen therefore, when they first emigrated into the western forests, had not to learn the rude arts of sylvan life, or to study the habits of the Indian and the beast of prey. These were enemies with whom they had long been familiar, and with whom they delighted to cope.
They lived in cabins hastily erected for temporary shelter, and as hastily abandoned when a slight allurement at some distant spot invited them to change their residence. Their personal effects were of course few, and their domestic utensils rude and simple. Their horses, their rifles, and their herds, constituted their wealth; and with these they were prepared at a moment's warning to push farther into the wilderness, selling their habitations for a mere trifle, or abandoning them to any chance occupant who might choose to take possession, and conquering for themselves a new home, from the panther and the Indian.
In the settlement of Kentucky, the pioneers emigrated singly, or in small parties. Unused to congregate in large bodies, unless on special occasions, and unaccustomed to military discipline, they chose to rely for defence on their own personal courage and vigilance. The boldest went foremost, traversed the country fearlessly, and having selected the choicest spots, however remote from other settlements, built their cabins, surrounded them with palisades to protect them from the Indians, and set all enemies at defiance. Others followed and settled around them, forming little communities, detached from each other, and each organized independently, for its own defence; and it was not until these insulated settlements extended, so as to come into contiguity, that the arm of government was felt, and the mild operation of law diffused. In the mean while the vast deserts by which they were separated, retained their pristine wildness, traversed in common by the Backwoodsman and the Indian, who never met without a conflict, which was usually of the most exterminating character.
The ferocity of the Indian was not likely to be tamed, nor his animosity to the white man to be conciliated, by this state of things. He had to do with men who had long been taught to consider the savage as a natural enemy, as hateful as the serpent, and as irreconcilable as the wolf; men whose ears had been accustomed from infancy to legends of border warfare, in which the savage was always represented as the aggressor, and as a fiend stimulated by hellish passions, and continually plotting some detestable outrage, or horrible revenge. Most of them had witnessed the Indian mode of warfare, which spared neither age nor sex; and many of them had suffered in their own families, or those of their nearest friends. They were familiar with the capture of women and children, the conflagration of houses, and the midnight assassination of the helpless and decrepid; and they had grown up in a hatred of the perpetrators of such enormities, which the philanthropist could hardly condemn, as it originated in generous feelings, and was kept alive by the repeated violation of the most sacred rights and the best affections.
As the settlements expanded, the wealthy and intelligent began to follow the footsteps of the pioneer. Virginia, the parent state, had rewarded the patriotism of many of her distinguished revolutionary officers, by large grants of land in Kentucky, and some of these emigrated among the early settlers. Many young gentlemen with elevated views and liberal educations, followed; and some of those who thus came with the rifle in hand, and commenced their professional career amid the commotion of the battle field, have since been widely known to fame, as among the most distinguished lawyers and statesmen of the nation.
There were others of a character still more essentially peaceful, who at an early period braved the dangers and privations of that unsettled region, stimulated by a noble and self denying sense of duty. While the tomahawk and fire brand were still busy; when to travel from one settlement to another, required the courage and hardihood of the hunter; the ministers of the gospel penetrated into the wilderness, and zealously pursued their sacred calling in defiance of every danger. They learned to endure fatigue, to provide for their wants, and to elude the common enemy, with the sagacity of woodsmen; and those of them who lived to enjoy the dignity of grey hairs, and the luxury of peaceful times, could narrate a series of strange adventures, and "hair breadth 'scapes," such as seldom occur in the lives of the clergy.
The incidents of the following tale have their date at a period when the settlements, though still detached, began to be so strong as to be considered permanent. Some of them were now regularly organized, and felt no longer any dread of predatory incursions of the neighbouring savage. The one particularly in which the scene is laid, had experienced a long interval of uninterrupted peace; agriculture was beginning to flourish, and the civil arts had been introduced. The woodsmen still retained their cabins, pursued the wild game for a livelihood, and joined in distant expeditions against the savages, and in defence of feebler settlements; while a number of the class who might more properly be called farmers, and several intelligent and wealthy families, had moved into the neighbourhood. Civil institutions had been introduced and the spirit of improvement was awake. The sound of the axe saluted the ear in every direction; roads were opened; magistrates had been appointed, and were assuming the authority of their stations; and females who had heretofore confined themselves within doors, brooding over their offspring like watchful birds, and who had found even the sacred fortress of women, the fire side, no protection from violence, now felt at liberty to indulge the benevolent propensity for visiting their neighbours, and talking over the affairs of the community, which is said by those acquainted with human nature, to be peculiar to the sex.
Among other novelties, a camp meeting was about to be held for the first time. This popular mode of worship was familiar to the emigrants from Virginia and North Carolina, where it had long been practised, and found highly beneficial and convenient in new settlements, where public edifices had not yet been erected, and where private habitations were too small to accommodate worshipping assemblies; and the effort now about to be made for its introduction in the west, was hailed as a happy omen for the country. The spot was selected with great care; the whole neighbourhood united in clearing the ground, erecting huts, and making the most liberal arrangements for the accommodation of the concourse which was expected to be assembled. For the convenience of obtaining water, a place was chosen on the margin of a small rivulet, and near a fine spring. The ground was a beautiful elevation, sloping off on all sides, and crowned with a thick growth of noble forest trees. The smallest of these, together with all the underbrush, were carefully removed, leaving a few of the most stately, whose long branches formed a thick canopy, at an elevation of fifty feet from the ground. The camp was laid off in a large square, three sides of which were occupied by huts, and the fourth by the stand or pulpit. The whole of the enclosed area was filled with seats roughly hewed out of logs.
A busy scene was presented on the day before the meeting commenced, occasioned by the arrival of the people, some of whom had travelled an immense distance. The larger number came on horseback, some in wagons, and some in ox-carts. They were loaded with beds, cooking utensils, table furniture, and provisions. These articles, however, were chiefly furnished by the inhabitants of the vicinity, who claimed the privilege of entertaining strangers. The persons resident in the immediate neighbourhood had each erected his own hut, with the intention of accommodating, besides his own family, a number of guests; large quantities of game had been taken, beef, pigs, and poultry had been killed, and the good wives had been engaged for several days in cooking meat, and preparing bread and pastry. The loads upon loads of good things for the body, which were accumulated, were marvellous to behold; not that there was any indulgence of luxury, or extravagant display, but as was very judiciously remarked on the occasion by a veteran hunter, "it took a powerful chance of truck, to feed such a heap of folks," and the generous Kentuckians, accustomed to practise the most liberal hospitality, could not be backward on a public occasion.
The meeting commenced on Thursday, and lasted until Monday, the whole of each day being occupied with religious exercises. At day-light in the morning, the voice of prayer was heard in each hut, were the families were separately assembled, as such, for worship. Shortly afterwards, the fires were kindled around the encampment, and a few of the females were seen engaged in cooking. A few individuals then collected on the seats in the area, and raised a hymn; others joined them, and the number swelled gradually until nearly the whole company was collected. They sang without books; the pieces being those of which the words were generally known. Some of the tunes were remarkably sweet, and thus sung in the open air, under the broad canopy of Heaven, and as it were in the immediate presence of the great object of all worship, were indescribably solemn and affecting; some were peculiarly wild, and some cheerful; many of them being the beautiful airs of popular ballads, which were in this manner appropriated to Divine worship. The balmy freshness of the morning air, the splendour of the rising sun, the stillness of the forest, and the wild graces of the surrounding scenery, gave a wonderful interest to this voluntary matin service. It was thus our first parents worshipped their Creator in Paradise, thus the early Christians assembled in groves and secluded places; and so close is the union between good taste and religious feeling, that while civilized nations have set apart the most splendid edifices for worship, ruder communities, in a similar spirit, assemble for the same purpose at the most genial hour, and the most picturesque spot. The heart powerfully excited by generous feelings always becomes romantic; the mind elevated by the noble pursuit of a high object becomes enlarged and refined; and although such impulses may be temporary, the virtuous actions which they produce have a tendency towards the soft, the graceful, and the picturesque, in their development. After the morning hymn, the preachers ascended the stand , and service was performed before breakfast. The rest of the day, with the exception of short intervals for refreshments, was filled in the same manner. But nothing could exceed the solemn and beautiful effect of the meeting at night. The huts were all illuminated, and lights were fastened to the trunks of the trees, throwing a glare upon the overhanging canopy of leaves, now beginning to be tinged with the rich hues of autumn, which gave it the appearance of a splendid arch finely carved and exquisitely shaded. All around was the dark gloom of the forest, deepened to intense blackness by its contrast with the brilliant light of the camp.
But we must hasten to our narrative. On Sunday morning a company consisting of three persons, was seen approaching the camp-ground. The elder of these, who rode alone in advance of the others, was Mr Singleton, a gentleman who had recently emigrated from Virginia. He was a farmer, a well educated man, in easy circumstances, who not being religious, nor in any manner connected with the sect under whose auspices the meeting was held, contented himself with participating no further in its proceedings, than by being a regular and respectful attendant on the daily services. Miss Singleton his only daughter, and Edward Overton her affianced lover, were his companions. They were to be married in a fortnight from this time. It is unnecessary to inform the erudite reader, that the young lady, who was just turned of seventeen, was beautiful and interesting, and her lover tall and handsome. Had they been otherwise, their lives might have slept in oblivion, with the fame of the "mute inglorious" rustics in Gray's elegy. Dennie, who has been called the American Addison, once amused himself by criticising an advertisement of a man who had stolen "a chunky horse," and with such a lesson before our eyes, we should hardly venture upon a chunky young man for a hero, or a hard favoured lady for a heroine. The decree of literary ostracism by which short gentlemen have been banished from the pages of fiction, is, in our humble opinion, unjust, believing, as we do, that to be an interesting man, and a tender lover, it is by no means necessary to possess the corporeal altitude of a grenadier. For the homely and the dull we put in no plea: it is a standing rule among writers, having a laudable care of their own fame, not to waste their midnight oil upon ugly or insipid people. The reader is therefore desired to understand distinctly, that the young couple now introduced, were not only worthy and amiable, but were in point of appearance all that the most romantic peruser of these veracious pages could rationally desire.
As they rode slowly along, they were deeply engaged in conversation; but it was easy to see from the sedate demeanour of Ellen Singleton, that the subject was suited to the day and the occasion. She was naturally gay and volatile; but latterly her thoughts had been turned to the subject of religion; and as the day approached when she was to take upon her the vows of wedlock, and to enter upon new and solemn duties, she felt more and more the necessity of directing her life agreeably to the precepts of the gospel. To these virtuous resolutions a new impulse had been given by the exercises of the camp-meeting. Her heart was sensibly awakened, and her judgment fully persuaded; and after serious reflection and preparation she was now ready to make a profession of her faith, by uniting herself with the church, and assuming those engagements which are imposed upon the disciples of the Redeemer. These duties she expected to take upon her that day; and Edward Overton felt deeply affected as he noticed the solemn tone, the deep conviction, and the firm determination of her mind; for however a false shame may sometimes induce the concealment of devotional feelings, under the mistaken notion that they will be considered as the evidence of weakness, the truth is, that a young lady is never so interesting in the eyes of her lover, as when conscientiously engaged in the performance of her duty. The senses of a young man are easily excited by beauty, wit, gaiety, and the thousand attractions of feminine loveliness, but there must be moral energy and pure principle, to secure his affections. Edward had admired Ellen when he saw her in the pride of beauty, and the flush of overflowing spirits; he had long known her to be refined and generous, and loved to contemplate her soft attractions and delicate graces; but he now witnessed the operations of her mind under a new aspect, and when he saw the good sense, the energy, and the strength of principle, which supported her in the determination to act up to her sense of duty, his love rose to a sentiment of devotion. Formerly Ellen had been in his eyes a beautiful vision, floating along in the tide of youthful enjoyment; but now that she had assumed an individuality of character, asserted her independence as a moral agent, and acknowledged her accountability to God, she became invested with a dignity, which gave an almost angelic sacredness to her charms.
On that day the concourse was greater than it had been before; and those who had been for years accustomed to the solitude of the forest, to alarm, toil, and privation, felt their hearts elevated with a new species of joy and gratitude, when they found themselves surrounded by their countrymen, and united with them in social and sacred duties. With many of them the sabbath had long passed unhonoured and even unnoticed, and its public acknowledgement called them back to holy and happy feelings; for there is in the observance of this day something so noble, so heart-cheering, so appropriate to the most virtuous impulses of our bosoms, that even the thoughtless cannot divest themselves of its influence. It is, to all who submit to its restrictions, a day of repose, when "the weary are at rest, and the wicked cease from troubling;" a day from which care and labour are banished, and when the burthens of life are lightened from the shoulders of the heavy laden. But to him who sincerely worships at the altar of true piety, and especially to one who has been led in infancy to the pure fountains of religion, the return of the long neglected sabbath brings up a train of pure and ecstatic recollections. To all it was the harbinger of peace, security, and civil order. It was delightful to see a whole community, who but recently had assembled only at the sound of the bugle, or by the glare of the beacon fire, now coming together by a spontaneous impulse, to mingle their hearts and voices in the rational and solemn exercises of religion. Insulated as that congregation was from the rest of mankind, the individuals composing it felt as if they were reunited with the great human family, when they resumed the performance of christian duties, and knelt before the Redeemer of men, in common with all Christendom, on his appointed day. Many of them had reared the altar of worship in their own families, and the sweet accents of praise had been heard, ascending through the gloom of the forest, mingled with the fiendish sound of the war-whoop, and the dissonant yell of the beast of prey; and they had seen days of moral darkness, of bodily anguish, of almost utter despair, when it seemed as if their prayers were not heard, and that God had abandoned that land to the blackness of darkness forever. But now He had set his bow in the heavens; His altar was publicly reared, and His presence sensibly felt; and they who believed in the reality of religion, felt assured that a sign was given them that they should not be destroyed from off the face of the land. Never did those simple and affecting words seem more appropriate, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace."
In the evening, when Mr Singleton and his daughter were about to return home, Edward Overton hastened to join them. Ellen had that day been among the number who became attached to the church, and deeply absorbed in devotional feelings, had abstracted her senses and thoughts from all other subjects. Edward had watched her with deep emotion, and he now approached her with a feeling of reverence, such as he had never felt towards her before. She extended her hand, and spoke to him with her usual kindness of manner, but in a tone in which seriousness was mingled with unwonted tenderness; and as he assisted her to mount her horse, whispered to him not to accompany them: "I cannot converse with you this evening, Edward," said she, "I wish to be alone, and I am sure that you will gratify me—come tomorrow." He saw the propriety of her request, and pressing her hand affectionately, bade her adieu, with a promise to visit her early the next morning.
The sun had just set as Mr Singleton and his daughter left the camp-ground, but having only a short distance to go, they were in no haste. It was a serene evening in September. The air was still and soft, and the sky had that richness and brilliancy of colour, which travellers describe as peculiar to the genial atmosphere of Italy. The leaves still hung upon the trees, and some of them retained their verdure, while others were tinged with yellow, brown, or deep scarlet, giving to the foliage every variety of hue. The wild fruits were abundant. The grape vines were loaded with purple clusters. The persimmon, the paw-paw and the crab-apple, hung thick upon the trees, while the ground was strewed with nuts. Ellen, who was fatigued with the confinement of the day, enjoyed the exercise, and the balmy air of the evening, and felt that the passing moments were among the most delightful of her life. They were in unison with her feelings, and emblematic of her situation: she had passed the joyous spring of life, and a season of riper enjoyment, of serene quiet, and useful virtue was pictured to her fancy in agreeable perspective.
They had nearly reached home when they met one of their neighbours, with whom Mr Singleton wished to converse for a few moments; he therefore stopped, desiring Ellen to ride slowly forward. Absorbed in her own reflections, and not dreaming of danger, she gave the rein to her spirited horse, who, impatient to return to his stable, quickened his pace imperceptibly, and she was soon out of sight of her parent. But their dwelling was now in view, and she felt no alarm, until her horse suddenly stopped, and snuffed the air, as if in great terror. She had heard of the keenness of scent by which these animals discover the approach of an Indian, and the affright that they evince on such occasions; and feeling confident that nothing but the vicinity of a savage, or of some ferocious beast, could thus alarm her gentle nag, she attempted to rein him up, in order to return to her father. But the horse stood as if fixed to the ground, trembling, and snorting with an accent of agony; and before she could form any other resolution, a party of Indians, lying in ambush on each side of the road, rushed forward, and dragged her from her horse, while the high bred animal, becoming frantic with terror, tore the bridle, which they had seized, from their grasp, and made his escape at full speed.
The savages having secured their prize, immediately began to retreat towards their towns at a rapid pace, forcing the afflicted girl to exert her utmost strength to keep up with them. It soon however grew dark, and they proceeded at a more deliberate gait, but still pursued their journey through the whole night, groping their way amid dense thickets beset with thorns and briars, and over ravines and the trunks of fallen trees, with ease to themselves, but with brutal violence to the delicate frame of their captive. Poor Ellen had need now of all the consolations which the religion that she had just professed could afford. She had been told that day that she would meet with afflictions that would try her faith, but that God would never forsake those who believed on him; and she now threw herself entirely upon him for protection. She prayed earnestly and sincerely, and felt a conviction that she was heard. Her courage rose with her confidence, and she went forward without a murmur, resigned to meet her fate, whatever it might be. Ellen, too, was naturally a girl of good sense and high spirit, and while she humbly relied upon divine protection, saw also the propriety of exerting herself; and knowing that the Indians would soon be pursued, she deliberately laid plans to retard the retreat, and disclose their path. Keeping up an appearance of diligence and obedience, she contrived to linger at the various obstacles which obstructed their way, while she employed herself, whenever she could do so without attracting notice, in tearing off small pieces of her dress, and dropping such articles as she could dispense with, in places where they would be likely to attract attention. The darkness of the night favoured this scheme; her reticule, handkerchief, &c. were thus strewed by the way, and in brushing through the thickets she broke the twigs with her hands, as signals to her pursuers.
The morning added to her griefs. The warrior who claimed her, and who seemed to be the leader of the party, having led her during the night by thongs of skin bound round her wrists, now removed the bands, and seemed to contemplate his prize with complacency. He assured her, in broken and barely intelligible English, of kind treatment, and promised that, if she behaved well, he would make her his wife. When Ellen shook her head in alarm, as if dissenting from this matrimonial arrangement, he said, "May be, you think I cannot support you. That is a mistake. The Speckled Snake is a great hunter. My lodge is on the bank of a great river, where the water is cold, and the big fish love to swim. The plains all round my village are covered with deer and buffaloe. The stars in the heavens are not so many as the cattle on our hunting grounds. The white man does not come there to destroy every thing that the Great Spirit made for his red people, like the hurricane when it sweeps through the woods. I can outrun the elk; I am stronger than the buffaloe; I am more cunning than the beaver. They call me the Speckled Snake, because I can conceal myself in the grass, so that my enemies step on me before they see me. I have only three squaws. I can support another very well, and my lodge is big enough for three or four more. You need not be afraid of my women treating you ill. I will beat them unmercifully if they strike you. My squaws fear me; I whip them severely when they quarrel with each other. Women need a great deal of whipping."
Late in the morning they halted to eat and rest. Ellen had no appetite for food. She had now been walking for fourteen hours without cessation, over hills, and through swamps and thickets. Her feet were swelled and lacerated, and her hands and arms torn with briars. Worn down by extreme fatigue and mental exhaustion, she began to suffer intense thirst and violent pains. But her bodily afflictions were light in comparison with the gloomy anticipations of her mind, and the shock already inflicted on her sensitive heart. She found her companions more brutal and loathsome than even prejudiced description had painted them. They had urged her forward with pointed sticks, and would have beaten her, had she not endeavoured to anticipate their wishes. They devoured their raw and almost putrid meat with the gluttony of beasts; and exhibited altogether a ferocity which seemed to belong to fiends rather than to human beings. The idea of remaining in their power was dreadful; death she thought would be infinitely preferable to such captivity. Like all generous minds, she had, too, in the moment of her severest sufferings, a sympathy for others which was more poignant than her own afflictions. She thought of her father, who had no child but herself, and whose heart would be wrung with intense agony by this event; and of Edward Overton, the devoted lover, whose affections were so closely linked with her own: and pictured to herself the misery they would endure upon her account. Still her courage remained strong, and her confidence in heaven unshaken; and as her captors swallowed their hasty meal, she sunk upon her knees, clasped her hands together, and with a countenance beaming calm resignation, engaged in audible prayer, while the Indians gazed at her with a wonder not unmingled with awe.
Here we shall leave her for the present, while we introduce another character to the reader's acquaintance. At a distance of some fifteen or twenty miles from the place of holding the religious meeting above alluded to, a solitary hunter was "camped out" in the woods. He had selected a spot in a range of low broken hills, on the margin of an extensive flat of wet alluvion land, to which the wild grazing animals resorted at this season, when the grass and herbage were beginning to wither upon the uplands. His camp was simply a roof resting on the ground, formed by leaning stakes of wood together, so as to make them meet at the top, and covering them with bark. It was not more than four feet high, and intended only to accommodate a single person in a reclining posture; and was placed in a thicket, so concealed by vines and branches, as not to be discoverable, except by close inspection, while the aperture, which supplied the place of a door, commanded a view to some distance in front. Not far from it was an Indian war path, leading from the flat to the uplands; and the hunter seemed to have purposely placed himself in a position from which he would be likely to see the war parties of the savages, should any pass, without being discovered by them.
The hunter was a man of middle height, not remarkably stout, but with a round built, compact form, happily combining strength with activity. His countenance was mild and placid, showing an amiable and contented disposition; and his eye was of a quiet contemplative kind. The muscles of his face were rigid, and strongly developed, and his complexion darkened by long exposure to the weather; but there were no lines indicating violent or selfish passions. It was a bold, manly countenance, but the prevailing expressions were those of benevolence and thought. There was an archness, too, about the eye, which showed that its possessor was not deficient in humour. He was evidently a man of strong mind, of amiable propensities, and of great simplicity of character. The quiet courage of his glance, the self possession and calm vigilance of his manner, together with a certain carelessness and independence of mien, would have pointed him out as a genuine pioneer, who loved the woods, and was most happy when roaming in pursuit of game, or reclining in his solitary retreat, with no companion but his faithful dog. Nor was this fondness for the silence of the wilderness the result of unsocial feelings: the hunter loved his friend, and enjoyed the endearments of his own fireside; but he forsook them in the same spirit in which the philosopher retires to the seclusion of his closet,—to enjoy unmolested the train of his own reflections, and to follow without interruption a pursuit congenial with his nature. Though unacquainted with books, he had perused certain parts of the great volume of nature with diligent attention. The changes of the seasons, the atmospherical phenomena, the growth of plants, and the habits of animals, had for years engaged his observing powers; and without having any knowledge of the philosophy of schools, he had formed for himself a system which had the merit of being often true, and always original.
On the same night in which Ellen Singleton was captured by the Indians, the hunter whom we have described slept in his camp. It was dark, but perfectly still, and his slumbers were undisturbed until near the dawn of day, when his dog, who lay on the outside, suddenly started up and uttered a low whine. The watchful hunter, accustomed to awake at the slightest alarm, raised his head and listened. The dog snuffed the air for a moment, and then crept cautiously into the camp, as if to apprise his master of approaching danger. The latter seized his rifle, and crept from the place of concealment, while the dog, with bristling hair, crouched on the ground, uttering at intervals a low suppressed moan, intended only for the ear of the master. The hunter looked cautiously around, and having satisfied himself that no enemy was within striking distance, directed his scrutiny to a spot where the war-path crossed the summit of a small knoll, which was bare of timber, and beyond which the blue sky could be seen. As he watched, a human figure was seen dimly traced on the horizon, passing rapidly over the summit of the knoll, along the Indian trail. Another, and then others followed, until the hunter had counted seven; but their forms were too indistinct to enable him to make any guess as to their character. He had other data however upon which to form a judgment. "Indians!" muttered he to himself, "yes, Drag would not crouch between my feet, trembling, and whining, and bristling, like a scared pig, if he did not scent a red skin. I can almost think I smell them myself. They have been in some devilment now, the abominable wretches! How they sneak off like thieves!" Then, while the last figure was yet in sight, he placed his mouth against a hollow tree to give a more sepulchral tone to his voice, and imitated the screech of the owl. The figure halted, and uttered a low short sound resembling a different note of the same bird; but the hunter continued his mournful serenade in loud prolonged accents, until the human prowler, apparently satisfied that it was the night song of the real bird, and not the signal of a friend, resumed his silent march. An owl, the tenant of a neighbouring oak, and who was the identical music master of our hunter, took up the strain with increased vivacity, but in a tone so nearly resembling that which had just ceased, as to have deceived the nicest ear, and the hunter resumed his reflections.
"Well, I've fooled them—and not the first time either. They are my old acquaintances, the Mingoes; and that is the signal of the Speckled Snake— the prince of mischief—the head devil of his tribe. Oh, the beggarly cut-throat villains! If I had Billy Whitley here now, or Simon Kenton, or Ben Logan, the way we'd fix these seven Indians would be curious. Some honest man's cabin is blazing now, I warrant, and his wife and children butchered. It is ridic'lous, I declare. They have no more bowels of compassion than a wolf. But, after all, the Indians have some good qualities. They are prime hunters, I will say that for them, and they are true to one another. I don't blame them, a grain, for their hatred to the Long Knives. That game is fair, for two can play at it. But their thirst for human blood, and their cruelty to women and children is ridiculous. It does no good to nobody, and is ruinous to the pleasant business of hunting; for a man cannot take a little hunt of a month or two, without the danger of having his cabin burnt, and his family murdered in his absence. Well, it is no use for me to sit here; I'll take another nap, and look after the Speckled Snake in the morning."
At the first appearance of day-light, the hunter sprang from his bed of skins. No time was required for the toilet, for he had slept with all his accoutrements about him, and came forth equipped at all points. His whole dress was of tanned buckskin, fitted closely to his form, and so arranged as to protect every part of his person from the thorns and briars which might assail it, in passing rapidly through the brushwood of the forest. Under one arm hung a large powder horn, which had been selected for the beauty of its curve and texture, carefully scraped and polished, and covered with quaint devices, traced with the point of the hunter's knife; under the other was suspended a square pouch of leather, containing flints, patches, balls, steel, tinder, and other "little fixens," as a backwoodsman would call them, constituting a complete magazine of supplies for a protracted hunt. On the belt supporting the pouch, in a sheath contrived for the purpose, was the hunter's knife, a weapon with a plain wooden handle, marvellously resembling the vulgar instrument with which the butcher executes his sanguinary calling. From a crevice in a neighbouring rock, where it had been artfully concealed, our pioneer supplied a small wallet with a store of dried venison, in order to be prepared for a march of several days, should occasion require. A broad leathern belt, secured round the waist by a strong buckle, confined the whole dress and equipment, and supported a tomahawk.
Thus clad, and prepared for action, the hunter, after carefully examining the priming of his rifle, scraping the flint, and passing his eye along the barrel to see that all was right, strode off towards the place where he had seen the Indians. "To think of their having the impudence to walk along a footpath, like white people," muttered he; "they must know that, if they have been in mischief, the settlements will be raised, and the horsemen will follow this trail. They didn't keep it long, I judge, but only fell in to here on the broken ground, to get along a little faster." Having reached the path, he examined it closely, but the hard ground afforded him but little satisfaction, and he proceeded cautiously towards a rivulet, or in the vernacular of the country, a branch, that meandered along the foot of the hill. Here he was again disappointed, for the Indians had cunningly diverged from the path, and crossed the water by a log, leaving no trace of their footsteps. "Aye, they are cunning enough," soliloquized the hunter, "I couldn't expect them to cross the branch at a ford, like a mail-carrier in the settlements. But they can't fool me; I have not been raised to the woods to be outwitted by a gang of thieving Mingoes. The Speckled Snake is famous for these tricks, and has done his best, there is no mistake about that; but no animal that moves upon feet can walk these woods without making a sign."
"Well, it is a pleasant life that the hunter leads, after all, though it is a hard one," continued he, as he opened his collar, bathed his face and hands in the clear stream, and seated himself on a log, to enjoy the cool morning air. "Nature did not make these clear waters, and beautiful woods, merely for the use of treacherous Indians,—no, nor for land speculators and pedlars. Here is quiet and repose, such as they know nothing of who toil in their harvest fields, or bustle about in crowded cities. And what is the use of all their labour? The enemy steals into the settlement, and in a moment their stacks, their barns, and their houses are all in flames, or the pestilence walks abroad, and they die by hundreds, like the Indians in a hard winter. The hunter avoids both extremes: he lays up provisions for the winter, but does not accumulate so much property as to tempt the Indian to rob, or the lawyer to fleece him. It makes me sorry when I go into the settlements, where the people are getting so crowded that there is no comfort, and where there is so much strife. It is so with all animals: confine cattle in a yard, and they will hook each other, or chickens in a coop, and they will peck out each other's eyes. But there is no stopping them; the pedlar's carts will be along over this very spot, before many years, and the time will come, when there will not be a buffalo in Kentucky. It is bad enough now. There are settlements already, where a woodsman cannot find his way for the roads and farms."
At this moment the tread of a horse was heard. The hunter threw his rifle over his arm, and stepped behind a large tree, to be prepared for friend or foe. In a moment, Edward Overton made his appearance, dashing along the war-path. His horse was panting and covered with foam, his dress torn, and his countenance haggard. The hunter emerged from his concealment to meet him. They were strangers to each other, but no time was lost in useless ceremony or unnecessary questions, and Edward soon related the catastrophe of the preceding evening.
"Mr Singleton's daughter, eh?" said the hunter coolly, "I have heard tell of the gentleman, though I never saw him. Very much of a gentleman, I expect—he came from Culpepper—I killed a deer once in sight of his plantation—though I never saw the man, to know him. Well the way these Indians act is curious."
"Shocking!" exclaimed the youth, "this atrocious act exceeds all former outrages."
"Well, I can't say as for that," replied the hunter, "though I am sorry for the young woman— they took my own daughter once, and I can feel for another man's child. But where is your company?"
"I became separated from them in the woods, and accidentally struck this path."
The hunter then related what he had seen, and the youth, elate with new hope, urged an instant pursuit.
"There are six of them, and but two of us," said the hunter.
"No matter if they were a hundred," replied the inpatient Overton, "she is suffering agony, and every moment is precious. Even now she may be at the stake."
"That is true. The savages treat their prisoners very ridiculously sometimes. But, young gentleman, I see you carry a fine looking rifle,—can you handle it well."
"As well as any man. Never fear me—I will stand by you. I would die a thousand deaths for that dear girl."
"I reckon you would; I see it in your eye. If there is not good Virginia blood in you, I am mistaken. The misfortune is that a man can only die once, however willing he might be to try it over again. Well, there is nothing gained without risk— and I feel for this poor child. Don't be in a fret, young man, I am just waiting to let you take breath. I will go with you provided you will obey my instructions. Now, mark what I say: hitch your horse to that tree, and leave him—examine your priming, and pick your flint—then fall into my track, tread light, keep a bright eye out, and say nothing. It will be curious if we two cannot outgeneral a half a dozen naked Mingoes."
The former apathy of the hunter's manner had entirely vanished. The excitement was sufficient to call out his energies. His eye was lighted up with martial ardour, his lips were compressed, and his step firm and elastic. Without waiting for further parley, he dashed forward, with a rapid stride, followed by his young and not less gallant companion. With unerring sagacity he struck at once into the trail of the enemy. "Here is plenty of Indian sign," said he, pointing to the ground, where the youth could see nothing, "and a beautiful plain track it is—almost as plain as some of the roads in the old dominion —there is the place where they crossed the branch, on that log, and here is the print of a woman's foot, a small slender foot with a shoe on, such as the ladies wear in the old settlements—it is narrower than our women's shoes, that we make in these parts—there is the other foot, without a shoe—she has lost one, poor thing—and there is a drop of blood on that leaf!"
Overton groaned, the tears started from his eyes, and his limbs trembled with emotion.
"Keep cool, young man—be a soldier—no one can fight when he is in a passion. Blood for blood is the backwoodsman's rule. We shall have them at the first halt they make. They cannot travel all the time, without stopping, no more than white folks."
The hunter now advanced with astonishing rapidity, for although his step seemed to be deliberate, it had a steadiness and vigour, which yielded to no obstacle. His course was as direct as the flight of a bee, and his footsteps, owing to a peculiar and habitual mode of walking, were perfectly noiseless, except when the dry twigs cracked under the weight of his body. His eye was continually bent on the ground, at some distance in advance of his course; for he tracked the enemy not so much by the footprints on the soil, as by the derangement of the dry leaves or growing foliage. The upper side of a leaf is of a deep green colour and glossy smoothness; the under side is paler, and of a rougher texture, and when turned by violence from its proper position, it will spontaneously return to it in a few hours, and again expose the polished surface to the rays of light. The hunter is aware of this fact, and in attentively observing the arrangement of the foliage of the tender shrubs, discovers, with wonderful acuteness, whether the leaves retain their natural position. So true is this indication, that where the grass is thick and tangled, a track of lighter hue than the general surface, may be distinctly seen for hours after the leaves have been disturbed. The occasional rupture of a twig, and the displacing of the branches in the thickets afford additional signs; and in places where the ground is soft, the foot prints are carefully noticed. Other cares, also, claimed the attention of the woodsman. His vigilant glance was often thrown far abroad. He approached every covert, or place of probable concealment, with caution, and sometimes when the trail passed through dangerous defiles, where the enemy might be lurking, suddenly forsook it, and taking a wide circuit, struck into it again far in advance. Thus they proceeded for three hours, with unremitting diligence and silence, when the pioneer halted.
"Here are fresh signs," said he, "the enemy are at hand; sit down and let us take breath."
The youth, whose confidence in his guide was now complete, obeyed in silence. The hunter again examined his arms.
"This is a charming piece," said he, in a low voice, "she never misses when she has fair play. It is a pleasant thing to have a gun that will not deceive you in the hour of danger. But then a man must do his duty, and have every thing in order."
Overton had been accustomed all his life to hunt occasionally for amusement. He was a young man of considerable muscular powers, and possessing the high spirit, and the apitude in the use of weapons, which are so characteristic of the youth of his country, was no mean proficient in the exercises of the forest. He now followed the example of his guide. They laid aside their coats and hats, drew their belts closely, and began to advance slowly, taking every step with such caution as not to create the slightest sound. They soon reached the summit of a small eminence, when the backwoodsman halted, crouched low, and pointed forwards with his finger. Overton followed with his eye the direction indicated, and beheld with emotions of indescribable delight, mingled with agony, the objects of his pursuit. At the root of a large tree sate the Indians, hideously painted, and fully equipped for battle, voraciously devouring their hasty meal. At a few yards distance from them knelt Ellen, in the posture already described, awaiting her fate with all the courage of conscious innocence, and all the resignation of fervent piety. Overton's emotion was so great, that the hunter with difficulty drew him to the ground, while he hastily whispered the plan of attack, a part of which had been concerted at their recent halt. "Let us creep to yon log, and rest our guns on it when we fire. I will shoot at that large warrior who is standing alone—you will aim at one of those who are sitting; the moment we have fired we will load again, without moving, shouting all the while, and making as much noise as possible;—be cool—my dear young friend — be cool. Overton smothered his feelings, and during the conflict emulated the presence of mind of his companion.
They crept on their hands and knees to the fallen trunk of a large tree, which lay between them and the enemy, and having taken a deliberate aim, the hunter gave the signal, and both fired. Two of the savages fell, the others seized their arms, while our heroic Kentuckians reloaded, shouting all the while. Ellen started up, uttering a shriek of joy, and rushed towards her friends. Two of the enraged Indians pursued, with the intention of dispatching her, before they should retreat. Edward Overton and his companion rushed to her assistance. One of the Indians had caught her long hair, which streamed behind her, in her flight, and his tomahawk glittered above his head, when Edward rushed between them, and received the blow, diminished in force, on his own arm. Undaunted, he threw himself on the bosom of the savage, and they rolled together on the ground, in fierce conflict. The hunter advanced upon his adversary more deliberately, and practising a stratagem, clubbed his rifle. The Indian, deceived into the belief that his piece was not charged, stopped, and was about to throw his tomahawk, when the backwoodsman, adroitly bringing the gun to his shoulder, shot him dead. Two other foemen remained, and were rushing upon the intrepid hunter, when the latter perceiving that the struggle between Overton and his antagonist was still fierce and doubtful, hastened to his assistance, and with a single blow of his knife, decided the combat. Edward sprung up, reeking with blood, and stood manfully by his friend, prepared for a new encounter; but the parties being now equal in number, the two remaining savages retreated.
In another moment Miss Singleton was in the arms of the heroic Overton. We shall not attempt to describe the joy of the young lovers. Ellen, who had thus far sustained herself with a noble courage, and whose resignation to her fate, dictated by an elevated principle of religious confidence, had won the admiration of her savage captors, and perhaps preserved her life, now felt the tender affections of the woman resuming their gentle dominion in her bosom. The faith, the hope which had supported her, though resulting from rational deductions, had been almost superhuman in their operation; but the gratitude to Heaven that now swelled her heart, and burst in impassioned eloquence from her lips, was warm from the native fountains of sensibility. Sudden deliverance from all the horrors by which she had been surrounded, was in itself sufficiently joyful; but it came infinitely enhanced in value, when brought by the hand of her lover; and when Edward Overton found that, though fatigued and bruised, she had suffered no material injury, his joy knew no bounds.
As for the hunter, he was engaged, like a prudent general, in securing the victory. He had carefully reloaded his gun, and having with his dog pursued the fugitives for a short distance, to ascertain that they were not lurking near, began to inspect the bodies of the slain, and collect their arms.
"Not a bad morning's work," said he, "here are four excellent guns, tomahawks and knives. Some of our people want arms badly, and these will just suit."
As he surveyed the field of battle, a flush of triumph was on his cheek; but it was evident that his paramount feelings were those of a benevolent nature, and that his sympathies were deeply enlisted. "There they sit," said he, glancing at the young couple, "as happy as a pair of blackbirds in a new ploughed furrow. This has been a sorrowful night to both of them, but they will look back to it hereafter with grateful hearts. They did not know before how much they thought of each other." He then approached the young lady, and with the kindness of a father, inquired into her sufferings and wants; and began to provide for her comfort.
In a few minutes a shout was heard, and another hunter, clad like the first, joined them. "Ah, here you are," exclaimed the new comer, as he gazed at the scene of action; "the work's all done, and here's the Speckled Snake as cold as a wagon tire. I have been on the trail all the morning."
"Pity but you had been here," replied the first hunter, "we have had a smart brush, I assure you."
"A pretty chunk of a fight, I see; there's no two ways about that. I knew the crack of your rifle, when I heard it, and hurried on. But I could n't get here no sooner, no how. Well, there's always plenty of help when it's not wanted. The woods is alive with rangers."
"Is my father among them?" inquired Miss Singleton.
"Oh yes—and the old gentleman is coming along pretty peart, I tell you. I took a short cut about a mile back, and left them. I never saw such a turn out, no how. The camp ground was emptied spontenaciously, in a few minutes after the news came. How do you stand it, Madam?"
"I am dreadfully bruised, but no bones are broken," replied Ellen, smiling.
"That is a mere sarcumstance," replied the rough son of the forest, waving his hand, "it's a mercy, madam, that the cowardly varments had n't used you up, body-aciously. These Mingoes act mighty redick'lous with women and children. They aint the raal true grit, no how. Vile on them! they ought to be essentially, and particularly, and tee-totally obflisticated off of the face of the whole yearth."
A party of horsemen now arrived, among whom was Mr Singleton. A litter was soon prepared for the rescued lady, who was borne on the shoulders of men, in joy and triumph, to the settlement, and found herself repaid for her sufferings by the assiduous attentions and affectionate congratulations of her friends and neighbours. When Mr Singleton had heard the particulars of the rescue, he pressed the happy Overton to his bosom, and looked round for the brave hunter, to whom he owed so deep a debt of gratitude, but he was no where to be seen. On the arrival of the horsemen, he had given the trophies of the fight in charge to one of them, and retired with his companion. Mr Singleton was deeply chagrined, for he felt a sense of obligation to the generous backwoodsman, which, as he knew that no other compensation would be received, he wished to acknowledge.
"Where can he have gone?" exclaimed he, "I must see him!"
"You will hardly have that pleasure to-day," replied one of the company. "No one ever saw him sitting down to chat, when there were Indians about. He is on the trail of the two that fled, and will have them before he sleeps."
No sooner was this communication made, than a party set out to join in the pursuit, and it was afterwards understood that they overtook the veteran pioneer, only in time to participate in the last scene of the tragedy of that eventful day.
Ellen Singleton recovered her health rapidly, and the wedding took place on the day that had been appointed. Agreeably to the hospitable custom of this country, a general invitation was given, and the whole neighbourhood was assembled. They had already collected, when Mr Singleton joined them, in company with the veteran woodsman, the most conspicuous character in this legend. He was now dressed like a plain respectable country gentleman. His carriage was erect, and his person seemed more slender than when cased in buckskin. Though perfectly simple and unstudied in his manners, there was nothing in them of the clownish or bashful, but a dignity, and even an ease approaching to gracefulness. His countenance was cheerful and benevolent, and in his fine eye there was a manly confidence mingled with a softness of expression, which afforded a true index of the character of the man. His hair, a little thinned, and slightly silvered with age, gave a venerable appearance to his otherwise vigorous and elastic form. His agreeable smile, his well known artlessness of character, and amiability of life, as well as his public services, rendered him an universal favourite, and his entrance caused a murmur of pleasure.
"I have had some trouble," said Mr Singleton, "in finding our benefactor, whose modesty is as great as his other good qualities. But as the happiness of this occasion would have been incomplete without him, I have presevered. And now, my friends and neighbours, allow me to acknowledge publicly my gratitude for his intrepid conduct on the late mournful occasion, when my only child was rescued from a dreadful captivity by his generous interference; and to exert the last act of my parental authority by decreeing that the first kiss of the bride shall be given to the pioneer of the west—the Patriarch of Kentucky."
"Thank you," replied the veteran, "but as I have no wish to take such a liberty with any gentleman's wife, I shall apply now for my reward to Miss Singleton, leaving it to Mrs Overton to compensate a certain brave young gentleman, to whom she owes a great deal more than to me."
And so the matter was settled, greatly to the satisfaction of all parties.
On a pleasant evening in the autumn of the year 18—, two travellers were slowly winding their way along a narrow road which led among the hills that overhang the Cumberland river, in Tennessee. One of these was a farmer of the neighbourhood— a large, robust, sunburnt man, mounted on a sleek plough horse. He was one of the early settlers, who had fought and hunted in his youth, among the same valleys that now teemed with abundant harvests; a rough plain man clad in substantial homespun, he had about him an air of plenty and independence, which is never deceptive, and which belongs almost exclusively to our free and fertile country. His companion was of a different cast—a small, thin, grey haired man, who seemed worn down by bodily or mental fatigue to almost a shadow. He was a preacher, but one who would have deemed it an insult to be called a clergyman; for he belonged to a sect who contemn all human learning as vanity, and who consider a trained minister as little better than an impostor. The person before us was a champion of the sect. He boasted that he had nearly grown to manhood, before he knew one letter from another; that he had learned to read for the sole purpose of gaining access to the scriptures, and, with the exception of the hymns used in his church, had never read a page in any other book. With considerable natural sagacity, and an abundance of zeal, he had a gift of words, which enabled him at times to support his favourite tenets with a plausibility and force, amounting to something very nearly akin to eloquence, and which, while it gave him unbounded sway among his own followers, was sometimes not a little troublesome to his learned opponents. His sermons presented a curious mixture of the sententious and the declamatory, an unconnected mass of argument and assertion, through which there ran a vein of dry original humour, which, though it often provoked a smile, never failed to rivet the attention of the audience. But these flashes were like sparks of fire, struck from a rock; they communicated a life and warmth to the hearts of others, which seemed to have no existence in that from which they sprung, for that humour never flashed in his own eye, nor relaxed a muscle of his melancholy, cadaverous countenance. yet that eye was not destitute of expression; there were times when it beamed with intelligence, moments when it softened into tenderness; but its usual character was that of a visionary, fanatic enthusiasm. His ideas were not numerous, and the general theme of his declamation consisted of metaphysical distinctions between what he called "head religion," and "heart religion;" the one being a direct inspiration, and the other a spurious substitute learned from vain books. He wrote a tract to show it was the thirst after human knowledge, which drove our first parents from paradise, that through the whole course of succeeding time school larning had been the most prolific source of human misery and mental degradation, and that bible societies, free masonry, the holy alliance, and the inquisition, were so many engines devised by king-craft, priest-craft, and school-craft, to subjugate the world to the power of Satan. He spoke of the millennium as a time when "there should be no king, nor printer, nor Sunday school, nor outlandish tongue, nor vain doctrine—when men would plough, and women milk the cows, and talk plain English to each other, and worship God out of the fulness of their hearts, and not after vain forms written by men." In short, this worthy man was entirely opposed to the spread of religious knowledge; "when a man has head religion," he would say, "he is in a bad fix to die—cut off his head, and away goes his soul and body to the devil." The remainder of his character may be briefly sketched. Honest, humane and harmless in private life, impetuous in his feelings, fearless and independent by nature, and reared in a country where speech is as free as thought, he pursued his vocation without intolerance, but with a zeal which sometimes bordered on insanity. He spoke of his opponents more in sorrow than in anger, and bewailed the increase of knowledge as a mother mourns over her first born. He was of course ignorant and illiterate; and with a mind naturally vigorous, and capable of high attainments, his visionary theories, and perhaps a slight estrangement of intellect, had left the soil open to superstition, so that while at one time he discovered and exposed a popular error with wonderful acuteness, at another he blindly adopted the grossest fallacy. Such was Mr Zedekiah Bangs. His innocent and patriarchal manners insured him universal esteem, and rendered him famous, far and wide, under the title of Uncle Zeddy; while his acknowledged zeal and sanctity gained for him in his own church, and among the religious generally, the more reverend appellation of Father Bangs.
Our worthy preacher, having no regular stipend— for he would have scorned to preach for the lucre of gain, cultivated a small farm, or as the phrase is, raised a crop, in the summer, for the subsistence of his family. During this season he ministered diligently among his neighbours; but in the autumn and winter his labours were more extensive. Then it was that he mounted his nag, and rode forth to spread his doctrines, and to carry light and encouragement to the numerous churches of his sect. Then it was that he travelled thousands of miles, encountering every extreme of fatigue and privation, and every vicissitude of climate, seldom sleeping twice in the same bed, or eating two meals at the same place, and counting every day lost in which he did not preach a sermon. Gentlemen who pursue the same avocation with praiseworthy assiduity in other countries, have little notion of the hardships which are endured by the class of men of whom I am writing. Living on the frontier, where the settlements are separated from each other by immense tracts of wilderness, they brave toil and hunger with the patience of the hunter. They traverse pathless wilds, swim rivers, encamp in the open air, and learn the arts, while they acquire the hardihood of backwoodsmen. Such were the labours of our worthy preacher; yet he would accept no pay; requiring only his food and lodging, which are always cheerfully accorded, at every dwelling in the west, to the travelling minister.
Among his converts was Johnson, the farmer in whose company we found him at the commencement of this history. Tom Johnson, as he was familiarly called, had been a daring warrior and hunter, in the first settlement of this country. When times became peaceable he married and settled down, and, as is not unusual, by the mere rise in value of his land, and the natural increase of his stock, became in a few years comparatively wealthy, with but little labour. A state of ease and affluence was not without its dangers to a man of his temperament and desultory habits; and Tom was beginning to become what in this country is called a "Rowdy," that is to say, a gentleman of pleasure, without the high finish which adorns that character in more polished societies. He "swapped" horses, bred fine colts, and attended at the race paths; he frequented all public meetings, talked big at elections, and was courted by candidates for office; he played loo, drank deep, and on proper occasions "took a small chunk of a fight."
Tom "got religion" at a camp-meeting, and for a while was quite a reformed man. Then he relapsed a little, and finally settled down into a doubtful state, which the church could not approve, yet could not conveniently punish. He neither drank nor swore; he wore the plain dress, kept the Sabbath, attended meetings, and gave a cordial welcome to the clergy at his house. But he had not sold his colts; he went sometimes to the race ground; he could count the run of the cards and the chances of candidates; and it was even reported that he had betted on the high trump. From this state he was awakened by Father Bangs, who boldly arraigned him as a backslider. "You've got head religion ," said the preacher, "you're a Sunday Christian—on the Sabbath you put on your straight coat and your long face, and serve your Master—the rest of the week you serve Satan; now it does n't take a Philadelphia lawyer to tell, that the man who serves the master one day, and the enemy six, has just six chances out of seven to go to the devil; you are barking up the wrong tree, Johnson,—take a fresh start, and try to get on the right trail." Tom was convinced by this argument, became a changed man, and felt that he owed a heavy debt of gratitude to the venerable instrument of his reformation, whom he always insisted on entertaining at his house when he visited the neighbourhood. On this occasion, the good man, having preached in the vicinity, was going to spend the night with his friend Johnson.
As the travellers passed along, I am not aware that either of them cast a thought upon the romantic and picturesque beauties by which they were surrounded. The banks of the Cumberland, at this point, are rocky and precipitous; sometimes presenting a parapet of several hundred feet in height, and sometimes shooting up into cliffs, which overhang the stream. The river itself, rushing through the deep abyss, appears as a small rivulet to the beholder; the steam-boats, struggling with mighty power against the rapid current, are diminished to the eye, while the roaring of the steam and the rattling of wheels come exaggerated by a hundred echoes.
The travellers halted to gaze at one of these vessels, which was about to ascend a difficult pass, where the river, confined on either side by jutting rocks, rushed through the narrow channel with increased volocity. The prow of the boat plunged into the swift current, dashing the foam over the deck. Then it paused and trembled; a powerful conflict succeeded, and for a time the vessel neither advanced nor receded. Her struggles resembled those of an animated creature. Her huge hull seemed to writhe upon the water. The rapid motion of the wheels, the increased noise of the engine, the bursting of the escape-steam from the valve, showed that the impelling power had been raised to the highest point. It was a moment of thrilling suspense. A slight addition of power would enable the boat to advance,—the least failure, the slightest accident, would expose her to the fury of the torrent and dash her on the rocks. Thus she remained for several minutes; then resuming her way, crept heavily over the ripple, reached the smooth water above, and darted swiftly forward.
"Them sort of craft did n't use to crawl about on the rivers, when we first knew the country, brother Johnson," said the preacher.
"No, indeed," returned the other.
"And the more 's the pity," continued the preacher; "does not the apostle caution us against the inventions of men? We had vain and idle devices enough to lead our minds off from our true good, without these smoking furnaces of Satan, these floating towers of Babel, that belch forth huge volumes of brimstone, and seduce honest men and women from home, to go visiting around the land in large companies, and talk to each other in strange tongues."
"I am told," said Johnson, "that some of them carry tracts and good books, for the edification of the passengers."
"Worse and worse!" replied the preacher; "tracts! what are they but printed snares for the soul? There was no printing-office in Eden—oh no! and when all the creatures of the earth were gathered into the ark, there was no missionary, male or female. But go thy way," he exclaimed, raising his voice, "thou floating synagogue of Satan! soon shall the time arrive when there shall be neither steam boat, nor sunday school, nor other device of vain philosophy!"
"Others of these boats," said the farmer, "have cards and music and wine, with every sort of amusement, on board."
"These are bad things," returned the preacher; "men and women should not drink rum, nor swear, nor gamble, nor make uncouth noises with out-landish instruments; but all these are not so bad as tracts—for these former are open enemies, while the latter catch a man's soul asleep under a tree, and kidnap him when he is camped out afar from home."
"In our day, father, the merchants were well enough satisfied to tote their plunder upon mules and pack horses. And that puts me in mind of a story that happened near about where we are now riding."
"What is that, brother Johnson?"
"In an early time, some traders were crossing the country, and aimed to make the river at the ford just below this. They had a great deal of money, all in silver, packed upon mules, for in them days we had n't any of this nasty paper money."
"No—nor much of any sort," said the preacher slyly.
"If we had n't," replied the former sturdily, "we had what answered the purpose as well. I mind the time when tobacco was a legal tender, and 'coon-skins passed currenter than bank notes does now. In them days, if a man got into a chunk of a fight with his neighbour, a lawyer would clear him for half a dozen muskrat skins, and the justice and constable would have scorned to take a fee, more than just a treat or so. But you know all that—so I'll tell my tale out, though I reckon you've heard it before?"
"I think I have," said the other, "but I'd like to hear it again—it sort o' stirs one up, to hear about old times."
"Well, the traders had got here safe, with their plunder, when the news came that Indians were about. There was no chance to escape with their loaded mules; so they unloadened them, and buried the money somewhere among these rocks; and then being light, made their escape. So far, the old settlers all agree; but then some say that the Indians pursued on after them, a great way into Kentucky, and killed them all; others say that they finally escaped, the fact is, that the people never came back after the money, and it is supposed that it lies hid somewhere about here to this day."
"Has not that money often been searched after?"
"Oh, bless you, yes; a heap of times. Many a chap has sweated among these rocks by the hour. Only a few years ago, a great gang of folks came out of Kentucky, and dug all around here, as if they were going to make a crop; but to no purpose."
"And what, think you, became of the money?"
"People say it is there yet."
"But your own opinion?"
"Why, to tell you my opinion sentimentally," replied Tom, winking and lowering his voice, "I do n't believe in that story."
"How?" exclaimed the other incredulously.
"It's just a tale—a mere noration," said Tom, "there's no two ways about it."
"Indeed! how can you think so?"
"Why, look here, father Zedekiah,—I know, very well, that every man, woman, and child within fifty miles, thinks there is certainly a vast treasure buried in these rocks; but when I almost as good as know to the contrary, I am not bound to give up my opinion."
"Very right, that 's just my way; but let us have your reasons."
"I have fought the Indians myself," said the farmer, "and I know all their ways. They never come out boldly into the open field, and take a fair fight, fist and skull, as Christians do; but are always sneaking about in the bushes, studying out some devilment. The traders and hunters understand them perfectly well; the Indians and they are continually practising devices on each other. Many a trick I've played on them, and they have played me as many. Now it seems to me to be nateral—just as plain as if I was on the ground and saw it, that them traders should have made a sham of burying money, and run off while the Indians were looking for it."
"That's not a good argument, brother Johnson."
"I have great respect for your opinion," replied the farmer, but on this subject I have made up my mind—"
"So have I," interrupted the preacher, and reining in his horse, he fell in the rear of his companion, as if determined to hear no more.
Johnson, in broaching this subject, had not been aware of the interest it possessed in the mind of his friend. The fact was, that Bangs in his visits to this country had frequently heard the report alluded to, and it was precisely suited to operate upon his credulous and enthusiastic mind. At first he pondered on it as a matter of curiosity, until it fastened itself upon his imagination. In his long and lonesome journeys, when he rode for whole days without seeing a human face, or habitation, he amused himself in calculating the probable amount of the buried treasure. The first step was to fix in his own mind the number of mules, and as the tradition varied from one to thirty, he prudently adopted the medium between these extremes. He found some difficulty in determining the burthen of a single mule, but to fix the number of dollars which would be required to make up that burthen, was impossible, because the worthy divine was so little acquainted with money, as not to know the weight of a single coin. For the first time in his life he lacked arithmetic, and found himself in a strait, in which he conceived that it might be prudent to take the counsel of a friend.
Near the residence of the reverend man dwelt an industrious pedagogue. He was a tall, sallow, unhealthy looking youth, with a fine clear blue eye, and a melancholy countenance, which at times assumed a sly sarcastic expression that few could interpret. In the winter, when the farmers' children had a season of respite from labour, he diligently pursued his vocation. In the summer he strolled listlessly about the country, sometimes roaming the forest with his rifle, sometimes eagerly devouring any book that might chance to fall into his hands. Between him and the preacher there was little community of sentiment; yet they were often together: the scholar found a source of inexhaustible amusement in the odd, quaint, original arguments of the divine, and the latter was well pleased to measure weapons with so respectable an opponent. They never met without disputation, yet they always parted in kindness. The preacher, instead of wondering, with the rest of the neighbours, how "one small head could carry all he knew," derided the acquirements of his friend as worse than vanity; and the latter respectfully, but stoutly, maintained the dignity of his profession.
It was not without many qualms of pride that the worthy father now sought the school-master, with the intention of gaining information which he knew not how to get from any other source. Having once made up his mind, he acted with his usual promptness, and unused to intrigue or circumlocution, proceeded directly to his point.
"Charles," said he, "can you tell me how many dollars a stout mule might conveniently carry?"
"Indeed I cannot."
"Do none of your trumpery books treat of these things?"
"They do not, Uncle Zeddy; but they lay down the principles upon which such results may be ascertained."
"Very well; let us see you resolve this question by your arithmetic."
"You must first give me the data: what is the burthen of a mule?"
"Can't tell; never backed one in my life."
"Well, let us see:—we will say that a stout animal of this class might easily carry you and me, with all our books, money, and learning; now we cannot rate our two selves at more than two hundred and fifty pounds, and for our luggage, tangible and intellectual, we may set down ciphers; a dollar weighs an ounce, and there is the question stated: if one dollar weighs one ounce, how many dollars will it take to make two hundred and fifty pounds? Work it by the rule of three, and there is the answer."
The preacher's eyes glistened as he saw the figures; a long deep groan such as he was in the habit of heaving upon all occasions, whether of joy or sorrow, burst involuntarily from him.
"Charles, my son," said he, gasping for breath, and lowering his voice to a whisper, while his eyes, riveted upon the sum total, seemed ready to start from their sockets, "suppose there were fifteen such mules?"
"In that case," replied the pedagogue carelessly, as he multiplied his former product by the sum named, "in that case the result would be so much."
"Read the figures to me," said the preacher, groaning again, "I am not certain that I can make them out."
"It is only about forty-five thousand dollars."
"Only! oh the blasphemy of learning! Young man, the wealth of Solomon was nothing to this— yea, the treasures of Nebuchadnezzar were as dust in the balance compared with this hoard!" and he walked slowly away, muttering "it is too much! it is too much!"
It was indeed a vast sum! more than honest Zedekiah had even thought or dreamt of; and to a mind like his, confined heretofore to a single subject, it developed a new and an immense field of speculation. He seemed to have opened his eyes upon a new world. He conjured up in his mind all the harm that a bad man might do with so much money; and trembled to think that any one individual might, by possibility, become master of a treasure so great, as to be fraught with destruction to its possessor, and danger to the whole community in which he lived. He thought of the luxury, the dissipation, the corruption, that it might lead to; and rising gradually to a climax, he adverted to the ruinous and dreadful consequences, if this wealth should fall into the hands of some weak minded, zealous man, who was misled by false doctrines: how many Sunday schools it would establish, how many preachers it would educate, how many missionaries it would send forth, to disseminate a spurious head religion throughout the world!
Turning from this picture, he reflected on the benefits which a good man might with all this money confer on his fellows. Ah! Zedekiah, now it was that the tempter, who had been all along sounding thee at a distance, began to lay a regular siege to thy integrity! Now it was that he sought to creep into the breast, yea, into the very heart's core, of worthy Zedekiah! He had always been poor and contented. But age was now approaching, and he could fancy a train of wants attendant upon helpless decrepitude. He glanced at the tattered sleeve of his coat, and straightway the vision of a new suit of snuff-coloured broadcloath rose upon his mind. He thought of his old wife who sat spinning in the chimney corner at home; she was lame, and almost blind, poor woman! and he promised to carry her a pound of tea, and a bottle of good brandy. In short, the Reverend Mr Bangs set his heart upon having the money.
Such was the state of matters, when the conversation occurred which I have just related. It was again renewed at Johnson's house, that night, after a substantial supper, and ended as such conversations usually do, in confirming each party in his own opinion. Indeed the old man had that day got, as he thought, a clue, which might lead to the wished for discovery. He had heard of an ancient dame, who many years before had dropped mysterious hints, which induced a belief that she knew more on this subject than she chose to tell.
On the following morning, the preacher rose early, saddled his nag and rode forth in search of the old woman's dwelling, without apprising any one of his intention. He soon found the spot, and the object of his search. She was a poor, decrepid, superannuated virago, who dwelt in a hovel as crazy, as weatherbeaten, and as frail, as herself. She was crouched over the fire smoking a short pipe, and barely turned her head, as the reverend man seated himself on the bench beside her.
"It 's a raw morning," said the preacher.
"I've seen colder," was the reply.
"So have I," returned Zedekiah; and there the tete a tete flagged. The old man warmed his hands, stirred the fire with his stick, and being a bold man, advanced again to the charge.
"Pray, madam, are you the widow Anderson?"
"That's my name; I'm not ashamed to own it," replied the woman sullenly.
"You're the person then that I was directed to; I wished to get some information on a particular subject."
"Aye; you're after the money too, I suppose— the devil 's in all the men!"
"The devil never had a worse enemy than I am," said the old man archly.
"I do n't know who you are," replied the woman, "but you may travel back as wise as you came."
The preacher mentioned his name, his vocation, and the object of his visit. The virago, in spite of her ill-nature, was evidently soothed when she learned that her visitor was no less a person than the Reverend Mr Bangs. "Who'd have thought that the like of you would come on such an errand?" said she; "well, well, it's little I know, but you are welcome to that."
Now came the secret. The husband of Mrs Anderson had been a water-witch, a finder of living fountains. These he discovered by the use of the divining rod, which is well known to possess a virtue in the hands of a favoured few, of which it is destitute when used by others. Anderson wielded the hazel twig with wonderful success, and became so celebrated that he was sent for far and near to find water. Inflated with success, he became ambitious of higher distinction and greater gain. He imagined that the same art by which he discovered subterranean fountains, would enable him to find mineral treasures in the bowels of the earth. He fancied his fortune already made by the discovery of mines of precious metals; the hidden silver on the shores of the Cumberland would of itself repay his labours. He put all his ingenuity in requisition, and busied himself for years in endeavouring to find a wand that would "work" in the vicinity of minerals, as the ordinary divining rod operates in the neighbourhood of water. In the latter process, much depends on the kind of wood of which the rod is composed; the hazel, the peach, the mulberry, and a few others, all of rapid growth, are the most approved. Proceeding upon the same principle, he endeavoured to find a tree or shrub which should possess an attractive sympathy for metals. Success at length crowned his operations; he found a tree whose branches had the desired virtue. He discovered veins of iron ore in the surrounding hills, and had announced to his wife that he was on the point of finding the buried money, when death, who respects a water-witch no more than a beggar or a king, arrested his career.
But when she came to speak of the manner of his death, her voice faltered. She had often warned Anderson that it was dangerous to meddle with hidden treasures. They were generally protected by supernatural beings, who would not allow them to be removed with impunity; and several persons who had been engaged in the same search before Anderson, had been alarmed by appearances which caused them to desist. One day he came home to his dinner in high glee, and throwing aside his rod, for which he declared he had now no further use, he swore that he would have the money before he slept. It was deposited, he said, in a certain cliff, which was very difficult of access, and which he was determined to visit that afternoon. It was midnight before he returned. He crawled into his cabin and sunk with a groan on the floor. His wife struck a light, and hastened to his assistance, but he was speechless, and soon expired. His body was covered with bruises, and the general opinion was that he had been precipitated from the rocks by some invisible hand.
The rod remained in the possession of his wife, but its existence was a secret to all others. Fear had prevented her from ever trying its efficacy, and inasmuch as it was useless to herself, she took the wise and spirited resolution, that no other person should profit by its virtues, and uniformly turned a deaf ear to the applications frequently made by those who, knowing the habits of her husband and his researches in relation to the matter, applied to her for information. She now presented to the preacher the long treasured wand, the bark of which having been peeled off, it was impossible to discover from what tree it had been taken.
For several days after this event, the reverend man continued to traverse the neighbourhood, carefully concealing himself from observation, and exploring with the metallic rod every spot where it was probable the treasure might be hidden, and particularly the cliffs near to Anderson's cabin. One day he returned to the house of Johnson with a look of triumph, and desiring a private interview with his host, informed him that he had found the spot! It was so situated that he could not reach it without assistance, and having described the place accurately to his friend, he concluded by offering him a liberal share, if he would accompany and aid him. To his surprise Johnson briefly and peremptorily refused.
Offended at the obstinacy of the farmer, Father Bangs left his house. On the road he met a stranger travelling on foot, with whom he entered into conversation, and finding him prompt and intelligent in his replies, he engaged him as an assistant, and appointed a spot at which they were to meet on the following morning.
At the hour appointed Uncle Zeddy proceeded to the rendezvous, where the stranger soon appeared, bearing on his shoulder an immense coil of rope. They proceeded to a tall cliff, which, springing from the margin of the river, towered into the air to the height of two hundred feet. The summit on which they stood presented a table surface of rock, to which they had ascended by a gentle acclivity. Few ventured to the edge of that precipice, for its verge, projecting over the river, overhung it at such a fearful distance that the boldest trembled as they looked into the abyss. The face of the precipice as viewed from the opposite shore seemed to be nearly perpendicular, the slight curve by which the summit projected over the water, being not observable from that direction; and about one-third of the way down, might be seen the mouth of a cave, which was deemed inaccessible to all but the birds of the air. The preacher, after due consideration, had arrived at the conclusion, that the money was in this cave; and having fastened the cable about his own waist, he required his assistant to lower him into the gulf.
It would have been edifying to have seen the courage with which that old man passed over the verge, and the steady eye with which he looked down upon the deep abyss, the jutting rocks, and the foaming torrent below; while his companion, having passed the end of the rope round a tree, advanced to the edge of the rock, and gazed after him with wonder. Uncle Zeddy found no difficulty in descending; but on getting opposite to the mouth of the cave, it was no small exploit to achieve an entrance, for as the cable hung perpendicularly from the projecting peak, he found himself swinging in the air, several feet in advance of the face of the rock. The only chance for it, was to swing in by an horizontal movement, and to do this it was necessary first to give the rope a motion like that of a pendulum. It was not easy to produce this effect, for as the preacher hung suspended by the middle, like the golden fleece, it was difficult to throw his weight in the desired direction. This, however, was at last accomplished; and, after swinging to and fro for half an hour, Uncle Zeddy succeeded in grasping the rock at the opening, and drew himself into the cave.
The cavern was small, and our worthy adventurer soon satisfied himself that it did not contain the object of his search. The sides were all of solid rock, without a crevice or other place of concealment. Being ready to return, he gave the signal agreed upon, by jerking the rope; he waited a few minutes and jerked again—and again—and again, but without success. Was it possible that his assistant could be so depraved as to abandon him? He crept to the mouth of the aperture, and looked out. Under different circumstances he could have enjoyed the rushing of the water, and the pleasant fanning of the breeze as it swept along the valley. But now the wind seemed to murmur dolefully, the waves looked angry, and the cragged rocks had a fearful aspect of danger. He shuddered at the thought of being forsaken to die of hunger. He shouted; and his voice echoed from rock to rock. An hour, and another hour, passed. A steam boat came paddling along, and he screamed for help. The crew looked up; they saw the cable, and a man's head peeping out of the cavern at a dizzy height above them, and shouted loud in admiration of his daring exploit. He waved his neckcloth in the air, and uttered piteous cries, but they understood him not, and only shouted and laughed the louder as they beheld what they supposed to be the antic bravadoes of some daring hunter. The boat passed on. Night came, and he gave himself up for lost. The sun rose and he was still a prisoner. The morning wore away wearily; loss of sleep, hunger, and terror, had nearly worn the old man out—when he felt the rope move! A thrill of joy passed through his chilled frame. He sprung to his feet, and jerked it violently. The signal was successful; he felt that a strong and steady arm was drawing him, as it were from the grave, into the regions of the living. In a few minutes he passed over the verge, and found himself in the arms of Johnson. The latter, alarmed at the unusual length of his friend's absence, had set out in search of him, and knowing his plan of visiting the cave, had hastened to this spot, where, finding the cable attached to a tree, he was so fortunate as to save the life of his friend in the manner described. The assistant had absconded with the preacher's horse.
When Father Bangs was a little recovered from his terror, he said, "I have not found what I went for, but I have discovered something that convinces me I am not far from the spot. It was here that Anderson met his fate."
"How did you find that out? there was a heavy fall of rain, the night of his death, and we could afterwards find no marks to satisfy us where he fell."
"As I passed over the edge of the cliff I found this watch lying in a crevice of the rock. It seems to have been a long time exposed to the weather, and must have been in Anderson's pocket, when the demon, or whatever it was, cast him over."
"You still believe in this story, then?"
"I have seen nothing to shake my belief; but I begin to feel sort o' dubious that if there be money buried here, it is not altogether lawful for any but the right heirs to search after it. Anderson was punished for making the attempt, and you see what a fix I am in. This thought came over me while I lay confined, and I trembled for the young man whom I left on the rock, lest he should have been spirited away, or brought to an untimely end."
"He has been spirited away by that good horse of yours, and if ever he comes to a violent death it will be under the gallows."
"Well, be it so; but my own confinement and suffering, I cannot but think, was meant as a punishment."
"Have your own way," said the farmer, "if you do but quit money-hunting, I am satisfied, but I must say, when I hear you talk of spirits and such like, that I am sorry to find you are still barking up the wrong tree.
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i had a classmate at college whose name was Jeremy Geode. Circumstances threw us together at that time, and we became attached friends. We occupied the same room, and the same bed, and freely communicated to each other our most secret thoughts. I am not philosopher enough to account for the principle of attraction which operated upon us; the adhesion was very strong, but the cause that produced it was as deeply hidden from my feeble powers of perception as the properties of the load-stone. I once read a very learned and unintelligible book of philosophy, from beginning to end, for the purpose of finding out why it was that two human beings should be stuck together like particles of granite: but I had my labour for my pains. The reason was inscrutable; stuck together we were, and yet never were two individuals more unlike each other. We were perfect antipodes, and our friendship a moral antithesis. My readers will enter fully into the perplexities which this subject afforded me, when I inform them that my friend was dismally ugly, while I was, not only a great admirer of beauty, but in my own opinion, at least, very good looking. He was a sloven, I was neat and dressy. He loved books, I loved men—particularly those of the feminine gender. He was devoted to figures, and so was I—but then his affections settled upon the figures of arithmetic and geometry, while mine were running riot among those of the cotillion. He was studious, grave, and unsocial, and I gay, volatile, and fond of company. I could talk by the hour about any thing, or about nothing, while my friend was taciturn, seldom opening his remarkably homely mouth, except to utter a syllogism, or demonstrate a problem. There were occasions, it is true, when his eloquence would burst forth like the eruption of a volcano. I have seen him rant like a stump orator, over a geological specimen, or pour forth metaphors, in all the exuberance of poetic phrensy, while commenting upon the wonders exhibited in the structure of a poor unfortunate musquito which had fallen into his clutches. Strange as it may seem to those who are unacquainted with the organization of such minds, he was a wit of the highest order. A sly inuendo, a sententious remark, a playful sarcasm, uttered with the most inflexible gravity, would excite in others a paroxysm of laughter, while he was apparently unconscious of any feeling akin to mirth. That he enjoyed his own exquisite vein of humour, and the humour of others, I have now no doubt, for every man who possesses any strongly marked faculty of the mind, experiences a high degree of pleasure in its exercise. But he passed for a misanthrope, an unfeeling selfish man, who, wrapped up in the abstractions of his own mind, had no sympathies in common with his fellow creatures; and he was willing to pass under any character, which might secure him from intrusion, and leave him at liberty to pursue the leadings of his own genius. His equanimity under these surmises, and under all the crosses of life, was absolutely miraculous; the truth was that his vigorous understanding, and native good temper, enabled him to look down upon the accidents that vex other men. I alone suspected that he was kind and generous, because I had seen his eye moisten, and the rigid muscles of his face relax, as he persued the tender epistles of a doating mother; though it was only in after years that I learned that he earned his own subsistence, and that of his parent, by the labours of his pen, while he pursued his college studies. I could have wept, when this fact came to my knowledge, and when I recollected how I had sometimes ridiculed his parsimonious habits, and his unceasing devotion to labour.
Another trait in the character of my friend shall be chiefly noticed. Although he diligently eschewed the company of women, and regarded men with careless indifference, he seemed so perfectly enamoured of the society of children and other irrational animals, that I sometimes suspected him of being a believer in the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration. When fatigued with mental exertions, he would steal off to join his little play fellows, on the green beyond the town, which was their place of evening resort. There he would be seen stretched upon the grass, gazing at them with an eye of interest and of complete satisfaction. The youngsters quickly struck up an acquaintance, and clave to him with instinctive affection. They soon learned to bring him their hats and coats to take care of, when they drew them off for play; he became the umpire in their contests, and the peace-maker in their disputes; and he might often be seen with the whole posse around him, the smallest hanging on his knees and his great shoulders, and the biggest forming a dense circle, with open eyes and mouths, while he related some strange legend, or explained the curious phenomena of nature. These facts were not generally known in college; and it was well for him—for had the erudite and dignified sophomores detected him in such childish pursuits, my friend Jeremy Geode would undoubtedly have been put in Coventry. He had a mocking-bird, too, in a cage, a martin box at his window, and an industrious family of silk-worms in a small cabinet. A lean, hungry, ferocious-looking cat, whose love of mice or of mythology had brought her to college, who had been expelled from one room, and kicked out of another, and suffered martyrdom in so many shapes, that, but for the plurality of her lives, she would long since have ceased to exist, at last took refuge in our room. She entered with a truly feline stealth of tread, and sought concealment with the cowardice of conscious felony. But no sooner did she attract the eye of Jeremy, than a mutual attachment commenced, a single glance revealed to each a kindred spirit; in a few hours puss was running between the student's feet; before the close of the day she was reposing in his lap, and a firm friendship was cemented. Under his care she grew fat, social, and contented, and justice requires me to say, that a more intelligent or better behaved cat never inhabited the walls of a learned institution.
After the completion of our collegiate course, we commenced the study of our respective professions. Now it was that a principle of repulsion began to operate, which carried us perpetually in opposite directions. Our minds, which had heretofore, to some extent, inhabited the same sphere, began to diverge as it were, from a common centre, so that we entered upon the great theatre of life by different paths. My friend, who was cautious and plodding, betook him to the dusty turnpike of science, carefully noting the indications of the innumerable finger-posts and mile-stones, which have been set up by the industry of sundry worthy men, on either side of that great highway. He was willing to reach the ultimate point of his ambition by the beaten road, which experience has marked out. Wisdom's ways are said to be pleasant ways, and all her paths peace, and I dare say he found them so; but I must confess that I had not sufficient taste to discern, wherein that peace and pleasantness consisted. I betook myself to that flowery path, which, without having any particular course or destination, meanders through the regions of fancy, and the resorts of pleasure. But I was unwilling, at first, to part with my friend; I grieved to see his youth withering in monastic seclusion, and his energies wasted in a severe course of unproductive studies.
"What do you expect to gain," said I to him, one day, "by this incessant toil of the mind, this rigid self denial, this total abstraction from the ordinary pursuits of youth?"
"Knowledge!" was his laconic reply.
"And will the accumulated stores of knowledge be worth so dear a purchase? Are you not acting the part of the miser who keeps up a mass of useless wealth, at the expense of all the courtesies of life, and all its enjoyments? Is this a rational way of spending time?"
"I like it," said he.
I was nettled at his perfect composure. "So does your cat like to sleep," I exclaimed, "and pardon me for saying that I see little difference,"— I was going to say, "between you and your cat," but I had the grace to modify the comparison—"between dozing over the fire, or over musty books."
"The books are far from musty," replied he very placidly, "and as for poor puss, she is quite happy and respectable, in her way."
"But my dear Geode, to what end is this slavery of the mind?"
"Usefulness! to whom, pray?"
"To myself, to my country, to mankind."
"And the reward? Come tell us that. What do you expect in return for becoming the benefactor of an ungrateful world?"
"The approbation of good men, and of my own conscience."
He had reason and virtue on his side, and my logic would hold out no longer. I was awed, but not convinced; and we parted.
My friend studied medicine, a choice upon which I had often rallied him as growing out of his love for the occult sciences; for with his more solid acquirements, he had mingled an acquaintance with alchemy, witchcraft, and all the mystic lore which is found in black letter books. He could draw horoscopes, and tell fortunes like an adept, and so gravely would he talk upon such subjects, that had it not been for a lurking roguishness of the eye, which he could never wholly command, I should have feared that he was in earnest. I chose the science of law, because this profession is considered the path to office and honour. I had no relish for the drudgery of a practising attorney. Framing declarations, and exploring the intricacies of law reports, had no attractions for me. My ambition soared higher; and I imagined, as multitudes of young men do, who crowd to the bar in the hope of leading a life of ease and dignity, that my labours would cease, and my triumphs begin, with my maiden speech. In common with all who have been deluded by this fallacy, I have discovered my error. The labours of the lawyer who pursues his profession with energy, are as severe as those of the farmer or mechanic, while his pecuniary gains are less certain. But then the farmer is a drudge, and the mechanic is not an esquire. The legal profession confers a patent of gentility on its members; they are gentlemen of the bar; and the man who wishes to become a gentleman by a short cut, and to remain one during life, has only to procure a license to practise in a court of record, which confers an indefeasible title to that distinction, whatever may be the properties of his body, mind, or estate.
But I sat down, not to write of myself, but to indite the veritable history of Doctor Jeremy Geode, who having obtained his diploma with great distinction, emigrated to the western states. He called to take leave of me, previous to his departure. A suit of mourning announced that he had lost his mother, the only human being, in memory of whom he would have thought it necessary to exhibit this outward symbol of grief. "I nursed her," said he, "in her last illness, and received her blessing. It was mournful to sever so dear a tie; but I felt that I had gained, in her approbation of my conduct, a richer legacy than any that the whole earth could bestow." He spoke of his future prospects with confidence, though with that peculiar bashfulness with which a modest young man, accustomed to seclusion, faces the world for the first time. There is no sight more touching to a considerate heart, than to behold a highly gifted and ingenuous youth, embarking in the voyage of life, with no companion but enterprise and indigence. Bright may be his career, and noble his triumphs; but the chances that those buoyant hopes, those modest graces, those virtuous emotions, which render youth so engaging, will be blighted by vice, by disappointment, and by sordid cares, are so many, as to fill the benevolent heart with trembling apprehension.
Doctor Geode settled in an obscure town, far in the wilderness. It was a village newly laid out, upon the borders of an extensive prairie; a beautifully undulating plain, fringed with woods, and dotted with picturesque clumps and groves of trees. The grass, as yet but little trodden, exhibited its pristine luxuriance, and a variety of gorgeous flowers enlivened the scene. The deer still loitered here, as if unwilling to resign their ancient pastures, and at night the long howl of the wolf could be heard, mingled with the fearful screechings of the owl. The village was composed of log cabins, and was, with the neighbourhood around it, inhabited chiefly by backwoodsmen—a race of people who, delighting in the chase, and devoted to their wild, free, and independent habits, precede the advance of the denser population, and keep ever on the outskirts of society. Ardent, hospitable, and uncultivated, the stranger is as much delighted with the cordial welcome he finds at their firesides, as he is struck with their primitive manners, their singular phraseology, and their original modes of thinking. Accustomed to long journeys, to frequent changes of residence, to protracted hunting expeditions, to swimming rivers, and encamping in the woods, they bear fatigue and exposure with the patience of the Indian: their figures of speech are numerous, and drawn from natural objects: and they have a fund of that intelligence which arises from extensive wanderings, from a close observance of nature, and from habits of free discussion, mingled with the simplicity induced by the absence of literature.
A few months passed away delightfully with Doctor Geode. He roamed the forests and the prairies with the eagerness of one who had fallen upon a new world, more beautiful than that of his nativity. He walked and rode, hunted and fished, not for sport, but in search of scientific truth. The cabin which he occupied as a study, soon grew into a museum of natural curiosities. Every day brought some novel and interesting subject under his investigation. The treasures of knowledge which he had accumulated over the midnight lamp, seemed now to swell, and burst forth into life, as the exuberant flower springs from the folds of the bud. The world around him was teeming with living and beautiful illustrations of those abstruse principles that had been gathered into his memory with so much toil, and arranged with so much care. Not a wind blew, nor a shower fell; not a flower regaled his senses with its gaudy beauties or rich perfumes; without filling his mind with a sensation of pleasurable emotion. To him the phenomena of nature were all eloquence, and music, and symmetry. He had studied these things in the closet as mere abstractions, but now they came before him as sensible objects, bearing the stamp of reality, and glowing with the freshness of life.
But in the midst of these pursuits, my worthy friend entirely forgot to employ the ordinary means of getting into practice. He made no display of his skill, nor courted the acquaintance of any of his neighbours. No flashy advertisement extolled the merits of Doctor Geode, and informed the public that he was their humble servant. A wily competitor, taking advantage of this improvidence, represented my erudite friend as an insane gentleman, who roamed about gathering roots, and catching prairie flies; and the neighbours felt no inclination to consult a mad doctor. His own habits confirmed these mercenary slanders. His homely face was pale and sallow; his thick black beard was often allowed to remain a whole week unshaven; and in his total carelessness of every thing relating to his own comfort, he sometimes walked from his shop to his lodgings without his hat, or with one boot and one shoe. His collection of stuffed birds, impaled insects, and pickled reptiles, might well bring his sanity in question with those who could see no advantage in this hideous resurrection of dead bodies. Moreover he had tamed a crow, a bird held in particular aversion, in consequence of its depredations upon corn fields, and pronounced by a popular verse to have been, Ever since the world began, Natural enemy of man; and a black cat, who of her own accord had taken up her residence with him, was his constant companion. He soon found himself avoided, like a mad dog in a populous town, or a freemason in the enlightened state of New York. Week after week rolled away, and not a patient called the skill of Doctor Geode in requisition. He wondered at this circumstance, and perplexed himself with vain endeavours to conjecture the reason. He saw that he was even shunned; but his modesty, as well as his independence, prevented him from inquiring into the cause. In the mean while his finances were exhausted, and poverty, with all its inconveniences and mortifications, stared him in the face.
There is one truth, as regards the moral government of this world, to which there are few exceptions; it is, that good deeds always have their reward. So it happened to my friend. He was one day induced to enter a solitary cabin, in the outskirts of the village, by hearing as he passed the groans of a person who seemed to be in pain. A decent widow who supported a large family by her labour, was suffering under a high fever, and in a state of delirium. Beside her sat a fair haired girl, about fourteen years old, the daughter of a neighbouring gentleman, bathing her temples, and vainly endeavouring to soothe her torture. Without asking any questions, the humane physician rendered such assistance to the sufferer as her case required; nor did he quit her bed side, until every alarming symptom was removed. The young girl, who at first shrunk back in alarm, was soon drawn to his assistance by the kindness of his tones, and now witnessed his promptness and success with astonishment. He continued to attend her from day to day until his patient was completely restored, and then refused any compensation for what he considered a slight and a voluntary service. Being an intelligent woman, who had been accustomed to attend the sick, she readily discovered, from his tender manner, and skilful prescriptions, that he was no ordinary man; and she now, in the warmth of her gratitude, revealed to him the arts by which his competitor had deprived him of the confidence of the public.
Doctor Geode never did things like other men. Instead of getting angry, he was amused at the ingenuity of his rival, and at his own ridiculous predicament. He was born too far east to be overreached by a specious pretender; and as his necessities were at that moment particularly pressing, he soon devised a plan for present relief, and for the utter discomfiture of his rival. Although his bashfulness, and habits of abstraction, had kept him aloof from an intercourse with his neighbours, he had not been unattentive to their traditions and modes of thinking; while he spoke little, he had listened and observed much. Some of their superstitions had struck him as remarkably amusing, and he was even then preparing an essay on this subject. With these landmarks to assist him, his scheme was soon digested. Having prepared a neat card, and drawn upon it a circle and a triangle, with red ink, he proceeded to trace over it several words in the Greek character. He then advertised that "Doctor Jeremy Geode, the seventh son of a celebrated Indian doctor, would cure all diseases, by means of the wonderful Hygeian Tablet, or Kickapoo Panacea, of which he was sole proprietor." It was a happy thought! the virtues of a seventh son have long been well known; and however our sturdy borderers may dislike their savage neighbours, the Indian doctor has always been in high repute among them. The reputed lunatic was at once elevated into an inspired mediciner; the crow, the black cat, and the collection of natural curiosities, became objects of respectful curiosity. In vain did the regular physician of the village denounce him as an impostor; in vain an incredulous few professed their entire disbelief. The doors of the seventh son were soon crowded with the halt and the sick. Among the first that came was Mr Jones, the father of the fair haired girl, a gentleman of information and property; a frank, hospitable man, who had taken up a favourable opinion of the doctor, and who became now, by his daughter's account of the incident she had witnessed, warmly engaged in his interest. What passed at the interview need not be repeated; Mr Jones at its conclusion exhibited evident symptoms of having enjoyed a hearty laugh, and Doctor Geode had received some new views of western character. They remained firm friends, and Mr Jones never spoke of the seventh son, but in terms of high respect. The success of the mystic tablet was triumphant, and its fame spread far and near. Nauseating and dangerous drugs were decried, as useless and pernicious. It even became a matter of general remark and wonder, that people should be so stupid as to swallow deadly poisons, while health could be so much more cheaply purchased by looking at a card. Faith alone was requisite to give efficacy to the spell. It is true that the charm sometimes failed; but this was always attributed to the unbelief of the patient, and the doctor forthwith proceeded to treat such cases secundum artem, concealing the fact that he used the subtle minerals of the pharmacopoeia, and leaving the world to suppose that he practised only with the simples gathered in his botanic excursions. The consequence was that his practice spread not only through the country around, but an immense number of patients were brought to him from a distance. As for the regular physician, he was obliged to quit the village.
Happening to pass through that region, when the fame of Doctor Geode was at its zenith, I was astonished to hear the name of my old classmate, of whom I had lost sight for some years, coupled with miraculous cures by faith; and I determined to pay him a visit. Muffled in my cloak, and disguised still further by the alteration that time had made in my features, I entered his dwelling. It was a spacious log house, divided into several apartments, all of which, except one, were occupied by the sick. In the audience room, if I may so call it, sat the doctor; his black beard, which he had suffered to grow, overhanging his breast, and his raven locks almost concealing his features; while his mountainous nose, his calm but piercing eye, and his sarcastic lip, revealed to me, at a glance, my former classmate. He was surrounded by a group of persons, who sought relief from real or imaginary diseases.
"I have a desperate misery in my side," said one.
"I've got the billiards fever," groaned another.
"I am powerful weak," drawled a third.
"My limbs are sort o' dead like," whined a fourth.
"Oh, doctor, I've got the yaller janders powerful bad; I feel jist like I'd naaterally die off; and I can't hope myself, no how."
"Can you cure the rheumatiz?"
"I've an inward fever."
"Doctor, my peided cow is in a desput bad fix with the holler horn."
"Ah, doctor Geeho, you never seed sich a poor afflicted crittur as I be, with the misery in my tooth; it seems like it would jist use me up bodyaciously."
"Oh, doctor, doctor, I've got the shaking ager, so mighty bad, I aint no account, no how."
"Mr Geehead, I wish you'd look at my boy; he's got in the triflingest way you ever seed; he can't larn his book, and does nothing but jeest tell lies and steal, study, all the time; he aint in his right mind, no how."
"Canst thou minister to a mind diseased?" inquired I in a feigned tone. His quick eye, which had more than once rested on me, since I had entered the room, was turned hastily towards me in eager scrutiny. Failing to penetrate my disguise, he civilly inquired my business.
"I know," said I in a mock heroic tone, "that knowledge is thy idol, usefulness thy creed, the approbation of good men, thy reward. I seek advice."
"Your complaint?" inquired he in a tremulous voice, for he more than suspected who was his visitor.
"The cacoethes scribendi."
"Oh si sick omnes!" exclaimed the seventh son, waving his hand over his valetudinarian levee, who stood gasping in awe, at this outlandish dialogue.
"It hath afflicted me from my youth," rejoined I.
"Get you gone," cried he in a tone of grave sarcasm, while a joyful recognition sparkled in his eye, "get you gone, it is a loathsome, incurable disease, which criticism may correct, but the grave only can remove. It hath afflicted the world for ages, carrying with it revilings, and jealousies, and war. It maketh a man lean in flesh, and poor in substance. A hollow eye, a sunken cheek, a soiled finger, and a tattered coat are its symptoms."
"I crave a private consultation, learned doctor," said I, and accordingly, after dismissing his patients, he led me into his sanctum, and embraced me with the fervour of affectionate friendship.
I remained with him that day, and we consumed nearly the whole night in conversation. After he had recounted his adventures, I inquired how he, whose moral principles I knew to be rigid, could justify himself in assuming a character which did not belong to him.
"There is less of imposture," he replied, "in the character which I have assumed, than you imagine; my father was a physician, and I am his seventh son."
"But is it right to delude the ignorant, and give your sanction to an idle superstition?"
"I will not say that it is right. Nothing is right, but truth and plain dealing. Yet I am not prepared to say that it is morally wrong, to do good to men through the medium of their own weakness. One half the diseases which afflict mankind are imaginary, and should be treated as such. I practise upon this rule, and have found faith quite as valuable as physic."
"But is it possible that you can pursue this life with satisfaction?"
"So far as there has been deception in it, it has been irksome. But it has afforded me a fund of amusement, and has given me an insight into the human heart, which I consider invaluable. I have acquired an intimate acquaintance with the peculiarities of a most original people; have seen the workings of superstition in one of its most powerful forms; and have closely studied one of the most curious incidents of the mysterious connexion between mind and matter."
"Then you have some confidence in your system?"
"Oh yes: how can I help it? I have seen the sturdy hunter, who could face the painted Indian, or wrestle with a hungry wolf, quailing under a fancied or unimportant disorder, and suddenly, at my bidding, by a mere volition of will, resuming his vigour, and returning to his manly exercises; I have seen the drooping maiden, who was withering like the autumn leaf, call back her smiles and her bloom, by a simple exertion of faith. I must acknowledge, however, that my plan has been extended farther, and continued longer, than I intended. It was embraced partly in jest, partly under the goadings of stern necessity. My success astonished me. I saw no way to retreat. I was doing good to others and enriching myself. I am now possessed of a sufficient sum to establish me wherever I please. Besides, the bubble must soon burst; ours is not a country, nor an age, in which delusion can live long."
I left him on the following morning. Shortly afterwards he abandoned the scene of his success, after presenting the mystic tablet to the poor widow, who had proved so valuable a friend to him in the hour of adversity, and instructing her in the real secret of its efficacy.
Three years had passed away since the interview just related, when one day Doctor Geode, who was now a regular physician, of high standing, in a city not far from that of my own residence, entered my room. I was astonished at the change which a short time had wrought in his person and appearance. He was now in his thirtieth year, and had just reached the vigour of manhood. He was plainly but neatly dressed. Good living and active employment had clothed his muscles with flesh, and brought a healthy bloom to his cheek. The sharp angles of his face had become rounded, and the clouds of care were dispersed. The clownish manners of the student had given place to the deportment of a plain intelligent gentleman. A smile of benevolence and placid contentment sat upon his features; and I thought him by no means so ugly as he had been in his youth.
"Come," said he, "will you join me in a trip to —?"
"For what purpose?"
"During my residence there, I had a friend, who treated me with kindness. He had penetrated my disguise by his own sagacity, but appreciated my motives, kept my secret with inviolable honour, and promoted my interest with all his influence. I was his family physician. He is dead, and his only daughter, the fair-haired girl whom I once told you of, is about to be deprived of her inheritance by a designing relative. My intimacy with the family has put me in possession of facts, which are unknown to her, but which in my opinion will establish her claim. She is a mere child, poor thing, and does not know her own rights. Come, you have the dyspepsia, I am sure; I prescribe a long journey."
Who could resist the temptation of a tour to the frontier, in company with such a man? "The seventh son shall be obeyed," said I; and the next morning found us on our horses. The journey was delightful. The doctor was full of anecdote, and brimful of science; both of which he poured out in copious streams. His former taciturnity had given place to conversational powers of a high order. It had never been constitutional, but was the result of circumstances. His youth had been silently and diligently employed in acquiring the knowledge which now burst forth in rich exuberance; and he reminded me of the tree that in the winter stands bare, solitary, and ungraceful, but in due season bears the leaf, the blossom, and the fruit. His inquisitive mind was continually on the stretch. I was struck with his various information, his affability, and his colloquial skill.
We reached the broad prairies, and the region of thinly scattered population. The wide and beaten road was changed for the path that winded over the plains, or among the tangled woods. We forded the little streams, and crossed the rivers in canoes, driving our horses before us. Instead of meeting the travelling carriage, the stage, and the loaded wagon, we encountered the solitary hunter in his blanket coat, treading along with the stealthy step of the cat, and the watchful glance of the wary Indian. We lodged no longer at the inn, attended by assiduous servants, but slept at the settler's cabin, and sat as equals at his board. Two more days would have brought us to —, when my friend was taken ill. The attack was severe, and he thought his own case doubtful. There was no physician in the neighbourhood, and he himself was unprovided with such medicines as were suitable to his case. The fever was raging and the pain intense. It was one of those cases in which the crisis approaches rapidly. Two days passed and he hourly grew worse. I was almost frantic. At length the man of the house told us of an old woman, that had lately settled in the neighbourhood, who was "a desperate good doctor."
"There was a right smart chance of sickness, when she came into the settlement," continued the man, "a heap of people called on her—she had abundance to do—and she flew round among the folks mighty peart , I tell you. The way she fixed 'em, was the right way, there's no mistake in it. I would'nt give her for naary high larnt marcury doctor, I ever see, no how."
"But this is an extreme case."
"No matter," replied the hunter cheerfully— "if the man was as cold as a wagon tire, provided there was any life in him, she'd bring him to; there's no two ways about it."
My friend smiled. "Send for the woman!" I exclaimed, "she may tell us of some remedy." A boy was accordingly mounted on the fleetest steed, and soon returned with the female æsculapius. There was nothing peculiar in her appearance, except that she wore a large black veil, which completely concealed her features. She required to be left alone with the patient, but as I insisted on being present at the interview, an exception was made in my favour. She approached the bed, felt the sufferer's pulse, and passed her hand over his forehead, while the doctor, who seemed to recognise the skilful touch of a practitioner, mechanically put out his tongue. The woman turned to me and said in a low voice, "I can do nothing for this gentleman—he is very ill, and requires a greater physician than I am."
"Do your best," exclaimed I.
"Ah, Sir, I have little skill in medicine. I am but a poor weak woman; a very humble instrument in the hands of Providence. I can do nothing here. This man needs medicine."
"If you mean to say, that you do your work by a spell, I insist upon your trying it."
"Very willingly," said the woman meekly, and then raising her voice, she exclaimed, "let no one speak."
She next turned to her patient, and said, "Sick man! do you believe that I can raise you from this bed of pain?"
The doctor, who, even in the hour of extremity, seemed to retain his relish for hocus pocus, nodded his head, while I felt an unaccountable awe creeping over me.
"Then look upon my face," continued she, in a solemn tone, throwing back her veil, and displaying in her right hand the identical tablet of Doctor Geode, "and look upon this tablet of health, and these mysterious figures, and charmed words, drawn upon it by the hand of the seventh son of a celebrated Indian doctor—look on them, and believe, and be restored."
This was more than the doctor could stand. No sooner did he behold the workmanship of his own hands, and the pupil of his tuition, and witness the whole acting of that curious scene, of which he had been the inventor, than he burst into an immoderate convulsion of laughter. The woman gazed in amazement, for in the altered features of her patient she did not recognize her master. I ran to him in alarm; but he continued to laugh, rolling from side to side, throwing up his long arms, and screaming as if distracted.
As soon as he was composed enough to speak, he exclaimed, "Give her a fifty dollar note, Charles! Go, go, good woman, you have done your duty well— go now, but do not leave the house!"
"Can it be possible," continued he, as the wondering woman closed the door after her, "can it be, that there are two Richmonds in the field? No, it is my own veritable spell, and my very deputy herself!" And then he laughed again, until the whole house re-echoed the sonorous peal. The big drops rolled from his forehead. "See there!" he exclaimed, "behold the work of the faith doctor; here we have been labouring these two days to break this obstinate fever, and to produce a perspiration, and lo! the cunning woman has wrought the desired change in a moment!" And it was exactly so; the violent muscular action, and the sudden revolution in the patient's train of thought, had produced instantaneous relief. A profuse perspiration, succeeded by a gentle slumber, relieved the most violent symptoms. When he awoke he asked for the doctress. "I knew I was safe," said he, "as soon as I saw her face. She has a lancet and a box of calomel pills in her pocket. No man need die of a bilious fever, when these are near. I lost mine on the road. Send her in." It is only necessary to add, that after a few days' careful attention from the old lady, who was really an admirable nurse, he was able to resume his journey.
In consequence of this detention, we arrived at the place of our destination too late to be of any service to the daughter of Doctor Geode's former friend, in her lawsuit. The cause had been tried, and decided against her. My worthy fellow traveller bore this disappointment with less patience than was usual with him. He took it to heart, and brooded over it. Every day he went to see the young lady, to console her, and to try to devise some means to reassert her rights.
After a few visits, the doctor began to talk, in a very dignified strain, of the moral excellence and mental acquirements of his young friend; at the close of one week he pronounced her a natural curiosity, and before the end of the second, he assured me solemnly, that she was a phenomenon. He had discovered a new scientific truth, namely, that in five years, a slim girl of fourteen, may be metamorphosed into a full grown lovely woman.
"Why, Charles," said he, "there is nothing in all the arcana of nature to be compared with it; the bursting of the gorgeous butterfly from its chrysalis, the expansion of a beautiful flower, nor any of the most wonderful changes in the material world, can not equal it."
"What's the matter now, doctor?"
"Matter enough, sir; matter for curious thought. Here is this little girl, who, when I saw her last, was dressed in cotton homespun, wore a sun-bonnet, and ran on errands for her father—a little slight thing, as pale as a lily, and as timid as a fawn. She sat in the corner knitting, while her father and I conversed, and never raised her eyes, or uttered more than one syllable at a time. I used to carry young birds, flowers, and pictures to her, as I would to any other child. Now she is a woman, as beautiful as Hebe, as hospitable as was her own warm-hearted father, and as rational as an M.D. She is a remarkable specimen—"
"If she is a specimen," interrupted I, "I can easily guess her fate. She will hardly escape so industrious a collector as yourself. Take her home, doctor, and place her in your cabinet; she would be worth a thousand dried flies, or pickled snakes." The doctor put on his hat, and walked off. I saw that it was all over with him.
At the end of the third week of our stay, I began to grow impatient; but my friend's "phenomenon" still engaged all his thoughts; and where is the ardent lover of science who would have been willing to relinquish so interesting a subject of investigation. He was anatomising the young lady's affections with as much patience of research, as he would have bestowed on the complete skeleton of a mastodon. I popped in upon them one day, unexpectedly, as they stood conversing at a window; and before I was observed, or had time to retire, I heard her say in a tremulous tone,
"Indeed, Doctor Geode, I hardly know what to say—it is so sudden—so—so very unexpected— so—"
"I will tell you what to say; say Yes."
The young lady covered her face, and uttered neither yes nor no.
"I see through your case," continued the determined doctor, "all that it requires is faith. As I used to ask my patients here, I now ask you, have you faith in me?"
"It requires no exertion of credulity to believe that Doctor Geode is all that is noble and excellent," and then she placed her hand in his. The lover took it respectfully, and evidently at a loss what he ought to do next, mechanically laid his finger upon her pulse, as if he expected to find thoughts of love, and vows of truth, throbbing in the arterial system.
I suppose I laughed, for they both turned towards me.
"Ah, Charles! what, eaves-dropping? well, no matter—let me introduce you to Mrs Jeremy Geode that is to be. We shall be married to-morrow, and the next day bid adieu to the frontier."
The wedding took place accordingly; and I need scarcely inform the intelligent reader, that my friend is now one of the best and happiest of husbands, and is enjoying, in the meridian of life, the rich harvest of prosperity and honour, which crowns a youth of virtue, industry, and self-denial.
On a fine morning in May 18—, two of those large boats in which families emigrating to the west descend our rivers, were seen slowly floating down the Ohio. Built of rough heavy timber, and intended to move only with the current, those unwieldy vessels, lay silent and motionless on the wave, that bore them gently towards their destination. At a small village—or rather at a spot intended to be occupied as such—the boats were brought to the shore and moored, and the passengers began to mingle with the people, whom curiosity had drawn to the landing place. It was a missionary family, proceeding to its station among the Osage Indians, that halted thus in the wilderness, to receive a foretaste of the scenes that awaited them in the distant forest.
The place at which they had stopped was a level plain, of rich alluvion, from which the timber had been cleared for the space of a mile along the river, and nearly that depth into the forest. A cluster of cabins, recently built, of rough logs, to which the bark still adhered, presented to the eyes of our travellers, a specimen of human existence, more nearly approaching the rudeness of savage life, than any thing they had yet seen. There was nothing here to recall to memory their own lovely homes—the beautiful villages of New England. There was no green spot, shaded with venerable trees, hallowed to the repose of the dead—no church, pointing its spire to heaven, and offering a holy refuge to the living. Here were no rural embellishments, indicating taste, and neatness, and enjoyment—no domestic trees, no honey-suckle bowers, nor any of those ornaments which beautify the village, and give to the humblest cottage an air of elegance. Gardens, and orchards, and meadows, there were none, nor any dwelling that seemed to have been endeared to a human being by the name of home . The ground, newly cleared, was thickly set with stumps, and covered with a rank growth of weeds. The frail and unsightly cabins, standing apart from each other, and destitute of out-houses and enclosures, seemed to be, as they really were, the temporary residence of an unsettled people. But cheerless as this spot appeared, to those who had been accustomed to all the comforts, and many of the luxuries of life, it was such as all new towns in the west had once been; such, perhaps, as the hamlets were on the shores of the Atlantic, where the voices of the pilgrims first ascended in prayer to Him who had brought them in safety out of the land of persecution.
And yet the scene was not destitute of attraction. Art had done little to spoil, and nothing to embellish it, but nature had been prodigal of her bounties. As the travellers stood on the bank, they beheld the "beautiful river" for miles above and below them, rolling gently along, with a surface as smooth as polished crystal. The shores were slightly curved, swelling out on the one side, and receding upon the other, so as to exhibit a series of long and graceful bends. The banks, as far the eye could reach, were low, and subject to inundation by the spring floods; but the vegetation which formed their chief beauty, was rich beyond description. Springing from a deep alluvion soil, the forest trees reared their immense trunks to an amazing height, while their interwoven branches and foliage, formed an impenetrable shade. The hues of the forest were as various as they were beautiful. Here was the melancholy cypress, with a dark trunk and sombre leaf, and the tall sycamore with a stem of snowy whiteness, and a foliage of light green. The poplar, the elm, the maple, and the gum, with numerous other trees, exhibited every variety of verdure between these extremes. The dog-wood and the red-bud, countless in number, decked the whole scene with their rich blossoms, the former of pure white, and the varieties of the latter glowing with all the shades between a pink and a deep scarlet. Then there was the locust, rich in fragrance as in hue, the delicate catalpa, the yellow flower of the tulip tree. The graceful cane covered the ground, the willow fringed the stream, the vine crept to the tops of the tallest trees, and the misletoe hung among the branches. The luxuriant soil, while it loaded itself with a gigantic vegetation, gave a depth and vividness to the colouring of the landscape, that imparted a peculiar strength and character to the scene. But if the eye was charmed, there was a loveliness, a stillness, and a silence, reigning throughout this scene, that touched the heart. The very beauties that delighted, and the quietness that soothed, testified that man was a stranger here, and told the traveller that he was alone with his God.
Such were the feelings of the Missionaries as they gazed on this gentle stream, and its wild shore. They had left their homes and their friends, their pious companions, their cherished relatives, and the scenes of their childhood, and were going beyond the confines of civil society, to dwell with the savage in his own wild woods. As they travelled to the west, they had seen the traces of civilization becoming every day more faint—every day they had found the villages ruder and more distant from each other—until at last they had reached the abodes of the hunter, where the rifle and the axe furnished the means of subsistence and of defence. An immense tract of wilderness was yet to be traversed, before they could reach the scene of their future labours, and they felt sad to think how seldom the smile of a countryman, or the voice of a brother, would cheer them on their way. Their spirits sunk, as they looked at the boundless extent of forest: gorgeous as it was to the eye, it was still but a blooming desert, containing nothing to warm the heart, or cherish the affections. Every object around them was strange, and they felt like exiles wandering far from the land of their birth.
These were trials, however, that had been anticipated; and it was easy to see in the mournful countenances of these humble Christians, as they wandered along the shore, that a heavier visitation was pending over them, than those which were necessarily incident to their situation. One of their companions, a beloved sister, was about to breathe her last sigh. The messenger of death had arrested her in the wilderness; giving a solemn warning to those who journeyed with her, that although they had forsaken the haunts of men, they had not escaped the casualties of human existence. Even here, where nature bloomed so fresh, where every surrounding object teemed with youth, and vigour, and fragrance, the messenger of fate would reach its victim. Bound on a mission of love, and bearing the tidings of life to thousands, they also bore with them the evidence of their own mortality. Death was silently pursuing their footsteps, watching his own appointed time to claim the tribute which all must pay to the insatiate king of terrors.
The situation of the dying missionary was soon known to the villagers, and a few of them went to offer, in their own homely way, the offices of hospitality; but they came too late; the sufferer was too feeble to be removed, and the mourning strangers said that they needed nothing from human kindness but a grave for their companion. The visitors were deeply affected. The death-bed exhibits at all times a solemn and a touching scene, and though of daily occurrence, its frequency does not destroy its fearful interest. There are few who reason coldly in the chamber of dissolution; and the imagination is easily excited by any incidental circumstance which brings an additional pang to the parting of the living and the dying. The present scene was one of no ordinary interest. The sufferer was a young and delicate female. A husband watched over her pallet, and two lovely children, unconscious of the loss they were about to sustain, were with difficulty withheld from her embrace. The severing of hearts wedded in love—the parting of a mother from her infant children— are events which the most callous cannot view without emotion; but on ordinary occasions there is a melancholy pleasure in the reflection, that the survivors will often visit the grave of the deceased, to drop the unseen tear of affection. Even this mournful consolation was now wanting; and those who sorrowed, felt that when the soul of their friend should have departed, they must abandon her earthly remains, retaining no relic of her whom they had dearly loved. Her tomb would be on the wild shore, where no kindred ashes slept, and where they who dwelt near the spot, could only point it out as a stranger's grave .
The solemn moment had arrived when none affected to doubt the truth which was too evident, or sought to detain the spirit in its earthly abode. That spirit had begun to assume its celestial character, and was already invested in the eyes of the beholders, with the attributes of a brighter existence. An angel seemed to be lingering among men, as if unwilling to sever too rudely the cords of affection, with which she had been united to human beings. She spoke little; but her words showed that her thoughts partook of the change she was about to undergo. Her affections alternately lingered on the earth, and soared towards a better existence. The bosom of the saint swelled with a holy joy—but the heart of the wife and mother clung to the dearly cherished objects of its purest and strongest earthly passion.
The mission family embraced a number of persons of both sexes, and it was gratifying to see in their deportment, how efficient is religion in the hour of sorrow. Though deeply afflicted, there was a decent composure, a quiet humility, and an entire resignation in all their words and actions. They spoke not of death as the loathsome companion of disease, or the precursor of corruption, but as the natural consummation of all earthly being. They sorrowed not for her who was going to a better world, but for those who remained. Their voices were firm and cheerful—and even the timid soul that was fluttering in the hope and fear, and joy and sorrow, of the dying moment, acquired calmness from the serenity of others.
Such was the day. Evening came, and the sufferer still lived. Prayer and hymn were heard at intervals throughout the night, but all else was silent; and at a late hour, they who cast a last look at the shore, beheld a dim light still emanating from the chamber of death, and appearing as a bright speck in the surrounding gloom—like the lingering soul, whose feeble radiance still gleamed in the dark "valley of the shadow of death."
The following day was the Sabbath. At the dawn, the villagers hastened to the boats. The missionaries were already engaged at their morning devotions. The voice of prayer was heard ascending through the stillness of that quiet hour. The accents were low and trembling, but distinctly audible. The speaker alluded to her whose spirit had gone to the mansions of the blessed, and prayed for the bereaved husband and the orphan children; and the villagers then knew that she in whose fate they had felt so deeply interested, suffered no longer. After a moment's pause, the notes of sacred song were heard floating over the tide—so sweet, so mournful, that every heart was touched, and every eye moistened.
At sunset the same day, the remains of the stranger were borne to the place of burial by her late companions, followed by the inhabitants of the village. A large Indian mound in the rear of the town had been selected, as the only spot not subject to inundation. The grave was opened on the summit of this eminence, and here was the body of a Christian female deposited among the relics of heathen warriors. The inhabitants, and the mission family, stood around with their heads reverently uncovered while one of the missionaries addressed them—then some one raised a hymn, and the whole company joined, chaunting with solemn fervour, as if a flood of devotional feeling had burst spontaneously from every bosom at the same instant—and when they all knelt upon the mound, it was not from any signal or invitation given by man, but God touched their hearts, and as the song of praise ceased, they all involuntarily prostrated themselves before His throne.
When the people rose, and the officiating minister had dismissed them with the usual benediction, the widowed husband stepped forward, leading one of his children in each hand. For a moment he stood by the newly filled grave, gazing on it with an agony which he strove in vain to subdue. In a broken voice he thanked the people of the village for their kindness, and committed the remains of his wife to their protection. He begged them to mark and remember the place of interment, in order that "if hereafter a stranger in passing through their village should ask them for the grave of Maria—, they could lead him to the spot."
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The Indian tribes who reside near the falls of Saint Anthony, have a tradition of one of their females, who drowned herself in a fit of jealousy. Her husband, to whom she was tenderly attached, had, after their fashion, which permits a plurality of wives, introduced a second female into his wigwam, which so mortified the heroic woman, who had prided herself in being the sole possessor of his affections, that she calmly placed herself and her children in a canoe, and floated over the cataract, singing her death song.She launched her frail bark in the swift rolling stream, And sang her death song with a maniac scream, That pierced the lone caves of that desolate shore, And rose o'er the din of the cataract's roar. The bald eagle sprang from his perch at the sound, And, poised high in air, circled watchfully round; The panther crouched low in his brush-covered bed, The timid deer rushed from her thicket, and fled. She saw not the eagle, she marked not the deer, The echo that scared them was mute to her ear, So wild was her sorrow, so wretched her doom, She seemed a lone spirit escaped from the tomb. Her babes clung around her with timorous cry, Alarmed by the glance of her fierce rolling eye, And still o'er those dear ones impassioned she hung, And madly she kissed them, as wildly she sung: "Oh, children forsaken! wife, mother forlorn! The heart that should cherish has spurned ye in scorn; Expelled from his bosom, and banished his door, The father, the husband, shall clasp us no more. "How blest were the days of my youth, when in pride I climbed yonder mountain, or bathed in this tide; When I chased the young fawn to its woodland retreat, And snatched a rich plume from the gay paroquet. "But happier far when I roamed through the shade, Companion of him whom with pride I obeyed; His quiver I carried, his game I secured, I shared all his triumphs, his toils I endured. "He was strong as the oak, he was straight as the reed, No warrior could match him in courage or speed, So true was his arrow, so sharp was his spear, The Otto and Pawnee-Loupe met him in fear. "How faithful, how fond, how enduring my love, These tears and the pangs of a broken heart prove; Do I dream? no, these pledges too dearly proclaim, How happy I was, and how wretched I am. "Had he died, I had mourned him with many a tear, His son should have wielded his bow and his spear, His daughter in songs should have honoured his name, Every vale, every mountain, had rung with his fame. "Ah subtle destroyer! he charmed as the snake, Who basks on the mountain, or lurks in the brake; He stung like the reptile; the poison is sure, No herb can relieve me, no sorcery cure. "False traitor! who won and caressed to destroy, Oh could I but hate thee, I still could know joy, But spurned and degraded, this heart is so frail, Love remains where deep hate and revenge should prevail. "One spirit we worship, one chief we obey, One bright sun gives lustre and warmth to our day, One mate has the eagle, the turtle one love, I am proud as the eagle, and true as the dove. "Oh think not to tread in your pride o'er my grave! I will sleep with my babes buried deep in the wave, Where thou canst not follow—unworthy to be A husband, a father, to them or to me. "If stung with remorse, thou shalt seek for my tomb, To mock at my weakness, or mourn o'er my doom, Thy voice shall be drowned in the cataract's roar, And my spirit be vexed with thy false vows no more!" As she sung, the sad strain came prolonged o'er the cliff— Every cave, as in sympathy, echoed her grief, So deep each response, as it murmured along, No mortal e'er heard so terrific a song. And onward the bark swiftly glides o'er the spray, No hand gave the motion, or guided the way, But headlong through breakers, it swept as the wind, No pathway before it, no trace left behind. A moment it paused on the cataract's brow, Then sunk into fathomless caverns below, And the bark, and the song, and the singer no more, Were seen on the wild wave, or heard on the shore!
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There is no knowledge so valuable, as a knowledge of the world. Thousands have grown grey in the acquisition of learning, without ever getting the slightest insight into the human character, while many seem to be born with an intrinsic perception of the workings of the human heart. There is a something called common sense, which books do not teach, but which, nevertheless, is worth more than all the lore of antiquity. A man may starve with his head full of Latin and Greek, while a single grain of common sense operates like the presence of the prophet of old upon the widow's cruise. The fortunate individual who is born with this desirable quality, bears a charmed existence, and glides along in the voyage of life with an ease that surprises his companions. There is a thriftiness about such persons which is almost miraculous; like those hardy plants that spring up in the crevices of the rock, they flourish in the midst of barrenness, when every thing perishes around them.
To this class belonged Timothy Eleazer Tompkinson, the hopeful heir of a worthy mariner, whose domicil was situated in a small sea-port of New England; but who being almost constantly abroad, was obliged to leave his only son to the care of a maiden aunt, and to the teaching of a public school. This amiable youth exhibited, even in childhood, some of the touches of the disposition which adhered to him through life. He liked salt water better than attic wit; and loved to steer his little boat in the most stormy weather, around the capes and headlands of the neighbouring sea-coast, better than to trace out the labyrinths of a problem, or to wander among the shoals and quicksands of metaphysics. In his tenderest years, he launched his bark upon the ocean, with the temerity of a veteran pilot; and when the gay breeze swept along, and the waves danced and sparkled in the sun, his little sail might be seen skimming over the surface like a sea-bird. Often, as he strolled off in the morning, might the shrill voice of his aunt, the worthy Miss Fidelity Tompkinson, be heard hailing him with "Where are you going, Timmy dear?" "Don't go near the water, dear;" and as often would he toss his head, and march on, smiling at the simplicity of his watchful guardian, and marvelling at the timidity of women. In vain did the village pedagogue remind him that time flies swifter than a white squall, and that in the voyage of life there is but one departure, which, if taken wrong, can never be corrected. Tim would listen with a smile, and then placing his tarred hat on one side of his head, stroll off whistling to the beach.
At sixteen, it was concluded that the years and gifts of Timothy rendered him a suitable candidate for college honours, and his name was accordingly entered upon the books of a celebrated institution. Here he was soon distinguished; not for Latin or logic, but for cleverness, ingenuity and gymnastic feats. He never was a great talker, but, on the contrary, expressed himself with a laudable brevity, and with that idiomatic terseness of language, which is common along shore, where a significant sea-phrase answers all the purpose of a long argument; and he reasoned plausibly enough, that one who employed so few words, had little use for any other tongue than his own, which afforded a copious medium for the conveyance of his slender stock of ideas. In the mathematical sciences, he was better skilled. Few could estimate with more accuracy, the number of superficial yards, between his own chamber and a neighbouring orchard; or calculate, with more nicety, the difference of distance between these points upon a direct line, or by the meanders of a number of obtuse angles. He knew the exact height of every window in the college edifice, and the precise force required to elevate a projectile from the college green to the roof of the tutor's boarding-house. He knew precisely the angle at which an object could be presented to the retina of a professor's eye; and was acquainted with the depth of every intellect, and the measure of every purse in the senior class. In short, however deficient in Athenian polish, he had all the hardihood of a Spartan youth, and was especially gifted with that thrifty quality called common sense. He was a lucky boy, too. Though foremost in every act of mischief, he was always the last to be found out, or punished; and though he never studied, he always managed to glide unnoticed through the college examinations, or to obtain praise for productions which were strongly suspected to be not his own. In difficulty or danger, he was sure to have a device to meet the exigency, and was so often successful on such occasions, that his companions compared him to the active animal, which, when thrown into the air, always lights upon its feet.
It will be readily imagined, that our hero gained but few scholastic attainments; yet he was, nevertheless, a general favourite. He was blessed with the finest temper in the world. His good nature was absolutely invincible. Although the very prince of mischief, none suspected him of malice. In the midst of a bitter reproof, he would smile in the professor's face; and the senior who treated him with insolence, was, perhaps, the first to receive some kind act from his hand. If the faculty frowned upon him, he had the faculty of turning the storm into sunshine, and of averting punishment by a well-timed jest, or compliment. Every body loved Tim, and Tim loved every body. He hated study; but then he liked college, because the students were jolly fellows, and the professors took flattering kindly, and stood quizzing with that patience which is the result of long endurance.
How long these halcyon days would have lasted, and whether the name of Timothy Eleazer Tompkinson would have been numbered among the alumni of the college, is now beyond the reach of conjecture; for just as he had attained his twentieth year, the news came that his father had discharged the debt of nature, leaving all his other debts unpaid, his sister fortuneless, and his son a beggar. Our hero paid the tribute of a tear to the memory of his departed parent, and more than one drop attested his sympathy for the desolate condition of his kind aunt. But he soon brushed the moisture from either eye, and as the good president condoled with him in a tone of sincere affection, he acknowledged with a smile, that his case might have been much more desperate.
"The worst of it is," said the reverend principal, "that you will not be able to take out a degree."
"I shall be sorry to quit college," replied the youth, "but as for the degree, that is neither here nor there."
The president shook his head, and took snuff, while Tim cast a side-long glance out of the window, gazing wistfully over the green landscape, which was now decked with the blossoms of spring, and longing to rove uncontrolled about that beautiful world, that seemed so redolent of sunshine, and flowers, and balmy breezes.
"It is a sad thing," said the president, "for a young man to be cast upon the cold charity of the wide world."
"The wider the world is, the better," said Tim, "it is a fine thing to have sea-room; and as to its coldness, I don't regard that; a light heart will keep a man warm in the stiffest northeaster that ever blew."
The worthy president applied his handkerchief to his nose, then wiped his spectacles, and wondered how marvellously the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb.
"Thou hast a bold heart," said the president, "still I cannot bear to see you cast forth without a profession."
"Oh, never mind that; I'm all the better without it. To a man without a farthing in his pocket, a profession is only an incumbrance, which forces him to wear good clothes, and talk like a book. I shall put out into the world as light as a feather, and float along with the breeze."
Arguments were thrown away upon the common sense of our hero, who was already panting to exercise among men, the same devices which had smoothed all the asperities of college life, which had won him the affection of his fellow-students, and gained even the kindness of his superiors.
"There goes," said the president, as he gazed after him, "the shrewdest boy, and the greatest dunce that ever left college—the most obstinate, yet the most conciliatory spirit."
Obstinate as he was, there was one point on which he yielded. He abandoned a long cherished intention of going to sea, upon the earnest solicitation of his aunt. It was the only request, from his sole remaining relative. She had nursed his infancy with unceasing kindness; she now leaned upon him for support, and her tears were irresistible. But in abandoning the ocean, he stipulated for free permission to roam at large over the wide expanse of his native country, and in a few days after the intelligence had arrived of his father's death, he was seen leaving his native village, with an elastic step, with a staff in his hand, and a small portmanteau under his arm.
Here I must leave my hero for the present, and ask the gentle reader to accompany me to the pleasant village of Carondelet, or as it is more commonly called, Vuide Poche, on the margin of the Mississippi. Although now dwindled into an obscure and ruinous hamlet, remarkable only for its outlandish huts and lean ponies, it was then the goodly seat of a prosperous community. It is situated on the western shore of the river, in a beautiful little amphitheatre, which seems to have been scooped out for the very purpose. The banks of the Mississippi at this place are composed of a range of hills, rising abruptly from the water's edge. The town occupies a sort of cove, formed by a small plat of table land, surrounded on three sides by hills. The houses occupy the whole of this little area, including the hill sides; and are models of primitive rudeness, carelessness, and comfort. They were sometimes of stone; but usually of framed timber, with mud walls; and all the rooms being arranged on the ground floor, their circumference was often oddly disproportioned to their height. In a few of the better sort, spacious piazzas, formed by the projection of the roof, surrounded the buildings, giving to them both coolness and a remarkable air of comfort. The enormous steep roofs were often quadrangular, so as to form a point in the middle, surmounted by a ball, a weathercock, or a cross. Gardens, stocked with fruit trees and flowering shrubs, encompassed the dwellings, enclosed with rough stone walls, or stockades made by driving large stakes in the ground. The dwellings stood apart, having each its own little domain about it; and when it is added, that the streets were narrow and irregular, it will be observed that the whole scene was odd and picturesque.
The inhabitants presented, as I suppose, a fair specimen of the French peasantry, as they existed in France, previous to the first revolution. They had all the levity, the kindness, and the contentment which are so well described by Sterne, with a simplicity which was perfectly childlike. Though subject, at the date of our tale, to a foreign king, they were as good republicans as if they had been trained up in one of our own colonies. They knew the restraints and distinctions of a monarchy only by report, practising the most rigid equality among themselves, and never troubling their heads to inquire how things were ordered elsewhere. The French commandants and priests, who ruled in their numerous colonies, had always the knack of giving a parental character to their sway, and governed with so much mildness, that the people never thought of questioning either the source or extent of their authority; while the English invariably alienate the affections of their colonists by oppression. The inhabitants of Vuide Poche were all plebeians; a few, who traded with the Indians, had amassed some little property; the remainder were hunters and boatmen—men who traversed the great prairies of the west, and traced the largest rivers to their sources, fiddling and laughing all the way, lodging and smoking in the Indian wigwams, and never dreaming of fatigue or danger.
To return to our story. It was a sultry afternoon in June. Not a breath of air was stirring—the intense glare of the sun had driven every animal to some shelter—the parched soil glowed with heat, and even the plants drooped. There was, however, a pleasant coolness, and an inviting serenity among the dwellings of the French. The trees that stood thick around them, threw a dense shade, which contrasted delightfully with the glaring fierceness of the sun beams. The broad leaf of the catalpa, and the rich green of the locust, afforded relief to the eye; bowers of sweet briar and honey-suckle, mingled with luxuriant clumps of the white and red rose, gave fragrance to the air, and a romantic beauty to the scene.
In the cool veranda of one of the largest of those dwellings, sat a round-faced laughing Frenchman. Near him sat madame, his wife, a dark-eyed, wrinkled, sprightly old lady; and at her side was a beautiful girl of seventeen, their only daughter. The worthy couple had that mahogany tinge of complexion which belongs to this region; as to the young lady, politeness compels me to describe her hue as a brunette—and a beautiful brunette it was—fading into snow-white upon her neck, and deepening into a rich damask on her round smooth cheek. The ladies were sewing; and the gentleman was puffing his pipe with the composure of a man who feels conscious that he has a right to smoke his own tobacco in his own house, and with the deliberation of one who is master of his own time.
While thus engaged, their attention was attracted by the apparition of a man leading a jaded horse along the street. The stranger was young and slender; his dress had once been genteel, but was much worn, and showed signs of recent exposure to the weather. The traveller himself was tanned and weather-beaten, his hair tangled, and his chin unshaved; while the sorry nag, which he led by the bridle, had just life enough left in him to limp upon three legs. Worn down with fatigue, and covered with sweat and dust, the new comer halted in the street, as if unable to proceed, and looked around in search of a public house. Of a boy, who passed along, he inquired for a tavern; but the lad, unable to understand him, shook his head. He put the same question to several others, with no better success; until Monsieur Dunois, the gentleman whom we have described above, seeing his embarrassment, stepped forward and invited him into his porch.
The stranger was no other than our friend Timothy Eleazer Tompkinson, who, in the course of a few months, had made his way from New England to Louisiana. It is unnecessary to recount the various expedients by which he maintained himself upon his journey. He was a lawyer, a doctor, or a mechanic, as occasion required. At one place, he pleaded a cause before a magistrate; at another, he drew a tooth; for one man he mended a lock; for another he set a time-piece; and by these and similar devices, he not only supported himself, but procured the means to purchase a horse, saddle, and bridle. Arrived at the frontier of Kentucky, his restless spirit still urged him forward, and he determined to strike across the wilderness to the French settlements, on the Mississippi. The distance was nearly three hundred miles, and the whole region through which he had to travel was uninhabited, except by Indians. Unaccustomed to the forest, he must have perished, had he not encountered a solitary hunter, who, pleased with his free and bold spirit, voluntarily conducted him throughout a considerable part of the route, taught him how to avoid the haunts of the savages, and instructed him in some of the arts of forest life. For the last two days he had wandered without food; and both himself and his horse were nearly exhausted when he reached the Mississippi, where some friendly Indians, of the Kaskaskia tribe, had ferried him across in their canoes. The arrival of a stranger at this secluded hamlet, by land, was quite an event, and little else was talked of, this evening, at the tea-tables of Carondelet.
M. Dunois, who had traded and travelled, valued himself highly on his knowledge of the English language, which he had attempted to teach to his daughter; and he no sooner discovered that this was the vernacular tongue of the stranger, than he opened a conversation in that dialect. The cork was drawn from a bottle of excellent claret, a pitcher of limpid water from the fountain was brought, and our hero having moistened his parched lips, and seated himself in the coolest veranda of Vuide Poche, felt quite refreshed. The following dialogue then ensued:
"Pray sir," said Timothy Eleazer, with his best college bow, "can you direct me to a tavern?"
"Tavern! vat you call? eh? Oh la! d'auberge— no, Monsieur, dere is no tavern en Vuide Poche."
"That is awkward enough—what shall I do? my horse must be fed, and I am almost starved."
"Eh bien! you will have some ros bif, and somebody for eat your cheval? n'est ce pas?"
"I need food and lodging, and know not where to go."
"Fude! vat is fude, Marie? Ah ha! aliment. Sacre! Monsieur is hongry; Loge! here is ver good place, chez moi. You shall stay vid me. Ver good loge here, and plenty for eat you, et votre cheval."
Timothy "hoped he didn't intrude;" but a man who has been lost in the woods, is not very apt to stand on ceremony; and as he glanced at the symptoms of plenty which surrounded him, at the good humoured hostess, and at the fair Marie, a spectator would have judged, that his fears of intrusion were overbalanced by feelings of self gratulation, at having fallen into the hands of such good Samaritans. He soon found that the hospitality of this worthy family was of the most substantial kind. In a moment his tired nag was led to the stable, and our hero, so lately a wanderer, found himself an honoured and cherished guest.
The air of Vuide Poche agreed well with him. The free and social habits of the French were exactly to his taste. Although their pockets, as the name of their town implies, were not lined with gold, there was plenty in their dwellings, and cheerfulness in their hearts. He was delighted with the harmony and the apparent unity, both of feeling and interest, which bound this little community together. They were like a single family; their hearts beat in unison, "as the heart of one man." There was but one circle. Though some were poorer than others, they all mingled in the same dance; and as none claimed superiority, or attempted to put others to shame, by affecting a show of wealth, there was little envy or malice. All were equally illiterate, with the exception of Mons. Dunois and the priest, who had travelled, and who spoke, the one Latin, and the other, as we have seen, English. But so far from assuming any airs on account of these attainments, they were the plainest and most sociable men in the village, and were reverenced as much for their benevolence as for their superior knowledge.
All this chimed so well with the feelings of Mr Timothy Eleazer Tompkinson, that he resolved forthwith, to engraft himself upon this vigorous and cheerful stock. The next thing was to choose a profession; but he had too much common sense to suffer so small a matter as this to cause him any embarrassment. I am not aware of the precise motive, which determined him to embrace the practice of physic. It might have been benevolence, or a conviction of a special vocation for the healing art; but I rather attribute it to a motive which I suspect too often allures our youth to become the disciples of æsculapius, namely, the occult nature of the science, which enables an adroit practitioner to cover his ignorance so completely as to defy detection. Timothy had discovered that when he practised law, any spectator could expose the fallacy of his arguments; when he mended clocks, they often refused to go; but the case was different with his patients; if, in spite of his drugs, they refused to go, it was well for them, and for him; and if they did go, nobody knew whom to blame. To say the truth, he never presumed to "exhibit" any drug more active than charcoal, brickdust, or flour; and his success had heretofore been quite marvellous.
He therefore took the earliest opportunity of disclosing to his host, that he was a physician, and was disposed to exercise his calling for the benefit of the good people of Carondelet.
"Eh bien!" exclaimed M. Dunois, "un medecin! ver good; ver mosh fine ting for Vuide Poche; vat can you cure?"
"Oh, I am not particular; I can cure one thing almost as well as another."
"You can cure every ting, eh?—de fevre, de break-bone, de catch-cold—dat is fine ting, you shall stay chez Vuide Poche."
So the question was settled.
Had there been a newspaper in Carondelet, the name of Doctor Timothy Eleazer Tompkinson "from the United States," would, doubtless, have figured in its columns. But as there was no such thing, our hero resorted to other means of acquiring notoriety. In the first place, having procured a suitable cabin, the whole village was searched for phials, and gallipots, and little boxes, and big bottles, which being filled with liquids and unguents, of various hues, were "wisely set for show," at the window. But the greatest affair of all, was a certain machine, for the invention of which, Doctor Tompkinson ought to have had a patent. This was no other than a wheel, turning on an axis, and surrounded by an immovable rim, within which it revolved. Upon the wheel, Timothy wrote the name of every disease which he could recollect, as well as every dreadful accident to which flesh is heir; and on the rim he inscribed the cures. When the remedy for any disorder was required, the wheel was set in motion, and on its stopping, the cure was found opposite the disease. The honest villagers crowded to see the "magic wheel," and vied in their courtesies to its fortunate possessor, who was rising fast into celebrity, when his prospects were clouded by an untoward event.
In the midst of the village stood the chapel—a low oblong building, whose gable end was presented to the street, and behind which was a cemetery, where all the graves were marked by great wooden crosses, instead of tombstones. Here the good catholics repaired every morning and evening to perform their devotions, and confess their peccadilloes to the priest. Hither one morning, at an earlier hour than usual, was seen repairing, the fair Marie Dunois, with a step as light as the zephyr, and a face radiant as the dawn. Kneeling beside the worthy old man, who placed his withered hand upon her raven locks, she began in a low, earnest tone, to unburthen her mind. Suddenly the ecclesiastic started from his seat, exclaiming,
"Ah the insolent! how did he dare to make such an avowal?"
"He meant no harm, I assure you, father," replied Marie.
"How do you know that?"
"He told me so, with his own mouth. He said that he valued my happiness more than his own; and that he would rather swallow all the physic in his shop, than offend me."
"Very pretty talk, truly! Do you not know that he is a heretic, and that no reliance can be placed in him?"
"Very true, father Augustin, but then he is so agreeable."
"Besides, he is a Yankee; and does not understand your language."
"Oh, I understand him very well; and he says he will teach me to speak English. Don't you think him very handsome, father Augustin?"
"I am afraid, my child, that this adventurer has imposed too much upon your youth and innocence."
"No, indeed, father Augustin, I am old enough to know when a gentleman is sincere, and all that. Don't you think Doctor Tompkinson plays beautifully on the flute? and on the violin, he plays almost as well as you, father."
"Pshaw! go, go, I shall inform your parents."
"Oh dear, I have no objection to that; they will feel highly honoured by Doctor Tompkinson's partiality for me."
Nevertheless, the pretty Marie blushed, and cast down her eyes, when she met her father at breakfast that morning, and no sooner was that meal despatched, than she hastened to her own room. Presently came father Augustin, and after an hour's conference, Monsieur Dunois, evidently much agitated, sallied forth in search of our hero.
"Vel sair!" he exclaimed as they met, "I ave found you out! I ave catch de Yankee!"
"How! you ave court my daughter; dat is how! sacre! you ave make love avec ma Marie, dat is how enough, Monsieur docteur."
"My dear sir, pray be composed, there is some mistake."
"Dere is no mistake. I vill not be compose—I vill not be impose, too! diable! Suppose some gentilhomme court ma Marie contrair to my vish, shall I sit down compose?"
"Really sir, I see no reason for this passion," replied the cautious Timothy, who saw his advantage in keeping cool.
"Sair, I ave raison,"—exclaimed the enraged Frenchman, "I ave too mosch raison. Vous etez traitre! you are de sly dem rogue! You very pretty docteur! very ansome Yankee docteur! can you no mix de physique, and draw de blood, vidout make love avec all de French gal? "
"I assure you, sir, the ladies have misconstrued something that I have said merely in jest—."
"Jest! vat is jest? ah ha! raillerie; fon—vat sair, you court ma fille for fon? very ansome fon! you make love avec de French gal for fon, eh? Suppose bam bye you marry some of dem for fon! diable! Suppose, may be, I break all your bone, for fon, vid my canne, eh, how you like him?"
"My dear sir, if you will tell me coolly, what you complain of, I will endeavour to explain."
"Sair, I complain for many ting. I sorry for you make love avec ma fille, vidout my leave— dat is von ting; I very mosch incense for you court ma chile for fon—dat is nodder ting; den I ave raison to be fache for you faire la cour a two, tree lady all same tem ."
The last of these accusations was unjust. Timothy had not really intended to pay his devotions to more than one lady. But the females all admired him, and in their confidential conversations with the priest, who was no great connoisseur in the affairs of the heart, spoke of him in such high terms of approbation, as to induce the holy man to believe that he was actually playing the coquette. What Monsieur Dunois and the priest believed, soon became the belief of the village; and the men all condemned, while the ladies sympathized with, the ingenious stranger. The doctor, of course, changed his lodging; and ceased to have any intercourse with Made-moiselle Dunois, except by means of expressive glances, and significant pressures of the hand, as they met in the dances, which occurred almost every evening.
Things now looked gloomy; our friend Timothy lost his practice; and a fortunate circumstance it was for him, as well as for those who might otherwise have been his patients. He now had leisure to make hunting excursions, and expeditions upon the water; and his skill in the management of a boat, as well as his courage and address in every emergency, soon gained him friends. His vivacity, his versatility and promptness, won daily upon his comrades; he became a daring hunter, a skilful woodsman, and a favourite of all the young men of the village.
Such was the posture of affairs, and Doctor Tompkinson was sitting one evening in his lonely room, quite out of patients, as a punster would say, when he was called, in haste, to visit a young lady, who had met with the misfortune of having a fish-bone stuck in her throat. The priest had exercised all his skill—the old ladies had exhausted their receipts, without effect; and, as a last resort, it was determined to consult Doctor Tompkinson and the magic wheel. Our hero, with great alacrity, brushed the dust from the neglected machine, set it in motion, and waited patiently until it stopped, when opposite to the word "choking" was found "bleeding." The doctor, somewhat perplexed, repeated the experiment; but, the result being the same, resolved to obey the oracle, and trust to fortune. Having prepared his bandages, and lancet, he repaired to the sufferer, who, opening her eyes and beholding the operator brandishing a bright instrument, and naturally supposing that the part affected would be the first point of attack, and that her throat would be cut from ear to ear, uttered a terrific scream, and—out flew the bone! "St Anthony! what a miraculous cure!" exclaimed the priest; "Ste Genevieve! what a noble physician!" cried all the ladies: and the whole village of Vuide Poche was alive with wonder, and loud in praise of the consummate sagacity of the young American. Never did a man rise so suddenly, to the highest pinnacle of public favour—never did Doctor Tompkinson shake so many hard hands, or receive so many bright smiles and courtesies, as on this evening. The news soon flew to the tea-table of Monsieur Dunois, who had already begun to repent of his harshness to our hero, and whose ardent feelings, easily excited, now prompted him to the opposite extreme. Seeing the object of his solicitude passing his door, while the first gush of returning kindness was flowing through his heart, he rushed out and caught him in his arms. "Ah mon ami!" exclaimed he, "I ave been mistake! I ave been impose! you are de grand medecin! you shall marry avec my gal! " and without waiting for any reply, he dragged him into the house.
Shortly after this event, the smartest and merriest wedding, that ever was seen in Carondelet, was celebrated under the hospitable roof of Monsieur Dunois, and our hero became the happy husband of the beautiful and artless Marie. On that night, every fiddle and every foot in Vuide Poche did its duty; even the priest wore his best robes, and kindest smile, at the marriage feast of the lucky heretic. Mr Tompkinson immediately abandoned the practice of physic; the magic wheel disappeared; and he embarked in business as an Indian trader. Here his genius found an appropriate field. With his band of adventurous boatmen, he navigated the long rivers of the west, to their tributary fountains; he visited the wigwams of tribes afar off, to whom the white man was not yet known as a scourge; he chased the buffalo over plains, until then, untrodden by any human foot, but that of the savage; and returned laden with honest spoil. Year after year he pursued this toilsome traffic; until, having earned a competency, he sat down contented, and waxed as fat, as lazy, and as garrulous, as any of his townsmen. He grew as swarthy as his neighbours, and as he wore a capot and smoked a short pipe, no one would have suspected that he was not a native, had it not been for his aunt, the worthy Miss Fidelity Tompkinson, who occupied the best room in his mansion, and who resolutely refused, through life, to eat gumbo-soup, to speak French, or to pay any reverence to that respectable man, the priest.
I left my residence in Kentucky, a few years ago, and proceeded to Baltimore, for the purpose of transacting some business with a mercantile house, with which I had been extensively concerned. No one knew the object of my journey; because, being a bachelor in easy circumstances, I was under no obligation to disclose to any person more than I thought proper. I left my farm under the direction of a manager, with the expectation of returning in a few weeks. On my arrival in Baltimore, I found that it would be necessary to proceed to New Orleans. The vessel in which I embarked, after being baffled and detained by head winds, at length sprung a leak, and we were obliged to put in to the Havana. Here various delays occurred, and as I could neither talk Spanish, play billiards, nor smoke segars, the time hung so heavy upon my hands, that I soon fretted myself into a bilious fever. In this condition my captain left me, without so much as saying good-by; and when at last I reached New Orleans by another vessel, I found that the person with whom my affairs had been entrusted, was absent, and not expected to return for several weeks. There was now no alternative left me, but either to abandon the object of my voyage, and risk the entire loss of a large sum, or by remaining, expose my constitution, already debilitated and predisposed to disease, to the dangers of a sickly climate. Unfortunately I adopted the latter course.
I found the weather as hot here as in Cuba, the language as incomprehensible, and the billiard-tables quite as devoid of interest. The sickly season was fast approaching, and as I had determined not to escape disease by flight, I endeavoured to avoid it by precaution. It is amusing enough, to those who can look on from a distance, to see the various expedients by which men endeavour to contend with death; as if the great destroyer was a foe who could be eluded by cunning, or baffled by force. The yellow fever assailed the inhabitants; I felt the malady, or thought I felt it, creeping slowly into my system, and resorted to every preventive which my own reason, or the experience of others suggested. I first tried the Sangrado plan; drank water, ate vegetables, and suffered phlebotomy. But I soon found that I could not endure starvation, nor carry on the functions of life without a due supply of the circulating medium. I resorted to stimulants and tonics—a mint-julap in the morning, bitters at noon, and wine after dinner; but alas! with no better success; for every time that I looked in the glass, I discovered, by my sallow visage, that the enemy was silently making his approaches. My eyes became jaundiced; my pulse heavy; my skin dry; and my complexion received a new coat of yellow every day, deepening at first into a delicate orange, then to a saffron, and lastly to a copper colour; until I began to fear that I was actually degenerating into a Spaniard, a Quarteroon, or a Cherokee.
"Coming events throw their shadows before," and on this occasion the shadows that tinged my face were but too prophetic. The dreaded fever came at last, and I sunk into a state of helpless and hopeless misery, which none can truly estimate but those who have felt its poignancy. I was a stranger, far from home; in a climate tainted with disease; and attacked by a disorder supposed to be fatal. That malady, among other distressing characteristics, has one which is peculiarly aggravating. I know not whether others are similarly affected, but to me a fever brings a state of excitement and sensitiveness, which produces the most exquisite torture. My whole nature is subtilized— every feeling is quickened—and every sense sharpened into a painful acuteness of perception. The judgment is weakened, but the imagination acquires a supernatural activity; the body sinks, but the spirit is feelingly alive. Such was my state. In the early stages of my disease, a thousand wild visions were in my brain. I made rhymes; repeated pages of Latin, although in a moment of sanity I could not have connected a sentence; I saw people whose faces had been forgotten for years; I called up events which had transpired in my childhood; I planned novels, composed essays, and devised theories; I fought battles; I recalled the joys and repented the sins of my whole life. I was a madman, a philosopher, a devotee, and a wag, in the same hour. At one moment I prayed fervently; at another I dropped the doctor's nostrums in my sleeve, and amused myself with inventing ingenious answers to deceive him, and feigning symptoms which did not exist. I jested, moralized, groaned, wept, and laughed; and found in each new mood that came over me, a pang as agonizing as that which I had suffered in the one that had passed. Such is fever! excruciating bodily pain, with a brilliancy and strength of intellectual vision, which looks back to infancy, and forward to eternity, and around upon the whole scene of life, while the mental eye is crowded with images, whose number and vividness weary and distract the brain. Loss of strength, stupor and melancholy succeeded. I thought of home, of myself, and of death; and my visions assumed every day a deeper and more death-like hue.
There was one object which intruded into all my dreams. I need only name its character, in order to enlist the sympathy of every tender hearted reader. It was a young widow—for whom I felt a particular regard, and to whom—if I must speak out—I was engaged to be married, on my return home. She was my first love. I had paid my addresses to her before her marriage, but was too bashful to declare myself explicitly; and while I balanced matters in my own mind, and sought by the gentlest hints to disclose my passion, she by some fatality—by mere accident, as I have since understood—married a certain Jeremiah Smith! a fellow for whom, and for whose name, I had always entertained a sovereign and special contempt. I did not blame her for marrying, for that was her privilege;—but to wed a fellow named Jerry! and of all the Jerries in the world to pitch upon Jerry Smith, a dissipated silly profligate, not worth a cent in the world, was too bad! It was flying in the face of propriety, and treating her other lovers, who were numerous, with indignity. Poor girl! she had a sad time of it, for Jerry treated her worse than a brute; but at the end of two years he had the grace to pop off, leaving her pennyless and as pretty as ever. It was a long time after her widowhood before we met; I would not call on her, and as to courting Jerry Smith's widow, that seemed out of the question. But when we did meet, she looked so sad and so beautiful, and smiled so pensively, and talked so sweetly of old times, that all her power of fascination over me revived. I began to visit her, thinking of nothing more at first than to show her my superiority over Jerry Smith, and to convince her how great a slight she had shown to my merits in selecting him. But, in trying to make myself agreeable to the widow, she became so very agreeable to me, that in spite of all of my former resolutions, I offered her my hand, which was accepted with the most charming grace imaginable. This was just before my journey, and as that could not be postponed, we agreed to put off the wedding until my return.
Such was the beautiful vision that had smiled upon me through all my wanderings; but which now was presented to my distempered fancy, arrayed in the brightest colours. In vain did I sometimes try to banish it; I thought of my business, my farm, my negroes, my tobacco—but anon came the graceful widow, with that same smile and blush that she wore when she faintly murmured "no," and expressively looked "yes"—there she was, hanging fondly over me, and chiding my delay.
This could not last forever; and just when every body thought that I was about to die, I grew better; and to my great joy was put on board a steam-boat bound for Louisville. For a day or two I continued to recruit; change of air, scene, and food did wonders: but the happiness of a speedy recovery was not fated to be mine. I had embarked in a steam-boat of the largest class, on board of which were four hundred passengers. The weather was excessively hot, there where many sick among us, and the atmosphere between the decks soon became impure. The yellow fever was said to be on board; and our comfortless situation was rendered dreadful by the panic that ensued. I relapsed, and was soon pronounced past recovery. I had the yellow fever, and was considered a fatal bearer of contagion. It was thought proper to remove me from the boat, and to abandon me to my fate, rather than endanger the lives of others.
I was accordingly put on shore; but when or how it happened I know not. I have a faint recollection of being lowered into the yawl, and seeing people gazing at me; I heard one say "he will die in an hour;" another inquired my name; one voice pitied me; and another said I had made a happy escape from pain. I thought they were about to bury me, and became senseless in an agonizing effort to speak.
When I recovered my consciousness, I found myself in a cabin on the shore of the Mississippi. A kind family had received and nursed me, and had brought me back to life after I had been long insensible. They were poor people, who made their living by cutting fire-wood to supply the steam-boats;— a lean and sallow family, whose bilious complexions and attenuated forms attested the withering influence of a corrupted atmosphere. They had the languid southern eye, the heavy gait, and slow speech, of persons enervated by burning sunbeams and humid breezes.
For two weeks I was unable to rise from the miserable pallet with which their kindness had supplied me. I counted every log in the wretched cabin— my eye became familiar with all the coats, gowns, and leathern hunting shirts, that hung from the rafters—I noticed each crevice—and set down in my memory all the furniture and cooking utensils. For fourteen long summer days my eyes had no other employment but to wander over these few objects again and again, until at last nothing was left to be discovered, and I closed them in the disgust occasioned by the sameness of the scene, or strained them in search of something new, until my eye-balls ached. But I had no more feverish dreams, and when I thought of the widow Smith, it was with the delight of newly awakened hope; and with the confidence that better days and brighter scenes awaited me at home.
At last I was able to crawl to the door, and to see the sun, the green trees, and the water. It was a most refreshing sight, although the landscape itself was any thing but attractive. The cabin stood on the bank of the river, in a low alluvion bottom. It was surrounded and overhung by a forest of immense trees, whose tall dark trunks rose to the height of sixty or seventy feet, without a branch, and then threw out their vast lateral boughs, and heavy foliage, so luxuriantly as entirely to exclude the sun. Beneath that dense canopy of shade, were long, dark, and gloomy vistas, where the Indian might well fancy himself surrounded by the spirits of his departed friends. The soil itself had a dismal aspect; the whole surface had been inundated but a few weeks past; the fallen leaves of last year, saturated and blackened by long immersion, were covered with a thick deposit of mud, and the reeking mass sent up volumes of noxious vapour. Before the house was a naked sand-bar, sparkling and glowing with heat. In the middle of the river was a large sawyer, an immense log, the entire trunk of a majestic oak, whose roots clung to the bottom, while the other end, extending down the stream, rose to the surface, the current giving it a heavy and eternal motion; now uprearing some twenty feet of the huge black mass above the surface, and then sinking it again in the water with the regular swing of a pendulum. I gazed for hours at that perpetual seesaw, wondering what law of nature governed its exact vibrations. Here the hideous alligator might be seen rocking through half a day, as if in the enjoyment of an agreeable recreation; while droves of those animals, sporting in the stream or crawling on the beach, roared like so many bulls, filling the whole forest with their bellowings. Added to those sounds, were the braying of the wolf, the croaking of innumerable frogs, and the buzz of myriads of musquitoes. Under any other circumstances I should have thought myself in a pandemonium; but I had in the last few weeks endured so much pain, passed through so many horrors, and trembled so often, and so long, upon the brink of the grave, that I enjoyed the sun, the breeze, and the verdure, even with these dismal accompaniments. I was even agreeably situated; for so great and so pleasing was the change, in having my mind relieved from its abstraction, that I could gaze placidly for hours upon natural objects of the most common description, and converse with interest on the most trivial subjects. Of all forms none are so hideous or so terrifying, as the horrible creations of a distempered imagination.
For another fortnight I remained contented, gradually gaining strength; and then finding myself again able to travel, I took my passage in a steam-boat for Louisville. The river was now extremely low, and we advanced slowly, sometimes running aground upon the sand-bars, and always getting forward with difficulty. At length we reached our port, and I sprung with delight upon the soil of Kentucky. Among the steam-boats lying along the shore, dismantled and laid up for the season, was the vessel in which I had embarked at New Orleans, a feeble invalid, and which had left me almost a corpse.
My baggage consisted of several well filled trunks; one of which, a common black leather travelling trunk, I had purchased at New Orleans, and packed with articles of finery, for my intended bride. On setting me ashore at the wood-cutter's, the captain of the boat had been careful to land my several chattels, and I now proceeded with them to a hotel in Louisville. My baggage was carried into a bar-room crowded with gentlemen, and I had scarcely time to turn round, when a lank, agile Frenchman, with tremendous whiskers, darted forward, and seizing my black trunk, seemed to be about to appropriate to his own use all my nuptial presents.
"That is my trunk, Sir," said I.
"Aha, sair! you say dat your tronk? By gar, sair, dat is not your tronk!"
"Excuse me, sir, it is undoubtedly mine."
"Ah! ma foi! I shall not excuse you, sair! By gar, sair, if you say dis your tronk you no gentiman."
As he said this he jerked a key from his pocket, thrust it into the lock, threw open the disputed trunk, and to my utter consternation, and the infinite amusement of all others present, displayed a magazine of "sundries" as undoubtedly French as his own accent.
"Dare! vat you say now, sair?" he exclaimed triumphantly, as he threw out the contents, "you say dat your coat? dat your waistcoat? your fiddle-string? your musique note? your every ting! by gar, sair, you are no gentiman, if you say dat your tronk!"
"I ask your pardon," said I, "the trunk is not mine; but there is a strange mystery in this affair, which I cannot pretend to unravel."
"Ah, very much mystery, for some oder gentiman get my tronk, and make me wear my linen in dis hot contry for five six week!"
"The fault is not mine; I purchased a trunk at New Orleans so nearly resembling that one, that if I was not convinced by the contents, I would still think it mine. I am sorry to have been the innocent cause of any inconvenience to you."
"Very well; I buy my tronk at New Orleans too—dat how he look so much alike; very sorry for you, sair; but I cannot let you have my tronk, indeed, sair."
I stood mortified and confounded; cutting a very awkward figure in the presence of a large company, who viewed this odd adventure with astonishment. I began almost to doubt my own identity, and to fancy myself transformed by magic into somebody else. It seemed as if my ill luck was never to cease. I dreaded lest this incident should prove prophetic, and as I had seen my trunk transformed under my very nose into the trunk of another gentleman, I feared that I might find my widow changed into another man's wife. I was somewhat relieved by the captain of the steam-boat, who had witnessed this scene, and who now stepped forward, and informed me, that my trunk, which had been exchanged by mistake, was on board his boat.
Feeling in no mood to visit any of my acquaintances, I directed my course to the counting-house of a merchant, upon whom I held a draft. On handing it to his clerk, he returned it, observing,
"The drawee of this bill is dead, sir; and we have instructions not to pay it."
"I am the drawee," returned I.
"There must be some mistake," replied the clerk very coldly; "Mr M—, in whose favour that bill is drawn, is certainly dead. We have it from his heir."
"Heir! don't you suppose, sir, that I am the best judge whether I am dead or alive!"
"Can't say, sir—sorry to dispute any gentleman's word—but my orders—"
"Sir, you don't only dispute my word, you deny my existence—don't you see me, and hear me, and can't you feel me?" said I, laying my long cold hand upon his soft white palm.
"Very sorry," repeated the book-keeper, withdrawing his hand as if a viper had touched it, "but my principal is absent—I act under instructions— and Mr M—'s account is closed on our books."
"This is the strangest turn of all," said I to myself, as I stepped into the street. "I am dead—my heir has entered upon the estate—the widow mourns over my grave! Very pretty truly! I shall next be told that this is not Kentucky, and that I am not, and never was, Edward M—."
Angry and dispirited, I turned into a public reading room, and sought for a file of the newspaper published in my own neighbourhood. I looked for an old date, and soon found—my own obituary! and learned that in my untimely death society had been deprived of a useful member; my kindred, of an affectionate relative; and my servants, of a kind master! Upon further research, I stumbled upon a notice from my administrator—the next of kin— inviting all my debtors to settle their accounts. I saw no announcement of the widow's dissolution— and concluding that her strength of mind had enabled her to survive my "untimely death," I determined to set out for home instantly, as well to relieve the burthen of her sorrows, as to reassume the privilege of collecting my own debts.
After a tiresome journey, I arrived on the night of the third day in my own neighbourhood. Concealed by the darkness, I reached my own door without being recognized. Two of my negro men stepped up to the carriage as it stopped, and of them, in a disguised voice, I inquired for myself, by my christian and surname.
"Bless you, sir," replied one of them, "old master's dead and buried long ago!"
"And who is your master now?"
"Why, young master,—old master's nephew, Mr Charles."
I stepped out of the carriage, and the negroes no sooner beheld my form in the moonlight, than they shouted, "A ghost! old master's ghost!" and scampered into the house. I entered after them, but could not obtain an audience of any human being. My servants fled when they perceived me, screaming with surprise and terror. I followed them to the kitchen. It was deserted by all but an old palsied woman. She reminded me that she had been my nurse, that she had served me faithfully all my lifetime, and begged my spirit not to injure her. She asked me affectionately what troubled me, and promised to do any thing in her power to enable me to repose quietly in my grave. She told me I had been a good and kind master, and that all my people liked me while I lived, and besought me not to make them hate my memory, by haunting them after my death. And finally she told me that the spirit of a gentleman like me, who had been well raised, might find some better employment, than that of disturbing a peaceable family, and scaring a parcel of poor negroes. I was too much affected to make any reply to old Elsey, and turning from her, stepped into the house. In the hall stood a gentleman and lady, who had been drawn thither by the uproar. They were, the "next of kin" and—the widow Smith! The former, being a man of spirit, stood his ground, but the lady screamed and fled.
"Will you be good enough to tell me, sir," said I, "whether I am dead or alive?"
"We have mourned your death," said my nephew, with an embarrassed air, "but I am happy to find that you are alive, and most sincerely welcome you home."
"Supposing the fact to be that I am alive," said I, "will you do me the kindness to tell me whether I am master of this house?"
"Surely you are, and—"
"Do not interrupt me; you are my administrator, I find; do you claim also to be my guardian? these characters are not usually doubled."
"I claim nothing, sir, but an opportunity to explain those matters which seem to have offended you so deeply."
"Then, sir, being master here, and having neither administrator nor guardian, I desire to be alone."
The young man looked offended, and then smiled superciliously, as if he thought me insane, and turning on his heel, walked off.
I retired to a chamber, and having with some difficulty drawn my servants about me, and convinced them of my identity, took supper, and went to bed. About the widow I made no inquiry; circumstances looked so suspicious, that I dreaded to hear the truth.
In the morning I rose late. I sallied forth, and gazed with delight upon my fields, my trees, and the thousand familiar objects that are comprised within that one endearing word—home. My negroes crowded about me, to welcome me, inquire after my health, and tell me all that had happened to them. Passing over these matters as briefly as possible, I proceeded to probe the subject nearest my heart, and—what think you, gentle reader, was the result?—the widow Smith was married to the "next of kin!" They had left my house at the dawn, that morning.
I have only to add that I have entirely recovered my health and spirits; and that as Jerry Smith's widow has twice slipped through my fingers, undervalued my character, slighted my affection, and at last married that wild scamp, my nephew, whom I had before thought of disinheriting, I am determined that neither of them shall ever touch a dollar of my money; and to effect this laudable object I am resolved not to live single, nor die intestate.
On a pleasant day in September 1750, two horsemen were seen slowly winding their way along the road leading by the margin of the Mississippi river, from the French village of Notre Dame de Kaskaskia , to Fort Chartres. One of them, who appeared to be about forty years of age, was a man of gay and martial appearance. He wore an elegant military undress, and rode gracefully on a fine and high mettled horse. He was the commandant of Fort Chartres, and in virtue of that office, governor of the French settlements in Illinois, which he ruled with a power little less than despotic, but with a mildness that savoured more of parental than of sovereign authority. His companion was the superior of the convent of Jesuits at Kaskaskia, of whose personal appearance we have no accurate account; but we suppose that he was a tall, lank, homely man, with a cunning, mysterious, austere look, such as monks and superiors of convents usually wear on public occasions; and who, while he ruled his own little community with a high hand, acquired considerable influence in the affairs of the colony, by his deferential deportment towards the commander of his majesty's forces. The riders were followed by a small train, which seemed to be paraded rather for show than for protection, consisting of half a dozen gaudily dressed hussars, mounted on the small fiery horses of the country, which having run wild in their early years, retained ever after their original impatience of restraint.
Their way led through that beautiful plain which is now called the American bottom, an extensive tract of rich, flat, alluvial soil, which lies along the eastern shore of the Mississippi, in Illinois, and reaches from the river to the bluffs, and which is justly regarded as containing the greatest body of fertile land in this country, or perhaps in the universe. Part of this plain is covered with timber, the remainder is open prairie, and the whole interspersed with groves of vine and native fruit. Here are to be seen the indigenous productions of this climate, in the greatest variety and highest perfection. The tallest cotton wood and sycamore trees, which rear their enormous shafts to an amazing height, are covered with vines equally aspiring; while the thickets are matted together with smaller vines, and loaded with innumerable clusters of fine grapes. Our travellers beheld groves of the wild apple, whose blossoms in the spring season fill the air of this region with a delightful fragrance, and whose limbs were now bending under loads of useless fruit. They saw hundreds of acres covered with the wild plum, of which there are many varieties, deepening in colour from a light yellow to a deep crimson; and the ripe fruit of which now hung in amazing quantities, and in appearance rich and beautiful beyond description. The walnut, the peccan, and other fine nuts, abounded; the whole combining with the remarkable beauty of the autumn sky in this country, and the serenity and mildness of the atmosphere, to fill the mind with ideas of luxury and plenty.
The plain, which at some places spreads out to the breadth of twelve miles, was confined to a narrow strip, at the point now travelled by the riders whom we have described; and their path, which sometimes approached the river, at others wound along the foot of the bluffs, a ridge of abrupt hills, rising perpendicularly to the height of more than a hundred feet, and supposed to have been anciently washed by the Mississippi. Advancing into the Prairie de Rocher, they beheld an open plain, bounded on one side by the river, and on the other by a tall barrier of solid rock, whose summit projects over its base, and whose highest points, which are beautifully rounded, are covered with rich soil and prairie grass, and here and there ornamented with a single tree. At the foot of this rock, and extending thence to the river, was a large village, called, in reference to its situation, the village of Prairie de Rocher. Adjoining this was a large enclosure called the "Common Field," which was held in severalty by the inhabitants, each of whom owned a greater or less number of acres, according to his ability, and the whole of which was surrounded by a common fence, without partitions. Each person cultivated his own part, and had a right to pasturage at proper seasons, in proportion to the quantity of his land; and the whole business of fencing, tilling, and pasturing, was regulated by village ordinances, and conducted with a harmony which is not known to have existed in any other community similarly situated. Lots in the "Common Field," were held by purchase, or grant, from the French crown; the rest of the ground in and around the village, was held by the inhabitants in common, and portions of it were reduced to private property by a simple procedure: when a young man married, or a person wished to settle in the village, an instrument of writing was drawn and signed by all the inhabitants, vesting in him the fee simple of a lot for building, and equal rights with the others in their common property. But we detain the reader too long from the gay and gentle company who were about to honour the rustic villagers with their august presence.
They had passed the Common Field, now covered with a ripening crop of Indian corn, and were entering the village, when their attention was attracted by a crowd of persons, assembled in front of the cottage of Michel de Coucy. Honest Michel himself, who, when at home, usually sat under a spreading catalpa, before his own door, with a red cap on his head, and a short black pipe in his mouth, the very emblem of content and placid composure, now stood in the midst of the concourse, weeping, raving, and threatening, with the most vehement gestures. He was a small, thin, dark man, with black hair, and an eye that he might have been suspected of inheriting from the aborigines, had not his character been so genuinely French, as fully to redeem the purity of descent. He was as honest, as gay, and as contented a soul as ever breathed; famed for the simplicity and benevolence of his character, as well as for a vein of humour, which rendered him at all times an agreeable companion. In fact, to smoke his pipe, to do kind actions, and to tell pleasant tales and sly jests, seemed to be the business of his life, his other occupations being of secondary importance. Born in the wilds of Canada, and reared in the woods and upon the water, he was equally at home, whether paddling his canoe to the sources of our largest rivers, or wandering alone through the trackless forest. After his emigration to the borders of the Mississippi, his chief occupation became that of a boatman, and none pulled a better oar, or sung with truer cadence the animating notes of the boat song, than Michel de Coucy. The Canadian boatmen are the hardiest and merriest of men; if their boat is stranded, they plunge into the water, in all weathers, diving and swimming about as if in their native element; if it storms, they sleep or revel, under the protection of a high bank; and when pulling down the stream, or pushing laboriously against it, the shores ring with their voices. One will recount his adventures; another will imitate the Indian yell, the roar of the alligator, the hissing of the snake, or the chattering of the paroquet; and anon the whole will chant their rude ditties concerning the dangers of rapids, snags, and sawyers, or the pleasures of home, the vintage, and the dance. Michel was an adept at all these things, and he loved them, as a Cossack loves plunder, or a Dutchman hard work and money. He was the darling of the crew; for he could skin a deer, cook a fish, scrape a chin or a fiddle, with equal adroitness; and always performed such offices so good humouredly, that his companions, in compliment to his universal genius, kept it in continual employment. When the boat was in motion he was always tugging at the oar, or the fiddle-bow; when it landed, and the crew sat round their camp fire, he cooked, sung, and told merry stories; on Sunday he shaved the whole company, even at the risk of neglecting his own visage, and was after all the merriest and most respectable man in the boat. With all this, Michel was temperate, and careful of his earnings, which he shrewdly husbanded in a leathern purse during every voyage, and handed over, on his return, to his wife, who hid them under the floor of their cabin. Such talents could not fail to bring honour and promotion to their possessor; Michel became popular among his comrades, and having acquired experience in his craft, in a few years rose to the charge of a boat, and the title of captain.
Having acquired a decent competency, by the time he reached the meridian of life, Michel thought it expedient, and his wife thought so too, that he should consult his own comfort for the rest of his days. He therefore abandoned his frail cabin, which in truth was beginning to tumble about his ears, and built a goodly house, with substantial mud walls, surrounded on all sides by cool piazzas, and planted his yard full of catalpas and black locusts. He purchased a large lot in the common field, and took unto himself herds of black cattle, and droves of French ponies.
Michel, however, still loved the water, and like a sprightly spaniel, could be induced to leap into it upon the slightest invitation. He continued to make a voyage of three or four months annually, and spent the remainder of his time in cultivating his crop, smoking his pipe, attending the kingballs, and playing the fiddle. He had his crosses like other men: his chimney often smoked, and Madam Felicite his wife, sometimes got out of temper; his cattle occasionally had the murrain, the frost nipped his corn, and more than once he lost both boat and cargo by running on the snags and sawyers of the Mississippi. But none of these things ever disturbed the placid spirit of Michel; a single shrug, and a "Sacre!" were the strongest symptoms of emotion which ever were elicited from him by such disasters, and he would most frequently smile, and exclaim in the moment of misfortune, "C'est toute le meme chose." It is said that he could even bear the breaking of a fiddle string, a lecture from his wife, or a public admonition from the priest for not going to confession, with the same composure which he preserved on less provoking occasions. He had his joys, too, and these greatly predominated. His wife was an excellent manager, made charming gumbo soup, and could interpret dreams; his daughter Genevieve, was as fair as the swans that sailed on the Mississippi; and his neighbours loved him. He was head man at the balls; for as they had no hireling fiddlers in those days, the honourable office of musician was filled in turn by such heads of families as were blessed with musical ears and limber elbows; and none touched the violin so cleverly as Michel, who continually cheered the dancers with his voice, as he kept time with head and feet. Happy days of equality and glee! when every man who owned a cabin, a car, and a pony, was a French gentleman, when the evening gun of the fort, and the matin bell of the chapel, were daily heard; and the song and dance prevailed, wherever a plank floor, a French girl, and a fiddle could be paraded!
Such being the character and standing of worthy Michel de Coucy, it is not surprising that the whole village of Prairie de Rocher should have been astonished at beholding him in the attitudes of rage and grief, swearing and wailing, and beating the air with his clenched fists; nor that even such august personages, as the commandant of Fort Chartres, and the superior of the Jesuits at Notre Dame de Kaskaskia, should marvel thereat. Nor was Michel a man whose sorrows would be slightly viewed by his neighbours; he had as large a house, as much land, and as many horned brutes and ponies, as the best of them; and a man in easy circumstances is always sure of sympathy when in trouble. Michel, moreover, was popular; and when the voice of distress issued from his cottage, every one ran to condole with him; even the commandant, and the superior of the Jesuits felt it incumbent on them to rein up their steeds, and inquire the cause of this usual disturbance.
It seems, that Michel having been many years employed as a carrier of merchandise for others, began at last to think that he might as well freight his boat upon his own account; and had for the last two or three years dabbled pretty extensively in the ticklish business of buying and selling. The long cherished hoard of Spanish dollars, which his wife had buried under the cabin floor, had been transferred, when he removed to his new house, to a similar place of deposit, a plank having been left unfastened for that express purpose. But when he embarked in traffic, those silver coins were exchanged for furs, the furs for goods, wares and merchandise, and the latter for notes of hand and fair promises. Still Michel and his wife were content; for the nominal sum secured by fair words and due-bills, trebled the actual amount that had been disbursed in hard money, and they doubted not that it would all come in, in due time. But in the mean while he had entered into some pecuniary engagements, which could be discharged only with cash, and found himself in an embarrassing situation. He had never before owed money, and had now to face a creditor for the first time! In this dilemma, being unwilling to publish his situation to his own neighbours, he bethought himself of a certain Pedro Garcia, a Spaniard, who lived on the opposite side of the river, where the Spanish government at that time had jurisdiction. This Pedro was a black whiskered, ill-looking fellow, who had amassed a large fortune, nobody knew how. He had a farm, and a good many slaves; he traded with the Indians, who hated him, and went often to New Orleans, where he lost and won large sums by gambling, and was more than once in the hands of the police. Nobody liked Pedro; the French had little to say to him, and the Indians looked with distrust at the long dirk which he carried rather ostentatiously in his bosom. But Michel wanted money, and Pedro had it, and without more ado, the distressed Frenchman applied to the Spaniard for a loan. Pedro, who knew that Michel was abundantly able to repay him, and saw that he was only hard pressed at the moment, in consequence of his reluctance to call upon those who owed him, readily advanced the sum required, taking Michel's bond for the amount, payable at the end of six months, with usury.
The six months soon rolled round, and Michel was not prepared to pay his bond. He had waited from day to day, in the vain hope that his debtors would discharge their dues; and at last finding that they did not come forward voluntarily, he deferred from hour to hour the disagreeable task of dunning them, because it was so abhorrent to his feelings, that he could not muster sufficient resolution to undertake it. The day of payment came, and with it came Pedro Garcia, and Michel was constrained to acknowledge that he could not fulfil his engagement. Garcia knit his black brows, and swore like a trooper, and although his debtor spoke fairly and humbly, and made liberal propositions, the relentless creditor, would take nothing but his money, and forthwith hied to the civil magistrate of the village. The minister of the law heard the application with surprise, and expressed in emphatic language his astonishment that a subject of Spain should think of suing a subject of the Grand Monarque, within the territory of France, and above all that he should have the assurance to propose to employ an officer of the French crown, in so flagrant an act of contumacy. "The laws of France," said this worthy functionary, "are made for the benefit of the French people, and the honour of their king, and not for Spaniards, and my duty is to administer those laws to my fellow subjects, not to foreigners. Go, you are not under my jurisdiction— I know nothing of you,—and am only in doubt whether your attempt to employ the laws of my country against a Frenchman, is not a high misdemeanour."
Pedro, finding that he could obtain no satisfaction from the civil authority, determined to resort to the military, and as the commandant was absent, laid the matter before his lieutenant. This gentleman called to his assistance the chaplain, a very worthy priest, who having been long attached to the army, was experienced in questions of meum and tuum, and being thus fortified, proceeded to hear the complaint, and examine the papers of Pedro Garcia.
"Ma foi! what is this?" exclaimed Captain De la Val, as he glanced his eye over the unlucky instrument of writing, laid before him by the Spaniard.
"It is Michel de Coucy's bond, for the sum I loaned him," replied the plaintiff.
"Diable! how shall I know this to be a bond, seeing that it is written in an unknown tongue?"
"It is Spanish, a language which your excellency no doubt speaks, with the elegance and propriety of a native Castilian."
"You do my excellency unmerited honour, and must permit me to inform you, that officially I am not to be presumed to know any other language but my own."
"The purport of the instrument," said Garcia, "may readily be ascertained by means of an interpreter."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the officer, "and can you not also provide a deputy commanding officer, to perform the rest of my duty? If I must read your papers by proxy, I may as well decide in the same way."
"Captain De la Val," said the priest, "takes a very proper and nice distinction. The first step in the adjustment of a controversy, is to ascertain the true intent and meaning of the contract between the parties litigant, and it would ill become the dignity of any high tribunal, to entrust the decision of that important point to an irresponsible agent."
"What shall I do?" inquired the alarmed money lender.
"That I cannot tell," replied the officer; "of this, however, I am clear, that a paper written in Spanish can be of no validity in a French court, for there would be an obvious absurdity in requiring the ministers of justice, whether civil or military, to decide on that which they cannot read."
"Besides," said the priest, who began to envy the wisdom of the captain, "his most Christian Majesty has appointed notaries, whose business it is to draw such writings between parties, and as this paper was not drawn by a proper notarial scribe, we cannot know whether it is in due form of law."
"What matters it about form," said the Spaniard, "if the writing contain a substantial promise?"
"My son," replied the chaplain, "you do not understand these matters. If a man makes a verbal engagement, the form thereof is not material, because in that case the creditor trusts to the honour and honesty of the debtor, and the latter is bound in conscience not to abuse that confidence; but if the parties reduce their contract to writing, the creditor reposes his trust, not in the virtue of the other party, but in the binding operation of the law, and if the work of the law is not made secure, the creditor must lose thereby, for he looked to that only for his payment."
"My bond is sufficient in law," contended Pedro, "it was attested before a Spanish notary."
"Worse and worse," exclaimed the priest; "if his excellency, the commanding officer, should undertake to decide upon the validity of a writing authenticated by a Spanish functionary, it would doubtless be considered by his most Catholic Majesty, as a very indelicate interference, inasmuch as he would be enforced not only to weigh the language and construe the laws of Spain, but to look into the acts of a civil magistrate of that nation; and the consequence might be a war between two Christian princes."
Pedro Garcia, though he could not comprehend how the settling of a dispute between himself and Michel de Coucy, could become the cause of war between two European kings, began to think that possibly he had mistaken his remedy, and making a sulky bow, was about to retire, when Captain De la Val called him back, and said,
"Senor Garcia, it is well known that Michel is no scholar, how then could he execute that bond?"
"He has made his mark," replied the other, showing the cross at the foot of the bond.
"Aha! but that same cross might stand with equal propriety for the name of any Catholic in Christendom."
"But I can prove by the notary, that Michel made it."
"Like enough, but Michel does not understand Spanish, how then could he know the contents of that paper?"
"It was interpreted to him."
"But how can I know that it was interpreted correctly? In short," continued the officer, "I am induced to believe that this document is a forgery, and that it is my duty to lodge you in the guard chamber, until the return of the commandant."
"And if it be a forgery," added the priest, "there is little doubt in my mind, that the counterfeiting the sign of the cross, is an offence against our holy church, and of much higher grade than a common forgery."
Pedro finding that the aspect of his case grew darker every moment, and fearing that he might be, in the end, handed over to the inquisition, began to supplicate for mercy, and being permitted to retire, hastily made good his retreat, marvelling at the strange turn in his affairs, which, from a simple creditor of Michel de Coucy, had converted him into an enemy of his Holiness the Pope, and his most Christian Majesty, the king of France.
Michel, who, when he saw Pedro take the road to Fort Chartres, had suspected his business, and hastily followed him, entered the quarters of Captain De la Val, during the conference above described; and standing respectfully with his cap in his right hand, his left stuck in his waistband, and his mouth wide open, listened in mute admiration of the wisdom and nice sense of justice displayed by the priest and officer. As Pedro retired, he slipped after him, and tapping him on the shoulder as he passed out of the main gate, said triumphantly, "Bon jour, Senor Garcia! your bond is too small, it will not cover the sore place! it is not worth a sous! Now come to my house when you get in a good humour, and I will make a new bargain, to pay you all I owe, and give you the word of honour of a French gentleman, which Father Felix says is better than a Spanish bond." Pedro paused a moment, and laid his hand on his dirk—then turned on his heel, and retired, without deigning to reply.
When he reached home, he was half inclined to turn back, and embrace Michel's offer, but still believing that a bond, good or bad, was better than any parol engagement, he hastened to his friend the notary, and having informed him of all that had passed, requested him, when Michel should next cross into the Spanish territory, to have him arrested for his debt. To his surprise, the notary declined interfering in the business, highly extolling the good sense and courtesy displayed by the French functionaries, and declaring that he knew no law under which a Spaniard could sue a Frenchman, and that at all events, it was extremely proper and decorous, that the officers of Spain and France, respectively, should abstain from meddling in matters of such high import, which ought to be left to ministers plenipotentiary, or to the crowned heads themselves.
"Then the long and short of the matter is," said Pedro, as he retired, "that I am to be cheated out of my money," and he forth with prayed to all the saints of whom he had any knowledge, to visit with special malefactions, the heads of Michel de Coucy, Chevalier Jean Philippe De la Val, Father Felix the priest, and all others directly or indirectly concerned in preventing him from recovering the amount nominated in his bond, with interest thereon, at the rate of ten per cent per annum until paid.
People who live on the frontier imbibe very accurate notions of justice, and adopt summary modes of obtaining it; and Senor Pedro Garcia, not being a man to sit down quietly under a loss, and finding the door of the law closed against him, began to cast about for some other remedy. After brooding over the matter for several days, he at length devised a plan; and getting into his canoe in the night, paddled secretly over to the Illinois shore, where he remained concealed in a thicket, until Genevieve, the daughter of Michel, passing that way alone, he sallied out, and making her his prisoner, carried her to the Spanish territory, leaving a placard in these words, "Meshell Coosy! French rascal! pay me my money, and you shall have your daughter!" Genevieve was a beautiful child, of twelve years of age, the pride of the village, and the darling of her parents. She had seen Pedro before, and always with repulsive feelings; and when she found herself rudely seized by him, sued piteously for mercy, believing that he would sell her to the Sioux, the English, or the Long Knives, "of whom by parcels she had something heard,"—or to some other outlandish people, to be eaten at a great war feast. Pedro, without regarding her cries, bore her to a secluded place, among the broken hills, and summoning a score of his associates and dependents, prepared to make a stout resistance is case of pursuit.
When Michel discovered the outrage committed against him, in the person of his child, on whom he doated, he was inconsolable; not only were his parental feelings awakened, but his sense of honour was touched to the quick. He wept, raved, swore strange oaths, and vowed bitter vengeance. All who were acquainted with him, knew that, gentle as he was, he was brave; he had been accustomed to face danger from his childhood; and when they heard the deep imprecations which he now poured forth, they were satisfied that Pedro would pay dearly for the cruel insult he had perpetrated. The whole male population of the village immediately volunteered to accompany him to the rescue; and the distressed father, after thanking them with tears of gratitude, urged them to arm themselves without delay. It was at this juncture that the commandant, and the superior of the Jesuits, opportunely arrived, and having heard all the circumstances, Michel was enjoined to proceed no further in his plan of revenge, the commandant promising to take immediate measures for the restoration of his daughter.
Michel, who believed that in wisdom, power, and goodness, the commandant was second only to the king, was greatly composed by this assurance, and although his fellow villagers continued to be ripe for an immediate inroad into the Spanish territory, he restrained their ardour, and passed the night in more tranquillity than could have been expected. Early on the following morning he received a summons to attend the commandant at Fort Chartres, which was distant two miles from the village; and set out, with Madame Felicité, in one of those commodious vehicles, half chaise, and half cart, which were fashionable among the Canadian French of those days, and are still to be seen in daily use, among their descendants, at the famous village of Vuide Poche, otherwise called Carondelet, in Missouri.
Fort Chartres was at this time the largest and most extensive fortification owned by the French in America, and was the seat of government for all their settlements in Illinois. Its shape was an irregular quadrangle, with bastions at the angles, the sides of the exterior polygon being four hundred and ninety feet in extent; and the walls, which were too feet and two inches thick, and twelve feet high, were built of stone, and plastered over. It was pierced all round, at regular distances, with loop holes for musketry, and had two port holes for cannon in each face, and two in the flanks of each bastion. If any of my fair readers, who are desirous to know the exact description of this celebrated fortress, should be desirous to ascertain what is meant, by "an irregular quadrangle with bastions at the angles," I am happy to inform them that they may obtain an exact idea of the figure intended to be described, by laying on the table before them, an old fashioned square pincushion, of which one side is a little longer than either of the other three, with large tassels at the corners. Such was precisely the shape of Fort Chartres. Within the walls were extensive buildings of stone, for the accommodation of the garrison;—a fine house for the commandant, quarters for the officers, and barracks for the soldiers, together with a great magazine, a chapel, and a snug cell for the priest, who officiated here and at the village of Fort Chartres, adjacent. This was the strong hold of power, and the seat of festivity; here, on all suitable occasions, were assembled the rank, beauty, and fashion of the colony; and here could be paraded as many handsome French girls, as one could wish to behold.
Michel entered the main gate of the fort, with a countenance of sorrow, far different from his usual gayety, when he came to head quarters, an invited guest; and his feelings could be with difficulty restrained, when he beheld the dark visage of Pedro Garcia. The latter had been induced to give his attendance by a missive from the commandant, assuring him of a safe conduct to and from the fort, and that all amicable means would be used to settle the unfortunate difference between Michel and himself. Being naturally bold and imprudent, and finding, too, that the delicate little Genevieve was withering like a plucked flower, and was at best a troublesome guest—he came at the summons, and stood confronted with the incensed Frenchman. There too came all the relations of Michel and Felicité, and divers other of the villagers, burning with indignation— there stood Captain De la Val, Father Felix, the magistrate, and the notary, as dignified and complacent as if nothing had happened—and there sat several aged chiefs of the Kaskaskia tribe, in grave and solemn expectation, wondering at the levity of the whites, who could hold a council on a matter of such high import, without making presents, tendering the wampum, and smoking the great pipe.
The commandant examined the bond, heard the evidence, and the decisions of his lieutenant, and the civil officers on both sides of the river. He pronounced the conduct of all the functionaries, civil and military, to have been highly decorous and proper, and hoped that in future, no Spaniard would presume to sue a Frenchman, without his leave, first had and obtained. He censured Pedro for the violent capture of the innocent Genevieve, and finally decreed, that the latter should be safely returned to her parents, that Michel should pay to Pedro the principal borrowed, without interest, the latter being withheld as a fine for the violence committed in the French territory, and that both the parties litigant should stand committed, until this sentence should be fully complied with. Pedro remonstrated against the latter part of the decree, as a breach of his safe conduct, but the commandant decided that he had guarantied his safety in going and coming, but had not precluded himself from fixing the length of time during which he should have the pleasure of Senior Garcia's company. The latter, finding himself entrapped, made a merit of necessity, and despatched an order for the little Genevieve, who was soon given to her parents' arms. We cannot describe their joy, nor the spontaneous burst of sympathy, which ran through the assembly, when the lost child was restored. The Indians, who had sat motionless as statues throughout the whole scene, preserving an inflexibility of muscle which nothing could change, rose when they beheld this affecting meeting, and said to each other, "Very good." One of them then stepped forward, and addressing the commandant, said, "Father, we came to see you do justice; we opened our ears, and our hearts are satisfied. The cunning black serpent crawled into the nest of the turtle, and stole away the young dove; but our father is an eagle, very strong and brave; he is wiser than the serpent; he has brought back the young dove, and the old turtles sing with joy. Father, we are satisfied; it is all very good. We bid you farewell." Then advancing to the commandant, each of the chiefs gave his right hand, and stalked out of the audience chamber, without deigning to notice any other person.
As for Michel, he had now no difficulty in paying his debt; for those who owed him, when they found that his misfortune had grown out of their own delinquency, immediately raised among them the sum required; and Michel retired well satisfied, but convinced of three truths, which he continued to maintain through life; first, that French laws surpass all others in wisdom and justice; second, that Spaniards with black whiskers are not to be trusted; and third, that it is safer to bury money under the floor than to embark it in traffic; and he thereupon made a vow to his patron saint, that whenever the leathern bag should be replenished, it should be restored to the place of deposit, there to remain as a talisman against the like misfortune in future.
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The events of the pleasant little tale which I am about to relate, occurred some ten or fifteen years ago, when the western states were yet in their minority, and pretended not to vie in wealth or population with their blooming and accomplished sisters in the east. It is true, that our people had some vague notions of their own importance, and would sometimes talk of their birth-rights and their future greatness, in a strain that would make a stranger stare. Accustomed to the contemplation of great mountains, long rivers, and boundless plains, the majestic features of their country swelled their ideas, and gave a tinge of romance to their conceptions. The immense cotton-woods and sycamores that overhung their rivers, the huge alligator that bellowed in the stream, and the great mammoth bones imbedded in their swamps, became familiar standards of comparison; while their long journeys over boundless plains teeming with the products of nature, gave them exalted notions of the magnificence of their country. One would have thought they were speaking in parables, who heard them describing the old thirteen states as a mere appendage of the future republic—a speak on the map of the United States—a sort of out-lot with a cotton field at one end, and a manufactory of wooden clocks at the other; yet they were in sober earnest.
The season of the year was that which poets delight to describe: when the birds are singing their sweetest notes, and the trees assuming the beautiful hues of spring. The snows were melting on the mountains, and the channels of those little streams which, at a later season, murmured quietly along their valleys, were now filled to their brinks with foaming torrents. The Ohio was swollen to a great flood, filling its deep channel to the brim; and its tide was crowded with the vessels and passengers who throng the great avenues of commerce at this propitious season. Among the boats were many of that description, in which families emigrating to the west usually descended the Ohio, before the introduction of steamboats into general use. These were large flat boats, unfit to stem the current, and so constructed as to float with the stream. Though slow, and unwieldy, they were large, safe, and roomy; affording space enough for families, merchandise, and even cattle.
One fine morning, a boat of the kind described was seen to approach the landing place, at a small town on the Ohio. The passengers sprung joyously ashore, as if delighted to escape from their confinement. It was an English family, just arrived from the old country. Mr Edgarton, the head of this little band of adventurers, was a man of about thirty-five, sprightly and good looking, but rather oddly accoutred; for his dress exhibited a whimsical mixture of fashion and rudeness. He wore cambric ruffles, a diamond breast-pin, a dandy waistcoat, and a store of jewelry appended to a gold watch chain; but his nether limbs were clad in long spatterdashes, reaching to the knee, a farmer's coarse frock covered his shoulders, and a great fur cap was on his head. He was equipped, moreover, with a powder-horn, shot-pouch and bird-bag, and held in his hand an elegant double-barrelled gun. We mention these things to show how difficult it is for men to throw off their accustomed habits, and to assume those which are suitable to a change of country or condition. Mr Edgarton, when at home, was a modest, and a well dressed man; but in attempting to assume the guise of a farmer, and the equipment of a hunter, had jumbled together a grotesque assortment of costume, which gave him the appearance of a stage player dressed for exhibition, more than that of a plain man of business, which was his real character. His wife was a genteel, handsome woman; a neat article, and neatly put up; for her dress was as graceful as herself; and the children, some four or five in number, looked as fresh and rosy as the morning. Then there was a maid, a greyhound, a pug dog, and a parrot, all in good order and well conditioned. There was another member of the family, whom I have reserved, as in duty bound, for a separate mention. This was Mr Edgarton's sister, a fair lady whose age, if it be not impolite to specify too particularly, on so delicate a point, was somewhere on the right side of twenty. A maiden sister is a very creditable and useful appendage in any gentleman's family. If she happens to be young, pretty, sentimental, and affected, nothing can be more amusing; while the opposites of these qualities most generally elevate her into a rational companion. Julia Edgarton was handsome enough to pass for a beauty in any country; she was sentimental enough to admire the beauties of nature, yet not so sentimental as to travel with a pencil in her hand, or a book in her reticule; she had just affectation enough to be very agreeable, for a handsome woman should always have a slight tinge of coquetry; she had taste enough to enjoy the writings of Scott, but not so much as to enable her to dream over the mad rhapsodies of Byron. In short, she was a sensible, clever girl, and that is saying as much as it becomes any grave historian to say of a young lady—especially if there is any chance that his work will ever be reviewed in England.
The goods and chattels of this party were numerous, but not bulky, nor particularly well assorted. The nick-nacks considerably outnumbered the useful articles—indeed there was no end to those nondescript contrivances which brother Jonathan very aptly denominates notions. Of household furniture there was but little; of farming utensils there was rather more than a little; the latter consisting chiefly of new inventions, remarkably neat and useless— horse-rakes, patent ploughs, straw-cutters, and mantraps. The heaviest article of transportation was the wardrobe, which was sufficient to have furnished a respectable slop-shop. The stores of linen and flannel, the dozens upon dozens of night-caps and socks, the coats, great coats, frock coats, coatees and surtouts, provided to suit every occasion and contingency, were absolutely miraculous.
Although Mr Edgardon was going to farm in a new country, he had not been a farmer at home. He was a mercantile clerk in London, who by his assiduity and good management, had been able not only to support his family respectably, but to lay by each year, a small portion of his earnings. He had never been out of London until latterly, when beginning to feel independent, he was induced on several successive holidays to make excursions into the country, accompanied by his wife; whereby his mind was improved, and his thirst for travelling increased to such an extent, that he ventured at last to a watering place on the coast, where he spent a week. He became enamoured of the country, and began to talk of rustic pursuits and sturdy independence, fresh air, rosy cheeks, and healthy peasants. His wife thew aside all her songs, except such as treated of cottages and love, innocence and rural felicity. He determined to study agriculture, and immediately purchased "Speed the Plough," "The Farmer's Boy," "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain," all of which he read with such delight and advantage, that he soon determined to exchange the smoke of London for the pure air of the country. While in this state of mind he heard golden accounts of the back settlements in America, and was easily persuaded to emigrate to the land of promise. Of his voyage across the Atlantic, and his journey from the sea-board, I shall not speak, as they were like most other voyages and travels, very dull and tiresome. They had been floating for many days down the smooth current of the Ohio, when they found it convenient to halt for a few hours at the rude hamlet to which we alluded above.
After sauntering through the village, the members of our voyaging party were about to re-embark, when a person approached them, and without the ceremony of an introduction, inquired civilly of Mr Edgarton, if he would accommodate him with a passage in his boat. Surprised at the abruptness of the salutation, the eyes of the whole party were turned towards the stranger. He was a young man, apparently not more than twenty-one years of age. His athletic form was clothed in the common dress of the western hunter. A loose hunting shirt of blue cotton, trimmed with yellow fringe, and confined about his waist with a broad leathern belt, set off his person to the best advantage. From one shoulder was suspended a powder-horn, from the other a huge leathern pouch, in the belt of which rested a long knife. There was nothing remarkable in his appearance except that his form towered above the ordinary height, and that a rifle which he held carelessly in his hand, was double the size of an ordinary weapon, and seemed fit only for the grasp of a giant. His cheek had the flush of youth, his eye was mild, and his countenance open and ingenuous, yet the rifle and the hunting-knife gave him so much the appearance of an assassin, in the inexperienced eyes of the Englishman, that the latter was not a little startled at being addressed by such an apparition with:
"Pray sir, can I get the favour of passage down the river in your boat?"
The first sensation of a travelling Englishman which is awakened on such an occasion, is that of pride: and Mr Edgarton being quite indignant at being asked to take a passenger, replied coldly, "Mine is not a passage boat?"
"So I supposed from her looks; she seems to be rather a crazy kind of concern: but I am not particular about that; I can put up with any thing."
"We have no wish to increase our company," said the Englishman.
The young man looked surprised, and seemed to think himself rudely treated; his eye brightened, and the colour deepened upon his cheek; but without making any reply, he turned on his heel and walked away.
The boat was again shoved out into the stream, and floated heavily on its course. Nothing worthy of note occurred until the following evening about sunset, when, as they drifted near the shore, our emigrants beheld on passing a little head land, a deer standing on the margin of the stream, from which he was drinking. They came upon him so suddenly, as the boat turned the wooded point behind which he had been concealed from them, that on first discovering him, they were near enough to distinguish all the lineaments of his fine form, and even to see the flashing of his dark eye, as he gazed for an instant at the boat. It was but an instant, when he turned to fly; but at the same moment the report of a rifle was heard, and the graceful animal, after a few leaps, fell upon the sand. The hunter who had been concealed in a tuft of willows that overhung the river, now sprung from his covert, and approached his victim. As he advanced, the deer discovered his enemy, and starting nimbly to his feet, prepared to avenge himself. He swelled with rage, madness flashed from his eye-balls, and all his motions showed that a momentary ferocity had banished the timidity of his nature, and overcome the sense of pain and of weakness. The boatmen, who knew with what vindictive and desperate courage a wounded deer will turn upon his assailant, gazed in silent anxiety, as they beheld the hunter, standing alone upon the sandy beach, exposed to the assault of the enraged animal. As the furious beast rushed upon him, with his head down, and his sharp antlers thrown forward, the hunter stepped nimbly aside, and for that time avoided the deadly thrust; while the spectators loudly shouted their applause. But the active animal was not to be thus foiled, and suddenly turning, he rushed upon his enemy, and in an instant beat him to the ground with his fore feet, then rising quickly upon his hinder legs, he continued to jump upon the prostrate hunter, striking so rapidly and violently with his fore hoofs, that the blows were distinctly heard as they fell in quick succession on the ground. But the hunter lost none of his presence of mind under these appalling circumstances, and by dint of rolling and dodging, contrived to avoid his adversary's blows, until, watching a favourable moment, he suddenly sprang up, and threw his left arm round the animal's neck, while with the right he plunged his long hunting-knife deep in its side.
Curiosity, as well as concern for the fate of the hunter, now induced some of the boatmen to jump into the small skiff which usually accompanies such boats, and to row to the shore. They soon returned, bringing the hunter and his spoil, and our travellers were not a little surprised to recognize in the former, the same young man who on the day before had solicited a passage in their boat. The meeting was equally unexpected to him, and he would have returned immediately to the shore, had not Mr Edgarton pressed him to remain, with a cordiality which sufficiently atoned for his former rudeness.
The young stranger, whom we shall call Logan, was a native of Kentucky, who had been reared in the practice of all the athletic exercises and sports of his country, while his intellect had been cultivated by the best instruction which that region afforded. His fine form and vigorous understanding corresponded well with each other, and he possessed in a high degree that hilarity of disposition, and ease of manner, which so often distinguish his countrymen. Having studied law, he had determined to emigrate to a newer state than his own, and had reached the Ohio river, when the accidental loss of his horse, and the want of means to purchase another, induced him to proceed on foot. He accordingly sold his saddle, bridle and other equipments, and having purchased a rifle and hunting-shirt, was about to renew his journey, when the boat of Mr Edgarton stopped at the village in which he happened to be. Disappointed in his attempt to procure a passage, he manfully threw the small valise containing his wardrobe over his shoulder, and struck into the woods about the same time at which the English-man's boat departed; but as the latter floated with the current round a circuitous bend of the river, while Mr Logan pursued a shorter path which led across the country, they met again as we have stated.
Where all parties are disposed to be pleased with each other, cordiality is quickly established. The family of Edgarton, accustomed to the excitement of a city life, and to the enjoyment of the various expedients by which the idle hours of persons in easy circumstances are amused in the British metropolis, began to tire of the silence and monotony of the forest, and the confinement of a boat. To them, therefore, the accession of an agreeable member to their party, was not an unimportant event; and no sooner did Mr Edgarton ascertain that the person whom he had before treated with so much indifference, was a gentleman of easy manners and cultivated mind, than he felt his curiosity awakened, and feelings of kindness springing up in his bosom towards the stranger. As for Mr Logan, he was infinitely amused at the odd ways of the emigrants, their strange notions about matters and things in America, and especially with their cultivation and intelligence in other respects, as contrasted with their total ignorance of this country, and the childlike simplicity with which they wondered at every thing that attracted their attention. Besides, Miss Julia Edgarton, as we said before, was a very pretty young lady, and as we did not say before, sang like a nightingale, and talked like a book; and having been for some time deprived of all society but that of the married pair, the children, pug-dog and parrot aforesaid, was of course delighted, however unwilling she might be to confess it, to obtain a more suitable companion, and altogether disposed to exert her powers of pleasing in his behalf.
Thus organized, the party began to realise the pleasures of travelling—those pleasures which ever await such as have sufficient taste and good temper to enjoy them. The Edgartons displayed their books, their engravings, their nick-nacks, and exotic curiosities, and endeavoured to edify the young American with descriptions of the magnificence and the wonders of London; while the latter was equally communicative in relation to his own country, and especially that portion of it through which they were passing. In the mild serene evenings, as the sun sunk behind the western hills, and the long shadows of the forest extended quite across the river, they would sit on the deck gazing at the rich hues of our noble forest trees, and listening to the song of the mocking bird, or the distant notes of the boatman's bugle. Sometimes Edgarton would take his flute, or the ladies would sing. Logan derived pleasure from these amusements; but they were not sufficient for his inquisitive mind and active habits. He often took his rifle and wandered along the shore, keeping pace with the boat, and returning loaded with game; and sometimes prevailed on the ladies to accompany him in the skiff, and to visit the cabins of the settlers.
The difference of character between the two gentlemen who were thus thrown together was striking and amusing. Both were amiable and honest men. Edgarton, enervated by a city life and sedentary habits, felt severely all the little privations and inconveniences of the journey; accustomed to a certain round of duties and enjoyments, he was keenly sensitive of the slightest encroachment upon his personal comfort, and selfish in his exactions of attention from all around him; and, proud of his native country, was offended if others did not flatter his national vanity. His habits were formed in a land abounding with artificial luxuries, where all the arts which promote comfort or facilitate business exist in high perfection, and where money can purchase every necessary of life, and every personal attention which the most fastidious can require. He was now in a country where many of these comforts and luxuries could not be purchased, because they did not exist, or existed only in the possession of those who would not barter them for money, and where the stranger could only procure them from the hospitality of the people. But too proud to accept that for which money would not be received, too reserved to cultivate the acquaintance of strangers, he passed through the country without acquiring any knowledge of the character of its inhabitants or rubbing off any of his own prejudices, and suffered many privations which a little affability on his own part would have taught him how to relieve. Logan had all the freshness and originality of character so common to the youth of our country. Accustomed to regard habits and modes of life in reference to mere usefulness, and to pay but little deference to mere form, he was prepared to adapt himself to circumstances, and to take the world as he found it. Mr Edgarton, though he could not resist the attraction produced by the intelligence, amiability and interesting frankness of the manners of the young American, who seemed as much at home as if in the bosom of his own family, could not, on the other hand, divest himself of that suspicious and repulsive feeling which his countrymen are apt to entertain towards strangers. Logan, unaccustomed to the refined deceptions which are practised in crowded cities, considered every man a gentleman whose exterior and conduct entitled him to that appellation, and felt a disposition to cultivate the acquaintance of any such whom he might meet; while Edgarton, who buttoned his pocket flaps, and kept a bright look out at his trunks, whenever a stranger approached, was continually wondering that so genteel a young man should travel without letters of introduction, and that he himself should be so imprudent as to admit into his family circle a person of whom he had no personal knowledge. These opposite feelings occasioned some amusing interludes in the first scenes of the intercourse between the parties, who approximated each other much after the fashion of vessels floating on an agitated sea, which meet with a jar and instantly recoil, but which still float along together, and come into harmonious contact at last when the waves subside. So the gentlemen in question, after some sharp repartees, and after their respective nationalities had bumped and jostled awhile, settled down into amicable travelling companions, and maintained the most friendly relations until their arrival at the place of debarkation, where the Edgartons, finding that Mr Logan's route lay in the direction of their own, insisted on his continuing to travel with their party.
The place at which the party landed was a small village on the bank of the river, distant about fifty miles from a settlement in the interior, to which they were destined.
"Here we are on dry land once more," said the Englishman as he jumped ashore; "come, Mr Logan, let us go to the stage-house, and take our seats." Logan smiled and followed his companion.
"My good friend," said Edgarton to a tall sallow man in a hunting-shirt, who sat on a log by the river, with a rifle in his lap, "can you direct us to the stage-house?"
"Well, I can't say that I can."
"Perhaps you do not understand what we want;" said Edgarton, "we wish to take seats in a mail coach for —."
"Well, stranger, it's my sentimental belief that there is n't a coach, male or female, in the county."
"This fellow is ignorant of our meaning," said Edgarton to Logan.
"What's that you say, stranger? I spose maybe you think I never see a coach? Well, it's a free country and every man has a right to think what he pleases; but I reckon I've saw as many of them are fixens as any other man. I was raised in Tennessee. I saw General Jackson once riding in the elegantest carriage that ever mortal man sot his eyes on—with glass winders to it like a house, and sort o' silk curtings. The harness was mounted with silver; it was drawd by four blooded nags, and drove by a mighty likely nigger boy."
The travellers passed on, and soon learned that there was indeed no stage in the country. Teams and carriages of any kind were difficult to be procured; and it was with some difficulty that two stout wagons were at last hired, to carry Mr Edgarton's movables, and a dearborn obtained to convey his family, it being agreed that one of the gentlemen should drive the latter vehicle, while the other walked alternately. Arrangements were accordingly made to set out the next morning.
The settlement in which Mr Edgarton had judiciously determined to pitch his tent, and enjoy the healthful innocence and rural felicity of the farmer's life, was new; and the country to be traversed to reach it, entirely unsettled. There were two or three houses scattered through the wilderness on the road, one of which the party might have reached by setting out early in the morning, and they had determined to do so. But there was so much fixing and preparing to be done, so much stowing of baggage and packing of trunks, such momentous preparations to guard against cold and heat, hunger and thirst, fatigue, accident, robbery, disease and death, that it was near noon before the cavalcade was prepared to move. Even then they were delayed some minutes longer to give Mr Edgarton time to oil the screws and renew the charges of his double barrel gun and pocket pistols. In vain he was told there were no highwaymen in America. His way lay chiefly through uninhabited forests; and he considered it a fact in natural history, as indisputable as any other elementary principle, that every such forest has its robbers. After all he entirely neglected to put flints in his bran new locks, instead of the wooden substitutes, which the maker had placed there to protect his work from injury; and thus "doubly armed," he announced his readiness to start with an air of truly comic heroism.
When they began their journey new terrors arose. The road was sufficiently plain and firm for all rational purposes; that is to say, it would do very well, for those who only wanted to get along, and were content to make the best of it. It was a mere path beaten by a succession of travellers. No avenue had been cut for it through the woods; but the first pioneers had wound their way among the trees, avoiding obstacles by going round them, as the snake winds through the grass, and those who followed had trodden in their footsteps, until they had beaten a smooth road sufficiently wide to admit the passage of a single wagon. On either side was the thick forest, sometimes grown up with underbrush to the margin of the trace, and sometimes so open as to allow the eye to roam off to a considerable distance. Above was a dense canopy of interwoven branches. The wild and lonesome appearance, the deep shade, the interminable gloom, of the woods, were frightful to our travellers. The difference between a wild forest in the simple majesty of nature, and the woodlands of cultivated countries, is very great. In the latter the underbrush has been removed by art, or destroyed by domestic animals; the trees as they arrive at their growth are felled for use, and the remainder, less crowded, assume the spreading and rounded form of cultivated trees. The sunbeams reach the soil through the scattered foliage, the ground is trodden by grazing animals, and a hard sod is formed. However secluded such a spot may be, it bears the marks of civilization, the lowing of cattle is heard, and many species of songsters that hover round the habitations of men, and are never seen in the wilderness, here warble their notes. In the western forests of America, all is grand and savage. The truth flashes instantly upon the mind of the observer, with the force of conviction, that Nature has been carrying on her operations here for ages undisturbed. The leaf has fallen from year to year; succeeding generations of trees have mouldered, until the soil has acquired an astonishing depth and an unrivalled fertility. From this rich bed the trees are seen rearing their shafts to an astonishing height. The tendency of plants towards the light is well understood; of course when trees are crowded closely together, instead of spreading they shoot upwards, each endeavouring, as it were, to overtop its neighbours, and expending the whole force of the vegetative powers, in rearing a great trunk to the greatest possible height, and then throwing out a top like an umbrella to the rays of the sun. The functions of vitality are carried on with vigour at the extremities, while the long stem is bare of leaves or branches; and when the undergrowth is removed nothing can exceed the gloomy grandeur of the elevated arches of foliage, supported by pillars of majestic size and venerable appearance. The great thickness and age of many of the trees is another striking peculiarity. They grow from age to age, attaining a gigantic size, and then fall, with a tremendous force, breaking down all that stands in their downward way, and heaping a great pile of timber on the ground, where it remains untouched until it is converted into soil. Mingled with all our timber, are seen aspiring vines, which seem to have commenced their growth with that of the young trees, and risen with them, their tops still flourishing together far above the earth, while their stems are alike bare. The undergrowth consists of dense thickets, made up of the offspring of the larger trees, mixed with thorns, briars, dwarfish vines, and a great variety of shrubs. The ground is never covered with a firm sward, and seldom bears the grapes, or smaller plants, being covered from year to year with a dense mass of dried and decaying leaves.
Such was the scene that met the eyes of our travellers, and had they been treated to a short excursion in the moon they would scarcely have witnessed any thing more novel. The wide-spread and trackless ocean had scarcely conveyed to their imaginations so vivid an impression of the vast and solitary grandeur of Nature, in her pathless wilderness. They could scarcely realize the expectation of travelling safely through such savage shades. The path, which could be seen only a few yards in advance, seemed continually to have terminated, leaving them no choice but to retrace their steps. Sometimes they came to a place where a tree had fallen across the road, and Edgarton would stop under the supposition that any further attempt to proceed was hopeless—until he saw his American drivers, forsaking the track, guiding their teams among the trees, crushing down the young saplings that stood in their way, and thus winding round the obstacle, and back to the road, often through thickets so dense, that to the stranger's eye it seemed as if neither man nor beast could penetrate them. Sometimes on reaching the brink of a ravine or small stream, the bridge of logs which previous travellers had erected, was found to be broken down, or the ford rendered impassable; and the wagoners with the same imperturbable good nature, and as if such accidents were matters of course, again left the road, and seeking out a new crossing place, passed over with scarcely the appearance of difficulty.
Once they came to a sheet of water, extending as far as the eye could reach, the tall trees standing in it as thickly as upon the dry ground, with tufts of grass and weeds instead of the usual undergrowth.
"Is there a ferry here?" inquired Edgarton.
"Oh no, sir, its nothing but a slash."
"Why, sir, jist a sort o' swamp."
"What in the world shall we do?"
"We'll jist put right a-head, sir; there's no dif fick-ulty; it's nice good driving all about here. It's sort o' muddy, but there's good bottom to it all the way."
On they went. To Edgarton it was like going to sea; for no road could be seen, nothing but the trackless surface of the water; because instead of looking down, where his eye could have penetrated to the bottom, he was glancing forward, in the vain hope of seeing dry land. Generally the water was but a few inches deep, but sometimes they soused into a hole; then Edgarton groaned and the ladies screamed; and sometimes it got gradually deeper until the hubs of the wheels were immersed, and he then called to the wagoners to stop.
"Don't be afeard, sir," one of them replied, "it is not bad; why this aint nothing; it's right good going; it aint a-going to swim your horse, no how."
"Any thing seems a good road to you where a horse will not have to swim," replied the Englishman surlily.
"Why, bless you," said the backwoodsman, "this aint no part of a priming, to places that I've seed afore, no how. I've seed race paths in a worse fix than this. Dont you reckon, stranger, that if my team can drag this here heavy wagon, loaded down with plunder, you can sartainly get along with that ar little carry-all, and nothing on the face of the yearth to tote, but jist the women and children?"
They had but one such swamp to pass. It was only about half a mile wide, and after travelling that far through the water, the firm soil of the woods, which before seemed gloomy, became cheerful by contrast; and Edgarton found at last, that however unpleasant such travelling may be to those who are not accustomed to it, it has really no dangers but such as are imaginary.
As the cavalcade proceeded slowly, the ladies found it most pleasant to walk, wherever the ground was sufficiently dry. Mrs Edgarton and the children might be seen sauntering along, and keeping close to the carriage, for fear of being lost, or captured by some non-descript monster of the wild, yet often halting to gather nosegays of wild flowers, or to examine some of the many natural curiosities which surrounded them. Logan and the fair Julia lingered still farther in the rear. They were in that season of life, when acquaintances are readily formed, and when cordiality soon ripens into confidence. A few days had sufficed to inspire them with an interest in each other, which was growing fast into a tender sentiment. The spring of the year is supposed to be particularly propitious to the passion of love. When the birds are singing, and nature assumes her softest and most beautiful attire, the fancy becomes excited, the heart awakened to the influence of gentle affections, and like the flower buds, the germ of love swells and expands in the genial atmosphere. Independently of those attractions of mind and person, in which some individuals greatly excel others, there is a loveliness in youth itself sufficiently alluring to create attachment. The temper is then most apt to be amiable, the affections ardent and generous, the mind cheerful and unsuspecting. The cares of life have not clouded the imagination, nor its disappointments chilled the fountains of kindness; nature is then arrayed in all the graces of a distant landscape, in which the harsher features are unseen, and the beautiful outline with its delicate hues and deceptive shadows is alone discovered in the far perspective; and man is contemplated in the pristine innocence of Eden, while to the worldly eye he is known in the vices of a fallen creature.
The sun was about to set when the wagoners halted at an open spot, covered with a thick carpet of short grass, on the margin of a small stream of clear water. On inquiring the reason, Mr Edgarton was assured that this was the best camp-ground on the route, and as there was no house within many miles, it was advisable to make arrangements for passing the night there.
"Impossible!" exclaimed the European gentleman; "what! lie on the ground like beasts! we shall all catch our death of cold!"
"I should never live through the night," groaned his fair partner.
"We shall all be heaten up by vild volves or ungry hingins," whined the maid.
"Don't let us stay here in the dark, papa," cried the children.
Logan expressed the opinion that an encampment might be made quite comfortable, and the sentimental Julia declared that it would be "delightful!" Edgarton imprecated maledictions on the beggarly country which could not afford inns for travellers, and wondered if they expected a gentleman to nestle among the leaves like Robin Hood's foresters.
"I wisht I hadn't never left Lunnun," sobbed the lady's maid, "this comes of hemigratin out of Hingland to these here back voods. Only to think of gentle volks and vimmen and children having to vaunder in the voods, like Rob Roy in the novel, or Walentine and Horson in the play. Oh! I shall never live to see the morning, so I vont! do Mrs Hedgarton let us turn back!"
This storm, like other sudden gusts, soon blew over, and the party began in earnest to make the best of a bad business, by rendering their situation as comfortable as possible. The wagoners, though highly amused at the fears of their companions, showed great alacrity and kindness in their endeavours to dissipate the apprehensions and provide for the comfort of the foreigners; and, assisted by Mr Logan, soon prepared a shelter. This was made by planting some large stakes in the ground, in the form of a square, filling up the sides and covering the top with smaller poles, and suspending blankets over and around it, so as to form a complete enclosure. Mrs Edgarton had a carpet taken from the wagons and spread on the ground; on this the beds were unpacked and laid, trunks were arranged for seats, and the emigrants, surprised at finding themselves in a comfortable apartment, became as merry as they had before been despondent. A fire was kindled, and the tea-kettle boiled, and there being a large store of bread and provisions already prepared, an excellent repast was soon placed before them, and eaten with the relish produced by severe exercise. The night had now closed in, but the blaze of a large fire, and the light of several candles, threw a brilliant gleam over the spot, and heightened the cheerfulness of the evening meal. The arrangements for sleeping were very simple. The tent, which had been divided into two apartments by a curtain suspended in the middle, accommodated all of Mr Edgarton's household; Logan drew on his great coat, and spreading a single blanket on the ground, threw himself down with his feet to the fire; the teamsters crept into their wagons, and the several parties soon enjoyed that luxury which, if Shakspeare may be believed, is denied to the "head that wears a crown."
The light of the morning brought with it cheerfulness and merriment. Refreshed from the fatigues of the preceding day, inspired with new confidence, and amused by the novelties that surrounded them, the emigrants were in high spirits. Breakfast was hastily prepared, and the happy party, seated in a circle on the grass, enjoyed their meal with a keen relish. The horses were then harnessed, and the cavalcade renewed its march.
The day was far advanced when they began to rise to more elevated ground than that over which they had travelled. The appearance of the woods was sensibly changed. They were now travelling over a high upland track, with a gently waving surface, and instead of the rank vegetation, the dense foliage, and gloomy shades, by which they had been surrounded, beheld woodlands composed of smaller trees, thinly scattered, and intermingled with rich thickets of young timber. The growth though thick was low, so that the rays of the sun penetrated through many openings, and the beaten path which they pursued was entirely exposed to the genial beams. Groves of the wild apple, the plum, and the cherry, now in full bloom, added a rich beauty to the scene and a delightful fragrance to the air.
But the greatest natural curiosity, and the most attractive scenic exhibition of our western hemisphere, was still in reserve; and a spontaneous expression of wonder and delight burst from the whole party, as they emerged from the woods and stood on the edge of a prairie. They entered a long vista, carpeted with grass, interspered with numberless flowers, among which the blue violet predominated; while the edges of the forest on either hand were elegantly fringed with low thickets, loaded with blossoms—those of the plum and cherry, of snowy whiteness, and those of the crab apple, of a delicate pink. Above and beyond these were seen the rich green, the irregular outline, and the variegated light and shade of the forest. As if to produce the most beautiful perspective, and to afford every variety of aspect, the vista increased in width, until it opened like the estuary of a great river, into the broad prairie, and as our travellers advanced, the woodlands receded on either hand, sometimes indented by smaller avenues opening into the woods, and sometimes throwing out points of timber, so that the boundary of the plain resembled the irregular outline of a shore as traced on a map.
Delighted with the lovely aspect of nature in these the most tasteful of her retreats, the party lingered along; until they reached the margin of the broad prairie, where a noble expanse of scenery of the same character was spread out on a larger scale. They stood on a rising ground, and beheld before them a vast plain, undulating in its surface so as to present to the eye a series of swells and depressions, never broken or abrupt, but always regular, and marked by curved lines. Here and there was seen a deep ravine, or drain, by which the superfluous water was carried off, the sides of which were thickly set with willows. Clumps of elm and oak were scattered about, far apart, like little islands; a few solitary trees were seen, relieving the eye as it wandered over the ocean-like surface of this native meadow.
A few more hours brought them to the place of their destination. Mr Edgarton had as yet no house, nor any spot selected for his residence. In choosing a neighbourhood, he had been directed by the advice of some English friends; but he had now to exercise his own judgment in purchasing land and erecting buildings. He found the inhabitants kind and hospitable, especially in giving him such advice and information as his situation required; and many eligible spots were pointed out to him, on the vacant lands of the government. An Englishman, however, drop where he may, considers it his prerogative to know more about the country than its own inhabitants, and our emigrant wisely concluded that he was the best judge of his own business. He looked for a picturesque spot. Unacquainted with the nature of soils, or the business of farming, he imagined that rural occupations could be carried on as successfully at one place as at another, and having pleased his eye in the surrounding scenery, was satisfied that he had found all that was necessary to happiness. His fancy was attracted by a long arm of the prairie, reaching back into the forest to the vicinity of a large rivulet. In the depth of this recess he placed his house, so that its front commanded a view of the widening vista, while its sides and rear were embowered in woods. In vain was he told that the prairie, at this point, was low and flat, that the soil was a cold sterile clay, and that the surface being concave retained the water. He could drain it: the most dreary morasses had been reclaimed in England. In vain was he told that the rivulet in the rear of his house annually over-flowed its banks, leaving standing pools, and creating noxious vapours. He would convert these inundated lands into meadows, and become a benefactor to the country by abating a nuisance. His little cottage was soon reared upon the spot at which he intended, at some future day, to build a splendid mansion, and the delighted man, surrounded by scenes as beautiful as the most romantic fancy could imagine, sat down contented in the solitary wilderness.
What was to be done next? Fields were to be enclosed, grain to be planted, and stock to be purchased, and our farmer's notions of either of these operations were so vague, that he was unable to take the first step without advice. The neighbours, whose admonitions had been already rejected, were applied to, and gave the desired information. Books were also consulted, and at length Mr Edgarton matured a plan of operations. A plan of the farm was laid down upon paper. Here was to be a garden, and there a lawn; here an orchard, there meadows, and there corn-fields. The requisite lanes, fences, and ditches, were dotted off with mathematical accuracy; plans of the mansion, the ice-house, the dairy, the barn, &c. were drawn separately; Miss Julia, who had a pretty taste for drawing, coloured them all very handsomely, and they were shown to visitors with no small degree of exultation.
The next thing was to put these splendid plans into operation; but Mr Edgarton now found, to his surprise, that it was almost impossible to procure labourers. The first settlers of a new country are farmers who do their own work, and but few persons could be found, who would work for hire. With great difficulty a few men were employed at extravagant prices; the buildings were deferred until another year, and the enclosing the fields commenced. Planting was out of the question, because the ground was too wet; draining was attempted, but for this also the season was unpropitious, and after a vast expenditure of labour and money Mr Edgarton found that he had scarcely advanced a step towards accomplishing the herculean task before him. We shall not weary the reader with a detail of all his bad speculations, in buying horses that turned out to be unsound, cattle that ran away, and were never again heard of, and sheep that were incontinently eaten up by the wolves; nor shock the feelings of the sympathetic by reciting the dismal fate of numerous broods of chickens and goslins, nurtured by the tender assiduity of Miss Edgarton, and which fell an easy prey to the cunning fox and the audacious raccoon. Troubles thickened on every side; the sturdy peasantry afforded no society for the polished inmates of the cottage, and the advantages of rural felicity began to be doubted. Often did Mr and Mrs Edgarton wish themselves back again in their snug back parlour in London; and as often did the pretty Julia wish—to see Mr Logan, who was understood to be figuring at the bar of a neighbouring county.
Summer came, and the little cottage, which served for parlour, kitchen, and hall, was found to be oppressively confined and hot. Nor was this all: while the salubrious region around was blessed with genial breezes, the dreadful malaria hung in baleful clouds over the dwelling of Edgarton. The rivulet was dried up by the fervent heats of the season, leaving along its former channel a few stagnant pools, which gave birth to myriads of musquitoes, who, from their musical propensities and sanguinary dispositions, might be imagined to sing, as they hovered around this ill-fated family, "Fee faw fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, And dead or alive I will have some." These dreadful precursors of disease were, as usual, soon followed by the pestilence itself. The summer wore away, and the autumn found the family of Edgarton writhing under burning fevers. Mr Edgarton was first attacked, and in a few hours, was prostrate, helpless, and delirious. Burning fever, raging thirst, and intense pain, seemed to threaten a speedy and excruciating death. The sallow death-like complexion, the blood-shot eye, the throbbing arteries, and the distortions of the countenance of the sufferer, filled the minds of his trembling family with the most agonising apprehensions. Now it was that the helplessness of their solitary condition, impressed their hearts with terror. Their nearest neighbour resided at a distance of several miles, and they had no domestic. To the females, the idea of losing a husband and a brother, their dearest relative and only protector, was sufficiently mournful—but when they reflected that he might expire for want of assistance which they knew not how to procure, the thought was full of agony. But women are not apt to yield to despair, when the objects of their affection are in danger; and while Mrs Edgarton assiduously attended the sufferer, Julia boldly mounted a horse, and rode to the nearest house for assistance, although the way led through the forest by a dim path with which she was little acquainted, and the approach of night rendered the attempt somewhat dangerous. She succeeded, however, in procuring a messenger, to go in search of a physician. Before medical assistance arrived, which was late the next day, Mrs Edgarton had taken the fever—then the children, one after another, until Julia was left alone, the sole nurse of all whose blood was kindred to her own in the new world.
Week after week rolled heavily away. The Edgartons, parents and children, still withered in the grasp of the pestilence. Julia, pale and worn down with fatigue and watching, was their devoted nurse. Giving up her whole heart to this duty, with that intensity of affection and singleness of purpose, of which woman is alone capable, she had become skilful in the management of her patients. A physician came as often as his duty to others would permit; the neighbours were kind, but they were few, and their own cares often called them away. Then came the long, the solitary, the anxious hours, when poor Julia, left alone with her heavy charge, had need of all her fortitude to support her. The invalids underwent many changes; some grew better and others worse alternately; hope was excited one day by the favourable symptoms of one, and, on the next, the danger of another created thrilling alarm. At last there came a trying crisis. The youngest child, an interesting boy of two years old, breathed his last, in the arms of Julia. The rest of the family were lying, some insensible, and all unable to rise. Not another human being was near, and, as Miss Edgarton wept over the corpse, she was bowed under a sense of hopeless despondency that seemed to wither all her energies. All the fond hopes that had so long cheered the path of duty, were destroyed—the angel of death had entered the dwelling—one victim had fallen—and the others, all, all, appeared to be hovering on the brink of the grave. It was evening when this melancholy event happened. The sun was setting. Julia went often to the door, and looked over the prairie in the eager hope of seeing some human being; but none appeared. Night came, and she was alone with the dead and the dying.
At last her agony became insupportable, and she left the chamber of disease, for the purpose of refreshing herself for a few moments in the open air. As she stepped out of the door a brilliant light attracted her attention, and she discovered to her surprise that the southern horizon glowed with a resplendent blaze, which threw its radiance over the whole landscape, and rendered every object as distinctly visible as at noon-day. The prairie was on fire! The novelty of the spectacle could be equalled only by its splendour. The fire itself was not yet visible, in consequence of the rising ground that intervened, but the spot where it raged was distinctly indicated by a strong and vivid glare, which extended along the horizon from east to west. Above were seen heavy volumes of smoke rolling upwards in masses of inky blackness, tinged with a fiery redness on those parts which were exposed to the reflection of the element. The fore-ground of the scene was a prairie, covered with dried and yellow grass, illumined with a fearful and peculiar radiance. Here and there stood a solitary tree, tinged with light on one side, and throwing from the other a shadow of supernatural light across the plain. The forest on either side was thrown back into a deep shade, which bounded the prospect, except where here and there a point of timber running out into the prairie like a cape into the ocean, became exposed to the full glare of the fire, and presented its hues and outlines distinctly to the eye. All was still and silent; no animated object was seen upon the plain, not a sound was heard except that occasioned by the conflagration—a low incessant roaring, resembling the distant but tremendous rush of waters.
The fire had now reached the most elevated grounds, and was seen advancing, in a long line, fanned by a breeze from the south. Its march was slow but fearfully regular. Then the breeze died away and was succeeded by a calm. The smoke now curled upwards for a short distance, and then descended in thick volumes upon the plain, discolouring the atmosphere, and giving a red and ghastly hue to the surrounding objects.
Julia Edgarton gazed at this scene with intense interest. At first its sublime beauty awakened a lively feeling of admiration; and she watched with timid wonder the progress of an element always awful when raging uncontrolled in its splendid and terrific majesty; but when the flame was seen extending across the whole plain, and advancing towards the dwelling that contained the helpless objects of her affection, heart-sickness and unconquerable panic filled her bosom. In another hour, perhaps, that dwelling would be surrounded by the flames, and they must all perish together. Her first impulse was to fly; but the selfish thought was instantly banished, and she resolved rather to die than forsake her charge. A slight noise drew her attention, and looking round she beheld several animals, that she knew to be wolves, crouching upon the ground, and glaring upon her with their fierce eye-balls. By a sure instinct they had scented the house of death, and waited for their prey. Julia rushed distractedly into the house.
"Aunt," said one of the little girls, "is the sun rising? oh how cheerful the light is!"
"Oh! the dreadful flame!" groaned Mr Edgarton, whose senses were quickened to an exquisite acuteness, "I see it! I hear the dreadful roaring! The fiends are preparing their tortures! oh my God, why did I not seek thee before it was too late!"
Julia was stricken to the heart by these words. Like most rational and well disposed persons, she had always entertained a respect for religion, but it had formed no part of her education, and had seldom occupied her thoughts. Now, abandoned by all the world, and surrounded by the dreadful ministers of death, she was convinced of the solemn truth, that no hand less powerful than that of an Almighty God could bring relief. In vain had she exerted her tenderness, her ability, her heroism—in vain had she relied on herself. The words of her brother sunk into her heart, "Why did I not seek thee before it was too late!" She dropped upon her knees, and for the first time in her life prayed with earnestness and sincerity. A calm resignation followed the performance of this act of duty, and although no supernatural hand was seen stretched out to snatch herself and those who were dear to her from the jaws of death, she felt that courage was given to her to abide the event. As she rose, her hand was grasped with a gentle pressure, a tender voice pronounced her name, she turned, and sunk weeping with joy and gratitude upon the shoulder of Logan.
He bore the afflicted girl into the open air, and having assured her that the danger from the fire was much less than she apprehended, she had courage to contemplate again the terrific scene. The line of flame was advancing slowly towards the house, extending entirely across the plain in front, and into the woods on either side. As it rolled on, the flames were seen darting upward, like agitated waves, and the spectator could scarcely resist the idea that a sea of flaming liquid was spreading its boiling and foaming billows over the land. The heat was now intense; the roaring and crackling sounds of the conflagration, as deafening as the din of a tempest. On it swept until it reached the beaten ground in the vicinity of the house, which afforded no fuel, and here the flame separated into two divisions and passing along on either hand, swept away the fences, the stacks, and other combustibles, leaving nothing but the solitary cottage and its wretched inmates upon that wide spread and smoking plain.
Julia acknowledged her gratitude to God, and felt that, although in a land of strangers, and surrounded by dangers, she had now one Friend whose hand is mighty to save those who put their trust in Him.
On the following morning Mr Logan made arrangements to procure assistance for this afflicted family. The deceased infant was decently buried, and the rest of the family carefully removed to the houses of the neighbours, where skilful attention and pure air soon restored them to health. Mr Logan remained with them, and having convinced his friend of the futility of his agricultural schemes, easily induced him to remove to the village where he was settled himself, and to invest the remains of his fortune in merchandise. The change was a happy one. Mr Edgarton, embarked in a business for which his education and talents fitted him, succeeded to the utmost extent of his hopes. Health and cheerfulness smiled again at his fireside. The interesting Julia became Mrs Logan; both families are now in easy circumstances; and the members of the happy circle, in reciting their adventures, never fail to ascribe praise to that Providence, which conducted them in safety through the perils of the ocean, the wilderness, and the pestilence, and gave them a pleasant home in a land of strangers.
Every person of taste who has enjoyed the luxury of travelling over that splendid monument of national munificence, the Cumberland road , must have been struck with the romantic beauty of the village from which it takes its name. It is situated on a small plain in the bosom of a deep valley, surrounded by tall mountains, whose abrupt cliffs seem to be inaccessible, unless to the soaring eagle, or the adventurous hunter. A small tributary of the Potomac flows in a clear and beautiful stream through the vale, winding its serpentine course round the bold promontories and sharp angles of the mountain, until it reaches the plain, where it forms a graceful curve round the site of the village. The sides of the mountains are rocky, and their summits covered with pines; but the valleys are rich, and thickly wooded, luxuriant in vegetation, and lovely to the eye.
Here stood Fort Cumberland, a frontier fortress, in the colonial wars between the French and English. At the period at which we commence this narrative, in the year 1758, the fort was garrisoned by a numerous and gallant host, engaged in active preparations for a distant enterprise. Colonel Grant, a Scottish officer, at the head of eight hundred Highlanders, was about to lead an expedition against fort Du Quesne, on the Ohio, and every young officer who panted for fame, was anxious to volunteer in this arduous service.
"What think you, Major Gordon?" said the colonel to his second in command, as they strolled one evening along the banks of Will's creek, at some distance from the fort, "will the French be able to stand against our brave Highlanders?"
"Of the French, could we meet them fairly in the field, I have little fear," replied the other, "but I must confess that I think our troops but poorly calculated to contend in the mountains against their Indian allies."
"Pshaw! Major Gordon, I'm ashamed of you. It is a reflection upon the honour of his majesty's troops, to mention them in the same breath with a horde of naked savages! Sir, with my regiment, I can burn all the wigwams in North America; and punish the mutinous sachems for their contumacy, at a drum-head court martial, if they should dare to object."
"You may, perhaps, live to change that opinion. At all events, be advised, in so important an enterprise as the one before us, to employ the necessary caution to insure success."
"What cautious measure would the chivalrous descendant of the noble line of Gordons uggest?" inquired the colonel, in a tone which almost conveyed a sneer.
"The one I have so often pointed out," replied his friend calmly, "the employment of a small body of men from the frontiers of Virginia, whose knowledge of the country, and of the habits of the enemy, might serve as a safe-guard against stratagems, to which our ignorance would expose us."
"A safeguard!" retorted the proud Scot, drawing up his fine form, and darting a glance of unmingled scorn from his fierce eye, "truly, it would be an edifying sight to behold the Grant and his followers marching to victory under the protection of a guard! a guard, too, of paltry peasants! a squad of militia led by a negro driver, or a village attorney! If such notions are the result of your long residence in America, Major Gordon —"
At that instant Gordon suddenly halted, and directed the eye of his companion to some object before them. They had just passed a solitary cabin, surrounded by a few acres of cultivated land, where an adventurous backwoodsman ventured to reside, beyond the reach of the guns of the fort. Beyond his clearing their path led through a slip of marshy ground covered with high grass and bushes. The attention of the officers was drawn to two boys, the children of the backwoodsman, whose hut they had just passed, one of whom was about eight, and the other ten years of age, who were stealing through the woods with cautious steps, bearing a couple of muskets, the butts of which were borne by the larger boy, while the muzzles rested on the shoulders of the smaller. They stopped by a large log at the edge of the swamp, and peeped eagerly over it, and the officers then beheld, a few paces from the log, a large bear, apparently asleep, imbedded in the mud. The boys, having ascertained that the animal remained where they had discovered him a few minutes before, placed one of the guns over the log, and the oldest lad, after taking a deliberate aim, fired. The bear, mortally wounded, sprung up in his bed, and uttered a howl of agony. The youngest boy ran towards the house, while the other climbed nimbly up a small tree. Here he sat in security, watching with delight the expiring struggles of his victim until the latter sunk exhausted in the mire—when he screamed after his brother, "Bill, come back, I've saved him!" Again they took their post by the log, and gazed at their grim adversary, who by an occasional twitching of the muscles showed that life was not entirely gone.
"I guess he 's sort o' 'live yet," said one of the boys.
"Let 's give him another pill," rejoined the other.
Accordingly, the other gun was pointed over the log, and discharged. The larger boy then advanced with a long stick, with which he felt his adversary at a distance; and having thus satisfied himself, he at last approached the body, and seated himself on it in triumph. He then shouted for his brother, "Come here, Bill! where are you? why you're no account, to be afraid of a dead bear. I've used him up , the right way. He's cold as a wagontire."
The officers now came forward to speak to the heroic children, and learned that they had discovered the bear while at play, and ran to the house; but finding that both their parents were absent, and knowing that their father's guns were always loaded, they had determined to attempt the exploit themselves.
When the officers turned to retrace their steps, Colonel Grant expressed his admiration of this singular adventure in strong language; and Major Gordon took the opportunity to remark that it afforded an apt illustration of the subject on which they had been conversing. "It is thus," said he, "that the people of the frontier rear their children. Their very sports lead them into danger, and they learn the artifices of the chace so early, that the knowledge is almost an instinct. The moment a lad can carry a gun, he becomes a hunter, as the young falcon as soon as he can prune his wing darts upon his prey."
"What inference do you draw from that fact?"
"Simply, that these backwoodsmen are better fitted for a campaign in their own forests than our European soldiers."
Perhaps the colonel was convinced. It is no small evidence in favour of such a supposition, that he dropped the subject, and remained silent for some time. He then gaily asked his young friend, "when he had last seen the Barrack-master's daughter?"
"This morning," replied the other, with some hesitation.
"And will not the gallant Major Gordon, who has met his majesty's enemies on so many fields, acknowledge that his stock of prudence has been very suddenly and marvellously increased, by his tenderness for the safety of a fair lady?"
"Whenever my commanding officer can show his right to act the part of the father confessor, I will answer the question."
"Pardon me, Gordon; I pry not into your secrets. Here we are at the gate. Go to the fair Alice, if such be your intention. At two we meet in council at the mess-room."
Perhaps the most important character, at this time, in Fort Cumberland, was the Barrack-master. Ensign Hagerty had entered the service some thirty years before, a spruce Irish lad, with no other ambition than that of living like a gentleman, and dying like a soldier. The first he had always done, and the last he had never avoided. But although he used to boast that he had been in more battles than he had hairs on his head, he had somehow never been able to advance beyond the grade of ensign. Yet he had all those good qualities that used to be so highly regarded in the mess-room. His good-humour was infinite, he sung an excellent song, told a story well, loved good eating, and could starve, on proper occasions, with the patience of a camel. He had married, for love, a beautiful but penniless woman, and become the happy father of five girls, who were now grown—the youngest just turned of fifteen and the eldest in the full bloom of her beauty. What would have become of these females, after the death of their mother, it is hard to tell, had not a relative in Philadelphia taken them, and reared them. The decease of their kind friend, which had recently taken place, threw them once more on the hands of the ensign, or as he expressed it, obliged him to take command of his own company. It is necessary to state in this place, that the worthy ensign was not only above the ordinary stature, but had been annually increasing in circumference, until he had grown so unwieldy as to be wholly unfit for active service. Putting all these things together, he conceived himself a fit subject for the special favour of his majesty's government; and accordingly waited on the commander of the forces to solicit some employment which would impose less duty, and yield more profit, assigning for reasons that he had a larger amount of clay to nourish than ordinary men, and more daughters than became an ensign. The consequence was that he received the appointment of Barrack-master at Fort Cumberland, where there were no barracks to superintend, with several other sinecures, the aggregate emoluments of which placed him in easy circumstances. What was still better, he was promised, on the reduction of Fort Du Quesne, the office of town major, with the addition of a lucrative post in the commissariat. After all, his five daughters constituted his greatest wealth. They were tall, beautiful women, very showy and quite accomplished. A remarkable circumstance was the strong likeness which they all bore to each other in form and feature; the two youngest particularly could scarcely be distinguished by their acquaintances. It may be well supposed that with such a family, the Barrack-master was a prosperous candidate for all sorts of honours. The title of major fell to him by courtesy. His house became the rendezvous of all the officers, as it certainly afforded the most attractive society in the garrison. Whenever there was a profitable job to be executed, or a fat contract to be given, he was sure to get it; and after spending the prime of his life in hardship, neglect and poverty, he had reached that enviable period in the career of an old soldier, when he might lawfully sit by his own fireside, smoke his pipe, sing merry songs, and tell over his campaigns to the young officers.
The preparations for the march were now going rapidly forward. The troops had been for some time engaged in cutting a road across the mountains, and had advanced as far as the Laurel Ridge. The fort was surrounded by the Indian allies of the British, who had been engaged to join in the expedition, and whose slight lodges were scattered irregularly through the valley. The warriors, fancifully painted, and profusely decked with feathers and other ornaments, were seen strolling about, or engaged in councils, war dances, or athletic exercises.
While things were in this situation, the young Alice—to wit Miss Hagerty Number 4—went one day to visit the sick wife of a soldier, who resided in a hut outside of the fort, and having paid her the attention which her situation required, attempted to return by a path that seemed to be nearer than the usually travelled road, which was somewhat crowded with soldiers and Indian warriors. Another motive might have induced her to wander from the beaten track. Alice had given her young heart, and plighted her faith to Major Gordon; and as it is a generally received opinion that ladies thus situated are much given to solitary contemplation, it is possible that she might have chosen this secluded way in the hope of enjoying in its picturesque shades, a few moments of delightful abstraction. If that was the case, the young lady displayed more good taste than prudence, for it was a romantic path, leading by a serpentine course to the little rivulet that waters this noble valley; and she lingered along the bank of the stream, delighted with miniature cascades and eddies, and the various attractions of the scenery, still keeping the narrow path-way, which was closely hemmed in with bushes. At last she began to fear that she had lost her way. But she was a high-spirited girl, and felt little alarm. Although the fort was not visible, she could occasionally, through the openings of the woods, see its proud flag, waving gaily in the breeze, and she felt no apprehension of an enemy while in sight of that emblem of her country's power. It would be easy, too, to retrace her steps, and she was about to do so, when a bird of beautiful plumage attracted her attention. Young ladies in love are fond of birds too—for the tender passion softens the heart, and renders it sensitive to all that is lovely in nature, and the plumed songster, so melodious in the expression of his attachment, so tender, faithful, and assiduous, is an especial object of sympathy. She followed it with her eye as it alighted on the bough of a large tree, and was attentively watching its graceful movements, when the figure of an Indian sitting among the branches arrested her attention. He was painted with colours so nearly resembling those of the bark of the tree, that it was difficult to distinguish his form among the branches; and Alice would not have discovered him, had not her glance been intensely fixed upon the very spot where he sat, but a few yards above her head. She started back in terror, and the spy, for such he was, hastily discharged an arrow that whistled by her ear, and buried itself in the ground. Uttering a piercing shriek, she turned to fly, while the Indian, dropping from his place of concealment, pursued, caught her flowing dress, and was raising his tomahawk to strike, when a young man of athletic frame thrust himself between them. With one hand he pushed back the assailant, and with the other brandished his knife. The Indian waited not for the attack, but darting backward, fled at full speed. The forester shouted a signal cry, and in a moment a number of the friendly Indians appeared, who, being informed of the cause of the alarm, dashed off in pursuit of the fugitive. The war-cry was re-echoed by a hundred voices; the whole of the surrounding woods seemed instantly to be alive; the terrific yell sounded on every side; the tread of feet upon the dry leaves and the tramp of horses, announced that the whole Indian host was awakened. Then all was silent. The alarm given and the cause understood, the warriors were tracking the fugitive spy with noiseless steps. Again, another shout arose; they had secured their victim.
In the meanwhile, the stranger who had so providentially rescued the Barrack-master's daughter from the tomahawk, offered her his arm, and reconducted her to the fort. He was a young man, who might have been considered surpassingly ugly, if it had not been that his features, though coarse and irregular, wore an expression of courage and honesty. He was a lieutenant in a company of volunteers recently arrived from the frontiers of Virginia, and had already served several campaigns against the enemy. Though of a good family, he was rugged and unpolished; for the country, in its then unsettled state, afforded none of the means of education, and while other young gentlemen were sent to distant schools, the youthful Dangerly engaged as a private soldier in all the military enterprises of the frontier. Naturally modest and sensible of his ungraceful appearance, he soon became bashful, and was famous among his comrades for his aversion to female society; and while he never shrunk from the face of an enemy, the approach of a lady never failed to put him to instant flight. In the field he was in his element, daring, active, and fertile of expedient; in camp he was the best of all good fellows—always happy, ready for duty, and true to his friend, enjoyed an excellent appetite, and slept as soundly on the ground as in a feather bed.
Mr Dangerly was not a woman-hater—he had too much good feeling for that, but a woman-fearer; and on this occasion the distress of the beautiful girl who stood trembling and almost fainting called all his better qualities into action. He was surprised into the politeness of a true cavalier, and gave her his arm with the kindness of a brother and the ease of a gentleman. He assured her of the absence of all danger, and soothed her inquietude in tones which, though habitually rough, were bland and sympathetic. Had he been patting his favourite horse on the neck, he could not have used more coaxing language; and his brother officers were struck with astonishment when they beheld the worthy lieutenant advancing towards the fort arm in arm with the Barrack-master's daughter, and pouring soft expressions in her ear with the eagerness of a devoted lover.
Mr Dangerly was not aware of the warmth of his expressions, or the tenderness of his manner, for they sprang warm from as kind a heart as ever throbbed, and thinking only of the fears of his companion, he gave full vent to the utterance of his native benevolence. He was placed, too, for the first time, in contact with a young and lovely woman, who, besides being habitually polite, was under the excitement of a deep sense of gratitude towards her protector, and replied to his remarks with an ease and spirit, softened by the circumstances of the moment into that confidence which so easily steals into youthful hearts. The gracefulness of her beautiful form, as it hung for support on his manly arm, her low tremulous voice, and the rich melody of her tones, all went directly to the heart of the gallant Virginian; and he wondered how it happened, that, among the numberless enjoyments of life, he had never before learned to estimate the most exquisite of them all, the love of woman. It was therefore with some surprise that, on accidentally looking round, he found himself an object of general attention, and saw that he was detected in the fact of gallanting a lady. But there was no room for retreat; the lady was under his escort, and although the main entrance of the fort was thronged with spectators, drawn thither by the alarm, and whose glances were more formidable to him than the guns of that fortress would have been in an engagement, yet, having satisfied himself, by a hasty glance, that he must run the gauntlet, he boldly prepared "to pass defile in front," and pushed on. The evolution was happily accomplished; and the British officers being all engaged in a council of war, he conducted his fair charge to her father's door without interruption, and then, having exhausted his stock of courage, hastily bowed, and retired, covered with confusion, to his own tent. We pass over the rough jokes that were levelled at our worthy officer by his relentless companions. He bore them with his wonted composure, but inwardly vowed that while he would cherish through life the delightful vision that was impressed upon his fancy, he would never again venture his heart within the fascination of a woman's eye, or subject himself to the shame and ridicule which had followed his first adventure under the banners of Cupid.
The event just related induced Colonel Grant to hasten his preparations. A part of the troops had already been sent forward, and were employed in cutting a road across the mountains. Washington, then a young officer, had urged Colonel Bonquet, who commanded on this frontier, to advance the troops by the route which had been travelled by General Braddock three years before, which followed the trace pursued by the Indians, and being now somewhat beaten, was better than any new road could be made with the small force and limited means at the disposal of that officer. But "those whom the gods doom to destruction they first deprive of understanding;" the same power which decreed the downfal of British power on this continent, seems to have almost invariably used her own officers as the instruments of defeat; and the contempt of the latter for the advice and aid of their colonial friends, produced always the same disastrous consequences. Month after month had been consumed in the herculean task of opening a military road over the Alpine cliffs and gloomy abysses of the Alleghany range. The work had now proceeded as far as the Loyalhanna, where a post was established, at which the troops were about to be concentrated.
Arrived at the latter place, Colonel Grant's detachment, consisting of the Highlanders and a small body of Virginians from the regiment of Colonel Washington, attached to it much against the wish of Grant, was organized, and set forward on their march, towards fort Du Quesne. The alacrity of this leader, and his gallant bearing, were now as conspicuous as his total ignorance of the country and of the habits of his enemy. He had no idea of the rapidity and secrecy of movement which form the most striking feature of border warfare; where every soldier carries his own ammunition and provisions, sleeps in his blanket under a tree, and is ready for a march or for battle at a moment's warning. But under every disadvantage the brave Highlanders moved forward with a noble spirit. The newly cut road which they had passed, embracing all the ridges of the Alleghany mountains, was already blocked up in some places by fallen trees, or rendered almost impracticable by deep ravines washed by the heavy rains that poured in torrents down the sides of these precipitous heights. Sometimes the path wound over a series of hideous precipices, which seemed inaccessible; and sometimes an impetuous river, rushing and foaming over the sharp fragments of rock which formed its bed seemed to render any further advance impracticable. But this inhospitable region was now behind them, and they had entered that great western valley which was destined to become the home of millions.
Major Hagerty, the Barrack-master, accompanied the expedition, for the purpose of being on the spot to enter on the new duties which would devolve on him at the capture of fort Du Quesne. Notwithstanding his unwieldy ponderance of body, he made his arrangements with the alacrity of an old campaigner. Though not elated like his junior companions with the hope of laurels to be gathered on the field of battle, he entered with spirit into their cheerfulness, and seemed to share their bright anticipations of success. There was, it is true, some difficulty in procuring him a suitable conveyance; some of the officers proposed to stow him in an extra baggage-wagon; others proposed that a fatigue party should be detailed to carry him on a litter, while a better opinion seemed to be that he might be advantageous mounted in a horizontal position on a gun carriage and drawn by four horses. The worthy man, however, was seated at last on a strong charger, and set out in high glee; and if on any occasion his unwieldy bulk and difficulty of locomotion rendered him burthensome to his companions, he fully compensated for the inconvenience by the life and merriment with which he inspired the whole party.
After many toils they descended into the vale of the Monongahela, and never did the traveller's eye trace the course of a more lovely stream. Winding through bold hills with a gentle current, the river itself is as placid as the surrounding scenery is wild and picturesque. At some places the steep promontories that hemmed it in, seemed barely to afford room for its passage, and at others it was margined by fertile vallies, and rich table lands. The most remarkable feature of the scenery was the gigantic growth of the forest trees, and the exquisite luxuriance of the foliage. The boughs were weighed down with their load of leaves. There was also a depth and richness of colouring, which the face of nature displays only in the most favoured climates and luxuriant spots. In the many varieties of green exhibited in the forest, there was always a brilliancy of hue, which conveyed to the mind an impression of vigour and freshness; the flowers and wild fruits assumed every shade of the gorgeous and the delicate in colour: while the whole was illumed with the intense brilliancy of a September sun, which had slightly tinged the most prominent points of the uplands with autumnal tints, without destroying the verdure of summer.
An excursion through such a region in so delightful a season, might, under different circumstances, have afforded high enjoyment to a romantic mind. But here were dangers to be surmounted, and toils to be endured. Sometimes the thunder cloud, rolling along the mountain side, poured down torrents of rain, the vivid lightning shattered the tall trees, and the heavy explosions, reverberated from a thousand caverns, struck the stoutest heart with awe. Sometimes a whole day's march was performed without rest or food. A lurking Indian was occasionally seen, prowling around the camp, and darting away when discovered, with the fleetness of the antelope, yelling defiance, or laughing in derision. The straggler who imprudently wandered from his companions, perished of hunger among those savage fastnesses, or fell under the tomakawk; while the nightly howl of the wolf admonished the weary soldiers, that the beast of prey was patiently pursuing their footsteps, and eagerly thirsting for their blood.
After a long and arduous march, they at length reached the vicinity of fort Du Quesne. It was late in the night when they descended towards the fortress, and encamped on the brow of a small eminence which overlooked it. The enemy slept in security unconscious of their approach. The French were doubtless aware that such an expedition was in progress, but the attempts of the English to penetrate the wilderness in this direction, had hitherto been uniformly disastrous, and but little danger was now apprehended from the troops of that nation. Perverse in their opinions, rash and headstrong in their plans, they had neither conciliated the Indian tribes, availed themselves of the aid of the native American troops, nor gathered wisdom from the lessons of experience. The French, therefore, prepared and awaiting their enemy in the confidence of success, supposed him to be still at the distance of several days march.
The British soldiers slept that night with their accoutrements on, and their arms at their sides, ready for action upon the first alarm.
An hour before the dawn of day, Colonel Grant was awakened by a slight touch of a friendly hand. He sprung from his mattrass with the alacrity of a well trained soldier.
"Ah, Major Gordon! What is the matter? It is not day!"
"No, but it soon will be, and if we are to fight the French this morning, it is time to be stirring."
"You are right. It will be a glorious day for us, I trust. And yet if I was a believer in some of the superstitions of our country, I should feel discouraged by the dreams that have haunted my pillow during the night. Do you believe in such things, Gordon?
"It is hard to believe that which is contrary to reason; yet it is difficult to deny what so many of our ancestors have asserted, and what many of our countrymen still hold to be true."
"You are a believer then; I might have known that; where is the true Scot who will give up one jot of the faith of his fathers. But come, let us see if all 's well."
So saying, the two officers stepped out of the tent, and walked through the encampment. The morning was clear and calm. The air had that chilliness which precedes the dawn of day. The soldiers slept; not a sound was heard in the camp or in the surrounding forest. The dim form of the centinel, as he walked his post, was the only object that moved. The officers passed round the chain of sentries, giving the word in a low tone, and then returned towards the colonel's tent.
"It is strange," resumed Colonel Grant, "that the firmness of a man can be shaken by a mere phantasy. I am not superstitious. Yet, last night, lying, as I supposed, wide awake, I distinctly saw our soldiers passing one by one through my tent, so slowly that I could recognize every individual. They were all bloody and mutilated. I have seen men stretched on the field of battle, but never did I behold such dreadful gashes, such marks of wanton butchery. They seemed to bid me farewell. I arose, looked round, but saw no one. The sentry, in front of my tent, assured me that no one had entered. I threw myself down, but again, and again, and again, the same apparitions appeared. This incident has affected me. But come, let us shake off these unbecoming fancies. They are unworthy of British soldiers, especially of us, who have really no danger to encounter, and are sent to crush a nest of half civilized French and ignorant savages."
"You despise our foe too much," replied Major Gordon, "however deficient they may be in discipline, they are brave and cunning; and their fortress is capable of affording a stout resistance to a force like ours, unprovided with a train of artillery."
"Mere fudge!" exclaimed the colonel, "they know better than to resist us. At the first sight of his majesty's flag they will sue for peace."
"Believe it not; with their advantages of numbers, of position, of ample supplies, and of a familiar knowledge of the country, success on our part will be gained only by hard fighting and artful management."
"What artifice would Major Gordon propose?"
"No other than an early attack, by which the enemy shall be surprised, before he is aware of our presence."
"No, by Jupiter! I'll fight the rascals here, and by daylight. I hate ambuscades, midnight attacks, and scaling walls like a thief in the night. They will be sufficiently surprised, I take it, at not being allowed time to run away. No, sir, we will fight them at our leisure. Let the reveillè be sounded. We will try the metal of these monsieurs. If they are brave, let them come out and fight us on the plain; if not, let them surrender."
"Perhaps they may not choose to do either."
"Then by St Andrew we shall scale their ramparts in broad day. A band of brave Scots with a Grant and a Gordon at their head, need fear no odds. Let the music sound, if you please, major."
With a reluctant step, and a melancholy foreboding of the disastrous consequences of so imprudent a measure, the second in command obeyed the order of his superior. In a few minutes the cheerful tones of the bugle were heard echoing from hill to hill, the ruffle of the drum, and the shrill notes of the fife succeeded, and then the martial melody of the full band burst upon the repose of the valley. The troops paraded at the sound, and stood by their arms, slowly and gradually filling up the long line, as a number of the beautiful airs of their native glens were played in succession, and the music floated over the hills. The darkness of the night was around them, but a number of lights held by the serjeants who called the rolls, shed a faint light along the ranks, and showed a line of stern faces and athletic figures, clad, as was allowable, in all the varieties of military undress. Some were in regimentals, some in great coats, some wore the Highland bonnet, and others night caps; but all these gallant soldiers, as they leaned on their muskets, showed the stern indifference, or careless courage, of men who, having imbibed the opinions of their leader, felt no sense of danger to themselves, or of respect for their foe. The officers strolled along the lines, yawning from their slumbers, or collected in groups, some looking suspiciously towards the surrounding thickets, and others conversing in low accents on the anticipated events of the ensuing day.
"These are new tactics," said the old serjeant major to the Barrack-master, as they sat together on the end of a log.
"Quite novel," replied the latter, "the Frenchman ought to be much obliged to us, for giving him timely notice of our approach. If monsieur would only stretch his courtesy so far as to invite us all to breakfast, I should take it as a kindness. This bush-fighting, O'Doherty, makes sad inroads upon the regular habits of old campaigners like you and I. Nothing but cold meat and forced marches. If we were only snug in yonder fort, I should like it, if it were only for the honour of the regiment, and the credit of sitting once more at a decent table."
"Young men will have their own way," croaked the serjeant major, whose appetite just then was not the keenest.
"Aye," rejoined his friend, "and old soldiers, who look for promotion, should have quiet tongues— bushes have ears, as well as walls."
The day now began to dawn, and Colonel Grant advancing towards a circle of officers, began to give orders.
"Major Lewis," said he to a brave Virginian, who commanded the small corps from the regiment of Colonel Washington, "you will take charge of the baggage, and retire with it two miles to the rear.
The major bowed assent, remarking that it would have been gratifying to him and to his men to participate in the action.
"It will be a mere skirmish," replied the commanding officer, "these fellows will not fight, depend upon it; and, if they should, your militia, major, would only be in the way."
"Captain Brinton," continued he, "you will take an escort, and reconnoitre the enemy's works. We have no time to spare, sir; ride up to the esplanade, and take a rough plan. If there are any buildings in the vicinity that would interrupt our approach, burn them. Let us dress for parade, gentlemen, and after that, if the Frenchman should not be polite enough to give us the first call, we will pay him a morning visit."
The troops dispersed, and were soon engaged in active preparations for breakfast, for the morning parade, and for battle. Fires were kindled round the encampment, and the business of cooking commenced. Men were seen brushing their clothes, burnishing their guns, placing new flints in their locks, and preparing in various ways for the active business of the day. The sun now rose in unclouded splendour over the eastern hills, lighting up a landscape of unrivalled beauty. The camp was situated on a small hill, overlooking the woods on either side. On the left was seen the Monongahela, a placid serpentine river, meandering through a broken picturesque region, and margined with forests of matchless luxuriance. Beyond this stream was a range of tall hills, covered with timber, and whose western exposure, not yet lighted by the morning sun, was clothed in the deepest and richest shades. On the right was the Alleghany, a bold rapid current, rushing over broken rocks, and covered with foam, which sparkled with sun-beams, while the hills beyond were glowing with brilliant hues. In front, these rivers were beheld mingling their waters, and forming by their junction the beautiful and majestic Ohio, which swept off to the west in a broad, smooth, and rapid stream. On the point of land formed by the "meeting of the waters," stood fort Du Quesne, whose massy parapets were embosomed in forests, and whose gaudy flag was sporting its gay colours over a wilderness of green. Not a sound was heard from that solitary fortress, not a living creature was seen, to give evidence that it was the abode of man, or the seat of military power. Between that and the British camp was a plain, thickly wooded, with the exception of a strip occupied by a cluster of straggling huts, and a few small newly cleared fields. Such was the scene displayed to the eyes of the military strangers; and if its silence and solitude conveyed to their minds an idea of the timidity of the foe, who seemed to shrink from observation, and retire from conflict, there was also a sense of awe induced by the vastness of the amphitheatre, and the noiseless repose of its secluded valleys. The excitement produced by the sight of a proudly marshalled enemy, by the clangor of arms, the rapid transit of neighing steeds, the flourish of trumpets, and the bustle of military evolutions, was absent from this exhibition, and the soldiers gazed around them in doubt and silence. Suddenly a thick column of smoke was seen ascending into the air, and in another moment the cabins near the fort were wrapped in flames. Still not an enemy was seen. The engineer who had been charged with the duty of reconnoitring the fort, and who had fired the village, marched leisurely and carelessly back to camp, with the security of one who having taunted the foe by approaching to the muzzles of his guns, was convinced of his cowardice or weakness.
"What news?" inquired the colonel, as his emissary advanced to report the execution of his orders, "I hope you had a pleasant visit, captain, and found Monsieur in good health and spirits."
"Monsieur was not at home," replied the officer; "I found the gate locked, and not even a porter to answer my call. Having no opportunity, therefore, of even leaving my card, I kindled a bonfire, as the only feasible mode of announcing to him that I had paid my respects."
"A very good idea, captain; now gentlemen, let us to breakfast; and after that, if this unsocial Frenchman should continue to keep his gates barred, we will try the virtue of an escalade."
The officers retired to their tents, the soldiers sat in little groups in the open air with their smoking messes before them, and all were engaged in doing justice to the coarse fare of the camp, with the keen appetites of veteran campaigners, when the report of a musket was heard, and a bullet whistled over their heads. The soldiers started to their feet, and the officers rushed from their tents.
"Who fired that gun?" demanded the officer of the day.
No one replied, and the soldiers looked round at each other, for even yet none suspected that a foeman was near.
"The enemy! the enemy!" shouted several of the sentinels, and the same moment a shower of balls poured in upon the British, accompanied by the signal calls of numerous bugles, and the loud yell of the savage.
"To arms!" exclaimed the colonel.
"Fall in! fall in!" cried the company officers.
"Form your companies, gentlemen! "roared the colonel, "the day is our own, my brave Higlanders! Music there! beat all the drums, and drown that cursed yelling! Let the guard be called in! Major Gordon, take a company and dislodge the enemy from the thickets on our right!"
Before these several orders could be executed, the battle thickened around the devoted party, and the bullets poured in upon them from every side. The Indians, hideously painted, and decked in their savage finery, advanced audaciously so near that their dark forms could be plainly distinguished, as they glided from tree to tree. The sharp shrill sound of the war whoop, uttered in tones resembling the barking of a small dog, acquired a terrific volume and frightful energy from the number of voices engaged in the horrible concert. The sentinels, disdaining to fly, were slain at their posts before they could be relieved, and their bodies wantonly butchered in full view of their comrades, by the fiends who tore them in pieces with hellish exultation.
Colonel Grant displayed all the coolness and gallantry of an accomplished soldier; exposing a solid front to the enemy, and bravely attempting, by desperate charges, to dislodge them from the surrounding coverts. But he now learned how unavailing is courage when it is not guided by prudent counsels and accurate information; and how inefficient are the tactics of regular warfare, in a contest with barbarian hordes in their native forests. The French and Indians, dispersing themselves through the woods, occupied every thicket which afforded concealment, and lurked behind every object which offered the protection of a natural rampart. Some were placed in the ravines and hollows, stretched at full length on the ground, some kneeled behind the great trunks of fallen trees, while the boldest warriors advanced singly, each selecting a standing tree as a cover, and firing from behind it with but little exposure of his own person. If they pressed forward, it was by darting rapidly from one tree to another, if they retreated, the same operation was practised in an inverted order; and thus while the European troops stood together in compact ranks, affording a broad and stationary mark to an army of sharp shooters, their own bullets whistled harmlessly through the forest. The lines of the brave Highlanders were rapidly thinned, and their leader, stung to desperation, determined at last to rush into closer conflict, be the consequence what it might. Placing himself at the head of the whole detachment, he dashed forward into the thickest body of the enemy. The Indians, smeared with blood, and excited to fury, closed around them. The bayonet and the cutlass came into contact with war-club and tomahawk, and the shouts of the maddened soldiers were mingled with the yell of the savage. For a moment the stout Scots felt the stern joy of gratified revenge as their foes fell around them; but their success was but momentary; out-numbered, hemmed in, and entangled in the brushwood, they were rapidly dwindling in force, while the places of their slain foes were continually supplied by new reinforcements. At this crisis, a heavy volley was heard in the rear, mingled with loud and reiterated cheers, and Major Lewis, with that band of Virginians who had been ordered away, that they might not impede the motions of the regulars, was seen advancing. Adopting, to some extent, the Indian mode of warfare, his men came forward in a long irregular line, firing from behind the trees, and each individual aiming at a particular foe, and discharging his rifle at his own discretion with deadly effect. Rapidly but cautiously they moved on, sweeping the enemy before them, and reached the battle ground just as Colonel Grant had been struck down, and was about to be dragged away by the Indians. Major Lewis rushed to the rescue, but these officers were soon separated from their troops and both taken captive. The patriotic Virginians stood their ground, undismayed by the loss of their commander, and undaunted by the fierceness of the battle, while the enemy fell back under the destructive energy of the American rifle, and collected their forces for a more desperate effort. Two hundred of the Highlanders had now fallen, and the remainder, panic struck, and thrown into confusion, stood crowded together in stupid dismay, while their brave defenders faced the enemy with cool disciplined courage. The battle still raged with great fury, for the Virginians, adding experience to ardour, and magnanimously devoting themselves to the protection of those who had so lately spurned their assistance, fought like men resolved to conquer or die. The enemy was soon forced to act on the defensive, and at length, after great loss, retired sullenly from the contest. Major Gordon rallied the Highlanders, and a retreat was effected in good order, to the place where Major Lewis had left the baggage under a small guard. The conduct of the handful of Americans who so gallantly turned the fortune of the day, may be estimated not only by their brilliant success, but by their loss. Out of eight officers, five were killed, a sixth wounded, and a seventh taken prisoner; and of one hundred and sixty-six privates, sixty-two were killed.
But what became of the Barrack-master? Having no command, and being too honourable to fly, Major Hagerty stationed himself as near the centre of the troops as he could, from a prudent conviction that an unnecessary exposure of his person would neither benefit his country nor himself. Here he stood for a long while, pushed forward when the troops advanced, pushed backward when they recoiled, and dreadfully pushed all the while, in his fat sides, by the soldiers' elbows and the butts of their muskets. At last, wearied with this exercise, he very deliberately seated himself on a log, and watched the conflict with a wary eye, until finding that the prospect of becoming town major was every moment growing more faint, his military ardour began to kindle, and seizing the sword of an officer who had fallen, he stepped into his place. Here he performed good service, until the retreat was ordered, an evolution which was performed in good order, but with such rapidity that he was soon left puffing and blowing in the rear. The Indians in full pursuit were yelling behind him like a pack of hungry wolves, while the Virginia rangers were as fiercely beating them back and covering the retreat. On he waddled, nearly exhausted; at last the Highlanders were almost out of sight, and the covering party came sweeping by, led by an officer mounted on horseback, and covered with blood and dust.
"Run, Falstaff!" shouted the officer.
"Run yourself!" replied the exhausted veteran, "my race is over."
"Hurra boys!" shouted the officer, "beat back the blood-hounds! Old Virginia for ever! Run, old gentleman!"
The Barrack-master stopped, folded his arms, staggered against a tree, and stood in sullen desperation awaiting his fate, "I can go no further," said he faintly, "I can die—my poor children!"
In a moment the officer, who was Mr Dangerly, was at his side, and dismounted; "take my horse," said he.
Hagerty was brave, but exhausted with heat and unwonted exertion, daunted by the near approach of a cruel death, and overcome by the recollection of his helpless family, a desperate apathy was creeping over him. Dangerly, assisted by his men, placed him on the horse; the change of position brought him to his senses; he looked round for a moment like one awakened from a dream, then pressing his heels into the charger's sides, was borne in a few minutes to his companions.
"There goeth the last of them!" shouted Dangerly, "now for another charge! Hurra, my brave fellows! Virginia for ever!"
The Indians, once more driven back, pursued no further; and the covering party, dripping with sweat and blood, soon joined the main body.
We shall now leave these perilous wars, of which the reader has perhaps had a surfeit, and change the scene to Fort Cumberland. The troops had returned, and Major Hagerty sat by his own fireside, surrounded by all his social comforts, and all his tall daughters. He was repeating the story of the battle— the twentieth edition with copious notes—and was dwelling especially on his own miraculous hair- breadth escape from the barber-ous surgical operation of scalping, wherein he spake eloquently of the magnanimous conduct of Mr Dangerly, in giving up his horse, at a time when this heroic young man was so exhausted from fatigue and loss of blood as to render the act one of generous self-sacrifice.
"What a noble deed!" exclaimed Alice.
"Considering that he was never out of America, it was quite remarkable, said Miss Hagerty Number 1.
"A very clever action, I declare," echoed Number 2.
"We are under infinite obligations to him," simpered Number 3.
The Barrack-master puffed the tobacco smoke in large volumes from his mouth, and after musing for some minutes, said, with a significant glance,
"I fear, Alice, my dear, that he has lost his heart."
The young lady blushed deeply, for the impression made by her beauty upon the heart of the American officer, had been the subject of so much conversation and merriment, that the allusion could not be misunderstood.
"Gordon need hardly fear such a rival," remarked Number 1, ironically—for Number 1, with reverence be it spoken, had passed the mature age of five-and-twenty, and sometimes spoke tartly in relation to young men.
The father seemed hurt, and warmly replied, "You might be proud, either of you, of such a lover. Would to Heaven he had placed his affections on either of my daughters, except Alice, whose heart is not her own."
"I hope, papa," said Number 2, bridling her pretty head, "you do not intend to offer us to this singularly uncouth young man?"
"—A person of no family—" continued Number 3.
"—And a mere colonist—" added Number 1.
"Don't be at all alarmed, girls," exclaimed Number 5, a blooming maiden of sixteen, with an arch eye, a round blushing cheek, and a forehead of snowy whiteness, "be quite easy—I intend to have Mr Dangerly myself."
"Eleanor!" said Miss Hagerty.
"Nay, do not lecture me, sister. If my seniors choose to waive their birthrights, I shall put in my claim. I set my cap for the lieutenant—shall I not, Pa?" cried the laughing girl. And there the conference ended.
One more scene, and we shall have ended. Lieutenant Dangerly, in spite of his bashfulness, had resolved to pay a visit to the fair Alice. Perhaps he never would have plucked up courage for such an enterprise, had not his comrades teased him until he became desperate, while the report of her engagement to Major Gordon awakened his jealousy. "If it be true," thought he, "that her heart is plighted to Gordon, I shall not complain. He is a fine fellow, and deserves her. But I shall feel better satisfied, when I know from her own lips that there is no hope for me."
Behold him now seated in the Barrack-master's parlour, twirling his hat in his hands, and watching the door with a palpitating heart. At length a light step is heard, and the fairy form of Eleanor glided in. The lieutenant rose, scraped his best bow, dropped his hat, picked it up, and was about to hand a chair, when he perceived that the young lady was already seated. He glanced wistfully at the door, and meditated a retreat—"If I could only avoid a close action by passing defile in the rear," thought he—but it was too late.
Eleanor was too polite, and entertained too sincere a regard for her visitor to notice these things. She led the way in conversation—talked of the recent campaign, of guns, horses and parades, with the fluency of one well versed in such subjects— and her visitor, forgetting his embarrassment, unconsciously fell into an animated dialogue. Dangerly's heart was now irrevocably gone. If the young lady's beauty had fascinated his senses, her wit, her spirit, above all, her respectful politeness, and the evident interest with which she listened to him, completed the conquest of his affections. An hour rolled away, when, unable to remain longer in suspense, he said,
"May I, without giving offence, ask you one question?"
"Oh, yes, I love to answer questions."
"Are you—is Major Gordon—pardon me for seeming so inquisitive—are you absolutely engaged to Major Gordon?"
"Major Gordon is engaged to my sister—" replied Eleanor quite composedly.
Dangerly rose and paced the room; his heart was in his throat, and his limbs trembled with emotion. Eleanor walked to a window, and began to feel a little choked too.
"One more question," said he, approaching her.
"I only promised to answer one."
Dangerly involuntarily laid his hand on hers. She did not withdraw it. Their eyes met, and a language which cannot be mistaken, revealed to each the treasured secret of the other's heart.
At this moment Alice entered the room leaning on Major Gordon's arm. "Mr Dangerly," said the latter, "I have never, until now, felt authorized to thank you for the brave service which you rendered to this lady, for I was not before at liberty to mention her name in connexion with my own. But the happy day being now appointed, I am privileged to indulge my feelings of gratitude."
"That lady! you mistake sir; this is the lady, to whom I was so fortunate as to render a slight service."
"It is you that mistake," replied Alice.
Dangerly gazed at the two sisters alternately. "If such is the fact," said he, "Pythagoras was right in his doctrine. To that lady I gave a heart, which had never before been touched by the exquisite sensation of love, and it is equally certain that it has transferred itself to the person of this, her lovely sister. I am very sure that I love this lady, there is no mistake about that."
A month after this time, the two sisters stood together before the hymenial altar, dressed exactly alike.
"Gordon," said Dangerly, "be good enough to stand a little further off, for fear we change partners. You took the first pick, but I love my Eleanor too well to have the slightest inclination to swap. Be pleased, Mr Clergyman, to dress the ranks before you begin, and take care not to get the parties mixed."
In the course of a journey, which I lately took through Illinois, I stopped one day at a village for a few hours, and stepped into a store to purchase some trifling article of which I stood in need. Finding a number of persons there, and being not unwilling to while away a few minutes in conversation, I leaned my back against the counter, and addressed myself to a well dressed farmer, who answered my inquiries respecting the country with intelligence and civility.
While thus engaged, my attention was drawn to a person who stood near. He was a man who might have been about fifty years of age. His height did not exceed the ordinary stature, and his person was rather slender than otherwise; but there was something in his air and features, which distinguished him from common men. The expression of his countenance was keen and daring. His forehead was elevated, his cheek-bones high, his lips small and compressed—while long exposure to the climate had tanned his complexion to a deep olive. The same cause seemed to have hardened his skin and muscles, so as to give him the appearance of a living petrifaction. There was over all a settled gloom—a kind of forced composure, which indicated resignation, but not content. In his eye, there was something peculiar, yet it was difficult to tell in what that peculiarity consisted. It was a small grey orb, whose calm, bold, direct glance seemed to vouch, that it had not cowered with shame, or quailed in danger. There was blended in that eye a searching keenness, with a quiet vigilance—a watchful, sagacious self possession—so often observable in the physiognomy of those who are in the habit of expecting, meeting, and overcoming peril. His heavy eye-brows had once been black; but time had touched them with his pencil. He was dressed in a coarse grey hunting-shirt, girded round the waist with a broad leathern belt, tightly drawn, in which rested a long knife, a weapon common to the western hunter. Upon the whole, there was about this man an expression of grim and gloomy sternness, fixedness of purpose, an intense, but smothered passion, which stamped him as of no common mould; yet there were indications of openness and honesty, which forbade distrust. His was not the unblushing front of hardy guilt, nor the lurking glance of under-handed villainy. A stranger would not have hesitated to confide in his faith or courage, but would have trembled at the idea of provoking his hostility.
I had barely time to make these observations, when several Indians, who had strolled into the village, entered the store. The effect of their presence upon the backwoodsman, whom I have described, was instantaneous and violent. His eyes rolled wildly, as if he had been suddenly stung to madness, gleaming with a strange fierceness; a supernatural lustre, like that which flashes from the eye-balls of the panther, when crouched in a dark covert, and ready to dart upon his prey. His hollowed cheek was flushed—the muscles, that but a moment before seemed so rigid, became flexible, and moved convulsively. His hand, sliding quietly to the hilt of his large knife, as if by instinct, grasped it firmly; and it was easy to perceive, that a single breath would be sufficient to blow up the smothered fire. But, except these indications, he remained motionless as a statue, gazing with a look of intense ferocity at the intruders. The Indians halted when their eyes met his, and exchanged glances of intelligence with each other. Whether it was from instinct, or that they knew the man, or whether that sagacity, which is natural to their race, led them to read danger in his scowling visage they seemed willing to avoid him, and retired. The backwoodsman made a motion as if to follow; but several of the persons present, who had watched this silent scene with interest, gently withheld him, and after conversing with him a few moments in an earnest, but under tone, led him off in one direction, while the Indians rode away in another.
Having understood from the farmer, with whom I had been talking, that he was about to return home, and that my route led through his neighbourhood, I cheerfully accepted the offer of his company, and we set out together. Our discourse very naturally fell upon the scene we had witnessed, and I expressed a curiosity to learn something of the history and character of the man, whose image had impressed itself so forcibly upon my mind.
"He is a strange, mysterious looking being," said I, "and I should think he must be better, or worse, than other men."
"Samuel Monson is a very good neighbour,"— replied the farmer cautiously.
"You say that in a tone," rejoined I, "which seems to imply, that in some other respects he may not be so good?"
"Well, as to that—I can not say, of my own knowledge, that I know any harm of the man."
"And what do other people say of him?"
The farmer hesitated, and then, with a caution very common among people of this description, replied:—
"People often say more than they can prove. It's not good to be talking of one's neighbours. And Monson, as I said before, is a good neighbour."
"But a bad man, as I understand you."
"No—far from it:—the man's well enough—except—" and here he lowered his tone, and looked cautiously around. "The folks do say he is rather too keen with his rifle."
"How so;—does he shoot his neighbour's cattle?"
"No, sir—Samuel Monson is as much above a mean action as any other man."
"What then;—is he quarrelsome."
"Oh, bless you, no!—There's not a peaceabler man in the settlement;—but he used to be a great Indian fighter in the last war, and he got sort o' haunted to the woods;—and folks do say that he is still rather too keen on the track of a moccasin."
"I do not exactly comprehend you, my dear sir.—The Indians are, I believe, now quiet, and at peace with us."
"Why, yes, they are very peaceable. They never come near us, except now and then a little party comes in to trade."
"They are civil, are they not?"
"Yes, sir, quite agreeable—bating the killing of a hog once in a while—and that we don't vally— seeing that it is but just natural to the poor savage to shoot any thing that runs in the woods."
"In what way then does this Monson interfere with them?"
"I did not say, stranger, that Monson done it. No, no; I wouldn't hurt no man's character; but the fact and truth are about this. Now and then an Indian is missing; and sometimes one is found dead in the range;—and folks will have their notions, and their talk, and their suspicions about it— and some talk hard of Monson."
"But why charge it upon him?"
"Why, if you must have it out, stranger, in this country we all know the bore of every man's rifle. Monson's gun carries just eighty to the pound. Now the bullet holes in all these Indians that have been shot, are the same, and we know whose rifle they suit. Besides this, horse tracks have been seen on the trail of the moccasin. They were very particular tracks, and just suited the hoof of a certain horse. Then a certain man was known to be lying out about that same time; and when all these things are put together, it don't take a Philadelphia lawyer to tell who done the deed. Then he sometimes goes off, and is gone for weeks, and people guess that he goes to their own hunting grounds to lie in wait for them. They do say, he can scent a red skin like a hound, and never lets a chance slip."
"But is it possible, that in a civilized country, within the reach of our laws, a wretch is permitted to hunt down his fellow creatures like wild beasts; to murder a defenceless Indian, who comes into our territory in good faith, believing us a Christian people?"
"Why it is not exactly permitted; we don't know for certain who does it, nor is it any particular man's business to inquire more than another. Many of the settlers have had their kin murdered by the savages in early times; and all who have been raised in the backwoods, have been taught to fear and dislike them. Then Monson is an honest fellow, works hard, pays his debts, and is always willing to do a good turn, and it seems hard to break neighbourhood with him for the matter of an Indian or so."
"But the wickedness—the shame—the breach of law and hospitality!"
"Well, so it is. It is a sin; and sorry would I be to have it on my conscience. But then, some think an Indian or two, now and then, will never be missed; others, again, hate to create an interruption in the settlement; others, who pretend to know the law, say that the general government has the care of the Indians; and that our state laws wont kiver the case; and withal Monson keeps his own counsel, and so among hands he escapes. After all, to come to the plain sentimental truth, Monson has good cause to hate them; and many a man, that would not dip his own hand in the blood of an Indian, would as soon die as betray Monson; for few of us could lay our hands on our hearts, and say that we would not do the same in his situation."
At this point of the conversation, we were joined by several horsemen, who were pursuing the same road with ourselves; and my companion seeming unwilling to pursue the subject in their hearing, I was unable to learn from him what injury the Indian hater had received, to provoke his sanguinary career of vengeance. Nor did another opportunity occur; for we soon came to a point where the road diverged; and although my friendly companion, with the usual hospitality of the country, invited me to his house, I was obliged to decline the invitation, and we parted.
I continued my journey into the northwestern part of Illinois, which was then just beginning to attract the attention of land purchasers, and contained a few scattered settlements. Delighted with this beautiful country, and wishing to explore the lands lying between this tract and the Wabash, I determined, on my return, to strike directly across through an uninhabited wilderness of about a hundred and fifty miles in extent. I hired an Indian guide, who was highly recommended to me, and set out under his protection.
It is not easy to describe the sensations of a traveller, unaccustomed to such scenery, on first beholding the vast prairies which I was about to explore. Those which I had heretofore seen, were comparatively small. The points of woodland which make into them like so many capes or promontories, and the groves which are interspersed like islands, are, in these lesser prairies, always sufficiently near to be clearly defined to the eye, and to give the scene an interesting variety. We see a plain of several miles in extent, not perfectly level, but gently rolling or undulating like the swelling of the ocean when nearly calm. The graceful curve of the surface is seldom broken, except when here and there the eye rests upon one of those huge mounds, which are so pleasing to the poet, and so perplexing to the antiquarian. The whole is overspread with grass and flowers, constituting a rich and varied carpet, in which a ground of lively green is ornamented with a profusion of the gaudiest hues. Deep recesses in the edge of the timber, resemble the bays and inlets of a lake; while occasionally a long vista, opening far back into the forest, suffers the eye to roam off and refresh itself with the calm beauty of a distant perspective.
The traveller as he rides along these smaller prairies finds his eye continually attracted to the edges of the forest, and his imagination employed in tracing the beautiful outline, and in finding out resemblances between these wild scenes and the most highly embellished productions of art. The fairest pleasure grounds, the noblest parks of European princes, where millions have been expended to captivate the fancy with elysian scenes, are but mimic representations of the beauties which are here spread by nature; for here are clumps, and lawns, and avenues, and groves—the tangled thicket, and the solitary tree—and all the varieties of scenic attraction—but on a scale so extensive, as to offer an endless succession of changes to the eye. There is an air of civilization here, that wins the heart—even here, where no human residence is seen, where no foot intrudes, and where not an axe has ever trespassed on the beautiful domain. So different is this feeling from any thing inspired by mountain, or woodland scenery, that, the instant the traveller emerges from the forest into the prairie, he no longer feels solitary. The consciousness that he is travelling alone, and in a wilderness, escapes him; and he indulges the same pleasing sensations, which are enjoyed by one, who, having been lost among the labyrinths of a savage mountain, suddenly descends into rich and highly cultivated fields. The gay landscape charms him. He is surrounded by the refreshing sweetness and graceful beauty of the rural scene; and recognises at every step some well remembered spot, enlarged and beautified, and, as it were, retouched by nature's hand. The clusters of trees so fancifully arranged, seem to have been disposed by the hand of taste, and so complete is the delusion, that it is difficult to dispel the belief, that each avenue leads to a village, and each grove conceals a splendid mansion.
Widely different was the prospect exhibited in the more northern prairies. Vast in extent, the distant forest was barely discoverable in the shapeless outline of blue, faintly impressed on the horizon. Here and there a solitary tree torn by the wind, stood alone like a dismantled mast in the ocean. As I followed my guide through this desolate region, my sensations were similar to those of the voyager, when his bark is launched into the ocean. Alone, in a wide waste, with my faithful pilot only, I was dependent on him for support, guidance, and protection. With little to diversify the path, and less to please the eye, a sense of dreariness crept over me—a desolation and withering of the spirit, as when the heart, left painfully alone, finds nothing to love, nothing to admire, nothing from which to reap instruction or amusement. But these are feelings, which, like the sea sickness of the young mariner, are soon dispelled. I began to find a pleasure in gazing over this immense, unbroken waste; in watching the horizon in the vague hope of meeting a traveller, and in following the deer with my eyes, as they galloped off—their forms growing smaller and smaller, as they receded, until they faded gradually from the sight. Sometimes I descried a dark spot at an immense distance, and pointed it out to my companion with a joy, like that of the seaman, who discovers a distant sail in the speck which floats on the ocean. When such an object happened to be in the direction of our path, I watched it as it rose and enlarged upon the vision— supposing it one moment to be a man—and at another a buffalo; until, after it had seemed to approach for hours, I found it to be a tree.
Nor was I entirely destitute of company; for my Pottowattomie guide proved to be both intelligent and good humoured, and although his stock of English was but slender, his conversational powers were by no means contemptible. His topographical knowledge was extensive and accurate, so that he was able not only to choose the best route, but to point out to me all the localities. When we halted, he kindled a fire, spread my pallet, and formed a shelter to protect me from the weather. When we came to a stream which was too deep to ford, he framed a raft to cross me over with my baggage, while he mounted my horse and plunged into the water. Throughout the journey, his assiduities were as kind and unremitting as all his arrangements were sagacious and considerate. A higher motive than the mere pecuniary reward which he expected for his services, governed his actions: a genuine integrity of purpose, a native politeness and dignity of heart, raised him above the ordinary savage, and rendered him not only a respectable, but an interesting man.
After travelling nearly five days without beholding a human habitation, we arrived at the verge of a settlement on the Wabash. We passed along a rich bottom, covered with large trees, whose thick shade afforded a strong contrast to the scenes we had left behind us, and then ascending a gentle rise, stood on a high bluff bank of the Wabash. A more secluded and beautiful spot has seldom been seen. A small river, with a clear stream, rippling over a rocky bed, meandered round the point on which we stood, and then turning abruptly to the left, was lost among the trees. The opposite shore was low, thickly wooded, and beautifully rich in the variety of mellow hues painted by the autumn sun. The spot we occupied was a slip of table land, a little higher than the surrounding country. It had once been cleared for cultivation, but was now over-grown with hazle-bushes, vines and briars, while a few tall, leafless trunks, once the proudest oaks of the forest, still adhered tenaciously to the soil. A heap of rubbish, intermingled with logs half burnt and nearly rotten, showed the remains of what had once been a chimney—but all else had been destroyed by time or fire. One spot only, which had been beaten hard, was covered with a smooth, green sward, unmixed with brush; and here we stood gazing at this desolate spot and that beautiful stream. It was but a moment, and neither of us had broken silence, when the report of a rifle was heard, and my guide, uttering a dismal yell, fell prostrate. Recovering his senses for an instant, he grasped his gun, partly raised his body, and cast upon me a look of reproach, which I shall never forget; and then, as if satisfied by the concern and alarm of my countenance, and my prompt movement to assist him, he gave me one hand, and pointing with the other towards the woods, he exclaimed—"Bad—bad, white man!—Take care!—" and expired.
I was so much surprised and shocked at this catastrophe, that I stood immovable, thoughtless of my own safety, mourning over the brave Indian, who lay weltering in his gore, when I was startled by a slight rustling in the bushes close behind me, and raising my eyes, I beheld Monson! Advancing, without the least appearance of shame or fear, until he came to the corpse, and paying not the slightest attention to me, he stood and gazed sternly at the fallen warrior.
"There's another of the cursed crew," said he, at length, "gone to his last account!—He is not the first, nor shall he be the last.—It's an old debt, but it shall be paid to the last drop."
As he spoke, he gnashed his teeth, and his eyes gleamed with the malignity of gratified revenge. Then turning to me, and observing the deep abhorrence with which I shrunk back, he said:—
"May be, stranger, you don't like this sort of business?"
"Wretch—miscreant—murderer! begone! Approach me not," I exclaimed, drawing a large pistol from my belt; but, before I was aware, the backwoodsman, with a sudden spring, caught my arm, and wrested the weapon from me; and then remaining perfectly calm, while I was ready to burst with rage, he said,
"This is a poor shooting-iron for a man to have about him—it might do for young men to `tote' in a settlement, but it is of no use in the woods—no more than a shot-gun."
"Scoundrel!" said I, "you shall repent your violence—"
"Young man!" interrupted he, very coolly, "I am no scoundrel;—you mistake—you do not know me."
"Murderer!" repeated I, "for such I know you to be, think not this bloody deed shall go unpunished. My life is in your power, but I dread not your vengeance!"
While I was thus exhausting myself in the expression of my rage and horror, the more politic Monson, having possessed himself of the Indian's gun, dropped it, together with my unlucky pistol, on the ground, and placing one foot on them, he proceeded deliberately to re-load his rifle.
"Don't be alarmed, young man," said he, in reply to my last remark, "I shall not hurt a hair of your head. You can not provoke me to it. I never harmed a Christian man to my knowledge."
"See here!" he continued, as he finished loading his piece. Then pointing to the ruins of the cabin, he proceeded in a hurried tone:
"This was my home. Here I built a house with my own labour. With the sweat of my brow I opened this clearing. Here I lived with my wife, my children, and my mother. We worked hard— lived well—and were happy. One night—it was in the fall—I had gathered my corn, the labour of the year was done, and I was sitting by the fire among my family, with the prospect of plenty and comfort around me—when I heard a yell! I never was a coward, but I knew that sound too well; and when I looked round upon the women and the helpless babes that depended on me for protection, a cold chill ran over me, and my heart seemed to die. I ran to the door, and beheld my stacks in a blaze. I caught up my gun—but in a moment, a gang of yelling savages came pouring in at my door like so many howling wolves. I fired, and one of them fell. I caught up an axe, and rushed at them with such fury that I cleared the cabin. The monsters then set fire to the roof, and we saw the flames spreading around us. What could I do? Here were my poor, old mother, and my wife, and my little children, unable to fight or fly. I burst the door, and rushed madly out; but they pushed me back. The blazing timbers came falling among us—my wife hung on my neck, and called on me to save her children—our pious mother prayed—while the savage wretches roared, and laughed, and mocked us. I grasped my axe, and rushed out again. I killed several of them;but they overpowered me, bound me, and led me to witness the ruin of all that was dear to me. All—all perished here in the flames before my eyes. They perished in lingering torments. I saw their agonies—I heard their cries—they called on my name. Oh, heaven! can I ever forget it?"
Here he stopped, overcome with his emotions, and looked wildly around. Tears came to his relief, but the man of sorrows brushed them away, and continued:
"They carried me off a prisoner. I was badly wounded, and so heart-broken, that for three days I was helpless as a child. Then a desire of revenge grew up in my heart, and I got strong. I gnawed the ropes they had bound me with, and escaped from them in the night. In the Indian war that followed, I joined every expedition—I was foremost in every fight;—but I could not quench my thirst for the blood of those monsters. I swore never to forgive them, and when peace came, I continued to make war. I made it a rule to kill every red skin that came in my way, and so long as my limbs have strength I shall continue to slay the savage."
"Go!" he continued, "pursue your own way, and leave me to mine. If you have a parent that prays for you, a wife and children that love you, they will receive you with joy, and you will be happy. I am alone;—there is none to mourn with me, no one to rejoice at my coming. When all that you cherish is torn from you in one moment, condemn me, if you can: but not till then. Go!— That path will lead you to a house;—there you will get a guide."
The legends of the northern Indians speak of an island in Lake Superior, which is called the "Isle of the Yellow Sands," and was said to be protected by spirits. The sands were thought to be of gold; and whenever a mortal approached the shore, the vultures and other animals of prey, as they seemed to human eyes, but which, in fact, were malignant spirits in those shapes, raised such a dreadful outcry, as to terrify the traveller, who wandered unwarily to those shores. It is said that no one who persisted in landing on the fatal beach, ever escaped. The following lines describe the fate of an Indian maid who voluntarily sought the island, induced either by that curiosity which our first mother is supposed to have bequeathed to her fair descendants, or by that love of the "Yellow Sand" which is inherent in the whole race of Adam.
She has gone to the isle of the golden sands, In the prow of her light canoe she stands, And the south wind howls, and the billows roar, As they bear the maid to the magic shore. But her spirit is high, and her heart is proud, She dreads not the wave, nor the lowering cloud, For her soul is undaunted, and swift is her way, As she guides her canoe through the foaming spray. She has left a brave lover—ah! feeble and cold, Is a young maid's affection when tempted by gold! She has left the lone wigwam, too lowly for her Who could follow the chase, or could mingle in war. "Ah pause, heedless maid! ere to pause is too late, For see, all around thee, the omens of fate; And the shore of that terrible isle is nigh, Where the spirits dwell, and the death birds fly." A voice through the tempest, thus kindly essayed, To arrest the wild course of the Indian maid, But a sunbeam fell bright on the yellow sand— And she urges her skiff on the fatal strand. "Then onward! speed onward! thy story is told, Thou hast bartered thy innocence, maiden, for gold, The spirits have warned thee, the elements speak, Then onward! fly onward! thy destiny seek!" In vain the monition—"On, on!" cries the maid, "See the gold how it glitters, let fools be afraid, Though my mother may weep, and my lover may swear, Be mine the bright treasure that dries every tear. She has reached the bright isle of the golden sand, And she gazes in fear o'er that lone wild land, For the clouds are low, and the night birds shriek, And her frail canoe is a shapeless wreck. "Yet turn thee, dear maiden, while life is thine, Nor gaze at the gems that deceitfully shine, For before thee is tempest, and death, and the tomb, And behind thee is peace, and affection, and home." She turned—'twas her lover came over the wave, Through tempest, through danger, that dear one to save, She paused—and the bold hunter stood by her side: "I claim thee, I claim thee, Moina, my bride!" Ah feeble of purpose! what woman can hear, Unmoved the fond name to her bosom so dear, Or could balance the wealth of a golden isle, With a bridal kiss, and a lover's smile? Her dream is past o'er, and her fault confessed, She has hidden her face in her warrior's breast, And she vows if each sand were a golden isle, She would barter them all for that one loved smile!
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