I had spent hours before my looking-glass, trying to make it give in that I was good-looking. But never was a glass so set in its way. In vain I used my best arguments, pleaded before it hour after hour, re-brushed my hair, re-tied my cravat, smiled, bowed, and so forth, and so forth. "Ill-looking and awkward!" was my only response. At last it went so far as to intimate that I had, with all the rest, a conceited look. This was not to be borne, and I withdrew in disgust. The argument should be carried on in my own heart. Pure reasoning only was trustworthy. Philosophers assured us that our senses were not to be trusted. How easy and straightforward the mental process! "Eleanor loves me; therefore I cannot look ill!"
It was on the last day of the year I have mentioned, that, just having, for the fortieth time, arrived at the above conclusion, I prepared to go forth upon the most delightful of all possible errands. All day I had been dwelling upon it, wondering at what hour it would be most proper to go. At three o'clock, I arrayed myself in my Sunday-clothes. I gave a parting glance of triumph at my glass, and stepped briskly forth upon the crispy snow. I met people well wrapped up, with mouth and nose covered, and saw men leave working to thrash their hands. It must have been cold, therefore; but I felt none of it.
Her house was half a mile distant. 'T was on a high bank a little back from the road, of one story in front, and two at the sides. It was what was called a single house; the front showed only two windows, with a door near the corner. The sides were painted yellow, the front white, with a green door. There was an orchard behind, and two poplar-trees before it. The pathway up the bank was sprinkled with ashes. I had frequently been as far as the door with her, evenings when I waited upon her home; but I had never before approached the house by daylight,—that is, any nearer than the road. I had never said anything; it wasn't time; but I had given her several little things, and had tried to be her beau every way that I knew.
Before I began to notice her, I had never been about much with the young folks,—partly because I was bashful, and partly because I was so clumsy-looking. I was more in earnest, therefore, than if I had been in the habit of running after the girls. After I began to like her, I watched every motion,—at church, at evening meetings, at singing-school; and a glance from her eye seemed to fall right upon my heart. She had been very friendly and sociable with me, always thanked me very prettily for what little trifles I gave her, and never refused my company home. She would put her hand within my arm without a moment's hesitation, chatting all the while, never seeming in the least to suspect the shiver of joy which shot through my whole frame from the little hand upon my coat-sleeve.
I had long been pondering in my mind, in my walks by day and my lyings-down at night, what should be the next step, what overt act I might commit; for something told me it was not yet time to say anything.
What could have been more fortunate for my wishes, then, than the project set on foot by the young people, of a grand sleighing-party on New-Year's evening? They were mostly younger than myself, especially the girls. Eleanor was but seventeen, I was twenty-three. But I determined to join this party, and it was to invite Eleanor that I arrayed myself and set forth, as above mentioned. It was a bold step for a bashful man,—I mean now the inviting part.
I had thought over, coming along, just what words I should use; but, as I mounted the bank, I felt the words, ideas, and all, slipping out at the ends of my fingers. If it had been a thickly settled place, I should not have thought much about being watched; but, as there was only one house in sight, I was sure that not a motion was lost, that my proceedings would be duly reported, and discussed by the whole village. All these considerations rendered my situation upon the stone step at the front-door very peculiar.
I knew the family were in the back part of the house; for the shutters of the front-room were tightly closed, as, indeed, they always were, except on grand occasions. Nevertheless, knocking at the front-door seemed the right thing to do, and I did it. With a terrible choking in my throat, and wondering all the while who would come to open, I did it. I knocked three times. Nobody came. Peddlers, I had observed in like cases, opened the outside door and knocked at the inner. I tried this with no better result. I then ventured to open the inner door softly, and with feelings of awe I stood alone in the spare-room.
By the light which streamed in through the holes in the tops of the shutters I distinguished the green painted chairs backed up stiffly against the wall, the striped homespun carpet, andirons crossed in the fireplace, with shovel and tongs to match, the big Bible on the table under the glass, a waxwork on the high mahogany desk in the corner, and a few shells and other ornaments upon the mantelshelf.
The terrible order and gloom oppressed me. I felt that it was no slight thing to venture thus unbidden into the spare-room,—the room set apart from common uses, and opened only on great occasions: evening-meetings, weddings, or funerals. But, in the midst of all my tribulation, one other thought would come,—I don't exactly like to tell it, but then I believe I promised to keep nothing back;—well, then, if I must,—I thought that this spare-room was the place where Eleanor would make up the fire, when—when I was far enough along to come regularly every Sunday night. With that thought my courage revived. I heard voices in the next room, the pounding of a flat-iron, and a frequent step across the floor. I gave a loud rap. The door opened, and Eleanor herself appeared. She had on a spotted calico gown, with a string of gold beads around her neck. She held in her hand a piece of fan coral. I felt myself turning all colors, stammered, hesitated, and believed in my heart that she would think me a fool. Very likely she did; for I really suppose that she never, till then, thought that I meant anything.
She contrived, however, to pick out my meaning from the midst of the odd words and parts of sentences offered her, and replied that she would let me know that evening. As she did not invite me to the kitchen, the only thing left me to do was to say good-afternoon and depart. I don't know which were the queerest,—my feelings in going up or in coming down the bank.
When fairly in the road, happening to glance back at the house, I saw that one half of a shutter was open, and that a man was watching me. He drew back before I could recognize him. That evening was singing-school. That was why I went to invite Eleanor in the afternoon. I was afraid some other fellow would ask her before school was out.
When I got there, I found all the young folks gathered about the stove. Something was going on. I pressed in, and found Harry Harlow. He had been gone a year at sea, and had arrived that forenoon in the stage from Boston. They were all listening to his wonderful stories.
When school was over, I stepped up close to Eleanor and offered my arm. She drew back a little, and handed me a small package. Harry stepped up on the other side. She took his arm, and they went off slowly together. I stood still a moment to watch them. When they turned the corner, I went off alone. Confounded, wonder-struck, I plunged on through the snow-drifts, seeing, feeling, knowing nothing but the package in my hand. I found mother sitting by the fire. She and I lived together,—she and I, and that was all. I knew I should find her with her little round table drawn up to the fire, her work laid aside, and the Bible open. She never went to bed with me out.
I didn't want to tell her. I wouldn't for the world, if I could have had the opening of my package all to myself. She asked me if I had fastened the back-door. I sat down by the fire and slowly undid the string. A silver thimble fell on the bricks. There was also an artificial flower made of feathers, a copy of verses headed "To a Pair of Bright Eyes," cut from the county newspaper, a cherry-colored neck-ribbon, a smelling-bottle, and, at the bottom, a note. I knew well enough what was in the note.
"I must decline your invitation to the sleigh-ride; and I hope you will not be offended, if I ask you not to go about with me any more. I think you are a very good young man, and, as an acquaintance, I like you very much.
"P.S.—With this note you will find the things you have given me."
I took the iron tongs which stood near, picked up the thimble and dropped it into the midst of the hot coals, then the flower, then the verses, then the ribbon, then the smelling-bottle, and would gladly have added myself.
My mother and I were everything to each other. We two were all that remained of a large family. I had always confided in her; but still I was sorry that I had opened the package there. I might have taken it to my chamber. But then she would have known, she must have known from my manner, that something was wrong with me. I think, on the whole, I was glad to have her know the worst. I knew that my mother worshipped me; but she was not one of those who let their feelings be seen on common occasions. I gave her the note, and no more was needed. She tried to comfort me, as mothers will; but I would not be comforted. It was my first great heart-trouble, and I was weighed down beneath it. She drew me towards her, I leaned my head upon her shoulder, and was not ashamed that she knew of the hot tears upon my cheeks. At last I heard her murmuring softly,—
"Oh, what shall I do? He is all I have, and he is so miserable! How can I bear his sorrow?"
I think it was the recollection of these words which induced me afterwards to hide my feelings, that she might not suffer on my account.
The next day was clear and bright. The sleighing was perfect. I was miserable. I had not slept. I could not eat. I dared not go into the village to encounter the jokes which I was certain awaited me there. Early in the evening, just as the moon rose, I took my stand behind a clump of trees, half-way up a hill, where I knew the sleighs must pass.
There I stood, feeling neither cold nor weariness, waiting, watching, listening for the sleigh-bells. At last I heard them, first faintly, then louder and louder, until they reached the bottom of the hill. Slowly they came up, passing, one after another, by my hiding-place. There were ten sleighs in all. She and Harry were in the fourth. The moon shone full in their faces, and his looked just as I had often felt; but I had never dared to show it as Harry did. I felt sure that he would kiss her. A blue coverlet was wrapped around them, and he was tucking it in on her side. The hill was steep just there, so that they were obliged to move quite slowly. They were talking earnestly, and I heard my name. I was not sure at first; but afterwards I knew.
"I never thought of his being in earnest before. He is a great deal older than I, and I never thought that anybody so homely and awkward as he could suppose"—
"Jingle, jingle, jingle," and that was all I heard. I held myself still, watched the sleighs disappear, one after another, over the brow of the hill, listened till the last note of the last bell was lost in the distance, then turned and ran.
I ran as if I had left my misery behind, and every step were taking me farther from it. But when I reached home, there it was, aching, aching in my heart, just the same as before. And there it stayed. Even now, I can hardly bear to think of those terrible days and nights. But for my mother's sake I tried to seem cheerful, though I no longer went about with the young folks. I applied myself closely to my business, sawed my mother's wood for exercise, learned to paint, and read novels and poetry for amusement.
Thus time passed on. The little boys began to call themselves young men, and me an old bach; and into this character I contentedly settled down. My wild oats, of which I had had but scant measure, I considered sown. My sense of my own ill-looks became morbid. I hardly looked at a female except my mother, lest she'd think that I "could suppose." The old set were mostly married off. Eleanor married the young sailor. People spoke of her as being high-tempered, as being extravagant, spending in fine clothes the money he earned at the risk of his life. I don't know that it made any difference to my feelings. It might. At the time she turned me off, I think I should have married her, knowing she had those faults. But she removed to the city, and by degrees time and absence wore off the edge of my grief. My mother lost part of her little property, and I was obliged to exert myself that she might miss none of her accustomed comforts. She was a good mother, thoughtful and tender, sympathizing not only in my troubles, but in my every-day pursuits, my work, my books, my paintings.
When I was about thirty, Jane Wood came to live near us. Her mother and young sister came with her. They rented a small house just across the next field from us. Although ours, therefore, might have been considered an infected neighborhood, yet I never supposed myself in the slightest danger, because I had had the disease. Nevertheless, having an abiding sense of my own ugliness, I should not have ventured into the immediate presence of the Woods, except on works of necessity and mercy.
The younger sister was taken very ill with the typhus fever. It was customary, in our village, for the neighbors, in such cases, to be very helpful. Mother was with them day and night, and, when she could not go herself, used to send me to see if they wanted anything, for they had no men-folks.
I seldom saw Jane, and when I did, I never looked at her. I mean, I did not look her full in the face. It was to her mother that I made all my offers of assistance.
This habit of shunning the society of all young females, and particularly of the Wood girls, was by no means occasioned by any fears in regard to my own safety. Far from it. I considered myself as one set apart from all mankind,—set apart, and fenced in, by my own personal disadvantages. The thought of my caring for a girl, or of being cared for by a girl, never even occurred to me. "Taboo," so far as I was concerned, was written upon them all. The marriage state I saw from afar off. Beautiful and bright it looked in the distance, like the Promised Land to true believers. Some visions I beheld of its beautiful angels walking in shining robes; strains of its sweet melody were sometimes wafted across the distance; but I might never enter there. It was no land of promise to me. A gulf, dark and impassable, lay between. And beside all this, as I have already intimated, I considered myself out of danger. My life's lesson had been learned. I knew it by heart. What more could be expected of me?
But, after all, we can't go right against our natures; and it is not the nature of man to look upon the youthful and the elderly female exactly in the same light. The feelings with which they are approached are essentially different, whether he who approaches be seventeen or seventy. Thus, in conversing with the old lady Wood, I was quite at my ease. When the invalid began to get well, I often carried her nice little messes, which my mother prepared, and was generally lucky enough to find Mrs. Wood,—for I always went in at the back-door. She asked me, one day, if I could lend Ellen something to read,—for she was then just about well enough to amuse herself with a book, but not strong enough to work. Now I always had (so my mother said) a kind and obliging way with me, and had, besides, a great pride in my library. I was delighted that anybody wanted to read my books, and hurried home to make a selection.
That very afternoon, I took over an armful. Nobody was in the kitchen; so I sat down to wait. The door of the little keeping-room was open, and I knew by their voices that some great discussion was going on. I tipped over a cricket to make them aware of my presence. The door was opened wide, and Mrs. Wood appeared.
"Now here is Mr. Allen," she exclaimed. "Let us get his opinion."
Then she took me in, where they were holding solemn council over a straw bonnet and various colored ribbons. She introduced me to Ellen, whom I had never before met. She was a merry-looking, black-eyed maiden, and the roses were already blooming out again upon her cheeks. She was very young,—not more than fifteen or sixteen.
"Now, Mr. Allen," said Jane, (she was not so bashful to me as I was to her,) "let us have your opinion upon these trimmings. Remember, though, that pink and blue can't go together."
She turned her face full upon me, and I looked straight into her eyes. I really believe it was the first time I had done so. They were beautifully blue, with long dark lashes. She had been a little excited by the discussion, and her cheeks were like two roses. A strange boldness came over me.
"How can I remember that," I answered, "when I see in your face that pink and blue do go together?"
Never, till within a few years, could I account for this sudden boldness. I have now no doubt that I spoke by what spiritualists call "impression." We were all surprised, and I most of all. Jane laughed, and looked pinker than before. She would as soon have expected a compliment from the town pump, and I felt it.
I knew nothing of bonnets, but I had studied painting, and was a judge of colors. I made a selection, and could see that they were again surprised at my good taste. I then offered my books, spoke of the different authors, turned to what I thought might particularly please them, and, before I knew it, was all aglow with the unusual excitement of conversation. I saw that they were not without cultivation, and that they had a quick appreciation of literary merit.
And thus an acquaintance commenced. I called often, for it seemed a pleasant thing to do. As my excuse, I took with me my books, papers, and all the new publications which reached me. I always thought they appeared very glad to see me.
Being strangers in the place, they saw but little company, and it seemed to be nothing more than my duty to call in now and then in a neighborly way. I talked quite easily; for among books I felt at home. They talked easily, too; for they (I say it in no ill-natured way) were women. They began to consider my frequent calling as a matter of course, and always smiled upon me when I entered. I felt that they congratulated themselves upon finding me out. They had penetrated the ice, and found open sea beyond. I speak of it in this way, because I afterwards overheard Ellen joking her sister about discovering the Northwest Passage to my heart.
This was in the fall of the year, when the evenings were getting quite long. They were fond of reading, but had not much time for it. I was fond of reading, and had many long evenings at my disposal. It followed, therefore, that I read aloud, while they worked. With the "Pink and Blue" just opposite, I read evening after evening. At first I used to look up frequently, to see how such and such a passage would strike her; but one evening Ellen asked me, in a laughing, half-saucy sort of way, why I didn't look at her sometimes to see how she liked things. This made me color up; and Jane colored up, too. After that I kept my eyes on my book; but I always knew when she stopped her work and raised her head at the interesting parts, and always hoped she didn't see the red flushes spreading over my face, and always wished, too, that she would look away,—for, somehow, my voice would not go on smoothly.
Those red flushes were to myself most mysterious. Nevertheless, they continued, and even appeared to be on the increase. At first, I felt them only while reading; then, upon entering the room; and at last they began to come before I got across the field. Still I felt no real uneasiness, but, on the contrary, was glad I could be of so much use to the family. Never before was the want of men-folks felt so little by a family of women-folks. I did errands, split kindling, dug "tracks," (i. e., paths in the snow,) and glued broken furniture.
I always thought of Jane as "Pink and Blue." Sometimes I thought from her manner that she would a little rather I wouldn't come so often. I thought she didn't look up at me so pleasantly as she used to at first, and seemed a little stiff; but, as I had a majority in my favor, I continued my visits. I always had one good look at her when I said good-night; but it made the red come, so that I had to hurry out before she saw. It seemed to me that her cheeks then looked pinker than ever, and the two colors, pink and blue, seemed to mingle and float before my eyes all the way home. "Pink and blue," "pink and blue." How those two little words kept running in my head, and, I began to fear, in my heart too!—for no sooner would I close my eyes at night than those delicate pink cheeks and blue eyes would appear before me. They haunted my dreams, and were all ready to greet me at waking.
I was completely puzzled. It reminded me of old times. Seemed just like being in love again. Could it be possible that I was liable to a second attack?
One night I took a new book and hurried across the field to the Woods', for I never was easy till I saw "Pink and Blue" face to face; and then,—why, then, I was not at all easy. I felt the red flushes coming long before I reached the house. As soon as I entered the room, I felt that she was missing. I must have looked blank; for Mrs. Wood began to explain immediately, that Jane was not well, and had gone to bed;—nothing serious; but she had thought it better for her not to sit up. I remained and read as usual, but, as it seemed to me, to bare walls. I had become so accustomed to reading with "Pink and Blue" just opposite, to watching for the dropping of her work and the raising of her eyes to my face, that I really seemed on this occasion to be reading to no purpose whatever. I went home earlier than usual, very sober and very full of thought. My mother noticed it, and inquired if they were well at Mrs. Wood's. So I told her about Jane.
That night my eyes were fully opened. I was in love. Yes, the old disease was upon me, and my last state was worse than my first,—just as much so as Jane was superior to Eleanor. The discovery threw me into the greatest distress. Hour after hour I walked the floor, in my own chamber, trying to reason the love from my heart,—but in vain; and at length, tossing myself on the bed, I almost cursed the hour in which I first saw the Woods. I called myself fool, dolt, idiot, for thus running my head a second time into the noose. It may seem strange, but the thought that she might possibly care for me never once occurred to my mind. Eleanor's words in the sleigh still rang in my ears: "I never thought that anybody so homely and awkward could suppose"—No, I must not "suppose." Once, in the midst of it all, I calmed down, took a light, and, very deliberately walking to the glass, took a complete view of my face and figure,—but with no other effect than to settle me more firmly in my wretchedness. Towards morning I grew calmer, and resolved to look composedly upon my condition, and decide what should be done.
While I was considering whether or not to continue my visits at the Woods', I fell asleep just where I had thrown myself, outside the bed, in overcoat and boots. I dreamed of seeing "Pink and Blue" carried off by some horrid monster,—which, upon examination, proved to be myself. The sun shining in my face woke me, and I remembered that I had decided upon nothing. The best thing seemed to be to snap off the acquaintance and quit the place. But then I could not leave my mother. No, I must keep where I was,—and if I kept where I was, I must keep on at the Woods',—and if I kept on at the Woods', I should keep on feeling just as I did, and perhaps—more so. I resolved, finally, to remain where I was, and to take no abrupt step, (which might cause remark,) but to break off my visits gradually. The first week, I could skip one night,—the next, two,—and so on,—using my own judgment about tapering off the acquaintance gradually and gracefully to an imperceptible point. The way appearing plain at last, how that unloving might be made easy, I assumed a cheerful air, and went down to breakfast. My mother looked up rather anxiously at my entrance; but her anxiety evidently vanished at sight of my face.
It did not seem to me quite right to forsake the Woods that morning; for some snow had fallen during the night, and I felt it incumbent upon me to dig somewhat about the doors. With my trousers tucked into my boots, I trod a new path across the field. It would have seemed strange not to go in; so I went in and warmed my feet at the kitchen-fire. Only Mrs. Wood was there; but I made no inquiries. Not knowing what to say, I rose to go; but, just at that minute, the mischievous Ellen came running out of the keeping-room and wanted to know where I was going. Why didn't I come in and see Jane? So I went in to see Jane, saying my prayers, as I went,—that is, praying that I might not grow foolish again. But I did. I don't believe any man could have helped it. She was reclining upon a couch which was drawn towards the fire. I sat down as far from that couch as the size of the room would allow. She looked pale and really ill, but raised her blue eyes when she said good-morning; and then—the hot flushes began to come. She looked red, too, and I thought she had a settled fever. I wanted to say something, but didn't know what. Some things seemed too warm, others too cold. At last I thought,—"Why, anybody can say to anybody, 'How do you do?'" So I said,—
"Miss Wood, how do you do, this morning?"
She looked up, surprised; for I tried hard to stiffen my words, and had succeeded admirably.
"Not very unwell, I thank you, Sir," she replied; but I knew she was worse than the night before. My situation grew unbearable, and I rose to go.
"Mr. Allen, what do you think about Jane?" said Ellen. "You know about sickness, don't you? Come, feel her pulse, and see if she will have a fever." And she drew me towards the lounge.
My heart was in my throat, and my face was on fire. Jane flushed up, and I thought she was offended at my presumption. What could I do? Ellen held out to me the little soft hand; but I dared not touch it, unless I asked her first.
"Miss Wood," I asked, "shall I mind Ellen?"
"Of course you will," exclaimed Ellen. "Tell him yes, Jane."
Then Jane smiled and said,—
"Yes, if he is willing."
And I took her wrist in my thumb and finger. The pulse was quick and the skin dry and hot. I think I would have given a year's existence to clasp that hand between my own, and to stroke down her hair. I hardly knew how I didn't do it; and the fear that I should made me drop her arm in a hurry, as if it had burned my fingers. Ellen stared. I bade them good-morning abruptly, and left the room and the house. "This, then," I thought, as I strode along towards the village, "is the beginning of the ending!"
That evening, I felt in duty bound to go, as a neighbor, to inquire for the sick. I went, but found no one below. When Ellen came down, she said that Jane was quite ill. I remained in the keeping-room all the evening, mostly alone, asked if I could do anything for them, and obtained some commissions for the next day at the village.
Jane's illness, though long, was not dangerous,—at least, not to her. To me it was most perilous, particularly the convalescence; for then I could be of so much use to her! The days were long and spring-like. Wild flowers appeared. She liked them, and I managed that she should never be without a bunch of them. She liked paintings, and I brought over my own portfolio. She must have wondered at the number of violets and roses therein. The readings went on and seemed more delicious than ever. I owned a horse and chaise, and for a whole week debated whether it would be safe for me to take her to drive. But I didn't; for I should have been obliged to hand her in, to help her out, and to sit close beside her all alone. All that could never be done without my betraying myself. But she got well without any drives; and by the latter part of April, when the evenings had become very short, I thought it high time to begin to skip one. I began on Monday. I kept away all day, all the evening, and all the next day. Tuesday evening, just before dark, I took the path across the field. The two girls were at work making a flower-garden. "Pink and Blue" had a spade, and was actually spading up the ground. I caught it from her hand so quickly that she looked up almost frightened. Her face was flushed with exercise; but her blue eyes looked tired. How I reproached myself for not coming sooner! At dark, I went in with them. We took our accustomed seats, and I read. "Paradise regained" was what I kept thinking of. Once, when I moved my seat, that I might be directly opposite Jane, who was lying on the coach, I thought I saw Ellen and her mother exchange glances. I was suspected, then,—and with all the pains I had taken, too. This rather upset me; and what with my joy at being with Jane, my exertions to hide it, and my mortification at being discovered, my reading, I fear, was far from satisfactory.
The next morning I went early to the flower-garden, and, before anybody was stirring, had it all hoed and raked over, so that no more hard work could be done there. I didn't go in. Thursday night I went again, and again Saturday night. The next week I skipped two evenings, and the next, three, and flattered myself I was doing bravely. Jane never asked me why I came so seldom, but Ellen did frequently; and I always replied that I was very busy. Those were truly days of suffering. Nevertheless, having formed my resolution, I determined to abide by it. God only knew what it cost me. On the beautiful May mornings, and during the long "after tea," which always comes into country-life, I could watch them, watch her, from my window, while the planting, watering, and weeding went on in the flower-garden. I saw them go in at dark, saw the light appear in the keeping-room, and fancied them sitting at their work, wondering, perhaps, that nobody came to read to them.
One day, when I had not been there for three days and nights, I received, while at work in my shop, a sudden summons from home. My mother, the little boy said, was very sick. I hurried home in great agitation. I could not bear the thought that sickness or death should reach my dear mother. Mrs. Wood met me at the door, to say that a physician had been sent for, but that my mother was relieved and there was no immediate danger. I hurried to her chamber and found—Jane by her bedside. For all my anxiety about my mother, I felt the hot flush spreading over my face. It seemed so good to see her taking care of my mother! In my agitation, I caught hold of her hand and spoke before I thought.
"Oh, Jane," I whispered, "I am so glad you are here!"
Her face turned as red as fire. I thought she was angry at my boldness, or, perhaps, because I called her Jane.
"Excuse me," said I. "I am so agitated about mother that I hardly know what I am about."
When the doctor came, he gave hopes that my mother would recover; but she never did. She suffered little, but grew weaker and weaker every day. Jane was with her day and night; for my mother liked her about her bed better than anybody. Oh, what a strange two weeks were those! My mother was so much to me, how could I give her up? She was the only person on earth who cared for me, and she must die! Yet side by side in my heart with this great grief was the great joy of living, day after day, night after night, under the same roof with Jane. By necessity thrown constantly with her, feeling bound to see that she, too, did not get sick, with watching and weariness,—yet feeling myself obliged to measure my words, to keep up an unnatural stiffness, lest I should break down, and she know all my weakness!
At last all was over,—my mother was dead. It is of no use,—I never can put into words the frenzied state of my feelings at that time. I had not even the poor comfort of grieving like other people. I ground my teeth and almost cursed myself, when the feeling would come that sorrow for my mother's death was mingled with regrets that there was no longer any excuse for my remaining in the same neighborhood with Jane. I reproached myself with having made my mother's death-bed a place of happiness; for my conscience told me that those two weeks had been, in one sense, the happiest of my life.
By what I then experienced I knew that our connection must be broken off entirely. Half-way work had already been tried too long. Sitting by the dead body of my mother, gazing upon that face which, ever since I could remember, had reflected my own joys and sorrows, I resolved to decide once for all upon my future course. I was without a single tie. In all the wide world, not a person cared whether I lived or died. One part of the wide world, then, was as good for me as another. There was but one little spot where I must not remain; all the rest was free to me. I took the map of the world. I was a little past thirty, healthy, and should probably, accidents excepted, live out the time allotted to man. I divided the land mapped out before me into fifteen portions. I would live two years in each; then, being an old man, I would gradually draw nearer to this forbidden "little spot," inquire what had become of the Woods, and settle down in the same little house, patiently to await my summons. My future life being thus all mapped out, I arose with calmness to perform various little duties which yet remained to be done before the funeral could take place.
Beautiful flowers were in the room; a few white ones were at my mother's breast. Jane brought them. She had done everything, and I had not even thanked her. How could I, in that stiff way I had adopted towards her?
My father was buried beneath an elm-tree, at the farthest corner of the garden. I had my mother laid by his side. When the funeral was over, Mrs. Wood and her daughters remained at the house to arrange matters somewhat, and to give directions to the young servant, who was now my only housekeeper. At one time I was left alone with Jane; the others were up stairs. Feeling that any emotion on my part might reasonably be attributed to my affliction, I resolved to thank her for her kindness. I rushed suddenly up to her, and, seizing her hand, pressed it between my own.
"I want to thank you, Jane," I began, "but—I cannot."
And I could not, for I trembled all over, and something choked me so that I could not speak more.
"Oh, don't, Mr. Allen!" she said; and the tone in which she uttered the words startled me.
It seemed as if they came from the very depths of her being. Feeling that I could not control myself, I rushed out and gained my own chamber. What passed there between myself and my great affliction can never be told.
In a week's time all was ready for my departure. I gave away part of the furniture to some poor relations of my father's. My mother's clothing and the silver spoons, which were marked with her maiden name, I locked up in a trunk, and asked Mrs. Wood to take care of it. She inquired where I was going, and I said I didn't know. I didn't, for I was not to decide until I reached Boston. I think she thought my mind was impaired by grief, and it was. I spent the last evening there. They knew I was to start the next forenoon in the stage, and they really seemed very sober. No reading was thought of. Jane had her knitting-work, and Mrs. Wood busied herself about her mending. The witchy little Ellen was quite serious. She sat in a low chair by the fire, sometimes stirring up the coals and sometimes the conversation. Jane appeared restless. I feared she was overwearied with watching and her long attendance on my mother, for her face was pale and she had a headache. She left the room several times. I felt uneasy while she was out; but no less so when she came back,—for there was a strange look about her eyes.
At last I summoned all my courage and rose to depart.
"I will not say good-bye," I said, in a strange, hollow voice; "I will only shake hands, and bid you good-night."
I shook hands with them all,—Jane last. Her hand was as cold as clay. I dared not try to speak, but rushed abruptly from the house. Another long night of misery!
When I judged, from the sounds below stairs, that my little servant had breakfast ready, I went down and forced myself to eat; for I was feeling deathly faint, and knew I needed food. I gave directions for the disposition of some remaining articles, and for closing the house, then walked rapidly towards the public-house in the village, where my trunks had already been carried. I was very glad that I should not have to pass the Woods'. I saw the girls out in their garden just before I left, and took a last long look, but was sorry I did; it did me no good.
I was to go to Boston in the stage, and then take a vessel to New York, whence I might sail for any part of the world. When I arrived at the tavern, the Boston stage was just in, and the driver handed me a letter. It was from the mate of the vessel, saying that his sailing would be delayed two days, and requesting me to take a message from him to his family, who lived in a small village six miles back from what was called the stage-road. I went on horseback, performed my errand, dined with the family, and returned at dark to the inn. After supper, it occurred to me to go to the Woods' and surprise them. I wanted to see just what they were doing, and just how they looked,—just how she looked. But a moment's reflection convinced me that I had much better not. But be quiet I could not, and I strolled out of the back-door of the inn, and so into a wide field behind. There was a moon, but swift dark clouds were flying across it, causing alternate light and shadow. I strayed on through field and meadow, hardly knowing whither I went, yet with a half-consciousness that I should find myself at the end by my mother's grave. I felt, therefore, no surprise when I saw that I was approaching, through a field at the back of my garden, the old elm-tree. As I drew near the grave, the moon, appearing from behind a cloud, showed me the form of a woman leaning against the tree. She wore no bonnet,—nothing but a shawl thrown over her head. Her face was turned from me, but I knew those features, even in the indistinct moonlight, and my heart gave a sudden leap, as I pressed eagerly forward. She turned in affright, half screamed, half ran, then, recognizing me, remained still as a statue.
"Mr. Allen, you here? I thought you were gone," she said, at last.
"Jane, you here?" said I. "You ought not; the night is damp; you will get sick."
Nevertheless, I went on talking, told what had detained me, described my journey and visit, and inquired after her family, as if I had been a month absent. I never talked so easily before; for I knew she was not looking in my face, and forgot how my voice might betray me. I spoke of my mother, of how much she was to me, of my utter loneliness, and even of my plans for the future.
"But I am keeping you too long," I exclaimed, at last; "this evening air is bad; you must go home."
I walked along with her, up through the garden, and along the road towards her house. I did not offer my arm, for I dared not trust myself so near. The evening wind was cool, and I took off my hat to let it blow upon my forehead, for my head was hot and my brain in a whirl. We came to a stop at the gate, beneath an apple-tree, then in full bloom. I think now that my mind at that time was not—exactly sound. The severe mental discipline which I had forced upon myself, the long striving to subdue the strongest feelings of a man's heart, together with my real heart-grief at my mother's death, were enough, certainly, to craze any one. I was crazy; for I only meant to say "Good-bye," but I said, "Good-bye, Jane; I would give the world to stay, but I must go." I thought I was going to take her hand; but, instead of that, I took her face between my own two hands, and turned it up towards mine. First I kissed her cheeks. "That is for the pink," I said. Then her eyes. "And that is for the blue. And now I go. You won't care, will you, Jane, that I kissed you? I shall never trouble you any more; you know you will never see me again. Good-bye, Jane!"
I grasped her hand tightly and turned away. I thought I was off, but she did not let go my hand. I paused, as if to hear what she had to say. She had hitherto spoken but little; she had no need, for I had talked with all the rapidity of insanity. She tried to speak now, but her voice was husky, and she almost whispered.
"Why do you go?" she asked.
"Because I must, Jane," I replied. "I must go."
"And why must you go?" she asked.
"Oh, Jane, don't ask me why I must go; you wouldn't, if you knew"—
There I stopped. She spoke again. There was a strange tone in her voice, and I could feel that she was trembling all over.
"Don't go, Henry."
Never before had she called me Henry, and this, together with her strong emotion and the desire she expressed for me to stay, shot a bright thought of joy through my soul. It was the very first moment that I had entertained the possibility of her caring for me. I seemed another being. Strange thoughts flashed like lightning across my mind. My resolve was taken.
"Who cares whether I go or stay?" I asked.
"I care," said she.
I took both her hands in mine, and, looking full in her face, said, in a low voice,—
"Jane, how much do you care?"
"A whole heart full," she replied, in a voice as low and as earnest as my own.
She was leaning on the fence; I leaned back beside her, for I grew sick and faint, thinking of the great joy that might be coming.
"Jane," said I, solemnly, "you wouldn't marry me, would you?"
"Certainly not," she replied. "How can I, when you have never asked me?"
"Jane," said I, and my voice sounded strange even to myself, "I hope you are not trifling;—you never would dare, did you know the state I am in, that I have been in for—oh, so long! But I can't have hidden all my love. Can't you see how my life almost is hanging upon your answer? Jane, do you love me, and will you be my wife?"
"Henry," she replied, softly, but firmly, "I do love you. I have loved you a long, long time, and I shall be proud to be your wife, if—you think me worthy."
It was more than I could bear. The sleepless nights, the days of almost entire fasting, together with all my troubles, had been too much for me. I was weak in body and in mind.
"Oh, Jane!" was all I could say. Then, leaning my head upon her shoulder, I cried like a child. It didn't seem childish then.
"Oh, but, Henry, I won't, then, if you feel so badly about it," said she, half laughing. Then, changing her tone, she begged me to become calm. But in vain. The barriers were broken down, and the tide of emotion, long suppressed, must gush forth. She evidently came to this conclusion. She stood quiet and silent, and at last began timidly stroking my hair. I shall never forget the first touch of her hand upon my forehead. It soothed me, or else my emotion was spent; for, after a while, I became quite still.
"Oh, Jane," I whispered, "my sorrow I could bear; but this strange happiness overwhelms me. Can it be true? Oh, it is a fearful thing to be so happy! How came you to love me, Jane? You are so beautiful, and I—I am so"——
"You are so good, Henry!" she exclaimed, earnestly,—"too good for me! You are a true-hearted, noble soul, worthy the love of any woman. If you weren't so bashful," she continued, in a lower tone, "I should not say so much; but—do you suppose nobody is happy but yourself? There is somebody who scarcely more than an hour ago was weeping bitter tears, feeling that the greatest joy of her life was gone forever. But now her joy has returned to her, her heart is glad, she trembles with happiness. Oh, Henry, 'it is a fearful thing to be so happy!'"
I could not answer; so I drew her close up to me. She was mine now, and why should I not press her closely to my heart,—that heart so brimful of love for her? There was a little bench at the foot of the apple-tree, and there I made her sit down by me and answer the many eager questions I had to ask. I forgot all about the dampness and the evening air. She told how her mother had liked me from the first,—how they were informed, by some few acquaintances they had made in the village, of my early disappointment, and also of the peculiar state of mind into which I was thrown by those early troubles; but when she began to love me she couldn't tell. She had often thought I cared for her,—mentioned the day when I found her at my mother's bedside, also the day of the funeral; but so well had I controlled my feelings that she was never sure until that night.
"I trust you will not think me unmaidenly, Henry," said she, looking timidly up in my face. "You won't think worse of me, will you, for—for almost offering myself to you?"
There was but one answer to this, and I failed not to give it. 'Twas a very earnest answer, and she drew back a little. Her voice grew lower and lower, while she told how, at my shaking hands the night before, she almost fainted,—how she longed to say "Stay," but dared not, for I was so stiff and cold: how could she say, "Don't go, Mr. Allen; please stay and marry me"?—how she passed a wretched night and day, and walked out at evening to be alone,—how she felt that she could go nowhere but to my mother's grave,—and, finally, how overwhelmed with joy she was when I came upon her so suddenly.
All this she told me, speaking softly and slowly, for which I was thankful; for I liked to feel the sweet words of healing, dropping one by one upon my heart.
In the midst of our talk, we heard the front-door of the house open.
"They are coming to look for me," said Jane. "You will go in?"
Hand in hand we walked up the pathway. We met Ellen half-way down. She started with surprise at seeing me.
"Why, Mr. Allen!" she exclaimed, "I thought you a hundred miles off. Why, Jane, mother was afraid you had fallen down the well."
She tripped gayly into the house.
"Mother!" she called out,—"you sent me for one, and I have brought you two."
Jane and I walked in hand in hand; for I would not let her go. Her mother looked surprised, but well pleased.
"Mrs. Wood," said I, "Jane has asked me to stay, and I am going to."
Nothing more was needed; our faces told the rest.
"Now Heaven be praised," she replied, "that we are still to have you with us! I could not help thinking, that, if you only knew how much we cared for you, you would not have been in such a hurry to leave us." And she glanced significantly towards Jane.
The rest of the evening was spent in the most interesting explanations. I passed the night at the village inn, as I had intended,—passed it, not in sleep, but in planning and replanning, and in trying to persuade myself that "Pink and Blue" was my own to keep.
The next day I spent at the Woods'. It was the first really happy day of my life. In the afternoon, I took a long walk with Jane, through green lanes, and orchards white and fragrant with blossoms. In the evening, the family assembled, and we held sweet council together. It was decided unanimously, that, situated as I was, there was no reason for delaying the wedding,—that I should repossess myself of the furniture I had given away, by giving new in exchange, the old being dearer to both Jane and myself,—and, finally, that our wedding should be very quiet, and should take place as soon as Jane could be got ready. Through it all I sat like one in a dream, assenting to everything, for everything seemed very desirable.
As soon as possible, I reopened my house, and established myself there with the same little servant. It took Jane about a month to get ready, and it took me some years to feel wholly my own happiness.
The old house is still standing; but after Mrs. Wood died, and Ellen was married, we moved into the village; for the railroad came very near us, cutting right through the path "across the field." I had the bodies of my father and mother removed to the new cemetery.
My wife has been to me a lifelong blessing, my heart's joy and comfort. They who have not tried it can never know how much love there is in a woman's heart. The pink still lingers on her cheek, and her blue eye has that same expression which so bewitched me in my younger days. The spell has never been broken. I am an old man and she is an old woman, and, though I don't do it before folks, lest they call us two old fools, yet, when I come in and find her all alone, I am free to own that I do hug and kiss her, and always mean to. If anybody is inclined to laugh, let him just come and see how beautiful she is.
Our sons are away now, and all our daughters are married but one. I'm glad they haven't taken her,—she looks so much as her mother did when I first knew her. Her name is Jane Wood Allen. She goes in the village by the name of Jennie Allen; but I like Jane better,—Jane Wood.
That is a true account of "How I won my wife."
The street was narrow, close, and dark, And flanked with antique masonry, The shelving eaves left for an ark But one long strip of summer sky. But one long line to bless the eye— The thin white cloud lay not so high, Only some brown bird, skimming nigh, From wings whence all the dew was dry Shook down a dream of forest scents, Of odorous blooms and sweet contents, Upon the weary passers-by.
Ah, few but haggard brows had part Below that street's uneven crown, And there the murmurs of the mart Swarmed faint as hums of drowsy noon. With voices chiming in quaint tune From sun-soaked hulls long wharves adown, The singing sailors rough and brown Won far melodious renown, Here, listening children ceasing play, And mothers sad their well-a-way, In this old breezy sea-board town.
Ablaze on distant banks she knew, Spreading their bowls to catch the sun, Magnificent Dutch tulips grew With pompous color overrun. By light and snow from heaven won Their misty web azaleas spun; Low lilies pale as any nun, Their pensile bells rang one by one; And spicing all the summer air Gold honeysuckles everywhere Their trumpets blew in unison.
Than where blood-cored carnations stood She fancied richer hues might be, Scents rarer than the purple hood Curled over in the fleur-de-lis. Small skill in learned names had she, Yet whatso wealth of land or sea Had ever stored her memory, She decked its varied imagery Where, in the highest of the row Upon a sill more white than snow, She nourished a pomegranate-tree.
Some lover from a foreign clime, Some roving gallant of the main, Had brought it on a gay spring-time, And told her of the nacar stain The thing would wear when bloomed again. Therefore all garden growths in vain Their glowing ranks swept through her brain, The plant was knit by subtile chain To all the balm of Southern zones, The incenses of Eastern thrones, The tinkling hem of Aaron's train.
The almond shaking in the sun On some high place ere day begin, Where winds of myrrh and cinnamon Between the tossing plumes have been, It called before her, and its kin The fragrant savage balaustine Grown from the ruined ravelin That tawny leopards couch them in; But this, if rolling in from seas It only caught the salt-fumed breeze, Would have a grace they might not win.
And for the fruit that it should bring, One globe she pictured, bright and near, Crimson, and throughly perfuming All airs that brush its shining sphere. In its translucent atmosphere Afrite and Princess reappear,— Through painted panes the scattered spear Of sunrise scarce so warm and clear,— And pulped with such a golden juice, Ambrosial, that one cannot choose But find the thought most sumptuous cheer.
Of all fair women she was queen, And all her beauty, late and soon, O'ercame you like the mellow sheen Of some serene autumnal noon. Her presence like a sweetest tune Accorded all your thoughts in one. Than last year's alder-tufts in June Browner, yet lustrous as a moon Her eyes glowed on you, and her hair With such an air as princes wear She trimmed black-braided in a crown.
A perfect peace prepared her days, Few were her wants and small her care, No weary thoughts perplexed her ways, She hardly knew if she were fair.
Bent lightly at her needle there In that small room stair over stair, All fancies blithe and debonair She deftly wrought on fabrics rare, All clustered moss, all drifting snow, All trailing vines, all flowers that blow, Her daedal fingers laid them bare.
Still at the slowly spreading leaves She glanced up ever and anon, If yet the shadow of the eaves Had paled the dark gloss they put on. But while her smile like sunlight shone, The life danced to such blossom blown That all the roses ever known, Blanche of Provence, Noisette, or Yonne, Wore no such tint as this pale streak That damasked half the rounding cheek Of each bud great to bursting grown.
And when the perfect flower lay free, Like some great moth whose gorgeous wings Fan o'er the husk unconsciously, Silken, in airy balancings,— She saw all gay dishevellings Of fairy flags, whose revellings Illumine night's enchanted rings. So royal red no blood of kings She thought, and Summer in the room Sealed her escutcheon on their bloom, In the glad girl's imaginings.
Now, said she, in the heart of the woods The sweet south-winds assert their power, And blow apart the snowy snoods Of trilliums in their thrice-green bower. Now all the swamps are flushed with dower Of viscid pink, where, hour by hour, The bees swim amorous, and a shower Reddens the stream where cardinals tower. Far lost in fern of fragrant stir Her fancies roam, for unto her All Nature came in this one flower.
Sometimes she set it on the ledge That it might not be quite forlorn Of wind and sky, where o'er the edge, Some gaudy petal, slowly borne, Fluttered to earth in careless scorn, Caught, for a fallen piece of morn From kindling vapors loosely shorn, By urchins ragged and wayworn, Who saw, high on the stone embossed, A laughing face, a hand that tossed A prodigal spray just freshly torn.
What wizard hints across them fleet,— These heirs of all the town's thick sin, Swift gypsies of the tortuous street, With childhood yet on cheek and chin! What voices dropping through the din An airy murmuring begin,— These floating flakes, so fine and thin, Were they and rock-laid earth akin? Some woman of the gods was she, The generous maiden in her glee? And did whole forests grow within?
A tissue rare as the hoar-frost, White as the mists spring dawns condemn, The shadowy wrinkles round her lost, She wrought with branch and anadem, Through the fine meshes netting them, Pomegranate-flower and leaf and stem. Dropping it o'er her diadem To float below her gold-stitched hem, Some duchess through the court should sail Hazed in the cloud of this white veil, As when a rain-drop mists a gem.
Her tresses once when this was done, —Vanished the skein, the needle bare,— She dressed with wreaths vermilion Bright as a trumpet's dazzling blare. Nor knew that in Queen Dido's hair, Loading the Carthaginian air, Ancestral blossoms flamed as fair As any ever hanging there. While o'er her cheek their scarlet gleam Shot down a vivid varying beam, Like sunshine on a brown-bronzed pear.
And then the veil thrown over her, The vapor of the snowy lace Fell downward, as the gossamer Tossed from the autumn winds' wild race Falls round some garden-statue's grace. Beneath, the blushes on her face Fled with the Naiad's shifting chase When flashing through a watery space. And in the dusky mirror glanced A splendid phantom, where there danced All brilliances in paler trace.
A spicery of sweet perfume, As if from regions rankly green And these rich hoards of bud and bloom, Lay every waft of air between. Out of some heaven's unfancied screen The gorgeous vision seemed to lean. The Oriental kings have seen Less beauty in their dais-queen, And any limner's pencil then Had drawn the eternal love of men, But twice Chance will not intervene.
For soon with scarce a loving sigh She lifts it off half unaware, While through the clinging folds held high, Arachnean in a silver snare Her rosy fingers nimbly fare, Till gathered square with dainty care. But still she leaves the flowery flare —Such as Dame Venus' self might wear— Where first she placed them, since they blow More bounteous color hanging so, And seem more native to the air.
Anon the mellow twilight came With breath of quiet gently freed From sunset's felt but unseen flame. Then by her casement wheeled in speed Strange films, and half the wings indeed That steam in rainbows o'er the mead, Now magnified in mystery, lead Great revolutions to her heed. And leaning out, the night o'erhead, Wind-tossed in many a shining thread, Hung one long scarf of glittering brede.
Then as it drew its streamers there, And furled its sails to fill and flaunt Along fresh firmaments of air When ancient morn renewed his chant,— She sighed in thinking on the plant Drooping so languidly aslant; Fancied some fierce noon's forest-haunt Where wild red things loll forth and pant, Their golden antlers wave, and still Sigh for a shower that shall distil The largess gracious nights do grant.
The oleanders in the South Drape gray hills with their rose, she thought, The yellow-tasselled broom through drouth Bathing in half a heaven is caught. Jasmine and myrtle flowers are sought By winds that leave them fragrance-fraught. To them the wild bee's path is taught, The crystal spheres of rain are brought, Beside them on some silent spray The nightingales sing night away, The darkness wooes them in such sort.
But this, close shut beneath a roof, Knows not the night, the tranquil spell, The stillness of the wildwood ouphe, The magic dropped on moor and fell. No cool dew soothes its fiery shell, Nor any star, a red sardel, Swings painted there as in a well. Dyed like a stream of muscadel No white-skinned snake coils in its cup To drink its soul of sweetness up, A honeyed hermit in his cell.
No humming-bird in emerald coat, Shedding the light, and bearing fain His ebon spear, while at his throat The ruby corselet sparkles plain, On wings of misty speed astain With amber lustres, hangs amain, And tireless hums his happy strain; Emperor of some primeval reign, Over the ages sails to spill The luscious juice of this, and thrill Its very heart with blissful pain.
As if the flowers had taken flight Or as the crusted gems should shoot From hidden hollows, or as the light Had blossomed into prisms to flute Its secret that before was mute, Atoms where fire and tint dispute, No humming-birds here hunt their fruit. No burly bee with banded suit Here dusts him, no full ray by stealth Sifts through it stained with warmer wealth Where fair fierce butterflies salute.
Nor night nor day brings to my tree, She thought, the free air's choice extremes, But yet it grows as joyfully And floods my chamber with its beams, So that some tropic land it seems Where oranges with ruddy gleams, And aloes, whose weird flowers the creams Of long rich centuries one deems, Wave through the softness of the gloom,— And these may blush a deeper bloom Because they gladden so my dreams.
The sudden street-lights in moresque Broke through her tender murmuring, And on her ceiling shades grotesque Reeled in a bacchanalian swing. Then all things swam, and like a ring Of bubbles welling from a spring Breaking in deepest coloring Flower-spirits paid her minist'ring. Sleep, fusing all her senses, soon Fanned over her in drowsy rune All night long a pomegranate wing.
* * * * *
THE PRAIRIE STATE.
On the head-waters of the Wabash, near Lake Erie, we first meet with those grassy plains to which the early French explorers of the West gave the name of Prairies. In Southern Michigan, they become more frequent; in the State of Indiana, still more so; and when we arrive in Illinois, we find ourselves in the Prairie State proper, three-quarters of its territory being open meadow, or prairie. Southern Wisconsin is partly of this character, and, on crossing the Mississippi, most of the surface of both Iowa and Minnesota is also prairie.
Illinois, with little exception, is one vast prairie,—dotted, it is true, with groves, and intersected with belts of timber, but still one great open plain. This State, then, being the type of the prairie lands, a sketch of its history, political, physical, and agricultural, will tolerably well represent that of the whole prairie region.
The State of Illinois was originally part of Florida, and belonged to Spain, by the usual tenure of European title in the sixteenth century, when the King of France or Spain was endowed by His Holiness with half a continent; the rights of the occupants of the soil never for a moment being considered. So the Spaniard, in 1541, having planted his flag at the mouth of the Mississippi, became possessed of the whole of the vast region watered by its tributary streams, and Illinois and Wisconsin became Spanish colonies, and all their native inhabitants vassals of His Most Catholic Majesty. The settlement of the country was, however, never attempted by the Spaniards, who devoted themselves to their more lucrative colonies in South America.
The French missionaries and fur-traders found their way from Canada into these parts at an early day; and in 1667 Robert de la Salle made his celebrated explorations, in which he took possession of the territory of Illinois in behalf of the French crown. And here we may remark, that the relations of the Jesuits and early explorers give a delightful picture of the native inhabitants of the prairies. Compared with their savage neighbors, the Illini seem to have been a favored people. The climate was mild, and the soil so fertile as to afford liberal returns even to their rude husbandry; the rivers and lakes abounded in fish and fowl; the groves swarmed with deer and turkeys,—bustards the French called them, after the large gallinaceous bird which they remembered on the plains of Normandy; and the vast expanse of the prairies was blackened by herds of wild cattle, or buffaloes. The influence of this fair and fertile land seems to have been felt by its inhabitants. They came to meet Father Marquette, offering the calumet, brilliant with many-colored plumes, with the gracious greeting,—"How beautiful is the sun, O Frenchman, when thou comest to us! Thou shalt enter in peace all our dwellings." A very different reception from that offered by the stern savages of Jamestown and Plymouth to John Smith and Miles Standish! So, in peace and plenty, remained for many years this paradise in the prairies.
About the year 1700, Illinois was included in Louisiana, and came under the sway of Louis XIV., who, in 1712, presented to Anthony Crozat the whole territory of Louisiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin,—a truly royal gift!
The fortunate recipient, however, having spent vast sums upon the territory without any returns, surrendered his grant to the crown a few years afterwards; and a trading company, called the Company of the Indies, was got up by the famous John Law, on the basis of these lands. The history of that earliest of Western land-speculations is too well known to need repetition; suffice it to say, that it was conducted upon a scale of magnificence in comparison with which our modern imitations in 1836 and 1856 were feeble indeed. A monument of it stood not many years ago upon the banks of the Mississippi, in the ruins of Fort Chartres, which was built by Law when at the height of his fortune, at a cost of several millions of livres, and which toppled over into the river in a recent inundation.
In 1759 the French power in North America was broken forever by Wolfe, upon the Plains of Abraham; and in 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, all the French possessions upon this continent were ceded to England, and the territory of the Illinois became part of the British empire.
Pontiac, the famous Ottawa chief, after fighting bravely on the French side through the war, refused to be transferred with the territory; he repaired to Illinois, where he was killed by a Peoria Indian. His tribe, the Ottawas, with their allies, the Pottawattomies and Chippewas, in revenge, made war upon the Peorias and their confederates, the Kaskaskias and Cahoklas, in which contest these latter tribes were nearly exterminated.
At this time, the French population of Illinois amounted to about three thousand persons, who were settled along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, where their descendants remain to this day, preserving a well-defined national character in the midst of the great flood of Anglo-American immigration which rolls around them.
Illinois remained under British rule till the year 1778, when George Rogers Clarke, with four companies of Virginia rangers, marched from Williamsburg, a distance of thirteen hundred miles, through a hostile wilderness, captured the British posts of Kaskaskia and Cahokia, and annexed a territory larger than Great Britain to the new Republic. Many of Colonel Clarke's rangers, pleased with the beauty and fertility of the country, settled in Illinois; but the Indians were so numerous and hostile, that the settlers were obliged to live in fortified stations, or block-houses, and the population remained very scanty for many years.
In 1809 Illinois was made into a separate Territory, and Ninian Edwards appointed its first Governor.
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh, an Indian chief of remarkable ability, endeavored to form a coalition of all the tribes against the Americans, but with only partial success. He inflicted severe losses upon them, but was finally defeated and slain at the Battle of the Thames, leaving behind him the reputation of being the greatest hero and noblest patriot of his race.
In 1818, Illinois, then having a population of about forty-five thousand, was admitted into the Union. The State was formed out of that territory which by the Ordinance of 1787 was dedicated to freedom; but there was a strong party in the State who wished for the introduction of slavery, and in order to effect this it was necessary to call a convention to amend the Constitution. On this arose a desperate contest between the two principles, and it ended in the triumph of freedom. Among those opposed to the introduction of slavery were Morris Birkbeck, Governor Coles, David Blackwell, Judge Lockwood, and Daniel P. Cook. It was a fitting memorial of the latter, that the County of Cook, containing the great commercial city of Chicago, should bear his name. The names of the pro-slavery leaders we will leave to oblivion.
In 1824 the lead mines near Galena began to be worked to advantage, and thousands of persons from Southern Illinois and Missouri swarmed thither. The Illinoisans ran up the river in the spring, worked in the mines during the summer, and returned to their homes down the river in the autumn,—thus resembling in their migrations the fish so common in the Western waters, called the Sucker. It was also observed that great hordes of uncouth ruffians came up to the mines from Missouri, and it was therefore said that she had vomited forth all her worst population. Thenceforth the Missourians were called "Pukes," and the people of Illinois "Suckers."
From 1818 to 1830, the commerce of the State made but small progress. At this time, there were one or two small steamboats upon the Illinois River, but most of the navigation was carried on in keel-boats. The village merchants were mere retailers; they purchased no produce, except a few skins and furs, and a little beeswax and honey. The farmers along the rivers did their own shipping,—building flat-boats, which, having loaded with corn, flour, and bacon, they would float down to New Orleans, which was the only market accessible to them. The voyage was long, tedious, and expensive, and when the farmer arrived, he found himself in a strange city, where all were combined against him, and often he was cheated out of his property,—returning on foot by a long and dangerous journey to a desolate farm, which had been neglected during his absence. Thus two crops were sometimes lost in taking one to market.
The manners and customs of the people were simple and primitive. The costume of the men was a raccoon-skin cap, linsey hunting-shirt, buck-skin leggings and moccasons, with a butcher-knife in the belt. The women wore cotton or woollen frocks, striped with blue dye and Turkey-red, and spun, woven, and made with their own hands; they went barefooted and bareheaded, except on Sundays, when they covered the head with a cotton handkerchief. It is told of a certain John Grammar, for many years a representative from Union County, and a man of some note in the State councils, though he could neither read nor write, that in 1816, when he was first elected, lacking the necessary apparel, he and his sons gathered a large quantity of hazel-nuts, which they took to the nearest town and sold for enough blue strouding to make a suit of clothes. The pattern proved to be scanty, and the women of the household could only get out a very bob-tailed coat and leggings. With these Mr. Grammar started for Kaskaskia, the seat of government, and these he continued to wear till the passage of an appropriation bill enabled him to buy a civilized pair of breeches.
The distinctions in manners and dress between the higher and lower classes were more marked than at present; for while John Grammar wore blue strouding, we are told that Governor Edwards dressed in fine broadcloth, white-topped boots, and a gold-laced cloak, and rode about the country in a fine carriage, driven by a negro.
In those days justice was administered without much parade or ceremony. The judges held their courts mostly in log houses or in the bar-rooms of taverns, fitted up with a temporary bench for the judge, and chairs for the lawyers and jurors. At the first Circuit Court in Washington County, held by Judge John Reynolds, the sheriff, on opening the court, went out into the yard, and said to the people, "Boys, come in; our John is going to hold court." The judges were unwilling to decide questions of law, preferring to submit everything to the jury, and seldom gave them instructions, if they could avoid it. A certain judge, being ambitious to show his learning, gave very pointed directions to the jury, but they could not agree on a verdict. The judge asked the cause of their difference, when the foreman answered with great simplicity,—"Why, Judge, this 'ere's the difficulty: the jury wants to know whether that 'ar what you told us, when we went out, was r'aly the law, or whether it was on'y jist your notion."
In the spring of 1831, Black Hawk, a Sac chief, dissatisfied with the treaty by which his tribe had been removed across the Mississippi, recrossed the river at the head of three or four hundred warriors, and drove away the white settlers from his old lands near the mouth of the Rock River. This was considered an invasion of the State, and Governor Reynolds called for volunteers. Fifteen hundred men answered the summons, and the Indians were driven out. The next spring, however, Black Hawk returned with a larger force, and commenced hostilities by killing some settlers on Indian Creek, not far from Ottawa. A large force of volunteers was again called out, but in the first encounter the whites were beaten, which success encouraged the Sacs and Foxes so much that they spread themselves over the whole of the country between the Mississippi and the Lake, and kept up a desultory warfare for three or four months against the volunteer troops. About the middle of July, a body of volunteers under General Henry of Illinois pursued the Indians into Wisconsin, and by forced marches brought them to action near the Mississippi, before the United States troops, under General Atkinson, could come up. The Indians fought desperately, but were unable to stand long before the courage and superior numbers of the whites. They escaped across the river with the loss of nearly three hundred, killed in the action, or drowned in the retreat. The loss of the Illinois volunteers was about thirty, killed and wounded.
This defeat entirely broke the power of the Sacs and Foxes, and they sued for peace. Black Hawk, and some of his head men, were taken prisoners, and kept in confinement for several months, when, after a tour through the country, to show them the numbers and power of the whites, they were set at liberty on the west side of the Mississippi. In 1840 Black Hawk died, at the age of eighty years, on the banks of the great river which he loved so well.
After the Black-Hawk War, the Indian title being extinguished, and the country open to settlers, Northern Illinois attracted great attention, and increased wonderfully in wealth and population.
In 1830, the population of the State amounted to 157,445; in 1840, to 476,183; in 1850, to 851,470; in 1860, to 1,719,496.
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Situated in the centre of the United States, the State of Illinois extends from 37 deg. to 42 deg. 30' N. latitude, and from 10 deg. 47' to 14 deg. 26' W. longitude from Washington. The State is 378 miles long from North to South, and 212 miles broad from East to West. Its area is computed at 55,408 square miles, or 35,459,200 acres, less than two millions of which are called swamp lands, the remaining thirty-three millions being tillable land of unsurpassed fertility.
The State of Illinois forms the lower part of that slope which embraces the greater part of Indiana, and of which Lake Michigan, with its shores, forms the upper part. At the lowest part of this slope, and of the State, is the city of Cairo, situated about 350 feet above the level of the Gulf of Mexico, at the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi; hence, the highest place in Illinois being only 800 feet above the level of the sea, it will appear that the whole State, though containing several hilly sections, is a pretty level plain, being, with the exception of Delaware and Louisiana, the flattest country in the Union.
The State contains about twenty-five considerable streams, and brooks and rivulets innumerable. There are no large lakes within its borders, though it has some sixty miles of Lake Michigan for its boundary on the east. Small clear lakes and ponds abound, particularly in the northern portion of the State.
As to the quality of the soil, Illinois is divided as follows:—
First, the alluvial land on the margins of the rivers, and extending back from half a mile to six or eight miles. This soil is of extraordinary fertility, and, wherever it is elevated, makes the best farming land in the State. Where it is low, and exposed to inundations, it is very unsafe to attempt its cultivation. The most extensive tract of this kind is the so-called American Bottom, which received this name when it was the western boundary of the United States. It extends from the junction of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi, along the latter, to the mouth of the Missouri, containing about 288,000 acres.
Secondly, the table-land, fifty to a hundred feet higher than the alluvial; it consists principally of prairies, which, according to their respectively higher or lower situations, are either dry or marshy.
Thirdly, the hilly sections of the State, which, consisting alternately of wood and prairie, are not, on the whole, as fertile as either the alluvial or the table-land.
There are no mountains in Illinois; but in the southern as well as the northern part, there are a few hills. Near the banks of the principal rivers the ground is elevated into bluffs, on which may be still found the traces left by water, which was evidently once much higher than it now is; whence it is inferred, that, where the fertile plains of Illinois now extend, there must once have been a vast sheet of water, the mud deposited by which formed the soil, thus accounting for the great fertility of the prairies.
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As we have said, the entire area of Illinois seems at one period to have been an ocean-bed, which has not since been disturbed by any considerable upheaval. The present irregularities of the surface are clearly traceable to the washing out and carrying away of the earth. The Illinois River has washed out a valley about two hundred and fifty feet deep, and from one and a half to six miles wide. The perfect regularity of the beds of mountain limestone, sandstone, and coal, as they are found protruding from the bluffs on each side of this valley, on the same levels, is pretty conclusive evidence that the valley itself owes its existence to the action of water. That the channels of the rivers have been gradually sunken, we may distinctly see by the shores of the Upper Mississippi, where are walls of rock, rising perpendicularly, which extend from Lake Pepin to below the mouth of the Wisconsin, as if they were walls built of equal height by the hand of man. Wherever the river describes a curve, walls may be found on the convex side of it.
The upper coal formation occupies three-fifths of the State, commencing at 41 deg. 12' North latitude, where, as also along the Mississippi, whose banks it touches between the places of its junction with the Illinois and Missouri rivers, it is enclosed by a narrow layer of calcareous coal. The shores of Lake Michigan, and that narrow strip of land, which, commencing near them, runs along the northern bank of the Illinois towards its southwestern bend, until it meets Rock River at its mouth, belong to the Devonian system. The residue of the northern part of the State consists of Silurian strata, which, containing the rich lead mines of Galena in the northwest corner of the State, rise at intervals into conical hills, giving the landscape a character different from that of the middle or southern portion. Scattered along the banks of rivers, and in the middle of prairies, are frequently found large masses of granite and other primitive rocks. Since the nearest beds of primitive rocks first appear in Minnesota and the northern part of Wisconsin, their presence here can be accounted for only by assuming that at the time this region was covered with water they were floated down from the North, enclosed and supported in masses of ice, which, melting, allowed the rocks to sink to the bottom. A still further proof of the presence of the ocean here in former times is to be found in the sea-shells which occur upon many of the higher knolls and bluffs west of the Mississippi in Iowa.
Illinois contains probably more coal than any other State in the Union. It is mined at a small depth below the surface, and crops out upon the banks of most of the streams in the middle of the State. These mines have been very imperfectly worked till within a few years; but it is found, that, as the work goes deeper, the quality of the coal improves, and in some of the later excavations is equal to the best coals of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and will undoubtedly prove a source of immense wealth to the State.
The two northwestern counties of the State form a part of the richest and most extensive lead region in the world. During the year 1855, the product of these mines, shipped from the single port of Galena, was 430,365 pigs of lead, worth $1,732,219.02.
Copper has been found in large quantities in the northern counties, and also in the southern portion of the State. Some of the zinc ores are found in great quantities at the lead mines near Galena, but have not yet been utilized. Silver has been found in St. Clair County, whence Silver Creek has derived its name. It is said that in early times the French sunk a shaft here, from which they obtained large quantities of the metal. Iron is found in many parts of the State, and the ores have been worked to considerable extent.
Among other valuable mineral products may be mentioned porcelain and potter's clay, fire clay, fuller's earth, limestone of many varieties, sandstone, marble, and salt springs.
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Illinois has an average temperature, which, if compared with that of Europe, corresponds to that of Middle Germany; its winters are more severe than those of Copenhagen, and its summers as warm as those of Milan or Palermo. Compared with other States of the Union, Northern Illinois possesses a temperature similar to that of Southern New York, while the temperature of Southern Illinois will not differ much from that of Kentucky or Virginia. By observations of the thermometer during twenty years, in the southern part of the State, on the Mississippi, the mercury, once in that period, fell to-25 deg., and four times it rose above 100 deg., Fahrenheit.
The prevailing winds are either western or southeastern. The severest storms are those coming from the west, which traverse the entire space between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic coast in forty-eight hours.
There are on an average eighty-nine rainy days in the year; the quantity of rain falling amounts to forty-two inches,—the smallest amount being in January, and the largest in June. The average number of thunder-storms in a year is forty-nine; of clear days, one hundred and thirty-seven; of changeable days, one hundred and eighty-three; and of days without sunshine, forty-five.
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The vegetation of the State forms the connecting link between the Flora of the Northeastern States and that of the Upper Mississippi,—exhibiting, besides the plants common to all the States lying between the Mississippi and the Atlantic Ocean, such as are, properly speaking, natives of the Western prairies, not being found east of the Alleghany Mountains. Immense grassy plains, interlaced with groves, which are found also along the watercourses, cover two-thirds of the entire area of the State in the North, while the southern part is garnished with heavy timber.
No work which we have seen gives so good an account of the Flora of the prairies as the one by Frederick Gerhard, called "Illinois as it is." We have been indebted to this work for a good deal of valuable matter, and shall now make some further extracts from it.
"Before we finally turn our backs on the last scattered houses of the village, we find both sides of the road lined with ugly worm-fences, which are overtopped by the various species of Helianthus, Thistles, Biennial Gaura, and the Illinoisian Bell-flower with cerulean blossoms, and other tall weeds. Here may also be found the coarse-haired Asclepias tuberosa, with fiery red umbels, the strong-scented Monarda fistulosa, and an umbelliferous plant, the grass-like, spiculated leaves of which recall to mind the Southern Agaves, the Eryngo. Among these children of Nature rises the civilized plant, the Indian Corn, with its stalks nearly twelve feet high."
"Having now arrived at the end of the cultivated lands, we enter upon the dry prairies, extending up the bluffs, where we meet the small vermilion Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and Mouse-ear, which, however, do not reside here as foreigners, but as natives, like many other plants that remind the European of his native country, as, for instance, the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale); a kind of Rose, (Rosa lucida,) with its sweet-scented blossoms, has a great predilection for this dry soil. With surprise we meet here also with many plants with hairy, greenish-gray leaves and stalk-covers, as, for instance, the Onosmodium molle, Hieracium longipilum, Pycnanthemum pilosum, Chrysopsis villosa, Amorpha canescens, Tephrosia Virginiana, Lithospermum canescens; between which the immigrated Mullein (Verbuscum thapsus) may be found. The pebbly fragments of the entire slope, which during spring-time were sparingly covered with dwarfish herbs, such as the Androsace occidentalis, Draba Caroliniana, Plantago Virginica, Scutellaria parvula, are now crowded with plants of taller growth and variegated blossoms. Rudbeckia hirta, with its numerous radiating blossoms of a lively yellow, and the closely allied Echinacea purpurea, whose long purple rays hang down from a ruddy hemispherical disc, are the most remarkable among plants belonging to the genus Compositoe, which blossom early in summer; in the latter part of summer follow innumerable plants of the different species,Liatris, Vernonia, Aster, Solidago, Helianthus, etc."
"We approach a sinuous chasm of the bluffs, having better soil and underwood, which, thin at first, increases gradually in density. Low bushes, hardly a foot high, are formed by the American Thistle, _(Ceanothus Americanus,)_ a plant whose leaves were used instead of tea, in Boston, during the Revolution. Next follow the Hazel-bush, _(Corylus Americana,)_ the fiery-red _Castilleja coccinea,_ and the yellow Canadian Louse-wort; the _Dipteracanthus strepens_, with great blue funnel-shaped blossoms, and the _Gerardia pedicularia_, are fond of such places; and where the bushes grow higher, and the _Rhus glabra, Zanthoxylum Americanum, Ptelea trifoliata, Staphylea trifolia,_ together with _Ribes-Rubus Pyrus, Cornus, and Cratoegus,_ form an almost impenetrable thicket, surrounded and garlanded by the round-leaved, rough Bindweed, _(Smilax rotundifolia,)_ and _Dioscorea villosa_, the Climbing Rose, _(Rosa setigera,) Celastrus scandens_, remarkable for its beautiful red fruits, _Clematis Virginiana, Polygonum, Convolvulus, and other vines, these weedy herbs attempt to overtop the bushes."
"We now enter upon the illimitable prairie which lies before us, the fertile prairie, in whose undulating surface the moisture is retained; this waits for cultivation, and will soon be deprived of its flowery attire, and bear plain, but indispensable grain. Those who have not yet seen such a prairie should not imagine it like a cultivated meadow, but rather a heaving sea of tall herbs and plants, decking it with every variety of color.
"In the summer, the yellow of the large Composite will predominate, intermingled with the blue of the Tradescantias, the fiery red of the Lilies, (Lilium Philadelphicum and Lilium Canadense,) the purple of the Phlox, the white of the Cacalia tuberosa, Melanthium Virginicum, and the umbelliferous plants. In spring, small-sized plants bloom here, such as the Anemone, with its blue and white blossoms, the Palmated Violet, the Ranunculus, which are the first ornaments of the prairies in spring; then follow the Esculent Sea-Onion, Pentaloplius longiflorus, Lithospermum hirtum, Cynthia Virginica, and Baptisia leucophaea. As far as the eye reaches, no house nor tree can be seen; but where civilization has come, the farmer has planted small rows of the quickly growing Black Acacia, which affords shelter from the sun to his cattle and fuel for his hearth."
"We now enter the level part of the forest, which has a rich black soil. Great sarmentous plants climb here up to the tops of the trees: wild Grapes, the climbing, poisonous Sumach, (Rhus toxicodendron,) and the vine-like Cinque-foil, which transforms withered, naked trunks into green columns, Bignonias, with their brilliant scarlet trumpet-flowers, are the most remarkable. The Thuja occidentalis, which may be met with in European gardens, stands in mournful solitude on the margins of pools; here and there an isolalod Cedar, (Juniperus Virginiana) and the low Box-tree, (Taxus Canadensis) are in Illinois the only representatives of the evergreens, forests of which first appear in the northern part of Wisconsin and Minnesota."
"Flowers of the most brilliant hues bedeck the rivers' banks; above all, the Lobelia cardinalis and Lobelia syphilitica, of the deepest carmine and cerulean tinge, the yellow Cassia Marilandica, and the delicate Rosa blanda, a rose without thorns; also the Scrophularia nodosa."
"On the marshy ground thrive the Iris versicolor, Asclepias incarnata, the Primrose-tree, Liver-wort, the tall Physostegia Virginiana, with rosy-red blossoms, and the Helenium autumnale, in which the yellow color predominates. In spring, the dark violet blossom of the Amorpha fruticosa diffuses its fragrance."
"Entering a boat on the river, where we cannot touch the bottom with the oar, we perceive a little white flower waving to and fro, supported by long spiral halms between straight, grass-like leaves. This is the Vallisneria spiralis, a remarkable plant, which may be also met with in Southern Europe, especially in the Canal of Languedoc, and regarding the fructification of which different opinions prevail."
"Nearer to the land, we observe similar grass-like leaves, but with little yellow stellated flowers: these belong to the order of Schollera graminea. Other larger leaves belong to the Amphibious Polygony, and different species of the Potamogeton, the ears of whose blossoms rise curiously above the surface of the water. Clearing our way through a row of tall swamp weeds, Zizania aquatica, Scirpus lacustris, Scirpus pungens, among which the white flowers of Sparganium ramosum and Sagittaria variabilis are conspicuous, we steer into a large inlet entirely covered with the broad leaves of the Nymphaea odorala and the Nelumbium luteum, of which the former waves its beautiful flower on the surface of the river, while the latter, the queen, in fact, of the waters, proudly raises her magnificent crown upon a perpendicular footstalk. On the opposite bank, the evening breeze lifts the triangular leaves and rosy-red flowers of the Marsh-Mallow, overhung by Gray Willows and the Silver-leaved Maple and the Red Maple, on which a flock of white herons have alighted."
In all the rivers and swamps of the Northwest grows the Wild Rice, (Zizania aquatica,) a plant which was' formerly very important to the Indians as food, and now attracts vast flocks of waterfowl to feed upon it in the season. In autumn the squaws used to go in their canoes to these natural rice-fields, and, bending the tall stalks over the gunwale, beat out the heads of grain with their paddles into the canoe. It is mentioned among the dainties at Hiawatha's wedding-feast:—
"Haunch of deer, and hump of bison, Yellow cakes of the Momdamin, And the wild rice of the river."
The Fruits of the forest are Strawberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Gooseberries, in some barren spots Whortleberries, Mulberries, Grapes, Wild Plums and Cherries, Crab-Apples, the Persimmon, Pawpaw, Hickory-nuts, Hazel-nuts, and Walnuts.
The Timber-trees are,—of the Oaks, Quercus alba, Quercus macrocarpa, Quercus tinctoria, Quercus imbricaria,—Hard and Soft Maples,—and of the Hickories, Carya alba, Carya tomentosa, and Carya amara. Other useful timber-trees are the Ash, Cherry, several species of Elm, Linden, and Ironwood (Carpinus Americana).
Of Medicinal Plants, we find Cassia Marilandica, Polygala Senega, Sanguinaria Canadensis, Lobelia inflata, Phytolacca decandra, Podophyllum peliatum, Sassafras officinale.
Various species of the Vine are native here, and the improved varieties succeed admirably in the southern counties.
The early travellers in this region mention the great herds of wild cattle which roamed over the prairies in those times, but the last Buffalo on the east side of the Mississippi was killed in 1832; and now the hunter who would see this noble game must travel some hundreds of miles west, to the head-waters of the Kansas or the Platte. The Elk, which was once so common in Illinois, has also receded before the white man, and the Deer is fast following his congener. On the great prairies south of Chicago, where, fifteen years ago, one might find twenty deer in a day's tramp, not one is now to be seen. Two species of Hare occur here, and several Tree Squirrels, the Red, Black, Gray, Mottled, and the Flying; besides these, there are two or three which live under ground. The Beaver is nearly or quite extinct, but the Otter remains, and the Musk-Rat abounds on all the river-banks and marshes.
Of carnivorous animals, we have the Panther and Black Bear in the wooded portions of the State, though rare; the Lynx, the Gray and Black Wolf, and the Prairie Wolf; the Skunk, the Badger, the Woodchuck, the Raccoon, and, in the southern part of the State, the Opossum.
Mr. Lapham of Wisconsin has published a list of the birds of that State, which will also answer for Northern Illinois. He enumerates two hundred and ninety species, which, we think, is below the number which visit the central parts of Illinois. From the central position of this State, most of the birds of the United States are found here at one season or another. For instance, among the rapacious birds, we have the three Eagles which visit America, the White-Headed, the Washington, and the Golden or Royal Eagle. Of Hawks and Falcons, fourteen or fifteen species, among which are the beautiful Swallow-tailed Hawk, and that noble falcon, the Peregrine. Ten or twelve Owls, among which, as a rare visitor, we find the Great Gray Owl, (Syrnium cinereum,) and the Snowy Owl, which is quite common in the winter season on the prairies, preying upon grouse and hares. Of the Vultures, we have two, as summer visitors, the Turkey-Buzzard and the Black Vulture.
Of omnivorous birds, sixteen or eighteen species, among which is the Raven, which here takes the place of the Crow, the two species not being able to live together, as the stronger robber drives away the weaker. Of the insectivorous birds, some sixty or seventy species are found here, among which is the Mocking-Bird, in the middle and southern districts. Thirty-five to forty species of granivorous birds, among which we occasionally find in winter that rare Arctic bird, the Evening Grosbeak. Of the Zygodachyli, fourteen species, among which is found the Paquet, in the southern part of the State. Tenuirostres, five species. Of the Kingfishers, one species. Swallows and Goat-suckers, nine species. Of the Pigeons, two, the Turtle-Dove and the Passenger Pigeon, of which the latter visit us twice a year, in immense flocks.
Of the gallinaceous birds, the Turkey, which is found in the heavy timber in the river bottoms; the Quail, which has become very abundant all over the State, within twenty years, following, it would seem, the march of civilization and settlement; the Ruffed Grouse, abundant in the timber, but never seen on the prairie; the Pinnated Grouse, or Prairie Hen, always found on the open plains. These birds increased very much in number after the settlement of the State, owing probably to the increase of food for them, and the decrease of their natural enemies, the prairie wolves; but since the building of railroads, so many are killed to supply the demands of New York and other Eastern cities, that they are now decreasing very rapidly, and in a very few years the sportsman will have to cross the Mississippi to find a pack of grouse. The Sharp-tailed Grouse, an occasional visitor in winter from Wisconsin, is found in the timbered country.
Of wading birds, from forty to fifty species, among which the Sand-Hill Crane is very abundant, and the Great White or Whooping Crane very rare, although supposed by some authors to be the same bird in different stages of plumage.
Of the lobe-footed birds, seven species, of which is the rare and beautiful Wilson's Phalarope, which breeds in the wet prairies near Chicago.
Of web-footed birds, about forty species, among which are two Swans and five Geese. Among the Ducks, the Canvas-Back is found; but, owing to the want of its favorite food in the Chesapeake, the Vallisneria, it is, in our waters, a very ordinary duck, as an article of food.
The waters of Illinois abound with fish, of which class we enumerate,—
Percidae, 3 Pomotis, 2 Labrax, 3 Cottus, 2 Lucioperca, 2 Corvina, 1 Huro, 1 Pimelodus, 5 Centrarchus, 3 Leuciscus, 6 Hydrargea, 2 Corregomus, 3 Esox, 3 Amia, 1 Hyodon, 1 Lepidosteus, 3 Lota, 2 Accipenser, 3
Of these, the Perch, White, Black, and Rock Bass, the Pike-Perch, the Catfish, the Pike and Muskalonge, the Whitefish, the Lake Trout, and the Sturgeon are valuable fishes for the table.
Of the class of Reptiles, we have among the Lizards the Mud-Devil, (Menopoma Alleghaniensis,) which grows in the sluggish streams to the length of two feet; also Triton dorsalis, Necturus lateralis, Ambystoma punctata.
Of the Snakes, we find three venomous species, the Rattlesnake, the Massasauga, and the Copper-Head. The largest serpents are the Black Snake, five feet long, and the Milk Snake, from five to six feet in length.
Among the Turtles is Emys picta, Chelonura serpentina, and Cistuda clausa.
Of the Frogs, we have Rana sylvatica, Rana palustris, and Rana pipiens, nearly two feet long, and loud-voiced in proportion,—a Bull-Frog, indeed!
Various theories and speculations have been formed as to the origin of the prairies. One of them, is, that the forests which formerly occupied these plains were swept away at some remote period by fire; and that the annual fires set by the Indians have continued this state of things. Another theory is, that the violent winds which sweep over them have prevented the growth of trees; a third, that want of rain forbids their growth; a fourth, that the agency of water has produced the effect; and lastly, a learned professor at the last meeting of the Scientific Convention put forth his theory, which was, that the real cause of the absence of trees from the prairies is the mechanical condition of the soil, which is, he thinks, too fine,—a coarse, rocky soil being, in his estimation, a necessary condition of the growth of trees.