It was an autumnal evening, just when you smell the first indication of winter in a rarefied atmosphere, and see it in the clear curling of the smoke, as its woolly flakes rise from the cottage chimney and gradually are lost in the clear blue sky. Although not a cold evening, a log fire was extremely welcome. My father, Heaven rest him! had a slight touch in the toe of what finished him afterward in the stomach, namely, gout.
"James," said my lady mother, "it is time we came to some decision regarding what we have been talking of for the last twelve months. Frank will be eighteen next Wednesday."
"Faith! it is time, my dear Mary; the premises are true, but the difficulty is to come at the conclusion."
"You know, my love, that only for your pension and half-pay, from the tremendous depreciation in agricultural property since the peace, we should be obliged to lay down the old carriage, as you had to part with the harriers the year after Waterloo."
That to my father was a heavy hit. "It was a devil of a sacrifice, Mary,"—and he sighed, "to give up the sweetest pack that ever man rode to; one, that for a mile's run you could have covered with a blanket—heigh-ho! God's will be done;" and after that pious adjuration, my father turned down his tumbler No. 3, to the bottom. The memory of the lost harriers was always a painful recollection, and brought its silent evidence that the fortunes of the Hamiltons were not what they were a hundred years ago.
"With all my care," continued my mother, "and, as you know, I economize to the best of my judgement, and after all is done that can be done, our income barely will defray the outlay of our household."
"Or, as we used to say when I was dragooning thirty years ago, 'the tongue will scarcely meet the buckle,'" responded the colonel.
"I have been thinking," said my mother timidly, "that Frank might go to the bar."
"I would rather that he went direct to the devil," roared the commander, who hated lawyers, and whose great toe had at the moment undergone a disagreeable visitation.
"Do not lose temper, dear James," and she laid down her knitting to replace the hassock he had kicked away under the painful irritation of a disease that a stoic could not stand with patience, and, as they would say in Ireland, would fully justify a Quaker if "he kicked his mother."
"Curse the bar!" but he acknowledged his lady wife's kind offices by tapping her gently on the cheek. "When I was a boy, Mary, a lawyer and a gentleman were identified. Like the army—and, thank God! that is still intact, none but a man of decent pretensions claimed a gown, no more than a linen-draper's apprentice now would aspire to an epaulet. Is there a low fellow who has saved a few hundreds by retailing whisky by the noggin, who will not have his son 'Mister Counsellor O'Whack,' or 'Mister Barrister O'Finnigan'? No, no, if you must have Frank bred to a local profession, make him an apothecary; a twenty pound note will find drawers, drugs, and bottles. Occasionally he may be useful; pound honestly at his mortar, salve a broken head, carry the country news about, and lie down at night with a tolerably quiet conscience. He may have hastened a patient to his account by a trifling over-dose; but he has not hurried men into villainous litigation, that will eventuate in their ruin. His worst offense against the community shall be a mistaking of toothache for tic-douloureux, and lumbago for gout—oh, d——n the gout!"—for at that portion of his speech the poor colonel had sustained an awful twinge.
"Well," continued the dame, "would you feel inclined to let him enter the University, and take orders?"
"Become a churchman?" and away, with a furious kick, again went the hassock. "You should say, in simple English, make him a curate for the term of natural life. The church in Ireland, Mary, is like the bar, it once was tenanted by gentlemen who had birth, worth, piety, learning, or all united to recommend him to promotion. Now it is an arena where impure influence tilts against unblushing hypocrisy. The race is between some shuffling old lawyer, or a canting saint. One has reached the woolsack by political thimble-rigging, which means starting patriot, and turning, when the price is offered, a ministerial hack. He forks a drunken dean, his son, into a Father-in-Godship with all the trifling temporalities attendant on the same. Well, the other fellow is a 'regular go-a-head,' denounces popery, calculates the millennium, alarms thereby elderly women of both sexes, edifies old maids, who retire to their closets in the evening with the Bible in one hand, and a brandy-bottle in the other; and what he likes best, spiritualizes with the younger ones."
"Stop, dear James." The emphasis on the word spiritualize had alarmed my mother, who, to tell the truth, had a slight touch of the prevailing malady, and, but for the counteracting influence of the commander, might have been deluded into saintship by degrees.
The great toe was, however, again awfully invaded, and my father's spiritual state of mind not all improved by the second twinge, which was a heavy one.
"Why, d——n it—"
"Don't curse, dear James."
"Curse! I will; for if you had the gout, you would swear like a trooper."
"Indeed I would not."
"Ah, Mary," replied my father, "between twinges, if you knew the comfort of a curse or two—it relieves one so."
"That, indeed, James, must be but a sorry consolation, as Mr. Cantwell said—"
"Oh! d——n Cantwell," roared my father, "a fellow that will tell you that there is but one path to heaven, and that he has discovered it. Pish! Mary, the grand route is open as the mail-coach road, and Papist and Protestant, Quaker and Anabaptist, may jog along at even pace. I'm not altogether sure about Jews and Methodists. One bearded vagabond at Portsmouth charged me, when I was going to the Peninsula, ten shillings a pound for exchanging bank notes for specie, and every guinea the circumcised scoundrel gave was a light one. He'll fry—or has fried already—and my poor bewildered old aunt, under the skillful management of the Methodist preachers, who for a dozen years in their rambles, had made her house an inn, left the three thousand five per cents, which I expected, to blow the gospel-trumpet, either in California or the Cape—for, God knows, I never particularly inquired in which country the trumpeter was to sound 'boot and saddle,' after I had ascertained that the doting fool had made a legal testament quite sufficient for the purposes of the holy knaves who humbugged her. Cantwell is one of the same crew, a specious hypocrite. I would attend to the fellow no more than to that red-headed rector—every priest is a rector now—who often held my horse at his father's forge, when T happened to throw a shoe hunting,—and would half break his back bowing, if I handed him now and then a sixpence. Would I believe the dictum of that low-born dog, when he told me that in head-quarters"—and my father elevated his hand toward heaven—"they cared this pinch of snuff, whether upon a Friday I ate a rasher or red-herring?"
Two episodes interrupted the polemical disquisition. In character none could be more different—the one eventuated in a clean knock down—the other decided indirectly my future fortunes—and, in the next chapter, both shall be detailed.
* * * * *
"Antonio. Thou knowest that all my fortunes are at sea; Nor have I money or commodity, To raise a present sum."
Merchant of Venice.
The Boheeil Kistanaugh, called in plain English, the kitchen boy, had entered, not like Caliban, "bearing a log," but with a basket full. He deposited the supply, and was directed by the commander to replenish the fire. I believe that Petereeine's allegiance to my father originated in fear rather than affection. He dreaded
"the deep damnation of his 'Bah!'"
but what was a still more formidable consideration, was a black-thorn stick which the colonel had carried since he gave up the sword; it was a beauty, upon which every fellow that came for law, in or out of custody, lavished his admiration—a clean crop, with three inches of an iron ferule on the extremity. My father was, "good easy man," a true Milesian philosopher—his arguments were those impressive ones, called ad hominem, and after he had grassed his man, he explained the reason at his leisure.
Petereeine (little Peter), as he was called, to distinguish him from another of that apostolic name—who was six feet two—approached the colonel in his best state of health with much alarm; but, when a fit of the gout was on—when a foot swathed in flannel, or slippered and rested on a hassock, announced the anthritic visitation, Petereeine would hold strong doubts whether, had the choice been allowed, he should not have preferred entering one of Van Amburgh's dens, to facing the commander in the dining-room.
Petereeine was nervous—he had overheard his master blowing to the skies the Reverend George Cantwell, and the red-headed rector, Paul Macrony. If a parson and a priest were so treated, what chance had he? and great was his trepidation, accordingly, when he entered the state chamber, as in duty bound.
"Why the devil did you not answer the bell? You knew well enough, you incorrible scoundrel! that I wanted you."
Now my father's opening address was not calculated to restore Petereeine's mental serenity—and to add to his uneasiness, he also caught sight of that infernal implement, the black-thorn, which, in treacherous repose, was resting at my father's elbow.
"On with some wood, you vagabond."
The order was obeyed—and Petereeine conveyed a couple of billets safely from the basket to the grate. The next essay, however, was a failure—the third log fell—and if the fall were not great, as it dropped on the fender, it certainly was very noisy. The accident was harmless—for, according to honest admeasurement, it evaded my father's foot by a full yard—but, under nervous alarm, he swore, and, as troopers will swear, that it had descended direct upon his afflicted member, and, consequently that he was ruined for life. This was a subsequent explanation—while the unhappy youth was extended on the hearth-rug, protesting innocence, and also declaring that his jaw-bone was fractured. The fall of the billet and the boy were things simultaneous—and while my mother, in great alarm, inculcated patience under suffering, and hinted at resignation, my father, in return, swore awfully, that no man with a toe of treble its natural dimensions, and scarlet as a soldiers jacket, had ever possessed either of those Christian articles. My mother quoted the case of Job—and my father begged to inquire if there was any authority to prove that Job ever had the gout? In the mean time, the kitchen-boy had gathered himself up and departed—and as he left the presence with his hand pressed upon his cheek, loud were his lamentations. Constance and I—nobody enjoyed the ridiculous more than she did—laughed heartily, while the colonel resented this want of sympathy, by calling us a brace of fools, and expressing his settled conviction, that were he, the commander, hanged, we, the delinquents, would giggle at the foot of the gallows.
Such was the state of affairs, when the entrance of the chief butler harbingered other occurrences, and much more serious than Petereeine's damaged jaw. Mick Kalligan had been in the "heavies" with my father, and at Salamanca, had ridden the opening charge, side by side, with him, greatly to the detriment of divers Frenchmen, and much to the satisfaction of his present master. In executing this achievement, Mick had been a considerable sufferer—his ribs having been invaded by a red lancer of the guard—while a chausseur-a-cheval had inserted a lasting token of his affection across his right cheek, extremely honorable, but by no means ornamental.
Mick laid a couple of newspapers, and as many letters, on the table—but before we proceed to open either, we will favor the reader with another peep into our family history.
Manifold are the ruinous phantasies which lead unhappy mortals to pandemonium. This one has a fancy for the turf, another patronizes the last imported choryphee. The turf is generally a settler—the stage is also a safe road to a safe settlement, and between a race-horse and a danseuse, we would not give a sixpence for choice. Now, as far as horse-flesh went, my grandfather was innocent; a pirouette or pas seul, barring an Irish jig, he never witnessed in his life—but he had discovered as good a method for settling a private gentleman. He had an inveterate fancy for electioneering. The man who would reform state abuses, deserves well of his country; there is a great deal of patriotism in Ireland; in fact, it is, like linen, a staple article generally, but still the best pay-master is safe to win; and hence, my poor grandfather generally lost the race.
My father looked very suspiciously at the letters—one had his own armorial bearings displayed in red wax—and the formal direction was at a glance detected to be that of his aunt Catharine—Catharine's missives were never agreeable—she had a rent charge on the property for a couple of thousands; and, like Moses and Son, her system was "quick returns," and the interest was consequently expected to the day. For a few seconds my father hesitated, but he manfully broke the seal—muttering, audibly, "What can the old rattle-trap write about? Her interest-money is not due for another fortnight." He threw his eyes hastily over the contents—his color heightened—and my aunt Catharine's epistle was flung, and most unceremoniously, upon the ground—the hope that accompanied the act, being the reverse of a benediction.
"Is there anything wrong, dear James?" inquired my mother, in her usual quiet and timid tone.
"Wrong!" thundered my father; "Frank will read this spiritual production to you. Every line breathes a deep anxiety on old Kitty's part for my soul's welfare, earthly considerations being non-important. Read, Frank, and if you will not devoutly wish that the doting fool was at the dev—"
"Stop, my dear James."
"Well-read, Frank, and say, when you hear the contents, whether you would be particularly sorry to learn that the old lady had, as sailors say, her hands well greased, and a fast hold upon the moon? Read, d——n it, man! there's no trouble in deciphering my aunt Catharine's penmanship. Hers is not what Tony Lumpkin complained of—a cursed cramp hand; all clear and unmistakable—the t's accurately stroked across, and the i's dotted to a nicety. Go on—read, man, read."
I obeyed the order, and thus ran the missive, my honored father adding a running commentary at every important passage; shall place them in italics—
"'MY DEAR NEPHEW,'"
"Oh, —— her affection!"
"'If, by a merciful dispensation, I shall be permitted to have a few spiritual minded friends to-morrow, at four o'clock, at dinner—'"
"Temps militaire—they won't fail you, my old girl."
"'I shall then have reached an age to which few arrive—look to the psalm—namely, to eighty—'"
"'I have, under the mercy of Providence, and the ministry of a chosen vessel, the Reverend Carter Kettlewell, and also a worshiping Christian learned in the law, namely, Mr. Selby Sly, put my earthly house in order. Would that spiritual preparation could he as easily accomplished; but yet I feel well convinced that mine is a state of grace, and Mr. Kettlewell gives me a comfortable assurance that in me the old man if crucified—'"
"Did you ever listen to such rascally cant?"
"'I have given instructions to Mr. Sly to make my will, and Mr. Kettlewell has kindly consented to be the trustee and executor—"
"Now comes the villainy, no doubt"
"'I have devised—may the offering be graciously received!—all that I shall die possessed of to make an addition to support those devoted soldiers—not, dear nephew, soldiers in your carnal meaning of the word—but the ministers of the gospel, who labor in New Zealand. These inestimable men, whose courage is almost supernatural, and who—'"
"Pish—what an old twaddler!"
"'Although annually eaten by converted cannibals, still press forward at the trumpet-call—"'
"I wonder what sort of a grill old Kate would make? cursed tough, I fancy."
"'I have added my mite to a fund already established to send assistance there—'"
"Ay, to Christianize, and, in return, be carbonadoed. I wish I had charge of the gridiron I would broil one or two of the new recruits."
"'I have called in, under Mr. Sly's advice the mortgage granted to the late Sir George O'Gorman, by my ever-to-be-lamented husband, and the other portions of my property being in state securities, are reclaimable at once. My object in writing this letter is to convey to my dear nephew my heartfelt prayers for his spiritual amendment, and also to intimate that the 2000l.—a rent-charge on he Kilnavaggart property—with the running quarter's interest, shall be paid at La Touche's to the order of Messrs. Kettlewell and Sly. As the blindness of the New Zealanders is deplorable, and as Mr. Kettlewell has already enlisted some gallant champions who will blow the gospel-trumpet, although they were to be served up to supper the same evening, I wish the object to be carried out at once—'"
"Beautiful!" said my poor father with a groan; "where the devil could the money be raised? You won't realize now for a bullock what, in war-time, you would get for a calf. Go on with the old harridan's epistle."
"'Having now got rid of fleshly considerations—I mean money ones—let me, my dear James, offer a word in season. Remember that it comes from an attached relation, who holds your worldly affairs as nothing—'"
"I can't dispute that," said my father with a smothered groan.
"'But would turn your attention to the more important considerations of our being. I would not lean too heavily upon the bruised reed, but your early life was anything but evangelical—'"
Constance laughed; she could not, wild girl, avoid it.
"'We must all give an account of our stewardship,' vide St. Luke, chap. xvi.—'"
"Stop—Shakspeare's right; when the devil quotes Scripture—but, go on—let's have the whole dose."
"'When can you pay the money in? And, oh! in you, my dear nephew, may grace yet fructify, and may you be brought, even at the eleventh hour, to a slow conviction that all on this earth is vanity and vexation of spirit—drums, colors, scarlet and fine linen, hounds running after hares, women whirling round, as they tell me they do, in that invention of the evil one called a waltz, all these are but delusions of the enemy, and designed to lead sinners to destruction. I transcribe a verse from a most affecting hymn, composed by that gifted man—'"
"Oh, d——n the hymn!" roared my father; "on with you, Frank, and my benison light on the composer of it! Don't stop to favor us with his name, and pass over the filthy doggerel!"
I proceeded under orders accordingly.
"'Remember, James, you are now sixty-one; repent, and, even in the eleventh hour, you may be plucked like a brand from the fire. Avoid swearing, mortify the flesh—that is, don't take a third tumbler after dinner—'"
My father could not stand it longer. "Oh, may Cromwell's curse light upon her! I wonder how many glasses of brandy-and-water she swallows at evening exercise, as she calls it, over a chapter of Timothy?"
"'I would not recall the past, but for the purpose of wholesome admonition. The year before you married, and gave up the godless life of soldiering, can you forget that I found you, at one in the morning in Bridget Donovan's room? Your reason was, that you had got the colic; if you had, why not come to my chamber, where you knew there was laudanum and lavender?
Poor Constance could not stand the fresh allegation; and, while my mother looked very grave, we laughed, as Scrub says, "consumedly." My father muttered something about "cursed nonsense!" but I am inclined to think that aunt Catharine's colic charge was not without some foundation.
"'I have now, James, discharged my duty: may my humble attempts to arouse you to a sense of the danger of standing on the brink of the pit of perdition be blessed! Pay the principal and interest over to La Touche. Mr. Selby Sly hinted that a foreclosure of the mortgage might expedite matters; and, by saving a term or two in getting in the money, two or three hundred New Zealanders would—and oh, James! how gratifying would be the reflection!—be saved from the wrath to come.
"'This morning, on looking over your marriage settlement, Mr. Sly is of opinion that, if Mrs. Hamilton will renounce certain rights he can raise the money at once, and that too only at legal interest, say six per cent.—'"
Often had I witnessed a paternal explosion; but, when it was hinted that the marital rights of my poor mother were to be sacrificed, his fury amounted almost to madness.
"Damnation!" he exclaimed; "confusion light upon the letter and the letter-writer! You!—do you an act to invalidate your settlement! I would see first every canting vagabond in——" and he named a disagreeable locality. "Never, Mary! pitch that paper away: I dread that at the end of it the old lunatic will inflict her benediction. Frank, pack your traps—you must catch the mail to-night; you'll be in town by eight o'clock to-morrow morning. Be at Sly's office at nine. D——n the gout!—I should have done the job myself. Beat the scoundrel as nearly to death as you think you can conscientiously go without committing absolute murder: next, pay a morning visit to Kettlewell, and, if you leave him in a condition to mount the pulpit for a month, I'll never acknowledge you. Break that other seal; Probably, the contents may prove as agreeable as old Kitty's."
There were times and moods when, in Byron's language, it was judicious to reply "Psha! to hear is to obey," and this was such a period. I broke the black wax, and the epistle proved to be from the very gentleman whom I was to be dispatched per mail to qualify next morning for surgical assistance.
"Out with it!" roared my father, as I unclosed the foldings of the paper; "What is the signature? I remember that my uncle Hector always looked at the name attached to a letter when he unclosed the post-bag; and if the handwriting looked like an attorney's he flung it, without reading a line, into the fire."
"This letter, sir, is subscribed 'Selby Sly.'"
"Don't burn it, Frank, read. Well, there is one comfort that Selby Sly shall have to-morrow evening a collection of aching ribs, if the Hamiltons are not degenerated: read, man," and, as usual, there was a running comment on the text.
"'It is my melancholy duty to inform you—'"
"That you have foreclosed the mortgage. Frank, if you don't break a bone or two, I'll never acknowledge you again."
"'That my honored and valued client and patroness, Mrs. Catharine O'Gorman, suddenly departed this life at half-past six o'clock, P.M., yesterday evening, when drinking a glass of sherry, and holding sweet and spiritual converse with the Reverend Carter Kettlewell.'"
"It's all up, no doubt: the canting scoundrels have secured her—or, as blackguard gamblers say, have 'made all' safe?"
"'She has died intestate, although a deed, that would have immortalized her memory, was engrossed, and ready for signature. Within an hour after she went to receive her reward—'"
My father gave a loud hurrah! "Blessed be Heaven that the rout came before the old fool completed the New Zealand business!"
"'As heir-at-law, you are in direct remainder, and the will, not being executed, is merely wastepaper: but, from the draft, the intentions of your inestimable aunt can clearly be discovered. Although not binding in law, let me say there is such a thing as Christian equity that should guide you. The New Zealand bequest, involving a direct application of 10,000l. to meet the annual expenditure of gospel-soldiers—there being a constant drain upon these sacred harbingers of peace, from the native fancy of preferring a deviled missionary to a stewed kangaroo—that portion of the intended testament I would not press upon you. But the intentional behests of 500l. to the Rev. Carter Kettlewell, the same sum to myself, and an annuity to Miss Grace Lightbody of 50l. a year, though not recoverable in law, under these circumstances should be faithfully confirmed.
"'It may be gratifying to acquaint you with some particulars of the last moments of your dear relative, and one of the most devout, nay, I may use the term safely, evangelical elderly gentlewomen for whom I have had the honor to transact business.'"
"Stop, Frank. Pass over the detail. It might be too affecting."
"'I await your directions for the funeral. My lamented friend and client had erected a catacomb in the Siloam Chapel, and in the minister's vault, and she frequently expressed a decided wish that her dust might repose with faithful servants, who, in season and out of season, fearlessly grappled with the man of sin, who is arrayed in black, and the woman who sitteth on the seven hills, dressed in scarlet.'"
"Hang the canting vagabond—why not call people by their proper titles; name Old Nick at once, and the lady whose soubriquet is unmentionable, but who, report says, has a town residence in Babylon."
Constance and I laughed; my mother, as usual, looking demure and dignified. Another twinge of the gout altogether demolished the commander's temper.
"Stop that scoundrel's jargon. Run your eye over the remainder, and tell me what the fellow's driving at."
I obeyed the order.
"Simply, sir, Mr. Sly desires to know whether you have any objection to old Kitty taking peaceable possession of her catacomb in the Dublin gospel-shop which she patronized, or would you prefer that she were 'pickled and sent home,' as Sir Lucius says."
"Heaven forbid that I should interfere with her expressed wishes," said my father. "I suppose there's 'snug lying' in Siloam; and there's one thing certain, that the company who occupy the premises are quite unobjectionable. Kitty will be safer there. Lord! if the gentleman in black, or the red lady of the seven hills attempted a felonious entry on her bivouac, what a row the saintly inmates would kick up! It would be a regular 'guard, turn out!' And what chance would scarlatina and old clooty have? No, no, she'll be snug there in her sentry-box. What a blessed escape from ruin! Mary, dear, make me another tumbler, and d——n the gout!"—he had a sharp twinge. "I'll drink 'here's luck!' Frank, go pack your kit, and instead of demolishing Selby Sly, see Kitty decently sodded. Your mother, Constance, and myself will rumble after you to town by easy stages. I wonder how aunt Catherine will cut up. If she has left as much cash behind as she has lavished good advice in her parting epistle, by—" and my father did ejaculate a regular rasper—"I'll re-purchase the harriers, as I have got a whisper that poor Dick was cleaned out the last meeting at the Curragh, and the pack is in the market."
* * * * *
"I have tremor cordis on me."—Winter's Tale.
It is a queer world after all; manifold are its ups and downs, and life is but a medley of fair promise, excited hope, and bitter disappointment.
Never did a family party start for the metropolis with gayer hearts, or on a more agreeable mission. Our honored relative (authoritate the Methodist Magazine) had "shuffled off" in the best marching order imaginable. Before the rout had arrived, her house had been perfectly arranged, but her will, "wo [**Unreadable] day," was afterward found to be too informal. It was hinted that the mission to Timbuctoo, although not legally binding on the next of kin, should be considered a sacred injunction and first lien on the estates. In a religious light, according to the Reverend Mr. Sharpington, formalities were unnecessary; but my father observed, sotto voce, in reply, and in the plain vernacular of the day, what in modern times would have been more figuratively expressed, namely, "Did not the gospel-trumpeters wish they might get it!" The kennel, whose door for two years had not been opened, was again unlocked; whitewashing and reparations were extensively ordered; a prudent envoy was dispatched to re-purchase the pack, which, rebut egenis, had been laid down, and the colonel, in his "mind's eye," and oblivious of cloth shoes, once more was up to his knees in leather, and taking everything in the shape of fence and brook, just as the Lord pleased to dispose them.
A cellar census was next decided on, and by a stout exertion, and at the same time with a heavy heart, my father hobbled down the stone steps and entered an underground repertorium, which once he took much pride in visiting. Alas! its glory had departed; the empty bins were richly fringed with cobwebbed tapestries, and silently admitted a non-occupancy by bottles for past years. The colonel sighed. He remembered his grandfather's parting benediction. Almost in infancy, malignant fever within one brief week had deprived him of both parents, and a chasm in direct succession was thus created. A summons from school was unexpectedly received, and although the young heir and the courier borrowed liberally from the night, it was past cock-crow when they reached their destination.
The old gentleman was "in articulo," or as sailors would say, he was already "hove short," and ready to trip his anchor.
"Up stairs, master Frank," exclaimed the old butler to my father, "the general will be in heaven in half an hour, glory to the Virgin!"
I shall never forget my fathers description of the parting scene. Propped by half a dozen pillows, the old man gasped hard for breath, but the appearance of his grandson appeared to rouse the dormant functions of both mind and body; and although there were considerable breaks between each sentence, he thus delivered his valedictory advice. Often has the departure of Commodore Trunnion been recalled to memory by the demise of my honored relative.
"Frank," said the old fox-hunter to my father, "the summons is come, as we used to say when I was a dragoon, to 'boot and saddle.' I told the doctor a month ago that my wind was touched, but he would have it that I was only a whistler."
He paused for breath.
"The best horse that ever bore pig-skin on his back, won't stand too many calls—ugh! ugh! ugh!"
"I bless God that my conscience is tolerably clean. Widow or orphan I never wronged intentionally, and the heaviest item booked against me overhead is Dick Sommer's death. Well, he threw a decanter, as was proved upon the trial to the satisfaction of judge and jury; and you know, after that, nothing but the daisy would do. I leave you four honest weight carriers, and as sweet a pack as ever ran into a red rascal without a check. Don't be extravagant in my wake."
Another interruption in the parting address.
"A fat heifer, half a dozen sheep, and the puncheon of Rasserea that's in the cellar untouched, should do the thing genteelly. It's only a couple of nights you know, as you'll sod me the third morning. Considering that I stood two contests for the county, an action for false imprisonment by a gauger, never had a lock on the hall door, kept ten horses at rack and manger, and lived like a gentleman. To the L5,000 for which my poor father dipped the estate I have only after all added L10,000 more, which, as Attorney Rowland said, showed that I was a capital manager. Well, you can pay both off easily."
Another fit of coughing distressed my grandfather sorely.
"Go to the waters—any place in England will answer. If you will stand tallow or tobacco, you can in a month or two wipe old scores off the slate. Sir Roderick O'Boyl, when he was so hard pushed as to be driven over the bridge of Athlone in a coffin to avoid the coroner, didn't he, and in less than a twelvemonth too, bring over a sugar-baker's daughter, pay off encumbrances, and live and die like a gentleman as he was every inch? I have not much to leave you but some advice, Frank dear, and after I slip my girths remember what I say. When you're likely to get into trouble, always take the bull by the horns, and when you're in for a stoup, never mix liquors or sit with your back to the fire. If you're obliged to go out, be sure to fight across the ridges, and if you can manage it, with the sun at your back. Ugh! ugh! ugh!"
"In crossing a country, choose the—"
Another coughing fit, and a long hiatus in valedictory instructions succeeded, but the old man, as they say in hunting, got second wind, and thus proceeded—
"Never fence a ditch when a gate is open—avoid late hours and attorneys—and the less you have to say to doctors, all the better—ugh! ugh! ugh! When it's your misfortune to be in company with an old maid—I mean a reputed one—ugh! ugh! always be on the muzzle—for in her next issue of scandal she'll be sure to quote you as her authority. If a saint comes in your way, button your breeches-pocket, and look now and then at your watch-chain. I'm brought nearly to a fix, for bad bellows won't stand long speeches."
Here the ripple in his speech, which disturbed Commodore Trunnion so much, sorely afflicted my worthy grandfather. He muttered something that a snaffle was the safest bit a sinner could place faith in—assumed the mantle of prophecy—foretold, as it would appear, troublous times to be in rapid advent—and inculcated that faith should be placed in heaven, and powder kept very dry.
He strove to rally and reiterate his counsels for my father's guidance, but strength was wanting. The story of a life was told—he swayed on one side from the supporting pillows—and in a minute more the struggle was over. Well, peace to his ashes! We'll leave him in the family vault, and start with a party for the metropolis, who, in the demise of our honored kinswoman, had sustained a heavy loss, but notwithstanding, endured the visitation with Christian fortitude and marvelous resignation.
Place au dames. My lady-mother had been a beauty in her day, and for a dozen years after her marriage, had seen her name proudly and periodically recorded by George Faukiner, in the thing he called a journal, which, in size, paper, and typography, might emulate a necrologic affair cried loudly through the streets of London, "i' the afternoon" of a hanging Monday, containing much important information, whether the defunct felon had made his last breakfast simply from tea and toast, or whether Mr. Sheriff —— had kindly added mutton-chops to the dejeuner, while his amiable lady furnished new-laid eggs from the family corn-chandler. But to return to my mother.
Ten years had passed, and her name had not been hallooed from groom to groom on a birth-day night, while the pearl neck-lace, a bridal present, and emeralds, an heir-loom from her mother, remained in strict abeyance. Now and again their cases were unclosed, and a sigh accompanied the inspection—for sad were their reminiscences. Olim—her name was chronicled on Patrick's night, by every Castle reporter. They made, it is to be lamented, as Irish reporters will make, sad mistakes at times. The once poor injured lady had been attired in canary-colored lute-string, and an ostrich plume remarkable for its enormity while she, the libeled one, had been becomingly arrayed in blue bombazine, and of any plumage imported from Araby the blest, was altogether innocent.
A general family movement was decided on. My aunt's demise required, my father's presence in the metropolis. My mother's wardrobe demanded an extensive addition,—for, sooth to say, her costume had become, as far as fashion went, rather antediluvian. Constance announced that a back-tooth called for professional interference. May heaven forgive her if she fibbed!—for a dental display of purer ivory never slily solicited a lover's kiss, than what her joyous laugh exhibited. My poor mother entered a protest against the "spes ultima gregis," meaning myself, being left at home in times so perilous, and when all who could effect it were hurrying into garrisoned towns, and abandoning, for crowded lodgings, homes whose superior comforts were abated by their insecurity. The order for a general movement was consequently issued, and on the 22d of June we commenced our journey to the capital.
With all the precision of a commissary-general, my father had regulated the itinerary. Here, we were to breakfast, there, dine, and this hostelrie was to be honored with our sojourn during the night-season. Man wills, fate decrees, and in our case the old saw was realized.
It will be necessary to remark that a conspiracy that had been hatching for several years, from unforeseen circumstances had now been prematurely exploded. My father, with more hardiesse than discretion, declined following the general example of abandoning his home for the comparative safety afforded by town and city. Coming events threw their shadow before, and too unequivocally to be mistaken, but still he sported deaf adder. In confidential communication with Dublin Castle, all known there touching the intended movements of the disaffected was not concealed from him. He was, unfortunately, the reverse of an alarmist—proud of his popularity—read his letters—drew his inferences—and came to prompt conclusions. Through his lawyer, a house ready-furnished in Leeson-street was secured. His plate and portable valuables were forwarded to Dublin, and reached their destination safely. Had our hearts been where the treasure was, we should, as in prudence bound, have personally accompanied the silver spoons—but the owner, like many an abler commander, played the waiting game too long. A day sooner would have saved some trouble—but my father had carried habits of absolute action into all the occurrences of daily life. Indecision is, in character, a sad failure, but his weak point ran directly in an opposite direction. He thought, weighed matters hastily, decided in five minutes, and that decision once made, coute qui coute, must be carried out to the very letter. He felt all the annoyance of leaving the old roof-tree and its household gods—conflicting statements from the executive—false information from local traitors—an assurance from the priest that no immediate danger might be expected—these, united to a yearning after home, rendered his operations rather Fabian. The storm burst, however, while he still hesitated, or rather, the burning of the mail-coaches and the insurrection were things simultaneous—and my father afterward discovered that he, like many a wiser man, had waited a day too long.
Whether the colonel might have dallied still longer is mere conjecture, when a letter marked "haste" was delivered by an orderly dragoon, and in half an hour the "leathern conveniency" was rumbling down the avenue.
The journey of the Wronghead family to London—if I recollect the pleasant comedy that details it correctly—was effected without the occurrence of any casualty beyond some dyspeptic consequences to the cook from over-eating. Would that our migration to the metropolis had been as fortunately accomplished!
We started early; and on reaching the town where we were to breakfast and exchange our own for post-horses, found the place in feverish excitement. A hundred anxious inquirers were collected in the market-place. Three hours beyond the usual time of the mail-delivery had elapsed,—wild rumors were spread abroad,—a general rising in Leinster was announced,—and the non-arrival of the post had an ominous appearance, and increased the alarm.
We hurried over the morning meal,—the horses were being put to,—the ladies already in the carriage,—when a dragoon rode in at speed, and the worst apprehensions we had entertained were more than realized by this fresh arrival. The mail-coach had been plundered and burned, while everywhere, north, east, and west, as it was stated, the rebels were in open insurrection,—all communication with Dublin was cut off,—and any attempt to reach the metropolis would have been only an act of madness.
Another express from the south came in. Matters there were even worse. The rebels had risen en masse and committed fearful devastation. The extent of danger in attempting to reach the capital, or return to his mansion, were thus painfully balanced; and my father considering that, as sailors say, the choice rested between the devil and the deep sea, decided on remaining where he was, as the best policy under all circumstances.
The incompetency of the Irish engineering staff, and a defective commissariat, at that time was most deplorable; and although the town of —— was notoriously disaffected, the barrack chosen, temporarily, to accommodate the garrison—a company of militia—was a thatched building, two stories high, and perfectly commanded by houses in front and rear. The captain in charge of the detachment knew nothing of his trade, and had been hoisted to a commission in return for the use of a few freeholders. The Irish read character quickly. They saw at a glance the marked imbecility of the devoted man; and by an imposition, from which any but an idiot would have recoiled, trapped the silly victim and, worse still, sacrificed those who had been unhappily intrusted to his direction.
That the express had ridden hard was evident from the distressed condition of his horse; and the intelligence he brought deranged my father's plans entirely. Any attempt either to proceed or to return, as it appeared, would be hazardous alike; and nothing remained but to halt where he was, until more certain information touching the rebel operations should enable him to decide which would be the safest course of action to pursue. He did not communicate the extent of his apprehensions to the family,—affected an air of indifference he did not feel,—introduced himself to the commanding officer on parade, and returned to the inn in full assurance that, in conferring a commission on a man so utterly ignorant of the trade he had been thrust into as Captain —- appeared to be, "the King's press had been abused most damnably."
The Colonel had a singular quality,—that of personal remembrance; and even at the distance of years he would recall a man to memory, even had the former acquaintance been but casual. Passing through the inn yard, his quick eye detected in the ostler a quondam stable-boy. To avoid the consequences attendant on a fair riot which had ended, "ut mos est," in homicide, the ex-groom had fled the country, and, as it was reported and believed, sought an asylum in the "land of the free" beyond the Atlantic, which, privileged like the Cave of Abdullum, conveniently flings her stripes and stars over all that are in debt and all that are in danger. Little did the fugitive groom desire now to recall "lang syne," and renew a former acquaintance. But my father was otherwise determined; and stepping carelessly up, he tapped his old domestic on the shoulder, and at once addressed him by name.
The ostler turned deadly pale, but in a moment the Colonel dispelled his alarm.
"You have nothing to apprehend from me, Pat. He who struck the blow, which was generally laid to your charge, confessed when dying that he was the guilty man, and that you were innocent of all blame beyond mixing in the affray."
Down popped the suspected culprit on his knees, and in a low but earnest voice he returned thanks to heaven.
"I understood you had gone to America, or I would have endeavored in some way to have apprised you, that a murderer by report, you were but a rioter in reality."
"I did go there. Colonel, but I could not rest. I knew that I was innocent: but who would believe my oath? I might have done well enough there; but I don't know why, the ould country was always at my heart, and I used to cry when I thought of the mornings that I whipped in the hounds, and the nights that I danced merrily in the servants' hall, when piper or fiddler came,—and none left the house without meat, drink, and money, and a blessing on the hand that gave it."
"What brought you here, so close to your former home, and so likely to be recognized?"
"To see if I couldn't clear myself, and get ye'r honor to take me back. Mark that dark man! He's owner of this horse. Go to the bottom of the garden, and I'll be with you when he returns to the house again."
My father walked carelessly away, unclosed the garden gate, and left the dark stranger with his former whipper-in. Throwing himself on a bench in a rude summer-house, he began to think over the threatening aspect of affairs, and devise, if he could, some plan to deliver his family from the danger, which on every side it became too evident was alarmingly impending.
He was speedily rejoined by his old domestic.
"Marked ye that dark man well?"
"Yes; and a devilish suspicious-looking gentleman he is."
"His looks do not belie him. No matter whatever may occur through it, you must quit the town directly. Call for post-horses, and as mine is the first turn, I'll be postillion. Don't show fear or suspicion—and leave the rest to me. Beware of the landlord—he's a colonel of the rebels, and a bloodier-minded villain is not unhanged. Hasten in—every moment is worth gold—and when the call comes, the horses will be to the carriage in the cracking of a whip, Don't notice me, good or bad."
He spoke, hopped over the garden hedge to reach the back of the stables unperceived, while I proceeded along the gate; it was opened by the host in person. He started; but, with assumed indifference, observed, "What sad news the dragoon has brought!"
"I don't believe the half of it. These things are always exaggerated. Landlord, I'll push on a stage or two, and the worst that can happen is to return, should the route prove dangerous. I know that here I have a safe shelter to fall back upon."
"Safe!" exclaimed the innkeeper. "All the rabble in the country would not venture within miles of where ye are; and, notwithstanding bad reports, there's not a loyaler barony in the county. Faith! Colonel, although it may look very like seeking custom, I would advise you to keep your present quarters. You know the old saying, 'Men may go farther and fare worse.' I had a lamb killed when I heard of the rising, and specially for your honor's dinner. Just look into the barn as ye pass. Upon my conscience! it's a curiosity!"
He turned back with me; but before we reached the place, the dark stranger I had seen before beckoned from a back window.
"Ha! an old and worthy customer wants me."
Placing his crooked finger in his mouth. he gave a loud and piercing whistle. The quondam whipper appeared at a stable-door with a horse-brush in his hand.
"Pat, show his honor that born beauty I killed for him this morning."
"Coming, Mr. Scully—I beg ye'r honor's pardon—but ye know that business must be minded," he said, and hurried off.
No man assumes the semblance of indifference, and masks his feelings more readily than an Irishman, and Pat Loftus was no exception to his countrymen. When summoned by the host's whistle, he came to the door lilting a planxty merrily,—but when he re-entered the stable, the melody ceased, and his countenance became serious.
"I hid behind the straw, yonder, Colonel, and overheard every syllable that passed, and under the canopy bigger villains are not than the two who are together now. There's no time for talking—all's ready," and he pointed to the harnessed post-horses, "Go in, keep an eye open, and close mouth—order the carriage round—all is packed—and when we're clear of the town I'll tell you more."
When my father's determination was made known, feelingly did the host indicate the danger of the attempt, and to his friendly remonstrances against wayfaring, Mr. Scully raised a warning voice. But my father was decisive—Pat Loftus trotted to the door—some light luggage was placed in the carriage, and three brace of pistols deposited in its pockets. A meaning look was interchanged between the innkeeper and his fellow-guest.
"Colonel," said the former, "I hope you will not need the tools. If you do, the fault will be all your own."
"If required," returned my father, "I'll use them to the best advantage."
The villains interchanged a smile.
"Pat," said the host to the postillion, "you know the safest road—do what I bid ye—and keep his honor out of trouble if ye can."
"Go on," shouted my father—the whip cracked smartly, and off rolled the carriage.
For half a mile we proceeded at a smart pace, until at the junction of the three roads, Loftus took the one which the finger-post indicated was not the Dublin one. My father called out to stop, but the postillion hurried on, until high hedges, and a row of ash-trees at both sides, shut in the view. He pulled up suddenly.
"Am I not an undutiful servant to disobey the orders of so good a master as Mr. Dogherty? First, I have not taken the road he recommended—and, secondly, instead of driving this flint into a horse's frog, I have carried it in my pocket," and he jerked the stone away.
"Look to your pistols, Colonel. In good old times your arms, I suspect, would have been found in better order."
The weapons were examined, and every pan had been saturated with water. "Never mind, I'll clean them well at night: it's not the first time. But, see the dust yonder! I dare not turn back, and I am half afraid to go on. Ha—glory to the Virgin! dragoons, ay, and, as I see now, they are escorting Lord Arlington's coach. Have we not the luck of thousands?"
He cracked his whip, and at the junction of a cross-road fell in with and joined the travelers. My father was well known to his lordship, who expressed much pleasure that the journey to the capital should be made in company.
Protected by relays of cavalry, we reached the city in safety, not, however, without one or two hair-breadth escapes from molestation. Everything around told that the insurrection had broken out: church-bells rang, dropping shots now and then were heard, and houses, not very distant, were wrapped in flames. Safely, however, we passed through manifold alarms, and at dusk entered the fortified barrier erected on one of the canal bridges, which was jealously guarded by a company of Highlanders and two six-pounders. Brief shall be a summary of what followed. While the tempest of rebellion raged, we remained safely in the capital. Constance and I were over head and ears in love; but another passion struggled with me for mastery. Youth is always pugnacious; like Norval,
"I had heard of battles, and had longed To follow to the field some warlike"
colonel of militia, and importuned my father to obtain a commission, and, like Laertes, "wrung a slow consent." The application was made; and, soon after breakfast, the butler announced that my presence was wanted in the drawing-room. I repaired thither, and there found my father, his fair dame, and my cousin Constance.
"Well, Frank, I have kept my promise, and, in a day or two, I shall have a captain's commission for you. Before, however, I place myself under an obligation to Lord Carhampton, let me propose an alternative for your selection."
I shook my head. "And what may that be, sir?"
"A wife!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, that is the plain offer. You shall have, however, a free liberty of election: read that letter."
I threw my eye over it hastily. It was from the Lord Lieutenant's secretary, to say that his excellency felt pleasure in placing a company in the —— militia, at Colonel Hamilton's disposal. "There is the road to fame open as a turnpike trust. Come hither, Constance, and here is the alternative." She looked at me archly, I caught her to my heart, and kissed her red lips.
"You may write a polite letter to the Castle, and decline the commission."
Half a century has passed, but ninety-eight is still, by oral communications, well known to the Irish peasant; and would that its horrors carried with them salutary reminiscences! But to my own story.
Instead of fattening beeves, planting trees, clapping vagabonds "i' th' stocks," and doing all and everything that appertaineth to a country gentleman, and also, the queen's poor esquire, I might have, until the downfall of Napoleon, and the reduction of the militia, events cotemporaneous, smelt powder on the Phoenix Park on field days, and like Hudibras, of pleasant memory, at the head of a charge of foot, "rode forth a coloneling." In place, however, of meddling with cold iron, I yielded to "metal more attractive," and in three months became a Benedict, and in some dozen more a papa.
In the mean time, rebellion was bloodily put down, and on my lady's recovery, my father, whose yearning for a return to the old roof-tree was irresistible, prepared for our departure from the metropolis.
Curiously enough, we passed through Prosperous, exactly on the anniversary of the day when we had so providentially effected an invasion from certain destruction. Were aught required to elicit gratitude for a fortunate escape, two objects, and both visible from the inn windows, would have been sufficient. One was a mass of blackened ruins—the scathed walls of the barrack, in which the wretched garrison had been so barbarously done to death: the other a human head impaled upon a spike on the gable of the building. That blanched skull had rested on the shoulders of our traitor host, and we, doomed to "midnight murder," were mercifully destined to witness a repulsive, but just evidence, that Providence interposes often between the villain and the victim.
I am certain that in my physical construction, were an analysis practicable, small would be the amount of heroic proportions which the most astute operator would detect. I may confess the truth, and say, that in "lang syne," any transient ebullition of military ardor vanished at a glance from Constance's black eye. The stream of time swept on, and those that were, united their dust with those that had been. In a short time my letter of readiness may be expected; and I shall, in nature's course, after the last march, as Byron says, ere long
"Take my rest."
And will the succession end with me? Tell it not to Malthes, nor whisper it to Harriet Martineau. There is no prospect of advertising for the next of kin, i.e. if five strapping boys and a couple of the fair sex may be considered a sufficient security.
[Footnote 2: An Irish term for wearing jockey-boots.]
[Footnote 3: An Irish gentleman shot in a duel in lang syne, was poetically described as having been left "quivering on a daisy."]
[Footnote 4: In Ireland this functionary's operations are not confined to the dead, but extend very disagreeably to the living.]
* * * * *
No money is better spent than what is laid out for domestic satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is dressed as well as other people, and the wife is pleased that she is so well dressed.—Dr. Johnson.
* * * * *
THE IVORY MINE:
A TALE OF THE FROZEN SEA.
IV.—THE FROZEN SEA.
Ivan soon found himself received into the best society of the place. All were glad to welcome the adventurous trader from Yakoutsk; and when he intimated that his boxes of treasure, his brandy and tea, and rum and tobacco, were to be laid out in the hire of dogs and sledges, he found ample applicants, though, from the very first, all refused to accompany his party as guardians of the dogs. Sakalar, however, who had expected this, was nothing daunted, but, bidding Ivan amuse himself as best he could, undertook all the preparations. But Ivan found as much pleasure in teaching what little he knew to Kolina as in frequenting the fashionable circles of Kolimsk. Still, he could not reject the numerous polite invitations to evening parties and dances which poured upon him. I have said evening parties, for though there was no day, yet still the division of the hours was regularly kept, and parties began at five P.M., to end at ten. There was singing and dancing, and gossip and tea, of which each individual would consume ten or twelve large cups; in fact, despite the primitive state of the inhabitants, and the vicinity to the Polar Sea, these assemblies very much resembled in style those of Paris and London. The costumes, the saloons, and the hours, were different, while the manners were less refined, but the facts were the same.
When the carnival came round, Ivan, who was a little vexed at the exclusion of Kolina from the fashionable Russian society, took care to let her have the usual amusement of sliding down a mountain of ice, which she did to her great satisfaction. But he took care also at all times to devote to her his days, while Sakalar wandered about from yourte to yourte in search of hints and information for the next winter's journey. He also hired the requisite nartas, or sledges, and the thirty-nine dogs which were to draw them, thirteen to each. The he bargained for a large stock of frozen and dry fish for the dogs, and other provisions for themselves. But what mostly puzzled the people were his assiduous efforts to get a man to go with them who would harness twenty dogs to an extra sledge. To the astonishment of everybody, three young men at last volunteered, and three extra sledges were then procured.
The summer soon came round, and then Ivan and his friends started out at once with the hunters, and did their utmost to be useful. As the natives of Kolimsk went during the chase a long distance toward Cape Sviatoi, the spot where the adventurers were to quit the land and venture on the Frozen Sea, they took care, at the furthest extremity of their hunting trip, to leave a deposit of provisions. They erected a small platform, which they covered with drift wood, and on this they placed the dried fish. Above were laid heavy stones, and every precaution used to ward off the isatis and the glutton. Ivan during the summer added much to his stock of hunting knowledge.
At length the winter came round once more, and the hour arrived so long desired. The sledges were ready—six in number, and loaded as heavily as they could bear. But for so many dogs, and for so many days, it was quite certain they must economize most strictly; while it was equally certain, if no bears fell in their way on the journey, that they must starve, if they did not perish otherwise on the terrible Frozen Sea. Each narta, loaded with eight hundredweight of provisions and its driver, was drawn by six pair of dogs and a leader. They took no wood, trusting implicitly to Providence for this most essential article. They purposed following the shores of the Frozen Sea to Cape Sviatoi, because on the edge of the sea they hoped to find, as usual, plenty of wood, floated to the shore during the brief period when the ice was broken and the vast ocean in part free. One of the sledges was less loaded than the rest with provisions, because it bore a tent, an iron plate for fire on the ice, a lamp, and the few cooking utensils of the party.
Early one morning in the month of November—the long night still lasting—the six sledges took their departure. The adventurers had every day exercised themselves with the dogs for some hours, and were pretty proficient. Sakalar drove the first team, Kolina the second, and Ivan the third. The Kolimak men came afterward. They took their way along the snow toward the mouth of the Tchouktcha river. The first day's journey brought them to the extreme limits of vegetation, after which they entered on a vast and interminable plain of snow, along which the nartas moved rapidly. But the second day. in the afternoon, a storm came on. The snow fell in clouds, the wind blew with a bitterness of cold as searching to the form of man as the hot blast of the desert, and the dogs appeared inclined to halt. But Sakalar kept on his way toward a hillock in the distance, where the guides spoke of a hut of refuge. But before a dozen yards could be crossed, the sledge of Kolina was overturned, and a halt became necessary.
Ivan was the first to raise his fair companion from the ground; and then with much difficulty—their hands, despite all the clothes, being half-frozen—they again put the nartas in condition to proceed. Sakalar had not stopped, but was seen in the distance unharnessing his sledge, and then poking about in a huge heap of snow. He was searching for the hut, which had been completely buried in the drift. In a few minutes the whole six were at work, despite the blast, while the dogs were scratching holes for themselves in the soft snow, within which they soon lay snug, their noses only out of the hole, while over this the sagacious brutes put the tip of their long bushy tails.
At the end of an hour well employed, the hut was freed inside from snow, and a fire of stunted bushes with a few logs lit in the middle. Here the whole party cowered, almost choked with the thick smoke, which, however, was less painful than the blast from the icy sea. The smoke escaped with difficulty, because the roof was still covered with firm snow, and the door was merely a hole to crawl through. At last, however, they got the fire to the state of red embers, and succeeded in obtaining a plentiful supply of tea and food: after which their limbs being less stiff, they fed the dogs.
While they were attending to the dogs, the storm abated, and was followed by a magnificent aurora borealis. It rose in the north, a sort of semi-arch of light; and then across the heavens, in almost every direction, darted columns of a luminous character. The light was as bright as that of the moon in its full. There were jets of lurid red light in some places, which disappeared and came again; while there being a dead calm after the storm, the adventurers heard a kind of rustling sound in the distance, faint and almost imperceptible, and yet believed to be the rush of the air in the sphere of the phenomenon. A few minutes more and all had disappeared.
After a hearty meal, the wanderers launched into the usual topics of conversation in those regions. Sakalar was not a boaster, but the young men from Nijnei-Kolimsk were possessed of the usual characteristics of hunters and fishermen. They told with considerable vigor and effect long stories of their adventures, most exaggerated—and when not impossible, most improbable—of bears killed in hand to hand combat, of hundreds of deer slain in the crossing of a river, and of multitudinous heaps of fish drawn in one cast of a seine: and then, wrapped in their thick clothes and every one's feet to the fire, the whole party soon slept. Ivan and Kolina, however, held whispered converse together for a little while, but fatigue soon overcame even them.
The next day they advanced still farther toward the pole, and on the evening of the third camped within a few yards of the great Frozen Sea. There it lay before them, scarcely distinguishable from the land. As they looked upon it from a lofty eminence, it was hard to believe that that was a sea before them. There was snow on the sea and snow on the land: there were mountains on both, and huge drifts, and here and there vast polinas—a space of soft, watery ice, which resembled the lakes of Siberia. All was bitter, cold, sterile, bleak, and chilling to the eye, which vainly sought a relief. The prospect of a journey over this desolate plain, intersected in every direction by ridges of mountain icebergs, full of crevices, with soft salt ice here and there, was dolorous indeed; and yet the heart of Ivan quaked not. He had now what he sought in view; he knew there was land beyond, and riches, and fame.
A rude tent, with snow piled round the edge to keep it firm, was erected. It needed to be strongly pitched, for in these regions the blast is more quick and sudden than in any place perhaps in the known world, pouring down along the fields of ice with terrible force direct from the unknown caverns of the northern pole. Within the tent, which was of double reindeer-skin, a fire was lit; while behind a huge rock, and under cover of the sledges, lay the dogs. As usual, after a hearty meal, and hot tea—drunk perfectly scalding—the party retired to rest. About midnight all were awoke by a sense of oppression and stifling heat. Sakalar rose, and by the light of the remaining embers scrambled to the door. It was choked up by snow. The hunter immediately began to shovel it from the narrow hole through which they entered or left the hut, and then groped his way out. The snow was falling so thick and fast that the traveling yourte was completely buried, and the wind being—directly opposite to the door, the snow had drifted round and concealed the aperture.
The dogs now began to howl fearfully. This was too serious a warning to be disdained. They smelt the savage bear of the icy seas, which in turn had been attracted to them by its sense of smelling. Scarcely had the sagacious animals given tongue, when Sakalar, through the thick-falling snow and amid the gloom, saw a dull heavy mass rolling directly toward the tent. He leveled his gun, and fired, after which he seized a heavy steel wood-axe, and stood ready. The animal had at first halted, but next minute he came on growling furiously. Ivan and Kolina now both fired, when the animal turned and ran. But the dogs were now round him, and Sakalar behind them. One tremendous blow of his axe finished the huge beast, and there he lay in the snow. The dogs then abandoned him, refusing to eat fresh bear's meat, though, when frozen, they gladly enough accept it.
The party again sought rest, after lighting an oil-lamp with a thick wick, which, in default of the fire, diffused a tolerable amount of warmth in a small place occupied by six people. But they did not sleep; for though one of the bears was killed, the second of the almost invariable couple was probably near, and the idea of such vicinity was anything but agreeable. These huge quadrupeds have been often known to enter a hut and stifle all its inhabitants. The night was therefore far from refreshing, and at an earlier hour than usual all were on foot. Every morning the same routine was followed: hot tea, without sugar or milk, was swallowed to warm the body; then a meal, which took the place of dinner, was cooked and devoured; then the dogs were fed, and then the sledges, which had been inclined on one side, were placed horizontally. This was always done to water their keel, to use a nautical phrase; for this water freezing they glided along all the faster. A portion of the now hard-frozen bear was given to the dogs, and the rest placed on the sledges, after the skin had been secured toward making a new covering at night.
This day's journey was half on the land, half on the sea, according as the path served. It was generally very rough, and the sledges made but slow way. The dogs, too, had coverings put on their feet, and on every other delicate place, which made them less agile. In ordinary cases, on a smooth surface, it is not very difficult to guide a team of dogs, when the leader is a first-rate animal. But this is an essential point, otherwise it is impossible to get along. Every time the dogs hit on the track of a bear, or fox, or other animal, their hunting instincts are developed: away they dart like mad, leaving the line of march, and in spite of all the efforts of the driver, begin the chase. But if the front dog be well trained, he dashes on on one side, in a totally opposite direction, smelling and barking as if he had a new track. If his artifice succeeds, the whole team dart away after him, and speedily losing the scent, proceed on their journey.
Sakalar, who still kept ahead of the party, when making a wide circuit out at sea about midday, at the foot of a steep hill of rather rough ice, found his dogs suddenly increasing their speed, but in the right direction. To this he had no objection, though it was very doubtful what was beyond. However, the dogs darted ahead with terrific rapidity, until they reached the summit of the hill. The ice was here very rough and salt, which impeded the advance of the sledge: but off are the dogs, down a very steep descent, furiously tugging at the sledge-halter, till away they fly like lightning. The harness had broken off, and Sakalar remained alone on the crest of the hill. He leaped off the nartas, and stood looking at it with the air of a man stunned. The journey seemed checked violently. Next instant, his gun in hand, he followed the dogs right down the hill, dashing away too like a madman, in his long hunting-skates. But the dogs were out of sight, and Sakalar soon found himself opposed by a huge wall of ice. He looked back; he was wholly out of view of his companions. To reconnoiter, he ascended the wall as best he could, and then looked down into a sort of circular hollow of some extent, where the ice was smooth and even watery.
He was about to turn away, when his sharp eye detected something moving, and all his love of the chase was at once aroused. He recognized the snow-cave of a huge bear. It was a kind of cavern, caused by the falling together of two pieces of ice, with double issue. Both apertures the bear had succeeded in stopping up, after breaking a hole in the thin ice of the sheltered polina, or sheet of soft ice. Here the cunning animal lay in wait. How long he had been lying it was impossible to say, but almost as Sakalar crouched down to watch, a seal came to the surface, and lay against the den of its enemy to breathe. A heavy paw was passed through the hole, and the sea-cow was killed in an instant. A naturalist would have admired the wit of the ponderous bear, and passed on; but the Siberian hunter knows no such thought, and as the animal issued forth to seize his prey, a heavy ball, launched with unerring aim, laid him low.
Sakalar now turned away in search of his companions, whose aid was required to secure a most useful addition to their store of food; and as he did so, he heard a distant and plaintive howl. He hastened in the direction, and in a quarter of an hour came to the mouth of a narrow gut between two icebergs. The stick of the harness had caught in the fissure, and checked the dogs, who were barking with rage. Sakalar caught the bridle, which had been jerked out of his hand, and turned the dogs round. The animals followed his guidance, and he succeeded, after some difficulty, in bringing them to where lay his game. He then fastened the bear and seal, both dead and frozen even in this short time, and joined his companions.
For several days the same kind of difficulties had to be overcome, and then they reached the sayba, where the provisions had been placed in the summer. It was a large rude box, erected on piles, and the whole stock was found safe. As there was plenty of wood in this place they halted to rest the dogs and re-pack the sledges. The tent was pitched, and they all thought of repose. They were now about wholly to quit the land, and to venture in a north-westerly direction on the Frozen Sea.
* * * * *
V.—ON THE ICE.
Despite the fire made on the iron plate in the middle of the tent, our adventurers found the cold at this point of their journey most poignant. It was about Christmas; but the exact time of year had little to do with the matter. The wind was northerly, and keen: and they often at night had to rise and promote circulation by a good run on the snow. But early on the third day all was ready for a start. The sun was seen that morning on the edge of the horizon for a short while, and promised soon to give them days. Before them were a line of icebergs, seemingly an impenetrable wall; but it was necessary to brave them. The dogs, refreshed by two days of rest, started vigorously, and a plain hill of ice being selected, they succeeded in reaching its summit. Then before them lay a vast and seemingly interminable plain. Along this the sledges ran with great speed; and that day they advanced nearly thirty miles from the land, and camped on the sea in a valley of ice.
It was a singular spot. Vast sugar-loaf hills of ice, as old perhaps as the world, threw their lofty cones to the skies, on all sides, while they rested doubtless on the bottom of the ocean. Every fantastic form was there; there seemed in the distance cities and palaces as white as chalk; pillars and reversed cones, pyramids and mounds of every shape, valleys and lakes; and under the influence of the optical delusions of the locality, green fields and meadows, and tossing seas. Here the whole party rested soundly, and pushed on hard the next day in search of land.
Several tracks of foxes and bears were now seen, but no animals were discovered. The route, however, was changed. Every now and then newly-formed fields of ice were met, which a little while back had been floating. Lumps stuck up in every direction, and made the path difficult. Then they reached a vast polinas, where the humid state of the surface told that it was thin, and of recent formation. A stick thrust into it went through. But the adventurers took the only course left them. The dogs were placed abreast, and then, at a signal, were launched upon the dangerous surface. They flew rather than ran. It was necessary, for as they went, the ice cracked in every direction, but always under the weight of the nartas, which were off before they could be caught by the bubbling waters. As soon as the solid ice was again reached, the party halted, deep gratitude to Heaven in their hearts, and camped for the night.
But the weather had changed. What is called here the warm wind had blown all day, and at night a hurricane came on. As the adventurers sat smoking after supper, the ice beneath their feet trembled, shook, and then fearful reports bursting on their ears, told them that the sea was cracking in every direction. They had camped on an elevated iceberg of vast dimensions, and were for the moment safe. But around them they heard the rush of waters. The vast Frozen Sea was in one of its moments of fury. In the deeper seas to the north it never freezes firmly—in fact there is always an open sea, with floating bergs. When a hurricane blows, these clear spaces become terribly agitated. Their tossing waves and mountains of ice act on the solid plains, and break them up at times. This was evidently the case now. About midnight our travelers, whose anguish of mind was terrible, felt the great iceberg afloat. Its oscillations were fearful. Sakalar alone preserved his coolness. The men of Nijnei Kolimsk raved and tore their hair, crying that they had been brought willfully to destruction; Kolina kneeled, crossed herself, and prayed; while Ivan deeply reproached himself as the cause of so many human beings encountering such awful peril. The rockings of their icy raft were terrible. It was impelled hither and thither by even huger masses. Now it remained on its first level, then its surface presented an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, and it seemed about to turn bottom up. All recommended themselves to God, and awaited their fate. Suddenly they were rocked more violently than ever, and were all thrown down by the shock. Then all was still.
The hurricane lulled, the wind shifted. snow began to fall, and the prodigious plain of loose ice again lay quiescent. The bitter frost soon cemented its parts once more, and the danger was over. The men of Nijnei Kolimsk now insisted on an instant return; but Sakalar was firm, and, though their halt had given them little rest, started as the sun was seen above the horizon. The road was fearfully bad. All was rough, disjointed, and almost impassable. But the sledges had good whalebone keels, and were made with great care to resist such difficulties. The dogs were kept moving all day, but when night came they had made but little progress. But they rested in peace. Nature was calm, and morning found them still asleep. But Sakalar was indefatigable, and as soon as he had boiled a potful of snow, made tea, and awoke his people.
They were now about to enter a labyrinth of toroses or icebergs. There was no plain ground within sight; but no impediment could be attended to. Bears made these their habitual resorts, while the wolf skulked every night round the camp, waiting their scanty leavings. Every eye was stretched in search of game. But the road itself required intense care, to prevent the sledges overturning. Toward the afternoon they entered a narrow valley of ice full of drifted snow, into which the dogs sank, and could scarcely move. At this instant two enormous white bears presented themselves. The dogs sprang forward; but the ground was too heavy for them. The hunters, however, were ready. The bears marched boldly on as if savage from long fasting. No time was to be lost. Sakalar and Ivan singled out each his animal. Their heavy ounce balls struck both. The opponent of Sakalar turned and fled, but that of Ivan advanced furiously toward him. Ivan stood his ground, axe in hand, and struck the animal a terrible blow on the muzzle. But as he did so, he stumbled, and the bear was upon him. Kolina shrieked; Sakalar was away after his prize; but the Kolimsk men rushed in. Two fired: the third struck the animal with a spear. The bear abandoned Ivan, and faced his new antagonists. The contest was now unequal, and before half an hour was over, the stock of provisions was again augmented, as well as the means of warmth. They had very little wood, and what they had was used sparingly. Once or twice a tree, fixed in the ice, gave them additional fuel; but they were obliged chiefly to count on oil. A small fire was made at night to cook by; but it was allowed to go out, the tent was carefully closed, and the caloric of six people, with a huge lamp with three wicks, served for the rest of the night.
About the sixth day they struck land. It was a small island, in a bay of which they found plenty of drift wood. Sakalar was delighted. He was on the right track. A joyous halt took place, a splendid fire was made, and the whole party indulged themselves in a glass of rum—a liquor very rarely touched, from its known tendency to increase rather than diminish cold. A hole was next broken in the ice, and an attempt made to catch some seals. Only one, however, rewarded their efforts; but this, with a supply of wood, filled the empty space made in the sledges by the daily consumption of the dogs. But the island was soon found to be infested with bears: no fewer than five, with eleven foxes, were killed, and then huge fires had to be kept up at night to drive their survivors away.
Their provender thus notably increased, the party started in high spirits; but though they were advancing toward the pole, they were also advancing toward the Deep Sea, and the ice presented innumerable dangers. Deep fissures, lakes, chasms, mountains, all lay in their way; and no game presented itself to their anxious search. Day after day they pushed on—here making long circuits, there driven back, and losing sometimes in one day all they had made in the previous twelve hours. Some fissures were crossed on bridges of ice, which took hours to make, while every hour the cold seemed more intense. The sun was now visible for hours, and, as usual in these parts, the cold was more severe since his arrival.
At last, after more than twenty days of terrible fatigue, there was seen looming in the distance what was no doubt the promised land. The sledges were hurried forward—for they were drawing toward the end of their provisions—and the whole party was at length collected on the summit of a lofty mountain of ice. Before them were the hills of New Siberia; to their right a prodigious open sea: and at their feet, as far as the eye could reach, a narrow channel of rapid water, through which huge lumps of ice rushed so furiously, as to have no time to cement into a solid mass.
The adventurers stood aghast. But Sakalar led the way to the very brink of the channel, and moved quietly along its course until he found what he was in search of. This a sheet or floe of ice, large enough to bear the whole party, and yet almost detached from the general field. The sledges were put upon it, and then, by breaking with their axes the narrow tongue which held it, it swayed away into the tempestuous sea. It almost turned round as it started. The sledges and dogs were placed in the middle, while the five men stood at the very edge to guide it as far as possible with their hunting spears.
In a few minutes it was impelled along by the rapid current, but received every now and then a check when it came in contact with heavier and deeper masses. The Kolimsk men stood transfixed with terror as they saw themselves borne out toward that vast deep sea which eternally tosses and rages round the Arctic Pole: but Sakalar, in a peremptory tone, bade them use their spears. They pushed away heartily; and their strange raft, though not always keeping its equilibrium, was edged away both across and down the stream. At last it began to move more slowly, and Sakalar found himself under the shelter of a huge iceberg, and then impelled up stream by a backwater current. In a few minutes the much wished-for shore was reached.
The route was rude and rugged as they approached the land; but all saw before them the end of their labors for the winter, and every one proceeded vigorously. The dogs seemed to smell the land, or at all events some tracks of game, for they hurried on with spirit. About an hour before the usual time of camping they were under a vast precipice, turning which, they found themselves in a deep and sheltered valley, with a river at the bottom, frozen between its lofty banks, and covered by deep snow.
"The ivory mine!" said Sakalar in a low tone to Ivan, who thanked him by an expressive look.
* * * * *
THE RUSSIAN SERF.
"In the Russian peasant lies the embryo of the Russian chivalric spirit, the origin of our nation's grandeur."
"Cunning fellows they are, the vagabonds," remarked Vassily Ivanovitsch.
"Yes, cunning, and thereby clever; quick in imitation, quick in appropriating what is new or useful—ready prepared for civilization. Try to teach a laborer in foreign countries anything out of the way of his daily occupation, and he will still cling to his plow: with us, only give the word, and the peasant becomes musician, painter, mechanic, steward, anything you like."
"Well, that's true," remarked Vassily Ivanovitsch.
"And besides," continued Ivan Vassilievitsch, "in what country can you find such a strongly-marked and instinctive notion of his duties, such readiness to assist his fellow-creatures, such cheerfulness, such benignity, so much gentleness and strength combined."
"A splendid fellow the Russian peasant—a splendid fellow indeed;" interrupted Vassily Ivanovitsch.
"And, nevertheless, we disdain him, we look at him with contempt; nay, more, instead of making any effort to cultivate his mind, we try to spoil it by every possible means."
"By the loathsome establishment we have—our household serfs. Our house serf is the first step toward the tchinovnik. He goes without a beard and wears a coat of a western cut; he is an idler, a debauchee, a drunkard, a thief, and yet he assumes airs of consequence before the peasant, whom he disdains, and from whose labor he draws his own subsistence and his poll-tax. After some time more or less, according to circumstances, the household serf becomes a clerk; he gets his liberty and a place as writer in some district court; as a writer in the government's service he disdains, in addition to the peasant, his late comrades in the household; he learns to cavil in business, and begins to take email bribes in poultry, eggs, corn, &c.; he studies roguery systematically, and goes one step lower; he becomes a secretary and a genuine tchinovnik. Then his sphere is enlarged; he gets a new existence: he disdains the peasant, the house serf, the clerk, and the writer, because, he says, they are all uncivilized people. His wants are now greater, and you cannot bribe him except with bank notes. Does he not take wine now at his meals? Does he not patronize a little pharo? Is he not obliged to present his lady with a costly cap or a silk gown? He fills up his place, and without the least remorse—like a tradesman behind his counter—he sells his influence as if it were merchandise. It happens now and then that he is caught. 'Served him right,' say his comrades then; 'take bribes, but take them prudently, so as not to be caught.'"
"But they are not all as you describe them," remarked Vassily Ivanovitsch.
"Certainly not. Exceptions, however, do not alter the rule."
"And yet the officers in the government service with us are for the most part elected by the nobility and gentry."
"That is just where the great evil lies," continued Ivan Vassilievitsch. "What in other countries is an object of public competition, is with us left to ourselves. What right have we to complain against our government, who has left it in our discretion to elect officers to regulate our internal affairs? Is it not our own fault that, instead of paying due attention to a subject of so much importance, we make game of it? We have in every province many a civilized man, who backed by the laws, could give a salutary direction to public affairs; but they all fly the elections like a plague, leaving them in the hands of intriguing schemers. The most wealthy land-owners lounge on the Nevsky-perspective, or travel abroad, and but seldom visit their estates. For them elections are—a caricature: they amuse themselves over the bald head of the sheriff or the thick belly of the president of the court of assizes, and they forget that to them is intrusted not only their own actual welfare and that of their peasantry, but their entire future destiny. Yes, thus it is! Had we not taken such a mischievous course, were we not so unpardonably thoughtless, how grand would have been the vocation of the Russian noble, to lead the whole nation forward on the path of genuine civilization! I repeat again, it is our own fault. Instead of being useful to their country, what has become of the Russian nobility?"
"They have ruined themselves," emphatically interrupted Vassily Ivanovitsch.—The Tarantas: or Impressions of Young Russia.