The next tribe of Indians seen was at the Walnut Hills, now Vicksburg. Their flat heads told him he had reached the country of that formidable nation, but he held no communication with them. Landing at the great bluff or Natchez, he found there quite a village. The natives approached him manifesting the kindest and most hospitable intentions. For some days he delayed, to learn as much as possible from these people in the observation of their character and the topography and peculiarities of the country they were inhabiting. Runners had been dispatched to the Great Sun at the White Apple village, to inform him of the advent of these pale-faced strangers, with beard on their chins. Like information was communicated to the towns on Cole's Creek and further in the interior. La Salle was furnished with pilots and requested to drop down to the White Cliffs, now known as Ellis' Cliffs, eighteen miles below Natchez, where a delegation would meet and conduct him to the White Apple village. These pilots caused the landing of the party at the mouth of St. Catharine's Creek, a point much nearer the village than the cliffs, and from whence it was much more easily approached. Thence they conducted them to the village and temple of the Great Sun. They came by surprise, and there was manifested some suspicions of the motive. But being informed it was the work of the pilots, all were satisfied and a messenger dispatched for the great escort awaiting the party at White Cliffs.
There were great preparations made for a solemn feast. Game in abundance had been collected: the meat of the deer and the bear and every variety of the wild-fowl peculiar to the country and season. These were spread out upon tables made of the wild-cane, placed upon poles sustained by posts driven into the ground, and covered with neatly dressed skins of the bear, elk, and buffalo. There were fish in abundance, the paupaw and the berries which grew abundantly in the forest. The Great Sun led La Salle to the centre of the square formed by the tables, where one had been prepared for him and the great ruler of the Natchez. Rude seats were arranged only for these two. The Little Suns, or smaller chiefs of surrounding villages, assembled with the great warriors and whites accompanying the expedition at the tables forming the square. These Indians had knives formed from the wild cane of the country and hardened in the fire, which were used for carving their meats and other like purposes, one of these was placed in the hand of every white man. The Great Sun standing up, looked reverently upon the sun for a few moments. Then lifting his hands, placed them on the head of La Salle. This was imitated by the Little Suns placing their hands upon the heads of all the whites, and when the chief or Great Sun removed his hands, and said, "Eat," the Little Suns did likewise, and the feast commenced. These cane knives, however, were comparatively useless in the hands of the French, and laying them down, they took from the belts at their sides the large hunting-knives they carried. This movement was so simultaneous, that alarm was apparent in every Indian face and a movement was made by the Indians as if to leave the table; but they were soon reassured when they saw the use to which they were applied. They watched the ease with which these cut through the flesh and cleaved the smaller bones of their repast, and expressed their astonishment in asking where the canes grew from which they were made—indicating conclusively that they had never before seen a metallic knife, and probably never before had seen iron or steel. When the feast had concluded, La Salle was led to a lodge prepared for him, and all his party were shown to places prepared for them, to repose after the meal. Upon the males retiring, the women came forth cleanly clad and removed everything from the tables.
This was the first view the whites had of the Natchez women. When their work was completed, they commenced to chant a song in slow and measured tones; soon, however, it quickened into merry cadences and the young females commenced a wild, fantastic dance. The older sang on, keeping time by slapping their hands and a swinging movement of the head and body right and left. Apparently, at the termination of a stanza, they would stoop suddenly forward and slap the hands upon each thigh, uttering at the same moment a shrill cry, when the dancers would leap with astonishing agility high in the air and, alighting, stand perfectly still. This exhibition called the French from their repose, who seemed delighted, and very soon joined in the dance; mirth excited mirth, and in a little while the village was in a complete uproar. The young warriors, however, were seen to scowl whenever the French approached too nigh the women, and especially when they took their hands and turned them around. The French were not slow to perceive this, nor were they mistaken in the delight it afforded the girls. The timidity of the latter soon disappeared and each lass singled out a beau, and was quite familiar with him. The French remained for some days enjoying the hospitality of the Natchez, returning to their boats and to the opposite shore of the river at night for greater security.
Among the French there was one, a stalwart young fellow, who had made the conquest of a heart among the maidens, and was surprised late at night to find she had swum the Mississippi to place herself by his side at the camp-fire. She implored him to remain with the Natchez and become a Great Sun, that her family was one of great influence at the White Clay village of which she was the belle, and she would marry him. She was rich, and the favorite of the Little Sun of her town, who had given her great presents. But Crapaud was aware of the price of these gifts, and though he did not refuse, was not inclined to the union, or to remain with her people. He promised, however, to see her to-morrow, and told her if he could prevail on some of his companions to remain, he would; but insisted if they would not, she must consent to follow him and provide a girl for each of his companions, who would accompany them to their homes, which he made very lovely in his description. They were standing now on the bank of the river and day was approaching. She pointed to the planet just above the horizon, and then to the place in the heavens where it would be in an hour, and said she must then be in her lodge, and plunging into the river swam rapidly to the opposite shore. The next day was the one appointed for the departure of La Salle and party. True to her promise—the Natchez girl had found a maiden for each of the party, who was willing to abandon her people and go with the strangers on their perilous and unknown journey, and to be the wives of the pale-faces.
The French, with much ceremony, were dismissed by the Great Sun, and a strong escort of both sexes followed them to their boats. The ceremony of shaking hands was gone through with; all the men first, and then the women; the last, as previously arranged, were the girls who were to follow their sweethearts. At a signal each was grasped and hurried forward toward the boats. The alarm was given, and in a moment the bows of the warriors were strung, and they rushed yelling to the rescue; overpowered, the French released the women and springing into their boats were soon out of danger of the arrows which were sent in showers after them—nor did they escape unscathed. Several of the men were wounded, and some of them severely. When once away from the shore, the French seized their guns and fired a volley, but were prevented from further demonstrations by La Salle; not wishing to leave behind him an enemy, who might be troublesome to him on his return up the river.
This adventure was the only hostile one of the entire trip. This was provoked by the folly and crime of his men without the knowledge of La Salle. How true it is that man in every condition and of every race will fight for his woman as surely as the game cock for his hen! Long years after, and when the last Natchez had been gone from the land of his love many years, and when threatening war was disturbing the people of the colonies, there came here a band of men, as had come to this land of beauty and plenty, the oppressors of the Natchez, seeking to make a peaceful home upon these hills, where grew in luxuriant profusion the magnolia and great tulip-trees, and where the atmosphere was redolent with the perfume of the wild flowers which clothed and ornamented the trees and grounds so fruitful and rich with nature's gifts.
The country was claimed as part of West Florida and dominated by the Spanish Government. They were anxious to have the country populated, and donated certain quantities or tracts of land to any one who came to settle and remain in the country. These settlements at first were made on the bluffs projecting through the alluvial swamp to the river's brink, and at or near the mouths of the small streams debouching into the river from the eastern shore. The west bank was deemed uninhabitable in consequence of the spring floods sweeping over the alluvial formation, extending from forty to seventy miles west of the river; and there being no highlands or bluffs approaching the river from the west, below what is now known as Helena, in Arkansas, this vast territory was one interminable swamp, clothed with immense forest-trees, gigantic vines, and jungle-bushes. It was interspersed with lakes, and bayous as reservoirs and drains for the wonderful floods which annually visit this country. Around these were lands remarkable for their fertility—indeed, unsurpassed by any on the face of the earth; but worthless, however, for cultivation, as long as unprotected against these annual floods. The system of leveeing was too onerous and expensive to be undertaken by the people sparsedly populating the eastern bank throughout the hill-country. The levee system which had reclaimed so much of the low country in Louisiana, had not extended above Pointe Coupee, in 1826. Yet there were some settlements on several of the lakes above, especially on Lakes Concordia and St. Joseph.
The immense country in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi in possession of the Indians, interposed a barrier to emigration. To think of leaving home and friends to go away beyond these savages, seemed an undertaking too gigantic for any but men of desperate fortunes, or of the most indomitable energy.
Adventurers had wandered into the country and returned with terrible stories of the unhealthiness of the climate as well as the difficulties to be overcome in reaching it; thus deterring the emigrant who desired a new home. When General Jackson was elected to the Presidency a new policy was inaugurated. The Indians were removed beyond the Mississippi; the lands they had occupied were brought into market, and a flood of emigration poured into these new acquisitions. Cotton had suddenly grown into great demand. The increase of population, and the great cheapness of the, fabrics from cotton, had increased the demand. In Europe it had rapidly increased, and in truth all over the world. Emigration from Europe had set in to a heavy extent upon the United States, and the West was growing in population so rapidly as to create there a heavy demand for these fabrics. The world was at peace; commerce was unrestricted, and prosperity was everywhere. Europe had recovered from her long war, and the arts of peace had taken hold of every people, and were bearing their fruit. All the lands intermediate between the frontiers west of Georgia and Tennessee and those of the east of Mississippi and Louisiana were soon appropriated; and the more fertile lands of the two latter States were coming rapidly into request for the purpose of cotton cultivation.
The great flood of 1828 had swept over every cultivated field west of the Mississippi, and seemed to demonstrate the folly of ever attempting to reduce these lands to profitable cultivation. But with the increase of population came wealth and enterprise. The levees were continued up the river. A long period of comparatively low water encouraged settlements upon the alluvial bottoms. The levees were continued up the west bank, and in a few years the forests had melted away from the margin of the river. Large fields were in their stead, and were continually increasing in extent. Improvements of a superior character were commencing, and an occasional break in the levee, and partial inundation, did not deter, but rather stimulated the planters to increased exertion, to discipline and control the great floods poured down from the rain-sheds extending from the headwaters of the Ohio to those of the Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, and Red Rivers, embracing in extent an area greater than the continent of Europe. It really seemed an attempt to defy the decrees of fate. In 1828, the waters from Cairo to Baton Rouge, a distance of nine hundred miles, averaged fifty miles in width. For months the great river was covered with forests of timber, torn up with the roots by the flood, floating and tumbling wildly along the terrible torrent, making the navigation extremely dangerous for the few steamers then upon the river. How often have I heard old men, who were long resident in the country, when standing on the bluff at Natchez, viewing the extent of that memorable flood, say: "Every man who attempts to cultivate these bottom lands will be ruined. The river demands them as a reservoir for her surplus waters when in flood." But enterprise was undeterred; the levees went up and the settlements went on to increase; and when the spoiler came all the valley was dotted over with pretty villages and magnificent cotton plantations, containing and sustaining a prosperous, rich, intelligent, and happy population. They are swept away, and ruin reigns over this desolated land.
This was but the beginning of the subduing to man's will and cultivation this entire and unparalleled valley. What had been done demonstrated the possibility of redeeming every inch of the alluvial land along the entire valley to the production of the richest staples, with all the necessaries to man's support, comfort, and wealth. It is pleasing to contemplate this immense plain as one extended scene of cultivation—the beautiful lakes of every form, surrounded with palatial homes and fertile fields; lovely towns upon their borders, with the church-spires pointing to heaven, surrounded with shrubs and flowers of every variety and hue; streams meandering among the extended plantations; railroads intersecting it in every direction; and all this mighty field, a thousand miles long by fifty broad, teeming with production, and pouring into the lap of commerce a wealth absolutely incalculable. The work was begun and was rapidly progressing; but now, when and by whom will this great, glorious garden be made?
To do this was the black man's mission; but ere his work was done he was converted into a machine to undo all his work. Inconceivable calamity has followed, and to him is fixed a decade which will soon run to extinction.
TWO STRANGE BEINGS.
ROMANCE OF WESTERN LIFE—MET BY CHANCE—PARTING ON THE LEVEE—MEETING AT THE SICK-BED—CONVALESCENT—LOVE-MAKING—"HOME, SWEET HOME"— THEOLOGICAL DISCUSSIONS—UNCLE TONY—WILD, YET GENTLE—AN ODD FAMILY—THE ADVENTURER SPECULATES.
It was in the spring of the year away back in time when there landed at the town of St. Francisville, or Bayou Sara, a small periagua, or canoe, containing two young men clad in skins, with a camp-kettle, guns, some curiously painted skins, Indian bows, quivers, and Indian curiosities. Their hair was long, their unshaven beards were full and flowing, and in all their appearance they were wild and savage. There were but few houses in the hamlet below the hill. Among these was one of more pretensions than the rest. It was a store, and the merchant was an Irishman. There was near it a neat family carriage. One of the young savages went into this store to find materials for writing to his home-friends, from whom he had been separated for many long months. He found in the store three ladies. Two were young, the other was an aged matron. They seemed not only surprised at the novel apparition before them, but alarmed. This surprise seemed to increase when they saw the young savage rapidly filling, upon the counter, a sheet of paper. They desisted from their shopping, and watched intently the wild savage. When his letter was completed, he politely desired the accommodating merchant to send it for him to the post-office. Then lifting his gray wolf-skin cap from his head, he bowed politely to the ladies and turned to leave the store and their presence. The salutation was gracefully acknowledged, and especially by the matron. Very soon they joined the curious crowd who were examining the contents of the canoe, now placed on the land to await the coming of a steamer that was freighting with cotton above. One of the young ladies seemed much interested and made many inquiries. A bow and quiver was given into her hand. The latter was fashioned from the skin of a Mexican tiger, and was filled with arrows. One of these was bloody, and its history was asked of the youth she had met in the store. It was the blood of a Pawnee chief who, by this arrow, had been slain in battle, and was the gift to the youth from the daughter of the fallen chief, together with the bow and quiver of the Indian who had slain her father, and who was in turn killed by a chief of her tribe.
How beautiful she was to this wanderer of the wilderness! Months upon months had passed away, and he had only looked upon the blank and unmeaning features of the desert savage woman. With these his heart had no sympathy. Like the panther of their plains they were swift of foot, symmetrical in form, wild, untamed and untamable, fierce and unfeeling; and were not formed by nature for sympathy or social union with the higher organizations of civilized man. His dream of romance was being realized. The vacuum in his heart was filling. How in contrast were his feelings and appearance! Clad as a savage, his skin was covered with the fabric of an Indian woman, closely fitting, with moccasins on his feet, and a gray wolf-skin cap upon his head—his long, black hair with the luxuriant growth of two years curling over his shoulders, and his beard, like the wing of night fluttering in the breeze, waving down from his chin to his breast in ringlets, glossy and beautiful. He was lithe as a savage, and seemed to be one. In his heart were kindling soft emotions, and memories of maidens he had known—now far, far away—came crowding upon that heart. Before him stood the embodiment of beauty and grace, attired with costly and beautiful fabrics which flowed about her person like the white vapor upon the breezes of spring. Elegance was in her every attitude, and grace in every movement. Her features and her eyes beamed with a curious wish to learn the story of the strange wild being before her. Their two hearts were in sympathy; but to each other it was a secret. How strangely they had met! How strangely they were feeling! How soon they were to part! "Where is he from? Where is he going?" asked her eyes; and he looked: "Who are you; and where is your home, beautiful being, so strangely and so unexpectedly met?"
An arrow was shot from the bow to gratify a request. She followed the quivering thing with her eye, as it sped like a shaft of light to its destined mark. To retrieve it she walked with the youth to where, fixed in a bale of cotton, it trembled, some hundred yards away. Slowly she returned by the youth's side, and drooped her head, listening to the wild mountain adventures he was telling—the chase of the elk, the antelope, and the wild buffalo; the hazardous ride through the wild prairies, expanding away in the distance to kiss the horizon; the stealthy wiles of the revengeful savage; the fierce fight of savage men; the race for very life, when the foe followed; and the bivouac upon the prairie's breast, with the weary horse sleeping and resting by his side. Will he ever forget the speaking of the beaming features of that beautiful creature, when she lifted her head and looked into his face? A frown darkened the matron's features as her eleve returned to the curious group which was listening to the narrative of the older of the two strangers. It said: "What did you leave me for? Why this indiscretion?" Ah! how often old women forget they were once young!
The steamer is coming. She is here; and the trappings of the wanderers are on board. The young wild man stands alone upon the upper deck. His eyes pierce to where stands the sylph he leaves with reluctance. She is looking at him. He lifts his cap and bows farewell. She waves her kerchief in return. The steamer speeds away. They are parted. Has that brief interview left an impression upon those two young hearts to endure beyond a day? Will she dream of the dark beard, curled and flowing—of the darker eye which looked and spoke? and will the wild story of the western wilderness come in the silent darkness of her chamber, and make her nestle closer to her pillow? Will her heart ask: "Shall I ever meet him again?"
He has gone away; a waif about the land—a feather on the world, driven about, as destiny impels, without fixed intentions; yet buoyant with the ardor of youth, and happy in the excess of youthful hopes, dreamy and wild adventures. He has tasted the savage love of woods and wilds, and the nature—which was born thousands of years ere the teachings of civilization had tamed the wild man into an educated, home-loving being—revives, and the two struggle for mastery in his heart. The bleak mountain-peaks, the wide-extended plain and its wild denizens, and the excitement these give, stirs his bosom, and the wish struggles up to return to them. But the gentler chords of his heart are in tune. The once-loved home, and she, the once-loved and yet-remembered maiden, is there, and it may be she pines for his return. He gazed on the beautiful apparition but a moment gone, and thought of another; and thought begat thought until the loved one he had left rose up to memory's call. He was alone, looking upon the great river through whose turbid waters he was borne away, and he felt he was lengthening a chain linked to his heart which pulled him back—to what, and to whom? It was a vision—a dream with his eyes open: indistinct, unembodied, a very shadow; still it floated about in his imagination, and he was sad. He was in the city—the great Sodom of the West. He was an object of wonder to every curious eye. His wild appearance and gentle manner comported illy, and the thoughtless crowd followed him. Attired now as a civilized being, and feeling that the vagrant life of a savage must lead to grief, he called to mind the tear which stole from the rheumy eyes of the old trapper as he narrated his adventures in the wilderness, and cursed the hour he ever wandered from his home. His life had been a continual danger, his hope had been always to return to his early attachments; but the chain of habit fettered him, and he had learned to love the wild, solitary life, because of its excitements and its dangers. Should he, like this man, come to love the solitude and silence of the wilderness, and find companionship only with his traps and guns?
His resolution was taken, he would renew the strife with the world and go back to busy life. His companion of many dangers and long marches was going to Mexico in search of new adventures. They are alone upon the broad levee—busy men are hurrying to and fro, little heeding the two—a small schooner is dropping and sheeting home her sails; she is up for Tampico, and Gilmanot goes in her; she is throwing off her fastenings. "All aboard," cries the swarthy, whiskered captain—a grasp of the hand—no word was spoken—it was warm and sincere, there was no need of words—each understood that last warm farewell pressure. She is sweeping around Slaughter-house Point—only the topmasts are visible now—and now she is gone. The young adventurer stands alone and the crowd goes hurrying on. How many in desolation of heart have stood alone and unheeded by the busy, passing multitude upon that broad levee! How many tears of misery have moistened its shell-covered summit, when thinking of friends far, far away they should never see again, and when hope had been rooted from the heart!
He wandered to the great square, now so beautifully ornamented with shrubs and flowers which love the sun and the South's fat soil, growing and blooming about the bronze representation of the loved hero who had been her shield and savior in the hour of her peril, Andrew Jackson. Then there were a few trees only, and beneath these, here and there, a rude rural seat or bench. The old, gray cathedral was frowning on the world's sins, so rife around her; and the great, naked square and the mighty muddy river which was hurrying away to the sea. To the most thoughtless will come reflection, and the sweetest face is mellowed by sorrow. Here under these trees, in the midst of a great city, came to the young adventurer reflection and sighing sorrow. His mother and father came up in memory; the home of childhood, his brother, his sister, his friends, all were remembered; his heart flooded over and he wept like a little child. Blessed are they who can cry. It is nature's outlet for grief, and the heart would break if we could not cry. The heart is not desolate when alone in the forest or the boundless grass-clothed plains of the West. Nature is all around you, and her smile is beneficent. There is companionship in the breeze, in the waving grass, the rustling leaves, and the meanings of the wind-swayed limbs of the yielding forest. In the city's multitude to move, and be unknown of all; to hear no recognized voice; to meet no sympathizing smile or eye; to be silent when all are speaking, and to know that not one of all these multitudes share a thought or wish with you—this is desolation, the bitterness of solitude.
A year has gone by, and the youth has found a new home and has made new friends. He is one of the busy world and struggling with it. He is in commerce's mart and is one of the multitude who come and congregate there for gain; in the hall of Justice, where litigants court the smiles and favors of the blind goddess, where right contends against wrong, and is as often trampled as triumphant; and where wisdom lends herself for hire, and bad men rarely meet their dues.
Pestilence had come, and the frightened multitude were fleeing from the scourge. There was one who came and proffered the hospitality of his home—where Hygeia smiled and fever never came. Thither he went, but the poison was in his blood, and as he slept it seized upon his vitals. His suffering was terrible, and for days life's uncertain tenure seemed ready to release her hold on time. In his fever-dream there was flitting about him a fairy form; it would come and go, as the moonlight on the restless wave—a moment seen and in a moment gone. He saw and knew nothing for many days distinctly; he would call for his mother and weep, when only winds would answer. Delirium was in his brain, and wild fancies chased each other; he heard the crowing of cocks and saw his sister; his father would come to him, and he would stretch out his hand and grasp the shadowy nothing. There was a halo of beauty all about him; prismatic hues trembled in the light, and the tones of sweet music floated upon the breeze. He saw angels swimming in the golden light; the blue ether opened, and they came through to greet him and to welcome him to heaven. Then all was darkness, the crisis had come. He slept in oblivious ease—it was long; and awaking, the fever was gone. There was a gentle, sweet, sorrowful face before him—their eyes met; for a moment only he looked—it was she whom he had met and parted from without a hope of ever meeting again when robed as the Indian he stood upon the steamer's deck and waved farewell forever. He reached forth his hand. She took it and approached, saying, "You are better, and will soon be well." He could only press her hand as the tears flooded over his eyes. With a kerchief white as innocence it was wiped away and the hand that held it laid gently on his brow—that touch thrilled his every nerve.
Days went by, and the convalescent was amid the shrubs and flowers of the beautifully ornamented grounds. When he came to the maiden reading in the shade of a great pecan-tree, she bid him to a seat.
"Do you remember our first meeting?" he asked.
"Here, on your sick-bed, yes; you were, oh! so sick, and I little thought you would ever leave it alive. You called in your delirium your mother and your father, and in the frenzy of your mind you saw them by you; how my heart was pained, and how I prayed for you, in my chamber, here, and everywhere—and now you are well, only weak."
"It was not when sick I met you first," he replied; "as a wild man you saw me first, clothed in the skins of the wild beasts of the forest."
She gazed intently; could it be? and clasping her hands she bowed her head and was silent.
"We have met again," he continued; "I had not forgotten you, but I dared not hope we should ever meet any more. It was a painful thought; but I must not tell that—" and there was silence.
Days went by, and the invalid was growing in strength and health. They only met at the table at the family meals, but they were near each other. It was at dinner when a ride on horseback was proposed for the evening's recreation. They rode in company, and through the forest where the winding road circled the hills, and the great magnolias threw their dark shade and deliciously cooled the vesper breeze.
"Is it romance, or are you the young gentleman with flowing hair and black, curling beard I met, and who shot the arrow into the cotton bale for my amusement? O! how often have I seen you in my dreams; but I shall never see you as I saw you then. What a study you were to me! How could your words be so soft and gentle in the wild costume of the murderous savage? Had you uttered the war-whoop and strode away with the stride and pride of the savage warrior, there would have been euphony in it, and I should have felt and known you were a savage—and you would have passed from my mind. But, ah! look how beautifully bounds away the startled doe we have aroused from her lair in the cave here."
"She seems scarcely more startled than did you when I came so unexpectedly upon you in the store at Bayou Sara. Were you not surprised to see that I could write?"
"You must not question me now. Why have you cut your hair and beard? why doffed the prairie chieftain's robes of state and come forth a plain man? You have dispelled my romance. I have tried to paint you as I saw and remembered you, and made charcoal sketches for the gratification of friends to whom I would describe you. I would so like to see you as you were! O! you were a wonder to me, a very Orson—now, you are simply a—"
"Miserable creature in plain clothes, and by no means a lady's fancy. Why did you not let me die, since all that was to be fancied about me—my hair, my beard, and my buckskin coat, pants, and moccasins are gone and destroyed?"
The maiden laughed wildly; it was not the laugh of mirth or mischief, there was a madness in it that thrilled and awed.
"Do you know you are on the graves of a great nation?" she asked. "This mound and yonder three, were, the burial-places of the Natchez Indians. The Suns and Sachems sleep here, and he, the Great Sun, who came from the orbit's self, and was their lawgiver, and in whom and whose divinity they believed as the Jews in that of Moses, or the Christians in the Redeemer. Is it not all a mystery—strange, strange, incomprehensible, and unnatural? What is your faith?"
"To worship where I love; the divinity of my soul's worship is the devotion of my wild heart.'
"Why, you are mysterious! Have you, as had the Natchez, a holy fire which is never extinguished in your heart? Is the flame first kindled burning still? Did your sun come to you with fire in her hand and kindle it in your heart? Your words mean so much. Was she, or is she a red maiden of the wild prairies; or dwells she in a mansion surrounded with the appliances of wealth, reclining on cushions of velvet and sleeping on a bed of down, canopied with a pavilion of damask satin fretted with stars of silver; with handmaids to subserve and minister to every want?" And again the wild laugh rang to the echo among the hills and dense forests all around. "O! I see I have tuned the wrong chord and have made discord, not music in your mind. Shall we return? You are not yet strong, and your weakness I have made weaker, because I have disturbed the fountain of your heart and brought up painful memories?"
"You are strange," said her companion, "and guess wide of the mark. The untutored savage is only a romance at a distance—the reality of their presence a disgusting fact. They are wild, untamable, and wicked, without sentiment or sympathy, cruel and murderous; disgusting in their habits and brutal in their passions."
"And yet, sir, the stories which come down to us of these so quietly sleeping here are full of romance and poetry. Their intercourse with the French impressed that mercurial people with exalted notions of their humanity, chivalry, and nobleness of nature. Can it be that these historians only wrote romances? You must not disturb this romance. If it is an illusion let me enjoy it; do not strip from it the beard, the hair, the hunting-shirt, the bow and quiver—reality or fiction, it is sweet to the memory. How often have I wandered from our home and stood here alone and conjured from the spirit-land the ghosts of the Great Suns, the Stung Serpent, and the chief of the Beard, and hers who warned the French of the conspiracy for their destruction. In my day-dreaming I have talked with these; and learned with delight of their bliss in their eternal hunting-grounds. And as I have knelt here, they in hosts have come to me with all their legends and long accounts against the white man, and I have wept above these dry bones, and felt too it was the fate of the white man, when his mission shall have been completed on earth, and his nation's age bear him into the ground, and only his legends shall live a tradition, like that of the Natchez.
"The hieroglyphics of Thotmes, of Rameses, of Menephthah, and of the host of kings gone before these in Egypt's old life, cannot be read; their language, letters, and traditions, too, sleep beyond the revelations of time, and yet their tombs, like these, give up their bones to the curious, who group through the catacombs, or dig at the base of their monumental pyramids. All besides has passed away and is lost. Not even the color of the great people who filled these monuments, and carved from the solid stone these miles of galleries, now filled to repletion with their mummied dead, and whose capacity is sufficient to entomb the dead of a nation for thousands of years, is known now to those who people the fields reclaimed from the forest beyond the memory of time.
"Nations are born, have their periods of youthful vigor, their manhood of sturdy strength, the tottering of decrepit age, the imbecility of superstitious dotage—and their death is final extinction. Such is man, and such is the world. What we are, we know; what we shall be, we know not, save that we only leave a pile of bones. Come, we are approaching home, and the moon dares to shine, ere yet the sun has gone. Yonder is brother, and I expect a scolding; but let him fret—it is not often I have a toy. Fate threw you in my way and you must not complain if I use you."
"I shall not complain," replied the astonished young man; "but will you ride again to-morrow?"
She checked up her steed (a noble one he was) and seemed to take in his entire man, as slowly her eye went up from his stirrup to his face, when she said: "To-morrow, ah, to-morrow! Who can tell what to-morrow may bring forth? To you and to me, there may come no to-morrow. We may in a twinkling be hurled from our sphere into oblivion. The earth may open to-night, or even now, and we may drop into her bosom of liquid fire, and be only ashes to-morrow.
"'Take no heed for to-morrow,' is the admonition of wisdom. Look, yonder I was born. Here sleep the Natchez. See yonder tall mound, shaded from base to summit with the great forest trees peculiar to our land. On the top of that mound stood the temple dedicated to the worship of the sun. He smiles on it as the earth rolls up to hide his light away, as he did when the holy fire was watched by the priests in that temple. But the Indian worshipper is gone; to him there comes no morrow. There, on that mound, sleep the parents of my mother; to them comes no morrow. Allons! We shall be late for tea. Brother has gone to sister's, and we shall be alone." In a few minutes they were galloping down the avenue to the old Spanish-looking mansion, hid away almost from view in the forest and floral surroundings, which made it so lovely to view.
There had come in their absence another; it was she who was the youthful companion of his fairy at the Bayou Sara—a silent, reserved woman: very timid and very polished. Upon the gallery she was awaiting the return of her cousin. The meeting was (as all meetings between high-bred women should be) quiet, but cordial; without show, but full of heart. They loved one another, and were highbred women. The stranger was presented, and at tea the cousin was informed that he was the man from the mountains, and there was a curious, silent surprise in her face, when she almost whispered, "I am pleased, sir, to meet you again. I hope you will realize the romance of my cousin's dream with your legends of the West, the woods, and the wild men of the prairies."
Days went by, and still the fever raged in the city. The cerulean was bright and unflecked with a speck of vapor, like a concave mirror of burnished steel. It hung above, and the red sun seemed to burn his way through the azure mass. The leaves drooped as if weighted with lead, and in the shade kindly thrown upon the wilting grass by the tulips, oaks, and pecans about the yard, the poultry lifted their wings and panted with exhaustion in the sickly heat of the fervid atmosphere. The sun had long passed the zenith, dinner was over, and the inmates were enjoying the siesta, so refreshing in this climate of the sun. Here and there the leaves would start and dally with a vagrant puff from vesper's lips, then droop again as if in grief at the vagaries of the little truant which now was fanning and stirring into lazy motion another leafy limb.
There was music in the drawing room. It was suppressed and soft—so sweet that it melted into the heart in very stealth. Ah! it is gone. "Home, sweet home!" Poor Paine! like you, wandering in the friendless streets of England's metropolis and listening to your own sweet song, breathed from titled lips in palatial Homes, the listener to-day was homeless. He thought of you and the convivial hours he had passed with you, listening to the narrative of your vagrant life, and how happy you were in the poetry of your own thoughts when you were a stranger to every one, and your purse was empty, and you knew not where you were to find your dinner.
Genius, thou art a fatal gift! Ever creating, never realizing; living in a world of beauty etherialized in imagination's lens, and hating the material world as it is; buffeted by fortune and ridiculed by fools whose conceptions never rise above the dirt.
A little note, sweetly scented, is placed in his hand:
"Cousin and I propose a ride. Shall we have your company? You are aware it is the Sabbath. You must not, for us, do violence to your prejudices."
"Is this," thought he, "a delicate invitation to save my feelings, and is the latter clause meant as a hint that they do not want me? Well, the French always, when a compliment has as much bitter as sweet in it, take the sweet and leave the bitter unappropriated. It is a good example. I will follow it. Say to the ladies I will accompany them."
"The horses are all ready, sir; and the ladies bonneted wait in the drawing-room."
The sun was in the tree-tops and the shadows were long. There was a flirtation going on between the leaves and the breeze. The birds were flitting from branch to branch. A chill was on the air: it was bathing the cheek with its delicious touch, and animated life was rejoicing that evening had come.
Arriving at the great mound of the temple of the sun, with some difficulty they climb to its summit. So dense is the shade that it is almost dark. Here are two graves, in which sleep the remains of the grand-parents of these two beautiful and lovely women. All around are cultivated fields clothed with rich crops, luxuriant with the promise of abundance. At its base flows the little creek, gliding and gabbling along over pure white sand. Sweet Alice! How sad she seems! She stood at the grave's side, and, looking down, seemed lost in pious reverie. Every feature spoke reverence for the dead. Her cousin, too, was silent; and if not reverent, was not gay. He, their gallant, was respectfully silent, when Alice said, without lifting her eyes:
"I wonder if La Salle ever stood here? This is holy ground. No spot on earth has a charm for me like this. I am in the temple. I see the attentive, watchful priest feeding there (as she pointed) the holy fire, and yonder, with upturned eyes, the great lawgiver worshipping his god, as he comes up from his sleep, bringing day, warmth, light, and life. Was not this worship pure? Was it not natural? The sun came in the spring and awoke everything to life. The grass sprang from the ground and the leaves clothed the trees; the birds chose their mates and the flowers gladdened the fields; everything was redolent of life, and everything rejoiced. He went away in the winter, and death filled the land. There were no leaves, no grass, no flowers. All nature was gloomy in death. Could any but a god effect so much? The sun was their god; his temple was the sky, and his holy fire burned on through all time. Beautiful conception! Who can say it is not the true faith?"
"To the unlettered mind, it was," answered the young gentleman; "because the imagination could only be aided by the material presented to the natural eye. Science opens the eye of faith. It teaches that the sun is only the instrument, and faith looks beyond for the Creator. To such the Indian's faith cannot be the true one. The ignorance of one sees God in the instrument, and his thoughts clothe him with the power of the Creator, and his heart worships God in sincerity, and to him it is the true faith. But to the educated, scientific man, who knows the offices of the sun, it appears as it is, only the creature of the unseen, unknown God, and to this God he lifts his adoration and prayers, and to him this is the true faith."
"So, my philosopher, you believe, whatever lifts the mind to worship God is the true faith?"
"You put it strongly, Miss, and I will answer by a question. If in sincerity we invoke God's mercy, can the means that prompt the heart's devotion, reliance, and love, be wrong? His magnitude and perfection are a mystery to the untutored savage: he knows only what he sees. The earth to him, (as it was to the founders and patriarchs of our own faith,) is all the world. He has no idea that it is only one, and a small one of a numerous family, and can conceive only that the sun rules his world; gives life and death to everything upon the earth—but this inspires love and reverence for God. The scientific man sees in the sun only an attractive centre, and sees space filled with self-illuminating orbs, and reasoning from the known to the unknown, he believes these centres of attraction to planetary families, and the imagination stretches away through space filled with centres and revolving worlds, and each centre with its dependents revolving around one great centre, and this great centre he believes is God. His idea is only one step beyond the Indian's, and has only the same effect: it leads the heart to depend on and worship God."
"You are a heretic, and must like a naughty boy be made to read your Bible and go to Sunday-school, and be lectured and taught the true faith. Fy! fy! shall the heathen go to heaven? Where is the provision for him in the Bible? What are we to do with missions? If this be true, there is no need that we should be sending good men and dear, pious women to convert the Chinese, the Feejees, and the poor Africans so benighted that their very color is black, and the Australians, and New Georgians, to be roasted and eaten by the cannibals there. If they worship God in sincerity, you say that is all?"
"No, miss, faith without works is a futile reliance for heaven. It is the first necessity, and perhaps the next and greatest, is, to 'Do unto all what you would have all do unto you.' These are the words of the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, and were taught four and a half centuries before Christ, yet we see Him teaching the same. This, as Confucius said, was the great cardinal duty of man, and all else was but a commentary upon this. This I fancy is all, at least it is very comprehensive. You tell me the traditions of the people who worshipped here say that this was a cardinal law unto them?"
"You, sir, have lived too long among the heathen, if you are not one already. You are like an August peach in July: you are turning, and in a little while will be ripe. You talk, as Uncle Toney says, like a book, and to me, like a new book, for yours are new thoughts to me. Cousin, does he not astonish you?"
"By no means; true, they are new thoughts; but they are natural thoughts, and I do not fear to listen to them—on the contrary, I could listen to them all day, and, Alice, I have often, very often, heard from you something like this."
"Nonsense, cousin, nonsense; I am orthodox, you know, and a good girl and love to go to church, especially when I have a becoming new dress."
"Here are the bones of our ancestors, if they were once animated with souls; and I guess they were, particularly the old man, for I have heard many stories from old Toney, that convince me that he was a pretty hard one. How do we know that their spirits are not here by us now? Why is it deemed that there shall be no communication between the living and the dead? O! how I want to ask all about the spirit-land. Wake up and reclothe thy bones and become again animated dust, and tell me thou, my great progenitor, the mysteries of the grave, of heaven and hell. How quiet is the grave? No response, and it is impious to ask what I have. O! what is life which animates and harmonizes the elements of this mysterious creation, man! Life how imperious, and yet how kind; it unites and controls these antagonistic elements, and they do not quarrel on his watch. Mingling and communing they go on through time, regardless of the invitation of those from which they came to return. But when life is weary of his trust and guardianship, and throws up his commission, they declare war at once—dissolve, and each returns to his original. Death and corruption do their work, and life returns no more, and death is eternal, and the soul—answer ye dumb graves—did the soul come here? or went it with life to the great first cause? or is here the end of all; here, this little tenement? I shudder—is it the flesh, the instinct of life; or is it the soul which shrinks with horror from this little portal through which it must pass to eternal bliss, or eternal—horrible! Assist me to my horse, if you please. Come cousin, let us go and see old Uncle Toney—and, sir, he will teach you more philosophy than you ever dreamed of."
"Who is Uncle Toney? miss," asked the stranger of the visiting cousin when he returned to aid her descent of the mound.
"He is a very aged African, brought to this country from Carolina by our grandfather, in 1775, or earlier; he says there were remnants of the Natchez in the country at that time, and the old man has many stories of these, and many more very strange ones of the doings of the whites who first came and settled the country. He retains pretty well his faculties, and, like most old people, is garrulous and loves a listener. He will be delighted with our visit."
"Miss Alice, do you frequently visit Uncle Toney?"
"Very nearly every day. I have in my basket, here, something for the old man. Turn there, if you please—yonder by that lightning-scared old oak and those top-heavy pecans is his cabin and has been for more than sixty years. Here was the local of my grand-father's house; here was born my mother; but all the buildings have long been gone save Uncle Toney's cabin. Think of the hopes, the aspirations, the blisses, the sorrows, the little world that once was here—all gone except Uncle Toney. In my childhood I used to come here and go with him to the graves where we have been to-day, and have sat by them for hours listening to the stories he delights to tell of my grandfather and mother, until their very appearance seems familiar to my vision. I know that my grandfather was a small man, and a passionate man, and Toney sometimes tells me I am like him. His eye was gray—so is mine; his face sharper than round—so is mine, and sometimes my temper is terrible—so was his;" and she laughed again that same wild thrilling laugh as she gallopped up to the cabin and leaped down to greet the old man, who was seated at the door of his hut beneath the shade of a catalpa, the trunk of which was worn smooth from his long leaning against it. He was very black and very fat. His wool was white as snow, and but for the seams in both cheeks, cut by the knife in observance of some ridiculous rite in his native land, would have been really fine-looking for one of his age. He arose and shook hands with the cousin, but did not approach the gentleman. He was evidently not pleased with his presence and was chary of his talk.
"Ah! young missus," he said, when he received the basket, "you bring old Toney sometin good. You is my young missus, too; but dis one is de las one. Dey is all married and gone but dis one." (This conversation was addressed to the cousin.) "All gone away but dis one, and when she marry dare will be nobody to fetch dis ole nigger good tings and talk to de ole man."
"Uncle Toney, I don't intend to marry."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the old man, "berry well, berry well! I hear dat from ebery one ob my young misses, and where is dey now? All done married and gone. You gwine to do jus as all on em hab done, byne by when de right one come. Ah! may be he come now."
"You old sinner, I have a great mind to pull your ears for you."
"O no, missus, I don't know! I see fine young man dare; but maybe he come wid Miss Ann, and maybe he belong to her."
"Uncle Toney, don't you remember I told you of a wild man away from the mountains, all clothed in skins, with a long, curly beard and hair over his shoulders as black as a stormy night? This is he."
"Gosh!" said the venerable negro. "I mus shake his hand; but what hab you done wid your beard, your hair, and your huntin-shirt?"
"I have thrown them all into the fire, uncle. People among white people must not dress like Indians."
"Dat's a fac, young massa; but I tell you Miss Alice was mity taken wid dem tings. She come here soon as she comed home, and told me all about 'em and all about you—how you could shoot de bow and how you could talk, and she said: 'O! what would I not give to see him again?'"
"Toney, if you don't shut up, I won't come to see you, or bring you any more good things. This young gentleman has come with us to see you, and wishes to hear you tell all about the Natchez, and to get you to show him the many things you have dug up on and around these mounds, and have you tell him all about the old people who came here first and made all these big plantations and built all these great houses."
"Well, Miss Alice, dis is Sunday, you know, and dem tings mus not be telled on Sunday, and den you and Miss Ann don't want ole nigger to talk. You go ride and talk wid de young gemman, and maybe to-morrow, or some week-day, young massa can come down from de great house wid de gun to shoot de squirrels along de way, and when he tired, den he can come and rest, and I can tell him all. Yes, young massa, I been live long time here. Me is mity old. All dem what was here when I comed wid ole massa is dead long time. Yes, dare aint one on em livin now, and dare chillin is old."
"I shall be sure to come," said the young man, "and suppose I bring with me these ladies?"
"Neber you do dat, massa. I knows young folks ways too well for dat. Toney may talk, but dey neber will listen. Dey will talk wid one anoder, and Miss Alice been hear all de ole nigger's talk many a time, and she don't want to hear it ober and ober all de time; and beside dat, young massa, sometimes when I tells bout de ole folks, she trimbles and cries. She's got a mity soft heart bout some tings, and she tells me I mus tell you eberyting."
"There now, Toney, you have said enough about me to make the gentleman think I am a very silly little girl."
"God bress my young missus!" he said as he tenderly patted her head. "I wouldn't hurt your feelins for noffin. You is too good, Miss Alice. Toney lubed your mamma—Toney lubs you, and de day you is married and goes away, I want to go away too. I want to go yonder, Miss Alice, on de top ob dat mound, and lie down wid ole massa and missus. He told your pa to put me dar; but your pa's gone. O Miss Alice! dey's all gone but you and me and your brodder, and he don't care for Toney, and maybe he will trow him out in de woods like a dog when he die." Tears stole down the black face of the venerable man, and the eyes of Alice filled—and then she laughed the shrill, fearful laugh, and rode rapidly away.
She was singing and walking hurriedly the gallery, when the stranger and her cousin came leisurely into the yard.
"Your cousin, Miss Ann, has a strange laugh."
"Indeed she has, sir; but we who know her understand it. She never laughs that unearthly laugh when her heart is at ease. I doubt if you have ever met such a person. I think the world has but one Alice. She is very young, very impressible, and some think very eccentric, very passionate and romantic to frenzy. There is something which impels me to tell you—but no, I have no right to do so. But this I must tell you; for you cannot have been in the house here so long without observing it. There is no congeniality between herself and brother; indeed, very little between her and any of her family. She is alone. She is one by herself; yes, one by herself in the midst of many; for the family is a large one. But remember, there is none like Alice. Be gentle to her and pity her; and pity her most when you hear that strange laugh."
There was music in the drawing-room, soft and gentle, and the accompanying voice was tremulous with suppressed emotion. Gradually it swells in volume until it fills the spacious apartment, and the clear notes from the tender trill rose grandly in full, clear tones, full of pathetic melody, and now they almost shriek. They cease—and the laugh, hysterical and shrill, echoes through the entire house. The judge was silent; but a close observer might have seen a slight contraction of the lips, and a slighter closing of the eyes. A moment after Alice entered the room, and there was a glance exchanged between her brother and herself. There was in it a meaning only for themselves.
"You have been riding, sir," he said to his guest, "and my sister tells me to the mound at the White Apple village. To those curious in such legends as are connected with its history, it is an interesting spot. All I know in relation to these, I acquired from a dreamy and solitary man employed by my father to fit myself and brother for college. He read French, and was fond of tracing all he could find in the writings of the historians of the first settlement of Louisiana and Mississippi, and of the history, habits, and customs of the aborigines of the country. He knew something of the adventures of De Soto and La Salle, and something of the traditions of the Natchez. He was a melancholy man, and perished by his own hand in the chamber that you occupy. My sister is curious in such matters, and from her researches in some old musty volumes she has found in the possession of an old European family, she has made quite a history of the Natchez, and from the old servants much of that of the first white or English occupants of this section. For myself, I have little curiosity in that way. My business forbids much reading of that kind, and indeed much of anything else, and I am glad that my tastes and my business accord. I would not exchange one crop of cotton grown on the village-field, for a perfect knowledge of the history of every Indian tribe upon the continent."
"I am no antiquarian, sir. A life on a plantation I suppose must be most irksome and monotonous to a young lady, unless she should have some resource besides her rural employments."
"Our only amusements, sir," said Alice, "are reading, riding, and music, with an occasional visit to a neighbor. I ride through the old forest and consult the great patriarchal trees, and they tell me many strange stories. When the ruthless axe has prostrated one of these forest monarchs, my good palfrey waits for me, and I count the concentric circles and learn his age. Some I have seen which have yielded to man's use or cupidity who have looked over the younger scions of the woods, and upon the waters of the mighty river a thousand years."
"Indeed, miss," replied the guest, "I had not supposed the natural life of any of our forest trees extended beyond three, or at most four centuries."
"The tulip or poplar-tree and the red-oak in the rich loam of these hills live long and attain to giant proportions. The vines which cling in such profusion to many of these are commensurate with them in time. They spring up at their bases and grow with them: the tree performing the kindly office of nurse, lifting them in her arms and carrying them until their summits, with united leaves, seem to kiss the clouds. They live and cling together through tempests and time until worn out with length of days, when they tumble and fall to the earth together, and together die. We all, Flora and Fauna, go down to the bosom of our common mother to rest in death. I love the companionship of the forest. There is an elevation of soul in this communion with incorruptible nature: there is sincerity and truth in the hills and valleys—in the trees and vines, and music—grand orchestral music—in the moaning of the limbs and leaves, played upon by the hurrying winds. I have prayed to be a savage, and to live in the woods."
"You are as usual, sister, very romantic to-night."
"By and by, brother, I shall forget it I presume. I am human, and shall soon die, or live on till time hardens my nature, or sordid pursuits plough from my heart all its sympathies, and old age finds me gloating over the gains of laborious care and penurious meanness.
"'To such vile uses we must come at last.'"
"You draw a sad picture, miss, for old age. Do not the gentler virtues of our nature ever ripen with time? Is it the alchemist who always turns the sweets of youth to the sours of age? There are many examples in every community to refute your position. I would instance the venerable negro we visited to-day. He wept as he placed his trembling hand upon your head. There was surely nothing ascetic or sordid in his feelings."
"Uncle Toney is an exception, sir. The affectionate memories he has of our family, and especially of my mother and father, redeems him from the obloquy of his race. His heart is as tender as his conduct is void of offense. He was a slave. God had ordained him for his situation. He had not the capacity to aspire beyond his lot, or to contrast it with his master's. Contented to render his service, and satisfied with the supply of his wants from the hands of him he served—he had a home, and all the comforts his nature required. He has it still; but I know he is not as contented as when he was my father's slave. God bless the old man! He shall never want while I have anything, and should I see him die, he shall sleep where he wished to-day."
"By our grandfather, I suppose, Alice?"
"Yes, my brother, by our grand-parents. They told him it should be so. Ah! there are no distinctions in the grave; white skin and black skin alike return to dust, and the marl of the earth is composed alike of the bones of all races, and their properties seem to be the same. I, too, wish to sleep there. It is a romantically beautiful spot, and its grand old traditions make it holy ground. How its associations hallow it! Imagination peoples it with those bold old red men who assembled in the temple to worship the holy fire—emblematic of their faith—humbling their fierce natures and supplicating for mercy. I go there and I feel in the touch of the air that it is peopled with the spirits of the mighty dead, surrounding and blessing me for my memory of, and love for, their extinct race."
"Bravo, sister! What an enthusiast! You, sir, have some knowledge of the Indians. Do they stir the romance of your nature as that of my baby sister?"
The glance from her eye was full of scorn: it flashed with almost malignant hate as she rose from her seat, and taking the arm of her cousin she swept from the room, audibly whispering "baby sister" in sneering accents.
"Woman's nature is a strange study, my young friend. I have several sisters and they are all strange, each in her peculiar way. They are remarkable for the love they bear their husbands, and yet they all have a pleasure in tormenting them, and are never so unhappy, as when they see these happy. This younger sister has a nature all her own. I do not think she shares a trait with another living being. Wild, yet gentle; the eagle to some, to some the dove. Quick as the lightning in her temper—as fervid, too; a heart to hate intensely, and yet to melt in love and worship its object; but would slay it, if she felt it had deceived her. Always searching into the history of the past, and always careless of the future."
"You have drawn something of the character of a Spanish woman. Their love and their hate is equally fierce; and both easily excited, they are devoted in all their passions. I have thought that this grew from the secluded life they live. Ardency is natural to the race, and this restrained makes their lives one long romance. Their world is all of imagination. The contacts of real life they never meet outside of their prison-homes, and the influence of experience is never known. They are seen through bars, are sought through bars, they love through bars—and the struggle is, to escape from these restraints; and the moral of the act or means for its accomplishment, or the object to be attained, never enters the mind. Such natures properly reared to know the world, to see it, hear it, and suffer it, tunes all the attributes of the mind and heart to make sweet music. Nothing mellows the heart like sorrow; nothing so softens the obduracy of our natures as experience. None, sir, man or woman, are fitted for the world without the experiences its contact brings. These experiences are teachings, and the bitter ones the best. To be happy, we must have been miserable; it is the idiosyncracy of the mind, to judge by comparison; and the eternal absence of grief leaves the mind unappreciative of the incidents and excitements which bring to him or her who have suffered, such exquisite enjoyment. The rue of life is scarcely misery to those who have never tasted its ambrosia."
"You are young, sir, thus to philosophize, and must have seen and experienced more than your years would indicate."
"Some, sir, in an incident see all of its characters that the world in a lifetime may present. They suffer, and they enjoy with an acuteness unknown to most natures; and in youth gain the experiences and knowledge they impart, while most of the world forget the pain and the pleasure of an incident with its evanescence. With such, experience teaches nothing. These progress in the world blindly and are always stumbling and falling."
"The ladies have retired—shall we imitate their example, sir? This will light you to your chamber; good night."
Alone, and kindly shielded with the darkness, the adventurer lay thoughtful and sleepless. Here are two strange beings. There is in the one angelic beauty animated with a soul of giant proportions, large in love, large in hate, and grandly large in its aspirations; and yet it is chained to a rock with fetters that chafe at every motion. The other cold, emotionless, with a reserved severity of manner, which is the offspring of a heart as malignant and sinister as Satan himself may boast of. They hate each other, but how different that hatred! The one is an emotion fierce and fiery but without malice; the other malicious and revengeful. One is the hatred of the recipient of an injury who can forgive; the other the hatred of one who has inflicted an injury with calculation. Such never forgive. And this I am sure is the relation of this brother and sister. Deprived when yet young of the fostering care of a mother, scarcely remembering her father, she has been the ward of this cold, hard being, whose pleasure it has been to thwart every wish of this lovely being: to hate her because she is lovely, and to aggravate into fury her resentments, and to sour every generous impulse of her extraordinary nature. What a curse to have so sensitive a being subjected to the training of so cold and malignant a one!
There is no natural affection. The heart is born a waste: its loves, its hates are of education and association; and the responsibility for the future of a child rests altogether with those intrusted with its rearing and training. The susceptibilities only are born with the heart, and these may be cultivated to good or evil, as imperceptibly as the light permeates the atmosphere. These capacities or susceptibilities are acute or obtuse as the cranium's form will indicate, and require a system suited to each. Attention soon teaches this: the one grows and expands beautifully with the slightest attention; the other is a fat soil, and will run to weeds, without constant, close, and deep cultivation, and its production of good fruit is in exact proportion with its fertility and care. It gives the most trouble but it yields the greatest product. And here in that warm, impulsive heart is the fat soil. O! for the hand to weed away all that is noxious now rooting there. That look, that whispered bitterness was the fruit of wicked wrong—I know it; the very nature prompting there would give the sweetest return to justice, kindness, and love.
THE ROMANCE CONTINUED.
FATHER CONFESSOR—OPEN CONFESSION—THE UNREAD WILL—OLD TONEY'S NARRATIVE—SQUIRREL SHOOTING—THE FAREWELL UNSAID—BROTHERS-IN-LAW— FAREWELL INDEED.
When the morrow came, the clouds were weeping and the damp was dripping from every leaf, and gloomy rifts of spongy vapor floated lazily upon the breeze, promising a wet and very unpleasant day. These misty periods rarely endure many hours in the autumn, but sometimes they continue for days. The atmosphere seems half water, and its warm damp compels close-housing, to avoid the clammy, sickly feeling met beyond the portals. At such times, time hangs heavily, and every resource sometimes fails to dispel the gloom and ennui consequent upon the weather; conversation will pall; music cease to delight, and reading weary. To stand and watch the rain through the window-panes, to lounge from the drawing-room to your chamber, to drum with your fingers upon the table—to beat your brain for a thought which you vainly seek to weave into rhyme in praise of your inamorata—all is unavailing. The rain is slow but ceaseless, and the hours are days to the unemployed mind. We hum a tune and whistle to hurry time, but the indicating fingers of the tediously ticking clock seems stationary, and time waits for fair weather. The ladies love their chambers, and sleeping away the laggard hours, do not feel the oppression of a slow, continuous, lazy rain.
The morning has well-nigh passed, and the drawing-room is still untenanted. The judge was busy in his office, looking over papers and accounts, seemingly unconscious of the murky day; perhaps he had purposely left this work for such a day—wise judge—a solitary man, unloving, and unloved; hospitable by freaks, sordid by habit, and mean by nature. Yet he was wise in his way; devoid of sentiment or sympathy as a grind-stone, his wit was as sharp as his heart was cold. Absorbed in himself, the outside world was nothing to him. He had work, gainful work for all weathers, and therefore no feeling for those who suffered from the weather or the world, if it cost him nothing in pence. He was the guardian of his baby sister; but all of her he had in his heart was a care that she should not marry, before he was ready to settle her estate. The interest he felt in her, was his commissions for administering her property with a legitimate gain earned in the use of her money.
The guest of this strange man was restless, he knew not why; there were books in abundance, and their authors' names were read over and over again as he rummaged the book-cases he knew not for what. First one and then another was pulled out from its companions, the title-page read and replaced again, only to take another. Idly he was turning the pages of one, when a voice surprised him and sweetly inquired at his elbow if he found amusement or edification in his employment. "I must apologize for my rudely leaving you last night. I hope I am incapable of deceit or unnecessary concealments. I was hurt and angry, and I went away in a passion. Yours is a gentle nature, you do not suffer your feelings to torture and master you. I should not, but I am incapable of the effort necessary to their control. It is best with me that they burn out, but their very ashes lie heavily upon my heart. Our clime is a furnace, and her children are flame, at least, strange sir, some of them are a self-consuming flame. I feel that is my nature. Is not this an honest confession? I could explain further in extenuation of my strange nature. It was not my nature until it was burned into my very soul. I am very young, but the bitterness of my experiences makes me old, at least in feeling. But you are not my father confessor—then why do I talk to you as to one long known? Because—perhaps—but never mind the reason. I know my cousin has whispered something to you of me; my situation, my nature—is it not so?"
"Ah! you would be my father confessor. You must not interrogate, but if you would know, ask your cousin."
"O! no, I could not. Is it not strange that woman will confide to the strange man, what she will not to the kindred woman? Woman will not sympathize with woman; she goes not to her for comfort, for sympathy, for relief. Is this natural? Men lean on one another, women only on man. Is this natural? Is it instinctive? or an acquired faculty? Do not laugh at me, I am very foolish and very sad; such a day should sadden every one. But my cousin is very cheerful, twitters and flits about like an uncaged canary, and is as cheerful when it rains all day, as when the sun in her glory gladdens all the earth and everything thereon. I am almost a Natchez, for I worship the sun. How I am running on! You are gentle and kind, are you not? You are quick, perceptive—you have seen that I am not happy—sympathize, but do not pity me. That is a terrible struggle between prudence and inclination. There, now I am done—don't you think me very foolish?"
"Miss Alice—(will you allow me this familiarity?)"
"Yes, when we are alone; not before cousin or my man brother." (She almost choked with the word.) "Not before strangers—we are not strangers when alone. You read my nature, as I do yours, and we are not strangers when alone. It is not long acquaintance which makes familiar friends. The mesmeric spark will do more than years of intercommunication, where there is no congeniality—and do it in a little precious moment. The bloody arrow we held in common was an electric chain. I learned you at the plucking of that arrow from the cotton bale—in your strange, wild garb; but never mind—what were you going to say?"
"I was going to say that our acquaintance was very brief, but what I have seen or heard, I will not tell to you or to any one. Your imagination is magnifying your sufferings. You want a heart to confide in. You have brothers-in-law, wise and strong men.
"That, for the whole of them," she said, as she snapped her fingers. "Their wives are my sisters, some of them old enough to be my mother, but they and their husbands are alike—sordid. The hope of money is even more debasing than the hoarding. Do you understand me? I must speak or my heart will burst. Are you a wizzard that you have so drawn me on? Dare I speak? Is it maidenly that I should? There is a spell upon me. Go to your chamber—there is a spy upon me; I am seen, and I fear I have been overheard; go to your chamber—here, take this book and read it if you never have—dinner is at hand, and after dinner—, but let each hour provide for itself,—at dinner,—well, well, adieu."
She was in the drawing-room, and again the soft melody of half-suppressed music, scarcely audible, yet every note distinct, floated to his chamber, and the guest scarcely breathed that he might hear. There was something so plaintive, so melting in the tones that they saddened as well as delighted. How the heart can melt out at the finger-points when touching the keys of a sweetly-toned instrument! It is thrown to the air, and in its plaint makes sweet music of its melancholy. Like harmonious spirits chanting in their invisibility, making vocal the very atmosphere, it died away as though going to a great distance, and stillness was in the whole house. He stole gently to the door. There seated was Alice; her elbow on her instrument, and her brow upon her hand. The bell rang for dinner. The repast is over, and a glass of generous wine sent the rose to the cheeks of Alice, but enlivened not her eye. Her heart was sad: the eye spoke it but too plainly, and she looked beautiful beyond comparison. The eye of the stranger was rivetted upon that drooping lid and more than melancholy brow.
His situation was a painful one. More than once had he caught the quick, suspicious glance of the judge flash upon him. He was becoming an object of interest to more than one in the house; but how different that interest! How at antipodes the motives of that interest! He knew too much, and yet he wanted to know more. He was left alone in the drawing-room with the timid, modest little cousin. It rained on, and the weather seemed melancholy, and their feelings were in unison with the weather.
"I shall leave, I believe, miss, as soon as the rain will permit. I presume I may go down to the city without fear."
"You will find it but a sorry place, sir. All the hotels are closed and everybody is out of town save the physicians, and the poor who are unable to get away. The gloom of the desolated place is enough to craze any one. I hope you do not find your stay disagreeable in this house?"
"I will not attempt to deceive you, miss. I cannot say why; but I feel uncomfortable—not at my ease. It were needless for me to repeat it; I am sure you know the cause."
"Perhaps I do, sir; and still I cannot see in that sufficient cause for your going away. Perhaps, sir, we are not thinking of the same cause," she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"I particularly allude to what you yourself communicated to me. I perceive Miss Alice is very unhappy, and I also am apprehensive that I may in some way be the cause of this."
"I will tell you, sir, any special attention on your part to Alice will enrage her brother. From motives known to himself, he is very much opposed to her marrying any one. His reasons as given are that she is so peculiar in her disposition that she would only increase her own misery in making her husband miserable, which her eccentric nature would certainly insure. I have heard that he has sometimes had a thought of carrying her to an asylum for the insane. The world, however, is not charitable enough to believe this the true reason. The judge is very grasping, and he has in his hands Alice's fortune. Some of his own family suppose he desires the use of it as long as possible. There are many hard things said of him in relation to his influencing his mother to leave him the lion's share of her estate. This very home was intended for Alice, and though he had not spoken to his mother for years, in her last hours he came with a prepared will and insisted on her signing it. She feared him (most people do) and affixed her name to the fatal document, which report says was never read to her. After that she could not bear the presence of Alice, saying in her delirium: 'My poor baby will hate me; I have turned her from her home.' Alice has learned all this, and she has upbraided him with his conduct; for once provoked she does not even fear him."
"Why do not her brothers-in-law inquire into this? They are equally interested in the matter it seems to me."
"Ah, sir! they are hoping that he may do them justice in his will. I am sure this is the understanding with at least one of them, and neither of them will hazard a loss to protect the rights of Alice. Large expectations are strong inducements to selfishness. I am disclosing family matters, sir; but I have done so from a good motive. It is but half disclosed to you; but the rest I must not tell. You are not so dull as not from what I have said to be able to shape your conduct. Alice is coming."
The rain had ceased, and for two days the genial sun had drank up the moisture from the land, which underfoot was dry again. The autumn had come, and the earth groaned with the rich products of this favored land. The cotton-fields were whitening, and the yellow corn's pendant ears hung heavily from their supporting stocks. Fat cattle in the shade of the great trees switched away the teasing flies as they lazily ruminated. The crows were cawing and stealing from their bursting shells the rich pecan nuts, and the black-birds flew in great flocks over the fields. In the hickory-woods the gray squirrel leaped from tree to tree, hunting for, and storing away for winter's use, his store of nuts and acorns, or running along the rail-fence to find a hiding-place when frightened from his thieving in the cornfields. The quail whistled for his truant mate in the yellow stubble, and the carrion-bird—black and disgusting—wheeled in circles, lazily, high up in the blue above. There was in everything the appearance of satisfaction; abundance was everywhere, and the yellowing of the leaves and the smoky horizon told that the year was waning into winter.
Under the influences of the scene and the season the visitor of the judge was sober and reflective as he strolled through the woods, gun in hand, little intent upon shooting. The quail whirred away from his feet; the funny little squirrel leaped up the tree-side and peeped around at him passing; but he heeded not these, and went forward to find the cabin of old Toney. He found the old negro in his usual seat at the foot of his favorite tree, upon his well-smoothed and sleek wooden stool.
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Toney. "You come dis time widout Miss Alice. Why she not come wid you? You not want somebody to turn de squirrel for you? May be you bring de ole man more dan one dar?"
"It was too great a walk for her, Uncle Toney, and then she does not like my company well enough to pay so much fatigue for it."
Toney laughed again. "Too much walk, indeed, she walk here most ebery day, wid her little bonnet in her hand and basket too, wid sometin good for Toney. When sun yonder and de shade cobber de groun; den she set dare, (pointing to the grass which grew luxuriantly near by) and talk to de ole man and lissen so still like a bird hiding, when I tell her all bout de ole folks, dat is buried dare, and how we all comed away from de States when de ole war driv us off, not General Jackson's war. No, sir, General Washington's war, de ole war of all—and den, young massa, you ought to see her. She's mity putty den, she is—face red and smove, and she little tired and she look so like ole missus yonder, when she was a gall, and dem English red coats comes out from Charleston, to de ole place to see her. Dat's a long time ago, young massa."
"Uncle Toney, how old are you?"
"Moss a hundred, young massa; I don't know zackly—but I great big boy when I comed from de ole country, tudder side ob de sea—my country, massa. When I comed to Charleston, I was so high—(holding his hand some four feet from the earth) yet I was big nuff to plow, when ole massa, de fadder of him burried yonder, bied me and tuck me up to de high hills ob Santee. Den, sir, my massa who brought me here, was gone to de country whar de white folks first comed from, England. I neber see him till de ole war, when his fadder been dead two year, den he comed home one night and all de family but one had gone to de war. He not talk much, but look mity sorry. My ole missus was a pretty gall, den, live close by us, and it not long afore dey gets married, and den many ob de nabors come and dey hab long talk. Dey's all comes to de greement to come away from de country, fraid ob de war, and all de fadders ob all de nabors here take all der niggers and der stock and go up de country to de riber dat's named de Holsten, and dare dey built heep flat boats, and in de spring dey starts down de riber. Some ob de boats hab hogs on 'em, some hosses, some cows, some niggers, some corn and meat, and some de white families. Dar was boff de grandfadder ob Miss Alice, and her fadder. He was small, not grown, and old massa, her modder's fadder, was young wid young wife, but dey all made him captain.
"We was long time comin down de riber, and we had to fite de Injuns long time at de place dey calls Mussel Shoals. Some ob de boats got on de ground, and one on em we had to leave wid de hogs on it. De bullets come from the Injuns so hot dat we all had to get out into de water and go to anudder boat and get away from dar. Dem was the wust Injuns I ebber seed. But we got away and we runned all night. Nex day Miss Alice's fadder was on de top ob de boat ob his fadder when Injun shoot him in de back from de woods, and he buried wid dat bullet in him up yonder to de great house. Well, young massa, we comed one day into a big riber, and dar we stopt one hole week, and de massa and some on de ress on em got out and luck at de country, but dey not like him and we started agin, and de nex day we gits into di Massasippi, and in two days more we comed to de place dey called New Madrid, and here stopt agin.
"De land was mity level and rich, and all de men said dey would stop here and live. De people what lived here was Spanish, and some niggers and Injuns, and dey talked a lingo we didn't know. Dere was a nigger who could talk American, and he comed one night and tuck ole massa out and telled him de Spaniards was gwine to rob dem all, and dat dey would kill all on de white folks, and take all de niggers and stock, and dey was gwine to do it de fus dark night. Dis larmed us all, and dat night we slipt off, and when mornin comed we was way down de riber and gwine ahead I tell you. We neber stopt any more till we got to de mouth of Cole's Creek. Dare de fadder of Miss Alice's fadder stopt, and said he would stay dare. Ole massa seed an Injun dat tole him ob dis place and dey started true de cane, dey was gone long time, but when dey comed back, ole massa got us all ready and away we went and neber stopt till we comed to the mouth of St. Catharine's, right ober dar. Dar we landed and unloaded de boats, and in a week we was all camped up dar whar de big percan is, and right dar de ole man raise all his family—and dar he and ole missus died.
"All dis country was full ob deer and Injuns, and dem hills yonder was all covered wid big canes and de biggest trees you ebber seed. Yonder, all round dat mound we cleaned a field and planted corn and indigo; and ober yonder was another settlement; and yonder, down de creek was another; and on de cliffs was another, and den dare comed a heap ob people and stopt at Natchez and St. Catharine, and all us people a most, young massa, about here is come ob dem; but dare was trouble moss all de time twixt em.
"Ole massa was made de Governor, by somebody, and dare was another man made a Governor, too, and he git a company one night and comed down here; but somebody had tole old massa, and dat day he tell me, and we went down to de riber under de cliff war was some cane and he tole me he was gwine to stay dar, and I muss bring him sometin to eat ebery day, but I musn't tell whar he was, not eben to ole missus, for dey would scare her and make her tell on him. Shore nuff, dat night here dey comed, a many a one on em, and dey went right into de great house and serched it and ebery whar, but dey was fooled bad, and den dey tuck me and put a rope round my neck and hung me to de lim of a tree what is dead and gone now, right out dar. But wen I was moss dead, dey let me down and axed me whar was de Governor. I swared I didn't know, and dey pulled me up agin; and dis time dey thought dey had killed me, shore nuff. It was a long time before I comed to, and den I tole um I could show um whar he was, and we started.