This, then, was the Rev. Mr. Warren, the divine who had been called to our church the very summer I left home, and who had been there ever since! My sister Martha had written me much concerning these people, and I felt as if I had known them for years. Mr. Warren was a man of good connexions, and some education, but of no fortune whatever, who had gone into the Church—it was the church of his ancestors, one of whom had actually been an English bishop, a century or two ago—from choice, and contrary to the wishes of his friends. As a preacher, his success had never been great; but for the discharge of his duties no man stood higher, and no man was more respected. The living of St. Andrew's, Ravensnest, would have been poor enough, had it depended on the contributions of the parishioners. These last gave about one hundred and fifty dollars a-year, for their share of the support of a priest. I gave another hundred, as regularly as clock-work, and had been made to do so throughout a long minority; and my grandmother and sister made up another fifty between them. But there was a glebe of fifty acres of capital land, a wood-lot, and a fund of two thousand dollars at interest; the whole proceeding from endowments made by my grandfather, during his lifetime. Altogether, the living may have been worth a clear five hundred dollars a year, in addition to a comfortable house, hay, wood, vegetables, pasture, and some advantages in the way of small crops. Few country clergymen were better off than the rector of St. Andrew's, Ravensnest, and all as a consequence of the feudal and aristocratic habits of the Littlepages, though I say it, perhaps, who might better not, in times like these.
My letters had told me that the Rev. Mr. Warren was a widower; that Mary was his only child; that he was a truly pious, not a sham-pious, and a really zealous clergyman; a man of purest truth, whose word was gospel—of great simplicity and integrity of mind and character; that he never spoke evil of others, and that a complaint of this world and its hardships seldom crossed his lips. He loved his fellow-creatures, both naturally and on principle; mourned over the state of the diocese, and greatly preferred piety even to high-churchism. High-churchman he was, nevertheless; though it was not a high-churchmanship that outweighed the loftier considerations of his Christian duties, and left him equally without opinions of his own in matters of morals, and without a proper respect, in practice, for those that he had solemnly vowed to maintain.
His daughter was described as a sweet-tempered, arch, modest, sensible, and well-bred girl, that had received a far better education than her father's means would have permitted him to bestow, through the liberality and affection of a widowed sister of her mother's, who was affluent, and had caused her to attend the same school as that to which she had sent her own daughters. In a word, she was a most charming neighbour; and her presence at Ravensnest had rendered Martha's annual visits to the "old house" (built in 1785) not only less irksome, but actually pleasant. Such had been my sister's account of the Warrens and their qualities, throughout a correspondence of five years. I have even fancied that she loved this Mary Warren better than she loved any of her uncle's wards, herself of course excepted.
The foregoing flashed through my mind, the instant the clergyman announced himself; but the coincidence of our being on the way to the same part of the country, seemed to strike him as forcibly as it did myself. What Mary thought of the matter, I had no means of ascertaining.
"This is singular enough," resumed Mr. Warren. "What has directed your steps towards Ravensnest?"
"Dey tell mine ooncle 'tis goot place to sell moch vatch."
"You have an uncle, then? Ah! I see him there in the street, showing a watch at this moment to a gentleman. Is your uncle a linguist, too, and has he been as well educated as you seem to be yourself?"
"Certain—he moch more of a shentleman dan ast de shentleman to whom he now sell vatch."
"These must be the very persons," put in Mary, a little eagerly, "of whom Mr. Newcome spoke, as the"—the dear girl did not like to say pedlars, after what I had told them of my origin; so she added—"dealers in watches and trinkets, who intended to visit our part of the country."
"You are right, my dear, and the whole matter is now clear. Mr. Newcome said he expected them to join us at Troy, when we should proceed in the train together as far as Saratoga. But here comes Opportunity herself, and her brother cannot be far off."
At that moment, sure enough, my old acquaintance, Opportunity Newcome, came into the room, a public parlour, with an air of great self-satisfaction, and a nonchalance of manner that was not a little more peculiar to herself than it is to most of her caste. I trembled for my disguise, since, to be quite frank on a very delicate subject, Opportunity had made so very dead a set at me—"setting a cap" is but a pitiful phrase to express the assault I had to withstand—as scarcely to leave a hope that her feminine instinct, increased and stimulated with the wish to be mistress of the Nest house, could possibly overlook the thousand and one personal peculiarities that must still remain about one, whose personal peculiarities she had made her particular study.
"O, sic a geek she gave her head, And sic a toss she gave her feather; Man, saw ye ne'er a bonnier lass Before, among the blooming heather?"
"Ah! here are some charming French vignettes!" cried Opportunity, running up to a table where lay some inferior coloured engravings, that were intended to represent the cardinal virtues, under the forms of tawdry female beauties. The workmanship was French, as were the inscriptions. Now, Opportunity knew just enough French to translate these inscriptions, simple and school-girl as they were, as wrong as they could possibly be translated, under the circumstances.
"La Vertue," cried Opportunity, in a high, decided way, as if to make sure of an audience "The Virtue; La Solitude," pronouncing the last word in a desperately English accent, "The Solitude; La Charite, The Charity. It is really delightful, Mary, as 'Sarah Soothings' would say, to meet with these glimmerings of taste in this wilderness of the world."
I wondered who the deuce "Sarah Soothings" could be, but afterwards learned this was the nom-de-guerre of a female contributor to the magazines, who, I dare say, silly as she might be, was never silly enough to record the sentiments Opportunity had just professed to repeat. As for The la Charite, and The la Vertue, they did not in the least surprise me; for Martha, the hussy, often made herself merry by recording that young lady's tours de force in French. On one occasion I remember she wrote me, that when Opportunity wished to say On est venu me chercher, instead of saying "I am come for," in homely English, which would have been the best of all, she had flown off in the high flight of "Je suis venue pour."
Mary smiled, for she comprehended perfectly the difference between la Solitude and the Solitude; but she said nothing. I must acknowledge that I was so indiscreet as to smile also, though, Opportunity's back being turned towards us, these mutual signs of intelligence that escaped us both through the eyes, opened a species of communication that, to me at least, was infinitely agreeable.
Opportunity, having shown the owner of the strange figure at which she had just glanced on entering the room, that she had studied French, now turned to take a better look at him. I have reason to think my appearance did not make a very happy impression on her; for she tossed her head, drew a chair, seated herself in the manner most opposed to the descent of down, and opened her budget of news, without the least regard to my presence, and apparently with as little attention to the wishes and tastes of her companions. Her accent, and jumping, hitching mode of speaking, with the high key in which she uttered her sentiments, too, all grated on my ears, which had become a little accustomed to different habits, in young ladies in particular, in the other hemisphere. I confess myself to be one of those who regard an even, quiet, graceful mode of utterance, as even a greater charm in a woman than beauty. Its effect is more lasting, and seems to be directly connected with the character. Mary Warren not only pronounced like one accustomed to good society; but the modulations of her voice, which was singularly sweet by nature, were even and agreeable, as is usual with well-bred women, and as far as possible from the jerking, fluttering, now rapid, now drawling manner of Opportunity. Perhaps, in this age of "loose attire," loose habits, and free and easy deportment, the speech denotes the gentleman, or the lady, more accurately than any other off-hand test.
"Sen is enough to wear out anybody's patience!" exclaimed Opportunity. "We must quit Troy in half an hour; and I have visits that I ought to pay to Miss Jones, and Miss White, and Miss Black, and Miss Green, and Miss Brown, and three or four others; and I can't get him to come near me."
"Why not go alone?" asked Mary, quietly. "It is but a step to two or three of the houses, and you cannot possibly lose your way. I will go with you, if you desire it."
"Oh! lose my way? no, indeed! I know it too well for that. I wasn't educated in Troy, not to know something of the streets. But it looks so, to see a young lady walking in the streets without a beau! I never wish to cross a room in company without a beau; much less to cross a street. No; if Sen don't come in soon, I shall miss seeing every one of my friends, and that will be a desperate disappointment to us all; but it can't be helped: walk without a beau I will not, if I never see one of them again."
"Will you accept of me, Miss Opportunity?" asked Mr. Warren. "It will afford me pleasure to be of service to you."
"Lord! Mr. Warren, you don't think of setting up for a beau at your time of life, do you? Everybody would see that you're a clergyman, and I might just as well go alone. No, if Sen don't come in at once, I must lose my visits; and the young ladies will be so put out about it, I know! Araminta Maria wrote me, in the most particular manner, never to go through Troy without stopping to see her, if I didn't see another mortal; and Katherine Clotilda has as much as said she would never forgive me if I passed her door. But Seneca cares no more for the friendships of young ladies, than he does"—Miss Newcome pronounced this word "doos," notwithstanding her education, as she did "been," "ben," and fifty others just as much out of the common way—"But Seneca cares no more for the friendships of young ladies, than he does for the young patroon. I declare, Mr. Warren, I believe Sen will go crazy unless the anti-renters soon get the best of it; he does nothing but think and talk of 'rents,' and 'aristocracy,' and 'poodle usages,' from morning till night."
We all smiled at the little mistake of Miss Opportunity, but it was of no great consequence; and I dare say she knew what she meant as well as most others who use the same term, though they spell it more accurately. "Poodle usages" are quite as applicable to anything now existing in America, as "feudal usages."
"Your brother is then occupied with a matter of the last importance to the community of which he is a member," answered the clergyman, gravely. "On the termination of this anti-rent question hangs, in my judgment, a vast amount of the future character, and much of the future destiny, of Yew York."
"I wonder, now! I'm surprised to hear you say this, Mr. Warren, for generally you're thought to be unfriendly to the movement. Sen says, however, that everything looks well, and that he believes the tenants will get their lands throughout the State before they've done with it. He tells me we shall have Injins enough this summer at Ravensnest. The visit of old Mrs. Littlepage has raised a spirit that will not easily be put down, he says."
"And why should the visit of Mrs. Littlepage to the house of her grandson, and to the house built by her own husband, and in which she passed the happiest days of her life, 'raise a spirit,' as you call it, in any one in that part of the country?"
"Oh! you're episcopal, Mr. Warren; and we all know how the Episcopals feel about such matters. But, for my part, I don't think the Littlepages are a bit better than the Newcomes, though I won't liken them to some I could name at Ravensnest; but I don't think they are any better than you, yourself; and why should they ask so much more of the law than other folks?"
"I am not aware that they do ask more of the law than others; and, if they do, I'm sure they obtain less. The law in this country is virtually administered by jurors, who take good care to graduate justice, so far as they can, by a scale suited to their own opinions, and, quite often, to their prejudices. As the last are so universally opposed to persons in Mrs. Littlepage's class in life, if there be a chance to make her suffer, it is pretty certain it will be improved."
"Sen says he can't see why he should pay rent to a Littlepage, any more than a Littlepage should pay rent to him."
"I am sorry to hear it, since there is a very sufficient reason for the former, and no reason at all for the latter. Your brother uses the land of Mr. Littlepage, and that is a reason why he should pay him rent. If the case were reversed, then, indeed, Mr. Littlepage should pay rent to your brother."
"But what reason is there that these Littlepages should go on from father to son, from generation to generation, as our landlords, when we're just as good as they. It's time there was some change. Besides, only think, we've been at the mills, now, hard upon eighty years, grandpa having first settled there; and we have had them very mills, now, for three generations among us."
"High time, therefore, Opportunity, that there should be some change," put in Mary, with a demure smile.
"Oh! you're so intimate with Marthy Littlepage, I'm not surprised at anything you think or say. But reason is reason, for all that. I haven't the least grudge in the world against young Hugh Littlepage; if foreign lands haven't spoilt him, as they say they're desperate apt to do, he's an agreeable young gentleman, and I can't say that he used to think himself any better than other folks."
"I should say none of the family are justly liable to the charge of so doing," returned Mary.
"Well, I'm amazed to hear you say that, Mary Warren. To my taste, Marthy Littlepage is as disagreeable as she can be. If the anti-rent cause had nobody better than she is to oppose it, it would soon triumph."
"May I ask, Miss Newcome, what particular reason you have for so thinking?" asked Mr. Warren, who had kept his eye on the young lady the whole time she had been thus running on, with an interest that struck me as somewhat exaggerated, when one remembered the character of the speaker, and the value of her remarks.
"I think so, Mr. Warren, because everybody says so," was the answer. "If Marthy Littlepage don't think herself better than other folks, why don't she act like other folks. Nothing is good enough for her in her own conceit."
Poor little Patt, who was the very beau ideal of nature and simplicity, as nature and simplicity manifest themselves under the influence of refinement and good-breeding, was here accused of fancying herself better than this ambitious young lady, for no other reason than the fact of the little distinctive peculiarities of her air and deportment, which Opportunity had found utterly unattainable, after one or two efforts to compass them. In this very fact is the secret of a thousand of the absurdities and vices that are going up and down the land at this moment, like raging lions, seeking whom they may devour. Men often turn to their statutebooks and constitution to find the sources of obvious evils, that, in truth, have their origin in some of the lowest passions of human nature. The entrance of Seneca at that moment, however, gave a new turn to the discourse, though it continued substantially the same. I remarked that Seneca entered with his hat on, and that he kept his head covered during most of the interview that succeeded, notwithstanding the presence of the two young ladies and the divine. As for myself, I had been so free as to remove my cap, though many might suppose it was giving myself airs, while others would have imagined it was manifesting a degree of respect to human beings that was altogether unworthy of freemen. It is getting to be a thing so particular and aristocratic to take off the hat on entering a house, that few of the humbler democrats of America now ever think of it!
As a matter of course, Opportunity upbraided her delinquent brother for not appearing sooner to act as her beau; after which, she permitted him to say a word for himself. That Seneca was in high good-humour, was easily enough to be seen; he even rubbed his hands together in the excess of his delight.
"Something has happened to please Sen," cried the sister, her own mouth on a broad grin, in her expectation of coming in for a share of the gratification. "I wish you would get him to tell us what it is, Mary; he'll tell you anything."
I cannot describe how harshly this remark grated on my nerves. The thought that Mary Warren could consent to exercise even the most distant influence over such a man as Seneca Newcome, was to the last degree unpleasant to me; and I could have wished that she would openly and indignantly repel the notion. But Mary Warren treated the whole matter very much as a person who was accustomed to such remarks would be apt to do. I cannot say that she manifested either pleasure or displeasure; but a cold indifference was, if anything, uppermost in her manner. Possibly, I should have been content with this; but I found it very difficult to be so. Seneca, however, did not wait for Miss Warren to exert her influence to induce him to talk, but appeared well enough disposed to do it of his own accord.
"Something has happened to please me, I must own," he answered; "and I would as lief Mr. Warren should know what it is, as not. Things go ahead finely among us anti-renters, and we shall carry all our p'ints before long!"
"I wish I were certain no points would be carried but those that ought to be carried, Mr. Newcome," was the answer. "But what has happened, lately, to give a new aspect to the affair?"
"We're gaining strength among the politicians. Both sides are beginning to court us, and the 'spirit of the institutions' will shortly make themselves respected."
"I am delighted to hear that! It is in the intention of the institutions to repress covetousness, and uncharitableness, and all frauds, and to do nothing but what is right," observed Mr. Warren.
"Ah! here comes my friend the travelling jeweller," said Seneca, interrupting the clergyman, in order to salute my uncle, who at that instant showed himself in the door of the room, cap in hand. "Walk in, Mr. Dafidson, since that is your name: Rev. Mr. Warren—Miss Mary Warren—Miss Opportunity Newcome, my sister, who will be glad to look at your wares. The cars will be detained on some special business, and we have plenty of time before us."
All this was done with a coolness and indifference of manner which went to show that Seneca had no scruples whatever on the subject of whom he introduced to any one. As for my uncle, accustomed to these free and easy manners, and probably not absolutely conscious of the figure he cut in his disguise, he bowed rather too much like a gentleman for one of his present calling, though my previous explanation of our own connexion and fallen fortunes had luckily prepared the way for this deportment.
"Come in, Mr. Dafidson, and open your box—my sister may fancy some of your trinkets; I never knew a girl that didn't."
The imaginary pedlar entered, and placed his box on a table near which I was standing, the whole party immediately gathering around it. My presence had attracted no particular attention from either Seneca or his sister, the room being public, and my connexion with the vender of trinkets known. In the mean time, Seneca was too full of his good news to let the subject drop; while the watches, rings, chains, brooches, bracelets, &c. &c., were passed under examination.
"Yes, Mr. Warren, I trust we are about to have a complete development of the spirit of our institutions, and that in futur' there will be no privileged classes in New York, at least."
"The last will certainly be a great gain, sir," the divine coldly answered. "Hitherto, those who have most suppressed the truth, and who have most contributed to the circulation of flattering falsehoods, have had undue advantages in America."
Seneca, obviously enough, did not like this sentiment; but I thought, by his manner, that he was somewhat accustomed to meeting with such rebuffs from Mr. Warren.
"I suppose you will admit there are privileged classes now among us, Mr. Warren?"
"I am ready enough to allow that, sir; it is too plain to be denied."
"Wa-all, I should like to hear you p'int 'em out; that I might see if we agree in our sentiments."
"Demagogues are a highly privileged class. The editors of newspapers are another highly privileged class; doing things, daily and hourly, which set all law and justice at defiance, and invading, with perfect impunity, the most precious rights of their fellow-citizens. The power of both is enormous; and, as in all cases of great and irresponsible power, both enormously abuse it."
"Wa-all, that's not my way of thinking at all. In my judgment, the privileged classes in this country are your patroons and your landlords; men that's not satisfied with a reasonable quantity of land, but who wish to hold more than the rest of their fellow-creatur's."
"I am not aware of a single privilege that any patroon—of whom, by the way, there no longer exists one, except in name—or any landlord, possesses over any one of his fellow-citizens."
"Do you call it no privilege for a man to hold all the land there may happen to be in a township? I call that a great privilege; and such as no man should have in a free country. Other people want land as well as your Van Renssalaers and Littlepages; and other people mean to have it, too."
"On that principle, every man who owns more of any one thing than his neighbour is privileged. Even I, poor as I am, and am believed to be, am privileged over you, Mr. Newcome. I own a cassock, and have two gowns, one old and one new, and various other things of the sort, of which you have not one. What is more, I am privileged in another sense; since I can wear my cassock and gown, and bands, and do wear them often; whereas you cannot wear one of them all without making yourself laughed at."
"Oh! but them are not privileges I care anything about; if I did I would put on the things, as the law does not prohibit it."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Newcome; the law does prohibit you from wearing my cassock and gown contrary to my wishes."
"Wa-all, wa-all, Mr. Warren; we never shall quarrel about that; I don't desire to wear your cassack and gown."
"I understand you, then; it is only the things that you desire to use that you deem it a privilege for the law to leave me."
"I am afraid we shall never agree, Mr. Warren, about this anti-rent business; and I'm very sorry for it, as I wish particularly to think as you do," glancing his eye most profanely towards Mary as he spoke. "I am for the movement-principle, while you are too much for the stand-still doctrine."
"I am certainly for remaining stationary, Mr. Newcome, if progress mean taking away the property of old and long established families in the country, to give it to those whose names are not to be found in our history; or, indeed, to give it to any but those to whom it rightfully belongs."
"We shall never agree, my dear sir, we shall never agree;" then, turning towards my uncle with the air of superiority that the vulgar so easily assume—"What do you say to all this, friend Dafidson—are you up-rent or down-rent?"
"Ja, mynheer," was the quiet answer; "I always downs mit der rent vens I leave a house or a garten. It is goot to pay de debts; ja, it ist herr goot."
This answer caused the clergyman and his daughter to smile, while Opportunity laughed outright.
"You won't make much of your Dutch friend, Sen," cried this buoyant young lady; "he says you ought to keep on paying rent!"
"I apprehend Mr. Dafidson does not exactly understand the case," answered Seneca, who was a good deal disconcerted, but was bent on maintaining his point. "I have understood you to say that you are a man of liberal principles, Mr. Dafidson, and that you've come to America to enjoy the light of intelligence and the benefits of a free government."
"Ja; ven I might coome to America, I say, vell, dat 'tis a goot coontry, vhere an honest man might haf vhat he 'arns, ant keep it, too. Ja, ja! dat ist vhat I say, ant vhat I dinks."
"I understand you, sir; you come from a part of the world where the nobles eat up the fat of the land, taking the poor man's share as well as his own, to live in a country where the law is, or soon will be, so equal that no citizen will dare to talk about his estates, and hurt the feelin's of such as haven't got any."
My uncle so well affected an innocent perplexity at the drift of this remark as to make me smile, in spite of an effort to conceal it. Mary Warren saw that smile, and another glance of intelligence was exchanged between us; though the young lady immediately withdrew her look, a little consciously and with a slight blush.
"I say that you like equal laws and equal privileges, friend Dafidson," continued Seneca, with emphasis; "and that you have seen too much of the evils of nobility and of feudal oppression in the old world, to wish to fall in with them in the new."
"Der nobles ant der feudal privileges ist no goot," answered the trinket-pedlar, shaking his head with an appearance of great distaste.
"Ay, I knew it would be so; you see, Mr. Warren, no man who has ever lived under a feudal system can ever feel otherwise."
"But what have we to do with feudal systems, Mr. Newcome? and what is there in common between the landlords of New York and the nobles of Europe, and between their leases and feudal tenures?"
"What is there? A vast deal too much, sir, take my word for it. Do not our very governors, even while ruthlessly calling on one citizen to murder another——"
"Nay, nay, Mr. Newcome," interrupted Mary Warren, laughing, "the governors call on the citizens not to murder each other."
"I understand you, Miss Mary; but we shall make anti-renters of you both before we are done. Surely, sir, there is a great deal too much resemblance between the nobles of Europe and our landlords, when the honest and free-born tenants of the last are obliged to pay tribute for permission to live on the very land that they till, and which they cause to bring forth its increase."
"But men who are not noble let their lands in Europe; nay, the very serfs, as they become free and obtain riches, buy lands and let them, in some parts of the old world, as I, have heard and read."
"All feudal, sir. The whole system is pernicious and feudal, serf or no serf."
"But, Mr. Newcome," said Mary Warren, quietly, though with a sort of demure irony in her manner that said she was not without humour, and understood herself very well, "even you let your land—land that you lease, too, and which you do not own, except as you hire it from Mr. Littlepage."
Seneca gave a hem, and was evidently disconcerted; but he had too much of the game of the true progressive movement—which merely means to lead in changes, though they may lead to the devil—to give the matter up. Repeating the hem, more to clear his brain than to clear his throat, he hit upon his answer, and brought it out with something very like triumph.
"That is one of the evils of the present system, Miss Mary. Did I own the two or three fields you mean, and to attend to which I have no leisure, I might sell them; but now, it is impossible, since I can give no deed. The instant my poor uncle dies—and he can't survive a week, being, as you must know, nearly gone—the whole property, mills, tavern, farms, timber-lot and all, fall in to young Hugh Littlepage, who is off frolicking in Europe, doing no good to himself or others, I'll venture to say, if the truth were known. That is another of the hardships of the feudal system; it enables one man to travel in idleness, wasting his substance in foreign lands, while it keeps another at home, at the plough-handles and the cart-tail."
"And why do you suppose Mr. Hugh Littlepage wastes his substance, and is doing himself and country no good in foreign lands, Mr. Newcome? That is not at all the character I hear of him, nor is it the result that I expect to see from his travels."
"The money he spends in Europe might do a vast deal of good at Ravensnest, sir."
"For my part, my dear sir," put in Mary again, in her quiet but pungent way, "I think it remarkable that neither of our late governors has seen fit to enumerate the facts just mentioned by Mr. Newcome among those that are opposed to the spirit of the institutions. It is, indeed, a great hardship that Mr. Seneca Newcome cannot sell Mr. Hugh Littlepage's land."
"I complain less of that," cried Seneca, a little hastily, "than of the circumstance that all my rights in the property must go with the death of my uncle. That, at least, even you, Miss Mary, must admit is a great hardship."
"If your uncle were unexpectedly to revive, and live twenty years, Mr. Newcome——"
"No, no, Miss Mary," answered Seneca, shaking his head in a melancholy manner; "that is absolutely impossible. It would not surprise me to find him dead and buried on our return."
"But, admit that you may be mistaken, and that your lease should continue—you would still have a rent to pay?"
"Of that I wouldn't complain in the least. If Mr. Dunning, Littlepage's agent, will just promise, in as much as half a sentence, that we can get a new lease on the old terms, I'd not say a syllable about it."
"Well, here is one proof that the system has its advantages!" exclaimed Mr. Warren, cheerfully. "I'm delighted to hear you say this; for it is something to have a class of men among us whose simple promises, in a matter of money, have so much value! It is to be hoped that their example will not be lost."
"Mr. Newcome has made an admission I am also glad to hear," added Mary, as soon as her father had done speaking. "His willingness to accept a new lease on the old terms is a proof that he has been living under a good bargain for himself hitherto, and that down to the present moment he has been the obliged party."
This was very simply said, but it bothered Seneca amazingly. As for myself, I was delighted with it, and could have kissed the pretty, arch creature who had just uttered the remark; though I will own that as much might have been done without any great reluctance, had she even held her tongue. As for Seneca, he did what most men are apt to do when they have the consciousness of not appearing particularly well in a given point of view he endeavoured to present himself to the eyes of his companions in another.
"There is one thing, Mr. Warren, that I think you will admit ought not to be," he cried, exultingly, "whatever Miss Mary thinks about it; and that is, that the Littlepage pew in your church ought to come down."
"I will not say that much, Mr. Newcome, though I rather think my daughter will. I believe, my dear, you are of Mr. Newcome's way of thinking in respect to this canopied pew, and also in respect to the old hatchments?"
"I wish neither was in the church," answered Mary, in a low voice.
From that moment I was fully resolved neither should be, as soon as I got into a situation to control the matter.
"In that I agree with you entirely, my child," resumed the clergyman; "and were it not for this movement connected with the rents, and the false principles that have been so boldly announced of late years, I might have taken on myself the authority, as rector, to remove the hatchments. Even according to the laws connected with the use of such things, they should have been taken away a generation or two back. As to the pew, it is a different matter. It is private property; was constructed with the church, which was built itself by the joint liberality of the Littlepages and mother Trinity; and it would be a most ungracious act to undertake to destroy it under such circumstances, and more especially in the absence of its owner."
"You agree, however, that it ought not to be there?" asked Seneca, with exultation.
"I wish with all my heart it were not. I dislike every thing like worldly distinction in the house of God; and heraldic emblems, in particular, seem to me very much out of place where the cross is seen to be in its proper place."
"Wa-all, now, Mr. Warren, I can't say I much fancy crosses about churches either. What's the use in raising vain distinctions of any sort. A church is but a house, after all, and ought so to be regarded."
"True," said Mary, firmly; "but the house of God."
"Yes, yes, we all know, Miss Mary, that you Episcopalians look more at outward things, and more respect outward things, than most of the other denominations of the country."
"Do you call leases 'outward things,' Mr. Newcome?" asked Mary, archly; "and contracts, and bargains, and promises, and the rights of property, and the obligation to 'do as you would be done by?'"
"Law! good folks," cried Opportunity, who had been all this time tumbling over the trinkets, "I wish it was 'down with the rent' for ever, with all my heart; and that not another word might ever be said on the subject. Here is one of the prettiest pencils, Mary, I ever did see; and its price is only four dollars. I wish, Sen, you'd let the rent alone, and make me a present of this very pencil."
As this was an act of which Seneca had not the least intention of being guilty, he merely shifted his hat from one side of his head to the other, began to whistle, and then he coolly left the room. My uncle Ro profited by the occasion to beg Miss Opportunity would do him the honour to accept the pencil as an offering from himself.
"You an't surely in earnest!" exclaimed Opportunity, flushing up with surprise and pleasure. "Why, you told me the price was four dollars; and even that seems to me desperate little!"
"Dat ist de price to anudder," said the gallant trinket-dealer; "but dat ist not de price to you, Miss Opportunity. Ve shall trafel togedder; ant vhen ve gets to your coontry, you vill dell me de best houses vhere I might go mit my vatches ant drinkets."
"That I will; and get you in at the Nest House, in the bargain," cried Opportunity, pocketing the pencil without further parley.
In the mean time my uncle selected a very neat seal, the handsomest he had, being of pure metal, and having a real topaz in it, and offered it to Mary Warren, with his best bow. I watched the clergyman's daughter with anxiety, as I witnessed the progress of this galanterie, doubting and hoping at each change of the ingenuous and beautiful countenance of her to whom the offering was made. Mary coloured, smiled, seemed embarrassed, and, as I feared, for a single moment doubting; but I must have been mistaken, as she drew back, and, in the sweetest manner possible, declined to accept the present. I saw that Opportunity's having just adopted a different course added very much to her embarrassment, as otherwise she might have said something to lessen the seeming ungraciousness of the refusal. Luckily for herself, however, she had a gentleman to deal with, instead of one in the station that my uncle Ro had voluntarily assumed. When this offering was made, the pretended pedlar was ignorant altogether of the true characters of the clergyman and his daughter, not even knowing that he saw the rector of St. Andrew's, Ravensnest. But the manner of Mary at once disabused him of an error into which he had fallen through her association with Opportunity, and he now drew back himself with perfect tact, bowing and apologizing in a way that I thought must certainly betray his disguise. It did not, however; for Mr. Warren, with a smile that denoted equally satisfaction at his daughter's conduct, and a grateful sense of the other's intended liberality, but with a simplicity that was of proof, turned to me and begged a tune on the flute which I had drawn from my pocket and was holding in my hand, as expecting some such invitation.
If I have any accomplishment, it is connected with music; and particularly with the management of the flute. On this occasion I was not at all backward about showing off, and I executed two or three airs, from the best masters, with as much care as if I had been playing to a salon in one of the best quarters of Paris. I could see that Mary and her father were both surprised at the execution, and that the first was delighted. We had a most agreeable quarter of an hour together; and might have had two, had not Opportunity—who was certainly well named, being apropos of everything—began of her own accord to sing, though not without inviting Mary to join her. As the latter declined this public exhibition, as well as my uncle Ro's offering, Seneca's sister had it all to herself; and she sang no less than three songs, in quick succession, and altogether unasked. I shall not stop to characterize the music or the words of these songs, any further than to say they were all, more or less, of the Jim Crow school, and executed in a way that did them ample justice.
As it was understood that we were all to travel in the same train, the interview lasted until we were ready to proceed; nor did it absolutely terminate then. As Mary and Opportunity sat together, Mr. Warren asked me to share his seat, regardless of the hurdy-gurdy; though my attire, in addition to its being perfectly new and neat, was by no means of the mean character that it is usual to see adorning street-music in general. On the whole, so long as the instrument was not en evidence, I might not have seemed very much out of place seated at Mr. Warren's side. In this manner we proceeded to Saratoga, my uncle keeping up a private discourse the whole way with Seneca, on matters connected with the rent movement.
As for the divine and myself, we had also much interesting talk together. I was questioned about Europe in general and Germany in particular; and had reason to think my answers gave surprise as well as satisfaction. It was not an easy matter to preserve the Doric of my assumed dialect, though practice and fear contributed their share to render me content to resort to it. I made many mistakes, of course, but my listeners were not the persons to discover them. I say my listeners, for I soon ascertained that Mary Warren, who sat on the seat directly before us, was a profoundly attentive listener to all that passed. This circumstance did not render me the less communicative, though it did increase the desire I felt to render what I said worthy of such a listener. As for Opportunity, she read a newspaper a little while, munched an apple a very little while, and slept the rest of the way. But the journey between modern Troy and Saratoga is not a long one, and was soon accomplished.
"I will tell you; If you'll bestow a small (of what you have little), Patience, a while, you'll hear the belly's answer."
At the springs we parted, Mr. Warren and his friends finding a conveyance, with their own horses, in readiness to carry them the remainder of the distance. As for my uncle and myself, it was understood that we were to get on in the best manner we could, it being expected that we should reach Ravensnest in the course of a day or two. According to the theory of our new business, we ought to travel on foot, but we had a reservation in petto that promised us also the relief of a comfortable wagon of some sort or other.
"Well," said my uncle, the moment we had got far enough from our new acquaintances to be out of ear-shot, "I must say one thing in behalf of Mr. Seneky, as he calls himself, or Sen, as his elegant sister calls him, and that is, that I believe him to be one of the biggest scoundrels the state holds."
"This is not drawing his character en beau," I answered, laughing. "But why do you come out so decidedly upon him at this particular moment?"
"Because this particular moment happens to be the first in which I have had an opportunity to say anything since I have known the rascal. You must have remarked that the fellow held me in discourse from the time we left Troy until we stopped here."
"Certainly; I could see that his tongue was in motion unceasingly: what he said, I have to conjecture."
"He said enough to lay bare his whole character. Our subject was anti-rent, which he commenced with a view to explain it to a foreigner; but I managed to lead him on, step by step, until he let me into all his notions and expectations on the subject. Why, Hugh, the villain actually proposed that you and I should enlist, and turn ourselves into two of the rascally mock redskins."
"Enlist! Do they still persevere so far as to keep up that organization, in the very teeth of the late law?"
"The law! What do two or three thousand voters care for any penal law, in a country like this? Who is to enforce the law against them? Did they commit murder, and were they even convicted, as might happen under the excitement of such a crime, they very well know nobody would be hanged. Honesty is always too passive in matters that do not immediately press on its direct interests. It is for the interest of every honest man in the State to set his face against this anti-rent movement, and to do all he can, by his vote and influence, to put it down into the dirt, out of which it sprang, and into which it should be crushed; but not one in a hundred, even of those who condemn it toto caelo, will go a foot out of their way even to impede its progress. All depends on those who have the power; and they will exert that power so as to conciliate the active rogue, rather than protect the honest man. You are to remember that the laws are executed here on the principle that 'what is everybody's business is nobody's business.'"
"You surely do not believe that the authorities will wink at an open violation of the laws!"
"That will depend on the characters of individuals; most will, but some will not. You and I would be punished soon enough, were there a chance, but the mass would escape. Oh! we have had some precious disclosures in our corner of the car! The two or three men who joined Newcome are from anti-rent districts, and seeing me with their friend, little reserve has been practised. One of those men is an anti-rent lecturer; and, being somewhat didactic, he favoured me with some of his arguments, seriatim."
"How! Have they got to lectures? I should have supposed the newspapers would have been the means of circulating their ideas."
"Oh, the newspapers, like hogs swimming too freely, have cut their own throats; and it seems to be fashionable, just at this moment, not to believe them. Lecturing is the great moral lever of the nation at present."
"But a man can lie in a lecture, as well as in a newspaper."
"Out of all question; and if many of the lecturers are of the school of this Mr. Holmes—'Lecturer Holmes,' as Seneca called him—but, if many are of his school, a pretty set of liberty-takers with the truth must they be."
"You detected him, then, in some of these liberties?"
"In a hundred: nothing was easier than for a man in my situation to do that; knowing, as I did, so much of the history of the land-titles of the State. One of his arguments partakes so largely of the weak side of our system, that I must give it to you. He spoke of the gravity of the disturbances—of the importance to the peace and character of the State of putting an end to them; and then, by way of corollary to his proposition, produced a scheme for changing the titles, IN ORDER TO SATISFY THE PEOPLE!"
"The people, of course, meaning the tenants; the landlords and their rights passing for nothing."
"That is one beautiful feature of the morality—an eye, or a cheek, if you will—but here is the nose, and highly Roman it is. A certain portion of the community wish to get rid of the obligations of their contracts; and finding it cannot be done by law, they resort to means that are opposed to all law, in order to effect their purposes. Public law-breakers, violators of the public peace, they make use of their own wrong as an argument for perpetuating another that can be perpetuated in no other way. I have been looking over some of the papers containing proclamations, &c., and find that both law-makers and law-breakers are of one mind as to this charming policy. Without a single manly effort to put down the atrocious wrong that is meditated, the existence of the wrong itself is made an argument for meeting it with concessions, and thus sustaining it. Instead of using the means the institutions have provided for putting down all such unjust and illegal combinations, the combinations are a sufficient reason of themselves why the laws should be altered, and wrong be done to a few, in order that many may be propitiated, and their votes secured."
"This is reasoning that can be used only where real grievances exist. But there are no real grievances in the case of the tenants. They may mystify weak heads in the instance of the Manor leases, with their quarter sales, fat hens, loads of wood and days' works; but my leases are all on three lives, with rent payable in money, and with none of the conditions that are called feudal, though no more feudal than any other bargain to pay articles in kind. One might just as well call a bargain made by a butcher to deliver pork for a series of years feudal. However, feudal or not, my leases, and those of most other landlords, are running on lives; and yet, by what I can learn, the discontent is general; and the men who have solemnly bargained to give up their farms at the expiration of the lives are just as warm for the 'down-rent' and titles in fee, as the Manor tenants themselves! They say that the obligations given for actual purchases are beginning to be discredited."
"You are quite right; and there is one of the frauds practised on the world at large. In the public documents, only the Manor leases, with their pretended feudal covenants and their perpetuity, are kept in view, while the combination goes to all leases, or nearly all, and certainly to all sorts of leases, where the estates are of sufficient extent to allow of the tenants to make head against the landlords. I dare say there are hundreds of tenants, even on the property of the Renssalaers, who are honest enough to be willing to comply with their contracts if the conspirators would let them; but the rapacious spirit is abroad among the occupants of other lands, as well as among the occupants of theirs, and the government considers its existence a proof that concessions should be made. The discontented must be appeased, right or not!"
"Did Seneca say anything on the subject of his own interests?"
"He did; not so much in conversation with me, as in the discourse he held with 'Lecturer Holmes.' I listened attentively, happening to be familiar, through tradition and through personal knowledge, with all the leading facts of the case. As you will soon be called on to act in that matter for yourself, I may as well relate them to you. They will serve, also, as guides to the moral merits of the occupation of half the farms on your estate. These are things, moreover, you would never know by public statements, since all the good bargains are smothered in silence, while those that may possibly have been a little unfavourable to the tenant are proclaimed far and near. It is quite possible that, among the many thousands of leased farms that are to be found in the State, some bad bargains may have been made by the tenants; but what sort of a government is that which should undertake to redress evils of this nature? If either of the Renssalaers, or you yourself, were to venture to send a memorial to the Legislature setting forth the grievances you labour under in connection with this very 'mill-lot'—and serious losses do they bring to you, let me tell you, though grievances, in the proper sense of the term, they are not—you and your memorial would be met with a general and merited shout of ridicule and derision. One man has no rights, as opposed to a dozen."
"So much difference is there between 'de la Rochefocauld et de la Rochefoucauld.'"
"All the difference in the world: but let me give you the facts, for they will serve as a rule by which to judge of many others. In the first place, my great-grandfather Mordaunt, the 'patentee,' as he was called, first let the mill-lot to the grandfather of this Seneca, the tenant then being quite a young man. In order to obtain settlers, in that early day, it was necessary to give them great advantages, for there was vastly more land than there were people to work it. The first lease, therefore, was granted on highly advantageous terms to that Jason Newcome, whom I can just remember. He had two characters; the one, and the true, which set him down as a covetous, envious, narrow-minded provincial, who was full of cant and roguery. Some traditions exist among us of his having been detected in stealing timber, and in various other frauds. In public he is one of those virtuous and hard-working pioneers who have transmitted to their descendants all their claims, those that are supposed to be moral, as well as those that are known to be legal. This flummery may do for elderly ladies, who affect snuff and bohea, and for some men who have minds of the same calibre, but they are not circumstances to influence such legislators and executives as are fit to be legislators and executives. Not a great while before my father's marriage, the said Jason still living and in possession, the lease expired, and a new one was granted for three lives, or twenty-one years certain, of which one of the lives is still running. That lease was granted, on terms highly favourable to the tenant, sixty years since, old Newcome, luckily for himself and his posterity, having named this long-lived son as one of his three lives. Now Seneky, God bless him! is known to lease a few of the lots that have fallen to his share of the property for more money than is required to meet all your rent on the whole. Such, in effect, has been the fact with that mill-lot for the last thirty years, or even longer; and the circumstance of the great length of time so excellent a bargain has existed, is used as an argument why the Newcomes ought to have a deed of the property for a nominal price; or, indeed, for no price at all, if the tenants could have their wishes."
"I am afraid there is nothing unnatural in thus perverting principles; half mankind appear to me really to get a great many of their notions dessus dessous."
"Half is a small proportion; as you will find, my boy, when you grow older. But was it not an impudent proposal of Seneca, when he wished you and me to join the corps of 'Injins?'"
"What answer did you make? Though I suppose it would hardly do for us to go disguised and armed, now that the law makes it a felony, even while our motive, at the bottom, might be to aid the law."
"Catch me at that act of folly! Why, Hugh, could they prove such a crime on either of us, or any one connected with an old landed family, we should be the certain victims. No governor would dare pardon us. No, no; clemency is a word reserved for the obvious and confirmed rogues."
"We might get a little favour on the score of belonging to a very powerful body of offenders."
"True; I forgot that circumstance. The more numerous the crimes and the criminals, the greater the probability of impunity; and this, too, not on the general principle that power cannot be resisted, but on the particular principle that a thousand or two votes are of vast importance, where three thousand can turn an election. God only knows where this thing is to end!"
We now approached one of the humbler taverns of the place, where it was necessary for those of our apparent pretensions to seek lodgings, and the discourse was dropped. It was several weeks too early in the season for the Springs to be frequented, and we found only a few of those in the place who drank the waters because they really required them. My uncle had been an old stager at Saratoga—a beau of the "purest water," as he laughingly described himself—and he was enabled to explain all that it was necessary for me to know. An American watering-place, however, is so very much inferior to most of those in Europe, as to furnish very little, in their best moments, beyond the human beings they contain, to attract the attention of the traveller.
In the course of the afternoon we availed ourselves of the opportunity of a return vehicle to go as far as Sandy Hill, where we passed the night. The next morning, bright and early, we got into a hired wagon and drove across the country until near night, when we paid for our passage, sent the vehicle back, and sought a tavern. At this house, where we passed the night, we heard a good deal of the "Injins" having made their appearance on the Littlepage lands, and many conjectures as to the probable result. We were in a township, or rather on a property that was called Mooseridge, and which had once belonged to us, but which, having been sold, and in a great measure paid for by the occupants, no one thought of impairing the force of the covenants under which the parties held. The most trivial observer will soon discover that it is only when something is to be gained that the aggrieved citizen wishes to disturb a covenant. Now, I never heard any one say a syllable against either of the covenants of his lease under which he held his farm, let him be ever so loud against those which would shortly compel him to give it up! Had I complained of the fact—and such facts abounded—that my predecessors had incautiously let farms at such low prices that the lessees had been enabled to pay the rents for half a century by subletting small portions of them, as my uncle Ro had intimated, I should be pointed at as a fool. "Stick to your bond" would have been the cry, and "Shylock" would have been forgotten. I do not say that there is not a vast difference between the means of acquiring intelligence, the cultivation, the manners, the social conditions, and, in some senses, the social obligations of an affluent landlord and a really hard-working, honest, well-intentioned husbandman, his tenant—differences that should dispose the liberal and cultivated gentleman to bear in mind the advantages he has perhaps inherited, and not acquired by his own means, in such a way as to render him, in a certain degree, the repository of the interests of those who hold under him; but, while I admit all this, and say that the community which does not possess such a class of men is to be pitied, as it loses one of the most certain means of liberalizing and enlarging its notions, and of improving its civilization, I am far from thinking that the men of this class are to have their real superiority of position, with its consequences, thrown into their faces only when they are expected to give, while they are grudgingly denied it on all other occasions! There is nothing so likely to advance the habits, opinions, and true interests of a rural population, as to have them all directed by the intelligence and combined interests that ought to mark the connection between landlord and tenant. It may do for one class of political economists to prate about a state of things which supposes every husbandman a freeholder, and rich enough to maintain his level among the other freeholders of the State. But we all know that as many minute gradations in means must and do exist in a community, as there exists gradations in characters. A majority soon will, in the nature of things, be below the level of the freeholder, and by destroying the system of having landlords and tenants, two great evils are created—the one preventing men of large fortunes from investing in lands, as no man will place his money where it will be insecure or profitless, thereby cutting off real estate generally from the benefits that might be and would be conferred by their capital, as well as cutting it off from the benefits of the increased price which arise from having such buyers in the market; and the other is, to prevent any man from being a husbandman who has not the money necessary to purchase a farm. But they who want farms now, and they who will want votes next November, do not look quite so far ahead as that, while shouting "equal rights," they are, in fact, for preventing the poor husbandman from being anything but a day-labourer.
We obtained tolerably decent lodgings at our inn, though the profoundest patriot America possesses, if he know anything of other countries, or of the best materials of his own, cannot say much in favour of the sleeping arrangements of an ordinary country inn. The same money and the same trouble would render that which is now the very beau ideal of discomfort, at least tolerable, and in many instances good. But who is to produce this reform? According to the opinions circulated among us, the humblest hamlet we have has already attained the highest point of civilization; and as for the people, without distinction of classes, it is universally admitted that they are the best educated, the acutest, and the most intelligent in Christendom;—no, I must correct myself; they are all this, except when they are in the act of leasing lands, and then the innocent and illiterate husbandmen are the victims of the arts of designing landlords, the wretches!
We passed an hour on the piazza, after eating our supper, and there being a collection of men assembled there, inhabitants of the hamlet, we had an opportunity to get into communication with them. My uncle sold a watch, and I played on the hurdy-gurdy, by way of making myself popular. After this beginning, the discourse turned on the engrossing subject of the day, anti-rentism. The principal speaker was a young man of about six-and-twenty, of a sort of shabby genteel air and appearance, whom I soon discovered to be the attorney of the neighbourhood. His name was Hubbard, while that of the other principal speaker was Hall. The last was a mechanic, as I ascertained, and was a plain-looking working-man of middle age. Each of these persons seated himself on a common "kitchen chair," leaning back against the side of the house, and, of course, resting on the two hind legs of the rickety support, while he placed his own feet on the rounds in front. The attitudes were neither graceful nor picturesque, but they were so entirely common as to excite no surprise. As for Hall, he appeared perfectly contented with his situation, after fidgeting a little to get the two supporting legs of his chair just where he wanted them; but Hubbard's eye was restless, uneasy, and even menacing, for more than a minute. He drew a knife from his pocket—a small, neat pen-knife only, it is true—gazed a little wildly about him, and just as I thought he intended to abandon his nicely poised chair, and to make an assault on one of the pillars that upheld the roof of the piazza, the innkeeper advanced, holding in his hand several narrow slips of pine board, one of which he offered at once to 'Squire Hubbard. This relieved the attorney, who took the wood, and was soon deeply plunged in, to me, the unknown delights of whittling. I cannot explain the mysterious pleasure that so many find in whittling, though the prevalence of the custom is so well known. But I cannot explain the pleasure so many find in chewing tobacco, or in smoking. The precaution of the landlord was far from being unnecessary, and appeared to be taken in good part by all to whom he offered "whittling-pieces," some six or eight in the whole. The state of the piazza, indeed, proved that the precaution was absolutely indispensable, if he did not wish to see the house come tumbling down about his head. In order that those who have never seen such thing may understand their use, I will go a little out of the way to explain.
The inn was of wood, a hemlock frame with a "siding" of clap-boards. In this there was nothing remarkable, many countries of Europe, even, still building principally of wood. Houses of lath and plaster were quite common, until within a few years, even in large towns. I remember to have seen some of these constructions, while in London, in close connection with the justly celebrated Westminster Hall; and of such materials is the much-talked-of miniature castle of Horace Walpole, at Strawberry Hill. But the inn of Mooseridge had some pretensions to architecture, besides being three or four times larger than any other house in the place. A piazza it enjoyed, of course; it must be a pitiful village inn that does not: and building, accessaries and all, rejoiced in several coats of a spurious white lead. The columns of this piazza, as well as the clap-boards of the house itself however, exhibited the proofs of the danger of abandoning your true whittler to his own instincts. Spread-eagles, five points, American flags, huzzahs for Polk! the initials of names, and names at full length, with various other similar conceits, records, and ebullitions of patriotic or party-otic feelings, were scattered up and down with an affluence the said volumes in favour of the mint in which they had been coined. But the most remarkable memorial of the industry of the guests was to be found on one of the columns; and it was one at a corner, too, and consequently of double importance to the superstructure—unless, indeed, the house were built on that well-known principle of American architecture of the last century, which made the architrave uphold the pillar, instead of the pillar the architrave. The column in question was of white pine, as usual—though latterly, in brick edifices, bricks and stucco are much resorted to—and, at a convenient height for the whittlers, it was literally cut two-thirds in two. The gash was very neatly made—that much must be said for it—indicating skill and attention; and the surfaces of the wound were smoothed in a manner to prove that appearances were not neglected.
"Vat do das?" I asked of the landlord, pointing to this gaping wound in the main column of his piazza.
"That! Oh! That's only the whittlers," answered the host, with a good-natural smile.
Assuredly the Americans are the best-natured people on earth! Here was a man whose house was nearly tumbling down about his ears—always bating the principle in architecture just named—and he could smile as Nero may be supposed to have done when fiddling over the conflagration of Rome.
"But vhy might de vhittler vhittle down your house?"
"Oh! this is a free country, you know, and folks do pretty much as they like in it," returned the still smiling host. "I let 'em cut away as long as I dared, but it was high time to get out 'whittling-pieces' I believe you must own. It's best always to keep a ruff (roof) over a man's head, to be ready for bad weather. A week longer would have had the column in two."
"Vell, I dinks I might not bear dat! Vhat ist mein house ist mein house, ant dey shall not so moch vittles."
"By letting 'em so much vittles there, they so much vittles in the kitchen; so you see there is policy in having your under-pinnin' knocked away sometimes, if it's done by the right sort of folks."
"You're a stranger in these parts, friend?" observed Hubbard, complacently, for by this time his "whittling-piece" was reduced to a shape, and he could go on reducing it, according to some law of the art of whittling, with which I am not acquainted. "We are not so particular in such matters as in some of your countries in the old world."
"Ja—das I can see. But does not woot ant column cost money in America, someding?"
"To be sure it does. There is not a man in the country who would undertake to replace that pillar with a new one, paint and all, for less than ten dollars."
This was an opening for a discussion on the probable cost of putting a new pillar into the place of the one that was injured. Opinions differed, and quite a dozen spoke on the subject; some placing the expense as high as fifteen dollars, and others bringing it down as low as five. I was struck with the quiet and self-possession with which each man delivered his opinion, as well as with the language used. The accent was uniformly provincial, that of Hubbard included, having a strong and unpleasant taint of the dialect of New England in it; and some of the expressions savoured a little of the stilts of the newspapers; but, on the whole, the language was sufficiently accurate and surprisingly good, considering the class in life of the speakers. The conjectures, too, manifested great shrewdness and familiarity with practical things, as well as, in a few instances, some reading. Hall, however, actually surprised me. He spoke with a precision and knowledge of mechanics that would have done credit to a scholar, and with a simplicity that added to the influence of what he said. Some casual remark induced me to put in—"Vell, I might s'pose an Injin voult cut so das column, but I might not s'pose a vhite man could." This opinion gave the discourse a direction towards anti-rentism, and in a few minutes it caught all the attention of my uncle Ro and myself.
"This business is going ahead after all!" observed Hubbard, evasively, after others had had their say.
"More's the pity," put in Hall. "It might have been put an end to in a month, at any time, and ought to be put an end to in a civilized land."
"You will own, neighbour Hall, notwithstanding, it would be a great improvement in the condition of the tenants all over the State, could they change their tenures into freeholds."
"No doubt 't would; and so it would be a great improvement in the condition of any journeyman in my shop if he could get to be the boss. But that is not the question here, the question is, what right has the State to say any man shall sell his property unless he wishes to sell it? A pretty sort of liberty we should have if we all held our houses and gardens under such laws as that supposes!"
"But do we not all hold our houses and gardens, and farms, too, by some such law?" rejoined the attorney, who evidently respected his antagonist, and advanced his own opinions cautiously. "If the public wants land to use, it can take it by paying for it."
"Yes, to use; but use is everything. I've read that old report of the committee of the House, and don't subscribe to its doctrines at all. Public 'policy,' in that sense, doesn't at all mean public 'use.' If land is wanted for a road, or a fort, or a canal, it must be taken, under a law, by appraisement, or the thing could not be had at all; but to pretend, because one side to a contract wishes to alter it, that the State has a right to interfere, on the ground that the discontented can be bought off in this way easier and cheaper than they can be made to obey the laws, is but a poor way of supporting the right. The same principle, carried out, might prove it would be easier to buy off pickpockets by compromising than to punish them. Or it would be easy to get round all sorts of contracts in this way."
"But all governments use this power when it becomes necessary, neighbour Hall."
"That word necessary covers a great deal of ground, 'Squire Hubbard. The most that can be made of the necessity here is to say it is cheaper, and may help along parties to their objects better. No man doubts that the State of New York can put down these anti-renters; and, I trust, will put them down, so far as force is concerned. There is, then, no other necessity in the case, to begin with, than the necessity which demagogues always feel, of getting as many votes as they can."
"After all, neighbour Hall, these votes are pretty powerful weapons in a popular government."
"I'll not deny that; and now they talk of a convention to alter the constitution, it is a favourable moment to teach such managers they shall not abuse the right of suffrage in this way."
"How is it to be prevented? You are an universal suffrage man, I know?"
"Yes, I'm for universal suffrage among honest folks; but do not wish to have my rulers chosen by them that are never satisfied without having their hands in their neighbours' pockets. Let 'em put a clause into the constitution providing that no town, or village, or county shall hold a poll within a given time after the execution of process has been openly resisted in it. That would take the conceit out of all such law-breakers, in very short order."
It was plain that this idea struck the listeners, and several even avowed their approbation of the scheme aloud. Hubbard received it as a new thought, but was more reluctant to admit its practicability. As might be expected from a lawyer accustomed to practise in a small way, his objections savoured more of narrow views than of the notions of a statesman.
"How would you determine the extent of the district to be disfranchised?" he asked.
"Take the legal limits as they stand. If process be resisted openly by a combination strong enough to look down the agents of the law in a town, disfranchise that town for a given period; if in more than one town, disfranchise the offending towns; if a county, disfranchise the whole county."
"But, in that way you would punish the innocent with the guilty."
"It would be for the good of all; besides, you punish the innocent for the guilty, or with the guilty rather, in a thousand ways. You and I are taxed to keep drunkards from starving, because it is better to do that than to offend humanity by seeing men die of hunger, or tempting them to steal. When you declare martial law you punish the innocent with the guilty, in one sense; and so you do in a hundred cases. All we have to ask is, if it be not wiser and better to disarm demagogues, and those disturbers of the public peace who wish to pervert their right of suffrage to so wicked an end, by so simple a process, than to suffer them to effect their purposes by the most flagrant abuse of their political privileges?"
"How would you determine when a town should lose the right of voting?"
"By evidence given in open court. The judges would be the proper authority to decide in such a case; and they would decide, beyond all question, nineteen times in twenty, right. It is the interest of every man who is desirous of exercising the suffrage on right principles, to give him some such protection against them that wish to exercise the suffrage on wrong. A peace-officer can call on the posse comitatus or on the people to aid him; if enough appear to put down the rebels, well and good; but if enough do not appear, let it be taken as proof that the district is not worthy of giving the votes of freemen. They who abuse such a liberty as man enjoys in this country are the least entitled to our sympathies. As for the mode, that could easily be determined, as soon as you settled the principle."
The discourse went on for an hour, neighbour Hall giving his opinions still more at large. I listened equally with pleasure and surprise. "These, then, after all," I said to myself, "are the real bone and sinew of the country. There are tens of thousands of this sort of men in the State, and why should they be domineered over, and made to submit to a legislation and to practices that are so often without principle, by the agents of the worst part of the community? Will the honest for ever be so passive, while the corrupt and dishonest continue so active?" On my mentioning these notions to my uncle, he answered:
"Yes; it ever has been so, and, I fear, ever will be so. There is the curse of this country," pointing to a table covered with newspapers, the invariable companion of an American inn of any size. "So long as men believe what they find there, they can be nothing but dupes or knaves."
"But there is good in newspapers."
"That adds to the curse. If they were nothing but lies, the world would soon reject them; but how few are able to separate the true from the false! Now, how few of these papers speak the truth about this very anti-rentism! Occasionally an honest man in the corps does come out; but where one does this, ten affect to think what they do not believe, in order to secure votes;—votes, votes, votes. In that simple word lies all the mystery of the matter."
"Jefferson said, if he were to choose between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would take the last."
"Ay, Jefferson did not mean newspapers as they are now. I am old enough to see the change that has taken place. In his day, three or four fairly convicted lies would damn any editor; now, there are men that stand up under a thousand. I'll tell you what, Hugh, this country is jogging on under two of the most antagonist systems possible—Christianity and the newspapers. The first is daily hammering into every man that he is a miserable, frail, good-for-nothing being, while the last is eternally proclaiming the perfection of the people and the virtues of self-government."
"Perhaps too much stress ought not to be laid on either."
"The first is certainly true, under limitations that we all understand; but as to the last, I will own I want more evidence than a newspaper eulogy to believe it."
After all, my uncle Ro is sometimes mistaken; though candour compels me to acknowledge that he is very often right.
"I see thee still; Remembrance, faithful to her trust, Calls thee in beauty from the dust; Thou comest in the morning light, Thou 'rt with me through the gloomy night; In dreams I meet thee as of old: Then thy soft arms my neck enfold, And thy sweet voice is in my ear: In every sense to memory dear I see thee still."
It was just ten in the morning of the succeeding day when my uncle Ro and myself came in sight of the old house at the Nest. I call it old, for a dwelling that has stood more than half a century acquires a touch of the venerable, in a country like America. To me it was truly old, the building having stood there, where I then saw it, for a period more than twice as long as that of my own existence, and was associated with all my early ideas. From childhood I had regarded that place as my future home, as it had been the home of my parents and grand-parents, and, in one sense, of those who had gone before them for two generations more. The whole of the land in sight—the rich bottoms, then waving with grass—the side-hills, the woods, the distant mountains—the orchards, dwellings, barns, and all the other accessaries of rural life that appertained to the soil, were mine, and had thus become without a single act of injustice to any human being, so far as I knew and believed. Even the red man had been fairly bought off by Herman Mordaunt, the patentee, and so Susquesus, the Redskin of Ravensnest, as our old Onondago was often called, had ever admitted the fact to be. It was natural that I should love an estate thus inherited and thus situated. NO CIVILIZED MAN, NO MAN, INDEED, SAVAGE OR NOT, HAD EVER BEEN THE OWNER OF THOSE BROAD ACRES, BUT THOSE WHO WERE OF MY OWN BLOOD. This is what few besides Americans can say; and when it can be said truly, in parts of the country where the arts of life have spread, and amid the blessings of civilization, it becomes the foundation of a sentiment so profound, that I do not wonder those adventurers-errant who are flying about the face of the country, thrusting their hands into every man's mess, have not been able to find it among their other superficial discoveries. Nothing can be less like the ordinary cravings of avarice than the feeling that is thus engendered; and I am certain that the general tendency of such an influence is to elevate the feelings of him who experiences it.
And there were men among us, high in political station—high as such men ever can get, for the consequence of having such men in power is to draw down station itself nearer to their own natural level—but men in power had actually laid down propositions in political economy which, if carried out, would cause me to sell all that estate, reserving, perhaps, a single farm for my own use, and reinvest the money in such a way as that the interest I obtained might equal my present income! It is true, this theory was not directly applied to me, as my farms were to fall in by the covenants of their leases, but it had been directly applied to Stephen and William Van Rensselaer, and, by implication, to others; and my turn might come next. What business had the Rensselaers, or the Livingstons, or the Hunters, or the Littlepages, or the Verplancks, or the Morgans, or the Wadsworths, or five hundred others similarly placed, to entertain "sentiments" that interfered with "business," or that interfered with the wishes of any straggling Yankee who had found his way out of New England, and wanted a particular farm on his own terms? It is aristocratic to put sentiment in opposition to trade; and TRADE ITSELF IS NOT TO BE TRADE ANY LONGER THAN ALL THE PROFIT IS TO BE FOUND ON THE SIDE OF NUMBERS. Even the principles of holy trade are to be governed by majorities!
Even my uncle Ro, who never owned a foot of the property, could not look at it without emotion. He too had been born there—had passed his childhood there—and loved the spot without a particle of the grovelling feeling of avarice. He took pleasure in remembering that our race had been the only owners of the soil on which he stood, and had that very justifiable pride which belongs to enduring respectability and social station.
"Well, Hugh," he cried, after both of us had stood gazing at the grey walls of the good and substantial, but certainly not very beautiful dwelling, "here we are, and we now may determine on what is next to be done. Shall we march down to the village, which is four miles distant, you will remember, and get our breakfasts there?—shall we try one of your tenants?—or shall we plunge at once in medias res, and ask hospitality of my mother and your sister?"
"The last might excite suspicion, I fear, sir. Tar and feathers would be our mildest fate did we fall into the hands of the Injins."
"Injins! Why not go at once to the wigwam of Susquesus, and get out of him and Yop the history of the state of things. I heard them speaking of the Onondago at our tavern last night, and while they said he was generally thought to be much more than a hundred, that he was still like a man of eighty. That Indian is full of observation, and may let us into some of the secrets of his brethren."
"They can at least give us the news from the family; and though it might seem in the course of things for pedlars to visit the Nest House, it will be just as much so for them to halt at the wigwam."
This consideration decided the matter, and away we went towards the ravine or glen, on the side of which stood the primitive-looking hut that went by the name of the "wigwam." The house was a small cabin of logs, neat and warm, or cool, as the season demanded. As it was kept up, and was whitewashed, and occasionally furnished anew by the landlord—the odious creature! he who paid for so many similar things in the neighbourhood—it was never unfit to be seen, though never of a very alluring, cottage-like character. There was a garden, and it had been properly made that very season, the negro picking and pecking about it, during the summer, in a way to coax the vegetables and fruits on a little, though I well knew that the regular weedings came from an assistant at the Nest, who was ordered to give it an eye and an occasional half-day. On one side of the hut there was a hog-pen and a small stable for a cow; but on the other the trees of the virgin forest, which had never been disturbed in that glen, overshadowed the roof. This somewhat poetical arrangement was actually the consequence of a compromise between the tenants of the cabin, the negro insisting on the accessories of his rude civilization, while the Indian required the shades of the woods to reconcile him to his position. Here had these two singularly associated beings—the one deriving his descent from the debased races of Africa, and the other from the fierce but lofty-minded aboriginal inhabitant of this continent—dwelt nearly for the whole period of an ordinary human life. The cabin itself began to look really ancient, while those who dwelt in it had little altered within the memory of man! Such instances of longevity, whatever theorists may say on the subject, are not unfrequent among either the blacks or the "natives," though probably less so among the last than among the first, and still less so among the first of the northern than of the southern sections of the republic. It is common to say that the great age so often attributed to the people of these two races is owing to ignorance of the periods of their births, and that they do not live longer than the whites. This may be true, in the main, for a white man is known to have died at no great distance from Ravensnest, within the last five-and-twenty years, who numbered more than his six score of years; but aged negroes and aged Indians are nevertheless so common, when the smallness of their whole numbers is remembered, as to render the fact apparent to most of those who have seen much of their respective people.
There was no highway in the vicinity of the wigwam, for so the cabin was generally called, though wigwam, in the strict meaning of the word, it was not. As the little building stood in the grounds of the Nest House, which contain two hundred acres, a bit of virgin forest included, and exclusively of the fields that belonged to the adjacent farm, it was approached only by foot-paths, of which several led to and from it, and by one narrow, winding carriage-road, which, in passing for miles through the grounds, had been led near the hut, in order to enable my grandmother and sister, and, I dare say, my dear departed mother, while she lived, to make their calls in their frequent airings. By this sweeping road we approached the cabin.
"There are the two old fellows, sunning themselves this fine day!" exclaimed my uncle, with something like tremor in his voice, as we drew near enough to the hut to distinguish objects. "Hugh, I never see these men without a feeling of awe, as well as of affection. They were the friends, and one was the slave of my grandfather; and as long as I can remember, have they been aged men! They seem to be set up here as monuments of the past, to connect the generations that are gone with those that are to come."
"If so, sir, they will soon be all there is of their sort. It really seems to me that, if things continue much longer in their present direction, men will begin to grow jealous and envious of history itself, because its actors have left descendants to participate in any little credit they may have gained."
"Beyond all contradiction, boy, there is a strange perversion of the old and natural sentiments on this head among us. But you must bear in mind the fact, that of the two millions and a half the State contains, not half a million, probably, possess any of the true York blood, and can consequently feel any of the sentiments connected with the birth-place and the older traditions of the very society in which they live. A great deal must be attributed to the facts of our condition; though I admit those facts need not, and ought not to unsettle principles. But look at those two old fellows! There they are, true to the feelings and habits of their races, even after passing so long a time together in this hut. There squats Susquesus on a stone, idle and disdaining work, with his rifle leaning against the apple-tree; while Jaaf—or Yop, as I believe it is better to call him—is pecking about in the garden, still a slave at his work, in fancy at least."
"And which is the happiest, sir—the industrious old man or the idler?"
"Probably each finds most happiness in indulging his own early habits. The Onondago never would work, however, and I have heard my father say, great was his happiness when he found he was to pass the remainder of his days in otium cum dignitate, and without the necessity of making baskets."
"Yop is looking at us; had we not better go up at once and speak to them?"
"Yop may stare the most openly, but my life on it the Indian sees twice as much. His faculties are the best, to begin with; and he is a man of extraordinary and characteristic observation. In his best days nothing ever escaped him. As you say, we will approach."
My uncle and myself then consulted on the expediency of using broken English with these two old men, of which, at first, we saw no necessity; but when we remembered that others might join us, and that our communications with the two might be frequent for the next few days, we changed our minds, and determined rigidly to observe our incognitos.
As we came up to the door of the hut, Jaaf slowly left his little garden and joined the Indian, who remained immoveable and unmoved on the stone which served him for a seat. We could see but little change in either during the five years of our absence, each being a perfect picture, in his way, of extreme but not decrepit old age in the men of his race. Of the two, the black—if black he could now be called, his colour being a muddy grey—was the most altered, though that seemed scarcely possible when I saw him last. As for the Trackless, or Susquesus, as he was commonly called, his temperance throughout a long life did him good service, and his half-naked limbs and skeleton-like body, for he wore the summer dress of his people, appeared to be made of a leather long steeped in a tannin of the purest quality. His sinews, too, though much stiffened, seemed yet to be of whip-cord, and his whole frame a species of indurated mummy that retained its vitality. The colour of the skin was less red than formerly, and more closely approached to that of the negro, as the latter now was, though perceptibly different.
"Sago—sago," cried my uncle, as we came quite near, seeing no risk in using that familiar semi-Indian salutation. "Sago, sago, dis charmin' mornin; in my tongue, dat might be guten tag."
"Sago," returned the Trackless, in his deep, guttural voice, while old Yop brought two lips together that resembled thick pieces of overdone beef-steak, fastened his red-encircled gummy eyes on each of us in turn, pouted once more, working his jaws as if proud of the excellent teeth they still held, and said nothing. As the slave of a Littlepage, he held pedlars as inferior beings; for the ancient negroes of New York ever identified themselves, more or less, with the families to which they belonged, and in which they so often were born. "Sago," repeated the Indian, slowly, courteously, and with emphasis, after he had looked a moment longer at my uncle, as if he saw something about him to command respect.
"Dis ist charmin' day, frients," said uncle Ro, placing himself coolly on a log of wood that had been hauled for the stove, and wiping his brow. "Vat might you calls dis coontry?"
"Dis here?" answered Yop, not without a little contempt. "Dis is York Colony; where you come from to ask sich a question?"
"Charmany. Dat ist far off, but a goot coontry; ant dis ist goot coontry too."
"Why you leab him, den, if he be good country, eh?"
"Vhy you leaf Africa, canst you dell me dat?" retorted uncle Ro, somewhat coolly.
"Nebber was dere," growled old Yop, bringing his blubber lips together somewhat in the manner the boar works his jaws when it is prudent to get out of his way. "I'm York-nigger born, and nebber seen no Africa; and nebber want to see him, nudder."
It is scarcely necessary to say that Jaaf belonged to a school by which the term of "coloured gentleman" was never used. The men of his time and stamp called themselves "niggers;" and ladies and gentlemen of that age took them at their word, and called them "niggers" too; a term that no one of the race ever uses now, except in the way of reproach, and which, by one of the singular workings of our very wayward and common nature, he is more apt to use than any other, when reproach is intended.
My uncle paused a moment to reflect before he continued a discourse that had not appeared to commence under very flattering auspices.
"Who might lif in dat big stone house?" asked uncle Ro, as soon as he thought the negro had had time to cool a little.
"Anybody can see you no Yorker, by dat werry speech," answered Yop, not at all mollified by such a question. "Who should lib dere but Gin'ral Littlepage?"
"Vell, I dought he wast dead, long ago."
"What if he be? It's his house, and he lib in it; and ole young missus lib dere too."
Now, there had been three generations of generals among the Littlepages, counting from father to son. First, there had been Brigadier General Evans Littlepage, who held that rank in the militia, and died in service during the revolution. The next was Brigadier General Cornelius Littlepage, who got his rank by brevet, at the close of the same war, in which he had actually figured as a colonel of the New York line. Third, and last, was my own grandfather, Major General Mordaunt Littlepage: he had been a captain in his father's regiment at the close of the same struggle, got the brevet of major at its termination, and rose to be a Major General of the militia, the station he held for many years before he died. As soon as the privates had the power to elect their own officers, the position of a Major General in the militia ceased to be respectable, and few gentlemen could be induced to serve. As might have been foreseen, the militia itself fell into general contempt, where it now is, and where it will ever remain until a different class of officers shall be chosen. The people can do a great deal, no doubt, but they cannot make a "silk purse out of a sow's ear." As soon as officers from the old classes shall be appointed, the militia will come up; for in no interest in life is it so material to have men of certain habits, and notions, and education, in authority, as in those connected with the military service. A great many fine speeches may be made, and much patriotic eulogy expended on the intrinsic virtue and intelligence of the people, and divers projects entertained to make "citizen-soldiers," as they are called; but citizens never can be, and never will be turned into soldiers at all, good or bad, until proper officers are placed over them. To return to Yop—