HotFreeBooks.com
The Redskins; or, Indian and Injin, Volume 1. - Being the Conclusion of the Littlepage Manuscripts
by James Fenimore Cooper
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Bray vhat might be der age of das laty dat you callet olt young missus?" asked my uncle.

"Gosh! she nutten but gal—born sometime just a'ter ole French war. Remember her well 'nough when she Miss Dus Malbone. Young masser Mordaunt take fancy to her, and make her he wife."

"Vell, I hopes you hafn't any objection to der match?"

"Not I; she clebber young lady den, and she werry clebber young lady now."

And this of my venerable grandmother, who had fairly seen her four-score years!

"Who might be der master of das big house now?"

"Gin'ral Littlepage, doesn't I tell ye! Masser Mordaunt's name, my young master. Sus, dere, only Injin; he nebber so lucky as hab a good master. Niggers gettin' scarce, dey tells me, now-a-days, in dis world!"

"Injins, too, I dinks; dere ist no more redskins might be blenty."

The manner in which the Onondago raised his figure, and the look he fastened on my uncle, were both fine and startling. As yet he had said nothing beyond the salutation; but I could see he now intended to speak.

"New tribe," he said, after regarding us for half a minute intently; "what you call him—where he come from?"

"Ja, ja—das ist der anti-rent redskins. Haf you seen 'em, Trackless?"

"Sartain; come to see me—face in bag—behave like squaw; poor Injin—poor warrior!"

"Yees, I believes dat ist true enough. I can't bear soch Injin!—might not be soch Injin in world. Vhat you call 'em, eh?"

Susquesus shook his head slowly, and with dignity. Then he gazed intently at my uncle; after which he fastened his eyes, in a similar manner on me. In this manner his looks turned from one to the other for some little time, when he again dropped them to the earth, calmly and in silence. I took out the hurdy-gurdy, and began to play a lively air—one that was very popular among the American blacks, and which, I am sorry to say, is getting to be not less so among the whites. No visible effect was produced on Susquesus, unless a slight shade of contempt was visible on his dark features. With Jaaf, however, it was very different. Old as he was, I could see a certain nervous twitching of the lower limbs, which indicated that the old fellow actually felt some disposition to dance. It soon passed away, though his grim, hard, wrinkled, dusky, grey countenance continued to gleam with a sort of dull pleasure for some time. There was nothing surprising in this, the indifference of the Indian to melody being almost as marked as the negro's sensitiveness to its power.

It was not to be expected that men so aged would be disposed to talk much. The Onondago had ever been a silent man; dignity and gravity of character uniting with prudence to render him so. But Jaaf was constitutionally garrulous, though length of days had necessarily much diminished the propensity. At that moment a fit of thoughtful and melancholy silence came over my uncle, too, and all four of us continued brooding on our own reflections for two or three minutes after I had ceased to play. Presently the even, smooth approach of carriage-wheels was heard, and a light, summer vehicle that was an old acquaintance, came whirling round the stable, and drew up within ten feet of the spot where we were all seated.

My heart was in my mouth, at this unexpected interruption, and I could perceive that my uncle was scarcely less affected. Amid the flowing and pretty drapery of summer shawls, and the other ornaments of the female toilet, were four youthful and sunny faces, and one venerable with years. In a word, my grandmother, my sister, and my uncle's two other wards, and Mary Warren, were in the carriage; yes, the pretty, gentle, timid, yet spirited and intelligent daughter of the rector was of the party, and seemingly quite at home and at her ease, as one among friends. She was the first to speak even, though it was in a low, quiet voice, addressed to my sister, and in words that appeared extorted by surprise.

"There are the very two pedlars of whom I told you, Martha," she said, "and now you may hear the flute well played."

"I doubt if he can play better than Hugh," was my dear sister's answer. "But we'll have some of his music, if it be only to remind us of him who is so far away."

"The music we can and will have, my child," cried my grandmother, cheerfully; "though that is not wanted to remind us of our absent boy. Good morrow, Susquesus; I hope this fine day agrees with you."

"Sago," returned the Indian, making a dignified and even graceful forward gesture with one arm, though he did not rise. "Weadder good—Great Spirit good, dat reason. How squaws do?"

"We are all well, I thank you, Trackless. Good morrow, Jaaf; how do you do, this fine morning?"

Yop, or Jaap, or Jaaf, rose tottering, made a low obeisance, and then answered in the semi-respectful, semi-familiar manner of an old, confidential family servant, as the last existed among our fathers:

"T'ank 'ee, Miss Dus, wid all my heart," he answered. "Pretty well to-day; but ole Sus, he fail, and grow ol'er and ol'er desp'ate fast!"

Now, of the two, the Indian was much the finest relic of human powers, though he was less uneasy and more stationary than the black. But the propensity to see the mote in the eye of his friend, while he forgot the beam in his own, was a long-established and well-known weakness of Jaaf, and its present exhibition caused everybody to smile. I was delighted with the beaming, laughing eyes of Mary Warren in particular, though she said nothing.

"I cannot say I agree with you, Jaaf," returned my smiling grandmother. "The Trackless bears his years surprisingly; and I think I have not seen him look better this many a day than he is looking this morning. We are none of us as young as we were when we first became acquainted, Jaaf—which is now near, if not quite, three-score years ago."

"You nuttin' but gal, nudder," growled the negro. "Ole Sus be raal ole fellow; but Miss Dus and Masser Mordaunt, dey get married only tudder day. Why dat was a'ter de revylooshen!"

"It was, indeed," replied the venerable woman, with a touch of melancholy in her tones; "but the revolution took place many, many a long year since!"

"Well, now, I be surprise, Miss Dus! How you call dat so long, when he only be tudder day?" retorted the pertinacious negro, who began to grow crusty, and to speak in a short, spiteful way, as if displeased by hearing that to which he could not assent. "Masser Corny was little ole, p'r'aps, if he lib, but all de rest ob you nuttin' but children. Tell me one t'ing, Miss Dus, be it true dey's got a town at Satanstoe?"

"An attempt was made, a few years since, to turn the whole country into towns, and, among other places, the Neck; but I believe it will never be anything more than a capital farm."

"So besser. Dat good land, I tell you! One acre down dere wort' more dan twenty acre up here."

"My grandson would not be pleased to hear you say that, Jaaf."

"Who your grandson, Miss Dus. Remember you hab little baby tudder day; but baby can't hab baby."

"Ah, Jaaf, my old friend, my babies have long since been men and women, and are drawing on to old age. One, and he was my first born, is gone before us to a better world, and his boy is now your young master. This young lady, that is seated opposite to me, is the sister of that young master, and she would be grieved to think you have forgotten her."

Jaaf laboured under the difficulty so common to old age; he was forgetful of things of more recent date, while he remembered those which had occurred a century ago! The memory is a tablet that partakes of the peculiarity of all our opinions and habits. In youth it is easily impressed, and the images then engraved on it are distinct, deep and lasting, while those that succeed become crowded, and take less root, from the circumstance of finding the ground already occupied. In the present instance, the age was so great that the change was really startling, the old negro's recollections occasionally coming on the mind like a voice from the grave. As for the Indian, as I afterwards ascertained, he was better preserved in all respects than the black; his great temperance in youth, freedom from labour, exercise in the open air, united to the comforts and abundance of semi-civilized habits, that had now lasted for near a century, contributing to preserve both mind and body. As I now looked at him, I remembered what I had heard in boyhood of his history.

There had ever been a mystery about the life of the Onondago. If any one of our set had ever been acquainted with the facts, it was Andries Coejemans, a half-uncle of my dear grandmother, a person who has been known among us by the sobriquet of the Chainbearer. My grandmother had told me that "uncle Chainbearer," as we all called the old relative, did know all about Susquesus, in his time—the reason why he had left his tribe, and become a hunter, and warrior, and runner among the pale-faces—and that he had always said the particulars did his red friend great credit, but that he would reveal it no further. So great, however, was uncle Chainbearer's reputation for integrity, that such an opinion was sufficient to procure for the Onondago the fullest confidence of the whole connection, and the experience of four-score years and ten had proved that this confidence was well placed. Some imputed the sort of exile in which the old man had so long lived to love; others to war; and others, again, to the consequences of those fierce personal feuds that are known to occur among men in the savage state. But all was just as much a mystery and matter of conjecture, now we were drawing near to the middle of the nineteenth century, as it had been when our forefathers were receding from the middle of the eighteenth! To return to the negro.

Although Jaaf had momentarily forgotten me, and quite forgotten my parents, he remembered my sister, who was in the habit of seeing him so often. In what manner he connected her with the family, it is not easy to say; but he knew her not only by sight, but by name, and, as one might say, by blood.

"Yes, yes," cried the old fellow, a little eagerly, 'champing' his thick lips together, somewhat as an alligator snaps his jaws, "yes, I knows Miss Patty, of course. Miss Patty is werry han'some, and grows han'somer and han'somer ebbery time I sees her—yah, yah, yah!" The laugh of that old negro sounded startling and unnatural, yet there was something of the joyous in it, after all, like every negro's laugh. "Yah, yah, yah! Yes, Miss Patty won'erful han'some, and werry like Miss Dus. I s'pose, now, Miss Patty wast born about 'e time dat Gin'ral Washington die."

As this was a good deal more than doubling my sister's age, it produced a common laugh among the light-hearted girls in the carriage. A gleam of intelligence that almost amounted to a smile also shot athwart the countenance of the Onondago, while the muscles of his face worked, but he said nothing. I had reason to know afterwards that the tablet of his memory retained its records better.

"What friends have you with you to-day, Jaaf," inquired my grandmother, inclining her head towards us pedlars graciously, at the same time; a salutation that my uncle Ro and myself rose hastily to acknowledge.

As for myself, I own honestly that I could have jumped into the vehicle and kissed my dear grandmother's still good-looking but colourless cheeks, and hugged Patt, and possibly some of the others, to my heart. Uncle Ro had more command of himself; though I could see that the sound of his venerable parent's voice, in which the tremour was barely perceptible, was near overcoming him.

"Dese be pedlar, ma'am, I do s'pose," answered the black. "Dey's got box wid somet'in' in him, and dey's got new kind of fiddle. Come, young man, gib Miss Dus a tune—a libely one; sich as make an ole nigger dance."

I drew round the hurdy-gurdy, and was beginning to flourish away, when a gentle, sweet voice, raised a little louder than usual by eagerness, interrupted me.

"Oh! not that thing, not that; the flute, the flute!" exclaimed Mary Warren, blushing to the eyes at her own boldness, the instant she saw that she was heard, and that I was about to comply.

It is hardly necessary to say that I bowed respectfully, laid down the hurdy-gurdy, drew the flute from my pocket, and, after a few flourishes, commenced playing one of the newest airs, or melodies, from a favourite opera. I saw the colour rush into Martha's cheeks the moment I had got through a bar or two, and the start she gave satisfied me that the dear girl remembered her brother's flute. I had played on that very instrument ever since I was sixteen, but I had made an immense progress in the art during the five years just passed in Europe. Masters at Naples, Paris, Vienna and London had done a great deal for me; and I trust I shall not be thought vain if I add, that nature had done something, too. My excellent grandmother listened in profound attention, and all four of the girls were enchanted.

"That music is worthy of being heard in a room," observed the former, as soon as I concluded the air; "and we shall hope to hear it this evening, at the Nest House, if you remain anywhere near us. In the mean time, we must pursue our airing."

As my grandmother spoke she leaned forward, and extended her hand to me, with a benevolent smile. I advanced, received the dollar that was offered, and, unable to command my feelings, raised the hand to my lips, respectfully but with fervour. Had Martha's face been near me, it would have suffered also. I suppose there was nothing in this respectful salutation that struck the spectators as very much out of the way, foreigners having foreign customs, but I saw a flush in my venerable grandmother's cheek, as the carriage moved off. She had noted the warmth of the manner. My uncle had turned away, I dare say to conceal the tears that started to his eyes, and Jaaf followed towards the door of the hut, whither my uncle moved, in order to do the honours of the place. This left me quite alone with the Indian.

"Why no kiss face of grandmodder?" asked the Onondago, coolly and quietly.

Had a clap of thunder broken over my head, I could not have been more astonished! The disguise that had deceived my nearest relations—that had baffled Seneca Newcome, and had set at naught even his sister Opportunity—had failed to conceal me from that Indian, whose faculties might be supposed to have been numbed with age!

"Is it possible that you know me, Susquesus!" I exclaimed, signing towards the negro at the same time, by way of caution; "that you remember me, at all! I should have thought this wig, these clothes, would have concealed me."

"Sartain," answered the aged Indian, calmly. "Know young chief soon as see him; know fader—know mudder; know gran'fader, gran'mudder—great-gran'fader; his fader, too; know all. Why forget young chief?"

"Did you know me before I kissed my grandmother's hand, or only by that act?"

"Know as soon as see him. What eyes good for, if don't know? Know uncle, dere, sartain; welcome home!"

"But you will not let others know us, too, Trackless? We have always been friends, I hope?"

"Be sure, friends. Why ole eagle, wid white head, strike young pigeon? Nebber hatchet in 'e path between Susquesus and any of de tribe of Ravensnest. Too ole to dig him up now."

"There are good reasons why my uncle and myself should not be known for a few days. Perhaps you have heard something of the trouble that has grown up between the landlords and the tenants, in the land?"

"What dat trouble?"

"The tenants are tired of paying rent, and wish to make a new bargain, by which they can become owners of the farms on which they live."

A grim light played upon the swarthy countenance of the Indian: his lips moved, but he uttered nothing aloud.

"Have you heard anything of this, Susquesus?"

"Little bird sing sich song in my ear—didn't like to hear it."

"And of Indians who are moving up and down the country, armed with rifles and dressed in calico?"

"What tribe, dem Injin," asked the Trackless, with a quickness and a fire I did not think it possible for him to retain. "What 'ey do, marchin' 'bout?—on war-path, eh?"

"In one sense they may be said to be so. They belong to the anti-rent tribe; do you know such a nation?"

"Poor Injin dat, b'lieve. Why come so late?—why no come when 'e foot of Susquesus light as feather of bird?—why stay away till pale-faces plentier dan leaf on tree, or snow in air? Hundred year ago, when dat oak little, sich Injin might be good; now, he good for nuttin'."

"But you will keep our secret, Sus?—will not even tell the negro who we are?"

The Trackless simply nodded his head in assent. After this he seemed to me to sink back in a sort of brooding lethargy, as if indisposed to pursue the subject. I left him to go to my uncle, in order to relate what had just passed. Mr. Roger Littlepage was as much astonished as I had been myself, at hearing that one so aged should have detected us through disguises that had deceived our nearest of kin. But the quiet penetration and close observation of the man had long been remarkable. As his good faith was of proof, however, neither felt any serious apprehension of being betrayed, as soon as he had a moment for reflection.



CHAPTER IX.

"He saw a cottage with a double coach-house, A cottage of gentility; And the devil did grin, for his darling sin Is the pride that apes humility."

Devil's Thoughts.

It was now necessary to determine what course we ought next to pursue. It might appear presuming in men of our pursuits to go to the Nest before the appointed time; and did we proceed on to the village, we should have the distance between the two places to walk over twice, carrying our instruments and jewel-box. After a short consultation, it was decided to visit the nearest dwellings, and to remain as near my own house as was practicable, making an arrangement to sleep somewhere in its immediate vicinity. Could we trust any one with our secret, our fare would probably be all the better; but my uncle thought it most prudent to maintain a strict incognito until he had ascertained the true state of things in the town.

We took leave of the Indian and the negro, therefore, promising to visit them again in the course of that or the succeeding day, and followed the path that led to the farm-house. It was our opinion that we might, at least, expect to meet with friends in the occupants of the home farm. The same family had been retained in possession there for three generations, and being hired to manage the husbandry and to take care of the dairy, there was not the same reason for the disaffection, that was said so generally to exist among the tenantry, prevailing among them. The name of this family was Miller, and it consisted of the two heads and some six or seven children, most of the latter being still quite young.

"Tom Miller was a trusty lad, when I knew much of him," said my uncle, as we drew near to the barn, in which we saw the party mentioned, at work; "and he is said to have behaved well in one or two alarms they have had at the Nest, this summer; still, it may be wiser not to let even him into our secret as yet."

"I am quite of your mind, sir," I answered; "for who knows that he has not just as strong a desire as any of them to own the farm on which he lives? He is the grandson of the man who cleared it from the forest, and has much the same title as the rest of them."

"Very true; and why should not that give him just as good a right to claim an interest in the farm, beyond that he has got under his contract to work it, as if he held a lease? He who holds a lease gets no right beyond his bargain; nor does this man. The one is paid for his labour by the excess of his receipts over the amount of his annual rent, while the other is paid partly in what he raises, and partly in wages. In principle there is no difference whatever, not a particle; yet I question if the veriest demagogue in the State would venture to say that the man, or the family, which works a farm for hire, even for a hundred years, gets the smallest right to say he shall not quit it, if its owner please, as soon as his term of service is up!"

"'The love of money is the root of all evil;' and when that feeling is uppermost, one can never tell what a man will do. The bribe of a good farm, obtained for nothing, or for an insignificant price, is sufficient to upset the morality of even Tom Miller."

"You are right, Hugh; and here is one of the points in which our political men betray the cloven foot. They write, and proclaim, and make speeches, as if the anti-rent troubles grew out of the durable lease system solely, whereas we all know that it is extended to all descriptions of obligations given for the occupancy of land—life leases, leases for a term of years, articles for deeds, and bonds and mortgages. It is a wide-spread, though not yet universal attempt of those who have the least claim to the possession of real estate, to obtain the entire right, and that by agencies that neither the law nor good morals will justify. It is no new expedient for partizans to place en evidence no more of their principles and intentions than suits their purposes. But, here we are within ear-shot, and must resort to the High Dutch. Guten tag, guten tag," continued uncle Ro, dropping easily into the broken English of our masquerade, as we walked into the barn, where Miller, two of his older boys, and a couple of hired men were at work, grinding scythes and preparing for the approaching hay-harvest. "It might be warm day, dis fine mornin'."

"Good day, good day," cried Miller, hastily, and glancing his eye a little curiously at our equipments. "What have you got in your box—essences?"

"Nein; vatches and drinkets;" setting down the box and opening it at once, for the inspection of all present. "Von't you burchase a goot vatch, dis bleasant mornin'?"

"Be they ra-al gold?" asked Miller, a little doubtingly. "And all them chains and rings, be they gold too?"

"Not true golt; nein, nein, I might not say dat. But goot enough golt for blain folks, like you and me."

"Them things would never do for the grand quality over at the big house!" cried one of the labourers who was unknown to me, but whose name I soon ascertained was Joshua Brigham, and who spoke with a sort of malicious sneer that at once betrayed he was no friend. "You mean 'em for poor folks, I s'pose?"

"I means dem for any bodies dat will pay deir money for 'em," answered my uncle. "Vould you like a vatch?"

"That would I; and a farm, too, if I could get 'em cheap," answered Brigham, with a sneer he did not attempt to conceal. "How do you sell farms to-day?"

"I haf got no farms; I sells drinkets and vatches, but I doesn't sell farms. Vhat I haf got I vill sell, but I cannot sells vhat I haf not got."

"Oh! you'll get all you want if you'll stay long enough in this country! This is a free land, and just the place for a poor man; or it will be, as soon as we get all the lords and aristocrats out of it."

This was the first time I had ever heard this political blarney with my own ears, though I had understood it was often used by those who wish to give to their own particular envy and covetousness a grand and sounding air.

"Vell, I haf heards dat in America dere might not be any noples ant aristocrats," put in my uncle, with an appearance of beautiful simplicity; "and dat dere ist not ein graaf in der whole coontry."

"Oh! there's all sorts of folks here, just as they are to be found elsewhere," cried Miller, seating himself coolly on the end of the grindstone-frame, to open and look into the mysteries of one of the watches. "Now, Josh Brigham, here, calls all that's above him in the world aristocrats, but he doesn't call all that's below him his equals."

I liked that speech; and I liked the cool, decided way in which it was uttered. It denoted, in its spirit, a man who saw things as they are, and who was not afraid to say what he thought about them. My uncle Ro was surprised, and that agreeably, too, and he turned to Miller to pursue the discourse.

"Den dere might not be any nopility in America, after all?" he asked, inquiringly.

"Yes, there's plenty of such lords as Josh here, who want to be uppermost so plaguily that they don't stop to touch all the rounds of the ladder. I tell him, friend, he wants to get on too fast, and that he mustn't set up for a gentleman before he knows how to behave himself."

Josh looked a little abashed at a rebuke that came from one of his own class, and which he must have felt, in secret, was merited. But the demon was at work in him, and he had persuaded himself that he was the champion of a quality as sacred as liberty, when, in fact, he was simply and obviously doing neither more nor less than breaking the tenth commandment. He did not like to give up, while he skirmished with Miller, as the dog that has been beaten already two or three times growls over a bone at the approach of his conqueror.

"Well, thank heaven," he cried, "I have got some spirit in my body."

"That's very true, Joshua," answered Miller, laying down one watch and taking up another; "but it happens to be an evil spirit."

"Now, here's them Littlepages; what makes them better than other folks?"

"You had better let the Littlepages alone, Joshua, seein' they're a family that you know nothing at all about."

"I don't want to know them; though I do happen to know all I want to know. I despise 'em."

"No you don't, Joshy, my boy; nobody despises folks they talk so spitefully about. What's the price of this here watch, friend?"

"Four dollars," said my uncle, eagerly, falling lower than was prudent, in his desire to reward Miller for his good feeling and sound sentiments. "Ja, ja—you might haf das vatch for four dollars."

"I'm afraid it isn't good for anything," returned Miller, feeling the distrust that was natural at hearing a price so low. "Let's have another look at its inside."

No man, probably, ever bought a watch without looking into its works with an air of great intelligence, though none but a mechanician is any wiser for his survey. Tom Miller acted on this principle, for the good looks of the machine he held in his hand, and the four dollars, tempted him sorely. It had its effect, too, on the turbulent and envious Joshua, who seemed to understand himself very well in a bargain. Neither of the men had supposed the watches to be of gold, for though the metal that is in a watch does not amount to a great deal, it is usually of more value than all that was asked for the "article" now under examination. In point of fact, my uncle had this very watch "invoiced to him" at twice the price he now put it at.

"And what do you ask for this?" demanded Joshua, taking up another watch of very similar looks and of equal value to the one that Miller still retained open in his hand. "Won't you let this go for three dollars?"

"No; der brice of dat is effery cent of forty dollars," answered uncle Ro, stubbornly.

The two men now looked at the pedlar in surprise. Miller took the watch from his hired man, examined it attentively, compared it with the other, and then demanded its price anew.

"You might haf eider of dem vatches for four dollars," returned my uncle, as I thought, incautiously.

This occasioned a new surprise, though Brigham fortunately referred the difference to a mistake.

"Oh!" he said, "I understood you to say forty dollars. Four dollars is a different matter."

"Josh," interrupted the more observant and cooler-headed Miller, "it is high time, now, you and Peter go and look a'ter them sheep. The conch will soon be blowing for dinner. If you want a trade, you can have one when you get back."

Notwithstanding the plainness of his appearance and language, Tom Miller was captain of his own company. He gave this order quietly, and in his usual familiar way, but it was obviously to be obeyed without a remonstrance. In a minute the two hired men were off in company, leaving no one behind in the barn but Miller, his sons, and us two. I could see there was a motive for all this, but did not understand it.

"Now he's gone," continued Tom quietly, but laying an emphasis that sufficiently explained his meaning, "perhaps you'll let me know the true price of this watch. I've a mind for it, and may be we can agree."

"Four dollars," answered my uncle, distinctly. "I haf said you might haf it for dat money, and vhat I haf said once might always be."

"I will take it, then. I almost wish you had asked eight, though four dollars saved is suthin' for a poor man. It's so plaguy cheap I'm a little afraid on 't; but I'll ventur'. There; there's your money, and in hard cash."

"Dank you, sir. Won't das ladies choose to look at my drinkets?"

"Oh! if you want to deal with ladies who buy chains and rings, the Nest House is the place. My woman wouldn't know what to do with sich things, and don't set herself up for a fine lady at all. That chap who has just gone for the sheep is the only great man we have about this farm."

"Ja, ja; he ist a nople in a dirty shirt: ja, ja; why hast he dem pig feelin's?"

"I believe you have named them just as they ought to be, pig's feelin's. It's because he wishes to thrust his own snout all over the trough, and is mad when he finds anybody else's in the way. We're getting to have plenty of such fellows up and down the country, and an uncomfortable time they give us. Boys, I do believe it will turn out, a'ter all, that Josh is an Injin!"

"I know he is," answered the oldest of the two sons, a lad of nineteen; "where else should he be so much of nights and Sundays, but at their trainin's?—and what was the meanin' of the calico bundle I saw under his arm a month ago, as I told you on at the time?"

"If I find it out to be as you say, Harry, he shall tramp off of this farm. I'll have no Injins here!"

"Vell I dought I dit see an olt Injin in a hut up yonder ast by der woots!" put in my uncle, innocently.

"Oh! that is Susquesus, an Onondago; he is a true Injin, and a gentleman; but we have a parcel of the mock gentry about, who are a pest and an eye-sore to every honest man in the country. Half on 'em are nothing but thieves in mock Injin dresses. The law is ag'in 'em, right is ag'in 'em, and every true friend of liberty in the country ought to be ag'in 'em."

"Vhat ist der matter in dis coontry? I hear in Europe how America ist a free lant, ant how efery man hast his rights; but since I got here dey do nothin' but talk of barons, and noples, and tenants, and arisdograts, and all der bat dings I might leaf behint me, in der olt worlt."

"The plain matter is, friend, that they who have got little, envy them that's got much; and the struggle is to see which is the strongest. On the one side is the law, and right, and bargains, and contracts; and on the other thousands—not of dollars, but of men. Thousands of voters; d'ye understand?"

"Ja, ja—I oonderstands; dat ist easy enough. But vhy do dey dalk so much of noples and arisdograts?—ist der noples and arisdograts in America?"

"Well, I don't much understand the natur' of sich things; there sartainly is a difference in men, and a difference in their fortun's, and edications, and such sort of things."

"Und der law, den, favours der rich man at der cost of der poor, in America, too, does it? Und you haf arisdograts who might not pay taxes, and who holt all der offices, and get all der pooblic money, and who ist petter pefore de law, in all dings, dan ast dem dat be not arisdograts? Is it so?"

Miller laughed outright, and shook his head at this question, continuing to examine the trinkets the whole time.

"No, no, my friend, we've not much of that, in this part of the world, either. Rich men get very few offices, to begin with; for it's an argooment in favour of a man for an office, that he's poor, and wants it. Folks don't so much ask who the office wants, as who wants the office. Then, as for taxes, there isn't much respect paid to the rich, on that score. Young 'Squire Littlepage pays the tax on this farm directly himself, and it's assessed half as high ag'in, all things considered, as any other farm on his estate."

"But dat ist not right."

"Right! Who says it is?—or who thinks there is anything right about assessments, anywhere? I have heard assessors, with my own ears, use such words as these:—'Sich a man is rich, and can afford to pay,' and 'sich a man is poor, and it will come hard on him.' Oh! they kiver up dishonesty, now-a-days, under all sorts of argooments."

"But der law; der rich might haf der law on deir side, surely?"

"In what way, I should like to know? Juries be everything, and juries will go accordin' to their feelin's, as well as other men. I've seen the things with my own eyes. The county pays just enough a-day to make poor men like to be on juries, and they never fail to attend, while them that can pay their fines stay away, and so leave the law pretty much in the hands of one party. No rich man gains his cause, unless his case is so strong it can't be helped."

I had heard this before, there being a very general complaint throughout the country of the practical abuses connected with the jury system. I have heard intelligent lawyers complain, that whenever a cause of any interest is to be tried, the first question asked is not "what are the merits?" "which has the law and the facts on his side?" but "who is likely to be on the jury?"—thus obviously placing the composition of the jury before either law or evidence. Systems may have a very fair appearance on paper and as theories, that are execrable in practice. As for juries, I believe the better opinion of the intelligent of all countries is, that while they are a capital contrivance to resist the abuse of power in narrow governments, in governments of a broad constituency they have the effect, which might easily be seen, of placing the control of the law in the hands of those who would be most apt to abuse it; since it is adding to, instead of withstanding and resisting the controlling authority of the State, from which, in a popular government, most of the abuses must unavoidably proceed.

As for my uncle Ro, he was disposed to pursue the subject with Miller, who turned out to be a discreet and conscientious man. After a very short pause, as if to reflect on what had been said, he resumed the discourse.

"Vhat, den, makes arisdograts in dis coontry?" asked my uncle.

"Wa-a-l"—no man but an American of New England descent, as was the case with Miller, can give this word its attic sound—"Wa-a-l, it's hard to say. I hear a great deal about aristocrats, and I read a great deal about aristocrats, in this country, and I know that most folks look upon them as hateful, but I'm by no means sartain I know what an aristocrat is. Do you happen to know anything about it, friend?"

"Ja, ja; an arisdograt ist one of a few men dat hast all de power of de government in deir own hands."

"King! That isn't what we think an aristocrat in this part of the world. Why, we call them critturs here DIMIGOGUES! Now, young 'Squire Littlepage, who owns the Nest House, over yonder, and who is owner of all this estate, far and near, is what we call an aristocrat, and he hasn't power enough to be named town clerk, much less to anything considerable, or what is worth having."

"How can he be an arisdograt, den?"

"How, sure enough, if your account be true! I tell you 'tis the dimigogues that be the aristocrats of America. Why, Josh Brigham, who has just gone for the sheep, can get more votes for any office in the country than young Littlepage!"

"Berhaps dis young Littlebage ist a pat yoong man?"

"Not he; he's as good as any on 'em, and better than most. Besides, if he was as wicked as Lucifer, the folks of the country don't know anything about it, sin' he's be'n away ever sin' he has be'n a man."

"Vhy, den, gan't he haf as many votes as dat poor, ignorant fellow might haf?—das ist ott."

"It is odd, but it's true as gospel. Why, it may not be so easy to tell. Many men, many minds, you know. Some folks don't like him because he lives in a big house; some hate him because they think he is better off than they are themselves; others mistrust him because he wears a fine coat; and some pretend to laugh at him because he got his property from his father, and grand'ther, and so on, and didn't make it himself. Accordin' to some folks' notions, now-a-days, a man ought to enj'y only the property he heaps together himself."

"If dis be so, your Herr Littlebage ist no arisdograt."

"Wa-a-l, that isn't the idee, hereaway. We have had a great many meetin's, latterly, about the right of the people to their farms; and there has been a good deal of talk at them meetin's consarnin' aristocracy and feudal tenors; do you know what a feudal tenor is, too?"

"Ja; dere ist moch of dat in Teutchland—in mine coontry. It ist not ferry easy to explain it in a few vords, but der brincipal ding ist dat der vassal owes a serfice to hist lort. In de olten dimes dis serfice vast military, und dere ist someding of dat now. It ist de noples who owe der feudal serfice, brincipally, in mine coontry, and dey owes it to de kings and brinces."

"And don't you call giving a chicken for rent feudal service, in Germany?"

Uncle Ro and I laughed, in spite of our efforts to the contrary, there being a pathos in this question that was supremely ridiculous. Curbing his merriment, however, as soon as he could, my uncle answered the question.

"If der landlordt hast a right to coome and dake as many chickens as he bleases, und ast often ast he bleases, den dat wouldt look like a feudal right; but if de lease says dat so many chickens moost be paid a-year, for der rent, vhy dat ist all der same as baying so much moneys; und it might be easier for der tenant to bay in chicken ast it might be to bay in der silver. Vhen a man canst bay his debts in vhat he makes himself, he ist ferry interpentent."

"It does seem so, I vow! Yet there's folks about here, and some at Albany, that call it feudal for a man to have to carry a pair of fowls to the landlord's office, and the landlord an aristocrat for asking it!"

"But der man canst sent a poy, or a gal, or a nigger, wid his fowls, if he bleases?"

"Sartain; all that is asked is that the fowls should come."

"Und vhen der batroon might owe hist tailor, or hist shoemaker, must he not go to hist shop, or find him and bay him vhat he owes, or be suet for der debt?"

"That's true, too; boys, put me in mind of telling that to Josh, this evening. Yes, the greatest landlord in the land must hunt up his creditor, or be sued, all the same as the lowest tenant."

"Und he most bay in a partic'lar ding; he most bay in golt or silver?"

"True; lawful tender is as good for one as 'tis for t'other."

"Und if your Herr Littlebage signs a baper agreein' to gif der apples from dat orchart to somebody on his landts, most he send or carry der apples, too?"

"To be sure; that would be the bargain."

"Und he most carry der ferry apples dat grows on dem ferry drees, might it not be so?"

"All true as gospel. If a man contracts to sell the apples of one orchard, he can't put off the purchaser with the apples of another."

"Und der law ist der same for one ast for anudder, in dese t'ings?"

"There is no difference; and there should be none."

"Und der batroons und der landlordts wants to haf der law changet, so dat dey may be excuset from baying der debts accordin' to der bargains, und to gif dem atfantages over der poor tenants?"

"I never heard anything of the sort, and don't believe they want any such change."

"Of vhat, den, dost der beople complain?"

"Of having to pay rent at all; they think the landlords ought to be made to sell their farms, or give them away. Some stand out for the last."

"But der landlordts don't vant to sell deir farms; und dey might not be made to sell vhat ist deir own, and vhat dey don't vant to sell, any more dan der tenants might be made to sell deir hogs and deir sheep, vhen dey don't vant to sell dem."

"It does seem so, boys, as I've told the neighbours, all along. But I'll tell this Dutchman all about it. Some folks want the State to look a'ter the title of young Littlepage, pretending he has no title."

"But der State wilt do dat widout asking for it particularly, vill it not?"

"I never heard that it would."

"If anybody hast a claim to der broperty, vilt not der courts try it?"

"Yes, yes—in that way; but a tenant can't set up a title ag'in his landlord."

"Vhy should he? He canst haf no title but his landlort's, and it vould be roguery and cheatery to let a man get into der bossession of a farm under der pretence of hiring it, und den coome out und claim it as owner. If any tenant dinks he hast a better right dan his landlort, he can put der farm vhere it vast before he might be a tenant, und den der State wilt examine into der title, I fancys."

"Yes, yes—in that way; but these men want it another way. What they want is for the State to set up a legal examination, and turn the landlords off altogether, if they can, and then let themselves have the farms in their stead."

"But dat would not be honest to dem dat hafen't nothing to do wid der farms. If der State owns der farms, it ought to get as moch as it can for dem, and so safe all der people from baying taxes. It looks like roguery, all roundt."

"I believe it is that, and nothing else! As you say, the State will examine into the title as it is, and there is no need of any laws about it."

"Would der State, dink you, pass a law dat might inquire into de demandts dat are made against der batroons, vhen der tratesmen sent in deir bills?"

"I should like to see any patroon ask sich a thing! He would be laughed at, from York to Buffalo."

"Und he would desarf it. By vhat I see, frient, your denants be der arisdograts, und der landlordts der vassals."

"Why you see—what may your name be?—as we're likely to become acquainted, I should like to know your name."

"My name is Greisenbach, und I comes from Preussen."

"Well, Mr. Greisenbach, the difficulty about aristocracy is this. Hugh Littlepage is rich, and his money gives him advantages that other men can't enj'y. Now, that sticks in some folks' crops."

"Oh! den it ist meant to divite broperty in dis coontry; und to say no man might haf more ast anudder?"

"Folks don't go quite as far as that, yet; though some of their talk does squint that-a-way, I must own. Now, there are folks about here that complain that old Madam Littlepage and her young ladies don't visit the poor."

"Vell, if deys be hard-hearted, und hast no feelin's for der poor and miseraple——"

"No, no; that is not what I mean, neither. As for that sort of poor, everybody allows they do more for them than anybody else about here. But they don't visit the poor that isn't in want."

"Vell, it ist a ferry coomfortable sort of poor dat ist not in any vant. Berhaps you mean dey don't associate wid 'em, as equals?"

"That's it. Now, on that head, I must say there is some truth in the charge, for the gals over at the Nest never come here to visit my gal, and Kitty is as nice a young thing as there is about."

"Und Gitty goes to visit the gal of the man who lives over yonter, in de house on der hill?" pointing to a residence of a man of the very humblest class in the town.

"Hardly! Kitty's by no means proud, but I shouldn't like her to be too thick there."

"Oh! you're an arisdograt, den, after all; else might your daughter visit dat man's daughter."

"I tell you, Grunzebach, or whatever your name may be," returned Miller, a little angrily, though a particularly good-natured man in the main, "that my gal shall not visit old Steven's da'ghters."

"Vell, I'm sure she might do as she bleases; but I dinks der Mademoiselles Littlepage might do ast dey pleases, too."

"There is but one Littlepage gal; if you saw them out this morning in the carriage, you saw two York gals and parson Warren's da'ghter with her."

"Und dis parson Warren might be rich, too?"

"Not he; he hasn't a sixpence on 'arth but what he gets from the parish. Why he is so poor his friends had to edicate his da'ghter, I have heern say, over and over!"

"Und das Littlepage gal und de Warren gal might be goot friends?"

"They are the thickest together of any two young women in this part of the world. I've never seen two gals more intimate. Now, there's a young lady in the town, one Opportunity Newcome, who, one might think, would stand before Mary Warren at the big house, any day in the week, but she doesn't! Mary takes all the shine out on her."

"Which ist der richest, Obbordunity or Mary?"

"By all accounts Mary Warren has nothing, while Opportunity is thought to come next to Matty herself, as to property, of all the young gals about here. But Opportunity is no favourite at the Nest."

"Den it would seem, after all, dat dis Miss Littlebage does not choose her friends on account of riches. She likes Mary Warren, who ist boor, und she does not like Obbordunity, who ist vell to do in de vorlt. Berhaps der Littlepages be not as big arisdograts as you supposes."

Miller was bothered, while I felt a disposition to laugh. One of the commonest errors of those who, from position and habits, are unable to appreciate the links which connect cultivated society together, is to refer everything to riches. Riches, in a certain sense, as a means and through their consequences, may be a principal agent in dividing society into classes; but, long after riches have taken wings, their fruits remain, when good use has been made of their presence. So untrue is the vulgar opinion—or it might be better to say the opinion of the vulgar—that money is the one tie which unites polished society, that it is a fact which all must know who have access to the better circles of even our own commercial towns, that those circles, loosely and accidentally constructed as they are, receive with reluctance, nay, often sternly exclude, vulgar wealth from their associations, while the door is open to the cultivated who have nothing. The young, in particular, seldom think much of money, while family connections, early communications, similarity of opinions, and, most of all, of tastes, bring sets together, and often keep them together long after the golden band has been broken.

But men have great difficulty in comprehending things that lie beyond their reach; and money being apparent to the senses, while refinement, through its infinite gradations, is visible principally, and, in some cases, exclusively to its possessors, it is not surprising that common minds should refer a tie that, to them, would otherwise be mysterious, to the more glittering influence, and not to the less obvious. Infinite, indeed, are the gradations of cultivated habits; nor are as many of them the fruits of caprice and self-indulgence as men usually suppose. There is a common sense, nay, a certain degree of wisdom, in the laws of even etiquette, while they are confined to equals, that bespeak the respect of those who understand them. As for the influence of associations on men's manners, on their exteriors, and even on their opinions, my uncle Ro has long maintained that it is so apparent that one of his time of life could detect the man of the world, at such a place as Saratoga even, by an intercourse of five minutes; and what is more, that he could tell the class in life from which he originally emerged. He tried it, the last summer, on our return from Ravensnest, and I was amused with his success, though he made a few mistakes, it must be admitted.

"That young man comes from the better circles, but he has never travelled," he said, alluding to one of a group which still remained at table; "while he who is next him has travelled, but commenced badly." This may seem a very nice distinction, but I think it is easily made. "There are two brothers, of an excellent family in Pennsylvania," he continued, "as one might know from the name; the eldest has travelled, the youngest has not." This was a still harder distinction to make, but one who knew the world as well as my uncle Ro could do it. He went on amusing me by his decisions—all of which were respectable, and some surprisingly accurate—in this way for several minutes. Now, like has an affinity to like, and in this natural attraction is to be found the secret of the ordinary construction of society. You shall put two men of superior minds in a room full of company, and they will find each other out directly, and enjoy the accident. The same is true as to the mere modes of thinking that characterize social castes; and it is truer in this country, perhaps, than most others, from the mixed character of our associations. Of the two, I am really of opinion that the man of high intellect, who meets with one of moderate capacity, but of manners and social opinions on a level with his own, has more pleasure in the communication than with one of equal mind, but of inferior habits.

That Patt should cling to one like Mary Warren seemed to me quite as natural as that she should be averse to much association with Opportunity Newcome. The money of the latter, had my sister been in the least liable to such an influence, was so much below what she had been accustomed, all her life, to consider affluence, that it would have had no effect, even had she been subject to so low a consideration in regulating her intercourse with others. But this poor Tom Miller could not understand. He could "only reason from what he knew," and he knew little of the comparative notions of wealth, and less of the powers of cultivation on the mind and manners. He was struck, however, with a fact that did come completely within the circle of his own knowledge, and that was the circumstance that Mary Warren, while admitted to be poor, was the bosom friend of her whom he was pleased to call, sometimes, the "Littlepage gal." It was easy to see he felt the force of this circumstance; and it is to be hoped that, as he was certainly a wiser, he also became a better man, on one of the most common of the weaknesses of human frailty.

"Wa-a-l," he replied to my uncle's last remark, after fully a minute of silent reflection, "I don't know! It would seem so, I vow; and yet it hasn't been my wife's notion, nor is it Kitty's. You're quite upsetting my idees about aristocrats; for though I like the Littlepages, I've always set 'em down as desp'rate aristocrats."

"Nein, nein; dem as vat you calls dimigogues be der American arisdograts. Dey gets all der money of der pooblic, and haf all der power, but dey gets a little mads because dey might not force demselves on der gentlemen and laties of der coontry, as vell as on der lands und der offices!"

"I swan! I don't know but this may be true! A'ter all, I don't know what right anybody has to complain of the Littlepages."

"Does dey dreat beoples vell, as might coome to see dem?"

"Yes, indeed! if folks treat them well, as sometimes doesn't happen. I've seen hogs here"—Tom was a little Saxon in his figures, but their nature will prove their justification—"I've seen hogs about here, bolt right in before old Madam Littlepage, and draw their chairs up to her fire, and squirt about the tobacco, and never think of even taking off their hats. Them folks be always huffy about their own importance, though they never think of other people's feelin's."

We were interrupted by the sound of wheels, and looking round, we perceived that the carriage of my grandmother had driven up to the farm-house door, on its return home. Miller conceived it to be no more than proper to go and see if he were wanted, and we followed him slowly, it being the intention of my uncle to offer his mother a watch, by way of ascertaining if she could penetrate his disguise.



CHAPTER X.

"Will you buy any tape, Or lace for your cape?— Come to the pedlar, Money's a medler That doth utter all men's ware-a."

Winter's Tale.

There they sat, those four young creatures, a perfect galaxy of bright and beaming eyes. There was not a plain face among them; and I was struck with the circumstance of how rare it was to meet with a youthful and positively ugly American female. Kitty, too, was at the door by the time we reached the carriage, and she also was a blooming and attractive-looking girl. It was a thousand pities that she spoke, however; the vulgarity of her utterance, tone of voice, cadences, and accent, the latter a sort of singing whine, being in striking contrast to a sort of healthful and vigorous delicacy that marked her appearance. All the bright eyes grew brighter as I drew nearer, carrying the flute in my hand; but neither of the young ladies spoke.

"Buy a vatch, ma'ams," said uncle Ro, approaching his mother, cap in hand, with his box open.

"I thank you, friend; but I believe all here are provided with watches already."

"Mine ist ferry sheaps."

"I dare say they may be," returned dear grandmother, smiling; "though cheap watches are not usually the best. Is that very pretty pencil gold?"

"Yes, ma'ams; it ist of goot gold. If it might not be, I might not say so."

I saw suppressed smiles among the girls; all of whom, however, were too well-bred to betray to common observers the sense of the ridiculous that each felt at the equivoque that suggested itself in my uncle's words.

"What is the price of this pencil," asked my grandmother.

Uncle Roger had too much tact to think of inducing his mother to make a purchase as he had influenced Miller, and he mentioned something near the true value of the "article," which was fifteen dollars.

"I will take it," returned my grandmother, dropping three half eagles into the box; when, turning to Mary Warren, she begged her acceptance of the pencil, with as much respect in her manner as if she solicited instead of conferred a favour.

Mary Warren's handsome face was covered with blushes; she looked pleased, and she accepted the offering, though I thought she hesitated one moment about the propriety of so doing, most probably on account of its value. My sister asked to look at this little present, and after admiring it, it passed from hand to hand, each praising its shape and ornaments. All my uncle's wares, indeed, were in perfect good taste, the purchase having been made of an importer of character, and paid for at some cost. The watches, it is true, were, with one or two exceptions, cheap, as were most of the trinkets; but my uncle had about his person a watch, or two, and some fine jewelry, that he had brought from Europe himself, expressly to bestow in presents, among which had been the pencil in question, and which he had dropped into the box but a moment before it was sold.

"Wa-a-l, Madam Littlepage," cried Miller, who used the familiarity of one born on the estate, "this is the queerest watch-pedlar I've met with, yet. He asks fifteen dollars for that pencil, and only four for this watch!" showing his own purchase as he concluded.

My grandmother took the watch in her hand, and examined it attentively.

"It strikes me as singularly cheap!" she remarked, glancing a little distrustfully, as I fancied, at her son, as if she thought he might be selling his brushes cheaper than those who only stole the materials, because he stole them ready made. "I know that these watches are made for very little in the cheap countries of Europe, but one can hardly see how this machinery was put together for so small a sum."

"I has 'em, matam, at all brices," put in my uncle.

"I have a strong desire to purchase a good lady's watch, but should a little fear buying of any but a known and regular dealer."

"You needn't fear us, ma'am," I ventured to say. "If we might sheat anypodies, we shouldn't sheat so goot a laty."

I do not know whether my voice struck Patt's ear pleasantly, or a wish to see the project of her grandmother carried out at once, induced my sister to interfere; but interfere she did, and that by urging her aged parent to put confidence in us. Years had taught my grandmother caution, and she hesitated.

"But all these watches are of base metal, and I want one of good gold and handsome finish," observed my grandmother.

My uncle immediately produced a watch that he had bought of Blondel, in Paris, for five hundred francs, and which was a beautiful little ornament for a lady's belt. He gave it to my grandmother, who read the name of the manufacturer with some little surprise. The watch itself was then examined attentively, and was applauded by all.

"And what may be the price of this?" demanded my grandmother.

"One hoondred dollars, matam; and sheaps at dat."

Tom Miller looked at the bit of tinsel in his own hand, and at the smaller, but exquisitely-shaped "article" that my grandmother held up to look at, suspended by its bit of ribbon, and was quite as much puzzled as he had evidently been a little while before, in his distinctions between the rich and the poor. Tom was not able to distinguish the base from the true; that was all.

My grandmother did not appear at all alarmed at the price, though she cast another distrustful glance or two, over her spectacles, at the imaginary pedlar. At length the beauty of the watch overcame her.

"If you will bring this watch to yonder large dwelling, I will pay you the hundred dollars for it," she said; "I have not as much money with me here."

"Ja, ja—ferry goot; you might keep das vatch, laty, and I will coome for der money after I haf got some dinners of somebodys."

My grandmother had no scruple about accepting of the credit, of course, and she was about to put the watch in her pocket, when Patt laid her little gloved hand on it, and cried—

"Now, dearest grandmother, let it be done at once—there is no one but us three present, you know!"

"Such is the impatience of a child!" exclaimed the elder lady, laughing. "Well, you shall be indulged. I gave you that pencil for a keep-sake, Mary, only en attendant, it having been my intention to offer a watch, as soon as a suitable one could be found, as a memorial of the sense I entertain of the spirit you showed during that dark week in which the anti-renters were so menacing. Here, then, is such a watch as I might presume to ask you to have the goodness to accept."

Mary Warren seemed astounded! The colour mounted to her temples; then she became suddenly pale. I had never seen so pretty a picture of gentle female distress—a distress that arose from conflicting, but creditable feelings.

"Oh! Mrs. Littlepage!" she exclaimed, after looking in astonishment at the offering for a moment, and in silence. "You cannot have intended that beautiful watch for me!"

"For you, my dear; the beautiful watch is not a whit too good for my beautiful Mary."

"But, dear, dear Mrs. Littlepage, it is altogether too handsome for my station—for my means."

"A lady can very well wear such a watch; and you are a lady in every sense of the word, and so you need have no scruples on that account. As for the means, you will not misunderstand me if I remind you that it will be bought with my means, and there can be no extravagance in the purchase."

"But we are so poor, and that watch has so rich an appearance! It scarcely seems right."

"I respect your feelings and sentiments, my dear girl, and can appreciate them. I suppose you know I was once as poor, nay, much poorer than you are, yourself."

"You, Mrs. Littlepage! No, that can hardly be. You are of an affluent and very respectable family, I know."

"It is quite true, nevertheless, my dear. I shall not affect extreme humility, and deny that the Malbones did and do belong to the gentry of the land, but my brother and myself were once so much reduced as to toil with the surveyors, in the woods, quite near this property. We had then no claim superior to yours, and in many respects were reduced much lower. Besides, the daughter of an educated and well-connected clergyman has claims that, in a worldly point of view alone, entitle her to a certain consideration. You will do me the favour to accept my offering?"

"Dear Mrs. Littlepage! I do not know how to refuse you, or how to accept so rich a gift! You will let me consult my father, first?"

"That will be no more than proper, my dear," returned my beloved grandmother, quietly putting the watch into her own pocket; "Mr. Warren, luckily, dines with us, and the matter can be settled before we sit down to table."

This ended the discussion, which had commenced under an impulse of feeling that left us all its auditors. As for my uncle and myself, it is scarcely necessary to say we were delighted with the little scene. The benevolent wish to gratify, on the one side, with the natural scruples on the other, about receiving, made a perfect picture for our contemplation. The three girls, who were witnesses of what passed, too much respected Mary's feelings to interfere, though Patt restrained herself with difficulty. As to Tom Miller and Kitty, they doubtless wondered why "Warren's gal" was such a fool as to hesitate about accepting a watch that was worth a hundred dollars. This was another point they did not understand.

"You spoke of dinner," continued my grandmother, looking at my uncle. "If you and your companion will follow us to the house, I will pay you for the watch, and order you a dinner in the bargain."

We were right down glad to accept this offer, making our bows and expressing our thanks, as the carriage whirled off. We remained a moment, to take our leave of Miller.

"When you've got through at the Nest," said that semi-worthy fellow, "give us another call here. I should like my woman and Kitty to have a look at your finery, before you go down to the village with it."

With a promise to return to the farm-house, we proceeded on our way to the building which, in the familiar parlance of the country, was called the Nest, or the Nest House, from Ravensnest, its true name, and which Tom Miller, in his country dialect, called the "Neest." The distance between the two buildings was less than half a mile, the grounds of the family residence lying partly between them. Many persons would have called the extensive lawns which surrounded my paternal abode a park, but it never bore that name with us. They were too large for a paddock, and might very well have come under the former appellation; but, as deer, or animals of any sort, except those that are domestic, had never been kept within it, the name had not been used. We called them the grounds—a term which applies equally to large and small enclosures of this nature—while the broad expanse of verdure which lies directly under the windows goes by the name of the lawn. Notwithstanding the cheapness of land among us, there has been very little progress made in the art of landscape gardening; and if we have anything like park scenery, it is far more owing to the gifts of a bountiful nature than to any of the suggestions of art. Thanks to the cultivated taste of Downing, as well as to his well-directed labours, this reproach is likely to be soon removed, and country life will acquire this pleasure, among the many others that are so peculiarly its own. After lying for more than twenty years—a stigma on the national taste—disfigured by ravines or gullies, and otherwise in a rude and discreditable condition, the grounds of the White House have been brought into a condition to denote that they are the property of a civilized country. The Americans are as apt at imitation as the Chinese, with a far greater disposition to admit of change; and little beyond good models are required to set them on the right track. But it is certain that, as a nation, we have yet to acquire nearly all that belongs to the art I have mentioned that lies beyond avenues of trees, with an occasional tuft of shrubbery. The abundance of the latter, that forms the wilderness of sweets, the masses of flowers that spot the surface of Europe, the beauty of curved lines, and the whole finesse of surprises, reliefs, back-grounds and vistas, are things so little known among us as to be almost "arisdogratic," as my uncle Ro would call the word.

Little else had been done at Ravensnest than to profit by the native growth of the trees, and to take advantage of the favourable circumstances in the formation of the grounds. Most travellers imagine that it might be an easy thing to lay out a park in the virgin forest, as the axe might spare the thickets, and copses, and woods, that elsewhere are the fruits of time and planting. This is all a mistake, however, as the rule; though modified exceptions may and do exist. The tree of the American forest shoots upward toward the light, growing so tall and slender as to be unsightly; and even when time has given its trunk is due size, the top is rarely of a breadth to ornament a park or a lawn, while its roots, seeking their nourishment in the rich alluvium formed by the decayed leaves of a thousand years, lie too near the surface to afford sufficient support after losing the shelter of its neighbours. It is owing to reasons like these that the ornamental grounds of an American country-house have usually to be commenced ab origine, and that natural causes so little aid in finishing them.

My predecessors had done a little towards assisting nature, at the Nest, and what was of almost equal importance, in the state of knowledge on this subject as it existed in the country sixty years since, they had done little to mar her efforts. The results were, that the grounds of Ravensnest possess a breadth that is the fruit of the breadth of our lands, and a rural beauty which, without being much aided by art, was still attractive. The herbage was kept short by sheep, of which one thousand, of the fine wool, were feeding on the lawns, along the slopes, and particularly on the distant heights, as we crossed the grounds on our way to the doors.

The Nest House was a respectable New York country dwelling, as such buildings were constructed among us in the last quarter of the past century, a little improved and enlarged by the second and third generations of its owners. The material was of stone, the low cliff on which it stood supplying enough of an excellent quality; and the shape of the main corps de batiment as near a square as might be. Each face of this part of the constructions offered five windows to view, this being almost the prescribed number for a country residence in that day, as three have since got to be in towns. These windows, however, had some size, the main building being just sixty feet square, which was about ten feet in each direction larger than was common so soon after the revolution. But wings had been added to the original building, and that on a plan which conformed to the shape of a structure in square logs, that had been its predecessor on its immediate site. These wings were only of a story and a half each, and doubling on each side of the main edifice just far enough to form a sufficient communication, they ran back to the very verge of a cliff some forty feet in height, overlooking, at their respective ends, a meandering rivulet, and a wide expanse of very productive flats, that annually filled my barns with hay and my cribs with corn. Of this level and fertile bottom-land there was near a thousand acres, stretching in three directions, of which two hundred belonged to what was called the Nest Farm. The remainder was divided among the farms of the adjacent tenantry. This little circumstance, among the thousand-and-one other atrocities that were charged upon me, had been made a ground of accusation, to which I shall presently have occasion to advert. I shall do this the more readily, because the fact has not yet reached the ears and set in motion the tongues of legislators—Heaven bless us, how words do get corrupted by too much use!—in their enumeration of the griefs of the tenants of the State.

Everything about the Nest was kept in perfect order, and in a condition to do credit to the energy and taste of my grandmother, who had ordered all these things for the last few years, or since the death of my grandfather. This circumstance, connected with the fact that the building was larger and more costly than those of most of the other citizens of the country, had, of late years, caused Ravensnest to be termed an "aristocratic residence." This word "aristocratic," I find since my return home, has got to be a term of expansive signification, its meaning depending on the particular habits and opinions of the person who happens to use it. Thus, he who chews tobacco thinks it aristocratic in him who deems the practice nasty not to do the same; the man who stoops accuses him who is straight in the back of having aristocratic shoulders; and I have actually met with one individual who maintained that it was excessively aristocratic to pretend not to blow one's nose with his fingers. It will soon be aristocratic to maintain the truth of the familiar Latin axiom of "de gustibus non disputandum est."

As we approached the door of the Nest House, which opened on the piazza that stretched along three sides of the main building, and the outer ends of both wings, the coachman was walking his horses away from it, on the road that led to the stables. The party of ladies had made a considerable circuit after quitting the farm, and had arrived but a minute before us. All the girls but Mary Warren had entered the house, careless on the subject of the approach of two pedlars; she remained, however, at the side of my grandmother, to receive us.

"I believe in my soul," whispered uncle Ro, "that my dear old mother has a secret presentiment who we are, by her manifesting so much respect.—T'ousand t'anks, matam, t'ousand t'anks," he continued, dropping into his half-accurate half-blundering broken English, "for dis great honour, such as we might not expect das laty of das house to wait for us at her door."

"This young lady tells me that she has seen you before, and that she understands you are both persons of education and good manners, who have been driven from your native country by political troubles. Such being the case, I cannot regard you as common pedlars. I have known what it was to be reduced in fortune,"—my dear grandmother's voice trembled a little—"and can feel for those who thus suffer."

"Matam, dere might be moch trut' in some of dis," answered my uncle, taking off his cap, and bowing very much like a gentleman, an act in which I imitated him immediately. "We haf seen petter tays; and my son, dere, hast peen edicatet at an university. But we are now poor pedlars of vatches, und dem dat might make moosic in der streets."

My grandmother looked as a lady would look under such circumstances, neither too free to forget present appearances, nor coldly neglectful of the past. She knew that something was due to her own household, and to the example she ought to set it, while she felt that far more was due to the sentiment that unites the cultivated. We were asked into the house, were told a table was preparing for us, and were treated with a generous and considerate hospitality that involved no descent from her own character, or that of the sex; the last being committed to the keeping of every lady.

In the mean time, business proceeded with my uncle. He was paid his hundred dollars; and all his stores of value, including rings, brooches, ear-rings, chains, bracelets, and other trinkets that he had intended as presents to his wards, were produced from his pockets, and laid before the bright eyes of the three girls—Mary Warren keeping in the back ground, as one who ought not to look on things unsuited to her fortune. Her father had arrived, however, had been consulted, and the pretty watch was already attached to the girdle of the prettier waist. I fancied the tear of gratitude that still floated in her serene eyes was a jewel of far higher price than any my uncle could exhibit.

We had been shown into the library, a room that was in the front of the house, and of which the windows all opened on the piazza. I was at first a little overcome, at thus finding myself, and unrecognized, under the paternal roof, and in a dwelling that was my own, after so many years of absence. Shall I confess it! Everything appeared diminutive and mean, after the buildings to which I had been accustomed in the old world. I am not now drawing comparisons with the palaces of princes, and the abodes of the great, as the American is apt to fancy, whenever anything is named that is superior to the things to which he is accustomed; but to the style, dwellings, and appliances of domestic life that pertain to those of other countries who have not a claim in anything to be accounted my superiors—scarcely my equals. In a word, American aristocracy, or that which it is getting to be the fashion to stigmatize as aristocratic, would be deemed very democratic in most of the nations of Europe. Our Swiss brethren have their chateaux and their habits that are a hundred times more aristocratic than anything about Ravensnest, without giving offence to liberty; and I feel persuaded, were the proudest establishment in all America pointed out to a European as an aristocratic abode, he would be very apt to laugh at it, in his sleeve. The secret of this charge among ourselves is the innate dislike which is growing up in the country to see any man distinguished from the mass around him in anything, even though it should be in merit. It is nothing but the expansion of the principle which gave rise to the traditionary feud between the "plebeians and patricians" of Albany, at the commencement of this century, and which has now descended so much farther than was then contemplated by the soi-disant "plebeians" of that day, as to become quite disagreeable to their own descendants. But to return to myself—

I will own that, so far from finding any grounds of exultation in my own aristocratical splendour, when I came to view my possessions at home, I felt mortified and disappointed. The things that I had fancied really respectable, and even fine, from recollection, now appeared very common-place, and in many particulars mean. "Really," I found myself saying sotto voce, "all this is scarcely worthy of being the cause of deserting the right, setting sound principles at defiance, and of forgetting God and his commandments!" Perhaps I was too inexperienced to comprehend how capacious is the maw of the covetous man, and how microscopic the eye of envy.

"You are welcome to Ravensnest," said Mr. Warren, approaching and offering his hand in a friendly way, much as he would address any other young friend; "we arrived a little before you, and I have had my ears and eyes open ever since, in the hope of hearing your flute, and of seeing your form in the highway, near the parsonage, where you promised to visit me."

Mary was standing at her father's elbow, as when I first saw her, and she gazed wistfully at my flute, as she would not have done had she seen me in my proper attire, assuming my proper character.

"I danks you, sir," was my answer. "We might haf plenty of times for a little moosic, vhen das laties shall be pleaset to say so. I canst blay Yankee Doodle, Hail Coloombias, and der 'Star Spangled Banner,' und all dem airs, as dey so moch likes at der taverns and on der road."

Mr. Warren laughed, and he took the flute from my hand, and began to examine it. I now trembled for the incognito! The instrument had been mine for many years, and was a very capital one, with silver keys, stops, and ornaments. What if Patt—what if my dear grandmother should recognise it! I would have given the handsomest trinket in my uncle's collection to get the flute back again into my own hands; but, before an opportunity offered for that, it went from hand to hand, as the instrument that had produced the charming sounds heard that morning, until it reached those of Martha. The dear girl was thinking of the jewelry, which, it will be remembered, was rich, and intended in part for herself, and she passed the instrument on, saying, hurriedly,—

"See, dear grandmother, this is the flute which you pronounced the sweetest toned of any you had ever heard!"

My grandmother took the flute, started, put her spectacles closer to her eyes, examined the instrument, turned pale—for her cheeks still retained a little of the colour of their youth—and then cast a glance hurriedly and anxiously at me. I could see that she was pondering on something profoundly in her most secret mind, for a minute or two. Luckily the others were too much occupied with the box of the pedlar to heed her movements. She walked slowly out of the door, almost brushing me as she passed, and went into the hall. Here she turned, and, catching my eye, she signed for me to join her. Obeying this signal, I followed, until I was led into a little room, in one of the wings, that I well remembered as a sort of private parlour attached to my grandmother's own bed-room. To call it a boudoir would be to caricature things, its furniture being just that of the sort of room I have mentioned, or of a plain, neat, comfortable, country parlour. Here my grandmother took her seat on a sofa, for she trembled so she could not stand, and then she turned to gaze at me wistfully, and with an anxiety it would be difficult for me to describe.

"Do not keep me in suspense!" she said, almost awfully in tone and manner, "am I right in my conjecture?"

"Dearest grandmother, you are!" I answered, in my natural voice.

No more was needed: we hung on each other's necks, as had been my wont in boyhood.

"But who is that pedlar, Hugh?" demanded my grandmother, after a time. "Can it possibly be Roger, my son?"

"It is no other; we have come to visit you, incog."

"And why this disguise?—Is it connected with the troubles?"

"Certainly; we have wished to take a near view with our own eyes, and supposed it might be unwise to come openly, in our proper characters."

"In this you have done well; yet I hardly know how to welcome you, in your present characters. On no account must your real names be revealed. The demons of tar and feathers, the sons of liberty and equality, who illustrate their principles as they do their courage, by attacking the few with the many, would be stirring, fancying themselves heroes and martyrs in the cause of justice, did they learn you were here. Ten armed and resolute men might drive a hundred of them, I do believe; for they have all the cowardice of thieves, but they are heroes with the unarmed and feeble. Are you safe, yourselves, appearing thus disguised, under the new law?"

"We are not armed, not having so much as a pistol; and that will protect us."

"I am sorry to say, Hugh, that this country is no longer what I once knew it. Its justice, if not wholly departed, is taking to itself wings, and its blindness, not in a disregard of persons, but in a faculty of seeing only the stronger side. A landlord, in my opinion, would have but little hope, with jury, judge, or executive, for doing that which thousands of the tenants have done, still do, and will continue to do, with perfect impunity, unless some dire catastrophe stimulates the public functionaries to their duties, by awakening public indignation."

"This is a miserable state of things, dearest grandmother; and what makes it worse, is the cool indifference with which most persons regard it. A better illustration of the utter selfishness of human nature cannot be given, than in the manner in which the body of the people look on, and see wrong thus done to a few of their number."

"Such persons as Mr. Seneca Newcome would answer, that the public sympathises with the poor, who are oppressed by the rich, because the last do not wish to let the first rob them of their estates! We hear a great deal of the strong robbing the weak, all over the world, but few among ourselves, I am afraid, are sufficiently clear-sighted to see how vivid an instance of the truth now exists among ourselves."

"Calling the tenants the strong, and the landlords the weak?"

"Certainly; numbers make strength, in this country, in which all power in practice, and most of it in theory, rests with the majority. Were there as many landlords as there are tenants, my life on it, no one would see the least injustice in the present state of things."

"So says my uncle: but I hear the light steps of the girls—we must be on our guard."

At that instant Martha entered, followed by all three of the girls, holding in her hand a very beautiful Manilla chain that my uncle had picked up in his travels, and had purchased as a present to my future wife, whomsoever she might turn out to be, and which he had had the indiscretion to show to his ward. A look of surprise was cast by each girl in succession, as she entered the room, on me, but neither said, and I fancy neither thought much of my being shut up there with an old lady of eighty, after the first moment. Other thoughts were uppermost at the moment.

"Look at this, dearest grandmamma!" cried Patt, holding up the chain as she entered the room. "Here is just the most exquisite chain that was ever wrought, and of the purest gold; but the pedlar refuses to part with it!"

"Perhaps you do not offer enough, my child; it is, indeed, very, very beautiful; pray what does he say is its value?"

"One hundred dollars, he says; and I can readily believe it, for its weight is near half the money. I do wish Hugh were at home; I am certain he would contrive to get it, and make it a present to me!"

"Nein, nein, young lady," put in the pedlar, who, a little unceremoniously, had followed the girls into the room, though he knew, of course, precisely where he was coming; "dat might not be. Dat chain is der broperty of my son, t'ere, und I haf sworn it shalt only be gifen to his wife."

Patt coloured a little, and she pouted a good deal; then she laughed outright.

"If it is only to be had on those conditions, I am afraid I shall never own it," she said, saucily, though it was intended to be uttered so low as not to reach my ears. "I will pay the hundred dollars out of my own pocket-money, however, if that will buy it. Do say a good word for me, grandmamma!"

How prettily the hussy uttered that word of endearment, so different from the "paw" and "maw" one hears among the dirty-noses that are to be found in the mud-puddles! But our grand-parent was puzzled, for she knew with whom she had to deal, and of course saw that money would do nothing. Nevertheless, the state of the game rendered it necessary to say and do something that might have an appearance of complying with Patty's request.

"Can I have more success in persuading you to change your mind, sir?" she said, looking at her son in a way that let him know at once, or at least made him suspect at once, that she was in his secret. "It would give me great pleasure to be able to gratify my grand-daughter, by making her a present of so beautiful a chain."

My uncle Ro advanced to his mother, took the hand she had extended with the chain in it, in order the better to admire the trinket, and he kissed it with a profound respect, but in such a manner as to make it seem to the lookers-on an act of European usage, rather than what it was, the tempered salute of a child to his parent.

"Laty," he then said, with emphasis, "if anyboty might make me change a resolution long since made, it would be one as fenerable, und gracious, und goot as I am sartain you most be. But I haf vowet to gif dat chain to das wife of mine son, vhen he might marry, one day, some bretty young American; und it might not be."

Dear grandmother smiled; but now she understood that it was really intended the chain was to be an offering to my wife, she no longer wished to change its destination. She examined the bauble a few moments, and said to me—

"Do you wish this, as well as your un—father, I should say? It is a rich present for a poor man to make."

"Ja, ja, laty, it ist so; but vhen der heart goes, golt might be t'ought sheap to go wid it."

The old lady was half ready to laugh in my face, at hearing this attempt at Germanic English; but the kindness, and delight, and benevolent tenderness of her still fine eyes, made me wish to throw myself in her arms again, and kiss her. Patt continued to bouder for a moment or two longer, but her excellent nature soon gave in, and the smiles returned to her countenance, as the sun issues from behind a cloud in May.

"Well, the disappointment may and must be borne," she said, good-naturedly; "though it is much the most lovely chain I have ever seen."

"I dare say the right person will one day find one quite as lovely to present to you!" said Henrietta Coldbrook, a little pointedly.

I did not like this speech. It was an allusion that a well-bred young woman ought not to have made, at least before others, even pedlars; and it was one that a young woman of a proper tone of feeling would not be apt to make. I determined from that instant the chain should never belong to Miss Henrietta, though she was a fine, showy girl, and though such a decision would disappoint my uncle sadly. I was a little surprised to see a slight blush on Patt's cheek, and then I remembered something of the name of the traveller, Beekman. Turning towards Mary Warren, I saw plain enough that she was disappointed because my sister was disappointed, and for no other reason in the world.

"Your grandmother will meet with another chain, when she goes to town, that will make you forget this," she whispered, affectionately, close at my sister's ear.

Patt smiled, and kissed her friend with a warmth of manner that satisfied me these two charming young creatures loved each other sincerely. But my dear old grandmother's curiosity had been awakened, and she felt a necessity for having it appeased. She still held the chain, and as she returned it to me, who happened to be nearest to her, she said—

"And so, sir, your mind is sincerely made up to offer this chain to your future wife?"

"Yes, laty; or what might be better, to das yoong frau, before we might be marriet."

"And is your choice made?" glancing round at the girls, who were grouped together, looking at some other trinkets of my uncle's. "Have you chosen the young woman who is to possess so handsome a chain?"

"Nein, nein," I answered, returning the smile, and glancing also at the group; "dere ist so many peautiful laties in America, one needn't be in a hurry. In goot time I shalt find her dat ist intended for me."

"Well, grandmamma," interrupted Patt, "since nobody can have the chain, unless on certain conditions, here are the three other things that we have chosen for Ann, Henrietta, and myself, and they are a ring, a pair of bracelets, and a pair of ear-rings. The cost, altogether, will be two hundred dollars; can you approve of that?"

My grandmother, now she knew who was the pedlar, understood the whole matter, and had no scruples. The bargain was soon made, when she sent us all out of the room, under the pretence we should disturb her while settling with the watch-seller. Her real object, however, was to be alone with her son, not a dollar passing between them, of course.



CHAPTER XI.

"Our life was changed. Another love In its lone woof began to twine; But oh! the golden thread was wove Between my sister's heart and mine."

WILLIS.

Half an hour later, uncle Ro and myself were seated at table, eating our dinners as quietly as if we were in an inn. The footman who had set the table was an old family servant, one who had performed the same sort of duty in that very house for a quarter of a century. Of course he was not an American, no man of American birth ever remaining so long a time in an inferior station, or in any station so low as that of a house-servant. If he has good qualities enough to render it desirable to keep him, he is almost certain to go up in the world; if not, one does not care particularly about having him. But Europeans are less elastic and less ambitious, and it is no uncommon thing to find one of such an origin remaining a long time in the same service. Such had been the fact with this man, who had followed my own parents from Europe, when they returned from their marriage tour, and had been in the house on the occasion of my birth. From that time he had continued at the Nest, never marrying, nor ever manifesting the smallest wish for any change. He was an Englishman by birth; and what is very unusual in a servant of that country, when transferred to America, the "letting-up," which is certain to attend such a change from the depression of the original condition to that in which he is so suddenly placed, had not made him saucy. An American is seldom what is called impudent, under any circumstances; he is careless, nay ignorant of forms; pays little or no purely conventional respect; does not understand half the social distinctions which exist among the higher classes of even his own countrymen, and fancies there are equalities in things about which, in truth, there is great inequality between himself and others, merely because he has been taught that all men are equal in rights; but he is so unconscious of any pressure as seldom to feel a disposition to revenge himself by impudence.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse