But, while John was not impudent either, he had a footman's feeling towards those whom he fancied no better than himself. He had set the table with his customary neatness and method, and he served the soup with as much regularity as he would have done had we sat there in our proper characters, but then he withdrew. He probably remembered that the landlord, or upper servant of an English hotel, is apt to make his appearance with the soup, and to disappear as that disappears. So it was with John; after removing the soup, he put a dumb-waiter near my uncle, touched a carving-knife or two, as much as to say "help yourselves," and quitted the room. As a matter of course, our dinner was not a very elaborate one, it wanting two or three hours to the regular time of dining, though my grandmother had ordered, in my hearing, one or two delicacies to be placed on the table, that had surprised Patt. Among the extraordinary things for such guests was wine. The singularity, however, was a little explained by the quality commanded, which was Rhenish.
My uncle Ro was a little surprised at the disappearance of John; for, seated in that room, he was so accustomed to his face, that it appeared as if he were not half at home without him.
"Let the fellow go," he said, withdrawing his hand from the bell-cord, which he had already touched to order him back again; "we can talk more freely without him. Well, Hugh, here you are, under your own roof, eating a charitable dinner, and treated as hospitably as if you did not own all you can see for a circle of five miles around you. It was a lucky idea of the old lady's, by the way, to think of ordering this Rudesheimer, in our character of Dutchmen! How amazingly well she is looking, boy!"
"Indeed she is; and I am delighted to see it. I do not know why my grandmother may not live these twenty years; for even that would not make her near as old as Sus, who, I have often heard her say, was a middle-aged man when she was born."
"True; she seems like an elder sister to me, rather than as a mother, and is altogether a most delightful old woman. But, if we had so charming an old woman to receive us, so are there also some very charming young women—hey, Hugh?"
"I am quite of your way of thinking, sir; and must say I have not, in many a day, seen two as charming creatures as I have met with here."
"Two!—umph; a body would think one might suffice. Pray, which may be the two, Master Padishah?"
"Patt and Mary Warren, of course. The other two are well enough, but these two are excellent."
My uncle Ro looked grum, but he said nothing for some time. Eating is always an excuse for a broken conversation, and he ate away as if resolute not to betray his disappointment. But it is a hard matter for a gentleman to do nothing but eat at table, and so was obliged to talk.
"Everything looks well here, after all, Hugh," observed my uncle. "These anti-renters may have done an infinite deal of harm in the way of abusing principles, but they do not seem to have yet destroyed any material things."
"It is not their cue, sir. The crops are their own; and as they hope to own the farms, it would be scarcely wise to injure what, no doubt, they begin to look on as their own property, too. As for the Nest House, grounds, farm, &c., I dare say they will be very willing to leave me them for a while longer, provided they can get everything else away from me."
"For a time longer, at least; though that is the folly of those who expect to get along by concessions; as if men were ever satisfied with the yielding of a part, when they ask that which is wrong in itself, without sooner or later expecting to get the whole. As well might one expect the pickpocket who had abstracted a dollar, to put back two-and-sixpence change. But things really look well, around the place."
"So much the better for us. Though, to my judgment and taste, Miss Mary Warren looks better than anything else I have yet seen in America."
Another "umph" expressed my uncle's dissatisfaction—displeasure would be too strong a word—and he continued eating.
"You have really some good Rhenish in your cellar, Hugh," resumed uncle Ro, after tossing off one of the knowing green glasses full—though I never could understand why any man should wish to drink his wine out of green, when he might do it out of crystal. "It must have been a purchase of mine, made when we were last in Germany, and for the use of my mother."
"As you please, sir; it neither adds nor subtracts from the beauty of Martha and her friend."
"Since you are disposed to make these boyish allusions, be frank with me, and say, at once, how you like my wards."
"Meaning, of course, sir, my own sister exclusively. I will be as sincere as possible, and say that, as to Miss Marston, I have no opinion at all; and as to Miss Coldbrook, she is what, in Europe, would be called a 'fine' woman."
"You can say nothing as to her mind, Hugh, for you have had no opportunity for forming an opinion."
"Not much of a one, I will own. Nevertheless, I should have liked her better had she spared the allusion to the 'proper person' who is one day to forge a chain for my sister, to begin with."
"Poh, poh; that is the mere squeamishness of a boy. I do not think her in the least pert or forward, and your construction would be tant soit peu vulgar."
"Put your own construction on it, mon oncle; I do not like it."
"I do not wonder young men remain unmarried; they are getting to be so ultra in their tastes and notions."
A stranger might have retorted on an old bachelor, for such a speech, by some allusion to his own example; but I well knew that my uncle Ro had once been engaged, and that he lost the object of his passion by death, and too much respected his constancy and true sentiments ever to joke on such subjects. I believe he felt the delicacy of my forbearance rather more than common, for he immediately manifested a disposition to relent, and to prove it by changing the subject.
"We can never stay here to-night," he said. "It would be at once to proclaim our names—our name, I might say—a name that was once so honoured and beloved in this town, and which is now so hated!"
"No, no; not as bad as that. We have done nothing to merit hatred."
"Raison de plus for hating us so much the more heartily. When men are wronged, who have done nothing to deserve it, the evil-doer seeks to justify his wickedness to himself by striving all he can to calumniate the injured party; and the more difficulty he finds in doing that to his mind, the more profound is his hatred. Rely on it, we are most sincerely disliked here, on the spot where we were once both much beloved. Such is human nature."
At that moment John returned to the room, to see how we were getting on, and to count his forks and spoons, for I saw the fellow actually doing it. My uncle, somewhat indiscreetly, I fancied, but by merely following the chain of thought then uppermost in his mind, detained him in conversation.
"Dis broperty," he said, inquiringly, "is de broperty of one Yeneral Littlepage, I hears say?"
"Not of the General, who was Madam Littlepage's husband, and who has long been dead, but of his grandson, Mr. Hugh."
"Und vhere might he be, dis Mr. Hugh?—might he be at hand, or might he not?"
"No; he's in Europe; that is to say, in Hengland." John thought England covered most of Europe, though he had long gotten over his wish to return. "Mr. Hugh and Mr. Roger be both habsent from the country, just now."
"Dat ist unfortunate, for dey dells me dere might be moch troobles here abouts, and Injin-acting."
"There is, indeed; and a wicked thing it is, that there should be anything of the sort."
"Und vhat might be der reason of so moch troobles?—and vhere ist der blame?"
"Well, that is pretty plain, I fancy," returned John, who, in consequence of being a favoured servant at head-quarters, fancied himself a sort of cabinet minister, and had much pleasure in letting his knowledge be seen. "The tenants on this estate wants to be landlords; and as they can't be so, so long as Mr. Hugh lives and won't let 'em, why they just tries all sorts of schemes and plans to frighten people out of their property. I never go down to the village but I has a talk with some of them, and that in a way that might do them some good, if anything can."
"Und vhat dost you say?—und vid whom dost you talk, as might do dem moch goot?"
"Why, you see, I talks more with one 'Squire Newcome, as they calls him, though he's no more of a real 'squire than you be—only a sort of an attorney, like, such as they has in this country. You come from the old countries, I believe?"
"Ja, ja—dat ist, yes—we comes from Charmany; so you can say vhat you bleases."
"They has queer 'squires in this part of the world, if truth must be said. But that's neither here nor there, though I give this Mr. Seneca Newcome as good as he sends. What is it you wants, I says to him?—you can't all be landlords—somebody must be tenants; and if you didn't want to be tenants, how come you to be so? Land is plenty in this country, and cheap too; and why didn't you buy your land at first, instead of coming to rent of Mr. Hugh; and now when you have rented, to be quarrelling about the very thing you did of your own accord?"
"Dere you didst dell 'em a goot t'ing; and vhat might der 'Squire say to dat?"
"Oh! he was quite dumb-founded, at first; then he said that in old times, when people first rented these lands, they didn't know as much as they do now, or they never would have done it."
"Und you could answer dat; or vast it your durn to be dum-founded?"
"I pitched it into him, as they says; I did. Says I, how's this, says I—you are for ever boasting how much you Americans know—and how the people knows everything that ought to be done, about politics and religion—and you proclaim far and near that your yeomen are the salt of the earth—and yet you don't know how to bargain for your leases! A pretty sort of wisdom is this, says I! I had him there; for the people round about here is only too sharp at a trade."
"Did he own dat you vast right, and dat he vast wrong, dis Herr 'Squire Newcome?"
"Not he; he will never own anything that makes against his own doctrine, unless he does it ignorantly. But I haven't told you half of it. I told him, says I, how is it you talk of one of the Littlepage family cheating you, when, as you knows yourselves, you had rather have the word of one of that family than have each other's bonds, says I. You know, sir, it must be a poor landlord that a tenant can't and won't take his word: and this they all know to be true; for a gentleman as has a fine estate is raised above temptation, like, and has a pride in him to do what is honourable and fair; and, in my opinion, it is good to have a few such people in a country, if it be only to keep the wicked one from getting it altogether in his own keeping."
"Und did you say dat moch to der 'Squire?"
"No; that I just says to you two, seeing that we are here, talking together in a friendly way; but a man needn't be ashamed to say it anywhere, for it's a religious truth. But I says to him, Newcome, says I, you, who has been living so long on the property of the Littlepages, ought to be ashamed to wish to strip them of it; but you're not satisfied with keeping gentlemen down quite as much out of sight as you can, by holding all the offices yourselves, and taking all the money of the public you can lay your hands on for your own use, but you wants to trample them under your feet, I says, and so take your revenge for being what you be, says I."
"Vell, my friend," said my uncle, "you vast a bolt man to dell all dis to der beoples of dis coontry, vhere, I have heard, a man may say just vhat he hast a mind to say, so dat he dost not sbeak too moch trut!"
"That's it—that's it; you have been a quick scholar, I find. I told this Mr. Newcome, says I, you're bold enough in railing at kings and nobles, for you very well know, says I, that they are three thousand miles away from you, and can do you no harm; but you would no more dare get up before your masters, the people, here, and say what you really think about 'em, and what I have heard you say of them in private, than you would dare put your head before a cannon, as the gunner touched it off. Oh! I gave him a lesson, you may be sure!"
Although there was a good deal of the English footman in John's logic and feeling, there was also a good deal of truth in what he said. The part where he accused Newcome of holding one set of opinions in private, concerning his masters, and another in public, is true to the life. There is not, at this moment, within the wide reach of the American borders, one demagogue to be found who might not, with justice, be accused of precisely the same deception. There is not one demagogue in the whole country, who, if he lived in a monarchy, would not be the humblest advocate of men in power, ready to kneel at the feet of those who stood in the sovereign's presence. There is not, at this instant, a man in power among us a senator or a legislator, who is now the seeming advocate of what he wishes to call the rights of the tenants, and who is for overlooking principles and destroying law and right, in order to pacify the anti-renters by extraordinary concessions, that would not be among the foremost, under a monarchial system, to recommend and support the freest application of the sword and the bayonet to suppress what would then be viewed, ay, and be termed, "the rapacious longings of the disaffected to enjoy the property of others without paying for it." All this is certain; for it depends on a law of morals that is infallible. Any one who wishes to obtain a clear index to the true characters of the public men he is required to support, or oppose, has now the opportunity; for each stands before a mirror that reflects him in his just proportions, and in which the dullest eye has only to cast a glance, in order to view him from head to foot.
The entrance of my grandmother put a stop to John's discourse. He was sent out of the room on a message, and then I learned the object of this visit. My sister had been let into the secret of our true characters, and was dying to embrace me. My dear grandmother, rightly enough, had decided it would be to the last degree unkind to keep her in ignorance of our presence; and, the fact known, nature had longings which must be appeased. I had myself been tempted twenty times, that morning, to snatch Patt to my heart and kiss her, as I used to do just after my beard began to grow, and she was so much of a child as to complain. The principal thing to be arranged, then, was to obtain an interview for me without awakening suspicion in the observers. My grandmother's plan was arranged, however, and she now communicated it to us.
There was a neat little dressing-room annexed to Martha's bed-room; in that the meeting was to take place.
"She and Mary Warren are now there, waiting for your appearance, Hugh——"
"Mary Warren!—Does she, then, know who I am?"
"Not in the least; she has no other idea than that you are a young German, of good connections and well educated, who has been driven from his own country by political troubles, and who is reduced to turn his musical taste and acquisitions to account, in the way you seem to do, until he can find some better employment. All this she had told us before we met you, and you are not to be vain, Hugh, if I add, that your supposed misfortunes, and great skill with the flute, and good behaviour, have made a friend of one of the best and most true-hearted girls I ever had the good fortune to know. I say good behaviour, for little, just now, can be ascribed to good looks."
"I hope I am not in the least revolting in appearance, in this disguise. For my sister's sake——"
The hearty laugh of my dear old grandmother brought me up, and I said no more; colouring, I believe, a little, at my own folly. Even uncle Ro joined in the mirth, though I could see he wished Mary Warren even safely translated along with her father, and that the latter was Archbishop of Canterbury. I must acknowledge that I felt a good deal ashamed of the weakness I had betrayed.
"You are very well, Hugh, darling," continued my grandmother; "though I must think you would be more interesting in your own hair, which is curling, than in that lank wig. Still, one can see enough of your face to recognise it, if one has the clue; and I told Martha, at the first, that I was struck with a certain expression of the eyes and smile that reminded me of her brother. But, there they are, Mary and Martha, in the drawing-room, waiting for your appearance. The first is so fond of music, and, indeed, is so practised in it, as to have been delighted with your flute; and she has talked so much of your skill as to justify us in seeming to wish for a further exhibition of your skill. Henrietta and Ann, having less taste that way, have gone together to select bouquets, in the green-house, and there is now an excellent opportunity to gratify your sister. I am to draw Mary out of the room, after a little while, when you and Martha may say a word to each other in your proper characters. As for you, Roger, you are to open your box again, and I will answer for it that will serve to amuse your other wards, should they return too soon from their visit to the gardener."
Everything being thus explained, and our dinner ended, all parties proceeded to the execution of the plan, each in his or her designated mode. When my grandmother and I reached the dressing-room, however, Martha was not there, though Mary Warren was, her bright but serene eyes full of happiness and expectation. Martha had retired to the inner room for a moment, whither my grandmother, suspecting the truth, followed her. As I afterwards ascertained, my sister, fearful of not being able to suppress her tears on my entrance, had withdrawn, in order to struggle for self-command without betraying our secret. I was told to commence an air, without waiting for the absent young lady, as the strain could easily be heard through the open door.
I might have played ten minutes before my sister and grandmother came out again. Both had been in tears, though the intense manner in which Mary Warren was occupied with the harmony of my flute, probably prevented her from observing it. To me, however, it was plain enough; and glad was I to find that my sister had succeeded in commanding her feelings. In a minute or two my grandmother profited by a pause to rise and carry away with her Mary Warren, though the last left the room with a reluctance that was very manifest. The pretence was a promise to meet the divine in the library, on some business connected with the Sunday-schools.
"You can keep the young man for another air, Martha," observed my grandmother, "and I will send Jane to you, as I pass her room."
Jane was my sister's own maid, and her room was close at hand, and I dare say dear grandmother gave her the order, in Mary Warren's presence, as soon as she quitted the room, else might Mary Warren well be surprised at the singularity of the whole procedure; but Jane did not make her appearance, nevertheless. As for myself, I continued to play as long as I thought any ear was near enough to hear me; then I laid aside my flute. In the next instant Patt was in my arms, where she lay some time weeping, but looking inexpressibly happy.
"Oh! Hugh, what a disguise was this to visit your own house in!" she said, as soon as composed enough to speak.
"Would it have done to come here otherwise? You know the state of the country, and the precious fruits our boasted tree of liberty is bringing forth. The owner of the land can only visit his property at the risk of his life!"
Martha pressed me in her arms in a way to show how conscious she was of the danger I incurred in even thus visiting her; after which we seated ourselves, side by side, on a little divan, and began to speak of those things that were most natural to a brother and sister who so much loved each other, and who had not met for five years. My grandmother had managed so well as to prevent all interruption for an hour, if we saw fit to remain together, while to others it should seem as if Patt had dismissed me in a few minutes.
"Not one of the other girls suspect, in the least, who you are," said Martha, smiling, when we had got through with the questions and answers so natural to our situation. "I am surprised that Henrietta has not, for she prides herself on her penetration. She is as much in the dark as the others, however."
"And Miss Mary Warren—the young lady who has just left the room—has she not some small notion that I am not a common Dutch music-grinder?"
Patt laughed, and that so merrily as to cause the tones of her sweet voice to fill me with delight, as I remembered what she had been in childhood and girlhood five years before, and she shook her bright tresses off her cheeks ere she would answer.
"No, Hugh," she replied, "she fancies you an uncommon Dutch music-grinder; an artiste that not only grinds, but who dresses up his harmonies in such a way as to be palatable to the most refined taste. How came Mary to think you and my uncle two reduced German gentlemen?"
"And does the dear girl believe—that is, does Miss Mary Warren do us so much honour, as to imagine that?"
"Indeed she does, for she told us as much as soon as she got home; and Henrietta and Ann have made themselves very merry with their speculations on the subject of Miss Warren's great incognito. They call you Herzog von Geige."
"Thank them for that." I am afraid I answered a little too pointedly, for I saw that Patt seemed surprised. "But your American towns are just such half-way things as to spoil young women; making them neither refined and polished as they might be in real capitals, while they are not left the simplicity and nature of the country."
"Well, Master Hugh, this is being very cross about a very little, and not particularly complimentary to your own sister. And why not your American towns, as well as ours?—are you no longer one of us?"
"Certainly; one of yours, always, my dearest Patt, though not one of every chattering girl who may set up for a belle, with her Dukes of Fiddle! But, enough of this;—you like the Warrens?"
"Very much so; father and daughter. The first is just what a clergyman should be; of a cultivation and intelligence to fit him to be any man's companion, and a simplicity like that of a child. You remember his predecessor—so dissatisfied, so selfish, so lazy, so censorious, so unjust to every person and thing around him, and yet so exacting; and, at the same time, so——"
"What? Thus far you have drawn his character well; I should like to hear the remainder."
"I have said more than I ought already; for one has an idea that, by bringing a clergyman into disrepute, it brings religion and the church into discredit, too. A priest must be a very bad man to have injurious things said of him, in this country, Hugh."
"That is, perhaps, true. But you like Mr. Warren better than him who has left you?"
"A thousand times, and in all things. In addition to having a most pious and sincere pastor, we have an agreeable and well-bred neighbour, from whose mouth, in the five years that he has dwelt here, I have not heard a syllable at the expense of a single fellow-creature. You know how it is apt to be with the other clergy and ours, in the country—for ever at swords' points; and if not actually quarrelling, keeping up a hollow peace."
"That is only too true—or used to be true, before I went abroad."
"And it is so now, elsewhere, I'll answer for it, though it be so no longer here. Mr. Warren and Mr. Peck seem to live on perfectly amicable terms, though as little alike at bottom as fire and water."
"By the way, how do the clergy of the different sects, up and down the country, behave on the subject of anti-rent?"
"I can answer only from what I hear, with the exception of Mr. Warren's course. He has preached two or three plain and severe sermons on the duty of honesty in our worldly transactions, one of which was from the tenth commandment. Of course he said nothing of the particular trouble, but everybody must have made the necessary application of the home-truths he uttered. I question if another voice has been raised, far and near, on the subject, although I have heard Mr. Warren say the movement threatens more to demoralize New York than anything that has happened in his time."
"And the man down at the village?"
"Oh, he goes, of course, with the majority. When was one of that set ever known to oppose his parish, in anything?"
"And Mary is as sound and as high-principled as her father?"
"Quite so; though there has been a good deal said about the necessity of Mr. Warren's removing, and giving up St. Andrew's, since he preached against covetousness. All the anti-renters say, I hear, that they know he meant them; and that they won't put up with it."
"I dare say; each one fancying he was almost called out by name: that is the way, when conscience works."
"I should be very, very sorry to part with Mary; and almost as much so to part with her father. There is one thing, however, that Mr. Warren himself thinks we had better have done, Hugh; and that is to take down the canopy from over our pew. You can have no notion of the noise that foolish canopy is making up and down the country."
"I shall not take it down. It is my property, and there it shall remain. As for the canopy, it was a wrong distinction to place in a church, I am willing to allow; but it never gave offence until it has been thought that a cry against it would help to rob me of my lands at half price, or at no price at all, as it may happen."
"All that may be true; but if improper for a church, why keep it?"
"Because I do not choose to be bullied out of what is my own, even though I care nothing about it. There might have been a time when the canopy was unsuited to the house of God, and that was when those who saw it might fancy it canopied the head of a fellow-creature who had higher claims than themselves to divine favour; but, in times like these, when men estimate merit by beginning at the other end of the social scale, there is little danger of any one's falling into the mistake. The canopy shall stand, little as I care about it: now, I would actually prefer it should come down, as I can fully see the impropriety of making any distinctions in the temple; but it shall stand until concessions cease to be dangerous. It is a right of property, and as such I will maintain it. If others dislike it, let them put canopies over their pews, too. The best test, in such a matter, is to see who could bear it. A pretty figure Seneca Newcome would cut, for instance, seated in a canopied pew! Even his own set would laugh at him; which, I fancy, is more than they yet do at me."
Martha was disappointed; but she changed the subject. We next talked of our own little private affairs, as they were connected with smaller matters.
"For whom is that beautiful chain intended, Hugh?" asked Patt, laughingly. "I can now believe the pedlar when he says it is reserved for your future wife. But who is that wife to be? Will her name be Henrietta or Ann?"
"Why not ask, also, if it will be Mary?—why exclude one of your companions, while you include the other two?"
Patt started—seemed surprised; her cheeks flushed, and then I saw that pleasure was the feeling predominant.
"Am I too late to secure that jewel, as a pendant to my chain?" I asked, half in jest, half seriously.
"Too soon, at least, to attract it by the richness and beauty of the bauble. A more natural and disinterested girl than Mary Warren does not exist in the country."
"Be frank with me, Martha, and say at once; has she a favoured suitor?"
"Why, this seems really serious!" exclaimed my sister, laughing. "But, to put you out of your pain, I will answer, I know of but one. One she has certainly, or female sagacity is at fault."
"But is he one that is favoured? You can never know how much depends on your answer."
"Of that you can judge for yourself. It is 'Squire Seneky Newcome, as he is called hereabouts—the brother of the charming Opportunity, who still reserves herself for you."
"And they are as rank anti-renters as any male and female in the country."
"They are rank Newcomites; and that means that each is for himself. Would you believe it, but Opportunity really gives herself airs with Mary Warren!"
"And how does Mary Warren take such an assumption?"
"As a young person should—quietly and without manifesting any feeling. But there is something quite intolerable in one like Opportunity Newcome's assuming a superiority over any true lady! Mary is as well educated and as well connected as any of us, and is quite as much accustomed to good company; while Opportunity—" here Patt laughed, and then added, hurriedly, "but you know Opportunity as well as I do."
"Oh! yes; she is la vertue, or the virtue, and je suis venue, pour."
The latter allusion Patt understood well enough, having laughed over the story a dozen times; and she laughed again when I explained the affair of "the solitude."
Then came a fit of sisterly feeling. Patt insisted on taking off my wig, and seeing my face in its natural dress. I consented to gratify her, when the girl really behaved like a simpleton. First she pushed about my curls until they were arranged to suit the silly creature, when she ran back several steps, clapped her hands in delight, then rushed into my arms and kissed my forehead and eyes, and called me "her brother"—her "only brother"—her "dear, dear Hugh," and by a number of other such epithets, until she worked herself, and me too, into such an excess of feeling that we sat down, side by side, and each had a hearty fit of crying. Perhaps some such burst as this was necessary to relieve our minds, and we submitted to it wisely.
My sister wept the longest, as a matter of course; but, as soon as she had dried her eyes, she replaced the wig, and completely restored my disguise, trembling the whole time lest some one might enter and detect me.
"You have been very imprudent, Hugh, in coming here at all," she said, while thus busy. "You can form no notion of the miserable state of the country, or how far the anti-rent poison has extended, or the malignant nature of its feeling. The annoyances they have attempted with dear grandmother are odious; you they would scarcely leave alive."
"The country and the people must have strangely altered, then, in five years. Our New York population has hitherto had very little of the assassin-like character. Tar and feathers are the blackguards', and have been the petty tyrants' weapons, from time immemorial, in this country; but not the knife."
"And can anything sooner or more effectually alter a people than longings for the property of others? Is not the 'love of money the root of all evil?'—and what right have we to suppose our Ravensnest population is better than another, when that sordid feeling is thoroughly aroused? You know you have written me yourself, that all the American can or does live for is money."
"I have written you, dear, that the country, in its present condition, leaves no other incentive to exertion, and therein it is cursed. Military fame, military rank, even, are unattainable, under our system: the arts, letters and science, bring little or no reward; and there being no political rank that a man of refinement would care for, men must live for money, or live altogether for another state of being. But I have told you, at the same time, Martha, that, notwithstanding all this, I believe the American a less mercenary being, in the ordinary sense of the word, than the European; that two men might be bought, for instance, in any European country, for one here. This last I suppose to be the result of the facility of making a living, and the habits it produces."
"Never mind causes; Mr. Warren says there is a desperate intention to rob existing among these people, and that they are dangerous. As yet they do a little respect women, but how long they will do that one cannot know."
"It may all be so. It must be so, respecting what I have heard and read; yet this vale looks as smiling and as sweet, at this very moment, as if an evil passion never sullied it! But, depend on my prudence, which tells me that we ought now to part. I shall see you again and again before I quit the estate, and you will, of course, join us somewhere—at the Springs, perhaps—as soon as we find it necessary or expedient to decamp."
Martha promised this, of course, and I kissed her, previously to separating. No one crossed my way as I descended to the piazza, which was easily done, since I was literally at home. I lounged about on the lawn a few minutes, and then, showing myself in front of the library windows, I was summoned to the room, as I had expected.
Uncle Ro had disposed of every article of the fine jewelry that he had brought home as presents for his wards. The pay was a matter to be arranged with Mrs. Littlepage, which meant no pay at all; and, as the donor afterwards told me, he liked this mode of distributing the various ornaments better than presenting them himself, as he was now certain each girl had consulted her own fancy.
As the hour of the regular dinner was approaching, we took our leave soon after, not without receiving kind and pressing invitations to visit the Nest again ere we left the township. Of course we promised all that was required, intending most faithfully to comply. On quitting the house we returned towards the farm, though not without pausing on the lawn to gaze around us on a scene so dear to both, from recollection, association, and interest. But I forget, this is aristocratical; the landlord has no right to sentiments of this nature, which are feelings that the sublimated liberty of the law is beginning to hold in reserve solely for the benefit of the tenant!
"There shall be, in England, seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass."
"I do not see, sir," I remarked, as we moved on from the last of these pauses, "why the governors and legislators, and writers on this subject of anti-rentism, talk so much of feudality, and chickens, and days' works, and durable leases, when we have none of these, while we have all the disaffection they are said to produce."
"You will understand that better as you come to know more of men. No party alludes to its weak points. It is just as you say; but the proceedings of your tenants, for instance, give the lie to the theories of the philanthropists, and must be kept in the back-ground. It is true that the disaffection has not yet extended to one-half, or to one-fourth of the leased estates in the country, perhaps not to one-tenth, if you take the number of the landlords as the standard, instead of the extent of their possessions, but it certainly will, should the authorities tamper with the rebels much longer."
"If they tax the incomes of the landlords under the durable rent system, why would not the parties aggrieved have the same right to take up arms to resist such an act of oppression as our fathers had in 1776?"
"Their cause would be better; for that was only a constructive right, and one dependent on general principles, whereas this is an attempt at a most mean evasion of a written law, the meanness of the attempt being quite as culpable as its fraud. Every human being knows that such a tax, so far as it has any object beyond that of an election-sop, is to choke off the landlords from the maintenance of their covenants, which is a thing that no State can do directly, without running the risk of having its law pronounced unconstitutional by the courts of the United States, if, indeed, not by its own courts."
"The Court of Errors, think you?"
"The Court of Errors is doomed, by its own abuses. Catiline never abused the patience of Rome more than that mongrel assembly has abused the patience of every sound lawyer in the State. 'Fiat justitia, ruat coelum,' is interpreted, now, into 'Let justice be done, and the court fall.' No one wishes to see it continued, and the approaching convention will send it to the Capulets, if it do nothing else to be commended. It was a pitiful imitation of the House of Lords system, with this striking difference; the English lords are men of education, and men with a vast deal at stake, and their knowledge and interests teach them to leave the settlement of appeals to the legal men of their body, of whom there are always a respectable number, in addition to those in possession of the woolsack and the bench; whereas our Senate is a court composed of small lawyers, country doctors, merchants, farmers, with occasionally a man of really liberal attainments. Under the direction of an acute and honest judge, as most of our true judges actually are, the Court of Errors would hardly form such a jury as would allow a creditable person to be tried by his peers, in a case affecting character, for instance, and here we have it set up as a court of the last resort, to settle points of law!"
"I see it has just made a decision in a libel suit, at which the profession sneers."
"It has, indeed. Now look at that very decision, for instance, as the measure of its knowledge. An editor of a newspaper holds up a literary man to the world as one anxious to obtain a small sum of money, in order to put it into Wall street, for 'shaving purposes.' Now, the only material question raised was the true signification of the word 'shaving.' If to say a man is a 'shaver,' in the sense in which it is applied to the use of money, be bringing him into discredit, then was the plaintiff's declaration sufficient; if not, it was insufficient, being wanting in what is called an 'innuendo.' The dictionaries, and men in general, understand by 'shaving,' 'extortion,' and nothing else. To call a man a 'shaver' is to say he is an 'extortioner,' without going into details. But, in Wall street, and among money-dealers, certain transactions that, in their eyes, and by the courts, are not deemed discreditable, have of late been brought within the category of 'shaving.' Thus it is technically, or by convention among bankers, termed 'shaving' if a man buy a note at less than its face, which is a legal transaction. On the strength of this last circumstance, as is set forth in the published opinions, the highest Court of Appeals in New York has decided that it does not bring a man into discredit to say he is a 'shaver!'—thus making a conventional signification of the brokers of Wall street higher authority for the use of the English tongue than the standard lexicographers, and all the rest of those who use the language! On the same principle, if a set of pickpockets at the Five Points should choose to mystify their trade a little by including the term 'to filch' the literal borrowing of a pocket-handkerchief, it would not be a libel to accuse a citizen of 'filching his neighbor's handkerchief!'"
"But the libel was uttered to the world, and not to the brokers of Wall Street only, who might possibly understand their own terms."
"Very true; and was uttered in a newspaper that carried the falsehood to Europe; for the writer of the charge, when brought up for it, publicly admitted that he had no ground for suspecting the literary man of any such practices. He called it a 'joke.' Every line of the context, however, showed it was a malicious charge. The decision is very much as if a man who is sued for accusing another of 'stealing' should set up a defense that he meant 'stealing' hearts, for the word is sometimes used in that sense. When men use epithets that convey discredit in their general meaning, it is their business to give them a special signification in their own contexts, if such be their real intention. But I much question if there be a respectable money-dealer, even in Wall street, who would not swear, if called on in a court of justice so to do, that he thought the general charge of 'shaving' discreditable to any man."
"And you think the landlords whose rents were taxed, sir, would have a moral right to resist?"
"Beyond all question; as it would be an income tax on them only, of all in the country. What is more, I am fully persuaded that two thousand men embodied to resist such tyranny would look down the whole available authority of the State; inasmuch as I do not believe citizens could be found to take up arms to enforce a law so flagrantly unjust. Men will look on passively and see wrongs inflicted, that would never come out to support them by their own acts. But we are approaching the farm, and there is Tom Miller and his hired men waiting our arrival."
It is unnecessary to repeat, in detail, all that passed in this our second visit to the farm-house. Miller received us in a friendly manner, and offered us a bed, if we would pass the night with him. This business of a bed had given us more difficulty than anything else, in the course of our peregrinations. New York has long got over the "two-man" and "three-man bed" system, as regards its best inns. At no respectable New York inn is a gentleman now asked to share even his room, without an apology and a special necessity, with another, much less his bed; but the rule does not hold good as respects pedlars and music-grinders. We had ascertained that we were not only expected to share the same bed, but to occupy that bed in a room filled with other beds. There are certain things that get to be second nature, and that no masquerading will cause to go down; and, among others, one gets to dislike sharing his room and his tooth-brush. This little difficulty gave us more trouble that night, at Tom Miller's, than anything we had yet encountered. At the taverns, bribes had answered our purpose; but this would not do so well at a farm residence. At length the matter was got along with by putting me in the garret, where I was favoured with a straw bed under my own roof, the decent Mrs. Miller making many apologies for not having a feather-smotherer, in which to "squash" me. I did not tell the good woman that I never used feathers, summer or winter; for, had I done so, she would have set me down as a poor creature from "oppressed" Germany, where the "folks" did not know how to live. Nor would she have been so much out of the way quoad the beds, for in all my journeyings I never met with such uncomfortable sleeping as one finds in Germany, off the Rhine and out of the large towns.
While the negotiation was in progress I observed that Josh Brigham, as the anti-rent disposed hireling of Miller's was called, kept a watchful eye and an open ear on what was done and said. Of all men on earth, the American of that class is the most "distrustful," as he calls it himself, and has his suspicions the soonest awakened. The Indian on the war-path—the sentinel who is posted in a fog, near his enemy, an hour before the dawn of day—the husband that is jealous, or the priest that has become a partisan, is not a whit more apt to fancy, conjecture, or assert, than the American of that class who has become "distrustful." This fellow, Brigham, was the very beau ideal of the suspicious school, being envious and malignant, as well as shrewd, observant, and covetous. The very fact that he was connected with the "Injins," as turned out to be the case, added to his natural propensities the consciousness of guilt, and rendered him doubly dangerous. The whole time my uncle and myself were crossing over and figuring in, in order to procure for each a room, though it were only a closet, his watchful, distrustful looks denoted how much he saw in our movements to awaken curiosity, if not downright suspicion. When all was over, he followed me to the little lawn in front of the house, whither I had gone to look at the familiar scene by the light of the setting sun, and began to betray the nature of his own suspicions by his language.
"The old man" (meaning my uncle Ro) "must have plenty of gold watches about him," he said, "to be so plaguy partic'lar consarnin' his bed. Pedlin' sich matters is a ticklish trade, I guess, in some parts?"
"Ja; it ist dangerous somevhere, but it might not be so in dis goot coontry."
"Why did the old fellow, then, try so hard to get that little room all to himself, and shove you off into the garret? We hired men don't like the garret, which is a hot place in summer."
"In Charmany one man hast ever one bed," I answered, anxious to get rid of the subject.
I bounced a little, as "one has one-half of a bed" would be nearer to the truth, though the other half might be in another room.
"Oh! that's it, is't? Wa-a-l, every country has its ways, I s'pose. Jarmany is a desp'ate aristocratic land, I take it."
"Ja; dere ist moch of de old feudal law, and feudal coostum still remaining in Charmany."
"Landlords a plenty, I guess, if the truth was known. Leases as long as my arm, I calkerlate?"
"Vell, dey do dink, in Charmany, dat de longer might be de lease, de better it might be for de denant."
As that was purely a German sentiment, or at least not an American sentiment, according to the notions broached by statesmen among ourselves, I made it as Dutch as possible by garnishing it well with d's.
"That's a droll idee! Now, we think, here, that a lease is a bad thing; and the less you have of a bad thing, the better."
"Vell, dat ist queer; so queer ast I don't know! Vhat vill dey do as might help it?"
"Oh! the Legislature will set it all right. They mean to pass a law to prevent any more leases at all."
"Und vill de beople stand dat? Dis ist a free coontry, effery body dells me, and vilt der beoples agree not to hire lands if dey vants to?"
"Oh! you see we wish to choke the landlords off from their present leases; and, by and bye, when that is done, the law can let up again."
"But ist dat right? Der law should be joost, and not hold down and let oop, as you calls it."
"You don't understand us yet, I see. Why that's the prettiest and the neatest legislation on airth! That's just what the bankrupt law did."
"Vhat did der bankroopt law do, bray? Vhat might you mean now?—I don't know."
"Do! why it did wonders for some on us, I can tell you! It paid our debts, and let us up when we was down; and that's no trifle, I can tell you. I took 'the benefit,' as it is called, myself."
"You!—you might take der benefit of a bankroopt law! You, lifing here ast a hiret man, on dis farm!"
"Sartain; why not? All a man wanted, under that law, was about $60 to carry him through the mill; and if he could rake and scrape that much together, he might wipe off as long a score as he pleased. I had been dealin' in speckylation, and that's a make or break business, I can tell you. Well, I got to be about $423.22 wuss than nothin'; but, having about $90 in hand, I went through the mill without getting cogged the smallest morsel! A man doos a good business, to my notion, when he can make 20 cents pay a whull dollar of debt."
"Und you did dat goot business?"
"You may say that; and now I means to make anti-rentism get me a farm cheap—what I call cheap; and that an't none of your $30 or $40 an acre, I can tell you!"
It was quite clear that Mr. Joshua Brigham regarded these transactions as so many Pragmatic Sanctions, that were to clear the moral and legal atmospheres of any atoms of difficulty that might exist in the forms of old opinions, to his getting easily out of debt, in the one case, and suddenly rich in the other. I dare say I looked bewildered, but I certainly felt so, at thus finding myself face to face with a low knave, who had a deliberate intention, as I now found, to rob me of a farm. It is certain that Joshua so imagined, for, inviting me to walk down the road with him a short distance, he endeavoured to clear up any moral difficulties that might beset me, by pursuing the subject.
"You see," resumed Joshua, "I will tell you how it is. These Littlepages have had this land long enough, and it's time to give poor folks a chance. The young spark that pretends to own all the farms you see, far and near, never did any thing for 'em in his life; only to be his father's son. Now, to my notion, a man should do suthin' for his land, and not be obligated for it to mere natur'. This is a free country, and what right has one man to land more than another?"
"Or do his shirt, or do his dobacco, or do his coat, or do anyding else."
"Well, I don't go as far as that. A man has a right to his clothes, and maybe to a horse or a cow, but he has no right to all the land in creation. The law gives a right to a cow as ag'in' execution."
"Und doesn't der law gif a right to der landt, too? You most not depend on der law, if you might succeed."
"We like to get as much law as we can on our side. Americans like law: now, you'll read in all the books—our books, I mean, them that's printed here—that the Americans be the most lawful people on airth, and that they'll do more for the law than any other folks known!"
"Vell, dat isn't vhat dey says of der Americans in Europe; nein, nein, dey might not say dat."
"Why, don't you think it is so? Don't you think this the greatest country on airth, and the most lawful?"
"Vell, I don'ts know. Das coontry ist das coontry, and it ist vhat it ist, you might see."
"Yes; I thought you would be of my way of thinking, when we got to understand each other." Nothing is easier than to mislead an American on the estimate foreigners place on them: in this respect they are the most deluded people living, though, in other matters, certainly among the shrewdest. "That's the way with acquaintances, at first; they don't always understand one another: and then you talk a little thick, like. But now, friend, I'll come to the p'int—but first swear you'll not betray me."
"Ja, ja—I oonderstandst; I most schwear I won't bedray you: das ist goot."
"But, hold up your hand. Stop; of what religion be you?"
"Gristian, to be sure. I might not be a Chew. Nein, nein; I am a ferry bat Gristian."
"We are all bad enough, for that matter; but I lay no stress on that. A little of the devil in a man helps him along, in this business of ourn. But you must be suthin' more than a Christian, I s'pose, as we don't call that bein' of any religion at all, in this country. Of what supportin' religion be you?"
"Soobortin'; vell, I might not oonderstands dat. Vhat ist soobortin' religion? Coomes dat vrom Melanchton and Luther?—or coomes it vrom der Pope? Vhat ist dat soobortin' religion?"
"Why, what religion do you patronize? Do you patronize the standin' order, or the kneelin' order?—or do you patronize neither? Some folks thinks its best to lie down at prayer, as the least likely to divert the thoughts."
"I might not oonderstand. But nefer mindt der religion, and coome to der p'int dat you mentioned."
"Well, that p'int is this. You're a Jarman, and can't like aristocrats, and so I'll trust you; though, if you do betray me, you'll never play on another bit of music in this country, or any other! If you want to be an Injin, as good an opportunity will offer to-morrow as ever fell in a man's way!"
"An Injin! Vhat goot vill it do to be an Injin? I dought it might be better to be a vhite man, in America?"
"Oh! I mean only an anti-rent Injin. We've got matters so nicely fixed now, that a chap can be an Injin without any paint at all, or any washin' or scrubbin', but can convart himself into himself ag'in, at any time, in two minutes. The wages is good and the work light; then we have rare chances in the stores, and round about among the farms. The law is that an Injin must have what he wants, and no grumblin', and we take care to want enough. If you'll be at the meetin', I'll tell you how you'll know me."
"Ja, ja—dat ist goot; I vill be at der meetin', sartainly. Vhere might it be?"
"Down at the village. The word came up this a'ternoon, and we shall all be on the ground by ten o'clock."
"Vilt der be a fight, dat you meet so bunctually, and wid so moch spirit?"
"Fight! Lord, no; who is there to fight, I should like to know? We are pretty much all ag'in the Littlepages, and there's none of them on the ground but two or three women. I'll tell you how it's all settled. The meetin' is called on the deliberative and liberty-supportin' plan. I s'pose you know we've all sorts of meetin's in this country?"
"Nein; I dought dere might be meetin's for bolitics, vhen der beople might coome, but I don't know vhat else."
"Is't possible! What, have you no 'indignation meetin's' in Jarmany? We count a great deal on our indignation meetin's, and both sides have'em in abundance, when things get to be warm. Our meetin' to-morrow is for deliberation and liberty-principles generally. We may pass some indignation resolutions about aristocrats, for nobody can bear them critturs in this part of the country, I can tell you."
Lest this manuscript should get into the hands of some of those who do not understand the real condition of New York society, it may be well to explain that "aristocrat" means, in the parlance of the country, no other than a man of gentleman-like tastes, habits, opinions and associations. There are gradations among the aristocracy of the State, as well as among other men. Thus he who is an aristocrat in a hamlet, would be very democratic in a village; and he of the village might be no aristocrat in the town, at all; though, in the towns generally, indeed always, when their population has the least of a town character, the distinction ceases altogether, men quietly dropping into the traces of civilized society, and talking or thinking very little about it. To see the crying evils of American aristocracy, then, one must go into the country. There, indeed, a plenty of cases exist. Thus, if there happen to be a man whose property is assessed at twenty-five per cent. above that of all his neighbours—who must have right on his side bright as a cloudless sun to get a verdict, if obliged to appeal to the laws—who pays fifty per cent. more for everything he buys, and receives fifty per cent. less for everything he sells, than any other person near him—who is surrounded by rancorous enemies, in the midst of a seeming state of peace—who has everything he says and does perverted, and added to, and lied about—who is traduced because his dinner-hour is later than that of "other folks"—who don't stoop, but is straight in the back—who presumes to doubt that this country in general, and his own township in particular, is the focus of civilization—who hesitates about signing his name to any flagrant instance of ignorance, bad taste, or worse morals, that his neighbours may get up in the shape of a petition, remonstrance, or resolution—depend on it that man is a prodigious aristocrat, and one who, for his many offences and manner of lording it over mankind, deserves to be banished. I ask the reader's pardon for so abruptly breaking in upon Joshua's speech, but such very different notions exist about aristocrats, in different parts of the world, that some such explanation was necessary in order to prevent mistakes. I have forgotten one mark of the tribe that is, perhaps, more material than all the rest, which must not be omitted, and is this:—If he happen to be a man who prefers his own pursuits to public life, and is regardless of "popularity," he is just guilty of the unpardonable sin. The "people" will forgive anything sooner than this; though there are "folks" who fancy it as infallible a sign of an aristocrat not to chew tobacco. But, unless I return to Joshua, the reader will complain that I cause him to stand still.
"No, no," continued Mr. Brigham; "anything but an aristocrat for me. I hate the very name of the sarpents, and wish there warn't one in the land. To-morrow we are to have a great anti-rent lecturer out——"
"A lecturer; one that lectur's, you understand, on anti-rentism, temperance, aristocracy, government, or any other grievance that may happen to be uppermost. Have you no lecturers in Jarmany?"
"Ja, ja; dere ist lecturers in das universities—blenty of dem."
"Well, we have 'em universal and partic'lar, as we happen to want 'em. To-morrow we're to have one, they tell me, the smartest man that has appeared in the cause. He goes it strong, and the Injins mean to back him up, with all sorts of shrieks and whoopin's. Your hurdy-gurdy, there, makes no sort of music to what our tribe can make when we fairly open our throats."
"Vell, dis ist queer! I vast told dat der Americans vast all philosophers, und dat all dey didt vast didt in a t'oughtful and sober manner; und now you dells me dey screams deir arguments like Injins!"
"That we do! I wish you'd been here in the hard-cider and log-cabin times, and you'd a seen reason and philosophy, as you call it! I was a whig that summer, though I went democrat last season. There's about five hundred on us in this county that make the most of things, I can tell you. What's the use of a vote, if a body gets nothin' by it? But to-morrow you'll see the business done up, and matters detarmined for this part of the world, in fine style. We know what we're about, and we mean to carry things through quite to the end."
"Und vhat do you means to do?"
"Well, seein' that you seem to be of the right sort, and be so likely to put on the Injin shirt, I'll tell you all about it. We mean to get good and old farms at favourable rates. That's what we mean to do. The people's up and in 'arnest, and what the people want they'll have! This time they want farms, and farms they must have. What's the use of havin' a government of the people, if the people's obliged to want farms? We've begun ag'in' the Renssalaers, and the durables, and the quarter-sales, and the chickens; but we don't, by no manner of means, think of eending there. What should we get by that? A man wants to get suthin' when he puts his foot into a matter of this natur'. We know who's our fri'nds and who's our inimies! Could we have some men I could name for governors, all would go clear enough the first winter. We would tax the landlords out, and law 'em about in one way and another, so as to make 'em right down glad to sell the last rod of their lands, and that cheap, too!"
"Und who might own dese farms, all oop and down der coontry, dat I sees?"
"As the law now stands, Littlepage owns 'em; but if we alter the law enough, he wun't. If we can only work the Legislature up to the stickin' p'int, we shall get all we want. Would you believe it, the man wun't sell a single farm, they say; but wishes to keep every one on 'em for himself! Is that to be borne in a free country? They'd hardly stand that in Jarmany, I'm thinkin'. A man that is such an aristocrat us to refuse to sell anything, I despise."
"Veil, dey stand to der laws in Charmany, and broperty is respected in most coontries. You vouldn't do away wid der rights of broperty, if you mights, I hopes?"
"Not I. If a man owns a watch, or a horse, or a cow, I'm for having the law such that a poor man can keep 'em, even ag'in execution. We're getting the laws pretty straight on them p'ints, in old York, I can tell you; a poor man, let him be ever so much in debt, can hold on to a mighty smart lot of things, now-a-days, and laugh at the law right in its face! I've known chaps that owed as much as $200, hold on to as good as $300; though most of their debts was for the very things they held on to!"
What a picture is this, yet is it not true? A state of society in which a man can contract a debt for a cow, or his household goods, and laugh at his creditor when he seeks his pay, on the one hand; and on the other, legislators and executives lending themselves to the chicanery of another set, that are striving to deprive a particular class of its rights of property, directly in the face of written contracts! This is straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel, with a vengeance; and all for votes! Does any one really expect a community can long exist, favoured by a wise and justice-dispensing Providence, in which such things are coolly attempted—ay, and coolly done? It is time that the American began to see things as they are, and not as they are said to be, in the speeches of governors, fourth of July orations, and electioneering addresses. I write warmly, I know, but I feel warmly; and I write like a man who sees that a most flagitious attempt to rob him is tampered with by some in power, instead of being met, as the boasted morals and intelligence of the country would require, by the stern opposition of all in authority. Curses—deep, deep curses—ere long, will fall on all who shrink from their duty in such a crisis. Even the very men who succeed, if succeed they should, will, in the end, curse the instruments of their own success.
"A first-rate lecturer on feudal tenors," (Joshua was not in the least particular in his language, but, in the substance, he knew what he was talking about as well as some who are in high places,) "chickens and days' works. We expect a great deal from this man, who is paid well for coming."
"Und who might bay him?—der State?"
"No—we haven't got to that yet; though some think the State will have to do it, in the long run. At present the tenants are taxed so much on the dollar, accordin' to rent, or so much an acre, and that way the needful money is raised. But one of our lecturers told us, a time back, that it was money put out at use, and every man ought to keep an account of what he give, for the time was not far off when he would get it back, with double interest. 'It is paid now for a reform,' he said, 'and when the reform is obtained, no doubt the State would feel itself so much indebted to us all, that it would tax the late landlords until we got all our money back again, and more too."
"Dat vould pe a bretty speculation; ja, dat might be most bootiful!"
"Why, yes; it wouldn't be a bad operation, living on the inimy, as a body might say. But you'll not catch our folks livin' on themselves, I can tell you. That they might do without societies. No, we've an object; and when folks has an object, they commonly look sharp a'ter it. We don't let on all we want and mean openly: and you'll find folks among us that'll deny stoutly that anti-renters has anything to do with the Injin system; but folks an't obliged to believe the moon is all cheese, unless they've a mind to. Some among us maintain that no man ought to hold more than a thousand acres of land, while others think natur' has laid down the law on that p'int, and that a man shouldn't hold more than he has need on."
"Und vich side dost you favour?—vich of dese obinions might not be yours?"
"I'm not partic'lar, so I get a good farm. I should like one with comfortable buildin's on 't, and one that hasn't been worked to death. For them two principles I think I'd stand out; but, whether there be four hundred acres, or four hundred and fifty, or even five hundred, I'm no way onaccomadatin'. I expect there'll be trouble in the eend, when we come to the division, but I'm not the man to make it. I s'pose I shall get my turn at the town offices, and other chances, and, givin' me my rights in them, I'll take up with almost any farm young Littlepage has, though I should rather have one in the main valley here, than one more out of the way; still, I don't set myself down as at all partic'lar."
"Und vhat do you expect to bay Mr. Littlepage for der farm, ast you might choose?"
"That depends on sarcumstances. The Injins mainly expect to come in cheap. Some folks think it's best to pay suthin', as it might stand ag'in' law better, should it come to that; while other some see no great use in paying anything. Them that's willing to pay, mainly hold out for paying the principal of the first rents."
"I doesn't oonderstandt vhat you means py der brincipal of der first rents."
"It's plain enough, when you get the lay on 't. You see, these lands were let pretty low, when they were first taken up from the forest, in order to get folks to live here. That's the way we're obliged to do in America, or people won't come. Many tenants paid no rent at all for six, eight, or ten years; and a'ter that, until their three lives run out, as it is called, they paid only sixpence an acre, or six dollars and a quarter on the hundred acres. That was done, you see, to buy men to come here at all; and you can see by the price that was paid, how hard a time they must have had on 't. Now, some of our folks hold that the whull time ought to be counted—that which was rent free, and that which was not—in a way that I'll explain to you; for I'd have you to know I haven't entered into this business without looking to the right and the wrong on't."
"Exblain, exblain; I might hear you exblain, and you most exblain."
"Why, you're in a hurry, friend Griezenbach, or whatever your name be. But I'll explain, if you wish it. S'pose, now, a lease run thirty years—ten on nothin', and twenty on sixpences. Well, a hundred sixpences make fifty shillings, and twenty times fifty make a thousand, as all the rent paid in thirty years. If you divide a thousand by thirty, it leaves thirty-three shillings and a fraction"—Joshua calculated like an American of his class, accurately and with rapidity—"for the average rent of the thirty years. Calling thirty-three shillings four dollars, and it's plaguy little more, we have that for the interest, which, at 7 per cent., will make a principal of rather more than fifty dollars, though not as much as sixty. As sich matters ought to be done on liberal principles, they say that Littlepage ought to take fifty dollars, and give a deed for the hundred acres."
"Und vhat might be der rent of a hoondred acres now?—he might get more dan sixpence to-day?"
"That he does. Most all of the farms are running out on second, and some on third leases. Four shillings an acre is about the average of the rents, accordin' to circumstances."
"Den you dinks der landtlort ought to accept one year's rent for der farms?"
"I don't look on it in that light. He ought to take fifty dollars for a hundred acres. You forget the tenants have paid for their farms, over and over again, in rent. They feel as if they have paid enough, and that it was time to stop."
Extraordinary as this reasoning may seem in most men's minds, I have since found it is a very favourite sentiment among anti-renters. "Are we to go on, and pay rent for ever?" they ask, with logical and virtuous indignation!
"Und vhat may be der aferage value of a hoondred acre farm, in dis part of de coontry?" I inquired.
"From two thousand five hundred to three thousand dollars. It would be more, but tenants won't put good buildings on farms, you know, seein' that they don't own them. I heard one of our leaders lamentin' that he didn't foresee what times was comin' to, when he repaired his old house, or he would have built a new one. But a man can't foretell everything. I dare say many has the same feelin's, now."
"Den you dinks Herr Littlebage ought to accept $50 for vhat is worth $2500? Das seem ferry little."
"You forget the back rent that has been paid, and the work the tenant has done. What would the farm be good for without the work that has been done on it?"
"Ja, ja—I oonderstandst; and vhat vould der work be goot for vidout der landt on vhich it vast done?"
This was rather an incautious question to put to a man as distrustful and rogueish as Joshua Brigham. The fellow cast a lowering and distrustful look at me; but ere there was time to answer, Miller, of whom he stood in healthful awe, called him away to look after the cows.
Here, then, I had enjoyed an opportunity of hearing the opinions of one of my own hirelings on the interesting subject of my right to my own estate. I have since ascertained that, while these sentiments are sedulously kept out of view in the proceedings of the government, which deals with the whole matter as if the tenants were nothing but martyrs to hard bargains, and the landlords their task-masters, of greater or less lenity, they are extensively circulated in the "infected districts," and are held to be very sound doctrines by a large number of the "bone and sinew of the land." Of course the reasoning is varied a little, to suit circumstances, and to make it meet the facts. But of this school is a great deal, and a very great deal, of the reasoning that circulates on the leased property; and, from what I have seen and heard already, I make no doubt that there are quasi legislators among us who, instead of holding the manly and only safe doctrine which ought to be held on such a subject, and saying that these deluded men should be taught better, are ready to cite the very fact that such notions do exist as a reason for the necessity of making concessions, in order to keep the peace at the cheapest rate. That profound principle of legislation, which concedes the right in order to maintain quiet, is admirably adapted to forming sinners; and, if carried out in favour of all who may happen to covet their neighbour's goods, would, in a short time, render this community the very paradise of knaves.
As for Joshua Brigham, I saw no more of him that night; for he quitted the farm on leave, just as it got to be dark. Where he went I do not know; but the errand on which he left us could no longer be a secret to me. As the family retired early, and we ourselves were a good deal fatigued, everybody was in bed by nine o'clock, and, judging from myself, soon asleep. Previously to saying "good night," however, Miller told us of the meeting of the next day, and of his intention to attend it.
"He knows the game; how true he keeps the wind!" "Silence."
King Henry VI.
After an early breakfast, next morning, the signs of preparation for a start became very apparent in the family. Not only Miller, but his wife and daughter, intended to go down to "Little Neest," as the hamlet was almost invariably called in that fragment of the universe, in contradistinction to the "Neest" proper. I found afterwards that this very circumstance was cited against me in the controversy, it being thought lese majeste for a private residence to monopolize the major of the proposition, while a hamlet had to put up with the minor; the latter, moreover, including two taverns, which are exclusively the property of the public, there being exclusiveness with the public as well as with aristocrats—more especially in all things that pertain to power or profit. As to the two last, even Joshua Brigham was much more of an aristocrat than I was myself. It must be admitted that the Americans are a humane population, for they are the only people who deem that bankruptcy gives a claim to public favour.
As respects the two "Nests," had not so much more serious matter been in agitation, the precedence of the names might actually have been taken up as a question of moment. I have heard of a lawsuit in France, touching a name that has been illustrious in that country for a period so long as to extend beyond the reach of man—as, indeed, was apparent by the matter in controversy—and which name has obtained for itself a high place in the annals of even our own republic. I allude to the House of Grasse, which was seated, prior to the revolution, and may be still, at a place called Grasse, in the southern part of the kingdom, the town being almost as famous for the manufacture of pleasant things as the family for its exploits in arms. About a century since, the Marquis de Grasse is said to have had a proces with his neighbours of the place, to establish the fact whether the family gave its name to the town, or the town gave its name to the family. The Marquis prevailed in the struggle, but greatly impaired his fortune in achieving that new victory. As my house, or its predecessor, was certainly erected and named while the site of Little Nest was still in the virgin forest, one would think its claims to the priority of possession beyond dispute; but such might not prove to be the case on a trial. There are two histories among us, as relates to both public and private things; the one being as nearly true as is usual, while the other is invariably the fruits of the human imagination. Everything depending so much on majorities, that soon gets to be the most authentic tradition which has the most believers; for, under the system of numbers, little regard is paid to superior advantages, knowledge, or investigation, all depending on 3 as against 2, which makes 1 majority. I find a great deal of this spurious history is getting to be mixed up with the anti-rent controversy, facts coming out daily that long have lain dormant in the graves of the past. These facts affect the whole structure of the historical picture of the State and colony, leaving touches of black where the pencil had originally put in white, and placing the high lights where the shadows have before always been understood to be. In a word, men are telling the stories as best agrees with their present views, and not at all as they agree with fact.
It was the intention of Tom Miller to give my uncle Ro and me a dearborn to ourselves, while he drove his wife, Kitty and a help, as far as the "Little Neest," in a two-horse vehicle that was better adapted to such a freight. Thus disposed of, then, we all left the place in company, just as the clock in the farm-house entry struck nine. I drove our horse myself; and mine he was, in fact, every hoof, vehicle and farming utensil on the Nest farm, being as much my property, under the old laws, as the hat on my head. It is true, the Millers had now been fifty years or more, nay, nearly sixty, in possession, and by the new mode of construction it is possible some may fancy that we had paid them wages so long for working the land, and for using the cattle and utensils, that the title, in a moral sense, had passed out of me, in order to pass into Tom Miller. If use begets a right, why not to a wagon and horse, as well as to a farm.
As we left the place I gazed wistfully towards the Nest House, in the hope of seeing the form of some one that I loved, at a window, on the lawn, or in the piazza. Not a soul appeared, however, and we trotted down the road a short distance in the rear of the other wagon, conversing on such things as came uppermost in our minds. The distance we had to go was about four miles, and the hour named for the commencement of the lecture, which was to be the great affair of the day, had been named at eleven. This caused us to be in no hurry, and I rather preferred to coincide with the animal I drove, and move very slowly, than hurry on, and arrive an hour or two sooner than was required. In consequence of this feeling on our part, Miller and his family were soon out of sight, it being their wish to obtain as much of the marvels of the day as was possible.
The road, of course, was perfectly well known to my uncle and myself; but, had it not been, there was no danger of missing our way, as we had only to follow the general direction of the broad valley through which it ran. Then Miller had considerately told us that we must pass two churches, or a church and a "meetin'-'us'," the spires of both of which were visible most of the way, answering for beacons. Referring to this term of "meeting-house," does it not furnish conclusive evidence, of itself, of the inconsistent folly of that wisest of all earthly beings, man? It was adopted in contradistinction from, and in direct opposition to, the supposed idolatrous association connected with the use of the word "church," at a time when certain sects would feel offended at hearing their places of worship thus styled; whereas, at the present day, those very sectarians are a little disposed to resent this exclusive appropriation of the proscribed word by the sects who have always adhered to it as offensively presuming, and, in a slight degree, "arisdogradic!" I am a little afraid that your out-and-outers in politics, religion, love of liberty, and other human excellences, are somewhat apt to make these circuits in their eccentric orbits, and to come out somewhere quite near the places from which they started.
The road between the Nest House and Little Nest, the hamlet, is rural, and quite as agreeable as is usually found in a part of the country that is without water-views or mountain scenery. Our New York landscapes are rarely, nay, never grand, as compared with the noble views one finds in Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and the finer parts of Europe; but we have a vast many that want nothing but a finish to their artificial accessories to render them singularly agreeable. Such is the case with the principal vale of Ravensnest, which, at the very moment we were driving through it, struck my uncle and myself as presenting a picture of rural abundance, mingled with rural comfort, that one seldom sees in the old world, where the absence of enclosures, and the concentration of the dwellings in villages, leave the fields naked and with a desolate appearance, in spite of their high tillage and crops.
"This is an estate worth contending for, now," said my uncle, as we trotted slowly on, "although it has not hitherto been very productive to its owner. The first half century of an American property of this sort rarely brings much to its proprietor beyond trouble and vexation."
"And after that time the tenant is to have it, pretty much at his own price, as a reward for his own labour!"
"What evidences are to be found, wherever the eye rests, of the selfishness of man, and his unfitness to be left to the unlimited control of his own affairs! In England they are quarrelling with the landlords, who do compose a real aristocracy, and make the laws, about the manner in which they protect themselves and the products of their estates; while here the true owner of the soil is struggling against the power of numbers, with the people, who are the only aristocrats we possess, in order to maintain his right of property in the simplest and most naked form! A common vice is at the bottom of both wrongs, and that is the vice of selfishness."
"But how are abuses like those of which we complain here—abuses of the most formidable character of any that can exist, since the oppressors are so many, and so totally irresponsible by their numbers—to be avoided, if you give the people the right of self-government?"
"God help the nation where self-government, in its literal sense, exists, Hugh! The term is conventional, and, properly viewed, means a government in which the source of authority is the body of the nation, and does not come from any other sovereign. When a people that has been properly educated by experience calmly selects its agents, and coolly sets to work to adopt a set of principles to form its fundamental law or constitution, the machine is on the right track, and will work well enough so long as it is kept there; but this running off, and altering the fundamental principles every time a political faction has need of recruits, is introducing tyranny in its worst form—a tyranny that is just as dangerous to real liberty as hypocrisy is to religion!"
We were now approaching St. Andrew's church and the rectory, with its glebe, the latter lying contiguous to the church-yard, or, as it is an Americanism to say, the "graveyard." There had been an evident improvement around the rectory since I had last seen it. Shrubbery had been planted, care was taken of the fences, the garden was neatly and well worked, the fields looked smooth, and everything denoted that it was "new lords and new laws." The last incumbent had been a whining, complaining, narrow-minded, selfish and lazy priest, the least estimable of all human characters, short of the commission of the actual and higher crimes; but his successor had the reputation of being a devout and real Christian—one who took delight in the duties of his holy office, and who served God because he loved him. I am fully aware how laborious is the life of a country priest, and how contracted and mean is the pittance he in common receives, and how much more he merits than he gets, if his reward were to be graduated by things here. But this picture, like every other, has its different sides, and occasionally men do certainly enter the church from motives as little as possible connected with those that ought to influence them.
"There is the wagon of Mr. Warren, at his door," observed my uncle, as we passed the rectory. "Can it be that he intends visiting the village also, on an occasion like this?"
"Nothing more probable, sir, if the character Patt has given of him be true," I answered. "She tells me he has been active in endeavouring to put down the covetous spirit that is getting uppermost in the town, and has even preached boldly, though generally, against the principles involved in the question. The other man, they say, goes for popularity, and preaches and prays with the anti-renters."
No more was said, but on we went, soon entering a large bit of wood, a part of the virgin forest. This wood, exceeding a thousand acres in extent, stretched down from the hills along some broken and otherwise little valuable land, and had been reserved from the axe to meet the wants of some future day. It was mine, therefore, in the fullest sense of the word; and, singular as it may seem, one of the grounds of accusation brought against me and my predecessors was that we had declined leasing it! Thus, on the one hand, we were abused for having leased our land, and, on the other, for not having leased it. The fact is, we, in common with other extensive landlords, are expected to use our property as much as possible for the particular benefit of other people, while those other people are expected to use their property as much as possible for their own particular benefit.
There was near a mile of forest to pass before we came out again in the open country, at about a mile and a half's distance from the hamlet. On our left this little forest did not extend more than a hundred rods, terminating at the edge of the rivulet—or creek, as the stream is erroneously called, and for no visible reason but the fact that it was only a hundred feet wide—which swept close under the broken ground mentioned at this point. On our right, however, the forest stretched away for more than a mile, until, indeed, it became lost and confounded with other portions of wood that had been reserved for the farms on which they grew. As is very usual in America, in cases where roads pass through a forest, a second growth had shot up on each side of this highway, which was fringed for the whole distance with large bushes of pine, hemlock, chestnut and maple. In some places these bushes almost touched the track, while in others a large space was given. We were winding our way through this wood, and had nearly reached its centre, at a point where no house was visible—and no house, indeed, stood within half a mile of us—with the view in front and in rear limited to some six or eight rods in each direction by the young trees, when our ears were startled by a low, shrill, banditti-like whistle. I must confess that my feelings were anything but comfortable at that interruption, for I remembered the conversation of the previous night. I thought by the sudden jump of my uncle, and the manner he instinctively felt where he ought to have had a pistol, to meet such a crisis, that he believed himself already in the hands of the Philistines.
A half minute sufficed to tell us the truth. I had hardly stopped the horse, in order to look around me, when a line of men, all armed and disguised, issued in single file from the bushes, and drew up in the road, at right angles to its course. There were six of these "Injins," as they are called, and, indeed, call themselves, each carrying a rifle, horn and pouch, and otherwise equipped for the field. The disguises were very simple, consisting of a sort of loose calico hunting-shirt and trowsers that completely concealed the person. The head was covered by a species of hood, or mask, equally of calico, that was fitted with holes for the eyes, nose and mouth, and which completed the disguise. There were no means of recognizing a man thus equipped, unless it might be by the stature, in cases in which the party was either unusually tall or unusually short. A middle-sized man was perfectly safe from recognition, so long as he did not speak and could keep his equipments. Those who did speak altered their voices, as we soon found, using a jargon that was intended to imitate the imperfect English of the native owners of the soil. Although neither of us had ever seen one of the gang before, we knew these disturbers of the public peace to be what in truth they were, the instant our eyes fell on them. One could not well be mistaken, indeed, under the circumstances in which we were placed; but the tomahawks that one or two carried, the manner of their march, and other pieces of mummery that they exhibited, would have told us the fact, had we met them even in another place.
My first impulse was to turn the wagon, and to endeavour to lash the lazy beast I drove into a run. Fortunately, before the attempt was made, I turned my head to see if there was room for such an exploit, and saw six others of these "Injins" drawn across the road behind us. It was now so obviously the wisest course to put the best face on the matter, that we walked the horse boldly up to the party in front, until he was stopped by one of the gang taking him by the bridle.
"Sago, sago," cried one who seemed to act as a chief, and whom I shall thus designate, speaking in his natural voice, though affecting an Indian pronunciation. "How do, how do?—where come from, eh?—where go, eh?—What you say, too—up rent or down rent, eh?"
"Ve ist two Charmans," returned uncle Ro, in his most desperate dialect, the absurdity of men who spoke the same language resorting to such similar means of deception tempting me sorely to laugh in the fellows' faces; "Ve ist two Charmans dat ist goin' to hear a man's sbeak about bayin' rent, und to sell vatches. Might you buy a vatch, goot shentlemans."
Although the fellows doubtless knew who we were, so far as our assumed characters went, and had probably been advised of our approach, this bait took, and there was a general jumping up and down, and a common pow-wowing among them, indicative of the pleasure such a proposal gave. In a minute the whole party were around us, with some eight or ten more who appeared from the nearest bushes. We were helped out of the wagon with a gentle violence that denoted their impatience. As a matter of course, I expected that all the trinkets and watches, which were of little value, fortunately, would immediately disappear; for who could doubt that men engaged in attempting to rob on so large a scale as these fellows were engaged in, would hesitate about doing a job on one a little more diminutive. I was mistaken, however; some sort of imperceptible discipline keeping those who were thus disposed, of whom there must have been some in such a party, in temporary order. The horse was left standing in the middle of the highway, right glad to take his rest, while we were shown the trunk of a fallen tree, near by, on which to place our box of wares. A dozen watches were presently in the hands of as many of these seeming savages, who manifested a good deal of admiration at their shining appearance. While this scene, which was half mummery and half nature, was in the course of enactment, the chief beckoned me to a seat on the further end of the tree, and, attended by one or two of his companions, he began to question me as follows: