"Mind tell truth," he said, making no very expert actor in the way of imitation. "Dis 'Streak o' Lightning,'" laying his hand on his own breast, that I might not misconceive the person of the warrior who bore so eminent a title; "no good lie to him—know ebbery t'ing afore he ask, only ask for fun—what do here, eh?"
"Ve coomes to see der Injins and der beoples at der village, dat ve might sell our vatches."
"Dat all; sartain?—can call 'down rent,' eh?"
"Dat ist ferry easy; 'down rent, eh?'"
"Sartain Jarman, eh?—you no spy?—you no sent here by gubbernor, eh?—landlord no pay you, eh?"
"Vhat might I spy? Dere ist nothin' do spy, but mans vid calico faces. Vhy been you afraid of der governor?—I dinks der governors be ferry goot frients of der anti-rents."
"Not when we act this way. Send horse, send foot a'ter us, den. T'ink good friend, too, when he dare."
"He be d——d!" bawled out one of the tribe, in as good, homely, rustic English as ever came out of the mouth of a clown. "If he's our friend, why did he send the artillery and horse down to Hudson?—and why has he had Big Thunder up afore his infarnal courts? He be d——d!"
There was no mistaking this outpouring of the feelings; and so "Streak o' Lightning" seemed to think too, for he whispered one of the tribe, who took the plain-speaking Injin by the arm and led him away, grumbling and growling, as the thunder mutters in the horizon after the storm has passed on. For myself, I made several profitable reflections concerning the inevitable fate of those who attempt to "serve God and Mammon." This anti-rentism is a question in which, so far as a governor is concerned, there is but one course to pursue, and that is to enforce the laws by suppressing violence, and leaving the parties to the covenants of leases to settle their differences in the courts, like the parties to any other contracts. It is a poor rule that will not work both ways. Many a landlord has made a hard bargain for himself; and I happen to know of one case in particular, in which a family has long been, and is still, kept out of the enjoyment of a very valuable estate, as to any benefit of importance, purely by the circumstance that a weak-minded possessor of the property fancied he was securing souls for paradise by letting his farms on leases for ninety-nine years, at nominal rents, with a covenant that the tenant should go twice to a particular church! Now, nothing is plainer than that it is a greater hardship to the citizen who is the owner of many farms so situated, than to the citizen who is the lessee of only one with a hard covenant; and, on general principles, the landlord in question would be most entitled to relief, since one man who suffers a good deal is more an object of true commiseration than many who suffer each a little. What would a governor be apt to say if my landlord should go with his complaints to the foot of the executive chair, and tell him that the very covenant which had led his predecessor into the mistake of thus wasting his means was openly disregarded; that farms worth many thousands of dollars had now been enjoyed by the tenants for near a century for mere nominal rents, and that the owner of the land in fee had occasion for his property, &c. &c. Would the governor recommend legislative action in that case? Would the length of such leases induce him to recommend that no lease should exceed five years in duration? Would the landlords who should get up a corps of Injins to worry their tenants into an abandonment of their farms be the objects of commiseration?—and would the law slumber for years over their rebellions and depredations, until two or three murders aroused public indignation? Let them answer that know. As a landlord, I should be sorry to incur the ridicule that would attend even a public complaint of the hardships of such a case. A common sneer would send me to the courts for my remedy, if I had one, and the whole difference between the "if and ifs" of the two cases would be that a landlord gives but one vote, while his tenants may be legion.
"He be d——d," muttered the plain-speaking Injin, as long as I could hear him. As soon as released from his presence, Streak of Lightning continued his examination, though a little vexed at the undramatical character of the interruption.
"Sartain no spy, eh?—sartain gubbernor no send him, eh?—sartain come to sell watch, eh?"
"I coomes, as I tell ye, to see if vatches might be solt, und not for der gubbernor; I neffer might see der mans."
As all this was true, my conscience felt pretty easy on the score of whatever there might be equivocal about it.
"What folks think of Injin down below, eh?—what folks say of anti-rent, eh?—hear him talk about much?"
"Vell, soome does dink anti-rent ist goot, und soome does dink anti-rent ist bad. Dey dinks as dey wishes."
Here a low whistle came down the road, or rather down the bushes, when every Injin started up; each man very fairly gave back the watch he was examining, and in less than half a minute we were alone on the log. This movement was so sudden that it left us in a little doubt as to the proper mode of proceeding. My uncle, however, coolly set about replacing his treasures in their box, while I went to the horse, which had shaken off his head-stall, and was quietly grazing along the road-side. A minute or two might have been thus occupied, when the trotting of a horse and the sound of wheels announced the near approach of one of those vehicles which have got to be almost national; a dearborn, or a one-horse wagon. As it came out from behind a screen of bushes formed by a curvature in the road, I saw that it contained the Rev. Mr. Warren and his sweet daughter.
The road being narrow, and our vehicle in its centre, it was not possible for the newcomers to proceed until we got out of the way, and the divine pulled up as soon as he reached the spot where we stood.
"Good morning, gentlemen," said Mr. Warren, cordially, and using a word that, in his mouth, I felt meant all it expressed. "Good morning, gentlemen. Are you playing Handel to the wood-nymphs, or reciting eclogues?"
"Neider, neider, Herr Pastor; we meet wid coostomers here, und dey has joost left us," answered uncle Ro, who certainly enacted his part with perfect aplomb, and the most admirable mimicry as to manner. "Guten tag, guten tag. Might der Herr Pastor been going to der village?"
"We are. I understand there is to be a meeting there of the misguided men called anti-renters, and that several of my parishioners are likely to be present. On such an occasion I conceive it to be my duty to go among my own particular people, and whisper a word of advice. Nothing can be farther from my notions of propriety than for a clergyman to be mingling and mixing himself up with political concerns in general, but this is a matter that touches morality, and the minister of God is neglectful of his duty who keeps aloof when a word of admonition might aid in preventing some wavering brother from the commission of a grievous sin. This last consideration has brought me out to a scene I could otherwise most heartily avoid."
This might be well enough, I said to myself, but what has your daughter to do in such a scene? Is the mind of Mary Warren, then, after all, no better than vulgar minds in general?—and can she find a pleasure in the excitement of lectures of this cast, and in that of public meetings? No surer test can be found of cultivation, than the manner in which it almost intuitively shrinks from communion unnecessarily with tastes and principles below its own level; yet here was the girl with whom I was already half in love—and that was saying as little as could be said, too—actually going down to the "Little Neest" to hear an itinerant lecturer on political economy utter his crudities, and to see and be seen! I was grievously disappointed, and would at the moment have cheerfully yielded the best farm on my estate to have had the thing otherwise. My uncle must have had some similar notion, by the remark he made.
"Und doost das jung frau go to see der Injins, too; to bersuade 'em dey ist fery vicked?"
Mary's face had been a little pale for her, I thought, as the wagon drew up; but it immediately became scarlet. She even suffered her head to droop a little, and then I perceived that she cast an anxious and tender glance at her father. I cannot say whether this look were or were not intended for a silent appeal, unconsciously made; but the father, without even seeing it, acted as if he fancied it might be.
"No, no," he said, hurriedly; "this dear girl is doing violence to all her feelings but one, in venturing to such a place. Her filial piety has proved stronger than her fears and her tastes, and when she found that go I would, no argument of mine could persuade her to remain at home. I hope she will not repent it."
The colour did not quit Mary's face, but she looked grateful at finding her true motives appreciated; and she even smiled, though she said nothing. My own feelings underwent another sudden revulsion. There was no want of those tastes and inclinations that can alone render a young woman attractive to any man of sentiment, but there was high moral feeling and natural affection enough to overcome them in a case in which she thought duty demanded the sacrifice! It was very little probable that anything would or could occur that day to render the presence of Mary Warren in the least necessary or useful; but it was very pleasant to me and very lovely in her to think otherwise, under the strong impulses of her filial attachment.
Another idea, however, and one far less pleasant, suggested itself to the minds of my uncle and myself, and almost at the same instant; it was this: the conversation was carried on in a high key, or loud enough to be heard at some little distance, the horse and part of the wagon interposing between the speakers; and there was the physical certainty that some of those whom we knew to be close at hand, in the bushes, must hear all that was said, and might take serious offence at it. Under this apprehension, therefore, my uncle directed me to remove our own vehicle as fast as possible, in order that the clergyman might pass. Mr. Warren, however, was in no hurry to do this, for he was utterly ignorant of the audience he had, and entertained that feeling towards us that men of liberal acquirements are apt to feel when they see others of similar educations reduced by fortune below their proper level. He was consequently desirous of manifesting his sympathy with us, and would not proceed, even after I had opened the way for him.
"It is a painful thing," continued Mr. Warren, "to find men mistaking their own cupidity for the workings of a love of liberty. To me nothing is more palpable than that this anti-rent movement is covetousness incited by the father of evil; yet you will find men among us who fancy they are aiding the cause of free institutions by joining in it, when, in truth, they are doing all they can to bring them into discredit, and to insure their certain downfall, in the end."
This was sufficiently awkward; for, by going near enough to give a warning in a low voice, and have that warning followed by a change in the discourse, we should be betraying ourselves, and might fall into serious danger. At the very moment the clergyman was thus speaking I saw the masked head of Streak o' Lightning appearing through an opening in some small pines that grew a little in the rear of the wagon, a position that enabled him to hear every syllable that was uttered. I was afraid to act myself, and trusted to the greater experience of my uncle. Whether the last also saw the pretended chief was more than I knew, but he decided to let the conversation go on, rather leaning to the anti-rent side of the question, as the course that could do no serious evil, while it might secure our own safety. It is scarcely necessary to say all these considerations glanced through our minds so swiftly as to cause no very awkward or suspicious pause in the discourse.
"B'rhaps dey doosn't like to bay rent?" put in my uncle, with a roughness of manner that was in accordance with the roughness of the sentiment. "Beoples might radder haf deir landts for nuttin', dan bay rents for dem."
"In that case, then, let them go and buy lands for themselves; if they do not wish to pay rent, why did they agree to pay rent?"
"May be dey changes deir minds. Vhat is goot to-day doosn't always seem goot to-morrow."
"That may be true; but we have no right to make others suffer for our own fickleness. I dare say, now, that it might be better for the whole community that so large a tract of land as that included in the Manor of Rensselaerwyck, for instance, and lying as it does in the very heart of the State, should be altogether in the hands of the occupants, than have it subject to the divided interest that actually exists; but it does not follow that a change is to be made by violence, or by fraudulent means. In either of the latter cases the injury done the community would be greater than if the present tenures were to exist a thousand years. I dare say much the larger portion of those farms can be bought off at a moderate advance on their actual money-value; and that is the way to get rid of the difficulty; not by bullying owners out of their property. If the State finds a political consideration of so much importance for getting rid of the tenures, let the State tax itself to do so, and make a liberal offer, in addition to what the tenants will offer, and I'll answer for it the landlords will not stand so much in their own way as to decline good prices."
"But, maybes dey won't sell all der landts; dey may wants to keep some of dem."
"They have a right to say yes or no, while we have no right to juggle or legislate them out of their property. The Legislature of this State has quite lately been exhibiting one of the most pitiable sights the world has seen in my day. It has been struggling for months to find a way to get round the positive provisions of laws and constitutions, in order to make a sacrifice of the rights of a few, to secure the votes of the many."
"Votes ist a goot ding, at election dime—haw, haw, haw!" exclaimed my uncle.
Mr. Warren looked both surprised and offended. The coarseness of manner that my uncle had assumed effected its object with the Injins, but it almost destroyed the divine's previous good opinion of our characters, and quite upset his notions of our refinement and principles. There was no time for explanations, however; for, just as my uncle's broad and well-acted "haw, haw, haw" was ended, a shrill whistle was heard in the bushes, and some forty or fifty of the Injins came whooping and leaping out from their cover, filling the road in all directions, immediately around the wagons.
Mary Warren uttered a little scream at this startling scene, and I saw her arm clinging to that of her father, by a sort of involuntary movement, as if she would protect him at all hazards. Then she seemed to rally, and from that instant her character assumed an energy, an earnestness, a spirit and an intrepidity that I had least expected in one so mild in aspect, and so really sweet in disposition.
All this was unnoticed by the Injins. They had their impulses, too, and the first thing they did was to assist Mr. Warren and his daughter to alight from their wagon. This was done, not without decorum of manner, and certainly not without some regard to the holy office of one of the parties, and to the sex of the other. Nevertheless, it was done neatly and expeditiously, leaving us all, Mr. Warren and Mary, my uncle and myself, with a cluster of some fifty Injins around us, standing in the centre of the highway.
"No toil in despair, No tyrant, no slave, No bread-tax is there, With a maw like the grave."
All this was so suddenly done as scarce to leave us time to think. There was one instant, notwithstanding, while two Injins were assisting Mary Warren to jump from the wagon, when my incognito was in great danger. Perceiving that the young lady was treated with no particular disrespect, I so far overcame the feeling as to remain quiet, though I silently changed my position sufficiently to get near her elbow, where I could and did whisper a word or two of encouragement. But Mary thought only of her father, and had no fears for herself. She saw none but him, trembled only for him, dreaded and hoped for him alone.
As for Mr. Warren himself, he betrayed no discomposure. Had he been about to enter the desk, his manner could not have been more calm. He gazed around him, to ascertain if it were possible to recognise any of his captors, but suddenly turned his head away, as if struck with the expediency of not learning their names, even though it had been possible. He might be put on the stand as a witness against some misguided neighbour, did he know his person. All this was so apparent in his benevolent countenance, that I think it struck some among the Injins, and still believe it may have had a little influence on their treatment of him. A pot of tar and a bag of feathers had been brought into the road when the gang poured out of the bushes, but whether this were merely accidental, or it had originally been intended to use them on Mr. Warren, I cannot say. The offensive materials soon and silently disappeared, and with them every sign of any intention to offer personal injury.
"What have I done that I am thus arrested in the public highway, by men armed and disguised, contrary to law?" demanded the divine, as soon as the general pause which succeeded the first movement invited him to speak. "This is a rash and illegal step, that may yet bring repentance."
"No preachee now," answered Streak o' Lightning; "preachee for meetin', no good for road."
Mr. Warren afterwards admitted to me that he was much relieved by this reply, the substitution of the word "meeting" for "church" giving him the grateful assurance that this individual, at least, was not one of his own people.
"Admonition and remonstrance may always be useful when crime is meditated. You are now committing a felony, for which the State's prison is the punishment prescribed by the laws of the land, and the duties of my holy office direct me to warn you of the consequences. The earth itself is but one of God's temples, and his ministers need never hesitate to proclaim his laws on any part of it."
It was evident that the calm severity of the divine, aided, no doubt, by his known character, produced an impression on the gang, for the two who had still hold of his arms released them, and a little circle was now formed, in the centre of which he stood.
"If you will enlarge this circle, my friends," continued Mr. Warren, "and give room, I will address you here, where we stand, and let you know my reasons why I think your conduct ought to be——"
"No, no—no preachee here," suddenly interrupted Streak o' Lightning; "go to village, go to meetin'-'us'—preachee there.—Two preacher, den.—Bring wagon and put him in. March, march; path open."
Although this was but an "Injin" imitation of "Indian" sententiousness, and somewhat of a caricature, everybody understood well enough what was meant. Mr. Warren offered no resistance, but suffered himself to be placed in Miller's wagon, with my uncle at his side, without opposition. Then it was, however, that he bethought himself of his daughter, though his daughter had never ceased to think of him. I had some little difficulty in keeping her from rushing into the crowd, and clinging to his side. Mr. Warren rose, and, giving her an encouraging smile, bade her be calm, told her he had nothing to fear, and requested that she would enter his own wagon again and return home, promising to rejoin her as soon as his duties at the village were discharged.
"Here is no one to drive the horse, my child, but our young German acquaintance. The distance is very short, and if he will thus oblige me, he can come down to the village with the wagon, as soon as he has seen you safe at our own door."
Mary Warren was accustomed to defer to her father's opinions, and she so far submitted, now, as to permit me to assist her into the wagon, and to place myself at her side, whip in hand, proud of and pleased with the precious charge thus committed to my care. These arrangements made, the Injins commenced their march, about half of them preceding, and the remainder following the wagon that contained their prisoner. Four, however, walked on each side of the vehicle, thus preventing the possibility of escape. No noise was made, and little was said; the orders being given by signs and signals, rather than by words.
Our wagon continued stationary until the party had got at least a hundred yards from us, no one giving any heed to our movements. I had waited thus long for the double purpose of noting the manner of the proceedings among the Injins, and to obtain room to turn at a spot in the road a short distance in advance of us, and which was wider than common. To this spot I now walked the horse, and was in the act of turning the animal's head in the required direction, when I saw Mary Warren's little gloved hand laid hurriedly on the reins. She endeavoured to keep the head of the horse in the road.
"No, no," said the charming girl, speaking earnestly, as if she would not be denied, "we will follow my father to the village. I may not, must not, cannot quit him!"
The time and place were every way propitious, and I determined to let Mary Warren know who I was. By doing it I might give her confidence in me at a moment when she was in distress, and encourage her with the hope that I might also befriend her father. At any rate, I was determined to pass for an itinerant Dutch music-grinder with her no longer.
"Miss Mary, Miss Warren," I commenced, cautiously, and with quite as much hesitation and diffidence of feeling as of manner, "I am not what I seem—that is, I am no music-grinder."
The start, the look, and the alarm of my companion, were all eloquent and natural. Her hand was still on the reins, and she now drew on them so hard as actually to stop the horse. I thought she intended to jump out of the vehicle, as a place no longer fit for her.
"Be not alarmed, Miss Warren," I said, eagerly, and, I trust, so earnestly as to inspire a little confidence. "You will not think the worse of me at finding I am your countryman instead of a foreigner, and a gentleman instead of a music-grinder. I shall do all you ask, and will protect you with my life."
"This is so extraordinary!—so unusual!—The whole country appears unsettled! Pray, sir, if you are not the person whom you have represented yourself to be, who are you?"
"One who admires your filial love and courage—who honours you for them both. I am the brother of your friend, Martha—I am Hugh Littlepage!"
The little hand now abandoned the reins, and the dear girl turned half round on the cushion of the seat, gazing at me in mute astonishment! I had been cursing in my heart the lank locks of the miserable wig I was compelled to wear, ever since I had met with Mary Warren, as unnecessarily deforming and ugly, for one might have as well a becoming as a horridly unbecoming disguise. Off went my cap, therefore, and off went the wig after it, leaving my own shaggy curls for the sole setting of my face.
Mary made a slight exclamation as she gazed at me, and the deadly paleness of her countenance was succeeded by a slight blush. A smile, too, parted her lips, and I fancied she was less alarmed.
"Am I forgiven, Miss Warren?" I asked; "and will you recognise me for the brother of your friend?"
"Does Martha—does Mrs. Littlepage know of this?" the charming girl at length asked.
"Both; I have had the happiness of being embraced by both my grandmother and my sister. You were taken out of the room, yesterday, by the first, that I might be left alone with the last, for that very purpose!"
"I see it all, now; yes, I thought it singular then, though I felt there could be no impropriety in any of Mrs. Littlepages' acts. Dearest Martha! how well she played her part, and how admirably she has kept your secret!"
"It is very necessary. You see the condition of the country, and will understand that it would be imprudent in me to appear openly, even on my own estate. I have a written covenant authorizing me to visit every farm near us, to look after my own interests; yet, it may be questioned if it would be safe to visit one among them all, now that the spirits of misrule and covetousness are up and doing."
"Replace your disguise at once, Mr. Littlepage," said Mary, eagerly; "do—do not delay an instant."
I did as desired, Mary watching the process with interested, and, at the same time, amused eyes. I thought she looked as sorry as I felt myself when that lank, villanous wig was again performing its office.
"Am I as well arranged as when we first met, Miss Warren? Do I appear again the music-grinder?"
"I see no difference," returned the dear girl, laughing. How musical and cheering to me were the sounds of her voice in that little burst of sweet, feminine merriment. "Indeed, indeed, I do not think even Martha could know you now, for the person you the moment before seemed."
"My disguise is, then, perfect. I was in hopes it left a little that my friends might recognise, while it effectually concealed me from my enemies."
"It does—oh! it does. Now I know who you are, I find no difficulty in tracing in your features the resemblance to your portrait in the family gallery, at the Nest. The eyes, too, cannot be altered without artificial brows, and those you have not."
This was consoling; but all that time Mr. Warren and the party in front had been forgotten. Perhaps it was excusable in two young persons thus situated, and who had now known each other a week, to think more of what was just then passing in the wagon, than to recollect the tribe that was marching down the road, and the errand they were on. I felt the necessity, however, of next consulting my companion as to our future movements. Mary heard me in evident anxiety, and her purpose seemed unsettled, for she changed colour under each new impulse of her feelings.
"If it were not for one thing," she answered, after a thoughtful pause, "I should insist on following my father."
"And what may be the reason of this change of purpose?"
"Would it be altogether safe for you, Mr. Littlepage, to venture again among those misguided men?"
"Never think of me, Miss Warren. You see I have been among them already undetected, and it is my intention to join them again, even should I first have to take you home. Decide for yourself."
"I will, then, follow my father. My presence may be the means of saving him from some indignity."
I was rejoiced at this decision, on two accounts; of which one might have been creditable enough to me, while the other, I am sorry to say, was rather selfish. I delighted in the dear girl's devotion to her parent, and I was glad to have her company as long as possible that morning. Without entering into a very close analysis of motives, however, I drove down the road, keeping the horse on a very slow gait, being in no particular hurry to quit my present fair companion.
Mary and I had now a free, and, in some tense, a confidential dialogue. Her manner towards me had entirely changed; for, while it maintained the modesty and retenue of her sex and station, it displayed much of that frankness which was the natural consequence of her great intimacy at the Nest, and; as I have since ascertained, of her own ingenuous nature. The circumstance, too, that she now felt she was with one of her own class, who had opinions, habits, tastes and thoughts like her own, removed a mountain of restraint, and made her communications natural and easy. I was near an hour, I do believe, in driving the two miles that lay between the point where the Injins had been met and the village, and in that hour Mary Warren and I became better acquainted than would have been the case, under ordinary circumstances, in a year.
In the first place, I explained the reasons and manner of my early and unexpected return home, and the motives by which I had been governed in thus coming in disguise on my own property. Then I said a little of my future intentions, and of my disposition to hold out to the last against every attempt on my rights, whether they might come from the open violence and unprincipled designs of those below, or the equally unprincipled schemes of those above. A spurious liberty and political cant were things that I despised, as every intelligent and independent man must; and I did not intend to be persuaded I was an aristocrat, merely because I had the habits of a gentleman, at the very moment when I had less political influence than the hired labourers in my own service.
Mary Warren manifested a spirit and an intelligence that surprised me. She expressed her own belief that the proscribed classes of the country had only to be true to themselves to be restored to their just rights, and that on the very principle by which they were so fast losing them. The opinions she thus expressed are worthy of being recorded.
"Everything that is done in that way," said this gentle, but admirable creature, "has hitherto been done on a principle that is quite as false and vicious as that by which they are now oppressed. We have had a great deal written and said, lately, about uniting people of property, but it has been so evidently with an intention to make money rule, and that in its most vulgar and vicious manner, that persons of right feelings would not unite in such an effort; but it does seem to me, Mr. Littlepage, that if the gentlemen of New York could form themselves into an association in defence of their rights, and for nothing else, and let it be known that they would not be robbed with impunity, they are numerous enough and powerful enough to put down this anti-rent project by the mere force of numbers. Thousands would join them for the sake of principles, and the country might be left to the enjoyment of the fruits of liberty, without getting any of the fruits of its cant."
This is a capital idea, and might easily be carried out. It requires nothing but a little self-denial, with the conviction of the necessity of doing something, if the downward tendency is to be ever checked short of civil war, and a revolution that is to let in despotism in its more direct form; despotism, in the indirect, is fast appearing among us, as it is.
"I have heard of a proposition for the Legislature to appoint special commissioners, who are to settle all the difficulties between the landlords and tenants," I remarked, "a scheme in the result of which some people profess to have a faith. I regard it as only one of the many projects that have been devised to evade the laws and institutions of the country, as they now exist."
Mary Warren seemed thoughtful for a moment; then her eye and face brightened, as if she were struck with some thought suddenly; after which the colour deepened on her cheek, and she turned to me as if half doubting, and yet half desirous of giving utterance to the idea that was uppermost.
"You wish to say something, Miss Warren?"
"I dare say it will be very silly—and I hope you won't think it pedantic in a girl, but really it does look so to me—what difference would there be between such a commission and the Star-Chamber judges of the Stuarts, Mr. Littlepage?"
"Not much in general principles, certainly, as both would be the instruments of tyrants; but a very important one in a great essential. The Star-Chamber courts were legal, whereas this commission would be flagrantly illegal; the adoption of a special tribunal to effect certain purposes that could exist only in the very teeth of the constitution, both in its spirit and its letter. Yet this project comes from men who prate about the 'spirit of the institutions,' which they clearly understand to be their own spirit, let that be what it may."
"Providence, I trust, will not smile on such desperate efforts to do wrong!" said Mary Warren, solemnly.
"One hardly dare look into the inscrutable ways of a Power that has its motives so high beyond our reach. Providence permits much evil to be done, and is very apt to be, as Frederic of Prussia expressed it, on the side of strong battalions, so far as human vision can penetrate. Of one thing, however, I feel certain, and that is that they who are now the most eager to overturn everything to effect present purposes, will be made to repent of it bitterly, either in their own persons, or in those of their descendants."
"That is what is meant, my father says, by visiting 'the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generations.' But there is the party, with their prisoners, just entering the village. Who is your companion, Mr. Littlepage?—One hired to act as an assistant?"
"It is my uncle, himself. You have often heard, I should think, of Mr. Roger Littlepage?"
Mary gave a little exclamation at hearing this, and she almost laughed. After a short pause she blushed brightly, and turned to me as she said—
"And my father and I have supposed you, the one a pedlar, and the other a street-musician!"
"But bedlars and moosic-grinders of goot etications, as might be panishet for deir bolitics."
Now, indeed, she laughed out, for the long and frank dialogue we had held together made this change to broken English seem as if a third person had joined us. I profited by the occasion to exhort the dear girl to be calm, and not to feel any apprehension on the subject of her father. I pointed out how little probable it was that violence would be offered to a minister of the gospel, and showed her, by the number of persons that had collected in the village, that it was impossible he should not have many warm and devoted friends present. I also gave her permission to, nay, requested she would, tell Mr. Warren the fact of my uncle's and my own presence, and the reasons of our disguises, trusting altogether to the very obvious interest the dear girl took in our safety, that she would add, of her own accord, the necessary warning on the subject of secresy. Just as this conversation ended we drove into the hamlet, and I helped my fair companion to alight.
Mary Warren now hastened to seek her father, while I was left to take care of the horse. This I did by fastening him to the rails of a fence, that was lined for a long distance by horses and wagons drawn up by the way-side. Surprisingly few persons in the country, at this day, are seen on horseback. Notwithstanding the vast difference in the amount of the population, ten horsemen were to be met with forty years ago, by all accounts, on the highways of the State, for one to-day. The well-known vehicle, called a dearborn, with its four light wheels and mere shell of a box, is in such general use as to have superseded almost every other species of conveyance. Coaches and chariots are no longer met with, except in the towns; and even the coachee, the English sociable, which was once so common, has very generally given way to a sort of carriage-wagon, that seems a very general favourite. My grandmother, who did use the stately-looking and elegant chariot in town, had nothing but this carriage-wagon in the country; and I question if one-half of the population of the State would know what to call the former vehicle, if they should see it.
As a matter of course, the collection of people assembled at Little Nest on this occasion had been brought together in dearborns, of which there must have been between two and three hundred lining the fences and crowding the horse-sheds of the two inns. The American countryman, in the true sense of the word, is still quite rustic in many of his notions; though, on the whole, less marked in this particular than his European counterpart. As the rule, he has yet to learn that the little liberties which are tolerated in a thinly-peopled district, and which are of no great moment when put in practice under such circumstances, become oppressive and offensive when reverted to in places of much resort. The habits of popular control, too, come to aid in making them fancy that what everybody does in their part of the country can have no great harm in it. It was in conformity with this tendency of the institutions, perhaps, that very many of the vehicles I have named were thrust into improper places, stopping up the footways, impeding the entrances to doors, here and there letting down bars without permission, and garnishing orchards and pastures with one-horse wagons. Nothing was meant by all these liberties beyond a desire to dispose of the horses and vehicles in the manner easiest to their owners. Nevertheless, there was some connection between the institutions and these little liberties which some statesmen might fancy existed in the spirit of the former. This, however, was a capital mistake, inasmuch as the spirit of the institutions is to be found in the laws, which prohibit and punish all sorts of trespasses, and which are enacted expressly to curb the tendencies of human nature! No, no, as my uncle Ro says, nothing can be less alike, sometimes, than the spirit of institutions and their tendencies.
I was surprised to find nearly as many females as men had collected at the Little Nest on this occasion. As for the Injins, after escorting Mr. Warren as far as the village, as if significantly to admonish him of their presence, they had quietly released him, permitting him to go where he pleased. Mary had no difficulty in finding him, and I saw her at his side, apparently in conversation with Opportunity and her brother, Seneca, as soon as I moved down the road, after securing the horse. The Injins themselves kept a little aloof, having my uncle in their very centre; not as a prisoner, for it was clear no one suspected his character, but as a pedlar. The watches were out again, and near half of the whole gang seemed busy in trading, though I thought that some among them were anxious and distrustful.
It was a singular spectacle to see men who were raising the cry of "aristocracy" against those who happened to be richer than themselves, while they did not possess a single privilege or power that, substantially, was not equally shared by every other man in the country, thus openly arrayed in defiance of law, and thus violently trampling the law under their feet. What made the spectacle more painful was the certainty that was obtained by their very actions on the ground, that no small portion of these Injins were mere boys, led on by artful and knavish men, and who considered the whole thing as a joke. When the laws fall so much into disrepute as to be the subjects of jokes of this sort, it is time to inquire into their mode of administration. Does any one believe that fifty landlords could have thus flown into the face of a recent enactment, and committed felony openly, and under circumstances that had rendered their intentions no secret, for a time long enough to enable the authorities to collect a force sufficient to repress them? My own opinion is, that had Mr. Stephen Rensselaer, and Mr. William Rensselaer, and Mr. Harry Livingston, and Mr. John Hunter, and Mr. Daniel Livingston, and Mr. Hugh Littlepage, and fifty more that I could name, been caught armed and disguised, in order to defend the rights of property that are solemnly guarantied in these institutions, of which it would seem to be the notion of some that it is the "spirit" to dispossess them, we should all of us have been the inmates of States' prisons, without legislators troubling themselves to pass laws for our liberation! This is another of the extraordinary features of American aristocracy, which almost deprives the noble of the every-day use and benefit of the law. It would be worth our while to lose a moment in inquiring into the process by which such strange results are brought about, but it is fortunately rendered unnecessary by the circumstance that the principle will be amply developed in the course of the narrative.
A stranger could hardly have felt the real character of this meeting by noting the air and manner of those who had come to attend it. The "armed and disguised" kept themselves in a body, it is true, and maintained, in a slight degree, the appearance of distinctness from "the people," but many of the latter stopped to speak to these men, and were apparently on good terms with them. Not a few of the gentler sex, even, appeared to have acquaintances in the gang; and it would have struck a political philosopher from the other hemisphere with some surprise, to have seen the "people" thus tolerating fellows who were openly trampling on a law that the "people" themselves had just enacted! A political philosopher from among ourselves, however, might have explained the seeming contradiction by referring it to the "spirit of the institutions." If one were to ask Hugh Littlepage to solve the difficulty, he would have been very apt to answer that the "people" of Ravensnest wanted to compel him to sell lands which he did not wish to sell, and that not a few of them were anxious to add to the compulsory bargains conditions as to price that would rob him of about one-half of his estate; and that what the Albany philosophers called the "spirit of the institutions," was, in fact, a "spirit of the devil," which the institutions were expressly designed to hold in subjection!
There was a good deal of out-door management going on, as might be seen by the private discussions that were held between pairs, under what is called the "horse-shedding" process. This "horse-shedding" process, I understand, is well known among us, and extends not only to politics, but to the administration of justice. Your regular "horse-shedder" is employed to frequent taverns where jurors stay, and drops hints before them touching the merits of causes known to be on the calendars; possibly contrives to get into a room with six or eight beds, in which there may accidentally be a juror, or even two, in a bed, when he drops into a natural conversation on the merits of some matter at issue, praises one of the parties, while he drops dark hints to the prejudice of the other, and makes his own representations of the facts in a way to scatter the seed where he is morally certain it will take root and grow. All this time he is not conversing with a juror, not he; he is only assuming the office of the judge by anticipation, and dissecting evidence before it has been given, in the ear of a particular friend. It is true there is a law against doing anything of the sort; it is true there is law to punish the editor of a newspaper who shall publish anything to prejudice the interests of litigants; it is true the "horse-shedding process" is flagrantly wicked, and intended to destroy most of the benefits of the jury-system; but, notwithstanding all this, the "spirit of the institutions" carries everything before it, and men regard all these laws and provisions, as well as the eternal principles of right, precisely as if they had no existence at all, or as if a freeman were above the law. He makes the law, and why should he not break it? Here is another effect of the "spirit of the institutions."
At length the bell rang, and the crowd began to move towards the "meetin'-us." This building was not that which had been originally constructed, and at the raising of which, I have heard it said, my dear old grandmother, then a lovely and spirited girl of nineteen, had been conspicuous for her coolness and judgment, but a far more pretending successor. The old building had been constructed on the true model of the highest dissenting spirit—a spirit that induced its advocates to quarrel with good taste as well as religious dogmas, in order to make the chasm as wide as possible—while in this, some concessions had been made to the temper of the times. I very well remember the old "meetin'-us" at the "Little Nest," for it was pulled down to give place to its more pretending successor after I had attained my sixteenth year. A description of both may let the reader into the secret of our rural church architecture.
The "old Neest meetin'-us," like its successor, was of a hemlock frame, covered with pine clap-boards, and painted white. Of late years, the paint had been of a most fleeting quality, the oil seeming to evaporate, instead of striking in and setting, leaving the colouring matter in a somewhat decomposed condition, to rub off by friction and wash away in the rains. The house was a stiff, formal parallelogram, resembling a man with high shoulders, appearing to be "stuck up." It had two rows of formal, short and ungraceful windows, that being a point in orthodoxy at the period of its erection. It had a tower, uncouth, and in some respects too large and others too small, if one can reconcile the contradiction; but there are anomalies of this sort in art, as well as in nature. On top of this tower stood a long-legged belfry, which had got a very dangerous, though a very common, propensity in ecclesiastical matters; in other words, it had begun to "cant." It was this diversion from the perpendicular which had suggested the necessity of erecting a new edifice, and the building in which the "lecture" on feudal tenures and aristocracy was now to be delivered.
The new meeting-house at Little Nest was a much more pretending edifice than its predecessor. It was also of wood, but a bold diverging from "first principles" had been ventured on, not only in physical, but in the moral church. The last was "new-school;" as, indeed, was the first. What "new-school" means, in a spiritual sense, I do not exactly know, but I suppose it to be some improvement on some other improvement of the more ancient and venerable dogmas of the sect to which it belongs. These improvements on improvements are rather common among us, and are favourably viewed by a great number under the name of progress; though he who stands at a little distance can, half the time, discover that the parties in progress very often come out at the precise spot from which they started.
For my part, I find so much wisdom in the bible—so profound a knowledge of human nature, and of its tendencies—counsel so comprehensive and so safe, and this solely in reference to the things of this life, that I do not believe everything is progress in the right direction because it sets us in motion on paths that are not two thousand years old! I believe that we have quite as much that ought to be kept, as of that which ought to be thrown away; and while I admit the vast number of abuses that have grown up in the old world, under the "spirit of their institutions," as our philosophers would say, I can see a goodly number that are also growing up here, certainly not under the same "spirit," unless we refer them both, as a truly wise man would, to our common and miserable nature.
The main departure from first principles, in the sense of material things, was in the fact that the new meeting-house had only one row of windows, and that the windows of that row had the pointed arch. The time has been when this circumstance would have created a schism in the theological world; and I hope that my youth and inexperience will be pardoned, if I respectfully suggest that a pointed arch, or any other arch in wood, ought to create another in the world of taste.
But in we went, men, women and children; uncle Ro, Mr. Warren, Mary, Seneca, Opportunity, and all, the Injins excepted. For some reason connected with their policy, those savages remained outside, until the whole audience had assembled in grave silence. The orator was in, or on a sort of stage, which was made, under the new-light system in architecture, to supersede the old, inconvenient, and ugly pulpit, supported on each side by two divines, of what denomination I shall not take on myself to say. It will be sufficient if I add Mr. Warren was not one of them. He and Mary had taken their seats quite near the door, and under the gallery. I saw that the rector was uneasy the moment the lecturer and his two supporters entered the pulpit, and appeared on the stage; and at length he arose, and followed by Mary, he suddenly left the building. In an instant I was at their side, for it struck me indisposition was the cause of so strange a movement. Fortunately, at this moment, the whole audience rose in a body, and one of the ministers commenced an extempore prayer.
At that instant, the Injins had drawn themselves up around the building, close to its sides, and under the open windows, in a position that enabled them to hear all that passed. As I afterwards learned, this arrangement was made with an understanding with those within, one of the ministers having positively refused to address the throne of Grace so long as any of the tribe were present. Well has it been said, that man often strains at a gnat, and swallows a camel!
"I tell thee, Jack Cade, the clothier means to dress the commonwealth and turn it, and put a new nap upon it."
King Henry VI.
As I knew Mary must have communicated to her father my real name, I did not hesitate, as I ought to have done in my actual dress and in my assumed character, about following them, in order to inquire if I could be of any service. I never saw distress more strongly painted in any man's countenance than it was in that of Mr. Warren, when I approached. So very obvious, indeed, was his emotion, that I did not venture to obtrude myself on him, but followed in silence; and he and Mary slowly walked, side by side, across the street to the stoop of a house, of which all the usual inmates had probably gone in the other direction. Here, Mr. Warren took a seat, Mary still at his side, while I drew near, standing before him.
"I thank you, Mr. Littlepage," the divine at length said, with a smile so painful it was almost haggard, "for, so Mary tells me you should be called—I thank you for this attention, sir—but, it will be over in another minute—I feel better now, and shall be able to command myself."
No more was then said, concerning the reason of this distress; but Mary has since explained to me its cause. When her father went into the meeting-house, he had not the smallest idea that anything like a religious service would be dragged into the ceremonies of such a day. The two ministers on the stage first gave him the alarm; when a most painful struggle occurred in his mind, whether or not he should remain, and be a party to the mockery of addressing God in prayer, in an assembly collected to set at naught one of the plainest of his laws—nay, with banded felons drawn up around the building, as principal actors in the whole mummery. The alternative was for him, a minister, of the altar, to seem to quit those who were about to join in prayer, and to do this moreover under circumstances which might appear to others as if he rejected all worship but that which was in accordance with his own views of right, a notion that would be certain to spread far and near, greatly to the prejudice of his own people. But the first, as he viewed the matter, involved a species of blasphemy; and yielding to his feelings, he took the decided step he had, intending to remain out of the building, until the more regular business of the day commenced.
It is certain Mr. Warren, who acted under the best impulse of christian feeling, a reverence for God, and a profound wish not to be a party in offending him with the mockery of worship under such circumstances, has lost much influence, and made many enemies, by the step he then took. The very same feeling which has raised the cry of aristocracy against every gentleman who dwells in sufficiently near contact with the masses to distinguish his habits from those around him; which induces the eastern emigrant, who comes from a state of society where there are no landlords, to fancy those he finds here ought to be pulled down, because he is not a landlord himself; which enables the legislator to stand up in his place, and unblushingly talk about feudal usages, at the very instant he is demonstrating that equal rights are denied to those he would fain stigmatize as feudal lords, has extended to religion, and the church of which Mr. Warren was a minister, is very generally accused of being aristocratic, too! This charge is brought because it has claims which other churches affect to renounce and reject as forming no part of the faith; but the last cannot remain easy under their own decisions; and while they shout, and sing that they have found "a church without a bishop," they hate the church that has a bishop, because it has something they do not possess themselves, instead of pitying its deluded members, if they believe them wrong. This will not be admitted generally, but it is nevertheless true; and betrays itself in a hundred ways. It is seen in the attempt to call their own priests bishops, in the feeling so manifest whenever a cry can be raised against their existence, and in the general character of these theological rallies, whenever they do occur.
For one, I see a close analogy between my own church, as it exists in this country, and comparing it with that from which it sprung, and to those which surround it, and the true political circumstances of the two hemispheres. In discarding a vast amount of surplusage, in reducing the orders of the ministry, in practice, as well as in theory, to their primitive number ... three and in rejecting all connection with the State, the American branch of the Episcopal Church has assumed the position it was desirous to fill; restoring, as near as may be, the simplicity of the apostolical ages, while it does not disregard the precepts and practices of the apostles themselves. It has not set itself above antiquity and authority, but merely endeavoured to sustain them, without the encumbrances of more modern abuses. Thus, too, has it been in political things. No attempt has been made to create new organic social distinctions in this country, but solely to disencumber those that are inseparable from the existence of all civilized society, of the clumsy machinery with which the expedients of military oppressors had invested them. The real sages of this country, in founding its institutions, no more thought of getting rid of the landlords of the country, than the Church thought of getting rid of its bishops. The first knew that the gradations of property were an inevitable incident of civilization; that it would not be wise, if it were possible, to prevent the affluent from making large investments in the soil; and that this could not be done in practice, without leaving the relation of landlord and tenant. Because landlords, in other parts of the world, possessed privileges that were not necessary to the natural or simple existence of the character, was no reason for destroying the character itself; any more than the fact that the bishops of England possess an authority the apostles knew nothing of, rendered it proper for the American branch of the church to do away with an office that came from the apostles. But, envy and jealousy do not pause to reflect on such things; it is enough for them, in the one case that you and yours have estates, and occupy social positions, that I and mine do not, and cannot easily, occupy and possess; therefore I will oppose you, and join my voice to the cry of those who wish to get their farms for nothing; and in the other, that you have bishops when we can have none, without abandoning our present organization and doctrines.
I dwell on these points at some little length, because the movements of Mr. Warren and myself, at that moment, had a direct influence on the circumstances that will soon be related. It is probable that fully one-half of those collected in the Little Nest meeting-house, that morning, as they stood up, and lent a sort of one-sided and listless attention to the prayer, were thinking of the scandalous and aristocratical conduct of Mr. Warren, in "goin' out o' meetin' just as meetin' went to prayers!" Few, indeed, were they who would be likely to ascribe any charitable motive for the act; and probably not one of those present thought of the true and conscientious feeling that had induced it. So the world wags! It is certain that a malignant and bitter feeling was got up against the worthy rector on that occasion, and for that act, which has not yet abated, and which will not abate in many hundreds, until the near approach of death shall lay bare to them the true character of so many of their own feelings.
It was some minutes before Mr. Warren entirely regained his composure. At length he spoke to me, in his usual benevolent and mild way, saying a few words that were complimentary, on the subject of my return, while he expressed his fears that my uncle Ro and myself had been imprudent in thus placing ourselves, as it might be, in the lion's jaws.
"You have certainly made your disguises so complete," he added, smiling, "as to have escaped wonderfully well so far. That you should deceive Mary and myself is no great matter, since neither of us ever saw you before; but, the manner in which your nearest relatives have been misled, is surprising. Nevertheless, you have every inducement to be cautious, for hatred and jealousy have a penetration that does not belong even to love."
"We think we are safe, sir," I answered, "for we are certainly within the statute. We are too well aware of our miserable aristocratical condition to place ourselves within the grasp of the law, for such are our eminent privileges as a landed nobility, that we are morally certain either of us would not only be sent to the state's prison were he to be guilty of the felony those Injins are committing, and will commit, with perfect impunity, but that he would be kept there, as long as a single tear of anguish could be wrung from one of those who are classed with the aristocracy. Democracy alone finds any sympathy in the ordinary administration of American justice."
"I am afraid that your irony has only too much truth in it. But the movement around the building would seem to say that the real business of the day is about to commence, and we had better return to the church."
"Those men in disguise are watching us, in a most unpleasant and alarming manner," said Mary Warren, delighting me far more by the vigilance she thus manifested in my behalf, than alarming me by the fact.
That we were watched, however, became obviously apparent, as we walked towards the building, by the actions of some of the Injins. They had left the side of the church where they had posted themselves during the prayer, and head was going to head, among those nearest to us; or, it would be nearer to appearances, were I to say bunch of calico was going to bunch of calico, for nothing in the form of a head was visible among them. Nothing was said to Mr. Warren and Mary, however, who were permitted to go into the meeting-house, unmolested; but two of these disguised gentry placed themselves before me, laying their rifles across my path, and completely intercepting my advance.
"Who you?" abruptly demanded one of the two;—"where go—where come from?"
The answer was ready, and I trust it was sufficiently steady.
"I coomes from Charmany, und I goes into der kerch, as dey say in mine coontry; what might be callet meetin'-us, here."
What might have followed, it is not easy to say, had not the loud, declamatory voice of the lecturer just then been heard, as he commenced his address. This appeared to be a signal for the tribe to make some movement, for the two fellows who had stopped me, walked silently away, though bag of calico went to bag of calico, as they trotted off together, seemingly communicating to each other their suspicions. I took advantage of the opening, and passed into the church, where I worked my way through the throng, and got a seat at my uncle's side.
I have neither time, room, nor inclination to give anything like an analysis of the lecture. The speaker was fluent, inflated, and anything but logical. Not only did he contradict himself, but he contradicted the laws of nature. The intelligent reader will not require to be reminded of the general character of a speech that was addressed to the passions and interests of such an audience, rather than to their reason. He commented, at first, on the particular covenants of the leases on the old estates of the colony, alluding to the quarter-sales, chickens, days' work, and durable tenures, in the customary way. The reservation of the mines, too, was mentioned as a tyrannical covenant, precisely as if a landlord were obliged to convey any more of the rights that were vested in him, than he saw fit; or the tenant could justly claim more than he had hired! This man treated all these branches of the subject, as if the tenants had acquired certain mysterious interests by time and occupation, overlooking the fact that the one party got just as good a title as the other by this process; the lease being the instrument between them, that was getting to be venerable. If one party grew old as a tenant, so did the other as a landlord. I thought that this lecturer would have been glad to confine himself to the Manor leases, that being the particular branch of the subject he had been accustomed to treat; but, such was not the precise nature of the job he was now employed to execute. At Ravensnest, he could not flourish the feudal grievance of the quarter-sales, the "four fat fowls," the "days' works," and the length of the leases. Here it was clearly his cue to say nothing of the three first, and to complain of the shortness of the leases, as mine were about to fall in, in considerable numbers. Finding it was necessary to take new ground, he determined it should be bold ground, and such as would give him the least trouble to get along with.
As soon as the lecturer had got through with his general heads, and felt the necessity of coming down to particulars, he opened upon the family of Littlepage, in a very declamatory way. What had they ever done for the country, he demanded, that they should be lords in the land? By some process known to himself, he had converted landlords into lords in the land, and was now aiming to make the tenants occupy the latter station—nay, both stations. Of course, some services of a public character, of which the Littlepages might boast, were not touched upon at all, everything of that nature being compressed into what the lecturer and his audience deemed serving the people, by helping to indulge them in all their desires, however rapacious or wicked. As everybody who knows anything of the actual state of matters among us, must be aware how rarely the "people" hear the truth, when their own power and interests are in question, it is not surprising that a very shallow reasoner was enabled to draw wool over the eyes of the audience of Ravensnest on that particular subject.
But my interest was most awakened when this man came to speak of myself. It is not often that a man enjoys the same opportunity as that I then possessed to hear his own character delineated, and his most private motives analyzed. In the first place, the audience were told that this "young Hugh Littlepage had never done anything for the land that he proudly, and like a great European noble, he calls his 'estate.' Most of you, fellow-citizens, can show your hard hands, and recall the burning suns under which you have opened the swarth, through those then lovely meadows yonder, as your titles to these farms. But, Hugh Littlepage never did a day's work in his life"—ten minutes before he had been complaining of the "days' work" in the Manor leases as indignities that a freeman ought not to submit to—"no, fellow-citizens, he never had that honour, and never will have it, until by a just division of his property, or what he now calls his property, you reduce him to the necessity of labouring to raise the crops he wants to consume."
"Where is this Hugh Littlepage at this very moment? In Paris, squandering your hard earnings in riotous living, according to the best standards of aristocracy. He lives in the midst of abundance, dresses richly and fares richly, while you and yours are eating the sweat of your brows. He is no man for a pewter spoon and two-pronged fork! No, my countrymen! He must have a gold spoon for some of his dishes, and you will find it hard to believe—plain, unpretending, republican farmers as you are, but it is not the less true—he must have forks of silver! Fellow-citizens, Hugh Littlepage would not put his knife into his mouth, as you and I do, in eating—as all plain, unpretending republicans do—for the world. It would choke him; no, he keeps silver forks to touch his anointed lips!" Here there was an attempt to get up something like applause, but it totally failed. The men of Ravensnest had been accustomed all their lives to see the Littlepages in the social station they occupied; and, after all, it did not seem so very extraordinary that we should have silver forks, any more than that others should have silver spoons. The lecturer had the tact to see that he had failed on this point, and he turned to another.
The next onset was made against our title. Whence did it come? demanded the lecturer. From the king of England; and the people had conquered the country from that sovereign, and put themselves in his place. Now, is it not a good principle in politics, that to the victors belong the spoils? He believed it was; and that in conquering America, he was of opinion that the people of America had conquered the land, and that they had a right to take the land, and to keep it. Titles from kings he did not respect much; and he believed the American people, generally, did not think much of them. If Hugh Littlepage wished an "estate," as he called it, let him come to the people and "sarve them," and see what sort of an estate they would give him.
But there was one portion of his speech which was so remarkable, that I must attempt to give it, as it was uttered. It was while the lecturer was expatiating on this subject of titles, that he broke out in the following language:—"Don't talk to me," he bellowed—for by this time his voice had risen to the pitch of a methodist's, in a camp-meeting—"Don't talk to me of antiquity, and time, and length of possession, as things to be respected. They're nawthin—jest nawthin' at all. Possession's good in law, I'll admit; and I contind that's jest what the tenants has. They've got the lawful possession of this very property, that layeth (not eggs, but) up and down, far and near, and all around; a rich and goodly heritage, when divided up among hard-working and honest folks; but too much, by tens of thousands of acres, for a young chap, who is wasting his substance in foreign lands, to hold. I contind that the tenants has this very, precise, lawful possession, at this blessed moment, only the law won't let 'em enj'y it. It's all owing to that accursed law, that the tenant can't set up a title ag'in his landlord. You see by this one fact, fellow-citizens, that they are a privileged class, and ought to be brought down to the level of gin'ral humanity. You can set up title ag'in anybody else, but you shan't set up title ag'in a landlord. I know what is said in the primisis," shaking his head, in derision of any arguments on the other side of this particular point; "I know that circumstances alter cases. I can see the hardship of one neighbour's coming to another, and asking to borrow or hire his horse for a day, and then pretendin' to hold him on some other ketch. But horses isn't land; you must all allow that. No, if horses was land, the case would be altered. Land is an element, and so is fire, and so is water, and so is air. Now, who will say that a freeman hasn't a right to air, hasn't a right to water, and, on the same process, hasn't a right to land? He has, fellow-citizens—he has. These are what are called in philosophy elementary rights; which is the same thing as a right to the elements, of which land is one, and a principal one. I say a principal one; for, if there was no land to stand on, we should drop away from air, and couldn't enj'y that; we should lose all our water in vapour, and couldn't put it to millin' and manafacterin' purposes; and where could we build our fires? No; land is the first elementary right, and connected with it comes the first and most sacred right to the elements.
"I do not altogether disregard antiquity, neither. No; I respect and revere pre-emption rights; for they fortify and sustain the right to the elements. Now, I do not condemn squattin', as some doos. It's actin' accordin' to natur', and natur' is right. I respect and venerate a squatter's possession; for it's held under the sacred principle of usefulness. It says, 'go and make the wilderness blossom as the rose,' and means 'progress.' That's an antiquity I respect. I respect the antiquity of your possessions here, as tenants; for it is a hard-working and useful antiquity—an antiquity that increases and multiplies. If it be said that Hugh Littlepage's ancestors—your noble has his 'ancestors,' while us 'common folks' are satisfied with forefathers"—[this hit took with a great many present, raising a very general laugh]—"but if this Hugh's ancestors did pay anything for the land, if I was you, fellow-citizens, I'd be gin'rous, and let him have it back ag'in. Perhaps his forefathers gave a cent an acre to the king—may be, two; or say sixpence, if you will. I'd let him have his sixpence an acre back again, by way of shutting his mouth. No; I'm for nawthin' that's ungin'rous."
"Fellow-citizens, I profess to be what is called a Democrat. I know that many of you be what is called Whigs—but I apprehend there is'nt much difference between us on the subject of this system of leasing land. We are all republicans, and leasing farms is anti-republican. Then, I wish to be liberal even to them I commonly oppose at elections, and I will freely admit, then, on the whull, the Whigs have rather out-done us Democrats, on the subject of this anti-rentism. I am sorry to be obliged to own in it, but it must be confessed that, while in the way of governors, there hasn't been much difference—yes, put 'em in a bag, and shake 'em up, and you'd hardly know which would come out first—which has done himself the most immortal honour, which has shown himself the most comprehensive, profound and safe statesman; I know that some of our people complain of the governors for ordering out troops ag'in the Injins, but they could not help that—they wouldn't have done it, in my judgment, had there been any way of getting round it; but the law was too strong for them, so they druv' in the Injins, and now they join us in putting down aristocracy, and in raising up gin'ral humanity. No; I don't go ag'in the governors, though many doos."
"But I profess to be a Democrat, and I'll give an outline of my principles, that all may see why they can't, and don't, and never will agree with aristocracy or nobility, in any form or shape. I believe one man is as good as another in all things. Neither birth, nor law, nor edication, nor riches, nor poverty, nor anything else can ever make any difference in this principle, which is sacred, and fundamental, and is the chief stone of the corner in true Democracy. One man is as good as another, I say, and has just the same right to the enj'yment of 'arth and its privileges, as any other man. I think the majority ought to rule in all things, and that it is the duty of the minority to submit. Now, I've had this here sentiment thrown back upon me, in some places where I have spoken, and been asked 'how is this—the majority must rule, and the minority must submit—in that case, the minority is'nt as good as the majority in practice, and hasn't the same right. They are made to own what they think ought not to be done?' The answer to this is so plain, I wonder a sensible man can ask the question, for all the minority has to do, is to join the majority, to have things as they want 'em. The road is free, and it is this open road that makes true liberty. Any man can fall in with the majority, and sensible folks commonly do, when they can find it, and that makes a person not only a man, as the saying is, but a FREEMAN, a still more honourable title."
"Fellow-citizens, a great movement is in progress, "Go ahead!" is the cry, and the march is onward; our thoughts already fly about on the wings of the lightning, and our bodies move but little slower, on the vapour of steam—soon our principles will rush ahead of all, and let in the radiance of a glorious day of universal reform, and loveliness, and virtue and charity, when the odious sound of rent will never be heard, when every man will set down under his own apple, or cherry tree, if not under his own fig tree.
"I am a Democrat,—yes, a Democrat. Glorious appellation! I delight in it! It is my pride, my boast, my very virtue. Let but the people truly rule, and all must come well. The people has no temptation to do wrong. If they hurt the state, they hurt themselves, for they are the state. Is a man likely to hurt himself? Equality is my axiom. Nor, by equality, do I mean your narrow pitiful equality before the law, as it is sometimes tarmed, for that may be no equality at all; but, I mean an equality that is substantial, and which must be restored, when the working of the law has deranged it. Fellow-citizens, do you know what leap-year means? I dare say some of you don't, the ladies in partic'lar not giving much attention to astronomy. Well, I have inquired, and it is this:—The 'arth revolves around the sun in a year, as we all know. And we count three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, we all know. But, the 'arth is a few hours longer than three hundred and sixty-five days, in making its circuit—nearly six hours longer. Now, everybody knows that 4 times 6 makes 24, and so a twenty-ninth day is put into February, every fourth year, to restore the lost time; another change being to be made a long distance ahead to settle the fractions. Thus will it be with Democracy. Human natur' can't devise laws yet, that will keep all things on an exactly equal footing, and political leap-years must be introduced into the political calendar, to restore the equilibrium. In astronomy, we must divide up anew the hours and minutes; in humanity, we must, from time to time, divide up the land."
But, I cannot follow this inflated fool any longer; for he was quite as much of fool as of knave, though partaking largely of the latter character. It was plain that he carried many of his notions much farther than a good portion of his audience carried theirs; though, whenever he touched upon anti-rentism, he hit a chord that vibrated through the whole assembly. That the tenants ought to own their farms, and pay no more rents, AND POCKET ALL THE BENEFITS OF THEIR OWN PREVIOUS LABOURS, THOUGH THESE LABOURS HAD BEEN CONSIDERED IN THE EARLIER RENTS, AND WERE, INDEED, STILL CONSIDERED, IN THE LOW RATES AT WHICH THE LANDS WERE LET, was a doctrine all could understand; and few were they, I am sorry to say, who did not betray how much self-love and self-interest had obscured the sense of right.
The lecture, such as it was, lasted more than two hours; and when it was done, an individual rose, in the character of a chairman—when did three Americans ever get together to discuss anything, that they had not a chairman and secretary, and all the parliamentary forms?—and invited any one present, who might entertain views different from the speaker, to give his opinion. Never before did I feel so tempted to speak in public. My first impulse was to throw away the wig, and come out in my own person, and expose the shallow trash that had just been uttered. I believe even I, unaccustomed as I was to public speaking, could easily have done this, and I whispered as much to my uncle, who was actually on his feet, to perform the office for me, when the sound of "Mr. Chairman," from a different part of the church, anticipated him. Looking round, I recognised at once the face of the intelligent mechanic, named Hall, whom we had met at Mooseridge, on our way to the Nest. I took my seat, at once, perfectly satisfied that the subject was in good hands.
This speaker commenced with great moderation, both of manner and tone, and, indeed, he preserved them throughout. His utterance, accent and language, of course, were all tinctured by his habits and associations; but his good sense and his good principles were equally gifts from above. More of the "true image of his maker" was to be found in that one individual than existed in fifty common men. He saw clearly, spoke clearly, and demonstrated effectively. As he was well known in that vicinity and generally respected, he was listened to with profound attention, and spoke like a man who stood in no dread of tar and feathers. Had the same sentiments been delivered by one in a fine coat, and a stranger, or even by myself, who had so much at stake, very many of them would have been incontinently set down as aristocratic, and not to be tolerated, the most sublimated lover of equality occasionally falling into these little contradictions.
Hall commenced by reminding the audience that they all knew him, and knew he was no landlord. He was a mechanic, and a labouring man, like most of themselves, and had no interest that could be separate from the general good of society. This opening was a little homage to prejudice, since reason is reason, and right right, let them come whence they will. "I, too, am a democrat," he went on to say, "but I do not understand democracy to mean anything like that which has been described by the last speaker. I tell that gentleman plainly, that if he is a democrat, I am none; and if I am a democrat, he is none. By democracy I understand a government in which the sovereign power resides in the body of the nation; and not in a few, or in one. But this principle no more gives the body of the people authority to act wrong, than in a monarchy, in which the sovereign power resides in one man, that one man has a right to act wrong. By equality, I do not understand anything more than equality before the law—now, if the law had said that when the late Malbone Littlepage died, his farms should go not to his next of kin, or to his devisee, but to his neighbours, then that would have been the law to be obeyed, although it would be a law destructive of civilization, since men would never accumulate property to go to the public. Something nearer home is necessary to make men work, and deny themselves what they like.
"The gentleman has told us of a sort of political leap-year that is to regulate the social calender. I understand him to mean that when property has got to be unequal, it must be divided up, in order that men may make a new start. I fear he will have to dispense with leap years, and come to leap months, or leap weeks, ay, or even to leap days; for, was the property of this township divided up this very morning, and in this meetin'-us, it would get to be unequal before night. Some folks can't keep money when they have it; and others can't keep their hands off it.
"Then, again, if Hugh Littlepage's property is to be divided, the property of all of Hugh Littlepage's neighbours ought to be divided too, to make even an appearance of equality; though it would be but an appearance of equality, admitting that were done, since Hugh Littlepage has more than all the rest of the town put together. Yes, fellow-citizens, Hugh Littlepage pays, at this moment, one-twentieth of the taxes of this whole county. That is about the proportion of Ravensnest; and that tax, in reality, comes out of his pockets, as much the greater part of the taxes of Rensselaer and Albany counties, if you will except the cities they contain, are paid by the Rensselaers. It won't do to tell me the tenants pay the taxes, for I know better. We all know that the probable amount of the taxes is estimated in the original bargain, and is so much deducted from the rent, and comes out of the landlord if it come out of anybody. There is a good reason why the tenant should pay it, and a reason that is altogether in his interest; because the law would make his oxen, and horses, and carts liable for the taxes, should the landlord neglect to pay the taxes. The collector always sells personals for a tax if he can find them on the property; and by deducting it from the rent, and paying it himself, the tenant makes himself secure against that loss. To say that a tenant don't take any account of the taxes he will be likely to pay, in making his bargain, is as if one should say he is non com. and not fit to be trusted with his own affairs. There are men, in this community, I am sorry to say, who wish a law passed to tax the rents on durable leases, or on all leases, in order to choke the landlords off from their claims, but such men are true friends to neither justice nor their country. Such a law would be a tax on the incomes of a particular class of society, and on no other. It is a law that would justify the aggrieved parties in taking up arms to resist it, unless the law would give 'em relief, as I rather think it would. By removing into another State, however, they would escape the tax completely, laugh at those who framed it, who would incur the odium of doing an impotent wrong, and get laughed at as well as despised, besides injuring the State by drawing away its money to be spent out of its limits. Think, for one moment, of the impression that would be made of New York justice, if a hundred citizens of note and standing were to be found living in Philadelphia or Paris, and circulating to the world the report that they were exiles to escape a special taxation! The more the matter was inquired into, the worse it must appear; for men may say what they please, to be ready ag'in election time, as there is but one piece, or parcel of property to tax, it is an income tax, and nothing else. What makes the matter still worse is, that every man of sense will know that it is taxing the same person twice, substantially for the same thing, since the landlord has the direct land tax deducted from the rent in the original bargain.
"As for all this cry about aristocracy, I don't understand it. Hugh Littlepage has just as good a right to his ways as I have to mine. The gentleman says he needs gold spoons and silver forks to eat with. Well, what of that? I dare say the gentleman himself finds a steel knife and fork useful, and has no objection to a silver, or, at least, to a pewter spoon. Now, there are folks that use wooden forks, or no forks, and who are glad to get horn spoons; and they might call that gentleman himself an aristocrat. This setting of ourselves up as the standard in all things is anything but liberty. If I don't like to eat my dinner with a man who uses a silver fork, no man in this country can compel me. On the other hand, if young Mr. Littlepage don't like a companion who chews tobacco, as I do, he ought to be left to follow his own inclination.
"Then, this doctrine that one man's as good as another has got two sides to it. One man ought to have the same general rights as another, I am ready to allow; but if one man is as good as another, why do we have the trouble and cost of elections? We might draw lots, as we do for jurors, and save a good deal of time and money. We all know there is ch'ice in men, and I think that so long as the people have their ch'ice in sayin' who shall and who shall not be their agents, they've got all they have any right to. So long as this is done, the rest of the world may be left to follow their own ways, provided they obey the laws.
"Then, I am no great admirer of them that are always telling the people they're parfect. I know this county pretty well, as well as most in it; and if there be a parfect man in Washington county, I have not yet fallen in with him. Ten millions of imparfect men won't make one parfect man, and so I don't look for perfection in the people any more than I do in princes. All I look for in democracy is to keep the reins in so many hands as to prevent a few from turning everything to their own account; still, we mustn't forget that, when a great many do go wrong, it is much worse than when a few go wrong.
"If my son didn't inherit the property of Malbone Littlepage, neither will Malbone Littlepage's son inherit mine. We are on a footing in that respect. As to paying rent, which some persons think so hard, what would they do if they had no house to live in, or farm to work? If folks wish to purchase houses and farms, no one can prevent them if they have money to do it with; and if they have not, is it expected other people are to provide them with such things out of their own——"
Here the speaker was interrupted by a sudden whooping, and the Injins came pressing into the house in a way to drive in all the aisles before them. Men, women and children leaped from the windows, the distance being trifling, while others made their escape by the two side-doors, the Injins coming in only by the main entrance. In less time than it takes to record the fact, the audience had nearly all dispersed.
END OF VOL. I.
 Mr. Hugh Littlepage writes a little sharply, but there is truth in all he says, at the bottom. His tone is probably produced by the fact that there is so serious an attempt to deprive him of his old paternal estate, an attempt which is receiving support in high quarters. In addition to this provocation, the Littlepages, as the manuscript shows farther on, are traduced, as one means of effecting the objects of the anti-renters; no man, in any community in which it is necessary to work on public sentiment in order to accomplish such a purpose, ever being wronged without being calumniated. As respects the inns, truth compels me, as an old traveller, to say that Mr. Littlepage has much reason for what he says. I have met with a better bed in the lowest French tavern I ever was compelled to use, and in one instance I slept in an inn frequented by carters, than in the best purely country inn in America. In the way of neatness, however, more is usually to be found in our New York village taverns than in the public hotels of Paris itself. As for the hit touching the intelligence of the people, it is merited; for I have myself heard subtle distinctions drawn to show that the "people" of a former generation were not as knowing as the "people" of this, and imputing the covenants of the older leases to that circumstance, instead of imputing them to their true cause, the opinions and practices of the times. Half a century's experience would induce me to say that the "people" were never particularly dull in making a bargain.—EDITOR.