A MAN FOR THE AGES
By IRVING BACHELLER
A STORY OF THE BUILDERS OF DEMOCRACY
AUTHOR OF THE LIGHT IN THE CLEARING, KEEPING UP WITH LIZZIE, ETC.
TO MY DEAR FRIEND AND COMRADE ALEXANDER GROSSET
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK IN TOKEN OF MY ESTEEM
Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; it is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN. March 21, 1864.
TO THE AGED AND HONORABLE JOSIAH TRAYLOR FROM HIS GRANDSON, A SOLDIER IN FRANCE, WHEREIN THE MOTIVE AND INSPIRATION OF THIS NARRATIVE ARE BRIEFLY PRESENTED.
In France, September 10, 1915.
At last I have got mine. I had been scampering towards the stars, like a jack-rabbit chased by barking greyhounds, when a shrapnel shell caught up with me. It sneezed all over my poor bus, and threw some junk into me as if it thought me nothing better than a kind of waste basket. Seems as if it had got tired of carrying its load and wanted to put it on me. It succeeded famously but I got home with the bus. Since then they have been taking sinkers and fish hooks out me fit only for deep water. Don't worry, I'm getting better fast. I shall play no more football and you will not see me pitching curves and running bases again. No, I shall sit in the grandstand myself hereafter and there will not be so much of me but I shall have quite a shuck on my soul for all that. I've done a lot of thinking since I have been lying on my back with nothing else to do. When your body gets kind of turned over in the ditch it's wonderful how your mind begins to hustle around the place. Until this thing happened my intellect was nothing more than a vague rumor. I had heard of it, now and then, in college, and I had hoped that it would look me up some time and ask what it could do for me, but it didn't. These days I would scarcely believe that I have a body, the poor thing being upon the jacks in this big machine shop, but my small intellect is hopping all over the earth and back again and watching every move of these high-toned mechanics with their shiny tools and white aprons. My mind and I have kind of got acquainted with each other and I'm getting attached to it. It is quite an energetic, promising young mind and I don't know but I'll try to make a permanent place for it in my business.
I've been thinking of our Democracy and of my coming over here to be chucked into this big jack pot as if my life were a small coin; of all the dear old days of the past I have thought and chiefly how the wonderful story of your life has been woven into mine—threads of wisdom and adventure and humor and romance. I like to unravel it and look at the colors. Lincoln is the strongest, longest thread in the fabric. Often I think of your description of the great, tender hands that lifted you to his shoulder when you were a boy, of the droll and kindly things that he said to you. I have laughed and cried recalling those hours of yours with Jack Kelso and Dr. John Allen and the rude young giant Abe, of which I have heard you tell so often as we sat in the firelight of a winter evening. Best of all I remember the light of your own wisdom as it glowed upon the story; how you found in Lincoln's words a prophecy of the great struggle that has come. Since I have been steering my imagination on its swift, long flights into the past I have been able to recall the very words you used: "Lincoln said that a house divided against itself must fall—that our nation could not endure part slave and part free, and it was true. Since then the world has grown incredibly small. The peoples of the earth have been drawn into one house and the affairs of each are the concern of all. With a vain, boastful and unscrupulous degenerate on the throne of Germany, it is likely to be a house divided against itself and I fear a greater struggle than the world has ever seen between the bond and the free. It will be a bloody contest but of its issue there can be no doubt because the friends of freedom are the children of light and are many. They will lay all they have upon its altars. They will be unprepared and roughly handled for a time but their reserves of material and moral strength which shall express themselves in ready sacrifice, are beyond all calculation. Only one whose life spans the wide area from Andrew Jackson to Woodrow Wilson and who has stood with Lincoln in his lonely tower and watched the flowing of the tides for three score years and ten, as I have, can be quite aware of the perils and resources of Democracy."
All these and many other things which you have said to me, dear grandfather, have helped me to understand this great thunderous drama in which I have had a part. They have helped me to endure its perils and bitter defeats. It was you who saw clearly from the first that this was the final clash between the bond and the free—an effort of the great house of God to purge itself, and you urged me to go to Canada and enlist in the struggle. For this, too, I thank you. My wounds are dear to me, knowing, as you have made me know, that I have come well by them fighting not in the interest of Great Britain or France or Russia, but in the cause of humanity. It is strange that among these men who are fighting with me I have found only one or two who seem to have a vision of the whole truth of this business.
Now I come to the point of my letter. I have an enlistment to urge upon you in the cause of humanity and there are no wounds to go with it. When I come home, as I shall be doing as soon as I am sufficiently mended, we must go to work on the story of your life so that all who wish to do so may know it as I know it. Let us go to it with all the diaries that you and your father kept, aided by your memory, and give to the world its first full view of the heart and soul of Lincoln. I have read all the biographies and anecdotes of him and yet without the story as you tell it he would have been a stranger to me. After this war, if I mistake not, Democracy will command the interest of all men. It will be the theme of themes. You tell me that we shall soon get into the struggle and turn the scale. Well, if we do, we shall have to demonstrate a swiftness of preparation and a power in the field which will astonish the world, and when it is all over the world will want to know how this potent Democracy of ours came about. The one name—Lincoln—with the background of your story, especially the background, for the trouble with all the biographies is a lack of background—will be the best answer we could give I think. Of course there are other answers, but, as there are few who dare to doubt, these days, that Lincoln is the greatest democrat since Jesus Christ, if we can only present your knowledge to the world we should do well. Again the great crowd, whom you and I desire to enlighten if we can, do not read biography or history save under the compulsion of the schools, so let us try only to tell the moving story as you have told it to me, with Lincoln striding across the scene or taking the center of the stage just as he was wont to do in your recollection of him. So we will make them to know the giant of Democracy without trying.
Duty calls. What is your answer? Please let me know by cable. Meanwhile I shall be thinking more about it. With love to all the family, from your affectionate grandson, R.L.
I Which Describes the Journey of Samson Henry Traylor and His Wife and Their Two Children and Their Dog Sambo through the Adirondack Wilderness in 1831 on Their Way to the Land of Plenty, and Especially Their Adventures in Bear Valley and No Santa Claus Land. Furthermore, It Describes the Soaping of the Brimsteads and the Capture of the Veiled Bear
II Wherein Is Recorded the Vivid Impression Made upon the Travelers by Their View of a Steam Engine and of the Famous Erie Canal. Wherein, Also, Is a Brief Account of Sundry Curious Characters Met on the Road and at a Celebration of the Fourth of July on the Big Waterway
III Wherein the Reader Is Introduced to Offut's Store and His Clerk Abe, and the Scholar Jack Kelso and His Cabin and His Daughter Bim, and Gets a First Look at Lincoln
IV Which Presents Other Log Cabin Folk and the First Steps in the Making of a New Home and Certain Incapacities of Abe
V In Which the Character of Bim Kelso Flashes Out in a Strange Adventure that Begins the Weaving of a Long Thread of Romance
VI Which Describes the Lonely Life in a Prairie Cabin and a Stirring Adventure on the Underground Railroad about the Time It Began Operations
VII In Which Mr. Eliphalet Biggs Gets Acquainted with Bim Kelso and Her Father
VIII Wherein Abe Makes Sundry Wise Remarks to the Boy Harry and Announces His Purpose to Be a Candidate for the Legislature at Kelso's Dinner Party
IX In Which Bim Kelso Makes History, While Abe and Harry and Other Good Citizens of New Salem Are Making an Effort to that End in the Indian War
X In Which Abe and Samson Wrestle and Some Raiders Come to Burn and Stay to Repent
XI In Which Abe, Elected to the Legislature, Gives What Comfort He Can to Ann Rutledge in the Beginning of Her Sorrows. Also He Goes to Springfield for New Clothes and Is Astonished by Its Pomp and the Change in Eli
XII Which Continues the Romance of Abe and Ann until the Former Leaves New Salem to Begin His Work in the Legislature. Also It Describes the Coloneling of Peter Lukins
XIII Wherein the Route of the Underground Railroad Is Surveyed and Samson and Harry Spend a Night in the Home of Henry Brimstead and Hear Surprising Revelations, Confidentially Disclosed, and Are Charmed by the Personality of His Daughter Annabel
XIV In Which Abe Returns from Vandalia and Is Engaged to Ann, and Three Interesting Slaves Arrive at the Home of Samson Traylor, Who, with Harry Needles, Has an Adventure of Much Importance on the Underground Road
XV Wherein Harry and Abe Ride Up to Springdale and Visit Kelso's and Learn of the Curious Lonesomeness of Eliphalet Biggs
XVI Wherein Young Mr. Lincoln Safely Passes Two Great Danger Points and Turns into the Highway of His Manhood
XVII Wherein Young Mr. Lincoln Betrays Ignorance of Two Highly Important Subjects, in Consequence of Which He Begins to Suffer Serious Embarrassment
XVIII In Which Mr. Lincoln, Samson and Harry Take a Long Ride Together and the Latter Visit the Flourishing Little City of Chicago
XIX Wherein Is One of the Many Private Panics Which Followed the Bursting of the Bubble of Speculation
XX Which Tells of the Settling of Abe Lincoln and the Traylors in the Village of Springfield and of Samson's Second Visit to Chicago
XXI Wherein a Remarkable School of Political Science Begins Its Sessions in the Rear of Joshua Speed's Store. Also at Samson's Fireside Honest Abe Talks of the Authority of the Law and the Right of Revolution, and Later Brings a Suit against Lionel Davis
XXII Wherein Abe Lincoln Reveals His Method of Conducting a Lawsuit in the Case of Henry Brimstead et al. vs. Lionel Davis
XXIII Which Presents the Pleasant Comedy of Individualism in the New Capital, and the Courtship of Lincoln and Mary Todd
XXIV Which Describes a Pleasant Holiday and a Pretty Stratagem
XXV Being a Brief Memoir by the Honorable and Venerable Man Known in These Pages as Josiah Traylor, Who Saw the Great Procession of Events between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson and Especially the Making and the End of Lincoln
A MAN FOR THE AGES
WHICH DESCRIBES THE JOURNEY OF SAMSON HENRY TRAYLOR AND HIS WIFE AND THEIR TWO CHILDREN AND THEIR DOG SAMBO THROUGH THE ADIRONDACK WILDERNESS IN 1831 ON THEIR WAY TO THE LAND OF PLENTY, AND ESPECIALLY THEIR ADVENTURES IN BEAR VALLEY AND NO SANTA CLAUS LAND. FURTHERMORE, IT DESCRIBES THE SOAPING OF THE BRIMSTEADS AND THE CAPTURE OF THE VEILED BEAR.
In the early summer of 1831 Samson Traylor and his wife, Sarah, and two children left their old home near the village of Vergennes, Vermont, and began their travels toward the setting sun with four chairs, a bread board and rolling-pin, a feather bed and blankets, a small looking-glass, a skillet, an axe, a pack basket with a pad of sole leather on the same, a water pail, a box of dishes, a tub of salt pork, a rifle, a teapot, a sack of meal, sundry small provisions and a violin, in a double wagon drawn by oxen. It is a pleasure to note that they had a violin and were not disposed to part with it. The reader must not overlook its full historic significance. The stern, uncompromising spirit of the Puritan had left the house of the Yankee before a violin could enter it. Humor and the love of play had preceded and cleared a way for it. Where there was a fiddle there were cheerful hearts. A young black shepherd dog with tawny points and the name of Sambo followed the wagon or explored the fields and woods it passed.
If we had been at the Congregational Church on Sunday we might have heard the minister saying to Samson, after the service, that it was hard to understand why the happiest family in the parish and the most beloved should be leaving its ancestral home to go to a far, new country of which little was known. We might also have heard Samson answer:
"It's awful easy to be happy here. We slide along in the same old groove, that our fathers traveled, from Vergennes to Paradise. We work and play and go to meetin' and put a shin plaster in the box and grow old and narrow and stingy and mean and go up to glory and are turned into saints and angels. Maybe that's the best thing that could happen to us, but Sarah and I kind o' thought we'd try a new starting place and another route to Heaven."
Then we might have seen the countenance of the minister assume a grave and troubled look. "Samson, you must not pull down the pillars of this temple," he said.
"No, it has done too much for me. I love its faults even. But we have been called and must go. A great empire is growing up in the West. We want to see it; we want to help build it."
The minister had acquired a sense of humor among those Yankees. Years later in his autobiography he tells how deeply the words of Samson had impressed him. He had answered:
"Think of us. I don't know what we shall do without your fun and the music of your laugh at the pleasure parties. In addition to being the best wrestler in the parish you are also its most able and sonorous laugher."
"Yes, Sarah and I have got the laughing habit. I guess we need a touch of misery to hold us down. But you will have other laughers. The seed has been planted here and the soil is favorable."
Samson knew many funny stories and could tell them well. His heart was as merry as The Fisher's Hornpipe. He used to say that he got the violin to help him laugh, as he found his voice failing under the strain.
Sarah and Samson had been raised on adjoining farms just out of the village. He had had little schooling, but his mind was active and well inclined. Sarah had prosperous relatives in Boston and had had the advantage of a year's schooling in that city. She was a comely girl of a taste and refinement unusual in the place and time of her birth. Many well favored youths had sought her hand, but, better than others, she liked the big, masterful, good-natured, humorous Samson, crude as he was. Naturally in her hands his timber had undergone some planing and smoothing and his thought had been gently led into new and pleasant ways. Sarah's Uncle Rogers in Boston had kept them supplied with some of the best books and magazines of the time. These they had read aloud with keen enjoyment. Moreover, they remembered what they read and cherished and thought about it.
Let us take a look at them as they slowly leave the village of their birth. The wagon is covered with tent cloth drawn over hickory arches. They are sitting on a seat overlooking the oxen in the wagon front. Tears are streaming down the face of the woman. The man's head is bent. His elbows are resting on his knees; the hickory handle of his ox whip lies across his lap, the lash at his feet. He seems to be looking down at his boots, into the tops of which his trousers have been folded. He is a rugged, blond, bearded man with kindly blue eyes and a rather prominent nose. There is a striking expression of power in the head and shoulders of Samson Traylor. The breadth of his back, the size of his wrists and hands, the color of his face betoken a man of great strength. This thoughtful, sorrowful attitude is the only evidence of emotion which he betrays. In a few minutes he begins to whistle a lively tune.
The boy Josiah—familiarly called Joe—sits beside his mother. He is a slender, sweet-faced lad. He is looking up wistfully at his mother. The little girl Betsey sits between him and her father. That evening they stopped at the house of an old friend some miles up the dusty road to the north. "Here we are—goin' west," Samson shouted to the man at the door-step.
He alighted and helped his family out of the wagon. "You go right in—I'll take care o' the oxen," said the man.
Samson started for the house with the girl under one arm and the boy under the other. A pleasant-faced woman greeted them with a hearty welcome at the door.
"You poor man! Come right in," she said.
"Poor! I'm the richest man in the world," said he. "Look at the gold on that girl's head—curly, fine gold, too—the best there is. She's Betsey—my little toy woman—half past seven years old—blue eyes—helps her mother get tired every day. Here's my toy man Josiah—yes, brown hair and brown eyes like Sarah—heart o' gold—helps his mother, too—six times one year old."
"What pretty faces!" said the woman as she stooped and kissed them.
"Yes, ma'am. Got 'em from the fairies," Samson went on. "They have all kinds o' heads for little folks, an' I guess they color 'em up with the blood o' roses an' the gold o' buttercups an' the blue o' violets. Here's this wife o' mine. She's richer'n I am. She owns all of us. We're her slaves."
"Looks as young as she did the day she was married—nine years ago," said the woman.
"Exactly!" Samson exclaimed. "Straight as an arrow and proud! I don't blame her. She's got enough to make her proud I say. I fall in love again every time I look into her big, brown eyes."
The talk and laughter brought the dog into the house.
"There's Sambo, our camp follower," said Samson. "He likes us, one and all, but he often feels sorry for us because we can not feel the joy that lies in buried bones and the smell of a liberty pole or a gate post."
They had a joyous evening and a restful night with these old friends and resumed their journey soon after daylight. They ferried across the lake at Burlington and fared away over the mountains and through the deep forest on the Chateaugay trail.
Since the Pilgrims landed between the measureless waters and the pathless wilderness they and their descendants had been surrounded by the lure of mysteries. It filled the imagination of the young with gleams of golden promise. The love of adventure, the desire to explore the dark, infested and beautiful forest, the dream of fruitful sunny lands cut with water courses, shored with silver and strewn with gold beyond it—these were the only heritage of their sons and daughters save the strength and courage of the pioneer. How true was this dream of theirs gathering detail and allurement as it passed from sire to son! On distant plains to the west were lands more lovely and fruitful than any of their vision; in mountains far beyond was gold enough to gild the dome of the heavens, as the sun was wont to do at eventide, and silver enough to put a fairly respectable moon in it. Yet for generations their eyes were not to see, their hands were not to touch these things. They were only to push their frontier a little farther to the west and hold the dream and pass it on to their children.
Those early years of the nineteenth century held the first days of fulfillment. Samson and Sarah Traylor had the old dream in their hearts when they first turned their faces to the West. For years Sarah had resisted it, thinking of the hardships and perils in the way of the mover. Samson, a man of twenty-nine when he set out from his old home, was said to be "always chasing the bird in the bush." He was never content with the thing in hand. There were certain of their friends who promised to come and join them when, at last, they should have found the land of plenty. But most of the group that bade them good-by thought it a foolish enterprise and spoke lightly of Samson when they were gone. America has undervalued the brave souls who went west in wagons, without whose sublime courage and endurance the plains would still be an unplowed wilderness. Often we hear them set down as seedy, shiftless dreamers who could not make a living at home. They were mostly the best blood of the world and the noblest of God's missionaries. Who does not honor them above the thrifty, comfort loving men and women who preferred to stay at home, where risks were few, the supply of food sure and sufficient and the consolations of friendship and religion always at hand. Samson and Sarah preferred to enlist and take their places in the front battle line of Civilization. They had read a little book called The Country of the Sangamon. The latter was a word of the Pottawatomies meaning land of plenty. It was the name of a river in Illinois draining "boundless, flowery meadows of unexampled beauty and fertility, belted with timber, blessed with shady groves, covered with game and mostly level, without a stick or a stone to vex the plowman." Thither they were bound to take up a section of government land.
They stopped for a visit with Elisha Howard and his wife, old friends of theirs, who lived in the village of Malone, which was in Franklin County, New York. There they traded their oxen for a team of horses. They were large gray horses named Pete and Colonel. The latter was fat and good-natured. His chief interest in life was food. Pete was always looking for food and perils. Colonel was the near horse. Now and then Samson threw a sheepskin over his back and put the boy on it and tramped along within arm's reach of Joe's left leg. This was a great delight to the little lad.
They proceeded at a better pace to the Black River country, toward which, in the village of Canton, they tarried again for a visit with Captain Moody and Silas Wright, both of whom had taught school in the town of Vergennes.
They proceeded through DeKalb, Richville and Gouverneur and Antwerp and on to the Sand Plains. They had gone far out of their way for a look at these old friends of theirs.
Every day the children would ask many questions, as they rode along, mainly about the beasts and birds in the dark shadows of the forest through which they passed. These were answered patiently by their father and mother and every answer led to other queries.
"You're a funny pair," said their father one day. "You have to turn over every word we say to see what's under it. I used to be just like ye, used to go out in the lot and tip over every stick and stone I could lift to see the bugs and crickets run. You're always hopin' to see a bear or a panther or a fairy run out from under my remarks."
"Wonder why we don't see no bears?" Joe asked. "'Cause they always see us first or hear us comin'," said his father. "If you're goin' to see ol' Uncle Bear ye got to pay the price of admission."
"What's that?" Joe asked.
"Got to go still and careful so you'll see him first. If this old wagon didn't talk so loud and would kind o' go on its tiptoes maybe we'd see him. He don't like to be seen. Seems so he was kind o' shamed of himself, an' I wouldn't wonder if be was. He's done a lot o' things to be 'shamed of."
"What's he done?" Joe asked.
"Ketched sheep and pigs and fawns and run off with 'em."
"What does he do with 'em?"
"Eats 'em up. Now you quit. Here's a lot o' rocks and mud and I got to 'tend to business. You tackle yer mother and chase her up and down the hills a while and let me get my breath."
Samson's diary tells how, at the top of the long, steep hills he used to cut a small tree by the roadside and tie its butt to the rear axle and hang on to its branches while his wife drove the team. This held their load, making an effective brake.
Traveling through the forest, as they had been doing for weeks, while the day waned, they looked for a brookside on which they could pass the night with water handy. Samson tethered, fed and watered their horses, and while Sarah and the children built a fire and made tea and biscuits, he was getting bait and catching fish in the stream.
"In a few minutes from the time I wet my hook a mess of trout would be dressed and sizzling, with a piece of salt pork, in the pan, or it was a bad day for fishing," he writes.
After supper the wagon was partly unloaded, the feather bed laid upon the planks under the wagon roof and spread with blankets. Then Samson sang songs and told stories or played upon the violin to amuse the family. The violin invariably woke the birds in the tree-tops, and some, probably thrushes or warblers or white throated sparrows, began twittering. Now and then one would express his view of the disturbance with a little phrase of song. Often the player paused to hear these musical whispers "up in the gallery," as he was wont to call it.
Often if the others were weary and depressed he would dance merrily around the fire, playing a lively tune, with Sambo glad to lend a helping foot and much noise to the program. If mosquitos and flies were troublesome Samson built smudges, filling their camp with the smoky incense of dead leaves, in which often the flavor of pine and balsam was mingled. By and by the violin was put away and all knelt by the fire while Sarah prayed aloud for protection through the night. So it will be seen that they carried with them their own little theater, church and hotel.
Soon after darkness fell, Sarah and the children lay down for the night, while Samson stretched out with his blankets by the fire in good weather, the loaded musket and the dog Sambo lying beside him. Often the howling of wolves in the distant forest kept them awake, and the dog muttering and barking for hours.
Samson woke the camp at daylight and a merry song was his reveille while he led the horses to their drink.
"Have a good night?" Sarah would ask.
"Perfect!" he was wont to answer. "But when the smudges went out the mosquiters got to peckin' my face."
"Mine feels like a pincushion," Sarah would often answer. "Will you heat up a little water for us to wash with?"
"You better believe I will. Two more hedge hogs last night, but Samba let 'em alone."
Sambo had got his mouth sored by hedge hogs some time before and had learned better than to have any fuss with them.
When they set out in the morning Samson was wont to say to the little lad, who generally sat beside him: "Well, my boy, what's the good word this morning?" Whereupon Joe would say, parrot like:
"God help us all and make His face to shine upon us."
"Well said!" his father would answer, and so the day's journey began.
Often, near its end, they came to some lonely farmhouse. Always Samson would stop and go to the door to ask about the roads, followed by little Joe and Betsey with secret hopes. One of these hopes was related to cookies and maple sugar and buttered bread and had been cherished since an hour of good fortune early in the trip and encouraged by sundry good-hearted women along the road. Another was the hope of seeing a baby—mainly, it should be said, the hope of Betsey. Joe's interest was merely an echo of hers. He regarded babies with an open mind, as it were, for the opinions of his sister still had some weight with him, she being a year and a half older than he, but babies invariably disappointed him, their capabilities being so restricted. To be sure, they could make quite a noise, and the painter was said to imitate it, but since Joe had learned that they couldn't bite he had begun to lose respect for them. Still, not knowing what might happen, he always took a look at every baby.
The children were lifted out of the wagon to stretch their legs at sloughs and houses. They were sure to be close behind the legs of their father when he stood at a stranger's door. Then, the night being near, they were always invited to put their horses in the barn and tarry until next morning. This was due in part to the kindly look and voice of Samson, but mostly to the wistful faces of the little children—a fact unsuspected by their parents. What motherly heart could resist the silent appeal of children's faces or fail to understand it? Those were memorable nights for Sarah and Joe and Betsey. In a letter to her brother the woman said:
"You don't know how good it seemed to see a woman and talk to her, and we talked and talked until midnight, after all the rest were asleep. She let me hold the baby in my lap until it was put to bed. How good it felt to have a little warm body in my arms again and feel it breathing! In all my life I never saw a prettier baby. It felt good to be in a real house and sleep in a soft, warm bed and to eat jelly and cookies and fresh meat and potatoes and bread and butter. Samson played for them and kept them laughing with his stories until bedtime. They wouldn't take a cent and gave us a dozen eggs in a basket and a piece of venison when we went away. Their name is Sanford and I have promised to write to them. They are good Christian folks and they say that maybe they will join us in the land of plenty if we find it all we expect."
They had two rainy, cold days, with a northeast wind blowing and deep mud in the roads. The children complained of the cold. After a few miles' travel they stopped at an old hunter's camp facing a great mossy rock near the road.
"Guess we'll stop here for a visit," said Samson.
"Who we goin' to visit?" Joe asked.
"The trees and the fairies," said his father. "Don't ye hear 'em askin' us to stop? They say the wind is blowin' bad an' that we'd better stop an' make some good weather. They offer us a house and a roof to cover it and some wood to burn. I guess we'll be able to make our own sunshine in a few minutes."
Samson peeled some bark and repaired the roof and, with his flint and tinder and some fat pine, built a roaring fire against the rock and soon had his family sitting, in its warm glow, under shelter. Near by was another rude framework of poles set in crotches partly covered with bark which, with a little repairing, made a sufficient shelter for Pete and Colonel. Down by a little brook a few rods away he cut some balsams and returned presently with his arms full of the fragrant boughs. These he dried in the heat of the fire and spread in a thick mat on the ground under the lean-to. It was now warm with heat, reflected from the side of the great rock it faced. The light of the leaping flames fell upon the travelers.
"Ye see ye can make yer own weather and fill it with sunshine if ye only know how," said Samson, as he sat down and brushed a coal out of the ashes and swiftly picked it up with his fingers and put it into the bowl of his clay pipe. "Mother and I read in a book that the wood was full o' sunlight all stored up and ready for us to use. Ye just set it afire and out comes the warm sunlight for days like this. God takes pretty good care of us—don't He?"
The heat of other fires had eaten away a few inches of the base of the rock. Under its overhang some one had written with a black coal the words "Bear Valley Camp." On this suggestion the children called for a bear story, and lying back on the green mat of boughs, Samson told them of the great bear of Camel's Hump which his father had slain, and many other tales of the wilderness.
They lived two days in this fragrant, delightful shelter until the storm had passed and the last of their corn meal had been fed to the horses. They were never to forget the comfort and the grateful odors of their camp in Bear Valley.
On a warm, bright day in the sand country after the storm they came to a crude, half finished, frame house at the edge of a wide clearing. The sand lay in drifts on one side of the road. It had evidently moved in the last wind. A sickly vegetation covered the field. A ragged, barefooted man and three scrawny, ill clad children stood in the dooryard. It was noon-time. A mongrel dog, with a bit of the hound in him, came bounding and barking toward the wagon and pitched upon Sambo and quickly got the worst of it. Sambo, after much experience in self-defense, had learned that the best way out of such trouble was to seize a leg and hang on. This he did. The mongrel began to yelp. Samson lifted both dogs by the backs of their necks, broke the hold of Sambo and tossed aside the mongrel, who ran away whining.
"That reminds me of a bull that tackled a man over in Vermont," said he. "The man had a club in his hand. He dodged and grabbed the bull's tail and beat him all over the lot. As the bull roared, the man hollered: 'I'd like to know who began this fuss anyway.'"
The stranger laughed.
"Is that your house?" Samson asked.
The man stepped nearer and answered in a low, confidential tone:
"Say, mister, this is a combination poorhouse and idiot asylum. I am the idiot. These are the poor."
He pointed to the children.
"You don't talk like an idiot," said Samson.
The man looked around and leaned over the wheel as if about to impart a secret.
"Say, I'll tell ye," he said in a low tone. "A real, first-class idiot never does. You ought to see my actions."
"This land is an indication that you're right," Samson laughed.
"It proves it," the stranger whispered.
"Have you any water here?" Samson asked.
The stranger leaned nearer and said in his most confidential tone: "Say, mister, it's about the best in the United States. Right over yonder in the edge o' the woods—a spring-cold as ice—Simon-pure water. 'Bout the only thing this land'll raise is water."
"This land looks to me about as valuable as so much sheet lightnin' and I guess it can move just about as quick," said Samson.
The stranger answered in a low tone: "Say, I'll tell ye, it's a wild cow—don't stand still long 'nough to give ye time to git anything out of it. I've toiled and prayed, but it's hard to get much out of it."
"Praying won't do this land any good," Samson answered. "What it needs is manure and plenty of it. You can't raise anything here but fleas. It isn't decent to expect God to help run a flea farm. He knows too much for that, and if you keep it up He'll lose all respect for ye. If you were to buy another farm and bring it here and put it down on top o' this one, you could probably make a living. I wouldn't like to live where the wind could dig my potatoes."
Again the stranger leaned toward Samson and said in a half-whisper: "Say, mister, I wouldn't want you to mention it, but talkin' o' fleas, I'm like a dog with so many of 'em that he don't have time to eat. Somebody has got to soap him or he'll die. You see, I traded my farm over in Vermont for five hundred acres o' this sheet lightnin', unsight an' unseen. We was all crazy to go West an' here we are. If it wasn't for the deer an' the fish I guess we'd 'a' starved to death long ago."
"Where did ye come from?"
"What's yer name?"
"Henry Brimstead," the stranger whispered.
"Son of Elijah Brimstead?"
Samson took his hand and shook it warmly. "Well, I declare!" he exclaimed. "Elijah Brimstead was a friend o' my father."
"Who are you?" Brimstead asked.
"I'm one o' the Traylors o' Vergennes."
"My father used to buy cattle of Henry Traylor."
"Henry was my father. Haven't you let 'em know about your bad luck?"
The man resumed his tone of confidence. "Say, I'll tell ye," he answered. "A man that's as big a fool as I am ought not to advertise it. A brain that has treated its owner as shameful as mine has treated me should be compelled to do its own thinkin' er die. I've invented some things that may sell. I've been hopin' my luck would turn."
"It'll turn when you turn it," Samson assured him.
Brimstead thoughtfully scuffed the sand with his bare foot. In half a moment he stepped to the wheel and imparted this secret: "Say, mister, if you've any more doubt o' my mental condition, I'm goin' to tell ye that they've discovered valuable ore in my land two miles back o' this road, an' I'm hopin' to make a fortune. Don't that prove my case?"
"Any man that puts his faith in the bowels of the earth can have my vote," said Samson.
Brimstead leaned close to Samson's ear and said in a tone scarcely audible:
"My brother Robert has his own idiot asylum. It's a real handsome one an' he has made it pay, but I wouldn't swap with him."
Samson smiled, remembering that Robert had a liquor store. "Look here, Henry Brimstead, we're hungry," he said. "If ye furnish the water, we'll skirmish around for bread and give ye as good a dinner as ye ever had in yer life."
Henry took the horses to his barn and watered and fed them. Then he brought two pails of water from the spring. Meanwhile Samson started a fire in a grove of small poplars by the roadside and began broiling venison, and Sarah got out the bread board and the flour and the rolling-pin and the teapot. As she waited for the water she called the three strange children to her side. The oldest was a girl of thirteen, with a face uncommonly refined and attractive. In spite of her threadbare clothes, she had a neat and cleanly look and gentle manners. The youngest was a boy of four. They were a pathetic trio.
Joe had been telling them about Santa Claus and showing them a jack-knife which had come down the chimney in his pack at Christmas time and describing a dress of his mother's that had gold and silver buttons on it. The little six-year-old girl had asked him many questions about his mother and had stood for some moments looking up into Sarah's face. The girl timidly felt the dress and hair of the woman and touched her wedding ring.
"Come and wash your faces and hands," Joe demanded as soon as the water came.
This they did while he poured from a dipper.
"Nice people always wash before they eat," he reminded them.
Then he showed them his bear stick, with the assurance that it had killed a hedge hog, omitting the unimportant fact that his father had wielded it. The ferocity of hedge hogs was a subject on which he had large information. He told how one of their party had come near getting his skin sewed on a barn door. A hedge hog had come and asked Sambo if he would have some needles. Sambo had never seen a hedge hog, so he said that he guessed he would.
Then the hedge hog said: "Help yourself."
Sambo went to take some and just got his face full of 'em so it looked like a head o' barley. They had to be took out with a pinchers or they'd 'a' sewed his skin on to a barn door. That was their game. They tried to sew everybody's skin on a barn door.
Every night the hedge hog came around and said: "Needles, needles, anybody want some needles."
Now Sambo always answered: "No thank you, I've had enough."
"Where's your mother?" Sarah asked of the ten-year-old girl.
"Dead. Died when my little brother was born."
"Who takes care of you?"
"Father and—God. Father says God does most of it."
"Oh dear!" Sarah exclaimed, with a look of pity.
They had a good dinner of fresh biscuit and honey and venison and eggs and tea. While they were eating Samson told Brimstead of the land of plenty.
After dinner, while Brimstead was bringing the team, one of his children, the blonde, pale, tattered little girl of six, climbed into the wagon seat and sat holding a small rag doll, which Sarah had given her. When they were ready to go she stubbornly refused to get down.
"I'm goin' away," she said. "I'm goin' aw-a-ay off to find my mother. I don't like this place. There ain't no Santa Claus here. I'm goin' away."
She clung to the wagon seat and cried loudly when her father took her down.
"Ain't that enough to break a man's heart?" he said with a sorrowful look.
Then Samson turned to Brimstead and asked:
"Look here, Henry Brimstead, are you a drinking man? Honor bright now."
"Never drink a thing but water and tea."
"Do you know of anybody who'll give ye anything for what you own here?"
"There's a man in the next town who offered me three hundred and fifty dollars for my interest."
"How far is it?"
"Come along with us and get the money if you can. I'll help ye fit up and go where ye can earn a living."
"I'd like to, but my horse is lame and I can't leave the children."
"Put 'em right in this wagon and come on. If there's a livery in the place, I'll send ye home."
So the children rode in the wagon and Samson and Brimstead walked, while Sarah drove the team to the next village. There the good woman bought new clothes for the whole Brimstead family and Brimstead sold his interest in the sand plains and bought a good pair of horses, with harness and some cloth for a wagon cover, and had fifty dollars in his pocket and a new look in his face. He put his children on the backs of the horses and led them to his old home, with a sack of provisions on his shoulder. He was to take the track of the Traylors next day and begin his journey to the shores of the Sangamon.
Samson had asked about him in the village and learned that he was an honest man who had suffered bad luck. A neighbor's wife had taken his children for two years, but bad health had compelled her to give them up.
"God does the most of it," Sarah quoted from the young girl, as they rode on. "I guess He's saved 'em from the poorhouse to-day. I hope they'll ketch up with us. I'd like to look after those children a little. They need a mother so."
"They'll ketch up all right," said Samson. "We're loaded heavier than they'll be and goin' purty slow. They'll be leavin' No Santa Claus Land to-morrow mornin'. Seems so God spoke to me when that girl said there wa'n't no Santa Claus there."
"No Santa Claus Land is a good name for it," said Sarah.
They got into a bad swale that afternoon and Samson had to cut some corduroy to make a footing for team and wagon and do much prying with the end of a heavy pole under the front axle. By and by the horses pulled them out.
"When ol' Colonel bends his neck things have to move, even if he is up to his belly in the mud," said Samson.
As the day waned they came to a river in the deep woods. It was an exquisite bit of forest with the bells of a hermit thrush ringing in one of its towers. Their call and the low song of the river were the only sounds in the silence. The glow of the setting sun which lighted the western windows of the forest had a color like that of the music-golden. Long shafts of it fell through the tree columns upon the road here and there. Our weary travelers stopped on the rude plank bridge that crossed the river. Odors of balsam and pine and tamarack came in a light, cool breeze up the river valley.
"It smells like Bear Valley," said Sarah.
"What was that poetry you learned for the church party?" Samson asked.
"I guess the part of it you're thinking of is:
'And west winds with musky wing Down the cedarn alleys fling 'Nard and Cassia's balmy smells.'"
"That's it," said Samson. "I guess we'll stop at this tavern till to-morrow."
Joe was asleep and they laid him on the blankets until supper was ready.
Soon after supper Samson shot a deer which had waded into the rapids. Fortunately, it made the opposite shore before it fell. All hands spent that evening dressing the deer and jerking the best of the meat. This they did by cutting the meat into strips about the size of a man's hand and salting and laying it on a rack, some two feet above a slow fire, and covering it with green boughs. The heat and smoke dried the meat in the course of two or three hours and gave it a fine flavor. Delicious beyond any kind of meat is venison treated in this manner. If kept dry, it will retain its flavor and its sweetness for a month or more.
Samson was busy with this process long after the others had gone to bed. When it was nearly finished he left the meat on the rack, the fire beneath it having burned low, crossed the river to the wagon, got his blanket, reloaded his gun and lay down to sleep with the dog beside him.
Some hours later he was awakened by "a kind of a bull beller," as he described it. The dog ran barking across the river. Samson seized the gun and followed him. The first dim light of the morning showed through the tree-tops. Some big animal was growling and roaring and rolling over and over in a clump of bushes near the meat rack. In half a moment it rolled out upon the open ground near Samson. The latter could now see that it was a large black bear engaged in a desperate struggle with the pack basket. The bear had forced his great head into the top of it and its hoop had got a firm hold on his neck. He was sniffing and growling and shaking his head and striking with both fore paws to free himself. Sambo had laid hold of his stub tail and the bear was trying in vain to reach him, with the dog dodging as he held on. The movements of both were so lively that Samson had to step like a dancer to keep clear of them. The bear, in sore trouble, leaped toward him and the swaying basket touched the side of the man. Back into the bushes and out again they struggled, Sambo keeping his hold. A more curious and ludicrous sight never gladdened the eye of a hunter. Samson had found it hard to get a chance to shoot at the noisy, swift torrent of fur. Suddenly the bear rose on his hind legs and let out an angry woof and gave the basket a terrific shaking. In this brief pause a ball from the rifle went to his heart and he fell. Samson jumped forward, seized the dog's collar and pulled him away while the bear struggled in his death throes. Then the man started for camp, while his great laugh woke distant echoes in the forest.
"Bear steak for dinner!" he shouted to Sarah and the children, who stood shivering with fright on the bridge.
Again his laughter filled the woods with sound.
"Gracious Peter! What in the world was it?" Sarah asked.
"Well, ye see, ol' Uncle Bear came to steal our bacon an' the bacon kind o' stole him," said Samson, between peals of laughter, the infection of which went to the heart and lips of every member of the family. "Shoved his head into the pack basket and the pack basket wouldn't let go. It said: 'This is the first time I ever swallered a bear, an' if you don't mind I'll stay on the outside. I kind o' like you.' But the bear did mind. He didn't want to be et up by a basket. He'd always done the swallerin' himself an' he hollered an' swore at the basket an' tried to scare it off. Oh, I tell ye he was awful sassy and impudent to that old thing, but it hung on and the way he flounced around, with Sambo clingin' to his tail, and the bear thinkin' that he was bein' swallered at both ends, was awful. Come an' see him."
They went to the bear, now dead. Sambo ran ahead of them and laid hold of the bear's stump of a tail and shook it savagely, as if inclined to take too much credit upon himself. The hoop of the pack basket had so tight a hold upon the bear's neck that it took a strong pull to get it back over his head. One side of the basket had been protected from the bear's claws by a pad of sole leather—the side which, when the basket was in use, rested on the back of its carrier. His claws had cut nearly through it and torn a carrying strap into shreds.
"I guess he'd 'a' tore off his veil if the dog had give him a little more time," said Samson. "Ol' Uncle Bear had trouble at both ends and didn't know which way to turn."
A good-sized piece of bacon still, lay in the bottom of the basket.
"I wouldn't wonder if that would taste pretty beary now," said Samson, as he surveyed the bacon. "It's been sneezed at and growled on so much. Betsey, you take that down to the shore o' the river there and wash the bear out of it. I'll skin him while yer mother is gettin' breakfast. There's plenty o' live coals under the venison rack, I guess."
They set out rather late that morning. As usual, Joe stood by the head of Colonel while the latter lapped brown sugar from the timid palm of the boy. Then the horse was wont to touch the face of Joe with his big, hairy lips as a tribute to his generosity. Colonel had seemed to acquire a singular attachment for the boy and the dog, while Pete distrusted both of them. He had never a moment's leisure, anyhow, being always busy with his work or the flies. A few breaks in the pack basket had been repaired with green withes. It creaked with its load of jerked venison when put aboard. The meat of the bear was nicely wrapped in his hide and placed beside it. They sold meat and hide and bounty rights in the next village they reached for thirty long shillings.
"That cheers up the ol' weasel," Samson declared, as they went on.
"He got a hard knock after we met the Brimsteads," said Sarah.
"Yes, ma'am! and I'm not sorry either. He's got to come out of his hole once in a while. I tell ye God kind o' spoke to us back there in No Santa Claus Land. He kind o' spoke to us."
After a little silence, Sarah said: "I guess He's apt to speak in the voices of little children."
His weasel was a dried pig's bladder of unusual size in which he carried his money. Samson had brought with him a fairly good quantity of money for those days. In a smaller bladder he carried his tobacco.
Farther on the boy got a sore throat. Sarah bound a slice of pork around it and Samson built a camp by the roadside, in which, after a good fire was started, they gave him a hemlock sweat. This they did by steeping hemlock in pails of hot water and, while the patient sat in a chair by the fireside, a blanket was spread about him and pinned close to his neck. Under the blanket they put the pails of steaming hemlock tea. After his sweat and a day and night in bed, with a warm fire burning in front of the shanty, Joe was able to resume his seat in the wagon. They spoke of the Brimsteads and thought it strange that they had not come along.
On the twenty-ninth day after their journey began they came in sight of the beautiful green valley of the Mohawk. As they looked from the hills they saw the roof of the forest dipping down to the river shores and stretching far to the east and west and broken, here and there, by small clearings. Soon they could see the smoke and spires of the thriving village of Utica.
WHEREIN IS RECORDED THE VIVID IMPRESSION MADE UPON THE TRAVELERS BY THEIR VIEW OF A STEAM ENGINE AND OF THE FAMOUS ERIE CANAL. WHEREIN, ALSO, IS A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF SUNDRY CURIOUS CHARACTERS MET ON THE ROAD AND AT A CELEBRATION OF THE FOURTH OF JULY ON THE BIG WATERWAY.
At Utica they bought provisions and a tin trumpet for Joe, and a doll with a real porcelain face for Betsey, and turned into the great main thoroughfare of the north leading eastward to Boston and westward to a shore of the midland seas. This road was once the great trail of the Iroquois, by them called the Long House, because it had reached from the Hudson to Lake Erie, and in their day had been well roofed with foliage. Here the travelers got their first view of a steam engine. The latter stood puffing and smoking near the village of Utica, to the horror and amazement of the team and the great excitement of those in the wagon. The boy clung to his father for fear of it.
Samson longed to get out of the wagon and take a close look at the noisy monster, but his horses were rearing in their haste to get away, and even a short stop was impossible. Sambo, with his tail between his legs, ran ahead, in a panic, and took refuge in some bushes by the roadside.
"What was that, father?" the boy asked when the horses had ceased to worry over this new peril.
"A steam engyne," he answered. "Sarah, did ye get a good look at it?"
"Yes; if that don't beat all the newfangled notions I ever heard of," she exclaimed.
"It's just begun doin' business," said Samson.
"What does it do?" Joe asked.
"On a railroad track it can grab hold of a house full o' folks and run off with it. Goes like the wind, too."
"Does it eat 'em up?" Joe asked.
"No. It eats wood and oil and keeps yellin' for more. I guess it could eat a cord o' wood and wash it down with half a bucket o' castor oil in about five minutes. It snatches folks away to some place and drops 'em. I guess it must make their hair stand up and their teeth chatter."
"Does it hurt anybody?" Joe asked hopefully.
"Well, sir, if anybody wanted to be hurt and got in its way, I rather guess he'd succeed purty well. It's powerful. Why, if a man was to ketch hold of the tail of a locomotive, and hang on, it would jerk the toe nails right off him."
Joe began to have great respect for locomotives.
Soon they came in view of the famous Erie Canal, hard by the road. Through it the grain of the far West had just begun moving eastward in a tide that was flowing from April to December. Big barges, drawn by mules and horses on its shore, were cutting the still waters of the canal. They stopped and looked at the barges and the long tow ropes and the tugging animals.
"There is a real artificial river, hundreds o' miles long, hand made of the best material, water tight, no snags or rocks or other imperfections, durability guaranteed," said Samson. "It has made the name of DeWitt Clinton known everywhere."
"I wonder what next!" Sarah exclaimed.
They met many teams and passed other movers going west, and some prosperous farms on a road wider and smoother than any they had traveled. They camped that night, close by the river, with a Connecticut family on its way to Ohio with a great load of household furniture on one wagon and seven children in another. There were merry hours for the young, and pleasant visiting between the older folk that evening at the fireside. There was much talk among the latter about the great Erie Canal.
So they fared along through Canandaigua and across the Genesee to the village of Rochester and on through Lewiston and up the Niagara River to the Falls, and camped where they could see the great water flood and hear its muffled thunder. When nearing the latter they overtook a family of poor Irish emigrants, of the name of Flanagan, who shared their camp site at the Falls. The Flanagans were on their way to Michigan and had come from the old country three years before and settled in Broome County, New York. They, too, were on their way to a land of better promise. Among them was a rugged, freckled, red-headed lad, well along in his teens, of the name of Dennis, who wore a tall beaver hat, tilted saucily on one side of his head, and a ragged blue coat with brass buttons, as he walked beside the oxen, whip in hand, with trousers tucked in the tops of his big cowhide boots. There was also a handsome young man in this party of the name of John McNeil, who wore a ruffled shirt and swallow-tail coat, now much soiled by the journey. He listened to Samson's account of the Sangamon country and said that he thought he would go there. He had traded hats on the way with Dennis, who had been deeply impressed by the majestic look of the beaver and had given a silver breast pin and fifteen shillings to boot.
A jolly lad was Dennis, who danced jigs, on a flat rock by the riverside, as Samson played The Irish Washerman and The Fisher's Hornpipe. In the midst of the fun a puff of wind snatched the tall beaver hat from his head and whirled it over the side of the cliff into the foliage of a clump of cedars growing out of the steep cliff-side, ten feet or so below its top. Before any one could stop him the brave Irish lad had scrambled down the steep to the cedars—a place of some peril, for they hung over a precipice more than a hundred feet deep above the river. He got his treasure, but Samson had to help him back with a rope.
The latter told of the veiled bear, and when the story was finished he said to the Irish lad: "It will not do you any harm to remember that it is easier to get into trouble than to get out of it. In my opinion one clean-hearted Irish boy is worth more than all the beaver hats in creation."
Sarah gave the Irish family a good supply of cookies and jerked venison before she bade them good-by.
When our travelers left, next morning, they stopped for a last look at the great Falls.
"Children," said Samson, "I want you to take a good look at that. It's the most wonderful thing in the world and maybe you'll never see it again."
"The Indians used to think that the Great Spirit was in this river," said Sarah.
"Kind o' seems to me they were right," Samson remarked thoughtfully. "Kind o' seems as if the great spirit of America was in that water. It moves on in the way it wills and nothing can stop it. Everything in its current goes along with it."
"And only the strong can stand the journey," said Sarah.
These words were no doubt inspired by an ache in her bones. A hard seat and the ceaseless jolting of the wagon through long, hot, dusty days had wearied them. Even their hearts were getting sore as they thought of the endless reaches of the roads ahead. Samson stuffed a sack with straw and put it under her and the children on the seat. At a word of complaint he was wont to say:
"I know it's awful tiresome, but we got to have patience. We're goin' to get used to it and have a wonderful lot of fun. The time'll pass quick—you see."
Then he would sing and get them all laughing with some curious bit of drollery. They spent the night of July third at a tavern in Buffalo, then a busy, crude and rapidly growing center for the shipping east and west. Next day there was to be a great celebration of the Fourth of July in Buffalo and our travelers had stopped there to witness it. The bells began to ring and the cannon to bomb at sunrise. It was a day of great excitement for the west-bound travelers. The horses trembled in their stalls. Sambo took refuge in Colonel's manger and would not come out.
There were many emigrants on their way to the far West in the crowd—men, women and children and babies in arms—Irish, English, Germans and Yankees. There were also well dressed, handsome young men from the colleges of New England going out to be missionaries "between the desert and the sown."
Buffalo, on the edge of the midland seas, had the flavor of the rank, new soil in it those days—and especially that day, when it was thronged with rough coated and rougher tongued, swearing men on a holiday, stevedores and boatmen off the lakes and rivers of the middle border—some of whom had had their training on the Ohio and Mississippi. There was much drunkenness and fighting in the crowded streets. Some of the carriers and handlers of American commerce vented their enthusiasm in song.
In Samson's diary was the refrain of one of these old lake songs, which he had set down, as best he could, after the event:
"Then here's three cheers for the skipper an' his crew, Give 'er the wind an' let 'er go, for the boys'll put 'er through; I thought 'twould blow the whiskers right off o' you an' me, On our passage up from Buffalo to Milwaukee-ee."
Each of these rough men had dressed to his own fancy. Many wore fine boots of calf skin with red tops, drawn over their trousers, and high heels and blue and red shirts and broad brimmed straw hats. A long haired man, in buckskin leggings and moccasins, with a knife at his belt and too much whisky beneath it, amused a crowd by a loud proclamation of his own reckless and redoubtable character and a louder appeal for a chance to put it in action. It was a droll bit of bragging and merely intended, as the chronicler informs us, to raise a laugh.
"Here I be half man an' half alligator," he shouted. "Oh, I'm one o' yer tough kind, live forever an' then turn into a hickory post. I've just crept out o' the ma'shes of ol' Kentuck. I'm only a yearlin', but cuss me if I don't think I can whip anybody in this part o' the country. I'm the chap that towed the Broadhorn up Salt River where the snags was so thick a fish couldn't swim without rubbin' his scales off. Cock a doodle doo! I'm the infant that refused his milk before his eyes was open an' called for a bottle o' rum. Talk about grinnin' the bark off a tree—that ain't nothin'. One look o' mine would raise a blister on a bull's heel. Cock a doodle doo! (slapping his thighs). Gol darn it! Ain't there some one that dast come up an' collar me? It would just please my vitals if there was some man here who could split me into shoe pegs. I deserve it if ever a man did. I'll have to go home an' have another settlement with ol' Bill Sims. He's purty well gouged up, an' ain't but one ear, but he's willin' to do his best. That's somethin'. It kind o' stays yer appetite, an' I suppose that's all a man like me can expect in this world o' sorrow."
At this point a tall, raw-boned woman in "a brindle dress" (to quote the phrase of Samson), wearing a large gilt pin just below her collar, with an orthographic design which spelled the name Minnie, approached the hero and boldly boxed his ears.
"Licked at last," he shouted as he picked up his hat, dislodged by the violence he had suffered, and retired from the scene with a good-natured laugh.
Sarah was a bit dismayed by the behavior of these rough forerunners of civilization.
"Don't worry," said Samson, as they were driving away on the Lake Road next morning. "The lake and river boatmen are the roughest fellers in the West, and they're not half as bad as they look an' talk. Their deviltry is all on the outside. They tell me that there isn't one o' those boys who wouldn't give his life to help a woman, an' I guess it's so."
They had the lake view and its cool breeze on their way to Silver Creek, Dunkirk and Erie, and a rough way it was in those days.
Enough has been written of this long and wearisome journey, but the worst of it was ahead of them—much the worst of it—in the swamp flats of Ohio and Indiana. In one of the former a wagon wheel broke down, and that day Sarah began to shake with ague and burn with fever. Samson built a rude camp by the roadside, put Sarah into bed under its cover and started for the nearest village on Colonel's back.
* * * * *
"I shall never forget that day spent in a lonely part of the woods," the good woman wrote to her brother. "It endeared the children to me more than any day I can remember. They brought water from the creek, a great quantity of which I drank, and bathed my aching head and told me stories and cheered me in every way they could. Joe had his bear stick handy and his plans for bears or wolves or Indians. Samson had made some nails at a smithy in Pennsylvania. Joe managed to drive one of them through an end of his bear stick and made, as he thought, a formidable weapon. With his nail he hoped to penetrate the bear's eye. He had also put some bacon in the bottom of the pack basket, knowing the liking of the basket for bears. My faith in God's protection was perfect and in spite of my misery the children were a great comfort. In the middle of the afternoon Samson returned with a doctor and some tools and a stick of seasoned timber. How good he looked when he came and knelt by my bed and kissed me! This is a hard journey, but a woman can bear anything with such a man. The doctor gave me Sapington's fever pills and said I would be all right in three days, and I was.
"Late that afternoon it began to rain. Samson was singing as he worked on his wheel. A traveler came along on horseback and saw our plight. He was a young missionary going west. Samson began to joke with him.
"'You're a happy man for one in so much trouble,' said the stranger.
"Then I heard Samson say: 'Well, sir, I'm in a fix where happiness is absolutely necessary. It's like grease on the wagon wheels—we couldn't go on without it. When we need anything we make it if we can. My wife is sick and the wagon is broke and it's raining and night is near in a lonesome country, and it ain't a real good time for me to be down in the mouth—is it now? We haven't broke any bones or had an earthquake or been scalped by Indians, so there's some room for happiness.'
"'Look here, stranger—I like you,' said the man. 'If there's anything I can do to help ye, I'll stop a while.'"
* * * * *
He spent the night with them and helped mend the felly and set the tire.
The fever and ague passed from one to another and all were sick before the journey ended, although Samson kept the reins in hand through his misery. There were many breaks to mend, but Samson's ingenuity was always equal to the task.
One day, near nightfall, they were overtaken by a tall, handsome Yankee lad riding a pony. His pony stopped beside the wagon and looked toward the travelers as if appealing for help. The boy was pointing toward the horizon and muttering. Sarah saw at once that his mind was wandering in the delirium of fever. She got out of the wagon and took his hand. The moment she did so he began crying like a child.
"This boy is sick," she said to Samson, who came and helped him off his horse. They camped for the night and put the boy to bed and gave him medicine and tender care. He was too sick to travel next day. The Traylors stayed with him and nursed the lad until he was able to go on. He was from Niagara County, New York, and his name was Harry Needles. His mother had died when he was ten and his father had married again. He had not been happy in his home after that and his father had given him a pony and a hundred dollars and sent him away to seek his own fortune. Homesick and lonely and ill, and just going west with a sublime faith that the West would somehow provide for him, he might even have perished on the way if he had not fallen in with friendly people. His story had touched the heart of Sarah and Samson. He was a big, green, gentle-hearted country boy who had set out filled with hope and the love of adventure. Sarah found pleasure in mothering the poor lad, and so it happened that he became one of their little party. He was helpful and good-natured and had sundry arts that pleased the children. The man and the woman liked the big, honest lad.
One day he said to Samson: "I hope you won't mind if I go along with you, sir."
"Glad to have you with us," said Samson. "We've talked it over. If you want to, you can come along with us and our home shall be yours and I'll do what's right by you."
They fared along through Indiana and over the wide savannas of Illinois, and on the ninety-seventh day of their journey they drove through rolling, grassy, flowering prairies and up a long, hard hill to the small log cabin settlement of New Salem, Illinois, on the shore of the Sangamon. They halted about noon in the middle of this little prairie village, opposite a small clapboarded house. A sign hung over its door which bore the rudely lettered words: "Rutledge's Tavern."
A long, slim, stoop-shouldered young man sat in the shade of an oak tree that stood near a corner of the tavern, with a number of children playing around him. He had sat leaning against the tree trunk reading a book. He had risen as they came near and stood looking at them, with the book under his arm. Samson says in his diary that he looked like "an untrimmed yearling colt about sixteen hands high. He got up slow and kept rising till his bush of black tousled hair was six feet four above the ground. Then he put on an old straw hat without any band on it. He reminded me of Philemon Baker's fish rod, he was that narrer. For humliness I'd match him against the world. His hide was kind o' yaller and leathery. I could see he was still in the gristle—a little over twenty—but his face was marked up by worry and weather like a man's. I never saw anybody so long between joints. Don't hardly see how he could tell when his feet got cold."
He wore a hickory shirt without a collar or coat or jacket. One suspender held up his coarse, linsey trousers, the legs of which fitted closely and came only to a blue yarn zone above his heavy cowhide shoes. Samson writes that he "fetched a sneeze and wiped his big nose with a red handkerchief" as he stood surveying them in silence, while Dr. John Allen, who had sat on the door-step reading a paper—a kindly faced man of middle age with a short white beard under his chin—greeted them cheerfully.
The withering sunlight of a day late in August fell upon the dusty street, now almost deserted. Faces at the doors and windows of the little houses were looking out at them. Two ragged boys and a ginger colored dog came running toward the wagon. The latter and Sambo surveyed each other with raised hair and began scratching the earth, straight legged, whining meanwhile, and in a moment began to play together. A man in blue jeans who sat on the veranda of a store opposite, leaning against its wall, stopped whittling and shut his jack-knife.
"Where do ye hail from?" the Doctor asked.
"Vermont," said Samson.
"All the way in that wagon?"
"I guess you're made o' the right stuff," said the Doctor. "Where ye bound?"
"Don't know exactly. Going to take up a claim somewhere."
"There's no better country than right here. This is the Canaan of America. We need people like you. Unhitch your team and have some dinner and we'll talk things over after you're rested. I'm the doctor here and I ride all over this part o' the country. I reckon I know it pretty well."
A woman in a neat calico dress came out of the door—a strong built and rather well favored woman with blonde hair and dark eyes.
"Mrs. Rutledge, these are travelers from the East," said the Doctor. "Give 'em some dinner, and if they can't pay for it, I can. They've come all the way from Vermont."
"Good land! Come right in an' rest yerselves. Abe, you show the gentleman where to put his horses an' lend him a hand."
Abe extended his long arm toward Samson and said "Howdy" as they shook hands.
"When his big hand got hold of mine, I kind of felt his timber," Samson writes. "I says to myself, 'There's a man it would be hard to tip over in a rassle.'"
"What's yer name? How long ye been travelin'? My conscience! Ain't ye wore out?" the hospitable Mrs. Rutledge was asking as she went into the house with Sarah and the children. "You go and mix up with the little ones and let yer mother rest while I git dinner," she said to Joe and Betsey, and added as she took Sarah's shawl and bonnet: "You lop down an' rest yerself while I'm flyin' around the fire."
"Come all the way from Vermont?" Abe asked as he and Samson were unhitching.
"By jing!" the slim giant exclaimed. "I reckon you feel like throwin' off yer harness an' takin' a roll in the grass."
WHEREIN THE READER IS INTRODUCED TO OFFUT'S STORE AND HIS CLERK ABE, AND THE SCHOLAR JACK KELSO AND HIS CABIN AND HIS DAUGHTER BIM, AND GETS A FIRST LOOK AT LINCOLN.
They had a dinner of prairie thickens and roast venison, flavored with wild grape jelly, and creamed potatoes and cookies and doughnuts and raisin pie. It was a well cooked dinner, served on white linen, in a clean room, and while they were eating, the sympathetic landlady stood by the table, eager to learn of their travels and to make them feel at home. The good food and their kindly welcome and the beauty of the rolling, wooded prairies softened the regret which had been growing in their hearts, and which only the children had dared to express.
"Perhaps we haven't made a mistake after all," Sarah whispered when the dinner was over. "I like these people and the prairies are beautiful."
"It is the land of plenty at last," said Samson, as they came out-of-doors. "It is even better than I thought."
"As Douglas Jerrold said of Australia: 'Tickle it with a hoe and it laughs with a harvest,'" said Dr. Allen, who still sat in the shaded dooryard, smoking his pipe. "I have an extra horse and saddle. Suppose you leave the family with Mrs. Rutledge and ride around with me a little this afternoon. I can show you how the land lies off to the west of us, and to-morrow we'll look at the other side."
"Thank you—I want to look around here a little," said Samson. "What's the name of this place?"
"New Salem. We call it a village. It has a mill, a carding machine, a tavern, a schoolhouse, five stores, fourteen houses, two or three men of genius, and a noisy dam. You will hear other damns, if you stay here long enough, but they don't amount to much. It's a crude but growing place and soon it will have all the embellishments of civilized life."
That evening many of the inhabitants of the little village came to the tavern to see the travelers and were introduced by Dr. Allen. Most of them had come from Kentucky, although there were two Yankee families who had moved on from Ohio.
"These are good folks," said the Doctor. "There are others who are not so good. I could show you some pretty rough customers at Clary's Grove, not far from here. We have to take things as they are and do our best to make 'em better."
"Any Indians?" Sarah asked.
"You see one now and then, but they're peaceable. Most of 'em have gone with the buffalos—farther west. We have make-believe Indians—some reckless white boys who come whooping into the village, half crazy with drink, once in a while. They're not so bad as they seem to be. We'll have to do a little missionary work with them. The Indians have left their imitators all over the West, but they only make a loud noise. That will pass away soon. It's a noisy land. Now and then a circuit rider gets here and preaches to us. You'll hear the Reverend Stephen Nuckles if you settle in these parts. He can holler louder than any man in the state."
"You bet he can holler some when he gits fixed for it," said Abe, who sat near the open door.
"He's for them that need scarin'. The man that don't need that has to be his own preacher here and sow and reap his own morality. He can make himself just as much of a saint as he pleases."
"If he has the raw material to work with," Abe interposed.
"The self-made saint is the only kind I believe in," said Samson.
"We haven't any Erie Canal to Heaven, with the minister towin' us along," said Abe. "There's some that say it's only fifteen miles to Springfield, but the man that walks it knows better."
The tavern was the only house in New Salem with stairs in it. Stairs so steep, as Samson writes, that "they were first cousins to the ladder." There were four small rooms above them. Two of these were separated by a partition of cloth hanging from the rafters. In each was a bed and bedstead and smaller beds on the floor. In case there were a number of adult guests the bedstead was screened with sheets hung upon strings. In one of these rooms the travelers had a night of refreshing sleep.
After riding two days with the Doctor, Samson bought the claim of one Isaac Gollaher to a half section of land a little more than a mile from the western end of the village. He chose a site for his house on the edge of an open prairie.
"Now we'll go over and see Abe," said Dr. Allen, after the deal was made. "He's the best man with an axe and a saw in this part of the country. He clerks for Mr. Offut. Abe Lincoln is one of the best fellows that ever lived—a rough diamond just out of the great mine of the West, that only needs to be cut and polished."
Denton Offut's store was a small log structure about twenty by twenty which stood near the brow of the hill east of Rutledge's Tavern. When they entered it Abe lay at full length on the counter, his head resting on a bolt of blue denim as he studied a book in his hand. He wore the same shirt and one suspender and linsey trousers which he had worn in the dooryard of the tavern, but his feet were covered only by his blue yarn socks.
It was a general store full of exotic flavors, chiefly those of tea, coffee, whisky, tobacco, muscovado sugar and molasses. There was a counter on each side. Bolts of cloth, mostly calico, were piled on the far end of the right counter as one entered and the near end held a show case containing a display of cutlery, pewter spoons, jewelry and fishing tackle. There were double windows on either side of the rough board door with its wooden latch. The left counter held a case filled with threads, buttons, combs, colored ribbons, and belts and jew's-harps. A balance stood in the middle of this counter. A chest of tea, a big brown jug, a box of candles, a keg and a large wooden pail occupied its farther end. The shelving on its side walls was filled by straw hats, plug tobacco, bolts of cloth, pills and patent medicines and paste-board boxes containing shirts, handkerchiefs and underwear. A suit of blue jeans, scythes and snaths, hoes, wooden hand rakes and a brass warming-pan hung from the rafters. At the rear end of the store was a large fireplace. There were two chairs near the fireplace, both of which were occupied by a man who sat in one while his feet lay on the other. He was sleeping peacefully, his chin resting on his breast. He wore a calico shirt with a fanciful design of morning-glories on it printed in appropriate colors, a collar of the same material and a red necktie.
Abe laid aside his book and rose to a sitting posture.
"Pardon me—you see the firm is busy," said Abe. "You know Eb Zane used to say that he was never so busy in his life as when he lay on his back with a broken leg. He said he had to work twenty-four hours a day doin' nothin' an' could never git an hour off. But a broken leg is not so bad as a lame intellect. That lays you out with the fever an' ague of ignorance. Jack Kelso recommended Kirkham's pills and poultices of poetry. I'm trying both and slowly getting the better of it. I've learned three conjugations, between customers, this afternoon."
The man sleeping in the chair began snoring and groaning.
"Don't blame Bill," Abe went on. "Any man would have the nightmare in a shirt like that. He went to a dance at Clary's Grove last night and they shut him up in a barrel with a small dog and rolled 'em down hill in it. I reckon that's how he learnt how to growl."
In the laughter that followed the sleeper awoke.
"You see there's quite an undercurrent beneath the placid surface of our enterprise," Abe added.
The sleeper whose name was William Berry rose and stretched himself and was introduced to the newcomer. He was a short, genial man, of some thirty years, with blond, curly hair and mustache. On account of his shortness and high color he was often referred to as the Billberry shortcake. His fat cheeks had a color as definite as that of the blossoms on his shirt, now rather soiled. His prominent nose shared their glow of ruddy opulence. His gray eyes wore a look of apology. He walked rather stiffly as if his legs were rheumatic.
"Mr. Traylor, this is Mr. William Berry," said Dr. Allen. "In this beautiful shirt he resembles a bit of vine-clad sculpture from an Italian garden, but is real flesh and blood and a good fellow."
"I don't understand your high-toned talk," said Berry. "This shirt suits me to a dot."
"It is the pride of New Salem," said the Doctor. "Mr. Traylor has just acquired an interest in all our institutions. He has bought the Gollaher tract and is going to build a house and some fences. Abe, couldn't you help get the timber out in a hurry so we can have a raising within a week? You know the arts of the axe better than any of us."
Abe looked at Samson.
"I reckon he and I would make a good team with the axe," he said. "He looks as if he could push a house down with one hand and build it up with the other. You can bet I'll be glad to help in any way I can."
"We'll all turn in and help. I should think Bill or Jack Kelso could look after the store for a few days," said the Doctor. "I promised to take Mr. Traylor over to Jack Kelso's to-night. Couldn't you come along?"
"Good! We'll have a story-tellin' and get Jack to unlimber his guns," said Abe.
It was a cool evening with a promise of frost in the air. Jack Kelso's cabin, one of two which stood close together at the western end of the village, was lighted by the cheery blaze of dry logs in its fireplace. There were guns on a rack over the fireplace under a buck's head; a powder horn hanging near them on its string looped over a nail. There were wolf and deer and bear pelts on the floor. The skins of foxes, raccoons and wildcats adorned the log walls. Jack Kelso was a blond, smooth faced, good-looking, merry-hearted Scot, about forty years old, of a rather slight build, some five feet, eight inches tall. That is all that any one knew of him save that he spent most of his time hunting and fishing and seemed to have all the best things, which great men had said or written, on the tip of his tongue. He was neatly dressed in a blue flannel coat and shirt, top boots and riding breeches.
"Welcome! and here's the best seat at the fireside," he said to Samson.
Then, as he filled his pipe, he quoted the lines from Cymbeline:
"'Think us no churls nor measure our good minds By this rude place we live in.'
"My wife and daughter are away for a visit and for two days I've had the cabin to myself. Look, ye worshipers of fire, and see how fine it is now! The homely cabin is a place of beauty. Everything has the color of the rose, coming and going in the flickering shadows. What a heaven it is when the flames are leaping! Here is Hogarth's line of beauty; nothing perpendicular or horizontal."
He took Abe's hand and went on: "Here, ye lovers of romance, is one of the story-tellers of Ispahan who has in him the wisdom of the wandering tribes. He can tell you a tale that will draw children from their play and old men from the chimney corner. My boy, take a chair next to Mr. Traylor."
He took the hand of the Doctor and added: "Here, too, is a man whose wit is more famous than his pills—one produces the shakes and the other cures them. Doctor, you and I will take the end seats."
"My pills can be relied upon but my wit is like my dog, away from home most of the time," said the Doctor.
"Gathering the bones with which you often astonish us," said Kelso. "How are the lungs, Doctor?"
"They're all right. These long rides in the open are making a new man of me. Another year in the city would have used me up."
"Mr. Traylor, you stand up as proud and firm as a big pine," Kelso remarked. "I believe you're a Yankee."
"So do I," said Samson. "If you took all the Yankee out o' me I'd have an empty skin."
Then Abe began to show the stranger his peculiar art in these words:
"Stephen Nuckles used to say: 'God's grace embraces the isles o' the sea an' the uttermost parts o' the earth. It takes in the Esquimaux an' the Hottentots. Some go so fur as to say that it takes in the Yankees but I don't go so fur.'"
Samson joined in the good-natured laughter that followed.
"If you deal with some Yankees you take your life in your hands," he said. "They can serve God or Mammon and I guess they have given the Devil some of his best ideas. He seems to be getting a lot of Yankee notions lately."
"There was a powerful prejudice in Kentucky against the Yankees," Abe went on. "Down there they used to tell about a Yankee who sold his hogs and was driving them to town. On the way he decided that he had sold them too cheap. He left them with his drover in the road and went on to town and told the buyer that he would need help to bring 'em in.
"'How's that?' the buyer asked.
"'Why they git away an' go to runnin' through the woods an' fields an' we can't keep up with 'em.'
"'I don't think I want 'em,' says the buyer. 'A speedy hog hasn't much pork to carry. I'll give ye twenty bits to let me off.'"
"I guess that Yankee had one more hog than he'd counted," said Samson.
"It reminds me of a man in Pope County who raised the biggest hog in Illinois," Abe went on. "It was a famous animal and people from far and near came to see him. One day a man came an' asked to see the hog.
"'We're chargin' two bits for the privilege now,' said the owner.
"The man paid the money and got into his wagon.
"'Don't you want to see him?' the farmer asked.
"'No,' said the stranger. 'I've seen the biggest hog in Illinois an' I don't care to look at a smaller one.'"
"Whatever prejudice you may find here will soon vanish," said Kelso, turning to the newcomer. "I have great respect for the sturdy sons of New England. I believe it was Theodore Parker who said that the pine was the symbol of their character. He was right. Its roots are deep in the soil; it towers above the forest; it has the strength of tall masts and the substance of the builder in its body, music in its waving branches and turpentine in its veins. I thought of this when I saw Webster and heard him speak at Plymouth."
"What kind of a looking man is he?" Abe asked.
"A big erect, splendid figure of a man. He walked like a ram at the head of his flock. As he began speaking I thought of that flash of Homer's in the Odyssey:
"'When his great voice went forth out of his breast and his words fell like the winter snows—not then would any mortal contend with Ulysses.'"
Abe who since his story had sat with a sad face looking into the fire now leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and shook his head with interest while his gray eyes took on a look of animation. The diary speaks often of the "veil of sadness" on his face.
"He is a very great man," Abe exclaimed.
"Have you learned that last noble flight of his in the reply to Hayne as you promised?" Kelso asked.
"I have," said Abe, "and the other day when I was tramping back from Bowlin Green's I came across a drove of cattle and stopped and gave it to them. They all let go of the grass and stood looking. By an' by the bull thought he'd stood it as long as he could an' bellered back at me."
"Good! Now stand up and let us see how you imitate the great chief of the Whig clan," said Kelso.
The lank and awkward youth rose and began to speak the lines in a high pitched voice that trembled with excitement. It lowered and steadied and rang out like noble music on a well played trumpet as the channel of his spirit filled with the mighty current of the orator's passion. Then, indeed, the words fell from his lips "like the winter snows."
"They shook our hearts as the wind shakes the branches of a tree," Samson writes in his diary. "The lean, bony body of the boy was transfigured and as I looked at his face in the firelight I thought it was handsome.
"Not a word was spoken for a minute after he sat down. I had got my first look at Lincoln. I had seen his soul. I think it was then I began to realize that a man was being made among us 'more precious than fine gold; even a man more precious than the golden wedge of Ophir.'"
The Doctor gazed in silence at the boy. Kelso sat with both hands in his pockets and his chin upon his breast looking solemnly into the fire.
"Thank you, Abe," he said in a low voice. "Something unusual has happened and I'm just a little scared."
"Why?" Abe asked.
"For fear somebody will spoil it with another hog story. I'm a little afraid of anything I can say. I would venture this, that the man Webster is a prophet. In his Plymouth address he hears receding into never returning distance the clank of chains and all the horrid din of slavery. It will come true."
"Do you think so?" Abe asked.
"Surely—there are so many of us who hate it. These Yankees hate it and they and their children are scattering all over the midlands. Their spirit will guide the West. The love of Liberty is the salt of their blood and the marrow of their bones. Liberty means freedom for all. Wait until these babies, coming out here by the wagon load, have grown to manhood. Slavery will have to reckon with them."
"I hate it too," said Abe. "Down the Mississippi I have seen men and women sold like oxen. If I live I'm going to hit that thing on the head some day."
"Do you still want to be a lawyer?" Kelso asked.
"Yes, but sometimes I think I'd make a better blacksmith," said Abe.
"I believe you'd do better with the hammer of argument."
"If I had the education likely I would. I'm trying to make up my mind what's best for me."
"No, you're trying to decide what is best for your friends and your country and for the reign of law and justice and liberty."