LOVELY MIRAMICHI VALLEY,
319 WASHINGTON STREET,
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865, by
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
ROCKWELL & ROLLINS,
PRINTERS AND STEREOTYPERS, 122 WASHINGTON STREET, BOSTON.
THE DUBOIS HOUSE.
"Well, verily, I didn't expect to find anything like this, in such a wild region", said Mr. Norton, as he settled himself comfortably in a curiously carved, old-fashioned arm-chair, before the fire that blazed cheerily on the broad hearth of the Dubois House. "'Tis not a Yankee family either", added he, mentally. "Everything agreeable and tidy, but it looks unlike home. It is an Elim in the desert! Goodly palmtrees and abundant water! O! why", he exclaimed aloud, in an impatient tone, as if chiding himself, "should I ever distrust the goodness of the Lord?"
The firelight, playing over his honest face, revealed eyes moistened with the gratitude welling up in his heart. He sat a few minutes gazing at the glowing logs, and then his eyelids closed in the blessed calm of sleep. Weary traveller! He has well earned repose.
There will not be time, during his brief nap, to tell who and what he was, and why he had come to sojourn far away from home and friends. But let the curtain be drawn back for a moment, to reveal a glimpse of that strange, questionable country over which he has been wandering for the last few months, doing hard service.
Miramichi,[A] a name unfamiliar, perhaps, to those who may chance to read these pages, is the designation of a fertile, though partially cultivated portion of the important province of New Brunswick, belonging to the British Crown. The name, by no means uneuphonious, is yet suggestive of associations far from attractive. The Miramichi River, which gives title to this region, has its rise near the centre of the province, and flowing eastward empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with Chatham, a town of considerable importance, located at its mouth.
[Footnote A: Pronounced Mir'imishee.]
The land had originally been settled by English, Scotch, and Irish, whose business consisted mostly of fishing and lumbering. These occupations, pursued in a wayward and lawless manner, had not exerted on them an elevating or refining influence, and the character of the people had degenerated from year to year. From the remoteness and obscurity of the country, it had become a convenient hiding-place for the outlaw and the criminal, and its surface was sprinkled over with the refuse and offscouring of the New England States and the Province. With a few rare exceptions, it was a realm of almost heathenish darkness and vice. Such Mr. Norton found it, when, with heart full of compassion and benevolence, thirty-five years ago, he came to bear the message of heavenly love and forgiveness to these dwellers in death shade.
The Dubois House, where Mr. Norton had found shelter for the night, was situated on the northern bank of the river, about sixty miles west from Chatham. It was a respectable looking, two story building, with large barns adjacent. Standing on a graceful bend of the broad stream, it commanded river views, several miles in extent, in two directions, with a nearer prospect around, consisting of reaches of tall forest, interspersed with occasional openings, made by the rude settlers.
Being the only dwelling in the neighborhood sufficiently commodious for the purpose, its occupants, making a virtue of necessity, were in the habit of entertaining occasional travellers who happened to visit the region.
But, softly,—Mr. Norton has wakened. He was just beginning to dream of home and its dear delights, when a door-latch was lifted, and a young girl entering, began to make preparations for supper. She moved quickly towards the fire, and with a pair of iron tongs, deftly raided the ponderous cover of the Dutch oven, hanging over the blaze. The wheaten rolls it contained were nearly baked, and emitted a fragrant and appetizing odor.
She refitted the cover, and then opening a closet, took from it a lacquered Chinese tea-caddy and a silver urn, and proceeded to arrange the tea-table.
Mr. Norton, observing her attentively with his keen, gray eyes, asked, "How long has your father lived in this place, my child?"
The maiden paused in her employment, and glancing at the broad, stalwart form and shrewd yet honest face of the questioner, replied, "Nearly twenty years, sir".
Mr. Norton's quick ear immediately detected, in her words a delicate, foreign accent, quite unfamiliar to him. After a moment's silence he spoke again.
"Dubois,—that is your name, is it not? A French name?"
"Yes, sir, my parents are natives of France".
"Ah! indeed!" responded Mr. Norton, and the family in which he found himself was immediately invested with new interest in his eyes.
"Where is your father at the present time, my dear child?"
"He is away at Fredericton. He has gone to obtain family supplies. I hope he is not obliged to be out this stormy night, but I fear he is".
She made the sign of the cross on her breast and glanced upward.
Mr. Norton observed the movement, and at the same time saw, what had before escaped his notice, a string of glittering, black beads upon her neck, with a black cross, half hidden by the folds in the waist of her dress. It was an instant revelation to hint of the faith in which she had been trained. He fell into a fit of musing.
In the mean time, Adele Dubois completed her preparations for the tea-table,—not one of her accustomed duties, but one which she sometimes took a fancy to perform.
She was sixteen years old,—tall already, and rapidly growing taller, with a figure neither large, nor slender. Her complexion was pure white, scarcely tinged with rose; her eyes were large and brown, now shooting out a bright, joyous light, then veiled in dreamy shadows. A rich mass of dark hair was divided into braids, gracefully looped up around her head. Her dress was composed of a plain red material of wool. Her only ornaments were the rosary and cross on her neck.
A mulatto girl now appeared from the adjoining kitchen and placed upon the table a dish of cold, sliced chicken, boiled eggs and pickles, together with the steaming wheaten rolls from the Dutch oven.
Adele having put some tea in the urn, poured boiling water upon it and left the room.
Returning in a few minutes, accompanied by her mother and Mrs. McNab, they soon drew up around the tea-table.
When seated, Mrs. Dubois and Adele made the sign of the cross and closed their eyes. Mrs. McNab, glancing at them deprecatingly for a moment, at length fixed her gaze on Mr. Norton. He also closed his eyes and asked a mute blessing upon the food.
Mrs. Dubois was endowed with delicate features, a soft, Madonna like expression of countenance, elegance of movement and a quiet, yet gracious manner. Attentive to those around the board, she said but little. Occasionally, she listened in abstracted mood to the beating storm without.
Mrs. McNab, a middle-aged Scotch woman, with a short, square, ample form, filled up a large portion of the side of the table she occupied. Her coarse-featured, heavy fare, surrounded by a broad, muslin cap frill, that nearly covered her harsh yellow hair, was lighted up by a pair of small gray eyes, expressing a mixture of cunning and curiosity. Her rubicund visage, gaudy-colored chintz dress, and yellow bandanna handkerchief, produced a sort of glaring sun-flower effect, not mitigated by the contrast afforded by the other members of the group.
"Madam", said Mr. Norton to Mrs. Dubois, on seeing her glance anxiously at the windows, as the wild, equinoctial gale caused them to clatter violently, "do you fear that your husband is exposed to any particular danger at this time?"
"No special danger. But it is a lawless country. The night is dark and the storm is loud. I wish he were safely at home", replied the lady.
"Your solicitude is not strange. But you may trust him with the Lord. Under His protection, not a hair of his head can be touched".
Before Mrs. Dubois had time to reply, Mrs. McNab, looking rather fiercely at Mr. Norton, said, "Yer dinna suppose, sir, if the Lord had decreed from all eternity that Mr. Doobyce should be drowned, or rabbed, or murdered to-night, that our prayin' an' trustin' wad cause Him to revoorse His foreordained purpose? Adely", she continued, "I dinna mind if I take anither egg an' a trifle more o' chicken an' some pickle".
By no means taken aback by this pointed inquiry, Mr. Norton replied very gently, "I believe, ma'am, in the power of prayer to move the Almighty throne, when it comes from a sincere and humble heart, and that He will bestow His blessing in return".
"Weel", said Mrs. McNab, "I was brought up in the church o' Scotland, and dinna believe anything anent this new-light doctrine o' God's bein' turned roun' an' givin' up his decrees an' a'that. I think it's the ward o' Satan", and she passed her cup to be again refilled with tea.
Adele, who had noticed that Mrs. McNab's observations had suggested new solicitudes to her mother's mind, remarked, "What you said just now, Aunt Patty, is not very consoling. Whoever thought that my father would meet with anything worse than perhaps being drenched by the storm, and half eaten up with vermin in the dirty inns where he will have to lodge? I do not doubt he will be home in good time".
"Yes, Miss Adely, yes. I ken it", said Aunt Patty, as she saw a firm, defiant expression gathering in the young girl's countenance. "I'd a dream anent him last night that makes me think he's comin".
"Hark!" said Adele, starting and speaking in a clear, ringing tone, "he has come. I hear his voice on the lawn".
Murmuring a word or two of excuse, she rose instantly from the table, requested Bess, the servant, to hand her a lantern, and arrayed herself quickly in hood and cloak.
As she opened the door, her father was standing on the step, in the driving rain, supporting in his arms the form of a gentleman, who seemed to be almost in a state of insensibility.
"Make way! make way, Adele. Here's a sick man. Throw some blankets on the floor, and come, all hands, and rub him. My dear, order something warm for him to drink".
Mrs. Dubois caught a pile of bedding from a neighboring closet and arranged it upon the floor, near the fire. Mr. Dubois laid the stranger down upon it. Mr. Norton immediately rose from the tea-table, drew off the boots of the fainting man, and began to chafe his feet with his warm, broad hand.
"Put a dash of cold water on his face, child", said he to Adele, "and he'll come to, in a minute". Adele obeyed.
The stranger opened his eyes suddenly and looked around in astonishment upon the group.
"Ah! yes. I see", he said, "I have been faint, or something of the kind. I believe I am not quite well".
He attempted to rise, but sank back, powerless. He turned his head slowly towards Mr. Dubois, and said, "Friend Dubois, I think I am going to be ill, and must trust myself to your compassion", when immediately his eyes closed and his countenance assumed the paleness of death.
"Don't be down-hearted, Mr. Brown", said Mr. Dubois. "You are not used to this Miramichi staging. You'll be better by and by. My dear, give me the cordial,—he needs stimulating".
He took a cup of French brandy, mixed with sugar and boiling water, from the hand of Mrs. Dubois, and administered it slowly to the exhausted man. It seemed to have a quieting effect, and after awhile Mr. Brown sank into a disturbed slumber.
Observing this, and finding that his limbs, which had been cold and benumbed, were now thoroughly warmed, Mr. Dubois rose from his kneeling position and turning to his daughter, said, "Now then, Adele, take the lantern and go with me to the stables. I must see for myself that the horses are properly cared for. They are both tired and famished".
Adele caught up the lantern, but Mr. Norton interposed. "Allow me, sir, to assist you", he said, rising quickly. "It will expose the young lady to go out in the storm. Let me go, sir".
He approached Adele to take the lantern from her hand, but she drew back and held it fast.
"I don't mind weather, sir", she said, with a little sniff of contempt at the thought. "And my father usually prefers my attendance. I thank you. Will you please stay with the sick gentleman?"
Mr. Norton bowed, smiled, and reseated himself near the invalid.
In the mean time, Mr. Dubois and his daughter went through the rain to the stables; his wife replenished the tea-urn and began to rearrange the table.
Mrs. McNab, during the scene that had thus unexpectedly occurred, had been waddling from one part of the room to the other, exclaiming, "The Lord be gude to us!" Her presence, however, seemed for the time to be ignored.
When she heard the gentle movements made by Mrs. Dubois among the dishes, her dream seemed suddenly to fade out of view. Seating herself again at the table, she diligently pursued the task of finishing her supper, yet ever and anon examining the prostrate form upon the floor.
"Peradventure he's a mon fra' the States. His claithes look pretty nice. As a gen'al thing them people fra' the States hae plenty o' plack in their pockets. What do you think, sir?"
"He is undoubtedly a gentleman from New England", said Mr. Norton.
Mrs. McNab was a native of Dumfries, Scotland, and had made her advent in the Miramichi country about five years previous to the occurrences just mentioned.
Having buried her husband, mother, and two children,—hoping that change of scene might lighten the weight upon her spirits, she had concluded to emigrate with some intimate acquaintances to the Province of New Brunswick.
On first reaching the settlement, she had spent several weeks at the Dubois House, where she set immediately at work to prove her accomplishments, by assisting in making up dresses for Mrs. Dubois and Adele.
She entertained them with accounts of her former life in Scotland,—talking largely about her acquaintance with the family of Lord Lindsay, in which she had served in the capacity of nurse. She described the castle in which they resided, the furniture, the servants, and the grand company; and, more than all, she knew or pretended to know the traditions, legends, and ghost stories connected, for many generations past, with the Lindsay race.
She talked untiringly of these matters to the neighbors, exciting their interest and wonder by the new phases of life presented, and furnishing food for the superstitious tendencies always rife in new and ignorant settlements. In short, by these means, she won her way gradually in the community, until she came to be the general factotum.
It was noticed, indeed, that in the annual round of her visits from house to house, Mrs. McNab had a peculiar faculty of securing to herself the various material comforts available, having an excellent appetite and a genius for appropriating the warmest seat at the fireplace and any other little luxury a-going. These things were, however, overlooked, especially by the women of the region, on account of her social qualities, she being an invaluable companion during the long days and evenings when their husbands and sons were away, engaged in lumbering or fishing. When the family with which she happened to be sojourning were engaged in domestic occupations, Mrs. McNab, established in some cosey corner, told her old wife stories and whiled away the long and dismal wintry hours.
Of all the people among whom she moved, Adele Dubois least exercised the grace of patience toward her.
On the return of Mr. Dubois and his daughter to the house, after having seen the horses safely stowed away, he refreshed himself at the tea-table and left the room to attend to necessary business. Mrs. Dubois and Mrs. McNab went to fit up an apartment for the stranger.
In the mean time Mr. Norton and Adele were left with the invalid.
Mr. Brown's face had lost its pallid hue and was now overspread with the fiery glow of fever. He grew more and more restless in his sleep, until at length he opened his eyes wide and began to talk deliriously. At the first sound of his voice, Adele started from her seat, expecting to hear some request from his lips.
Gazing at her wildly for a moment, he exclaimed, "What, you here, Agnes! you, travelling in this horrible wilderness! Where's your husband? Where's John, the brave boy? Don't bring them here to taunt me. Go away! Don't look at me!"
With an expression of terror on his countenance, he sank back upon the pillow and closed his eyes. Mr. Norton knelt down by the couch and made slow, soothing motions with his hand upon the hot and fevered head, until the sick man sank again into slumber. Seeing this, Adele, who had been standing in mute bewilderment, came softly near and whispered, "He has been doing something wrong, has he not, sir?"
"I hope not", said the good man, "He is not himself now, and is not aware what he is saying. His fever causes his mind to wander".
"Yes, sir. But I think he is unhappy beside being sick. That sigh was so sorrowful!"
"It was sad enough", said Mr. Norton. After a pause, he continued, "I will stay by his bed and take care of him to-night".
"Ah! will you, sir?" said Adele. "That is kind, but Aunt Patty, I know, will insist on taking charge of him. She thinks it her right to take care of all the sick people. But I don't wish her to stay with this gentleman to-night. If he talks again as he did just now, she will tell it all over the neighborhood".
At that moment, the door opened, and Mrs. McNab came waddling in, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Dubois.
"Now, Mr. Doobyce", said she, "if you and this pusson will just carry the patient up stairs, and place him on the bed, that's a' ye need do. I'll tak' care o' him".
"Permit me the privilege of watching by the gentleman's bed to-night", said Mr. Norton, turning to Mr. Dubois.
"By no means, sir", said his host; "you have had a long ride through the forest to-day and must be tired. Aunt Patty here prefers to take charge of him".
"Sir", said Mr. Norton, "I observed awhile ago, that his mind was quite wandering. He is greatly excited by fever, but I succeeded in quieting him once and perhaps may be able to do so again".
Here Mrs. McNab interposed in tones somewhat loud and irate.
"That's the way pussons fra' your country always talk. They think they can do everything better'n anybody else. What can a mon do at nussin', I wad ken?"
"Mr. Norton will nurse him well, I know. Let him take care of the gentleman, father", said Adele.
"Hush, my dear", said Mr. Dubois, decidedly, "it is proper that Mrs. McNab take charge of Mr. Brown to-night".
Adele made no reply, and only showed her vexation by casting a defiant look on the redoubtable aunt Patty, whose face was overspread with a grin of satisfaction at having carried her point.
Mr. Norton, of course, did not press his proposal farther, but consoled himself with the thought, that some future opportunity might occur, enabling him to fulfil his benevolent intentions.
A quieting powder was administered and Mrs. McNab established herself beside the fire that had been kindled in Mr. Brown's apartment.
After having indicated to Mr. Norton the bedroom he was to occupy for the night, the family retired, leaving him the only inmate of the room.
As he sat and watched the dying embers, he fell into a reverie concerning the events of the evening. His musings were of a somewhat perplexed nature. He was at a loss to account for the appearance of a gentleman, bearing unmistakable marks of refinement and wealth, as did Mr. Brown, under such circumstances, and in such a region as Miramichi. The words he had uttered in his delirium, added to the mystery. He was also puzzled about the family of Dubois. How came people of such culture and superiority in this dark portion of the earth? How strange, that they had lived here so many years, without assimilating to the common herd around them.
Thus his mind, excited by what had recently occurred, wandered on, until at length his thoughts fell into their accustomed channel,—dwelling on his own mission to this benighted land, and framing various schemes by which he might accomplish the object so dear to his heart.
In the mean time, having turned his face partially aside from the fire, he was watching unconsciously the fitful gleaming of a light cast on the opposite wall by the occasional flaring up of a tongue of flame from the dying embers.
Suddenly he heard a deep, whirring sound as if the springs of some complicated machinery had just then been set in motion.
Looking around to find whence the noise proceeded, he was rather startled on observing in the wall, in one corner, just under the ceiling, a tiny door fly open, and emerging thence a grotesque, miniature man, holding, uplifted in his hand, a hammer of size proportionate to his own figure. Mr. Norton sat motionless, while this small specimen proceeded, with a jerky gait and many bobbing grimaces, across a wire stretched to the opposite corner of the room, where stood a tall, ebony clock. When within a short distance of the clock another tiny door in its side flew open; the little man entered and struck deliberately with the hammer the hour of midnight. Near the top of the dial-plate was seen from without the regular uplifting of the little arm, applying its stroke to the bell within. Having performed his duty, this personage jerked out of the clock, the tiny door closing behind him, bobbed and jerked along the wire as before, and disappeared at the door in the wall, which also immediately closed after his exit.
Having witnessed the whole manoeuvre with comic wonder and curiosity, Mr. Norton burst into a loud and hearty peal of laughter, that was still resounding in the room when he became suddenly aware of the presence of Mrs. McNab. There she stood in the centre of the apartment, her firm, square figure apparently rooted to the floor, her head enveloped in innumerable folds of white cotton, a tower of strength and defiance.
Her unexpected appearance changed in a moment the mood of the good man, and he inquired anxiously, "Is the gentleman more ill? Can I assist you?"
"He's just this minnut closed his eyes to sleep, and naw I expect he's wide awake again, with the dreadfu' racket you were just a makin' O! my! wadna you hae made a good nuss?"
Mr. Norton truly grieved at his inadvertency in disturbing the household at this late hour of the night, begged pardon, and told Mrs. McNab he would not be guilty of a like offence.
"How has the gentleman been during the evening?" he asked.
"O! he's been ravin' crazy a'maist, and obstacled everything I've done for him. He's a very sick pusson naw. I cam' down to get a bottle of muddeson", and Mrs. McNab went to a closet and took from it the identical bottle of brandy from which Mrs. Dubois had poured when preparing the stimulating dose for the invalid. Mr. Norton observed this performance with a twinkle of the eye, but making no comment, the worthy woman retired from the room.
That night Mr. Norton slept indifferently, being disturbed by exciting and bewildering dreams. In his slumbers he saw an immense cathedral, lighted only by what seemed some great conflagration without, which, glaring in, with horrid, crimson hue upon the pictured walls, gave the place the strange, lurid aspect of Pandemonium. The effect was heightened by the appearance of thousands of small, grotesque beings, all bearing more or less resemblance to the little man of the clock, who were flying and bobbing, jerking and grinning through the air, beneath the great vault, as if madly revelling in the scene. Yet the good man all the while had a vague sense of some awful, impending calamity, which increased as he wandered around in great perplexity, exploring the countenances of the various groups scattered over the place.
Once he stumbled over a dead body and found it the corpse of the invalid in the room above. He seemed to himself to be lifting it carefully, when a lady, fair and stately, in rich, sweeping garments, took the burden from his arms, and, sinking with it on the floor, kissed it tenderly and then bent over it with a look of intense sorrow.
Farther on he saw Mr. and Mrs. Dubois, with Adele, kneeling imploringly, with terror-stricken faces, before a representation of the Virgin Mary and her divine boy. Then the glare of light in the building increased. Rushing to the entrance to look for the cause of it, he there met Mrs. McNab coming towards him with a wild, disordered countenance,—her white cotton headgear floating out like a banner to the breeze,—shaking a brandy bottle in the faces of all she met. He gained the door and found himself enwrapped in a sheet of flame.
Suddenly the whole scene passed. He woke. A glorious September sun was irradiating the walls of his bedroom. He heard the movements of the family below, and rose hastily.
A few moments of thought and prayer sufficed to clear his healthy brain of the fantastic forms and scenes which had invaded it, and he was himself again, ready and panting for service.
In order to bring Mr. Norton more distinctly before the reader, it is necessary to give a few particulars of his previous life.
He was the son of a New England farmer. His father had given him a good moral and religious training and the usual common school education, but, being poor and having a large family to provide for, he had turned him adrift upon the sea of life, to shape his own course and win his own fortunes. These, in some respects, he was well calculated to do.
He possessed a frame hardened by labor, and, to a native shrewdness and self reliance, added traits which threw light and warmth into his character. His sympathies were easily roused by suffering and want. He spurned everything mean and ungenerous,—was genial in disposition, indeed brimming with mirthfulness, and, in every situation, attracted to himself numerous friends. He was, moreover, an excellent blacksmith.
After leaving his father's roof, for a half score of years, he was led into scenes of temptation and danger. But, having passed through various fortunes, the whispers of the internal monitor, and the voice of a loving wife, drew him into better and safer paths. He betook himself unremittingly to the duties of his occupation.
By the influence of early parental training, and the teachings of the Heavenly Spirit, he was led into a religious life. He dedicated himself unreservedly to Christ. This introduced him into a new sphere of effort, one, in which his naturally expansive nature found free scope. He became an active, devoted, joyous follower of the Great Master, and, thenceforward, desired nothing so much as to labor in his service.
About a year after this important change, a circumstance occurred which altered the course of his outward life.
It happened that a stranger came to pass a night at his, house. During the conversation of a long winter evening, his curiosity became greatly excited, in an account, given by his guest, of the Miramichi region. He was astonished at the moral darkness reigning there. The place was distant, and, at that time, almost inaccessible to any, save the strong and hardy. But the light of life ought to be thrown into that darkness. Who should go as a torch-bearer? The inquiry had scarcely risen in his breast, before he thought he heard the words spoken almost audibly, Thou must go.
Here, a peculiarity of the good blacksmith must be explained. Possessed of great practical wisdom and sagacity, he was yet easily affected by preternatural influences. He was subject to very strong "impressions of mind", as he called them, by which he was urged to pursue one course of conduct instead of another; to follow out one plan of business in preference to another, even when there seemed to be no apparent reason, why the one course was better than its alternative. He had sometimes obeyed these impressions, sometimes had not. But he thought he had found, in the end, that he should have invariably followed them.
A particular instance confirmed him in this belief. One day, being in New York, he was extremely anxious to complete his business in order to take passage home in a sloop, announced to leave port at a certain hour in the afternoon. Resolving to be on board the vessel at the time appointed, he hurried from place to place, from street to street, in the accomplishment of his plan. But he was strangely hindered in his arrangements and haunted by an impression of trouble connected with the vessel. Having, however, left his wife ill at home, and being still determined to go, he pressed on. It happened that he arrived at the wharf just as the sloop had got beyond the possibility of reaching her, and he turned away bitterly disappointed. The night that followed was one of darkness and horror; the sloop caught fire and all on board perished.
He had now received an impression that it was his duty to go, as an ambassador of Christ, to Miramichi.
Having for sometime previous, "exercised his gift" with acceptance at various social religious meetings, he applied to the authorities of his religious denomination for license to preach.
After passing a creditable examination on points deemed essential in the case, he obtained a commission and a cordial God speed from his brethren. They augured well for his success.
To be sure, the deficiencies of his early education sometimes made themselves manifest, notwithstanding the diligent efforts he had put forth, of late years, to remedy the lack. But on the other hand, he had knowledge of human nature, sagacity in adapting means to ends, a wide tolerance of those unfortunate ones, involved by whatever ways in guilt, deep and earnest piety, and a remarkable natural eloquence, both winning and forcible.
So he had started on his long journey through the wilderness, and here, at last, he is found, on the banks of the Miramichi, cheerful and active, engaged in his great work.
The reader was informed, at the close of the last chapter, that after the perplexing visions of the night, by the use of charms of which he well knew the power, Mr. Norton had cleared his brain of the unpleasant phantoms that had invaded it during his slumbers. Being quick and forgetive in his mental operations, even while completing his toilet, he had formed a plan for an attack upon the kingdom of darkness lying around him.
As he entered the room, the scene of his last night's adventure, his face beaming with cheerfulness and courage, Adele, who was just then laying the table, thought his appearance there like another sunrise.
After the morning salutations were over, he looked around the apartment, observing it, in its daylight aspect, with a somewhat puzzled air. In some respects, it was entirely unlike what he had seen before. The broad stone hearth, with its large blazing fire, the Dutch oven, the air of neatness and thrift, were like those of a New England kitchen, but here the resemblance ceased.
A paper-hanging, whose originally rich hues had become in a measure dimmed, covered the walls; and curious old pictures hung around; the chairs and tables were of heavy dark wood, elaborately and grotesquely carved, as was also the ebony clock in the corner, whose wonderful mechanism had so astonished him on the previous evening. A low lounge, covered with a crimson material, occupied a remote corner of the room, with a Turkish mat spread on the floor before it. At the head of the couch was a case, curiously carved, filled with books, and beneath, in a little niche in the wall, a yellow ivory crucifix.
It did not occur to the good man to make any comparison between this room with its peculiar adornings, and the Puritan kitchen with its stiff, stark furniture. One of the latter description was found in his own home, and the place where his loved ones lived and moved, was to him invested with a beauty altogether independent of outward form and show. But, as he looked around with an air of satisfaction, this room evidently pleased his eye, and he paid an involuntary tribute to its historic suggestiveness, by falling into a reverie concerning the life and times of the good Roman Catholic Fenelon, whose memoir and writings he had read.
Soon Adele called him to the breakfast-table.
Mrs. McNab not having made her appearance, he inquired if any tidings had been heard from the sick-room. Mrs. Dubois replied, that she had listened at the door and hearing no sound, concluded Mr. Brown was quiet under the influence of the sleeping powder, and consequently, she did not run the risk of disturbing him by going in.
"Should Aunt Patty happen to begin snoring in her chair, as she often does", said Adele, "Mr. Brown would be obliged to wake up. I defy any one to sleep when she gets into one of those fits".
"Adele", said her father, while a smile played round his mouth and twinkled in his usually grave eyes, "can't you let Mrs. McNab have any peace?"
"Is Mr. Brown a friend of yours?" inquired Mr. Norton of his host.
"I met him for the first time at Fredericton. He was at the hotel when I arrived there. We accidentally fell into conversation one evening. He made, then and subsequently, many inquiries about this region, and when I was ready to start for home, said that, with my permission, he would travel with me. I fancy", Mr. Dubois added, "he was somewhat ill when we left, but he did not speak of it. We had a rough journey and I think the exposure to which he was subjected has increased his sickness. If he proves to be no better to-day, I shall send Micah for Dr. Wright", said he, turning to his wife. "I hope you will, father", said Adele, speaking very decidedly. "I should be sorry to have him consigned over wholly to the tender mercies of Mrs. McNab".
"Mr. Dubois", said the missionary, laying down his knife and fork, suddenly, "I must confess, I am perfectly surprised to find such a family as yours in this place. From previous report, and indeed from my own observation in reaching here, I had received the idea, that the inhabitants were not only a wicked, but a very rude and uncouth set of people".
"Whatever may be your opinion of ourselves, sir", replied his host, "you are not far amiss in regard to the character of the people. They are, in general, a rough set".
"Well, sir", said Mr. Norton, "as an honest man, I must inform you, that I came here with a purpose in view. I have a message to this people,—a message of love and mercy; and I trust it will not be displeasing to you, if I promulgate it in this neighborhood".
"I do not understand your meaning", said Mr. Dubois.
"I wish, sir, to teach these people, some of the truths of morality and religion such as are found in the Bible. I have ventured to guess that you and your family are of the Roman Catholic faith".
"We belong to the communion of that church, sir".
"That being the case, and thinking you may have some interest in this matter, I would say, that I wish to make an attempt to teach the knowledge of divine things to this people, hoping thereby to raise them from their present state to something better and holier".
"A worthy object, sir, but altogether a hopeless one. You have no idea of the condition of the settlers here. You cannot get a hearing. They scoff at such things utterly", said Mr. Dubois.
"Is there any objection in your own mind against an endeavor to enlist their interest?" asked Mr. Norton.
"Not the least", said Mr. Dubois.
"Then I will try to collect the people together and tell them my views and wishes. Is there any man here having influence with this class, who would be willing to aid me in this movement?"
Mr. Dubois meditated.
"I do not know of one, sir", he said. "They all drink, swear, gamble, and profane holy things, and seem to have no respect for either God or man".
"It is too true", remarked Mrs. Dubois.
"Now, father", said Adele, assuming an air of wisdom, that sat rather comically on her youthful brow, "I think Micah Mummychog would be just the person to help this gentleman".
"Micah Mummychog!" exclaimed Mr. Norton, throwing himself back in his chair and shaking out of his lungs a huge, involuntary haw, haw, "where does the person you speak of hail from to own such a name as that, my dear child?"
"I rather think he came from Yankee land,—from your part of the country, sir", said Adele, mischievously.
"Ah, well", said Mr. Norton, with another peal of laughter, "we do have some curious names in our parts".
"Micah Mummychog!" exclaimed Mr. Dubois, "what are you thinking of, Adele? Why, the fellow drinks and swears as hard as the rest of them".
"Not quite", persisted the child, "and besides, he has some good about him, I know".
"What have you seen good about him, pray?" said her father.
"Why, you remember that when I discovered the little girl floating down the river, Micah took his boat and went out to bring her ashore. He took the body, dripping, in his arms, carried it to his house, and laid it down as tenderly as if it had been his own sister. He asked me to please go and get Mrs. McNab to come and prepare it for burial. The little thing, he said, was entirely dead and gone. I started to go, as he wished, but happened to think I would just step back and look at the sweet face once more. When I opened the door, Micah was bending over it, with his eyes full of tears. When I asked, what is the matter, Micah? he said he was thinking of a little sister of his that was drowned just so in the Kennebec River, many years ago".
"That showed some feeling, certainly", said Mrs. Dubois.
"Then, too, I know", continued Adele, "that the people here like him. If any one can get them together, Micah can".
"Well!" said Mr. Dubois looking at his child with a fond pride, yet as if doubting whether she were not already half spoiled, "it seems you are the wiseacre of the family. I know Micah has always been a favorite of yours. Perhaps the gentleman will give your views some consideration".
"Father", replied Adele, "I have only said what I think about it".
"I'll try what I can do with Micah Mummychog", said Mr. Norton decidedly, and the conversation ended.
About ten years before the period when this narrative begins, Micah Mummychog had come to this country from the Kennebec River, in the State of Maine.
He soon purchased a dozen acres of land, partially cleared them, and built a large-sized, comfortable log house. It was situated not far from the Dubois house, at a short distance from the bank of the river, and on the edge of a grove of forest trees.
Micah inhabited his house usually only a few months during the year, as he was a cordial lover of the unbroken wilderness, and was as migratory in his habits as the native Indian. On the morning after the events related in the last chapter, he happened to be at home. While Adele was guiding the missionary to his cottage, he was sitting in his kitchen, which also served for a general reception room, burnishing up an old Dutch fowling-piece.
The apartment was furnished with cooking utensils, and coarse wooden furniture; the walls hung around with fishing tackle, moose-horns, skins of wild animals and a variety of firearms.
Micah was no common, stupid, bumpkin-looking person. Belonging to the genus Yankee, he had yet a few peculiar traits of his own. He had a smallish, bullet-shaped head, set, with dignified poise, on a pair of wide, flat shoulders. His chest was broad and swelling, his limbs straight, muscular, and strong. His eyes were large, round, and blue. When his mind was in a state of repose and his countenance at rest, they had a solemn, owl-like expression. But when in an excited, observant mood, they were keen and searching; and human orbs surely never expressed more rollicking fun than did his, in his hours of recreation. He had a habit of darting them around a wide circle of objects, without turning his head a hairsbreadth. This, together with another peculiarity of turning his head, occasionally, at a sharp angle, with the quick and sudden motion of a cat, probably was acquired in his hunting life.
Micah had never taken to himself a helpmate, and as far as mere housekeeping was concerned, one would judge, on looking around the decent, tidy apartment in which he sat and of which he had the sole care, that he did not particularly need one. He washed, scoured, baked, brewed, swept and dusted as deftly as any woman, and did it all as a matter of course. These were, however, only his minor accomplishments. He commanded the highest wages in the lumber camp, was the best fisherman to be found in the region, and had the good luck of always bringing down any game he had set his heart upon.
Micah had faults, but let these pass for the present. There was one achievement of his, worthy of all praise.
It was remarked, that the loggery was situated on the edge of a grove. This grove, when Micah came, was "a piece of woods", of the densest and most tangled sort. By his strong arm, it had been transformed into a scene of exceeding beauty. He had cut away the under growth and smaller trees, leaving the taller sons of the forest still rising loftily and waving their banners toward heaven. It formed a magnificent natural temple, and as the sun struck in through the long, broad aisles, soft and rich were the lights and shadows that flickered over the green floor. The lofty arches, formed by the meeting and interlaced branches above, were often resonant with music. During the spring and summer months, matin worship was constantly performed by a multitudinous choir, and praises were chanted by tiny-throated warblers, raising their notes upon the deep, organ base, rolled into the harmony by the grand old pines.
It is true, that hardly a human soul worshipped here, but when the "Te Deum" rose toward heaven, thousands of blue, pink, and white blossoms turned their eyes upward wet with dewy moisture, the hoary mosses waved their tresses, the larches shook their tassels gayly, the birches quivered and thrilled with joy in every leaf, and the rivulets gurgled forth a silvery sound of gladness. On this particular September morning Micah's grove was radiant with beauty. The wild equinoctial storm, which had so fiercely assailed it the day before, had brightened it into fresh verdure and now it glittered in the sunbeams as if bejewelled with emerald.
Mr. Norton and Adele reached the cottage door, on which she tapped softly.
"Come in", Micah almost shouted, without moving from his seat or looking up from his occupation.
The maiden opened the door, and said, "Good morning, Micah".
At the sound of her voice he rose instantly and handing a chair into the middle of the floor, said, "O! come in, Miss Ady; I didn't know ez it was yeou".
"I cannot stop now, Micah, but here is a gentleman who has a little business with you. I came to show him the way. This is Mr. Norton".
And away Adele sped, without farther ceremony.
Micah looked after her for a moment, with a half smile on his weather-beaten face, then turned and motioning Mr. Norton to a chair, reseated himself on a wooden chest, with his gun, upon which he again commenced operations, his countenance setting into its usual owl-like solemnity.
He was not courtly in his reception of strangers. The missionary, however, had dealt with several varieties of the human animal before, and was by no means disturbed at this nonchalance.
"I believe you are from the States, as well as myself, Mr. Mummychog", said he, after a short silence.
"I'm from the Kennebec River", said Micah, laconically.
"I am quite extensively acquainted in that region, but do not remember to have heard your name before. It is rather an uncommon one".
"I guess ye won't find many folks in them parts, ez is called Mummychog", said Micah, with a twinkle of the eye and something like a grin, on his sombre visage.
"You've a snug place here, Mr. Micah", said Mr. Norton, who, having found some difficulty in restraining a smile, when repeating Mr. Mummychog's surname, concluded to drop it altogether, "but what could have induced you to leave the pleasant Kennebec and come to this distant spot?"
"Well, I cam' to git a chance and be somwhere, where I could jest be let alone".
"A chance for what, Mr. Micah?"
"Why, hang it, a chance to live an' dew abeout what I want tew. The moose an' wolves an' wildcats hev all ben hunted eout o' that kentry. Thar wa'nt no kind ev a chance there. So I cam' here".
"You have a wife, I suppose, Mr. Micah?"
"Wife! no. Do ye spose I want to hev a woman kep' skeered a most to death abeout me, all the time? I'm a fishin' an' huntin good part o' the year. Wild beasts and sech, is what I like".
"Don't you feel lonely here, sometimes, Mr. Micah?"
"Lunsum! no. There's plenty o' fellers reound here, all the time. They're a heowlin' set tew, ez ever I see".
"You have a good gun there", suggested the missionary.
"Well, tolable", said Micah, looking up for the first time since Mr. Norton had entered the house, and scanning him from head to foot with his keen, penetrating glance. "I spose you aint much used to firearms?"
"I have some acquaintance with them; but my present vocation don't require their use".
Here Mr. Mummychog rose, and laying his gun on the table, scratched his head, turned toward Mr. Norton and said, "Hev yeou any pertikilar business with me?"
"Yes sir, I have. I came to Miramichi to accomplish an important object, and I don't know of another person who can help me about it so well as you can".
"Well, I dunno. What upon arth is it?"
"To be plain upon the point", said the missionary, looking serious and earnest, "I have come here to preach the gospel of Christ".
"Whew! religin, is it? I can tell ye right off, its no go en these ere parts".
"Don't you think a little religion is needed here, Mr. Micah?"
"Well, I dunno. Taint wanted. Folks ez lives here, can't abide sermans and prayers en that doleful stuff".
"You say you came here for a chance, Mr. Micah. I suppose your friends came for the same purpose. Now, I have come to show them, not a chance, but a glorious certainty for happiness in this world and in the eternity beyond".
"Well, they don't want tew know anything abeout it. They just want tew be let alone", said Micah.
"I suppose they do wish to be let alone", said Mr. Norton. "But I cannot permit them to go down to wretchedness and sorrow unwarned. You have influence with your friends here, Mr. Micah. If you will collect the men, women, and children of this neighborhood together, some afternoon, in your beautiful grove, I will promise to give them not a long sermon, but something that will do them good to hear".
"I can't dew it no heow. There's ben preachers along here afore, an' a few 'ud go eout o' curiosity, an' some to make a disturbance an' sech, an' it never 'meounts to anything, no heow. Then sposin we haint dun jest as we'd oughter, who'se gin yeou the right tew twit us on it?"
"I certainly have no right, on my own responsibility, to reproach you, or your friends for sin, for I am a sinful man myself and have daily need of repentance. But I trust I have found out a way of redemption from guilt, and I wish to communicate it to my fellow-beings that they also may have knowledge of it, and fly to Christ, their only safety and happiness in this world".
Micah made no reply.
There was a pause of several minutes, and then the missionary rose and said, "Well, Mr. Micah, if you can't help me, you can't. The little maiden that came with me, told me you could render me aid, if any one could, and from what she said, I entertained a hope of your assistance. The Lord will remove the obstacles to proclaiming this salvation in some way, I know".
"Miss Ady didn't say I could help ye neow, did she?" said Micah, scratching his head.
"Certainly. Why did she bring me here?"
"Well, ef that aint tarnal queer", said Micah, falling into a deep reverie.
In a few moments, Mr. Norton shook his new acquaintance heartily by the hand and bade him good morning. Was the good man discouraged in his efforts? By no means.
He had placed in the mind of Micah Mummychog a small fusee, so to speak, which he foresaw would fire a whole train of discarded ideas and cast-off thoughts, and he expected to hear from it.
He filled up the day with a round of calls upon the various families of the neighborhood, and came home to his lodgings at Mr. Dubois's with his heart overwhelmed by the ignorance and debasement he had witnessed.
Yet his courage and hopes were strong.
P—— is a city by the sea. Built upon an elevated peninsula, surrounded by a country of manifold resources of beauty and fertility, with a fine, broad harbor, it sits queenlike in conscious power, facing with serene aspect the ever-restless waves that wash continually its feet. The place might be called ancient, if that term could properly be applied to any of the works of man on New England shores. There are parts of it, where the architecture of whole streets looks quaint and time-worn; here and there a few antique churches appear, but modern structures predominate, and the place is full of vigorous life and industry.
It was sunset. The sky was suffused with the richest carmine. The waters lay quivering beneath the palpitating, rosy light. The spires and domes of the town caught the ethereal hues and the emerald hills were bathed in the glowing atmosphere.
In a large apartment, in the second story of a tall, brick mansion on —— street, sat Mrs. Lansdowne. Susceptible though she was to the attractions of the scene before her, they did not now occupy her attention. Her brow was contracted with painful thought, her lip quivered with deep emotion. The greatest sorrow she had known had fallen upon her through the error of one whom she fondly loved.
Though enwrapped in a cloud of grief, one could see that she possessed beauty of a rich and rare type. She had the delicate, aquiline nose, the dark, lustrous eyes and hair, the finely arched eyebrows of the Hebrew woman. But she was no Jewess.
Mrs. Lansdowne could number in her ancestry men who had been notable leaders in the Revolutionary war with England, and, later in our history, others, who were remarkable for patriotism, nobility of character, intellectual ability, and high moral and religious culture.
Early in life, she had been united to Mr. Lansdowne, a gentleman moving in the same rank of society with herself. His health obliged him to give up the professional life he anticipated, and he had become a prosperous and enterprising merchant in his native city. They had an only child, a son eighteen years old, who in the progress of his collegiate course had just entered the senior year.
Edward Somers was Mrs. Lansdowne's only brother, her mother having died a week after his birth. She was eleven years of age at the time, and from that early period had watched over and loved him tenderly. He had grown up handsome and accomplished, fascinating in manners and most affectionate toward herself. She had learned that he had been engaged in what appeared, upon the face of it, a dishonorable affair, and her sensitive nature had been greatly shocked.
Two years before, Mr. Lansdowne had taken him as a junior partner in his business. He had since been a member of his sister's family.
A young foreigner had come to reside in the city, professing himself a member of a noble Italian family. Giuseppe Rossini was poet, orator, and musician. As poet and orator he was pleasing and graceful; as a musician he excelled. He was a brilliant and not obtrusive conversationalist. His enthusiastic expressions of admiration for our free institutions won him favor with all classes. In the fashionable circle he soon became a pet.
Mrs. Lansdowne had from the first distrusted him. There was no tangible foundation for her suspicions, but she had not been able to overcome a certain instinct that warned her from his presence. She watched, with misgivings of heart, her brother's growing familiarity with the Italian. A facility of temper, his characteristic from boyhood, made her fear that he might not be able to withstand the soft, insinuating voice that veils guilty designs by winning sophistics and appeals to sympathy and friendship. And so it proved.
One day, in extreme agitation, Rossini came to Mr. Somers, requesting the loan of a considerable sum of money, to meet demands made upon him. Remittances daily expected from Europe had failed to reach him. Mr. Somers was unable to command so large a sum as he required. His senior partner was absent from home. But the wily Rossini so won upon his sympathies, that he went to the private safe of his brother-in-law, and took from thence the money necessary to free his friend from embarrassment. He never saw the Italian again.
When the treachery of which he had been the victim burst upon him, together with his own weakness and guilt, he was filled with shame and remorse. Mr. Lansdowne was a man of stern integrity and uncompromising justice. He dared not meet his eye on his return, and he dreaded to communicate the unworthy transaction to his sister, who had so gently yet so faithfully warned him.
He made desperate efforts to get traces of the villain who had deceived him. Unsuccessful—maddened with sorrow and shame, he wrote a brief note of farewell to Mrs. Lansdowne, in which he confessed the wrong he had committed against her husband, which Mr. Lansdowne would reveal to her. He begged her to think as kindly of him as possible, averring that an hour before the deed was done, he could not have believed himself capable of it. Then he forsook the city.
When these occurrences were communicated to Mr. Lansdowne, he was filled with surprise and indignation,—not at the pecuniary loss, which, with his ample wealth, was of little moment to him, but on account of such imprudence and folly, where he least expected it.
A few hours, however, greatly modified his view of the case. He had found, in the safe, a note from Mr. Somers, stating the circumstances under which he had taken the money and also the disappearance of Rossini. This, together with his wife's distress, softened his feelings to such a degree that he consented to recall his brother and reinstate him in his former place in business.
But whither had the fugitive gone? Mrs. Lansdowne found no clue to his intended destination.
During the morning of the day on which she is first introduced to the attention of the reader, she had visited his apartment to make a more thorough exploration. Looking around the room, she saw lying in the fireplace a bit of paper, half buried in the ashes. She drew it out, and after examining carefully found written upon it a few words that kindled a new hope in her heart. Taking it to her husband, a consultation was held upon its contents and an expedition planned, of which an account will be given in the next chapter.
She was now the prey of conflicting emotions. The expedition, which had that day been arranged, involved a sacrifice of feeling on her part, greater she feared than she would be able to make.
But in order to recover her brother to home, honor, and happiness, it seemed necessary to be made. Voices from the dead were pleading at her heart incessantly, urging her, at whatever cost, to seek and save him, who, with herself, constituted the only remnant of their family left on earth. Her own affection for him also pressed its eloquent suit, and at last the decision was confirmed. She resolved to venture her son in the quest.
In the mean time, the sunset hues had faded from the sky and evening had approached. The golden full moon had risen and was now shining in at the broad window, bringing into beautiful relief the delicate tracery on the high cornices, the rich carvings of the mahogany furniture, and striking out a soft sheen from Mrs. Lansdowne's black satin dress, as she moved slowly to and fro, through the light.
She seated herself once more at the window and gazed upon the lovely orb of night. A portion of its serenity entered and tranquillized her soul. The cloud of care and anxiety passed from her brow, leaving it smooth and pure as that of an angel.
On the evening that Mrs. Lansdowne was thus occupied, John, her son, who had been out on the bay all the afternoon, rushed past the drawing-room door, bounded up the long staircase; entered his room, situated on the same floor, not far from his mother's, and rang the bell violently.
In a few minutes, Aunt Esther, an ancient black woman, who had long been in the service of the family, made her appearance at the door, and inquired what "Massa John" wanted.
"I want some fire here, Aunt Esther. I've been out on the bay, fishing. Our smack got run down, and I've had a ducking; I feel decidedly chilly".
"Law sakes!" said she, in great trepidation, "yer orter get warm right away", and hastened down stairs.
A stout, hale man, soon entered the room, with a basket of wood and a pan of coals, followed immediately by Aunt Esther, who began to arrange them on the hearth.
Aunt Esther's complexion was of a pure shining black, her features of the size and cut usually accompanying that hue, and lighted up by a contented, sunshiny expression, which truly indicated the normal state of her mind. A brilliant, yellow turban sat well upon her woolly locks and a blue and red chintz dress, striped perpendicularly, somewhat elongated the effect of her stout dumpy figure. She had taken care of John during his babyhood and early boyhood, and he remained to this day her especial pet and pride.
"Aunt Esther", said that young man, throwing himself into an easy-chair, and assuming as lackadaisical an expression as his frank and roguish face would allow, "I have just lost a friend".
"Yer have?" said his old nurse, looking round compassionately.
When did yer lose him?"
"About an hour ago".
"What did he die of, Massa John?"
"Of a painful nervous disease", said he.
"How old was he?"
"A few years younger than I am".
"Did he die hard?"
"Very hard, Aunt Esther", said John, looking solemn.
"Had yer known him long?"
"Yes, a long time".
Aunt Esther gave a deep sigh. "Does yer know weder he was pious?"
"Well, here he is. Perhaps you can tell by looking at him", said he, handing her a tooth, he had just had extracted, and bursting into a boyish laugh.
"O! yer go along, Massa John. I might hev knowed it was one of yer deceitful tricks", said Aunt Esther, trying to conceal her amusement, by putting on an injured look. "There, the fire burns now. Yer jest put on them dry clothes as quick as ever yer can, or mebbe ye'll lose another friend before long".
"It shall be done as you say, beloved Aunt Esther", said he, rising and bowing profoundly, as she left the room.
Having obeyed the worthy woman's injunction, he drew the easy-chair to the fire, leaned his head back and spent the next half hour hovering between consciousness and dreamland.
From this state, he was roused by a gentle tap on his door, followed by his mother's voice, saying, "John, dear?"
John rose instantly, threw the door wide open and ushered in the lady, saying, "Come in, little queen mother, come in", and bowing over her hand with a pompous, yet courtly grace.
Mrs. Lansdowne, when seen a short time since walking in her solitude, seemed quite lofty in stature, but now, standing for a moment beside the regal height of her son, one could fully justify him in bestowing upon her the title with which he had greeted her.
John Lansdowne was fast developing, physically as well as mentally into a noble manhood, and it was no wonder that his mother's heart swelled with pride and joy when she looked upon him. Straight, muscular, and vigorous in form, his features and expression were precisely her own, enlarged and intensified. Open and generous in disposition, his character had a certain quality of firmness, quite in contrast with that of his uncle Edward, and this she had carefully sought to strengthen. In the pursuit of his studies, he had thus far been earnest and successful.
During the last half year, however, he had chafed under the confinements of student life, and having now become quite restive in the harness, he had asked his father for a few months of freedom from books. He wished to explore a wilderness, to go on a foreign voyage, to wander away, away, anywhere beyond the sight of college walls.
"John", said Mrs. Lansdowne, "I have been conversing with your father on the subject, and he has consented to an expedition for you".
"O! glorious! mother where am I to go? to the Barcan desert, or to the Arctic Ocean?"
"You are to make a journey to the Miramichi River?"
"Miramichi!" said John, after a brief pause, "I thought I had a slight acquaintance with geography, but where in the wide world is Miramichi?"
"It is in the province of New Brunswick. You will have seventy-five miles of almost unbroken wilderness to pass through".
"Seventy-five miles of wilderness! magnificent! where's my rifle, mother? I haven't seen it for an age".
"Don't be so impetuous, John. This journey through the wilderness will be anything but magnificent. You will meet many dangers by the way and will encounter many hardships".
"But, mother, what care I for the perils of the way. Look at that powerful member", stretching out his large, muscular arm.
"Don't trust too much in that, John. Your strong arm is a good weapon, but you may meet something yet that is more than a match for it".
"Possibly", said John, with a sceptical air, "but when am I to start, mother?"
"To-morrow! that is fine. Well! I must bestir myself", said he, rising.
"Not to-night, my dear. You've nothing to do at present. Arrangements are made. Be quiet, John. We may not sit thus together again for a long while".
"True, mother", said he, reseating himself. "But how did you happen to think of Miramichi?" he asked, after a pause.
"That is what I must explain to you. Your uncle Edward has committed an act of imprudence which he fancies your father will not forgive him. He has left us without giving any information of his destination. We hope you will find him in New Brunswick, and this is your errand. You must seek him and bring him back to us".
John had been absent at the time of Mr. Somers's departure, and, without making definite inquiries, supposed him to be away on ordinary business.
After his first surprise at his mother's announcement, he was quite silent for a few moments.
Then he said, firmly, "If he is there, I will find him".
Mrs. Lansdowne did not explain to him the nature of her brother's offence, but simply communicated her earnest desire for his return. Then going together to the library they consulted the map of Maine and New Brunswick. Mr. Lansdowne joined them,—the route was fully discussed, and John retired to dream of the delights of a life untrammelled by college, or city walls.
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE WILDERNESS.
Two days after the arrival of Mr. Norton at the Dubois House, on the banks of the Miramichi, John Lansdowne, on a brilliant September morning, started on his memorable journey to that region.
He was up betimes, and made his appearance at the stables just as James, the stout little coachman, was completing Caesar's elaborate toilet.
Caesar was a noble-looking, black animal, whose strength and capacity for endurance had been well tested. This morning he was in high spirits and looked good for months of rough-and-tumble service.
"Here's yer rifle, Mister John. I put it in trim for ye yesterday. I s'pose ye'll be a squintin' reound sharp for bears and wolves and other livin' wild beasts when ye git inter the woods".
"Certainly, James. I expect to set the savage old monsters scattering in every direction".
"Well, but lookeout, Mister John and keep number one eout o' fire and water and sech".
"Trust me for doing that, James".
After many affectionate counsels and adieus from his parents, John, mounted on the gallant Caesar, with his rifle and portmanteau, posted on at a rapid rate, soon leaving the city far behind.
The position of one who sits confidently upon the back of a brave and spirited horse, is surely enviable. The mastery of a creature of such strength and capacity—whose neck is clothed with thunder—the glory of whose nostrils is terrible, gives to the rider a sense of freedom and power not often felt amidst the common conditions of life. No wonder that the Bedouin of the desert, crafty, cringing, abject in cities, when he mounts his Arab steed and is off to the burning sands, becomes dignified and courteous. Liberty and power are his. They elevate him for the time in the scale of existence.
John was a superb rider. From his first trial, he had sat on horseback, firm and kingly.
He and Caesar apparently indulged in common emotions on this morning of their departure from home. They did not it is true "smell the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting," but they smelt the wilderness, the wild, the fresh, the free, and they said ha! ha! And so they sped on their long journey.
The young man made a partial acquaintance with lumbering operations at Bangor; had his sublime ideas of the nobility of the aborigines of the country somewhat discomposed by the experience of a day spent in the Indian settlement at Oldtown; found a decent shelter at Mattawamkeag Point, and, at last, with an exultant bound of heart, struck into the forest.
The only road through this solitary domain was the rough path made by lumbermen, in hauling supplies to the various camps, scattered at intervals through the dense wilderness, extending seventy-five miles, from Mattawamkeag Point to the British boundary.
Here Nature was found in magnificent wildness and disarray, her hair quite unkempt. Great pines, shooting up immense distances in the sky skirted the path and flung their green-gray, trailing mosses abroad on the breeze; crowds of fir, spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees stood waving aloft their rich, dark banners; clusters of tall, white birches, scattered here and there, relieved and brightened the sombre evergreen depths, and the maple with its affluent foliage crowned each swell of the densely covered land. Here and there, a scarlet tree or bush shot out its sanguine hue, betokening the maturity of the season and the near approach of autumn's latest splendor. Big boulders of granite, overlaid with lichens, were profusely ornamented with crimson creepers. Everything appeared in splendid and wasteful confusion. There were huge trees with branches partially torn away; others, with split trunks leaning in slow death against their fellows; others, prostrate on the ground; and around and among all, grew brakes and ferns and parasitic vines; and nodded purple, red, and golden berries.
The brown squirrels ran up and down the trees and over the tangled rubbish, chirping merrily; a few late lingering birds sang little jerky notes of music, and the woodpecker made loud tapping sounds which echoed like the strokes of the woodman's axe. The air was rich and balmy,—spiced with cedar, pine, and hemlock, and a thousand unknown odors.
The path through this wild of forest was rude and difficult, but the travellers held on their way unflinchingly,—the horse with unfaltering courage and patience, and his rider with unceasing wonder and delight.
At noon they came to a halt, just where the sun looked down golden and cheery on a little dancing rivulet that babbled by the wayside. Here Caesar received his oats, for which his master had made room in his portmanteau, at the expense, somewhat, of his own convenience. The young man partook of a hearty lunch and resigned himself to dreams of life under the greenwood tree.
After an hour's rest, again in the saddle and on—on, through recurring scenes of wildness, waste, and beauty. Just as the stars began to glint forth and the traveller and horse felt willing perhaps to confess to a little weariness, they saw the light of the expected cabin fire in the distance. Caesar gave a low whinny of approval and hastened on.
Two or three red-shirted, long-bearded men gave them a rude welcome. They blanketed and fed Caesar, and picketed him under a low shed built of logs.
John, as hungry as a famished bear, drank a deep draught of a black concoction called tea, which his friends here presented to him, ate a powerful piece of dark bread, interlarded with fried pork, drew up with the others around the fire, and, in reply to their curious questionings, gave them the latest news from the outside world.
For this information he was rewarded by the strange and stirring adventures of wilderness life they related during the quickly flitting evening hours.
They told of the scores who went into the forest in the early part of winter, not to return until late in the spring; of snow-storms and packs of wolves; of herds of deer and moose; they related thrilling stories of men crushed by falling trees, or jammed between logs in the streams, together with incidents of the long winter evenings, usually spent by them in story telling and card playing. Thus he became acquainted with the routine of camp life.
Wearied at last with the unaccustomed fatigues of the day, he wrapped himself in his cloak, placed his portmanteau under his head for a pillow and floated off to dreamland, under the impression that this gypsying sort of life, was just the one of all others he should most like to live.
The following morning, the path of our traveller struck through a broad reach of the melancholy, weird desolation, called a burnt district. He rode out, suddenly, from the dewy greenness and balm-breathing atmosphere of the unblighted forest, into sunshine that poured down in torrents from the sky, falling on charred, shining shafts and stumps of trees, and a brilliant carpet of fireweed.
It is nearly impossible to give one who has not seen something of the kind, an adequate impression of the peculiar appearance of such a region. The strange, grotesque-looking stems, of every imaginable shape, left standing like a company of black dwarfs and giants scattered over the land, some of them surmounted with ebony crowns; some, with heads covered like olden warriors, with jetty helmets; some with brawny, long arms stretched over the pathway as if to seize the passer by, and all with feet planted, seemingly in deep and flaming fire. How quickly nature goes about repairing her desolations! So great in this case is her haste to cover up the black, unseemly surface of the earth, that, from the strange resemblance of the weed with which she clothes it to the fiery elements, it would seem as if she had not yet been able to thrust the raging glow out of her fancy, and so its type has crept again over the blighted spot.
John rode on over the glowing ground, the black monsters grimacing and scowling at him as he passed. What a nice eerie place this would be thought he for witches, wizards, and all Satan's gentry, of every shape and hue, to hold their high revels in. And he actually began to shout the witches song—
"Black spirits and white, Red spirits and gray".
At which adjuration, Caesar, doubtless knowing who were called upon, pricked up his ears and started on a full run, probably not wishing to find himself in such company just at that time.
An establishment similar to the one that had sheltered him the night previous, proffered its entertainment at the close of our adventurer's second day. The third day in the wilderness was signalized by an incident, which excited such triumphant emotions as to cause it to be long remembered. About an hour subsequent to his noon halt, as he and Caesar were proceeding along at a moderate pace, he heard a rustling, crackling noise on the right side of the path and suddenly a deer, frightened and panting, flew across the road, turned for a moment an almost human, despairing look toward him, plunged into the tangled under-growth on the left and was gone from sight. John drew his reins instantly, bringing his horse to a dead stand, loosened his rifle from his shoulder and after examining it closely, remained quiet. His patience was not taxed by long waiting. Within the space of two minutes, there was another sharp crunching and crackling of dry boughs, when a wolf, large, gray, and fierce, sprang into the path from the same opening, following on the trail of the deer. He had nearly crossed the narrow road in hot pursuit and was about springing into the thicket beyond, when an accidental turn of his head brought our hero suddenly to his attention. He stopped, as if struck by a spell of enchantment.
Whiz! the ball flew. The very instant it struck, the bloodthirsty monster fell dead. When John reached the spot, there was scarcely the quiver of a limb, so well had the work of death been accomplished. Yet the wolfish face grinned still a savage, horrible defiance.
"Here, Caesar", he exclaimed, in a boastful tone, "do you know that this old fellow lying here, won't get the drink out of the veins of that dainty creature he was so thirsty for? No! nor ever cheat any sweet little Red Riding Hood into thinking him her grandmother? This is the last of him. Didn't I do the neat thing, Caesar?"
Caesar threw his head on one side, with an air of admiration and gave a low whinny, that betokened a state of intense satisfaction at the whole transaction.
It may appear frivolous to those who have read with unwavering credulity the olden tales of the prowess and achievements of knights errant in the days of chivalry, that one should stop to relate such a commonplace incident as the shooting of a wolf, and above all, that the hero of this narrative, should betray, even to his horse, such a decided emotion of self admiration for having performed the feat. Such a trifle would not indeed be worth mentioning in company with the marvellous deeds and mysterious sorceries of the old romaunt, but this being a true story, the hero young, and this the first game of the kind he has yet brought down, it must be excused.
After a critical examination of his victim, our traveller mounted his horse and proceeded on his journey, much gratified at his afternoon's work, and inwardly resolving how he would make the eyes of James and Aunt Esther stand out, while listening to the account of it he should give them, on his return home.
In about seventeen days after his departure from P., John safely accomplished his journey. Amidst the subsequent hardships, rough fare and toils of that journey, which, in truth, thirty-five years ago, were things not to be laughed at, he had a constant satisfaction in the recollection of having, with one keen shot, killed a large, fierce, gray wolf.
The day following the call made by Mr. Norton on Micah Mummychog, the last-named personage came to Mr. Dubois's house and Adele happening to open the outside door, just as he hove in sight, he called out, "Miss Ady, do ye know where that individooal that ye brought to my heouse yisterday, is?"
"You mean the missionary?" said Adele.
"Well, yis, I spose so; where is he?"
"He is engaged with a sick gentleman we have here. He has taken the place of Aunt Patty, who is tired out and has gone to rest".
"Well, that piece of flesh, what's called McNab, has the greatest fakkilty of gittin' tired eout when there's any work reound, that ever I see. Any heow, she's got to stir herself this time. But I want to see the minister, neow".
"Yes, I will speak to him. But I shall not call Aunt Patty. She is tired now. I can take care of the sick gentleman. But what has happened, Micah?"
"Well, there's goin' to be a funeral. I can't jestly tell ye abeout it neow. Ye can ax yer sir, when he comes in", said Micah, reluctant to go into particulars which he knew would shock Adele.
"Well, Captin", said Micah, when Mr. Norton made his appearance at the door, here's a reg'lar wind-fall for ye. Here's an Irishman over here, as is dead as a door nail. He's goin' to be buried to-night, 'beout sunset, and I dun no but what I can git a chance for ye to hold forth a spell in the grove, jest afore they put him under greound".
"Dead! the poor man dead! indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Norton.
"Yis. He was shot right through his heart, and I hope a swingin' cuss 'ill come on him that put the ball threough, tew".
"Why, how was it, Mr. Micah?" said Mr. Norton earnestly.
"Well, yeou jest tell me fust wether yeou'll say prayers, or somethin' or 'nother over the poor chap's reeliks".
"Certainly, I will, Mr. Micah".
"Well, ye see, Pat McGrath lived back here, half a mile or so, an' he's got lots o' cousins an' friends 'ut live all along on this 'ere river, more or less, till ye git to Chartham, that's sitooated to the mouth. Well, these fellers has been in the habit o' gittin' together and goin' deown river and hirin' once in a spell, some sort of old, cranky craft and goin' skylarking reound to Eastport and Portland. Arter a while they'd cum back and smuggle in a cargo o' somethin' or 'nother from the States, and sheirk the dooties. Well, 'beout a week ago, there was a confounded old crittur 'ut lives halfway from here to Chartham, that informed on' em. So they jes' collected together—'beout twenty fellers—and mobbed him. And the old cuss fired into 'em and killed this 'ere man. So neow they've brought his body hum, and his wife's a poor shiftless thing, and she's been a hollerin' and screechin' ever sence she heerd of it".
"Poor woman!" said Mr. Norton, greatly shocked.
"Well, I might as well tell yer the whole on't", said Micah, scratching his head. "Yer see, he was one o' these Catholics, this Pat was, and the fellers went to the priest (he lives deown river, little better'n ten mile from here) in course to git him to dew what's to be done to the funeral, and the tarnal old heathen wouldn't dew it. He sed Pat had gone agin the law o' the kentry, and he wouldn't hev anything to do 'beout it. So the fellers brought the body along, and I swear, Pat McGrath shall hev a decent funeral, any way".
"Where is the funeral to be?" asked Mr. Norton, after listening attentively to the account Micah had given him.
"O! deown here 'n the grove. The body's to my heouse, and Maggie his wife's there a screechin'. The graveyard's close here, and so they didn't carry him hum".
"I'll, go down and see this poor Maggie", said Mr. Norton.
"Don't, for the Lord's sake. I'm eenermost crazy neow. The heouse is jammed full o' folks, and there ain't nothin, ready. You jes' wait here, till I git things in shape and I'll cum arter ye".
Micah then departed to complete his arrangements, and Mr. Norton returned to his post, in the sick-room.
It was nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, before a messenger came to inform him that the hour of burial had arrived.
A strange scene presented itself to his view, as he approached the grove. A motley company, composed of the settlers of every grade and condition for miles around, had collected there. Men, women, and children in various costume—the scarlet and crimson shirt, or tunic, carrying it high above all other fashions—were standing, or walking among the trees, conversing upon the event that had brought them together.
As the missionary approached, the loud indignant voices subsided into a low murmur, and the people made way for him to reach the centre of the group.
Here he found the coffin, placed upon a pile of boards, entirely uncovered to the light of day and to the inspection of the people, who had, each in turn, gazed with curious eyes upon the lifeless clay it enclosed.
In the absence of Mrs. McNab, who was still sleeping away the effects of her late fatigues at the house of Mr. Dubois, the women of the neighborhood had arrayed Patrick McGrath, very properly, in a clean shirt of his accustomed wearing apparel, so arranging it that the folds of the red tunic could be lifted in order to expose to those who came to look upon him the wound he had received. There he lay, the rude smuggler, turned gently upon his side, one cheek pressing the pillow. Death had effaced from his countenance every trace of the stormy passions which raged in his breast when the fatal bullet struck him, and had sealed it with even a pleasant serenity.
Not so with the compeers of his race, who encircled the coffin. They scowled a fierce fury from beneath their bushy brows and muttered vows of vengeance. The rays of the sun, now rapidly declining, shot into their angry faces, the evening breeze shook out their matted locks of hair. A peculiar glow was cast over their wild, Erin features, now gleaming with unholy passion.
Mr. Norton bent for a few minutes over the coffin, while an expression of sorrow and deep commiseration overspread his countenance. Then he stepped upon a slight knoll of ground near by, raised himself to his full height and began to speak in a voice that rose above the crowd, clear, melodious, full and penetrating as the notes of a bugle. It thrilled on every ear and drew instant attention.
"Friends, brethren, fellow-sinners, one of our number has been suddenly struck down by the relentless hand of death, and we are here to pay the last honors to his mortal remains,—each and all to learn a solemn lesson while standing at the mouth of the grave. Brethren, we are to learn anew from this occasion that death often comes to man with the suddenness of the lightning flash. One moment before your comrade was struck by the fatal bullet, his eye glowed as keenly and his right arm was as powerful as yours. The next moment he was prostrate on the ground, with no power to move a single limb of his body, or utter a single sigh, or breathe a single prayer. He was dead".
"I am ignorant whether he was prepared to make such a sudden transit from this world to that scene of judgment to which he has been summoned. You know, who were his friends and comrades, what his former course has been, and whether he was prepared to meet the Judge of all the earth. I know nothing of all this, but I fervently hope that at the last erring, awful moment, when he had just committed an act of transgression against the laws of his country, he had in his heart, and did, offer up this prayer, 'God be merciful to me, a sinner.' We must leave him in the hands of the Almighty, who is both merciful and just. We cannot change his lot, but we have it in our power to profit by the circumstances of his death. Beholding how suddenly he has been cut off, in the prime and strength of his days, we may learn that we too may be called at some unexpected moment, and that it behooves us to be found ever in the right path, so living, so acting, that we shall be ready, when death comes, to meet our Judge without fear and with the assurance that when we depart this life, through the righteousness of Christ, we shall be introduced into a better and nobler country. I beg of you earnestly, my dear brethren, in order to secure this happy result, to turn immediately from your sins, repenting of them without delay, and apply to Christ whose blood can alone wash them away. Take the Bible, this precious gift from Heaven, for your counsellor and guide, follow its instructions, and you will be safe and happy, whether in life or in death".
"My brethren, I will say but one word more; that word I earnestly implore you to listen to. This book from God says, vengeance is mine; I will repay. I fear it is in your hearts to seek revenge upon him who is the author of your comrade's death. I beseech you not to do it. God knows where the wrong is, in this case, and He, the great Avenger, will not suffer it to go unpunished. Sooner or later He brings every wicked and wrong-doer to a just reward. Leave all in His righteous hands, and stain not your souls with blood and violence. Let us seek the divine blessing".
Mr. Norton then offered a short and simple prayer, imploring the forgiveness of sins, and blessings upon Patrick's wife, his companions, and the community.
Maggie, who had wailed herself into perfect exhaustion and almost stupor, sat gazing fixedly in his face; the rest seemed hushed as by a spell, and did not begin to move until some moments after his voice ceased.
Then the tongues were loosened, and amid the ebbs and flows of murmuring sound, the coffin was covered, placed upon a bier and borne to the grave, followed by the crowd.
"And shure", said a poor Irishwoman to her crony, as they trudged along behind, "the praste's voice sounded all the while like a great blessed angel, a blowin' through a silver trumpet. Shure, he's a saint, he is".