AFLOAT AND ASHORE
A SEA TALE
JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
"Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits." Two Gentlemen of Verona
The writer has published so much truth which the world has insisted was fiction, and so much fiction which has been received as truth, that, in the present instance, he is resolved to say nothing on the subject. Each of his readers is at liberty to believe just as much, or as little, of the matter here laid before him, or her, as may suit his, or her notions, prejudices, knowledge of the world, or ignorance. If anybody is disposed to swear he knows precisely where Clawbonny is, that he was well acquainted with old Mr. Hardinge, nay, has often heard him preach—let him make his affidavit, in welcome. Should he get a little wide of the mark, it will not be the first document of that nature, which has possessed the same weakness.
It is possible that certain captious persons may be disposed to inquire into the cui bono? of such a book. The answer is this. Everything which can convey to the human mind distinct and accurate impressions of events, social facts, professional peculiarities, or past history, whether of the higher or more familiar character, is of use. All that is necessary is, that the pictures should be true to nature, if not absolutely drawn from living sitters. The knowledge we gain by our looser reading, often becomes serviceable in modes and manners little anticipated in the moments when it is acquired.
Perhaps the greater portion of all our peculiar opinions have their foundation in prejudices. These prejudices are produced in consequence of its being out of the power of any one man to see, or know, every thing. The most favoured mortal must receive far more than half of all that he learns on his faith in others; and it may aid those who can never be placed in positions to judge for themselves of certain phases of men and things, to get pictures of the same, drawn in a way to give them nearer views than they might otherwise obtain. This is the greatest benefit of all light literature in general, it being possible to render that which is purely fictitious even more useful than that which is strictly true, by avoiding extravagancies, by pourtraying with fidelity, and, as our friend Marble might say, by "generalizing" with discretion.
This country has undergone many important changes since the commencement of the present century. Some of these changes have been for the better; others, we think out of all question, for the worse. The last is a fact that can be known to the generation which is coming into life, by report only, and these pages may possibly throw some little light on both points, in representing things as they were. The population of the republic is probably something more than eighteen millions and a half to-day; in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred, it was but a little more than five millions. In 1800, the population of New-York was somewhat less than six hundred thousand souls; to-day it is probably a little less than two millions seven hundred thousand souls. In 1800, the town of New-York had sixty thousand inhabitants, whereas, including Brooklyn and Williamsburg, which then virtually had no existence, it must have at this moment quite four hundred thousand. These are prodigious numerical changes, that have produced changes of another sort. Although an increase of numbers does not necessarily infer an increase of high civilization, it reasonably leads to the expectation of great melioration in the commoner comforts. Such has been the result, and to those familiar with facts as they now exist, the difference will probably be apparent in these pages.
Although the moral changes in American society have not kept even pace with those that are purely physical, many that are essential have nevertheless occurred. Of all the British possessions on this continent, New-York, after its conquest from the Dutch, received most of the social organization of the mother country. Under the Dutch, even, it had some of these characteristic peculiarities, in its patroons; the lords of the manor of the New Netherlands. Some of the southern colonies, it is true, had their caciques and other semi-feudal, and semi-savage noblesse, but the system was of short continuance; the peculiarities of that section of the country, arising principally from the existence of domestic slavery, on an extended scale. With New-York it was different. A conquered colony, the mother country left the impression of its own institutions more deeply engraved than on any of the settlements that were commenced by grants to proprietors, or under charters from the crown. It was strictly a royal colony, and so continued to be, down to the hour of separation. The social consequences of this state of things were to be traced in her habits unlit the current of immigration became so strong, as to bring with it those that were conflicting, if not absolutely antagonist. The influence of these two sources of thought is still obvious to the reflecting, giving rise to a double set of social opinions; one of which bears all the characteristics of its New England and puritanical origin, while the other may be said to come of the usages and notions of the Middle States, proper.
This is said in anticipation of certain strictures that will be likely to follow some of the incidents of our story, it not being always deemed an essential in an American critic, that he should understand his subject. Too many of them, indeed, justify the retort of the man who derided the claims to knowledge of life, set up by a neighbour, that "had been to meetin' and had been to mill." We can all obtain some notions of the portion of a subject that is placed immediately before our eyes; the difficulty is to understand that which we have no means of studying.
On the subject of the nautical incidents of this book, we have endeavoured to be as exact as our authorities will allow. We are fully aware of the importance of writing what the world thinks, rather than what is true, and are not conscious of any very palpable errors of this nature.
It is no more than fair to apprize the reader, that our tale is not completed in the First Part, or the volumes that are now published. This, the plan of the book would not permit: but we can promise those who may feel any interest in the subject, that the season shall not pass away, so far as it may depend on ourselves, without bringing the narrative to a close. Poor Captain Wallingford is now in his sixty-fifth year, and is naturally desirous of not being hung up long on the tenter-hooks of expectation, so near the close of life. The old gentleman having seen much and suffered much, is entitled to end his days in peace. In this mutual frame of mind between the principal, and his editors, the public shall have no cause to complain of unnecessary delay, whatever may be its rights of the same nature on other subjects.
The author—perhaps editor would be the better word—does not feel himself responsible for all the notions advanced by the hero of this tale, and it may be as well to say as much. That one born in the Revolution should think differently from the men of the present day, in a hundred things, is to be expected. It is in just this difference of opinion, that the lessons of the book are to be found.
AFLOAT AND ASHORE.
"And I—my joy of life is fled, My spirit's power, my bosom's glow; The raven locks that grac'd my head, Wave in a wreath of snow! And where the star of youth arose, I deem'd life's lingering ray should close, And those lov'd trees my tomb o'ershade, Beneath whose arching bowers my childhood play'd." MRS. HEMANS.
I was born in a valley not very remote from the sea. My father had been a sailor in youth, and some of my earliest recollections are connected with the history of his adventures, and the recollections they excited. He had been a boy in the war of the revolution, and had seen some service in the shipping of that period. Among other scenes he witnessed, he had been on board the Trumbull, in her action with the Watt—the hardest-fought naval combat of that war—and he particularly delighted in relating its incidents. He had been wounded in the battle, and bore the marks of the injury, in a scar that slightly disfigured a face, that, without this blemish, would have been singularly handsome. My mother, after my poor father's death, always spoke of even this scar as a beauty spot. Agreeably to my own recollections, the mark scarcely deserved that commendation, as it gave one side of the face a grim and fierce appearance, particularly when its owner was displeased.
My father died on the farm on which he was born, and which descended to him from his great-grandfather, an English emigrant that had purchased it of the Dutch colonist who had originally cleared it from the woods. The place was called Clawbonny, which some said was good Dutch others bad Dutch; and, now and then, a person ventured a conjecture that it might be Indian. Bonny it was, in one sense at least, for a lovelier farm there is not on the whole of the wide surface of the Empire State. What does not always happen in this wicked, world, it was as good as it was handsome. It consisted of three hundred and seventy-two acres of first-rate land, either arable, or of rich river bottom in meadows, and of more than a hundred of rocky mountain side, that was very tolerably covered with wood. The first of our family who owned the place had built a substantial one-story stone house, that bears the date of 1707 on one of its gables; and to which each of his successors had added a little, until the whole structure got to resemble a cluster of cottages thrown together without the least attention to order or regularity. There were a porch, a front door, and a lawn, however; the latter containing half a dozen acres of a soil as black as one's hat, and nourishing eight or ten elms that were scattered about, as if their seeds had been sown broad-cast. In addition to the trees, and a suitable garniture of shrubbery, this lawn was coated with a sward that, in the proper seasons, rivalled all I have read, or imagined, of the emerald and shorn slopes of the Swiss valleys.
Clawbonny, while it had all the appearance of being the residence of an affluent agriculturist, had none of the pretension of these later times. The house had an air of substantial comfort without, an appearance that its interior in no manner contradicted. The ceilings, were low, it is true, nor were the rooms particularly large; but the latter were warm in winter, cool in summer and tidy, neat and respectable all the year round. Both the parlours had carpets, as had the passages and all the better bed-rooms; and there were an old-fashioned chintz settee, well stuffed and cushioned, and curtains in the "big parlour," as we called the best apartment,—the pretending name of drawing-room not having reached our valley as far back as the year 1796, or that in which my recollections of the place, as it then existed, are the most vivid and distinct.
We had orchards, meadows, and ploughed fields all around us; while the barns, granaries, styes, and other buildings of the farm, were of solid stone, like the dwelling, and all in capital condition. In addition to the place, which he inherited from my grandfather, quite without any encumbrance, well stocked and supplied with utensils of all sorts, my father had managed to bring with him from sea some fourteen or fifteen thousand dollars, which he carefully invested in mortgages in the county. He got twenty-seven hundred pounds currency with my mother, similarly bestowed; and, two or three great landed proprietors, and as many retired merchants from York, excepted, Captain Wallingford was generally supposed to be one of the stiffest men in Ulster county. I do not know exactly how true was this report; though I never saw anything but the abundance of a better sort of American farm under the paternal roof, and I know that the poor were never sent away empty-handed. It as true that our wine was made of currants; but it was delicious, and there was always a sufficient stock in the cellar to enable us to drink it three or four years old. My father, however, had a small private collection of his own, out of which he would occasionally produce a bottle; and I remember to have heard Governor George Clinton, afterwards, Vice President, who was an Ulster county man, and who sometimes stopped at Clawbonny in passing, say that it was excellent East India Madeira. As for clarets, burgundy, hock and champagne, they were wines then unknown in America, except on the tables of some of the principal merchants, and, here and there, on that of some travelled gentleman of an estate larger than common. When I say that Governor George Clinton used to stop occasionally, and taste my father's Madeira, I do not wish to boast of being classed with those who then composed the gentry of the state. To this, in that day, we could hardly aspire, though the substantial hereditary property of my family gave us a local consideration that placed us a good deal above the station of ordinary yeomen. Had we lived in one of the large towns, our association would unquestionably have been with those who are usually considered to be one or two degrees beneath the highest class. These distinctions were much more marked, immediately after the war of the revolution, than they are to-day; and they are more marked to-day, even, than all but the most lucky, or the most meritorious, whichever fortune dignifies, are willing to allow.
The courtship between my parents occurred while my father was at home, to be cured of the wounds he had received in the engagement between the Trumbull and the Watt. I have always supposed this was the moving cause why my mother fancied that the grim-looking scar on the left side of my father's face was so particularly becoming. The battle was fought in June 1780, and my parents were married in the autumn of the same year. My father did not go to sea again until after my birth, which took place the very day that Cornwallis capitulated at Yorktown. These combined events set the young sailor in motion, for he felt he had a family to provide for, and he wished to make one more mark on the enemy in return for the beauty-spot his wife so gloried in. He accordingly got a commission in a privateer, made two or three fortunate cruises, and was able at the peace to purchase a prize-brig, which he sailed, as master and owner, until the year 1790, when he was recalled to the paternal roof by the death of my grandfather. Being an only son, the captain, as my father was uniformly called, inherited the land, stock, utensils and crops, as already mentioned; while the six thousand pounds currency that were "at use," went to my two aunts, who were thought to be well married, to men in their own class of life, in adjacent counties.
My father never went to sea after he inherited Clawbonny. From that time down to the day of his death, he remained on his farm, with the exception of a single winter passed in Albany as one of the representatives of the county. In his day, it was a credit to a man to represent a county, and to hold office under the State; though the abuse of the elective principle, not to say of the appointing power, has since brought about so great a change. Then, a member of congress was somebody; now, he is only—a member of congress.
We were but two surviving children, three of the family dying infants, leaving only my sister Grace and myself to console our mother in her widowhood. The dire accident which placed her in this, the saddest of all conditions for a woman who had been a happy wife, occurred in the year 1794, when I was in my thirteenth year, and Grace was turned of eleven. It may be well to relate the particulars.
There was a mill, just where the stream that runs through our valley tumbles down to a level below that on which the farm lies, and empties itself into a small tributary of the Hudson. This mill was on our property, and was a source of great convenience and of some profit to my father. There he ground all the grain that was consumed for domestic purposes, for several miles around; and the tolls enabled him to fatten his porkers and beeves, in a way to give both a sort of established character. In a word, the mill was the concentrating point for all the products of the farm, there being a little landing on the margin of the creek that put up from the Hudson, whence a sloop sailed weekly for town. My father passed half his time about the mill and landing, superintending his workmen, and particularly giving directions about the fitting of the sloop, which was his property also, and about the gear of the mill. He was clever, certainly, and had made several useful suggestions to the millwright who occasionally came to examine and repair the works; but he was by no means so accurate a mechanic as he fancied himself to be. He had invented some new mode of arresting the movement, and of setting the machinery in motion when necessary; what it was, I never knew, for it was not named at Clawbonny after the fatal accident occurred. One day, however, in order to convince the millwright of the excellence of this improvement, my father caused the machinery to be stopped, and then placed his own weight upon the large wheel, in order to manifest the sense he felt in the security of his invention. He was in the very act of laughing exultingly at the manner in which the millwright shook his head at the risk he ran, when the arresting power lost its control of the machinery, the heavy head of water burst into the buckets, and the wheel whirled round carrying my unfortunate father with it. I was an eye-witness of the whole, and saw the face of my parent, as the wheel turned it from me, still expanded in mirth. There was but one revolution made, when the wright succeeded in stopping the works. This brought the great wheel back nearly to its original position, and I fairly shouted with hysterical delight when I saw my father standing in his tracks, as it might be, seemingly unhurt. Unhurt he would have been, though he must have passed a fearful keel-hauling, but for one circumstance. He had held on to the wheel with the tenacity of a seaman, since letting go his hold would have thrown him down a cliff of near a hundred feet in depth, and he actually passed between the wheel and the planking beneath it unharmed, although there was only an inch or two to spare; but in rising from this fearful strait, his head had been driven between a projecting beam and one of the buckets, in a way to crush one temple in upon the brain. So swift and sudden had been the whole thing, that, on turning the wheel, his lifeless body was still inclining on its periphery, retained erect, I believe, in consequence of some part of his coat getting attached, to the head of a nail. This was the first serious sorrow of my life. I had always regarded my father as one of the fixtures of the world; as a part of the great system of the universe; and had never contemplated his death as a possible thing. That another revolution might occur, and carry the country back under the dominion of the British crown, would have seemed to me far more possible than that my father could die. Bitter truth now convinced me of the fallacy of such notions.
It was months and months before I ceased to dream of this frightful scene. At my age, all the feelings were fresh and plastic, and grief took strong hold of my heart. Grace and I used to look at each other without speaking, long after the event, the tears starting to my eyes, and rolling down her cheeks, our emotions being the only communications between us, but communications that no uttered words could have made so plain. Even now, I allude to my mother's anguish with trembling. She was sent for to the house of the miller, where the body lay, and arrived unapprised of the extent of the evil. Never can I—never shall I forget the outbreakings of her sorrow, when she learned the whole of the dreadful truth. She was in fainting fits for hours, one succeeding another, and then her grief found tongue. There was no term of endearment that the heart of woman could dictate to her speech, that was not lavished on the lifeless clay. She called the dead "her Miles," "her beloved Miles," "her husband," "her own darling husband," and by such other endearing epithets. Once she seemed as if resolute to arouse the sleeper from his endless trance, and she said, solemnly, "Father—dear, dearest father!" appealing as it might be to the parent of her children, the tenderest and most comprehensive of all woman's terms of endearment—"Father—dear, dearest father! open your eyes and look upon your babes—your precious girl, and noble boy! Do not thus shut out their sight for ever!"
But it was in vain. There lay the lifeless corpse, as insensible as if the spirit of God had never had a dwelling within it. The principal injury had been received on that much-prized scar; and again and again did my poor mother kiss both, as if her caresses might yet restore her husband to life. All would not do. The same evening, the body was carried to the dwelling, and three days later it was laid in the church-yard, by the side of three generations of forefathers, at a distance of only a mile from Clawbonny. That funeral service, too, made a deep impression on my memory. We had some Church of England people in the valley; and old Miles Wallingford, the first of the name, a substantial English franklin, had been influenced in his choice of a purchase by the fact that one of Queen Anne's churches stood so near the farm. To that little church, a tiny edifice of stone, with a high, pointed roof, without steeple, bell, or vestry-room, had three generations of us been taken to be christened, and three, including my father, had been taken to be buried. Excellent, kind-hearted, just-minded Mr. Hardinge read the funeral service over the man whom his own father had, in the same humble edifice, christened. Our neighbourhood has much altered of late years; but, then, few higher than mere labourers dwelt among us, who had not some sort of hereditary claim to be beloved. So it was with our clergyman, whose father had been his predecessor, having actually married my grand-parents. The son had united my father and mother, and now he was called on to officiate at the funeral obsequies of the first. Grace and I sobbed as if our hearts would break, the whole time we were in the church; and my poor, sensitive, nervous little sister actually shrieked as she heard the sound of the first clod that fell upon the coffin. Our mother was spared that trying scene, finding it impossible to support it. She remained at home, on her knees, most of the day on which the funeral occurred.
Time soothed our sorrows, though my mother, a woman of more than common sensibility, or, it were better to say of uncommon affections, never entirely recovered from the effects of her irreparable loss. She had loved too well, too devotedly, too engrossingly, ever to think of a second marriage, and lived only to care for the interests of Miles Wallingford's children. I firmly believe we were more beloved because we stood in this relation to the deceased, than because we were her own natural offspring. Her health became gradually undermined, and, three years after the accident of the mill, Mr. Hardinge laid her at my father's side. I was now sixteen, and can better describe what passed during the last days of her existence, than what took place at the death of her husband. Grace and I were apprised of what was so likely to occur, quite a month before the fatal moment arrived; and we were not so much overwhelmed with sudden grief as we had been on the first great occasion of family sorrow, though we both felt our loss keenly, and my sister, I think I may almost say, inextinguishably. Mr. Hardinge had us both brought to the bed-side, to listen to the parting advice of our dying parent, and to be impressed with a scene that is always healthful, if rightly improved. "You baptized these two dear children, good Mr. Hardinge," she said, in a voice that was already enfeebled by physical decay, "and you signed them with the sign of the cross, in token of Christ's death for them; and I now ask of your friendship and pastoral care to see that they are not neglected at the most critical period of their lives—that when impressions are the deepest, and yet the most easily made. God will reward all your kindness to the orphan children of your friends." The excellent divine, a man who lived more for others than for himself, made the required promises, and the soul of my mother took its flight in peace.
Neither my sister nor myself grieved as deeply for the loss of this last of our parents, as we did for that of the first. We had both seen so many instances of her devout goodness, had been witnesses of so great a triumph of her faith as to feel an intimate, though silent, persuasion that her death was merely a passage to a better state of existence—that it seemed selfish to regret. Still, we wept and mourned, even while, in one sense, I think we rejoiced. She was relieved from, much bodily suffering, and I remember, when I went to take a last look at her beloved face, that I gazed on its calm serenity with a feeling akin to exultation, as I recollected that pain could no longer exercise dominion over her frame, and that her spirit was then dwelling in bliss. Bitter regrets came later, it is true, and these were fully shared—nay, more than shared—by Grace.
After the death of my father, I had never bethought me of the manner in which he had disposed of his property. I heard something said of his will, and gleaned a little, accidentally, of the forms that had been gone through in proving the instrument, and of obtaining its probate. Shortly after my mother's death, however, Mr. Hardinge had a free conversation with both me and Grace on the subject, when we learned, for the first time, the disposition that had been made. My father had bequeathed to me the farm, mill, landing, sloop, stock, utensils, crops, &c. &c., in full property; subject, however, to my mother's use of the whole until I attained my majority; after which I was to give her complete possession of a comfortable wing of the house, which had every convenience for a small family within itself, certain privileges in the fields, dairy, styes, orchards, meadows, granaries, &c., and to pay her three hundred pounds currency, per annum, in money. Grace had four thousand pounds that were "at use," and I had all the remainder of the personal property, which yielded about five hundred dollars a-year. As the farm, sloop, mill, landing, &c., produced a net annual income of rather more than a thousand dollars, besides all that was consumed in housekeeping, I was very well off, in the way of temporal things, for one who had been trained in habits as simple as those which reigned at Clawbonny.
My father had left Mr. Hardinge the executor, and my mother an executrix of his will, with survivorship. He had also made the same provision as respected the guardians. Thus Grace and I became the wards of the clergyman alone on the death of our last remaining parent. This was grateful to us both, for we both truly loved this good man, and, what was more, we loved his children. Of these there were two of ages corresponding very nearly with our own; Rupert Hardinge being not quite a year older than I was myself, and Lucy, his sister, about six months younger than Grace. We were all four strongly attached to each other, and had been so from infancy, Mr. Hardinge having had charge of my education as soon as I was taken from a woman's school.
I cannot say, however, that Rupert Hardinge was ever a boy to give his father the delight that a studious, well-conducted, considerate and industrious child, has it so much in his power to yield to his parent. Of the two, I was much the best scholar, and had been pronounced by Mr. Hardinge fit to enter college, a twelvemonth before my mother died; though she declined sending me to Yale, the institution selected by my father, until my school-fellow was similarly prepared, it having been her intention to give the clergyman's son a thorough education, in furtherance of his father's views of bringing him up to the church. This delay, so well and kindly meant, had the effect of changing the whole course of my subsequent life.
My father, it seems, wished to make a lawyer of me, with the natural desire of seeing me advanced to some honourable position in the State. But I was averse to anything like serious mental labour, and was greatly delighted when my mother determined to keep me out of college a twelvemonth in order that my friend Rupert might be my classmate. It is true I learned quick, and was fond of reading; but the first I could not very well help, while the reading I liked was that which amused, rather than that which instructed me. As for Rupert, though not absolutely dull, but, on the other hand, absolutely clever in certain things, he disliked mental labour even more than myself, while he liked self-restraint of any sort far less. His father was sincerely pious, and regarded his sacred office with too much reverence to think of bringing up a "cosset-priest," though he prayed and hoped that his son's inclinations, under the guidance of Providence, would take that direction. He seldom spoke on the subject himself, but I ascertained his wishes through my confidential dialogues with his children. Lucy seemed delighted with the idea, looking forward to the time when her brother would officiate in the same desk where her father and grandfather had now conducted the worship of God for more than half a century; a period of time that, to us young people, seemed to lead us back to the dark ages of the country. And all this the dear girl wished for her brother, in connection with his spiritual rather than his temporal interests, inasmuch as the living was worth only a badly-paid salary of one hundred and fifty pounds currency per annum, together with a small but comfortable rectory, and a glebe of five-and-twenty acres of very tolerable land, which it was thought no sin, in that day, for the clergyman to work by means of two male slaves, whom, with as many females, he had inherited as part of the chattels of his mother.
I had a dozen slaves also; negroes who, as a race, had been in the family almost as long as Clawbonny. About half of these blacks were singularly laborious and useful, viz., four males and three of the females; but several of the remainder were enjoying otium, and not altogether without dignitate, as heir-looms to be fed, clothed and lodged, for the good, or evil, they had done. There were some small-fry in our kitchens, too, that used to roll about on the grass, and munch fruit in the summer, ad libitum; and stand so close in the chimney-corners in cold weather, that I have often fancied they must have been, as a legal wit of New York once pronounced certain eastern coal-mines to be, incombustible. These negroes all went by the patronymic of Clawbonny, there being among them Hector Clawbonny, Venus Clawbonny, Caesar Clawbonny, Rose Clawbonny—who was as black as a crow—Romeo Clawbonny, and Julietta, commonly called Julee, Clawbonny; who were, with Pharaoh, Potiphar, Sampson and Nebuchadnezzar, all Clawbonnys in the last resort. Neb, as the namesake of the herbiferous king of Babylon was called, was about my own age, and had been a sort of humble playfellow from infancy; and even now, when it was thought proper to set him about the more serious toil which was to mark his humble career, I often interfered to call him away to be my companion with the rod, the fowling-piece, or in the boat, of which we had one that frequently descended the creek, and navigated the Hudson for miles at a time, under my command. The lad, by such means, and through an off-hand friendliness of manner that I rather think was characteristic of my habits at that day, got to love me as a brother or comrade. It is not easy to describe the affection of an attached slave, which has blended with it the pride of a partisan, the solicitude of a parent, and the blindness of a lover. I do think Neb had more gratification in believing himself particularly belonging to Master Miles, than I ever had in any quality or thing I could call my own. Neb, moreover liked a vagrant life, and greatly encouraged Rupert and myself in idleness, and a desultory manner of misspending hours that could never be recalled. The first time I ever played truant was under the patronage of Neb, who decoyed me away from my books to go nutting on the mountain stoutly maintaining that chestnuts were just as good as the spelling-book, or any primer that could be bought in York.
I have forgotten to mention that the death of my mother, which occurred in the autumn, brought about an immediate change in the condition of our domestic economy. Grace was too young, being only fourteen, to preside over such a household, and I could be of little use, either in the way of directing or advising. Mr. Hardinge, who had received a letter to that effect from the dying saint, that was only put into his hand the day after the funeral, with a view to give her request the greater weight, rented the rectory, and came to Clawbonny to live, bringing with him both his children. My mother knew that his presence would be of the greatest service to the orphans she left behind her; while the money saved from his own household expenses might enable this single-minded minister of the altar to lay by a hundred or two for Lucy, who, at his demise, might otherwise be left without a penny, as it was then said, cents not having yet come much into fashion.
This removal gave Grace and me much pleasure, for she was as fond of Lucy as I was of Rupert, and, to tell the truth, so was I, too. Four happier young people were not to be found in the State than we thus became, each and all of us finding in the arrangement exactly the association which was most agreeable to our feelings. Previously, we only saw each other every day; now, we saw each other all day. At night we separated at an early hour, it is true, each having his or her room; but it was to meet at a still earlier hour the next morning, and to resume our amusements in company. From study, all of us were relieved for a month or two, and we wandered through the fields; nutted, gathered fruit, or saw others gather it as well as the crops, taking as much exercise as possible in the open air, equally for the good of our bodies, and the lightening of our spirits.
I do not think vanity, or any feeling connected with self-love, misleads me, when I say it would have been difficult to find four young people more likely to attract the attention of a passer-by, than we four were, in the fall of 1797. As for Rupert Hardinge, he resembled his mother, and was singularly handsome in face, as well as graceful in movements. He had a native gentility of air, of which he knew how to make the most, and a readiness of tongue and a flow of spirits that rendered him an agreeable, if not a very instructive companion. I was not ill-looking, myself, though far from possessing the striking countenance of my young associate. In manliness, strength and activity, however, I had essentially the advantage over him, few youths of my age surpassing me in masculine qualities of this nature, after I had passed my twelfth year. My hair was a dark auburn, and it was the only thing about my face, perhaps, that would cause a stranger to notice it; but this hung about my temples and down my neck in rich ringlets, until frequent applications of the scissors brought it into something like subjection. It never lost its beauty entirely, and though now white as snow, it is still admired. But Grace was the one of the party whose personal appearance would be most likely to attract attention. Her face beamed with sensibility and feeling, being one of those countenances on which nature sometimes delights to impress the mingled radiance, sweetness, truth and sentiment, that men ascribe to angels. Her hair was lighter than mine; her eyes of a heavenly blue, all softness and tenderness; her cheeks just of the tint of the palest of the coloured roses; and her smile so full of gentleness and feeling, that, again and again, it has controlled my ruder and more violent emotions, when they were fast getting the mastery. In form, some persons might have thought Grace, in a slight degree, too fragile, though her limbs would have been delicate models for the study of a sculptor.
Lucy, too, had certainly great perfection, particularly in figure; though in the crowd of beauty that has been so profusely lavished on the youthful in this country, she would not have been at all remarked in a large assembly of young American girls. Her face was pleasing nevertheless; and there was a piquant contrast between the raven blackness of her hair the deep blue of her eyes, and the dazzling whiteness of her skin. Her colour, too, was high, and changeful with her emotions. As for teeth, she had a set that one might have travelled weeks to meet with their equals; and, though she seemed totally unconscious of the advantage, she had a natural manner of showing them, that would have made a far less interesting face altogether agreeable. Her voice and laugh, too, when happy and free from care, were joyousness itself.
It would be saying too much, perhaps, to assert that any human being was ever totally indifferent to his or her personal appearance. Still, I do not think either of our party, Rupert alone excepted, ever thought on the subject, unless as it related to others, down to the period Of which I am now writing. I knew, and saw, and felt that my sister was far more beautiful than any of the young girls of her age and condition that I had seen in her society; and I had pleasure and pride in the fact. I knew that I resembled her in some respects, but I was never coxcomb enough to imagine I had half her good-looks, even allowing for difference of sex. My own conceit, so far as I then had any—plenty of it came, a year or two later—but my own conceit, in 1797, rather ran in the direction of my athletic properties, physical force, which was unusually great for sixteen, and stature. As for Rupert, I would not have exchanged these manly qualities for twenty times his good looks, and a thought of envy never crossed my mind on the subject. I fancied it might be well enough for a parson to be a little delicate, and a good deal handsome; but for one who intended to knock about the world as I had it already in contemplation to do, strength, health, vigour, courage and activity, were much more to be desired than beauty.
Lucy I never thought of as handsome at all. I saw she was pleasing; fancied she was even more so to me than to any one else; and I never looked upon her sunny, cheerful and yet perfectly feminine face, without a feeling of security and happiness. As for her honest eyes, they invariably met my own with an open frankness that said, as plainly as eyes could say anything, there was nothing to be concealed.
"Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus; Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits;— I rather would entreat thy company To see the wonders of the world abroad." Two Gentlemen of—Clawbonny.
During the year that succeeded after I was prepared for Yale, Mr. Hardinge had pursued a very judicious course with my education. Instead of pushing me into books that were to be read in the regular course of that institution, with the idea of lightening my future labours, which would only have been providing excuses for future idleness, we went back to the elementary works, until even he was satisfied that nothing more remained to be done in that direction. I had my two grammars literally by heart, notes and all. Then we revised as thoroughly as possible, reading everything anew, and leaving no passage unexplained. I learned to scan, too, a fact that was sufficient to make a reputation for a scholar, in America, half a century since. [*] After this, we turned our attention to mathematics, a science Mr. Hardinge rightly enough thought there was no danger of my acquiring too thoroughly. We mastered arithmetic, of which I had a good deal of previous knowledge, in a few weeks, and then I went through trigonometry, with some of the more useful problems in geometry. This was the point at which I had arrived when my mother's death occurred.
[Footnote *: The writer's master taught him to scan Virgil in 1801. This gentleman was a graduate of Oxford. In 1803, the class to which the writer then belonged in Yale, was the first that ever attempted to scan in that institution. The quantities were in sad discredit in this country, years after this, though Columbia and Harvard were a little in advance of Yale. All that was ever done in the last college, during the writer's time, was to scan the ordinary hexameter of Homer and Virgil.]
As for myself, I frankly admit a strong disinclination to be learned. The law I might be forced to study, but practising it was a thing my mind had long been made up never to do. There was a small vein of obstinacy in my disposition that would have been very likely to carry me through in such a determination, even had my mother lived, though deference to her wishes would certainly have carried me as far as the license. Even now she was no more, I was anxious to ascertain whether she had left any directions or requests on the subject, either of which would have been laws to me. I talked with Rupert on this matter, and was a little shocked with the levity with which he treated it. "What difference can it make to your parents, now," he said, with an emphasis that grated on my nerves, "whether you become a lawyer, or a merchant, or a doctor, or stay here on your farm, and be a farmer, like your father?"
"My father had been a sailor," I answered, quick as lightning.
"True; and a noble, manly, gentleman-like calling it is! I never see a sailor that I do not envy him his advantages. Why, Miles, neither of us has ever been in town even, while your mother's boatmen, or your own, as they are now, go there regularly once a-week. I would give the world to be a sailor."
"You, Rupert! Why, you know that your father in tends, or, rather, wishes that you should become a clergyman."
"A pretty appearance a young man of my figure would make in the pulpit, Miles, or wearing a surplice. No, no; there have been two Hardinges in the church in this century, and I have a fancy also to the sea. I suppose you know that my great-grandfather was a captain in the navy, and he brought his son up a parson; now, turn about is fair play, and the parson ought to give a son back to a man-of-war. I've been reading the lives of naval men, and it's surprising how many clergymen's sons, in England, go into the navy, and how many sailors' sons get to be priests."
"But there is no navy in this country now—not even a single ship-of-war, I believe."
"That is the worst of it. Congress did pass a law, two or three years since, to build some frigates, but they have never been launched. Now Washington has gone out of office, I suppose we shall never have anything good in the country."
I revered the name of Washington, in common with the whole country, but I did not see the sequitur. Rupert, however, cared little for logical inferences, usually asserting such things as he wished, and wishing such as he asserted. After a short pause, he continued the discourse.
"You are now substantially your own master," he said, "and can do as you please. Should you go to sea and not like it, you have only to come back to this place, where you will be just as much the master as if you had remained here superintending cattle, cutting hay, and fattening pork, the whole time."
"I am not my own master, Rupert, any more than you are yourself. I am your father's ward, and must so remain for more than five years to come. I am just as much under his control as you, yourself."
Rupert laughed at this, and tried to persuade me it would be a good thing to relieve his worthy fether of all responsibility in the affair, if I had seriously determined never to go to Yale, or to be a lawyer, by going off to sea clandestinely, and returning when I was ready. If I ever was to make a sailor, no time was to be lost; for all with whom he had conversed assured him the period of life when such things were best learned, was between sixteen and twenty. This I thought probable enough, and I parted from my friend with a promise of conversing further with him on the subject at an early opportunity.
I am almost ashamed to confess that Rupert's artful sophism nearly blinded my eyes to the true distinction between right and wrong. If Mr. Hardinge really felt himself bound by my father's wishes to educate me for the bar, and my own repugnance to the profession was unconquerable, why should I not relieve him from the responsibility at once by assuming the right to judge for myself, and act accordingly? So far as Mr. Hardinge was concerned, I had little difficulty in coming to a conclusion, though the profound deference I still felt for my father's wishes, and more especially for those of my sainted mother, had a hold on my heart, and an influence on my conduct, that was not so easily disposed of. I determined to have a frank conversation with Mr. Hardinge, therefore, in order to ascertain how far either of my parents had expressed anything that might be considered obligatory on me. My plan went as far as to reveal my own desire to be a sailor, and to see the world, but not to let it be known that I might go off without his knowledge, as this would not be so absolutely relieving the excellent divine "from all responsibility in the premises," as was contemplated in the scheme of his own son.
An opportunity soon occurred, when I broached the subject by asking Mr. Hardinge whether my father, in his will, had ordered that I should be sent to Yale, and there be educated for the bar. He had done nothing of the sort. Had he left any particular request, writing, or message on the subject, at all? Not that Mr. Hardinge knew. It is true, the last had heard his friend, once or twice, make some general remark which would lead one to suppose that Captain Wallingford had some vague expectations I might go to the bar, but nothing further. My mind felt vastly relieved by these admissions, for I knew my mother's tenderness too well to anticipate that she would dream of absolutely dictating in a matter that was so clearly connected with my own happiness and tastes. When questioned on this last point, Mr. Hardinge did not hesitate to say that my mother had conversed with him several times concerning her views, as related to my career in life. She wished me to go to Yale, and then to read law, even though I did not practise. As soon as this, much was said, the conscientious servant of God paused, to note the effect on me. Reading disappointment in my countenance, I presume, he immediately added, "But your mother, Miles, laid no restraint on you; for she knew it was you who was to follow the career, and not herself. 'I should as soon think of commanding whom he was to marry, as to think of forcing, a profession on him,' she added. 'He is the one who is to decide this, and he only. We may try to guide and influence him, but not go beyond this. I leave you, dear sir, to do all you think best in this matter, certain that your own wisdom will be aided by the providence of a kind Master.'"
I now plainly told Mr. Hardinge my desire to see the world, and to be a sailor. The divine was astounded at this declaration, and I saw that he was grieved. I believe some religious objections were connected with his reluctance to consent to my following the sea, as a calling. At any rate, it was easy to discover that these objections were lasting and profound. In that day, few Americans travelled, by way of an accomplishment, at all; and those few belonged to a class in society so much superior to mine, as to render it absurd to think of sending, me abroad with similar views. Nor would my fortune justify such an expenditure. I was well enough off to be a comfortable and free housekeeper, and as independent as a king on my own farm; living in abundance, nay, in superfluity, so far as all the ordinary wants were concerned; but men hesitated a little about setting up for gentlemen at large, in the year 1797. The country was fast getting rich, it is true, under the advantages of its neutral position; but it had not yet been long enough emancipated from its embarrassments to think of playing the nabob on eight hundred pounds currency a-year. The interview terminated with a strong exhortation from my guardian not to think of abandoning my books for any project as visionary and useless as the hope of seeing the world in the character of a common sailor.
I related all this to Rupert, who, I now perceived for the first time, did not hesitate to laugh at some of his father's notions, as puritanical and exaggerated. He maintained that every one was the best judge of what he liked, and that the sea had produced quite as fair a proportion of saints as the land. He was not certain, considering the great difference there was in numbers, that more good men might not be traced in connection with the ocean, than in connection with any other pursuit.
"Take the lawyers now, for instance, Miles," he said, "and what can you make out of them, in the way of religion, I should like to know? They hire their consciences out at so much per diem, and talk and reason just as zealously for the wrong, as they do for the right."
"By George, that is true enough, Rupert. There is old David Dockett, I remember to have heard Mr. Hardinge say always did double duty for his fee, usually acting as witness, as well as advocate. They tell me he will talk by the hour of facts that he and his clients get up between them, and look the whole time as if he believed all he said to be true."
Rupert laughed at this sally, and pushed the advantage it gave him by giving several other examples to prove how much his father was mistaken by supposing that a man was to save his soul from perdition simply by getting admitted to the bar. After discussing the matter a little longer, to my astonishment Rupert came out with a plain proposal that he and I should elope, go to New York, and ship as foremastlads in some Indiaman, of which there were then many sailing, at the proper season, from that port. I did not dislike the idea, so far as I was myself concerned; but the thought of accompanying Rupert in such an adventure, startled me. I knew I was sufficiently secure of the future to be able to risk a little at the present moment; but such was not the case with my friend. If I made a false step at so early an age, I had only to return to Clawbonny, where I was certain to find competence and a home; but, with Rupert, it was very different. Of the moral hazards I ran, I then knew nothing, and of course they gave me no concern. Like all inexperienced persons, I supposed myself too strong in virtue to be in any danger of contamination; and this portion of the adventure was regarded with the self-complacency with which the untried are apt to regard their own powers of endurance. I thought myself morally invulnerable.
But Rupert might find it difficult to retrace any serious error made at his time of life. This consideration would have put an end to the scheme, so far as my companion was concerned, had not the thought suggested itself that I should always have it in my own power to aid my friend. Letting something of this sort escape me, Rupert was not slow in enlarging on it, though this was done with great tact and discretion. He proved that, by the time we both came of age, he would be qualified to command a ship, and that, doubtless, I would naturally desire to invest some of my spare cash in a vessel. The accumulations of my estate alone would do this much, within the next five years, and then a career of wealth and prosperity would lie open before us both.
"It is a good thing, Miles, no doubt," continued this tempting sophist, "to have money at use, and a large farm, and a mill, and such things; but many a ship nets more money, in a single voyage, than your whole estate would sell for. Those that begin with nothing, too, they tell me, are the most apt to succeed; and, if we go off with our clothes only, we shall begin with nothing, too. Success may be said to be certain. I like the notion of beginning with nothing, it is so American!"
It is, in truth, rather a besetting weakness of America to suppose that men who have never had any means for qualifying themselves for particular pursuits, are the most likely to succeed in them; and especially to fancy that those who "begin poor" are in a much better way for acquiring wealth than they who commence with some means; and I was disposed to lean to this latter doctrine myself, though I confess I cannot recall an instance in which any person of my acquaintance has given away his capital, however large and embarrassing it may have been, in order to start fair with his poorer competitors. Nevertheless, there was something taking, to my imagination, in the notion of being the fabricator of my own fortune. In that day, it was easy to enumerate every dwelling on the banks of the Hudson that aspired to be called a seat, and I had often heard them named by those who were familiar with the river. I liked the thought of erecting a house on the Clawbonny property that might aspire to equal claims, and to be the owner of a seat; though only after I had acquired the means, myself, to carry out such a project. At present, I owned only a house; my ambition was, to own a seat.
In a word, Rupert and I canvassed this matter in every possible way for a month, now leaning to one scheme, and now to another, until I determined to lay the whole affair before the two girls, under a solemn pledge of secrecy. As we passed hours in company daily, opportunities were not wanting to effect this purpose. I thought my friend was a little shy on this project; but I had so much affection for Grace, and so much confidence in Lucy's sound judgment, that I was not to be turned aside from the completion of my purpose. It is now more than forty years since the interview took place in which this confidence was bestowed; but every minute occurrence connected with it is as fresh in my mind as if the whole had taken place only yesterday.
We were all four of us seated on a rude bench that my mother had caused to be placed under the shade of an enormous oak that stood on the most picturesque spot, perhaps, on the whole farm, and which commanded a distant view of one of the loveliest reaches of the Hudson. Our side of the river, in general, does not possess as fine views as the eastern, for the reason that all our own broken, and in some instances magnificent back-ground of mountains, fills up the landscape for our neighbours, while we are obliged to receive the picture as it is set in a humbler frame; but there are exquisite bits to be found on the western bank, and this was one of the very best of them. The water was as placid as molten silver, and the sails of every vessel in sight were hanging in listless idleness from their several spars, representing commerce asleep. Grace had a deep feeling for natural scenery, and she had a better mode of expressing her thoughts, on such occasions, than is usual with girls of fourteen. She first drew our attention to the view by one of her strong, eloquent bursts of eulogium; and Lucy met the remark with a truthful, simple answer, that showed abundant sympathy with the sentiment, though with less of exaggeration of manner and feeling, perhaps. I seized the moment as favourable for my purpose, and spoke out.
"If you admire a vessel so much, Grace," I said, "you will probably be glad to hear that I think of becoming a sailor."
A silence of near two minutes succeeded, during which time I affected to be gazing at the distant sloops, and then I ventured to steal a glance at my companions. I found Grace's mild eyes earnestly riveted on my face; and, turning from their anxious expression with a little uneasiness, I encountered those of Lucy looking at me as intently as if she doubted whether her ears had not deceived her.
"A sailor, Miles!"—my sister now slowly repeated—"I thought it settled you were to study law."
"As far from that as we are from England; I've fully made up my mind to see the world if I can, and Rupert, here—"
"What of Rupert, here?" Grace asked, a sudden change again coming over her sweet countenance, though I was altogether too inexperienced to understand its meaning. "He is certainly to be a clergyman—his dear father's assistant, and, a long, long, very long time hence, his successor!"
I could see that Rupert was whistling on a low key, and affecting to look cool; but my sister's solemn, earnest, astonished manner had more effect on us both, I believe, than either would have been willing to own.
"Come, girls," I said at length, putting the best face on the matter, "there is no use in keeping secrets from you—but remember that what I am about to tell you is a secret, and on no account is to be betrayed."
"To no one but Mr. Hardinge," answered Grace. "If you intend to be a sailor, he ought to know it."
"That comes from looking at our duties superficially," I had caught this phrase from my friend, "and not distinguishing properly between their shadows and their substance."
"Duties superficially! I do not understand you, Miles. Certainly Mr. Hardinge ought to be told what profession you mean to follow. Remember, brother, he now fills the place of a parent to you."
"He is not more my parent than Rupert's—I fancy you will admit that much!"
"Rupert, again! What has Rupert to do with your going to sea?"
"Promise me, then, to keep my secret, and you shall know all; both you and Lucy must give me your words. I know you will not break them, when once given."
"Promise him, Grace," said Lucy, in a low tone, and a voice that, even at that age, I could perceive was tremulous. "If we promise, we shall learn everything, and then may have some effect on these headstrong boys by our advice."
"Boys! You cannot mean, Lucy, that Rupert is not to be a clergyman—your father's assistant; that Rupert means to be a sailor, too?"
"One never knows what boys will do. Let us promise them, dear; then we can better judge."
"I do" promise you, Miles, "said my sister, in a voice so solemn as almost to frighten me.
"And I, Miles," added Lucy; but it was so low, I had to lean forward to catch the syllables.
"This is honest and right,"—it was honest, perhaps, but very wrong,—"and it convinces me that you are both reasonable, and will be of use to us. Rupert and I have both made up our minds, and intend to be sailors."
Exclamations followed from both girls, and another long silence succeeded.
"As for the law, hang all law!" I continued, hemming, and determined to speak like a man. "I never heard of a Wallingford who was a lawyer."
"But you have both heard of Hardinges who were clergymen," said Grace, endeavouring to smile, though the expression of her countenance was so painful that even now I dislike to recall it.
"And sailors, too," put in Rupert, a little more stoutly than I thought possible. "My father's grandfather was an officer in the navy."
"And my father was a sailor himself—in the navy, too."
"But there is no navy in this country now, Miles," returned Lucy, in an expostulating tone.
"What of that? There are plenty of ships. The ocean is just as big, and the world just as wide, as if we had a navy to cover the first. I see no great objection on that account—do you, Ru?"
"Certainly not. What we want is to go to sea, and that can be done in an Indiaman, as well as in a man-of-war."
"Yes," said I, stretching myself with a little importance. "I fancy an Indiaman, a vessel that goes all the way to Calcutta, round the Cape of Good Hope, in the track of Vasquez de Gama, isn't exactly an Albany sloop."
"Who is Vasquez de Gama?" demanded Lucy, with so much quickness as to surprise me.
"Why, a noble Portuguese, who discovered the Cape of Good Hope, and first sailed round it, and then went to the Indies. You see, girls, even nobles are sailors, and why should not Rupert and I be sailors?"
"It is not that, Miles," my sister answered; "every honest calling is respectable. Have you and Rupert spoken to Mr. Hardinge on this subject?"
"Not exactly—not spoken—hinted only—that is, blindly—not so as to be understood, perhaps."
"He will never consent, boys!" and this was uttered with something very like an air of triumph.
"We have no intention of asking it of him, Grace. Rupert and I intend to be off next week, without saying a word to Mr. Hardinge on the subject."
Another long, eloquent silence succeeded, during which I saw Lucy bury her face in her apron, while the tears openly ran down my sister's cheek.
"You do not—cannot mean to do anything so cruel, Miles!" Grace at length said.
"It is exactly because it will not be cruel, that we intend to do it,"—here I nudged Rupert with my elbow, as a hint that I wanted assistance; but he made no other reply than an answering nudge, which I interpreted into as much as if he had said in terms, "You've got into the scrape in your own way, and you may get out of it in the same manner." "Yes," I continued, finding succour hopeless, "yes, that's just it."
"What is just it, Miles? You speak in a way to show that you are not satisfied with yourself—neither you nor Rupert is satisfied with himself, if the truth were known."
"I not satisfied with myself! Rupert not satisfied with himself! You never were more mistaken in your life, Grace. If there ever were two boys in New York State that were well satisfied with themselves, they are just Rupert and I."
Here Lucy raised her face from the apron and burst into a laugh, the tears filling her eyes all the while.
"Believe them, dear Grace," she said. "They are precisely two self-satisfied, silly fellows, that have got some ridiculous notions in their heads, and then begin to talk about 'superficial views of duties,' and all such nonsense. My father will set it all right, and the boys will have had their talk."
"Not so last, Miss Lucy, if you please. Your father will not know a syllable of the matter until you tell him all about it, after we are gone. We intend 'to relieve him from all responsibility in the premises.'"
This last sounded very profound, and a little magnificent, to my imagination; and I looked at the girls to note the effect. Grace was weeping, and weeping only; but Lucy looked saucy and mocking, even while the tears bedewed her smiling face, as rain sometimes falls while the sun is shining.
"Yes," I repeated, with emphasis, "'of all responsibility in the premises.' I hope that is plain English, and good English, although I know that Mr. Hardinge has been trying to make you both so simple in your language, that you turn up your noses at a profound sentiment, whenever you hear one."
In 1797, the grandiose had by no means made the deep invasion into the everyday language of the country, that it has since done. Anything of the sublime, or of the recondite, school was a good deal more apt to provoke a smile, than it is to-day—the improvement proceeding, as I have understood through better judges than myself, from the great melioration of mind and manners that is to be traced to the speeches in congress, and to the profundities of the newspapers. Rupert, however, frequently ornamented his ideas, and I may truly say everything ambitious that adorned my discourse was derived from his example. I almost thought Lucy impertinent for presuming to laugh at sentiments which came from such a source, and, by way of settling my own correctness of thought and terms, I made no bones of falling back on my great authority, by fairly pointing him out.
"I thought so!" exclaimed Lucy, now laughing with all her heart, though a little hysterically; "I thought so, for this is just like Rupert, who is always talking to me about 'assuming the responsibility,' and 'conclusions in the premises,' and all such nonsense. Leave the boys to my father, Grace, and he will 'assume the responsibility' of 'concluding the premises,' and the whole of the foolish scheme along with it!"
This would have provoked me, had not Grace manifested so much sisterly interest in my welfare that I was soon persuaded to tell her—that minx Lucy overhearing every syllable, though I had half a mind to tell her to go away—all about our project.
"You see," I continued, "if Mr. Hardinge knows anything about our plan, people will say he ought to have stopped us. 'He a clergyman, and not able to keep two lads of sixteen or seventeen from running away and going to sea!' they will say, as if it were so easy to prevent two spirited youths from seeing the world. Whereas, if he knew nothing about it, nobody can blame him. That is what I call 'relieving him from the responsibility.' Now, we intend to be off next week, or as soon as the jackets and trowsers that are making for us, under the pretence of being boat-dresses, are finished. We mean to go down the river in the sail-boat, taking Neb with us to bring the boat back. Now you know the whole story, there will be no occasion to leave a letter for Mr. Hardinge; for, three hours after we have sailed, you can tell him everything. We shall be gone a year; at the end of that time you may look for us both, and glad enough shall we all be to see each other. Rupert and I will be young men then, though you call us boys now."
This last picture a good deal consoled the girls. Rupert, too, who had unaccountably kept back, throwing the labouring-oar altogether on me, came to the rescue, and, with his subtle manner and oily tongue, began to make the wrong appear the right. I do not think he blinded his own sister in the least, but I fear he had too much influence over mine. Lucy, though all heart, was as much matter-of-fact as her brother was a sophist. He was ingenious in glozing over truths; she, nearly unerring in detecting them. I never knew a greater contrast between two human beings, than there was between these two children of the same parents, in this particular. I have heard that the son took after the mother, in this respect, and that the daughter took after the father; though Mrs. Hardinge died too early to have had any moral influence on the character of her children.
We came again and again to the discussion of our subject during the next two or three days. The girls endeavoured earnestly to persuade us to ask Mr. Hardinge's permission for the step we were about to undertake; but all in vain. We lads were so thoroughly determined to "relieve the divine from all responsibility in the premises," that they might as well have talked to stones. We knew these just-minded, sincere, upright girls would not betray us, and continued obdurate to the last. As we expected, as soon as convinced their importunities were useless, they seriously set about doing all they could to render us comfortable. They made us duck bags to hold our clothes, two each, and mended our linen, stockings, &c., and even helped to procure us some clothes more suited to the contemplated expedition than most of those we already possessed. Our "long togs," indeed, we determined to leave behind us, retaining just one suit each, and that of the plainest quality. In the course of a week everything was ready, our bags well lined, being concealed in the storehouse at the landing. Of this building I could at any moment procure the key, my authority as heir-apparent being very considerable, already, on the farm.
As for Neb, he was directed to have the boat all ready for the succeeding Tuesday evening, it being the plan to sail the day after the Wallingford of Clawbonny (this was the name of the sloop) had gone on one of her regular trips, in order to escape a pursuit. I had made all the calculations about the tide, and knew that the Wallingford would go out about nine in the morning, leaving us to follow before midnight. It was necessary to depart at night and when the wharf was clear, in order to avoid observation.
Tuesday was an uneasy, nervous and sad day for us all, Mr. Hardinge excepted. As the last had not the smallest distrust, he continued calm, quiet, and cheerful as was his wont. Rupert had a conscience-stricken and furtive air about him, while the eyes of the two dear, girls were scarcely a moment without tears. Grace seemed now the most composed of the two, and I have since suspected that she had had a private conversation with my ingenious friend, whose convincing powers were of a very extraordinary quality, when he set about their use in downright earnest. As for Lucy, she seemed to me to have been weeping the entire day.
At nine o'clock it was customary for the whole family to separate, after prayers. Most of us went to bed at that early hour, though Mr. Hardinge himself seldom sought his pillow until midnight. This habit compelled us to use a good deal of caution in getting out of the house, in which Rupert and myself succeeded, however, without discovery, just as the clock struck eleven. We had taken leave of the girls in a hasty manner, in a passage, shaking hands, and each of us kissing his own sister, as he affected to retire for the night. To own the truth, we were much gratified in finding how reasonably Grace and Lucy behaved, on the occasion, and not a little surprised, for we had expected a scene, particularly with the former.
We walked away from the house with heavy hearts, few leaving the paternal roof for the first time, to enter upon the chances of the world, without a deep sense of the dependence in which they had hitherto lived. We walked fast and silently, and reached the wharf in less than half an hour, a distance of near two miles. I was just on the point of speaking to Neb, whose figure I could see in the boat, when I caught a glimpse of two female forms within six feet of me. There were Grace and Lucy, in tears, both waiting our arrival, with a view to see us depart! I confess I was shocked and concerned at seeing these two delicate girls so far from their home, at such an hour; and my first impulse was to see them both safely back before I would enter the boat; but to this neither would consent. All my entreaties were thrown away, and I was obliged to submit.
I know not exactly how it happened, but of the fact I am certain; odd as it may seem, at a moment like that, when about to separate, instead of each youth's getting his own sister aside to make his last speeches, and say his last say to, each of us got his friend's sister aside. I do not mean that we were making love, or anything of the sort; we were a little too young, perhaps, for that; but we obeyed an impulse which, as Rupert would have said, "produced that result."
What passed between Grace and her companion, I do not know. As for Lucy and myself, it was all plain-sailing and fair dealing. The excellent creature forced on me six gold pieces, which I knew had come to her as an heirloom from her mother, and which I had often heard her declare she never meant to use, unless in the last extremity. She knew I had but five dollars on earth, and that Rupert had not one; and she offered me this gold. I told her Rupert had better take it; no, I had better take it. I should use it more prudently than Rupert, and would use it for the good of both. "Besides, you are rich," she said, smiling through her tears, "and can repay me—I lend them to you; to Rupert I should have to give them." I could not refuse the generous girl, and took the money, all half-joes, with a determination to repay them with interest. Then I folded her to my heart, and kissed her six or eight times with fervour, the first time I had done such a thing in two years, and tore myself away. I do not think Rupert embraced Grace, but I confess I do not know, although we were standing within three or four yards of each other, the whole time.
"Write, Miles—write, Rupert," said the sobbing girls leaning forward from the wharf, as we shoved off. It was not so dark but we could see their dear forms for several minutes, or until a bend in the creek put a dark mass of earth between us and them.
Such was the manner of my departure from Clawbonny, in the month of September, 1797. I wanted a few days of being seventeen; Rupert was six months older, and Neb was his senior, again, by near a twelvemonth. Everything was in the boat but our hearts. Mine, I can truly say, remained with the two beloved creatures we left on the wharf; while Rupert's was betwixt and between, I fancy—seldom absolutely deserting the dear tenement in which it was encased by nature.
"There's a youth in this city, it were a great pity That he from our lasses should wander awa'; For he's bonny and braw, weel-favoured witha', And his hair has a natural buckle and a'. His coat is the hue of his bonnet so blue; His pocket is white as the new-driven snaw; His hose they are blue, and his shoon like the slae, And his clean siller buckles they dazzle us a'." BURNS.
We had selected our time well, as respects the hour of departure. It was young ebb, and the boat floated swiftly down the creek, though the high banks of the latter would have prevented our feeling any wind, even if there were a breeze on the river. Our boat was of some size, sloop-rigged and half-decked; but Neb's vigorous arms made her move through the water with some rapidity, and, to own the truth, the lad sprang to his work like a true runaway negro. I was a skilful oarsman myself, having received many lessons from my father in early boyhood, and being in almost daily practice for seven mouths in the year. The excitement of the adventure, its romance, or what for a short time seemed to me to be romance, and the secret apprehension of being detected, which I believe accompanies every clandestine undertaking, soon set me in motion also. I took one of the oars, and, in less than twenty minutes, the Grace & Lucy, for so the boat was called, emerged from between two, high, steep banks, and entered on the broader bosom of the Hudson.
Neb gave a half-suppressed, negro-like cry of exultation, as we shot out from our cover, and ascertained that there was a pleasant and fair breeze blowing. In three minutes we had the jib and mainsail on the boat, the helm was up, the sheet was eased off, and we were gliding down-stream at the rate of something like five miles an hour. I took the helm, almost as a matter of course; Rupert being much too indolent to do anything unnecessarily, while Neb was far too humble to aspire to such an office while Master Miles was there, willing and ready. In that day, indeed, it was so much a matter of course for the skipper of a Hudson river craft to steer, that most of the people who lived on the banks of the stream imagined that Sir John Jervis, Lord Anson, and the other great English admirals of whom they had read and heard, usually amused themselves with that employment, out on the ocean. I remember the hearty laugh in which my unfortunate father indulged, when Mr. Hardinge once asked him how he could manage to get any sleep, on account of this very duty. But we were very green, up at Clawbonny, in most things that related to the world.
The hour that succeeded was one of the most painful I ever passed in my life. I recalled my father, his manly frankness, his liberal bequests in my favour, and his precepts of respect and obedience; all of which, it now seemed to me, I had openly dishonoured. Then came the image of my mother, with her love and sufferings, her prayers, and her mild but earnest exhortations to be good. I thought I could see both these parents regarding me with sorrowful, though not with reproachful countenances. They appeared to be soliciting my return, with a species of silent, but not the less eloquent, warnings of the consequences. Grace and Lucy, and their sobs, and admonitions, and entreaties to abandon my scheme, and to write, and not to remain away long, and all that tender interest had induced two warm-hearted girls to utter at our parting, came fresh and vividly to my mind. The recollection proved nearly too much for me. Nor did I forget Mr. Hardinge, and the distress he would certainly feel, when he discovered that he had not only lost his ward, but his only son. Then Clawbonny itself, the house, the orchards, the meadows, the garden, the mill, and all that belonged to the farm, began to have a double value in my eyes, and to serve as so many cords attached to my heart-strings, and to remind me that the rover
"Drags at each remove a lengthening chain.'"
I marvelled at Rupert's tranquility. I did not then understand his character as thoroughly as I subsequently got to know it. All that he most prized was with him in the boat, in fact, and this lessened his grief at parting from less beloved objects. Where Rupert was, there was his paradise. As for Neb, I do believe his head was over his shoulder, for he affected to sit with his face down-stream, so long as the hills that lay in the rear of Clawbonny could be at all distinguished. This must have proceeded from tradition, or instinct, or some latent negro quality; for I do not think the fellow fancied he was running away. He knew that his two young masters were; but he was fully aware he was my property, and no doubt thought, as long as he staid in my company, he was in the line of his legitimate duty. Then it was my plan that he should return with the boat, and perhaps these backward glances were no more than the shadows of coming events, cast, in his case, behind.
Rupert was indisposed to converse, for, to tell the truth, he had eaten a hearty supper, and began to feel drowsy; and I was too much wrapped up in my own busy thoughts to solicit any communications. I found a sort of saddened pleasure in setting a watch for the night, therefore, which had an air of seaman-like duty about it, that in a slight degree revived my old taste for the profession. It was midnight, and I took the first watch myself, bidding my two companions to crawl under the half-deck, and go to sleep. This they both did without any parley, Rupert occupying an inner place, while Neb lay with his legs exposed to the night air.
The breeze freshened, and for some time I thought it might be necessary to reef, though we were running dead before the wind. I succeeded in holding on, however, and I found the Grace & Lucy was doing wonders in my watch. When I gave Rupert his call at four o'clock, the boat was just approaching two frowning mountains, where the river was narrowed to a third or fourth of its former width; and, by the appearance of the shores, and the dim glimpses I had caught of a village of no great size on the right bank, I knew we were in what is called Newburgh Bay. This was the extent of our former journeyings south, all three of us having once before, and only once, been as low as Fishkill Landing, which lies opposite to the place that gives this part of the river its name.
Rupert now took the helm, and I went to sleep. The wind still continued fresh and fair, and I felt no uneasiness on account of the boat. It is true, there were two parts of the navigation before us of which I had thought a little seriously, but not sufficiently so to keep me awake. These were the Race, a passage in the Highlands, and Tappan Sea; both points on the Hudson of which the navigators of that classical stream were fond of relating the marvels. The first I knew was formidable only later in the autumn, and, as for the last, I hoped to enjoy some of its wonders in the morning. In this very justifiable expectation, I fell asleep.
Neb did not call me until ten o'clock. I afterwards discovered that Rupert kept the helm for only an hour, and then, calculating that from five until nine were four hours, he thought it a pity the negro should not have his share of the glory of that night. When I was awakened, it was merely to let me know that it was time to eat something—Neb would have starved before he would precede his young master in that necessary occupation—and I found Rupert in a deep and pleasant sleep at my side.
We were in the centre of Tappan, and the Highlands had been passed in safety. Neb expatiated a little on the difficulties of the navigation, the river having many windings, besides being bounded by high mountains; but, after all, he admitted that there was water enough, wind enough, and a road that was plain enough. From this moment, excitement kept us wide awake. Everything was new, and everything seemed delightful. The day was pleasant, the wind continued fair, and nothing occurred to mar our joy. I had a little map, one neither particularly accurate, nor very well engraved; and I remember the importance with which, after having ascertained the fact myself, I pointed out to my two companions the rocky precipices on the western bank, as New Jersey! Even-Rupert was struck with this important circumstance. As for Neb, he was actually in ecstasies, rolling his large black eyes, and showing his white teeth, until he suddenly closed his truly coral and plump lips, to demand what New Jersey meant? Of course I gratified this laudable desire to obtain knowledge, and Neb seemed still more pleased than ever, now he had ascertained that New Jersey was a State. Travelling was not as much of an every-day occupation, at that time, as it is now; and it was, in truth, something for three American lads, all under nineteen, to be able to say that they had seen a State, other than their own.
Notwithstanding the rapid progress we had made for the first few hours of our undertaking, the voyage was far from being ended. About noon the wind came out light from the southward, and, having a flood-tide, we were compelled to anchor. This made us all uneasy, for, while we were stationary, we did not seem to be running away. The ebb came again, at length, however, and then we made sail, and began to turn down with the tide. It was near sunset before we got a view of the two or three spires that then piloted strangers to the town. New York was not the "commercial emporium" in 1796; so high-sounding a title, indeed, scarce belonging to the simple English of the period, it requiring a very great collection of half-educated men to venture on so ambitious an appellation—the only emporium that existed in America, during the last century, being a slop-shop in Water street, and on the island of Manhattan. Commercial emporium was a flight of fancy, indeed, that must have required a whole board of aldermen, and an extra supply of turtle, to sanction. What is meant by a literary emporium, I leave those editors who are "native and to the manor born," to explain.
We first saw the State Prison, which was then new, and a most imposing edifice, according to our notions, as we drew near the town. Like the gallows first seen by a traveller in entering a strange country, it was a pledge of civilization. Neb shook his head, as he gazed at it, with a moralizing air, and said it had a "wicked look." For myself, I own I did not regard it altogether without dread. On Rupert it made less impression than on any of the three. He was always somewhat obtuse on the subject of morals.[*]
[Footnote *: It may be well to tell the European who shall happen to read this book, that in America a "State's Prison" is not for prisoners of State, but for common rogues: the term coming from the name borne by the local governments.]
New York, in that day, and on the Hudson side of the town, commenced a short distance above Duane street. Between Greenwich, as the little hamlet around the State Prison was called, and the town proper, was an interval of a mile and a half of open fields, dotted here and there with country-houses. Much of this space was in broken hills, and a few piles of lumber lay along the shores. St. John's church had no existence, and most of the ground in its vicinity was in low swamp. As we glided along the wharves, we caught sight of the first market I had then ever seen—such proofs of an advanced civilization not having yet made their way into the villages of the interior. It was called "The Bear," from the circumstance that the first meat ever exposed for sale in it was of that animal; but the appellation has disappeared before the intellectual refinement of these later times—the name of the soldier and statesman, Washington, having fairly supplanted that of the bear! Whether this great moral improvement was brought about by the Philosophical Society, or the Historical Society, or "The Merchants," or the Aldermen of New York, I have never ascertained. If the latter, one cannot but admire their disinterested modesty in conferring this notable honour on the Father of his country, inasmuch as all can see that there never has been a period when their own board has not possessed distinguished members, every way qualified to act as god-fathers to the most illustrious markets of the republic. But Manhattan, in the way of taste, has never had justice done it. So profound is its admiration for all the higher qualities, that Franklin and Fulton have each a market to himself, in addition to this bestowed on Washington. Doubtless there would have been Newton Market, and Socrates Market, and Solomon Market, but for the patriotism of the town, which has forbidden it from going out of the hemisphere, in quest of names to illustrate. Bacon Market would doubtless have been too equivocal to be tolerated, under any circumstances. Then Bacon was a rogue, though a philosopher, and markets are always appropriated to honest people. At all events, I am rejoiced the reproach of having a market called "The Bear" has been taken away, as it was tacitly admitting our living near, if not absolutely in, the woods.
We passed the Albany basin, a large receptacle for North River craft, that is now in the bosom of the town and built on, and recognized in it the mast-head of the Wallingford. Neb was shown the place, for he was to bring the boat round to it, and join the sloop, in readiness to return in her. We rounded the Battery, then a circular stripe of grass, with an earthen and wooden breastwork running along the margin of the water, leaving a narrow promenade on the exterior. This brought us to White-Hall, since so celebrated for its oarsmen, where we put in for a haven. I had obtained the address of a better sort of sailor-tavern in that vicinity, and, securing the boat, we shouldered the bags, got a boy to guide us, and were soon housed. As it was near night, Rupert and I ordered supper, and Neb was directed to pull the boat round to the sloop, and to return to us in the morning; taking care, however, not to let our lodgings be known.
The next day, I own I thought but little of the girls, Clawbonny, or Mr. Hardinge. Neb was at my bed-side before I was up, and reported the Grace & Lucy safe alongside of the Wallingford, and expressed himself ready to wait on me in my progress in quest of a ship. As this was the moment of action, little was said, but we all breakfasted, and sallied forth, in good earnest, on the important business before us. Neb was permitted to follow, but at such a distance as to prevent his being suspected of belonging to our party—a gentleman, with a serving-man at his heels, not being the candidate most likely to succeed in his application for a berth in the forecastle.
So eager was I to belong to some sea-going craft, that I would not stop even to look at the wonders of the town, before we took the direction of the wharves. Rupert was for pursuing a different policy, having an inherent love of the genteeler gaieties of a town, but I turned a deaf ear to his hints, and this time I was master. He followed me with some reluctance, but follow he did, after some remonstrances that bordered on warmth. Any inexperienced eye that had seen us passing, would have mistaken us for two well-looking, smart young sailor-boys, who had just returned from a profitable voyage, and who, well-clad, tidy and semi-genteel, were strolling along the wharves as admirateurs, not to say critics, of the craft. Admirateurs we were, certainly, or I was, at least; though knowledge was a point on which we Were sadly deficient.
The trade of America was surprisingly active in 1797. It had been preyed upon by the two great belligerents of the period, England and France, it is true; and certain proceedings of the latter nation were about to bring the relations of the two countries into a very embarrassed state; but still the shipping interest was wonderfully active, and, as a whole, singularly successful. Almost every tide brought in or took out ships for foreign ports, and scarce a week passed that vessels did not arrive from, or sail for, all the different quarters of the world. An Indiaman, however, was our object; the voyage being longer, the ships better, and the achievement greater, than merely to cross the Atlantic and return. We accordingly proceeded towards the Fly Market, in the vicinity of which, we had been given to understand, some three or four vessels of that description were fitting out. This market has since used its wings to disappear, altogether.
I kept my eyes on every ship we passed. Until the previous day, I had never seen a square-rigged vessel; and no enthusiast in the arts ever gloated on a fine picture or statue with greater avidity than my soul drank in the wonder and beauty of every ship I passed. I had a large, full-rigged model at Clawbonny; and this I had studied under my father so thoroughly, as to know the name of every rope in it, and to have some pretty distinct notions of their uses. This early schooling was now of great use to me, though I found it a little difficult, at first, to trace my old acquaintances on the large scale in which they now presented themselves, and amid the intricate mazes that were drawn against the skies. The braces, shrouds, stays and halyards, were all plain enough, and I could point to either, at a moment's notice; but when it came to the rest of the running rigging, I found it necessary to look a little, before I could speak with certainty.
Eager as I was to ship, the indulgence of gazing at all I saw was so attractive, that it was noon before we reached an Indiaman. This was a pretty little ship of about four hundred tons, that was called the John. Little I say, for such she would now be thought, though a vessel of her size was then termed large. The Manhattan, much the largest ship out of the port, measured but about seven hundred tons; while few even of the Indiamen went much beyond five hundred. I can see the John at this moment, near fifty years after I first laid eyes on her, as she then appeared. She was not bright-sided, but had a narrow, cream-coloured streak, broken into ports. She was a straight, black-looking craft, with a handsome billet, low, thin bulwarks, and waistcloths secured to ridge-ropes. Her larger spars were painted the same colour as her streak, and her stern had a few ornaments of a similar tint.
We went on board the John, where we found the officers just topping off with the riggers and stevedores, having stowed all the provisions and water, and the mere trifle of cargo she carried. The mate, whose name was Marble, and a well-veined bit of marble he was, his face resembling a map that had more rivers drawn on it than the land could feed, winked at the captain and nodded his head towards us as soon as we met his eye. The latter smiled, but did not speak.
"Walk this way, gentlemen—walk this way, if you please," said Mr. Marble, encouragingly, passing a ball of spun-yarn, all the while, to help a rigger serve a rope. "When did you leave the country?"