A Tale of Rogers's Rangers 1758-59
M. J. CANAVAN
New York The MacMillan Company London: MacMillan and Co., Ltd. 1922
All rights reserved
Copyright, 1899, by the MacMillan Company.
Set up and electrotyped October, 1899. Reprinted November, 1899; February, 1908; October, 1910; September, 1913; November, 1916.
Norwood Press J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
PAGE CHAPTER I
Ben is born in Lexington 1737—Schools and Schoolfellows 1
They trap Muskrats—Bishop Hancock and his Grandson John 14
In which are Details of a Great Fox Hunt 30
Trading in those Days—Ben is apprenticed—The Enlisting Sergeant—Court Day at Concord 51
Pigeon Tuesday and its Exploits 64
A Pauper's Funeral—Ben's Friend the Minister, and Ben's Victory in Wrestling 74
Tales from the Frontier—Mr. Tythingman and his Services 88
Ben and Amos join Rogers's Rangers and march to the West 100
In which the Rangers engage with the French and Indians 110
Lord Howe and his Death—The Loyalty of John Stark 120
Fort Ticonderoga and the Assault 131
The Fight at Fort Anne, and the Escape of Amos 142
Ben Comee Heap Big Paleface—Trapping Bob-cats in Primeval Woods 163
A Scouting Expedition in the Dead of Winter 187
Camp Discipline—Amherst's Angels—A Brush with the French, and the Loss of Captain Jacob 197
The Rangers to the Front—Captain Stark's Tale of Capture— To attack the St. Francis Indians 208
March to the Village—The Retreat 224
Starvation—Drifting down the Ammonusuc—Fort No. 4, and Good Fortune at Last 241
BEN IS BORN IN LEXINGTON 1737—SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLFELLOWS
If you have occasion to pass through or to visit Lexington, be sure to put up at the tavern about a mile below Lexington Common on a little knoll near the main road.
In front of it stand two large elms, from one of which hangs the tavern sign. It is the best tavern in the place. You will find there good beds, good food, and a genial host. The landlord is my cousin, Colonel William Munroe, a younger brother of my old friend Edmund.
Sit with him under the trees. William will gladly tell you of the fight. Lord Percy's reenforcements met the retreating British soldiers near the tavern. Percy and Pitcairn had a consultation in the bar-room over some grog, which John Raymond mixed for them, for John took care of the tavern that day. After they departed, the soldiers entered and helped themselves freely to liquor from the barrels in the shop. Some of their officers knocked the spigots from the barrels and let the liquor run away on the floor. The drunken soldiers became furious. They fired off their guns in the house. You can still see a bullet hole in the ceiling.
William will show you the doorway where poor John Raymond, the cripple, was shot down by the soldiers, as he was trying to escape from the bar-room, and will point out the places near by, where houses were burned by the British. And as you sit with William under the trees you will see great six or eight horse teams, laden with goods from New Hampshire, lumber along heavily over the road. Stages from Keene, Leominster, Lunenburg, and other towns will dash up to the door and passengers will alight for their meals. On Saturdays and Sundays herds of cattle are driven through on their way to the Brighton cattle market. All is bustle and activity.
[Sidenote: LEXINGTON IN EARLY TIMES]
I was born in this old house in the year 1737. In my boyhood Lexington was a dull little village unknown to fame. But the 19th of April, 1775, made the world familiar with the name. And since the bridges, which were built over the Charles River a few years later, placed the town on the main highway between Boston and the Back Country, it is now, in this year 1812, one of the most thriving places in the county.
In my childhood we were remote from the main travelled roads. The Back Country hardly existed. People were just beginning to settle the southern part of New Hampshire, and were in constant fear of Indians. Their time was fully occupied in cutting down the forests, fighting the redskins, and raising a scanty crop for their own support. Occasionally a fur trader, driving a pack-horse laden with furs, passed through the town. The huts and log houses of the first settlers were still standing, and some of the people kept up an acquaintance and correspondence with their relatives in the old country.
My grandfather used to take me on his knee and tell me of events which happened far back in the seventeenth century. His father was a Highland lad, and during the wars between King Charles and Cromwell fought for the king in a regiment of Scotch Highlanders. At the battle of Dunbar the king's army was defeated, and several thousand Scotch soldiers were taken prisoners. Among them was my great-grandfather, David McComee.
In a few days they were drawn up in a line, and each man was tied to his neighbour by stout cords around their wrists. A guard of soldiers was put over them, and they were marched to Plymouth.
There they learned that they were to be sent to the colonies, as slaves or servants, with the right to buy back their freedom.
[Sidenote: DAVID COMEE, THE REDEMPTIONER]
David McComee and some two hundred and seventy other prisoners were packed on board the ship John and Sara; and after a long voyage arrived at Charlestown, where they were sold at auction. David's master lived in Woburn, near Lexington, or, as it was then called, Cambridge Fields. He was treated in a kindly manner. A little piece of land was given him, on which he built a hut. He worked for his master on alternate days. The rest of the time was his own. In a few years David McComee had earned enough to pay back the price of his purchase money, and was no longer a redemptioner, but a free man and his own master. By this time, he was known as David Comee. He moved to Concord, and as he was a thrifty, hard-working man, before long he was the owner of a snug little farm.
In 1675 the terrible war with King Philip broke out. The Indians ravaged the land, and boasted that no white man should dare to so much as poke his nose out of his house. We had then but a little fringe of settlements extending a few miles back from the coast. Concord was on the frontier. Word came that the neighbouring town of Sudbury was attacked, and David Comee and ten companions started out to help the inhabitants.
My grandfather, who was then a small boy, said that after buckling on his iron breast and back plates, his father knelt with the family and prayed. Then he arose, kissed his wife and children, put on his steel cap, and taking his long firelock, started off to join the other men.
That afternoon they were lured into an ambuscade by the Indians, and most of them were killed. Reenforcements were sent to Sudbury. The Indians were driven off; and the next day David Comee was found lying in the water of the river meadow, scalped, and stripped of his armour and clothes.
Another Scotch redemptioner, named William Munroe, who was shipped to this country in the John and Sara, settled at Cambridge Fields or Lexington. My grandfather married his daughter Martha, and bought the place where my Cousin William now keeps the tavern.
Our family had no love for Indians. We hated them bitterly. At the present day, as we sit in our homes safe and without fear, we are apt to forget the constant dread in which the colonists lived. From 1690 till the end of the French war in 1763, few years passed in which the men on the frontier were not fighting the redskins.
[Sidenote: BEN'S UNCLE JOHN KILLED]
In 1707 my Uncle John went "to the Eastward" in a company of soldiers to help drive off a body of French and Indians from the settlements in Maine. He was killed there in a fight near the town of York.
He was my grandfather's eldest son, just arrived at manhood. I was a small boy when grandfather died; but I can remember how he straightened up, and a fierce fire came in his eyes, when the talk was of Indians. He was a strict member of the church, and never swore, but on these occasions he made use of some Old Testament phrases and expressions which, I thought, answered the purpose very well.
You may pride yourself on your Latin and your Greek. I never got so far in my schooling. But turn this book upside down and read it. You cannot and I can.
I might have become quite a scholar, if I had been properly brought up, for I learned to do this at Millicent Mason's dame's school before I was six years old.
She sat in a chair and held a book in her lap. We stood in front of her. She would point out the letters with her knitting-needle and ask, "What is that letter? And that? And that?" Then she would ask us what the word was. In this way, we learned our A B C's. Then one-syllable, and two-syllable words, and finally to read a book held upside down. I can do it now; and occasionally, if I find a friend reading, I surprise him by glancing over the top of the page and repeating a few lines of the text.
As I grew older, I went to the man's school and learned to read in the ordinary way. It was kept in a little old schoolhouse about twenty feet square, which stood on a knoll on the common. There was a great fireplace at one end of it; and the teacher sat in a great chair on a platform, with a table in front of him. We paid twopence a week for being taught reading, and threepence a week for "righting and siphering," as the town clerk entered it on his books.
[Sidenote: LEXINGTON COMMON]
Our teachers were young men just out of college, and the one who would serve for the smallest pay was the one always chosen. We had a new teacher every year.
At the lower end of the common was the old ramshackle meeting-house, facing down the road.
In front of the meeting-house were a couple of horse-blocks, on which the women dismounted as they rode to meeting on their pillions, behind their husbands or brothers.
On either side of the door were tacked up notices of vendues, lotteries, public proclamations, and the appointment of administrators. Between the school and the meeting-house were two pairs of stocks, in which we occasionally found some offender seated with his feet sticking out through the holes.
On the opening day of school, there was a man in each of them. One was a man who obstinately refused to go to meeting, and after being warned several times was clapped into the bilboes by the tythingman. The other was some poor vagrant who had tried to settle in the town, but because he was needy and shiftless he had been warned out, and as he did not go, was put in the stocks.
The school children gathered about them, seated on the hard boards, with their feet sticking out through the holes in the stocks, and discussed their crimes and punishment, and made bets as to the number of nails in the soles of their shoes. William Munroe, the blacksmith, came over from his shop with his leather apron on.
"Come, Sam, you want to get out of there, and sit in the seats with the righteous. It's never too late for the sinner to repent."
"Oh, go away, Bill. Let me alone. It's bad enough to sit here in these cussed stocks, till every bone in my body aches, and have the children stare at me, without you coming over to poke fun at me. I'm sick of it."
"That's right! A change of heart will do you good. See you in meeting next Sabbath."
The next day, Robert Harrington, the constable, drove up to the stocks with his cart.
"See here, Bob. Let me out. I give in. I'll go to meeting twice a day for the fifty-two Sabbaths in the year, and on lecture days and any other days that they want me to go."
[Sidenote: VAGRANTS AND SINNERS]
"All right; I'll let you out, but they will expect an acknowledgment from you of your wrong-doing, in meeting next Sabbath."
"Just let me out of these stocks, and I'll do anything they ask."
Mr. Harrington released him, and then turned to the vagrant and said, "Come, old boy, you've got to move on. We can't have you on our hands."
He took him in his cart, carried him miles away, and dumped him in the road, just as you would an old cat that you wanted to get rid of; and warned him never to come back.
Next Sabbath the sinner made a "public relation" before the meeting, in which he confessed his grievous sins and promised to amend.
My greatest friend was my cousin, Edmund Munroe, a sturdy, trustworthy boy with great common sense.
Then there was Davy Fiske, a son of Dr. Fiske. Davy was a lean, wiry fellow, not much of a boy for study, but full of knowledge of the woods. He knew when every kind of bird came and departed. Could tell you the best place to hunt foxes. He knew what they would do and where they would go. If a wolf had been killed, Davy could give the whole story. If a bear had carried off a pig or a sheep, Davy would go miles to be one of the party to follow him up.
It must be admitted that, like many other hunters, Davy had imagination, and did not allow dull facts to hem him in when he told a hunting story.
Edmund used to take his dinners with his cousin, William Munroe, the blacksmith, whose house and shop were just below the common. I generally brought my dinner to school in a basket, and ate it in the school at noon time. After dinner, we would prowl about and explore. We used to climb the stone wall of the pound, and look into it, to see what stray cattle might be there; and wandered down Malt Lane to John Munroe's malt house and watched him change the barley into malt, and looked at the hams and sides of bacon that the people had brought to be smoked.
[Sidenote: THE BLACKSMITH'S SHOP]
The most interesting place to us was the blacksmith's shop. If an ox was brought in to be shod, they drove him into a stall and fastened his head in the stanchions at the end of it. A broad sheet of canvas hung down on one side of the stall, and they pulled the free end of it under the belly of the ox, and fastened it by hooks to a windlass on the other side of the stall, about the height of one's head. William Munroe and his son Will took a few turns at the windlass, and the ox would be lifted off his feet. The sides of the stall were only eighteen inches high, and were of thick plank, with a groove in the top edge. They bent up the leg of the ox and rested his cloven hoof in the groove, and shod each part with a piece of iron.
But beside shoeing horses and oxen, the blacksmith made all kinds of implements, andirons, latches and hinges for doors. They fastened an iron edge to wooden shovels, and made chains and nails.
THEY TRAP MUSKRATS—BISHOP HANCOCK AND HIS GRANDSON JOHN
One day while we were pulling over a lot of old truck in a corner of the shop, we found some rusty muskrat traps. Edmund asked William if he used them. "No; I did considerable trapping when I was a boy. You and Ben may have them if you want them. Your father and I, Benny, trapped together one winter; and we used to go hunting wild turkeys too. There were a number of them over at Mt. Gilboa and Turkey Hill. They're pretty much all gone now. We had lots of fun with these traps, and I hope you boys will."
There were fourteen traps. We greased them up and put them in good condition. And one Saturday early in the fall we got Davy to go with us to the great meadows and look the ground over. Davy said, "We must find their paths." When we found one, we looked for the best place to set a trap. "Now, see here. Here's a place where they come out of the water; and they climb up on that old root. Take the axe, Ben, and cut a notch in it a little under the water; and I'll smear the notch with mud so that the rat won't notice it."
[Sidenote: TRAPPING MUSKRATS]
We opened the trap, and set it in the notch; and then fastened the chain, which was attached to the trap, to a stick; and drove the stick into the bank a little way up the stream. "Let's put the next trap in the path. Drive the stick into the ground, so that they can't carry the trap off. That's right. Now set the trap and sprinkle some leaves over it to hide it."
In some of the brooks we drove a couple of sticks into the bank, so that the trap would rest on them, a couple of inches beneath the surface of the water, and fastened the chain up stream. We drove a stick into the bank about ten inches above the trap, and stuck a sweet apple on the end of it. "There, that looks real tempting. A rat will come swimming along, and when he sees that apple, he will jump for it; and if you are lucky, he will fall into the trap."
"Who's that over on the island in the meadow?"
"Captain Wooton. He's girdling trees."
"What's he doing that for?"
"To kill them off. That's the way the Indians cleared their land. The trees die, and when they are dead, he sets them on fire in the wet season, and burns them up. He was a sea-captain, and married one of the Winship girls, and old Mr. Winship gave them this land."
"Well, let's hurry up and set the rest of the traps. I've got to get home to my chores."
Edmund lived on the further side of the meadows and close to them, and in going to school passed several brooks that flowed into them. I lived above the meadows, and had to go out of my way to reach them. So Edmund looked after nine traps, and I took care of five. Every morning we examined the traps, to see if we had caught anything, and to set them again, and bait them. If a trap was not in sight, we pulled on the chain, and generally found a muskrat in the trap, drowned, with his hair all soaked down on his sides. Sometimes we would find one alive in a trap in their paths, and sometimes only a foot.
[Sidenote: DAVID'S BLACK CAT]
Occasionally my little brother David went with me, and while I was baiting a trap, would run on, to see if there was anything in the next one. Once he came back to me, and said, "Benny, some mean fellow has been down here, and stuck a nasty black cat in the trap." The cat turned out to be a mink with a fine fur. After we had examined the traps, Edmund and I used to meet at a spot on Deacon Brown's farm, which was so pretty that folks called it "God's Creation"; and then we went over to the highway together, on our way to school.
We trapped muskrats till April, and got fifty-four muskrats and two mink. Skins are like oysters, good every month in the year that has an R in it.
How many were actually caught in our traps is another matter. A half-breed Indian named Tony lived in a little hut by the edge of the meadows. Frequently we found prints of his moccasins by our traps; and they would be baited with a different kind of an apple from that we used.
Probably Tony needed muskrat skins more than we, or at least thought that he did.
We disliked Tony and avoided him. We had our little scalping-parties or war-paths and ambuscades, in imitation of the Indians, but in spite of that we hated them heartily, and thought it a great weakness on the part of our minister, Bishop Hancock, when he spoke a good word for them.
[Sidenote: BISHOP HANCOCK]
He, Bishop Hancock, was of the salt of the earth. He was very old, but bright and strong, and as full of fun as a kitten. Old age seemed to improve him, as it does wine, and made him ripe and mellow.
When we saw him walking down the road, with his full-bottomed white wig, his black coat and small clothes, his black silk stockings, and his white Geneva bands, we gathered on one side of the road, folded our hands, ducked our heads, and made our manners.
He always had some funny or quaint remark to make to us. There was, perhaps, nothing wonderful in what he said, but his words always had a pleasant savour; and the day seemed brighter after he had spoken to us. He was himself like one of those serene peaceful days that come in the Indian summer near the close of the year.
He had so much common sense and so sure a judgment, that all the ministers of the county ran to him for advice, if any important matter came up. And he had such authority among them, that they called him Bishop Hancock, for he was as a bishop to them; and they loved and revered him as much as they would have hated a real bishop.
His grandson, John Hancock, came to live with him, and went to school with us. Young John was of our age, bright, quick-witted, with a kind heart, an open hand, and a full allowance of self-conceit.
He was always boasting about his Uncle Thomas, the richest man in Boston, of his wharf and warehouses and ships, and of his new stone house on the Beacon Hill.
"And after I go to college, I'm going to live with Uncle Thomas, and be a merchant like him," he used to proclaim.
Edmund, Davy, and I went up to Bishop Hancock's one noon with John, and made a careful and minute survey of the premises, after the manner of boys. We inspected the pigs beneath the barn, and got a pail of water and scrubbed them with a broom till we were satisfied with their appearance. Then we learned the names and good points of the cows and horses. When we got to the loft, Davy made a great discovery—a pigeon net stowed away on the rafters. Before we left, John had obtained a promise from his grandfather that he might use it to catch pigeons.
The next day we took it to a hill on the other side of the road, and looked for a place to spread it. John knew as much about pigeon catching as a hen does about skating. But he ordered us about, right and left, till Davy objected.
"See here, John! That place you chose is full of humps and hollows, and won't do. We want a level spot, where the net will lie flat; and we must have a good place near by, where we can hide. What's the matter with that open place over there, with the big clump of bushes behind it?"
[Sidenote: THEY SET A PIGEON NET]
"Well, I guess that's all right."
"Now, boys," said Davy, "peg down one end of the net. That's it. Spread it out. It lies like a tablecloth on a table. Fold it up, so that the pole will be on top. Now fasten the springs into the ground. Set them and rest the pole on them. Fasten the strings to each spring, so that when we pull, the springs will fly up, and throw the pole forward over the pigeons. That's right. Now let's try it."
We went back toward the bushes and pulled the strings. The springs threw the pole forward, and the net was spread out on the ground.
"How soon can we begin, Davy?" asked John.
"Not for three or four days. We'll fold the net up and set it; and you must come up here every evening and bait the ground by throwing down some grain. When the birds get used to the net, we can come up and catch them."
John reported to us daily that the birds were getting tamer, and were not afraid of the net.
On Saturday we went up and hid in the bushes. John held the strings of course. We could see the pigeons picking up the grain, and when a number were together, Davy said "Now, John!"
John pulled the strings, and the pole was thrown forward so that the net fell over the pigeons. We rushed up and stood on the edge of the net. As the pigeons poked their heads up through the meshes, we wrung their necks.
We set the net three times and caught a couple of dozen of pigeons. Then we went to the house, and John told of the pigeons he had caught.
"Didn't the other boys have anything to do with it?"
"Oh, yes, they helped, but I pulled the strings."
[Sidenote: BISHOP HANCOCK'S DRESSING-GOWN]
"I've noticed that it isn't always the man that pulls the strings who does the real solid work," said Mr. Hancock.
We did not have many quarrels or lawsuits in his time. If any dispute arose, he interfered, heard both sides, and settled the case. His decision ended the matter, for the defeated person knew that every one in town would stand by Bishop Hancock's law.
I was playing in the yard with John one afternoon, when Mr. Hancock came to the window. He had on a gorgeous flowered silk dressing-gown, and instead of his big white wig, wore on his head a cap or turban of the same gorgeous silk. I hardly knew him, and stared at him.
"What's the matter, Benny? Oh, it's the dressing-gown and cap. You probably took me for some strange East India bird—a peacock, perhaps. It's nothing but some finery my son Thomas sent me to put on in the house. After wearing black all my life, it is very pleasant to move through the rooms looking like a rainbow."
"You did kind of startle me, sir. I suppose Joseph's coat must have looked a good deal like that."
"Ha, ha, Benny, I guess you're right. And it aroused envy. Mrs. Hancock said yesterday that this would make a fine gown. I must be careful to whom I show myself in this attire.
"I hear that there is a quarrel between Sam Locke and Jesse Robinson over the boundary line between their farms up on the old Salem road.
"I want you to go up there, John, and tell them that I wish both of them to meet me at the boundary line to-morrow afternoon at five o'clock. You might go with him, Benny, if you have time."
We did our errand, and the two men, in rather a surly manner, promised to meet Mr. Hancock. The next afternoon Mr. Hancock gave us a couple of stakes, which he told us to sharpen, and then we went up to the Salem road together. We found Sam and Jesse sitting on a stone wall, waiting.
Mr. Hancock said: "Well, neighbours, I hear that you have a dispute over your boundaries, and that you're going to law about it. That won't do at all. I'm not going to have you spending your money fighting this matter in one court and then in another, till your money is gone. We can clear up the trouble here to-day. State your cases to me, and I can give as good a decision as any court. Go on, Sam, and tell your story. Wait till he's through, Jesse, before you say a word." Sam told his side of the case, and then Jesse, and then Sam had a second chance, and after him Jesse again.
[Sidenote: BISHOP HANCOCK'S LAW]
Though Sam and Jesse were supposed to do all the talking, yet the bishop had his say, too. And he was so sensible and genial that soon there was a different feeling between the two men. He told stories of their fathers when they were boys; what great friends they were, and how they bought adjoining farms to be near each other. "And as for that onion bed which marked the southern boundary of Jesse's farm, I have a very good idea of where it was. And probably we can see now where it was by the difference in the grass." He walked along and said, "A big stone with a flat top stuck up about twenty feet from the edge of the bed."
"Why, that's just ahead of us," said Jesse.
"I thought so. And now that I've heard your stories, and remember the onion bed and the stone, I think that this is the boundary line. Drive a stake down here, Benny. Now, neighbours, we've got it settled without costing a penny, and I want you to shake hands and be as close friends as your fathers were; for you're both good fellows."
How we did enjoy that old man! One day Edmund and John and I were seated in his yard, near the stable, mending the pigeon net, and Bishop Hancock was oiling a harness hanging just inside the barn, when the gate opened, and two old fools came into the yard.
"Good morning, Mr. Hancock."
"Good morning, neighbour Hall and neighbour Perry. You've caught me in a nice mess. There's nothing very ministerial about this. Quite different from preaching a long sermon at you; and to tell the truth, I half believe we preach too much. My friend Cotton Mather had a story of an old Indian who was in jail, about to be hanged for some crime.
[Sidenote: WOULD-BE ELDERS]
"A minister visited him in his cell and prayed with him and preached at him till the Indian begged the jailer to hurry up the hanging. He preferred it to any more talk.
"This harness was getting about as rusty as my old bones and needed oiling badly. And now, neighbours, is there anything I can do for you?"
"Well, Mr. Hancock, your remark just now about your age is to the point. Some years ago you had the help of your good son Ebenezer, whose loss we all deplore. And some of us have been considering your great age, and the numerous and hard duties you perform; and we have thought it might be well if you had some assistance and aid. We know that it used to be common to have a couple of elders to assist the pastor; and thought that you might find it pleasant to revive the office, and have the help of two elders."
Mr. Hancock thought for a moment and said: "That's an excellent notion. But where can we find men ready to fulfil the duties of the office?"
"Well, Uriah and me have been talking it over, and we would be willing to take the office, for the sake of helping you."
"I suppose you know the duties of elders?"
"No! But you know all about it, and could tell us."
"Well, gentlemen, the duties of elders have never been very clearly defined in the church. But latterly they have settled down to this. The younger elder is to brush down and harness the pastor's horse when he wishes to ride out, and the elder is to accompany him, when he goes out of town, and pay his bills. I should be glad to have you appointed."
Uriah gave a gasp, and said: "Hello! It looks as if there was a shower coming up, and my hay's out. Good-by, Mr. Hancock; we'll see you another day."
The bishop looked after them, as they walked away, and turned round with a twinkle in his eye. Seeing us laughing, he laughed too, and said:—
[Sidenote: NO ELDERS IN MR. HANCOCK'S DAY]
"I don't believe we shall have any elders in Lexington, boys. At least, not in my day."
IN WHICH ARE DETAILS OF A GREAT FOX HUNT
When the winter came there were a great many quail about our barn. Smiling Bill Smith, who worked for us,—Old Bill Smiley some folks called him, on account of the broad grin he always wore,—said to me:—
"Them whales, Ben, pretty near bother the life out of me. They creep in through the cracks and crannies and eat the grain. If I go over by the grain chest, the first thing I know, there's a whir, and a cloud of them darts up in front of my face. Sometimes it makes my heart come right up in my mouth. I wish there wasn't a whale round the place."
"Quails, Bill. What makes you call them whales?"
"Whales I heard them called when I was a boy, and whales they are to me."
[Sidenote: CATCHING QUAIL]
"Perhaps you think it was one of these whales that swallowed Jonah?"
"I never did think so, Benny. But if he did, it was a miracle, sure enough."
Davy helped me make a figure-4 trap to catch them. One Saturday morning I met Edmund down at John Buckman's store, trading some butter and eggs for tea and sugar.
"Come up to the house, Edmund. I've got a figure-4 trap; and we'll catch some quail."
We set the trap, and put some grain under the box. Several quail flew down, hopped about, and soon discovered the grain. While they were pecking away at it, they sprang the trap. The box fell over them, and we caught three.
"Now, Edmund, you find some grass-seed in the barn, and sprinkle it in a line from the door. And I'll go and get the gun, and we'll take a raking shot at them."
I went after the gun, and gave it to him. We hid in the barn, and before long some more quail flew down and began to eat the seed. When they were well in line he fired, and killed four and wounded several. The wounded ones hopped about, cried out, and took on piteously, and acted like so many little children in distress.
I did not like this at all, and Edmund seemed very much troubled.
"Come on, Edmund. We've got to kill those that are sure to die. The rest we will put in a box with some hay, and perhaps they will get well."
We wrung the necks of three, and put the others in a box and covered it over.
Then we looked at each other, and Edmund opened his basket, and let those we had caught fly away.
"No more quail shooting for me, Ben. They're too human. By George, I know just how a murderer feels."
One snowy winter day, Davy came to our barn, where I was foddering the cattle, and said:—
"Ben, this storm will be over to-morrow, and will make fine snowshoeing. Amos Locke is going with me fox-hunting, and we want you to come too."
[Sidenote: INVITATION TO A FOX HUNT]
"I don't know that I can go. Let's talk it over with my brother John."
When John heard us he said: "I guess I can fix things so that you can get off. Pitch in, work hard, and do some of the stints that father set you for to-morrow, and I will look after your chores."
By the time mother came to the door and blew the horn for supper, we had done a great deal of work.
After supper I lit a big pine knot and placed it in the side of the fireplace, so that the smoke from it would go up the chimney. It threw a pleasant light out into the room. Father was at work on an ox-bow. John had a rake into which he was setting some new teeth, and I sat on a stool with a wooden shovel between my legs, shelling corn; rasping the ears on the iron edge of the shovel, so that the kernels fell into a big basket in front of me.
My little brother David was sitting on a bench in the side of the great fireplace, reading that terrible poem by the Rev. Michael Wigglesworth, called the "Day of Doom," which tells all about the day of judgment,—how the sinners are doomed to burn eternally in brimstone; and the saints are represented as seated comfortably in their armchairs in heaven, looking down into the sulphurous pit.
I used to wonder how Mr. Wigglesworth got so thorough a knowledge of these two places and of judgment day, and doubts crept into my mind as to the accuracy of his description. When I thought of Bishop Hancock seated in one of those armchairs, I knew that his soul, at least, would be full of pity and sorrow for the poor sufferers below, and I felt that the saints ought to be a good deal like him.
I did not envy David his book. It seemed to me that every now and then I could see his hair rise up and his eyes bulge out with terror.
Mother stood by the woollen wheel, spinning, and my little sister Ruhama sat near her, knitting.
The fire lit up the room and made the pewter dishes on the dresser shine.
Above us, hanging from the rafters, were bunches of herbs, crooked-neck squashes, and poles on which were strung circular slices of pumpkin which were drying, to be made into sauce in the future.
[Sidenote: THE "DAY OF DOOM"]
David shut up his book, went to mother, and said: "Oh, mother, mother! I'm scared to death. Do you suppose I've got to go to hell?"
"No, David. You're a good little boy. Just learn your catechism, go to meeting, and be a good boy, and I guess you'll come out all right."
I remembered well how I felt as I read that book, and the hours of anguish that it caused me. David got some apples, placed them on the hearth in front of the fire; and, in watching them roast and sputter, he soon forgot his fears.
John began to talk to father about old times, and soon got him started telling stories about hunting.
"Yes, I used to go after wild turkeys with Will Munroe, the blacksmith, when I was a boy. One day we met Ben Wellington, and he said he had just come down the Back Road, and had seen a bear in a huckleberry patch, and if we'd go with him, we could kill him. He borrowed a gun of Tom Fessenden, and we drew our charges, and loaded with a bullet and some buckshot. When we got to the place, we crept along carefully, and saw the bear stripping off the huckleberries and eating them. He was so busy he didn't notice us, and we got quite close to him. Will and I fired, and he rose and turned to us, and Ben fired. We ran off a little, loaded again, and went back, and found the bear was dead.
"In the winter we used to go fox-hunting. What fun we had! I vum, I'd like to go now."
This gave John a good opening, and he said: "Young David Fiske and Amos Locke are going after foxes to-morrow, and they want Ben to go with them. Benny worked hard to-day, and did most of the jobs that you laid out for him to do to-morrow; and I told him that if you would let him go, I would do his chores."
"Well," said father, "one can't be young but once in one's life. I certainly did have great fun hunting when I was a boy; and if you'll do Benny's chores, I think we can manage to let him go. But it was a pretty sly trick of yours, John, to lead the talk around to hunting, and get me worked up over it, before you said anything about to-morrow."
[Sidenote: LUXURIOUS LIVING]
"I thought it would be a good idea to make you remember how much you liked it yourself."
The clock struck nine, and we got up and put our things away. Father read a chapter from the Bible. Then I raked up a great mass of red coals, and covered them carefully with ashes to keep them alive till the morning.
John and I went up to the attic, where we slept; and as I undressed and lay down in my straw bed, I could hear the wind hum and whistle as it caught on the roof, and cold draughts swept through the attic.
I pulled the blankets and comforter closely about me, and was soon asleep, dreaming of foxes.
When I awoke, I jumped out of bed and stepped into some snow that had sifted in through the cracks and formed a little drift over my leather breeches, which were frozen hard as a board. I shook the snow off them, and, grabbing up my clothes, ran downstairs, pulled the ashes off the coals, and fanned them till they were bright, and built a good fire in the fireplace. I warmed my leather breeches over the fire till they were softened so that I could get into them.
It was a little after five o'clock. The snowstorm was over, and the moon was shining bright.
Mother came in and said, "Well, Benny, you've built me a nice fire, and I hope you'll have a good time."
She hung a pot with some hasty pudding in it over the fire, warmed it up, and fried some pork in the skillet. I brought up a jug of cider from the cellar, and as I was eating breakfast, father came in and took down the gun from over the fireplace. "I think I'll put a new flint in the gun, Ben. You don't want to miss fire when you get a chance to shoot at a fox. Be careful of the gun. You know it belonged to your Uncle John, and he had it with him when he was killed in the Indian fight up to York, the same time that Ben Muzzy was captivated and carried off. I never take it down without thinking of John. He was dreadful fond of hunting, just as you be, Benny. You put me in mind of him."
[Sidenote: BEN STARTS FOR THE FOX HUNT]
I pulled some long stockings that belonged to my brother John over my own shoes and stockings, put on my woollen frock, and buckled my belt round my waist. Father handed me the gun, and said, "Give my respects to Dr. Fiske, Benny, and good luck to ye."
When I got outdoors, I slipped my toes under the thongs of the rackets, and shuffled along over the fields till I got to the road. The moon was bright, and everything was distinct and clear.
I skimmed along over the snow, and William Munroe, the blacksmith, came out of his house near the foot of the common, just as I was passing.
"Hello, Benny, you're up early to-day. Where are you bound for?"
"Fox-hunting with Davy Fiske."
"Well, he's a good one at it, and it will be a fine day."
The meeting-house was covered with a casing of snow. As I passed by the common I could see lights in Sam Jones's house and in old John Muzzy's. I kept on up the road by Jonas Parker's, and when I came in sight of Dr. Fiske's place, Davy was outside, waiting for me.
"Hello, Ben! Where have you been? I've been waiting for you these two hours."
"Oh, pshaw, Davy. This is plenty early. You can't see the least bit of daylight yet, and one can't do much with foxes till the sun is well up and warms the scent."
The doctor came to the door and said:—
"Don't mind David, Benny. You're early enough. But he's crazy about hunting, and wants to be at it all the time. It would be better for him if he spent less time at it."
"Father told me to give his respects to you, sir."
"All right, Benny. Now, boys, take things easy, or you'll be tired out before you see a fox."
As Davy and I skimmed along over the snow, the day began to break. We had only one dog with us, but he was a real good one. His name was Zabdiel.
"That's a good dog, Davy, but he's got the funniest name for a dog I ever heard. How did he get it?"
"Oh, I dunno! Father gave it to him. There was a doctor in Boston started this inoculation business for the smallpox. Folks were about ready to tear his house down; but he kept on inoculating, his patients didn't die, and finally people let up on him. Father thinks a heap of this inoculation and sets a store by this Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, and named his best horse and dog after him."
"But I should think we ought to have more than one dog with us, Davy."
"Well, ain't we going over to Dog Lane, to pick up little Amos Locke? Every one over there hunts and has a dog. When we get there, you'll find Amos walking up and down, and all the dogs of Dog Lane following him. You won't be looking for dogs when you get there. The question will be, how to get rid of them."
Just then Davy held up his hand. "Hush, Ben," and pointed to a spot where the snow had been shaken up. "Give me a racket." I did so. He held it over the spot, and stuck his hand under it into the snow. Something darted up against the racket, and at the same time I was covered with snow from head to foot, and a partridge flew off. Davy laughed. "Why didn't you catch him, Ben? I got one." He drew his hand out with a partridge in it. He twisted its neck, and we started on again.
"The partridges dive down into the snow, and sleep there, but I don't see why those two went to bed so late after the storm was over. Something must have disturbed them. If I hadn't the racket to clap over the place, I should have lost him. I learned that trick from Amos Locke's father.
"But there is Amos, waiting for us, with all the dogs of Dog Lane about him. What did I tell you about dogs?"
"Isn't Amos rather young to go fox-hunting, Davy?"
[Sidenote: AMOS LOCKE]
"Sho! That's all you know about it. That little hatchet-faced fellow is tougher than a boiled owl, and knows almost as much about foxes and birds as I do, and that's saying a good deal. He's big, too, for his age, and will be pretty strong, though I don't suppose he will be as strong as you are. What do you do, Ben, to make you so strong? I could walk the legs off of you; but you've got a terrible grip, and throw me just as easy as nothing at all. If you keep on, you'll be as good a wrestler as Jonas Parker; and he's the best the whole country round. How do you get so strong?"
"Oh, I dunno! Father's strong, and mother's strong. Comes natural, I suppose."
"Well, perhaps so. Father's a doctor, and my brothers are going to be doctors; but I ain't. I'm going to be a hunter."
Amos shouted: "Hello, Dave and Ben! Where have you been? I'd about g-g-given you up." Amos stammered a little, except when he was stirred up, and then he stammered a good deal.
"Now, don't you get excited, sonny. We've got the whole day before us. Do you own all these dogs?"
"Oh, d-darn it, Davy, I can't help it. The whole pack of them keep following me all the time, and if I've got a gun, they stick to me like g-g-glue."
"Well! They're beauties. Regular full-blooded foxhounds, every one of them."
"Oh, get out, Dave. They may not be p-p-pretty, but they hunt almost as g-good as Zabdiel. Come here, Zab, old boy. I've been trying to get rid of them for the last two hours. But they seem to g-g-get out about as fast as I p-put them in."
"Well, come on over to Bear's Hill. That's the best place. Call your beauties in."
We kept on past Corner Hedge and Pine Grove till we came to Listening Hill. There the hounds struck a scent, lifted up their heads, bayed, and started off on the trail.
At first they went along the foot of Listening Hill, then up it, and over the top. We had to take our rackets off, for it was so rocky and uneven that we could not use them. The rocks stuck up through the snow. Holding our rackets under our left arms and our guns in our right hands, we followed over the crest of the hill, along the high land, and then down the slope. Here we put on our rackets again. The dogs were far ahead of us. We came to low land with a brook running through it, and in the distance could see the dogs.
[Sidenote: BEAVER HOLES]
"Hold on, boys," said Davy; "this won't do. That fox is too many for us." And putting his fingers to his mouth, he gave three shrill whistles. "That will call Zab back. It won't do for us to go fooling round on that swamp. It's full of holes, six to eight feet deep, that they call beaver holes. I don't know why; perhaps the beaver made them when they were here. If you get into one of them, it's all up with you, and the snow covers everything up so smooth that we can't tell where they are. That fox don't live here anyway, and is making straight for home, and he may live ten miles off.
"There's a nice spring of water in the side of Listening Hill. We'd better go over to it and have something to eat, and then we can start out again."
We went to the spring and had a good drink. Then we took out the food that our mothers had put up for us. We munched away, and before long Zab came back.
"I wonder where those other fool dogs are," said Davy.
"Oh, they're all right. They'll come to Dog Lane to-night all b-beat out, and they'll let me alone for a week."
"I tell you what it is," said Davy. "We ought never to have gone on that trail. We ought to have gone to Bear's Hill, just as we started to. There's always some foxes at Bear's Hill that live there, and don't want to leave home. Let's go after them."
After we had eaten our fill we threw the rest of our food on the snow, and Zab gulped it down in no time and had a contented look, probably thinking of those other dogs with their empty bellies.
We started off for Bear's Hill, and Davy said: "This is a different kind of a place. Foxes that you find here belong here."
[Sidenote: THE FOX HUNT]
We came on a fox track, and Zab started off on it, and we after him. First we went along one side of the hill, then over it, and we had to take off our rackets again. Then along the foot of the hill, and Davy said: "He lives here. We'll get him. Pull off your frock, Ben." And he began to pull off his.
"Now, Amos, you go up that lane till you come to a gap in the hill. A stone wall crosses it, and almost always when you hunt round this hill, the fox comes down that gully to the stone wall. Get behind a bush near the wall; and you'll see the fox come down the hollow to it. And he will put his fore paws up on the wall, and wait a moment to hark for the dog. When he does that, you give it to him. Take our frocks, and if you feel cold, put one of them on. Wait there, and keep your eyes and ears open."
Amos went up the lane, and we followed Zab. At last he seemed to be coming somewhat toward us.
"Let's spread out a bit, Ben, and try to head the fox off."
He ran to the right, and I followed him, at some distance behind. We could hear that Zab was coming nearer, as we ran, and at last we heard a bang.
"The little cuss has got him, I'll bet you. Come on, Ben."
We ran on and came to the gully; and at the lower end of it was Amos, with my frock on, which reached down to the ground. He was holding up the fox, and Zab was jumping up and down.
"Good boy, Amos! Now tell us about it."
"Well, I did just as you t-t-told me, Davy. I went up the lane till I c-came to the gully and saw the stone wall. I found a good b-bush about twenty-five yards from the wall, and got behind it and waited till I began to feel c-cold. I pulled Ben's frock on, and left the neck of it open so that I could get the stock of the gun in to my shoulder, and spread out your f-frock and knelt on it. Then I heard Zab, and knew that he was c-coming toward me. I got ready and saw the fox creeping down the g-gully, and he did just as you said he would. When he got to the wall he p-put his fore paws upon it, p-pricked up his ears, and moved them forward and back as he listened for Zab, and I f-fired. I aimed at his b-b-breast and p-put two b-buckshot in his breast and one in his neck."
[Sidenote: DR. FISKE HAS A PATIENT]
"Yer done well, Amos. I couldn't a done better myself. He has a good fur and is a mighty fine fox."
It was getting pretty well along in the afternoon, and we thought we had had enough of hunting. I picked up the fox and carried it for Amos till we reached Dog Lane, when he left us. We found the partridge where we had tied it to a branch.
When we reached Dr. Fiske's, his sleigh was in front of the door. The doctor had put on a small riding wig with an eelskin cue, and was getting into his greatcoat.
"You're just in time, Benny; old Francis Whittemore, down at the East Village, has had a fit; and I've got to go and see what I can do for him. The old man has too much blood, and it's gone to his head. We must bleed him. Take the lancets, Jonathan, and the basin too, and a bottle of Daffy's Elixir. There's nothing like it to tone up the stomach. Now we are all ready. Tie your rackets on behind and sit in the bottom of the sleigh, Ben."
The doctor and his son Jonathan got in, and I sat in the straw till the doctor pulled up and let me out not far from our house.
TRADING IN THOSE DAYS—BEN IS APPRENTICED—THE ENLISTING SERGEANT—COURT DAY AT CONCORD
About this time my life changed a good deal. Bishop Hancock had died during the previous winter. Young John was adopted by his Uncle Thomas, the Boston merchant, and went to Harvard College. Edmund's mother, who had been a widow several years, married Squire Bowman, and went to live at his house at the south end of the town. As for myself, I was growing up, and had my stint of work with the others. In the spring, driving the oxen, while father held the plough. Then came sowing the land and planting corn. Then half-hilling and again hilling it. Then helping to hay, and to gather in the crops. In the fall, picking apples and making cider. And as the winter came on, I helped to kill and dress a steer and a couple of hogs, and to put them in the powdering tubs and pickle them. Then we hung the hams and sides of bacon up in the chimney to be cured. Beside these things the daily care of the cattle and milking kept me busy all the time.
And it seemed to me that we got but small return for our labour. We had a large barn full of cattle and horses, and the loft full of hay for them. A snug home for ourselves and plenty to eat and drink. We raised the flax and wool from which our clothes were made. When we killed an ox or a calf, the hide was tanned to make into shoes.
But we had very little ready money. Whatever dealings we had with our neighbours was done by exchanging goods,—trading we called it. Trading was going on all the time.
One morning, as we boys were walking up the road, and had reached the upper end of Captain Esterbrook's land, Edmund said, "Hello, Ben, look over there. Captain Joe Esterbrook and Matthew Mead are trading. Whenever you see one man sitting on a log and another walking up and down with a straw in his mouth, then they're trading. And the man with the straw in his mouth is the one anxious to have the trade go through. See how nervous Matthew is, and Captain Joe, sitting on the log whittling, looks just as calm and contented as a frog in a puddle. When you trade, Ben, don't chew a straw, but sit down and whittle. Captain Joe probably wants the trade to go through as much as Matthew does. But the whittling keeps his hands and eyes busy, and steadies his nerves. It gives him a chance to look as if he didn't care a snap about it."
"I don't think there's any need of Captain Joe whittling," said I. "He's as keen as a razor at a trade. I was going by his place a little while ago, and he had his old horse Bjax out in front of the stable, showing him to a fur trader from the Back Country, whose horse had gone lame.
"'Yes,' says he, 'he's a fine horse, kind and sound, and I wouldn't part with him for anything, if the other one hadn't died. I had a horse called Ajax, that I got of one of the professors down to the college, and the next one I bought I called Bjax. But now that Ajax is gone, there don't seem to be no sense to the name. When I had Ajax, Bjax was all right; but Bjax alone sounds sort of ridiculous, and I'll let you have him cheap.'
"His black boy, Prince, was hanging round, looking as if a funeral was going on. He stepped up, and said, 'Oh, massa, massa. Don't sell that horse. That's just the best horse we ever had.' Then the black rascal went behind the man, winked at me and grinned."
Late in the fall, after we had killed off some of the cattle, father would load a couple of pack-horses with beef and pork, which he sold in Salem. For in those days Salem was more easily reached than Boston. Probably not more than one or two families in the town spent over twenty Spanish dollars in the course of the year.
Money came most readily to those who had a handicraft, and there was hardly a house on the main road in which there was not an artificer of some kind.
[Sidenote: BEN APPRENTICED TO A BLACKSMITH]
A prudent father took care that his son learned a trade. Edmund was sent to Concord and became a cordwainer or shoemaker. Davy Fiske was a weaver, and soon after the fox hunt I was apprenticed to Robert Harrington, to learn the blacksmith's trade. He was a large, strong man, of a kindly nature, and was an excellent bass singer. As we worked together in his shop, with his son Thaddeus, we frequently sang psalm tunes, and his younger son Dan piped in a treble.
One day Major Ben Reed rode up, and brought his horse in to be shod.
"Well, Robert, we're going to have war again with the French. Governor Shirley's got word that they are making a settlement and building a fort down on our eastern frontier, and has ordered Colonel John Winslow to raise a regiment, and go down there to put a stop to it. Captain Frye of Littleton is raising a company, and if any of the boys want to join the expedition, they'd better enlist with him."
Davy Fiske's two older brothers, Jonathan and John, did enlist. They joined this company, and so did Joe Locke.
The regiment went up the Kennebec, built a fort, and then half of them went further up the river, to the Great Carrying Place, but found no settlements, no French nor Indians, nothing but immense and terrible swarms of black flies, midges, and bloodsucking mosquitoes; and after considerable blood was shed on both sides, they retreated and returned home.
This was but the beginning of the great struggle that we had with the French for seven long years. In the next year, 1755, early in the spring, Colonel Winslow was again ordered to beat his drums through our Province, and raise a regiment to proceed against Acadia; and Captain Spikeman began to enlist a company in our county.
The captain made his headquarters in Concord at Rowe's Tavern, which was kept by Edmund's uncle, Captain Thomas Munroe.
Several times, a sergeant, corporal, and a couple of drummers came down to Lexington, and marched through the town, beating a rub-a-dub on their drums. The sergeant would speak to the crowd, and try to get them to enlist. He would promise them—well, what wouldn't he promise them? Lands, booty, rich farms, the chance of becoming a general at least. He was an oily-tongued fellow, and Uriah Hall's son Uriah, Phineas Parker, and Tom Blanchard enlisted with him. He and his drummers stopped at our shop one day, and he came in. He placed his halberd in a corner, brushed the dust from the top of a box, and sat down.
[Sidenote: EXPEDITION TO ACADIA]
"Well, which of you young men is going to serve the King? There never was such a chance for a soldier as this. Here we are, going down to the richest country in the world, to turn these Acadians out of house and home; and any soldier who wants a farm can have it for the asking. Richest soil in the world. You can raise anything there. Level as a table, all cleared, not a stone in it, farm tools, housen and outhousen, and everything all ready for you. Hundreds of acres for the asking, and lots of booty besides. What better chance do you want?"
Mr. Harrington, who was leaning on his hammer by the forge, asked:—
"But why do you turn them out? Why don't you let them alone?"
"Why do we turn them out? Because we must. That country has belonged to England for forty-two years. And not one of those people will take the oath of allegiance. They have the easiest time in the world. Not a penny of taxes was ever asked them, and they have been treated like pet lambs. Their priests tell them not to take the oath of allegiance, and they expect every year that the King of France will retake the country."
"Well, what of it? They say they are neutrals, and if you leave them alone, and they mind their own business, and till their farms, they'll come round all right in the end."
"Will they? They're the funniest neutrals you ever saw. They are dead set against England, and claim to belong to France. If a garrison wants to buy food, not a bit will they sell. But when the French and Indians make an inroad into the country, they run to them, give them all they have, join in with them, and fight us. When the French are driven back, they scatter and go back to their farms, as innocent as can be. No, sir. There's no getting on with them. It has been tried over forty years. The only way to stop this constant trouble and fighting is to carry the whole of them out of the country, and give their rich farms to good, honest young men like these here.
[Sidenote: THE ACADIANS MUST BE DRIVEN OUT]
"Come now! Take the King's shilling. Serve his Majesty, good King George, for a few months; and you can live like lords for the rest of your days."
Thaddeus and I were mightily tempted by the man's talk, but Mr. Harrington said that he could not spare us, and that we were too young, anyhow. "And very likely, boys, instead of hundreds of acres, with housen and outhousen, and farm tools, and booty, all that you'd get would be six feet of ground and a pine box."
The days when the court sat at Concord were holidays with us, and the people flocked up there to see the court come in, and to watch the trials. And this spring, Spikeman's company was there too.
On the second day of court I rode to Concord, found Edmund at the tavern, and we went round the town together.
The court had disposed of some cases already. We saw a couple seated on the gallows, with ropes round their necks.
"Are they going to hang them, Edmund?"
"Not unless they tumble off and hang themselves. I suppose they put them up there to show that hanging would be none too good for them. Look at those fellows in the stocks. They don't belong here, and did not leave when warned out of town by the constable."
Near by the stocks was the pillory. There was a man standing in it, with his head and hands sticking out through the holes. Of all humiliating punishments, this always seemed to me to be the worst. A man in that position looks thoroughly mean and contemptible. He appears to be put there on purpose to have something thrown at him; and it offers a temptation that boys cannot withstand.
[Sidenote: THE PILLORY]
"Bill Wheeler's been missing his hens right along. He suspected this man, and caught him one night, and the judge sentenced him to stand in the pillory. There's Bill over there; listen to him!"
"Well, you miserable thief, how do you like it now? I had a good deal of trouble to catch you; but it was worth while. You like hens? I wonder how you will like hen-fruit."
He turned aside, and I heard him say to a boy: "Here's a shilling, Hiram. They tell me eggs are pretty cheap up at the store, specially poor ones."
The boys asked the man in the pillory all manner of impudent questions. He resented it, and threatened them, when plump went a couple of eggs against the boards near his head, and the yolks spattered over his face.
"Don't! Don't you do that, boys! That's mighty mean. When I get out, won't I give you a licking!"
More eggs were thrown, and as he ducked his head, one struck him on the top of his pate. When he raised it, the yellow yolk ran down over his cheeks. Edmund and I told the boys to stop throwing eggs.
"We ain't doing nothing, and 'tain't your business, anyhow."
We stood guard over the boys till we saw the crowd turn toward the whipping-post; and the boys went there to see a man tied to it, and soundly thrashed on his bare back with the cat-o'-nine-tails.
"I've had enough of this, Edmund. Come over to the tavern."
The drummers were beating their drums in front of the inn, and the sergeants were telling their story of the glory, honour, and booty to be gained.
Captain Spikeman stood near by, and if he saw a likely looking man, who seemed to be tempted, he would begin talking to him, and ask him into the tavern to have a mug of flip. Soon after, the sergeant would be called in to pin a cockade on his hat and give him the King's shilling to enlist him.
Edmund knew all the officers, who lived at the tavern, and was full of enthusiasm. "Ben, I'd like to go ever so much. I've set my heart on being a soldier. But my time isn't up, and I must serve out my apprenticeship."
"That's just my fix. But if the war lasts, we may get a chance yet."
In the afternoon I bade him good-by, and rode back home.
PIGEON TUESDAY AND ITS EXPLOITS
Davy Fiske had become a weaver, as I said, and as there were several David Fiskes in town, he was called Weaver David. We used to send yarn up to him to weave, and I wore clothes made of cloth that came from his loom. Early that same spring he came down to the blacksmith's shop with one of his father's horses to be shod, and as I was getting ready, said: "Ben, it's awful to see the boys going off to the war, having all this fun fighting the French and Indians, and to be shut up in that confounded loom, listening to its clatter, when there's so much going on. Jonathan and John have just gone off again, and I must stay at home. But the pigeons are flying now, and next Tuesday will be Pigeon Tuesday. They always fly on that day. And there will be rafts of them flying down to the shore. I suppose they go to get a taste of salt, and must have it, just like the cattle. Amos Locke and I are going after them up on Bull Meadow Hill, and we want you to come too."
[Sidenote: WILD PIGEONS]
"I'll go, Davy, if I can get off."
After I had shod the horse, I spoke to Mr. Harrington about it. He said: "You won't need but half a day, Ben. The shooting will be all over by nine o'clock, and you can come back and work in the afternoon."
In the spring flights of pigeons came north very early. They lived in the woods and swamps, and as soon as it began to be light flew down to the shore.
As they came along, we used to toll them down with our decoys. The flight was almost always over by nine o'clock.
When they returned in the evening, they paid no attention to decoys, but made straight for their roost.
Tuesday morning, I was at Davy's house a couple of hours before sunrise and, as usual, found him grumbling because I had not come an hour earlier.
There was a bright moon, and we had plenty of light as we walked over the fields, and Davy told me wonderful stories of his hunting. He was full of superstitions, and had settled on this day as the one particular day in the year when there would be a great flight of pigeons.
"Pigeon Hill, off there to our right, is a pretty good place for pigeons. It's on our land, and I've got a pigeon rig up there. But Bull Meadow Hill is higher and a good deal better. It belongs to Amos's folks. He has a pigeon rig and pole on it, and it will be all ready. Amos says Bull Meadow got its name because a bull was drowned in a ditch there nigh on to a hundred years ago."
We reached Bull Meadow and went up the hill. Amos was there waiting for us.
"Where have you fellows b-been? I've been at work here for an hour and have got things pretty near ready. I put some new boughs on the booth so that it l-looks all r-right, and I've got a couple of flyers and a flutterer in that basket."
We entered the booth from the rear. The front was open from the covering to within three feet of the ground, so that we could stand up and shoot, and when we crouched down, would be hidden.
[Sidenote: THE PIGEON RIG]
In front of the booth was a post about four feet high, in one side of which the end of a pole about five feet long was fastened so that it worked as if on a hinge. A string was tied to the pole and ran over the top of the post. By pulling the string, the further end of the pole could be raised or lowered by a person in the booth. Further from the booth the top and branches of a small tree had been cut off, leaving a standard twelve feet high, and to this a pole about twenty feet long had been fastened, so that it looked a good deal like a well sweep.
The end of the pole pointed toward the hut, but not directly. It slanted a little to one side in order that when the pigeons lighted on the pole we could get a good raking shot at them. Our pigeons had soft pads of leather called boots sewed round each leg to protect them from the strings which we fastened to them. We tied the strings to the boots of a pigeon, sewed a bandage over his eyes, and tied him to the further end of the pigeon stool. This was the stool pigeon. We also called him the flutterer or hoverer.
"Now give us the flyers."
Amos took out two more pigeons, and we tied long and strong strings to their boots.
"Now they're ready. But there's hardly enough string for the long flyer. We ought to let him go up at least forty feet."
"Cut a little off the string of the short flyer then, and tie it on to the other. The strings were the same length."
We looked round, to see if any pigeons were flying, but none were in sight.
"There don't seem to be any about. I'm afraid, Davy, Pigeon Tuesday won't be a success this time."
"You wait. They'll be here by and by."
"They're f-flying well now. I was f-fishing in Swithin Reed's mill p-pond, yesterday afternoon, and Venus Roe came over and said that Swithin shot a lot of pigeons in the m-morning."
[Sidenote: A FLIGHT IN SIGHT]
"Venus Roe! Who's she?"
"D-don't you know? She's a little n-nigger girl about twelve years old, and belongs to Swithin. Some one in B-Boston gave her to him when she was a baby."
"Oh, yes! I remember now. I've heard father tell of meeting Swithin riding out from Boston, with a keg of rum in one saddle bag, and out of the other was sticking the head of a three-year-old nigger."
"Here comes a flight. Send up your long flyer, Amos."
Amos threw the flyer up. We watched the pigeons. They seemed to be coming toward us.
"Now send up the short flyers."
"They're coming to us. Pull the flyers down and keep hidden. Pull away at the string, Ben, and work the pole, so that the hoverer will keep his wings fluttering. Keep on, Ben. They see him."
The pigeons flew toward the flutterer, made a swirl in the air, and began to light on the pigeon pole. We took up our guns, and as they were hovering about the pole, trying to get a foothold, we fired, and ran out and picked up twenty-nine pigeons.
"That isn't bad," said Davy. "I tell you, Pigeon Tuesday is the day. There will be more along soon."
The sky was all crimson and gold in the east. We looked toward Mt. Gilboa; the red face of the sun began to show itself. As it rose above the hill, we heard the stroke of the bell.
"Some one's d-dead.—Hark! Only one stroke. It's a child. One for a c-child, two for a woman, and three strokes for a man."
"I know who it is. Father was called up to Sam Hadley's last night. Little Benoni Mead was very poorly, and they didn't think he'd last through the night."
Poor little Benoni! His father, Cornelius Mead, had died of camp fever in the war; his mother and he had come on the town for support, and had been boarded with her brother, Sam Hadley, not far from Bull Meadow Hill. Benoni had always been ailing, and of late had failed rapidly.
[Sidenote: ANOTHER FLIGHT OF PIGEONS]
"Well, boys," said Davy, "let's get back to work. It won't do Benoni any good to be mooning round."
We watched for pigeons again, and another small flight came along. We worked our decoys and got twenty.
After that we waited a long time,—till nearly nine o'clock. Then Davy and I gave it up, and decided to go home. Davy had some work to do. But Amos said he would stay a little while longer. We made a division of our pigeons, and Davy and I started for home.
We had not gone more than half a mile when we saw a terrible big flight.
"I wonder if Amos will get a shot at them, Ben. Let's get back as quick as we can. We may be in time."
We threw down our pigeons, and made through the woods as fast as we could. As we were running up the hill, we heard a bang.
"Confound the luck," said Davy, "we're just too late! Let's hurry up and help Amos."
When we got to the top of the hill Amos was running round, twisting the necks of the wounded pigeons. As soon as he saw us, he stood up and began:—
"H-H-He—" But he was too excited, and couldn't get the words out. He pointed to the pigeons, and kept on catching them and twisting their necks. We did the same. When we got through, Davy asked, "What was it that you were saying to us when we got here? I didn't quite catch it."
"No! It sort er st-stuck on the way; 'h-help me' is pretty hard to say sometimes. I t-t-tell you, b-boys, there was millions of 'em, an-and I guess I shot a barrel full. When I saw that b-big flight coming, I wished you were here, and then I was g-glad you were not. For I w-wanted to see h-how many I should get. They came just like a b-big cloud, and began to light on that p-pole, and the air was just f-full of them. You c-couldn't see anything but pigeons. I blazed away, and the ground was c-covered with them.
"I was t-tickled enough to see you fellows jump in and help me. I w-wonder how many there are. Let's count them."
[Sidenote: AMOS MAKES A GREAT SHOT]
We gathered them up, and there were fifty-two.
"Hurrah! One f-for every week in the year!"
Amos had a good many adventures in his life afterward, fighting with the French and Indians. But that shot was the one particular thing that made life a joy to him.
A PAUPER'S FUNERAL—BEN'S FRIEND THE MINISTER, AND BEN'S VICTORY IN WRESTLING
When I returned to the shop, Mr. Harrington said: "I'm glad you're back, Ben. The rest of the selectmen have left the care of Benoni Mead's funeral to me, and I've got a lot of things to do. We must have some gloves and scarves for the bearers, and you'll have to ride down to Charlestown to buy them."
I mounted a horse and rode through Menotomy and over the Plains. There was a sharp breeze blowing; and as I neared the Neck, I heard a creaking as if a rusty hinge was being turned.
Looking to the left, I saw a negro hanging in gibbets at the foot of a ledge. The wind made the body sway to and fro, and the grating of the chains caused the noise. The sight made cold shivers go up my back, and I hurried on till I reached Cheever's store near the Boston ferry and bought the gloves and scarves.
[Sidenote: BENONI'S FUNERAL]
On the next day little Benoni was buried. Days on which there were funerals were half-holidays, that every one might attend. When I arrived at the Hadley house, there were a number of men near the door, and others leaning on the fence. The town bier stood in front of the house, and the pall was over it.
I went into the house and looked at Benoni. His thin little face was peaceful and happy as if he had found rest and an end of pain. Old Seth Green slouched in after me. Winter pig we used to call him, he was so sleek and fat. He looked at Benoni with a woe-begone expression, and, turning away, helped himself to some liquor which stood on a table.
I followed him out and heard him say to Amos Muzzy: "Have you been in to see Benoni? Looks real sweet and pretty. Mighty good rum the town provided. Some of Buckman's best. Poor little fellow! I think I'll go in and take another look at him."
The minister, Mr. Clark, now came. He made a short prayer, and then the coffin was placed on the bier and covered with the pall. Some of the most prominent men in the town were the pall-bearers. They placed the bier on their shoulders, and the procession followed them. As we passed the meeting-house, the bell tolled. When we reached the burying-yard, the coffin was lowered into the grave. The minister made another short prayer. Earth was thrown on the coffin, the grave was filled in, and we departed.
I say the minister, Mr. Clark. For some time after the death of Mr. Hancock we had no settled pastor. Ministers came and preached awhile for us and then departed. We had become so accustomed to the old bishop that it seemed as if no one could satisfy us or fill his place. It was not till late in the previous year that we found the man who suited.
Mr. Jonas Clark, a young college graduate, preached to us, and we were mutually pleased. The town voted to request him to become our pastor. He accepted, and was ordained in November. The town voted one hundred pounds for the celebration. The Governor's Council came out from Boston. Deputations were sent from the surrounding towns, and we had a great time, hours of preaching and hours of feasting. People loved Mr. Hancock for his great common sense, his bluff, hearty, jovial manner, and the wit and humour that abounded in him at a time when most ministers thought it their duty to look as solemn as a gravestone.
[Sidenote: THE NEW MINISTER]
Mr. Clark became as much beloved and respected as Mr. Hancock, and yet he did not resemble him. His manners were elegant. He was learned, able, and very polite. Neat as wax, he made us feel ashamed of our slovenly ways. He was not the bluff, hale fellow the old bishop was, who compelled us to do what he knew was right.
Mr. Clark had a kind heart, a keen, clear mind. Though he guided us with a firm hand, it was done in such a gentle and polite manner, that we rarely felt how completely we were under his control.
And though he was a student and his tastes were delicate, still he did not frown upon our rude sports, provided they were not low or brutal. "They make the body erect and supple and give strength and elasticity to the muscles. The body should be cultivated as well as the mind. What we want is a sound mind in a sound body."
Wrestling was the great sport in those days, and I was always fond of it. I was very strong naturally, and my trade as blacksmith had toughened my muscles wonderfully.
Our strongest man and best wrestler was Jonas Parker. You would hardly have suspected it; for though he had rather a grim, determined look, he was a quiet, staid, religious man and a great lover of reading.
A few years before, he had bought some land of Dr. Fiske and built a house not far from Bishop Hancock's and constantly borrowed and read his books.
He was also a great lover of wrestling, knew all the tricks, and had the reputation of being the best man in our county at it.
[Sidenote: BEN PRACTISES WRESTLING]
He watched me wrestling with the other boys, and one day said to me: "Ben, you've got the making of a great wrestler in you. Come up to my house when you can, and I'll teach you what I know about it."
On holidays and whenever I got a chance, I went up to his place, and we would walk down to a grove back of his barn and wrestle. We kept this up all the spring and summer, and he taught me the different throws.
He said: "You're coming on at a great rate, Ben. When you get your full strength, I think you'll be as good or a better wrestler than I am, and there's not such a great difference even now. I don't think we had ever better wrestle in earnest, for it might make bad blood between us. We can wrestle together for practice and leave it undecided which is the better man."
After wrestling we would go into the house, and he would take out a book of plays by William Shakespeare and read from it to me. We were both religious men and did not believe in play acting. But plays like these could do no harm. Jonas loved this man's writings next to the Bible, and I saved up money and bought a copy of the book myself. Mr. Clark had the same love for Shakespeare, and often when we stopped wrestling, as it began to grow dark, Jonas would say that Mr. Clark had asked him to come down to his house with me, and he would read to us. The plays seemed much finer as he read them in his clear voice and explained them to us, for by ourselves we only saw a portion of their beauties.
Jonas and I were at his house one August evening of this year, 1757, and Mr. Clark had just begun to read, when Dr. Fiske rode up, and pulling up his horse, called out: "Mr. Clark! Mr. Clark! There's bad news—very bad news from the army. Colonel Brattle has received word from General Webb that the French army were advancing to attack Fort William Henry, and he was afraid it would be taken. Good-by!"
Mr. Clark shut up the book and said: "This is no night for Shakespeare. Let us pray for the safety of our army."
[Sidenote: BAD NEWS FROM THE ARMY]
Two days afterward, another messenger rode up to our shop.
"There has been a great disaster. Fort William Henry is taken, and the garrison has been massacred."
"Go on! How did it happen?"
"Colonel Munro was at the fort with a small force. Montcalm advanced with his army to attack it. Munro sent to Webb for reenforcements. He promised to send them and did send a few. Munro again asked for more men, but Webb didn't let a man go. Montcalm attacked the fort, battered it to pieces, and finally the garrison was compelled to surrender. They were to deliver up their arms and then were to be allowed to march off to the English army. They gave up their guns and started back to Webb, but before they got far they were set upon by the Indians and most of them massacred. Some few escaped to Webb's army."
"And what was Webb doing all this time?"
"Shaking in his shoes, I guess. He is now; for he has sent messengers everywhere for reenforcements."
"The miserable coward! We'll send him men, but he ought to be hanged."
The next day a number of men set out under Captain Blodgett.
I wished to go very much, but Mr. Harrington said: "It's too late in the season for them to do anything. They will just sit down and watch each other. Your time is up next spring, and if you want to go then, I'll let you off early."
So I stayed at home, and it was well I did, for the company only got as far as Springfield, where they were met by messengers from Webb, who had got over his fright, telling them to return. They came back to Lexington, having been out only twelve days.
When they returned, we had a great jollification. The company marched to the training-field, and went through the exercises. Crowds gathered round and ate gingerbread and drank beer.
A lot of worthless fellows used to wander round the country, and pick up a living by wrestling and betting on themselves. Such a man appeared on the training-field that day.
[Sidenote: THE ESSEX COUNTY CHAMPION]
"Here I am, boys, at your service,—Sam Sloan, the champion wrestler of Essex County. I've wrestled with the best men of every town in the county,—Newburyport, Ipswich, Gloucester, Marblehead, Salem,—and thrown them all. I've been from one end of the county to the other, and not a man can stand up against me. I hear you've got the best man in Middlesex in this town, and I've come to throw him. If you think I can't, make your bets. I've got ten pounds with me, and I want to bet every penny of it."
He found plenty of men who were ready to bet with him, for all had confidence in Jonas.
Some one ran after Jonas and brought him to the place where this man was boasting.
"So, you're Jonas Parker, the best man in Middlesex? Well, you look as if you could wrestle a bit, but you'll know more about it, after I get through with you."
Jonas said nothing, but took off his jacket and waistcoat, and looked at him quietly, with a grim smile.
Then they grappled each other, and I watched them anxiously. It did not seem to me that Jonas was exerting himself fully or doing his very best. But the man from Essex was laid on the ground in a short time.
He jumped up furious. "That was an accident. Just a piece of bad luck. My foot slipped on something in the grass. It wasn't a fair wrestle. Come on and try it again. I can throw you as easy as tumbling off a log."
"Wait a minute," said Jonas; "pay your bets, and then we'll talk."
The man pulled out his wallet, paid his bets, and said, "Now, come on, and I'll show you what wrestling is."
"Wait a bit," said Jonas; "don't hurry! You talk big. But you must first prove that you are a wrestler. There's a likely lad here, and if you wrestle him, and show that you can wrestle, you can take an hour's time to get fresh, and I'll try you again."
The man blustered; but Jonas turned away, and coming to me, said: "Now, Ben, I want you to show these people what there is in you. You can throw him if you only make up your mind to it. You are very strong in the arms, and if I were you, I'd give him a grip at first just to show him your strength, and to put a little fear into him."
[Sidenote: A LIKELY LAD]
Father stepped up, and said: "Jonas, what are you up to? Ben can never wrestle that man."
"Neighbour Comee! You don't know what Ben can do at wrestling, and I do. And faith! I have a suspicion he's the best wrestler in the county."
Then Jonas led me to the man. "This is the lad."
"Lad! Why, he's as big as you be. How old are you?"
"Well, come on."
We caught hold of each other, and I gave him a grip that made him gasp. We broke away, and he looked at me, panting, and said:
"What be ye, anyhow? You've got a hug like a black bear."
"Oh, that's nothing. That's just a little love squeeze to show you how much I like you."
"Well, come on again; I'll show you what wrestling is."
He was not so strong as I, and I hustled him round in a lively way; but he knew a good deal about wrestling, and kept his feet well. We struggled for a while, and I squeezed him and shook him up, and then tried Jonas's pet throw. He went to the ground like a log, and lay there stunned.
I was scared at first, for I thought I had killed him, but Jonas said: "He's all right, Ben. Just stand back, boys, and give him a little air."
He came to in a short time, sat up, and after looking about him got up and said: "A likely lad! I should say so. A kind of mixture of bear, wildcat, and greased lightning. I must get out of this town quick, or you'll be setting some child at me, and I don't know what would happen."
He jammed his hat on his head, took his coat and waistcoat under his arm, and hurried away.
Of course, I got great credit and praise, for no one but Jonas knew that I was a first-class wrestler; and the men all felt proud to have another man in the town almost as good at it as Jonas.
[Sidenote: BEN WARNED AGAINST FALSE PRIDE]
Amos and Davy had been staring at me, open-mouthed. Both of them came up and shook hands with me in a most respectful manner. Father took me by the arm and walked home with me, giving me a lecture all the way on the vanity of foolish games and warning me to beware of a false pride in my strength.
But when I had taken the basin, and was washing my face and hands by the back door, I could hear him telling mother about it, as jubilant as one of those old Hebrews over the fall of his enemies.
Goodness! If I had displayed the vanity and false pride that he showed over me, I don't know what punishment he would not have given me.
When I came in, he bottled himself up, and looked at me in a sad, reproving manner. But I knew he was as happy as a man could be. Mother did not like it, and I had to assure her again and again that I was not hurt. She began to talk about giving me some herb tea, and I got out of the house as quickly as possible.
TALES FROM THE FRONTIER—MR. TYTHINGMAN AND HIS SERVICES
This long war was a terrible strain on our Province. Some man from almost every family in town was with the army at Lake George. The value of our currency had fallen, and nearly one-half of what we earned and produced went to pay the heavy taxes.
The Provinces did not work well together. There were rivalries and dissensions among them. The French were united, and their army was led by an able commander, the Marquis Montcalm.
Our generals were mostly incompetent men who owed their positions to influence at court.
We kept up the bitter struggle, hoping that at last we should have a general capable of coping with Montcalm.
[Sidenote: EDMUND ENLISTS]
It was a gloomy time, but we kept pegging away in a resolute manner, for it was a question whether we or the French should be masters of this country; whether we should keep our farms and have a roof over our heads or should be overrun by murderous Indians. And arrangements were made to have a larger army in the field than ever before.
About the middle of January, Edmund sent me word from Concord that Captain Robert Rogers was enlisting men for a new company in his corps of Rangers. He said: "I have joined the company and have been made sergeant. Rogers will return to Boston by the way of Lexington and will stay over night at Jonathan Raymond's tavern. Come up there sure and see me."
As father and I were working in the barn, I said to him: "Father, I think the time has come when I ought to go to the war. You promised that I might enlist in the spring. But I'd a good deal rather go with this man Rogers and do some fighting than sit round doing nothing and die of camp disease as the rest of the army have been doing."
He kept on for a while pitching the hay down in front of the cattle, and then leaned on his pitchfork.
"Well, Ben, I suppose you really ought to go. One man out of every four in the Province is in the army, and we should do our share. I am too old. John has just got married, and David is but a boy. You're the right age and the one to go. I think as you do, that it's better to do some fighting, and take one's chances of being killed by a bullet rather than by camp fever.
"Those French and Indians killed and scalped my brother John, and since this war began I have often wanted to have a hand in it myself, to get even with them, but I'm too old.
"You can go, Ben. There's lots of miserable wretches and immorality and profanity among the regulars. I want you to remain a good boy, as you always have been. I need not tell you to be brave. You will be that.
"Ben, I scolded you about that wrestling match, but I was awful proud of you and happy over it."
[Sidenote: THE RAYMOND TAVERN]
"I knew that, father. Do you suppose I didn't notice you chuckling to yourself when you thought no one saw you?"
"Well, I suppose you did, you young rascal; I couldn't help it, I was that surprised and delighted. To think of Jonas Parker telling me he didn't know but that you were a better wrestler than he. And to see you hustle that man about and throw him made me so proud that I felt ashamed and humbled. And when you thought I was scolding you, I was really reproving my own sinful vanity and pride."
After supper we went up to the Raymond Tavern. Quite a crowd of men were in the bar-room. They were seated in front of a great fire of logs and peat. Captain Rogers was in their midst.