THE PRIDE OF THE VILLAGE
A TALE OF KENTUCKY.
BY W. GILMORE SIMMS,
"Nor will I be secure. In any confidence of mine own strength, For such security is oft the mother Of negligence, and that, the occasion Of unremedy'd ruin."
TO THE HON. JAMES HALL, OF CINCINNATI:
AS ONE OF THE ABLEST OF OUR LITERARY PIONEEERS A GENUINE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GREAT WEST;
WHOSE WRITINGS EQUALLY ILLUSTRATE HER HISTORY AND GENIUS:
this story of "CHARLEMONT," and its Sequel "BEAUCHAMPE" are respectfully inscribed by
The domestic legend which follows, is founded upon actual events of comparatively recent occurrence in the state of Kentucky. However strange the facts may appear in the sequel—however in conflict with what are usually supposed to be the sensibilities and characteristics of woman—they are yet unquestionably true; most of them having been conclusively established, by the best testimony, before a court of justice. Very terrible, indeed, was the tragedy to which they conducted—one that startled the whole country when it took place, and the mournful interest of which will long be remembered. More on this subject need not be mentioned here. The narrative, it is hoped, will satisfy all the curiosity of the reader. It has been very carefully prepared from and according to the evidence; the art of the romancer being held in close subjection to the historical authorities. I have furnished only the necessary details which would fill such blanks in the story as are of domestic character; taking care that these should accord, in all cases, with the despotic facts. In respect to these, I have seldom appealed to invention. It is in the delineation and development of character, only, that I have made free to furnish scenes, such as appeared to me calculated to perfect the portraits, and the better to reconcile the reader to real occurrences, which, in their original nakedness, however unquestionably true, might incur the risk of being thought improbabilities.
The reflections which will be most likely to arise from the perusal of such a history, lead us to a consideration of the social characteristics of the time and region, and to a consideration of the facility with which access to society is afforded by the manners and habits of our forest population. It is in all newly-settled countries, as among the rustic population of most nations, that the absence of the compensative resources of wealth leads to a singular and unreserved freedom among the people. In this way, society endeavors to find equivalents for those means of enjoyment which a wealthy people may procure from travel, from luxury, from the arts, and the thousand comforts of a well-provided homestead. The population of a frontier country, lacking such resources, scattered over a large territory, and meeting infrequently, feel the lack of social intercourse; and this lack tends to break down most of the barriers which a strict convention usually establishes for the protection, not only of sex and caste, but of its own tastes and prejudices. Lacking the resources of superior wealth, population, and civilization, the frontier people are naturally required to throw the doors open as widely as possible, in order to obtain that intercourse with their fellows which is, perhaps, the first great craving of humanity. As a matter of necessity, there is little discrimination exercised in the admission of their guests. A specious outside, agreeable manners, cleverness and good humor, will soon make their way into confidence, without requiring other guaranties for the moral of the stranger. The people are naturally frank and hospitable; for the simple reason that these qualities of character are essential for procuring them that intercourse which they crave. The habits are accessible, the restraints few, the sympathies are genial, active, easily aroused, and very confiding. It follows, naturally, that they are frequently wronged and outraged, and just as naturally that their resentments are keen, eager, and vindictive. The self-esteem, if not watchful, is revengeful; and society sanctions promptly the fierce redress—that wild justice of revenge—which punishes without appeal to law, with its own right hand, the treacherous guest who has abused the unsuspecting confidence which welcomed him to a seat upon the sacred hearth. In this brief portrait of the morale of society, upon our frontiers, you will find the materiel from which this story has been drawn, and its justification, as a correct delineation of border life in one of its more settled phases in the new states. The social description of Charlemont exhibits, perhaps, a THIRD advance in our forest civilization, from the original settlement.
It is not less the characteristic of these regions to exhibit the passions and the talents of the people in equal and wonderful saliency. We are accordingly struck with two classes of social facts, which do not often arrest the attention in old communities. We see, for example, the most singular combination of simplicity and sagacity in the same person; simplicity in conventional respects, and sagacity in all that affects the absolute and real in life, nature and the human sensibilities. The rude man, easily imposed upon, in his faith, fierce as an outlaw in his conflicts with men, will be yet exquisitely alive to the nicest consciousness of woman; will as delicately appreciate her instincts and sensibilities, as if love and poetry had been his only tutors from the first, and had mainly addressed their labors to this one object of the higher heart, education; and in due degree with the tenderness with which he will regard the sex, will be the vindictive ferocity with which—even though no kinsman—he will pursue the offender who has dared to outrage them in the case of any individual. In due degree as his faith is easy will his revenges be extreme. In due degree as he is slow to suspect the wrong-doer, will be the tenacity of his pursuit when the offender requires punishment. He seems to throw wide his heart and habitation, but you must beware how you trespass upon the securities of either.
The other is a mental characteristic which leads to frequent surprises among strangers from the distant cities. It consists in the wonderful inequality between his mental and social development. The same person who will be regarded as a boor in good society, will yet exhibit a rapidity and profundity of thought and intelligence—a depth and soundness of judgment—an acuteness in discrimination—a logical accuracy, and critical analysis, such as mere good society rarely shows, and such as books almost as rarely teach. There will be a deficiency of refinement, taste, art—all that the polished world values so highly—and which it seems to cherish and encourage to the partial repudiation of the more essential properties of intellect. However surprising this characteristic may appear, it may yet be easily accounted for by the very simplicity of a training which results in great directness and force of character—a frank heartiness of aim and object—a truthfulness of object which suffers the thoughts to turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, but to press forward decisively to the one object—a determined will, and a restless instinct—which, conscious of the deficiencies of wealth and position, is yet perpetually seeking to supply them from the resources within its reach. These characteristics will be found illustrated in the present legend, an object which it somewhat contemplates, apart from the mere story with which they are interwoven.
A few words more in respect to our heroine, Margaret Cooper. It is our hope and belief, that she will be found a real character by most of our readers. She is drawn from the life, and with a severe regard to the absolute features of the original. In these days of "strong-minded women," even more certainly than when the portrait was first taken, the identity of the sketch with its original will be sure of recognition. Her character and career will illustrate most of the mistakes which are made by that ambitious class, among the gentler sex, who are now seeking so earnestly to pass out from that province of humiliation to which the sex has been circumscribed from the first moment of recorded history. What she will gain by the motion, if successful, might very well be left to time, were it not that the proposed change in her condition threatens fatally some of her own and the best securities of humanity. We may admit, and cheerfully do so, that she might, with propriety, be allowed some additional legal privileges of a domestic sort. But the great object of attainment, which is the more serious need of the sex—her own more full development as a responsible being—seems mainly to depend upon herself, and upon self-education. The great first duty of woman is in her becoming the mother of men; and this duty implies her proper capacity for the education and training of the young. To fit her properly for this duty, her education should become more elevated, and more severe in degree with its elevation. But the argument is one of too grave, too intricate, and excursive a character, to be attempted here. It belongs to a very different connection. It is enough, in this place, to say that Margaret Cooper possesses just the sort of endowment to make a woman anxious to pass the guardian boundaries which hedge in her sex—her danger corresponds with her desires. Her securities, with such endowments, and such a nature, can only be found in a strict and appropriate education, such as woman seldom receives anywhere, and less, perhaps, in this country than in any other. To train fully the feminine mind, without in any degree impairing her susceptibilities and sensibilities, seems at once the necessity and the difficulty of the subject. Her very influence over man lies in her sensibilities. It will be to her a perilous fall from pride of place, and power, when, goaded by an insane ambition, in the extreme development of her mere intellect, she shall forfeit a single one of these securities of her sex.
The stormy and rugged winds of March were overblown—the first fresh smiling days of April had come at last—the days of sunshine and shower, of fitful breezes, the breath of blossoms, and the newly-awakened song of birds. Spring was there in all the green and glory of her youth, and the bosom of Kentucky heaved with the prolific burden of the season. She had come, and her messengers were everywhere, and everywhere busy. The birds bore her gladsome tidings to
"Alley green, Dingle or bushy dell of each wild wood, And every bosky bourn from side to side—"
nor were the lately-trodden and seared grasses of the forests left unnoted; and the humbled flower of the wayside sprang up at her summons. Like some loyal and devoted people, gathered to hail the approach of a long-exiled and well-beloved sovereign, they crowded upon the path over which she came, and yielded themselves with gladness at her feet. The mingled songs and sounds of their rejoicing might be heard, and far-off murmurs of gratulation, rising from the distant hollows, or coming faintly over the hill-tops, in accents not the lees pleasing because they were the less distinct. That lovely presence which makes every land blossom, and every living thing rejoice, met, in the happy region in which we meet her now, a double tribute of honor and rejoicing.
The "dark and bloody ground," by which mournful epithets Kentucky was originally known to the Anglo-American, was dark and bloody no longer. The savage had disappeared from its green forests for ever, and no longer profaned with slaughter, and his unholy whoop of death, its broad and beautiful abodes. A newer race had succeeded; and the wilderness, fulfilling the better destinies of earth, had begun to blossom like the rose. Conquest had fenced in its sterile borders with a wall of fearless men, and peace slept everywhere in security among its green recesses. Stirring industry—the perpetual conqueror—made the woods resound with the echoes of his biting axe and ringing hammer. Smiling villages rose in cheerful white, in place of the crumbling and smoky cabins of the hunter. High and becoming purposes of social life and thoughtful enterprise superseded that eating and painful decay, which has terminated in the annihilation of the red man; and which, among every people, must always result from their refusal to exercise, according to the decree of experience, no less than Providence, their limbs and sinews in tasks of well-directed and continual labor.
A great nation urging on a sleepless war against sloth and feebleness, is one of the noblest of human spectacles. This warfare was rapidly and hourly changing the monotony and dreary aspects of rock and forest. Under the creative hands of art, temples of magnificence rose where the pines had fallen. Long and lovely vistas were opened through the dark and hitherto impervious thickets. The city sprang up beside the river, while hamlets, filled with active hope and cheerful industry, crowded upon the verdant hill-side, and clustered among innumerable valleys Grace began to seek out the homes of toil, and taste supplied their decorations. A purer form of religion hallowed the forest-homes of the red-man, while expelling for ever the rude divinities of his worship; and throughout the land, an advent of moral loveliness seemed approaching, not less grateful to the affections and the mind, than was the beauty of the infant April, to the eye and the heart of the wanderer.
But something was still wanting to complete the harmonies of nature, in the scene upon which we are about to enter. Though the savage had for ever departed from its limits, the blessings of a perfect civilization were not yet secured to the new and flourishing regions of Kentucky. Its morals were still in that fermenting condition which invariably distinguishes the settlement of every new country by a various and foreign people. At the distant period of which we write, the population of Kentucky had not yet become sufficiently stationary to have made their domestic gods secure, or to have fixed the proper lines and limits regulating social intercourse and attaching precise standards to human conduct. The habits and passions of the first settlers—those fearless pioneers who had struggled foot to foot with the Indian, and lived in a kindred state of barbarity with him, had not yet ceased to have influence over the numerous race which followed them. That moral amalgam which we call society, and which recognises a mutual and perfectly equal condition of dependence, and a common necessity, as the great cementing principles of the human family, had not yet taken place; and it was still too much the custom, in that otherwise lovely region, for the wild man to revenge his own wrong, and the strong man to commit a greater with impunity. The repose of social order was not yet secured to the great mass, covering with its wing, as with a sky that never knew a cloud, the sweet homes and secure possessions of the unwarlike. The fierce robber sometimes smote the peaceful traveler upon the highway, and the wily assassin of reputation, within the limits of the city barrier, not unfrequently plucked the sweetest rose that ever adorned the virgin bosom of innocence, and triumphed, without censure, in the unhallowed spoliation.
But sometimes there came an avenger;—and the highway robber fell before the unexpected patriot; and the virgin was avenged by the yet beardless hero, for the wrong of her cruel seducer. The story which we have to tell, is of times and of actions such as these. It is a melancholy narrative—the more melancholy as it is most certainly true. It will not be told in vain, if the crime which it describes in proper colors, and the vengeance by which it was followed, and which it equally records, shall secure the innocent from harm, and discourage the incipient wrongdoer from his base designs.
Let the traveller stand with us on the top of this rugged eminence, and look down upon the scene below. Around us, the hills gather in groups on every side, a family cluster, each of which wears the same general likeness to that on which we stand, yet there is no monotony in their aspect. The axe has not yet deprived them of a single tree, and they rise up, covered with the honored growth of a thousand summers. But they seem not half so venerable. They wear, in this invigorating season, all the green, fresh features of youth and spring. The leaves cover the rugged Limbs which sustain them, with so much ease and grace, as if for the first time they were so green and glossy, and as if the impression should be made more certain and complete, the gusty wind of March has scattered abroad and borne afar, all the yellow garments of the vanished winter. The wild flowers begin to flaunt their blue and crimson draperies about us, as if conscious that they are borne upon the bosom of undecaying beauty; and the spot so marked and hallowed by each charming variety of bud and blossom, would seem to have been a selected dwelling for the queenly Spring herself.
Man, mindful of those tastes and sensibilities which in great part constitute his claim to superiority over the brute, has not been indifferent to the beauties of the place. In the winding hollows of these hills, beginning at our feet, you see the first signs of as lovely a little hamlet as ever promised peace to the weary and the discontent. This is the village of Charlemont.
A dozen snug and smiling cottages seem to have been dropped in this natural cup, as if by a spell of magic. They appear, each of them, to fill a fitted place—not equally distant from, but equally near each other. Though distinguished, each by an individual feature, there is yet no great dissimilarity among them. All are small, and none of them distinguished by architectural pretension. They are now quite as flourishing as when first built, and their number has had no increase since the village was first settled. Speculation has not made it populous and prosperous, by destroying its repose, stifling its charities, and abridging the sedate habits and comforts of its people. The houses, though constructed after the fashion of the country, of heavy and ill-squared logs, roughly hewn, and hastily thrown together, perhaps by unpractised hands, are yet made cheerful by that tidy industry which is always sure to make them comfortable also. Trim hedges that run beside slender white palings, surround and separate them from each other. Sometimes, as you see, festoons of graceful flowers, and waving blossoms, distinguish one dwelling from the rest, declaring its possession of some fair tenant, whose hand and fancy have kept equal progress with habitual industry; at the same time, some of them appear entirely without the little garden of flowers and vegetables, which glimmers and glitters in the rear or front of the greater number.
Such was Charlemont, at the date of our narrative. But the traveller would vainly look, now, to find the place as we describe it. The garden is no longer green with fruits and flowers—the festoons no longer grace the lowly portals—the white palings are down and blackening in the gloomy mould—the roofs have fallen, and silence dwells lonely among the ruins,—the only inhabitant of the place. It has no longer a human occupant.
"Something ails it now—the spot is cursed."
Why this fate has fallen upon so sweet an abiding place—why the villagers should have deserted a spot, so quiet and so beautiful—it does not fall within our present purpose to inquire. It was most probably abandoned—not because of the unfruitfulness of the soil, or the unhealthiness of the climate—for but few places on the bosom of the earth, may be found either more fertile, more beautiful, or more healthful—but in compliance with that feverish restlessness of mood—that sleepless discontent of temper, which, perhaps, more than any other quality, is the moral failing in the character of the Anglo-American. The roving desires of his ancestor, which brought him across the waters, have been transmitted without diminution—nay, with large increase—to the son. The creatures of a new condition of things, and new necessities, our people will follow out their destiny. The restless energies which distinguish them, are, perhaps, the contemplated characteristics which Providence has assigned them, in order that they may the more effectually and soon, bring into the use and occupation of a yet mightier people, the wilderness of that new world in which their fortunes have been cast. Generation is but the pioneer of generation, and the children of millions, more gigantic and powerful than ourselves, shall yet smile to behold, how feeble was the stroke made by our axe upon the towering trees of their inheritance.
It was probably because of this characteristic of our people, that Charlemont came in time to be deserted. The inhabitants were one day surprised with tidings of more attractive regions in yet deeper forests, and grew dissatisfied with their beautiful and secluded valley. Such is the ready access to the American mind, in its excitable state, of novelty and sudden impulse, that there needs but few suggestions to persuade the forester to draw stakes, and remove his tents, where the signs seem to be more numerous of sweeter waters and more prolific fields. For a time, change has the power which nature does not often exercise; and under its freshness, the waters DO seem sweeter, and the stores of the wilderness, the wild-honey and the locust, DO seem more abundant to the lip and eye.
Where our cottagers went, and under what delusion, are utterly unknown to us; nor is it important to our narrative that we should inquire. Our knowledge of them is only desirable, while they were in the flourishing condition in which they have been seen. It is our trust that the novelty which seduced them from their homes, did not fail them in its promises—that they may never have found, in all their wanderings, a less lovely abiding-place, than that which they abandoned. But change has its bitter, as well as its sweet, and the fear is strong that the cottagers of Charlemont, in the weary hours, when life's winter is approaching, will still and vainly sigh after the once-despised enjoyments of their deserted hamlet.
It was toward the close of one of those bright, tearful days in April, of which we have briefly spoken, when a couple of travellers on horseback, ascended the last hill looking down upon Charlemont. One of these travellers had passed the middle period of life; the other was, perhaps, just about to enter upon its heavy responsibilities, and more active duties. The first wore the countenance of one who had borne many sorrows, and borne them with that resignation, which, while it proves the wisdom of the sufferer, is at the same time, calculated to increase his benevolence. The expression of his eye, was full of kindness and benignity, while that of his mouth, with equal force, was indicative of a melancholy, as constant as it was gentle and unobtrusive. A feeble smile played over his lips while he spoke, that increased the sadness which it softened; as the faint glimmer of the evening sunlight, upon the yellow leaves of autumn, heightens the solemn tones in the rich coloring of the still decaying forest.
The face of his companion, in many of its features, was in direct contrast with his own. It was well formed, and, to the casual glance, seemed no less handsome than intellectual. There was much in it to win the regard of the young and superficial. An eye that sparkled with fire, a mouth that glowed with animation—cheeks warmly colored, and a contour full of vivacity, seemed to denote properties of mind and heart equally valuable and attractive. Still, a keen observer would have found something sinister, in the upward glancing of the eye, at intervals, from the half-closed lids; and, at such moments, there was a curling contempt upon the lips, which seemed to denote a cynical and sarcastic turn of mind. A restless movement of the same features seemed equally significant of caprice of character, and a flexibility of moral; while the chin narrowed too suddenly and became too sharp at the extremity, to persuade a thorough physiognomist, that the owner could be either very noble in his aims, or very generous in his sentiments. But as these outward tokens can not well be considered authority in the work of judgment, let events, which speak for themselves, determine the true character of our travellers.
They had reached the table land of the heights which looked down upon Charlemont, at a moment when the beauty of the scene could scarcely fail to impress itself upon the most indifferent observer. The elder of the travellers, who happened to be in advance, was immediately arrested by it; and, staying the progress of his horse, with hand lifted above his eye, looked around him with a delight which expressed itself in an abrupt ejaculation, and brought his companion to his side. The sun had just reached that point in his descent, which enabled him to level a shaft of rosy light from the pinnacle of the opposite hill, into the valley below, where it rested among the roofs of two of the cottages, which arose directly in its path. The occupants of these two cottages had come forth, as it were, in answer to the summons; and old and young, to the number of ten or a dozen persons, had met, in the winding pathway between, which led through the valley, and in front of every cottage which it contained. The elder of the cottagers sat upon the huge trunk of a tree, which had been felled beside the road, for the greater convenience of the traveller; and with eyes turned in the direction of the hill on which the sunlight had sunk and appeared to slumber, seemed to enjoy the vision with no less pleasure than our senior traveller. Two tall damsels of sixteen, accompanied by a young man something older, were strolling off in the direction of the woods; while five or six chubby girls and boys were making the echoes leap and dance along the hills, in the clamorous delight which they felt in their innocent but stirring exercises. The whole scene was warmed with the equal brightness of the natural and the human sun. Beauty was in the sky, and its semblance, at least, was on the earth. God was in the heavens, and in his presence could there be other than peace and harmony among men!
"How beautiful!" exclaimed the elder of our travellers—"could anything be more so! How pure, how peaceful! See, Warham, how soft, how spirit-like, that light lies along the hill-side, and how distinct, yet how delicate, is the train which glides from it down the valley, even to the white dwellings at its bottom, from which it seems to shrink and tremble as if half conscious of intrusion. And yet the picture below is kindred with it. That, now, is a scene that I delight in—it is a constant picture in my mind. There is peace in that valley, if there be peace anywhere on earth. The old men sit before the door, and contemplate with mingled feelings of pride and pleasure, the vigorous growth of their children. They behold in them their own immortality, even upon earth. The young will preserve their memories, and transmit their names to other children yet unborn; and how must such a reflection reconcile them to their own time of departure, not unfitly shown in the last smiles of that sunlight, which they are so soon about to lose. Like him, they look with benevolence and love upon the world from which they will soon depart."
"Take my word for it, uncle, they will postpone their departure to the last possible moment, and, so far from looking with smiles upon what they are about to leave for ever, they will leave it with very great reluctance, and in monstrous bad humor. As for regarding their children with any such notions as those you dwell upon with such poetical raptures, they will infinitely prefer transmitting for themselves their names and qualities to the very end of the chapter. Ask any one of them the question now, and he will tell you that an immortality, each, in his own wig-wam, and with his weight of years and infirmity upon him, would satisfy all his expectations. If they look at the vigor of their young, it is to recollect that they themselves once were so, and to repine at the recollection. Take my word for it, there is not a dad among them, that does not envy his own son the excellence of his limbs, and the long time of exercise and enjoyment which they seemingly assure him."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the elder of the two travellers. "Impossible! I should be sorry to think as you do. But you, Warham, can not understand these things. You are an habitual unbeliever—the most unfortunate of all mankind."
"The most fortunate, rather. I have but few burdens of credulity to carry. The stars be blessed, my articles of faith are neither very many nor very cumbrous. I should be sorry if my clients were so few."
"I should be sorry, Warham, if I had so little feeling as yourself."
"And I should be still more sorry, uncle, if I had half so much. Why, sir, yours is in such excess, that you continually mistake the joys and sorrows of other people for your own. You laugh and weep with them alternately; and, until all's done and over, you never seem to discover that the business was none of yours;—that you had none of the pleasure which made you laugh, and might have been spared all the unnecessary suffering which moved your tears. 'Pon my soul, sir, you pass a most unprofitable life."
"You mistake, Warham, I have shared both; and my profits have been equally great from both sources. My susceptibility has been an exceeding great gain to me, and has quickened all my senses. There is a joy of grief, you know, according to Ossian."
"Nay, if you quote Ossian, uncle. I give you up. I don't believe in Ossian, and his raving stuff always sickens me."
"I sometimes think, Warham," said the uncle, good naturedly, "that Providence has denied you some of the more human faculties. Nay, I fear that you are partially deficient in some of the senses. Do you see that sunlight to which I point—there, on the hill-side, a sort of rosy haze, which seems to me eminently beautiful?"
"Yes, sir; and, if you will suffer me, I will get out of its reach as quickly as possible. I have been half blinded by it ever since you found it so beautiful. Sunlight is, I think, of very little importance to professional men, unless as a substitute for candles, and then it should come over the left shoulder, if you would not have it endanger the sight. Nay, I will go farther, and confess that it is better than candlelight, and certainly far less expensive. Shall we go forward, sir?"
"Warham," said the uncle, with increasing gravity, "I should be sorry to believe that a habit of speech so irreverential, springs from anything but an ambition for saying smart things, and strange things, which are not always smart. It would give me great pain to think that you were devoid of any of those sensibilities which soften the hearts of other men, and lead them to generous impulses."
"Nay, be not harsh, uncle. You should know me better. I trust my sensibilities, and senses too, may be sufficient for all proper purposes, when the proper time comes for their employment; but I can't flame up at every sunbeam, and grow enthusiastic in the contemplation of Bill Johnson's cottage, and Richard Higgins's hedgerow. A turnip-patch never yet could waken my enthusiasm, and I do believe, sir—I confess it with some shame and a slight misgiving, lest my admissions should give you pain—that my fancy has never been half so greatly enkindled by Carthula, of the bending spear, or Morven of the winds, as by the sedate and homely aspect of an ordinary dish of eggs and bacon, hot from the flaming frying-pan of some worthy housewife."
The uncle simply looked upon the speaker, but without answering. He was probably quite too much accustomed to his modes of thought and speech to be so much surprised as annoyed by what he said. Perhaps, too, his own benevolence of spirit interfered to save the nephew from that harsher rebuke which his judgment might yet have very well disposed him to bestow.
Following the course of the latter in silence, he descended into the valley, and soon made his way among the sweet little cottages at its foot. An interchange of courtsies between the travellers and the villagers whose presence had given occasion to some portion of the previous dialogue, in which the manner of the younger traveller was civil, and that of the elder kind; and the two continued on their journey, though not without being compelled to refuse sundry invitations, given with true patriarchal hospitality, to remain among the quiet abodes through which they passed.
As cottage after cottage unfolded itself to their eyes, along the winding avenue, the proprietors appeared at door and window, and, with the simple freedoms of rural life, welcomed the strangers with a smile, a nod, and sometimes, when sufficiently nigh, a friendly word of salutation, but without having the effect of arresting their onward progress. Yet many a backward glance was sent by the elder of the travellers, whose eyes, beaming with satisfaction, sufficiently declared the delight which he received from the contemplation of so many of the mingled graces of physical and moral nature. His loitering steps drew from his young companion an occasional remark, which, to ears less benevolent and unsuspecting than than those of the senior, might have been deemed a sarcasm; and more than once the lips of the nephew had curled with contemptuous smiles, as he watched the yearning glances of his uncle on each side of the avenue, as they wended slowly through it.
At the end of the village, and at the foot of the opposite hills, they encountered a group of young people of both sexes, whose bursts of merriment were suddenly restrained as they emerged unexpectedly into sight. The girls had been sitting upon the grassy mead, with the young men before them; but they started to their feet at the sound of strange steps, and the look of strange faces. Charlemont, it must be remembered, was not in the thoroughfare of common travel. If visited at all by strangers, it was most usually by those only who came with a single purpose. Nothing, therefore could have been more calculated to surprise a community so insulated, than that they should attract, but not arrest the traveller. The natural surprise which the young people felt, when unexpectedly encountered in their rustic sports, was naturally increased by this unusual circumstance, and they looked after the departing forms of the wayfarers with a wonder and curiosity that kept them for some time silent. The elder of the two, meanwhile—one of whose habits of mind was always to give instantaneous utterance to the feeling which was upper-most—dilated, without heeding the sneers of his nephew, upon the apparent happiness which they witnessed.
"Here, you see, Warham, is a pleasure which the great city never knows:—the free intercourse of the sexes in all those natural exercises which give health to the body, grace to the movement, and vivacity to the manners."
"The health will do well enough," replied the skeptic, "but save me from the grace of Hob and Hinney; and as for their manners—did I hear you correctly, uncle, when you spoke of their manners?"
"Surely, you did. I have always regarded the natural manners which belong to the life of the forester, as being infinitely more noble, as well as more graceful, than those of the citizen. Where did you ever see a tradesman whose bearing was not mean compared with that of the hunter?"
"Ay, but these are no hunters, and scarcely foresters. I see not a single Nimrod among the lads; and as for the lasses, even your eyes, indulgent as they usually are, will scarcely venture to insist that I shall behold one nymph among them worthy to tie the shoe-latchets of Diana. The manners of the hunter are those of an elastic savage; but these lads shear sheep, raise hogs for the slaughter-pen, and seldom perform a nobler feat than felling a bullock. They have none of the elasticity which, coupled with strength, makes the grace of the man; and they walk as if perpetually in the faith that their corn-rows and potatoe-hills were between their legs."
"Did you note the young woman in the crimson body Warham? Was she not majestically made?"
"It struck me she would weigh against any two of the company."
"She is rather heavy, I grant you, but her carriage, Warham!"
"Would carry weight—nothing more."
"There was one little girl, just rising into womanhood:—you must admit that she had a very lovely face, and her form—"
"My dear uncle, what is it that you will not desire me to believe? You are sadly given to proselytism, and take infinite pains to compel me to see with eyes that never do their owner so much wrong, as when they reject the aid of spectacles. How much would Charlemont and its inhabitants differ to your sight, were you only to take your green spectacles from the shagreen case in which they do no duty. But if you are resolved, in order to seem youthful, to let your age go unprovided with the means of seeing as youth would see, at least suffer me to enjoy the natural privileges of twenty-five. When, like you, my hairs whiten, and my eyes grow feeble, ten to one, I shall think with you that every third woodman is an Apollo, and every other peasant-girl is a Venus, whom—"
The words of the speaker ceased—cut short by the sudden appearance of a form and face, the beauty and dignity of which silenced the skeptic, and made him doubtful, for the moment, whether he had not in reality reached that period of confused and confounding vision, which, as he alleged to be the case with his uncle, loses all power of discrimination. A maiden stood before him—tall, erect, majestic—beautiful after no ordinary standard of beauty. She was a brunette, with large dark eyes, which, though bright, seemed dark with excess of bright—and had a depth of expression which thrilled instantly through the bosom of the spectator. A single glance did she bestow upon the travellers, while she acknowledged, by a slight courtesy, the respectful bow which they made her. They drew up their horses as with mutual instinct, but she passed them quickly, courtesying a second time as she did so, and, in another moment a turn of the road concealed her from the eyes of the travellers.
"What say you to that, Warham?" demanded the senior exultingly.
"A Diana, in truth; but, uncle, we find her not among the rest. SHE is none of your cottagers. SHE is of another world and element. She is no Charlemonter."
And, as he spoke, the younger traveller looked back with straining eyes to catch another glanco of the vanished object, but in vain.
"You deserve never to see a lovely woman again, Warham, for your skepticism."
"But I will have a second look at her, uncle, though the skies fall," answered the young man, as, wheeling his horse round, he deliberately galloped back to the bend in the avenue, by which she had been hidden from his view.
He had scarcely reached the desired point, when he suddenly recoiled to find the object of his pursuit standing motionless just beyond, with eyes averted to the backward path—her glance consequently encountering his own, the very moment when he discovered her. A deep crimson, visible even where he stood, suffused her cheeks when she beheld him; and without acknowledging the second bow which the traveller made, she somewhat haughtily averted her head with a suddenness which shook her long and raven tresses entirely free of the net-work which confined them.
"A proud gipsy!" muttered the youth as he rode back to his uncle—"just such a spirit as I should like to tame." He took especial care, however, that this sentiment did not reach the ears of his senior.
"Well?" said the latter, inquiringly, at his approach.
"I am right after all, uncle:—the wench is no better than the rest. A heavy bulk that seemed dignified only because she is too fat for levity. She walks like a blind plough-horse in a broken pasture, up and down, over and over; with a gait as rigid and deliberate as if she trod among the hot cinders, and had corns on all her toes. She took us so by surprise that if we had not thought her beautiful we must have thought her ugly, and the chances are equal, that, on a second meeting, we shall both think her so. I shall, I'm certain, and you must, provided you give your eyes the benefit, and your nose the burden of your green specs."
"Impossible! I can scarce believe it, Warham," replied the senior. "I thought her very beautiful."
"I shall never rely on your judgment again;—nay, uncle, I am almost inclined to suspect your taste."
"Well, let them be beautiful or ugly, still I should think the same of the beauty of this village."
"While the sun shines it may be tolerable; but, uncle, in wet bad weather—it must become a mere pond, it lies so completely in the hollow of the hills."
"There is reason in that, Warham."
"And yet, even as a pond, it would have its advantages—it would be famous for duck-raising."
"Pshaw! you are worse than a Mahometan."
"Something of a just comparison, uncle, though scarcely aimed," said the other; "like Mahomet, you know, I doubt the possession of souls by women."
"Yet if these of Charlemont have not souls, they have no small share of happiness on earth. I never heard more happy laughter from human lips than from theirs. They must be happy."
"I doubt that also," was the reply. "See you not, uncle, that to nine or ten women there are but three lads? Where the disproportion is so great among the sexes, and where it is so unfavorable to the weaker, women never can be happy. Their whole lives will be lives of turmoil, jealousy, and pulling of caps. Nay, eyes shall not be secure under such circumstances; and Nan's fingers shall be in Doll's hair, and Doll's claws in Nanny's cheeks, whenever it shall so happen, that Tom Jenkins shall incline to Nan, or John Dobbins to Doll. Such a disparity between the sexes is one of the most fruitful causes of domestic war."
"Warham, where do you think to go when you die?"
"Where there shall be no great inequality in the population. Believe me, uncle, though I am sometimes disposed to think with Mahomet, and deny the possession of souls to the sex, I also incline to believe, with other more charitable teachers—however difficult it may be to reconcile the two philosophies—that there will be no lack of them in either world."
"Hush, hush, Warham," was the mild rebuke of the senior; "you go too far—you are irreverent. As for this maiden, I still think her very beautiful—of a high and noble kind of beauty. My eyes may be bad;—indeed I am willing to admit they are none of the best; but I feel certain that they cannot so far deceive me, when we consider how nigh we were to her."
"The matter deserves inquiry, uncle, if it were only to satisfy your faith;—suppose we ride back, both of us, and see for ourselves—closely, and with the aid of the green spectacles? Not that I care to see farther—not that I have any doubts—but I wish you to be convinced in this case, if only to make you sensible of the frequent injustice to which your indulgence of judgment, subjects the critical fastidiousness of mine. What say you; shall we wheel about?"
"Why, you are mad, surely. It is now sunset, and we have a good eight miles before we get to Holme's Station."
"But we can sleep in Charlemont to-night. A night in this earthly Eden—"
"And run the risk of losing our company? Oh, no, most worthy nephew. They will start at dawn to-morrow."
"We can soon come up with 'em."
"Perhaps not, and the risk is considerable. Travelling to the Mississippi is no such small matter at any time, and, in these times it is only with a multitude, that there is safety. The murder of old Whiteford, is a sufficient warning not to go alone with more gold than lead in one's pocket. We are two, it is true, but better ten than two. You are a brave fellow enough, Warham, I doubt not; but a shot will dispose of you, and after that I should be an easy victim. I could wink and hold out my iron as well as the best of you, but I prefer to escape the necessity. Let us mend our pace. We are burning daylight."
The nephew, with an air of some impatience, which, however, escaped the eyes of the senior, sent his horse forward by a sharp application of his spur, though looking back the while, with a glance of reluctance, which strongly disagreed with the sentiments which he expressed. Indeed, with both the travellers, the impression made by the little village of Charlemont was such that the subject seemed nowise displeasing to either, and furnished the chief staple of conversation between them, as they rode the remaining eight miles of their journey. The old man's heart had been subdued and won by the sweet air of peace which seemed to overspread and hallow the soft landscape, and the smiling cottages which made it human. The laughing maidens with their bright eyes and cheering accents, gave vivacity to its milder charms. We have heard from the lips of the younger traveller, that these attractions had failed to captivate his fancy. We may believe of this as we please. It is very probable that he had, in considerable part, spoken nothing but the truth. He was too much of a mocker;—one of those worldlings who derive their pleasures from circumstances of higher conventional attraction. He had no feeling for natural romance. His PENCHANT, was decidedly for the artificial existence of city life; and the sneers which he had been heard to express at the humble joys of rustic life, its tastes, and characteristics, were, in truth, only such as he really felt. But, even in his case, there was an evident disposition to know something more of Charlemont. He was really willing to return. He renewed the same subject of conversation, when it happened to flag, with obvious eagerness; and, though his language was still studiedly disparaging, a more deeply penetrating judgment than that of his uncle, would have seen that the little village, slightly as he professed to esteem it, was yet an object of thought and interest in his eyes. Of the sources of this new interest time must inform us.
"Well, well, Warham," at length exclaimed the uncle, in a tone that seemed meant to close the discussion of a topic which his nephew now appeared mischievously bent to thrust upon him, "you will return to Kentucky in the fall. Take Charlemont in your route. Stop a week there. It will do you no harm. Possibly you may procure some clients—may, indeed, include it in your tour of practice—at all events, you will not be unprofitably employed if you come to see the village and the people with MY eyes, which, I doubt not, you will in time."
"In time, perhaps, I may. It is well that you do not insist upon any hurried convictions. Were I at your years uncle mine," continued the other irreverently, "I should no doubt see with your eyes, and possibly feel with your desires. Then, no doubt, I shall acquire a taste for warmingpans and nightcaps—shall look for landscapes rather than lands—shall see nothing but innocence among the young, and resignation and religion among the old; and fancy, in every aged pair of bumpkins that I see, a Darby and Joan, with perpetual peace at their fireside, though they may both happen to lie there drunk on apple-brandy. Between caudle-cups and 'John Anderson, my Jo-John,' it is my hope to pass the evening of my days with a tolerable grace, and leave behind me some comely representatives, who shall take up the burden of the ditty where I leave off. On this head be sure you shall have no cause to complain of me. I shall be no Malthusian, as you certainly have shown yourself. It is the strangest thing to me, uncle, that, with all your SPOKEN rapture for the sex, you should never have thought of securing for yourself at least one among the crowd which you so indiscriminately admire. Surely, a gentleman of your personal attractions—attractions which seem resolute to cling to you to the last—could not have found much difficulty in procuring the damsel he desired! And when, too, your enthusiasm for the sex is known, one would think it only necessary that you should fling your handkerchief, to have it greedily grappled by the fairest of the herd. How is it, uncle—how have you escaped from them—from yourself?"
"Pshaw, Warham, you are a fool!" exclaimed the senior, riding forward with increasing speed. The words were spoken good naturedly, but the youth had touched a spot, scarcely yet thoroughly scarred over, in the old man's bosom; and memories, not less painful because they had been bidden so long, were instantly wakened into fresh and cruel activity.
It will not diminish the offence of the nephew in the mind of the reader, when he is told that the youth was not ignorant of the particular tenderness of his relative in this respect. The gentle nature of the latter, alone, rescued him from the well-merited reproach of suffering his habitual levity of mood to prevail in reference to one whom even he himself was disposed to honor. But few words passed between the two, ere they reached the place of appointment. The careless reference of the youth had made the thoughts of the senior active at the expense of his observation. His eyes were now turned inward; and the landscape, and the evening sun, which streamed over and hallowed it with a tender beauty to the last, was as completely hidden from his vision, as if a veil had been drawn above his sight. The retrospect, indeed, is ever the old man's landscape; and perhaps, even had he not been so unkindly driven back to its survey, our aged traveller would have been reminded of the past in the momently-deepening shadows which the evening gathered around his path. Twilight is the cherished season for sad memories, even as the midnight is supposed to be that of guilty ghosts; and nothing, surely, can be more fitting than that the shadows of former hopes should revisit us in those hours when the face of nature itself seems darkening into gloom.
It was night before the wayfarers reached the appointed baiting place. There they found their company—a sort of little caravan, such as is frequent in the history of western emigration—already assembled, and the supper awaiting them. Let us leave them to its enjoyment, and return once more to the village of Charlemont.
THE STRONG-MINDED WOMAN.
The young maiden last met by our travellers, and whose appearance had so favorably impressed them, had not been altogether uninfluenced by the encounter. Her spirit was of a musing and perhaps somewhat moody character, and the little adventure related in our last chapter, had awakened in her mind a train of vague and purposeless thought, from which she did not strive to disengage herself. She ceased to pursue the direct path back to Charlemont, the moment she had persuaded herself that the strangers had continued on their way; and turning from the beaten track, she strolled aside, following the route of a brooklet, the windings of which, as it led her forward, were completely hidden from the intrusive glance of any casual wayfarer. The prattle of the little stream as it wound upon its sleepless journey, contributed still more to strengthen the musings of those vagrant fancies that filled the maiden's thoughts.
She sat down upon the prostrate trunk of a tree, and surrendered herself for a while to their control. Her thoughts were probably of a kind which, to a certain extent, are commended to every maiden. Among them, perpetually rose an image of the bold and handsome stranger, whose impudence, in turning back in pursuit of her, was somewhat qualified by the complimentary curiosity which such conduct manifested. Predominant even over this image, however, was the conviction of isolation which she felt where she was, and the still more painful conviction, that the future was without promise. Such thoughts and apprehensions may be natural enough to all young persons of active, earnest nature, not permitted to perform; but in the bosom of Margaret Cooper they were particularly so. Her mind was of a masculine and commanding character, and was ill-satisfied with her position and prospect in Charlemont. A quiet, obscure village, such as that we have described, held forth no promise for a spirit so proud, impatient, and ambitious as hers. She knew the whole extent of knowledge which it contained, and all its acquisitions and resources—she had sounded its depths, and traced all its shallows. The young women kept no pace with her own progress—they were good, silly girls enough—a chattering, playful set, whom small sports could easily satisfy, and who seemed to have no care, and scarce a hope, beyond the hilly limits of their homestead; and as for the young men—they were only suited to the girls, such as they were, and could never meet the demand of such an intellect as hers.
This lofty self-estimate, which was in some sense just, necessarily gave a tone to her language and a coloring to all her thoughts, such as good sense and amiability should equally strive to suppress and conceal—unless, as in the case of Margaret Cooper, the individual herself was without due consciousness of their presence. It had the effect of discouraging and driving from her side many a good-natured damsel, who would have loved to condole with her, and might have been a pleasant companion. The young women regarded her with some dislike in consequence of her self-imposed isolation—and the young men with some apprehension. Her very knowledge of books, which infinitely surpassed that of all her sex within the limits of Charlemont, was also an object of some alarm. It had been her fortune, whether well or ill may be a question, to inherit from her father a collection, not well chosen, upon which her mind had preyed with an appetite as insatiate as it was undiscriminating. They had taught her many things, but among these neither wisdom nor patience was included;—and one of the worst lessons which she had learned, and which they had contributed in some respects to teach, was discontent with her condition—a discontent which saddened, if it did not embitter, her present life, while it left the aspects of the future painfully doubtful, even to her own eye.
She was fatherless, and had been already taught some of those rude lessons which painfully teach dependence; but such lessons, which to most others would have brought submission, only provoked her to resistance. Her natural impetuosity of disposition, strengthened by her mother's idolatrous indulgence, increased the haughtiness of her character; and when, to these influences, we add that her surviving parent was poor, and suffered from privations which were unfelt by many of their neighbors, it may be easily conceived that a temper and mind such as we have described those of Margaret Cooper—ardent, commanding, and impatient, hourly found occasion, even in the secluded village where she dwelt, for the exercise of moods equally adverse to propriety and happiness. Isolated from the world by circumstances, she doubly exiled herself from its social indulgences, by the tyrannical sway of a superior will, strengthened and stimulated by an excitable and ever feverish blood; and, as we find her now, wandering sad and sternly by the brookside, afar from the sports and humbler sources of happiness, which gentler moods left open to the rest, so might she customarily be found, at all hours, when it was not absolutely due to appearances that she should be seen among the crowds.
We will not now seek to pursue her musings and trace them out to their conclusions, nor will it be necessary that we should do more than indicate their character. That they were sad and solemn as usual—perhaps humbling—may be gathered from the fact that a big tear might have been seen, long gathering in her eye;—the next moment she brushed off the intruder with an impatience of gesture, that plainly showed how much her proud spirit resented any such intrusion. The tear dispersed the images which had filled her contemplative mood, and rising from her sylvan seat, she prepared to move forward, when a voice calling at some little distance, drew her attention. Giving a hasty glance in the direction of the sound, she beheld a young man making his way through the woods, and approaching her with rapid footsteps. His evident desire to reach her, did not, however, prompt her to any pause in her own progress; but, as if satisfied with the single glance which she gave him, and indifferent utterly to his object, she continued on her way, nor stopped for an instant, nor again looked back, until his salutation, immediately behind her, compelled her attention and answer.
"Margaret—Miss Cooper!" said the speaker, who was a young rustic, probably twenty or twenty-one years of age, of tall, good person, a handsome face, which was smooth, though of dark complexion, and lightened by an eye of more than ordinary size and intelligence. His tones were those of one whose sensibilities were fine and active, and it would not have called for much keen observation to have seen that his manner, in approaching and addressing the maiden, was marked with some little trepidation. She, on the contrary, seemed too familiar with his homage, or too well satisfied of his inferiority, to deign much attention to his advances. She answered his salutation coldly, and was preparing to move forward, when his words again called for her reluctant notice.
"I have looked for you, Margaret, full an hour. Mother sent me after you to beg that you will come there this evening. Old Jenks has come up from the river, and brought a store of fine things—there's a fiddle for Ned, and Jason Lightner has a flute, and I—I have a small lot of books, Margaret, that I think will please you."
"I thank you, William Hinkley, and thank your mother, but I can not come this evening."
"But why not, Margaret?—your mother's coming—she promised for you too, but I thought you might not get home soon enough to see her, and so I came out to seek you."
"I am very sorry you took so much trouble, William, for I cannot come this evening."
"But why not, Margaret? You have no other promise to go elsewhere have you?"
"None," was the indifferent reply.
"Then—but, perhaps, you are not well, Margaret?"
"I am quite well, I thank you, William Hinkley, but I don't feel like going out this evening. I am not in the humor."
Already, in the little village of Charlemont, Margaret Cooper was one of the few who were permitted to indulge in humors, and William Hinkley learned the reason assigned for her refusal, with an expression of regret and disappointment, if not of reproach. An estoppel, which would have been so conclusive in the case of a city courtier, was not sufficient, however, to satisfy the more frank and direct rustic, and he proceeded with some new suggestions, in the hope to change her determination.
"But you'll be so lonesome at home, Margaret, when your mother's with us. She'll be gone before you can get back, and—"
"I'm never lonesome, William, at least I'm never so well content or so happy as when I'm alone," was the self-satisfactory reply.
"But that's so strange, Margaret. It's so strange that you should be different from everybody else. I often wonder at it, Margaret; for I know none of the other girls but love to be where there's a fiddle, and where there's pleasant company. It's so pleasant to be where everybody's pleased; and then, Margaret, where one can talk so well as you, and of so many subjects, it's a greater wonder still that you should not like to be among the rest."
"I do not, however, William," was the answer in more softened tones. There was something in this speech of her lover, that found its way through the only accessible avenues of her nature. It was a truth, which she often repeated to herself with congratulatory pride, that she had few feelings or desires in common with the crowd.
"It is my misfortune," she continued, "to care very little for the pastimes you speak of; and as for the company, I've no doubt it will be very pleasant for those who go, but to me it will afford very little pleasure. Your mother must therefore excuse me, William:—I should be a very dull person among the rest."
"She will be so very sorry, Margaret—and Ned, whose new fiddle has just come, and Jason Lightner, with his flute. They all spoke of you and look for you above all, to hear them this evening. They will be so disappointed."
William Hinkley spoke nothing of his own disappointment, but it was visible enough in his blank countenance, and sufficiently audible in the undisguised faltering of his accents.
"I do not think they will be so much disappointed, William Hinkley. They have no reason to be, as they have no right to look for me in particular. I have very little acquaintance with the young men you speak of."
"Why, Margaret, they live alongside of you—and I'm sure you've met them a thousand times in company," was the response of the youth, uttered in tones more earnest than any he had yet employed in the dialogue, and with something of surprise in his accents.
"Perhaps so; but that makes them no intimates of mine, William Hinkley. They may be very good young men, and, indeed, so far as I know, they really are; but that makes no difference. We find our acquaintances and our intimates among those who are congenial, who somewhat resemble us in spirit, feeling, and understanding."
"Ah, Margaret!" said her rustic companion with a sigh, which amply testified to the humility of his own self-estimate, and of the decline of his hope which came with it—"ah, Margaret, if that be the rule, where are you going to find friends and intimates in Charlemont?"
"Where!" was the single word spoken by the haughty maiden, as her eye wandered off to the cold tops of the distant hills along which the latest rays of falling sunlight, faint and failing, as they fell, imparted a hue, which though bright, still as it failed to warm, left an expression of October sadness to the scene, that fitly harmonized with the chilling mood under which she had spoken throughout the interview.
"I don't think, Margaret," continued the lover, finding courage as he continued, "that such a rule is a good one. I know it can't be a good one for happiness. There's many a person that never will meet his or her match in this world, in learning and understanding—and if they won't look on other persons with kindness, because they are not altogether equal to them, why there's a chance that they'll always be solitary and sad. It's a real blessing, I believe, to have great sense, but I don't see, that because one has great sense, that one should not think well and kindly of those who have little, provided they be good, and are willing to be friendly. Now, a good heart seems to be the very best thing that nature can give us; and I know, Margaret, that there's no two better hearts in all Charlemont—perhaps in all the world, though I won't say that—than cousin Ned Hinkley, and Jason Lightner, and—"
"I don't deny their merits and their virtues, and their goodness of heart, William Hinkley," was the answer of the maiden—"I only say that the possession of these qualities gives them no right to claim my sympathies or affection. These claims are only founded upon congeniality of character and mind, and without this congeniality, there can be no proper, no lasting intimacy between persons. They no doubt, will find friends between whom and themselves, this congeniality exists. I, on the other hand, must be permitted to find mine, after my own ideas, and as I best can. But if I do not—the want of them gives me no great concern. I find company enough, and friends enough, even in these woods, to satisfy the desires of my heart at present; I am not anxious to extend my acquaintance or increase the number of my intimates."
William Hinkley, who had become somewhat warmed by the argument, could have pursued the discussion somewhat further; but the tones and manner of his companion, to say nothing of her words, counselled him to forbear. Still, he was not disposed altogether to give up his attempts to secure her presence for the evening party.
"But if you don't come for the company, Margaret, recollect the music. Even if Ned Hinkley was a perfect fool, which he is not, and Jason Lightner were no better,—nobody can say that they are not good musicians. Old Squire Bee says there's not in all Kentucky a better violinist than Ned, and Jason's flute is the sweetest sound that ear ever listened to along these hills. If you don't care anything for the players, Margaret, I'm sure you can't be indifferent to their music; and I know they are anything but indifferent to what you may think about it. They will play ten times as well if you are there; and I'm sure, Margaret, I shall be the last"—here the tone of the speaker's voice audibly faltered—"I shall be the very last to think it sweet if you are not there."
But the words and faltering accents of the lover equally failed in subduing the inflexible, perverse mood of the haughty maiden. Her cold denial was repeated; and with looks that did not fail to speak the disappointment of William Hinkley, he attended her back to the village. Their progress was marked by coldness on the one hand, and decided sadness on the other. The conversation was carried on in monosyllables only, on the part of Margaret, while timidity and a painful hesitancy marked the language of her attendant. But a single passage may be remembered of all that was said between the two, ere they separated at the door of the widow Cooper.
"Did you see the two strangers, Margaret, that passed through Charlemont this afternoon?"
The cheeks of the maiden became instantly flushed, and the rapid utterance of her reply in the affirmative, denoted an emotion which the jealous instincts of the lover readily perceived. A cold chill, on the instant, pervaded the veins of the youth; and that night he did not hear, any more than Margaret Cooper, the music of his friends. He was present all the time and he answered their inquiries as usual; but his thoughts were very far distant, and somehow or other, they perpetually mingled up the image of the young traveller, whom he too had seen, with that of the proud woman, whom he was not yet sure that he unprofitably worshipped.
SIMPLICITY AND THE SERPENT.
The mirth and music of Charlemont were enjoyed by others, but not by Margaret Cooper. The resolution not to share in the pleasures of the young around her, which she showed to her rustic lover, was a resolution firmly persevered in throughout the long summer which followed. Her wayward mood shut out from her contemplation the only sunshine of the place; and her heart, brooding over the remote, if not the impossible, denied itself those joys which were equally available and nigh. Her lonesome walks became longer in the forests, and later each evening grew the hour of her return to the village. Her solitude daily increased, as the youth, who really loved her with all the ardency of a first passion, and who regarded her at the same time with no little veneration for those superior gifts of mind and education which, it was the general conviction in Charlemont, that she possessed, became, at length, discouraged in a pursuit which hitherto had found nothing but coldness and repulse. Not that he ceased to love—nay, he did not cease entirely to hope. What lover ever did? He fondly ascribed to the object of his affections a waywardness of humor, which he fancied would pass away after a season, and leave her mind to the influence of a more sober and wholesome judgment. Perhaps, too, like many other youth in like circumstances, he did not always see or feel the caprice of which he was the victim. But for this fortunate blindness, many a fair damsel would lose her conquest quite as suddenly as it was made.
But the summer passed away, and the forest put on the sere and sombre robes of autumn, and yet no visible change—none at least more favorable to the wishes of William Hinkley—took place in the character and conduct of the maiden. Her mind, on the contrary, seemed to take something of its hue from the cold sad tones of the forest. The serious depth of expression in her dark eyes seemed to deepen yet more, and become yet more concentrated—their glance acquired a yet keener intentness—an inflexibility of direction—which suffered them seldom to turn aside from those moody contemplations, which had made her, for a long time, infinitely prefer to gaze upon the rocks, and woods, and waters, than upon the warm and wooing features of humanity.
At distance the youth watched and sometimes followed her, and when, with occasional boldness, he would draw nigh to her secret wanderings, a cold fear filled his heart, and he shrunk back with all the doubt and dread of some guilty trespasser. But his doubt, and we may add, his dread also, was soon to cease entirely, in the complete conviction of his hopelessness. The day and the fate were approaching, in the person of one, to whom a natural instinct had already taught him to look with apprehension, and whose very first appearance had inspired him with antipathy.
What a strange prescience, in some respects, has the devoted and watchful heart that loves! William Hinkley, had seen but for a single instant, the face of that young traveller, who has already been introduced to us, and that instant was enough to awaken his dislike—nay, more, his hostility. Yet no villager in Charlemont but would have told you, that, of all the village, William Hinkley was the most gentle, the most generous—the very last to be moved by bad passions, by jealousy or hate.
The youth whom we have seen going down with his uncle to the great valley of the Mississippi, was now upon his return. He was now unaccompanied by the benignant senior with whom we first made his acquaintance. He had simply attended the old bachelor, from whom he had considerable expectations, to his plantation, in requital of the spring visit which the latter had paid to his relatives in Kentucky; and having spent the summer in the southwest, was about to resume his residence, and the profession of the law, in that state. We have seen that, however he might have succeeded in disguising his true feelings from his uncle, he was not unmoved by the encounter with Margaret Cooper, on the edge of the village. He now remembered the casual suggestion of the senior, which concluded their discussion on the subject of her beauty; and he resolved to go aside from his direct path, and take Charlemont in the route of his return. Not that he himself needed a second glance to convince him of that loveliness which, in his wilfulness, he yet denied. He was free to acknowledge to himself that Margaret Cooper was one of the noblest and most impressive beauties he had ever seen. The very scorn that spoke in all her features, the imperious fires that kindled in her eyes, were better calculated than any more gentle expressions, to impose upon one who was apt to be skeptical on the subject of ordinary beauties. The confidence and consciousness of superiority, which too plainly spoke out in the features of Margaret, seemed to deny to his mind the privilege of doubting or discussing her charms—a privilege upon which no one could have been more apt to insist than himself. This seeming denial, while it suggested to him ideas of novelty, provoked his curiosity and kindled his pride. The haughty glance with which she encountered his second approach, aroused his vanity, and a latent desire arose in his heart, to overcome one who had shown herself so premature in her defiance. We will not venture to assert that the young traveller had formed any very deliberate designs of conquest, but, it may be said, as well here as elsewhere, that his self-esteem was great; and accustomed to easy conquests among the sex, in the region where he dwelt, it was only necessary to inflame his vanity, to stimulate him to the exercise of all his arts.
It was about noon, on one of those bright, balmy days, early in October, when "the bridal of the earth and sky," in the language of the good old Herbert, is going on—when, the summer heats subdued, there is yet nothing either cold, or repulsive in the atmosphere; and the soft breathing from the southwest has just power enough to stir the flowers and disperse their scents; that our young traveller was joined in his progress towards Charlemont, by a person mounted like himself and pursuing a similar direction.
At the first glance the youth distinguished him as one of the homely forest preachers of the methodist persuasion, who are the chief agents and pioneers of religion in most of the western woods. His plain, unstudied garments all of black, rigid and unfashionable; his pale, demure features, and the general humility of his air and gesture, left our young skeptic little reason to doubt of this; and when the other expressed his satisfaction at meeting with a companion at last, after a long and weary ride without one, the tone of his expressions, the use of biblical phraseology, and the monotonous solemnity of his tones, reduced the doubts of the youth to absolute certainty. At first, with the habitual levity of the young and skeptical, he congratulated himself upon an encounter which promised to afford him a good subject for quizzing; but a moment's reflection counselled him to a more worldly policy, and he restrained his natural impulse in order that he might first sound the depths of the preacher, and learn in what respect he might be made subservient to his own purposes. He had already learned from the latter that he was on his way to Charlemont, of which place he seemed to have some knowledge; and the youth, in an instant, conceived the possibility of making him useful in procuring for himself a favorable introduction to the place. With this thought, he assumed the grave aspect and deliberate enunciation of his companion, expressed himself equally gratified to meet with a person who, if he did not much mistake, was a divine, and concluded his address by the utterance of one of those pious commonplaces which are of sufficiently easy acquisition, and which at once secured him the unscrupulous confidence of his companion.
"Truly, it gladdens me, sir," said the holy man in reply, "to meet with one, as a fellow-traveller in these lonesome ways, who hath a knowledge of God's grace and the blessings which he daily sheddeth, even as the falling of the dews, upon a benighted land. It is my lot, and I repine not that such it is, to be for ever a wayfarer, in the desert where there are but few fountains to refresh the spirit. When I say desert, young gentleman, I speak not in the literal language of the world, for truly it were a most sinful denial of God's bounty were I to say, looking round upon the mighty forests through which I pass, and upon the rich soil over which I travel, that my way lies not through a country covered, thrice covered, with the best worldly bounties of the Lord. But it is a moral desert which my speech would signify. The soul of man is here lacking the blessed fountains of the truth—the mind of man here lacketh the holy and joy-shedding lights of the spirit; and it rejoiceth me, therefore, when I meet with one, like thyself, in whose language I find a proof that thou hast neither heard the word with idle ears, nor treasured it in thy memory with unapplying mind. May I ask of thee, my young friend, who thou art, and by what name I shall call thee?—not for the satisfaction of an idle curiosity, to know either thy profession or thy private concerns, but that I may the better speak to thee in our conference hereafter, Thou hast rightly conjectured as to my calling—and my own name, which is one unknown to most even in these forests, is John Cross—I come of a family in North Carolina, which still abide in that state, by the waters of the river Haw. Perhaps, if thou hast ever travelled in those parts, thou hast happened upon some of my kindred, which are very numerous."
"I have never, reverend sir, travelled in those parts," said the youth, with commendable gravity, "but I have heard of the Cross family, which I believe, as you say, to be very numerous—both male and female."
"Yea, I have brothers and sisters an equal number; I have aunts and uncles a store, and it has been the blessing of God so to multiply and increase every member thereof, that each of my brothers, in turn, hath a goodly flock, in testimony of his favors. I, alone, of all my kindred, have neither wife nor child, and I seem as one set apart for other ties, and other purposes."
"Ah, sir," returned the other, quickly, and with a slyness of expression which escaped the direct and unsuspecting mind of the preacher, "but if you are denied the blessings which are theirs, you have your part in the great family of the world. If you have neither wife nor child of your own loins, yet, I trust, you have an abiding interest in the wives and children of all other men."
"I were but an unworthy teacher of the blessed word, had I not," was the simple answer. "Verily, all that I teach are my children; there is not one crying to me for help, to whom I do not hasten with the speed of a father flying to bring succor to his young. I trust in God, that I have not made a difference between them; that I heed not one to the forfeit or suffering of the other; and for this impartial spirit toward the flock intrusted to my charge, do I pray, as well as for the needful strength of body and soul, through which my duties are to be done. But thou hast not yet spoken thy name, or my ears have failed to receive it."
There was some little hesitation on the part of the youth before he answered this second application; and a less unheeding observer than his fellow-traveller, might have noticed an increasing warmth of hue upon his cheek, while he was uttering his reply:—
"I am called Alfred Stevens," he replied at length, the color increasing upon his cheek even after the words were spoken. But they were spoken. The falsehood was registered against him beyond recall, though, of course, without startling the doubts or suspicions of his companion.
"Alfred Stevens; there are many Stevenses: I have known several and sundry. There is a worthy family of that name by the waters of the Dan."
"You will find them, I suspect, from Dan to Beersheba," responded the youth with a resumption of his former levity.
"Truly, it may be so. The name is of good repute. But what is thy calling, Alfred Stevens? Methinks at thy age thou shouldst have one."
"So I have, reverend sir," replied the other; "my calling heretofore has been that of the law. But it likes me not, and I think soon to give it up."
"Thou wilt take to some other then. What other hast thou chosen; or art thou like those unhappy youths, by far too many in our blessed country, whom fortune hath hurt by her gifts, and beguiled into idleness and sloth?"
"Nay, not so, reverend sir; the gifts of fortune have been somewhat sparing in my case, and I am even now conferring with my own thoughts whether or not to take to school-keeping. Nay, perhaps, I should incline to something better, if I could succeed in persuading myself of my own worthiness in a vocation which, more than all others, demands a pure mind with a becoming zeal. The law consorts not with my desires—it teaches selfishness, rather than self-denial; and I have already found that some of its duties demand the blindness and the silence of that best teacher from within, the watchful and unsleeping conscience."
"Thou hast said rightly, Alfred Stevens; I have long thought that the profession of the law hardeneth the heart, and blindeth the conscience. Thou wilt do well to leave it, as a craft that leads to sin, and makes the exercise of sin a duty; and if, as I rightly understand thee, thou lookest to the gospel as that higher vocation for which thy spirit yearneth, then would I say to thee, arise, and gird up thy loins; advance and falter not;—the field is open, and though the victory brings thee no worldly profit, and but little worldly honor, yet the reward is eternal, and the interest thereof, unlike the money which thou puttest out to usury in the hands of men, never fails to be paid, at the very hour of its due, from the unfailing treasury of Heaven. Verily, I rejoice, Alfred Stevens, that I have met with thee to-day. I had feared that the day had been lost to that goodly labor, to which all my days have been given for seventeen years, come the first sabbath in the next November. But what thou hast said, awakens hope in my soul that such will not be the case. Let not my counsels fail thee, Alfred;—let thy zeal warm; let thy spirit work within thee, and thy words kindle, in the service of the Lord. How it will rejoice me to see thee taking up the scrip and the staff and setting forth for the wildernesses of the Mississippi, of Arkansas, and Texas, far beyond;—bringing the wild man of the frontier, and the red savage, into the blessed fold and constant company of the Lord Jesus, to whom all praise!"
"It were indeed a glorious service," responded the young stranger—whom we shall proceed, hereafter, to designate by the name by which he has called himself. He spoke musingly, and with a gravity that was singularly inflexible—"it were indeed a glorious service. Let me see, there were thousands of miles to traverse before one might reach the lower Arkansas; and I reckon, Mr. Cross, the roads are mighty bad after you pass the Mississippi—nay, even in the Mississippi, through a part of which territory I have gone only this last summer, there is a sad want of causeways, and the bridges are exceedingly out of repair. There is one section of near a hundred miles, which lies between the bluffs of Ashibiloxi, and the far creek of Catahoula, that was a shame and reproach to the country and the people thereof. What, then, must be the condition of the Texas territory, beyond? and, if I err not, the Cumanchees are a race rather given to destroy than to build up. The chance is that the traveller in their country might have to swim his horse over most of the watercourses, and where he found a bridge, it were perhaps a perilous risk to cross it. Even then he might ride fifty miles a day, before he should see the smokes which would be a sign of supper that night."
"The greater the glory—the greater the glory, Alfred Stevens. The toil and the peril, the pain and the privation, in a, good cause, increase the merit of the performance in the eyes of the Lord. What matters the roads and the bridges, the length of the way, or the sometimes lack of those comforts of the flesh, which are craved only at the expense of the spirit, and to the great delay of our day of conquest. These wants are the infirmities of the human, which dissipate and disappear, the more few they become, and the less pressing in their complaint. Shake thyself loose from them, Alfred Stevens, and thy way henceforth is perfect freedom."
"Alas! this is my very weakness, Mr. Cross:—it was because of these very infirmities, that I had doubt of my own worthiness to take up the better vocation which is yet my desire. I am sadly given to hunger and thirst toward noon and evening; and the travel of a long day makes me so weary at night, that I should say but a hurried grace before meal, and make an even more hurried supper after it. Nay, I have not yet been able to divest myself of a habit which I acquired in my boyhood; and I need at times, throughout the day, a mouthful of something stronger than mere animal food, to sustain the fainting and feeble flesh and keep my frame from utter exhaustion. I dare not go upon the road, even for the brief journey of a single day, without providing myself beforehand with a supply of a certain beverage, such as is even now contained within this vessel, and which is infallible against sinking of the the spirits, faintings of the frame, disordered nerves, and even against flatulence and indigestion. If, at any time, thou shouldst suffer from one or the other of these infirmities, Mr. Cross, be sure there is no better medicine for their cure than this."
The speaker drew from his bosom a little flask, such as is sufficiently well known to most western travellers, which he held on high, and which, to the unsuspecting eyes of the preacher, contained a couple of gills or more of a liquid of very innocent complexion.
"Verily, Alfred Stevens, I do myself suffer from some of the weaknesses of which thou hast spoken. The sinking of the spirits, and the faintness of the frame, are but too often the enemies that keep me back from the plough when I would thereto set my hand; and that same flatulence—"
"A most frequent disorder in a region where greens and collards form the largest dishes on the tables of the people," interrupted Stevens, but without changing a muscle of his countenance.
"I do believe as thou say'st, Alfred Stevens, that the disorder comes in great part from that cause, though, still, I have my doubts if it be not a sort of wind-melancholy, to which people, who preach aloud are greatly subject. It is in my case almost always associated with a sort of hoarseness, and the nerves of my frame twitch grievously at the same periods. If this medicine of thine be sovereign against so cruel an affliction, I would crave of thee such knowledge as would enable me to get a large supply of it, that I may overcome a weakness, which, as I tell thee, oftentimes impairs my ministry, and sometimes makes me wholly incapable of fervent preaching. Let me smell of it, I pray thee."
"Nay, taste of it, sir—it is just about the time when I find it beneficial to partake of it, as a medicine for my own weakness, and I doubt not, it will have a powerful effect also upon you. A single draught has been found to relieve the worst case of flatulence and colic."
"From colic too, I am also a great sufferer," said the preacher as he took the flask in his hand, and proceeded to draw the stopper.
"That is also the child of collards," said Stevens, as he watched with a quiet and unmoved countenance the proceedings of his simple companion, who finding some difficulty in drawing the cork, handed it back to the youth. The latter, more practised, was more successful, and now returned the open bottle to the preacher.
"Take from it first, the dose which relieves thee, Alfred Stevens, that I may know how much will avail in my own case;" and he watched curiously, while Stevens, applying the flask to his lips, drew from it a draught, which, in western experience of benefits, would have been accounted a very moderate potion. This done, he handed it back to his companion, who, about to follow his example, asked him:—
"And by what name, Alfred Stevens, do they call this medicine, the goodly effect of which thou holdst to be so great?"
Stevens did not immediately reply—not until the preacher had applied the bottle to his mouth, and he could see by the distension of his throat, that he had imbibed a taste, at least, of the highly-lauded medicine. The utterance then, of the single word—"Brandy"—was productive of an effect no less ludicrous in the sight of the youth, than it was distressing to the mind of his worthy companion. The descending liquor was ejected with desperate effort from the throat which it had fairly entered—the flask flung from his hands—and with choking and gurgling accents, startling eyes, and reddening visage, John Cross turned full upon his fellow-traveller, vainly trying to repeat, with the accompanying horror of expression which he felt, the single spellword, which had produced an effect so powerful.
"Bran—bran—brandy!—Alfred Stevens!—thou hast given me poison—the soul's poison—the devil's liquor—liquor distilled in the vessels of eternal sin. Wherefore hast thou done this? Dost thou not know"—
"Know—know what, Mr. Cross?" replied Stevens, with all the astonishment which he could possibly throw into his air, as he descended from his horse with all haste to recover his flask, and save its remaining contents from loss.
"Call me not mister—call me plain John Cross," replied the preacher—in the midst of a second fit of choking, the result of his vain effort to disgorge that portion of the pernicious liquid which had irretrievably descended into his bowels. With a surprise admirably affected, Stevens approached him.
"My dear sir—what troubles you?—what can be the matter? What have I done? What is it you fear?"
"That infernal draught—that liquor—I have swallowed of it a mouthful. I feel it in me. The sin be upon thy head, Alfred Stevens—why did you not tell me, before I drank, that it was the soul's poison?—the poison that slays more than the sword or the pestilence;—the liquor of the devil, distilled in the vessels of sin—and sent among men for the destruction of the soul! I feel it now within me, and it burns—it burns like the fires of damnation. Is there no water nigh that I may quench my thirst?—Show me, Alfred Stevens, show me where the cool waters lie, that I may put out these raging flames."
"There is a branch, if I mistake not, just above us on the road—I think I see it glistening among the leaves. Let us ride toward it, sir, and it will relieve you."
"Ah, Alfred Stevens, why have you served me thus? Why did you not tell me?"
Repeated groans accompanied this apostrophe, and marked every step in the progress of the preacher to the little rivulet which trickled across the road. John Cross, descended with the rapidity of one whose hope hangs upon a minute, and dreads its loss, as equal to the loss of life. He straddled the stream and thrust his lips into the water, drawing up a quantity sufficient, in the estimation of Stevens, to have effectually neutralized the entire contents of his flask.
"Blessed water! Blessed water! Holiest beverage! Thou art the creation of the Lord, and, next to the waters of eternal life, his best gift to undiscerning man. I drink of thee, and I am faint no longer. I rise up, strong and refreshed! Ah, my young friend, Alfred Stevens, I trust thou didst not mean me harm in giving me that poisonous liquor?"
"Far from it, sir, I rather thought to do you a great benefit."
"How couldst thou think to do me benefit by proffering such poison to my lips? nay, wherefore dost thou thyself carry it with thee, and why dost thou drink of it, as if it were something not hurtful as well to the body as the soul? Take my counsel, I pray thee, Alfred Stevens, and cast it behind thee for ever. Look not after it when thou dost so, with an eye of regret lest thou forfeit the merit of thy self-denial. If thou wouldst pursue the higher vocation of the brethren, thou must seek for the needful strength from a better and purer spirit. But what unhappy teacher could have persuaded thee to an indulgence which the good men of all the churches agree to regard as so deadly?"
"Nay, Mr. Cross—"
"John Cross, I pray thee; do I not call thee Alfred Stevens?—Mr. is a speech of worldly fashion, and becomes not one who should put the world and its fashions behind him."
Stevens found it more difficult to comply with this one requisition of the preacher, than to pursue a long game of artful and complex scheming. He evaded the difficulty by dropping the name entirely.
"You are too severe upon brandy, and upon those who use it. Nay, I am not sure, but you do injustice to those who make it. So far from its manufacturers being such as you call them, we have unquestionable proof that they are very worthy people of a distant but a Christian country; and surely you will not deny that we should find a medicine for our hurts, and a remedy for our complaints, in a liquor which, perhaps, it might be sinful to use as an ordinary beverage. Doctors, who have the care of human life, and whose business and desire it is to preserve it, nevertheless do sometimes administer poisons to their patients, which poisons, though deadly at other times, will, in certain diseases and certain conditions of disease, prove of only and great good."
"Impossible! I believe it not! I believe not in the good of brandy. It is hurtful—it is deadly. It has slain its thousands and its tens of thousands—it is worse than the sword and the summer pestilence. Many a man have I known to perish from strong drink. In my own parts, upon the river Haw, in North Carolina state, I have known many. Nay, wherefore should I spare the truth, Alfred Stevens? —the very father of my own life, Ezekiel Cross, perished miserably from this burning water of sin. I will not hear thee speak of it again; and if thou wouldst have me think of thee with favor, as one hopeful of the service of the brethren, cast the accursed beverage of Satan from thy hands."
The youth, without a word, deliberately emptied tho contents of his vessel upon the sands, and the garrulous lips of the preacher poured forth as great a flood of speech in congratulation, as he had hitherto bestowed in homily. The good, unsuspecting man, did not perceive that the liquor thus thrown away, was very small in quantity, and that his companion, when the flask was emptied, quietly restored it to his bosom. John Cross had obtained a seeming victory, and did not care to examine its details.
THE SERPENT IN THE GARDEN.
The concession made by Stevens, and which had produced an effect so gratifying upon his companion, was one that involved no sacrifices. The animal appetite of the young lawyer was, in truth, comparatively speaking, indifferent to the commodity which he discarded; and even had it been otherwise, still he was one of those selfish, cool and calculating persons, who seem by nature to be perfectly able to subdue the claims of the blood, with great ease, whenever any human or social policy would appear to render it advisable. The greatest concession which he made in the transaction, was in his so readily subscribing to that false logic of the day, which reasons against the use of the gifts of Providence, because a diseased moral, and a failing education, among men, sometimes result in their abuse.
The imperfections of a mode of reasoning so utterly illogical, were as obvious to the mind of the young lawyer as to anybody else; and the compliance which he exhibited to a requisition which his own sense readily assured him was as foolish as it was presumptuous, was as degrading to his moral character from the hypocrisy which it declared, as it was happy in reference to the small policy by which he had been governed. The unsuspecting preacher did not perceive the scornful sneer which curled his lips and flashed his eyes, by which his own vanity still asserted itself through the whole proceeding; or he would not have been so sure that the mantle of grace which he deemed to have surely fallen upon the shoulders of his companion, was sufficiently large and sound, to cover the multitude of sins which it yet enabled the wearer, so far, to conceal. Regarding him with all the favor which one is apt to feel for the person whom he has plucked as a brand from the burning, the soul of John Cross warmed to the young sinner; and it required no great effort of the wily Stevens to win from him the history, not only of all its own secrets and secret hopes—for these were of but small value in the eyes of the worldling—but of all those matters which belonged to the little village to which they were trending, and the unwritten lives of every dweller in that happy community.