THE TRAPPERS OF UMBAGOG.
A TALE OF BORDER LIFE.
D. P. THOMPSON,
Town and Country contrasted, in relation to Vice and Crime.—A Display Party to avoid Bankruptcy.—Gaut Gurley, and other leading Characters, introduced as Actors in this scene of City Life.
Retrospect of the life of the Country Merchant, in making Money, to become a "Solid Man of Boston."—Humble Beginnings.—Tempted into Smuggling from Canada in Embargo times, and makes a Fortune, by the aid of the desperate and daring Services of Gaut Gurley.—A Sketch of the Wild Scenes of Smuggling over the British line into Vermont and New Hampshire.—Removal to the City.
Gambling (an allegory) invented by the Fiends, and is proclaimed the Premium Vice by Lucifer.—A Gambling Scene between Gaut Gurley and the merchant, Mark Elwood.—The Failure of the latter.—The Refusal of his brother, Arthur Elwood, to help him.—The Surprise and Distress of his Family.
The Downward Path of the Habitual Gambler.—His Family sharing in the Degradation, and becoming the suffering Victims of his Vices.—The Sudden Resolve to be a Man again, and remove to an unsettled Country, to begin Life anew in the Woods.
The moral and intellectual Influences of Forest Life.—Scenery of Umbagog.—Description of Elwood's new Home in the Woods.—The Burning of his first Slash.—His House catches Fire, and he and his Wife engage in extinguishing it, praying for the return of their Son, Claud Elwood, to help them in their terrible strait.
Claud Elwood and his Forest Musings.—Dangerous Assault, and slaying of a Moose.—Rescue of Gaut's Daughter from the enraged animal.—Strange Developments.—Incipient Love Scene.—Trout-catching.—Return of Claud and Phillips (the Old Hunter here first introduced), to aid in saving the Elwood Cottage from the fire.—The Thunder-shower comes to complete the conquest of the fire.—The destruction of the King Pine by a Thunderbolt.
Journey up the Magalloway, to bring home the slaughtered Moose.—Love and its entanglements; its Sunshine now, its Storms in the distance.
Jaunt of Claud and Phillips over the Rapids to the next Great Lake, for Deer-hunting and Trout-catching.—Rescue of Fluella, the Indian Chief's Daughter, from Drowning in the Rapids.—Her remarkable Character for Intellect and Beauty.
The Logging Bee.—The introduction of a New Character in Comical Codman, the Trapper.—The Woodmen's Banquet.—The forming of the Trapping and Hunting Company, to start on an Expedition to the Upper Lakes.
Developments of the dark and designing character of Gaut Gurley.—-Tomah, the college-learned Indian.
Mrs. Elwood's Bodings, on account of the connection of her Husband and Son with Gaut and his Daughter.—Her Interview with Fluella.—Claud's Interview with Fluella and her Father, the Chief.—The Chief's History of his Tribe.
Adventures of the Trappers the first day of their Expedition up the Lakes.—Bear-hunt, Trout-catching, etc.—Introduction of Carvil, an amateur Hunter from the Green Mountains.
The Trappers' Central Camp on the Maguntic Lake.—Three Stories of most remarkable Adventures in the Woods, told at the Camp-fire by three Hunters and Trappers.
The Voyage to Oquossah, the farthest large Lake.—The stationing of the Trappers at different points on the Lake.—The appointment of Gaut as Keeper of the Central Camp, on the Lake below.—The Results of their Fall's Operations, and Preparations to return Home.
The Trappers overtaken by a terrible Snow-storm.—Their Suffering before reaching Central Camp.—The discovery that this Camp had been Burnt, and Robbed of their whole Stock of Furs.—Their Providential Escape from Death.
The Legal Prosecution to Recover their Furs, or punish Gaut, the supposed Criminal.—The unsatisfactory Result, and Gaut's dark menaces of Revenge.
Gaut's Efforts to get the old Company off into the Forest, on a Spring Expedition.—All refuse but Elwood and Son, who conclude to go.—Love Entanglements, and the boding Fears of Mrs. Elwood.
Opening of Spring in the Settlement.—The Trappers fail to Return.—Gaut comes without them.—The Alarm and Suspicions of the Settlers that he has Murdered, the Elwoods.—The Circumstantial Evidence.
The attempt to Arrest Gaut.—His retreat to a Cave in the Mountain.—His final Dislodgement and Capture, for Trial and Examination.
Retrospect of the Adventures of Gaut and the Elwoods.—The Murder of Mark Elwood, and the Wounding of Claud, by Gaut.—Claud's life saved by Fluella.
Gaut's Trial, Sentence, and Imprisonment.—General Denouement of the Story.—Gaut breaks Jail, escapes, and becomes a desperate Pirate-leader.
Awful Fate of a Pirate Ship.—Gaut's Death.
"God made the country and man made the town."
So wrote the charming Cowper, giving us to understand, by the drift of the context, that he intended the remark as having a moral as well as a physical application; since, as he there intimates, in "gain-devoted cities," whither naturally flow "the dregs and feculence of every land," and where "foul example in most minds begets its likeness," the vices will ever find their favorite haunts; while the virtues, on the contrary, will always most abound in the country. So far as regards the virtues, if we are to take them untested, this is doubtless true. And so far, also, as regards the mere vices, or actual transgressions of morality, we need, perhaps, to have no hesitation in yielding our assent to the position of the poet. But, if he intends to include in the category those flagrant crimes which stand first in the gradation of human offences, we must be permitted to dissent from that part of the view; and not only dissent, but claim that truth will generally require the very reversal of the picture, for of such crimes we believe it will be found, on examination, that the country ever furnishes the greatest proportion. In cities, the frequent intercourse of men with their fellow-men, the constant interchange of the ordinary civilities of life, and the thousand amusements and calls on their attention that are daily occurring, have almost necessarily a tendency to soften or turn away the edge of malice and hatred, to divert the mind from the dark workings of revenge, and prevent it from settling into any of those fatal purposes which result in the wilful destruction of life, or some other gross outrage on humanity. But in the country, where, it will be remembered, the first blood ever spilled by the hand of a murderer cried up to Heaven from the ground, and where the meliorating circumstances we have named as incident to congregated life are almost wholly wanting, man is left to brood in solitude over his real or fancied wrongs, till all the fierce and stormy passions of his nature become aroused, and hurry him unchecked along to the fatal outbreak. In the city, the strong and bad passions of hate, envy, jealousy, and revenge, softened in action, as we have said, on finding a readier vent in some of the conditions of urban society, generally prove comparatively harmless. In the country, finding no such softening influences, and no such vent, and left to their own workings, they often become dangerously concentrated, and, growing more and more intensified as their self-fed fires are permitted to burn on, at length burst through every barrier of restraint, and set all law and reason alike at defiance.
And if this view, as we believe, is correct in regard to the operation of this class of passions, why not in regard to the operation of those of an opposite character? Why should not the same principle apply to the operation of love as well as hate? It should, and does, though not in an equal degree, perhaps, apply to them both. It has been shown to be so in the experience of the past. It is illustrated in many a sad drama of real life, but never more strikingly than in the true and darkly romantic incidents which form the groundwork of the tale upon which we are about to enter.
It was on a raw and gusty evening in the month of November, a few years subsequent to our last war with Great Britain, and the cold and vapor-laden winds, which form such a drawback to the coast-clime of New England, were fitfully wailing over the drear and frost-blackened landscape, and the wayfarers, as if keenly alive to the discomforts of all without, were seen everywhere hurrying forward to reach those comforts within which were heralded in the cheerful gleams that shot from many a window, when a showy and conspicuous mansion, in the environs of Boston, was observed to be lighted up to an extent, and with a brilliancy, that betokened the advent of some ambitious display on the part of the bustling inmates. Carriages from different parts of the city were successively arriving, discharging their loads of gaily-dressed ladies and gentlemen at the door, and rattling off again at the crack of the whips of the pert and jauntily equipped drivers. Others on foot, and from the more immediate neighborhood, were, in couples and singly, for some time constantly dropping in to swell the crowd, witness, and perhaps add to, the attractions of the occasion, which was obviously one of those social gatherings that have been sometimes, in conventional phrase, not inaptly denominated a jam; where people go to be in the fashion, to see, be seen, and try as hard as they can to be happy; but where the aggregate of happiness enjoyed is probably far less, as a general rule, than would be enjoyed by the same company at home in the pursuit of their ordinary avocations.
Meanwhile, as the guests were assembling and being conducted to the withdrawing rooms, through the cash-bought and obsequious politeness of some of the troop of waiters hired for the occasion, the master of the mansion had taken his station in the nook of a window commanding the common entrance, and was there stealthily noting, as the company, severally or one group after another, mounted the doorsteps, who had honored his cards of invitation whom he wished to see there, and who had come whom he wished to have stayed away. He was a well-favored man, somewhat past the middle age of life, with regular features, and a good general appearance, but with one of those unsettled, fluctuating countenances which are usually found in men who, while affecting, perhaps, a show of independence, lack self-reliance, fixed principles, or some other of the essential elements of character. And such indeed was Mark Elwood, the reputedly wealthy merchant whom we have thus introduced as one of the leading personages of our story. Though often moved with kind and generous impulses, he yet was governed by no settled principles of benevolence; though often shrewd and sagacious, he yet possessed no true wisdom; and, though often bold and resolute in action, he yet lacked the faith and firmness of true courage. In short, he might be regarded as a fair representative of the numerous class we are daily meeting with in life,—men who do many good things, but more questionable ones; who undertake much, accomplish little; bustle, agitate, and thus contrive to occupy the largest space in public attention; but who, when sifted, are found, as Pope maliciously says of women, to
"have no character at all."
After pursuing his observations a while, with an air of disappointment or indifference, Elwood was about to turn away, when his eye caught a glimpse of an approaching group of guests, whose appearance at once lighted up his countenance with a smile of satisfaction, and he half-ejaculated: "There they come!—the solid men of Boston. The presence of these, with the others who will all serve as trumpeters of the affair, will quell every suspicion of my credit till some new strike shall place me beyond danger. Yes, just as I calculated, the money spent will be the cunningest investment I have made these six months. But who is that tagging along alone after the rest?" he added, his countenance suddenly changing to a troubled look, and slowly, and with a strange emphasis, pronouncing the name, "GAUT GURLEY!" he hurried away from his post of observation.
The person whose obviously unexpected appearance among the arriving guests had so much disturbed our host, having leisurely brought up the rear, now paused a few paces from the door, and took a deliberate survey of all that was visible through the windows of the scene passing within. He was a man of a personal appearance not likely to be forgotten. His strong, upright, well-proportioned frame, full, rounded head, and unexceptionable features, were unusually well calculated to arrest the attention, and, at a little distance especially, to secure the favorable impressions of others; but those impressions faded away, or gave place to opposite emotions, on a nearer approach, for then the beholder read something in the countenance that met his, which made him pause,—something which he could not fathom, but which at once disinclined him to any acquaintance with the man to whom that countenance belonged.
Perhaps it should be viewed as one of the kindest provisions of Providence, made in aid of our rights and instincts of self-preservation, that man should not be able wholly to hide the secrets of his heart from his fellow-men,—that the human countenance should be so formed that no schooling, however severe, can prevent it from betraying the evil thoughts and purposes which may be lurking within. It is said that God alone can read the secrets of the heart; but we have often thought that He has imparted to us more of this attribute of His omniscience than that which is vouchsafed us in any one of our other faculties; or, in other words, that, to the skill we may acquire by practice in reading the countenance, He has added something of the light of intuition, to enable us to pierce into the otherwise impenetrable recesses of the bosom, and thus guard ourselves against the designs which may there be disclosed, and which, but for that, the deceptions of the tongue might forever conceal. All this, we are aware, may pass as a mere supposition; yet we think its correctness will be very generally attested by officers of justice, policemen, jailers, and all those who have had much experience in the detection of crime.
But, whether the doctrine is applicable or not in the generality of cases, it was certainly so in that of the unbidden guest whose appearance we have attempted to describe. Unlike Elwood, he had character, but all those who closely noted him were made to feel that his character was a dark and dangerous one.
After Gaut, for such he was called among his acquaintance, had leisurely run his eye from window to window of the many lighted apartments of the house, and scanned, as he did, with many a sneering smile, the appearances within, as long as suited his pleasure, he boldly walked in, and, with all the assurance of the most favored, proceeded to mingle with the company.
On quitting his lookout, Elwood repaired to the reception-room, where Mrs. Elwood, the mistress of the mansion, was already in waiting, nerving herself to perform, as acceptably as she could, her part of the stereotyped ceremony of receiving the guests, and exchanging with them the salutations and commonplaces of the evening. Mrs. Elwood, though not beautiful, nor even handsome, was yet every way a comely woman; and the quiet dignity and the unpretending simplicity of her manner, together with a certain intelligent and appreciating cast of countenance, which always rested on her placid, features, seldom failed to impress those who approached her with feelings of kindness and respect. She looked pale and fatigued, from the labors and anxieties she had gone through in the preparations for the present occasion; and, in addition to this, which is ever the penalty to the mistress of the house in getting up a large party, there was an air of sadness in her looks that told of secret sorrows which were not much mitigated by all the show of wealth that surrounded her.
By this time the company, having mostly arrived and divested themselves of hats, gloves, bonnets, shawls, together with all other of the loose etceteras of dress then in vogue, and carefully consulted the confidential mirrors to secure that adjustment of collars, curls, smirks, and smiles which are deemed most favorable for effect in public, were now shown into the suit of apartments where the host and hostess were waiting to receive them.
But it is far from our purpose to attempt a detailed description of the thousand little nothings which go to make up the character of one of these great fashionable parties. Who ever came from one the wiser? Not one guest in ten, probably, is found engaged in a conversation in which the ordinary powers of the speaker are exercised. A forced glee and smartness seem everywhere to prevail among the company, who are continually sacrificing their common sense in their eager attempts to appear gay and witty. Who was ever made really happier by being in such an assemblage? Although the participants may exhibit to casual observation the semblance of enjoyment, yet a close inspection will show that they are only acting, and that, as we have already intimated, their apparent enjoyment is no more deserving the name of social happiness than that which is often represented as enjoyed by a company of stage actors, in the harassing performance of the fictitious scenes of some genteel comedy. Who was ever made any better? Any rational discussion tending to exalt or purify the mind would be deemed out of place; and any moral teachings would be ridiculed or find no listeners. And, finally, who was ever made healthier? In the bad air generated among so many breaths in confined apartments, the high nervous excitement that usually prevails among the company, and the exposure to cold or dampness to which their unprepared systems are often subjected in returning home, Death has marked many a victim for his own; while, at the best, lassitude and depression are sure to follow, from which it will require days to recover.
In these strictures on overgrown parties, we would not, of course, be understood as intending to include the smaller social gatherings, where men and women do not, as they are prone to do in crowds, lose their sense of personal responsibility, in deporting themselves like rational beings; for such doubtless often lead to pleasing and instructive interchange of thought, and the cultivation of those little amenities of life which are scarcely less essential than the virtues themselves in the structure of good society.
But it is time we had returned from this digression to the characters and incidents immediately connected with the action of our tale.
A short time after the frosts of formality, which usually attend the introductory scenes of such assemblages, had melted away and given place to the noisy frivolities of the evening, and while the bustling host, and pale, anxious-looking hostess, were together taking their rounds among their three hundred guests, bestowing their attentions on the more neglected, calling out the more modest, and exchanging civilities with all,—while this was passing, suddenly there arose from without a confused noise, as of quick movements and mingling voices, which, from its character and the direction whence it came, obviously indicated some altercation, or other disturbance, at the outer door. This attracting the quickened attention of Mr. and Mrs. Elwood, the former left his companion, and was threading his way through the throng, when he was met by a servant, who in a flurried under-tone said:
"There is out here at the door, Mr. Elwood, a sort of a countryfied, odd-looking old fellow, in rusty brown clothes, that has been insisting on coming in, without being invited here to-night, and without telling his business or even giving his name. And he pressed so hard that we had to drive him back off the steps; but he refused to go away, even then, and kept asking where Mark was."
"Mark! why, that is my given name: didn't you know it?" said Elwood, rebukingly.
"No, sir, I didn't," replied the fashionable pro tempore lackey. "And if I had, my orders has always been on sech occasions not to admit any but the invited, who won't send in their names, or tell their business. And I generally calculate to go by Gunter, and do the thing up genteel."
"Well, well," said Elwood, impatiently cutting short the other in the defence of his professional character, and leading the way to the door, "well, well, we had better see who he is, perhaps."
When they reached the front entrance, they caught, by means of the reflected light of the entry and chambers, an imperfect view of the object of their proposed scrutiny, walking up and down the bricked pathway leading to the house. But, not being able to identify the new-comer with any one of his acquaintances, at that distance, Elwood walked down and confronted him; when, after a momentary pause, he siezed the supposed intruder by the hand, and, in a surprised and agitated tone, exclaimed:
"My brother Arthur! How came you here?"
"By steam and stage."
"Not what I meant: but no matter. We were not expecting you; and I fear the waiters have made a sad mistake."
"As bad an one as I did, perhaps, in declining to be catechized at my brother's door."
"No, you were right enough; but the waiters, being only here for the extra occasion,—the bit of flare-up you see we have here to-night,—and not knowing you, thought they must do as others do at such times. So overlook the blunder, if you will, and walk in."
Mark Elwood, much chagrined and discomposed at the discovery of such an untoward first reception of his brother, now ushered him into the brilliantly-lighted hall, where the two stood in such singular contrast that no stranger would have ever taken them for brothers,—Mark being, as we have before described him, a good-sized, and, in the main, a good-looking man; while the other, whom we have introduced as Arthur Elwood, was of a diminutive size, with commonplace features, and a severe, forbidding countenance, made so, perhaps, by intense application to business, together with the unfavorable effect caused by a blemished and sightless eye.
"Well, brother," said Mark, after a hesitating and awkward pause, "shall I look you up a private room, or will you go in among the company,—that is, if you consider yourself in trim to join them?"
"Your rooms must all be in use, and I should make less trouble to go in and be lost in the crowd. My trim will not kill anybody, probably," was the dry reply to the indirect hint of the other.
In all this Mark's better judgment coincided; but he had no moral courage, and, fearing the cut and color of his somewhat outre-looking brother's garments might excite the remarks of his fashionable guests, he would have gladly disposed of him in some private manner till the company had departed. Finding him, however, totally insensible to all such considerations, he concluded to make the best of it, and accordingly at once led the way into the guest-crowded apartments.
Here, contrary to his doubting brother's expectation, Arthur Elwood, whose character appeared to be known to several of the wealthier guests, was soon treated with much respect, for, in addition to what a previous knowledge of him secured, Mrs. Elwood had promptly come forward to greet him, and be cordially greeted in return, and, unlike her husband, had not hesitated to bestow on him publicly the most marked attentions. As soon, however, as she had thus testified her sense of the superiority of worth over outward appearance, and thus, by her delicate tact, given him the consideration with the company which she thought belonged to the brother of her husband, she gracefully relinquished him to the latter; when the two, by tacit mutual consent, sought a secluded corner, and seated themselves for a private conversation.
"As I said, I did not expect you, Arthur," commenced Mark Elwood, in the unsteady and hesitating tone of one about to broach a matter in which he felt a deep interest. "I was not looking for you here at all, these days; but presumed, when I wrote you, that, if you concluded to grant the favor I asked, you would transact the business through the mail."
"Loans of money are not always favors, Mark," responded the other, thoughtfully; "and when I make them, I like to know whether they promise any real benefit. I could, as you say, have transacted the business through the mail, but I confess, Mark, I have lately had some misgivings and doubts whether your commercial fabric here in Boston was not too big and broad for the foundation; and I thought I would come, see, and judge for myself."
"But I only asked for the loan of a few thousands," said Mark, meekly. "The fact is, Arthur, that, owing to some bad luck and disappointments in money matters, I am, just now, a little embarrassed about meeting some of my engagements; and I trust you will not refuse to give me a lift. What say you, Arthur?"
"I don't say, but will see and decide," replied the other. "But, Mark," he added, after a pause, "Mark, what will this useless parade here to-night cost you?"
"O, a mere trifle,—a few hundreds, perhaps."
"And you think hundreds well spent, when you are wanting thousands to pay your debts, do you?"
"O, you know, Arthur, a man, to keep up his credit, must display a little once in a while."
"No, I did not know that, Mark. I did not know that the throwing away of hundreds would help a man's credit in thousands, especially with those whose opinion would be of any use to him. But go," added the speaker, rising, "go and see to your company: I can take care of myself."
The brothers, rising from an interview in which they had felt, perhaps, nearly an equal degree of secret embarrassment,—the one believing that his last hope hung on the result, and the other feeling conscious of entering on a most ungracious duty,—now separated, and mingled with the gay throng, who, swaying hither and thither, and, seemingly without end or aim, moving round and round their limited range of apartments, like the froth in the circling eddies of a whirlpool, continued to laugh, flirt, and chatter on, till the advent of the last act of the social farce,—the throwing open of a suit of hitherto sealed apartments, and the welcome disclosure of the varied and costly delicacies of the loaded refreshment tables, which the company, by their strong and simultaneous rush thitherward, the rattling of knives and forks, spoons and glasses, the rapid popping of champagne corks, and the low, eager hum of gratified voices that followed, evidently deemed the best, as well as the closing, act of the evening's entertainment.
While this scene was in progress, Gaut Gurley, who had been for some time in vain watching the opportunity, caught Mark Elwood unoccupied in one of the vacated apartments, and abruptly approached and confronted him.
"Well, what now, Gaut?" exclaimed Elwood, with an assumed air of pettishness, after finding there was no further chance of escaping an interview which he had evidently been trying to avoid; "what would you have now?"
"I would just know whether you intend to keep your engagement," replied Gurley, fixing his black, quivering eyes keenly on the other.
"To give me a chance to win back that money."
"Which you demand when you have taken from me an hundred to one!"
"And who had a better right? Through whose means did you make your fortune? Besides this, haven't I always given you a fair chance to win back all you could?"
"I want no more of such chances,"
"But you promised; and I want to know whether you mean to keep that promise or not."
"Supposing I do, you would not have me leave home to-night, would you?"
"But my brother, as you have already discovered, I presume, has just arrived on a visit; and you know I can't decently leave him."
"And what do I care for that? Say whether you will meet me at the old room, or not, as soon as your company have cleared out?"
"You are unreasonable, cruel, Gaut."
"Then say you will not go, and see what will come of it, Mark Elwood!"
"I must go—I will go, Gaut," replied Elwood, turning pale at the last intimation. "As soon as I get rid of the company, I will start directly for the place."
"Well, just as you can afford," said Gaut, doggedly, as he turned on his heel, and made his way out of the house.
Mark Elwood drew a long breath as he was thus relieved of the other's presence, and was leaving the room, when Mrs. Elwood, who had felt much disturbed at discovering among her guests one of whose questionable character and connection with her husband she was already apprised, and who, from an adjoining apartment, had caught a slight glimpse of the meeting just described, and enough of the conversation to enable her to guess at its import, hurriedly came forward, and, in a voice tremulous from suppressed emotion, said:
"You surely are not going out to-night, Mr. Elwood?"
"No—that is—only for a short time," he said, hesitating, and a little confused at the discovery of his design, which a second thought told him she had made; "only for a short time. But don't stop me to talk now; you see the company are retiring. I must see the gentlemen off."
"Mr. Elwood, I must be heard," persisted the troubled and anxious wife. "I cannot bear to have you go off, and leave your only brother, whom you have not seen for years, and for such company! O Mr. Elwood, how can you let that bad man—"
"Hush! don't get into such a stew. I shall soon be back," interrupted the other. "You can excuse my absence. There, I hear them inquiring for me. I must go," he added, abruptly breaking away, and leaving his grieved companion to hide her emotions as she best could from the guests who were now seen approaching for their parting salutations.
In a few minutes the company had dispersed for their respective homes, and with them, also, had unnoticed slipped away their infatuated host.
"At first, he, busy, plodding poor, Earned, saved, and daily swelled his store; But soon Ambition's summits rose, And Avarice dug his mine of woes."
For the better understanding of some of the allusions of the preceding chapter, and of others that may yet appear in different parts of our tale, as well, indeed, as for a better appreciation of the whole, we will here turn aside from the thread of the narrative just commenced, to take a brief retrospect of the leading events and circumstances with which the previous lives of the several personages we have introduced had been connected, and among which their characters had been shaped and their destinies determined.
Some twenty two or three years previous to the juncture we have been describing, Arthur and Mark Elwood, by the fruits of their unremitting industry as laborers on a farm in summers, and as pedlars of what they could best buy and sell in winters, added to the few hundred dollars patrimony they each inherited, were enabled, in a few years, to realize the object of their early ambition, in the opening of a small retail store, in one of the little outskirt villages of northern New-Hampshire.
Such, like that of hundreds of others among us who now count their wealth by half millions, was the slender beginning of these two brothers. And, although they were from the first, as we have seen them at the last, as different in their general characters as they were in their persons, they yet got on very well together; for, however they might disagree respecting the modes and means of acquisition, they were always as one in regard to the great result each alike had in view, and that was to make money and be rich. And, by a sort of tacit understanding, falling into the departments of business best suited to their different tastes and capacities, the quiet, cautious, calculating, and systematic Arthur confined himself to the store, kept the books, contrived the ways and means, and, in short, did the principal head-work of the establishment; while Mark, being of a more stirring turn, and, from his brisk bon homme manner and less scrupulous disposition, better calculated for drumming up customers and securing bargains for the store, did most of the outdoor business, riding about the country, contracting for produce, securing barter deal, and making himself, in all things, the runner and trumpeter of the company. At night they usually met together to compare notes and report progress; and they were never happier than when they sat down in their small store-room, hemmed in and surrounded by casks of nails, quintals of codfish, farming tools, etc., on one side, and narrow shelves of cheap calicos, India cottons, and flaunting ribbons, on the other, and recounted to each other the business and bargains of the day. Thus the two, working on, like the spring and balance-wheel of some piece of mechanism, in harmony together, soon placed themselves beyond all fears of failure, and seemed happy and contented with their situation and prospects.
This situation of affairs, however, was not destined to be of very long continuance. Not long after finding themselves safely on the highway to independence, they very naturally began to think of selecting, from among the fair young customers of their store, the ones who might make them eligible companions for life. And, as the wayward love-fates would have it, they both secretly fixed their affections on one and the same girl,—the pretty and sensible Alice Gregg, who, though a plain farmer's daughter, was, to the vexation and envy of her numerous rustic suitors, to be won by nothing short of one of the village merchants. Alice was not long in discovering her advantage, nor in deciding to avail herself of it, so far as to confine her election to one of these, her two undeclared lovers. And, after balancing a while in her mind the account between her judgment, which would have declared for the reserved but sterling Arthur, and her fancy, which clamored hard for the manly-looking and more social Mark, she finally yielded the reins to the latter, and took measures accordingly. After this, Arthur's taste in selecting a piece of goods did not, as before, seem to be appreciated. Her handkerchief was never dropped where he had any chance to pick it up; and she was never quite ready to go till Mark was nearest at hand to help her into her wagon or side-saddle. By this delicate system of female tactics, common with girls of more pretensions than Alice, she effectually repressed the advances of the one, and as effectually encouraged those of the other; and the result, as she had anticipated, was a declaration from Mark, an acceptance on her part, and a speedy marriage between them. Arthur's heart bled at the event; but it bled inwardly; and he had at least the consolation of believing that no one suspected the state of his feelings, except, perhaps, Alice, and he was not unwilling that she should know them. He therefore put the best face on the matter he could,—appeared wholly unconcerned,—attended the wedding, and with forced gayety openly wished the new married couple the happiness which he secretly wished was his own. The tender passion had been a new thing to the money-loving Arthur. By its elevating influences, he, who had looked for enjoyment only in wealth, had been enabled to raise his vision to a higher sphere of happiness. And thus to lose the bright glimpses, and be thrown back to earth again, was, in reality, however he might disguise the fact from others, a serious blow to his feelings, and one, indeed, which soon mainly led to a movement on his part that gave a new turn to his apparent destinies, and a no less one, probably, to those of his then almost envied brother Mark. For, finding it impossible to feel his former interest in business, in a place whose associations had become painful to him, he secretly resolved to leave it as soon as he believed he could do so without leading to any surmises respecting the true cause of the change he contemplated. Accordingly, in a few months, he began to suggest his own unfitness for making a profitable partner in country trade, and finally came out with a direct proposition to his brother to buy him out at a sum which he knew would be a temptingly low one. And the result was, that the proposition was accepted, "the partnership dissolved by mutual consent," and the released Arthur, with his portion, soon on his way to one of the eastern seaports, to set up business, as he soon did, for himself alone.
The withdrawal of Arthur Elwood deprived this little establishment of its only really valuable guidance, and left it to the chance fortunes of greater gains or greater losses than would have been likely to occur under the cautious and hazard-excluding system of business which he had adopted for its control. But, nothing for a year or two occurring to induce Mark Elwood to depart from the system under which the business had been conducted, and Arthur's prudent maxims of trade, to which he had been accustomed to defer, remaining fresh in his mind, he naturally kept on in the old routine, which he was the more willing to follow, as by it he found himself clearly on the advance. He was blessed in his family; for his wife, who had no undue aspirations for wealth or show, had not only proved an efficient helper by her economy and good counsels, but added still more to his gratification by bringing him a promising boy. Being the only trader of the village, or hamlet it might more properly be called, he was conscious of being the object of that peculiar kind of favor and respect which was then—more freely than at the present day, perhaps—accorded to the country merchant by the masses among whom he resided. And, finding his still comparatively moderate expectations thus every day fully realized, he was satisfied with his condition in the present, and hopeful and happy in the prospects it presented in the future; for the demon of unlawful gain had not then tempted him into forbidden paths by the lure of sudden riches.
But that demon at length came in the shape of Gaut Gurley. From what part of the country this singular and questionable personage originally came, was unknown, even in the neighboring village (which was within the borders of Maine) where he had recently located himself with a young wife and child. And, as he very rarely made any allusions to his own personal affairs, every thing relating to his origin, life, and employments, previous to his appearance in this region, was a matter of mere conjecture, and many a dark surmise, also, we should add, respecting his true character. For the last few years, however, he was known to have followed, at the appropriate seasons of the year, the business of trapping, or trading for furs with the Indians, around the northern lakes. He had several times passed through the village on his returns from his northern tours, and called on the Elwoods, whose contrasted characters he seemed soon to understand. But he pressed no bargains upon them for his peltries; for, disliking the close questionings and scrutinizing glances of Arthur, and finding he could make no final trade with Mark without the assent of the former, he gave up all attempts of the kind, and did not call again during the continuance of the partnership, nor till this time; when, finding that Mark was in trade alone, he announced his intention of spending some time in the village, to see what arrangements could be made, as he at first held out to Elwood, for establishing this as his place for the regular sales or deposit of his furs.
But the fur traffic, whatever it might have been formerly, was now not the main, if any part of the object he had in view. The times had changed, closing many of the old avenues of trade, but opening new ones to tempt the ever restless spirit of gain. And, although the fur trade was still profitable, there was yet another springing up, which, for those who, like him, had no scruples about engaging in it, promised to become far more so. The restrictions which it had been the policy of our government to throw around commerce, in the incipient stages of our last national quarrel with Great Britain, had caused an unprecedented rise in the prices of silks and other fine fabrics of foreign import. This had put whatever there was of the two alleged leading traits of Yankee character, acquisitiveness and ingenuity, on the qui vive to obtain those goods at the former prices, for the purpose of home speculation. And Canada, being separated by a land boundary only from the States, presented to the greedy eyes of hundreds of village mammonists, who, like Elwood, were plodding along at the slow jog of twenty per cent profits, opportunities of so purchasing as to quadruple their gains; which were quite too severe a test for their slender stock of patriotism to withstand. It was but a natural consequence, therefore, that all of them whose love of gain was not overcome by their fear of loss by detection and the forfeiture of their goods, should soon be found, in spite of all the vigilance and activity of the host of custom-house officers by whom the government had manned the Canadian lines, secretly engaged in that contraband traffic.
The history of smuggling as carried on between the Northern States and Canada, from the enactment of the embargo at the close of 1807, and especially from the enactment of the more stringent non-intercourse law of 1810, to the declaration of war in 1812, and even, to a greater or less extent, to the proclamation of peace in 1815, is a portion of our annals that yet remains almost wholly unwritten. Although the contraband trade in question was doubtless more or less followed along the entire extent of our northern boundaries, from east to west, yet along no portions of them half so extensively, probably, as those, of Vermont and New Hampshire, which, from their close contiguity to Montreal and Quebec, the only importing cities of the Canadas, afforded the most tempting facilities and the best chances for success. Along these borders, indeed, it was for years one almost continuous scene of wild warfare between the custom-house officers and their assistants, and the smugglers and their abettors, both parties carrying arms, and the smugglers, especially, going armed to the teeth. In these skirmishes many were, at different times, killed outright; many more were missing, even on the side of the officials, for whom dark fates were naturally conjectured; while hundreds, on both sides, were crippled or otherwise seriously wounded. Sometimes, when a double sleigh, or wagon, deeply laden with smuggled goods, in charge of three or four stout and resolute fellows aboard, who, with as many more, perhaps, of their confederates on horseback or in light teams, before and behind, were making their way, at full speed, with their prize, from the line to some secret and safe depository in the interior, was suddenly beset and brought to a stand by an equal or greater number of government officials, deeply intent on a seizure, a most furious conflict would ensue, in which the combatants, growing desperate for the seizure or defence of the prize, would ply their hard yeoman fists, clubs, loaded whipstocks, or whatever was at hand, with terrible effect, and often prolong the melee till the snow or ground was encrimsoned with blood, and scarcely an uninjured man remained on the ground. Sometimes the besetting officials were made prisoners, and marched off at the cocked pistol's mouth into the deep woods, and, after being led forward and backward through the labyrinths of the forest till bewildered and lost, were suddenly left to find their way out as they best could,—a feat which there was no danger of their accomplishing till long after both the smugglers and their goods were beyond the reach of pursuers. And sometimes the smugglers, when closely pressed and seeing no hope of rescue if taken, as their last resort, drew their dirks and pistols; and wo to the official who then persisted in attempting a seizure.
But the system of tactics more generally practiced by the smugglers was that of craft and concealment, carried out by some ingenious measure to prevent all suspicion of the times and places of their movements, by travelling in the night or in stormy weather, or in the most unfrequented routes, and, when pursued, by putting the pursuers on false scents, or by feints of running away with loads of empty boxes to mislead pursuit, till the goods, which had been previously taken to some place of temporary concealment, could be removed from the vicinity of the search and sent on their destination.
Such were the general features of the illicit traffic which characterized the period of which we are treating,—a traffic which laid the foundations of many a village fortune, whose dashing heirs would not probably be very willing to acknowledge the true source from which the wealth and position they may now be enjoying was derived,—and finally a traffic which, in its attending homicides and desperate affrays, its hot pursuits and marvellous escapes, its curious concealments and artful subterfuges, and, lastly, in the family and neighborhood feuds which it left behind, would furnish materials for a series of tales as wild and romantic, if not always as creditable to the actors, as any thing ever yet spread before the public.
It was this questionable business which was then occupying the thoughts of Gaut Gurley, and in which it was his aim to involve Mark Elwood, whom he had pitched on for the purpose, as not only a man of sufficient means, with no scruples which could not be overcome, but a man whom he believed he could make dependent on him, when once enlisted, and to whom he could dictate terms for his own services. And it is no wonder that a man of his dark cunning, working on one of the obtuse moral sense, the love of money, and the thoughtlessness of consequences, of Elwood, should, as he did, soon completely succeed in his objects. For, after having kindled Elwood's political prejudices against the embargo law, which was held up to be such an outrage on the commercial rights of the North that it were almost a merit to violate it, Gaut proceeded to show how enormous were the profits to be made in this trade, and how safely the goods might be smuggled in, through the back roads and forest routes with which he was familiar, by employing Frenchmen, as he could, at a cheap rate, to bring them in large panniers on the backs of their Canadian ponies, or by engaging Indians, who could be enlisted for even less wages, to bring them in knapsacks through the woods. And so clearly did he demonstrate all this to the mind of Elwood, that the latter, being unable any longer to resist the temptation of thus securing the gains of a traffic, by the side of which the small profits of his store at home dwindled into contempt, soon resolved to engage in it.
From this time Gaut was in high favor with Elwood. The two, indeed, seemed to have suddenly become inseparable. They were always found together, and always engaged in some closely private conversation, the purport of which no others were permitted to know, or were enabled to conjecture, except from the new business movement which was observed soon to follow the forming of their mysterious connection. And that movement was that Elwood put his store in charge of a clerk, and, giving out that he was about to engage more extensively in the fur trade, which would require him to be often absent, went off with a strong and fleet double team, in a northerly direction, with Gaut for his only companion.
With the advent of this new era in the life of Elwood, every thing became changed about his establishment. His bustling presence, with his bantering, off-hand, and communicative talk, no longer enlivened the store and neighborhood; and people, who before seemed to know every thing about his business and plans, now knew nothing. For he was now most of the time absent in conducting his operations at the north, or in his stealthy journeyings thence to the cities, to receive and dispose of the valuable packages which he had put on their passage. He generally came and departed in the night, and, even during his brief stays at home, he kept himself secluded, seeming to wish to be seen as little as possible. All this, of course, led to considerable talk and various speculations; but he so well shrouded his movements from the public, and kept afloat so many plausible stories to account for his change of business, that he prevented suspicions from taking any definite shape about home, or spreading abroad to any extent that endangered his operations, although those operations were constantly continued for years, and, from cautious and small beginnings, at length became more bold, extensive, and successful, perhaps, than any thing of the kind ever carried on in the interior of New England. But there was one whose suspicions of the true character of the business in which he was engaged, notwithstanding his denials and evasions, even to her, and whose fears and anxieties on account of the dangers she believed he was constantly incurring, not only from seizure of his property and the personal violence to which he was exposed in trying to defend it, but from his association of reckless confederates, especially Gaut Gurley, of whose dark character, as little as she had seen of him, she was already filled with an instinctive dread,—there was one whose suspicions, and consequent anxieties, he could never succeed in quieting; and that was his discreet and faithful wife. She had, during the first year or two of his new career, often expostulated with him on the doubtful character of his business; but he, by always making light of her fears, by telling her some truth and withholding more, and disclosing as great a part of his astonishing gains as he supposed would pass with her for honest acquisitions, generally silenced, if he did not convince, her; and she, finding him always light-hearted and satisfied with himself, when he came home, finally ceased her remonstrances, having concluded she would try to conquer her doubts and fears, or at least say no more on the subject.
At length, however, after a prolonged absence on a tour, in which he had a large venture at stake, he came home in a greatly altered mood. His usual buoyancy of spirits was gone; he appeared gloomy and abstracted; and, although, in reply to the anxious inquiries of his wife, he represented himself to have been entire successful,—even to a greater extent than ever before,—yet it was quite obvious that something very untoward, to say the least, must have happened to him. He would not leave his house after dark, he placed loaded pistols within the reach of his hand when he went to bed, and he would often start up wildly from his sleep. His whole conduct, indeed, was such as to excite the deeper concern of his perplexed wife, for she feared it betokened his connection with something very wrong,—something that had brought him into deadly peril,—something, perhaps, done to others, which made her tremble to think of, but something, at all events, which made her more than ever dread to have him go back again to the scene of his operations. But of the last-named of her fears she was shortly relieved; for, to her agreeable surprise, he soon assured her of his determination to break off entirely from the business he had been pursuing, and, as much to her gratification as to the evident vexation of Gaut Gurley, who had come on to look his employer up, he firmly persisted in carrying out his resolution. Nor was this all. He rapidly drew his business to a close, broke off his old associations, privately left the place, and, in a few weeks, sent for his family to join him in Boston, where it appeared he had been for some time secretly transferring his capital, and where he had now established himself in business, with all the means required, even there, of doing it to the best advantage. And for some years he did engage in business to advantage, the same strangely good luck attending him, and prospering wonderfully in all he undertook, till he gained the reputation of being among the wealthiest of the city. But the spoiler came in a second appearance of Gaut Gurley, who, having squandered in the country the bounteous sums of money which Elwood had paid him for his services, now followed the latter to the city. And, with the coming of that personage, together with the foolish ambition that had, about that time, seized Elwood, to outshine some of his city competitors in display and expensive living, commenced the wane of a fortune which, as large as it was, it had required but two short years to bring to the verge on which we represented its unhappy master as standing in the opening scene of our story.
Having now related all we designed in this retrospect of events, we will return from the somewhat long but necessary digression, and take up the thread of the narrative where we left it.
"I strive in vain to set the evil forth. The words that should sufficiently accurse And execrate the thing, hath need Come glowing from the lips of eldest hell. Among the saddest in the den of woe, Most sad; among the damn'd, most deeply damn'd."
Once on a time, before the dark catalogue of vices was made complete by the wicked inventions of men, or the evil made to counterbalance the good in the world, the Arch Enemy of mankind, deeply sensible of the vantage-ground occupied by the antagonistic Being, and anxiously casting about him for the means of securing an equilibrium of power, called around him a small company, consisting of those of his Infernal subjects whom he had previously noted for their excellence, in subtility and devilish invention, and, after fully explaining his wants and wishes to his keenly appreciating auditory, made proclamation among them, that the Demon who should invent a new vice, which, under the name and guise of Pastime, should be best calculated to seduce men from the paths of virtue, pervert their hearts, ruin them for earth and educate them for hell, should be awarded a crown of honor, with rank and prerogative second only to his own. He then, with many a gracious and encouraging word to incite in them a spirit of emulation, and nerve them for exertion in the important enterprise thus set before them, dismissed them, to go forth among men, observe, study, and come again before him on a designated time, to report the results of their respective doings, and submit them to his decision. Eager to do the will of their lord and Lucifer; as well as to gain the tempting distinctions involved in his award, the commissioned, fiend-group dispersed, and scattered themselves over the earth, which was understood to be their field of operations. And, after noting, as long as they chose, all the different phases of human society, the secret inclinations of those composing it, their follies, weaknesses, and points most vulnerable to temptation, they each returned to the dark dominions whence they came, to cogitate in retirement, concoct and reduce to form those schemes for securing the great object in view, which their observations and discoveries on earth had suggested.
At the time appointed for the hearing and decision, the demoniac competitors again assembled before their imperial arbiter; not this time in secret conclave, but in the presence of thousands of congregated fiends, who, having been apprised of the new plan about to be presented for peopling the Commonwealth of Hell with recruits from earth, had come up in all directions from their dismal abodes, to hear those plans reported, and witness the awarding of the prize for the one judged most worthy of adoption. Lucifer then mounted his throne, commanded silence, and ordered the competitors to advance and present, in succession, such plans as they would lay before him for his consideration and decision. They did so; and one of them, a young and genteel-looking devil, to whom, from a suppose congeniality of tastes and feelings with the objects of his care, had been especially assigned the duty of supervising the fashionable walks of society, now stepped confidently forward and said:
"I present for your consideration, most honored Lucifer, I present FASHION as one of those social institutions of men which might the most easily become, with a little fostering at our hands, to us the most productive of vices, under a name least calculated to alarm. It already holds an almost omnipotent sway over the wealthier, or what they call the higher, classes of society, who hesitate at no sins that can be committed with its sanction; and the disposition is every day growing stronger and stronger, among all classes, to fall in with its behests. Encourage its progress, make its rule absolute with all, and the world's boasted morality would trouble us, devils, no more. This would be the direct and natural result among the most wealthy, who would leave no vice unpracticed, no sin uncommitted, provided they could excuse themselves under plea that it was fashionable. With those of more limited means the effect would be still better; for devotion to Fashion would beget extravagance—extravagance, poverty—poverty, desperation—desperation, crime; so with all classes, the result, for our purpose, would be equally favorable and much the same. The new vice I therefore propose is the one to be made out of, and go under the name of, FASHION."
"There may be something in this conception," said Lucifer, thoughtfully, after the speaker had closed; "but is it safe against all contingencies? What if the world should take it into their heads to make it fashionable to be good?"
"Not the least danger of that," rejoined the other, promptly. "That is a contingency about as likely to happen as that your highness should turn Christian," he added, with a sardonic grin.
"You are right," responded Lucifer; "and, as your scheme comes within the rule, on the score of originality, we will reserve it for consideration."
"My plan," said the next demon who spoke, "consists in inciting man to the general use of intoxicating drinks, under the plea of taking a social glass; for, let the use of these become general, and all men were devils ready made, and—-"
"True, most true!" interrupted Lucifer; "but that is not new. That is a vice I invented myself, as long ago as the time Noah was floating about in the ark, and the first man I caught with it was the old patriarch himself. Since then it has been my most profitable agent in the earth, bringing more recruits to my kingdom than all the other vices put together. But our present movement was to insure something new. The plan, therefore, does not come within the rule, and must be set aside."
"The new vice which I propose," said the third demon who came forward, "is involved in the general cultivation of music, which I contend would render men effeminate, indolent, voluptuous, and finally vicious and corrupt, so that whole nations might eventually be kept out of heaven and secured for hell through its deteriorating influences."
"I am not a little dubious about trying to make a vice out of music, which would be all reliable for our purposes," remarked Lucifer, with a negative shake of the head. "I fear it might prove a sword which would cut both ways. It may, it is true, be doing a pretty fair business just now in some localities; but methinks I already see, in the dim vista of the earth's future, a cunning Wesley springing up, and exhorting his brethren 'Not to let the Devil have all the good tunes, but appropriate them to the service of the Lord.' Now if the religious world should have wit enough, as I greatly fear me they would, to follow the sagacious hint of such a leader, they might make music an agency which would enlist two followers for the white banner of Heaven where it would one for the red banner of Hell. The experiment would be one of too doubtful expediency to warrant the trial. The proposition, therefore, cannot be entertained."
Many other methods of creating an efficient new vice were then successively proposed by the different competitors; but they were all, for some deficiency, or want of originality, in turn, rejected, till one more only remained to be announced; when its author, an old, dark-eyed demon, who was much noted for his infernal cunning, and who, conscious perhaps of the superiority of his device, had contrived to defer its announcement till the last, now came forward, and said:
"The scheme I have devised for the accomplishment of the common object of the patriotic enterprise which your Highness has put afoot, proposes a new vice, which, passing under the guise of innocent pastime, will not only, by itself, be fully equal to any other of the many vices now known among men, for its certainty to lure them to its embrace, fascinate, infatuate, deprave, and destroy them, but will insure the exercise and combine the powers of them all. It addresses itself to the intellectual by the implied challenge it holds out to them to make a trial of their skill; it appears to the unfortunate in business as a welcome friend, which is rarely turned away; it presents to pride and vanity the means of gratification that are not to be rejected; it holds out to avarice an irresistible temptation; it begets habits of drunkenness; and thus insures all the fruits of that desolating vice; it engenders envy, hatred, and the spirit of revenge; in short, it brings into play every evil thought and passion that ever entered the head and heart of man, while it the most securely holds its victims, and most speedily hunts them down to ruin and death."
"The name? the name?" eagerly shouted an hundred voices from the excited fiend-throng around.
"The name," resumed the speaker, in reply, "the name by which I propose to christen this new and terrible device of mine, to counteract the power of virtue, and curtail the dominions of Heaven, is GAMBLING!"
"Gambling! Gambling!" responded all hell, in thunders of applause; "and Gambling let it be," shouted Lucifer, as the prize was thus awarded by acclamation to the distinguished inventor of Gambling.
From this supposable scene among the demons, we pass, by no unnatural transition, to a kindred one among men.
In a back, secluded room, in the third story of a public house in Boston, of questionable respectability, there might have been found, a few hours after the dispersion of the party before described, a small band of men sitting around a table, intently engaged in games of chance, in which money was at stake; while on a sideboard stood several bottles of different kinds of liquors, with a liberal supply of crackers and cigars. Of this company, two, who have been already introduced to the reader,—Mark Elwood and Gaut Gurley,—seemed to be especially pitted against each other in the game. It was now deep into the night, and Elwood said something about going home. But his remark being received only with jeers by the company, he sank into an abashed silence and played on. Another hour elapsed, and he spoke of it again, but less decidedly. Another passed, and he seemed wholly to have forgotten his purpose; for he, as well as all the rest of the company, had, by this time, become intensely absorbed in the play, allowing themselves no respite or intermission, except to snatch occasionally a glass of liquor from the sideboard, in the entrancing business before them. And, as the sport proceeded, deeper and deeper grew the excitement among the infatuated participants, till every sense and feeling seemed lost to every thing save the result of each rapidly succeeding game; and the heat of concentrated thought and passion gleamed fiercely from every eye, and found vent, in repeated exclamations of triumph or despair, from every tongue, according to the varying fortunes of the parties engaged. On one side was heard the loud and exultant shout of the winner at his success, and on the other, the low bitter curse of the loser at his disappointment; the countenance of the one, in his joy and exultation, assuming the self-satisfied and domineering air of the victor and master, and the countenance of the other, in his grief and envy, darkening into the mingled look of the demon and the slave.
And thus played on this desperate band of gamesters till morning light, which, now stealing through the shutters of their darkened room, came and joined its voiceless monitions with those which their consciences had long since given them, in warning them to break up and return to their families, made wretched by their absence. So completely, however, had they abandoned themselves to the fatal witcheries of the play, that they heeded not even this significant admonition; but, with uneasy glances towards the windows, to note the progress of the unwelcome intrusions of day, turned with the redoubled eagerness often shown by those who know their time is limited to their hellish engagement.
Through the whole night, Fortune seemed to have held nearly an even scale between Elwood and his special adversary, Gaut Gurley, contrary to the evident anticipations of the latter, and despite all his attempts to secure an advantage. Thus far, however, he had signally failed in his purpose; and, at the last game, Elwood had even won of him the largest sum that had as yet been put at stake between them. This seemed to drive him almost to madness; and in his desperation he loudly demanded that the stakes should be doubled for the next trial. It was done. The game was played, and Gurley was again the loser.
"I will now stay no longer," said Elwood, rising. "I was forced here to-night, as you well know, Gurley, against my will, and against all reason, to stop your clamor for a chance to win back what you absurdly called your money lost at our last sitting; though Heaven knows that what I then won was but a pitiful fraction of the amount you have taken from me, within the last two years, in the same or in a worse way. I have now given you your chance,—yes, chance upon chance, all night,—till your claim has been a dozen times cancelled; and, I repeat I will stay no longer."
"You shall!" fiercely cried Gurley, with an oath. "You shall stay to give me another chance, or I will brand you as a trickster and a sneak!"
"Gentlemen," said Elwood, turning to the company, in an expostulating tone, "gentlemen, I appeal to you all if I have not—"
"I will have no appeal," interrupted Gurley, in a voice trembling with rage. "I say I will have another chance, or—"
"Take it, then," hastily interposed Elwood, as if unwilling to let the other finish the sentence; "take it: what will you have the stakes?"
"Double the last."
"Have your own way, then," said Elwood, with forced composure, taking up and shuffling the cards for the important game.
The stake was for a thousand; and the trembling antagonists played as if life and death hung on the event. And the whole company, indeed, forgetful of their own comparatively slight interest, in the momentous one thus put at stake, at once turned their eyes on the two players, and watched the result with breathless interest. That result was soon disclosed; when, to the surprise of all, and the dismay of Gaut Gurley, the victory once more strangely fell to the lot of Mark Elwood, who, gathering up the stakes with trembling eagerness, hastily rose from the table, as if to depart.
"What in the name of Tophet does all this mean?" fiercely exclaimed Gurley, throwing an angry and suspicious look round the table upon those who had doubtless been, at other sittings, his confederates in fleecing Elwood. "Yes, what is the meaning of this? I ask you, and you, sir?"
"Better ask your own partner," said one of the men addressed, with a defiant look.
"Elwood? Pooh!" exclaimed Gaut, with a bitter sneer.
"And why not?" responded the former. "He may have as good luck as the best of us, as it appears he has had. And hark ye, Gaut, you look things at us that it might not be safe for you to say in this room."
"Gentlemen, you will all bear me out in leaving, now," here interposed Elwood, beginning to make towards the door.
"Stop, sir!" thundered Gaut. "You are not a-going to sneak off with all that money in your pocket, by a d—d sight!"
"Why not, sir?" replied Elwood; "why not, for all you can say?"
"Because I have lost, sir!" shouted Gurley, hoarse with rage. "I have lost three games running,—lost all I have. I demand a fair chance to win it back; and that chance I will have, or I'll make you, Mark Elwood, curse the hour you refused it."
"Gaut Gurley, you insatiate fiend!" exclaimed Elwood, in a tone of mingled anger and distress; "you it was who first led me into this accursed habit of play, by which you have robbed me of untold thousands yourself, and been the means of my being robbed of thousands more by others. You have brought me to the door of ruin before, and would now take all I have to save me from absolute bankruptcy."
"Whining hypocrite!" cried Gurley, starting up in rage. "Do you tell that story when you have my last dollar in your pocket? But your pitiful whining shall not avail you. If you leave this room alive, you leave that money behind you."
"Stop, stop!" here interposed one of the company, who had noted what had inadvertently fallen from Elwood, in his warmth, respecting his apprehended bankruptcy; "stop, no such recriminations and threatenings here! I can show Elwood a way to dispose of a part of his money, at least, without bringing on any one the charge of robbing or being robbed. Here is a note of your signing, Mr. Elwood,—a debt of honor,—for a couple of hundreds, contracted in this very room, you will remember. You may as well pay it."
"I have a similar bit of paper," said another, coming forward and presenting a note for a still larger sum.
"And I, likewise," said a third, joining the group, with an additional piece of evidence of Elwood's folly, in the shape of a gambling note; "and I shall insist on payment with the rest, seeing the money cannot be disposed of between you and Gaut without a quarrel and danger of bloodshed."
With a perplexed and troubled air Elwood paced the room a moment, without uttering a word in reply to the different demands that had so unexpectedly been made upon him. He glanced furtively towards the door, as if calculating the chances of escaping through it before any one could interpose to prevent him. He then glanced inquiringly at the company for such indications of sympathy or forbearance as might warrant the attempt; but in their countenances he read only that which should deter him from resorting to any such means of escaping the dilemma in which he now found himself. And, suddenly stopping short and turning to the new claimants for his money, he said:
"Well, gentlemen, have your way, then. I had hoped to be permitted to carry away money enough to meet my bills and engagements of to-day,—at least, as much as I brought here. But, as I am not to be allowed that privilege, hand on your paper, every scrap of my signing, and you shall have your pay."
A half-dozen notes of hand were instantly produced and thrown upon the table, and the holder of each was paid off in turn; the last of whom drew from Elwood nearly every dollar he had in his possession.
"There, gentlemen," he exclaimed, with a sort of desperate calmness, "in this line of deal, at least, my accounts are all squared. I am quits with you all."
"Not with me, by a d—d sight!" exclaimed Gurley, no longer able to restrain his rage at being thus baulked in his desperate purpose of getting hold of Elwood's money, by fair means or foul, before permitting him to leave the room. "Not with me, sir, till the amount of that last stake, which was just enough to make me whole, is again in my pocket; and I'll follow you to the gates of hell, but I'll have it!"
Cowering and trembling beneath the threats and fiendish glances of the other, Elwood siezed his hat, and rushed from the room.
On escaping from this "den of thieves," and gaining the street below, Elwood's first thought was of home and his shamefully neglected family, and he turned his steps in that direction. But, before proceeding far, he began to hesitate and falter in his course. He became oppressed with the feelings of a criminal. He was ashamed to meet his family; for, fully conscious that his looks must be haggard, his eyes red and bloodshot, and his whole appearance disordered, he knew his return in such a plight, at that hour in the morning, would betray the wretched employments of the night, especially to his keen-sighted brother, on whose assistance he now doubly depended to save him from ruin. He therefore changed his course, and was proceeding towards his store, when he met his confidential clerk, who was out in search of him, and who, in great agitation, informed him that his drafts of yesterday had all been returned dishonored; that bills were pouring in, and the holders clamorous for their pay. Struck dumb by the startling announcement, it was some moments before Elwood could collect his thoughts sufficiently to bid his clerk return, and put off his creditors till the next day, when he would try to satisfy them all. And, having done this, he turned suddenly into another street, wound his way back to the inn he had just left, took a private room, locked himself in, and for a while gave way to alternate paroxysms of grief, remorse, and self-reproaches. After exhausting himself by the violence of his emotions, he threw himself upon a bed, and, thinking an hour's repose might mend his appearance, so as to enable him the better to disguise the cause of his absence, on his return to his family, which he now concluded to defer till towards dinner-time, he fell into a slumber so profound and absorbing, that he did not awake till the shadows of approaching night had begun to darken his room.
Leaping from his couch, in his surprise and vexation at having so overslept himself, he hastily made his toilet, and immediately set out for home,—a home which, for the first time in his life, he now dreaded to enter. To that wretched home we will now repair, preceding his arrival, to relate what had there occurred in his absence.
"Better is a poor and wise child than an old and foolish father, who will no more be admonished."—ECCL.
After the breaking up of the party, as described in the former chapter, Arthur Elwood, on joining the family circle, and not meeting his host and brother there, as he naturally expected, expressed his surprise at the circumstance, and inquired the cause of his absence. But, perceiving that the subject gave pain to Mrs. Elwood, who deemed it prudent but to repeat, as she hesitatingly did, what her husband had told her, that he had gone out, soon to be back, the former forbore any further inquiries or comments, and soon retired to rest, wishing her a good-night and pleasant slumbers.
"Good-night and pleasant slumbers!" slowly and murmuringly repeated the anxious and troubled wife, on whose ear the words, kindly meant as she knew them to be, fell as if in mockery to her feelings. "Pleasant slumbers for me! Heaven grant they may be made so by his speedy coming; but—" and, being now alone, and thus relieved of the restraining presence of others, she burst into tears, and wept long and bitterly.
Woman was not created to act independently. The sphere in which she is formed to move, though different, is yet so immediately connected—with that of man, that her destiny is inseparable from his. Her happiness and prosperity are not in her own keeping. The welfare of the husband is the welfare of the wife; and, if poverty and disgrace, the concomitants of vice, fall on him, she must participate equally in the physical evil, and drink as much deeper of the cup of moral misery as her unblunted sensibilities are more lively, and her sense of right and wrong are more acute, than those of him who has become dead to the one and lost to the other. What wonder, then, that she should so agonize and weep in secret over his moral deviations, and all the more bitterly, because, with the most intense desire to do so, she has no power to remedy the evil? But, for that sorrow and suffering, who before high Heaven will be held responsible? Who, but the doubly-guilty husband whose conduct has caused them?
Through the whole of that, to her, long and dreary night, Mrs. Elwood never once thought of retiring to rest, but kept up her vigils in waiting and watching for her husband: now listening pensively to the wind that seemed to moan round her solitary apartment in unison with her own feelings; now straining her senses to catch some sound of his approach; and now, perhaps, throwing herself upon a sofa, and falling, for a moment, into a troubled slumber, but only to start up at the first sound of the rattling windows, to listen again, and again to be disappointed. In this manner she wore away the lingering hours of the night, till the long prayed-for daylight, which she supposed, at the farthest, would bring back her truant husband, made its welcome appearance. But daylight came not this time to remove the cause of her anxieties. Elwood had several times before staid out nearly through the night, but the approach of daylight had always, till now, brought him home; and, not making his appearance, as she confidently expected, she became, as the morning advanced, really alarmed for his personal safety, and would have immediately sent out for him, but she knew not whom to send. She therefore concluded to put off the already long-delayed breakfast no longer; and, summoning her brother-in-law, who, with herself (her son, whom we have yet more particularly to introduce to the reader, being temporarily absent from town), now constituted all the family remaining to join in the repast. The two then sat down to the table, and partook the meal mostly in gloomy silence, one still hoping all might yet turn out well, and therefore repressing her twofold apprehensions; and the other, out of regard to her feelings, kindly forbearing to pain her with remarks and inquiries on a subject which they mutually felt conscious was oppressing the hearts of both.
After the meal was over, Arthur Elwood arose, and, briefly announcing his intention of going out to look up his brother, who, he said, would be likely soon to be found at his store, left the house. At the usual dinner hour, Arthur Elwood returned to the house, and was met at the door by his anxious hostess, whose countenance quickly fell as she perceived him to be alone.
"Have you not yet seen my husband?" she eagerly demanded.
"No, but have heard of him. He is somewhere in the city, I believe," replied the other.
"In the city and not return?" persisted the surprised and distressed wife. "How can this be?—what does it mean?"
"I do not know," replied Arthur, with a thoughtful and perplexed air.
Mrs. Elwood for a moment stood mute as a statue; for, but too well conjecturing what was passing in the mind of the other, she durst not ask his opinion. But, soon regaining her usual composure, she led the way to the dinner-table, where the meal that followed was partaken much as the one that preceded it,—in silence and mutual constraint, which was only relieved by an occasional forced, commonplace remark.
"I shall again go to Mark's store," said Arthur, with stern gravity, as he rose from the table, after he had finished his repast, "and I shall also take the liberty of looking into the condition of his affairs. After that, I may return here again, though to remain only for a short time, as I leave for home in the evening."
Towards night Arthur Elwood returned, and in his usual quiet way entered the room where Mrs. Elwood was sitting; when, shaking his head as if in reply to the question respecting her still absent husband, which he saw, by the painfully inquiring expression of her countenance, was rising to her lips, he took a seat by her side, and, with an air of concern and a slight tremor of voice, commenced:
"I have been debating with myself, sister Alice, whether it were a greater kindness to go away without seeing you, and of course without apprising you of what I may have discovered respecting your husband and his affairs, or come here and tell you truths which would be painful,—too painful, perhaps, for you to bear."
"'Tis better I should know all," rather gasped than uttered Mrs. Elwood. "You will tell me the truth,—others may not. Go on."
"Your husband," resumed the other, "wrote me for the help of a few thousands, which I would have freely loaned, but for my suspicions that all was not right with him; and, as I plainly told him, I came on to ascertain for myself whether such help would be thrown away, or really relieve him, as he represented, from a mere temporary embarrassment. I have now been into the painful investigation, and find matters, I grieve to say, tenfold worse than I suspected. He is, and must have been for a long time, the companion and the victim of blacklegs and cutthroats, and—"
"I suspected,—I knew it," interrupted the eager and trembling listener; "and O Arthur, how I have tried and wept and prayed to induce him to break off from them; for I felt they would eventually ruin him."
"Eventually ruin him! Why, Alice, with his own miscalculations in business, folly and extravagance in every thing, they have done so already."
"But the main part of his property," demanded the other, with a startled look, "you don't mean but what the main part of his property is still left?"
"Yes, I do, Alice,—but I see you are not prepared for this. Still, you may as well know it now as ever. Yes, Alice, your husband is irretrievably bankrupt!"
Mrs. Elwood was not indeed prepared for this development. She had foreseen, it was true, the coming evil; but she supposed it was yet in the distance. She knew her husband's property had been a large one; and the announcement, from one she could not disbelieve, that it was all gone, struck her dumb with surprise and consternation. She uttered not a word. She could not speak, but sat pale and trembling, the very picture of distress.
After pacing the room a few moments, with frequent commiserating glances at the face of the other, whose distress evidently deeply moved him, Arthur Elwood stopped short before her and said:
"Sister Alice, my time is about up,—I must go."
"Have you no word to leave for my husband when he comes?" asked Mrs. Elwood, with an effort to appear composed.
"No,—none whatever to him; but with you, Alice," he added, drawing out a small package of bank notes and dropping them into her lap, "with you, and for you alone, against a day of necessity, I leave that trifle—no hesitation—keep it—put it out of sight—there, that is right. Now only one thing more,—what of your son?"
"Yes. You know it has happened that I have never seen him."
"I do know it, and have much regretted his absence; for I wished you to see him. But I am now looking for him every hour, and if you could delay—"
"No, no, I must go. Tell him to forget, at once, that he was ever a rich man's only son and heir, and learn to profit by a rich man's errors; for, till he does this, which, if he is like others, will require some time, he will make no real advance in life."
"Your impression may be natural, but it hardly does him justice. He is not like most others. Claud is a man now."
"So much the better, then, for you and himself. But you see with a mother's eyes, probably, and speak with a mother's heart. I will inquire about him, however, as indeed I will about you all. Good-by."
Thus did the unimpassioned Arthur Elwood, with a seeming business-like roughness and want of feeling, assume to hide the emotions which he really felt in the discovery of his brother's ruin, and in witnessing the distress he had just caused in communicating it, hurry through the painful interview, and abruptly depart, leaving Mrs. Elwood to struggle in secret with the chaos of thoughts and emotions which Arthur's unexpected revelation had brought over her. She was not left long, however, to struggle with her feelings alone. In a short time the sound of a familiar footstep hastily entering the front hall of the magnificent mansion,—alas! now no longer her own,—suddenly caught her ear; when, with the exclamation, "Claud, O Claud!" she rushed forward to her advancing son, and, to use the expressive language of Scripture, "fell on his neck and wept."
"I heard of father's failure," said the son, a fine looking youth of about twenty, with his mother's cleanly cut features and firm, thoughtful countenance, joined to his father's manly proportions. "I learned, as I came into the city, an hour ago, that father had just failed, his store been shut up, and all his property put into the hands of his creditors; and I hurried home to break the news to you. But I see you know it all."
"Yes, that the blow was impending, but not that it had already fallen, as you now report; but it may as well come to-day as to-morrow or next week. Half my nights, for months, Claud, have been made sleepless by the bodings and fears of the evil day, which, as things were going, I felt must eventually come; but never, till within this very hour, did I dream that our misfortunes were so near. But, though the storm has burst so much sooner than I expected, I could bravely face it, could we say that it was caused by no fault of our own; but to be brought upon us in this manner, my son, it is hard, hard to bear."
"But you have not been to blame, mother; and I did not suppose you thought enough of wealth to grieve so at its loss."
"I do not, Claud. It is not that; still, I could not help thinking of your disappointment, even in that view of the misfortune."
"Mine, mother? Why, I am no worse off than father was when he started in life; no worse off than thousands who begin with no other resources than what lie in clear heads and strong hearts. I can take care of myself; and, what is more, I can take care of you, dear mother. Surely, you won't doubt me?"
"No, Claud, no. You have always been my pride, latterly almost my only hope; and I know not now but that you must be my only staff, on which to lean as I pass down the decline of life."
"And I will be one to you, mother; but come, cheer up, and let us go in and talk over these matters more calmly."
The mother and son accordingly retired to her usual sitting-room; where, since her overcharged bosom had found relief in tears, and her sinking spirits had been raised by the kind and comforting words of her dutiful son, she told him all that had occurred during the two preceding days, which constituted the brief but eventful period of his absence. They then were beginning to counsel together on the prospects and probabilities of their gloomy future; but their conversation was suddenly cut short by the abrupt entrance of the wretched husband and father, who, on his way from the hotel where he had spent the day in sleeping off his debauch in concealment, having received an intimation of what was going on among his creditors, had hurried home, with a confidence and self-possession which he could not summon when he started; for, out of this movement among his creditors, which he still would not believe was any thing more than a sort of practical menace to enforce payment, he saw not only how he could frame a plausible excuse for his guilty absence, but make the circumstance an irresistible plea for forcing from his brother a loan sufficient to enable him to arrest his failure and continue business. On entering the room, therefore, after saluting his wife and son in a sort of brisk, unconcerned manner, and muttering that he "thought they would never let him get home again," he eagerly inquired for Arthur; and, on being informed that his brother had started for his home, without leaving any note or word for him, and especially on being told by his son—as he at length calmly and persistingly was, in despite of his multiplied prevarications and denials, what they all knew, and what he himself should have been the last to be ignorant of—that the question of his failure, for more than he could ever pay, had already been settled against him, he became frantic in the outpourings of his rage, disappointment, and chagrin; sometimes declaring that the world, grown envious of his prosperity, had all suddenly become his enemies, and grossly belied him; sometimes savagely charging his brother, wife, and son with conspiring together against him; and sometimes cursing his own blindness and folly. And thus he continued to rave, and walk the room for hours, till his wife and son, having partaken their evening meal before his unheeding eyes, and become sick and wearied in listening to his insane ravings,—to which they had wholly ceased making any reply,—retired to rest, leaving him to partake such food as was left on the table, to occupy, as he chose to do, the same sofa which his hapless wife had done the night before, to sleep down the wild commotion of his feelings, and awake a calmer and more humbled, but not yet a better or much wiser man.
But we do not propose to describe in detail the rapid descent from opulence and station to poverty and insignificance, which now transpired to mark this era in the singular fortunes of Elwood and his family. Their history, for the next three months, was but the usual painful one which awaits the failed merchant everywhere in the cities. The crushing sense of misfortune which, for the first few days after the unexpected blow has fallen, weighs down the self-deceived or otherwise unprepared victims; the succeeding weeks of dejection and mortified pride; then the painful trial of parting with the showy equipage, the costly furniture, and the cherished mementoes, which had required, perhaps, the care of half a life in gathering; then the compulsory abdication of the great and conspicuous mansion for the small, obscure, hired cottage; then the saddening bodings and deep concern felt in seeing the means of living daily diminishing, with no prospect of ever being replenished; and, finally, the humiliating resort of the wife and children to the needle or menial employments, for the actual necessaries of life,—these, all these, are but the usual graduated vicissitudes of sorrow and trial which are allotted to those whose folly and extravagance have suddenly thrown them on the downward track of fortune, and which the Elwoods, in common with others, were now doomed to experience, and, on the part of Mrs. Elwood, especially, with aggravations not necessarily incident to such reverses. She would have borne all the deprivations and evils incident to her husband's failure without a murmur, could she have seen in him any amendment in those habits and vicious inclinations which had led to his downfall. But she could not. The hopes she had confidently entertained, that his misfortunes would humble and reform him, were doomed to disappointment. He still madly clung to his old associates of the gambling-table; and all the money he could get was lost or squandered among them, till he became too poor and desperate even for them, and they drove him from their society to join another and a lower set, who in turn compelled him to seek other still lower and more degraded associations. And so descended, step by step, along the path of degradation, the once princely merchant, till, despised and shunned by all respectable men, he became the fit companion of the meanest thimble-riggers of the cellars, and the lounging tipplers of the streets.
His case, however, as hopeless as it might appear, was not permitted to become an irretrievable one. Through a seemingly accidental circumstance, a light one day broke on his beclouded and half-maddened brain, that led to a self-redemption as happy for himself and family as it was unexpected by all. A former friend, one morning, moved perhaps by his forlorn appearance, in passing him with a light carriage, invited him to ride a few miles into the country; where, being unexpectedly called off in another direction, he left Elwood to return on foot by a nearer route across the fields to his home. After travelling some distance, he reached an elevation which overlooked the city, and, feeling a little fatigued, he sat down on a mossy hillock to rest and enjoy the prospect. As he cast his eye over that busy haunt of men, with its numerous spires shooting upward, its long lines of princely dwellings, its encircling forest of masts, its lofty warehouses, and other evidences of wealth and business, his own former important participation in its busy scenes, and his present worse than insignificant position there, rose in vivid contrast in his awakening mind; and the thought of his past but squandered wealth came up only to add poignancy to the sense of his present poverty and humiliation, which thus, and for the first time, was brought home to his agitated bosom. Suddenly leaping from his seat, from the torturing force of the reflection, he exclaimed: "Must I bear this? Cannot I still be a man? I will! yes, before Heaven, I will!" And, resuming his seat, his mind became intently engaged in studying out ways and means for carrying the sudden but stern resolution into effect; when, after another hour thus employed, he again jumped up, and, with the air of one who has reached some unalterable conclusion, he rapidly made his way homeward.