In the Valley
When, after years of preparation, the pleasant task of writing this tale was begun, I had my chief delight in the hope that the completed book would gratify a venerable friend, to whose inspiration my first idea of the work was due, and that I might be allowed to place his honored name upon this page. The ambition was at once lofty and intelligible. While he was the foremost citizen of New York State, we of the Mohawk Valley thought of him as peculiarly our own. Although born elsewhere, his whole adult life was spent among us, and he led all others in his love for the Valley, his pride in its noble history, and his broad aspirations for the welfare and progress in wise and good ways of its people. His approval ef this book would have been the highest honor it could possibly have won. Long before it was finished, he had been laid in his last sleep upon the bosom of the hills that watch over our beautiful river. With reverent affection the volume is brought now to lay as a wreath upon his grave—dedicated to the memory of Horatio Seymour.
London, September 11, 1890
Chapter I. "The French Are in the Valley!" Chapter II. Setting Forth How the Girl Child Was Brought to Us. Chapter III. Master Philip Makes His Bow—And Behaves Badly Chapter IV. In Which I Become the Son of the House. Chapter V. How a Stately Name Was Shortened and Sweetened. Chapter VI. Within Sound of the Shouting Waters. Chapter VII. Through Happy Youth to Man's Estate. Chapter VIII. Enter My Lady Berenicia Cross. Chapter IX. I See My Sweet Sister Dressed in Strange Attire. Chapter X. The Masquerade Brings Me Nothing but Pain. Chapter XI. As I Make My Adieux Mr. Philip Comes In. Chapter XII. Old-Time Politics Pondered under the Starlight. Chapter XIII. To the Far Lake Country and Home Again. Chapter XIV. How I Seem to Feel a Wanting Note in the Chorus of Welcome. Chapter XV. The Rude Awakening from My Dream. Chapter XVI. Tulp Gets a Broken Head to Match My Heart. Chapter XVII. I Perforce Say Farewell to My Old Home. Chapter XVIII. The Fair Beginning of a New Life in Ancient Albany. Chapter XIX. I Go to a Famous Gathering at the Patroon's Manor House. Chapter XX. A Foolish and Vexatious Quarrel Is Thrust upon Me. Chapter XXI. Containing Other News Besides that from Bunker Hill. Chapter XXII. The Master and Mistress of Cairncross. Chapter XXIII. How Philip in Wrath, Daisy in Anguish, Fly Their Home. Chapter XXIV. The Night Attack Upon Quebec—And My Share in It. Chapter XXV. A Crestfallen Return to Albany. Chapter XXVI. I See Daisy and the Old Home Once More. Chapter XXVII. The Arrest of Poor Lady Johnson. Chapter XXVIII. An Old Acquaintance Turns Up in Manacles. Chapter XXIX. The Message Sent Ahead from the Invading Army. Chapter XXX. From the Scythe and Reaper to the Musket. Chapter XXXI. The Rendezvous of Fighting Men at Fort Dayton. Chapter XXXII. "The Blood Be on Your Heads." Chapter XXXIII. The Fearsome Death-Struggle in the Forest. Chapter XXXIV. Alone at Last with My Enemy. Chapter XXXV. The Strange Uses to Which Revenge May Be Put. Chapter XXXVI. A Final Scene in the Gulf which My Eyes Are Mercifully Spared. Chapter XXXVII. The Peaceful Ending of It All.
In The Valley
"The French Are in the Valley!"
It may easily be that, during the many years which have come and gone since the eventful time of my childhood, Memory has played tricks upon me to the prejudice of Truth. I am indeed admonished of this by study of my son, for whose children in turn this tale is indited, and who is now able to remember many incidents of his youth—chiefly beatings and like parental cruelties—which I know very well never happened at all. He is good enough to forgive me these mythical stripes and bufferings, but he nurses their memory with ostentatious and increasingly succinct recollection, whereas for my own part, and for his mother's, our enduring fear was lest we had spoiled him through weak fondness. By good fortune the reverse has been true. He is grown into a man of whom any parents might be proud—tall, well-featured, strong, tolerably learned, honorable, and of influence among his fellows. His affection for us, too, is very great. Yet in the fashion of this new generation, which speaks without waiting to be addressed, and does not scruple to instruct on all subjects its elders, he will have it that he feared me when a lad—and with cause! If fancy can so distort impressions within such short span, it does not become me to be too set about events which come back slowly through the mist and darkness of nearly threescore years.
Yet they return to me so full of color, and cut in such precision and keenness of outline, that at no point can I bring myself to say, "Perhaps I am in error concerning this," or to ask, "Has this perchance been confused with other matters?" Moreover, there are few now remaining who of their own memory could controvert or correct me. And if they essay to do so, why should not my word be at least as weighty as theirs? And so to the story:
* * * * *
I was in my eighth year, and there was snow on the ground.
The day is recorded in history as November 13, A.D. 1757, but I am afraid that I did not know much about years then, and certainly the month seems now to have been one of midwinter. The Mohawk, a larger stream then by far than in these days, was not yet frozen over, but its frothy flood ran very dark and chill between the white banks, and the muskrats and the beavers were all snug in their winter holes. Although no big fragments of ice floated on the current, there had already been a prodigious scattering of the bateaux and canoes which through all the open season made a thriving thoroughfare of the river. This meant that the trading was over, and that the trappers and hunters, white and red, were either getting ready to go or had gone northward into the wilderness, where might be had during the winter the skins of dangerous animals—bears, wolves, catamounts, and lynx—and where moose and deer could be chased and yarded over the crust, not to refer to smaller furred beasts to be taken in traps.
I was not at all saddened by the departure of these rude, foul men, of whom those of Caucasian race were not always the least savage, for they did not fail to lay hands upon traps or nets left by the heedless within their reach, and even were not beyond making off with our boats, cursing and beating children who came unprotected in their path, and putting the women in terror of their very lives. The cold weather was welcome not only for clearing us of these pests, but for driving off the black flies, mosquitoes, and gnats which at that time, with the great forests so close behind us, often rendered existence a burden, particularly just after rains.
Other changes were less grateful to the mind. It was true I would no longer be held near the house by the task of keeping alight the smoking kettles of dried fungus, designed to ward off the insects, but at the same time had disappeared many of the enticements which in summer oft made this duty irksome. The partridges were almost the sole birds remaining in the bleak woods, and, much as their curious ways of hiding in the snow, and the resounding thunder of their strange drumming, mystified and attracted me, I was not alert enough to catch them. All my devices of horse-hair and deer-hide snares were foolishness in their sharp eyes. The water-fowl, too—the geese, ducks, cranes, pokes, fish-hawks, and others—had flown, sometimes darkening the sky over our clearing by the density of their flocks, and filling the air with clamor. The owls, indeed, remained, but I hated them.
The very night before the day of which I speak, I was awakened by one of these stupid, perverse birds, which must have been in the cedars on the knoll close behind the house, and which disturbed my very soul by his ceaseless and melancholy hooting. For some reason it affected me more than commonly, and I lay for a long time nearly on the point of tears with vexation—and, it is likely, some of that terror with which uncanny noises inspire children in the darkness. I was warm enough under my fox-robe, snuggled into the husks, but I was very wretched. I could hear, between the intervals of the owl's sinister cries, the distant yelping of the timber wolves, first from the Schoharie side of the river, and then from our own woods. Once there rose, awfully near the log wall against which I nestled, a panther's shrill scream, followed by a long silence, as if the lesser wild things outside shared for the time my fright. I remember that I held my breath.
It was during this hush, and while I lay striving, poor little fellow, to dispel my alarm by fixing my thoughts resolutely on a rabbit-trap I had set under some running hemlock out on the side hill, that there rose the noise of a horse being ridden swiftly down the frosty highway outside. The hoofbeats came pounding up close to our gate. A moment later there was a great hammering on the oak door, as with a cudgel or pistol handle, and I heard a voice call out in German (its echoes ring still in my old ears):
"The French are in the Valley!"
I drew my head down under the fox-skin as if it had been smitten sharply, and quaked in solitude. I desired to hear no more.
Although so very young a boy, I knew quite well who the French were, and what their visitations portended. Even at that age one has recollections. I could recall my father, peaceful man of God though he was, taking down his gun some years before at the rumor of a French approach, and my mother clinging to his coat as he stood in the doorway, successfully pleading with him not to go forth. I had more than once seen Mrs. Markell of Minden, with her black knit cap worn to conceal the absence of her scalp, which had been taken only the previous summer by the Indians, who sold it to the French for ten livres, along with the scalps of her murdered husband and babe. So it seemed that adults sometimes parted with this portion of their heads without losing also their lives. I wondered if small boys were ever equally fortunate. I felt softly of my hair and wept.
How the crowding thoughts of that dismal hour return to me! I recall considering in my mind the idea of bequeathing my tame squirrel to Hendrick Getman, and the works of an old clock, with their delightful mystery of wooden cogs and turned wheels, which was my chief treasure, to my negro friend Tulp—and then reflecting that they too would share my fate, and would thus be precluded from enjoying my legacies. The whimsical aspect of the task of getting hold upon Tulp's close, woolly scalp was momentarily apparent to me, but I did not laugh. Instead, the very suggestion of humor converted my tears into vehement sobbings.
When at last I ventured to lift my head and listen again, it was to hear another voice, an English-speaking voice which I knew very well, saying gravely from within the door:
"It is well to warn, but not to terrify. There are many leagues between us and danger, and many good fighting men. When you have told your tidings to Sir William, add that I have heard it all and have gone back to bed."
Then the door was closed and barred, and the hoofbeats died away down the Valley.
These few words had sufficed to shame me heartily of my cowardice. I ought to have remembered that we were almost within hail of Fort Johnson and its great owner the General; that there was a long Ulineof forts between us and the usual point of invasion with many soldiers; and—most important of all—that I was in the house of Mr. Stewart.
If these seem over-mature reflections for one of my age, it should be explained, that, while a veritable child in matters of heart and impulse, I was in education and association much advanced beyond my years. The master of the house, Mr. Thomas Stewart, whose kind favor had provided me with a home after my father's sad demise, had diverted his leisure with my instruction, and given me the great advantage of daily conversation both in English and Dutch with him. I was known to Sir William and to Mr. Butler and other gentlemen, and was often privileged to listen when they conversed with Mr. Stewart. Thus I had grown wise in certain respects, while remaining extremely childish in others. Thus it was that I trembled first at the common hooting of an owl, and then cried as if to die at hearing the French were coming, and lastly recovered all my spirits at the reassuring sound of Mr. Stewart's voice, and the knowledge that he was content to return to his sleep.
I went soundly to sleep myself, presently, and cannot remember to have dreamed at all.
Setting Forth How the Girl Child Was Brought to Us.
When I came out of my nest next morning—my bed was on the floor of a small recess back of the great fireplace, made, I suspect, because the original builders lacked either the skill or the inclination, whichever it might be, to more neatly skirt the chimney with the logs—it was quite late. Some meat and corn-bread were laid for me on the table in Mr. Stewart's room, which was the chief chamber of the house. Despite the big fire roaring on the hearth, it was so cold that the grease had hardened white about the meat in the pan, and it had to be warmed again before I could sop my bread.
During the solitary meal it occurred to me to question my aunt, the housekeeper, as to the alarm of the night, which lay heavily once more upon my mind. But I could hear her humming to herself in the back room, which did not indicate acquaintance with any danger. Moreover, it might as well be stated here that my aunt, good soul though she was, did not command especial admiration for the clearness of her wits, having been cruelly stricken with the small-pox many years before, and owing her employment, be it confessed, much more to Mr. Stewart's excellence of heart than to her own abilities. She was probably the last person in the Valley whose judgment upon the question of a French invasion, or indeed any other large matter, I would have valued.
Having donned my coon-skin cap, and drawn on my thick pelisse over my apron, I put another beech-knot on the fire and went outside. The stinging air bit my nostrils and drove my hands into my pockets. Mr. Stewart was at the work which had occupied him for some weeks previously—hewing out logs on the side hill. His axe strokes rang through the frosty atmosphere now with a sharp reverberation which made it seem much colder, and yet more cheerful. Winter had come, indeed, but I began to feel that I liked it. I almost skipped as I went along the hard, narrow path to join him.
He was up among the cedars, under a close-woven net of boughs, which, themselves heavily capped with snow, had kept the ground free. He nodded pleasantly to me when I wished him good-morning, then returned to his labor. Although I placed myself in front of him, in the hope that he would speak, and thus possibly put me in the way to learn something about this French business, he said nothing, but continued whacking at the deeply notched trunk. The temptation to begin the talk myself came near mastering me, so oppressed with curiosity was I; and finally, to resist it the better, I walked away and stood on the brow of the knoll, whence one could look up and down the Valley.
It was the only world I knew—this expanse of flats, broken by wedges of forest stretching down from the hills on the horizon to the very water's edge. Straight, glistening lines of thin ice ran out here and there from the banks of the stream this morning, formed on the breast of the flood through the cold night.
To the left, in the direction of the sun, lay, at the distance of a mile or so, Mount Johnson, or Fort Johnson, as one chose to call it. It could not be seen for the intervening hills, but so important was the fact of its presence to me that I never looked eastward without seeming to behold its gray stone walls with their windows and loopholes, its stockade of logs, its two little houses on either side, its barracks for the guard upon the ridge back of the gristmill, and its accustomed groups of grinning black slaves, all eyeballs and white teeth, of saturnine Indians in blankets, and of bold-faced fur-traders. Beyond this place I had never been, but I knew vaguely that Schenectady was in that direction, where the French once wrought such misery, and beyond that Albany, the great town of our parts, and then the big ocean which separated us from England and Holland. Civilization lay that way, and all the luxurious things which, being shown or talked of by travellers, made our own rough life seem ruder still by contrast.
Turning to the right I looked on the skirts of savagery. Some few adventurous villages of poor Palatine-German farmers and traders there were up along the stream, I knew, hidden in the embrace of the wilderness, and with them were forts and soldiers But these latter did not prevent houses being sacked and their inmates tomahawked every now and then.
It astonished me, that, for the sake of mere furs and ginseng and potash, men should be moved to settle in these perilous wilds, and subject their wives and families to such dangers, when they might live in peace at Albany, or, for that matter, in the old countries whence they came. For my part, I thought I would much rather be oppressed by the Grand Duke's tax-collectors, or even be caned now and again by the Grand Duke himself, than undergo these privations and panics in a savage land. I was too little then to understand the grandeur of the motives which impelled men to expatriate themselves and suffer all things rather than submit to religious persecution or civil tyranny. Sometimes even now, in my old age, I feel that I do not wholly comprehend it. But that it was a grand thing, I trust there can be no doubt.
While I still stood on the brow of the hill, my young head filled with these musings, and my heart weighed down almost to crushing by the sense of vast loneliness and peril which the spectacle of naked marsh-lands and dark, threatening forests inspired, the sound of the chopping ceased, and there followed, a few seconds later, a great swish and crash down the hill.
As I looked to note where the tree had fallen, I saw Mr. Stewart lay down his axe, and take into his hands the gun which stood near by. He motioned to me to preserve silence, and himself stood in an attitude of deep attention. Then my slow ears caught the noise he had already heard—a mixed babel of groans, curses, and cries of fear, on the road to the westward of us, and growing louder momentarily.
After a minute or two of listening he said to me, "It is nothing. The cries are German, but the oaths are all English—as they generally are."
All the same he put his gun over his arm as he walked down to the stockade, and out through the gate upon the road, to discover the cause of the commotion.
Five red-coated soldiers on horseback, with another, cloaked to the eyes and bearing himself proudly, riding at their heels; a negro following on, also mounted, with a huge bundle in his arms before him, and a shivering, yellow-haired lad of about my own age on a pillion behind him; clustering about these, a motley score of poor people, young and old, some bearing household goods, and all frightened out of their five senses—this is what we saw on the highway.
What we heard it would be beyond my power to recount. From the chaos of terrified exclamations in German, and angry cursing in English, I gathered generally that the scared mob of Palatines were all for flying the Valley, or at the least crowding into Fort Johnson, and that the troopers were somewhat vigorously endeavoring to reassure and dissuade them.
Mr. Stewart stepped forward—I following close in his rear—and began phrasing in German to these poor souls the words of the soldiers, leaving out the blasphemies with which they were laden. How much he had known before I cannot guess, but the confidence with which he told them that the French and Indian marauders had come no farther than the Palatine Village above Fort Kouarie, that they were but a small force, and that Honikol Herkimer had already started out to drive them back, seemed to his simple auditors born of knowledge. They at all events listened to him, which they had not done to the soldiers, and plied him with anxious queries, which he in turn referred to the mounted men and then translated their sulky answers. This was done to such good purpose that before long the wiser of the Palatines were agreed to return to their homes up the Valley, and the others had become calm.
As the clamor ceased, the soldier whom I took to be an officer removed his cloak a little from his face and called out gruffly:
"Tell this fellow to fetch me some brandy, or whatever cordial is to be had in this God-forgotten country, and stir his bones about it, too!"
To speak to Mr. Thomas Stewart in this fashion! I looked at my protector in pained wrath and apprehension, knowing his fiery temper.
With a swift movement he pushed his way between the sleepy soldiers straight to the officer. I trembled in every joint, expecting to see him cut down where he stood, here in front of his own house!
He plucked the officer's cloak down from his face with a laugh, and then put his hands on his hips, his gun under his arm, looked the other square in the face, and laughed again.
All this was done so quickly that the soldiers, being drowsy with their all-night ride, scarcely understood what was going forward. The officer himself strove to unwrap the muffled cloak that he might grasp his sword, puffing out his cheeks with amazement and indignation meanwhile, and staring down fiercely at Mr. Stewart. The fair-haired boy on the horse with the negro was almost as greatly excited, and cried out, "Kill him, some one! Strike him down!" in a stout voice. At this some of the soldiers wheeled about, prepared to take part in the trouble when they should comprehend it, while their horses plunged and reared into the others.
The only cool one was Mr. Stewart, who still stood at his ease, smiling at the red-faced, blustering officer, to whom he now said:
"When you are free of your cloak, Tony Cross, dismount and let us embrace."
The gentleman thus addressed peered at the speaker, gave an exclamation or two of impatience, then looked again still more closely. All at once his face brightened, and he slapped his round, tight thigh with a noise like the rending of an ice-gorge.
"Tom Lynch!" he shouted. "Saints' breeches! 'tis he!" and off his horse came the officer, and into Mr. Stewart's arms, before I could catch my breath.
It seemed that the twain were old comrades, and had been like brothers in foreign wars, now long past. They walked affectionately, hand in hand, to the house. The negro followed, bringing the two horses into the stockade, and then coming inside with the bundle and the boy, the soldiers being despatched onward to the fort.
While my aunt, Dame Kronk, busied herself in bringing bottles and glasses, and swinging the kettle over the fire, the two gentlemen could not keep eyes off each other, and had more to say than there were words for. It was eleven years since they had met, and, although Mr. Stewart had learned (from Sir William) of the other's presence in the Valley, Major Cross had long since supposed his friend to be dead. Conceive, then, the warmth of their greeting, the fondness of their glances, the fervor of the reminiscences into which they straightway launched, sitting wide-kneed by the roaring hearth, steaming glass in hand.
The Major sat massively upright on the bench, letting his thick cloak fall backward from his broad shoulders to the floor, for, though the heat of the flames might well-nigh singe one's eyebrows, it would be cold behind. I looked upon his great girth of chest, upon his strong hands, which yet showed delicately fair when they were ungloved, and upon his round, full-colored, amiable face with much satisfaction. I seemed to swell with pride when he unbuckled his sword, belt and all, and handed it to me, I being nearest, to put aside for him. It was a ponderous, severe-looking weapon, and I bore it to the bed with awe, asking myself how many people it was likely to have killed in its day. I had before this handled other swords—including Sir William's—but never such a one as this. Nor had I ever before seen a soldier who seemed to my boyish eyes so like what a warrior should be.
It was not our habit to expend much liking upon English officers or troopers, who were indeed quite content to go on without our friendship, and treated us Dutch and Palatines in turn with contumacy and roughness, as being no better than their inferiors. But no one could help liking Major Anthony Cross—at least when they saw him under his old friend's roof-tree, expanding with genial pleasure.
For the yellow-haired boy, who was the Major's son, I cared much less. I believe truly that I disliked him from the very first moment out on the frosty road, and that when I saw him shivering there with the cold, I was not a whit sorry. This may be imagination, but it is certain that he did not get into my favor after we came inside.
Under this Master Philip's commands the negro squatted on his haunches and unrolled the blankets from the bundle I had seen him carrying. Out of this bundle, to my considerable amazement, was revealed a little child, perhaps between three and four years of age.
This tiny girl blinked in the light thus suddenly surrounding her, and looked about the room piteously, with her little lips trembling and her eyes filled with tears. She was very small for her years, and had long, tumbled hair. Her dress was a homespun frock in a single piece, and her feet were wrapped for warmth in wool stockings of a grown woman's measure. She looked about the room, I say, until she saw me. No doubt my Dutch face was of the sort she was accustomed to, for she stretched out her hands to me. Thereupon I went and took her in my arms, the negro smiling upon us both.
I had thought to bear her to the fire-place, where Master Philip was already toasting himself, standing between Mr. Stewart's knees, and boldly spreading his hands over the heat. But when he espied me bringing forward the child he darted to us and sharply bade me leave the girl alone.
"Is she not to be warmed, then?" I asked, puzzled alike at his rude behavior and at his words.
"I will do it myself," he answered shortly, and made to take the child.
He alarmed her with his imperious gesture, and she turned from him, clinging to my neck. I was vexed now, and, much as I feared discourtesy to one of Mr. Stewart's guests, felt like holding my own. Keeping the little girl tight in my arms, I pushed past him toward the fire. To my great wrath he began pulling at her shawl as I went, shouting that he would have her, while to make matters worse the babe herself set up a loud wail. Thus you may imagine I was in a fine state of confusion and temper when I stood finally at the side of the hearth and felt Mr. Stewart's eyes upon me. But I had the girl.
"What is the tumult?" he demanded, in a vexed tone. "What are you doing, Douw, and what child is this?"
"It is my child, sir!" young Philip spoke up, panting from his exertions, and red with color.
The two men broke out in loud laughter at this, so long sustained that Philip himself joined it, and grinned reluctantly. I was too angry to even feel relieved that the altercation was to have no serious consequences for me—much less to laugh myself. I opened the shawl, that the little one might feel the heat, and said nothing.
"Well, the lad is right, in a way," finally chuckled the Major. "It's as much his child as it is anybody's this side of heaven."
The phrase checked his mirth, and he went on more seriously:
"She is the child of a young couple who had come to the Palatine Village only a few weeks before. The man was a cooper or wheelwright, one or the other, and his name was Peet or Peek, or some such Dutch name. When Belletre fell upon the town at night, the man was killed in the first attack. The woman with her child ran with the others to the ford. There in the darkness and panic she was crushed under and drowned; but strange enough—who can tell how these matters are ordered?—the infant was in some way got across the river safe, and fetched to the Fort. But there, so great is the throng, both of those who escaped and those who now, alarmed for their lives, flock in from the farms round about, that no one had time to care for a mere infant. Her parents were new-comers, and had no friends. Besides, every one up there is distracted with mourning or frantic with preparation for the morrow. The child stood about among the cattle, trying to get warm in the straw, when we came out last night to start. She looked so beseechingly at us, and so like my own little Cordelia, by God! I couldn't bear it! I cursed a trifle about their brutality, and one of 'em offered at that to take her in; but my boy here said, 'Let's bring her with us, father,' and up she came on to Bob's saddle, and off we started. At Herkimer's I found blankets for her, and one of the girls gave us some hose, big enough for Bob, which we bundled her in."
"There! said I not truly she was mine?" broke in the boy, shaking his yellow hair proudly, and looking Mr. Stewart confidently in the eye.
"Rightly enough," replied Mr. Stewart, kindly. "And so you are my old friend Anthony Cross's son, eh? A good, hearty lad, seeing the world young. Can you realize easily, Master Philip, looking at us two old people, that we were once as small as you, and played together then on the Galway hills, never knowing there could be such a place as America? And that later we slept together in the same tent, and thanked our stars for not being bundled together into the same trench, years upon years?"
"Yes, and I know who you are, what's more!" said the pert boy, unabashed.
"Why, that's wisdom itself," said Mr. Stewart, pleasantly.
"You are Tom Lynch, and your grandfather was a king——"
"No more," interposed Mr. Stewart, frowning and lifting his finger. "That folly is dead and in its grave. Not even so fair a youth as you must give it resurrection."
"Here, Bob," said the Major, with sudden alacrity. "Go outside with these children, and help them to some games."
Master Philip Makes His Bow—And Behaves Badly.
My protector and chief friend was at this time, as near as may be, fifty years of age; yet he bore these years so sturdily that, if one should see him side by side with his gossip and neighbor, Sir William Johnson, there would be great doubt which was the elder—and the Baronet was not above forty-two. Mr. Stewart was not tall, and seemed of somewhat slight frame, yet he had not only grace of movement, but prodigious strength of wrist and shoulders. For walking he was not much, but he rode like a knight. He was of strictest neatness and method concerning his clothes; not so much, let me explain, as to their original texture, for they were always plain, ordinary garments, but regarding their cleanliness and order. He had a swift and ready temper, and could not brook to be disputed by his equals, much less by his inferiors, yet had a most perfect and winning politeness when agreed with.
All these, I had come to know, were traits of a soldier, yet he had many other qualities which puzzled me, not being observable in other troopers. He swore very rarely, he was abstemious with wines and spirits, and he loved books better than food itself. Of not even Sir William, great warrior and excellent scholar though he was, could all these things be said. Mr. Stewart had often related to me, during the long winter days and evenings spent of necessity by the fire, stories drawn from his campaigns in the Netherlands and France and Scotland, speaking freely and most instructively. But he had never helped me to unravel the mystery why he, so unlike other soldiers in habits and tastes, should have chosen the profession of arms.
A ray of light was thrown upon the question this very day by the forward prattle of the boy Philip. In after years the full illumination came, and I understood it all. It is as well, perhaps, to outline the story here, although at the time I was in ignorance of it.
In Ireland, nearly eighty years before, that is to say in 1679, there had been born a boy to whom was given the name of James Lynch. His mother was the smooth-faced, light-hearted daughter of a broken Irish gentleman, who loved her boy after a gusty fashion, and bore a fierce life of scorn and sneers on his behalf. His father was—who? There were no proofs in court, of course, but it seems never to have been doubted by any one that the father was no other than the same worthless prince to wear whose titles the two chief towns of my State were despoiled of their honest Dutch names—I mean the Duke of York and Albany.
Little James Lynch, unlike so many of his luckier brothers and cousins, got neither a peerage nor a gentle breeding. Instead he was reared meagrely, if not harshly, under the maternal roof and name, until he grew old enough to realize that he was on an island where bad birth is not forgiven, even if the taint be royal. Then he ran away, reached the coast of France, and made his way to the French court, where his father was now, and properly enough, an exile. He was a fine youth, with a prompt tongue and clever head, and some attention was finally shown him. They gave him a sword and a company, and he went with the French through all the wars of Marlborough, gaining distinction, and, what is more, a fat purse.
With his money he returned to Ireland, wedded a maid of whom he had dreamed during all his exile, and settled down there to beggar himself in a life of bibulous ease, gaming, fox-hunting, and wastefulness generally. After some years the wife died, and James Lynch drifted naturally into the conspiracy which led to the first rising for the Pretender, involving himself as deeply as possible, and at its collapse flying once more to France, never to return.
He bore with him this time a son of eight years—my Mr. Stewart. This boy, called Thomas, was reared on the skirts of the vicious French court, now in a Jesuit school, now a poor relation in a palace, always reflecting in the vicissitudes of his condition the phases of his sire's vagrant existence. Sometimes this father would be moneyed and prodigal, anon destitute and mean, but always selfish to the core, and merrily regardless alike of canons and of consequences. He died, did this adventurous gentleman, in the very year which took off the first George in Hanover, and left his son a very little money, a mountain of debts, and an injunction of loyalty to the Stewarts.
Young Thomas, then nearly twenty, thought much for a time of becoming a priest, and was always a favorite with the British Jesuits about Versailles, but this in the end came to nothing. He abandoned the religious vocation, though not the scholar's tastes, and became a soldier, for the sake of a beautiful face which he saw once when on a secret visit to England. He fell greatly in love, and ventured to believe that the emotion was reciprocated. As Jacob served Laban for his daughter, so did Tom Lynch serve the Pretender's cause for the hope of some day returning, honored and powerful, to ask the hand of that sweet daughter of the Jacobite gentleman.
One day there came to him at Paris, to offer his sword to the Stewarts, a young Irish gentleman who had been Tom's playmate in childhood—Anthony Cross. This gallant, fresh-faced, handsome youth was all ablaze with ardor; he burned to achieve impossible deeds, to attain glory at a stroke. He confessed to Tom over their dinner, or the wine afterward perhaps, that his needs were great because Love drove. He was partly betrothed to the daughter of an English Jacobite—yet she would marry none but one who had gained his spurs under his rightful king. They drank to the health of this exacting, loyal maiden, and Cross gave her name. Then Tom Lynch rose from the table, sick at heart, and went away in silence.
Cross never knew of the hopes and joys he had unwittingly crushed. The two young men became friends, intimates, brothers, serving in half the lands of Europe side by side. The maiden, an orphan now, and of substance and degree, came over at last to France, and Lynch stood by, calm-faced, and saw her married to his friend. She only pleasantly remembered him; he never forgot her till his death.
Finally, in 1745, when both men were nearing middle age, the time for striking the great blow was thought to have arrived. The memory of Lynch's lineage was much stronger with the romantic young Pretender of his generation than had been the rightfully closer tie between their more selfish fathers, and princely favor gave him a prominent position among those who arranged that brilliant melodrama of Glenfinnan and Edinburgh and Preston Pans, which was to be so swiftly succeeded by the tragedy of Culloden. The two friends were together through it all—in its triumph, its disaster, its rout—but they became separated afterward in the Highlands, when they were hiding for their lives. Cross, it seems, was able to lie secure until his wife's relatives, through some Whig influence, I know not what, obtained for him amnesty first, then leave to live in England, and finally a commission under the very sovereign he had fought. His comrade, less fortunate, at least contrived to make way to Ireland and then to France. There, angered and chagrined at unjust and peevish rebukes offered him, he renounced the bad cause, took the name of Stewart, and set sail to the New World.
This was my patron's story, as I gathered it in later years, and which perhaps I have erred in bringing forward here among my childish recollections. But, it seems to belong in truth much more to this day on which, for the first and last time I beheld Major Cross, than to the succeeding period when his son became an actor in the drama of my life.
* * * * *
The sun was now well up in the sky, and the snow was melting. While I still moodily eyed my young enemy and wondered how I should go about to acquit myself of the task laid upon me—to play with him—he solved the question by kicking into the moist snow with his boots and calling out:
"Aha! we can build a fort with this, and have a fine attack. Bob, make me a fort!"
Seeing that he bore no malice, my temper softened toward him a little, and I set to helping the negro in his work. There was a great pile of logs in the clearing close to the house, and on the sunny side near this the little girl was placed, in a warm, dry spot; and here we two, with sticks and balls of snow, soon reared a mock block-house. The English boy did no work, but stood by and directed us with enthusiasm. When the structure was to his mind, he said:
"Now we will make up some snowballs, and have an attack I will be the Englishman and defend the fort; you must be the Frenchman and come to drive me out. You can have Bob with you for a savage, if you like; only he must throw no balls, but stop back in the woods and whoop. But first we must have some hard balls made, so that I may hit you good when you come up.—Bob, help this boy make some balls for me!"
Thus outlined, the game did not attract me. I did not so much mind doing his work for him, since he was company, so to speak, but it did go against my grain to have to manufacture the missiles for my own hurt.
"Why should I be the Frenchman?" I said, grumblingly. "I am no more a Frenchman than you are yourself."
"You're a Dutchman, then, and it's quite the same," he replied. "All foreigners are the same."
"It is you who are the foreigner," I retorted with heat. "How can I be a foreigner in my own country, here where I was born?"
He did not take umbrage at this, but replied with argument: "Why, of course you're a foreigner. You wear an apron, and you are not able to even speak English properly."
This reflection upon my speech pained even more than it nettled me. Mr. Stewart had been at great pains to teach me English, and I had begun to hope that he felt rewarded by my proficiency. Years afterward he was wont to laughingly tell me that I never would live long enough to use English correctly, and that as a boy I spoke it abominably, which I dare say was true enough. But just then my childish pride was grievously piqued by Philip's criticism.
"Very well, I'll be on the outside, then," I said. "I won't be a Frenchman, but I'll come all the same, and do you look out for yourself when I do come," or words to that purport.
We had a good, long contest over the snow wall. I seem to remember it all better than I remember any other struggle of my life, although there were some to come in which existence itself was at stake, but boys' mimic fights are not subjects upon which a writer may profitably dwell. It is enough to say that he defended himself very stoutly, hurling the balls which Bob had made for him with great swiftness and accuracy, so that my head was sore for a week. But my blood was up, and at last over the wall I forced my way, pushing a good deal of it down as I went, and, grappling him by the waist, wrestled with and finally threw him. We were both down, with our faces in the snow, and I held him tight. I expected that he would be angry, and hot to turn the play into a real fight; but he said instead, mumbling with his mouth full of snow:
"Now you must pretend to scalp me, you know."
My aunt called us at this, and we all trooped into the house again. The little girl had crowed and clapped her hands during our struggle, all unconscious of the dreadful event of which it was a juvenile travesty. We two boys admired her as she was borne in on the negro's shoulder, and Philip said:
"I am going to take her to England, for a playmate. Papa has said I may. My brother Digby has no sport in him, and he is much bigger than me, besides. So I shall have her all for my own. Only I wish she weren't Dutch."
When we entered the house the two gentlemen were seated at the table, eating their dinner, and my aunt had spread for us, in the chimney-corner, a like repast. She took the little girl off to her own room, the kitchen, and we fell like famished wolves upon the smoking venison and onions.
The talk of our elders was mainly about a personage of whom I could not know anything then, but whom I now see to have been the Young Pretender. They spoke of him as "he," and as leading a painfully worthless and disreputable life. This Mr. Stewart, who was twelve years the Chevalier's senior, and, as I learned later, had been greatly attached to his person, deplored with affectionate regret. But Major Cross, who related incidents of debauchery and selfishness which, being in Europe, had come to his knowledge about the prince, did not seem particularly cast down.
"It's but what might have been looked for," he said, lightly, in answer to some sad words of my patron's. "Five generations of honest men have trusted to their sorrow in the breed, and given their heads or their estates or their peace for not so much as a single promise kept, or a single smile without speculation in it. Let them rot out, I say, and be damned to them!"
"But he was such a goodly lad, Tony. Think of him as we knew him—and now!"
"No, I'll not think, Tom," broke in the officer, "for, when I do, then I too get soft-hearted. And I'll waste no more feeling or faith on any of 'em—on any of 'em, save the only true man of the lot, who's had the wit to put the ocean 'twixt him and them. And you're content here, Tom?"
"Oh, ay! Why not?" said Mr. Stewart. "It is a rude life in some ways, no doubt, but it's free and it's honest. I have my own roof, such as it is, and no one to gainsay me under it. I hunt, I fish, I work, I study, I dream—precisely what pleases me best."
"Ay, but the loneliness of it!"
"Why, no! I see much of Johnson, and there are others round about to talk with, when I'm driven to it. And then there's my young Dutchman—Douw, yonder—who bears me company, and fits me so well that he's like a second self."
The Major looked over toward my corner with a benevolent glance, but without comment. Presently he said, while he took more meat upon his plate:
"You've no thought of marrying, I suppose?"
"None!" said my patron, gravely and with emphasis.
The Major nodded his handsome head meditatively. "Well, there's a deal to be said on that side," he remarked. "Still, children about the hearth help one to grow old pleasantly. And you always had a weakness for brats."
Mr. Stewart said again: "I have my young Dutchman."
Once more the soldier looked at me, and, I'll be bound, saw me blushing furiously. He smiled and said:
"He seems an honest chap. He has something of your mouth, methinks."
My patron pushed his dish back with a gesture of vexation.
"No!" he said, sharply. "There's none of that. His father was a dominie over the river; his mother, a good, hard-working lady, left a widow, struggles to put bread in a dozen mouths by teaching a little home-school for infants. I have the boy here because I like him—because I want him. We shall live together—he and I. As he gets older this hut will doubtless grow into a house fit for gentlemen. Indeed, already I have the logs cut out in part for an addition, on the other side of the chimney."
The Major rose at this, smiling again, and frankly put out his hand.
"I meant no harm, you know, Tom, by my barracks jest. Faith! I envy the lad the privilege of living here with you. The happiest days of my life, dear friend, were those we spent together while I was waiting for my bride."
Mr. Stewart returned his smile rather sadly, and took his hand.
The time for parting had come. The two men stood hand in hand, with moistened eyes and slow-coming words, meeting for perhaps the last time in this life; for the Major was to stop but an hour at Fort Johnson, and thence hasten on to New York and to England, bearing with him weighty despatches.
While they still stood, and the negro was tying Master Philip's hat over his ears, my aunt entered the room, bearing in her arms the poor little waif from the massacre. The child had been washed and warmed, and wore over her dress and feet a sort of mantle, which the good woman had hastily and somewhat rudely fashioned meantime.
"Oh, we came near forgetting her!" cried Philip. "Wrap her snug and warm, Bob, for the journey."
The Major looked blank at sight of the child, who nestled in my aunt's arms. "What am I to do with her?" he said to my patron.
"Why, papa, you know she is going to England with us," said the boy.
"Tut, lad!" spoke the Major, peremptorily; then, to Mr. Stewart: "Could Sir William place her, think you, or does that half-breed swarm of his fill the house? It seemed right enough to bring her out from the Palatine country, but now that she's out, damme! I almost wish she was back again. What a fool not to leave her at Herkimer's!"
I do not know if I had any clear idea of what was springing up in Mr. Stewart's mind, but it seems to me that I must have looked at him pleadingly and with great hope in my eyes, during the moment of silence which followed. Mr. Stewart in turn regarded the child attentively.
"Would it please you to keep her here, Dame Kronk?" he asked at last.
As my aunt made glad assent, I could scarcely refrain from dancing. I walked over to the little girl and took her hand in mine, filled with deep joy.
"You render me very grateful, Tom," said Major Cross, heartily. "It's a load off my mind.—Come, Philip, make your farewells. We must be off."
"And isn't the child to be mine—to go with us?" the boy asked, vehemently.
"Why be childish, Philip?" demanded the Major. "Of course it's out of the question."
The English lad, muffled up now for the ride, with his large flat hat pressed down comically at the sides by the great knitted comforter which Bob had tied under his chin, scowled in a savage fashion, bit his lips, and started for the door, too angry to say good-by. When he passed me, red-faced and wrathful, I could not keep from smiling, but truly rather at his swaddled appearance than at his discomfiture. He had sneered at my apron, besides.
With a cry of rage he whirled around and struck me full in the face, knocking me head over heels into the ashes on the hearth. Then he burst into a fit of violent weeping, or rather convulsions more befitting a wild-cat than a human being, stamping furiously with his feet, and screaming that he would have the child.
I picked myself out of the ashes, where my hair had been singed a trifle by the embers, in time to see the Major soundly cuff his offspring, and then lead him by the arm, still screaming, out of the door. There Bob enveloped him in his arms, struggling and kicking, and put him on the horse.
Major Cross, returning for a final farewell word, gave me a shilling as a salve for my hurts, physical and mental, and said:
"I am sorry to have so ill-tempered a son. He cannot brook denial, when once he fixes his heart on a thing. However, he'll get that beaten out of him before he's done with the world. And so, Tom, dear, dear old comrade, a last good-by. God bless you, Tom! Farewell."
"God bless you—and yours, mon frere!"
We stood, Mr. Stewart and I, at the outer gate, and watched them down the river road, until the jutting headland intervened. As we walked slowly back toward the house, my guardian said, as if talking partly to himself:
"There is nothing clearer in natural law than that sons inherit from their mothers. I know of only two cases in all history where an able man had a father superior in brain and energy to the mother—Martin Luther and the present King of Prussia. Perhaps it was all for the best."
To this I of course offered no answer, but trudged along through the melting snow by his side.
Presently, as we reached the house, he stopped and looked the log structure critically over.
"You heard what I said, Douw, upon your belonging henceforth to this house—to me?"
"Yes, Mr. Stewart."
"And now, lo and behold, I have a daughter as well! To-morrow we must plan out still another room for our abode."
Thus ended the day on which my story properly and prophetically begins—the day when I first met Master Philip Cross.
In Which I Become the Son of the House.
The French, for some reason or other, did not follow up their advantage and descend upon the lower Valley; but had they done so there could scarcely have been a greater panic among the Palatines. All during the year there had been seen at times, darkly flitting through the woods near the sparse settlements, little bands of hostile Indians. It was said that their purpose was to seize and abduct Sir William; failing in this, they did what other mischief they could, so that the whole Valley was kept in constant alarm. No household knew, on going to bed, that they would not be roused before morning by savage war-cries. No man ventured out of sight of his home without entertaining the idea that he might never get back alive. Hence, when the long-expected blow was really struck, and the town on the German Flatts devastated, everybody was in an agony of fear. To make matters worse, Sir William was at his home ill in bed, and there was some trouble between him and the English commanders, which stood in the way of troops being sent to our aid.
Those few days following the dreadful news of the attack above us seem still like a nightmare. The settlers up the river began sending their household goods down to Albany; women and children, too, passed us in great parties, to take refuge in Fort Hunter or at Schenectady. The river suddenly became covered with boats once more, but this time representing the affrighted flight of whole communities instead of a peaceful commerce.
During this season of terror I was, as may be conceived, indeed unhappy. I had no stomach even for play with the new addition to our household, yet scarcely dared to show my nose outside the stockade. Mr. Stewart spent his days abroad, either with Sir William, or up at Caughnawaga concerting means of defence with our friends the Fondas. He did, however, find time to cross the river and reassure my mother, who trembled with apprehension for her great brood of young, but was brave as a lion for herself. Weeks afterward, when I visited her once more, I saw baskets of lime in the attic which this devoted woman had stored there, to throw with water on the Indians when they came. This device she had learned from the family traditions of her ancestors' doings, when the Spaniards were in Holland.
Gradually the alarm wore away. The French and Indians, after killing fifty Palatines and taking thrice that number prisoners, turned tail and marched back to the Lake again, with some of Honikol Herkimer's lead in their miserable bodies. The Valley was rarely to be cursed with their presence again. It was as if a long fever had come to its climax in a tremendous convulsion, and then gone off altogether. We regained confidence, and faced the long winter of '57 with content.
Before the next snowfall succeeded to that first November flurry, and the season closed in in earnest, Mr. Stewart was able, by the aid of a number of neighbors, to build and roof over two additions to his house. The structure was still all of logs, but with its new wings became almost as large, if not as imposing, as any frame-house round about. One of these wings was set aside for Dame Kronk and the little girl. The other, much to my surprise, was given to me. At the same time my benefactor formally presented me with my little black playmate, Tulp. He had heretofore been my friend; henceforth he was my slave, yet, let me add, none the less my friend.
All this was equivalent to my formal adoption as Mr. Stewart's son. It was the custom in those days, when a slave child came of a certain age, to present it to the child of the family who should be of the same age and sex. The presentation was made at New Year's, ordinarily, and the white child acknowledged it by giving the little black a piece of money and a pair of shoes. My mother rather illogically shed some tears at this token that I was to belong henceforth to Mr. Stewart; but she gave me a bright Spanish dollar out of her small hoard, for Tulp, and she had old William Dietz, the itinerant cobbler of Schoharie, construct for him a very notable pair of shoes, which did him no good since his father promptly sold them over at Fort Hunter for rum. The old rascal would have made away with the coin as well, no doubt, but that Mr. Stewart threatened him with a hiding, and so Tulp wore it on a leather string about his neck.
I did not change my name, but continued to be Douw Mauverensen. This was at the wish of both Mr. Stewart and my mother, for the name I bore was an honorable one. My father had been for years a clergyman in the Valley, preaching now in Dutch, now in German, according to the nationality of the people, and leading a life of much hardship, travelling up and down among them. It is not my business to insist that he was a great man, but it is certain that through all my younger years I received kindnesses from many people because I was my father's son. For my own part I but faintly remember him, he having been killed by a fractious horse when I was a very small boy.
As he had had no fixed charge during life, but had ministered to half a dozen communities, so it was nobody's business in particular to care for his family after his death. The owner of the horse did send my mother a bushel of apples, and the congregation at Stone Arabia took up a little money for her. But they were all poor people in those days, wresting a scanty livelihood from the wilderness, and besides, I have never noticed that to be free with their money is in the nature of either the Dutch or the Palatines. The new dominie, too, who came up from Albany to take my father's place, was of the opinion that there was quite little enough coming in for the living pastor, without shearing it, as he said, to keep alive dead folk's memories. Thus sadly a prospect of great destitution opened before my mother.
But she was, if I say it myself, a superior woman. Her father, Captain Baltus Van Hoorn, had been a burgher of substance in old Dorp, until the knavery of a sea-captain who turned pirate with a ship owned by my grandfather drove the old gentleman into poverty and idleness. For years his younger daughter, my mother, kept watch over him, contrived by hook or by crook to collect his old credits outstanding, and maintained at least enough of his business to ward the wolf from the door. It was only after his death, and after her older sister Margaret had gone to Coeymans with her husband, Kronk, that my mother married the elderly Dominie Mauverensen. When he was so untowardly killed, fifteen years later, she was left with eight children, of whom I, a toddling urchin, was among the youngest. She had no money save the pittance from Stone Arabia, no means of livelihood, nor even a roof of her own over her head, since the new dominie made harsh remarks about her keeping him out of his own every time he visited our village. To add to the wretchedness of her plight, at this very time her sister Margaret came back in destitution and weakness to her, having been both widowed and sorely shaken in wits by the small-pox.
It was then that Mr. Stewart, who had known my father, came to our relief. He first lent my mother a small sum of money—she would take no more, and was afterward very proud to repay him penny for penny. He further interested Sir William Johnson, Mr. Douw Fonda, Mr. John Butler, and others in the project of aiding her to establish a small school at Fort Hunter, where little children might be taught pure Dutch.
This language, which I have lived to see almost entirely fade from use, was even then thought to be most probably the tongue of the future in the colony, and there was the more need to teach it correctly, since, by the barbarous commingling of Rhenish peasant dialects, Irish and Scotch perversions of English, Indian phrases, the lingo of the slaves, and the curious expressions of the Yankees from the East, the most villanous jargon ever heard was commonly spoken in our Valley. My mother knew the noble language of her fathers in all its strength and sweetness, and her teaching was so highly prized that soon the school became a source of steady support to us all. Old "Uncle" Conrad—or Coonrod as we used to call him—the high-shouldered old pedagogue who was at once teacher, tithing-man, herb-doctor, and fiddler for our section, grumbled a little at the start; but either he had not the heart to take the bread from our mouths, or his own lips were soon silenced by the persuasion of our patrons.
It was out of respect for one of these, good old Douw Fonda, who came from Schenectady to live at Caughnawaga when I was two years old, that I had been named. But even more we all owed to the quiet, lonely man who had built the log house opposite Aries Creek, and who used so often to come over on Sunday afternoons in the warm weather and pay us a friendly visit.
My earliest recollections are of this Mr. Stewart, out of whom my boyish fancy created a beneficent sort of St. Nicholas, who could be good all the year round instead of only at New Year's. As I grew older his visits seemed more and more to be connected with me, for he paid little attention to my sisters, and rarely missed taking me on his knee, or, later on, leading me out for a walk. Finally I was asked to go over and stay with him for a week, and this practically was the last of my life with my mother. Soon afterward my aunt was engaged as his housekeeper, and I tacitly became a part of the household as well. Last of all, on my eighth birthday, in this same November of '57, I was formally installed as son of the house.
It was a memorable day, as I have said, in that Tulp was given me for my own. But I think that at the time I was even more affected by the fact that I was presented with a coat, and allowed to forever lay aside my odious aprons. These garments, made by my mother's own hands, had long been the bane of my existence. To all my entreaties to be dressed as the other boys of my age were, like Matthew Wormuth or Walter Butler instead of like a Dutch infant, she was accustomed to retort that young Peter Hansenius, the son of the dominie at Schenectady, had worn aprons until he was twelve. I had never seen Peter Hansenius, nor has it ever since been my fortune so to do, but I hated him bitterly as the cause of my humiliation.
Yet when I had got my coat, and wore it, along with breeches of the same pearl-gray color, dark woollen stockings, copper buckles on my shoes, and plain lace at my wrists and neck and on my new hat, I somehow did not feel any more like the other boys than before.
It was my bringing up, I fancy, which made me a solitary lad. Continual contact with Mr. Stewart had made me older than my years. I knew the history of Holland almost as well, I imagine, as any grown man in the neighborhood, and I had read many valuable books on the history of other countries and the lives of famous men, which were in Mr. Stewart's possession. Sir William also loaned me numerous books, including the Gentleman's Magazine, which I studied with delight. I had also from him Roderick Random, which I did not at all enjoy, nor do I even now understand how it, or for that matter any of its rowdy fellows, found favor with sensible people.
My reading was all very serious—strangely so, no doubt, for a little boy—but in truth reading of any sort would have served to make me an odd sheep among my comrades. I wonder still at the unlettered condition of the boys about me. John Johnson, though seven years my senior, was so ignorant as scarcely to be able to tell the difference between the Dutch and the Germans, and whence they respectively came. He told me once, some years after this, when I was bringing an armful of volumes from his father's mansion, that a boy was a fool to pore over books when he could ride and fish and hunt instead. Young Butler was of a better sort mentally, but he too never cared to read much. Both he and the Groats, the Nellises, the Cosselmans, young Wormuth—in fact, all the boys of good families I knew in the Valley—derided education, and preferred instead to go into the woods with a negro, and hunt squirrels while he chopped, or to play with their traps.
Perhaps they were not to be blamed much, for the attractions of the rough out-of-door life which they saw men leading all about them might very easily outweigh the quiet pleasures of a book. But it was a misfortune none the less in after-years to some of them, when they allowed uninformed prejudices to lead them into a terrible course of crime against their country and their neighbors, and paid their estates or their lives as the penalty for their ignorance and folly.
Fortunately, things are better ordered for the youth of the land in these days.
How a Stately Name Was Shortened and Sweetened.
It was on the morrow after my birthday that we became finally convinced of the French retreat. Mr. Stewart had returned from his journeys, contented, and sat now, after his hot supper, smoking by the fire. I lay at his feet on a bear-skin, I remember, reading by the light of the flames, when my aunt brought the baby-girl in.
During the week that she had been with us, I had been too much terrified by the menace of invasion to take much interest in her, and Mr. Stewart had scarcely seen her. He smiled now, and held out his hands to her. She went to him very freely, and looked him over with a wise, wondering expression when he took her on his knee. It could be seen that she was very pretty. Her little white rows of teeth were as regular and pearly as the upper kernels on an ear of fresh sweet corn. She had a ribbon in her long, glossy hair, and her face shone pleasantly with soap. My aunt had made her some shoes out of deer-hide, which Mr. Stewart chuckled over.
"What a people the Dutch are!" he said, with a smile. "The child is polished like the barrel of a gun. What's your name, little one?"
The girl made no answer, from timidity I suppose.
"Has she no name? I should think she would have one," said I. It was the first time I had ever spoken to Mr. Stewart without having been addressed. But my new position in the house seemed to entitle me to this much liberty, for once.
"No," he replied, "your aunt is not able to discover that she has a name—except that she calls herself Pulkey, or something like that."
"That is not a good name to the ear," I said, in comment.
"No; doubtless it is a nickname. I have thought," he added, musingly, "of calling her Desideria."
I sat bolt upright at this. It did not become me to protest, but I could not keep the dismay from my face, evidently, for Mr. Stewart laughed aloud.
"What is it, Douw? Is it not to your liking?"
"Y-e-s, sir—but she is such a very little girl!"
"And the name is so great, eh? She'll grow to it, lad, she'll grow to it. And what kind of a Dutchman are you, sir, who are unwilling to do honor to the greatest of all Dutchmen? The Dr. Erasmus upon whose letters you are to try your Latin this winter—his name was Desiderius. Can you tell what it means? It signifies 'desired,' as of a mother's heart, and he took a form of the Greek verb erao, meaning about the same thing, instead. It's a goodly famous name, you see. We mean to make our little girl the truest lady, and love her the best, of all the women in the Valley. And so we'll give her a name—a fair-sounding, gracious, classical name—which no other woman bears, and one that shall always suggest home love—eh, boy?"
"But if it be so good a name, sir," I said, gingerly being conscious of presumption, "why did Dr. Erasmus not keep it himself instead of turning it into Greek?"
My patron laughed heartily at this. "A Dutchman for obstinacy!" he said, and leaned over to rub the top of my head, which he did when I specially pleased him.
Late that night, as I lay awake in my new room, listening to the whistling of the wind in the snow-laden branches outside, an idea came to me which I determined to put into action. So next evening, when the little girl was brought in after our supper, I begged that she might be put down on the fur before the fire, to play with me, and I watched my opportunity. Mr. Stewart was reading by the candles on the table. Save for the singing of the kettle on the crane—for the mixing of his night-drink later on—and the click of my aunt's knitting-needles, there was perfect silence. I mustered my bravery, and called my wee playmate "Daisy."
I dared not look at the master, and could not tell if he had heard or not. Presently I spoke the name again, and this time ventured to steal an apprehensive glance at him, and fancied I saw the workings of a smile repressed in the deep lines about his mouth. "A Dutchman for obstinacy" truly, since two days afterward Mr. Stewart himself called the girl "Daisy"—and there was an end of it. Until confirmation time, when she played a queenly part at the head of the little class of farmers' and villagers' daughters whom Dominie Romeyn baptized into full communion, the ponderous Latin name was never heard of again. Then it indeed emerged for but a single day, to dignify a state occasion, and disappeared forever. Except alone on the confirmation register of the Stone Church at Caughnawaga, she was Daisy thenceforth for all time and to all men.
The winter of 1757-58 is still spoken of by us old people as a season of great severity and consequent privation. The snow was drifted over the roads up to the first branches of the trees, yet rarely formed a good crust upon which one could move with snow-shoes. Hence the outlying settlements, like Cherry Valley and Tribes Hill, had hard work to get food.
I do not remember that our household stood in any such need, but occasionally some Indian who had been across the hills carrying venison would come in and rest, begging for a drink of raw rum, and giving forth a strong smell like that of a tame bear as he toasted himself by the fire. Mr. Stewart was often amused by these fellows, and delighted to talk with them as far as their knowledge of language and inclination to use it went, but I never could abide them.
It has become the fashion now to be sentimental about the red man, and young people who never knew what he really was like find it easy to extol his virtues, and to create for him a chivalrous character. No doubt there were some honest creatures among them; even in Sodom and Gomorrah a few just people were found. It is true that in later life I once had occasion to depend greatly upon the fidelity of two Oneidas, and they did not fail me. But as a whole the race was a bad one—full of laziness and lies and cowardly ferocity. From earliest childhood I saw a good deal of them, and I know what I say.
Probably there was no place on the whole continent where these Indians could be better studied than in the Mohawk Valley, near to Sir William's place. They came to him in great numbers, not only from the Six Nations, but often from far-distant tribes living beyond the Lakes and north of the St. Lawrence. They were on their best behavior with him, and no doubt had an affection for him in their way, but it was because he flattered their egregious vanity by acting and dressing in Indian fashion, and made it worth their while by constantly giving them presents and rum. Their liking seemed always to me to be that of the selfish, treacherous cat, rather than of the honest dog. Their teeth and claws were always ready for your flesh, if you did not give them enough, and if they dared to strike. And they were cowards, too, for all their boasting. Not even Sir William could get them to face any enemy in the open. Their notion of war was midnight skulking and shooting from behind safe cover. Even in battle they were murderers, not warriors.
In peace they were next to useless. There was a little colony of them in our orchard one summer which I watched with much interest. The men never did one stroke of honest work all the season long, except to trot on errands when they felt like it, and occasionally salt and smoke fish which they caught in the river.
But the wretched squaws—my word but they worked enough for both! These women, wrinkled, dirty, sore-eyed from the smoke in their miserable huts, toiled on patiently, ceaselessly, making a great variety of wooden utensils and things of deer-hide like snow-shoes, moccasins, and shirts, which they bartered with the whites for milk and vegetables and rum. Even the little girls among them had to gather berries and mandrake, and, in the fall, the sumach blows which the Indians used for savoring their food. And if these poor creatures obtained in their bartering too much bread and milk and too little rum and tobacco, they were beaten by their men as no white man would beat the meanest animal.
Doubtless much of my dislike for the Indian came from his ridiculous and hateful assumption of superiority over the negro. To my mind, and to all sensible minds I fancy, one simple, honest, devoted black was worth a score of these conceited, childish brutes. I was so fond of my boy Tulp, that, even as a little fellow, I deeply resented the slights and cuffs which he used to receive at the hands of the savages who lounged about in the sunshine in our vicinity. His father, mother, and brothers, who herded together in a shanty at the edge of the clearing back of us, had their faults, no doubt; but they would work when they were bid, and they were grateful to those who fed and clothed and cared for them. These were reasons for their being despised by the Indians—and they seemed also reasons why I should like them, as I always did.
There were other reasons why I should be very fond of Tulp. He was a queer, droll little darky as a boy, full of curious fancies and comical sayings, and I never can remember a time when he would not, I veritably believe, have laid down his life for me. We were always together, indoors or out. He was exceedingly proud of his name, which was in a way a badge of ancient descent—having been borne by a long line of slaves, his ancestors, since that far-back time when the Dutch went crazy over collecting tulip-bulbs.
His father had started in life with this name, too, but, passing into the possession of an unromantic Yankee at Albany, had been re-christened Eli—a name which he loathed yet perforce retained when Mr. Stewart bought him. He was a drunken, larcenous old rascal, but as sweet-tempered as the day is long, and many's the time I've heard him vow, with maudlin tears in his eyes, that all his evil habits came upon him as the result of changing his name. If he had continued to be Tulp, he argued, he would have had some incentive to an honorable life; but what self-respecting nigger could have so low-down a name as Eli, and be good for anything? All this warranted my boy in being proud of his name, and, so to speak, living up to it.
I have gossiped along without telling much of the long winter of 1757. In truth, there is little to tell. I happen to remember that it was a season of cruel hardship to many of our neighbors. But it was a happy time for me. What mattered it that the snow was piled outside high above my head; that food in the forest was so scarce that the wolves crept yelping close to our stockade; that we had to eat cranberries to keep off the scurvy, until I grew for all time to hate their very color; or that for five long months I never saw my mother and sisters, or went to church? It was very pleasant inside.
I seem still to see the square, home-like central room of the old house, with Mr. Stewart's bed in one corner, covered with a great robe of pieced panther skins. The smoky rafters above were hung with strings of onions, red-peppers, and long ears of Indian corn, the gold of which shone through pale parted husks and glowed in the firelight. The rude home-made table, chairs, and stools stood in those days upon a rough floor of hewn planks, on projecting corners of which an unlucky toe was often stubbed. There were various skins spread on this floor, and others on the log walls, hung up to dry. Over the great stone mantel were suspended Mr. Stewart's guns, along with his sword and pistols. Back in the corners of the fireplace were hung traps, nets, and the like, while on the opposite side of the room was the master's bookcase, well filled with volumes in English, Latin, and other tongues. Three doors, low and unpanelled, opened from this room to the other chambers of the house—leading respectively to the kitchen, to my room, and to the room now set apart for my aunt and little Daisy.
No doubt it was a poor abode, and scantily enough furnished, judged by present standards, but we were very comfortable in it, none the less. I worked pretty hard that winter on my Latin, conning Caesar for labor and Dr. Erasmus for play, and kept up my other studies as well, reading for the first time, I remember, the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. For the rest, I busied myself learning to make snow-shoes, to twist cords out of flax, to mould bullets, and to write legibly, or else played with Daisy and Tulp.
To confess how simply we amused ourselves, we three little ones, would be to speak in an unknown tongue, I fear, to modern children. Our stock of playthings was very limited. We had, as the basis of everything, the wooden works of the old clock, which served now for a gristmill like that of the Groats, now for a fort, again for a church. Then there were the spindles of a discarded spinning-wheel, and a small army of spools which my aunt used for winding linen thread. These we dressed in odd rags for dolls—soldiers, Indians, and fine ladies, and knights of old. To our contented fancy, there was endless interest in the lives and doings of these poor puppets. I made them illustrate the things I read, and the slave boy and tiny orphan girl assisted and followed on with equal enthusiasm, whether the play was of Alexander of Macedon, or Captain Kidd, or only a war-council of Delaware Indians, based upon Mr. Colden's book.
Sometimes, when it was warm enough to leave the hearth, and Mr. Stewart desired not to be disturbed, we would transport ourselves and our games to my aunt's room. This would be a dingy enough place, I suppose, even to my eyes now, but it had a great charm then. Here from the rafters hung the dried, odoriferous herbs—sage, summer-savory, and mother-wort; bottles of cucumber ointment and of a liniment made from angle-worms—famous for cuts and bruises; strings of dried apples and pumpkins; black beans in their withered pods; sweet clover for the linen—and I know not what else besides. On the wall were two Dutch engravings of the killing of Jan and Cornelis de Wit by the citizens of The Hague, which, despite their hideous fidelity to details, had a great fascination for me.
My childhood comes back vividly indeed to me as I recall the good old woman, in her white cap and short gown (which she had to lift to get at the pocket tied over her petticoat by a string to her waist), walking up and down with the yarn taut from the huge, buzzing wheel, crooning Dutch hymns to herself the while, and thinking about our dinner.
Within Sound of the Shouting Waters.
If I relied upon my memory, I could not tell when the French war ended. It had practically terminated, so far as our Valley was concerned, with the episode already related. Sir William Johnson was away much of the time with the army, and several of the boys older than myself—John Johnson, John Frey, and Adam Fonda among them—went with him. We heard vague news of battles at distant places, at Niagara, at Quebec, and elsewhere. Once, indeed, a band of Roman Catholic Indians appeared at Fort Herkimer and did bloody work before they were driven off, but this time there was no panic in the lower settlements.
Large troops of soldiers continually passed up and down on the river in the open seasons, some of them in very handsome clothes.
I remember one body of Highlanders in particular whose dress and mien impressed me greatly. Mr. Stewart, too, was much excited by the memories this noble uniform evoked, and had the officers into the house to eat and drink with him. I watched and listened to these tall, fierce, bare-kneed warriors in awe, from a distance. He brought out bottles from his rare stock of Madeira, and they drank it amid exclamations which, if I mistake not, were highly treasonable. This was almost the last occasion on which I heard references made to his descent, and he did his best to discourage them then. Most of these fine red-haired men, I learned afterward laid their bones on the bloody plateau overlooking Quebec.
Far fresher in my recollection than these rumors of war is the fact that my Tulp caught the small-pox, in the spring of '60, the malady having been spread by a Yankee who came up the Valley selling sap-spouts that were turned with a lathe instead of being whittled. The poor little chap was carried off to a sheep-shed on the meadow clearing, a long walk from our house, and he had to remain there by himself for six weeks. At my urgent request, I was allowed to take his food to him daily, leaving it on a stone outside and then discreetly retiring. He would come out and get it, and then we would shout to each other across the creek. I took up some of our dolls to him, but he did not get much comfort out of them, being unable to remember any of the stories which I illustrated with them, or to invent any for himself. At his suggestion I brought him instead a piece of tanned calf-skin, with a sailor's needle and some twine, and the little fellow made out of this a lot of wallets for his friends, which had to be buried a long time before they could be safely used. I have one of these yet—mildewed with age, and most rudely stitched, but still a very precious possession.
Tulp came out finally, scarred and twisted so that he was ever afterward repellent to the eye, and as crooked as Richard the Third. I fear that Daisy never altogether liked him after this. To me he was dearer than ever, not because my heart was tenderer than hers, of course, but because women are more delicately made, and must perforce shudder at ugliness.
How happily the years went by! The pictures in my memory, save those of the snug winter rooms already referred to, are all of a beautiful Valley, embowered in green, radiant with sunshine—each day live-long with delight.
There was first of all in the spring, when the chorus of returning song-birds began, the gathering of maple-sap, still sacred to boyhood. The sheep were to be washed and sheared, too, and the awkward, weak-kneed calves to be fed. While the spring floods ran high, ducks and geese covered the water, and muskrats came out, driven from their holes. Then appeared great flocks of pigeons, well fattened from their winter's sojourn in the South, and everybody, young and old, gave himself up to their slaughter; while this lasted, the crack! crack! of guns was heard all the forenoon long, particularly if the day was cloudy and the birds were flying low—and ah! the buttered pigeon pies my aunt made, too.
As the floods went down, and the snow-water disappeared, the fishing began, first with the big, silly suckers, then with wiser and more valued fish. The woods became dry, and then in long, joyous rambles we set traps and snares, hunted for nests among the low branches and in the marsh-grass, smoked woodchucks out of their holes, gathered wild flowers, winter-green, and dye-plants, or built great fires of the dead leaves and pithless, scattered branches, as boys to the end of time will delight to do.
When autumn came, there were mushrooms, and beech-nuts, butter-nuts, hickory-nuts, wild grapes, pucker-berries, not to speak of loads of elder-berries for making wine. And the pigeons, flying southward, darkened the sky once more; and then the horses were unshod for treading out the wheat, and we children fanned away the chaff with big palm-leaves; and the combs of honey were gathered and shelved; and the October husking began by our having the first kettleful of white corn, swollen and hulled by being boiled in lye of wood ashes, spooned steaming into our porringers of milk by my aunt.
Ah, they were happy times indeed!
Every other Sunday, granted tolerable weather, I crossed the river early in the morning to attend church with my mother and sisters. It is no reflection upon my filial respect, I hope, to confess that these are wearisome memories. We went in solemn procession, the family being invariably ready and waiting when I arrived. We sat in a long row in a pew quite in front of the slate-colored pulpit—my mother sitting sternly upright at the outer end, my tallest sister next, and so on, in regular progression, down to wretched baby Gertrude and me. The very color of the pew, a dull Spanish brown, was enough to send one to sleep, and its high, uncompromising back made all my bones ache.
Yet I was forced to keep awake, and more, to look deeply interested. I was a clergyman's son, and the ward of an important man; I was the best-dressed youngster in the congregation, and brought a slave of my own to church with me. So Dominie Romeyn always fixed his lack-lustre eye on me, and seemed to develop all his long, prosy arguments one by one to me personally. Even when he turned the hour-glass in front of him, he seemed to indicate that it was quite as much my affair as his. I dared not twist clear around, to see Tulp sitting among the negroes and Indians, on one of the backless benches under the end gallery; it was scarcely possible even to steal glances up to the side galleries, where the boys of lower degree were at their mischief, and where fits of giggling and horse-play rose and spread from time to time until the tithing-man, old Conrad to wit, burst in and laid his hickory gad over their irreverent heads.
When at last I could escape without discredit, and get across the river again, it was with the consoling thought that the next Sunday would be Mr. Stewart's Sunday.
This meant a good long walk with my patron. Sometimes we would go down to Mount Johnson, if Sir William was at home, or to Mr. Butler's, or some other English-speaking house, where I would hear much profitable conversation, and then be encouraged to talk about it during our leisurely homeward stroll. But more often, if the day were fine, we would leave roads and civilization behind us, and climb the gradual elevation to the north of the house, through the woodland to an old Indian trail which led to our favorite haunt—a wonderful ravine.
The place has still a local fame, and picnic parties go there to play at forestry, but it gives scarcely a suggestion now of its ancient wildness. As my boyish eyes saw it, it was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The creek, then a powerful stream, had cut a deep gorge in its exultant leap over the limestone barrier. On the cliffs above, giant hemlocks seemed to brush the very sky with their black, tufted boughs. Away below, on the shadowed bottomland, which could be reached only by feet trained to difficult descents, strange plants grew rank in the moisture of the waterfall, and misshapen rocks wrapped their nakedness in heavy folds of unknown mosses and nameless fern-growths. Above all was the ceaseless shout of the tumbling waters, which had in my ears ever a barbaric message from the Spirit of the Wilderness.