TALES OF THE CHESAPEAKE
GEO. ALFRED TOWNSEND
A fruity smell is in the school-house lane; The clover bees are sick with evening heats; A few old houses from the window-pane Fling back the flame of sunset, and there beats The throb of oars from basking oyster fleets, And clangorous music of the oyster tongs Plunged down in deep bivalvulous retreats, And sound of seine drawn home with negro songs.
New York: American News Company, 39 and 41 Chambers Street. 1880. Copyright, 1880, Geo. Alfred Townsend.
TO MY FATHER,
REV. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, M.D., PH.D.,
WHOSE ANCESTORS EXPLORED THE CHESAPEAKE BAY IN 1623, AND WERE SETTLED ON THE POCOMOKE RIVER ALMOST TWO HUNDRED YEARS, NEAR HIS BIRTHPLACE;
THE AFFECTION OF
HIS ONLY SURVIVING SON.
Of the following pieces, two, "Kidnapped," and "Dominion over the Fish," have been published in Chambers's Journal, London. The poem "Herman of Bohemia Manor" is new. All the compositions illustrate the same general locality.
THE EASTERN SHORE OF MARYLAND.
One day, worn out with head and pen, And the debate of public men, I said aloud, "Oh! if there were Some place to make me young awhile, I would go there, I would go there, And if it were a many a mile!" Then something cried—perhaps my map, That not in vain I oft invoke— "Go seek again your mother's lap, The dear old soil that gave you sap, And see the land of Pocomoke!"
A sense of shame that never yet My foot on that old shore was set, Though prodigal in wandering, Arose; and with a tingled cheek, Like some late wild duck on the wing, I started down the Chesapeake. The morning sunlight, silvery calm, From basking shores of woodland broke, And capes and inlets breathing balm, And lovely islands clothed in palm, Closed round the sound of Pocomoke.
The pungy boats at anchor swing, The long canoes were oystering, And moving barges played the seine Along the beaches of Tangiers; I heard the British drums again As in their predatory years, When Kedge's Straits the Tories swept, And Ross's camp-fires hid in smoke. They plundered all the coasts except The camp the Island Parson kept For praying men of Pocomoke.
And when we thread in quaint intrigue Onancock Creek and Pungoteague, The world and wars behind us stop. On God's frontiers we seem to be As at Rehoboth wharf we drop, And see the Kirk of Mackemie: The first he was to teach the creed The rugged Scotch will ne'er revoke; His slaves he made to work and read, Nor powers Episcopal to heed, That held the glebes on Pocomoke.
But quiet nooks like these unman The grim predestinarian, Whose soul expands to mountain views; And Wesley's tenets, like a tide, These level shores with love suffuse, Where'er his patient preachers ride. The landscape quivered with the swells And felt the steamer's paddle stroke, That tossed the hollow gum-tree shells, As if some puffing craft of hell's The fisher chased in Pocomoke.
Anon the river spreads to coves, And in the tides grow giant groves. The water shines like ebony, And odors resinous ascend From many an old balsamic tree, Whose roots the terrapin befriend; The great ball cypress, fringed with beard, Presides above the water oak, As doth its shingles, well revered, O'er many a happy home endeared To thousands far from Pocomoke.
And solemn hemlocks drink the dew, Like that old Socrates they slew; The piny forests moan and moan, And in the marshy splutter docks, As if they grazed on sky alone, Rove airily the herds of ox. Then, like a narrow strait of light, The banks draw close, the long trees yoke, And strong old manses on the height Stand overhead, as to invite To good old cheer on Pocomoke.
And cunning baskets midstream lie To trap the perch that gambol by; In coves of creek the saw-mills sing, And trim the spar and hew the mast; And the gaunt loons dart on the wing, To see the steamer looming past. Now timber shores and massive piles Repel our hull with friendly stroke, And guide us up the long defiles, Till after many fairy miles We reach the head of Pocomoke.
Is it Snow Hill that greets me back To this old loamy cul-de-sac? Spread on the level river shore, Beneath the bending willow-trees And speckled trunks of sycamore, All moist with airs of rival seas? Are these old men who gravely bow, As if a stranger all awoke, The same who heard my parents vow, —Ah well! in simpler days than now— To love and serve by Pocomoke?
Does Chincoteague as then produce These rugged ponies, lean and spruce? Are these the steers of Accomac That do the negro's drone obey? The things of childhood all come back: The wonder tales of mother day! The jail, the inn, the ivy vines That yon old English churchside cloak, Wherein we read the stately lines Of Addison, writ in his signs, Above the dead of Pocomoke.
The world in this old nook may peep, And think it listless and asleep; But I have seen the world enough To think its grandeur something dull. And here were men of sterling stuff, In their own era wonderful: Young Luther Martin's wayward race, And William Winder's core of oak, The lion heart of Samuel Chase, And great Decatur's royal face, And Henry Wise of Pocomoke.
When we have raged our little part, And weary out of strife and art, Oh! could we bring to these still shores The peace they have who harbor here, And rest upon our echoing oars, And float adown this tranquil sphere, Then might yon stars shine down on me, With all the hope those lovers spoke, Who walked these tranquil streets I see And thought God's love nowhere so free Nor life so good as Pocomoke.
TALES AND IDYLS.
KING OF CHINCOTEAGUE
THE IMP IN NANJEMOY
FALL OF UTIE
LEGEND OF FUNKSTOWN
JUDGE WHALEY'S DEMON
A CONVENT LEGEND
CRUTCH, THE PAGE
HERMAN OF BOHEMIA MANOR
THE JUDGE'S LAST TUNE
DOMINION OVER THE FISH
THE CIRCUIT PREACHER
THE BIG IDIOT
A BAYSIDE IDYL
SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON'S NIGHT
THE LOBBY BROTHER
PREACHERS' SONS IN 1849
OLD WASHINGTON ALMSHOUSE
OLD ST. MARY'S
KING OF CHINCOTEAGUE.
The night before Christmas, frosty moonlight, the outcast preacher came down to the island shore and raised his hands to the stars.
"O God! whose word I so long preached in meekness and sincerity," he cried, "have mercy on my child and its mother, who are poor as were Thine own this morning, eighteen hundred and forty years ago!"
The moonlight scarcely fretted the soft expanse of Chincoteague Bay. There seemed a slender hand of silver reaching down from the sky to tremble on the long chords of the water, lying there in light and shade, like a harp. The drowsy dash of the low surf on the bar beyond the inlet was harsh to this still and shallow haven for wreckers and oystermen. It was very far from any busy city or hive of men, between the ocean and the sandy peninsula of Maryland.
But no land is so remote that it may not have its banished men. The outcast preacher had committed the one deadly sin acknowledged amongst those wild wreckers and watermen. It was not that he had knocked a drowning man in the head, nor shown a false signal along the shore to decoy a vessel into the breakers, nor darkened the lighthouse lamp. These things had been done, but not by him.
He had married out of his race. His wife was crossed with despised blood.
"What do you seek, preacher?" exclaimed a gruff, hard voice. "Has the Canaanite woman driven you out from your hut this sharp weather, in the night?"
"No," answered the outcast preacher. "My heart has sent me forth to beg the service of your oyster-tongs, that I may dip a peck of oysters from the cove. We are almost starved."
"And rightly starved, O psalm-singer! You were doing well. Preaching, ha! ha! Preaching the miracle of the God in the manger, the baby of the maid. You prayed and travelled for the good of Christians. The time came when you practised that gospel. You married the daughter of a slave. Then they cast you off. They outlawed you. You were made meaner, Levin Purnell, than the Jew of Chincoteague!"
The speaker was a bearded, swarthy, low-set man, who looked out from the cabin of a pungy boat. His words rang in the cold air like dropping icicles articulate.
"I know you, Issachar," exclaimed the outcast preacher. "They say that you are hard and avaricious. Your people were bond slaves once to every nation. This is the birth night of my faith. In the name of Joseph, who fed your brethren when they were starving, with their father, for corn, give me a few oysters, that we may live, and not die!"
The Jew felt the supplication. He was reminded of Christmas eve. The poorest family on Chincoteague had bought his liquor that night for a carouse, or brought from the distant court-house town something for the children's stockings. Before him was one whose service had been that powerful religion, shivering in the light of its natal star on the loneliest sea-shore of the Atlantic. He had harmed no man, yet all shunned him, because he had loved, and honored his love with a religious rite, instead of profaning it, like others of his race.
"Take my tongs," replied the Jew. "Dip yonder! It will be your only Christmas gift."
"Peace to thee on earth and good-will to thee from men!" answered the outcast.
The preacher raised the long-handled rakes, spread the handles, and dropped them into the Sound. They gave from the bottom a dull, ringing tingle along their shafts. He strove to lift them with their weight of oysters, but his famished strength was insufficient.
"I am very weak and faint," he said. "Oh, help me, for the pity of God!"
The Jew came to his relief doggedly. The Jew was a powerful, bow-legged man, but with all his strength he could scarcely raise the burden.
"By Abraham!" he muttered, "they are oysters of lead. They will neither let go nor rise."
He finally rolled upon the deck a single object. It broke apart as it fell. The moonlight, released by his humped shadow, fell upon something sparkling, at which he leaped with a sudden thirst, and cried:
"Gold! Jewels! They are mine."
It was an iron casket, old and rusty, that he had raised. Within it, partly rusted to the case, the precious lustre to which he had devoted his life flashed out to the o'erspread arch of night, sown thick with star-dust. A furious strength was added to his body. He broke the object from the casket and held it up to eyes of increased wonder and awe. Then, with an oath, he would have plunged it back into the sea.
The outcast preacher interposed.
"It is your Christmas gift, Issachar. It is a cross. Curse not! It cannot harm you nor me. Dip again, and bring me a few oysters, or my wife may die."
"I know the form of that cross," said the oyster-man. "It is Spanish. Many a year ago, no doubt, some high-pooped galleon, running close to the coast, went ashore on Chincoteague and drifted piecemeal through the inlet, wider then than now. This mummery, this altar toy, destined for some Papist mission-house, has lain all these years in the brackish Sound. Ha! ha! That Issachar the Jew should raise a cross, and on the Christian's Christmas eve! But it is mine! My tongs, my vessel, myself brought it aboard!"
He seized the preacher's skinny arm with the ferocity of greed.
"I do not claim it, Issachar. My worship is not of forms and images. Dip again, and help me to my hut with a few oysters, for I am very faint. Then all my knowledge and interest in this effigy I will surrender to you."
"Agreed!" exclaimed the Jew, plunging the tongs to the bottom again and again, in his satisfaction.
They walked inland across the difficult sands, the Jew carrying the crucifix jealously. Lights gleamed from a few huts along the level island. At the meanest hut of all they stopped, and heard within a baby's cry, to which there was no response. The preacher staggered back with apprehension. The Jew raised the latch and led the way.
The light of some burning driftwood and dried sea-weed filled the low roof and was reflected back to a cot, on which a woman lay with a living child beside her. Something dread and ineffable was conveyed by that stiffened form. The Jew, familiar with misery and all its indications, caught the preacher in his arms.
"Levin Purnell," he said, "thy Christmas gift has come. Bear up! There is no more persecution for thee. She is dead!"
The outcast preacher looked once, wildly, on the woman's face, and with a cry pressed his hands to his heart. The Jew laid him down upon a miserable pallet, and for a few moments watched him steadily. Neither sound nor motion revealed the presence of the cold spark of life. The husband's heart was broken.
"Poor wretch!" exclaimed the Jew. "Mismated couple; in death as obstinate as in life. Lie there together, befriended in the closing hour by the Jew of Chincoteague, a present—to-morrow's Christmas—for thy neighbors of this Christian island!"
He stirred the fire. Death had no terrors for him, who had seen it by land and sea, in brawls and shipwrecks, by hunger and by scurvy. He laid the bodies side by side, and warmed the infant at the fire. Looking up from the living child's face, he caught the sparkle of the crucifix he had discovered, where it stood in the narrow window-sill. There were gems of various colors in it, and they reflected the firelight lustrously, like a slender chandelier, or, as the Jew remembered in the version of the Evangels, like the gifts those bearded wise men, of whom he might resemble one, brought to the manger of the infant Christ—gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Struck by the conceit, he looked again at the baby's face—the baby but a few days or weeks old—and he felt, in spite of himself, a softness and pity.
"It might be true," he muttered, "that a Jewish man, a tricked and unsuspecting husband of a menial, like her who has perished with this preacher, did behold a new-born baby in the manger of an inn, eighteen hundred and forty years ago."
He looked again at the cross. In the relief of the night against the window-pane its jewels shone like the only living things in the hovel. A figure was extended upon this cross, and every nail was a precious stone; the crown of thorns was all diamonds.
"It might be true," he said again, "that on a cross-beam like that, the manger baby perished for some audacity—as I might be put to death if I mocked the usages of a whole nation, as this preacher has done."
The cross, an object as high as one of the window-panes, and suffused with the exuding dyes of its jewels, took now a dewy lustre, as if weeping precious gum and amber. The Jew felt an instant's sense of superstition, which he dashed away, and placing the child, already sleeping, before the fire, awakened rapacity led him to hunt the hovel over. He found nothing but a few religious books, and amongst them a leather-covered Testament, which he opened and read with insensibility—passing on, at length, to interest, then to fascination, at last to rage and defiance—the opening chapters and the close of the story of Jesus.
"Now, by the sufferings of my patient race! I will do a thing unlike myself, to prove this testimony a libel. Here is a child more homeless than this carpenter, Joseph's, without the false pretence of coming of David's line. Its mother tainted with negro blood, like the slaves I have imported. Its father the obscurest preacher of his sect. I will rob the shark and the crab of a repast. It shall be my child and a Hebrew. Yea, if I can make it so, a Rabbi of Israel!"
Issachar looked again at the cross. Day was breaking in the window behind it, and the rich light of its gems was obscurer, but its form and proportions seemed to have expanded—perhaps because he had worn his eyes reading by the firelight—and the outstretched figure looked large as humanity, and the cross lofty and real, as that which it was made to commemorate. He hid it beneath his garment, and walked forth into the gray dawn of Christmas. One star remained in mid-heaven, whiter than the day. It poised over the hovel of the dead like something new-born in the sky, and unacquainted with its fellow orbs.
"Christmas gift!" shouted a party of lads and women, rushing upon the Jew. "Christmas gift! You are caught, Issachar. Give us a present, old miser!"
It was the custom in that old settled country that whoever should be earliest up, and say "Christmas gift!" to others, should receive some little token in farthings or kind.
"Bah!" answered the Jew. "Look in yonder, where the best of your religion lie, perished by your inhumanity, and behold your Christmas gift to them!"
There, where no friendly feet but those of negroes and slaves had entered for months, the strengthening morning showed a young wife, almost white, and the most beautiful of her type, with comely features, and eyes and hair that the proudest white beauty might envy. The gauntness of death had scarcely diminished those charms which had brought the pride of the world's esteem and the prudence of religion to her feet, and lifted her to virtuous matrimony, only to banish her lover from the hearthstones of his race and make them both outcasts, the poorest of the creatures of God, even on Chincoteague. A slight sense of self-accusation touched the bystanders.
"He was a good preacher," said one, "and I was converted under him. He baptized my children. That he should have married a darkey!"
"She was a pious girl," added another, "and from her youth up was in temptation, which she resisted, like a white woman. That she should have ruined this preacher!"
"He was a poet," said a third. "'Peared like as if he believed every thing he preached. But, my sakes! we can't have sich things in our church."
"She loved him, too, the hussy!" exclaimed a fourth. "She would have been his slave if he had asked her. Oh! what misery she felt when she knew that his passion for her was starving him, body and soul!"
They slipped away, with a feeling that, somehow, two very guilty people had been punished in those two. The negroes made the funeral procession. The Jew walked amongst the negroes.
"O Father Abraham," he said, chuckling to himself, "forgive me that I stand here, no renegade to my faith, yet the only white Christian on Chincoteague!"
Issachar was oyster-man, sailor, and sutler in one. He advanced money to build pungy boats, knit nets, and make huts. He kept a trading place, packed fish, and dealt with the Eastern port cities by a schooner whose crew he shipped himself and sometimes commanded her. He was a wrecker, too, prompt and enterprising; passed middle life, but full of vitality; bold and cunning in equal degree; and he had been, it was guessed, a slaver, and some said a pirate. He was called by the negroes the King of Chincoteague. His schooner was named The Eli.
Chincoteague is the principal inhabited island along the one hundred miles of coast between the capes of the Delaware and of the Chesapeake—a coast of low bars, divided into long and slender islands by a dozen inlets, which, almost filled with sand, permit only light-draught vessels to enter; and it is destruction to any ship to go ashore on that coast, where five successive lighthouses warn the commerce of the Atlantic off, but are unable to intimidate the storms which sweep the low shores and almost threaten to leap over the peninsula and submerge it. Chincoteague lies like a tongue between two inlets, and partly protrudes into the sea, but is also sheltered in part by the bar of Assateague, whose light has flamed for years. Chincoteague is about ten miles long, and behind it an inland bay stretches continuously, under various names, for thirty miles, protected from the ocean, and scarcely flavored with its salt, except near the outlet at Chincoteague, where the oysters lie in the brackish sluices, and all sorts of fish, from shrimps to sharks, hover around the oyster beds. In the green depths they can be seen, and there the crab darts sidewise, like a shooting star. In the sandy beach grows the mamano, or snail-clam, putting his head from his shell at high tide to suck nutrition from the mysterious food of the sea, and giving back such chowder to man as makes the eater feel his stomach to possess a nobility above the pleasures of the brain. The bay of Chincoteague is five or six miles wide, and the nearest hamlet is in Virginia, as is Chincoteague island also. The hamlet takes the name of Horntown, and not far from there is the old court-house seat of Snow Hill, in Maryland. Every soul on Chincoteague was native there or thereabout, except Issachar the Jew.
He had appeared amongst them after a sudden storm, the solitary survivor of a wreck that had partly drifted ashore, and, as he said, gone down with all his fortune. The mild air and easy livelihood of the spot pleased the Jew, after his first despair, and he set about making another fortune. Capable, solitary and active, he soon outstripped all the people of the islands, and neither beloved nor unbeloved, lived grimly, as chance ordained, and until now, had never shown more than business benevolence. It was a surprising thing to the people of Chincoteague, when the news went round that he had been over to court at Drummond-town and given his recognizance to bring up the orphan boy—whom he named Abraham Purnell—so that the county should not be at the expense of him, and he also brought out from New York, on the Eli's next trip, a Hebrew woman to be the boy's matron. Suckled at a negro's breast, Abraham grew to a vigorous youth, resembling his guardian's race and his mother's as well, in the curling nature of his hair and the brightness of his eyes. The Old Testament Scriptures alone were taught him, and Issachar himself joined the family circle at daily prayer to encourage the faith of Israel in the stranger. The finest of the lean, tough ponies, bred only on Chincoteague, and renowned throughout the peninsula for their endurance, was bought for the boy, as he grew older. He was made Issachar's companion, and, in course of time, passed in fireside talk for a Jew, like his protector.
Only once the superior comfort and clothing of Issachar's protege provoked the remark from one of a group of men that Abraham was "only a stuck-up nigger, anyway;" and then, like a maniac, Old Issachar dashed from his store with a boat-hook and struck down the offender like a dead man.
But the boy was of such docile and beautiful nature that he excited no general antagonism. He was four removals from pure African blood, and as his mother had been a freed girl, he was a citizen, or might be if he pleased. The certain heir of Issachar's possessions, the only thing except gold that Issachar loved, and of a parentage which linked misfortune with piety, his mysterious nativity gave him with the negroes a sacred character. They believed that he would become their king and priest and lead them out of bondage to a promised land; and this involuntary homage so pleased old Issachar that his heart inclined toward the black race above the Christian whites around him. If an aged negro fell sick, the Jew sent, by his ward, medicine and food. If a very poor negro was buried, the Jew contributed to the expenses. He gave the first counsel of worldly wisdom to the negro freedmen, and gave them faithful interest on their savings. One slave that he possessed he set free, saying:
"By Jacob's staff! I will not hold as cattle the blood people of my son!"
His enlarged benevolence made no difference in his business. It grew to the widest limits of that humble society, and by the accident of a younger life coming forward to bear his honor up, Issachar grew into sympathy with the social life of all the lower peninsula. If they wanted money for public enterprise on the mainland, the Jew of Chincoteague was first to be thought of. His credit, Masonic in its reach, extended to his compatriots in distant cities, and the politicians crossed the Sound to bring him into alliance with their parties. To personal flattery he was obtuse, except when it reached his ward, and then a melting mood came over him. At every Christmas he led himself the eloquent Oriental prayer, young Abraham responding with even a richer imagery, for his mind was alert, his schooling had been private and unintermittent, and his father's enthusiasm and his mother's docility made him a poet and a son together.
"My son," said the Jew, as Abraham's fifteenth Christmas approached, "the time is at hand when we must part for years. I am growing old, and the loss of thee, O my love! is harder than thou canst know. The sands of life are running out with me, as from an hour-glass. With thee the heavens are rosy and the world is new. Thou beautiful Samuel, Jehovah's selected one! Wilt thou remember me when far away?"
"Father," answered Abraham, "what besides thee can I love? Every morning, and at noon, and again at night, I will face from the East to pray toward thee; for God will not listen unless I am grateful to my father."
"Thou art going to Amsterdam," said Issachar. "There, amongst the noblest Jews of Europe, the descendants of the Jewish Portuguese, the Hebrew tongue in its purity, the law of Moses in its majesty, our lore in its plenitude, thou wilt learn. I look to thee, adopted child of Israel! to give the promise of thy youth to the study of our grand old religion, and, like the infant Moses, discovered amongst these bulrushes of Chincoteague, to be the reviver of our faith, the statesman of our sect. Yea! the rebuilder of our Zion. It has been ordained that these things will be done, and, by the stars of Abraham; it shall be so!"
"My father," said young Abraham, "God will keep all His promises."
The Jew took from a chest of massive cedar wood, empty of all besides, the precious crucifix.
"Look on that," he exclaimed. "Dost thou know what it represents?"
"No," answered Abraham.
"It is the symbol of the faith in which thy father died. A Hebrew impostor, one Jesus, was nailed by the Roman conquerors of Jerusalem to a cross-piece of wood. He affected to be the son of David and the Saviour of men. My son, in the name of his punishment the children of Israel have been burned at the stake, dispersed abroad among the nations, and hated of mankind. Preaching his imposture thy father and thy mother were suffered to die for their consistency. See what I have done with the bauble! The years I have expended on thy mind and comfort have cost me money. From that crucifix, one by one, I have plucked the precious stones for thy education. Here, from the side, where they say the soldier's spear was thrust, I have sold the costly ruby. The nail in the feet, a sapphire, paid thy Jewish matron. The emerald in this right hand purchased thy books. I send thee abroad with the price of the diamonds in the crown."
"Father," said young Abraham, "the image is hallowed to me for thy piety. It is Humanity, O my father! that has made me devoutly a Jew, and thee, unsuspectingly, a Christian."
He sailed away upon the Eli. His parting words had affected old Issachar so much that his mind returned along the course of years to the Christmas night he had passed in the outcast preacher's hut, and the curious story of Jesus he had read there in the New Testament and in the presence of the dead.
"To-morrow is Christmas," said the Jew; "a hallowed day to me, because it brought me a son whose obedience and piety have gratified the exile of my old age. Although these Christians have covered him with their despite, his excellent charity remembers it not. I will be no less magnanimous, and I will cross the bay and attend the Methodist worship at Snow Hill on Christmas morning, that I may communicate its frivolity to my son."
He kept his word; and for fear thieves might discover and steal the valuable crucifix, he hid it beneath his vesture and carried it to the mainland. The little plank meeting-house at the edge of Snow Hill was filled with whites on the floor, but in the end gallery, amongst the negroes, Issachar haughtily took his seat, an object of wonder to both races, for his face and reputation were generally recognized. Perhaps it was for this reason that the young preacher, a gentle, graceful person, adapted his sermon to the sweetness of the Christian story rather than bear upon those descriptions which might antagonize his Jewish auditor.
He told the story of the world's selfishness when Christ appeared; how the Jews, living in the straitest of sectarian aristocracies, inviting and receiving no accessions, had finally fallen under the dogmatism of the uncharitable Pharisees, who esteemed themselves the only righteous devotees and doctrinaires amongst the millions of people on the earth. Jesus, a youth of good Jewish extraction, and honorable family, had been bold enough to denounce Phariseeism and make its votaries ridiculous. He was scorned by them, if for no other crime, for the cheap offence, in a bigoted age, denominated blasphemy. Here the preacher, looking toward the Jew, paid a tribute to the antiquity and loyalty of the better class of Jews, and said that it was well known that one of his own forerunners in the Christian ministry, dying in penury from the consequences of a marital mistake, had been befriended in his death and in his posterity by a gallant follower of the House of Israel.
The congregation, facing about to look at the Jew in the gallery, amongst the negroes, were surprised to see tears on his gray eyelashes, and the colored elders, who loved Issachar exceedingly, exclaimed, in stentorian chorus:
"Praise God for dat Israelite, in whom dar is no guile! Hallelujah!"
Then, as if the Christmas frost had melted, these grateful exclamations made warmth at once in both races, and encouraged the orator in his extemporization. Issachar began to appreciate the possibility of the founder of a more liberal sect of Jews, whose charitable hand should be extended to Gentiles also, and whose heaven should comprehend all the posterity of Adam. Perhaps his son's portrait was in his mind—that loving son who had but just departed in the interests of the law of Moses and the restoration of the Temple. At the end of the sermon alms were invited for the support of the minister and the propagation of such a gospel as he had preached. With a mixture of pride and humility old Issachar descended the gallery stairs and walked up the aisle, and, taking the crucifix from his breast, planted it upon the altar.
"There," he said, "if your sect asserts the sentiments of this sermon, you are entitled to this rich image. I am repaid for its possession by a son of Gentile parentage whose obedience has been the delight of my old years, and for the gift God has given me in him, I tender you this counterfeit of Jesus nailed on the Roman scaffold."
The congregation gazed a minute at the golden cross. Ireful laughter broke forth, followed by rage.
"The pagan! The papist! The Turk! The idolater!" they exclaimed. "He mocks the memory of our Saviour on Christmas morning! Out with him!"
The Jew recovered the crucifix and put it beneath his mantle. He vouchsafed no reply except a scornful "Ha! ha! ha!" and with this he strode out of the Methodist meeting, rejoined his boatmen, and returned to the island of Chincoteague.
Years passed, and the Jew grew very feeble. He had lasted his fourscore and ten years, and prosperity had attended him through all, and children loved him; but, true to his first and only fondness, his heart was ever across the sea, where gentle Abraham, studiously intent amongst the Rabbis, communicated with his father by every mail and raised the old man's mind to a height of serious appreciation which greed and commerce had never given him. Although hungering for his boy, Issachar forebore to disturb young Abraham's studies until a bitter illness came to him, and in his gloom and solitude his great want burst from his lips, and he said aloud:
"Almighty Father! What will it avail to these old bones if the Temple be rebuilded, and I die without placing my hands on the eyelids of my boy and blessing him in Thy name? I will pluck from this Christian image the last jewel and dispose of it, that he may return and place his hands in mine, and receive my benediction, and gladden me with his gratitude."
The image was therefore wholly separated from the cross. Nothing remained but the figure in gold of that bloody Pillory on which He died on whom two hundred millions of human beings rely for intercession with their Creator and Destiny.
The days seemed months to the Jew of Chincoteague. The negroes gathered round his cabin to be of assistance if he should require it; for they also looked for young Abraham as the Shiloh of their race, and would have died for old Issachar, unredeemed as they thought him, except by his goodness to their prince and favorite.
A high tide, following a series of dreadful storms, arose on the coast of the peninsula, as if the Gulf Stream, like a vast ploughshare, had thrown the Atlantic up from its furrow and tossed it over the beach of Assateague.
The sturdy ponies were all drowned. The sea was undivided from the bay. Pungy boats and canoes drifted helplessly along the coast, and the Eli alone was out of danger in the harbor of New York, waiting to receive young Abraham. At last the freshet crept over the house-tops, and nothing remained but the cottage of the Jew, planted on piles, which lifting it higher than the surrounding houses, yet threatened it the more if the water should float it from its pedestal and send it to sea. Every effort was made to induce the Jew to abandon it, but he was obdurate.
"By the tables of the law!" he said, "living or dead, here will I abide until my son returns."
The bravest negro left the island of Chincoteague at last, placing food beside old Issachar, and there he lay upon his pallet, with nothing to pierce the darkness of his lair except that sacred cross he had raised from the depths of the ocean. That object, like a sentient, overruling thing, still shed its lustre upon the wretched interior of the deserted hut, and, day by day, repeated its story to the neglected occupant.
The mighty storm increased in power as Christmas approached, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty——. Wrecks came ashore on the submerged shoal of Chincoteague, but there were now no wreckers to labor for salvage. The Eli, too, was overdue. One night a familiar gun was heard at sea, thrice, and twice thrice, and Issachar raised up and said, in anguish:
"It is my schooner. My son is at hand and in danger. Oh! for a day's strength, as I had it in my youth, to go to his relief through the surf. But, miserable object that I am! I cannot rise from my bed. What help, what hope, in the earth or in heaven can I implore?"
The naked cross beamed brightly all at once in the darkness of the cabin. Issachar felt the legend it conveyed, and with piety, not apostacy, he uttered:
"O Paschal Lamb! O Waif of God! Die Thou for me this night, and give me to look upon the countenance of my son!"
The Jew, intently gazing at the cross, passed into such a stupor or ecstasy that he had no knowledge of the flight of time. He only knew that, after a certain dreamy interval, the door of his house yielded to a living man, and, nearly naked with breasting the surf and fighting for life, young Abraham staggered into the hut and recognized his father.
"O son!" cried Issachar, "I feel the news thou hast to tell. The Eli is wrecked and thou only hast survived. The moments are precious. Hark! this house is yielding to the buoyant current. Stay not for me, whose sands are nearly run. I am too old to try for life or fear to die, but thou art full of youth and beauty, and Israel needs thee in the world behind me. Let me bless thee, Abraham, and commit thee to God."
The water entered the cracks of the cabin; a pitching motion, as if it were afloat, made the son of the negro cling closer to the Jew.
"Father," he said, "I have passed the bitterness of death. When the vessel struck and threw me into the surf, I cried to God and fought for life. The waves rolled over me, and the agony of dying so young and happy grew into such a terror that I could not pray. In my despair a something seemed to grasp me, like tongs of iron, and my eyes were filled with light, bright as the face of the I AM. Behold! I am here, and that which saved me has made me content to die by thee."
The old man drew the dripping ringlets of the younger one to his venerable beard. The house rocked like a sailing vessel, and the strong sea-fogs seemed to close them round.
"We are sailing to sea," whispered the Jew. "It is too late to escape. The next billow may fling us apart, and our bones shall descend amongst the oyster-shells to build houses for the nutritious beings of the water. Thence, some day, my son, from the heavens God may drop His tongs and draw us up to Him, as on this night thy father and I drew the casket, many years ago. Look there! Look there!"
The heads of both were turned toward the spot where the finger of the old man pointed, and they saw the denuded cross shining in the light of the agitated fire, so large and bright that it reduced all other objects to insignificance.
"It was a light like that," exclaimed Abraham, "which shone in my eyes through the darkness of the billows."
"It was on that," whispered Issachar, "that I called for help, my son, when thou wert dying. From the hour I dipped it from the water my heart has been warmer to the world and man. Is there, in all the hoary traditions of our church, a reason why we should not beseech its illumination again before it returns to the ocean with ourselves? Do thou decide, who art full of wisdom; for I am ignorant in thy eyes, and heavy with sins."
The cross, resplendent, seemed to wear a visible countenance. Wrapped in Issachar's arms, like a babe to its mother, young Abraham extended his hands to the effigy, and in its beams a wondrous consolation of love and rest returned to those poor companions, reconciling them to their helplessness in the presence of the Almighty awe.
"Child of God!" exclaimed the Jew, "thou beauty of the Gentiles, I gave thee life but for a span, and thou seemest to bring to me the life immortal."
The morning broke on the shore frosty and clear after the subsided storm, and the earliest wreckers, seeking in the drift for Christmas gifts to give their children, found well-remembered parts of the Eli and portions of the tenement of its proprietor. A wave rolled higher than the rest and cast upon the shore two bodies—a young man of the comely face and symmetry of a woman, without a sign of pain in his features and dark, oriental eyes, and an old man, venerable as an inhabitant of the ocean and mysterious as a being of some race anterior to the deluge. In his rugged face the marks of that antiquity which has something stately in the lowest types of the Jew, and in this one an almost Mosaic might, were softened to a magnanimity where death had nothing to contribute but its silence and respect. Laying them together, the fishermen and idlers looked at them with a superstition partly of remorse and mild remembrance, and the star of Christmas twinkled over them in the sky. None felt that they were other than father and son, and black men and white, indifferent that day to social prejudices, followed the child of Hagar and the Hebrew patriarch to the grave.
They hewed the pines on Haunted Point To build the pungy boat, And other axes than their own Yet other echoes smote; They heard the phantom carpenters, But not a man could see; And every pine that crashed to earth Brought down a viewless tree.
They launched the pungy, not alone; Another vessel slipped Down in the water with their own, And ghostly sailors shipped; They heard the rigging flap and creak, And hollow orders cried. But not a living man could seek, And not a boat beside.
They sailed away from Haunted Point, Convoyed by something more: A boatswain's whistle answered back, And oar replied to oar. No matter where the anchor dropped, The fiends would not aroint, And every morn the pungy boat Still lay off Haunted Point.
They hailed; and voices as in fog Seemed half to speak again— A devilish chuckling rolled afar, And mutiny of men. The parson of the islands said It was the pirate band, Whose gold was lost on Haunted Point And hid with bloody hand.
Until what time a kidnapped boy, By ruffians whipped and stole, Should in the groves of Haunted Point Convert his stealer's soul! They stole the island parson's child, He said a little prayer: Down sank the ground; a gliding sound Went whispering through the air.
And in the depths the pungy sank; And, as the divers told, They sought the wreck to lift again, And found the pirates' gold. And in a chapel close at hand The pious freedmen toil; No slaves are left in all the land, Nor any pirates' spoil.
People say that a certain tombstone in the London Tract "Hardshell" Baptist graveyard, near Newark, Delaware, will give to the ear placed flat upon it the sound of a ticking like a watch. The London Tract Church, as its name implies, was the worshipping place of certain settlers who either came from London, or chose land owned by a London company. It is a quaint edifice of hard stone, with low-bent bevelled roof, and surrounded by a stone wall, which has a shingle coping. The wall incloses many gravestones, their inscriptions showing that very many of the old worshippers of the church were Welsh. Some large and healthy forest trees partly shade the graveyard and the grassy and sandy cross-roads where it stands, near the brink of the pretty White Clay Creek.
I climbed over the coping of the graveyard wall last spring, and followed my companion, the narrator of the following story, to what appeared to be the very oldest portion of the inclosure. The tombstones were in some cases quite illegible as to inscriptions, worn bare and smooth by more than a century's rains and chipping frosts, and others were sunken deep in the grass so as to afford only partial recompense for the epitaph hunter.
"This is the Ticking Stone," said my companion, pointing to a recumbent slab, worn smooth and scarcely showing a trace of former lettering; "put your ear upon it while I pull away the weeds, and then note if you hear any thing."
I laid my ear upon the mossy stone, and almost immediately felt an audible, almost tangible ticking, like that of a lady's watch.
"You are scratching the stone, Pusey," I cried to my informant.
"No! Upon my honor! That is not the sound of a scratch that you hear. It cannot be any insect nor any process of moving life in the stone or beneath it. Can you liken it to any thing but the equal motion of a rather feeble timepiece?"
I listened again, and this time longer, and a sort of superstition grew over me, so that had I been alone, probably I would have experienced a sense of timid loneliness. To stand amidst those silent memorial stones of the early times and hear a watch beat beneath one of them as perfectly as you can feel it in your vest pocket, and then to feel your heart start nervously at the recognition of this disassociated sound, is not satisfying, even when in human company.
"This is the best ghost I have ever found," I said. "Perhaps some one has slipped a watch underneath, for it is somebody's watch; there is something real in it."
"I took the stone up once myself," said Pusey, "and the ticking then seemed to come up from the ground. While I deliberated, an old man came out of yonder old sexton-looking house, and warned me not to disturb the dead. He crossed the wall, and assisted me to replace the stone, and then bade me sit down upon it, ancient mariner-like, while he disclosed the cause of the phenomenon."
Here my companion stopped a minute—and in the pause we could hear the old trees wave very solemnly above us, and a nut, or burr, or sycamore ball, came rattling down the old kirk roof as we stood there in the graves, to startle us the more, and then he said:
"It is just as queer as the tale he told me—the disappearance of that old man. Nobody about here can recognize him from my descriptions. He walked toward the old mill down the Newark road, and the next time I looked up he was gone. The people in the house there think I am flighty in my mind for insisting upon his appearance to me at all."
"Go on with the tale right here, my flesh-creeping friend," I said. "It will do us good to feel occasionally solemn."
* * * * *
"This stone, young man," said my Quakerly rebuker, in a hard country farmer's voice; "this stone is the London Tract Ticking Stone. It is the oldest preacher and admonitor in this churchyard. It is older than the graves of any of the known pastors or communicants round about it.
"In the year 1764 the comparative solitude of this region was broken by a large party of chain-bearers, rod-men, axe-men, commissaries, cooks, baggage-carriers, and camp-followers. They had come by order of Lord Baltimore and William Penn, to terminate a long controversy between two great landed proprietors, and they were led by Charles Mason, of the Royal Observatory, at Greenwich, England, and by Jeremiah Dixon, the son of a collier discovered in a coalpit. For three years they continued westward, running their stakes over mountains and streams, like a gypsy camp in appearance, frightening the Indians with their sorcery. But, near this spot, they halted longest, to fix with precision the tangent point, and the point of intersection of three States—the circular head of Delaware, the abutting right angle of Maryland, and the tiny pan-handle of Pennsylvania.
"The people of this region were sparse in number, but of strong, sober, and yet wild characteristics. The long boundary quarrel had made them predatory, and though God-fearing people, they would fight with all their religious intensity for their right in the land and the dominion of their particular province. They suspended their feuds when the surveying battalion came into their broken country, and looked with curious interest upon all that pertained to the distinguished foreign mathematicians. Around their camp of tents and pack-mules, peddlers and preachers called together their motley congregations, and the sound of axes clearing the timber was accompanied by fiddling and haranguing, the fighting of dogs, and the coarse tones of religious or business oratory. It was in the height of the era of the great period of the Dissenters in England, and Methodist, Baptist, and Calvinistic zealots were piercing to the boundaries of English-speaking people, wild forerunners of those organized bands of clergy which were speedily to make our colonies sober-minded, and prepare them for self-government.
"Charles Mason was the scientific spirit of the party—a cool, observing, painstaking, plodding man, slow in his processes and reliable in his conclusions, and the bond of friendship between himself and Dixon was that of two unequal minds admiring the superiorities of each other. They had already proceeded together to the Cape of Good Hope on two occasions to study an eclipse and an occultation. Mason liked Dixon for his ready spirits, almost improvident courage, speed with details, and worldly bearing. Though little is known of their memories now, because they left us no prolific records and spent much of the period of service among us in the midst of the wilderness or in the reticence required for mathematical calculation, yet they were the successors of Washington in the surveying of the Alleghany ridges. Their survey was reliable; the line was true. How much superior does it stand to-day to the line of thirty degrees thirty minutes, which is the next great political parallel below it, and was partly run only a few years afterwards! Up to their line for the next hundred years flowed the waters of slavery, but sent no human drop beyond, which did not evaporate in the free light of a milder sun. God speed the surveyor, whoever he be, who plants the stakes of a tranquil commonwealth and leaves them to be the limit of bad principles, the pioneer line of good ones!
"Charles Mason had spent many years of his life, up to his old age, experimenting with timepieces of his own invention. Many years before, Sir Isaac Newton had called the attention of the British Government to the necessity for an accurate portable time-keeper at sea, to determine longitude, and in 1714 Parliament offered a reward of 20,000 pounds sterling for such a chronometer. Thenceforward for fifty years the inventive spirits of England and the Continent were secretly at work to produce a timepiece which would deserve the large reward, amongst them Charles Mason, who labored with such perfect discretion and uncommunicative self-reliance that none knew, none will ever know, the motive principle he employed or the enginery he devised. While he was working at this survey, near the spot at which we stand, the Board of Award gave the L20,000 to one John Harrison, almost at the very instant when Mason and Dixon's line was begun. This you can confirm by any history of Horology. Charles Mason lived down to the year 1787, surviving Dixon, who had died in England ten years previously, and he was known to say to the end of his days, to people resident in Philadelphia, that a child had eaten up L20,000 belonging to him at a single mouthful.
"The child whom the neighborhood at that time accused of this act was known in later life as Fithian Minuit, babe of a woman of mixed English and Finnish-Dutch descent, who came from the fishermen's town of Head of Elk, a few hours jog to the southward, to sell fish to the surveying camp. She was a woman of mingled severity of features and bodily obesity, uniting in one temper and frame the Scandinavian and the Low Dutch traits, ignorant good-humor, grim commerce, and stolid appetite. Her baby was the fattest, quaintest, and ugliest in the country; ready to devour any thing, to grin at any thing, go to the arms of everybody, and, in short, it represented all the traits of the Middle State races—the government of the members, including the brain, by the belly.
"One day this Finnish-Dutch baby—aged perhaps two years—was picked up by one of the assistant surveyors and carried into the tent of Charles Mason. The great surveyor was at that instant bending down over a small metallic object which he was examining through the medium of a lens. He recognized the child, and seemed glad of the opportunity to dismiss more serious occupation from his mind, so he instantly leaped up and poked the fat urchin with his thumb, tempting the bite of its teeth with his forefinger, and was otherwise reducing his tired faculties to the needs of a child's amusement, when suddenly the voice of its mother at the tent's opening drew him away.
"'Fresh fish, mighty surveyor! Fall shad, and the most beautiful yellow perch. Buy something for the sake of Minuit's baby!'
"The celebrated surveyor, who seemed in an admirable humor, stepped just outside the tent to look at the fish, and in that little interval his assistant, seized with inquisitiveness, stole up to his table, and picked up the tiny object lying there under the magnifying glass.
"'This is the little ticking seducer which absorbs my master's time,' he said. 'Why, it isn't big enough for an infant to count the minutes of its life upon it!'
"At this the fat, good-humored baby, anticipating something to eat, reached out its hands. The surveyor's assistant, in a moment of mischief, put the object in the child's grasp. The child clutched it, bit at it, and swallowed it whole in an instant.
"Before the assistant surveyor could think of any other harm done than the possible choking of the child, the child's mother and the great surveyor entered the tent. The arms of the first reached for her offspring, and of the second for the subject of his experiment.
"'The child of the fish-woman ate it!'
"The fish-woman screamed, and reversed the urchin after the manner of mothers, and swung him to and fro like a pendulum. He came up a trifle red in the face, but laughing as usual, and the ludicrous inappositeness of the great loss, the unconscious cause of it, the baby's wonderful digestion, the assistant's distress, and the surveyor's calm but pallid self-control, made Jeremiah Dixon, dropping in at the minute, roar with laughter.
"'Dixon,' said Mason, 'the work of half my life, my everlasting timepiece, just completed and set going, has found a temperature where it requires no compensation balance.'
"'I am glad of it,' said his associate, 'for now we can proceed with Mason and Dixon's line, and nothing else!'
"A look, more of pity than of reproach, passed over Mason's scarcely ruffled face—the pity of one man solely conscious of a great object lost, for another, indifferent or ignorant both of the object and the loss. He took the smiling urchin in his hands, and raising it upon his shoulder, placed his ear to its side. Thence came with faint regularity the sound of a simple, gentle ticking. They all heard it by turns, and, while they paused in puzzled wonder and humor, the undaunted infant looked down as innocent as a chubby, cheery face painted on some household clock. The innocent expression of the child touched the mathematician's heart. He filled a glass with good Madeira wine, and drank the devourer's health in these benignant words:
"'May Minuit's baby run as long and as true as the article on which he has made his meal!'
"Next day they set the great stone in the corner of the State of Maryland, and, breaking camp, vanished westward through the cleft of light opened by their pioneers, pursued yet for many miles by a motley multitude.
"Before many years this fertile country filled up with hamlets, mills, and churches; the War of Independence scarcely interrupted its prosperity, because the Quaker element adhered with constancy to neither side, and only one campaign was fought here. The story of the boy who ate a watch passed out of general knowledge and remark; he was known to have been a drummer at the battle of Chadd's Ford, and to have buried his mother before the close of the war, at the Delaware fishing hamlet of Marcus Hook, amongst her Finnish progenitors.
"But soon after the peace, the short, fat body and queer, merry Dutch face of Fithian Minuit were known all along the roads of Chester, Cecil, and Newcastle counties, by parts of the people of three States, as components of one of the least offensive, most industrious, and most lively and popular young chaps around the head of the Chesapeake.
"He was respectful with the old and congenial with the young—always going and never tired, up early and late, of a chirruping sort of address and an equal temper, and while he appeared to be thrifty and money-making, he did all manner of good turns for the high and the humble; and, although everybody said he was the homeliest young man in the region, yet more village girls went to their front doors to see him than if he had been a showman coming to town to do feats of magic. He was not unintelligent either, and could play on the violin, compute accounts equal to the best country book-keeper, and as he was of religious turn, although attached to no particular denomination, the meeting-houses on every side, hardly excepting the Quakers themselves, delighted to see him drive up on Sundays and tell an anecdote to the children and sing a little air, half-hymn sort, half stave, but always given with a good countenance, which apologized for the worldly notes of it. If any severe interpreter of Christian amusements took the people to task for tolerating such a universal and desultory character, there were others to rise up and ask what evil or passionate word or act of sorry behavior in Fithian Minuit could be instanced. The severe Francis Asbury himself raised the question once on the Bohemia Manor amongst the Methodists, and got so little support that he charged young Minuit with the possession of some devilish art or spell to entrap the people; but Fithian once, when the good itinerant's horse broke down on the road, met Mr. Asbury, won his affections, and mended his big silver watch.
"This mending of clocks, watches, and every description of time-keepers was the occupation of Minuit. He had picked up the art, some said, from a Yankee in the army at the close of the war, and certainly no man of his time or territory had such good luck with timepieces. Residing in the little village of Christina (by the pretentious called Christi-anna, and by the crude, with nearer rectitude, called Cristene), Fithian kept a snug little shop full of all manners and forms of clocks, dials, sand-glasses, hour-burning candles, water-clocks, and night tapers. He had amended and improved the new Graham clock, called the 'dead scapement,' or 'dead-beat escapement' (the origin of our modern word dead-beat, signifying a man who does not meet his engagements, whereas the original 'dead-beat' was the most faithful engagements-keeper of its time. Perhaps a dead-beat nowadays is a time-server; for this would be a correct derivation). From this shop the young Minuit, in a plain but reliable wagon, with a nag never fast and never slow, and indifferent to temperatures, travelled the country for a radius of forty miles—not embarrassed even by the Delaware, which he crossed once a month, and attended fully to the temporal and partly to the spiritual needs of all the Jerseymen betwixt Elsinborough and Swedesboro.
"Over the door of Minuit's whitewashed cabin on the knoll of Christina was the sign of a jovial, fat person, bearing some resemblance to himself, in the centre of whose stomach stood a clock inscribed, 'My time is everybody's.' Past this little shop went the entire long caravan and cavalcade by land between the North and South, stage-coaches, mail-riders, highwaymen, chariots, herdsters, and tramps; for Christina bridge was on the great tide-water road and at the head of navigation on the Swedish river of the same name, so that here vessels from the Delaware transferred their cargo to wagons, and a portage of only ten miles to the Head of Elk gave goods and passengers reshipment down the Chesapeake. This village declined only when the canal just below it was opened in 1829 and a little railway in 1833. It was nearly a century and a half old when Minuit set his sign there, before General Washington went past it to be inaugurated. From Fithian's window the pleasant land was seen spread out below him beyond the Christina; and the Swedish, Dutch, and English farms smiled from their loamy levels on sails which moved with scarcely perceptible motion through the narrow dykes planted with greenest willows. Before his door the teamsters, ill-tempered with lashing and swearing at their teams in the ruts of Iron Hill, schoolboys from Nottingham, millers' men from Upper White Clay, and bargemen and stage passengers, recovered temper to see the sign of the great paunch with a timepiece set so naturally in it indicating the hour of dinner. Within they found the clock-maker, with face beaming as if reflected from a watch-case, working handily amongst a hundred ticking pieces, of which he looked to be one. There were large sundials for the outer walls of barns and farm-houses, very popular in the Pennsylvania hills; sand-glasses for the Peninsula, where it cost nothing to fill them; and hour-burning candles, much affected by the Chesapeake gentry, which gave at once light and time. There were ancient striking clocks, such as the monks may have used to disturb them for early prayers, which, with a horrible rattle of wheels and clash of heavy weights, hammered the alarm. There were the tremendous watches of river captains who had aspired to go to sea, and old crutch escapement watches which Huygens himself had perhaps handled in Holland. The window was filled with trains of wheels and pinions, snails and racks, crystals, and faces and watches, cackling at each other. There were striking clocks which rung chimes or rocked like little vessels on apparent billows, or started off with notes like grasshoppers. A hundred of the most musical tree-frogs shut up in a piano might give a feeble notion of the tunes and thrummings assembled in this shop. It was the same day or night, and the power of Fithian Minuit over time-keepers was nearly miraculous. He appeared to be able to smile an old watch into action. Transferred to his hand, some spent and rusty sentinel, long silent and useless, seemed to feel the warmth of the mender and resumed the round of duty. He would buy from the old estate halls on the Sassafras and the Chester rivers, tall, solemn clocks, dead to the purpose of their creation, their stately learned faces lost to former automatic expressions or waggery, and when exposed to the infectious influences of his shop, a gurgle of sound as of the inhalation of air into their lungs had been heard, according to some people, and next day the carcass of the clock would be found resonant and its faculties recovered. One day the great patriots, John Dickinson and Caesar Rodney, riding past Christina together, stopped for dinner, and sent their watches in to be cleaned meantime.
"'Minuit,' said Rodney, 'you are a devil with a time-keeper!'
"'Nay, Minuit,' said Dickinson, 'thou art the gentlest custodian of time in our parts. I would some one could regulate these States and times like thee.'
"The country round resorted to Minuit for repairs, but he generally came himself along the roads fortuitously about the time anybody's dials stood still. He was almost equal as a weather prophet to his fame as a mechanic, and as his broad, fat face, blue eyes, and portly body passed some farmer's gate, the cheery cry would go up, perhaps:
"'Make hay—the wind's right!' or again: 'Time enough, farmer, with another pair of hands. But it's coming from the east!'
"Had it been possible to suggest any superstition about a man universally popular, people would have said that this henchman of time and minute-hand of diligence drew his power from doubtful sources. Further north, where there was less superstition than amongst these mingled unspiritualized populations, Minuit might have been burnt as a wizard. A little doctor in the Deutsch hills, who once prescribed for the clock-mender, reported that his pulse had a metallic beat, and, looking suddenly up, he saw, where Minuit's face had been, a round clock face looking down and ticking at him. This doctor was a worthless fellow, however, and loose of tongue. Minuit, it was observed, never used a tuning-fork in church, like all leaders of religious music, but cast his eyes down a moment towards his heart, and tapped his foot, and then, as if catching the pitch somewhere from within, he raised the tune and carried it forward with an exquisite sense of rhythm.
"A very old man and a cripple, who lived across the way from Minuit's, affected to observe extraordinary changes in his stature according to the weather changes, elongating as the temperature rose, and in very cold weather sinking into himself; this man also observed, on the day of a solar eclipse, that for the period there was nothing at all in the place where the clock-mender's head had been except a ring of light which enlarged as the disk of the sun was released. But who could rely upon the vagaries of an old man, who could do nothing but make memoranda out of his window upon the doings of his neighbors?
"If anybody knew more than that Fithian Minuit was an obliging, neighborly man, and a model for mechanics, it must have been the subject of his romance. He was related to have told all that he knew upon the mystery of his being to his clergyman, and there is nothing now to confirm the gossip; for the preacher himself has gone to sleep in the old Shrewsbury graveyard in Maryland.
"At Port Penn, where the last island in the channel of the lower Delaware now raises its flaming beacon, and the belated collier steers safely by Reedy Island light, lived the daughter of an old West India and coasting captain, who would permit his chronometers to be repaired and cleaned by nobody but Minuit. His cottage stood where now there is a broad and sandy street leading to a wooden pier and to bathing-houses on a pleasure beach. The few people near at hand were pilots, captains of bay craft, and grain-buyers; although the Dutch and Swedish farms, alternating with long marshes, musical with birds, had lined the wide Delaware at this point many a year. In calm, sunny weather, the broad beauty of the river and its low gold and emerald shores, with bulky vessels swinging up on the slow full tide, combined the sceneries of America and the Netherlands; but when a gale blew over the low shores, scattering the reed-birds like the golden pollen of the marsh lilies, and cold white gulls succeeded, diving and careening like sharks of the sky, the ships and coasters felt no serenity in these wide yeasty reaches of the Delaware bay, and they labored to drop anchor behind the natural breakwater of Reedy Island. There, clustering about as thickly in that olden time as they now seek from all the ocean round the costly shelter of Henlopen breakwater, coaster and pirate, fisherman and slaver, sent up the prayer a beneficent government has since granted in the fullest measure, for a perfect Coast Survey and a vigilant Lighthouse Board.
"The daughter of Captain Lum was named Lois, and she was the junior of Fithian Minuit by several years, a slender, beautiful girl, with hair and eyes of the softest brown, and household ways, daughterly and endearing.
"The old sea-captain, who made five voyages a year to the nearer Indies, and sent ashore to Port Penn as he passed, returning, the best of rum and the freshest of tropical fruits, looked with a jealous eye upon any possible suitor to his daughter, and had, perhaps, embarrassed her prospects for a younger protector, if such she had ever wished. But he loved to see the clock-maker come to the cottage, who had never shown partiality for any woman, while popular with all.
"'Minuit,' he used to say, 'the best man on watch by land or sea, thou North Star; look to my girl as to my chronometer, and I'll pay thee twice the cost of thy time!'
"It was the captain's delight, while ashore, to have every timepiece, stationary or portable, taken apart in the presence of his daughter and himself, while he told his sailor yarns, and Lois stood ready to serve his punch, or pass to the fat, smooth-faced, cheerful Minuit the pieces of mechanism: brass gimbals, chronometer-boxes, wheels and springs, ship-glasses, compasses, the manifold parts of little things by which men grope their way out of sight of land, hung between a human watch and the crystal shell of the embossed heaven. Chronometers were with Minuit attractive and yet awe-giving subjects. The legend of his childhood, well forgotten by all else, said that he had swallowed a chronometer, so small that a sea-captain could swim with it in his mouth. And now the sailors of all the navies cruised by the aid of clumsy watches, big as house-clocks, which to look at made Minuit smile with pity.
"'Captain Lum,' he said aloud, on the eve of a voyage in the winter season, 'I have often yearned to go to sea. The sight of it makes me a little wild. I think I could guess my way over it and about it, by inherent reckoning.'
"He saw the pair of white hands holding something before him tremble a little, and he looked up. The spiritual face of Lois was looking at his with wistful apprehension and interest. If ever his pulse beat out of time it was now—for in that exchange of glances he felt what she did not understand—that he was beloved.
"Pain and joy, not swiftly, but softly, filled Minuit—pain, because he had loved this girl and wished never to have her know it, but would keep it an unbreathed, a holy mystery; and joy, like any lover's recognizing himself in the dear heart he had never importuned.
"Next day the good ship Chirpland came off Port Penn. The jolly captain saying adieu to Minuit, clasped his hand.
"'I saw thy look and my daughter's yesterday,' he said. 'It is weak of me to deny her a man like thee, thou sailor's friend. My ship is old. These coasts are dangerous. Nights and days come when we get no sight of lights ashore or in heaven. If thy chronometer fail, fail not thou, but be to her repairer and possessor!'
"The discovery and the trust embarrassed Minuit, but he had never denied the request of any man. His time, as his sign affirmed, was everybody's. Yet a thrill, a twang, a twinge of delicious fear passed through him now. He loved this girl dearly, but he feared to love at all. He had now both the parental and the womanly recognition, and his days were lonely even with his garrulous timepieces, but he felt a lonelier sense of the possibility of turning her affection to awe. Those queer legends of his birth, his affinity for fixed luminaries and motions, and his conscious knowledge that he stood in some way related to spheres and orbits, and the laws of revolution and period, had never disturbed his mind in its calculations. But if he did stand exceptional in these respects to his fellow-men, might another and a beloved one comprehend what he himself did not? Yet the kindly regard of his neighbors, the composure of a conscience well consulted, and the hope that he was worthy of human love, made him resolve to keep the captain's admonition, though he hoped the occasion to obey it might never arrive.
"In the absence of the good ship, however, love could not be deceived. It spoke in waitings and longings, and in tender glances and considerateness. She knew the rattle of his carriage-wheels, and he could feel her in the air like the breath of a beautiful day soon to appear in distance. Time, toward which he stood in such natural harmony, was dearer that it contained this passion and life more exquisite, and himself more questionable for it all.
"It was a stormy winter. Ships strewed the coast between Hatteras and Navesink, and the capes of the Delaware received many a tattered barque. The ice poured down and wedged itself between Reedy Island and the shores, and crushed to pieces many that had escaped the ocean gales. One night in a raging storm the door of Captain Lum's cabin was thrown open, and a sailor appeared fresh from the water. He bore in his hand a chronometer, which Minuit recognized in a moment, and he drew his arm for the first time around the maiden's form.
"'The Chirpland went down on Five Fathom Shoal, and the captain stood by her. He bade us return his chronometer, and say that he perished in the assurance that his daughter was left to the guidance of another fully as sure.'
"'My child,' said Minuit, 'I accept thee wholly, sharing thy griefs! Weep, but on the breast of one who loves thee!'
"The village of Christina rejoiced when its broad-faced, dimpled friend came home with a bride so fair and well-descended. They dressed the sign before his door with flowers. Only the groom wore an anxious face as he led her into his tidy home, now for the first time blessed with a mistress.
"The night of the nuptials came softly down, as nowhere else except upon the skies of the Delaware and Chesapeake, and Minuit was happy. The thrumming clocks in the shop below mingled their tones and tickings in one consonant chorus, scarcely heard above the long drone and low monotonies of the insects in the creeks and woods, which assisted silence. The husband slept, how well beloved he could not know.
"In the dreams of the night he was awakened. In the pale moonshine he saw his wife, clad in her garments of whiteness, standing by his bed all trembling.
"'Tell me,' she said, 'what it is that I hear? I have listened till I am afraid. As I lay in this room perfectly silent, with my head, my husband, nearest your heart, I felt the ticking of a watch. At first it was only curious and strange. Now it haunts me and terrifies me. I am a simple girl, new and nervous to this wedded life. Is this noise natural? What is it?'
"Minuit trembled also.
"'Lois, my bride, my heaven!' he said. 'Oh! pity me, who have tried to pity all and make all happy, if I cannot myself explain away the cause of your alarm. I have kept myself lonely these many years, aware that I was not like other men, but that my heart—no evil monitor to me—gave a different sound. There is nothing in its beat, my wife, to make you fear it. Return and lay your head upon it, and you will hear it say this only, if you listen with faith: love!'
"Thus the watch-maker turned superstition to assurance, and the admonition of his heart was a source of joy instead of fear to the listener at its side. It ticked a few bright years with constancy, and was the last benediction of the world to her ere she was ushered into that peace which passeth understanding.
"At the death of his wife Minuit felt a deeper sense of his responsibility to time, and the finite uses of it expanded to a cheerful conception of the infinite. The country round was generally settled by a religious people, and the many meeting-houses of different sects had his equal confidence and sympathy. Pursuing his craft with unwearied diligence, and delighting the homestead with his violin as of old, a more pensive and wistful expression replaced his smile, and love withdrawn beckoned him toward it beyond the boundaries of period. Hard populations, which would not listen to preachers, heard with delight the amiable warnings of this friendly man, and as his own generation grew older, a new race dawned to whom he appeared in the light of a pure-spirited evangelist. 'Improve the time! watch it! ennoble it! It is a part of the beautiful and perpetual circle of everlasting duty. It is to the great future only the little disk of a second-hand, traversed as swiftly, while the great rim of heaven accepts it as a part of the eternal round!' Such was the burden of his sermon.
"He could ride all along the roads, and hear his missionaries preaching for him wherever a clock struck, or a dial on the gable of a great stone barn propelled its shadows. His tracts were in every farmer's vest pocket. Whatever he made he consecrated with a paragraph of counsel.
"The old sign faded out. The clock-maker's sight grew dim, but his apprehensions of the everlasting love and occupation were clearer and more confident to the end.
"One day they found him in the graveyard of the London Tract, by the side of the spot where his wife was interred, worn and asleep at the ripe age of three-score.
"The mill teams and the farm wagons stopped in the road, and the country folks gathered round in silence.
"'Run down at last,' said one. 'If there are heavenly harps and bells, he hears them now!'"
And there they hear the ticking, the preaching of this faithful life, under the old stone, sending up its pleasant message yet. The stone is perishing like a broken crystal, but the memory of the diligent and useful man beneath it rings amongst the holy harmonies of the country. Though dead, he yet speaketh!
THE IMP IN NANJEMOY.
Dull in the night, when the camps were still, Thumped two nags over Good Hope Hill; The white deserter, the passing spy, Took to the brush as the pair went by; The army mule gave over the chase; The Catholic negro, hearing the pace, Said, as they splashed through Oxon Run: "Dey ride like de soldiers who speared God's Son!" But when Good Friday's bells behind Died in the capital on the wind, He who rode foremost paused to say: "Herold, spur up to my side, scared boy! A word has rung in my ears all day— Merely a jingle, 'Nanjemoy.'"
"Ha!" said Herold, "John, why that's A little old creek on the river. Surratt's Lies just before us. You halt on the green While I slip in the tavern and get your carbine!" The outlaw drank of the whiskey deep, Which the tipsy landlord, half asleep, Brought to his side, and his broken foot He raised from the stirrup and slashed the boot. "Lloyd," he cried, "if some news you invite— Old Seward was stabbed in his bed to-night. Lincoln I shot—that long-lived fox— As he looked at the play from the theatre box; And it seemed to me that the sound I heard, As the audience fluttered, like ducks round decoy, Was only the buzz of a musical word That I cannot get rid of—'Nanjemoy.'"
"Twenty miles we must ride before day, Cross Mattawoman, Piscataway, If in the morn we would take to the woods In the swamp of Zekiah, at Doctor Mudd's!" "Quaint are the names," thought the outlaw then, "Though much I have mingled with Maryland men! I have fever, I think, or my mind's o'erthrown. Though scraped is the flesh by this broken bone, Every jog that I take on this road so lonely, With thoughts, aye bloody, my mind to employ, I can but say, over and over, this only— The drowsy, melodious 'Nanjemoy.'"
Silent they galloped by broken gates, By slashes of pines around old estates; By planters' graves afield under clumps Of blackjack oaks and tobacco stumps; The empty quarters of negroes grin From clearings of cedar and chinquopin; From fodder stacks the wild swine flew, The shy young wheat the frost peeped through, And the swamp owl hooted as if she knew Of the crime, as she hailed: "Ahoy! Ahoy!" And the chiming hoofs of the horses drew The pitiless rhythm of "Nanjemoy."
So in the dawn as perturbed and gray They hid in the farm-house off the way, And the worn assassin dozed in his chair, A voice in his dreams or afloat in the air, Like a spirit born in the Indian corn— Immemorial, vague, forlorn, And disembodied—murmured forever The name of the old creek up the river. "God of blood!" he said unto Herold, As they groped in the dusk, lost and imperilled, In the oozy, entangled morass and mesh Of hanging vines over Allen's Fresh: "The chirp of birds and the drone of frogs, The lizards and crickets from trees and bogs Follow me yet, pursue and ferret My soul with a word which I used to enjoy, As if it had turned on me like a spirit And stabbed my ear with its 'Nanjemoy.'"
Ay! Great Nature fury or preacher Makes, as she wists, of the tiniest creature— Arming a word, as it floats on the mind, With the dagger of wrath and the wing of the wind. What, though weighted to take them down, Their swimming steeds in the river they drown, And paddle the farther shore to gain, Chased by gunboats or lost in rain? Many a night they try the ferry And the days in haggard sleep employ, But every raft, or float, or wherry, Drifts up the tide to Nanjemoy.
"Ho! John, we shall have no more annoy, We've crossed the river from Nanjemoy. The bluffs of Virginny their shadows reach To hide our landing upon the beach!" Repelled from the manse to hide in the barn, The sick wretch hears, like a far-away horn, As he lies on the straw by the snoring boy, The winding echo of "N-a-n-j-e-m-o-y." All day it follows, all night it whines, From the suck of waters, the moan of pines, And the tread of cavalry following after, The flash of flames on beam and rafter, The shot, the strangle, the crash, the swoon, Scarce break his trance or disturb the croon Of the meaningless notes on his lips which fasten, And the soldier hears, as he seeks to convoy The dying words of the dark assassin, A wandering murmur, like "Nanjemoy."
THE FALL OF UTIE.
The reception at Secretary Flake's was at its height. Bland Van, the President of the nation, had departed with his boys; the punch-bowl had been emptied nine times; and still the cry from our republican society was, "Fill up!"
A pair of young men, unacquainted with each other, pressed at the same time to the punch-bowl, and Jack, the chief ladler, turning from the younger, a clerk in civil dress, helped the elder, a tall naval officer, to a couple of glasses. The clerk, young Utie, who was somewhat flushed, addressed the chief ladler and remarked:
"You dam nigger, didn't you see my glass?"
"See it, sah? Yes! I've seen it seval times afo, dis evening."
Black Jack then received the current allowance of curses for his color and his impudence, all of which he took meekly, till the officer, Lieutenant Dibdo, interrupted on the negro's behalf.
"It's none o' yo affair, I reckon!" cried Utie sullenly.
"The man had no intention of slighting you," said Dibdo. "You have been drinking too much, boy, and your coarseness is coming out."
A fresh crowd of thirsty people pressing up at this point gave Jack his opportunity to cry: "Room around de punch-bowl!"
And the disputants were separated and squeezed by the promenading tides into different rooms.
The officer presently forgot all about it, but not so young Utie, who was partly drunk, entirely vain, not a gentleman by nature, and outraged that anybody had dubbed him "a boy." He sought the side of a fine young girl, the daughter of the chief of the bureau where he was employed, and with whom he was in love. She was attired in the free costume of republican receptions—bare arms, a low dress giving ample display to the whitest shoulders in the room, and fine natural hair dressed with flowers. Every gentleman who passed her during the evening had looked his homage freely—old beaux, dignitaries, officers, foreign deputies, roues—and as she had been two or three winters in that kind of society, nothing discomposed her.
"Robert," she said, with part of a glance, as Utie rejoined her, "you go to the punch-bowl too much. You reflect upon me, sir. Besides, I heard you quarrelling with that handsome officer. I am dying to know him. Who is he?"
Utie looked viciously up, anger and jealousy inflaming his heated face, for, although he had no engagement with Miss Rideau, he conceived himself her future suitor. But some rash words that he said against the officer were scarcely heard by the self-possessed beauty of official society, because, just then, the young officer and a friend were approaching them. She dropped her eyes when she met Lieutenant Dibdo's bold glance of admiration, perhaps in order not to be privy to the more searching look with which, like a gentleman of the world, he ran over the fine points of her plump body as he passed. But young Utie, seeing the offender of a moment ago taking such ardent and leisurely survey of the girl under his care, turned pale with hate. The officer did not notice him at all, absorbed in the fine colors, eyes, and proportions of Miss Rideau, and this further outraged Utie who—to his credit be it said—had only modest thoughts for her. When he saw, however, that she looked after the manly figure and naval gilt of him of the profane eyes, as if to return his admiration, the intoxicated boy dropped an oath.
"I will horsewhip that powder-monkey!" he said.
"Robert," said the girl placidly, "you won't. You have no horse and no horsewhip, but you have been drinking. Go from me, sir! Some one else shall see me home to-night."
"I will kill the man who takes my place! Do you dare to speak that way to me?"
He had raised his voice, in his rage, so that some others heard it. There was a little pause of pressing people, for that was a chivalrous age as to the manner of men to women, and the young officer, just then returning, availed himself of a pretty girl's dilemma to say:
"May I assist you, miss? I presume you are not in very agreeable company."
"Thank you, sir," answered Miss Rideau. "I would be obliged to have some one find my aunt for me; she is here somewhere."
"Will you accept a stranger's arm?"
"In this misfortune, I will."
Dibdo took off the pretty girl, and one of his naval companions, looking after him, exclaimed, "What a genius Dib. is with the ladies!" But the companion, feeling a trembling, unsteady hand upon his arm, turned about and met young Utie's desperate face. "I want to know the name of that fellow!" said Utie.
"That is Charles Dibdo," said the naval companion, "lieutenant of the United States frigate Fox, and I recommend you, my boy, to address him in a civil tone. For me, I never mind a drunken man."
Thoroughly demonized now, young Robert Utie turned blindly about for some implement of revenge. He found it in Tiltock, a fellow-clerk, a novitiate and a ninny, who was visible in the crowd.
"Tiltock, are you a man of honor?"
"I hope so, Bob."
"Can you carry a challenge?"
"Oh yes! I guess so, to 'blige a ole friend."
"Can you write it?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Then take it by word of mouth. That scoundrel there, Lieutenant Dibdo, has insulted a lady, and me too. I must have his blood. Follow him up, and meet me at Gadsby's with his answer."
Full of self-importance at this first and safe opportunity to stand upon what is known as "the field of honor," Tiltock kept the lieutenant in his eye, and took him finally aside and demanded a meeting in the name of Utie. The naval officer answered that he had simply relieved a lady from a drunken boy; but Tiltock, in the dramatic way common to halcyon old times, refused to accept either "drunken" or "boy" as terms appropriate to "the code," and pressed for an answer. In five minutes the naval officer replied, through his naval companion, that having ascertained Mr. Utie to be a gentleman's son, and he as an United States officer not being able to decline a challenge, the latter was accepted. The weapons were to be pistols, the place the usual ground at Bladensburg, and the time the afternoon of the next day.
There was a good deal of drinking and boasting at the hotels that night, Utie and Tiltock telling everybody, as a particular secret, that there was to be "an 'fah honah," otherwise a "juel," at "Bladensburg, sah!" The gin-drinking, cock-fighting, sporting element of the town was aroused, and Utie and Tiltock were invited on all sides to imbibe to the significant toast of "The Field." Very noisy, very insolent, nuisances indeed, these two mere lads—the offspring of a vain and ignorant social period of which some elements yet remain—borrowed the money to hire a carriage, and at midnight they set out with some associates by the old, rutty, clay road for the Maryland village of Bladensburg. That night they caroused until Nature, despite her revolt, put them to bed. In the morning, with a swollen and sallow face, dry hair, unsteady hands, aching eyes and dim vision, Robert Utie awoke to the recollection of his folly and his rashness, and he realized the critical period which he had provoked. His clerkship lost, his self-pride poignant, his pockets nearly empty, his respectable career irretrievably terminated, his sweetheart insulted, and his life in danger! There was no escape either from despair or fate. Tiltock was strutting about below stairs with a drunken old doctor, misnamed a surgeon, who deposited behind the bar a rusty case of surgical instruments, and who took a deep potation to the toast of "The fawchuns of waw." The Bladensburg people were well aware of the occasion, and the old tavern was surrounded by loafers and gossips, many of whom were boys who had walked out from the city as we go to prize-fights in our day. To fill up the time a dog-fight and a chicken-fight were improvised by the enterprising stable-boys in the back yard, on the green slopes of the running Branch. While Tiltock strutted out of town at an imposing pace to examine "The Field," Robert Utie retired to his room, sought with an emetic to relieve his stomach, and then sat down to write some letters and an epitaph. The paper was thin, and the pen and ink matched it, but the drunken boy's eyes marred more than all; for suddenly the secret fountains of his lost youth were touched as by the prick of his pen, and the drops gushed out upon the two words he had written:
Not his sweetheart, who was nothing to him now; not his "honor," which had been only vain-glory and deceit; not any thing but this earliest, everlasting faith which is ours forever, whether we be steadfast or go astray: the tie of home, of childhood, and of our mother's prayer and kiss—this was the soft reproach which glided between a wasted youth and the "field of valor" he had tempted. He wept. He sobbed. He threw himself upon the bed, and pressing his temples into the ragged quilt, felt the panorama of childhood pass across his mind like something cool, sorrowful, and compassionate. The sickness she had cured, the bad words she had taken from his undutiful lips, the whipping she had saved him from at the cost of her deceit, the lie she had never told him, the tears he had found her shedding upon her knees when first he had been drinking, the money he had never given her out of his salary but had spent with idlers, his ruined soul which to that mother's thought was pure as a baby's still, and watched by all the angels of God: these were admonitions from the green meadows of childhood. Before was the barren field of honor.
How short is the struggle betwixt youth and selfishness, that sum of all diseases and crimes; that selfishness out of which wars arise and hell is habitated!
A poor, overworked Christian negro, a slave in the tavern, hearing the sobbing of Robert Utie and aware that one of the duellists occupied that room, lifted the latch, and wakened the wretched boy from his remorse.
"Young moss," he said, "doan you fight no juels! Oh! doan do it, for de bressed Lord's sake! It's nuffin but pride and sin. Yo's only a pore, spilt boy, but you got a soul, young moss! Doan you go git kilt in dat ar bloody gully wha' so many gits hurt amoss to deff!"
Utie arose from the dream of home, and kicked the poor slave out of the room. He then drank, speculated upon his chances, practised with an imaginary pistol at the wall, and meditated running away, alternately, until Tiltock's business-step rang in the hall.
"Bob," he said, "we've picked you a beautiful piece of ground, and the other party's waiting. It's the most popular juel of the season."
They walked up the sandy village street, under the old hip-roofed houses, crossed the Branch bridge, and proceeded a quarter of a mile on the road to Washington. There, where a rivulet crossed the road amongst some bushes, they descended by a path into a copse, and on to a green meadow-space cleared away by former rain freshets. Farm boys, town boys, and intruders of all sorts were lurking near. The field of honor resembled a gypsy camp.
Lieutenant Dibdo's companion came up to Tiltock and said that his friend did not wish to fight, and would make any manly apology, even though unconscious of offence, if the challenge was withdrawn. The crowd was ardent for the fight, and Tiltock, who was punctilious about honor, particularly where he could cut a safe figure, repelled the compromise, as "unwarranted by the code." He knew as much about the code as about honor, and more about both than about getting a living.
"Then," said the lieutenant, "I am authorized to say that my principal will take Mr. Utie's first fire. Let him improve the generous chance as he will. The second time we will make business of it."
The interlopers fell back. The word was given: "Ready—Aim—Fire!" Robert Utie, sustained by braggadocio, that quality which makes murderers die on the scaffold heroically, fired full at the body of Lieutenant Dibdo. That officer fired into the air and remained unmoved and unharmed.
"Is another shot demanded?"
"Yes," said Tiltock, "our honor is not yet satisfied."
He waved the crowd back in an imperious way—they having rushed in after the first shot—and he gave the word himself like a dramatic reading.
Robert Utie looked, and this time with a livid, sobered face, into the open pistol of the man he had provoked, the professional officer of death. The fine, cool face behind the pistol was concise, grave, and eloquent now as a judge's pronouncing the last sentence of the law. The next instant the boy was biting and clawing at the ground in mortal agony. The impatient crowd rushed in. A faint voice was heard to gasp for what some said was "water" and some thought was "mother." Then a figure with a dissipated face a little dignified by death, and with some of the softness of childhood glimmering in it, like the bright footfall of the good angel whose mission was done and whose flight was taken—this figure lay upon its back amongst the bushes, under the sunshine, peeped at by distant hills, contemplated by idlers as if it were the body of a slain game-chicken, and the drunken "surgeon" was idiotically feeling for its heart.
"Gentlemen," said Tiltock with a flourish, "we are all witnesses that every thing has been honorably conducted."
The city had its little talk. The newspapers in those days were models of what is called high-toned journalism, and printed nothing on purely personal matters like duels when requested to respect the feelings of families. As if "the feelings of families" were not the main cause of duels! There was a mother somewhere, still clinging with her prayers to the footstool of God, hoping for the soul of her boy even after death and wickedness. This was all, except the revolution of the world, and the wedding in due time upon it of Lieutenant Dibdo and Miss Rideau. It was what was called a romantic wedding.
LEGEND OF FUNKSTOWN.
Nick Hammer sat in Funkstown Before his tavern door— The same old blue-stone tavern The wagoners knew of yore, When the Conestoga schooners Came staggering under their load, And the lines of slow pack-horses Stamped over the National Road.
Nick Hammer and son together, Both blowing pipe-smoke there, Like a pair of stolid limekilns, In the blue South Mountain air; And the mills of the Antietam, Grinding the Dunker's wheat So oldly and so slowly, Groaned up the deserted street.
"What think'st thou, Nick, my father?" Said Nick, the old man's twin. "This whole year thou art silent. Let a little speech begin. Thou think'st the bar draws little; That the stables are empty yet, And the growing pride of Hagerstown, Thou can'st not that forget."
"Thou liest, Nick, my little boy; For Hager's bells I hear Like the bells of olden travel, Forgot upon mine ear. In a wonderful thing once asked him Thy dear old daddy is sunk— I have sot here a year and wondered Who the devil was Mr. Funk!"
"A year ago I was smoking, When a strange young fellow came by. He was taking notes on paper, And the rum in his'n was rye. Says he: 'I'm a writin' a hist'ry'— 'Twas then I thought he was drunk— 'And I want to see your graveyard, And the tomb of your founder, Funk!'
"I think if he'd sot there, sonny, I'd looked at him a week; But he wanished tow'rd the graveyard, Before your daddy could speak. Directly back he tumbled, Before I had quit my stare, And he says: 'I'm disappinted! No Funk is buried in there.'
"'The Funks is all up-country'— That's all I could think to say, 'There never was Funks in Funkstown, And there ain't any Funks to-day.' 'Why man,' he says, 'the city That stands on Potomac's shores Was settled by Funk, the elder, Who afterward settled yours!
"'The Carrols, they bust him yonder; Old Hager, he bust him here; But my heart will bust till I find him, And make a sketch of his bier. Oh shame on the Funkstown spirit That in Maryland does dwell! He wouldn't consent to be buried Where you can keep a hotel.'"