The Wild Huntress, by Captain Mayne Reid.
This book is divided up into 105 chapters of roughly the same length and each moving forward the events with some significant incident. It must be remembered that the author was one of the very first writers to describe the Wild West, and this book, first published in 1855, his ninth book to appear in this genre, is very masterly.
After a little scene-setting the story opens with Frank Wingrove, who had bought an area of land in Tennessee that was already in the hands of a squatter, Hickman Holt, coming to explain the situation to the squatter who, not unnaturally is rather annoyed. They are just about to have a duel to the death when a third party arrives on the scene. This is the start of the main events of the book, for Frank has fallen in reciprocated love with one of the two beautiful daughters of the squatter. I will not spoil the story for you, but it takes you in the direction of California, and into the hands of the Indians. It also takes you into the encampment of a Mormon train, that is making its way towards Salt Lake City. It is rather an exciting, and indeed interesting tale, well worth reading. Listening to it may be harder to accomplish, because so many of the people in the story talk in various forms of uneducated English, but it's worth a try. THE WILD HUNTRESS, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.
THE SQUATTER'S CLEARING.
The white-headed eagle, soaring above the spray of a Tennessean forest, looks down upon the clearing of the squatter. To the eye of the bird it is alone visible; and though but a spot in the midst of that immense green sea, it is conspicuous by the colour of the trees that stand over it. They stand, but grow not: the girdling ring around their stems has deprived them of their sap; the ivory bill of the log-cock has stripped them of their bark; their leaves and twigs have long since disappeared; and only the trunks and greater branches remain, like blanched skeletons, with arms upstretched to heaven, as if mutely appealing for vengeance against their destroyer.
The squatter's clearing, still thus encumbered, is a mere vistal opening in the woods, from which only the underwood has been removed. The more slender saplings have been cut down or rooted up; the tangle of parasitical plants have been torn from the trees; the cane-brake has been fired; and the brush, collected in heaps, has melted away upon the blazing pile. Only a few stumps of inferior thickness give evidence, that some little labour has been performed by the axe.
Even thus the clearing is a mere patch—scarcely two acres in extent— and the rude rail-fence, that zig-zags around it, attests that the owner is satisfied with the dimensions of his agricultural domain. There are no recent marks of the axe—not even the "girdling" of a tree—nothing to show that another rood is required. The squatter is essentially a hunter; and hates the sight of an extensive clearing—as he would the labour of making one. The virgin forest is his domain, and he is not the man to rob it of its primeval charms. The sound of the lumberer's axe, cheerful to the lonely traveller, has no music for his ear: it is to him a note of evil augury—a knell of dread import. It is not often that he hears it: he dwells beyond the circle of its echoes. His nearest neighbour—a squatter like himself—lives at least a mile off; and the most proximate "settlement" is six times that distance from the spot he has chosen for his cabin. The smoke of his chimney mingles with that of no other: its tall column ascends to heaven solitary as the squatter himself.
The clearing is of an irregular semi-circular shape—a deep narrow stream forming the chord, and afterwards cleaving its way through the otherwise unbroken forest. In the convexity of the arc, at that point most remote from the water, stands the cabin—a log "shanty" with "clapboard" roof—on one side flanked by a rude horse-shed, on the other by a corn-crib of split rails.
Such a picture is almost peculiar to the backwoods of America. Some may deem it commonplace. For my part, I cannot regard it in this light. I have never looked upon this primitive homestead of the pioneer without receiving from it an impression of romantic pleasure. Something seems to impart to it an air of vague and mystic grandeur. Perhaps I associate the picture with the frame in which it is set—the magnificent forest that surrounds it, every aisle of which is redolent of romance. Such a scene is suggestive of hunter lore and legend—of perils by flood and field, always pleasant to be remembered—of desperate deeds of heroism performed by gallant backwoodsmen or their equally gallant antagonists—those red warriors who once strode proudly along the forest-path, but whose upright forms are no longer seen under the shadows of its trees.
Perhaps it is from reflections of this kind, that I view with interest the clearing and cabin of the squatter; or it may be from having at one period of my life encountered incidents, in connection with such a scene, of a character never to be forgotten.
In spring this picture is transformed—suddenly as by the shifting of a panoramic view; or, as upon the stage, the Harlequin and brilliant Columbine emerge from the sober disguisement of their dominoes. If in winter the scene might be termed rude or commonplace, it now no longer merits such titles. Nature has girded on her robe of green, and by the touch of her magical wand, has toned down its rough features to an almost delicate softness. The young maize—planted in a soil that has lain fallow, perhaps for a thousand years—is rapidly culming upward; and the rich sheen of the long lance-like leaves, as they bend gracefully over, hides from view the sombre hues of the earth. The forest trees appear with their foliage freshly expanded—some; as the tulip-tree, the dogwood, and the white magnolia, already in the act of inflorescence. The woods no longer maintain that monotonous silence which they have preserved throughout the winter. The red cardinal chatters among the cane; the blue jay screams in the pawpaw thicket, perhaps disturbed by the gliding of some slippery snake; while the mock-bird, regardless of such danger, from the top of the tall tulip-tree, pours forth his matchless melody in sweet ever-varying strain. The tiny bark of the squirrel, and the soft cooing of the Carolinian dove, may be heard among other sounds—the latter suggestive of earth's noblest passion, as its utterer is the emblem of devotion itself. At night other sounds are heard, less agreeable to the ear: the shrill "chirrup" of cicadas and tree-toads ringing so incessantly, that only when they cease do you become conscious of their existence; the dull "gluck-gluck" of the great bullfrog; the sharp cries of the heron and qua-bird; and the sepulchral screech of the great horned owl. Still less agreeable might appear the fierce miaulling of the red puma, and the howl of the gaunt wolf; but not so to the ears of the awakened hunter, who, through the chinks of his lone cabin, listens to such sounds with a savage joy.
These fierce notes are now rare and exceptional—even in the backwoods— though, unlike the war-whoop of the Indian, they have not altogether departed. Occasionally, their echo may be heard through the aisles of the forest, but only in its deepest recesses—only in those remote river "bottoms" where the squatter delights to dwell. Even there, they are heard only at night; and in the morning give place to softer and sweeter sounds.
Fancy, then, a fine morning in May—a sunshine that turns all it touches into gold—an atmosphere laden with the perfume of wild-flowers—the hum of honey-seeking bees—the song of birds commingling in sweetest melody—and you have the mise en scene of a squatter's cabin on the banks of the Obion, half an hour after the rising of the sun. Can such a picture be called commonplace? Rather say it is enchanting.
Forms suddenly appear upon the scene—forms living and lovely—in the presence of which the bright sunshine, the forest glories of green and gold, the bird-music among the trees, the flowery aroma in the air, are no longer needed to give grace to the clearing of the squatter. It signifies not that it is a morning in the middle of May: were it the dreariest day of December, the effect would be the same; and this resembles enchantment itself. The rude hut seems at once transformed into a palace—the dead trunks become Corinthian columns carved out of white marble—their stiff branches appear to bend gracefully over, like the leaves of the recurrent acanthus—and the enclosure of carelessly tended maize-plants assumes the aspect of some fair garden of the Hesperides!
The explanation is easy. Magic is not needed to account for the transformation: since there exists a far more powerful form of enchantment in the divine presence of female beauty. And it is present there, in its distinct varieties of dark and fair—typified in the persons of two young girls who issue forth from the cabin of the squatter: more than typified—completely symbolised—since in these two young girls there appears scarce one point of resemblance, save the possession of a perfect loveliness. The eye of the soaring eagle may not discover their charms—as did the bird of Jove those of the lovely Leda—but no human eye could gaze for a moment on either one, without receiving the impression that it was looking upon the fairest object on earth. This impression could only be modified, by turning to gaze upon the other.
Who are these young creatures? Sisters?
There is nothing in their appearance to suggest the gentle relationship. One is tall, dark, and dark-haired, of that golden-brown complexion usually styled brunette. Her nose is slightly aquiline, and her eye of the oblique Indian form. Other features present an Indian character, of that type observable in the nation of the Chicasaws—the former lords of this great forest. She may have Chicasaw blood in her veins; but her complexion is too light for that of a pure Indian.
Her dress strengthens the impression that she is a sang-mele. The skirt is of the common homespun of the backwoods, striped with a yellowish dye; but the green bodice is of finer stuff, with more pretensions to ornament; and her neck and wrists are embraced by a variety of those glancing circlets so seductive in the eyes of an Indian belle. The buskin-mocassin is purely Indian; and its lines of bead-embroidery gracefully adapt themselves to the outlines of feet and ankles of perfect form. The absence of a head-dress is another point of Indian resemblance. The luxuriant black hair is plaited, and coiled like a coronet around the head. There are no combs or pins of gold, but in their place a scarlet plumelet of feathers—from the wings of the red cardinal. This, set coquettishly behind the plaits, shows that some little attention has been given to her toilet; and simple though it be, the peculiar coiffure imparts to the countenance of the maiden that air usually styled "commanding."
Although there is nothing masculine in this young girl's beauty, a single glance at her features impresses you with the idea of a character of no ordinary kind—a nature more resolute than tender—a heart endowed with courage equalling that of a man. The idea is strengthened by observing that in her hand she carries a light rifle; while a horn and bullet-pouch, suspended from her left shoulder, hang under the right arm. She is not the only backwoods' maiden who may be seen thus armed and accoutred: many are even skilled in the use of the deadly weapon!
In striking contrast with all this is the appearance of her companion. The impression the eye receives in looking on the latter is that of something soft and beautiful, of a glorious golden hue. It is the reflection of bright amber-coloured hair on a blonde skin, tinted with vermilion imparting a sort of luminous radiance divinely feminine. Scrutinise this countenance more closely; and you perceive that the features are in perfect harmony with each other, and harmonise with the complexion. You behold a face, such as the Athenian fancy has elaborated into an almost living reality in the goddess Cytherea.
This creature of golden roseate hue is yet very young—scarcely more than a child—but in the blue sky above her burns a fiery sun; and in twelve months she will be a woman.
Her costume is still more simple than that of her companion: a sleeved dress of the same striped homespun, loosely worn, and open at the breast; her fine amber-coloured hair the only covering for her head—as it is the only shawl upon her shoulders, over which it falls in ample luxuriance. A string of pearls around her neck—false pearls, poor thing!—is the only effort that vanity seems to have made in the way of personal adornment. Even shoes and stockings are wanting; but the most costly chaussure could not add to the elegance of those pretty mignon feet.
Who are they—these fair flowers of the forest?
Let the mystery end. They are sisters—though not the children of one mother. They are the daughters of the hunter—the owner of the cabin and clearing—his only children.
Happy hunter! poor you may be, and your home lowly; it can never be lonely in such companionship. The proudest prince may envy you the possession of two such treasures—beyond parallel, beyond price!
MARIAN AND LILIAN.
Passing outward from the door, the two young girls pause in their steps: an object has attracted their attention. A large dog is seen running out from the shed—a gaunt fierce-looking animal, that answers to the very appropriate name of "Wolf." He approaches the sisters, and salutes them with an unwilling wag of his tail. It seems as though he could not look pleased, even while seeking a favour—for this is evidently the purpose that has brought him forth from his lair.
He appeals more especially to the older of the girls—Marian.
"Ho, Wolf! I see your sides are thin, old fellow: you want your breakfast! What can we give him, Lil?"
"Indeed, sister, I know not: there is nothing for the poor dog."
"There is some deer-meat inside?"
"Ah! I fear father will not allow Wolf to have that. I heard him say he expected one to take dinner with him to-day? You know who?"
An arch smile accompanies this half-interrogatory; but, for all that, the words do not appear to produce a pleasant effect. On the contrary, a shade is observable on the brow of her to whom they are addressed.
"Yes, I do know. Well, he shall not dine with me. 'Tis just for that I've brought out my rifle. To-day, I intend to make my dinner in the woods, or go without, and that's more likely. Never fear, Wolf! you shall have your breakfast; whether I get my dinner or not. Now, for the life of me, Lil, I don't know what we can give the poor brute. Those buzzards are just within range. I could bring one of them down; but the filthy creatures, ugh! even a dog won't eat them."
"See, sister! yonder is a squirrel. Wolf will eat squirrels, I know: but, ah! it's a pity to kill the little creature."
"Not a bit. Yon little creature is a precious little thief; it's just been at our corn-crib. By killing it, I do justice in a double sense: I punish the thief, and reward the good dog. Here goes!"
The squirrel, scared from its depredation on the corn, sweeps nimbly over the ground towards the nearest tree. Wolf having espied it, rushes after in headlong pursuit. But it is a rare chance indeed when a dog captures one of these animals upon the ground; and Wolf, as usual, is unsuccessful.
He has "treed" the squirrel; but what of that? The nimble creature, having swooped up to a high limb, seats itself there, and looks down upon its impotent pursuer with a nonchalant defiance—at intervals more emphatically expressing the sentiment by a saucy jerk of its tail. But this false security proves the squirrel's ruin. Deceived by it, the silly animal makes no effort to conceal its body behind the branch; but, sitting upright in a fork, presents a fair mark to the rifle. The girl raises the piece to her shoulder, takes aim, and fires.
The shot tells; and the tiny victim, hurled from its high perch—after making several somersaults in the air—falls right into the jaws of that hungry savage at the bottom of the tree. Wolf makes his breakfast upon the squirrel.
This young Diana of the backwoods appears in no way astonished at the feat she has performed; nor yet Lilian. Doubtless, it is an everyday deed.
"You must learn to shoot, Lil."
"O sister, for what purpose? You know I have neither the taste for it, nor the skill that you have."
"The skill you will acquire by practice. It worth knowing how, I can assure you. Besides it is an accomplishment one might stand in need of some day. Why, do you know, sister, in the times of the Indians, every girl understood how to handle a rifle—so father says. True, the fighting Indians are gone away from here; but what if you were to meet a great hear in the woods?"
"Surely I should run away from him."
"And surely I shouldn't, Lil. I have never met a bear, but I'd just like to try one."
"Dear sister, you frighten me. Oh, do not think of such a thing! Indeed, Marian, I am never happy when you are away in the woods. I am always afraid of your meeting with some great wild beast, which may devour you. Tell me, why do you go? I am sure I cannot see what pleasure you can have in wandering through the woods alone."
"Alone! Perhaps I am not always alone."
These words are uttered in a low voice—not loud enough for Lilian to hear, though she observes the smile that accompanies them.
"You see, sister Lil," continues Marian in a louder tone our tastes differ. You are young, and like better to read the story-books your mother left you, and look at the pictures in them. My mother left me no story-books, nor pictures. She had none; and did not care for them, I fancy. She was half-Indian, you know; and I suppose I am like her: for I too, prefer realities to pictures. I love to roam about the woods; and as for the danger—pooh, pooh—I have no fear of that. I fear neither bear nor panther, nor any other quadruped. Ha! I have more fear of a two-legged creature I know of; and I should be in greater danger of meeting with that dreaded biped by staying at home?
The speech appears to give rise to a train of reflections in which there is bitterness. The heroine of the rifle remains silent while in the act of reloading; and the tinge of melancholy that pervades her countenance tells that her thoughts are abstracted. While priming the piece, she is even maladroit enough to spill a quantity of the powder—though evidently not from any lack of practice or dexterity.
Lilian has heard the concluding words of her sister's speech with some surprise, and also noticed the abstracted air. She is about to ask for an explanation, when the dialogue is interrupted. Wolf rushes past with a fierce growl: some one approaches the clearing.
A horseman—a man of about thirty years of age, of spare form and somewhat sinister aspect—a face to be hated on sight. And at sight of it the shadow deepens on the brow of Marian. Her sister exhibits no particular emotion. The new-comer is no stranger: it is only Josh Stebbins, the schoolmaster of Swampville. He is their father's friend, and comes often to visit them: moreover, he is that day expected, as Lilian knows. Only in one way does she show any interest in his arrival; and that is, on observing that he is better dressed than usual. The cut of his dress too, is different.
"See, sister Marian!" cries she in a tone of raillery, "how fine Mister Josh is! black coat and waistcoat: a standing collar too! Why, he is exactly like the Methody minister of Swampville! Perhaps he has turned one. I shouldn't wonder: for they say he is very learnt. Oh, if that be, we may hear him preach at the next camp-meeting. How I should like to hear him hold forth!—ha, ha, ha!"
The young creature laughs heartily at her own fantastic conceits; and her clear silvery voice for a moment silences the birds—as if they paused to listen to a music more melodious than their own. The mock-bird echoes back the laugh: but not so Marian. She has observed the novelty as well as her sister; but it appears to impress her in a very different manner. She does not even smile at the approach of the stranger; but, on the contrary, the cloud upon her brow becomes a shade darker.
Marian is some years older than her sister—old enough to know that there is evil in the world: for neither is the "backwoods" the home of an Arcadian innocence. She knows the schoolmaster sufficiently to dislike him; and, judging by his appearance, one might give her credit for having formed a correct estimate of his character. She suspects the object of his visit; more than that, she knows it: she is herself its object. With indifferent grace, therefore, does she receive him: scarcely concealing her aversion as she bids him the customary welcome. Without being gifted with any very acute perception, the new-comer might observe this degout on the part of the young girl. He takes no notice of it however—either by word, or the movement of a feature. On the contrary, he appears perfectly indifferent to the character of the reception given him. Not that his manner betrays anything like swagger—for he is evidently not one of the swaggering sort. Rather is his behaviour characterised by a cool, quiet effrontery—a sort of sarcastic assurance—ten times more irritating. This is displayed in the laconic style of his salutation: "Morning girls! father at home?"— in the fact of his dismounting without waiting to be invited—in sharply scolding the dog out of his way as he leads his horse to the shed; and, finally, in his throwing the saddle-bags over his arm, and stepping inside the cabin-door, with the air of one who is not only master of the house, but of the "situation."
Inside the door he is received by the squatter himself; and in the exchange of salutations, even a casual observer might note a remarkable difference in the manner of the two men; the guest cool, cynical, confident—the host agitated, with eye unsteady, and heart evidently ill at ease. There is a strange significance in the salutation, as also in the little incident that follows. Before a dozen words have passed between the two men, the schoolmaster turns quietly upon his heel, and closes the door behind him—the squatter making no objection to the act, either by word or gesture! The incident may appear of trifling importance; but not so to Marian, who stands near, watching every movement, and listening to every word. Why is the door closed, and by Josh Stebbins?—that rude door, that, throughout the long summer-day, is accustomed to hang open on its raw-hide hinges? All day, and often all night—except during the cold wintry winds, or when rain-storms blow from the west? Why is it now closed, and thus unceremoniously? No wonder that Marian attaches a significance to the act.
Neither has she failed to note the agitated mien of her father while receiving his visitor—that father, at all other times, and in the presence of all other people, so bold, fierce, and impassible! She observes all this with a feeling of pain. For such strange conduct there must be a cause, and a serious one: that is her reflection.
The young girl stands for some moments in the attitude she has assumed. Her sister has gone aside to pluck some flowers growing by the bank of the stream, and Marian is now alone. Her eye is bent upon the door; and she appears to hesitate between two thoughts. Shall she approach and listen? She knows a little—she desires to know more.
She has not merely conjectured the object of the schoolmaster's visit; she is certain it concerns herself. It is not simply that which troubles her spirits. Left to herself, she would make light of such a suitor, and give him his conge with a brusque promptitude. But her father—why does he yield to the solicitations of this man? This is the mystery she desires to unravel.
Can it be a debt? Scarcely that. In the lawless circle of backwoods' Society, the screw of the creditor has but little power over the victim of debt—certainly not enough to enslave such a free fearless spirit as that of Hickman Holt. The girl knows this, and hence her painful suspicion that points to some other cause. What cause? She would know.
She makes one step towards the house, as if bent upon espionage. Again she pauses, and appears undecided. The chinks between the logs are open all round the hut—so, too, the interstices between the hewn planks of the door. No one can approach near to the walls without being seen from the inside; and a listener would be sure of being discovered. Is it this reflection that stays her in her steps? that causes her to turn back? Or does the action spring from a nobler motive? Whichever it be, it seems to bring about a change in her determination. Suddenly turning away, she stands facing to the forest—as if with the intention of launching herself into its sombre depths. A call of adieu to her sister—a signal to Wolf to follow—and she is gone.
Whither, and for what purpose? Why loves she these lone rambles under the wild-wood shade? She has declared that she delights in them; but can we trust her declaration? True, hers a strange spirit—tinged, no doubt, with the moral tendencies of her mother's race—in which the love of solitude is almost an idiosyncrasy. But with her this forest-ranging is almost a new practice: only for a month or so has she been indulging in this romantic habit—so incomprehensible to the home-loving Lilian. Her father puts no check upon such inclinations: on the contrary, he encourages them, as if proud of his daughter's penchant for the chase. Though purely a white man, his nature has been Indianised by the habits of his life: and in his eyes, the chase is the noblest accomplishment— even for a woman? Does the fair Marian think so? Or has she another motive for absenting herself so frequently from her home? Let us follow her into the forest. There, perhaps, we may find an answer to the enigma.
THE LOVERS' RENDEZVOUS.
Glance into the forest-glade! It is an opening in the woods—a clearing, not made by the labour of human hands, but a work of Nature herself: a spot of earth where the great timber grows not, but in its place shrubs and tender grass, plants and perfumed flowers.
About a mile distant from the cabin of Hickman Holt just such an opening is found—in superficial extent about equal to the squatter's corn-patch. It lies in the midst of a forest of tall trees—among which are conspicuous the tulip-tree, the white magnolia, cotton-woods, and giant oaks. Those that immediately encircle it are of less stature: graduating inward to its edge, like the seats in an amphitheatre—as if the forest trees stooped downward to kiss the fair flowers that sparkle over the glade.
These lesser trees are of various species. They are the sassafras laurel, famed for its sanitary sap; the noble Carolina bay, with its aromatic leaves; the red mulberry: and the singular Osage orange-tree (Maclura aurantica), the "bow-wood" of the Indians. The pawpaw also is present, to attest the extreme richness of the soil; but the flowering plants, that flourish in profuse luxuriance over the glade, are sufficient evidence of its fertility. Why the trees grow not there, is one of Nature's secrets, not yet revealed to man.
It is easier to say why a squatter's cabin is not there. There is no mystery about this: though there might appear to be, since the clearing is found ready to hand. The explanation is simple: the glade is a mile distant from water—the nearest being that of the creek already mentioned as running past the cabin of the squatter. Thus Nature, as if jealous of this pretty wild-wood garden, protects it from the defilement of man.
Nevertheless, the human presence is not unknown to it. On this very morning—this fair morning in May, that has disclosed to our view the cabin and clearing of the squatter—a man may be observed entering the glade. The light elastic step, the lithe agile form, the smooth face, all bespeak his youth; while the style of his dress, his arms and equipments proclaim his calling to be that of a hunter.
He is a man of the correct size, and, it may be added, of the correct shape—that is, one with whose figure the eye finds no fault. It is pleased at beholding a certain just distribution of the members promising strength and activity for the accomplishment of any possible physical end. The countenance is equally expressive of good mental qualities. The features are regular and open, to frankness. A prominent chin denotes firmness; a soft hazel eye, gentleness; and a full rounded throat, intrepid daring. There is neither beard upon the chin, nor moustache upon the lip—not that the face is too young for either, but both have been shaven off. In the way of hair, a magnificent chevelure of brown curls ruffles out under the rim of the cap, shadowing over the cheeks and neck of the wearer. Arched eyebrows, a small mouth, and regular teeth, give the finish to a face which might be regarded as a type of manly beauty.
And yet this beauty appears under a russet garb. There is no evidence of excessive toilet-care. The brush and comb have been but sparingly used; and neither perfume nor pomatum has been employed to heighten the shine of those luxuriant locks. There is sun-tan on the face, that, perhaps with the aid of soap, might be taken off; but it is permitted to remain. The teeth, too, might be made whiter with a dentifrice and brush; but in all likelihood the nearest approach to their having ever been cleansed has been while chewing a piece of tough deer-meat. Nevertheless, without any artificial aids, the young man's beauty proclaims itself in every feature—the more so, perhaps that, in gazing upon his face, you are impressed with the idea that there is an "outcome" in it.
In his dress, there is not much that could be altered for the better. The hunting-shirt of the finest buckskin leather with its fringed cape and skirt, hangs upon his body with all the grace of an Athenian tunic; while its open front permits to be seen the manly contour of his breast, but half concealed under the softer fawn-skin. The wrappers of green baize, though folded more than once around his legs, do not hide their elegant tournure; and an appropriate covering for his feet is a pair of strong mocassins, soled with thick leather. A coon-skin cap sits high upon his head slightly slouched to the right. With the visage of the animal turned to the front, and the full plume-like tail, with its alternate rings, drooping to the shoulder, it forms a head-dress that is far from ungraceful. A belt around the waist—a short hunting-knife in its sheath—a large powder-horn hanging below the arm-pit—a bullet-pouch underneath, and voila tout! No, not all, there remains to be mentioned the rifle—the arm par excellence of the American hunter. The portrait of Frank Wingrove—a dashing young backwoodsman, whose calling is the chase.
The hunter has entered the glade, and is advancing across it. He walks slowly, but without caution—without that habitual stealthy tread that distinguishes the sons of Saint Hubert in the West. On the contrary, his step is free, and the flowers are crushed under his feet. He is not even silent; but humming a tune as he goes. Notwithstanding that he appears accoutred for the chase, his movements are not those of one in pursuit of game. For this morning, at least, he is out upon a different errand; and, judging from his jovial aspect, it should be one of pleasure. The birds themselves seem not more gay.
On emerging from the shadow of the tall trees into the open glade effulgent with flowers, his gaiety seems to have reached its climax: it breaks forth in song; and for some minutes the forest re-echoes the well-known lay of "Woodman spare that tree." Whence this joyous humour? Why are those eyes sparkling with a scarce concealed triumph? Is there a sweetheart expected? Is the glade to the scene of a love-interview—that glade perfumed and flowery, as if designed for such a purpose? The conjecture is reasonable: the young hunter has the air of one who keeps an assignation—one, too, who dreams not of disappointment. Near the edge of the glade, on the side opposite to that by which the hunter has come in, is a fallen tree. Its branches and bark have long since disappeared, and the trunk is bleached to a brilliant white. In the phraseology of the backwoods, it is no longer a tree, but a "log." Towards this the hunter advances. On arriving at the log he seats himself upon it, in the attitude of one who does not anticipate being for long alone.
There is a path that runs across the glade, bisecting it into two nearly equal parts. It is a tiny track, evidently not much used. It conducts from the stream on which stands the cabin of the squatter Holt, to another "fork" of the same river—the Obion—where clearings are numerous, and where there is also a large settlement bearing the dignified title of "town." It is the town of Swampville—a name perhaps more appropriate than euphonious. Upon this path, where it debouches from the forest, the eye of Frank Wingrove becomes fixed—not in the direction of Swampville, but towards the clearing of the squatter. From this, it would appear probable that he expects some one; and that the person expected should come from that side. A good while passes, and yet no one answers his inquiring glance. He begins to manifest signs of impatience. As if to kill time, he repeatedly rises, and again reseats himself. With his eye he measures the altitude of the sun—the watch of the backwoodsman—and as the bright orb rises higher in the heavens, his spirits appear to sink in proportion. His look is no longer cheerful. He has long since finished his song; and his voice is now heard again, only when he utters an ejaculation of impatience. All at once the joyous expression is restored. There is a noise in the woods, and it proceeds from the right direction—a rustling of dead leaves that litter the path, and occasionally the "swish" of recoiling branches. Some one approaches the glade. The young hunter springs to his feet, and stands listening.
Presently, he hears voices; but he hears them rather with surprise than pleasure—as is indicated by another quick change passing over his countenance. The cheerful aspect has again given place to a look of disappointment—this time approaching to chagrin. "Thar's talk goin' on;" mutters he to himself. "Then she's not alone! Thar's someb'dy along wi' her. Who the darnation can it be?"
After this characteristic soliloquy, he remains silent listening far more eagerly than before. The noises become more distinct, and the voices louder. More than one can be distinguished mingling in the conversation.
For some seconds, the hunter maintains his attentive attitude—his eye sternly fixed upon the embouchure of the path. His suspense is of short duration. Hearing the voices more plainly, he recognises their tones; and the recognition appears to give another sudden turn to his thoughts. The expression of chagrin gives place to one of simple disappointment. "Bah!" exclaims he, throwing himself back upon the dead-wood. "It ain't her, after all! It's only a gang o' them rovin' red-skins. What, in Old Nick's name, fetches 'em this way, an' jest at the time when they ain't wanted?"
After a moment's reflection, he starts up from the log, continuing to mutter: "I must hide, or they'll be for havin' a parley. That 'ud never do, for I guess she can't be far off by this. Hang the crooked luck!"
With this elegant finish, the speaker glides rapidly round the end of the fallen tree, and makes for the nearest underwood—evidently with the design of screening himself from sight. He is too late—as the "Ugh" uttered on the opposite side of the glade convinces him—and changing his intention, he fronts round, and quietly returns to his former position upon the log.
The hunter's conjecture has proved correct. Bronzed faces show themselves over the tops of the bushes on the opposite edge of the glade; and, the moment after, three Indians emerge into the open ground. That they are Indians, their tatterdemalion dress of coloured blankets, leggings, and mocassins would indicate; but their race is even recognisable in their mode of march. Though there are but three of them, and the path runs no longer among trees, they follow one another in single file, and in the true typical "trot" of the red aboriginal.
The presence of Indians in these woods requires explanation—for their tribe has long before this time been transported to their new lands west of the Mississippi. It only needs to be said that a few families have preferred to remain—some from attachment to the scenes of their youth, not to be severed by the prospect of a far happier home; some from associations formed with the whites; and some from more trivial causes— perhaps from being the degraded outcasts of their tribes. Throughout the whole region of the backwoods, there still exists a sparse population of the indigenous race: dwelling, as their ancestors did, under tents or in the open air; trafficking in small articles of their own manufacture; in short, performing very much the same metier as the Gitanos in Europe. There are other points of resemblance between these two races—amounting almost to family likeness—and which fairly entitles the Indians to an appellation sometimes bestowed upon them—the Gipsies of the New World.
The three Indians who have entered the glade are manifestly what is termed an "Indian family" or part of one. They are father, and mother, and daughter—the last a girl just grown to womanhood. The man is in the lead, the woman follows, and the young girl brings up the rear. They are bent upon a journey, and its object is also manifest. The pannier borne upon the back of the woman, containing fox and coon-skins, with little baskets of stained wicker—and the bead-embroidered mocassins and wampum belts that appear in the hands of the girl—bespeak a purposed visit to the settlement of Swampville.
True to the custom "of his fathers," the Indian himself carries nothing—if we except a long rusty gun over his shoulder, and a small hatchet in his belt: rendering him rather a formidable-looking fellow on his way to a market.
THE CATASTROPHE OF A KISS.
The log on which the young hunter had seated himself is some paces distant from the path. He has a slight knowledge of this Indian family, and simply nods to them as they pass. He does not speak, lest a word should bring on a conversation—for the avoidance of which he has a powerful motive.
The Indian makes no halt, but strides silently onward, followed by his pannier-laden squaw. The girl, however, pauses in her steps—as if struck by some sudden thought. The action quickly follows the thought; and, turning out of the path, she approaches the spot where the hunter is seated.
What wants she with him? Can this be the she he has been expecting with such impatience? Surely not! And yet the maiden is by no means ill-looking. In her gleaming oblique eyes there is a certain sweetness of expression; and a tinge of purple-red, bursting through the bronze of her cheeks, lends to her countenance a peculiar charm. Add to this, luxuriant black hair, with a bosom of bold outlines—which the sparse savage costume but half conceals—and you have a portrait something more than pretty. Many a time and oft, in the history of backwoods life, has the heart of the proud pale-face offered sacrifice at such a shrine. Is this, then, the expected one? No. Her actions answer the question; and his too. He does not even rise to receive her, but keeps his seat upon the log—regarding her approach with a glance of indifference, not unmingled with a slight expression of displeasure.
Her object is presently apparent. A bullet-pouch of white buckskin, richly worked with porcupine quills, is hanging over her arm. On arriving before the hunter she holds it out, as if about to present it to him. One might fancy that such is her intention; and that the pouch is designed as a gage d'amour; but the word "dollar," which accompanies the offer, precludes the possibility of such a supposition. It is not thus that an Indian girl makes love. She is simply soliciting the pale-face to purchase. In this design she is almost certain to be successful. The pouch proclaims its value, and promises to sell itself. Certainly it is a beautiful object—with its quills of brilliant dye, and richly-embroidered shoulder-strap. Perhaps no object could be held up before the eyes of Frank Wingrove more likely to elicit his admiration.
He sees and admires. He knows its value. It is cheap at a dollar; besides, he was just thinking of treating himself to such a one. His old catskin is worn and greasy. He has grown fastidious of late—for reasons that may be guessed. This beautiful pouch would sit well over his new hunting-shirt, and trick him out to a T. In the eyes of Marian—
His desire to become the possessor of the coveted article hinders him from continuing the reflection. Fortunately his old pouch contains the required coin; and, in another instant, a silver dollar glances in the palm of the Indian girl.
But the "goods" are not delivered over in the ordinary manner. A thought seems to strike the fair huckster; and she stands for a moment gazing upon the face of the handsome purchaser. Is it curiosity? Or is it, perhaps, some softer emotion that has suddenly germinated in her soul? Her hesitation lasts only for an instant. With a smile that seems to solicit, she approaches nearer to the hunter. The pouch is held aloft, with the strap extended between her hands. Her design is evident—she purposes to adjust it upon his shoulders.
The young hunter does not repel the proffered service—how could he? It would not be Frank Wingrove to do so. On the contrary, he leans his body forward to aid in the action. The attitude brings their faces almost close together: their lips are within two inches of touching! For a moment the girl appears to have forgotten her purpose, or else she executes it in a manner sufficiently maladroit. In passing the strap over the high coon-skin cap, her fingers become entangled in the brown curls beneath. Her eyes are not directed that way: they are gazing with a basilisk glance into the eyes of the hunter.
The attitude of Wingrove is at first shrinking; but a slight smile curling upon his lip, betokens that there is not much pain in the situation. A reflection, however, made at the moment, chases away the smile. It is this:—"'Tarnal earthquakes! were Marian to see me now! She'd never believe but that I'm in love with this young squaw: she's been jealous o' her already."
But the reflection passes; and with it, for an instant, the remembrance of "Marian." The sweetest smelling flower is that which is nearest—so sings the honey-bee. Human blood cannot bear the proximity of those pretty lips; and the kindness of the Indian maiden must be recompensed by a kiss. She makes no resistance. She utters no cry. Their lips meet; but the kiss is interrupted ere it can be achieved. The bark of a dog—followed by a half-suppressed scream in a female voice—causes the interruption. The hunter starts back, looking aghast. The Indian exhibits only surprise. Both together glance across the glade. Marian Holt is standing upon its opposite edge!
Wingrove's cheek has turned red. Fear and shame are depicted upon his face. In his confusion he pushes the Indian aside—more rudely than gently. "Go!" he exclaims in an under voice. "For God's sake go!—you have ruined me!"
The girl obeys the request and gesture—both sufficiently rude after such sweet complaisance. She obeys, however; and moves off from the spot—not without reproach in her glance, and reluctance in her steps. Before reaching the path she pauses, turns in her track, and glides swiftly back towards the hunter.
Wingrove stands astonished—half afrighted. Before he can recover himself, or divine her intent, the Indian is once more by his side. She snatches the pouch from his shoulders—the place where her own hands had suspended it—then flinging the silver coin at his feet, and uttering in a loud angry tone the words, "False pale-face!" she turns from the spot, and glides rapidly away. In another moment she has entered the forest-path, and is lost to the sight.
The scene has been short—of only a few seconds' duration. Marian has not moved since the moment she uttered that wild, half-suppressed scream. She stands silent and transfixed, as if its utterance had deprived her of speech and motion. Her fine form picturesquely draped with bodice and skirt; the moccasin buskins upon her feet; the coiled coronet of shining hair surmounting her head; the rifle in her hand, resting on its butt, as it had been dashed mechanically down; the huge gaunt dog by her side—all these outlined upon the green background of the forest leaves, impart to the maiden an appearance at once majestic and imposing. Standing thus immobile, she suggests the idea of some rival huntress, whom Diana, from jealousy, has suddenly transformed into stone. But her countenance betrays that she is no statue. The colour of her cheeks—alternately flushing red and pale—and the indignant flash of that fiery eye, tell you that you look upon a living woman—one who breathes and burns under the influence of a terrible emotion.
Wingrove is half frantic. He scarce knows what to say, or what to do. In his confusion he advances towards the young girl, calling her by name; but before he has half crossed the glade, her words fall upon his ear, causing him to hesitate and falter in his steps. "Frank Wingrove!" she cries, "come not near me. Your road lies the other way. Go! follow your Indian damsel. You will find her at Swampville, no doubt, selling her cheap kisses to triflers like yourself. Traitor! we meet no more!"
Without waiting for a reply, or even to note the effect of her words, Marian Holt steps back into the forest, and disappears. The young hunter is too stupefied to follow. With "false pale-face" ringing in one ear, and "traitor" in the other, he knows not in what direction to turn. At length the log falls under his eye; and striding mechanically towards it, he sits down—to reflect upon the levity of his conduct, and the unpleasant consequences of an unhallowed kiss.
SQUATTER AND SAINT.
Return we to the squatter's cabin—this time to enter it. Inside, there is not much to be seen or described. The interior consists of a single room—of which the log-walls are the sides, and the clapboard roof the ceiling. In one corner there is a little partition or screen—the materials composing it being skins or the black bear and fallow deer. It is pleasant to look upon this little chamber: it is the shrine of modesty and virgin innocence. Its presence proves that the squatter is not altogether a savage.
Rude as is the interior of the sheiling, it contains a few relics of bygone, better days—not spent there, but elsewhere. Some books are seen upon a little shelf—the library of Lilian's mother—and two or three pieces of furniture, that have once been decent, if not stylish. But chattels of this land are scarce in the backwoods—even in the houses of more pretentious people than a squatter; and a log-stool or two, a table of split poplar planks, an iron pot, some pans and pails of tin, a few plates and pannikins of the same material, a gourd "dipper" or drinking-cup, and half-a-dozen common knives, forks, and spoons, constitute the whole "plenishing" of the hut. The skin of a cougar, not long killed, hangs against the wall. Beside it are the pelts of other wild animals—as the grey fox, the racoon, the rufous lynx, musk-rats, and minks. These, draping the roughly-hewn logs, rob them to some extent of their rigidity. By the door is suspended an old saddle, of the fashion known as American—a sort of cross between the high-peaked silla of the Mexicans, and the flat pad-like English saddle. On the adjacent peg hangs a bridle to match—its reins black with age, and its bit reddened with rust. Some light articles of female apparel are seen hanging against the wall, near that sacred precinct where, during the the night-hours, repose the fair daughters of the squatter.
The cabin is a rude dwelling indeed—a rough casket to contain a pair of jewels so sparkling and priceless. Just now, it is occupied by two individuals of a very different character—two men already mentioned— the hunter Hickman Holt, and his visitor Joshua Stebbins, the schoolmaster of Swampville. The personal appearance of the latter has been already half described. It deserves a more detailed delineation. His probable age has been stated—about thirty. His spare figure and ill-omened aspect have been alluded to. Add to this, low stature, a tripe-coloured skin, a beardless face, a shrinking chin, a nose sharp-pointed and peckish, lank black hair falling over the forehead, and hanging down almost low enough to shadow a pair of deep-set weazel-like eyes: give to this combination of features a slightly sinister aspect, and you have the portrait of Joshua Stebbins. It is not easy to tell the cause of this sinister expression: for the features are not irregular; and, but for its bilious colour, the face could scarcely be termed ill-looking. The eyes do not squint; and the thin lips appear making a constant effort to look smiling and saint-like. Perhaps it is this outward affectation of the saintly character— belying, as it evidently does, the spirit within, that produces the unfavourable impression. In earlier youth, the face may have been better favoured; but a career, spent in the exercise of evil passions, has left more than one "blaze" upon it.
It is difficult to reconcile such a career with the demeanour of the man, and especially with his present occupation. But Joshua Stebbins has not always been a schoolmaster; and the pedagogue of a border settlement is not necessarily, expected to be a model of morality. Even if it were so, this lord of the hickory-switch is comparatively a stranger in Swampville; and, perhaps, only the best side of his character has been exhibited to the parents and guardians of the settlement. This is of the saintly order; and, as if to strengthen the illusion, a dress of clerical cut has been assumed, as also a white cravat and black boat-brimmed hat. The coat, waistcoat, and trousers are of broad-cloth—though not of the finest quality. It is just such a costume as might be worn by one of the humbler class of Methodist border Ministers, or by a Catholic priest—a somewhat rarer bird in the backwoods.
Joshua Stebbins is neither one nor the other; although, as will shortly appear, his assumption of the ecclesiastical style is not altogether confined to his dress. Of late he has also affected the clerical calling. The ci-devant attorney's clerk—whilom the schoolmaster of Swampville—is now an "apostle" of the "Latter-day Saints." The character is new—the faith itself is not very old—for the events we are relating occurred during the first decade of the Mormon revelation. Even Holt himself has not yet been made aware of the change: as would appear from a certain air of astonishment, with which at first sight he regards the clerical habiliments of his visitor.
It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that presented in the appearance of these two men. Were we to select two parallel types from the animal world, they would be the sly fox and the grizzly bear—the latter represented by the squatter himself. In Hickman Holt we behold a personage of unwonted aspect: a man of gigantic stature, with a beard reaching to the second button of his coat, and a face not to be looked upon without a sensation of terror—a countenance expressive of determined courage, but at the same time of fierceness, untempered by any trace of a softer emotion. A shaggy sand-coloured beard, slightly grizzled; eyebrows like a chevaux de frise of hogs' bristles; eyes of a greenish-grey, and a broad livid scar across the left cheek—are component parts in producing this aspect; while a red cotton kerchief, wound turban-like around the head, and pulled low down in front, renders its expression more palpable and pronounced.
A loose surtout of thick green blanket-cloth, somewhat faded and worn, adds to the colossal appearance of the man: while a red-flannel shirt serves him also for a vest. His huge limbs are encased in pantaloons of blue Kentucky "jeans;" but these are scarcely visible—as the skirt of his ample coat drapes down so as to cover the tops of a pair of rough horse-skin boots, that reach upwards to his knees. The costume is common enough on the banks of the Mississippi; the colossal form is not rare; but the fierce, and somewhat repulsive countenance—that is more individual.
Is this father of Marian and Lilian? Is it possible from so rude a stem could spring such graceful branches—flowers so fair and lovely? If so, then must the mothers of both have been beautiful beyond common! It is even true, and true that both were beautiful—were for they are gone, and Hickman Holt is twice a widower. Long ago, he buried the half-blood mother of Marian; and at a later period—though still some years ago— her gentle golden-haired successor was carried to an early grave.
The latter event occurred in one of the settlements, nearer to the region of civilised life. There was a murmur of mystery about the second widowhood of Hickman Holt, which only became hushed on his "moving" further west—to the wild forest where we now find him. Here no one knows aught of his past life or history—one only excepted—and that is the man who is to-day his visitor.
Contrasting the two men—regarding the superior size and more formidable aspect of the owner of the cabin, you would expect his guest to make some show of obeisance to him. On the contrary, it is the squatter who exhibits the appearance of complaisance. He has already saluted his visitor with an air of embarrassment, but ill-concealed under the words of welcome with which he received him. Throughout the scene of salutation, and afterwards, the schoolmaster has maintained his characteristic demeanour of half-smiling, half-sneering coolness. Noting the behaviour of these two men to one another, even a careless observer could perceive that the smaller man is the master!
AN APOSTOLIC EFFORT.
The morning needed no fire, but there were embers upon the clay-hearth— some smouldering ends of faggots—over which the breakfast had been cooked. On one side of the fireplace the squatter placed a stool for his visitor; and then another for himself, as if mechanically on the opposite side. A table of rough-hewn planks stood between. On this was a bottle containing maize-corn whiskey—or, "bald face," as it is more familiarly known in the backwoods—two cracked cups to drink out of; a couple of corn-cob pipes; and some black tobacco. All these preparations had been made beforehand; and confirmed, what had dropped from the lips of Lilian, that the visitor had been expected. Beyond the customary phrases of salutation, not a word was exchanged between the host and guest, until both had seated themselves. The squatter then commenced the conversation.
"Yev hed a long ride, Josh," said he, leaning towards the table and clutching hold of the bottle: "try a taste o' this hyur rot-gut—'taint the daintiest o' drink to offer a man so genteelly dressed as you air this morning; but thur's wuss licker in these hyur back'oods, I reckun. Will ye mix? Thur's water in the jug thar."
"No water for me," was the laconic reply. "Yur right 'bout that. Its from old Hatcher's still—whar they us'ally put the water in afore they give ye the licker. I s'pose they do it to save a fellur the trouble o' mixing—Ha! ha! ha!" The squatter laughed at his own jest-mot as if he enjoyed it to any great extent, but rather as if desirous of putting his visitor in good-humour. The only evidence of his success was a dry smile, that curled upon the thin lip of the saint, rather sarcastically than otherwise.
There was silence while both drank; and Holt was again under the necessity of beginning the conversation. As already observed, he had noticed the altered style of the schoolmaster's costume; and it was to this transformation that his next speech alluded. "Why, Josh," said he, attempting an easy off-hand style of talk, "ye're bran new, spick span, from head to foot; ye look for all the world jest like one o' them ere cantin' critters o' preechers I often see prowlin' about Swampville. Durn it, man! what dodge air you up to now. You hain't got rileegun, I reck'n?"
"I have," gravely responded Stebbins.
"Hooraw! ha, ha, ha! Wal—what sort o' thing is't anyhow?"
"My religion is of the right sort, Brother Holt."
"Nothing of the kind."
"What then? I thort they wur all Methodies in Swampville?"
"They're all Gentiles in Swampville—worse than infidels themselves."
"Wal—I know they brag mightily on thur genteelity. I reckon you're about right thur—them, storekeepers air stuck-up enough for anythin'."
"No, no; it's not that I mean. My religion has nothing to do with Swampville. Thank the Lord for his mercy, I've been led into a surer way of salvation. I suppose, Brother Holt, you've heard of the new Revelation?"
"Heern o' the new rev'lation. Wal, I don't know as I hev. What's the name o't?"
"The book of Mormon?"
"Oh! Mormons! I've hearn o' them. Hain't they been a fightin' a spell up thur in Massouray or Illinoy, whar they built 'em a grandiferous temple? I've hearn some talk o't."
"At Nauvoo. It is even so, Brother Holt the wicked Gentiles have been persecuting the Saints: just as their fathers were persecuted by the Egyptian Pharaohs."
"An' hain't they killed their head man—Smith he wur called, if I recollex right."
"Alas, true! Joseph Smith has been made a martyr, and is by this time an angel in heaven. No doubt he is now in glory, at the head of the angelic host."
"Wal—if the angels are weemen, he'll hev a good wheen o' 'em about him, I reck'n. I've hearn he wur at the head of a putty consid'able host o' 'em up thur in Massoury—fifty wives they said he hed! Wur that ere true, Josh?"
"Scandal, Brother Holt—all scandal of the wicked enemies of our faith. They were but wives in the spirit. That the Gentiles can't comprehend; since their eyes have not been opened by the Revelation."
"Wal, it 'pears to be a tol'able free sort o' rileegun anyhow. Kind o' Turk, aint it?"
"Nothing of the kind. It has nothing in common with the doctrines of Mohammedanism."
"But whar did you get it, Josh Stebbins? Who gin it to you?"
"You remember the man I brought over here last fall?"
"Sartint I do. Young he wur—Brig Young, I think, you called him."
"In coorse, I remember him well enough; but I reckon our Marian do a leetle better. He tried to spark the gurl, an' made fine speeches to her; but she couldn't bar the sight o' him for all that. Ha! ha! ha. Don't ye recollex the trick that ar minx played on him? She unbuckled the girt o' his saddle, jest as he wur a-goin' to mount, and down he kim—saddle, bags, and all—cawollup to the airth! ha! ha! Arter he wur gone, I larfed till I wur like to bust."
"You did wrong, Hickman Holt, to encourage your daughter in her sauciness. Had you known the man—that man, sir, was a prophet!"
"Yes—the greatest perhaps the world ever saw—a man in direct communication with the Almighty himself."
"Lord! 'Twan't Joe Smith, wur it?"
"No; but one as great as he—one who has inherited his spirit; and who is now the head of all the Saints."
"That feller at thur head? You 'stonish me, Josh Stebbins."
"Ah! well you may be astonished. That man has astonished me, Hickman Holt. He has turned me from evil ways, and led me to fear the Lord." The squatter looked incredulous, but remained silent. "Yes—that same man who was here with me in your humble cabin, is now Chief Priest of the Mormon Church! He has laid his hands on this poor head, and constituted me one of his humble Apostles. Yes, one of the Twelve, intrusted with spreading the true faith of the Saints over all the world."
"Hooraw for you, Josh Stebbins! You'll be jest the man for that sort o' thing; ye've got the larnin' for it, hain't you?"
"No doubt, Brother Holt, with the help of the Lord, my humble acquirements will be useful; for though He only can open for us poor sinners the kingdom of grace, he suffers such weak instruments, as myself, to point out the narrow path that leads to it. Just as with the Philistines of old, the hearts of the Gentiles are hardened like flint-stones, and refuse to receive the true faith. Unlike the followers of Mohammed, we propagate not by the sword, but by the influence of ratiocination."
"What mout that be?"
"Oh! common sense you mean, I s'pose?"
"Exactly so—reasoning that produces conviction; and, I flatter myself, that, being gifted with some little sense and skill, my efforts may be crowned with success."
"Wal, Josh, 'ithout talkin' o' common sense, ye've good grist o' lawyers' sense—that I know; an' so, I suppose, ye've tuk it into your head to make beginnin' on me. Aint that why ye've come over this mornin'?"
"To make a Mormon o' me."
Up to this time the conversation had been carried on in a somewhat stiff and irrelevant manner; this more especially on the side of the squatter, who—notwithstanding his endeavours to assume an air of easy nonchalance—was evidently labouring under suspicion and constraint. From the fact of Stebbins having sent a message to forewarn him, of this visit, he knew that the schoolmaster had some business with him of more than usual importance; and it was a view to ascertain the nature of this business, and relieve himself from suspense, that the interrogatory was put. He would have been right glad to have received an answer in the affirmative—since it would have cost him little concern to turn Mormon, or profess to do so, notwithstanding his pretended opposition to the faith. He was half indulging himself in the hope that this might be the errand on which Stebbins had come: as was evinced by a more cheerful expression, on his countenance; but, as the Saint lingered long before making a reply, the shadows of suspicion again darkened over the brow of the squatter; and with a nervous uneasiness, he awaited the answer.
"It'll be a tough job, Josh," said he, with an effort to appear unconcerned—"a tough job, mind ye."
"Well, so I should expect," answered the apostle drily; "and, just for that reason, I don't intend to undertake it: though I should like, Brother Holt, to see you gathered into the fold. I know our great High Priest would make much of a man like you. The Saints have many enemies; and need strong arms and stout hearts such as yours, Hickman Holt. The Lord has given to his Prophet the right to defend the true faith—even with carnal weapons, if others fail; and woe be to them who make war on us! Let them dread the Destroying Angels!"
"The Destroying Angels! What sort o' critters be they?"
"They are the Danites."
"Wal I'm jest as wise as ever, Josh. Dod rot it, man! don't be mystiferous. Who air the Danites, I shed like to know?"
"You can only know them by initiation; and you should know them. You're just the man to be one of them; and I have no doubt you'd be made one, as soon as you joined us."
The apostle paused, as if to note the effect of his words; but the colossal hunter appeared as if he had not heard them. It was not that he did not comprehend their meaning, but rather because he was not heeding what had been said—his mind being occupied with a presentiment of some more unpleasant proposal held in reserve by his visitor. He remained silent, however; leaving it to the latter to proceed to the declaration of his design. The suspicions of the squatter—if directed to anything connected with his family affairs—were well grounded, and soon received confirmation. After a pause, the Mormon continued:
"No, Hickman Holt, it aint with you my business lies to-day—that is, not exactly with you."
THE MORMON'S DEMAND.
A shudder passed through the herculean frame of the hunter—though it was scarcely perceptible, from the effort he made to conceal it. It was noticed for all that; and the emotion that caused it perfectly understood. The keen eye of the ci-devant law clerk was too skilled in reading the human countenance, to be deceived by an effort at impassibility.
"My daughter?" muttered Holt, half interrogatively.
"Your daughter!" echoed the Mormon, with imperturbable coolness.
"But which o' 'em? Thur's two."
"Oh! you know which I mean—Marian, of course."
"An' what do ye want wi' Marian, Josh?"
"Come, Brother Holt? it's no use your feigning ignorance. I've spoken to you of this before: you know well enough what I want with her."
"Durn me, if I do! I remember what ye sayed afore; but I thort ye wur only jokin'."
"I was in earnest then, Hickman Holt; and I'm still more in earnest now. I want a wife, and I think Marian would suit me admirably. I suppose you know that the saints have moved off from Illinois, and are now located beyond the Rocky Mountains?"
"I've heern somethin' o't."
"Well, I propose going thereto join them; and I must take a wife with me: for no man is welcome who comes there without one."
"Y-e-s," drawled the squatter, with a bitter smile, "an' from what I've heern, I reckon he'd be more welkum if he fetched half-a-dozen."
"Nonsense, Hickman Holt. I wonder a man of your sense would listen to such lies. It's a scandal that's been scattered abroad by a set of corrupt priests and Methody preachers, who are jealous of us, because we're drawing their people. Sheer wicked lies, every word of it!"
"Wal, I don't know about that. But I know one thing, to a sartinty—you will niver get Marian's consent."
"I don't want Marian's consent—that don't signify, so long as I have yours."
"Ay, yours; and I must have it. Look here, Hickman Holt! Listen to me! We're making too long a talk about this business; and I have no time to waste in words. I have made everything ready; and shall leave for the Salt Lake before three more days have passed over my head. The caravan I'm going with is to start from Fort Smith on the Arkansas; and it'll be prepared by the time I get there, to move over the plains. I've bought me a team and a waggon. It's already loaded and packed; and there's a corner in it left expressly for your daughter: therefore, she must go."
The tone of the speaker had suddenly changed, from that of saintly insinuation, to bold open menace. The squatter, notwithstanding his fierce and formidable aspect, did not dare to reply in the same strain. He was evidently cowed, and suffering under some fearful apprehension. "Must go!" he muttered, half involuntarily, as if echoing the other's words. "Yes, must and shall!"
"I tell ye, Josh Stebbins, she'll niver consent."
"And I tell you, Hickman Holt, I don't want her consent. That I leave you to obtain; and if you can't get it otherwise, you must force it. Bah! what is it for? A good husband—a good home—plenty of meat, drink, and dress: for don't you get it into your fancy that the Latter-Day Saints resemble your canting hypocrites of other creeds, who think they please God by their miserable penances. Quite the reverse, I can assure you. We mean to live as God intended men should live—eat, drink, and be merry. Look there!" The speaker exhibited a handful of shining gold pieces. "That's the way our church provides for its apostles. Your daughter will be a thousand times better off there, than in this wretched hovel. Perhaps she will not mind the change so much as you appear to think. I know many a first-rate girl that would be glad of the chance."
"I know she won't give in—far less to be made a Mormon o'. I've heern her speak agin 'em."
"I say again, she must give in. After all, you needn't tell her I'm a Mormon: she needn't know anything about that. Let her think I'm only moving out west—to Oregon—where there are plenty of respectable emigrants now going. She'll not suspect anything in that. Once out at Salt Lake City, she'll soon get reconciled to Mormon life, I guess."
The squatter remained silent for some moments—his head hanging forward over his broad breast—his eyes turned inward, as if searching within his bosom for some thought to guide and direct him. In there, no doubt, a terrible struggle was going on—a tumult of mixed emotions. He loved his daughter, and would leave her to her own will; but he feared this saintly suitor, and dared not gainsay him. It must have been some dread secret, or fiendish scheme, that enabled this small insignificant man to sway the will of such a giant!
A considerable time passed, and still the squatter vouchsafed no answer. He was evidently wavering, as to the nature of the response he should make.
Twice or thrice he raised his head, stealthily directing his glance to the countenance of his visitor; but only to read, in the looks of the latter, a fixed and implacable purpose. There was no mercy there.
All at once, a change came over the colossus. A resolution of resistance had arisen within him—as was evinced by his altered attitude and the darkening shadow upon his countenance. The triumphant glances of the pseudo-saint appeared to have provoked him, more than the matter in dispute. Like the buffalo of the plains stung with Indian arrows, or the great mysticetus of the deep goaded by the harpoon of the whaler, all the angry energies of his nature appeared suddenly aroused from their lethargy; and he sprang to his feet, towering erect in the presence of his tormentor. "Damnation!" cried he, striking the floor with his heavy heel, "she won't do it—she won't, and she shan't!"
"Keep cool, Hickman Holt!" rejoined the Mormon, without moving from his seat—"keep cool! I expected this; but it's all bluster. I tell you she will, and she shall!"
"Hev a care, Josh Stebbins! Hev a care what yur about! Ye don't know what you may drive me to—"
"But I know what I may lead you to," interrupted the other with a sneering smile.
"What?" involuntarily inquired Holt.
"The gallows," laconically answered Stebbins.
"Devils an' damnation!" This emphatic rejoinder was accompanied with a furious grinding of teeth, but with a certain recoiling—as if the angry spirit of the giant could still be stayed by such a menace.
"It's no use swearing about it, Holt," continued the Mormon, after a certain time had passed in silence. "My mind's made up—the girl must go with me. Say yes or no. If yes, then all's well—well for your daughter, and well for you too. I shall be out of your way—Salt Lake's a long distance off—and it's not likely you'll ever set eyes on me again. You understand me?"
The saint pronounced these last words with a significant emphasis; and then paused, as if to let them have their full weight. They appeared to produce an effect. On hearing them, a gleam, like a sudden flash of sunlight, passed over the countenance of the squatter. It appeared the outward index of some consolatory thought freshly conceived; and its continuance proved that it was influencing him to take a different view of the Mormon's proposal. He spoke at length; but no longer in the tone of rage—for his passion seemed to have subsided, as speedily as it had sprung up.
"An' s'pose I say no?"
"Why, in that case, I shall not start so soon as I had intended. I shall stay in the settlements till I have performed a duty that, for a long time, I have left undone."
"What duty is't you mean?"
"One I owe to society; and which I have perhaps sinfully neglected—bring a murderer to justice!"
"Hush! Josh Stebbins—for Heaven's sake, speak low! You know it isn't true—but, hush! the gurls are 'thout. Don't let them hear sech talk!"
"Perhaps," continued Stebbins, without heeding the interruption, "perhaps that murderer fancies he might escape. He is mistaken if he do. One word from me in Swampville, and the hounds of the law would be upon him; ay, and if he could even get clear of them, he could not escape out of my power. I have told you I am an Apostle of the great Mormon Church; and that man would be cunning indeed who could shun the vengeance of our Destroying Angels. Now, Hickman Holt, which is it to be? yes or no?" The pause was ominous for poor Marian.
The answer decided her doom. It was delivered in a hoarse husky voice: "Yes—yes—she may go!"
A SPLENDID PENSION.
The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalogo was followed by an extensive debandement, which sent many thousands of sabres ringing back into their scabbards—some of them soon after to spring forth in the cause of freedom, calumniously called "filibustering;" others perhaps destined never to be drawn again. Using a figurative expression, not a few were converted into spades; and in this pacific fashion, carried to the far shores of the Pacific Ocean—there to delve for Californian gold—while still others were suspended in the counting-house or the studio, to rust in inglorious idleness. A three years' campaign under the sultry skies of Mexico—drawing out the war-fever that had long burned in the bosoms of the American youth—had satisfied the ambition of most. It was only those who arrived late upon the field—too late to pluck a laurel—who would have prolonged the strife.
The narrator of this tale, Edward Warfield—ci-devant captain of a corps of "rangers"—was not one of the last mentioned. With myself, as with many others, the great Mexican campaign was but the continuation of the little war—la petite guerre—that had long held an intermittent existence upon the borders of Texas, and in which we had borne part; and the provincial laurels there reaped, when interwoven with the fresher and greener bays gathered upon the battle-fields of Anahuac, constituted a wreath exuberant enough to content us for the time. For my part, notwithstanding the portentous sound of my ancestral patronymic, I was tired of the toils of war, and really desired a "spell" of peace: during which I might indulge in the dolce far niente, and obtain for my wearied spirit a respite of repose. My wishes were in similitude with those of the poet, who longed for "a lodge in some vast wilderness—some boundless contiguity of shade;" or perhaps, more akin to those of that other poet of less solitary inclinings, who only desired the "desert as a dwelling-place, with one fair spirit for his minister!" In truth, I felt a strong inclination for the latter description of life; and, in all likelihood, would have made a trial of it, but for the interference of one of those ill-starred contingencies that often embarrass the best intentions. A phrase of common occurrence will explain the circumstance that offered opposition to my will: "want of the wherewith to support a wife."
I had been long enough in the wilderness, to know that even a "dwelling in the desert" cannot be maintained without expense; and that however pure the desert air, the fairest "spirit" would require something more substantial to live upon. Under this prudential view of the case, marriage was altogether out of the question. We, the debandes, were dismissed without pension: the only reward for our warlike achievements being a piece of "land scrip," good for the number of acres upon the face of it—to be selected from "government land," wherever the holder might choose to "locate." The scrip was for greater or less amount, according to the term of the receiver's service. Mine represented a "section" of six hundred and forty acres—worth in ordinary times, a dollar and quarter per acre; but just then—on account of the market being flooded by similar paper—reduced to less than half its value. With this magnificent "bounty" was I rewarded for services, that perhaps—some day—might be—never mind!—thank heaven for blessing me with the comforting virtues of humility and contentment! This bit of scrip then—a tried steed that had carried me many a long mile, and through the smoke of more than one red fray—a true rifle, that I had myself carried equally as far—a pair of Colt's pistols—and a steel "Toledo," taken at the storming of Chapultepec—constituted the bulk of my available property. Add to this, a remnant of my last month's pay— in truth, not enough to provide me with that much coveted article, a civilian's suit: in proof of which, my old undress-frock, with its yellow spread-eagle buttons, clung to my shoulders like a second shirt of Nessus. The vanity of wearing a uniform, that may have once been felt, was long ago threadbare as the coat itself; and yet I was not wanting in friends, who fancied that it might still exist! How little understood they the real state of the case, and how much did they misconstrue my involuntary motives!
It was just to escape from such unpleasant associations, that I held on to my "scrip." Most of my brother-officers had sold theirs for a "song," and spent the proceeds upon a "supper." In relation to mine, I had other views than parting with it to the greedy speculators. It promised me that very wilderness-home I was in search of; and, having no prospect of procuring a fair spirit for my "minister," I determined to "locate" without one.
I was at the time staying in Tennessee—the guest of a campaigning comrade and still older friend. He was grandson of that gallant leader, who, with a small band of only forty families, ventured three hundred miles through the heart of the "bloody ground" and founded Nashville upon the bold bluffs of an almost unknown river! From the lips of their descendants I had heard so many thrilling tales of adventures, experienced by this pioneer band, that Tennessee had become, in my fancy a region of romance. Other associations had led me to love this hospitable and chivalric state; and I resolved, that, within its boundaries, I should make my home. A visit to the Land-office of Nashville ended in my selection of Section Number 9, Township —, as my future plantation. It was represented to me as a fertile spot—situated in the "Western Reserve"—near the banks of the beautiful Obion, and not far above the confluence of this river with the Mississippi. The official believed there had been some "improvement" made upon the land by a squatter; but whether the squatter still lived upon it, he could not tell. "At all events, the fellow will be too poor to exercise the pre-emption right, and of course must move off." So spoke the land agent. This would answer admirably. Although my Texan experience had constituted me a tolerable woodsman, it had not made me a woodcutter; and the clearing of the squatter, however small it might be, would serve as a beginning. I congratulated myself on my good luck; and, without further parley, parted with my scrip—receiving in return the necessary documents, that constituted me the legal owner and lord of the soil of Section 9. The only additional information the agent could afford me was: that my new purchase was all "heavily timbered," with the exception before referred to; that the township in which it was situated was called Swampville; and that the section itself was known as "Holt's Clearing"—from the name, it was supposed, of the squatter who had made the "improvement."
With this intelligence in my head, and the title-deeds in my pocket, I took leave of the friendly official; who, at parting, politely wished me "a pleasant time of it on my new plantation!"
On returning to the house of my friend, I informed him of my purchase; and was pleased to find that he approved of it. "You can't be taken in," said he, "by land upon the Obion. From what I have heard of it, it is one of the most fertile spots in Tennessee. Moreover, as you are fond of hunting, you'll find game in abundance. The black bear, and even the panther—or 'painter,' as our backwoodsmen have it—are still common in the Obion bottom; and indeed, all throughout the forests of the Reserve."
"I'm rejoiced to hear it."
"No doubt," continued my friend, with a smile, "you may shoot deer from your own door; or trap wolves and wild-cats at the entrance to your hen-roost."
"O yes—though I can't promise that you will see anything of Venus in the woods, you may enjoy to your heart's content the noble art of venerie. The Obion bottom is a very paradise for hunters. It was it that gave birth to the celebrated Crockett."
"On that account it will be all the more interesting to me; and, from what you say, it is just the sort of place I should have chosen to squat upon."
"By the by," interrupted my friend, looking a little grave as he spoke, "your making use of that familiar phrase, recalls the circumstance you mentioned just now. Did I understand you to say, there was a squatter on the land?"
"There was one—so the agent has told me; but whether he be still squatted there, the official could not say."
"Rather awkward, if he be," rejoined my friend, in a sort of musing soliloquy; while, with his eyes fixed upon the ground, he kept pulling his "goatee" to its full length.
"In what way awkward?" I asked in some surprise. "How can that signify?"
"A great deal. These squatters are queer fellows—ugly customers to deal with—especially when you come to turn them out of their house and home, as they consider it. It is true, they have the pre-emption right—that is, they may purchase, if they please, and send you to seek a location elsewhere; but this is a privilege those gentry rarely please to indulge in—being universally too poor to purchase."
"Their motto is, for 'him to keep who can.' The old adage, 'possession being nine points of the law,' is, in the squatter's code, no dead-letter, I can assure you."
"Do you mean, that the fellow might refuse to turn out?"
"It depends a good deal on what sort of a fellow he is. They are not all alike. If he should chance to be one of the obstinate and pugnacious kind, you are likely enough to have trouble with him."
"But surely the law—"
"Will aid you in ousting him—that's what you were going to say?"
"I should expect so—in Tennessee, at all events."
"And you would be disappointed. In almost any other part of the state, you might rely upon legal assistance; but, I fear, that about Swampville you will find society not very different from that you have encountered on the borders of Texas; and you know how little help the law could afford you there, in the enforcement of such a claim?"
"Then I must take the law into my own hands," rejoined I, falling into very old-fashioned phraseology—for I was beginning to feel indignant at the very idea of this prospective difficulty. "No, Warfield," replied my sober friend, "do not take that course; I know you are not the man to be scared out of your rights; but, in the present case, prudence is the proper course to follow.—Your squatter, if there be one—it is to be hoped that, like many of our grand cities, he has only an existence on the map—but if there should be a real live animal of this description on the ground, he will be almost certain to have neighbours—some half-dozen of his own kidney—living at greater or less distances around him. They are not usually of a clannish disposition; but, in a matter of this kind, they will be as unanimous in their sympathies, and antipathies too, as they would about the butchering of a bear. Turn one of them out by force—either legal or otherwise—and it would be like bringing a hornets' nest about your ears. Even were you to succeed in so clearing your land, you would find ever afterwards a set of very unpleasant neighbours to live among. I know some cases in point, that occurred nearer home here. In fact, on some wild lands of my own I had an instance of the kind."
"What, then, am I to do? Can you advise me?"
"Do as others have often done before you; and who have actually been forced to the course of action I shall advise. Should there be a squatter, and one likely to prove obstinate, approach him as gently as you can, and state your case frankly. You will find this the best mode of treating with these fellows—many of whom have a dash of honour, as well as honesty in their composition. Speak of the improvements he has made, and offer him a recompense."
"Ah! friend Blount," replied I, addressing my kind host by his baptismal name, "it is much easier to listen to your advice than follow it."
"Come, old comrade!" rejoined he, after a momentary pause, "I think I understand you. There need be no concealment between friends, such as we are. Let not that difficulty hinder you from following the course I have recommended. The old general's property is not all gone yet; and, should you stand in need of a hundred or two, to make a second purchase of your plantation, send me word, and—"
"Thanks, Blount—thanks! it is just as I should have expected; but I shall not become your debtor for such a purpose. I have been a frontiersman too long to be bullied by a backwoodsman—"
"There now, Warfield, just your own passionate self! Nay, you must take my advice. Pray, do not go rashly about it, but act as I have counselled you."
"That will depend upon contingencies. Should Master Holt—for I believe that is my predecessor's name—should he prove amiable, I may consent to go a little in your debt, and pay him for whatever log-chopping he has done. If otherwise, by the Lady of Guadalupe!—you remember our old Mexican shibboleth—he shall be cleared out of his clearing sans facon. Perhaps we have been wasting words upon an ideal existence! Perhaps there is no squatter after all; or that old Holt has long since 'gone under' and only his ghost will be found flitting around the precincts of this disputed territory. Would not that be an interesting companion for my hours of midnight loneliness? A match for the wolves and wild-cats! Ha! ha! ha!"
"Well, old comrade; I trust it may turn out no worse. The ghost of a squatter might prove a less unpleasant neighbour than the squatter himself, dispossessed of his squatment. Notwithstanding this badinage, I know you will act with judgment; and you can count upon my help in the matter, if you should require it." I grasped the speaker's hand, to express my gratitude; and the tight pressure returned, told me I was parting with one of the few friends I had in the world.
My impedimenta had been already packed. They did not need much stowage. A pair of saddle-bags was sufficient to contain all my personal property—including the title-deeds of my freehold! My arms I carried upon my person: my sword only being strapped along the saddle. Bidding adieu to my friend, I mounted my noble Arab; and, heading him to the road, commenced journeying towards the Western Reserve.
A CLASSIC LAND.
Between Nashville and Swampville extends a distance of more than a hundred miles—just three days' travel on horseback. For the first ten miles—to Harpeth River—I found an excellent road, graded and macadamised, running most of the way between fenced plantations. My next point was Paris; and forty miles further on, I arrived in Dresden! So far as the nomenclature was concerned, I might have fancied myself travelling upon the continent of Europe. By going a little to the right, I might have entered Asia: since I was told of Smyrna and Troy being at no great distance in that direction; and by proceeding in a south-westerly course, I should have passed through Denmark, and landed at Memphis—certainly an extensive tour within the short space of three days! Ugh! those ugly names! What hedge-schoolmaster has scattered them so loosely and profusely over this lovely land? Whip the wretch with rattlesnakes! Memphis indeed!—as if Memphis with its monolithic statues needed commemoration on the banks of the Mississippi! A new Osiris—a new Sphinx, "half horse, half alligator, with a sprinkling of the snapping turtle." At every forking of the roads, whenever I inquired my way, in my ears rang those classic homonyms, till my soul was sick of sounds. "Swampville" was euphony, and "Mud Creek" soft music in comparison! Beyond Dresden, the titles became more appropriate and much more rare. There were long stretches having no names at all: for the simple reason, that there were no places to bear them. The numerous creeks, however, had been baptised; and evidently by the backwoodsmen themselves, as the titles indicated. "Deer Creek" and "Mud"—"Coon" and "Cat"—"Big" and "Little Forky"—told that the pioneers, who first explored the hydrographic system of the Western Reserve, were not heavily laden with classic lore; and a pity it is that pedantry should be permitted to alter the simple, but expressive and appropriate, appellatives by them bestowed. Unfortunately, the system is followed up to this hour by the Fremonts and other pseudo-explorers of the farthest west. The soft and harmonious sound of Indian and Spanish nomenclature—as well as the more striking titles bestowed by the trappers—are rapidly being obliterated from the maps; their places to be supplied—at the instigation of a fulsome flattery— by the often vulgar names of demagogic leaders, or the influential heads of the employing bureau.
"I know the old general will be pleased—perhaps reciprocate the compliment in his next despatch—if I call this beautiful river 'Smith.'"
"How the secretary will smile, when he sees his name immortalised upon my map, by a lake never to be dried up, and which hereafter is to be known by the elegant and appropriate appellation of 'Jones!'" Under just such influence are these absurd titles bestowed; and the consequence is, that amid the romantic defiles of the Rocky Mountains, we have our ears jarred by a jumble of petty and most inappropriate names—Smiths, Joneses, Jameses, and the like—while, from the sublime peaks of the Cascade range, we have "Adams," "Jackson," "Jefferson," "Madison," and "Washington," overlooking the limitless waters of the Pacific. This last series we could excuse. The possession of high qualities, or the achievement of great deeds, ennobles even a common name; and all these have been stamped with the true patent. In the associated thoughts that cling around them, we take no note of the sound—whether it be harsh or harmonious. But that is another question, and must not hinder us from entering our protest against the nomenclature of Smith, Jones, and Robinson!
Beyond Dresden, my road could no longer be termed a road. It was a mere trace, or lane, cut out in the forest—with here and there a tree "blazed," to indicate the direction. As I neared the point of my destination, I became naturally curious to learn something about it— that is, about Swampville—since it was evident that this was to be the point d'appui of my future efforts at colonisation—my depot and port entry. I should have inquired had I found any one to inquire from; but, for ten miles along the road, I encountered not a human creature. Then only a "darkey" with an ox-cart loaded with wood; but, despairing of information from such a source, I declined detaining him. The only intelligence I was able to draw from the negro was that; "da 'city' o' Swampville, massr, he lay 'bout ten mile furrer down da crik." The "ten mile down da crik" proved to be long ones; but throughout the whole distance I saw not a creature, until I had arrived within a mile or so of the "settlement!"
I had been already apprised that Swampville was a new place. Its fame had not yet reached the eastern world; and even in Nashville was it unknown, except, perhaps, to the Land-Office. It was only after entering the Reserve, that I became fully assured of its existence; and there it was known as a "settlement" rather than a "city." For all that, Swampville proved to be not so contemptible a place; and the reason I had encountered so little traffic, while approaching it, was that I had been coming in the wrong direction—in other words, I had approached it from behind.
Swampville was in reality a riverine town. To it the east was a back country; and its front face was to the west. In that direction lay its world, and the ways that opened to it. Log-shanties began to line the road—standing thicker as I advanced; while at intervals, appeared a "frame-house" of more pretentious architecture. In front of one of these—the largest of the collection—there stood a tall post; or rather a tree with its top cut off, and divested of its lower branches. On the head of this was a "martin-box"; and underneath the dwelling of the birds, a broad framed board, on which was legible the word "Hotel." A portrait of Jackson, done in "continental uniform," embellished the face of the board. The sign seemed little appropriate: for in the harsh features of "Old Hickory" there was but slight promise of hospitality. It was no use going farther. The "Jackson Hotel" was evidently the "head inn" of the place; and without pause or parley, I dismounted at its door.