“My Own Life and Adventures,” by “Robert Merry” (Samuel Griswold Goodrich) (from Robert Merry’s Museum, February 1841; pp. 9-15)
[Note: Part of this chapter is drawn from Goodrich’s memories of his own first day at school]
I am inclined to think, that, among the various pleasures of life, talking is one of the greatest. Eating and drinking are very good things, especially when one is hungry and thirsty, and has a good meal before him. But they are very short in their duration. The heartiest supper is over in a few minutes, and drinking, in as many seconds. Beside, these are selfish pleasures, and afford only the single satisfaction of an immediate appetite. But talking is not confined to self, nor is it limited to the body. It exercises the mind, and extends alike to the speaker and the listener.
The love of talking exhibits itself in very infancy. The little prattler, even before he can speak words, tries to amuse you with his inarticulate gabble. And when he has learned a word, with what glory does he repeat it to you! A young soldier touches off a cannon with
less exultation than the infant pronounces his first articulate syllable.
And then, look at a group of children! How eager are they to speak to each other! How their little tongues rattle! Sometimes all will speak at once, whether anybody listens or not. It is often hard to get a word in edgewise among such a set of orators.
Suppose some child has been away, and comes home with a piece of news. How does he rush into the room, scarcely taking time to hang up his hat or cap, and with staring eyes and ruddy cheeks, set forth the wondrous tale! Suppose a child has seen something new, as a lion or an elephant; how does he talk of it to his companions! Or, suppose he has been rambling in the woods, and has seen an eagle, or a gray squirrel, or a woodchuck,—something he had never seen before,—how eager is he to talk about it!
Thus it is with the young: they love to talk of things that interest them; and thus it is with those who have pased from the morning of life toward its setting sun. It may be that old people are less talkative than young ones; but still we all love to speak to others of that which excites our own feelings, or occupies our minds. Talking, then, is one of the great pleasures of life, and God has no doubt made it so for good and wise purposes. How large a portion of the happiness of life would be cut off, if we were all dumb!
For myself, I was a great rattler in youth, and, even now that my hair is grizzled with years, I must confess that I am not greatly altered in this respect. My life has been a varied one, and I have seen a good deal of the world. I cannot pretend to be so great a traveller as Peter Parley, nor can I match him in telling stories to babies. But still give me a good listener, and something to speak about, and I can talk from sunrise to sunset.
I love better to talk to youth than to others. Those who are from eight to sixteen years old, are my chosen friends. I always find some way of entertaining them. Several bright-eyed girls and boys are in the habit of coming to see me, and I tell them my long stories. They come again and again, and I infer that they are pleased with them. I tell them sometimes of giants and fairies; but it is curious, that, while most young people prefer these tales of fancy, I succeed much better in pleasing my listeners by talking to them about things that really exist, or have really happened. Truth, after all, is more attractive than fiction, if it is only dressed in a proper guise.
My own adventures seem to give my listeners the most pleasure; for I have been all over the United States; have been a soldier, and seen service; have been a pedler, and travelled thousands of miles on foot; have met with strange accidents and hairbreadth escapes from danger; and have had my share of what is called hard luck. Still, I have reason to thank Heaven that my heart is happy, and my mind cheerful. I love sunshine as well as when I was a boy, and see much more occasion to laugh than to cry. I have indeed my serious moods, for there are some subjects that demand seriousness and reverence. Religion claims some of our time, and much of our thought. The Sabbath is with me a day of solemn reflection and prayer. I bend over the Bible, with a feeling that I am listening to the voice of God. These things make me serious, but not sad. As the sun seems to shine brighter, when it comes out from a cloud, so my heart is ever more serene
and cheerful, for its communion with holy things.
But this is enough for an introduction. I am now going to tell the story of my own life, which I hope may prove both amusing and instructive.
About my Birth.—The Death of my Parents.—My first Journey.—My Wonder at seeing the Country.—Lambs.—I find out where Milk comes from.—Reflections and good Advice.
I was born in the city of New York, in the year 1790. My parents were both English people. At first, they were in poor circumstances, but my father became a merchant, and acquired some property. He died, however, in the midst of success; and in a few months after my father followed. I was thus left an orphan, at the age of six years, but with a fortune of about ten thousand dollars.
My mother had a brother living in the small town of Salem, situated upon the eastern border of the State of New York, and touching the line of Connecticut. He kept a tavern; and, as it was upon the great road that was then the route between Boston and New York, he had a good situation and a thriving business.
To the care of this uncle I was committed by my mother’s will, and immediately after her death I was taken to my uncle’s residence. I had never been out of the city of New York, and had never seen the country. I had supposed the world one great city, and never fancied that there were hills, and forests, and rivers, and fields without any houses. I still remember my journey from New York to Salem very well. I remember that the sight of so many new things, put the recollection of my father and my mother out of my mind, and banished the sorrow I had felt at seeing my parents laid into the coffin, and carried away, to return to me no more. I was delighted at everything I met, and particularly remember some lambs that I saw playing on a hill-side. They were scampering about, jumping from rock to rock, and chasing each other at full speed. I had never seen a lamb before, and I thought these the prettiest creatures that were ever made. I have since seen lions and tigers, and many other strange creatures; but I have never met with any animal that excited in me half the admiration that I felt when I saw those little lambs.
I suppose some of my young friends in the country will laugh at what I am now going to tell them; but it is nevertheless true. As I was going from New York to Salem, we stopped one night at a small inn. When we arrived at this place, the sun was an hour high, and I had some time to play about the house. As I was running around, peeping at every new and strange thing, I saw some cows in the barn-yard. I had seen cows before, but still I went up to the gate and looked through, and there I saw a woman, sitting upon a little stool, and milking one of the cows. Now I had never seen a cow milked before, nor, indeed, did I know where milk came from. I had not thought about it at all. If I had been asked the question, I shoudl probably have said, that we got milk as we do water, by pumping it from the cistern, or drawing it out of the well.
I looked at the woman for some time, wondering what she could be about. When she had done, she came out of the yard, and I saw that her pail was full of milk. “What is that that you
have got?” said I. “It is milk,” said the woman. “Where did you get it?” said I. “I got it from the cow, you little simpleton!” said the woman; and then she went into the house.
I did not like to be called a simpleton, for I had come all the way from the great city of New York, and supposed that I knew everything. I soon found, however, that I was ignorant of many useful things that children of my age in the country were well acquainted with.
The little incident, however, that I have just related, was not without its use to me. It set me thinking about other things, and I began to ask questions about every article of food and dress—where they came from, and how they were made; and in this way, I obtained a great deal of knowledge. I would recommend it to my young readers to follow my example in this respect. They will find it very amusing to study into these matters. Let them one day inquire about hats, what they are made of, where the materials come from, how they are obtained, and how they are wrought into hats. Another day, let them take up the subject of coats, and learn all about the cloth, the buckram, silk, twist, and buttons, that are used in making them. So let them go through with dress; and then they may inquire about bread, and other articles of food; and then they may learn all about the furniture in the house. From this subject, they may go on and learn how houses are built. I can assure my young readers, that, in this way, they may spend their time very pleasantly, and become well acquainted with all those useful things with which we are surrounded. If I had done this before I went to Salem, I should have known where milk came from, and not been called simpleton by a milkmaid.
Wise Observation.—Story of the Hat.
I fancy that some of my readers imagine, that it would be a dull business to study into the history of hats and coats, bread and butter, and such other common-place things. But there is an old proverb which says, “Look ere you leap;” and another which says, “Think twice and speak once.” These admonish us never to be over-hasty in speaking or acting; and, on the present occasion, I shall endeavor to show,t hat this good rule has been transgressed by those who despise my advice about hats and coats, bread and butter.
Here, Philip! give me a hat; let it speak for itself. Come, old hat, tell us your story! tell us what you are made of; where the materials of which you are made were obtained, how they were put together, and the price at which you were sold. Come, old beaver, speak out! What! dumb? Not a word? Then I will speak for you. So here is
“I am made partly of wool, which is the hair of sheep, and partly of furs, of different kinds. There is some beaver’s fur, some musquash’s, and some wildcat’s in me.
“I suppose that everybody knows how we get wool,—by shearing it from the sheep’s back; but we do not get furs in the same way. Musquashes, beavers, and wildcats are not tame, like sheep, and they will not let you take them into a barn, and shear off there nice, soft fur. These creatures live far away from the abodes of men; they seek the distant solitudes beyond the hills and mountains, and those who
would catch them must go and find them in these wild retreats.
“Sometimes, it is true, a beaver is found nearer to our houses, and now and then a wildcat, that has strayed from his native forest, is found in the neighboring woods. The musquash builds his habitation on the banks of streams, and is not very uncommon even in districts frequented by man.
“But these animals are, on the whole, so scarce, that, in order to obtain a supply of their fur, a great many hunters and trappers spend their time in roaming through the mountains, valleys, and prairies of the far West, in order to obtain them. These people meet with a great many strange adventures. Sometimes they will follow the branch of a river for five hundred miles, in a boat, during which time they will not meet with a human habitation, save the wigwams of the Indians. Sometimes they will sleep at night upon the ground, with no covering but a blanket; sometimes they will meet with a party of Indians, and have a fight with them. Sometimes they will meet with friendly Indians, who receive them into their lodges, and entertain them kindly; sometimes they are confronted by a grizzly bear, who places himself in their path, and must receive at least a dozen bullets in his breast before he is killed. Sometimes they will roam over wide deserts, and suffer very much for want of water. Sometimes they will be in the midst of a vast prairie, the grass of which is on fire, and then they have the greatest difficulty to escape from the flames. Sometimes they are robbed of all their furs by hostile Indians, and sometimes they meet with Indians who sell them large quantities of fur.
“After a great many cares, and trials, and dangers, and often after an absence of two years, the fur-hunter comes back with his load of skins; and a pretty figure he is. The clothes he carried with him are worn out, and he is now attired in the skins of various wild beasts. On his head you see the grizzled fur of a racoon, with his tail hanging down behind. His coat is made of a wolf’s skin, and his vest of the skin of an otter. But his trowsers are the drollest part of his attire. They are made of a bear’s skin, and each leg looks like a great, shaggy, black dog, standing upright! Altogether, the hunter is a most curious object. He looks like three or four wild animals all sewed into one!
“What a great variety of adventures has this man met with in his wanderings of two years. How many pleasant stories could he tell, if he would sit down of a long winter night, and recount all that happened to him; all about the bears, the foxes, the wolves, and the wild Indians that he saw. How much this poor man must have suffered; what toil, hunger, thirst, danger and privation; and all this, that master Philip might have a hat; all this to get furs to make hats of.
“The wool and fur being obtained, these are prepared by the hatter, who, in the first place, makes a sort of cap, shaped something like a sugar-loaf. This is then soaked in hot water, and, being put upon a block, the crown is made of a proper shape. The whole is stiffened with gum, colored, dressed, put in boxes, and sent to the hat-seller. The price paid for me was two dollars. Philip has worn me for about a year, but I am in a sad condition. The hole in my crown was made by a stick, which went through me one day when Philip threw me at a red squirrel on the fence. The rent on my brim was caused by a saucy fellow, that tried to pull me off one day,
but I chose to be torn, rather than see Philip insulted by having his hat knocked off; for, though the boy has his faults, I like him better than anybody else.”
Such is the story of the hat. My object in giving it to you is, to show, that the commonest article of daily use has its history, if we will only inquire into it.
Arrival at my Uncles.—The Village.—Bill Keeler.—My First Day at School.—Trouble.
I must now return to the story of myself. The morning after I left the little tavern where I discovered how milk was obtained, we proceeded on our journey, and at evening arrived at my uncle’s house. It was an old-fashioned building, painted red, with a large sign swinging in front, upon one side of which was the picture of a stout barn-yard cock, and on the other side was the head of a bull. So my uncle’s tavern went by the name of the “Cock and Bull.”
I soon became acquainted with the family, and in a few weeks was quite familiar with the main street and all the by-lanes in the village. My uncle had no children, but there was living with him a boy about ten years old, by the name of Bill Keeler. He became my principal companion, and, being a very knowing sort of lad, gave me an insight into many things, which i could not otherwise have understood.
After I had been at my uncle’s about six months, it was concluded to send me to school. I was now seven years of age, but, strange as it may seem to boys and girls of the present day, I did not know my letters, and, what is more remarkable, I had a great dislike to the idea of going to school. I believe it is the case that ll people who grow up ignorant acquire a settled dislike to learning and learned people. As an owl can see best in the dark, because the light seems to put his eyes out, so ignorant people love ignorance and darkness, because truth and knowledge offend and distress them. I mention these things as a warning to my reader against growing up in ignorance, and thereby becoming a lover of darkness, rather than light.
Well, I went to school for the first time, and I remember all about it to this day. The schoolhouse was situated in a large space, where four roads met. It was a bleak and desolate hill-side, partly covered with heaps of stones, thrown out of the path, or gathered from the neighboring fields. There were a few groups of tangled briers and stunted huckleberry bushes amid these heaps of stones. On the lower side of the hill, there was an old gnarled oak growing out of a heap of splintered rocks, at the foot of which there babbled forth a small stream of pure water. This fountain went by the pretty name of Silver Spring.
Bill Keeler led me into the school, which was then kept by Mistress Sally St. John. She looked at me through her spectacles, and then patted me on the head, told me I was a good boy, and sent me to a seat. In about an hour I was called up, the spelling-book opened, and the alphabet being placed before me, the mistress pointed to the first letter, and asked me what it was.
I looked at the letter very carefully, and then gazed in the face of Mistress St. John, but said nothing. “What’s that?” said she, peremptorily, still pointing to the first letter of the alphabet.
Now I hadn’t been used to being scolded, and therefore felt a little angry at the manner in which the school-mistress addressed me. Beside, at that moment I saw Bill Keeler at the other end of the room, looking at me with a saucy twinkle in his eye, which made me still more angry.
“What’s that?” again said the school-mistress, still harper than before. It was time for me to do something. “I’ll not tell you!” said I. “Why not?” said the school-mistress, greatly amazed at my conduct. “Because I didn’t come here to teach you your letters; but I came here to learn them.”
The school-mistress shut up her book. Bill Keeler rolled up his eyes, and made his mouth into a round O. “Go to your seat!” said the school-mistress. I turned to go. “Stop!” said the school-mistress, fetching me a slap on the side of the head; at the same moment she opened the book, and again presented the alphabet to my view. “Look, there!” said she, pointing with her finger to the top letter; “do you see that?” I answered, “Yes.” “Well, that’s A,” said she. “That’s A?” said I, doubtingly. “Yes,” said the mistress sharply. “I don’t believe it!” said I. “Why don’t you believe it?” said she. “Because I never heard of it before,” I replied. “Go to your seat!” said the school-mistress, and away I went.
Such was my first day’s schooling. In the evening, Mistress St. John called upon my uncle, and told him I was the most stupid creature she ever saw, and very ill-mannered beside; and she hoped I would by no means be permitted to come again to her school. My uncle was greatly offended, not with me, but with the school-mistress. He declared I should not go near her again; and, for more than a year, I was permitted to amuse myself in my own way. I was greatly pleased with all this at the time, but I have since often thought how severely I was punished for my ill behavior at school. For more than a year, I was left to run about in idleness, getting bad habits, and losing the precious time that should have been devoted to the acquisition of knowledge. Thus it always happens, that, soon or late, we are made to suffer for our misconduct.
“My Own Life and Adventures,” by “Robert Merry” (Samuel Griswold Goodrich) (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1841; pp. 33-35)
About Bill Keeler—The Fox-Trap, and Mistress Sally St. John.—A Hunting Excursion.—Extraordinary large Game!—A remarkable Story to Come.
The little town of Salem was situated at the foot of a mountain, consisting of wild and broken ridges, forming the boundary between the states of New York and Connecticut. Being now almost entirely at liberty, I spent a great part of my time in rambling among the mountains. In these excursions, Bill Keeler was my almost constant attendant. My uncle, disposed to humor me in everything, allowed me to dispose of my time as I chose, and permitted Bill to leave his work or school, whenever I desired his company, and this was almost every day.
This boy was, in general, very good-natured. He was ingenious in making whistles, and setting snares and traps for quails, partridges, and rabbits; in cutting fish-poles, attaching the hook to the line, digging worms for bait, and putting the bait on the hook. He had also a knack of putting the hook and line into the water in such an insinuating manner, that he always caught more and bigger fish than any one else. He was a dexterous swimmer, expert in strapping skates, formed the best flying kites in the village, made bows and arrows to perfection, and could gather more chestnuts, butternuts, and shagbarks, than any boy in the town.
All these various accomplishments rendered Bill Keeler a delightful companion to me, who, having been brought up in the city, had little acquaintance with those arts, so well understood by boys in the country. He was particu-
larly devoted to me, partly because of his good nature, and partly because my uncle was so indulgent to me, that all around had caught his habit of yielding to my wishes.
But although Bill was thus clever, and thus obliging to me, he was so restless and enterprising, as always to be in some scrape or other. One day, he had seen the burrow of a woodchuck in a field behind the house of Mistress Sally St. John. So he took a large fox-trap, and sunk it to the level of the ground, and in the very path where the woodchuck was accustomed to go. He then sprinkled it over with earth, so as to make it appear as if no trap was there. Next morning, pretty early, Bill went to see his trap, expecting of course to find that he had caught the woodchuck. But what was his dismay, on approaching the place, to find Sally St. John herself, standing bolt upright, screaming and piping with all her might, and throwing up her hands in despair! Bill went near enough to see that she had one foot fast in the trap. He then turned about, and left the poor school-mistress to be extricated by her neighbors. For this Bill got a sound flogging from my uncle, but he felt well compensated by being released from school for a month; for, during that period, poor Sally was too lame to resume her duties at the schoolhouse.
My companion’s next exploit was equally serious. If there was anything on earth that he loved better than another, it was gunpowder. Why he had such a fancy for it, I cannot tell, unless because it was a noisy, tearing, dangerous thing, like himself. But be this as it may, he spent more than half the little money he could get in guying it. Every day he was touching off some old pistol-barrel, rammed full of powder; or he was trying to split a pepperidge loge with it, by filling some knot-hole, and exploding it. But his greatest delight was to get my uncle’s gun, one of the real old “King’s arms,” taken at the battle of Princeton, and go forth with as big a feeling in him as that which inspired Nimrod, the first hunter that history tells about.
Well, one afternoon he got the gun, and he and I went among the mountains to hunt for something. Pretty soon we saw a squirrel, but Bill was so intent on killing a bear, a raccoon, or some large animal, that he scorned to shoot a squirrel. So we went on, and met with various kinds of small game, but none worthy of the attention of my heroic friend. We proceeded for some time, and finding no large game, Bill determined to shoot a squirrel if he could met with one. But no squirrel was now to be seen. He gradually lowered his pretensions, until, at length, he was so anxious to shoot something, that he drew up at a wren, and was on the point of discharging his piece at it, when the bird flew away, and we saw no more of it.
It was now evening, and we were at a considerable distance from home. We walked along as fast as we could, and Bill, who was never out of spirits, beguiled the time by telling what he would have done, if something had fallen in his way. “If a wolf had come along in the woods,” said Bill, drawing up the old piece, and taking aim at a mullen stalk, “and if he had come near enough, how I would have peppered him!”
Just at that instant we heard a rustling sound in a meadow, that we were passing. It was too dark to see distinctly, but Bill peeped through the rail-fence, and, saying to me with an emphatic whisper, “Be still; I see one!” he cocked the gun and brought the heavy old piece to a level with his eye. After a long, portentous aim, during which I winked so hard as nearly to put my eye out—whang! it went, and Bill was stretched backward upon the grass in an instant, by the kicking of the gun! He very soon got up, however, and jumped over the fence to pick up his game. He was gone but a minute, and when he came back he only said, “Well, I peppered him!” “Peppered what?” said I. “No matter,” said he; and that was all I could get out of him. But the next morning one of Deacon Kellogg’s cows was found in a thicket, shot through the head, and dead as a hatchet! Bill was obliged to confess, and my uncle settled the affair by paying thirteen dollars and forty-two cents. It was not till several years after, that Bill would tell me what he took the cow for when he fired at her. He then said, that his fancy was so full of shooting a wolf, and he was so ravenous to shoot something, that he really took the poor old cow to be a wolf, or a creature very like one.
The next event of my life, that seems worth recording, was very interesting to me. But I must reserve this story for another chapter.
“My Own Life and Adventures,” by “Robert Merry” (Samuel Griswold Goodrich) (from Robert Merry’s Museum, April 1841; pp. 65-71)
[Note: Part of this chapter is drawn from Goodrich’s memories of Sarah Bishop, who lived as a Connecticut hermit.]
My new Gun.—Obstinacy.—Setting out on a Hunting Expedition.—A Strange Character.—Mountain Sport.—A Snow-Storm.—Getting lost.—Serious Adventures.
I have said enough as to the indulgent manner in which I was treated at my uncle’s, not only by him, but by others, to who that no very great restraints were laid upon my wishes, or even my caprices. At the time, I thought it very pleasant to be permitted to have my own way; but I have since been led to believe that most of the serious evils of my life have flowed from this defect in my early education. We all of us need to be brought up to follow duty rather than pleasure, or, to speak more properly, to find our pleasure in doing our duty. If parents send their children to school, it is the duty of their children not only to go, but to improve all the advantages offered them. It is their duty to learn their lessons well and thoroughly, and to obey the rules of the school; and children that are properly educated, and who have right feelings, will do this with cheerfulness and satisfaction. Thus they will find pleasure in following the path of duty.
This is very important for the happiness of children, while they are children,—for there is no pleasure so sweet as that which is found in doing something useful and right; but it is still more important in another point of view. In early life, we form habits, and they are likely to guide us ever after. It is easy for us to act according to habit, and it is difficult for us to act otherwise. A child who is brought up in the habit of finding pleasure in doing his duty, is likely to go on so through life; and thus he will secure happiness in this
world and that which is to come: while a child who is brought up without a sense of duty, and at the same time is permitted to follow his fancy, is apt always to be guided rather by his whims, his caprices, and his passions, than by any right feeling or right principle. Such a person is almost sure to meet with much trouble in life, and there is great danger that he will turn out an unhappy and unfortunate man.
Now I was brought up in this manner, and though my uncle intended me the greatest kindness by his system of indulgence, it was, in point of fact, the most mischievous that could have been devised. I grew up headstrong and passionate, and though my temper was naturally good, it seemed rather to be injured than benefited by the manner in which I was treated. I could not bear anything that thwarted my wishes. I was very easily offended, and became selfish, unreasonable, and unjust, in proportion as I was petted and flattered. Thus it happened in my case, as it always happens, that having my own way made me what is called a spoiled child; and accordingly, I became disagreeable to myself and almost everybody else.
I am particular in telling all this for two reasons:—first, to show to parents, that if they do not wish their children to be miserable and disagreeable—if they do not wish to lay the foundation of selfishness, caprice, and injustice in the hearts of their offspring—let them govern their children, make them mind, make them do right. If parents do not wish to have their children ruined, let them avoid a system of indulgence. My other reason for giving these details is, that I hope to persuade children to do their duty cheerfully, because this is really the best, the happiest way. It is not only the best for the future, but the present; not only best in view of manhood, but for childhood itself.
I am now going to relate some circumstances, which will illustrate some things I have been saying. It will show not only how much my temper had been injured, but into what evils a thoughtless and headstrong youth will rush, if given up to his own guidance.
On a certain day in January, it had been agreed between Bill Keeler and myself, that we would proceed to the mountain for the purpose of hunting. My uncle had bought me a new fowling-piece, and on this occasion I was to take it with me. I looked forward to the day with great impatience, and when at last it arrived, Bill and myself were up by day-break, ready to depart. The winter had thus far been remarkably mild and open. There was as yet no snow on the ground. But when we were about to leave the house on our expedition, my uncle, who had been out of doors, told us that it was going to snow, and we had better not venture among the mountains. I was immediately angry at this advice, and told my uncle that I would go, whether he thought it best or not. With more than ordinary spirit, he replied that I should not go! This resistance set me in a blaze. I seized my gun, uttered some words of defiance, and rushed out of the house. Finding me thus determined and incorrigible, my yielding uncle told Bill, who stood still all the time, seeming to know how it would turn out, to go with me, and take good care of me. Accordingly he soon joined me, and we went on together, laughing heartily at the scene which had just passed.
We soon reached the forests that lay at the foot of the mountain, and while it was yet somewhat dark, we began to climb up the ledges. As we wer passing through a small copse of tall trees without underwood. I heard the step of something near by, and immediately discovered a dark object passing slowly
on before me. I drew up my piece, and was on the point of firing, when Bill struck down the barrel of my gun, and exclaimed, “For Heaven’s sake, don’t fire!—it’s Old Sarah!” This was said and done in season to prevent my shooting the object at which I aimed, but not to stop the discharge of my firelock. The shot struck the ground at the very feet of my companion, thus coming very near taking his life.
The noise of my gun aroused the attention of the singular old woman, whom, with the ardor of a youthful hunter, I had taken for a wild-cat or a wolf. She turned round, and began to speak in a warning voice. “Go back!” said she, at the pitch of her lungs, “go back! for the snow is already falling, and you will both get lost in the woods. In one hour the paths will be covered, and then you cannot find your way among the mountains!”
Bill and I both laughed at all this, and I am sorry to say that we returned the kind anxiety of the old woman for our safety, with jeers and gibes. “Take care of yourself! and we will take care of ourselves,” said I. “Keep your breath to cool your porridge,” said Bill. with this and similar impertinence, we passed up the acclivity, leaving the decrepit old woman to climb the mountain as she might.
I had seen this personage before, and had heard something of her story; but I was now curious to know more. Accordingly, I asked Bill about her, and he proceeded to tell me all that was known of her character and history. She was a native of Long Island, and during the war of the Revolution had become attached to a British officer, who was stationed there. He wronged her cruelly, and then deserted her. With a mind somewhat bewildered, she wandered into the country, and took up her abode in a cave of the very mountain we were now ascending. Here she had lived for years, visiting the villages in the vicinity in the open seasons, but retiring to her den and subsisting on nuts and roots during the winter. Many wild stories were told of her. It was said that she had lived so long in the mountain, that the foxes had become familiar with her, and would come and lick her hands. It was said the crows would sit on her bread, and the rattlesnakes coil in her lap. Beside all these tales, it was said that “Old Sarah,” as she was called, was a witch, and many persons declared that they had seen her just at dark, or before a thunder-storm, flying through the air on a broomstick.
Bill’s narrative was cut short by the sudden whizzing of a partridge from a bush just before me. Another and another soon followed. These creatures are very cunning. They are always on the watch, and when they hear or see any one coming, they get on the opposite side of some rock, or thicket, or tree, and remain concealed till the person comes near. Then they burst away with a startling, rushing sound, taking good care to keep the rock, or tree, or thicket between them and their enemy, until they are at a distance.
At least a dozen of these fine birds broke away from their cover, but neither Bill nor myself had a chance for a shot. So we went on, greatly excited, however, by the game we had seen. It was not long before we met with another covey of partridges, and firing at random, I killed one of them. Great was my exultation, for I had never killed a partridge before; and beside, I had shot it with my new gun; and, more than all, Bill, who was expert at every kind of sport, had as yet met with no success. As I picked up the large and beautiful bird, still fluttering and whirling round in my hand, and held it forth to my companion, I imagine that I felt of as much
consequence as Bonaparte did when he had conquered the Austrians in the famous field of Austerlitz.
Excited by this triumph of skill and my new gun, we continued to push forward, though it was now snowing fast; and the ground was already covered to the depth of two or three inches. Frequently meeting with some kind of game, though we got little of it, we traversed one ridge after another, until we were involved in a sea of small and thickly wooded ridges and ravines, that crowned the top of the mountain. Scarcely heeding the course we took, or thinking of return, we proceeded for several hours. At last we came to a small hill, and it was agreed between Bill and myself that he should take the valley on one side, and I on the other, and we would meet beyond it.
I had not gone far before a rabbit rushed by me with prodigious bounds, and entered a thicket at a little distance. I followed it, but as I approached, it plunged farther into the bushes. Intent upon the pursuit, and guided by its footsteps in the snow, I pursued it from place to place, from thicket to thicket, but without being able to get a shot at it. At last it disappeared amid a heap of stones. As these were loose and not large, I began to pull them away, expecting every moment to reach the object of my pursuit. But after working here for some time, I was obliged to give up the effort in despair, and leaving the place, I set out to join my companion. So intent had I been upon my object, that I had not marked my route or noticed the lapse of time. As soon as I began to think of joining him, however, I became conscious that I had gone a considerable distance out of my way, and had spent a long time in the chase of the rabbit. I therefore proceeded with as much rapidity as the rugged nature of the ground and the dense forest would allow, and in the direction as I supposed, toward the extremity of the ridge, where Bill and I were to meet.
It was not long, however, before I became assured that I had lost my way—and that, instead of approaching the point designated, I had wanderd a great way from it. I now began to retrace my steps, and for a time was guided by my tracks in the snow. But the storm had set in in earnest. The large flakes fell thick and fast, filling the air with a dense cloud, and seeming to pour down upon the earth as if shovelled from some reservoir in the skies. In a few minutes after I had passed along, my tracks were completely covered up, and no trace of them could be seen.
My situation was now serious, and I began to consider what was to be done. The advice of my uncle came in my mind, and the warning of the grizzly old woman crept over me with a sort of shudder. I fired my gun, hoping to make Bill hear it, and waited in breathless anxiety for a reply. But the wind was roaring in the tops of the tall trees, and neither the mountain nor the tempest seemed to heed my distress, any more than if I had been an insect. I was never in my life so struck with my utter helplessness. I was not accustomed to take care of myself. In any difficulty heretofore, I had hitherto always found some one to extricate me. But I was now alone. No one was here to aid me. At first I gave way to despair. I threw my gun to the ground in a pet, and lay down myself, and with bitter lamentations bewailed my fate. But the gray, gnarled old trees and sturdy rocks around took not the slightest notice of my distress. I fancied that I could almost see them smile at my vain wailings. They did not, at any rate, rush to my relief, and soothe my agony. For once, I was
obliged to rely upon myself; and it was a stern lesson, which I have never forgotten.
After a few moments, I rose from the ground, brushed off the snow from my clothes, and began seriously to devise some plan of action. But here, again, my habit of dependency came in my way. Little accustomed to think or act for myself in any emergency, I was a poor hand for contrivance. My convenient friend, Bill Keeler, had been accustomed always to save me the trouble of making any mental or bodily exertion. O how ardently did I now wish that he was with me! How did I fill the mountain with cries of his name! But there was no return. Even the throat of the mountain, that had ever before been so ready with its echoes, was now choked up with the thickening shower of snow. Nothing could be heard but one deafening roar of the gale, chafing the uneasy tops of the trees.
I concluded to set out in what seemed to me the direction of my home, and to push straight forward till I was extricated from the wilds of the mountain. I began to put this scheme in execution, and for more than an hour I plodded on through the woods. I proceeded with considerable rapidity for a time, but the snow was now a foot in depth, and as it impeded my progress, so it diminished my strength. I was, at length, obliged to slacken my pace, and finally, being completely wearied out, I sat down beneath the branches of a large hemlock tree, to rest myself. This spot was so sheltered by the thickly woven branches as to be free from snow, and here I continued for some time. When I got up to proceed, I found my limbs so stiffened that it was difficult for me to move. At the same time a dizziness came over me, and I fell to the ground.
It was not till the next day that I had any consciousness of existence. When I awoke, I was in a dark, rocky cavern, with a grizzly old woman by my side. At first, I fancied it all to be some strange dream, and expected to awake and find myself in my comfortable bed at my uncle’s. But pretty soon, remembrances of the preceding day came back, and guessing at the truth, I asked—“Is that you, Sarah?” “It is me,” said the old woman; “and you are in my cave.” “And you have saved my life, then?” said I, half rising from my recumbent position. “Yes—yes,” said she; “I found you beneath the hemlock, and I brought you here. But you must be quiet, for you have suffered, and need care and rest.”
I need not attempt to tell how gratefully I thanked the poor old hermitess, and how I begged pardon for my impertinence on the preceding morning. I then began to inquire about other things—the depth of the snow; whether anything was known of my companion; and how and when I could return to my uncle. In reply, I was told taht there was at least four feet of snow on the ground; that it was therefore impossible to attempt to leave the cave; that Bill Keeler, being an expert woodsman, had no doubt found his way home; and that in all probability I was given up by my friends as lost.
I was obliged to be content with this recital, though it left me much cause of anxiety, especially on account of my companion, for whom I entertained a sincere affection. Being, however, in some degree pacified, I began to consider my condition. Here I was, in a cave formed by nature in a rock, and my only companion was a gray old dame, her long hair almost as white as the snow-drift, her form bent, her eyes bleared and colorless, her face brown and wrinkled. Beside all this, she was esteemed a witch, and while feared and shunned by mankind, she was regarded
as the familiar companion of the wild fox and the rattlesnake.
Nor was this all that rendered my situation singular. There was no fire in the place I inhabited, yet, strange to say, I did not suffer from the cold. Nor were there any articles of furniture. The only food that was given to me consisted of butternuts and walnuts, with a little dried beef and bread which Old Sarah had brought from the village.
For two days and two nights I remained at this place, the greater part of the time lying upon the bottom of the cave on my back, with only a ray of light admitted through the cleft of the rock, which served as a door, and which was partially closed by two large pieces of bark. On the third day I was looking from the mouth of the cave upon the scene around, when I saw a figure at a considerable distance, attempting to make its way through the snow, in the direction of the cave. At first sight I knew it to be Bill Keeler! I clambered upon the top of a rock, and shouted with all my might. I was soon discovered, and my shout was answered by Bill’s well-known voice. It was a happy moment for us both. I threw up my arms in ecstasy, and Bill did the same, jumping up and down in the deep snow, as if he were light as a feather. He continued to work his way toward us, and in half an hour we were in each other’s arms. For a short time I thought the fellow was stark mad. He rolled in the snow as you sometimes see an overjoyed and frisky dog—then he exclaimed, “I told ’em so! I told ’em so! I knew we should find you here!” Then the poor fellow got up, and looking me in the face, burst into an uncontrollable fit of tears.
I was myself deeply affected, and Old Sarah’s eyes, that had seemed dry with the scorching of sorrow and time, were now overflowing. When I noticed her sympathy, however, she shrunk from notice, and retired to her cave. Bill then related all that had happened; how he hunted for me on the mountain till midnight, and then, with a broken heart, went home for help; how he had since toiled for my discovery and deliverance, and how, against the expectations of everybody, he had a sort of presentiment that I should be found in the shelter of Old Sarah’s cave. He farther told me that my uncle and four men were coming, and would soon be with us.
I need not give the details of what followed. It is enough to say, that my uncle soon arrived, with sufficient assistance to take me home, though the depth of the snow rendered it exceedingly difficult to proceed. I left Old Sarah with abundant thanks, and an offer of money, which, however, she steadily refused. At last I reached home. Not a word was said to remind me of my obstinacy and folly, in going upon a sporting expedition, against counsel and advice; nothing but rejoicing at my return was heard or seen. My uncle invited in the neighbors at evening; there was hot flip in abundance, and ginger and cider for those who liked it. Tom Crotchet, the fiddler, was called, young and old went to dancing, and the merriest night that ever was known, was that in which young Bob Merry who was lost in the mountain, came to life, having been two days and two nights in the cave of “Old Sarah the hermitess.”
I am not sure that I did not appear to share in this mirth; but in truth I felt too sober and solemn for hilarity. The whole adventure had sunk deep into my mind, and though I did not immediately understand its full effect upon my character, I had at least determined never again to scorn the advice of those more experienced than myself. I had also been made in some degree aware of that
weakness which springs from being always dependent upon others; and a wholesome lesson had been taught me, in finding my life saved by an old woman, whom a few hours before I had treated with rudeness, impertinence, and scorn. I could not but feel humbled, by discovering that this miserable old creature had more generous motives of action, a loftier and more noble soul than a smart young fellow from New York, who was worth ten thousand dollars, and who was an object of envy and flattery to more than half the village of Salem.
“My Own Life and Adventures,” by “Robert Merry” (Samuel Griswold Goodrich) (from Robert Merry’s Museum, May 1841; pp. 129-133)
My uncle’s influence.—The influence of the tavern.—State of society forty years ago.—Liquor opposed to education.—The church and the tavern.—The country schoolhouse.—Books used in the school.—A few words about myself.
I pass over a space of several years in my history, and come to the period when I was about fifteen. Up to this time, I had made little progress in education, compared with what is done at the present day. I could indeed read and write, and I knew something of arithmetic, but my advance beyond this was inconsiderable. A brief detail of certain circumstances will show the reason of this.
In the first place, my uncle had no very high estimation of what he called larnin; he was himself a man of action, and believed that books render people dull and stupid, rather than efficient in the business of life. He was therefore opposed to education in general, and particularly so in my case; and not only was his opinion equivalent in law with respect to me, but it was of great force in the village, on account of his character and position.
He kept the village tavern, which in those days of rum and punch was an institution of great power and authority. It was common, at the period of which I speak, for the church or meeting-house and tavern to stand side by side; but if one day in the week, sobriety and intemperance were preached in the former, hard drinking and licentiousness were deeply practised in the latter during the other six. The tavern, therefore, not only counteracted the good effect of the preacher, but it went farther, and in many cases corrupted the whole mass of society. The members of the church
thought it no scandal to make regular visits to the bar-room at eleven o’clock in the forenoon, and at four P. M.; the deacon always kept his jugs well filled, and the minister took his toddy or his tansy bitters, in open day, and without reproach.
In such a state of society as this, the tavern-keeper was usually the most influential man in the village, and if he kept good liquors, he was irresistible. Now my uncle was a prince of a tavern-keeper for these jolly days. He was, in fact, what we call a whole-souled fellow: generous, honest, and frank-hearted. His full, ruddy countenance bespoke all this; and his cheerful, hearty voice carried conviction of it to every listener. Beside, his tavern was freely and generously kept: it was liberally supplied with good beds, and every other luxury or comfort common to those days. As I have said before, it was situated upon the great road, then travelled by the mail stages between Boston and New York. The establishment was of ample extent, consisting of a pile of wooden buildings of various and irregular architecture—all painted a deep red. There was near it a large barn with extensive, cow-houses, a corn-crib, a smoke-house, and a pig-sty, arranged solely with a view to ease of communication with the house, and consequently all drawn closely around it. The general effect, when viewed at a distance, was that of two large jugs surrounded with several smaller ones.
Before this heap of edifices swung the tavern sign, with a picture of a barn-yard cock on one side, and a bull upon the other, as I have told you before: and though the artist that painted it was only a common house-dauber, and though the pictures were of humble pretensions when compared with the productions of Raphael, still, few specimens of the fine arts have ever had more admirers than the cock and bull of my uncle’s sign. How many a toper has looked upon it when approaching the tavern with his feverish lip, as the emblem and assurance of the rum that was soon to feed the fire kindled in his throat; how many a jolly fellow, staggering from the inn, has seen that sign reeling against the sky, and mixing grotesquely with the dreamy images of his fancy!
If we add to this description, that in the street, and nearly in front of the tavern, was a wood-pile about ten feet high, and covering three or four square rods of ground; that on one side was a litter of harrows, carts and ploughs, and on the other a general assortment of wagons, old sleighs, broken stages, and a rickety vehicle resembling a modern chaise without a top; and if we sprinkle between all these articles a good supply of geese and pigs, we shall have a pretty fair account of the famous Cock and Bull tavern that flourished in Salem nearly forty years ago.
The proprietor of such an establishment could not, in those days, but be a man of influence; and the free manners and habits of my uncle tended to increase the power that his position gave him. He drank liberally himself, and vindicated his practice by saying that good liquor was one of the gifts of providence, and it was no sin—indeed it was rather a duty—to indulge in providential gifts freely. All this made him a favorite, particularly with a set of hard drinkers who thronged the bar-room, especially of a wet day and on winter evenings.
As I have said, my uncle was opposed to education, and as he grew older and drank deeper, his prejudice against it seemed to increase; and though I cannot easily account for the fact, still every drunkard in the place was an enemy to all improvements in the school. When a town-meeting took place, these per-
sons were invari[a]bly in opposition to every scheme, the design of which was to promote the cause of education, and this party was usually headed by my uncle. And it is not a little curious that the tavern party also had its influence in the church, for my uncle was a member of it, and many of his bar-room cronies also. They were so numerous as to cast a heavy vote, and therefore they exercised a good deal of power here. As in respect to the school, so in the house of worship, they were for spending as little money as possible, and for reducing its power and influence in society to the lowest possible scale. They even held the minister in check, and though he saw the evil tendency of intemperance in the village, he had not nerve enough to attack it, except in a very soft and mild way, which probably served to increase the vice at which he aimed; for vice always thrives when holy men condemn it gently.
Now I have said that my uncle was a kind-hearted, generous man, by nature: how then could he be so narrow-minded in respect to education and religion? The answer to this question is easy. He was addicted to the free use of liquors, which not only tends to destroy the body, but to ruin all the nobler parts of the mind. As he came more and more under the influence of ardent spirits, he grew narrow-minded, sottish and selfish. And this is one of the great evils of taking ardent spirits. The use of them always tends to break down the mind; to take away from us those noble feelings and lofty thoughts, which are the glory of man; in short, to sink us lower and lower toward the brute creation. A determined drunkard is usually a great part of the time but little elevated above a beast.
Now I have been particular about this part of my story, for I wished to how you the natural influence of the habits of my uncle, and their operation upon my own fortunes. I have yet a sadder story to tell, as to the effect of the village tavern, not only upon myself, but upon my uncle, and several others. That must be reserved for some of the sad pages through which my tale will lead you. For the present, I only point out the fact, that a man who encourages the sale of liquors is usually unfriendly to the education and improvement of mankind; that his position tends to make him fear the effect of light and wish for darkness; that hard drinking will ruin even a generous and noble mind and heart; and that the habit of dealing in liquor is one to be feared, as it induces a man to take narrow, selfish, and low views of human nature and human society. It appears to me that a trade which thrives when men turn drunkards, and which fails when men grow temperate, is a trade which is apt to injure the mind and soul of one who follows it. Even my noble-hearted and generous uncle fell, under such sinister influences.
But to return to the school. I have already described the situation of the house. The building itself was of wood, about fifteen feet square, plastered within, and covered with benches without backs, which were constructed by thrusting sticks, for legs, through augur holes in a plank. On one side, against the wall, was a long table, serving as a desk for the writers.
The chimney was of rough stone, and the fire-place was of the same material. But what it lacked in grace of finish, was made up in size. I believe that it was at least ten feet wide, and five in depth, and the flue was so perpendicular and ample, that the rain and snow fell down to the bottom without the risk of striking the sides. In summer, the school was kept by a woman, who charged the town a dollar a week, boarding herself; in winter it was kept by a man, who was paid five dollars a month and found.
Here about seventy children, of all sizes, were assembled during this latter portion of the year; the place and manner of treatment being arranged as much as possible on the principle that a schoolhouse is a penitentiary, where the more suffering, the more improvement.
I have read of despots and seen prisons, but there are few of the former more tyrannical than the birch-despot of former days, or of the latter, more gloomy than the old-fashioned schoolhouse, under the tyrant to which it was usually committed.
I must enter into a few details. The fuel for the school consisted of wood, and was brought in winter, load by load, as it was wanted: though it occasionally happened that we got entirely out, and the school was kept without fire if the master could endure the cold, or dismissed if the weather chanced to be too severe to be borne. The wood was green oak, hickory, or maple, and when the fire could be induced to blaze between the sticks, there was a most notable hissing and frying, and a plentiful exudation of sap at each end of them.
The wood was cut into lengths of about five feet, by the scholars, each of the larger boys taking his turn at this, and at making the fire in the morning. This latter was a task that demanded great strength and patience; for, in the first place, there must be a back-log, five feet in length, and at least fifteen inches in diameter; then a top-stick about two-thirds as big; and then a forestick of similar dimensions. It required some strength to move these logs to their places; and after the frame of the work was built, the gathering of chips, and the blowing, the wooing, the courting that were necessary to make the revolting flame take hold of the wet fuel, demanded a degree of exertion, and an endurance of patience, well calculated to ripen and harden youth for the stern endurances of manhood.
The school began at nine in the morning, and it was rare that the fire gave out any heat so early as this; nor could it have been of much consequence had it done so, for the school-room was almost as open as a sieve, letting in the bitter blast at every window and door, and through a thousand cracks in the thin plastering of the walls. Never have I seen such a miserable set of blue-nosed, chattering, suffering creatures as were these children, for the first hour after the opening of school, on a cold winter morning. Under such circumstances, what could they do? Nothing, and they were expected to do nothing.
The books in use were Webster’s Spelling Book, Dilworth’s Arithmetic, Webster’s Second and Third Part, the New Testament, and Dwight’s Geography. These were all, and the best scholars of the seminary never penetrated more than half through this mass of science. There was no such thing as a history, a grammar, or a map in the school. These are mysteries reserved for more modern days.
Such was the state of things—such the condition of the school, where I received my education, the only education that I ever enjoyed, except such as I have since found in study by myself, and amid the active pursuits of life. But let me not blame the schoolhouse alone; I was myself in fault, for even the poor advantages afforded me there, I wilfully neglected; partly because I was fond of amusing myself and impatient of application; partly because I thought myself worth ten thousand dollars, and fancied that I was above the necessity of instruction; and partly because my uncle and his bar-room friends were always sneering at men of education, and praising men of spirit and ac-
tion—those who could drive a stage skilfully, or beat in pitching cents, or bear off the palm in a wrestling-match, or perchance carry the largest quantity of liquor under the waistcoat.
Such being the course of circumstances that surrounded me at the age of fifteen, it will not be surprising if my story should at last lead to some painful facts; but my succeeding chapters will show.
“My Own Life and Adventures,” by “Robert Merry” (Samuel Griswold Goodrich) (from Robert Merry’s Museum, June 1841; pp. 161-167)
Youth a happy period.—My young days.—A summer morning.—A day’s adventures.
It is a common remark that youth is the happiest portion of life, but, like many other wise and deep sayings, it passes by us unheeded, till, at some late period in the great journey, we look back upon our track, and, by a comparison of the past with the present, are forced to feel and confess the truth, which we have before doubted. Mankind are ever tempted to think that there is something better before them; if they are not happy yet, they still indulge bright expectations. They are reluctant, even when advanced in years, to believe that the noon of life’s joys is past; that the chill of evening is already mingling in every breeze that feeds the breath; that there is no returning morn to them; that the course of the sun is now only downward; and that sunset is the final close of that day that has dawned upon them, and lighted up a world full of hopes, and wishes, and anticipations. It is not till the shadows, dark and defined, are creeping around us, and forcing us to deal honestly with ourselves, that we admit the truth—that life is made up of a series of illusions; that we are constantly pursuing bubbles, which seem bright at a distance and allure us on to the chase, but which fly from our pursuit, or, if reached, burst in the hand that grasps them. It is not till we are already at the landing and about to step into the bark that is to bear us from the shore, that we come to the conclusion that human life is a chase, in which the game is nothing, and the pursuit everything; and that the brightest and best portion of this chase is found in the spring
morning, when the faculties are fresh, the fancy pure, and all nature robed in dew, and chiming with the music of birds, and bees, and waterfalls.
It is something to have enjoyed life, even if that enjoyment may not come again, for memory can revive the past, and at least bright back its echoes. It is a pleasure to me, now that I am crippled and gray—a sort of hulk driven a-wreck upon the shore, and if incapable of further adventures upon the main, at least inaccessible to the surges that rise and rave upon its bosom—to look out to sea—to mark the rails that still glide over its surface—and, above all, to busy my fancy with the incidents of my own voyage upon the great ocean of life.
I love particularly to go back to that period at which my last chapter closed. I was then full of health, animation, and hope. As yet, my life was tarnished with no other vices or follies than those that belong to an ungoverned and passionate boy. My health was perfect. I can hardly describe the elation of my heart of a spring morning. Everything gave me delight. The adjacent mountains, robed in mist, or wreathed with clouds, seemed like the regions of the blest. The landscape around, tame and commonplace as it might be, was superior to the pictures of any artist that ever laid his colors upon canvass, to my vision. Every sound was music. The idle but joyous gabble of the geese at the brook—the far-off cawing of the crows that skimmed the slopes of the mountains—the multitudinous notes of jays, robins, and blackbirds in the orchard—the lowing of cattle—the cackle of the fowls in the barnyard—the gobble of the ostentatious turkey—were all melody to me. No burst of harmony from an Italian orchestra, even though Rossini composed and Paganini performed, ever touched the heart as those humble melodies of morn, in the little village of Salem, touched mine at the age of fifteen. At such times my bosom actually overflowed with joy. I would sometimes shout aloud from mere pleasure; and then I would run for no other object than the excitement of the race. At such times it seemed almost that I could fly. There was an elasticity in my limbs like that of a mountain deer. So exuberant was this buoyant feeling, that in my dreams, which were then always blissful, I often dreamed of setting out to run, and after a brief space of stepping upward into the air, where I floated like some feather upon the breeze.
At evening, I used again to experience the same joyous gust of emotion, and during the day, I seldom felt otherwise than happy. Considering the quiet nature of the place in which I dwelt, my life was marked with numerous incidents and adventures—of little moment to the world at large, but important to a boy of my years. Saturday was, in that golden age, a day always given up to amusement, for there was no school kept then. A description of a single day will give a sufficient idea of my way of life at this period.
The day we will suppose to be fine—and in fact it now seems to me that there was no dull weather when I was a boy. Bill Keeler and myself rose with the sun—and we must, of course, go to the mountain. For what? Like knights of the olden time, in search of adventures. Bound to no place, guided by no other power than our own will, we set out to see what we could see, and find what we could find.
We took our course through a narrow vale at the foot of the mountain, crossed why a whimpling brook, which wound with many a mazy turn amid bordering hills, the slopes of which were covered with trees, or consisted of smooth, open pastures. The brook was famous for trout, and as Bill usually carried his
hooks and lines, we often stopped for a time and amused ourselves in fishing. On the present occasion, as we were passing a basin of still water, where the gush of the rivulet was stayed by a projecting bank, Bill saw an uncommonly large trout. He lay in the shadow of the knoll, perfectly still, except that the feathery fins beneath his gills fanned the water with a breath-like undulation. I saw Bill at the instant he marked the monster of the pool. In a moment he lifted up and waved his hand as a sign to me, and uttered a long, low she-e-e-e! He then stepped softly backwards, and at a little distance knelt down, to hide himself from the view of the trout. All this time Bill was fumbling with a nervous quickness for his hook and line. First he ran his hands into the pockets of his trowsers, seeming to turn over a great variety of articles there; then he felt in his coat pockets: and then he uttered two or three awkward words, with signified much vexation.
There was Bill on his knees—it seems as if I could see him now—evidently disappointed at not finding his hook and line. At last he began very deliberately to unlade his pockets. First came out a stout buck-handled knife, with one large blade, and the stump of a smaller one. Then came a large bunch of tow, several bits of rope, a gimblet, four or five flints, and a chestnut whistle. From the other pocket of the trowsers he disclosed three or four bits of lead, a screw-driver, a dough-nut, and something rolled into a wad that might have been suspected of being a pocket-handkerchief, if Bill had ever been seen to use one. The trowsers pockets being thus emptied, our hero applied himself to those in the flaps of his coat. He first took out a ball covered with deerskin, then a powder-flask and tinder-box, two or three corks and sundry articles difficult to name. From the other pocket he took his stockings and shoes, for it was May, and we were both indulging ourselves in the luxury of going barefoot—a luxury which those only can know who have tried it.
Nothing could exceed the pitch of vexation to which Bill was worked up, when, turning the last pocket inside out, and shaking it as if it had been a viper, he found that he had not a hook or line about him. Gathering up his merchandise, and thrusting the articles back into their places, he cast about, and picking up a stone, approached the place where the trout lay, and hurled it at him with spiteful vengeance, exclaiming—“If I’m ever ketched without a fishhook agin—I hope I may be shot!”
“Stop, stop, Bill!” said I; “don’t be rash.”
“I say I hope I may be shot if I’m ever ketched without a fishhook agin!—so there!” said he, hurling another stone into the brook.
“Remember what you say now, Bill!” said I.
“I will remember it,” said my companion; and though nothing more was said of it at the time, I may as well observe now that the fellow kept his word; for ever after I remarked that he carried a fishhook in his hat-band, and, as he said, in fulfilment of his vow. Such was the eccentric humor of my friend, and such the real depth of his character and feelings, that a speech, uttered in momentary passion and seeming thoughtlessness, clung to his mind, and never parted from him till death. Could that poor boy have had the advantages of wise cultivation, what a noble heart had now beat in his breast! But, alas! he was bound to a briefer and more inglorious destiny!
We pursued out way up the valley, though loth to leave the rivulet; for there is a fascination about running water that few can resist—there is a beauty in
it which enchants the eye—a companionship like that of life, and which no other inanimate thing affords. And of all brooks, this that I now describe was to me the sweetest.
After proceeding a considerable distance, the valley became narrowed down to a rocky ravine, and the shrunken stream fretted and foamed its way over a rugged and devious channel. At last, about half way up the mountain, and at a considerable elevation, we reached the source of the rivulet, which consisted of a small lake of as pure water as ever reflected the face of heaven. It was surrounded on three sides by tall cliffs, whose dark, shaggy forms, in contrast, gave a silver brilliancy and beauty to the mirror-like water that lay at their feet. The other side of the lake was bounded by a sandy lawn, of small extent, but in the centre of which stood a lofty white-wood tree.
The objects that first presented themselves, as we approached the lake, was a kingfisher, running over his watchman’s rattle from the dry limb of a tree that projected over the water, by way of warning to the tenants of the mountain that danger was near; a heron, standing half-leg deep in the margin of the water, and seeming to be lost in a lazy dream; a pair of harlequin ducks that were swimming near the opposite shore; and a bald eagle, that stood upon the point of a rock that projected a few feet out of the water near the centre of the lake. This object particularly attracted our attention, but as we moved toward it, it heavily unfolded its wings, pitched forward, and with a labored beating of the air gained an elevation and sailed gloriously away beyond the reach of sight.
Those were days of feeling, rather than speech. Neither my companion nor myself spoke of the beauty of that scene at the time; but we felt it deeply, and memory, to me, has kept a faithful transcript of the scene. When the kingfisher had sounded the alarm, he slunk away, and all was still. The morning overture of the birds had passed, for it was now near ten o’clock. The mournful metallic note of the wood-thrush was perchance faintly heard at intervals—the cooing of a pigeon, the amorous wooings of the high-hole, the hollow roll of the woodpecker at his work, might occasionally salute the ear, but all at such distance of time and place as to give effect to the silence and repose that marked the scene. I had my gun, but I felt no disposition to break the spell that nature had cast on all around. The harsh noise of gunpowder had been out of tune there and then. Bill and myself sauntered along the border of the lake, musing and stepping lightly, as if not to crumple a leaf or crush a twig, that might break the peace, over which nature, like a magistrate, seemed to preside.
But as we were slowly proceeding, Bill’s piercing eye discovered a dark object upon the white-wood or tulip tree, that stood in the sandy lawn at some distance. He pointed to it, and both quickened our steps in that direction. As we approached it, we perceived it to be an enormous nest, and concluded it must be that of an eagle. As we came nearer, the nest seemed roughly composed of large sticks, and occupying a circumference equal to a cart-wheel. It was at the very top of the tree, which rose to the height of sixty or seventy feet, and at least half of that elevation was a smooth trunk without a single limb. But Bill was an excellent climber, and it was resolved, without a council of war, that he should ascend and see what was in the nest.
Accordingly, stripping off his coat, and clinging to the tree as if by suction, he began to ascend. It was “hitchety hatchety up I go!” By a process diffi-
cult to describe—a sort of insinuation, the propelling power and working machinery of which were invisible—he soon cleared the smooth part of the trunk, and taking hold of the branches, rose limb by limb, till, with breathless interest, I saw him lift his head above the nest and peer into its recess. The best expression of his wonder was his silence. I waited, but no reply. “What is it?” said I, incapable of enduring the suspense. No answer. “What is it, Bill—why don’t you speak?” said I, once more. “Look!” said he, holding up a featherless little monster, about as large as a barn-door fowl—kicking and flapping its wings, and squealing with all its might. “Look! there’s a pair on ’em. They’re young eagles, I’ll be bound, but I never see such critters afore! The nest is as big as a trundle bed, and there’s a heap of snake-skins, and feathers, and fishes’ tails in it: and there’s a lamb’s head here, that looks in the face like an acquaintance—and I should n’t wonder if it belonged to Squire Kellogg’s little cosset that he lost last week—the varmint!”
As Bill uttered these last words, his attention, as well my own, was attracted by a rushing sound above, and looking up, we saw an eagle, about a hundred yards in the air, descending like a thunderbolt directly toward Bill’s head. The bird’s wings were close to its body, its tail above and its head beneath, its beak open and its talons half displayed for the blow. Entirely forgetting my gun, in my agony of fear, I exclaimed, “Jump, Bill! for Heaven’s sake jump!” But such was the suddenness of the proceeding, that ere I could fairly utter the words, the formidable bird, with a fearful and vengeful scream, swept down upon his mark. I shut my eyes in very horror. But not so Bill Keeler; there was no taking him by surprise. As the eagle came down, he dodged his head beneath the nest, exposing only a portion of his person, together with the seat of his trowsers. The clash of the eagle’s beak as he swept by, though it seemed like the clangor of a tailor’s shears when forcibly shut, did no harm; but we cannot say as much of the creature’s talons. One of the claws struck the part exposed, and made an incision in the trowsers as well as the skin, of about two inches in length.
The rent, however, was too superficial to prove mortal, nor did it deprive Bill of his presence of mind. Taking no manner of notice of the damage done, he cocked his eye up at the eagle, and seeing that he was already preparing for another descent, he slid down between the limbs of the tree with amazing dexterity, and had approached the lowest of the branches, when again we heard the rushing sound, and saw the infuriate bird falling like an iron wedge almost perpendicularly upon him. Although he was full five and thirty feet from the ground, such was my agony, that again I cried out, “Jump, Bill—for Heaven’s sake, jump!”
Bill was a fellow to go on his own hook—particularly in a time of imminent peril, like the present. Evidently paying no attention to me, he cast one glance at the eagle, and leaping from the branch, came down upon the wind. The eagle swept over him as he fell, and striking his talons into his brimless beaver, bore it away in triumph—dropping it however at a short distance. As Bill struck the ground on his feet, I immediately saw that he was safe. After sitting a moment to recover his breath, he put his hand to his head, and finding that his hat was gone, exclaimed, “There, the critter’s got my clamshell—why did n’t you fire, Bob?”
The hat was soon found, and after a little while Bill discovered the success of the eagle’s first attack upon his per-
son; but although some blood was shed, the incident was not considered serious, and we proceeded in our ramble.
We had not advanced far, when, on passing through some bushes near a heap of rocks, I heard a rustling in the leaves. Turning my eye in the direction of the sound, I saw a black snake, covered by leaves except his head and about two feet of his body. He was directly in my path, and, brandishing his tongue, seemed determined to oppose my progress. Bill had my gun, but I called to him, and he soon appeared. I pointed out the snake, but, refusing to tire, he approached the creature with a bold front; who, seeing that he could gain nothing by his threats, turned and fled through the leaves with amazing speed. Bill followed upon his trail, and came up with him just as he was seeking shelter in the crevice of a rock. He had buried about two feet of his length, when Bill seized his tail, and, holding fast, prevented his farther progress. We then both of us took hold and tried to pull him out—but as he had coiled himself around the protuberances of the rock within, he resisted all our efforts.
Bill now directed me to bend down to him a pretty stout walnut sapling that was growing near. I complied with the command, and my companion, taking a piece of rope from his pocket, doubled the tail of the snake, and firmly lashed it to the top of the young tree. This being done—“We’ll let go now,” said Bill, “and see which will hold on the longest.” So, loosing our hold of the tree and serpent, we stood by to see the result. The snake was so firmly tied as to render it impossible for him to escape, and the sapling pulled with a vigor and patience that were likely to prevail at last. We waited at the place for nearly an hour, when the serpent slowly yielded, and the sapling jerked him into the air. There he hung, dangling and writhing, and thrusting out his tongue, but all to no purpose. Taking a fair aim with the gun, Bill now fired, and cut the reptile in twain.
We pursued our rambles until late in the day, when, on our return, we saw a gray squirrel leaping about upon the ground at some distance. The appearance of this animal in its native woods is singularly imposing. Its long, bushy tail imparts to it an appearance of extraordinary size, and renders its wonderful agility a matter of surprise. In the present instance, as the squirrel saw us from a distance, he ran to a tree, ascended the trunk, and flew along its branches. From these it leaped to those of another tree, seeming actually to move like a spirit of the air. At last it reached a large oak, and disappeared in a hole in the trunk.
Bill’s jacket was off in an instant, and almost as nimbly as the squirrel himself he ascended to hits retreat. I stood below with my gun, ready to fire if the creature should attempt to escape. At last Bill, peeping into the hole, and saying, in a subdued voice, “I see the varmint!” thrust his hand into the place. It was but a moment before he hauled him out, and holding him forth with one hand, while he held on to the tree with the other, he exclaimed, “Fire, Bob—fire—he bites like—like a sarpent!” Accustomed to obey orders, I immediately fired, and the squirrel dropped dead to the ground. At the same time I saw Bill snapping his fingers, as if some stray shot had peppered them. He soon descended, and showed me that one of the little leaden missiles had passed through the ball of his thumb; he only remarked, however, “I should think, Bob, you might kill a squirrel without shooting a friend!”
Such are the adventures of a day in my youth; and such, or similar, no doubt, have been the experiences of many
a Yankee youth before. I record them here, partly for the satisfaction of reviewing the sweet memories of the past, and partly to point the moral of this chapter—that youth is a portion of life to which, in after years, we usually look back with fond regard, as the happiest, if not the most useful, part of our existence. Let my youthful friends mark the observation, and not be unmindful of their present privileges. Let them enjoy their young days, with thankfulness and moderation, and not be too sanguine of that future, which will disclose the melancholy truth that life is a journey, which affords the cares and toils and dangers of travel, without a resting-place. A resting-place is indeed found, but it is only given as life ceases. While we live we are journeying; there is no fixed habitation for man on the earth: he is an emigrant to another country, and not a settler here. Let us, in attempting to make our journey as cheerful as we may, still be careful that the place to which we migrate, and where we must abide, be in a happy country.
“Merry’s Life and Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, July 1841; pp. 17-20)
Completion of my education.—Many sports.—An accident.—The bed of pain.—Recovery from sickness.—A new companion.
In the last chapter I have given an account of a day in spring. I might now proceed to relate the adventures and amusements of a day in summer, then of autumn, and lastly of winter; and each of these, it would appear, had its appropriate occupations and diversions. But I am afraid that I shall weary my readers with long stories. I shall therefore proceed with matters more immediately affecting my fortunes, and tending to get to the end of a long journey.
I must go forward to the period when I was about sixteen years of age, and when I had finally taken leave of the school. I had passed through the branches taught there at the time; but these were few, as I have already stated, and I was far from having thoroughly mastered even them. I had, in fact, adopted a habit of skimming and slipping along, really learning as little as possible. Not only was I indulged by my uncle and his household, but there was a similar system of tolerance extended toward my faults and follies, even by the schoolmaster. It is true that sometimes he treated me harshly enough; but it was generally in some fit of spleen. If he was gloomy and tyrannical to the school, he was usually lenient to me. He even excused my indolence, and winked at my neglect of study and duty.
It would seem that such general favor, should cultivate in the heart of a youth only kind and generous feelings; but it was not so with me. The more I was indulged, the more passionate and headstrong I grew; and perhaps, in this, I was not unlike other young people. It seems that there are wild passions in our very nature, which are like weeds ever tending to overgrow the whole soil. These passions need to be eradicated by constant care and correction, just a weeds must be pulled up by the roots and thrown away. Of what use is it to plant a garden, if you do not hoe it and rake it, thus keeping the weeds down, and allowing the proper plants to flourish? And of what advantage is it to go to school, to be educated, if the thorns and briers of vice and passion are not destroyed, and the fruits and flowers of truth and virtue cultivated and cherished?
Being no more a school-boy, I now thought myself a man. Bill Keeler had left my uncle, and was apprenticed to a shoemaker; but in the evening I often contrived to meet him, and one or two other companions. Our amusements were not such as would tell well in a book. Too often we went to the bar-room of my uncle’s inn, and listened to the vulgar jokes and coarse fun that were always stirring there, and sometimes we treated each other with liquor. I cannot now but wonder that such things should have given me any pleasure; but habit and example have a mighty influence over us. Seeing that others drank, we drank too, though at first the taste of all spirits was odious to me. I got used to it by degrees, and at last began to like the excitement they produced. And strange to say, the bar-room, which originally disgusted me, became rather a favorite place of resort. I was shocked at the oaths and indecency for a time: the huge puddles of tobacco spittle over the floor, and the reeking flavors of tobacco smoke and brandy, disgusted me; the ragged, red-nosed loungers of the place, the noise, the riot, the brutality, which frequently broke out, and which was called by the soakers, having a “good time,” were actually revolting; but my aversion
passed away by degrees. Under the strong infection of the place, I partially adopted its habits; I learned to smoke and chew tobacco, though several fits of nervous sickness warned me of the violence I was doing to my nature. I even ventured to swear occasionally; and, if the truth must be told, I followed out, in various ways, the bad lessons that I learnt.
It is painful to me to confess these things, but I do it for the purpose of warning those for whose benefit I write, against similar errors. Wherever young people go frequently, there they are learning something; and as a bar-room is a place to which young men are often tempted, I wish to advise them that it is a school, in which profanity, coarseness, intemperance, and vice, are effectually taught. It is a seminary where almost every thief, robber, counterfeiter, and murderer, takes his first and last lesson. A man who loves a bar-room where liquors are sold, has reason to tremble; a young man who loves bar-room company, has already entered within the very gate that leads down to ruin. That I have escaped such ruin myself, is attributable to the kindness of Providence, rather than to any resistance of evil which originated in my own breast. If Heaven had deserted me, I had been lost forever.
It was one night after we had been drinking at the tavern, that my companions and myself issued forth, bent on what was called a spree. Our first exploit was to call up the doctor of the village, and ask him to hasten to Miss Sally St. John, who has been noticed before in these memoirs, insinuating that she was desperately ill. Our next adventure was to catch the parson’s horse in the pasture, and tie him to the shipping-post, which stood on the green before the meeting-house. We then proceeded to a watermelon patch, and, prowling about among the vines, selected the largest and finest, and ripping them open, strewed the contents over the ground. We then went to a garden belonging to a rich old farmer, who was celebrated for producing very fine pears. The window of the proprietor looked out into the garden, and as he had the reputation of exercising a vigilant watch over his fruit, we felt the necessity of caution. But we were too much elated by our liquor and success in sport, to be very circumspect. We got over the tall picket fence, and two or three of us ascended one of the trees. We had begun already to pluck the fruit, when the window of the old farmer slid silently upward, and a grizzled head was thrust out. It was soon withdrawn, but in a few moments the barrel of a long gun was pushed forth, and a second after it discharged its contents, with a sound which, at that silent hour, seemed like the voice of thunder.
I was on the tree, with my back to the marksman, and presented a fair target to his aim. At the very instant of the discharge, I felt a tingling in my flesh; immediately after a dizziness came over my sight, and I fell to the ground. I was completely stunned, but my companions seized me and hurried me away. Clambering over stone walls, and pushing through a nursery of young trees, they secured their retreat. At a safe distance the party paused, and after a little space I recovered my senses. I found myself in great pain, however, and after a little examination it appeared that my left arm was broken. As carefully as possible I was now taken toward my home. It was about midnight when we reached it, and my uncle, being informed that I was hurt, attempted to come to me. But he had been in bed but a short time, and according to his wont, about this period, he had taken a “night-cap,” as he called it, and was
utterly incapable of walking across the floor. Some of the people, however, were got up, and one went for the physician. The answer returned was, that some madcaps had been there and played off a hoax upon the doctor, and this application was no doubt intended as another, and he would not come. I therefore lay till morning in great distress, and when at last the doctor came, he found that not only my arm was broken, but that my back was wounded, as if I had been shot with bullets of salt! Several small pieces of salt were actually found imbedded in my skin!
I was hardly in a state to give explanations; in fact, my reason already began to waver. Strange visions soon flitted before my eyes: an old grizzled pate seemed bobbing out of a window, and making faces at me; then the head seemed a watermelon with green eyes; and then it turned into a bell-muzzled fowling-piece, and while I was trying to look down its throat, it exploded and scattered my brains to the four winds! Here my vision ended, and with it all remembrance. I fell into a settled fever, and did not recover my senses for two weeks. When my consciousness returned, I found myself attended by a man of the village, named Raymond, a brother of the minister, and whom I had long known. He was sitting by my bedside, with a book in his hand; but as I opened my eyes, I noticed that, while he seemed to be reading, his eyes were fixed on me with an anxious interest. In a moment after he spoke. “Are you better, Robert?” said he, in a tone of tenderness. I attempted to reply, but my tongue refused to move. Raymond saw my difficulty, and coming to the bedside, told me to reamin quiet. “You have been ill,” said he, “very ill, but you are better. You life depends upon your being kept perfectly quiet.”
Thus admonished, I closed my eyes, and soon fell asleep. The next day I was much better, and entered into some conversation with Raymond, who I then found had been my regular attendant. The physician soon after came, and pronounced me out of danger. “You are better, my young friend,” said he; “I think you are safe; but this getting salted down like a herring, and tumbling off of pear trees at midnight, is an awkward business, and cannot be often repeated with impunity.” This latter remark being uttered with a significant smile, recalled to my mind the occasion of my sickness, and a sudden blush of shame covered my face. Raymond noticed my confusion, and by some remark immediately diverted my attention to another topic.
In a few days I was able to sit up in my bed, and was nearly free from pain. My arm, however, was still useless, and I was in fact very feeble. I could talk with Raymond, however, and as his conversation was always engaging, the time did not pass heavily. Raymond was a man of extensive reading, and great knowledge of the world, but, owing to excessive sensitiveness, he had settled into a state of almost complete imbecility. He thought and spoke like a philosopher, yet in the active business of life, in which he had been once engaged, he had entirely failed. He was indeed regarded in the village as little better than insane or silly. He had no regular employment, and spent his time almost wholly in reading—his brother, the minister, having a good library. As he was very kind-hearted, however, and possessed a good deal of medical knowledge, he was often employed in attending upon sick persons, and for his services he would never receive any other compensation than his own gratification, in the consciousness of doing good, might afford.
It was a mercy to me that I fell into the hands of poor Raymond, for my
mind and heart were softened by my sickness, and by the humiliation I felt at having been detected in a disgraceful act, and so signally punished. His counsel, therefore, which was full of wisdom, and which he imparted in a way, at once to instruct and amuse, sunk into my mind like the seed sown in spring time; and upon a prepared soil; and I have reason to believe that I may attribute not only the recovery of my body from disease, but the correction of some of the vices of my mind, to his conversations at my sick bedside. I believe I cannot do my readers a better service than to transcribe some of these conversations, as nearly as my memory will restore them, and this I shall do in a subsequent chapter.
“Merry’s Life and Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, August 1841; pp. 39-43)
A conversation about wealth and poverty.—People to be respected according to their character, not according to their circumstances.
As Paul Raymond was one of the best friends I ever had, it is my desire to make my reader well acquainted with him. He was tall, thin, and bent over, his figure seeming to indicate great humility; his face was meagre and exceedingly pale; his hair black as jet, and hanging in long, thin curls down his neck. His eye was very large, and of a deep blue.
The whole aspect of my friend was marked with a childlike gentleness and timidity, though his high forehead and prominent Roman nose bespoke a manly intellect. A worldly person, judging only by outward form and a first sight, had passed him by with indifference; but one who looks upon mankind as beings of soul and mind, would have been attracted by his appearance. It was so in some degree with myself, for when I first saw poor Paul, as he was called in the village, I scarcely noticed him. And for years after, I saw nothing of particular interest in his person: but now that I was on a sick bed, and had opportunity, as well as occasion, to observe him closer, he seemed to me very interesting, both in looks and manner.
It was one morning after he had been putting my room in order, and, taking his book, had sat down by my bedside, that I mentioned to Paul the change of feeling I had undergone in respect to himself. “I cannot but wonder,” said I, “how different you seem to me now, from what you used to do, Mr. Raymond.”
Raymond. Call me Paul, boy, call me Paul! said he. We are friends now, and mister is always a mischief-maker between friends. You say I seem different now from what I once did. The change is in you, not in me. I am the same poor Paul Raymond, as before. You are something better than before this accident happened.
Merry. How am I better? I think I am worse: I have been guilty of folly, and, though thoughtlessly, of crime; I have been disgraced before the whole village; my poor arm broken; I am sick and emaciated; and after all this, you tell me that I am better than before.
R. And I tell you the truth, boy. You have suffered, it is certain; but that suffering has been like medicine to your mind and heart. You were well in body, you were full of health and spirits, but there was disease within. Your heart was full of selfishness and pride; you felt that you could take care of yourself, and you cared not for the sympathy of others. You have now learnt a good lesson; that pride has been humbled, and you see your dependence upon others. You see how poor and paltry pride is; and how vain is that independence, which leads us to think only of self, and to be regardless of the feelings of our fellow-men. You are more humble than before, and therefore I say you are better than before.
M. Then you think humility is a good thing?
R. Certainly, and pride a bad thing. God looks down upon the humble man with approbation and favor, and he sends to the humble man peace and consolation which the world cannot give or take away. God looks down upon the proud man as a fool, a creature as sillly as the moth that buzzes in the flame of the lamp, only to perish in his folly.
M. But this is very different from the view generally taken by mankind. The rich, the haughty, those who are successful in life, who know no sickness or misfortune, and who are seldom or never visited by sorrow—these are those
who are esteemed happy by the world at large. The proud are envied and the humble are despised. You would reverse this, and regard the humble as the happy, and the high and haughty as the miserable.
R. Yes, and this is nearly the truth. Health is given us for good; but, strange to say, men seem to turn it to bad account. A person who has always good health, is usually unfeeling: he sneers at those who are feeble, and laughs those to scorn who cannot eat and drink and work as well as he does. He is therefore deficient in one of the greatest of blessings, a kind and tender heart, a heart that feels for the misfortunes and sorrows of others, and that always is seeking to soften them.
Riches are given for good, but these too are abused. The rich man is likely to have very little regard for the poor; he is apt almost to feel that the poor are not human: at all events, he knows and cares little about them. He estimates men by their wealth: if a man is rich, he respects him; if poor, he despises him. Thus wealth begets in its possessor a gross stupidity of mind; it blinds a man to the most useful pleasures and important truths. It makes a man ignorant of his real duty and his true happiness.
M. You think then that health and wealth are misfortunes.
R. Certainly not, if rightly used: they are blessings in the hands of the virtuous, and some such there are. But in too many cases, mankind abuse them. The fortunate are very apt to be vicious; those who go on in an unchanging tide of success, at last fancy that they may indulge their pride and their passions with impunity. Such persons have hard hearts; and though the world, judging of the outside only, call them fortunate, and envy them—still, if we look within and see their real character, we shall pity them, as in fact poor, and destitute, and miserable in all that constitutes real goodness, real wealth—a good heart.
It is for this reason that the Bible—a book more full of virtue in mankind generally think—tells us that “whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth.” In other words, God sends sorrow and misfortune upon men in real kindness. He takes away health, but he gives gentleness and humility of soul, as a compensation; he takes away worldly wealth—houses, lands, and merchandises—but he gives charity, good will, kindness, and sympathy, in their stead. He takes away external and earthly riches, and gives in exchange spiritual riches, of infinitely greater price. He takes away dollars and cents, which only pass in this world, and are wholly uncurrent in another, and gives coin that bears upon it an image and superscription, which not only makes it available in time, but in eternity.
M. Most people think very differently from you, on these matters: they seem to imagine that the rich are not only the happiest, but the wisest and best part of mankind.
R. Shallow people may think so, but wise men do not. Our Savior appealed to the poor, not to the rich. Poverty, not wealth, was the soil in which he sowed the seeds of truth; and he knew all things. History justifies Christ’s judgment of human life, for all, or nearly all great improvements in society have been begun and carried on by the poor. For almost all useful inventions; for almost all that is beautiful in poetry, and music, and painting, and sculpture, and architecture; for almost all that has contributed to diffuse truth and knowledge and liberty among mankind—we are indebted to those who have been born and nursed in poverty. If you were to strike out of existence
all that the poor have created, and leave only what the rich have created, you would make this world one vast scene of desolation, vice, and tyranny.
Look around, and remark, who are the people that are tilling the soil and producing the comforts and luxuries of life? The poor, and not the rich. Who are paying the taxes and supporting the government? The poor, for they pay, in proportion to their property, much more than the rich. Who are the supporters of religion? The poor, for it is by their prayers, and sacrifices, and efforts, that it is propagated, not only at home, but in foreign lands. No Christian Mission, no Bible Society, no Society for the distribution of Tracts, was ever begun and carried on and supported by the rich.
The simple truth is, that, as the poor are the producers of all the substantial comforts of life, of food, raiment, houses, furniture, roads, vehicles, ships, and merchandises, so are they the cultivators of those spiritual staples which make up the social wealth of the world—religion, knowledge, charity, sympathy, virtue, patriotism, liberty, and truth. Destroy the poor, and you destroy not only the source of worldly wealth, but of that mental, spiritual, and social wealth, which are far higher and better.
M. You think, then, that the poor are not only the wisest, but the best part of mankind.
R. Certainly; but do not misunderstand me. I do not say all rich men are bad, or that all poor ones are good. There are rich men who are good, wise, kind, and virtuous—and those who are so, deserve great praise, for, as a class, the rich are otherwise; and the reasons are plain. In the first place, most men who become rich, do so by being supremely selfish. They keep what they get, and get what they can. A man who has no generosity, who seldom or never gives away anything, who is greedily seeking all the time to increase his possessions, is almost sure, in a few years, to accumulate large stores. Such a man may be very stupid in intellect, and yet successful in getting rich. Riches are no proof of wisdom, but they are generally evidence of selfishness.
A man, by cultivating any passion, increases it. An avaricious man, indulging his avarice, grows more and more so. He not only becomes more greedy, but less regardful of the rights, feelings, and interest of his fellow-men. Thus, as a man increases in riches, he usually becomes vicious and depraved. His vices may not be open—he may not break the laws of the land, but he breaks the laws of conscience, and of God. There is hardly a spectacle more revolting to the eye of virtue, then the bosom of the rich and avaricious man. It is a machine, which grinds in its relentless wheels the limbs, the bowels, the nerves, the hearts of such among his fellow-men as fall within his grasp. He is a kind of moral cannibal, who feasts and grows fat, not on the bodies of his species, but on their peace and happiness.
M. You are severe.
R. But I hope not unjust: remember that Christ forgave the thief on the cross, but declared that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He knew by what means men generally grow rich; he knew the effect of riches on the heart; and, as a class, he denounces the rich, as in the view of Heaven among the least favored of mankind. They have their good things in this world, but a fearful penalty is attached to the abuse of these good things—an abuse which is but too tempting and too common.
But the only evil of wealth lies not in the dangers which it threatens to the future
welfare of the soul; it is very apt to destroy or prevent some of the sweetest pleasures of this life. Humility is the source of more true happiness than wealth. A rich man may possess humility, though he is more likely to be proud; poverty, disappointment, sorrow, and misfortune, are the great producers of humility: and it often happens that God, in taking away wealth and worldly prosperity, and giving humility in return, greatly increases a person’s true wealth and genuine peace. It is thus that he often deals with those he loves. He thinks that a man may well afford to part with his wealth, if he parts with pride at the same time, and obtains humility as a reward; and surely he knows what is best for us.
Nor is peace of mind the only effect of humility. It not only wakes up the heart of man to many kindly exercises of charity to his fellow-men, but is clears his mind and his intellect, so that it is brighter and stronger. Pride dims, dulls, and cheats the mind; the judgment of a proud man is seldom good. Not only does pride beget meanness of soul, but meanness of intellect. Greatness of mind, as well as of soul, is usually associated with humility. For this reason it is, that you find among the poor, who are usually humble, more true greatness of both mind and heart, than among the rich; and it is thus that we see the fact explained, which I have before stated, that for almost all the great religious, benevolent, and social progress of the world, we are indebted to the wisdom, charity, disinterestedness, and patriotism of the poor.
M. Is it then a sin to be rich, or a virtue to be poor?
R. Certainly not: there is no virtue or vice in either poverty or wealth. All I say is this, the usual means taken to get riches are supreme selfishness or craft, or uncommon want of principle; and riches, when once obtained, tend to corrupt and degrade the heart, and stultify the mind. While, therefore, we admit that a rich man may be wise and virtuous, still, as a class, the rich are the least to be respected and trusted. We are borne out in this view by the remarkable words of Jesus Christ, and by the testimony of history. The rich, therefore, are to be sunned and feared, till we know, by positive proof, that they are worthy of our confidence and esteem, by the possession of virtue and wisdom.
On the contrary, if a man is poor, we have reason to believe that he is humble, and if humble, that he is virtuous. I know that this is not the way that the world usually judge, but I know that it is true. If you wish to find sympathy for sorrow or misfortune; or if you wish to find those who will make sacrifices to alleviate your distress, you must go to those who know sorrow and are acquainted with grief. You must go to those who are in the humble walks of life, and have learnt humility—an estimate of ourselves which makes us regard others as our equals, and which renders us willing to do to them as we would have them do to us. No man can feel the sorrow of others, unless he has suffered himself.
“ ’T is the poor man alone,
When he hears the poor’s moan,
Of his morsel a morsel will give.”
M. You seem to think, then, that men are to be judged according to their character, and not by their circumstances.
R. Just so: you have stated the case exactly. When the Bible says that God looketh on the heart, it means to affirm, that the wisest and best of beings pays no respect to riches or poverty. In choosing his friends, he does not consider what sort of a house a man lives in, or how he is dressed; he looks to his heart, to his real character: and, be
he rich or poor, if he finds that selfishness, greediness, and avarice, occupy the soul, he condemns him; but if he finds that he has a humble heart, one that is kind, and full of love and charity, he approves of him.
M. The great thing for a man to aim at, is to have a good heart, and a good character: you think a man should be more careful to be humble, than to be rich.
R. Assuredly: and he is more likely to be humble if he is poor, than if he is rich.
M. Should a man avoid riches, then?
R. No: I have said that riches are intended for good, and that in the hands of the virtuous they are beneficial. But wealth is not necessary to happiness; it is indeed a snare to thousands. Instead, therefore, of seeking for it greedily as the first thing, we should only regard it as secondary, and of infinitely less consequence than virtue. And though we should seek to avoid poverty, if it come, we may enjoy the reflection that it is safer to walk in the humble valley, than to climb along the dizzy pinnacles of prosperity and power. At all events, in wealth or poverty, in prosperity or adversity, let us cultivate humility, and judge ourselves and others by looking on the heart; let us consider that we are good or bad, respectable or despicable, not according to our circumstances, but according to our wisdom and our virtue.
M. I believe what you tell me, Paul, for you are wise, and all you tell me sounds true; but it would be hard to make the world believe that poverty and misfortune are desirable.
R. Perhaps not; but I could tell you a story of real life, in which it would appear that misfortune, or what the world calls such, actually promoted happiness.
M. Pray tell it to me.
R. I will do so to-morrow, if you desire it; you have heard enough for to-day.
Here the conversation ended for the time. Raymond’s story, which he entitled the School of Misfortune, I shall give to my readers in the next chapter.
“Merry’s Life and Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, September 1841; pp. 65-68)
Raymond’s story of the school of misfortune.
I shall now proceed to repeat, as accurately as I am able, Raymond’s story promised in the last chapter. It was as follows.
“There once lived in a village near London, a youth whom we will call R. His parents died when he was young, leaving him an ample estate. He was educated at one of the universities, travelled for two years on the continent, and, at the age of twenty-four, returned to the paternal mansion, and established himself there. Being the richest person in the village, and the descendant and representative of a family of some antiquity, he became the chief personage of the place. Beside all this, he was esteemed remarkably handsome, possessed various accomplishments, and had powers of pleasing almost amounting to fascination. He was, therefore, courted and flattered by the whole neighborhood, and even lords and ladies of rank and fashion did not disdain to visit him. The common people around, of course, looked up to him; for in England, where distinctions in society are established by government, and where all are taught to consider such distinctions as right and best, the great, as they are called, are usually almost worshipped by the little.
“Surrounded by luxuries, and flattered by everybody, it would seem that R. might have been happy; but he was of a discontented turn, and though, for a time, these things pleased him, he grew tired of them at last, and wished for some other sources of pleasure and excitement. At the university he had imbibed a taste for reading; but he could not now sit down to its quiet and gentle pleasures. He had been in the gay society of London and Paris, and had drank the cup of pleasure so deeply, that nothing but its dregs remained.
“R. was therefore restless, discontented and miserable, while in the possession of all that usually excites the envy of mankind. He was rich beyond his utmost wishes; he was endowed with manly beauty and the most perfect health; he was admired, flattered, cherished and sought after; yet he was unhappy. The reason of this he did not know; indeed, he did not look very deeply into the matter, but went on from one scene to another, seeking enjoyment, but turning with distaste and disappointment from everything. He was, however, too proud to let the world see his real condition; he kept up a fair outside, sustained his establishment with magnificence, and dressed himself, when he went abroad, with elegance and care; he affected gayety in company, often led in the dance, was ever foremost in the chase, and was usually the life of the circle wherever he went.
“There were few, perhaps none, who
imagined that, under this aspect of prsoperity, the canker of discontent was gnawing at the heart. Yet such was the fact: of all the people of the village, R. was esteemed the most happy and fortunate; but he was in truth the veriest wretch in the place. And though this may doubtless seem a rare instance, yet we have good reason to believe that often, very often, there is deep misery, untold and unsuspected, in the great house, where only elegance and luxury are seen by the world at large; very often the beggar at the door would not exchange conditions with the lord of the lofty hall, if he could know his real condition.
“R. had now reached the age of thirty years, and instead of finding his condition or the state of his feelings to grow better, they seemed rather to grow worse. He became more and more unhappy. Every morning when he rose, it was with a kind of dread as to how he should contrive to kill time, to get through the day, to endure his own listlessness, or dissatisfaction, or disgust. The idea of setting about some useful or honorable employment, that would occupy his thoughts, give excitement to his faculties, and bring satisfaction to his conscience, never entered his head. He had never been taught that no one has a right to lead an idle or useless life, and that no man can be happy who attempts to live only for himself.
“It is indeed a common opinion among rich people that they are under no obligation to engage in the active duties of life; that they are not bound to labor, or toil, or make sacrifices for society; that they are in fact privileged classes, and may spend their time and money with an exclusive regard to themselves. R. was educated in this foolish and narrow-minded opinion; and here was the real foundation of all his misery. Could he only have discovered that happiness is to be found in exercising our faculties; in using the means, and employing the power, that Providence has placed in our hands, in some useful pursuit, and in this way alone, he might have been saved from a gulf of misery, into which he was soon plunged.
“At this period, which was soon after the revolutionary war, America was attracting great attention, and R. having met with one of his college mates who had been there, and who gave him glowing accounts of it, he suddenly took the determination to sell his estates and set out for America, with the view of spending the remainder of his days there. He knew little of the country, but supposed it to be the contrast in everything to that in which he had lived, and thinking that any change must bring enjoyment, he sold his property, and taking the amount in gold and silver, set out with it in a ship bound for New York.
“The vessel had a prosperous voyage till she arrived in sight of the highlands near the entrance of the harbor of New York. It was then that, just at evening, smart gusts began to blow off the land, and the captain showed signs of anxiety, lest he should not be able to get in before the storm, which he feared was coming, should arise. The passengers had dressed themselves to go on shore, and most of them, anxious to see friends, or tired of the sea, were anticipating their arrival with delight. R., however, was an exception to all this. He went upon the deck, looked a few moments gloomily at the land that was visible low down in the horizon, and then retired to the cabin, where he gave himself up to his accustomed train of discontented and bitter thoughts.
“ ‘I alone,’ said he to himself, ‘of all this company, seem to be miserable; all are looking forward with pleasant anticipations of some happiness, some enjoy-
ment in store for them. But for me—what have I to hope? I have no friends here; this is a land of strangers to me. It is true, I have wealth; but how worthless is it! I have tried its virtues in England, and found that it could not give me pleasure. Wealth cannot bestow happiness upon me; and I should not mourn if every farthing of it were lost in the sea. Life is indeed to me a burthen. Why is it that everything is happy but myself? Why do I see all these people rejoicing at the sight of the land, while I am distressed at the idea of once more mingling with mankind? Alas! life is to me a burthen, and the sooner I part with it the better.’
“While R. was pursuing this train of reflections in the cabin, the heaving of the vessel increased; the creaking of the timbers grew louder, and there was a good deal of noise on the deck, occasioned by running to and fro, the rattling of cordage, and the clanking of heavy irons. The commands of the captain became rapid and stern, and the thumping of the billows against the sides of the ship made her shiver from the rudder to the bowsprit.
“R. was so buried in his own gloomy reflections that he did not for some time notice these events; but at last the din became so tremendous, that he started to his feet and ran upon deck. The scene that now met his eyes was indeed fearful. It was dark, but not so much so as to prevent the land from being visible at a little distance; the wind was blowing with the force of a hurricane, and urging the vessel, now perfectly at its mercy, into the boiling waves that fretted and foamed along its edge. The captain had given up all hope of saving the ship, and the passengers were kneeling and throwing up their hands in wildness and despair.
“R. was perfectly calm. The thought of losing his wealth crossed his mind, but it cost him not a struggle to be reconciled to its destruction. He then thought of sinking down in the waves to rise no more. To this, too, he yielded, saying briefly to himself, ‘It is best it should be so.’ Having thus made up his mind and prepared himself for the worst, as he fancied, he stood surveying the scene. The force of the gale was fearful; as it marched along the waters, it lashed their surface into foam, and burst upon the ship with a fury that seemed every moment on the point of carrying away her masts. At last, the vessel struck; a moment after, her masts fell, with their whole burthen of spars, sails, and rigging; the waves then rose over the stern of the helpless hulk, and swept the whole length of it. Several of the passengers were hurried into the tide, there to find a watery grave; some clung to the bulwarks, and others saved themselves in various ways.
“R. was himself plunged into the waves. His first idea was to yield himself to his fate without an effort; but the love of life revived, as he saw it placed in danger. He was an expert swimmer, and exerting himself, he soon approached the masts, which were still floating, though entangled with the wreck. It was in vain, however, to reach them, owing to the rolling of the surf. Several times he nearly laid his hand upon them, when he was beaten back by the dashing waves. His strength gradually gave way, and he was floating farther and farther from the wreck, when he chanced to see a spar near him; with a desperate effort, he swam to this, and was thus able to sustain himself upon the water.
“The night now grew dark apace, and R., being driven out to sea, was parted from the wreck, and could distinguish nothing but the flashing waves around him. His limbs began to grow cold, and he feared that his strength would
be insufficient to enable him to keep upon the spar. His anxiety increased; an awe of death which he had never felt before sprung up in his bosom, and an intense desire of life, that thing which he had so recently spurned as worthless, burned in his bosom. So little do we know ourselves until adversity has taught us reflection, that R., a few hours before fancying that he was willing and prepared to die, now yearned for safety, for deliverance, for life, with an agony he could not control. His feelings, however, did not overpower him. Using every effort of strength and skill, and rubbing his chilled limbs from time to time, he was able to sustain himself till morning. He could then perceive that the vessel had become a complete wreck, and that the fragments were floating on the waves; he could not discern a single human being, and was left to infer that all beside himself had perished.
“In this situation, benumbed with the cold, faint and exhausted with exertion, he was on the point of yielding himself a prey to the waves, when a pilot-boat came into view. It gradually approached the place where he was, and at last seemed so near him as almost to be within the reach of his voice. At this critical moment she made preparations to tack, and thus change her direction. R. noticed these movements with indescribable anxiety: if she were to advance a few rods more, he should be discovered and saved; if she were to change her route ever so little, she would pass by, and he, unobserved and helpless, would perish. The experience of years seemed now crowded into one moment of agony. Weary, cold, exhausted, the poor sufferer wished not now to die, but to live. ‘Help, help!’ cried he with all his strength. ‘O God, send me deliverance from these waves!’ This earnest and agonizing petition was the first prayer he had uttered for years, and it was in behalf of that existence which, in the days of luxury and splendor, he had thought a burden and a curse.
“Watching the pilot-boat with the keenest interest, poor R. now sat upon the spar, almost incapable of moving, on account of his sufferings and his weakness. He saw at last the helm put down; he saw the vessel obey the impulse; he saw her swing round, the sail flapping in the wind, and then filling again; he then saw her shoot off in another direction, thus leaving him destitute of hope. His heart sank within him, a sickness came over his bosom, his senses departed, and he fell forward into the waves. It was at this moment that he was discovered by the pilot. The vessel immediately steered towards him, and he was taken on board. In a few hours, he was at New York, and put under the care of persons who rendered him every assistance which he needed for his immediate comfort.
“Merry’s Life and Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1841; pp. 97-99)
Raymond’s story of the School of Misfortune—concluded.
“It was several hours after his arrival at the city before R. had fully recovered his senses. When he was completely restored, and began to make inquiries, he found that all his ship companions had perished. He, who had probably cared least for life—he, who had no family, no friends, and who was weary of existence—he only, of all that ship’s company, was the one that survived the tempest!
“There was something in this so remarkable, that it occupied his mind, and caused deep emotions. In the midst of many painful reflections, he could not, however, disguise the fact, that he felt a great degree of pleasure in his delivery from so fearful a death. Again and again he said to himself, ‘How happy, how thankful I feel, at being saved, when so many have been borne down to a watery grave!’ The loss of his property, though it left him a beggar in the world, did not seem to oppress him: the joy of escape from death was to him a source of lively satisfaction; it gave birth to a new feeling—a sense of dependence on God, and a lively exercise of gratitude towards him. It also established in his mind a fact before entirely unknown, or unremarked—that what is called misfortune, is often the source of some of our most exquisite enjoyments. ‘It seems to me,’ said R., in the course of his reflections, ‘that, as gems are found in the dreary sands, and gold among the rugged rocks, and as the one are only yielded to toil, and the other to the smelting of the fiery furnace,—so happiness is the product of danger, suffering, and trial. I have felt more real peace, more positive enjoyment from my deliverance, than I was able to find in the whole circle of voluptuous pleasures yielded by wealth and fashion. I became a wretch, existence was to me a burthen, while I was rich. But, having lost my fortune, and experienced the fear of death, I am happy in the bare possession of that existence which I spurned before.’
“Such were the feelings and reflections of R. for a few days after his escape; but at length it was necessary for him to decide upon some course of action. He was absolutely penniless. Everything had been sunk with the ship. He had no letters of introduction, he had no acquaintances in New York; nor, indeed, did he know any one in all America, save that a brother of his was a clergyman in some part of the United States; but a coldness had existed between them, and he had not heard of him for several years. R. was conscious, too, that this coldness was the result of his own ungenerous conduct; for the whole of his father’s estate had been
given to him, to the exclusion of his brother, and he had permitted him to work his own way in life, without offering him the least assistance. To apply to this brother was, therefore, forbidden by his pride; and, beside, he had every reason to suppose that brother to be poor.
“What, then, was to be done: Should he return to England? How was he to get the money to pay his passage? Beside, what was he to do when he got there? Go back to the village where he carried his head so high, and look in the faces of his former dashing acquaintances—acknowledging himself a beggar! This was not to be thought of. Should he seek some employment in America? This seemed the only plan. He began to make inquiries as to what he could find to do. One proposed to him to keep school; another, to go into a counting-room; another, to be a bar-keeper of a hotel. Any of these occupations would have given him the means of living; but R.’s pride was in the way;—pride, that dogs us all our life, and stops up almost every path we ought to follow, persuaded R. that he, who was once a gentleman, ought to live the life of a gentleman; and of course he could not do either of the things proposed.
“But events, day by day, pressed R. to a decision. His landlord, at last, became uneasy, and told him that for what had accrued he was welcome, in consideration of his misfortunes; but he was himself poor, and he begged him respectfully to make the speediest possible arrangements to give up his room, which he wanted for another boarder. ‘I have been thinking,’ said R. in reply to this, ‘that I might engage in the practice of physic. In early life I was thought to have a turn for the profession.’ This suggestion was approved by the landlord, and means were immediately taken to put it in execution. Dr. R., late of England, was forthwith announced; and in a few weeks he was in the full tide of successful experiment.
“This fair weather, however, did not continue without clouds. Many persons regarded Dr. R. only as one of the adventurers so frequently coming from England to repay the kindness and courtesy of the Yankees with imposition and villany [sic]. Various inquiries and stories were got up about him; some having a sprinkling of truth in them, and, for that reason, being very annoying. R., however, kept on his way, paying little heed to these rumors, fancying that, if left to themselves, they would soon die. And such would, perhaps, have been the result, had not a most unfortunate occurrence given matters another turn.
“In the house where R. boarded, several small sums of money, and certain ornaments of some value, were missed by the boarders, from time to time. Suspicions fell upon a French servant in the family; but as nothing could be proved against him, he was retained, and a vigilant watch kept over his actions. Discovering that he was suspected, this fellow determined to turn the suspicion against R.; he, therefore, in the dead of night, took a valuable watch from one of the rooms, and laid it under the pillow of R.’s bed. This was done with such address, that neither the gentleman from whom the watch was stolen, nor R. himself, saw anything of it at the time. The watch was missed in the morning, and the French servant was arrested. But as soon as the chambermaid began to make up R.’s bed, behold, the pilfered watch was there! The French servant was at once released, and R. was arrested, briefly examined, and thrown into prison.
“The circumstances in which he had come to the country now all made against him. The unfavorable rumors
that had been afloat respecting him were revived; all the stories of swindlers that had visited the country for twenty years back, were published anew, with embellishments. In short, R. was tried and condemned by the public, while he lay defenceless in prison, and long before his real trial came on. The subject became a matter of some notoriety; the circumstances were detailed in the newspapers. A paragraph noticing these events met the eye of R.’s brother, who was settled as a minister of the gospel in a country parish not far distant, and he immediately came to the city. Satisfying himself by a few inquiries that it was indeed his brother who was involved in difficulty and danger, he went straight to the prison, with a heart overflowing with sympathy and kindness. But pride was still in the way, and R. haughtily repulsed him.
“The pious minister was deeply grieved; but he did not the less seek to serve his brother. He took care to investigate the facts, and became persuaded that the French servant had practised the deception that has been stated; but he was not able to prove it. He employed the best of counsel; but, in spite of all his efforts, and all his sympathy, R. was found guilty, condemned, and consigned to prison.
“Up to this time, the pride of R. had sustained him; but it now gave way. He had borne the loss of fortune, but to be convicted of a low, base theft, was what his spirit could not endure. His health sunk under it, and his reason, for a time, departed. His sufferings during that dark hour, God only knows. He at last recovered his health and his senses, and then he heard, that, on his death-bed, the French servant had confessed his iniquity. It was from the lips of his brother, and under his roof, where he had been removed during his insanity, that R. learnt these events. He was released from prison, and his character was cleared of the imputation of crime.
“From this period R. was an altered man. His pride was effectually quelled; no longer did that disturber of earth’s happiness,—the real serpent of Eden,—remain to keep him in a state of alienation from his brother. The two were now, indeed, as brothers. But there were other changes in R.; his health was feeble, his constitution was broken; his manly beauty had departed, and he was but the wreck of former days. But, strange as it may seem, he now, for the first time, found peace and happiness. He had now tasted of sorrow, and was acquainted with grief. This enabled him to enter into the hearts of other men, to see their sorrows, and to desire to alleviate them. A new world was now open to him; a world of effort, of usefulness, of happiness. In the days of prosperity, he had no cares for anybody but himself; and mere selfishness had left him a wretch while in possession of all the supposed means of bliss. He had now made the discovery,—more important to any human being than that of Columbus,—that pride in the curse of the human race, and humility its own cure; that trial, sorrow, and misfortune are necessary, in most cases, to make us acquainted with our own hearts, and those of our fellow-men; and that true bliss is to be found only in a plan of life which seeks, earnestly and sincerely, the peace and happiness of others.”
Here ended R.’s story of the School of Misfortune; and I had no difficulty in discovering that he had been telling the story of his own life, though he had, in some respects, as I had reason to suppose, departed from its details.
“Merry’s Life and Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1841; pp. 149-151)
Sick-room incidents and reflections.
In my last chapter I concluded the story which Raymond told me, and which I entitled the “School of Misfortune.” At the time, I supposed he only related it for my amuseument, but I have since believed that he had a farther design; which wa, to show me that wealth, used to puff up the heart with pride, is a source of positive evil; and that poverty, sickness, misfortune, humiliation—provided they make the heart tender toward mankind, and open new springs of sympathy in the soul—are like kind and gentle schoolmasters, teaching us the true art of happiness. I believe now, that Raymond intended to impress this great lesson on my heart, as well because it is useful to all, as because he probably foresaw approaching events, in relation to my own circumstances, which might make it specially needful to me.
There is nothing which more shows the advantages of civilization, than the care and kindness bestowed upon the sick, among Christian nations. With savages, the sick person is usually left to himself, where, like a wild beast, he must await, in solitude, the result of his disease. There is little sympathy offered to him—there is no kind hand to wipe the cold sweat from his brow; no watchful friend at his bedside to supply every want, and alleviate, as far as may be, every pain. Sickness with the savage is solitary and desolate; with Christians, though it has its pains, it has its alleviations. I suffered much during the period of my confinement, as well from my broken limb as the fever that raged in my veins. After this was past, I also suffered from excessive languor.
But still, in the midst of all this, and though my mind was pained with shame and mortification, for the folly which had brought these evils upon me. I had a sense of peace and happiness shining through it all. This was wholly derived from the kindness of my friends. When Raymond sat by my bed, his benignant eye resting upon me, I felt an indescribable degree of delightful emotion, composed, I believe, partly of gratitude, and partly of a confidence that all that could be done, would be done, in my behalf. Often, as I awoke from my sleep, and saw him patiently watching by me, the tears would gush to my eyes: but they were not tears of unhappiness. I think he perceived my emotion, and I believe he understood my feelings. One thing is certain—that sick-bed was the best schoolmaster of my life; it brought me Raymond’s wise counsel; it brought me wholesome shame for my folly; it taught me my dependence on others. It also taught me one other lesson—and that is, never to distrust the kindness and virtue of my fellow-men. It seemed to open a window into the human heart, letting light and sunshine in, where people are too apt to see nothing by selfishness and darkness.
This latter lesson was enforced by many circumstances. Not only was my bosom touched by the kindness of Raymond, but also by that of my uncle. Twice each day did he come to see me, and he always treated me with more tenderness than seemed to belong to his nature. He was a hale man himself, and it was his boast that he had never had a sick day in his life. Indeed, he had little sympathy for sickness, and usually expressed himself in terms of contempt toward everybody that chanced to be less robust than himself. When I was at the height of my fever, he insisted that all I wanted, in order to make me well again, was some roast beef and raw brandy! Still, he did not interfere with the course prescribed by the physi-
cian, and took pains to see that every thing was done for me that was deemed useful or necessary.
My companions of the village often sent to inquire after me, and Bill Keeler frequently stole in just to look at me, and say, “God bless you, Bob!” All these things went to my heart; but nothing affected me more than an event which Imust notice with some detail.
The schoolmaster of the village was one of those men who seek to accomplish every object by sme indirect means. He was what is called a cunning man, and was, withal, exceedingly fond of power, in the exercise of which he was capricious, tyrannical and unjust. At first he treated me with the greatest attention, and in fact picked me out as one of his favorites, upon whom he lavished his smiles and his praises. He had great faith in flattery, and believed that any person, young or old, might be caught by it; and while it seemed to be his object to propitiate me, he laid it on pretty thick. I was well enough pleased with this for a time, though I had a sort of distrust of the man who could condescend to such means, and enter into such schemes of policy; and even though I yielded to his views, in many things, I had still no respect for, or confidence in, him.
There was in the school a boy by the name of William Bury, son of a poor Irishman, that lived in the village. He was remarkably small of his age, but exceedingly active, and withal lively and intelligent. At the same time he was shrewd and witty, and, perceiving the weak points of the schoolmaster’s character, occasionally made them the target of his wit. As the master rendered each boy in the school a spy upon his fellows, he knew everything that was said and done; and poor Bill Bury was often punished for the freedom with which he indulged his tongue.
In process of time, Will and myself became the antipodes of the school: I was the favorite, and he the reprobate. Whatever he did was wrong: whatever I did was right. Under such circumstances, it was natural that we should be rivals, and it was, no doubt, a part of the plan of the politic schoolmaster, to keep us thus divided, that he might rule the more effectually.
During this state of things, several of the school boys were one day skating upon a river that ran along the western border of the town—Will and myself being of the number. It had been filled with heavy rains, and was now of considerable width and depth. In the deepest part there was a breathing-hole in the ice, which, of course, we all sought to avoid. As I was swiftly skating toward this place, with the intention of turning aside as I approached it, one of my skates struck a small stick, which brought me down, and—carried forward by the impetus of my course—I was instantly plunged into the opening of the ice. I sunk beneath the surface of the water for a moment, but then rose, and caught hold of the ice, which, however, broke in my hands as I grapsed it.
It was but a few seconds before I was completely chilled; but, by this time, the boys around had raised a shout of terror, and several of them had gathered at a little distance, and were soon either silent with dismay, or raising idle screams for help. Among the number I noticed Bill Bury, and though I had been accustomed to speak lightly of him, I confess that at that fearful moment my only hope rested in him. Looking at me intently for a moment, and then casting a searching glance around, he sped away like an arrow. In the space of a minute, he returned, bringing a rail which he had plucked from a neighboring fence. Calling aloud for all around to give place, he laid the rail down upon the ice, and dex-
terously slid it across the opening, pushing it so close as to bring it within my reach. I was, however, so benumbed, that, in attempting to take hold of it, I lost my grasp of the ice, and sunk senseless beneath the wave.
Will hesitated not an instant, but plunged into the water, and, as I rose, he caught me in his arms. Grasping me tight by the right arm while he held on to the rail by the left, he supported himself and me; at the same time he commanded the boys to get two more rails. These were brought and laid across the opening, and thus support was furnished for two of them to come and lift us out.
In this way my life was saved: I owed it to the courage, skill, and devotedness of Will Bury—my rival, and, as I had esteemed him, my enemy. I was not so base as to overlook his generous conduct, or to permit the relation in which we stood to abate my praises of his noble action. But the schoolmaster, being one of those people who have always a selfish object in everything they say and do, fearing that his entire system of tactics would be broken up, if Will and I should become friends, took a different course. He indeed praised Will for an act that no one, it would seem, could fail to admire; but, at the same time, he sought every occasion, from that day, to ruin him in my estimation. At the same time he tried, in many cunning and sly ways, to poison Will’s mind with jealousy of me.
It was not long, therefore, before we were again in antagonist positions, and at last an open breach took place between us. In process of time, Will went to learn a trade of a carpenter, at the distance of a mile or two, and then I seldom saw him. Whenever we met we did not speak to each other. This was the state of things, when the accident happened which laid me on a bed of sickness. While I was recovering, I often thought of Will Bury, and my heart reproached me keenly for permitting my better feelings to be turned against him. In short, I yearned to see him, and it was while I was one day thinking about him, that I saw him come softly to the door and ask Raymond how I was. I instantly called him to my bedside, and I never felt a warmer emotion than when he came, and I threw my arms around his neck. He, too, was much affected, and tears—the first I ever saw the gay-hearted fellow shed—fell upon my cheek. From that day we were friends; and I thus learned to put a just value upon a generous heart—though it may belong to a poor boy.
“Merry’s Life and Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, December 1841; pp. 178-181)
Recovery from sickness.—Change of character.—Story of a quack.
In about two months after my accident, I rose from the sick bed, and was permitted to walk abroad. Although it was autumn, and the sere and yellow leaves were now nearly stript from the trees, the face of nature bore an aspect of loveliness to me. I had so long been shut up, and excluded alike from fresh air and the out-door scenes of life, that I was like a man long deprived of food, with a ravenous appetite and a full meal before him. I enjoyed everything; the air, the landscape, the walk—each and all delighted me. My fever was entirely gone, and, having nothing but weakness to contend with, I recovered my former state of health and strength in the course of a few weeks.
But I was not restored to my full flow of spirits—nor, indeed, from that day, have I ever felt again the joyous gush of boyhood emotions. My accident, attended by the wholesome shame it produced, had in no small degree abated my self-appreciation. I was humbled, if not before the world, at least in my own esteem. My sick-bed reflections, too, had served to sober my mind, and give me a sense of responsibility I had never felt before. I had, in short, passed from the gay thoughtlessness of a boy to somewhat of the sobriety of manhood.
I did not, myself, remark the changes in my manners or my character; but others did. My uncle, particularly, noticed it, and became uneasy, or, rather, vexed about it. He was a jolly old man, and wished everybody else to be jolly too. Nor could he readily comprehend why such a change should have come over me: he did not easily appreciate sickness, or its effects; nor did he estimate the sobering influences of reflection. He insisted upon it that I was “in the dumps” about something; and, half in jest and half in earnest, he scolded me from morn to night.
In spite of all this, I continued to be a much more serious personage than before, and my uncle at last became alarmed. Though a man of pretty good sense, in general, he entertained a contempt for physicians, especially those engaged in regular practice. If he had faith in any, it was in those who are usually called quacks. He believed that the power of healing lay rather in some natural gift, than in the skill acquired by study and practice. As usually happens in such cases, any impudent pretender could deceive him, and the more gross the cheat, the more readily ws he taken in, himself. Having made up his mind that I was, as he expressed himself, “in a bad way,” he was casting about as to what was to be done, when, one evening, a person,
notorious in those days, and an inhabitant of a neighboring town, chanced to stop at the tavern. This person was called Dr. Farnum, and, if I may use the expression, he was a regular quack.
I happened to be in the bar-room when the doctor came. He was a large, stout man, with grizzled hair, a long cue adown his back, and a small, fiery, gray eye. This latter feature was deep-set beneath a shaggy eyebrow, and seemed as restless as a red squirrel upon a tree, of a frosty morning. It was perpetually turning from object to object, seeming to take a keen and prying survey of everything around, as we sometimes see a cat, when entering a strange room. The doctor’s dress was even more remarkable than his person: he wore small-clothes—the fashion of the time—and top-boots, the upper portion being not a little soiled and fretted by time and use. His hat had a rounded crown, in the manner of an ancient helmet; and the brim, of enormous width, was supported on each side by strings running to the crown. His over-coat was long and ample, and of that reddish brown, called butternut color. I noticed that the hat and boots were of the same hue, and afterwards learned that this was a point of importance, for the person in question assumed and maintained the designation of the “but’nut doctor.”
Having greeted my uncle heartily, and said “good day” to the loungers around the fire, he took a seat, spread his feet apart, and, sliding his hands up and down his legs, from the thigh to the shin-bone, called for a glass of flip. This was soon provided, and taking a large quid of tobacco out of his mouth—which he held in his hand, to be restored to its place after the liquor was discussed—he applied himself to the steaming potation. Having tasted this, and smacked his lips, a lickerish smile came over his face, and turning round to the company he said, in an insinuating tone—“Does any on ye know of any body that ’s sick in these parts?”
There was a momentary paause—and then Mat Olmstead, the standing wag of the village, replied: “Nobody, I guess, unless it ’s Deacon Kellig’s cow.”
“Well,” said the doctor, not at all abashed at the titter which followed—“well, I can cure a cow; it ’s not as if I was one of your college-larnt doctors; I should then be too proud to administer to a brute. But, the scriptur’ says, a marciful man is marciful to a beast—and I prefer follerin’ scriptur’ to follerin’ the fashion. If Providence has given me a gift, I shall not refuse to bestow it on any of God’s critters that stand in need on ’t.”
“Well,” said Matthew, “do you cure a cow with the same physic that you cure a man?”
“Why not?” said Farnum; “it ’s better to be cured by chance, than killed by rule. The pint is, to get cured, in case of sickness, whether it ’s a beast, or a man. Nater ’s the great physician, and I foller that.”
“What is nater?” said Olmstead.
“Nater? Ah, that ’s the question! Nater ’s—nater!”—
“Indeed?—but can’t you tell us what it is?”
“I guess I could, if I tried: it ’s the most mysteriousest thing in the univarsal world. I’ve looked into ’t, and I know. Now, when a cow has lost the cud, so that it won’t work up or down, I go to a place where there ’s some elder; then I cut some strips of the bark up; and I cut come on ’t down; and I cut some on ’t round and round. I then make a wad on ’t, and put it down the cow’s throat. That part of the bark that ’s cut up, brings the cud up; that part that ’s cut down, carries it down; and that part that ’s cut round and round,
makes it work round and round: and so, you see, there ’s a kind of huzzlety muzzlety, and it sets everything agoin’, and all comes right, and the critter ’s cured as clean as mud. That ’s what I call nater!”
This speech was uttered with a very knowing air, and it seemed to derive additional authority from the long cure and broad brim of the speaker. He looked around, and perceived a sort of awful respect in the countenances of the hearers. Even the shrewd and satirical Matthew was cowed by the wisdom and authority of the doctor. My uncle, who had hitherto stood behind the bar, now came forward, and, sitting down by his side, inquired how it was that he had gained such a wonderful sight of knowledge.
“Why,” says Farnum, “there ’t is agin, squire; it ’s nater—it ’s clear nater. I never went to college, but I had a providential insight into things from my childhood. Now, here ’s my but’nut physic—it ’s true, an Indian give me the fust notion on ’t; but I brought it to perfection, from my own study into nater. Now, all them doctors’ stuffs that you git at the pottekary’s, is nothin’ but pizen; thur ’s no nater in ’t. My physic is all yarbs—every mite on ’t. I can cure a man, woman, or child, jest as sure as a cat ’ll lick butter! There ’s no mistake.”
“Well, how did you find it out, doctor?” said my uncle, seeming anxious to give him an opportunity to unfold his wisdom.
“Can you tell why a duck takes to water?” said Farnum, with a look of conscious importance. “It ’s because it ’s in him. ’T was jest so with me. I had a nateral instinct that telled me that there was something very mysterious in the number seven. I expect I got some on ’t from the scriptur’, for there ’s a great deal there about it. Well, one dark, rainy night, as I was goin’ along thro’ some woods, thinkin’ about somethin’ or other, I came to a bridge over a river. The wind was blowin’ desput hard, and it seemed to go through me like a hetchel through a hand of flax. I stood there a minit, and then I looked down into the dark water, wolloping along; and, thinks I, it ’s all exactly like human nater. Well, now, if you ’ll believe me, jest as that are thought crossed my mind, I heerd a hoot-owl in the woods. He hooted jest seven times, and then he stopped. Then he hooted seven times more, and so kept goin’ on, till he’d hooted jest forty-nine times. Now, thinks I to myself, this must mean somethin’, but I could n’t tell what. I went home, but I did n’t sleep any. The next day I could n’t eat anything, and, in fact, I grew as thin as a June shad. All the time I was thinkin’ of the bridge, and the wind whistlin’, and the river, and the dark rollin’ water, and the hoot-owl that spoke to me seven times seven times.
“Well, now, there was an Indian in the place, who was famous for curin’ all sorts of diseases with yarbs. I went to see him one day, and tell’d him I was sick. He ax’d me what was the matter, and I related the story of the owl. ‘You are the man I have been seeking for,’ said he. ‘The spirit of the night has told me that I shall soon die; and he has commanded me to give my secret to one that shall be sent. In seven weeks from the time that you were at the bridge, meet me there at midnight.’
“True to the appointment, I went to the bridge. It was a rainy night agin, and agin the wind howled over the bridge—agin the owl was there, and agin he lifted up his voice forty-nine times. At that moment I saw the dark Indian come upon the bridge. He then told me his secret. ‘Man,’ said he, ‘is subject to seven times seven diseases
and there are seven times seven plants made for their cure. Go, seek, and you shall find!’ Saying this, the dark figure leaped over the bridge, and disappeared in the waters. I stood and heerd a gurgling and choking sound, and saw somethin’ strugglin’ in the stream; but the Indian disappeared, and I have never seen him sence. I went from the place, and I soon found the forty-nine yarbs, and of these I make my pills. Each pill has seven times seven ingredients in it; though but’nut ’s the chief, and that ’s why it ’s called but’nut physic. You may give it in any disease, and the cure for ’t is there. I’ve tried it in nine hundred and thirty-seven cases, and it haint failed but six times, and that, I reckon, was for want of faith. Here ’s some of the pills; there ’s forty-nine in a box, and the price is a dollar.”
Such was the doctor’s marvellous tale, and every word of it was no doubt a fiction.
It may seem strange that such an impostor as this should succeed; but, for some reason or other, mankind love to be cheated by quacks. This is the only reason I can assign for the fact that Dr. Farnum sold six boxes of his pills before he left the tavern, and one of them to my uncle. The next day, he insisted upon my taking seven of them, and, at his urgent request, I complied. The result was, that I was taken violently ill, and was again confined to my room for a fortnight. At length I recovered, and my uncle insisted that if I had not taken the pills, I should have had a much worse turn; and, therefore, it was regarded as a remarkable proof of the efficacy of Farnum’s pills. Some two or three years after, I saw my own name in the doctor’s advertisement, among a list of persons who had been cured in a wonderful manner, by the physic of the butternut doctor.
I have thought it worth while to note these incidents, because they amused me much at the time, and proved a lesson to me through life—which I commend to all my readers—and that is, never to place the slightest confidence in a quack.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1842; pp. 12-16)
Emigration to Utica.—An expedition.—The salamander hat.—A terrible threat.—A Dutchman’s hunt for the embargo on the ships.—Utica long ago.—Interesting story of the Seneca chief.
I have now reached a point when the events of my life became more adventurous. From this time forward, at least for the space of several years, my history is crowded with incidents; and some of them are not only interesting to myself, but I trust their narration may prove so to my readers.
When I was about eighteen years of age, I left Salem for the first time since my arrival in the village. At that period there were a good many people removing from the place where I lived, and the vicinity, to seek a settlement at Utica. That place is now a large city, but at the time I speak of, about five and thirty years ago, it was a small settlement, and surrounded with forests. The soil in that quarter was, however, reputed to be very rich, and crowds of people were flocking to the land of promise.
Among others who had made up their minds to follow the fashion of that day, was a family by the name of Stebbins, consisting of seven persons. In order to convey these, with their furniture, it was necessary to have two wagons, one of which was to be driven by Mat Olmsted, and, at my earnest solicitation, my uncle consented that I should conduct the other.
After a preparation of a week, and having bade farewell to all my friends, Raymond, Bill Keeler, and my kind old uncle, and all the rest, we departed. Those who are ignorant of the state of things at that day, and regard only the present means of travelling, can hardly conceive how great the enterprise was esteemed, in which I was now engaged. It must be remembered that no man had then even dreamed of a rail-road or a steamboat. The great canal, which now connects Albany with Buffalo, was not commenced. The common roads were rough and devious, and instead of leading through numerous towns and villages, as at the present day, many of them were only ill-worked passages through swamps and forests. The distance was about two hundred miles—and though it may now be travelled in twenty hours, it was esteemed, for our loaded wagons, a journey of two weeks. Such is the mighty change which has taken place, in our country, in the brief period of thirty-five years.
I have already said that Mat Olmsted was somewhat of a wag; he was, also, a cheerful, shrewd, industrious fellow, and well suited to such an expedition. He encountered every difficulty with energy, and enlivened the way by his jokes and his pleasant observations.
It was in the autumn when we began our journey, and I remember one evening, as we had stopped at a tavern, and were sitting by a blazing fire, a young fellow came in with a new hat on. It was very glossy, and the youth seemed not a little proud of it. He appeared also to be in excellent humor with himself, and had, withal, a presuming and conceited air. Approaching where Mat was sitting, warming himself by the fire, the young man shoved him a little aside, saying, “Come, old codger, can’t you make room for your betters?”
“To be sure I can for such a handsome gentleman as yourself,” said Mat, good naturedly; he then added, “That’s a beautiful hat you ’ve got on, mister; it looks like a real salamander!”
“Well,” said the youth, “it ’s a pretty good hat, I believe; but whether it ’s a salamander, or not, I can’t say.”
“Let me see it,” said Olmsted; and,
taking it in his hand, he felt of it with his thumb and finger, smelt of it, and smoothed down the fur with his sleeve. “Yes,” said he, at length, “I ’ll bet that ’s a real salamander hat; and if it is you may put it under that forestick, and it won’t burn any more than a witch’s broomstick.”
“Did you say you would bet that it ’s a salamander hat?” said the young man.
“To be sure I will,” said Mat; “I ’ll bet you a mug of flip of it; for if there ever was a salamander hat, that ’s one. Now I ’ll lay that if you put it under the forestick, it won’t singe a hair of it.”
“Done!” said the youth, and the two having shaken hands in token of mutual agreement, the youth gave his hat to Olmsted, who thrust it under the forestick. The fire was of the olden fashion, and consisted of almost a cartload of hickory logs, and they were now in full blast. The people in the bar-room, attracted by the singular wager, had gathered round the fire, tos ee the result of the experiment. In an instant the hat was enveloped by the flames, and in the course of a few seconds it began to bend and writhe, and then curled into a scorched and blackened cinder.
“Hulloo!” said Mat Olmsted, seizing the tongs and poking out the crumpled relic from the bed of coals, at the same time adding, with well-feigned astonishment, “Who ever did see the like of that! it was n’t a salamander, arter all! Well, mister, you ’ve won the bet. Hulloo, landlord, give us a mug of flip.”
The force of the joke soon fell upon the conceited young man. He had indeed won the wager—but he had lost his hat! At first he was angry, and seemed disposed to make a personal attack upon the cause of his mortification; but Matthew soon cooled him down. “Don’t mind it, my lad,” said he; “it will do you good in the long run. You are like a young cockerel, that is tickled with his tall red comb, and having had it pecked off, is ever after a wiser fowl. Take my advice, and if you have a better hat than your neighbors, don’t think that it renders you better than they. It ’s not the hat, but the head under it, that makes the man. At all events, don’t be proud of your hat till you get a real salamander!”
This speech produced a laugh at the expense of the coxcomb, and he soon left the room. He had suffered a severe rebuke, and I could hardly think that my companion had done altogether right; and when I spoke to him afterward, he seemed to think so himself. He, however, excused what he had done, by saying that the fellow was insolent, and he hoped the lesson would be useful to him.
We plodded along upon our journey, meeting with no serious accident, and in the course of five or six days we were approaching Albany. Within the distance of a few miles, Matthew encountered a surly fellow, in a wagon. The path was rather narrow, and the man refused to turn out and give half the road. High words ensued, and, finally, my friend, brandishing his whip, called out aloud, “Turn out, mister; if you don’t, I ’ll sarve you as I did the man back!”
The wagoner was alarmed at this threat, and turning out, gave half the road. As he was passing by, he had some curiosity to know what the threat protended; so he said, “Well, sir, how did you serve the man back?” “Why,” said Matthew, smiling, “I turned out myself!” This was answered by a hearty laugh, and after a few pleasant words between the belligerent parties, they separated, and we pursued our journey.
Albany is now a large and handsome
city; but at the time I speak of, it contained but about three thousand people, a very large part of whom were Dutch, and who could not speak much English. None of the fine streets and splendid public buildings, which you see there now, were in existence then. The streets were narrow and dirty, and most of the houses were low and irregular, with steep roofs, and of a dingy color. Some were built of tiles, some of rough stones, some of wood, and some of brick. But it was, altogether, one ofthe most disagreeable looking places I ever saw.
We remained there but a few hours. Proceeding on our journey, we soon reached Schenectady, which we found to be a poor, ill-built, Dutch village, though it is a handsome town now. We stopped here for the night; and, a little while after we arrived, a man with a wagon, his wife and three children, arrived also at the tavern. He was a Dutchman, and seemed to be in a very ill-humor. I could hardly understand what he said, but by a little help from Matthew, I was able to make out his story.
You must know that Congress had passed a law forbidding any ships to go to sea; and this was called an embargo. The reason of it was, that England had treated this country very ill; and so, to punish her, this embargo was laid on the ships, to prevent people from carrying flour and other things to her, which she wanted very much; for many of her people were then engaged in war, and they could not raise as much grain as they needed.
Well, the old Dutchman had heard a great deal about the embargo onthe ships; for the two parties, the democrats and federalists, were divided in opinion about it, and accordingly it was the subject of constant discussion. I remember that wherever we went, all the people seemed to be talking about the embargo. The democrats praised it as the salvation of the country, and the federalists denounced it as the country’s ruin. Among these divided opinions, the Dutchman was unable to make uphis mind about it, accordingly, he hit upon an admirable method to ascertain the truth, and satisfy his doubts. He tackled his best horses to the family wagon, and, taking his wife and three children, travelled to Albany to see the embargo on the ships!
Wel, he drove down to the water’s edge, and there were the vessels, sure enough; but where was the embargo? He inquired first of one man, and thenof another, “Vare is de embargo? I vish to see de embargo vat is on de ships!” What he expected to see I cannot tell; but he had heard so much said about it, and it was esteemed, by one party at least, the cause of such multiplied evils, that he, no doubt, supposed the embargo must be something that could be seen and felt. But all his inquiries were vain. One person laughed at him, another snubbed him as an old fool, and others treated him as a maniac. At last he set out to return, and when he arrived at the tavern in Schenectady, he was not only bewildered in his mind, but he was sorely vexed in spirit. His conclusion was, that the embargo was a political bugbear, and that no such creature actually existed!
We set out early the next morning, and by dint of plodding steadily on through mud and mire, we at last reached the town of Utica, having been fourteen days in performing the journey from Salem. We found the place to contain about a thousand people, all the houses being of wood, and most of them built of logs, in the fashion of the log cabin. The town, however, had a bustling and thriving appearance, notwithstanding that the stumps of the forest were still standing in the streets.
I noticed a great many Indians about the town, and soon learned that they consisted of the famous tribes called the Six Nations. Some of these are still left in the state of New York, but they have dwindled down to a very small number. But at the time I speak of, they consisted of several thousands, and were still a formidable race. They were at peace with the White people, and seemed to see their hunting grounds turned into meadows and wheat fields, with a kind of sullen and despairing submission.
One of the first settlers in this vicinity was Judge W., who established himself at Whitestown—about four miles from Utica. This took place nearly a dozen years before my visit. He brought his family with him, among whom was a widowed daughter with an only child—a fine boy of four years old. You will recollect that the country around was an unbroken forest, and that this was the domain of the savage tribes.
Judge W. saw the necessity of keeping on good terms with the Indians, for as he was nearly alone, he was completely at their mercy. Accordingly he took every opportunity to assure them of his kindly feelings, and to secure good-will in return. Several of the chiefs came to see him, and all appeared pacific. But there was one thing that troubled him; an aged chief of the Seneca tribe, and one of great influence, who resided at the distance of half a dozen miles, had not yet been to see him; nor could he, by any means, ascertain the views and feelings ofthe sachem, in respect to his settlement in that region. At last he sent him a message, and the answer was, that the chief would visit him on the morrow.
True to his appointment, the sachem came. Judge W. received him with marks of respect, and introduced his wife, his daughter, and the little boy. The interview that followed was deeply interesting. Upon its result, the judge conceived that his security might depend, and he was, therefore, exceedingly anxious to make a favorable impression upon the distinguished chief. He expressed to him his desire to settle the country; to live on terms of amity and good fellowship with the Indians; and to be useful to them by introducing among them the arts of civilization.
The chief heard him out, and then said, “Brother, you ask much, and you promise much. What pledge can you give me of your good faith?”
“The honor of a man that never knew deception,” was the reply.
“The white man’s word may be good to the white man, yet it is but wind when spoken to the Indian,” said the sachem.
“I have put my life into your hands,” said the judge; [“]is not this an evidence of my good intentions? I have placed confidence in the Indian, and I will not believe that he will abuse or betray the trust that is thus reposed.”
“So much is well,” replied the chief; “the Indian will repay confidence with confidence; if you will trust him he will trust you. But I must have a pledge. Let this boy go with me to my wigwam; I will bring him back in three days with my answer!”
If an arrow had pierced the bosom of the mother, she could not have felt a keener pang than went to her heart, as the Indian made this proposal. She sprung from her seat, and rushing to the boy, who stood at the side of the sachem, looking into his face with pleased wonder and admiration; she encircled him in her arms, and presing him close to her bosom, was about to fly from the room. A gloomy and ominous frown came over the sachem’s brow, but he did not speak.
But not so with Judge W. He knew
that the success of their enterprise, the very lives of his family, depended upon the decision of the moment. “Stay, stay, my daughter!” said he. “Bring back the boy, I beseech you. He is not more dear to you than to me. I would not risk the hair of his head. But, my child, he must go with the chief. God will watch over him! He will be as safe in the sachem’s wigwam as beneath our roof and in your arms.”
The agonized mother hesitated for a moment; she then slowly returned, placed the boy on the knee of the chief, and, kneeling at his feet, burst into a flood of tears. The gloom passed from the sachem’s brow, but he said not a word. He arose, took the boy in his arms and departed.
I shall not attempt to describe the agony of the mother for the three ensuing days. She was agitated by contending hopes and fears. In the night she awoke from sleep, seeming to hear the screams of her child calling upon its mother for help! But the time wore away—and the third day came. How slowly did the hours pass! The morning waned away; noon arrived; and the afternoon was now far advanced; yet the sachem came not. There was gloom over the whole household. The mother was pale and silent, as if despair was settling coldly around her heart. Judge W. walked to and fro, going every few minutes to the door, and looking through the opening in the forest toward the sachem’s abode.
At last, as the rays of the setting sun were thrown upon the tops of the forest around, the eagle feathers of the chieftain were seen dancing above the bushes in the distance. He advanced rapidly, and the little boy was at his side. He was gaily attired as a young chief—his feet being dressed in moccasins; a fine beaver skin was over his shoulders, and eagles’ feathers were stuck into his hair. He was in excellent spirits, and so proud was he of his honors, that he seemed two inches taller than before. He was soon in his mother’s arms, and in that brief minute, she seemed to pass from death to life. It was a happy meeting—too happy for me to describe.
“The white man has conquered!” said the sachem; “hereafter let us be friends. You have trusted the Indian; he will repay you with confidence and friendship.” He was as good as his word; and Judge W. lived for many years in peace with the Indian tribes, and succeeded in laying the foundation of a flourishing and prosperous community.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, February 1842; pp. 36-38)
We set out to return.—The woods.—A fierce animal.—A wild adventure.—Repose in the forest.
The horses and waggons with which we had travelled to Utica, belonging to Mr. Stebbins, he concluded to sell them, as he was offered a much greater price for them than he could have obtained in Salem. This arrangement left Mat O[l]msted and myself to find our way back on foot, for there were no stages, canal-boats, or rail-roads then.
I did not myself dislike the plan, for I was fond of a tramp, especially with so cheerful a companion as Matthew. It had an air of adventure, and so I set off for our return, with as buoyant a feeling as if I had been about to accomplish some great enterprise.
We had each provided ourselves with a bear-skin, which was rolled up and strapped upon the shoulder. Matthew had also obtained a tinder-box, with flint and steel; these precautions being necessary, as it was likely that we might occasionally be obliged to find our lodgings in the forest.
It was a bright morning in the latter part of November, when we departed, and the cheerfulness of the weather found its way to our bosoms. My friend, though not a talkative man, made an occasional sally of wit, and wore a smile upon his face. I was so light of heart as hardly to feel the ground upon which I trod. We marched rapidly on, and in a few hours were several miles from the town, and winding along the devious road that led through the tall forest.
Although the leaves were stripped from the trees, and the flowers were sleeping in their tombs—though the birds had fled, and their happy minstrelsy was heard no more, still there were signs of cheerfulness around us. The little woodpeckers were creeping up and down the hoary oaks, seeking for the worms that had taken winter quarters in the bark; the partridges were calling their mates by flapping their wings upon some rotten log, thus producing a sound like the roll of a distant drum; the black and gray squirrels, in vast numbers, were holding their revel upon the walnut and chestnut trees, occasionally chasing each other, like birds, among the branches. Small flocks of wild turkeys frequently crossed our path; and now and then a deer bounded before us, gazed backward for a moment, and then, with his tail and antlered head erect, plunged into the wood. We frequently saw racoons amidst the trees, moving about with a kind of gallop, or sitting upon their haunches like monkeys, and using their paws as if they were hands. Sometimes, as we approached them, they sprang up the trees, and having gained a secure elevation, would look down upon us,—their sharp black features assuming almost a smile of derision, and seeming to say, “If you want me, mister, come and get me!”
We marched on, amused by a multitude of little incidents, and as evening approached, had proceeded about five and twenty miles. It was our expectation to spend this night in the woods, and we were beginning to think of seeking a place for repose, when we heard a cry in the distance, like that of a child in distress. We listened for a moment, and then both of us plunged into the forest to seek the cause of this lamentation, and offer relief, if it should be needed. It grew more and more distinct as we proceeded, until at last, when we had reached the spot, beneath a lofty hemlock, whence the sounds seem-
ed to issue, it suddenly ceased. We looked around in every direction, and were not a little astonished that no human being was there. The space beneath the tree was open; not a bush or shrub was near to obstruct our sight, or afford concealment to any object that might have been the occasion of the thrilling cries we had heard.
While Matthew and myself stood looking at each other in amazement, I heard a slight rustling in the boughs of the hemlock, over our heads. I turned my eyes instantly in that direction, and met the gaze of the fiercest looking animal I had ever beheld. It was of the size of a large dog, with the figure of a cat, and was crouching as if to spring upon its prey. I had not time for reflection, for it leaped like an arrow from the bow, making me the object of its aim. Down came the formidable beast, its jaws expanded, its legs stretched out, and its claws displayed, ready to grapple me as it fell.
By instinct, rather than reason, I bent forward, and the creature passed over my head, striking directly against the foot of a sapling that stood in the way. My friend had seen the whole manuvre, and was ready, with his uplifted cane, to give him battle. Though stunned, the creature turned upon me, but he received from Matthew a rap over the skull that made him reel. At the same time my friend caught hold of his long tail, and drew him back, for he was at the instant about to fix his fangs upon me. Thus insulted, the enraged brute turned upon his enemy behind; but Mat held on to the tail with one hand, and pummelled him with the other. At the same time, in order to secure his advantage and keep off the teeth and claws of the monster, he gave him a whirling motion. So, round and round they went, the cudgel flying like a flail, and the beast leaping, scratching and howling, till the woods echoed with the sound. There was an odd mixture of sublimity and fun in the affair, that even then, in the moment of peril, I could not fail to feel. Mat’s hat had flown off, his hair streamed in the wind, and his glaring eyeballs watching every twist and turn of his enemy; his cane went raidly up and down; and all the while he was twitched and jerked about in a circle, by the struggles of the beast.
This passed in the space of a few seconds, and I had hardly time to recover my self-possession, before Matthew and the monster were both getting out of breath. I thought it was now time for me to join in the fight, and, approaching the beast, I laid my cane, with the full weight of both hands, over his head. It was a lucky blow, for he instantly staggered and fell upon the ground. Matthew let go his hold, and there lay the beast prostrate before us!
“Better late than never!” said Matthew, puffing like a porpoise. “Better late than never. Whew! I’m as hot as a flap-jack on a griddle,—whew! The unmannerly beast!—whew! So! this is the way of the woods, is it?—whew! You pretend to be a child in distress—whew! and then you expect to make a supper of us!—whew! The infarnal hyppecrite!—whew!”
“Well, what sort of beast do you call it?” said I.
“Why,” said my friend, “it ’s a catamount, or a wild-cat, or a panther—the varmint! It ’s just like all other scamps; it ’s got a long parcel of names; in one place it goes by one name, and in another place it goes by another. But it ’s the most rebellious critter that ever I met with! He came plaguy nigh givin’ your hair a combing.”
“That he did,” said I; “and if you hadn’t been here to comb his, I should have had a hard time of it.”
“Like as not—like as not,” was the
reply. “But, arter all,” said Matthew, looking at the panther, now lying outstretched upon the ground, and bearing all the marks of great agility and power, “arter all, it ’s a pity that such a fine fellow hadn’t better manners. It ’s one of God’s critters, and I expect that he loved life as well as his betters. He ’s a noble brute—though I can’t commend his tricks upon travellers. Poor beast! I’m sorry for you; howsomdever, accidents will happen: it ’s all luck and chance; it might have been Bob, or it might have been me. Well, it can’t be helped—what ’s done is done.”
Matthew having settled the matter in this speech, we left the place, and at a little distance, beneath the partial shelter of a rock, we struck up a fire and made preparations for our repose, for it was already night.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1842; pp. 79-83)
I cannot easily make my readers, who have always lived in cities or towns, understand the pleasure of sleeping in the woods, with no roof but the sky. Perhaps most persons would think this a hardship, and so it would be, if we had to do it always: but by way of adventure now and then, and particularly when one is about seventeen, with such a clever fellow as Mat Olmsted for a companion and a guide, the thing is quite delightful.
The affair with the panther had excited my fancy, and filled my bosom with a deep sense of my own importance. It seemed to me that the famous exploits of Hercules, in Greece, which are told by the old poets, were, after all,
such thing as I could myself achieve, if the opportunity only should offer.
Occupied with these thoughts, I assisted Mat in collecting some fagots for our night fire—but every moment kept looking around, expecting to see some wild animal peeping his face between the trunks of the gray old oaks. In one instance I mistook a stump for a bear’s head, and in another I thought a bush at a little distance, was some huge monster, crouching as if to spring upon us.
The night stole on apace, and soon we were surrounded with darkness, which was rendered deeper by the fire we had kindled. The scene was now, even more wild than before; the trees that stood around, had the aspect of giants, lifting their arms to the sky;—and their limb often assumed the appearance of serpents, or demons, goggling at us from the midnight darkness. Around us was a seeming tent, curtained with blackness, through which not a ray of light could penetrate.
I amused myself for a long time, in looking at these objects, and I remarked that they assumed different aspects at different times—a thing which taught me a useful lesson, and which I will give, gratis, to my young readers. It is this, that fancy, when indulged, has the power to change objects to suit its own wayward humor. Whoever wishes to be guided right, ought, therefore, to beware how he takes fancy for a guide.
When our fire had been burning for about half an hour, Matthew having unbuckled his pack, took out some dried deer’s flesh, upon which we made a hearty supper; we then began to talk about one thing and another, and, finally, I spoke of the Indians, expressing my curiosity to know more about them. Upon this, Mat said he would tell an Indian story, and accordingly, he proceeded nearly as follows:
These six nations, you must know, were not originally confined to this small tract of country, but they were spread far and wide over the land. Nor were they always united, but in former days they waged fierce wars with one another. It was the custom among all the tribes to put captives to death, by burning them, inflicting at the same time the most fearful tortures upon the victims. Sometimes, however, they adopted the captive, if he shows extraordinary fortitude, into the tribe, and gave him all the privileges of the brotherhood.
An instance of this sort occurred with the Senecas. They had been at war with the Chippewas, who lived to the north. Two small bands of these rival tribes met, and every one of the Chippewas was slain, save only a young chief named Hourka. He was taken, and carried to the village of the victorious Senecas. Expecting nothing but torture and death, he awaited his fate, without a question, or a murmur. In a day or two, he saw the preparations making for his sacrifice: a circular heap of dried fagots was erected, and near it a stake was driven in the ground.
To this he was tied, and the fagots were set on fire. The scorching blaze soon flashed near his limbs, but he shrunk not. An Indian then took a sharp piece of stone, and cut a gash in Hourka’s side, and inserted in it a glazing knot of pine. This burned down to the flesh, but still the sufferer showed no signs of distress. The people of the tribe, came around him, and jeered at him, calling him coward, and every other offensive name: but they extorted not from him an impatient word. The boys and the women seemed to be foremost in taunting him; they caught up blazing pieces of the fagots, and thrust them against his naked flesh; but yet, he stood unmoved, and his face was serene
showing, however, a slight look of disdain. There was something in his air which seemed to say, “I despise all your arts—I am an Indian chief, and beyond your power.”
Now it chanced that a daughter of an old chief of the Senecas, was there, and her heart was touched with the courage and manly beauty of the youthful Chippewa; so she determined to save his life if she could: and knowing that a crazy person is thought by the Indians to be inspired, she immediately pretended to be insane. She took a large fragment of the burning fagot in her hand, and circling around Hourka, screamed in the most fearful manner. She ran among the wom[e]n and the boys, scattering the fire on all sides, and at the same time exclaiming, “Set the captive free,—it is the will of Manitto, the Great Spirit!”
This manoeuvre of the Indian maiden was so sudden, and her manner was so striking, that the Indians around were taken by a momentary impulse, and rushing to the captive, sundered the strings of bark that tied him to the stake, and, having set him at liberty, greeted him as a brother. From this time, Hourka became a member of the tribe into which he was thus adopted, and none treated him otherwise than as a chief, in whose veins the blood of the Senecas was flowing, save only a huge chief, called Abomico.
This Indian was of gigantic size, and proportionate power. He had taken more scalps in fight, than any other young chief, and was, therefore, the proudest of all the Senecas. He was looked upon by the girls of the tribe, very much as a young man is among us, who is worth a hundred thousand dollars. When, therefore, he said to Meena—the daughter of the chief who saved the life of Hourka—that he wanted her for his wife, he was greatly amazed to find that she did not fancy him. He went away wondering that he could be refused, but determining to try again. Now the long, dangling soaplocks, and filthy patches of beard, worn by our modern dandies, who desire to dazzle the eyes of silly girls—were not in vogue among the Senecas: but foppery is a thing known among savages as well as civilized people.
Accordingly, Abomico, when he had determined to push his suit with Meena, covered himself entirely over with a thick coat of bear’s grease; he then painted one side of his face yellow, the other blue; his arms he painted red; on his breast he drew the figure of a snake; on one leg he painted a skunk; on the other a bear. Around his neck he hung a necklace of bears’ claws, and on his arm he bore forty bloody scalps, which he had taken from the heads of enemies slain in battle; at his back was a quiver of arrows, and in his left hand was a bow. In his hair was stuck a bunch of eagles’ feathers; from his right ear swung the skin of a racoon; in his right hand he bore the wing of a crow.
Thus attired, Abomico marched toward the tent, where Meena dwelt with her father. Never was a beau of one of our cities, new from the hands of the tailor, more delighted with his appearance, than was this Indian dandy, as he drew near to the tent, and waited at the door for the maiden to appear. “If she can resist my charms now,”—thought Abomico,—“she must be bewitched indeed!”
Meena soon appeared—and the chief spoke to her again, begging her to become his wife. “Come!” said he—“go with me, and be the singing-bird in my nest. I am a great warrior. I have slain forty brave men in battle. I have feasted on the flesh, and drunk the warm blood, of my enemies. I have the
strongest arm, the truest hand, the swiftest foot, the keenest eye, of any chief in the mighty tribe of the Senecas.”
“It is not true!” said Meena.
“Not true?” said the chief, in great anger and astonishment. “Who dares to match himself with Abomico? Who can vie with him in the race? Who can shoot with him at the mark? Who can leap with him at the bar?”
“Hourka!” said Meena.
“It is a lie,” said Abomico; though I must say, that he meant no offence—because, among the Indians, such a speech was not a discourtesy.
“Nay—nay,” said Meena—“I speak the truth; you have come to ask me to be your wife. Hourka has made the same request. You shall both try your power in the race and the leap, and at the bow. He who shall be the master in the trial, may claim Meena for his slave.”
This proposition was gladly accepted, and Hourka being informed of it, a time for the trial was appointed. The people of the village soon heard what was going on; and, as the Indians are always fond of shows and holidays, they rejoiced to hear of the promised sport.
The day of the trial arrived. In a grassy lawn, the sport was to be held; and here the throng assembled. It was decreed by the chiefs that the first trial should be with the bow. A large leaf was spread out upon a forked branch of a tree, and this was set in the ground, at the distance of about fifty yards. Abomico shot first, and his arrow pierced the leaf, within half an inch of the centre. Hourka followed, and his arrow flew wide from the mark, not even touching the leaf. But, as he turned his eye upon Meena, he saw a shade of sorrow come over her face.
In an instant the manner of the young chief changed. He said to himself,—“I have been mistaken: I thought the maiden slighted me and preferred by rival: but now I know that she loves me, and I can now beat Abomico.”
There were to be three trials of the bow. In the two which followed the first, which we have described, Hourka had the advantage and was pronounced the victor. And now came the leap. A pole was set horizontally upon stakes, to the height of about five feet, and Hourka, running a little distance, cleared it easily. Abomico followed, and he also leaped over it with facility. It was then raised about a foot, and Hourka, bounding like a deer of the wood, sprang over the pole, amid the admiring shouts of the multitude. Abomico made a great effort, and he too went over, but his foot grazed the piece of wood, and the victory here again was awarded to Hourka.
The face of the haughty Abomico, now grew dark as the thunder-cloud. He could bear to be rejected by Meena; but to be thus vanquished before the whole tribe, and that too by one who had not the real blood fo a Seneca, was more than his pride could bear. He was, therefore, plotting some scheme of revenge, when the race was marked out by the chiefs. It was decreed that they should run side by side to a broad river which was near; that they should swim across; ascend on the opposite bank to a place above a lofty cataract in the river, and recrossing the river there, return to the point of their departure.
The place occupied by the spectators, was so elevated as to command a fine view of the entire race-ground; and the interest was intense, as the two chiefs departed, bounding along, side by side, like two coursers. The race was long nearly equal. They came to the river, and at the same moment both plunged into the water. They swam across, and at the same moment clambered up the
rocky bank on the other shore. Side by side they ran, straining every muscle. They ascended to the spot above the roaring cataract, and plunged into the river; then drew near the place where the water broke over the rocks in a mighty sheet, making the earth tremble with the shock of their fall. Still the brave swimmers heeded not the swift current that drew them toward the precipice. Onward they pressed, cutting the element like ducks, and still side by side.
Intense was the interest of the spectators, as they witnessed the strife. But what was their amazement, when they saw Abomico rise above the wave, grapple Hourka and drag him directly toward the edge of the cataract. There was a shout of horror, through the tribe, and then a deathlike silence. The struggle of the two rivals was fearful, but in a short space, clinging to each other, they rolled over the precipice, and disappeared among the mass of foam, far and deep below!
Killed, by falling on the rocks, and gashed by many a ghastly wound, the huge form of Abomico was soon seen drifting down the stream; while Hourka swam to the shore, and claimed his willing bride, amid the applauses of men, women and children.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, May 1842; pp. 150-154)
We are told that the wandering Arabs, after the day’s march over the desert which they love to inhabit, gather in groups at night and amuse each other by telling tales. It always seemed to me that a story under these circumstances would be more interesting than if told in the house, by the quiet fireside; for the feelings and fancy are apt to be excited when there is nothing but the heavens above us and the wide landscape around us. Certain I am that Mat Olmsted’s story of the Chippewa Chief and his bride Meena, seemed far more interesting from the fact that it was related in the woods, by the side of a watch-fire. It must be understood that my friend was no scholar; and, though I have amended his language as to the grammar, I have not added to its point or significance. His Yankee phrases and tone gave additional force to his narrative; and, owing to this and the circumstances under which he told his tale, it made such an impression on my mind, that I remember it better than anything else which has lain so long in memory.
I slept pretty well during the night, though I waked up several times, and saw Mat with one eye open, at my side. Feeling that I had a faithful sentinel to keep guard, I fell back into my repose. The sun rose at last. It was a beautiful frosty morning, and the black and gray squirrels were enlivening the woods with their merry gambols. I should gladly have stayed in the place for a long time, and really began to feel that I should like to turn Indian and make the forest my dwelling-place. But this was momentary: we soon began our march, and entering the high road, proceeded on our way to Albany.
I have not time or space to tell all the little adventures we met with—all the good jokes Mat uttered, or the smart speeches he made. I must hurry on in my story, for I am afraid that, if I do not, my readers will think it like the old woman’s stocking—the more she knit, the further she got from the end of it.
We reached Albany in a few days, and finding a sloop about departing for New York, we concluded to take passage in her and go to that city. This was a little out of our way, but we did not mind that. The captain of the vessel was a Dutchman, and his name was Dyke. He was a short, stout, broad-shouldered man, and his pantaloons were made somewhat like petticoats hitched up between his legs. He had a pipe in his mouth nearly the whole time; and such clouds of smoke as he did send forth! Puff, puff, puff! Mat Olmsted called him Captain Volcano, more than half the time. However, he
was a good sailor, and he managed the sloop very well.
Beside Mat and myself, there was a young man on board, who had been collecting furs from the Indians, and was now proceeding to sell them at New York. He was a pleasant fellow, and such lots of stories as he and Mat and the Dutch captain told, I never heard before. I could fill a book with them; but I shall only give a sample from each of the narrators.
One moonlight evening, as we were gliding down the Hudson river, its broad bosom seeming like a sea of silver, we were all seated on the deck of the vessel, the captain, as usual, puffing at his pipe as if he was carrying on a manufactory of clouds, and was paid by the hogshead. For some time there was a dead silence; when at last the captain took his pipe from his mouth, and gravely remarked that his father was the bravest man that ever lived.
“How so?” says Matthew.
“Look here,” said Captain Dyke, pointing to a little island in the river which we were then passing. “That island,” he continued, “was once the resort of Captain Kid, the famous pirate, who had a fine ship in which he sailed over the world, and, robbing every vessel he met of its money, collected a vast deal of gold and silver. After a long voyage, he used to sail up this river and bury his money on this island. When I was a boy, there was a hut still standing there, which was said to have been built by Kid himself.
“There were a great many wild stories told about this hut; for it was said that the captain and his crew used to hold their revels there. Long after the famous freebooter was hung, and his companions were dead, it was maintained that strange noises were heard in the hut, and several persons who had peeped in at night declared that they had seen Kid there in the midst of his jolly sailors, all of them drinking, singing, and telling wild tales of the sea.
“Now my father, as I have said, was a brave man, and he offered to sleep in the hut one night for a bottle of brandy. This banter was accepted, and my father was put over to the island in a boat and left to himself. He had taken care to have the bottle of brandy with him. He repaired to the hut, and sat himself down upon a sailor’s chest which chanced to be there.
“There was no furniture in the room, save a rough table which stood int he centre, and an old-fashioned high-backed chair. My father placed the bottle on the table, and which, by the way, was one of your deep craft, with a long neck, and holding somewhere about half a gallon.
“After sitting nearly an hour upon the chest, all the while looking at the bottle, which glimmered in the moonlight that stole between the rafters of the hut, my father laid himself down on the floor and tried to go to sleep. He had not lain long, however, before the bottle slid gently off the table, and then began to lengthen, till it grew up as tall as a woman. Pretty soon it assumed the shape of one of my father’s sweethearts, and beckoned to him to come and kiss her! With this request he complied, of course, and then they fell to dancing in a very merry style. As they were whirling round and round, the old chair began to bob about, and at the same moment the rickety table rocked to and fro, then whirled round and performed a pirouette upon one of its legs. A moment after, these two joined hand in hand with my father and his sweetheart, and round and round they flew. Everything went on like a regular cotillon. It was back to back, cross over, right and left, chassez, and balance to partners! My father was in great spirits, and he performed the
double shuffle to admiration. The old table did the same, the high-backed chair followed, and Miss Bottle beat them all. Such pigeon-wings as she executed never were seen before! The whole party caught the spirit of the moment, and it now seemed to be a strife to see which would surpass the rest in feats of grace and agility.
“My father had seen many a frolic, but never such a one as that; and, what was remarkable, the dance seemed constantly to increase in quickness and merriment. The top of the table looked like the jolly face of a Dutchman, the mouth stretched wide, and the eyes goggling with laughter. The old chair seemed to nod and wink with elvish mirth; and the maiden, who all the time appeared to have a queer resemblance to a bottle, frisked and flirted the gayest of the party. On went the dance, until my father was entirely out of breath; but there was no cessation to the sport. There seemed to be an old fiddler standing in one corner, but nothing save two eyes and his elbow were distinctly visible. The latter flew more rapidly every moment, the music quickened, and the dancers kept time. For seven hours my father performed his part in the dance, until, at last, he reeled, and, falling forward, knocked the table, the chair, and the bottle all into a heap. The vision immediately vanished, and soon after there was a rapping at the door. The people had come over to the island, for it was now morning. They found my father in a swoon, lying across the table, the chair crushed, and the bottle broken in a hundred fragments, which lay scattered on the floor.”
“A strange story that,” says Matthew, as the Dutchman paused; “but I wish to ask one question. Was there any liquor upon the floor where the bottle was broken?”
“Not a drop,” said the Dutchman; “and that ’s a good proof that old Nick himself was there to drink the liquor.”
“No, no,” said Matthew, significantly; “it only proves that your father kissed Miss Bottle a little too often; so he got drunk and had the nightmare, and all this scene was a vision of his brain! This proves that your father could drink two quarts of brandy in a single night. I had an uncle who performed a greater feat than that in the revolutionary war, for he captured a British officer with a sausage!”
“Indeed!” said the captain and the fur-trader both at once; “let us hear the story.”
“Well,” said Matthew; “it happened thus. At one time during the war, as you all know, Washington was situated with his little army at Tappan, near the North river, while Sir Harry Clinton, the British commander, with his troops, were at New York. The space between the two armies was called the Neutral Ground, and it was chiefly occupied by a set of people called Cow-boys. These fellows went back and forth, trading with both parties, and cheating everybody, as they could get a chance.
“Now my uncle, whose name was Darby, was a Cow-boy by profession, but he was a patriot in disguise, as you shall hear. One cold winter’s night he was trudging along over the road with a bag of sausages on his back, going to sell them to General Putnam, whose quarters were at the distance of three or four miles. As he was walking along over a lonely part of the road, it being a little after sunset and already growing dark, he heard a horse’s gallop at no great distance. He was at the bottom of a hill, and in the midst of a thick wood. Looking to the top of the hill, he saw a man on horseback, who now began gently to come down the descent. My uncle was not only made for a patriot, but also for a great general. Believing that the man
on horseback was a British officer, the idea suddenly entered his head that he would capture him, if it should appear that he was unarmed. Accordingly, he thrust his hand hastily into his wallet, took out one of the frozen sausages, crooked it in the shape of a pistol, and stood still on the middle of the road. The stranger soon approached, and my uncle Darby called out, ‘Who goes there?’ ‘You must first tell me who you are!’ said the person on horseback. ‘That’s as we can agree,’ said my uncle; ‘for it takes two to make a bargain in these parts.’ All this time, he was looking very sharp to see if the man had any weapons about him, and perceiving that he was unarmed, he sprang upon him like a tiger, seized the horse by the bridle, and thrust the muzzle of the seeming pistol in the face of the rider.
“ ‘Dismount, or I’ll blow your brains out!’ said Darby. My uncle had a voice of thunder, and the astonished traveller expected every moment to be shot through the body. It was no time for parley; so the man dismounted, and my uncle, putting his foot in the stirrup, sprung to the saddle in an instant. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘my pretty fellow, you must go and see old Put. To the right about face, forward, march!’ The man hesitated, but my uncle pretended to cock his pistol, and pointed it at the man’s breast. This settled the question, and the poor fellow began doggedly to ascend the hill. Following him close behind, and keeping his weapon in a threatening attitude, he conducted the man along the road, and in the space of about an hour ushered him into the presence of General Putnam. On examination, he proved to be a British sergeant, who was out upon a frolic, and, wishing to pass as an American, had left his weapons behind. The story made a vast deal of fun in the camp, and my uncle acquired great renown for his exploit. But patriotism is often rewarded with ingratitude. My uncle received the sergeant’s horse, it is true, as a recompense, but he was called ‘Sassage Darby’ during the remainder of his life.”
When Matthew had done, the captain turned to the fur-trader, and said, ‘We have each of us told our story; it is now your turn to tell one.” “Well,” said the young man in reply; “you have related an adventure of your father; our friend Matthew has told one of his uncle; I will now relate one of myself.”
“When I was a boy, I read Robinson Crusoe, and so I had a great fancy for going to sea. Nothing would do, but I must be a sailor. My father and mother were both opposed to it; and, finding it impossible to obtain their consent, I resolved to run away. Getting together a little money, I packed up my clothes, and one night set off for New London in Connecticut, a distance of about twenty miles from where I lived. I there entered on board a schooner bound for Boston, which sailed the next day. There were but five persons on board,—the captain, his two sons, one sixteen and the other seventeen years old,—and old sailor, and myself.
“It was the beginning of winter, but the weather was uncommonly fine, and in a short time we were out upon the sea. We scudded along with a light wind for a couple of days, when there was a sudden change of weather. It first blew from the southeast, and rained smartly. I was a little sea-sick, but still able to keep upon the deck. The storm increased, and the wind shifting to the northeast, it began to snow. At the same time it grew cold, and in a very short space everything about the vessel was sheeted with ice and snow. She became perfectly unmanageable, and was now drifting before the gale towards the island of Nantucket, which was at our lee. We put out our anchor, but it was
not of sufficient length to reach the bottom.
“Believing that she must inevitably go ashore, the captain loosed his boat, and getting into it himself, directed us to follow him. His two sons obeyed; but the old sailor, conceiving that the boat must be swamped in the raging sea, chose to continue in the vessel and persuaded me to remain with him. The captain departed, and proceeded toward the shore. But it was now evening, and we soon lost sight of him.
“We continued to drift along for a couple of hours, when the anchor suddenly took effect, and we rode out the night in safety. In the morning, the storm had abated, but everything was so covered with ice that it was impossible for us to get up a sail. In this condition we remained for four days, when a spell of milder weather set in, and we were able to get the little schooner under way. In about a week we reached Boston, where we learned the fate of the captain and his two sons. He reached the shore in safety, but at the distance of nearly of nearly three miles from any house. Both of his sons were chilled with the intense cold, and the younger was in a short time unable to walk. Yielding to his fate, the poor fellow lay down upon the beach and begged his father to leave him to die, as the only means of saving his own life and that of his brother. The father would not listen to this. So he took the young man upon his back, and proceeded on his way. He had not gone more than half a mile, when the elder son sunk to the earth, incapable of proceeding farther.
“The storm still continued to rage, and for a moment the old man gave way to despair; but soon recovering, he set forward, with the younger son upon his back. Having proceeded a quarter of a mile, he laid him down upon the beach, and returned to the elder boy, whom he found almost in a state of insensibility. Taking him upon his shoulders, he carried him to the spot where he had left his younger son. What was his agony to discover that the boy was cold and lifeless! He now proceeded with the one upon his back, but in a short time his foot faltered, and he fell to the earth. There was no way, but to leave his children, and reach the house, if possible, for aid. Faint and exhausted, he proceeded with a staggering step, and when at last he reached the house, his mind was so bewildered, that he could scarcely tell his piteous tale. He said enough, however, to give the people some intimation of the truth, and two men immediately set out to scour the beach. They were not long in discovering the bodies of the two boys, who were covered with the spray of the sea, thickly frozen to their garments. Everything was done to for them that kindness could suggest, and all had the happiness of soon discovering signs of life. Gradually, both recovered, and the anguish of the father gave way to joy. In four days they were all able to leave the place, and soon after our arrival with the little schooner they came on board. I had, however, seen enough of the sea, and resolved in my heart never to trust myself upon its treacherous bosom again. I made my way back to my home; and, thoroughly penitent for my disobedience, resolved never again to disobey my parents; for during the storm, and especially that fearful night when the old sailor and myself were alone in the vessel, the thought of my misconduct weighted heavily upon my heart, and took away from me the power of providing against the danger that beset me.”
As the young man finished his story, the captain puffed forth an enormous quantity of smoke, and the rest of our party retired to bed!
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, June 1842; pp. 177-181)
The next morning was fair, and we glided rapidly down the river. The banks of each side were hilly, and presented several small towns to our view. At length we noticed on the western border a tall blue mountain, which seemed to rise up like a vast thunder-cloud. This I was told was called the Kattskill. It consists of many peaks, with deep ravines, and beautiful waterfalls between them. The scenery among these mountains is so wild and interesting that many people visit them every year. Opposite to these mountains is the city of Hudson. We stopped there about an hour. I found it quite a small place then, but now it has seven thousand inhabitants.
Having taken on board three or four persons, with a quantity of butter, cheese, and other articles for New York, we departed and proceeded down the river. The scenery was still very beautiful. The river wound between tall mountains, which came down to the water’s edge, and seemed sometimes to encircle it, so
as to make it appear like a lake. But, as we proceeded, the vast mountains appeared to recede, and open a passage for us. Frequently we passed close to the shore, and I could not but admire the wonderful beauty of the trees that clothes the sides of the mountain. It was autumn, you remember, and the leaves were of many colors; some were yellow, some red, some purple, and some green. There was something sad about all this; for we knew that these bright hues are but the signs of coming death. We knew that this coat of many colors which is thrown over the mountain, making it appear so gay, is but a gaudy mantle that will soon give place to the winter winding-sheet of snow. But still, even though the woods in autumn may be a little melancholy, I do not like them the less for that. As I passed along the mountain slopes, catching glimpses between the trees into the valleys, or far away between the tops of the peaks, seeming to float in a sea of azure, I felt as if I could make the woods my home forever!
The next day we passed by a lofty cliff, called West Point, where old Fort Putnam is situated, and where there is now an academy in which young men receive a military education. This was a famous place in the revolutionary war. Here was the scene of Benedict Arnold’s treachery. He was entrusted with the command of this fort by Washington, who had great confidence in him; but Arnold was a bad man, and he secretly agreed to give up the fort to the British, if they would pay him a large sum of money, and give him a command in their army. Major André, a British officer, came up the river from New York, and met Arnold one night to arrange the scheme.
On his return, André was taken by some Americans, and brought before Washington. He was tried as a spy, and, being convicted, was sentenced to death, this being according to the usages of war. André was a fine young officer, and Washington wished very much to save his life. But this he could not accomplish consistently with his duty to his country.
André was confined at a house in the town of Bedford, next to Salem, and my friend Mat Olmsted recollected perfectly well to have seen him there. He described him as a tall young man, with blue eyes, his hair powdered white, and wearing a red coat. Matthew told me a great many stories about him. He said all the people were very sorry to have him executed. When he passed along between the files of soldiers to the scaffold, there was scarcely an individual who did not weep. Tears even rolled down the rugged cheeks of the soldiers, who had been accustomed to scenes of battle and bloodshed.
André alone seemed firm and collected. He walked erect, and such was his presence of mind when he ascended the scaffold, that happening to soil his coat by pressing against one of the posts, he calmly took out his handkerchief and brushed the dust away. This was a kind of sign and illustration of his life and character. Though he was a spy, he did not die dishonored; but the dignity of his bearing brushed away the soil upon the soldier, and he perished amid the regrets of those whom war had made his enemies, leaving behind him thousands of hearts to mourn his untimely fate.
The day after we passed West Point we saw something coming up the river, paddling through the water, and smoking away at a great rate. Mat said it must be a Dutchman, and a cousin to our Captain Volcano; but we were told it was a steamboat! I had heard of such a thing, but had never seen one. There had been a good deal said in the news-
papers about one Robert Fulton, who was trying to make vessels go by fire and water, instead of wind. Most people thought Fulton either crazy or a fool, to attempt so hopeless a task. He was laughed at and ridiculed, particularly by that class of people who think themselves the wisest, and who imagine that the only way to live is to make money and keep it.
But Fulton was a great man, whose mind was above all this littleness. So, letting the world make itself merry at his expense, he went calmly and patiently on. If he met with a difficulty he labored till he overcame it; sneers, scoffs, gibes, could not turn him from his purpose. He persevered, and at last he triumphed. The engine began to turn the crank, the wheels went round, the paddles took hold of the wave, the boat moved forward, and steam navigation was accomplished!
This was the greatest invention of modern times. I am speaking of what happened in 1808, only thirty-four years ago. There are now many thousand steamboats throughout the world. The great rivers are navigated by them, and even the Atlantic is now traversed by steam power. The journey of a week is at present but the trip of a day—a voyage of two months is but the passage of a fortnight. This very Hudson river, upon which Fulton achieved his noble invention, before but a pathway for a few straggling vessels, is now the thoroughfare of millions. It is a literal fact that millions of persons pass up and down this river every year, where before only a few hundred annually performed the trip. Before, it was often a fortnight’s work to get a vessel from New York to Albany; now a steamboat with five hundred passengers will accomplish it in twelve hours!
Such are the mighty results, proceeding from one man’s labors. Let us all reflect a moment upon this. what a great blessing is a great man who devotes himself to the good of his country! How ought such a man to be honored! How paltry, how base is that littleness of soul which leads some persons to run down the great and the good—the public benefactor!
Let the story of Fulton teach us all another lesson, which is this—When we feel that we are right in our devotion to any cause, let not the scoffs of the world move us. Even though there may be dark days, when we seem given up to ridicule by the world around; when even friends desert us, and poverty besets us, and slander assails us, and sorrow and gloom seem gathering around our path, let us look to the beautiful example of Fulton and be comforted. Let us say to ourselves, “Fulton persevered, and we will persevere. Fulton met with difficulties and suffered from poverty; but he met them patiently, and at last he triumphed.” Let us imitate his steadfastness, and gather confidence from his success.
The little steamboat approached us rapidly. Never in my life have I felt a deeper excitement than at that moment1 All the people on board our little sloop were leaning over the side, straining their eyes to watch this wonder of the water. On she came, cutting the current and seeming like a thing of life, moving by her own power. She came nearer and more near. I have seen other steamboats since; those that were ten times as large; but never one that touched my imagination like that. We passed close to her side. There was a tall, slender man standing upon her deck. His face was dark, and care-worn; his eye black, deep-set, and sparkling; his hair black and curling—though perchance a little grizzled. It was Robert Fulton! His name was spoken by our captain, and instantly [a]
cheer broke from every man on board our little vessel. “Fulton! Fulton!” was the cry; and the name was echoed a hundred times among the hills. This was a bright spot in my life. I shall never forget it—I could not tell my feelings then—I cannot express them now. I have often thought of this scene: the image of Fulton, calm, thoughtful and modest in that day of triumph, always comes back as distinctly to my memory, as when he stood before me then. It has not been to me a barren incident; for in my humble career, I too have had difficulties, cares, sorrows; and Ihave drawn comfort, I trust composure, from his example. The humblest plant may extract beams from the sun—and Robert Merry would say to his readers, that he, poor as he is, humble as he is, has a sort of feeling that Robert Fulton, though dead and departed, comes to cheer him in his lonely journey through life. Often, in some dark hour, has his image broke in upon him like a ray of light; thus converting gloom into sunshine. I know that this may seem to be a mere fancy, yet there is reason in it, or, if not, there is comfort in it.
In a day or two after meeting the steamboat, we arrived at the city of New York. Nearly ten years had elapsed since I left it. I recollected very little of it. It was indeed like a new place to me at first. I felt as if I had never seen it before, until, after a day or two, it became familiar to me as if I had once seen it in a dream. Though it was then a great city, New York was much smaller than it is now. It had not more than one fourth part as many inhabitants.
Nothing of importance occurred here, and after three days, Matthew and I entered a sloop and sailed to Norwalk, in Connecticut. Having landed, we immediately set out on foot for Salem, which is a distance of about twenty miles. I had now been gone a month, and was exceedingly anxious to get home. I had a great desire to see my uncle; for although I had not much intercourse with him when at home, still he was always kind to me, and I was so accustomed to his good-humored face, that I seemed solitary and homesick without it.
As I began to approach the village, my heart beat quick at the idea of getting home, of meeting my uncle, and seeing my friends and companions once more. Not a thought of evil fortune crossed my mind. I expected to see them all well and happy as when I left them. When we reached the village, it was night. We met no one in the street—all was still and solitary. We came to the tavern. There was a bright light in the bar-room, and it looked as cheerful as ever. I was about to enter, when a dusky figure took hold of my arm and said, “Go not in there. Come with me.” I perceived in a moment that it was old Sarah of the mountain. She led me to the front door, and as we passed along, she said, in a low, but solemn tone, “He is gone, lad, he is gone. There is trouble for you here. When it is all over, come and see me in the mountain.”
I was struck with horror, and stood still for a moment. I was alone, for Matthew had gone into the bar-room. I was convinced that my uncle was dead. I grew giddy, and the dim objects that were near me seemed to swim around. I recovered, however, lifted the latch and went in. The entry was dark, and I was obliged to grope my way to the stairs. I ascended and approached my uncle’s chamber. It was partly open and there was a dim light within. I was about to enter, but paused a moment at the threshold and looked round. On a low couch lay the lifeless form of my uncle, and at a little distance sat Raymond, pale as marble, and wrapped
in profound meditation. My step was so light that he did not hear my approach, but my quick and convulsed breath roused him. He instantly came to me, but spoke not. Words were indeed vain. Nothing could break the force of the stern reality. My uncle, my kind-hearted uncle, my only relative,—he who had been to me as father and mother, was no more.
I cannot dwell upon the scene, nor could I describe my feelings, should I attempt it. For nearly an hour my heart was stunned, my mind bewildered. But tears at length came to my relief, band after a time I was able to hear from Raymond the sad story of my uncle’s death. He had died in a fit, cut down without a moment’s warning, and, as I afterwards learned, in consequence of his intemperate habits.
The funeral took place the next day. I walked in the procession to the burial ground, but I was so completely overwhelmed with my loss as scarcely to notice anything around me. But when the coffin was let down into the ground and the earth was thrown upon it, I felt such a pang at the idea of being forever separated from my uncle, as almost to distract me. For a moment, I was on the point of leaping into the grave and asking to be buried with him; but it was closed, and the procession moved away. I returned, and i was then alone, without a relative in the world, so far as I knew.
A few days after these events, an examination of my uncle’s affairs was made, and it was discovered that his estate was insolvent. Every dollar of my own property was gone, and I was now a beggar! These facts were told me by Raymond; they did not, however, immediately make a deep impression upon me; but I soon learned what it is to be without parents, without money, and without a home.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, July 1842; pp. 26-29)
A month passed away after my uncle’s death, during which I was in a sort of maze; I did not know what to do, and now, after many years are gone, I can hardly recollect anything that occurred during that period. I only know that I wandered over the house, from one room to another; I then went into the fields; rambled about the farm, and seeming by a sort of instinct to avoid everybody. I did not wish to speak to any one. I seemed lost, and it was not till the day came when the tavern was to be sold, with all its furniture, that I was fully recalled to consciousness.
I remember that day well. The sale was by auction, and the place which had been a home to me for years, was knocked off to the highest bidder. The purchaser was a stranger to me, and took immediate possession. I still remained in the house; and it was not till three or four days after he and his household had come, that the idea entered my head that I was to leave it. The man said to me one day—“Well, Mr. Merry—when do you intend to go?” I did not understand him at first, but a moment it rushed into my mind, that this was a hint for me to depart.
I felt a sense of mingled insult and shame; for it seemed that it was almost turning me out of doors, and that by my stupidity, I had subjected myself to such an indignity. I made no reply—but took my hat and left the house. I wandered forth, hardly knowing which way I went. In a short time I found myself ascending the mountain, toward old Sarah’s cave. It now came suddenly to my recollection that the hermitess had invited me to come and see her, if at any time I was in trouble.
Although she was not, perhaps, the wisest of counsellors, yet, in my present disturbed state of mind, it suited me well enough to go to her. Indeed, I felt so miserable, so lonely from the loss of my uncle, so helpless from the loss of my property, that I thought of taking up my abode with the gray old dame of the rock, and living there the rest of my life. With these strange notions running in my head, I approached her den.
It was a chill December evening, and I found her in her cave. She bade me welcome, and I sat down. “I knew it would come to this,” said she: “I knew it long ago. Your uncle was kind-hearted, as the world say; but is it kind to spend what is not one’s own? Is it kind to waste the property of the orphan, and leave one’s sister’s child to beggary? Is it kind to eat, drink, and be merry, when another’s tears must pay the reckoning?”
“Nay, nay;” said I. “You must not speak in this way. My uncle is dead, and I will not hear his name mentioned, but in words of kindness and charity. Oh, do not blame him; it was his misfortune, not his fault, to lose my property, as well as his own. At all events, he loved me; he ever spake kindly to me; he was to me as a father; he could not have done more for a son than he did for me.”
I could say no more, for tears and sobs choked my utterance, and old Sarah then went on. “Well, well; let it be so, let it be so. But I must tell you, Master Merry, hat I knew your mother well. We were both of the same country, both natives of England, and we came to America in the same ship. She was a good woman, and in the dark days of my life, she was kind to me. I will repay it to her child.” Saying this, she went to the end of the cave, and took a small wooden box from a crevice in the rock. This she opened, and handed a parcel to me, adding; “this will repair your loss.” I looked at her in some doubt. “Exam-
ine what I give you,” said she, “and you will understand me.”
I opened the parcel, which consisted of a roll, with a covering of silk. I found in it several thin pieces of paper, resembling bank notes, and reading them as well as I could by the dim light which came in at the entrance of the cave, I perceived that they were government bills, of a thousand dollars each. “I am glad for your sake,” said I, handing back the parcel to Sarah—“that you have so much money, but I cannot consent to take it from you.”
“And what do I want of it?” said she, quickly. “It has been in my possession for forty years, yet I have never seen the need of it. This rock has been my shelter—this rock is my bed. The forest yields me food, and charity gives me raiment. Oh no; that money can never be used by me. It would feed my pride and tempt me back into the paths of folly. I have sworn never more to use it, and if you do not take it, it will perish with me.”
I endeavored to persuade the hermitess to change her views and her mode of life. I urged her, as she had so much money, to leave her cave, and procure the comforts and luxuries which her age and infirmities required. But she was fixed in her purpose, and my reasoning was without effect. We talked till the night was nearly gone. At last I consented to take a part of the cash, but she insisted that I should take the whole; and believing that she would never use it, I received it, intending to reserve, at least a portion of it for her use, in case of need. The kind-hearted old creature seemed much delighted, and my own heart was lightened of a heavy burthen. I felt, not only that I had again the means of independence, but that I had also a sure and steadfast friend.
It did not diminish my pleasure that this friend was a gray old dame, clothed in rags and regarded with contempt by the world; poor as she seemed, she had done for me what no rich person would ever have done. The rich will seldom give away their money, or if they do, it is sparingly and with reluctance. The song says—
“ ’Tis the poor man alone,
When he hears the poor’s moan,
Of his morsel a morsel will give.”
My own experience has verified the truth of these touching words. The rich consist usually of those who have a supreme love of wealth, and who sacrifice everything else to obtain it, or keep it. A person who eagerly pursues riches all his life time; who gives nothing away; who turns a deaf ear to the calls of charity; who never opens his purse to a friend; who never feels the appeals of society to his liberality—or if he does these things, does them narrowly and selfishly—and in his charities regards himself alone; such a one is almost sure to be rich in purse, though he is more certain to be poor in soul. Such a person may live and die, rich in this world, but he goes a pauper into the other—
But poor Sarah parted with the good things of this life, and no doubt, she laid up riches in that world where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.
I left her the next morning, with many thanks, and a heart overflowing with gratitude. I descended the mountain, and entered the high- road. It was about three miles to the village, and feeling fatigued from my imperfect repose upon Sarah’s bed of rock, I asked a fat gentleman, who was riding along luxuriously in a coach, drawn by two sleek horses, to let me ride. He did not deign to open his lips, but shook his head, and the coach rolled on. I had not gone far before a poor man, with an old wagon and
a thin, raw-boned horse overtook me. The whole establishment bespoke poverty; yet, when I asked the man to grant me a ride, he cheerfully complied with my request, as if it gave him real satisfaction to do an act of kindness. “Here it is again,” thought I; “if you want a favor, ask it of the poor. The rich man, in his easy coach, and with his fat horses that have hardly enough to do to keep them from apoplexy, possesses a heart as hard as flint; while the humble wagoner, with a beast that drags one leg painfully after another, is ready to slave himself and his horse, out of mere good nature. Thus it is that riches turn the soul to stone; thus it is that poverty keeps the heart soft, and, like a generous, well cultivated soil, ever prepared to yield good fruits.”
I soon reached the village, and immediately went to see Raymond, to tell him of my interview with the hermitess. Having related what had happened, I took out the money, and placed it in his hands. Guess my surprise and disappointment, when he told me that the ten bills of a thousand dollars each, were “Continental notes,” and were not worth a farthing! They had been issued by the government during the war of the revolution, but had depreciated, so that a thousand dollars of this paper, were sold for a single dollar in silver! The government had, indeed, made some provision for the payment of such notes as were brought forward before a certain time, but these had been withheld beyond the period, and were now utterly without value.
I had, of course, no suspicion that Sarah was aware of this fact. The money was once good; and having lived apart from the world, she had not known the change that had come over the currency. Having no want of money, it was all the same to her, whatever might be its worth; and it was only till she desired to do an act of kindness to the child of an early friend, that what was once a fortune to her, came into her mind.
I therefore felt no diminution of my gratitude to the poor old woman, when I learnt that her gift was all in vain, and that it still left me a beggar. Concealing the fact from her, I took counsel of Raymond as to what I must do. I was perfectly helpless; it was my misfortune that I had been brought up to think myself rich, beyond the need of effort, and in fact, above work. This silly idea had been rather encouraged by my uncle, who, being an Englishman, had a little aristocratic pride in me as a member of the family, and one born to be a gentleman, or, in other words, to lead an idle and useless life. His feelings, and purposes were kind, but short- sighted. He had not foreseen the destruction of my property; and, besides, he had not learned that, whether rich or poor, every person, for his own comfort and respectability, should be educated in habits of industry and in some useful trade or profession.
After a good deal of reflection, Raymond advised me to go to New York, and get a situation as a clerk in a store. This suited my taste better than any other scheme that could be suggested, and I made immediate preparations to depart. I went to take leave of Bill Keeler, who was now a thriving shoe-maker, with a charming wife, and two bright-eyed laughing children. I bade them good-bye, with many tears, and carrying with me their kindest wishes. How little did I then think of the blight that would come over that cheerful group and happy home! It is true I had some fears for Bill, for I knew that he loved the bar-room; but it did not enter my imagination that there was a thing abroad in society so nearly akin to the Evil Spirit, as to be able to convert his good nature into brutality, and
change an earthly paradise into a scene of indescribable misery.
Having taken leave of all my friends—and now it seemed that I had many—I set out on my journey to New York on foot, provided with two or three letters of introduction, furnished by Raymond and his brother, the minister, and with about five dollars in my pocket; the whole amount of my earthly portion!
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, August 1842; pp. 34-37)
With a heavy and doubting heart, I proceeded on my way to New York. My situation was, in every respect, gloomy and depressing. I was alone in the world, and utterly unpractised in taking care of myself. I was cast forth to work my way in the rough voyage of life. I was like a person, who, while sailing confidently upon a raft, sees it suddenly sink in the waves, leaving him no other resource than to swim for his life, and that too, without preparation or practice.
It is, however, true, that necessity is, not only the mother of invention, but of exertion also, and by degrees I began to brace myself up to the emergency in which I was placed. It is a great thing—it is, indeed, the first requisite in order to obtain success—to have the mind and feelings prepared. I saw and felt that I had no other dependence now, than myself; that even my food, my clothing, my shelter, must henceforth, be the fruit of my own toil. It was a strange and startling position; and it was necessary for me to go over the events which had recently transpired, again and again, before I could realize a state of things so utterly at variance with the whole tenor of my life, my education, and my habits of thought.
It was long before, I could bring my pride down to my humble condition; it was long before I could resolve to grapple earnestly and heartily with the burthen which a life of toil presented to my imagination. I had heard of a punishment of criminals in Holland, in which they were obliged to work at a pump incessantly, to save themselves from being drowned; if they relaxed for a moment, the fatal element would rise over their heads and they would be lost forever. In my hour of distress, I looked upon my condition as little better than this. But necessity, necessity, that stern teacher, admonished me hour by hour, and at last its lesson was indelibly written on my heart. From that moment, fully estimating my dependence, I felt assured, and with a firmly step pushed on toward the place of my destination.
The day after my departure from Salem, as I was passing through the town of Bedford, I came to a handsome white house, the grounds of which seemed to bespeak wealth and taste on the part of its owner. It was at this moment beginning to snow the flakes falling so thickly as to obscure the air. It was evidently setting in for a severe storm, and I was casting about for some place of shelter, when a tall, thin gentleman, of a very dignified appearance, approached me. There was that air of kindness about him, which emboldened me to inquire if he could tell me where I could get shelter till the storm was over.
“Come in with me, my friend,” said he kindly; at the same time opening the gate, and walking up the yard toward the house I have mentioned. I did not hesitate, but followed on, and soon found myself in a large room, richly carpeted, bearing every aspect of ease and luxury.
Being desired to take a seat, I placed myself by the cheerful fire, and waited to be addressed by the hospitable host.
“It is a stormy day,” said the old gentleman; “have you far to travel?”
“I am on my way to New York, sir;” said I.
“Indeed! and on foot!” was his reply; “then you had better stay here till the storm is past.” He then proceeded to make some inquiries, and soon learnt my story. He had known my uncle well, and seemed on his account to take some interest in my behalf. The day passed pleasantly, and when evening came, there was quite a circle, consisting of the members of a large family, gathered around the fireside. The conversation was lively and entertaining. the host appeared to be about sixty years of age, but he had a look of calm dignity, an aspect of mingled simplicity and refinement, which made a strong impression on my mind. I had never seen any one who so much excited the feeling of reverence. I did not know his name, but I had a feeling that I was in the presence of a great man. The deference paid him by all around, tended to heighten this impression.
About ten o’clock in the evening, the servants of the family were called in, and all kneeling, the aged man offered up a simple, but fervent prayer to heaven. It seemed like the earnest request of a child to a father; a child that felt as if he had offended a parent whom he loved, and in whom he confided. The scene to me was very striking. To see a man so revered by his fellow-men—a man of such wisdom and knowledge—kneeling in humiliation, like a very child, and pouring out his soul in tears of supplication before the Father of the Universe, affected me deeply. It was one of those things which was calculated to have a decisive and abiding effect. I had then heard little of religion, except as a matter of ridicule. I have since met with the scoffer and the unbeliever; but the scene I have just described, taught me that the truly great man may be a sincere, meek, pious Christian; it taught me that the loftiest intellect, the most just powers of reasoning, may lead to that simple faith which brings the learned and the great to the same level as the unlettered and the humble—submission to God. If, in after days, I have ever doubted the truth of the bible; if I have ever felt contempt for the Christian, that good man’s prayer, that great man’s example, have speedily rebuked my folly. These things have led me to frequent and serious reflection, and, during the subsequent stages of my life, have induced me to remark, that the unbeliever, the scoffer, is usuallly a person of weak mind, or ill-balanced judgment. I have met many great men, who were Christians. I never had met a great man who was a doubter.
In the morning the storm had abated, and after breakfast, I took my leave, having offered sincere thanks for the hospitality I had shared. As I was departing, the gentleman put into my hands a letter, addressed to a friend of his in New York; and which he requested me to deliver in person, on my arrival. This I promised to do; but candor compels me to say that I did not keep my promise; and bitterly have I had occasion to repent it. It is true, I sent the letter to the gentleman, but I did not deliver it myself. I had not yet learned the importance of a precise and accurate fulfilment of duty, and performance of promises. Had I done as I was directed, it would, no doubt, have altered the whole tenor of my life. I afterwards learned, but all too late to be of avail, that the letter was to an eminent merchant of New York; commended me warmly to him, and requesting him to take me into his counting-room; and this letter was from a
man of such distinction,* that his request would not have been slighted. Yet, through my carelessness, I missed this excellent chance for getting forward in life.
I proceeded on my journey, but although I travelled very industriously, the snow was so deep, that at night I had made little progress. The fourth day after my departure, however, just at evening, I entered the city of New York, and took up my lodgings at a small tavern in Pearl street. Having taken supper, I went to the bar-room, where were about a dozen men, drinking and smoking. One of them, rather genteelly dressed, came and sat by me, and we fell dressed, came and sat by me, and we fell into conversation. After a little while, he ordered some flip, and we drank it. I felt my heart warmed, and my tongue loosed, and I told the stranger my story. He appeared to take great interest in me and pretty soon proposed to go into another room. Here were two other persons; and we sat down—my new friend ordering more liquor, and introducing me to the strangers. The liquor was brought, and also a pack of cards. In an easy way my companion began to shuffle the pack, and handed them to me to cut; seeming to take it as a matter of course that I would play. I had not the courage to refuse, and drew up to the table. The game went on, and in a very short time, I had lost every dollar in my pocket!
“Wit that is bought, is worth twice as much as wit that is taught,” says the proverb. We have good counsels bestowed upon us, but words make a faint impression. It is only when these counsels have been despised, and we are made actually to suffer, that we obtain lessons which stick by us, and influence us. A father once warned his son against certain evil ways. “Why do you counsel me, thus?” said the boy. “Because I have tried these things and seen the folly of them,” said the parent. “Well, father,” replied the inexperienced youth, “I want to see the folly of them too!” Thus it is that we will not take the experience of others; we will not heed the warnings of wisdom; we must needs taste of evil, and then, but not till then, do we bear in mind the bitterness that is in the cup of indulgence.
So it was with me; I had heard the dangers of gambling, but I had not seen and felt the folly of it. But now the lesson of experience had come, and it was deep and bitter. I went to bed with a heavy heart. Sleep came not to my eyelids that long, long night. My fancy was filled with real and imaginary evils. The death of my uncle; the loss of my fortune; the desolation of my condition; my visit to old Sarah’s cave; the bitter disappointment connected with the continental notes; my farewell to friends; my launching forth upon the sea of adventure;—all, came again and again to mind, each thought with oppressive force and distinctness. Ideas seeled like living images marching and
*I suppose that Robert Merry here refers to John Jay, one of the greatest and best men who ever lived; for about this period he dwelt in the town of Bedford, and was such a person as is described. He had filled many important offices; had been a member of congress, governor of New York, ambassador to Spain and England, and chief justice of the United States. At the period of Merry’s journey from Salem to New York, he had retired to private life, devoting himself to religious and philosophical inquiries. In 1798, he negotiated a famous treaty with England, which was the subject of much discussion. there is a simple anecdote which shows the excitement on this subject, and exhibits Governor Jay in a pleasing light. One day being at market, the butcher said to him, “there is a great pother about this treaty of yours, governor; pray what sort of a treaty is it?” “Well, my friend,” said Mr. Jay, “there is some good and some bad in it; but, on the whole, I think it a pretty good treaty: it is much like your beef—there’s a streak of fat and a streak of lean—but it’s very good beef after all.”
countermarching in fearful procession, through the grisly shadows of the night. Nor was this all. To these realities, were added the fantasies suggested by apprehension, the painful emotions of an offended conscience, and the bitter self-distrust, which a conviction of my weakness and folly, at the very threshold of active and responsible life, forced upon me. All these came in to increase my misery. In vain did I try to close my eyes in repose; in vain did I seek to shut out the truth from my mind. The more I courted sleep, the more wakeful I became; the more I tried not to think, the more bright and vivid were my conceptions. My soul was like an illuminated house, filled with bustle and noise, when the proprietor would fain have sought the silence and repose of the pillow.
Morning at last came, and with it something like comfort. “I have learnt a lesson,” said I, “and will never gamble again.” Such was the fruit of my experience, and it was worth all it cost me; for from that time I have kept my resolution. I went to deliver the letters which had been given me by Raymond and his brother. The persons to whom they were addressed, received me kindly, and one of them, a bookseller, took me into his shop as a clerk, on trial.
It is scarcely possible for any one to conceive of a youth so poorly qualified to be useful, as I was at this time. My education was very imperfect; I had no habits of industry; I was not accustomed to obey others; I had no experience in doing the thousand little things which are to be done, and which practice alone can render easy. On the contrary, I had grown up in idleness, or at least to work, or play, or do nothing, just as my humor might dictate.
Now those children who have had the guidance of parents, and who have been taught habits of industry and obedience, ought to be very thankful—for they will find it easy to get along in life; but, alas, I had grown up almost to manhood, and had been educated to none of these things; and now I was to reap the bitter fruits of my own neglect and the misfortune of having no parent and no friend, save a too indulgent uncle. How much I suffered, from these sources, I cannot express; but my experience may warn all children and youth against the foolish desire to being indulged in their wishes and humors. ’T is far better that they should learn to perform their duties, to help themselves, to be industrious, and to obey those in whose charge they are placed.
The bookseller with whom I was now placed, was named Cooke—a large man, with red hair standing out like bristles, and staring, fiery eyes. When he first spoke to me, he was soft as cream in his tones, but I soon learnt that when roused, he was hot as a volcano. For two or three days he was, indeed, very gentle, and I fancied that I should get along very well. But soon the fair sky was overcast with clouds, and a terrible tempest followed.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, September 1842; pp. 66-72)
The book shop in which I was now a clerk, was not like the present Broadway establishments of Appleton, or Wiley & Putnam—a vast hall, with almost endless successions of shelves, and these loaded with the rich and varied volumes of the American and English press. No indeed! it was a little shop in Pearl street, stocked with Webster’s Spelling Books, Watts’s Psalms and Hymns, Young’s Night Thoughts, Webster’s Third Part, the American Preceptor, and other works of a popular kind, and designed for general use. There were no Rollo works—there was no Peter Parley then!
Mr. Cooke was a very sharp man in trade. His whole soul was bent on making money. He cared nothing for books, except for the profit he made upon them. For a few days he left me to myself, but then he began to try to make me as much interested in the business as he was. But this was a vain attempt. My thoughts were always somewhere else, and often when he spoke to me I did not hear him. I was constantly making blunders. In casting accounts I got everything wrong; I credited Mr. Lightfoot with books that should have been charged; I sent off to a customer a lot of Peregrine Pickle, instead of Young’s Night Thoughts; and at last, taking the inkstand for the sand-box, I dashed a puddle of ink over the ledger!
This was the crisis of my fate. Never in all my days have I seen such another sight as poor Mr. Cooke’s face. Astonishment, indignation, fury, were in his countenance all at once. At last he broke out: “What have you done? Oh you unlucky dog! Get out of my house; get out of my sight! Oh my poor, dear ledger! Here’s a pretty kettle of fish! Get out of my sight! Get a piece of newspaper; fetch some water; run to the house and get a cloth! Oh dear, dear, dear! what shall I do! Oh Robert Merry—Robert Merry!” Here the poor man was entirely out of breath. I got the things he wanted, took my hat and walked into the street.
I passed along quite rapidly for some time, hardly knowing what I was about. In the tempest of my mind I walked rapidly, and was soon in a remote part of the city. The time passed insensibly away, and it was evening before I was aware of it. As I was walking through a dark and narrow street, I heard a voice behind me, and a clatter as of many persons running with all their might. The din drew nearer and nearer, and soon I distinguished the cry of “Stop thief! stop thief!” In a moment a young man rushed by me, and at a little distance several men came pressing in hot pursuit. I was seized with a sudden impulse, whether of fright, I cannot say, but I ran with all my speed. I was, however, soon overtaken, and rudely seized by the collar by a man, who exclaimed, “Well, rascal, I have got you at last!”
“Let go of me,” said I, “I am no rascal.”
“Nay, nay,” said the other; “not so soon, my boy!” at the same time he twisted my collar, till I was well-nigh
choked. Two other men came up, and each had some rude thing to say to me.
“Well, master Scapegrace,” said one, “I guess you have seen Bridewell; so it will be as good as home to you.”
“It ’s the very fellow I saw prowling about the streets last night,” said another: “his hang-dog look is enough to commit him.”
“Really,” said a third, “there’s a touch of the gentleman about the fellow; but there ’s no rogue so bad as one that ’s seen better days, and had a neddicashun.”
With this kind of conversation they amused themselves, while they pulled me rudely along, and at last lodged me in a watch-house. Here I was kept till morning, when I was taken to a prison called Bridewell, where were some fifty persons, of all ages and sexes, and wearing the various aspects of poverty, wretchedness, and crime. I could not endure to face them, so I slunk into a corner and sat down upon the floor. Burying my face in my hands, I gave myself up to despair.
I sat for two or three hours in utter desolation, thinking over my sad fortunes, and cut to the heart with a sense of the evils that surrounded me. At length a man came and told me that I was wanted. I followed him out, and was taken into a room full of people. I had never been in a court of justice before, and I certainly did not guess that this was a place that could bear such a title. I have seen a good deal of the world, and yet I am ready to declare that in no place, not even in the wilderness, among savages, is there a spot where men seem to me to rude, so ill-mannered, so unjust, so little humane, as in that place called a court of justice. The constable, the sheriff, the judge, and, above all, the lawyers, have the same heartlessness, the same disregard of the claims of one human being upon another.
I was hurried through the crowd, and placed in an elevated seat, surrounded with a railing, thus becoming the object upon which every eye was bent. The sense of my degradation, innocent as I was, overwhelmed me with confusion. One of the lawyers, called the city attorney, soon got up and stated to a sour and awful looking man, who it appeared was the judge, that the times were marked with fearful signs. “May it please your honor,” said he, “the good old days of purity are past; no longer are the young brought up in the way in which they should go, but they are either instructed to ridicule every law of God and man, or left to work out their own destruction. It is a time for justice to do her work; for the judge to assert the majesty of the insulted law. I now bring before you, sir, a young man of genteel appearance; one who has evidently seen and known better things; but who yet, we have reason to believe, is a hardened and practised villain.”
Having said this, the lawyer went on to state, that I entered a store the evening of the preceding day, and robbed the till or drawer of its money, amounting to several dollars; that I was soon pursued, and, while running, threw away the money; that I was speedily overtaken, lodged in the watch-house for the night, and then put in Bridewell. Here several witnesses were called, who testified to these facts. One of them, who had accompanied me to the watch-house, added, that he knew me perfectly well; that i ws a thief and gambler by profession; that he had seen me some days before at a little tavern, notorious as a gambling house, and that he had seen me playing at cards with two celebrated rogues. This he embellished with sundry particulars as to my looks and actions.
I was so unpractised in the ways of the world, so ignorant, and so utterly confounded at the strange events that
came hurrying one after another, that I sat still, and heard all this with a kind of stupid wonder. I did not attempt to explain or deny anything. It all looked to me like a conspiracy—the countenance of judge, lawyer, and witness, bore an aspect coinciding with this idea, and I felt it to be in vain to resist. Though the whole story, save only the gambling scene, and my being taken in the street, was false, yet I said nothing, and my silence was taken as admission of my crime.
This examination was followed by a speech on the part of the lawyer, who evidently wished to have me convicted. I could not imagine why this man, whom I had never seen before, whom I never injured or offended, should be so anxious to prove me a thief, and to have me shut up in prison. I did not then know that a lawyer always wishes to succeed in any case he undertakes, right or wrong, because he is thought a better lawyer if he is able to succeed. I did not then know that if a lawyer has a bad case, he is particularly anxious to gain it, and makes all the greater efforts because he thereby shows his ingenuity and his art, and thus increases his reputation and gains practice.
Well, the lawyer went on pleading very artfully, pretending all the time to be candid, and to pity me; but yet exaggerating the testimony, and making me out one of the blackest villains that ever lived. He was so eloquent and so artful, that I almost began to think that I was really a regular thief! I expected of course to be condemned, and was not disappointed when the judge sentenced me to three months’ imprisonment in the city jail.
To this place I was taken the next day, and there shut up with about a hundred other convicts; thus becoming the regular companion of criminals; and denied the liberty of going forth to breathe the pure air, or to associate with my fellow-men because I was considered a dangerous person! At the time, this all seemed to me not only cruel and unjust, but unaccountable. I have since been able to see that it proceeded from weakness of character on my part, owing to my faulty education. My playing at cards at the tavern; my inattentive negligence at the bookstore; my want of all habits of taking care of myself, had thus led me on from one step to another, till I was now an outcast from society and the world. I had been brought up to think myself rich; this was the first great evil. I had never had that constant admonition which parents bestow, and which, though children often resist and reject it, is the greatest good that Providence can send to young persons. It was owing to these defects in my education, that I had grown up in ignorance and imbecility; and now that I was left to take care of myself, I found that I was incompetent to the task. Ha;ving committed no serious fault, and utterly innocent of all crime, I was still a convicted felon. Let this part of my story teach children to prize the advantages of a good education; to prize the admonitions of parents; and to prize the protection and guidance of father and mother, when danger and difficulty gather around the path of youthful life.
I saw no one with whom I had the least desire to form an acquaintance, and therefore kept aloof from all around me. Food was brought in, but I had lost all appetite, and could not eat. A bed was assigned me in a long room, where were about twenty other beds. It was a mere mattr[e]ss of straw upon the floor; and though not inviting, at an early hour I retired and lay down upon it. I was revolving my own fate in my mind, when some one in the bed next to me, spoke. I looked up, and by the dim light, I saw there a young man, thin and pale, and apparently unable to rise. “Get me
some water! for God’s sake get me some water!” said he. The tones were husky, but earnest, and I sprung up instantly. “Who are you?” said I.
“Oh, never mind who I am, but get me some water,” was the reply.
I went instantly, and procured some water and brought it to the bed-side. The young man raised himself with great difficulty. He was wasted to a skeleton; his hair was long and nearly covered his face. His eye was deep blue, and large, and the expression was exceedingly soft, though now very bright. He took a long draught of the water, and then sunk heavily upon the bed, saying, as if it was all he had strength to say, “Thank you!”
This scene interested me, and called my thoughts away from myself. I sat by the side of the young man, looking intently upon his pale face. In a short time he opened his eyes, and saw me looking at him. He started a little, and then said—“What do you look at me so for?” “I hardly know,” said I, “except that you are sick. Can I aid you—can I do anything for you?”
“No—no,” replied he: “no—and yet you can. Come near; I am very feeble and cannot talk loud. What brought you here? You do not talk like one of us?” I here told the young man my story, very briefly. At first he seemed to doubt my veracity—but he soon dismissed his suspicions, and went on as follows:
“You think that your misfortunes are the result of an imperfect education, and the want of the care, teaching, and protection of parents. My story will show you that all these advantages may be thrown away, if the heart is wrong. My story will tell you the dangers that lie in the first fault!
“My parents were respectable and religious people. They took great pains with my education, for I was their only child. They not only sent me to school, and provided me with good books, but they gave me good advice, required me to go to church, and took care that I should not fall into evil company. It was impossible not to love such parents, and therefore I entertained for them the strongest affection. I also placed the most perfect confidence in them: I told them all my wishes, and if reasonable, they were granted; I told them my troubles, and then was sure to receive sympathy, and, if possible, relief.
“But this happy state of things did not continue. One of my companions had a watch, which he wished to sell for ten dollars. It was very pretty, and I desired exceedingly to possess it. I asked my father for ten dollars to buy it; but he thought it an idle expense, and refused. I then went to my mother, and tried to get her to persuade my father to buy the watch for me; but this was unavailing.
“About this time, I saw a ten dollar bill, lying, as if left by some accident, in one of my father’s desk drawers. The thought of taking it, came suddenly into my mind. I took it and put it into my pocket, and went away. It was the first thing of the kind I had ever done, but a first step in guilt once taken, others soon become matters of course. I had no great fear of detection, for I believed that the bill would not be missed, and if it were, no one was likely to suspect me of taking it. The money was soon missed, however, and some inquiry was made about it. I was asked if I had seen it: to which I answered, ‘No!’ This lie, the first I had ever told, was the direct consequence of my first fault.
“The loss of the money passed by; nothing more was said of it for some time. After waiting a few days, I took the bill and purchased the watch of my young friend, telling him to say that he had given it to me, if any inquiry was
made about it. I then took it home and told my mother that John Staples had given me the watch. Thus I went on, not only telling falsehoods myself, but also leading my companion into falsehood: so sure it is that one crime leads to another.
[“]My mother seemed very thoughtful when I showed her the watch; and pretty soon after, my father called me to him, and began to inquire about it. He was evidently a little suspicious that I had come by it unfairly, and suspected that, somehow or other, the affair was connected with the lost ten dollar bill. I parried all his enquiries; denied plumply and roundly all knowledge of the missing money; and at last, with tears and a look of honest indignation, protested my innocence.
“From this time, my feelings towards my parents began to alter, and especially towards my father. I could not bear to see him look at me. Ever before, I had loved his look, as if it were summer’s sunshine; but now it seemed to me to be full of suspicion and reproach. I felt as if his eye penetrated into my very bosom; and it stung me with remorse. My confidence in him was gone; my affection flown; I even disliked to be in his presence, and I was constantly devising the means of cheating and deceiving him!
“So things went on for two or three weeks, when at last my father claled me to his study, and I saw by his look that something serious was coming. He proceeded at once to tell me that a shopkeeper in the village, in paying him some money, had given, among other bills, the lost ten dollar note! He added further, that, on inquiry, he found that it had been received of John Staples. My father’s inference was, that I had taken the money, and bought the watch with it, and had resorted to a series of falsehoods to cover up my guilt. Short as had been my apprenticeship in crime, I met this charge with steadiness; and still protested my innocence, and insinuated that suspicion ought rather to fall upon Staples, than upon myself.
“Upon this hint, my father sent for John, who, true to his promise, said that he had given me the watch. When asked about the money, he denied all knowledge of it. My father told him of getting the identical bill he had lost, at the merchant’s store; he took it out of his pocket, and deliberately showed it to Staples. The fellow seemed to feel that he was caught; that further evasion was vain. The truth trembled upon his lips, but before he spoke, he looked at me. I gave him such a frown as to decide his course. He instantly changed his mind, and resolutely denied ever having seen the money before!
“This was decisive: Staples was proved a liar, and it was readily inferred that he was also a thief. The matter was told to his father, who paid the ten dollars in order to hush the matter up. thus the affair seemed to end, and my first enterprise in guilt was successful. But alas, there is no end to crime! and our success in error is but success in misery. I had obtained the watch—but at what a cost! I had made me a liar; it had deprived me of that love of my parents which had been my greatest source of happiness; it had made me dread event he look and presence of my kind father; it had led me, in order to save myself, to sacrifice my friend and companion; and, finally, it had made me look upon all these things with satisfaction and relief, because they had been connected with my escape from detection and punishment. Thus it is that we learn not only to practise wickedness, but to love it!
“From this time, my course in the downward path was steady and rapid. I formed acquaintance with the vicious, and learned to prefer their society. I soon became wholly weaned from
my parents, and felt their society to be an irksome restraint, rather than a pleasure. From regarding my father as an object of affection, I learned now to look upon him with aversion. When he came into my presence, or I into his, his image produced a painful emotion in my mind. Thus I got at length to feel toward him something like hatred. I spent a great deal of money for him, and kept constantly asking for more. I knew that he was in straightened [sic] circumstances, and tha[t] he could ill afford to supply me—but this did not weigh a feather in my hardened mind.
“I went on from one step to another, till at last I agreed to unite with my companions in a regular system of roguery. We formed a kind of society, and robbed hen-roosts and melon-patches by the score. We obtained entrance to houses and stores, and plundered them of many watches and silver spoons. I was the youngest of the party, and did not always take a very active part in their enterprises—but I loved the sport and did what I could. At last, as we were returning from an excursion one very dark night—there being four of us—we heard a horse’s trot behind us. We waited a little, and soon a gentleman, well mounted, came up. In an instant two of the gang rushed upon him; one seized the horse’s bridle, and the other pulled the man to the ground. We all fell upon him and began to rifle his pockets. He made some resistance, and I was about to strike him on the head—when, think of my horror!—I perceived that it was my father! I staggered back and fell senseless upon the ground. No one saw me, and how long I remained insensible, I cannot say.
“When I came to myself, I was alone. My companions had gone away, not noticing me, and my father, after being rifled of his watch and money, had escaped. What should I do? I could not return home; the thought of meeting the parent, in whose robbery I had been an abettor, and against whose life I had prepared to strike a ruffian blow—was too horrible! I fled to this city—I allied myself to rogues and scoundrels. I lived a life of crime; for nothing else was left to me. I drank deeply; for drunkenness is necessary to one who pursues a life of vice and crime. The mind gets full of horros at last, and brandy only can allay them; beside, brandy is often necessary to nerve the head and strengthen the arm, so as to give the needed daring and power. If you could annihilate liquors, it seems to me that you would annihilate the whole profession of thieves, blacklegs, burglars, robbers and counterfeiters. Get rid of those who sell liquors, and you get rid of these felons; for they could not endure such lives as they lead, unless braced up by the stimulus of strong drink.
“Well—my story is now told. I have only to say, that I was taken at last, for one of my crimes, tried, convicted, and sent to this place. But I shall stay here a short time only. My health is gone—though scarce eighteen years of age; my constitution is wasted away, and the lamp of life is near going out forever!”
Here the poor youth sunk down upon his bed, completely exhausted. He closed his eyes, and by the flickering light of a remote lamp, his face seemed as pallid as marble. It looked like the very image of death, and I felt a sort of awe creeping over me, as if a corpse was at my side. At last I could hear him breathe, and then I went to bed. I reflected long upon what had happened. “I have thought,” said I, mentally, “that I was most unhappy, in being destitute of the care and instruction of parents; but there is a poor youth who is still more wretched, and who yet has enjoyed the blessing denied to me. The truth is, that after all, good or ill fortune, is usually
the result of our own conduct. Even if Providence grants us blessings, we may neglect or abuse them; if they are denied to us, we may, by a steady pursuit of the right path, still be successful in gaining happiness.” With this reflection, I fell asleep; but when I awoke in the morning, the young man at my side was sleeping in the repose of death!
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1842; pp. 104-107)
About a week after my imprisonment, as I was sitting in the large room of the jail, occupied in observing the several persons around me, the door of the prison opened, and a well-known face presented itself to my view: it was that of Bill Keeler! He did not immediately see me, for I was at a distance from him, and there were several persons between us: he, however, looked around, evidently seeking some one. I could not doubt that this was myself, and my first impulse was to rush into his arms; but a sense of shame—a feeling of degradation—at being found in such a place with-held me. I therefore, kept my seat on the floor, and buried my face between my knees.
I sat in this position for some time, when at last I felt a hand laid on my
shoulder, and the familiar voice of Bill, half whispering, said, close to my ear, “Robert—Bob—look up—I’m here!” I could not resist this, but sprang to my feet, and clasped Bill to my bosom. My feeling of shame vanished, my humiliation was forgotten for the moment, and I fully indulged the warm emotions of friendship.
Having talked over a great many things, Bill at length said, “Well, now as to this being in the jug—how do you like it?” The tears came to my eyes—my lip trembled, and I could not speak. “Oh, don’t mind it,” said he, “we ’ll get you out, somehow or other.”
“Get me out—how is that to be done?” said I.
“Why, we must first know how you got in,” he replied.
“They put me in!” was my answer.
“Yes, yes,” said my friend, “but for what?”
I here related the whole story; how my negligence at the shop had brought down the fury of the old bookseller upon my head; how I had wandered forth in a state of distraction; how a thief, pursued, slipped by me, and how I was taken to be the rogue, and condemned as such. Bill listened attentively, and after I had done, looked me steadily in the face for a moment. He then clasped his hands firmly together, and said, with deep emotion, “Thank Heaven, you are innocent! I knew it was so: I told ’em it was so.” He could say no more—for his breast heaved, and the tears ran down his cheeks. He turned away as if ashamed and hastily effacing the traces of his emotion, shook me by the hand—said he would see me again soon, and, giving me no opportunity to detain him, went away.
I did not then guess the meaning of this, or conjecture the plan he had in view; but I afterwards learned that he went straight to the city attorney, who had conducted the prosecution against me, and sought an interview. He told the lawyer his errand, and stated that as he knew I was innocent, he hoped I might be released.
“How do you know he is innocent?” said the lawyer.
“He says he is innocent!” said Bill.
The lawyer smiled—but did not speak.
“You think he is not innocent?” said my friend. “I know he is—Bob Merry could not steal, any more than a cow could climb a tree; he wan’t brought up to ’t, and he han’t got a turn for it. Why, Robert was eddicated a gentleman, and he never could draw a mug of cider without spillin’ half on ’t! And now, arter he’s bin in New York less than a fortnit, you make him out an accomplished rogue. I ax your pardon, mister, but it don’t stand to reason, that an honest boy becomes a thief just as a pollywog turns into a frog.”
“Can you prove his innocence?” said the lawyer, dryly.
“Prove it!” said Bill, indignantly: “hav ’nt I proved it? Don’t he say he’s innocent? Don’t I know he’s innocent? Prove it, to be sure! Pray, mister, what do you take me for?”
“I take you to be a very honest fellow but very ignorant of these matters,” said the lawyer. “The question is not whether your friend is innocent,”—
Here Bill opened his eyes, and drew the edges of his lips into a circle. The lawyer proceeded,—
“The question is not whether your friend is innocent; but, it is whether you can prove him to be so. If you can bring forward witnesses to swear that he was in another place, and, therefore, could not have committed the crime charged; and, if you can make the judge believe this, and if you can pay the expenses of the court, and the fees of the lawyers we can get him out—not otherwise.”
This was said in a manner so cold and yet so decisive, as to discourage Bill; so he took his hat and went away. But he did not abandon his project here. After walking about for some time, considering what was to be done, he went to the court-room, with the intention of appealing to the judge. When he got there, however, he was abashed by the imposing aspect of the scene. The judge, sitting upon his bench, high above the rest, appearing to be regarded with awe by the lawyers, and other persons around, was too formidable a personage to be readily approached, even by one who paid so little respect to outward circumstances as Bill Keeler. He therefore paused, and his attention was soon absorbed by the trial that was going forward.
A young man was before the court, charged with theft. the evidence was clear and conclusive; and his lawyer had, therefore, advised him to plead guilty: to tell the truth, and throw himself upon the mercy of the judge. He was just about to commence his confession, when Bill’s attention was drawn to him. He went on to say that he had been for some time connected with a gang of thieves, and proceeded to state some of his exploits. In the course of his narrative, he said that, three weeks before, he had stolen some money and other articles from a house, and being discovered, was pursued; but escaped, as another young man whom he passed in his flight, was apprehended in his place.
“You say,” said the judge, “that another young man was apprehended in your place”—
“Yes, sir!”—said Bill Keeler—who had watched the scene with intense interest—and who had gradually sidled through the crowd, and now stood close to the prisoner—“Yes, sir—another young man was apprehended in his place, and that’s Robert Merry, as honest as the cooper’s cow—and you sent him to jail, Mr. Judge, and he’s there now.”
“Order—order!” said the constable.
“Who is this fellow?” said the judge.
“It ’s me[,] sir,” said Bill, nothing daunted, now that he had opened his tips; and, brave as a soldier after the first fire, he went on. “It ’s me, sir, Bill Keeler, of Salem. I ’m a shoemaker, sir, and don’t know nothing about law in York. But, sir, if a feller ’s innocent, we don’t put him in the jug, up our way.”
“Hold your tongue!” said the officer.
“I’m going to,” said Bill—“so as to have it ready!”
The prisoner went on with his confession, and all he said tended to confirm the fact, that he was the thief for whose crime I was imprisoned. Bill waited till the case was closed; he then left the court-room, and again went to the lawyer whom he had before visited. As this man had witnessed the scene at the court-room, and of course now understood the mistake by which I had been imprisoned, Bill expected to find him prepared to set about my release.
“You see, sir,” said he, “that I was right.”
“Right! About what?”
“Oh, you know well enough—you was at the court to-day, and you heard that gallows-bird tell how it happened that he stole the money and spoons, and left Bob merry to go to jail for ’t.”
“Well; what is all this to me?”
“Why, ain’t you a lawyer?”
“Well, ain’t it the business of a lawyer to see that justice is done?”
“Not at all; a lawyer has nothing to do with justice.”
“Indeed! What is his business then?”
“To serve his client. I am the city lawyer, and the city is my client; it is my duty to try persons charged with of-
fences, and get them committed, if I can. What have I to do with justice?”
“Why,” said Bill, scratching his head—“all this kind o’ bothers me, for I’m just from the country, where we have a notion that there ’s such a thing as justice and law, and that it is designed to protect the innocent and punish the guilty: but it seems that I ’m rather green here at York! Howsomdever, I should like to ax one question.”
“Certainly,” said the lawyer.
“Well,” said Bill, casting his eyes knowingly at the attorney—“you got Bob into the pound, and you know how to get him out: set a thief to ketch a thief, as we say—no offence, Mister. ‘The hair of the same dog’— you understand! Now, as I said, you got Robert into the jug, and you know how to get him out. You was the lawyer of the city to get him into prison— will you be my lawyer to get him out of the prison?”
“Of course, if I am paid.”
“And what is your fee?”
“Whew! what did you charge for getting Bob into jail?”
“Well, what a queer trade this of yours is! Twenty dollars for a job, whether it ’s to imprison the innocent, or to release the innocent! It ’s a beautiful trade—an honest trade—and, besides, it ’s profitable! It works both ways; twenty dollars for doing wrong, twenty dollars for doing right! twenty dollars for justice, twenty dollars for injustice! Fegs! I should like to be a lawyer myself! But to business. I will pay you what you ax, if you ’ll get Robert out of jail.”
“You must pay down!”
“No, no; he ’s a good customer that pays when the work is done.”
“That may be; but I must have my money before I begin.”
“Well, here it is; though it ’s the last dollar I ’ve got. I wish you ’d take ten, and let me have the rest to get back to Salem with.”
“I can’t take less than twenty.”
“Not a cent less than twenty.”
“Well—then, take it! Now, when ’ll you have Bob out?”
Here Bill left the lawyer, who was as good as his word, and that very day I was released.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1842; pp. 132-134)
Although i did not know what was before me, and had no scheme even for providing myself with bread for a single day, I felt an indescribable degree of delight at my release from prison. To be shut up by our fellow- men, as if unworthy of enjoying light and liberty, is very hard to bear: to know that one is innocent of crime—and yet to be cast into a dungeon, and made the companion of the wicked and the degraded—is calculated to beget a deep sense of injustice. Such, indeed, was my feeling while in prison; and even when I was free, it still mingled with my joy, impressing me with a sad consciousness that even in society, and surrounded by laws designed to protect us from wrong, we are not wholly secure, and may be called upon, through the weakness of wickedness of our fellow-men, to suffer the most bitter pangs.
I, however, resisted these feelings and poured out my gratitude to Bill Keeler—my deliverer. On inquiry, I learned of him, that while at Salem, he had accidentally heard of my imprisonment; and though he supposed me guilty of some misdemeanor, he still gathered all the money he could, and pushed off on foot to New York, to obtain my release. The success of his endeavors has already been detailed.
Having talked over the events already laid before the reader, Bill asked me what I intended to do. I told him that I had formed no plan. He then urged em to go back with him to Salem; but as I seemed very reluctant to do so, his mind appeared to be turned to some other project. We walked along the street for a considerable distance in silence, and with an uncertain and sauntering gait—my companion evidently
in great perplexity. At last his countenance brightened, and turning round on his heel, he led me on, with a decided step, in a direction opposite to that which we had pursued.
“Well, well,” said Bill, cheerfully, “when one door shuts, another opens: if the mountain does n’t come to you, you must go to the mountain. How would you like to become a traveller, Bob?”
“I should like it of all things.”
“So I thought—and I’ll get it all fixed.”
“But how am I to pay the expenses?”
“I brought a couple of friends with me, who ’ll do that for you: they ’r queer chaps, but you ’ll learn to like ’em. You remember old Sarah’s cave? well, as I was climbing among the rocks just below it, a few days ago, in search of a woodchuk that had just duv into his burrow, a large stone gave way under my feet, and down the ledge I went, for more than three rod. A great mass of rubbish came down with me, and it’s a kind of miracle I wan’t smashed. I was a little stunned, but by-and-by I came to myself. There I lay, half covered with stones, leaves and gravel. Thinks I, what’s this all about? Just then I put out my hand to get up, and I felt something mighty cold. Well, what do you think it was? Why, ’twas a rattle-snake, and just by his side lay seven others! It was cold weather, and they were as straight and stiff as bean poles. Well, says I, there’s nothin made in vain—so I took tew on ’em, and doubled ’em up and put ’em into one of my stockins, and carried ’em home.
“When I got there, I took ’em out and laid ’em on the harth, and when they got warm they began to squirm. Well—my wife—Hepsey—(you remember Hepsy?—by the way—she sent her love to you, Bob—though I’d forgot that)—she made a dreadful screechin about it, and little Rob, he set up his pipes, and the cat stuck up her back, and Jehu barked as if there ’d been an attack of the Indians!
“Well, pretty soon the two critters began to stick out their tongues and their eyes grew as bright as a couple of lightnin-bugs in a foggy night. They then put their tails this way and that, and finally rolled themselves into a heap, and set up such a rattlein as I never heard afore. It was as much as to say—let every man, look out for his own shins! Everybody cleared—wife, baby, cat and dog—except myself. Takin’ the varmin in the tongs, one by one, I threw ’em out the winder, into a snow-bank, just to keep ’em cool and civil. I then made a box, and put ’em in, and fitted a pane of glass in the top, so you could look in and see ’em. Well, I brought the box and the two sarpints along with me, thinkin that when you got out of prison, they might be of sarvice.”
“What do you mean?” said I, in the greatest wonder.
“Mean? why, that you should take this box under your arm, and travel over the world, as independent as a lord. The sarpints will be meat and drink and clothin and lodgin, and a welcome to boot. I thought it likely, when I set out, from what I heerd, that you ’d got into some scrape, and that it might be necessary for you to be scace in these parts; so I thought the snakes would suit your case exactly. You need n’t look so sour, fir I don’t expect you to eat ’em. But hear my story. I was three days in going from Salem to York, and when I got there, I had tew dollars more in my pocket than when I set out, and I lived like a prince all the time! And how do you think ’twas done? Why, by the sarpints, to besure! When I put up at the tavern at night, I set the box down by my side in the bar-room, and took my fife, and began to play Yankee Doodle.
“Pretty soon everybody got round
me, and then I teld ’em about the sarpints, and how they might see ’em for sixpence apiece. Well, I got sixpences as thick as nuts in November. Now, Bob, you’ve had a good eddication, and can tell all about sarpints, and make up a good story, and you can travel all over the world, and come home as rich as a Jew. So you may have ’em, and I shall be happy to think that you’re travelling like a gentleman, while I go home to pound my lapstone and take care of my family.
“I thank you a thousand times, my dear Bill,” said I; “but I fear this will not do for me. You can turn your hand to anything, but I am a helpless creature, compared with yourself!”
“No, no,” said my friend earnestly. “You’ll do well enough when you get your hand in. You must try, at least. Here, take my penknife, if you haint got one. A penknife ’s a mighty good thing—no man need to feel low- sperited with a penknife in his pocket. When I’m away and feel kind o’ humsick, I take out my penknife, and get a stick and go to cuttin on’t, and it turns out a whistle, or a walkin-sick, or somethin else, and all the time I am as contented as a cow a stealin corn-stalks. A penknife’s a friend in need, and no man should ever be without one. You must take my fife, too, Bob, for you can play it well. It will make you welcome everywhere—as we catch flies with molasses, you can catch customers with music.”
To all this, I still replied that I doubted my success, and feared to undertake the scheme. “Faint heart never won fair lady,” said Bill. “Nothing venture, nothing have. You won’t succeed if you don’t try: a man never fails, when success is matter o’ life and death. If you set out, you won’t starve. You ’ll be like Seth Folet’s eel—you must go ahead.”
“Well, tell me the story of the eel.”
“Why, did n’t you never hear of Seth Follet’s eel? Seth had a long acquduct, made of logs, with an auger-hole bored thro’ ’em, to carry the water from a spring on a hill, to his house. After a while the water would n’t run, because the hole in the logs had got filled up with mud. Well, Seth was a queer genius; so he got an eel and put into the hole in the logs at one end. The critter went along pretty well for a time, but by-and-by he came to the mud. He then thought he ’d turn about, but he could n’t do that, for he just fitted the hole, you know! Then he thought he ’d back out, but he could n’t do that nother, for an eel ’s a thing that can’t work both ways. Well now, what should he do? why, there was only one thing to be done—to go ahead; and ahead he went—and cleared out the aqueduct!”
I could not help laughing heartily at this anecdote, and I confess that the reasoning of Bill seemed to be fraught with good sense. We spent the night together at the little tavern where he had left his box, and in the morning I concluded to adopt his scheme. Bill departed, the tears standing in his eyes—and taking the serpents, strapped across my shoulders, I set out on my adventures.
I am not going to give a detail of my travels, at present. I am afraid my readers are weary of my long story; and beside, I have promised to bring my narrative to a close in my next number. I must, therefore, pass lightly over my adventures as a showman; I must say little of my experiences as a travelling merchant, and come down to a period several years subsequent to my parting with Bill Keeler, as just related. The war with England, declared by the United States in 1812, was then raging, and circumstances led me to take a part in it. The events to which I allude, will be given in the next chapter.
“Merry’s Adventures,” by Samuel Goodrich (from Robert Merry’s Museum, December 1842; pp. 161-165)
Leaving New York with my “two friends,” as Bill called them, I proceeded to New Jersey, and thence I travelled to Washington. I was well received wherever I went, and through I did not get rich, still I procured money enough to pay my expenses. Having spent some time at Washington, and having seen the President, Mr. Jefferson, and several other famous men, I departed, and travelled through the southern states, and in about a year reached New Orleans.
During the expedition, I saw many new things, and acquired a good deal of information. I also met with many curious adventures; but I cannot stop to tell them here. Having spent several weeks at New Orleans, I set my face northward; and proceeding along the banks of the Mississippi, one day, as I was approaching the town of Natchez, in descending a steep bank, I stumbled and fell, and my box was thrown violently to the foot of the hill. The glass at the top of the box was entirely broken out, and my travelling companions, seeing that they could secure their liberty if they chose, gradually slid out of their confinement, and brandishing their tongues, and rattling their tails, they glided away into a neighboring thicket. In vain did I coax and threaten: neither fear nor affection could stop their progress, and thus suddenly I took leave of them forever. It might seem that a couple of serpents were not the objects upon which the heart is likely to fix its affection—yet I felt a sort of desolation when they were gone, and calling to mind the friend who had bestowed them upon me, and my helpless condition, now that they were departed, I sat down by the road- side, and indulged myself in a hearty fit of tears.
In a short time, however, I recovered my spirits, and entered the town of Natchez. I here took passage on board a small sloop, and in five weeks reached St. Louis—a voyage which is now made, in steamboats, in four or five days. Here I found myself nearly out of money—and seeing that it was necessary to do something, I purchased a small stock of beads and other trinkets, and set off on foot to trade with the Indians, of which there were several tribes in that region. My business was to exchange the goods I carried, for furs. In the first trip, I succeeded so well as to try it again, and finally I became a regular fur dealer, and carried on a considerable trade.
In my excursions, I met with many incidents that might be worth telling,
but I can only stop to relate one of them. On a certain occasion I had penetrated into the Indian territory, to a considerable distance from any white man’s settlement. Having learned something of the Indian manners and customs, and a few words of their language, I almost felt myself at home among them, particularly as some of the men spoke English. It was not, therefore, a cause of any anxiety, at the time to which I refer, that I was obliged to seek lodging in one of their villages.
It was a beautiful summer night, and I slept alone beneath a hut of skins. About midnight I was waked by a slight noise, and saw the dark figure of an Indian, about to enter the hut. I started in some alarm, but he put out his hand in token of peace, and begged that I would listen to a request which he had to make.
He sat down by my side, and stated that he loved a dark-eyed girl of the tribe, but that she would not return his affection. He was the bravest of the young chiefs in battle, as he said: the swiftest of foot in the race; the strongest in wrestling; the most successful in hunting—and yet the maiden, Zary, refused to become his wife. In this condition, he begged me to give him some charm by which he could conquer the heart of the girl, and persuade her to yield to his suit. I had, among my wares, a pair of ear-rings about three inches long, set with glass of various colors—green, red, and yellow. These I gave to the chief, and told him to present them to Zary. He thanked me after his Indian fashion, and went away. I did not know the result at the time, but I learned it at a subsequent period.
At last, the war with England broke out, and the Indians being incited to hostilities against us, there was no farther opportunity to venture among them. I therefore left St. Louis, and after a variety of incidents, reached New York. Here I spent a few days, and then set off for Salem, where I arrived without accident.
At first, the place seemed a good deal altered. Every house was in fact precisely as I left it, three years before—but still, all seemed on a smaller scale than I had fancied. The roads and lanes were narrower than they had once seemed; the old tavern of the Cock and Bull was not more than two thirds as large, and the meeting-house seemed to me to have shrunken to one half of its former dimensions. But my friends were still the same, at least so far as to be glad to see me. In some few cases, I could see the effect of habitual attendance upon the bar-room, which flourished much the same as ever. This was manifest, by an increased slovenliness of dress; a bloating of the face; a tottling step; an uncertain and staring look, as if the mind wandered; and, in short, a general aspect of degradation both of body and soul.
Raymond was perhaps a little thinner and paler than when I left him; Matt Olmsted seemed absolutely unchanged; but as to my best friend—Bill Keeler—alas! my heart bled to look at him. It was of an afternoon that I reached the village, in the stage-coach. Without making myself known at the tavern to a single individual, I walked to Bill’s house, which was at a short distance, and standing by itself. As I approached it, I remarked with pain, that it had a shabby, neglected, and desolate appearance. The garden by its side was overgrown with weeds—the fence was broken down in several places: the gate of the little door-yard was laying flat by the road-side. All had on the appearance of waste and neglect, as if the proprietor cared not for the place.
I was on the point of turning back, but seeing a child at the door, I went up and spoke to it. It looked me in the
face, and I could see, even in the soft features of infancy, the semblance of my friend. I could not help smiling to note in a child, the features which were so associated in my own mind with the boyish tricks, youthful frolics, and Yankee shrewdness of the father. In a few moments, the mother came to the door, and asked me to walk in. I did so, but she did not recognise me for some time. When I left Salem, she was the picture of ruddy health, and light-hearted happiness; she was now thin and pale, and her countenance told of sorrow. Her house was ill furnished, and had a comfortless appearance.
We went on conversing for some time; at last I enquired for her husband, and thus she recognised me. Soon after, Bill came in. He knew me instantly—but I thought the meeting gave him pain, rather than pleasure. I noticed that he looked poor and shabby, and he seemed to be oppressed with the consciousness of it. However, he soon rallied, and went on talking in his usual way, putting a great many questions, and much faster than I could answer them. “Where’s the box and the two sucking doves, Bob?—Mr. Merry—I beg your pardon!—How you have altered! Why, you ’re grown up complete. Where have you been all this time? let me see—it ’s better ’n four years since you left us, aint it? I dare say you ’ve been all over the world. Did you go to China, where they have houses made of crockery? Come, tell us all about it.”
Thus Bill rattled on, for a time, and at last I left him. The next day at early dawn, I took my way to the mountain. It was autumn, and the leaves had already fallen from the trees. The chilly winds sighed through the branches of the forests that clothed the shaggy cliffs, and seemed to speak of coming winter. The birds had fled, the insects were hushed, the flowers had gone down to their tombs. I could not but feel a sort of melancholy, which in some degree prepared me for the scene which followed.
As I approached old Sarah’s cave, I saw her sitting at the door. I went nearer and spoke to her—but she answered me not. I looked again, and perceived that her head was leaning against the rock—her white hair hanging loose upon her shoulders. She seemed asleep, and I spoke again—and again. I took hold of her arm to awake her—but she awoke no more. Alone—with no friend at her side—no one to hear her parting words, no one to say a last prayer—she had departed, and doubtless her spirit had gone to a better world.
I returned to the village and told what I had seen. Some of the inhabitants went to the mountain with me, and we buried the hermitess near the cave which she had chosen as her home. If the reader should ever be passing through the little town of Salem, let him obtain a guide to the mountain, and if he cannot show him the exact site of old Sarah’s grave, he will still point out the ruins of the cave, and the shelving rock, beneath which it was built.
After remaining a few months at Salem, finding it necessary to engage in some business in order to obtain the means of living, I again went to New York. But business of every kind was greatly depressed, and finding nothing to do, I turned my attention to the seat of war, along the line that divides the United States from Canada. Setting out on foot, I soon made my way to Fort Niagara, and afterwards to Cleveland, on the southern border of Lake Erie.
About this time, a company of riflemen was raised, chiefly to operate against the Indians, who were very troublesome along the borders of the lake. In this I enlisted, and we were soon marched into the quarter where
our services were needed. Here we joined a small detachment of American troops, and set out with them to march northward to join the army of General Winchester, then in the vicinity of the river Raizin.
Our route lay through a country consisting alternately of prairies and forests; and as we were passing through one of the latter, we were suddenly attacked by a party of Indians. A smart engagement followed, and several of our party were killed. I was myself wounded in the knee, by a bullet, and falling to the earth, fainted from loss of blood and the anguish of the wound. When I recovered my senses, I was alone, except that one of my dead companions was near me. I attempted to rise, but fell again to the earth.
At this moment, I saw a tall Indian peering through the woods. He saw me, and with some caution came to the spot. He lifted his scalping- knife over my head, and as my senses faded away, I supposed that my last hour had come.
It was long before I was conscious of existence. When my reason returned, I was on a straw bed in an English blockhouse, where I had been taken by the Indian who found me after I was wounded. It was the young chief whom I had supplied with a charm, some years before, by which, as he told me, he was able to win the heart of the beautiful Zary. As he was about to take my scalp, he recognised me, and with a heart full of gratitude, took me to the fort, and caused me to be attended with the utmost care. These things I learned by degrees, for it was several weeks before I was able to listen to the whole story. When I came fully to myself, I found what I had not before known, that the surgeon of the fort had amputated my leg, as the only means of saving my life. My recovery was slow, and when at last I was able to rise from my bed, it was with the sad consciousness that I was a cripple for the remainder of my days.
Months passed away, and I was again at Salem. There still swung the sign of the Cock and Bull, and there still flourished the tavern. It had lost, indeed, its former character; for the greater part of the travel had been directed from this route, and instead of being the local point for numerous lines of stages, it was now the stopping place of only a tri-weekly stage. But the bar-room was as well filled as ever; and when I returned, I found nearly the same set of persons there who had been accustomed to visit it before. A few indeed were missing; and, on enquiry, I learned that they ahd all gone down to their graves. Their place was however occupied by others, who bore the same general aspect.
The tavern-keeper who succeeded my uncle, followed his example, and shared his fate. He drank liberally, was called a clever fellow, and died early. His successor, so far as I could judge, was walking in their footsteps. Thus flourished the Cock and Bull. My readers may call it a sad place, but no one thought so then. It was esteemed a good tavern, and there were none to remark its deadly influence. It is true that it was a place where men went to get poison, which took away their reason, brutified their souls, and destroyed their bodies. It was a school where vice and crime were taught; a place which converted many a kind husband and good father into a ruthless savage—and sent down many a noble form to a premature grave. Yet in these days such things were deemed matters of course. Let us be thankful that the deadly influence of the tavern and the grog-shop is now understood.
But poor Bill Keeler—how shall I tell his story! Alas, he too was the victim of the village tavern! He was naturally a kind-hearted, generous fellow—quick-witted, active and ingenious. If any one
had met him on the highway, and struck him to the earth, and taken his life, he would have been called a murderer. But a tavern-keeper could not only take his life, but degrade his body and soul, and it was a very respectable business! So it was once—thank Heaven it is so no more!
I have not the heart to tell the details of my poor friend’s downward steps in the path of ruin. It must be sufficient to say that when I returned to Salem, I found his widow with a large family, struggling against poverty, but with cheerfulness and success. It was for some time a part of the care, as well as the pleasure of my life, to do something for the education of these children. In this occupation I forgot my own sorrows, and I became contented, I may almost say, happy. It is a curious fact that cripples are generally cheerful, and I really believe, that, in spite of what may seem the frown of fortune, their lot is generally brighter than that of the average of mankind. I can at least say, that, though I have seen what is called hard luck in life, it has generally been the result of my own weakness or folly. At all events, I hope my story will show my young readers how many evils flow from the neglect of early advantages; and that a man with a wooden leg, may still be