MoboReader > Literature > The Chainbearer; Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts

   Chapter 3 No.3

The Chainbearer; Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 29638

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"He tells her something,

That makes her blood look out; good sooth, she is

The queen of curds and cream."

-Winter's Tale.

* * *

Happy, happy Lilacsbush! Never can I forget the delight with which I roamed over its heights and glens, and how I rioted in the pleasure of feeling I was again a sort of master in those scenes which had been the haunts of my boyhood! It was in the spring of 1784 before I was folded to the arms of my mother; and this, too, after a separation of near two years. Kate laughed, and wept, and hugged me, just as she would have done five years earlier, though she was now a lovely young woman, turned of nineteen. As for aunt Mary, she shook hands, gave me a kind kiss or two, and smiled on me affectionately, in her own quiet, gentle manner. The house was in a tumult, for Jaap returned with me, his wool well sprinkled with gray, and there were lots of little Satanstoes (for such was his family name, notwithstanding Mrs. Jaap called herself Miss Lilacsbush), children and grandchildren, to welcome him. To say the truth, the house was not decently tranquil for the first twenty-four hours.

At the end of that time I ordered my horse, to ride across the country to Satanstoe, in order to visit my widowed grandmother, who had resisted all attempts to persuade her to give up the cares of housekeeping, and to come and live at Lilacsbush. The general, for so everybody now called my father, did not accompany me, having been at Satanstoe a day or two before; but my sister did. As the roads had been much neglected in the war, we went in the saddle, Kate being one of the most spirited horsewomen of my acquaintance. By this time, Jaap had got to be privileged, doing just such work as suited his fancy; or, it might be better to say, was not of much use except in the desultory employments that had so long been his principal pursuits; and he was sent off an hour or two before we started ourselves, to let Mrs. Littlepage, or his "ole-ole missus," as the fellow always called my grandmother, know whom she was to expect to dinner.

I have heard it said that there are portions of the world in which people get to be so sophisticated, that the nearest of kin cannot take such a liberty as this. The son will not presume to take a plate at the table of the father without observing the ceremony of asking, or of being asked! Heaven be praised! we have not yet reached this pass in America. What parent, or grandparent, to the remotest living generation, would receive a descendant with anything but a smile, or a welcome, let him come when and how he will? If there be not room, or preparation, the deficiencies must be made up in welcomes; or, when absolute impossibilities interpose, if they are not overcome by means of a quick invention, as most such "impossibilities" are, the truth is frankly told, and the pleasure is deferred to a more fortunate moment. It is not my intention to throw a vulgar and ignorant gibe into the face of an advanced civilization, as is too apt to be the propensity of ignorance and provincial habits; for I well know that most of the usages of those highly improved conditions of society are founded in reason, and have their justification in a cultivated common sense; but, after all, mother nature has her rights, and they are not to be invaded too boldly, without bringing with the acts themselves their merited punishments.

It was just nine, on a fine May morning, when Kate

Littlepage and myself rode through the outer gate of Lilacsbush, and issued upon the old, well-known Kingsbridge road. Kingsbridge! That name still remains, as do those of the counties of Kings, and Queens, and Duchess, to say nothing of quantities of Princes this and that in other States; and I hope they always may remain, as so many landmarks in our history. These names are all that now remain among us of the monarchy; and yet have I heard my father say a hundred times, that when a young man, his reverence for the British throne was second only to his reverence for the Church. In how short a time has this feeling been changed throughout an entire nation; or, if not absolutely changed, for some still continue to reverence monarchy, how widely and irremediably has it been impaired! Such are the things of the world, perishable and temporary in their very natures; and they would do well to remember the truth, who have much at stake in such changes.

We stopped at the door of the inn at Kingsbridge to say good morning to old Mrs. Light, the landlady who had now kept the house half a century, and who had known us, and our parents before us, from childhood. This loquacious housewife had her good and bad points, but habit had given her a sort of claim on our attentions, and I could not pass her door without drawing the rein, if it were only for a moment. This was no sooner done, than the landlady in person was on her threshold to greet us.

"Ay, I dreamt this, Mr. Mordaunt," the old woman exclaimed, the instant she saw me-"I dreamt this no later than last week! It is nonsense to deny it; dreams do often come true!"

"And what has been your dream this time, Mrs. Light?" I asked, well knowing it was to come, and the sooner we got it the better.

"I dreamt the general had come home last fall, and he had come home! Now the only idee I had to help out that dream was a report that he was to be home that day; but you know, Mr. Mordaunt, or Major Littlepage, they tell me I ought now to call you-but you know, Mr. Mordaunt, how often reports turn out to be nothing. I count a report as no great help to a dream. So, last week, I dreamed you would certainly be home this week; and here you are, sure enough!"

"And all without any lying report to help you, my good landlady?"

"Why, no great matter; a few flying rumors, perhaps; but as I never believe them when awake, it's onreasonable to suppose a body would believe 'em when asleep. Yes, Jaaf stopped a minute to water his horse this morning, and I foresaw from that moment my dream would come to be true, though I never exchanged a word with the nigger."

"That is a little remarkable, Mrs. Light, as I supposed you always exchanged a few words with your guests."

"Not with the blacks, major; it's apt to make 'em sassy. Sassiness in a nigger is a thing I can't abide, and therefore I keep 'em all at a distance. Well, the times that I have seen, major, since you went off to the wars! and the changes we have had! Our clergyman don't pray any longer for the king and queen-no more than if there wasn't sich people living."

"Not directly, perhaps, but as a part of the Church of God, I trust. We all pray for Congress now."

"Well, I hope good will come out of it! I must say, major, that His Majesty's officers spent more freely, and paid in better money, than the continental gentlemen. I've had 'em both here by rijjiments, and that's the character I must give 'em, in honesty."

"You will remember they were richer, and had more money than our people. It is easy for the rich to appear liberal."

"Yes, I know that, sir, and you ought, and do know it, too. The Littlepages are rich, and always have been, and they are liberal too. Lord bless your smiling, pretty faces! I knowed your family long afore you knowed it yourselves. I know'd old Captain Hugh Roger, your great-grand'ther, and the old general, your grand'ther, and now I know the young general, and you! Well, this will not be the last of you, I dares to say, and there'll be light hearts and happy ones among the Bayards, I'll answer for it, now the wars are over, and young Major Littlepage has got back!"

This terminated the discourse; for by this time I had enough of it; and making my bow, Kate and I rode on. Still, I could not but be struck with the last speech of the old woman, and most of all with the manner in which it was uttered. The name of Bayard was well known among us, belonging to a family of which there were several branches spread through the Middle States, as far south as Delaware; but I did not happen to know a single individual of them all. What, then, could my return have to do with the smiles or frowns of any of the name of Bayard? It was natural enough, after ruminating a minute or two on the subject, that I should utter some of my ideas, on such a subject, to my companion.

"What could the old woman mean, Kate," I abruptly commenced, "by saying there would now be light hearts and happy ones among the Bayards?"

"Poor Mrs. Light is a great gossip, Mordaunt, and it may be questioned if she know her own meaning half the time. All the Bayards we know are the family at the Hickories; and with them, you have doubtless heard, my mother has long been intimate."

"I have heard nothing about it, child. All I know is, that there is a place called the Hickories, up the river a few miles, and that it belongs to some of the Bayards; but I never heard of any intimacy. On the contrary, I remember to have heard that there was a lawsuit once, between my grandfather Mordaunt and some old Bayard or other; and I thought we were a sort of hereditary strangers."

"That is quite forgotten, and my mother says it all arose from a mistake. We are decided friends now."

"I'm sure I am very glad to hear it; for, since it is peace, let us have peace; though old enemies are not apt to make very decided friends."

"But we never were-that is, my grandfather never was an enemy of anybody; and the whole matter was amicably settled just before he went to Europe, on his unfortunate visit to Sir Harry Bulstrode. No-no-my mother will tell you, Mordaunt, that the Littlepages and the Bayards now regard each other as very decided friends."

Kate spoke with so much earnestness that I was disposed to take a look at her. The face of the girl was flushed, and I fancy she had a secret consciousness of the fact; for she turned it from me as if gazing at some object in the opposite direction, thereby preventing me from seeing much of it.

"I am very glad to learn all this," I answered, a little dryly. "As I am a Littlepage, it would have been awkward not to have known it, had I accidentally met with one of these Bayards. Does the peace include all of the name, or only those of the Hickories?"

Kate laughed; then she was pleased to tell me that I was to consider myself the friend of all of the name.

"And most especially of those of the name who dwell at the Hickories?"

"How many may there be of this especially peaceful breed? six, a dozen, or twenty?"

"Only four; so your task will make no very heavy demand on your affections. Your heart has room, I trust, for four more friends?"

"For a thousand, if I can find them, my dear. I can accept as many friends as you please, but have places for none else. All the other niches are occupied."

"Occupied!-I hope that is not true, Mordaunt. One place, at least, is vacant."

"True; I had forgotten a place must be reserved for the brother you will one day give me. Well, name him, as soon as you please; I shall be ready to love him, child."

"I may never make so heavy a draft on your affections. Anneke has given you a brother already, and a very excellent one he is, and that ought to satisfy a reasonable man."

"Ay, so all you young women say between fifteen and twenty, but you usually change your mind in the end. The sooner you tell me who the youth is, therefore, the sooner I shall begin to like him-is he one of the Bayards?-un chevalier sans peur et sans reproche?"

Kate had a brilliant complexion, in common; but, as I now turned my eyes toward her inquiringly, more in mischief, however, than with the expectation of learning anything new, I saw the roses of her cheeks expand until they covered her temples. The little beaver she wore, and which became her amazingly, did not suffice to conceal these blushes, and I now really began to suspect I had hit on a vein that was sensitive. But my sister was a girl of spirit, and though it was no difficult thing to make her change color, it was by no means easy to look her down.

"I trust your new brother, Mordaunt, should there ever be such a person, will be a respectable man, if not absolutely without reproach," she answered. "But, if there be a Tom Bayard, there is also a Pris Bayard, his sister."

"So-so-this is all news to me, indeed! As to Mr. Thomas Bayard, I shall ask no questions, my interest in him, if there is to be any, being altogether ex officio, as one may say, and coming as a matter of course; but you will excuse me if I am a little curious on the subject of Miss Priscilla Bayard, a lady, you will remember, I never saw."

My eye was on Kate the whole time, and I fancied she looked gratified, though she still looked confused.

"Ask what you will, brother-Priscilla Bayard can bear a very close examination."

"In the first place, then, did that old gossip allude to Miss Priscilla, by saying there would be light hearts and happy ones among the Bayards?"

"Nay, I cannot answer for poor Mrs. Light's conceits. Put your questions in some other form."

"Is there much intimacy between the people of the 'Bush and those of the Hickories?"

"Great-we like them exceedingly; and I think they like us."

"Does this intimacy extend to the young folk, or is it confined to the old?"

"That is somewhat personal," said Kate, laughing, "as I happen to be the only 'young folk' at the 'Bush, to maintain the said intimacy. As there is nothing to be ashamed of, however, but, on the contrary, much of which one may be proud, I shall answer that it includes 'all ages and both sexes;' everybody but yourself, in a word."

"And you like old Mr. Bayard?"

"Amazingly."

"And old Mrs. Bayard?"

"She is a very agreeable person, and an excellent wife and mother."

"And you love Pris Bayard?"

"As the apple of mine eye," the girl answered with emphasis.

"And you like Tom Bayard, her brother?"

"As much as is decent and proper for one young woman to like the brother of another young woman, whom she admits that she loves as the apple of her eye."

Although it was not easy, at least not easy for me, to cause Kate Littlepage to hold her tongue, it was not easy for her to cause the tell-tale blood always to remain stationary. She was surprisingly beautiful in her blushes, and as much like what I had often fancied my dear mother might have been in her best days as possible, at the very moment she was making these replies as steadily as if they gave her no trouble.

"How is all this then, connected with rejoicings among the people of the Hickories, at my return? Are you the betrothed of Tom Bayard, and have you been waiting for my return to give him your hand?"

"I am not the betrothed of Tom Bayard, and have not been waiting for your return t

o give him my hand," answered Kate, steadily. "As for Mrs. Light's gossipings, you cannot expect me to explain them. She gets her reports from servants, and others of that class, and you know what such reports are usually worth. But, as for my waiting for your return, brother, in order to announce such an event, you little know how much I love you, if you suppose I would do any such thing."

Kate said this with feeling, and I thanked her with my eyes, but could not have spoken, and did not speak, until we had ridden some distance. After this pause, I renewed the discourse with some of its original spirit.

"On that subject, Katrinke, dear," I said, "I trust we understand each other. Single or married, you will ever be very dear to me; and I own I should be hurt to be one of the last to learn your engagement, whenever that may happen. And now for this Priscilla Bayard-do you expect me to like her?"

"Do I! It would be one of the happiest moments of my life, Mordaunt, when I could hear you acknowledge that you love her!"

This was uttered with great animation, and in a way to show that my sister was very much in earnest. I felt some surprise when I put this feeling in connection with the landlady's remarks, and began to suspect there might be something behind the curtain worthy of my knowledge. In order to make discoveries, however, it was necessary to pursue the discourse.

"Of what age is Miss Bayard?" I demanded.

"She is two months my senior-very suitable, is it not?"

"I do not object to the difference, which will do very well. Is she accomplished?"

"Not very. You know few of us girls who have been educated during the revolution, can boast of much in that way; though Priscilla is better than common."

"Than of her class, you mean, of course?"

"Certainly-better than most young ladies of our best families."

"Is she amiable?"

"As Anneke, herself!"

This was saying a great deal, our eldest sister, as often happens in families, being its paragon in the way of all the virtues, and Anneke's temper being really serenity itself.

"You give her a high character, and one few girls could sustain. Is she sensible and well-informed?"

"Enough so as often to make me feel ashamed of myself. She has an excellent mother, Mordaunt; and I have heard you say, often, that the mother would have great influence with you in choosing a wife."

"That must have been when I was very young, child, before I went to the army, where we look more at the young than at the old women. But, why a wife? Is it all settled between the old people, that I am to propose to this Priscilla Bayard, and are you a party to the scheme?"

Kate laughed with all her heart, but I fancied she looked conscious.

"You make no answer, young lady, and you must permit me to remind you that there is an express compact between you and me to treat each other frankly on all occasions. This is one on which I especially desire to see the conditions of the treaty rigidly enforced. Does any such project exist?"

"Not as a project, discussed and planned-no-certainly not. No, a thousand times, no. But I shall run the risk of frustrating one of my most cherished hopes, by saying, honestly, that you could not gratify my dear mother, aunt Mary, and myself, more than by falling in love with Pris Bayard. We all love her ourselves, and we wish you to be of the party, knowing that your love would probably lead to a connection we should all like, more than I can express. There; you cannot complain of a want of frankness, for I have heard it said, again and again, that the wishes of friends, indiscreetly expressed, are very apt to set young men against the very person it is desired to make them admire."

"Quite likely to be true as a rule, though in my case no effect, good or bad, will be produced. But how do the Bayards feel in this matter?"

"How should I know! Of course, no allusion has ever been made to any of the family on the subject; and, as none of them know you, it is im-that is, no allusion-I mean-certainly not to more than one of them. I believe some vague remarks may have been ventured to one-but--"

"By yourself, and to your friend Pris?"

"Never"-said Kate, with emphasis. "Such a subject could never be mentioned between us."

"Then it must have been between the old ladies-the two mothers, probably?"

"I should think not. Mrs. Bayard is a woman of reserve, and mamma has an extreme sense of propriety, as you know yourself, that would not be likely to permit such a thing."

"Would the general think of contracting me, when my back was turned?"

"Not he-papa troubles himself very little about such things. Ever since his return home, he has been courting mamma over again, he tells us."

"Surely, aunt Mary has not found words for such an allusion!"

"She, indeed! Poor, dear aunt Mary; it is little she meddles with any one's concerns but her own. Do you know, Mordaunt, that mamma has told me the whole of her story lately, and the reason why she has refused so many excellent offers. I dare say, if you ask her, she will tell you."

"I know the whole story already, from the general, child. But, if this matter has been alluded to, to one of the Bayards, and neither my father, mother, nor aunt Mary, has made the allusion on our side, and neither Mr. Bayard, his wife, nor daughter, has been the party to whom the allusion has been made on the other, there remain only yourself and Tom to hold the discourse. I beg you to explain this point with your customary frankness."

Kate Littlepage's face was scarlet. She was fairly caught, though I distrusted the truth from the moment she so stammered and hesitated in correcting her first statement. I will own I enjoyed the girl's confusion, it made her appear so supremely lovely; and I was almost as proud of her, as I tenderly loved her. Dear, dear Kate; from my childhood I had my own amusement with her, though I do not remember anything like a harsh expression, or an unkind feeling, that has ever passed, or indeed existed, between us. A finer study than the face of my sister offered for the next minute, was never presented to the eye of man; and I enjoyed it so much the more, from a strong conviction that, while so deeply confused, she was not unhappy. Native ingenuousness, maiden modesty, her habit of frank dealing with me, and a wish to continue so to deal, were all struggling together in her fine countenance, forming altogether one of the most winning pictures of womanly feelings I had ever witnessed. At length, the love of fair-dealing, and love of me, prevailed over a factitious shame; the color settled back to those cheeks whence it had appeared to flash, as it might be, remaining just enough heightened to be remarked, and Kate looked toward me in a way that denoted all the sisterly confidence and regard that she actually felt.

"I did not intend to be the one to communicate to you a fact, Mordaunt, in which I know you will feel a deep interest, for I had supposed my mother would save me the confusion of telling it to you; but, now, there is no choice between resorting to equivocations that I do not like, and using our old long-established frankness."

"The long and short of which, my dear sister, is to say that you are engaged to Mr. Bayard?"

"No; not as strong as that, brother. Mr. Bayard has offered, and my answer is deferred until you have met him. I would not engage myself, Mordaunt, until you approved of my choice."

"I feel the compliment, Katrinke, and will be certain to repay it, in kind. Depend on it, you shall know, in proper season, when it is my wish to marry, and shall be heard."

"There is a difference between the claims of an elder and an only brother, and of a mere girl, who ought to place much dependence on the advice of friends, in making her own selection."

"You will not be a 'mere girl' when that time comes, but a married woman yourself, and competent to give good counsel from your own experience. To return to Tom, however; he is the member of his family to whom the allusion was made?"

"He was, Mordaunt," answered Kate, in a low voice.

"And you were the person who made it?"

"Very true-we were talking of you, one day; and I expressed a strong hope that you would see Priscilla with the eyes with which, I can assure you, all the rest of your family see her. That was all."

"And that was quite enough, child, to cause Tom Bayard to hang himself, if he were a lover of the true temper."

"Hang himself, brother! I am sure I do not understand why?"

"Oh! merely at the palpable discouragement such a wish would naturally convey to the brother of the young lady, since he must have seen you were willing to connect the two families by means other than giving him your own hand."

Kate laughed; but as she did not look much confused, or at all alarmed, I was induced to believe that more important encouragement than could be afforded by means of her wish of marrying me to her suitor's sister had been given Master Tom, and that my disapproval of the gentleman would cause her more concern than she chose to avow. We rode on, however, some little distance, without either's offering to renew the discourse. At length, as became my sex, I spoke.

"When am I to see this paragon young man and paragon young woman, Kate, since see both I must?"

"Not paragon young man, brother; I am certain I have called him by no such name; Tom Bayard is a good fellow; but I do not know that he is by any means a paragon."

"He is a good-looking fellow in the bargain, I take it for granted?"

"Not so much so as you are yourself, if that will gratify your vanity."

"It ought to, coming from such a quarter; my question is still unanswered, notwithstanding."

"To own the truth to you, Mordaunt, I expect we shall find Tom Bayard and Pris at Satanstoe, to dine with my grandmother. She wrote me word, a day or two since, that both are asked, and that she hoped both would accept."

"The old lady is then in the plot, and intends to marry me, will ye, nill ye? I had thought this visit altogether a scheme of my own."

Kate again laughed, and told me I might make my own observations on that point, and judge for myself. As for the visit, I had only accidentally favored a project of others. The conversation now changed, and for several miles we rode along, conversing of the scenes of the war, without adverting to the Bayards or to marriages.

We were within half a mile of the gate of the Neck, and within a mile of the house, when we met Jaap returning to Lilacsbush, and carrying some fruit to my mother, after having discharged his commission of an avant-courier. From Kate's remark I had discovered we had been invited by letter to take this excursion, though the ceremony of sending the negro across with his message had been observed for reasons that were not very natural under the circumstances. I made no remark, however, determining to see and judge for myself.

As a matter of course, we drew our reins, and stopped to exchange a few words with the black.

"Well, Jaap, how did the Neck look, after so long an absence?" I inquired.

"It look, sah, no means as well as ole Missus, who do look capital, for such a lady! Dey do won'ers with 'e Neck, sah, if you just believe all young nigger say. But what you t'ink, Masser Mordy, I hear at 'e tavern, where I jist stop, sah, to water ole Dick?"

"And to get a sup of cider for old Jaap"-hereupon the negro laughed heartily, though he had the impudence neither to own nor to deny the imputation, his weakness in favor of "wring-jaw" being a well-established failing-"Well, what did you hear, while taking down the usual mug?"

"I on'y get half a mug, dis time, sah; ole, ole Missus nebber forgettin' to give me jist as much as I want. Well, sah, while old Dick drink, 'e new landlady, who come from Connetick, you know, sah, she say to me, 'Where you go, ole color' gentleum?' Dat war' civil, anyhow."

"To which you answered--"

"I answer her, sah, and say I go to Satanstoe, whar' I come from, long time 'go."

"Whereupon she made some observation or other-well, what was it?-You keep Miss Littlepage waiting."

"Lor' bless her, sah-it my business to wait on Miss Katrinke, not her business to wait on me-why you speak so droll, now, Masser Mordy?"

"Never mind all that, Jaap, what did the new Connecticut lady say, when you told her you were going to Satanstoe, the place where you had come from, a long time ago?"

"What she say, Masser Mordy, sah!-she say great foolishness, and make me mad. 'What you call by dat awful name?' she say, making face like as if she see a spook. 'You must mean Dibbleton,' she say-'dat 'e way all 'e people as is genteel call 'e Neck?' Did you ebber hear 'e like, sah?"

"Oh! yes; I heard the like of it, as soon as I was born; the attempt to change the name of our old place having existed now, these thirty years. Why, some people call Hellgate, Hurlgate; after that, one may expect anything. Do you not know, Jaap, a Yankee is never satisfied, unless he is effecting changes? One half his time he is altering the pronunciation of his own names, and the other half he is altering ours. Let him call the place what he will, you and I will stick to Satanstoe."

"Dat we will, sah-gib 'e debbil his due, sah; dat an ole sayin'. I'm sure anybody as has eyes, can see where his toe hab turn up 'e sile, and shape it he own way-no dibble dere, sah."

Thus saying, Jaap rode on, my sister and myself doing the same, pursuing the discourse that had thus accidentally arisen among us.

"Is it not odd, brother, that strangers should have this itching to alter the name of my grandmother's place?" said Kate, after we had parted from the black. "It is a homely name, certainly; but it has been used, now, a good deal more than a century, and time, at least, should entitle it to be let alone."

"Ay, my dear; but you are not yet aware of the desires, and longings, and efforts, and ambition of a 'little learning.' I have seen enough, in my short career, to know there is a spirit up among us, that calls itself by the pretending title of the 'spirit of improvement,' which is likely to overturn more important things than the name of our poor Neck. It is a spirit that assumes the respectable character of a love of liberty; and under that mask, it gives play to malice, envy, covetousness, rapacity, and all the lowest passions of our nature. Among other things, it takes the provincial pretence of a mock-refinement, and flatters an elegance of thought that is easiest attained by those who have no perceptions of anything truly elevated, by substituting sqeamishness and affectations for the simplicity of nature, and a good tone of manners."

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares