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The Chainbearer; Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 29422

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick; the one is too like an image, and says nothing; and the other, too like my lady's eldest son, evermore tattling."-Beatrice.

* * *

The very day my sister and I left Satanstoe, there was an interesting interview between my grandmother and myself, that it may be well to relate. It took place in the cool of the morning, before breakfast, indeed, and previously to the appearance of any of the rest of the party; for Tom Bayard and his sister had again ridden across the country to pass the night and see us off. My grandmother had requested me to meet her thus early, in a sort of little piazza, that modern improvements had annexed to one end of the old buildings, and in which we both appeared accordingly with the utmost punctuality. I saw by a certain sort of importance that my good grandmother wore in her countenance, that she had weighty matters on her mind, and took the chair she had set for me with some little curiosity to learn what was to follow. The chairs were placed side by side, or nearly so, but looking different ways, and so close together that, when seated, we were quite face to face. My grandmother had on her spectacles, and she gazed wistfully through them at me, parting the curls on my forehead, as had been her wont when I was a boy. I saw tears rolling out from behind the glasses, and felt apprehensive I might have said or done something to have wounded the spirit of that excellent and indulgent parent.

"For heaven's sake, grandmother, what can this mean?" I cried. "Have I done anything amiss?"

"No, my child, no; but much to the contrary. You are, and ever have been, a good and dutiful son, not only to your real parents, but to me. But your name ought to have been Hugh-that I will maintain long as I live. I told your father as much when you were born; but he was Mordaunt mad then, as, indeed, he has remained pretty much ever since. Not that Mordaunt is not a good name and a respectable name, and they say it is a noble name in England, but it is a family name, and family names are not for Christian names, at the best. Hugh should have been your name, if I could have had my way; and, if not Hugh, Corny. Well, it is too late for that now, as Mordaunt you are, and Mordaunt you must live and die. Did any one ever tell you, my child, how very, very like you are to your honored grandfather?"

"My mother, frequently-I have seen the tears start into her eyes as she gazed at me, and she has often told me my family name ought to have been Mordaunt, so much do I resemble her father."

"Her father!-Well, Anneke does get some of the strangest conceits into her head! A better woman, or a dearer, does not breathe-I love your mother, my child, quite as much as if she had been born my own daughter; but I must say she does get some of the strangest notions into her head that mortal ever imagined. You like Herman Mordaunt! You are the very image of your grandfather Littlepage, and no more like Herman Mordaunt than you are like the king!"

The revolution was then, and is now, still too recent to prevent these constant allusions to royalty, notwithstanding my grandfather had been as warm a whig as there was in the colonies, from the commencement of the struggle. As for the resemblance spoken of, I have always understood I was a mingled repetition of the two families, as so often happens, a circumstance that enables my different relatives to trace such resemblances as best suit their respective fancies. This was quite convenient, and may have been a reason, in addition to the fact of my being an only son, that I was so great a favorite with the females of my family. My dear old grandmother, who was then in her sixty-ninth year, was so persuaded of my likeness to her late husband, the "old general," as he was now called, that she would not proceed in her communications until she had wiped her eyes, and gratified her affections with another long and wistful gaze.

"Oh, those eyes!" she murmured-"and that forehead!-The mouth, too, and the nose, to say nothing of the smile, which is as much alike as one pea is like another!"

This left very little for the Mordaunts, it must be owned; the chin and ears being pretty much all that were not claimed for the direct line. It is true my eyes were blue, and the "old general's" had been as black as coals; my nose was Grecian, and his a most obtrusive Roman; and as for the mouth, I can only say mine was as like that of my mother's as a man's could well be like a woman's. The last I had heard my father say a thousand times. But no matter; age, and affection, and the longings of the parent, caused my grandmother to see things differently.

"Well, Mordaunt," the good old lady at length continued, "how do you like this choice of your sister Kate's? Mr. Bayard is a charming young man, is he not?"

"Is it then a choice, grandmother? Has Kate actually made up her mind?"

"Pshaw!" answered my grandmother, smiling as archly as if she were sixteen herself-"that was done long ago-and papa approved, and mamma was anxious, and I consented, and sister Anneke was delighted, and everything was as smooth as the beach at the end of the Neck, but waiting for your approbation. 'It would not be right, grandmother, for me to engage myself while Mordaunt is away, and without his even knowing the gentleman; so I will not answer until I get his approbation too,' said Kate. That was very pretty in her, was it not, my child? All your father's children have a sense of propriety!"

"Indeed it was, and I shall not forget it soon. But suppose I had disapproved, what would have followed, grandmother?"

"You should never ask unpleasant questions, saucy fellow; though I dare to say Kate would at least have asked Mr. Bayard to wait until you had changed your mind. Giving him up altogether would be out of the question, and unreasonable; but she might have waited a few months or so, until you changed your mind; and I would have advised her so to do. But all that is unnecessary as matters are; for you have expressed your approbation, and Kate is perfectly happy. The last letter from Lilacsbush, which Jaap brought, gives the formal consent of your dear parents-and what parents you have, my child!-so Kate wrote an acceptance yesterday, and it was as prettily expressed a note as I have seen in many a day. Your own mother could not have done better in her young days; and Anneke Mordaunt worded a note as genteelly as any young woman I ever knew."

"I am glad everything has gone right, and am sure no one can wish the young couple more happiness than I do myself. Kate is a dear, good girl, and I love her as much as a brother can love a sister."

"Is she not? and as thorough a Littlepage as ever was born! I do hope she will be happy. All the marriages in our family have proved so hitherto, and it would be strange if this should turn out differently. Well, now, Mordaunt, when Kate is married, you will be the only one left."

"That is true, grandmother; and you must be glad to find there will be one of us left to come and see you, without bringing nurses and children at his heels."

"I!-I glad of anything of the sort! No, indeed, my child; I should be sorry enough did I think for a moment, you would not marry as soon as is prudent, now that the war is over. As for the children, I dote on them; and I have ever thought it a misfortune that the Littlepages have had so few, especially sons. Your grandfather, my general, was an only son; your father was an only son; and you are an only son; that is, so far as coming to men's estates are, or were concerned. No, Mordaunt, my child, it is the warmest wish of my heart to see you properly married, and to hold the Littlepages of the next generation in my arms. Two of you I have had there already, and I shall have lived the life of the blessed to be able to hold the third."

"My dear, good grandmother!-what am I to understand by all this?"

"That I wish you to marry, my child, now that the war is ended; that your father wishes you to marry; that your mother wishes you to marry; and that your sister wishes you to marry."

"And all of you wish me to marry the same person? Is it not so?"

My grandmother smiled, but she fidgeted; fancying, as I suspected, that she had been pushing matters a little too fast. It was not easy, however, for one of her truth and simplicity of character to recede after having gone so far; and she wisely determined to have no reserves with me on the subject.

"I believe you are right, Mordaunt," she answered, after a short pause. "We do all wish you to fall in love as soon as you can; to propose as soon as you are in love; and to marry Priscilla Bayard, the instant she will consent to have you."

"This is honest, and like yourself, my dear grandmother; and now we both know what is intended, and can speak plainly. In the first place, do you not think one connection of this sort, between families, quite sufficient? If Kate marry the brother, may I not be excused for overlooking the attractions of the sister?"

"Priscilla Bayard is one of the loveliest girls in York Colony, Mordaunt Littlepage!"

"We call this part of the world York State, now, dearest grandmother. I am far from denying the truth of what you say;-Priscilla Bayard is very lovely."

"I do not know what more you can wish, than to get such a girl."

"I shall not say that the time will not come when I may be glad to obtain the consent of the young lady to become my wife; but that time has not yet arrived. Then, I question the expediency, when friends greatly desire any particular match, of saying too much about it."

My poor grandmother looked quite astounded, like one who felt she had innocently done mischief; and she sat gazing fondly at me, with the expression of a penitent child painted in her venerated countenance.

"Nevertheless, Mordaunt, I had a great share in bringing about the union between your own dear parents," she at length answered; "and that has been one of the happiest marriages I have ever known!"

I had often heard allusions of this nature, and I had several times observed the quiet smile of my mother, as she listened to them; smiles that seemed to contradict the opinion to which my grandmother's mistaken notions of her own influence had given birth. On one occasion (I was still quite a boy), I remember to have asked my mother how the fact was, when the answer was, "I married your father through the influence of a butcher's boy;" a reply that had some reference to a very early passage in the lives of my parents. But I well know that Cornelius Littlepage, nor Anneke Mordaunt, was a person to be coaxed into matrimony; and I resolved on the spot, their only son should manifest an equal independence. I might have answered my grandmother to this effect, and in language stronger than was my practice when addressing that reverend parent, had not the two girls appeared on the piazza at that moment, and broke up our private conference.

Sooth to say, Priscilla Bayard came forth upon me, that morning, with something like the radiance of the rising sun. Both the girls had that fresh, attractive look, that is apt to belong to the toilets of early risers of their sex, and which probably renders them handsomer at that hour, than at any other part of the day. My own sister was a very charming girl, as any one would allow; but her friend was decidedly beautiful. I confess I found it a little difficult not to give in on the spot, and to whisper my anxious grandmother that I would pay proper attention to the young lady, and make an offer at the suitable time, as she advanced toward us, exchanging the morning salutations, with just enough of ease to render her perfectly graceful, and yet with a modesty and retenue that were infinitely winning.

"Mordaunt is about to quit me, for the whole summer, Miss Bayard," said my grandmother, who would be doing while there was a chance; "and I have had him out here, to converse a little together, before we part. Kate I shall see often during the pleasant season, I trust; but this is to be the last of Mordaunt until the cold weather return."

"Is Mr. Littlepage going to travel?" inquired the young lady, with just as much interest as good breeding demanded, and not a particle more; "for Lilacsbush is not so distant, but he might ride over once a week, at least, to inquire how you do."

"Oh, he is going a great, great distance, and to a part of the world I dread to think of!"

Miss Bayard now looked really startled, and a good deal astonished, questioning me with her very fine eyes, though she said nothing with her tongue of Coejemans, who bears this appellation, and who has contracted to get the necessary surveys made, though he fills the humble post of a 'chainbearer' himself, not being competent to make the calculations.

"How can a mere chainbearer contract for a full survey?" asked Tom Bayard, who had joined the party, and had been listening to the discourse. "The chainbearers, in general, are but common laborers, and are perfectly irresponsible."

"That is true, as a rule; but my old friend forms an exception. He set out for a surveyor, but having no head for sines, and co-sines, and tangents, he was obliged to lower his pretensions to the humbler duty he now discharges. Still, he has long contracted for jobs of this nature, and gets as much as he can do, hiring surveyors himself, the owners of property having the utmost confidence in his measurements. Let me tell you, the man who carries chain is not the least important member of a surveying party in the woods. Old Andries is as honest as noon-day, and everybody has faith in him."

"His true name is Coejemans, I think you said, Major Littlepage?" asked Priscilla, as it struck me assuming an air of indifference.

"It is, Andries Coejemans; and his family is reputable, if not absolutely of a high caste. But the old man is so inveterate a woodsman, that nothing but patriotism, and his whig propensities, could have drawn him out into the open country. After serving most gallantly through the whole war, he has gone back to his chains; and many is the joke he has about remaining still in chains, after fighting so long and so often in the cause of liberty."

Priscilla appeared to hesitate-I thought her color increased a little-then she asked the question that was apparently uppermost in her thoughts, with surprising steadiness.

"Did you ever see the 'Chainbearer's niece, Dus Malbone?"

This question not a little surprised me; for, though I had never seen Ursula, the uncle ha

d talked so much to me of his ward, that I almost fancied she was an intimate acquaintance. It often happens that we hear so much of certain persons, that we think and speak of them as of those we know; and had Miss Bayard questioned me of one of my late comrades in the service, I should not have been a whit more startled than I was at hearing her pronounce the familiar name of Dus Malbone.

"Where, in the name of all that is curious, did you ever hear of such a person!" I exclaimed, a little inconsiderately, since the world was certainly wide enough to admit of two young women's being acquainted, without my consent; more especially as one of them I had never seen, and the other I had met, for the first time, only a fortnight before. "Old Andries was always speaking to me of his niece; but I could not suppose she was an acquaintance of one of your position in life!"

"Notwithstanding, we were something more than school-fellows;-for we were, and I trust are still very, very good friends. I like Dus exceedingly, though she is quite as singular, in her way, as I have heard her uncle described to be, in his."

"This is odd! Will you allow me to ask one question? You will think it singular, perhaps, after what you have just told me-but curiosity will get the better of my manners-is Dus Malbone a lady-the equal and companion of such a person as Miss Priscilla Bayard?"

"That is a question not so easily answered, perhaps; since, in some respects, she is greatly the superior of any young woman I know. Her family, I have always heard, was very good on both sides; she is poor, poor even to poverty, I fear now." Here Pris. paused; there was a tremor in her voice, even, and I detected tears starting to her eyes. "Poor Dus!" she continued-"she had much to support, in the way of poverty, even while at school; where she was, indeed, as a dependent, rather than as a boarder; but no one among us all, could presume to offer her favors. I was afraid even to ask her to accept a ribbon, as I should not hesitate to do to Kate here, or any other young lady with whom I was intimate. I never knew a nobler-minded girl than Ursula Malbone, though few persons understand her, I think."

"This is old Andries over again! He was poor enough, heaven knows; and I have known him actually suffer, in order to do his duty by this girl, and to make a proper appearance at the same time, as a captain in the New York line; yet none of us, not even my father, could ever induce him to borrow a single dollar. He would give, but he would not receive."

"I can believe this readily, it is so like Dus! If she has her peculiarities, she has noble qualities enough to redeem of Coejemans, who bears this appellation, and who has contracted to get the necessary surveys made, though he fills the humble post of a 'chainbearer' himself, not being competent to make the calculations."

"How can a mere chainbearer contract for a full survey?" asked Tom Bayard, who had joined the party, and had been listening to the discourse. "The chainbearers, in general, are but common laborers, and are perfectly irresponsible."

"That is true, as a rule; but my old friend forms an exception. He set out for a surveyor, but having no head for sines, and co-sines, and tangents, he was obliged to lower his pretensions to the humbler duty he now discharges. Still, he has long contracted for jobs of this nature, and gets as much as he can do, hiring surveyors himself, the owners of property having the utmost confidence in his measurements. Let me tell you, the man who carries chain is not the least important member of a surveying party in the woods. Old Andries is as honest as noon-day, and everybody has faith in him."

"His true name is Coejemans, I think you said, Major Littlepage?" asked Priscilla, as it struck me assuming an air of indifference.

"It is, Andries Coejemans; and his family is reputable, if not absolutely of a high caste. But the old man is so inveterate a woodsman, that nothing but patriotism, and his whig propensities, could have drawn him out into the open country. After serving most gallantly through the whole war, he has gone back to his chains; and many is the joke he has about remaining still in chains, after fighting so long and so often in the cause of liberty."

Priscilla appeared to hesitate-I thought her color increased a little-then she asked the question that was apparently uppermost in her thoughts, with surprising steadiness.

"Did you ever see the 'Chainbearer's' niece, Dus Malbone?"

This question not a little surprised me; for, though I had never seen Ursula, the uncle had talked so much to me of his ward, that I almost fancied she was an intimate acquaintance. It often happens that we hear so much of certain persons, that we think and speak of them as of those we know; and had Miss Bayard questioned me of one of my late comrades in the service, I should not have been a whit more startled than I was at hearing her pronounce the familiar name of Dus Malbone.

"Where, in the name of all that is curious, did you ever hear of such a person!" I exclaimed, a little inconsiderately, since the world was certainly wide enough to admit of two young women's being acquainted, without my consent; more especially as one of them I had never seen, and the other I had met, for the first time, only a fortnight before. "Old Andries was always speaking to me of his niece; but I could not suppose she was an acquaintance of one of your position in life!"

"Notwithstanding, we were something more than school-fellows;-for we were, and I trust are still very, very good friends. I like Dus exceedingly, though she is quite as singular, in her way, as I have heard her uncle described to be, in his."

"This is odd! Will you allow me to ask one question? You will think it singular, perhaps, after what you have just told me-but curiosity will get the better of my manners-is Dus Malbone a lady-the equal and companion of such a person as Miss Priscilla Bayard?"

"That is a question not so easily answered, perhaps; since, in some respects, she is greatly the superior of any young woman I know. Her family, I have always heard, was very good on both sides; she is poor, poor even to poverty, I fear now." Here Pris. paused; there was a tremor in her voice, even, and I detected tears starting to her eyes. "Poor Dus!" she continued-"she had much to support, in the way of poverty, even while at school; where she was, indeed, as a dependent, rather than as a boarder; but no one among us all, could presume to offer her favors. I was afraid even to ask her to accept a ribbon, as I should not hesitate to do to Kate here, or any other young lady with whom I was intimate. I never knew a nobler-minded girl than Ursula Malbone, though few persons understand her, I think."

"This is old Andries over again! He was poor enough, heaven knows; and I have known him actually suffer, in order to do his duty by this girl, and to make a proper appearance at the same time, as a captain in the New York line; yet none of us, not even my father, could ever induce him to borrow a single dollar. He would give, but he would not receive."

"I can believe this readily, it is so like Dus! If she has her peculiarities, she has noble qualities enough to redeem a thousand foibles. Still, I would not have you to think Ursula Malbone is not an excellent creature in all respects, though she certainly has her peculiarities."

"Which, doubtless, she has inherited from the Coejemans, as her uncle, the Chainbearer, has his peculiarities, too."

"The Malbones have none of the blood of the Coejemans," answered the lady, quickly; "though it is respectable, and not to be ashamed of. Dus Malbone's mother was only half-sister to Captain Coejemans, and they had different fathers."

I thought Pris. looked a little confused, and as if she were sorry she had said so much on the subject at all, the instant she had betrayed so much intimacy with the Malbone genealogy; for she shrunk back, plucked a rose, and walked away smelling the flower, like one who was indisposed to say any more on the subject. A summons to breakfast, however, would otherwise have interrupted us, and no more was said about the Chainbearer, and his marvellous niece, Dus Malbone. As soon as the meal was ended, our horses were brought round, and Kate and I took our leave, Jaap having preceded us as usual, an hour or more, with our luggage. The reader is not to suppose that we always moved in the saddle, in that day; on the contrary, my mother had a very neat chaise, in which she used to drive about the country, with a mounted postilion; my father had a phaeton, and in town we actually kept a chariot; for the union of the Mordaunt and Littlepage properties had made us very comfortable, and comfortably we lived. But young ladies liked the saddle twenty-five years ago, more than they do to-day; and Kate, being a capital horse-woman, like her mother, before her, we were often out together. It was choice, then, and not necessity, a little aided by bad roads, perhaps, that induced us to ride across to Satanstoe so often, when we wished to visit our grandmother.

I kissed my dear old parent very affectionately at parting, for I was to see her no more that summer; and I got her blessing in return. As for Tom Bayard, a warm, brotherly shake of the hand sufficed, inasmuch as it was pretty certain I should see him at Lilacsbush before I left home. Approaching his sister, who held out her hand to me, in a friendly manner, I said as I took it-

"I hope this is not the last time I am to see you before I start for the new countries, Miss Bayard. You owe my sister a visit, I believe, and I shall trust to that debt for another opportunity of saying the unpleasant word 'farewell.'"

"This is not the way to win a lady's heart, Mordaunt," cried Kate, gayly. "It is only fifteen miles from your father's door to the Hickories, you ought to know, sir; and you have a standing invitation to darken its door with your military form."

"From both my father and brother"-put in Priscilla, a little hastily. "They will always be happy to see Major Littlepage, most certainly."

"And why not from yourself, Miss Prude," added Kate, who seemed bent on causing her friend some confusion. "We are not now such total strangers to each other as to render that little grace improper."

"When I am mistress of a house of my own, should that day ever arrive, I shall take care not to lose my reputation for hospitality," answered Pris., determined not to be caught, "by neglecting to include all the Littlepage family in my invitations. Until then, Tom's and papa's welcomes must suffice."

The girl looked amazingly lovely all the time, and stood the smiles of those around her with a self-possession that showed me she knew perfectly well what she was about. I was never more at a loss how to understand a young woman, and it is very possible, had I remained near her for a month longer, the interest such uncertainty is apt to awaken might have sent me away desperately in love. But Providence had determined otherwise.

During our ride toward the 'Bush, my sister, with proper blushes and a becoming hesitation, let me into the secret of her having accepted Tom Bayard. They were not to be married until after my return from the north, an event that was expected to take place in the ensuing autumn.

"Then I am to lose you, Kate, almost as soon as I find you," I said, a little despondingly.

"Not lose me, brother; no, no, not lose me, but find me, more than ever. I am to be transplanted into a family whither you will soon be coming to seek a wife yourself."

"Were I to come, what reason have I for supposing it would be successful?"

"That is a question you have no right to ask. Did I even know of any particular reason for believing your reception would be favorable, you cannot believe me sufficiently treacherous to betray my friend. Young ladies are not of the facility of character you seem to suppose, sir; and no method but the direct one will succeed. I have no other reason for believing you would succeed than the facts that you are an agreeable, good-looking youth, however, of unexceptionable family and fortune, living quite near the Hickories, and of a suitable age, temper, habits, character, etc., etc., etc. Are not these reasons sufficient to encourage you to persevere, my brave major?"

"Perseverance implies commencement, and I have not yet commenced. I scarcely know what to make of your friend, child; she is either the perfection of nature and simplicity, or the perfection of art."

"Art! Pris. Bayard artful! Mordaunt, you never did a human being greater injustice; a child cannot have greater truth and sincerity than Tom's sister."

"Ay, that's just it; Tom's sister is ex officio perfection; but, you will please to remember that some children are very artful. All I can say on the subject at present is, that I like Tom, and I like his parents; but I do not know what to think of your friend."

Kate was a little offended, so she made me no answer. Her good humor returned, however, before we had gone far, and the rest of our ride passed pleasantly enough, no allusions being made to any of the name of Bayard; though, I dare say, my companion thought a great deal of a certain Tom, of that name, as I certainly did of his handsome and inexplicable sister.

At the Kingsbridge Inn we had another short brush with that untiring gossip, its landlady.

"A pleasant time it has been over at the 'Toe, I dares to say," exclaimed Mrs. Light, the instant she thrust her head out of the door; "a most agreeable and amusing time both for the young gentleman and for the young lady. Mr. Thomas Bayard and Miss Pris. Bayard have been with you, days and days, and old Madam Littlepage is delighted. Oh! the 'Toe has always been a happy house, and happy faces have I long been used to see come out of it, and happy faces do I see to-day! Yes, yes; the 'Toe has always sent happy, contented faces down the road; and a happy roof it has been, by all accounts, these hundred years."

I dare say this was all true enough. I have always heard that the old place contained contented hearts; and contented hearts make happy faces. Kate's face was happiness itself, as she sat in the saddle listening to the crone; and my countenance is not one of ill-nature. The "'Toe was ever a happy house!" It recalls old times, to hear a house thus familiarly spoken of; for a set is rising up among us which is vastly too genteel to admit that any one-man, woman, child, or Satan, ever had a member so homely as a 'Toe.

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