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The Chainbearer; Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 27779

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"They love their land, because it is their own,

And scorn to give aught other reason why;

Would shake hands with a king upon his throne,

And think it kindness to his majesty;

A stubborn race, fearing and flattering none,

Such are they nurtured, such they live and die;

All but a few apostates, who are meddling

With merchandise, pounds, shillings, pence and peddling."

-Halleck.

* * *

A day or two after my return to Lilacsbush, was presented one of these family scenes which are so common in the genial month of June, on the shores of the glorious old Hudson. I call the river the old Hudson, for it is quite as old as the Tiber, though the world has not talked of it as much, or as long. A thousand years hence, this stream will be known over the whole earth; and men will speak of it as they now speak of the Danube and the Rhine. As good wine may not be made on its banks as is made on the acclivities of the latter river; but, even to-day, better, both as to quality and variety, is actually drunk. On this last point, all intelligent travellers agree.

There stands a noble linden on the lawn of Lilacsbush, at no great distance from the house, and necessarily within a short distance of the water. The tree had been planted there by my grandmother Mordaunt's father, to whom the place once belonged; and was admirably placed for the purposes of an afternoon's lounge. Beneath its shade we often took our dessert and wine, in the warm months; and thither, since their return from the army, General Littlepage and Colonel Dirck Follock used to carry their pipes, and smoke over a campaign, or a bottle, as chance directed the discourse. For that matter, no battle-field had ever been so veiled in smoke, as would have been the case with the linden in question, could there have been a concentration of all the vapor it had seen.

The afternoon of the day just mentioned, the whole family were seated beneath the tree, scattered round, as shade and inclination tempted; though a small table, holding fruits and wine, showed that the usual business of the hour had not been neglected. The wines were Madeira and claret, those common beverages in the country; and the fruits were strawberries, cherries, oranges and figs; the two last imported, of course. It was a little too early for us to get pines from the islands, a fruit which is so common in its season as to be readily purchased in town at the rate of four of a good size for a dollar. But, the abundance, and even luxury, of a better sort of the common American tables, is no news; viands, liquors and fruits appearing on them, that are only known to the very rich and very luxurious in the countries of Europe. If the service were only as tasteful, and the cooking as good with us, as both are in France, for instance, America would be the very paradise of the epicure, let superficial travellers say what they please to the contrary. I have been abroad in these later times, and speak of what I know.

No one sat at the table, though my father, Colonel

Dirck, and I were near enough to reach our glasses, at need. My mother was next to me, and reasonably close; for I did not smoke, while aunt Mary and Kate had taken post just without the influence of the tobacco. On the shore was a large skiff, that contained a tolerably sized trunk or two, and a sort of clothes-bag. In the first were a portion of my clothes, while those of Jaap filled the bag. The negro himself was stretched on the grass, about half-way between the tree and the shore, with two or three of his grandchildren rolling about, at his feet. In the skiff was his son, seated in readiness to use the sculls, as soon as ordered.

All this arrangement denoted my approaching departure for the north. The wind was at the south, and sloops of various degrees of promise and speed were appearing round the points, coming on one in the wake of another, as each had been able to quit the wharves to profit by the breeze. In that day, the river had not a tenth part of the craft it now possesses; but still, it had enough to make a little fleet, so near town, and at a moment when wind and tide both became favorable. At that time, most of the craft on the Hudson belonged up the river, and they partook largely of the taste of our Dutch ancestors. Notable travellers before the gales, they did very little with foul winds, generally requiring from a week to a fortnight to tide it down from Albany, with the wind at all from the south. Nevertheless, few persons thought of making the journey between the two largest towns of the state (York and Albany), without having recourse to one of these sloops. I was at that moment in waiting for the appearance of a certain "Eagle, of Albany, Captain Bogert," which was to run in close to Lilacsbush, and receive me on board, agreeably to an arrangement previously made in town. I was induced to take a passage in this vessel from the circumstance that she had a sort of after-cabin that was screened by an ample green curtain, an advantage that all the vessels which then plied on the river did not possess; though great improvements have been making ever since the period of which I am now writing.

Of course, the interval thus passed in waiting for the appearance of the Eagle was filled up, more or less, by discourse. Jaap, who was to accompany me in my journey to Ravensnest, knew every vessel on the river, as soon as he could see her, and we depended on him to let us know when I was to embark, though the movements of the sloop herself could not fail to give us timely notice of the necessity of taking leave.

"I should like exceedingly to pay a visit to old Mrs. Vander Heyden, at Kinderhook, Mordaunt," said my mother, after one of the frequent pauses that occurred in the discourse. "She is a relation, and I feel a great regard for her; so much the more, from the circumstance of her being associated in my mind with that frightful night on the river, of which you have heard me speak."

As my mother ceased speaking, she glanced affectionately toward the general, who returned the look, as he returned all my mother's looks, with one filled with manly tenderness. A more united couple than my parents never existed. They seemed to me ordinarily to have but one mind between them; and when there did occur any slight difference of opinion, the question was not which should prevail, but which should yield. Of the two, my mother may have had the most native intellect, though the general was a fine, manly, sensible person, and was very universally respected.

"It might be well, Anneke," said my father, "if the major were to pay a visit to poor Guert's grave, and see if the stones are up, and that the place is kept as it should be. I have not been there since the year '68, when it looked as if a friendly eye might do some good at no distant day."

This was said in a low voice, purposely to prevent aunt Mary from hearing it; and, as she was a little deaf, it is probable the intention was successful. Not so, however, with Colonel Dirck, who drew the pipe from his mouth, and sat attentively listening, in the manner of one who felt great interest in the subject. Another pause succeeded.

"T'en t'ere ist my Lort Howe, Corny," observed the colonel, "how is it wit' his grave?"

"Oh! the colony took good care of that. They buried him in the main aisle of St. Peter's, I believe; and no doubt all is right with him. As for the other, major, it might be well to look at it."

"Great changes have taken place at Albany, since we were there as young people!" observed my mother, thoughtfully. "The Cuylers are much broken up by the revolution, while the Schuylers have grown greater than ever. Poor aunt Schuyler, she is no longer living to welcome a son of ours!"

"Time will bring about such changes, my love; and we can only be thankful that so many of us remain, after so long and bloody a war."

I saw my mother's lips move, and I knew she was murmuring a thanksgiving to the power which had preserved her husband and son through the late struggle.

"You will write as often as opportunities occur, Mordaunt," said that dear parent, after a longer pause than usual. "Now there is peace, I can hope to get your letters with some little regularity."

"They tell me, cousin Anneke"-for so the colonel always called my mother when we were alone-"They tell me, cousin Anneke," said Colonel Dirck, "t'at t'ey actually mean to have a mail t'ree times a week petween Alpany and York! T'ere ist no knowing, general, what t'is glorious revolution will not do for us!"

"If it bring me letters three times a week from those I love," rejoined my mother, "I am sure my patriotism will be greatly increased. How will letters get out from Ravensnest to the older parts of the colony-I should say state, Mordaunt?"

"I must trust to the settlers for that. Hundreds of Yankees, they tell me, are out looking for farms this summer. I may use some of them for messengers."

"Don't trust 'em too much, or too many"-growled Colonel Dirck, who had the old Dutch grudge against our eastern brethren. "See how they behav't to Schuyler."

"Yes," said my father, replenishing his pipe, "they might have manifested more justice and less prejudice to wise Philip; but prejudices will exist, all over the world. Even Washington has had his share."

"T'at is a great man!" exclaimed Colonel Dirck, with emphasis, and in the manner of one who felt certain of his point. "A ferry great man!"

"No one will dispute with you, colonel, on that subject; but have you no message to send to our old comrade, Andries Coejemans? He must have been at Mooseridge, with his party of surveyors, now near a twelvemonth, and I'll warrant you has thoroughly looked up the old boundaries, so as to be ready for Mordaunt to start afresh as soon as the boy reaches the patent."

"I hope he has not hiret a Yankee surveyor, Corny," put in the colonel, in some little alarm. "If one of t'em animals gets upon the tract, he will manage to carry off half of the lant in his compass-box! I hope olt Andries knows petter."

"I dare say he'll manage to keep all the land, as well as to survey it. It is a thousand pities the captain has no head for figures; for his honesty would have made his fortune. But I have seen him tried, and know it will not do. He was a week once making up an account of some stores received from head-quarters, and the nearest he could get to the result was twenty-five per cent. out of the way."

"I would sooner trust Andries Coejemans to survey my property, figures or no figures," cried Colonel Dirck, positively, "than any dominie in New England."

"Well, that is as one thinks," returned my father, tasting the Madeira. "For my part, I shall be satisfied with the surveyor he may happen to select, even though he should be a Yankee. Andries is shrewd, if he be no calculator; and I dare to say he has engaged a suitable man. Having taken the job at a liberal price, he is too honest a fellow not to hire a proper person to do the head-work. As for all the rest, I would trust him as soon as I would trust any man in America."

"T'at is gospel. Mordaunt will haf an eye on matters too, seein' he has so great an interest in the estate. T'ere is one t'ing, major, you must not forget. Five hundred goot acres must be surveyed off for sister Anneke, and five hundred for pretty Kate, here. As soon as t'at is done, the general and I will give each of the gals a deet."

"Thank you, Dirck," said my father, with feeling. "I'll not refuse the land for the girls, who may be glad enough to own it some time or other."

"It's no great matter now, Corny; put, as you say, it may be of use one day. Suppose we make old Andries a present of a farm, in his pargain."

"With all my heart," cried my father, quickly. "A couple of hundred acres might make him comfortable for the rest of his days. I thank you for the hint, Dirck, and we will let Mordaunt choose the lot, and send us the description, that we may prepare the deed."

"You forget, general, that the Chainbearer has, or will have his military lot, as a captain," I ventured to remark. "Besides, land will be of little use to him, unless it might be to measure it. I doubt if the old man would not prefer going without his dinner, to hoeing a hill of potatoes."

"Andries had three slaves while he was with us; a man, a woman, and their daughter," returned my father. "He would not sell them, he said, on any consideration; and I have known him actually suffering for money when he was too proud to accept it from his friends, and too benevolent to part with family slaves, in order to raise it. 'They were born Coejemans,' he always said, 'as much as I was born one myself, and they shall die Coejemans.' He doubtless has these people with him, at the Ridge, where you will find them all encamped, near some spring, with garden-stuff and other small things growing around him, if he can find open land enough for such a purpose. He has permission to cut and till at pleasure."

"This is agreeable news to me, general," I answered, "since it promises a sort of home. If the Chainbearer has really these blacks with him, and has hutted judiciously, I dare say we shall have quite as comfortable a time as many of those we passed together in camp. Then, I shall carry my flute with me; for Miss Priscilla Bayard has given me reason to expect a very wonderful creature in Dus, the niece, of which old Andries used to talk so much. You remember to have heard the Chainbearer speak of such a person, I dare say, sir; for he was quite fond of mentioning her."

"Perfectly well; Dus Malbone was a sort of toast among the young men of the regiment at one time, though no one of them all ever could get a sight of her, by hook or by crook."

Happening to turn my head at that mom

ent, I found my dear mother's eyes turned curiously on me; brought there, I fancy, by the allusion to Tom's sister.

"What does Priscilla Bayard know of this Chainbearer's niece?" that beloved parent asked, as soon as she perceived that her look had attracted my attention.

"A great deal, it would seem; since she tells me they are fast friends; quite as great, I should judge from Miss Bayard's language and manner, as Kate and herself."

"That can scarcely be," returned my mother, slightly smiling, "since there the principal reason must be wanting. Then, this Dus can hardly be Priscilla Bayard's equal."

"One never knows such a thing, mother, until he has had an opportunity of making comparisons; though Miss Bayard herself says Dus is much her superior in many things. I am sure her uncle is my superior in some respects; in carrying chain, particularly so."

"Ay, but scarcely in station, Mordaunt."

"He was the senior captain of the regiment."

"True; but revolutions are revolutions. What I mean is, that your Chainbearer can hardly be a gentleman."

"That is a point not to be decided in a breath. He is, and he is not. Old Andries is of a respectable family, though but indifferently educated. Men vastly his inferiors in birth, in habits, in the general notions of the caste, in the New England States, are greatly his superiors in knowledge. Nevertheless, while we must all admit how necessary a certain amount of education has become, at the present time, to make a gentleman, I think every gentleman will allow hundreds among us have degrees in their pockets with small claims to belong to the class. Three or four centuries ago, I should have answered that old Andries was a gentleman, though he had to bite the wax with his teeth and make a cross, for want of a better signature."

"And he what you call a chainbearer, Mordaunt!" exclaimed my sister.

"As well as late senior captain in your father's regiment, Miss Littlepage. But, no matter, Andries and Dus are such as they are, and I shall be glad to have them for companions this summer. Jaap is making signals, and I must quit you all. Heigho! It is very pleasant here, under this linden, and home begins to entwine its fibres around my heart. Never mind; it will soon be autumn, and I shall see the whole of you, I trust, as I leave you, well and happy in town."

My dear, dear mother had tears in her eyes, when she embraced me; so had Kate, who, though she did love Tom Bayard most, loved me very warmly too. Aunt Mary kissed me, in her quiet but affectionate way; and I shook hands with the gentlemen, who accompanied me down to the boat. I could see that my father was affected. Had the war still continued, he would have thought nothing of the separation; but in that piping time of peace it seemed to come unseasonably.

"Now don't forget the great lots for Anneke and Katrinke," said Colonel Dirck, as we descended to the shore. "Let Andries pick out some of the best of the lant, t'at is well watered and timbered, and we'll call the lots after the gals; that is a goot idea, Corny."

"Excellent, my friend. Mordaunt, my son, if you come across any places that look like graves, I wish you would set up marks by which they may be known. It is true, a quarter of a century or more makes many changes in the woods; and it is quite likely no such remains will be found."

"A quarter of a century in the American forests, sir," I answered, "is somewhat like the same period in the wanderings of a comet; lost, in the numberless years of its growth. A single tree will sometimes outlast the generations of an entire nation."

"You wilt rememper, Mordaunt, that I wilt haf no Yankee tenants on my estate. Your father may lease 'em one-half of a lot, if he please; but I will not lease t'other."

"As you are tenants in common, gentlemen," I answered, smiling, "it will not be easy to separate the interests in this manner. I believe I understand you, however; I am to sell the lands of Mooseridge, or covenant to sell, as your attorney, while I follow out my grandfather Mordaunt's ideas, and lease those that are not yet leased, on my own estate. This will at least give the settlers a choice, and those who do not like one plan of obtaining their farms may adopt the other."

I now shook hands again with the gentlemen, and stepping into the skiff, we pulled away from the shore. Jaap had made this movement in good season, and we were compelled to row a quarter of a mile down the river to meet the sloop. Although the wind was perfectly fair, it was not so fresh as to induce Mr. Bogert to round-to; but throwing us a rope, it was caught, when we were safely transferred, bag and baggage, to the decks of the Eagle.

Captain Bogert was smoking at the helm, when he returned my salute. Removing the pipe, after a puff or two, he pointed with the stem toward the group on the shore, and inquired if I wished to say "good-by."

"Allponny"-so the Dutch were wont to pronounce the name of their town in the last century-"is a long way off," he said, "and maype you woult like to see the frients ag'in."

This business of waving hats and handkerchiefs is a regular thing on the Hudson, and I expressed my willingness to comply with the usage, as a matter of course.[5] In consequence, Mr. Bogert deliberately sheered in toward the shore, and I saw the whole family collecting on a low rock, near the water, to take the final look. In the background stood the Satanstoes, a dark, woolly group, including Mrs. Jaap, and two generations of descendants. The whites were weeping; that is to say, my dear mother and Kate; and the blacks were laughing, though the old lady kept her teeth to herself about as much as she exposed them. A sensation almost invariably produces laughter with a negro, the only exceptions being on occasions of singular gravity.

I believe, if the truth were known, Mr. Bogert greatly exulted in the stately movement of his sloop, as she brushed along the shore, at no great distance from the rocks, with her main-boom guyed out to starboard, and studding-sail boom to port. The flying-topsail, too, was set; and the Eagle might be said to be moving in all her glory. She went so near the rocks, too, as if she despised danger! Those were not the days of close calculations that have succeeded. Then, an Albany skipper did not mind losing a hundred or two feet of distance in making his run; whereas, now, it would not be an easy matter to persuade a Liverpool trader to turn as much aside in order to speak a stranger in the centre of the Atlantic; unless, indeed, he happened to want to get the other's longitude.

As the sloop swept past the rocks, I got bows, waving of hats and handkerchiefs, and good wishes enough to last the whole voyage. Even Jaap had his share; and "good-by, Jaap," came to my ears, from even the sweet voice of Kate. Away we went, in stately Dutch movement, slow but sure. In ten minutes Lilacsbush was behind us, and I was once more alone in the world, for months to come.

There was now time to look about me, and to ascertain who were my companions in this voyage. The skipper and crew were as usual the masters; and the pilots, both whites, and both of Dutch extraction, an old wrinkled negro, who had passed his life on the Hudson as a foremast hand, and two younger blacks, one of whom was what was dignified with the name of cabin-steward. Then there were numerous passengers; some of whom appeared to belong to the upper classes. They were of both sexes, but all were strangers to me. On the main-deck were six or eight sturdy, decent, quiet, respectable-looking laborers, who were evidently of the class of husbandmen. Their packs were lying in a pile, near the foot of the mast, and I did not fail to observe that there were as many axes as there were packs.

The American axe! It has made more real and lasting conquests than the sword of any warlike people that ever lived; but they have been conquests that have left civilization in their train instead of havoc and desolation. More than a million of square miles of territory[6] have been opened up from the shades of the virgin forest, to admit the warmth of the sun; and culture and abundance have been spread where the beast of the forest so lately roamed, hunted by the savage. Most of this, too, has been effected between the day when I went on board the Eagle, and that on which I am now writing. A brief quarter of a century has seen these wonderful changes wrought; and at the bottom of them all lies this beautiful, well-prized, ready and efficient implement, the American axe!

It would not be easy to give the reader a clear notion of the manner in which the young men and men of all ages of the older portions of the new republic poured into the woods to commence the business of felling the forests, and laying bare the secrets of nature, as soon as the nation rose from beneath the pressure of war, to enjoy the freedom of peace. The history of that day in New York, which State led the van in the righteous strife of improvement, and has ever since so nobly maintained its vantage-ground, has not yet been written. When it is properly recorded names will be rescued from oblivion that better deserve statues and niches in the temple of national glory, than those of many who have merely got the start of them by means of the greater facility with which the public mind is led away in the train of brilliant exploits, than it is made sensible of the merits of those that are humane and useful.

It was not usual for settlers, as it has become the practice to term those who first take up and establish themselves on new lands, to make their journeys from the neighborhood of the sea to the interior, other than by land; but a few passed out of Connecticut by the way of New York, and thence up the river in sloops. Of this character were those found on board the Eagle. In all, we had seven of these men, who got into discourse with me the first day of our passage, and I was a little surprised at discovering how much they already knew of me, and of my movements. Jaap, however, soon suggested himself to my mind, as the probable means of the intelligence they had gleaned; and, on inquiry, such I ascertained was the fact.

The curiosity and the questioning propensities of the people of New England, have been so generally admitted by writers and commentators on American character, that I suppose one has a right to assume the truth of these characteristics. I have heard various ways of accounting for them; and among others, the circumstances of their disposition to emigrate, which brings with it the necessity of inquiring after the welfare of friends at a distance. It appears to me, however, this is taking a very narrow view of the cause, which I attribute to the general activity of mind among a people little restrained by the conventional usages of more sophisticated conditions of society. The practice of referring so much to the common mind, too, has a great influence on all the opinions of this peculiar portion of the American population, seeming to confer the right to inquire into matters that are elsewhere protected by the sacred feeling of individual privacy.

Let this be as it might, my axe-men had contrived to get out of Jaap all he knew about Ravensnest and Mooseridge, as well as my motives in making the present journey. This information obtained, they were not slow in introducing themselves to me, and of asking the questions that were uppermost in their minds. Of course, I made such answers as were called for by the case, and we established a sort of business acquaintance between us, the very first day. The voyage lasting several days, by the time we reached Albany, pretty much all that could be said on such a subject had been uttered by one side or the other.

As respected Ravensnest, my own property, my grandfather had requested in his will that the farms might be leased, having an eye to my children's profit, rather than to mine. His request was a law to me, and I had fully determined to offer the unoccupied lands of that estate, or quite three-fourths of the whole patent, on leases similar in their conditions to those which had already been granted. On the other hand, it was the intention to part with the lots of Mooseridge in fee. These conditions were made known to the axe-men, as my first essay in settling a new country; and, contrary to what had been my expectation, I soon discovered that these adventurers inclined more to the leases than to the deeds. It is true, I expected a small payment down, in the case of each absolute sale, while I was prepared to grant leases, for three lives, at very low rents at the best; and in the cases of a large proportion of the lots, those that were the least eligible by situation, or through their quality, to grant them leases without any rent at all, for the first few years of their occupation. These last advantages, and the opportunity of possessing lands a goodly term of years, for rents that were put as low as a shilling an acre, were strong inducements, as I soon discovered, with those who carried all they were worth in their packs, and who thus reserved the little money they possessed to supply the wants of their future husbandry.

We talked these matters over during the week we were on board the sloop; and by the time we came in sight of the steeples of Albany, my men's minds were made up to follow me to the Nest. These steeples were then two in number, viz.: that of the English church, that stood near the margin of the town, against the hill; and that of the Dutch church, which occupied an humbler site, on the low land, and could scarcely be seen rising above the pointed roofs of the adjacent houses; though these last, themselves were neither particularly high nor particularly imposing.

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