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The Chainbearer; Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 27890

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"With what free growth the elm and plane

Fling their huge arms across my way;

Gray, old, and cumber'd with a train

Of vines, as huge, and old, and gray!

Free stray the lucid streams, and find

No taint in these fresh lawns and shades;

Free spring the flowers that scent the wind,

Where never scythe has swept the glades."

-Bryant.

* * *

I had heard enough of my father's early adventures to know that the man mentioned in the last chapter had been a conspicuous actor in them, and remembered that the latter enjoyed the fullest confidence of the former. It was news to me, however, that Sureflint and the Trackless were the same person; though, when I came to reflect on the past, I had some faint recollection of having once before heard something of the sort. At any rate, I was now with a friend, and no longer thought it necessary to be on my guard. This was a great relief, in every point of view, as one does not like to travel at the side of a stranger, with an impression, however faint, that the latter may blow his brains out, the first time he ventures to turn his own head aside.

Susquesus was drawing near to the decline of life. Had he been a white man, I might have said he was in a "green old age;" but the term of "red old age" would suit him much better. His features were still singularly fine; while the cheeks, without being very full, had that indurated, solid look, that flesh and muscles get from use and exposure. His form was as erect as in his best days, a red man's frame rarely yielding in this way to any pressure but that of exceeding old age, and that of rum. Susquesus never admitted the enemy into his mouth, and consequently the citadel of his physical man was secure against every invader but time. In-toed and yielding in his gait, the old warrior and runner still passed over the ground with an easy movement; and when I had occasion to see him increase his speed, as soon after occurred, I did not fail to perceive that his sinews seemed strung to their utmost force, and that every movement was free.

For a time, the Indian and I talked of the late war, and of the scenes in which each of us had been an actor. If my own modesty was as obvious as that of Sureflint, I had no reason to be dissatisfied with myself; for the manner in which he alluded to events in which I knew he had been somewhat prominent, was simple and entirely free from that boasting in which the red man is prone to indulge; more especially when he wishes to provoke his enemies. At length I changed the current of the discourse, by saying abruptly:

"You were not alone in that pine thicket, Susquesus; that from which you came when you joined me?"

"No-sartain; wasn't alone. Plenty people dere."

"Is there an encampment of your tribe among those bushes?"

A shade passed over the dark countenance of my companion, and I saw a question had been asked that gave him pain. He paused some little time before he answered; and when he did, it was in a way that seemed sad.

"Susquesus got tribe no longer. Quit Onondagos t'irty summer, now; don't like Mohawk."

"I remember to have heard something of this from my father, who told me at the same time, that the reason why you left your people was to your credit. But you had music in the thicket?"

"Yes; gal sing-gal love sing; warrior like to listen."

"And the song? In what language were the words?"

"Onondago," answered the Indian, in a low tone.

"I had no idea the music of the red people was so sweet. It is many a day since I have heard a song that went so near to my heart, though I could not understand what was said."

"Bird, pretty bird-sing like wren."

"And is there much of this music in your family, Susquesus? If so, I shall come often to listen."

"Why not come? Path got no briar; short path, too. Gal sing, when you want."

"Then I shall certainly be your guest, some day, soon. Where do you live, now? Are you Sureflint, or Trackless, to-day? I see you are armed, but not painted."

"Hatchet buried berry deep, dis time. No dig him up, in great many year. Mohawk make peace; Oneida make peace; Onondago make peace-all bury 'e hatchet."

"Well, so much the better for us landholders. I have come to sell and lease my lands; perhaps you can tell me if many young men are out hunting for farms this summer?"

"Wood full. Plenty as pigeons. How you sell land?"

"That will depend on where it is, and how good it is. Do you wish to buy, Trackless?"

"Injin own all land, for what he want now. I make wigwam where I want; make him, too, when I want."

"I know very well that you Indians do claim such a right; and, so long as the country remains in its present wild state, no one will be apt to refuse it to you. But you cannot plant and gather, as most of your people do in their own country."

"Got no squaw-got no papoose-little corn do for Susquesus. No tribe-no squaw-no pappose!"

This was said in a low, deliberate voice, and with a species of manly melancholy that I found very touching. Complaining men create very little sympathy, and those who whine are apt to lose our respect; but I know no spectacle more imposing than that of one of stern nature smothering his sorrows beneath the mantle of manliness and self-command.

"You have friends, Susquesus," I answered, "if you have no wife nor children."

"Fader, good friend; hope son friend, too. Grandfader great friend, once; but he gone far away, and nebber come back. Know moder, know fader-all good."

"Take what land you want, Trackless-till it, sell it-do what you wish with it."

The Indian eyed me keenly, and I detected a slight smile of pleasure stealing over his weather-worn face. It was not easy to throw him off his habitual guard over his emotions, however; and the gleam of illumination passed away, like a ray of sunshine in mid-winter. The sternest white man might have grasped my hand, and something like a sign of gratitude would probably have escaped him; but, the little trace of emotion I have mentioned having disappeared, nothing remained on the dark visage of my companion that in the least resembled an evidence of yielding to any of the gentler feelings. Nevertheless, he was too courteous, and had too much of the innate sentiment of a gentleman, not to make some return for an offer that had so evidently and spontaneously come from the heart.

"Good"-he said, after a long pause. "Berry good, dat; good, to come from young warrior to ole warrior. T'ankee-bird plenty; fish plenty; message plenty, now; and don't want land. Time come, maybe-s'pose he must come-come to all old red men, hereabout; so s'pose must come."

"What time do you mean, Trackless? Let it come when it may, you have a friend in me. What time do you mean, my brave old Sureflint?"

The Trackless stopped, dropped the breech of his rifle on the ground, and stood meditating a minute, motionless, and as grand as some fine statue.

"Yes; time come, do s'pose," he continued. "One time, ole warrior live in wigwam, and tell young warrior of scalp, and council-fire, and hunt, and war-path; now, make broom and basket."

It was not easy to mistake this; and I do not remember ever to have felt so lively an interest, on so short an acquaintance, as I began to feel in this Onondago. Priscilla Bayard herself, however lovely, graceful, winning, and feminine, had not created a feeling so strong and animated, as that which was awakened within me in behalf of old Sureflint. But I fully understood that this was to be shown in acts, and not in words. Contenting myself for the present, after the fashion of the pale-faces, by grasping and squeezing the sinewy hand of the warrior, we walked on together, making no farther allusion to a subject that I can truly say was as painful to me as it was to my companion.

"I have heard your name mentioned as one of those who were at the Nest with my father when he was a young man, Susquesus," I resumed, "and when the Canada Indians attempted to burn the house."

"Good-Susquesus dere-young Dutch chief kill dat time."

"Very true-his name was Guert Ten Eyke; and my father and mother, and your old friend Colonel Follock, who was afterward major of our regiment, you will remember, they love his memory to this day, as that of a very dear friend."

"Dat all, love memory now?" asked the Indian, throwing one of his keenest glances at me.

I understood the allusion, which was to aunt Mary, whom I had heard spoken of as the betrothed, or at least as the beloved of the young Albanian.

"Not all; for there is a lady who still mourns his loss, as if she had been his widow."

"Good-do' squaw don't mourn fery long time. Sometime not always."

"Pray, Trueflint, do you happen to know any thing of a man called the Chainbearer? He was in the regiment, too, and you must have seen him in the war."

"Sartain-know Chainbearer-know him on war-path-know him when hatchet buried. Knew Chainbearer afore ole French war. Live in wood wid him-one of us. Chainbearer my friend."

"I rejoice to hear this, for he is also mine; and I shall be glad to come into the compact, as a friend of both."

"Good-Susquesus and young landlord friend of Chainbearer-good."

"It is good, and a league that shall not be forgotten easily by me. The Chainbearer is as honest as light, and as certain as his own compass, Trueflint-true, as yourself."

"'Fraid he make broom 'fore great while, too," said the Indian, expressing the regret I have no doubt he felt, very obviously in his countenance.

Poor old Andries! But for the warm and true friends he had in my father, Colonel Dirck, and myself, there was some danger this might be the case, indeed. The fact that he had served his country in a revolution would prove of little avail, that country being too poor to provide for its old servants, and possibly indisposed, had she the means.[7] I say this without intending to reflect on either the people or the government; for it is not easy to make the men of the present day understand the deep depression, in a pecuniary sense, that rested on the land for a year or two after peace was made. It recovered, as the child recovers from indisposition, by the vigor of its constitution and the power of its vitality; and one of the means by which it recovered, was by turning to the soil, and wielding the sickle instead of the sword. To continue the discourse:

"The Chainbearer is an honest man, and, like too many of his class, poor," I answered; "but he has friends; and neither he nor you, Sureflint, shall be reduced to that woman's work without your own consent, so long as I have an unoccupied house, or a farm, at Ravensnest."

Again the Indian manifested his sense of my friendship for him by that passing gleam on his dark face; and again all signs of emotion passed slowly away.

"How long since see him?" he asked me suddenly.

"See him-the Chainbearer, do you mean? I have not seen him, now, for more than a twelvemonth; not since we parted when the regiment was disbanded."

"Don't mean Chainbearer-mean him," pointing ahead-"house, tree, farm, land, Nest."

"Oh! How long is it since I saw the patent? I never saw it, Sureflint; this is my first visit."

"Dat queer! How you own land, when nebber see him?"

"Among the pale-faces we have such laws, that property passes from parent to child; and I inherit mine in this neighborhood, from my grandfather, Herman Mordaunt."

"What dat mean, 'herit? How man haf land, when he don't keep him?"

"We do keep it, if not by actually remaining on the spot, by means of our laws and our titles. The pale-faces regulate all these things on paper, Sureflint."

"T'ink dat good? Why no let man take land where he want him, when he want him? Plenty land. Got more land dan got people. 'Nough for ebberybody."

"That fact makes our laws just; if there were not land enough for everybody, these restrictions and divisions might seem to be, and in fact be, unjust. Now, any man can have a farm, who will pay a very moderate price for it. The state sells, and landlords sell; and those who don't choose to buy of one can buy of the other."

"Dat true 'nough; but don't see need of dat paper. When he want to stay on land, let him stay; when he want to go somewhere, let 'noder man come. What good pay for betterment?"

"So as to have betterments. These are what we call the rights of property, without which no man would aim at being anything more than clad and fed. Who would hunt, if anybody that came along had a right to pick up and skin his game?"

"See dat well 'nough-nebber do; no, nebber. Don't see why land go like skin, when skin go wid warrior and hunter, and land stay where he be."

"That is because the riches of you red men are confined to movable property, and to your wigwams, so long as you choose to live in them. Thus far, you respect the rights of property as well as the pale-faces; but you must see a great difference between your people and mine! between the red man and the white man?"

"Be sure, differ; one strong, t'oder weak-one rich, t'oder poor-one great, t'oder little-one drive 'way, t'oder haf to go-one get all, t'oder keep nuttin'-one march large army, t'oder go Indian file, fifty warrior, p'raps-dat reason t'ing so."

"And why can the pale-faces march in large armies, with cannon, and horses, and bayonets, and the red man not do the same?"

"Cause he no got 'em-no got warrior-no got gun-no got baggonet-no got nuttin'."

"You have given the effect for the cause, Sureflint, or the consequences of the reason for the reason itself. I hope I make you understand me. Listen, and I will explain. You have lived much with the white men, Susquesus, and can believe what I say. There are good, and there are bad, among all people. Color makes no difference in this respect. Still, all people are not alike. The white man is stronger than the red

man, and has taken away his country, because he knows most."

"He most, too. Count army, den count war-trail; you see."

"It is true the pale-faces are the most numerous, now; but once they were not. Do not your traditions tell you how few the Yangeese were, when they first came across the salt lake?"

"Come in big canoe-two, t'ree full-no more."

"Why then did two or three shipfuls of white men become so strong as to drive back from the sea all the red warriors, and become masters of the land? Can you give a reason for that?"

"'Cause he bring fire-water wid him, and red man big fool to drink."

"Even that fire-water, which doubtless has proved a cruel gift to the Indians, is one of the fruits of the white man's knowledge. No, Susquesus; the redskin is as brave as the pale-face; as willing to defend his rights, and as able-bodied; but he does not know as much. He had no gunpowder until the white man gave it to him-no rifle-no hoe, no knife, no tomahawk, but such as he made himself from stones. Now, all the knowledge, and all the arts of life that the white man enjoys and turns to his profit, come from the rights of property. No man would build a wigwam to make rifles in, if he thought he could not keep it as long as he wished, sell it when he pleased, and leave it to his son when he went to the land of spirits. It is by encouraging man's love of himself, in this manner, that he is got to do so much. Thus it is, too, that the father gives to the son what he has learned, as well as what he has built or bought; and so, in time, nations get to be powerful, as they get to be what we called civilized. Without these rights of property, no people could be civilized; for no people would do their utmost, unless each man were permitted to be master of what he can acquire, subject to the great and common laws that are necessary to regulate such matters. I hope you understand my meaning, Trackless."

"Sartain-no like Trackless' moccasin-my young friend's tongue leave trail. But you t'ink Great Spirit say who shall haf land; who no haf him?"

"The Great Spirit has created man as he is, and the earth as it is; and he has left the one to be master of the other. If it were not his pleasure that man should not do as he has done, it would not be done. Different laws and different feelings would then bring about different ends. When the law places all men on a level, as to rights, it does as much as can be expected of it. Now, this level does not consist in pulling everything to pieces periodically, but in respecting certain great principles that are just in themselves; but which, once started, must be left to follow their own course. When the rights of property are first established, they must be established fairly, on some admitted rule; after which they are to remain inviolable-that is to say, sacred."

"Understand-no live in clearin' for nuttin'. Mean, haf no head widout haf farm."

"That is the meaning, substantially, Sureflint; though I might have explained it a little differently. I wish to say pale-faces would be like the red man without civilization; and without civilization if they had no rights in their land. No one will work for another as he will work for himself. We see that every day, in the simplest manner, when we see that the desire to get good wages will not make the common laborer do as much by the day as he will do by the job."

"Dat true," answered the Indian, smiling; for he seldom laughed; and repeating a common saying of the country-"By-de-day-by-de-day-By de job, job, job! Dat pale-face religion, young chief."

"I don't know that our religion has much to do with it; but I will own it is our practice. I fancy it is the same with all races and colors. A man must work for himself to do his most; and he cannot work for himself unless he enjoy the fruits of his labor. Thus it is, that he must have a right of property in land, either bought or hired, in order to make him cause that land to produce all that nature intended it should produce. On this necessity is founded the rights of property; the gain being civilization; the loss ignorance, and poverty, and weakness. It is for this reason, then, that we buy and sell land, as well as clothes and arms, and beads."

"T'ink, understand. Great Spirit, den, say must have farm?"

"The Great Spirit has said we must have wants and wishes, that can be met, or gratified only by having farms. To have farms we must have owners; and owners cannot exist unless their rights in their lands are protected. As soon as these are gone, the whole building would tumble down about our ears, Susquesus."

"Well, s'pose him so. We see, some time. Young chief know where he is?"

"Not exactly; but I suppose we are drawing near to the lands of Ravensnest."

"Well, queer 'nough, too! Own land, but don't know him. See-marked tree-dat sign your land begin."

"Thank you, Sureflint-a parent would not know his own child, when he saw him for the first time. If I am owner here, you will remember that this is my first visit to the spot."

While conversing, the Trackless had led me from the highway into a foot-path, which, as I afterward discovered, made a short-cut across some hills, and saved us near two miles in the distance. In consequence of this change in our course, Jaap could not have overtaken me, had he moved faster than he did; but, owing to the badness of the road, our gait on foot was somewhat faster than that of the jaded beasts who dragged the wagon. My guide knew the way perfectly; and, as we ascended a hill, he pointed out the remains of an old fire, near a spring, as a spot where he was accustomed to "camp," when he wished to remain near, but not in the 'Nest.

"Too much rum in tavern," he said. "No good stay near rum."

This was extraordinary forbearance for an Indian; but Susquesus, I had ever understood, was an extraordinary Indian. Even for an Onondago, he was temperate and self-denying. The reason why he lived away from his tribe was a secret from most persons; though I subsequently ascertained it was known to the Chainbearer, as well as my father. Old Andries always affirmed it was creditable to his friend; but he would never betray the secret. Indeed, I found that the sympathy which existed between these two men, each of whom was so singular in his way, was cemented by some occurrences of their early lives, to which occasional, but vague allusions were made, but which neither ever revealed to me, or to any other person, so far as I could ascertain.

Soon after passing the spring, Sureflint led me out to a cleared spot on the eminence, which commanded an extensive view of most of that part of my possessions which was under lease and occupied. Here we halted, seating ourselves on a fallen tree, for which one could never go amiss in that region, and at that day; and I examined the view with the interest which ownership is apt to create in us all. The earth is very beautiful in itself; but it is most beautiful in the eye of those who have the largest stake in it, I fear.

Although the property of Ravensnest had been settled fully thirty years when I first saw it, none of those signs of rapid and energetic improvement were visible that we have witnessed in the efforts of similar undertakings since the Revolution. Previously to that great event, the country filled up very slowly, and each colony seemed to regard itself, in some measure, as a distinct country. Thus it was that we in New York obtained very few immigrants from New England, that great hive which has so often swarmed since, and the bees of which have carried their industry and ingenuity over so much of the republic in our own time. We of New York have our prejudices against the Yankees, and have long looked upon them with eyes of distrust and disfavor. They have repaid us in kind, perhaps; but their dislikes have not been strong enough to prevent them from coming to take possession of our lands. For my own part, while I certainly see much in the New England character that I do not like (more in their manners and minor ways, perhaps, than in essentials), I as certainly see a great deal to command my respect. If the civilization that they carry with them is not of a very high order, as is connected with the tastes, sentiments, and nicer feelings, it is superior to that of any other country I have visited, in its common-sense provisions, and in its care over the intellectual being, considered in reference to the foundations of learning. More persons are dragged from out the mire of profound ignorance under their system, than under that of any other people; and a greater number of candidates are brought forward for intellectual advancements. That so few of these candidates rise very high in the scale of knowledge, is in part owing to the circumstance that their lives are so purely practical; and, possibly, in part to the fact that while so much attention has been paid to the foundations of the social edifice, that little art or care has as yet been expended on the superstructure. Nevertheless, the millions of Yankees that are spreading themselves over the land, are producing, and have already produced, a most salutary influence on its practical knowledge, on its enterprise, on its improvements, and consequently on its happiness. If they have not done much for its tastes, its manners, and its higher principles, it is because no portion of the earth is perfect. I am fully aware that this is conceding more than my own father would have conceded in their favor, and twice as much as could have been extracted from either of my grandfathers. But prejudice is wearing away, and the Dutchman and the Yankee, in particular, find it possible to live in proximity and charity. It is possible that my son may be willing to concede even more. Our immigrant friends should remember one thing, however, and it would render them much more agreeable as companions and neighbors, which is this:-he who migrates is bound to respect the habits and opinions of those whom he joins; it not being sufficient for the perfection of everything under the canopy of heaven, that it should come from our own little corner of the earth. Even the pumpkin-pies of the Middle States are vastly better than those usually found in New England. To return to Ravensnest.

The thirty years of the settlement of my patent, then, had not done much for it, in the way of works of art. Time, it is true, had effected something, and it was something in a manner that was a little peculiar, and which might be oftener discovered in the country at the time of which I am writing, than at the present day. The timber of the 'Nest, with the exception of some mountain-land, was principally what, in American parlance, is termed "hard wood." In other words, the trees were not perennial, but deciduous; and the merest tyro in the woods knows that the roots of the last decay in a fourth of the time that the roots of the first endure, after the trunk is severed. As a consequence, the stumps had nearly all disappeared from the fields; a fact that, of itself, gave to the place the appearance of an old country, according to our American notions. It is true, the virgin forest still flourished in immediate contact with those fields, shorn, tilled, and smoothed as they were, giving a wild and solemn setting to the rural picture the latter presented. The contrast was sufficiently bold and striking, but it was not without its soft and pleasant points. From the height whither the Indian had led me, I had a foreground of open land, dotted with cottages and barns, mostly of logs, beautified by flourishing orchards, and garnished with broad meadows, or enriched by fields, in which the corn was waving under the currents of a light summer air. Two or three roads wound along the settlement, turning aside with friendly interest, to visit every door; and at the southern termination of the open country there was a hamlet, built of wood framed, which contained one house that had little taste, but a good deal more of pretension than any of its neighbors; another, that was an inn; a store, a blacksmith's-shop, a school-house, and three or four other buildings, besides barns, sheds, and hog-pens. Near the hamlet, or the "'Nest Village," as the place was called, were the mills of the region. These were a grist-mill, a saw-mill, a fulling-mill, and an oil-mill. All were of moderate dimensions, and, most probably, of moderate receipts. Even the best house was not painted, though it had some very ambitious attempts at architecture, and enjoyed the benefits of no less than four exterior doors, the uses of one of which, as it opened into the air from the second story, it was not very easy to imagine. Doubtless some great but unfinished project of the owner lay at the root of this invention. But living out of doors, as it were, is rather a characteristic of a portion of our people.

The background of this picture, to which a certain degree of rural beauty was not wanting, was the "boundless woods." Woods stretched away, north, and south, and east, far as eye could reach; woods crowned the sides and summits of all the mountains in view; and woods rose up, with their leafy carpeting, from out the ravines and dells. The war had prevented any very recent attempts at clearing, and all the open ground wore the same aspect of homely cultivation, while the dark shades of an interminable forest were spread around, forming a sort of mysterious void, that lay between this obscure and remote people, and the rest of their kind. That forest, however, was not entirely savage. There were other settlements springing up in its bosom; a few roads wound their way through its depth; and, here and there, the hunter, the squatter, or the red man, had raised his cabin, and dwelt amid the sullen but not unpleasant abundance and magnificence of the wilderness.

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