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The Chainbearer; Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 30883

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Ye say they all have passed away,

That noble race and brave:

That their light canoes have vanished

From off the crested wave:

That 'mid the forests where they roamed

There rings no hunter's shout:

But their name is on your waters,

Ye may not wash it out."

-Mrs. Sigourney.

* * *

Directing Manytongues to secure the two incendiaries, I sprang into the kitchen to extinguish the flames. It was high time, though Mary Warren had already anticipated me here, too. She had actually thrown several dippers of water upon the fire, which was beginning to crackle through the pile of chairs, and had already succeeded in lessening the flames, I knew that a hydrant stood in the kitchen itself, which gave a full stream of water. Filling a pail, I threw the contents on the flames; and repeating the application, in half a minute the room was filled with vapor, and to the bright light succeeded a darkness that was so deep as to suggest the necessity of finding lamps and candles.

The tumult produced by the scene just described soon brought all in the house to the spot. The domestics, male and female, came tumbling down the stairs, under which the fire had been lighted, and presently candles were seen glancing about the house, in all directions.

"I declare, Mr. Hugh," cried John, the moment he had taken a survey of the state of the kitchen, "this is worse than Hireland, sir! The Hamericans affect to laugh at the poor Hirish, and calls their country savage, and hunfit to be in'abited, but nothing worse passes in it than is beginning to pass 'ere. Them stairs would have been all in flames in a few minutes, and them stairs once on fire, not one of hus, up in the hattics, could 'ave escaped death! Don't talk of Hireland, after this!"

Poor John! his prejudices are those of an Englishman of his class, and that is saying as much in favor of their strength as can be well said of any prejudices. But how much truth was there in his remark! The quiet manner in which we assume superiority, in morals, order, justice, and virtue, over all other nations, really contains an instructive lesson, if one will only regard things as they really are. I have no wish to exaggerate the faults of my own country, but certainly I shall not remorselessly conceal them, when the most dangerous consequences are connected with such a mistake. As a whole, the disorders, disturbances, and convulsions of America have certainly been much fewer than those of most, perhaps of all other Christian nations, comparing numbers, and including the time since the great experiment commenced. But such ought to have been the result of our facts, quite independently of national character. The institutions leave nothing for the masses to struggle for, and famine is unknown among us. But what does the other side of the picture exhibit? Can any man point to a country in Europe in which a great political movement has commenced on a principle as barefacedly knavish as that of transferring property from one class of men to another. That such a project does exist here, is beyond all just contradiction; and it is equally certain that it has carried its devices into legislation, and is fast corrupting the government in its most efficient agents. John was right in saying we ought not to turn up our noses at the ebullitions of abused and trodden-on "Hireland," while our own skirts are to be cleared of such sins against the plainest dictates of right.

The fire was extinguished, and the house was safe. The kitchen was soon cleared of the steam and smoke, and in their places appeared a cloud of redskins. Prairiefire, Eaglesflight, and Flintyheart, were all there, examining the effects of the fire, with stern and interesting countenances. I looked round for Mary Warren; but that gentle and singularly feminine girl, after manifesting a presence of mind and decision that would have done honor to a young man of her own age, had shrunk back with sensitive consciousness, and now concealed herself among the others of her sex. Her duty, so eminently useful and protective, had been performed, and she was only anxious to have it all forgotten. This I discovered only next day, however.

Manytongues had secured the incendiaries, and they were now in the kitchen, also, with their hands tied together, and arms bound behind their backs, at the elbows.

As their faces remained black, it was out of my power to recognize either. The rascal who had been felled by the blow of the rifle was yet confused in manner, and I ordered the domestics to wash him, in the double expectation of bringing him more completely to his senses, and of ascertaining who he might be.

The work was soon done, and both objects were attained. The cook used a dishcloth with so much dexterity, that the blackamoor came out a white man, at the first application, and he was soon as clean as a child that is about to be sent to school, fresh from the hands of its nurse. The removal of the disguise brought out the abashed and frightened physiognomy of Joshua Brigham, Miller's hired man-or my hired man, in effect, as I paid him his wages.

Yes! such was one of the effects of the pernicious opinions that had been so widely circulated in the land, during the profound moral mania that was working its ravages among us, with a fatality and danger that greatly exceed those which accompanied the cholera. A fellow, who was almost an inmate of my family, had not only conspired with others to rob me of my property, on a large scale, but he had actually carried his plot so far as to resort to the brand and the rifle, as two of the agents to be employed in carrying out his virtuous objects. Nor was this the result of the vulgar disposition to steal; it was purely a consequence of a widely-extended system, that is fast becoming incorporated with the politics of the land, and which men, relying on the efficacy of majorities, are bold enough to stand up, in legislative halls, to defend.[28]

I confess that the discovery of the person of Joshua Brigham rendered me a little curious to ascertain that of his companion. Hester, the cook, was directed to take the other child in hand, as soon as she had well wiped the countenance of the one first unmasked. Nothing loath, the good housewife set about her task, and the first dab of water she applied revealed the astounding fact that I had again captured Seneca Newcome! It will be remembered, that the last time I saw these two men together, I left them fighting in the highway.

I admit that this discovery shocked me. There never had been a being of the Newcome tribe, from the grandfather, who was its root at Ravensnest, down to Opportunity, who had ever been esteemed or respected among us. Trick-trick-trick-low cunning, and overreaching management, had been the family trait, from the day Jason, of that name, had rented the mill lot, down to the present hour. This I had heard from my grandfather, my grandmother, my own father, my uncle, my aunts and all, older than myself, who belonged to me. Still, there they had been, and habit had created a sort of feeling for them. There had, also, been a species of pretension about the family, which brought them more before us, than most of the families of the tenantry. The grandfather had received a sort of an education, and this practice had been continued, after a manner, down to the unfortunate wretch who now stood a prisoner taken flagrante delictu, and for a capital crime. Seneca could never have made a gentleman, as the term is understood among gentlemen; but he belonged to a profession which ought to raise a man materially above the level of the vulgar. Opportunity, too, had received her quasi education, a far more pretending one than that of my own Patt, but nothing had been well taught to her; not even reading, inasmuch as she had a decided provincial pronunciation, which sometimes grated on my nerves. But, Opportunity had feelings, and could not have anticipated her own brother's intentions, when she communicated the important information she had. Opportunity, moreover, had more refinement than Seneca, in consequence of having a more limited association, and she might fall into despair, at this unexpected result of her own acts!

I was still reflecting on these things, when summoned to my grandmother. She was in her own dressing-room, surrounded by the four girls; just so many pictures of alarm, interest, and female loveliness. Mary Warren alone, was in regular toilette; but the others, with instinctive coquetry, had contrived to wrap themselves up, in a way to render them handsomer than ever. As for my dear grandmother herself, she had been told that the house was safe, but felt that vague desire to see me, that was perhaps natural to the circumstances.

"The state of the country is frightful," she said, when I had answered a few of her questions, and had told her who the prisoners really were; "and we can hardly remain here, in safety. Think of one of the Newcomes-and of Seneca, in particular, with his profession and education, being engaged in such a crime!"

"Nay, grandmother," put in Patt, a little archly, "I never yet heard you speak well of the Newcomes; you barely tolerated Opportunity, in the hope of improving her."

"It is true that the race is a bad one, and the circumstances show what injury a set of false notions, transmitted from father to son, for generations, may do in a family. We cannot think of keeping these dear girls here, one hour after to-morrow, Hugh. To-morrow, or to-day, for it is now past two o'clock, I see;-to-day is Sunday, and we can go to church; to-night we will be watchful, and Monday morning your uncle shall start for Satanstoe, with all three of the girls."

"I shall not leave my dear grandmother," rejoined Patt-"nor do I think it would be very kind to leave Mary Warren behind us, in a place like this."

"I cannot quit my father," said Mary herself, quietly, but very firmly. "It is his duty to remain with his parishioners, and more so, now that so many of them are misguided, than at any other time; and it is always my duty and my pleasure to remain with him."

Was that acting? Was that Pharisaical! Or was it genuine nature; pure filial affection and filial piety? Beyond all question, it was the last; and, had not the simple tone, the earnest manner, and the almost alarmed eagerness, with which the dear girl spoke, proclaimed as much, no one could have looked in at that serene and guileless eye and doubted. My grandmother smiled on the lovely earnest speaker, in her kindest manner, took her hand, and charmingly observed-

"Mary and I will remain together. Her father is in no danger, for even anti-renters will respect a minister of the gospel, and can be made to understand it is his duty to rebuke even their sins. As for the other girls, I think it is our duty to insist that your uncle's wards, at least, should no longer be exposed to dangers like those we have gone through to-night."

The two young ladies, however, protested in the prettiest manner possible, their determination not to quit "grandmamma," as they affectionately termed their guardian's mother; and while they were thus employed, my uncle Ro entered the room, having just paid a visit to the kitchen.

"Here's a charming affair!" exclaimed the old bachelor, as soon as in our midst. "Arson, anti-rentism, attempts at murder, and all sorts of enormities, going hand in hand, in the very heart of the wisest and best community that earth ever knew; and the laws as profoundly asleep the whole time, as if such gentle acts were considered meritorious. This outdoes repudiation twenty-fold, Hugh."

"Ay, my dear sir, but it will not make a tithe of the talk. Look at the newspapers that will be put into your hands to-morrow morning, fresh from Wall and Pine and Ann Streets. They will be in convulsions, if some unfortunate wight of a senator speak of adding an extra corporal to a regiment of foot, as an alarming war-demonstration, or quote the fall of a fancy stock that has not one cent of intrinsic value, as if it betokened the downfall of a nation; while they doze over this volcano, which is raging and gathering strength beneath the whole community, menacing destruction to the nation itself, which is the father of stocks."

"The intense selfishness that is uppermost is a bad symptom, certainly; and no one can say to what it will lead. One thing is sure; it causes men to limit all their calculations to the present moment; and, to abate a nuisance that presses on our existing interests, they will jeopard everything that belongs to the future. But what are we to do with Seneca Newcome, and his co-rascal, the other incendiary?"

"I had thought of referring that to your discretion, sir. They have been guilty of arson, I suppose, and must take their chances, like every-day criminals."

"Their chances will be very good ones, Hugh. Had you been caught in Seneca Newcome's kitchen, setting fire to his house, condign and merciless punishment would have been your lot, beyond all controversy; but their cases will be very different. I'll bet you a hundred that they'll not be convicted; and a thousand that they are pardoned, if convicted."

"Acquitted, sir, will be out of the question-Miss Warren and I saw them both, in the very act of building their fire; and there is plenty of testimony, as to their identity."

This indiscreet speech drew every eye on my late companion; all the ladies, old and young, repeating the name of "Mary!" in the pretty manner in which the sex express surprise. As for Mary, herself, the poor blushing girl shrunk back abashed, ashamed of she knew not what, unless it might be in connection with some secret consciousness, at finding herself so strangely associated with me.

"Miss Warren is, indeed, in her evening dress," said my grandmother, a little gravely, "and cannot have been in bed this night. How has this happened, my dear?".

Thus called on, Mary Warren was of too guileless and pure a mind, to hesitate in telling her tale. Every incident, with which she had been connected, was simply and clearly related, though she suppressed the name of our midnight visitor, out of tenderness to Opportunity. All present were too discreet to ask the name, and, I may add, all present heard the narrative with a marked and approving interest. When Mary had done, my grandmother kissed her, and Patt, the generous creature, encircled her waist, with the tenderness and affection of a sister, who felt for all the trials the other had endured.

"It seems, then, we owe our safety to Mary, after all!" exclaimed my good grandmother; "without her care and watchfulness, Hugh might, most probably would, have remained on the lawn, until it was too late to save the house, or us."

"That is not all," added uncle Ro. "Any one could have cried 'fire,' or given a senseless alarm, but it is evident from Miss Warren's account, unpremeditated and artless as it is, that, but for the cool and discreet manner in which she played her part, not one-half of that which has been done, would have been effected, and that the house might have been lost. Nay, had these fellows surprised Hugh, instead of Hugh's surprising them, we might have been called on to deplore his loss."

I saw a common shudder in Patt and Mary, as they stood encircling each other with their arms; bu

t the last was evidently so pained, that I interfered for her relief.

"I do not see any possibility of escape for these incendiaries,"

I said, turning to my uncle, "under the testimony that can be offered, and am surprised to hear you suggest a doubt of the result of the trial."

"You feel and reason like a very young man, Hugh; one who fancies things are much nearer what they ought to be than facts will sustain. Justice is blind, nowadays, not as a proof of impartiality, but as a proof that she too often sees only one side of a question. How will they escape? Perhaps the jury may fancy setting fire to a pile of wood and certain chairs, is not setting fire to a house, let the animus be as plain as the noses on their faces. Mark me, Hugh Littlepage; one month will not go by, before the events of this very night will be tortured into an argument in favor of anti-rentism."

A common exclamation, in which even my grandmother joined, expressed the general dissent from this opinion.

"It is all very well, ladies," answered my uncle Ro, coolly-"all well enough, Master Hugh; but let the issue tell its own story. I have heard already other abuses of the anti-renters urged as a reason why the laws should be changed, in order that men may not be tempted beyond their strength; and why not use the same reasoning in favor of this crime when it has been used already, in cases of murder? 'The leasehold tenures make men commit murder,' it is said, 'and they ought to be destroyed themselves.' 'The leasehold tenures make men commit arson,' it will now be said, 'and who desires to retain laws that induce men to commit arson?'"

"On the same principle it might be pretended there should be no such thing as personals, as they tempt men, beyond what they can bear, to commit petty larceny."

"No doubt it could, and no doubt it would, if political supremacy were to be the reward. There is nothing-no fallacy, no moral sophism, that would not be used to attain such an end. But it is late, and we ought to bethink us of disposing of the prisoners for the night-what means this light? The house is not on fire, after all?"

Sure enough, notwithstanding the close shutters, and drawn curtains of my grandmother's dressing-room, an unusual light had penetrated to the place, filling us with sudden and intense alarm. I opened the door and found the passages illuminated, though all within appeared tranquil and safe. There was a clamor in the court, however, and presently the fearful warwhoop of the savages rose on the night air. The cries came from without, as I fancied, and rushing to the little door, I was on the lawn in a moment, when the mystery was solved. An extensive hay-barn, one well filled with the remainder of the last year's crops, was on fire, sending its forged and waving tongues of flame at least a hundred feet into the air. It was merely a new argument against the leasehold tenures, and in favor of the "spirit of the institutions," a little vividly pressed on the human senses. Next year, it may figure in the message of a governor, or the philanthropical efforts of some Albany orator, if the same "spirit" prevail in the "institutions," as would seem to prevail this! Is a contract to be tolerated which induces freemen to set barns on fire?

The barn that had been set on fire stood on the flats, below the cliff, and fully half a mile away from the Nest. The conflagration made a most brilliant blaze, and, as a matter of course, produced an intense light. The loss to myself did not exceed a few hundred dollars; and, while this particular argument in favor of anti-rentism was not entirely agreeable, it was not so grave as it might have been, had it been urged on other buildings, and in the same mode. In other words, I was not so much distressed with my loss as not to be able to see the beauty of the scene; particularly as my uncle Ro whispered that Dunning had caused an insurance to be effected in the Saratoga Mutual Assurance, which would probably place a considerable portion of the tenants in the unlooked-for category of those who were to pay for their own frolic.

As it was too late to think of saving the barn and ricks, and Miller, with his people, had already descended to the spot to look after the fences, and any other object that might be endangered by the flying embers, there was nothing for us to do but to remain passive spectators. Truly, the scene was one worthy of being viewed, and is not altogether unfit for description.

The light of that burning barn extended for a great distance, shining like what it was, an "evil deed in a naughty world;" for, notwithstanding the high authority of Shakespeare, it is your "evil deeds," after all, that produce the brightest blazes, and which throw their beams the farthest, in this state of probation in which we live.

The most remarkable objects in that remarkable scene were the true and the false redskins-the "Indians" and the "Injins"-both of whom were in motion on the meadows, and both of whom were distinctly visible to us where we stood, on the cliffs (the ladies being at their chamber windows), though I dare say they were not quite so obvious to each other.

The Indians had formed themselves into a very open order, and were advancing toward the other party in a stealthy manner, by creeping on all-fours, or crouching like catamounts to the earth, and availing themselves of everything like a cover that offered. The burning barn was between the two parties, and was a principal reason that the "Injins" were not sooner aware of the risk they ran. The last were a whooping, shouting, dancing, leaping band, of some forty or fifty of the "disguised and armed," who were quite near enough to the conflagration to enjoy it, without being so near as to be necessarily connected with it. We understood their presence and antics to be intended as so many intimations of the secret agency they had had in the depredations of the night, and as so many warnings how I withstood the "spirit of the institutions."

Manytongues, who had certain vague notions of the necessity of his keeping on the windy side of the law, did not accompany his red brethren, but came through the gateway and joined my uncle and myself, as we stood beneath the cover of a noble chestnut, on the verge of the cliff, watching the course of things on the meadow. I expressed my surprise at seeing him there, and inquired if his presence might not be needed by Flintyheart or Prairiefire.

"Not at all, not at all, colonel," he answered with perfect coolness. "The savages have no great need of an intarpreter in the business they are on; and if harm comes of the meetin', it's perhaps best that the two parties should not understand each other, in which case it might all be looked on as an accident. I hope they'll not be particular about scalps-for I told Flintyheart, as he was leaving us, the people of this part of the world did not like to be scalped."

This was the only encouragement we received from the interpreter, who appeared to think that matters were now in the right train, and that every difficulty would soon be disposed of, secundum artem. The Injins, however, viewed the affair differently, having no wish for a serious brush with any one; much less with enemies of the known character of redskins. How they ascertained the presence of their foe I cannot say, though it is probable some one saw them stealing along the meadows, in spite of all their care, and gave the alarm. Alarm it was, sure enough; the party of the previous day scarce retreating through the woods with greater haste than the "disguised and armed" now vanished.

Such has been the fact, as respects these men, in every instance in which they have been brought in contact with armed bodies, though much inferior to their own in numbers. Fierce enough, and even brutal, on a variety of occasions in which individuals have become subject to their power, in all cases in which armed parties, however small, have been sent against them, they have betrayed timidity and a dread of making that very appeal to force, which, by their own previous acts, they had insolently invited. Is it then true, that these soi-disant "Injins" have not the ordinary courage of their race, and that they are less than Americans with arms in their hands, and below the level of all around them in spirit? Such is not the case. The consciousness of guilt has made them cowards; they have found "that the king's name is a tower of strength," and have shrunk from conflicts, in which the secret warnings that come from on high have told them that they were embodied in a wicked cause, and contending for the attainment of wrong ends by unjustifiable means. Their conduct proves how easy it would have been to suppress their depredations at the earliest day, by a judicious application of the power of the State, and how much they have to answer for who have neglected their duty in this particular.

As soon as Flintyheart and his followers ascertained that the "disguised and armed" were actually off again, and that they were not to pass the morning in a skirmish, as no doubt each man among them had hoped would be the case, they set up such whoops and cries as had not been heard on those meadows during the last eighty years. The period went beyond the memory of man since Indian warfare had existed at Ravensnest, a few false alarms in the Revolution excepted. The effect of these yells was to hasten the retreat, as was quite apparent to us on the cliffs; but the sagacious warriors of the prairies knew too much to expose their persons by approaching nearer to the blazing barn than might be prudent. On the contrary, seemingly satisfied that nothing was to be done, and disdaining a parade of service where no service was to be effected, they slowly retired from the meadows, regaining the cliffs by means known to themselves.

This military demonstration, on the part of our red brethren, was not without its useful consequences. It gave the "Injins" an intimation of watchfulness, and of a readiness to meet them that prevented any new alarm that night, and satisfied everybody at the Nest that our immediate danger had come to an end. Not only was this the feeling of my uncle and myself, but it was also the feeling of the females, as we found on returning to the house, who had witnessed all that passed from the upper windows. After a short interview with my grandmother, she consented to retire, and preparations were made for setting a lookout, and dismissing everybody to their beds again. Manytongues took charge of the watch, though he laughed at the probability of there being any further disturbance that night.

"As for the redskins," he said, "they would as soon sleep out under the trees, at this season of the year, as sleep under a roof; and as for waking-cats a'nt their equals. No-no-colonel; leave it all to me, and I'll carry you through the night as quietly as if we were on the prer-ies and living under good wholesome prer-ie law."

"As quietly, as if we were on the prairies!" We had then reached that pass in New York, that after one burning, a citizen might really hope to pass the remainder of his night as quietly as if he were on the prairies! And there was that frothy, lumbering, useless machine, called a government, at Albany, within fifty miles of us, as placid, as self-satisfied, as much convinced that this was the greatest people on earth, and itself their illustrious representatives, as if the disturbed counties were so many gardens of Eden, before sin and transgression had become known to it! If it was doing anything in the premises, it was probably calculating the minimum the tenant should pay for the landlord's land, when the latter might be sufficiently worried to part with his estate. Perhaps it was illustrating its notions of liberty, by naming the precise sum that one citizen ought to accept, in order that the covetous longings of another should be satisfied!

I was about to retire to my bed, for the first time that night, when my uncle Ro remarked it might be well to see one of our prisoners at least. Orders had been given to unbind the wretched men, and to keep them in an empty store-room which had no available outlet but the door. Thither we then repaired, and of course were admitted by the sentinels, without a question. Seneca Newcome was startled at my appearance, and I confess I was myself embarrassed how to address him, from a wish to say nothing that might appear like exultation on one side, or concession on the other. My uncle, however, had no such scruples, probably from better knowing his man; accordingly, he came to the point at once.

"The evil spirit must have got great ascendency in the country, Seneca Newcome, when men of your knowledge dip so deeply into his designs," said Mr. Littlepage, sternly. "What has my nephew ever done to incite you to come into his house, as an incendiary, like a thief in the night?"

"Ask me no questions, Mr. Littlepage," surlily replied the attorney, "for I shall answer none."

"And this miserable misguided creature who has been your companion. The last we saw of these two men, Hugh, they were quarrelling in the highway, like cat and dog, and there are signs about their faces that the interview became still more hostile than it had been, after we left them."

"And here we find them together, companions in an enterprise of life and death!"

"It is ever thus with rogues. They will push their quarrels to extremities, and make them up in an hour, when the demon of rapine points to an object for common plunder. You see the same spirit in politics, ay, and even in religion. Men that have lived in hostility for half their lives, contending for selfish objects, will suddenly combine their powers to attain a common end, and work together like the most true-hearted friends, so long as they see a chance of effecting their wishes. If honesty were only one-half as active as roguery, it would fare better than it does. But the honest man has his scruples; his self-respect; his consistency, and, most of all, his principles, to mark out his course, and he cannot turn aside at each new impulse, like your pure knave, to convert enemies into friends, and friends into enemies. And you," turning to Josh Brigham, who was looking surlily on-"who have actually been eating Hugh Littlepage's bread, what has he done, that you should come at midnight, to burn him up like a caterpillar in the spring?"

"He has had his farm long enough"-muttered the fellow-"It's time that poor folks had some chance."

My uncle shrugged his shoulders; then, as if he suddenly recollected himself, he lifted his hat, bowed like a thoroughbred gentleman as he was, when he chose to be, wished Seneca good-night, and walked away. As we retired, he expressed his conviction of the uselessness of remonstrance, in this case, and of the necessity of suffering the law to take its own course. It might be unpleasant to see a Newcome actually hanged, but nothing short of that operation, he felt persuaded, would ever fetch up the breed in its evil courses. Wearied with all that had passed, I now went to bed, and slept soundly for the succeeding seven hours. As the house was kept quiet by orders, everybody repaired the lost time, the Nest being as quiet as in those days in which the law ruled in the republic.

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