« PreviousContinue »
The chief passion of my ancestor was hunting, which he practised incessantly, to the great disgust of his father, who was a farmer, and of his grand-father, who was a clergyman at Deerfield, Massachusetts. Under the auspices of this reverend gentleman, who was no other than the celebrated Dr. Ezekiel Carver, and who was earnest that his grandson should follow in his own footsteps, my ancestor had been honored with the name of a stubborn old puritan governor, whose character was the doctor's beau-ideal of earthly excellence. He was called Endicott Carver. I take pains thus early to mention his designation, that I may have a handle always ready to seize hold of him by; and not be reduced to such awkward expedients as calling him our hero,' or “the subject of our story,' after the fashion of less provident historians.
Endicott was hunting one day among the mountains of the Taconic range, in the extreme south-west corner of the province of Massachu. setts Bay. As evening approached, and he began to think of his night's shelter, he recollected to have heard that a few restless pioneers from the borders of the bay had the year before built their cluster of log. houses in the midst of those woods and mountains. Preferring the shelter of a roof to that of a hemlock tree, he began to search for the settlement. At length after scrambling down the steep sides of a hill, he struck upon a broad new path, which would have led him to the hamlet, had he known which way to follow it. He turned to the left at random, and had not gone far, before the road, which was obstructed by roots, stumps, and fallen trees, and perfectly shaded by the over-arching boughs of the dense wood, began to descend. It expanded at length into a new clearing, with its usual attractive spectacle of burnt trunks of trees, standing grimly upright, with great piles of black half.consumed logs and brushwood, the whole girt around by the gloomy border of forest trees, whose foliage was miserably scorched by the fire that had lately destroyed their fallen
brethren. It was a dreary scene ; but the light of the setting sun that now poured into the opening, gilding the tall summits of the wretched half-burnt pines, gave an air of picturesque wildness to its desolation.
My ancestor had now the opportunity to look about him. He saw that he was in the midst of mountains, rearing their rocky and wooded summits all around, while far distant, through one of their openings, lay in misty perspective the valley of the Hudson, and the blue Catskills. The peaceful June sunlight was still reposing on the craggy tops of the mountains; no trace of human labor was visible; all was silent as midnight, except a low sound of falling water, where some mountain stream was flinging itself into the deep hollow that my ancestor could see just below him. After walking a few moments more, he found himself in a long narrow valley, through which a clear stream ran swiftly. It was shut in between parallel mountains that gradually approached each other as he passed on. The banks of the stream had been partially cleared : here was a tract of dead, girdled trees, with sickly Indian corn growing in the intervening spaces; and here a field, of wheat, interspersed with blackened stumps. Soon after, in the increasing darkness, he could discern a neat log-house, surrounded by some rigid and shaggy pines, that gave the place a rude, wild air, much increased by a waterfall just beyond. When Endicott came opposite the house, he saw no means provided for crossing the stream dry-shod; so he stepped into the water and waded over; for he was too good a woodsman to be scrupulous in such matters. The ducks and hens around the house set up a loud cackling at his intrusion, at which an old man appeared from behind a corner of the building, where he had been digging in a kitchengarden. He approached my ancestor with the utmost deliberation, looking at him with no very hospitable eye. He was six feet and a quarter high, but sallow and sharp-featured, and so emaciated in his limbs that his clothes seemed hung on a skeleton. There was a little old clay-pipe in his mouth, at which he did not cease puffing, while he was giving a cold and unwilling assent to my ancestor's request for a night's lodging,
Endicott stared hard at his ill-favored host. He was sure that he had seen him before. His doubts were removed, and changed to surprise, when on entering the house he found there an old woman of very good appearance, but bearing deep marks of sorrow on her face, and a tall, black-eyed girl, whom he immediately recognized as an old partner of his in many a dance and country frolic. Combining certain reports he had heard with what he now saw, Endicott had acuteness enough to hit the clue to the mystery. The man had been a rich dishonest adventurer, who not having skill enough to make his practices turn always to his own advantage, had become involved in debt and beset by duns; to say nothing of the evil odor into which he had fallen with the community. It is but fair to say, that while he was looked upon with contempt, his wife, a woman of education and excellent character, was respected and pitied, while his daughter was the admiration of the whole country round, and undeniably the belle of her native town of Concord. Suddenly the family disappeared; no one could say whither they had gone; but the truth was, that the old man had taken a resolution to run away from his perplexities, and hide somewhere in the back-woods.
Endicott was glad to find an agreeable companion where he had looked only for the rugged offspring of some sturdy frontiersman; the poor recluse, on her side, was no less delighted in the opportunity to exhibit her charms and loosen her lively tongue once more. They spent the evening in conversation before the blazing fire in a gigantic chimney of unhewn rocks, while the old man smoked his pipe in his usual moody silence. Endicott had enough of the gallant to regret the rather outlandish attire in which he appeared before his old acquaintance ; for he was clothed in a hunting-dress of leather; but she, poor girl, was evi. dently mortified at the figure she made in her back-woods garb, so different from that in which he had been accustomed to see her at the dance or sleigh-ride.
His handsome hostess conducted him to his sleeping-room. It was a large chamber, the best room' of the log.cabin, with floor and walls of rough timber squared with the axe. The furniture was never made for such an apartment. There was a large and elegant curtained bed. stead ; chairs and tables of the best workmanship; and a number of French and Chinese toys on the rough hewn mantel-piece. On a little centre-table were several handsomely-bound books, some empty perfume. bottles of porcelain, and a basket of visiting.cards! All these things had a most whimsical appearance to the eye of my ancestor, who was not without humor; and poor Sarah blushed, but could not help smiling as she saw hiin glance at them. He rightly conjectured that these luxuries had been removed to the back-woods under her auspices. In the rude fire-place were placed some rough pine boughs as a substitute for the asparagus which, with its delicate green, and its bright red berries, so often forms the ornament of New-England country-houses. Before he lay down, Endicott opened the shutter of a square aperture that supplied the place of a window, and looked out. The river tumbled close beneath the wall; the night wind with its fresh cool smell was stirring down the solitary valley ; while a young moon, shining on the woods and waters, showed all the wild features of the place.
In the morning Sarah met him under a new aspect, more befitting the settlements than the frontier. In the simple and tasteful dress she wore, her charms were no longer eclipsed, and she might fairly have been called beautiful, even in New England; for she was straight and symmetrical; as graceful as a young birch tree, and as fresh and fair as its tender leaves in the spring. Her spirit was as lively and impetuous as a mountain brook ; and if there was a little vanity and love of admiration in her character, the warm heart of pure vigorous womanhood was behind it all.
They spent the morning in exploring the recesses of the valley. First, they traced it up to where the opposing mountains pressed close together, and the stream, bursting through the intervening ravine, came boiling over the rocks. Then retracing their steps, they followed the valley down till it ended in an abrupt precipice, two or three hundred feet high; for it lay imbedded high up in the bosom of the mountains, and its little stream had a long descent to make through rocks and forests before it reached the Hudson. By climbing a high precipitous hill, they could look down on the face of the precipice where the stream was
pouring itself down into an immense dark and savage gorge. Deeply bedded among woods and rocks at the bottom, there was a circular deep green basin into which the waters fell plunging from above. It was so far down, that when Endicott pushed from the brow of the hill the decayed trunk of a tree, it seemed to dwindle to the size of a straw before it splashed upon the green revolving waters of the basin. It was the wildest and sublimest spot in Massachusetts. High and abrupt mountains towered all around the cataract, which was no other than that which has since been absurdly christened with the corrupted Swiss name of Bash-a-pish Fall.'
Meanwhile, the sun beat down with a languid heat. The forests seemed swimming in faint sultry mists; the turpentine boiled from the trunks of the heated pines ; and a dead noontide torpor pervaded the whole scene. The little stream alone kept up its restless motion and its mur. muring voice, inviting the languid frame to luxury and refreshment. Endicott had made up his mind to depart early in the afternoon, though his friend pressed him to remain, and he himself felt no great earnestness to get away. A dead stillness in the air ; a grumbling noise that sounded heavily from behind the mountains ; a mass of sullen inky clouds that rose up and swept rapidly over the sky, saved him the trouble of coming to any decision. It was evident that if he did go, he must bide the pelting of a furious thunder-storm. As they looked from the door, a dull roaring sound, and a fresh wind came down from the valley above, which was now shrouded by a gray misty curtain, that seemed to be drawn across it, and to advance nearer and nearer, involving as it came, rocks, mountains and forests, while the roaring sound grew louder and louder. Then a few large rain drops fell on the platform before the door; then they came faster and faster, till the water streamed from heaven to earth in parallel slant lines, obscuring trees river and all. The heavy bursts of thunder would at times drown the noise of this cataract, which beat furiously upon the roof, and streamed in torrents from the eaves.
My ancestor, glad of so good an excuse for prolonging his stay, hung his
gun, which he had held for half an hour in his hand in readiness to depart, upon a pair of hooks against the wall, and seated himself with Sarah in the room where he had spent the night. Endicott's nature was bold and open, while hers was frank and unsuspicious: the storm raging impotently against the windows seemed to bring them into closer intimacy, and kindled warm and cordial feelings between them. She showed him the collection of books she had brought with her into the wilderness, and Endicott, who had been educated at college, could not help admiring the excellent taste of her selections: at the same time, she opened her heart to him, and complained bitterly of the exile to which she was doomed. A sudden flood of bright ruddy sunshine pour. ing in upon the floor, interrupted them. The storm was past; the sun streamed from the west over the wet glistening forests and the swollen river, while a light fresh breeze awoke, and a robin that had strayed so far into the wilderness began his song.
My ancestor took his leave the next morning. The old lady showed some feeling at parting with him, though the master of the house did