« ZurückWeiter »
with acquiring an estate that should be valuable, rather from its quality and beauty, than from its extent. Many of such places offered themselves, between the settlements of Weathersfield and Hartford, and that imaginary line which separated the possessions of the colony he had quitted, from those of the one he joined. He made his location, as it is termed in the language of the country, near the northern boundary of the latter. This spot, by the aid of an expenditure that might have been considered lavish for the country and the age, of some lingering of taste, which even the selfdenying and subdued habits of his later life had not entirely extinguished, and of great natural beauty in the distribution of land, water, and wood, the emigrant contrived to convert into an abode, that was not more desirable for its retirement from the temptations of the world, than for its rural loveliness.
After this memorable act of conscientious self-devotion, years passed away in quiet, amid a species of negative prosperity. Rumours from the old world reached the ears of the tenants of this secluded settlement months after the events to which they referred were elsewhere forgotten, and tumults and wars in the sister colonies came to their knowledge only at distant and tardy intervals. In the mean time, the limits of the colonial establishments were gradually extending themselves, and valleys were beginning to be cleared nearer and nearer to their own. Old age had now begun to make some visible impression on the iron frame of the captain, and the fresh colour of youth and health, with which his son had entered the forest, was giving way to the brown covering produced by exposure and toil. We say of toil, for independently of the habits and opinions of the country, which strongly reprobated idleness, even in those most gifted by fortune, the daily difficulties of their situation, the chase, and the long and intricate passages that the veteran himself was compelled to adventure in the surrounding forest, partook largely of the nature of the term we have used. Ruth continued blooming and youthful, though maternal anxiety was soon added to her other causes of care. Still, for a long season, nought occurred to excite extraordinary regrets for the step they had taken, or to create particular uneasiness in behalf of the future. The borderers, for such by their frontier position they had in truth become, heard the strange and awful tidings of the dethronement of one king, of the interregnum, as a reign of more than usual vigour and prosperity is called, and of the restoration of the son of him who is strangely enough termed a martyr. To all these eventful and unwonted chances in the fortunes of kings, Mark Heathcote listened with deep and reverential submission to the will of Him, in whose eyes crowns and sceptres are merely the more costly baubles of the world. Like most of his contemporaries, who had sought shelter in the western continent, his political opinions, if not absolutely republican, had a leaning to liberty that was strongly in opposition to the doctrine of the divine rights of the monarch, while he had been too far removed from the stirring passions which had gradually excited those nearer to the throne, to lose their respect for its sanctity, and to sully its brightness with blood. When the transient and straggling visitors that, at long
intervals, visited his settlement, spoke of the Protector, who for so many years ruled England with an iron hand, the eyes of the old man would gleam with sudden and singular interest; and once, when commenting after evening prayer on the vanity and vicissitudes of this life, he acknowledged that the extraordinary indivi. dual who was, in substance if not in name, seated on the throne of the Plantagenets, had been the boon companion and ungodly associate of many of his youthful hours. Then would follow a long, wholesome, extemporaneous homily on the idleness of setting the affections on the things of life, and a half-suppressed, but still intelligible commendation of the wiser course which had led him to raise his own tabernacle in the wilderness, instead of weakening the chances of eternal glory by striving too much for the possession of the treacherous vanities of the world.
But even the gentle and ordinarily little observant Ruth might trace the kindling of the eye, the knitting of the brow, and the flushings of his pale and furrowed cheek, as the murderous conflicts of the civil wars became the themes of the ancient soldier's discourse. There were moments when religious submission, and we had almost said religious precepts, were partially forgotten, as he explained to his attentive son and listening grandchild, the nature of the onset, or the quality and dignity of the retreat. At such times, his still nervous hand would even wield the blade, in order to instruct the latter in its uses, and many a long wintry evening was passed in thus indirectly teaching an art that was so much at variance with the mandates of his divine Master. The chastened soldier, however, never forgot to close his instruction with a petition extraordinary, in the customary prayer, that no descendant of his should ever take life from a being unprepared to die, except in justifiable defence of his faith, his person, or his lawful rights. It must be admitted, that a liberal construction of the reserved privileges would leave sufficient matter, to exercise the subtlety of one subject to any extraordinary propensity to arms.
Few opportunities were however offered, in their remote situation and with their peaceful habits, for the practice of a theory that had been taught in so many lessons. Indian alarms, as they were termed, were not unfrequent, but, as yet, they had never produced more than terror in the bosoms of the gentle Ruth and her young offspring. It is true, they had heard of travellers massacred, and of families separated by captivity, but, either by a happy fortune, or by more than ordinary prudence in the settlers who were established along that immediate frontier, the knife and the tomahawk had as yet been sparingly used in the colony of Connecticut. A threatening and dangerous struggle with the Dutch, in the adjoining province of New Netherlands, had been averted by the foresight and moderation of the rulers of the New Plantations, and though a warlike and powerful native chief kept the neighbouring colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island in a state of constant watchfulness, from the cause just mentioned the apprehension of danger was greatly weakened in the breasts of those so remote, as the individuals who composed the family of our emigrant. In this quiet manner did
years glide by, the surrounding wilderness slowly retreating from the habitations of the Heathcotes, until they found themselves in the possession of as many of the comforts of life, as their utter seclusion from the rest of the world could give them reason to expect.
With this preliminary explanation, we shall refer the reader to the succeeding narrative for a more minute, and we hope for a more interesting account of the incidents of a legend that may prove too homely for the tastes of those, whose imaginations seek the excitement of scenes more stirring, or of a condition of life less natural.
“ Sir, I do know you ;
King Lear. At the precise time when the action of our piece commences, a fine and fruitful season was drawing to a close. The harvests of the hay and of the smaller corns had long been over, and the younger Heathcote with his labourers had passed a day in depriving the luxuriant maize of its tops, in order to secure the nutritious blades for fodder, and to admit the sun and air to harden a grain, that is almost considered the staple production of the region he inhabited. The veteran Mark had ridden among the workmen, during their light toil, as well to enjoy a sight which promised abundance to his flocks and herds, as to throw in, on occasion, some wholesome spiritual precept, in which doctrinal subtlety was far more prominent than the rules of practice. The hirelings of his son (for he had long since yielded the management of the estate to Content), were, without an exception, young men born in the country, and long, use and much training had accustomed them to a blending of religious exercises with most of the employments of life. They listened, therefore, with respect, nor did an impious smile, or an impatient glance, escape the lightest-minded of their number, during his exhortations, though the homilies of the old man were neither very brief, nor particularly original. But devotion to the one great cause of their existence, austere habits, and unrelaxed industry in keeping alive a flame of zeal that had been kindled in the other hemisphere, to burn longest and brightest in this, had interwoven the practice mentioned with most of the opinions and pleasures of these metaphysical, though simple-minded people. The toil went on none the less cheerily for the extraordinary accompaniment, and Content himself, by a certain glimmering of superstition, which appears to be the concomitant of excessive religious zeal, was fain to think that the sun shone more brightly on their labours, and that the earth gave forth more of its fruits, while these holy sentiments were flowing from the lips of a father whom he piously loved and deeply reverenced.
But when the sun, usually at that season in the climate of Connecticut, a bright unshrouded orb, fell towards the tree-tops which
bounded the western horizon, the old man began to grow weary with his own well-doing. He therefore finished his discourse with a wholesome admonition to the youths to complete their tasks before they quitted the field, and, turning the head of his horse, he rode slowly, and with a musing air towards the dwellings. It is probable that for some time the thoughts of Mark were occupied with the intellectual matter he had just been handling with so much power, but when his little nag stopped of itself on a small eminence, which the crooked cow path he was following crossed, his mind yielded to the impression of more worldly and more sensible objects. As the scene, that drew his contemplations from so many abstract theories to the realities of life, was peculiar to the country, and is more or less connected with the subject of our tale, we shall endeavour briefly to describe it.
A small tributary of the Connecticut divided the view into two nearly equal parts. The fertile flats, that extended on each of its banks for more than a mile, had been early stripped of their burthen of forest, and they now lay in placid meadows, or in fields, from which the grain of the season had lately disappeared, and over which the plough had already left the marks of recent tillage. The whole of the plain, which ascended gently from the rivulet towards the forest, was subdivided in enclosures by numberless fences, constructed in the rude but substantial manner of the country, Rails, in which lightness and economy of wood had been but little consulted, lying in zig-zag lines, like the approaches which the besieger makes in his cautious advance to the hostile fortress, were piled on each other, until barriers, seven or eight feet in height, were interposed to the inroads of vicious cattle. In one spot, a large, square vacancy had been cut into the forest, and though numberless stumps of trees darkened its surface, as indeed they did many of the fields on the flats themselves, þright, green grain was sprouting forth, luxuriantly, from the rich and virgin soil. High against the side of an adjacent hill, that might aspire to be called a low rocky mountain, a similar invasion had been made on the dominion of the trees; but caprice or convenience had induced an abandonment of the clearing, after it had ill-requited the toil of felling, the timber by a single crop.
In this spot, straggling, girdled, and consequently dead trees, piles of logs, and black and charred stubs were seen deforming the beauty of a field that would otherwise have been striking, from its deep setting in the woods. Much of the surface of this opening, too, was now concealed by bushes of what is termed the second growth; though, here and there, places appeared in which the luxuriant white clover, natural to the country, had followed the close grazing of the flocks. The eyes of Mark were bent, inquiringly, on this clearing, which, by an air-line, might have been half-a-mile from the place where his horse had stopped, for the sounds of a dozen differently-toned cow-bells were brought, on the still air of the evening, to his ears, from among its bushes.
The evidences of civilization were the least equivocal, however, on and around a natural elevation in the land, which arose so suddenly on the very bank of the stream as to give to it the appearance
of a work of art. Whether these mounds once existed everywhere on the face of the earth, and have disappeared before long tillage and labour, we shall not presume to conjecture, but we have reason to think that they occur much more frequently in certain parts of our own country than in any other familiarly known to ordinary travellers, unless, perhaps, it may be in some of the valleys of Switzerland. The practised veteran had chosen the summit of this flattened cone for the establishment of that species of military defence which the situation of the country, and the character of the enemy he had to guard against, rendered advisable, as well as customary.
The dwelling was of wood, and constructed of the ordinary frame-work, with its thin covering of boards. It was long, low, and irregular; bearing marks of having been reared at different periods, as the wants of an increasing family had required addi, tional accommodation. It stood near the verge of the natural declivity; and on that side of the hill where its base was washed by the rivulet, a rude piazza stretching along the whole of its front and overhanging the stream. Several large, irregular, and clumsy chimneys rose out of different parts of the roofs-another proof that comfort, rather than taste, had been consulted in the disposition of the buildings. There were also two or three detached offices on the summit of the hill, placed near the dwellings, and at points most convenient for their several uses. A stranger might have remarked thåt they were so disposed as to form, as far as they went, the different sides of a hollow square. Notwithstanding the great length of the principal building, and the disposition of the more minute and detached parts, this desirable formation would not, however, have been obtained were it not that two rows of rude constructions in logs, from which the bark had not even been stripped, served to eke out the parts that were
deficient. These primeval edifices were used to contain various domestic articles, no less than provisions; and they also furnished numerous lodging-rooms for the labourers and the inferior dependents of the farm. By the aid of a few strong and high gates of hewn timber, those parts of the buildings which had not been made to unite in the original construction, were sufficiently connected to oppose so many barriers against ad. mission into the inner court.
But the building which was most conspicuous by its position, no less than by the singularity of its construction, stood on a low, artificial mound in the centre of the quadrangle. It was high, hexagonal in shape, and crowned with a roof that came to a point, and from whose peak rose a towering flag-staff. The foundation was of stone; but, at the height of a man above the earth, the sides were made of massive, squared logs, firmly united by an ingenious combination of their ends, as well as by perpendicular supporters pinned closely into their sides. In this citadel, or block-house, as, from its materials, it was technically called, there were two different tiers of long, narrow loop-holes, but no regular windows. The rays of the setting sun, however, glittered on one or two small openings in the roof, in which glass had been set, furnishing evidence that the summit of the building was sometimes used for other purposes than those of defence.