The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"And I’ll drink out of the quart pot--
On one of the corners, where the two principal streets of Templeton intersected each other, stood, as we have already mentioned, the inn called the "Bold Dragoon". In the original plan it was ordained that the village should stretch along the little stream that rushed down the valley; and the street which led from the lake to the academy was intended to be its western boundary. But convenience frequently frustrates the best-regulated plans. The house of Mr., or as, in consequence of commanding the militia of that vicinity, he was called, Captain Hollister, had, at an early day, been erected directly facing the main street, and ostensibly interposed a barrier to its further progress. Horsemen, and subsequently teamsters, however, availed themselves of an opening, at the end of the building, to shorten their passage westward, until in time the regular highway was laid out along this course, and houses were gradually built on either side, so as effectually to prevent any subsequent correction of the evil.
Two material consequences followed this change in the regular plans of Marmaduke. The main street, after running about half its length, was suddenly reduced for precisely that difference in its width; and "Bold Dragoon" became, next to the mansion-house, by far the most conspicuous edifice in the place.
This conspicuousness, aided by the characters of the host and hostess, gave the tavern an advantage over all its future competitors that no circumstances could conquer. An effort was, however, made to do so; and at the corner diagonally opposite, stood a new building that was in tended, by its occupants, to look down all opposition. It was a house of wood, ornamented in the prevailing style of architecture, and about the roof and balustrades was one of the three imitators of the mansion-house. The upper windows were filled with rough boards secured by nails, to keep out the cold air--for the edifice was far from finished, although glass was to be seen in the lower apartments, and the light of the powerful fires within de noted that it was already inhabited. The exterior was painted white on the front and on the end which was exposed to the street; but in the rear, and on the side which was intended to join the neighboring house, it was coarsely smeared with Spanish brown. Before the door stood two lofty posts, connected at the top by a beam, from which was suspended an enormous sign, ornamented around its edges with certain curious carvings in pine boards, and on its faces loaded with Masonic emblems. Over these mysterious figures was written, in large letters, "The Templeton Coffee-house, and Traveller’s Hotel," and beneath them, "By Habakkuk Foote and Joshua Knapp." This was a fearful rival to the" Bold Dragoon," as our readers will the more readily perceive when we add that the same sonorous names were to be seen over a newly erected store in the village, a hatter’s shop, and the gates of a tan-yard. But, either because too much was attempted to be executed well, or that the "Bold Dragoon" had established a reputation which could not be easily shaken, not only Judge Temple and his friends, but most of the villagers also, who were not in debt to the powerful firm we have named, frequented the inn of Captain Hollister on all occasions where such a house was necessary
On the present evening the limping veteran and his consort were hardly housed after their return from the academy, when the sounds of stamping feet at their threshold announced the approach of visitors, who were probably assembling with a view to compare opinions on the subject of the ceremonies they had witnessed.
The public, or as it was called, the "bar-room," of the Bold Dragoon," was a spacious apartment, lined on three sides with benches and on the fourth by fireplaces. Of the latter there were two of such size as to occupy, with their enormous jambs, the whole of that side of the apartment where they were placed, excepting room enough for a door or two, and a little apartment in one corner, which was protected by miniature palisades, and profusely garnished with bottles and glasses. In the entrance to this sanctuary Mrs. Hollister was seated, with great gravity in her air, while her husband occupied himself with stirring the fires, moving the logs with a large stake burnt to a point at one end.
"There, sargeant, dear," said the landlady, after she thought the veteran had got the logs arranged in the most judicious manner, "give over poking, for it’s no good ye’ll be doing, now that they burn so convaniently. There’s the glasses on the table there, and the mug that the doctor was taking his cider and ginger in, before the fire here-- just put them in the bar, will ye? for we’ll be having the jooge, and the Major, and Mr. Jones down the night, without reckoning Benjamin Poomp, and the lawyers; so yell be fixing the room tidy; and put both flip irons in the coals; and tell Jude, the lazy black baste, that if she’s no be cleaning up the kitchen I’ll turn her out of the house, and she may live wid the jontlemen that kape the ‘Coffee house,’ good luck to ‘em. Och! sargeant, sure it’s a great privilege to go to a mateing where a body can sit asy, without joomping up and down so often, as this Mr. Grant is doing that same."
"It’s a privilege at all times, Mrs. Hollister, whether we stand or be seated; or, as good Mr. Whitefleld used to do after he had made a wearisome day’s march, get on our knees and pray, like Moses of old, with a flanker to the right and left to lift his hands to heaven," returned her husband, who composedly performed what she had directed to be done. "It was a very pretty fight, Betty, that the Israelites had on that day with the Amalekites, It seams that they fout on a plain, for Moses is mentioned as having gone on the heights to overlook the battle, and wrestle in prayer; and if I should judge, with my little larning, the Israelites depended mainly on their horse, for it was written ‘that Joshua cut up the enemy with the edge of the sword; from which I infer, not only that they were horse, but well diseiplyned troops. Indeed, it says as much as that they were chosen men; quite likely volunteers; for raw dragoons seldom strike with the edge of their swords, particularly if the weapon be any way crooked." "Pshaw! why do ye bother yourself wid texts, man, about so small a matter?" interrupted the landlady; "sure, it was the Lord who was with ‘em; for he always sided with the Jews, before they fell away; and it’s but little matter what kind of men Joshua commanded, so that he was doing the right bidding. Aven them cursed millaishy, the Lord forgive me for swearing, that was the death of him, wid their cowardice, would have carried the day in old times. There’s no rason to be thinking that the soldiers were used to the drill."
"I must say, Mrs. Hollister, that I have not often seen raw troops fight better than the left flank of the militia, at the time you mention. They rallied handsomely, and that without beat of drum, which is no easy thing to do under fire, and were very steady till he fell. But the Scriptures contain no unnecessary words; and I will maintain that horse, who know how to strike with the edge of the sword, must be well disoiplyned. Many a good sarmon has been preached about smaller matters than that one word! If the text was not meant to be particular, why wasn’t it written with the sword, and not with the edge? Now, a back-handed stroke, on the edge, takes long practice. Goodness! what an argument would Mr. Whitefield make of that word edge! As to the captain, if he had only called up the guard of dragoons when he rallied the foot, they would have shown the inimy what the edge of a sword was; for, although there was no commissioned officer with them, yet I think I must say," the veteran continued, stiffening his cravat about his throat, and raising himself up with tile air of a drill-sergeant, "they were led by a man who knowed how to bring them on. in spite of the ravine."
"Is it lade on ye would," cried the landlady, "when ye know yourself, Mr. Hollister, that the baste he rode was but little able to joomp from one rock to another, and the animal was as spry as a squirrel? Och! but it’s useless to talk, for he’s gone this many a year. I would that he had lived to see the true light; but there’s mercy for a brave sowl, that died in the saddle, fighting for the liberty. It is a poor tombstone they have given him, anyway, and many a good one that died like himself; but the sign is very like, and I will be kapeing it up, while the blacksmith can make a hook for it to swing on, for all the ‘coffee-houses’ betwane this and Albany."
There is no saying where this desultory conversation would have led the worthy couple, had not the men, who were stamping the snow off their feet on the little plat form before the door, suddenly ceased their occupation, and entered the bar-room.
For ten or fifteen minutes the different individuals, who intended either to bestow or receive edification before the fires of the "Bold Dragoon" on that evening, were collecting, until the benches were nearly filled with men of different occupations. Dr. Todd and a slovenly-looking, shabby-genteel young man, who took tobacco profusely, wore a coat of imported cloth cut with something like a fashionable air, frequently exhibited a large French silver watch, with a chain of woven hair and a silver key, and who, altogether, seemed as much above the artisans around him as he was himself inferior to the real gentle man, occupied a high-back wooden settee, in the most comfortable corner in the apartment.
Sundry brown mugs, containing cider or beer, were placed between the heavy andirons, and little groups were found among the guests as subjects arose or the liquor was passed from one to the other. No man was seen to drink by himself, nor in any instance was more than one vessel considered necessary for the same beverage; but the glass or the mug was passed from hand to hand until a chasm in the line or a regard to the rights of ownership would regularly restore the dregs of the potation to him who de frayed the cost.
Toasts were uniformly drunk; and occasionally some one who conceived himself peculiarly endowed by Nature to shine in the way of wit would attempt some such sentiment as " hoping that he" who treated "might make a better man than his father;" or "live till all his friends wished him dead;" while the more humble pot-companion contented himself by saying, with a most composing gravity in his air, "Come, here’s luck," or by expressing some other equally comprehensive desire. In every instance the veteran landlord was requested to imitate the custom of the cupbearers to kings, and taste the liquor he presented, by the invitation of "After you is manners," with which request he ordinarily complied by wetting his lips, first expressing the wish of "Here’s hoping," leaving it to the imagination of the hearers to fill the vacuum by whatever good each thought most desirable. During these movements the landlady was busily occupied with mixing the various compounds required by her customers, with her own hands, and occasionally exchanging greetings and inquiries concerning the conditions of their respective families, with such of the villagers as approached the bar.
At length the common thirst being in some measure assuaged, conversation of a more general nature became the order of the hour. The physician and his companion, who was one of the two lawyers of the village, being considered the best qualified to maintain a public discourse with credit, were the principal speakers, though a remark was hazarded, now and then, by Mr. Doolittle, who was thought to be their inferior only in the enviable point of education. A general silence was produced on all but the two speakers, by the following observation from the practitioner of the law:
"So, Dr. Todd, I understand that you have been per forming an important operation this evening by cutting a charge of buckshot from the shoulder of the son of Leather-Stocking?"
"Yes, sir," returned other, elevating his little head with an air of importance. "I had a small job up at the Judge’s in that way; it was, however, but a trifle to what it might have been, had it gone through the body. The shoulder is not a very vital part; and I think the young man will soon be well. But I did not know that the patient was a son of Leather-Stocking; it is news to me to hear that Natty had a wife."
"It is by no means a necessary consequence, returned the other, winking, with a shrewd look around the bar room; "there is such a thing, I suppose you know, in law as a filius nullius."
"Spake it out, man," exclaimed the landlady; "spake it out in king’s English; what for should ye be talking Indian in a room full of Christian folks, though it is about a poor hunter, who is but little better in his ways than the wild savages themselves? Och! it’s to be hoped that the missionaries will, in his own time, make a conversion of the poor devils; and then it will matter little of what color is the skin, or wedder there be wool or hair on the head."
"Oh! it is Latin, not Indian, Miss Hollister!" returned the lawyer, repeating his winks and shrewd looks; "and Dr. Todd understands Latin, or how would he read the labels on his gailipots and drawers? No, no, Miss Hollis ter, the doctor understands me; don’t you, doctor?"
"Hem--why, I guess I am not far out of the way," returned Elnathan, endeavoring to imitate the expression of the other’s countenance, by looking jocular. "Latin is a queer language, gentlemen; now I rather guess there is no one in the room, except Squire Lippet, who can believe that ‘Far. Av.’ means oatmeal, in English."
The lawyer in his turn was a good deal embarrassed by this display of learning; for, although he actually had taken his first degree at one of the eastern universities, he was somewhat puzzled with the terms used by his companion. It was dangerous, however, to appear to he out done in learning in a public bar-room, and before so many of his clients; he therefore put the best face on the matter, and laughed knowingly as if there were a good joke concealed under it, that was understood only by the physician and himself. All this was attentively observed by the listeners, who exchanged looks of approbation; and the expressions of " tonguey mati," and "I guess Squire Lippet knows if anybody does," were heard in different parts of the room, as vouchers for the admiration of his auditors. Thus encouraged, the lawyer rose from his chair, and turning his back to the fire, and facing the company, he continued:
"The son of Natty, or the son of nobody, I hope the young man is not going to let the matter drop. This is a country of law; and I should like to see it fairly tried, whether a man who owns, or says he owns, a hundred thousand acres of land, has any more right to shoot a body than another. What do you think of it, Dr. Todd?"
Oh, sir, I am of opinion that the gentleman will soon be well, as I said before; the wound isn’t in a vital part; and as the ball was extracted so soon, and the shoulder was what I call well attended to, I do not think there is as much danger as there might have been." "I say, Squire Doolittle," continued the attorney, raising his voice, "you are a magistrate, and know what is law and what is not law. I ask you, sir, if shooting a man is a thing that is to be settled so very easily? Suppose, sir, that the young man had a wife and family; and suppose that he was a mechanic like yourself, sir; and sup pose that his family depended on him for bread; and suppose that the ball, instead of merely going through the flesh, had broken the shoulder- blade, and crippled him forever; I ask you all, gentlemen, supposing this to be the case, whether a jury wouldn’t give what I call handsome damages?"
As the close of this supposititious case was addressed to the company generally, Hiram did not at first consider himself called on for a reply; but finding the eyes of the listeners bent on him in expectation, he remembered his character for judicial discrimination, and spoke, observing a due degree of deliberation and dignity.
"Why, if a man should shoot another," he said, " and if he should do it on purpose and if the law took notice on’t, and if a jury should find him guilty, it would be likely to turn out a state-prison matter."
"It would so, sir," returned the attorney. "The law, gentlemen, is no respecter of persons in a free country. It is one of the great blessings that has been handed down to us from our ancestors, that all men are equal in the eye of the laws, as they are by nater. Though some may get property, no one knows how, yet they are not privileged to transgress the laws any more than the poorest citizen in the State. This is my notion, gentlemen: and I think that it a man had a mind to bring this matter up, something might be made out of it that would help pay for the salve--ha! doctor!"
"Why, sir," returned the physician, who appeared a little uneasy at the turn the conversation was taking, "I have the promise of Judge Temple before men--not but what I would take his word as soon as his note of hand-- but it was before men. Let me see--there was Mounshier Ler Quow, and Squire Jones, and Major Hartmann, and Miss Pettibone, and one or two of the blacks by, when he said that his pocket would amply reward me for what I did."
"Was the promise made before or after the service was performed?" asked the attorney.
"It might have been both," returned the discreet physician; "though I’m certain he said so before I undertook the dressing."
"But it seems that he said his pocket should reward you, doctor," observed Hiram. "Now I don’t know that the law will hold a man to such a promise; he might give you his pocket with sixpence in’t, and tell you to take your pay out on’t,"
"That would not be a reward in the eye of the law, interrupted the attorney--" not what is called a ‘quid pro quo;’ nor is the pocket to be considered as an agent, but as part of a man’s own person, that is, in this particular. I am of opinion that an action would lie on that promise, and I will undertake to bear him out, free of costs, if he don’t recover."
To this proposition the physician made no reply; but he was observed to cast his eyes around him, as if to enumerate the witnesses, in order to substantiate this promise also, at a future day, should it prove necessary. A subject so momentous as that of suing Judge Temple was not very palatable to the present company in so public a place; and a short silence ensued, that was only interrupted by the opening of the door, and the entrance of Natty himself.
The old hunter carried in his hand his never-failing companion, the rifle; and although all of the company were uncovered excepting the lawyer, who wore his hat on one side, with a certain dam’me air, Natty moved to the front of one of the fires without in the least altering any part of his dress or appearance. Several questions were addressed to him, on the subject of the game he had killed, which he answered readily, and with some little interest; and the landlord, between whom and Natty there existed much cordiality, on account of their both having been soldiers in youth, offered him a glass of a liquid which, if we might judge from its reception, was no unwelcome guest. When the forester had got his potation also, he quietly took his seat on the end of one of the logs that lay nigh the fires, and the slight interruption produced by his entrance seemed to he forgotten.
"The testimony of the blacks could not be taken, sir," continued the lawyer, "for they are all the property of Mr. Jones, who owns their time. But there is a way by which Judge Temple, or any other man, might be made to pay for shooting another, and for the cure in the bargain. There is a way, I say, and that without going into the ‘court of errors,’ too,"
"And a mighty big error ye would make of it, Mister Todd," cried the landlady, "should ye be putting the mat ter into the law at all, with Joodge Temple, who has a purse as long as one of them pines on the hill, and who is an asy man to dale wid, if yees but mind the humor of him. He’s a good man is Joodge Temple, and a kind one, and one who will be no the likelier to do the pratty thing, becase ye would wish to tarrify him wid the law. I know of but one objaction to the same, which is an over-careless ness about his sowl. It’s neither a Methodie, nor a Papish, nor Parsbetyrian, that he is, but just nothing at all; and it’s hard to think that he, ‘who will not fight the good fight, under the banners of a rig’lar church, in this world, will be mustered among the chosen in heaven,’ as my husband, the captain there, as ye call him, says--though there is but one captain that I know, who desarves the name. I hopes, Lather-Stocking, ye’ll no be foolish, and putting the boy up to try the law in the matter; for ‘twill be an evil day to ye both, when ye first turn the skin of so paceable an animal as a sheep into a bone of contention, The lad is wilcome to his drink for nothing, until his shoulther will bear the rifle agin."
"Well, that’s gin’rous," was heard from several mouths at once, for this was a company in which a liberal offer was not thrown away; while the hunter, instead ‘of expressing any of that indignation which he might be sup posed to feel, at hearing the hurt of his young companion alluded to, opened his mouth, with the silent laugh for which he was so remarkable; and after he had indulged his humor, made this reply:
"I knowed the Judge would do nothing with his smooth bore when he got out of his sleigh. I never saw but one smooth-bore that would carry at all, and that was a French ducking-piece, upon the big lakes; it had a barrel half as long agin as my rifle, and would throw fine shot into a goose at one hundred yards; but it made dreadful work with the game, and you wanted a boat to carry it about in. When I went with Sir William agin’ the French, at Fort Niagara, all the rangers used the rifle; and a dreadful weapon it is, in the hands of one who knows how to charge it, and keep a steady aim. The captain knows, for he says he was a soldier in Shirley’s; and, though they were nothing but baggonet-men, he must know how we cut up the French and Iroquois in the skrimmages in that war. Chingachgook, which means ‘Big Sarpent’ in English, old John Mohegan, who lives up at the hut with me, was a great warrior then, and was out with us; he can tell all about it, too; though he was overhand for the tomahawk, never firing more than once or twice, before he was running in for the scalps. Ah! times is dreadfully altered since then. Why, doctor, there was nothing but a foot path, or at the most a track for pack-horses, along the Mohawk, from the Jarman Flats up to the forts. Now, they say, they talk of running one of them wide roads with gates on it along the river; first making a road, and then fencing it up! I hunted one season back of the Kaatskills, nigh-hand to the settlements, and the dogs often lost the scent, when they came to them highways, there was so much travel on them; though I can’t say that the brutes was of a very good breed. Old Hector will wind a deer, in the fall of the year, across the broadest place in the Otsego, and that is a mile and a half, for I paced it my self on the ice, when the tract was first surveyed, under the Indian grant."
"It sames to me, Natty, but a sorry compliment to call your comrad after the evil one," said the landlady; "and it’s no much like a snake that old John is looking now, Nimrod would be a more becomeing name for the lad, and a more Christian, too, seeing that it conies from the Bible. The sargeant read me the chapter about him, the night before my christening, and a mighty asement it was to listen to anything from the book."
"Old John and Chingachgook were very different men to look on," returned the hunter, shaking his head at his melancholy recollections. "In the ‘fifty-eighth war’ he was in the middle of manhood, and taller than now by three inches. If you had seen him, as I did, the morning we beat Dieskau, from behind our log walls, you would have called him as comely a redskin as ye ever set eyes on. He was naked all to his breech-cloth and leggins; and you never seed a creatur’ so handsomely painted. One side of his face was red and the other black. His head was shaved clean, all to a few hairs on the crown, where he wore a tuft of eagle’s feathers, as bright as if they had come from a peacock’s tail. He had colored his sides so that they looked like anatomy, ribs and all, for Chingachgook had a great taste in such things, so that, what with his bold, fiery countenance, his knife, and his tomahawk, I have never seen a fiercer warrior on the ground. He played his part, too, like a man, for I saw him next day with thirteen scalps on his pole. And I will say this for the ‘Big Snake,’ that he always dealt fair, and never scalped any that he didn’t kill with his own hands."
"Well, well!" cried the landlady, "fighting is fighting anyway, and there is different fashions in the thing; though I can’t say that I relish mangling a body after the breath is out of it; neither do I think it can be uphild by doctrine. I hope, sargeant, ye niver was helping in sich evil worrek." "It was my duty to keep my ranks, and to stand or fall by the baggonet or lead," returned the veteran. "I was then in the fort, and seldom leaving my place, saw but little of the savages, who kept on the flanks or in front, skrimmaging. I remember, howsomever, to have heard mention made of the ‘Great Snake,’ as he was called, for he was a chief of renown; but little did I ever expect to see him enlisted in the cause of Christianity, and civilized like old John."
"Oh! he was Christianized by the Moravians, who were always over- intimate with the Delawares," said Leather-Stocking. "It’s my opinion that, had they been left to themselves, there would he no such doings now about the head-waters of the two rivers, and that these hills mought have been kept as good hunting-ground by their right owner, who is not too old to carry a rifle, and whose sight is as true as a fish- hawk hovering--"
He was interrupted by more stamping at the door, and presently the party from the mansion-house entered, followed by the Indian himself.