The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"Cease all this parlance about hills and dales.
Mr. Jones arose on the following morning with the sun, and, ordering his own and Marmaduke’s steeds to be saddled, he proceeded, with a countenance big with some business of unusual moment to the apartment of the Judge. The door was unfastened, and Richard entered, with the freedom that characterized not only the intercourse between the cousins, but the ordinary manners of the sheriff.
"Well, ‘Duke, to horse," he cried, "and I will explain to you my meaning in the allusions I made last night. David says, in the Psalms--no, it was Solomon, but it was all in the family--Solomon said there was a time for all things; and, in my humble opinion, a fishing- party is not the moment for discussing important subjects. Ha! why, what the devil ails you, Marmaduke? Ain't you well? Let me feel your pulse; my grandfather, you know--"
"Quite well in the body, Richard," interrupted the Judge, repulsing his cousin, who was about to assume the functions that rightly belonged to Dr. Todd; " but ill at heart. I received letters by the post last night, after we returned from the point, and this among the number."
The sheriff took the letter, but without turning his eyes on the writing, for he was examining the appearance of the other with astonishment. From the face of his cousin the gaze of Richard wandered to the table, which was covered with letters, packets, and newspapers; then to the apartment and all it contained. On the bed there was the impression that had been made by a human form, but the coverings were unmoved, and everything indicated that the occupant of the room had passed a sleepless night. The candles had burned to the sockets, and had evidently extinguished themselves in their own fragments Marmaduke had drawn his curtains, and opened both the shutters and the sashes, to admit the balmy air " of a spring morning; but his pale cheek, his quivering lip, and his sunken eye presented altogether so very different an appearance from the usual calm, manly, and cheerful aspect of the Judge, that the sheriff grew each moment more and more bewildered with astonishment. At length Richard found time to cast his eyes on the direction of the letter, which he still held unopened, crumpling it in his hand.
"What! a ship-letter!" he exclaimed; "and from England, ha! ‘Duke, there must be news of importance! indeed!"
"Read it," said Marmaduke, pacing the floor in excessive agitation.
Richard, who commonly thought aloud, was unable to read a letter without suffering part of its contents to escape him in audible sounds. So much of the epistle as was divulged in that manner, we shall lay before the reader, accompanied by the passing remarks of the sheriff:
"‘London, February 12, 1793.’ What a devil of a pas sage she had! but the wind has been northwest for six weeks, until within the last fortnight. Sir, your favors of August 10th, September 23d, and of December 1st, were received in due season, and the first answered by return of packet. Since the receipt of the last, I’ "--here a long passage was rendered indistinct by a kind of humming noise by the sheriff--" ‘I grieve to say that ‘--hum, hum, bad enough to be sure--’ but trusts that a merciful Providence has seen fit’--hum, hum, hum seems to be a good, pious sort of a man, ‘Duke; belongs to the Established Church, I dare say; hum, hum--’ vessel sailed from Falmouth on or about the 1st September of last year, and’--hum, hum, hum, ‘If anything should transpire on this afflicting subject shall not fail’-- hum, hum; really a good-hearted man, for a lawyer--’but Can communicate nothing further at present’--hum, hum. " The national convention ‘-- hum, hum--’ unfortunate Louis’--hum, hum--’example of your Washington’--a very sensible man, I declare, and none of your crazy democrats. Hum, hum--’our gallant navy’--hum, hum--’under our most excellent monarch’--ay, a good man enough, that King George, but bad advisers: hum, hum--’I beg to conclude with assurances of my perfect respect.’--hum, hum--’Andrew Holt. ‘--Andrew Holt, a very sensible, feeling man, this Mr. Andrew Holt--but the writer of evil tidings. What will you do next, Cousin Marmaduke?"
"What can I do, Richard, but trust to time, and the will of Heaven? Here is another letter from Connecticut, but it only repeats the substance of the last. There is but one consoling reflection to be gathered from the English news, which is, that my last letter was received by him before the ship sailed,"
"This is bad enough, indeed! ‘Duke, bad enough, indeed! and away go all my plans, of putting wings to the house, to the devil. I had made arrangements for a ride to introduce you to something of a very important nature. You know how much you think of mines--"
"Talk not of mines," interrupted the Judge: "there is a sacred duty to be performed, and that without delay, I must devote this day to writing; and thou must be my assistant, Richard; it will not do to employ Oliver in a matter of such secrecy and interest,"
"No, no, ‘Duke," cried the sheriff, squeezing his hand, " I am your man, just now; we are sister’s children, and blood, after all, is the best cement to make friendship stick together. Well, well, there is no hurry about the silver mine, just now; another time will do as well. We shall want Dirky Van, I suppose?"
Marmaduke assented to this indirect question, and the sheriff relinquished all his intentions on the subject of the ride, and, repairing to the breakfast parlor, he dispatched a messenger to require the immediate presence of Dirck Van der School.
The village of Templeton at that time supported but two lawyers, one of whom was introduced to our readers in the bar-room of the "Bold Dragoon." and the other was the gentleman of whom Richard spoke by the friendly yet familiar appellation of Dirck, or Dirky Van. Great good- nature, a very tolerable share of skill in his profession, and, considering the circumstances, no contemptible degree of honesty, were the principal ingredients in the character of this man, who was known to the settlers as Squire Van der School, and sometimes by the flattering though anomalous title of the "Dutch" or "honest lawyer."
We would not wish to mislead our readers in their conceptions of any of our characters, and we therefore feel it necessary to add that the adjective, in the preceding agnomen of Mr. Van der School, was used in direct reference to its substantive. Our orthodox friends need not be told that all the merit in this world is comparative; and, once for all, we desire to say that, where anything which involves qualities or characters is asserted, we must be understood to mean, "under the circumstances."
During the remainder of the day, the Judge was closeted with his cousin and his lawyer; and no one else was admitted to his apartment, excepting his daughter. The deep distress that so evidently affected Marmaduke was in some measure communicated to Elizabeth also; for a look of dejection shaded her intelligent features, and the buoyancy of her animated spirits was sensibly softened. Once on that day, young Edwards, who was a wondering and observant spectator of the sudden alteration produced in the heads of the family, detected a tear stealing over the cheek of Elizabeth, and suffusing her bright eyes with a softness that did not always belong to their expression.
"Have any evil tidings been received, Miss Temple?" he inquired, with an interest and voice that caused Louisa Grant to raise her head from her needlework, with a quick ness at which she instantly blushed herself. "I would offer my services to your father, if, as I suspect, he needs an agent in some distant place, and I thought it would give you relief."
"We have certainly heard bad news," returned Elizabeth, " and it may be necessary that my father should leave home for a short period; unless I can persuade him to trust my cousin Richard with the business, whose absence from the country, just at this time, too, might be inexpedient."
The youth paused a moment, and the blood gathered slowly to his temples as he continued:
"If it be of a nature that I could execute-"
"It is such as can only be confided to one we know-- one of ourselves,"
"Surely, you know me, Miss Temple!" he added, with a warmth that he seldom exhibited, but which did some times escape him in the moments of their frank communications. "Have I lived five months under your roof to be a stranger?"
Elizabeth was engaged with her needle also, and she bent her head to one side, affecting to arrange her muslin; but her hand shook, her color heightened, and her eyes lost their moisture in an expression of ungovernable interest, as she said:
"How much do we know of you, Mr. Edwards?"
"How much!" echoed the youth, gazing from the speaker to the mild countenance of Louisa, that was also illuminated with curiosity; " how much Have I been so long an inmate with you and not known?"
The head of Elizabeth turned slowly from its affected position, and the look of confusion that had blended so strongly with an expression of interest changed to a smile.
"We know you, sir, indeed; you are called Mr. Oliver Edwards. I understand that you have informed my friend Miss Grant that you are a native--"
"Elizabeth!" exclaimed Louisa, blushing to thc eyes, and trembling like an aspen ; " you misunderstood me, dear Miss Temple; I--I--it was only a conjecture. Besides, if Mr. Edwards is related to the natives why should we reproach him? In what are we better? at least I, who am the child of a poor and unsettled clergyman?"
Elizabeth shook her head doubtingly, and even laughed, but made no reply, until, observing the melancholy which pervaded the countenance of her companion, who was thinking of the poverty and labors of her father, she continued:
"Nay, Louisa, humility carries you too far. The daughter of a minister of the church can have no superiors. Neither I nor Mr. Edwards is quite your equal, unless," she added, again smiling, "he is in secret a king "
"A faithful servant of the King of kings, Miss Temple, is inferior to none on earth," said Louisa; "but his honors are his own; I am only the child of a poor and friendless man, and can claim no other distinction. Why, then, should I feel myself elevated above Mr. Edwards, because--because--perhaps he is only very, very distantly related to John Mohegan?"
Glances of a very comprehensive meaning were exchanged between the heiress and the young man, as Louisa betrayed, while vindicating his lineage, the reluctance with which she admitted his alliance with the old warrior; but not even a smile at the simplicity of their companion was indulged in by either.
"On reflection, I must acknowledge that my situation here is somewhat equivocal," said Edwards, "though I may be said to have purchased it with my blood."
"The blood, too, of one of the native lords of the soil!" cried Elizabeth, who evidently put little faith in his aboriginal descent.
"Do I bear the marks of my lineage so very plainly impressed on my appearance? I am dark, but not very red--not more so than common?"
"Rather more so, just now."
"I am sure, Miss Temple," cried Louisa, "you cannot have taken much notice of Mr. Edwards. His eyes are not so black as Mohegan’s or even your own, nor is his hair."
"Very possibly, then, I can lay claim to the same de scent It would be a great relief to my mind to think so, for I own that I grieve when I see old Mohegan walking about these lands like the ghost of one of their ancient possessors, and feel how small is my own right to possess them."
"Do you?" cried the youth, with a vehemence that startled the ladies
"I do, indeed," returned Elizabeth, after suffering a moment to pass in surprise; "but what can I do--what can my father do? Should we offer the old man a home’ and a maintenance, his habits would compel him to refuse us. Neither were we so silly as to wish such a thing, could we convert these clearings and farms again into hunting grounds, as the Leather-Stocking would wish to see them."
"You speak the truth, Miss Temple," said Edwards. "What can you do indeed? But there is one thing that I am certain you can and will do, when you become the mistress of these beautiful valleys--use your wealth with indulgence to the poor, and charity to the needy; indeed, you can do no more."
"And That will be doing a good deal," said Louisa, smiling in her turn. "But there will, doubtless, be one to take the direction of such things from her hands."
am not about to disclaim matrimony, like a silly girl, who dreams of nothing else from morn till night; but I am a nun here, without the vow of celibacy. Where shall I find a husband in these forests?"
"There is none, Miss Temple," said Edwards quickly; "there is none who has a right to aspire to you, and I know that you will wait to be sought by your equal; or die, as you live, loved, respected, and admired by all who know you."
The young man seemed to think that he had said all that was required by gallantry, for he arose, and, taking his hat, hurried from the apartment. Perhaps Louisa thought that he had said more than was necessary, for she sighed, with an aspiration so low that it was scarcely audible to herself, and bent her head over her work again. And it is possible that Miss Temple wished to hear more, for her eyes continued fixed for a minute on the door through which the young man had passed, then glanced quickly toward her companion, when the long silence that succeeded manifested how much zest may be given to the conversation of two maidens under eighteen, by the presence of a youth of three-and-twenty.
The first person encountered by Mr. Edwards, as he rather rushed than walked from the house, was the little square-built lawyer, with a large bundle of papers under his arm, a pair of green spectacles on his nose, with glasses at the sides, as if to multiply his power of detecting frauds by additional organs of vision.
Mr. Van der School was a well-educated man, but of slow comprehension, who had imbibed a wariness in his speeches and actions, from having suffered by his collisions with his more mercurial and apt brethren who had laid the foundations of their practice in the Eastern courts, and who had sucked in shrewdness with their mother’s milk. The caution of this gentleman was exhibited in his actions, by the utmost method and punctuality, tinctured with a good deal of timidity; and in his speeches, by a parenthetical style, that frequently left to his auditors a long search after his meaning.
"A good-morning to you, Mr. Van der School," said Edwards; "it seems to be a busy day with us at the mansion-house."
"Good-morning, Mr. Edwards (if that is your name [for, being a stranger, we have no other evidence of the fact than your own testimony], as I understand you have given it to Judge Temple), good- morning, sir. It is, apparently a busy day (but a man of your discretion need not be told [having, doubtless, discovered it of your own accord], that appearances are often deceitful) up at the mansion- house"
"Have you papers of consequence that will require copying? Can I be of assistance in any way?"
"There are papers (as doubtless you see [for your eyes are young] by the outsides) that require copying."
"Well, then, I will accompany you to your office, and receive such as are most needed, and by night I shall have them done if there be much haste."
"I shall always be glad to see you, sir, at my office (as in duty bound [not that it is obligatory to receive any man within your dwelling (unless so inclined), which is a castle], according to the forms of politeness), or at any other place; but the papers are most strictly confidential (and, as such, cannot be read by any one), unless so directed (by Judge Temple’s solemn injunctions), and are invisible to all eyes; excepting those whose duties (I mean assumed duties) require it of them."
"Well, sir, as I perceive that I can be of no service, I wish you another good-morning; but beg you will remember that I am quite idle just now, and I wish you would intimate as much to Judge Temple, and make him a ten der of my services in any part of the world, unless-- unless--it be far from Templeton."
"I will make the communication, sir, in your name (with your own qualifications), as your agent. Good morning, sir. But stay proceedings, Mr. Edwards (so called), for a moment. Do you wish me to state the offer of travelling as a final contract (for which consideration has been received at former dates [by sums advanced], which would be binding), or as a tender of services for which compensation is to be paid (according to future agreement between the parties), on performance of the conditions?"
"Any way, any way," said Edwards; "he seems in distress, and I would assist him."
"The motive is good, sir (according to appearances which are often deceitful] on first impressions), and does you honor. I will mention your wish, young gentleman (as you now seem), and will not fail to communicate the answer by five o’clock P.M. of this present day (God willing), if you give me an opportunity so to do."
The ambiguous nature of the situation and character of Mr. Edwards had rendered him an object of peculiar suspicion to the lawyer, and the youth was consequently too much accustomed to similar equivocal and guarded speeches to feel any unusual disgust at the present dialogue. He saw at once that it was the intention of the practitioner to conceal the nature of his business, even from the private secretary of Judge Temple; and he knew too well the difficulty of comprehending the meaning of Mr. Van der School, when the gentleman most wished to be luminous in his discourse, not to abandon all thoughts of a discovery, when he perceived that the attorney was endeavoring to avoid anything like an approach to a cross-examination. They parted at the gate, the lawyer walking with an important and hurried air toward his office, keeping his right hand firmly clinched on the bundle of papers.
It must have been obvious to all our readers, that the youth entertained an unusual and deeply seated prejudice against the character of the Judge; but owing to some counteracting cause, his sensations were now those of powerful interest in the state of his patron’s present feelings, and in the cause of his secret uneasiness. He remained gazing after the lawyer until the door closed on both the bearer and the mysterious packet, when he returned slowly to the dwelling, and endeavored to forget his curiosity in the usual avocations of his office.
When the Judge made his reappearance in the circles of his family, his cheerfulness was tempered by a shade of melancholy that lingered for many days around his manly brow; but the magical progression of the season aroused him from his temporary apathy, and his smiles returned with the summer.
The heats of the days, and the frequent occurrence of balmy showers, had completed in an incredibly short period the growth of plants which the lingering spring had so long retarded in the germ; and the woods presented every shade of green that the American forests know. The stumps in the cleared fields were already hidden beneath the wheat that was waving with every breath of the sum mer air, shining and changing its hues like velvet.
During the continuance of his cousin’s dejection, Mr. Jones forebore, with much consideration, to press on his attention a business that each hour was drawing nearer to the heart of the sheriff, and which, if any opinion could he formed by his frequent private conferences with the man who was introduced in these pages by the name of Jotham, at the bar-room of the Bold Dragoon, was becoming also of great importance.
At length the sheriff ventured to allude again to the subject; and one evening, in the beginning of July, Marmaduke made him a promise of devoting the following day to the desired excursion.