The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"Ha! ha! look! he wears cruel garters!"-Lear.
The punishments of the common law were still known, at the time of our tale, to the people of New York; and the whipping-post, and its companion, the stocks, were not yet supplanted by the more merciful expedients of the public prison. Immediately in front of the jail those relics of the older times were situated, as a lesson of precautionary justice to the evil-doers of the settlement.
Natty followed the constables to this spot, bowing his head in submission to a power that he was unable to op pose, and surrounded by the crowd that formed a circle about his person, exhibiting in their countenances strong curiosity. A constable raised the upper part of the stocks, and pointed with his finger to the holes where the old man was to place his feet. Without making the least objection to the punishment, the Leather-Stocking quietly seated himself on the ground, and suffered his limbs to be laid in the openings, without even a murmur; though he cast one glance about him, in quest of that sympathy that human nature always seems to require under suffering " but he met no direct manifestations of pity, neither did he see any unfeeling exultation, or hear a single reproachful epithet. The character of the mob, if it could be called by such a name, was that of attentive subordination.
The constable was in the act of lowering the upper plank, when Benjamin, who had pressed close to the side of the prisoner, said, in his hoarse tone, as if seeking for some cause to create a quarrel:
"Where away, master constable, is the use of clapping a man in them here bilboes? It neither stops his grog nor hurts his back; what for is it that you do the thing?"
"‘Tis the sentence of the court, Mr. Penguillium, and there’s law for it, I s’pose."
"Ay, ay, I know that there’s law for the thing; but where away do you find the use, I say? it does no harm, and it only keeps a man by the heels for the small matter of two glasses"
"Is it no harm, Benny Pump," said Natty, raising his eyes with a piteous look in the face of the steward--" is it no harm to show off a man in his seventy-first year, like a tame bear, for the settlers to look on? Is it no harm to put an old soldier, that has served through the war of ‘fifty-six, and seen the enemy in the ‘seventy-six business, into a place like this, where the boys can point at him and say, I have known the time when he was a spectacle for the county? Is it no harm to bring down the pride of an honest man to be the equal of the beasts of the forest?"
Benjamin stared about him fiercely, and could he have found a single face that expressed contumely, he would have been prompt to quarrel with its owner; but meeting everywhere with looks of sobriety, and occasionally of commiseration, he very deliberately seated himself by the side of the hunter, and, placing his legs in the two vacant holes of the stocks, he said:
"Now lower away, master constable, lower away, I tell ye! If-so-be there’s such a thing hereabouts, as a man that wants to see a bear, let him look and be d--d, and he shall find two of them, and mayhap one of the same that can bite as well as growl."
"But I have no orders to put you in the stocks, Mr. Pump," cried the constable; "you must get up and let me do my duty."
"You’ve my orders, and what do you need better to meddle with my own feet? so lower away, will ye, and let me see the man that chooses to open his mouth with a grin on it."
"There can’t be any harm in locking up a creatur’ that will enter the pound," said the constable, laughing, and closing the stocks on them both.
It was fortunate that this act was executed with decision, for the whole of the spectators, when they saw Benjamin assume the position he took, felt an inclination for merriment, which few thought it worth while to suppress. The steward struggled violently for his liberty again, with an evident intention of making battle on those who stood nearest to him; but the key was already turned, and all his efforts were vain.
"Hark ye, master constable," he cried, "just clear away your bilboes for the small matter of a log-glass, will ye, and let me show some of them there chaps who it is they are so merry about"
"No, no, you would go in, and you can’t come out," returned the officer, "until the time has expired that the Judge directed for the keeping of the prisoner."
Benjamin, finding that his threats and his struggles were useless, had good sense enough to learn patience from the resigned manner of his companion, and soon settled himself down by the side of Natty, with a contemptuousness expressed in his hard features, that showed he had substituted disgust for rage. When the violence of the steward’s feelings had in some measure subsided, he turned to his fellow- sufferer, and, with a motive that might have vindicated a worse effusion, he attempted the charitable office of consolation,
"Taking it by and large, Master Bump-ho, it’s but a small matter after all," he said. "Now, I’ve known very good sort of men, aboard of the Boadishey, laid by the heels, for nothing, mayhap, but forgetting that they’d drunk their allowance already, when a glass of grog has come in their way. This is nothing more than riding with two anchors ahead, waiting for a turn in the tide, or a shift of wind, d’ye see, with a soft bottom and plenty of room for the sweep of your hawse. Now I’ve seen many a man, for over-shooting his reckoning, as I told ye moored head and starn, where he couldn’t so much as heave his broadside round, and mayhap a stopper clapped on his tongue too, in the shape of a pump-bolt lashed athwartship his jaws, all the same as an outrigger along side of a taffrel-rail."
The hunter appeared to appreciate the kind intentions of the other, though he could not understand his eloquence, and, raising his humbled countenance, he attempted a smile, as he said:
"‘Tis nothing, I say, but a small matter of a squall that will soon blow over," continued Benjamin. " To you that has such a length of keel, it must be all the same as nothing; thof, seeing that I am little short in my lower timbers, they’ve triced my heels up in such a way as to give me a bit of a cant. But what cares I, Master Bump-ho, if the ship strains a little at her anchor? it’s only for a dog-watch, and dam’me but she’ll sail with you then on that cruise after them said beaver. I'm not much used to small arms, seeing that I was stationed at the ammunition- boxes, being summat too low-rigged to see over the ham- mock-cloths; but I can carry the game, dye see, and mayhap make out to lend a hand with the traps; and if- so-be you’re any way so handy with them as ye be with your boat-hook, ‘twill be but a short cruise after all, I've squared the yards with Squire Dickens this morning, and I shall send him word that he needn’t bear my name on the books again till such time as the cruise is over."
"You’re used to dwell with men, Benny," said Leather-Stocking, mournfully, " and the ways of the woods would be hard on you, if----"
"Not a bit--not a bit," cried the steward; "I’m none of your fair- weather chaps, Master Bump-ho, as sails only in smooth water. When I find a friend, I sticks by him, dye see. Now, there’s no better man a-going than Squire Dickens, and I love him about the same as I loves Mistress Hollister’s new keg of Jamaiky." The steward paused, and turning his uncouth visage on the hunter, he surveyed him with a roguish leer of his eye, and gradually suffered the muscles of his hard features to relax, until his face was illuminated by the display of his white teeth, when he " dropped his voice, and added; "I say, Master Leather-
Stocking, ‘tis fresher and livelier than any Hollands you’ll get in Garnsey. But we’ll send a hand over and ask the woman for a taste, for I’m so jammed in these here bilboes that I begin to want summat to lighten my upper works."
Natty sighed, and gazed about him on the crowd, that already began to disperse, and which had now diminished greatly, as its members scattered in their various pursuits. He looked wistfully at Benjamin, but did not reply; a deeply-seated anxiety seeming to absorb every other sensation, and to throw a melancholy gloom over his wrinkled features, which were working with the movements of his mind.
The steward was about to act on the old principle, that silence gives consent, when Hiram Doolittle, attended by Jotham, stalked out of the crowd, across the open space, and approached the stocks. The magistrate passed by the end where Benjamin was seated, and posted himself, at a safe distance from the steward, in front of the Leather- Stocking. Hiram stood, for a moment, cowering before the keen looks that Natty fastened on him, and suffering under an embarrassment that was quite new; when having in some degree recovered himself, he looked at the heavens, and then at the smoky atmosphere, as if it were only an ordinary meeting with a friend, and said in his formal, hesitating way:
"Quite a scurcity of rain, lately; I some think we shall have a long drought on’t."
Benjamin was occupied in untying his bag of dollars, and did not observe the approach of the magistrate, while Natty turned his face, in which every muscle was working, away from him in disgust, without answering. Rather encouraged than daunted by this exhibition of dislike, Hiram, after a short pause, continued:
"The clouds look as if they’d no water in them, and the earth is dreadfully parched. To my judgment, there’ll be short crops this season, if the rain doesn’t fail quite speedily."
The air with which Mr. Doolittle delivered this prophetical opinion was peculiar to his species. It was a jesuitical, cold, unfeeling, and selfish manner, that seemed to say, "I have kept within the law," to the man he had so cruelly injured. It quite overcame the restraint that the old hunter had been laboring to impose on himself, and he burst out in a warm glow of indignation.
"Why should the rain fall from the clouds," he cried, "when you force the tears from the eyes of the old, the sick, and the poor! Away with ye--away with ye! you may be formed in the image of the Maker, but Satan dwells in your heart. Away with ye, I say! I am mournful, and the sight of ye brings bitter thoughts."
Benjamin ceased thumbing his money, and raised his head at the instant that Hiram, who was thrown off his guard by the invectives of the hunter, unluckily trusted his person within reach of the steward, who grasped one of his legs with a hand that had the grip of a vise, and whirled the magistrate from his feet, before he had either time to collect his senses or to exercise the strength he did really possess. Benjamin wanted neither proportions nor manhood in his head, shoulders, and arms, though all the rest of his frame appeared to be originally intended for a very different sort of a man. He exerted his physical powers on the present occasion, with much discretion; and, as he had taken his antagonist at a great disadvantage, the struggle resulted very soon in Benjamin getting the magistrate fixed in a posture somewhat similar to his own, and manfully placed face to face.
"You’re a ship’s cousin, I tell ye, Master Doo-but-little," roared the steward; "some such matter as a ship’s cousin, sir. I know you, I do, with your fair-weather speeches to Squire Dickens, to his face, and then you go and sarve out your grumbling to all the old women in the town, do ye? Ain’t it enough for any Christian, let him harbor never so much malice, to get an honest old fellow laid by the heels in this fashion, without carrying sail so hard on the poor dog, as if you would run him down as he lay at his anchors? But I’ve logged many a hard thing against your name, master, and now the time’s come to foot up the day’s work, d’ye see; so square yourself, you lubber, square yourself, and we’ll soon know who’s the better man."
"Jotham!" cried the frightened magistrate--" Jotham! call in the constables. Mr. Penguillium, I command the peace--I order you to keep the peace."
"There's been more peace than love atwixt us, master," cried the steward, making some very unequivocal demonstrations toward hostility; "so mind yourself! square your self, I say! do you smell this here bit of a sledge-hammer?"
"Lay hands on me if you dare!" exclaimed Hiram, as well as he could, under the grasp which the steward held on his throttle--" lay hands on me if you dare!"
"If you call this laying, master, you are welcome to the eggs," roared the steward.
It becomes our disagreeable duty to record here, that the acts of Benjamin now became violent; for he darted his sledge-hammer violently on the anvil of Mr. Doolittle’s countenance, and the place became in an instant a scene of tumult and confusion. The crowd rushed in a dense circle around the spot, while some ran to the court room to give the alarm, and one or two of the more juvenile part of the multitude had a desperate trial of speed to see who should be the happy man to communicate the critical situation of the magistrate to his wife.
Benjamin worked away, with great industry and a good deal of skill, at his occupation, using one hand to raise up his antagonist, while he knocked him over with the other; for he would have been disgraced in his own estimation, had he struck a blow on a fallen adversary. By this considerate arrangement he had found means to hammer the visage of Hiram out of all shape, by the time Richard succeeded in forcing his way through the throng to the point of combat. The sheriff afterward declared that, independently of his mortification as preserver of the peace of the county, at this interruption to its harmony, he was never so grieved in his life as when he saw this breach of unity between his favorites. Hiram had in some degree become necessary to his vanity, and Benjamin, strange as it may appear, he really loved. This attachment was exhibited in the first words that he uttered.
"Squire Doolittle! Squire Doolittle! I am ashamed to see a man of your character and office forget himself so much as to disturb the peace, insult the court, and beat poor Benjamin in this manner!"
At the sound of Mr. Jones’ voice, the steward ceased his employment, and Hiram had an opportunity of raising his discomfited visage toward the mediator. Emboldened by the sight of the sheriff, Mr. Doolittle again had recourse to his lungs.
"I’ll have law on you for this," he cried desperately; "I’ll have the law on you for this. I call on you, Mr. Sheriff, to seize this man, and I demand that you take his body into custody."
By this time Richard was master of the true state of the case, and, turning to the steward, he said reproach fully:
"Benjamin, how came you in the stocks? I always thought you were mild and docile as a lamb. It was for your docility that I most esteemed you. Benjamin! Benjamin! you have not only disgraced yourself, but your friends, by this shameless conduct, Bless me! bless me! Mr. Doolittle, he seems to have knocked your face all of one side."
Hiram by this time had got on his feet again, and with out the reach of the steward, when he broke forth in violent appeals for vengeance. The offence was too apparent to be passed over, and the sheriff, mindful of the impartiality exhibited by his cousin in the recent trial of the Leather-Stocking, came to the painful conclusion that it was necessary to commit his major-domo to prison. As the time of Natty’s punishment was expired, and Benjamin found that they were to be confined, for that night at least, in the same apartment, he made no very strong objection to the measure, nor spoke of bail, though, as the sheriff preceded the party of constables that conducted them to the jail, he uttered the following remonstrance:
"As to being berthed with Master Bump-ho for a night or so, it’s but little I think of it, Squire Dickens, seeing that I calls him an honest man, and one as has a handy way with boat-hooks and rifles; but as for owning that a man desarves anything worse than a double allowance, for knocking that carpenters face a-one-side, as you call it, I’ll maintain it’s agin’ reason and Christianity. If there’s a bloodsucker in this 'ere county, it’s that very chap. Ay! I know him! and if he hasn’t got all the same as dead wood in his headworks, he knows summat of me. Where’s the mighty harm, squire, that you take it so much to heart? It’s all the same as any other battle, d’ye see sir, being broadside to broadside, only that it was foot at anchor, which was what we did in Port Pray a roads, when Suff’ring came in among us; and a suff’ring time he had of it before he got out again."
Richard thought it unworthy of him to make any reply to this speech, but when his prisoners were safely lodged in an outer dungeon, ordering the bolts to be drawn and the key turned, he withdrew.
Benjamin held frequent and friendly dialogues with different people, through the iron gratings, during the afternoon; but his companion paced their narrow’ limits, in his moccasins, with quick, impatient treads, his face hanging on his breast in dejection, or when lifted, at moments, to the idlers at the window, lighted, perhaps, for an instant, with the childish aspect of aged forgetfulness, which would vanish directly in an expression of deep and obvious anxiety.
At the close of the day, Edwards was seen at the window, in earnest dialogue with his friend; and after he de parted it was thought that he had communicated words of comfort to the hunter, who threw himself on his pallet and was soon in a deep sleep. The curious spectators had exhausted the conversation of the steward, who had drunk good fellowship with half of his acquaintance, and, as Natty was no longer in motion, by eight o’clock, Billy Kirby, who was the last lounger at the window, retired into the "Templeton Coffee-house," when Natty rose and hung a blanket before the opening, and the prisoners apparently retired for the night.