The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"How now? whose mare’s dead? what’s the matter?" - Falstaff
A large lumber sleigh, drawn by four horses, was soon seen dashing through the leafless bushes which fringed the road. The leaders were of gray, and the pole-horses of a jet-black. Bells innumerable were suspended from every part of the harness where one of the tinkling balls could be placed, while the rapid movement of the equipage, in defiance of the steep ascent, announced the desire of the driver to ring them to the utmost. The first glance at this singular arrangement acquainted the Judge with the character of those in the sleigh. It contained four male figures. On one of those stools that are used at writing desks, lashed firmly to the sides of the vehicle, was seated a little man, enveloped in a great-coat fringed with fur, in such a manner that no part of him was visible, except a face of an unvarying red color. There was an habitual upward look about the head of this gentleman, as if dissatisfied with its natural proximity to the earth; and the expression of his countenance was that of busy care, He was the charioteer, and he guided the mettled animals along the precipice with a fearless eye and a steady hand, Immediately behind him, with his face toward the other two, was a tall figure, to whose appearance not even the duplicate overcoats which he wore, aided by the corner of a horse-blanket, could give the appearance of strength. His face was protruding from beneath a woollen night cap; and, when he turned to the vehicle of Marmaduke as the sleighs approached each other, it seemed formed by nature to cut the atmosphere with the least possible resistance. The eyes alone appeared to create any obstacle, for from either side of his forehead their light-blue, glassy balls projected. The sallow of his countenance was too permanent to be affected even by the intense cold of the evening. Opposite to this personage sat a solid, short, and square figure. No part of his form was to be discovered through his overdress, but a face that was illuminated by a pair of black eyes that gave the lie to every demure feature in his countenance. A fair, jolly wig furnished a neat and rounded outline to his visage, and he, well as the other two, wore marten-skin caps. The fourth was a meek- looking, long-visaged man, without any other protection from the cold than that which was furnished by a black surcoat, made with some little formality, but which was rather threadbare and rusty. He wore a hat of extremely decent proportions, though frequent brushing had quite destroyed its nap. His face was pale, and withal a little melancholy, or what might be termed of a studious complexion. The air had given it, just now, a light and somewhat feverish flush, The character of his whole appearance, especially contrasted to the air of humor in his next companion, was that of habitual mental care. No sooner had the two sleighs approached within speaking distance, than the driver of this fantastic equipage shouted aloud
"Draw up in the quarry--draw up, thou king of the Greeks; draw into the quarry, Agamemnon, or I shall never be able to pass you. Welcome home, Cousin ‘Duke-- welcome, welcome, black-eyed Bess. Thou seest, Marina duke that I have taken the field with an assorted cargo, to do thee honor. Monsieur Le Quoi has come out with only one cap; Old Fritz would not stay to finish the bottle; and Mr. Grant has got to put the ‘lastly’ to his sermon, yet. Even all the horses would come-- by the-bye, Judge, I must sell the blacks for you immediately; they interfere, and the nigh one is a bad goer in double harness. I can get rid of them to--"
"Sell what thou wilt, Dickon," interrupted the cheerful voice of the Judge, "so that thou leavest me my daughter and my lands. And Fritz, my old friend, this is a kind compliment, indeed, for seventy to pay to five-and-forty. Monsieur Le Quoi, I am your servant. Mr. Grant," lifting his cap, "I feel indebted to your attention. Gentlemen, I make you acquainted with my child. Yours are names with which she is very familiar."
"Velcome, velcome Tchooge," said the elder of the party, with a strong German accent. "Miss Petsy vill owe me a kiss."
"And cheerfully will I pay It, my good sir," cried the soft voice of Elizabeth; which sounded, in the clear air of the hills. Like tones of silver, amid the loud cries of Richard. "I have always a kiss for my old friend. Major Hartmann."
By this time the gentleman in the front seat, who had been addressed as Monsieur Le Quoi, had arisen with some difficulty, owing to the impediment of his overcoats, and steadying himself by placing one hand on the stool of the charioteer, with the other he removed his cap, and bowing politely to the Judge and profoundly to Elizabeth, he paid his compliments.
"Cover thy poll, Gaul, cover thy poll," cried the driver, who was Mr. Richard Jones; "cover thy poll, or the frost will pluck out the remnant of thy locks. Had the hairs on the head of Absalom been as scarce as thine, he might have been living to this day." The jokes of Richard never failed of exciting risibility, for he uniformly did honor to his own wit; and he enjoyed a hearty laugh on the present occasion, while Mr. Le Quoi resumed his seat with a polite reciprocation in his mirth. The clergyman, for such was the office of Mr. Grant, modestly, though quite affectionately, exchanged his greetings with the travellers also, when Richard prepared to turn the heads of his horses homeward.
It was in the quarry alone that he could effect this object, without ascending to the summit of the mountain. A very considerable excavation had been made in the side of the hill, at the point where Richard had succeeded in stopping the sleighs, from which the stones used for building in the village were ordinarily quarried, and in which he now attempted to turn his team. Passing itself was a task of difficulty, and frequently of danger, in that narrow road; but Richard had to meet the additional risk of turning his four-in-hand. The black civilly volunteered his services to take off the leaders, and the Judge very earnestly seconded the measure with his advice. Richard treated both proposals with great disdain.
"Why, and wherefore. Cousin ‘Duke?" he exclaimed, a little angrily; "the horses are gentle as lambs. You know that I broke the leaders myself, and the pole-horses are too near my whip to be restive. Here is Mr. Le Quoi, now, who must know something about driving, because he has rode out so often with me; I will leave it to Mr. Le Quoi whether there is any danger."
It was not in the nature of the Frenchman to disappoint expectations so confidently formed; although he cat looking down the precipice which fronted him, as Richard turned his leaders into the quarry, with a pair of eyes that stood out like those of lobsters. The German’s muscles were unmoved, but his quick sight scanned each movement. Mr. Grant placed his hands on the side of the sleigh, in preparation for a spring, but moral timidity deterred him from taking the leap that bodily apprehension strongly urged him to attempt.
Richard, by a sudden application of the whip, succeeded in forcing the leaders into the snow-bank that covered the quarry; but the instant that the impatient animals suffered by the crust, through which they broke at each step, they positively refused to move an inch farther in that direction. On the contrary, finding that the cries and blows of their driver were redoubled at this juncture, the leaders backed upon the pole-horses, who in their turn backed the sleigh. Only a single log lay above the pile which upheld the road on the side toward the valley, and this was now buried in the snow. The sleigh was easily breed across so slight an impediment, and before Richard became conscious of his danger one-half of the vehicle Was projected over a precipice, which fell perpendicularly more than a hundred feet. The Frenchman, who by his position had a full view of their threatened flight, instinctively threw his body as far forward as possible, and cried
"Oh! mon cher Monsieur Deeck! mon Dieu! que faites vous!"
"Donner und blitzen, Richart!" exclaimed the veteran German, looking over the side of the sleigh with unusual emotion, "put you will preak ter sleigh and kilt ter horses!"
"Good Mr. Jones," said the clergyman, "be prudent, good sir--be careful,"
"Get up, obstinate devils!" cried Richard, catching a bird’s-eye view of his situation, and in his eagerness to move forward kicking the stool on which he sat--" get up, I say--Cousin ‘Duke, I shall have to sell the grays too; they are the worst broken horses--Mr. Le Quoi" Richard was too much agitated to regard his pronunciation, of which he was commonly a little vain: "Monsieur La Quoi, pray get off my leg; you hold my leg so tight that it's no wonder the horses back."
"Merciful Providence!" exclaimed the Judge; "they will be all killed!" Elizabeth gave a piercing shriek, and the black of Agamemnon’s face changed to a muddy white.
At this critical moment, the young hunter, who during the salutations of the parties had sat in rather sullen silence, sprang from the sleigh of Marmaduke to the heads of the refractory leaders. The horses, which were yet suffering under the injudicious and somewhat random blows of Richard, were dancing up and down with that ominous movement that threatens a sudden and uncontrollable start, still pressing backward. The youth gave the leaders a powerful jerk, and they plunged aside, and re-entered the road in the position in which they were first halted. The sleigh was whirled from its dangerous position, and upset, with the runners outward. The German and the divine were thrown, rather unceremoniously, into the highway, but without danger to their bones. Richard appeared in the air, describing the segment of a circle, of which the reins were the radii, and landed, at the distance of some fifteen feet, in that snow-bank which the horses had dreaded, right end uppermost. Here, as he instinctively grasped the reins, as drowning men seize at straws, he admirably served the purpose of an anchor. The Frenchman, who was on his legs, in the act of springing from the sleigh, took an aerial flight also, much in the attitude which boys assume when they play leap-frog, and, flying off in a tangent to the curvature of his course, came into the snow-bank head foremost, w-here he remained, exhibiting two lathy legs on high, like scarecrows waving in a corn- field. Major Hartmann, whose self-possession had been admirably preserved during the whole evolution, was the first of the party that gained his feet and his voice.
"Ter deyvel, Richart!" he exclaimed in a voice half serious, half- comical, "put you unload your sleigh very hautily!"
It may be doubtful whether the attitude in which Mr. Grant continued for an instant after his overthrow was the one into which he had been thrown, or was assumed, in humbling himself before the Power that he reverenced, in thanksgiving at his escape. When he rose from his knees, he began to gaze about him, with anxious looks, after the welfare of his companions, while every joint in his body trembled with nervous agitation. There was some confusion in the faculties of Mr. Jones also: but as the mist gradually cleared from before his eyes, he saw that all was safe, and, with an air of great self-satisfaction, he cried, "Well--that was neatly saved, anyhow!-- it was a lucky thought in me to hold on to the reins, or the fiery devils would have been over the mountain by this time. How well I recovered myself, ‘Duke! Another moment would have been too late; but I knew just the spot where to touch the off-leader; that blow under his right flank, and the sudden jerk I gave the rein, brought them round quite in rule, I must own myself." *
"Thou jerk! thou recover thyself, Dickon!" he said; ‘but for that brave lad yonder, thou and thy horses, or rather mine, would have been dashed to pieces--but where is Monsieur Le Quoi?"
"Oh! mon cher Juge! mon ami!" cried a smothered voice," praise be God, I live; vill you, Mister Agamemnon, be pleas come down ici, and help me on my leg?"
The divine and the negro seized the incarcerated Gaul by his legs and extricated him from a snow-bank of three feet in depth, whence his voice had sounded as from the tombs. The thoughts of Mr. Le Quoi, immediately on Ms liberation, were not extremely collected; and, when he reached the light, he threw his eyes upward, in order to examine the distance he had fallen. His good-humor returned, however, with a knowledge of his safety, though it was some little time before he clearly comprehended the case.
"What, monsieur," said Richard, who was busily assisting the black in taking off the leaders; "are you there? I thought I saw you flying toward the top of the mountain just now."
"Praise be God, I no fly down into the lake," returned the Frenchman, with a visage that was divided between pain, occasioned by a few large scratches that he had received in forcing his head through the crust, and the look of complaisance that seemed natural to his pliable features.
"Ah! mon cher Mister Deeck, vat you do next? - dere be noting you no try."
"The next thing, I trust, will be to learn to drive," said the Judge, who bad busied himself in throwing the buck, together with several other articles of baggage, from his own sleigh into the snow; "here are seats for you all, gentlemen; the evening grows piercingly cold, and the hour approaches for the service of Mr. Grant; we will leave friend Jones to repair the damages, with the assistance of Agamemnon, and hasten to a warm fire. Here, Dickon, are a few articles of Bess’ trumpery, that you can throw into your sleigh when ready; and there is also a deer of my taking, that I will thank you to bring. Aggy! remember that there will be a visit from Santa Claus * to-night."
The black grinned, conscious of the bribe that was offered him for silence on the subject of the deer, while Richard, without in the least waiting for the termination of his cousin’s speech, began his reply:
"Learn to drive, sayest thou, Cousin ‘Duke? Is there a man in the county who knows more of horse-flesh than myself? Who broke in the filly, that no one else dare mount, though your coachman did pretend that he had tamed her before I took her in hand; but anybody could see that he lied--he was a great liar, that John--what’s that, a buck?" Richard abandoned the horses, and ran to the spot where Marmaduke had thrown the deer, "It is a buck! I am amazed! Yes, here are two holes in him, he has fired both barrels, and hit him each time, Egod! how Marmaduke will brag! he is a prodigious bragger about any small matter like this now; well, to think that ‘Duke has killed a buck before Christmas! There will be no such thing as living with him--they are both bad shots though, mere chance--mere chance--now, I never fired twice at a cloven foot in my life--it is hit or miss with me--dead or run away-had it been a bear, or a wild-cat, a man might have wanted both barrels. Here! you Aggy! how far off was the Judge when this buck was shot?"
"Oh! massa Richard, maybe a ten rod," cried the black, bending under one of the horses, with the pretence of fastening a buckle, but in reality to conceal the grin that opened a mouth from ear to ear.
"Ten rod!" echoed the other; "way, Aggy, the deer I Killed last winter ‘was at twenty--yes! if anything it was nearer thirty than twenty. I wouldn’t shoot at a deer at ten rod: besides, you may remember, Aggy, I only fired once."
"Yes, massa Richard, I ‘member ‘em! Natty Bumppo fire t’oder gun. You know, sir, all ‘e folks say Natty kill him."
"The folks lie, you black devil!" exclaimed Richard in great heat. "I have not shot even a gray squirrel these four years, to which that old rascal has not laid claim, or some one else [or him. This is a damned envious world that we live in--people are always for dividing the credit at a thing, in order to bring down merit to their own level. Now they have a story about the Patent,* that Hiram Doolittle helped to plan the steeple to St. Paul’s; when Hiram knows that it is entirely mine; a little taken front a print of his namesake in London, I own; but essentially, as to all points of genius, my own."
"I don't know where he come from," said the black, losing every mark of humor in an expression of admiration, "but eb’rybody say, he wounerful handsome."
"And well they may say so, Aggy," cried Richard, leaving the buck and walking up to the negro with the air of a man who has new interest awakened within him, "I think I may say, without bragging, that it is the handsomest and the most scientific country church in America. I know that the Connecticut settlers talk about their West Herfield meeting-house; but I never believe more than half what they say, they are such unconscionable braggers. Just as you have got a thing done, if they see it likely to be successful, they are always for interfering; and then it’s tea to one but they lay claim to half, or even all of the credit. You may remember, Aggy, when I painted the sign of the bold dragoon for Captain Hollister there was that fellow, who was about town laying brick-dust on the houses, came one day and offered to mix what I call the streaky black, for the tail and mane; and then, because it looks like horse-hair, he tells everybody that the sign was painted by himself and Squire Jones. If Marmaduke don’t send that fellow off the Patent, he may ornament his village with his own hands for me," Here Richard paused a moment, and cleared his throat by a loud hem, while the negro, who was all this time busily engaged in preparing the sleigh, proceeded with his work in respectful silence. Owing to the religious scruples of the Judge, Aggy was the servant of Richard, who had his services for a time,* and who, of course, commanded a legal claim to the respect of the young negro. But when any dispute between his lawful and his real master occurred, the black felt too much deference for both to express any opinion.
In the mean while, Richard continued watching the negro as he fastened buckle after buckle, until, stealing a look of consciousness toward the other, he continued: "Now, if that young man who was in your sleigh is a real Connecticut settler, he will be telling everybody how he saved my horses, when, if he had let them alone for half a minute longer, I would have brought them in much better, without upsetting, with the whip amid rein--it spoils a horse to give him his heal, I should not wonder if I had to sell the whole team, just for that one jerk he gave them," Richard paused and hemmed; for his conscience smote him a little for censuring a man who had just saved his life. "Who is the lad, Aggy--I don’t remember to have seen him before?"
The black recollected the hint about Santa Claus; and, while he briefly explained how they had taken up the person in question on the top of the mountain, he forbore to add anything concerning the accident or the wound, only saying that he believed the youth was a stranger. It was so usual for men of the first rank to take into their sleighs any one they found toiling through the snow, that Richard was perfectly satisfied with this explanation. He heard Aggy with great attention, and then remarked: "Well, if the lad has not been spoiled by the people in Templeton he may be a modest young man, and, as he certainly meant well, I shall take some notice of him-- perhaps he is land-hunting--I say, Aggy, maybe he is out hunting?"
"Eh! yes, massa Richard," said the black, a little confused; for, as Richard did all the flogging, he stood in great terror of his master, in the main--" Yes, sir, I b’lieve he be."
"Had he a pack and an axe?"
"No, sir, only he rifle."
"Rifle!" exclaimed Richard, observing the confusion of The negro, which now amounted to terror. "By Jove, he killed the deer! I knew that Marmaduke couldn’t kill a buck on the jump--how was it, Aggy? Tell me all about it, and I’ll roast ‘Duke quicker than he can roast his saddle--how was it, Aggy? the lad shot the buck, and the Judge bought it, ha! and he is taking the youth down to get the pay?"
The pleasure of this discovery had put Richard in such a good humor, that the negro’s fears in some measure vanished, and he remembered the stocking of Santa Claus. After a gulp or two, he made out to reply;
"You forgit a two shot, sir?"
"Don’t lie, you black rascal!" cried Richard, stepping on the snow- bank to measure the distance from his lash to the negro’s back; "speak truth, or I trounce you." While speaking, the stock was slowly rising in Richard’s right hand, and the lash drawing through his left, in the scientific manner with which drummers apply the cat; and Agamemnon, after turning each side of himself toward his master, and finding both equally unwilling to remain there, fairly gave in. In a very few words he made his master acquainted with the truth, at the same time earnestly conjuring Richard to protect him from the displeasure of thc lodge I’ll do it, boy, I’ll do it," cried the other, rubbing his hands with delight; "say nothing, but leave me to manage ‘Duke. I have a great mind to leave the deer on the hill, and to make the fellow send for his own carcass; but no, I will let Marmaduke tell a few bounces about it before I come out upon him. Come, hurry in, Aggy, I must help to dress the lad’s wound; this Yankee* doctor knows nothing of surgery--I had to hold out Milligan’s leg for him, while he cut it off.
Richard was now seated on the stool again, and, the black taking the hind seat, the steeds were put in motion toward home, As they dashed down the hill on a fast trot, the driver occasionally turned his face to Aggy, and continued speaking; for, notwithstanding their recent rupture, the most perfect cordiality was again existing between them, "This goes to prove that I turned the horses with the reins, for no man who is shot in the right shoulder can have strength enough to bring round such obstinate devils. I knew I did it from the first; but I did not want to multiply words with Marmaduke about it.--Will you bite, you villain? --hip, boys, hip! Old Natty, too, that is the best of it!--Well, well--’Duke will say no more about my deer--and the Judge fired both barrels, and hit nothing but a poor lad who was behind a pine-tree. I must help that quack to take out the buckshot for the poor fellow." In this manner Richard descended the mountain; the bells ringing, and his tongue going, until they entered the village, when the whole attention of the driver was devoted to a display of his horsemanship, to the admiration of all the gaping women and children who thronged the windows to witness the arrival of their landlord and his daughter.