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professor of the peaceful art of healing, bursts out-' of the
concourse with his right arm extended, and his chest thrown
out as far as it will possibly come, and says :

" Your countryman, sir ! "

Whereupon Doctor Crocus and I shake hands ; and Doctor
Crocus looks as if I didn't by any means realise his expecta-
tions, which, in a linen blouse, and a great straw hat, with
a green ribbon, and no gloves, and my face and nose pro-
fusely ornamented with the stings of mosquitoes and the
bites of bugs, it is very likely I did not.

" Long in these parts, sir ? " says I.

" Three or four months, sir," says the Doctor.

"Do you think of soon returning to the old country?"
says I.

Doctor Crocus makes no verbal answer, but gives me an
imploring look, which says so plainly " Will you ask me that
again, a little louder, if you please?" that I repeat the

" Think of soon returning to the old country, sir ! " repeats
the Doctor.

"To the old country, sir," I rejoin.

Doctor Crocus looks round upon the crowd to observe the
effect he produces, rubs his hands, and says, in a very loud
voice :

" Not yet awhile, sir, not yet. You won't catch me at
that just yet, sir. I am a little too fond of freedom for that,
sir. Ha, ha! It's not so easy for a man to tear himself
from a free country such as this is, sir. Ha, ha! No,
no ! Ha, ha ! None of that till one's obliged to do it, sir.
No, no ! "

As Doctor Crocus says these latter words, he shakes his
head, knowingly, and laughs again. Many of the bystanders
shake their heads in concert with the doctor, and laugh too,
and look at each other as much as to say, " A pretty bright
and first-rate sort of chap is Crocus!" and unless I am very
much mistaken, a good many people went to the lecture


that night, who never thought about phrenology, or about
Doctor Crocus either, in all their lives before.

From Belleville, we went on, through the same desolate kind
of waste, and constantly attended, without the interval of a
moment, by the same music; until, at three oVlock in the
afternoon, we halted once more at a village called Lebanon
to inflate the horses again, and give them some corn besides :
of which they stood much in need. Pending this ceremony,
I walked into the village, where I met a full-sized dwelling-
house coming down-hill at a round trot, drawn by a score or
more of oxen.

The public-house was so very clean and good a one, that
the managers of the jaunt resolved to return to it and put
up there for the night, if possible. This course decided on,
and the horses being well refreshed, we again pushed forward,
and came upon the Prairie at sunset.

It would be difficult to say why, or how though it was
possibly from having heard and read so much about it but
the effect on me was disappointment. Looking towards the
setting sun, there lay, stretched out before my view, a vast
expanse of level ground ; unbroken, save by one thin line of
trees, which scarcely amounted to a scratch upon the great
blank; until it met the glowing sky, wherein it seemed to
dip : mingling with its rich colours, and mellowing in its
distant blue. There it lay, a tranquil sea or lake without
water, if such a simile be admissible, with the day going
down upon it: a few birds wheeling here and there: and
solitude and silence reigning paramount around. But the
grass was not yet high; there were bare black patches on
the ground; and the few wild flowers that the eye could see,
were poor and scanty. Great as the picture was, its very
flatness and extent, which left nothing to the imagination,
tamed it down and cramped its interest. I felt little of that
sense of freedom and exhilaration which a Scottish heath
inspires, or even our English downs awaken. It was lonely
and wild, but oppressive in its barren monotony. I felt


that in traversing the Prairies, I could never abandon myself
to the scene, forgetful of all else ; as I should do instinctively,
were the heather underneath my feet, or an iron-bound coast
beyond; but should often glance towards the distant and
frequently-receding line of the horizon, and wish it gained
and passed. It is not a scene to be forgotten, but it is
scarcely one, I think (at all events, as I saw it), to remember
with much pleasure, or to covet the looking-on again, in

We encamped near a solitary log-house, for the sake of
its water, and dined upon the plain. The baskets contained
roast fowls, buffalo's tongue (an exquisite dainty, by the
way), ham, bread, cheese, and butter; biscuits, champagne,
sherry; lemons and sugar for punch; and abundance of
rough ice. The meal was delicious, and the entertainers
were the soul of kindness and good humour. I have often
recalled that cheerful party to my pleasant recollection since,
and shall not easily forget, in junketings nearer home with
friends of older date, my boon companions on the Prairie.

Returning to Lebanon that night, we lay at the little inn
at which we had halted in the afternoon. In point of
cleanliness and comfort it would have suffered by no com-
parison with any English alehouse, of a homely kind, in

Rising at five o'clock next morning, I took a walk about
the village : none of the houses were strolling about to-day,
but it was early for them yet, perhaps : and then amused
myself by lounging in a kind of farm-yard behind the tavern,
of which the leading features were, a strange jumble of rough
sheds for stables ; a rude colonnade, built as a cool place of
summer resort; a deep well; a great earthen mound for
keeping vegetables in, in winter time; and a pigeon-house,
whose little apertures looked, as they do in all pigeon-houses,
very much too small for the admission of the plump and
swelling-breasted birds who were strutting about it, though
they tried to get in never so hard. That interest exhausted,


I took a survey of the inn's two parlours, which were
decorated with coloured prints of Washington, and President
Madison, and of a white-faced young lady (much speckled by
the flies), who held up her gold neck-chain for the admiration
of the spectator, and informed all admiring comers that she
was " Just Seventeen : " although I should have thought her
older. In the best room were two oil portraits of the kit-cat
size, representing the landlord and his infant son ; both
looking as bold as lions, and staring out of the canvas with
an intensity that would have been cheap at any price. They
were painted, I think, by the artist who had touched up the
Belleville doors with red and gold ; for I seemed to recognise
his style immediately.

After breakfast, we started to return by a different way
from that which we had taken yesterday, and coming up at
ten o'clock with an encampment of German emigrants carry-
ing their goods in carts, who had made a rousing fire which
they were just quitting, stopped there to refresh. And very
pleasant the fire was; for, hot though it had been yesterday,
it was quite cold to-day, and the wind blew keenly. Looming
in the distance, as we rode along, was another of the ancient
Indian burial-places, called The Monks 1 Mound; in memory
of a body of fanatics of the order of La Trappe, who
founded a desolate convent there, many years ago, when
there were no settlers within a thousand miles, and were all
swept off by the pernicious climate: in which lamentable
fatality, few rational people will suppose, perhaps, that
society experienced any very severe deprivation.

The track of to-day had the same features as the track of
yesterday. There was the swamp, the bush, and the perpetual
chorus of frogs, the rank unseemly growth, the unwholesome
steaming earth. Here and there, and frequently too, we
encountered a solitary broken-down waggon, full of some
new settler's goods. It was a pitiful sight to see one of
these vehicles deep in the mire ; the axletree broken ; the
wheel lying idly by its side; the man gone miles away, to


look for assistance ; the woman seated among their wandering
household gods with a baby at her breast, a picture of
forlorn, dejected patience; the team of oxen crouching down
mournfully in the mud, and breathing forth such clouds of
vapour from their mouths and nostrils, that all the damp
mist and fog around seemed to have come direct from them.
In due time we mustered once again before the merchant
tailor's, and having done so, crossed over to the city in the
ferry-boat : passing, on the way, a spot called Bloody Island,
the duelling-ground of St. Louis, and so designated in honour
of the last fatal combat fought there, which was with pistols,
breast to breast. Both combatants fell dead upon the
ground ; and possibly some rational people may think of
them, as of the gloomy madmen on the Monks'* Mound, that
they were no great loss to the community.



As I had a desire to travel through the interior of the state
of Ohio, and to "strike the lakes, 11 as the phrase is, at a
small town called Sandusky, to which that route would con-
duct us on our way to Niagara, we had to return from St.
Louis by the way we had come, and to retrace our former
track as far as Cincinnati.

The day on which we were to take leave of St. Louis being
very fine ; and the steamboat, which was to have started I
don't know how early in the morning, postponing, for the
third or fourth time, her departure until the afternoon ; we
rode forward to an old French village on the river, called
properly Carondelet, and nicknamed Vide Poche, and
arranged that the packet should call for us there.

The place consisted of a few poor cottages, and two or
three public-houses ; the state of whose larders certainly
seemed to justify the second designation of the village, for
there was nothing to eat in any of them. At length, how-
ever, by going back some half a mile or so, we found a
solitary house where ham and coffee were procurable ; and
there we tarried to await the advent of the boat, which
would come in sight from the green before the door, a long
way off.


It was a neat, unpretending village tavern, and we took
our repast in a quaint little room with a bed in it, decorated
with some old oil paintings, which in their time had probably
done duty in a Catholic chapel or monastery. The fare was
very good, and served with great cleanliness. The house was
kept by a characteristic old couple, with whom we had a long
talk, and who were perhaps a very good sample of that kind
of people in the West.

. The landlord was a dry, tough, hard-faced old fellow (not
so very old either, for he was but just turned sixty, I should
think), who had been out with the militia in the last war
with England, and had seen all kinds of service, except a
battle ; and he had been very near seeing that, he added :
very near. He had all his life been restless and locomotive,
with an irresistible desire for change; and was still the son
of his old self : for if he had nothing to keep him at home,
he said (slightly jerking his hat and his thumb towards the
window of the room in which the old lady sat, as we stood
talking in front of the house), he would clean up his musket,
and be off to Texas to-morrow morning. He was one of
the very many descendants of Cain proper to this continent,
who seem destined from their birth to serve as pioneers in
the great human army : who gladly go on from year to year
extending its outposts, and leaving home after home behind
them ; and die at last, utterly regardless of their graves being
left thousands of miles behind, by the wandering generation
who succeed.

His wife was a domesticated kind-hearted old soul, who
had come with him, "from the queen city of the world, 1 '
which, it seemed, was Philadelphia ; but had no love for this
Western country, and indeed had little reason to bear it
any ; having seen her children, one by one, die here of fever,
in the full prime and beauty of their youth. Her heart was
sore, she said, to think of them ; and to talk on this theme,
even to strangers, in that blighted place, so far from her old
home, eased it somewhat, and became a melancholy pleasure.


The boat appearing towards evening, we bade adieu to
the poor old lady and her vagrant spouse, and making for
the nearest landing-place, were soon on board The Messenger
again, in our old cabin, and steaming down the Mississippi.

If the coming up this river, slowly making head against
the stream, be an irksome journey, the shooting down it
with the turbid current is almost worse ; for then the boat,
proceeding at the rate of twelve or fifteen miles an hour, has
to force its passage through a labyrinth of floating logs,
which, in the dark, it is often impossible to see beforehand
or avoid. All that night, the bell was never silent for five
minutes at a time; and after every ring the vessel reeled
again, sometimes beneath a single blow, sometimes beneath a
dozen dealt in quick succession, the lightest of which seemed
more than enough to beat in her frail keel, as though it had
been pie-crust. Looking down upon the filthy river after
dark, it seemed to be alive with monsters, as these black
masses rolled upon the surface, or . came starting up again,
head first, when the boat, in ploughing her way among a
shoal of such obstructions, drove a few among them for the
moment under water. Sometimes the engine stopped during
a long interval, and then before her and behind, and gather-
ing close about her on all sides, were so many of these ill-
favoured obstacles that she was fairly hemmed in ; the centre
of a floating island ; and was constrained to pause until they
parted, somewhere, as dark clouds will do before the wind,
and opened by degrees, a channel out.

In good time next.morning, however, we came again in sight
of the detestable morass called Cairo ; and stopping there to
take in wood, lay alongside a barge, whose starting timbers
scarcely held together. It was moored to the bank, and on
its side was painted "Coffee House;" that being, I suppose,
the floating paradise to which the people fly for shelter when
they lose their houses for a month or two beneath the hideous
waters of the Mississippi. But looking southward from this
point, we had the satisfaction of seeing that intolerable river


dragging its slimy length and ugly freight abruptly off
towards New Orleans; and passing a yellow line which
stretched across the current, were again upon the clear Ohio,
never, I trust, to see the Mississippi more, saving in troubled
dreams and nightmares. Leaving it for the company of its
sparkling neighbour, was like the transition from pain to
ease, or the awakening from a horrible vision to cheerful

We arrived at Louisville on the fourth night, and gladly
availed ourselves of its excellent hotel. Next day we went
on in the Ben Franklin, a beautiful mail steamboat, and
reached Cincinnati shortly after midnight. Being by this
time nearly tired of sleeping upon shelves, we had remained
awake to go ashore straightway ; and groping a passage across
the dark decks of other boats, and among labyrinths of
engine-machinery and leaking casks of molasses, we reached
the streets, knocked up the porter at the hotel where we
had stayed before, and were, to our great joy, safely housed
soon afterwards.

We rested 'but one day at Cincinnati, and then resumed
our journey to Sandusky. As it comprised two varieties of
stage-coach travelling, which, with those I have already
glanced at, comprehend the main characteristics of this mode
of transit in America, I will take the reader as our fellow-
passenger, and pledge myself to perform the distance with all
possible despatch.

Our place of destination in the first instance is Columbus.
It is distant about a hundred and twenty miles from Cin-
cinnati, but there is a macadamised road (rare blessing !) the
whole way, and the rate of travelling upon it is six miles
an hour.

We start at eight o'clock in the morning, in a great mail-
coach, whose huge cheeks are so very ruddy and plethoric,
that it appears to be troubled with a tendency of blood to
the head. Dropsical it certainly is, for it will hold a doxen
passengers inside. But, wonderful to add, it is very clean


and bright, being nearly new ; and rattles through the streets
of Cincinnati gaily.

Our way lies through a beautiful country, richly cultivated,
and luxuriant in its promise of an abundant harvest. Some-
times we pass a field where the strong bristling stalks of
Indian corn look like a crop of walking-sticks, and sometimes
an enclosure where the green wheat is springing up among a
labyrinth of stumps; the primitive worm-fence is universal,
and an ugly thing it is ; but the farms are neatly kept, and,
save for these differences, one might be travelling just now
in Kent.

We often stop to water at a roadside inn, which is always
dull and silent. The coachman dismounts and fills his bucket,
and holds it to the horses 1 heads. There is scarcely ever any
one to help him ; there are seldom any loungers standing
round; and never any stable-company with jokes to crack.
Sometimes, when we have changed our team, there is a
difficulty in starting again, arising out of the prevalent
mode of breaking a young horse : which is to catch him,
harness him against his will, and put him in a stage-coach
without further notice : but we get on somehow or other,
after a great many kicks and a violent struggle ; and jog on
as before again.

Occasionally, when we stop to change, some two or three
half-drunken loafers will come loitering out with their hands
in their pockets, or will be seen kicking their heels in rocking- ,
chairs, or lounging on the window-sill, or sitting on a rail
within the colonnade : they have not often anything to say
though, either to us or to each other, but sit there idly
staring at the coach and horses. The landlord of the inn is
usually among them, and seems, of all the party, to be the
least connected with the business of the house. Indeed he is
with reference to the tavern, what the driver is in relation
to the coach and passengers : whatever happens in his sphere
of action, he is quite indifferent, and perfectly easy in his


The frequent change of coachmen works no change or
variety in the coachman's character. He is always dirty,
sullen, and taciturn. If he be capable of smartness of any
kind, moral or physical, he has a faculty of concealing it
which is truly marvellous. He never speaks to you as you
sit beside him on the box, and if you speak to him, he
answers (if at all) in monosyllables. He points out nothing
on the road, and seldom looks at anything : being, to all
appearance, thoroughly weary of it and of existence generally.
As to doing the honours of his coach, his business, as I have
said, is with the horses. The coach follows because it is
attached to them and goes on wheels : not because you are
in it. Sometimes, towards the end of a long stage, he
suddenly breaks out into a discordant fragment of an election
song, but his face never sings along with him : it is only his
voice, and not often that.

He always chews and always spits, and never encumbers
himself with a pocket-handkerchief. The consequences to
the box passenger, especially when the wind blows towards
him, are not agreeable.

Whenever the coach stops, and you can hear the voices of
the inside passengers; or whenever any bystander addresses
them, or any one among them ; or they address each other ;
you will hear one phrase repeated over and over and over
again to the most extraordinary extent. It is an ordinary
and unpromising phrase enough, being neither more nor less
than "Yes, sir;"" but it is adapted to every variety of cir-
cumstance, and fills up every pause in the conversation.
Thus :

The time is one o'clock at noon. The scene, a place where
we are to stay and dine, on this journey. The coach drives
up to the door of an inn. The day is warm, and there are
several idlers lingering about the tavern, and waiting for the
public dinner. Among them, is a stout gentleman in a
brown hat, swinging himself to and fro in a rocking-chair
on the pavement



As the coach stops, a gentleman in a straw hat looks out
of the window :

STRAW HAT. (To the stout gentleman in the rocking-
chair.) I reckon that's Judge Jefferson, an't it ?

BROWN HAT. (Still swinging ; speaking very slowly ; and
without any emotion whatever.) Yes, sir.

STRAW HAT. Warm weather, Judge.

BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.

STRAW HAT. There was a snap of cold, last week.

BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.

STRAW HAT. Yes, sir.

A pause. They look at each other, very seriously.

STRAW HAT. I calculate you'll have got through that case
of the corporation, Judge, by this time, now ?

BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.

STRAW HAT. How did the verdict go, sir?

BROWN HAT. For the defendant, sir.

STRAW HAT. (Interrogatively.) Yes, sir?

BROWN HAT. (Affirmatively.) Yes, sir.

BOTH. (Musingly, as each gazes down the street.) Yes,

Another pause. They look at each other again, still more
seriously than before.

BROWN HAT. This coach is rather behind its time to-day,
I guess.

STRAW HAT. (Doubtingly.) Yes, sir.

BROWN HAT. (Looking at his watch.) Yes, sir; nigh
upon two hours.

STRAW HAT. (Raising his eyebrows in very great surprise.)
Yes, sir !

BROWN HAT. (Decisively, as he puts up his watch.) Yes,

Yes, sir.

COACHMAN. (In a very surly tone.) No it an't.

STRAW HAT. (To the coachman.) Well, I don't know,


sir. We were a pretty tall time coming that last fifteen
mile. That's a fact.

The coachman making no reply, and plainly declining to
enter into any controversy on a subject so far removed from
his sympathies and feelings, another passenger says, "Yes,
sir;" and the gentleman in the straw hat in acknowledg-
ment of his courtesy, says " Yes, sir,"" to him, in return.
The straw hat then inquires of the brown hat, whether
that coach in which he (the straw hat) then sits, is not a
new one? To which the brown hat again makes answer,
" Yes, sir."

STRAW HAT. I thought so. Pretty loud smell of varnish,

BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.


BROWN HAT. (To the company in general.) Yes, sir.

The conversational powers of the company having been by
this time pretty heavily taxed, the straw hat opens the door
and gets out ; and all the rest alight also. We dine soon
afterwards with the boarders in the house, and have nothing
to drink but tea and coffee. As they are both very bad and
the water is worse, I ask for brandy ; but it is a Temperance
Hotel, and spirits are not to be had for love or money. This
preposterous forcing of unpleasant drinks down the reluctant
throats of travellers is not at all uncommon in America, but
I never discovered that the scruples of such wincing landlords
induced them to preserve any unusually nice balance between
the quality of their fare, and their scale of charges : on the
contrary, I rather suspected them of diminishing the one and
exalting the other, by way of recompense for the loss of their
profit on the sale of spirituous liquors. After all, perhaps,
the plainest course for persons of such tender consciences,
would be, a total abstinence from tavern-keeping.

Dinner over, we get into another vehicle which is ready at
the door (for the coach has been changed in the interval),
and resume our journey ; which continues through the same


kind of country until evening, when we come to the town
where we are to stop for tea and supper ; and having delivered
the mail bags at the Post-office, ride through the usual wide
street, lined with the usual stores and houses (the drapers
always having hung up at their door, by way of sign, a piece
of bright red cloth), to the hotel where this meal is prepared.
There being many boarders here, we sit down, a large party,
and a very melancholy one as usual. But there is a buxom
hostess at the head of the table, and opposite, a simple Welsh
schoolmaster with his wife and child ; who came here, on a
speculation of greater promise than performance, to teach the
classics : and they are sufficient subjects of interest until the

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 19 of 43)