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THE STORY OF KENNETT

By Bayard Taylor




PROLOGUE.

TO MY FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS OF KENNETT:


I wish to dedicate this Story to you, not only because some of you
inhabit the very houses, and till the very fields which I have given to
the actors in it, but also because many of you will recognize certain of
the latter, and are therefore able to judge whether they are drawn with
the simple truth at which I have aimed. You are, naturally, the critics
whom I have most cause to fear; but I do not inscribe these pages to you
with the design of purchasing your favor. I beg you all to accept the
fact as an acknowledgment of the many quiet and happy years I have spent
among you; of the genial and pleasant relations into which I was born,
and which have never diminished, even when I have returned to you from
the farthest ends of the earth; and of the use (often unconsciously to
you, I confess,) which I have drawn from your memories of former days,
your habits of thought and of life.

I am aware that truth and fiction are so carefully woven together
in this Story of Kennett, that you will sometimes be at a loss to
disentangle them. The lovely pastoral landscapes which I know by heart,
have been copied, field for field and tree for tree, and these you will
immediately recognize. Many of you will have no difficulty in detecting
the originals of Sandy Flash and Deb. Smith; a few will remember the
noble horse which performed the service I have ascribed to Roger; and
the descendants of a certain family will not have forgotten some of the
pranks of Joe and Jake Fairthorn. Many more than these particulars are
drawn from actual sources; but as I have employed them with a strict
regard to the purposes of the Story, transferring dates and characters
at my pleasure, you will often, I doubt not, attribute to invention that
which I owe to family tradition. Herein, I must request that you will
allow me to keep my own counsel; for the processes which led to the
completed work extend through many previous years, and cannot readily be
revealed. I will only say that every custom I have described is true
to the time, though some of them are now obsolete; that I have used no
peculiar word or phrase of the common dialect of the country which I
have not myself heard; and further, that I owe the chief incidents of
the last chapter, given to me on her death-bed, to the dear and noble
woman whose character (not the circumstances of her life) I have
endeavored to reproduce in that of Martha Deane.

The country life of our part of Pennsylvania retains more elements of
its English origin than that of New England or Virginia. Until within
a few years, the conservative influence of the Quakers was so powerful
that it continued to shape the habits even of communities whose
religious sentiment it failed to reach. Hence, whatever might be
selected as incorrect of American life, in its broader sense, in these
pages, is nevertheless locally true; and to this, at least, all of
you, my Friends and Neighbors, can testify. In these days, when Fiction
prefers to deal with abnormal characters and psychological problems more
or less exceptional or morbid, the attempt to represent the elements of
life in a simple, healthy, pastoral community, has been to me a source
of uninterrupted enjoyment. May you read it with half the interest I
have felt in writing it!

BAYARD TAYLOR.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I. THE CHASE

CHAPTER II. WHO SHALL HAVE THE BRUSH?

CHAPTER III. MARY POTTER AND HER SON

CHAPTER IV. FORTUNE AND MISFORTUNE

CHAPTER V. GUESTS AT FAIRTHORN'S

CHAPTER VI. THE NEW GILBERT

CHAPTER VII. OLD KENNETT MEETING

CHAPTER VIII. AT DR. DEANE'S

CHAPTER IX. THE RAISING

CHAPTER X. THE RIVALS

CHAPTER XI. GUESTS AT POTTER'S

CHAPTER XII. THE EVENTS OF AN EVENING

CHAPTER XIII. TWO OLD MEN

CHAPTER XIV. DOUBTS AND SURMISES

CHAPTER XV. ALFRED BARTON BETWEEN TWO FIRES

CHAPTER XVI. MARTHA DEANE

CHAPTER XVII. CONSULTATIONS

CHAPTER XVIII. SANDY FLASH REAPPEARS

CHAPTER XIX. THE HUSKING FROLIC

CHAPTER XX. GILBERT ON THE ROAD TO CHESTER

CHAPTER XXI. ROGER REPAYS HIS MASTER

CHAPTER XXII. MARTHA DEANE TAKES A RESOLUTION

CHAPTER XXIII. A CROSS-EXAMINATION

CHAPTER XXIV. DEB. SMITH TAKES A RESOLUTION

CHAPTER XXV. TWO ATTEMPTS

CHAPTER XXVI. THE LAST OF SANDY FLASH

CHAPTER XXVII. GILBERT INDEPENDENT

CHAPTER XXVIII. MISS LAVENDER MAKES A GUESS

CHAPTER XXIX. MYSTERIOUS MOVEMENTS

CHAPTER XXX. THE FUNERAL

CHAPTER XXXI. THE WILL

CHAPTER XXXII. THE LOVERS

CHAPTER XXXIII. HUSBAND AND WIFE

CHAPTER XXXIV. THE WEDDING




CHAPTER I.

THE CHASE.


At noon, on the first Saturday of March, 1796, there was an unusual stir
at the old Barton farm-house, just across the creek to the eastward, as
you leave Kennett Square by the Philadelphia stage-road. Any gathering
of the people at Barton's was a most rare occurrence; yet, on that day
and at that hour, whoever stood upon the porch of the corner house, in
the village, could see horsemen approaching by all the four roads
which there met. Some five or six had already dismounted at the Unicorn
Tavern, and were refreshing themselves with stout glasses of "Old
Rye," while their horses, tethered side by side to the pegs in the long
hitching-bar, pawed and stamped impatiently. An eye familiar with the
ways of the neighborhood might have surmised the nature of the occasion
which called so many together, from the appearance and equipment
of these horses. They were not heavy animals, with the marks of
plough-collars on their broad shoulders, or the hair worn off their
rumps by huge breech-straps; but light and clean-limbed, one or two of
them showing signs of good blood, and all more carefully groomed than
usual.

Evidently, there was no "vendue" at the Barton farmhouse; neither
a funeral, nor a wedding, since male guests seemed to have been
exclusively bidden. To be sure, Miss Betsy Lavender had been observed to
issue from Dr. Deane's door, on the opposite side of the way, and turn
into the path beyond the blacksmith's, which led down through the wood
and over the creek to Barton's; but then, Miss Lavender was known to be
handy at all times, and capable of doing all things, from laying out
a corpse to spicing a wedding-cake. Often self-invited, but always
welcome, very few social or domestic events could occur in four
townships (East Marlborough, Kennett, Pennsbury, and New-Garden) without
her presence; while her knowledge of farms, families, and genealogies
extended up to Fallowfield on one side, and over to Birmingham on the
other.

It was, therefore, a matter of course, whatever the present occasion
might be, that Miss Lavender put on her broad gray beaver hat, and brown
stuff cloak, and took the way to Barton's. The distance could easily
be walked in five minutes, and the day was remarkably pleasant for the
season. A fortnight of warm, clear weather had extracted the last
fang of frost, and there was already green grass in the damp hollows.
Bluebirds picked the last year's berries from the cedar-trees; buds were
bursting on the swamp-willows; the alders were hung with tassels, and a
powdery crimson bloom began to dust the bare twigs of the maple-trees.
All these signs of an early spring Miss Lavender noted as she picked her
way down the wooded bank. Once, indeed, she stopped, wet her forefinger
with her tongue, and held it pointed in the air. There was very little
breeze, but this natural weathercock revealed from what direction it
came.

"Southwest!" she said, nodding her head - "Lucky!"

Having crossed the creek on a flat log, secured with stakes at either
end, a few more paces brought her to the warm, gentle knoll, upon which
stood the farm-house. Here, the wood ceased, and the creek, sweeping
around to the eastward, embraced a quarter of a mile of rich bottomland,
before entering the rocky dell below. It was a pleasant seat, and the
age of the house denoted that one of the earliest settlers had been
quick to perceive its advantages. A hundred years had already elapsed
since the masons had run up those walls of rusty hornblende rock, and it
was even said that the leaden window-sashes, with their diamond-shaped
panes of greenish glass, had been brought over from England, in the days
of William Penn. In fact, the ancient aspect of the place - the tall,
massive chimney at the gable, the heavy, projecting eaves, and the
holly-bush in a warm nook beside the front porch, had, nineteen years
before, so forcibly reminded one of Howe's soldiers of his father's
homestead in mid-England, that he was numbered among the missing after
the Brandywine battle, and presently turned up as a hired hand on the
Barton farm, where he still lived, year in and year out.

An open, grassy space, a hundred yards in breadth, intervened between
the house and the barn, which was built against the slope of the knoll,
so that the bridge to the threshing-floor was nearly level, and the
stables below were sheltered from the north winds, and open to the
winter sun. On the other side of the lane leading from the high-road
stood a wagon-house and corn-crib - the latter empty, yet evidently,
in spite of its emptiness, the principal source of attraction to the
visitors. A score of men and boys peeped between the upright laths, and
a dozen dogs howled and sprang around the smooth corner-posts upon
which the structure rested. At the door stood old Giles, the military
straggler already mentioned - now a grizzly, weather-beaten man of
fifty - with a jolly grin on his face, and a short leather whip in his
hand.

"Want to see him, Miss Betsy?" he asked, touching his mink-skin cap,
as Miss Lavender crawled through the nearest panel of the lofty picket
fence.

"See him?" she repeated. "Don't care if I do, afore goin' into th'
house."

"Come up, then; out o' the way, Cato! Fan, take that, you slut! Don't be
afeard, Miss Betsy; if folks kept 'em in the leash, as had ought to
be done, I'd have less trouble. They're mortal eager, and no wonder.
There! - a'n't he a sly-lookin' divel? If I'd a hoss, Miss Betsy, I'd
foller with the best of 'em, and maybe you wouldn't have the brush?"

"Have the brush. Go along, Giles! He's an old one, and knows how to take
care of it. Do keep off the dreadful dogs, and let me git down!" cried
Miss Lavender, gathering her narrow petticoats about her legs, and
surveying the struggling animals before her with some dismay.

Giles's whip only reached the nearest, and the excited pack rushed
forward again after every repulse; but at this juncture a tall,
smartly-dressed man came across the lane, kicked the hounds out of the
way, and extended a helping hand to the lady.

"Ho, Mr. Alfred!" said she; "Much obliged. Miss Ann's havin' her hands
full, I reckon?"

Without waiting for an answer, she slipped into the yard and along the
front of the house, to the kitchen entrance, at the eastern end. There
we will leave her, and return to the group of gentlemen.

Any one could see at a glance that Mr. Alfred Barton was the most
important person present. His character of host gave him, of course,
the right to control the order of the coming chase; but his size and
swaggering air of strength, his new style of hat, the gloss of his blue
coat, the cut of his buckskin breeches, and above all, the splendor
of his tasselled top-boots, distinguished him from his more homely
apparelled guests. His features were large and heavy: the full, wide
lips betrayed a fondness for indulgence, and the small, uneasy eyes
a capacity for concealing this and any other quality which needed
concealment. They were hard and cold, generally more than half hidden
under thick lids, and avoided, rather than sought, the glance of the man
to whom he spoke. His hair, a mixture of red-brown and gray, descended,
without a break, into bushy whiskers of the same color, and was cut
shorter at the back of the head than was then customary. Something
coarse and vulgar in his nature exhaled, like a powerful odor, through
the assumed shell of a gentleman, which he tried to wear, and rendered
the assumption useless.

A few guests, who had come from a distance, had just finished their
dinner in the farm-house. Owing to causes which will hereafter be
explained, they exhibited less than the usual plethoric satisfaction
after the hospitality of the country, and were the first to welcome the
appearance of a square black bottle, which went the rounds, with the
observation: "Whet up for a start!"

Mr. Barton drew a heavy silver watch from his fob, and carefully holding
it so that the handful of glittering seals could be seen by everybody,
appeared to meditate.

"Five minutes to one," he said at last. "No use in waiting much longer;
't isn't good to keep the hounds fretting. Any signs of anybody else?"

The others, in response, turned towards the lane and highway. Some,
with keen eyes, fancied they could detect a horseman through the wood.
Presently Giles, from his perch at the door of the corn-crib, cried out:

"There's somebody a-comin' up the meadow. I don't know the hoss; rides
like Gilbert Potter. Gilbert it is, blast me! new-mounted."

"Another plough-horse!" suggested Mr. Joel Ferris, a young Pennsbury
buck, who, having recently come into a legacy of four thousand pounds,
wished it to be forgotten that he had never ridden any but plough-horses
until within the year.

The others laughed, some contemptuously, glancing at their own
well-equipped animals the while, some constrainedly, for they knew the
approaching guest, and felt a slight compunction in seeming to side with
Mr. Ferris. Barton began to smile stiffly, but presently bit his lip and
drew his brows together.

Pressing the handle of his riding-whip against his chin, he stared
vacantly up the lane, muttering "We must wait, I suppose."

His lids were lifted in wonder the next moment; he seized Ferris by the
arm, and exclaimed: -

"Whom have we here?"

All eyes turned in the same direction, descried a dashing horseman in
the lane.

"Upon my soul I don't know," said Ferris. "Anybody expected from the
Fagg's Manor way?"

"Not of my inviting," Barton answered.

The other guests professed their entire ignorance of the stranger, who,
having by this time passed the bars, rode directly up to the group. He
was a short, broad-shouldered man of nearly forty, with a red, freckled
face, keen, snapping gray eyes, and a close, wide mouth. Thick,
jet-black whiskers, eyebrows and pig-tail made the glance of those
eyes, the gleam of his teeth, and the color of his skin where it was not
reddened by the wind, quite dazzling. This violent and singular contrast
gave his plain, common features an air of distinction. Although his
mulberry coat was somewhat faded, it had a jaunty cut, and if his
breeches were worn and stained, the short, muscular thighs and strong
knees they covered, told of a practised horseman.

He rode a large bay gelding, poorly groomed, and apparently not
remarkable for blood, but with no marks of harness on his rough coat.

"Good-day to you, gentlemen!" said the stranger, familiarly knocking the
handle of his whip against his cocked hat. "Squire Barton, how do you
do?"

"How do you do, sir?" responded Mr. Barton, instantly flattered by the
title, to which he had no legitimate right. "I believe," he added, "you
have the advantage of me."

A broad smile, or rather grin, spread over the stranger's face. His
teeth flashed, and his eyes shot forth a bright, malicious ray. He
hesitated a moment, ran rapidly over the faces of the others without
perceptibly moving his head, and noting the general curiosity, said, at
last: -

"I hardly expected to find an acquaintance in this neighborhood, but
a chase makes quick fellowship. I happened to hear of it at the Anvil
Tavern, - am on my way to the Rising Sun; so, you see, if the hunt goes
down Tuffkenamon, as is likely, it's so much of a lift on the way."

"All right, - glad to have you join us. What did you say your name was?"
inquired Mr. Barton.

"I didn't say what; it's Fortune, - a fortune left to me by my father,
ha! ha! Don't care if I do" -

With the latter words, Fortune (as we must now call him) leaned down
from his saddle, took the black bottle from the unresisting hands of Mr.
Ferris, inverted it against his lips, and drank so long and luxuriously
as to bring water into the mouths of the spectators. Then, wiping his
mouth with the back of his freckled hand, he winked and nodded his head
approvingly to Mr. Barton.

Meanwhile the other horseman had arrived from the meadow, after
dismounting and letting down the bars, over which his horse stepped
slowly and cautiously, - a circumstance which led some of the younger
guests to exchange quiet, amused glances. Gilbert Potter, however,
received a hearty greeting from all, including the host, though the
latter, by an increased shyness in meeting his gaze, manifested some
secret constraint.

"I was afraid I should have been too late," said Gilbert; "the old break
in the hedge is stopped at last, so I came over the hill above, without
thinking on the swampy bit, this side."

"Breaking your horse in to rough riding, eh?" said Mr. Ferris, touching
a neighbor with his elbow.

Gilbert smiled good-humoredly, but said nothing, and a little laugh
went around the circle. Mr. Fortune seemed to understand the matter in a
flash. He looked at the brown, shaggy-maned animal, standing behind its
owner, with its head down, and said, in a low, sharp tone: "I see - where
did you get him?"

Gilbert returned the speaker's gaze a moment before he answered. "From a
drover," he then said.

"By the Lord!"-ejaculated Mr. Barton, who had again conspicuously
displayed his watch, "it's over half-past one. Look out for the
hounds, - we must start, if we mean to do any riding this day!"

The owners of the hounds picked out their several animals and dragged
them aside, in which operation they were uproariously assisted by the
boys. The chase in Kennett, it must be confessed, was but a very
faint shadow of the old English pastime. It had been kept up, in the
neighborhood, from the force of habit in the Colonial times, and
under the depression which the strong Quaker element among the people
exercised upon all sports and recreations. The breed of hounds, not
being restricted to close communion, had considerably degenerated,
and few, even of the richer farmers, could afford to keep thoroughbred
hunters for this exclusive object. Consequently all the features of the
pastime had become rude and imperfect, and, although very respectable
gentlemen still gave it their countenance, there was a growing suspicion
that it was a questionable, if not demoralizing diversion. It would be
more agreeable if we could invest the present occasion with a little
more pomp and dignity; but we must describe the event precisely as it
occurred.

The first to greet Gilbert were his old friends, Joe and Jake Fairthorn.
These boys loudly lamented that their father had denied them the loan
of his old gray mare, Bonnie; they could ride double on a gallop, they
said; and wouldn't Gilbert take them along, one before and one behind
him? But he laughed and shook his head.

"Well, we've got Watch, anyhow," said Joe, who thereupon began
whispering very earnestly to Jake, as the latter seized the big family
bull-dog by the collar. Gilbert foreboded mischief, and kept his eye
upon the pair.

A scuffle was heard in the corn-crib, into which Giles had descended.
The boys shuddered and chuckled in a state of delicious fear, which
changed into a loud shout of triumph, as the soldier again made his
appearance at the door, with the fox in his arms, and a fearless hand
around its muzzle.

"By George! what a fine brush!" exclaimed Mr. Ferris.

A sneer, quickly disguised in a grin, ran over Fortune's face. The
hounds howled and tugged; Giles stepped rapidly across the open space
where the knoll sloped down to the meadow. It was a moment of intense
expectation.

Just then, Joe and Jake Fairthorn let go their hold on the bull-dog's
collar; but Gilbert Potter caught the animal at the second bound. The
boys darted behind the corn-crib, scared less by Gilbert's brandished
whip than by the wrath and astonishment in Mr. Barton's face.

"Cast him off, Giles!" the latter cried.

The fox, placed upon the ground, shot down the slope and through the
fence into the meadow. Pausing then, as if first to assure himself of
his liberty, he took a quick, keen survey of the ground before him, and
then started off towards the left.

"He's making for the rocks!" cried Mr. Ferris; to which the stranger,
who was now watching the animal with sharp interest, abruptly answered,
"Hold your tongue!"

Within a hundred yards the fox turned to the right, and now, having
apparently made up his mind to the course, struck away in a steady but
not hurried trot. In a minute he had reached the outlying trees of the
timber along the creek.

"He's a cool one, he is!" remarked Giles, admiringly.

By this time he was hidden by the barn from the sight of the hounds,
and they were let loose. While they darted about in eager quest of the
scent, the hunters mounted in haste. Presently an old dog gave tongue
like a trumpet, the pack closed, and the horsemen followed. The boys
kept pace with them over the meadow, Joe and Jake taking the lead, until
the creek abruptly stopped their race, when they sat down upon the bank
and cried bitterly, as the last of the hunters disappeared through the
thickets on the further side.

It was not long before a high picket-fence confronted the riders. Mr.
Ferris, with a look of dismay, dismounted. Fortune, Barton, and Gilbert
Potter each threw off a heavy "rider," and leaped their horses over the
rails. The others followed through the gaps thus made, and all swept
across the field at full speed, guided by the ringing cry of the hounds.

When they reached the Wilmington road, the cry swerved again to the
left, and most of the hunters, with Barton at their head, took the
highway in order to reach the crossroad to New-Garden more conveniently.
Gilbert and Fortune alone sprang into the opposite field, and kept a
straight southwestern course for the other branch of Redley Creek. The
field was divided by a stout thorn-hedge from the one beyond it, and the
two horsemen, careering neck and neck, glanced at each other curiously
as they approached this barrier. Their respective animals were
transformed; the unkempt manes were curried by the wind, as they flew;
their sleepy eyes were full of fire, and the splendid muscles, aroused
to complete action, marked their hides with lines of beauty. There was
no wavering in either; side by side they hung in flight above the hedge,
and side by side struck the clean turf beyond.

Then Fortune turned his head, nodded approvingly to Gilbert, and
muttered to himself: "He's a gallant fellow, - I'll not rob him of the
brush." But he laughed a short, shrill, wicked laugh the next moment.

Before they reached the creek, the cry of the hounds ceased. They halted
a moment on the bank, irresolute.

"He must have gone down towards the snuff-mill," said Gilbert, and was
about to change his course.

"Stop," said the stranger; "if he has, we've lost him any way. Hark!
hurrah!"

A deep bay rang from the westward, through the forest. Gilbert shouted:
"The lime-quarry!" and dashed across the stream. A lane was soon
reached, and as the valley opened, they saw the whole pack heading
around the yellow mounds of earth which marked the locality of the
quarry. At the same instant some one shouted in the rear, and they saw
Mr. Alfred Barton, thundering after, and apparently bent on diminishing
the distance between them.

A glance was sufficient to show that the fox had not taken refuge in the
quarry, but was making a straight course up the centre of the valley.
Here it was not so easy to follow. The fertile floor of Tuffkenamon,
stripped of woods, was crossed by lines of compact hedge, and, moreover,
the huntsmen were not free to tear and trample the springing wheat of
the thrifty Quaker farmers. Nevertheless, one familiar with the ground
could take advantage of a gap here and there, choose the connecting
pasture-fields, and favor his course with a bit of road, when the chase
swerved towards either side of the valley. Gilbert Potter soon took the
lead, closely followed by Fortune. Mr. Barton was perhaps better mounted
than either, but both horse and rider were heavier, and lost in the



Online LibraryBayard TaylorThe Story of Kennett → online text (page 1 of 30)