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THE MONIKINS


By J. Fenimore Cooper




INTRODUCTION.

It is not improbable that some of those who read this book, may feel a
wish to know in what manner I became possessed of the manuscript. Such
a desire is too just and natural to be thwarted, and the tale shall be
told as briefly as possible.

During the summer of 1828, while travelling among those valleys of
Switzerland which lie between the two great ranges of the Alps, and in
which both the Rhone and the Rhine take their rise, I had passed from
the sources of the latter to those of the former river, and had reached
that basin in the mountains that is so celebrated for containing the
glacier of the Rhone, when chance gave me one of those rare moments
of sublimity and solitude, which are the more precious in the other
hemisphere from their infrequency. On every side the view was bounded
by high and ragged mountains, their peaks glittering near the sun, while
directly before me, and on a level with the eye, lay that miraculous
frozen sea, out of whose drippings the Rhone starts a foaming river, to
glance away to the distant Mediterranean. For the first time, during
a pilgrimage of years, I felt alone with nature in Europe. Alas! the
enjoyment, as all such enjoyments necessarily are amid the throngs of
the old world, was short and treacherous. A party came round the angle
of a rock, along the narrow bridle-path, in single file; two ladies on
horseback, followed by as many gentlemen on foot, and preceded by the
usual guide. It was but small courtesy to rise and salute the dove-like
eyes and blooming cheeks of the former, as they passed. They were
English, and the gentlemen appeared to recognize me as a countryman. One
of the latter stopped, and politely inquired if the passage of the
Furca was obstructed by snow. He was told not, and in return for the
information said that I would find the Grimsel a little ticklish; "but,"
he added, smiling, "the ladies succeeded in crossing, and you will
scarcely hesitate." I thought I might get over a difficulty that his
fair companions had conquered. He then told me Sir Herbert Taylor was
made adjutant-general, and wished me good morning.

I sat reflecting on the character, hopes, pursuits, and interests of
man, for an hour, concluding that the stranger was a soldier, who let
some of the ordinary workings of his thoughts overflow in this brief and
casual interview. To resume my solitary journey, cross the Rhone, and
toil my way up the rugged side of the Grimsel, consumed two more hours,
and glad was I to come in view of the little chill-looking sheet of
water on its summit, which is called the Lake of the Dead. The path was
filled with snow, at a most critical point, where, indeed, a misplaced
footstep might betray the incautious to their destruction. A large party
on the other side appeared fully aware of the difficulty, for it had
halted, and was in earnest discussion with the guide, touching the
practicability of passing. It was decided to attempt the enterprise.
First came a female of one of the sweetest, serenest countenances I had
ever seen. She, too, was English; and though she trembled, and blushed,
and laughed at herself, she came on with spirit, and would have reached
my side in safety, had not an unlucky stone turned beneath a foot that
was much too pretty for those wild hills. I sprang forward, and was
so happy as to save her from destruction. She felt the extent of the
obligation, and expressed her thanks modestly but with fervor. In a
minute we were joined by her husband, who grasped my hand with warm
feeling, or rather with the emotion one ought to feel who had witnessed
the risk he had just run of losing an angel. The lady seemed satisfied
at leaving us together.

"You are an Englishman?" said the stranger.

"An American."

"An American! This is singular - will you pardon a question? - You have
more than saved my life - you have probably saved my reason - will you
pardon a question? - Can money serve you?"

I smiled, and told him, odd as it might appear to him, that though an
American, I was a gentleman. He appeared embarrassed, and his fine face
worked, until I began to pity him, for it was evident he wished to show
me in some way, how much he felt he was my debtor, and yet he did not
know exactly what to propose.

"We may meet again," I said, squeezing his hand.

"Will you receive my card?"

"Most willingly."

He put "Viscount Householder" into my hand, and in return I gave him my
own humble appellation.

He looked from the card to me, and from me to the card, and some
agreeable idea appeared to flash upon his mind.

"Shall you visit Geneva this summer?" he asked, earnestly.

"Within a month."

"Your address - "

"Hotel de l'Ecu."

"You shall hear from me. Adieu."

We parted, he, his lovely wife, and his guides descending to the Rhone,
while I pursued my way to the Hospice of the Grimsel. Within the month I
received a large packet at l'Ecu. It contained a valuable diamond ring,
with a request that I would wear it, as a memorial of Lady Householder,
and a fairly written manuscript. The following short note explained the
wishes of the writer:

"Providence brought us together for more purposes than were at first
apparent. I have long hesitated about publishing the accompanying
narrative, for in England there is a disposition to cavil at
extraordinary facts, but the distance of America from my place of
residence will completely save me from ridicule. The world must have the
truth, and I see no better means than by resorting to your agency. All
I ask is, that you will have the book fairly printed, and that you will
send one copy to my address, Householder Hall, Dorsetshire, Eng., and
another to Captain Noah Poke, Stonington, Conn., in your own country. My
Anna prays for you, and is ever your friend. Do not forget us.

"Yours, most faithfully,"

"HOUSEHOLDER."

I have rigidly complied with this request, and having sent the two
copies according to direction, the rest of the edition is at the
disposal of any one who may feel an inclination to pay for it. In return
for the copy sent to Stonington, I received the following letter:

"ON BOARD THE DERBY AND DOLLY, "STONNIN'TUN, April 1st, 1835.

"AUTHOR OF THE SPY, ESQUIRE:

"Dear Sir: - Your favor is come to hand, and found me in good health,
as I hope these few lines will have the same advantage with you. I have
read the book, and must say there is some truth in it, which, I suppose,
is as much as befalls any book, the Bible, the Almanac, and the State
Laws excepted. I remember Sir John well, and shall gainsay nothing he
testifies to, for the reason that friends should not contradict each
other. I was also acquainted with the four Monikins he speaks of, though
I knew them by different names. Miss Poke says she wonders if it's all
true, which I wunt tell her, seeing that a little unsartainty makes a
woman rational. As to my navigating without geometry, thats a matter
that wasn't worth booking, for it's no curiosity in these parts, bating
a look at the compass once or twice a day, and so I take my leave of
you, with offers to do any commission for you among the Sealing Islands,
for which I sail to-morrow, wind and weather permitting.

"Yours to sarve, NOAH POKE."

"To the Author of THE SPY, Esquire, - - - town, - - - county, York
state.

"P. S. - I always told Sir John to steer clear of too much journalizing,
but he did nothing but write, night and day, for a week; and as you
brew, so you must bake. The wind has chopped, and we shall take our
anchor this tide; so no more at present.

"N. B. - Sir John is a little out about my eating the monkey, which I
did, four years before I fell in with him, down on the Spanish Main. It
was not bad food to the taste, but was wonderful narvous to the eye. I
r'ally thought I had got hold of Miss Poke's youngest born."





THE MONIKINS.




CHAPTER I. THE AUTHOR'S PEDIGREE, - ALSO THAT OF HIS FATHER.


The philosopher who broaches a new theory is bound to furnish, at least,
some elementary proofs of the reasonableness of his positions, and the
historian who ventures to record marvels that have hitherto been hid
from human knowledge, owes it to a decent regard to the opinions of
others, to produce some credible testimony in favor of his veracity.
I am peculiarly placed in regard to these two great essentials having
little more than its plausibility to offer in favor of my philosophy,
and no other witness than myself to establish the important facts that
are now about to be laid before the reading world for the first time.
In this dilemma, I fully feel the weight of responsibility under which
I stand; for there are truths of so little apparent probability as to
appear fictitious, and fictions so like the truth that the ordinary
observer is very apt to affirm that he was an eye-witness to their
existence: two facts that all our historians would do well to bear
in mind, since a knowledge of the circumstances might spare them
the mortification of having testimony that cost a deal of trouble,
discredited in the one case, and save a vast deal of painful and
unnecessary labor, in the other. Thrown upon myself, therefore, for what
the French call les pieces justificatives of my theories, as well as of
my facts, I see no better way to prepare the reader to believe me, than
by giving an unvarnished the result of the orange-woman's application;
for had my worthy ancestor been subjected to the happy accidents and
generous caprices of voluntary charity, it is more than probable I
should be driven to throw a veil over those important years of his
life that were notoriously passed in the work-house, but which, in
consequence of that occurrence, are now easily authenticated by valid
minutes and documentary evidence. Thus it is that there exists no
void in the annals of our family, even that period which is usually
remembered through gossiping and idle tales in the lives of most men,
being matter of legal record in that of my progenitor, and so continued
to be down to the day of his presumed majority, since he was indebted to
a careful master the moment the parish could with any legality, putting
decency quite out of the question, get rid of him. I ought to have said,
that the orange-woman, taking a hint from the sign of a butcher opposite
to whose door my ancestor was found, had very cleverly given him the
name of Thomas Goldencalf.

This second important transition in the affairs of my father, might be
deemed a presage of his future fortunes. He was bound apprentice to a
trader in fancy articles, or a shopkeeper who dealt in such objects
as are usually purchased by those who do not well know what to do
with their money. This trade was of immense advantage to the future
prosperity of the young adventurer; for, in addition to the known fact
that they who amuse are much better paid than they who instruct their
fellow-creatures, his situation enabled him to study those caprices of
men, which, properly improved, are of themselves a mine of wealth, as
well as to gain a knowledge of the important truth that the greatest
events of this life are much oftener the result of impulse than of
calculation.

I have it by a direct tradition, orally conveyed from the lips of my
ancestor, that no one could be more lucky than himself in the character
of his master. This personage, who came, in time, to be my maternal
grandfather, was one of those wary traders who encourage others in their
follies, with a view to his own advantage, and the experience of fifty
years had rendered him so expert in the practices of his calling, that
it was seldom he struck out a new vein in his mine, without finding
himself rewarded for the enterprise, by a success that was fully equal
to his expectations.

"Tom," he said one day to his apprentice, when time had produced
confidence and awakened sympathies between them, "thou art a lucky
youth, or the parish officer would never have brought thee to my
door. Thou little knowest the wealth that is in store for thee, or the
treasures that are at thy command, if thou provest diligent, and in
particular faithful to my interests." My provident grandfather never
missed an occasion to throw in a useful moral, notwithstanding the
general character of veracity that distinguished his commerce. "Now,
what dost think, lad, may be the amount of my capital?"

My ancestor in the male line hesitated to reply, for, hitherto, his
ideas had been confined to the profits; never having dared to lift his
thoughts as high as that source from which he could not but see they
flowed in a very ample stream; but thrown upon himself by so unexpected
a question, and being quick at figures, after adding ten per cent. to
the sum which he knew the last year had given as the net avail of their
joint ingenuity, he named the amount, in answered to the interrogatory.

My maternal grandfather laughed in the face of my direct lineal
ancestor.

"Thou judgest, Tom," he said, when his mirth was a little abated, "by
what thou thinkest is the cost of the actual stock before thine eyes,
when thou shouldst take into the account that which I term our floating
capital."

Tom pondered a moment, for while he knew that his master had money in
the funds, he did not account that as any portion of the available means
connected with his ordinary business; and as for a floating capital,
he did not well see how it could be of much account, since the
disproportion between the cost and the selling prices of the different
articles in which they dealt was so great, that there was no particular
use in such an investment. As his master, however, rarely paid for
anything until he was in possession of returns from it that exceeded the
debt some seven-fold, he began to think the old man was alluding to the
advantages he obtained in the way of credit, and after a little more
cogitation, he ventured to say as much.

Again my maternal grandfather indulged in a hearty fit of laughter.

"Thou art clever in thy way, Tom," he said, "and I like the minuteness
of thy calculations, for they show an aptitude for trade; but there
is genius in our calling as well as cleverness. Come hither, boy," he
added, drawing Tom to a window whence they could see the neighbors
on their way to church, for it was on a Sunday that my two provident
progenitors indulged in this moral view of humanity, as best fitted the
day, "come hither, boy, and thou shalt see some small portion of that
capital which thou seemest to think hid, stalking abroad by daylight,
and in the open streets. Here, thou seest the wife of our neighbor,
the pastry-cook; with what an air she tosses her head and displays the
bauble thou sold'st her yesterday: well, even that slattern, idle and
vain, and little worthy of trust as she is, carries about with her a
portion of my capital!"

My worthy ancestor stared, for he never knew the other to be guilty of
so great an indiscretion as to trust a woman whom they both knew bought
more than her husband was willing to pay for.

"She gave me a guinea, master, for that which did not cost a
seven-shilling piece!"

"She did, indeed, Tom, and it was her vanity that urged her to it. I
trade upon her folly, younker, and upon that of all mankind; now dost
thou see with what a capital I carry on affairs? There - there is the
maid, carrying the idle hussy's patterns in the rear; I drew upon my
stock in that wench's possession, no later than the last week, for
half-a-crown!"

Tom reflected a long time on these allusions of his provident master,
and although he understood them about as well as they will be understood
by the owners of half the soft humid eyes and sprouting whiskers
among my readers, by dint of cogitation he came at last to a practical
understanding of the subject, which before he was thirty he had, to use
a French term, pretty well exploite.

I learn by unquestionable tradition, received also from the mouths of
his contemporaries, that the opinions of my ancestor underwent some
material changes between the ages of ten and forty, a circumstance that
has often led me to reflect that people might do well not to be too
confident of the principles, during the pliable period of life, when the
mind, like the tender shoot, is easily bent aside and subjected to the
action of surrounding causes.

During the earlier years of the plastic age, my ancestor was observed to
betray strong feelings of compassion at the sight of charity-children,
nor was he ever known to pass a child, especially a boy that was still
in petticoats, who was crying with hunger in the streets, without
sharing his own crust with him. Indeed, his practice on this head was
said to be steady and uniform, whenever the rencontre took place after
my worthy father had had his own sympathies quickened by a good dinner;
a fact that maybe imputed to a keener sense of the pleasure he was about
to confer.

After sixteen, he was known to converse occasionally on the subject of
politics, a topic on which he came to be both expert and eloquent
before twenty. His usual theme was justice and the sacred rights of man,
concerning which he sometimes uttered very pretty sentiments, and such
as were altogether becoming in one who was at the bottom of the great
social pot that was then, as now, actively boiling, and where he was
made to feel most, the heat that kept it in ebullition. I am assured
that on the subject of taxation, and on that of the wrongs of America
and Ireland, there were few youths in the parish who could discourse
with more zeal and unction. About this time, too, he was heard shouting
"Wilkes and liberty!" in the public streets.

But, as is the case with all men of rare capacities, there was a
concentration of powers in the mind of my ancestor, which soon brought
all his errant sympathies, the mere exuberance of acute and overflowing
feelings, into a proper and useful subjection, centring all in the one
absorbing and capacious receptacle of self. I do not claim for my father
any peculiar quality in this respect, for I have often observed that
many of those who (like giddy-headed horsemen that raise a great dust,
and scamper as if the highway were too narrow for their eccentric
courses, before they are fairly seated in the saddle, but who afterward
drive as directly at their goals as the arrow parting from the bow),
most indulge their sympathies at the commencement of their careers, are
the most apt toward the close to get a proper command of their feelings,
and to reduce them within the bounds of common sense and prudence.
Before five-and-twenty, my father was as exemplary and as constant a
devotee of Plutus as was then to be found between Ratcliffe Highway and
Bridge Street: - I name these places in particular, as all the rest of
the great capital in which he was born is known to be more indifferent
to the subject of money.

My ancestor was just thirty, when his master, who like himself was
a bachelor, very unexpectedly, and a good deal to the scandal of the
neighborhood, introduced a new inmate into his frugal abode, in the
person of an infant female child. It would seem that some one had
been speculating on his stock of weakness too, for this poor, little,
defenceless, and dependent being was thrown upon his care, like Tom
himself, through the vigilance of the parish officers. There were many
good-natured jokes practised on the prosperous fancy-dealer, by the more
witty of his neighbors, at this sudden turn of good fortune, and not a
few ill-natured sneers were given behind his back; most of the knowing
ones of the vicinity finding a stronger likeness between the little girl
and all the other unmarried men of the eight or ten adjoining streets,
than to the worthy housekeeper who had been selected to pay for her
support. I have been much disposed to admit the opinions of these
amiable observers as authority in my own pedigree, since it would
be reaching the obscurity in which all ancient lines take root, a
generation earlier, than by allowing the presumption that little Betsey
was my direct male ancestor's master's daughter; but, on reflection, I
have determined to adhere to the less popular but more simple version
of the affair, because it is connected with the transmission of no small
part of our estate, a circumstance of itself that at once gives dignity
and importance to a genealogy.

Whatever may have been the real opinion of the reputed father touching
his rights to the honors of that respectable title, he soon became as
strongly attached to the child, as if it really owed its existence
to himself. The little girl was carefully nursed, abundantly fed,
and throve accordingly. She had reached her third year, when the
fancy-dealer took the smallpox from his little pet, who was just
recovering from the same disease, and died at the expiration of the
tenth day.

This was an unlooked-for and stunning blow to my ancestor, who was then
in his thirty-fifth year and the head shopman of the establishment,
which had continued to grow with the growing follies and vanities of the
age. On examining his master's will, it was found that my father, who
had certainly aided materially of late in the acquisition of the money,
was left the good-will of the shop, the command of all the stock at
cost, and the sole executorship of the estate. He was also intrusted
with the exclusive guardianship of little Betsey, to whom his master
had affectionately devised every farthing of his property. An ordinary
reader may be surprised that a man who had so long practised on the
foibles of his species, should have so much confidence in a mere
shopman, as to leave his whole estate so completely in his power; but,
it must be remembered, that human ingenuity has not yet devised any
means by which we can carry our personal effects into the other world;
that "what cannot be cured must be endured"; that he must of necessity
have confided this important trust to some fellow-creature, and that it
was better to commit the keeping of his money to one who, knowing the
secret by which it had been accumulated, had less inducement to be
dishonest, than one who was exposed to the temptation of covetousness,
without having a knowledge of any direct and legal means of gratifying
his longings. It has been conjectured, therefore, that the testator
thought, by giving up his trade to a man who was as keenly alive as
my ancestor to all its perfections, moral and pecuniary, he provided a
sufficient protection against his falling into the sin of peculation, by
so amply supplying him with simpler means of enriching himself. Besides,
it is fair to presume that the long acquaintance had begotten sufficient
confidence to weaken the effect of that saying which some wit has put
into the mouth of a wag, "Make me your executor, father; I care not to
whom you leave the estate." Let all this be as it might, nothing can be
more certain than that my worthy ancestor executed his trust with the
scrupulous fidelity of a man whose integrity had been severely schooled
in the ethics of trade. Little Betsey was properly educated for one in
her condition of life; her health was as carefully watched over as if
she had been the only daughter of the sovereign instead of the
only daughter of a fancy-dealer; her morals were superintended by a
superannuated old maid; her mind left to its original purity; her person
jealously protected against the designs of greedy fortune-hunters; and,
to complete the catalogue of his paternal attentions and solicitudes, my
vigilant and faithful ancestor, to prevent accidents, and to counteract
the chances of life, so far as it might be done by human foresight, saw
that she was legally married, the day she reached her nineteenth year,
to the person whom, there is every reason to think, he believed to be
the most unexceptionable man of his acquaintance - in other words, to
himself. Settlements were unnecessary between parties who had so long
been known to each other, and, thanks to the liberality of his late
master's will in more ways than one, a long minority, and the industry
of the ci-devant head shopman, the nuptial benediction was no sooner
pronounced, than our family stepped into the undisputed possession of
four hundred thousand pounds. One less scrupulous on the subject of
religion and the law, might not have thought it necessary to give the
orphan heiress a settlement so satisfactory, at the termination of her
wardship.

I was the fifth of the children who were the fruits of this union, and
the only one of them all that passed the first year of its life. My poor



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 1 of 34)