James Fenimore Cooper.

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mother did not survive my birth, and I can only record her qualities
through the medium of that great agent in the archives of the family,
tradition. By all that I have heard, she must have been a meek, quiet,
domestic woman; who, by temperament and attainments, was admirably
qualified to second the prudent plans of my father for her welfare. If
she had causes of complaint, (and that she had, there is too much reason
to think, for who has ever escaped them?) they were concealed, with
female fidelity, in the sacred repository of her own heart; and if
truant imagination sometimes dimly drew an outline of married happiness
different from the fact that stood in dull reality before her eyes, the
picture was merely commented on by a sigh, and consigned to a cabinet
whose key none ever touched but herself, and she seldom.

Of this subdued and unobtrusive sorrow, for I fear it sometimes reached
that intensity of feeling, my excellent and indefatigable ancestor
appeared to have no suspicion. He pursued his ordinary occupations with
his ordinary single-minded devotion, and the last thing that would have
crossed his brain was the suspicion that he had not punctiliously done
his duty by his ward. Had he acted otherwise, none surely would have
suffered more by his delinquency than her husband, and none would have
a better right to complain. Now, as her husband never dreamt of making
such an accusation, it is not at all surprising that my ancestor
remained in ignorance of his wife's feelings at the hour of his death.

It has been said that the opinions of the successor of the fancy-dealer
underwent some essential changes between the ages of ten and forty.
After he had reached his twenty-second year, or, in other words, the
moment he began to earn money for himself, as well as for his master,
he ceased to cry "Wilkes and liberty!" He was not heard to breathe
a syllable concerning the obligations of society toward the weak and
unfortunate, for the five years that succeeded his majority; he touched
lightly on Christian duties in general, after he got to be worth fifty
pounds of his own; and as for railing at human follies, it would have
been rank ingratitude in one who so very unequivocally got his bread by
them. About this time, his remarks on the subject of taxation, however,
were singularly caustic, and well applied. He railed at the public debt,
as a public curse, and ominously predicted the dissolution of
society, in consequence of the burdens and incumbrances it was hourly
accumulating on the already overloaded shoulders of the trader.

The period of his marriage and his succession to the hoardings of his
former master, may be dated as the second epocha in the opinions of my
ancestor. From this moment his ambition expanded, his views enlarged in
proportion to his means, and his contemplations on the subject of his
great floating capital became more profound and philosophical. A man
of my ancestor's native sagacity, whose whole soul was absorbed in the
pursuit of gain, who had so long been forming his mind, by dealing as
it were with the elements of human weaknesses, and who already possessed
four hundred thousand pounds, was very likely to strike out for himself
some higher road to eminence, than that in which he had been laboriously
journeying, during the years of painful probation. The property of
my mother had been chiefly invested in good bonds and mortgages;
her protector, patron, benefactor, and legalized father, having an
unconquerable repugnance to confiding in that soulless, conventional,
nondescript body corporate, the public. The first indication that was
given by my ancestor of a change of purpose in the direction of his
energies, was by calling in the whole of his outstanding debts, and
adopting the Napoleon plan of operations, by concentrating his forces on
a particular point, in order that he might operate in masses. About this
time, too, he suddenly ceased railing at taxation. This change may
be likened to that which occurs in the language of the ministerial
journals, when they cease abusing any foreign state with whom the nation
has been carrying on a war, that it is, at length, believed politic to
terminate; and for much the same reason, as it was the intention of my
thrifty ancestor to make an ally of a power that he had hitherto always
treated as an enemy. The whole of the four hundred thousand pounds were
liberally intrusted to the country, the former fancy-dealer's apprentice
entering the arena of virtuous and patriotic speculation, as a bull;
and, if with more caution, with at least some portion of the energy
and obstinacy of the desperate animal that gives title to this class of
adventurers. Success crowned his laudable efforts; gold rolled in
upon him like water on a flood, buoying him up, soul and body, to that
enviable height, where, as it would seem, just views can alone be taken
of society in its innumerable phases. All his former views of life,
which, in common with others of a similar origin and similar political
sentiments, he had imbibed in early years, and which might with
propriety be called near views, were now completely obscured by the
sublimer and broader prospect that was spread before him.

I am afraid the truth will compel me to admit, that my ancestor was
never charitable in the vulgar acceptation of the term; but then, he
always maintained that his interest in his fellow-creatures was of a
more elevated cast, taking a comprehensive glance at all the bearings
of good and evil - being of the sort of love which induces the parent to
correct the child, that the lesson of present suffering may produce
the blessings of future respectability and usefulness. Acting on
these principles, he gradually grew more estranged from his species in
appearance, a sacrifice that was probably exacted by the severity of his
practical reproofs for their growing wickedness, and the austere policy
that was necessary to enforce them. By this time, my ancestor was also
thoroughly impressed with what is called the value of money; a sentiment
which, I believe, gives its possessor a livelier perception than common
of the dangers of the precious metals, as well as of their privileges
and uses. He expatiated occasionally on the guaranties that it was
necessary to give to society, for its own security; never even voted for
a parish officer unless he were a warm substantial citizen; and began to
be a subscriber to the patriotic fund, and to the other similar little
moral and pecuniary buttresses of the government, whose common and
commendable object was, to protect our country, our altars, and our
firesides.

The death-bed of my mother has been described to me as a touching and
melancholy scene. It appears that as this meek and retired woman was
extricated from the coil of mortality, her intellect grew brighter, her
powers of discernment stronger, and her character in every respect
more elevated and commanding. Although she had said much less about our
firesides and altars than her husband, I see no reason to doubt that she
had ever been quite as faithful as he could be to the one, and as
much devoted to the other. I shall describe the important event of her
passage from this to a better world, as I have often had it repeated
from the lips of one who was present, and who has had an important
agency in since making me the man I am. This person was the clergyman of
the parish, a pious divine, a learned man, and a gentleman in feeling as
well as by extraction.

My mother, though long conscious that she was drawing near to her
last great account, had steadily refused to draw her husband from his
absorbing pursuits, by permitting him to be made acquainted with her
situation. He knew that she was ill; very ill, as he had reason to
think; but, as he not only allowed her, but even volunteered to order
her all the advice and relief that money could command (my ancestor was
not a miser in the vulgar meaning of the word), he thought that he had
done all that man could do, in a case of life and death - interests
over which he professed to have no control. He saw Dr. Etherington,
the rector, come and go daily, for a month, without uneasiness
or apprehension, for he thought his discourse had a tendency to
tranquillize my mother, and he had a strong affection for all that left
him undisturbed, to the enjoyment of the occupation in which his whole
energies were now completely centred. The physician got his guinea at
each visit, with scrupulous punctuality; the nurses were well received
and were well satisfied, for no one interfered with their acts but
the doctor; and every ordinary duty of commission was as regularly
discharged by my ancestor, as if the sinking and resigned creature
from whom he was about to be forever separated had been the spontaneous
choice of his young and fresh affections.

When, therefore, a servant entered to say that Dr. Etherington desired
a private interview, my worthy ancestor, who had no consciousness of
having neglected any obligation that became a friend of church and
state, was in no small measure surprised.

"I come, Mr. Goldencalf, on a melancholy duty," said the pious rector,
entering the private cabinet to which his application had for the
first time obtained his admission; "the fatal secret can no longer be
concealed from you, and your wife at length consents that I shall be the
instrument of revealing it."

The Doctor paused; for on such occasions it is perhaps as well to let
the party that is about to be shocked receive a little of the blow
through his own imagination; and busily enough was that of my poor
father said to be exercised on this painful occasion. He grew pale,
opened his eyes until they again filled the sockets into which they had
gradually been sinking for twenty years, and looked a hundred questions
that his tongue refused to put.

"It cannot be, Doctor," he at length querulously said, "that a woman
like Betsey has got an inkling into any of the events connected with
the last great secret expedition, and which have escaped my jealousy and
experience?"

"I am afraid, dear sir, that Mrs. Goldencalf has obtained glimpses of
the last great and secret expedition on which we must all, sooner or
later, embark, that have entirely escaped your vigilance. But of this I
will speak some other time. At present it is my painful duty to inform
you it is the opinion of the physician that your excellent wife cannot
outlive the day, if, indeed, she do the hour."

My father was struck with this intelligence, and for more than a minute
he remained silent and without motion. Casting his eyes toward the
papers on which he had lately been employed, and which contained some
very important calculations connected with the next settling day, he at
length resumed:

"If this be really so, Doctor, it may be well for me to go to her, since
one in the situation of the poor woman may indeed have something of
importance to communicate."

"It is with this object that I have now come to tell you the truth,"
quietly answered the divine, who knew that nothing was to be gained by
contending with the besetting weakness of such a man, at such a moment.

My father bent his head in assent, and, first carefully enclosing the
open papers in a secretary, he followed his companion to the bedside of
his dying wife.




CHAPTER II. TOUCHING MYSELF AND TEN THOUSAND POUNDS.


Although my ancestor was much too wise to refuse to look back upon his
origin in a worldly point of view, he never threw his retrospective
glances so far as to reach the sublime mystery of his moral existence;
and while his thoughts might be said to be ever on the stretch to attain
glimpses into the future, they were by far too earthly to extend beyond
any other settling day than those which were regulated by the ordinances
of the stock exchange. With him, to be born was but the commencement of
a speculation, and to die was to determine the general balance of profit
and loss. A man who had so rarely meditated on the grave changes of
mortality, therefore, was consequently so much the less prepared to gaze
upon the visible solemnities of a death-bed. Although he had never truly
loved my mother, for love was a sentiment much too pure and elevated
for one whose imagination dwelt habitually on the beauties of the
stock-books, he had ever been kind to her, and of late he was even
much disposed, as has already been stated, to contribute as much to
her temporal comforts as comported with his pursuits and habits. On
the other hand, the quiet temperament of my mother required some more
exciting cause than the affections of her husband, to quicken those
germs of deep, placid, womanly love, that certainly lay dormant in her
heart, like seed withering with the ungenial cold of winter. The last
meeting of such a pair was not likely to be attended with any violent
outpourings of grief.

My ancestor, notwithstanding, was deeply struck with the physical
changes in the appearance of his wife.

"Thou art much emaciated, Betsey," he said, taking her hand kindly,
after a long and solemn pause; "much more so than I had thought, or
could have believed! Dost nurse give thee comforting soups and generous
nourishment?"

My mother smiled the ghastly smile of death; but waved her hand, with
loathing, at his suggestion.

"All this is now too late, Mr. Goldencalf," she answered, speaking with
a distinctness and an energy for which she had long been reserving her
strength. "Food and raiment are no longer among my wants."

"Well, well, Betsey, one that is in want of neither food nor raiment,
cannot be said to be in great suffering, after all; and I am glad that
thou art so much at ease. Dr. Etherington tells me thou art far from
being well bodily, however, and I am come expressly to see if I can
order anything that will help to make thee more easy."

"Mr. Goldencalf, you can. My wants for this life are nearly over;
a short hour or two will remove me beyond the world, its cares, its
vanities, its - " My poor mother probably meant to add, its heartlessness
or its selfishness; but she rebuked herself, and paused: "By the mercy
of our blessed Redeemer, and through the benevolent agency of this
excellent man," she resumed, glancing her eye upwards at first with
holy reverence, and then at the divine with meek gratitude, "I quit you
without alarm, and were it not for one thing, I might say without care."

"And what is there to distress thee, in particular, Betsey?" asked my
father, blowing his nose, and speaking with unusual tenderness; "if it
be in my power to set thy heart at ease on this, or on any other point,
name it, and I will give orders to have it immediately performed. Thou
hast been a good pious woman, and canst have little to reproach thyself
with."

My mother looked earnestly and wistfully at her husband. Never before
had he betrayed so strong an interest in her happiness, and had it not,
alas! been too late, this glimmering of kindness might have lighted the
matrimonial torch into a brighter flame than had ever yet glowed upon
the past.

"Mr. Goldencalf, we have an only son - "

"We have, Betsey, and it may gladden thee to hear that the physician
thinks the boy more likely to live than either of his poor brothers and
sisters."

I cannot explain the holy and mysterious principle of maternal nature
that caused my mother to clasp her hands, to raise her eyes to heaven,
and, while a gleam flitted athwart her glassy eyes and wan cheeks, to
murmur her thanks to God for the boon. She was herself hastening away
to the eternal bliss of the pure of mind and the redeemed, and her
imagination, quiet and simple as it was, had drawn pictures in which she
and her departed babes were standing before the throne of the Most High,
chanting his glory, and shining amid the stars - and yet was she now
rejoicing that the last and the most cherished of all her offsprings
was likely to be left exposed to the evils, the vices, nay, to the
enormities, of the state of being that she herself so willingly
resigned.

"It is of our boy that I wish now to speak, Mr. Goldencalf," replied my
mother, when her secret devotion was ended. "The child will have need of
instruction and care; in short, of both mother and father."

"Betsey, thou forgettest that he will still have the latter."

"You are much wrapped up in your business, Mr. Goldencalf, and are not,
in other respects, qualified to educate a boy born to the curse and to
the temptations of immense riches."

My excellent ancestor looked as if he thought his dying consort had in
sooth finally taken leave of her senses.

"There are public schools, Betsey; I promise thee the child shall not be
forgotten: I will have him well taught, though it cost me a thousand a
year!"

His wife reached forth her emaciated hand to that of my father, and
pressed the latter with as much force as a dying mother could use. For
a fleet moment she even appeared to have gotten rid of her latest
care. But the knowledge of character that had been acquired by the hard
experience of thirty years, was not to be unsettled by the gratitude of
a moment.

"I wish, Mr. Goldencalf," she anxiously resumed, "to receive your solemn
promise to commit the education of our boy to Dr. Etherington - you know
his worth, and must have full confidence in such a man."

"Nothing would give me greater satisfaction, my dear Betsey; and if Dr.
Etherington will consent to receive him, I will send Jack to his house
this very evening; for, to own the truth, I am but little qualified to
take charge of a child under a year old. A hundred a year, more or less,
shall not spoil so good a bargain."

The divine was a gentleman, and he looked grave at this speech, though,
meeting the anxious eyes of my mother, his own lost their displeasure in
a glance of reassurance and pity.

"The charges of his education will be easily settled, Mr. Goldencalf,"
added my mother; "but the Doctor has consented with difficulty to take
the responsibility of my poor babe, and that only under two conditions."

The stock-dealer required an explanation with his eyes.

"One is, that the child shall be left solely to his own care, after
he has reached his fourth year; and the other is, that you make an
endowment for the support of two poor scholars, at one of the principal
schools."

As my mother got out the last words, she fell back on her pillow, whence
her interest in the subject had enabled her to lift her head a little,
and she fairly gasped for breath, in the intensity of her anxiety to
hear the answer. My ancestor contracted his brow, like one who saw it
was a subject that required reflection.

"Thou dost not know perhaps, Betsey, that these endowments swallow up a
great deal of money - a great deal - and often very uselessly."

"Ten thousand pounds is the sum that has been agreed upon between Mrs.
Goldencalf and me," steadily remarked the Doctor, who, in my soul, I
believe had hoped that his condition would be rejected, having yielded
to the importunities of a dying woman, rather than to his own sense of
that which might be either very desirable or very useful.

"Ten thousand pounds!"

My mother could not speak, though she succeeded in making an imploring
sign of assent.

"Ten thousand pounds is a great deal of money, my dear Betsey - a very
great deal!"

The color of my mother changed to the hue of death, and by her breathing
she appeared to be in the agony.

"Well, well, Betsey," said my father a little hastily, for he was
frightened at her pallid countenance and extreme distress, "have
it thine own way - the money, yes, yes - it shall be given as thou
wishest - now set thy kind heart at rest."

The revulsion of feeling was too great for one whose system had been
wound up to a state of excitement like that which had sustained my
mother, who, an hour before, had seemed scarcely able to speak. She
extended her hand toward her husband, smiled benignantly in his face,
whispered the word "Thanks," and then, losing all her powers of body,
sank into the last sleep, as tranquilly as the infant drops its head
on the bosom of the nurse. This was, after all, a sudden, and, in one
sense, an unexpected death: all who witnessed it were struck with awe.
My father gazed for a whole minute intently on the placid features
of his wife, and left the room in silence. He was followed by Dr.
Etherington, who accompanied him to the private apartment where they
had first met that night, neither uttering a syllable until both were
seated.

"She was a good woman, Dr. Etherington!" said the widowed man, shaking
his foot with agitation.

"She was a good woman, Mr. Goldencalf."

"And a good wife, Dr. Etherington."

"I have always believed her to be a good wife, sir."

"Faithful, obedient, and frugal."

"Three qualities that are of much practical use in the affairs of this
world."

"I shall never marry again, sir."

The divine bowed.

"Nay, I never could find such another match!"

Again the divine inclined his head, though the assent was accompanied by
slight smile.

"Well, she has left me an heir."

"And brought something that he might inherit," observed the Doctor,
dryly.

My ancestor looked up inquiringly at his companion, but apparently most
of the sarcasm was thrown away,

"I resign the child to your care, Dr. Etherington, conformably to the
dying request of my beloved Betsey."

"I accept the charge, Mr. Goldencalf, comformably to my promise to the
deceased; but you will remember that there was a condition coupled with
that promise which must be faithfully and promptly fulfilled."

My ancestor was too much accustomed to respect the punctilios of trade,
whose code admits of frauds only in certain categories, which are
sufficiently explained in its conventional rules of honor; a sort of
specified morality, that is bottomed more on the convenience of its
votaries than on the general law of right. He respected the letter of
his promise while his soul yearned to avoid its spirit; and his wits
were already actively seeking the means of doing that which he so much
desired.

"I did make a promise to poor Betsey, certainly," he answered, in the
way of one who pondered, "and it was a promise, too, made under very
solemn circumstances."

"The promises made to the dead are doubly binding; since, by their
departure to the world of spirits, it may be said they leave the
performance to the exclusive superintendence of the Being who cannot
lie."

My ancestor quailed; his whole frame shuddered, and his purpose was
shaken.

"Poor Betsey left you as her representative in this case, however,
Doctor," he observed, after the delay of more than a minute, casting his
eyes wistfully towards the divine.

"In one sense, she certainly did, sir."

"And a representative with full powers is legally a principal under
a different name. I think this matter might be arranged to our mutual
satisfaction, Dr. Etherington, and the intention of poor Betsey most
completely executed; she, poor woman, knew little of business, as was
best for her sex; and when women undertake affairs of magnitude, they
are very apt to make awkward work of it."

"So that the intention of the deceased be completely fulfilled, you will
not find me exacting, Mr. Goldencalf."

"I thought as much - I knew there could be no difficulty between two
men of sense, who were met with honest views to settle a matter of this
nature. The intention of poor Betsey, Doctor, was to place her
child under your care, with the expectation - and I do not deny its
justice - that the boy would receive more benefit from your knowledge
than he possibly could from mine."

Dr. Etherington was too honest to deny these premises, and too polite to
admit them without an inclination of acknowledgment.

"As we are quite of the same mind, good sir, concerning the
preliminaries," continued my ancestor, "we will enter a little nearer
into the details. It appears to me to be no more than strict justice,
that he who does the work should receive the reward. This is a principle
in which I have been educated, Dr. Etherington; it is one in which I
could wish to have my son educated; and it is one on which I hope always
to practise."

Another inclination of the body conveyed the silent assent of the
divine.

"Now, poor Betsey, Heaven bless her! - for she was a meek and tranquil
companion, and richly deserves to be rewarded in a future state - but,
poor Betsey had little knowledge of business. She fancied that, in
bestowing these ten thousand pounds on a charity, she was acting well;
whereas she was in fact committing injustice. If you are to have the



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 2 of 34)