James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 7 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 7 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

attained so great an interest in my native island; for while I certainly
did not own the whole of Great Britain, I felt that I had a profound
respect for everything in it that was in any, even the most remote
manner, connected with my own particular possessions.

A week flew by in delightful anticipations. The happiness of this short
but heavenly period became so exciting, so exquisite, that I was on the
point of giving birth to an improvement on my theory (or rather on the
theory of the political economists and constitution-mongers, for it is
in fact theirs and not mine), when the answer of Anna was received. If
anticipation be a state of so much happiness - happiness being the
great pursuit of man - why not invent a purely probationary condition
of society? - why not change its elementary features from positive to
anticipating interests, which would give more zest to life, and bestow
felicity unimpaired by the dross of realities? I had determined to carry
out this principle in practice by an experiment, and left the hotel to
order an agent to advertise, and to enter into a treaty or two, for some
new investments (without the smallest intention of bringing them to a
conclusion), when the porter delivered me the ardently expected letter.
I never knew what would be the effect of taking a stake in society by
anticipation, therefore; the contents of Anna's missive driving every
subject that was not immediately connected with the dear writer, and
with sad realities, completely out of my head. It is not improbable,
however, that the new theory would have proved to be faulty, for I have
often had occasion to remark that heirs (in remainder, for instance),
manifest an hostility to the estate, by carrying out the principle
of anticipation, rather than any of that prudent respect for social
consequences to which the legislator looks with so much anxiety.

The letter of Anna was in the following words:

"Good - nay, Dear JOHN:

"Thy letter was put into my hands yesterday. This is the fifth answer I
have commenced, and you will therefore see that I do not write without
reflection. I know thy excellent heart, John, better than it is known to
thyself. It has either led thee to the discovery of a secret of the last
importance to thy fellow-creatures, or it has led thee cruelly astray.
An experiment so noble and so praiseworthy ought not to be abandoned on
account of a few momentary misgivings concerning the result. Do not stay
thy eagle flight at the instant thou art soaring so near the sun! Should
we both judge it for our mutual happiness, I can become thy wife at a
future day. We are still young, and there is no urgency for an immediate
union. In the mean time, I will endeavor to prepare myself to be the
companion of a philanthropist by practising on thy theory, and, by
expanding my own affections, render myself worthy to be the wife of one
who has so large a stake in society, and who loves so many and so truly.

"Thine imitator and friend,

"Without change,



"P.S. - You may perceive that I am in a state of improvement, for I have
just refused the hand of Lord M'Dee, because I found I loved all his
neighbors quite as well as I loved the young peer himself."

Ten thousand furies took possession of my soul, in the shape of so many
demons of jealousy. Anna expanding her affections! Anna taking any other
stake in society than that I made sure she would accept through me! Anna
teaching herself to love more than one, and that one myself! The thought
was madness. I did not believe in the sincerity of her refusal of Lord
M'Dee. I ran for a copy of the Peerage (for since my own elevation in
life I regularly bought both that work and the Baronetage), and turned
to the page that contained his name. He was a Scottish viscount who
had just been created a baron of the united kingdom, and his age was
precisely that of my own. Here was a rival to excite distrust. By a
singular contradiction in sentiments, the more I dreaded his power to
injure me, the more I undervalued his means. While I fancied Anna was
merely playing with me, and had in secret made up her mind to be
a peeress, I had no doubt that the subject of her choice was both
ill-favored and awkward, and had cheek-bones like a Tartar. While
reading of the great antiquity of his family (which reached obscurity in
the thirteenth century), I set it down as established that the first
of his unknown predecessors was a bare-legged thief, and, at the very
moment that I imagined Anna was smiling on him, and retracting
her coquettish denial, I could have sworn that he spoke with an
unintelligible border accent, and that he had red hair!

The torment of such pictures grew to be intolerable, and I rushed into
the open air for relief. How long or whither I wandered I know not; but
on the morning of the following day I found I was seated in a guinguette
near the base of Montmartre, eagerly devouring a roll and refreshing
myself with sour wine. When a little recovered from the shock of
discovering myself in a situation so novel (for having no investment
in guinguettes, I had not taken sufficient interest in these popular
establishments ever to enter one before), I had leisure to look about
and survey the company. Some fifty Frenchmen of the laboring
classes were drinking on every side, and talking with a vehemence of
gesticulation and a clamor that completely annihilated thought. This
then, thought I, is a scene of popular happiness. These creatures are
excellent fellows, enjoying themselves on liquor that has not paid the
city duty, and perhaps I may seize upon some point that favors my system
among spirits so frank and clamorous. Doubtless if any one among them is
in possession of any important social secret it will not fail to
escape him here. From meditations of this philosophical character I
was suddenly aroused by a violent blow before me, accompanied with an
exclamation in very tolerable English of the word,


On the centre of the board which did the office of a table, and directly
beneath my eyes, lay a clenched fist of fearful dimensions, that in
color and protuberances bore a good deal of resemblance to a freshly
unearthed Jerusalem artichoke. Its sinews seemed to be cracking with
tension, and the whole knob was so expressive of intense pugnacity that
my eyes involuntarily sought its owner's face. I had unconsciously taken
my seat directly opposite a man whose stature was nearly double that
of the compact, bustling sputtering, and sturdy little fellows who were
bawling on every side of us, and whose skinny lips, instead of joining
in the noise, were so firmly compressed as to render the crevice of the
mouth no more strongly marked than a wrinkle in the brow of a man of
sixty. His complexion was naturally fair, but exposure had tanned the
skin of his face to the color of the crackle of a roasted pig; those
parts which a painter would be apt to term the "high lights" being
indicated by touches of red, nearly as bright as fourth-proof brandy.
His eyes were small, stern, fiery, and very gray; and just at the
instant they met my admiring look they resembled two stray coals that by
some means had got separated from the body of adjacent heat in the
face. He had a prominent, well-shaped nose, athwart which the skin
was stretched like leather in the process of being rubbed down on the
currier's bench, and his ropy black hair was carefully smoothed over
his temples and brows, in a way to show that he was abroad on a holiday

When our eyes met, this singular-looking being gave me a nod of friendly
recognition, for no better reason that I could discover than the fact
that I did not appear to be a Frenchman. "Did mortal man ever listen to
such fools, captain?" he observed, as if certain we must think alike on
the subject.

"Really I did not attend to what was said; there certainly is much

"I don't pretend to understand a word of what they are saying myself;
but it SOUNDS like thorough nonsense."

"My ear is not yet sufficiently acute to distinguish sense from nonsense
by mere intonation and sound - but it would seem, sir, that you speak
English only."

"Therein you are mistaken; for, being a great traveller, I have been
compelled to look about me, and as a nat'ral consequence I speak a
little of all languages. I do not say that I use the foreign parts of
speech always fundamentally, but then I worry through an idee so as
to make it legible and of use, especially in the way of eating and
drinking. As to French, now, I can say 'don-nez-me some van,' and
'don-nez-vous some pan,' as well as the best of them; but when there are
a dozen throats bawling at once, as is the case with these here
chaps, why one might as well go on the top of Ape's Hill and hold a
conversation with the people he will meet with there, as to pretend to
hold a rational or a discussional discourse. For my part, where there is
to be a conversation, I like every one to have his turn, keeping up the
talk, as it might be, watch and watch; but among these Frenchmen it
is pretty much as if their idees had been caged, and the door being
suddenly opened, they fly out in a flock, just for the pleasure of
saying they are at liberty."

I now perceived that my companion was a reflecting being, his
ratiocination being connected by regular links, and that he did not
boost his philosophy on the leaping-staff of impulse, like most of those
who were sputtering, and arguing, and wrangling, with untiring lungs,
in all corners of the guinguette. I frankly proposed, therefore, that we
should quit the place and walk into the road, where our discourse would
be less disturbed, and consequently more satisfactory. The proposal was
well received, and we left the brawlers, walking by the outer boulevards
towards my hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, by the way of the Champs Elysees.


I soon took an interest in my new acquaintance. He was communicative,
shrewd, and peculiar; and though apt to express himself quaintly, it was
always with the pith of one who had seen a great deal of at least
one portion of his fellow-creatures. The conversation, under such
circumstances, did not flag; on the contrary, it soon grew more
interesting by the stranger's beginning to touch on his private
interests. He told me that he was a mariner who had been cast ashore by
one of the accidents of his calling, and, by way of cutting in a word in
his own favor, he gave me to understand that he had seen a great deal,
more especially of that castle of his fellow-creatures who like himself
live by frequenting the mighty deep.

"I am very happy," I said, "to have met with a stranger who can give me
information touching an entire class of human beings with whom I have as
yet had but little communion. In order that we may improve the occasion
to the utmost, I propose that we introduce ourselves to each other at
once, and swear an eternal friendship, or, at least, until we may find
it convenient to dispense with the obligation."

"For my part, I am one who likes the friendship of a dog better than his
enmity," returned my companion, with a singleness of purpose that left
him no disposition to waste his breath in idle compliments. "I accept
the offer, therefore, with all my heart; and this the more readily
because you are the only one I have met for a week who can ask me how I
do without saying, 'Come on, cong portez-vous.' Being used to meet with
squalls, however, I shall accept your offer under the last condition

I liked the stranger's caution. It denoted a proper care of character,
and furnished a proof of responsibility. The condition was therefore
accepted on my part as frankly as it had been urged on his.

"And now, sir," I added, when we had shaken each other very cordially by
the hand, "may I presume to ask your name?"

"I am called Noah, and I don't care who knows it. I am not ashamed of
either of my names, whatever else I may be ashamed of."

"Noah - ?"

"Poke, at your service." He pronounced the word slowly and very
distinctly, as if what he had just said of his self-confidence were
true. As I had afterward occasion to take his signature, I shall at once
give it in the proper form - "Capt. Noah Poke."

"Of what part of England are you a native, Mr. Poke?"

"I believe I may say of the new parts."

"I do not know that any portion of the island was so designated. Will
you have the good-nature to explain yourself?"

"I'm a native of Stunin'tun, in the State of Connecticut, in old New
England. My parents being dead, I was sent to sea a four-year-old, and
here I am, walking about the kingdom of France without a cent in my
pocket, a shipwrecked mariner. Hard as my lot is, to say the truth, I'd
about as leave starve as live by speaking their d - d lingo."

"Shipwrecked - a mariner - starving - and a Yankee!"

"All that, and maybe more, too; though, by your leave, commodore, we'll
drop the last title. I'm proud enough to call myself a Yankee, but my
back is apt to get up when I hear an Englishman use the word. We are yet
friends, and it may be well enough to continue so until some good comes
of it to one or other of the parties."

"I ask your pardon, Mr. Poke, and will not offend again. Have you
circumnavigated the globe?"

Captain Poke snapped his fingers, in pure contempt of the simplicity of
the question.

"Has the moon ever sailed round the 'arth! Look here, a moment,
commodore" - he took from his pocket an apple, of which he had been
munching half a-dozen during the walk, and held it up to view - "draw
your lines which way you will on this sphere; crosswise or lengthwise,
up or down, zigzag or parpendic'lar, and you will not find more
traverses than I've worked about the old ball!"

"By land as well as by sea?"

"Why, as to the land, I've had my share of that, too; for it has been my
hard fortune to run upon it, when a softer bed would have given a more
quiet nap. This is just the present difficulty with me, for I am now
tacking about among these Frenchmen in order to get afloat again, like
an alligator floundering in the mud. I lost my schooner on the northeast
coast of Russia - somewhere hereabouts," pointing to the precise spot on
the apple; "we were up there trading in skins-and finding no means
of reaching home by the road I'd come, and smelling salt water down
hereaway, I've been shaping my course westward for the last eighteen
months, steering as near as might be directly athwart Europe and Asia;
and here I am at last within two days' run of Havre, which is, if I can
get good Yankee planks beneath me once more, within some eighteen or
twenty days' run of home."

"You allow me, then, to call the planks Yankee?"

"Call 'em what you please, commodore; though I should prefar to call 'em
the 'Debby and Dolly of Stunin'tun,' to anything else, for that was the
name of the craft I lost. Well, the best of us are but frail, and the
longest-winded man is no dolphin to swim with his head under water!"

"Pray, Mr. Poke, permit me to ask where you learned to speak the English
language with so much purity?"

"Stunin'tun - I never had a mouthful of schooling but what I got at
home. It's all homespun. I make no boast of scholarship; but as for
navigating, or for finding my way about the 'arth, I'll turn my back
on no man, unless it be to leave him behind. Now we have people with us
that think a great deal of their geometry and astronomies, but I hold
to no such slender threads. My way is, when there is occasion to go
anywhere, to settle it well in my mind as to the place, and then to
make as straight a wake as natur' will allow, taking little account of
charts, which are as apt to put you wrong as right; and when they do get
you into a scrape it's a smasher! Depend on yourself and human natur',
is my rule; though I admit there is some accommodation in a compass,
particularly in cold weather."

"Cold weather! I do not well comprehend the distinction."

"Why, I rather conclude that one's scent gets to be dullish in a frost;
but this may be no more than a conceit after all, for the two times I've
been wrecked were in summer, and both the accidents happened by sheer
dint of hard blowing, and in broad daylight, when nothing human short of
a change of wind could have saved us."

"And you prefer this peculiar sort of navigation?"

"To all others, especially in the sealing business, which is my raal
occupation. It's the very best way in the world to discover islands; and
everybody knows that we sealers are always on the lookout for su'thin'
of that sort."

"Will you suffer me to inquire, Captain Poke, how many times you have
doubled Cape Horn?"

My navigator threw a quick, jealous glance at me, as if he distrusted
the nature of the question.

"Why, that is neither here nor there; perhaps I don't double either of
the capes, perhaps I do. I get into the South Sea with my craft, and
it's of no great moment how it's done. A skin is worth just as much in
the market, though the furrier may not happen to have a glossary of the
road it has travelled."

"A glossary?"

"What matters a signification, commodore, when people understand
each other? This overland journey has put me to my wits, for you will
understand that I've had to travel among natives that cannot speak a
syllable of the homespun; so I brought the schooner's dictionary with
me as a sort of terrestrial almanac, and I fancied that, as they spoke
gibberish to me, the best way was to give it to them back again as near
as might be in their own coin, hoping I might hit on su'thin' to
their liking. By this means I've come to be rather more voluble than

"The idea was happy."

"No doubt it was, as is just evinced. But having given you a pretty
clear insight into my natur' and occupation, it is time that I ask a few
questions of you. This is a business, you must know, at which we do
a good deal at Stunin'tun, and at which we are commonly thought to be

"Put your questions, Captain Poke; I hope the answers will be

"Your name?"

"John Goldencalf - by the favor of his majesty, Sir John Goldencalf,

"Sir John Goldencalf - by the favor of his majesty, a baronet! Is baronet
a calling? or what sort of a crittur or thing is it?"

"It is my rank in the kingdom to which I belong."

"I begin to understand what you mean. Among your nation mankind is what
we call stationed, like a ship's people that are called to go about; you
have a certain berth in that kingdom of yours, much as I should have in
a sealing schooner."

"Exactly so; and I presume you will allow that order, and propriety, and
safety result from this method among mariners?"

"No doubt - no doubt, we station anew, however, each v'yage, according to
experience; I'm not so sure that it would do to take even the cook from
father to son, or we might have a pretty mess of it."

Here the sealer commenced a series of questions, which he put with a
vigor and perseverance that I fear left me without a single fact of my
life unrevealed, except those connected with the sacred sentiment that
bound me to Anna, and which were far too hallowed to escape me even
under the ordeal of a Stunin'tun inquisitor. In short, finding that
I was nearly helpless in such hands, I made a merit of necessity, and
yielded up my secrets as wood in a vice discharges its moisture. It was
scarcely possible that a mind like mine, subjected to the action of
such a pair of moral screws, should not yield some hints touching its
besetting propensities. The Captain seized this clew, and he went at the
theory like a bulldog at the muzzle of an ox.

To oblige him, therefore, I entered at some length into an explanation
of my system. After the general remarks that were necessary to give
a stranger an insight into its leading principles, I gave him to
understand that I had long been looking for one like him, for a purpose
that shall now be explained to the reader. I had entertained some
negotiations with Tamahamaah, and had certain investments in the pearl
and whale fisheries, it is true; but on the whole my relations with
all that portion of mankind who inhabit the islands of the Pacific,
the northwest coast of America, and the northeast coast of the old
continent, were rather loose, and generally in an unsettled and vague
condition; and it appeared to me that I had been singularly favored in
having a man so well adapted to their regeneration thrown as it were
by Providence, and in a manner so unusual, directly in my way. I now
frankly proposed, therefore, to fit out an expedition, that should be
partly of trade and partly of discovery, in order to expand my interests
in this new direction, and to place my new acquaintance at its head. Ten
minutes of earnest explanation on my part sufficed to put my companion
in possession of the leading features of the plan. When I had ended this
direct appeal to his love of enterprise, I was answered by the favorite
exclamation of -


"I do not wonder, Captain Poke, that your admiration breaks out in
this manner; for I believe few men fairly enter into the beauty of this
benevolent system who are not struck equally with its grandeur and its
simplicity. May I count on your assistance?"

"This is a new idee, Sir Goldencalf - "

"Sir John Goldencalf, if you please, sir."

"A new idee, Sir John Goldencalf, and it needs circumspection.
Circumspection in a bargain is the certain way to steer clear of
misunderstandings. You wish a navigator to take your craft, let her
be what she will, into unknown seas, and I wish, naturally, to make a
straight course for Stunin'tun. You see the bargain is in apogee, from
the start."

"Money is no consideration with me, Captain Poke."

"Well, this is an idee that has brought many a more difficult
contract at once into perigee, Sir John Goldencalf. Money is always a
considerable consideration with me, and I may say, also, just now it
is rather more so than usual. But when a gentleman clears the way as
handsomely as you have now done, any bargain may be counted as a good
deal more than half made."

A few explicit explanations disposed of this part of the subject, and
Captain Poke accepted of my terms in the spirit of frankness with which
they were made. Perhaps his decision was quickened by an offer of twenty
Napoleons, which I did not neglect making on the spot. Amicable and in
some respects confidential relations were now established between my new
acquaintance and myself; and we pursued our walk, discussing the details
necessary to the execution of our project. After an hour or two passed
in this manner, I invited my companion to go to my hotel, meaning that
he should partake of my board until we could both depart for England,
where it was my intention to purchase without delay a vessel for the
contemplated voyage, in which I also had decided to embark in person.

We were obliged to make our way through the throng that usually
frequents the lower part of the Champs Elysees during the season of good
weather and towards the close of the day. This task was nearly over when
my attention was particularly drawn to a group that was just entering
the place of general resort, apparently with the design of adding to the
scene of thoughtlessness and amusement. But as I am now approaching
the most material part of this extraordinary work, it will be proper to
reserve the opening for a new chapter.


The group which drew my attention was composed of six individuals, two
of which were animals of the genus homo, or what is vulgarly termed man;
and the remainder were of the order primates, and of the class mammalia;
or what in common parlance are called monkeys.

The first were Savoyards, and may be generally described as being
unwashed, ragged, and carnivorous; in color swarthy; in lineaments and
expression avaricious and shrewd; and in appetites voracious. The latter
were of the common species, of the usual size, and of approved gravity.
There were two of each sex; being very equally paired as to years and
external advantages.

The monkeys were all habited with more or less of the ordinary attire of
our modern European civilization; but peculiar care had been taken with
the toilet of the senior of the two males. This individual had on the
coat of a hussar, a cut that would have given a particular part of his

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 7 of 34)