James Fenimore Cooper.

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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 exist
ence 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 small-pox from his little pet, who was just re
covering from the same disease, and died at the ex
piration of the tenth day.

This was an unlooked-for and a stunning blow
*o 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 certain
ly aided materially of late in the acquisition of the
money, was left the good-will of the shop, the com
mand of all the stock at cost, and the sole executor-
ship 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 com
pletely 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 tht
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 mo
ney 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 tempt
ation 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 sim
pler 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 f* 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 scru
pulous 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
Jife ; herjiealth was as carefully watched over as if
she had been the only daughter of the sovereign
instead of tho 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 design* 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 bene
diction was no sooner pronounced, than our family
stepped into the undisputed possession of four hun
dred 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

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 mo
ther 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, do
mestic woman; who, by temperament and attain
ments, was admirably qualified to second the pru
dent 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 facts that

26 THE

stood in dull reality before her eyes, the picture
was merely commented on by a sigh, and consign
ed to a cabinet whose key none ever touched but
herself, and she seldom.

Of this subdued and unobtrusive sorrow, for 1
fear it sometimes reached that intensity of feeling,
my excellent and indefatigable ancestor appeared to
have no suspicion. He pursued his ordinary occu
pations 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 other
wise, none surely would have suffered more by his
delinquency than her husband, and none would
have a better right to complain. Now, as her hus
band never dreamt of making such an accusation,
it is not at all surprising that my ancestor remained
in ignorance of his wife's feelings, to the hour of
his death.

It has been said that the opinions of the succes
sor 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 him
self, as well as for his master, he ceased to cry "Wilken
and Liberty." He was not heard to breathe a syl
lable concerning the obligations of society toward >
the weak and unfortunate, for the five years that
succeeded his majority ; he touched lightly on Chris
tian duties in general, after he got to be worth fifty
pounds of his own ; and as for railing at human fol
lies, 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 tax
ation, however, were singularly caustic, and well
applied. He railed at the public debt, as at a pub
lic curse, and ominously predicted the dissolution


of society, in consequence of the burthens and in-
cumbrances it was hourly accumulating on the
already overloaded shoulders of the trader.

The period of his marriage and of 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 con
templations on the subject of his great floating capi
tal 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 re
pugnance 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 na
tion 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 ances


tor 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 in
trusted to the country, the former fancy-dealer's
apprentice entering the arena of virtuous and pa
triotic 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 the 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 in
numerable 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 vul
gar acceptation of the term ; but then, he always
maintained that his interest in his fellow-creatures
was of a more elevated cast, taking a comprehen
sive 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 pre
sent suffering may produce the blessings of future
respectability and usefulness. Acting on these prin
ciples, he gradually grew more estranged from his
species in appearance ; a sacrifice that was pro
bably exacted by the severity of his practical re
proofs for their growing wickedness, and the aus
tere policy that was necessary to enforce them. By
this time, my ancestor was also thoroughly impress
ed with what is called the value of money ; a sen


timent which, I believe, gives its possessor a livelier
Derception than common of the dangers of the pre
cious metals, as well as of their privileges and uses.
He expatiated occasionally on the guarantees that
it was necessary to give to society, for its own se
curity ; 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 ap
pears that as this meek and retired woman was
extricated from the coil of mortality, her intel
lect 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 bet
ter 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 steadi
ly 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 lie 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 mean
ing of the word,) he thought that he had done aU
that man could do, in a case of life and death, in
terests over which he professed to have no control.
He saw Dr. Etherington, the rector, come and go
daily, for a month, without uneasiness or apprehen
sion, for he thought his discourse had a tendency to
tranquillize my mother, and he had a strong aflec
tion for all that left him, undisturbed, to the enjoy
ment of the occupation in which his whole energies
were now completely centered. The physician got
his guinea at each visit, with scrupulous punctual- '
ky ; the nurses were well received and were well
satisfied, for no one interfered with their acts but
the doctor; and every ordinary duty of commis
sion was as regularly discharged by my ancestor,
as if the sinking and resigned creature from whom
lie was about to be for ever separated, had been
the spontaneous choice of his young and fresh

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 mea
sure 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 ob
tained 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 occa
sion. He grew pale, opened his eyes until they
again filled the sockets into which they had gradu
ally 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 ink
ling into any of the events connected with the last
great secret expedition, and which have escaped my
jealousy and experience P

" I am afraid, dear sir, that Mrs. Goldencalf has
obtained glimpses of the last great and secret ex
pedition on which we must all, sooner or later, em
bark, that have entirely escaped your vigilance.
But of this I will speak some other time. At pre
sent 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 towards the pa
pers 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 foi
me to go to her, since one in the situation of the
poor woman may indeed have something of im
portance to communicate."

" It was 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 inclosing the open papers in a secretary,
he followed his companion to the bed-side of his
dying wife.


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 be
yond 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
nabitually 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 con
tribute as much to her temporal comforts as com
ported with his pursuits and habits. On the other
nand, 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

" 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 ! Does nurse give thee comforting
soups and generous nourishment ?"

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

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

" Well, well, Betsey, one that is in want of nei
ther 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 well bodily, however, and I am come ex
pressly to see it I can order any thing that will
help to make thce more easy."

"Mr. Goldencalf, you can. My wants for this life
are nearly ove? ; a short hour, or two, will remove

me beyond the world, its cares, its vanities, its "

My poor mother probably meant to add, its heart-
lessness or its selfishness ; but she rebuked herself,
and paused " By the mercy of our blessed Re
deemer, ?nd through the benevolent agency of this
excellent man," she resumed, glancing her eye up
ward 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 can have little to reproach thy
self 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 princi
ple 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 eter
nal 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 ftfTspring, was likely
to be left exposed to the evils, the vices, nay, to <he
enormities, of the state of being that she herseli *o
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

" 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
ihe 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 P

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 charac
ter that had been acquired by the hard experience
of thirty years, was not to be unsettled by the grati
tude 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 \vorth, 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
rny mother, his own lost their displeasure in a
glance of reassurance and pity.

"The charges of his education will be easily set
tled, 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 princi
pal schools."

As my mother got out the last words, she fell
back on her pillow, whence her interest in the sub
ject 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 contract
ed 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 re
jected, having yielded to the importunities of a dy
ing, woman, rather than to his own sense of that
Which might be either very desirable or very useful.

" Ten thousand pounds ! w


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

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

The colour 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 counte
nance and extreme distress "have it thine own
way the money yes, yes it shall be given as
thou wish'st 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 ex -
citement like that which had sustained my mother,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 2 of 35)