James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 17) online

. (page 3 of 35)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 3 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


who, an hour before, had seemed scarcely able to
speak. She extended her hand towards her hus
band, smiled benignantly in his face, whispered the
word " Thanks," and then, losing all her powers
of body, sunk 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 agi
tation.

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

"And a good wife, Dr. Etherington."

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



39 THE MONIKINS.

" Faithful, obedient, and frugal."

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

" I never shall 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 a 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 com
panion, but apparently most of the sarcasm was
thrown away.

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

" I accept the charge, Mr. Goldencalf, conform
ably 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.

" Idid 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



THE MONIKINS 39

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, easting his eyes
wistfully towards the divine.

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

"And a representative with full powers, is legal
ly 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 com
pletely 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 thun he
possibly could from mine."

Dr. Etherington was too honest to deny thes
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 ances
tor, " we will enter a little nearer into the details.
It appears to me to be no more than strict justice,



40 THE

that he who does the work should receive the re
ward. 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 de
serves to be rewarded in a future state but, poor
Betsey had little knowledge of business. She fan
cied, 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 trouble and care of bringing up little Jack,
who but you should reap the reward ?"

" I shall expect, Mr. Goldencalf, that you will
furnish the means to provide for the child's wants."

" Of that, sir, it is unnecessary to speak," inter
rupted my ancestor, both promptly and proudly.
" I am a wary man, and a prudent man, and am
one who knows the value of money, I trust ; but I
am no miser, to stint my own flesh and blood. Jack
shall never want for any thing, while it is in my
power to give it I am by no means as rich, sir,
as the neighbourhood supposes ; but then I am no
beggar. I dare say, if all my assets were fairly
counted, it might be found that I am worth a plum."

" You are said to have received a much larger
sum than that, with the late Mrs. Goldencalf," the
divine observed, not without reproof in his voice.

" Ah, dear sir, I need not tell you what vulgar

rumor is but I shall not undermine my own

credit ; and we will change the subject. My ob
ject, Dr. Etherington, was merely to do justice.
Poor Betsey desired that ten thousand pounds might
be given to found a scholarship or two : now, what



THE MONIKIN3. 4l

have these scholars done, or what are they likely to
do, for me or mine 1 The case is different with you,
sir ; you will have trouble much trouble, I make
no doubt ; and it is proper, that you should have a
sufficient compensation. I was about to propose,
therefore, that you should consent to receive my
check for three, or four, or even for five thou
sand pounds," continued my ancestor, raising the
offer as he saw the frown on the brow of the Doc
tor deepen. " Yes, sir, I will even say the latter
sum, which possibly will not be too much for your
trouble and care ; and we will forget the womanish
plan of poor Betsey, in relation to the two scholar
ships and the charity. Five thousand pounds down,
Doctor, for yourself, and the subject of the charity
forgotten for ever."

When my father had thus distinctly put his pro
position, he awaited its effect with the confidence
of one who had long dealt with cupidity. For a
novelty, his calculation failed. The face of Dr.
Etherington flushed, then paled, and finally settled
into a look of melancholy reprehension. He arose
and paced the room for several minutes in silence ;
during which time his companion believed he was
debating with himself on the chances of obtaining
a higher bid for his consent, when he suddenly stop
ped and addressed my ancestor in a mild, but steady
tone.

" I feel it to be a duty, Mr. Goldencalf," he said,
" to admonish you of the precipice over which you
hang. The love of money, which is the root of all
evil, which caused Judas to betray even his Saviour
and God, has taken deep root in your soul. You
are no longer young, and, although still proud in
your strength and prosperity, are much nearer to
your great account, than you may be willing to
believe. It is not an hour since you witnessed the
4*



42 THE MONIKINS.

departure of a penitent soul for the presence of her
God ; since you heard the dying request from her
lips ; and since, in such a presence and in such a
scene, you gave a pledge to respect her wishes
and, now, with the accursed spirit of gain upper
most, you would trifle with these most sacred obliga
tions, in order to keep a little worthless gold in a
hand that is already full to overflowing. Fancy
that the pure spirit of thy confiding and single-
minded wife were present at this conversation ; fancy
it mourning over thy weakness and violated faith
nay, I know not that such is not the fact ; for
there is no reason to believe that the happy spirits
are not permitted to watch near, and mourn over
us, until we are released from this mass of sin and
depravity in which we dwell and, then, reflect
what must be her sorrow, at hearing how soon her
parting request is forgotten, how useless has been
the example of her holy end, how rooted and fearful
are thine own infirmities !"

My father was more rebuked by the manner
than by the words of the divine. He passed his
hand across his brow, as if to shut out the view of
his wife's spirit ; turned, drew his writing materials
nearer, wrote a check for the ten thousand pounds,
and handed it to the doctor with the subdued air of
a corrected boy.

" Jack shall be at your disposal, good sir," he
said, as the paper was delivered, " whenever it may
be your pleasure to send for him."

They parted in silence ; the divine too much dis
pleased, and my ancestor too much grieved, to in
dulge in words of ceremony.

When my father found himself alone, he gazed
furtively about the room, to assure himself that the
rebuking spirit of his wife had not taken a shape
less questionable than air, and then he mused for at



THE MONIKIffS. 43

least an hour, very painfully, on all the principal
occurrences of the night. It is said that occupation
is a certain solace for grief, and so it proved to
be in the present case; for luckily my father had
made up that very day his private account of the
sum total of his fortune. Sitting down, therefore,
to the agreeable task, he went through the simple
process of substracting from it the amount for
which he had just drawn, and, finding that he was
still master of seven hundred and eighty-two thou
sand three hundred and eleven pounds odd shillings
and even pence, he found a very natural consola
tion for the magnitude of the sum he had just given
away, by comparing it with the magnitude of that
which was left.



CHAPTER III.

Opinions of our author's ancestor, together with some of his
own, and some of other people's.

DR. ETH-ERINGTON was both a pious man and a
gentleman. The second son of a baronet of an
cient lineage, he had been educated in most of the
opinions of his caste, and possibly he was not en
tirely above its prejudices ; but, this much admitted,
few divines were more willing to defer to the ethics
and principles of the bible, than himself. His hu
mility had, of course, a decent regard to station ;
his charity was judiciously regulated by the articles
of faith; and his philanthropy was of the dis
criminating character that became a warm sup
porter of church and state.

In accepting the trust which he was now obliged
to assume, he had yielded purely to a benevolent



44 THE MOMKINS.

wish to smooth the dying pillow of my mother
Acquainted with the character of her husband, he
had committed a sort of pious fraud, in attaching
the condition of the endowment to his consent;
for, notwithstanding the becoming language of his
own rebuke, the promise, and all the other little
attendant circumstances of the night, it might be
questioned which felt the most surprise after the
draft was presented and duly honored, he who found
himself in possession, or he who found himself de
prived, of the sum of ten thousand pounds sterling.
Still, Dr. Etherington acted with the most scrupu
lous integrity in the whole affair ; and, although I
am aware, tnat a writer who has so many wonders
to relate, as must of necessity adorn the succeeding
pages of this manuscript, should observe a guarded
discretion in drawing on the credulity of his read
ers, truth compels me to add, that every farthing
of the money was duly invested, with a single eye
to the wishes of the dying Christian, who, under
Providence, had been the means of bestowing so
much gold on the poor and unlettered. As to the
manner in which the charity was finally improved,
I shall say nothing, since no inquiry, on my part,
has ever enabled me to obtain such information as
would justify my speaking with authority.

As for myself, I shall have little more to add.
touching the events of the succeeding twenty years.
I was baptized, nursed, breeched, schooled, horsed,
confirmed, sent to the university and graduated,
much as befalls all gentlemen of the established
church, in the United Kingdoms of Great Britain
and Ireland, or, in other words, of the land of my
ancestor. During these pregnant years, Dr. Ethering-
lon acquitted himself of a duty that, judging by a very
predominant feeling of human nature, (which*, singu
larly enough, renders us uniformly averse to being



THE MONIKINS. 45

troubled with other people's affairs,) I think he must
have found sufficiently vexatious, quite as well as
my good mother had any right to expect. Most
of my vacations were spent at his rectory; for he
had first married, then become a father, next a
widower, and had exchanged his town-living for
one in the country, between the periods of my mo
ther's death and that of my going to Eton ; and,
after I quitted Oxford, much more of my time was
passed beneath his friendly roof, than beneath that of
my own parent. Indeed, I saw little of the latter.
He paid my bills, furnished me with pocket-money,
and professed an intention to let me travel after I
should reach my majority. But, satisfied with
these proofs of paternal care, he appeared willing
to let me pursue my own course very much in my
own way.

My ancestor was an eloquent example of the
truth of that political dogma which teaches the
efficacy of the division of labor. No manufacturer
of the head of a pin ever attained greater dexterity
in his single-minded vocation, than was reached by
my father in the one pursuit to which he devoted,
so far as human ken could reach, both soul and
body. As any sense is known to increase in acute-
ness by constant exercise, cr any passion by indul
gence, so did his ardor in favor of the great object
of his affections grow with its growth, and become
more manifest as an ordinary observer would be
apt to think the motive of its existence at all had
nearly ceased. This is a moral phenomenon that
I have often had occasion to observe, and which
there is some reason to think, depends on a princi
ple of attraction that has hitherto escaped the sa
gacity of the philosophers, but which is as active
in the immaterial, as is that of gravitation in the
material world. Talents like his. so incessantly



46 THE MON1KINS.

and unweariedly employed, produced the usual
fruits. He grew richer hourly, and, at the time
of which I speak, he was pretty generally known
to the initiated, to be the warmest man who had
any thing to do with the stock exchange.

I do not think that the opinions of my ancestoi
underwent as many material changes between the
ages of fifty and seventy, as they had undergone
between the ages of ten and forty. During the
latter period, the tree of life usually gets deep root,
its inclination is fixed, whether obtained by bend
ing to the storms, or by drawing towards the light ;
and it probably yields more in fruits of its own,
than it gains by tillage and manuring. Still my
ancestor was not exactly the same man the day
he kept his seventieth birth-day, as he had been
the day he kept his fiftieth. In the first place, he
was worth thrice the money at the former period,
that he had been worth at the latter. Of course
his moral system had undergone all the mutations
that are known to be dependent on a change of
this important character. Beyond a question,
during the last five-and-twenty years of the life of
my ancestor, his political bias, too, was in favor of
exclusive privileges and exclusive benefits. I do
not mean that he was an aristocrat in the vulgar
acceptation. To him, feodality was a blank ; he
had probably never heard the word. Portcullises
rose and fell, flanking towers lifted their heads, and
embattled walls swept around their fabrics in vain,
so far as his imagination was concerned. He cared
not for the days of courts leet and courts baron;
nor for the barons themselves ; nor for the honors
of a pedigree (why should he? no prince in the
land could more clearly trace his family into ob
scurity, than himself,) nor for the vanities of a
court, nor for those of society ; nor for aught else



THE MOXIKINS. 47

of the same nature, that is apt to have charms for
the weak-minded, the imaginative, or the conceit
ed. His political prepossessions showed themselves
in a very different manner. Throughout the whole
of the five lustres I have named, he was never
heard to whisper a censure against government
let its measures, or the character of its administra
tion, be what it would. It was enough for him
that it was government. Even taxation no longer
excited his ire, nor aroused his eloquence. He con
ceived it to be necessary to order, and especially
to the protection of property, a branch of political
science that he had so studied, as to succeed in
protecting his own estate, in a measure, against
even this great ally itself. After he became worth
a million, it was observed that all his opinions grew
less favorable to mankind in general, and that he
was much disposed to exaggerate the amount and
quality of the few boons which Providence has
bestowed on the poor. The report of a meeting
of the whigs, generally had an effect on his appe
tite ; a resolution that was suspected of emanating
from Brookes', commonly robbed him of a dinner,
and the radicals never seriously moved that he did
not spend a sleepless night, and pass a large por
tion of the next day, in uttering words that it
would be hardly moral to repeat. I may without
impropriety add, however, that on such occasions,
he did not spare allusions to the gallows : Sir Fran
cis Burdett, in particular, was a target for a good
deal of billingsgate; and men as upright and as
respectable even as my lords Grey, Lansdowne,
and Holland, were treated as if they were no bet
ter than they should be. But, on these little details
it is unnecessary to dwell, for it must be a subject
of common remark, that the more elevated and
efined men become in their political ethics, the



48 THE MON1KI1CS.

more tney are accustomed to throw dirt upon their
neighbors. I will just state, however, that most
of what I have here related, has been transmitted
to me by direct oral traditions, for I seldom saw
iny ancestor, and when we did meet, it was only
to settle accounts, to eat a leg of mutton together r
and to part like those who, at least, have never
quarrelled.

Not so with Dr. Etherington. Habit (to say
nothing of my own merits) had attached him to
one who owed so much to his care, and his doors
were always as open to me, as if I had been hisr
own son.

It has been said, that most of my idle time
(omitting the part mispent in the schools) was
passed at the rectory.

The excellent divine had married a lovely
woman, a year or two after the death of my mo
ther, who had left him a widower, and the father
of a little image of herself, before the expiration
of a twelvemonth. Owing to the strength of his
affections for the deceased, or for his daughter, or
because he could not please himself in a second
marriage as well as it had been his good fortune to
do so in the first, Dr. Etherington had never spoken
of forming another connexion. He appeared con
tent to discharge his duties, as a Christian and a
gentleman, without increasing them by creating
any new relations with society.

Anna Etherington was of course my constant
companion, during many long and delightful visits at
the rectory. Three years my junior, the friendship
on my part had commenced by a hundred acts of
boyish kindness. Between the ages of seven and
twelve, I dragged her about in a garden-chair,
pushed her on the swing, and wiped her eyes and
uttered words of friendly consolation, when any



THE MONIKINS. 49

transient cloud obscured the sunny brightness of her
childhood. From twelve to fourteen, I told her
stories ; astonished her with narratives of my own
exploits at Eton, and caused her serene blue eyes
to open in admiration, at the marvels of London.
At fourteen, I began to pick up her pocket-handker
chief, hunt for her thimble, accompany her in duets,
and to read poetry to her, as she occupied herself
with the little lady-like employments of the needle.
About the age of seventeen, I began to compare
cousin Anna, as I was permitted to call her, with the
other young girls of my acquaintance, and the com
parison was generally much in her favor. It was
also about this time, that, as my admiration grew
more warm and manifest, she became less confiding,
and less frank : I perceived too that, for a novelty,
she now had some secrets that she did not choose
to communicate to me, that she was more with her
governess, and less in my society than formerly,
and, on one occasion (bitterly did I feel the slight)
she actually recounted to her father the amusing
incidents of a little birth-day fete at which she
had been present, and which was given by a gen
tleman of the vicinity, before she even dropped a
hint to me, touching the delight she had experi
enced on tne occasion ! I was, however, a good
deal compensated for the slight, by her saying,
kindly, as she ended her playful and humorous ac
count of the affair,

" It would have made you laugh heartily, Jack
to see the droll manner in which the servants acted
their parts;" (there had been a sort of mistified
masque) " more particularly the fat old butler, of
whom they had made a Cupid, as Dick Griffin said,
in order to show that Love becomes drowsy and dull
by good eating and drinking 1 do wish you could
have been there, Jack."

fl



50 THE MOKIKIN8.

Anna was a gentle feminine girl, with a
lovely and winning countenance, and I did inherent
ly like to hear her pronounce the word " Jack"
it was so different from the boisterous screech of
the Eton boys, or the swaggering call of my boon
companions, at Oxford !

"1 should have liked it excessively myself, Anna,"
I answered; "more particularly as you seem to
have so much enjoyed the fun."

" Yes, but that could not be" interrupted Miss-
Mrs. Norton, the governess. " For Sir Harry Grif
fin is very difficult about his associates, and you
know, my dear, that Mr. Goldencatf, though a very
respectable young man himself, could not expect
one of the oldest Baronets of the county, to go out
of his way to invite the son of a stock-jobber to be
present at a fete given to his own heir."

Luckily for Miss-Mrs. Norton, Dr. Etherington
had walked away, the moment his daughter ended
her recital, or she might have met with a disagree
able commentary on her notions concerning the fit
ness of associations. Anna herself looked earnestly
at her governess, and I saw a flush mantle over her
sweet face, that reminded me of the ruddiness of
morn. Her soft eyes then fell to the floor, and it
was some time before she spoke.

The next day I was arranging some fishing-tackle
under a window of the library, where my person
was concealed by the shrubbery, when I heard the
melodious voice of Anna wishing the rector good
morning. My heart beat quicker as she approach
ed the casement, tenderly inquiring of her parent
how he had passed the night. The answers were
as affectionate as the questions, and then there
was a little pause.

"What is a stock-jobber, father?" suddenly re
sumed Anna, whom I heard rustling the leaves
abovt my head.



THE MOfflKINS. 51

"A stock-jobber, my dear, is one who buys and
sells in the public funds, with a view to profit."

"And is it thought a particularly disgraceful
employment 1"

"Why, that depends on circumstances. On
'Change it seems to be well enough among mer
chants and bankers, there is some odium attached
to it, I believe."

"And can you say why, father 1"

" I believe," said Dr. Etherington, laughing, " for
no other reason than that it is an uncertain calling
one that is liable to sudden reverses what is
termed gambling and whatever renders property
insecure, is sure to obtain odium among those
whose principal concern is its accumulation ; those
who consider the responsibility of others of essen
tial importance to themselves."



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 3 of 35)