James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 32) online

. (page 2 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 2 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and if the hundreds are converted into thousands, your
farmer, or agriculturalist, becomes a man not only at his
ease, but a proprietor of some importance. The farms on
Oyster Pond were neither very extensive, nor had they
owners of large incomes to support them; on the contrary,
most of them were made to support their owners ; a thing
that is possible, even in America, with industry, frugality
and judgment. In order, however, that the names of places
we may have occasion to use shall be understood, it may
be well to be a little more particular in our preliminary

The reader knows that we are now writing of Suffolk
County, Long Island, New York. He also knows that our
opening scene is to be on the shorter, or most northern of
the two prongs of that fork, which divides the eastern end
of this island, giving it what are properly two capes. The
smallest territorial division that is known to the laws of
New York, in rural districts, is the 'township,' as it is
called. These townships are usually larger than the Eng
lish parish, corresponding more properly with the French
canton. They vary, however, greatly in size, some con
taining as much as a hundred square miles, which is the
largest size, while others do not contain more than a tenth
of that surface.

The township in which the northern prong, or point of
Long Island, lies, is named Southold, and includes not


only all of the long, low, narrow land that then went bf
the common names of Oyster Pond, Sterling, &c., but
several islands, also, which stretch off in the Sound, aa
well as a broader piece of territory, near Riverhead. Oyster
Pond, which is the portion of the township that lies on the
4 point,' is, or iras, for we write of a remote period in the
galloping history of the state, only a part of Southold, and
probably was not then a name known in the laws, at all.

We have a wish, also, that this name should be pro
nounced properly. It is not called Oyster Pond, as the
uninitiated would be very apt to get it, but Oyster Pund,
the last word having a sound similar to that of the cock
ney's ' pound,' in his " two pund two." This discrepancy
between the spelling and the pronunciation of proper names
is agreeable to us, for it shows that a people are not put in
leading strings by pedagogues, and that they make use of
their own, in their own way. We remember how great
was our satisfaction once, on entering Holmes' Hole, a
well-known bay in this very vicinity, in our youth, to hear
a boatman call the port, ' Hum'ses Hull.' It is getting to
be so rare to meet with an American, below the higher
classes, who will consent to cast this species of veil before
his school-day acquisitions, that we acknowledge it gives
us pleasure to hear such good, homely, old-fashioned Eng
lish as " Gar'ner's Island," " Hum'ses Hull," and " Oyster

This plainness of speech was not the only proof of the
simplicity of former days that was to be found in Suffolk,
in the first quarter of the century. The eastern end oi
Long Island lies so much out of the track of the rest of tht
world, that even the new railroad cannot make much im
pression on its inhabitants, who get their pigs and poultry,
butter and eggs, a little earlier to market, than in the dayi
of the stage-wagons, it is true, but they fortunately, as yet,
bring little back except it be the dross that sets every thing
in motion, whether it be by rail, or through the sands, in
the former toilsome mode.

The season, at the precise moment when we desire to
take the reader with us to Oyster Pond, was in the de
lightful month of September, when the earlier promises of
the year are fast maturing into performance. Although


Suffolk, as a whole, can scarcely ba deemed a productive
county, being generally of a thin, light soil, and still covered
with a growth of small wood, it possesses, nevertheless,
spots of exceeding fertility A considerable portion of the
northern prong of the fork has this latter character, and
Oyster Pond is a sort of garden compared with much of
the sterility that prevails around it. Plain, but respectable
dwellings, with numerous out-buildings, orchards and fruit-
trees, fences carefully preserved, a pains-taking tillage,
good roads, and here and there a " meeting-house," gave
the fork an air of rural and moral beauty that, aided by the
water by which it was so nearly surrounded, contributed
greatly to relieve the monotony of so dead a level. There
were heights in view, on Shelter Island, and bluffs towards
Riverhead, which, if they would not attract much attention
in Switzerland, were by no means overlooked in Suffolk.
In a word, both the season and the place were charming,
though most of the flowers had already faded ; and the ap
ple, and the pear, and the peach, were taking the places
of the inviting cherry. Fruit abounded, notwithstanding
the close vicinity of the district to salt water, the airs from
the sea being broken, or somewhat tempered, by the land
that lay to the southward.

We have spoken of the coasters that ply between the
emporium and all the creeks and bays of the Sound, as
well as of the numberless rivers that find an outlet for their
waters between Sandy Hook and Rockaway. Wharves
were constructed, at favourable points, insidr the prong,
and occasionally a sloop was seen at them loading its truck,
or discharging its ashes or street manure, the latter being
a very common return cargo for a Long Island coaster.
At one wharf,^ however, now lay a vessel of a different
mould, and one which, though of no great size, was mani-
fastly intended to go outside. This was a schooner that
had been recently launched, and which had advanced no
farther in its first equipment than to get in its two princi
pal spars, (he rigging of which hung suspended over the
mast-heads, in readiness to be " set up" for the first time.
The day being Sunday, work was suspended, and this so
much the more, because the owner of the vessel was a cer
tain Deacon Pratt, who dwelt in a house within half a mile


of the wharf, and who was also the proprietor of three
several parcels of land in that neighbourhood, each of which
had its own buildings and conveniences, and was properly
enough dignified with the name of a farm. To be sure,
neither of these farms was very large, their acres united
amounting to but little more than two hundred ; but, owing
to their condition, the native richness of the soil, and the
mode of turning them to account, they had made DeacoD
Pratt a warm man, for Suffolk.

There are two great species of deacons ; for we suppose
they must all be referred to the same genera. One species
belong to the priesthood, and become priests and bishops ;
passing away, as priests and bishops are apt to do, with
more or less of the savour of godliness. The other species
are purely laymen, and are sui generis. They are, ex qffi-
cio, the most pious men in a neighbourhood, as they some
times are, as it would seem to us, ex officio, also the most
grasping and mercenary. As we are not in the secrets of
the sects to which these lay deacons belong, we shall not
presume to pronounce whether the individual is elevated
to the deaconate because he is prosperous, in a worldly
sense, or whether the prosperity is a consequence of the
deaconate ; but, that the two usually go together is quite
certain ; which being the cause, and which the effect, we
leave to wiser heads to determine.

Deacon Pratt was no exception to the rule. A tighter
fisted sinner did not exist in the county than this pious
soul, who certainly not only wore, but wore out the " form
of godliness," while he was devoted, heart and hand, to the
daily increase of worldly gear. No one spoke disparagingly
of the deacon, notwithstanding. So completely had he got
to be interwoven with the church ' meeting,' we ought to
say in that vicinity, that speaking disparagingly of him
would have appeared like assailing Christianity. It is true,
that many an unfortunate fellow-citizen in Suffolk had
been made to feel how close was the gripe of his hand, when
he found himself in its grasp ; but there is a way of prac
tising the most ruthless extortion, that serves not only to
deceive the world, but which would really seem to mislead
the extortioner himself. Phrases take the place of deeds,
sentiments those of facts, and grimaces those of benevolent


looks, so ingeniously and so impudently, that the wronged
often fancy that they are the victims of a severe dispensa
tion of Providence, when the truth would have shown that
they were simply robbed.

We do not mean, however, that Deacon Pratt was a
robber. He was merely a hard man in the management of
his affairs ; never cheating, in a direct sense, but seldom
conceding a cent to generous impulses, or to the duties of
kind. He was a widower, and childless, circumstances
that rendered his love of gain still less pardonable ; for
many a man who is indifferent to money on his own ac
count, will toil and save to lay up hoards for those who are
to come after him. The deacon had only a niece to in
herit his effects, unless he might choose to step beyond
that degree of consanguinity, and bestow a portion of his
means on cousins. The church or, to be more literal,
the ' meeting' had an eye on his resources, however ; and
it was whispered it had actually succeeded, by means
known to itself, in squeezing out of his tight grasp no less
a sum than one hundred dollars, as a donation to a certain
theological college. It was conjectured by some persons
that this was only the beginning of a religious liberality,
and that the excellent and godly-minded deacon would be
stow most of his property in a similar way, when the mo
ment should come that it could be no longer of any use to
himself. This opinion was much in favour with divers
devout females of the deacon's congregation, who had
daughters of their own, and who seldom failed to conclude
their observations on this interesting subject with some
such remark as, " Well, in that case, and it seems to me
that every thing points that way, Mary Pratt will get no
more than any other poor man's daughter."

Little did Mary, the only child of Israel Pratt, an elder
brother of the deacon, think of all this. She had been left
an orphan in her tenth year, both parents dying within a
few months of each other, and had lived beneath her uncle's
roof for nearly ten more years, until use, and natural affec
tion, and the customs of the country, had made her feel
absolutely at home there. A less interested, or less selfish
being than Mary Pratt, never existed. In this respect she
vas the very antipodes of her uncle, who often stealthily


rebuked her for her charities and acts of neighbourly kind,
ness, which he was wont to term waste. But Mary kept
the even tenor of her way, seemingly not hearing such re
marks, and doing her duty quietly, and in all humility.

Suffolk was settled originally by emigrants from New
England, and the character of its people is, to this hour,
of modified New England habits and notions. Now, one
of the marked peculiarities of Connecticut is an indisposi
tion to part with anything without a quid pro quo. Those
little services, offerings, and conveniences that are else
where parted with without a thought of remuneration, go
regularly upon the day-book, and often reappear on a ' set
tlement,' years after they have been forgotten by those who
received the favours. Even the man who keeps a carriage
will let it out for hire ; and the manner in which money is
accepted, and even asked for by persons in easy circum
stances, and for things that would be gratuitous in the
Middle States, often causes disappointment, and sometimes
disgust. In this particular, Scottish and Swiss thrift, both
notorious, and the latter particularly so, are nearly equalled
by New England thrift ; more especially in the close
estimate of the value of services rendered. So marked,
indeed, is this practice of looking for requitals, that even
the language is infected with it. Thus, should a person
pass a few months by invitation with a friend, his visit is
termed ' boarding ;' it being regarded as a matter of course
that he pays his way. It would scarcely be safe, indeed,
without the precaution of " passing receipts" on quitting,
for one to stay any time in a New England dwelling, unless
prepared to pay for his board. The free and frank habits
that prevail among relatives and friends elsewhere, are
nearly unknown there, every service having its price.
These customs are exceedingly repugnant to all who have
been educated in different notions ; yet are .they not with
out their redeeming qualities, that might be pointed out to
advantage, though our limits will not permit us, at this
moment, so to do.

Little did Mary Pratt suspect the truth ; but habit, or
covetousness, or some vague expectation that the girl might
yet contract a marriage that would enable him to claim all
his advances, had induced the deacon never to bestow


a cent on her education, or dress, or pleasures of any
sort, that the money was not regularly charged against
her, in that nefarious work that he called his " day-book."
As for the self-respect, and the feelings of caste, which
prevent a gentleman from practising any of these trades
men's tricks, the deacon knew nothing of them. He would
have set the man down as a fool who deferred to any no
tions so unprofitable. With him, not only every man, but
every thing " had its price," and usually it was a good
price, too. At the very moment when our tale opens there
stood charged in his book, against his unsuspecting and
affectionate niece, items in the way of schooling, dress,
board, and pocket-money, that amounted to the considera
ble sum of one thousand dollars, money fairly expended.
The deacon was only intensely mean and avaricious, while
he was as honest as the day. Not a cent was overcharged ;
and to own the truth, Mary was so great a favourite with
him, that most of his charges against her were rather of a
reasonable rate than otherwise.


" Marry, I saw your niece do more favours
To the count's serving-man, than ever she bestowed
Upon me ; I saw it i' the orchard."

Twelfth Night.

ON the Sunday in question, Deacon Pratt went to meet
ing as usual, the building in which divine service was held
that day, standing less than two miles from his residence;
but, instead of remaining for the afternoon's preaching, as
was his wont, he got into his one-horse chaise, the vehicle
then in universal use among the middle classes, though
now so seldom seen, and skirred away homeward as fast as
an active, well-fed and powerful switch-tailed mare could
draw him ; the animal being accompanied in her rapid
progress by a colt of some three months' existence. The


residence of the deacon was unusually inviting for a man
of his narrow habits. It stood on the edge of a fine apple-
orchard, having a door-yard of nearly two acres in its front.
This door-yard, which had been twice mown that summer,
was prettily embellished with flowers, and was shaded by
four rows of noble cherry-trees. The house itself was of
wood, as is almost uniformly the case in Suffolk, where
little stone is to be found, and where brick constructions
are apt to be thought damp : but, it was a respectable edi
fice, with five windows in front, and of two stories. The
siding was of unpainted cedar-shingles; and, although the
house had been erected long previously to the revolution,
the siding had been renewed but once, about ten years be
fore the opening of our tale, and the whole building was in
a perfect state of repair. The thrift of the deacon rendered
him careful, and he was thoroughly convinced of the truth
of the familiar adage which tells us that " a stitch in time,
saves nine." All around the house and farm was in perfect
order, proving the application of the saying. As for the
view, it was sufficiently pleasant, the house having its front
towards the east, while its end windows looked, the one set
in the direction of the Sound, and the other in that of the
arm of the sea, which belongs properly to Peconic Bay,
we believe. All this water, some of which was visible
over points and among islands, together with a smiling and
fertile, though narrow stretch of foreground, could not fail
of making an agreeable landscape.

It was little, however, that Deacon Pratt thought of
views, or beauty of any sort, as the mare reached the open
gate of his own abode. Mary was standing in the stoop,
or porch of the house, and appeared to be anxiously await
ing her uncle's return. The latter gave the reins to a
black, one who was no longer a slave, but who was a de
scendant of some of the ancient slaves of the Pratts, and in
that character consented still to dawdle about the place,
working for half price. On alighting, the uncle approached
the niece with somewhat of interest in his manner.

" Well, Mary," said the former, " how does he get on,

" Oh ! my dear sir he cannot possibly live, I think, and


I do most earnestly entreat that you will let me send across
to the Harbour for Dr. Sage."

By the Harbour was meant Sag's, and the physician
named was one of merited celebrity in old Suffolk. So
healthy was the country in general, and so simple were the
habits of the people, that neither lawyer nor physician was
to be found in every hamlet, as is the case to-day. Both
were to be had at Riverhead, as well as at Sag Harbour ;
but, if a man called out " Squire," or " Doctor," in the
highways of Suffolk, sixteen men did not turn round to
reply, as is said to be the case in other regions ; one half
answering to the one appellation, and the second half to
the other. The deacon had two objections to yielding to
his niece's earnest request ; the expense being one, though
it was not, in this instance, the greatest ; there was another
reason that he kept to himself, but which will appear aa
our narrative proceeds.

A few weeks previously to the Sunday in question, a
sea-going vessel, inward bound, had brought up in Gardi
ner's Bay, which is a usual anchorage for all sorts of craft.
A worn-out and battered seaman had been put ashore on
Oyster Pond, by a boat from this vessel, which sailed to
the westward soon after, proceeding most probably to New
York. The stranger was not only well advanced in life,
but he was obviously wasting away with disease.

The account given of himself by this seaman was suffi
ciently explicit. He was born on Martha's Vineyard, but, as
is customary with the boys of that island, he had left home
in his twelfth year, and had now been absent from the
place of his birth a little more than half a century. Con
scious of the decay which beset him, and fully convinced
that his days were few and numbered, the seaman, who
called himself Tom Daggett, had felt a desire to close his
eyes in the place where they had first been opened to the
light of day. He had persuaded the commander of the
craft mentioned, to bring him from the West Indies, and
to put him ashore as related, the Vineyard being only a
hundred miles or so to the eastward of Oyster Pond Point.
He trusted to luck to give him the necessary opportunity
of overcoming these last hundred miles.

Daggett was poor, as he admitted, as well as friendless


and unknown. He had with him, nevertheless, a substan
tial sea-chest, one of those that the sailors of that day uni
formly used in merchant-vessels, a man-of-war compelling
them to carry their clothes in bags, for the convenience of
compact stowage. The chest of Daggett, however, was a
regular inmate of the forecastle, and, from its appearance,
had made almost as many voyages as its owner. The last,
indeed, was heard to say that he had succeeded in saving
it from no less than three shipwrecks. It was a reasonably
heavy chest, though its contents, when opened, did not
seem to be of any very great value.

A few hours after landing, this man had made a bargain
with a middle-aged widow, in very humble circumstances,
and who dwelt quite near to the residence of Deacon Pratt,
to receive him as a temporary inmate ; or, until he could get
a " chance across to the Vineyard." At first, Daggett
kept about, and was much in the open air. While able to
walk, he met the deacon, and singular, nay, unaccountable
as it seemed to the niece, the uncle soon contracted a spe
cies of friendship for, not to say intimacy with, this stran
ger. In the first place, the deacon was a little particular
in not having intimates among the necessitous, and the
Widow White soon let it be known that her guest had not
even a " red cent." He had chattels, however, that were
of some estimation among seamen; and Roswell Gardiner,
or " Gar'ner," as he was called, the young seaman par ex
cellence of the Point, one who had been not only a whaling,
but who had also been a sealing, and who at that moment
was on board the deacon's schooner, in the capacity of
master, had been applied to for advice and assistance. By
the agency of Mr. Gar'ner, as the young mate was then
termed, sundry palms, sets of sail-needles, a fid or two,
and various other similar articles, that obviously could no
longer be of any use to Daggett, were sent across to the
' Harbour,' and disposed of there, to advantage, among the
many seamen of the port. By these means the stranger
was, for a few weeks, enabled to pay his way, the board
he got being both poor and cheap.

A much better result attended this intercourse with
Gardiner, than that of raising the worn-out seaman's im
mediate ways and means. Between Mary Pratt and RO&-


well Gardiner there existed an intimacy of long standing
for their years, as well as of some peculiar features, to
which there will be occasion to advert hereafter. Mary
was the very soul of charity in all its significations, and
this Gardiner knew. When, therefore, Daggett became
really necessitous, in the way of comforts that even money
could not command beneath the roof of the Widow White,
the young man let the fact be known to the deacon's niece,
who immediately provided sundry delicacies that were ac
ceptable to the palate of even disease. As for her uncle,
nothing was at first said to him on the subject. Although
his intimacy with Daggett went on increasing, and they
were daily more and more together, in long and secret
conference, not a suggestion was ever made by the deacon
in the way of contributing to his new friend's comforts.
To own the truth, to give was the last idea that ever
occurred to this man's thoughts.

Mary Pratt was observant, and of a mind so constituted,
that its observations usually led her to safe and accurate
deductions. Great was the surprise of all on the Point
when it became known that Deacon Pratt had purchased
and put into the water, the new sea-going craft that was
building on speculation, at Southold. Not only had he
done this, but he had actually bought some half-worn cop
per, and had it placed on the schooner's bottom, as high
as the bends, ere he had her launched. While the whole
neighbourhood was " exercised" with conjectures on the
motive which could induce the deacon to become a ship
owner in his age, Mary did not fail to impute it to some
secret but powerful influence, that the sick stranger had
obtained over him. He now spent nearly half his time in
private communications with Daggett ; and, on more than
one occasion, when the niece had taken some light article
of food over for the use of the last, she found him and her
uncle examining one or two dirty and well-worn charts of
the ocean. As she entered, the conversation invariably
was changed ; nor was Mrs. White ever permitted to be
present at one of these secret conferences.

Not only was the schooner purchased, and coppered,
and launched, and preparations made to fit her for sea,
but "Young Gar'ner" was appointed to command her!


As respects Roswell Gardiner, or " Gar'ner," as it would
be almost thought a breach of decorum, in Suffolk, not to
call him, there was no mystery. Six-and-twenty years be
fore the opening of our legend, he had been born on Oyster
Pond itself, and of one of its best families. Indeed, he
was known to be a descendant of Lyon Gardiner, that en
gineer who had been sent to the settlement of the lords
Saye and Seal, and Brook, since called Saybrook, near
two centuries before, to lay out a town and a fort. This
Lyon Gardiner had purchased of the Indians the island in

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 2 of 39)