James Fenimore Cooper.

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Whittle, with more exultation than became his profession
and professions " Do you not think this may be Deacon
Pratt's will, Miss Mary?"

Now Mary had never thought any such thing. She knew
that her uncle much wished her to marry Roswell, and had
all along fancied that the paper she held, which indeed was
contained in an envelop addressed to her lover, contained
some expression of his wishes on this to her the most in
teresting of all subjects, and nothing else. Mary Pratt
thought very little of her uncle's property, and still less of
its future disposition, while she thought a great deal of
Roswell Gardiner and of his suit. It was, consequently,
the most natural thing in the world that she should have
fallen into some such error as this. But, now that the
subject was brought to her mind in this new light, she
arose, went to her own room, and soon re-appeared with
the paper in her hand. Both Mr. Job Pratt and Rev. Mr.
Whittle offered to relieve her of the burthen; and the for
mer, by a pretty decided movement, did actually succeed
in getting possession of the documents. The papers were


done up in the form of a large business letter, was duly
sealed with wax, and was addressed ta " Mr. Rorwell Gar
diner, Master of the Schooner Sea Lion, now absent on a
voyage." The superscription was read aloud, a little under
the influence of surprise; notwithstanding which, Mr. Job
Pratt was very coolly proceeding to open the packet, pre
cisely as if it had been addressed to himself. In this de
cided step, Mrs. Martin, and Mrs. Thomas, and Rev. Mr.
Whittle, might be set down as accessories before the act;
for each approached ; and so eager were the two women,
that they actually assisted in breaking the seal.

" If that letter is addressed to me," said Roswell Gardi
ner, with firmness and authority, " I claim the right to
open it myself. It is unusual for those to whom a letter is
not addressed to assume this office."

" But, it comes from Deacon Pratt," cried the widow
Martin, " and may contain his will."

" In which case, a body would think I have some rights
concerned," said Mr. Job Pratt, a little more coolly, but
with manifest doubts.

" Sartain !" put in Mrs. Thomas. " Brothers and sisters,
and even cousins, come before strangers, any day. Here
we are, a brother and sister of the deacon, and we ought
to have a right to read his letters."

All this time Roswell had stood with an extended arm,
and an eye that caused Mr. Job Pratt to control his impa
tience. Mary advanced close to his side, as if to sustain
him, but she said nothing.

" There is a law, with severe penalties, against know
ingly opening a letter addressed to another," resumed Ros
well, steadily; " and it shall be enforced against any one
who shall presume to open one of mine. If that letter hag
my address, sir, I demand it ; and I will have it, at every

Roswell advanced a step nearer Mr. Job Pratt, and the
letter was reluctantly yielded ; though not until the widow
Martin had made a nervous but abortive snatch at it.

" At any rate, it ought to be opened in our presence,"
put in this woman, " that we may see what is in it."

" And by what right, ma'am? Have I not the privilege
of others, to read my own letters when and where I please?


If the contents of this, however, do really relate to the late
Deacon Pratt's property, I am quite willing they should
be made known. There is nothing on this superscription
to tell me to open the packet in the presence of witnesses ;
but, under all the circumstances, I prefer it should be

Hereupon Roswell proceeded deliberately to look into
the package. The seal was already broken, and he exhi
bited it in that state to all in the room, with a meaning
smile, after which he brought to light and opened some
written instrument, that was engrossed on a single sheet
of foolscap, and had the names of several witnesses at its

" Ay, ay, that's it," said Baiting Joe, for the room was
crowded with all sorts of people; "that's the dockerment.
I know'd it as soon as I laid eyes on it !"

" And what do you know about it, Josy?" demanded the
widow, eagerly. " Cousin Job, this man may turn out a
most important and considerable witness !"

" What do I know, Mrs. Martin ? Why I seed the
deacon sign for the seals, and exercute. As soon as I
heard Squire Craft, who was down here from Riverhead
on that 'ere very business, talk so much about seals, I
know'd Captain Gar'ner must have suthin' to do with the
matter. The deacon's very heart was in the schooner and
her v'y'ge, and I think it was the craft that finished him,
in the end."

" Won't that set aside a codicil, cousin Job, if so be the
deacon has r'ally codicilled off Captain Gar'ner and Mary ?"

" We shall see, we shall see. So you was present, Josy,
at the making of a will 1"

" Sartain and was a witness to the insterment, as the
squire called it. I s'pose he sent for me to be a witness,
as I am some acquainted with the sealin' business, having
made two v'y'ges out of Stunnin'tun, many years since.
Ay, ay ; that 's the insterment, and pretty well frightened
was the deacon when he put his name to it, I can tell
you !"

" Frightened !" echoed the brother " that's ag'in law,
at any rate. The instrument that a man signs because
he 's frightened, is no instrument at all, in law. As respects


a will, it is what we justices of the peace call ' dies non,'
or, don't die; that is, in law."

"Can that be so, squire Job?" asked the sister, who
had said but little hitherto, but had thought all the more.

" Yes, that 's Latin, I s'pose, and good Latin, too, they
tell me. A man may be dead in the flesh, but living in

" La ! how cur'ous ! Law is a wonderful thing, to them
that understands it."

The worthy Mrs. Thomas expressed a much more pro
found sentiment than that of which she was probably aware,
herself. Law is a wonderful thing, and most wonderful is
he who can tell what it is to-day, or is likely to be to-mor
row. The law of testamentary devises, in particular, has
more than the usual uncertainty, the great interest that is
taken by the community in the large estates of certain in
dividuals who are placed without the ordinary social cate
gories by the magnitude of their fortunes, preventing any
thing from becoming absolutely settled, as respects them.
In Turkey, and in America, the possession of great wealth
is very apt to ruin their possessors; proscription, in some
form or other, being pretty certain to be the consequences.
In Turkey, such has long and openly been the fact, the
bow-string usually lying at the side of the strong box; but,
in this country, the system is in its infancy, though advanc
ing towards maturity with giant strides. Twenty years
more, resembling the twenty that are just past, in which
the seed recently sown broadcast shall have time to reach
maturity, and, in our poor opinion, the great work of de
moralization, in this important particular, will be achieved.
We are much afraid that the boasted progress, of which
we hear so much, will resemble the act of the man who
fancied he could teach his horse to live without food just
as he believed the poor beast was perfect, it died of

Roswell read Baiting Joe's ' insterment' twice, and then
he placed it, with manly tenderness, in the hands of Mary.
The girl read the document, too, tears starting to her eyes;
but, a bright blush suffused her face, as she returned the
will to her lover.

''Ah! do not read it now, Roswell," she said, in an

THE SEA LlOtfS. 427

under tone; but the stillness and expectation were so pro
found, that every syllable she uttered was heard by all in
ihe room.

" And why not read it now, Miss Mary !" cried the
Widow Martin. " Methinks now is the proper time to read
it. If I 'm to be codicilled out of that will, I want to know

" It is better, in every respect, that the company present
should know all that is to be known, at once," observed
Mr. Job Pratt. " Before the will is read, if that be the
will, Captain Gar'ner "

" It is the will of the late Deacon Pratt, duly signed,
sealed, and witnessed, I believe, sir."

" One word more, then, before it is read. I think you
said, Josy, that the deceased was frightened when he signed
that will 1 I do not express any opinion until I hear the
will ; perhaps a'ter it is read, I shall think or say nothin'
about this fright; though the instrument that a man signs
because he is frightened, if the fright be what I call a legal
fright, is no instrument at all."

" But such was not the deacon's case, Squire Job," put
in Baiting Joe, at once. " He did not sign the insterment
because he was frightened, but was frightened because he
signed the insterment. Let the boat go right eend fore
most, squire."

" Read the will, Captain Gar'ner, if you have it," said
Mr. Job Pratt, with decision. " It is proper that we should
know who is executor. Friends, will you be silent for a
moment V

Amid a death-like stillness, Roswell Gardiner now read
as follows :

" In the name of God, amen. I, Ichabod Pratt, of the
town of Southold, and county of Suffolk, and state of New
York, being of failing bodily health, but of sound mind, do
make and declare this to be my last will and testament.

" I bequeath to my niece, Mary Pratt, only child of my
late brother, Israel Pratt, all my real estate, whatsoever it
may be, and wheresoever situate, to be held by her, her heirs
and assigns, for ever, in fee.

"I bequeath to my brother, Job Pratt, any horse of
which I shall die possessed, to be chosen by himself, as a


compensation for the injury inflicted on a horse of his,
while in my use.

" I bequeath to my sister, Jane Thomas, the large look
ing-glass that is hanging up in the east bed-room of rny
house, and which was once the property of our beloved

" I bequeath to the widow Catherine Martin, my cousin,
the big pin-cushion in the said east chamber,- which she
used so much to praise and admire.

" I bequeath to my said niece, Mary Pratt, the only child
of my late brother, Israel Pratt, aforesaid, all of my per
sonal estate, whether in possession or existing in equity,
including money at use, vessels, stock on farm, all other
sorts of stock, furniture, wearing apparel, book-debts,
money in hand, and all sorts of personal property what

" I nominate and appoint Roswell Gardiner, now absent
on a sealing voyage, in rny employment, as the sole executor
of this my last will, provided he return home within six
months of my decease ; and should he not return home
within the said six months, then I appoint my above-men
tioned niece and heiress, Mary Pratt, the sole executrix of
this my will.

" I earnestly advise my said niece, Mary Pratt, to marry
the said Roswell Gardiner; but I annex no conditions what
ever to this advice, wishing to leave my adopted daughter
free to do as she may think best."

The instrument was, in all respects, duly executed, and
there could not be a doubt of its entire validity. Mary felt
a little bewildered, as well as greatly embarrassed. So
perfectly disinterested had been all her care of her uncle,
and so humble her wishes, that she did not for some time
regard herself as the owner of a property that she had all
her life been accustomed to consider as a part of her late
uncle. The heirs expectant, " a'ter reading the inster-
ment," as Baiting Joe told his cronies, when he related
the circumstances over a mug of cider that evening, " fore
and aft, and overhauling it from truck to keelson, give the
matter up, as a bad job. They could n't make nawthin' out
of oppersition," continued Joe, " and so they tuck the
horse, and the looking-glass, and the pin-cushion, and


cleared out with their cargo. You could n't get one of
that breed to leave as much as a pin behind, to which he
thought the law would give him a right. Squire Job went
off very unwillingly ; for so strong was his belief in his
claim, that he had made up his mind, as he told me him
self, to break up the north meadow, and put it in corn this
coming season."

" They say that Minister Whittle took it very hard that
nawthin' was said about him, or about meetin', in the dea
con's will," observed Jake Davis, one of Baiting Joe's

"That he did; and he tuck it so hard that everybody
allows the two sermons he preached the next Sabba' day to
be the very two worst he ever did preach."

"They must have been pretty bad, then," quaintly ob
served Davis; " I've long set down Minister Whittle's dis
courses as being a lettle the worst going, when you give
him a chance."

It is unnecessary to relate any more of this dialogue, nor
should we have given the little we have, did it not virtually
explain what actually occurred on the publication of the
contents of the will. Roswell met with no opposition in
proving the instrument, and the day after he was admitted
to act as executor he was married to Mary Pratt, and be
came tenant, by the courtesy, to all her real estate ; such
being the law then, though it is so no longer. Now, a man
and his wife may have a very pretty family quarrel about
the ownership of a dozen tea-spoons, arid the last, so far
as we can see, may order the first out of one of her rock
ing chairs, if she see fit ! Surely domestic peace is not so
trifling a matter that the law should seek to add new sub
jects of strife to the many that seem to be nearly insepara
ble from the married state.

Let this be as it may, no such law existed when Roswell
Gardiner and Mary Pratt became man and wife. One of
the first acts of the happy young couple, after they were
united, was to make a suitable disposition of the money
found buried at the foot of the tree, on the so-much-talked-
of key. Its amount was a little more than 2000 dollars,
the pirate who made the revelation to Daggett having, in
all probability, been ignorant himself of the real sum that


had been thus secreted. By a specific bargain with the
crew, all this money belonged to the deacon ; and, conse
quently, it had descended to his niece, and through her
was now legally the property of Roswell. The young man
was not altogether free from scruples about using money
that had been originally taken as booty by pirates, and his
conscientious wife had still greater objections. After con
ferring together on the subject, however, and seeing the
impossibility of restoring the gold to those from whom it
had been forced in the first place, the doubloons were dis
tributed among the families of those who had lost their
lives at Sealer's Land. The shares did not amount to
much, it is true; but they did good, and cheered the hearts
of two or three widows and dependent sisters.

Nor did Roswell Gardiner's care for their welfare stop
here. He had the Sea Lion put in good order, removed
her decks, raised upon her, and put her in her original
condition, and sent her to Sealer's Land, again, under the
orders of Hazard, who was instructed to take in all the oil
and skins that had been left behind, and to fill up, if he
could, without risking too much by delay. All this was
successfully done, the schooner coming back, after a very
short voyage, and quite full. The money made by this
highly successful adventure, had the effect to console
several of those who had great cause to regret their pre
vious losses.

As to Roswell and Mary, they had much reason to be
content with their lot. The deacon's means were found
to be much more considerable than had been supposed.
When all was brought into a snug state, Roswell found
that his wife was worth more than thirty thousand dollars,
a sum which constituted wealth on Oyster Pond, in that
day. We have, however, already hinted that the simplicity,
and we fear with it the happiness, of the place has de
parted. A railroad terminates within a short distance of
the deacon's old residence, bringing with it the clatter,
ambition, and rivalry, of such a mode of travelling. What
is even worse, the venerable and expressive name of " Oys
ter Pond," one that conveys in its very sound the idea of
savoury dishes, and an abundance of a certain and a very
agreeable sort has been changed to "Orient," Heaven


save the mark! Long Island has, hitherto, been famous,
in the history of New York, for the homely piquancy of
its names, which usually conveyed a graphic idea of the
place indicated. It is true, " Jerusalem" cannot boast of
its Solomon's Temple, nor " Babylon" of its Hanging Gar
dens ; but, by common consent, it is understood thtt these
two names, and some half-a-dozen more of the same
quality, are to be taken by tb,eir opposites.

Roswell Gardiner did not let Stimson pass out of his
sight, as is customary with seamen when they quit a vessel.
He made him master of a sloop that plied between New
York and Southold, in which employment the good old
man fulfilled his time, leaving to a widowed sister who
dwelt with him, the means o? a comfortable livelihood, for

The only bit of management of which Mary could be
accused, was practised by her shortly after Sthnson's death,
and some six or eight years after her own marriage. One
of her school friends, and a relative, had married a person
who dwelt ' west of the bridge,' as it is the custom to say
of all the counties that lie west of Cayuga Lake. This
person, whose name was Hight, had mills, and made large
quantities of that excellent flour, that is getting to enjoy
its merited reputation even in the old world. He was dis
posed to form a partnership with Roswell, who sold his
property, and migrated to the great west, as the country
' west of the bridge' was then termed, though it is now
necessary to go a thousand miles farther, in order to reach
what is termed " the western country." Mary had an im
portant agency in bringing about this migration. She had
seen certain longings after the ocean, and seals, and whales,
in her husband ; and did not consider him safe, as long as
he could scent the odours of a salt marsh. There is a de
light iu this fragrance that none can appreciate as tho
roughly as those who have enjoyed it in youth ; it remains
as long as human senses retain their faculties. An
increasing family, however, and el dorado of the west,
which, in that day, produced wheat, were inducements for
a removal there, and, aided by Mary's gentle management,
produced the desired effect ; and for more thaa twenty years
Roswell Gardiner has been a very successful miller, on a


large scale, in one of the western counties of what is called
" the Empire State." We do not think the sobriquets of
this country very happy, in general, but shall quarrel less
with this, than with the phrase of " commercial emporium,"
which is much as if one should say " a townish town."

RoswSll Gardiner has never wavered in his faith, from
the time when his feelings were awakened by the just view
of his own insignificance, as compared to the power of
God ! He then learned the first, great lesson in religious
belief, that of humility ; without which no man can be truly
penitent, or truly a Christian. He no longer thought of
measuring the Deity with his narrow faculties, or of setting
up his blind conclusions, in the face of positive revelations.
He saw that all must be accepted, or none ; and there was
too much evidence, too much inherent truth, a morality
too divine, to allow a mind like his to reject the gospel
altogether. With Mary at his side, he has continued to
worship the Trinity, accepting its mysteries in an humble
reliance on the words of inspired men.




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