Nor that pure faith that gave it force, are there:
But he is blest, and I lament no more,
A wise good man, contented to be poor.
WE have already said that the customs of America leave the dead but a short time in sight of the mourners; and the necessity of providing for his own safety had compelled the pedler to abridge even this brief space. In the confusion and agitation produced by the events we have recorded, the death of the elder Birch had occurred unnoticed; but a sufficient number of the immediate neighbors were hastily collected, and the ordinary rites of sepulture were now about to be paid to the deceased. It was the approach of this humble procession that arrested the movements of the trooper and his comrade. Four men supported the body on a rude bier; and four others walked in advance, ready to relieve their friends from their burden. The pedler walked next the coffin, and by his side moved Katy Haynes, with a most determined aspect of woe, and next to the mourners came Mr. Wharton and the English captain. Two or three old men and women, with a few straggling boys, brought up the rear. Captain Lawton sat in his saddle, in rigid silence, until the bearers came opposite to his position, and then, for the first time, Harvey raised his eyes from the ground, and saw the enemy that he dreaded so near him. The first impulse of the pedler was certainly flight; but recovering his recollection, he fixed his eye on the coffin of his parent, and passed the dragoon with a firm step but swelling heart. The trooper slowly lifted his cap, and continued uncovered until Mr. Wharton and his son had moved by, when, accompanied by the surgeon, he rode leisurely in the rear, maintaining an inflexible silence.
Cæsar emerged from the cellar kitchen of the cottage, and with a face of settled solemnity, added himself to the number of the followers of the funeral, though with a humble mien and at a most respectful distance from the horsemen. The old negro had placed around his arm, a little above the elbow, a napkin of unsullied whiteness, it being the only time since his departure from the city that he had enjoyed an opportunity of exhibiting himself in the garniture of servile mourning. He was a great lover of propriety, and had been a little stimulated to this display by a desire to show his sable friend from Georgia all the decencies of a New York funeral; and the ebullition of his zeal went off very well, producing no other result than a mild lecture from Miss Peyton at his return, on the fitness of things. The attendance of the black was thought well enough in itself; but the napkin was deemed a superfluous exhibition of ceremony, at the funeral of a man who had performed all the menial offices in his own person.
The graveyard was an inclosure on the grounds of Mr. Wharton, which had been fenced with stone and set apart for the purpose, by that gentleman, some years before. It was not, however, intended as a burial-place for any of his own family. Until the fire, which raged as the British troops took possession of New York, had laid Trinity in ashes, a goodly gilded tablet on its walls proclaimed the virtues of his deceased parents, and beneath a flag of marble, in one of the aisles of the church, their bones were left to moulder in aristocratical repose. Captain Lawton made a movement as if he was disposed to follow the procession, when it left the highway, to enter the field which contained the graves of the humble dead, but he was recalled to recollection by a hint from his companion that he was taking the wrong road.
Of all the various methods which have been adopted by man for the disposal of his earthly remains, which do you prefer, Captain Lawton? said the surgeon, as they separated from the little procession: in some countries the body is exposed to be devoured by wild beasts; in others it is suspended in the air to exhale its substance in the manner of decomposition; in other regions it is consumed on the funeral pile, and, again, it is inhumed in the bowels of the earth; every people have their own particular fashion, and to which do you give the preference?
The last, as practiced by ourselves, for the other three are destructive of all the opportunities for dissection; whereas, in the last, the coffin can lie in peaceful decency, while the remains are made to subserve the useful purposes of science. Ah! Captain Lawton, I enjoy comparatively but few opportunities of such a nature, to what I expected on entering the army.
Within a dozen, upon my honor; my best picking is when the corps is detached; for when we are with the main army, there are so many boys to be satisfied, that I seldom get a good subject. Those youngsters are as wasteful as prodigals, and as greedy as vultures.
Ah! Jack, returned the doctor, approaching the subject with great tenderness of manner, it is seldom I can do anything with your patients; you disfigure them woefully; believe me, John, when I tell you as a friend that your system is all wrong; you unnecessarily destroy life, and then you injure the body so that it is unfit for the only use that can be made of a dead man.
The trooper maintained a silence, which he thought would be the most probable means of preserving peace between them, and the surgeon, turning his head from taking a last look at the burial, as they rode around the foot of the hill that shut the valley from their sight, continued with a suppressed sigh
The petticoat doctor!she with the aurora borealis complexion, said the trooper, with a smile, that began to cause uneasiness to his companion; but the lady was not the gentlemans daughter, only his medico-petticoat attendant; and the Harvey, whose name was made to rime with every word in her song, is the renowned pedler spy.
The doctor muttered his dissatisfaction at any postponement of vengeance, but he was compelled to acquiesce, from a regard to his reputation for propriety; and they continued their ride to the quarters of the corps, engaged in various discussions concerning the welfare of the human body.
Birch supported the grave and collected manner that was thought becoming in a male mourner, on such occasions, and to Katy was left the part of exhibiting the tenderness of the softer sex. There are some people, whose feelings are of such nature that they cannot weep unless it be in proper company, and the spinster was a good deal addicted to this congregational virtue. After casting her eyes around the small assemblage, the housekeeper found the countenances of the few females, who were present, fixed on her in solemn expectation, and the effect was instantaneous; the maiden really wept, and she gained no inconsiderable sympathy, and some reputation for a tender heart, from the spectators. The muscles of the pedlers face were seen to move, and as the first clod of earth fell on the tenement of his father, sending up that dull, hollow sound that speaks so eloquently the mortality of man, his whole frame was for an instant convulsed. He bent his body down, as if in pain, his fingers worked while the hands hung lifeless by his side, and there was an expression in his countenance that seemed to announce a writhing of the soul; but it was not unresisted, and it was transient. He stood erect, drew a long breath, and looked around him with an elevated face, that even seemed to smile with a consciousness of having obtained the mastery. The grave was soon filled; a rough stone, placed at either extremity, marked its position, and the turf, whose faded vegetation was adapted to the fortunes of the deceased, covered the little hillock with the last office of seemliness. This office ended, the neighbors, who had officiously pressed forward to offer their services in performing their solemn duty, paused, and lifting their hats, stood looking towards the mourner, who now felt himself to be really alone in the world. Uncovering his head also, the pedler hesitated a moment, to gather energy, and spoke.
A solemn pause succeeded the customary address, and the group dispersed in silence, some few walking with the mourners back to their own habitation, but respectfully leaving them at its entrance. The pedler and Katy were followed into the building by one man, however, who was well known to the surrounding country by the significant term of a speculator. Katy saw him enter, with a heart that palpitated with dreadful forebodings, but Harvey civilly handed him a chair, and evidently was prepared for the visit.
The other took the paper, and conned its contents with a deliberation that proceeded partly from his caution, and partly from the unlucky circumstance of his education having been much neglected when a youth. The time occupied in this tedious examination was employed by Harvey in gathering together certain articles which he intended to include in the stores that were to leave the habitation with himself. Katy had already inquired of the pedler whether the deceased had left a will; and she saw the Bible placed in the bottom of a new pack, which she had made for his accommodation, with a most stoical indifference; but as the six silver spoons were laid carefully by its side, a sudden twinge of her conscience objected to such a palpable waste of property, and she broke silence.
Well, if you dont there s no occasion to make rash promises, even to yourself. One never knows what one may do, in such a case. I should like to know, of what use so many spoons can be to a single man: for my part, I think it is a duty for every man who is well provided, to have a wife and family to maintain.
At the time when Katy expressed this sentiment, the fortune of women in her class of life consisted of a cow, a bed, the labors of their own hands in the shape of divers pillow cases, blankets, and sheets, with, where fortune was unusually kind, a half-dozen silver spoons. The spinster herself had obtained all the other necessaries by her own industry and prudence, and it can easily be imagined that she saw the articles she had long counted her own vanish in the enormous pack, with a dissatisfaction that was in no degree diminished by the declaration that had preceded the act. Harvey, however, disregarded her opinions and feelings, and continued his employment of filling the pack, which soon grew to something like the ordinary size of the pedlers burden.
I m afraid it wont stand good in law. I know that two of the neighbors leave home to-morrow morning, to have the place entered for confistication; and if I should give forty pounds, and lose it all, t would be a dead pull-back to me.
They can only take my right, said the pedler: pay me two hundred dollars, and the house is yours: you are a well-known Whig, and you at least they wont trouble. As Harvey spoke, there was a strange bitterness of manner, mingled with the shrewd care he expressed concerning the sale of his property.
The pedler looked from the window, and saw with dismay that the evening was fast advancing, and knew well that he endangered his life by remaining in the dwelling after dark; yet he could not tolerate the idea of being defrauded in this manner, in a bargain that had already been fairly made; he hesitated.
Take it, Harvey, said Katy, who felt it impossible to resist a tender like the one before her; for the purchase-money was in English guineas. Her voice roused the pedler, and a new idea seemed to strike him.
I agree to the price, he said; and, turning to the spinster, he placed part of the money in her hand, as he continued, had I other means to pay you, I would have lost all, rather than have suffered myself to be defrauded of part.
The pedler was busied in making arrangements for his departure, and he took no notice of this insinuation, while the spinster returned again to the attack. She had lived so many years in expectation of a termination to her hopes, so different from that which now seemed likely to occur, that the idea of separation began to give her more uneasiness than she had thought herself capable of feeling, about a man so destitute and friendless.
I m sure I m anything but a difficult body, cried the spinster, very hastily; but I love to see things becoming, and in their places; yet I would nt be hard to persuade to leave this place myself. I cant say I altogether like the ways of the people hereabouts.
The valley is lovely, said the pedler, with fervor, and the people like all the race of man. But to me it matters nothing; all places are now alike, and all faces equally strange; as he spoke he dropped the article he was packing from his hand, and seated himself on a chest, with a look of vacant misery.
Birch turned his eyes slowly on her countenance, which exhibited more of feeling, and less of self, than he had ever seen there before; he took her hand kindly, and his own features lost some of their painful expression, as he said,
That I will; that I would! said Katy, eagerly; I will defend you, Harvey, to the last drop; let me hear them that dare to revile you! you say true, Harvey, I am partial and just to you; what if you do like the king? I have often heard it said he was at the bottom a good man; but there s no religion in the old country, for everybody allows the ministers are desperate bad!
While my father lived, murmured Harvey, unable to smother his feelings, there was one who read my heart; and oh! what a consolation to return from my secret marches of danger, and the insults and wrongs that I suffered, to receive his blessing and his praise; but he is gone, he continued, stopping and gazing wildly towards the corner that used to hold the figure of his parent, and who is there to do me justice?
The ebullition of feeling in the pedler was over. It had been excited by the events of the past day, and a vivid perception of his sufferings. It was not long, however, that passion maintained an ascendency ever the reason of this singular man; and perceiving that the night had already thrown an obscurity around objects without doors, he hastily threw his pack over his shoulders, and taking Katy kindly by the hand, in leave-taking,
It is painful to part with even you, good woman, he said, but the hour has come, and I must go. What is left in the house is yours; to me it could be of no use, and it may serve to make you more comfortable. Farewellwe shall meet hereafter.
Have you not done evil enough? cried the pedler, regaining his firmness, and springing on his feet with energy; is it not enough to harass the last moments of a dying manto impoverish me; what more would you have?
She may do what she pleases with her faith, said the Skinner, with malignant pleasure; but I have the money in good keeping; as for you, Mr. Birch, we will bear your insolence, for the fifty guineas that are to pay for your gallows.
I can do better than by marching so far in such disgraceful company; this Mr. Dunwoodie has let one or two Tories go at large; but the troop of Captain Lawton is quartered some half mile nearer, and his receipt will get me the reward as soon as his majors; how relish you the idea of supping with Captain Lawton, this evening, Mr. Birch?
Your bribe was not enough, good woman, unless there is money in this bed: thrusting his bayonet through the ticking, and ripping it for some distance, he took a malicious satisfaction in scattering its contents about the room.
A figure stood in the shadow of the door, as if afraid to be seen in the group of Skinners; but a blaze of light, raised by some articles thrown in the fire by his persecutors, showed the pedler the face of the purchaser of his little domain. Occasionally there was some whispering between this man and the Skinner nearest him, that induced Harvey to suspect he had been the dupe of a contrivance in which that wretch had participated. It was, however, too late to repine; and he followed the party from the house with a firm and collected tread, as if marching to a triumph, and not to a gallows. In passing through the yard, the leader of the band fell over a billet of wood, and received a momentary hurt from the fall: exasperated at the incident, the fellow sprang on his feet, filling the air with execrations.
And see the farther, said the other, hurling the brand in the midst of the combustibles. In an instant the building was in flames. Come on; let us move towards the heights while we have light to pick our road.
T would be wise to move more from the light, if you mean to entertain us with abuse, or we may see too well to miss our mark, cried the leader of the gang. The next instant he was as good as his threat, but happily missed the terrified speculator and equally appalled spinster, who saw herself again reduced from comparative wealth to poverty, by the blow. Prudence dictated to the pair a speedy retreat; and the next morning, the only remains of the dwelling of the pedler was the huge chimney we have already mentioned.