Excerpts from A New Home, Who’ll Follow?
I am glad to be told by those who live in the world, that it has lately become fashionable to read prefaces. I wished to say a few words, by way of introduction, to a work which may be deemed too slight to need a pre face, but which will doubtless be acknowledged to re quire some recommendation.
I claim for these straggling and cloudy crayon sketches of life and manners in the remoter parts of Michigan, the merit of general truth of outline. Beyond this I ven ture not to aspire. I felt somewhat tempted to set forth my little book as being entirely,what it is very nearly —a veritable history ; an unimpeachable transcript of reality ; a rough picture, in detached parts, but pentagraphed from the life ; a sort of ‘ Emigrant’s Guide ;’—considering with myself that these my adventurous journeyings and tarryings beyond the confines of civilization, might fairly be held to confer the traveller’s privilege. But conscience prevailed, and I must honestly confess, that there be glosses, and colorings, and lights, if not shadows, for which the author is alone accountable. Journals pub lished entire and unaltered, should be Parthian darts, sent abroad only when one’s back is turned. To throw them in the teeth of one’s every-day associates might diminish one’s popularity rather inconveniently. I would desire the courteous reader to bear in mind, however, that whatever is quite unnatural, or absolutely incredible, in the few incidents which diversify the following pages, is to be received as literally true. It is only in the most common-place parts(if there be comparisons) that I have any leasing-making to answer for.
It will of course be observed that Miss Mitford’s charm ing sketches of village life must have suggested the form of my rude attempt. I dare not flatter myself that any one will be led to accuse me of further imitation of a deservedly popular writer. And with such brief salvo, I make my humble curtsey. m. o.
No traces of man’s pomp and pride ; no silks
Rustle, nor jewels shine, nor envious eyes
Encounter. * * * * *
Oh, there is not lost
One of earth’s charms; upon her bosom yet
After the flight of untold centuries
The freshness of her far beginning lies.
Our friends in the ‘ settlements ‘ have expressed so much interest in such of our letters to them, as happened to con vey any account of the peculiar features of western life, and have asked so many questions, touching particulars which we had not thought worthy of mention, that I have been for some time past contemplating the possibility of some thing like a detailed account of our experiences. And I have determined to give them to the world, in a form not very different from that in which they were originally recorded for our private delectation ; nothing doubting, that a veracious history of actual occurrences, an unvarnished transcript of real characters, and an impartial record of every-day forms of speech (taken down in many cases from the lips of the speaker) will be pronounced ‘ graphic ‘ by at least a fair proportion of the journalists of the day.
It is true there are but meagre materials for anything which might be called a story. I have never seen a cougar— nor been bitten by a rattlesnake. The reader who has patience to go with me to the close of my desultory sketches, must expect nothing beyond a meandering recital of common-place occurrences —mere gossip about every -day people, little enhanced in value by any fancy or inge nuity of the writer ; in short, a very ordinary pen-drawing ; which, deriving no interest from coloring, can be valuable only for its truth.
A home on the outskirts of civilization—habits of society which allow the maid and her mistress to do the honors in complete equality, and to make the social tea visit in loving conjunction —such a distribution of the duties of life as compels all, without distinction, to rise with the sun or before him—to breakfast with the chickens—then,
‘ Count the slow clock and dine exact at noon’ —
to be ready for tea at four, and for bed at eight—may certainly be expected to furnish some curious particulars for the consideration of those whose daily course almost reverses this primitive arrangement —who ‘ call night day and day night,’ and who are apt occasionally to forget, when speak ing of a particular class, that ‘ those creatures ‘ are partakers with themselves of a common nature.
I can only wish, like other modest chroniclers, my respected prototypes, that so fertile a theme had fallen into worthier hands. If Miss Mitford, who has given us such charming glimpses of Aberleigh, Hilton Cross and the Loddon, had by some happy chance been translated to Michigan, what would she not have made of such materials as Tinkerville, Montacute, and the Turnip ?
When my husband purchased two hundred acres of wildland on the banks of this to-be-celebrated stream, and drew with a piece of chalk on the bar-room table at Danforth’s the plan of a village, I little thought I was destined to make myself famous by handing down to posterity a faithful record of the advancing fortunes of that favored spot.
‘ The madness of the people ‘ in those days of golden dreams took more commonly the form of city-building ; but there were a few who contented themselves with plan ning villages, on the banks of streams which certainly never could be expected to bear navies, but which might yet be turned to account in the more homely way of grinding or sawing—operations which must necessarily be performed somewhere for the well-being of those very cities. It is of one of these humble attempts that it is my lot to speak, and I make my confession at the outset, warning any fashion able reader who may have taken up my book, that I intend to be ‘ decidedly low.’
Whether the purchaser of our village would have been moderate under all possible circumstances, I am not prepared to say, since, never having enjoyed a situation under govern ment, his resources have not been unlimited ; and for this reason any remark which may be hazarded in the course of these my lucubrations touching the more magnificent plans of wealthier aspirants, must be received with some grains of allowance. ‘ II est plus aise d’etre sage pour les autres, que de l’etre pour soi-meme.’
When I made my first visit to these remote and lonely regions, the scattered woods through which we rode for many miles were gay in their first gosling-green suit of half-opened leaves, and the forest odors which exhaled with the dews of morning and evening, were beyond measure delicious to one ‘ long in populous cities pent.’ I desired much to be a little sentimental at the time, and feel tempted to indulge to some small extent even here —but I forbear ; and shall adhere closely to matters more in keep ing with my subject.
I think, to be precise, the time was the last, the very last of April, and I recollect well that even at that early season, by availing myself with sedulous application, of those times when I was fain to quit the vehicle through fear of the perilous mud-holes, or still more perilous half-bridged marshes, I picked upwards of twenty varieties of wildflowers— some of them of rare and delicate beauty ;—and sure I am, that if I had succeeded in inspiring my compa nion with one spark of my own floral enthusiasm, one hundred miles of travel would have occupied a week’s time.
The wild-flowers of Michigan deserve a poet of their own. Shelley who sang so quaintly of ‘ the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall,’ would have found many a fanciful compari son and deep-drawn meaning for the thousand gems of the road-side. Charles Lamb could have written charming volumes about the humblest among them. Bulwer would find means to associate the common three-leaved white lily so closely with the Past, the Present, and the Future —the Wind, the Stars, and the tripod of Delphos, that all future botanists, and eke all future philosophers, might fail to unravel the ‘ linked sweetness.’ We must have a poet of our own.
Since I have casually alluded to a Michigan mud-hole, I may as well enter into a detailed memoir on the subject, for the benefit of future travellers, who, flying over the soil on rail-roads, may look slightingly back upon the achievements of their predecessors. In the ‘ settlements,’ a mud-hole is considered as apt to occasion an unpleasant jolt—a breaking of the thread of one’s reverie—or in extreme cases, a temporary stand-still, or even an overturn of the rash and unwary. Here, on approaching one of these characteristic features of the ‘ West ‘—(how much does that expression mean to include ? I never been able to discover its limits) —the driver stops —alights—walks up to the dark gulf—and around it if he can get round it. He then seeks a long pole and sounds it, measures it across to ascertain how its width compares with the length of his wagon—tries whether its sides are perpendicular, as is usually the case if the road is much used. If he find it not more than three feet deep, he remounts cheerily, encourages his team, and in they go, with a plunge and a shock rather apt to damp the courage of the inexperienced. If the hole be narrow the hinder wheels will be quite lifted off the ground by the depression of their precedents, and so remain until by un wearied chirruping and some judicious touches of ‘ the string ‘ the horses are induced to struggle as for their lives ; and if the Fates are propitious they generally emerge on the opposite side, dragging the vehicle, or at least the forewheels, after them. When I first ‘ penetrated the interior,’ (to use an indigenous phrase) all I knew of the wilds was from Hoffman’s tour or Captain Hall’s ‘ graphic ‘ deline ations: I had some floating idea of ‘ driving a barouche-andfour any where through the oak-openings ‘—and seeing ‘ the murdered Banquos of the forest ‘ haunting the scenes of their departed strength and beauty. But I confess, these pictures, touched by the glowing pencil of fancy, gave me but incorrect notions of a real journey through Michigan.
Our vehicle was not perhaps very judiciously chosen —at least we have since thought so. It was a light, high-hung carriage—of the description commonly known as a buggy or shandrydan —names of which I would be glad to learn the etymology. I seriously advise any of my friends who are about flitting to Wisconsin or Oregon, to prefer a heavy lumber wagon, even for the use of the ladies of the family ; very little aid or consolation being derived from making a ‘ genteel ‘ appearance in such cases.
At the first encounter of such a mud-hole as I have attempted to describe, we stopped in utter despair. My companion indeed would fain have persuaded me that the many wheel tracks which passed through the formidable gulf were proof positive that it might be forded. I insisted with all a woman’s obstinacy that I could not and would not make the attempt, and alighted accordingly, and tried to find a path on one side or the other. But in vain, even putting out of the question my paper-soled shoes —sensible things for the woods. The ditch on each side was filled with water and quite too wide to jump over ; and we were actually contemplating a return, when a man in an immense bear-skin cap and a suit of deer’s hide, sprang from behind a stump just within the edge of the forest. He ‘ poled ‘ himself over the ditch in a moment, and stood beside us, rifle in hand, as wild and rough a specimen of humanity as one would wish to encounter in a strange and lonely road, just at the shadowy dusk of the evening. I did not scream, though I own I was prodigiously frightened. But our stranger said immediately, in a gentle tone and with a French accent, ‘ Me watch deer —you want to cross ?’ On receiving an answer in the affirmative, he ran in search of a rail which he threw over the terrific mud-hole —aided me to walk across by the help of his pole —showed my husband where to plunge—waited till he had gone safely through and ‘ slow circles dimpled o’er the quaking mud ‘—then took himself off by the way he came, declining any compensation with a most polite ‘ rien ! rien !’ This instance of true and genuine and generous politeness I record for the benefit of all bearskin caps, leathern jerkins and cowhide boots, which ladies from the eastward world may hereafter encounter in Michigan.
Our journey was marked by no incident more alarming than the one I have related, though one night passed in a wretched inn, deep in the ‘ timbered land ‘—as all woods are called in Michigan —was not without its terrors, owing to the horrible drunkenness of the master of the house, whose wife and children were in constant fear of their lives, from his insane fury. I can never forget the countenance of that desolate woman, sitting trembling and with white, compressed lips in the midst of her children. The father raving all night, and coming through our sleeping apart ment with the earliest ray of morning, in search of more of the poison already boiling in his veins. The poor wife could not forbear telling me her story —her change of lot— from a well-stored and comfortable home in Connecticut to this wretched den in the wilderness —herself and children worn almost to shadows with the ague, and her husband such as I have described him. I may mention here, that not very long after, I heard of this man in prison in Detroit, for stabbing a neighbor in a drunken brawl, and ere the year was out he died of delirium tremens, leaving his family destitute. So much for turning our fields of golden grain into ‘ fire water ‘— a branch of business in which Michigan is fast improving.
Our ride being a deliberate one, I felt, after the third day, a little wearied, and began to complain of the sameness of the oak openings, and to wish we were fairly at our journey’s end. We were crossing a broad expanse of what seemed at a little distance a smooth shaven lawn of the most brilliant green, but which proved on trial little better than a quaking bog—embracing within its ridgy circum ference all possible varieties of
‘Muirs and mosses, slaps and styles’—
I had just indulged in something like a yawn, and wished that I could see our hotel. At the word, my companion’s face assumed rather a comical expression, and I was pre paring to inquire somewhat testily what there was so laughable—I was getting tired and cross, reader — when down came our good horse to the very chin in a bog-hole, green as Erin on the top, but giving way on a touch, and seeming deep enough to have engulfed us entirely, if its width had been proportionate. Down came the horse — and this was not all—down came the driver ; and I could not do less than follow, though at a little distance —our good steed kicking and floundering—covering us with hieroglyphics, which would be readily decyphered by any Wolverine we should meet, though perchance strange to the eyes of our friends at home. This mishap was soon amended. Tufts of long marsh grass served to assoilize our habiliments a little, and a clear stream which rippled through the marsh aided in removing the eclipse from our faces. We journeyed on cheerily, watching the splendid changes in the west, but keeping a bright look- out for bogholes.
Think us no churls, nor measure our good minds
By this rude place we live in.
The sun had just set when we stopped at the tavern, and I then read the cause of my companion’s quizzical look. My Hotel was a log-house of diminutive size, with cor responding appurtenances ; and from the moment we entered its door I was in a fidget to know where we could possibly sleep. I was then new in Michigan. Our good hostess rose at once with a nod of welcome.
‘ Well ! is this Miss Clavers ?’ (my husband had been there before)—’ well ! I want to know ! why do tell if you have been upsot in the mash ? why I want to know !—and did n’t ye hurt ye none ? Come, gals! fly round, and let ‘s git some supper.’
‘ But you ’11 not be able to lodge us, Mrs. Danforth,’ said I, glancing at three young men and some boys, who appeared to have come in from their work, and who were lounging on one side of the immense open chimney. ‘
Why, bless your heart ! yes I shall ; don’t you fret yourself ;I ’11 give you as good a bed as anybody need want.’
I cast an exploring look, and now discovered a door opposite the fire.
Jist step in here,’ said Mrs. Danforth, opening this door, ‘jist come in, and take off your things, and lop down, if you ‘re a mind to, while we ‘re a getting supper.’
I followed her into the room, if room it might be called, a strip partitioned off, just six feet wide, so that a bed was accurately fitted in at each end, and a square space remained vacant between the two. ‘
We ‘ve been getting this room made lately, and I tell you it ‘s real nice, so private like !’ said our hostess, with a complacent air. ‘ Here,’ she continued, ‘ in this bed the gals sleeps, and that ‘s my bed and the old man’s ; and then here ‘s a trundle-bed for Sally and Jane,’ and suiting the action to the word, she drew out the trundle-bed as far as our standing-place would allow, to show me how con venient it was.
Here was my grand problem still unsolved ! If ‘ me and the old man,’ and the girls, and Sally and Jane, slept in this strip, there certainly could be no room for more, and I thought with dismay of the low-browed roof, which had seemed to me to rest on the tops of the window-frames. And, to make a long story short, though manifold were the runnings up and down, and close the whisperings before all was ready, I was at length ushered up a steep and narrow stick ladder into the sleeping apartment. Here, surrounded by beds of all sizes spread on the floor, was a bedstead, placed under the peak of the roof, in order to gain space for its height , and round this state-bed, for such it evidently was, although not supplied with pillows at each end, all the men and boys I had seen below stairs, were to repose. Sundry old quilts were fastened by forks to the rafters in such a way as to serve as a partial screen, and with this I was obliged to be content. Excessive fatigue is not fastidious. I called to mind some canal-boat experiences, and resigned myself to the ‘ honey-heavy dew of slumber.’
I awoke with a sense of suffocation —started up—all was dark as the Hall of Eblis. I called ; no answer came ; I shrieked ! and up ran one of the * gals.’
‘ What on airth ‘s the matter ?’
‘ Where am I ? What ails me ?’ said I, beginning to feel a little awkward when I heard the damsel’s voice.
‘ Why, I guess you was scairt, wa’n’t ye ?’ ‘ Why am I in the dark ? Is it morning ?’
‘ Morning ? why, the boys has been gone away this hour, and, you see, there ain’t no winder up here, but I ’11 take down this here quilt, and then I guess you ’11 be able to see some.’
She did so, and I began to discern
‘A faint shadow of uncertain light,’
which, after my eyes had become somewhat accustomed to it, served very well to dress by.
Upon descending the ladder, I found our breakfast pre pared on a very neat-looking table, and Mrs. Danforth with her clean apron on, ready to do the honors.
Seeing me looking round with inquiring eye, she said, ‘ O, you ‘m lookin’ for a wash-dish, a’n’t ye!’ and forth with put some water into a little iron skillet, and carried it out to a bench which stood under the eaves, where I performed my very limited ablutions al fresco, not at all pleased with this part of country habits.
I bethought me of a story I had heard before we crossed the line, of a gentleman travelling in Michigan, who instead of a’wash-dish,’ was directed to the spring, and when he requested a towel received for answer —’why, I should think you had a hankercher.’
After breakfast, I expressed a wish to accompany Mr. Clavers to the village tract; but he thought a very bad marsh would make the ride unpleasant.
‘ Lord bless ye !’ said Mr. Danforth, ‘ that mash has got a real handsome bridge over it since you was here last.’
So we set out in the buggy and rode several miles through an alternation of open glades with fine walnut trees scattered over them, and ‘ bosky dells ‘ fragrant as ‘ Araby the blest ‘ at that delicious hour, when the dews filled the air with the scent of the bursting leaves.
By-and-by we came to the ‘ beautiful bridge,’ a newlylaid causeway of large round logs, with a slough of despond to be crossed in order to reach it. I would not consent to turn back, however, and in we went, the buggy standing it most commendably. When we reached the first log our poor Rozinante stopped in utter despair, and some persuasion was necessary to induce him to rear high enough to place his fore-feet upon the bridge , and when he accomplished this feat, and after a rest essayed to make the buggy rear too, it was neck or nothing. Yet up we went, and then came the severe part of the achievement, a ‘ beau tiful bridge ‘ half a mile long !
Half a rod was enough for me , I cried for quarter, and was permitted to pick my way over its slippery eminences, to the utter annihilation of a pair of Lane’s shoes.
Offer me no money, I pray you ; that kills my heart. • • •
Will you buy any tape
Or lace for your cape,
My dainty duck, my dear-a?
Any silk, any thread,
Any toys for your head,
Of the newest and finest wear-a f
Shakspeare —Winter’s Tale.
Our return to Detroit was accomplished without any serious accident, although we were once overturned in con sequence of my enthusiastic admiration of a tuft of splendid flowers in a marsh which we were crossing by the usual bridge of poles, or corduroy as it is here termed.
While our eyes were fixed upon it, and I was secretly determining not to go on without it, our sober steed, seeing a small stream at a little distance on one side, quietly walked towards it, and our attention was withdrawn from the contemplation of the object of my wishes by finding ourselves spilt into the marsh, and the buggy reposing on its side, while the innocent cause of the mischief was fairly planted, fetlock deep, in the tenacious black mud: I say the innocent cause, for who ever expected any proofs of education from a livery-stable beast?—and such was our brown friend.
‘Twere vain to tell how I sat on the high bog, (the large tufted masses in a marsh are so called in Michigan,) which had fortunately received me in falling, and laughed till I cried to see my companion hunting for his spectacles, and D’Orsay (whom I ought sooner to have introduced to my reader) looking on with a face of most evident wonder. D’Orsay, my beautiful greyhound, was our compagnon de voyage, and had caused us much annoyance by his erratic propensities, so we were obliged to tie him in the back part of the buggy, and then watch very closely that he did not free himself of his bonds.
Just at this moment a pedestrian traveller, a hardfeatured, yellow-haired son of New-England, came up, with a tin trunk in his hand, and a small pack or knapsack strapped on his shoulders.
‘ Well ! I swan !’ said he with a grim smile, ‘ I never see any thing slicker than that ! Why, you went over jist as easy ! You was goin’ to try if the mash would n’t be softer ridin’, I s’pose.’
Mr. Clavers disclaimed any intention of quitting the causeway, and pointed to my unfortunate pyramid of pale pink blossoms as the cause of our disaster.
‘ What ! them posies ? Why, now, to my thinking, a good big double marygold is as far before them pink lilies as can be : but I ‘ 11 see Iif can’t get ’em for you if you want ’em.’ By this time, the carriage was again in travelling trim, and D’Orsay tolerably resigned to his imprisoned state. The flowers were procured, and most delicately beautiful and fragrant they were.
Mr. Clavers offered guerdon,—remuneration, —but our oriental friend seemed shy of accepting anything of the sort.
‘ If you ‘ve a mind to trade, I ‘ve got a lot o’ notions I ‘d like to sell you,’ said he.
So my travelling basket was crammed with essences, pins, brass thimbles, and balls of cotton ; while Mr. Clavers possessed himself of a valuable outfit of pocket combs, suspenders and cotton handkerchiefs —an assortment which made us very popular on that road for some time after.
We reached the city in due time, and found our hotel crowded to suffocation. The western fever was then at its height, and each day brought its thousands to Detroit. Every tavern of every calibre was as well filled as ours, and happy he who could find a bed anywhere. Fifty cents was the price of six feet by two of the bar-room floor, and these choice lodgings were sometimes disposed of by the first served at ‘ thirty per cent, advance.’ The country inns were thronged in proportion ; and your horse’s hay cost you no where less than a dollar per diem ; while, throughout the whole territory west of Detroit, the only masticable articles set before the thousands of hungry travellers were salt ham and bread, for which you had the satisfaction of paying like a prince.
Mrs. Hardcastle. I wish we were at home again. I never met so many
accidents in so short a journey. Drenched in the mud, overturned in the
ditch, jolted to a jelly, and at last to lose our way.
Shi Stoops to Conquer.
At length came the joyful news that our moveables had arrived in port ; and provision was at once made for their transportation to the banks of the Turnip. But many and dire were the vexatious delays, thrust by the cruel Fates between us and the accomplishment of our plan ; and it was not till after the lapse of several days that the most needful articles were selected and bestowed in a large wagon which was to pioneer the grand body. In this wagon had been reserved a seat for myself, since I had far too great an affection for my chairs and tables, to omit being present at their debarcation at Montacute, in order to ensure their undisturbed possession of the usual complement of legs. And there were the children to be packed this time, —little roley-poley things, whom it would have been in vain to have marked, ‘ this side up,’ like the rest of the baggage.
A convenient space must be contrived for my plants, among which were two or three tall geraniums and an enormous calla ethiopica. Then D’Orsay must be accom modated, of course ; and, to crown all, a large basket of live fowls ; for we had been told that there were none to be purchased in the vicinity of Montacute. Besides these, there were all our travelling trunks ; and an enor mous square box crammed with articles which we then in our greenness considered indispensable. We have since learned better.
After this enumeration, which yet is only partial, it will not seem strange that the guide and director of our omnibus was to ride
‘On horseback after we.’
He acted as a sort of adjutant —galloping forward to spy out the way, or provide accommodations for the troop — pacing close to the wheels to modify our arrangements, to console one of the imps who had bumped his pate, or to give D’Orsay a gentle hint with the riding-whip when he made demonstrations of mutiny—and occasionally falling behind to pick up a stray handkerchief or parasol.
The roads near Detroit were inexpressibly bad. Many were the chances against our toppling load’s preserving its equilibrium. To our inexperience the risks seemed nothing less than tremendous—but the driver so often reiterated, ‘ that a’n’t nothin’,’ in reply to our despairing exclamations, and, what was better, so constantly proved his words by passing the most frightful inequalities (Michiganice, ‘ sidlings ‘) in safety, that we soon became more confident, and ventured to think of something else besides the ruts and mud-holes.
Our stopping-places after the first day were of the ordi nary new country class —the very coarsest accommoda tions by night and by day, and all at the dearest rate. When every body is buying land and scarce anybody cultivating it, one must not expect to find living either good or cheap : but, I confess, I was surprised at the dearth of comforts which we observed everywhere.
Neither milk, eggs, nor vegetables were to be had, and those who could not live on hard salt ham, stewed dried apples, and bread raised with ‘ salt risin,’ would neces sarily run some risk of starvation.
One word as to this and similar modes of making bread, so much practised throughout this country. It is my opinion that the sin of bewitching snow-white flour by means of either of those abominations, ‘ salt risin,’ ‘ milk emptins,’ ‘ bran east,’ or any of their odious compounds, ought to be classed with the turning of grain into whis key, and both made indictable offences. To those who know of no other means of producing the requisite spon giness in bread than the wholesome hop-yeast of the brewer, I may be allowed to explain the mode to which I have alluded with such hearty reprobation. Here follows the recipe :—
To make milk emptin’s. Take quantum suf. of good sweet milk—add a teaspoonful of salt, and some water, and set the mixture in a warm place till it ferments, then mix your bread with it ; and if you are lucky enough to catch it just in the right moment before the fermentation reaches the putrescent stage, you may make tolerably good rolls, but if you are five minutes too late, you will have to open your doors and windows while your bread is baking. — Verbum sap.
‘ Salt risin ” is made with water slightly salted and fer mented like the other ; and becomes putrid rather sooner ; and ‘ bran east ‘ is on the same plan. The consequences of letting these mixtures stand too long will become known to those whom it may concern, when they shall travel through the remoter parts of Michigan ; so I shall not dwell upon them here —but I offer my counsel to such of my friends as may be removing westward, to bring with them some form of portable yeast (the old fashioned dried cakes which mothers and aunts can furnish, are as good as any) —and also full instructions for perpetuating the same ; and to plant hops as soon as they get a corner to plant them in.
‘And may they better reck the rede,
Than ever did th’ adviser.’
The last two days of our slow journey were agreeably diversified with sudden and heavy showers, and intervals of overpowering sunshine. The weather had all the change fulness of April, with the torrid heat of July. Scarcely would we find shelter from the rain which had drenched us completely —when the sunshine would tempt us forth ; and by the time all the outward gear was dried, and matters in readiness for a continuation of our progress, another threat ening cloud would drive us back, though it never really rained till we started.
We had taken a newly-opened and somewhat lonely route this time, in deference to the opinion of those who ought to have known better, that this road from having been less travelled would not be quite so deep as the other. As we went farther into the wilderness, the difficulties increased. The road had been but little ‘worked,’ (the expression in such cases,) and in some parts was almost in a state of nature. Where it wound round the edge of a marsh, where in future times there will be a bridge or drain, the wheels on one side would be on the dry ground, while the others were sinking in the long wet grass of the marsh —and in such places it was impossible to discern inequalities which yet might overturn us in an instant. In one case of this sort we were obliged to dismount the ‘ live lumber ‘—as the man who helped us through phrased it, and let the loaded wagon pass on, while we followed in an empty one which was fortunately at hand—and it was, in my eyes, little short of a miracle that our skilful friend succeeded in piloting safely the top-heavy thing which seemed thrown completely off its centre half a dozen times.
At length we came to a dead stand. Our driver had received special cautions as to a certain mash that ‘ lay between us and our home ‘—to ‘ keep to the right ‘—to ‘ follow the travel ‘ to a particular point, and then ‘ turn up stream :’ but whether the very minuteness and reiteration of the directions had puzzled him, as is often the case, or whether his good genius had for once forsaken him, I know not. We had passed the deep centre of the miry slough, when by some unlucky hair’s breadth swerving, in went our best horse— our sorrel—our ‘ Prince,’ —the ‘ off haus,’ whose value had been speered three several times since we left Detroit, with magnificent offers of a ‘ swop !’ The noble fellow, unlike the tame beasties that are used to such occur rences, showed his good blood by kicking and plunging, which only made his case more desperate. A few moments more would have left us with a ‘ single team,’ when his master succeeded in cutting the traces with his penknife. Once freed, Prince soon made his way out of the bog-hole and pranced off, far up the green swelling hill which lay before us—out of sight in an instant—and there we sat in the marsh.
There is but one resource in such cases. You must mount your remaining horse, if you have one, and ride on till you find a farmer and one, two, or three pairs of oxen —and all this accomplished, you may generally hope for a release in time.
The interval seemed a leetle tedious, I confess. To sit for three mortal hours in an open wagon, under a hot sun, in the midst of a swamp, is not pleasant. The expanse of inky mud which spread around us, was hopeless, as to any attempt at getting ashore. I crept cautiously down the tongue, and tried one or two of the tempting green tufts, which looked as if they might afford foothold ; but alas ! they sank under the slightest pressure. So I was fain to regain my low chair, with its abundant cushions, and lose myself in a book. The children thought it fine fun for a little while, but then they began to want a drink. I never knew children who did not, when there was no water to be had.
There ran through the very midst of all this black pud ding, as clear a stream as ever rippled, and the wagon stood almost in it !—but how to get at it ? The basket which had contained, when we left the city, a store of cakes and oranges, which the children thought inexhaustible, held now, nothing but the napkins, which had enveloped those departed joys, and those napkins, suspended corner- wise, and soaked long and often in the crystal water, served for business and pleasure, till papa came back.
‘ They ‘re coming ! They ‘re coming !’ was the cry, and with the word, over went Miss Alice, who had been reach ing as far as she could, trying how large a proportion of her napkin she could let float on the water.
Oh, the shrieks and the exclamations ! how hard papa rode, and how hard mamma scolded ! but the little witch got no harm beyond a thorough wetting, and a few streaks of black mud, and felt herself a heroine for the rest of the day.
Down with the topmast; yare; lower, lower; bring her to try with maincourse.
When Angeline left me, which she did after a few days, I was obliged to employ Mrs. Jennings to ‘ chore round,’ to borrow her own expression ; and as Mr. Clavers was absent much of the time, I had the full enjoyment of her delectable society with that of her husband and two chil dren, who often came to meals very sociably, and made themselves at home with small urgency on my part. The good lady’s habits required strong green tea at least three times a day ; and between these three times she drank the remains of the tea from the spout of the tea-pot, saying ‘ it tasted better so.’ ‘ If she had n’t it,’ she said, ‘ she had the ‘sterics so that she was n’t able to do a chore.’ And her habits were equally imperious in the matter of dipping with her own spoon or knife into every dish on the table. She would have made out nobly on kibaubs, for even that unwieldly morsel, a boiled ham, she grasped by the hock and cut off in mouthfuls with her knife, declining all aid from the carver, and saying coolly that she made out very well. It was in vain one offered her anything, she replied invariably with a dignified nod, ‘ I ’11 help myself, I thank ye. I never want no waitin on.’ And this reply is the universal one on such occasions, as I have since had vexa tious occasion to observe.
Let no one read with an incredulous shake of the head, but rather let my sketch of these peculiar habits of my neighbors be considered as a mere beginning, a shadow of what might be told. I might
The very faculty of eyes and ears,’
but I forbear.
If ‘ grandeur hear with a disdainful smile ‘—thinking it would be far better to starve than to eat under such circumstances, I can only say such was not my hungry view of the case ; and that I often found rather amusing exercise for my ingenuity in contriving excuses and plans to get the old lady to enjoy her meals alone. To have offered her outright a separate table, though the board should groan with all the delicacies of the city, would have been to secure myself the unenviable privilege of doing my own ‘ chores,’ at least till I could procure a ‘ help ‘ from some distance beyond the reach of my friend Mrs. Jennings’ tongue.
It did not require a very long residence in Michigan, to convince me that it is unwise to attempt to stem directly the current of society, even in the wilderness, but I have since learned many ways of wearing round, which give me the opportunity of living very much after my own fashion, without offending, very seriously, any body’s prejudices.
No settlers are so uncomfortable as those who, coming with abundant means as they suppose, to be comfortable, set out with a determination to live as they have been accustomed to live. They soon find that there are places where the ‘ almighty dollar ‘ is almost powerless ; or rather that, powerful as it is, it meets with its conqueror in the jealous pride of those whose services must be had in order to live at all.
‘Luff when it blows,’ is a wise and necessary caution. Those who forget it and attempt to carry all sail set and to keep an unvarying course, blow which way it will, always abuse Michigan, and are abused in their turn. Several whom we have known to set out with this capital mistake have absolutely turned about again in despair, revenging themselves by telling very hard stories about us nor- ‘westers.
Touchstone’s philosophy is your only wear for this meridian.
Covin. And how like you this shepherd’s life, Master Touchstone?
Touch. Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself it is a good life ; but in respect it is a shepherd’s life, it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well ; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now, in respect that it is in the fields, it pleaseth mo well ; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my humor well ; but as there is no plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach. Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd ?
Nobody will quarrel with this view of things. You may say any thing you like of the country or its inhabitants ; but beware how you raise a suspicion that you despise the homely habits of those around you. This is never forgiven.
It would be in vain to pretend that this state of society can ever be agreeable to those who have been accus tomed to the more rational arrangements of the older world. The social character of meals, in particular, is quite destroyed, by the constant presence of strangers, whose manners, habits of thinking, and social connexions are quite different from your own, and often exceedingly repugnant to your taste. Granting the correctness of the opinion which may be read in their countenances that they are ‘ as good as you are,’ I must insist, that a greasy cook maid, or a redolent stable-boy, can never be, to my thinking, an agreeable table companion —putting pride, that most terrific bug-bear of the woods, out of the question.
If the best man now living should honor my humble roof with his presence —if he should happen to have an unfortunate penchant for eating out of the dishes, picking his teeth with his fork, or using the fire-place for a pocket handkerchief, I would prefer he should take his dinner solus or with those who did as he did.
But, I repeat it; those who find these inconveniences most annoying while all is new and strange to them, will by the exertion of a little patience and ingenuity, discover ways and means of getting aside of what is most un pleasant, in the habits of their neighbors ; and the silent influence of example is daily effecting much towards reformation in many particulars. Neatness, propriety, and that delicate forbearance of the least encroachment upon the rights or the enjoyments of others, which is the essence of true elegance of manner, have only to be seen and understood to be admired and imitated ; and I would fain persuade those who are groaning under certain inflictions to which I have but alluded, that the true way of overcoming all the evils of which they complain is to set forth in their own manners and habits, all that is kind, forbearing, true, lovely, and of good report. They will find ere long that their neighbors have taste enough to love what is so charming, even though they see it exemplified by one who sits all day in a carpeted parlor, teaches her own children instead of sending them to the district school, hates ‘ the breath of garlic-eaters,’ and — oh, fell climax ! — knows nothing at all of soap-making.
Art thou so confident? within what space
Hop’st thou my cure?
All’s well that ends will.
Mr. Clavers at length returned ; and the progress of the village, though materially retarded by the obliquities of Mr. Mazard’s course, was still not entirely at a stand. If our own operations were slow and doubtful, there were others whose building and improving went on at a rapid rate ; and before the close of summer, several small tenements were enclosed and rendered in some sort habit able. A store and a public house were to be ready for business in a very short time.
I had the pleasure of receiving early in the month of September, a visit from a young city friend, a charming lively girl, who unaffectedly enjoyed the pleasures of the country, and whose taste for long walks and rides was insa tiable. I curtained off with the unfailing cotton sheets a snow-white bower for her in the loft, and spread a piece of carpeting, a relic of former magnificence, over the loose boards that served for a floor. The foot square window was shaded by a pink curtain, and a bedside chair and a candlestand completed a sleeping apartment which she declared was perfectly delightful.
So smoothly flowed our days during that charming visit that I had begun to fear my fair guest would be obliged to return to without a single adventure worth telling, when one morning as we sat sewing, Arthur ran in with a prodigious snake story, to which, though we were at first disposed to pay no attention, we were at length obliged to listen.
‘ A most beautiful snake,’ he declared, ‘ was coming up to the back door.
‘ To the back door we ran ; and there, to be sure, was a large rattle-snake, or massasauga, lazily winding its course towards the house, Alice standing still to admire it, too ignorant to fear.
My young friend snatched up a long switch, whose ordi nary office was to warn the chickens from the dinner-table, and struck at the reptile, which was not three feet from the door. It reared its head at once, made several attempts to strike, or spring, as it is called here, though it never really springs. Fanny continued to strike ; and at length the snake turned for flight, not however without a battle of at least two minutes.
‘ Here’s the axe, cousin Fanny,’ said Arthur, ‘ do n’t let him run away !’ and while poor I stood in silent terror, the brave girl followed, struck once ineffectually, and with another blow divided the snake, whose writhings turned to the sun as many hues as the windings of Broadway on a spring morning—and Fanny was a heroine.
It is my opinion that next to having a cougar spring at one, the absolute killing of a rattlesnake is peculiarly appro priate to constitute a Michigan heroine ;—and the cream of my snake story is, that it might be sworn to, chapter and verse, before the nearest justice. What cougar story can say as much ? But the nobler part of the snake ran away with far more celerity than it had displayed while it ‘ could a tail unfold,’and we exalted the coda to a high station on the logs at the corner of the house —for fear none of the scornful sex would credit our prowess.
That snake absolutely haunted us for a day or two ; we felt sure that there were more near the house, and our ten days of happiness seemed cut short like those of Seged, and by a cause not very dissimilar. But the gloom consequent upon confining ourselves, children and all, to the house, in delicious weather, was too much for our prudence ; and we soon began to venture out a little, warily inspecting every nook, and harassing the poor children with incessant cautions.
We had been watching the wheelings and Sittings of a flock of prairie hens, which had alighted in Mr. Jenkins’s corn-field, turning ever and anon a delighted glance west ward at the masses of purple and crimson which make sunset so splendid in the region of the great lakes. I felt the dew, and warning all my companions, stepped into the house. I had reached the middle of the room, when I trod full upon something soft, which eluded my foot. I shrieked ‘ a snake ! a snake !’ and fell senseless on the floor.
When I recovered myself I was on the bed, and well sprinkled with camphor, that never-failing specific in the woods. ‘ Where is it ?’ said I, as soon as I could utter a word. There was a general smile. ‘ Why, mamma,’ said Alice, who was exalted to a place on the bed, ‘ don’t you recollect that great toad that always sits behind the flour-barrel in the corner?’
I did not repent my fainting, though it was not a snake, for if there is anything besides a snake that curdles the blood in my veins it is a toad. The harmless wretch was carried to a great distance from the house, but the next morning, there it sat again in the corner catching flies. I have been told by some persons here that they ‘ liked to have toads in the room in fly time.’ Truly it may be said, ‘ What’s one man’s meat ‘ Shade of Chesterfield, forgive me !—but that anybody can be willing to live with a toad ! To my thinking nothing but a toady can be more odious.
The next morning I awoke with a severe headache, and racking pains in every bone. Dame Jennings said it was the ‘ agur.’ I insisted that it could be nothing but the toad. The fair Fanny was obliged to leave us this day, or lose her escort home —a thing not to be risked in the wil derness. I thought I should get up to dinner, and in that hope bade her a gay farewell, with a charge to make the most of the snake story for the honor of the woods.
I did not get up to dinner, for the simple reason that I could not stand —and Mrs. Jennings consoled me by telling me every ten minutes, ‘ Why, you’ve got th’ agur ! woman alive ! Why, I know the fever-agur as well as I know beans ! It a’n’t nothing else.’
But no chills came. My pains and my fever became intense, and I knew but little about it after the first day, for there was an indistinctness about my perceptions, which almost, although not quite, amounted to delirium.
A physician was sent for, and we expected, of course, some village Galen, who knew just enough to bleed and blister, for all mortal ills. No such thing! A man of first-rate education, who had walked European hospitals, and who had mother-wit in abundance, to enable him to profit by his advantages. It is surprising how many such people one meets in Michigan. Some, indeed, we have been led to suppose, from some traits in their American history, might have ‘ left their country for their country’s good :’—others appear to have forsaken the old world, either in consequence of some temporary disgust, or through romantic notions of the liberty to be enjoyed in this favored land. I can at this moment call to mind, several among our ten-mile neighbors, who can boast university honors, either European or American, and who are reading men, even now. Yet one might pass any one of these gentlemen in the road without distinguishing between him and the Corydon who curries his horses, so complete is their outward transformation.
Our medical friend treated me very judiciously ; and by his skill, the severe attack of rheumatic fever, which my sunset and evening imprudences had been kindling in my veins, subsided after a week, into a daily ague ; but Mrs. Jennings was not there to exult in this proof of her sagacity. She had been called away to visit a daughter, who had been taken ill at a distance from home, and I was left without a nurse.
My neighbors showed but little sympathy on the occa sion. They had imbibed the idea that we held ourselves above them, and chose to take it for granted, that we did not need their aid. There were a good many cases of ague too, and, of course, people had their own troubles to attend to. The result was, that we were in a sad case enough. Oh! for one of those feminine men, who can make good gruel, and wash the children’s faces ! Mr. Clavers certainly did his best, and who can more ? But the hot side of the bowl always would come to his fingers —and the sauce-pan would overset, let him balance it ever so nicely. And then —such hungry children ! They wanted to eat all the time. After a day’s efforts, he began to complain that stooping over the fire made him very dizzy. I was quite self-absorbed, or I should have noticed such a complaint from one who makes none without cause ; but the matter went on, until, when I asked for my gruel, he had very nearly fallen on the coals, in the attempt to take it from the fire. He staggered to the bed, and was unable to sit up for many days after.
When matters reached this pitch—when we had, lite rally, no one to prepare food, or look after the children — little Bell added to the sick list too—our physician proved our good genius. He procured a nurse from a conside rable distance ; and it was through his means that good Mrs. Danforth heard of our sad condition, and sent us a maiden of all- work, who materially amended the aspect of our domestic affairs.
Our agues were tremendous. I used to think I should certainly die in my ten or twelve hours’ fever—and Mr. Clavers confidently asserted, several times, that the upper half of his head was taking leave of the lower. But the event proved that we were both mistaken; for our physician verified his own assertion, that an ague was as easily managed as a common cold, by curing us both in a short time after our illness had assumed the intermittent form. There is, however, one important distinction to be observed between a cold and the ague —the former does not recur after every trifling exertion, as the latter is sure to do. Again and again, after we seemed entirely cured, did the insidious enemy renew his attacks. A short ride, a walk, a drive of two or three miles, and we were prostrated for a week or two. Even a slight alarm, or anything that occasioned an unpleasant surprise, would be followed by a chill and fever.
These things are, it must be conceded, very discoura ging. One learns to feel as if the climate must be a wretched one, and it is not till after these first clouds have blown over, that we have resolution to look around us— to estimate the sunny skies of Michigan, and the ruddy countenances of its older inhabitants as they deserve.
The people are obstinately attached to some supersti tious notions respecting agues. They hold that it is unlucky to break them. ‘ You should let them run on,’ say they, ‘ till they wear themselves out.’ This has proba bly arisen from some imprudent use of quinine, (or ‘ Queen / Ann,’) and other powerful tonics, which are often taken before the system is properly prepared. There is also much prejudice against ‘ Doctor’s physic ;’ while Lobelia, and other poisonous plants, which happen to grow wild in the woods, are used with the most reckless rashness. The opinion that each region produces the medicines which its own diseases require, prevails extensively,—a notion which, though perhaps theoretically correct to a certain extent, is a most dangerous one for the ignorant to practise upon.
These agues are, as yet, the only diseases of the country. Consumption is almost unknown, as a Michigan evil. Indeed many, who have been induced to forsake the sea -board, by reason of too sensitive lungs, find themselves renovated after a year in the Peninsula. Our sickly season, from August till October, passed over without a single death within our knowledge.
To be sure, a neighbor told me, not long ago, that her old man had a complaint of ‘ the lights,’ and that ‘ to try to work any, gits his lights all up in a heap.’ But as this is a disease beyond the bounds of my medical knowledge, I can only ‘ say the tale as ‘t was said to me,’ hoping that none of my emigrating friends may find it contagious :— any disease which is brought on by working, being cer tainly much to be dreaded in this Western country !
The house’s form within was rude and strong,
Like an huge cave hewn out of rocky clift ;
From whose rough vault the ragged breaches hung :—
And over them Arachne high did lift
Her cunning web, and spread her subtle net,
Enwrapped in foul smoke, and clouds more black than jet.
It were good that men, in their innovations, would follow the example of time
itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be
It was on one of our superlatively doleful ague days, when a cold drizzling rain had sent mildew into our unfortunate bones ; and I lay in bed, burning with fever, while my stronger half sat by the fire, taking his chill with his great-coat, hat, and boots on, that Mr. Rivers came to introduce his young daughter-in-law. I shall never forget the utterly disconsolate air, which, in spite of the fair lady’s politeness, would make itself visible in the pauses of our conversation. She did try not to cast a curious glance round the room. She fixed her eyes on the fire-place—but there were the clay-filled sticks, instead of a chimney-piece —the half consumed wooden crane, which had, more than once, let our dinner fall—the Rocky-Mountain hearth, and the reflector, baking biscuits for tea—so she thought it hardly polite to appear to dwell too long there. She turned towards the window : there were the shelves, with our remaining crockery, a grotesque assortment ! and, just beneath, the unnameable iron and tin affairs, that are reckon ed among the indispensables, even of the half-civilized state. She tried the other side, but there was the ladder, the flour-barrel, and a host of other things—rather odd parlor furniture —and she cast her eyes on the floor, with its gaping cracks, wide enough to admit a massasauga from below, and its inequalities, which might trip any but a sylph. The poor thing looked absolutely confounded, and I exerted all the energy my fever had left me, to try to say something a little encouraging.
‘Come to-morrow morning, Mrs. Rivers,’ said I, ‘and you shall see the aspect of things quite changed ; and I shall be able to tell you a great deal in favor of this wild life.’
She smiled faintly, and tried not to look miserable, but I saw plainly that she was sadly depressed, and I could not feel surprised that she should be so. Mr. Rivers spoke very kindly to her, and filled up all the pauses in our forced talk with such cheering observations as he could muster.
He had found lodgings, he said, in a farmhouse, not far from us, and his son’s house would, ere long, be completed, when we should be quite near neighbors.
I saw tears swelling in the poor girl’s eyes, as she took leave, and I longed to be well for her sake. In this newly-formed world, the earlier settler has a feeling of hostess-ship toward the new comer. I speak only of women —men look upon each one, newly arrived, merely as an additional business-automaton—a somebody more with whom to try the race of enterprise, i. e. money-making.
The next day Mrs. Rivers came again, and this time her husband was with her. Then I saw at a glance why it was that life in the wilderness looked so peculiarly gloomy to her. Her husband’s face shewed but too plainly the marks of early excess ; and there was at intervals, in spite of an evident effort to play the agreeable, an appearance of absence, of indifference, which spoke volumes of domestic history. He made innumerable inquiries, touching the hunting and fishing facilities of the country around us, expressed himself enthusiastically fond of those sports, and said the country was a living death without them, regretting much that Mr. Clavers was not of the same mind.
Meanwhile I had begun to take quite an interest in his little wife. I found that she was as fond of novels and poetry, as her husband was of field-sports. Some of her flights of sentiment went quite beyond my sobered-down views. But I saw we should get on admirably, and so we have done ever since. I did not mistake that pleasant smile, and that soft sweet voice. They are even now as attractive as ever. And I had a neighbor.
Before the winter had quite set in, our little nest was finished, or as nearly finished as any thing in Michigan ; and Mr. and Mrs. Rivers took possession of their new dwelling, on the very same day that we smiled our adieux to the loggery.
Our new house was merely the beginning of a house, intended for the reception of a front-building, Yankee fashion, whenever the owner should be able to enlarge his borders. But the contrast with our sometime dwelling, made even this humble cot seem absolutely sumptuous. The children could do nothing but admire the conveniences it afforded. Robinson Crusoe exulted not more warmly in his successive acquisitions than did Alice in ‘ a kitchen, a real kitchen ! and a pantry to put the dishes !’ while Arthur found much to praise in the wee bed-room which was allotted as his sanctum in the ‘ hie, haec, hoc ‘ hours. Mrs. Rivers, who was fresh from the ‘settlements,’ often curled her pretty lip at the deficiencies in her little mansion, but we had learned to prize any thing which was even a shade above the wigwam, and dreamed not of two parlors or a piazza.
Other families removed to Montacute in the course of the winter. Our visiting list was considerably enlarged, and I used all my influence with Mrs. Rivers to persuade her that her true happiness lay in making friends of her neighbors. She was very shy, easily shocked by those sins against Chesterfield, which one encounters here at every turn, did not conceal her fatigue when a neighbor happened in after breakfast to make a three hours’ call, forgot to ask those who came at one o’clock to take off their things and stay to tea, even though the knitting needles might peep out beneath the shawl. For these and similar omissions I lectured her continually but with little effect. It was with the greatest difficulty I could persuade her to enter any house but ours, although I took especial care to be im partial in my own visiting habits, determined at all sacrifice to live down the impression that I felt above my neighbors. In fact, however we may justify certain exclusive habits in populous places, they are strikingly and confessedly ridiculous in the wilderness. What can be more absurd than a feeling of proud distinction, where a stray spark of fire, a sudden illness, or a day’s contre-temps, may throw you entirely upon the kindness of your humblest neighbor ? If I treat Mrs. Timson with neglect to-day, can I with any face borrow her broom to-morrow ? And what would become of me, if in revenge for my declining her invitation to tea this afternoon, she should decline coming to do my washing on Monday ?
It was as a practical corollary to these my lectures, that I persuaded Mrs. Rivers to accept an invitation that we received for the wedding of a young girl, the sister of our cooper, Mr. Whitefield. I attired myself in white, con sidered here as the extreme of festal elegance, to do honor to the occasion ; and called for Mrs. Rivers in the ox-cart at two o’clock. I found her in her ordinary neat home-dress ; and it required some argument on my part to induce her to exchange it for a gay chally with appropriate ornaments.
‘ It really seemed ridiculous,’ she said, ‘ to dress for such a place ! and besides, my dear Mrs. Clavers, I am afraid we shall be suspected of a desire to outshine.’ I assured her we were in more danger of that other and far more dangerous suspicion of undervaluing our rustic neighbors.
‘ I s’pose they did n’t think it worth while to put on their best gowns for country-folks !’
I assumed the part of Mentor on this and many similar occasions; considering myself by this time quite an old resident, and of right entitled to speak for the natives.
Mrs. Rivers was a little disposed to laugh at the ox-cart ; but I soon convinced her that, with its cushion of straw overspread with a buffalo robe, it was far preferable to a more ambitious carriage.
‘ No letting down of steps, no ruining one’s dress against a muddy wheel ! no gay horses tipping one into the gutter !’
She was obliged to acknowledge the superiority of our vehicle, and we congratulated ourselves upon reclining a la Lalla Rookh and Lady Mary Wortley Montague. Certainly a cart is next to a palanquin.
The pretty bride was in white cambric, worn over pink glazed muslin. The prodigiously stiff under-dress with its large cords, (not more than three or four years behind the fashion,) gave additional slenderness to her taper waist, bound straitly with a sky-blue zone. The fair hair was decorated, not covered, with a cap, the universal adjunct of full dress in the country, placed far behind the ears, and displaying the largest puffs, set off by sundry gilt combs. The unfailing high-heeled prunelle shoe gave the finishingtouch, and the whole was scented, d Voutrance, with essence of lemon.
After the ceremony, which occupied perhaps one minute, fully twice as long as is required by our State laws, tea was served, absolutely handed on a salver, and by the master of the house, a respectable farmer. Mountains of cake followed. I think either pile might have measured a foot in height, and each piece would have furnished a meal for a hungry school-boy. Other things were equally abundant, and much pleasant talk followed the refreshments. I returned home highly delighted, and tried to persuade my companion to look on the rational side of the thing, which she scarcely seemed disposed to do, so outre did the whole appear to her. I, who had begun to claim for myself the dignified character of a cosmopolite, a philosophical observer of men and things , consoled myself for this derogatory view of Montacute gentility, by thinking, ‘ All city people are so cockneyish !’
Donheur et le malheur des homines ne depend pas moins de lcur humour
e la’ fortune
It has been a canker in
Thy heart from the beginning: but for this
We had not felt our poverty, but as
Millions of myriads feel it, —cheerfully ;—
Thou might’st have earn’d thy bread as thousands earn it;
Or, if that seem too humble, tried by commerce,
Or other civic means, to mend thy fortunes.
Byron — Werner.
The winter— the much-dreaded winter in the woods, strange to tell, flew away more rapidly than any previous winter of my life. One has so much to do in the country. The division of labor is almost unknown. If in absolutely savage life, each man is of necessity, ‘ his own tailor, tentmaker, carpenter, cook, huntsman, and fisherman ;’—so in the state of society which I am attempting to describe, each woman is, at times at least, her own cook, chamber maid and waiter ; nurse, seamstress and school-ma’am ; not to mention various occasional callings to any one of which she must be able to turn her hand at a moment’s notice. And every man, whatever his circumstances or resources, must be qualified to play groom, teamster, or boot-black, as the case may be ; besides ‘ tending the baby ‘ at odd times, and cutting wood to cook his dinner with. If he has good sense, good nature, and a little spice of practical philosophy, all this goes exceedingly well. He will find neither his mind less cheerful, nor his body less vigorous for these little sacrifices. If he is too proud or too indolent to submit to such infringements upon his dignity and ease, most essential deductions from the daily comfort of his family will be the mortifying and vexatious result of his obstinate adherence to early habits.
We witnessed by accident so striking a lesson on this subject, not long after our removal to Montacute, that I must be allowed to record the impression it made upon my mind. A business errand called Mr. Clavers some miles from home ; and having heard much of the loveliness of the scenery in that direction, I packed the children into the great wagon and went with him.
The drive was a charming one. The time, midsummer, and the wilderness literally ‘ blossoming as the rose.’ In a tour of ten miles we saw three lovely lakes, each a lonely gem set deep in masses of emerald green, which shut it in completely from all but its own bright beauty. The road was a most intricate one ‘ thorough bush — thorough brier,’ and the ascents, the ‘ pitches,’ the ‘sidlings,’ in some places quite terrific. At one of the latter points, where the road wound, as so many Michigan roads do, round the edge of a broad green marsh ; I insisted upon getting out, as usual. The place was quite damp ; but I thought I could pick my way over the green spots better than trust myself in the wagon, which went along for some rods at an angle (/ said so at least) of forty-five. Two men were mowing on the marsh, and seemed highly amused at my perplexity, when after watching the receding vehicle till it ascended a steep bank on the farther side, I began my course. For a few steps I made out tolerably, but then I began to sink most inconveniently. Silly thin shoes again. Nobody should ever go one mile from home in thin shoes in this country, but old Broadway habits are so hard to forget.
At length, my case became desperate. One shoe had provokingly disappeared. I had stood on one foot as long as ever goose did, but no trace of the missing Broqua could I find, and down went the stocking six inches into the black mud. I cried out for help ; and the mowers, with ‘ a lang and a loud guffaw,’ came leisurely towards me. Just then appeared Mr. Clavers on the green slope above mentioned. It seems his high-mightiness had concluded by this time that I had been sufficiently punished for my folly, (all husbands are so tyrannical !) and condescended to come to my rescue. I should have been very sulky; but then, there were the children. However, my spouse did try to find a road which should less frequently give rise to those troublesome terrors of mine. So we drove on and on, through ancient woods, which I could not help admir ing ; and, at length, missing our way, we came suddenly upon a loghouse, very different from that which was the object of our search. It was embowered in oaks of the largest size ; and one glance told us that the hand of refined taste had been there. The under-brush had been entirely cleared away, and the broad expanse before the house looked like a smooth-shaven lawn, deep-shadowed by the fine trees I have mentioned. Gleams of sunset fell on beds of flowers of every hue ; curtains of French muslin shaded the narrow windows, and on a rustic seat near the door lay a Spanish guitar, with its broad scarf of blue silk. I could not think of exhibiting my inky stocking to the inmates of such a cottage, though I longed for a peep ; and Mr. Clavers went alone to the house to inquire the way, while I played tiger and held the horses.
I might have remained undiscovered, but for the delight ed exclamations of the children, who were in raptures with the beautiful flowers, and the lake which shone, a silver mirror, immediately beneath the bank on which we were standing. Their merry talk echoed through the trees, and presently out came a young lady in a demi-suisse costume ; her dark hair closely braided and tied with ribbons, and the pockets of her rustic apron full of mosses and wild flowers. With the air rather of Paris than of Michigan, she insisted on my alighting ; and though in awkward plight, I suffered myself to be persuaded. The interior of the house corres ponded in part with the impressions I had received from my first glance at the exterior. There was a harp in a recess, and the whitewashed log-walls were hung with a variety of cabinet pictures. A tasteful drapery of French chintz partly concealed another recess, closely filled with books ; a fowling-piece hung over the chimney, and before a large old-fashioned looking-glass stood a French piertable, on which were piled fossil specimens, mosses, vases of flowers, books, pictures, and music. So far all was well ; and two young ladies seated on a small sofa near the table, with netting and needle-work were in keeping with the romantic side of the picture. But there was more than all this.
The bare floor was marked in every direction with that detestable yellow dye which mars every thing in this country, although a great box filled with sand stood near the hearth, melancholy and fruitless provision against this filthy visitation. Two great dirty dogs lay near the rock ing-chair, and this rocking-chair sustained the tall person of the master of the house, a man of perhaps forty years or thereabouts, the lines of whose face were such, as he who runs may read. Pride and passion, and reckless selfindulgence were there, and fierce discontent and determined indolence. An enormous pair of whiskers, which surround ed the whole lower part of the countenance, afforded incessant employment for the long slender fingers, which showed no marks of labor, except very dirty nails. This gentleman had, after all, something of a high-bred air, if one did not look at the floor, and could forget certain indications of excessive carelessness discernible in his dress and person.
We had not yet seen the lady of the cottage ; the young girl who ushered me in so politely was her sister, now on a summer visit. Mrs. B shortly after entered in an undress, but with a very lady-like grace of manner, and the step of a queen. Her face, which bore the traces of beauty, struck me as one of the most melancholy I had ever seen ; and it was overspread with a sort of painful flush, which did not conceal its habitual paleness.
We had been conversing but a few moments, when a shriek from the children called every one out of doors in an instant. One of Mr. B ‘s sons had ventured too near to the horses, and received from our ‘ old Tom,’ who is a little roguish, a kick on the arm. He roared most lustily, and every body was very much frightened, and ran in all directions seeking remedies. I called upon a boy, who seemed to be a domestic, to get some salt and vinegar, (for the mother was disabled by terror) but as he only grin ned and stared at me, I ran into the kitchen to procure it myself. I opened a closet door, but the place seemed empty or nearly so ; I sought every where within ken, but all was equally desolate. I opened the door of a small bedroom, but I saw in a moment that I ought not to have gone there, and shut it again instantly. Hopeless of find ing what I sought, I returned to the parlor, and there the little boy was holding a vinaigrette to his mother’s nose, while the young ladies were chafing her hands. She had swooned in excessive alarm, and the kick had, after all, produced only a trifling bruise.
After Mrs. B had recovered herself a little, she entered at some length, and with a good deal of animation on a detail of her Michigan experiences! not, as I had hoped at the beginning,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole ;
But giving so depressing a view of the difficulties of the country, that I felt almost disposed for the moment to regret my determination of trying a woodland life. She had found all barren. They had no neighbors, or worse than none—could get no domestics —found every one dis posed to deal unfairly, in all possible transactions ; and though last not least, could get nothing fit to eat.
Mr. B ‘s account, though given with a careless, off-hand air, had a strong dash of bitterness in it—a sort of fierce defi ance of earth and heaven, which is apt to be the resource of those who have wilfully thrown away their chances of happiness. His remarks upon the disagreeables which we had to encounter, were carried at least as far as those of his wife; and he asserted that there was but one alternative in Michigan —cheat or be cheated.
We were not invited to remain to tea ; but took our leave with many polite hopes of further acquaintance. Mr. Clavers found the spot he had been seeking, and then, taking another road home, we called to see Mrs. Danforth ; whom we considered even then in the light of the very good friend which she has since so often proved herself. I told of our accidental visit and learned from the good lady some particulars respecting this family, whose condition seemed so strange and contradictory, even in the western country, where every element enters into the composition of that anomalous mass called society.
Mr. B was born to a large fortune, a lot which certainly seems in our country to carry a curse with it in a large proportion of instances. Feeling quite above the laborious calling by which his father had amassed wealth, the son’s only aim had been to spend his money, like a gentleman ; and in this he had succeeded so well that by the time he had established himself, at the head of the ton in one of our great Eastern cities, and been set down as an irreclaimable roue by his sober friends, he found that a few more losses at play would leave him stranded. But he had been quite the idol of the ‘ good society ‘ into which he had purchased admission, and the one never-failing resource in such cases—a rich wife —was still perhaps in his power. Before his altered fortunes were more than whispered by his very particular friends, he had secured the hand of an orphan heiress, a really amiable and well-bred girl ; and it was not until she had been his wife for a year or more, that she knew that her thousands had done no more than prop a falling house.
Many efforts were made by the friends on both sides, to aid Mr. B in establishing himself in business, but his pride and his indolence proved insuperable difficulties ; and after some years of those painful struggles between pride and poverty, which so many of the devotees of fashion can appreciate from their own bitter experience, a retreat to the West was chosen as the least of prospective evils.
Here the whole country was before him ‘where to choose.’ He could have bought at government price any land in the region to which he had directed his steps. Water-power of all capabilities was at his command, for there was scarce a settler in the neighborhood. But he scorned the idea of a place for business. What he wanted was a charming spot for a gentlemanly residence. There, with his gun and his fishing rod he was to live ; a small income which still remained of his wife’s fortune furnishing the only dependence.
And this income, small as it was, would have been, in prudent and industrious hands, a subsistence at least ; so small is the amount really requisite for a frugal way of life in these isolated situations. But unfortunately Mr. B ‘s character had by no means changed with his place of residence. His land, which by cultivation would have yielded abundant supplies for his table, was suffered to lie unimproved, because he had not money to pay laborers. Even a garden was too much trouble ; the flower-beds I had seen were made by the hands of Mrs. B and her sisters ; and it was asserted that the comforts of life were often lacking in this unfortunate household, and would have been always deficient but for constant aid from Mrs. B ‘s friends.
Mrs. B had done as women so often do in similar situations, making always a great effort to keep up a certain appearance, and allowing her neighbors to discover that she considered them far beneath her; she had not forgotten her delicate habits, and that they were delicate and lady -like, no one can doubt who had ever seen her, and labored with all her little strength for the comfort of her family. She had brought up five children on little else beside Indian meal and potatoes ; and at one time the neighbors had known the whole family live for weeks upon bread and tea without sugar or milk ;—Mr. B sitting in the house smoking cigars, and playing the flute, as much of a gentleman as ever.
And these people, bringing with them such views and feelings as make straitened means productive of absolute wretchedness any where, abuse Michigan, and visit upon their homely neighbors the bitter feelings which spring from that fountain of gall, mortified yet indomitable pride. Finding themselves growing poorer and poorer, they persuade themselves that all who thrive, do so by dishonest gains, or by mean sacrifices ; and they are teaching their children, by the irresistible power of daily example, to despise plodding industry, and to indulge in repining and feverish longings after unearned enjoyments.
But I am running into an absolute homily ! I set out to say only that we had been warned at the beginning against indulging in certain habits which darken the whole course of country life ; and here I have been betrayed into a chapter of sermonizing. I can only beg pardon and resume my broken thread.
I come, I come! ye have called me long,
I come o’er the mountains with light and song!
Away from the chamber and sullen hearth !
The young leaves are dancing in breezy mirth.
Mrs. Hermans— Voice of Spring.
And because the breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes
and goes like the warbling of music,) therefore nothing is more fit for that
delight than to know what be the flowers and plants that do best perfume
I believe I was recurring to the rapidity with which our first winter in the wilds slipped away. We found that when the spring came we were not half prepared to take advantage of it ; but armed with the ‘ American Gardener,’ and quantities of choice seeds received in a box of treasures from home during the previous Autumn, we set about making something like a garden. It would seem that in our generous soil this could not be a difficult task ; but our experience has taught us quite differently. Besides the eradication of stumps, which is a work of time and labor any where, the ‘grubs’ present a most formidable hindrance to all gardening efforts in the ‘ oak-openings.’ I dare say my reader imagines a ‘ grub ‘ to be a worm, a destructive wretch that spoils peach trees. In Michigan, it is quite another affair. Grubs are, in Western parlance, the gnarled roots of small trees and shrubs, with which our soil is interlaced in some places almost to absolute solidity. When these are disturbed by the immense ‘ breaking up ‘
plough, with its three or four yoke of oxen, the surface of the ground wears every where the appearance of chevauxde- frize ; and to pile in heaps for burning such of these serried files as have been fairly loosened by the plough, is a work of much time and labor. And after this is done in the best way, your potagerie will still seem to be full of grubs ; and it will take two or three years to get rid of these troublesome proofs of the fertility of your soil. But your incipient Eden will afford much of interest and com fort before this work is accomplished, and I sincerely pity those who lack a taste for this primitive source of pleasure.
On the opening of our first spring, the snow had scarcely disappeared ere the green tops of my early bulbs were peeping above the black soil in which they had been buried on our first arrival ; and the interest with which I watched each day’s developement of these lovely children of the sun, might almost compare with that which I felt in the daily increasing perfections of my six-months-old Charlie, whose rosy cheeks alone, could, in my view at least, outblush my splendid double hyacinths.
Whatever of a perennial kind we could procure, we planted at once, without waiting until our garden should be permanently arranged. All that we have since regret ted on this point is that we had not made far greater efforts to increase our variety ; since one year’s time is well worth gaining, where such valuables are in question.
On the subject of flowers, I scarcely dare trust my pen with a word, so sure am I that my enthusiastic love for them would, to most readers, seem absolutely silly or affected. But where the earth produces spontaneously such myriads of splendid specimens, it would seem really their cultivation. This is a sin which I at least shall avoid ; and I lose no opportunity of attempting to inspire my neighbors with some small portion of my love for everything which can be called a flower, whether exotic or home-bred.
The ordinary name with us for a rose is ‘ a rosy-flower ;’ our vase of flowers usually a broken-nosed pitcher, is a ‘ posy-pot ;’ and ‘ yaller lilies’ are among the most dearlyprized of all the gifts of Flora. A neighbor after looking approvingly at a glass of splendid tulips, of which I was vain-glorious beyond all justification, asked me if I got ‘ them blossoms out of these here woods.’ Another coolly broke off a spike of my finest hyacinths, and after putting it to his undiscriminating nose, threw it on the ground with a ‘ pagh ! ‘ as contemptuous as Hamlet’s. But I revenged myself when I set him sniffing at a crown imperial—so we are at quits now.
A lady to whom I offered a cutting of my noble balm geranium, with leaves larger than Charlie’s hand, declined the gift, saying, ‘ she never know’d nobody make nothin’ by raisin’ sich things.’ One might have enlightened her a little as to their moneyed value, but I held my peace and gave her some sage-seed.
Yet, oddly enough ,if any thing could be odd in Michi gan —there is, within three miles of us, a gardener and florist of no mean rank, and one whose aid can be obtained at any time for some small consideration of ‘rascal coun ters ;’ so that a hot-bed, or even a green-house is within our reach. I have sometimes thought that there could scarcely be a trade or profession which is not largely represented among the farmers of Michigan, judging from the some what extensive portion of the State with which we have become familiar. I was regretting the necessity of a jour ney to Detroit for the sake of a gold filling ; when lo ! a dentist at my elbow, with his case of instruments, his gold foil, and his skill, all very much at my service.
Montacute, half-fledged as it is, affords facilities that one could scarce expect. Besides the blacksmith, the cooper, the chair maker, the collar maker, and sundry carpenters and masons, and three stores, there is the mantua-maker for your dresses, the milliner for your bonets, (not mine) the ‘ hen tailor,’ for your little boy’s pan taloons ; the plain seamstress, plain enough sometimes, for all the sewing you can’t possibly get time for, and
‘The spinners, and the knitters in the sun,’
or in the chimney-corner, for all your needs in the winter hosiery line. Is one of your guests dependent upon a barber ? Mr. Jenkins can shave. Does your husband get too shaggy ? Mr. Jenkins cuts hair. Does he demolish his boot upon a grub? Mr. Jenkins is great at rifacciamento. Does Billy lose his cap in the pond ? Mr. Jenkins makes caps comme il y en a peu. Does your bellows get the asthma ? Mr. Jenkins is a famous Francis Flute. Then there is Philemon Greenly has been apprenticed to a baker, and he can make you crackers, baker’s bread and roundhearts, the like of which , but you should get his story. And I can certainly make long digressions, if nothing else. Here I am wandering like another Eve from my dearly beloved garden.
A bed of asparagus — I mean a dozen of them ,should be among the very first cares of spring ; for you must recollect, as did the Cardinal De Retz at Vincennes, that asparagus takes three years to come to the beginnings of perfection. Ours, seeded down after the Shaker fashion, promise to be invaluable. They grew so nobly the first year that the haulm was almost worth mowing, like the fondly-prized down on the chin of sixteen. Then, what majestic palm-leaf rhubarb, and what egg-plants ! Nobody can deny that our soil amply repays whatever trouble we may bestow upon it. Even on the first turning up, it furnishes you with all the humbler luxuries in the vege table way, from the earliest pea to the most delicate cauliflower, and the golden pumpkin, larger than Cinde rella’s grandmother ever saw in her dreams. Enrich it properly, and you need lack nothing that will grow north of Charleston.
Melons, which attain a delicious perfection in our rich sandy loam, are no despicable substitute for the peaches of the older world ; at least during the six or seven summers which must elapse before the latter can be abundant. I advise a prodigious melon-patch.
A fruit sometimes despised elsewhere, is here among the highly-prized treasures of the summer. The whortle -berry of Michigan, is a different affair from the little halfstarved thing which bears the name elsewhere. It is of a deep rich blue, something near the size of a rifle bullet, and of a delicious sweetness. The Indians bring in immense quantities slung in panniers or mococks of bark on the sides of their wild-looking ponies ; a squaw, with any quantity of pappooses, usually riding V espagnole on the ridge between them.
‘ Schwap ? Nappanee ?’ is the question of the queen of the forest ; which means, ‘ will you exchange, or swap, for flour :’ and you take the whortle-berries in whatever vessel you choose, returning the same measured quantity of flour.
The spirit in which the Indians buy and sell is much the same now as in the days of the renowned Wouter Van Twiller, when ‘ the hand of a Dutchman weighed a pound, and his foot two pounds.’ The largest haunch of venison goes for two fingers, viz. twenty-five cents, and an entire deer for one hand, one dollar. Wild strawberries of rare size and flavor, ‘ schwap-nappanee,’ which always means equal quantities. A pony, whatever be his age or qualities, two hands held up twice, with the fingers extended, twenty dollars. If you add to the price an old garment, or a blanket, or a string of glass beads, the treasure is at once put on and worn with such an air of ‘ look at me .’ Broad way could hardly exceed it.
The Indians bring in cranberries too; and here again Michigan excels. The wild plum, so little prized else where, is valued where its civilized namesake is unattain able; and the assertion frequently made, that ‘it makes excellent saase,’ is undeniably true. But grapes ! One must see the loads of grapes in order to believe.
The practical conclusion I wish to draw from all this wandering talk is, that it is well worth while to make garden in Michigan. I hope my reader will not be disposed to reply in that terse and forceful style which is cultivated at Montacute, and which has more than once been employed in answer to my enthusiastic lectures on this subject : ‘ Taters grows in the field, and ‘taters is good enough for me.’
Who’ll Follow? Or, Glimpses of Western Life by Caroline Kirkland is produced by HathiTrust and released under a public domain license.