The Pioneers/Chapter 15

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The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV.[edit]

"As she lay, on that day, in the Bay of Biscay, 0!"

Previously to the occurrence of the scene at the "Bold Dragoon," Elizabeth had been safely reconducted to the mansion-house, where she was left as its mistress, either to amuse or employ herself during the evening as best suited her own inclinations. Most of the lights were extinguished; but as Benjamin adjusted with great care and regularity four large candles, in as many massive candlesticks of brass, in a row on the sideboard, the hall possessed a peculiar air of comfort and warmth, contrasted with the cheerless aspect of the room she had left in the academy.

Remarkable had been one of the listeners to Mr. Grant, and returned with her resentment, which had been not a little excited by the language of the Judge, somewhat softened by reflection and the worship. She recollected the youth of Elizabeth, and thought it no difficult task, under present appearances, to exercise that power indirectly which hitherto she had enjoyed undisputed. The idea of being governed, or of being compelled to pay the deference of servitude, was absolutely intolerable; and she had already determined within herself, some half dozen times, to make an effort that should at once bring to an issue the delicate point of her domestic condition. But as often as she met the dark, proud eye of Elizabeth, who was walking up and down the apartment, musing on the scenes of her youth and the change in her condition, and perhaps the events of the day, the housekeeper experienced an awe that she would not own to herself could be excited by anything mortal. It, however, checked her advances, and for some time held her tongue-tied. At length she determined to commence the discourse by entering on a subject that was apt to level all human distinctions, and in which she might display her own abilities.

"It was quite a wordy sarmon that Parson Grant gave us to-night," said Remarkable. "The church ministers be commonly smart sarmonizers, but they write down their idees, which is a great privilege. I don’t think that, by nater, they are as tonguey speakers, for an off-hand discourse, as the standing-order ministers."

"And what denomination do you distinguish as the standing-order?" inquired Miss Temple, with some surprise.

"Why, the Presbyter’ans and Congregationals, and Baptists, too, for- til’ now; and all sitch as don’t go on their knees to prayer,"

"By that rule, then, you would call those who belong’ to the persuasion of my father, the sitting-order," observed Elizabeth. "I’m sure I’ve never heard ‘em spoken of by any other’ name than Quakers, so called," returned Remarkable, betraying a slight uneasiness; "I should be the last to call them otherwise, for I never in my life used a disparaging’ tarm of the Judge, or any of his family. I’ve always set store by the Quakers, they are so pretty- spoken, clever people, and it’s a wonderment to me how your father come to marry into a church family; for they are as contrary in religion as can be. One sits still, and, for the most part; says nothing, while the church folks practyse all kinds of ways, so that I sometimes think it quite moosical to see them; for I went to a church- meeting once before, down country."

"You have found an excellence in the church liturgy that has hitherto escaped me. I will thank you to inquire whether the fire in my room burns; I feel fatigued with my journey, and will retire."

Remarkable felt a wonderful inclination to tell the young mistress of the mansion that by opening a door she might see for herself; but prudence got the better of resentment, and after pausing some little time, as a salve to her dignity, she did as desired. The report was favorable, and the young lady, wishing Benjamin, who was filling the stove with wood, and the housekeeper, each a good-night, withdrew.

The instant the door closed on Miss Temple, Remark able commenced a sort of mysterious, ambiguous discourse, that was neither abusive nor commendatory of the qualities of the absent personage, but which seemed to be drawing nigh, by regular degrees, to a most dissatisfied description. The major-domo made no reply. but continued his occupation with great industry, which being happily completed, he took a look at the thermometer, and then opening a drawer of the sideboard, he produced a supply of stimulants that would have served to keep the warmth in his system without the aid of the enormous fire he had been building. A small stand was drawn up near the stove, and the bottles and the glasses necessary for convenience were quietly arranged. Two chairs were placed by the side of this comfortable situation, when Benjamin, for the first time, appeared to observe his companion.

"Come," he cried, "come, Mistress Remarkable, bring yourself to an anchor on this chair. It’s a peeler without, I can tell you, good woman; but what cares I? blow high or blow low, d’ye see, it’s all the same thing to Ben. The niggers are snug stowed below before a fire that would roast an ox whole. The thermometer stands now at fifty- five, but if there’s any vartue in good maple wood, I’ll weather upon it, before one glass, as much as ten points more, so that the squire, when he comes home from Betty Hollister’s warm room, will feel as hot as a hand that has given the rigging a lick with bad tar. Come, mistress, bring up in this here chair, and tell me how you like our new heiress."

"Why, to my notion, Mr. Penguillum----"

"Pump, Pump," interrupted Benjamin; "it’s Christmas eve, Mistress Remarkable, and so, dye see, you had better call me Pump. It’s a shorter name, and as I mean to pump this here decanter till it sucks, why, you may as well call me Pump."

"Did you ever!" cried Remarkable, with a laugh that seemed to unhinge every joint in her body. "You’re a moosical creature, Benjamin, when the notion takes you. But, as I was saying, I rather guess that times will be altered now in this house."

"Altered!" exclaimed the major-domo, eyeing the bottle, that was assuming the clear aspect of cut glass with astonishing rapidity; "it don’t matter much, Mistress Remarkable, so long as I keep the keys of the lockers in my pocket."

"I can’t say," continued the housekeeper, "but there’s good eatables and drinkables enough in the house for a body’s content--a little more sugar, Benjamin, in the glass --for Squire Jones is an excellent provider. But new lords, new laws; and I shouldn’t wonder if you and I had an unsartain time on’t in footer."

"Life is as unsartain as the wind that blows," said Benjamin, with a moralizing air; "and nothing is more varible than the wind, Mistress Remarkable, unless you hap pen to fall in with the trades, d’ye see, and then you may run for the matter of a month at a time, with studding-sails on both sides, alow and aloft, and with the cabin-boy at the wheel."

"I know that life is disp’ut unsartain," said Remark able, compressing her features to the humor of her companion; "but I expect there will be great changes made in the house to rights; and that you will find a young man put over your head, as there is one that wants to be over mine; and after having been settled as long as you have, Benjamin, I should judge that to be hard."

"Promotion should go according to length of sarvice," said the major- domo; "and if-so-be that they ship a hand for my berth, or place a new steward aft, I shall throw up my commission in less time than you can put a pilot-boat in stays. Thof Squire Dickon "--this was a common misnomer with Benjamin--" is a nice gentleman, and as good a man to sail with as heart could wish, yet I shall tel the squire, d’ye see, in plain English, and that’s my native tongue, that if-so-be he is thinking of putting any Johnny Raw over my head, why, I shall resign. I began forrard, Mistress Prettybones, and worked my way aft, like a man. I was six months aboard a Garnsey lugger, hauling in the slack of the lee-sheet and coiling up rigging. From that I went a few trips in a fore-and-after, in the same trade, which, after all, was but a blind kind of sailing in the dark, where a man larns but little, excepting how to steer by the stars. Well, then, d’ye see, I larnt how a topmast should be slushed, and how a topgallant-sail was to be becketted; and then I did small jobs in the cabin, such as mixing the skipper’s grog. ‘Twas there I got my taste, which, you must have often seen, is excel lent. Well, here’s better acquaintance to us." Remarkable nodded a return to the compliment, and took a sip of the beverage before her; for, provided it was well sweetened, she had no objection to a small potation now and then, After this observance of courtesy between the worthy couple, the dialogue proceeded.

"You have had great experiences in life, Benjamin; for, as the Scripter says, ‘They that go down to the sea in ships see the works of the Lord.’"

"Ay! for that matter, they in brigs and schooners, too; and it mought say, the works of the devil. The sea, Mistress Remarkable, is a great advantage to a man, in the way of knowledge, for he sees the fashions of nations and the shape of a country. Now, I suppose, for myself here, who is but an unlarned man to some that follows the seas, I suppose that, taking the coast from Cape Ler Hogue as low down as Cape Finish-there, there isn’t so much as a headland, or an island, that I don’t know either the name of it or something more or less about it. Take enough, woman, to color the water. Here’s sugar. It’s a sweet tooth, that fellow that you hold on upon yet, Mistress Prettybones. But, as I was saying, take the whole coast along, I know it as well as the way from here to the Bold Dragoon; and a devil of acquaintance is that Bay of Biscay. Whew! I wish you could but hear the wind blow there. It sometimes takes two to hold one man’s hair on his head. Scudding through the bay is pretty much the same thing as travelling the roads in this country, up one side of a mountain and down the other,"

"Do tell!" exclaimed Remarkable; "and does the sea run as high as mountains, Benjamin?"

"Well, I will tell; but first let’s taste the grog. Hem! it’s the right kind of stuff, I must say, that you keep in this country; but then you’re so close aboard the West Indies, you make but a small run of it. By the Lord Harry, woman, if Garnsey only lay somewhere between Cape Hatteras and the bite of Logann, but you’d see rum cheap! As to the seas, they runs more in uppers in the Bay of Biscay, unless it may be in a sow-wester, when they tumble about quite handsomely; thof it’s not in the narrow sea that you are to look for a swell; just go off the Western Islands, in a westerly blow, keeping the land on your larboard hand, with the ship’s head to the south’ard, and bring to, under a close-reefed topsail; or, mayhap, a reefed foresail, with a fore-topmast-staysail and mizzen staysail to keep her up to the sea, if she will bear it; and ay there for the matter of two watches, if you want to see mountains. Why, good woman, I’ve been off there in the Boadishey frigate, when you could see nothing but some such matter as a piece of sky, mayhap, as big as the main sail; and then again, there was a hole under your lee-quarter big enough to hold the whole British navy."

"Oh! for massy’s sake! and wa’n’t you afeard, Benjamin? and how did you get off?"

"Afeard! who the devil do you think was to be frightened at a little salt water tumbling about his head? As for getting off, when we had enough of it, and had washed our decks down pretty well, we called all hands, for, d’ye see, the watch below was in their hammocks, all the same as if they were in one of your best bedrooms; and so we watched for a smooth time, clapt her helm hard a weather, let fall the foresail, and got the tack aboard; and so, when we got her afore it, I ask you, Mistress Prettybones, if she didn’t walk? didn’t she? I’m no liar, good woman, when I say that I saw that ship jump from the top of one sea to another, just like one of these squirrels that can fly jumps from tree to tree."

"What! clean out of the water?" exclaimed Remark able, lifting her two lank arms, with their bony hands spread in astonishment.

"It was no such easy matte: to get out of the water, good woman; for the spray flew so that you couldn’t tell which was sea or which was cloud. So there we kept her afore it for the matter of two glasses. The first lieutenant he cun’d the ship himself, and there was four quarter masters at the wheel, besides the master with six forecastle men in the gun-room at the relieving tackles. But then she behaved herself so well! Oh! she was a sweet ship, mistress! That one frigate was well worth more, to live in, than the best house in the island. If I was king of England I’d have her hauled up above Lon’on bridge, and fit her up for a palace; because why? if anybody can afford to live comfortably, his majesty can."

"Well! but, Benjamin," cried the listener, who was in an ecstasy of astonishment at this relation of the steward’s dangers, "what did you do?"

"Do! why, we did our duty like hearty fellows. Now if the countrymen of Monnsheer Ler Quaw had been aboard of her, they would have just struck her ashore on some of them small islands; but we run along the land until we found her dead to leeward off the mountains of Pico, and dam’me if I know to this day how we got there--whether we jumped over the island or hauled round it; but there we was, and there we lay, under easy sail, fore-reaching first upon one tack and then upon t’other, so as to poke her nose out now and then and take a look to wind’ard till the gale blowed its pipe out."

"I wonder, now!" exclaimed Remarkable, to whom most of the terms used by Benjamin were perfectly unintelligible, but who had got a confused idea of a raging tempest. "It must be an awful life, that going to sea! and I don’t feel astonishment that you are so affronted with the thoughts, of being forced to quit a comfortable home like this. Not that a body cares much for’t, as there’s more houses than one to live in. Why, when the Judge agreed with me to come and live with him, I’d no more notion of stopping any time than anything. I happened in just to see how the family did, about a week after Mrs. Temple died, thinking to be back home agin’ night; but the family was in such a distressed way that I couldn’t but stop awhile and help em on. I thought the situation a good one, seeing that I was an unmarried body, and they were so much in want of help; so I tarried."

"And a long time you’ve left your anchors down in the same place, mistress. I think yo’ must find that the ship rides easy."

"How you talk, Benjamin! there’s no believing a word you say. I must say that the Judge and Squire Jones have both acted quite clever, so long; but I see that now we shall have a specimen to the contrary. I heern say thats the Judge was gone a great ‘broad, and that he meant to bring his darter hum, but I didn’t calculate on sich carrins on. To my notion, Benjamin, she’s likely to turn out a desp’ut ugly gal."

"Ugly!" echoed the major-domo, opening eyes that were beginning to close in a very suspicious sleepiness, in wide amazement. "By the Lord Harry, woman, I should as soon think of calling the Boadishey a clumsy frigate. What the devil would you have? Arn’t her eyes as bright as the morning and evening stars? and isn’t her hair as black and glistening as rigging that has just had a lick of tar? doesn’t she move as stately as a first-rate in smooth water, on a bowline? Why, woman, the figure-head of the Boadishey was a fool to her, and that, as I’ve often heard the captain say, was an image of a great queen; and arn’t queens always comely, woman? for who do you think would be a king, and not choose a handsome bedfellow?"

"Talk decent, Benjamin," said the housekeeper, "Or I won’t keep your company. I don’t gainsay her being comely to look on, but I will maintain that she’s likely to show poor conduct. She seems to think herself too good to talk to a body. From what Squire Jones had telled me, I some expected to be quite captivated by her company. Now, to my reckoning, Lowizy Grant is much more pritty behaved than Betsey Temple. She wouldn’t so much as hold discourse with me when I wanted to ask her how she felt on coming home and missing her mammy."

"Perhaps she didn’t understand you, woman; you are none of the best linguister; and then Miss Lizzy has been exercising the king’s English under a great Lon’on lady, and, for that matter, can talk the language almost as well as myself, or any native-born British subject. You’ve forgot your schooling, and the young mistress is a great scollard."

"Mistress!" cried Remarkable; "don’t make one out to be a nigger, Benjamin. She’s no mistress of mine, and never will be. And as to speech, I hold myself as second to nobody out of New England. I was born and raised in Essex County; and I’ve always heern say that the Bay State was provarbal for pronounsation!"

"I’ve often heard of that Bay of State," said Benjamin, "but can’t say that I’ve ever been in it, nor do I know exactly whereaway it is that it lays; but I suppose there is good anchorage in it, and that it’s no bad place for the taking of ling; but for size it can’t be so much as a yawl to a sloop of war compared with the Bay of Biscay, or, mayhap, Torbay. And as for language, if you want to hear the dictionary overhauled like a log-line in a blow, you must go to Wapping and listen to the Lon’oners as they deal out their lingo. Howsomever, I see no such mighty matter that Miss Lizzy has been doing to you, good woman; so take another drop of your brews and forgive and forget, like an honest soul,"

"No, indeed! and I shan’t do sitch a thing, Benjamin. This treatment is a newity to me, and what I won’t put up with. I have a hundred and fifty dollars at use, besides a bed and twenty sheep, to good; and I don’t crave to live in a house where a body mustn’t call a young woman by her given name to her face. I will call her Betsey as much as I please; it’s a free country, and no one can stop me. I did intend to stop while summer, but I shall quit to-morrow morning; and I will talk just as I please."

"For that matter, Mistress Remarkable," said Benjamin, "there’s none here who will contradict you; for I’m of opinion that it would be as easy to stop a hurricane with a Barcelony handkerchy as to bring up your tongue when the stopper is off. I say, good woman, do they grow many monkeys along the shores of that Bay of State?"

"You’re a monkey yourself, Mr. Penguillum," cried the enraged housekeeper, "or a bear--a black, beastly bear! and ain’t fit for a decent woman to stay with. I’ll never, keep your company agin, sir, if I should live thirty years with the Judge. Sitch talk is more befitting the kitchen than the keeping-room of a house of one who is well-to-do in the world."

"Look you, Mistress Pitty--Patty------Prettybones, mayhap I’m some such matter as a bear, as they will find who come to grapple with me; but dam’me if I’m a monkey-- a thing that chatters without knowing a word of what it says--a parrot; that will hold a dialogue, for what an honest man knows, in a dozen languages; mayhap in the Bay of State lingo; mayhap in Greek or High Dutch. But dost it know what it means itself? canst answer me that, good woman? Your midshipman can sing out, and pass the word, when the captain gives the order, but just send him adrift by himself, and let him work the ship of his own head, and stop my grog if you don’t find all the Johnny Raws laughing at him."

"Stop your grog, indeed!" said Remarkable, rising with great indignation, and seizing a candle; "you’re groggy now, Benjamin and I’ll quit the room before I hear any misbecoming words from you." The housekeeper retired, with a manner but little less dignified, as she thought, than the air of the heiress, muttering as she drew the door after her, with a noise like the report of a musket, the opprobrious terms of "drunkard," "sot," and " beast."

"Who’s that you say is drunk?" cried Benjamin fiercely, rising and making a movement toward Remarkable. "You talk of mustering yourself with a lady you’re just fit to grumble and find fault. Where the devil should you larn behavior and dictionary? in your damned Bay of State, ha?"

Benjamin here fell back in his chair, and soon gave vent to certain ominous sounds, which resembled not a little the growling of his favorite animal the bear itself. Be fore, however, he was quite locked--to use the language that would suit the Della-cruscan humor of certain refined minds of the present day--" in the arms of Morpheus," he spoke aloud, observing due pauses between his epithets, the impressive terms of "monkey," "parrot," "picnic," "tar pot," and "linguisters"

We shall not attempt to explain his meaning nor connect his sentences; and our readers must be satisfied with our informing them that they were expressed with all that coolness of contempt that a man might well be supposed to feel for a monkey.

Nearly two hours passed in this sleep before the major domo was awakened by the noisy entrance of Richard, Major Hartmann, and the master of the mansion. Benjamin so far rallied his confused faculties as to shape the course of the two former to their respective apartments, when he disappeared himself, leaving the task of securing the house to him who was most interested in its safety. Locks and bars were but little attended to in the early days of that settlement, and so soon as Marmaduke had given an eye to the enormous fires of his dwelling he retired. With this act of prudence closes the first night of our tale.


James Fenimore CooperThe PioneersCh.1Ch.2Ch.3Ch.4Ch.5Ch.6Ch.7Ch.8Ch.9Ch.10Ch.11Ch.12Ch.13Ch.14Ch.15Ch.16Ch.17Ch.18Ch.19Ch.20Ch.21Ch.22Ch.23Ch.24Ch.25Ch.26Ch.27Ch.28Ch.29Ch.30Ch.31Ch.32Ch.33Ch.34Ch.35Ch.36Ch.37Ch.38Ch.39Ch.40Ch.41Characters.