A New Home: Who'll Follow
Life in the Clearings
First published in 1839
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Mr. Mazard Absconds
Several lots had already been purchased in Montacute and some improvement marked each succeeding day. The mill had grown to its full stature, the dam was nearly completed; the tavern began to exhibit promise of its present ugliness, and all seemed prosperous as our best dreams, when certain rumors were set afloat touching the solvency of our disinterested friend Mr. Mazard. After two or three days' whispering, a tall black-browed man who "happened in" from Gullsborough, the place which had for some time been honored as the residence of the Dousterswivel of Montacute, stated boldly that Mr. Mazard had absconded; or, in western language "cleared." It seemed passing strange that he should run away from the large house which was going on under his auspices; the materials all on the ground and the work in full progress. Still more unaccountable did it appear to us that his workmen should go on so quietly, without so much as expressing any anxiety about their pay.
Mr. Clavers had just been telling me of these things, when the long genius above mentioned, presented himself at the door of the loggery. His abord was a singular mixture of coarseness, and an attempt at being civil; and he sat for some minutes looking round and asking various questions before he touched the main-spring of his visit.
At length, after some fumbling in his pocket, he produced a dingy sheet of paper, which he handed to Mr. Clavers.
"There; I want you to read that, and tell me what you think of it."
I did not look at the paper, but at my husband's face, which was black enough. He walked away with the tall man, and I saw no more of them at that time.
Mr. Clavers did not return until late in the evening, and it was then I learned that Mr. Mazard had been getting large quantities of lumber and other materials on his account, and as his agent; and that the money which had been placed in the agent's hands, for the purchase of certain lands to be flowed by the mill-pond, had gone into government coffers in payment for sundry eighty acre lots, which were intended for his, Mr. Mazard's private behoof and benefit. These items present but a sample of our amiable friend's trifling mistakes. I will not fatigue the reader by dwelling on the subject. The result of all this was most unpleasant to us. Mr. Clavers found himself involved to a large amount; and his only remedy seemed to prosecute Mr. Mazard. A consultation with his lawyer, however, convinced him, that even by this most disagreeable mode, redress was out of the question, since he had through inadvertence rendered himself liable for whatever that gentleman chose to buy or engage in his name. All that could be done, was to get out of the affair with as little loss as possible, and to take warning against land sharks in future.
An immediate journey to Detroit became necessary, and I was once more left alone, and in no overflowing spirits. I sat, "revolving in my altered soul the various turns of fate below," when a tall damsel, of perhaps twenty-eight or thirty, came in to make a visit. She was tastefully attired in a blue gingham dress, with broad cuffs of black morocco, and a black cambric apron edged with orange worsted lace. Her oily black locks were cut quite short round the ears, and confined close to her head by a black ribbon, from one side of which depended, almost in her eye, two very long tassels of black silk, intended to do duty as curls. Prunelle slippers with high heels, and a cotton handkerchief tied under the chin, finished the costume, which I have been thus particular in describing, because I have observed so many that were nearly similar.
The lady greeted me in the usual style, with a familiar nod, and seated herself at once in a chair near the door.
"Well, how do you like Michigan ?"
This question received the most polite answer which my conscience afforded; and I asked the lady in my turn, if she were one of my neighbors?
"Why, massy, yes!" she replied, "don't you know me? I tho't everybody know'd me. Why, I'm the school-ma'am, Simeon Jenkins' sister, Cleory Jenkins."
Thus introduced, I put all my civility in requisition to entertain my guest, but she seemed quite independent, finding amusement for herself, and asking questions on every possible theme.
"You're doing your own work now, a'n't ye?"
This might not be denied; and I asked if she did not know of a girl whom I might be likely to get.
"Well, I don't know; I'm looking for a place where I can board and do chores myself. I have a good deal of time before school, and after I get back; and I didn't know but I might suit ye for a while."
I was pondering on this proffer, when the sallow damsel arose from her seat, took a short pipe from her bosom, (not "Pan's reedy pipe," reader) filled it with tobacco, which she carried in her "work-pocket," and reseating herself, began to smoke with the greatest gusto, turning ever and anon to spit at the hearth.
Incredible again? alas, would it were not true! I have since known a girl of seventeen, who was attending a neighbor's sick infant, smoke the live-long day, and take snuff besides; and I can vouch for it, that a large proportion of the married women in the interior of Michigan use tobacco in some form, usually that of the odious pipe.
I took the earliest decent opportunity to decline the offered help, telling the school-ma'am plainly, that an inmate who smoked would make the house uncomfortable to me.
"Why, law!" said she, laughing; "that's nothing but pride now: folks is often too proud to take comfort. For my part, I couldn't do without my pipe to please nobody."
Mr. Simeon Jenkins, the brother of this independent young lady now made his appearance on some trifling errand; and his sister repeated to him what I had said.
Mr. Jenkins took his inch of cigar from his mouth, and asked if I really disliked tobacco-smoke, seeming to think it scarcely possible.
"Don't your old man smoke?" said he.
"No, indeed," said I, with more than my usual energy; "I should hope he never would."
"Well," said neighbor Jenkins, "I tell you what, I'm boss at home; and if my old woman was to stick up in that fashion, I'd keep the house so blue she couldn't see to snuff the candle."
His sister laughed long and loud at this sally, which was uttered rather angrily, and with an air of most manful bravery; and Mr. Jenkins picking up his end of cigar from the floor, walked off with an air evidently intended to be as expressive as the celebrated and oft-quoted nod of Lord Burleigh in the Critic.
Miss Jenkins was still arguing on the subject of her pipe, when a gentleman approached, whose dress and manner told me that he did not belong to our neighborhood. He was a red-faced, jolly-looking person, evidently "well to do in the world," and sufficiently consequential for any meridian. He seated himself quite unceremoniously; for who feels ceremony in a log-house? said he understood Mr. Clavers was absent—then hesitated; and as Miss Jenkins afterwards observed, "hummed and hawed," and seemed as if he would fain say something, but scarce knew how.
At length Miss Cleora took the hint—a most necessary point of delicacy, where there is no withdrawing room. She gave her parting nod, and disappeared; and the old gentleman proceeded.
He had come to Montacute with the view of settling his son, "a wild chap," he said, a lawyer by profession, and not very fond of work of any sort; but as he himself had a good deal of land in the vicinity, he thought his son might find employment in attending to it, adding such professional business as might occur.
"But what I wished particularly to say, my dear madam," said he, "regards rather my son's wife than himself. She is a charming girl, and accustomed to much indulgence; and I have felt afraid that a removal to a place so new as this might be too trying to her. I knew you must be well able to judge of the difficulties to be encountered here, and took the liberty of calling on that account."
I was so much pleased with the idea of having a neighbor, whose habits might in some respects accord with my own, that I fear I was scarcely impartial in the view which I gave Mr. Rivers, of the possibilities of Montacute. At least I communicated only such as rises before my own mind, while watching perhaps a glorious sunset reflected in the glassy pond; my hyacinths in all their glory; the evening breeze beginning to sigh in the tree-tops; the children just coming in after a fine frolic with D'Orsay on the grass; and Papa and Prince returning up the lane. At such times, I always conclude, that Montacute is, after all, a dear little world; and I am probably quite as near the truth, as when,—"on some cold rainy day, when birds cannot show a dry feather;" when Arthur comes in with a pound of mud on each foot, D'Orsay at his heels, bringing in as much more; little Bell crying to go out to play; Charlie prodigiously fretful with his prospective tooth; and some gaunt marauder from "up north," or "out west," sits talking on "bis'ness," and covering my andirons with tobacco juice; I determine sagely, that a life in the woods is worse than no life at all. One view is, I insist, as good as the other; but I told Mr. Rivers he must make due allowance for my desire to have his fair daughter-in-law for a neighbor, with which he departed; and I felt that my gloom had essentially lightened in consequence of his visit.
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