January 1991

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A New Home: Who'll Follow

Life in the Clearings


Caroline M. Kirkland

First published in 1839
Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.

Chapter 38

City People and Frontier Ways

Most lamentably amusing was the distress of Miss Angelica when it became necessary to concert measures for passing a night in a crowded log-cabin. The prospect was not a very comfortable one, but the view taken of its horrors by these city people was so ludicrously exaggerated that I am sure no spectator could help laughing. The philosophy that cannot stand one night's rough lodging should never travel west of Lake Erie. Not that lodging anywhere in these Western wilds is likely to be found more really uncomfortable than is often the lot of visitors at the Springs during crowded seasons; but fashionable sufferings are never quite intolerable.

The sleeping arrangements were of a more perplexing character than those which had been fortunately devised for the tea. There were two large beds and a trundle-bed, and these, with a scanty supply of bedding, comprised our available means; and besides our tea-party, two little boys had come dripping home from school to add to our numbers. After much consultation, many propositions, and not a few remarks calculated rather to wound the feelings of our civil entertainers, it was concluded to put the two large beds close together in order to enlarge their capabilities, and this extensive couch was to hold all the "womenfolks" and some of the children. The trundle-bed by careful stowage took the little ones; and for the old gentleman, a couch of buffalo-robes and carriage cushions was skillfully prepared by none other than the forgiving Mr. Butts, who seemed disposed to forget past rebuffs, and to exert himself very heartily in the public service. This disinterested individual was perfectly content to repose Indian fashion, with his feet to the fire, and anything he could get for a pillow; and the master of the house stretched himself out after the same manner.

When all was done, Mrs. Gaston made the ordinary cotton-sheet partition for the benefit of those who chose to undress; and then began to prepare herself for the rest which I am sure she needed. All seemed well enough for weary travellers, and at any rate, these poor people had done their best. I hoped that all fault-finding would soon be hushed in sleep.

But it became evident ere long that Miss Margold did not intend to become a person of so small consequence. She had disturbed her father several times by requests for articles from different parts of the luggage, without which she declared she could not think of going to bed. She had received from her mother the attendance of a waiting maid without offering the slightest service in return, and now, when all her ingenuity seemed to be exhausted, she suddenly discovered that it would be in vain for her to think of sleeping in a bed where there were so many people, and she decided on sitting up all night.

A silence expressive of the deepest consternation held the assembly bound for some seconds. This was first broken by a long, low, expressive whistle from Mr. Butts, but the remembrance of past mischance bridled his tongue.

"Do you think you could sleep here, my dear?" inquired Mr. Margold from his snug nest in the corner.

The young lady almost screamed with horror. "Never mind, my darling," said the mamma, "I will sit in the rocking-chair by the fire, and you shall have plenty of room."

"Oh, no Ma! that will never do—why can't the woman sit up? I dare say she's used to it." This was said in a loud whisper which reached everybody's ears—but no reply was made.

Mrs. Margold and her daughter whispered together for some time further, and the result was that the lady drew one of the beds apart from the other, which movement caused Mrs. Gaston's little girl to roll out upon the floor with a sad resounding thump and a piteous cry.

This proved the drop too many. Outspoke at last the poor half-blind husband and father. His patience was, as Mr. Butts would say, "used up." "Neighbors," said he, "I don't know who you are nor where you come from, and I didn't ask, for you were driven into my house by a storm. My family were willing to accommodate you as far as they could; such as we had, you were welcome to, but we are poor, and have not much to do with. Now, you haven't seemed to be satisfied with anything, and your behavior has hurt my wife's feelings, and mine too. You think we are poor ignorant people, and so we are; but you think we haven't feelings like other folks, and there you are mistaken. Now the short and long of the matter is, that as the storm is over and the moon is up, it's my desire that you pick up your things and drive on to the next tavern, where you can call for what you like, and pay for what you get. I don't keep a tavern, though I'm always willin' to entertain a civil traveller as well as I can." "Hast thou not marked when o'er thy startled head Sudden and deep the thunder-cloud has rolled—" I do not know whether this unexpected display of spirit in poor Mr. Gaston was more like a thunderclap or a deluge from a fire engine. Like single-speech Hamilton, he was too wise to attempt to add anything to the effect it had produced. He waited in silence, but it was a very resolute silence.

The Margolds were in a very pitiable perplexity, Miss Angelica, knowing that none of the trouble would come upon herself, was for being very spirited upon the occasion; her papa, who had already begun to dream of Wall Street and Waverly Place, did hate to be recalled to the woods; and Mrs. Margold had no opinion of her own on this or any other occasion. Mr. Gaston, seeing no demonstrations of retreat, went to Butts, who was or pretended to be asleep, and shaking him by the shoulder, told him he was wanted to get up his horses.

"Get up the poor critters at this time o' night!" said he, rubbing his eyes; "why what upon the livin' earth's the matter! has the young woman got the high strikes?"

"Your folks is a-goin' to try to mend their lodgin', that's all," replied the host, whose temper was a good deal moved. "They a'n't satisfied with the best we could do for 'em, and it's my desire that they should try the tavern at Jericho. It is but two miles, and you'll soon drive it."

"I'll be tipp'd if I drive it to-night though, uncle," replied the imperturbable Mr. Butts; "I don't budge a foot. I sha'n't do no sich nonsense. As for their trying the tavern at Jericho, the tavern's a deuced sight more likely to try them, as you know very well. Anyhow, this child don't stir."

"But if we are turned out of doors," said Mr. Margold, who aroused himself most unwillingly to the consciousness of a new cause of disturbance, "you are bound to—"

"I a'n't bound to drive nobody in the middle of the night," said Mr. Butts, "so you don't try to suck me in there. But as to turning you out o' doors, this here chap a'n't the feller to turn any man out o' doors, if he'll stay civil. He's a little wrathy because your folks wa'n't contented with such as he had. I see he was gettin' riled some, and I thought he'd bile over. You see that's the way with us Western folks, If folks is sassy we walk right into 'em, like a thousand o' brick. He'll cool down agin if you jist pat him a little. He's got some grit, but he a'n't ugly. You only make your women-folks keep quiet—get a curb-bridle upon their tongues, and we'll do well enough."

Poor Mr. Margold! here was a task! But sleep, though it makes us terribly cross when its own claims are interfered with, is a marvellous tranquillizer on all other subjects; and as Mr. and Mrs. Margold and Miss Anglica were all very, very weary—the latter of teasing her parents, the former of being teased—a truce was at length concluded by the intervention of Mr. Butts, who acted the part of a peacemaker, and gave sage advice to both parties.

The conduct of these city people, who were evidently of a very numerous class—that which possesses more money than intellect or cultivation—is not, after all, very surprising; for it is still fresh in our recollection that an English traveller of intelligence—one notorious for ultra-liberal principes too—made angry complaint because the mistress of a log-house somewhere on the Western prairies was not disposed to entertain a party of strangers, who found it convenient to enter her dwelling uninvited. It seems that this person, whoever she may have been, was insensible of the honor done her house by an Avatar of so much dignity. She thought, perhaps that travellers who had abundant means might have arranged their distances so as to make public-houses their stopping places. And if her dwelling had, by a chance which might not unnaturally occur in the wilds of the West, been the mansion of wealth and consequence, it may be doubted whether our "liberal" guests would have claimed hospitality at its gates. It was because the tenant of the log-cottage was supposed to be poor, that she was censured for her unwillingness to turn her humble lodge into a tavern.

Hospitality claimed as such is, I believe invariably rendered among us, with a freedom worthy of Arcadia itself. It is only when there is evidently a supposition on the part of the guest that a poor man's house and family are necessarily at the service of anybody, for the sake of a few shillings, that our cherished independence is called into action. It is under such circumstances that those who are disposed to lord it in log-cabins discover that people who are not afraid to be poor can afford to be independent, and that uninvited guests must purchase civility by civility, or find themselves unwelcome in spite of money.

After much experience I can assert that I have never known or heard of an instance where those who have found it convenient to throw themselves on the kindness of a settler of any degree, have not received with a frank welcome, which has appeared to me peculiarly admirable, because extended, in many cases, under circumstances of the greatest inconvenience. Nor have I ever known compensation demanded, whatever may have been the trouble given; and where it has been accepted at all, it has been only sufficient to repay actual cost, and that usually upon urgency.

Less than this I could not say in fairness to the justly praised hospitality of the West; and I believe every reader will scarcely think our friend Gaston's apparent departure from the practice of the land needed this apology. It suggested itself unbidden, under the recollection of many a kindness received from strangers in the course of our numerous peregrinations.

Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.
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