February 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 39

A Morning's Ride

We had agreed to make a twelve-mile stage before breakfast in company with the city people, whose way lay with ours so far. When the morning came and our mutual arrangements were to be made, the Margolds were so prodigiously sulky under the consciousness of last night's disagreeables, that I felt rather ashamed of the companionship, and would have preferred waiting to breakfast on sage-tea with poor Mrs. Gaston, who was evidently very uncomfortable between the recollection of the affronts put upon herself, and the fear that her husband had gone too far in resenting them. The die was cast however, and we were obliged to seem to belong to the offending side, who carried their wounded dignity very high at parting. Mr. Margold asked for Mr. Gaston's "bill"; our host declined making any charge. Mr. Margold insisted on his receiving payment, and finished by placing a bank-note on the table as he left the house without saying farewell, in which latter civility he was closely imitated by Mrs. Margold and Miss Angelica.

"You didn't think I was oncivil did ye?" said Gaston, somewhat anxiously, as we prepared to follow.

"Not in the least! You were quite right," was the very sincere reply, for we thought the poor blind man had borne more than enough.

"Well! you've had a pretty mean time, I reckon!" said Butts, who stepped in to bid good-bye, just as we were departing; and I heard him add, "You larnt 'em a good lesson anyhow! I wouldn't ha' missed of it for a cow!"

Mr. Margold was to be my husband's companion as far as Wellington, where we were to take our coffee, and I was exalted to the back seat of the jingling barouche, which I shared with Mrs. Margold, leaving the front for Miss Angelica and her guitar.

The morning was a charming one, and a strong breeze from the west came as if on purpose to refresh the spirits and cool the temper of the party after the contretemps of the night. But this breeze, bearing on its fresh pinions some of the balmy moisture of last night's shower, blew Miss Angelica's long ringlets about most intolerably, and her little forehead became quite quilted with very unbecoming wrinkles, when, as we drove through a narrow way where the bushes almost met above our heads, a provoking puff sent down a copious shower from the leaves, demolishing the small curl and the smaller remnant of patience, and the young lady scolded outright.

"I never did see such an odious country as this is!" she exclaimed; "it is impossible to look decent for an hour!"

"Well! one comfort is," said Mr. Butts consolingly, "that there a'n't many folks to see how bad you look, here in the woods! We a'n't used to seein' folks look dreadful slick nother—so it don't matter."

Double-distilled scorn curled Miss Margold's lip, and she maintained an indignant silence, as the only shield against the impertinence of the driver, who found consolation in an unceasing whistle. They had picked up this youth at a neighboring village, supposing from his pleasant countenance and obliging manner, that they had gained a treasure of civility. It had been at Miss Angelica's especial instance that the party had quitted the usual road and taken to the woods. She wished to be a little romantic, but she had not counted the cost. Butts was indeed all they had supposed from his address, smart, good-tempered and kind-hearted, yet, as we have seen, he was not the less lacking in the kind of knowledge which was requisite for the part he had undertaken. He had never lived with any but those who considered him quite equal to themselves. He was the son of a respectable farmer, whose ample lands would cut up well among his heirs; and when our friend Dan engaged to "drive team" for Mr. Margold, he had no idea but that he was to be, to all intents and purposes, one of the party, saving and excepting his duty towards the horses, which he performed with scrupulous fidelity and no small skill. All this seemed so evident, that I almost wondered that Miss Margold could not have passed over his intrusiveness more good-humoredly, setting it to the account of sheer ignorance, and not evil intention. But unfortunately the young lady seemed to fear that her dignity would be irrevocably compromised if she did not resent each and every instance of impertinence, and as Butts was one of those who cannot take the broadest hint—even an Irish one—he only talked the more, thinking he had not yet hit upon the right way to make himself agreeable.

By and by, finding it impossible to extort a reply from the thready lips of the fair Angelica, he hailed a young man whom we overtook on the road.

"Hilloa! Steve! where are you a stavin' to? If you're for Wellington, scale up here and I'll give ye a ride. I swan! I'm as lonesome as a catamount! You won't have no objection, I suppose" turning slightly to Mrs. Margold. The lady did not forbid, and the traveller was soon on the box, much to Mr. Butts's relief, as he now had an interlocutor.

"How do you stan' it nowadays?" was the salutation of Mr. Butts to his friend.

"O, so as to be a crawlin' most of the time. Be you pretty hearty this summer?"

"Why, I'm middlin' tough. I manage to make pork ache when I get hold on't."

"Are you hired with anyone now, or do you go on your own hook?"

"I've been teamin' on't some for old Pendleton that built them mills at Wellington. I come on to drive a spell for this here old feller," (jerking his thumb backward,) "but I guess he sha'n't hitch long."

"Why not? Don't he pay?"

"Pay! O, no danger o' that! money's the thing he's got most of. But he wanted a servant, and that, you know, Steve, is a berry that don't grow on these bushes."

"So he hired you for a servant, eh?" and at the thought "Steve" laughed loud and long.

"Why! a body would think you had found a haw-haw's nest with a te-he's eggs in't!" said Mr. Butts, who seemed a little nettled by his friend's ridicule.

"Well, but it's too funny, anyhow," was the rejoinder; and the two friends branched off into various discussions, and regaled each other with sundry pieces of intelligence referring to the fortunes and characters of the Toms, Dicks and Harries of their acquaintance; leaving my attention at liberty to profit by many parallel passages from the lips of Mrs. Margold, who was well acquainted with the latest improvements in the choice and quality of refreshments at parties, the newest style of French embroidery, and the shape and trimmings of the bonnets by the last packet. I had become quite absorbed in these matters, and had fallen into a sort of doze, such as I suppose to be the only sleep needed by a French milliner, when I was aroused by a clear, manly voice, with just enough of a nasal twang to make me remember that I was still in the woods, singing an air that recalled "young Lochinvar," and which had doubtless originally been intended for none other. The words were those of a Western song which refers to that interesting period in our local history— the admission of Michigan into the Union,—on which occasion our General Government decided that between the States at least, "might makes right;"—the era of the Toledo war, which cost us so much inkshed, and the unfortunate borderers such numbers of water-melons and pumpkins. This song is not I believe, the one written by Mrs. Sigourney on the occasion.

Oh! dashing young Mick is the pride of the West!
Of all its bold hunters the boldest and best,
He has town-house and villa, and water-craft fair,
And parks full of red-deer, enough and to spare.
He has meadow and woodland, lake, river, and lick,
And prairie-land plenty, has dashing young Mick.
Now Mick, while a minor, was under control
Of his loving mamma, a good careful old soul.
And to all her long lectures, so prudent and sage,
His pithy response was—"But ma'am, I'm of age!"
Says she, "You must share with poor Philo and Dick."
"But a'n't I of age, ma'am?" cried dashing young Mick.
One time, when a party of gentlemen came
To prose with his mother, Mick sent in his claim:
Says he, "Here's the record—my nonage is o'er;
In this year thirty-five I've exceeded my score;
Make o'er my estate, ma'am, and please to be quick!
I can shear my own wolves, now!" quoth dashing young Mick.
"But, my dear, there's your brothers—they worry my life—
And you know 'tis my duty to smother all strife!
They will have that farm—and—we'll pay on demand
Ten miles of good ice for an acre of land;
Of the pine-barrens north you the choicest may pick."
"I'll be blam'd if I do, ma'am!" growled dashing young Mick.
The dam, with a sigh, put her spectacles on;
"Now tell me, grave counsellers, what's to be done!"
"Oh! let it lie by till we taste your good cheer;
A twelvemonth's discussion will make it more clear.
You know what stout fellows are Philo and Dick,
And they'll nibble, if we don't, from dashing young Mick.
Poor Mick! he talked big and most roundly he swore
He'd at least have his own, if he couldn't get more:
But his ma' kept the farm and the money to stock it,
And quietly buttoned her purse in her pocket,
While the gentlemen argued through thin and through thick—
"Oh! I'll share and be thankful!" quoth dashing young Mick.

The ditty might have extended to the length of Chevy Chase for aught I can tell, in spite of many signs of indignation on the part of Mrs. Margold and her daughter, if we had not at that moment come in sight of the tavern at Wellington, which caused Mr. Butts to interrupt his vocal efforts, and give a rousing touch to his horses to insure "a trot for the avenue."

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