Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ If employment will save your wits, you may invent a scheme for marrying the son of a poor gentleman to the ward of a rich trader in rice and molasses." “ The programme of our approaching campaign, I presume ?"

Simply." Is the lady willing ?”

I would fain believe so." “Is Mr. Popkins unwilling ?” “ As the most romantic lover could desire.” “ And the state of the campaign?”

“ Why thus. Mr. George Washington Jefferson Frump, whom you have irreverently called Mr. Popkins, is sole guardian to the daughter of a dead West India Planter, of whom he was once the agent. I fell in love with Kate Lorimer from description, when she was at school with my sister, saw her by favour of a garden wall, and after the usual

VOWS

“ Too romantic for a Yankee, hy half!” " ---Proposed by letter to Mr. Frump."

Oh, bathos ! “ He refused me."

6 Because

my

Imprimis, I was not myself in the Sugar line,' and in secundis,

father wore gloves and'“ did nothing for a living, '-two blots in the eyes of Mr. Frump, which all the waters of Niagara would never wash from my escutcheon.'

“ And what the devil hindered you from running off with her ?”

“Fifty shares in the Manhattan Insurance Company, a gold mine in Florida, heaven knows how many hogsheads of treacle, and a million of acres on the banks of the Missouri."

« Pluto's flame-coloured daughter' defend us! what a living El Dorado!”

“ All of which she forfeits if she marries without old Frump's consent."

“ I see—I see! And this lö and her Argus are now drinking the waters at Saratoga ?”

“ Even so."

“ I'll bet you my four-in-hand to a sonnet, that I get her for you before the season is over.” “Money and all?"

Mines, molasses, and Missouri acres ! “ And if you do, Tom, I'll give you a team of Virginian bloods that would astonish Ascot, and throw you into the bargain a forgiveness for riding over me with your camel on the banks of the Hermus."

“ Santa Maria! do you remember that spongy foot stepping over your frontispiece? I had already cast my eyes up to Mont Sypilus to choose a clean niche for you out of the rock-hewn tombs of the kings of Lydia. I thought you would sleep with Alyattis, Fred!" - We dashed on through dark forest and open clearing, through glens of tangled cedar and wild vine, over log bridges, corduroy marshes and sand-hills, till, towards evening, a scattering shanty or two, and an occasional sound of a woodman's axe, betokened our vicinity to Saratoga. A turn around a clump of tall pines brought us immediately into the broad street of the village, and the flaunting shops, the overgrown,

[ocr errors]

unsightly hotels, riddled with windows like honeycombs, the fashionable idlers out for their evening lounge to the waters, the indolent smokers on the colonnades, and the dusty and loaded coaches driving from door to door in search of lodgings, formed the usual evening picture of the Bath of America.

As it was necessary to Tom's plan that my arrival at Saratoga should not be known, he pulled up at a small tavern at the entrance of the street, and dropping me and my baggage, drove on to Congress Hall, with my best prayers, and a letter of introduction to my sister, whom I had left on her way to the Springs with a party at my departure for Montreal. Unwilling to remain in such a tantalizing vicinity, I hired a chaise the next morning, and despatching a note to Tom, drove to seek a retreat at Barhydt's a spot that cannot well be described in the tail of a paragraph.

Herr Barhydt is an old Dutch settler, who, till the mineral springs of Saratoga were discovered some five miles from his door, was buried in the depth of a forest solitude, unknown to all but the prowling Indian. The sky is supported above him (or looks to be) by a wilderness of straight, columnar pine-shafts, gigantic in girth, and with no foliage except at the top, where they branch out like round tables spread for a banquet in the clouds. A small ear-shaped lake, sunk as deep into the earth as the firs shoot above it, black as Erebus in the dim shadow of its hilly shore and the obstructed light of the trees that nearly meet over it, and clear and unbroken as a mirror, save the pearl-spots of the thousand lotuses holding up their cups to the blue eye of heaven that peers through the leafy vault, sleeps beneath his window; and, around him in the forest lies, still unbroken, the elastic and brown carpet of the faded pine tassels, deposited in yearly layers since the continent rose from the flood, and rotted a foot beneath the surface to a rich mould that would fatten the Symplegades to a flower-garden. With his black tarn well stocked with trout, his bit of a farm in the clearing near by, and an old Dutch bible, Herr Barhydt lived a life of Dutch musing, talked Dutch to his geese and chickens, sung Dutch psalms to the echoes of the mighty forest, and, except on his far-between visits to Albany, which grew rarer and rarer as the old Dutch inhabitants dropped faster away, saw never a white human face from one mapleblossoming to another.

A roving mineralogist tasted the waters of Saratoga, and, like the work of a lath-and-plaster Aladdin, up sprung a thriving village around the fountain's lip, and hotels, tin tumblers and apothecariés multiplied in the usual proportion to each other, but out of all precedent with every thing else for rapidity. Libraries, newspapers, churches, liverystables, and lawyers, followed in their train, and it was soon established, from the Plains of Abraham to the Savannahs of Alabama, that no person of fashionable tastes or broken constitution could exist through the months of July and August without a visit to the chalybeate springs and populous village of Saratoga. It contained seven thousand inhabitants before Herr Barhydt, living in his wooded seclusion only five miles off, became aware of its existence. A pair of lovers, philandering about the forest on horseback, popped in upon him one June morning, and thenceforth there was no rest for the soul of the Dutchman. Every body rode down to eat his trout and make love in the dark shades of his mirrored lagoon, and at last, in self-defence, he added a room or two.

to his shanty, enclosed his cabbage-garden, and put a price upon his trout-dinners. The traveller now-a-days who has not dined at Barhydt's with his own champagne cold from the tarn, and the white-headed old settler“ gargling” Dutch about the house, in his manifold vocation of cook, ostler, and waiter, may as well not have seen Niagara.

Installed in the back-chamber of the old man's last addition to his house, with Barry Cornwall and Elia (old fellow-travellers of mine), a rude chair, a ruder, but clean bed, and a troop of thoughts so perpetually from home, that it mattered very little what was the complexion of anything about me, I waited Tom's operations with a lover's usual patience. Barhydt's visiters seldom arrived before two or three o'clock, and the, long, soft mornings, quiet as a shadowy Elysium on the rim of that ebon lake, were as solitary as a melancholy man could desire. Didst thou but know, oh! gentle Barry Cornwall, how gratefully thou hast been read and mused upon in those dim and whispering aisles of the forest, three thousand and more miles from thy smoky whereabout, methinks it would warm up the flush of pleasure around thine eyelids, though the “ golden-tressed Adelaide” were waiting her good-night kisses at thy knee!

I could stand it no longer. On the second evening of my seclusion, I made bold to borrow old Barhydt's superannuated roadster,'and getting up the steam with infinite difficulty in his rickety engine, higgled away with a pace to which I could not venture to affix a name, to the gay scenes of Saratoga.

It was ten o'clock when I dismounted at the stable in Congress Hall, and, giving der Teufel, as the old man ambitiously styled his steed, to the hands of the ostler, stole round through the garden to the eastern colonnade.

I feel called upon to describe“ Congress Hall.” Some fourteen or fifteen millions of white gentlemen and ladies consider that wooden and windowed Babylon as the proper Palace of Delight-a sojourn to be sighed for, and sacrificed for, and economised for--the birth-place of Love, the haunt of Hymen, the arena of fashion-a place without which a new lease of life were valueless—for which, if the conjuring cap of King Erricus itself could not furnish a season ticket, it might lie on a lady's toilet as unnoticed as a bride's night-cap a twelvemonth after marriage. I say to myself, sometimes, as I pass the window of White's, and see a world-sick nobleman with the curl of satiety and disgust on his lip, wondering how the next hour will come to its death, “ If you but knew, my Lord, what a campaign of pleasure you are losing in America—what belles than the blue-bell slighter and fairer--what hearts than the dew-drops fresher and clearer, are living their pretty hour, like gems undived for in the ocean—what loads of foliage-what Titans of trees—what glorious wildernesses of rocks and waters, are lavishing their splendours on the clouds that sail over them, and all within the magic circle of which Congress Hall is the centre, and which a circling dove would measure to get an appetite for his breakfast—if you but knew this, my Lord, as I know it, you would not be gazing so vacantly on the steps of Crockford's, nor consider the greybeard' such a laggard in his hours !”

Congress Hall is a wooden building, of which the size and capacity could never be definitely ascertained. It is built on a slight) elevation, just above the strongly impregnated spring whose name it bears, with

little attempt at architecture, save a spacious and vine-covered colonnade, serving as a promenade on either side, and two wings, the extremities of which are lost in the distance. A relic or two of the still-astonished forest towers above the chimneys, in the shape of a melancholy group of firs; and, five minutes walk from the door, the dim old wilderness stands looking down on the village in its primeval grandeur, like the spirits of the wronged Indians, whose tracks are scarce vanished from the sand. In the strength of the summer solstice, from five hundred to a thousand people dine together at Congress Hall, and, after absorbing as many bottles of the best wines of the world, a sunset promenade plays the valve to the sentiment thus generated, and, with a cup of tea, the crowd separates to dress for the nightly ball. There are several other hotels in the village, equally crowded and equally spacious, and the ball is given alternately at each. Congress Hall is the “crack” place, however, and I expect that Mr. Westcott, the obliging proprietor, will give me the preference of rooms, on my next annual visit, for this just and honourable mention.

The dinner-tables were piled into an orchestra, and draped with green baize and green wreaths, the floor of the immense hall was chalked with American flags and the initials of all the heroes of the Revolution, and the band were playing a waltz in a style that made the candles quiver, and the pines tremble audibly in their tassels. The ball-room was on the ground floor, and the colonnade upon the garden side was crowded with spectators, a row of grinning black fellows edging the cluster of heads at every window, and keeping time with their hands and feet in the irresistible sympathy of their music-loving natures. Drawing my hat over my eyes, I stood at the least-thronged window, and concealing my face in the curtain, waited impatiently for the appearance of the dancers.

The bevy in the drawing-room was sufficiently strong at last, and the lady patronesses, handed in by a state Governor or two, and here and there a Member of Congress, achieved the entrée with their usual intrepidity. Followed beaux, and followed belles. Such belles! Slight, delicate, fragile-looking creatures, elegant as Retzch's angels, warmeyed as Mahomedan houris, yet timid as the antelope whose hazel orbs they eclipse, limbed like nothing earthly except an American womanI would rather not go on! When I speak of the beauty of my countrywomen my heart swells. I do believe the new world has a mould for its mothers and daughters. I think I am not prejudiced. I have been years away. I have sighed in France; I have loved in Italy; I have bargained for Circassians in an Eastern bezestein, and I have lounged at Howell and James's on a sunny day in the season; and my eye is trained and my perceptions quickened—but I do think (honour bright! and Heath's Book of Beauty forgiving me) that there is no such beautiful work of God under the arch of the sky as an American girl in her belle-hood.

Enter Tom Fane in a Stultz coat and Sparding tights, looking as a man who had been the mirror of Bond-street might be supposed to look, a thousand leagues from his club-house. She leaned on his arm. I had never seen her half so lovely. Fresh and calm from the seclusion of her chamber, her transparent cheek was just tinged with the first mounting blood from the excitement of lights and music. Her lips were slightly parted, her fine-lined eyebrows were arched with a

newer

[ocr errors]

girlish surprise, and her ungloved arm lay carelessly and confidingly within his, as white, round, and slender as if Canova had wrought it in Parian for his Psyche. If you have never seen a beauty of northern blood nurtured in a southern clime, the cold fairness of her race warmed up as if it had been steeped in some golden sunset, and her deep blue eye darkened and filled with a fire as unnaturally resplendent as the fusion of crysoprase into a diamond-and if you have never known the corresponding contrast in the character, the intelligence and constancy of the north kindling with the enthusiasm and impulse, the passionateness and the abandon of a more burning latitude, you have seen nothing, let me insinuate, though you “have been i' the Indies twice," that could give you an idea of Kate Lorimer.

She waltzed, and then Tom danced with my sister, and then, resigning her to another partner, he offered his arm again to Miss Lorimer, and left the ball-room with several other couples for a turn in the fresh air of the colonnade. I was not jealous, but I felt unpleasantly at his returning to her so immediately. He was the handsomest man, out of all comparison, in the room, and he had dimmed my star too often in our rambles in Europe and Asia, not to suggest a thought, at least, that the same pleasant eclipse might occur in our American astronomy. I stepped off the colonnade, and took a turn in the garden.

Those “ children of eternity," as Walter Savage Landor poetically calls “the breezes," performed their soothing ministry upon my temples, and I replaced Tom in my confidence with an heroic effort, and turned back. A swing hung between two gigantic pives, just under the balustrade, and flinging myself into the cushioned seat, I abandoned myself to the musings natural to a person“ in my

situation.” The sentimentalizing promenaders lounged backwards and forwards above me, and not hearing Tom's drawl among them, I presumed he had returned to the ball-room. A lady and gentleman, walking in silence, stopped presently, and leaned upon the railing opposite the swing. They stood a moment, looking into the dim shadow of the pine-grove, and then a voice, that I knew better than my own, remarked in a low and silvery tone upon the beauty of the night.

She was not answered, and after a moment's pause, as if resuming a conversation that had been interrupted, she turned very earnestly to her companion, and asked, " Are you sure, quite sure, that you could venture to marry without a fortune?”

“Quite, dear Miss Lorimer !"

I started from the swing, but before the words of execration that rushed choking from my heart could struggle to my lips, they had mingled with the crowd and vanished.

I strode down the garden-walk in a frenzy of passion. Should I call him immediately to account? Should I rush into the ball-room and accuse him of his treachery to her face? Should I drown myself in old Barhydt's tarn, or join an Indian tribe and make war upon the whites ?-or should I-could I-be magnanimous—and write him a note immediately, offering to be his groomsman at the wedding ?

I stepped into the punch-room, asked for pen, ink, and paper, and indited the following note :

“ DEAR Tom,- If your approaching nuptials are to be sufficiently public to admit of a groomsman, you will make me the happiest of friends by selecting me for that office. Yours ever truly,-Fred.”

« PreviousContinue »